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 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.”
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.”
By Mary Kennedy
Recently, I sat down with Carolyn Hart to talk about GHOST WANTED, the fifth book in her Bailey Ruth series. Ms. Hart (who also writes the enormously popular Death on Demand series) has come up with an unlikely recipe for success: take one amateur sleuth who happens to be a ghost, add a heavenly supervisor who sends her on a mission to earth, and mix a healthy dose of humor and an engaging plot. Now stir well and enjoy this delicious concoction.
GHOST WANTED is the fifth in the Bailey Ruth series, and the heroine is as irrepressible as ever. I’m intrigued by her relationship with Wiggins, her straight-arrow supervisor at Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions. Bailey Ruth is known to be something of a loose cannon and I remember she was operating off the grid occasionally in book four, GHOST GONE WILD. I wondered if Wiggins is ever exasperated with her? Or is her feistiness part of her charm?
In GHOST WANTED, Wiggins hopes that Bailey Ruth’s imagination and kindness will rescue the reputation of the library’s resident ghost who has a special place in Wiggins’s heart. We discover the heartbreak of World War I and hope that Bailey Ruth can reunite lovers parted on the battlefield.
You once said that writers enjoy creating recurring characters because “the author knows the terrain and understands the characters’ mores.” I think you were talking about Annie and Max Darling in the Broward’s Rock series, but does it hold true for Bailey Ruth? Will she ever push the envelope on her missions to earth and defy Wiggins?
Bailey Ruth is always on the edge of catastrophe but so far she has managed through charm to avoid a precipitous return to Heaven when she incurs Wiggins’s displeasure. I am currently writing next year’s Bailey Ruth and she is at the moment fending off The Rescue Express.
Lisa Black writes what she knows. Like her heroine, Theresa MacLean, she is a crime scene investigator, a forensics specialist who collects and analyzes the physical evidence that will help convict the guilty. In her forensics thriller series, though, she lets Theresa take an active role in tracking down killers, while always striving to keep the stories as realistic as possible.
Lisa is now a forensic scientist for a police department in Florida, but she sets her novels in Cleveland, where she worked previously. In CLOSE TO THE BONE, the latest in the series, Theresa faces death and destruction in the one place where she’s always felt safest: the quiet coroner’s office where she has worked for the last fifteen years. Returning late at night with evidence collected from a crime scene, she finds one colleague missing and another dead—with the word “Confess” written on a wall in his blood. Deeply shaken but determined to do her professional best for her co-workers, Theresa throws herself into her job. Soon she finds a link to another death ten years before. As more staff members die, Theresa realizes she is an integral part of the killer’s scheme and must work against the clock to uncover the truth about what happened all those years ago and save herself from becoming another victim.
Recently Lisa talked to THE BIG THRILL about why she brought murder so close to home for Theresa, why she sets her books in Cleveland, and other aspects of her writing as well as her day job. She also provided a tantalizing hint of what might lie ahead for Theresa after the devastating events of this novel.
CLOSE TO THE BONE is a perfect title for a story in which Theresa MacLean’s workplace colleagues are being murdered and she could also be a target. What inspired you to start killing off people who work in the forensics department?
I try to keep the books very true-to-life, and give an accurate portrayal of how things actually work in the field of forensics. Despite that, my forensic scientist always seems to spend more time out of the lab than in it, which is not at all realistic, so I thought if I could set a story right in the lab, that problem would solve itself. Besides, what better way to make my character vitally, and very personally, involved?
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.
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.
By Basil Sands
HARD CARBON carries all the edge of a Cold War thriller, with new twists that’ll have your mind spinning with the possibilities. Written with a been-there-done-that sense of reality, Salkin hits the nail right on the head.
A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in English Literature and Communication, Salkin has been writing for as long as he can remember. Whether it was short stories, articles for trade publications, or novels, David has always been armed with a pen.
David, tell us about HARD CARBON.
Ivan “The Butcher” Bulovski is the ruthless head of the Russian Mob in Moscow. His organization is more powerful than some countries. Employing out-of-work Russian scientists and diamond cutters, The Butcher succeeds in developing synthetic diamond thin-films to create the next generation of super-computers. These computers will be used for the largest bank heist in world history.
