Interview with Jack Rees

What genre do you write and why?
I have three main genre interests; Horror, Science Fiction and Historical action adventure. As a kid living the drab, gray life of post war England I found a large measure of escape from reality in the movies. This was the time when Hollywood was turning the great adventure stories of the late 19th century into film scripts. Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, The Lost Continent, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea… These were the stories that developed within me a fascination for history and mysterious foreign lands and the adventure they offered. My interest in science and science fiction was the direct result of a shop front on Canterbury Street in my hometown of Gillingham in Kent. The British Planetary Society occupied the premises and the shop window was filled with rockets, art and models of distant planets. I would stand with my nose pressed to the glass taking it all in. I have Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Machen to thank for my interest in horror. Truth to tell I probably needed therapy of some kind as a kid or young man. Fortunately I never received it—with the happy result that today my horror stories visit some very strange places with original twists!

Tell us about your latest book.
My latest—and my second—book is The Watch: The Secret Battle for the Soul of Germany. A lifelong interest in World War Two is doubtless a result of my early years. As a child my few memories include running at night into bomb shelters and watching dog fights in the sky over Kent. As I grew older I became very aware of the impact the war had on my parent’s generation. In more recent years I have had an intense interest in both the occult influences that had a role in forging the mindset of the Nazi philosophy and in the advanced German technologies that have yet to fully emerge from a fog of mystery and Allied secrecy. I read avidly in this field, from Clarke’s Occult Roots of Nazism to Hitler’s Suppressed and Still-Secret Weapons, Science and Technology by Harold Stevens. Most of these books generated questions rather than answering them. The more I read the more I felt that this mass of fact and supposition needed just the smallest amount of fiction to tie it all together into a fascinating narrative that explained the role occult influences played in the rise of the young Adolf Hitler and upon the bizarre and murderous policies his Nazi Party. The result was a manuscript that tied together the German fascination with the occult in the first quarter of the 20th century and the ‘science-fiction’ aspects of some of the nation’s technology—such as Die Glocke—The Bell, a device that is still shrouded in secrecy.

The protagonist is Benjamin Størgaard, son of a Minnesota dairy farmer who joins the US Army and meets George Patton during the Pershing expedition to Mexico. At this same time Adolf Hitler begins his life in Vienna. We witness his fateful meetings with Lanz von Lebensfels and see him transfixed by visions of the future as he gazes upon the Spear of Destiny. Størgaard, a blond, blue eyed ‘Aryan’ of Danish heritage, is recruited to be an agent for Winston Churchill inside Himmler’s SS. Churchill was well aware of the occult activities of Hitler and Himmler. He formed an organization called “The Watch” to counter Nazi rituals and to divine what Hitler’s astrologers were telling him. Under the direction of The Watch, English Covens gathered during the war to conduct rituals that directed ‘black energy’ at Hitler and his cohorts. It is rumored that human sacrifice was included in these sabbats. This much is not fiction—it is fact just now emerging from long classified records of the war. This, and much more of the same, is what made writing the book sheer fun. It will be hard for the reader to determine where fact ends and fiction begins!

What marketing methods are you using to promote your book? 
Now is without doubt the most exciting time to be an author with a book to market. Like the Kodak Company and ‘film’ photography, traditional mainstream publishing is on the cusp of extinction. The old route to being a published author involves; securing an agent--six weeks to reply to your first query, six weeks to review a sample chapter—six weeks to review the complete MS—months to secure a mainstream publisher with or without an advance and finally the reward of a 7% royalty. Mainstream marketing usually means being assigned to a junior in the marketing department who has a dozen other authors to promote. Perform poorly during your first twelve weeks of publication—and your labor of love, sweat, blood and tears is on the remainder scrapheap.

No more. Now we have print on demand and Ebooks. The Internet, a blog, a Facebook page and Twitter followers, all give the author the chance to promote a book at the speed of light. All those weeks of waiting are now turned into revenue generating sales. No wonder the POD and Ebook market has exploded in the last eighteen months. No wonder mainstream publishing is waking up to the power of the new media.

These are the methods I am using to promote The Watch. I am using the Internet to do virtual tours, to set up radio interviews, to connect with interest groups around the planet. Between the occult, science & technology, Nazism, science fiction and the ever-present threat of extremism there are plenty of discreet demographics to work with. I have created a blog for The Watch  at and a Facebook page at

Jack Rees
What formats is the book available in?
Print on demand hardcover and softcover, Kindle, Ibook, Nook.

