Kirkus Review: The Drone Enigma

Final CoverKirkus has been an authoritative voice in book discovery for 80 years. I’m pleased to post  Kirkus Review‘s review of The Drone Enigma.

Former lawyer and Navy SEAL Jake Palmer returns in McManus’ second thriller (Libido’s Twist, 2011), working a simple case that escalates into murder and a potential terrorist attack.

Investigative consultant Palmer is looking for an easy job, since his last left him with a bullet wound. Friend and fellow SEAL Wade Jansen, a vice president at defense contractor Lynnhaven Technology Group in Virginia, has just the ticket: He wants Palmer to investigate whether a failure of LTG safety measures led to a woman’s overexposure to the chemical thallium. That woman, an engineer for a high-tech drone project, has since died, and her death doesn’t seem accidental. Palmer also finds out that project leader Owen Fuller’s laptop was recently lost. A woman named Alona Green claims to have inadvertently switched laptops with Fuller at an airport, but after she contacts Jansen to return the computer, the VP is found murdered. Palmer swears vengeance against the killer, and soon realizes that the drone project may also have been compromised. It turns out that the murders may be connected to Islamic terrorists, led by drone-attack survivor Hassan Aswad, who are planning a strike against the United States. The author lays the foundation for a military thriller and fortifies it with a rock-solid mystery. There’s a bounty of action sequences, mostly in the book’s final act; these fierce, bullet-ridden scenes, which include more than one boat chase, may have readers ducking their heads to avoid gunfire. Palmer is flanked on all sides by female characters: Cmdr. Lara Hamilton, whom he’d dated 20 years earlier in college; the alluring Green, who calls Palmer for help; and, back in London, Fiona Collins, who shared Palmer’s last adventure and who just might be the woman he loves. But none of them measure up to Cora Donegan, an accommodating and informative LTG human-resources rep who has the novel’s best line, warning Palmer not to “do anything stupid,” followed by: “And when you do, be careful.”

A thriller with copious action and an exceptional mystery.

 

Outstanding Review of The Drone Enigma by Luxury Reading

Luxury Reading is a well-established and respected book review website. Individual reviewers provide objective reviews of all genres of books.

Review by Lauren Cannavino of Luxury Reading

Final Cover

Books that are touted as military thrillers, like The Drone Enigma, are often laden with too many technical terms, government speak and cold, surface characters. None of these characteristics apply to this novel. Ron McManus presents a lively story of secrets and intrigue, murder, mystery, politics and adventure. Ex Navy SEAL member Jake Palmer is called to join an investigation by his old SEAL team member and friend, Wade Jansen. Jansen works as a top defense contractor and needs Palmer to dig into the death of an employee working on a top secret project. What Palmer gets himself into and what he uncovers along the way is far from expected or safe.

Palmer is no nonsense, intelligent and skilled which allows him to quickly gather information and back stories on everyone connected with a top secret government project named Perseus. The project is centered on the design, development and eventual implementation of military drones. The murder of one of the top project engineers paired with the theft and return of a top secret laptop have rightly aroused suspicions. Only a few days into the investigation, Jansen is shot and killed in his office and the case soon takes on an entirely new level of importance for Palmer. While this action is unfolding, other stories and suspicions are interjected throughout and all paths will soon lead to Palmer and his discoveries.

The cunning and beautiful Alona Green shows up as a possible suspect with a wealth of knowledge and skills that are both useful and potentially dangerous to Palmer. Green has confessed to stealing the laptop that belongs to project leader Owen Fuller whose part in the plot begins to excitingly take shape as the book advances. Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, a shadowy figure, Hassan Aswad carefully lays the groundwork for his plans against America; the connection to the events and people that Palmer is uncovering cannot be denied. Green and Palmer become an unlikely duo when Palmer must turn to old SEAL friends and avoid the police when things begin to head south. Never questioning his gut, Palmer affirms his loyalty to both his dead friend and his country, and continues his personal mission in order to stop an attack on US interests overseas.

