By David Healey
Thriller author William “Willie” Nikkel was out fishing one day when he caught a good idea. He just happened to wonder, what if that didn’t turn out to be a big fish on his line, but a body?
Thriller writers love a good “what if” to get a story going. Nikkel was hooked, so to speak, and that idea evolved into the first chapter of his newest novel, SHIPWRECK.
This is his sixth novel to feature Jack Ferrell. Nikkel is now at work on his seventh novel about the Hawaii-based hero. The former SWAT officer and veteran thriller author took some time out recently to talk about the writing life.
Considering that he divides his time between Maui and northern California, with plenty of fishing, gold panning, and the occasional casino visit thrown in, at first glance it might seem like there wasn’t much time left to write. However, Nikkel keeps a fairly strict schedule, thanks in part to the hot weather in Hawaii.
“If you don’t fish or lay on the beach, there’s not a lot to do in Maui,” he said, a comment that may disqualify him from being a spokesman for the tourism board.
It is, however, a great place to get down to business as a writer.
“I get up early in the morning,” he said, noting that he’s at his desk by 5 am. “It’s nice and cool.”
He breaks for breakfast with his wife, Karen, around nine. Then it’s back to work. “I write all day. When I’m writing that first draft, I put in six to eight hours, seven days a week.”
There are a few perks, of course, to being based in Hawaii.
By E.M. Powell
One would expect a thru-hike of the approximately 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail to present many challenges but the discovery of a dead body probably isn’t the first that springs to mind. Yet while the location may be real, we’re in the world of a Ray Anderson thriller and readers of his first hiking-based adventure, The Trail, will expect precisely that. Hero Karl Bergman (also known as Awol, of which more later) is on his second outing in SIERRA. This time, Awol’s coming up against a murdering drug cartel who are moving product from Mexico to Canada along the PCT. The fast-moving plot sees Awol’s life on the line, along with that of his estranged son. Their only way out is to bring down the cartel’s operation.
While the exciting plot is of course fictional, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is very much not. I wondered what made Anderson first decide to use this as a setting and plot device in his novel. It turns out it’s from first-hand experience.
“My series covers major long-distance trails I’ve hiked,” he says. “My first book in the Awol series, The Trail, took place along the Appalachian Trail. In the hiking community this is the most popular long-distance trail in America and is usually hiked first. Next in popularity is probably the Pacific Crest Trail. So it was a given that book two of my series would involve the PCT.”
Bergman’s use of the alternative name of Awol is hiking related too, as Anderson explains.
“I don’t know how the convention of anonymity started, but all long-distance hikers go by trail names. Examples of trail names that I know are: Buzzard, Drifter, Song-bird, Dirty-bird, Grizzly, Angry Bear, and Vagabond. I never knew first and last names. Hikers come up with their own trail name and use that.” And Anderson has his own trail name, which is Hamlet. “I’m of Scandinavian descent, and my wife says I think too much.”
As for the fictional Bergman’s trail name, Anderson chose it to reflect the character’s past.
A ways back, and years after graduating from the University of Hawaii, Shawn Corridan won the FinalDraft Big Break Screenwriting Contest. So, he made the first of several foolish moves: he quit his day job. Then he moved from Honolulu to Los Angeles, because a Hollywood agent told him, “You have to be in it to win it.” Leaving Hawaii was mistake number two. Listening to the agent was his third mistake.
But as it happened, winning the contest got Shawn many meetings in Hollywood. So he wrote another script, GITMO, which got him even more meetings. And before he knew it he was on the SONY lot pitching a thriller he’d been noodling on, involving the world’s largest oil tanker, an impending storm, a maiden voyage, a dubious cargo, and a former-legend-but-now-disgraced salvage ship captain yearning for redemption.
Shawn left that meeting vowing to write the story some day. He fell in love while pitching it, making up plot points on the fly. He knew it was a winner, having all the elements of a great page turner. There was only one thing missing…
…Gary Waid. A boat guy and former marijuana smuggler who’d been in prison for eight years and had just been released.
Shawn called him. After all, Gary was the very guy he modeled the protagonist of his story after, a man that was “an amalgam of rivets, teak and diesel.” He’d known Gary for years. They grew up in the same small town in Florida, and graduated from the same high school, the only high school in their small town. Gary was an awesome sailor. And a good writer, a fact Shawn gleaned from reading some of the pieces Gary had written when he was released from prison.
The Cold War is back on but with a twist…a remnant, a computer chip, exists from a UFO that exploded over Russia in 1907. Now Damien Wynter, special agent for the clandestine Majic-12, is on a race to get it before SETKA, his Russian counterparts. From the canals of Venice to old city of Dubrovnik, to the pyramids of Bosnia, Wynter and Michelle Martin run a gauntlet of mayhem, destruction and death in an all out battle to obtain technology that could be the greatest boon to humankind—or launch its destruction.
David M. Mannes recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest book:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
A bit of knowledge about UFOs and pleasure from reading a fast-paced action adventure novel.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
This novel mixes science fiction with espionage and suspense that takes place in the present day. It’s not a typical thriller, nor a traditional sci-fi novel. It’s sort of like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. meets the X-Files.
By David Healey
In our connected age, it’s usually easy to reach an author for an interview, unless that author happens to be leading a group of teens on a backpacking trip in the wilderness. When Benjamin Dancer returned to the things we take for granted—such as electricity, running water, and the internet—he answered a few questions about his new thriller, PATRIARCH RUN. Dancer’s book just happens to envision what could occur in a world where we might all be on a kind of extended backpacking trip if civilization’s infrastructure falters.
Thrillers such as yours require a fair amount of research to make them plausible. What fact did you discover in your research that stood out for you?
That’s a great question. PATRIARCH RUN won high praise from Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the author of On Killing, for getting the psychology of combat right. The story also won praise from national security experts for its realistic depiction of an underreported, existential threat to America. That threat is what stands out most to me.
One of the things I learned in writing this story is that our civilization has unwittingly evolved to become absolutely dependent on a vulnerable critical infrastructure. What I mean by that is that if the power grid were to go down today and not come back up again most of us would die.
To contextualize a statement as bold as that it might be helpful to go back a hundred years to when there were only 76 million Americans. At that time, you didn’t need electricity to meet the basic needs of the population. Food was grown outside the urban centers, and just about everybody ate locally.
Fast forward to today. There are 325 million Americans and that number is growing. Many of our urban centers have outstripped the carrying capacities of their surrounding landscapes. As a consequence, food and basic goods are shipped over long supply lines, all of which are powered by refined fuels which, of course, are manufactured with electricity.
So how is it we’ve managed to expand, in the last 100 years, the carrying capacity of the planet from about 2 billion to about 7.5 billion people? Ironically, the answer is electricity. The advent of reliable, widely-available electrical power has made possible several key technologies that have allowed us to expand Earth’s carrying capacity. Those technologies include fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical irrigation, refined fuels for farm machinery and transportation, infrastructures for clean drinking water, infrastructures for sanitation, advanced medical care, etc. Everything in that list is made available through electrical power.
So imagine a large urban center devoid of electricity. No food. No safe drinking water. No sanitation. No transportation. What we’re talking about is an apocalypse.
What’s really scary is that there are several mechanisms of destruction that have a realistic potential of bringing about that apocalypse, including a sophisticated cyber-attack, which is what the bad guy is up to in PATRIARCH RUN.
BLOOD OF BROTHERS, recently released by Black Opal Books, is set in the steamy jungles of Nicaragua during the country’s civil war. Fortunately for us, Richard Edde had not tucked himself away in such a secluded location, and willingly talked with The Big Thrill about his latest work.
What got you interested in the Nicaraguan civil war?
I have always been interested in jungles. As a child I was fascinated by the Tarzan movies. Still watch them as a matter of fact. I’m intrigued by their exotic locales and the danger that lurks within them. During the Vietnam War, my friends returned with tales of the jungle. Civil wars are always interesting—people struggling for democracy and freedom, for a better way of life. In writing a novel with a historical backdrop, it just seemed natural to combine the two.
What were the different factions at the time in Nicaragua?
After the fall of the Somoza regime, there were two rival groups vying for power and control of the Nicaraguan government. In 1961, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional, or Sandinistas) was founded and the group took its name from Augusto Cesár Sandino, who led a Liberal peasant army against the government of U.S.-backed Adolfo Díaz and the subsequent Nicaraguan government in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Inspired by Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, the group sought to be a political-military organization whose objective was the seizure of political power through the destruction of the bureaucratic and military apparatus of the previous Somoza dictatorship.
Throughout their rule, the Sandinistas became more radicalized, especially in times of crisis. For example, in 1981, the Sandinistas announced new economic policies designed to weaken the private sector grasp on farmland. They also confiscated businesses that ostensibly threatened the revolution, and took control of the finances of those who had been gone from Nicaragua for at least six months. In 1982, after Argentine-trained rebels blew up two bridges, the Sandinistas declared a state of emergency, and, among other things, restricted the Nicaraguan press.
Within a year of the Sandinistas’ capture of power, those opposed to the regime began to engage in violent actions. In the summer of 1980, crude organizations of fighters were seeking to start a counterrevolution. These disparate groups comprised former National Guardsmen, ex-Sandinista soldiers critical of the new regime, and peasants and farmers upset with Sandinista land policies. Nicaraguan exiles, including former guardsmen and members of the Conservative Party, gathered in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Miami and discussed the prospect of both unarmed and armed opposition to the Sandinistas. Many exiles came to see armed resistance as the only feasible means to moderate Nicaragua; two of them formed a political-military alliance that would come to be called the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), the main contra faction.
By J. H. Bográn
Prologues…love them or hate them, but you’ve got to read them.
You know this little opening device of novels is the target of opposing teams. We’ve all heard about the new maxim that prologues are out. Conferences and online workshops carry this mantra. I’ve even heard people saying they make the point of skipping it. Except there are just as many authors who are still writing them, and succeeding. One such author is Paul Kemprecos whose new book, THE MINOAN CIPHER, opens with a prologue set in ancient times.
Given that the prologue plays such an important part in your new book, how would you convince the nay-sayers?
I used prologues in my detective series, and continued the practice through the Cussler books. I simply liked having an old mystery intersect with a new one. The Cussler prologue format has been highly successful, so readers must enjoy it. Whether the debate is over prologues or outlining versus seat of the pants writing, my advice is to use whatever works best for you.
In your own words, what’s THE MINOAN CIPHER about?
When robotics engineer and ex-Navy SEAL Matinicus “Matt” Hawkins is asked by a Greek archaeologist to survey a Minoan shipwreck, he eagerly agrees to dive on what may be the Holy Grail of underwater archeology. But as he descends in his submersible into the deep, where he will discover an ancient translating device, Hawkins will soon learn that an invisible No Trespassing sign has been posted on the wreck by sinister forces whose prime directive is to destroy anyone who threatens to reveal their existence.
Was it difficult to dive in and write back about Matt Hawkins?
Starting a new book is always difficult, but it’s easier having a ready cast characters who can be plugged into the plot. It’s a huge advantage knowing the backgrounds and quirks of the major players, and how they would act in a particular situation. It saves a lot of time that might otherwise be spent figuring out what makes the characters tick.
Thriller fans need to check out Jess Lourey’s Salem’s Cipher, her first foray into the thriller genre. It has hidden puzzles that must be solved to avert a national, if not international, incident. It has secret societies that have been manipulating history for decades. It has villains worthy of the name. Better yet, if you are like me, it keeps you guessing.
Lourey may have decided to make Salem’s Cipher a thriller because thrillers are “consistently good sellers,” but she found herself falling in love with the style of writing. “Every other book I write, there are some scenes that are a joy to build, and others that feel like a chore. When writing Salem’s Cipher, every scene felt breathless. I couldn’t wait to write it.”
One of the things that sets Salem’s Cipher apart from many first thrillers is its pacing. Lourey realized the importance of this and to help her prepare she immersed herself in some of the best writing out there. “Three standouts that really helped me internalize the delicate dance between pacing and character development are Alison Gaylin’s And She Was, Chelsea Cain’s The Night Season, and Catriona McPherson’s The Day She Died. I am an outliner, and so I needed my pacing to be tight before I even started writing. Those three books gave me ideas of how to do it.”
Lourey started with several goals for Salem’s Cipher. She wanted to explore the ramifications of a child’s parent committing suicide. Second, “Like most people, I spend a lot of time worrying about saying the wrong thing, ruining everything, and generally not fitting in. I wanted to explore that in my fiction in the hopes of releasing some of it. Third and finally, I love puzzles. My brain cracks and pops like a mad dancer when it gets a chance to crack a code, solve a riddle, find a treasure. I wanted to create a book like a playground for minds like mine. Salem’s Cipher is the result.”
The characters in Salem’s Cipher are not run-of-the-mill. Lourey said she had the book’s concept before she had the main character. “I asked myself what kind of woman would be at the center of this story. She had to be smart, imperfect, and real, with a reason to solve puzzles. Meet Salem Wiley: Genius cryptanalyst and reluctant heroine of the series. You learn early in the book that Salem’s father killed himself, she feels responsible and she’s been agoraphobic ever since. I also dumped all my social fears into Salem so I could figure out how to overcome them. Finally, I made her a cryptanalyst to feed my hummingbird brain.”
Salem and her best friend Bel were more challenging to write than the protagonist of Lourey’s humorous Murder-by-the-Month series, Mira James. Mira is easy to write since she and Lourey share a number of personality traits. Bel and Salem are “much more challenging to write because they are cut of whole cloth and because both of them go through such a transformation in the book.”
Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard. Or Is It?
By Dawn Ius
Fans of D.P. Lyle’s darker, more noirish work may suddenly feel like they’re on the butt end of a badly written punchline, but Lyle’s new book is no laughing matter. Actually, that’s a lie. It’s funny as hell.
DEEP SIX is a comedic thriller. No joke.
While it may come as a shock to readers, the genre-shift wasn’t a surprise for Lyle, who credits his family for instilling in him the power of laughter. After eight successful dark and gritty novels, Lyle says he was ready for something light and … well, comedic.
“I had this idea for a funny story about a guy who gets bamboozled into a stakeout, and so I just started writing,” he says.
No outline. No concrete plot. No sense, in fact, of where a “comedic thriller” would even fit in today’s somewhat fickle marketplace. To Lyle’s pleasure, readers appear to be laughing (out loud!) with him rather than at him—and that is certainly something to chuckle about.
“Comedy is hard,” he says. “I could do stand-up comedy no problem, because when you’re speaking in front of an audience, you can gauge their reactions. It easier than writing. You don’t know if the one-liners and gags are making people laugh, because you write in a vacuum.”
True, but Lyle’s vacuum seems to be infused with laughing gas, because DEEP SIX is funny in all the right places, creating a page-turning experience reminiscent of Carl Hiasson’s work.
DEEP SIX centers on ex-professional baseball player Jake Longly who, despite much protest, gets sucked into doing a gig for his dad’s PI business. He’s just supposed to hang around, snap off a few shots of the suspected adulteress, and report back to pops. Easy peasy. That is, until his target gets herself killed.
An investigation into her death leads Jake and his cohorts—new girlfriend, Nicole Jemison and computer genius Tommy Jeffers—deep into a crime where murder and mayhem run rampant along the sugary beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama.
What would make a retired, independently wealthy archaeologist want to leave the comforts of his retreat in Costa Rica, join forces with an accountant from the Bureau of Audits and Reclamation, and fly to Europe in search of a mysterious notion with no foundation in reality, all while being chased by nefarious killers from a secret society older than Herodotus? Well, for starters, the accountant is coercive and, oh yes—she’s a knock-out.
Harry Thursday has been in trouble before in Robert Walton’s first novel, Fatal Snow. Now THE MASK OF MINOS takes the reader through an allegoric story retelling Theseus’ journey to becoming the ruler of Greece. Along that path, he is besotted by enemies and finally battles the son of Zeus, ruler of Crete, father of the Minotaur—half-man, half-bull. With the aid of his patron god Poseidon, Theseus brings down the once mighty kingdom in a fiery earthquake, freeing all from its oppressive dominance. And so Harry Thursday battles the secret society known to only a few as the Hyperboreans in his attempt to find—and keep them from finding—the powerful mythical mask.
Give us some insight into THE MASK OF MINOS. What does your main character, Harry Thursday, do that is so special?
THE MASK OF MINOS is the story, really, of an ordinary man cast into extraordinary situations. He’s a man no more courageous and heroic than you or me. But one of the things that is so fun about writing novels is one’s ability to put such people to all sorts of trials, run them through a plague of hardships and see how their moral strength airs through it all.
But in THE MASK, Harry carries out his destiny quite well—he mans-up, if you will—and saves the day; he even gets to kill a few people—all in the name of justice, of course, despite the fact that his general attitude is sometimes inappropriately casual for the affairs in which he’s involved.
By Basil Sands
Due to some business travel to Fairbanks Alaska I had the chance to read STARRIE by Heidi Ruby Miller in two sittings on the same day. And let me just say, I’m glad I had that opportunity. STARRIE is one ripping fast book and a well told story. I loved it! It was a perfect diversion as I looked out the airplane window across the billowing clouds and Alaskan mountains
Miller uses research for her stories as an excuse to roam the globe. With degrees in anthropology, geography, foreign languages, and writing, she knew early that penning fast-paced, exotic adventures would be her life. She’s put her experiences and studies to paper in her new, far-future novel. She took a short break from her travels to talk to The Big Thrill about STARRIE.
Please tell us about STARRIE.
This standalone novel runs concurrent with events which take place in Marked by Light, the first book of the big Ambasadora series main arc. It’s a little bit space opera, a little bit cyberpunk, and a lot science fiction adventure thriller.
Where did the character, Starrie come from? Is she based on a real person? Totally fictional? Or a secret version of yourself?
I doubt I could go through the abuse Naela did and come out of it so strongly. She reminds me a little of Aeryn Sun from Farscape with a dash of Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans, but with a better sense of humor than both.
As I read the story I was impressed by the tightness of the writing. How do you recommend new writers achieve good clean prose?
Like I tell my writing students at Seton Hill, know your intent for each scene—ideally, you will be showing characterization while moving the plot forward. A few words can be more powerful than an entire page, so make them count by eliminating redundancies, unnecessary gestures and facial expressions, and constant internal questioning by the POV character. Chapter outlines or summaries are a surefire way to keep each scene on task for me.
In college, Philip Donlay was once asked to write an article. He got a B on it, which made him angry. He sent the article off to a magazine, then, in the way of freshmen, forgot about it, until a check showed up in the mail.
This experience left him with the idea that writing is easy. Just write something, send it off, and a check shows up in the mail. Because he spent the next few decades flying all kinds of airplanes all over the world, it took him years to learn the truth.
He wrote his first three novels while working as a pilot. It was difficult, but he learned as he went. Oceanview bought his third novel. Donlay has just signed a two-book deal with them for the seventh and eight installment in the Donovan Nash (his pilot hero) series.
He’d always read thrillers, so it seemed natural to write one. And he was passionate about flying. “Most people who write about airplanes write from the point of view of the passengers,” Donlay says. “I drag the reader into the cockpit. Flying is breathtaking, naturally fast. The plane is a character. The weather is critical. There are lots of elements that make it compelling.”
There is a helicopter battle in his new book, PEGASUS DOWN, which had this reader white-knuckling her tablet as she read. It’s the sixth in the Donovan Nash series, but it stands alone perfectly well. Donlay brings a non-flying person into the cockpit, Montero, the kind of former FBI agent who sleeps with her gun and who was once Donovan’s nemesis (Book #3). She is a stand-in for the non-pilot reader who needs flying issues explained. Donlay aims to educate. “There’s a lot going on in an airplane that most passengers don’t know about and don’t see.”
In PEGASUS DOWN Donovan Nash has to rescue his beloved wife, Lauren, a CIA agent, from the middle of Eastern Europe after her mission goes horribly wrong. Within hours he assembles a crack team and a series of airplanes and helicopters, finds childcare for his five-year-old daughter, and is in Eastern Europe looking for his wife. Luckily his wife’s boss can tweak a satellite or two and help him pinpoint where she might be.
By Richard Edde
These days the line between fact and fantasy keeps getting increasingly blurred. That gray area between truth and fiction gets narrowed to a fine line. With all the advances in science and technology, the things we read in the books we buy and see in the movies can certainly cause us to pause. I have always enjoyed those novels whose plots were made plausible within a background of scientific information. The reader no longer knows what is fact or fiction but doesn’t care because the story is so good.
Since college I have been fascinated with the science of our human origins and the fossils that make up the collection of early humans and proto-humans. I read everything I could get my hands on describing Australopithicus, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and of course, the Neanderthals. In 1974 when the skeleton Lucy was discovered in Ethiopia, it was determined to be the oldest hominid fossil yet —3.2 million years old.
It was a revelation.
By then I had graduated from medical school and actively engaged in residency training but I still found time for my “other obsession.” The fact that our human ancestors had walked on this planet over three million years earlier was almost more than I could get my young mind around.
Lucy’s discovery marked a turning point in our understanding of human evolution. Even today scientists are still learning from her. Paleoanthropologists can visit her in Ethiopia’s National Museum in Addis Ababa, to run further analyses using new technologies. Perhaps her most important contribution was to spark a wave of research that has led to the discovery of many new species. The number of known species has more than doubled since Lucy, but many parts of the story still need to be filled in. Now there are much older fossils, some six million years old.
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.
By Jeff Ayers
In Timothy Washburn’s novel POWERLESS, a massive geomagnetic solar storm strikes without warning. It destroys every power grid in the northern hemisphere. In one week the human race is flung back into the dark ages. After which, survival becomes everything.
Only one man—army veteran Zeke Marshall—is prepared to handle a nightmare like this. But when he tries to reunite with his family in Dallas—across a lawless terrain as deadly as any battlefield—he discovers there are worse things in life than war. And there are terrible and unthinkable things he’ll have to do to survive…
Washburn chatted with The Big Thrill about his new book.
What sparked the idea for POWERLESS?
I read an article in a journal about the effects of space weather on the earth. That triggered a series of “what if” questions that I couldn’t ignore. I researched the issue further and what I discovered frightened me. The threat is real, and the power companies are woefully unprepared. Congressional hearings have been conducted, but, much like everything else in Washington, very little is being done. Scientists insist it’s only a matter of time before our planet is struck by a devastating solar storm.
Who is Zeke Marshall?
Zeke is a wounded man––both physically and emotionally. Wounded in the Iraq war, Zeke arrives at a stateside hospital to continue his healing process. While there he meets the woman of his dreams, only to have his life shattered once again. Seeking solace, Zeke migrates to his parent’s retirement hideaway in rural Oklahoma.
What was the Carrington Event?
On the morning of September 1, 1859, Richard Carrington, an amateur astronomer, observed a coronal mass ejection escaping from the surface of the sun. Fifteen hours later one of the largest geomagnetic storms ever recorded slammed into the earth’s magnetic field. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America were destroyed, with many telegraph operators suffering electrical shocks. Auroras were seen around the world, some bright enough to awaken sleeping residents. And this was all before the advent of electricity. Today, a geomagnetic storm of similar size would cripple most of the world. Damage estimates for such a storm would be in the trillions of dollars.
Writers often talk about writing a book of the heart, a phrase which refers to writing a book that may not be marketable, but one that the author feels compelled to write anyway. Some authors refer to this as a book that haunts you, a story they absolutely must tell.
I’ve come to think of the third book in my Shipwreck Adventures series, KNIGHT’S CROSS, as a book of the heart, but not because it emerged from somewhere deep in my soul or psyche. I use the phrase to describe this book that grew out of my experiences of meeting and falling in love with the man who is now my husband.
My books are international adventure thrillers, and I have sailed the Caribbean, traveled in Thailand, and backpacked through the Philippines to do research for the novels in this series. I enjoy living a life of adventure. Two years ago, I lived alone on my sailboat while cruising the east coast of the United States and out to the Bahamas.
One night I was hard at work on the edits of Dragon’s Triangle when I remembered I had to write a scheduled blog post. I wanted to finish the edits, so I decided instead to make a quick, funny video of my dog using an iPad app called My Talking Pet. I animated Barney’s mouth and had him complain about his dang owner who was always sitting in front of her computer screen. It was done in ten minutes, and I went back to work.
The next morning I had a comment from Wayne, a solo sailor in Fiji who also sailed with a dog. He asked what kind of software I had used to make the video. I replied, but the surprising thing was that he wrote back and thanked me. That was quite interesting as many people never write back with thanks, so I hit reply and wrote back.
By Karen Harper
Peter Tonkin’s first novel, Killer, was published in 1978. His work has included the acclaimed “Mariner” series that have been critically compared with the best of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Hammond Innes.
In BLIND REEF, Richard and Robin Mariner’s quest to rescue a kidnapped girl leads them into the perilous heart of the Sinai desert. They suddenly find themselves saving the lives of several refugees when their boat flounders on Shaab Ruhr Siyoul, known as the Blind Reef.
One of the survivors, Nahom, is of particular interest to the Mariners. His twin sister, Tsibekti, has been kidnapped and is being held for ransom by smugglers. Shocked by Nahom’s story, Richard and Robin soon become dangerously involved, travelling into the heart of the Sinai in their quest to find the lost girl. But they will need to tread a perilous path, steering clear of Egyptian police, Bedouin smugglers and militant Islamists to have any hope of rescuing Tsibekti and getting out of the desert alive
Please tell us about your new release, BLIND REEF, in your long-running Mariner series.
Although the Mariner series is mostly set at sea, BLIND REEF is the first adventure set largely on land. The land in question is the romantic, historic, fascinating, and occasionally deadly Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai is the triangle of land at the head of the Red Sea between Egypt, Palestine, and Israel. It is where most of the Book of Exodus in the Bible is said to have taken place. It is a scorching, mountainous, desert wilderness surrounded by some of the most wonderful coral reefs on earth. My wife Charmaine and I have holidayed there every summer for a decade, first in the tourist haven of Sharm el Sheikh and then in the divers’ paradise of Dahab – and it was inevitable that such an awe-inspiring location would eventually form the backbone of a novel.
Please tell us more about the story.
The increasingly regular headlines about people-smuggling eventually proved to be the inspiration for BLIND REEF. The world is now aware of the tsunami of refugees crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Fewer are aware of the lively trade in desperate people crossing the Sinai and running up through the desert wilderness of Saudi Arabia. In BLIND REEF Richard and Robin Mariner, holidaying in Sharm el Sheikh, become involved in a desperate attempt to rescue a young woman kidnapped by these smugglers and held for ransom under threat of rape and a terrible death or being offered for sale as a sex-slave. A situation tragically common among trafficked women. Once the idea was there, it was just a question of exploring the interior of the Sinai – we were already well acquainted with the coral reefs having snorkelled them. Our friends in Sharm and Dahab helped and advised with regard to the practical aspects of Scuba-diving the reefs and exploring the mountains to make the story absolutely authentic, timely, relevant and above all exciting.
By Jeremy Burns
For many thriller fans, author Matt Hilton is synonymous with his action hero and ex-counterterrorism soldier, Joe Hunter. Now, Hilton dials up the intrigue with the first in a new mystery series starring Tess Grey and “Po” Villere.
BLOOD TRACKS, which hit shelves in the UK in November and makes its global debut February 2016, forces an unlikely partnership in an action-packed quest to solve not only a staggering cross-country mystery, but also the ghosts of their own pasts.
This month, Hilton answered a few questions for The Big Thrill, giving readers a peek into his new book.
Tell us about BLOOD TRACKS.
BLOOD TRACKS is the first in a new series featuring investigator Tess Grey and renegade ex-con Nicolas “Po” Villere. The two are an unusual pairing of ex-cop and ex-con, thrown together in the search for a witness that takes them from Maine to Louisiana and back again, while trying to stay alive. Initially the two don’t like each other, but they come to realize that sometimes opposites really do attract. The book is action-packed, but it’s also more of a mystery than my readers might expect from me.
What was your initial inspiration for BLOOD TRACKS?
Joe Hunter thrillers are full of action and feature tough guys caught in tough scenarios, and when I sat down to write a new series, I wanted to challenge readers’ expectations, so I chose a woman’s POV. I hoped to develop a character that was recuperating from a severe injury and carrying the baggage of a failed law enforcement career, then throw her into the kind of desperate situations Hunter usually finds himself, and see how she fared. Because I’d set up a backstory for Tess, the writing of the novel came from the need to get her back in the saddle so to speak, and I had the idea of throwing her in at the deep end to do just that.
In Arabian mythology, they are called the “Jinn”—creatures who inhabit our world, yet live outside of our universe. But the superhuman assassin known as Cain is no myth—he is all too real, and all too deadly. CIA operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln has a very short time to learn the secret of Cain’s power, or she will soon witness the annihilation of Earth and everyone in it.
“The Cain Prophecy is a compelling blend of high-octane action and creepy thrills. Scary, dynamic and thoroughly entertaining!”
~Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Predator One and Patient Zero
“Ancient legends merge with modern-day complications, creating tension and turmoil in this high-stakes, gritty, action thriller. Never a dull moment!”
~Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Patriot Threat and The Lincoln Myth
By Basil Sands
An American Sherlock Holmes and Alan Quartermain wrapped together—that’s how I’d describe the characters in William E. Lemanski’s latest novel, MURDER IN TUXEDO PARK, a Victorian era mystery.
Lemanski is a Vietnam combat veteran, with an engineering background in the nuclear power industry. Since retiring from both the New York Power Authority and Entergy Nuclear Northeast, he’s worked as a freelance journalist in the Hudson Valley of New York, held public office as a councilman, and served as a police commissioner in the Town of Tuxedo, New York.
When not researching new book material, he spends time traveling the world on various big-game hunting expeditions. He is also the author of two other books, Adventures in Distant and Remote Places: A Memoir, and Lost in the Shadow of Fame: The Neglected Story of Kermit Roosevelt A Gallant and Tragic American.
This month, he spoke to The Big Thrill about the inspiration behind his newest release.
Tell us about MURDER IN TUXEDO PARK.
The story is in the spirit of a Conan Doyle, Victorian-era murder mystery. The venue is the wealthy, gated community of Tuxedo Park, New York in the latter 19th Century, where a deranged serial killer begins knocking-off some of the residents. The protagonist is a very eccentric and wealthy doctor residing in the Park, who is also an engineer. His esoteric interests include the workings of the brain and the mysterious motivations that drive criminals to commit their evil deeds. During his research at the Sing Sing penitentiary, he meets a comely young woman who is also studying murderers there for her doctorate thesis in psychiatry. However, they have distinct differences in theory regarding murderous motive. They team-up to find the killer while also falling in love.
Their many harrowing adventures and near misses take them to Africa and back, and through a court case as they pursue their elusive quarry.
By Ethan Cross
When antiquities are stolen from a museum near Delphi, British archaeologist Sarah Weston and her American partner, Daniel Madigan, are drawn into a deadly plot that goes beyond harmless role-playing—someone is using the Delphian oracle as a smoke screen for an information exchange with devastating consequences to the Western world.
Pitted against each other by the cult’s mastermind, Sarah and Daniel race against time and their own personal demons to uncover clues left behind by the ancients. Their mission: to find the original navel stone marked with a lost Pythagorean formula detailing the catastrophic events that led to the collapse of a legendary civilization. But will they find it in time to stop the ultimate terrorist act?
D.J. Niko’s, THE ORACLE, is the riveting third installment in her popular Sarah Weston Chronicles. This month, the author took a few minutes to talk to The Big Thrill about writing her latest release—and a lot more.
Tell us about THE ORACLE in one line.
A fast-paced thriller with a fascinating glimpse into pagan divination rituals that shaped politics in ancient Greece—and are being resurrected today.
Do you have any marketing advice for your fellow authors? Any techniques that you feel have worked especially well for you?
I enjoy the personal approach to marketing. Because I do a lot of research for my books, I have a body of knowledge that I love to share with people, whether they’ve read my books or not. I lecture and teach on my research topics, and that has proven effective in selling books and building a fan base.
Agro-Terrorism: “A Match Made in Hell”
By Josie Brown
Picking up the latest novel in the Caitlyn Strong Texas Ranger series is like checking in with an old friend: you can’t wait to begin where you left off, and you’re always a bit sad when the visit comes to an end. Which is proof positive that Jon Land deserves the accolades he’s earned from readers, reviewers, and his peers.
Interviewing Land about his latest novel, STRONG LIGHT OF DAY, was just as fun as reading one of his books. See for yourself:
As with most of your books, in STRONG LIGHT OF DAY there are many “spinning plates”—conflicts—put into play. For example, the missing students, the rancher’s herd, the SEALS ’ find, just to name a few. Which was the first plot point that came to you? And in what order did the others follow?
Great question to start off. And the answer is none of the above. The first plot point was the notion of a nightmarish genetic anomaly created by exposure to a genetically produced pesticide—I got that from an article in The New York Times. As soon as I saw that, a lightbulb flashed in my head, spelling “agro-terrorism.” Some research followed where I determined this was something the Russians really did look into doing during the Cold War. So now I have the reconstituted remnants of an old Soviet plot, which gave me one set of bad guys. For the other, I looked to a greedy petro-chemical magnate whose miraculous discovery turns out not to be so miraculous at all. Other things sprang from there, like the disappearance of the high-school students on a field trip.
But here’s the simple truth: I didn’t know exactly how all the individual strands were going to connect when I conceived them—in other words, the pieces of the puzzle kept coming, but I had no idea initially how they were going to fit together.
That’s part and parcel of my writing process.
When towering black obelisks start appearing around the Mediterranean, CIA operative Gabrielle Lincoln begins to question their presence, believing them to be far more ominous than simple country tributes. But if she’s right, humanity is about to be plunged into a living nightmare.
PRIMORDIAL is the second book in Toby Tate’s Lilitu series, and a continuation of his thrilling novel, Lilith. Tate took some time out of his schedule to talk to The Big Thrill this month about his latest release, including what about the sci-fi genre piques his interest and the exciting project he’s working on next.
Did you have a favorite character to write?
I think my favorite character would have to be CIA Operative Gabrielle “Gabe” Lincoln. She was born in the U.S. and raised by her parents in Australia. She came back to the U.S. to go to college and join the Air Force as an intelligence officer. She later joins the CIA as one of their best clandestine field operatives. She’s quite lethal, but has a soft side, as well. Two things that make her stand out are: a big red dragon tattoo across one shoulder, and her ten-inch, neon-green Zombie War Sword.
Why sci-fi? What got you interested in the genre?
I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Stories like The Martian Chronicles and John Carter of Mars just pulled me in and opened my imagination to new worlds. I’ve never read anyone yet who could mold the English language the way Bradbury could. He will always be the master storyteller.
What’s it like writing sci-fi? It’s like creating your own world, am I right?
Although there’s a lot of globe-hopping, my stories are all set on Earth. I do it that way because it’s more relatable to the reader to have things they are familiar with. Otherwise it just gets so far out that it’s easy to lose interest. But there are some bizarre creatures called Lilitu, which I think people will find fascinating. They start out as human, but when they come into contact with radiation, they mutate into these huge, vicious beasts.
Chris Kuzneski is the author of numerous international bestsellers. As a former college football player at Pitt, a former teacher, and someone who self-published his first novel before the literary establishment took notice, his rise among the ranks of the writing world is a testament to the fact there is no set path to success as an author. His books have sold millions of copies around the globe, and there is no reason to believe his latest will be any exception. Kuzneski was kind enough to answer some questions about his most recent release, THE PRISONER’S GOLD, and give readers of The Big Thrill a little insight into both the book and its author.
Congratulations on your latest novel, THE PRISONER’S GOLD. This is the third novel in the Hunters series. Can you tell us a little about this book and how you chose its central storyline?
Thanks, I’d be happy to. THE PRISONER’S GOLD focuses on Marco Polo and the treasure he supposedly left in China before returning to his native Italy. Although most readers are familiar with Polo’s name and major exploits, few people know about his imprisonment in Genoa and the close friendship he had with fellow inmate Rustichello da Pisa. I wanted to explore a few “what ifs” that sprang from that relationship. GOLD opens in 1298 A.D. in a Genoese prison cell, with Polo recovering from a savage beating at the hands of the guards. In his delirious state, he reveals a little bit too much information about his time in China—information that eventually gets into the hands of the Hunters. Using firsthand details from Polo himself, the Hunters head to modern-day China in hopes of finding the fortune he left behind.
Your protagonists are a team of well-financed experts tasked with tracking down lost and stolen treasures. Do you think the appeal of having characters with specialized backgrounds are easier or harder to write?
Both! In some ways it’s easier because my characters were asked to join the Hunters for a specific reason, so a lot of their DNA is built in to the roles they fill. The team leader, Jack Cobb, is former military. He believes in precision and discipline—the type of things you’d expect from an elite soldier. Sarah Ellis is ex-CIA. She eventually found her calling as a world-class thief but doesn’t view herself in those terms. She sees herself as an acquisitions expert, someone who can get anything if the reason is right. Hector Garcia is an FBI-trained hacker, able to do things with ones and zeroes that Stephen Hawking couldn’t comprehend. Then there’s Josh McNutt, a sniper/weapons expert who has seen more carnage in his life than the others combined. A pretty interesting group, right? Well, now comes the hard part. How do you make these characters unique? I mean, ex-soldiers are featured in half of the action series today, so what makes Cobb and McNutt different from the characters in Tom Clancy’s or Clive Cussler’s books—or even the characters in my Payne & Jones series? Like I said, that’s the hard part: figuring out how to make your characters stand out in a crowded marketplace.
By Jeremy Burns
William Lashner earned his writing chops penning legal thrillers that garnered comparisons to the work of John Grisham and Scott Turow. Now, with an Edgar Award nomination and a Shamus Award nod under his belt, he’s releasing one of the most intriguing tales in his decades-long career. A departure from the courtroom dramas longtime fans know him for, GUARANTEED HEROES creates a chilling vision of a post-apocalyptic America, yet is populated with all-too-human characters forced to confront timeless challenges that will surely resonate with readers in today’s world. In the build-up to what may be his most intriguing and creative work yet, Lashner sat down with The Big Thrill to give readers some advance insight into this fascinating adventure.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I write novels. For many years I was working on a series of legal thrillers with a down-and-out lawyer named Victor Carl as the ostensible hero. Lately I’ve been writing standalones thrillers and am really excited about the wild flexibility standalones offer. I’m just trying to stay as inventive as the thriller form allows.
So where have you gone with GUARANTEED HEROES?
It’s a classic story about a kid in prison who learns that his sister has gone missing and escapes to find her. Violence, of course, ensues. But I set the story in an alternate-history America where the Midwest has been wiped out in a series of nuclear tragedies and a new Constitution has been forged to deal with the consequences. The search takes place in this alternative landscape, from the still-standing city of Chicago, through the wild border town of Moline, and then into the nuclear-ravaged heart of the country.
The post-apocalyptic setting is a departure for you. Why did you choose to go this route with GUARANTEED HEROES, and what challenges or opportunities did you encounter in writing this type of book?
First of all, I thought it would be cool. But just as importantly, GUARANTEED HEROES is a book about freedom and how to create it for yourself in difficult circumstances, and the setting allowed me to make those circumstances more oppressive and dire, which is always a good thing in a thriller. The challenge was to keep the setting constantly inventive yet still rooted in reality, even if it’s an alternative reality. The fun part was hitting on an idea and, because of the freedom the setting allowed me as a writer, to run with it as far as it would take me. Sometimes it would run me right into a dead end, and I’d have to start again, but other times it lifted the whole story levels above what I expected when I started.
By Jeremy Burns
Ethan Cross burst onto the scene in 2011 with his blockbuster debut, The Shepherd, which rocketed its way to national and international bestseller status. Now, after further success with a prequel novella and two full-length sequels starring serial-killer-hunting investigator Marcus Williams, the secretive Shepherd Organization, and show-stealing antagonist Francis Ackerman, Jr., Cross has set his sights on a new series, one with a unique protagonist and a compelling world. The author sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his newest surefire hit, BLIND JUSTICE, starring an investigator who sees the clues and connections others don’t despite not seeing what most of us do.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am the International Bestselling Author of The Shepherd, The Prophet, The Cage, Father of Fear, and Callsign: Knight. Bestselling author Jon Land described The Prophet as “the best book of its kind since Thomas Harris retired Hannibal Lecter,” while Andrew Gross (#1 New York Times bestselling author of Reckless and Don’t Look Twice) called The Shepherd “a fast-paced, all-too-real thriller with a villain right out of James Patterson and Criminal Minds.” The Shepherd recently spent nineteen weeks in the Top 5 on the German Der Spiegel list and has been published in around 20 different languages. I live and write in a small town in rural Illinois with my wife, two daughters, one son, and two Shih Tzus.
Tell us about your new book, BLIND JUSTICE.
Deacon Munroe is not your average investigator. He’s intelligent, cultured, well-connected. And totally blind. With BLIND JUSTICE, I wanted to create a story featuring an investigator with the brilliance of Lincoln Rhyme being paired with a soldier with the determination and strength of Jack Reacher. And page one kicks off with the murder of the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Brothers Danny and Clay Gunn were brought up an ocean apart, but blood will out. Both served in the military, and both know how to kill, taking work as private military contractors and freelance fixers. But when they save a female journalist in the Nevada desert, it is they who become the targets, pursued by clandestine paramilitary forces …
To stay alive they must turn the tables, stop running, and become hunters once again.
James Hilton is the author of several Kindle-release titles and short stories. He is a Fourth Dan Blackbelt in Shotokan Karate, as has worked as a martial arts instructor, which has been invaluable in crafting his fight scenes. He is currently planning a YA series. He lives in Carlisle. His brother is bestselling thriller author Matt Hilton.
To learn more about James, please visit his website.
James Abel is a pseudonym for journalist Bob Reiss, who has covered the Arctic—the setting for PROTOCOL ZERO—for the magazines Smithsonian, Parade, Readers Digest, and Outside. He also wrote the nonfiction book The Eskimo and the Oil Man about the opening of the Arctic, advised 60 Minutes on Arctic issues, and has appeared as a guest on Morning Joe, Dan Rather Reports, Al Jazeera, and Nightline, discussing Arctic security and potential conflict.
PROTOCOL ZERO begins as a party of four scientific researchers, a family of three and their guide, makes a satellite call for help, but by the time Alaskan police arrive they are all dead. It looks like a murder/suicide, but then Marine bio-terror expert Joe Rush discovers that all the dead were sick with the most fatal disease on earth, yet one that never afflicts people in groups. At least until now. Through the ages, this very real disease has given rise to myth, terror, and folk tales.
Has the microbe evolved into something even more terrible, or has it been genetically engineered? And if the latter, who is behind it? More people are falling ill in Alaska. Soon the area will be quarantined, and the race will be on to stop the illness.
How did your work as a journalist in the Arctic lead to the plot for PROTOCOL ZERO?
The region is warming so fast that scientists believe that the next big outbreak of illness may come from a cold region, not a hot one. Add to that the competition between Arctic nations for territory, the race to get oil out of the ground there, the fact that the biggest new diamond mines on earth are in the Arctic…well, the real world provides all the elements of a thriller.
In the 15 years I’ve been writing thrillers, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people—from medical examiners and crime-lab directors to criminal profilers and homicide detectives. Because I don’t have a background in forensics or law enforcement, I’ve had to rely on experts who have generously offered their time and shared their experiences. Their real-life details have breathed life into my novels, and their friendships have enriched me personally as well as professionally. Through these experts, I’ve been able to write what I did not know.
Over the years my research has taken me through a variety of topics: the Ebola virus (Exposed); Munchausen syndrome by proxy (At the Stroke of Madness); the underground trafficking of body parts (Damaged); domestic terrorism (Black Friday); and food contamination in our school-lunch programs (Hotwire). One of the experts I met during this research told me about cadaver dogs. And ever since, I’ve been chomping at the bit to include one in a novel.
I’m a dog lover. I’ve surrounded myself with dogs my entire life, some of which have been rescues. I’ve had as many as six in my pack at one time. Each and every one of them has been a special member of my family—their entrance a celebration; their exit a deep and profound sadness. Yet I never truly realized the amazing capabilities that dogs possess until I started writing SILENT CREED. Not only do they have a keen sense of smell but they can also differentiate and sort through a variety of scents. And they do this over miles, despite barriers of dirt, water, and mounds of mahi-mahi—or in the case of SILENT CREED, debris and mud from a devastating mudslide.
The follow-up to the critically acclaimed Phoenix Island, which reads like “Lord of the Flies meets Wolverine and Cool Hand Luke” (F. Paul Wilson, creator of Repairman Jack) and inspired the CBS TV show Intelligence.
With a chip in his head and hundreds more throughout his body, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman was turned from an orphan with impulse control issues into a super-soldier. Forced into the mercenary Phoenix Force group, he begins to fear he’ll never escape. Sent to a volcanic island to fight for them, he’ll compete in a combat tournament that awards teens with survival for merciless brutality. But just when all looks lost, he spies a friendly face…and possibly a way out.
On Phoenix Island:
“Fantastic… superbly suspenseful… unpredictable and frightening. Phoenix Island will blow you away.”~Mark Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of Rogue and co-author of Private Games (with James Patterson)