What Happens If Our Government Takes Surveillance One Step Further
By Josie Brown
An interview with author Barry Eisler is always timely and provocative, to say the least. A prolific author, this former CIA operative and attorney has landed on numerous bestseller lists with novels based on his iconic assassin anti-hero, John Rain. He has won both Bouchercon’s Barry Award and Mystery Inc.’s Gumshoe Award.
Those who read his blog know that Eisler is a staunch public advocate of human rights—a topic covered in his latest thriller, THE GOD’S EYE VIEW—as well as authors’ rights. Since both are hot topics for those of us who write (and read) thrillers, yes, you’ll want to read what he has to say.
When, and how, did the idea for THE GOD’S EYE VIEW come to you as a plot device?
I’m pretty obsessive about post-9/11 government overreach—torture (“enhanced interrogation”); indefinite imprisonment without charge, trial, or conviction (“detention”); execution of American citizens without any recognizable due process (“targeted killings”); and, of course, suspicion-free, bulk population surveillance (“data collection”).
As I follow these trends, I like to read between the lines, grappling with what’s being reported while imagining what isn’t. So when I was reading the news stories based on Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing, I remembered one of the things they taught me at the CIA—that sometimes it pays to cover up the commission of a serious crime by confessing to a lesser one. The programs Snowden revealed were appalling, yes, but what would be the even worse ones, the ones that would leak later, if at all?
My answer to that question—informed by the abuses of the J. Edgar Hoover years, the history of COINTELPRO, the allegations of NSA whistle-blower Russ Tice, and most of all by Snowden’s revelations themselves—became the foundation for THE GOD’S EYE VIEW, with an all-seeing surveillance state the novel’s milieu. In fact, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon—the circular prison in which a central watchtower would simultaneously monitor all the prisoners—became a kind of motif for the novel.
By Dawn Ius
When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was a general feeling among publishers that with the inevitable wane of espionage, spy fiction must come to an end too.
Which was a shame, since the genre had a passionate following. “The Cold War was really the lens through which many people educated themselves about geopolitics,” says “Queen of Espionage” author Gayle Lynds, whose novels have been published in 20 countries.
“The New York Times pulled its regular spy novel column,” says Lynds. “Photojournalists who regularly roamed the world covering news stories couldn’t get a gig. People were exhausted by the Cold War and didn’t want to think about anything outside our borders. There was even a bill introduced into Congress to shut down the CIA—though it didn’t gain any traction.”
Many masters—including the great John le Carre, author of the groundbreaking The Spy Who Came in From the Cold—declared the genre dead.
“It was nearly impossible for a new spy author to be published in the 1990s. Joe Finder, Dan Silva, and I were exceptions,” Lynds says. “But then 9/11 happened—and the world opened up again.”
With 9/11 came a new threat, followed by wars, and a focus on the Middle East in life and fiction. But writers also started expanding their focus, exploring espionage and politics in Japan and China, and, of course, the successor to the “Evil Empire,” Russia. Writers also considered industrial, corporate, and cyber espionage, topics that perhaps, hit a little closer to home.
Lynds has been writing spy fiction full tilt. She’s the award-winning author of 10 espionage thrillers, including Assassins, a novel that moves from Washington, D.C.’s corridors of power to the dangerous back streets of Baghdad.
“In the real world, political and cyber antics multiplied and took new directions, revitalizing the genre,” says Barry Lancet, author of Tokyo Kill, the second book in his award-winning Jim Brodie series, which itself boasts a memorable spy sequence wedged into a larger story. “Jason Matthews’ comment when he accepted an award for Red Sparrow pointed to another reason for the genre’s rebirth: ‘Thank God for Putin.’ ”
A new generation of spy novelists has emerged who are keen to shape the genre into fresh forms that embrace the challenges of terrorism and modern geopolitics in entertaining ways.
The Secret to Writing Psychological Thrillers
By Layton Green
This month I had the pleasure of interviewing one of South America’s bestselling crime novelists: Claudia Piñiero from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I spent some time living in Argentina, and was particularly keen to read Claudia’s work. Buenos Aires is a fascinating city, and one of the best parts about international crime fiction is reading how a particular locale is depicted through the eyes of a native. Especially a bestselling suspense author who delves deeply into the psyche of a city.
For the interview, I focused on BETTY BOO, Claudia’s latest novel (the English translation comes out on February 9). It’s a fascinating book about a novelist who is contracted by a newspaper editor – who happens to be the novelist’s former lover – to cover a high-profile murder investigation. Claudia has a very compelling voice, and she gets into her characters’ heads as well as anyone I’ve ever read. I was riveted to the page.
Each of Claudia’s four novels has been a bestseller in Latin America. In the United States, she’s often compared to Patricia Highsmith. Both BETTY BOO and Thursday Night Widows have been made into films, and Claudia is also a playwright, television scriptwriter, and award-winning journalist.
Thanks for agreeing to chat, Claudia. I really loved BETTY BOO. It was an intense psychological thriller that really brought me back to my time in Buenos Aires, with its carefully crafted details and atmospheric sense of place. Your characters are drawn with so much depth, far more so than in most novels of suspense, yet I couldn’t put the book down. How do you pull off that balance?
Thank you so much for reading my book, I’m really pleased that you found it interesting. What I find most absorbing and enjoyable about writing a novel is discovering who the characters are that inhabit it – their conflicts and contradictions. I see the plot as merely a tool to enable the development of those characters. Putting them in situations that force them to make decisions when faced with particular circumstances, allows us to understand who they are. So often in a thriller the plot gobbles up the players; character development can get neglected in that rush to get to the crux – to find out “whodunnit” – and other equally, or more, important elements get pushed aside.
When I was writing one of my first novels (Thursday Night Widows) I had a writing teacher who made me read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I believe that was very good advice. His point was that the demands of story-telling (fundamental to any thriller or roman noir) should not steam-roll the composition of each character and the details of the world around them. For all that there are mysteries to be revealed and truths to be uncovered, the novel can’t leave to one side the characters, their psychological make-up, their conflicts and traumas.
A Compelling Protagonist for ORPHAN X
By R.G. Belsky
So why does a best-selling thriller writer like Gregg Hurwitz decide to launch a new series now, after putting out a string of hugely successful stand-alone books?
Hurwitz, author of the highly anticipated ORPHAN X, says it’s because it took him 15 novels to find a character he wanted to spend that much time with–but he finally has one in Evan Smoak.
“A book series is a huge step,” Hurwitz said when we interviewed him about the debut of this exciting series hero, who is already being compared to the likes of Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne. “It’s not just who you’re living with that book and that year. It’s the next book. And the next. And the one after that.
“To start a series, I’d have to commit to living with someone else for the foreseeable future. Have him talking in my head non-stop. Spend more waking hours with him than I do with my wife or kids. In other words, someone who I find interesting and compelling and funny and just and true. Fifteen novels in, I finally found that character in Evan Smoak, aka, Orphan X.”
Smoak is called Orphan X because he was once part of the intelligence community’s top-secret Orphan Program that raised and trained children to be covert assassins against government enemies around the world. He was Child No. 24, the letter X. But he broke from the program, disappeared and now uses all the extraordinary skills he learned to help people in need–until someone from his past comes hunting for him.
“Evan’s moral compass was never shattered,” Hurwitz explained. “And at a certain point, the moral ambiguities of executing Egyptian operatives, drug lords, and Syrian rebels became too much and he fled the Orphan Program. When we meet him, he’s re-established himself under a new identity in a safe house—more like a safe penthouse—off the Wilshire Corridor in L.A. He has a virtually limitless bank account, a particular skill set, and nothing to do. And while he has to spend the rest of his life off the grid, while he has to bear the cross of being forever an outsider looking in, he’s got the expertise to do one thing. To work pro bono from the shadows, helping the desperate with nowhere else to turn. It takes a wolf to keep the wolves at bay. I think that’s the heart of what I connected with when I found this character.”
A Master of Flawed Characters Says “Life Is a Messy Playground”
James Fouché lives in the beautiful Garden Route along the coast of the Western Cape Province of South Africa with his wife, daughter, and two Jack Russell terriers. He fills life with a vast number of hobbies and interests, from sailing to traveling to hiking, learning different languages, and trying his hand at musical instruments. On the side, he runs a delightful coffee house in Knysna and so, of course, has made a study of all aspects of coffee. When he’s not plotting his next crime novel, James writes about wine, food, and travel. Somehow amidst all that, he managed to write a critically acclaimed psychological thriller, Jack Hanger, and has now followed it up with a new book, KING OF SORROW.
