The Haunting Tragedy of an Abduction in Iran
In December 2011, a disturbing video hit the news. In the brief clip, an American in his sixties, Robert Levinson, missing since March 2007, said to the camera: “I have been treated well, but I need the help of the United States government to answer the requests of the group that has held me for three-and-a-half years. And please help me get home. Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something. Please help me.”
Our media has since overflowed with horrific videos of Americans imprisoned in the Middle East. But Levinson is an unusual case. He went missing while on Kish Island off the coast of Iran, his precise status within the American intelligence community is debated to this day, and he remains missing. His wife, seven children, his many friends and former colleagues, all are scarred by the mystery of Robert Levinson.
In MISSING MAN, the nonfiction book published by Farrar Straus and Giroux, award-winning journalist Barry Meier delves deep into that mystery, painting a vivid—and troubling—picture of an American intelligence community that ultimately failed Levinson through timidity, ineffectiveness, and political infighting and fingerpointing. While ingenuity and loyalty to comrades is a central theme of TV shows like Homeland, saving one’s job trumped saving Levinson’s life at the real CIA.
“By not standing up, they basically doomed him,” says Meier of Levinson. “He was road kill.”
By Rick Reed
Bill Loehfelm is the author of the critically-acclaimed crime fiction series about New Orleans police officer Maureen Coughlin. In LET THE DEVIL OUT Coughlin has had a brutal year as a rookie cop with New Orleans Police Department. In one year she has experienced her first arrests, her first black eye, and, after a stinging brush with the corrupt heart of her adopted city, her first suspension. She is waiting out the suspension, hoping to keep her badge, hoping to turn things around. Unfortunately, things are about to get much worse.
The FBI is in town on the trail of a ruthless anti-government militia group, the Watchmen Brigade. Nobody in the NOPD wants any part of working with the feds. Guess which suspended rookie is told she doesn’t have a choice.
With the FBI and a white supremacist militia on the loose in New Orleans, the city is one big powder keg. Find out what happens when a brilliant but reckless young cop lights a match. In LET THE DEVIL OUT you will feel the experience of a police ride-along, but you will be at a safe distance.
Mr. Loehfelm spoke with The Big Thrill about his newest novel and his writing career.
How did you catch the writing bug? What authors influenced your writing style?
I first realized I liked writing and had a knack for it early, in grammar school. High school, though, was when I caught the bug for good. I took a creative writing class at a branch of the New York Public library on Saturday mornings. That class set the hook.
As for influences, James Lee Burke is probably the reason I write crime fiction; him, John D. McDonald, and Dennis Lehane are the first crime writers I got into. Them and a childhood spent reading Batman. Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series has been a huge influence, so big I named a character in the Maureen Coughlin series after her. The Brodie series is what I hold up as a goal or a target. Mystic River was a game-changer for me. I admire the way Laura Lippman makes it seem so effortless. Megan Abbott makes it breathless; her books are like diamonds. Richard Price is a master. James Ellroy is so intense and weird.
Frank De Blasé’s new novel, A COUGAR’S KISS, takes readers on a journey back to a gritty mid-20th century world of dark deeds and mean streets. It’s that territory of pulp and noir with dangerous mobsters and beautiful women who might be even more dangerous.
In this second adventure for his crime scene photographer Frankie Valentine, following Pine Box for a Pin-Up, the hero gets called back from Hollywood glamour photography to his more treacherous New York stomping grounds.
A body has turned up, that of a childhood friend who’s been missing 10 years. Soon Frankie finds himself dealing with a hidden stash of money and remnants from his past including the mother of a junkie stripper who once led him into manhood.
De Blase sat down recently to answer a few questions about the book for The Big Thrill.
A COUGAR’S KISS is set in 1960. What about that era made it intriguing as the setting for your series and this book in particular?
I’ve always dug everything retro/classic from that era; the music, the movies, the fashion. As a crime writer, I also get a kick out of showing readers that there were no good old days. Love, lust, greed, and murder are all universal themes and like catsup, they’re good everywhere. Also, the capers I create are solved psychologically with guts and instinct rather than science. It’s hard to be a liar in a DNA world.
How do you immerse yourself in that time period as you write? Any particular music that sets the tone? Do you watch old TV series?
The immersion is more in the story once it gets rolling. I’m already immersed in music and classic movies, and the patter of the parlance that pops up throughout.
By Basil Sands
THE CALAMITY CAFÉ is an appetizing cozy mystery that leaves your mouth watering for great cooking, even as you’re shocked by what people will do to each other. And even better—there are recipes included in the back! As an avid cook, I will definitely be trying some out.
Gayle Leeson is an author who makes an imprint with her witty storytelling, compelling mystery thrills, and some seriously delicious-looking recipes. She also writes the Embroidery Mystery series as Amanda Lee, and as Gayle Trent for the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series.
Leeson lives in Virginia with her family and is having a blast writing the Down South Café Mystery series. I had a chance to catch up with her this month for an article in The Big Thrill.
So, which Gayle is the real you?
Although my real name is Gayle Trent, I suppose I’m all of those Gayles. At least, sometimes I wish I had a couple more of me since I wear so many hats in a day. I’m a writer, of course, but also a blogger, a new columnist for RT Book Reviews Magazine, a mom, a wife, and I’m owned by pets who are pretty demanding.
How did you get into writing?
I’d read a book that was formulaic and predictable, and then I wrote a short story to parody that book and others similar to it. I allowed my college English teachers to read it, and they told me I had real talent. That little bit of encouragement was all it took!
Are the recipes CALAMITY CAFÉ your own?
Some were passed down through the family. Others were contributed by readers. I think it’s always fun to get readers invested in your stories. The readers whose recipes were accepted were acknowledged with their recipe(s) and received a small honorarium.
“Graduate school in creative writing can teach discipline, it can help a writer make contacts, and it can put a writer in a supportive environment,” says associate professor David Bell, who holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in creative writing. “But it’s not a magic bullet,” adds the bestselling author. “A writer still has to be able to tell a good story and have the discipline to keep writing when school ends.”
David Bell’s latest suspense novel is SINCE SHE WENT AWAY, a fast-paced page-turner that Romantic Times has named a Top Pick for June. Women are disappearing in Hawks Mill, including Jenna Barton’s best friend and her teenage son’s new girlfriend. Jenna begins to wonder how many secrets one small town can hold as she desperately tries to untangle the truth.
Although Bell and I both attended ThrillerFest X last summer, we didn’t manage to meet until now. But I knew we’d get along when I discovered our shared fondness for cemetery walks.
Your first published works were short stories. How did writing them prepare you for the transition to writing novels?
Most writers start out writing short stories for practical reasons. In the length of time it takes to write one novel a writer could produce five, ten, or fifteen short stories. And short stories can teach useful skills for the suspense novelist—efficiency, concision, control. But, in the end, the only thing that can teach someone to write a novel is to write one. I tell my students they have to write a bad novel before they can write a good one, so get started on that bad one before it’s too late.
You’ve written eight novels in as many years. I saw a BBC documentary in which Scottish crime-fiction author Ian Rankin explained his strictly detailed schedule for writing a novel a year. Do you have a regulated routine?
In order to write a book every year—and continue to work my day job as a college professor—I have to be disciplined. Since I have summers and holidays mostly free from my teaching job, I do a lot of writing then. During the academic year, I spend time generating ideas, working on outlines, and revising. I’m a creature of habit. I like routine, so this works for me.
I always make an outline. I can spend as much time on an outline as I spend writing a draft of the book. By working out as many character and plot issues in the outline, the writing of the book is a little easier. It’s a road map to where I want to go. Still, surprises crop up. My outline for SINCE SHE WENT AWAY had a totally different ending. The ending of the published book just came to me as I wrote. If I’m surprised then I figure the reader will be surprised as well.
By Karen Harper
It was fun to interview Karen Fenech, not only because she writes in the same genre I do, but because she is so amazingly diverse and prolific yet manages to keep everything straight. In the interview, she shares her methods for success, and her joy of writing comes through loud and strong.
What is BREATH OF MALICE about?
BREATH OF MALICE centers on an inexperienced FBI agent who catches the eye of a serial killer and becomes his next target. It’s a game of cat and mouse . . . and she’s losing.
I see on your website that you work out extensive and detailed outlines before you write your novels or novellas. What do you see as the advantages of this pre-thinking work? Are there any drawbacks?
I find that the pre-thinking prep prevents me from taking wrong turns in the story or writing myself into a corner. Having an outline, for me, is like having a road map. It keeps me on track and gets me where I want to go. I don’t find any drawbacks to the pre-thinking. Thinking about the novel I intend to write in advance, cements it for me in my mind and makes it part of my real world. I could be doing something completely unrelated when something I want to include in the novel occurs to me. I love those moments.
