Most writers excel at one genre, but E. Michael Helms has successfully tackled memoir, historical fiction, and mystery. He is not only versatile, but prolific as well, with four books published in the last two years. Helms is a former marine who served in Vietnam. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, and was honorably discharged in 1969. His harrowing memoir of that war, The Proud Bastards, has been in print for over twenty years.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Helms and talked with him about the writing life and his newest novel, DEADLY RUSE, a riveting page-turner and the second in the Mac McClellan mystery series, due for release this month by Seventh Street Books.
Your historical fiction and mysteries seem to have been published within weeks of each other. Do you work on both at the same time and, if so, what challenges does that pose?
That was simply a fluke, or good timing. My agent had been trying to place Of Blood and Brothers a while, and finally made a sale. Originally written as one long saga, the publisher asked me to break it into two sections; hence OB&B: Books One & Two. While that process was taking place, I decided to try my hand at mystery writing, something I’d wanted to do for quite some time. I completed Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery in a few months and my agent quickly sold it to Seventh Street Books. OB&B: Book One was published in September 2013, and Deadly Catch followed in November. So, the answer is no, I don’t work on both at the same time (except for edits and other follow-up chores).
Do you prefer one genre to the other?
My first book, The Proud Bastards, was a memoir about my tour in Vietnam as a combat Marine. That was a very trying experience dredging up all those emotions and ghosts. Of Blood and Brothers is a Civil War saga, and I relied on my own combat experiences to bring reality to the battle scenes. That wasn’t a very pleasant experience either.
BLACK KARMA opens with a somewhat seedy police inspector asking for Bai Jiang’s assistance as a souxan (people finder) in tracking down Daniel Chen, a man they believe is behind a botched drug heist that resulted in the death of a police officer. Bai, who believes the police just want Chen dead, finds her investigation takes her into a world of international intelligence agencies and merchants of war that deal with death, drugs, and high-jacked information: A world where nothing is what it seems.
Against this backdrop, Bai is juggling a somewhat complicated love life. There is her ex—the father of her child and a triad assassin, the rather brazen young man who finds her irresistible, and a suitor for an arranged marriage whose mother thinks Bai would make an excellent successor to the family empire.
This is Bai’s compelling world of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Thatcher Robinson, the man behind the WHITE GINGER series, has always been comfortable with the Asian culture. His friends since childhood have been Asian, he’s married to a Japanese woman, and has two Chinese godchildren. “I don’t know why I fit more comfortably in the Asian community. I just do.”
In BLACK KARMA, Bai weaves her way through boxing clubs, arranged marriages, and the power of the triads.
Robinson continues, “I did quite a bit of research on triads, which are mostly made up of street thugs who make their grift through extortion or kidnapping. When compared to the Yakuza of Japan, they have neither the organization nor financial infrastructure to be a major player in the criminal underworld.
By George Ebey
The Black Stiletto is back in the final novel of this stunning five-book saga. This time, everything will come to an end and all secrets will be revealed. It’s 1962. Judy Cooper’s former lover and his psychotic sister set out to ruin the very pregnant Stiletto, forcing her to flee to Texas for a showdown. In the present, the Alzheimer’s that afflicts elderly Judy is in its last stage, but her son and granddaughter continue to protect her from the assaults from her past.
Mr. Benson recently checked in with THE BIG THRILL to provide some insight into the origins of the character and to explain what it was like to bring his long-running series to its exciting conclusion.
Let’s talk about the genesis of the series. How did THE BLACK STILETTO first come about?
I had an idea for a story in which a grown man is taking care of his mother in a nursing home—she has Alzheimer’s—and he discovers some dark secret about her past that no one knew about. I didn’t know what that dark secret was, so the idea sort of sat on the back burner. My mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s, so my family went through that ordeal. Then, in 2009, I was having lunch with my literary manager, Peter Miller, and he said, “Raymond, you need to come up with something that women would like, because women buy books more than men.” Since there were a zillion superhero movies coming out, I facetiously said, “How about a female superhero?” We laughed and then he got serious and said, “That’s actually not a bad idea. Think about it.”
So I went home and did think about it. Then I combined the Alzheimer’s story with the female superhero idea and voila! It all fit. The dark secret was that the mom was a masked vigilante back in the 1950s/early 60s. (No super powers.) So I created the mythology that the “Black Stiletto” was a female crime fighter in New York and L.A. between 1958 and 1962, and then she mysteriously disappears. No one knew who she was, but she became a legend. Then, in the present, her grown son discovers her secret. It became two parallel stories—one in the present and one in the past.
New York Times-bestselling author Robert Dugoni writes legal thrillers with heart. “These aren’t what some might expect in a traditional thriller novel, all action and dialogue. I work hard to develop my characters. I try to write honest characters, people who have self-regard for their own well-being. If I can get my characters to care about themselves, readers will care also, and be more invested. Then I can put my characters in peril.”
Dugoni practiced law for thirteen years in San Francisco before becoming a full-time writer. His novels in the critically-acclaimed David Sloane series are THE JURY MASTER, WRONGFUL DEATH, BODILY HARM, THE CONVICTION and MURDER ONE, which was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for literary excellence. He has also written the bestselling standalone novel DAMAGE CONTROL, and THE CYANIDE CANARY, a non-fiction book. His latest novel, MY SISTER’S GRAVE, landed the number one spot on Amazon’s Kindle Bestseller List, knocking out GONE GIRL, and was named as Library Journal’s top 5 thrillers of 2014.
In MY SISTER’S GRAVE, Dugoni introduces Tracy Crosswhite, a former high school chemistry teacher turned Seattle police detective. Tracy has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is guilty. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy has dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.
By Julie Kramer
David Baldacci is best known for his high-stakes political thrillers, but the #1 New York Times bestselling author has also had a busy year as the editor of this year’s acclaimed ITW anthology, FaceOff, and as one of the highest-profile writers caught in the Amazon/Hachette negotiating feud.
So what does he do to relax? He sketches.
We’ll show you samples of his art, hear his take on changes in the publishing world, and learn more about his upcoming release, THE ESCAPE, in which military investigator John Puller hunts for America’s most wanted criminal—his own brother—who has escaped from prison after being convicted of treason.
How much of your success as an author do you think you owe to your Washington D.C. settings and the public’s mistrust of the government?
I certainly have been influenced by the political world in D.C. It’s the only city in the country that can declare war and raise your federal income tax!
When it comes to international intrigue, the geography and players in political hot spots change rapidly—the Ukraine, ISIS, and so on. Your thrillers are often topical. Do you ever worry your storyline will be out of date on your release day?
That’s the risk you run. You finish the novel and the next day a headline is in the newspaper that is basically your entire plot line. I’ve never had that happen. I’ve been ahead of the curve a few times, but it could always cut the other way. I’m just one guy with an imagination pitted against nearly seven billion people jostling each other over the width of a single planet. Odds-wise I have no chance.
When you first introduced us to Army Special Agent John Puller and his brother, Robert, in ZERO DAY, did you already have elements for THE ESCAPE in the back of your mind?
I knew that Robert Puller’s story would be revealed one day. I wasn’t sure how when I was writing book one or even book two. But the story eventually came to me.
What research did you do for THE ESCAPE? Tour any prisons?
I’ve visited military bases in the past. I jumped off parachute towers, did the sniper ranges, performed the rollover Humvee training, and threw myself into the Army’s functional fitness regimen. Needless to say, I came out of that feeling way too old. As a lawyer I also went to prisons. An attorney at my old law firm represented Clayton Lonetree—the Marine guard accused of espionage at the US Embassy in Moscow—in appealing his conviction. While I wasn’t directly involved in the case, I learned a fair amount about the military justice system.
It seems mystery is more mysterious and thrills more thrilling if set in a foreign place and time. Anyone who doesn’t believe that hasn’t read Joe Gannon’s impressive debut novel, NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR.
The novel is set in Nicaragua in 1986, the mid-point for the Sandinista revolution. That volatile environment shaped Captain Ajax Montoya, homicide detective and classic man-without-a-country. Montoya, the novel’s investigator protagonist, was conceived in Nicaragua but born and raised in America. So even after fighting for years with the Sandinista revolutionaries he was still neither Nicaraguan nor American. Neither, yet both, and as Gannon explains, a classic noir hero.
“Like all such detectives he has a flawless moral compass,” Gannon says. “It always points true north, but that is both curse and, well, pretty much just curse. But he is the last one on earth who would view himself a hero. In fact, much of what others see as heroic he sees as a source of shame: killing and sending others to their deaths.”
Much of that killing was for a good cause, the overthrow of tyranny, but that is no solace to a man living with the damage done to his soul from so much sustained violence. So when a corpse turns up in a poor barrio it shakes Montoya to his core.