You’ve done a lot of different things and have a lot of different interests. What brought you to writing novels?
It’s not that I grow tired of something when it stops stimulating me. It think it’s more as though I draw the maximum from an experience, then move on. In some way, school was the same. I became bored with the school routine and then my grades suffered the consequences, until my English teacher turned my essays into a business, nudging me on to write better stories to get more points, eventually leading to better marks. And so, without realizing it, a career was born. That is why I appreciate all teachers, especially the persistent ones.
Your crime novels are driven by the psychological pressures people face, and the lasting damage that can cause. The protagonists of KING OF SORROW are Kerin, a single mother who is just about making ends meet and faces losing everything when she is fired from her job, and David, a successful property developer whose life has been destroyed by the deaths of his wife and sons in a car accident. What attracts you to this type of character?
I love flawed characters, people with baggage, with real burdens that have merit. Life is a messy playground, filled with trials. Yet Hollywood often serves us a sugar-coated version of the playground. It’s difficult for people to relate to James Bond or Mary Poppins because they operate at a level outside of our reality. That’s a wonderful escape, but I rather appreciate the anti-hero, the one who makes superhero decisions at a real level, like jumping into the water to save someone while he’s facing a messy divorce with a custody battle and a zero bank balance.
The latest instalment in award-wining author Kendra Elliot’s The Bone Secrets series delivers the same level of romantic suspense readers have come to love. Here, she takes time out of her schedule to talk to The Big Thrill about the inspiration for FOUND, her writing process, and what fans can expect from her next.
Tell me about your new book, KNOWN
KNOWN is the fifth book in my Bone Secret series. Each book is a stand-alone novel with different primary characters that were secondary characters in previous books. KNOWN is a follow up to Buried, because fans begged me to give the main character’s tortured brother a happily-ever-after. My Bone Secrets books each center around different forensics specialists, and this one is about a forensic pathologist.
Why did you start writing? Where did you find the inspiration?
After reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for the fifth time, I set it down, sighed and thought: it must be wonderful to make a reader feel what I’d just experienced. So, the next week I decided to start writing when I read an article about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I joined writing organizations and attended conferences, learning as much about the business and craft as possible. After I’d finished my first manuscript, my goal became to see my name on a book in a store. One book…that was all I wanted. I sold my third manuscript to Amazon Publishing in 2012, and now I’m writing my tenth novel for them.
What got you interested in writing romantic suspense?
When I decided to write a book, I thought I’d write a romance. I discovered my characters kept tripping over dead bodies, and knew I needed to switch to romantic suspense. It made sense—I love to read suspense and thrillers.
As a longtime lover of cinema, Italian author Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli began her writing journey with screenplays. From there, she progressed to fan fiction based on movies—in fact, her first novel was a piece inspired by The Mummy.
Today, the pacing she learned from these iconic films is reflected in her novels. As one might expect from a woman who writes in multiple genres, her reading tastes are eclectic, ranging from Little Women to The Silence of the Lambs.
Although her degree is in biology, Monticelli works as a researcher, scientific and literary translator, freelance web copywriter, and author. Her novels, all of which were originally written in Italian, include L’isola di Gaia (The Isle of Gaia), Affinità d’intenti (Kindred Intentions), Per caso (By Chance), and a science fiction series, Deserto rosso (Red Desert), set on Mars. Her sixth and latest book, THE MENTOR, features a Scotland Yard detective who is both moral and morally flawed, a dichotomy that drives the narrative and gives the story dimension.
Monticelli took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill about her writing—and especially about THE MENTOR.
You began your writing journey with screenplays and fan fiction. Where did you go from there?
My first attempt to write original fiction dates back to 2009. I’m a science fiction and thriller fan, so I started writing a cyberpunk techno-thriller titled L’isola di Gaia (The Isle of Gaia). It took me nearly three years to finish that first draft and then I put it aside for a long while. Instead, my adventure in the publishing industry started in 2012 and 2013, when I wrote and self-published a hard science fiction series set on Mars titled Red Desert (the original title is Deserto rosso, but this series is also available in English), which became a Kobo and Amazon bestseller in Italy.
THE MENTOR came just after Red Desert. It was originally published in Italian (IL MENTORE) in May 2014 and immediately started selling very well—so well that in September 2014 Amazon Publishing requested that I sell the English translation rights. Before the end of the same year, I finally published L’isola di Gaia, after a long editing process. Two more novels were published in Italian in 2015.
As you can see, I’m quite a prolific writer. I’m one of the few independent fiction authors in Italy currently living off of their writing.
By Wendy Tyson
COLD SHOT, the newest release from Dani Pettrey, is the first installment in Dani’s new romantic suspense series, Chesapeake Valor. In COLD SHOT readers meet Griffin McCray, park ranger and former S.W.A.T. sniper, as he joins forces with forensic anthropologist, Dr. Finley Scott, to investigate the death of a young social justice lawyer.
Pettrey answered a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Congratulations on COLD SHOT! Can you tell us a little more about Griffin McCray, the hero? What are some of the elements of his past that have made him the man he is today? In what ways is Griffin like you?
Thank you so much! I’m very excited about this series and these characters. Griffin is a former Baltimore Police Department S.W.A.T. officer. When a hostage situation goes bad, Griffin blames himself and leaves for a job where he believes people’s lives won’t be on the line—but that all changes the day Dr. Finley Scott enters his life.
Griffin is nothing like me, but he has a lot of my husband’s qualities. He’s steadfast, dependable, loves the outdoors, and craves excitement. Griffin’s just trying to ignore that last character trait, but as we all know you can only do that so long before it resurfaces.
What can you tell us about COLD SHOT that’s not on the back cover?
COLD SHOT is the story of four friends from childhood who suffered a loss that tore them apart as adults. Now they are back together on a case, and it’s going to retest the limits of their friendship.
Like your Alaskan Courage series, the Chesapeake Valor series is considered inspirational romantic suspense. What themes do you find yourself drawn to again and again?
I tend to gravitate to the universal themes of hope, restoration, redemption, love and forgiveness. Themes that are part of our daily lives, and that we all wrestle with at some time. I love to see characters grow and overcome obstacles, bringing them to a better place from when the story opened.
By George Ebey
Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly-regarded commentators. She’s also the author of numerous legal thrillers. Her latest work, THE NEWSMAKERS, is the first in an exciting new series set in the world of on-screen news broadcasting.
In this first installment, TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. On her first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all of the other networks. Mere weeks later, another type of tragedy strikes— again, right in front of Erica and her cameras.
Is it luck, or is Erica at the center of a spiraling conspiracy? She’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth—even if it means once and for all dealing with her troubled past.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Lis to discuss her work in both broadcasting and fiction writing.
Can you tell us a little about your background in news casting and how that helped you prepare to write this story?
I began my career as a lawyer and law professor at the University of Washington. The Seattle NPR station would occasionally ask me to comment on a story. This led to my being booked on Bill O’Reilly’s radio show. In 2001, I joined FOX News as a legal analyst and later became an anchor as well. Working at FOX is an immersive experience, when you’re delivering the news 24/7 there is literally no down time, the stakes are high, and the competition is fierce. I knew this pressure cooker environment would make a great setting for an action-thriller. It provides a spicy mix of suspense, risk, larger-than-life personalities, romance, money, and ruthless ambition. It also takes readers behind the scenes to show them the often-messy truth behind the polished presentation they see on screen. How I could I resist setting my new series at a cable news station?
THE NEWSMAKERS is the first in a new series featuring your character, Erica Sparks. Can you tell us more about Erica, who she is and what her journey is about?
Erica is an “It” girl. When she’s on screen, your eyes go to her. It’s a quality that can’t be bought or taught. She’s also young, beautiful and smart—and carrying some very dark secrets. She grew up food-stamp poor in a dying mill town in Maine, the only child in an abusive family. It wasn’t pretty, and it’s left Erica with some deep scars. At Yale, on a full scholarship, she felt intimidated by the ease and privilege of her classmates. Erica started to drink. After graduation, she landed a job as a reporter at a local Boston TV station. She married a perfectly nice schoolteacher and had a daughter, Jenny.
Sarah Bennett’s return to her father’s home mid-war is anything but a happy reunion. Having spent the last year in an asylum and under suspicion of killing her mother, Sarah’s release is marred by unanswered questions, distrust in her new stepmother, and paranoia about war spies. A second murder heightens everyone’s suspicions and the pressure mounts for Sarah to remember the fateful night of her mother’s murder in order to clear her name.