What's the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing of all is being a writer now. As mentioned previously, the almost arrogant and dismissive process of agent to mainstream publisher is a thing of the past. To be fair, this process is so dependent on the ‘blockbuster’ novel that reaches a worldwide market for an extended period of time. It is not a process designed for the ‘small’ book. Social Media access means that a writer can create a product that might have only highly specialized appeal—and then tailor the marketing to that specific interest group. It does, of course, lay the burden of good writing, structure, editing and formatting squarely on the writer’s shoulders. Frankly, that’s where it should be anyway. Luckily, there is plenty of help available via the Internet for everything from developmental editing to cover design.
Writers, like all creative people, receive validation through the sharing and feed back process. The Internet now makes this more meaningful than ever before. Writers today can share ideas from the mundane to the magnificent. These ideas can now cross borders and oceans without restraint (ok China and similar countries excepted). The inevitable result can only be the breaking down of political, social and cultural boundaries. Now, words count more than ever before—and that’s the best thing about being a writer.

How long did it take you to write your book?
I researched this project for more than ten years, reading books on the occult (actually an interest since I was fourteen), on the major players on the War from Churchill to Stalin, Konev to Patton, and Crowley to De Wohl. The reading was immense fun, but by the time I came to write the book the information was so synthesized in my head that it all fell together with ease and made the writing process even more enjoyable. I set a target (as I do for everything I write) of 2000 words a day. I didn’t make it every day, but within nine months I had a first draft of a 140,000. My first edit brought that down to 99,000 and my subsequent re-writes brought the final manuscript up to 104,000 words in about one year.

Did you learn anything from writing your book that was unexpected?
I did. The occult research ranged from the magic of the Congo and ancient Egypt to the secret societies of medieval Europe and nineteenth century England. The results were ideas for new books. It turned out that one of the occult practitioners who gave rise to the eventual formation of the Nazi party had an amazing (and according to him, true) vampire experience. He wrote about it in an occult journal in 1909. The story became the genesis of a manuscript I am currently working on in the horror genre with a unique twist on the vampire legend.

The science and technology research also led to new ideas for two science fiction books.

How do you research your books?
I read voraciously and an overactive imagination feeds on everything I encounter during both waking and sleeping hours. I play the “what if…” game with almost all the information I absorb, extending the mundane and the possible out to the bizarre and ridiculously impossible. This seems to be the place where originality is borne (did I mention that I probably needed therapy earlier?).

Once I have the germ of my next book Idea I create a chronology file in Excel. This is especially useful in the case of a project based on actual history, such as The Watch. I use colored sticky tabs to highlight specific dates or references in books I read (highlight and bookmark menu on my Kindle). All of these I feed into my Excel chronology file. I print the file out and review it often, developing a good ‘feel’ for the historical flow and context of my story.
I also research extensively on the Internet. I copy the URL of every page I visit. If there is material of specific value to my story I copy it and paste into an rtf file with the URL (sourcing your material, crediting other authors is essential). I then create a master folder on my computer and a backup on a separate drive and a third copy on my ICloud account. I set up files for research, my text, my social media sites and my submissions (if I am using the agent route, which I do once in a while, less in the future).

Once I begin to write I can move fluidly between my reference docs and the Internet pages I want to return to. I have the greatest respect for the printed book—so it bothered me that I was sticking colored tabs on the pages. Now I buy used books from Amazon and feel free to highlight and tab with abandon. If a book is old and or rare (quite a few), I look for a used paperback version. Sometimes I’ll buy two copies, one to mark up and one to keep pristine for my library.

What is your work in progress? Tell us about it.
My current book is titled Vampyre: A Portrait of Elga. In researching the occult aspects of The Watch I learned much about the occult significance of blood. It is way more than a delivery system for oxygen and nutrients for the tissues. The importance of blood in Hermetic magical ritual is such that it led to an idea for a horror story. I mentioned above how one character figured (if somewhat remotely) in the roots of the Nazi Party had a unique vampire experience in the early years of the nineteenth century. I took this episode, and other occult knowledge, and created a very different spin on the standard (and getting rather time-worn) vampire legend of the blood sucking
Feral toothed, undead who sleep in rotting coffins within those fog shrouded decrepit cemeteries.

