Unexpected Fan Mail…

Today I received an email from a fan (name edited out by request):

Dear Katla:

I have benefited from, and very much enjoyed, the tales of your professional life. I have taken it upon myself to promote your skills in the United States (see attached mobile advertisement). As a businessman, I believe you play a very valuable and useful role in the capitalist system. I just hope that one of my competitors (or business partners) never enlists your services to troubleshoot me.

Enjoy and feel better soon.

(Name removed by request)

The email was accompanied by this photo:

(fan art, name withheld by request)

(fan art, name withheld by request)

This brought a big smile to my face. Thank you, and I hope you’ll enjoy the items I sent you in return.

If you enjoy the Amsterdam Assassin Series and you want to send me feedback, please don’t hesitate to send me a note at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com

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Aconite Attack, the new Katla KillFile, is now live!

Aconite Attack, the fourth KillFile, is now available at Amazon and will soon be available at other retailers*. Click on the cover to go to the Amazon page:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile (10,700 words) follows Katla Sieltjes on her first foray as a freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, when she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. Every plan has a fluke factor though, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death, when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.


 

* Aconite Attack should become available at iBooks, Kobo, B&N, NookUK, Scribd, and other retailers in the coming days, as some retailers take more time to process the publication. Check your favourite retailer by using the links on the main page.


 If you want to read Aconite Attack and review the story on GoodReads/Amazon/Kobo/iTunes/B&N/NookUK, I have free review copies (ePub/Mobi) available, just send me an email.

I hope every Katla fan will enjoy this new novella. Please share this post through the social media buttons below.

Thanks for your support!


New Katla KillFile on its way: Aconite Attack

Despite battling my kidney stones, I’ve been working on a new Katla KillFile called Aconite Attack:

Assassin Katla finds a devious way to get a target to poison himself…

The Aconite Attack KillFile follows Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter, as she gets herself hired by the CEO of a modelling agency to permanently remove his playboy partner, who is quickly draining the firm’s resources on his downward spiral into self-destruction. Katla finds a way to administer a poison to the target, but he has to be isolated for her plan to succeed. But every plan has a fluke factor, and Katla soon finds herself in a struggle for life and death when the target reveals his darker side…

The Katla KillFile short stories chronologically precede the novels in the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Each KillFile features Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, executing one of her contracts. While not mandatory reading, each KillFile provides insight both in Katla’s work methods and skill, and additional background information in her character and personal history. The KillFiles can be read out of order, as the contracts are random samples from Katla’s past.

This e-book features a glossary.

First peek at the cover:

Aconite Kill File gray MS

Pre-publication snippet:

Katla put away her lock picks and took the oxygen tank from her bag. She covered her face with the biohazard mask before she entered the target’s apartment and closed the door behind her.

Although she had waited a good half hour after Gerard Snuif left, she took no chances and made a slow circuit through the target’s opulent bachelor pad to make sure she was alone before she went into the kitchen and took down the cereal box from the cabinet.

She lifted the plastic bag with cereal from the box and placed the bag on a scale. 114 grammes. So Snuif had eaten more than half the bag, unaware of the source of his complaints.

Probably figured nobody would mess with his cereal.

Katla smiled behind the biohazard mask and took a fresh carton of cereal from her bag. She removed the sealed bag with untainted cereal, measured against the used bag and tore off a corner. She poured 136 grammes of cereal into a bowl and weighed the bag to make sure it contained the exact same amount as the used bag.

Although it was unlikely that Snuif would know exactly how much cereal he had left, she preferred to be meticulous when dealing with poison.

She placed the fresh bag in the used carton and placed the cereal back in the kitchen cabinet. The used bag with the poisoned cereal went into a ziplock bag. She added the 136 grams of untainted cereal and put the bag in the carton in her bag.

Ready.

Leaving the oxygen mask on until she was near the door, Katla went out the same way she came in and used her picks to lock the door behind her.

Now, all she had to hope for was for his partner to be susceptible to her offer. If he didn’t take the bait, all her work had been for nothing.

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Loki Enterprises business card…

Loki Enterprises business card lp.aspx

Katla’s ‘Loki Enterprises’ business card, designed by Martyn V. Halm

I read somewhere that writers were having bookmarks printed with their covers and description. Another writer had business cards with his name and ‘author’ on it. Since I often use business cards as bookmarks, I decided to mix those two ideas and create a business card for my protagonist, freelance assassin Katla Sieltjes.

