The Truth About Writing a Series: “Right Back to Square One”
There are series and then there are series. In 1982, Sue Grafton, a Kentucky-born writer with a fondness for Ross Macdonald, published A Is for Alibi. The novel introduced readers to Kinsey Millhone, a young female private investigator working in the fictional California town of Santa Teresa. As the books made their way through the alphabet, the mystery series attracted a growing, deeply loyal following and won Grafton multiple Anthony Awards and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. One caveat: She has vowed to never option her books to Hollywood and made her children promise to do the same “or else I will come back and haunt them.”
Grafton’s W Is for Wasted, published in 2013, offered two plot lines: Kinsey discovering relatives she never knew existed after a homeless man is found dead, and a shady investigator named Pete Wolinsky trying a dangerous move to get a big payday. In this August’s release, X, Kinsey is on the trail of a possible art thief while dealing with the collateral damage of Pete’s tragic mistakes–and in so doing attracts the attention of a serial killer.
X has soared to the top of fiction bestseller lists, proving that Grafton’s passionate dedication to her writing is undiminished. In this frank, often funny, interview with The Big Thrill, she reveals what it takes to write her series.
Many novelists are dying to make it as screenwriters. And yet you were once a working screenwriter with a lot of credits and dying to quit that and get into fiction. What’s the story there?
I worked in Hollywood for 15 years. And I don’t play well with others. I don’t like anybody’s help. I was getting angrier and angrier. I knew they were ruining me. There is no use making a decision if four people after you will have their ideas. I thought, I have got to get out of here. I wrote A Is for Alibi as my way out, to dig my way under the wall. It took me five years to write that book. I wrote it for love. I had never done a mystery before. I felt like I don’t know what this is, but it feels good to me and I am my own boss again. I got paid $10,000 for that book. And here I am today. There you have it.
X is a suspenseful read and it is a fast read, but it’s also a deceptively complex novel. You have three strands running through the plot, all of a different tempo. There’s the investigation, the detecting, both a new case and the unfinished business of Pete Wolinsky’s. There are character-based comedic passages. At times, it almost feels like a caper. But in the climax of the book I was terrified. So on one page I was laughing, and on another I was shaking.
I liked having the three strands. It seemed like a piece of knitting where you’re weaving colors together, and I enjoy that. If I have one story to tell, I worry I will get stuck or bored. I want to have cutaways.
The Boundless World of Jack Reacher
A TRAIN STOPS at night next to “a grain elevator as big as an apartment house,” and a single man gets out. “There was mist in the nighttime air like a note on a calendar.” A woman emerges from the shadows, eager to speak to him, until she realizes he’s not whom she was expecting, and her disappoint shows.
So begins MAKE ME, the twentieth novel written by Lee Child featuring Jack Reacher, a former major in the U.S. Army Military Police who now wanders America alone. Something always happens, and Reacher is, in his creator’s words, “in deep shit for the rest of the book.” Or to put it another way: “He’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time.” MAKE ME, which made its debut on The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list at Number One, is “pretty hard core even for a Reacher book,” said Child at a tour stop at Barnes & Noble in Manhattan’s Union Square. The twists are truly shocking. “I have a big surprise and then I have a bigger surprise,” the author said with a smile. To prevent spoilers, no more can be said on the plot of MAKE ME.
No less a fan than Malcolm Gladwell, in the pages of The New Yorker, described the appeal of Reacher’s “lawless pleasures”: “We know going in that Reacher will kill the bad guy through some combination of tactical brilliance and brute force. The pleasure is in Reacher’s moment of introspection in the millisecond before the action occurs: his silent consideration of the variables of physics, geometry, and psychology that comprise a violent encounter.”
In an interview with The Big Thrill, Lee Child opens up about his creation, Jack Reacher, and the craft of writing.
The first question from the audience at your Barnes & Noble event in September was about Tom Cruise playing Reacher, and later you were asked about another film being adapted from a Reacher novel. It seems that people frequently want to ask authors about film possibilities.
Yes, and you know I don’t care who plays Jack Reacher. The books are my thing. I don’t like the presumption that the books are not enough. In this view, it’s as if a book is a chrysalis yearning to be a movie. But for me, the book is the final product.
And of course authors have to accept the realities of adaptation.
I love Hollywood people, I like the movies. But if you’re going to turn a book into a movie, it will change a lot. A book has ten times the content of the movie.
Your novels are so very visual, they have a filmic quality, that could be bringing this about. The geography of the Reacher books is critical. What drew you to these remote towns, these wide open spaces?
Well I come from Europe, where we have places that are radically different 30 miles apart. And when I was driving through West Texas, I could go 80 miles without seeing a physical structure. I met a woman who said that she could not eat anything that she didn’t grow herself or shoot herself without needing to drive five hours to buy it. I loved that.
Agro-Terrorism: “A Match Made in Hell”
By Josie Brown
Picking up the latest novel in the Caitlyn Strong Texas Ranger series is like checking in with an old friend: you can’t wait to begin where you left off, and you’re always a bit sad when the visit comes to an end. Which is proof positive that Jon Land deserves the accolades he’s earned from readers, reviewers, and his peers.
Interviewing Land about his latest novel, STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, was just as fun as reading one of his books. See for yourself:
As with most of your books, in STRONG LIGHT OF DAY there are many “spinning plates”—conflicts—put into play. For example, the missing students, the rancher’s herd, the SEALS ’ find, just to name a few. Which was the first plot point that came to you? And in what order did the others follow?
Great question to start off. And the answer is none of the above. The first plot point was the notion of a nightmarish genetic anomaly created by exposure to a genetically produced pesticide—I got that from an article in The New York Times. As soon as I saw that, a lightbulb flashed in my head, spelling “agro-terrorism.” Some research followed where I determined this was something the Russians really did look into doing during the Cold War. So now I have the reconstituted remnants of an old Soviet plot, which gave me one set of bad guys. For the other, I looked to a greedy petro-chemical magnate whose miraculous discovery turns out not to be so miraculous at all. Other things sprang from there, like the disappearance of the high-school students on a field trip.
But here’s the simple truth: I didn’t know exactly how all the individual strands were going to connect when I conceived them—in other words, the pieces of the puzzle kept coming, but I had no idea initially how they were going to fit together.
That’s part and parcel of my writing process.
“How Crime Tears People Apart”
By E.M. Powell
With over 30 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Karin Slaughter clearly knows how to craft an exciting thriller. Yet her new novel, PRETTY GIRLS, is not another installment of her hugely popular Will Trent or Grant County series but a stand-alone. In the weeks leading up to its September 29th release, PRETTY GIRLS generated the level of word-of-mouth writers dream of. The Huffington Post’s headline read: “Slaughter’s PRETTY GIRLS requires a new level of praise,” while Parade magazine proclaimed that the book “lives up to every rave review she’s ever received.”
The novel is written from the points of view of three characters: sisters Claire and Lydia, and their father, Sam. Central to all their lives is the loss of Julia, third sister and eldest daughter who disappeared over two decades previously. While the question of what had happened to Julia is a central driver in the novel, it’s also a novel about the fallout from her disappearance, with the loss and anguish suffered by the family and the gradual destruction of both it as a unit and the individual members within it. While the rest of the world has moved on, the passage of years brings no comfort to Julia’s loved ones, but instead a sharpening of their agony every time a young woman goes missing or the remains of one are reported found.
PRETTY GIRLS is not just a point of view shift, though, but a plunge into human psychology. For The Big Thrill, Slaughter explains what motivated her to write this emotionally challenging novel that deals unflinchingly with the abduction, rape and murder of young women.
PRETTY GIRLS deals so much with the loss and anguish of families who have lost a daughter in this unthinkable way. What was your motivation for wanting to tell this particular story?
For years, I’ve written about crimes from the point of view of the people investigating and trying to solve the crime. I thought PRETTY GIRLS presented a good opportunity to talk about crime from the perspective of the family and community left behind. Whenever I start a story, I always remind myself that I am writing about awful things that happen to people every single day (and in the case of sexual assault, almost every minute) so this was my way of exploring how families manage to recover, or if not recover, try to come back, from something unthinkable happening to a loved one.
One of the things I enjoyed the most was how character-driven a novel it is. Where did you draw your inspiration from and did you have a particular favorite?
When I considered the shape of PRETTY GIRLS, and the narrative structure, I envisioned writing a story about how crime tears people apart and sometimes brings them back together. The two sisters, Claire and Lydia, grew up in the same house. Each lost their older sister, each lost their parents (in various ways), and they both became very different adults. I’m the youngest of three sisters, and it has always fascinated me how different we all are, even though we grew up together. I wanted to explore that dynamic and of course the best way to talk about characters is to put them in a crime novel. Nothing distils personality better than the threat of danger lurking around the corner. Looking at it objectively, I probably felt closer to Claire because she’s the youngest. She does a lot of things that I would do. Then again, I think Lydia gets some great lines. Then again (again) if you bring Sam into the mix, I love his letters. He reminds me a bit of my own father. I consider him the true heart of the book.