You have some great author-help, reader-interest articles accessible on your website, such as “The Worst Thing About Writing” and “Finding Time to Write.” What three helpful suggestions would you give a beginning writer, either published or unpublished?
Coming at this from someone who’s been there and certainly not an authority or writing coach, I would say that if writing is really something that you want to do, you’ll find yourself making time to do it, even if just for a few minutes every day.
A few minutes every day will add up in terms of pages. When I first started, I found it difficult to allocate large blocks of time to writing and so I didn’t. A few minutes here and there at first, with longer writing sessions when I could, resulted in my first novel. In the previous question I was asked about pre-thinking work, here’s an example where I found the pre-thinking served me well. I was never far from that first story, since I’d done some prep and had a grasp of what I wanted to do with the book. The pre-thinking helped me write more in the short bursts I was able to fit in.
Shaun Harris doesn’t like Hemingway. “I don’t like his stories. I don’t like the way he writes. I don’t like the way he treated women, or the way he treated his friends. I decided this guy needs to be taken down a peg or two. This guy should not be an American hero.”
Not that he wanted to do a hit job on Hemingway. “The guy had a lot of issues. People hold him up as this idea of masculinity… He was a PT Barnum type. He recut his Red Cross uniform so that it would look like a military uniform…Selling his writing meant selling himself.”
Harris was inspired to write THE HEMINGWAY THIEF , his debut novel, while watching the movie Wonderboys. Michael Douglas’s character has just lost a huge manuscript, and utters a throw-away line about how Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, lost a suitcase full of Hemingway’s stories. Harris researched the event: in Paris, 1922, Ernest Hemingway asks his young wife, Hadley, to pack up every last scrap of his work into a single suitcase and join him in Switzerland. While Hadley waited for her train in the Gare de Lyon, the suitcase containing a year’s worth of Hemingway’s stories, vanished, never to be seen again.
Harris’s novel, set in the present day, uses that event as a jumping off point. Henry “Coop” Cooper is a successful writer of vampire romances. He’s got the formula down but he’s sick of it. He’s hidden out in a flea-bag Mexican hotel to find a way to kill his pseudonymous self. Once the press reports his alter-ego’s death, Cooper plans to restart his career writing more great literary books under his real name..
He’s distracted from this plan when he and Doyle, the hotel owner, have to rescue another hotel guest from two goons who are beating him to death. The goons want the Hemingway suitcase, and the young man knows where it is.
The three men travel across the desert in search of the suitcase, in the process up-ending every manly trope we know from adventure novels and movies like Treasures of Sierra Madre and Indiana Jones. “Growing up, Indiana Jones was my hero. I’m afraid of snakes, like him. I wanted to be an archeologist, like him, until I figured out that [what Indy does] is not what archeologists do.”
By George Ebey
The historical novel THE SERVICE OF THE DEAD introduces Kate Clifford, a young widow forged on the warring northern marches of 14th century England. Political unrest permeates York as Richard II and his cousin Henry Bolingbroke fight for the crown. Struggling to dig out from beneath the debt left by her late husband, Kate Clifford must solve a series of murders linked to her guesthouse, crimes that could split the kingdom and spell her ruin.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Robb to learn more about her work and what the future holds.
What first drew you to writing stories involving historical suspense?
I fell down a rabbit hole.
In graduate school my interests led me away from British literature to medieval studies, a combination of literature and history and early languages, which was not officially sanctioned by my program. But I believed I could convince a PhD committee to allow an exception in my case. Not so. My department would not approve a mixed medieval lit/medieval history/medieval languages/popular culture (Tolkien) topic, and even when I dropped the latter part I was still stonewalled.
In the midst of this frustration I heard about a contest—what would you give Richard Wagner for his birthday? The prize for best idea was two tickets to the Ring Cycle in Seattle. I disliked Wagner, and saw the contest as an opportunity to indulge my grumpiness, so I entered with the snide comment that I would present him Anna Russell’s interpretation of his Ring Cycle to give him an idea of what twentieth century listeners thought of his work. If you have never heard Anna Russell’s hilarious sendoff of Wagner’s precious Ring of the Nibelungenlied, let me just say no one could have mistaken this for anything other than an insult. (And you should go online and find it. Really.)
Lo and behold, I won the contest. Down the rabbit hole. I flew out to Seattle, laughed hysterically through two of the four nights of the Ring, then forgot about it as I explored the area. Within a month, I gave up grad school with an ABD and moved to Seattle, where I entered the world of technical writing/editing. To pay the bills—Seattle is expensive. I loved my job—university campus, access to a good research library, working with people who loved what they did.
By J. H. Bográn
I’ve always believed that the best place to enjoy a horror movie is in a theater. You can have all the technical gizmos in the world, but your living room will never provide that added layer of uncertainty that only comes in a large, dark room surrounded by strangers. Of course books are different. Reading a novel outside on the porch will not be as eerie as reading a horror story by nothing but a night lamp. Especially if it’s a book such as THE PRISONER OF HELL GATE.
In the Hell Gate—a narrow strait in New York City’s East River—lie the sad islands where, for centuries, people locked away what they most feared: the contagious, the disfigured, the addicted, the criminally insane. Here infection slowly consumed the stricken. Here a desperate ship captain ran his doomed steamship aground and watched flames devour 1,500 souls. Here George A. Soper imprisoned the infamous Typhoid Mary after she spread sickness and death among the privileged.
George’s great-granddaughter, Karalee, and her fellow graduate students in public health know that story. But as they poke in and out of the macabre hospital rooms of abandoned North Brother Island—bantering, taking pictures, recalling history—they are missing something: An evil presence watches over them, and plots against them.
Dana I. Wolf is a pseudonym created by J. E. Fishman. We caught up with the author, and of course the inevitable first question was: Why a pen name?
Author names are a kind of branding. To tell you the truth, I’ve never been too fond of my actual last name, under which I wrote a bunch of thrillers. It’s evocative of, well, fish.
Since this new book was a supernatural thriller, a new genre for me and one I hope to pursue with other books, I thought it would be better—and the publisher agreed—to brand it with a different name. Even so, I’m not hiding. It’s an open secret.
How did the idea for PRISONER OF HELL GATE come about?
If you can believe it, it came from a listical! I saw a piece on the Internet—complete with pictures—about abandoned islands, and the piece mentioned that North Brother Island once housed the notorious prisoner Mary Mallon, better known as Typhoid Mary.
I thought all those hospital buildings—vine-encrusted, falling to dust—would make a great setting for a horror story. I immediately pictured a small boat full of twenty-somethings who land on the shore and naively set out to explore the ruins. Unbeknownst to them, Typhoid Mary lives. And she’s holding a grudge.
A Blistering Collection of Short Stories
By Alex Segura
Jen Conley is a closer. Her short stories–packed with bite and meaningful and evocative twists–don’t just impress you, they stick with you. As someone who has hosted a handful of Noir at the Bars, I can attest to this. When you put together a lineup of short story readers, you’d be foolish to put Conley anywhere but last. She’s that good. She’s a closer.
CANNIBALS: STORIES FROM THE EDGE OF THE PINE BARRENS takes readers on a tour of the New Jersey you thought you knew. Not the Jersey gleaned from too many episodes of The Sopranos, but the Jersey you’d find near its center, where the mundane lives of many can be disrupted in a moment through violence.
Music, murder, extramarital affairs, blood, lies and double-crosses are front and center in this collection of Conley’s best and most eyebrow-raising tales, and you’ll be left shell-shocked and looking around for the next volume.
It was a pleasure to get a chance to talk with Conley about the book and what inspired here.
Jen, what motivated you to put together a short story collection?
I’ve always loved short stories–reading and writing them–and putting a collection of my stories together was just something I always wanted to do. But I wanted to make sure my collection was something I could be proud of, and that means loving each and every story, so it took a long time until each story came to me. I didn’t want any filler stories–because that’s a major problem with story collections if a writer is just writing to put together a collection.
How did DOWN & OUT become the right fit in terms of publishing?
Most of my stories fall under crime fiction, or at least gritty, something DOWN & OUT does. Short story collections are a hard sell and I was concerned when I pitched it that they wouldn’t be interested, but luckily they were. The stories are loosely connected, if not by characters but by geography and class. DOWN & OUT is established, they do gritty crime fiction, it’s also a good indie publisher. It seemed like a perfect place for me.
