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 Jeff Ayers
“Stressed out” has been Lyle Deming’s default setting for years, but now the ex-cop is escaping the anxieties of police work by driving a cab in a new theme park. Nostalgia City is the ultimate retro resort, a meticulous re-creation of an entire small town from the early 1970s, complete with period cars, music, clothes, shops, restaurants, hotels—the works. But when rides are sabotaged and tourists killed, billionaire founder “Max” Maxwell drafts Lyle into investigating—unofficially. Soon he gets help from 6’2 ½ Kate Sorensen, the park’s PR director and former college basketball player. Together Lyle and Kate must unravel a story of corporate greed, conspiracy, and murder in Mark Bacon’s debut DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY.
Mark Bacon chatted with The Big Thrill.
When did you realize you wanted to write?
Writing classes in high school got me started. I took journalism and wrote for the school paper and I took creative writing and had short stories published in the high school magazine. I think I was initially attracted by the mystique of being a newspaper reporter, which eventually I was.
With your journalism background and success in writing non-fiction what prompted the change to fiction?
I’ve always liked writing, in part because it’s the hardest work I can do reasonably well—and get paid for. At this point in my life, I wanted to try something different and since I’ve always read mystery and suspense novels, crime was a natural. Mystery flash fiction came first then I thought I had enough to say to make a novel interesting. Now I’m hooked.
What sparked the idea for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY?
My inspiration for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY came from several sources.
1. I started my career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California and I covered the police beat every day. I learned how cops work and a little about how they think.
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 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.
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….
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 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 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.
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 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.
By Kay Kendall
Calling all anglophiles plus fans of psychological thrillers and Oxbridge novels! Here is a dandy book for you by Christopher J. Yates. Even figuring out the title’s meaning provides a puzzle to solve—BLACK CHALK.
The plot unfolds from two alternating points of view. One is told by a first-person narrator, a recluse who lives in New York City in the present day. The second is third person-narration from fourteen years earlier, when five young British students and one American meet at Oxford University. They become friends, and then deadly rivals. They begin a game that seems at first casual and then turns ferocious as it takes over their lives. Four young men and two women, all of keen intelligence and unique personalities, are driven to win.
And so—as Sherlock Holmes famously said to Watson—“The game is afoot.” The prospect of fun, competition, and a cash prize of ten thousand pounds gets the six players to sign up. Yet, losing a round means that a player must perform a humiliating task. Gradually the tasks become excruciatingly upsetting. Finely tuned psyches are damaged. Friendships are broken. Eventually, a life is lost. What caused this innocent game to become so devilish? Who is the villain in this piece?
Christopher Yates loves puzzles—of this there is no doubt. Even figuring out which main character provides the first-person narration takes more than a few pages to figure out. Is there something in his English blood that draws him to devise and decode enigmas? Perhaps he had an older relative who worked with Alan Turing at the venerated Bletchley Park during World War II. Suffice it to say, after leaving Oxford and working in the law for a time, Christopher turned to puzzle development, even representing the UK at the World Puzzle Championships. He still freelances as a puzzle editor and compiler.
L.R. Nicolello packs a 1-2-3 punch with DEAD DON’T LIE, her debut novel featuring Detective Evelyn Davis, a profiler for the Seattle P.D. In this exciting debut, Evelyn is helping track down a serial killer who turns out to have an interest in Evelyn herself.
As for Nicolello, she’s wonderful! She has this vibrant, excitability to her that can only bring a smile to your face. She’s spirited and dedicated and I think it’s those two qualities that (along with her talent) have helped her over the years. Also, her love of all things suspense definitely adds to her craft.
Nicolello answered some questions for THE BIG THRILL.
When did you start writing? Why?
After an English assignment in fourth grade where we wrote and bound our own books (which I still have) I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an author. I dabbled with writing for a long time but didn’t get serious until 2010. I wrote my first novel, queried it and received requests for multiple fulls, but ultimately it never got picked up. Looking back now I know I basically did everything you’re not supposed to do. As heartbreaking as it was for me to get so close it really helped to solidify that, yes, in fact, I did want this dream. After regrouping, and getting over that royal flop, I sat down and wrote my second novel, DEAD DON’T LIE.
