By Josie Brown
C.J. Box’s novels have been lauded by readers and critics alike for their complex plots, true-to-life characters, and his stark lyrical depiction of the New West.
His latest novel—ENDANGERED—is no exception. Box’s soft-spoken but hard-hitting protagonist, Joe Pickett, is back—and this time, it’s personal. When a young woman found beaten to near death turns out to be Joe’s stepdaughter, Joe’s gut tells him that the perpetrator isn’t the man in custody, but her boyfriend, rodeo champion Dallas Cates. Proving it means facing off with the whole Cates clan, who will do anything to protect Dallas.
What does it take to write books that grab readers both by the hearts and throats? The Big Thrill recently interviewed Box to find out.
Joe Pickett’s relationship with his family—his wife, his daughters—is somewhat complex. How does this help you, the writer and creator, grow and mature the characters, and the series as a whole?
The novels take place in real time. In the first, Open Season, Joe’s oldest daughter Sheridan is seven years old and she’s a major character in the book. In ENDANGERED, she’s a sophomore in college. Over the span of the novels, his three daughters have grown up and are still growing and changing. Joe and his wife Marybeth mature and change as well. I think (hope) this keeps the series fresh both for me and for readers. Things that happen in one book impact the characters in the next. I try to keep it so the reader doesn’t have to completely suspend disbelief from book to book.
Let’s talk about your protagonist Joe, who, for those who haven’t read your wonderful series, happens to be a game warden. Why do you feel he resonates with so many readers—including city dwellers?
Joe Pickett is a game warden. That means he’s a state employee charged with administering the fishing and hunting rules and regulations for his district, which happens to be 2,500 square miles. In my novels, just as in real life, Wyoming game wardens get involved not only with outdoor situations but also with local law enforcement and federal law enforcement agencies. Local game wardens participate in resource, landowner, and environmental issues. Game wardens are independent, heavily armed, and they rarely have backup when they get into tough situations. They patrol via pickup truck, horses, ATVs, boats, and snowmobiles. Rarely does a game warden encounter a citizen in the field who isn’t armed. Therefore, they have to learn to deal with situations in a more nuanced way than calling in the S.W.A.T. team.
The Big Break—Stories of Breaking into the Thriller Game:
Steve Berry’s 12 Years and 85 Rejections
By Jeremy Burns
This fall will mark twelve years since Steve Berry burst onto the scene with his special blend of action, history, secrets, conspiracies, and international intrigue. During that time he’s released more than a dozen bestselling thrillers, seen his books translated into forty languages and released in fifty-one countries, and has become a household name among audiences the world over. His success has given him a platform to garner attention for historical landmarks and libraries in need through his History Matters non-profit organization. For many aspiring authors, Steve is the big time, the level of success that up-and-coming authors dream of. And yet, it was not always that way.
Far from it, in fact.
Steve’s writing journey doesn’t start in 2003, when he debuted with The Amber Room, or even in 2002, when he signed his first publishing contract with Ballantine Books. Instead, we have to dial the clock back twelve years, when a thirty-five-year-old Berry finally answered that “voice” in his head telling him to write. Over the next decade, Steve would write eight complete manuscripts. In 1995, agent Pam Ahearn recognized his talent and signed him. For many aspiring authors landing a top agent, someone who is in the publishing business and believes in your stories as much as you do, is a major milestone, a validation that you’re doing something right and that your long-awaited window of opportunity is just around the corner. But sometimes, as Steve learned the hard way, that window could actually still be a long time coming.
As Steve finished manuscripts, Pam would send them out to every publisher that handled thrillers back then. Over the next seven years, those five manuscripts Pam submitted racked up rejections.
According to Steve, one big publishing obstacle was the kind of books he wrote. From the onset he wrote what he loved, the same kind of history-riddled, secrets-laced international action thrillers he’s known for today. When he started writing, the publishing industry considered those sorts of books “spy thrillers,” and, with the exception of blockbuster names like Ludlum and Cussler, who brought their own followings apart from ebbs and flows in the popularity of the genre itself, demand for the spy thriller dried up in the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War. Which, unfortunately, was around the time Steve started writing.
By Layton Green
I love international crime fiction—thus this column—and I’d long wanted to read something set during the Troubles (the brutal internecine conflict over the constitutional status of Northern Ireland that I remember so vividly from my youth.) Adrian McKinty, an award-winning Irish writer who grew up in Belfast, was recommended to me by a friend, and so I picked up a copy of GUN STREET GIRL, Adrian’s latest novel featuring Detective Sean Duffy, a Catholic police officer working the mean streets of Belfast during the Troubles.
And what an inspired recommendation it was. A fascinating mystery grounded in historical events, a setting that taught me something about the world, and spare but beautiful prose: GUN STREET GIRL was just what I wanted.
A little about Adrian: he’s written sixteen books in total, including four in the Detective Sean Duffy series. The first three form a loose trilogy, though Adrian tells me that any of the four can be read as standalones. While I’m itching to read the first three, I certainly had no problem jumping right in with GUN STREET GIRL.
Adrian’s complete list of awards and nominations is too lengthy to include. Some of the highlights: he’s been called a “master of modern noir” by The Guardian, and “one of his generation’s leading talents” by Publishers Weekly; he won the 2014 Barry Award for I Hear the Sirens in the Street (an Detective Sean Duffy novel), for which he was also shortlisted for the 2014 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière; The Dead Yard was selected by Publishers Weekly as one of the twelve Best Novels of 2006 and won the 2007 Audie Award for best thriller/suspense; In the Morning I’ll Be Gone won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best fiction, was shortlisted for the 2015 Audie Award for Best Thriller, and was named as one of the ten best crime novels of 2014 by the American Library Association.
Writer Amanda Coetzee was born in Bedford, England, has an honors degree in Performing Arts, and has performed in several countries. She worked in adult education (including a brief tenure at Holloway Women’s Prison) before travelling and eventually settling in South Africa. She now teaches English at Potchefstroom. She experimented with various genres, but loves mysteries and finally came to the intriguing story of Harry O’Connor a/k/a Badger.
Harry was abandoned as a young boy and adopted by a clan of Irish Travellers (gypsies). There he earns himself the nickname “Badger” by carving out a reputation as a bare-knuckle boxer who never backs down in a fight. As an adult, Badger joins the London Metropolitan Police and severs all ties with the Irish band until fate draws him back in the first book, Bad Blood (2011). His Traveller roots proved crucial in Redemption Song (2012), and there was more trouble ahead for him in Flaming June (2013). One Shot was released last year. Sarah Lotz (bestselling author of The Three) said: “Badger is fast becoming my favorite crime fiction protagonist” and One Shot is “a cracking read that is her best yet.” I agree. I asked Amanda about writing the book.
One Shot has a complex plot. It begins with what seems to be a drug hit, but it turns out to have a lot more ramifications. Did the novel start with a collection of different ideas or did you have it all coherent at the start? I guess I’m asking if you’re a plotter or a pantser, i.e., do you plot your novels in detail or do you start with a rough idea and play it by the seat of your pants?
I do most of my planning internally before I ever pick up my pen. I start with a subject that intrigues or horrifies me and begin to weave ideas and research together in a random exploration. From there I get serious. I draw plot diagrams and character sketches and have imaginary writing sessions in my head before I start to write. I always have the title before I finish my previous book and despite the attempt at serious planning, the novel often develops in unforeseen directions while I am writing. I think the short answer is I see myself as a methodical writer with a deeply superstitious and intuitive streak…
How can you tell if a historical mystery is going to be as exciting and suspenseful as any futuristic technothriller? Well, if it’s crafted by Thriller Master David Morrell, you can count on it. He proves that with INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, brilliantly merging historical fact and fiction.
Set in Victorian England, Morrell’s latest novel brings us eye-to-eye with a killer who targets the highest levels of British society. To battle this brilliant murderer, Morrell plucks one of the most sensational personalities from the 1800s and brings him to vibrant life. That protagonist is Thomas De Quincey, whose notorious Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, was the first book about drug addiction.
