ROX BURKEY & CO-AUTHOR CHARLES
- GUEST CO-AUTHORS -
Well, today I am fortunate to interview a very successful co-author team from Texas - BREAKFIELD & BURKEY.
Welcome Rox and Charles ...
Clancy, most of these questions are responded to by Rox Burkey, though Charles has made significant inputs. With co-authors it is important to clarify some of the responses. I won with the rock, paper, scissors duel for this honour.
1. TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELVES AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
My youth was spent in California with sun, surf, and school, pretty much in that order. I was encouraged to do my best in school and work hard. I even took a job in a movie theatre and fibbed about my age to meet their minimum requirements. The real reason was to earn enough to add to my less than fashionable wardrobe and save for a car. With minimum wage and from the perspective of youth, it took eons to save enough.
Charles is the eldest of three sons who followed their parents to multiple military bases, including Germany where he excelled in football, competitive shooting, and fixing motorcycles. He developed a great love of reading and excelled in his studies. He started out as a really smart kid with a great sense of humour, which, with time, has been enhanced to enviable an art form.
Clancy, like many young girls, I wrote an abundance of idealistic poetry in school. The more serious writing really began in college, with commissioned white papers that were focused on technology issues like software pirating, mainframe connections, and microcomputers. This helped supplement some of my college tuition and self-confidence.
My renowned co-author, Breakfield, actually did a serious, albeit controversial, school newspaper publication with a point-of-view on the life and times in Austin TX. Though the actual details are sketchy, there was a hint that the faculty advisor was harshly chastised as each issue subsequently sold out and the circulation numbers rose.
We currently balance a very busy schedule of very enjoyable family life, involved professional corporate careers, our writing, selective speaker engagements focused on customer experience and technology topics, book signing, and family balance. Often the 24-hour workday is simply not enough, argh!
2. WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME WRITERS?
Charles and I ended up working for a leading telecommunications manufacturer eventually writing documentation and certification tests for various applications. We co-authored a couple of non-fiction technology books and decided technology was changing way too fast for this point of view to be a relevant exercise for us.
Seven or so years ago, I fiddled around with a portion of a fictional piece that I finally persuaded Charles would be a lot more fun. I totally convinced him that we could take the experiences we observed in the technology marketplace, places we visited separately or together all over the world, the myriad of people, and our knowledge and create a serious of stories with a foundation from the beginning of computers, or the Enigma Machine.
3. WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
We actually chuckled at your ‘shoot from the hip’ suggestion. There are certainly portions of each of our currently available 9 stories in the series and the one we are baking now where that has been the case. We have a bit of process in developing our stories. As Breakfield likes to put it “we begin with a concept and after a lot of work try to turn it into an idea. 😊”
Luckily, technology provides a nearly endless source of fodder for our stories. Our jobs have put us into the thick of it and the ongoing evolution we have experienced in our professional years with our global accounts. We focus on a theme, as with identity theft in The Enigma Factor and then our characters interact with their roles in that telling. The story construct is done in parts and captured on a spreadsheet complete with color-coding.
We begin with a rough outline for the story and the characters we anticipate will be involved. In the good cyber guys versus the bad cyber guys we have developed 160 plus characters. We have descriptions, relationships, and locations for them. Many for instance are multilingual like with the Cyber Assassins Technology Services or CATS team which was a fork in the road for our series beginning with book 7 of the series, The Enigma Gamers.
With the outline we each decide on chapters or characters we want to interact. Then, as Charles so eloquently categorized it, we play Literary Ping-Pong, serving up content to each other to further shape the ideas of a given story. We decided early on that though each of the stories is a part of the series and the character development is richer when read in order, each story needed to stand alone and not confuse the reader. A bit of background is woven in as a refresher to every story, but it isn’t the same from one story to another, yet sets a great frame of reference. We didn’t want the reading to be tedious for someone who started at the beginning of the series with endless recaps.
Periodically, we ship portions of the story to our editor, Charles’ wife Sandy, who helps insure that the commas are correct and the word usage works. The story is then parsed to our revered beta readers who add their thoughts and comments which can result in our reworking a story, section or character interaction. Each story takes 6 months to put together and then the artistic design work for the cover and interior starts.
4. WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Storytelling is not only one of the oldest forms of communication, but it’s really fun. Taking a subject and sharing it with others to entertain, enlighten, or even educate is what we enjoy. We like to combine the technology, rich characters, humour, travel, intrigue, and our own form of specialized terms which relates to acronyms common in the technology industry. Fictional writing for us is taking the possible application of given technologies and then illustrating how folks today use or abuse the capabilities. We always keep in mind that Readers have their preferences, and writers help feed that hunger.