Tell us more about DEAD DON’T LIE.
DEAD DON’T LIE is a romantic suspense featuring Detective Evelyn Davis, the best psychological profiler in the Seattle P.D., whose talent comes from heartbreaking experience. After two local families are wiped out, Evelyn believes a serial killer is at work. With each new discovery, the case becomes more personal and Evelyn starts to suspect the families aren’t the killer’s ultimate target—she is.
This debut novel never lets the reader off the edge of the seat—the mark of a great story. When college student Joe Talbert decides to interview a convicted rapist and murderer for a class assignment, he finds himself thrust into a web of lies and deceit that put his and other lives in grave danger. Talbert’s anguished relationship with an alcoholic mother and his deep tenderness for an autistic younger brother make him a sympathetic and fully formed protagonist. Eskens manages to weave intricacies of the justice and prison systems into the story while maintaining a tight grip on the pace and tension.
Eskens is a practicing criminal defense attorney with an undergraduate degree in journalism and a J.D. from Hamline University School of Law. He has participated in the Minnesota State University M.F.A. program as well as classes and seminars at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.
He took time from his busy practice and current writing project to speak with THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us how long you’ve been writing and what inspired you to write this first novel.
I began writing immediately after graduating from law school. Although I was a first-class legal writer, that didn’t translate into good fiction, so I started reading books like THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell and ON BECOMING A NOVELIST by John Gardner. When books were no longer enough, I began attending classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis and the Iowa Summer Writers Festival. That eventually led to me enrolling in the MFA program at Minnesota State University.
By George Ebey
In the shadow of the Mormon church, a nineteenth-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a twenty-first–century forensic artist. In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children.
When renowned forensic artist Gwen Marcey is recruited to reconstruct the faces of recently unearthed victims at Mountain Meadows, she isn’t expecting more than an interesting gig and a break from her own hectic life. But when Gwen stumbles on the ritualized murder of a young college student, her work on the massacre takes on a terrifying new aspect, and her research quickly becomes a race against modern-day fundamentalist terror.
We recently caught up with debut author Carrie Stuart Parks to learn more about A CRY FROM THE DUST and to find out what she has in store for us next.
First, how does it feel to be so close to the release of your debut novel?
I’m excited beyond belief. It’s hard to go through the day-to-day chores and work when all I want to do is hover over the computer.
Your story touches on the field of forensic art. Could you tell us a little about this field as well as your background in it?
I’ve been a forensic artist since 1981, so it was natural to “write what I know.” I’m also married to a forensic artist, Rick, who worked as a Visual Information Specialist for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Together we work on cases and travel across the nation teaching forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The stories I’ll be telling in this series are loosely based on our cases and the work we’ve done in the field.
By Jeff Ayers
It seemed an innocent enough idea. After Barnaby Gilbert got laid off with a nice severance, his boss suggested he take up a new hobby to fill up his free time. On his regular commuter train, Barnaby got an idea what that hobby would be. He decided to satisfy a curiosity he’d long had. An avid birder, he began tracking some regular passengers—people he’d always wondered about—to see where they went and what they did. In following a Chinese man, a schoolgirl, and a sexy woman, he used the same techniques he had to add hawks and herons to his life list. But in THE COMMUTER, a quirky, compelling, tongue-in-cheek thriller, he found out pretty fast that humans were a much more dangerous species.
Patrick Oster is a managing editor at Bloomberg News in New York. He was previously editor-in-chief of the National Law Journal and has worked for Business Week in Europe, Knight Ridder in Mexico, and covered the White House, State Department, and the CIA as Washington Bureau Chief of The Chicago Sun-Times.
He recently took the time to chat with THE BIG THRILL.
When did you realize you had the writing bug?
While doing some long-form journalism that used personal tales to tell a real-life story. For example, while reporting from Mexico I did a big take-out on what had happened to Oscar Lewis’s Children of Sanchez, one of whom I met while covering Mexico City’s twin earthquakes in 1985, 25 years after his classic work.
I used that story as part of my 1989 book, THE MEXICANS: A PERSONAL PORTRAIT OF A PEOPLE. And Lisa Drew, my editor at William Morrow, the hardcover publisher, said my use of real life short-stories in the book indicated I had some talent to write fiction, which is just another kind of story telling. So how could I not give it a try?
