Finding Trust in the Truth
By Josie Brown
If you’re a novelist, the best way to make lemonade from a lemon of a non-fiction book deal gone awry is to re-purpose it into a thriller that garners numerous enthusiastic reviews and a slot on several bestseller lists. With her latest standalone, TRUST ME, five-time Agatha Award-winner Hank Phillippi Ryan has done exactly that.
Her assignment was to write a true-crime non-fiction narrative on the 2011 Casey Anthony trial for the murder of her toddler daughter. “It was to be like In Cold Blood, but it was also going to be interactive—an eBook with videos and pictures. Innovative and fabulous,” Ryan says.
“Everyone interested in crime fiction, psychology, or human behavior was riveted by the Casey Anthony trial,” she says. “This beautiful young woman from Florida was accused of killing her young daughter, Caylee, and hiding [the body] for several months.”
Considering Ryan’s reporting credentials—33 Emmys and 14 Edward R. Murrow awards as a reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate WHDH—it was the perfect match of topic and author.
Her process was arduous, to say the least. The trial ran an exhausting six weeks. She watched the court proceedings from start to finish via a special media feed. Says Ryan, “I wrote day and night because I had to have it ready to go. I used three computers: one for the video of the trial, one for research, and one computer for writing the book.”
Ryan didn’t know when the project would end other than knowing her work needed to be ready for publication upon the day of the sentencing. “The verdict was to come on a certain day; two weeks later, she’d be sentenced. And at that moment— they were going to hit ‘SEND’ because clearly she was guilty…”
So much for public opinion, let alone Ryan’s. Needless to say, she was awed by the jury’s verdict: “Not guilty.”
That was Ryan’s first shock. The second was the publisher’s response. “They called and said, ‘You know, we don’t need this now. We can’t print this. She’s not guilty.’ ”
Six weeks of living, breathing, and writing a book went down the drain.
“I thought three things,” Ryan says. “One: How can that be? Two: I just spent every single waking moment of every day writing this book! Now, it’s unusable. It’s going to just vanish into nothingness. And, three: How could I be so wrong? How could I have envisioned exactly what happened with all the evidence so perfectly presented—and the jury disagree?’”
The results fascinated both Ryan the journalist and Ryan the novelist. “Could you get away with murder? But maybe she didn’t. Legally, she didn’t do it. Legally, she’s innocent.”
Warp speed to last year. Even several years later, the trial’s verdict still puzzled Ryan. “It was very compelling, made even more so because my husband is a criminal defense attorney. He’s had his share of hopeless cases—the people who cannot win. Once, he was working on a case that was very iffy: a notorious murder trial. And no one was quite sure whether his client was guilty or not. I heard my husband practicing his closing arguments for this case: impassioned and well thought out. It was a wonderful retelling of what happened. I imagined the prosecutor at home with his wife doing the same thing with his closing arguments: telling the exact opposite story and believing it just as purely.”
Or, as Ryan puts it: “There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth.”
At that moment, the idea to do a fictional take on her experience hit her. “I wanted to see whether I could write a novel where I take pieces of evidence and make them mean one thing, and then make the same evidence mean something completely opposite,” Ryan says. “How could that work? What a puzzle that would be! Sue Grafton called it ‘the Magic.’ ”
Ryan had written two series already, and was under contract to write another in her Jane Ryland books. “When the idea for TRUST ME occurred, it was so irresistible to me that I called my agent and said, ‘Listen to this: What if a young woman—a journalist, who was upset and unhappy about her own life—had to write a true crime narrative non-fiction about a notorious killer—alleged killer—and thought she knew what really happened? But maybe she didn’t. But how do you write a true crime book if you don’t know what’s true?’”
The response: “I want that right now!”
And that’s how TRUST ME came into being.
In this psychological thriller, the protagonist, Mercer Hennessey, is contracted to do the same thing: write a non-fiction narrative book about Ashlyn Bryant, a young mother accused of killing her toddler daughter, Tasha.
Whereas this would be a dream project for many journalists, Mercer doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Early on in the book, the reader learns that Mercer left journalism to be a stay-at-home mother and wife. “It was supposed to be a good decision,” Ryan says. “But life doesn’t turn out the way we expect. How do you react when love gets pulled out from under you? I wanted to explore that.”
In Mercer’s case, the tragic deaths of her husband and young daughter put a stop to her storybook life. She knows—and resents—being prodded by her editor to take on the project as a way to get on with the rest of her life.
Instead, it changes Mercer’s view of the world and herself forever.
Whether in the real world or fiction, culling the truth from a source isn’t an easy endeavor for a journalist. “I’ve been a television reporter for forty years,” Ryan says. “I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras. I’ve confronted corrupt politicians. I’ve gone undercover and in disguise. I’ve had people confess to murder. I know what people look like when they lie. My job as a journalist is to get you to talk to me. How far will I go to make you feel comfortable with me so that you tell me things? When we see someone wavering, we reel them in.”
And while journalists are supposed to write an unbiased story, even they can be prejudiced. To do her job properly, there are times Ryan must hide her feelings. “I can’t erase them, but I can’t use my feelings in my story. But, what if I couldn’t hide them? What if my whole perception was so skewed by my own life that I couldn’t keep it out of the story?”
The problem is, the relationship between reporter and subject is fraught with opportunities for manipulation. “They say, ‘X, Y, and Z are true…’ ” Ryan says. “And I have to say, ‘No, it isn’t—and here’s how I know you’re not telling me the truth.’ ”
According to Ryan, journalism is about finding out what you don’t know. “It’s a house of cards; a Jenga tower. If you pull the wrong piece, it all comes crashing down.”
In TRUST ME, Mercer gets an opportunity to do something Ryan wishes she had: work on the book with the suspected murderer.
“What if the actual defendant was in my kitchen and I was talking to her?” Ryan says. “What would she say? What would her motive be? Would she be able to change my mind? Or would she even try? Could my entire belief system be slowly turned, like an ocean liner, to face in exactly the other direction?”
And Ashlyn certainly has an agenda of her own: clear her name. “No matter whatever happens to her, no matter what happens in that courtroom, she’s going to be reviled and hated,” Ryan says. “Everywhere she goes people will look at her and say, ‘Ashlyn Bryant! She killed her daughter…’ No matter what the verdict turns out to be, how do you get rid of that?”
Like Ryan, Mercer is skilled at wooing her subject and hiding her real feelings on how she feels about Ashlyn—well, most of the time. But Ashlyn is just as adept at unpacking Mercer’s personal baggage. Soon she has the journalist second-guessing the trial’s evidence.