The chapters of The Drone Enigma are quick and as a result the book survives a beginning that seems slow only as the major pieces are presented. The Perseus Project and all of its details are slowly revealed with an exciting climax at the end of the book. Palmer is a rugged and gruff, yet fun hero who has a sense of humor paired with a dry, quick wit. He has no time for nonsense and no time for threats to his country. McManus ends the story in a very interesting fashion that leaves the reader with a multitude of questions, not about the story which wraps up cleanly, but rather about our very own government and all the secrets we are kept from daily.

 

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Drone Enigma: Goodreads Giveaway

I have allocated ten copies of The Drone Enigma for a Goodreads Giveaway that will run through February 13th. Residents of the US, UK and Canada are eligible to win a copy. If you win, please review the book on Goodreads.

Hampton Roads Writers Conference 2013

The 5th annual Hampton Roads Writers Conference was held at the Westin Hotel at Town Center in Virginia Beach September 19-21.2013postcard

The conference began Thursday evening and ran through Saturday. Because of a previous commitment, I was unable to attend the Thursday evening session. I arrived Saturday morning, registered, and went to the plenary session, featuring keynote speaker, Lisa McMann, New York Times bestselling Young Adult author of the WAKE series, VISIONS series, and UNWANTED series. Being neither a YA reader or author, I was curious as to what she had to say. An hour later, I added Wake to my list of books to read.

A “first ten-lines” review by a four-person panel of authors and agents followed the keynote address on Friday and Saturday. The panel members confessed to be nit-picky in their comments, and one might ask what could be learned from listening to critiques of someone’s first lines. It was for me and many others, a lesson in what is required to grab the attention of the reader and make them want more. One of the panelists said that it was once believed the first page or two were the most important because that is what someone who picked up the book would glance through before deciding to buy it. While that is still true, he pointed out that the author must now pay close attention to the first 25 pages, because that is what a reader sees if he or she downloads a free sample from amazon.com. If you can’t hook the reader in those 25 pages and make them want more, they won’t purchase the book.

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Ron McManus and Kevin Maurer

Sunday’s keynote speaker was Kevin Maurer, co-author of No Easy Day. I had read the book and was eager to meet him and to hear what he had to say. I wasn’t disappointed. His account working with former Navy SEAL “Mark Owen” to write the book held everyone’s attention. I also attended Maurer’s session on interviewing for nonfiction. He is a fascinating individual and a genuinely nice guy.

Other sessions I attended were: Copyrights and Wrongs – Fair use of quotes and other things to avoid a lawsuit; First Person Problems – The specific challenges and opportunities of writing in first person; Where Does My Story Start – How to write a winning first chapter; Show and Tell, Interviewing for Nonfiction – Getting the story right; Writing What you Don’t See – How a point of view can drive a plot; and The Bookkeeping Side of Writing – Literary dollars and sense.

All of the presenters did a fantastic job. Of them, I found Virginia Beach author Lydia Netzer to be both energetic and informative about the craft of writing. She not a teacher by training, but if she taught a writing course, I’d be the first to sign up.

The youngest attendee of the conference was Koyoko Leaman, a 12-year old girl who was accompanied by her parents. Her first-10 lines were critiqued, and I was in a session where she read the first chapter of her manuscript. Remember the name. This young lady is already a posed and talented individual, one from whom I’m certain we will hear from in the future.

So, if you’ve never attended a writers conference, do so. Your expectations will be exceeded. And if you’re fortunate enough to live in or near beautiful and history-rich Hampton Roads, Virginia, join Hampton Roads Writers and plan to attend the 2014 Hampton Writers Conference. You won’t regret it. Hope to see you there.

Salty Dog 501 Aborts Carrier Landing

On July 10, 2013, after two earlier successful trapped landings on the USS George HW Bush (CVN-77), the Navy’s X-47B “Salty Dog 502” drone self-aborted on a third attempt and flew to an airfield on Wallops Island on the Virginia Eastern Shore. The plan was to have the other of the two Northrop Grumman experimental drones, Salty Dog 501, make a trapped landing on Monday, July 17th, so that the objective of three trapped landings could be reached. Unfortunately, Salty Dog 501’s trapped landing attempt was also aborted because of unspecified technical issue.APphoto_Navy Unmanned Aircraft

Some news media are questioning the sucesss of the $1.4 billion drone project because 50% (2 of 4) of the trapped landings failed. The Navy and Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of the X-47B, are taking a more positive view, saying that the tests were successful, and they have enough data to analyze the results and move forward with the drone development program.