Working in journalism, what prompted you to want to write books?
For THE MEXICANS, it was mostly a desire to tell a fuller, more interesting story than is allowed in the space allotted newspaper stories. I also had accumulated a lot of information about Mexico in my four years there that never made it into my daily newspaper stories.
By Kay Kendall
Debut author Matt Cook combines piracy on the high seas, electromagnetic pulse technology, and terrorist ambitions to form a dazzling thriller. Thrown together in a dramatic stew of a book are one kidnapped Stanford professor, his beautiful and brilliant daughter, a dashing doctoral candidate, a Special Forces veteran, a mysterious mastermind, and two Russians—one good, one bad. Despite his youth, this author really knows how to cook, bringing all these ingredients to a rolling boil.
An assured debut, SABOTAGE is due from Forge Books on September 9. Here is a classic thriller in the fullest sense of the word. The terrorist mastermind will sell the stolen EMP technology to the highest bidder, even if it means placing horrible capability into dangerous hands. Worldwide powers are in contention, knowing their dominance is threatened.
Matt wrote the first draft of his thriller at age nineteen, and the week before its launch, he will turn twenty-five. While an undergraduate at Stanford University, he published two nonfiction books, one of them award-winning, and co-founded California Common Sense—a non-profit dedicated to government transparency and data-drive policy analysis. In addition, as a close-up magician and former member of the Magic Castle Junior Society, Matt has performed in Hollywood and across the globe. He delights in weaving exotic locales into his stories, drawing from more than eighty countries he has visited. For his charitable work supporting the American soldier, he was honored with the President’s Call to Service Award. He is now midway through his doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania as a National Science Foundation Fellow.
Matt graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Your debut thriller SABOTAGE launches on September 9. How did you manage to bring it to fruition, maintain your graduate career in economics, write an award-winning non-fiction book, and perform as a close-up magician? In short, how do you juggle and keep so many different balls in the air at once?
Life is a smorgasbord. Some people say, “I’ll just have the shrimp.” Not me. I want to try everything from the fondue to the hams to the cupcakes. One of the challenges of coming back from a smorgasbord is balancing the plate. You have to layer everything so it all fits. Life is the same way. Sometimes it means being stubborn, keeping at a project when there’s something else you’d rather be doing. It also means staying organized—keeping to-do lists, writing down your thoughts before sleep. That helps you avoid those moments of sheer panic when you think you’re going to drop the plate. I’m also fortunate to be working with talented individuals and teams, including my entertainment attorney, literary agent, publicists, and publisher—and for grad school, my professors and research partner.
Military action dominates today’s thrillers, but diplomacy can generate even more tension and suspense. If you need proof, read Todd Moss’s hyper-realistic and high-powered debut thriller, THE GOLDEN HOUR.
The novel revolves around a sudden crisis in Africa. A coup d’état in Mali overthrows the president and the State Department is counting on its new experimental Crisis Reaction Unit to handle the situation. The unit is the brainchild of Judd Ryker, who recently left academia to test his theories in the real world of international diplomacy.
Ryker is not the typical gun-wielding thriller hero. He’s a soft-spoken professor who finds being chief of the Crisis Reaction Unit a major challenge.
“Judd’s much more comfortable with numbers than people,” Moss says. “This, he finds, is a problem for a diplomat. Judd quickly learns that he must build personal relationships to figure out what’s going on and to do his job.”
Of course, the challenges mount quickly. A senator’s daughter is kidnapped in Timbuktu. A violent new Jihadist cell rises in the desert. The American embassy is at risk of a terrorist attack. And Ryker has just one-hundred hours to set it all right again.
Parts of the story may sound fantastic, but Moss knows whereof he speaks. A former top American diplomat in West Africa, he draws on his real-world experiences to reveal both the exhilaration and the frustrations of modern-day diplomacy. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent him in to negotiate after the 2008 coup d’état in Mauritania. Today he works at a Washington DC think-tank and still deals with men very much like his fictional Ryker—successful and brilliant analysts who, in his words, “could work on their people skills.”