Just as importantly, Mercer doubts her personal history. “We all go into our lives with some baggage that we don’t always recognize fully,” Ryan says. “A good journalist understands when they’re crossing the line. But at some point, couldn’t anyone be too vulnerable, too damaged, too psychologically dented, to recognize that they’re going too far? Can they regain their balance and pull back? Can we be persuaded that something is true when clearly it is not?”
Ryan keeps the reader guessing as to what portion of Mercer’s feelings are paranoia, self-doubt, or selfishness. “We’ve all dealt with people—I know I certainly have—who are trying to get you to do something, and convincing you that it’s for your own good; or trying to make you feel guilty in ways that are insidious, subtle, or unpleasant. But we recognize it. Even from the slightest phrasing, like, ‘Okay, if that’s what you want to think…’ Or, ‘Okay, that’s fine…. but that’s not exactly how I would do it…’ That’s a compelling thing: that manipulative passive-aggressiveness that can be very destructive to someone who is a little vulnerable. Those people go after the vulnerabilities of even the strongest people. They have skills in knowing where to poke and prod.”
At this point in the book, these two strong women play a cat-and-mouse game. “The problem is we don’t know who’s the cat and who’s the mouse,” Ryan says.
TRUST ME’s twists and turns are nonstop right up to the final scene.
Ryan smiles when I point that out. “I hope it will keep people turning the pages. That’s what keeps me at my computer each day: writing the next paragraph and the next scene and the next chapter. I want to find out what’s going to happen too. Just like life, the plot could go in a million directions.”
Readers won’t be disappointed. TRUST ME has already been touted “a must read” by Mary Kubica, a “mesmerizing, taut thriller” by Lisa Gardner, and “tense, gripping, completely unpredictable” by Chris Pavone. Librarians all over the country have it on their “must-order” lists.
Some of the most poetic phrases Ryan has in the book are actually Mercer’s thoughts about her life. Ryan has created a character so complex, so injured, and so intensely guilt-ridden that she can’t help but internalize everything Ashlyn says.
Hearing this, Ryan laughs with appreciation. “When someone sees where you’re going as a writer and gets it—well, that’s the joy of my life: to create a world that never existed before, and have it feel real to readers.”
Making Friends and Fostering Connections
By Dawn Ius
The year 2017 may go down in publishing history as a time for fostering connections—and the fruits of that networking labor have certainly blossomed in 2018.
At just over the half-way point of the year, we’ve seen a marked increase in authors banding together, embracing the notion that whether it’s through an innovative group marketing strategy, or inclusion in a themed collection of short stories by various writers, branding and promoting isn’t a zero sum game.
Rick Ollerman, author of four novels and the editor of Down & Out Magazine, says he’s not surprised to see an influx of anthologies hitting shelves. Published works such as Otto Penzler’s collections and the Akashic “noir” series have sold well in past years, suggesting that this branch of the fiction market seems to have picked up from where it was 10 years ago.
“Lately I’ve been thinking that the crime fiction community is, in a way, almost being censored, if that’s not too strong a word, by the domination of the Big Five publishers,” he says. “From a fiction standpoint, when you walk into a big box bookstore like Barnes & Noble, your choices are fairly limited to whatever the Big Boys are offering you.”
Discovering a fresh voice in this environment, he adds, isn’t easy. Which may be the driving factor in why readers are buying more anthologies, and authors are clamoring to be included in them.
Pushing an Icon Forward
By Alex Segura
Acclaimed author Reed Farrel Coleman is no stranger to writing a successful series — having left his mark on the private eye genre with the beloved Moe Prager stories and the more recent Gus Murphy novels. He’s also proven incredibly adept at something possibly more challenging — taking on a character created by a legendary author, and adding to its legacy.
Jesse Stone, the troubled former minor league shortstop turned police chief of a small Massachusetts town, was one of Robert B. Parker’s final creations and starred in nine of his novels. Since 2014, Coleman has taken up the mantle, spearheading five new books telling the further adventures of the damaged, conflicted Stone — starting with Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot.
In his latest, ROBERT B. PARKER’S COLORBLIND, readers find Stone freshly returned from a rehab sting, facing a challenging road to sobriety in the wake of a flurry of racially-motivated crimes in Paradise, MA. Tensions start at a fever pitch with the murder of a local African American woman and grow even more intense when Stone’s newly-hired deputy Alisha — the first black woman on the Paradise force — is pulled into the spotlight by an elaborate frame job.
As Stone struggles with his demons and the growing stakes of the crime wave, he must deal with a mysterious man named Cole Slayton, an embittered youth with a great disdain for authority figures — like Stone. How does the new visitor to Paradise tie into the rash of violent, racial crimes Stone is dealing with? Can he keep it together long enough to find out?
Discovery of the “Real” Lolita
When discussing a novel, many an author will be only too happy to cite the real person who inspires a character or the news story that sparks the idea for a plotline. But Vladimir Nabokov, no great surprise, wasn’t like other authors. He always denied that the case of Sally Horner, abducted at the age of 11 from Camden, New Jersey, in 1948, inspired his 1955 novel Lolita. Sarah Weinman argues otherwise, in her meticulously researched and movingly written nonfiction book THE REAL LOLITA: THE KIDNAPPING OF SALLY HORNER AND THE NOVEL THAT SCANDALIZED THE WORLD.
In so doing, Weinman became a literary detective, poring through newspaper accounts, visiting courthouses and other sources of documents, and interviewing remaining relatives of those whose lives were forever changed by the Sally Horner abduction. Yet as fascinating—and as troubling—as that crime was, it’s only one part of the book. Weinman also examines Nabokov’s creative processes, finding the parallels to Lolita and probable timeline of influence.
“Lolita is an outstanding work of art and its genesis has incredibly complicated roots, and Nabokov himself is an incredibly complicated man,” Weinman says.
The book’s narratives unfold on parallel tracks: One is the true story of Sally Horner, the 11-year-old daughter of a struggling single mother who was coaxed to go on an Atlantic City “family vacation” by a 50-year-old ex-con named Frank LaSalle, who then disappeared for almost two years on a cross-country horror of rape while hiding from the law. The second is the career of Russian emigree Nabokov, who in 1948 had finished teaching at Wellesley College and was starting at Cornell, and was just beginning the “stop and start” of writing the novel that became Lolita. more »
When Real Life Steps In
By R. G. Belsky
Lisa Black’s new thriller SUFFER THE CHILDREN puts her two protagonists—forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner and homicide detective Jack Renner—in a detention home for troubled and violent children where someone is mysteriously murdering young victims.
So how did she choose such an unusual crime setting for the book?
“Why exactly a juvenile detention facility, I don’t know…but I have always been interested in the structure and reform of prisons and detention facilities,” Black says, who, like Maggie, is a forensic crime expert as well as a bestselling author. “We have a ridiculous amount of people in jail and it seems to me they could be so much more effectively structured.