(Photo by Steve Helber – Associated Press)

My Welcome Meeting with the Publisher

Mystery CartoonWhat happens after signing with a publisher has been a mystery to me. I signed with Koehler Books earlier this month, and over the next several months, I will be posting my experiences and opinions regarding the process leading up to book launch.

Although I’ve had two informal meetings with John Koehler of Koehler Books, I had the official welcome meeting on Monday, March 18th. Margo Toulouse, author representative, of Koehler Books joined us on the call. The purpose of the meeting was two-fold: to review the timeline to publication and to review the author questionnaire I had completed and submitted.

Project Management CartoonThe first task was to review the timeline to publication. Publication is slated for January 2014 with advance reader copies of my book and the electronic version available well in advance of that date. If “well in advance” sounds vague, the milestones on the timeline are also vague. Before the call I checked with colleagues, who confirmed that publishing timelines are stated in terms of tasks and the approximate time each task should take. For example, creative development, which includes copy editing, should take 3-4 months. As a former vice president in pharmaceutical R&D, I know that a timeline like this for a drug development project would get you fired. For book publishing, from what I understand, it’s the norm. I’m getting the impression it will be a hurry-up-and-wait process.

Social MediaOne item that has been stressed over and over is that the author—me—has primary responsibility for promotion of the book, including hiring a publicist to train me on the use of social media. I’ve already retained one of the best, in my opinion, Shari Stauch, CEO of Where Writers Win. I have a web site with a good Alexa ranking, as well as a presence and following on the Big Three—Twitter, Google+, and Facebook—as well as a presence on Goodreads, Shelfari, AuthorsDen, RedRoom, and other high traffic reader/writer sites. Because I’ve been working with Shari and her team for a while now, I’m doing pretty well. That doesn’t guarantee results, but it’s a start. Being present and being engaged with the community are two quite different things. I’m still working on the latter while trying not to let it eat away at my writing time. This can become a rabbit hole from which you never emerge, if you allow it to be.

With the timeline reviewed and agreed, we moved on to the author questionnaire. This was a useful exercise to review the information related to the book and my background and experience. Included in the discussion were a possible title change, initial thoughts on the cover design, and other information that will be used to prepare a tip-sheet for the book.

The above took about an hour. There were a few a action items, which completed the next day. The next step will be the cover design. I’ll be receiving two or three draft covers for review and discussion with John. John’s plan is to post the top two on the Koehler Books web site, where anyone can vote for his or her favorite. I’ll let you know when it is posted.

 

Update – Virginia set to ban drones for two years

In an update to yesterday’s blog post, Stacy Parker has reported today in the Virginian-Pilot (“Hobbyists finding there’s not place like drone”) that Virginia’s two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police and government agencies will not apply to civilians. Looks like I can buy and use the Parrot AR Drone at Brookstone without breaking the law after all.

Virginia grounds drones for two years

X-47BaboveXC59VFC3BPCG My new novel, Return to Valor, will be published later this year. The military techno-thriller features an experimental Navy drone. In anticipation of the release of this novel, I am writing a series of blog posts related to drones. This is the first of the series.

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Last month, Charlottesville, Virginia, became the first city in the nation to pass legislation imposing a two-year ban on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones. Now, the Virginian-PIlot has reported that the state legislature has passed a bill that poses a two-year moratorium on the use of drones by police or government agencies in Virginia. The bill is awaiting approval by Governor Bob McDonnell. Like their colleagues in Charlottesville, the state legislators are concerned that the use of drones could infringe on citizens’ right to privacy. I have been unable to find the precise wording of the legislation, but should Gov. McDonnell sign it, I wonder what the implications are for private use of drones or use by the military in Hampton Roads or use by the CIA at Langley and the trainees at Camp Peary, a short drone flight from Williamsburg and the College of William & Mary. After all, the CIA isn’t the military, it is a government agency. And what distinction can be made between the local police using a drone to search for suspects and missing persons and the police using a helicopter to do the same thing? Does the fact one is piloted and the other is not make any difference to the possible infringement on our right to privacy? How about television traffic helicopters?