Teri Anne Stanley’s debut novel, DEADLY CHEMISTRY, just released and USA Today bestselling author Ruthie Knox notes that “[w]ith fast-paced, clever writing, strong heroines, and to-die-for heroes, Teri Anne Stanley is definitely one to watch!”
In DEADLY CHEMISTRY, former undercover cop Mike Gibson has been laying low, working as a maintenance man to put his troubled younger brother through college. But when a beautiful scientist enlists Mike’s help to repair the damage done to her lab by a group of vandals, Mike finds that his, and his brother’s pasts, are about to be brought to light. Laura Kane was happy having a secret crush on the hot maintenance man at Tucker University, but when the drug she was studying is stolen, Laura has a chance to get to know Mike in person. The problem is, he seems to know more about what’s going on than any maintenance man should. But then the drug turns up in the wrong hands, and Mike and Laura have to decide if their own chemistry will help, or hinder, the race to save innocent lives.
Teri Anne Stanley has been writing since she could hold a crayon—though learning to read was a huge turning point in her growth as a writer. Teri’s first stories involved her favorite Saturday morning cartoon characters, followed by her favorite teen idols. She has also authored a recipe column (The Three Ingredient Gourmet), and scientific articles (Guess which was more interesting!). Now she writes fun, sexy romance filled with chaos and havoc, populated by strong, smart women and hunky heroes.
What inspired you to jump from your earlier days of writing about cartoon characters, science, and cooking to writing suspenseful, sexy romance novels?
Well, I kind of outgrew the cartoon characters, the science stuff is a little dry (and there aren’t any nekkid parts), and I kind of gave up cooking. Even with just three ingredients—cooking is such a time suck!
By Derek Gunn
Mystery and thriller writer…dog lover…dreamer—these are the words that greet you on Wendy Tyson’s website. The themes carry over into her writing and appeared in our correspondence during the writing of this article. I mean what’s not to like about this woman?
DEADLY ASSETS is the second book in the Allison Campbell mystery series but don’t let that worry you about jumping straight in. Allison Campbell is Philadelphia’s premier image consultant and helps others reinvent themselves. She is a gutsy woman who had to rebuild her life and her own confidence when an old case went wrong and she lost her practice and her husband. Today, she is well-heeled and polished and moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives, and twisted ethics. And boy, are they eccentric!
Tyson’s background is in law and psychology and she lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons, and two of the aforementioned dogs, Labs Molly and Driggs. Tyson kindly supplied a concise summary of the first book for me, but DEADLY ASSETS is definitely a novel you can pick up and leap straight into. The characters introduce themselves quickly and the back story is revealed when background is needed.
The first thing that will strike you about this book is Tyson’s writing. I loved it from the first page; clouds bruising clear skies and ramshackle mansions that, similar to their owners, have seen better days, are just two of the well-crafted descriptions that had me breezing through the pages.
By Stacy Mantle
When your life centers around words, there are few things you can do other than teach and write. Author Kym Brunner has managed to integrate both careers into a very busy life with the release of WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, the first of two young adult books.
WANTED is about a teen girl who, after cutting herself on a spent bullet extracted from Bonnie Parker’s dead body, becomes obsessed with the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. When the notorious outlaw begins communicating with her through thought, she realizes she’s in over her head.
We caught up with Brunner to discuss how she manages to consolidate historical fact with modern characters to create a wonderfully entertaining story.
Most of your books are set in or around Chicago. What is it that fascinates you most about the region?
What doesn’t fascinate me about the region would be an easier question, because I LOVE my hometown! I grew up in Chicago and lived there until my mid-twenties, moved to the suburbs after I got married, but I still visit the city frequently. The downtown region is gorgeous; the people that live in the Midwest are friendly and thus, love to talk (which is a fabulous benefit to observant writers like us). Besides, the weather is great three months a year. (Okay, so that part’s not so great—but it certainly gives us something to talk about.)
By Basil Sands
Susan hails from Connecticut where she lives with her beloved dog, but New York City lives in her heart and mind and her story. A graduate of Yale College, her fiction has been published in Other Voices, Hawaii Review, and Vignette and she has written for magazines, websites, and newspapers, including Glamour, Girls’ Life, Ladies’ Home Journal, and the Washington Post. As her first full-length novel works its way into the hands of eager readers, she is currently at work on the second book in the Delilah Price series, currently called STUDENT BODIES.
