Currently viewing the category: "Taylor Zajonc"

Blank Slate Press, now an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group, has had a banner year! We’ve published some amazing books and you’ll be hearing more about them as we do our best to keep this blog more up to date and active. Plus, there’s more exciting news coming in 2016, too! In 2015, we published:

And our first title for 2016 is coming out in February. THE WRECKING CREW  is an exciting thriller in the tradition of Clive Cussler and James Rollins written by, by Taylor Zajonc, a terrific new writer whose life off the page is almost as exciting as his characters’! Click here for an interview with Taylor.

 

The Wrecking Crew coverTHE WRECKING CREW (Feb. 2016) is a thrilling, fast-paced adventure set in the world’s last frontier that will resonate with James Rollins and Clive Cussler fans alike.

In exchange for his freedom from a secret Moroccan prison, deep-water salvage diver Jonah Blackwell agrees to lead a covert search for a missing research team in the dangerous coastal waters of Somalia, an area plagued by pirates and a deadly red tide killing all marine life within its reach. But when his expedition threatens the ambitions of billionaire industrialist Charles Bettencourt, Jonah’s survival depends on hijacking a hostile submarine and assembling an unproven crew who must simultaneously investigate the source of a mysterious oceanic plague and face down Bettencourt’s commandos.

Taylor Zajonc’s background is almost as thrilling as that of his hero, Jonah Blackwell. As a maritime historian and shipwreck expert, he has personally setting a deep-ocean depth record, and his archival field research contributed to the discovery of some of the most incredible treasure shipwrecks in history, including a 110-ton trove of sunken World War II silver. He is a member of the famous Explorers Club; a former researcher for Odyssey Marine Exploration, a treasure-hunting company whose activities were featured on the Discovery Channel television show “Treasure Quest” as well as a number of specials; the Research Director for Endurance Exploration Group, which is expecting a substantial amount of media attention on their major projects this year; and also has the distinction of being a  part of the first Titanic expedition to be accompanied by a marine archaeologist.

We hope you enjoy our interview with this talented new author:

You’re quite the adventurer. How did you get into the business of hunting long-lost shipwrecks?

It’s a family business of a sort. In the late 90’s, my father become involved in an expedition to the I-52, a gold-laden Japanese WW2 submarine lost in the Atlantic Ocean while on a secret mission to Germany. Not long after, I joined him on an expedition to the RMS Titanic and later a voyage to a sunken 1812 trading ship lost three miles deep in the Bermuda Triangle.

In 2003, my dad joined a company that searched for lost shipwrecks in the deep ocean. They’d just struck it big and were in the process of recovering 51,000 gold and silver coins from the SS Republic, a Civil War-era paddlewheel steamship lost in a hurricane a hundred miles off Savannah, Georgia. I took a job as an Assistant to the Archaeologist, leaving college early and completing my degree by correspondence. It was a busy time—at one point, the archaeologist, myself, and another staff member counted gold and silver coins for 14 straight hours as they came off the shipwreck site.

I joined the company Research Department shortly thereafter. I started as an admin, doing small jobs around the office. It wasn’t long before I read the entire research library from end to end, organized every book, pamphlet, page and folder, and then developed a research “white paper” on how shipwreck investigation should be performed. Soon they were regularly sending me overseas to work in European libraries and archives, and I began corresponding and coordinating with researchers all over the world.

I now work as Research Director for Endurance Exploration Group. Based on my research work, we recently found the Connaught, a side-wheel steamship luxury liner lost off Boston with a cargo of gold coins. This upcoming summer could be very exciting for us as we film and excavate the site.

What is your favorite adventure story? Is it going three miles into the abyss of the Bermuda Triangle?

I’ve never done anything quite like the Bermuda Triangle dive before or since. There is no other deep water system like the twin Russian MIR submersibles, and the Russian scientists, engineers, and crewmen were consummate professionals.

The dive itself was incredible. It took 2 1⁄2 hours to descend the three miles to the bottom. There were three of us in all—myself, David Concannon (who later became the VP of Flags & Honors of the Explorers Club) and our Russian ex-MIG fighter jock submersible pilot, Victor. My dad gave up one of his voyages to the bottom so that I could have the chance to go—but only if I could convince a very skeptical Russian mission director that a nineteen year old could handle 15 hours in a cramped steel sphere measuring only six feet in diameter. I told him I wanted to be a writer, and I somehow won him over.