By Dan Levy
It was the late W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” Fortunately, many writers never got that message and, as a result, wrote many great things after struggling to get published.
J.J. White is among the authors who either didn’t get the message from, or just plain ignored, Mr. Fields. In fact, after seven fiction manuscripts and over 250 short stories, PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is White’s debut novel. “You have to be persistent in everything you do, no matter what age you are.”
At 61, White would be the first to tell you that he’s not really wired toward the conventional. He still surfs in the ocean, has kept his liberal leanings, and listens to Top 40/Contemporary music (unless his wife hears Rihanna, then she changes it). What’s more, unlike most authors, White had neither a penchant for writing or a mentor to inspire him at a young age.
White wrote and submitted a short story to his high school composition teacher who, after grading the story, suggested to White, “Good story. Please learn how to write.” He didn’t.
Decades past, and one day White found himself out for a week with a back injury. “During that week, I said to myself Why don’t you start writing? I was like Forrest Gump who started running for no reason. I started writing for no reason and got hooked.”
And it paid off. PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is set in 1962 Burlington, Vermont, where seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma. He wakes possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory, and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma. Even in the pre-cable TV/Internet era, Gavin quickly becomes a global sensation. The notoriety puts a murderer on his tail, while his newfound abilities, which seem like a gift, are coalescing into a madness that is robbing Gavin of reason and reality. The odds are slim he will survive both the internal and external conflicts that keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
By John Raab
Allen Wyler, neurosurgeon and writer, returns with his latest page-turning thriller, DEADLY ODDS. Wyler’s writing career started in 2005 with his medical thriller, Deadly Errors. Since then, his work has transcended the medical thriller. And in DEADLY ODDS, he introduces readers to an intriguing new character, Arnold Gold, an awkward computer genius who uses his talent for gambling, and soon finds himself in over his head.
Wyler graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Please tell us about DEADLY ODDS.
As the jacket cover says, Twenty-three year old Arnold Gold is a Seattle-based odds-maker and local computer genius (hence the title). Described as a “part-time hacker and full-time virgin” by his friends, the awkward young man flies to Vegas to try and get lucky—in more ways than one. But his high stakes gambling inadvertently thrusts him into a vortex of international terrorism.
Part of my research for the story dealt with the Darknet—a huge portion of the Internet (bigger than what most people commonly associate with the Internet). It was initially developed by the military for transferring classified information. Not only did the military want a bullet-proof, non-hackable, portal for transferring huge amounts of data, but they wanted to do so anonymously. However, this ability to conduct business anonymously also makes a perfect conduit to support serious criminal activity. Want to buy heroine? Go to the Darknet. Want to hire a hit man? Same thing. And if you are terrorists… Think of the possibilities. I initially discovered it in a Wired article and it immediately snagged my interest. After reading more about it, it was just too interesting to pass up, and I to incorporate it in a plot.
New York Times bestselling author J. Carson Black loves horseracing. She also sings well. And writes well! Just ask Michael Prescott, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.
He has this to say. “Sweeping from suburban California to the New Mexico desert, from an assassins’ marketplace in Austria to the killing grounds of Iraq, HARD RETURN is an amped-up thrill ride showcasing one of the most enigmatic and unforgettable antiheroes in fiction today. Part Jack Reacher, part Jason Bourne, Landry is a loner, a lover, a father, a killer, and the last thing his enemies will ever see.”
In HARD RETURN, Cyril Landry has been a dead man since he escaped a firefight off the coast of Florida three years ago. In all that time, the former Navy SEAL has been living off the grid to protect his wife and teenage daughter, who have mourned him and moved on.
Five days a week, Landry watches from a distance as his daughter Kristal leaves school—his only chance to see her. One day a shooter unloads his M-16 on the students, killing several—including Kristal’s boyfriend, Luke. Landry takes out the gunman with a single sniper shot before melting back into the city. But this wasn’t a typical massacre, and the clues add up to only one conclusion: someone knows Landry’s still alive.
J. Carson Black also writes under the pseudonyms Margaret Falk and Annie McKnight. Recently I had the chance to ask her a few questions:
In your early days as a writer, you wrote mainly romances, albeit exciting romances. What made you switch to the thriller genre?
My first published book was a ghost story called DARKSCOPE. After that, I wrote a straight historical novel, THE TOMBSTONE ROSE, but had to cut it in half and add a lot more romance to get it sold. Then I wrote romantic suspense books. But I remained unsatisfied—I was looking for something. That something came in the form of a Michael Connelly novel, and I fell hard. Not long after that, I picked up James W. Hall’s MEAN HIGH TIDE in an airport, and it just turned a light on for me. I read more and more of the great authors in that genre, and finally knew I’d found my passion: crime fiction and thrillers.
By J. H. Bográn
LAST WORDS opens with New York City on the brink of bankruptcy, rumbles in the Bronx, and newsman Coleridge Taylor roaming police precincts and ERs in search of a story that will rescue his career. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. Time is not on Taylor’s side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits pages—as a headline, not a byline.
Rich Zahradnik offers an interesting setup for a promising series set in a decade usually overlooked, probably due to its disco connection. Still, Zahradnik dives right into the middle of seventies and never looks back. THE BIG THRILL had the opportunity to question him about LAST WORDS.
What can you tell us about Coleridge Taylor?
Taylor was a top police reporter at the New York Messenger-Telegram until he was accused of inventing a story about a nine-year-old heroin addict. In fact, he was set up. He was demoted to the obituaries desk, an assignment where he deals with the dead all day but can’t pursue the real stories behind their deaths. He’s using all his spare time to find a crime story so good that his editors will give him his old job back. He’s also trying to track down the little addict he interviewed to prove the story was real.
Taylor, who’s thirty-four, joined the paper as a seventeen-year-old copy boy after growing up in Queens and moving up to reporter four years later, a traditional career path in newspapers still available in the late fifties. Now it’s 1975, and newspapers are hiring college grads from places like Columbia. These younger, better-educated reporters make Taylor insecure. Taylor isn’t sophisticated about the job. He doesn’t believe in the New Journalism or interpretive reporting. He believes in facts. If he can get all the facts, he’ll get the story. He quotes John Adams on this, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He lost his brother in Vietnam and his mother to cancer. His father is an alcoholic English professor at CUNY he’s not very close with.
By Wendy Tyson
DEADLINE FOR MURDER, the new novel by Linda Y. Atkins, is the fourth book in the Hilary Adams Mystery Series. In this latest installment, attorney Hilary Adams returns to the defense side of the law and her new client, a crime columnist for the local newspaper, is accused of double homicide. Fast-paced and tightly written, DEADLINE FOR MURDER is a thrilling glimpse into the Louisville legal system.
As a practicing attorney and former prosecutor, Linda Y. Atkins knows her subject. She brings a fresh perspective and a strong dose of realism to her legal thrillers. Recently, THE BIG THRILL had the chance to catch up with Linda.
Hilary Adams is a criminal defense attorney—a job that often demands quick wits, a strong stomach, and the ability to deal with ambiguity. What inspired you to write legal thrillers?
I began writing in the late 1990’s after defending a woman accused of murdering three of her own family members. Before I became involved in her case, however, she had already been tried and convicted once, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. On re-trial, the prosecution decided to again seek the death penalty. When my law firm was approached about her case, we knew that representing her would be an uphill battle, but since my husband and I were both death qualified lawyers (meaning we were authorized to represent defendants facing the death penalty as a possible punishment) we accepted the case pro bono. What followed was my first introduction to rural Appalachia, and being from “the big city,” as Louisville was described by the local residents in that area, I found the experience both harrowing and hard to shake. So, after it was all over, as a sort of cathartic exercise, I wrote a true crime novel about the struggles we had encountered in events that turned out to be truly stranger than fiction. Though I believed the case and the people involved would provide for riveting reading, unfortunately, the manuscript got no further than the back of a file cabinet in my office. But by that time, I had been bitten hard by the writing bug and decided to try my hand at fiction. And, on a whim one day, while waiting outside a courtroom for a hearing to begin, I started jotting down some thoughts on a legal pad and the main character—criminal defense attorney Hilary Adams—came into being. But even though I draw upon my experiences as an attorney, all of my work is fiction—none of my cases, clients, or fellow lawyers are even remotely re-constructed in my novels.
