Thirty years ago, Sean Coleman’s father abandoned his family in the Colorado mountain town of Winston, and was never heard from again. The reason for his disappearance was always a mystery, but a lifetime of blaming himself put Sean on a rough, dark path that took him years to return from. Now content in his life, Sean receives unexpected word that his father has finally reemerged, on the other side of the country in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. . .as a murder victim. At the wishes of his sister, Sean flies out to retrieve his body, and hopefully find answers to why his father left, and the life he went on to lead. What he discovers is a second family, a web of deception, and a brutal killer who’s still on the loose. . .and isn’t finished killing.
From a Dead Sleep may have been my first published book, but it wasn't my first attempt at writing a novel. On one of my old computers is an unfinished manuscript for 'Distant Mileage,' a story inspired by a college road trip I took during spring break of 1995. The destination was San Jose, CA, and I was traveling with my roommate and a van-load of his music-major friends (half of whom I hadn't previously met). Pretty much everything went wrong along the way, but there were some pleasant memories too. One was a beautiful sunrise that played out behind us (through the van's rear window) after a long night of driving. Only three of us were awake to enjoy the sight, which was warmly greeted with some impromptu narration by a young woman in the back seat. I relayed her memorable words verbatim in this scene — a scene that I had originally written for Distant Mileage (using different characters). I was pleased to be able to revive it for Broken Slate.
Dustin Bouche (aka Dusty the Clown) is perhaps the most bizarre character I've ever created for the Sean Coleman Thriller series (and there are many weirdos to choose from). My editor told me multiple times, throughout the first round of editing Broken Slate, just how unique and surprisingly complex she found him to be. I was glad to hear that, because I believed I had given readers something particularly intriguing with this fellow — a man who has either lost his mind or is consciously in-character, trying to adapt to societal surroundings that he's chronically uncomfortable with. Unbearably irritating at times, and deeply sympathetic at others, Dusty has become a favorite of readers. Here's his introduction to the series, and his first interaction with Sean.
Sean's past relationship with his father is touched on earlier in the series, but this is the first scene where the memory is a fond one. I wanted to reveal that there were some rare, good times in the Hanson household, and I described the game "Cochise" to demonstrate that. The name ties back to a night in my own life, back in college, when my roommates and I had some company over. What started out as standard horseplay turned into a situation where newly-purchased toilet-paper rolls were turned into projectile weapons. People were beaming each other left and right, until a loud knocking at our door halted the action. We worried it was the landlord acting on a noise complaint. Instead, it was a friend of ours who had unexpectedly stopped by for a visit. We collected ourselves and let him in. But the moment he took notice of our disheveled appearances and mischievous grins, my roommate yelled "Cochise" (an impromptu attack signal), someone turned off the lights, and we absolutely pummeled the poor guy with a relentless onslaught of t.p. We didn't stop until he was huddled up in a ball on the floor.
I enjoy riding my bike along the Poudre Trail, near my home in Greeley, CO. During the summer and fall, lots of grasshoppers from a nearby field end up on the trail, where many are turned into cyclist roadkill. Strangely, their flattened, lifeless bodies don't make them any less appealing to suitors. The common site of live grasshoppers instinctively getting it on with dead ones struck me long ago as a natural metaphor — one that I ended up including in my novel, Broken Slate. It begins with some fun dialogue in an early chapter, but later graduates to a central theme of the book.
In junior high, I read 'Deathwatch' by Robb White. It was a gritty tale of survival that centered around a young protagonist named Ben. Ben fought to stay alive in the brutally hot Mojave desert as a mad-man kept him pinned down with a high-powered rifle. White wrote the book through the eyes of this character whose innocence, ill-preparedness, and raw desperation were easily identified with by the reader. The reader is right there beside Ben, making the same mistakes under terrible circumstances, as he clumsily and savagely fights to stay alive. As a thriller author, I try hard to develop that same sense of sloppy survival in my work. To me, a protagonist that is in control and comes into situations with an edge over his or her adversaries isn’t quite as interesting…or quite as real. In real life, impulsiveness is a more genuine reaction to adversity than calm, rational thinking.
There are times when the truth invites evil, and there are times when the truth can get you killed. Few residents in the secluded mountain-town of Winston, Colorado, have kind words to say about local troublemaker Sean Coleman. He's a bully, a drunk, and a crime-show addicted armchair detective with an overactive imagination. After a night of poor judgment, Sean finds himself the sole witness to the unusual suicide of a mysterious stranger. With the body whisked away in the chilling rapids of a raging river, no one believes Sean's account. When his claim is met with doubt and mockery from the people of Winston, Sean embarks on a far-reaching crusade that takes him across the country in search of the dead man's identity and personal vindication. He hopes to find redemption and the truth---but sometimes the truth is better left unknown.
Being a political commentator, I've spent A LOT of time over the past several months writing about presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The other day, someone on Twitter (who's been reading From a Dead Sleep) told me that they cracked up when they got to the part in my book about Trump. I honestly hadn't a clue what the person was talking about, so I looked into it. Sure enough, there was mention of him. Apparently, I've been writing about Trump longer than I thought.