Just two obstacles stand in The Butcher’s way—the FBI, which is following the bodies that lead from New York City to Moscow, and are getting closer every day; and one of Ivan’s diamond cutters who got spooked and took off with “The Star of Moscow.” Max, an old diamond cutter who is terrified of The Butcher, doesn’t know the flawless diamond is synthetic. If discovered, the diamond could unravel all of Ivan’s multi-billion dollar plans.
With so much as stake, The Butcher sends his former-Spetsnaz body guards after Max to track down his diamond, while evading the FBI until he can unleash his computer on the World Wide Web and crack every major bank around the globe. A rich story woven with high-tech computers, old-world characters, unlikely heroes, and action around the globe, HARD CARBON offers a glimpse into the diamond trade and cyber security.
What’s better than watching Homeland on TV? Reading Andrew Kaplan’s page-turner about Homeland’s cast of characters. His latest novel, HOMELAND: SAUL’S GAME, takes us into the story before the television show begins.
In this adventure, CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison is leading a mission to capture a master terrorist when she discovers a deadly threat inside the Agency. But unlike the first book of the series, HOMELAND: CARRIE’S RUN, this one doesn’t just focus on Carrie. This time Saul, Brody, Dar Adal, and, in fact all the key characters put in an appearance. And their back stories are fleshed out in more detail.
“The books explore the past of these characters,” Kaplan says, “including the childhood, the things that make these characters who they are. For the Brody character in particular, that was essential.”
That’s because, while many U.S. soldiers have been taken captive, none has turned into a jihadi traitor. So one wonders what made Brody, a native-born United States Marine, turn. It was never adequately explained in the show, so Kaplan knew he had to deal with it if Brody was to be a character in his book. Early on, when Kaplan first got involved with Homeland, he asked for the show “Bible.” That’s what series showrunners use to establish character biographies, characteristics, season arcs, and so on. He was stunned to learn they didn’t have one (they do now).
“In other words, thirty seconds before the Homeland pilot begins and Carrie walks into that prison in Iraq, she didn’t exist,” Kaplan says. “For my first Homeland book, I wound up creating everything in her past before that moment. In the new book, HOMELAND: SAUL’S GAME, I do the same for the other key characters, especially Saul and Brody.”
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.
By Karen Harper
If anyone doubts that the International Thriller Writers is International, this interview with European author Bob Van Laerhoven should help erase those doubts. He has lived and worked all over the world, and his latest prize-winning novel is now available in the US. Van Laerhoven calls himself a Belgian (Flemish) author, but his work is universal.
What is your book about?
BAUDELAIRE’S REVENGE is a crossover between literature and the mystery-novel, mixing a tale of murder and extraneous passions with literary history and history. It goes back to Paris, September 1870, and the Franco-Prussian war. The first Prussian shrapnel hits the city. The workers are starving to death. The nobility seeks refuge in orgies and séances. Artists denounce the impending civil war in France and call for unity in defense against the Prussian armies. The Parisians are trapped in their besieged city.
However, the horror of war is surpassed by a series of gruesome and mysterious murders that makes them forget about everyday reality. Commissioner Lefèvre, a veteran from the French-Algerian war, has to resolve these lurid crimes. On or near each of the corpses, verses out of the contentious anthology THE FLOWERS OF EVIL of the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire are found, written in his exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefèvre’s investigation uncovers a plot with ramifications extending as far as the court of the emperor, Napoleon III. It also leads him to discover a bizarre family secret with far-reaching consequences. And to the knowledge that evil is everywhere, and he is not excluded.
BAUDELAIRE’S REVENGE has a unique premise. How did you come to use the French poet Charles Baudelaire—who was already dead at the time of your story—and why did you choose the thriller genre?
To answer this shrewd question, I have to go back in time, more than four decades. At seventeen, by chance—by Fate?—I picked up a volume of poems in the library of the small Flemish village near to the Dutch border where I grew up. It was the Dutch translation of LES FLEURS DU MAL (THE FLOWERS OF EVIL) by Charles Baudelaire. I read those thrilling, enticing verses and I was wowed. I bought the French edition to be able to read those enthralling poems, describing a universe of weird, entangled passions in the original language they were written in. I remember clearly that I read LES FLEURS DU MAL at night in bed with the help of a French-Dutch dictionary. I also began to read more about Baudelaire’s twisted and dramatic life, and I vowed that I would become a writer and publish a book about him. At twenty-seven, I tried for the first time, but after a few months I had to admit that the topic was, at that moment, way above my head. I was just a beginner, having recently published my first novel NIGHT GAMES. The complexity of Baudelaire’s themes and the decadence of his life, defied my longing to write a novel about him. I moved on, published more and more books, and, to be honest, forgot about the project of that seventeen year old boy who dreamed of becoming an author, a very uncommon goal in my social class: my parents were poor working people.