Writing the Post-Colonial Crime Novel
Born in England, C.M. Elliott is the author of the Sibanda series, crime and wildlife adventure novels set in the African bush. She moved from Australia to Zimbabwe in 1977 and has lived in and around Hwange National Park for a number of years. Her first full length novel, Sibanda and the Rainbird, was published in 2013.
Congratulations on your second Detective Sibanda novel. Right from the start, I was intrigued by the title, SIBANDA AND THE DEATH’S HEAD MOTH, especially because of the creepy myths related to the death’s-head hawk moth with its skull-and-crossbones markings. How does the moth relate to the text here?
The death’s-head moth has stirred the imagination of the sensitive for centuries. The moth is said to have made its first appearance in Britain at the beheading of Charles I, a suitably spooky entrance. Bram Stoker stoked the spine chills by giving it a bit part in Dracula, and a starring role in The Silence of the Lambs cemented the insect into folk lore. In between, movies such as Un Chien Andalou, in which the surrealist Salvador Dali, had a hand, and the 1968 horror flick The Blood Beast Terror added grist to the growing legend.
The death’s-head moth has adapted into a clever and cunning hive burglar also known sometimes as the bee tiger. I chose it to feature in the title because not only does it have an evocative name but its ablity to disguise and deceive is an appropriate symbol for the murderer in the story–a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
We’ll get to the baddies later. First, how did Detective Inspector Sibanda evolve as a character?
Detective Inspector Sibanda started life in a short story, and I knew instantly that he was someone I wanted to spend more time with. He has so far been sparing with his personal details but I have learned this: He is tall, athletic, commanding, strikingly good looking, and saddled with a short fuse. He was brought up in a rural environment, went to a good boarding school, and soon after joining the police force was singled out for an overseas training scholarship in the UK–a blue-eyed boy, no less!
But something happened on his return to blot his copy book (he keeps this information particularly close to his chest), and he was posted to the sleepy outpost of Gubu in Matabeleland north on the boundary of a large national park. This hasn’t upset him at all, because along with his focus for solving crime comes a passion for wildlife (particularly elephants), birdlife and trees. The posting to Gubu allows him to indulge his love of the wilderness.
How TV Shows like “Scream” Fuel the Young Adult Horror Surge
By Dawn Ius
“My marriage was falling apart and this novel was free therapy,” Adams says. “I never thought about how it would be perceived by anyone, and I didn’t think about how it would fit into the marketplace. In the end, I wrote the novel I wanted to write.”
In Ruthless, published by Simon Pulse this summer, we meet tough, ambitious Ruth Carver at a time of ultimate vulnerability—as she wakes up bound and blindfolded in the bed of a moving pickup truck. At a remote cabin, deep in the mountains, Ruth comes face-to-face with her captor, the infamous “Wolfman” believed to have already raped and murdered six young girls.
At its core, Ruthless is about survival, but Adams transcends any genre clichés with a series of boundary-pushing plot twists and an intimacy that draws us deep into the character’s mind. The sense of fear is palpable—as many readers can attest.
Adams’s novel has tapped into one of the most sought-after trends in today’s young-adult thriller market—gripping, emotionally charged stories that deal with the heart-stopping core of teen fears rather than the typical “monster of the week” presented during the paranormal heyday.
As D4E0 Literary agent Mandy Hubbard notes, editors and readers alike are chomping at the bit for good psychological horror—“something really character-driven with killer writing.”
Readers love horror because it forces them to experience reading in a visceral—sometimes terrifying—way, but because what traumatizes one reader may be vanilla to the next, finding the right balance can be challenging.
By Peter Tonkin
We are racing to the Blue Hole, a diving spot on the Sinai, in the backs of a battered pair of Land Rovers, bouncing over the rutted track as the shouting drivers try to run each other off the makeshift road and down onto the beach–or up into the desert. Camels watch disdainfully as we roar past, while their Bedouin owners shake their heads and laugh. They have seen it all before.
Side by side, the Rovers crest a rise and there on the down-slope before us stand half a dozen square, two-story Bedouin shacks, walled and floored with carpets. We screech to a halt in front of one and pile out, rushing into the shade to catch our breath and sort out our gear. Within moments, we are walking gingerly in single-file along the precipitous path above the reef, below the cliffs with their memorials to lost divers, down to a narrow rock-walled gorge scarcely wider than our front-door at home in distant Tunbridge Wells. So narrow is this gully that we ease ourselves carefully into the water and out to the channel mouth by pushing along the slick rock walls standing at less than an arm’s length on either side.
After four narrow meters, the tiny ravine opens and we find ourselves floating in the low surf at the top of a cliff that plunges down, sheer, into abyssal darkness below where clouds of bubbles rise from the scuba divers down at the edge of the light. A seemingly endless coral wall teeming with fish like the biggest, most beautiful, aquarium in the world. And we turn to the right like birds in flight and start finning towards the Blue Hole itself with its dangers, its mysteries, and its even more beautiful denizens.
Dahab. It means “gold” in Arabic and for centuries it has been a flourishing gold market where the Bedouin merchants of the Sinai’s mineral-rich desert interior could meet the captains of the dhows trading up and down the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea itself. In more recent years, certainly since the Sixties, it has been a haven for free-spirited divers as the reefs that the sailors have feared since time immemorial became world famous for their amazing array of marine life. It is home to turtles, rays, morays eels, sea-horses, and a dazzling array of fish that throng the Three Lagoons, the Canyon, Napoleon Reef, and the deadly Blue Hole, where more than 40 divers have lost their lives.
When towering black obelisks start appearing around the Mediterranean, CIA operative Gabrielle Lincoln begins to question their presence, believing them to be far more ominous than simple country tributes. But if she’s right, humanity is about to be plunged into a living nightmare.
PRIMORDIAL is the second book in Toby Tate’s Lilitu series, and a continuation of his thrilling novel, Lilith. Tate took some time out of his schedule to talk to The Big Thrill this month about his latest release, including what about the sci-fi genre piques his interest and the exciting project he’s working on next.
Did you have a favorite character to write?
I think my favorite character would have to be CIA Operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln. She was born in the U.S. and raised by her parents in Australia. She came back to the U.S. to go to college and join the Air Force as an intelligence officer. She later joins the CIA as one of their best clandestine field operatives. She’s quite lethal, but has a soft side, as well. Two things that make her stand out are: a big red dragon tattoo across one shoulder, and her ten-inch, neon-green Zombie War Sword.
Why sci-fi? What got you interested in the genre?
I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Stories like The Martian Chronicles and John Carter of Mars just pulled me in and opened my imagination to new worlds. I’ve never read anyone yet who could mold the English language the way Bradbury could. He will always be the master storyteller.
What’s it like writing sci-fi? It’s like creating your own world, am I right?
Although there’s a lot of globe-hopping, my stories are all set on Earth. I do it that way because it’s more relatable to the reader to have things they are familiar with. Otherwise it just gets so far out that it’s easy to lose interest. But there are some bizarre creatures called Lilitu, which I think people will find fascinating. They start out as human, but when they come into contact with radiation, they mutate into these huge, vicious beasts.
By Diane Kelly
When people think of mysteries and thrillers, their mind normally goes to killers of one variety or another—stranglers in trench coats lurking in dimly-lit alleys, axe murderers in ski masks wandering the dark woods, or a crazy-eyed wack job intent on committing a whack job.
But don’t let Armani suits and silk ties fool you. White-collar criminals also have a high propensity for violence. With their beguiling smiles, wiley ways, and benign appearances, they can sneak in and take your assets—and possibly your life—before you have an inkling of their evil intent. In fact, the situation is common enough that a term has evolved for white-collar crooks who kill: “red-collar” criminals.
The typical white-collar criminal is a Caucasian male in his late 20s to early 30s. He’s well-respected socially and professionally, and has a high socioeconomic status. In other words, this type of criminal comes in the guise of the perfect love interest, neighbor, financial advisor, or business partner.
Per the FBI, white-collar crime costs Americans approximately three hundred billion dollars annually. Not exactly chump change. And, just as killers often find creative ways to kill their victims, white-collar criminals come up with a new scheme every day, from the typical credit card counterfeiting and embezzlement, to fake mystery shopper schemes, telemarketing scams, real estate rip-offs, vacation swindles, and prize cons.
In J.R. Scott’s newest thriller, THE HORSE HIDE, murder at a racetrack draws ace reporter Alie McCull into the dark underworld of the horse business. But that’s only the start of her problems. She’s blindsided by infidelity, and the untimely appearance of an old flame serves to complicate both her personal life and her investigation. As she creeps through a labyrinth of deception and misdirection, every uncovered truth brings her closer to mortal danger.