Harkening back to popular gothic suspense novels, THE SPIRIT OF GRACE offers elements of the supernatural, a glimpse of old world San Francisco, and a hint of romance.
Thomas’s debut, the first in the Sarah Bennett series, features a “feisty heroine who overcomes her inner struggles as she thwarts the bad guy.” The series will follow Sarah as she struggles to accept and keep secret her “unique ability,” despite the strain it places on her relationships. An amalgamation of men and women that Thomas admires in her own life, Sarah exemplifies strength, curiosity, and a “plucky attitude.”
The setting for THE SPIRIT OF GRACE in old world San Francisco represents one of Thomas’ passions, as she spent many years in the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Mississippi with her husband. “When I lived near the City and worked there, I could ‘feel’ old San Francisco, especially since some of the old buildings are so timeless. San Francisco has a unique charm, which resonates with me,” she says. Setting the novel in the past allowed Thomas “to create a world (and inhabit it in the abstract) where everyone is ‘unplugged’ and relating to each other in a more genuine way.”
Garnering influence from the old television soap opera Dark Shadows, Thomas says she is drawn to television murder mysteries, such as Masterpiece Theatre. “I do love the old Agatha Christie’s, with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, and I enjoy Rosemary and Thyme, Downton Abbey, and Land Girls. As you can see, I really like British drama.”
What’s so exciting about Wall Street or a bond trader who is good at his job? If you have to ask, you haven’t read THE KING OF FEAR. Listed as a financial thriller, Drew Chapman’s novel is nothing like what you might expect.
For bond trader Garrett Reilly, the thrill ride begins when the president of the New York Federal Reserve is assassinated and he, Garrett Reilly, is wanted for the murder. It all comes back to money, economics, and a crisis that could result in total financial Armageddon. Hampered by being a wanted man with international enemies, his own dependencies, and a more than healthy paranoia, can Garrett stop the crisis in time?
THE KING OF FEAR is Chapman’s second novel featuring Garrett Reilly, following his successful debut, The Ascendant.
How difficult is it to take topics like finance and banking and make them thrilling?
For me the world of finance, banking, and numbers is totally thrilling. I find the flow of money through the economy to be endlessly fascinating—which I guess marks me as a geek—so I didn’t think it was hard to make those topics in the book fun for the reader. I suppose the hard parts are 1) making sure that the all the “finance” speak is comprehensible and not weighed down by jargon, and 2) ensuring that the reader understands the visceral consequences of a financial meltdown. Just reading that the American dollar might collapse in value doesn’t mean much to the average reader, but describing the panic in a supermarket as the shelves are laid bare of food by a credit freeze really gets to the heart of economic Armageddon. I want the reader to feel the fear in his or her bones.
Where did the idea for THE KING OF FEAR originate?
The book is a sequel to my first novel, The Ascendant, so the main character, Garrett Reilly, already existed. That book was about an invisible war between the U.S. and China. After it was published I spent three months in Eastern Europe, and living for a time in the shadow of Russia got me thinking about the wounded bear that is the remains of the Soviet Union. The citizens of Eastern Europe are terrified of Russia, of Putin and his territorial ambitions, and you can feel that terror—and the longing to escape from it—in every conversation you have with the locals. I wanted to bring that part of the geopolitics to play in the book. But I also have always loved Frederich Forsythe’s The Day of the Jackal, and wanted to weave a cat and mouse story between an assassin and his police pursuer. Of course for me, the assassin would have to be a killer of economies, not people, because that’s where my obsessions lie. The combination of those ideas—fear of Russia and a Jackal-like chase—gelled into the main plot of the book.
By David Healey
The first pages of NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD by German author Stefanie Ross are filled with an extensive list of dramatis personae and it soon becomes clear why because there is so much going on in those opening chapters: drug raids, police department politics, an apparent abduction, and even the involvement of both German and American Special Forces. These seemingly disparate plots come together like a batch of holiday Glühwein made with warm red wine, spices, a little orange rind, and sugar. Take a sip—it’s a delicious winter cocktail, just as this is a delicious thriller.
With this novel, the author is finally making her first appearance to American readers after several popular novels in her native Germany.
In between visiting Germany’s famous Christmas markets and getting ready for the holidays, Ross answered a few questions about her 2016 debut for American readers.
One of the things that’s really interesting about NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD is that while there is plenty of action, there is a lot of focus on male friendships between characters like Mark, Sven, Dirk, and Danny. These are tough guys, but they care deeply about one another. This is something that’s often glossed over in many thrillers. Can you talk a little about your insights into these male friendships?
Well, NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD is the fifth part of this series, so there’s a history behind these men. They fought together, learned to trust each other, and know each other very well.
I love the male friendships in movies like Top Gun (Maverick and Goose) or Lethal Weapon (Riggs and Murdock), but thought about them as a “Hollywood thing.” When I started to research Special Forces and even talked to some members of a German unit, I learned that this kind of friendship is a significant part of their job. They have to trust each other and know exactly how their partner is acting and thinking. I’ve tried to show this in my books and it works. My readers love it and I’ve also heard from men in similar jobs that this part is quite realistic (even if the cases are fiction.)
By Amy Lignor
Christine Feehan is a name that can be found on a slew of novels that fit into many categories.
A true creator of perfectly-matched duos and action-driven tales, Feehan is a master at her craft. Edgy, dark, dangerous, and highly-charged when it comes to the romance side of things, her incredible series’ keep coming—with two new ones waiting on the horizon.
This month, she takes time out of her busy schedule to chat with The Big Thrill about her new release, SPIDER GAME and her path to success.
You have stated that you have a “preconceived” notion for your characters, yet they rarely listen. Can you explain to our readers how your characters take a different path while you’re in the writing process?
Sometimes I have a scene in my mind that I think is really great, but the characters take a different direction. Often the male says or does something, and I think, “How am I going to get him out of this one?” It is then that my original path alters.
Seeing as that you have written since childhood, is there a teacher/mentor you remember during your school years that supported your writing?
I had some extremely great English teachers. Sadly, I did have one that told me I would never succeed because I left his class. But I found a love for words in my English classes, and that is what stuck with me.
Do you have a certain “surrounding” you need while you’re writing? Such as, there are authors who have to have music playing in the background. Is there anything you need in your writing “habitat” to get lost in the story?
I taught myself early-on to write anywhere, or if anything was going on at the time. I had a lot of children, so I learned to be able to write even with a lot of noise in the background. I do like to have music now, because that training early-on has made me need to have something going on in the background.
Have I ever been to Mali? No. Can I find it on a map? Vaguely, over there somewhere.
Both of these facts made me a little nervous when sitting down with award winning French author Laurent Guillaume, who’s written a hard-boiled noir about a refugee French cop who sails into the middle of an extraordinary case in Mali.
Given Laurent is both an ex-cop and a former advisor to the Mali police, it’s perhaps no surprise that this book has a rather excellent premise. I sat down with him and translator Sophie Weiner, who made sure an Australian interviewing a Frenchman via an American all went smoothly.
Hi Laurent (and Sophie!), thanks for agreeing to speak to The Big Thrill. Can you tell our readers a bit more about WHITE LEOPARD?
In 2009, a Boeing 747 unloaded some mysterious cargo in northern Mali and got stuck in the sand trying to take off again. The plane had just delivered several tons of cocaine that was headed to Europe and the Middle East. Investigating this case, we uncovered an extremely well organized network of Colombian and Spanish drug traffickers that settled scores with dollars or a chainsaw, depending on how much opposition they got. I had wanted to write a novel about the drug trade in Africa for a long time, but I didn’t know what angle to attack it from. I hesitated between an approach like Don Winslow used in Power of the Dog, his thriller that takes a deep look at drug trafficking between Mexico and the United States, or using the point of view of one person. I chose the latter, and the Air Cocaine case inspired the story.
Then all I needed was the imaginary vehicle: a protagonist who, like me, travels between two worlds. Solo was the obvious choice. His father’s Malian, his mother’s French, and he’s split between two continents, two religions, and two approaches to life. He is also a former French police officer who is running away from a dark past in France. He has no more family, and his life is in ruins. He wants to die, but despite the trauma and the solitude, he can’t, because his desire to live is so deeply engrained. He drinks, snorts coke, and spends time with ladies of the night… he’s not really a good guy, but he’s the kind of man I like.
A DISGUISE TO DIE FOR, out this month from Berkley Prime Crime, is the first cozy mystery in the new Costume Shop mystery series. Margo Tamblyn, a 32 year old working as a magician’s assistant in Las Vegas, comes back to Proper City to temporarily run the family costume shop, Disguise DeLimit, when her father is hospitalized after a heart attack. Soon she is involved in hunting down clues to clear the family friend who helped raise her, Ebony Welles, of suspicion in the murder of a local rich trust fund baby, Blitz Manners.
