On the Trail of Shakespeare’s Hidden Partner
Mary Sharratt’s talent for creating richly imagined worlds of the past, in novels such as Vanishing Point, Daughters of the Witching Hill and Illuminations, has won her multiple literary awards. In her new book, she brings to life a little-known woman of Elizabethan England named Aemilia Bassano Lanier, who was the first professional woman poet. As the world celebrates Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death, THE DARK LADY’S MASK takes readers on a suspenseful journey that asks: Was this woman his secret lover and collaborator?
What drew you to the story of Aemilia Bassano Lanier?
Aemilia Bassano Lanier (also spelled Lanyer) was the first professional woman writer in England. She was such a strong woman and her life was so filled with drama, suspense, tragedy, and triumph that she completely swept me away.
Born in 1569, she was the daughter of an Italian court musician—a man thought to have been a Marrano, a secret Jew living under the guise of a Christian convert. After her father’s death, Aemilia was fostered by Susan Bertie, a high-minded aristocrat who gave her the kind of humanist education generally reserved for boys in that era.
Later young Aemilia Bassano became the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth. As Carey’s paramour, she enjoyed a few years of glory in the royal court—an idyll that came to an abrupt and inglorious end when she found herself pregnant with Carey’s child. She was then shunted off into an unhappy arranged marriage with Alfonso Lanier, a court musician and scheming adventurer who wasted her money. So began her long decline into obscurity and genteel poverty, yet she triumphed to become a ground-breaking woman of letters.
In England at that time, the only literary genre considered acceptable for women to write was Protestant religious verse. Lanier turned this tradition on its head. Her epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail God, King of the Jews), published in 1611, is nothing less than a vindication of the rights of women couched in religious verse. Dedicated and addressed exclusively to women, Salve Deus lays claim to women’s God-given call to rise up against male arrogance, just as the strong women in the Old Testament rose up against their oppressors.
What I’ve stated above are the documented facts about her life. The theory that she may also have been the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets only adds to her mystique.
My intention was to write a novel that married the playful comedy of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love to the unflinching feminism of Virginia Woolf’s meditations on Shakespeare’s sister in A Room of One’s Own. How many more obstacles would an educated and gifted Renaissance woman poet face compared with her ambitious male counterpart?
Murder at the 42nd Street Library is Con Lehane’s first book in an irresistible new series that introduces librarian and amateur sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble façade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library. The story opens with a murder in a second-floor office of the iconic, beaux-arts flagship of the New York Public Library. Ambler, the curator of the library’s crime fiction collection, joins forces with NYPD homicide detective Mike Cosgrove in hopes of bringing a murderer to justice. So we had to ask . . .
Libraries have always been special places for writers, but what inspired you to set a mystery in New York’s landmark 42nd Street Library?
On my web page is a short piece I wrote for Mystery Readers Journal called “On Becoming a (Fictional) Librarian.” In it, I describe my first visit to the New York Public Library. Scholar that I am, I went there to meet a girl, a lovely girl, whom I still remember. This isn’t the conscious reason I chose the 42nd Street Library as the setting and a librarian—actually, a curator—as my detective. I believe the idea was buried in my consciousness, waiting for the right time. The right time came when my publisher decided not to continue my Bartender Brian McNulty series. My editor, Marcia Markland, at Thomas Dunne Books suggested the 42nd Street Library as a setting and a librarian as a character. The rest was up to me.
We often think of amateur sleuths as falling into the “cozy” ranks of mystery writing, while you tend to add a bit of grit to your storytelling. Where does Murder at the 42nd Street Library lie on the scale from cozy to hard-boiled. And does it matter?
I’m not much of an analyzer of where I am on the crime fiction spectrum. I hold an MFA in fiction writing and at one time thought I was a literary writer (though I have no idea what one of those is either). I became a mystery writer—and a mystery reader—late in life, first as a fan of The Maltese Falcon, because of the movie. I finally read all of Hammett’s books in a row after that. A while later, I was working on a construction crew, building a bar in Hartford, Connecticut, where I would tend bar. I mentioned Hammett to one of the carpenters, who told me Raymond Chandler (whom I’d never heard of) was better, so I read The Big Sleep and then all of Chandler’s books one after the other. A year or two later, I discovered Ross Macdonald, and read … well, you get the picture. Those were my influences. I found many others since then. I’d say (with great trepidation) that I’m closest to Ross Macdonald in sensibility, though I wouldn’t say it out loud. However, my first book, Beware the Solitary Drinker, was first published in France by Rivages/Noir, so I was first categorized as a noir writer. I had to look that up, too, to find out what one was … and was pretty quickly disabused of the notion that I was a noir writer (though I love Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and most of the other noir writers) when I sat on a panel with Eddie Muller soon after my U.S. publication.
Lisa Back is a writer first and a forensic scientist second. These two passions came together for in a series of suspense stories of absolute perfection. The writer of unforgettable bestsellers starring forensic scientist Theresa MacLean (Trail of Blood, Evidence of Murder, and Takeover), Black takes her readers on fast-paced journeys, possibly sparked by a latent fingerprint or a spot of blood.
Black was kind enough to take time out and talk with The Big Thrill about her latest title, giving us a peek into her latest offering, her writing career, and even her thoughts on what the elusive Ripper might manage to pull off in the high-tech forensic world of 2016.
When did you have the desire to add writing to your resume along with forensic scientist? Did one overlap the other?
I’ve written since I was a kid, actually, so that “career” came first. I wrote amateur sleuth mysteries before I got into my current line of work, so once I had the training in forensics it just made sense to approach the murder mystery from that point of view.
Is there any particular thing you dislike about writing?
It’s hard. And after I spend months and months doing it, my agent—followed by my editor—want changes, and I have no idea if the changes make the book better or worse. No idea. And…it’s really hard.
By Eyre Price
It’s not often that a writer is more heroic in real life than the characters he creates on the page, but E. Michael Helms is exactly that. A Vietnam combat veteran, it was his harrowing all-too-true adventures that first brought Mr. Helms to the printed page and earned him the critical acclaim and devoted readership that has followed him over the course of his career.
Recently, I had the pleasure and honor of asking Mr. Helms about his heroic past, his tough-as-nails fictional alter ego, and other topics.
Your debut as an author was with 1990’s The Proud Bastards, a memoir of your experience as a Marine in the Vietnam War. What are your reflections of that publishing experience?
That book was tough to write, and it was only after I sought help for PTSD in the mid to late 1980s that I was able to get it out. It began as journaling, part of the therapy I and other combat vets in our group underwent. I’d done some freelancing for a New York editor who oversaw several gun and ammo magazines, and also Vietnam Combat magazine. My “journal” had begun to take on a book form. I submitted a couple of chapters as standalone articles for the mag. He told me to send him the entire manuscript when I was finished. I didn’t know at the time that he also dabbled as a literary agent. He made a quick deal with Kensington/Zebra, and suddenly I was a published author
DEADLY DUNES is the latest in your Mac McClellan series. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series?
I really enjoy the familiarity of the reoccurring characters, watching them grow into their roles as well as individuals. Not only the big players such as Mac and Kate, but also those regulars who give the writer the option to let them take on bigger or lesser responsibilities within any given story. Each has his or her own life outside the limelight of whatever particular case Mac is grappling with at the time.
As for the disadvantages of writing a series, keeping all your ducks (characters and details) in a row, remembering the “who, what, when, and where” of each, can be a challenge. There are readers out there who will remind the author if he stumbles or fumbles with even the smallest character or factual detail. But it’s fun and keeps you on your toes to fact check as you write.
By David Healey
When it comes to dealing with the trouble spots of the world, the United States government must have Seal Team Six on speed dial.
In SEAL TEAM SIX: HUNT THE DRAGON, the newest novel featuring Navy SEALS from the writing team of Ralph Pezzullo and Don Mann, the main character, Thomas Crocker, goes from Russia to Las Vegas and finally to a deadly covert mission to North Korea.
Although HUNT THE DRAGON is a work of fiction, it’s built around the very real missions of SEALS all over the world. These covert operators take over where diplomacy ends and direct military action would be out of the question.
“I wanted to give some sense of how busy these guys are,” said Pezzullo, a California-based writer of fiction and nonfiction. “There is a lot of animosity in the world. We think it’s all in the Middle East but there are a lot of hotspots.”
He asked one of his military acquaintances just how busy he was, and the reply was that the SEAL had spent 300 days deployed in the previous year.
Some SEALS are running 40 missions a year, which is reflected in how busy Crocker is in the novel, pinballing from Eastern Europe to Vegas to North Korea.
“Because of the nature of the wars today they rely a lot more on these special operations teams,” Pezzullo said.
To be sure, there is no shortage of trouble spots. Pezzullo, whose father was the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua in the 1980s, grew up around some of them. One continuing trouble spot is the Middle East. “It’s a mess,” he said. He considered the failed governments, poverty, and soaring unemployment of young men “perfect fodder for ISIS.”
A former juvenile delinquent, Kate Kessler fell in love with thrillers at an early age, though it took her decades to finally try writing one.
IT TAKES ONE is the first in a new thriller series where a criminal psychologist uses her own dark past to assist law enforcement in catching dangerous killers. Years ago, Audrey Harte helped her best friend Maggie kill Maggie’s abusive father, and paid the price with a conviction and jail time. Now, home for the first time in years, Audrey’s the prime suspect in another murder—Maggie’s. To find the real killer, Audrey will have to remember what it was like to be one.
Kessler takes time this month to talk to The Big Thrill about the inspiration behind her thrilling new book.
IT TAKES ONE focuses on girls—children who kill—and violence. What drew you to this theme?
Unfortunately, I’ve known many women who had violence directed at them as girls, so my interest was planted at a young age. I grew up in a rural community. Oftentimes people view these bucolic little towns as something idyllic, peaceful and sleepy. But, when you isolate a place, and the people there have no real police or protective service on a daily basis, that can lead to people forming their own sense of justice or lawlessness.