In this Q&A with The Big Thrill, Scott talks about his inspiration for his protagonist—and explains the background behind his intriguing bio. Scroll down for the full story!
Alie McCull is an interesting protagonist. Is she based on someone you know? What brought her about and why do you keep returning to her as a protagonist?
I fashioned Alie as a character who has a little bit of all of us in her. Or how deep down the way we’d like to be; loud, brash and impatient with a world that seems unjust. But tempered with empathy for the little guy trampled on by society. Alie is not always “politically correct”—she’s not too concerned about offending people. Just because you tick someone off doesn’t mean you’re not right. As a woman, Alie has a strong sense of empowerment and equality. Using her as a recurring character is a literary tool to examine the world through a microscope. All the people under the lens are creatures just trying to make sense of events in their daily lives.
THE HORSE HIDE, with its backdrop of horse racing, reminded me of the late Dick Francis. Did his work influence you?
I must confess that I’ve never read a Dick Francis novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the old ‘50s and ‘60s hardboiled mystery novels I read as a kid, Ross MacDonald and Mickey Spillane being on the hit list. And the classic noir films that pop up on TMC every so often. The backdrop of THE HORSE HIDE came from the hours spent on tedious research that most writers do, but afterwards always gives me that pesky brain-damaged feeling.
By Jeff Ayers
When the mob finds itself on hard times and has to lay people off, the boss decides to give two different hitters separate lists of “overdue accounts”—a backlist—to see who distinguishes themselves enough to remain on the payroll.
In their first collaborative effort, Eric Beetner and Frank Zafiro bring readers the sharp-tongued Bricks and the hapless, eager-to-please Cam—two very different protagonists who find themselves faced with challenges they never imagined when they got into the business.
THE BACKLIST is a fast-paced crime novel full of action, twists, verbal jabs, and mayhem. Lots of mayhem.
This month, Beetner and Zafiro chatted with The Big Thrill about the book that appears to be the beginning of a thrilling partnership.
Frank, could you talk about River City? Also, why the pseudonym for your crime writing?
River City is a thinly-veiled Spokane. Spokane is a city of about two hundred thousand peple. We’re the second largest city in the state and the biggest city between Seattle and Minneapolis…all of which means that we have all of the problems of a large city and yet still retain some of the small town attitude (which can be good and bad, depending).
I started calling Spokane River City, and using a pseudonym for crime fiction, because I was an active law enforcement officer in Spokane at the time my first book was coming out. I wasn’t really sure what my bosses would think of my work, since there are some dark events and not every cop is portrayed in a positive light. So I went with the pen name. As it turned out, the brass were very supportive, but by that time I had a few dozen short stories and two books out under this name, so I decided to keep it for crime fiction. The last name Zafiro comes from the name a few of us used to name our film “production” company during a high school independent study on filmmaking.
By Amy Lignor
Manda Collins has been truly captivating fans with her romantic suspense for several years—and GOOD EARL GONE BAD, the newest release in her Lord of Anarchy series is no exception.
Lady Hermione Upperton has never backed down from a challenge, so when her spendthrift father offers “her” during a heated game of cards, she must decide to either wed the Earl of Mainwaring, an infamous gamester, or face murder charges. Either way, she’ll need to clear her name.
It’s said there’s no one better than a librarian to talk about books, which makes Collins a great interview. An avid reader, an avid fan, and an avid writer, she continues to create memorable characters and reawaken history before our very eyes. We caught up with her this month to talk about her writing career.
Per your bio, you certainly fall under the category of “book lover.” Could you tell readers a bit about your background? Were you always a fan of historical romance?
Though I enjoy history for its own sake, my love for it has always been intertwined with my love of literature. So for me, a particular era—like the Roaring 20s or the Elizabethan period—is difficult to divorce from the writers of that time period. Within the romance genre, I did start out reading historicals, so that’s naturally been the subgenre I feel most comfortable in. When it comes to the eras, Regency has been my longest passion. But I can go a hundred and fifty years either way—European or American. For some reason I’ve never really been into Ancient history. Probably because I enjoy modern conveniences too much!
When did the thrill for writing hit? Were you always writing since you were young (diaries, journals, etc.) or did it come later?
I knew I loved books from as early as Kindergarten, but the writing part clicked for me in middle school. I wrote what I now know to be “fan fiction” about my little group of friends having adventures with the characters from the T.V. show, Moonlighting. I loved presenting the tales with a flourish each week. From there was born my love of writing for an audience. But even then I didn’t really think of myself as a writer; it was something I did just for fun. Later, during and after college, I thought it was something I wanted to try, but didn’t get the right kind of motivation until 2006, when I participated in the Avon Fanlit competition. This rekindled my love for writing, and the friendships I built there gave me the support and discipline I needed to finish my first book. I sold How to Dance with a Duke four years later.
By Cathy Clamp
Criminal psychologist Dr. Sarah Jacobs is all too familiar with the kind of bad boys who belong in jail. But when a deranged killer targets her, she may need help from the very kind of person she’s accustomed to seeing on the other side of the bars.
While Jax Fontaine doesn’t claim to be a good guy, he’s loyal to his own code and brutally honest about what he wants—and what he wants is for Sarah to be safe. He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.
In SHATTERED, bestselling author Cynthia Eden delves deep into New Orleans’ underground and leaves readers breathless. The Big Thrill caught up with Eden this month to talk about her thrilling new release, as well as future plans for her popular LOST series.
SHATTERED is part of the LOST series. Tell new readers a little about the Last Option Search Team and what they do.
My Last Option Search Team group was created to give hope to desperate families. When the authorities stop looking for the missing, when it seems as if hope is gone…then LOST steps in. The LOST group focuses on cold cases—they work to find the missing and to bring closure to those who need it so desperately.
For fans of the series, have they met Sarah or Jax in a previous book?
They have, indeed! Sarah is the main profiler at LOST, and she appeared in both book one (Broken) and book two (Twisted). Jax, very much an anti-hero character, first made his appearance in Twisted.
Most writers research for a new book. What is the most interesting thing you learned while researching, whether or not it made it into the book?
For my LOST series, I’ve spent a great deal of time researching missing persons’ cases in the United States. One of the things that I found to be most jarring was that there are currently more than eighty-three thousand missing persons in the U.S. When it comes to children (and this made me very tense since I am a mother), the first three hours after a disappearance are extremely important because—quite horribly—seventy-six per cent of children who are taken will be killed during those three hours. I found that figure to be absolutely horrifying. In case any of The Big Thrill’s readers might be interested, here is a link to the story that first gave me that statistic.
Chris Kuzneski is the author of numerous international bestsellers. As a former college football player at Pitt, a former teacher, and someone who self-published his first novel before the literary establishment took notice, his rise among the ranks of the writing world is a testament to the fact there is no set path to success as an author. His books have sold millions of copies around the globe, and there is no reason to believe his latest will be any exception. Kuzneski was kind enough to answer some questions about his most recent release, THE PRISONER’S GOLD, and give readers of The Big Thrill a little insight into both the book and its author.
Congratulations on your latest novel, THE PRISONER’S GOLD. This is the third novel in the Hunters series. Can you tell us a little about this book and how you chose its central storyline?
Thanks, I’d be happy to. THE PRISONER’S GOLD focuses on Marco Polo and the treasure he supposedly left in China before returning to his native Italy. Although most readers are familiar with Polo’s name and major exploits, few people know about his imprisonment in Genoa and the close friendship he had with fellow inmate Rustichello da Pisa. I wanted to explore a few “what ifs” that sprang from that relationship. GOLD opens in 1298 A.D. in a Genoese prison cell, with Polo recovering from a savage beating at the hands of the guards. In his delirious state, he reveals a little bit too much information about his time in China—information that eventually gets into the hands of the Hunters. Using firsthand details from Polo himself, the Hunters head to modern-day China in hopes of finding the fortune he left behind.
Your protagonists are a team of well-financed experts tasked with tracking down lost and stolen treasures. Do you think the appeal of having characters with specialized backgrounds are easier or harder to write?
Both! In some ways it’s easier because my characters were asked to join the Hunters for a specific reason, so a lot of their DNA is built in to the roles they fill. The team leader, Jack Cobb, is former military. He believes in precision and discipline—the type of things you’d expect from an elite soldier. Sarah Ellis is ex-CIA. She eventually found her calling as a world-class thief but doesn’t view herself in those terms. She sees herself as an acquisitions expert, someone who can get anything if the reason is right. Hector Garcia is an FBI-trained hacker, able to do things with ones and zeroes that Stephen Hawking couldn’t comprehend. Then there’s Josh McNutt, a sniper/weapons expert who has seen more carnage in his life than the others combined. A pretty interesting group, right? Well, now comes the hard part. How do you make these characters unique? I mean, ex-soldiers are featured in half of the action series today, so what makes Cobb and McNutt different from the characters in Tom Clancy’s or Clive Cussler’s books—or even the characters in my Payne & Jones series? Like I said, that’s the hard part: figuring out how to make your characters stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Allen Eskens’ debut novel, The Life We Bury, was a breakout hit for Seventh Street Books in 2014. His second novel, THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, releases October 6, 2015. I sat down with Allen to talk about his writing, his success, and THE GUISE OF ANOTHER.