By Daniel Friedman
Steph Cha’s feminist neo-noir novel FOLLOW HER HOME introduced Juniper Song, a Korean-American private investigator with an Ivy League degree, a troubled past, and a bottle within reach at all times.
In Cha’s second novel, BEWARE BEWARE, Song takes what seems like a simple surveillance job tailing the cokehead long-distance boyfriend of a worried New York artist. But the boyfriend gets tangled up in the murder of a movie star, and Song’s job gets more complicated as she delves into twisted celebrity affairs in order to try to exonerate her client.
Meanwhile, Song’s roommate Lori Lim is pursued by an amorous gangster who won’t take “no” for an answer.
Reviewing BEWARE BEWARE in the Los Angeles Times, novelist Paula Woods wrote that Cha conjures up “more diversely mean streets than the masters of noir could have imagined” and that “Nathanael West and Raymond Chandler would be proud.”
Cha agreed to answer some questions about Juniper Song and her new book.
James Ellroy said in the Paris Review that “Chandler wrote the kind of guy that he wanted to be, Hammett wrote the kind of guy that he was afraid he was.” Song idolizes Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, but in this book, she makes some decisions that Marlowe, in a similar situation, probably wouldn’t. What kind of person is Song, to you?
I started writing Song as an amateur detective, and it was important to me that she retain some measure of authenticity as a person in the world who reacts to events in realistic, relatable ways. Obviously, there’s a wide spectrum of ordinary human behavior, but I didn’t want to write her into an action hero, or an incorruptible savior. I like Song. She’s far from perfect, but she’s smart and competent, with a good, loyal heart. She’s tough but not untouchable, and things wear down on her. Marlowe lived by a code, and I fell in love with that character because of his core integrity and bruised idealism. Song also admires Marlowe, but she is not above things like fear and compromise. She’s unsympathetic at times, but probably someone I’d want to be friends with in the end.
By John Clement
Being the resident “cozy-ologist” here at THE BIG THRILL, I’m accustomed to talking with writers of cozy mysteries, so my questions tend to lean in the same direction as well, like “Where do you find your recipes?” or “What’s your favorite color?” But ten pages into James Lilliefors’s newest book, THE PSALMIST, and I knew I had to change my game. Lilliefors is an award-winning journalist and novelist who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. His work has appeared in Runner’s World, The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe, and The Baltimore Sun, and his novels include BANANAVILLE, a mystery, and THE LEVIATHAN EFFECT and VIRAL, both geopolitical thrillers.
Published by Harper Collins this past July, THE PSALMIST is the first installment in the new Hunters and Bower mystery series. It’s hard-edged, compelling, and just a tiny bit cozy, so I knew in this case I needed to get right down to the nitty-gritty.
Without giving too much away, what is the story of The Psalmist?
THE PSALMIST tells the tale of a small, close-knit community on Maryland’s Eastern Shore that is visited one morning by an inexplicable crime. Luke Bowers, head pastor at the old wooden Tidewater Methodist Church, discovers a dead woman seated in the sanctuary of his church, her eyes open, her hands clasped as if in prayer. The woman clearly was murdered, although there is nothing at the scene to identify her or to explain why she was left there—other than a series of numbers carved into her right hand, which Luke begins to think may be a reference to the book of Psalms. As the strong-willed homicide cop Amy Hunter investigates this bizarre crime, she begins to find links to other murders in the mid-Atlantic region—and eventually to a more sweeping crime targeting the United States government.
The Psalmist is really a story about predators, which may come in the form of an unknown killer who strikes after dark or a sinister idea spread invisibly by the government—but may also be the neighbor next door or the friendly clerk who sells us our groceries.
Grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a page-turning tale of murder and betrayal small town style. DEAD BROKE IN JARRETT CREEK is the third in the mystery series featuring the lovable Samuel Craddock, former chief of police. The fictionalized town of Jarrett Creek, Texas has its share of secrets and a cast of characters to rival any soap opera. Recent financial troubles have caused the town to totter on the brink of bankruptcy and left it unable to pay for a full-time police force. When Gary Dellmore, a man with as many flaws as enemies, turns up dead, the town looks to Craddock to return to work and solve the murder. Craddock’s investigation reveals that Dellmore was a philandering husband, a crooked businessman, and an indiscreet banker. The fun begins as we ride along with Craddock to the front porches and cozy kitchens of his Texas neighbors as skeletons fall from their closets and illicit liaisons are revealed.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with author Terry Shames and we chatted about her latest book and her life as a writer.
Samuel Craddock is a character you want to sit down and have coffee with. He’s smart, honorable, and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Is he based on a person you know or did he materialize completely out of your imagination?
Samuel presented himself to me full-blown. He’s a combination of many men I’ve known in my life. As a kid, I always liked to hang around men—I thought they were more interesting than women, because women always talked about babies, clothes, and dieting. When I grew up, I joined the ranks of the women, but my early education in hearing stories was through men. In particular, Samuel is a combination of my grandfather, my father, my husband, and my dear friend Charlie, who died a few years ago. Incidentally, my grandfather’s name was Samuel, but everyone called him Sam—and that’s one reason I never call Samuel Craddock “Sam.”
By Josie Brown
If you’re looking for an author with a versatile voice, no one fits the bill like John Lutz. At your local bookstore, you’ll find his award-winning novels shelved under Police Procedurals, Espionage, Thriller, and Historical. You’ll also be impressed with the numerous awards he’s garnered: the MWA’s Edgar, the PWA’s Shamus, not to mention the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Golden Derringer Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hollywood likes what it reads, too. Lutz’s novel SWF SEEKS SAME was made into SINGLE WHITE FEMALE with Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and his book THE EX was an HBO movie.
His new novel, FRENZY, is the latest in his series featuring Frank Quinn, a former homicide detective, who goes up against a serial killer he’s crossed paths with before.
Lutz explains why the murderer deserves an encore.
Why bring back this particular nemesis of Frank Quinn’s?
I suppose I sensed that this villain had more to offer. Also, he seemed capable of producing the most angst in Quinn. Quinn understands that it takes a thief to catch a thief, and that might also apply in various ways when it comes to serial killers. It’s the timeless relationship of hunter and hunted.
The body count is fast and furious in this book. It starts out with six dead women in a hotel room, all of whom were tortured before being murdered–same night, same man. How did the plot for FRENZY come to you?
Possibly Richard Speck gave me the idea. The murders of eight student nurses in the same place at the same time seemed almost incomprehensibly tragic. Also infuriating, because Speck, until the time of his death, seemed only mildly ruffled by the pain and horror he had wrought.
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 J. N. Duncan
As the head of the crime news unit for Channel Three News in Finland, Jarkko Sipila has a unique perspective on the lives of those who work to fight crime, and offers this in his realistic procedural series, Helsinki Homicide. DARLING is now the fifth of his Finnish crime series to be published in English. So, let’s get to finding out more about Finnish crime.
Can you give us a quick sentence or two about what your new Helsinki Homicide story, DARLING, is about?
This is a ruggedly realistic, police procedural story about the murder of a twenty-six-year old, slightly mentally handicapped woman in her apartment in Northern Helsinki.
This is the fifth English Helsinki Homicide book to reach the U.S. While I understand the stories are stand-alone books, there is obviously some ongoing character stories and development that occurs. Can you tell us a little about that?
The main characters are the same in all the books. Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamaki is the leading character. He’s a work-oriented family man. The other two main characters are Anna Joutsamo, a single woman in her late 30s, who usually truly leads the investigation and an undercover cop, Suhonen, who really feels at home with thugs and bikers.
I try to describe the work of real policemen, so their private lives have never really been the main focus in the stories.
Interestingly in the Finnish tv-series on the books, Joutsamo and Suhonen had a relationship, although I’ve never written that into the stories.
Being (or having been) involved in reporting crime news in Finland, what do you feel this background brings to your crime writing? What sort of edge do you feel this gives you in developing your stories?
If I wasn’t a crime journalist, I would’ve never written crime novels. Following the real stories really helps with the realism and making the fiction believable. One of the main ideas in writing these Helsinki Homicide stories is that they are fiction, but could really happen.