Susan, tell us a little about OVER MY LIVE BODY.
OVER MY LIVE BODY is told from the point of view of my main character, Delilah Price, who realizes she’s the object of affection of a stranger she wants no part of, somebody who doesn’t seem to want to take no for an answer. She doesn’t know what she did to deserve this and doesn’t know how to make him stop and only when violence escalates do the police get involved. A sad truth: this is what usually happens, particularly when the person being stalked isn’t a celebrity of some sort.
How did you come up with your main character Delilah and especially her unique job?
Like Delilah Price, I modeled for art classes but my experience was controlled and comfortable and non-threatening. I started developing the story line then: what would happen to someone in a less-cloistered setting? And of course some of the characters Delilah meets in the course of the investigation tend to insinuate she “asked for it” by posing nude. As if any victim of any crime “asks for it.” Modeling for art classes is more of a matter of numb limbs than sexuality. Artists get that. Delilah poses for art classes, for her peers as well as others in other NYC art classes, to help pay the bills. It can pay pretty well. But she learns there’s a price attached to that, pun unintended.
By George Ebey
A new twist on history awaits in Graeme Shimmin’s new novel, A KILL IN THE MORNING.
The year is 1955 and something is very wrong with the world. It is fourteen years since Churchill died and the World War II ended. In occupied Europe, Britain fights a cold war against a nuclear-armed Nazi Germany.
In Berlin the Gestapo is on the trail of a beautiful young resistance fighter, and the head of the SS is plotting to dispose of an ailing Adolf Hitler and restart the war against Britain and her empire. Meanwhile, in a secret bunker hidden deep beneath the German countryside, scientists are experimenting with a force far beyond their understanding.
Into this arena steps a nameless British assassin, on the run from a sinister cabal within his own government, and planning a private war against the Nazis. And now the fate of the world rests on a single kill in the morning.
THE BIG THRILL recently got in touch with Graeme to discuss his process and what he has in store for us next.
A KILL IN THE MORNING re-imagines the World War II / Cold War eras and gives us a world where the Nazi regime still exists in the 1950s. What excited you about this idea and how does it differ from other stories that may have tried a similar approach?
What excited me about writing A KILL IN THE MORNING, was an image I’d had in my head for years of hanger doors grinding open to reveal an amazing super-weapon that I could never quite see. I also had inspiration from all the classic spy novels I’d read. When I started writing, all those ideas just seemed to flood out. About half-way through, I suddenly realized how it had to end and that it was really going to work. I sat back and just thought that “this is the story I was born to write.” It was an amazing moment. I felt like a sculptor, chipping away and finding the sculpture was already there inside the marble.
By Dan Levy
When you consider the recent NSA revelations, the Edward Snowden leaks, the 9/11 Commission Report, and other scandals, it’s been a tough decade or two for America’s intelligence communities. With over one hundred thousand people working in intelligence agencies across the U.S., there are bound to be individuals who get those agencies the wrong kind of media attention—as well as attention from the thriller writers seeking inspiration for an antagonist.
A former intelligence officer for the United States Air Force, Tom Wither wrote his debut novel, THE INHERITOR, to remind readers that U.S. intelligence services are filled with Americans serving their country with honor and patriotism. Wither characterized the current perception as frustrating: “As part of that frustration, I wanted to express the professionalism, the sacrifices, and the great work ethic that the vast majority of people in the intelligence business bring to the table.”
Now, before you think that Wither is using his novel as a platform to pontificate, hold tight. Wither will be the first to tell you that conflict and character are paramount. “It is a challenge to make sure that as I craft the story, I do so in such a way that I’m telling a good story, that I’m using modern-day technology, and that I’m showing what it’s like to live in the profession,” said Wither. He added that the need to compartmentalize his professional and personal lives helped as well, “When you sit down to craft a story, as a knee-jerk reaction, you don’t think about work. You think, ‘How can I build an exciting story? How can I have characters do things that will hold a reader’s attention and make (him/her) enjoy the ride?’”
