Interview with Thriller Author David Kessler

I am thrilled (no pun intended) to welcome thriller writer, David Kessler to my blog today!  David is from the U.K. and his Alex Sedaka series was released in the United States earlier this year.  Right off the bat, the e-book version his first Alex Sedaka novel was downloaded 20,000 times in six weeks.  Go, David!  If you read his work, you'll see why.  You can get his first novel, You Think You Know Me Pretty Well (previously titled Mercyhere
The synopsis, which I have taken directly from the Amazon page is as follows:

San Francisco lawyer Alex Sedaka is surprised when California governor Chuck Dusenbury offers eleventh-hour clemency to Sedaka’s Death Row client Clayton Burrow - persuaded to do so by the dying mother of the victim. But there is a condition: Burrow must reveal where he buried body.

The problem: Burrow insists that is innocent and that he was framed by the missing girl herself. Until then, Sedaka – who only recently took over the case – thought that Burrow was guilty. But now he is not so sure. Thus begins a race against time to unravel the mystery, aided by his secretary, an enigmatic legal intern and his own computer expert son.

Alex finds evidence of school bullying, marital infidelity and even child abuse. But with the clock ticking down to Burrow’s execution, Alex is frustrated at every turn by elusive evidence that casts doubt on Burrow’s guilt, but is not enough to satisfy the rigorous requirements of the courts or the governor at this late stage.

And as the execution looms ahead, the race turns frantic… and dangerous.

Before we get started, I want to say that I read this book in a day.  That's how fast-paced and awesome it was.  It's compulsively readable.  I was so enthralled in it that within a couple of hours I was halfway through it!  The twists are breath-taking.  You won't see them coming but once they are revealed you'll be all *gasp* OMG! That totally makes sense! If you like Harlan Coben, you'll love this book.

So here is the interview:

1) What inspired you to write the Alex Sedaka series?

I didn't originally conceive it as a series but a one-off. I had the idea after a phone conversation when I misdialled an old friend.But I think I may have had rudiments of the idea before that. I have also been fascinated by the death penalty (and my views on the subject have swayed back and forth), so I wanted to write a death penalty thriller. When a publisher expressed an interest and wanted to know if I had any other ideas before they signed a contract, I realized that they wanted more stories with the same character and I also realized that this made perfect sense. If people like a character, they want more of the same - different stories but with familiar characters. Thus, idealistic lawyer Alex Sedaka was born.

2) Why did you choose San Francisco for the series' setting?

I had to set it in the USA because it was a death penalty story and we don't have the death penalty in Britain. I could have set it in a former British colony like Malaysia or Singapore, but I know little of their legal systems and nothing of their culture. The USA I know about because I have always been fascinated by our "cousins" and used to hang out with Americans when I was living in Israel.
I originally thought of setting it in New Jersey, in honor of Harlan Coben, my favorite thriller writer. But New Jersey had a moratorium on capital punishment at the time and was in the process of formally abolishing it. Then I thought of Texas, but an execution in Texas is such a cliche. So I settled on California, so I could have the sun and the surf and all that as the backdrop to the story. I wanted to set it in Southern California, but I didn't know where they performed executions other than San Quentin in Marin County. Because the story involves a lot of to-ing and fro-ing by the lawyer and takes place over just one day, I had to set it near to San Quentin. That made San Francisco the logical choice.

3) Who are your favorite authors?

As mentioned above Harlan Coben is my favorite thriller writer with Dan Brown a distant second. In the past I enjoyed Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner (creator of Perry Mason). I like Ayn Rand, but am not one of her more sycophantic followers. I have tried many other modern thriller writers, but although I enjoy them, Harlan Coben and Dan Brown are the only ones whose books I positively rush out to buy on publication day. Some are better than others, but I live for those moments when a new one comes out.