“It made De Quincey so famous that for the rest of his life he was called the Opium-Eater,” Morrell says. “Because of his opium dreams, he theorized that the mind had caverns and abysses, layer upon layer, with secret chambers in which alien natures could hide undetected. Basically, he anticipated the theories of Freud by three-quarters of a century. In fact, he invented the word ‘subconscious.’ He also influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.”
Adding to his accomplishments, De Quincey created the modern true-crime genre. In his On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts,, he dramatized the first media-sensation mass killings in English history, the shocking Ratcliffe Highway murders of 1811. Morrell says De Quincey’s blood-soaked depiction of those killings hooked him into writing about De Quincey.
“The premise of my first De Quincey novel, Murder as a Fine Art, is that someone uses his detailed essay as a blueprint for committing the murders anew,” Morrell says. “INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD continues De Quincey’s adventures when the Crimean War is raging. For a week, the shocking mismanagement of the war actually caused the fall of the English government. The premise of INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD is that someone uses this crisis as the ideal time to try to assassinate Queen Victoria.”
In reality, there were eight attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria, and Morrell incorporates elements of those attacks into his story.
De Quincey works with Scotland Yard detectives in the fascinating early days of crime-scene investigation, but even more interesting is the role played by his twenty-one year-old daughter, Emily, who provides an affectionate view of her opium-eater father, persuading readers to sympathize with him as much as she does. But writing from a female perspective can be a challenge for a male writer, and writing that character in a historical period is even harder, as Morrell says.
By James Ziskin
M. J. Rose is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen novels, including the Butterfield Institute and Reincarnationist series. Her latest novel, THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS, is the first book of a new trilogy from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster: The Daughters of La Lune. An opulent tale of destiny and reinvention, relentless passion and cabalistic mysticism, of love lost and the pursuit to regain it across death and the ages, THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS is set against the backdrop of Belle Époque Paris.
Sandrine Salome is the wife of a New York banker. And though she enjoys wealth, social position, and a profound, spiritual bond with her adoring father, her marriage is passionless. When her husband betrays her father and drives him to suicide, Sandrine flees secretly to Paris, where she enters her grandmother’s world, a demimonde of courtesans and their wealthy patrons. Here, Sandrine discovers her own burning passions and a promising new life as a painter studying at the École des Beaux-Arts. She resolves never to return to the life she left behind. But an ancestral malevolence lurks in the walls of her grandmother’s mansion. And it wants Sandrine’s heart and soul.
I sat down with M. J. Rose to discuss her career and her latest novel, the gripping and luxuriant THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS.
You have a passion for art, with roots going back to your formative years when you haunted New York’s greatest museums. Painting is at the heart of THE WITCH OF PAINTED SORROWS, from beginning to end. You present remarkable critical insight and knowledge of art, art history, and the mechanics of painting. Can you tell us something about your background in the world of art?
My grandmother was a painter and my mother a photographer. I loved painting and drawing from the time I can remember and started taking art classes when I was six years old—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—no less. From there, it was the Art Students League in high school and then onto college where I got a fine arts degree with a minor in art history. I would still be painting if there had been a way for me make a living at it, but try as I might, I just wasn’t very good.
By Wendy Tyson
Jean Heller is no stranger to the world of investigative reporting, and in her latest thriller, THE SOMEDAY FILE, Jean’s knowledge and experience show. THE SOMEDAY FILE follows the sharp and spirited Deuce Mora, a columnist for The Chicago Journal, in her dangerous quest for justice as she unravels the truth behind a fifty-year-old crime. Well-plotted and tightly-written, with a fascinating glimpse into the sometimes grim reality of print journalism, THE SOMEDAY FILE is a thrilling read.
Jean graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What can you tell us about THE SOMEDAY FILE that’s not on the back cover?
This is a book about obsession, guilt, obligation, and overcoming impossible odds under incredible pressure. Deuce Mora is a columnist for The Chicago Journal, a newspaper like most in the United States struggling against financial ruin in a digital world that seems to have left traditional newspapers in the gutter. She tries to interview an aging, low-level mobster who is living on beer, bourbon, and regret for the one mistake in his life that cost him everything. Deuce’s questions trigger a horrendous event that propels her into the nightmare of a fifty-year-old crime. To solve it, she must fight the cops, the Mob, politicians, prosecutors, and even her own editor. At the very least, Deuce’s quest will ruin her reputation and cost her job. Just as likely, it will cost her life.
As you note, The Chicago Journal is a newspaper struggling to survive in a digital world. You are well acquainted with journalism. In fact, you’ve had quite a career yourself, a career that includes eight Pulitzer Prize nominations. How have your experiences in the field of journalism impacted your novels? Deuce Mora’s character?
If I hadn’t been a journalist, I couldn’t have written the book. I was trained as a projects and an investigative reporter, which taught me legitimate ways to find elusive information. A retired New York City police detective said he was recommending the novel to young cops as a how-to on digging out information bad guys don’t want them to know. He told me my novel would be more effective than a police manual because the information is delivered in the context of a fascinating mystery, so young cops are more likely to remember it. And writers write what we know, or at least we should. I had so many incredible experiences as an investigative reporter I could populate a lifetime of thrillers. As for Deuce Mora, she’s younger than I am and taller than I am. But her sense of humor, her smartass responses to life, and her self-doubts are all mine.
By Derek Gunn
Lovecraftian Horror, the Elder Gods and anything Eldritch related is notoriously difficult to do well. The problem is that it is very difficult to get the right tone. Many of the attempts I have read fall into the fan fiction arena and, while there is nothing wrong with fan fiction, per se, the quality of Lovecraft’s writing makes most attempts pale in comparison. August Darleth and Robert E. Howard both got it right, and their stories stand proud in the list of wonderful Eldritch literature. And now we have another name. Douglas Wynne has managed quite a feat with RED EQUINOX.
The first thing that will strike you is the sense of place. Whether it is in a quiet church, in abandoned buildings, or on the city streets, the attention to detail of where the characters are is impressive. And it doesn’t get in the way of pace either. He takes time to set a scene, building a sense of impending terror, creepy imperfections that you notice out of the corner of your eye but can’t quite put your finger on—and all without losing the reader in a mire of long, unnecessary descriptions. I was hooked from the start.
I will not give too much away as regards the plot as one of the best things about the better tales of the Elder Gods is what isn’t blatantly stated. A ripple in still water is better than a gush in these tales, and the first part of the story is all about building tension. Of course, that changes later on.
The novel opens with Becca Philips’ journey to her grandmother’s funeral. Becca is an urban explorer and photographer. We are quickly introduced to a grandmother steeped in mystery and with a history of exploring the world’s cryptic past. Secrets abound about her grandmother but, with her death, these are lost.
Back in Boston, Becca visits an abandoned asylum and we are introduced to characters on both sides of the unfolding storyline. Cultists abound. There is a strange homeless man who is more than he seems and a creeping horror that is worming its way into our world.
If Becca can’t solve the mystery of her late grandmother’s gift, then the world will be lost to a sweeping horror beyond the realms of horror.
By Dawn Ius
In his twenty-five years as a business executive and management consultant, Douglass Seaver has authored dozens of articles, guest editorials, and even a chapter in a marketing book. Now, Seaver adds a full-length novel to his already impressive publishing resume, with the debut of his international suspense, THE FOURTH RULE.
THE FOURTH RULE is the story of two brothers—one a missing Green Beret, the other, Matthew Grant, charged with keeping a secret. When the CIA approaches Grant to help solve the mystery of his brother’s disappearance, readers are taken on a twisting journey of suspense and intrigue, culminating in a high stakes gamble of life…and peace.
Here, Seaver talks about what inspired THE FOURTH RULE, his transition to fiction, and what he’s working on next.