An astute reader recently sent me an email, asking me if I realized that the revolver Sean Coleman's father left him is the same type of gun that Rick Grimes uses in The Walking Dead. The answer is yes, and it was no coincidence. I've been a fan of The Walking Dead from the very first episode, and decided to pay some homage to the show in my novel by giving Rick's gun to Sean. As I wrote in a previous book bubble, the character Alvar actually uses James West's gun from The Wild Wild West.
Blood Trade, the second book in the Sean Coleman Thriller series, will be released on September 24th, 2015. Though the story stands on its own, there's a definite tie-in to From a Dead Sleep. This short excerpt offers a glimpse at that connection. Let the speculation begin!
When writing this scene, I originally described the old security guard as acting as if he had just woke up "from a dead sleep." Right after I typed those words, I found myself staring at the phrase and thinking it was significant. Up until that point (a chapter away from the end of the book), I had no title in mind for this novel. Upon seeing the words typed on my computer screen, however, I was sure I had just found it. "From a Dead Sleep" embodies several characters in this book who feel lost in life until particular events force them to rise above themselves. It also characterizes the unknown story of the dead man that puts Sean Coleman on a path to redemption.
When I began working with my editor on refining 'From a Dead Sleep,' the only story content she suggested adding was some background information on Sean Coleman's love life. You wouldn't know it by reading the back of the book or looking at the cover, but there is a little bit of romance in this novel. Judging by Sean's personality, readers would probably assume that he doesn't have a history of being a big hit with the ladies. Still, my editor felt his romantic past was worth examining a bit, and I believe she was right. This excerpt, from one of the last paragraphs I wrote for the book, provides some insight into his awkward history with women.
In chapter 26, I switch to the point of view of a young college kid who is camping over Spring Break with some friends. I've been asked before why I described this character (who is mentioned in no other chapter in the book) and this scene in such detail. After all, the kid serves no real purpose to the story beyond his discovery of something that went missing earlier in the book. Well, the truth was that this chapter was a self-indulgent one. The college kid I described was me at that age, even down to the car I drove. The chapter is riddled with little anecdotes from actual camping trips I enjoyed with my old group of friends years ago: The tendency to go nuts with lighter fluid, our only box of matches being tossed into the campfire, the incredibly loud snoring, Purple Passion being the drink of choice, using a tent pole to resurrect a dead fire, etc. I remember those days fondly.
When I began writing From a Dead Sleep, I hadn't yet envisioned Ron Oldhorse, the mysterious Native American survivalist of few words. In fact, I was more than halfway done with the first draft when I decided to veer the story in a different direction, which called for a new character. Oldhorse is a unique, complicated individual, and based on the feedback I've received, he's also a favorite among readers. Eerily, the character seemed to develop himself as I took him to paper. Even I was surprised that his contribution to the novel quickly went from a single chapter to a vitally important part of the overall story.
Because I regularly write political commentary, many readers are surprised that there's nothing overtly political in this novel. In fact, this is the only excerpt that refers to any of the characters' political leanings. I felt it important to do so here because I wanted make it clear to the reader that absolutely no common ground exists between Sean Coleman and Chief Gary Lumbergh. Beyond the personal animosity they hold for each other, they come from two different worlds. Sean grew up in the mountains of Colorado. He's a rugged individualist. Though he's angry at the world, he also takes personal responsibility for his standing it. Lumbergh, presumably a product of academia, has chosen a career in public service. He's a 'big city' guy who navigated his way through a government bureaucracy to achieve his stature. The story takes place in the year 2000, in the wake of an extremely close presidential election. There was a lot of lingering tension along partisan lines at that time. I wanted to use that tension to better define the characters and their differences.
Throughout "From a Dead Sleep," I make it clear that Toby Parker, an autistic 13 year-old boy, looks up to Sean Coleman - a man who is often very rude to him. It's at this moment in the book that I explain why. By treating Toby just as crassly as he treats everyone else in the town of Winston, Sean has in a strange way endeared himself to the boy. Around Sean, Toby doesn't view himself as "special." He views himself as being the same as everyone else. He finds that appealing, and it has led him to believe that Sean is a man worthy of his loyalty.
One of my favorite television shows growing up was The Wild Wild West. The clever, action-packed show featured actor Robert Conrad as U.S. Secret Service agent, James West. I admired Conrad's physicality in the role. The choreographed fight scenes he was part of were well ahead of their time, and the gadgets he used to escape dangerous predicaments were one of the show's hallmarks. The most famous of those gadgets was a sleeve gun that propelled a small, concealed spring-loaded pistol into West's hand on command. I decided to pay homage to that device (and the show) in two chapters of From a Dead Sleep.
A good friend of mine is a huge football fan. He owns a flashy CU Buffs velour jogging suit that he frequently wears in public, much to the chagrin of his wife who finds it embarrassing. The cheesy outfit has become an ongoing joke within in our circle of friends, and it compelled me to make a bit character in the book dress in a similar way. Why? Well, I wanted the character to somehow draw immediate, unflattering attention to himself. From experience, I knew that putting him in a velour jogging suit would accomplish that.