First, congratulations on the success of The Life We Bury, which won the Rosebud Award at Left Coast Crime and was a finalist for the Edgar for Best First Novel and ThrillerFest Best First Novel. If that weren’t enough, Suspense Magazine and MysteryPeople named it one of the best books of 2014. And a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a movie option, all in less than a year. Tell us how you keep yourself grounded and in the saddle writing more books.
Thank you, Jim, for this interview and for the kind, congratulatory introduction. It has been a terrific year, no doubt, far exceeding my wildest dreams. For a while after The Life We Bury launched, it seemed like there was some new review or internet post every day that pulled at my attention. I didn’t have quite the discipline I’d hoped to have, but I have a multi-book deal and in order to remain on pace I’ve had to create discipline.
THE GUISE OF ANOTHER is a heart-pounding thriller, a game of cat and mouse between a cop and a ruthless assassin. The Life We Bury is more of a mystery. Are you moving in a new direction or will we see more of both from you?
My first two books are similar in some ways, but they do have clear differences. The Life We Bury is more character driven and has a stronger emphasis on literary writing. THE GUISE OF ANOTHER is more reliant on thriller elements and plot. This came about because after I completed The Life We Bury, I started the arduous process of seeking an agent. After the first couple weeks, I realized that agents weren’t clamoring to get me as a client, so I distracted myself by starting a second novel (THE GUISE OF ANOTHER). Because I didn’t have a readership, I decided to write something a bit different than The Life We Bury.
Before The Life We Bury hit the store shelves, I had submitted THE GUISE OF ANOTHER to Seventh Street Books and signed a three-book deal. I like playing with the spectrum of plot and character (and scene) and plan to keep adjusting those elements depending on what I think the story calls for.
Kira Peikoff’s novels, such as No Time to Die and Living Proof, deliver a blend of cutting-edge science, deeply human characters, and explosive high-stakes controversies—and she doesn’t disappoint with her newest bio-medical thriller, DIE AGAIN TOMORROW .
In DIE AGAIN TOMORROW, Isabel Leon, the star of a survival reality show, thinks she can endure anything. But when she unwittingly gives an unscrupulous mogul a chance to profit from her murder, she becomes the target of a terrifying killer. At first left for dead, she awakens to find she’s the living proof of a breakthrough that can change the world. Some people would pay any price to control it. Others would simply steal the secret—even if it costs Isabel’s life. As powerful rivals pursue her, Isabel must risk everything to protect those she loves—or die again tomorrow.
Kirkus Reviews says, “Peikoff shows a deep understanding of the issues she explores,” and Mystery Scene Magazine hails her as creating “believable, well-rounded characters who represent both sides of a tough moral question.”
As a journalist, Kira covered street crime for The Daily News, Capitol Hill for The Orange County Register in Washington, D.C., business and technology for Newsday, and researched feature stories for New York magazine. With a master’s degree in bioethics Kira has clearly mastered how to twist potential science technology into scarily real thrillers.
DIE AGAIN TOMORROW is your third novel. Why this particular story for your third book, and how does it differ from your previous novels No Time to Die and Living Proof?
In graduate school studying for my bioethics degree, one of the hot topics we often discussed was death—how to define it, whether it’s possible to reverse it, and what moral dilemmas new technology is introducing by creating grey areas around the very permanence of death. In today’s era, someone who suffers a cardiac arrest can be pulseless and fit the criteria of “death”—no heartbeat, no respiration, no brainwaves—but still be resuscitated after minutes or hours via the proper technology and survive intact. This was a huge surprise for me, and one I felt would be exciting to explore in a thriller. DIE AGAIN TOMORROW differs from my other books in that the identity of the villain is a surprise, and there are more twists and turns than I’ve ever written before. I had a lot of fun with pacing and misdirection.
Was DIE AGAIN TOMORROW inspired by any true events or special cases?
In particular, yes, I interviewed a man who collapsed after a cardiac arrest and was pulseless –what we used to call “dead” in the old days—for a period of three to four hours altogether. But he received the highest quality of emergency care during this time, with therapeutic hypothermia, chest compressions, etc., and the doctors didn’t give up on him because he was the husband of a nurse. They finally got his heart back, and his brain survived because of the cooling measures. He has run triathlons every year since then.
By Jeremy Burns
William Lashner earned his writing chops penning legal thrillers that garnered comparisons to the work of John Grisham and Scott Turow. Now, with an Edgar Award nomination and a Shamus Award nod under his belt, he’s releasing one of the most intriguing tales in his decades-long career. A departure from the courtroom dramas longtime fans know him for, GUARANTEED HEROES creates a chilling vision of a post-apocalyptic America, yet is populated with all-too-human characters forced to confront timeless challenges that will surely resonate with readers in today’s world. In the build-up to what may be his most intriguing and creative work yet, Lashner sat down with The Big Thrill to give readers some advance insight into this fascinating adventure.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I write novels. For many years I was working on a series of legal thrillers with a down-and-out lawyer named Victor Carl as the ostensible hero. Lately I’ve been writing standalones thrillers and am really excited about the wild flexibility standalones offer. I’m just trying to stay as inventive as the thriller form allows.
So where have you gone with GUARANTEED HEROES?
It’s a classic story about a kid in prison who learns that his sister has gone missing and escapes to find her. Violence, of course, ensues. But I set the story in an alternate-history America where the Midwest has been wiped out in a series of nuclear tragedies and a new Constitution has been forged to deal with the consequences. The search takes place in this alternative landscape, from the still-standing city of Chicago, through the wild border town of Moline, and then into the nuclear-ravaged heart of the country.
The post-apocalyptic setting is a departure for you. Why did you choose to go this route with GUARANTEED HEROES, and what challenges or opportunities did you encounter in writing this type of book?
First of all, I thought it would be cool. But just as importantly, GUARANTEED HEROES is a book about freedom and how to create it for yourself in difficult circumstances, and the setting allowed me to make those circumstances more oppressive and dire, which is always a good thing in a thriller. The challenge was to keep the setting constantly inventive yet still rooted in reality, even if it’s an alternative reality. The fun part was hitting on an idea and, because of the freedom the setting allowed me as a writer, to run with it as far as it would take me. Sometimes it would run me right into a dead end, and I’d have to start again, but other times it lifted the whole story levels above what I expected when I started.
By Andrew McAleer & Paul D. Marks
Andrew McAleer, Sherlock Holmes Revere Bowl Award Winner and author of Fatal Deeds, and Paul D. Marks, author of the Shamus Award-Winning thriller White Heat, are the editors of a new mystery-thriller short story anthology COAST TO COAST: MURDER FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA out this month from Down & Out Books. They join The Big Thrill to give us a sneak preview of the anthology and talk about what inspired the project.
How did COAST TO COAST evolve? Is there a unifying theme to all the stories?
The concept of the anthology was to gather stories from some of the best short story writers in the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast and the murder belt in between. We wanted to capture the similarities and differences from region to region. And, what’s the one scandalous thing everybody and everyplace has on the docket from sea to shining sea? Crime.
So, we asked authors to give us their best crime stories and we got back a great variety of stories, all set in different places, different atmospheres, different voices. We also made certain the stories in COAST TO COAST round up the usual dubious suspects like malice aforethought, dangerous dames, double cross, puzzles, likeable rogues, not-so-likeable rogues—lust, love and lucre. Our advice to fellow thriller connoisseurs—put the kettle on the boil and, as the bell tolls midnight and the double-locked doors somehow manage to creak, enjoy COAST TO COAST from cover to bloody cover.
Since the theme is murder from “coast to coast,” what are some of the locations?
The stories bounce back and forth between the coasts, and even down to Mexico City. From the famous Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston to the Vincent Thomas Bridge in the Port of Los Angeles. And from the wind-swept New England shoreline to the transitioning Italian-American neighborhood of North Beach in San Francisco, and back down to the Disney Concert Hall in L.A. Crime lurks everywhere, from the murky depths of Echo Park Lake and the body dump of the Angeles National Forest, to the clear waters of Oyster Bay and the beaches of Cape Cod. And the stories in range from hardboiled to suspense-thrillers to a bit of whimsy. Something for everyone.
When Caitlin Summers becomes aware of her surroundings, she finds she has blood on her clothes and is carrying a duffle bag that contains six prosthetic hands and a gun, and the beat-up sedan in the deserted parking lot apparently goes with the key she found in her pocket. She realizes she not only has no idea where she is, she has no memory of anything that transpired over the past seven months. What the hell has happened to her?