Charlottesville is home to the University of Virginia and, like most small university towns, is a liberal environment in which to live and work. The Virginia metropolitan area of Hampton Roads, where I live, is home to: the world’s largest naval base, the east coast-based Navy SEALs, the Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Naval Air Station Oceana – the Navy’s East Coast Master Jet Base, Joint-Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, the CIA’s Camp Peary, the Fifth Coast Guard District, and SEAL Team Six. By anyone’s measure, it is a conservative, testosterone-charged place to live and work. In Hampton Roads, the thought of banning police use of small, unarmed surveillance drones seems—well, odd. If it is a right to privacy issue, aren’t there right to privacy laws on the books that cover violations by the police or anyone else? Do we need really need a special one for drones?

UN-Drones-In their rush to pass something, I hope that the legislators took time to define what is meant by drone. When one reads a news headline about drones, images of the large Predator or Reaper drone, equipped with a powerful, high-definition cameras, and armed with Hellfire missiles comes to mind. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t want those flying over our house any more than would the law-abiding citizens of Pakistan or wherever else the the military and CIA are using them.

But the Parrott AR Drone, available in most shopping malls at Bookstone, with its built-in HD camera is a drone both in name and function. Therefore, for now, I must defer any further thoughts of buying one—seriously, I want one—because being a resident of Virginia, I just might be breaking the law even though the moratorium does not appear to cover use of drones by private citizens. By the way, my wife is pleased with this news. She didn’t see any reason to spend $300 on a drone that has a 12-minute battery life.

 

The Agent Query Process – Does anyone really enjoy it?

XC59VFC3BPCG I am currently immersed in the agent query process for my second manuscript. A quick internet search will yield hundreds, if not thousands, of web sites offering advice on how to write query letters. Attend any writers conference and I’ll guarantee that you will find one or two sessions on the agent query process or guidance on how to write query letters that agents will actually read. I know. I’ve attended them. The best, by the way, is taught by Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest. Guide to Literary AgentsHis Guide to Literary Agents Blog is also very helpful in finding agents to query. In addition, there are webinars and books on the subject. Go to these resources to learn how to write an effective query letter. My intention is to tell you what the query process is like if you’ve not experienced it and tell you my experience in the past and at present.

In my previous life in pharmaceutical R&D, I once asked a sales executive what they look for when hiring a pharmaceutical sales representative. His answer: ability to take rejection. In that regard writers are a bit like pharmaceutical sales representatives. They have to deal with rejection and not take it personally. Rare is the writer who sends out a few query letters, lands an agent, and gets published. The stories of best selling authors, e.g. J.K. Rowling, receiving multiple rejections before getting published are legend. That makes us fell a little better, doesn’t it? In theory, yes. But getting the e-mails stating that your manuscript has been rejected—they never use that term, by the way—still stings, especially when some of the e-mails are poorly written. Get over it. That’s what I keep telling myself.

Query CartoonHow many query letters should you send? How long is a piece of string? The answer is the same. It depends. I have sent thirty-two agent query letters for my current manuscript Why thirty-two? James Patterson was rejected by thirty-one agents before his manuscript was accepted, so I decided thirty-two was enough. Honestly, I felt the number was sufficient to test the waters and determine the level of interest.

Sending queries and receiving replies is much easier than in the past. Almost all agents either prefer receiving e-mail submissions or will allow them. In searching for agents, I ran across only a couple of agencies that would not accept e-mail queries. I crossed them off my list. It’s the 21st century for goodness sake.

The results thus far? I’ve been pleased with the response. Several agents have requested the full manuscript, some of whom I’m still awaiting a final response. Although I’ve received some rejections, a few agents have written personal replies providing encouragement and support. At least they seemed personal.