Although still recovering from a recent abduction, vulnerable but strong-willed Delilah Price takes a job as a substitute art teacher to quell some of her recent financial pressures. Her desire to lay low, recuperate, and try to figure out her ever changing relationship with Detective Quick is thwarted by her uncanny ability to find trouble—or rather, for trouble to find her.
While Quick is busy working on a serial rapist case that seems to pull him away from her, a series of events offers Delilah clues regarding his case. Her inability to wait for police support draws the attention of a dangerous adversary. Reminiscent of the suspenseful twists and turns of Israel’s first novel, Over My Live Body, the second in the Delilah Price series, STUDENT BODIES, will keep readers guessing until the end.
Having previously written short stories, Israel says “I wanted to delve into something that allowed a longer lasting relationship with my characters.” While she didn’t initially plan a series, Price’s character has continued to grow, and Israel plans at least one more book featuring Price, Foreign Bodies. “I am certainly not averse to writing more as long as my characters have the opportunity to grow. Delilah and Quick’s relationship is an on and off one and they will continue to decide whether they should stay together or not. Several other characters, particularly Freddie, will make appearances.”
Israel describes Delilah’s character as a bolder, braver version of herself.
“I’ve shared a lot of her self-doubt and discomfort when doing something out of my comfort zone. I’ve taught classes and wondered if I made a difference. I’ve waitressed and once dropped a tray of roast beef dinners at a banquet,” she says, noting that many of her other characters were inspired by “walk-ons,” or people she’s seen in passing.
In order to get into the mindset of her teenage characters, Israel reads Seventeen and Girls Life. And she acknowledges a secret affinity for gossip magazines, “to get a feel for who [teens] listen to on their iPods, who they’d like.” As for Israel’s other reading choices, she admits that they are all over the map. “Lately I’ve read books by Gillian Flynn, Linda Fairstein, and Julia Dahl. I also want to reread my collection of Raymond Chandler books.”
By Matt Ferraz
In TAG, YOU’RE DEAD, author J.C. Lane presents a chase around the city of Chicago, where the innocent game of tag becomes a matter of life and death. Writing from the point of view of six different characters, the author decided to do something radically different from her previews books, published under the name of Judy Clemens. No spoilers here, though. You can see the result this month, when the book comes out.
Your book is set in Chicago. What’s the importance of this city in your story?
I have always loved Chicago. I grew up in northern Indiana, so when our family went to “the city,” it was Chicago, where we visited the Field Museum, Orchestra Hall, The Museum of Science and Industry, and The Berghoff Restaurant, with its amazing rye bread. I also lived in Evanston for a year while my dad was getting his doctorate at Northwestern University, so I have good memories from that time. A few years ago my husband took me to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, and we stayed at The Palmer House, a National Historical Landmark hotel, went to a play, and attended a recording session of my favorite NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” The trip was a reminder of how much I love the city, and when the idea for TAG, YOU’RE DEAD came to me, Chicago was automatically the place I wanted it to be set. The characters end up in so many of my favorite places, including the Adler Planetarium, Wrigley Field, and the Art Institute, just to name a few.
Could you picture your book taking place somewhere else?
I suppose the story could have taken place in a different big city, but Chicago has a special place in my heart, and I hope that affection comes through in the writing. I would have had to research other cities, and with Chicago’s blend of downtown, a river, a lake, two baseball teams, and all of its special buildings and museums, another city would have a completely different feel. We spoke about characters earlier, and my hope is that the city of Chicago has its own place as a character in the book!
By Amy Lignor
When it comes to author Lorna Peel, readers not only receive fascinating tales—both contemporary and historical—but they also receive the bounty that comes from the incredible amount of research this author completes.
Her interest in genealogy once sent Peel on a quest to delve into her own family tree. In her stories, she offers up angles that send her characters on journeys to uncover their own pasts. Living in a locale filled with history and legends, Peel remains one of the best when it comes to bringing research, creativity, and, of course, amazing romance to the written word.
We asked her about all of these things and more in this The Big Thrill interview.
Writing in both contemporary and historical genres—can you speak about the pros and cons of dabbling in both? How do you manage “multiple” brands?
I find switching from one genre to the other keeps my writing fresh. I haven’t come across any cons yet, and I hope I don’t as I’d like to continue writing both.
I don’t find managing multiple brands difficult as my novels all include a central romance, just in different sub-genres. So far, I have had three novels published—two contemporaries and a historical. In time, when more of my novels are published, I will separate the two sub-genres on my website so visitors will have the choice of visiting one or the other, or both.
Do you have a particular favorite between the two? Such as, does leaving the “present” plain to step back into the past give a certain thrill that contemporary doesn’t?
I’ve always loved history, so if I had to choose, I would choose historical. But I love writing contemporary fiction too. Both my novels, Only You and THE IMAGE OF HER, feature genealogy—a mystery set in a character’s family tree—and I find it easier to include the genealogy mystery in a contemporary novel as I can include and describe the research I’ve done on my own family tree, on and offline.
By Derek Gunn
Guinotte Wise has managed to cram a lot into the anthology, RESUME SPEED. I’m not normally a huge fan of anthologies; don’t get me wrong—I like short stories. But usually I end up reading a few stories and then go back to a novel and bounce back to the anthology after each novel. This usually means I lose track of any trend or glue that holds the anthology together.
In this anthology, though, the stories are slices of life and stand very much on their own. The fact that Wise has had many jobs comes through in every story, where he invites us to a bar or a funeral home, and oozes realism.
His last anthology was described as cinematic, compared to a Tarantino movie. This is well deserved. The scenes are set simply and accurately and the reader feels as though they have come in from the street and is already seated at the bar Guinotte describes. You can smell the alcohol soaked into the wood of the bar, a stray wisp of cigarette smoke, even hear a cough from the back of the room. Dialogue is never strained. Characters interact as you would expect them to, and the author pulls from his own experiences to ensure that each story has a realistic flavor to it, with just enough quirkiness to keep us guessing.
The writing is clear and seeps talent. You settle yourself, allow yourself to wallow in their storylines, and they end far too soon. Not that the story is not finished—I would just have liked to stay a bit longer in each scene. Characters are well drawn, obviously taken from the many people Wise has met during his varied career, and I was riveted to each story.
Wise has been a creative director in advertising most of his working life, he says, and I can see how he has been successful in this. He plays with words and our emotions, shocking, cajoling, and urging us to read one more story before we put the book away.
I managed to catch up with Wise this month and he kindly took some time out to give The Big Thrill some background and insights into his thought processes.
By Terri Nolan
Adite Banerjie has told stories as a journalist, business writer, and screenwriter. Some years ago, her short story was selected as a winner of the Passions Aspiring Authors Auditions. Inspired by the win, she expanded the story and a novelist was born. Her latest book, NO SAFE ZONE, is a romantic suspense thrill ride set in the India environs of cosmopolitan Delhi to the villages and bazaars of Rajasthan.
Qiara Rana is a London-based activist with a non-profit organization. When Qiara’s mentor falls under the murk of an investigation, she vows to save them from ruin. This determination will take her back to India. Meanwhile, Kabir Shorey is an Intelligence Bureau officer working to bust a trafficking ring.
Their lives intersected a decade ago and will again in a high-stakes drama of crime and greed. The past and present collide. Old secrets are revealed. Navigating truth and lies, love and betrayal, Qiara and Kabir discover that in life, there is no safe zone.
In this interview with The Big Thrill, Banerjie answers questions about her journey to publication, her work as a screenwriter, and the very important: How do we pronounce your first name.
“Interesting that you should ask” she says. “Most Westerners pronounce my name like they would A-phro-dite. A is more like Awe-(as in awesome!)-dee-t-(as in tea).”
Awesome. Tell us how Qiara and Kabir came to be.
Qiara and Kabir’s story has been in the making for a while. More than three years ago, I came across a news story about an Indian woman who was adopted and taken to the U.S., but after her adoptive mother dies without registering her adoption papers, she is deported back to India. The story fascinated me and I started writing it as a screenplay. But the story was turning out to be a bit too dark for my liking and that’s when I decided to bring in Kabir. Of course, the original story also underwent changes. Eventually, I decided to write it as a book rather than a script.
Gerry Schmitt, New York Times bestselling author of multiple cozy mysteries, has released her first thriller, Little Girl Gone. In an advance review, St. Paul Pioneer Press said, “Schmitt has a great sense of the creepy.”
LITTLE GIRL GONE is indeed creepy.
On a frozen night in an affluent Minneapolis neighborhood, a baby is abducted from her home, and her teenage babysitter assaulted. The parents are frantic, the police are baffled, and, with the perpetrator already in the wind, the trail is getting colder by the second. Enter Afton Tangler, the family liaison officer who pulls together random clues and sniffs out a sinister woman who creates “reborn” dolls.
