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Allan Leverone is an air traffic controller and the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of nearly twenty novels in the thriller and horror genres. He is a former Derringer Award winner for excellence in short mystery fiction, and his dark thriller, MR. MIDNIGHT, was featured in Suspense Magazine’s “Best of 2013” issue. Allan lives in Londonderry, NH with his wife, three grown children and two beautiful grandchildren. Learn more on Facebook, Twitter @AllanLeverone, or at AllanLeverone.com.

 

 Please tell us a little about your latest Tracie Tanner thriller, The Bashkir Extraction.

 

Tracie Tanner has evolved over the course of six books from a traditional, if unconventional, CIA field operative to one of the blackest of black ops assets in the U.S. intelligence arsenal. Reporting directly to CIA Director Aaron Stallings, Tanner is given the most dangerous and risky assignments, where the stakes are the highest. She almost always operates alone, with little backup.

In The Bashkir Extraction, the U.S. intelligence services learn of a highly secret Soviet military base located deep inside the Ural Mountains, in the Soviet satellite state of Bashkir. Tanner is dispatched to place the facility under surveillance, with instructions to then return to D.C. and brief intelligence specialists on what she has learned.

It should be a relatively easy assignment, but while in Bashkir, Tracie observes something so shocking and unexpected it changes the nature of her mission completely. She must now attempt to infiltrate this highly secure military facility, where if successful she will face a moral dilemma for which there is no acceptable solution.

 

The location of this latest thriller takes place at a secret military base in the Ural Mountains called the Ipatiev Military Research Facility. Was that a real place, and if not, what was your inspiration for it?

 

To my knowledge, there is no actual military facility named “Ipatiev,” in Russia or any of the former Soviet states. I wanted to use something the Soviets might have celebrated as the name of my fictional facility, so I chose the name of the house in which Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed during the 1917 Russian Revolution.

That said, the Ipatiev Military Facility is based on an actual military complex the United States suspects is located below Mount Yamantau in – you guessed it – the Ural Mountains. I try to base all my Tracie Tanner novels on actual events whenever possible, and then develop the story from there. In this case, the Mount Yamantau facility was discovered by the U.S. in the 1990s, and is so secret we still don’t know exactly what is taking place there even now, decades later.

 

The Bashkir Project explores Russia’s experimentation with parapsychology, which the Soviets called psychotronics. Can you explain to us what that is, and what they were hoping to accomplish by using it?

 

Psychotronics is the word the Soviets used for their unconventional research into the field of parapsychology, and using it to manipulate citizens –their own as well as those of their enemies – to further their political and cultural goals. Boiled down to its essence, “psychotronics” is basically research into mind control.

The nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States was only one arm of the Cold War conflict. Another was what some would call the battle for the hearts and minds of the enemy.

If a parapsychological breakthrough could be achieved that would allow one of the world’s great superpowers to sway the citizens of the other over to their side, it goes without saying that would be an earth-shaking breakthrough. The stakes were critically high, obviously.

 

All of your Tracie Tanner books are set in the 1980’s during the height of the Cold War. How much research do you do and how accurate do you try and keep things?

 

When I started writing the Tanner novels, I wanted to do something that might be considered “historical fiction,” but that would be set in an era many readers would still remember. I’m 58, and I recall the “duck and cover” training we got in school as kids: basically we were to hide under our desks in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack. I wanted to use that background to write about one of the greatest conflicts of the twentieth century: democracy versus communism.

The amount of research I do depends on the topic of that particular book, but I wouldn’t consider myself any kind of expert on any of the events I use as jumping-off points for the Tanner adventures. I research enough to construct what I believe to be a plausible plot, but my focus is always on writing the book, not getting bogged down researching it. We’re talking fiction, not a scholarly treatise.

 

You’ve had your character Tracie Tanner go though some pretty difficult situations in the past, but this time she definitely had to face the hardest choice of her career. Without giving away spoilers, why did you think it important for her to evolve down this path?

 

Even though the Tracie Tanner novels are action-packed, in my mind everything boils down to characterization. If the reader doesn’t care about Tracie, nothing about the dilemma she’s facing will matter.

With that as my guiding principle, it’s clear as you read through the six Tanner books that taking on the types of assignments Tracie is asked to complete would take a psychological toll on anyone. She believes strongly in what she’s doing and in the rightness of freedom versus oppression, but still, she carries the weight of things she has done on her shoulders everywhere she goes.

The moral dilemma she faces in The Bashkir Extraction is an extension of the burden she carries. Life does not get any easier for Tracie in this book.

 

What do you have lined up next for Tracie Tanner and when can we hope to read about it?