The last thing she remembers is leaving her safe suburban home and husband one night seven months ago.
Determined to learn the truth, Caitlin begins a journey that is rife with pitfalls and problems and with each hard-won bit of knowledge come even more questions.
In THE PRETTIEST ONE, Caitlin suffers from a dissociative fugue. Author James Hankins says, “I thought it would be interesting to start a book at the precise moment when a character is exiting a dissociative fugue. The story possibilities seemed nearly endless.”
This state is, as Hankins puts it, “a rare but, to me, a fascinating form of amnesia. The victim suffers memory loss, but what makes this condition so interesting is that the person will travel to a different place and often create an entirely new identity there. These fugues may be hours long, but can also last for months or even years. And when the persons’ memories of their former life return, they typically remember none of the time spent in the fugue state.”
Knowing the fugue state would be a feature, Hankins also wanted to write a story with a female protagonist, something he touched on in a previous novel, Drawn.
“I might have felt a little different writing Caitlin, but not dramatically so. I think her observations, particularly about the men around her, might be a little different from what a man might observe, but she was otherwise quite similar to other characters I’ve written, at least as far as my approach went.
By Ovidia Yu
THE SKELETON HAUNTS A HOUSE is the third in the delightfully quirky Family Skeleton series featuring English professor Georgia Thackery who is a single mom with—literally—a skeleton in her family closet.
Leigh Perry (who also writes as Toni L.P. Kelner) answers some questions about her wisecracking living skeleton, Sid, and her new book.
How would you describe Sid to someone who loves your books but is afraid of skeletons?
Why would anybody be afraid of a skeleton? After all, we’re all skeletons under the skin.
Huh. I just Googled it and found yes, there are people who are afraid of skeletons. Some are actually afraid of their own skeletons. To those people I can say only that they should read another book. Sid is not a metaphor—he’s an actual human skeleton. If it helps, he is a clean skeleton—I’m not fond of nasty ones with bits and pieces still attached. But still, if you don’t like skeletons, this is just not the book for you.
Can you tell us something about THE SKELETON HAUNTS A HOUSE without giving too much away?
It’s Halloween in Pennycross, and Sid can’t wait to go into the town’s haunted house attraction. Then a dead body is found in the haunt—the real kind of dead, not the faux kind—and Sid and his BFF Georgia step in to catch a killer. Along the way, there are family complications, academic anxiety, carnival rides, and romance. (Not for Sid and Georgia. That would be icky.)
Sid dresses in costume again, but I don’t want to give away what he’s wearing.
If your glance at October on the calendar suggests it’s time to pick up an eerie thriller, you’ll want to give serious consideration to Laura Benedict’s new gothic tale CHARLOTTE’S STORY. It’s the second book in a series of standalone gothic novels that began with Bliss House.
The tales focus on a haunted Virginia house, and what better excursion can you ask for in Halloween month?
This tale unfolds in 1957. Charlotte and Preston Bliss have just inherited Bliss House from Press’s mother, Olivia. Bliss is not on the agenda, however. Four deaths follow, deaths that seem to have rational explanations.
It’s soon clear Charlotte will have to pursue a dark truth, and readers come to understand that Bliss House promises its residents what they want but delivers more than they expect.
Laura, author of several more supernatural suspense novels, including Devil’s Oven, a modern Frankenstein tale, recently answered a few questions for the The Big Thrill about her work and the haunted house genre.
What spurred the idea for CHARLOTTE’S STORY, a prequel to your recent Bliss House? Was a book set earlier planned all along, or did an idea just arise that wouldn’t stop haunting you, so to speak?
I see what you did there! Writing a gothic haunted house novel has been on my to-write list for years because I love the genre. Before I even wrote one word of Bliss House, I knew I wanted it to be a series. It’s a house that’s filled with stories, yet in every one the house is the primary, and most critical, character. My challenge was to determine which stories were compelling. I wanted the origins of Bliss House to be revealed slowly, and the only way to do that was to work backwards in time, and it has been a real challenge to try to figure out how much to reveal with each book. As for CHARLOTTE’S STORY, I’ve always wanted to write a gothic with the feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca—a sense of a woman’s deep emotional isolation and the overwhelming sense that something from the past is messing with her present.
Readers familiar with Bliss House may recognize Charlotte as the mother of Randolph Bliss, who is a prominent character in Bliss House. She gets small mention, but it was she who eventually sold Bliss House out of the family—and for very good reason. CHARLOTTE’S STORY is the story of how she comes to grips with being part of the Bliss family and living in Bliss House. Her first test is the death of her adored four-year-old daughter, Eva, so it’s a pretty tough journey.
By Karen Harper
I was pleased to interview J. Sydney Jones because I love and write historical novels, and I’d read an earlier book of his for a review a while ago. My endorsement of his earlier “Viennese Mystery” said something like this: What Arthur Conan Doyle did for Victorian London and Caleb Carr did for old New York, J. Sydney Jones does for Vienna. This multi-talented author really brings place and character alive! And how perfect for an author to have lived for years in the setting for his mystery series.
What is THE THIRD PLACE: A VIENNESE MYSTERY about?
THE THIRD PLACE is the sixth installment in my Viennese Mystery series, set at the turn of the twentieth century and featuring private inquiries agent Advokat Karl Werthen and his partner in crime detection, the real-life father of criminology, the Austrian Hanns Gross.
In this series addition, Werthen and Gross investigate the murder of Herr Karl, a renowned headwaiter at one of Vienna’s premier cafés. As the investigation turns up new clues, Werthen and Gross are suddenly interrupted in their work by a person they cannot refuse. They are commissioned to locate a missing letter from the emperor to his mistress, the famous actress Katharina Schratt. Franz Josef is desperate for the letter not to fall into the wrong hands, for it contains a damning secret. As the intrepid investigators press on with this new investigation, they soon discover that there has also been an attempt to assassinate the emperor. Eventually, Werthen and Gross realize that the case of the murdered headwaiter and the continuing plot to kill the emperor are connected, and they now face their most challenging and dangerous investigation yet.
Of all the writers I’ve known or interviewed, you seem to have written in the most formats and genres: fiction and nonfiction and within those parameters, narrative history, mysteries, and stand-alone thrillers. You were a correspondent and freelance writer throughout Europe. Which came first for you and do you have a favorite? Is one form more challenging?
And may I add juvenile fiction to that mix. I published a YA novel a few years back, Frankie, about the Ludlow massacre, and my middle grade novel, Bach Is Back, will be out next year.
By J. H. Bográn
I have a soft spot for Houston. Why? Well, the first time I set foot in the United States, it was that city. Its airport was the biggest I’d seen; the people were friendly. One of the security guards even offered to take a picture of my wife and me!
Houston is also the locale for DiAnn Mills’ novels, and that is just one of the reasons I’m attracted to her suspense fiction. Award winner Mills is back with third book of her FBI series hitting stores in October.
What’s the story of DEADLOCK?
Two murders have rocked the city of Houston. Are they the work of a serial killer, or is a copycat trying to get away with murder? That is the question facing Special Agent Bethany Sanchez, who is eager for her new assignment in violent crimes but anxious about meeting her new partner. Special Agent Thatcher Graves once arrested her brother, and he has a reputation for being a maverick. Plus, their investigative styles couldn’t be more opposite: he operates on instinct, while she goes by the book.
How did the story come about?
Stories are birthed in the most unusual ways. What could be the worst scenario for a young woman stepping into the violent crime division of the FBI? She’s a by-the-book rules girl and perfectionist. But she’s facing a new partner whose testimony sent her brother to jail. That could cause a few problems. Then I considered the hero, the special agent who has a reputation as an out-of-the-box problem solver and a womanizer. But he’s trying to shake the latter image – without much luck. Perfectionist meets organic thinker and their first case is a series of murders with no connections.
By Wendy Tyson
B. K. Stevens is perhaps best known for her short fiction. Truly a master of suspense, she’s authored almost fifty short stories, most of them published by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and has garnered a number of prestigious awards and award nominations. Ms. Stevens recently published her first adult mystery novel, Interpretation of Murder. Now she is using her talents to thrill the young adult audience. Her newest novel, FIGHTING CHANCE, tells the story of Matt Foley, a seventeen-year-old martial arts student and basketball player, in his quest to find justice when his beloved mentor and coach is killed during a tae kwon do tournament. A smart, gripping whodunit set in a small Virginia town, FIGHTING CHANCE is a must-read for sports and mystery enthusiasts alike.
The Big Thrill recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Stevens to talk about her writing career and her love of the mystery genre.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of FIGHTING CHANCE, your first mystery for a young adult audience. Can you tell us something about the book that’s not on the back cover?