Now, something like ‘Katla Sieltjes, freelance assassin’ would be too obvious and too close to ‘Martyn V. Halm, author’. Katla hides behind Loki Enterprises. Loki also stands for ‘low key’ or unobtrusive, so I wanted the cards to be sober and professional, but still packing a punch. Katla refers to her work as ‘corporate troubleshooting’, since she often works for corporations by making obstacles disappear. She’s also an expert in disguising homicide, but that’s also not something you want to put on your business card. One of the ways Katla masks homicides is by giving her targets ‘accidents’, which tend to be fortunate for Katla’s clients.

That’s how I came up with the description. ‘experts in fortunate accidents’ and ‘corporate troubleshooting’. I added the links to my blog and my website and my author email address and presto.

I ordered the cards through Vistaprint and got myself a nice card holder engraved with Loki Enterprises. Now, I have a card to give to people who wonder what I’m writing, and I also leave them as bookmarks in library books.

If you’d like a signed card, send me an email with your name and address and I’ll send you a personalized Loki Enterprises business card. Postage is currently USD 3.00 for international letter post, payable through PayPal.


OPINION: Stickler for Verisimilitude?

stick·ler noun \ˈsti-k(ə-)lər\ : a person who believes that something is very important and should be done or followed all the time
veri·si·mil·i·tude noun \-sə-ˈmi-lə-ˌtüd, -ˌtyüd\ : the quality of seeming real

I’ve been asked about my author bio, which says, ‘Martyn is a stickler for verisimilitude in fiction, even if that requires learning new skills’. So what does it mean to be a stickler for verisimilitude? Does it just mean I’m borderline obsessive about realism in fiction? Well, yes. And no.

Let’s start with the beginning (always a good place to start).

What’s the first thing a reader does when they pick up a novel? They show their willingness to ‘suspend their disbelief’. The reader knows they’re going to read what is basically, well, a lie. Or rather, a fabrication of the truth. To keep their disbelief suspended, the reader needs help from the author. The author has fabricated this story, but to stave off disbelief, the story has to ‘ring true’.

So how do you make your work ‘ring true’?

All genres have their particular realities. What will ring ‘true’ in science fiction, will be ‘ridiculous’ in suspense fiction. Romance novels have another idea of ‘romance’ than literary fiction. A reader’s expectation will be matched to the genre they are reading. A reader of romance novels will expect a happily-ever-after ending and might be disappointed when the blossoming relationship ends in misery, while for literary fiction readers, the opposite might be ‘true’.

To suspend disbelief, an author has to keep the novel’s intended audience and their expectations in mind, which can backfire horribly if the author starts to mix genres, especially if they intend to cater to the separate genres in the mix. For example, romantic suspense is often unrealistic to hardcore suspense readers, and too realistic for the tastes of romance readers. The author will have to walk a fine balance between ‘reality’ and the expectations of the audience.

However, even without mixing genres, many authors make mistakes that destroy the verisimilitude.

My particular field is suspense fiction, where it should be fairly easy to keep the story ‘ring true’. Most suspense fiction is set in the present or the not-too-distant past, dealing with human beings without artificial enhancements, who have to adhere the laws of physics. As most of us live in the same world, readers won’t find much difficulty in identifying with the characters. The characters in suspense fiction often live in a shadow world due to their occupation and often they need to keep their occupation hidden from everyone around them except maybe their co-workers.

It’s this hidden world that attracts the suspense reader, the inner workings of the societies that are mostly shielded from the general public. Whether it’s the ‘good’ side of law enforcement and legal proceedings or the ‘bad’ side of crime, the author needs to know what they’re writing about. If the author hasn’t been part of this shadow world they will have to do research, because many readers of suspense fiction are extremely knowledgeable. And the smallest wrong detail can shake the foundation of the reader’s ‘suspension of disbelief’.

I’ve written a couple of articles on suspense fiction research, but what does it take to become knowledgeable to a sufficient degree? If you want to write with confidence and strive for verisimilitude, this means you will have to go to the inhabitants of the shadow world. And that is not for the faint-hearted.