Congrats on your debut, THE FOURTH RULE. It sounds fascinating. What was the inspiration for this story?
When I was fourteen, my dad told me a story about a man who rose every morning, got dressed, had breakfast with his family, and left for work. He rode the elevator down to the lobby, exited his apartment building, walked across the street to the local bakery, and bought a chocolate croissant. He returned to his building, went down to the basement, hid the white bakery bag with the croissant, and went on to work. At the end of the day, the man returned to his building, went to the basement, threw the bag and the chocolate croissant into the furnace, and then went up to his apartment and family.
Four decades later, I remembered the story, and it led me to think about keeping secrets. I became fascinated by the impact secrets might have on those who keep them. That curiosity became the backbone of the plot for my novel.
By George Ebey
Author Gigi Pandian’s latest book, QUICKSAND, gives us the third entry in her Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt series.
This time around, Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of some interesting characters, Jaya delves into France’s colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Gigi to learn more about her and QUICKSAND.
Can you tell us a little about QUICKSAND and the series it’s set in?
QUICKSAND is the third book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series, but it stands alone, too. In each book in the series, history professor Jaya Jones solves a present-day crime linked to a historic treasure that has to do with India’s colonial history.
In QUICKSAND, Jaya has the best intentions but finds herself part of an art heist at the Louvre. She discovers that the theft is part of a much bigger treasure hunt that has led to murder, and to set things right she enlists the help of an ex-thief and a ninety-year-old French stage magician. The hunt takes them from Paris to Les Machines de l’île in Nantes to the ancient fortress of Mont Saint-Michel, where Jaya discovers hidden secrets of France’s colonial past. But a dangerous thief will do anything to silence Jaya before she can reveal what she knows.
The previous two books—Artifact and Pirate Vishnu—have been treasure hunts that led from San Francisco to the Highlands of Scotland and the southern tip of India, respectively.
When Hallie Ephron was ten years old, living in Beverly Hills with her screenwriter parents and three sisters, an extraordinary event in her own community seized her imagination: Cheryl Crane, the 14-year-old daughter of Lana Turner, stabbed her mother’s lover, Johnny Stompanato, to death.
Young Hallie devoured all the information she could find about the case—“My parents never censored our reading; they just encouraged us to read and ask questions,” she said in a recent interview—and decades later it became the starting point for NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, a thriller coming out this month.
NIGHT NIGHT, set in 1986, isn’t a retelling of the Cheryl Crane story, but a similar murder figures prominently in the background of main character Deirdre Unger. When Deirdre arrives in Beverly Hills to help her father sell his dilapidated house, she finds him dead in the swimming pool. At first, his death appears accidental, but soon the police are calling it murder—and Deirdre is a prime suspect. In search of the truth, Deirdre follows threads that lead back to 1958, when her best friend, Joelen Nichol, confessed to killing her movie-star mother’s boyfriend. Deirdre was in the Nichol house that night, and suffered a personal tragedy in the aftermath of the murder. The more she digs into the past, the more she suspects those distant events are related to her screenwriter father’s death.
Library Journal called NIGHT NIGHT an “entertainingly suspenseful read with its mix of movie stars, scandal, gossip, and mystery.” Booklist praised the author’s vivid recreation of old Hollywood in a “fast-moving tale, with building suspense and the price of fame at its center,” and Kirkus Reviews described it as a “page-turner with juicy Hollywood insider details.”
Hallie emphasizes that she didn’t know Lana Turner and her daughter, yet the story had a strong effect on her. “Of course, I wasn’t mature enough to fully grasp it, [but] I was in awe of Cheryl Crane. I thought she was courageous, heroic even, to take on a bully to protect her mother. And then, of course, she paid the price. Imagine, after that every person she met would know the story and what she’d done. She sacrificed her privacy and anonymity, precious commodities even in Hollywood where fame is so highly prized.”
The Hollywood era in which Hallie set the novel is one she knew well. “I grew up there in the 50s and 60s and went back from time to time. I saw the impact of the collapse of the studio system—my parents were screenwriters at 20th Century Fox and overnight they were out of work. By the 80s most of the studio had been bulldozed and turned into Century City. So it’s an interesting place and time period to set a story.”
In David Putnam’s new novel, THE REPLACEMENTS, ex-cop Bruno Johnson is drawn into a deadly, twisted game to save two kidnapped girls. They’re in the hands of Jonas Mabry, a man Johnson once saved from death—as a child, Mabry was shot by his own mother. Now, seeking a warped form of revenge, he’s demanding a $1 million-dollar ransom for the girls.
Following the events of 2014’s The Disposables, Johnson is living in Costa Rica when the book opens. He’s hiding out from the FBI, tending bar and supporting eight children he illegally rescued from abusive homes. Johnson agrees to help a former colleague and risk arrest back in L.A. to help track Jonas down.
To write THE REPLACEMENTS Putnam, who’s now retired, draws on his former law enforcement experience. During his career, he worked primarily in California on teams for patrol, investigations, S.W.A.T., narcotics, violent crimes, criminal intelligence, internal affairs, detective bureau, and as child protective services coordinator. His final assignment in law enforcement was as a Special Agent working in Hawaii.
He took some time out from growing organic California avocados and spending time with his wife, Mary and their two dogs, to answer a few questions about THE REPLACEMENTS, and writing contemporary thrillers.
Your hero from The Disposables returns in THE REPLACEMENTS to work on a case for which he has a strong personal tie. How important do you believe a link between the hero and his goal is in a contemporary thriller?
I believe the goal is only the vehicle or framework to display character. What is more important is how the character evolves within that framework. In order for the story or novel to be a success, the character has to be three-dimensional. I believe this is accomplished through voice: consistent, strong, emotional, unique and with nuance of point of view. A long-time mentor of mine, Jerry Hannah, has always drilled into me that: story is not story; character is story.
By John Raab
Stephen Edger started out like thousands of other authors today and self-published his first novel, Integration in 2010. By 2014, he’d not only had several other successful titles on Amazon, but was picked up by Endeavour Press, which published Crosshairs, the first in his The Cadre series.
The Big Thrill recently had a chance to catch up with Stephen to talk about his second book in the series, COMPLICIT .
COMPLICIT is your latest book, can you give us the inside scoop, not on the back cover?
COMPLICIT is the second book in The Cadre series and follows on from where the first book (Crosshairs) finished. It is now November 2014. The current Prime Minister has been executed by ‘The Cadre’ a secret organization fronted by the heads of industry (media, finance, security services etc.). They have plans to start a new war on the Middle East, with a view to driving forward a New World Order, with Britain at the head of the table. The trouble is: the man hired to kill the PM, Dylan Thomas, is a petty thief who has just ripped off a loan shark, drug dealer and the Russian Mafia, and is on the run. The group identify Dylan’s oldest friend, Connor Price, as their best chance of silencing Dylan before he reveals their plans.
It’s a political thriller with a ‘man against the world’ plot.
There is a debate between Character Driven vs. Plot Driven, which side do you stand on?
Definitely plot driven. I always start with a plot and build characters around it. You can write the strongest character, but if the plot is weak, you will upset your readers.
You have published over a dozen books, when someone meets you for the first time where do you suggest they start?
Of the eight novels I’ve published, three of them are part of a trilogy (Integration, Redemption and Shadow Line), three of them are standalone stories (Remorse, Snatched and Trespass) and the final two (Crosshairs and Complicit) will be part of a series when I publish the final part (Double Cross) in June this year. Despite this, the time periods for each story mirror the order they were published in. Although the main characters can vary from book to book, a number of the background characters (e.g. police officers) appear in several of the stories and I make references to previous stories in later books. I guess what I’m trying to say is people should start with my first book Integration and work forwards.