Recently, we decided to add audio formats to each of the stories, which is an involved process. The narrator for the first audio, The Enigma Factor, Steven Jay Cohen was great, but not what we felt was optimizing the series. We have settled on an ongoing Voice-of-the-Series, Derek Shoales, who has completed The Enigma Rising and The Enigma Ignite, with The Enigma Wraith in the works. We find as we review each chapter that we are enjoying our own stories differently from the original writing. We like the enhancement that a skilled voice actor gives to the story as it takes our imaginations to a new media level. We originally wrote the stories with the ambition to get them and our characters on screen. Audibles take us a step closer.
5. WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
As we have added stories to the series we have also changed story direction, so the time spent on each story continues to expand. There are periods when each of us want to write something we thought about or dreamed and our time is too limited. In a perfect world, our series will become wildly successful and we could actually earn our livelihood writing and speaking.
Since we won a first place award with a short story in 2017, we are hooked on writing a few short stories now and then to expand our reach to readers. It is a more like sitting around with friends and telling a story.
6. WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Once upon a time we were children who were separately taught to learn lots, work hard, be honourable, and love lots. Then we grew up with different influences. For example, Charles is a Native Texan, while I am a Naturalized Texan.
I am a mom with a fabulous family, a caretaker, a technologist, a speaker, a trainer, a cook, a seamstress, a world traveller, and a fan of the outdoors which all go into my writing. Nothing has been before versus now, but rather layers that I think make my writing better.
Charles is devoted to his family, a techno-geek, a speaker, a woodworker, a cook, a wine connoisseur, a world traveller, a motorcycle fan, a financial whiz, a WWII history buff, and can hold an audience spellbound with his story telling. This process has made his writing richer but one is not exclusive to the other.
7. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Wow, tough question. Thus far winning the first place award for the series and doing the Good Morning Texas television segment in 2017. What a treat for us and our readers.
8. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
We are working on the 10th book in the series and 3 short stories. The 10th book in the series, working title The Enigma Source, looks at crypto-currency and the risks/benefits associated with adoption of that as our digital currency. We are also expanding the character interactions in this volume. It is coming along nicely even taking a few unexpected turns from our original design.
With the short stories we are adding some different genre focus, which has been different. For us, writing has to be enjoyable, period.
9. WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Clancy, that’s an easy question. People, places, and technology are our inspiration, even if in varying degrees. Very little of these stays the same for long.
What is really cool for us is when our editors wig-out from our story’s twists and turns, then tell us “WHAT? I didn’t see THAT coming!”
10. WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
The series is Techno-Thriller, though sometimes it is related to the Science and Technology side of Si-Fi. It is however more real applied technology rather than the futuristic most Si-Fi is perceived. With Techno-Thrillers you don’t need to get into a space ship or travel to the future to get into the storyline. We do relevant technology in today’s situations with travel, romance, humour and intrigue to bring the story threads together in surprising ways.
With the story stories we are writing a little history, romance, and drama to help us stretch as authors.
11. DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
It has been long thought that everyone has a book inside them waiting to get out. New writers we have spoken to tend to worry about many different things, many of which can be easily overcome these days such a tools for better editing, cover design, published, and marketing.
Keep writing. Humans improve with repetition, this is especially with writing. Find an editor and try to make certain that your beta readers are not friends and family. Though you love them and they love you, they will gloss over parts they may think need improvement to avoid hurting feelings.
People will like your work or they won’t. It’s important that each individual likes their work. A recent new reader and I spoke on the phone and she indicated that she was more into romance authors than mine, but someone had given her one of the stories, The Enigma Wraith. Not only did she like it far more than she thought she would, she purchased several more and told her friends to try them. We like that.
The first good review will cheer your heart and propel you forward, the first bad one will stick like a knife in your gut. Shake it off and do better for yourself.
12. DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Absolutely! I can’t write a check for more than a hundred dollars. I’m terrified someone will want another check for an even larger amount.
Seriously though we are continuously scanning the technical horizon for validation of some of our premises and the ones we are currently working on and the real problem is not getting enough time to capture them for our story-smithing sessions. Writer’s block is not the issue but getting enough time. Having two of us helps these blocks stay short.
13. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I like the early morning and so does Breakfield, but only if we can have a two hour contiguous block of time. Sometimes you need two hours just to pick up on the story line thread before cranking on a new chapter.
14. DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
This differs for each of us. I like to write in the early morning anywhere that is quiet and coffee close by. The less interrupted I am, the more I can write. For Charles, it is typical in the mornings after a nice breakfast, but also quiet.
15. WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
The greatest joy in writing is creating a memorable character that readers, reviewers, or editors want to continue in one form or another. Sometimes in order to let the character do that they have to have a pivotal point in their life or a situation which allows that change in their direction.
A great case in point is the change that occurred for our controversial character, Zara, through the course of three volumes in the series. One reviewer complained after the first book that the character had no redeeming qualities. After the second book this same reviewer felt Zara was even worse than she thought. Then after the third book, she was actually in Zara’s court cheering her on.
16. WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
For me it would be J.R.R. Tolkien for the way he created the lands and characters in a world for his children to enjoy. The story and the backstory I find fascinating. I want to travel to where it was filmed too.
For Charles it’s Kevin J. Anderson. He’s a great story teller, the mechanics of his stories, and the pace he sets in his works.
17. WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
We have had some outstanding comments from readers. One of the earliest ones that actually kept us on track was from a reader who wrote an extensive Amazon review. “Move over David Baldacci, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, and Clive Cussler. Burkey and Breakfield have created a storyline for the new millennium. Incorporating elements of techno thriller, crime drama, geopolitical intrigue, crypto-capers, romance, and more, they have created a world set in current day, woven with historical elements from the foundations of modern cryptography, and tied in the global financial system to make a gripping story that has the potential to make a great series of movies or perhaps a multi-season TV series. Wonder if we will see them on Netflix or the big screen one of these days? Hope so! After reading The Enigma Factor, I cannot wait to read their next creation, Enigma Rising, which I have already ordered”
It ranks right up there with the first audible review and earned a Reviewer’s Choice award (https://audiobookreviewer.com/reviews/enigma-rising-charles-v-breakfield-roxanne-e-burkey/) for The Enigma Rising “Breakfield and Burkey give their listeners a lot of moving parts that somehow come together throughout the book in a logical and realistic manner. The dialog is well-developed and the action is non-stop. Be prepared to set aside all 10 hours in one sitting, because you will NOT be able to turn this one off. There are several “aha” moments and many “oh no!” ones as well. The breadth and skill level of the R-Group is overwhelming and scary. I enjoy thrillers but this is much more … thrills, action, the edge of your seat suspense with a touch of romance and humanity. An awesome series that I cannot wait to see where it goes next!
The narrator, Derek Shoales, owns not only the characters but the entire book as well. His performance was solid and enthralling. His accents and female voices were top-notch. The authors and narrator together will captivate the listener until the end.”
Clancy, which one of these would you or your reader’s choose?
18. WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
The one from a person who listened to the audible for The Enigma Rising (note above). “These books are poorly written. The story lines are weak and the coincidences ridiculous. Character development is non-existent. The cherry on top is they switch readers from book one to two, different accents for each character, it’s brutal. I'm not quite sure what some of these reviewers are talking about, but if I had to guess, paid by the authors.”
These are the sorts of reviewers that comment without knowing the facts.
19. WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Over the years we have each met many remarkable people, worked with difficult and challenging engineers, and basically characterized them in our books so we could kill them to get even. It is supremely gratifying to kill off the people who have ticked us off, literary.
20. OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
On the weekends, Charles likes to do voluntary work. He is involved with working with other professionals to destabilize 3rd world dictatorships and oppressive military juntas. He likes to cater the heavy weapons for them. There is something very gratifying about being under fire and having a successful deployment of equipment from the C-130 Hercules transport.
Clancy, would you like to join us? We have a show coming up soon. You need to bring your own fatigues.
21. DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes, and we recommend this to all authors. Nothing says amateur louder than a misspelling or wrong word diction on your cover or interior.
22. DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Completing a wretched technical upgrade that took all night then driving home as the sun is coming up while everyone else is going to work i.e. against the traffic. Then crafting a world class omelette before winding down for a few hours’ sleep. A few hours of sleep and waking up to play with the hound dog and writing. Then the hot tub followed by wine and story-smithing, then a full night rest.
Alternatively, a speaking/signing event where we sign over 1,000 books on a weekend. This one has a lot more appeal even without facing traffic.
23. IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbs. If either of us were stuck on a desert island without a laptop we would be making up friends and solving all these issues and Watterson would have some great suggestions.
24. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
It is our firm belief that the planet would be much better run if world leaders would simply seek our counsel. For a modest retainer we could be on their speed dial for that 24x7 support.
25. WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
More books, short stories, and more awards. We are committed to more success.
26. WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON BOOK TRAILERS? DO THEY SELL BOOKS?
We love book trailers and have them for each of our stories on our website and YouTube. We post them now and again on Facebook and Twitter and they are positively received. We like the images and music elements our trailer designer extracted from the stories as he read each one. Josh Trant is also a budding actor, but we love him for his trailer creativity.
27. DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
We use portions of ourselves in several of the characters for traits that we see in ourselves or traits we wish we had in greater abundance.
28. DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
Yes and no. It is in a state of flux with avenues like Amazon and other digital options offering creative authors new ways of publishing. Ebooks are so different from traditional paper that consuming desires are first now.
29. DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Nope, just more practicing.
30. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Our favourite manuscript is the one we are currently writing. It’s the one where we are putting all the pieces to the puzzle together and having the various story threads progress to their destiny. Our stories are intelligent intersections of time, technology, and character evolution.
31. HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
When we do more signings and people ask for us at events coupled with making a good living. As a writer I admire once said, “I enjoyed being a kept author.” This was in reference to the big publishing house she wrote for. We would like writing to keep us in food and wine.
32. WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
We want readers of The Enigma Series to feel like they stepped inside their own world. How people today use and adopt technology should perhaps be a little less trusting. Technology is in our lives and is used quite honestly for good and evil. We want to help our readers recognize the difference. We also want them to enjoy the story. Our characters are made from people we have known and the situations which have happened, it’s what makes the stories fun and exciting to read. Some of our fans pester us for the next one minutes after they finish a current one. We want them to know that we plan more stories for the series and they can always go to our website for a Sneak Peek into what we are presently constructing.
33. WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE YOUR BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIES? EVER WRITTEN A SCREENPLAY?
In a word, Yes, Clancy, we would love the books made into a movie or Netflix series. Several reviewers have posted those types of comments in their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Just so you know, we are on board with that in case you have any folks interested in negotiating with us.
We have not written a screenplay, but in looking at the formats it is a bit of a different skill to write this filming direction. We are of course willing to work with an expert in this field when those rights are contracted.
34. HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
A book cover is a work of art that both draws readers and captures their imagination or simple makes them walk away. We use graphic artists for our covers and leverage a portion of that for a chapter heading watermark and section break.
With the first one we had visions of photos and pictures with our kids and were wisely advised that being so busy does not engage the reader better and becomes too complex. We have ideas from the story we like to offer as suggestions but work with the graphic designer to get it right.
Each of the covers in our series helps highlight the focal point of the story and captures the imagination. The various colors allows the whole series to line up rather nicely. I must say Charles had a great sale to a lady who simply wanted a specific color so she purchased The Enigma Wraith. Her subsequent review suggested she liked the story too, purchasing The Enigma Stolen after that. We look forward to hearing from her on how much she enjoyed this one.
35. WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To see more of the world, meet new people, learn more, and write about all of it. We would also like to be on location of the filming of our stories and being a storyline consultant to the director while slugging down our favorite adult beverage. Australia comes to mind in case you know of anyone who wants to pick up the series.
36. WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Marketing is the bane of our existence. We originally thought if we wrote it, it would simply sell because it was out there. Then it was the more we wrote the broader our notice and acceptance. We are over that silly idea and now we actually focus on more marketing. In the last year we have expanded our reach on various social media channels and learned some of the more valuable time to return avenues. It changes all the time.
We do have some good support for some of our marketing as it became way too much on top of our regular careers. We love to write, but more than half of our time should be spent marketing. If we were with a big publishing house we might get more of that level of support, but that is not who we are. We like the control of our intellectual property and recognize that with that comes a responsibility to market ourselves. Just like how we construct stories we divide and conquer this aspect. We are improving.
Clancy, even with this opportunity to be a guest for you, we are expanding our brand awareness to your fans. It is a wonderful thing. When you invite us to Australia to do a book signed and talk about stories, we will bring you some special gifts reserved for our friends, family, and rock stars such as YOU.
37. ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
Yes we are an Indie Publisher. We publish under ICABOD Press. If you have read any of our stories, you will get the significance of that publisher.
38. DESCRIBE YOURSELVES IN FIVE WORDS.
Rox – tenacious, creative, educated, caring, and grateful
Charles – focused, original, honorable, accomplished, and insightful
39. WHAT PISSES YOU OFF MOST?
Reviewers that make accusations without facts. Case in point a recent reviewer who didn’t care for a story suggest we paid for the other good reviews we had received. Not only is that untrue, it is really insulting to us as people. The anonymity of the digital world allow people to post all sorts of loosely realistic things without fear of retribution or honest ownership. We respect folks’ rights to state their POV but not unfounded slanderous statements that infringe upon us as people.
40. WHAT IS THE TITLE OF THE LAST BOOK YOU READ? GOOD ONE?
Origin – A Novel, by Dan Brown
41. WHAT WOULD BE THE VERY LAST SENTENCE YOU’D WRITE?
Then there was the time when …
42. WHAT WOULD MAKE YOU HAPPIER THAN YOU ARE NOW? CARE TO SHARE?
For us as authors it would be for the series to provide full replacement income. We would like to be able to write, travel to many book signings, talk to groups about technology usage, and have time to write new stories in some different genres. We have so many ideas swirling around that we fear not enough time to write them all into great stories.
43. ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Hope you enjoyed the interview as much as we did. Thank you.
Clancy's comment: Many thanks, Rox and Charles for collaborating in this interview. You are my first co-authors, and I appreciate your answers. Excellent! I wish you the very best in book sales, and recommend everybody to view your book trailers. Top job!