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper caught up with very busy poet-turned-thriller-author, Erica Wright, just as she was getting ready to launch her debut novel. Erica is heading to New York City in June for events and publicity, and we wish her all the best—and to her intrepid heroine Kathleen Stone.
What is THE RED CHAMELEON about?
With a little help from the best wigmaker on the Atlantic seaboard, Kathleen Stone can take on a variety of personas, from a posh real estate agent to a petulant teenage boy. She was once a valuable undercover cop for the New York Police Department, but since her early retirement following a botched case, she has gone a little soft. These days, she mostly catches cheating spouses in flagrante. When one husband ends up not so much adulterous as dead, Kathleen must use her rusty skills to catch a killer.
You have two fascinating elements in your past: you are a poet and you have taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. What did you teach there? How have these experiences impacted your first novel?
I taught composition courses at John Jay, but snuck a little poetry onto the syllabus. Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” was always a favorite. My students definitely played a role in my interest in crime writing. They were mostly going into criminology, so I tried to educate myself on their career paths even if only to make our conferences more productive. I had no intention of writing a mystery novel when I started teaching, but looking back, it almost seems inevitable.
DEEP WINTER by Samuel W. Gailey is a dark, gripping debut novel of literary suspense that The New York Times and other major critics describe as a “beautifully written, suspenseful, page turner.” The book was a debut author pick by Penguin and Good Reads.
Samuel graciously agreed to answer some questions from THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us about DEEP WINTER
DEEP WINTER takes place in 1984 in a small Pennsylvania town where a woman is found brutally murdered one winter night. Next to the body is Danny Bedford, a misunderstood man who suffered a tragic brain injury when he was a child. Because of Danny’s limited mental abilities and menacing size, the townspeople have ostracized him out of fear and ignorance. When the deputy sheriff discovers Danny with the body, it’s assumed that Danny’s physical strength finally turned deadly. But the murder is only the first in a series of crimes that viciously upset the town order—an unstoppable chain of violence that appears to make Danny’s guilt increasingly undeniable. With the threat of an approaching blizzard, the local sheriff and a state trooper work through the pre-dawn hours to establish some semblance of peace. As they investigate one incident after another, an intricate web of lies is discovered, revealing that not everything in the tight-knit town is quite what it seems.
When THE BIG THRILL asked me to interview Ted Scofield regarding his debut novel, EAT WHAT YOU KILL, an unvarnished depiction of one man’s brutal climb to reclaim a spot in the upper echelons of Wall Street’s commanding heights, I was excited to have an excuse to pick up a book that touched upon high finance, the law, and the dark side of human nature. To my surprise, I discovered that Ted and I go way back—we just didn’t know it.
A graduate of both Vanderbilt Law and graduate Business School, it turns out Ted was working on his juris doctor at the same time I was, and we undoubtedly passed each other in the halls and around campus almost daily. Needless to say, I was eager to hear about how a former classmate of mine came to write a novel some are calling the AMERICAN PSYCHO of the new millennium. Fortunately, Ted was happy to take time out of his busy schedule as corporate general counsel and securities attorney and answer some questions for us.
Congratulations on your first novel! Tell readers of THE BIG THRILL a little about what inspired you to write EAT WHAT YOU KILL and how your background as a lawyer and MBA influenced the book.
Thank you! Sometime around my eighteenth birthday, I shorted a stock for the first time (that is, I bet that the price would fall). I had about two thousand dollars riding on it, all the money in the world to me, and I wondered what I could do to force the stock to tank. At that moment, the seed for EAT WHAT YOU KILL was planted. Over the ensuing two decades I worked in politics, graduated from law school and business school, toiled as a Wall Street attorney, and the story grew and grew. Finally, I just had to write it down. The novel’s major plot points are pretty much what were in my head when I wrote the first word.
By Ian Walkley
They say it helps to write what you know. Michael Niemann—a Ph.D and Adjunct Professor of International Studies at Southern Oregon University—has the right background to offer us a taut, authentic and intricate thriller of Africa that will satisfy fans of Wilbur Smith and Gerald Seymour.