The blurb of my first book says, ‘Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence’. Since I’ve been a part of Dutch culture from birth and lived in Amsterdam for almost three decades, the first two items on that list don’t pose research problems, but the rest…

I never traded in narcotics, but I know people who use and/or deal in drugs. I can’t hack a computer, but I found people who could and did. I ride a motorcycle, but I’m not part of a gang. And while I have some real tattoos, I needed to get a temporary henna tattoo to understand mehndi and its connotations and, yes, dangers.

Of course I used to be a bouncer for discotheques and night clubs and I’ve been involved in the martial arts for over two decades, so anything to do with violence is pretty much old hat to me. And, according to my wife, it’s a good thing I don’t have bad intentions, because my social engineering skills would make me an excellent con man.

While I know many of the elements of suspense fiction first hand, I still had to do an awful lot of research. Most of my research is reading. Not other suspense novels, which are often too rife with errors to be considered valuable information. And the information on the internet is often unverified and therefore questionable.

However, when it comes to the ‘tools of the trade’, even if you’re from a society where firearms are severely restricted and it is difficult to get first hand experience, the least you can do is check details on the manufacturer’s website.

Most, if not all, manufacturers have websites where you can find the right details about guns, like the safety measures, how many rounds go into a magazine, whether there are large capacity magazines and other accessories available, product manuals, sometimes even animated videos on how to field-strip their products.

Of course, this is not just applicable to firearm research, but also to vehicles, alarm systems, lock picking, computer hardware and software, hacking, explosives, controlled substances, and the list goes on and on.

Which is why it bothers me when an author gets details of these existing products wrong. It’s literally five minutes of research to check the Glock website to see their patented safety measures, which differ from the safety measures on other semi-automatic pistols. If the author doesn’t even bother to get those facts straight, why should I believe anything else in their novels?

Now, I did get responses from authors that they wrote for ‘entertainment’ purposes. Or they would point out other works that also contained severe flaws. Neither of those excuses are valid, in my opinion.

The first excuse is moot, because I too write fiction to entertain people and if I can do the research, so can they. What they mean is, if an actor in a Michael Bay movie can shoot two guns at the same time, why can’t I put that in my suspense fiction? Well, you can. But I will ridicule your book in a review because the story lacks verisimilitude.

But the second excuse is inexcusable, in my opinion. To point out that other authors, sometimes well-respected, prolific and successful, make egregious mistakes is no excuse to do the same.

When I read Gorki Park by Martin Cruz Smith, I was fascinated by the details in reconstructing facial features from skulls. However, in the last part of the book, his protagonist, a law enforcement officer, attaches a silencer on a revolver. Such a stupid mistake throws everything he wrote before that in doubt. My disappointment was so encompassing that I never touched another book by Martin Cruz Smith.*

The Trophy Taker, written by Lee Weeks, had a protagonist decapitate someone with a 6-inch throwing star. Even if I had no martial arts knowledge of the use of shuriken, I would still know enough about physics to know that beheading someone would require something a bit more substantial than a throwing star.

Lee Weeks joins the authors who think a bullet fired from a handgun has enough kinetic energy to throw a human being backwards and other details that defy the laws of physics. Watching action movies is not ‘research’.

I probably go above and beyond what most people call research. I persuaded a forensic pathologist to let me observe an autopsy so I could describe one accurately. I learned how to use lockpicks; hotwire cars; surveillance and counter-surveillance techniques; psychological and physical coercion methods and application; navigation, orientation and mobility techniques for the blind; and a variety of ways to dispose of bodies.

And while not all of that is necessary and I’m quite sure the NSA has a file on me now, one of the reasons I enjoy writing suspense fiction is that my research needs provide me with an excuse to indulge my insatiable curiosity not only for my own benefit, but also to write fiction that is as close to reality as possible.

That it also makes me a scourge on those artists who pass on diligent research in favour of copying action movies I consider a bonus.

* Another mistake I found in Gorky Park: “He (Arkady Renko) found the revolver safety on the left by the cylinder and pushed it off.” The ‘safety’ on the left by the cylinder is the ‘crane latch’ that unlocks the cylinder and allows the cylinder to swivel away from the revolver for reloading.

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OPINION: Writing a series is lazy writing to cash in on gullible people!

