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[PHOTO] Stepping Up: Summer 2008

Thriller

Kevin Surface, a 1981 political science graduate, speaks about his novel, 'The Cuban Connection'.

From Robert Ludlum's Jason Bourne trilogy to Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle, Kevin Surface's love for fiction leans toward tales of espionage and intrigue.

But it's his passion for the first spy thriller to bear his own signature — called The Cuban Connection — that has the Indiana insurance salesman banking on persistence and hard work to pay off in terms of a Hollywood deal.

"We are getting the book out there," Surface says of the publicity work he and his wife have done under the encouraging eye of Kelly Mumm, a Borders bookstore district marketing manager. "We are doing all the things that we need to do to have one of two things happen ... get a film deal or a national contract."

Surface's book is the first of what he hopes will be a four-book series in the genre that has long fascinated him; indeed, he already is hard at work on the sequel. Kevin and his wife, Monica, are avid promoters of the first novel, a 450-page story with a cast of spies, assassins, CIA and FBI agents, mobsters and revolutionaries that Surface brought to life at a desk in the basement office of the couple's south Indianapolis home.

"It starts out a little slow" as Surface introduces his characters, but "after that, it is a spine-tingling, what-will-happen-next" story, said a fan during a photo session at the Greenwood Borders.

The book was published in October 2006 under a print-on-demand contract with Author House in Bloomington. The book is available in both hardcover and an oversized paperback. Either edition retails for under $30. Surface has had numerous book signings, most local but as far away as St. Louis.

The novel's slick, royal blue cover features a map outline of Cuba and southern Florida within the crosshairs of a riflescope, a reflection of its plot. The cover design, featured on posters, business cards and postcards Surface financed for promotional purposes, is the work of Bart Heldman, a commercial artist and friend of the Surfaces.

Surface's historical thriller, set in Cuba and Miami, is often found in bookstores like Borders amid the works of other Hoosier authors and stories, such as The LaSalle Street Murder by Carol Sisson or Hoosiers in Hollywood by David C. Smith.

Mumm and Borders have been a "godsend," Surface says. "Once they saw our book and our (promotional) materials, they agreed to take it into their stores. We had our first book signing Jan 14, 2007, at Borders in Greenwood. We sold 66 books."

Surface, a 1981 IUPUI political science graduate, had expressed the urge to write a book for about a year when — on Thanksgiving Day 2001 — his wife challenged him to "stop talking and write." Monica, a 1982 IUPUI business graduate, came in that day, plopped a new laptop on the table in front of her husband, and said, "get started."

Surface first tried a traditional approach to writing.

"Everyone says you should start off with an outline," he says. "I tried it, but it didn't work."

So he replaced the outline approach with stacks of 3-by-5 cards on which he first crafted his characters' profiles before turning to fleshing out the novel with its numerous subplots.

Forgoing a traditional outline-based approach, Surface organized the book with 3-by-5 cards.

"At first it was a little harder than I thought it would be. But as I got to doing it, these things kept forming in my mind, these plots and these characters and how I was going to tie them all together," he says.

He wrote the first third of the book on those 3-by-5s, but kept track of the plot twists chapter-by-chapter on regular notebook paper. "It was old-fashioned, but it served my purpose," Surface says.

His political studies at IUPUI, including an international politics course taught by Professor Richard Fredland, proved invaluable in crafting a tale with references to the Bay of Pigs, Castro's takeover of Cuba and Operation Peter Pan, Surface says.

Fredland, now retired, recalled the course curriculum. "We covered Castro in great detail," Fredland says.

Both Fredland and Surface recall the student receiving a poor score on a paper in Fredland's class.

"It was the only D' I ever got," Surface says with a shake of his head. The professor returned the 50-page paper on the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, telling the student that he knew he could do better. The second version earned an A-minus.

"He has obviously overcome any writing deficiencies," Fredland laughs. "It's great, and shows what people can do," the professor says, adding he planned to pick up a copy of the novel.

In writing the book, Surface heeded advice he once heard from an accomplished writer: "A good fiction writer takes fiction-based characters and puts them into nonfiction settings — and creates a scene so vivid that you can see it in your mind."

"We are getting the book out there," Surface says about book signings and other publicity.

Her husband nailed that, Monica says.

"I was surprised, pleasantly surprised. I've read a lot of those kinds of books, also. I was surprised at how well he described the characters and the settings. He did a good job of really putting you there," Monica says. "I didn't think he had it in him. If you read the book, you can easily picture every move, from scene to scene."

The entire process of writing and publishing a book has been a learning process,

Surface says. Although both he and his wife felt the book was a "page-turner" they weren't sure until a friend read the entire book over one weekend.

While Surface's pride and passion in his first book are evident, he doesn't take the credit for the creativity demonstrated in crafting a work of fiction.

"God blesses people with certain talents and he has blessed me with (this)," he says.

So now he is anxiously waiting for a film company to buy movie rights to The Cuban Connection, or a big-name publishing house to print the book and/or contract for sequels.

"The timing is (God's) and not mine ... the Lord is trying to teach me patience," Surface says. "And if you have something as good as we think the book is, then, in all humility, it is just a matter of time."