“I was fascinated by Lisa Gardner’s Live to Tell, in which a devoted mother tried to deal with an unpredictably violent 8-year-old. I have no children myself, so everything about them is new to me. It was easy in a way, because there is such a huge variety of possible case histories and life issues. But it was difficult because I could find only general accounts of work in the juvenile justice system, not the specifics of the day in and day out workings of such a place.
“I tried, but never did get to visit my county’s juvenile center. I just had to do a lot of reading. And my cousin was a children’s social worker in her rural community, so she gave me a lot of first-hand knowledge.”
How She Lures the Reader In
By Dawn Ius
Sandra Brown and her husband, Michael, were in the mattress department at Macy’s when she got the call from her agent—TAILSPIN, Brown’s latest thriller, had debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at #1.
TAILSPIN is Brown’s 80th book, and 70th bestseller, but the news rated an impromptu happy dance on the salesfloor, because despite Brown’s numerous successes, the ranking delivered a career first. In the 40 years Brown has been publishing books, she’s never had back-to-back #1 debuts.
“When a new book is released, I try not to dwell on it, because I can make myself ill,” she says. “But after all these years, it’s still as exciting and anxiety-producing, even though I know that once the novel is released, there are so many variables outside of my control.”
It’s the advice she’d pass on to new—and veteran—authors, and is the lingering effect of the words of wisdom once passed on by an editor at the start of Brown’s writing career.
At the time, every writer she knew was pushing bookmarks, buying donuts for book delivery drivers, and finding creative ways to self-promote. Brown was tempted to get caught up in it all, worried that she was behind the times and that no one would know her name. The editor set her straight.
Flying High With Stephen King
No mode of transportation has inspired more awe than flight—or more terror, when you consider the countless things that can go wrong when you’re trapped in a highly combustible tube suspended 30,000 feet above the ground.
We can conjure up plenty of flight-themed horror stories without any help from fiction writers, so authors who tackle the subject might have the deck stacked in their favor. That’s never been more evident than in FLIGHT OR FRIGHT, a new anthology edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent (out this month from Cemetery Dance Publications). The volume collects 17 “turbulent tales” culled from more than a century of aeronautical horror, including new, never-before-published contributions from King and Horns author Joe Hill.
The concept for the anthology was born last summer, when King, Vincent, and several associates were gathered in Bangor, Maine, for the premiere of The Dark Tower.
“It was so surreal,” says Vincent. “We were in Bangor, eating at a diner across the road from the airport, with people from Sony and King’s office, some of his friends and family as well, when King dropped this idea on [Cemetery Dance publisher] Richard Chizmar and me. I think he heard some horror stories about people’s adventures in getting to Bangor as he mingled with attendees. He was really enthusiastic about the idea, and I was flattered that he asked me to work with him on it.”
When Questions Demand Answers
By Dawn Ius
Wendy Corsi Staub has written more than 90 novels—many of which have hit multiple bestseller lists over the years—but she’s always wanted to write something bigger, something more intricate and complex, a book decidedly outside of her comfort zone.
LITTLE GIRL LOST is the result of that deep-rooted desire.
As the first in a thrilling new trilogy, LITTLE GIRL LOST follows the story of young protagonist Amelia Crenshaw who is determined to find out the truth about the birth mother that abandoned her—never suspecting that her journey will lead her straight into the path of a killer with a chilling agenda.
The book begins with an abandoned baby on a church step in 1968, alternating between that fateful time and 19 years in the future, twisting and turning through a plot rife with surprises, multiple characters, and mounting suspense that have become hallmarks of Staub’s work.
LITTLE GIRL LOST is a novel that Staub is proud to add to her impressive cache of published books—but she admits that her deviance from less complicated, more linear projects has been met with some unexpected pushback from fans.
“1968 was not a warm and fuzzy time,” she says. “And I realize that this book isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I know that I can never please everyone, but my concern is that some readers feel betrayed. That’s certainly not my intent.”
No Ordinary Thriller
Jeff Dawson is a well-known journalist and author of non-fiction. He is a long-standing contributor to The Sunday Times culture section, writing regular A-list arts features that include interviews with the likes of Robert De Niro, George Clooney, Dustin Hoffman, Hugh Grant, Angelina Jolie, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nicole Kidman. He is also a former U.S. Editor of Empire magazine.
Jeff is the author of three non-fiction books — Tarantino/Quentin Tarantino: The Cinema of Cool (Cassell/Applause, 1995), Back Home: England and the 1970 World Cup (Orion, 2001), which The Times rated “Truly outstanding,” and Dead Reckoning: The Dunedin Star Disaster (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005), which was nominated for the Mountbatten Maritime Prize, and introduced him to southern Africa.
Turning his hand to crime fiction has been no less successful. NO ORDINARY KILLING, his debut novel, takes us to the Cape at the time of the Boer War and seamlessly weaves historical mystery and thriller. It became an Amazon Kindle best seller when it was released. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about Jeff’s fiction.
A New Revenge
Catharine Riggs lives and writes on California’s central coast. A graduate of UCLA with an MBA from Drake University, Riggs is a former business banker, adjunct college instructor, and nonprofit executive. WHAT SHE GAVE AWAY is her debut novel.
Robert Dugoni: We met in a rather unusual way. You enrolled in my writing intensive and submitted the first 50 pages of a novel for critique. I was so blown away by the voice that I asked you for the entire manuscript. After reading the manuscript, I called to tell you that I didn’t think I could help you, that you were ready to be published and I would help you find an agent. That has never happened to me before or since.
So, tell me about the process of submitting that first manuscript to an agent until the moment you learned she loved your manuscript and that you would be published?
Catharine Riggs: It was an exciting time. I had been writing for years and the validation was so uplifting. I can’t thank you enough for the part you played. After submission, there were a couple of “nail biting” months. We went back and forth on suggested changes. I think it may have been a test – how well did I work with the agent, was I willing to incorporate feedback and respond in a professional and timely manner.
By David Healey
“I’m a working class kid from a generation that speaks in emojis,” says Ian Truman, a Montreal writer with a French accent who has been known to lapse from time to time into Franglais, a patois of English and French spoken by the young and hip in one of North America’s most European cities.
At 35, he is also an up-and-coming writer who is becoming known to audiences well beyond Montreal with the release of his second novel, DOWN WITH THE UNDERDOGS. Told in first person, the novel unwinds the story of D’Arcy Kennedy, a working-class tough guy drawn into employment with the Irish mob during a get-rich-quick gentrification boom that is seeing the old neighborhoods and criminal order of the city upended.