 

The answer to that question is pretty easy: I have no idea! I currently have three series going: the Tanner series, the Paskagankee series of supernatural thrillers, and the Jack Sheridan series of pulp thrillers.

I’m working on a Sheridan book right now, with a Paskagankee book to follow, and then I’ll turn my attention back to Tracie. My goal is to release at least one Tracie book a year. Bashkir was released December 12, so I’m aiming for an end-of-2018 release date for the seventh Tracie thriller. Where she goes from here, though, is anyone’s guess, because I haven’t even spitballed a plot yet.

 

As you may know, TopShelf Magazine is really geared toward helping booksellers and librarians discover fantastic new authors and books, as well as invaluable tips on how to improve the marketability of their establishments. With that in mind, please allow me to pick your brain for a few helpful tidbits that indie booksellers may find helpful.

 

In your experience traveling from bookstore to bookstore, doing signings and other events, what have to discovered are some of the best ways to captivate readers and get people into your bookstore events?

 

Honestly, I rarely do bookstore events. Unless your name is Lee Child or Steve Berry, as an author it’s hard to get people to come out to an event when they’re not familiar with you or your work. Most of my interactions with readers take place on social media, where an author can have a reach far beyond what is possible through in-person appearances.

I did a “Noir at the Bar” reading a couple of years ago in Boston that was a lot of fun and very well received, but that’s definitely the exception for me and not the rule. I would certainly be receptive to a bookstore appearance if asked, but it’s not the sort of thing I typically pursue.

 

Have you come across any marketing strategies used by booksellers in your travels that have struck you as particularly impressive or effective?

 

Again, I’m far from an expert on this topic, but I think it’s common knowledge that booksellers need to develop a strategy to allow them to compete more effectively in an era of electronic books and bookselling. One of the ways they could do so is through aggressively promoting local/Indie authors to their core customer group. It surprises me that this doesn’t happen more than it does.

 

What are some of the coolest things you’ve seen at bookstores that you feel other booksellers should try and replicate?

 

I’m not here to tell business owners how to run their businesses, but it feels like there’s kind of an antagonistic relationship in many ways between bookstores and Indie authors. I’m not sure why that is, because it would seem to me to be the perfect symbiotic relationship.

 

These days authors and readers also look to TopShelf Magazine for tips on writing and book recommendations. Here are a few questions for aspiring authors.

 

Do you follow a regular writing routine? Do you have any funny, weird, or unusual habits while writing that you wouldn’t mind sharing?

 

My goal when I’m working on a book (which is basically all the time) is to write 1500 words per day, six days a week. As a writer with a full-time job and a family, that goal is not always possible to achieve, but that’s the standard I aim for. I’ve discovered that if I start taking days off, I lose the flow of the story and it becomes much harder to get it back.

Those who know me would probably tell you I’m a little weird, period. But I’ve had friends and acquaintances read my dark fiction and say stuff like, “You seem so nice, where do those gruesome horror stories come from?”

When that happens I like to answer, “Those are the things I’m willing to write about. You should see the stuff that’s in my head that I don’t dare put on the page…”

 

How much time and money do you have to put into marketing your books to keep them selling and ranking on bestseller lists?

 

One of the advantages of electronic books is that there is no shelf life – the books live forever. That means a good book can find readership and earn money indefinitely.

One of the disadvantages of electronic books, though, is that there is no shelf life – the books live forever. This means the field continues to get more and more crowded, as books both good and bad vie for readers’ attention and their spending dollars.

This obviously amplifies the importance of marketing. Any author who jumps into the field and plans to spend all of his or her time writing is in for a rude awakening: you might be a great writer but you won’t sell many books if you don’t pay attention to the marketing end.

Authors have to be willing to experiment because the field is constantly changing. One thing remains constant, though: if readers aren’t aware of your book, you won’t sell many copies.

 

Is there anything that you could offer aspiring authors that you feel could be of substantial value in their quest to hit the bestseller list?

 

Hitting bestseller lists is a total crapshoot. I only made it because I was fortunate enough to have my thriller, Final Vector, included in the Deadly Dozen collection along with books by a number of other authors, nearly all of whom was much higher-profile than myself. We sold over 100,000 copies and spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and six weeks on USA Today’s list.

It was a thrill I’ll never forget, but also one I understand I may never relive. It was the essence of catching lightning in a bottle. But I would tell aspiring authors if you’re writing solely to become a New York Times bestseller, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons and you are almost certainly doomed to disappointment.

Write the best book you can, market it as well as you can, and accept that it’s a big world out there and your book may never see the kind of success you’re hoping for. And write the next book! Your odds of long-term success grow with every release.