I’ve sometimes described FIGHTING CHANCE as a cross between The Hardy Boys and The Karate Kid: It’s a fair-play whodunit laced with action and adventure, but it’s also a coming-of-age story about a teenager growing into manhood while studying a martial art. And, since I’m a longtime English teacher, I made a conscious effort to include elements students can analyze in outside reading reports, such as complex characters and a sense of place.
Matt Foley is an interesting protagonist. A seventeen-year-old boy from small-town Virginia, Matt feels compelled to investigate the death of his coach. What was the inspiration for Matt’s character? Did you have to do any special research when writing FIGHTING CHANCE?
In various ways, Matt’s character was inspired by some of the boys I got to know when I taught high-school English. Whenever it was time to write outside reading reports and I suggested titles to them, they responded with a question straight out of The Princess Bride: “Are there any sports?” So I began playing around with the idea of writing a young adult mystery with a protagonist those boys could relate to and respect. Matt loves sports, both basketball and martial arts, and he’s impatient with school. That impatience, though, is partly an act—Matt’s smarter than he thinks he is, and he enjoys intellectual challenges more than he’ll admit. I wanted to make this a novel that would appeal to young people who don’t think of themselves as readers, but who might discover they love reading after all. (And, by the way, I wrote this novel with boys in mind, but I think girls will like it, too.)
Ryan Sayles has over two dozen short stories in print in anthologies and online, including the Anthony-nominated collection Trouble in the Heartland: Stories inspired by the music of Bruce Springsteen. He is the author of The Subtle Art of Brutality, Goldfinches, That Escalated Quickly! and Disordered Mullets. He is a founding member of Zelmer Pulp.
His upcoming novel, WARPATH, continues The Subtle Art of Brutality series with PI Richard Dean Buckner’s latest case. A real estate mogul is lying about something. His wife’s dead by her own hand, the case has gone cold, and the mogul starts dropping cash into former Saint Ansgar homicide-detective-turned-private-eye Buckner’s wallet to find some answers. Pile on his grandmother’s death in a drive-by shooting and Buckner finds himself at war with the worst gang the city has to offer as well as a slithering rapist who has resurfaced just to tie the loose ends from a twenty-year-old crime. Buckner’s response? People that stupid need to be taught harsh lessons, and vengeance just happens to be one of Buckner’s finer skills.
PI Buckner has a new cold case—and a hot button chase. Tell us something about WARPATH that isn’t in the jacket copy.
Well, this is my first run at an actual sequel for Buckner, so, really the stuff that isn’t in the jacket copy is all the pressure I felt trying to live up to the first book and carry the story forward without simply rehashing the first one. Here Buckner faces harsher consequences to his actions; and of course there’s no drama or tension if he pays with his own blood. While with most cases he steps in and out of other peoples’ lives, in this novel one of his cases revolves around people in his own life. The title “Warpath” describes where Buckner realizes his actions have taken him, and what he will have to do in order to make amends.
Did you plan to write a series when you wrote The Subtle Art of Brutality?
Oh yeah. Actually, The Subtle Art of Brutality wasn’t my first book about Richard Dean Buckner. I originally wrote him into a horror novel. This was in 2006. I read a short story collection called Shadows Over Baker Street edited by Michael Reeves and John Pelan, where they asked their contributors to place Sherlock Holmes and all of his logic into H. P. Lovecraft’s insane world. I had just gotten done reading a novel with a stern, hardboiled voice and thought I should place a character with that hardboiled tone into a similar insane world. That’s where I developed Buckner.
By George Ebey
Tom Avitabile, author of the popular Bill Hiccock series, is back with a new and exciting tale featuring former FBI agent, Brooke Burrell. In this series opener she finds her planned return to Hawaii turned upside down when an assignment she took to make some cash while her husband is deployed at sea explodes. Witnesses are dying, evidence is vanishing, and the masterminds behind it all are about to take down a whole city. So much for Brooke Burrell’s early retirement.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Avitabile to discuss his book and what lessons he’s learned from his experiences as a writer.
Tell us a little about GIVE US THIS DAY. Is it part of a new series?
Yes, it is the first novel of the Brooke Burrell series. Brooke appeared in The Eighth Day, the first Bill Hiccock novel, as a minor character. In the next two books in the series, The Hammer of God and The God Particle, she had larger roles and the reader sees deeper dimensions. They see beyond her steely, professional law enforcement persona as she embraces her long-denied emotional side. She also rises to become the most-trusted operative of the president of the United States, a position actively sabotaged by the “old boy network” that’s still on life support, shuffling with walkers down the halls of power.
What lessons did you learn from your previous series that helped you to craft this story?
I learned that in a character-based action thriller, a female protagonist has to be built organically from the ground up. It’s not enough to develop the perfect action hero, with skill sets, wit, and emotional depth and then hang a female name on character and change all the pronouns to her and she. That would be easy, but incredibly dishonest and I believe blatantly transparent to any woman reader.
Therefore, Brooke’s wiring has to be different than a male’s, and although they may ultimately take the same action, the same physicality, it has to be for different reasons, intentions and motivations. I am pleased to say that early positive reviews and blurbs from leading authors like Lisa Gardner and Olivia Rupprecht seem to imply that I have achieved that goal.
By E. M. Powell
The first novel featuring cops’ reporter Gabriella Giovanni, Blessed Are The Dead, is nominated for both a Macavity and an Anthony Award. Now author Kristi Belcamino has brought Giovanni back for a fourth time in her latest release, BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN.
Although she’s in a happy relationship with Detective Sean Donovan, one that has given them their beloved daughter, Grace, Giovanni can’t let go of her traumatic past. When a string of young co-eds start to show up dead with suspicious Biblical verses left on their bodies—the same verses that the man she suspects kidnapped and murdered her sister twenty years ago had sent to her—Giovanni fears the killer is trying to send her a message.
It’s already a taut, fast-moving read. But when Grace’s life is threatened, the novel becomes a nerve-jangling hunt for her, with Giovanni increasingly terror-fueled in her desperate attempts to save her daughter.
A mother herself, Belcamino acknowledges that she is extremely fortunate that she has never had to deal with anything as serious as Giovanni has in her books, describing it as “absolutely the worst nightmare I can imagine.” She does however convey that visceral fear of motherhood under one of its most extreme challenges with great skill. At one point she has Giovanni musing that if anyone had told me that motherhood leads to this: your heart ripped to shreds while you are willing to beg the devil to take your soul in exchange for the safety of your child—if I had been magically given a glimpse of my life right now by the Ghost of the Future, I would’ve said, “Fuck that.”
But as a newspaper reporter covering crime, Belcamino has spent time growing close to parents who have lost their children in the most horrendous ways imaginable. She alludes to the tragic case of Xiana Fairchild, a little girl who was kidnapped and murdered. Belcamino maintains a friendship with Xiana’s family to this day, and believes she lost a lot of objectivity writing those very difficult stories.
Fans of Chelsea Cain and Lisa Gardner will devour this edgy thriller about the gruesome secrets hidden beneath a small-town amusement park. From the author of Creep, Freak, and The Butcher, Jennifer Hillier’s “fine knack for creating hideous killers” (Booklist) is vividly on display.
Welcome to Wonderland. By day, it’s a magical place boasting a certain retro charm. Excited children, hands sticky with cotton candy, run frenetically from the Giant Octopus ride to the Spinning Sombrero, while the tinkling carnival music of the giant Wonder Wheel—the oldest Ferris wheel in the Pacific Northwest—fills the air. But before daybreak, an eerie feeling descends. Maybe it’s the Clown Museum, home to creepy wax replicas of movie stars and a massive collection of antique porcelain dolls. Or maybe it’s the terrifyingly real House of Horrors. Or…maybe it’s the dead, decaying body left in the midway for all the Wonder Workers to see.
Vanessa Castro’s first day as deputy police chief of Seaside, Washington, is off to a bang. The unidentifiable homeless man rotting inside the tiny town’s main tourist attraction is strange enough, but now a teenage employee—whose defiant picture at the top of the Wonder Wheel went viral that same morning—is missing. As the clues in those seemingly disparate crimes lead her down a mysterious shared path of missing persons that goes back decades, she suspects the seedy rumors surrounding the amusement park’s dark history might just be true. She moved to Seaside to escape her own scandalous past, but has she brought her family to the center of an insidious killer’s twisted game? Acclaimed author Jennifer Hillier’s bone-chilling thriller is masterful and fast-paced, hurtling toward a shocking, bloody conclusion.
After Savannah’s father dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, she drops everything to return home to St. Petersburg, Florida, to settle his affairs–including the fate of the beloved, family-owned glass shop. Savannah intends to hand over ownership to her father’s trusted assistant and fellow glass expert, Hugh Trevor, but soon discovers the master craftsman also dead of an apparent heart attack.
