Tell us about A Touch of Deceit in a few sentences.
The novel is about a Sicilian FBI agent, Nick Bracco, who heads the counterterrorism division of the Baltimore Field Office. When his family becomes the target of a Kurdish terrorist, he recruits his mafia cousin Tommy to help track down the terrorist. Yes, it gets messy rather fast.
How did you come to write this particular book?
Believe it or not I started this book back in 1999. I was almost halfway through the novel when September 11th happened. I’m from New York originally, so it definitely affected me. Since one of the plot-points of my novel involved a terrorist attempting to blow up the White House I didn’t write a single word for close to a year. I just didn’t have the stomach for it.
Where and when is your novel set and why did you make these specific choices?
The novel is set in Baltimore for the first part, then finishes up in Payson, Arizona. I’d say the novel is pretty much present day, but with technology changing as fast as it does, I was careful not to use too many trendy references.
I believe I chose Baltimore because I had just finished reading David Simon’s book, “Homicide,” which was based in Baltimore. A terrific read. It gave me the flavor I was looking for. Plus New York seemed like such a cliché to me. Everything’s based in New York, so why not Baltimore.
How long did it take to write your book?
Well as I said I began in 1999, but all together it took a good seven years from start to finish.
How much revision of your MS did you do before you sent it off?
Tons. And then tons more. I’d published many short stories and was even nominated for a Pushcart Prize for two of them, but this was my first novel. I worked with a critique group who line-edited every sentence, then I’d revise again and again. When I was done I gave the finished product to five different people to read. They were all avid readers who knew nothing about this book. They all came back to me and said they loved it once the story got going, but the first couple of chapters were a little slow.
Well, of course, as a first time novelist you have to grab the reader from the first sentence. So I blew up the first seventy-five pages and started all over again. That process took another year. I’d say this novel is really my third novel, because that’s how much I’d changed it.
You’ve awards for A Touch of Deceit. Tell readers about them.
Yes, “A Touch of Deceit,” won the 2009 Southwest Writers Award, Thriller category. It was a thrill. It came with a $250 first prize and a nice plaque. The Pushcart Prize nominations were great, but winning that award really gave me confidence.
How did you find your literary agent?
The judge for the Southwest Writers Award was Robert Brown from Wylie Merrick Literary Agency. Once I was chosen the winner, I contacted Robert and asked if he’d represent me and he not only agreed, he became my number one cheerleader. I can’t say enough about him, he’s a great person.
What qualities make a successful writer?
At first I think you need to be an avid reader, but after that probably perseverance.
Do you think writing is a natural gift or an acquired skill?
With the really good writers I’d say seventy-five percent is innate ability. The other twenty-five percent is probably hard work and some luck. Having said that, there are exceptions to every rule. Never count out the ability of human spirit to achieve.
To what extent are grammar and spelling important to a writer?
It’s important for sure, but those sorts of things are repairable. That’s where a good critique group can be so helpful.
What single piece of advice would you give to writers still hoping to be published?
It’s a great time to be a writer. Don’t give up. Keep learning from your past work and keep reading other peoples’ work. Believe it or not reading poor fiction can actually be helpful. Sometimes you can recognize your own tendencies in other works of fiction. I know I have. And if you see yourself heading down a familiar path, don’t. Make sure whatever scene you’re writing is fresh and absent of anything we may have read or seen on TV before.
Are you involved in other projects?
Right now I’m furiously working on the sequel to “A Touch of Deceit.” I’ve also written a psychological thriller based on one of my short stories, but have put that on hold to finish up the sequel. The working title is, “The Agenda.”
Where can “A Touch of Deceit” be purchased?
I was offered a book deal a few months back from a small hardcover publisher who was going to sell my novel for $27.95. In the digital age I just couldn’t get myself to sign that deal. How many books was I going to sell at that price? Not many. It’s risky, but I opted to publish it as an E-book for just $1.99 instead. I really wanted readers over anything else. Readers become fans and fans buy more of your work. Since “A Touch of Deceit” is the first in a series I’m looking for the future. And since the future is certainly digital, I’ve recently agreed to make the Nick Bracco series an Amazon E-book Exclusive.
Do you have a website or a blog readers can visit?
My website is www.garyponzo.com and my blog is www.strongscenes.com. As you know I run a monthly writing contest on my blog where I hope to give some lesser-known writers a chance to have their work seen by agents, editors and publishers. I never charge a fee to enter the contest and the winner receives a $25.00 Amazon Gift Card. I’d love nothing better than to help other writers gain some exposure.