By Cathy Clamp
Fifty years ago, a zombie uprising changed the face of the United States. Finally, the coasts have recovered to become thriving metropolises, but not everything is back to normal. Edward Schuett, the first person to ever come back from being a zombie, possesses a unique ability that made him the most powerful biological weapon in history. He’s created a small colony of Z7s, people like him who were once undead but are once again alive. Unfortunately, the fragile utopia they’ve created is about to be challenged when the latest Z7, Sandra Wolfe, shows uncontrollable powers far beyond the others. When she escapes, Edward and the others must find her before she brings the wrath of the outside world down on them.
THE BIG THRILL’s contributing editor Cathy Clamp sat down and talked with the author about a zombie reality unlike any other.
This is the second book in what might be considered a futuristic horror/thriller. For readers just learning about your reality, what can you tell them about the world of Z7?
The series takes place about fifty years after the Zombie Uprising. Unlike many other zombie stories where it’s all about survivors right after the zombies have risen, the characters here view the coming of the zombies as a historical event the same way we would Pearl Harbor or 9/11. Society has adapted to zombies roaming the wastelands and has rebuilt, although with varying levels of success. Into this I introduced the main character of the first book, Edward Schuett, who was a zombie that slowly regained his humanity. By the start of the second book he has learned how to make this happen to others as well, and he’s built a small community of former zombies far from the rest of society.
Is this a book that’s closer to Young Adult or more Adult in themes and “scare factor”, since the heroine is a teenager?
It’s weird, but I never thought of it as Young Adult. There’s a tendency these days to classify anything with kids or teenagers in it as being for a younger reading level. It certainly works for a teen audience, but I don’t think it has a teen as one of the main protagonists. I think that’s because a young adult audience can handle much more than many people give them credit for. They’re perfectly capable understanding adult themes, because many teenagers still have to deal with deep, dark things in their own lives. So I think it works on either level.
James Patterson is a giant in the literary world. He holds a Guinness record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers of any author. One-in-seventeen fiction hardcovers sold in the U.S. are Patterson novels. And Forbes ranks him as the top earning author in the world. With all that, it might be easy to forget that Patterson was no overnight success. He paid his dues, and his rise was born of great storytelling, tenacity, and a willingness to buck convention.
Patterson’s first novel was rejected by more than thirty publishers. When it was finally published in 1976, he won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, but Patterson was so insecure about his work that he thought they’d made a mistake. Over the next sixteen years, Patterson published only a handful of novels to modest sales. It wasn’t until 1992 and his breakout novel featuring the now iconic Alex Cross that things started to change.
But it wasn’t just Mr. Cross that set Patterson’s course. It was his decision to take the reins of his career, to do things his way, even if it defied conventional wisdom. So, he ran television ads for his work despite raised eyebrows from some in the literary crowd. He embraced short chapters and chapters with alternating points of view, prompting finger-wagging from some writing teachers. He wrote in multiple genres, against admonishments that it would confuse his readers. And he was among the first to work regularly with co-authors, publishing multiple books a year, to claims that he was treating writing too much like a business.
While most of the naysayers have come around, it is doubtful anyone can dispute that Patterson’s rise is truly a writer’s story; a tale of sticking to it, beating the odds, and getting people—including millions of kids—to read.
Patterson recently took the time to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Back when you were a kid in Newburgh, New York—or even after you published your first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number—did you ever imagine you’d become the world’s bestselling author? What did your success mean for your family and your friends from your hometown?
My first book was rejected by thirty-one publishers, so no; I did not expect this kind of success at that point. My mother was a teacher so I know that she would be especially proud of my kids’ books.
If you could go back in time and give your younger writer self some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?
Be confident in your ability to tell a good story. I have that now but early on I didn’t. When I won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel I thought it was a mistake. That’s the kind of lack of confidence that many young writers face.