As if the coincidence of the two deaths wasn’t suspicious enough, Savannah discovers a note her father left for her in his shop, warning her that she is in danger. With the local police unconvinced, it’s up to Savannah to piece together the encoded clues left behind by her father. And when her father’s apprentice is accused of the murders, Savannah is more desperate than ever to crack the case before the killer seizes a window of opportunity to cut her out of the picture. . .
When I was asked to write an article about Rick Mofina and his new book, EVERY SECOND, I thought, “This should be easy.” Rick is a former journalist who has interviewed murderers on death row and patrolled with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police near the Arctic. After thirty years in journalism, Rick has spanned the globe, from the Caribbean, Africa, and Kuwait’s border with Iraq, reporting on crimes that would curl anyone’s toes. There would be so much to write about, from his long list of journalist adventures, to his twenty-one books and counting, racking up awards, and rave reviews from too many bestselling authors to list here. I mean, what hasn’t been said about his experiences and his books? What could I possibly bring that’s new to the table? It turns out, I don’t need to bring anything. His latest thriller, EVERY SECOND, speaks for itself.
The tension hits you from page one—hell, from the first sentence—and doesn’t let up until the last page. The Fulton family—Dan, Lori, and their nine-year-old son Billy—are assaulted by four men in the middle of the night in their beds. They are bound and gagged, then vests loaded with C4 are strapped to their bodies. We quickly discover that the reasons are far more sinister than a home invasion. As the manager of a suburban New York bank, Dan Fulton is forced to rob his own bank of a quarter of a million dollars or the assailants will remotely detonate the vests. That would be chilling enough, but Rick escalates the tension into a high-stakes chase, where not only is the Fulton family’s lives at risk, but countless other lives could be wiped out in an instant. So, strap yourselves in, ladies and gentlemen, and keep your hands and arms inside the rollercoaster cars at all times. Rick Mofina is obviously at the top of the thriller game!
Rick was kind enough to take time out of his busy writing schedule to sit down with The Big Thrill.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the minds of police officers, pick up one of Ellen Kirschman’s books. Her latest, THE RIGHT WRONG THING, takes psychologist Dot Meyerhoff behind closed doors and into her sessions with cops in crisis. It is a world where outsiders are unwelcome and closed ranks are the norm. When rookie officer Randy Spelling shoots an unarmed pregnant teen, it is the catalyst for a series of events that tears the community and the department apart.
For over thirty years you’ve worked with police and first responders. What first made you interested in specializing in this area?
I was working as a social worker in an outpatient psychiatric clinic. Several of my clients were married to cops who were struggling with depression, nightmares, post-traumatic stress, angry outbursts, and alcoholism. These women needed help and there was none available. I decided to start a support group for police wives and the response was so overwhelming it drove me back to school for my doctorate and later on to write I LOVE A COP. Today police families have a lot of support and acknowledgement. I’m gratified to have been part of that beginning effort.
Is there anything you would like to see changed in the way police departments handle the psychological health of their officers?
I would like to see every agency, big or small, have a confidential peer support program including family members as peers, family orientations at first hire and again every five years, a chaplaincy program, supervisors who are knowledgeable about spotting mental health issues and compassionate when talking to their officers, and easy access for officers and their families to culturally competent, confidential, low-cost counseling. I’d like to see police academies devote more time to teaching officers and their families how to manage stress and develop resilience, and I’d like to see field-training programs incorporate behavioral science principles and promote wellness, both physical and psychological.
By David Healey
You might expect a Washington, D.C., lawyer to write a legal thriller filled with intrigue and conspiracies. Robert Palmer has done just that … except for the part about it being a legal thriller. Instead, Palmer’s debut novel THE SURVIVORS features a more unusual protagonist, therapist Cal Henderson. He is privy to some of Washington’s biggest secrets, and as it turns out, he has a few of his own.
Palmer’s thriller is the fascinating story of the therapist and a client who have a shared and tragic past. Together, they uncover a past that takes them both by surprise and puts them at deadly risk. While Cal is more used to talking things out than taking action, he soon finds himself dodging FBI agents, mysterious black SUVs, and powerful figures in the defense industry as he and his client search for the truth about their mutual past.
In THE SURVIVORS your main character is a therapist whose troubled client becomes the catalyst for the novel. What kind of research did you do to get the details of therapy right?
I’m a lawyer and happen to have a lot of clients who are health care professionals, including a number of psychologists (and psychiatrists). That gave me a ready-made pool of experts for my many, many questions. One thing I learned early on: psychologists are a very diverse group. If I asked a few people the same question I almost never got the same answer twice. As an example, some psychologists have “patients.” Others will never, ever, use that term and claim instead to have “clients.” And some use both terms and can’t see why it’s a problem. The best way to explain that is that psychologists work to their own personal beats. Some are warm and full of stories; some are much more clinical and distant. They are a fascinating and wonderful bunch.
By E.A. Aymar
Here’s what I did after finishing Richard Godwin’s newest novel, WRONG CROWD: I immediately sent an e-mail to Eric Campbell, the head of Down and Out Books, and thanked him for publishing it. WRONG CROWD is uncompromising and brutal, and I have to imagine other publishers would be hesitant to sell it. But Godwin’s prose is so beautiful, particularly in its patience and timing, that you can’t help but admire it as you read, even as he takes you through the dark emotions and rough scenes other writers avoid.
I’d never read Godwin before, although I had come across his name; writers I admire had expressed their respect for him and, like them, I’m determined to read everything else he’s written. But prior to starting his other work, I had the chance to ask him a few questions for The Big Thrill about his views on violence, art, and what he plans to work on next.
You don’t shy away from the cruelty of violence, but you don’t glamorize or celebrate it. Is there a “code” that defines your approach to writing about violence?
I try to be realistic. Violence is ugly and effective, it exists at all levels, from the street right through to politics—accurate description is necessary, mollifying the blows is more glamorization than accurate representation, and a form of making it palatable, which may ultimately be a way of encouraging the aspiration towards violence. I am writing about the Russian Mafia. That is hard core and I wrote it hard core.
You don’t seem terribly concerned about making your characters overtly empathetic—they’re engaging enough to follow to the end of the book, but their dark sides are pretty dark. Have you ever faced resistance to that approach from publishers, agents or readers?
Of course. But I battle for verisimilitude.
MOTHER OF DEMONS is the sixteenth novel of the writing pair Len Maynard and Mick Sims, who publish as Maynard Sims. It is their tenth supernatural novel and sixth with Don D’Auria at Samhain.
Many of your novels revolve around the mysterious Department 18. Tell us about that.
Department 18 is a secret unit of the British government that investigates paranormal and supernatural events in the UK but also globally. It had its own website before it was mysteriously hacked, perhaps a jealous competitor or, perhaps, dark forces in high places. Now its secrets lurk within the author website at www.maynard-sims.com, where there is a full history and some case files for review. MOTHER OF DEMONS is a Department 18 novel.
The series ranges far and wide. What can you tell readers about the earlier works?
Department 18 series kicked off with Black Cathedral. The book introduced Robert Carter and the team, led by Simon Crozier. Investigating the disappearance of a corporate management team lost on a bonding weekend on a deserted island leads to the chase and eventual battle against a 400-year-old satanic alchemist called deMarco.
Night Souls continues the Department 18 story with a quest to vanquish psychic sexual vampires. What begins as a seemingly routine poltergeist investigation leads to the discovery of the Breathers, a species of vampire-like creatures that feed on human souls. They have evolved over the centuries and now are split into two warring factions. Both are a threat to mankind.
Insights From the Master of Seattle Menace
An acclaimed author of legal thrillers with his David Sloane series, Robert Dugoni decided to undertake a new challenge: a thriller featuring a woman, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite. The result proved the adage “Change is good.” My Sister’s Grave became a No. 1 Amazon and New York Times best seller.
Tracy Crosswhite returns in Dugoni’s HER FINAL BREATH (Thomas & Mercer, September 15, 2015). Still scarred from the investigation into her sister’s 20-year-old murder, Crosswhite is drawn into an investigation of a string of homicides perpetrated by a serial killer known as The Cowboy. A stalker leaves a menacing message for Crosswhite, suggesting that the killer or a copycat could be targeting her personally. With clues scarce and more victims dying, Crosswhite realizes that the key to solving the murders may lie in a decade-old homicide investigation that others, including her boss, Captain Johnny Nolasco, would prefer to keep buried. The events that follow threaten to end Crosswhite’s career, and perhaps her life.
Robert Dugoni has served as an inspiration to aspiring writers as well as fledgling authors. His novels not only describe the conflict inherent in the legal system in a dramatic and understandable way but also portray complex characters unique to legal and crime fiction. His portrayal of the city of Seattle as setting—as almost another character in the story—is masterful.
I found HER FINAL BREATH just as compelling as My Sister’s Grave. What inspired you to move on from popular David Sloan and write this series?