When I was young, my family went on a lot of road-trip vacations across the United States. We almost always stayed at Motel 6's, which were very cheap and no-frills. Sometimes we stayed at even cheaper places. These motels seemed to share a few common traits. The rooms were always musty, the temperature of the shower water never remained consistent, and the springy beds always had crazy-colored bedspreads with an odd smell to them. Just the type of place that Sean Coleman would stay the night at if he had a few bucks in his pocket while on the road.
I've been surprised by how many people who've read my book bring up this scene to me. Apparently, there's something quite memorable about a belch making up part of a meal.
One of the first characters mentioned in the book is Moses Jones, the man who beat protagonist Sean Coleman in a game of eight-ball the night before. It's that loss that really sets the stage for the book. I came up with the name of that character several years ago. Imagine my surprise, not long after the book was published, when I began regularly seeing that name printed on flyers, in newspapers, and on marquee signs. I learned that Moses Jones is the name of a Colorado band that now performs in my city pretty often. They're quite popular these days.
While I was writing From a Dead Sleep, I went on a vacation with my wife to Traverse City, Michigan. The scenery and experience compelled me to make it the location of where a new character was about to be introduced in the book. A friend who we were staying with told me a story of how he and his brother, as children, used to dare each other to sit in cold spring water along a nearby beach. I thought the imagery would be a great way to begin chapter 4.
I've been asked by a couple of readers if the quotes I attribute to certain television shows in my book are real. The answer is that they are not. I made each of them up. In fact, I've never seen a full episode of CSI. Really!
Whenever a friend in Greeley, Colorado starts reading my book, they recognize the name O'Rafferty's right away. It was an Irish bar on the west side of town for many years before it eventually went out of business. Ironically, I never stepped foot inside it.
Sean Coleman is back in the latest thriller from John A. Daly, set in the mountains of Winston, Colorado. Six months after the murder of his uncle, Sean is trying to get his life together. He's stopped drinking, he's taking better care of himself, and he's working hard to keep a fledgling security business afloat. At a blood plasma bank Sean frequents to earn extra income, he meets the distraught relative of Andrew Carson, a man who went missing weeks earlier on the other side of the state, with a pool of blood in the snowy driveway of his home as the only clue to the man's fate. Sean decides to help in the search for Carson and quickly finds himself immersed in a world of deception, desperation, and danger---a world in which nothing is what it seems, and few can get out of with their lives.
Though my books mostly take place in the mountains of Colorado, I like to reference other intriguing destinations I've personally traveled to. When writing 'From a Dead Sleep', I actually altered part of the story to take place in Traverse City, Michigan, where I was vacationing at the time. In 'Blood Trade', I decided to include a little town in Utah that I've passed through (and even stayed in) a handful of times, and am quite fond of. Only about 200 people live in Hanksville, but this gritty, desert community in the middle of nowhere has a lot of character. I decided to use it as the backdrop for a story Sean tells Jessica about his past. People who've traveled through Hanksville will undoubtedly recognize some of the landmarks mentioned later in this chapter.
People who know me probably figured out that my renewed interest in vinyl records over the past few years contributed to this paragraph in Blood Trade. What might not be as obvious is the significance of Johnny Cash's classic hit, "I Walk the Line." Beyond just being a great song by an iconic performer, the lyrics accurately describe Sean Coleman — a standoffish observer of life who's struggling with the pain of past relationships. They also foreshadow what Sean's later willing to do to help the character Jessica (a possible love interest).
I consider "Bias" by former CBS News reporter Bernard Goldberg to be one of the most important books I've ever read. At a time when few in the media dared acknowledge the ideological slant that taints the way information is presented to the American public, Goldberg laid out a detailed, air-tight case for its prevalence, causes, and societal implications. Since then, I've been very interested in the problem of media bias — so much so that I now write weekly columns for Mr. Goldberg's website. The topic even made it into the Sean Coleman thriller series, where our protagonist feuds with local newspaper owner Roy Hughes, a journalist who regularly sensationalizes stories at Sean's expense.
It became clear when I started receiving feedback on the first Sean Coleman thriller (From a Dead Sleep), that readers had formed an emotional attachment with Zed Hansen, Sean's good-natured uncle. Zed was a dignified (and unquestionably heroic) figure who loved and supported his nephew when no one else did. He was an endearing man, and his ultimate sacrifice stole the breath of many readers. When writing 'Blood Trade,' I felt it important to describe Zed's legacy, and what it meant to Sean, the town of Winston, and even the readers.
I've been upfront in interviews and blog posts about how I wrote a good chunk of my first book, FROM A DEAD SLEEP, while reclining in a local blood plasma clinic with a needle sticking in my arm. In fact some of the characters I created for that book were inspired by odd individuals that I observed there. One of the things that always drove me crazy about that clinic was that every donor had to answer the same, lengthy list of qualifying questions each and every time they donated plasma...even if the answers couldn't have possibly changed since the previous visit. It was absurd, but I endured it like everyone else. Sean Coleman, however, wouldn't have dealt with the situation so gracefully. Thus, I decided to have some fun with this scene.
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