Please tell us something about yourself. For one, you worked in fashion for 20 years before starting to write.
I’ve liked clothes since as long as I can remember—back to first grade. At one point I wanted to be a designer. After graduating from college with a fine arts degree, I did the logical thing: I went to the mall for a job. Decades (and a few promotions) later, I started to write. My first series character is a former fashion buyer turned amateur sleuth. A perfect example of what you know, right?
Please tell us about your new mystery, A DISGUISE TO DIE FOR. It’s your fourth cozy mystery series?
I wasn’t actively looking for a fourth series. True story: I was in New York and set up a face-to-face meeting with my agent and editor. It was September, and we got to talking about Halloween costumes. I told them that I was making a tiny yeti costume for my teddy bear and described how funny it was to put him into this little suit of white fur that had vampire teeth attached. My agent interrupted the conversation and said, “You should write a costume shop series.” I was ready to leave the table and start writing sample chapters right then and there, but she asked me to hold off until we found out if the publisher was interested. After seeing a proposal and sample chapters, they bought three books.
Why did you start a fourth series? Why a costume shop and an unusual town near Las Vegas?
My first three series all connect to someplace where I’ve lived (Style & Error in Pennsylvania, Madison Night in Texas, and Material Witness in California). I wanted a different setting, and I wanted it to be within driving distance from where I lived so I could absorb the feel of the place without needing to fly. The part of Nevada where I set the costume shop series is right past the California border, which I found interesting because it attracts scofflaws from California and is basically desert, a drive-through toward Las Vegas.
My town is quirky: people like to throw costume parties for any occasion. They’re a community of people who are okay being a small town, though there is the constant threat of incorporation and of local government trying to leverage their location for national attention.
By Ian Walkley
GONE AWAY is book four of romance author Elizabeth Noble’s gay romance/thriller Circles series. Book three of the series, Jewel Cave was runner up in the 2015 Rainbow Award for Gay Mystery/Thriller category.
Noble started telling stories before she actually knew how to write. Those words turned into fan fiction that turned into a genuine love of stories involving both mystery and romance.
In the wake of her latest book, she sat down with The Big Thrill and shared some of her thoughts.
To start, can you give us some background your two series?
Let me start by saying thank you for taking the time to interview me.
Sentries was my first published series, and the final book is coming out in May 2016. It’s a sci-fi/paranormal story set in a post-apocalyptic society approximately three hundred years from now. It’s a true series in the sense that the stories are closely interconnected and so should be read in order. The story centers around the same two main characters.
The books in the Circles series can be read as standalone novels. One of the main characters is always in some branch of United States law enforcement. I may expand and go international eventually, I’m not sure. So far I’ve featured Homeland Security, a 1927 beat cop, a US Marshal, and in GONE AWAY, a park ranger (they are federal agents and pretty tough). I have plans for books with the FBI and Pinkerton Security in the future. In each book at least one main character from another book is included in a minor role. The series theme is this: “Every life is a circle. We’re all connected somehow.” Some of the books are mysteries, others are in the suspense/thriller category.
In GONE AWAY we have two men, Mason and Riece, who have a falling out then are forced back together by circumstances. Tell us a little of the storyline here.
This part of the story is basically about two men who were very much in love and in a relationship that ended. Neither really wanted that and now the universe has given them a second chance. They have to struggle with their feelings and learn to trust each other again. The important part is both men want to make amends for their past and move forward together.
By John Darrin
I got stuck on this one, coming up with one reason after another to procrastinate. (Sorry, editors.) OK, the two days in the hospital were a valid excuse, but I was conscious the whole time and could theoretically have been writing. Anyway, I decided to try Matthew FitzSimmons’ writers’ block technique – lying on the floor on my back, staring at the ceiling. That ended up causing further delay when I had to go find my hammer, patching compound, and ladder to fix the nail pops I noticed while not overcoming the desire not to write.
FitzSimmons is the author of THE SHORT DROP and the subject of this profile. The book has been exceedingly well-received, jumping to Number 1 on the Amazon best-seller list in several Thriller categories after introduction as a Kindle First selection. Very impressive stuff, and maybe just a little intimidating to someone profiling him.
Matthew attended Thrillerfest before he started writing thrillers, a curious chronology. I asked him about that and he said, “I’d reached a despairing point when I felt my life had slipped out of my control. The book was a way to reassert control, if not over my life, then at least over a fictional one. It became my refuge. I don’t know that it saved my life, but it certainly helped me rediscover it. It was honestly quite late in the writing process that it occurred to me that it might interest a reader other than myself.”
Here’s a short blurb about THE SHORT DROP so you don’t have to just believe me when I recommend the book.
A decade ago, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Senator Benjamin Lombard disappeared in a most sensational missing-person case. And now, Lombard is running for the presidency and the mystery is still unsolved. Gibson Vaughn, hacker, ex-Marine, and the missing Suzanne’s close friend is asked by Lombard’s former head of security to help investigate new evidence about her disappearance.
Haunted by tragic memories, he jumps at the chance. Using his military and technical prowess, he discovers multiple conspiracies surrounding the Lombard family. With new information surfacing that could threaten Lombard’s political ambitions, Gibson must stay one step ahead of the powerful, ruthless players who will do anything to silence him as he navigates a dangerous web to get to the truth.
L.J. Sellers may have had a rough and busy year in 2015, not the least of which included a broken leg, but she took time to chat with me about stand-up comedy, writing screenplays, and exploring the world of a sociopath in her new thriller POINT OF CONTROL.
Known for her wildly popular Detective Jackson series and a spin-off series starring Agent Dallas, Sellers has also gained acclaim for her standalone novels like The Baby Thief. The standalones are her way to explore new characters, new settings, and new plots. “Police procedurals can be limiting,” she says, “because detectives have to follow an investigative structure. They also don’t allow me to write from the antagonist’s point of view—because the ‘who’ in a whodunit has to be saved until the last moment. Writing the bad guy is often my favorite part of the process.”
Ironic coming from a woman who says humor is her outlet. She loves funny movies and has actually written three comedic screenplays. Balancing the gritty thriller writer and the comedian wasn’t easy at first. “I felt like I needed help with the comedic elements and dialogue. So I took a comedy writing class. That’s how I ended up doing standup in public.” Even before she wrote and performed her own routines, she was a fan of live standup and continues to attend acts whenever she can. “I still write short standup sketches just for fun, but I rarely perform. I keep telling myself I will again—soon. But I’m so busy!”
Sellers has an entire list of things she’s trying to make more time for, including learning to play the hand-drum she bought three years ago and capitalizing on what she learned in that comedy writing class. “I have a PI series planned with another writer that will have humorous elements. I’m due for that kind of change.” A new series is just one component in her upcoming production schedule. “The 11th Jackson book comes out next June (Death Deserved), and I’m writing another standalone thriller that is very different from anything I’ve done. I may self-publish, but I’m also considering submitting it to Skyscape [another Amazon Publishing imprint].”
By Paul McGoran
Paul McGoran is no academic, but his volume of short stories from New Pulp Press, PAYING FOR PAIN, is prefaced with an essay on the noir genre that displays a thoughtful and deeply-considered interest in the theoretical side of crime fiction. In the essay, he identifies five essential elements of noir—crime, obsession, fatalism, perversion, and betrayal. He then announces the theme of his collection as the “geography of noir”—McGoran’s term describing the genre’s predilection for urban settings.
As with any book of short fiction, however, it’s the stories that matter. And PRAYING FOR PAIN contains a quartet of suspenseful noir tales and a 100-page novella titled, No Good Deed. It’s a world peopled with ex-cons, Mafiosi, common thugs, killers, accountants, clerics, models, yachtsmen, society dames and trust-fund layabouts. The upper, middle and lower classes collide in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Newport, Boston and Puerto Vallarta. You’ll be caught in a twisted travelogue that conjures up a dark and peppery vision of the urban experience. Noir fans should love it.
McGoran’s first novel, Made for Murder came out in August 2015, and was featured in the November issue of The Big Thrill. PAYING FOR PAI N is his follow-up volume. A sequel to Made for Murder will debut sometime in 2016.
We noticed none of your stories were set in New York or Los Angeles. How come?
Good catch. Well, those cities are the great instruments fingered and bowed by Raymond Chandler, Cornell Woolrich, Robert Crais, Lawrence Block, and any number of others. I knew I couldn’t improve on their work.