As a writer and Montreal native, Truman knows the subject well. He has watched the rising popularity of this city of 4 million with interest. He said that the city itself it a fascinating mix of languages and accents, with French-Canadians rubbing elbows with newcomers from places like Algiers, and even waves of transplants from France drawn by a lower cost of living and the comfort of French culture.
“You can walk down the street and hear all sorts of different accents,” he says.
While Montreal is a vibrant place to be based, he says that being a Canadian writer has its challenges: “It’s a different market. It’s smaller.” Also, given the travel involved, he says that it’s difficult to tour. “It’s harder to get your name out there.”
And did we mention the long, cold winters?
When a break-in at the Pet Palace robs Sue Patrick of more than her beauty sleep, she intends to tidy her ransacked doggy daycare and spa before making any rash decisions. But after Sue abandons her better instincts to rescue a petrified pug stranded at a lighthouse in the Delaware Bay later that morning, she’s lured off mainland Lewes long enough for a freshly murdered body to get dumped in her driveway . . .
Aided by Lady Anthea Fitzwalter, her practically royal business partner from across the pond, Sue sniffs out clues about the yappy pug with a complicated history and the old car spotted at both crime scenes in hopes of IDing the culprit. As the investigation leads them back to the bay, the ladies soon find themselves immersed in a case trickier than a canine agility course—and chasing after a well-groomed killer who will do anything to maintain a perfect reputation . . .
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PUG author Lane Stone took time out of her busy day to chat with The Big Thrill about her latest cozy mystery:
Trained to endure extreme danger and survive impossible odds, elite military operator Red Harmon has battled our nation’s enemies for years. While in the Rocky Mountains for R&R, his family is violently attacked by an international squad of assassins. No ordinary wet-team, this group is only the vanguard of a power play threatening national security.
Danger is everywhere . . .
Red and his young daughter escape a brutal firefight, but are separated from his wife. Evading though the woodlands, stripped of his unit’s support, Red puts his survival skills to the test all the way from Pikes Peak National Forest to Israel’s West Bank. He must defend his country, protect his family, and identify the unthinkable forces that are willing to slaughter anyone in their path.
International bestselling author David McCaleb sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss the latest installment in his Red Ops series, RECON:
Jeff Nichols — a man strong of conviction but weak of character — is fresh out of the Don Jail, looking for work — any kind of work — and a way back into Ann Ryan’s good graces. She waited for his return from prison but is quickly running short on patience. An ex-inmate and friend gets Jeff a job at Ted Bracey’s used car lot, selling cars for commission only. But it’s not enough to keep him and Ann afloat in mid-80s Toronto, and the lure of easy money soon gets Jeff involved in smuggling guns from upstate New York. With that sweet Poughkeepsie cash, now he can keep his promises to Ann; he even buys them a house, but conceals the source of the money. As Jeff gets in deeper and deeper, everyone around him learns how many rules he’s willing to bend and just how far he’ll go to get on the fast track to riches. That he’s a guy who doesn’t let lessons from past mistakes get in the way of a good score.
Dietrich Kalteis, the award-winning author of POUGHKEEPSIE SHUFFLE, met with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest thriller:
On the day the government decrees that women are no longer allowed more than 100 words daily, Dr. Jean McClellan is in denial—this can’t happen here. Not in America. Not to her.
This is just the beginning.
Soon women can no longer hold jobs. Girls are no longer taught to read or write. Females no longer have a voice. Before, the average person spoke sixteen thousand words a day, but now women only have one hundred to make themselves heard.
But this is not the end.
For herself, her daughter, and every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice.
The Big Thrill caught up to award-winning author Christina Dalcher and had a chance to discuss her thriller, VOX:
In William Nikkel’s Sea of Heartbreak, marine biologist Jack Ferrell is sailing the Kaiwi Channel near Oahu when he rescues Allison Hunter, who’d been pushed overboard by her husband and left to drown. Jack is reluctant to get involved—until his boat explodes under suspicious circumstances and Allison is killed. When he sets out to settle the score, Jack is reunited with the beguiling and mysterious Cherise Venetta. Working together to bring down a major drug trafficker, they become entangled in a web of murder, drug violence, and lost treasure.
The surging fentanyl crisis and the increase in opioid-related deaths plaguing the nation provided the idea for SEA OF HEARTBREAK, number eight in the Jack Ferrell series. Nikkel recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his literary influences, the inspiration for the treasure hunt at the heart of his latest novel, and the future of his best-known character.
What research did you do for SEA OF HEARTBREAK?
I live on Maui and have visited Oahu on a number of occasions, giving me first-hand knowledge of the island. Beyond that, my research consisted of discussions with friends, law enforcement contacts, and web searches primarily centered around fentanyl manufacturing, smuggling, and just how deadly the drug can be when it is combined with street drugs and introduced to opioid addicts.
By Dan Levy
In one form or another, we all have families. So in one sense, we have a shared understanding of ideals like honor, loyalty, commitment, and legacy. But those values can look very different when viewed through the lenses of different families. Stories of warring clans are likely as old as storytelling itself, but we still can’t get enough of them.
AMERICAN HISTORY, due out this month from Down & Out Books, is J. L. Abramo’s ninth novel, and his first foray into the family saga. In AMERICAN HISTORY, about two families whose feud stretches from 19th-century Italy to modern-day America, Abramo weaves his unique perspective as a descendent of Italian immigrants into a novel he describes as a “sociological thriller.”
Abramo took some time to talk with The Big Thrill about the demands of writing a thriller that spans two continents and several generations.
What started you writing nine novels ago? Is that what keeps you writing today?
I have always been compelled to find outlets for my creative instincts. I believe artists are driven by a need to discover a route by which internal feeling, thought, and belief can escape. The impulse to continue writing remains constant. I can’t not write.
By Tim O’Mara
If the phrase “ripped from today’s headlines” weren’t so overused—and possibly trademarked by those Law & Order folks—I would use it to describe Liam Sweeny’s second Jack LeClere novel, PRESIDING OVER THE DAMNED (out now from Down & Out Books). Since I’m not going to use the phrase, let’s just agree that Sweeny’s novel could hardly be more timely than it is. Jack, a homicide detective in Upstate New York’s New Rhodes Police Department, not only has to deal with the lynching of a young black girl, he also has to navigate internal police politics and outside activists/agitators, all while recovering from the events of his last case, where his family was more than threatened.
Via email, I asked Sweeny to talk about one of the major themes of his latest novel: the role of race relations in today’s law enforcement field.
“That’s a tough one,” he said. “Especially in the context of a novel where the protagonist is a white detective written by a white author. I did a lot of research and found enough to fit on a flash drive. But the real experiences, the kind I can never have, would look like the Library of Alexandria.”