Suspense magazine put it succinctly—Schmitt is “a real pro.” The author shared some of her thoughts on writing in this interview with The Big Thrill.
You write bestselling cozies under the pen name Laura Childs. What prompted you to move to the darker end of the mystery spectrum with this thriller?
I actually wrote two thrillers very early on. One called Cyberkill, another called Old Masters, this last being about geriatric Nazis and stolen World War II artwork. The manuscripts got read, but weren’t picked up. Then my agent hooked me up with an editor at Berkley Prime Crime where I ended up writing three chapters and an outline for a Tea Shop Mystery. They liked it, so I just kept going with the cozy thing.
What can you tell us about this psychological thriller beyond the book jacket copy provided by your publisher?
My antagonist, Marjorie, is a terrifying construct. She’s sullen, coarse, and shrewd as a weasel. She creates “reborn dolls” in a crumbling rural farmhouse while her son, Ronnie, does taxidermy. These co-dependent crazies kidnap, kill, and rob, all the while terrorizing Ronnie’s pregnant girlfriend, Shake, an ex-stripper.
A murder trial inspired Lynn Cahoon to write her first book, a thriller. She’d been part of the trial and wanted to fictionalize the story. But that draft got put aside after just four chapters.
She tried a young adult novel, then a cozy, and a romance. Each time, she stopped after four chapters, feeling as though she were writing the wrong story.
“The truth was, I needed to plow through the soggy middle and trust that I would be okay on the other side,” Cahoon says.
Her first published book was a romance in 2012, and her Bull Rider series is still out there, featuring cowboys and the fictional town of Shawnee. But she still wanted to write a cozy mystery.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until she was diagnosed and treated with breast cancer that she had enough time to read—and write. She grabbed books from the library with mystery stickers. Back then, she didn’t realize there were different sub genres of mysteries, but once she found Susan McBride’s Dropout Debutant series, she fell in love with the cozy world.
“After seeing some success with my romance, I picked up the cozy I’d started earlier, finished the book, and started querying,” Cahoon says. “I didn’t get an agent with that book, but I did find a publisher, Kensington. Nine books later in the Tourist Trap series, I am still loving the fact I get to write about South Cove, and Jill and the gang.”
A STORY TO KILL is the first in a new series featuring Cat Latimer.
So, what makes this series different?
“It takes what I love about writing cozies—small town, quirky characters—and sets the story in a new town, new state and amid new problems,” Cahoon says. “The other difference is I’ve been given permisson to make it as sexy or romantic as I’d like. So the book is kind of a mix between a good small town romance and a cozy mystery.”
Nightmares don’t always hide in shadows; sometimes they come for us on a sunlit suburban sidewalk, or lie in wait in the brightest stretch of a cotton-candy summer.
Seventeen-year-old Scarlett Contreras learns this firsthand in Amanda Panitch’s NEVER MISSING, NEVER FOUND. Panitch’s second novel—coming on the heels of her harrowing 2015 debut Damage Done—picks up several years after Scarlett was abducted from her suburban neighborhood on a bright winter afternoon and subjected to years of physical, emotional, and psychological abuse at the hands of her captor (easily one of the most chilling villains to stalk YA fiction in recent years) before finally managing to escape.
Four years later, Scarlett has nearly rebuilt her life, or at least some semblance of it. Her family still reels from the fallout of her abduction, but Scarlett is enjoying a new job at a superhero-themed amusement park, where she’s smitten with one of her young coworkers. Her hard-won stability begins to crumble, though, when a young woman goes missing from the park, and another coworker seems to know things about Scarlett’s past that Scarlett has never shared with anyone. Equal parts wistful coming-of-age story and grueling psychological suspense, Panitch’s sophomore effort juggles dual timelines that alternate between Scarlett’s unsettling present and her torturous past, all leading up to an atomic bomb of a plot twist and a masterful resolution.
With only two novels under her belt, Panitch has already announced herself as a formidable new voice in the world of suspense fiction. Here, The Big Thrill picks her brain about managing dual timelines, crafting killer twists, and writing delightfully dangerous girls.
Your first novel, Damage Done, was inspired by an article you read about a suicide bomber. Can you trace NEVER MISSING, NEVER FOUND to a single catalyst?
NEVER MISSING, NEVER FOUND wasn’t inspired by one thing in the same way Damage Done was, but I knew right away that I wanted to write a YA psychological thriller set in an amusement park. Otherwise, the relationship between the two sisters—the protagonist, Scarlett, and her younger sister, Melody—has roots in the relationship my sister and I had as teenagers.
Alpert Makes Science Thrilling for Young Adults
By Sonja Stone
Mark Alpert—astrophysicist-turned-author—sold his first work of fiction, a short story, several decades ago to Playboy magazine. The Big Thrill caught up with Alpert to talk about his research, the writing life, and his second young adult thriller, THE SEIGE, sequel to The Six, which releases this month.
The Six tells the story of six dying teenagers, called the Pioneers, whose lives are “saved” when their minds are downloaded into army robots. In THE SEIGE, the Pioneers discover a new enemy—an artificial-intelligence program named Sigma. And Sigma has an ally: one of the Pioneers is a traitor.
You’re on your second YA novel. What would you say are the key differences between writing adult vs. young adult? What advice would you give other thriller writers who want to write for young adults?
The adolescent brain is different from the adult brain. Adolescent brain cells are more flexible (but less efficient) than adult neurons, and there are more connections among them. So it’s natural that teenagers think differently. Their brains are geared for seeking novelty and thrills, and at the same time they have poor impulse control. They feel everything more intensely, both the good and the bad. (I read somewhere that ice cream will never taste as good as it did when you were a teenager.)
I picked up all these neuroscience tidbits because my young adult novels are about teenagers who transfer the contents of their minds to robots, so I had to learn a little about teenage brains. To write a YA novel, you have to show the extremes that your adolescent characters are going through, the crushing disappointments and the dizzying joys. In other words, you have to remember what it’s like to be a teenager.
When the past haunts the present, the solution may be deadly
The story revolves around Aubrey Lynd, whose six-year-old nephew vanishes from a neighborhood carnival, raising suspicions about who abducted him. Could it have been Aubrey’s mother? As Aubrey begins to expose a series of lies, she is thrown into a high-stakes game where her nephew’s life is at risk—and time is running out.
Potts took some time this month to share with The Big Thrill her inspiration for this pulse-pounding story, and why “family” is often at the core of her work.
What makes SOMEONE MUST DIE different from most domestic thrillers?
SOMEONE MUST DIE revolves around a terrible event. A six-year-old boy named Ethan vanishes from a neighborhood carnival without a trace. But the story is really about how this devastating incident impacts the two main characters—Aubrey Lynd, Ethan’s aunt, and Diana Lynd, his grandmother. Aubrey, desperate to help the FBI find her nephew, is confronted with disturbing questions about her parents’ past when they were college students in the late sixties. The deeper she digs, the more horrible the likely outcome appears to be. Diana, tormented by buried secrets and memories, refuses to share her demons with Aubrey. The conflict between mother and daughter becomes increasingly desperate, as Ethan remains missing, and no one is willing to admit to the truth.
All of your books are about family. Why is that?
I’m drawn to stories about family secrets. I love to explore relationships—particularly the parent/adult-child relationship. In SOMEONE MUST DIE, I created a tight, loving relationship between a mother and daughter, and tried to see how far I could push its limits. What does it take to destroy trust? Is loyalty to family more important than doing the right thing? And is love enough?
By E.M. Powell
“When I started writing, I was determined to be successful.” A quote, I’m sure, that you will heard from many authors and may well have uttered yourself. But this time it’s from Kat Martin and “successful” hardly seems adequate to describe her career—a New York Times bestseller, with more than 65 novels published and 16 million copies of her books in print
For those looking for a magic formula, Martin, who admits to being “a goal-oriented person, starting even before high school and all through college,” is far more practical in her approach. “Never give up” is her straightforward advice. “Just keep going, work hard and keep learning, and eventually you will succeed.”
Martin’s first step on that ladder to success was in 1988, with the publication of Magnificent Passage, a historical romance. She acknowledges that her love of suspense found its way into that genre early on. “I wrote lots of action and intrigue into the historicals. But after forty or more novels, I was ready for a change.” In an industry that is ever-evolving, many would hold the view that there’s enough change going on and perhaps one should stick with an established, successful genre. Yet Martin decided to take “some risks, adding contemporary romantic suspense to the historicals I was writing. Fortunately, the risk paid off. Readers liked the idea of mixing danger and romance, and the genre has continued to grow stronger and stronger.”