By Ethan Cross
Joe McKinney’s incredible new book, PLAGUE OF THE UNDEAD, has been described by Bram Stoker Award-winning author Brian Keene as “merciless, fast-paced and genuinely scary”while author Weston Ochse says that “McKinney writes zombies like he’s been gunning them down all his life.” Here’s a description of it:
For thirty years, they have avoided the outbreak of walking death that has consumed America’s heartland. They have secured a small compound near the ruins of Little Rock, Arkansas. Isolated from the world. Immune to the horror. Blissfully unaware of what lies outside in the region known as the Dead Lands. Until now. Led by a military vet who’s seen better days, the inexperienced offspring of the original survivors form a small expedition to explore the wastelands around them. A biologist, an anthropologist, a cartographer, a salvage expert—all are hoping to build a new future from the rubble, which they call the “Dead Lands.” The infected are still out there. Stalking. Feeding. Spreading like a virus. Wild animals roam the countryside, hunting prey. Small pockets of humanity hide in the shadows: some scared, some mad, all dangerous. This is the New World. If the explorers want it, they’ll have to take it. Dead or alive. . .
The prolific McKinney, who’s had much success of late, graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
Tell us about PLAGUE OF THE UNDEAD in one line.
Thirty years after the zombie apocalypse, a ragtag group of explorers sets out to see what remains of their world.
What kind of research did you conduct for PLAGUE OF THE UNDEAD?
PLAGUE OF THE UNDEAD takes place thirty years after the zombie apocalypse. My explorers are from a small town that walled itself up during the worst of the initial zombie outbreak. Since that time, their community has not only survived, but thrived, and now it’s time to see what lies beyond the walls. I spent a lot of time thinking how a community like that would organize itself, and what kind of jobs its people would work at. One of the main characters is a salvage expert, and when things start to go really wrong for the group, he uses all his improvisational skills to make what the group needs to survive. Some of the things I researched were how to silence a rifle using only trash found on the ground, how to build a still out of old car parts, and the art of mapmaking. The research was a blast.
Turn to the Acknowledgement page of novels by some of the biggest thriller writers in the world and you’re bound to see a heartfelt thank you to Lisa Erbach Vance of the powerhouse Aaron Priest Literary Agency.
Vance joined the agency more than twenty years ago, starting off as the founder’s assistant where, as she put it, she got the “best agenting education possible from Aaron Priest himself.” Today, she’s considered an elite “super agent” at the storied boutique firm where a small team of seven represent an extraordinary number of award-winning and bestselling authors.
Vance is known not only for her business acumen and keen eye for talent, but also for the intense loyalty she inspires from her clients. Scan the back pages of a few Harlan Coben and Gregg Hurwitz novels, for instance, and you’ll see Vance referred to as “brilliant,” “irrepressible,” and “simply the best.” Likewise, clients of Mr. Priest—David Baldacci, Robert Crais, and others—give her thanks in their books.
ITW’s co-founder Gayle Lynds, a longtime client of Vance, explained why the agent breeds such loyalty and praise from her authors: “Lisa takes care of you like a mother, has the creativity of Steve Jobs, and negotiates for you like Jack Welch. I’ve had several literary agents, but none can touch her. She truly is the best in the business. With her warmth and world view, it’s no wonder all of us respect and love her.”
By Jeremy Burns
For his many readers, Andy McDermott’s name has become synonymous with adventure. From discovering Atlantis and the Garden of Eden to saving the world countless times, McDermott’s flagship characters Eddie Chase and Nina Wilde have explored dozens of fascinating locations across the globe, usually getting into high-octane shootouts and car chases in the process.
For THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, the ninth entry in the series, McDermott tackles Norse mythology, Vikings, a Soviet Secret, and the end of the world in an adventure steeped in the author’s trademark blend of action, history, adventure, and legend. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes with one of the most exciting and inventive thriller minds working today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a former entertainment journalist who in 2004 took a massive gamble by quitting his job to write full-time until either selling a novel or running out of money. To my everlasting relief, the former happened before the latter—just! My first novel, THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, came out in the UK in 2007, and since then I’ve had ten more published, several of which made the New York Times bestseller list.
Tell us about your new book, THE VALHALLA PROPHECY.
It’s the tenth book starring what have become my signature characters, American archaeologist Nina Wilde and British former SAS soldier Eddie Chase. They’re currently working for a department of the United Nations, the International Heritage Agency, and are called upon to help investigate the theft of a Viking runestone from a museum in Sweden. It turns out that the runes point the way to a place long thought to be only a Norse myth—Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain—that holds a deadly secret. But there’s also a parallel storyline set eight years earlier, in Eddie’s days as a mercenary before he met Nina, revealing that he has his own dark secrets that are somehow connected to present-day events.