Sweeny pointed out that racial tension between police and the black community is a component of a broader social issue. “Police have the gun and a license to take life, liberty, and property,” he said. “At their worst, they’re the cut that slices the throat of the black community. I tried to get at this in PRESIDING OVER THE DAMNED—that racial tension between police and those they police is only one of the thousand cuts that make up institutional racism. It’s also dismal spending on black schools and businesses that don’t take a shot south of ‘that street.’ It’s the odds that the black offender has of doing jail time compared to the white offender who did the exact same thing. It’s the stop-and-frisks and the traffic stops because a black motorist ‘matches a description.’ Taken individually, you can explain them each away as harmless. But together, the net effect is a pervasive assault.”
Author Paul Marks’s follow-up to his Shamus Award Winning White Heat doesn’t waste any time setting the mood or the scene.
It’s 1994, two years after the Rodney King riots and the young TV actress Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder at the hands of a stalker. A political and social storm rages over California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187.
When BROKEN WINDOWS opens, a young aspiring actress climbs atop the famed HOLLYWOOD sign and leaps to her death. At the same time, an undocumented day laborer is murdered, and a recently disbarred and desperate lawyer places an ad in a local paper headlined, “Will Do Anything For Money.”
It isn’t long before private investigator Duke Rogers finds himself smack in the middle of all this turmoil, when as a favor to Marisol, a housekeeper who works down the street, he offers to investigate the death of her brother, Carlos.
Ultimately, Duke must figure out what ties together Carlos’s murder, the ex-lawyer’s desperate ad, and the HOLLYWOOD sign jumper. With the help of his un-politically correct sidekick Jack, they’re catapulted into a labyrinth of murder, intrigue, and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate.
By E. M. Powell
WALK A CROOKED LINE is the second of Susan McBride’s thrillers featuring Texas police detective Jo Larsen. It opens with the discovery of teenager Kelly Amster’s body at the base of the local old water tower in what appears to be a tragic, clear-cut case of suicide. But Jo and her partner, Hank Phelps, still need to find answers as to why a young girl would take her own life. As they delve into Kelly’s past, they don’t find ready answers, but instead the pieces of a dark puzzle that drove her to her death. WALK A CROOKED LINE is a taut, suspenseful read that keeps the reader gripped until the final pages.
There’s much to admire too about the character of Jo, who’s no shiny superwoman but rather a real-life, strong woman who possesses a dogged, admirable courage and belief in doing what’s right. McBride acknowledges that she and Jo share quite a bit in common.
“No matter how different I think my protagonists are from me,’’ she says, ‘’a little bit of myself always works its way in. Jo has a lot of traits that I admire: her strength, her persistence, her determination to get justice for victims. I’d like to think I have her grit, but I’m not sure I do! She survived a lot, yet she never gave up. She’s a detective because she wants her life to matter now in a way that it didn’t when she was a child. And she wants to give voice to those who have lost theirs.’’
There’s another aspect as well that will be familiar to many writers. ‘’I do have this sense of being an outsider looking in, no matter how on the inside I seem. Jo and I share that, for sure.’’
The book deals with some difficult subject matter. In addition to the inciting incident of Kelly’s suicide, McBride also addresses the issue of child and adolescent bullying. While she deals with them with sensitivity and without sensationalism, these aren’t easy topics to research and write about.
By Azam Gill
The moral dilemmas that bind the suspense and action in Charles Kowalski’s THE DEVIL’S SON will keep the reader awake long into the night.
A United States Secret Service agent faces a conflict of interest between protecting the presidential candidate and respecting the findings of the Nuremberg Trial which upheld the call of conscience over blind obedience. Somehow, he must decide whether his professional commitment is an infinite moral value or subject to his conscience.
The agent has probable cause to believe that his principal is the son of a Nazi fugitive. It is unknown whether the candidate is repelled by or committed to his father’s affiliation. If elected president, is he liable to use his powers to protect his father? Or exonerate him? Or worse still, infiltrate neo-Nazis into the highest levels of the US government?
And then, to cap it all, the Secret Service agent meets a ravishing Israeli secret agent who is determined to stop the candidate from becoming president.
The classic enemy-within theme and inner-conflict management unfold at a brisk pace, prompting several of Charles Kowalski’s peers—such as Jeff Edwards, bestselling author of Sea of Shadows and Steel—to lavishly praised his debut novel, Mind Virus: “The kind of pulse-pounding, adrenaline-pumping thriller that I associate with the best of Clive Cussler and Ken Follett.”
Hardly surprising, then, that the novel went on to win the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Award, and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award and the Clive Cussler Grandmaster Award.
But THE DEVIL’S SON goes further than Mind Virus.
The 1980s and 90s were filled with nail-biting military novels that offered alarming scenarios and were also frighteningly accurate. If you think “they don’t write them like that anymore,” you haven’t read ASHES OF VICTORY by Joe Weber and R. J. Pineiro.
In this novel the unthinkable has happened. The United States is under attack from the air and sea. After thousands of deaths, the U.S. military’s ability to respond is crippled. The key figure dealing with this crisis is the fictional president, Cord Macklin. He knows that he must do something different than his predecessors to win this war of terror—and the authors have created a man who is qualified to take the battle to the enemy.
“Macklin is an Air Force Academy graduate,” Weber says. “He has given and suffered violence while flying F-105 Thunder Chiefs in the skies of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war—and has the scars to prove it, earned a lifetime ago, along with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart. After getting shot down once, he spent three harrowing days rushing through the jungle with the Vietcong relentlessly hunting him like a dog.”
Despite the history, Macklin doesn’t see himself as a hero, but rather as a veteran with much empathy for all military personnel, present and past.
The best way to highlight a hero’s worth is to pit him against a worthy opponent. In this book that role is filled by aging General Deng Xiangsui of the People’s Republic of China. Much of his motivation is fueled by his old grudge against America for its historical intervention in what he believes is the rightful reunification of the renegade island of Taiwan with mainland China.
From R. Barri Flowers, award-winning criminologist and bestselling author, comes the gripping historical true crime anthology, JEALOUS RAGE: STUNNING TRUE TALES OF INTIMATES, PASSION, AND MURDER, VOLUME 1.
Each chapter will chronicle a riveting, real life, age-old murder case involving jealousy, betrayal, and homicidal fury between spouses, lovers, and others caught in the fatal crossfire, and justice being served or not.
