I came up with the idea for Riptide pretty much by accident, when I was writing an e-mail to another author. I was spit balling far-fetched story ideas, and one of them concerned a woman who finds the diary of Jack the Ripper hidden in her cellar and realizes there may be a family connection. After typing a few words about that, I sat back and thought, “Actually, that’s not bad.” I strengthened it by adding the idea that the woman’s emotionally troubled brother may be re-creating the Ripper’s crimes in the present day. I set the story in Venice, California, which of course posed the challenge of trying to explain how a killer from London’s East End could wind up on the West Coast of America. The story was a little different from some of the others I’ve done–a little higher concept. I thought it worked out well, but when I tried to sell it to traditional publishers, I hit a wall. Although I had published twenty previous novels, by the time my agent submitted Riptide the publishing industry was in disarray, and it was very difficult to sell a work of fiction unless people thought it was the next Da Vinci Code. Eventually I decided to self-publish the book, not expecting it to sell many copies, but mainly just wanting to get it into print. As things worked out, the e-book edition sold extremely well, as have the digital editions of my other titles. At this point, surprisingly enough, I’ve become one of the bestselling e-book writers in the United States, with about 1.1 million ebooks sold so far, and I’ve even hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. It’s a whole new world.
Riptide looks like an intense read. Was there any scenes you found challenging to write due to the subject matter?
Well, I’ve been writing this kind of thing for a long time now—I wrote my first thriller, a horror novel, in 1986—so I’m pretty much accustomed to the challenges posed by rising action or suspense scenes. The research required to do the historical flashbacks was an unusual feature of Riptide, and probably the aspect of it that I enjoyed the most. The most challenging thing was trying to make the central character, Jennifer Silence, interesting and relatable. Some characters come together very easily, and others come together only with great effort or not at all. I’m not sure Jennifer ever came to life as fully as I would have liked. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen the matter how hard you work at it.
How long did it take you to write your book?
Riptide went through quite a few drafts over a period of about three years, but I wasn’t writing it continuously throughout that time. The actual writing may have taken a year or year and a half–it’s hard to say. I revised it extensively before self-publishing. I changed the ending and rewrote or added many scenes.
What is the most surprising thing you learned in creating your story?
The various facts I learned about Jack the Ripper surprised me. The Hollywood version of his crimes is not very accurate. His victims were not young, beautiful women but mostly older, badly malnourished, and alcoholic. He does not seem to have shown any particular surgical skill. Most—possibly all—of the postcards and letters attributed to him were hoaxes. The nickname Jack the Ripper was probably a hoax and not the killer’s name for himself. There were also many small details that I found interesting. For instance, the first sneakers were invented by the London police. In an effort to dampen their footsteps and make it easier to sneak up on Jack, they attached strips of rubber to the soles of their boots.
What is your next book project?
After Riptide, I wrote Grave of Angels, another novel set in Los Angeles. Grave of Angels features a security consultant specializing in celebrity protection, whose most troubled client, a teenage star, is abducted by a homicidal psychopath. The book was picked up by Thomas & Mercer, a division of Amazon Publishing, and comes out on August 7.
What books have most influenced your life?
I’ve always been a big reader. Even as a small child, I tried writing a “novel” about a couple of birds who are captured and put in a cage and must arrange their escape—twenty-five pages of big, childish handwriting in block letters. I read a lot of science-fiction and pulp fiction when I was growing up–Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar series, as well as the Shadow and Doc Savage. I went through an Ayn Rand phase in college. Later I became interested in thrillers and horror fiction–Ken Follett and Stephen King were two of my favorites. At a certain point in my adult life I decided to brush up on the classics and devoted a lot of time to reading ancient literature, such as the Greek tragedies and epics, the Bible, and the epic of Gilgamesh; I also read the plays of Shakespeare and other major works of English literature. These days I mainly read nonfiction and the occasional classic. From a practical standpoint, Stephen King’s early horror novels like Cujo and The Shining had the most influence on me because they inspired the horror novels I wrote at the beginning of my career.
What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?
I think it’s helpful to get professional feedback, if possible. A freelance editor can greatly improve your work. An experienced proofreader or copy editor can also make a big difference. I’d advise creating the best cover art you possibly can; if your Photoshop skills are limited, hire a pro to do it for you. The same holds true for formatting. Just because an e-book or print on demand book is self-published, it doesn’t have to look amateurish. I’d also advise promoting the book on Facebook and in Amazon.com’s Meet Our Authors discussion forum.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
These days the stigma of self-publishing is rapidly disappearing. Rather than spending a lot of time and effort trying to obtain a literary agent and then a traditional publisher, you might be better off going the self-publishing route. If your self-published books find a big enough audience, agents and traditional publishers will be contacting you.
What is your favorite quote?
“The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.” — Sir James Jeans
Born in 1960, Michael Prescott grew up in New Jersey and attended Wesleyan University, majoring in Film Studies. In 1981 he moved to Los Angeles, where he wrote scripts for independent producers and worked as a magazine freelancer, archival researcher, and editor. In 1986 he sold the first of five horror novels, then moved on to suspense novels, some of which appeared under the pen name Brian Harper. Praised for “brilliant elements of psychological horror” (Publishers Weekly), Prescott ‘s novels have sold more than one million copies in print editions, and have found a new audience among ebook readers. At last count he had sold more than one million ebooks, making him one of today’s bestselling ebook writers.
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Michael Prescott who is the author of Riptide , one of our medallion honorees at http://www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Riptide merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
Thank you Michael and indieBRAG for this lovely interview.