Do you have a different mindset when writing a short story versus a novel?
You know, writing often takes you in unexpected directions. But when I begin what I think will be a short piece, I go for a limited theme, limited setting, and limited time frame. Even so, I have a hard time keeping within the expected word limit. I’ve done short stories as long as 6,500 words. That’s partly why I put a collection together. Magazines seldom want more than 2,500 words, even though every story has its own proper length.
By E.M. Powell
John A. Connell’s debut historical thriller, Ruins of War, introduced us to Mason Collins, a former Chicago homicide detective, U.S. soldier, and prisoner of war- turned-U.S. Army criminal investigator. Now Collins is back in Connell’s latest novel, SPOILS OF VICTORY, which is again set in Germany in the immediate aftermath of World War II.
This time, the action centers on the small town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, where extortion and corruption are rife and the black market flourishes. Mason’s friend, Counter Intelligence Corps Agent John Winstone, claims that a group of powerful men are taking over the lucrative trade. Winstone is about to share his evidence with Mason when Winstone, along with his girlfriend, is brutally murdered before he can do so. Mason is determined to find those responsible. This is easier said than done in the murky underworld he enters.
His investigation uncovers more deaths—and soon his own life is on the line, too. Mason is not only unsure of who to trust but also aware that some of his past has returned to claw him back to a very dark place. Connell has crafted an intriguing, pacey thriller, and the reader is with Mason every step of the way in trying figure out who is behind the murders.
I really liked Mason as a character and I wondered where Connell drew his inspiration from. “Actually, Mason Collins was a villain in a previous novel, may it rest in peace on my hard drive, but I found him so compelling that I decided to make him my hero in a new novel. This became my first in the Mason Collins series, Ruins of War. Despite Mason’s new status as the protagonist, I wanted him to have the potential to cross over to the dark side, to borrow a well-known phrase, which is only kept in check by a strict moral code. In SPOILS OF VICTORY, the pressure and drive to find the killers drives him close to that dark edge several times.”
As with all the best historical writers, the setting brings an extra life to the novel. Connell has a long-standing passion for history, with a huge interest in World War II since childhood. He more lately came to an era that is less well-known— its aftermath.
Connell says he was staggered by what he found. “Germany had been bombed back to the Middle Ages. Death by famine, disease, and murder had replaced the bullets and bombs. Take Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the setting for SPOILS OF VICTORY: a picturesque town in the Bavarian Alps, with gingerbread houses on Hansel-and-Gretel lanes. But in the first two years after the war, it became the Dodge City of occupied Germany.”
Following two critically acclaimed collections of short fiction, Justin Bog’s novel WAKE ME UP has arrived from Gravity Books. It’s a psychological thriller that unfolds from the point of view of Chris, a small-town teenager who’s sunk into a coma due to a brutal beating.
Set in 2004 in a college-town in Montana, the story unfolds in Chris’s voice from the depths of his coma. He sees how his own wrath and other circumstances led him into harm’s way.
Chris wants—needs—the reader to hear his story so he can wake up.
Just as he did in his award-winning short fiction, which includes the Suspense Magazine award-winning anthology Sandcastle and Other Stories, Bog deploys a deft and thoughtful approach to crime and its aftermath.
Tell us a little about the novel’s origins. What inspired you to tell the story from the point of view of a crime victim in this way?
The narrative conceit came, after a bit of experimentation, with a bolt-of-lightning epiphany, the best kind of creative moment. I began the story with the narrator’s father contemplating something dark in a moment of weakness. I began to answer the question: What brings a husband and father to such a precipice?
The teenage son comes into focus alongside the father’s secretive nature. Because of his father’s powerful secret, Chris acts out in a rage and becomes the victim of a heinous crime. He lays comatose in a small, college-town hospital, and begins to tell the story as a phantom from a black limbo state. With a conscience wise beyond his fifteen years, Chris sees everyone around him and how they dance around their own little secrets. Will he wake up? If he does, whose justice is fair?
Your conceit suggests literary fiction to me. How did it work in a crime-suspense-oriented story?
You’re right, it leans heavily towards literary crime fiction. My favorite novels like The Secret History, The Lovely Bones, and the twisty psychological novels of Gillian Flynn inspired me to take risks with the narrative structure. I call the book a psychological “why-done-it” rather than a “who-done-it,” where revelations of character drive the narrative.
Suzanne Redfearn is no ordinary author. She is an inventor, golfer, surfer, kick boxer, mom, wife, and self-proclaimed geek.
She writes about everyday moms, dads, and children who are put in untenable situations where the conflict is tangible and the pacing moves at lightning speed. Not unlike the Wonder Laces she invented, her latest novel, NO ORDINARY LIFE (Grand Central, out this month) is taut and gripping.
NO ORDINARY LIFE centers around a family led by a mother, Faye, who is estranged from her truck-driving husband, Sean. Hustling to make ends meet and protective of her family, Faye has to uproot her three children, Tom, Emily, and Molly, to live with her mother. During the transition, Faye is interviewing for jobs with her children in tow. Four-year-old Molly brings every parent’s worst fear to life when Faye cannot find her in a teeming outdoor plaza. During her frantic search, she discovers a huge crowd cheering for her precocious Molly, who is dancing with a sidewalk artist using the steps she learned from Bo, a family friend. As often happens today, an onlooker uses a phone to make a video of the performance and it goes viral on YouTube. The millions of views lead to an agent tracking down Molly, who lands a gig dancing in a Gap commercial. That performance leads to a starring role in a hit children’s television show called, The Foster Kids.
The set up is beautiful. Struggling Faye finally is able to see the possibility of financial freedom and better care for her children. But her other children are unhappy with the relocation away from friends. Emily, the oldest, is a twelve-year-old middle school student with enough “access to excess” to be dangerous. Tom is nine and shy to the point of speechlessness. Meanwhile, Molly is growing more famous and rich, Faye plays stage mother and manager. What could go wrong?
Finding no similar fiction story on the market, Redfearn wrote NO ORDINARY LIFE after reading the autobiography of Little House on the Prairie television star Melissa Francis. Redfearn says, “It was heartbreaking, and I knew, after reading it, I had my jumping off point. It required a child too young to choose a path for herself…”
At four, Redfearn’s Molly indeed cannot choose her path and the question becomes, who will? Anyone who has stood in a supermarket line knows the potential headline-grabbing trials of child stardom: helicopter parents, absent parents, greedy parents, substance abuse, brutal hours, and ruthless directors. In NO ORDINARY LIFE, Hollywood and the estranged Sean combine to play equally compelling antagonists, creating conflict on every page. Both Hollywood and Sean impose their will on Molly and Faye, while the repercussions for Tom and Emily are equally threatening.
What motivated you to write your novel?
With the impact of social media on our lives today, do you see the events you write about as possible in our near future?
Yes. Maybe not this specific story, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Internet corporation abuse its power in the future. Everything in my novel is possible today. All that’s missing is motive.
The horror of a pathogen is that it’s an invisible killer, striking at random, dispassionately, ruthlessly. In Jodi McIsaac’s latest novel, A CURE FOR MADNESS, she takes that nightmare even further, with a pathogen that turns its victims into psychotic killers. The outbreak begins in Clarkeston, a small town in the backcountry of Maine. With the pathogen spreading like wildfire, everyone wonders if they might succumb to the disease and start killing friends and family.
When Clare Campbell’s parents are murdered, she must return to the place she has spent her adult life avoiding, her childhood home. She vows to get in, see that her parents are laid to rest, and get out again. But as soon as she arrives those plans begin to fall apart: She becomes the reluctant guardian of her schizophrenic, sometimes violent, older brother, Wes. The isolated acts of violence among the townspeople are multiplying at an alarming rate. And the psych ward where Wes is being treated is overwhelmed. Old friends are attacking their families.
Clarkeston is quarantined to stem the spread of the incurable pathogen, and the town descends into chaos. Meanwhile, Clare must care for her volatile brother, something she’s not emotionally prepared to handle, especially since they share a secret, the secret that drove Clare away just when Wes needed her most. Then, Wes draws the interest of a government agent, and Clare faces a horrifying choice: protect her brother or help save the world.
A CURE FOR MADNESS is both chilling and heartfelt— and I guarantee it will grab you and not let you go.
McIsaac was kind enough to answer some questions for The Big Thrill, and share her journey, her writing process, and the realization of a childhood dream.
A CURE FOR MADNESS is a departure for you after your well-received fantasy thrillers, the Thin Veil series. What inspired you to delve into a medical thriller?