Chapter 1: Murder of the U.S. Attorney: Congressman Sickles’ Crime of Passion in 1859
Chapter 2: Murder of the Doctor’s Wife: The 1867 Crimes of Bridget Durgan
Chapter 3: Murder of the French Lover: The Killing of Madame Lassimonne in 1892
Chapter 4: Murderess on the Loose: The 1922 Hammer Wrath of Clara Phillips
Chapter 5: Killer of Her Husband’s Secretary: The 1935 Love Triangle Ire of Etta Reisman
Chapter 6: Murdered by the King of Western Swing: The Beating Death of Ella Mae Cooley in 1961
Chapter 7: Murder of the Horse Trainer’s Rival: The 1978 Bitter Breakup of Buddy Jacobson and the Model
Chapter 8: Murder of a Star Quarterback in 2009: The Tragic Tale of Steve McNair and Sahel Kazemi
Bonus material includes two complete and captivating historical true crime shorts, The Amityville Massacre: The DeFeo Family’s Nightmare, and Missing or Murdered: The Disappearance of Agnes Tufverson.
Prolific author R. Barri Flowers sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest anthology:
Many years later, classical pianist Maggie O’Shea is preparing her return to the world of music. Instead, a nightmare of a haunting rhapsody and hundreds of roses from a deranged stalker propel her into a world of terror. Forces drive her to revisit the mystery of her mother’s death, her father’s startling disappearance, and a terrible secret from World War II. Maggie finds herself on a collision course with a brutal, disfigured killer who threatens those she holds dear—an aging pianist with a long-buried secret, a haunted cellist, a charismatic Maestro, and the crusty retired colonel she has come to love.
Chord by chord, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody becomes the heart of this story of profound loss, courage and love. Music tells our stories . . .
The Big Thrill caught up with DARK RHAPSODY author Helaine Mario to discuss her latest thriller:
Charleston, Massachusetts, 1972: Rookie cop Michael Finnegan gets a call from his mother. His youngest sister, Susan, has disappeared, the same sister who ran away two years earlier. Anxious not to waste police resources, Finnegan advises his family to wait and search on their own. But a week turns into two decades, and Susan is never found.
Idyll, Connecticut, 1999: In the woods outside of town, a young woman’s corpse is discovered, and Detective Finnegan seems unusually disturbed by the case. When Police Chief Thomas Lynch learns about Finnegan’s past, he makes a bargain with his officer: He will allow Finnegan to investigate the body found in the woods–if Finnegan lets the bored Lynch secretly look into the disappearance of his sister.
Both cases reveal old secrets–about the murder, and about the men inside the Idyll Police Station and what they’ve been hiding from each other their whole careers.
SHATTERED AT SEA is the fifth installment in the Webb’s Glass Shop Mystery series, which Kirkus Reviews has called “mystery with a touch of romance and interesting tips on glassmaking.” In the latest entry, a Mediterranean cruise gives glass shop owner Savannah Webb a chance to demonstrate her expertise—and fire up her skills when it comes to foul play.
When Savannah signs on to perform glassblowing on a cruise ship, part of the appeal is that she’ll get a chance to reconnect with her boyfriend Edward’s family. An added bonus is Edward’s cousin, Ian, will be joining them on board. But when Ian disappears at the beginning of the cruise, the ship’s authorities initially consider it suicide.
Savannah tries to balance her growing suspicions with work on her shows, but her relationship with the other glass artists begins to crack. And she can’t let love color her judgment when Edward suddenly jumps to the top of the suspect list. His fate is in Savannah’s hands, and she’ll do everything she can—on land and sea—to clear his name.
I caught up with Hollon for a wide-ranging discussion about books, characters, glassmaking, and of course, her latest novel. Asked how SHATTERED AT SEA continues the arc of the ongoing series, Hollon says, “As Savannah’s management and organization skills grow in running her business, her increasing confidence allows her to take risks as a professional glass artist. It’s also a chance to challenge her growing relationship with Edward. Travelling together as a couple stresses the strength of a bond. It could ruin them forever.”
By Wendy Tyson
Someone once said that the most important thing a fiction writer can do is to study human psychology. Author Jessica Bayliss has that covered.
With a doctorate in clinical psychology and experience as a psychotherapist, teacher, and researcher, Bayliss uses her understanding of the human psyche to inform her young adult thrillers. Her latest novel, TEN AFTER CLOSING, is a riveting hostage thriller—and a look at the life-altering changes that can come from a traumatic event.
The Big Thrill recently had the chance to sit down with Bayliss to talk about TEN AFTER CLOSING.
Congratulations on the recent release of your young adult novel, TEN AFTER CLOSING. Your novel has an exciting premise: two teens caught in a hostage situation. What can you tell us about the main characters that’s not on the back cover? How have their pasts influenced the people they are when the story opens?
Thank you! I’m so excited and I can’t believe it’s almost time to send it out into the world.
Winny and Scott come from different backgrounds, but both are in a similar situation at the start of the book. Both have really big decisions in front of them, and they’re struggling to feel empowered to make those decisions and act. Winny is stuck in a passive place—she’s let her parents decide much of her path thus far, going with the flow for so long, she isn’t sure how to shift out of that mode. Scott’s been quite active in trying to change his situation, but he’s struggling to see that the way he’s going about it isn’t working. Both are thinking about how others will respond if they put their needs first and are fearful of being assertive. Of course, the life-changing hostage situation at Café Flores impacts how they see things. I really wanted to show them coming to new decisions by the end of TEN AFTER CLOSING, but I can’t say any more without spoilers.
Charlie is a Husker on the prowl in the New Hampshire wilderness when he falls in love with one of them: a girl named Jill. Loving Jill means leaving the Husk clan, with its gruesome cannibalistic rituals, and that will be far more difficult – and dangerous – than Charlie could have foreseen.
It’s only in New York City that the secret to ending his terrible cravings may reveal itself – if it doesn’t kill him and everything he has grown to love first.
A darkly imagined tale, all the more frightening for its apparent ordinariness and plausibility, Husk is guaranteed to leave readers shaken, stirred – and chilled to the bone.
“The story is at once tender, brutal, fantastic, and vibrantly real. A unique and splendid novel.” ~Booklist, starred review
Award-winning author Dave Zeltserman took some time out of his busy writing schedule to meet with The Big Thrill and discuss his latest thriller, HUSK:
After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust – in ghettos, on death marches, and in concentration camps – a young couple seeks refuge in Canada. They settle into a new life, certain that the terrors of their past are behind them. They build themselves a cozy little cottage on a lake in Muskoka, a cottage that becomes emblematic of their victory over the Nazis. The charming retreat is a safe haven, a refuge from haunted memories.
That is, until a single act of unspeakable violence defiles their sanctuary. Poking around the dark crawl space beneath their cottage, the family discovers a wooden crate, nailed tightly shut and almost hidden from view.
Nothing could have prepared them for the horror of the crate’s contents – or how the peace and tranquility of their existence would be shattered.