What if you had to say goodbye to everyone you loved in just five short days? Debut author Julie Lawson Timmer’s riveting novel FIVE DAYS LEFT takes you on a heartbreaking journey alongside a woman who must do just that. Mara Nichols has everything—a wonderful marriage, successful career, and adoring daughter until a stunning diagnosis unravels her entire world. As she counts down her final days, she considers her dwindling choices and wrestles with the decision she knows in her heart is the right one. A parallel story intertwines with Mara’s. Scott, a virtual friend of Mara’s who lives across the country, prepares to say goodbye to the child he was only supposed to have for one year but that has become like a son to him. FIVE DAYS LEFT illustrates in emotionally wrenching narrative, the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Julie and she agreed to answers some questions.
What was your motivation for this story?
First, thanks so much for having me!
A few years ago, a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. She was in hospice for the last several months of her life and she was spectacularly brave in facing what she knew would be her last months, weeks, and days. During that time, and after she died, I was consumed with thoughts about what that must have been like for her—to know she wouldn’t be there for her kids’ graduations, their weddings, et cetera. I decided that writing about someone dealing with a fatal, incurable disease would be a way to explore the feelings my friend might have had. I also felt that exploring and writing about those feelings would be a way for me to honor her, even if the book was never read by anyone else. I chose Huntington’s because I didn’t want (or believe I had any right) to write my friend’s story. FIVE DAYS LEFT is not biographical in any sense.
I wanted to give Mara a break from her difficult situation, and adding the online group allowed me to do that. When I was casting around in my imagination for an online friend who Mara could become close to, Scott materialized, as did his job as a middle school teacher and coach. Technically, Scott and his wife are limited guardians of Curtis, not foster parents. Foster parenting involves months of background checks and classes and applications, et cetera, while being a limited guardian is a relatively immediate process, at least in Michigan. Given the urgency in Curtis’s situation, the foster system wasn’t appropriate. However, the concept of fostering and being a limited guardian are similar in that ultimately, you are caring for, making sacrifices for, and often loving deeply, a child who isn’t your own, and whose future is not in your control. In this regard, foster parents and limited guardians are in a similar position as stepparents, a role I hold. As a stepparent, I also care for, make sacrifices for, and deeply love, children whose future isn’t in my control, and I wanted to explore that.
By Dawn Ius
Of the many ingredients that go into writing a great thriller, there is one that New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline believes is the key to her success—keeping things fresh.
Which might seem a tad ironic, since in her twenty-third novel, BETRAYED, Scottoline returns to the characters that first launched her career, the women of her popular Rosato & Associates series.
“I’m thrilled to be writing about these characters again—they feel like old friends,” she says. “It’s great to examine the way their personalities change over time and the way their life events change them. I love to write books that mirror the life of everyday people, on many different levels.”
Relating to readers is important to Scottoline, who makes herself accessible for feedback. She reads her reviews, albeit with the thick hide all authors must develop, and pays attention. Though she admits, no one could compete with her worst critic—herself.
“I’m always thinking of my readers, every page, every word,” she says. “I love love love books that move fast, have high stakes, and are told with an eye towards the listener or the reader. In other words, the pacing never lets up. I’d die before I would bore a reader.”
In BETRAYED, the second high-stakes, fast (and certainly not boring) thriller in the Rosato & Associates spin-off series, Rosato & DiNunzio, Scottoline turns the spotlight on one of her less-featured lawyers, Judy Carrier.
“She’s somebody that doesn’t get as much face time as she should as a main character, so I felt that was overdue,” she says.
More importantly, however, Scottoline felt no other character could tell this story. In her twenty-five years as a successful novelist, Scottoline has learned that character, plot, and voice are the same thing—which, when boiled down, really means that “when I think of the plot, the character chooses the plot.”
By Jeremy Burns
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and discovered America—or did he? What if Vikings, led by the famous adventurer Leif Eriksson, were in fact the first Europeans to discover the New World five centuries before Columbus’s voyage?
This is the question posed by award-winning author and former congressman Robert J. Mrazek in his new thriller, VALHALLA, a globe-spanning adventure steeped in history, legend, and myth. Mrazek sat down with THE BIG THRILL to talk about his fascinating new book, its creation, and some cool tidbits about himself.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I don’t know how many former members of congress ever decided to become working novelists. Looking back on my life, I believe I was a writer who became a politician, rather than a congressman who eventually turned to writing fiction as a second profession.
Like I’ve read about you, I’ve been reading and writing stories since I was a small boy, and enjoyed pursuing creative writing all through college. In 1968, I was placed on the disabled-retired list by the Navy following a training accident at Officer’s Candidate School. I had spent two months in Newport Naval Hospital, sharing a ward with badly wounded Marines who had been evacuated from Vietnam.
After seeing first hand part of the human cost of the war in Vietnam, I was deeply disheartened, and decided to leave the country to attend the London Film School. Within five months, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Suddenly, my goal of writing fiction and making films seemed trivial compared to the convulsive upheaval that was taking place at home.
My anger over the Vietnam War and its aftermath carried me a long way in politics. But I never stopped writing. With four novels and three non-fiction books now published since leaving public life, I’m as proud of the awards that my books have received as the legislation I authored in congress.
By E. A. Aymar
New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Vincent Zandri has been an important voice in crime fiction since 1999, when his debut As Catch Can (now titled The Innocent) was published to terrific reviews. Since then, he has written at an exceptionally prolific rate and has published fifteen novels, including eight in the Dick Moonlight PI series.
The latest thriller in that series finds Moonlight, along with an overweight Elvis impersonator as his sidekick, investigating the suicide of a young woman. But this suicide is especially troubling to Moonlight, since the victim may have been raped by the son of his new boss.
New readers to the series will find a lot to like in Zandri’s dark, formerly suicidal, pained-romantic protagonist as he hunts for answers through the streets of Albany. And new readers to Zandri will latch on to his tight plotting and noir-fused prose. He was kind enough to take the time to talk about his work as a writer, photographer, and musician, as well as what the future holds for Moonlight.
How do your different interests (particularly your work as a photographer and musician) influence your writing?
I fell into photography as a freelance journalist when editors seeking to save a few bucks would ask me if I didn’t mind taking pictures. Of course, this became more prevalent as the digital age took over, and a writer who can also take pictures is a far more valuable commodity than one who doesn’t have an eye. But in terms of art, the photos taught me to capture a moment in time that is then recreated in the mind of whoever looks at it. I try and do the same with my writing. Recreate a moment or moments in time that make the reader feel like what’s happening on the page is happening to them.
By John Clement
My cat Spike could climb clear to the top of a seven-foot Christmas tree without dislodging a single ornament—admittedly not the most useful skill in the world (especially given that his descent produced far less desirable results) but I thought it was a pretty awesome trick nonetheless. I imagine your cat has a similarly awesome gift. In fact, I think I can safely say that everybody in the world thinks their feline mate is extraordinary in one way or another. Kathleen Paulson, however, may have bragging rights on all of us. Her gray tabby, Owen, has the ability to make himself invisible, and her tuxedo cat, Hercules, can walk through walls.
Kathleen and her super-powered cats are the creation of Sofie Kelly, author of the Magical Cat Mysteries set in the fictional town of Mayville Heights, Minnesota. The latest, number six in the series, is A MIDWINTER’S TAIL from Berkley/Signet. It’s early December, and Kathleen is hosting a fundraiser for the town library when the ex-wife of a local businessman dies of an allergic reaction. Kathleen is immediately suspicious, and soon she and her super-powered felines are on the trail of a killer.
Sofie, tell us a little about Mayville Heights. It feels very much like an actual town.
I’m happy to hear that Mayville Heights feels real to you. I grew up in a small town so I suspect that influences my writing. And several observant readers have noticed that Mayville Heights sounds a lot like the real town of Red Wing, Minnesota. That’s not by accident. When the Magical Cats series began, I found a video tour of Red Wing online when I was looking for something else. Something about the town captured my imagination.
How did you come up with the magical powers of Hercules and Owen?
The cats’ magical abilities actually came from a suggestion made by my editor. I’m glad I listened to her.
By Amy Lignor
With every novel this author pens, fans receive a never-ending supply of “hunky heroes and kick-butt heroines.” The works gifted with a plethora of storylines that include thrills, suspense, action, romance, and the paranormal. The “teams” are unforgettable; from their ability to save the day and fight evil, to the hot and heavy relationships that make the heart race out of control, Paige Tyler has carved her own unique niche—a niche that covers a variety of genres, creating a master blend of everything a reader craves.
The X-OPS series has fans intrigued and excited. Is there a set plan as to how many there will be?
For all those readers out there, you’re going to squeal over this answer. Essentially, the way I set up the overarching storyline for the Department of Covert Operations with the intrigue and backstabbing—and the myriad of subplots and endless cast of secondary characters—I don’t intend for this series to end.