Recently, a discussion on GoodReads was started by a reader who loved stand-alone books, but every book he was offered seemed to be part of a series. The thread quickly turned ‘anti-series’ with complaints about sequels being less good than the first novel, stories become repetitive, single volume books being enlarged to fill several volumes to make more money from gullible readers, writers becoming too lazy to invent new characters, and so on.

As I write a suspense fiction series, I want to address these issues in this blog article.

When I wrote Reprobate, I had some excellent ideas for additional plot lines that would explore other sides of the freelance assassin protagonist, so I decided to develop the Amsterdam Assassin Series as a series of stand-alone novels and short stories that have the same characters but enjoying one book does not rely on having read the other books/stories. No cliffhangers beyond readers want to know what will happen next in the lives of the protagonists.

As to the concerns addressed in the GoodReads thread:

“Can’t you put just everything in one book?”

No. The books are all over 100K and all have a different theme. The first book, Reprobate, deals with the protagonist breaking her own rules and the consequences. The second book, Peccadillo, has criminals trying a hostile takeover of her legitimate business, unaware that they’re dealing with an assassin. In the third book, Rogue, Katla comes to the attention of global intelligence communities when she kills the wrong target. I’m currently working on the fourth novel, Ghosting, which will show yet another side of the character.

“The first book is mostly good, but the rest is repetitive crap.”

Most reviewers agree that the second book is superior to the first book. I just published the third novel. Feedback from the beta-readers convince me that Rogue is both different from Peccadillo and Reprobate, but just as interesting and entertaining. Just because some people force themselves to turn a stand-alone book into a series doesn’t mean every series writer succumbs to this laziness.

“You write a series to cash in.”

If I wanted to cash in, I’d write short novels in a hot genre, not suspense fiction about a freelance assassin in Amsterdam. And as I sell somewhere around 30-60 books per month, I’m not ‘cashing in’. If I listened to ‘market experts’ I would abandon the series due to the meagre sales. However, I do have fans who want to know what happens to the protagonists and are eager for future books (check my reviews), so I just ignore the sales and keep on writing what I love to write.

“Series are just fluff/sugar coated candy/throwaway books.”

My series is pretty dark, which is quite normal for a suspense fiction series with a freelance assassin protagonist. I’ve been praised for the brief instances of wit that lighten the mood and ground the story in reality. In keeping with the need for verisimilitude, the events in the books have real moral/ethical/physical consequences and I received feedback from fans on how scenes made them reconsider the reader’s own attitudes.

“You’re just too lazy to invent new characters.”

Writing a series is actually more difficult than writing stand-alone novels, mostly because you need to satisfy both the new readers and the readers who read the other books, which requires a fine balance of putting in just enough back story to please both. Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to writing about characters who might never ‘hit it big’ with fans. Writing stand-alones with new characters doesn’t require any referencing to published stories.

Also, the series does feature new characters. Granted, they may be antagonists, but if the antagonists don’t measure up, the protagonist will fall kind of flat. I go by the principle that any character I create should be able to hold their own as protagonist of their own stories, so they have to be fully developed, not just sounding boards for the main characters.

Still I understand how readers don’t want to read series and prefer stand-alone books. In that case, Reprobate would work as a great stand-alone novel because it has all the characters, but all the plot lines are resolved in the end and you don’t need to read the other books.

Except if you want to know what the future holds in store for Katla and Bram…


ROGUE available from November 15th!

ROGUE

ROGUE, THE THIRD KATLA NOVEL IN THE AMSTERDAM ASSASSIN SERIES GOES LIVE NOVEMBER 15TH!

Assassin Katla kills the wrong target and draws attention from combined intelligence communities…

Freelance assassin and corporate troubleshooter Katla Sieltjes runs her business of disguising homicide below the radar of law enforcement, but when her latest target is a judas goat intended to draw her out into the open, the hunter becomes the hunted. Fooling local law enforcement can be difficult, but hiding from intelligence communities aiming to enlist Katla for their dirty work might prove impossible. With Homeland Security, DEA, and the German BKA bundling their forces with Dutch Intelligence in an effort to track down Loki Enterprises, not only Katla’s future is threatened, but also the lives of her lover and his friends.

Rogue is the third novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Rogue gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, international terrorism, computer hacking, forensic sciences, martial arts, foreign intelligence services, the art of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

For a sample of Rogue, go here.

Rogue is live on Amazon.com, follow this link.