Award-winning writer Deborah Vadas Levison spent some time with The Big Thrill and offered insight into her true-crime novel, THE CRATE:
Inspired by the outcasts, outlaws, and other outré inhabitants of rock legend Lou Reed’s songbook, DIRTY BOULEVARD traffics in crime fiction that’s sometimes velvety and sometimes vicious, but always, absolutely, rock & roll. Inside, you’ll find stories from the fire escapes to the underground, stories filled with metal machine music, stories for gender-bending, rule-breaking, mind-blasting midnight revelries and drunken, dangerous, dark nights of the heart.
Upcoming genre stars like Alison Gaylin team up with crime fiction legends such as Reed Farrel Coleman, along with Cate Holahan, Gabino Iglesias, Tony McMillen, and many of the most exciting new names in crime and horror fiction, who teach us that a perfect day is often anything but, that the power of positive drinking is a destructive force rarely contained, and that knock-down-drag-out drag queens are probably way tougher than you.
Dedicated to the memory and works of Jonathan Ashley.
Proceeds will benefit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255.
The Big Thrill caught up with anthology editor David James Keaton to discuss the inspiration behind DIRTY BOULEVARD: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Lou Reed:
In television, a cold open sometimes rolls before the opening credits, often a teaser to news or a feature to follow. For TV journalist Elizabeth Margaret “E. M.” Danniher, a nippy March and April are just a tease for spring after a long Wyoming winter. In her short time in Sherman, she’s learned that winter starts in October and might not end until June. Since last June, a series of murders have tested her and her KWMT-TV colleagues’ reporting – and amateur sleuth — skills. And the small town’s rumor mill is churning about her relationship with handsome sports reporter Mike Paycik – or is it rugged rancher Tom Burrell?
As winter winds down, Elizabeth is ready for spring and looking for a place of her own. Ah, a little peace and quiet as she begins to settle in Cottonwood County. That is, until she discovers homicide at her front door.
USA Today bestselling author Patricia McLinn met with The Big Thrill to discuss the seventh installment of her Caught Dead in Wyoming series, COLD OPEN:
On a picturesque fall morning in Grafton County, New Hampshire, a brutal murder rocks the small town of Alexandria. In the backyard of a weekend getaway cabin a dead woman is posed in red satin with two full-bloomed roses in place of eyes and a mysterious envelope addressed to Sheriff Niko Quintano.
Inside, Paradox vows to kill again if his riddle isn’t solved within 24 hours.
With so little time and not enough manpower, Niko asks his wife for help. But Crime Writer Sage Quintano is dealing with her own private nightmare. Not only did she find massive amounts of blood on the mountain where she and her family reside, but a phone call from the past threatens her future—the creepy mechanical voice of John Doe, the serial killer who murdered her twin sister.
Can Niko and Sage solve the riddle in time to save the next victim? Or will the killer, or killers, win this deadly game of survival?
Award-winning author Sue Coletta spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest thriller, SCATHED:
Twin brothers Ethan and Jack Stone have built the ultimate transparency app—Stalker—and it’s going to make them rich. But when Ethan’s girlfriend dumps him and his brother bails for their biggest competitor, Ethan is convinced they ran off together. He uses Stalker to find out, tracking them from Silicon Beach to Silicon Valley, and the secret he reveals is even more twisted than he imagined. Between his faith in people and the technology he designed to expose the truth, Ethan is forced to rethink everything he had believed regarding privacy, freedom, and trust.
A poignant and timely novel, THE SECOND SON deftly asks how far is too far when it comes to business, romance, and the intersection of technology in every aspect of our lives.
The Big Thrill caught up to award-winning filmmaker Martin Jay Weiss to discuss his thriller, THE SECOND SON:
When Darkness Is the Deepest Fear
By E.M. Powell
Lori Rader-Day reckons that her new release, UNDER A DARK SKY, may well be the first mystery set at a dark sky park. For those who may not know, a dark sky park is a designation made by the International Dark-Sky Association. Whether it’s the first mystery set in one or not, this novel is a brilliant psychological thriller, suspenseful and deeply atmospheric.
Rader-Day’s protagonist is the young and recently widowed Eden Wallace, whose life has been shattered by her loss. She doesn’t have a job and has abandoned her true passion of photography. Worse, she’s plagued by debilitating night terrors that mean she must have lights on at all times. The dark has become her deepest fear.
The discovery in her husband’s paperwork of a week-long reservation at a dark sky park comes as an unsettling discovery. But Eden decides to face those fears and make the trip. Trouble is, the guest house reservation at the park is for shared accommodation. She finds herself among a group of twenty-somethings who have known each other since their college days. Eden has no intention of staying, resolving to leave the next morning. But it’s not only the fall of night that brings terror. A scream wakes the household—one of the friends is dead.
An Artful Pairing
By Dawn Ius
New York Times bestselling authors Steve Berry and M.J. Rose turn up the heat with a new novella featuring a character that will be familiar to fans of Berry’s work—Cassiopeia Vitt, known to many as Cotton Malone’s love interest in Berry’s long-standing thriller series.
In MUSEUM OF MYSTERIES, Cassiopeia guides readers from the small French mountain village of Eze, back and forth through time, in a thrilling journey that ends with a high stakes chase through the streets of Paris. Intrigue, secrets, mystery, and passion—it’s exactly the kind of story you’d expect when two of the genre greats put their minds—and pens—together, every page bearing the indistinguishable imprint of each author’s hallmark style.
From Berry, taut, fast-paced action that propels us deeper into Cassiopeia’s character, and from Rose, the lush description and magic that fully immerses the reader in a haunting atmosphere rife with romantic tension.
“None of the Cotton Malone adventures have sex in them,” the authors acknowledge. “So adding that element to one of Steve’s stories was certainly something new and different. We didn’t want it to be direct with Cassiopeia, as obviously she has a relationship with Cotton and he’s not an integral part of the story. But the sex worked well in the flashbacks.” more »
The Secrets to Humanizing a Detective
By Dawn Ius
Fresh off the promotion trail of his first literary thriller, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, Robert Dugoni once again launched into full touring mode last month in order to promote the release of the sixth book in his bestselling Tracy Crosswhite mystery series, A STEEP PRICE.
With such a grueling schedule, the temptation might be to fizzle out—but Dugoni, while physically exhausted, says promoting both books has been invigorating, not to mention an interesting opportunity to learn more about his fans, the bulk of whom seem to have enjoyed both new releases, despite their differences.
“So far, there has been very little complaint from any readers about my switching gears to write Sam Hell,” he says. “The toughest question, honestly, is whether or not there is going to be another literary novel.”
Not something Dugoni can answer with any certainty right now—literary thrillers take more time to gestate, and as an author who tends to pounce on an idea with little thought to plot details, carving out the necessary time for a Sam Hell-esque novel isn’t top of mind.