I had a friend who was abused by her father. When she told me what he had done to her we both cried and hugged each other. We discussed ways to “get rid” of him. It was all moot as he’d already been arrested, but it made both of us feel like we had a little power. Anyway, we didn’t kill him, and he died an old man. I hadn’t thought of that story for years until a friend and I were discussing teenagers who commit crimes. I wondered what could happen if two young girls did kill an abuser. There can be such a dichotomy of love and hate in teen girl friendships that I feel doesn’t get talked about much, and I wanted to explore that. Girls are just as capable of violence as boys, but their motivation is usually personal, and usually heartbreaking.
By Andrew Case
We knew they didn’t care about us because they scheduled us during lunch.
Every spring, the New York City Council would hold budget hearings, asking every city agency to come forth, boast about their performance, and beg for a little supplemental funding. Each year, I would write the testimony for the board chair and executive director of the Civilian Complaint Review Board—the city’s official all-civilian agency dedicated to investigating police misconduct. All the criminal justice agencies—the NYPD, the District Attorneys, the Department of Corrections, and us—would be scheduled for the same day. And every year, year in and year out, we would be scheduled from 12:15 to 1:15, and every member of the city council save two would finish fawning over New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and go get a sandwich.
During my decade investigating police misconduct for the City of New York, the most important lesson I learned was that, during that time, almost no one cared about police misconduct. We issued reports about the geometric increase in the number of street stops years before the NYPD got sued over it, and it was a few graphs in the back of the metro section. We reported on an officer who had tried to get someone to cough up a few grams of heroin by whaling on him with a nightstick until his spleen was ruptured. Nothing. We reported on a cop who had dialed 911 on his own cell phone and pretended to report a crime so he could stop and search some kids he had a hunch about. No one cared. Broken bones, pepper spray, ethnic slurs—from 2001 until 2008, it was the kind of thing that a grateful city could easily forget. Didn’t you know? The cops are all heroes.
I left the CCRB in 2008, but it never left me. I wrote a play about my experience there in 2009, and it had healthy runs in Miami, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Chicago. And when I moved on from theatre and started writing fiction, I realized that my topic had been staring me in the face for years.
By George Ebey
Author Robert D. Kidera is back with GET LOST, the latest installment of his Gabe McKenna mystery series.
What do you do when the dead come back and your loved ones disappear? All Gabe McKenna wanted was a new floor for his barn. What he got was seven corpses, all long dead. Seven rich men, missing from New York. One of his closest childhood friends is gunned down in an Albuquerque casino. With time running out, McKenna must uncover the connection and prevent his loved ones from joining the growing ranks of the dead. From New Mexico to New York to a lonely cliff once home to an ancient people, McKenna struggles against a bloodthirsty criminal enterprise for whom money matters more than any man’s life.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Robert to learn more about his characters and what it takes to write good suspense fiction.
What first drew you to writing stories involving mystery and suspense?
I began reading mysteries as a child, all the way back with the Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes, etc. I like solving problems, riddles, puzzles. Later in my life I read Raymond Chandler. From then on, I knew my bent for writing would propel me in his direction and genre. I love tension and the resolution of tension, danger and uncertainty and how a person deals with the challenge. Those are the types of stories I find the most compelling as a reader. When I began my writing career, choice of genre was a no-brainer.
Tell us about your character, Gabe McKenna. What has his journey been like up to this point?
When we meet Gabe McKenna at the beginning of Red Gold, my first novel, he is a broken man. A widower, he is on leave from his teaching career, with no direction except for the shortest route to the nearest bottle. Red Gold is at heart the story of his rediscovery of himself along with the treasure he seeks. It ends on a hopeful note, with a new direction, new love, and new possibilities.
I met Larry Sweazy at the Southern Kentucky Book Fair, where we sat at adjoining tables and shared anecdotes while hoping to attract new readers. I left with a copy of Rattlesnake Ridge, his first western mystery featuring Texas Ranger Josiah Wolfe. It reminded me of my favorite Louis L’Amour novels, and I was hooked.
Sweazy’s latest project, SEE ALSO DECEPTION is a beautifully written and authentically researched mystery with a complex heroine. The sole caregiver for her severely disabled husband, Marjorie is a believable combination of strength and vulnerability, loneliness and stoicism. She’s someone I’d definitely like to see more of.
I asked Larry to talk with us about his new book and his writing process, and he generously agreed.
Thanks for joining us, Larry. Can you tell us a bit about your journey as a writer?
I fell in love with reading and stories early in my life. I had the requisite difficult childhood and I escaped into books whenever I could. After discovering theater in high school, I flirted with becoming an actor, but after reading so many great books, it occurred to me one day that I could write, I could tell stories for a living. From there, my journey was long and curvy. I wrote a lot, read a lot, worked a lot of different jobs, gathered a ton of rejection slips, and then managed to sell my first novel (the seventh one I had written) when I was forty-seven.
Your books are pretty research-intensive. What’s the most frightening thing that’s happened to you while researching a work-in-progress?
The difficult thing about research is knowing when to stop. I think you have to be completely obsessed with an idea for it to be worthwhile. And that’s the hard part for me. Becoming so obsessed about something that I lose sight of the book I’m writing. I wish I could give you an example of some harrowing adventure that went awry, but most of the time, I end being lost in a book instead hung out on a ledge somewhere.
Harnessing Dangerous Technology for a Thriller
By J.H. Bográn
In one of Casino Royale’s most memorable quotes, Vesper Lynd tells Bond: There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets, this is the latter. The same principle applies to book series. There are book series that cite the previous entries almost on every page, and then there are book series—like Jon McGoran’s DUST UP—that are a joy to read and that stand on their own without depending on the early books. DUST UP is the third entry in the Doyle Carrick series and this time trouble literally comes knocking to his door.
Ron Hartwell, a complete stranger, is dying on Doyle’s doorstep. A halfhearted investigation labels the murder a domestic dispute, with Miriam, Ron’s widow, the sole suspect. When Doyle discovers the Hartwells both worked for a big biotech company, he suspects something else is going on, but it’s not his case. Miriam tracks him down and tells him her story, landing them in Haiti. Working with Miriam, he must untangle a web of deceit and unconscionable corporate greed in order to stop an epidemic of even greater evil before it is released on the world.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to catch up with McGoran about his new book.
What can we expect from Doyle Carrick on this new adventure?
It’s definitely the same Doyle Carrick, but the action unfolds on a bigger stage, the issues he is confronting are more expansive, and the events of the first two books, and this one, are weighing on him. His awareness of larger forces around him has grown, and his world view is changing. He’s seeing things on a bigger scale and losing what little patience he has with the smaller scale BS he has to deal with on a day to day basis.
THE GOOD SPY is the latest espionage thriller from Jeffrey Layton, acclaimed author of Blowout, Warhead, and Vortex One. His latest work is in the coastal waters of the American/Canadian border. Russian naval officer Yuri Kirov faces a race against time to save the remaining crew of his marooned submarine amid escalating political tensions and a jealous husband.
Jeffrey Layton kindly took the time out to discuss his latest book with The Big Thrill.
THE GOOD SPY follows Yuri Kirov as he tries to save the world. Tell us a bit about the perilous situation that Yuri finds himself in and the dangers confronting him.
Yuri Kirov is a Russian Federation naval intelligence officer who specializes in underwater surveillance. He is aboard a Russian submarine on a clandestine mission over a hundred miles inside U.S. waters when the sub sinks. Employing cutting-edge deep diving equipment, Yuri is the only crew member to escape from the stricken sub. Once ashore but suffering from decompression sickness (aka the “bends”), Yuri’s mission is to rescue the surviving crew that remain marooned inside the hulk deep below the surface.
Can you tell us about Yuri Kirov?
Yuri is smart, motivated, and unrelenting in his struggle to rescue the survivors of the marooned spy sub Neva. He is also a decent man with a true moral compass that keeps him on course.
My characters are amalgams of people I know and/or read about, which is how I think many novelists operate. Yuri Kirov is someone who I would like to know personally―someone I would be pleased to call my friend.
How much research did you have to do to be able to bring a character like Yuri to life?
I spent considerable time reading about the Russian Navy and its officer corps with special emphasis on submarine operations. Like their counterparts in the United States and other Western powers, the officers aboard Russian submarines are an elite group who are highly educated, motivated, and goal-oriented toward defeating the enemy in combat.
By Ken Isaacson
Pam Wechsler spent more than 15 years working as a prosecutor at the local, state, and federal levels. She’s served as an Assistant District Attorney and Assistant Attorney general in Boston, and she was a trial attorney for the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. She’s investigated and prosecuted a wide variety of crimes, including murder, witness intimidation, sexual assault, drug trafficking, stock market manipulation, and political corruption.
About 10 years ago, Wechsler moved to Los Angeles to work as a legal consultant and writer for network television shows. Her credits include Law and Order, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law and Order: Trial by Jury, Conviction, and Canterbury’s Law.
It’s no surprise then that Wechsler’s debut novel, MISSION HILL, features Abby Endicott, chief of the District Attorney’s homicide unit in Boston, where she investigates and prosecutes the city’s most dangerous killers. A graduate of the elite Winsor School, Harvard College, and Harvard Law, the prosecutor’s office is not the prestigious job that would have been expected of her. She’s been known to change into an evening gown amid bodies in the morgue. She loves her job and is committed to it, refusing all pressure to quit from her upper-crust parents or threats from the city’s most ruthless killers. But among Abby’s many secrets is her longtime affair with fellow prosecutor Tim Mooney, a married father of one.
One night, Abby is awakened very late by a phone call from her favorite detective, who reports that there has been a horrific murder but is vague about the specifics. When she arrives at the crime scene and discovers the identity of the victim, Abby knows that terror and tragedy are only beginning.