By Jeff Ayers
It was planned to look like a suicide but even in the best-laid plans evidence is left behind…
Jocelyn Branham Earnest was found dead on the living room floor of her home in Forest, Virginia. By her side were a gun and a suicide note—typed, lacking in signature and with one fingerprint on it. A fingerprint belonging to her estranged husband.
Wesley Earnest was a respected high school administrator, poised to restart his life in a new community. An investigation into the life the couple once shared would reveal adultery, troubled finances, and shattered dreams—enough that one man with murder on his mind would travel hundreds of miles…Under Cover of the Night.
Diane Fanning is the author of eight mystery novels and thirteen true crime books including Edgar-nominated WRITTEN IN BLOOD and the national bestselling MOMMY’S LITTLE GIRL. She has been featured on a long list of television programs including the Today Show, 20/20, Forensic Files, and 48 Hours.
Diane chatted with THE BIG THRILL.
What drew you to the case that you cover in Under Cover of the Night?
I was drawn to the case that is the subject of Under Cover of the Night first of all because of the victim. Jocelyn Earnest was a competent, well-loved, professional woman whose future looked very bright. It seemed inconceivable that she would ever be a victim. Then there was the perpetrator, Wesley Ernest, Jocelyn’s estranged husband and a high school administrator. It’s hard to imagine that a man charged with watching over children every day would be capable of committing such a crime. Finally, rumors of adultery, suspicions of homosexuality, a staged suicide and the $1.2 million lake house burnt to the ground added the spice to drive a story.
Palumbo’s fourth novel in the series, PHANTOM LIMB, opens with psychologist and Pittsburgh police department consultant Daniel Rinaldi’s new patient: Lisa Campbell, a local girl whose lurid, short-lived Hollywood career sent her scurrying back to the Steel City. Now married to one of the city’s richest tycoons, she comes to Danny’s office with a challenge: talk her out of committing suicide. Though he buys some time, she’s kidnapped right outside his office. The search for Lisa pits the police—and Danny—against a lethal adversary. At the same time, he tries to assist a friend’s brother, a bitter Afghan vet who lost a leg in combat, whose own life now appears at risk. Or is it?
Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (including My Favorite Year and Welcome Back, Kotter), Dennis Palumbo is now a licensed psychotherapist and author. His acclaimed series of crime novels (MIRROR IMAGE, FEVER DREAM, NIGHT TERRORS and the upcoming PHANTOM LIMB) feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police. All are from Poisoned Pen Press.
You’ve had a fascinating career—screenwriter to psychotherapist to novelist. As a psychotherapist, do you find this background provides insights into human behavior and/or helps develop the hero, villain, and perhaps the victim in your novels?
Definitely! I think the merging of my two careers—seventeen years as a TV/film writer and nearly three decades as a psychotherapist—has benefitted both the writing in general, and my exploration of human behavior in particular. Certainly my ongoing study of trauma has contributed to my understanding of the psychological issues with which the crime victims in my novels grapple. As for my hero, psychologist and trauma expert Daniel Rinaldi, my experience as a therapist in private practice—as well as time spent working in clinics and a psychiatric hospital—has given me a unique perspective on what might motivate a guy like him. As it turns out, he and I share a lot of the same ideas about the flaws in the mental health system and how psychotherapy is practiced. Go figure.
Shiloh Walker has been a storyteller for as long as she can remember. She put pen to paper as early as third grade and has never looked back. The author of more than one-hundred books and short stories, she sold her first book in 2002 to Ellora’s Cave when electronic publishing was in its infancy. Romance and urban fantasy are her chosen genres, and she has written many popular series in both.
SWEETER THAN SIN is the riveting second book in the Secrets and Shadow series and takes place in the small town of Madison, Indiana. There is an ugly history in this fictionalized version of Madison: a group of prominent men have established a secret society to carry out their abuse of their young sons. The society has been disbanded and the men brought to justice, but when a series of murders are committed, suspicions arise that the heinous society has resurfaced. Adam, the town lothario, is forced to face his own demons when a woman from his past returns to town and they work together to solve the murders and the secrecy behind them.
Shiloh Walker recently talked to THE BIG THRILL about her newest book and her writing life.
What inspired the Secrets and Shadows Series?
A small town. Nothing particular about that small town except for the fact that I’m drawn to small towns…I love them. But then I’m always looking for weird things. People are going to start putting up roadblocks when they see me coming because I do bad things when I visit small towns.
