When Ted Bell, the New York Times bestselling author of the Alex Hawke series, calls a thriller “top-notch” and declares that the author is “the real deal,” well, you know that book is worth checking out, which is one of the reasons I dove into Landon Beach’s The Sail, and now his follow-up, The Cabin.
For Maria Hilliard and her husband, 4th of July weekend is a time to escape to their secluded cabin on Lake Ontario, relax, and this year, to host a couple of friends. Except, as the weekend gets underway, it becomes clear that not everyone in the cabin is who they say they are . . .
Before that, in Berlin, CIA agent Jennifer Lear heads off to meet with her handler, who is running late for their rendezvous. Suddenly, everything goes wrong—and Jennifer finds herself in a fight to stay alive.
Are the two events connected?
Maybe, but to find out for sure you’ll have to read Beach’s just-released new thriller, which is available in paperback and e-book, and is currently free to those who subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited plan.
Just ahead of his latest release, I caught up with Landon Beach, who went on the record for our Five Questions segment, and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the plot ideas for this one to what’s next for him moving forward now that The Cabin is finally in bookstores. Check out the full Q&A below, then click here to get our copy of his latest pulse-pounding thriller today.
TRBS: Before we get into the book, which is fantastic by the way, let’s talk about when you knew you wanted to be a writer. Was there one standout moment when you realized that this is what you wanted to do, and what made you decide to start writing your first novel?
Beach: Thanks, Ryan. I am glad you liked The Cabin. I wrote a short story in fourth grade that I still have—bless my parents for keeping it—so I knew pretty early on that I enjoyed writing and storytelling. However, the moment when I knew that this was what I wanted to do took place in 2003. Early on a Saturday morning, I reached the climax of my first novel. I remember closing the door to the tiny bedroom where I worked and then emerging in the late evening. In between those times, I became completely immersed in the book and wrote nearly 100 pages, finishing it. Looking back, that beloved first novel was a 400-page disaster, but it still rests safely in my file cabinet. I will always be grateful for what it ignited in me.
What made me decide to start writing my first novel? Don’t get me wrong, there was the usual excitement of having an idea that wouldn’t go away and characters that I loved. However, there was one thing and one thing only that made me start: I wanted to see if I could do it.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you sit and outline first, or make it up as you go? Do you try to hit a target word count each day?
Beach: Once I come up with the concept for the work—for instance, The Cabin’s concept was The Big Chill (for Generation X) meets Patriot Games—my planning and preparation phase has three components: character development, research, and plotting. I spend weeks working on my characters—background, needs, wants, vulnerabilities, etc. At the same time, I read everything I can get my hands on that might help inform my writing. Once I feel I have a handle on the subject matter and characters, then I spend some time plotting. Every book is slightly different, but one thing that works for me is outlining the climax ahead of time. This allows me to stay organized and focused toward reaching the end—I have a target to aim for—but it also provides me the creative freedom to explore different ways to get there during the drafting process.
Once the first draft is done, I let it sit for a month. During this time, I continue researching to add in more layers and depth in subsequent drafts. My wife always gets the first read (usually the second or third draft). Once I have her feedback, which is always honest and mostly encouraging, I write the next draft. Then, I give it to Beta Readers and get their ideas. The drafting process continues until I feel the manuscript is ready to give to my editor. After a few weeks of nerve-racking waiting, I receive her insightful but humbling feedback. Then, I have a glass of scotch and consider quitting as I marvel at the amber liquid in the glass… but eventually, sit back down behind the keyboard and do a few more drafts until I think the book is ready.
My wife and kids are my biggest fans, and I am grateful to them for allowing me to make writing a priority. Since I am an educator, my writing routine varies according to the time of year. In the summer, I work in the morning and try to write at least one thousand words a day. During the school year, I head to the local library after school and work for a few hours before coming home for dinner and family time. As I get closer to finishing the first draft, the hours get longer—either waking up to write well before everyone else is up or working after everyone has gone to bed. When I am at the very end of the book, I put on my Detroit Lions knit cap and wear it in my home office until I finish the book. I have no idea why I did this 16 years ago while I was finishing my first novel, but it has become a tradition, and now I am superstitious about finishing a book without wearing it. I am a loyal fan, but the Lions are spectacularly awful. If they make the Super Bowl, I will be in the stands on the 50-yard line, which is to say: I’m probably never going to attend the Super Bowl.
TRBS: Okay, about THE CABIN, how did you come up with the plot idea for this one, and what sort of research did you have to do first?
Beach: In terms of the plot, I have always wanted to tell a story that involved members of my generation (X) getting together and trying to make sense of the world we are in, but I wanted to tell it in an exciting and thrilling way with high stakes, nostalgia, global politics, espionage, and plenty of action and suspense. So, I set The Cabin over the 4th of July holiday weekend in 2006 during the early years of the War on Terror and the Iraq War.
When I attended the United States Naval Academy, I had professors who would work for the government over the summer. One professor told me that after going through a myriad of security checks, he was led into a room each afternoon where he would work on sensitive material for a few hours and then turn in his recommendations and findings at the end of the day…and never see his work again or know what the government did with it. This happened day after day, summer after summer, for his entire career. As I contemplated what The Cabin might be about, I started to wonder what would happen if a high school teacher started doing contract work for the C.I.A. over the summer and no one knew about it. I usually travel back home to visit family in Michigan after the academic year is over. When one of my Beta Readers read The Cabin manuscript, we had a good laugh over what I had really been doing over those summers!
Here is a small sample of what I read to give The Cabin authenticity: The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, Dispatches by Michael Herr, Legacy of Ashes by Tim Weiner, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington, Lights Out by Ted Koppel, The Billion Dollar Spy by David E. Hoffman, Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky, and the 2004 Executive Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack.
TRBS: Who are some of your favorite authors, and which authors have been influential in your own writing?
Beach: Every storyteller’s work that I have experienced has influenced my own work; as an English teacher, I learn something new from each script, novel, poem, short story, film, and non-fiction piece that I encounter. For The Cabin, Lawrence Kasdan, Trevanian, Anton Myrer, Robert Littell, and Tom Clancy were key influences.
Favorite authors? Too many! Here are some authors whose work I love to read and who were also generous with their time, encouragement, and feedback: Ted Bell, Steve Berry, Robin Burcell, Chris Goff, Steve Alten, Paul Kemprecos, Thomas Perry, Wayne Stinnett, and Cris Kohl and Joan Forsberg.
TRBS: Lastly, now that THE CABIN is set to come out, what’s next for you?
Beach: The most exciting news I have at the moment is that I just signed a 3-book agreement with Hall of Fame audiobook narrator Scott Brick. There is no other way to put it: This is a dream come true! I cannot wait to hear him bring The Wreck, The Sail, and The Cabin to life. The Sail was just named as a finalist in the Clive Cussler Adventure Writer’s Competition, so I am looking forward to traveling to Phoenix in October to attend the convention and awards dinner with the other two finalists.
On the writing front, I am almost halfway done with The Hike, a private investigator mystery and the fourth book in my Great Lakes Saga, which I hope to publish this spring. Then, it will be on to the fifth and final book in the saga, The Bay, which will be a sea adventure. After that, I have a few more standalone novels that I would like to write and have a character in mind for a traditional series. I am also interested in shopping around a few of my screenplays; I think they would be timely and entertaining films.
Thanks for the interview, Ryan, and I hope The Real Book Spy’s audience enjoys The Cabin and my other books.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.