In MISSION HILL, Wechsler delivers a gripping and very human portrayal of a woman who will stop at nothing to find the truth, even if it challenges everything she believes about justice.
She kindly agreed to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS, the sixth title in Christine Goff’s The Birdwatcher’s Mysteries, brings a strong, complex heroine in the person of Angela Dimato. Angela is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent who deals calmly with everything from rattlesnakes to obnoxious people, but who also deals with inner conflicts over lost loves and especially, the murder of a colleague.
In A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS, Angela discovers the body of a slain soccer mom amidst the burrows of a prairie dog town. As she investigates the murder, she must also deal with her own grief and crippling flashbacks from the murder of her partner. As we follow Angela’s tense and puzzling journey, we also get a tour of Colorado’s magnificent flora and fauna, courtesy of author Christine Goff and her lifelong love of natural Colorado.
Goff took time out of her schedule this month to answer some questions for TheBigThrill.
The heroine in A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS is a strong, independent woman, but she also has an inner sensitivity that struggles with lost friends and broken romances. What are you trying to achieve with Angela Dimato?
Angela is a loner, and similar to a lot of people I know. I tried to depict her just as you see her—strong on the outside, softer on the inside. I want readers to believe she is someone they can trust, someone capable of doing a man’s job and yet possessing the sensibilities of a woman. I think a woman’s insight and compassion can be a strength when solving crimes.
One of the key plot points in A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS is an owl species that lives in burrows. How did this idea evolve?
In truth, it was my publisher’s idea. He said I hadn’t done owls. Since that’s what he wanted, I queried my Colorado Birder’s list-serve to see which owl they thought I should use. It was between the spotted owls in southwestern Colorado and the burrowing owls. The burrowing owls were most popular, so I started to think of a location that best fit the plot idea I came up with and settled on the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, just a few miles north of downtown Denver. It’s a great little oasis in the midst of the urban sprawl.
A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS is the sixth book in your Birdwatcher Mystery series. What have been the greatest challenges for you in keeping the series fresh and each book original?
I think it’s easy for mystery writers to fall into the “Jessica Fletcher Syndrome,” the woman from Murder She Wrote who has solved more than 200 murders in her small town of Cabot Cove. My method for avoiding that was to use the same milieu of characters, but rotate through protagonists, focusing on whoever is most vested in solving the mystery. The fact that I incorporate large, global environmental themes into the books tends to make all of the books different also. For example, in A Rant of Ravens (Book #1) the story revolves around the illegal trading of peregrine falcons to the Middle East. In Death of a Songbird (Book #2), it’s about the coffee industry and the effects on migratory birds. In A PARLIAMENT OF OWLS, it’s about habitat and the litigation (or violation of laws) that impacts protected bird species.
In addition to the Birdwatcher Series, you’ve published a much-acclaimed espionage thriller, Dark Waters. What got you into that genre, and will we see another espionage title any time soon?
When I was first contracted to write the Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, I ended up spending two months in Israel with one of my young daughters, who was there for medical care. While we were exploring the country in our free time, I came up with an idea for a thriller. After we came back, I set the idea aside while I wrote the first five books in the Birdwatcher’s series, only picking it up again a few years ago.
Set in Tel Aviv, Dark Waters features a Diplomatic Security Service agent who is at her new post for just two weeks when she is sent to protect a U.S. federal judge and his daughter from an assassin who killed her predecessor. Naturally, she uncovers a sinister plot that leaves millions of lives hanging in the balance. Set amid the Israel-Palestine conflict, this book hopefully keeps the reader frantically turning pages. It got great reviews and I am currently working on the next in the series, Red Sky, scheduled for release in early-2017.
Your passage into the writing profession started with a tough mentor and included a difficult path to publication. Talk about that experience and how it has affected your career as an established novelist.
We all have our stories. Mine started in Summit County, Colorado—in the middle of ski country U.S.—in Frisco, population 2,425. Suffice it to say, there were no published long-fiction writers around, until Maggie Osborne, a New York Times bestselling romance author, moved into Silverthorne. I asked her if she ever taught workshops. She said she would, provided that I could find three other interested people. I did, and we set up a class—five, 3-hour sessions, each focusing on a different aspect of writing (plot, character, dialogue, etc.) Maggie was tough, and after the first session, no one came back except me. I ended up with one-on-one instruction. The book that came out of that workshop was Frozen Assets. It never sold.
In addition to that manuscript, I have an assortment of failed attempts sitting on my bookshelf—a young adult, a horror novel, a stand-alone thriller. With each book I learned a lot about the craft of writing and honed my skills. I think working as hard as I did has made me determined to always grow and stretch as a writer. I put everything I have into every book.
You live in Colorado and write about that state’s natural settings with love and insight. Where does your passion and knowledge come from?
I’m a mountain girl. I was raised in Evergreen, Colorado, which is a small mountain community west of Denver. I spent my youth hiking, skiing, horseback riding, camping and exploring the state. My dad loved the outdoors and he used to take me fishing, sailing and four-wheeling. We had birdfeeders on our front deck, and he introduced me to my first bird—the broad-tailed hummingbird. The outdoors lives in my soul.
Any mystery writer will appreciate that the first 25 pages of the book introduce the heroine, the main conflict, and several secondary conflicts. How has your approach to plot structure evolved over the years?
I learned very early on from my mentor that you should always start a book with action and then fill in the backstory as needed. Pace is difficult. A mystery can progress a little more leisurely than a thriller, but I’ve found my readers like page-turners. In order to keep the middle from bogging down, I work in a four act structure versus the three act structure many writers use. I like to break my book into quarters and make sure that I have a twist or turn or exciting element introduced at strategic points. Of course, often this massaging and restructuring of the book takes place after the first draft. Usually when I start, all I know is where I will begin and end.
The setting and pace of your Birdwatcher Mysteries is reminiscent of the great Tony Hillerman, among others. Who are your favorite mystery authors?
That’s very flattering. I love Tony Hillerman’s books.
Like most writers, I cut my teeth on the classic writers. Currently on my pre-order list are: Lisa Gardner, John Gilstrap and Alex Berenson. I’ve recently bought books by Tami Hoag, Francine Mathews, Gayle Lynds, Jamie Frevetetti and Karna Small Bodman. I think Reed Farrell Coleman just gets better and better. I read a lot, and I read fast. In the past year, I’ve read Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and most of the mysteries that have hit the New York Times list or gotten starred reviews. I’ve also discovered some new mystery writers like Ellen Byron, Leslie Karst, and Mark Stevens, who has a hunting guide series set in Colorado that’s terrific.
You write “cozy mysteries.” How do cozy mysteries differ from other kinds of mysteries?
“Cozy” is a term that gets a bad rap. Basically it’s a traditional mystery that doesn’t have any swearing, graphic sex, or gory violence. I try and abide by those rules in my Birdwatcher’s Mystery series, though I’ll admit I have occasionally slipped in a swear word. Some people would tell you I write an “edgy cozy,” but I prefer to think of my books as traditional mysteries. In some of my books I have amateur sleuth protagonists, in others I use law enforcement-types (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agents or Forest Service employees), which make those more police procedural in nature, but they’re all mysteries with a who dunnit component, clues, and a satisfying ending.
What is the most frightening thing that has ever happened to you while doing research?
The actual scariest experience might have been in Israel while I was formulating the idea for Dark Waters. My daughter and I boarded a southbound bus in Tel Aviv and missed our stop, ending up in an ultra-orthodox area of the city. Realizing our mistake, we got off the bus intending to turn around and head back for the city. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the bus stop. It was just around sunset and families were coming out to stroll the streets. They were dressed in conservative Jewish attire: men in their long back coats, payots, tophats and wool fringes; women in dresses with conservative necklines that covered their arms and knees, and stockings; the married women in wigs or scarfs that covered their hair. Being American and coming out of a beach day in Tel Aviv (a very cosmopolitan city), I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and my daughter had on a tank top and flip-flops. The men started saying “lech” and spitting at us. I turned to Danielle and asked her “what are they saying?” not expecting an answer. She said, “Go home.” When I asked her how she knew that, she said it’s what our good friend and neighbor in Colorado used to say to his dog Hamoodi when he wanted her to leave.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I would have gladly gone home, but no one would talk to us except to hurl insults and spit. The cab driver wouldn’t let us in his cab because we would taint it, and we couldn’t find the bus stop to catch the northbound bus. Finally a young teenage girl whispered, “Cross the street and take the 92 north.” When I tried to thank her, she shunned me. Later an Israeli friend told us how lucky we were. He said that even a conservative Jew like himself wouldn’t go there, especially at that time of day. He shared stories of women being stoned in that community for not dressing properly. Suffice it to say, Danielle and I made it back safely, but it was unnerving, and we were more careful after that.
Oh, and then there was the rattlesnake in the prairie dog hole….
When aspiring novelists ask you for advice, what’s the most important suggestion you have for them?
Read and write. If you’re not reading in your genre, you’re out of touch. Through reading the masters in your genre you learn about pacing, turn of phrase, narrative, and dialogue. And a writer must write. In this business it’s all about turning out a great book. You only get better as a writer by honing your craft. The best way to do that is by writing.
Christine Goff began her career as a newspaper columnist. Her Birdwatcher’s Mystery series has been nominated for two WILLA Literary Awards, a Colorado Author’s League Award, and have been published in the United Kingdom and Japan.
To learn more about Christine, please visit her website.
Being a working writer for the long term means keeping up with the market. We call it “reinventing ourselves” and I’m not sure anyone has done it more often than I have. When I decided I wanted to write for a living, I knew I wanted to write romance with mystery and suspense, but, at the time, no publishing house was buying that kind of story.