4. You've written under pen names in other genres? Is the mystery/thriller genre your favorite to write and if so, why?

I've written and self-published thrillers for children under the name Dan Ryan, Science fiction under the name Nigel Farringdon and chick-lit under the name Karen Dee. But I was also published by Avon under the name Adam Palmer. The reason for the pen-names was because they wanted me to try my hand at a "Dan Brown style" conspiracy thriller with an historical angle. I readily agreed and they felt that it would be a good idea to relaunch me with a new identity. The Moses Legacy, which introduced the character of Semitic language expert Daniel Klein (note the initials:-) was published under the name Adam Palmer and has proved to be a great success. I am now writing a new one called The Boudicca Map.

5) What advice would you give writers who are just beginning their journey to publication?
That's the toughest question of all. The main answer I would give is to avoid vanity publishers (however they describe themselves) but make use of the new eBook self-publishing platforms. It is legitimate to pay money for a proof-reader or cover designer. It is foolish to pay money to a "subsidy publisher" and not much wiser to pay a printer.

DO pursue the conventional channels of agents and print publishers, but do NOT put your work (and life) on hold whilst waiting for them to get back to you. Use the eBook channels in the meantime. Make sure your work is thoroughly proof-read. That last bit is advice that is easily given but seldom heeded - and I am not free of sin myself - but do at least TRY. And be prolific. One book can encourage sales of another.
Then, get all your friends to review your books and if they are too lazy, write the reviews for them and get them to use their ID's to publish them. (Throw in a few four star reviews as well and maybe even a single three star review that is only mildly critical - and get all of them to vote that each others reviews are helpful).

Do not let anyone lecture you about "ethics" and the integrity of reviews. You do not want to be lying on your deathbed in years to come thinking about what might have been if you hadn't played by the rules. The worst thing that can happen to a writer is not bad reviews, but being ignored. Don't let that happen. Fight for attention, even if you have to use your elbows - figuratively speaking of course.

Having said all that, remember that some books do better on the eBook platform than others. First it was Young Adults now it is bored housewives who have moved on from Mills & Boon to S & M. I suppose it's less embarasssing for them to read that sort of thing on the train when other people can't see the cover!
But don't try to copy last years trend. You don't want to be an also ran. Write what interests you and try to create NEXT years trend!
Well, that was certainly interesting!  I must say that I appreciate David's honesty and frank advice for writers just starting out.  Also, this brings up the whole issue of review practice.  I would love to hear what you guys think.  What is ethical?  What is not ethical?  How far would you go to draw attention to your book? 

Now, I  have a handful of friends who already read my book long before I was under contract and I've asked the friends who told me explicitly how much they loved it to write reviews that they can post on Goodreads and later on Amazon.  I don't know that they'll get around to it but yes, if someone tells me they like my book, I am going to ask them to post a review.  And I do the same for many of my writer friends whose books I adore.  If I love a book, I'll write a review because I know it helps the author out.  If I have a friend whose book is coming out and I really loved it, I'm happy to write them a great review.  For me personally, I am not comfortable writing my own reviews but I am aware that this is a practice that many writers engage in.  I understand that the idea is to get the book into the readers'  hands.  Once the reader starts reading, the book must stand on its own merits, no matter how many glowing reviews it has behind it.  I've even read about authors who make up online identities for the purposes of giving themselves good reviews to draw more attention to their books. 

Obviously, this is a choice that must be made by each individual author.  I would love to have a cordial and adult discussion about this issue because I think it's pretty interesting. 

So, what do you think?  What would you do?


  1. I've been catching up on the latest raging debate over on AW about sockpuppets and fake reviews and all the junk with Goodreads and all that. While I can see asking people who liked your book to post reviews, I can't see writing them yourself, nor can I see packing it with four-star reviews and a 'mildly critical three star review' to game the system. It's just all wrong to me, yet I'm seeing more and more examples of this. Then again, I've never been especially good at self-promotion.

    If I'm considering buying a book I will skim the reviews. It would be nice to think they are honest reactions by 'average' readers, and not the author's friends and family (or the author himself) stuffing the ballot box.

  2. great interview and i whole heartedly agree with his advice!
    i totally do not believe in self review, its tacky. friends & relatives are bad enough, but they can start the ball rolling. i want the truth! and like david said, being ignored is way worse than a bad review!