Currently, I have the first ten books outlined, with basic conceptual material for at least another dozen or so. While each story spotlights a primary team, I also work really hard to weave in extra characters and plots to utilize in future books. There’s also that larger drama developing, with the DCO operatives fearing that they’re working for an organization which might be even more evil than the bad guys they go after. I think readers are going to love having the X-OPS series around for a long time to come!
Were you a personal fan of romantic suspense before beginning your writing journey? If so were there any authors that stood out for you?
I always read romantic suspense, but it wasn’t something I went out of my way to look forat the bookstore. Suzanne Brockman and her Troubleshooter series are incredible; I read those books like I was an addict. Her formula of multiple characters and subplots became a how-to for me as I began X-OPS.
How Hollywood Gets It Wrong
By Chris Grall
In Elizabethan times, an ordinance was passed preventing men from wearing swords to the theater. Apparently, in an age where dueling was commonplace, the crowd could become overly enthusiastic and join the cast on stage during a fight scene. Because much of the audience knew how to fight, choreography was vitally important to the success of the production. If the fight scene was not convincing, the actors could be mocked or booed off the stage.
Today, action scenes are ubiquitous in movies and television, yet relatively few people are versed in violence and/or the operation of modern weapons. This allows directors and producers a lot of latitude when it comes to action scenes. Mistakes and errors are usually glossed over by the rapid pace of the show—it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to look good. For this reason, misinformation about firearms or tactics are often passed on from visual media to the literary world.
In the following sections, we’ll explore how and why some of these errors are created, how writers can recognize—and avoid—them.
One of my favorite cinematic errors—and by “favorite” I mean something that makes my skin crawl—is the sound of a gun cocking when a character points a pistol at something. Not all guns need to be cocked before firing. Yet, in many scenes you will hear the weapon being cocked when it is pointed at a target.
The Foley artist adds these sound effects during post-production, since not all ambient noise are captured properly during filming. Sound cues are added to the action with the proper volume and reverberation in order to incite an emotional response from the viewer. The sound of a gun being cocked generates the expectation in the audience that the weapon is ready to be fired, regardless of how the weapon actually functions.
Sandy Samerad’s writing brings a wonderful mix of steamy romantic prose, excitement, and a strong journalistic craft. In her latest novel, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES, she has Carrie Sue Justice fighting for justice and risking her (and her best friend’s) life in the process. Amid the tension, she is also embroiled in a love affair with a guilt-ridden man, her former boss, who’s none other than the owner of the town newspaper.
Semerad’s own journalistic background—as reporter, writer, and editor—shines through in her latest page-turner, and the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us about A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES.
The story begins in present day, with Carrie Sue Justice finding her diary. She was once a young and passionate newspaper reporter, investigating a shooting death in South Atlanta in 1986. Three black teenagers have been arrested for killing a white teen. Her life was in turmoil. She caught her husband with another woman inside the antebellum home she inherited from her parents. On the rebound, she fell in love with an unavailable man plagued with guilt. The man was none other than the irresistible owner of the Southern Journal where Carrie Sue worked.
As they began a steamy love affair, Carrie Sue discovered one of the black teens was wrongly accused. Determined to help prove his innocence, she endangered her life and the life of her best friend.
Do you sometimes add life experiences into your writing?
Yes, definitely. A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES is based on a murder trial I covered as a news reporter. The love story is fiction, but the characters share backstories and traits of people I’ve known.
International Thrills: An Interview with No. 1 Bestselling
UK Thriller Author Simon Kernick
In this latest installment of “International Thrills,” USA Today bestselling thriller author J. F. Penn interviews Simon Kernick for THE BIG THRILL. Read the transcript below or you can watch the video here on YouTube. —Managing Eds.
With his fast paced novels topping the Sunday Times bestseller list, Simon Kernick is one of Britain’s most popular thriller authors. His latest book, ULTIMATUM, is just out in the U.S. It opens with an explosion in a central London café and a threat from a terrorist group that promises escalation of the violence. Can Detective Inspector Mike Bolt and Deputy Commissioner Tina Boyd stop the atrocity before it’s too late?
So, Simon, tell us a bit about your life before you began writing bestselling thrillers.
I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was a little kid, so I was always writing stories of some description. But to pay the bills, I’ve done a number of different jobs, from bar work to road-building, to laboring and Christmas tree uprooting, obviously very seasonal work.
And eventually I had a career for some years as an IT software salesman, which never gets a second question, so I’m going to move swiftly on! I did that for about a decade, and while I did that, I was trying to get published, and eventually, I was lucky enough to get a publishing deal. And the minute I got one—which is pretty much almost thirteen years ago today—I went full time. And I’ve been full-time writing ever since, and I don’t want to go back to work anymore!
Your books feature a lot of famous British landmarks, so I wondered if you could talk about a couple of places in Britain that are particularly special to you, and how they feature in your books.
Well, London is the main location for the vast majority of the books. They do move out into the UK a little bit more, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s London. My latest book, ULTIMATUM, features a very new and very famous London landmark now, the Shard. It’s an amazing looking tower.
I love London to walk around, to see how the old and the new can just live together, and the rich and the poor merge together; it’s such an amazingly cosmopolitan city. But when you get on the South Bank of the Thames, and you see the Shard stretching up like a piece of glass into the sky, it’s an absolutely incredible scene, and pretty much the moment I saw it, I wanted it to feature it somewhere in a book.
By Kay Kendall
TRUTH BE TOLD is the latest thriller by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Deemed “the incredible master of plot” by Suspense Magazine, Ryan combines foreclosure fraud, a twenty-year-old murder case, and a secret romance between a reporter and a cop into a fascinating and plausible tale. In a rush of snappy prose she brings to life believable characters set against a backdrop of financial and political shenanigans in Boston.
This is the third novel in Ryan’s series featuring investigative reporter Jane Ryland. The first title was The Other Woman, released in 2012, in which Jane Ryland and detective Jake Brogan cross paths in their respective professional capacities and romantic sparks ignite. This book won the MWA/Mary Higgins Clark Award. Its sequel, The Wrong Girl, won both the Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne du Maurier Award earlier this year.
Ryan burst onto the mystery/thriller scene seven years ago with Prime Time, which won the Agatha for Best First Novel. TRUTH BE TOLD is now her seventh book, and was just named a Library Journal Best of 2014. All her thrillers win rave reviews, awards, and nominations. Her fame and readership have grown with each successive book. She offers a helping hand to aspiring writers as a founding teacher of the Mystery Writers of America University and has served as president in 2013 of the national organization Sisters in Crime.
When you consider that Ryan has become a well-read, highly regarded author on top of an enormously successful and busy journalism career, then the mind does boggle. Since 1983 she has been the on-air investigative reporter for WHDH-TV, NBC’s affiliate in Boston. To date she has won thirty-two Emmy Awards and twelve Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting. And still, she had time to be interviewed for ITW’s THE BIG CHILL.
Welcome, Hank. Your career as an award-winning TV journalist would keep most people busy enough. But in 2007 with twenty-eight Emmys already on your shelf, your first thriller, Prime Time, was published. It went on to win the Agatha Award for best first novel. What propelled you to add a second career?
I love how you ask about “adding a second career” as if that’s something a person could plan. So much of it is luck. And timing, and being at the right place at the right time. And recognizing that. Plus hard work. And—luck.
By Basil Sands
Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce you to Steve P. Vincent, the author of the new action-packed tale of international intrigue ripped right from the headlines, THE FOUNDATION. Or as he is known in Big Time Wrestling “The Thrilluh from Down Unduh”!
Okay, he doesn’t actually have a Big Time Wrestling name, at least not that I know of. But if he did it would be something like that. He does have degrees in political science and history, though. His honors thesis was on the topic of global terrorism and he has travelled extensively throughout Europe, the United States, and Asia.
Steve lives with his wife in a pokey apartment in Melbourne, Australia, where he’s forced to write on the couch in front of an obnoxiously large television. When he’s not writing, Steve keeps food and flat whites* on the table working for The Man. He enjoys beer, whiskey, sports and dreaming up elaborate conspiracy theories to write about.
Steve, tell us about THE FOUNDATION.
THE FOUNDATION is a punch you in the mouth political thriller full of intrigue, suspense and action against a backdrop that’s all too plausible. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope readers are enjoying it as well.
It’s about the concentration of power in the hands of powerful organizations such as big business, the media, and think tanks, and what might happen when these powerful groups manipulate global events to seize power. One guy, Jack Emery, is dragged into a power struggle when one such group, The Foundation for a New America, blows up half of Shanghai, starts a war between the U.S. and China, and tries to use the chaos to take over.
