Saturday, December 9, 2017

Author Spotlight: Ray Hoy

There are lots of great things about this writing gig. Sure, at the beginning it’s all fame and glory and sacks of gold, plus having to build walls of shelves throughout your mansion to display all those trophies you haul away by the barrel from award shows. After a while, though, and not so long as you might imagine, all that gets old. And that’s when it really gets great, because you realize the best things about this writing gig is you get to meet some very cool people. Today’s guest at the Gazalapalooza Author Spotlight is one of them.

Ray Hoy has been a professional writer, editor, and publisher for decades. Twenty years of that included time spent as a casino marketing executive, working with major properties such as Caesars Tahoe, Wayne Newton Gaming, and others. He and his wife, also a casino marketing executive, specialized in opening land-based casinos, river and ocean-going gambling boats, and casino/horse racing facilities. But Hoy was always a writer. He sold his first freelance article when he was sixteen years old, and in the sixty-plus years since he has written the hundreds of magazine articles, numerous screenplays, and a half-dozen novels.

In addition to his casino career, Hoy has another connection to Nevada—a more sinister one. He is one of those so-called “Atomic Soldiers” from the Cold War 1950’s. While serving with the Signal Corps, his unit was sent to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, to provide communications for a series of atmospheric atomic bomb tests. While stationed there with 5,000 fellow servicemen, he observed a number of “shots” (as the military referred to them), up close and personal. Today the number of survivors is down to 500 or so, and most of those men died horribly. We’re fortunate Hoy remains healthy and strong into the ninth decade of his long, productive, and happy life. Hoy wrote a book about his atomic experiences, Letters from Under the Mushroom Cloud. It is on permanent display at the National Atomic Testing Museum, in Las Vegas.

And where does Hoy do all these things? The man’s in his eighties. You’d be pardoned for guessing he makes his home on Floridian beaches, or sun-kissed California coast land, or maybe someplace where tropical Hawaiian winds caress his brow as he writes his books and articles. No. That would be too easy, and far too mundane. Hoy’s base of operations for all these good works is deep in the untamed and untamable Alaskan interior, where bears outnumber people by a wide margin. As we type this sentence our office robot informs us the current temperature in Hoy’s forest paradise is 19 degrees Fahrenheit. And the calendar says winter doesn’t start for another couple of weeks.

All very cool, figuratively and literally. Likely so cool the blazing heat of our famous klieg lights won’t even make Hoy break a sweat. Let’s begin. We believe we’re in for a good ride. 

Gazala:  In my omnipotence, I’ve sentenced you to be stranded alone on a desert island for offenses best left unnamed. In my beneficence, I’ve decided to allow you a limited amount of reading material to make your stay a little less bleak than it would otherwise be. I’ll spot you your religious text of preference, and the collected works of William Shakespeare. In addition to those, name the one fiction book, and the one nonfiction book, you’d choose to take with you, and tell why you choose them.

Hoy: For nonfiction I’d take a copy of The Art of War, by Sun Tzu. It may have been written 2,000 years ago, but it still makes sense today. For fiction, I’d take any of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series books. John is no longer with us, but he was one of the great storytellers of all time.

Gazala: You’re the author of the gripping Jack Frost thriller series. The book you’re sharing with us today is the first in that series (congratulations on its being optioned for film rights!), The Vegas Factor. It’s a wild trip through some of the the darkest alleys Sin City has to offer, and introduces readers to the series hero, Jack Frost. Frost is former NFL player and special forces op who knows too well both Vegas’ neon glamor and the brutality thriving in its shadows. Frost’s companion is J.T. Ripper, a hellhound Doberman Pinscher with a penchant for Scotch. The story follows the adventures of Frost and J.T. as they fight to protect a beautiful woman in mourning from a ruthless casino boss and his savage bodyguard. I enjoyed it immensely, and recommend it highly. Shockingly enough, however, from time to time my bare recommendation doesn’t always motivate a book’s potential reader to become a book’s actual reader. Tell us something about The Vegas Factor, and why its potential reader should make the leap and become its actual reader.

Hoy: Okay, but before I get started on Jack Frost, perhaps I should let you know what kind of a loose cannon you’re interviewing here: I am a hopeless romantic, chaser of rainbows, lover of dogs, and a reluctant realist. I sold my first freelance article when I was sixteen years old, and I’ve been steadily plying my trade as a professional writer, editor, publisher, and producer ever since. Writing has provided me with the freedom and wherewithal to get married, buy homes and cars, have kids and put them through college, and then marry them off. I’m a lucky guy, and I know it.

Somehow during my long media career, I managed to spend twenty years as a casino marketing consultant working with major properties such as Caesars Tahoe, Wayne Newton Gaming, and others. I specialized in opening land-based casinos, river and ocean-going gambling boats, and casino/horse racing facilities. My real-life experiences in the “Casino Wars” have provided me with a wealth of authentic material for my Jack Frost thriller series (my latest writing endeavor). Following the time-honored “Write what you know” tradition, I have based my Frost storylines on my two decades of exposure to Nevada’s colorful characters, and true (but often nearly unbelievable) casino yarns, many of which I actually witnessed and/or was a participant.

About my Jack Frost thriller series: I have set my thriller series—to date consisting of The Vegas Factor, A Proper Time to Die, and Nightmare in Neon—against the backdrop of three distinctly different Nevada gaming communities: Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Reno, all of which are my old casino haunts.

The first three Frost titles are available in eBook and paperback formats. Hard Edges, the fourth book in my Frost series, is scheduled for January 2018 release. Future titles include The Frost Factor and The Alaska Factor. Audiobook (MP3) editions will be available late this coming year.

Each of my first three Frost tales can be read as stand-alone titles, but the storyline from The Vegas Factor really does continue through the second (A Proper Time to Die) and third (Nightmare in Neon) book. The latter title settles all old scores.