The protagonist is Steve (Stefan) Lupul, a Yale Art History graduate who has forsaken his degree for a lucrative career as an Internet data miner. His father and mother are long dead. He came to America as a child with his uncle as a refugee from war torn Romania.

One Internet research assignment leads Stefan back to the country of his birth and begins a chain of chilling events related to his father’s death. Stefan has been unwittingly drawn into a search for ancient vampires hiding in our midst. The path leads to the magical and sexual underbelly of Berlin then onto to New Orleans and finally to San Francisco.

What are your thoughts on self-publishing verses traditional publishing?

Ernest Hemingway, Peter Benchley and even J. K. Rowling had wonderful love affairs with the mainstream publishing industry. I read once that Benchley wrote a 250 word outline for his novel Jaws, sent it to his publisher—and received a $50,000 advance by return mail. I could fall in love with that. Unfortunately that once so desirable siren has lost her lustre, she is nowhere near as attractive as she used to be.

I have written above the seemingly arrogant and dismissive way agents and publishers treat wannabe rookie writers. This appears to be the result of the rising costs of the mainstream publishing process coupled with the explosion of competition enabled by computer technology.

There was a time when self-publishing was called ‘vanity publishing’ a derogatory term for putting a book between covers at the author’s cost in order to please only him and his immediate friends. The content was deemed to be rubbish that would not sell and was certainly not worth the time and expense afforded to a well-written and commercially viable manuscript. That is no longer the case. Self published books are beginning to hold the New York Times bestseller top spot for weeks at a time. Self-publishing is already forcing traditional publishing to change its business model. Major companies are now taking note of best selling self published books with major Facebook and Twitter followings—and moving in to offer multi-book publishing deals to the authors.

When I look at the math for self-publishing versus traditional publishing I have to wonder--what advantage mainstream publishing has to offer? Take a quick look at a traditional publishing deal: It may take you months or years to find an agent. Once an agent takes you on you will give up 15% of your national book income and 25% of your International income (to be fair if you have ever worked with an agent, as I have, you know that they are absolutely well worth this percentage). Let’s say your agent shotguns all of his publishing contacts and you quickly attract the interest of a mainstream publisher (I have sat in the offices of Norton & Co, Penguin and Simon & Schuster in Manhattan to discuss book deals). If you are a first time author you are a risk, an unknown quantity to the publisher and you are also likely to accept any deal the publisher offers you. You will not get star treatment with a dedicated publicist and a huge marketing budget. More importantly, you may not get a significant advance against future sales. The advance may well be refundable as well—you pay it back if sales do not meet expectations. Even if you do get a significant advance, you may be asked to pay most of it to a “known writer” who will re-write your book (as a ghost author or even co-author) in order to increase its marketability. Don’t be surprised if the “well known” writer is a buddy of the publishing executive you are dealing with. If you get this phase of the publishing deal behind the next hurdle is your paycheck. This is the “royalty’ percentage that the publishing company will pay you based on the cover price of your book. It can be as low as 7% (remember your agent is making 10%). What happens to the other 93%? Barnes & Nobel or Amazon, the bookseller, is going to take 40%. The big name publishing company gets 63%. This covers book design and production and marketing. Book design from cover to content typically costs as little as $1000.00. Book printing will cost $1 to $2 depending upon the size of the print order. Marketing means you will be given a marketing ‘exec’ who is also handling other authors (who may be way bigger than you are). In truth you are expected to do most of the marketing grunt work (such as hawking your book on the Jon Stewart Show). If your cover price is $25.00, you will receive $1.75. The bookseller gets $10.00. The Publisher gets around $13.00 less print costs.

If you self-publish this same book using for a designer and a POD company for a hardcover you will make around $14.75 per book less your minimal production costs.

$1.75…$14.75—am I missing something here?

No matter how much I love to write ultimately the entire process is designed to pay my bills, and hopefully more. To be sure it might sound glamorous to say that I have been published by Penguin—but is the glamour really worth it?



I love to hear from you. So feel free to comment, but keep in mind the basics of blog etiquette — no spam, no profanity, no slander, etc.

Thanks for being an active part of the Writers and Authors community.