Crucially, the move to romantic suspense was what Martin really wanted to do. “One thing I believe is all important–a writer must be true to him or her self. Write what calls to you, what you want to write. Readers will feel the authenticity and if you are lucky, as I have been, they will follow where you lead. My passion is contemporary. So the fit is perfect for me and romantic suspense is where I plan to stay.”
It’s easy to see why. Her latest release, INTO THE WHIRLWIND (Book #2 in her BOSS Inc. series), opens with a bang. Megan O’Brien, model and mother to toddler Charlie, discovers her child has been abducted. The huge ransom demand stipulates no police involvement. Meg has no choice but to turn to Brodie Operations Security Services (BOSS), Inc. The men of BOSS, Inc. featured in Martin’s previous release, Into the Fury. This new novel features P.I. Dirk Reynolds and bounty hunter Luke Brodie. Meg and Dirk have had a brief relationship that didn’t work out, though both still have feelings for each other. In Martin’s hands, that means sparks from the beginning and the sexual tension builds as surely and as relentlessly as the suspenseful and fast-moving plot.
Exploring pen names and crossing genres
I just came back from a week in Chicago, where I used my pen name, Caleb James. It was fun, though it did take some adjustment.
It started when I picked up my badge at Book Expo America. The woman asked, “What’s your name?”
It caught me off guard. I’ve been Charles Atkins or Dr. Atkins for decades, but without an embarrassing silence, I said, “Caleb James.” I worried that she’d ask for ID. But no, she looked me up, handed me my pass, and I was good to go.
So why use a pen name? And why now, with my 15th or 16th book?
As Charles Atkins I’ve written mysteries and thrillers set in the real world. They include the Barrett Conyors series of forensic psychiatric thrillers and the Lil and Ada series of Connecticut cozies. There have also been a number of one-offs, like Risk Factor and The Cadaver’s Ball, both with St. Martin’s Press. There are little to no supernatural or paranormal elements in any of those books. Dr. Atkins—and yes I did go to medical school and am a board-certified psychiatrist—has written both plainspeak books on Alzheimer’s and Bipolar Disorder, as well as a recent textbook on co-occurring substance use and mental health problems.
When I set out to write my first young adult novel—Haffling—it was different from anything I’d done. It was time for a new name, kind of like creating a product line. I still did what I always do, fuse my love of psychiatry with intense stories, plots, and characters. In the case of Haffling it’s about a 16-year-old gay kid, his little sister, and his schizophrenic mother. What starts as a sad tale of a teen trying to keep his sister and himself out of the New York foster-care system, rapidly turns into a cat-and-mouse thriller that weaves in Irish mythology and a cannibalistic fairy queen bent on multi-world domination. There will be three in that series. The second, Exile, will be out this winter, and I’m about halfway through the first draft—and those are always nasty—of Hound, the third book.
By Don Helin
International intelligence agencies are after Bajjah, the brilliant and vicious mastermind of the bio-terror plot which nearly wiped out New York City. If not for the heroics of James Hicks, he might have been successful.
Hicks believes that some unknown adversary might be holding Bajjah, and he must track down this cold-blooded enemy while battling other agencies that have their own motives to find the terrorist. But when Hicks discovers that Bajjah’s network goes far deeper than anyone could have fathomed, he’s in a race against time to stop an international atrocity from taking place.
Early on in MURDER OF THE CROWS, James Hicks may captures one of the most wanted terrorists in the world— but in doing so, he has drawn the anger of international intelligence agencies who all target Hicks and his organization because they have someone they want to question. This month, I had the opportunity to catch up with the author of this page-turning thriller for The Big Thrill and ask a few questions of my own.
Did any particular event inspire the plot of this book?
I wrote MURDER OF THE CROWS with the intent of delving further into the world I set up in Sympathy For The Devil. It explains why the characters do certain things and why they’re prohibited from doing others. There wasn’t a particular terror or intelligence event that inspired the plot, but I drew plenty of inspiration from life. In this book, as in life, our actions have consequences. How we handle those consequences defines who we are. James Hicks is no different, except that he has people trying to kill him every day.
Do you have any tips for our readers on how you balance back story with new plot?
One of the main criticisms I received from readers of Sympathy for the Devil, was they didn’t know the back story for the characters. I intentionally avoided that spy thriller clichéd scene where two people sit and review the protagonist’s file. I wanted the reader to buy into the character and the world as it was without having details that people tend to skip anyway. In MURDER OF THE CROWS, I hint at Hicks’ back story without distracting from the forward action of the plot. By the end of the novel, the reader knows much more about Hicks, the University and the motivations of both, but won’t feel like they’ve slogged through a chapter of back story.
PARAISO is the new genre-bending thriller from Gordon Chaplin. The story follows the relationship of brother and sister, Peter and Wendy, as they make their separate journeys to Paraiso, facing murder, terrorism, and many dark secrets. Gordon Chaplin very kindly took a few moments out of his Memorial Day celebrations to talk to me about PARAISO, writing, and his feverish imagination.
PARAISO opens with Peter and Wendy making a break for Mexico as children. Why Mexico? Was this important for you as an author? Have you been to Paraiso?
For the last 30 years I’ve co-owned a house in a little village in Baja very similar to Paraiso. From the moment I arrived the town and its characters seemed an ideal setting for a novel. It is known throughout the region as a magical town and recently was officially designated a Pueblo Magico, making it eligible for all kinds of government financed “improvements” which actually haven’t helped it much.
The story is written from two perspectives, Peter’s in the first person and then Wendy’s in the second. Did you identify more with Peter than Wendy as an author, and can you tell us about Peter? Do you have a similar Peter/Wendy relationship with your own siblings?
All novels draw on material the author is familiar with, starting with his or her family situation. This is all I want to say on this subject.
Another famous Peter and Wendy duo comes from classical children’s literature and throughout the book you reference Peter Pan. How did this story influence your own work?
PARAISO is the dark side of Peter Pan. My story is designed to resonate ironically with the famous fairy tale, forcing the reader’s mind into new and noir connections with material that is part of everyone’s childhood. James Joyce used a similar technique in Ulysses, his 20th century parable based on the Odyssey. It recognizes that all stories we tell each other are based on earlier stories.
By David Healey
H.W. “Buzz” Bernard has just the sort of resume you might expect from an author of weather-related disaster thrillers. He has a degree in atmospheric science, spent a career in the Navy as a weather officer, was a senior meteorologist for The Weather Channel, and has gone in search of tornadoes with professional storm chasers. He has even flown into a hurricane aboard a hurricane hunter, an experience that helped prompt his best-selling thriller, Eyewall.
Now, Bernard has decided to shake things up.
His newest novel is CASCADIA, set in the Pacific Northwest town of Manzanita. The plot focuses on Dr. Rob Elwood, a geologist who makes a startling prediction. Not only will a cataclysmic earthquake strike the region once again, but the event will be followed by an epic tsunami. Elwood knows this from his study of the geological record, which indicates that another “big one” is on the way.
Elwood puts his career, and even his marriage, on the line by making a very specific prediction: disaster will strike the Cascadia Subduction Zone over the busy July Fourth weekend.
The scariest part of the story may be that Bernard’s book, like his others, is based on fact.
“I try to stay within the realm of possibility,” Bernard explained.
Much of CASCADIA is based on current geoscience, he said, which points toward a natural disaster much like the one imagined in those pages.
“Unfortunately, that is a worst-case scenario that is going to happen someday,” he said. “When it happens, it’s going to be the worst natural disaster in the United States.”
By Anne Tibbets
THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH brings to life the inner workings of a serial killer, and shows the lengths to which a psychic prison therapist will go to convict him.
Sound terrifying? It is. One has to wonder, with the premise of THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH being so dark, how an author climbs out of the darkness when he or she finishes writing for the day.
“It’s interesting that you ask that question,” answers author Matthew Franks, “because Max Crawford, the protagonist of MONSTER UNDERNEATH, has his own way of staying grounded while navigating the often nightmarish dream world. Whether it’s a friendship bracelet his daughter Katie made for him or a brief conversation with his wife Jessica, Max has tools to bring himself back to the real world and shake off the dark places he finds himself in through his work.”
“I’d have to say something quite similar helps me climb out of the darkness of writing horror,” he adds, “My own family keeps me grounded so spending time with my wife and daughters helps me separate from the terrible things that arise in a story.”
A fan of horror authors Stephen King and Clive Barker, Matthew Franks also credits writers like William S. Burroughs, Ken Kesey, J.D. Salinger, Tom Robbins, and Aldous Huxley as influences. These inspirations are easily detectable in Frank’s gripping and engaging supernatural thriller, which touches on themes of delusion and moral ambiguity.