What research did you need to do for SWEETER THAN SIN?
Does it count if I say I visited the town a few times and drank wine from the local winery? I also read some articles but I can’t go into detail about that without spoiling things.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper while she was reading the edited copy of the third book in her new suspense trilogy, The Cold Creek Novels. She was kind enough to answer some questions about the trilogy launch book, SHATTERED SECRETS, (Sept.) to be followed closely by FORBIDDEN GROUND (Nov.) and BROKEN BONDS (Jan.). She admits that she’s familiar with this interview format because she’s usually on the other end, asking ITW authors about their new books for THE BIG THRILL.
What is your novel about? It obviously sets up the next two books in the trilogy.
SHATTERED SECRETS focuses on the youngest of three sisters, but it is Tess’s life which shattered the entire family. She was abducted from the cornfield behind their house when she was young, and later, somehow, escaped her captor. Traumatized, drugged, she recalled nothing of her ordeal. Now as an adult, she’s back in Cold Creek to sell the old family home. But when another child is taken in much the same way, Tess is forced to face her buried memories to help the sheriff try to save a life—because two other abducted girls have never come back.
This is the third trilogy you have written. Does that three-book format suit your style?
I have written a nine-book series The Queen Elizabeth I Mysteries, but I prefer the three-book format, which I think of as a mini-series. It lets the reader spend time with the characters and the setting and gives me time to develop plot and people. However, my trilogies always have a new hero/heroine in each book, because I think that keeps things fresh. In The Cold Creek Novels, the main characters are three very different sisters. Each is impacted by and helps to solve a terrible crime with the help of a man she hopes she can trust. The same small town/ Appalachian setting helps to tie the stories together.
By Ken Isaacson
After graduating from Harvard University, Weyman Jones served as an enlisted man and then a junior officer in the Navy. He began his writing career with short stories and went on to publish three books for young readers. His historical novel for pre-teens, THE EDGE OF TWO WORLDS, went to seven printings and earned the Lewis Carroll Shelf and the Western Heritage Awards. A non-fiction book on computers was published in several languages, and his biography is included in SOMETHING ABOUT THE AUTHOR, a reference series about prominent authors of juvenile and young adult literature.
Following his retirement as vice president, public affairs for the Grumman Corporation, he began writing thrillers. EVIL IN RETURN is his latest page-turner.
Jones graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us about EVIL IN RETURN
The title, “Evil in Return” is from Audin: “Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.” It’s about a contemporary Cherokee who believes he should avenge his ancestors by killing descendants of those who wronged them. The aboriginal Cherokee had a belief system like that. This guy wants to revive the ancient tribal values by posting videotapes of his payback on YouTube for the Cherokee to see.
I think there’s a pattern here. This isn’t the first time you’ve written about revenge or obsession, is it? What is it about those themes that intrigues you?
I think we read fiction to taste powerful emotions and experience high-risk moments. I create characters driven by obsession to meet those expectations.
By Jeremy Burns
An incredibly prolific up-and-coming thriller author, Michael McBride integrates elements of science-fiction and horror into his books. His latest, SUNBLIND, continues that trend while delving into one of today’s most controversial topics and completely turning it on its head. Michael sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of his latest gripping adventure.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a third-generation Coloradan, born and raised in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. My wife and I have a whole slew of beautiful children ranging in age from four to twenty-two, three dogs, and several iguanas. When I’m not writing, I’m shivering in an ice rink, examining patients in a radiology department, or immersed in all things football and hockey. My dream is to one day create a serial character as beloved as Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch, through whose exploits I can vicariously live out my days.
Tell us about your new book, SUNBLIND.
SUNBLIND is about a group of undocumented aliens who set out across one of the deadliest regions on the planet in search of a new life in America. It’s about their suffering at the hands of the merciless desert and something else…something that’s survived in complete geographic isolation. Mostly, though, it’s a story about hope and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s about learning how far we can physically push ourselves and to what lengths we are willing to go to survive.
How is this book different from other books you’ve written?
SUNBLIND is my first story told from the female perspective. Writing Mayra’s part was challenging because it forced me to work outside my comfort zone and make choices I might not have otherwise made. And the book’s better for it. I believe the reader will be able to identify with her suffering and appreciate the sacrifices she makes in order to survive.