By Basil Sands
Does crime pay? Rick Mofina might say yes. He has been making his living writing about it since he sold his first short story to a magazine at age fifteen. During college he walked in Hemingway’s shoes as a rookie reporter for The Toronto Star launching a career in journalism that spanned three decades. He’s been face-to-face with murderers on death row, covered a horrific serial killing case in California, an armored car heist in Las Vegas, and the murders of police officers in Alberta. He’s flown over Los Angeles with the LAPD, and gone on patrol with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic. And he’s reported from the Caribbean, Africa, and Middle East. All of it helped prepare him for his work as a successful crime novelist.
Today we’re here to talk about his latest novel FULL TILT.
Rick, please tell us a little about FULL TILT.
FULL TILT is the second book in the new series featuring Kate Page, a reporter with a global wire service based in New York City. Kate was orphaned as a child and had a hard life. But she’s a fighter and a survivor. We find Kate, now a single mom, working in Manhattan, when she receives a heart-stopping call from a detective. A guardian angel charm found at a horrific crime scene fits the description of the one belonging to Kate’s sister, Vanessa, who washed away after a car crash in a mountain river twenty years ago. Kate has spent much of her life searching for the truth behind her little sister’s disappearance. Now Kate is faced with one last chance to either mourn Vanessa’s death—or save her life.
How do you come up with the story lines you write?
I like to start with a “seed of ‘reality,’” to help shape a story. A larger part of my news reporting experience involved working the police beat. It put me face-to-face with the best and worst of the human condition. I was expected to write about it, to make some sense out of horrible incidents that made no sense at all, then present it in a story to readers on deadline. Sadly, the true horrors that happen everywhere every day seldom end well, if they end at all. This is something I bear in mind in writing crime fiction. I try to apply the fundamental code of most crime fiction, which is the restoration of order to chaos. And I try to start with a ‘grain of truth,’ to build on a solid foundation for a compelling story, from there I’ll apply the “what if,” this happened element, and off we go.
By Dawn Ius
If you knew Philip Donlay in high school, you probably caught him just “flying around.” At seventeen, he was the only student in the school with his pilot’s license—a rare accomplishment for most, but for Donlay a somewhat natural progression in his life’s navigation.
Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, the Air Capital of the World, coupled with the fact that Donlay’s grandfather was a pilot, Donlay’s love of flying was essentially part of his DNA, as natural as breathing air.
Over the years, he’s been a flight instructor, flown a private jet for a Saudi prince, and for twenty-eight years, flew a corporate jet for a Fortune 500 company, logging almost 14,000 hours of flight time. Even still, he remembers his first solo flight with crystal clarity.
“I was a teenager flying a Cessna, realizing a lifelong dream, and it changed me,” he says. “The sense of freedom and accomplishment was, and still is, extraordinary.”
Although he’s officially retired from flying, Donlay now merges his love of planes with another great passion—writing. AFTERSHOCK is his fifth novel centered on Donovan Nash, a pilot with an unwavering belief system and a compassion for people that inspires him to be a hero, without the trumped up title.
“My vision of him is private, but what I want people to think about when they read my books is that brave people don’t all have super powers, or Ninja skills,” Donlay says.
Though some might suggest that Nash’s demonstrated piloting skills put him somewhere in the super hero range. In AFTERSHOCK, Nash is challenged to perform a dangerous rescue amid earthquakes, volcanic ash and lava from the eruption, a scenario inspired by one of Donlay’s more thrilling flights.
By Ian Walkley
Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut thriller introduces readers to an exciting new protagonist, Van Shaw, whose military and thieving skills inevitably find him immersed in the high-stakes and violent underworld of ruthless criminals where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law.
In PAST CRIMES, former thief and now Army Ranger Shaw receives a call from his criminal grandfather Dono to come home to Seattle. But when he arrives at Dono’s house in the early hours of the morning, Van discovers the old burglar bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, the battle-tested Ranger knows the cops will like him for the crime. Diving back into the illicit world he’d sworn to leave behind, Van reconnects with the ruthless felons who knew Dono best. Armed with his military and criminal skills, he follows a dangerous trail of clues that leads him deeper into Dono’s life—and closer to uncovering what drove his grandfather to reach out after years of silence.
The book already is creating buzz: Lee Child described it as “a home run off the first pitch,” and J.A. Jance called Hamilton “a gifted writer with a sure hand.”
Glen, first tell us what made you come to write this type of story.
The story evolved by blending my favourite aspects of mystery literature. I’m never quite sure what to call it. It’s definitely intended to be thrilling, with a lot of action scenes. It has many characters who are crooks tangled up in their various schemes, but it’s not strictly a crime thriller. And there’s a fair amount of good old-fashioned whodunit in the recipe. Add a dash of memoir, since we see Van at different ages as he’s growing up with Dono. A bouillabaisse thriller, perhaps? Mystery smorgasbord?
Speaking of Dono, tell us a little about the relationship between Van Shaw and his grandfather—how is that background an important element in the changing nature of Van Shaw?
Van came to live with his grandfather Dono—a career criminal—at six years old after his mother died. Dono and Van’s mother had a falling out, and Dono may be trying to make that right by giving his grandson a home. But of course, Dono’s approach to raising a child is a little outside the norm. Van grew up with a very skewed sense of right and wrong. As an adult and as a soldier, he’s worked hard to reset that moral compass.
Anne Rule crowned Kathryn Casey one of the best true crime writers today, and called DELIVER US, “A true crime classic! A chilling study where both the victim and the stalker are bizarre and inscrutable.”
In DELIVER US, Casey delivers a riveting account of the brutal murders of eighteen young women in the I-45/Texas Killing Fields. Over a three-decade span, more than twenty women—many teenagers—died mysteriously in the small towns bordering Interstate 45, a fifty-mile stretch of highway running from Houston to Galveston. The victims were strangled, shot, or savagely beaten. Six met their demise in pairs. They had one thing in common: being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In this harrowing true crime exposition, award-winning journalist Kathryn Casey tracks these tragic cases, investigates the evidence, interviews the suspects, and pulls back the cloak of secrecy in search of elusive answers.
Kathryn Casey is an award-winning journalist and an author, who has written for Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Reader’s Digest, Texas Monthly and many other publications. She’s the author of seven previous true crime books and the creator of the highly acclaimed Sarah Armstrong Mystery series. Casey has appeared on Oprah, Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen, Biography, Nancy Grace, E!, truTV, Investigation Discovery, the Travel Channel, and A&E. Casey is based in Houston, where she lives with her husband and their dog, Nelson.
By Amy Lignor
Louise Voss is a name that continues to grow on the literary scene. As both a solo artist, and co-author with Mark Edwards, Voss has contributed to some of the most exciting, intriguing novels in the suspense category. She’s also an author who has proven that starting out in self-publishing doesn’t necessarily hinder a career. In some cases, such as hers, it can pole-vault an unknown writer to the top of the charts.
Voss was gracious enough to talk to The Big Thrill this month about her endeavors, and the excitement she has for her readers, social media, and being in the “thriller” realm.
Social media is being given a great deal of praise when it comes to helping a writer go from “anonymous” to “well-known name.” Can you tell us a little about the your fantastic Facebook page?
Fortunately, Mark and I both really enjoy social media. I think you have to, in order to do it successfully. We love engaging our readers through our joint Facebook page, and it’s been extremely helpful to us in various ways creatively, too: we’ve run competitions to name characters and, in our last novel, even a dog. Engaging with our readers has also yielded various experts when we’ve needed them—particularly with regards to legal and police procedural matters. It’s also so enormously heartening to receive supportive emails.
We don’t own a “massive” following on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s a very loyal and engaged one, which is lovely, and it slowly builds up all the time. I can’t imagine being able to reply to everyone personally if the number of followers rises into the tens of thousands over time. Still, it would be a quality problem to have.