“One of my favorite scenes is when the relationship between Max and Knox finally comes to a head near the end of the book,” says Franks. “Being able to set it in Knox’s dreams was especially fun because I was able to add supernatural elements to illustrate what’s going on his mind. Another favorite scene would be their final confrontation, which I can’t say much about because it would be a spoiler!”
Aside from the action, readers will also appreciate Matthew Frank’s attention to character authenticity in THE MONSTER UNDERNEATH, particularly while building the mind of a serial killer.
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Poitier Sharpe is a gutsy, outgoing girl who spends her summers hurling herself out of planes at her parents’ skydiving center in the Mojave Desert. Fiercely independent and willing to take risks, she challenges those around her to live life fully. But after a brush with death, Ryan is not the thrill-seeking girl she once was and seems to be teetering on the edge of psychosis. As her life unravels, Ryan must fight the girl she’s become—or lose herself forever—in Tracy Clark’s eerie and atmospheric thriller, MIRAGE.
We spoke with Ms Clark about her latest novel and her writing career.
Brian: Prolific writers tend to have a surplus of story ideas. What about MIRAGE appealed so strongly to you that you picked it over all your other ideas?
Without giving too much away, I’ll say that MIRAGE has a tricky element that I wasn’t sure I had the writing chops to pull off. Since I find it nearly impossible to back off from a challenge, I knew I had to try. I also couldn’t let go of the image of a character thinking she sees someone else in her reflections.
As for choosing which idea to commit to; I have to write what elicits the most “spark” in me. I have to be truly excited by it to sustain my enthusiasm for the long haul.
Ellie: What inspired you to write about this individual?
Ryan is one of those characters who arrived fully-formed. She “landed” in my life as the complicated, badass, rebel skydiver that you see in the book. There are elements to Ryan that come from within and some that come from people I know. But one thing is certain—as with all of us, she’s a true individual and her life and her story are unique to her.
Ellie: Do you ever incorporate your adventures into your stories?
Oh, yes! I was a skydiver in my early twenties and I jumped at a drop zone in the Mojave Desert. The harsh, unforgiving desert setting lent itself well to the book. I’m also a private pilot, and that helped as well. I’ll tell you one tidbit: there’s a scene in which Ryan is on a demo-jump and it’s raining. The plane’s stall warning indicator went off and she was pushed out of the airplane by her boyfriend. That happened to me!
By J. H. Bográn
There’s always something appealing about a reformed crook. Many of the greatest heroes started off their careers in the wrong side of the law: Wyatt Earp, the Dirty Dozen, Remington Steele, even Severus Snape and Megamind. Among this celebrity group we can count Felicity O’Brien and Morgan Stark, an unusual pair composed of a thief and a mercenary—and quite the pair they make. Note that I don’t use the word couple because their relationship is strictly platonic, with a touch of the paranormal. However, one thing is certain; they were meant to be together.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to interview Austin Camacho about his new book, THE LOST ART ASSIGNMENT.
Say you meet me at a bookstore, how would you sell me your book?
It’s old-school action and adventure with some of the most interesting characters you’ll meet in a novel. An Irish ex-patriot jewel thief and a hardened mercenary soldier combine their talents to take on an ingenious gangsta who has the brains and the balls to take over New York city’s organized crime.
Some scenes of the book occur in places that no longer exist. Were research for them a challenge?
Actually, the research was great fun. Once I decided that our new-age gangsta had a thing for Harlem’s heyday, I dug into the era of my father’s youth. There’s a surprisingly rich bank of literature about the Harlem Renaissance, the Apollo Theater, and so forth. What an interesting place and time.
There are plenty of discussions about art and artists. Are you an art connoisseur or aficionado?
Not in the least, but since one of my main protagonists is, I had to learn a thing or two. Luckily I live close to Washington, D.C., so not only do I have access to great museums, but also to the people who work there who just love to answer art-related questions.
Creating a Strong Character, Chanel Suits and All!
By Wendy Tyson
Cara Black first introduced us to the stylish, spirited Aimée Leduc in Murder in the Marais. In Cara’s most recent release, MURDER ON THE QUAI, readers go back in time to learn how Aimée began her career as an investigator. Booklist says, “Finally we have the prequel we’ve been craving… A treat for series fans.” Indeed, MURDER ON THE QUAI’s fast-paced, satisfying plot and evocative Parisian setting will keep readers turning pages long after dark.
Cara recently sat down with The Big Thrill to chat about her character’s evolution, researching the City of Light, and the next installment in the popular Aimée Leduc Investigation series.
Congratulations on the recent release of your new book, MURDER ON THE QUAI, the 16th book in your New York Times and USA Today bestselling Aimée Leduc Investigation series. The series has been a remarkable success, and Aimée has been hailed as a chic, openhearted, sassy heroine. In MURDER ON THE QUAI, readers learn how Aimée got her start as an investigator. What are the benefits of going back to your character’s origins? How did you know now was the time?
Great question. I never thought I would write a series, much less 16 books. I’m incredibly lucky. For me it’s become stimulating to keep Aimée’s Paris world (set in the 90s) familiar yet fresh. Actually at the end of Murder on the Champs de Mars life-changing things happened to Aimée Leduc and to someone close in her life. I couldn’t see much further ahead for her except from the emergency room in the hospital where this person close to her, who betrayed her (she believes) and was shot, is fighting for their life. Conflicted, heartbroken, all I knew was that Aimée was at a crossroads. I didn’t know where she’d go from there.
My editor asked me what would happen to Aimée, and I think I mumbled I hadn’t much of a clue where Aimée’s life would take her now. Perfect segue for a prequel, my editor said in that brilliant way she has. She said she’d always wondered about Aimée’s origin story, on her younger days, what made her into the private detective (apart from inheriting the agency from her father) she’d become. Where did her dog, Miles Davis, come from and how did she find her partner, René Friant, and how did her vintage Chanel style emerge? Also, she asked, couldn’t we have a chance to meet Aimée’s father, Jean-Claude, who we’ve heard about for 15 books and see him together with her mother and glimpse that love and attraction that drew these two very different people together?
So in MURDER ON THE QUAI, we get to meet her father, whose death has affected her in the rest of the series. We also meet her grandfather, Claude, who I’ve sort of fallen in love with—he’s a bon vivant, loves good food and haunting the art auctions and has a mistress. Plus the music! I made a playlist to take me back to 1989 including some songs which Aimée hears in the story:“99 Luftballoons,” “Oh Champs Elysèes,” “Love Shack” by the B-52’s, music by Duran Duran and Madonna. Also hearing wonderful old Parisian songs from the 1940s by Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Charles Trenet that brought to me another era and had me dancing around the laptop.
By Dawn Ius
Writing one novel is hard enough, but German author Melanie Raabe’s ambitious debut takes the challenge to another level by including a “novel within a novel”—a thrilling story by THE TRAP’s protagonist, a recluse novelist determined to set the perfect trap for her sister’s murderer.
If that wasn’t challenge enough, Raabe throws in a claustrophobic environment—Linda hasn’t set foot outside her home since her sister’s death—and an unreliable narrator that has been compared to those recently made famous by authors Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.
What could have been a recipe for disaster has instead catapulted Raabe into the spotlight as THE TRAP (translated by Imogen Taylor) has sold in multiple languages and earned the author an impressive Hollywood deal. In this interview with The Big Thrill, Raabe talks about overcoming obstacles and how she’s dealing with whirlwind success.
The premise for THE TRAP is unique and really compelling—what was the inspiration for the story?
The premise was presented to me on a silver platter, really! I am always looking for interesting things, characters, or events to write about. One evening I was having dinner with a friend, and at some point she told me about an article she had read about a reclusive author who never leaves her house. I immediately wrote that down: reclusive author. On my way home from dinner my imagination started running wild: Why doesn’t this woman leave the house? What happened to her? What would need to happen to make her leave the house again? That was the origin of THE TRAP.
Unreliable narrators are all the rage right now (thanks to some wonderful books that are consistently on the bestseller list). What do you think is the allure of the unreliable narrator? How did you approach Linda’s character?
I did not resolve to go and write another book with an unreliable narrator at all, it just developed in that direction organically. I had set my mind on writing about this woman who has not left her house in 11 years and who lives very much in her own head. It soon became clear to me when I started working under this premise, that this very lonely woman lacks all the correctives that ordinary people have. She does not communicate with others on a daily basis, she very much lives in her memories and in her imagination. She is destined to have distorted thinking.
My unreliable narrator does not know she is unreliable. She is actually trying to be truthful, and I like that about her. I think an unreliable narrator works best if it isn’t self-serving, but really fits the character that is telling the story.
