Payne & Jones Need Your Help

Today marks the official release date of The Malta Escape, which is the ninth book in the Payne & Jones series and quite possibly the funniest thriller ever written. Not just by me, but by anyone.

Of course, I might be
slightly biased.

So, how did I come up with such an awesome book?

Two years ago, I asked readers on social media what I should work on next, and the overwhelming majority said, “your résumé”. After narrowing the focus of my question, most fans requested a new Payne & Jones novel, which didn’t surprise me at all. Based on book sales, it is by far my most popular series. Then again, the duo has been around for six more books than
The Hunters series, so it wasn’t exactly a fair fight. Not that Payne & Jones care about fighting fair. Those crazy bastards will exploit any advantage they can get.

On the surface, it seemed like a straightforward decision: I should give fans what they wanted, right? Unfortunately, what readers want and what publishers want are often two different things, and that’s when things get complicated.

As crazy as this sounds, I won an ITW Thriller award for
The Prisoner's Gold in July 2016, and less than a month later, I was dropped by my main publisher, who explained to me in no uncertain terms that the action-adventure genre was dead. I was tempted to have Clive Cussler give them a call to let them know otherwise, but I figured he was too busy writing five action-adventure series per year and selling millions of books to actually find the time to do anything but write and work on his awesome cars.

Anyway, their decision put me in a difficult position. Most publishers are reluctant to take on an established series—let alone
two. My agents thought I would be better off writing a standalone novel that they could sell to publishers. Several of my author friends suggested the same thing. But after many sleepless nights, I decided to take a chance and write the book that my fans were asking for: a brand-new Payne & Jones novel.

Of course, that decision was loaded with risk. In order to release the book, I was forced to publish it myself. That meant no guaranteed money from a publisher. No one to design the cover. No one to market the book. And so on. Not only did I have to write the novel, I had to hire experienced personnel to do all of the things that I couldn’t do myself. And since I have very little talent or expertise, those expenses added up quickly.

So, why am I telling you all of this?

First and foremost, to guilt you into buying my new book. I mean, you were the ones who begged me to write the damn thing, so now I’m hoping you’ll do your part by buying a copy or ten. Keep in mind: the holidays are right around the corner, and nothing says, “I love you” like two ex-MANIACs who make fun of each other while searching for treasure and killing bad guys.

Secondly, to save the lives of Payne & Jones. You might think I’m kidding, but their very existence is directly tied to the success of
The Malta Escape. Unless I sell a ton of copies, it simply doesn’t make financial sense to keep the series going. So if you like Payne & Jones, please help me pay their salaries and medical bills.

And last but not least, I’m hoping that you will prove my ex-publisher wrong about the action-adventure genre. Believe it or not, this is your chance to help an author stick it to Big Ink (or whatever the hell major publishers call themselves behind closed doors)!

Okay, that's all I have to say. Time to work on my résumé.

New Book Covers

While updating my website for the upcoming release of The Malta Escape, I noticed that one of my publishers had changed the cover art for six of my ebooks. Here's what they look like now in the UK:

UK - Ebooks

Movie News

As hard as this is to believe, it's been half a decade since I signed the movie option for The Hunters. During the first few years, there was a lot of forward momentum with the project―including an incredible cast and a massive marketing deal with Nissan. But as time went on, I started to have my doubts about the film. The budget kept getting smaller and smaller, and the script kept getting further and further away from the book. Eventually it reached a point where it wasn't my story or my characters anymore.

At the end of the five-year deal, the producers wanted to extend the agreement, but after several sleepless nights, I decided to turn them down. As tough as that was to do, I know it was the right decision.

Believe it or not, I'm actually excited about this development. Now that I have the rights back, my agents are free to shop for a better deal, and so far there has been a lot of interest. That said, I'm not in any rush to sign a new agreement. Now that I've seen the good and bad of Hollywood, I'm going to patiently wait until I find the right studio and/or production team to work with before I sign my next movie option.