STIFF PENALTY, released in February by Kensington, is the sixth book in the Mattie Winston mystery series by Annelise Ryan (the pen name of author Beth Amos). Like so many writers, as a child Amos usually had her nose in a book and dreamed early on of being a writer. Like perhaps not so many, she wrote hundreds of short stories and has saved all her rejection letters to prove it. Doubting her ability to support herself through writing, Amos decided to pursue a career in nursing. She never stopped writing, however, and at the age of forty sold her first full-length novel, Cold White Fury, to Harper Collins. Amos was off to the races. In addition to her first novels with Harper Collins and the Mattie Winston series, she writes the Mack Dalton mystery series under the pen name Allyson K. Abbott.
STIFF PENALTY is edgy, smart, and crisp, the characters distinctive, sometimes quirky, but always believable. The tension and suspense so expertly crafted by Amos are enhanced by a good dose of wry humor, and her medical knowledge lends rich credibility to her story. When you visit her website, be sure to take a look at her workshops on building characters, suspense, and other valuable writing tips. She’s got a lot of good advice!
Amos took time to talk with The Big Thrill about the writing life.
Medical Examiner Mattie Winston, your central character, is six foot tall, insecure about her looks, politically incorrect, and has a quite active libido—somewhat different from most female protagonists. What was the inspiration for her character and is there a message you want your readers to grasp?
Despite her differences, I think Mattie is in many ways the universal woman. We all have insecurities about how we look, and we all have naughty, politically incorrect, or even mean-spirited thoughts at times. Mattie is tall because I’m tall and the difficulties and insecurities that go along with that are something I know. Mattie often says the things I wish I could say. And I think Mattie’s desire to be loved and appreciated is a universal need that most women can relate to. Mattie has insecurities, but she’s a strong, independent woman who learns to trust her instincts, live with her shortcomings, and make the most of her strengths. She has a strong sense of who she is and what she wants, and she’s not afraid to go after it. Okay, maybe she’s a little afraid, but her fear empowers her in many ways. If there is a message of any sort in there, it’s that we’re all okay the way we are, and we shouldn’t be afraid to reach for those goals and desires.
By E. M. Powell
I’m going to start by making a confession. When I got the e-mail asking if I’d be interested in covering Nicole Maggi’s new release, THE FORGETTING, my initial reaction was, “Well, it’s probably not for me.” You see, THE FORGETTING is a Young Adult (YA) thriller and the last time I could be described as a YA was in another century. But then I read the description, and saw that it’s about a teenager who wakes up after a heart transplant—and finds that she’s inherited the memories of her donor. I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for medical thrillers. I was in. Nicole very kindly provided me with a copy of the book, and with a bit of time to spare, I thought I’d get started on a few chapters. I emerged hours later with my afternoon’s other tasks still to do. It is a gripping, original read, and there was so much I wanted to ask Nicole.
Nicole is originally from upstate New York and has worked as an actor. But sunny Los Angeles is where she’s made her home with her husband and daughter, and two oddball cats. Nicole is also the author of The Twin Willows Trilogy.
It’s an intriguing hook to have your heroine, Georgie Kendrick, as the teenage recipient of a transplanted heart. So much of her experience reads as genuine. Have you had experience of this in your life? What research did you do around this topic?
I have not had an organ transplant myself, so I wanted to be sure that I was accurate with the research. I reached out to a couple of transplant recipients but wasn’t able to connect with any, so I relied on information from some other sources. I talked to my own cardiologist and I connected with LifeSource, which is an organization that helps educate the public about organ donation and offers support to donors and recipients and their families. I read a lot about real-life recipients who have gone on to do some incredible things, which I managed to work into the book. And I talked to my dad, who had quadruple bypass surgery over a decade ago, about the physical effects and recovery from open-heart surgery.
By Dawn Ius
Leslie Budewitz started writing at the age of four—on her father’s desk. Literally. She would scrawl on top of the wood with her crayons, pencils, or whatever she could find.
Thankfully, her parents were understanding, and to this day, Budewitz’s mother, now eighty-nine, buys her daughter notebooks and pens for Christmas, a loving reminder about the concept of paper.
Harriet the Spy inspired Budewitz to use the notebooks, a habit still, but she concedes they’re more of a journal than a secret spy record.
In them, she jots ideas for recipes and stories—both of which are passions she’s combined to write cozy mysteries, such as her latest, ASSAULT AND PEPPER, the first in her new Spice Shop series.
“One challenge of starting a new series—and a big part of the fun—is populating the story and getting to know the characters,” she says.
In ASSAULT AND PEPPER, Pepper Reece is the proud new owner of the Spice Shop in Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, and by Budewitz’s own description, someone who “totally does not mind being the poster child for the cliché, life begins at forty.”
“After thirteen years of marriage, she discovered her police officer husband and the meter maid in a back booth in a posh new restaurant practically plugging each other’s meters,” she says. “She moved out and bought an unfinished loft in a century-old downtown warehouse. Then the law firm where she’d worked imploded in scandal and took her job with it. So naturally, she tossed her office wardrobe, cut her hair, and bought the Spice Shop, a forty-year-old institution that had lost its verve.”
By John Clement
LADLE TO THE GRAVE is the fourth installment in the Soup Lover’s Mystery Series by Connie Archer. The books follow the story of Lucky Jamieson, whose life was turned upside down when her parents met an untimely death in a car crash on an icy road. Lucky has returned home to the cozy, idyllic town of Snowflake, Vermont, to run her family’s popular soup shop, “By The Spoonful,” but (as is wont to happen in these cozy, idyllic towns) murder is afoot…
The latest book opens in the woods. It’s almost May, and some of Snowflake’s local ladies have organized a celebration to welcome the arrival of spring. But it doesn’t quite go as planned, does it?
Certainly not! It’s a murder mystery after all. I had a lot of fun imagining this scene and it actually turned out a bit more humorous, I think, than I had originally anticipated (that’s if you ignore the death throes of the local woman.)
New England has a rich and fascinating history, but also a dark one. At the time I was working on LADLE TO THE GRAVE, I was reading a very well-researched non-fiction work on the Salem Witchcraft trials of 1691-1692. This book was far more chilling than any horror story I could have imagined. So I think a bit of that concurrent reading inspired the pagan scene. Now, I’m not equating paganism with horror, not at all; however, that’s not how the early Puritan colonists would have viewed it.
Growing up in New England I always felt the shadow of its Puritanical past, its history of witchcraft trials, even its Indian massacres. And I’m reminded of Shirley Jackson, a transplanted Californian, who said she was inspired to write The Lottery and other horror stories after her years of living there. I understood what she meant about the “hauntedness” of that part of the country. That’s one of the reasons it’s been so enjoyable for me to write a series set in Vermont and to juxtapose the comfort and safety of the village against the sense of danger lurking in the woods.
When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother, Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world.
When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, the trio find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s . . .
Welcome Trish and Lindsay, and thanks for spending some time with us.
Brian: CREED sounds like a very grisly story. Did you pull any punches because of the intended young adult readership?
Lindsay: Absolutely not. While I think an awareness of the target audience you’re writing for is important, we don’t like holding back for the sake of being safe. There’s a line between content that is valuable and content that is gratuitous, and we truly believe we’ve stayed on the right side of that line with CREED.
Ellie: What kind of ambitions do you have for your career?
Trish: To give the hundreds of characters circling my mind a fictional world to call their own. To get better with each chapter, with each manuscript I write. To find the courage to dig deeper and write harder than I ever dreamed possible. Essentially, I want to continue to grow as an author.
Lindsay: I love writing, so my ambitions are pretty simple: to keep doing it. Ten years from now if I’m still fortunate enough to be writing YA lit, I’ll be one grateful author.
I’d like to open a door to another history, an alternate history, where wonderful heroes we know and love go on even more fabulous adventures than they did in their real lives. Standing right on the other side of that door is Francine Mathews, whose WWII spy thriller TOO BAD TO DIE will be released this month.