My first novel was a young adult romance. The next several were romantic comedy, several with suspense elements (these were written with a partner). And then Harlequin started publishing romantic suspense. I wrote fifty-three Intrigues and reinvented myself there at least twice when the market shifted. That became very clear to me last month when I republished Ticket to Nowhere and Torch Job, a couple of backlist titles that were mystery-based with some suspense and thrills, and the romances had quite a bit of humor. My current novels are much darker and more thrilling. Along the way, we were told to up the romance and the books suddenly had more heat. Then, when the “supernatural” became popular, I added paranormal romantic suspense to my curriculum vitae. I wrote other things for other lines and publishers as well, including urban fantasy and yes, horror—all combining some form of suspense/thriller with romance.
Two years ago, I landed at Loveswept, Random House’s digital romance line. I loved writing Dangerous, a dark romantic thriller with a bizarre serial killer—I was allowed to go darker than ever before. But a request by my editor on the next project meant I needed to reinvent myself again—writing romantic suspense with suspense as the secondary element to come in play after the romance was established. That was a new one for me since suspense has always been my strong suit.
My editor and I brainstormed a bit and she said she’d always wanted to buy a “secret bodyguard” story. Aha, that was it! I immediately saw that I could develop a relationship between hero and heroine with him knowing there was danger coming for the heroine (and thereby cluing in the reader) but giving the relationship the time readers apparently wanted before being thrown into the action. The result? HIS DECEPTION.
By Anne Tibbets
“… Michelle’s biography did not come out of thin air.”
Deep in the shadows of Hamburg, Germany, prostitute Michelle gets sucked into the underground scene of snuff movies. Looking for the baby sister of an old friend, her best customer, a policeman named Paul, refuses to help. After a brutal rape, Michelle swears vengeance—and to find the vanished girl. eXXXtrem by Svea Tornow is dark, twisted, and as real as the sunrise.
“I wanted to show many aspects of my city,” Tornow says. “The dark underbelly as well as the rich suburbs. More than that, I wanted to explore the topics of family, friends, and trust. Because sometimes you cannot have it all.”
The second novel in an ongoing series, eXXXtrem follows Michelle as she navigates living with her mother, whom she took in after suffering domestic violence, and her growing, but unwelcome feelings for Paul.
After her mother’s partner is found dead and the little sister of a friend goes missing, Michelle embarks on a solo adventure not for the faint of heart.
“There’s a scene where Michelle wants to find information at almost any price. Being a prostitute, she’s even willing to have sex in exchange. But, she makes a bad call and gets into a situation involving two men,” Tornow says. “The scene was supposed to be erotic, only in the end, Michelle doesn’t get the information she had bargained for.”
Jeremy Burns travels…constantly, but right now he’s settling into his new office and celebrating the release of THE DUBAI BETRAYAL, a geopolitical spy thriller featuring Wayne Wilkins, a fan favorite from Burns’s acclaimed first novel, From the Ashes. As if providing the soundtrack to this fierce new book—in which Wilkins leads an elite group of black ops soldiers into Dubai to rescue the U.S. Ambassador to Israel—the adrenaline-pumping Celldweller comes up on Burns’s playlist while he sifts through photos and other mementos of his travels.
“I’ve been moving around a lot,” he says, which is an understatement considering that he, his wife, and dogs have been on a year-long sojourn exploring the country after several worldwide adventures on his own. Imagine the rakish Burns in expedition wear while spelunking in Lebanon or chasing monkeys through a jungle temple in Rajasthan. Or donning some city chic threads on the backstreets of Brussels or the forgotten churches of Rome or sporting some pretty cool aviators as he soaks up the Middle Eastern sun during his two years in Dubai, which is where he was living when he finished writing From the Ashes, the beginning of his American-based Jonathan Rickner series.
“Dubai was too fascinating a place not to explore in a thriller,” Burns says. “Everything there is superlative, designed to be bigger and better than anything else in the world.” In fact, every scene in THE DUBAI BETRAYAL is a real place and several of the locales are tied to specific events Burns experienced during his time in the country. “I celebrated New Year’s 2009 at a villa on the Palm Jumeirah. My apartment was in the Hor Al Anz neighborhood. I watched the grand opening of the Burj Khalifa and got to go up in it within days of its opening. And I spent many a weekend exploring the vast halls of the Dubai Mall. These and many more unique settings provided a fascinating backdrop.”
By J. H. Bográn
Short stories, some people love them, some people hate them, and some people love to hate them. Me, I love them. I think they are the essence of storytelling. I love them even more when seemingly independent stories get combined into an anthology, joined by a unifying theme.
Most people would associate crime fiction with guns—often a weapon of choice for bad guys, and good guys. Well, they may be proven wrong by the new anthology, UNLOADED.
For the first time, more than two dozen crime and mystery authors have joined together to use the strongest weapon at their disposal—words—in a call for reasonable gun control in the United States. In this collection you get all the thrills and excitement you come to expect from a great crime story, but without any guns.
The writers are from both sides of the political aisle and many of the authors are gun owners themselves. But everyone felt it was time to speak out. Featuring the talents of Joe R. Lansdale, Hilary Davidson, Reed Farrel Coleman, Alison Gaylin, Grant Jerkins, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Mara, Rob Hart, Kelli Stanley, Joe Clifford and many more.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to interview the author who put on his editor hat for the anthology, Eric Beetner.
How did you get the idea for UNLOADED?
Way back after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting I had the idea, but I figured it wouldn’t work. I know how small the gesture is on an issue this big, but then when shooting after shooting happened I just felt I couldn’t sit silently by any more. Tweeting anger about it only went so far. Plus, I started to notice several of my author friends had similar feelings about guns as I did. I was curious to know if they also shared the guilt I felt about using guns in my writing while personally advocating for more gun control. When I started to approach writers about the idea I got enthusiastic responses, even from those authors too busy to contribute a story. I think people had felt, as I did, that we needed to band together to say something, no matter how small. We don’t expect to move legislation with this book, but if we can add our voice and our opinion to the conversation about guns in America and do so without the vitriol or animosity that usually comes with the conversation, then we will have accomplished what we set out to do.
By Alex Segura
The novels of Brigadier General A. J. Tata don’t go unnoticed, that’s for sure. Even former President George W. Bush is a fan. Tata’s well-researched, authentic, and engaging novels are built to keep readers on edge from the first page on, and his latest, THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, is no exception.
The second of Tata’s novels featuring Jake Mahegan, THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT finds the Delta Force vet on the trail of his mother’s murderer. But when an Army geologist is kidnapped, Mahegan must figure out if the two threads are tangled together. When nuclear plants on U.S. soil fall under attack, that question is answered with deadly results. As time winds down, Mahegan must track down the homegrown terrorists hell-bent on tearing the country apart from within before it’s too late. It’s a safe bet this isn’t a low key, slow-moving piece of fiction. Quite the opposite. Tata brings his sharp plotting and first-hand knowledge together to craft a taut, memorable story. We got the chance to talk with Tata about his latest and what’s next for him.
This is your second Jake Mahegan thriller—what makes Jake such a fun character to write? What experience has he gained since the first novel?
Jake’s constant battle internally is that he is trying to escape the warrior life and find love, yet he is continuously thrust back into the fray. Since Foreign and Domestic, Jake has had his dishonorable discharge converted to an honorable one and he has resigned himself to working with the man who made that happen, Major General Bob Savage. Still, hope reigns eternal and he meets Grace Kagami in THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, hoping that he can trust her to help him.
Your book deals with some very topical things, like domestic terrorism. How much research is involved and how much do you draw from your own professional experience?
I research all of my books extensively. While I have significant experience combatting terrorism, I remain current through frequent news program appearances and studying the enemies of our nation and discerning their intent.
By J. H. Bográn
After the success of Crossing Savage and Relentless Savage, comes the third book by Dave Edlund, DEADLY SAVAGE. This time Peter Savage finds himself in peril when militants invade the Belarusian State University in Minsk. Held hostage by gunmen who look like Russian soldiers, Peter uncovers a plot to kill thousands of innocent civilians—and lay the blame on the United States. In a desperate attempt to avoid a global war, Commander James Nicolaou and Peter are called to the front lines, and the stakes have never been higher.
DEADLY SAVAGE brings the now familiar globe-trotting adventures, the high-octane plots, and plenty of action in a novel that as Gary Scout says, “…will leave you breathless, and worried, because it just might happen.” And Kirkus Reviews seems to agree: “Crackling action, brisk pace, timely topic; Edlund’s third Savage thriller has all the elements…”
The Big Thrill welcomes Mr. Edlund, who agreed to answer a few questions for our readers.
What prompted the story of DEADLY SAVAGE?
A couple years ago, as tensions surrounding militias and Russian political activities in Eastern Europe were heating up, my editor challenged me to write a novel that would be based in Europe and involve a military conflict between Russia and the U.S. She was asking for a Tom-Clancy-like novel. I had to decline that approach—I’m not up for competing on that playing field—but I did think there would be a way to adapt the concept to a Peter Savage novel. DEADLY SAVAGE evolved from that challenge.
What can the fans of the series expect in this adventure?
I think fans will recognize that Peter has matured in his approach to life-and-death threats. After all, he’s had more than his share of tense situations and deadly encounters. This time, Peter has to be very resourceful and ruthless as he is pitted against a well-armed militia that has taken control of the Belarusian State University. There is a lot of action, as should be expected. And, in keeping with the challenge from my editor, there is a military engagement between the U.S. and Russian forces.
A 17th Century Sleuth Like No Other
A DEATH ALONG THE RIVER FLEET is the fourth in the historical mystery series set in 17th century London by Susanna Calkins. The amateur sleuth is Lucy Campion, a chambermaid in the first book. In this fourth installment she works for a publisher, setting type, hawking tracts out on the street, and sometimes, penning a tract of her own.
And she solves murders.
Calkins, a former pirate (living history specialist), was inspired by a treasure trove of 17th century murder ballads, the penny press, and the kind of tracts that Lucy Campion sells. An oft-repeated tale in these sources featured a young woman, strangled or stabbed, found with a note—signed by her lover—tucked in her pocket. Her lover was rounded up, arrested, tried, and usually hanged for the crime. Calkins wondered, “Why would a young woman go to such a tryst, anyway? Why did the murderer sign the note? Why not remove the note after his victim was dead?”
Those questions are answered in the first novel in the series, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, set in London in 1665, right after London was hit by the Great Plague.
The second novel, From the Charred Remains, is set in 1666, right after the Great Fire. Early forensic science is used to find the killer.
The third, The Masque of a Murderer, is set in 1667. A man dying after what appears to be an accident reveals that he was murdered, and Lucy has to solve the crime. This novel was nominated for the Lefty, the Agatha, and the Mary Higgins Clark award.
It’s been weeks since the last yard brawl, and every one of us is twitchy, ready to jump out of our skins.
That’s the opening line for Elle Cosimano’s third thriller for young adults, HOLDING SMOKE.
It’s also an apt description for how Cosimano felt before she dropped nearly everything else in her life and became a writer, three books ago. Back then she had it all: a husband and two boys, a 60-hour-a-week job selling real estate, and a big house in the Washington, D.C. suburbs filled with designer touches and a home theatre.
Her misery with her “stuff, stuff and more stuff” lifestyle was brought home when she attended a real estate event with 100 other realtors. A trust exercise required them to tell each other something interesting about themselves.
Cosimano realized that in spite of everything she had, she had nothing interesting to say about herself. So she blurted out, “I’m writing a novel.” Then watched, horrified, as over 100 realtors wrote that down on their Bingo cards.
Now she had to do it. She accepted her mother’s invitation to take the boys to the Mayan Riviera. For a whole summer, while her mother watched the children, Cosimano wrote, delivering her mother a new chapter by the end of every eight-hour day.
“At the start of the summer I didn’t even have an idea, and by the end of the summer I had a 90,000 word draft,” she says.
By Dan Levy
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice
That’s what little girls are made of.
But are they really?
This stanza from the poem (or nursery rhyme), credited to English poet Robert Southey, is a preeminent theme in Sheila Bugler’s third Ellen Kelly novel, ALL THINGS NICE. The book is more than an opportunity to evolve the series protagonist and create something new for fans to devour. For Bugler, it was the chance to explore how individual demons find new life through parenting.
“As a mother myself, I’m only too aware of how easy it is to mess up this important job. I always think loving your children is easy, but being a good parent? That’s the difficult part,” she says.
In an email interview with Bugler for The Big Thrill, we explore how this topic is embodied in the character of Charlotte Gleeson, how protagonist Ellen Kelly grows in her own right, as well as Bugler’s views on writing. Here’s an edited version of that interview:
Did You Hear the One about the Lawyer Who Wrote a Book?
What do politicians, accountants, attorneys, and pole dancers all have in common? Friends, family and random strangers mocking their job choice. One of these careers, however, is different from even the most mocked.
Politicians, accountants, and pole dancers never apologize for their choices. Attorneys, however, feel the need to explain their choice of profession to anyone in listening distance. They practice law for the money, the power, the thrill of litigation, or to help others, but if the stars align in some cosmic miracle, they will leave the law behind faster than a little boy gives up his training wheels in the presence of his best friend.
At a recent writers’ conference, two different speakers began their presentations by apologizing for having been attorneys in their previous careers. Their contrition was extreme, as if they’d personally clubbed baby seals or served underage drinkers who had then driven into a minivan filled with toddlers. The audience in both workshops laughed and the presentations continued with the speakers now confident that no one would be holding their former careers against them.
A career in law, however, can be honorable and when practiced for the right reasons, an attorney should never apologize. Are there dishonest and incompetent attorneys? As sure as there are physicians who should have their licenses revoked. But there are more lawyers who are doing good in the world.
By Karen Harper
It was fun interviewing Magnolia, as we both write romantic suspense. She’s a writer who seems to balance it all: career, outreach to readers, family—and lots of unique travel that shows up in her novels. Assassins, alpha males, military knowledge and strong heroines: There’s a lot to like in a Magnolia Smith novel!
What is TELL ME NO LIES about?
It is a romantic suspense novel with military themes and political intrigue. It is also the first story in The Black Orchid series. The Black Orchid is an organization loosely associated with the CIA, and TELL ME NO LIES follows agent Kael Brady as he tries to reconnect with an old flame while completing a complicated mission that brings danger to the one he cares about the most. For Kael, the mission is complicated by the fact that he has begun to question the orders he is given and that causes problems for him, professionally and personally.
Your books are romantic/suspense, obviously a category popular with readers today. Why do you think these genres work so well together?
I think that women, the primary reader of romantic suspense enjoy reading about Alpha heroes, the danger they get in and the women who dare to love them. Romantic suspense offers the reader the same thrills a film goer would get from a James Bond or Jason Bourne film, with the added bonus of a more in-depth look at the main characters romance.
Would you say you balance the romance and the suspense about 50-50 or is one more dominant that the other in your books?
I strive for an equal balance between romance and suspense, however if I have to tip in one direction over the other, I prefer to err on the side of suspense. Danger! Action!
I’m a huge fan of Brad Thor, Vince Flynn, Daniel Silva and Steve Berry, and I think my appreciation of the thriller genre in clearly expressed in my romantic suspense novels.
A Reporter Who Storms Off the Ladies’ Page
By E.M. Powell
Reading a well-crafted historical mystery is always a pleasure and with A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR, Radha Vatsal delivers precisely that. The novel is set in 1915 in a New York City that is going through turbulent times, with shocking events on its own doorstep such as the shooting at J.P Morgan’s mansion, and tragedies abroad: the sinking of the Lusitania and the outbreak of the Great War. In this pre-television, radio and social media world, newspapers play a vital role in relaying the news of the day.
Enter Vatsal’s Capability “Kitty” Weeks, a young woman of privileged background who has little time for the restrictions of her class and gender, and who would love nothing more than to report on the important stories. But serious journalism is only for male reporters. A deeply frustrated Kitty is confined to writing about fashion and society gossip on the Ladies’ Page.
Fate provides Kitty with a gruesome opportunity when a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat. She is given the story and is soon embroiled in its solving and in a wartime conspiracy that threatens to derail the United States’ attempt to remain neutral in a world at war.
Kitty is a likeable and courageous heroine who isn’t afraid to push all sorts of boundaries. Vatsal says she partly drew inspiration for her from contemporary women who were real life boundary-pushers. “Kitty has characteristics like courage, persistence, and love of adventure that she shares with the action-film actresses of the 1910s, like Pearl White, whom she admires.”
The reader gets a real sense of Vatsal’s affection for the city and her deep interest in its past. And although she lives in New York, it hasn’t always been her home, which partly informs Kitty’s character. “Like me, Kitty went to boarding school and comes to New York with an outsider’s perspective.” Vatsal uses this to her advantage. “I think I ask more questions and I don’t take anything for granted. I want to know why things are the way they are and how they came to be that way—in that respect also, Kitty’s character is similar to my own. New York is a fantastic city to write about, because every little detail seems to have an unexpected story behind it.”
A Search For Light in Dark Places
By R.G. Belsky
The wait is over for John Hart fans. Five years after his last book, Hart–the best-selling thriller author whose writing about the South has been compared to John Grisham and Pat Conroy–is back with the eagerly anticipated REDEMPTION ROAD.
So why the long gap between books? Hart says it took him that much time–including a year spent on a failed novel that he discarded after 300 pages–to find the character he really wanted to write.
“I began that fifth, failed novel without understanding what my hero wanted and valued, and how far he would go to achieve those things,” Hart told us. “It was, in retrospect, an exercise in hubris. After four bestsellers I was overconfident. If I just write, I told myself, then all elements for the book would, in time, resolve. That’s the lesson it took a year to learn: that without the right protagonist I had no foundation for the story.
“When I started fresh, I knew exactly who the main character was supposed to be: Elizabeth Black, who was a small character in that first failed attempt, but one I found endlessly fascinating, not just dark and wounded, but complex and strong and willing to sacrifice. Once I had that fundamental foundation–a character I understood completely–then the book came as the previous four had. The lesson is that we have to do the legwork first, not an outline in my case, but a relationship with the protagonist that is damn near personal.”
Like his previous works, REDEMPTION ROAD is set in the South (Hart’s native state of North Carolina) and features many of the themes that have won him such praise from fans and critics alike: flawed characters, broken families, troubled children, plus–in this book–a terrifying serial killer.
“If there’s a common thematic element to my books, it’s the search for light in dark places, the discovery through hardship of those qualities that make human beings exceptional, things like selflessness and hope, courage and love and family,” Hart says. “Some think I write dark stories, but that’s an unfair assessment. I put people through hell so they might find a bright, warm spark in all that blackness. That’s what the books are really about.”
Writing About a World Not Black and White
By J. H. Bográn
They say that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing technique for selling books. I believe book lending is a close second. A few years ago, a friend lent me David Baldacci’s The Winner. The novel was about a dirt-poor single mother forced into a scheme that began by winning $10 million in the lottery. After I devoured the book in record time, I returned it—yes, I’m one of those—and told my friend that I felt I was the winner, because I’d just discovered a new favorite author. I’ve read plenty of his books since then, so when the editors asked me if I´d like to interview Mr. Baldacci and read his latest novel, you can bet I was sofa-jumping.
Can you tell us in your own words, what’s THE LAST MILE about?
Amos Decker, my hyperthemesia detective with a touch of synesthesia, is back on the case. When convicted murderer Melvin Mars’s execution is stayed because someone else confessed to the killings, Decker sees stark parallels between the murder of his family and Mars’s case. It also doesn’t hurt that the two men played college football against each other. The case takes Decker and Mars on a journey that goes back to before either of them was even born. And I manage to do it all without the benefit of time travel! Take that, Diana Gabaldon!
Was there an incident in particular that prompted the story?
As a lawyer, I saw stark injustice. If you’re poor and unconnected, you don’t get justice. If you’re rich and connected, you get more than justice, which actually makes it an injustice. Writing thrillers is a lot of fun. But by focusing on substantive issues of interest to me, and allowing people to read about them in a way that may linger with them, makes it even more gratifying.
What is the most frightening thing that has happened to you while researching a novel?
Being chased down an alley by a psychotic dog owned by a double murderer while on a walk-along with a police officer in D.C. The officer later told me that the guy had just left his dog behind when he “went away” for 20 to life. It made such an impression on me that I wrote both the dog and the double murderer into the novel I was working on. I’m a dog lover, so things turned out fine for the canine, but not so nice for the double murderer.
Extraordinary Characters Hiding Among the Ordinary
The place is Texas. We find ourselves in a small town, and by that I mean a very small town. One streetlight, a diner, a few stores. It’s quiet. And the people … well, this is a Charlaine Harris book, and the people are definitely not what they seem. It doesn’t stay quiet for long.
Harris’s latest book, NIGHT SHIFT, is the third in her new series. These exciting mysteries revolve around the residents of Midnight, Texas: an Internet psychic named Manfred who may or may not be a real psychic; Fiji, a woman who runs a New Age witchcraft shop for a good reason; a gay couple, Chuy and Joe; a pawnshop owner, Bobo; another couple, Lemuel and Olivia, who scare people for all kinds of reasons, among them Lemuel has been on the planet for several centuries. A reverend, running the local chapel and pet cemetery, who keeps strange hours.
Harris, who has been penning mysteries for 30 years, famously wrote the Southern Vampire Mystery series, aka the Sookie Stackhouse books, Sookie being a waitress who’s actually a telepath, dating a string of hot supernatural males in Bon Temps, Louisiana. The mystery series has been released in over 30 languages. In 2008, HBO adapted the books for the hit series True Blood, which became a pop culture phenomenon and ignited a vampire-worship craze. The TV series ended in 2014.
Harris’s new book series has been adapted for a possible NBC series. The pilot for Midnight, Texas, starring Francois Arnaud, Dylan Bruce, Jason Lewis, Arielle Kebel and Parisa Fitz-Henley, is unscheduled. Will it reach True Blood-level fame? Much too soon to tell.
Harris took time to chat with The Big Thrill about her career, which has had, as far as I can tell, very few dull moments.
I loved NIGHT SHIFT. It’s a good mystery, a real page-turner, a lot of action and a very strong romance, and also, I have to say, it scared me. This book is really creepy.
Oh, yay. I love to be creepy.
I’m struck by how you’re able to balance all these different elements in your books: the mystery, the romance, the supernatural world, but also the real-world relatability of the characters’ daily lives. I have to ask: How do you manage this?
Well, it started with the Sookie books. I thought, why don’t I try blending different elements to see if I can come up with something that is new, and maybe not totally unique to me but almost unique to me, and reach out to readers who enjoy this kind of thing, the way that I do?
I do too! And in the Midnight, Texas books, you accomplish that mix and you’re trying some new things.
After I wrote the Sookie books, I thought I’ve been writing first-person feminine for so many years, and I love it, and I think it’s probably my strongest position, but I was ready for a change. I felt like you’ve been drinking champagne for all these years, you should probably try some beer!
So I thought, I want to write an ensemble book from multiple points of view and some of them will be men. You stagnate if you don’t challenge yourself. I thought if I switched the points of view, I could tell the story more fully and maybe readers would find one character they would identify with more than others and they would follow that character through.
Writing the men was a real challenge because I wanted to be convincing. I thought, “I should be able to do this, I’ve been married to a man for 38 years.” OK, so I decided: Simplify, simplify, simplify.
What do you mean?
Simplify their emotional reactions. For men may have as complex a reaction to a series of events as women do. But it seems that mostly they boil it down.
Lemuel is so unlike other men and really the human race. I admire how well you can write characters who aren’t human.
Writing the fae in the Sookie books was really hard for that reason. No Greco-Roman or Judeo-Christian tradition, they are just themselves. As a writer, it is hard to divorce yourself from those traditions. Lemuel is very much that way. He is an antique too, in our modern world.
You are slowly revealing their supernatural abilities throughout the three books. How difficult is it to hold back?
I thought it would be more interesting if I could trickle out the weirdness. A little bit here, a little bit there. It’s more fun for me. In the series, their supernatural abilities will be there from the beginning, which is very interesting. The director is amazing, he is the one who directed the original Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
With True Blood, I watched the entire series. For me, it was most enjoyable in the early seasons, when they stuck closer to the books.
That’s certainly a valid point of view. [Laughs] I loved the series, and I thought it was interesting throughout, but I prefer a more personal story rather than the more politicized story the series ended up telling.
Given a choice between a Bill Compton who’s come up with a cool Internet vampire directory and a Bill Compton who’s the ultimate immortal, a monster covered with blood screaming because he was anointed by stone age Lillith, I don’t know, I choose Directory Bill. I liked Bon Temps.
I did too! When I wrote the books, I kept it anchored on Sookie. [Producer] Alan Ball saw a bigger picture and that’s the way he went. It all made for great television.
Do you think that the media circus over the male stars—Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard and Joe Manganiello—took over the show?
Hmmmm. I certainly know that the reaction to the final book, which was just overwhelmingly horrible, was due to Alexander Skarsgard worship.
OK, I read the final book. I’m aware of the controversy. And I have to say I don’t get it. Sookie ending up with Sam, not Eric or Bill, made a lot of sense. That was set up in the first fifteen minutes of the pilot!
Exactly. I could see the way the wind was blowing through the last two books. And I thought “Uh oh, uh oh.” They are not ready for this, probably because of the television show. Not that it’s their fault. Alexander can’t be anything but wonderful and excellent and sexy. It made my job harder—which is, again, not their problem—and I did everything but draw a runway to what I was going to do: “It’s NOT going to end the way you think it is.” And still there were these people who were massively unhappy with me. They really were. Oh it was terrible.
I enjoyed your talk with Karin Slaughter at Thrillerfest last year. When I heard that you had to take steps because of the fans who obsessively wanted to touch you, I felt concerned, however.
It’s weird, or maybe it’s not. Of course I always loved being on top of the list. Who doesn’t? And I felt really proud of what I was producing. I didn’t feel I was pandering to base emotions. I felt the writing was good. At the same time there was a lot that came with that which was very disconcerting and uncomfortable. And sometimes scary. I don’t miss that. Sure I would love to be No. 1 on the list every time. But as far as making my life simpler and more pleasant, my life is a lot simpler and more pleasant now.
With Fiji, she’s a real person, she’s very relatable, and she has this extra power, like Sookie, but the difference is that Sookie was gorgeous. She was very hot. While Fiji is a little overweight. She has a negative body image. I find that courageous.
I thought, why invent another beautiful woman? Why not someone who’s more human? There were so many things telling me to make her a person who has issues that keep her from living her full life, which I believe she is coming into in the third book.
I feel that in the Midnight books, the characters’ friendships are a bigger part of the plots than in the Sookie series.
Thank you! I like to think I’m learning something. I’ve been at this for such a long time. But I don’t want to use the same bag of tricks every time and I do want to improve.
I understand you wrote a poem about a supernatural being when you were a child, so you’ve always been drawn to this part of the imagination.
Very true. My first series, though, the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, were conventional mysteries, no supernatural in them at all. But as time went on, and I stayed stuck on the midlist, which is a fine place to be and I was grateful, but I guess I found I was ambitious. I kept thinking, “I’ve got to go up, I’ve got to climb a few steps up the ladder.” I set a goal for myself. I thought, “If I can make $70,000 a year, if I can just make that.” I wanted to change my career. I sat and stared into space and thought about her and built her from a littler germ of an idea to a bigger idea to a bigger idea. Until I had her world set in my head. At first, nobody liked it, it got turned down over and over for two years. Finally due to Laurell K. Hamilton’s success at Ace, a junior editor at Ace took it. It was just instantly successful out of the gate. It was a delightful change for me. Also I felt like I was vindicated; I’d found something I could go to town with and not restrain myself.
When the series made its debut, it was a big hit right away too, not least because of the nudity.
On True Blood, at first, honestly I was shocked. I don’t know what else to say. There’s something so different about writing a sex scene which might be two paragraphs because I’m not a how-to writer and seeing it. There’s a big visceral difference. I thought, “Oh my God, we’re going to have to move.”
I’ve always lived in small, conservative towns. I thought it was amazing no one was coming up to me in Walmart and saying, “You devil woman!” I found out after we moved—we live in Texas now—that the couple who bought our house, the woman advised them to have it exorcised. “You don’t want your little daughter growing up in that house.” I was flattered. I never thought of myself as the epitome of evil.
What led you to Texas for the new books?
When I was a child, I grew up in Mississippi but my mama was from Texas, and every summer she would take me and my brother to Rocksprings, Texas. It’s on the Edwards Plateau. It is nowhere. We would spend part of the summer there because my grandparents owned a hotel and my mother wold go to help out during rodeo season. All her sisters would come too. Every room in the hotel was busy, everything was full to bursting, and a lot of people were drunk, and it was a real challenge for my mom. I realize that now. The culture was so different, the landscape was so different. It made a big impression on me. I was thinking of doing something new after Sookie, I was so excited to do that. I decided, why don’t I draw on that part of my life and write a book set in a place that remote and that forbidding? First I had the place, then I thought, well what if there were one stoplight? Gradually the book began to populate itself.
I’m not sure it’s recognized what a good action writer you are. Any time there’s a fight in your novels, it’s written with originality and so tense. I read that you were into karate for a while. Does that help?
Well, I have given it up. For a long time I was also an avid weightlifter. I enjoyed my karate class, though I was never very good. We used to act out our action sequences in class. I’ve kept that visual imagination of acting things out, so I picture it all in my head and how people would have to move to achieve the next step in the conflict. I get a lot of pleasure from that.