Are YA Thrillers on the Rise?
By Dawn Ius
The New York Times adult fiction bestseller list often reads like a Who’s Who of thrillers. While other genres tend to cycle in and out of popularity, genre giants like Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Stephen King, and dozens more need do nothing else than publish a new book to re-stake their position at the top.
Until recently, the young-adult category couldn’t have looked more different, with authors like teen favorites John Green and Becky Albertalli—writers of contemporary non-thriller fiction—clinging to those top spots like literary life preservers. But if the recent popularity of Netflix shows like Stranger Things and true crime podcasts have taught us anything, it’s that today’s audiences crave dark, suspenseful storytelling—and it’s a trend that’s steadily creeping into the young adult market.
A current peek at “the list” shows Karen McManus’s young adult debut One of Us Is Lying holding strong near the top, enjoying an impressive 53-week run, somewhat unprecedented for the genre. Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood—also a debut—currently sits in the seventh place slot, having shuffled up and down the list for the past 25 weeks.
It would seem that the young adult thriller is having a “moment”—and authors couldn’t be more…thrilled.
The Ultimate Writers’ Get Together
ThrillerFest, the annual conference sponsored by International Thriller Writers, Inc., broke its attendance record in its thirteenth year.
And that should surprise exactly no one.
From an ATF workshop to a Master Craftfest and Craftfest packed with classes, from a Pitchfest matching writers to agents to a ThrillerFest offering panels that covered the hottest topics, the conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City was blazing on all cylinders in 2018. Plus… George R. R. Martin.
Kimberley Howe, executive director of ThrillerFest, says, “2018 ThrillerMaster George R. R. Martin shared many entertaining and touching stories during his spotlight interview and panels. Although he wasn’t able to sell his fifth book, he never gave up, switching to television writing before returning to novels, demonstrating that perseverance and resiliency is critical in the industry. George’s warmth and generosity to everyone he met onsite helped make ThrillerFest 2018 a resounding success. And now the NY Mets know they have dragons on their side.”
The Authors Who Took Home the Prizes
By Dawn Ius
Next time you’re at a Gregg Hurwitz signing, don’t be alarmed if he’s guided into the room by a marching minion—that’s just who he’s hired to announce him as the 2018 winner of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) Award for Best Young Adult Novel, a prize that Hurwitz admits means more to him than any other writing accolade.
“As much as we’re not supposed to say so, not all awards are created equal,” he says. “As a thriller writer, I have to say that an ITW award is the pinnacle of the field.”
Professional kudos aside, what Hurwitz says comes with an extra emotional layer because he attended the brainstorming meeting years ago when ITW was first conceived. As he looked down from the stage at Gayle Lynds—one of the organization’s founding members—Hurwitz took a quick trip down memory lane before delivering a speech that was both humorous and profound.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have been nominated in the past,” he says. “I’m so accustomed to not winning that I have to confess, hearing my name caught me off guard.”
The Day That Tiny Jason Killed It…
By Dawn Ius
Winter—organizers knew—was coming to ThrillerFest. They’d planned for it, prepared for it. Invited it, actually, when they asked 2018 Thrillermaster George R.R. Martin to attend.
But unbeknownst to the ThrillerFest team—and the almost 1,000 attendees—an unexpected villain had snuck in for the festivities. Cradled in the arms of his mother—ITW Social Media Manager, Jillian Stein—Tiny Jason Voorhees, an homage to the main character in the Friday the 13th series, slipped into the Grand Hyatt in New York with only one thing on his mind—who would meet the business end of his machete today?
His first kill was “a lovely woman, Tori Eldridge,” he says. “She happened to be walking down the hallway and looked like a nice choice for the first slash of the day.”
Amid an oblivious crowd of aspiring authors, Tiny Jason got to work.
“The other folks in the hallway didn’t seem too concerned with what was happening, though,” he says. “I guess at a place called ‘ThrillerFest,’ it’s a little harder to get screams and shrieks of terror.”
Not that he didn’t give it his best shot.
Throughout Friday, July 13, Tiny Jason lurked the crowded hallways, poked his head—and his machete—into panel discussions, private meetings, and workshops in search of enough victims to fulfill his prophecy, a tradition born out of Stein’s love of all things Halloween, with a special affection for the Friday the 13th movies.
“Looking back, I can always remember a time that I’ve loved watching horror films,” she says. “I probably started entirely too young with Alien, Nightmare on Elm Street, and of course, the Friday the 13th franchise. Growing up in the Poconos, I attended a camp every summer and we had our own camp legend about a creepy recluse who lived in a dilapidated house on the other side of the camp’s lake. So, because of that, I think I was drawn to Friday the 13th.”
She started collecting horror memorabilia about a decade ago, and one piece was the doll affectionately now known as Tiny Jason. Six years ago—on a Thursday the 12th—Stein posted a picture of the doll on Facebook with the caption: Wouldn’t it be funny if I took him around on my errands tomorrow?
Most of Stein’s friends didn’t think she’d actually do it, and so with the gauntlet of challenge thrown, Tiny Jason’s first adventure began. Stein posted pictures throughout the day, and the images garnered so much enthusiasm, she decided to make it a Friday the 13th tradition, carting the doll to wherever her schedule took them—often to author events.
“I’m like the Santa Claus of slashing,” Jason says. “Just call me Slasha Claus. Just kidding. Don’t call me that unless you want to meet the business end of my machete.”
It’s obvious many ThrillerFest attendees chose to ignore the warning, though, as Tiny Jason slashed his way to some of the genre’s biggest names, like R.L. Stine and Lee Child.
Thankfully Jason knew enough to spare 2018 Thrillermaster and man of the hour, George R.R. Martin.
“I was about to get my slash on and then remembered just how many people are waiting for his next book,” he says. “Figured I’d be nice, keep my machete to myself, and pose for a picture. Winter needs to come, am I right?”
Okay, so maybe next time, Mr. Martin.
In the meantime, Tiny Jason is busy curating his “dying to kill list,” ranking Anne Rice, Brad Meltzer and Stephen King at the top. (“Hit me up, guys.”)
Everyone else can take a deep breath—for now. Tiny Jason only comes out to play on Friday the 13th, and the next one doesn’t happen until September 2019.
You can check out Tiny Jason’s past victims on Instagram @TinyJasonsAdventures and on his website www.MeetMeAtTheLake.biz. Be warned, though: some of the images are not for the weak of heart.
Murder pictures aside, Stein assures us that “no children were actually harmed in the making of any Tiny Jason photo.” Unlike the mother of the real Jason Voorhees, she’s not a psycho murderer.
Miss out on Thrillerfest this year? Get the full scoop on what happened in these The Big Thrill wrap-up articles: