Is FEAR CITY really the last Repairman Jack?
After twenty-two novels and a short story collection about the guy, I think it’s time to give him a rest and move on. But I don’t like to say “never.” If a good idea that’s right for Jack pops up, I’ll write that sucker, but the days of a new Repairman Jack novel every fall, year in and year out, are done.
Why do you think Jack has been so popular?
I can only go by what readers tell me. Males like his blue-collar nature: he hates jazz and art films; he loves B movies and classic rock. They feel he’s a regular guy they could sit down with and knock back a few beers. Woman readers—and there are so many more than I ever anticipated—tell me he’s a white knight, someone you can count on to be there when you need him.
All right then. FEAR CITY ties up The Early Years Trilogy. What prompted the trilogy?
The readers. The main line of Jack’s story is covered in the sixteen novels from THE TOMB through NIGHTWORLD. I’ve always said I’d never go past NIGHTWORLD and, in that case, “never” is a true word. When you meet Jack in THE TOMB he is already an experienced, streetwise urban mercenary. He’s seen a lot and learned a lot the hard way. I’d already done three YA novels about his teen years, but readers wanted to know how he morphed from a callow Jersey boy to the guy in THE TOMB. How did he make that transition?
The Internet Tough Guys return for a second fast-paced, globe-hopping adventure in the new novel by Bernard Maestas, GODWIN’S LAW.
With a tip of its hat to author Mike Godwin’s assertion that Internet debates will eventually result in comparisons to Nazis, the tale finds Alex Kirwan and Ted Reagan heading to Germany. There they must confront a cult that’s holding a young American woman, Gwen Kane.
While she might seem like one more member, the cult leader throws all of his paramilitary resources to bringing Gwen back once they’ve swept her away. That makes for a challenging trip home.
In fact, staying alive’s going to require all of the survival skills of ex-commando Alex plus Ted’s computer hacking skills.
From Germany to Canada to points in the U.S., the book unfolds a running battle with the unrelenting cult-leader villain and a clever mystery at its heart. What’s so special about Gwen? Is there a Nazi comparison? You’ll need to read the book to resolve those questions. You can enjoy the adrenaline pumping confrontations and the clever banter between Alex and Ted along the way.
Meanwhile, Maesta, a police officer who works writing in around his job patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, agreed to a few questions about the tale, while keeping important plot points close to his chest.
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“I tried to concentrate on where I was going and the reason for the trip, but everything around me conspired to catapult me into the dramatic event that placed me on this particular train in this unique moment in time. The clack of the wheels, the hum of the rails, the ebb and flow of the sound of rushing air as the train passed trees, buildings and fields rang in my ears, growing louder and louder with every passing mile, until it transformed into the buzzing of planes, the roar of flames and the cacophony of exploding munitions. Breathing in the air, I inhaled the scent of worn leather upholstery, the musky odors of previous passengers, even a trace of the sweet aroma of fruit eaten by an earlier traveler. The jumbled fragrance was overcome by the noxious scent of fire that incinerated fuel, rubber, and human flesh.”
Inspiration is a funny thing—there’s no telling when it’s going to pop up and take you by surprise. Once I was sitting in Gruene Hall listening to a performance, focused on the lead guitarist when, without warning, my imagination asked: “Can you kill someone with a guitar string?” I talked to a few musicians and found out that, yes, you can. They even told me the best string to use. That became the starting point of a novel, BITE THE MOON.
My latest work of fiction, SCANDAL IN THE SECRET CITY, was inspired less by a flight of fancy and more by hard, cold reality. I was researching a true crime book about Raynella Dossett Leath. She claimed one of her two husbands died in a cattle stampede and the other in a three-shot suicide. The story was tragic and bizarre and included the accidental death of a child, a sordid love affair, an attempted murder, and two medical examiners threatening law enforcement with firearms. But what really stirred up my creativity was learning out that Raynella spent a chunk of her childhood living in the Secret City.
While Ben Lieberman’s novels explore many different worlds, his twenty-plus years with some of the world’s top financial firms lend his books an undeniable authenticity. The trading floor provided a ruthless, competitive, and urgent environment that Lieberman was able to transfer into exciting, darkly humorous, and award-winning crime thrillers.
As a former banker, I have to ask this right out of the gate. Was your novel influenced by a real Wall Street practice where traders are betting on people dying?
Yup, this goes in the stranger-than-fiction bucket. There is actually a way on Wall Street to bet against how long a person lives and to profit by guessing correctly. This practice is legal and is going on as we speak.
But The Carnage Account is fiction?
Yes, the real product sparked an idea. I thought that If Wall Street is occasionally victimized by abuse in the system, what would happen if this strange investment were to be controlled by greedy or unscrupulous people. By the way, this investment product is not regulated any stricter than other Wall Street instruments. Its not like abuse hasn’t happened with Bernie Maddoff or subprime mortgages or many other examples. There is a laundry list of a few bad guys doing some bad things and leaving an oversized wake of damage. The reality is that very few areas in the financial industry can brag about being immune to abuse.
I’m a twenty-year Wall Street veteran of places like J. P. Morgan and even Lehman Brothers at the very end. Writing was always an escape from finance, and Wall Street was a topic I wanted to avoid. However, a product that bets against human life presented a compelling story that was hard to resist. What will happen when the inevitable exploitation occurs from the moral hazard of a product wagering on human expiration? The topic kept dragging me in.
I’m stunned. What’s the name of this investment product? Is the name simple, or catchy name like “subprime”?
Great question. The real name is Life Settlements, but Wall Street with its gallows humor has outdone itself with the nickname. Just like high-yield bonds were dubbed “junk bonds, these were nicknamed “death bonds.”
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
Emmy Rushford convinces her sixth-grade classmates to help her provide food for two hungry children. The project quickly turns perilous when the needy children, and their mother, vanish. As Emmy tries to find out what happened to them, she must deal with a car crash, a belligerent neighbor, a cat thrown into a Dumpster, and the necessity of keeping her actions secret from her parents in order to protect her mother’s job.
Peg Kehret’s new novel, DANGEROUS DECEPTION, is now available from Dutton, and Peg was kind enough to let me and the best young reader I know—my sixteen year-old daughter, Ellie—talk to her about it.
Hi Peg. Thanks for the opportunity to visit with you.
Hi, Brian and Ellie. Thanks for asking me. I always like a chance to talk about my books.
Brian: Your new release, DANGEROUS DECEPTION, seems to be a blend of drama and comedy, a serious premise spiced with unexpected and outlandish twists and turns. Is it as funny as the synopsis leads me to believe?
Although there’s some funny dialogue in the classroom scenes, DANGEROUS DECEPTION is definitely a suspense story, not a comedy.
Ellie: Is Dramady (Drama / Comedy) your favorite genre?
My favorite genre is memoir, both to read and to write. I’ve published three: SMALL STEPS: THE YEAR I GOT POLIO is the true story of when I was paralyzed from the neck down when I was twelve. FIVE PAGES A DAY: A WRITER’S JOURNEY tells how I became a professional writer, including the many rejections and the 50-words-or-less about Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that won me a new car. My most recent memoir (Dutton 2012) is ANIMALS WELCOME: A LIFE OF READING, WRITING AND RESCUE.
New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper alternates between writing contemporary suspense and historical novels. But in FORBIDDEN GROUND, book #2 in her new contemporary trilogy, she has managed to combine her love of the intriguing past with fast-paced, modern-day action. THE BIG THRILL caught up with her between publicity gigs—a speech at the Ohio Librarians Conference and the annual Buckeye Book Fair.
Can you tell us about your new book?
FORBIDDEN GROUND is the middle novel in THE COLD CREEK TRILOGY, set on the edge of Appalachia. Three sisters left their small town for “bigger lives,” but are drawn back—and each faces danger and death—and finds a local man to love. In FORBIDDEN GROUND, Kate Lockwood thinks she’s only in town for her sister’s wedding, but soon becomes embroiled in a mystery: What is in the ancient Adena tomb in the backyard of Grant Mason’s house? Kate, an archeologist is dying to excavate the tomb to see if it contains royal corpses and valuable relics, but Grant insists, “Let the dead stay dead.” Though she’s falling for him, she fears she can’t trust him—but he’s not the only one hiding deadly secrets.
So in the trilogy, Kate takes center stage in the middle book and her sisters in SHATTERED SECRETS and BROKEN BONDS?
That’s right. The three women are very different. Kate’s the bright, educated, well-traveled one. Charlene in BROKEN BONDS is the ‘bleeding heart’ who wants to help the poor children of Appalachia. The youngest, Tess, is the one with the traumatic past who bring the three sisters together in the little town they thought they had fled forever.
But ancient tombs in Appalachian Ohio? What a combination!
That’s what I thought too. After sixty novels published, why hadn’t I thought of using the prehistoric Adena Indian culture before? Their burial mounds are scattered from the U.S. east coat to the Mississippi, but many are in central and southern Ohio near where I went to college and live now.
By Kay Kendall
Tim Hallinan is a writer’s writer. Search for him online and you will find platoons of famous authors who admire Hallinan’s work. During his stellar career, he has produced three series of thrillers with outstanding reviews. Surprisingly, his is not yet a household name, but that is about to change. As the year draws to a close, 2014 holds promise as Hallinan’s breakout year.
For one, there’s the success of his Junior Bender series, starring an LA-based thief who moonlights as a private eye for other criminals. Book two in the series, LITTLE ELVISES, was nominated for the Silver Falchion (August 2014) and is also a current nominee for the Shamus, to be presented at Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. Book three, THE FAME THIEF, was nominated for the Lefty award at Left Coast Crime (March 2014). Were that not enough, the series has
been bought for NBC television primetime by British actor and comedian Eddie Izzard. The pairing of Izzard and Junior Bender is inspired. Bender, the master thief, has comic characteristics as well as deep wells of sorrow he occasionally dips into, more as he ages through the novels. Izzard will produce and possibly star in the new series. Beyond Junior Bender, let’s not forget Hallinan’s incredible Simeon Grist series, featuring a hard-boiled, over-educated private eye.
But what may cement 2014 as Hallinan’s breakout year, is the latest book in his Poke Rafferty series, featuring adventurous travel writer Rafferty who has settled down in Bangkok, Thailand, with his reconstructed family comprised of wife Rose, a former Bangkok bar girl, and their adopted daughter, Miaow. Debuting on November 4, book six of the series—FOR THE DEAD—focuses on teenaged Miaow’s struggle to reconcile her former life on the Bangkok streets with her current circumstances—living with Poke and Rose in comparative luxury. Miaow’s boyfriend is the son of a diplomat, and they attend a pricey private school. Still, Miaow wonders where she really belongs, and why crooked police are trying to kill her.
A decade ago, if you’d walked into a bookstore looking for a zombie novel, you would have found only two: Brian Keene’s The Rising and Joe McKinney’s Dead City. Long recognized as one of the driving voices that launched the world’s fascination with the living dead, Joe McKinney’s Dead World novels have emerged as seminal works in the Horror genre.
Now, collected for the first time in Dead World Resurrection, are all of Joe McKinney’s zombie short stories. The zombie has grown up since Joe McKinney first penned Dead City, yet he has continued to stand out among the throng of voices telling tales of the undead. Dead World Resurrection shows why.
Brian Keene, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Rising says Dead World Resurrection is “a merciless, fast-paced and genuinely scary read that will leave you absolutely breathless” and Weston Ochse, author of Empire of Salt, claims “McKinney writes zombies like he’s been gunning them down all his life.”
McKinney recently answered a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
You’ve been at the forefront of keeping zombies alive for readers since before their rise in popularity. What propelled you to put together this collection now?
Routine clean-up of my Dropbox account, actually. I have a tendency to let files build up for a while before I get the bug to clean stuff up and organize. I was on one of those cleaning sprees about a year ago, getting miscellaneous files put into order, when I realized that I had written and published about a hundred and fifty thousand words worth of zombie short stories. That was enough for a book, a pretty fat book, actually, as far as single author story collections go, and so I started shopping it around. Christopher Payne at JournalStone got excited about the project right away, and the next thing you know, the collection was underway.
But it also made sense timing-wise. I’ve been a professional writer for ten years now, and the stories in this collection cover that entire decade. Ten years seemed like a nice round number, so I went ahead and pulled the trigger on the collection.
In a special international interview, German thriller writer Kathrin Lange recently sat down with Switzerland’s breakout crime writer Monika Mansour, to talk about Mansour’s debut release, Liebe – Sünde – Tod (Love – Sin – Death).
Liebe – Sünde – Tod has two completely different settings. On the one side, the world of nightclubs and prostitution, on the other, the hard life of truckers. How did you decide on this contrast of settings?
It was clear from the beginning that my police team is from Lucerne, a very safe place, but I wanted a murder in a red light district. And therefore Zurich’s Langstrasse was an ideal setting. I grew up just outside Zurich and live now in Lucerne. So those two places were perfect for my first crime novel. And to connect these two places, the truckers were just what I needed.
Your protagonist Cem Cengiz is Turkish, but was raised and works in Switzerland. What prompted you to give him this background?
Switzerland is not only that cliché of mountains, lovely cows, and cheese. Around twenty percent of the people living in Switzerland are not native. Our little country is multicultural. And this is what I wanted to show. We have many people who grew up in Switzerland with parents from other cultures. We call them ‘Secondos’. Cem is one of them. I wanted to show that conflict of living and working as a Swiss, but still feel, in his case, as a Turkish, when he’s sitting with his family. I know this conflict myself. My husband is Egyptian. And where we live, there are families from Turkey, Iraq, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Syria, and some Swiss too. A mix of cultures. And I love it. When you’re willing to meet all these people, it is really fascinating how it opens your eyes to the world.
By Ian Walkley
DEATH SENTENCES (from Crime Wave Press) had me at page one, and not many other novels would I say that about. Michael Zimecki writes fiction, nonfiction and plays while continuing to work as an attorney. From inner-city Detroit, hehas been a steelworker, advertising copywriter, medical editor, and teacher before taking up law. He has written for Harper’s Magazine, The National Law Journal, College English, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other publications.
A novella, The History of My Final Illness (Eclectica Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011), about the last five days in the life of Joseph Stalin, appeared in Eclectica Magazine. A play, Negative Velocity, about the father of the atom-bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, is a past winner of the New Playwright’s Contest of the Fremont Center Theatre.
In DEATH SENTENCES, we have the story of Peter “Pop” Popovich—an unemployed glazier, anti-Semite, and white supremacist who is pushed over the edge by his problem-plagued mother, an unresponsive lover, an uncaring stepfather, and the right-wing media hate machine that tells him liberals want to take away his guns and his liberty. While he waits to be executed for his crimes, “Pop” pens a novel about life on Death Row in which he reprises the crimes that landed him there.
Michael, you clearly have some views about American society and politics that you convey through your fiction (very cleverly, I might add). How did you come to choose “Pop” as the way to do this in your debut novel?
I wanted to get inside a mind that believes the lies broadcast by the American right-wing noise machine and see what it is like to inhabit it for a while. It’s a scary place. I can tell you that. It’s also very real. If it wasn’t, kids like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown wouldn’t be shot to death in places like Sanford, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri.
By Don Helin
Les Edgerton’s novel, THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, is a mix of Cajun gumbo, a couple tablespoons of kinky sex, and a dash of unusual New Orleans settings. The reader follows the comic mis-adventures of Pete Halliday, busted out of baseball for a small gambling problem, Tommy LeClerc, a Cajun with a tiny bit of Indian blood who considers himself a “red man,” and Cat Duplaisir, a part-time hooker and full-time waitress. With both the Italian and Cajun mobs after them, a chase through Jazz Fest, a Tourette’s outbreak in a black bar, and other zany adventures, all seems lost.
Les Edgerton has an unconventional background in that he’s an ex-con, having spent a bit over two years in prison for burglary, armed robbery, strong-armed robbery, and possession with intent to sell. He’s since taken a vow of poverty (became a writer) with eighteen books in print.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Les the other day and ask him a few questions.
Is that anything special you’d like to tell us about your novel?
This novel began life as a short story titled, I Shoulda Seen a Credit Arranger published in The South Carolina Review, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I liked the story and the characters so much, I decided to expand it into a novel. I’ve also written a screenplay based on it. The screenplay was named a finalist in both the Writer’s Guild and Best of Austin’s screen writing competitions.
Did any particular event inspire the plot?
While much of my life was spent as an outlaw—did time in prison, etc.—I did have stretches of being a “straight” (regular guy on the street). During one of those periods, I sold life insurance and one of the tenets of that business is a concept called “the million dollars on the kitchen table.” It refers to the mindset that most folks have when they’re being sold a policy. The million dollar policy is just an abstract figure, and it’s a goal for salesmen to move as many of these as possible. The trick of the salesman is to get customers to imagine a million dollars sitting on the kitchen table, rather than just an abstract number… and that’s when you make the sale.
Most writers excel at one genre, but E. Michael Helms has successfully tackled memoir, historical fiction, and mystery. He is not only versatile, but prolific as well, with four books published in the last two years. Helms is a former marine who served in Vietnam. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, and was honorably discharged in 1969. His harrowing memoir of that war, The Proud Bastards, has been in print for over twenty years.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Helms and talked with him about the writing life and his newest novel, DEADLY RUSE, a riveting page-turner and the second in the Mac McClellan mystery series, due for release this month by Seventh Street Books.
Your historical fiction and mysteries seem to have been published within weeks of each other. Do you work on both at the same time and, if so, what challenges does that pose?
That was simply a fluke, or good timing. My agent had been trying to place Of Blood and Brothers a while, and finally made a sale. Originally written as one long saga, the publisher asked me to break it into two sections; hence OB&B: Books One & Two. While that process was taking place, I decided to try my hand at mystery writing, something I’d wanted to do for quite some time. I completed Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery in a few months and my agent quickly sold it to Seventh Street Books. OB&B: Book One was published in September 2013, and Deadly Catch followed in November. So, the answer is no, I don’t work on both at the same time (except for edits and other follow-up chores).
Do you prefer one genre to the other?
My first book, The Proud Bastards, was a memoir about my tour in Vietnam as a combat Marine. That was a very trying experience dredging up all those emotions and ghosts. Of Blood and Brothers is a Civil War saga, and I relied on my own combat experiences to bring reality to the battle scenes. That wasn’t a very pleasant experience either.
BLACK KARMA opens with a somewhat seedy police inspector asking for Bai Jiang’s assistance as a souxan (people finder) in tracking down Daniel Chen, a man they believe is behind a botched drug heist that resulted in the death of a police officer. Bai, who believes the police just want Chen dead, finds her investigation takes her into a world of international intelligence agencies and merchants of war that deal with death, drugs, and high-jacked information: A world where nothing is what it seems.
Against this backdrop, Bai is juggling a somewhat complicated love life. There is her ex—the father of her child and a triad assassin, the rather brazen young man who finds her irresistible, and a suitor for an arranged marriage whose mother thinks Bai would make an excellent successor to the family empire.
This is Bai’s compelling world of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Thatcher Robinson, the man behind the WHITE GINGER series, has always been comfortable with the Asian culture. His friends since childhood have been Asian, he’s married to a Japanese woman, and has two Chinese godchildren. “I don’t know why I fit more comfortably in the Asian community. I just do.”
In BLACK KARMA, Bai weaves her way through boxing clubs, arranged marriages, and the power of the triads.
Robinson continues, “I did quite a bit of research on triads, which are mostly made up of street thugs who make their grift through extortion or kidnapping. When compared to the Yakuza of Japan, they have neither the organization nor financial infrastructure to be a major player in the criminal underworld.
By George Ebey
The Black Stiletto is back in the final novel of this stunning five-book saga. This time, everything will come to an end and all secrets will be revealed. It’s 1962. Judy Cooper’s former lover and his psychotic sister set out to ruin the very pregnant Stiletto, forcing her to flee to Texas for a showdown. In the present, the Alzheimer’s that afflicts elderly Judy is in its last stage, but her son and granddaughter continue to protect her from the assaults from her past.
Mr. Benson recently checked in with THE BIG THRILL to provide some insight into the origins of the character and to explain what it was like to bring his long-running series to its exciting conclusion.
Let’s talk about the genesis of the series. How did THE BLACK STILETTO first come about?
I had an idea for a story in which a grown man is taking care of his mother in a nursing home—she has Alzheimer’s—and he discovers some dark secret about her past that no one knew about. I didn’t know what that dark secret was, so the idea sort of sat on the back burner. My mother-in-law died of Alzheimer’s, so my family went through that ordeal. Then, in 2009, I was having lunch with my literary manager, Peter Miller, and he said, “Raymond, you need to come up with something that women would like, because women buy books more than men.” Since there were a zillion superhero movies coming out, I facetiously said, “How about a female superhero?” We laughed and then he got serious and said, “That’s actually not a bad idea. Think about it.”
So I went home and did think about it. Then I combined the Alzheimer’s story with the female superhero idea and voila! It all fit. The dark secret was that the mom was a masked vigilante back in the 1950s/early 60s. (No super powers.) So I created the mythology that the “Black Stiletto” was a female crime fighter in New York and L.A. between 1958 and 1962, and then she mysteriously disappears. No one knew who she was, but she became a legend. Then, in the present, her grown son discovers her secret. It became two parallel stories—one in the present and one in the past.
New York Times-bestselling author Robert Dugoni writes legal thrillers with heart. “These aren’t what some might expect in a traditional thriller novel, all action and dialogue. I work hard to develop my characters. I try to write honest characters, people who have self-regard for their own well-being. If I can get my characters to care about themselves, readers will care also, and be more invested. Then I can put my characters in peril.”
Dugoni practiced law for thirteen years in San Francisco before becoming a full-time writer. His novels in the critically-acclaimed David Sloane series are THE JURY MASTER, WRONGFUL DEATH, BODILY HARM, THE CONVICTION and MURDER ONE, which was a finalist for the Harper Lee Award for literary excellence. He has also written the bestselling standalone novel DAMAGE CONTROL, and THE CYANIDE CANARY, a non-fiction book. His latest novel, MY SISTER’S GRAVE, landed the number one spot on Amazon’s Kindle Bestseller List, knocking out GONE GIRL, and was named as Library Journal’s top 5 thrillers of 2014.
In MY SISTER’S GRAVE, Dugoni introduces Tracy Crosswhite, a former high school chemistry teacher turned Seattle police detective. Tracy has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House—a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder—is guilty. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy has dedicated her life to tracking down killers.
When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past—and open the door to deadly danger.
By Julie Kramer
David Baldacci is best known for his high-stakes political thrillers, but the #1 New York Times bestselling author has also had a busy year as the editor of this year’s acclaimed ITW anthology, FaceOff, and as one of the highest-profile writers caught in the Amazon/Hachette negotiating feud.
So what does he do to relax? He sketches.
We’ll show you samples of his art, hear his take on changes in the publishing world, and learn more about his upcoming release, THE ESCAPE, in which military investigator John Puller hunts for America’s most wanted criminal—his own brother—who has escaped from prison after being convicted of treason.
How much of your success as an author do you think you owe to your Washington D.C. settings and the public’s mistrust of the government?
I certainly have been influenced by the political world in D.C. It’s the only city in the country that can declare war and raise your federal income tax!
When it comes to international intrigue, the geography and players in political hot spots change rapidly—the Ukraine, ISIS, and so on. Your thrillers are often topical. Do you ever worry your storyline will be out of date on your release day?
That’s the risk you run. You finish the novel and the next day a headline is in the newspaper that is basically your entire plot line. I’ve never had that happen. I’ve been ahead of the curve a few times, but it could always cut the other way. I’m just one guy with an imagination pitted against nearly seven billion people jostling each other over the width of a single planet. Odds-wise I have no chance.
When you first introduced us to Army Special Agent John Puller and his brother, Robert, in ZERO DAY, did you already have elements for THE ESCAPE in the back of your mind?
I knew that Robert Puller’s story would be revealed one day. I wasn’t sure how when I was writing book one or even book two. But the story eventually came to me.
What research did you do for THE ESCAPE? Tour any prisons?
I’ve visited military bases in the past. I jumped off parachute towers, did the sniper ranges, performed the rollover Humvee training, and threw myself into the Army’s functional fitness regimen. Needless to say, I came out of that feeling way too old. As a lawyer I also went to prisons. An attorney at my old law firm represented Clayton Lonetree—the Marine guard accused of espionage at the US Embassy in Moscow—in appealing his conviction. While I wasn’t directly involved in the case, I learned a fair amount about the military justice system.
It seems mystery is more mysterious and thrills more thrilling if set in a foreign place and time. Anyone who doesn’t believe that hasn’t read Joe Gannon’s impressive debut novel, NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR.
The novel is set in Nicaragua in 1986, the mid-point for the Sandinista revolution. That volatile environment shaped Captain Ajax Montoya, homicide detective and classic man-without-a-country. Montoya, the novel’s investigator protagonist, was conceived in Nicaragua but born and raised in America. So even after fighting for years with the Sandinista revolutionaries he was still neither Nicaraguan nor American. Neither, yet both, and as Gannon explains, a classic noir hero.
“Like all such detectives he has a flawless moral compass,” Gannon says. “It always points true north, but that is both curse and, well, pretty much just curse. But he is the last one on earth who would view himself a hero. In fact, much of what others see as heroic he sees as a source of shame: killing and sending others to their deaths.”
Much of that killing was for a good cause, the overthrow of tyranny, but that is no solace to a man living with the damage done to his soul from so much sustained violence. So when a corpse turns up in a poor barrio it shakes Montoya to his core.
By Thomas Drago
Cast against the background of a futuristic world order and a disintegrating Global Alliance, Tom Calen’s latest science fiction thriller The Ignota, which follows up Torranceas the second book in the enthralling Scars of Tomorrow series. The style and magnitude of the work capture a maturity rarely achieved by writers who cross genres. Tom’s brilliant, fast-paced narratives continue to blaze a path for those of us following in his footsteps.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with Tom about his new novel, The Ignota,and learn more about past, current, and future projects.
The more I think about The Ignota and the entire Scars of Tomorrow series, I can’t help but think about epic motion pictures. The Godfather and the warring Five Families. Star Wars and the fragmented Rebel Alliance. Those are two of the biggest and best films ever made. Ever envision your series on the big screen?
That’s the dream for all us, isn’t it? Seeing our words and worlds brought to life on film?
I’ve been told my writing is very cinematic. The scene cuts, the descriptions. I’m a visual learner, so it’s not a shock that my writing style reflects that. I have to “see” it before I can write it. Sometimes that involves acting out a certain scene. I’m sure my neighbors wonder why that crazy American next door is running around his living room acting out fight sequences.
By Jeff Ayers
“Stressed out” has been Lyle Deming’s default setting for years, but now the ex-cop is escaping the anxieties of police work by driving a cab in a new theme park. Nostalgia City is the ultimate retro resort, a meticulous re-creation of an entire small town from the early 1970s, complete with period cars, music, clothes, shops, restaurants, hotels—the works. But when rides are sabotaged and tourists killed, billionaire founder “Max” Maxwell drafts Lyle into investigating—unofficially. Soon he gets help from 6’2 ½ Kate Sorensen, the park’s PR director and former college basketball player. Together Lyle and Kate must unravel a story of corporate greed, conspiracy, and murder in Mark Bacon’s debut DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY.
Mark Bacon chatted with The Big Thrill.
When did you realize you wanted to write?
Writing classes in high school got me started. I took journalism and wrote for the school paper and I took creative writing and had short stories published in the high school magazine. I think I was initially attracted by the mystique of being a newspaper reporter, which eventually I was.
With your journalism background and success in writing non-fiction what prompted the change to fiction?
I’ve always liked writing, in part because it’s the hardest work I can do reasonably well—and get paid for. At this point in my life, I wanted to try something different and since I’ve always read mystery and suspense novels, crime was a natural. Mystery flash fiction came first then I thought I had enough to say to make a novel interesting. Now I’m hooked.
What sparked the idea for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY?
My inspiration for DEATH IN NOSTALGIA CITY came from several sources.
1. I started my career as a newspaper reporter in Southern California and I covered the police beat every day. I learned how cops work and a little about how they think.
By Wendy Tyson
DEADLINE FOR MURDER, the new novel by Linda Y. Atkins, is the fourth book in the Hilary Adams Mystery Series. In this latest installment, attorney Hilary Adams returns to the defense side of the law and her new client, a crime columnist for the local newspaper, is accused of double homicide. Fast-paced and tightly written, DEADLINE FOR MURDER is a thrilling glimpse into the Louisville legal system.
As a practicing attorney and former prosecutor, Linda Y. Atkins knows her subject. She brings a fresh perspective and a strong dose of realism to her legal thrillers. Recently, THE BIG THRILL had the chance to catch up with Linda.
Hilary Adams is a criminal defense attorney—a job that often demands quick wits, a strong stomach, and the ability to deal with ambiguity. What inspired you to write legal thrillers?
I began writing in the late 1990’s after defending a woman accused of murdering three of her own family members. Before I became involved in her case, however, she had already been tried and convicted once, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. On re-trial, the prosecution decided to again seek the death penalty. When my law firm was approached about her case, we knew that representing her would be an uphill battle, but since my husband and I were both death qualified lawyers (meaning we were authorized to represent defendants facing the death penalty as a possible punishment) we accepted the case pro bono. What followed was my first introduction to rural Appalachia, and being from “the big city,” as Louisville was described by the local residents in that area, I found the experience both harrowing and hard to shake. So, after it was all over, as a sort of cathartic exercise, I wrote a true crime novel about the struggles we had encountered in events that turned out to be truly stranger than fiction. Though I believed the case and the people involved would provide for riveting reading, unfortunately, the manuscript got no further than the back of a file cabinet in my office. But by that time, I had been bitten hard by the writing bug and decided to try my hand at fiction. And, on a whim one day, while waiting outside a courtroom for a hearing to begin, I started jotting down some thoughts on a legal pad and the main character—criminal defense attorney Hilary Adams—came into being. But even though I draw upon my experiences as an attorney, all of my work is fiction—none of my cases, clients, or fellow lawyers are even remotely re-constructed in my novels.
What if you had to say goodbye to everyone you loved in just five short days? Debut author Julie Lawson Timmer’s riveting novel FIVE DAYS LEFT takes you on a heartbreaking journey alongside a woman who must do just that. Mara Nichols has everything—a wonderful marriage, successful career, and adoring daughter until a stunning diagnosis unravels her entire world. As she counts down her final days, she considers her dwindling choices and wrestles with the decision she knows in her heart is the right one. A parallel story intertwines with Mara’s. Scott, a virtual friend of Mara’s who lives across the country, prepares to say goodbye to the child he was only supposed to have for one year but that has become like a son to him. FIVE DAYS LEFT illustrates in emotionally wrenching narrative, the lengths to which we will go to protect the ones we love.
THE BIG THRILL caught up with Julie and she agreed to answers some questions.
What was your motivation for this story?
First, thanks so much for having me!
A few years ago, a friend of mine died after a long struggle with cancer. She was in hospice for the last several months of her life and she was spectacularly brave in facing what she knew would be her last months, weeks, and days. During that time, and after she died, I was consumed with thoughts about what that must have been like for her—to know she wouldn’t be there for her kids’ graduations, their weddings, et cetera. I decided that writing about someone dealing with a fatal, incurable disease would be a way to explore the feelings my friend might have had. I also felt that exploring and writing about those feelings would be a way for me to honor her, even if the book was never read by anyone else. I chose Huntington’s because I didn’t want (or believe I had any right) to write my friend’s story. FIVE DAYS LEFT is not biographical in any sense.
I wanted to give Mara a break from her difficult situation, and adding the online group allowed me to do that. When I was casting around in my imagination for an online friend who Mara could become close to, Scott materialized, as did his job as a middle school teacher and coach. Technically, Scott and his wife are limited guardians of Curtis, not foster parents. Foster parenting involves months of background checks and classes and applications, et cetera, while being a limited guardian is a relatively immediate process, at least in Michigan. Given the urgency in Curtis’s situation, the foster system wasn’t appropriate. However, the concept of fostering and being a limited guardian are similar in that ultimately, you are caring for, making sacrifices for, and often loving deeply, a child who isn’t your own, and whose future is not in your control. In this regard, foster parents and limited guardians are in a similar position as stepparents, a role I hold. As a stepparent, I also care for, make sacrifices for, and deeply love, children whose future isn’t in my control, and I wanted to explore that.
By Dawn Ius
Of the many ingredients that go into writing a great thriller, there is one that New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline believes is the key to her success—keeping things fresh.
Which might seem a tad ironic, since in her twenty-third novel, BETRAYED, Scottoline returns to the characters that first launched her career, the women of her popular Rosato & Associates series.
“I’m thrilled to be writing about these characters again—they feel like old friends,” she says. “It’s great to examine the way their personalities change over time and the way their life events change them. I love to write books that mirror the life of everyday people, on many different levels.”
Relating to readers is important to Scottoline, who makes herself accessible for feedback. She reads her reviews, albeit with the thick hide all authors must develop, and pays attention. Though she admits, no one could compete with her worst critic—herself.
“I’m always thinking of my readers, every page, every word,” she says. “I love love love books that move fast, have high stakes, and are told with an eye towards the listener or the reader. In other words, the pacing never lets up. I’d die before I would bore a reader.”
In BETRAYED, the second high-stakes, fast (and certainly not boring) thriller in the Rosato & Associates spin-off series, Rosato & DiNunzio, Scottoline turns the spotlight on one of her less-featured lawyers, Judy Carrier.
“She’s somebody that doesn’t get as much face time as she should as a main character, so I felt that was overdue,” she says.
More importantly, however, Scottoline felt no other character could tell this story. In her twenty-five years as a successful novelist, Scottoline has learned that character, plot, and voice are the same thing—which, when boiled down, really means that “when I think of the plot, the character chooses the plot.”
By Jeremy Burns
In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and discovered America—or did he? What if Vikings, led by the famous adventurer Leif Eriksson, were in fact the first Europeans to discover the New World five centuries before Columbus’s voyage?
This is the question posed by award-winning author and former congressman Robert J. Mrazek in his new thriller, VALHALLA, a globe-spanning adventure steeped in history, legend, and myth. Mrazek sat down with THE BIG THRILL to talk about his fascinating new book, its creation, and some cool tidbits about himself.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I don’t know how many former members of congress ever decided to become working novelists. Looking back on my life, I believe I was a writer who became a politician, rather than a congressman who eventually turned to writing fiction as a second profession.
Like I’ve read about you, I’ve been reading and writing stories since I was a small boy, and enjoyed pursuing creative writing all through college. In 1968, I was placed on the disabled-retired list by the Navy following a training accident at Officer’s Candidate School. I had spent two months in Newport Naval Hospital, sharing a ward with badly wounded Marines who had been evacuated from Vietnam.
After seeing first hand part of the human cost of the war in Vietnam, I was deeply disheartened, and decided to leave the country to attend the London Film School. Within five months, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. Suddenly, my goal of writing fiction and making films seemed trivial compared to the convulsive upheaval that was taking place at home.
My anger over the Vietnam War and its aftermath carried me a long way in politics. But I never stopped writing. With four novels and three non-fiction books now published since leaving public life, I’m as proud of the awards that my books have received as the legislation I authored in congress.
By E. A. Aymar
New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Vincent Zandri has been an important voice in crime fiction since 1999, when his debut As Catch Can (now titled The Innocent) was published to terrific reviews. Since then, he has written at an exceptionally prolific rate and has published fifteen novels, including eight in the Dick Moonlight PI series.
The latest thriller in that series finds Moonlight, along with an overweight Elvis impersonator as his sidekick, investigating the suicide of a young woman. But this suicide is especially troubling to Moonlight, since the victim may have been raped by the son of his new boss.
New readers to the series will find a lot to like in Zandri’s dark, formerly suicidal, pained-romantic protagonist as he hunts for answers through the streets of Albany. And new readers to Zandri will latch on to his tight plotting and noir-fused prose. He was kind enough to take the time to talk about his work as a writer, photographer, and musician, as well as what the future holds for Moonlight.
How do your different interests (particularly your work as a photographer and musician) influence your writing?
I fell into photography as a freelance journalist when editors seeking to save a few bucks would ask me if I didn’t mind taking pictures. Of course, this became more prevalent as the digital age took over, and a writer who can also take pictures is a far more valuable commodity than one who doesn’t have an eye. But in terms of art, the photos taught me to capture a moment in time that is then recreated in the mind of whoever looks at it. I try and do the same with my writing. Recreate a moment or moments in time that make the reader feel like what’s happening on the page is happening to them.
By John Clement
My cat Spike could climb clear to the top of a seven-foot Christmas tree without dislodging a single ornament—admittedly not the most useful skill in the world (especially given that his descent produced far less desirable results) but I thought it was a pretty awesome trick nonetheless. I imagine your cat has a similarly awesome gift. In fact, I think I can safely say that everybody in the world thinks their feline mate is extraordinary in one way or another. Kathleen Paulson, however, may have bragging rights on all of us. Her gray tabby, Owen, has the ability to make himself invisible, and her tuxedo cat, Hercules, can walk through walls.
Kathleen and her super-powered cats are the creation of Sofie Kelly, author of the Magical Cat Mysteries set in the fictional town of Mayville Heights, Minnesota. The latest, number six in the series, is A MIDWINTER’S TAIL from Berkley/Signet. It’s early December, and Kathleen is hosting a fundraiser for the town library when the ex-wife of a local businessman dies of an allergic reaction. Kathleen is immediately suspicious, and soon she and her super-powered felines are on the trail of a killer.
Sofie, tell us a little about Mayville Heights. It feels very much like an actual town.
I’m happy to hear that Mayville Heights feels real to you. I grew up in a small town so I suspect that influences my writing. And several observant readers have noticed that Mayville Heights sounds a lot like the real town of Red Wing, Minnesota. That’s not by accident. When the Magical Cats series began, I found a video tour of Red Wing online when I was looking for something else. Something about the town captured my imagination.
How did you come up with the magical powers of Hercules and Owen?
The cats’ magical abilities actually came from a suggestion made by my editor. I’m glad I listened to her.
By Amy Lignor
With every novel this author pens, fans receive a never-ending supply of “hunky heroes and kick-butt heroines.” The works gifted with a plethora of storylines that include thrills, suspense, action, romance, and the paranormal. The “teams” are unforgettable; from their ability to save the day and fight evil, to the hot and heavy relationships that make the heart race out of control, Paige Tyler has carved her own unique niche—a niche that covers a variety of genres, creating a master blend of everything a reader craves.
The X-OPS series has fans intrigued and excited. Is there a set plan as to how many there will be?
For all those readers out there, you’re going to squeal over this answer. Essentially, the way I set up the overarching storyline for the Department of Covert Operations with the intrigue and backstabbing—and the myriad of subplots and endless cast of secondary characters—I don’t intend for this series to end.
Currently, I have the first ten books outlined, with basic conceptual material for at least another dozen or so. While each story spotlights a primary team, I also work really hard to weave in extra characters and plots to utilize in future books. There’s also that larger drama developing, with the DCO operatives fearing that they’re working for an organization which might be even more evil than the bad guys they go after. I think readers are going to love having the X-OPS series around for a long time to come!
Were you a personal fan of romantic suspense before beginning your writing journey? If so were there any authors that stood out for you?
I always read romantic suspense, but it wasn’t something I went out of my way to look forat the bookstore. Suzanne Brockman and her Troubleshooter series are incredible; I read those books like I was an addict. Her formula of multiple characters and subplots became a how-to for me as I began X-OPS.
How Hollywood Gets It Wrong
By Chris Grall
In Elizabethan times, an ordinance was passed preventing men from wearing swords to the theater. Apparently, in an age where dueling was commonplace, the crowd could become overly enthusiastic and join the cast on stage during a fight scene. Because much of the audience knew how to fight, choreography was vitally important to the success of the production. If the fight scene was not convincing, the actors could be mocked or booed off the stage.
Today, action scenes are ubiquitous in movies and television, yet relatively few people are versed in violence and/or the operation of modern weapons. This allows directors and producers a lot of latitude when it comes to action scenes. Mistakes and errors are usually glossed over by the rapid pace of the show—it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to look good. For this reason, misinformation about firearms or tactics are often passed on from visual media to the literary world.
In the following sections, we’ll explore how and why some of these errors are created, how writers can recognize—and avoid—them.
One of my favorite cinematic errors—and by “favorite” I mean something that makes my skin crawl—is the sound of a gun cocking when a character points a pistol at something. Not all guns need to be cocked before firing. Yet, in many scenes you will hear the weapon being cocked when it is pointed at a target.
The Foley artist adds these sound effects during post-production, since not all ambient noise are captured properly during filming. Sound cues are added to the action with the proper volume and reverberation in order to incite an emotional response from the viewer. The sound of a gun being cocked generates the expectation in the audience that the weapon is ready to be fired, regardless of how the weapon actually functions.
Sandy Samerad’s writing brings a wonderful mix of steamy romantic prose, excitement, and a strong journalistic craft. In her latest novel, A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES, she has Carrie Sue Justice fighting for justice and risking her (and her best friend’s) life in the process. Amid the tension, she is also embroiled in a love affair with a guilt-ridden man, her former boss, who’s none other than the owner of the town newspaper.
Semerad’s own journalistic background—as reporter, writer, and editor—shines through in her latest page-turner, and the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Tell us about A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES.
The story begins in present day, with Carrie Sue Justice finding her diary. She was once a young and passionate newspaper reporter, investigating a shooting death in South Atlanta in 1986. Three black teenagers have been arrested for killing a white teen. Her life was in turmoil. She caught her husband with another woman inside the antebellum home she inherited from her parents. On the rebound, she fell in love with an unavailable man plagued with guilt. The man was none other than the irresistible owner of the Southern Journal where Carrie Sue worked.
As they began a steamy love affair, Carrie Sue discovered one of the black teens was wrongly accused. Determined to help prove his innocence, she endangered her life and the life of her best friend.
Do you sometimes add life experiences into your writing?
Yes, definitely. A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES is based on a murder trial I covered as a news reporter. The love story is fiction, but the characters share backstories and traits of people I’ve known.
International Thrills: An Interview with No. 1 Bestselling
UK Thriller Author Simon Kernick
In this latest installment of “International Thrills,” USA Today bestselling thriller author J. F. Penn interviews Simon Kernick for THE BIG THRILL. Read the transcript below or you can watch the video here on YouTube. —Managing Eds.
With his fast paced novels topping the Sunday Times bestseller list, Simon Kernick is one of Britain’s most popular thriller authors. His latest book, ULTIMATUM, is just out in the U.S. It opens with an explosion in a central London café and a threat from a terrorist group that promises escalation of the violence. Can Detective Inspector Mike Bolt and Deputy Commissioner Tina Boyd stop the atrocity before it’s too late?
So, Simon, tell us a bit about your life before you began writing bestselling thrillers.
I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was a little kid, so I was always writing stories of some description. But to pay the bills, I’ve done a number of different jobs, from bar work to road-building, to laboring and Christmas tree uprooting, obviously very seasonal work.
And eventually I had a career for some years as an IT software salesman, which never gets a second question, so I’m going to move swiftly on! I did that for about a decade, and while I did that, I was trying to get published, and eventually, I was lucky enough to get a publishing deal. And the minute I got one—which is pretty much almost thirteen years ago today—I went full time. And I’ve been full-time writing ever since, and I don’t want to go back to work anymore!
Your books feature a lot of famous British landmarks, so I wondered if you could talk about a couple of places in Britain that are particularly special to you, and how they feature in your books.
Well, London is the main location for the vast majority of the books. They do move out into the UK a little bit more, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s London. My latest book, ULTIMATUM, features a very new and very famous London landmark now, the Shard. It’s an amazing looking tower.
I love London to walk around, to see how the old and the new can just live together, and the rich and the poor merge together; it’s such an amazingly cosmopolitan city. But when you get on the South Bank of the Thames, and you see the Shard stretching up like a piece of glass into the sky, it’s an absolutely incredible scene, and pretty much the moment I saw it, I wanted it to feature it somewhere in a book.
By Kay Kendall
TRUTH BE TOLD is the latest thriller by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Deemed “the incredible master of plot” by Suspense Magazine, Ryan combines foreclosure fraud, a twenty-year-old murder case, and a secret romance between a reporter and a cop into a fascinating and plausible tale. In a rush of snappy prose she brings to life believable characters set against a backdrop of financial and political shenanigans in Boston.
This is the third novel in Ryan’s series featuring investigative reporter Jane Ryland. The first title was The Other Woman, released in 2012, in which Jane Ryland and detective Jake Brogan cross paths in their respective professional capacities and romantic sparks ignite. This book won the MWA/Mary Higgins Clark Award. Its sequel, The Wrong Girl, won both the Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne du Maurier Award earlier this year.
Ryan burst onto the mystery/thriller scene seven years ago with Prime Time, which won the Agatha for Best First Novel. TRUTH BE TOLD is now her seventh book, and was just named a Library Journal Best of 2014. All her thrillers win rave reviews, awards, and nominations. Her fame and readership have grown with each successive book. She offers a helping hand to aspiring writers as a founding teacher of the Mystery Writers of America University and has served as president in 2013 of the national organization Sisters in Crime.
When you consider that Ryan has become a well-read, highly regarded author on top of an enormously successful and busy journalism career, then the mind does boggle. Since 1983 she has been the on-air investigative reporter for WHDH-TV, NBC’s affiliate in Boston. To date she has won thirty-two Emmy Awards and twelve Edward R. Murrow Awards for her investigative and consumer reporting. And still, she had time to be interviewed for ITW’s THE BIG CHILL.
Welcome, Hank. Your career as an award-winning TV journalist would keep most people busy enough. But in 2007 with twenty-eight Emmys already on your shelf, your first thriller, Prime Time, was published. It went on to win the Agatha Award for best first novel. What propelled you to add a second career?
I love how you ask about “adding a second career” as if that’s something a person could plan. So much of it is luck. And timing, and being at the right place at the right time. And recognizing that. Plus hard work. And—luck.
By Basil Sands
Ladies and Gentlemen, I introduce you to Steve P. Vincent, the author of the new action-packed tale of international intrigue ripped right from the headlines, THE FOUNDATION. Or as he is known in Big Time Wrestling “The Thrilluh from Down Unduh”!
Okay, he doesn’t actually have a Big Time Wrestling name, at least not that I know of. But if he did it would be something like that. He does have degrees in political science and history, though. His honors thesis was on the topic of global terrorism and he has travelled extensively throughout Europe, the United States, and Asia.
Steve lives with his wife in a pokey apartment in Melbourne, Australia, where he’s forced to write on the couch in front of an obnoxiously large television. When he’s not writing, Steve keeps food and flat whites* on the table working for The Man. He enjoys beer, whiskey, sports and dreaming up elaborate conspiracy theories to write about.
Steve, tell us about THE FOUNDATION.
THE FOUNDATION is a punch you in the mouth political thriller full of intrigue, suspense and action against a backdrop that’s all too plausible. It was a lot of fun to write and I hope readers are enjoying it as well.
It’s about the concentration of power in the hands of powerful organizations such as big business, the media, and think tanks, and what might happen when these powerful groups manipulate global events to seize power. One guy, Jack Emery, is dragged into a power struggle when one such group, The Foundation for a New America, blows up half of Shanghai, starts a war between the U.S. and China, and tries to use the chaos to take over.
Like her protagonist in the new thriller COLOR BLIND, author Colby Marshall has synesthesia, a neurological condition characterized by involuntary perceptions and associations—associating colors with emotions or individual people, for example. Although she had published two previous thrillers, The Trade and Chain of Command, Marshall hadn’t written about synesthesia until COLOR BLIND, the first in a new series about forensic psychiatrist and criminal profiler Dr. Jenna Ramey. Synesthesia can’t solve crimes, but it can guide Jenna in her dealings with suspects and witnesses who want to hide what they know.
In COLOR BLIND, Jenna sets aside her private practice temporarily to assist her former employer, the FBI, in solving murders committed by a team dubbed the Gemini Killers. One of the killers, Isaac Keaton, appears in the book’s opening scene, as he picks off innocent victims in a crowd. Keaton quietly surrenders. But who is his partner, and how can Jenna Ramey persuade the smooth, manipulative Keaton to talk to the police before the partner commits another mass murder? Keaton, Jenna soon discovers, knows entirely too much about her own background, and he apparently has a bond with her mother, a clear-headed psychopath who successfully faked incapacitating mental illness to avoid being tried for her violent crimes. Reconnecting with her dangerous mother is one of several avenues Jenna follows as she assists investigators.
Marshall, a ballroom dancer, choreographer, and occasional stage actress as well as a novelist, lives in Georgia with her family and a legion of pets. Recently she talked about COLOR BLIND, how synesthesia figures in the plot, and her plans for Dr. Jenna Ramey in this new series.
Synesthesia may be difficult for most people to grasp. Could you describe it from the inside—what it’s like for a person who has the condition?
Different types of synesthesia manifest differently, so I can’t claim I know what every type is like to experience. However, some types are self-explanatory. Someone with lexical-gustatory synesthesia, for instance, might taste beets when they hear the word “cake,” and that tends to be a fairly easy concept to communicate.
If there’s something readers love more than a fresh read in their favorite genre, it’s two fresh reads. Stark House Press has delivered just that for mystery fans with its double-shot combination now available by new author Rick Ollerman featuring a pair of crime novels, TURNABOUT and SHALLOW SECRETS. Recently, THE BIG THRILL caught up with Rick and asked him to share some of his thoughts about writing along with some tidbits about his two-for-one mystery debut.
Congratulations on the publication of your two novels, TURNABOUT & SHALLOW SECRETS (published in one combined volume by Stark House Press). It’s impossible not to notice that both of these stories are set in Florida. How important is setting to your writing?
I once read an introduction to a Ross Macdonald that described Southern California as if it were another character in his books. I think that’s really true. What I did with TURNABOUT was make it my “Florida book,” meaning it could only take place in Florida. You have the Ten Thousand Islands, the Everglades, alligators, crocodiles, seemingly every insect known to North America, and a rich “tradition” of smuggling, poaching, and other illegal moneymaking opportunities. Ninety percent of the birds in the Everglades were wiped out long ago, when there was a demand for feathers for women’s hats. After a hurricane and a flood, the governor of the state tried to actually drain the Everglades. Now you’ve got Big Sugar sucking the nutrients out of the soil upstream, you have Miami encroaching constantly into the edges of what is otherwise the last and greatest wilderness area in the country.
An FBI agent once told me that if you took all the drug money out of Florida, the city of Miami would collapse. That’s how important the drug trade was to that part of the state—the invention of air conditioning made the area livable and the importation of dope made it rich.
Setting is always important, no matter where it is, but in TURNABOUT I use the features of the state to follow a plot that could only happen there. SHALLOW SECRETS is a bit different; I’d already written my “Florida book.” The last kind of writer I’d like to be is one who writes the same book over and over again. You can’t hide from your style but you can keep from templating your plots and characters. SHALLOW SECRETS takes place across a span of years with a series of killings that bring down a cop when it turns out that not only did the killer know him personally, he’d been his roommate for a while. During the time of the killings. When he was caught, he tries to implicate the cop and the resulting mess just became something the cop needed to walk away from. It didn’t matter what he said or did, people would always wonder….
By Dan Levy
It was the late W.C. Fields who said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.” Fortunately, many writers never got that message and, as a result, wrote many great things after struggling to get published.
J.J. White is among the authors who either didn’t get the message from, or just plain ignored, Mr. Fields. In fact, after seven fiction manuscripts and over 250 short stories, PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is White’s debut novel. “You have to be persistent in everything you do, no matter what age you are.”
At 61, White would be the first to tell you that he’s not really wired toward the conventional. He still surfs in the ocean, has kept his liberal leanings, and listens to Top 40/Contemporary music (unless his wife hears Rihanna, then she changes it). What’s more, unlike most authors, White had neither a penchant for writing or a mentor to inspire him at a young age.
White wrote and submitted a short story to his high school composition teacher who, after grading the story, suggested to White, “Good story. Please learn how to write.” He didn’t.
Decades past, and one day White found himself out for a week with a back injury. “During that week, I said to myself Why don’t you start writing? I was like Forrest Gump who started running for no reason. I started writing for no reason and got hooked.”
And it paid off. PRODIGIOUS SAVANT is set in 1962 Burlington, Vermont, where seventeen-year-old Gavin Weaver survives a dreadful explosion, six hours of brain surgery, and thirty days in a coma. He wakes possessing not just one savant talent, but several, including art, music, mathematics, and memory, and all without suffering any of the usual mental disabilities associated with head trauma. Even in the pre-cable TV/Internet era, Gavin quickly becomes a global sensation. The notoriety puts a murderer on his tail, while his newfound abilities, which seem like a gift, are coalescing into a madness that is robbing Gavin of reason and reality. The odds are slim he will survive both the internal and external conflicts that keep him from the one thing he wants most, the girl he’s loved since childhood.
By John Raab
Allen Wyler, neurosurgeon and writer, returns with his latest page-turning thriller, DEADLY ODDS. Wyler’s writing career started in 2005 with his medical thriller, Deadly Errors. Since then, his work has transcended the medical thriller. And in DEADLY ODDS, he introduces readers to an intriguing new character, Arnold Gold, an awkward computer genius who uses his talent for gambling, and soon finds himself in over his head.
Wyler graciously agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Please tell us about DEADLY ODDS.
As the jacket cover says, Twenty-three year old Arnold Gold is a Seattle-based odds-maker and local computer genius (hence the title). Described as a “part-time hacker and full-time virgin” by his friends, the awkward young man flies to Vegas to try and get lucky—in more ways than one. But his high stakes gambling inadvertently thrusts him into a vortex of international terrorism.
Part of my research for the story dealt with the Darknet—a huge portion of the Internet (bigger than what most people commonly associate with the Internet). It was initially developed by the military for transferring classified information. Not only did the military want a bullet-proof, non-hackable, portal for transferring huge amounts of data, but they wanted to do so anonymously. However, this ability to conduct business anonymously also makes a perfect conduit to support serious criminal activity. Want to buy heroine? Go to the Darknet. Want to hire a hit man? Same thing. And if you are terrorists… Think of the possibilities. I initially discovered it in a Wired article and it immediately snagged my interest. After reading more about it, it was just too interesting to pass up, and I to incorporate it in a plot.
New York Times bestselling author J. Carson Black loves horseracing. She also sings well. And writes well! Just ask Michael Prescott, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.
He has this to say. “Sweeping from suburban California to the New Mexico desert, from an assassins’ marketplace in Austria to the killing grounds of Iraq, HARD RETURN is an amped-up thrill ride showcasing one of the most enigmatic and unforgettable antiheroes in fiction today. Part Jack Reacher, part Jason Bourne, Landry is a loner, a lover, a father, a killer, and the last thing his enemies will ever see.”
In HARD RETURN, Cyril Landry has been a dead man since he escaped a firefight off the coast of Florida three years ago. In all that time, the former Navy SEAL has been living off the grid to protect his wife and teenage daughter, who have mourned him and moved on.
Five days a week, Landry watches from a distance as his daughter Kristal leaves school—his only chance to see her. One day a shooter unloads his M-16 on the students, killing several—including Kristal’s boyfriend, Luke. Landry takes out the gunman with a single sniper shot before melting back into the city. But this wasn’t a typical massacre, and the clues add up to only one conclusion: someone knows Landry’s still alive.
J. Carson Black also writes under the pseudonyms Margaret Falk and Annie McKnight. Recently I had the chance to ask her a few questions:
In your early days as a writer, you wrote mainly romances, albeit exciting romances. What made you switch to the thriller genre?
My first published book was a ghost story called DARKSCOPE. After that, I wrote a straight historical novel, THE TOMBSTONE ROSE, but had to cut it in half and add a lot more romance to get it sold. Then I wrote romantic suspense books. But I remained unsatisfied—I was looking for something. That something came in the form of a Michael Connelly novel, and I fell hard. Not long after that, I picked up James W. Hall’s MEAN HIGH TIDE in an airport, and it just turned a light on for me. I read more and more of the great authors in that genre, and finally knew I’d found my passion: crime fiction and thrillers.
By J. H. Bográn
LAST WORDS opens with New York City on the brink of bankruptcy, rumbles in the Bronx, and newsman Coleridge Taylor roaming police precincts and ERs in search of a story that will rescue his career. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he’s wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. Time is not on Taylor’s side. If he doesn’t wrap this story up soon, he’ll be back on the obits pages—as a headline, not a byline.
Rich Zahradnik offers an interesting setup for a promising series set in a decade usually overlooked, probably due to its disco connection. Still, Zahradnik dives right into the middle of seventies and never looks back. THE BIG THRILL had the opportunity to question him about LAST WORDS.
What can you tell us about Coleridge Taylor?
Taylor was a top police reporter at the New York Messenger-Telegram until he was accused of inventing a story about a nine-year-old heroin addict. In fact, he was set up. He was demoted to the obituaries desk, an assignment where he deals with the dead all day but can’t pursue the real stories behind their deaths. He’s using all his spare time to find a crime story so good that his editors will give him his old job back. He’s also trying to track down the little addict he interviewed to prove the story was real.
Taylor, who’s thirty-four, joined the paper as a seventeen-year-old copy boy after growing up in Queens and moving up to reporter four years later, a traditional career path in newspapers still available in the late fifties. Now it’s 1975, and newspapers are hiring college grads from places like Columbia. These younger, better-educated reporters make Taylor insecure. Taylor isn’t sophisticated about the job. He doesn’t believe in the New Journalism or interpretive reporting. He believes in facts. If he can get all the facts, he’ll get the story. He quotes John Adams on this, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” He lost his brother in Vietnam and his mother to cancer. His father is an alcoholic English professor at CUNY he’s not very close with.
Tom Wither writes thrillers involving military intelligence. He draws on his decades of service and experiences in that shadowy world, bringing authenticity to the dominion of James Bond and Jason Bourne and all those agents in between, by replacing myth-building with realistic scenarios drawn from today’s news stories.
Please give us a brief synopsis of AUTUMN FIRE?
AUTUMN FIRE begins a few days after THE INHERITOR, and takes the reader back into the world of counter-terror operations as David Cain, his protégé Emily Thompson, and Shane Mathews and his Wraith Team commandos continue their pursuit of Aziz, the head of the reborn al-Qaeda, and mastermind of a series of attacks carried out against America’s electrical power infrastructure.
In AUTUMN FIRE, Aziz, through his mercenary facilitator Vladimir Repin, carries out a second wave of strikes against the United States. The Saudis, annoyed that the covert mission Mathews led into Iran to capture Aziz has failed, demand an explanation from the U.S. government. After thwarting an attack on a nuclear reactor on the east coast, Mathews is ordered back to Saudi Arabia for an explanatory audience with the King. Mathews works to allay the concerns of the Saudis, and Cain tries to fathom Aziz’s real intent in the face of the nuclear poisoning of public water supplies.
Aziz travels to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to personally oversee his next operation against the pre-positioned U.S. military supply ships, and then launches a cunning cyber-attack against U.S. airliners to lay the groundwork for achieving the first major step in restoring the Islamic Caliphate. Standing mere feet from the Saudi King, supported by traitorous members of the Royal Guard, can Cain, Mathews, and the Wraiths track down and stop Aziz before it’s too late?
By Amy Lignor
When it pertains to words and visuals, Eric Red has written and directed projects that have become memorable to many generations. People lose themselves in his heart-racing worlds of action, horror, and sci-fi—plots that cause pulse rates to beat out of control. A creative marvel, Eric knows what delivering goose bumps is all about, and now he has brought a new book to the scene—IT WAITS BELOW—that’s yet another notch on his ‘genius belt’ that will have audiences engaged and engrossed until the final page has come and gone.
Today, we’re lucky enough to speak with Eric Red about his string of accomplishments, and delve into an imagination that simply doesn’t stop.
Let’s begin with the mass question: movie directing, novels, screenwriting, comics… Do you sleep and, if so, where do you get all these incredible ideas?
I sleep very well, actually. And my wife tells me nothing wakes me up. It’s hard to say where ideas come from. I’ve gotten film and book ideas at the market, taking a walk, playing with the dog—almost always doing some ordinary everyday thing.
As a young man, how exactly did you begin this creative path?
I was a total movie, book, and comic geek as a child. Movies, mainly. I dragged my folks to every genre movie that came to drive-ins in Philadelphia or Times Square in New York City…the two locations where I grew up. I also spent all my spare time at stores that sold film stills, comics, and paperbacks. That was before the days of VHS, let alone DVD or Netflix, so if you were a young horror movie fan like me, you purchased fifty-foot 8MM selected scenes of monster flicks and ran them on projectors; or, watched whatever they showed on late night TV.
Caitlin Strong, the protagonist of Jon Land’s compelling series, is a Texas Ranger, as were her father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. In the words of real-life Ranger Rip Ford (and also the epigraph to the prologue), “They knew their duty and they did it.”
The latest in the series, STRONG DARKNESS, opens in 1883 Texas, where Caitlin’s great-grandfather William Ray Strong is pursing the Old West’s first serial killer. Fast forward to the present, when a serial killer whose methods are eerily similar to the earlier one has surfaced. Caitlin learns that the killings are somehow connected with a powerful Chinese billionaire, Li Zhen, who intends to use his company’s cutting-edge 5G wireless network against America to avenge what he believes was an old wrong. Up against an army at Li’s disposal, Caitlin and her outlaw lover Cort Wesley blaze a violent trail across the country in search of the truth, even as a strong darkness descends and a climactic battle looms with nothing less than the fate of the U.S. at stake.
STRONG DARKNESS, the latest book in your Caitlin Strong series, begins in 1883, with Caitlin’s great-grandfather, Texas Ranger William Ray Strong, trying to find a serial killer who’s murdered a number of Chinese women. The story then fast-forwards to the present, when Caitlin, also a Ranger, is called upon to solve more contemporary, but no less heinous crimes. Why do Texas Rangers make such compelling subjects of a novel?
That’s a great question and I think the way you phrased it kind of suggests the answer: that is the Texas Rangers have persevered remarkably unchanged through a long and mostly storied history. They wear different clothes and carry different guns than they did in 1883 but otherwise they’re really the same. What’s amazed me in the research I’ve done, and what I try to demonstrate in the snippets of Ranger history that precede each section, is that they remain to this day the archetypal and quintessential American icon. The loner hero whose duty is stitched into the fabric of their being. Similar in that respect, I suppose, to those soldiers in Special Forces or Navy SEALS. The difference being, of course, that the Texas Rangers have been around a lot longer than either of these.