Like her protagonist in the new thriller COLOR BLIND, author Colby Marshall has synesthesia, a neurological condition characterized by involuntary perceptions and associations—associating colors with emotions or individual people, for example. Although she had published two previous thrillers, The Trade and Chain of Command, Marshall hadn’t written about synesthesia until COLOR BLIND, the first in a new series about forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler Dr. Jenna Ramey. Synesthesia can’t solve crimes, but it can guide Jenna in her dealings with suspects and witnesses who want to hide what they know.
In COLOR BLIND, Jenna sets aside her private practice temporarily to assist her former employer, the FBI, in solving murders committed by a team dubbed the Gemini Killers. One of the killers, Isaac Keaton, appears in the book’s opening scene, as he picks off innocent victims in a crowd. Keaton quietly surrenders. But who is his partner, and how can Jenna Ramey persuade the smooth, manipulative Keaton to talk to the police before the partner commits another mass murder? Keaton, Jenna soon discovers, knows entirely too much about her own background, and he apparently has a bond with her mother, a clear-headed psychopath who successfully faked incapacitating mental illness to avoid being tried for her violent crimes. Reconnecting with her dangerous mother is one of several avenues Jenna follows as she assists investigators.
Marshall, a ballroom dancer, choreographer, and occasional stage actress as well as a novelist, lives in Georgia with her family and a legion of pets. Recently she talked about COLOR BLIND, how synesthesia figures in the plot, and her plans for Dr. Jenna Ramey in this new series.
Synesthesia may be difficult for most people to grasp. Could you describe it from the inside—what it’s like for a person who has the condition?
Different types of synesthesia manifest differently, so I can’t claim I know what every type is like to experience. However, some types are self-explanatory. Someone with lexical-gustatory synesthesia, for instance, might taste beets when they hear the word “cake,” and that tends to be a fairly easy concept to communicate.
If there’s something readers love more than a fresh read in their favorite genre, it’s two fresh reads. Stark House Press has delivered just that for mystery fans with its double-shot combination now available by new author Rick Ollerman featuring a pair of crime novels, TURNABOUT and SHALLOW SECRETS. Recently, THE BIG THRILL caught up with Rick and asked him to share some of his thoughts about writing along with some tidbits about his two-for-one mystery debut.
Congratulations on the publication of your two novels, TURNABOUT & SHALLOW SECRETS (published in one combined volume by Stark House Press). It’s impossible not to notice that both of these stories are set in Florida. How important is setting to your writing?
I once read an introduction to a Ross Macdonald that described Southern California as if it were another character in his books. I think that’s really true. What I did with TURNABOUT was make it my “Florida book,” meaning it could only take place in Florida. You have the Ten Thousand Islands, the Everglades, alligators, crocodiles, seemingly every insect known to North America, and a rich “tradition” of smuggling, poaching, and other illegal moneymaking opportunities. Ninety percent of the birds in the Everglades were wiped out long ago, when there was a demand for feathers for women’s hats. After a hurricane and a flood, the governor of the state tried to actually drain the Everglades. Now you’ve got Big Sugar sucking the nutrients out of the soil upstream, you have Miami encroaching constantly into the edges of what is otherwise the last and greatest wilderness area in the country.
An FBI agent once told me that if you took all the drug money out of Florida, the city of Miami would collapse. That’s how important the drug trade was to that part of the state—the invention of air conditioning made the area livable and the importation of dope made it rich.
Setting is always important, no matter where it is, but in TURNABOUT I use the features of the state to follow a plot that could only happen there. SHALLOW SECRETS is a bit different; I’d already written my “Florida book.” The last kind of writer I’d like to be is one who writes the same book over and over again. You can’t hide from your style but you can keep from templating your plots and characters. SHALLOW SECRETS takes place across a span of years with a series of killings that bring down a cop when it turns out that not only did the killer know him personally, he’d been his roommate for a while. During the time of the killings. When he was caught, he tries to implicate the cop and the resulting mess just became something the cop needed to walk away from. It didn’t matter what he said or did, people would always wonder….
By John Darrin
Alex Shaw is a bit of an enigma to me. On the one hand, he’s created a fictional ex-SAS-now-MI6 operative and, Shaw acknowledges, “Aidan Snow is me if I’d been in the SAS.” On the other hand, he’s written a stageplay about a time-traveling, double-glazing salesman (a replacement window salesman, for all of us non-Brits) and he’d like to see Ricky Gervais in the lead role.
On the third hand (?), he used to teach drama at an exclusive private school in Ukraine. Isn’t drama a way of life for teenagers? Why would he have to teach that? And did the parents of his students know of the fictional worlds he was creating in his head? I guess they were impressed by all the letters that followed his name. B.A., for one, but I’ve got one of those so it can’t be too impressive. I don’t even know what a “P.G.C.E.” is, so I’m impressed there. I wonder if the Queen gave that to him with a sword blade on his shoulder—he lives in England, after all.
But he also sometimes lives in Kyiv (more on that, later) and has spent a good deal of time travelling Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East for some small company called Siemens.
“My scariest experience was being smuggled through a Hezbollah checkpoint in Lebanon. My oddest evening was drinking whiskey at the British Embassy in Saudi Arabia with some very high-up Saudi officials.”
His current literary work is COLD BLACK, and it is the second full-length adventure of Aidan Snow. Here is how Alex describes it:
Abduction…Assassination…Al-Qaeda…An International Conspiracy… Former SAS Trooper turned MI6 operative, Aidan Snow is caught in a maelstrom involving East, West and Middle East, endangering the world’s supply of oil.
For New York Times best-selling novelist Alan Jacobson, creating his recurring protagonist FBI Agent Karen Vail was an accident.
“I needed an FBI agent in a novel I was writing and she kind of came right off my fingertips. She exploded from the pages and I couldn’t write her lines fast enough. I knew I had something special there. During that time, I had started doing research with the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. A short time later, when I began writing THE 7TH VICTIM, the first book in the series, I knew the main character was going to be a female FBI profiler. Karen Vail was perfect for the role and once I started writing that first paragraph, I never looked back. Writing Vail excites me—and it shows,” explained Jacobson, a New York native.
In addition to THE 7TH VICTIM, Vail has also starred in CRUSH, VELOCITY, INMATE 1577, NO WAY OUT, and his latest SPECTRUM(due out Oct. 7). She and her supporting cast appeared in several chapters of HARD TARGET, which featured another one of Jacobson’s recurring characters: Department of Defense black ops agent Hector DeSantos (who debuted in THE HUNTED and joined forces with Vail in VELOCITY) and a new character FBI Agent Aaron Uziel, aka Uzi.
THE 7TH VICTIM was originally intended to be a standalone, according to Jacobson. However, his publisher asked him to consider making Vail a series character, something the author was reluctant about doing.
“I’d seen a number of colleagues get stale writing series, in that after a while they were inadvertently writing the same books over and over. That did not sound appealing to me, so I decided I’d stay away from series . . . until my publisher told me they really wanted me to make Karen Vail a recurring character because of the tremendous advance response they’d gotten from the sales reps and booksellers. I explained my concerns and told them I’d have to think about it,” recalled Jacobson. “After a week of navel gazing, I figured out a way to keep Vail—and thus me—fresh from book to book. My goal was to write a different story each year while remaining true to the character, retaining what we all love about Karen Vail yet allowing her to grow over time. Six years and six novels later, I’m very glad my publisher urged me to continue with Vail because I love each one of her stories. In many ways, that series has changed—and certainly defined—my career.”
Tom Wither writes thrillers involving military intelligence. He draws on his decades of service and experiences in that shadowy world, bringing authenticity to the dominion of James Bond and Jason Bourne and all those agents in between, by replacing myth-building with realistic scenarios drawn from today’s news stories.
Please give us a brief synopsis of AUTUMN FIRE?
AUTUMN FIRE begins a few days after THE INHERITOR, and takes the reader back into the world of counter-terror operations as David Cain, his protégé Emily Thompson, and Shane Mathews and his Wraith Team commandos continue their pursuit of Aziz, the head of the reborn al-Qaeda, and mastermind of a series of attacks carried out against America’s electrical power infrastructure.
In AUTUMN FIRE, Aziz, through his mercenary facilitator Vladimir Repin, carries out a second wave of strikes against the United States. The Saudis, annoyed that the covert mission Mathews led into Iran to capture Aziz has failed, demand an explanation from the U.S. government. After thwarting an attack on a nuclear reactor on the east coast, Mathews is ordered back to Saudi Arabia for an explanatory audience with the King. Mathews works to allay the concerns of the Saudis, and Cain tries to fathom Aziz’s real intent in the face of the nuclear poisoning of public water supplies.