It’s a pleasure to interview Mathews, a writer right at the other spectrum of political fiction than me: she writes historical thrillers and I write “right-the-hell-now” ones; she has written more than twenty books and I’ve written one. It’s a match made in heaven and I was a little giddy when I received the opportunity to conduct the interview.
For those of you who don’t know Mathews, she studied history at Princeton and Stanford, and then worked as an intelligence analyst at the CIA for four years. She’s written twenty-five novels under two names—the other being Stephanie Barron—most of them historical fiction dealing with real-life historical figures.
To start, would you tell our readers about TOO BAD TO DIE? What inspired the novel?
You know, when I wrote JACK 1939 a few years ago—about Jack Kennedy’s six-month odyssey through Europe when he was twenty-two and Hitler was embarking on his invasion of Poland—I kept running into Ian Fleming. He knew everybody Jack knew, on two different continents, and he had a finger in every one of World War II’s spies as assistant to the Chief of Naval Intelligence. I like to write about real people in unreal situations. When I realized Fleming had actually planned the Tehran Conference, which Hitler intended to explode by assassinating Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt—I thought, okay, that’s the next book!
By Karen Harper
If anyone proves that ITW is international, it is Cecilia Ekback. Her parents are from Lapland; she was born in Sweden, lives in Canada, and has traveled all over the world in her earlier career. The setting and plot of WOLF WINTER are as unique as the author.
What is your novel about?
WOLF WINTER is set in Swedish Lapland, in 1717, on Blackåsen Mountain where a group of disparate settlers struggle to forge new lives. There are six settlements on the mountain. A day’s journey away is an empty town that only comes alive twice a year when the Church summons her people. Maija, her husband, and two daughters arrive in Blackåsen from Finland to escape past traumas and start over.
Not long after their arrival, the daughters stumble across the mutilated body of a fellow settler, Eriksson. The locals are quick to dismiss the culprit as a wolf or bear. But Maija is unconvinced and compelled by the ghosts of her own past. She just cannot let it rest.
As the seasons change and a harsh winter descends on the settlers, Maija finds herself on a dangerous quest to unearth the secrets of her neighbors and of the Church. But it’s a dangerous pursuit for everyone who has come to Blackåsen, because each of them has come there to escape someone or something.
The setting for WOLF WINTER seems unique and intriguing. Did you start with setting and grow plot and character from there, or did you conceive of this novel in another way?
“Wolf winter,” or Vargavinter, as the word is in Swedish, is a really cold, long, and bitter winter. But it is also how we talk about the worst period in a human being’s life: brought on by loss, or illness. The kind of period that reminds us we are mortal and, ultimately, always alone. My father was my best friend. The period preceding and just after his death was my wolf winter, and the book was written as a riposte to that event. Thus, I started with the idea of characters passing through their wolf winters.
Every so often you come across an author and you think, how the heck does s/he do it? The answer is invariably talent and hard work. Very hard work. Wendi Corsi Staub adds to that a game plan devised many years ago. We’ll call it vision married to determination.
A New York Times and USA Today bestselling suspense writer, Wendy is the award-winning author of more than seventy novels. Yes, seventy! I didn’t ask her how old she is but the answer is not old enough for that tally unless she really burns her days. Which she does, as she describes in the discussion below.
She has published in various genres including suspense, horror, historical and contemporary romance, television and movie tie-in, and biography. She also co-authored a mystery series with the late New York City mayor Ed Koch and has ghost-written for a number of bestselling authors and celebrities.
She has written numerous women’s fiction novels under the name Wendy Markham. THE BLACK WIDOW is her third stand-alone that explores the fascinating, topical and creepy world of predators lurking on the Internet and our vulnerability to them.
Playing on the Internet from the safety of our homes gives us a false sense of security that can make us take risks we never would outside, in the real world.
“In the moonlight, shovelfuls of earth fall on a wooden crate at the bottom of a deep pit. Soon the hole will be filled and covered over with leaves, leaving no trace of the victim below, waking to the horror of being buried alive…”
By Dawn Ius
Jack DeWitt knows hot rods and custom cars.
From the likes of Duane Steck’s homebuilt Moonglow ’54 Chevy to Bob McCoy’s Raked and Flamed ’40 Ford Sedan, and almost everything in-between, DeWitt has researched cars, driven them, customized them, and written about them in various articles, blog posts, books, and even, poems.
His latest published work, DELICIOUS LITTLE TRAITOR, featuring Varian Pike, has little to do with hot rods, but it is certainly written with the same meticulous research for which DeWitt is known.
DELICIOUS LITTLE TRAITOR begins quietly in December 1953 when rugged WWII vet and now private investigator Varian Pike looks into the disappearance of a missing young girl and lands in the middle of a war between federal agencies. Along the way he finds that almost everyone has a deep secret and a grudge to settle—especially the girl.
Pike isn’t much of a talker but “he is very good at what he does, not because he has any special mental or physical abilities, but because he just hangs in there,” DeWitt says. “He has tried hard to simplify his life: Do the job. Be loyal to those who deserve loyalty. Stay in the shadows. Hide the scars. He loves jazz and movies. In fact, his worldview is almost entirely taken from Hollywood.”
An intriguing perspective, given that the book is set in the fifties, a period in time that represents a distinct dividing line in culture. As DeWitt notes, the fifties hardly age.
“James Dean, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe are still used to sell stuff without any sense they are historical figures,” he says. “The clothes I wore in the fifties, I still wear today and I don’t look weird—khakis, boat shoes, crew neck sweaters, tweed sports jackets. Johnny’s motorcycle jacket from The Wild One is still in fashion. People are modifying fifties cars or building earlier models as fifties hotrods. This is an odd and fascinating phenomenon.”
THE LYNCHPIN is the second novel in Jeffrey B. Burton’s Agent Drew Cady mystery series. Its predecessor, The Chessman, came out in 2012 to some excellent reviews, including a starred one in Publishers Weekly, and went on to sell to publishers in Germany, The Netherlands, Turkey, and the U.K.
The novel begins with Agent Cady having turned his life around. He’s waved goodbye to Washington, D.C., and ten-plus years of chasing violent felons for the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. He’s moved to Minnesota to be with his fiancée, and now works on the FBI’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force. Life could not be better.
However, Cady’s tranquility is short-lived. He is ordered to help the local authorities investigate the murder of a young woman whose body was pulled from Lake Superior, then his workload doubles when his former boss kills a fellow agent and stands accused of being a spy. Cady’s plans of living the dream dissolve into a nest of killings and foreign intrigue.
Jeffery Burton sat down for an interview with THE BIG THRILL to discuss the second entry into his series.
What does THE LYNCHPIN refer to?
The term refers to a high-level traitor—a mole that’s burrowed his or her way deep into one of our intelligence services and runs numerous cells from that perch. I grew up during the Cold War and, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, figured it might be a bit of wishful thinking to assume that those involved in the spy trade handed the ball back to the referee, shook hands, and went their merry way.
Dani Pettrey is a die-hard thrill seeker: heli-skiing, cave diving, storm kayaking—if it’s extreme, she’s there. Or so her website would have you believe.
In reality, these are just some of the wild adventures embarked on by the characters in Pettrey’s bestselling Alaskan Courage novels—a series about five siblings who own and run an Alaskan adventure outfitting company.
“The McKennas were all raised to live life to the fullest and at the same time to always help those in need,” she says. “They are a loving family full of distinct personalities, but since their folks died years ago, they are all each other has.”
For the past six years, the McKennas have become an integral part of Pettrey’s family as well, which is one of the reasons she has mixed emotions after completing the fifth—and final—installment in the series, SABOTAGED, due out this month.
The Alaskan Courage saga ends with the story of family troublemaker and professional snowboarder, Reef McKenna, who is paired up with childhood friend Kirra Jacobs to track a musher who has gone missing during the famous Iditarod race. Together they—along with the entire McKenna family—must stop a shadowy villain set to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen.