  3. Hi, Lisa. I just met you via Nina Badzin. I haven't been in touch with her for quite some time as I've had to slow down lately with blogging. But I read your earlier post about making "friends" through blogging. Which is exactly what I've done. And yes, I started my blog because my to-be publisher said I had to. It was the only way, being housebound, that I could promote my book. Yes, this is okay! And I have asked a few my "friends," knowing they liked my book, to write a review. I even recently emailed one with what she had written on her blog and asked if she would put it up on Amazon. I had it typed and ready for her to do so. And she was glad to do it. We help each other!

    I love crime/suspense, and so I would like to know when your book releases in December. I've written your name in my Blogger list and am a follower. Can't say how often I'll get over here, but I do wish you well - and am glad I found you today to read about David Kessler's. His book sounds like one I'd like to read. If I like a book, I review it. If I think it's well written, I'll review it even if there are elements I don't personally like. I never write a review to shaft a book, or the author. I've never thought about writing my own review and asking others to post it in their name. I don't think there's anything wrong with this if the reader agrees with the review.

    Interesting topic. And good luck with your upcoming books! (p.s. Like you I have another blog, a WordPress one. I like the sleek look of it, and was worried when Blogger was having problems. I kept the Blogger blog because I didn't want to lose any of my wonderful friends, most of whom awesomely supported me when my memoir released.)
    Ann Best, Memoir Author

  4. Great interview, Lisa. The book sounds good.

    As to writing one's own reviews, I did a double-take when I read that. I suppose writing something up for a friend or family member -if it reflects their opinion- then having them post it could be argued as saving them some work while not exactly being dishonest.

    The problem with questionable activities like publishing your own reviews using multiple, fake identities is that if you ever get caught, the harm to your reputation could be irreparable. At the very least, it could negate the benefit of the reviews. Why risk it?

  5. I like his frank approach too. I think it's perfectly natural to want friends who've seen your book to write you a great review, but I wouldn't go to the point of writing it for them. People have unique voices even in reviews and I think it might be hard to pull that off convincingly... if you're promoting your book well and it's good quality, it should get decent reviews regardless. I dunno if I'd like to be on my deathbed knowing I used underhand tactics!

    I do love the fact that he wrote chick lit as a woman! Way to spread into diverse markets. And this thriller does sound great. You don't get much higher stakes than a potentially wrongful execution.

  6. Great interview! It's refreshing that he is so honest & I truly appreciate it, but while I agree that it's fine to have friends & relatives who've read & enjoyed your book to post their OWN rating & review, I think it's completely unethical to write one for someone else to post under their name. Even more so to create fictitious identifies and post reviews. I want my work to stand on its own merits. And you know me. I couldn't even tell my publisher what made my book unique among my genre. I had to ask you! So no, I'm not ever going to even rate my own book, let alone review it. That is probably the tackiest thing I've ever heard of. But if a writer has no qualms about doing it, who am I to say what's right & wrong. As a reader though, it just feels inherently duplicitous.

  7. Just a quick postscript to the issue of writing ones own reviews. I sometimes ask my friends to read the book (with or without a free copy) and then review it honestly. The most common reply is "when I get around to it." This scenario is known as "until the twelfth of never."

    Secondly, Amazon reviews determine how many people actually get to SEE the book in the first place. Both sales and good ratings, result in Amazon showing it to other customers in their "might interest you" display when a customer logs on.

    That is what I meant about being ignored. One of my books, written under a pseudonym, has sold ZERO despite a free giveaway because it has no reviews so no one gets to see it. (I decided not to use my usual "cheating" approach, just to see what happens.

    False reviews seldom cause people to buy a book. But they do cause it to come to people's attention. I think of it like streaking through the high street - an admittedly cheap and vulgar publicity stunt to draw oneself (or ones product) to the attention of a broader public. But in this in rough and tumble Darwinian retail jungle, nice guys finish last.


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