Thank you so much for this interview! I’ve really enjoyed it.
Nancy Bilyeau is the editor of The Big Thrill. She has worked at ‘Rolling Stone,’ ‘Entertainment Weekly’ and ‘InStyle.’ Her historical thriller trilogy is published by Touchstone Books.
Common Ground: Chasing the Thrill—For Real
By Dawn Ius
Anyone with Google Maps and access to Yelp can pinpoint the exact address of the best pub in New York (Finnegan’s?) A deeper search might even net you pictures of the bar’s interior. Thanks to modern technology, novelists can complete this—and almost any research—from the comforts of their home.
But even some of the most-savvy Yahoo searchers sometimes just want to break from virtual life and experience the sights, the sounds, and the energy of a time and place no amount of keyboard clicking can replicate. In some cases, though, authors can get much more than they bargained for.
In this issue of The Big Thrill, we asked our some of our authors this: What is the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to you while researching a book.
Whether it’s the fear of running out of coffee to being chased by angry rioters during a political crap storm, their answers may surprise you. Scroll through the articles in The Big Thrill to see how far some will go to get the full story!
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks have lived together in New York City since August of 1973, about a month before Ken began law school at Columbia University and Anne started working as an editor at a publishing house. Anne actually was born in New York City and lived there until (as she puts it) she was exiled with her family to the suburbs of Westchester for her teenage years. She came back as soon as she could.
During their 43 years as New Yorkers, Anne and Ken have walked the city from top to bottom and explored its neighborhoods, parks, museums, and bridges on an almost daily basis. So, guided by the adage “Write what you know,” they have featured New York City in each of their several, diverse books, from thrillers to mysteries to mainstream to ‘tween fantasies.
In their mainstream novel, Kate and the Kid, self-involved twenty-something Kate is duped into babysitting an emotionally needy six-year-old child as a favor for a friend in her building: a favor which is supposed to occupy only one short evening but turns into an overnight adventure and then a lot more. Initially, Kate thinks that taking care of a young kid is the last thing she needs, but gradually she realizes that a connection with the Kid is exactly what she needs to learn about truly generous, unconditional love. Location-wise, the story travels through Central Park and the playgrounds of the Upper East Side, and all across the city. New York is an integral part of the narrative; in fact, as one reader put it:
“It’s almost as though the city itself is another character in the book. The writer seems to know where all the best parks are, and the best playgrounds, and exactly how to get there. New York neighborhoods come alive is this novel so if you live in New York City or want to live in New York City or have even just thought about New York City, you’ll enjoy the way Kate And The Kid makes it all seem familiar.” Stanford Gal, Amazon Review, Feb. 8, 2015
Praise Her, Praise Diana is a thriller that the writers also set in New York City. In this novel, a mysterious purveyor of vigilante justice–a woman code-named Diana–starts to kill and castrate men in revenge for a rape that had occurred years before. As Diana evolves into a force that cannot be ignored, other women begin to support and even imitate her actions, and a wave of gender-based violence and tension sweeps through New York City. The action takes place all over the city, including the Upper West and East Sides, Chelsea, Central Park, TriBeCa and the courthouses on Centre Street, where a grand jury weighs the fate of one of the characters while a crowd grows outside, threatening to become a mob. At one point the main character, Jane Larson, considers leaving the city to live with her new lover in the peaceful countryside of exurban Connecticut. However, the city itself seems to call to her and draws her back.
By Matt Ferraz
Known as the Queen of Crime in Denmark, Sara Blaedel is the author of the Louise Rick series, which just reached its seventh volume with THE KILLING FOREST. Louise Rick is a member of the Special Search Agency, an elite unite dedicated to finding the missing, and her search for a 15-year-old boy leads her to an ancient religious cult. We talked to Sara about the series, her writing career and the challenges she had to face as a woman writing about crime.
Introduce us to your main characters.
Louise Rick is a smart, hardworking, sometimes stubborn, independent woman, who takes her work as a police officer very seriously. She’s human; she’s been through her own struggles and very difficult times, some of which she continues to work through. She’s both extraordinary and an everywoman. She commits herself, completely, to searching for the missing in Denmark, while bringing those who victimize them to justice. Louise is curious and hungry to learn, like I am. Her partner in work and now in love is Eik, a wonderful and decent guy, who is far more laid back than she is. Louise adores her son, Jonas, once her foster child, and now a part of the family she can’t imagine living without. And she gets great support from her dear friend, Camilla, a bright and spirited journalist. Sometimes their professional paths cross and they join intellectual forces.
How much of you is in Louise Rick?
This is a really interesting question. When I first conceived of and starting writing Louise, there was quite little of me to be found in her. I was determined to ensure that she would be her own person, and so I was careful not to saddle her with all the things I wanted to be or already understood. But over the years, as she and I have evolved, more and more of my life has gone into hers. As more of her own life has come into mine. It works both ways. We now even have the same dog. But to be clear, we are two different women, doing two very different jobs.
Can you imagine the Louise Rick series existing if the protagonist was a man?
I can absolutely imagine Louise as a male protagonist. I really embrace and love writing male characters like Eik, but there’s something quite different that happens with the female figures I write. Frankly, I’m not sure Louise’s stories, as I envision them, are set up for a man to drive, and I’m certain they wouldn’t play out as organically.
Keeping a Series Fresh
By Dawn Ius
Back in the early 90s, John Sandford’s son was driving through Omaha in the evening when his car struck a deer head, and the animal’s horns punctured his tire. Knowing his limited-use spare wouldn’t get him through Nebraska, he called his father, already a bestselling thriller writer, for advice.
Using an early mapping program—created long before Google—Sandford was able to navigate directions to an open tire store. His son was back in business within 15 minutes.
The event marked a significant shift in Sandford’s thinking: Technology had taken a huge step forward, and if he wanted to stay relevant, he needed to get on board.
Now, with the release of EXTREME PREY, the 26th book in the Lucas Davenport series, Sandford once again finds himself at a crossroads. In an increasingly fickle marketplace where even long-standing characters have a shelf life, how will he keep the series—and his star protagonist—fresh?
“I thought about killing his wife,” Sandford says. “We actually took a vote on it at a book event and more than 90 percent of the audience voted not to kill her. I guess his wife is too popular.”
That might not seem like a conundrum to some, but it poses a problem for Sandford, who feels his latest books lack some of the romance his readers have come to expect. Davenport can’t fool around on his wife—he’s not that kind of guy—but marriage often reads a bit on the dull side, particularly with thrillers.
If you’re having heart palpitations about the thought of Lucas losing his better half, Sandford admits he’s still mulling over options and there’s no cause for concern—yet. But fans of his Davenport series will note a few missing familiars in EXTREME PREY.
By Dawn Ius
Leigh Russel is no stranger to series writing—for some time she’s been delivering two manuscripts a year, one each for her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson series’. But with JOURNEY TO DEATH, Russel adds a new character to her regime, introducing Lucy Hall, a young woman looking to leave her worries behind—but finding new, potentially deadly troubles in the seemingly idyllic tropical paradise of Seychelles.
Here, Russell takes time out of her now even busier writing schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
I really enjoyed the slow build of JOURNEY TO DEATH, almost as though the suspense and tension itself was a “journey.” It would be easy to launch into action action action as many thrillers do—why did you decide to tell the story in this way?
Most of my books begin with dramatic action, but this one is different. My story was inspired by a first-hand account of life under a coup d’etat in the 1970s in the Seychelles, which provides the background to the main story, which takes place in the present day. In addition, setting the action on an island affects the narrative, reflecting the leisurely pace of life in the Seychelles. Once the mystery begins to take hold, the pace speeds up.
Your characters are notoriously well developed—what do you want readers to know about Lucy before they dive into this new series?
Lucy Hall is only twenty-two in JOURNEY TO DEATH, and just beginning to emerge as an independent adult. Recovering from a disastrous broken engagement, she is forced to reconsider her intentions in life. In this vulnerable frame of mind, she is thrown into a challenging situation. As Lucy learns about herself, through the course of the narrative, the reader also learns about her character.
Heather Graham Takes a Bite Out of the Big Apple
By Dawn Ius
Heather Graham has traveled the fictional globe with her bestselling romantic thrillers, but until now has steered fairly clear of New York, despite a deep-rooted family connection that is ripe with stories for the taking.
Now, Graham takes readers to the Big Apple in her latest release, FLAWLESS. The story centers on criminal psychologist Kieran Finnegan, her three less-than-innocent brothers, the Irish pub they co-own in the heart of New York City—and a series of thefts in the city’s thriving Diamond District.
Kieran is in the midst of “unstealing” a flawless stone taken by her youngest brother in a misguided act of vengeance when she meets FBI agent Craig Frasier, who is there to stop a heist in progress. Thrown together by unusual circumstance, Kieran and Craig are assigned to the case. But to Kieran’s horror, mounting evidence seems to suggest that the family pub, Finnegan’s, is somehow involved—which is of course in stark contrast to the reputation the pub hopes to cultivate.
“Finnegan’s is where you want to go when you want to feel a sense of comfort, or when you want a night out with some good music,” Graham says. “It’s your go-to place!”
That’s the thing about pubs, she adds. The food isn’t necessarily gourmet, but it’s still like coming home, a place where you visit with family and friends, and if you’re lucky, where the bartender remembers your name. These are the kinds of pubs that pepper the streets of New York.
But it’s more than flowing pints that inspired Graham’s New York in FLAWLESS. Her mother immigrated from Dublin through the city and the family still loves to tell stories of their first impressions—tales that have an impact on Graham’s writing.
By Dawn Ius
From Paradise Lost to Rosemary’s Baby, Satan hasn’t exactly been hiding in hell when it comes to storytelling. But in the last decade, with supernatural fiction cycling through vampire/werewolf/zombie, it seems the Prince of Darkness lingered in the shadows of society’s fascination, waiting to take his moment in the cultural spotlight.
