L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. I recent caught up with her to discuss her latest book.
The Arranger is a thriller set in a futuristic world in which contestants enter a national endurance competition called the Gauntlet. What is the Gauntlet?
The Gauntlet contest is co-sponsored by the federal government and a giant media/technology company called AmGo. A representative from each state competes for a grant that will allow its cash-strapped state government to rehire public employees, such as police officers and teachers. Part of the prize is that AmGo will also build its next fulfillment center in the winner’s state, bringing in even more jobs. The contest, broadcast live to a global pay-per-view audience, consists of five phases: the Challenge, the Puzzle, the Battle, the Obstacle, and the Marathon. In each round of the Challenge, two competitors race against each other, with the loser going home. The 25 remaining contestants each have a chance in the Puzzle, a locked-room scenario, with only the 16 fastest times going on to the Battle, a hand-to-hand combat tournament. Writing those scenes was so different from anything I’ve ever done. It was challenging and fun, and several beta readers said the competition scenes left them breathless.
You describe Lara Evans as an ex-detective working as a freelance paramedic. Do you have a background in either of these professions?
It would be fun if I did, but I’m a career journalist. As a journalist, I’ve researched and written about dozens of subjects and careers. I also was a senior editor on a pharmaceutical magazine for seven years, and I had daily access mountains of medical information, which has always fascinated me. As a novelist, I’ve interviewed many homicide detectives, as well as a medical examiner, a crime scene technician, and a SWAT sergeant.
How much research did you do for Lara’s character and her world?
I thought at first I would do plenty of research, but the future is very difficult to investigate! And although Lara is a paramedic, she only has one scene in the beginning of the story in which she uses her medic skills. After that, she goes to Washington D.C. to compete in the Gauntlet. There, she uses her highly developed self-defense skills, which I had fun researching. Her circumstances also require her to use her training as an investigator, which I’ve researched for my five Detective Jackson books. Lara Evans is one of the taskforce members from my Jackson series, and she had a major role in the last book, Dying for Justice. So her character was already established, but I took her development deeper by putting her through some unfortunate events between the two stories.
What drew you to the idea of a futuristic thriller?
When I was younger, I read two futuristic thrillers that both made my list of all-time favorite books: The Tomorrow File by Lawrence Sanders and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I loved both, and as soon as I started writing novels, I vowed I would one day write my own futuristic thriller. I don’t mean to compare my work to those brilliant social/sci-fi novels, but it was satisfying to finally accomplish my goal. The timing of this novel reflects 1) my need to take a break from my series, and 2) my concern for the future of our county. It’s something I think about daily, so I channeled that fear and worry into a creative endeavor.
Did you find any aspects of creating a bleak futuristic world especially challenging? If so, could you please explain why and how you overcame them?
Even though I consider myself an optimist, what is challenging for me now is to see the future as anything but bleak. The recession and unemployment look like long-term situations to me, and budget cuts will make things worse. I don’t consider The Arranger to be a dystopian novel though, because the story is realistic and society has not broken down. But is it changed. Unemployment is chronic, state and local governments have shrunk to the point of being ineffective, and healthcare is in crisis. It was depressing at times to write about such a future, but also cathartic. I use my novels as a way to process my fears. Now that I’ve imagined a worst-case scenario, whatever we do face will not seem as bad. Also, both the main characters in this novel are amazingly upbeat and determined to change their lives. That helped me stay positive while writing the story.
Will we see more of Lara Evans in future books?
Lara will continue to be a character in my Detective Jackson novels, but I intended The Arranger to be a standalone. My beta readers have already asked if the story is the first in a new series, because they want more. Eventually, if enough readers want to see another novel with Lara in the future, I might produce a follow-up. But it won’t have the same Gauntlet theme, because I just don’t see where else I can take that.
What can readers expect to see from L.J. Sellers next?
I’m working on the next book in my Detective Jackson series, but it’s still in the development phase so I hesitate to give any details about it. So much can change when you’re writing a story. I also feel confident I’ll write Jackson #7 immediately following, giving me ten books on the market. At that point, I’ll likely consider another standalone thriller or perhaps start a new series with all new characters.
Thanks, L.J., for sharing with our readers. Look for The Arranger in September from Spellbinder Press. With praise like this, do you really want to miss it?
Praise for The Arranger:
“L. J. Sellers is again in top storytelling form… with twists and turns you won’t see coming.”—OverMyDeadBody.com
“Another great read from one of my favorite authors.”—Bookbitch.com
“L.J. Sellers weaves an intricate web of action, intrigue, and romance in this near-future thriller.”—Scott Nicholson, bestselling thriller author
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and the author of the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery/suspense series: The Sex Club, Secrets to Die For, Thrilled to Death, Passions of the Dead, and Dying for Justice. Her novels have been highly praised by Mystery Scene, Crimespree, and Spinetingler magazines, and the series is on Amazon Kindle’s bestselling police procedural list. L.J. also has two standalone thrillers: The Baby Thief and The Suicide Effect. When not plotting murders, she enjoys performing standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
To learn more about L.J., please visit her website.