Based on book sales, the Payne & Jones series is by far my most popular series. And for good reason. They're awesome characters. And if you don't believe me, just ask them. They'll tell you the same damn thing. Especially DJ. He's got some serious swagger.

If you're new to my books, Jonathon Payne and David Jones have been featured in nine novels, starting with
The Plantation. I never intended them to be “series” characters. In fact, my original plan was to kill Jones at the end of the first book. He was going to die heroically―giving his life to save another―but he was definitely going to eat a bullet at the end of the story.

That's right: I was going to kill David "DJ" Jones.

Keep something in mind: I was a starving artist at the time, struggling for my first book deal, not a successful author looking for a global franchise. My goal was to write the best story that I could―one that I could sell to an actual publisher―and I felt that DJ’s death would have been poetic in many ways, particularly in the racially charged atmosphere of
The Plantation. Looking back on things, I realize how ridiculously stupid that would have been.

Unlike most authors, I don’t outline my books ahead of time. Instead, I prefer to sit in front of my computer with only a vague notion of a story, then I try to recreate the world that I picture in my head. The best part about this method is that I get to change my mind all the time, even if that means scrapping major plot points at the last moment. Ultimately, that’s what happened with Jones. When it came time to kill him, I simply couldn’t do it. By the end of the novel, I had completely fallen in love with the character and decided to keep him around for a while.

Pretty good choice on my part, eh?

Ironically, I was confident I had made the correct decision until I heard from the handful of agents who were willing to read my manuscript. There weren’t a lot of them (less than five), but they were all in agreement: they hated the characters of Payne & Jones. No exaggeration. They absolutely despised them. In particular, the agents hated their witty banter. They said that normal people wouldn’t be cracking jokes while facing death and violence. I wanted to say, “No shit, morons! But Payne & Jones aren’t normal people―normal people can’t do the things that they do!!!” But I wussed out and didn’t say that. Instead, I kissed their butts and said, “Thank you for your consideration. Hopefully, you’ll be willing to take a look at my next project.”

In the world of publishing, it isn’t smart to burn bridges.

Unfortunately, I quickly realized those agents would hate my next book, too, because it had taken them so long to read
The Plantation that I was already halfway done with my next project by the time I had heard from them. And by then it was too late for me to give up on Payne & Jones because they were heavily involved in their next mission, one that took them to Orvieto, Italy, where they were tasked with finding a missing professor named Dr. Charles Boyd.

Ultimately, it was that book (
Sign of the Cross) that launched my career and made me an international bestselling author, but SOTC never would have been written if those agents had voiced their opinions six months earlier. Not only would I have gone back and killed Jones, but I would have been tempted to put a bullet in Payne, too.

Speaking of Payne & Jones, I never intended for them to be treasure hunters. If you read my first three thrillers (
The Plantation, Sign of the Cross, and Sword of God), you’ll realize Payne & Jones were searching for missing people, not buried treasures. It just so happened they befriended a cheerful historian (Petr Ulster) and a few troubled archaeologists who needed their help on the way to major discoveries. Before I knew it, Payne & Jones were kicking ass and finding treasures all over the world.

Lucky for me, my readers loved it and so did my publishers, so it didn’t make sense to change the formula. I continued down the same path with my next four books (
The Lost Throne, The Prophecy, The Secret Crown, and The Death Relic) even though I knew in my heart that I was straying farther from my original design. Back when I wrote my first novel, I had pictured Payne & Jones more like James Bond or Jason Bourne than Indiana Jones or Dirk Pitt, but my duo was becoming more and more like the popular explorers with every novel.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those guys. The truth is Indiana Jones and Dirk Pitt are two of my all-time favorite characters and probably the two biggest reasons I fell in love with the action-adventure genre as a child. In some ways, it almost seems like fate. I grew up in Indiana, PA, and attended the University of Pittsburgh, which is commonly referred to as Pitt. Obviously I had no choice but to love Indiana Jones and Dirk Pitt.

Anyway, where was I?

By the summer of 2010, I knew I had to make some changes before my original concept of Payne & Jones was lost forever. I knew my readers, publishers, agents wanted me to continue in the same genre, so it made sense to create a new hero whose sole purpose was to find ancient treasures. Unfortunately, I had seen that formula (Indy, Dirk, Lara Croft, etc.) way too many times, so I decided to create something new: a team of strangers with diverse backgrounds who were hired to find the most important treasures in history.

And just like that,
The Hunters were born.