In LEGITIMATE BUSINESS, protagonist Valentin Vermeulen, a Belgian investigator for the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services, is tasked with a routine audit of the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur when a UN policewoman is killed. Her best friend claims she was targeted because she complained about shoddy armored personnel carriers (APC). Vermeulen’s investigation leads him to a gunrunning scheme operated by a British military contractor with more at stake than a few APCs with bad starters. The civil war in Darfur is about to turn much deadlier unless Vermeulen can prevent a cargo of stolen missiles from reaching its destination.
Michael graciously agreed to answer some questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Why did you make your protagonist, Valentin Vermeulen, a UN investigator? Do you have a background in the UN?
Once I decided to pursue writing fiction, I wanted to write thrillers and mysteries that were international in scope. John le Carré is probably my strongest influence in this regard. His novel THE CONSTANT GARDENER is, in my opinion, the finest example of such writing. Finding the right protagonist was one of the biggest obstacles. I didn’t want to create yet another intelligence agent, who, by definition, has to follow particular national loyalties—probably a reflection of my hybrid background, a German who’s lived in the U.S. for over thirty years. That led me to the UN. I came across a news story about an investigation of Pakistani peacekeepers. That introduced me to the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). I dug up every bit of information I could find and the character of Valentin Vermeulen began to take shape. OIOS investigators don’t carry weapons, have no powers of arrest, nor are they allowed to use force. But they have a lot of latitude in their investigations, as long as they are UN related. I try to exploit that contradiction as much as possible.
The book’s starting premise is this:
The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Baseball fans everywhere know that the team is cursed, most famously by the “Billy Goat” incident during the 1945 World Series in which a pet goat was refused admission and its master, Billy Goat Tavern owner Billy Sianis, put a curse on the Cubs. The Billy Goat Tavern also was a legendary Chicago media hangout and the setting for the “chee’burger, chee’burger” skits in the early days of Saturday Night Live.
There are many more humorous and legendary tales of grief and heartache involving the Cubs—consider black cats, Gatorade spilled on a first baseman’s glove that perhaps caused a critical error in a playoff game with the San Diego Padres and the immortal Steve Bartman. (If you need an explanation of the meaning of Bartman, don’t worry. Either Google him or move on.) In my fictional World Series, the Cubs lose Game Six in a very Cub-like way, involving a swarm of gnats.
The Cubs are the most iconic and memorable symbols of failure and frustration in the world of sports. They have millions of loyal, frustrated fans.
So, I wondered, what would happen if there was a twisted and skillful fan—remembering that “fan” is shortened slang for “fanatic”—who would do anything to ensure they would break the curse and win baseball’s World Championship? Anything. And what if the threat was so grave that the Series might have to be fixed to guarantee the Cubs would win?
By Dan Levy
Proust was right. Not sure? Think of a favorite family vacation you took as a child. Then, call a parent or a sibling and ask them to recount the same trip. We want our memories preserved our way—embellishments and all.
Which is what makes FATAL SNOW such an interesting first novel by Robert Walton. A restaurateur and real estate salesperson living in the Northeast, it’s hard to image why he would write about an archeologist running for his life in the dead of winter through Wyoming’s Grand Tetons—until you ask him. “I was an archeology major in college,” explained Walton. “In the late 1970s, I spent time in Wyoming and Arizona on archeological expeditions.”
So while the rest of us simply wax nostalgic on Facebook, or at class or family reunions, Walton, a poet and short story writer, decided to weave his past memories together in the form of a thriller and through the eyes of protagonist Harry Thursday.
In FATAL SNOW, Harry Thursday, an archaeologist, is trying to forget the violent death of his wife during an expedition in Chile. During a camping trip with his best friend Conner in northwest Wyoming, they come upon a remote bawdyhouse. CJ, one of the girls, takes to Thursday and runs away with them. Skinny, her pimp, goes on a wild killing spree to get her back. Wounded by Skinny, and separated from Conner, Thursday battles infection hiding out with CJ while a winter storm wreaks its own havoc all around them. As they wait, Thursday discovers the secret CJ is holding, and why her pimp wants her back. It is only a matter of time before the final standoff between Thursday’s destiny and his terrible past.
Walton noted that Harry Thursday is, in some ways, his alter ego, “Harry is willing to take chances and experience events in the moment. He does a lot of things I would never do.”