Stephen Morrill was born into an army family, served there himself, and wandered the world for thirty years, living in twenty-one cities in six countries. He tried his hand as a reporter for a wire service, penned several thousand magazine articles, worked as a magazine editor, and wrote several Florida travel books.
“When it came time for me to pick a place to settle down, I wanted water activities and beaches,” Morrill said. “I also decided to live and work in a place everyone else dreams of retiring to. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.” And settle down he did, “like a barnacle holding fast to a piling in Florida,” he proudly quipped.
A modern-day Hemingway, Morrill lives alone and writes on the Florida shores, where he sails almost every day, canoes the waterway, and scuba dives on just about every reef and shipwreck in the area.
With a veteran pen, he writes about a small Florida town called Mangrove Bayou, located in the heart of the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades National Park region. DEATH AMONG THE MANGROVES (the second book in a series after Mangrove Bayou) promises to enthrall a loyal following with its plot twists and quirky characters. Troy Adam, mixed-race, ex-Army vet, is fired from his job as a Tampa cop. Mangrove Bayou’s reluctant town council hires him on probation. After surviving a hurricane and solving a crime involving a local citizen’s death, Adam figured the council would have a positive opinion of him, but they remained circumspect. Determined to prove his merit by solving a case involving a missing vacationing college student, Adam is forced to deal not only with a skeptical town council but also overwhelming press attention and a powerful judge.
In the following interview, Stephen Morrill shares with readers of The Big Thrill different aspects of his exotic personal and creative life.
DEATH AMONG THE MANGROVES is the second in your police procedural mystery series. How many more books do you foresee Chief Troy Adam starring in?
No idea. I have four more in the pipeline and I only paused because I was outrunning my publisher. I see no reason to stop at six, though. I collect news stories that I use to plot future books. Most of the plots are things that actually happened and I just save stories from the newspapers and modify them to my needs. In Florida there’s no need to invent crimes; there’s no end to odd crime or Florida weirdness. I also have a P.I. series in the works but not yet published, and that has some crossover with the police procedural series.
For three years, Detective Jude Fontaine was kept from the outside world. Held in an underground cell, her only contact was with her sadistic captor, and reading his face was her entire existence. After her experience with isolation and torture, she is left with a fierce desire for justice—and a heightened ability to interpret the body language of both the living and the dead.
Author Anne Frasier recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss her latest book, THE BODY READER.
How did you create the character Jude Fontaine, and at any point did you find it difficult to write from her perspective?
She was difficult because it was important that she be removed and shut off. It’s hard to make that kind of character sympathetic, regardless of what she’s been through.
Would you ever consider writing a sequel to this book and if so, do you have any ideas on what you would focus on?
I’d love to write a sequel. It would be a bigger story, with a bigger canvas. Last year my editor was eager for me to sign on for a second book, but since I’m still writing the Elise Sandburg series I suggested we wait to see how readers respond to The Body Reader.
Broken family dynamics seem to play a large role in this book. What inspired you to include this topic in your story?
I came from a pretty damaged family, so it’s hard to keep that kind of thing out of my books no matter how I try. :D
Jerry Keneally is a native San Franciscan—a rare breed nowadays. He’s been a policeman, fireman, and licensed private investigator for more than twenty years, and also served as past vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America.
His first books were all first-person private eye adventures, including ten in the Nick Polo series, in which most of the action took place in San Francisco. The following eight thrillers moved around from London, Madrid, Russia, and so on, but often containing a scene or two in San Francisco, along the lines of the write what you know.
Keneally is back in the city with a new series, stating with Jigsaw, featuring an offbeat hero, Mr. Carroll Quint, an entertainment editor for the San Francisco Bulletin. Keneally talked with us about this new release for Down and Out Books.
Tell us about Screen Test.
The idea for SCREEN TEST had been rambling around my little gray cells for years. My older brother, Don, was an inspector for the San Francisco Police Department in the Sexual Assault Division. When Steve McQueen came to town to film Bullitt, Don and his partner were assigned as bodyguards to McQueen and were told by the powers that be—the mayor and the Chief of Police—to assist him in any way possible in making the movie.
At that time, 1968, McQueen had a reputation as a bit of a cop-hater, but Don said the actor could not have been friendlier, and was interested in learning all he could about real cops and how they worked. They drove McQueen around on “night runs” and showed him different locations that could be used in the film. McQueen responded by using several cops parts in the movie.
So I had the McQueen angle, but needed more for a book, so I folded in a case involving the murder of a transsexual cabaret singer that I’d worked on as a private investigator.
By Eyre Price
With her new novel, CODE NAME: JACK RABBIT, author Elizabeth Noble makes the transition from romance to thriller. I recently had the opportunity to put a few questions her way.
So…vampires? What attracted to you a genre that has been explored so thoroughly in the past decade?
Vampires are cool. They have the potential for very long lives and that offers a lot of character exploration. That’s my favorite thing about vampires. They also provide characters that have accumulated different skills over the decades, which really broadens what sort of story can be told. Since, in my world, the vampires heal extremely quickly they’re almost super-hero like. They are capable of surviving where a human might be killed. Then there’s the fact of their superior hearing, speed, and strength.
What measures did you take to put your own spin on vampires in order to keep the genre fresh?
This first book in a series I’m calling the Vampire Guard is a spin-off from a romance series I wrote with an author by the name of Anne Barwell. As we developed our original series (The Sleepless City) we wanted our vampires, and werewolves, to be different.
These vampires don’t hunt humans, and all vampires begin life as a human so as a group it’s in their best interest to preserve humans. Vampires can only change a human into a vampire during the few days each year surrounding the time when they were originally changed. They also don’t drink human blood, it’s an addictive substance for them. The blood they consume is a supplement to normal food and has animal sources. A vampire can bond with a soul mate. Once this happens it’s for life. There is an empathic, bordering on psychic, link between bonded vampires. In my series one of the qualities several of the vampire characters have and are proud of is their ability to change with the times. Even those born centuries ago have adapted to each era they live in.
RN Gina Mazzio and her long-time love, Harry Lucke, are deep into marriage plans when a particularly nasty murder intervenes—the bookkeeper in their friend Lolly’s office has been raped and carved up.
The worst part? The carving occurred before the murder.
And Lolly suspects her cardiologist boss, Dr. Mort Tallent. Gina might be tough, but she’s also a good friend—since she got Lolly “the job of a lifetime,” she feels it’s her, duty to investigate. And Mort is one unsavory cardiologist.
She discovers his ex-wife was murdered when she dumped him a year ago. And also some shady shenanigans of a business nature—the kind you might kill to keep secret. Worse, there’s that pal of his, the kind of person you never want to meet in a dark alley, or anywhere else.
Digging after-hours at Tallent’s office, Gina and Lolly never realize they’re under surveillance—until Lolly is horribly and brutally attacked, in much the same way the bookkeeper was. Only one possible conclusion: she knew too much. Which makes Gina the next target. And this guy’s a carver!
Not many writers have the knowledge and experience to write authentic submarine military adventures. Rick Campbell does have the chops, and he proves it in his latest novel, ICE STATION NAUTILUS. The action starts when the newest American fast attack submarine and one of Russia’s new ballistic missile submarines collide and sink under the Arctic ice cap, which sets up an exciting plot
Life-support systems aboard the submarines begin to fail as both the U.S. and Russia rush to the aid of their crews, adapting their submarine rescue systems for the descent through the polar ice cap into the frigid waters below. Campbell is qualified to give full details of such actions. He’s a retired Navy Commander who spent more than twenty years in uniform and served on four nuclear-powered submarines. He’s quick to admit he couldn’t have written ICE STATION NAUTILUS without the experience he gained in the Navy.
“It helps me get the details correct,” he says, “as well as the broader concepts of submarine warfare and the protocols and directives the Submarine Force operates under. The scenario is pure fiction, although I did leverage the fact that submarine collisions occur occasionally, which is what sparks the nefarious Russian plot in ICE STATION NAUTILUS.”
Yes, far more is at stake than the lives of the men trapped aboard their submarines. Both sides realize that whoever reaches the sunken ships first will be able to board the other country’s submarine and get their latest weapon and tactical system technology. With the U.S. pulling ahead, Russia employs their Arctic Spetsnaz special forces to ensure they win the race and board the American submarine.
Is this all some futuristic fantasy? Campbell says no.
“My novels are present day thrillers,” he says, “as realistic as possible considering classification issues and some simplification so the average reader who hasn’t served in the Submarine Force can follow along. The goal is to tell the type of story that can occur in real life.”