I love my Thin Veil series but I didn’t set out to become solely a fantasy writer. Once that series was done I wanted to try something new. Because someone close to me has schizophrenia, I was inspired to write about the relationship between a mentally ill and a mentally well (but emotionally damaged) person, and to explore the value we as a society place on the mentally ill. Throw in a terrifying pathogen, and A CURE FOR MADNESS was born.
Kat Martin is the New York Times bestselling author of over 70 novels that have been translated into over 20 languages.
What’s her secret?
After reading her latest novel, INTO THE FURY, the start of a new romantic suspense series, I spent an hour interviewing her, trying to figure out her methods for success. Here’s what I concluded:
Kat Martin doesn’t follow any of the rules.
Sure she writes all day, that’s a given. Most writers start with the writing first, but Martin only digs in after she’s had her coffee, watched the news, checked her email, and caught up with her readers on social media. She writes 5-6 hours a day, 100 pages a month, two books a year. Year after year.
Most writers do a few drafts, but Martin only does one. Yes, she rewrites, but she rewrites as she goes along, rewriting what she wrote the day before, then starting the new words. She also reviews after every 100 pages. When the 500 page draft is complete, she lets it rest for two weeks, then goes over it again, but it’s ready to be turned in when she finishes the draft.
And she’s been doing this since the late 1980s.
What keeps her going?
First of all, she knows and delivers what and when her editors expect. “When I started, traditional publishing was the only way to go, and it was always clear to me that I had to make a living.” And she always hands in her manuscripts on time. Or even early. “You have to write it. Might as well get it done sooner rather than later.”
Martin got started because her husband wrote and published a book (Her husband is L.J. Martin, author of western, non-fiction, and suspense novels). She started going to conferences with him, which pointed her in the right direction.
Brilliance and its sequel, A Better World, earned Marcus Sakey a legion of new fans. Now Sakey proves he knows how to bring in the big finish with WRITTEN IN FIRE, the closing act of this powerful trilogy.
The basic idea for the series is deceptively simple. What if one percent of the world was born savants, able to do thing the rest of us couldn’t? In Sakey’s world humanity has struggled to cope with the brilliants – that one percent of people born with remarkable gifts – for 30 years. All efforts to avoid a devastating civil war eventually fail. It’s a grand, high-concept idea that Sakey says he got from his wife.
“She had recently gotten her Masters in early childhood development,” Sakey says, “and so always had fascinating bits to share about how the brain works, especially the autistic brain. Which got me wondering, what if about the same percentage of people were born with a similarly specialized way of thinking, only the impact was cranked up and the social side effects were removed? ”
In this case, society’s reaction to these special people leads to the White House in ruins, Madison Square Garden turned into an internment camp, and an armed militia of thousands marching in Wyoming. In some ways it may sound familiar. Sakey himself will tell you that there have always been stories about the exceptional amongst us, from early mythology to the Arthurian legends to the X-Men to vampire tales. It’s his approach to that situation that makes this story unique.
“Where I tried to do something different was that instead of making the story about the exceptional people, I focused on the rest of us,” Sakey says. “On what was happening to the world, how mistrust and fear and intolerance were tearing us apart. The classic dystopian structure is to start far in the future, after the fall of civilization; I wanted to go the other way, and show the thousand blows that set it staggering and, possibly, collapsing.”
The protagonist of WRITTEN IN FIRE, Nick Cooper, has spent his life fighting for his children and his country. He’s the top gun of an agency that tracks and executes antisocial brilliants, and he is a brilliant himself. In the book every brilliant is different. Cooper’s gift is a heightened level of intuition. He builds patterns of how people think and act, and uses those to predict what they’ll do next. He’s committed, but is he a hero?
By Jeff Ayers
In Ken Newman’s new novel, FORSAKEN, Maggie Black is the champion of a fallen angel she loves as a father. She relishes her heroic life of danger and intrigue-until the day the angel betrays her and sends a witch to kill her. However, the assassin, Mrs. Kerr, fakes Maggie’s death and kidnaps her. Renamed Hajar, which means forsaken, Maggie is forced to commit crimes to support her master’s lifestyle. When all seems lost, hope arrives in the form of a world-weary adventurer, Gideon Kane. He bargains for Maggie’s freedom, offering Mrs. Kerr a prize the power-hungry woman can’t resist-the Tree of Life, whose fruit can turn mortals into gods.
Ken Newman has loved stories of the supernatural since listening to his grandmother’s tales of witches, spooks and creepy things as a child. He chatted with The Big Thrill.
What sparked the idea for your new novel, FORSAKEN?
I am a huge fan of the old pulp heroes and radio shows. They were crude, by today’s standards, with over-the-top melodramatic villains and outrageous situations, but the stories drew you in and kept you glued to your seat. There was a ‘feel’ to the stories that was irresistible.
FORSAKEN began with the question: Suppose there was a pulp hero that the public considered fiction, yet he and his wild adventures were actually real? Thus Gideon ‘Kamikaze’ Kane was born. In FORSAKEN, Maggie Black, was a heroic, one-woman army, but was kidnapped and forced into a life of crime. The only solace in her captivity was a series of wild pulp novels titled, ‘The Adventures of Kamikaze Kane.‘ In the course of my story, Maggie discovers that Kane is real, and he comes out of retirement, guns blazing, willing to move heaven and earth to free her.
A series of murders rocks the Los Angeles area, and each victim’s body bears a note addressed to Detective Gabriel McRay. If McRay knows the killer, that knowledge is locked in the suppressed memory of a childhood trauma.
Teamed with his forensic pathologist girlfriend and a psychiatrist, Gabriel runs two parallel investigations: a dark journey into the terrifying recollections of his past, and a hunt for a killer who knows more about Gabriel than he knows himself.
What inspired you to create such a dark storyline, Laurie?
I’ve asked myself the same question, because I consider myself a positive person.
Like many other people, I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind, and how a catastrophic event can alter a person’s entire perspective on life.
But I didn’t want the main character to be mired in his problems. He wants to be happy and is willing to do the work to achieve balance in his life. I did a lot of research and consulted professionals to find out what kind of therapy could be used to aid in his healing process.
Gabriel is working through a childhood trauma, the memory of which he has suppressed. So, while the story is dark, and Gabriel’s history is certainly dark, I wanted to weave that thread of hope throughout, because I do believe that such a thing exists.
Do you have any personal experience with repressed memories?
Yes. I had an experience where Researching hypnotic drugs for the series actually made me realize that at one time I was drugged without my knowledge. I had experienced the same effects that I was creating for characters in the story.
How’s that for the inner workings of the human mind?
By Anne Tibbets
CITY OF ROSE brings to life the winding streets and wet alleys of Portland, Oregon, where former thug Ash McKenna struggles to rebuild his life, away from his dark past in New York City.
The second installment of Rob Hart’s Ash McKenna series, CITY OF ROSE takes place less than a year after New Yorked, pulling the reader along on a noble quest to find a lost little girl.
CITY OF ROSE is full of action, witty dialogue, and interpersonal struggle. Readers who loved Ash’s direct, and at times brutal tactics in New Yorked will be pleased to see how Ash has learned from his big city trials and tribulations…Mostly.
“The important thing is, he’s always got to believe he’s doing the right thing,” says author Rob Hart. “And the reader has to believe that, for all his poor decisions, Ash is the kind of guy who’s going to throw down and get you back in a bad situation. He means well, and he’s open to growth. I think if I can get that across, the reader will forgive the fact that he’s a bit of an idiot.”
“The big bar fight I like a lot,” Hart adds, “because it’s Ash cutting lose and accepting things about who he is. It’s the first time in CITY OF ROSE that he’s really being honest with himself, and that honesty is pretty ugly.”
CITY OF ROSE, however, is not all fists and fights—there is also heart. “I love the final chapter,” Hart says. “I hit an emotional beat there I wasn’t even expecting. Again, a moment of truth, and this one snuck up on me. It was the moment the book really came into focus for me.”
Aside from the action and characters, readers will also appreciate Hart’s attention to setting in CITY OF ROSE, which serves as a vividly-detailed and often visceral mirror into Ash’s mental state—but the thug with a heart of gold won’t stay limited to the murky underbellies of Portland and The Big Apple.
Writing a Protagonist Who Hits Rock Bottom
By Alex Segura
Reed Farrel Coleman is a seasoned veteran when it comes to dishing out quality crime fiction. Stories that not only entertain, but also set up shop in your mind for some time. Coleman’s characters–from the part-time PI Moe Prager to his take on Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone to his latest hero, Gus Murphy – are flawed, genuine men who struggle with their demons but still manage to scrape their way toward surviving. They’re broken but true, with relatable problems even in the face of unexpected dangers. Coleman’s poetic and workmanlike style has presented readers with stark realities and the people that populate them for decades.