Necessity is the mother of invention, and I needed a new series. I was leaving my publisher, and the David Sloane series was divided between two publishers. So I knew I had to do something original. It was daunting, but I’ve faced many challenges in my career and this one didn’t scare me. It was actually refreshing to be doing something new.
Tracy Crosswhite is a character I introduced briefly in the novel Murder One, a female homicide detective who was a former chemistry professor. Honestly, I had no idea who she was or where she came from, so I just started exploring her background more and more as I interviewed homicide detectives in Seattle and then a friend introduced me to single-action shooting competitions. She came to life. I knew she’d be perfect for a book needing a strong female protagonist, and I had an idea for a spin on an old legal adage that I thought would make a great twist. I don’t outline, but I also knew I wanted a wounded protagonist, someone who had lost someone very dear to them years before and from that came the relationship between Tracy and her sister, Sarah.
The mood at the Hyatt was exhilarating and energizing this year—what better testament to ten years of dynamic success at Thrillerfest? We’ve grown from a small event in Arizona to a widely respected international conference for writers, industry professionals, and enthusiasts of the thriller genre.
As co-founder Gayle Lynds shares: “ITW was based on a dream. Author organizations come and go, and there were no guarantees ITW would not only survive but thrive. What a thrill (truly) to see so many happy people hurrying down the halls of ThrillerFest and sitting in audiences and talking animatedly on panels. I particularly loved Daniel Palmer’s song at the banquet, which seemed to encapsulate the extraordinary experience of young ITW and ten ThrillerFests, from that first small gathering in Scottsdale to the rich feast of New York. Bravo, Daniel. And Bravo ITW and ThrillerFest! And BTW, one of my most proud inventions was the name ThrillerFest. To see it in tall letters everywhere was a high I’ll never forget.”
Between the FBI workshop, CraftFest, Master CraftFest, PitchFest, and ThrillerFest, and that memorable banquet, we had six incredible days of education and celebration, with people making vital new connections and catching up with cherished friends. I keep hearing people say that Thrillerfest is like summer camp for writers. It’s heartwarming to see a core of authors return, year after year, to have that kind of experience.
Last year, we added Master CraftFest, and it was such a hit that we decided to do it again this year. It’s a one-day hands-on workshop for writers of all levels, an intense but extremely eye-opening day for our authors. Each class is limited to 10 students. What an incredible opportunity for a writer to take it to the next level. As for Craftfest itself, more than 400 students gathered to learn from the best teachers in the business. Several authors who participated in Craftfest in years past, developed their manuscripts, and then found agents and sold their books. It’s so deeply rewarding to see that cycle. And guess what? CraftFest and Master CraftFest are not just for aspiring novelists. Anybody can jump in at any stage and up their game.
From French Citadels to the Arizona Desert
By J. F. Penn
Simon Toyne is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling Sanctus trilogy, a genre-stretching, end-of-days epic involving ancient history, modern technology, religious conspiracy, and rollercoaster-quick storytelling. Often described as the British Dan Brown, Toyne has written books that to date have been translated into 28 languages and published in 50 countries.
USA Today bestselling thriller author J. F.Penn interviewed Simon for The Big Thrill. You can watch the video discussion here or read the transcript below.
First of all, just give us an overview of THE SEARCHER so that people have a sense of what it’s about.
Solomon Creed is a man on an epic journey of redemption. He arrives at the beginning of this first book, clueless as to how he’s got there, walking down the middle of an Arizona Road towards a town called Redemption. Behind him is a burning plane and he’s got emergency vehicles screaming towards him.
He knows nothing about himself at all. All he has is this sensation that he is there to save a particular man, whose name he knows. But as the police cars pull up and they start to check him over, he mentions this guy and says, “I think I’m here to save him.” And the Chief of Police says, “We buried him this morning.” So that’s how the book kicks off, and the central mystery is how do you save a man who is already dead?
I’ve read the Sanctus trilogy, which I absolutely loved. That series featured the town of Ruin and now you have Redemption. How important is sense of place to your writing and tell us a bit more about Redemption?
Sense of place is hugely important for me because environment forges character. So if you don’t have a sense of the environment, then you are missing a lot of tricks, really, as regards character and setting. With Ruin, it was kind of accidental. I really tried to find a place that would fit the story and I just couldn’t find one. There was nothing that quite worked and I felt really bad about taking a real place and taking too many liberties with it to try to make it fit my story.
Roger Smith’s thrillers are published in eight languages and two are in development as movies in the U.S. His books have won the German Crime Fiction Award and been nominated for Spinetingler magazine’s Best Novel awards.
As compelling as ever, SACRIFICES is knotted like a noose that starts to tighten from the very first page. Wealth insulates Michael Lane and his family from South Africa’s violent crime epidemic until his disturbed teenage son, Christopher, commits a crime that throws the delicate balance into a spin-cycle of revenge and retribution that threatens to destroy Michael Lane and everything he loves.
I’m curious to know why SACRIFICES has only been published in South Africa two years after it was first released.
SACRIFICES was released digitally in July 2013, but 2015 is really its year. It was published in France and Germany early this year and most recently in South Africa. The reviews in France have been great. Le Monde called it “Crime and Punishment in South Africa,” which tickled me no end, and it made the KrimiZeit 10 Best for July, chosen by 21 critics from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, in the company of Don Winslow and James Ellroy.
Congratulations! Good company indeed! Now to the novel. Wealth and poverty are again in the spotlight–but there’s more to it. A general and pervasive lack of humanity seems to exist in this novel. Do you agree?
Yes. The characters in the book, like most South Africans, are numbed by crime which has eroded their empathy and humanity and makes them capable of acts of extraordinary callousness and brutality.
When faced with a new book contract, it seems like many authors fall into one of two camps: Either avoidance (“I’m sure it’s fine”) or suspicion (“I’ve got to stop them from cheating me!”). According to lawyer Susan Spann, herself a thriller author, there’s another way. “Whether or not an author works with an agent, understanding industry standards and ‘normal’ contract terms is critical to the author’s ability to act as his or her own best advocate,” says Spann.
Here are the five essential things to be aware of:
Ensure your royalties are truly “Gross” (and what that means).
In general terms, “gross” means the entirety of a thing, while “net” means what’s left over after certain deductions are made from the gross amount. In publishing, an author’s royalties should be based on “gross”—meaning “the entire sales amount”—and not on the amount that remains after deduction of publishing costs or other expenses.
In a traditional publishing deal, the publisher (not the author) bears the costs of publication. Regardless of whether the publishing contract uses the word “gross” or “net,” the author’s royalties should be calculated as a percentage of either: (a) the money the publisher receives from sales of the work, or (b) the sales price of the work. Royalty percentages should not contain deductions or offsets for anything but returns (where appropriate) and sums (such as taxes or additional shipping fees) paid by the purchaser in addition to the purchase price.
Understand the difference between Copyright Ownership and Licensing.
“Copyright” is actually a bundle of related rights which includes not only publishing rights (in all forms and formats) but also subsidiary rights like sequels, translations, film adaptations, and merchandising—just to name a few.
The Dangerous Life of a World War I Nurse
By Dawn Ius
Caroline and Charles Todd certainly aren’t the first mother/child team to co-write fiction—but for this duo, with more than two dozen thrilling books under their collective belts, writing together is a natural progression of their already close relationship.
As long as they’re not in the same room.
With the release of PATTERN OF LIES, the team’s seventh book in the popular Beth Crawford series, Caroline and Charles took some time with The Big Thrill to reflect on what made them join forces creatively, where this book takes readers, and what fans can expect next.
“When we started working together, we were over 400 miles apart,” Charles says. “So in many ways it was like working on your own, with somebody else there to talk about it. We still can’t write in the same room though—too easy to get off topic.”
“We were both history buffs, we’d seen a lot of the same movies, read many of the same books, loved going to England,” Caroline adds. “I had come to a point where I wanted to do something different and Charles was at a point where he wanted to do something else on business trips besides the bar scene or watching TV.”
To their amazement, it was an easy transition, particularly given their family’s great love of storytelling.
“After the first couple of weeks, I don’t think it mattered to me that I was working with ‘Mom,’ ” Charles says. “”She’s smart, she had something to say and so did I, and soon we were so wrapped up in the characters and the story that our relationships was nowhere near as important as what was happening on the computer pages. Caroline was the person on the other end of the phone call or e-mail, and each conversation resulted in a new way of thinking or a change in direction of a fresh view of a character—and a challenge for both of us to get it right. That makes for good writing.”
As evidenced by their long-standing partnership and multiple bestsellers. Together, they’ve written two stand-alone mysteries, eighteen books in the Ian Rutledge series, and seven books featuring Bess Crawford, a World War I British Army nurse. As with all series characters, Bess has grown with each book, but her beginnings were inspired by a gap in Caroline and Charles’ own storytelling that they felt needed to be filled.