Conspiracy Thrillers and THE END GAME
By Joanna Penn
Raymond Khoury is a New York Times bestselling novelist and award-winning screenwriter. Raymond’s latest book is THE END GAME and you can find him on his website.
USA Today bestselling thriller author J.F.Penn interviewed Raymond for The Big Thrill.
Although you grew up in the U.S., you’re originally from Lebanon, which was once described as the Paris of the East, and now is more known for civil war. How does the Middle East and your experiences flow into your writing?
Growing up there and going to architecture school during the civil war years has had a huge influence on my view of life, and by extension, on my writing. The urgency, the pacing, it all comes out of living under such conditions. The cynical worldview too, I suppose, though that’s countered by an immense appetite for life that arises when you see firsthand how fragile everything can be. It also gave me a pretty thorough understanding of how international conflicts play out, how politics affect the situation on the ground, of dirty tricks and terror tactics and all kinds of manipulations. More directly, it certainly was a driving factor in my first book, The Last Templar, where I was curious about the historical basis of our major religions–in the Middle East, millions of people are manipulated into wars and generational hatred by politicians who use religion as a driver, but these people generally know very little about the historical basis of the religion in whose name they’re willing to kill (or die). My second novel, The Sanctuary, deals with longevity medicine and the desire to live longer, but it’s set in Beirut, Iraq, Turkey, during the war of 2006.
Your books could be described as conspiracy thrillers, with Templar Knights, secret agencies and religious orders. What fascinates you about these topics and how do you manage the line between people’s faith and possible conspiracy?
I only explored religion and the discrepancies between history and faith in the two Templar novels. In a completely different way, I explored the link between organized religion and politics in the U.S. in The Sign. I think the Templar novels were mostly well received and appreciated, even by readers who would describe themselves as very religious. I think they were novels that promoted a message that was essentially a positive one, that said what a religion is based on and stands for, and the acts of those who are actually running the show nowadays (or in the past–as in, say, the Borgias), are two separate things. One’s about a message, a moral code, a way of approaching life’s big issues. The other is human nature, and it can be anywhere from its best to its worst. The same goes for The Sign, but I think I made the mistake of perhaps too-bluntly stating my political opinion in that novel, which I felt very strongly about, and that didn’t sit well with many readers who didn’t share my partisan preference. I don’t regret what I wrote at all, I’m very proud of the book and it’s many readers’ favorite (we’re even discussing a possible movie adaptation at the moment), but with hindsight, it may not have been a great move from a commercial point of view.
Building the Perfect Hero
Joseph Finder writes high-octane bestselling novels of suspense, conspiracy, and ruthless corporations. His books have garnered top industry awards including the ITW Award for Best Novel (Killer Instinct 2006), both the Barry and Gumshoe Awards for Best Thriller (Company Man 2005), and the Strand Critics Award for Best Novel (Buried Secrets 2011). Two of his standalone thrillers, High Crimes and Paranoia, have been made into major motion pictures.
Following up on last year’s standalone New York Times bestseller, The Fixer, Finder is back this month with GUILTY MINDS. Featuring the bruising and brilliant “private spy” Nick Heller, GUILTY MINDS is the third novel in this popular series (after Vanished and Buried Secrets). This time, Heller is hired to stop a salacious story about the chief justice of the Supreme Court and a call girl. But that’s just the beginning of this thrilling ride.
I had the chance to talk to Joseph Finder about GUILTY MINDS, his writing career, and what makes his protagonist, Nick Heller, tick.
Nick Heller is a tough guy. But he’s also very smart and cultured. He knows art better than most, he’s a jazz snob, and of course he’s a human lie detector. What else can you tell us about his history?
Nick’s an unusual guy. He was born into great wealth–his father, the odious Victor Heller, was the Dark Prince of Wall Street–and then lived in poverty after his father was imprisoned for securities fraud. So he’s equally comfortable around rich people and the blue collar. He knows the world of high finance and is not intimidated by swaggering displays of great wealth; in fact, he’s deeply cynical about it. He went to Yale and worked for a few summers at McKinsey, the consulting firm, but then he rebelled by doing the unthinkable—dropping out and enlisting in the army, where he did a few tours in the Special Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and other places, and then went into intelligence work for the Defense Department.
The idea for Nick Heller was born when I heard about how thousands of CIA officers were laid off, or took early retirement, and went private. I thought: now that’s interesting. That’s different. A spy who’s gone private. That could be cool. He can go anywhere, including foreign countries, and won’t be limited to working in his home city of Boston. He’s not himself a techie, but he’s also not totally ignorant of computers and such. He knows how to do email, which may be the limit of his technical knowledge, but he can understand it when Dorothy, his forensic tech, explains stuff to him.
I had the luxury of creating Nick Heller after I’d written literally millions of words. He didn’t appear until my ninth novel. I’d come far enough along in my writing career that I knew, instinctively, what would work and what wouldn’t. I knew he was going to be a character I wanted to take on a long ride with me—so he had to work as a series hero. A good series character has to be an investigator, some species of detective, if only on the side. But Nick isn’t really a private investigator. He does private intelligence work—in other words, he does the same sort of stuff he used to do for the government, only for the private sector — individuals, politicians, corporations.
The Read ’Em and Eat cozy mystery series by Terrie Farley Moran combines two of my favorite things, great food and great books. It’s an iconic cozy series, with a charming setting, lovable eccentric characters who form nearly familial bonds, and a heroine who engages in amateur sleuth-ery for generally selfless reasons.
The third and most recent in the series, READ TO DEATH, centers on best friends Sassy Cabot and Bridgy Mayfield, who have relocated from New York to Florida’s Gulf Coast to open a bookstore café. Chef Miguel’s mouthwatering creations provide the proverbial icing on the metaphorical cake. You know a culinary mystery is good when just reading it makes you hungry.
A nationally bestselling author, Moran is the winner of the Agatha Award Best First Novel, and several of her short stories have been short-listed for other major awards. The only thing she likes better than grappling with mysteries, she says, is playing games with, and reading to, her seven grandchildren. Please join me in welcoming her to The Big Thrill.
Congratulations on your new book, Terrie! And thank you for taking the time to talk to us about it. Why don’t we start with a little bit about your writing journey and how you came to be a mystery writer?
All my life I planned that “one day” I would do two things—join a gym and write mysteries. When 9/11 reinforced that the only day that truly belongs to me is today, I was fortunate enough to be able to leave a great career, pick up some odd jobs along the way, and focus on writing mystery short stories and cozy novels.
I know your readers are glad you took that leap. You know, I’ve always thought that one of the most interesting aspects of being a writer is that each book gives you an opportunity to learn something new. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever done when researching a book?
I paddled a kayak on the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers Beach. Sassy and Bridgy go “suspect hunting” in a kayak in the first Read ’Em and Eat book and I wanted to get the feel of it.
By R.G. Belsky
Scott McEwen is the co-author of American Sniper, the #1 New York Times best-selling memoir of legendary U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle that went on to become a blockbuster movie starring Bradley Cooper.
Now he writes the Sniper Elite thriller series featuring fictional U.S. Navy SEAL Gil Shannon and a colorful cast of other military heroes—with the eagerly-awaited new book, GHOST SNIPER, out this month.
So how much of Chris Kyle is there in McEwen’s thrillers?
“Chris used to tell me a lot of stories that were never able to be put into non-fiction,” McEwen said in an interview from his home in San Diego. “Gil Shannon is certainly not Chris Kyle, but there’s a lot of inspiration from Chris Kyle and others like him in the character.
“Gil Shannon is really an amalgamation of a number of guys I’ve known from SEAL teams. He’s a tough guy, can take a lot of beating and a lot of lead and keeps on moving. There’s people that say that’s outlandish; no one could do that. I point them to a particular Navy SEAL— Mike Day.”
Day was shot 27 times during a single firefight in Iraq, but still managed to kill the four al-Qaeda members who shot him, and then walk to a medivac helicopter. “Anytime people think fiction is crazier than fact, just look at that story,” McEwen said. “That’s really the inspiration for Gil Shannon—the Mike Days, the Chris Kyles ….”
McEwen’s new thriller GHOST SNIPER—like his earlier books—is ripped from the headlines of some real life current events, this time the Mexican drug wars. An American politician and her convoy are assassinated in Mexico City by a ruthless drug cartel leader. When Shannon and his Sniper Elite team go after the killer—a mysterious ex-U.S. military man known as the Ghost Sniper—they uncover political corruption at the highest levels.
McEwan said the issue is a very “personal” one with him because he lives so close to the Mexican border, spends a lot of time there, and sympathizes with the plight of the Mexican people.