His latest novel, WHERE IT HURTS, is no exception. When we meet Coleman’s newest protagonist, he’s trying to prop himself up after hitting a deadly bottom, still reeling from a series of unforeseen tragedies. But when an ex-con asks him for help solve a murder, Murphy must power through his own haze of grief to help someone else, and possibly return to the world of the living.
We had the chance to sit down with Coleman to discuss WHERE IT HURTS and what’s next.
Reed, thanks so much for doing this interview. I have to be upfront–the Moe books have been a huge inspiration to me as a writer. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. How tough was it to end the series with The Hollow Girl? I’m assuming you knew going in this was going to be the finale–did that help, or make it harder to say goodbye?
Thanks, Alex. To say my work inspired you is perhaps the greatest compliment a writer can receive. As far as ending the series … yes, I knew the end was at hand around the time I was finishing Hurt Machine, the seventh novel in the series. Moe was getting older and was now recovering from a serious illness. He was getting to a point where the only thing he could flash with any authority was his AARP card. So in conceiving the end of the series, I wanted to do one book that showed fans of the series who Moe was before he was a cop, before he was world weary and tainted—Onion Street—and one to show him completing the circle of his adventure—The Hollow Girl. It made goodbye easier because I could prepare for it to be over and I could end things on my own terms.
Some places seem too beautiful to be touched by horror. Summit Lake, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is that kind of place, with charming stilt houses dotted along the pristine water. But two weeks ago, Becca Eckersley, a first-year law student, was brutally murdered in one of those houses. Now, while the town reels with grief and shocked residents gather to share their theories, the police are baffled.
At first, investigative reporter Kelsey Castle thinks of the assignment as a fluff piece. But as Kelsey digs deeper, she feels a growing connection to the dead girl. And the more she learns about Becca’s friendships, her love life, and her secrets, the more convinced she becomes that learning the truth about Becca could be the key to overcoming her own dark past…
By Dawn Ius
A mile from Carol Goodman’s house is a long and winding road. Haunting as it is picturesque, this stretch of highway was the catalyst for Goodman’s return to writing adult fiction. Well, that and an unfortunate incident between her car and a deer.
RIVER ROAD begins with Nan Lewis—a creative-writing professor at a state university in upstate New York—driving home from a faculty party after finding out she’s been denied tenure. Tired, a little tipsy, and a lot pissed off, she doesn’t see the deer that darts in front of her vehicle until it’s too late. But when she gets out of the car to look for it, the animal is nowhere to be found.
Frazzled, and eager to take shelter from the oncoming snowstorm, Nan goes home, pours herself a drink, and vows to forget the entire night. That is, until the next morning, when the police arrive with horrifying news—one of Nan’s students, Leia Dawson, was killed on River Road the night before. And because of the damage to her car, Nan is suddenly suspect number one. Nan now finds herself ostracized by the very community that once rallied around her when her own daughter was killed in an eerily similar accident on the same road.
“The experience of hitting the deer stayed with me for days, weeks,” Goodman says. She even wrote a poem about it, trying to process her feelings and shake off the overwhelming sadness.
A month or so later, a tragic double hit-and-run in her community further solidified Goodman’s need to write RIVER ROAD. “Two college girls were killed only a few miles from my house. This incident also impacted me greatly.”
The woman responsible for the deaths was caught, but Goodman became fascinated by her, desperate to understand the experiences that would have led this woman to make choices that ultimately ended in tragedy. As soon as she wrote the first chapter of RIVER ROAD, Goodman had built the foundation for her protagonist, and the story branched off from there, forcing the author to stretch outside her comfort zone.
“If you write crime fiction, never allow yourself to think that your mom might someday be reading what you’re writing,” says J.D. Rhoades, the North Carolinian author of ICE CHEST .
Considering that Rhoades became famous for writing gritty and dark crime stories, his advice seems legit.
With ICE CHEST Rhoades creates a heist novel with a very unusual MacGuffin: a piece of lingerie made with precious stones worth five and a half million dollars. It becomes the target of a gang of inept thieves.
“Researching the real-life ‘Fantasy Bra’ for ICE CHEST was quite a bit of fun,” Rhoades says, while also stating how much he loved writing the main female character, Clarissa Cartwright. “She’s continually underestimated because she’s so beautiful. But she’s smart and tough and doesn’t take crap from anyone.”
Rhoades is the author of the praised Jack Keller series that deals with a disturbed bounty hunter living in the American South. Rhodes currently lives in Carthage, NC, where he also works as a lawyer. His vast experiences as a reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, attorney, and newspaper columnist helped him become a published writer.
While working as a columnist for The Pilot newspaper, Rhoades decided to take the suggestion of his editor and start writing fiction. The journalistic work also led him to meet writers such as Katy Munger, Karin Slaughter, Sean Chercover, and Kat Richardson, which encouraged him to give fiction-writing a shot. In Rhoades’ words, “once you start meeting novelists, either in person or online, somehow writing a novel seems much more of an obtainable accomplishment.”
Alien Life in Manhattan? Get Ready!
If you’ve ever wondered whether intelligent life exists on other planets, THE ORION PLAN may well convince you that it does. This heart-stopping, page-turning thriller tells a story that feels not only possible, but terrifyingly probable.
Mark Alpert is a contributing editor at Scientific American and an internationally bestselling author of science thrillers such as Final Theory, The Omega Theory, Extinction, and The Furies. In THE ORION PLAN, he has crafted a fascinating cast of characters whose vast differences would prevent their paths from crossing on an ordinary day. But the arrival of a space probe in the heart of Manhattan is anything but ordinary. A homeless drunk, the head of a street gang, and a discredited scientist will be forced to draw on inner reservoirs of strength to find a way to prevent the destruction of the human race.
Your protagonist, Joe, is a deeply flawed character—a throwaway of society. How did he develop?
It was a process of elimination. The premise of THE ORION PLAN is that the most probable alien visitor to our planet would be a small automated space probe, about the size of a bowling ball, because it would be prohibitively difficult (even for the most advanced alien civilizations) to propel a larger spacecraft across the vast distances between the stars. I wanted this alien probe to land in a part of Manhattan where its arrival might go largely unnoticed, at least at first.
The only places in Manhattan where this could happen are the steep, wooded slopes of Inwood Hill Park at the northern tip of the island. And so the first person to stumble upon the small probe would most likely be one of the homeless people who bed down on those slopes in the summer. I imagined Joe as an alcoholic because many of the homeless people in the park have substance-abuse problems, and then I started thinking about why Joe became an alcoholic. Where did he come from? Does alcoholism run in his family? (It often does.) What setbacks in his life caused him to start drinking heavily? And does he have any hope of overcoming his addiction? Answering those questions helped me develop his character.
All of your main characters are disenfranchised in some fashion. Is there a message you wish to convey by using such paradigms?
I like to write about disenfranchised characters because they usually want something badly. Joe wants to beat his addiction and get his old life back. Emilio, the gang member, feels like he’s been screwed by society, and so he wants revenge. Dorothy, the dying minister, wants to understand why God has given her such a raw deal. And Sarah, the NASA scientist, wants to make a discovery that will restore her reputation and change the world. Because the characters have strong desires, they can move the plot along at a fast clip.
Writing a Fast-Paced Thriller Laced With Fascinating Detail
By Dawn Ius
Barry Lancet doesn’t study martial arts or Japanese art, but some of his friends do, so he watches. Carefully.
These keen observations transpose with awe-inspiring fluidity onto the pages of Lancet’s award-winning Jim Brodie thrillers, creating a cultural depth—to say nothing of the action sequences—that have catapulted the series onto “best of” lists and garnered the attention of none other than Star War’s J.J. Abrams.
PACIFIC BURN, the third installment featuring rogue second-generation P.I. Jim Brodie, is no exception.
As a special liaison for the San Francisco mayor’s Pacific Rim Friendship Program, Brodie enlists the help of his friend, a renowned Japanese artist named Ken Nobuki. But the promising start of a partnership takes a nosedive when Nokubi is attacked by a sniper and ends up in a coma. To get to the bottom of who is behind the attack on not only Nokubi but Nokubi’s entire family, Brodie goes up against the CIA, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security—and a killer operating on both sides of the Pacific.
Many exceptional fight sequences ensue.
“Every novel has so many different types of scenes,” Lancet says. “And there is a separate art to each type. Even fight scenes. And within the fight scene, there is nuance and many ways to create suspense.”