My Next Book

Back in 2015, the Malta Tourism Authority invited me (and two of my author friends) to their wonderful country in order to thank me for mentioning Malta in several of my books. Not only did they fly us to the Mediterranean and roll out the red carpet, but we were given private access to several of their most important documents and historical sites. Needless to say, we were blown away by their hospitality and have viewed Malta as our home away from home since that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

As a token of our appreciation, each of us set a small portion of his next book in Malta (
The Prisoner’s Gold for me; The Pharaoh’s Secret for Graham Brown; and The Emperor’s Revenge for Boyd Morrison). Meanwhile, we privately argued over which of us would get to write an entire novel about this amazing place. I ultimately won the honor by defeating my brethren in a Maltese pay-per-view, no-holds-barred, steel-cage wrestling match, and have been quietly working on the book (and nursing my injuries) ever since.

Although I recently finished writing the book (woohoo!), I’m not quite ready to announce a title or a release date. However, I can confirm that it features
Payne & Jones, who have been waiting to get back into action since their appearance in Before the Storm. Like many of you, I missed those guys, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy their latest adventure. It's one of their best ones yet.

If I had to guess, I’d say that the book will be released in late 2018, but until I have official confirmation, that’s only speculation on my part. As soon as I know for sure, I’ll post the details on the
NEWS section of my website and on social media. In the meantime, I appreciate your patience and continued support.

Malta 1

Memory Lane

Back when I was a kid — long before the dawn of the Internet — you listened to whatever music your parents listened to. And in my case, that was the Beatles. My mom owned all of their albums, so I grew up listening to their songs from the womb and beyond. The Fab Four had disbanded before I even took my first step, yet I listened to their records over and over again on an old turntable in my family’s den.

So, why am I telling you this? Because last night, for the first time in my life, I had the pleasure of seeing one of the Beatles perform live. Sir Paul McCartney came to Tampa on his
One on One tour and graced the stage for nearly three hours, singing classic songs from the Beatles, Wings, and his solo albums.

I’m not an overly sentimental person, but I have to admit I had to fight back emotions while watching him perform. There was just something about his voice and his songs that transported me back to my childhood home and that dusty record player in my family's den. For a brief moment, I was a kid again. And for a magical journey like that, I will always be thankful.


Double Rainbow

Last night I spotted a rare double rainbow in Florida. I safely pulled off the road then snapped a picture of it with my phone. Obviously it was more impressive in person, but the photo is pretty cool, too.


Football Memories

Over the holiday weekend, I was watching a documentary on ESPN called “Catholics vs. Convicts”, which details a classic football game between Notre Dame and Miami. To build the drama, they showed a brief clip of Pitt playing Notre Dame during my freshman season, and I spotted myself (#74) on the Pitt sidelines. We won the game (30-22), so it rekindled some great memories of my football career.


I nearly got into a fight this weekend

On Sunday night I found myself at Panda Express—a fast-food Chinese restaurant that I rarely frequent. It smelled great as I was driving past so I decided to stop in.

For those who have never been there, it’s the type of place where you grab a plastic tray and point at one or more of the precooked entrees (Kung Pao chicken, beef & broccoli, etc.) sitting behind cafeteria glass, and they’ll scoop it onto a plate for you. To help you decide, they also offer free samples. Just tell them what you want to try, and they’ll pluck a piece of meat with a toothpick and hand it to you over the counter.

There was a short line when I got inside, which was fine with me because I had no idea what I wanted to eat. This was one of those times where my height was a huge advantage because I was able to see over the people in line—particularly the short, white millennial directly in front of me who was wearing a wife-beater, saggy gym shorts, and a knit stocking cap even though it was 78 degrees outside.

The server behind the counter whose sole job was to hand out samples saw me craning my neck above the crowd and asked if I wanted to try anything. I pointed at a chicken dish when Eminem snapped, “Did you just cut in front of me?”

Keep in mind I was standing behind him at the time and a moment earlier he had declined a free sample by telling the same server he already knew what he bleeping wanted. Still, she apologized to him and asked if he had changed his mind and wanted a sample. But instead of answering her, he turned around and glared at me and said, “You better not cut in front of me.”

I’m not a violent guy—I’m truly not—but if we had been somewhere without witnesses and security cameras, I would have punched him in the throat. There was just something about his attitude and disrespect that rubbed me the wrong way. Of course, given our size differential, I’m guessing the only reason he spoke to me like that was because of the public setting. Witnesses gave him courage.