Aziz travels to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to personally oversee his next operation against the pre-positioned U.S. military supply ships, and then launches a cunning cyber-attack against U.S. airliners to lay the groundwork for achieving the first major step in restoring the Islamic Caliphate. Standing mere feet from the Saudi King, supported by traitorous members of the Royal Guard, can Cain, Mathews, and the Wraiths track down and stop Aziz before it’s too late?
By Amy Lignor
When it pertains to words and visuals, Eric Red has written and directed projects that have become memorable to many generations. People lose themselves in his heart-racing worlds of action, horror, and sci-fi—plots that cause pulse rates to beat out of control. A creative marvel, Eric knows what delivering goose bumps is all about, and now he has brought a new book to the scene—IT WAITS BELOW—that’s yet another notch on his ‘genius belt’ that will have audiences engaged and engrossed until the final page has come and gone.
Today, we’re lucky enough to speak with Eric Red about his string of accomplishments, and delve into an imagination that simply doesn’t stop.
Let’s begin with the mass question: movie directing, novels, screenwriting, comics… Do you sleep and, if so, where do you get all these incredible ideas?
I sleep very well, actually. And my wife tells me nothing wakes me up. It’s hard to say where ideas come from. I’ve gotten film and book ideas at the market, taking a walk, playing with the dog—almost always doing some ordinary everyday thing.
As a young man, how exactly did you begin this creative path?
I was a total movie, book, and comic geek as a child. Movies, mainly. I dragged my folks to every genre movie that came to drive-ins in Philadelphia or Times Square in New York City…the two locations where I grew up. I also spent all my spare time at stores that sold film stills, comics, and paperbacks. That was before the days of VHS, let alone DVD or Netflix, so if you were a young horror movie fan like me, you purchased fifty-foot 8MM selected scenes of monster flicks and ran them on projectors; or, watched whatever they showed on late night TV.
Caitlin Strong, the protagonist of Jon Land’s compelling series, is a Texas Ranger, as were her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. In the words of real-life Ranger Rip Ford (and also the epigraph to the prologue), “They knew their duty and they did it.”
The latest in the series, STRONG DARKNESS, opens in 1883 Texas, where Caitlin’s great-grandfather William Ray Strong is pursing the Old West’s first serial killer. Fast forward to the present, when a serial killer whose methods are eerily similar to the earlier one has surfaced. Caitlin learns that the killings are somehow connected with a powerful Chinese billionaire, Li Zhen, who intends to use his company’s cutting-edge 5G wireless network against America to avenge what he believes was an old wrong. Up against an army at Li’s disposal, Caitlin and her outlaw lover Cort Wesley blaze a violent trail across the country in search of the truth, even as a strong darkness descends and a climactic battle looms with nothing less than the fate of the U.S. at stake.
STRONG DARKNESS, the latest book in your Caitlin Strong series, begins in 1883, with Caitlin’s great-grandfather, Texas Ranger William Ray Strong, trying to find a serial killer who’s murdered a number of Chinese women. The story then fast-forwards to the present, when Caitlin, also a Ranger, is called upon to solve more contemporary, but no less heinous crimes. Why do Texas Rangers make such compelling subjects of a novel?
That’s a great question and I think the way you phrased it kind of suggests the answer: that is the Texas Rangers have persevered remarkably unchanged through a long and mostly storied history. They wear different clothes and carry different guns than they did in 1883 but otherwise they’re really the same. What’s amazed me in the research I’ve done, and what I try to demonstrate in the snippets of Ranger history that precede each section, is that they remain to this day the archetypal and quintessential American icon. The loner hero whose duty is stitched into the fabric of their being. Similar in that respect, I suppose, to those soldiers in Special Forces or Navy SEALS. The difference being, of course, that the Texas Rangers have been around a lot longer than either of these.
By John Raab
Author Lucy Snyder returns with an anthology, including the Bram Stoker winning story of 2013 titled “Magdala Amygdala.” Snyder is also the author of an urban fantasy series featuring Jessie Shimmer. Snyder has sold over one-hundred and twenty short stories. Fifteen of those are included in this latest book SOFT APOCALYPSES, in a range of genres.
SOFT APOCALYPSES is your latest anthology. What kind of short stories will fans see inside the pages?
The book contains a mix of genres. All of the stories are dark, perhaps not all horror, but very dark nonetheless.
“Magdala Amygdala,” the opening story in the collection, is my take on the zombie apocalypse. It won the 2012 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction. “However….” is the original version of a story Gary A. Braunbeck and I cowrote for a Hellraiser anthology; we were asked to edit this version because it was deemed too disturbing for that book (yes: too disturbing for Hellraiser. I was just as baffled as you are). “Antumbra” is a post-apocalyptic science fiction horror story. “Diamante and Strass” is a post-apocalyptic, rock-and-roll science fiction weird Western. “Tiger Girls vs. the Zombies” is an entirely different take on a zombie apocalypse; it’s set in the world of my book INSTALLING LINUX ON A DEAD BADGER. “The Leviathan of Trincomalee” is a Lovecraftian steampunk adventure tale on the high seas.
Those are just a handful of the stories in the collection. Most every story features some kind of “soft” apocalypse: the world that the main character knows and understands has come to an end, but life goes on after the cataclysm.
By Dan Levy
For nearly forty years, Jonathan Maberry has created fiction as a catharsis for himself (at least at first), a mirror for his readers, a microscope for the human condition, and, at times, to offer a laugh that uncorks the pressures of everyday life. He has built a career that includes titles such as author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, and teacher/lecturer. Among his many accolades are New York Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Awards, and being named one of Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. With literally thousands of works to his credit, we wanted to learn more about him and his latest novel FALL OF NIGHT.
Why do characters like vampires, zombies, and other supernatural beings continue to find themselves at the center of your writing?
Zombies represent a massive shared threat—something so comprehensive that it destroys the infrastructure. Everything we rely upon is gone, no help is coming, and we have had our affectations stripped away. What remains, then, for the story is an exploration of people in a crisis. That’s pretty much the core of drama. Because the zombies have no discernible personality—certainly none that impact the story—they serve as the threat that propels the action without drawing attention away from the human experiences of the characters. On a canvas like that you can paint any kind of story, and because the monster is easy to understand, it allows the reader to “get” the level of threat without becoming otherwise distracted.
For those who read and write about the living, what unique opportunities does writing about the supernatural give you? What challenges does it present?
The supernatural speaks to our core beliefs, the primitive within the shell of the civilized person. Whether we’re talking about the darker aspects of world religion (and remember, demons and Satan come straight out of the Bible), or beliefs in ghosts, vampires, witches, and so on, these are things our ancestors believed. In many cases they’re things people believe today. Even the most skeptical of us wonder if there is a larger and much more complex world than what is concrete and measurable. So telling tales about this larger world is an actual connection point.
The challenge in writing about the supernatural and unnatural is to make it interesting to modern, sophisticated—and yes, even jaded—readers. That’s why most of my fiction is built on a scaffolding of 90% realism. That allows the reader and me to get in agreement on many things, so when I open a door to let something fantastical in, the reader is already in the room with me.
By Wendy Tyson
DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT, the recently-released novel by Mauro Azzano, is the second installment in the Ian McBriar series. In the first book, THE DEAD DON’T DREAM, readers met homicide police detective McBriar as he investigated the brutal assault of two young boys, one of whom the son of a local underworld figure. In the new book, a fast-paced police procedural, McBriar is back, only this time he’s faced with an even more puzzling set of circumstances: a string of murders that span a continent.
Mauro was kind enough to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT is described as “the story of a Metis police detective who conquered bigotry, prejudice, and his own personal tragedies to succeed.” Can you tell us a little more about Ian McBriar and some of the elements of his past that have made him the man he is today?
In the first book, we learn that Ian was studying to be a priest. His mother was killed tragically, and the anger he felt at the person who had caused her death led him to realize he had neither the self-control nor the self-denial required to be a priest. Becoming a police officer was the best compromise for him, allowing him to punish the guilty while staying true to his principles.
In my books, Ian is Scottish/French/Cree Indian. The stories are set in the 1970s, a time when political correctness did not exist, and few positions of trust were available to people of an aboriginal background.
This is the second in the Ian McBriar series. Like the first McBriar novel, DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT is set in Toronto, Canada. You were born in Italy, and you have lived in Australia and Canada, where you currently make your home. How have your own experiences traveling and living in such varied international locales affected your novels?
Ian is a “fish out of water.” I moved from Italy to Australia at age three, then back to Italy at age eleven, then to Canada a year later. I had three separate and very jarring culture shocks, and I’m certain that this was the genesis for Ian’s difficulties. I briefly thought of making the character an Italian-Canadian, but Ian came to me almost completely formed, and the more I investigated the difficulties faced by Metis, the more this felt like the right way to go.