Could the time be now?
“Horror fiction—and genre fiction generally—feeds upon the anxieties of the moment, and spits them back at us in transfigured, mythologized forms,” says Andrew Pyper, bestselling author of several literary horror stories, including The Demonologist, winner of the ITW award for Best Hardcover Novel in 2014. “Even on the intimate level of the people in our immediate lives and the conversation around the ‘sociopath next door,’ we turn, justifiably, to a consideration of the many ways intelligent, ancient entities such as demons might mask themselves in 2016.”
Indeed, the devil of today takes many guises, from the metaphorical symbolism of humanity’s darker side to the ruthless mastermind of Constantine to, most recently, the debonair depiction in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novel, now a FOX TV hit called Lucifer. Portrayed by Tom Ellis, Lucifer Morningstar is a tongue-in-cheek devil who abandons his post in hell to run a nightclub in Los Angeles, and gets caught up in local police investigations of juicy murders. That’s right. Given his druthers, His Satanic Majesty would like a ride-along.
“I think the success of the show comes from the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” says Lucifer showrunner Joe Henderson. “It’s OK to have fun. That also allows us to bring the audiences’ guard down, and surprise them with moments of empathy, horror, and humanity.”
Which is, of course, part of the show’s allure. You can get so caught up in Lucifer’s modernized characterization—basically, a rebellious teenager saddled with the baggage of history’s most dysfunctional family—it’s perhaps easy to forget that the devil by any name is still the baddest bad guy of them all.
A Legal Thriller With Heart
By Dawn Ius
In THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER, author Anthony Franze—a lawyer at a major Washington, DC law firm and frequent media commentator on the Supreme Court—takes readers behind-the-scenes of the country’s highest court, in a murder mystery that has as much heart as it has suspense.
Sean Serrat, a prominent DC lawyer, seems to have it all: married to the love of his life, blessed with three great kids, and even a possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination on the horizon. That is, until Sean’s daughter is found murdered in the library of the Supreme Court. Serrat is rocked to the core. Not only does his daughter’s death shatter his picture-perfect life, but the killing could also be connected to his potential nomination—or a dark secret from his past.
Secrets and law and more secrets. Each surprising, each lurching story and motive in a different direction. Many an author has built a successful career writing traditional legal thrillers with these elements in mind, and Franze could have left it at that. But the real root of this thriller with dueling legal and domestic angles is family.
“I love thrills and twists, but the books I connect most with have an emotional component,” says Franze. “As a writer, I’m always trying to make an emotional connection with readers—I want readers to care about my characters, I want them to feel. That’s what I tried to achieve with THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that Franze made me cry—more than once. Because murder mystery aside, this novel is about the lengths people will go to protect the ones they love. From Franze’s meticulous attention to detail, careful plotting and superb character development, through to his touching acknowledgments, one gets the sense that Franze—much like his protagonist—would go the distance.
Perhaps, in part, this is because of his life experiences. This month for The Big Thrill, I had the pleasure of interviewing Franze about life before—and after—THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER.
Finding the Monstrous in the Ordinary
The best thrillers begin with ordinary, even joyous events and explore how one unfortunate turn can threaten everything that a person holds dear. And “best thriller” describes Lisa Scottoline’s compelling new novel MOST WANTED, in which a couple’s dream—to have a child—becomes a nightmare, placing at risk a woman’s unborn child, her marriage, and ultimately, her life.
Christine Nilsson is a devoted school teacher and a loving wife. She and her husband, Marcus, desperately want a baby, but Marcus suffers from fertility problems. After much soul-searching and research, they decide to use a sperm donor, and Christine becomes pregnant. Then, after two months, she discovers that her donor might be a serial killer. Against her husband’s wishes, Christine embarks on a quest to discover the truth about her unborn child, in the course of which she finds herself at great personal risk and is forced to confront her darkest fears.
MOST WANTED is powerful not only because of its riveting, suspenseful story but also because of its sensitive treatment of important ethical and moral issues: What should you do if the biological father of your unborn child were a psychopathic killer? How could you reconcile keeping the baby with your husband’s distress at raising the child of a possible serial killer? What role should the legal system play in resolving these issues? Scottoline treats these concerns with sensitivity while deftly infusing this emotional story with humor that provides the perfect counterbalance to the serious, often harrowing obstacles that Christine must overcome in her search for answers.
Scottoline has kindly agreed to share her thoughts on MOST WANTED, her writing process, and her future projects.
One of the most hotly debated issues among fertility ethicists is how to balance the need for sperm-donor anonymity against the risk of genetic diseases. Compounding the problem, many psychiatrists believe that a person’s is rooted in genetics—and fertility clinics can’t always accurately screen for temperament and personality. What inspired you to write a novel centered on this important subject?
I love novels that involve the complexity of moral and ethical issues, such as you just described, even better than I might have! And this idea just came to me one day, because I was thinking about how much my daughter means to me, and I’m a single mother with only one child. And I thought what if I couldn’t have had her, and then what if I used a sperm donor, and then what if my donor turned out to be a suspected serial killer? It was as crazy a what-if as I could imagine, but also one that would involve a lot of moral, ethical, and emotional complexity, so I got busy!
Writing Car Chases With Chain Mail
By Dawn Ius
Put two readers of historical fiction in a room together and within seconds, the accuracy debate will begin. For writers of the genre, this can often lead to the daunting task of dodging ALL CAPS emails condemning everything from perceived inappropriate character depiction to the most minuscule detail—no matter how many sources the author has sourced to back it up.
For E.M. Powell, the author of three medieval thrillers, including THE LORD OF IRELAND, released this month, shouldering the weight of potential historical inaccuracy is just part of the genre—or perhaps, more accurately, part of being an author.
“You see it time after time: authors called out on a detail that’s not correct in legal thrillers, tech thrillers, medical thrillers, police procedurals. Or at least in the opinion of the commenter,” Powell says. “I have had thundering condemnation of things in my books for which I have at least three reputable sources. As for mistakes? Yes, despite my best efforts, I make them from time to time—as does every writer I know.”
Errors appear to be few and far between for Powell, though, as sales for her first medieval thrillers have launched her to a prime spot among her peers—book two in the series, The Fifth Knight became an Amazon UK #1 bestseller in Historical Fiction, and the series has sold more than 100,000 copies.
The key to her success, Powell says, begins with thorough research and ends with scenes that are rich with character—something she struggled with early in her career—and most important for readers of historical fiction, a strong sense of setting.
“Readers of historicals like quite a lot of setting, in much the same way fantasy and science fiction readers do,” she says. “It boils down to the fact that we’re trying to build an unfamiliar world and make it believable.”
By Andy Martin
After observing Lee Child at work for one year as he wrote his 20th thriller, Andy Martin, a Cambridge educator and author, wrote ‘Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me.’ Martin’s book was written and at the printer when that Lee Child novel hit bookstores in September 2015 and made it to the No. 1 spot on bestseller lists. Martin was with Child on tour in Washington, D.C., when the news broke last autumn, and he shares their conversation with The Big Thrill:
Lee Child was having a pizza. As a result of poor parenting, he always leaves the crusts. Followed by some kind of fudge pudding with chocolate ice-cream. And coffee. Black. Room service in the Four Seasons, Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Silver platters and linen napkins. You wouldn’t get that in the Skyline (where I was staying). No big deal, but you have to take note of these small things. I was being Reacher, putting up in grimy motels. He was in the presidential suite. I was sitting there drinking coffee from his silver coffee pot. And helping myself to some of his fries on the side.
Me: And you have a gym.
Lee: I, for one, won’t be making use of it. You use it. Go and do whatever it is you do in there.
Me: What about the pool?
Lee: Nah, can’t be arsed.
He used to be a swimmer, long-distance, international level, with that long reach of his, but dropped out (or climbed out and never dived back in).
The luxury was wasted on him. He basically had to stay in these 5-star palaces, on account of being so huge. Physically, and commercially.
And lo, his forecast had come true. With extra marmalade on top. Make Me, his 20th Jack Reacher novel, was no. 1 in all the English-speaking countries. Without regard to category. It was the best-selling book in the Western world. Bar none. Lagercrantz, Franzen, Harper Lee, all comprehensively trounced.
“For that week at least,” he pointed out. “Maybe not longer. It’s cool for you. You were there when I started the first sentence. And now it’s…”
In THE GOOD TRAITOR, Ryan Quinn brings back Kera Mersal, the CIA analyst-turned-operative who uncovers a scandal within the agency and is then accused of treason. Her mission is now to unfold a geopolitical conspiracy while trying to clear her name after the events of the previous novel. Described by the author as a combination of Jason Bourne, Edward Snowden and Carrie Mathison from the TV series Homeland, Kera’s first appearance was in End of Secrets, a finalist for the 2013 International Book Awards.
Born in Alaska, Quinn worked in the publishing business in Manhattan for five years, during which he wrote The Fall, a college coming-of-age story that he published at his own expenses. The sales were so good he was soon contacted by an editor at Lake Union, an imprint of Amazon Publishing, who was interested in publishing the novel.
Quinn’s first literary attempts remain in his drawer. “I think first novels are incredibly valuable to writers, and best kept away from readers,” says the author. “It takes a full novel or two to begin to learn your own strengths and weaknesses and how to deploy them over a four-hundred-page project.”
The world of international espionage couldn’t be further from Quinn’s daily life, so half of his work is dedicated to research. He believes this is the best period in history for writers who want to tackle subjects that are away from their own personal reality, since information is widely available.
“If writers wrote only about events they had directly experienced in their own lives, most books would be excruciatingly tedious,” he says. “To create a richly imagined world, a writer must write about plenty of things he’s only imagined. Bridging the gap between what we’re fascinated by and what we have direct knowledge of is what fiction is all about.”