Given the situation, I managed to keep my cool. I didn’t shove him, and I didn’t yell. Instead, I simply said, “I wasn’t cutting. I was just getting a sample.”

He mumbled some curse words under his breath, but I ignored them. I was too focused on my sample to care. I tried a piece of General Tso’s chicken, then put my toothpick in a plastic cup on the counter where everyone in line had disposed of theirs. It even had a small label wrapped around it that said, “USED TOOTHPICKS”.

After that, I stepped back in line behind Eminem and waited for my turn. By then, he was already placing his order to go. The main server filled his carton with food as he walked away from me toward the cash register. I figured he was out of my life for good when karma decided to teach him a lesson.

Instead of walking out the exit, Eminem decided to walk back through the line to brush past me. I saw him coming from a mile away and was prepared to strike if he so much as bumped me. He was glaring at me the entire time, but as he got closer, I think reality set in. I was ten inches taller, outweighed him by more than fifty pounds, and was willing to stand my ground. Unless he had a weapon, he was not going to win.

At the last moment, he reconsidered his decision and broke eye contact. At that point, I think he realized he couldn’t just turn around and walk the other way. It would’ve looked like he had chickened out, so he looked for something—anything—to help him save face. At that point, he spotted the cup of toothpicks on the counter. From his angle, the label on the cup said, “TOOTHPICKS”. From my angle, I could see the word, “USED”.

In this case, one little word made all the difference.

Eminem cut right in front of me, which I willingly allowed, and plucked a toothpick from the container. Keep in mind he didn’t have a sample and had been too focused on me to notice the other customers who had eaten meat off the toothpicks, licked sauce from them, and had picked morsels of food and built-up plaque from their teeth with these tiny spears. I watched in delight/horror as he put the used toothpick into his mouth, and I tried not to laugh/vomit when he made an obnoxious slurping sound, as if he had been expecting a normal toothpick but had gotten a flavored one instead. He enjoyed the taste so much he reached into the cup and pulled out three more toothpicks and shoved them under the brim of his stocking cap for later use.

To me, it was a gift that kept on giving.

At that point, I had to look away or else I was going to crack up. I glanced over the counter and happened to lock eyes with the server in charge of free samples. She had witnessed the whole scene and had placed both hands over her mouth to hold in laughter as her eyes moistened with tears of joy. My guess is she dealt with assholes like him all the time, and this was one of the few times the universe had stepped in to make things right. The main server had seen it, too, but her gag reflex got the better of her. I honestly thought she was going to throw up on the pork chow mein or honey walnut shrimp. Thankfully, she turned from the counter and ran toward the back of the kitchen before she spewed on the buffet.

What had started out as a potential fight ended in a karmic knockout. About the only thing I regret is not pointing out his mistake. I would have loved to see his reaction to his own stupidity. Then again, if I had pointed out his idiocy, he would have stopped with a single toothpick. But by keeping my cool and staying quiet, Eminem took four. What a dumbass!

In the end, the food was mediocre at best, but it was a meal I will remember fondly.

A Rivalry Renewed

Many of you know that I played football at the University of Pittsburgh before a foot injury ended my career. Playing football at Pitt is something of a family tradition. My father played there with Mike Ditka, and two of my uncles played there as well. In the storied history of Pitt football (nine national championships and counting), more Kuzneski's have played at Pitt than any other family. We're VERY proud of that.

James Conner
My school's biggest rival is Penn State. I was taught to hate them at a very early age, and they are easy to dislike considering their recent child-molestation scandal and their decision to end the annual football game between the two schools after the 2000 season. (A game Pitt won 12-0.)

After a 16-year absence, PSU finally relented and agreed to play us this past weekend, and I attended the game at Heinz Field. In a thrilling classic, Pitt prevailed 42-39 in front of the largest crowd to ever witness a sporting event in the city of Pittsburgh. Because of the victory, we'll have bragging rights for another year. That's
the seventeenth year in a row, if you're counting. Needless to say, I left the stadium ecstatic!

The day before the game I stopped by the Pitt campus to relive some fond memories, buy some new gear, and see all the changes that have been made to my alma mater in recent years. I also snapped some pictures along the way. You can see the photos