Lancet achieves this with almost cinematic flair, creating vivid action scenes that are easily visualized, perhaps even meant for the screen, which explains the attention Brodie has received from Hollywood.
“The reason J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot ears perked up with the Jim Brodie books is because of Brodie’s unique abilities, I was told,” Lancet says. “As a Japan expert, Brodie knows two worlds extremely well. And like other classic detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and even television’s Monk, he sees things others cannot fathom. At the murder scene in Japantown he is able to point out details the SFPD miss, and in the aftermath of the attacks in PACIFIC BURN, only he sees the critical clues.”
From the bestselling author of the Home Repair is Homicide series comes a thriller about an escaped kidnapper and rapist who once held three girls prisoner for fifteen years. In THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND (Bantam Hardcover; On Sale 1/12/16) Sarah Graves ventures in an edgier, darker direction and takes readers inside the mind of a twisted killer.
In the remote backwoods of Bearkill, Maine, a forest fire rages out of control. As embers swirl dangerously in the smoke-filled air, a teenage girl with a history of running away has dropped out of sight again. Lizzie Snow, a prickly but effective female deputy, thinks Tara Wylie is up to her old tricks—until her mother receives a terrifying text message. And when news gets out that convicted kidnapper Henry Gemmerle has escaped from a nearby prison clinic, Lizzie’s fears for Tara’s safety take on even greater urgency.
Following a trail of grisly clues—a bloodstained motel room, a makeshift coffin in a shallow grave—Lizzie races to save an innocent and corner a monster. On top of it all, someone else is desperately seeking Tara Wylie and the escaped convict, though, for reasons that have nothing to do with mercy or justice. And when they all meet, the inferno threatening Bearkill will pale in comparison to the hell that’s about to break loose.
With a fast-paced plot and a dark, bloodcurdling setting, THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND is sure to please new and longtime fans of Sarah Graves alike.
Crime Fiction, the Reality of Evil, and Some Really Great Music
There came a time, not long ago, when Ian Rankin, 55, decided he needed a break. He’d written nearly 30 novels and short-story collections, many of them reaching the top of the bestseller lists. In fact, it’s been estimated that Rankin is responsible for 10 percent of all crime fiction sales in the UK. He’s won four Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers’ Association and snared the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. The man who describes himself as a “frustrated rock star” bought a house in Edinburgh in the same neighborhood as Alexander McCall Smith and, for a time, J.K. Rowling.
But wealth and literary awards can’t protect against losses. After a series of friends’ deaths, Rankin, “feeling knackered and shattered,” and his wife, Miranda, decided in 2014 to take time off from the book-a-year existence and travel. Relax. Do the crossword. Pick grapes.
Something took root during that year off; the next novel Rankin wrote is one of his finest to date, EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD. Published last November in the UK to acclaim and No. 1 bestseller status, the novel is poised for North American release. Bringing together the protagonists of his two mystery series, Detective Inspector John Rebus and Internal Affairs Investigator Malcolm Fox, Rankin tells a darkening story of murder, rivalry, and betrayal, marked with moments of unexpected forgiveness–and characters’ uncovering actions of unfathomable cruelty and corruption. In a telephone interview, when asked if EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD has a theme of morality, Rankin doesn’t disagree. However, he says, in his mind the novel is even more about “mortality.”
“It’s about having to pay for past sins,” Rankin says. “I don’t know if I understood it myself at first, but the book is about family ties and the passing of a legacy.”
Rankin’s work has been translated into 22 languages. For a novelist, he says, “Crime fiction is a way to ask, Why do we as human beings keep doing terrible things to each other?” Evil is a concept that Rankin returns to again and again, and in different mediums. It’s not a matter of a professional novelist studying character behavior to flesh out the next bestseller. Rankin’s thinking on the concept resembles more a medieval monk poring over philosophy and brooding over its implications in his Carthusian cell–albeit one that serves late-night whiskey. In 2002 he hosted “Ian Rankin’s Evil Thoughts” on Channel Four, saying, “I make my living thinking about murder, torture, corruption. Other people go to work and deal with markets or construction. ” In the end, Rankin says now, it’s the story of Jekyll and Hyde, written by another Scotsman, that he thinks may come closest to explaining evil in its essential duality. Indeed, in Even Dogs in the Wild, some of the most complex passages belong to “Big Ger” Cafferty, once the most dangerous crime lord of Edinburgh–and Rebus’s nemesis–who is now an old man rendered vulnerable.
Anne Trager has over a quarter of a century of experience working with the French in translation and publishing. She founded Le French Book, a mystery and thriller publishing house dedicated to translating French mysteries and thrillers into English. She is frequently asked about going the other way around, from English into French. Here she shares tips. This is the second of a two-part article.
In part I of this article, I covered the French market and readers. Here, I’ll discuss selling foreign rights to French publishers and whether or not you could/should go it alone.
How to sell your rights in France
French publishers are quite vocal about wanting to work with authors directly, and bypassing agents all together. This of course is easier said than done, but it does open up possibilities for authors. We saw in part I that French publishers translate a lot of foreign literature. A book reporter told me “mysteries and thrillers are all the rage. Now all the publishers are doing the genre and publishing whatever they can get their hands on. Not all of them do it well, but some work with a real passion for the genre. Those are the ones you want to work with.”
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Approach bigger publishers for mainstream mysteries and thrillers.
- Smaller publishers are currently looking for novelty: off-the-radar approaches, foreign climes (other than the US), cross-genre fiction, and no serial killers or stereotypes. They are looking for books “that haven’t already been written.”
- Study the editorial guidelines.
- Send full manuscripts.
- Do not underestimate the author-publisher relationship.
- Respect options if already translated.
- Go to the Paris Book Fair if you can.
By J.F. Penn
British author J.S. Law is a former submariner from the Royal Navy and the author of the debut thriller TENACITY, set partially on a nuclear submarine. USA Today bestselling thriller author J.F.Penn interviewed J.S.Law for The Big Thrill. You can watch the video discussion here on YouTube or read the transcript below.
So first of all, tell us a bit more about you and your writing background.
Like most authors, I’ve been writing since I was a child. I even found some fairly amusing emotional poetry that I’d written when I was in my early teens. I used to enter lots of short story competitions, but it was probably about six years ago that I decided I really wanted to be a published author.
Once I’d decided that, I tried to act that way and I started writing a book a year. I would send it out and get it professionally edited and then go through the submissions process. After a conversation with an agent, I realized that having served on submarines for as long as I have, is quite a unique thing. And that was when I decided that I should start writing about submarines. And TENACITY was born, as it were.
What is TENACITY broadly about?
TENACITY follows a female SIB Investigator, Special Investigations Branch of the Royal Navy, into the submarine world. There’s a murder-suicide, and the suicide part of that is on the nuclear submarine. So she has to go in and investigate why this guy killed himself.
Within the UK, we’ve only recently had our first three females go on submarines and at the time of writing, it’s still very much a male-dominated environment. So she’s an outsider, she’s police, she’s a female in an all-male environment, but also, she’s not a submariner. She’s not one of them. And submarines are very much about belonging. It’s very much of a club. So the book is very much about how she goes in there and has to deal with everything that happens.
By Dawn Ius
Is your beloved significant other actually a psychopath? How much should you trust the woman sleeping beside you? Does your child have a dark secret?
These are not the kind of questions normally asked in traditional thrillers that involve crime, terrorist plots, international espionage, globe-trotting adventure, or hard-boiled detectives.
The plot lines of a domestic thriller are set within familiar environments—homes, families, and spousal relationships. They are the kinds of thrillers that come with their own brand of suspense—the disturbing feeling that it could happen to me. Not exactly new territory, but the domestic thriller does seem to be enjoying an upsurge in popularity.
“Certainly two of the biggest books in recent years, The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, have brought more attention to domestic thrillers and their success is prompting more authors to try writing them, and more publishers to seek them out,” says New York Times bestselling author Linwood Barclay. “But they’ve always been around. Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and Suspicion fall into this category.”
Barclay, a master at blending domestic components in his page-turning thrillers—including his upcoming Far from True (March 2016)—has a theory about why these stories have such appeal. “The domestic thriller is rooted in the fact that we can identify with the characters. They’re not spies or ace detectives. They’re people like us, which means we can imagine, without too much of a stretch, being in their position, experiencing their fear and anxiety.”
But it’s not just that we can see ourselves in the characters, it’s that family harkens the strongest emotions, says Anthony Franze, author of this March’s highly-anticipated novel The Advocate’s Daughter.