Query Letter CartoonI was intrigued by a couple of agents who said their plates were full, and they didn’t have time to give my manuscript the full attention it deserved. Nice. I’m sure it was a form reply, but it made me wonder. If that’s true, why doesn’t the agency simply hire more agents? I won’t argue the fact that agents serve an important gatekeeper role. But perhaps, with the rapid change taking place in the publishing industry, it is time the traditional agent role and query process were redesigned.

I’ll keep you informed as to my progress and outcome. But number one on my list of my 2013 personal objectives is to publish my manuscript. I’ll give the process another month or two. By then, if I haven’t landed an agent or publisher, I’ll consider self-publishing and feel, not just good, but great about it. Today, self-publishing is not only a viable alternative to traditional publishing, for some it can be the preferred path to publication. In the meantime, while I proceed with the agent query process, I given up golf. One frustrating activity at a time is enough.

Five Reasons to Attend a Writers Conference

Have you wondered whether attending a writers conference is worth the cost. The price can range from $200-$300 for a small local conference to $1200 for Thrillerfest in New York. And that’s just the registration fee. Including travel, hotel, and incidentals, the total could exceed $2000.

South Carolina Writers WorkshopI attended my first writers conference in October 2008, the South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference in Myrtle Beach. At the time the plot of Libido’s Twist was forming in my head and the words were appearing on the screen of my MacBook Pro. My creative writing education, however, was limited to reading a few books. At the conference I attended every session I could squeeze in. I was amazed at how much I learned. But there were also these slush fests, ten or thirty page agent critiques, and pitch sessions. All of it was foreign to me; and to be honest, I did not know enough to fully comprehend what any of them were. In contrast, this year I participated in the thriller slush fest, had a thirty page critique of my manuscript, pitched to a pitch coach, pitched to three agents, and had a query letter critique.

Hampton Road WritersI have now attended four SC Writers Workshop Conferences and one Hampton Roads Writers Conference. So, are writing conference worth the cost? What can I expect if I go?

1. A chance to meet and talk to fellow writers: I know this is a generalization, but I believe most writers would score on the “I” side of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. We are, by nature, introverts, quite happy to write in isolation. “I” time energizes us. On the other hand, we dread book signings, interviews, and self-promotion. When you attend a writers conference, you have the opportunity to meet and talk to people for all walks of life who, like you, also love to write. The vast majority of the attendees are not earning a living with their writing, although most all would love to do so. Learn from the experiences and mistakes of others.

2. Attend multiple sessions on the craft of writing, publishing and promotion: Writing conferences provide an incredible learning opportunity: You will be amazed by how much you learn attending the sessions taught by the conference faculty of authors, agents, and editors, covering a wide range of topics.

3. Meet and interact with agents, editors, authors, and publishers: Writing conferences provide an unique opportunity to meet and interact with these individuals during their presentations and at social events during the conference. But remember, it’s bad form to pitch your manuscript to an unsuspecting agent in the elevator—unless they ask—or leave your manuscript leaning against their hotel room door. That comes across as creepy.

4. Meet and hear from successful authors: The keynote speakers, depending on the conference, can be NYT bestselling authors. For example, I’ve heard and met Michael Connelly and Steve Berry. And at the 2011 SC conference, Andrew Gross, a bestselling author who co-wrote several books with James Patterson before going it alone, was behind me in line for a drink at the reception before the night before the start of the conference. My wife and I struck up a conversation and ended up talking to him for about fifteen minutes before others came up to meet him. And, even if you don’t meet the keynote speaker, other successful authors teach sessions during the conference.

5. Receive direct and immediate feedback: Be it a slush fest, critique, or pitch, the opportunity for feedback on your manuscript and writing is alone worth the price of the conference. Everyone I have interacted with has been helpful and constructive in their comments. Remember, they are they to help you and to discover new talent and clients.

ThrillerFest VIIIHave I convinced you to attend a conference in 2013? I will once again be attending the Hampton Roads Writers Conference and the SC Writers Workshop Conference. Maybe I’ll see you there. I’m also tempted to attend ThrillerFest VIII. I hear it’s well worth the cost for a thriller author, especially one hoping to find an agent.