Jack Frost, the title character in my Jack Frost thriller series, is an ex-Special Forces loner who is blessed with a warrior’s mentality and toughness, and cursed with a conscience and fierce loyalty to friends. His constant sidekick is J.T. Ripper, an antisocial Doberman from hell. The two have a love-hate relationship.

Frost is actually a composite of three Special Forces men I was lucky enough to have met when I was in the casino business. They’re gone now, victims of their chosen profession, but they’re not forgotten, I can assure you. They were amazing Americans doing an amazing job. One of them had a huge Doberman called ‘Scorpio’ and he was impressive, to say the least. Scorpio is gone now, too, but I embellished him and he became J.T. Ripper in my Frost series.

I painted Ripper as a gigantic, sarcastic, evil-tempered, Scotch-drinking Doberman. He puts up with Frost and pretty much detests everyone and everything else—but Ripper is a warrior, too.

I must admit that writing Ripper into my Jack Frost stories has been a lot of fun. I get as much fan mail for him as I do for Frost (sorry, Jack). I have no idea why, because he’s not a dog you take for a walk in the park. I conjured him up to be 36 inches at the shoulder, and weighing in at a whopping 150 pounds—all muscle, teeth and nastiness, and he was born pissed.

In reference to the “Scotch-drinking” comment I made earlier, Ripper does favor a taste of Scotch whisky now and then (he prefers Haig & Haig). Consequently, here’s my little disclaimer: Since J.T. Ripper lives only in the pages of my Frost novels, it’s fine with me that he helps himself to a snort now and then. I have a soft spot in my heart for dogs, and they should be kept away from alcohol of any kind. However, since Ripper is not of this world, he can do whatever he damn well pleases, and believe me, he does.

Ghosts from my past: Some of the characters who appear in my Jack Frost books are loosely based on people I met during those many years in the Nevada casino industry. Are these stories true? Not quite. If they were, I’d probably have to go to jail for withholding pertinent information. Let’s just say that the casino business generates more than its fair share of interesting characters, both good and bad, and let it go at that. For instance, Benny Florentine, one of Jack Frost’s nightmare opponents in The Vegas Factor, is based on a man I met early in my casino career. He was a cretin, the guy your mother warned you about. When I asked the casino manager what the fellow’s job was, I was told he ‘ran errands’ for the casino. I decided that explanation was good enough for me, and I dropped it.

A film option for my Frost series has been picked up by Someday Productions, LLC, an East Coast indie production company. Will my series actually make it to the big screen? The odds are long, but I’m an old casino guy, remember? We’ll just have to wait and see how it plays out. I am blessed (cursed?) with an outlook that assumes if ISIS is on the edge of town, and all I have to fight with is a handful of rocks, they’re toast. So yeah, I believe it will eventually be made. 

Marketing, and other distasteful subjects: Like many other authors, I offer the first book in my Frost series as a free download, with the idea being, of course, that if you like what you read you’ll buy the second, and third, and . . . on and on. It’s an old, accepted marketing tool, and it works. Here’s the link, if you are so inclined to give it a read:

Since I’m on the subject of free books: I might as well take this opportunity to grumble a bit.  As a professional writer I detest free books, even though (since I’m also a marketing guy) I certainly understand why they’re used as a sales tool. Yes, it makes total sense to give away the first book in the series free, because as I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, hopefully it will result in sales of the second and third books. But to give away the only book that you have written, free of charge, makes no sense to me at all.

I have a pretty large Twitter following ( and a few years ago I posted this tweet: “I'm amazed that people will spend $4.00 for a Starbucks, yet think $2.99 is too much for a book that took a year to write.”

That tweet apparently touched a nerve, because it has been retweeted thousands of times, so a large number of you must agree with me. The weekly deluge of free and 99 cent book titles have weakened the eBook market, and sales are down everywhere. With thousands of free titles being released every week, small wonder why anyone would want to actually pay for a book.

I’ve been in the media business for a long time. To the best of my knowledge, I am one of the five original ePublishers on the Internet, dating back nearly 25 years. I think I have pretty much seen it all, but the flood of free eBooks is discouraging, to say the least. 

Ah well, it is what it is. There certainly is a place for a free book offering in certain marketing campaigns. Just use the practice wisely.

Gazala:  What are books for?

Hoy: Books in any format (paperback, hardcover, eBook, audiobook) provide access to unlimited entertainment and knowledge. The good news? It’s yours for the taking. The bad news? You won’t live long enough to read everything available. But please do try.

Gazala: W. Somerset Maugham said, “There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” Do you agree, or disagree, and why?

Hoy:  Oh I totally agree. So many writers believe in outlining and spending weeks and months (even years) of research before they tackle the job. I just sit down and start blazing away, often without a clue where I’m going. Most of the time the story just bubbles up out of my brain, and I find myself humming along at my usual 90 wpm, hurrying to find out what’s going to happen next. While I don’t necessarily recommend that approach, it works for me. You simply have to find out what works for you.

Gazala:  You’ll pardon me -- it’s well past midnight and there’s an enormous black dog pounding on my front door with a bad attitude and an empty crystal tumbler. While I go see what he wants, ask yourself question, and answer it.

Hoy: I’ve always asked myself why fiction exists in the first place. Think about it for a minute. We make up imaginary characters and put them in all kinds of situations (dire, romantic, thrilling, dangerous, etc.), and people actually pay to read the stories we’ve spun. Makes no sense to me, but I write ‘em and I buy ’em, the same as you. It’s really quite wonderful, isn’t it?

Well, it has been fun, but I have to burn some midnight oil. Jack Frost and J.T. Ripper are calling out to me.

– Ray Hoy