1. Mr. Christensen, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Dukkha Unloaded, your newest thriller, came out on June 1. Tell us a bit more about this book.
The first book in the series, Dukkha: The Suffering, is about Detective Sam Reeves with the Portland Police Bureau in Oregon who suffers psychologically from a bad shoot. Right in the middle of it, his father, who he thought had died in a North Vietnamese prison camp 40 years ago, drops into his life, along with his beautiful stepsister, who really isn’t. Before they can get to know each other, they find themselves battling relatives of Sam’s bad shoot and Vietnamese criminals hot on the trail of his father.
In Dukkha: Reverb, Sam travels to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to visit his Father and the rest of his new family, and is immediately thrust into violence. With the help of some old Vietnamese soldiers with unique fighting skills, the family confronts a highly organized sex trafficking ring.
Dukkha: Unloaded takes place back in Portland, Oregon where upon Sam’s return from Vietnam he finds the city has been terrorized by white supremacists, two of which are the strangest criminals he has ever faced.
The fourth book is in the hands of the story editor and I’m busy on the fifth book.
2. Who is Detective Sam Reeves and where did you get the inspiration for this character?
According to my family he’s me. That wasn’t my intent but I can see it a little. Thing is, he is 30 years younger, more buff, and better looking. Well, maybe not better looking. He is a 15-year veteran of the Portland Police Bureau and a martial arts teacher. I retired from the PPB and I’ve been teaching martial arts for 50 years.
Sam Reeves suffers from PTSD after a bad shoot, which affects his ability to carry a gun. I didn’t have that experience but I have written a great deal about PTSD in the warrior community, so I had an edge there.
I wanted a protagonist who was a cop, a high-ranking martial artist but was not a superhero. He gets in fights but he doesn’t always do well. He has a temper and a mouth that gets him into trouble, but he can also be kind, gentle, and make bad decisions.
3. How is Dukkha Unloaded different from other thrillers in this genre? And what does Dukkha mean?
Dukkha is a Pali term that corresponds to such English words as pain, discontent, unhappiness, sorrow, affliction, anxiety, stress, misery, and frustration. Fun things like that. It’s found in the Buddhist doctrine. Sam’s family follows Buddhism.
All three Dukkha books have been compared to Lee Child’s books and his lead character, Jack Reacher.
According to reviewers, the differences in the Dukkha books are the realistic way cops talk, the true way violence is depicted, and the realistic way martial arts is shown, both the physical and the spiritual.
Too many writers describe violence inaccurately. I was in police work for 29 years, I have been a martial artist for 50, and I am a Vietnam veteran. I guess all that shows.
4. What kind of research did you do for this book?
Depends on the book. The first three books required a great deal but research for book 4 and 5 was huge.
Book 2, Dukkha: Reverb takes place in modern Vietnam. The country today is much different from when I was there during the war. While writing the book, I corresponded with two Vietnamese friends, watched a ton of videos, read many tourist blogs, and several books. There are a few unique fighting weapons in the story, as well as scenes about food, all of which required research.
Dukkha: Unloaded is about white supremacy crimes. When I worked in the gang unit on the PD, my specialty was white supremacy so that helped with the book. But there were many small details that required hours of Binging (I prefer Bing over Google).
Book 4, now being edited, takes place in San Francisco. My wife and I flew down for three days and scoped out several locations for scenes. A San Francisco cop helped with a chase scene through the tourist areas. The working title is Dukkha: Hungry Ghosts, which is a real thing in the Asian culture and serves as a metaphor in the story. I interviewed several people who believed in hungry ghosts, watched movies about them, and read several books on the subject.
Sometimes you have to research for two hours, sometimes two days, to write two lousy sentences. But you got to do it.
5. What is your greatest disappointment as a writer? What is your greatest satisfaction?
I wish I had found my voice earlier, like in my 30s. It took 20 years of hard writing to find it—you don’t really find it; you develop it—but I’m glad I did. It makes the task easier.
My greatest satisfaction is that I developed discipline years ago through the martial arts. If you can train three or four times a week and face high-ranking black belts who can kick and punch your head into mush, and train like a crazy person until you have to crawl to your car, it makes sitting down in front of a computer pretty darn easy.
It’s all about the discipline to do it every day—one hour or, in my case, seven hours—and not mind being alone. Can it be hard? Sure. Do it anyway.
6. Why do you write?
Short answer, I would go crazy if I didn’t.
I loved to write short stories when I was a kid and it was the only thing I was good at in school. I continued to be interested in it over the years and although I never took a writing class, I studied the craft on my own for a long time before I penned my first nonfiction book in 1976. I moved to magazine writing and didn’t try another nonfiction book until the late 80s. Then I started churning out two per year for the next many years, along with magazine pieces, and working as an editor for a small newspaper. In 2009, after writing around 45 nonfiction books with five publishers, I decided to try fiction, the Dukkha series.
It’s really hard for me not to write. I’ll finish a book and try to take a few days off, but I have never succeeded. One day at the most and I’m back at it.
7. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?
I was just talking with one of my publishers about how the industry has changed in the last few years. Publishers and writers are frantically trying to keep up with the changes, all the while experimenting to see what takes.
EBooks are the big thing and who knows where that will end up? In the old days—five years ago, or so—self-publishers would have to cough up serious dollars for 500 copies of their work only to have them turn moldy in the basement. Now writers can get their work published on Amazon with minimum cost.
The bad part of instant publishing is it allows people to put books out who have no business doing so. I get emails every other day from people asking me to review their work. It’s instantly apparent that far too many of them have not put in the time to learn the craft of writing.
The good part of self-publishing an eBook is if by chance you write a good one that sells your first time out or you already have an established name and self-publish, the profits are much higher than with a traditional publisher. I’ve written two: Meditation For Warriors and a Mental Rehearsal For Warriors. Because my name is already out and about, they have been quite profitable.
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
My wife and I practice the martial arts. I have been training since 1965 and she has about 20 years under her belt. Besides making for dramatic family squabbles, it keeps us fit and disciplined. We even wrote a self-defense book together for women called Fight Back.
We are students of dark beer and wine, both in high-quality abundance in the Northwest with literally hundreds of breweries and vineyards. We are also movies buffs and have built a pretty cool home theater. Two or three times a month we cruise the antique stores where she shops and I feel depressed because some of the “old” things were made after I was born.
9. What are your writing habits? Outlines or not?
No outlines. I’ve tried but I never follow them.
I start every fiction the same. I draw a long horizontal line on a big piece of butcher paper and divide it into three sections, the middle larger than other two. These represent the three acts. I pencil in what I think will happen in the acts and the plot points that leads to the second and third. I rarely write more than 75 words in each of these sections because I find that characters have a mind of their own and ignore what I put down for them.
Also on my butcher paper, I write up the physical traits and personalities for each new character. I jot down history for each, some ideas on how the person will relate to my leads, and where the relationship might go.
I write down ideas for big scenes and for major twists. Again, I don’t add a lot of detail because the characters and situations dictate how and where things go.
The fun of writing this way is that most often I don’t know what is going to happen.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
Working title for book 5 is Dukkha: Reincarnation. It’s about a murder of a monk in a Buddhist temple.
I like to have a nonfiction book going at the same time and right now I’m kicking around an idea for an eBook to help people deal with insurance companies after they have been hurt on the job.