Both books are set in the 1970s. What inspired you to write historical thrillers?
I am a people-watcher. I also tend to remember details that I witness; THE DEAD DON’T DREAM came from a half dozen snippets of scenes I remember seeing over the past twenty years, and I needed to write it to get the story out of my head.
The reason I set the first book in the 1970s was initially technical: there were some things one could do in the era before computer databases that one cannot do today. Once the first book was underway, I realized that the characters were a lot more alive, more vibrant, as a result of NOT being able to pick up a cell phone or Google an answer. They had to communicate—talk to each other—and I think this human interaction comes through in the story.
In DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT, McBriar is confronted with a perplexing case—a murder with no obvious motive and a suspect with no alibi. When writing the novel, did you outline the plot before you wrote the first draft, or did the plot develop during the writing process itself? What else can you share a about your writing process?
I never write down outlines or flow charts or anything, and I never know where the story is going to go. Often, I type away and am as surprised as anybody at what the characters do. Those scenes are usually the ones I need to tweak the least, the ones that I really enjoy seeing in print.
I research everything, from the score of the hockey game in one scene, to the make of car and type of gun the police used in 1974. My biggest fear is that someone will say that I got some important point wrong. I have heard from a number of retired and active police officers who read THE DEAD DON’T DREAM; to my immense pride they all said that I got the atmosphere of the police department right, that reading the dialog, they could hear the banter in their heads.
For the first three or four rewrites of THE DEAD DON’T DREAM I was not sure just “whodunit,” but once the next rewrite was done, I was certain that this was the story that I wanted to share.
When I write, I don’t use the “1000 words per day” rule or anything like that, but I do try to keep the momentum going. It’s very easy to leave the work for a while and never get back to it, but you have to press on until it’s finished. Once you have, you can decide whether it’s good enough to proceed with, but until it’s finished, it’s like an unbaked cake. You’ll never know whether it’s delicious or not unless it’s baked.
As to how I get my ideas, the central plot twist in the first book came from a casual comment I heard on the radio about “tombstoning”—identity theft from a graveyard. The second book’s plot contains an interesting psychological condition that I thought would be a really great red herring. Both of these felt right from the first time I wrote them down.
What would you like your readers to take away from your books?
Mystery books are not actuarial tomes. They should be easy to read, entertaining and interesting. If they are also informative, all the better. But the feedback I get is that people see Ian, Frank, and the others in my books as real, solid human beings who are alive to them. If these characters give people a nice warm feeling, then I have done my job well.
What’s next for you? Can readers look forward to another McBriar thriller?
The third book in the series, DEATH BY DECEIT, has been sent to the publisher for first edit. It takes place in 1977, and has the same humor and fun banter as the first two books, but the threat in this book comes far closer to home for Ian; the body count is higher, and the culprit is more devious and determined than before.
The fourth book is in the planning stage. That said, the central plot of this book had been in my mind ever since I started writing the second book. I am superstitious, though, so I won’t discuss it until I finish the first draft.
Mauro Azzano was born in the Veneto in Northern Italy. He has received recognition as an educator, a communicator and also as an author. The Ian McBriar series of books is still growing, and he is currently working on the fourth in the series.
To learn more about Mauro, please visit his website.
Click here to watch the booktrailer for DEATH WORKS AT NIGHT.
By Derek Gunn
Ethan Reid has the honour of being the premier release for the new Simon451 imprint from Simon & Schuster that will be launching in 2014. While I am sure this comes with a lot of pressure, it says a lot for the author to be given this slot and it says quite a bit of Simon & Shuster as well launching a new imprint, concentrating on speculative fiction, fantasy, and apocalyptic fiction in the current market.
Luckily they’ve picked a winner with this one. Unsurprisingly, they are already closed for submissions as they wade through all the manuscripts their call generated. Simon451 will publish in multiple electronic and printed formats, with a focus on digital-first publishing and e-book originals. I’m not too clear as to the time frame for the printed format version but the e-book comes out around the time you will be reading this.
One thing that immediately comes to your attention is the formatting. I’ll get to the writing in a minute—be patient. This book was designed as an e-book, rather than the usual design as paperback and “fit” it into an e-book as an afterthought. The result is a much more gratifying e-book experience. A small point but I have read so many badly formatted e-books that it was a joy to read this one.
Of course, the writing helped a bit too. The prose is snappy, the characters immediately likable and the pace burns through the text so quickly that my poor Kindle is still smoking. This is not another zombie novel, though it can be enjoyed as such. There is more at work here. Not content with throwing an unknown global catastrophe at our heroes, the author uses earthquakes, falling meteors, et cetera as merely a first course. After the initial disaster, strange creatures begin to pull themselves from the darkness to hunt the living.
These creatures are not just mindless zombies though. They reason, they run in packs, and they are all too hard to kill. Throw all that at our hero and then place them in a foreign city with limited language ability and you begin to get the idea of what our heroes have to go through. Of course, don’t expect all the humans to be helpful either. As society crumbles, man’s rules deteriorate and danger lurks everywhere.
SURVIVING THE ENDGAME has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it. What was the genesis for this story?
SURVIVING THE ENDGAME is the sequel to my earlier novel, INSIDIOUS DECEPTION. In that thriller, the reader is introduced to an international conspiracy formed to corner the market for rare earth minerals. When the conspirators encounter opposition from the U.S. president, they plot his assassination and scheme to develop the presidential credentials of a U.S. senator under their influence. In the new novel, the presidential election becomes a deadly contest between the conspirators and those seeking their destruction.
How do you manage your research? Militarized drones played a major part in the story, and your depiction of their use was both frightening and very detailed. How big a future do you see for them? What about weaponized mini-drones? So far, the use of military drones has been one-sided. What predictions do you make when opposing belligerents use drones?
My positions with the U.S. Department of Labor—such as Chief Economist of the Wage & Hour Division—required planning and conducting programs of economic research and then analyzing the findings. The research I initiate for my novels uses the same process but is more free-wheeling and exciting.
As you note, I’ve found the use of drones to be a fascinating vehicle to advance the action in my thrillers. In INSIDIOUS DECEPTION a drone disguised as a Red-Tailed Hawk infects the President with weaponized H1N1. In the new story, drones launched from a U.S. air base are diverted to do the dirty work of the conspiracy. Drone development and use is the next-frontier arms race that will require new means of defense if we are to remain safe.
By J. H. Bográn
I first met author Maria Alexander in the hallways of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City during the 2010 ThrillerFest. We exchanged book pitches and business cards. Hers was made of thick pink cardboard, with black lettering, lilac leaves on each corner, and neatly framed. There was this message on the back that has haunted me ever since: “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.” We kept in touch, and when I got this month’s assignment I was thrilled to find out it was for Alexander’s MR. WICKER.
Tell us about MR. WICKER.
Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. She must find it before it destroys her. Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. But the Librarian is Mr. Wicker—a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as lethal.
What can you tell us about Alicia?
She’s intelligent. Independent. Passionate. Depressed. Angry.
Authors rarely kill off the main character in the first paragraph, but that’s exactly what I’ve done in MR. WICKER.
While she is certainly in a bad way at the outset, her enormous imagination and courage later help her process extraordinary events that would drive you and I insane. Her strong will and rebellious streak don’t always help her make the best decisions. However, you can see the size of her heart in her defense of and compassion for those weaker than herself. Publishers Weekly said some lovely things about both the book and Alicia. It made me very happy.
Can you give us some dirt on the librarian? Without giving away the ending, of course.
Mr. Wicker, who presides over The Library of Lost Childhood Memories, is one unforgiving bastard, even when it comes to centuries-old hurts. The contents of the Library have corrupted his mind, yet there is still a chance for him to learn forgiveness. Whether he takes it or not is to be seen, but Alicia’s life might depend on it.
By Azam Gill
Light-handed satire with a light touch within a noir framework held up by unforgettable characters and an original theme readies Rob Brunet’s STINKING RICH for possible cult status. To quote award-winning author Les Edgerton, Brunet’s novel is “part THE GANG THAT COULDN`T SHOOT STRAIGHT, part Serge Storms on LSD, part Raising Arizona.”
While the satire works its magic, at heart STINKING RICH remains a spellbinding yarn. Here’s a short summary: What could possibly go wrong when the backwoods Libidos Motorcycle Club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Plenty, it turns out. In a world where indoor plumbing is optional and each local wacko is more twisted than the last, drug money draws reprobates like moths to a lantern. And each and every one of them wants a shot at being stinking rich—any way he can get it.