“I hope readers experience a great adventure full of romance, suspense and danger,” Pettrey says. “I also hope they find SABOTAGED a satisfying ending to the Alaskan Courage series.”
While Pettrey has moved on to writing the first novel in a new four-book romantic suspense series and is enjoying getting to know these fresh characters, she admits she teared up a little when she finished writing SABOTAGED.
By Jeff Ayers
Jon Wilson dives head first into the mystery/thriller genre with his latest novel, CHEAP AS BEASTS.
Like most soldiers, Declan Colette lost his fair share in the war—in his case a sailor, drowned off Iwo Jima. Since then he’s been scratching out a living as a cut-rate PI, drinking too much, and flirting with danger. Then a girl arranges to consult him, only to be murdered en route, and the cops tag Colette as their prime suspect. To save his neck he’ll need to find the real killer, a quest that pits him against a rival detective firm, a dangerously rich family, and a desperate foe whose murdering ways started back during the war.
Could this be the case he’s been waiting for? Catching the killer could make his reputation. Failing, could cost him his life.
Either way: win-win.
Jon took some quality time to chat with The Big Thrill.
What compels you to write?
An innate inability to do anything else. Life has shown me to have no aptitude for any job that requires I rise at a decent hour.
Also, I’ve always written stories and loved books—or at least since I was old enough to know what they were. I’ve actually dreamt my whole life of becoming a published author and I’m a little perturbed that it took so long. Well, better late than never I suppose.
By Tim O’Mara
I was in the Albany auditorium during the 2013 Barry Awards ceremony when Michael Sears and I both did not hear our names called for Best First Novel. About an hour later as we walked to a local bar to get some help with our mutual disappointment, he took the opportunity to call his wife.
“Hey, Hon” I remember him saying, “this not winning thing is getting a lot easier.” He laughed at something she said, but I could tell he’d rather be making the phone call for another reason. Michael’s first book, Black Fridays, had garnered five nominations and the Barry was the fourth one he “did not win.”
The following evening he took home the Shamus Award for “Best First P.I. Novel.” (“I didn’t even know I had written a P.I. Novel.”) He was so excited he called his mother and told her about the victory.
“Wonderful,” she said. “You won the Irish award.”
“I tried to spell the name for her,” he told me sometime later, “but she wouldn’t hear of it. She spelled it for me. To her it was the Seamus Award. And I had a second cousin Seamus so…it’s now known as ‘The Irish Award.’”
Speaking of cousins, Michael has always been close to his, and this was one of the reasons he decided to give his hero, ex–Wall Street wizard and ex-con Jason Stafford, a son who has autism. Two of his cousins have children “on the spectrum,” and Michael feels a great responsibility to get it right. (As a special education teacher, I can tell you he does just that.)
“Having a kid with autism,” he explained, “is an everyday reminder of never being able to do enough for your kids. It’s constant guilt. I’ve always been interested in writing about fathers and sons, and I felt very confident I could do this particular type of relationship. I read Temple Grandin’s book on how to parent an autistic child and I remember thinking, ‘This is true for any parent.’ The relationship between a parent and their child with autism is just so much more.”
By Ken Isaacson
Steve Cavanagh’s debut novel, THE DEFENCE, features con-artist-turned-top-defense-attorney Eddie Flynn. One advance reviewer has told us to imagine The Verdict’s Frank Galvin crossed with The Firm’s Mitch McDeere, and you’d get something like Eddie Flynn. This is enough to hook me, and I’m looking forward to the book’s release later this month.
The plotline for THE DEFENCE is taut: It’s been over a year since Eddie Flynn last set foot in a courtroom. That was for the trial that cost him his career and his family, and Eddie has vowed never to practice law again. But when Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, blackmails Eddie into defending him in a murder trial, Eddie has no choice but to comply. The Russians have kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter Amy and her life is on the line.
With all eyes on this high-profile case, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and unparalleled skills in the courtroom to defend his client and ensure Amy’s safety. Finally forced to confront the demons from his past and come to terms with the case that all but broke him, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? And with the clock ticking, will he be able to call on his contacts from the old days in order to double cross the Russians and get his daughter back?
Cavanagh has kindly agreed to answer some questions.
Caroline Cashion’s idyllic upbringing has always been a source of comfort to her, the result of which is a close adult relationship with her parents and siblings. She leads a quiet, academically rich life, spending her days teaching nineteenth-century French literature, and nights with her nose buried in a book. So when her chronic wrist pain leads her to have an MRI, she is stunned to discover that she has been carrying around a bullet in her neck.
One discovery leads to another. As her past unravels, she learns that the first three years of her life are a mystery—her parents are not really her parents, but adopted her and kept it from her all her life. Readers accompany Caroline on her harrowing ride to discover who murdered her birth parents, and whether the evidence she never knew she had, will make her the killer’s next target.
You have extensive experience traveling the world and reporting on very serious matters. Did you find it hard to sequester yourself and spend hours on end in the world of fiction?
It’s just a completely different job. I don’t mean making up a story from scratch; you’d be surprised how much creativity a news reporter exercises every day. Sure, you’re constrained by the facts, but you decide how to tell your story: where to begin it, and which voices to include, and what details to deploy to bring your facts to life. Send two journalists to cover the same dull Senate hearing, and you’ll end up with two very different reports, and one may be vastly more informative and entertaining.
For me, a key difference between daily news and writing fiction is one of scale. A typical news reports for the BBC or NPR runs about four minutes. A typical novel runs about four hundred pages. It’s a fascinating challenge to figure out how to sustain a reader’s interest for that long. Curling up with a novel feels like one of the last holdouts of continuous, deep attention in today’s crazy world. We all have so many demands on our time, and if a reader chooses to invest several hours in my novel, well, I want to make it worth his while.
Renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker is called in to audit the books. In what he thought was a sleepy provincial town, he is stonewalled, crosses paths with his first love, and stands up to high-level state officials keen on controlling the buyout.
Meanwhile, irresistible Virgile mingles with the local population until a drowning changes the stakes.
Part of the ongoing Winemaker Detective series.
“The Winemaker Detective mystery series is a new obsession.” —Marienella
“The descriptions of cognac and cigar scents and flavors drew me in as if I, too, were a connoisseur.” —4-star librarian review
“This book and its successors will whet appetites of fans of both Iron Chef and Murder, She Wrote.” —Booklist (on Treachery in Bordeaux)
By Dan Levy
For many writers, the seemingly sage, “Write what you know” can be a double-edged sword. Some are leery to go through the emotional proctological exam it takes to discover what they know. Others are either bored with, or downright sick of, what they know: that’s why they write.
Then, there are authors like Rick Campbell.
After twenty-five years in the Navy, having served on four different nuclear-powered submarines, Campbell began . . . writing what he knows.
We had the chance to talk with the retired Navy Commander, via email, to learn about how he put what he knows on the page, the challenges of knowing too much, and how to keep reality from getting in the way of good storytelling. An edited version of that conversation is below.
You’re clearly accomplished in your military career. What drew you to writing?
I had a story rolling around inside my head for twenty years, and I thought it would make a great movie. However, I didn’t know the first thing about writing a screenplay, nor did I have any contacts in Hollywood. So I thought that if I wrote a book and the right person read it, I’d have a shot. I wrote what I loved and no one else loved it, so I decided to write what I know. And what was that? Submarines.
By Dawn Ius
Resting prominently on Lisa Gardner’s desk is her International Thriller Writers Award for best thriller, a ceramic giraffe, and an article about how to identify a psychopath.
The ITW hardware represents the much-appreciated recognition from Gardner’s peers, while the giraffe is a gift from her daughter who understands her mother’s obsessions. As for the article on how to identify a psycho (spoiler alert: They’re everywhere), the piece is just one of the many resources this self-proclaimed research junkie will use to write such twisted psychological thrillers as her latest, CRASH & BURN.
With more than twenty-two million copies of her bestselling novels sold worldwide, one might think this is starting to feel old hat for Gardner. But while she’ll concede there’s a sense of legitimacy to publishing thirty books, the journey to publication never truly gets any easier.
“Each book is its own challenge,” she says. “It feels more comfortable now, and there’s less self-doubt, but I still expect the first one-hundred pages to be a pain in the ass.”
With CRASH & BURN, Gardner faced an even larger obstacle—after turning it in to her editor, she realized about a third of the manuscript would have to be scrapped.
“I knew the book was somehow wrong and with my editors’ advice, I’d have to fix it,” she says. “But in doing so, it became a book that I am proud of. I don’t consider myself a great writer, but I’m a damn good rewriter.”
Indeed, after transitioning from romantic suspense to crime fiction, Gardner wrote and rewrote her first book in the new genre for two years. A painstakingly slow process perhaps, but with an ideal end result—The Perfect Husband was a New York Times bestseller, firmly establishing Gardner’s place in the highly-competitive thriller realm.
The publishing world is often romanticized, sometimes ridiculed, and, like any other industry, surely misunderstood by the non-initiated. The Big Thrill’s readers are professional and aspiring writers, industry professionals, and especially fans of thriller, suspense, mystery, and crime fiction. As part of our continuing series, INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT, we focus this month on demystifying the publishing experience with a profile of a young mystery-and-thriller imprint, Seventh Street Books. —Eds
In the midst of the greatest revolution publishing has witnessed since Gutenberg—with independent authors publishing their own works, Amazon flexing its muscles like—well—an Amazon, and Barnes & Noble closing stores—Prometheus Books launched a mystery-and-thriller imprint in 2012. They named it Seventh Street Books, after the street where Edgar Allen Poe lived and worked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Guided by editorial director Dan Mayer, Seventh Street published its first two titles, The Bookseller by Mark Pryor and The Ragnarök Conspiracy by Erec Stebbins, in October of 2012. In little more than two years, Mayer has acquired and produced more than forty titles, many of which have garnered prestigious industry awards and nominations, as well as bushels of starred reviews. (See a partial list of awards and nominations at the bottom of this article.)
Beginning with Pryor’s 2012 breakout hit, The Bookseller, Seventh Street has been winning readers with compelling characters and distinctive settings. From McKinty’s magnificent Detective Sean Duffy novels, to the beloved Samuel Craddock series by Terry Shames, to outstanding standalones like The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day and The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, the Seventh Street catalogue is filled with titles that cross categories of genre and sub-genre, featuring original detectives of every conceivable stripe: hard-boiled cops, small-town sheriffs, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and librarians. Even a Depression-Era mixed-race albino bartender. (If you haven’t read John Florio’s startlingly good Jersey Leo series—Sugar Pop Moon and Blind Moon Alley—do so immediately.)
And there are more gems: Lynne Raimondo’s gripping series featuring blind psychiatrist Mark Angelotti (Dante’s Wood; Dante’s Poison; Dante’s Dilemma) is among the most intelligent and satisfying crime fiction I’ve read. Robert Rotstein’s unique and addictive thrillers (Corrupt Practices; Reckless Disregard; The Bomb Maker’s Son) will suck you into a black hole of all-night reading binges. Susan Froetschel’s Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit paint stories of challenging, complex issues in far-off exotic lands. L. T. Graham’s erotic psychological thriller, The Blue Journal, featuring Detective Anthony Walker, is the first of a new series. And Mark Pryor has produced one winner after another, transporting readers to Paris, London, and Barcelona in the company of his genial Texan hero, Hugo Marston (The Bookseller; The Crypt Thief; The Blood Promise; The Button Man; The Reluctant Matador), all in less than three years.
From Fleming to Clancy and Beyond:
Why We Love the Political Thriller
We love a political thriller.
We love goodies and baddies, edge-of-your-seat suspense, epic stakes and politics far sexier than your average strongly-worded UN Security Council Resolution. But what’s remarkable is how robust the genre has proven to be in film and fiction; its evolution from James Bond through the Cold War to now. The political thriller remains a staple of pop culture storytelling.
Things were easy right up until the fall of the Berlin Wall: Western (usually American) hero battles maniacal USSR villain with earth-scorching consequences if he loses. Yet after spinning its wheels through the mid-90s with nobody to worry about, the genre found the road again, with the rise of Islamic terrorism and China as popular fears in Western storytelling. In doing so, the genre has shown itself to be the lens that reveals the collective fear of the time.
Ian Fleming and Tom Clancy, among others, toiled easily in the fertile soil of the Cold War, but both authors also showed a remarkable knack for predicting the next “other” that we’d fear. In Clancy’s case, some even considered his 1994 thriller Debt of Honor to be the blueprint for 9/11(extremists flying planes into buildings). In their work, political thriller authors give the audience what they want, but they also need to cast ahead for what the audience should worry about.
For the audience, the appeal is clear:
The hero. The villain. From James Bond to Jack Ryan to Jack Bauer to Carrie Mathison, the genre specializes in creating heroes who are fairly easy to cheer for. Combine that with shallow and entirely throwaway villains and an army of fanatics/terrorists/rebels/sycophants for all the black and white needed to pass a few hours in entertainment.
Done in Fifteen Years:
The Long Road to Collaboration
Whenever a substantial creative endeavor (novel writing, film directing, music composition, etc.,) is accomplished by two or more people working together to achieve a single voice, the first things people want to know is: How did you come together to write the novel? And how did you do it?
In this Special to THE BIG THRILL, Grant Jerkins and Jan Thomas—co-authors of the police-sniper thriller, DONE IN ONE—take a look back at the unlikely circumstances that brought them together to write this “high-powered, bone-rattler of a novel.”
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Grant Jerkins: In the late 90s, I was working primarily as a screenwriter. I’d written five spec scripts and managed to get a few of them optioned—one to a well-regarded director/producer/writer who had a critically-praised hit under his belt. He was the real deal, a Hollywood player, so naturally, I was excited at the opportunity.
I received no money for the option, and there were a lot of ups and downs with funding, casting, and rewriting my original script. During this process, the director told me about another screenplay he’d optioned—he loved it, but wanted to do a complete rewrite. He didn’t have the time, so he asked me to take a swing at it.
I was excited and proud that he wanted me to take this on, even though I was paid in promises and glitter. I was desperate for a break, a chance to make my mark, so I rewrote the script, putting everything I had into it. I thought it turned out quite well, preserving the best aspects of the original while injecting my own brand of storytelling.
From my observations, people, especially the young, are surprisingly ignorant of history. When I taught writing courses to college students, I was dumbfounded by how little they know about historical events.
That got me thinking about some important periods in history, and what a travesty it would be if they were forgotten, only to suffer the risk of history, as they say, repeating itself. Thus became THE LAST WITNESS, a novel about the last living survivor of the Holocaust. In the book, the character’s one hundredth birthday takes place in 2039, but the world has all but forgotten.
Like many novels, it was first turned down by various publishers, one of whom said he had to “suspend disbelief” with the premise that people would know so little about the Holocaust a mere one generation down the road.
To prove my point, I decided to make a video—but not your regular, book-promo thing. I had a mission. A videographer and I spent an afternoon asking university students in Toronto, where I live, what they know about the Holocaust. And since this was a few days before November 11th, we also asked them about World War II.
What did we find? Many students didn’t know what happened at the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, who FDR and Churchill were, or what the Holocaust was all about. “I’ve heard of the Holocaust but I can’t explain it,” one student said. When I asked how many Jews were killed, another said, “thousands”—which is a far cry from six million.
Not a single student knew what The Final Solution was, or had heard of Joseph Mengele, and most had no idea who the Allies were, and yet, our video was shot just before November 11th—Remembrance Day in Canada, Veterans Day in the United States. It made me wonder: What would a veteran who stormed the beaches of Normandy with Allied forces on June 6th, 1944 think knowing that university kids today know nothing about what happened that day?