I’m very lucky—I get to do exciting things with regular frequency. These experiences run the gamut from dangerous to simply surreal. For example, two years ago I had the opportunity to join a trip to a small African country to discuss partnering to explore and film the colonial-era wrecks within their waters. As we arrived and exited the plane, we found ourselves walking along a red carpet with a brass band playing and dozens of fatigue-clad men with AK-47’s carpeting the whole area. Turned out that we were on the same commercial flight as their president, and the armed guard was his security detail. It was like something out of a movie—quite the we’re-not-in-Kansas-anymore moment. I seem to have had a lot of those moments over the course of my career. Then again, I’m only 33… I’m hoping there’s a lot more in the future as well. (That being said, I don’t ever need to be greeted with rifles as I step off a plane. Once was quite enough.)

In The Wrecking Crew you draw from your knowledge as a shipwreck expert, what was your inspiration, though? What put the story together for you?

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work on a very special project. During the course of an underwater survey in the English Channel, the company I was working for at the time found two unidentified German U-boats. We came to realize a great number of the final accounts of these lost submarines were cobbled together from German and Allied records, and were simply the best guess at the time. This was an opportunity to identify the submarine from the ground up, and then integrate (and correct, as necessary) the historical record of what had transpired.

During this research effort, I fell in love with stories of World War II submarines. These submariners fought in the harshest possible environment despite the incredible dangers and uncertainty. On balance, these submarines were not captained by old, seasoned commanders—they were led by young, quick-witted survivors. I wondered what it would take to run one of these submarines in the modern world—and what type of man it’d take to command it.

What is your favorite part of THE WRECKING CREW? What did you enjoy writing about the most and why?

I loved writing the rescue scene where Jonah first meets Klea. I think any reader will be able to immediately tell how much I dislike the damsel-in-distress trope; it gets stomped on and ripped to shreds in the first couple of pages of that chapter. Jonah and Klea are survivors and loners, but are forced to work together and trust each other when each have their carefully-laid plans fall through in the worst possible way.

Who is your favorite character? What makes Bettencourt such a great villain to you?

My main character, Jonah Blackwell, was the greatest pleasure to write. Throughout the story, I had the opportunity to thrust him into one impossible situation after another and then watch as he figured out how to escape, recruit allies, and finally strike back. I’ve never liked stories where the hero is simply stronger, faster, smarter or—worst of all—luckier than his or her adversaries. Instead, I wanted a hero who used guile, endurance, leadership, or was willing to try an idea that everybody else thought was crazy.

Bettencourt makes a great villain because ultimately he wants to do the right thing. He has a vision of helping people, even making the world a better place. The problem is that he is willing to take shortcuts that hurt a lot of lives, believing that the ends justify the means. In his mind, he’s the good guy of the story, and he doesn’t understand why Jonah, the crew, or the people of the Horn of Africa might feel differently.

There is a lot of humor in The Wrecking Crew. Do you think of this as a serious novel, humorous, or just a great adventure?

I think of The Wrecking Crew as a great adventure—and serious adventure fiction doesn’t have to be dour! Anybody who has spent time with people in high-stress occupations (firefighters, paramedics, military personnel, pilots) can attest to meeting some of the funniest people in the world. Humor ties us together, helps us trust each other in stressful circumstances, blow off steam, and understand difficult times. The more serious the circumstances, the more irreverent capable people become. It’s not just a coping mechanism; it’s a survival mechanism.

You also do a great deal of writing on your website at expeditionwriter.com. Your writing seems to run the gamut of subjects – including CANNIBALISM! What’s that about? What besides this can readers find on your site?

The great thing about blogging is that I can write about literally whatever interests me, though I generally stick to science, history, and exploration. I’d definitely encourage readers to check out a few of the featured series.

In “The Dive,” I talk about joining a Russian expedition to the deepest archaeological site on the planet, descending three miles into the abyss of the Bermuda Triangle aboard a Soviet-era submersible. In “Undersea Arsenal, Poisoned Oceans” (a 9-part series!), I discuss the development of chemical weapons and how so many of them ended up at the bottom of the ocean … and more importantly, why they may not stay buried forever. In “The Early Submariners,” I explore the development of submarines and the cast of dreamers, schemers, and investors that contributed to their invention. It’s full of underwater fistfights, insane contraptions, incorrigible romantics, and dead fools.

So about the cannibalism thing … a number of years ago, I decided to try and find every account of cannibalism at sea in recorded history. Looking back, I can’t even tell you exactly why I did it… I’ve always been the sort that gets a bit fixated with a subject and can’t let it go until I’ve explored it from every possible angle.

THE WRECKING CREW is your debut novel. What do you have in-store next for your readers?

I love the world of THE WRECKING CREW, and I’m currently hard at work on the sequel. I think that Jonah and his crew have a lot of adventures ahead. Beyond that, I love writing about science, history, the oceans, and the environment. I have a number of stand-alone novels in various stages of development, and I’m hoping that interest in THE WRECKING CREW will extend to them as well.