Rob Brunet’s award-winning short crime fiction has appeared or will appear in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, and Out of the Gutter. Before taking up writing, Brunet produced award-winning websites for film and TV, including sites for Lost, Sin City, and the cult series Alias. In an exclusive interview for THE BIG THRILL, Brunet talks about himself, his writing, and his interests
Let’s start with a brief introduction.
An Ottawa native, I’ve spent my life living and working in central Canada, with a five-year stint in Montreal and the last two decades in and around Toronto. I grew up expecting to write. By the time I was eight, teachers told me I had a gift, but that’s true of most writers, isn’t it? It’s in us forever? As for work, to call me independent would be an understatement. I lasted all of six weeks in university, quitting to join an Internet start-up in some guy’s living room. In 1982, more than a decade before the “Web” was born.
Janice Gable Bashman has become a force to be reckoned with. When I met her ten years ago she was a student in the writing classes I was teaching at the Writers Room in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Janice always had more energy, focus, and enthusiasm about writing than any ten other people. And, damn…she could write, too. (Not always a given among those folks who have a desire to publish).
She’s come a long, long way since then, dividing her writing output between nonfiction and fiction. She’s written for the NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, THE WRITER, WRITER’S DIGEST, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and is co-author of the Bram Stoker Award® nominated book, WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (co-written with me for Citadel Press 2010). Janice is the editor of THE BIG THRILL, and is a popular speaker and workshop leader at writers’ and genre conferences including ThrillerFest, Backspace, Pennwriters, The Write Stuff, Stoker weekend, and others. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is a member of the Liars Club and is a coordinator for the Writers Coffeehouse (more on those later in the interview).
And now she’s a novelist, with a superb first Young Adult thriller that has some serious teeth.
What’s the lowdown on PREDATOR? Without giving away any spoilers, tell us about the book.
Sixteen-year-old Bree Sunderland must inject herself with an untested version of her father’s gene therapy to become a werewolf in order to stop a corrupt group of mercenaries from creating a team of unstoppable lycanthrope soldiers.
When Bree went with her scientist father to Ireland, she thought it would be a vacation to study bog bodies. She never expected to fall in love with a mysterious young Irishman and certainly never expected to become the kind of monster her father said only existed in nightmares. Dr. Sunderland discovers that lycanthropy was not a supernatural curse but rather a genetic mutation. When they return home, her dad continues his research, but the military wants to turn that research into a bio weapons program and rogue soldiers want to steal the research to turn themselves into unstoppable killing machines.
Bree’s boyfriend Liam surprises her with a visit to the United States, but there are darker surprises in store for both of them. As evil forces hunt those she loves, Bree must become an even more dangerous hunter to save them all.
PREDATOR gives the werewolf legend a couple of new spins by introducing the Benandanti (an actual folkloric belief that certain families of Italy and Livonia were werewolves who fought against evil), as well as a modern scientific approach to mutation and the science of transgenics
M. C. Grant is Grant McKenzie, an award-winning screenwriter, editor, and novelist. He is the author of SWITCH and NO CRY FOR HELP (both published by Bantam TransWorld UK).
His short stories have been featured in the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child (Tor/Forge), and Out of the Gutter and Spinetingler magazines. His first screenplay won a fellowship at the Praxis Centre for Screenwriting in Vancouver.
As a journalist, he worked in virtually every area of the newspaper business, from the late-night “dead body beat” at a feisty daily tabloid to editor at two of Canada’s largest broadsheets. Born in Glasgow, Grant currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia.
Here’s a short synopsis of M. C. Grant’s exciting new novel, BEAUTY WITH A BOMB.
After witnessing the gruesome death of an immigrant, Dixie Flynn is on a mission to tell the woman’s story. Acting on a tip, Dixie learns that young immigrants are vanishing…and they’re not runaways. Hooking up with a group of Polish women who are hell-bent on finding their sisters and cousins, Dixie is all too willing to wield a gun and stalk the shadows where human traffickers ply their trade. But crossing paths with smugglers takes its toll, especially when the desire to rescue becomes a thirst for retribution that leaves blood on Dixie’s hands.
What can readers expect from BEAUTY WITH A BOMB?
Thrills, chills and a few laughs along the way. This is Dixie Flynn’s third adventure, and picks up a short time after the events of DEVIL WITH A GUN. Like her first two adventures, BEAUTY WITH A BOMB starts out with what Suspense Magazine calls “one of the most dramatic and shocking scenes I have ever read.” Dixie is also quite a bit different from the stand-alone thrillers that I write as Grant McKenzie. For one, Dixie is written in first-person, present-tense, female perspective, while my thrillers are third-person, past-tense. I also try and have more fun with the Dixie books by including more humour and quirky, fun characters. With that said, however, the plots can be dark and dangerous, but only because I know Dixie can handle them.
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
When Thea discovers a new role-playing game online, she breaks her parents’ rules to play. In the world of the game, Thea falls for an older boy named Kit whose smarts and savvy can’t defeat his near-suicidal despair. Soon he’s texting her, asking her to meet him, and talking in vague ways about how they can be together forever. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit’s allure, and hurtles toward the very fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a real-life story of Internet stalking, WHO R U REALLY? will excite you and scare you, as Thea’s life spins out of control.
Margo Kelly’s debut novel WHO R U REALLY? is now available from Merit Press, and Margo was kind enough to let my daughter, Ellie, and I gang up on her to talk about it.
Hi Margo. Thanks for agreeing to talk with my daughter, Ellie, and I.
Brian: As a public speaker, you’re already something of a professional communicator, but there is a difference between the spoken word and the written one. Was the transition from orator to author a challenging one for you?
In some ways, yes, because much of my public speaking has been on non-fiction topics such as business, sales, and recruiting. Now I’m writing fiction for the young adult audience. These are two completely separate worlds. However, any great public speaker includes stories, personal details, and a bit of hyperbole to keep the interest of the listeners. So that art of engaging the audience has definitely helped me translate stories to paper.
Ellie: Did writing WHO R U REALLY? bring back the trauma of your daughter’s experience?
The process of writing the story was very therapeutic for both me and my daughter. As she recovered from the ordeal, we would play the “what if” game. What if she’d done this instead of that? What if the predator had done that instead of this? The tough part for both of us was when we received the advance reading copies from the publisher. That was when we both realized the story was actually going out into the world for everyone to read. I have to admit there was a flash of panic for me. It was an extreme moment of vulnerability—feeling naked. Not only would people be judging the story for its merit, but also people would be judging my parenting choices and my daughter’s naivety. We wish we could explain a couple of things to every reader: 1) This happened to my daughter six years ago when she was eleven going on twelve. 2) This book is mostly a work of fiction. While many of the scenes happened in real life, there are also many that are a product of our “what if” game all those years ago.
By Terry DiDemenico
First Boston in JAMAICA PLAIN, then Los Angeles in MONTECITO HEIGHTS, and now Texas in ADOBE FLATS. Jim Grant finds himself an unwelcomed visitor as the novel opens. Unwelcomed is putting it mildly, it resembles outright hostility. But why?
Grant knew why he was in Absolution, Texas. It was the starting point of a simple enough mission. He wanted to return an heirloom to the father of his lover and former colleague. Buying a train ticket to Absolution didn’t cause concern, but the conductor’s reaction to where he wanted to disembark and the wizen man who turned up at the nearly abandoned station did. It is only a short time later that Grant is on the run for his life. Then his simple mission turns to trouble as he works to bring justice to the small town being terrorized by a tyrant. Outgunned and outmanned, Grant relies on his razor-sharp instincts to outsmart and outfight an army of Texans led by a kingpin who has everything to lose.
The brainchild of author Colin Campbell, Jim Grant, AKA Resurrection Man, is an ex-West Yorkshire cop who relocates to the United States and is attached to the Boston Police Department. The nickname came in JAMAICA PLAIN after an image of him, wearing a bright orange jacket and arms outstretched, hit the media.
Grant is an interesting character who brings to mind elements of Jack Reacher and Harry Bosch with his own British twist. That twist comes directly from Campbell. “They say that most authors include parts of themselves in their characters. Ian Fleming liked fine food so James Bond likes fine food. Lee Child favored the head-butt at school so Jack Reacher favors the head-butt. I’m six foot four and wear an orange windcheater. And I’m left-handed. Partly that’s just a creative shortcut. If I don’t have to think about how Grant looks or thinks I can concentrate on the story and the action.”
Campbell continues, “Jim Grant has a similar mindset to me, but he’s better at everything than I ever was. That’s the other thing authors do. James Bond was a better secret agent than Ian Fleming. I’ve never been head-butted by Lee Child.”