By E. M. Powell
As a reader, how do you know you’re in for a treat before you even open the book at page one? A quick answer would be to say that it’s written by Heather Graham. Graham is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than one hundred books, boasting a career that has garnered her numerous awards.
My treat this month was THE DEAD PLAY ON, which is the third book in Graham’s Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn series. Based in New Orleans, Cafferty and Quinn solve unusual crimes that the cops can’t.
In this latest outing, an apparent suicide turns out to be one of a number of musicians who have been murdered. The body count continues to rise, with the saxophone of one of the dead men at the center of the mystery—and possibly sending messages from beyond the grave. It’s a colorful, atmospheric paranormal with a host of vibrant characters and a great heroine and hero at its heart.
In my The Big Thrill interview with Graham, she answers questions about the book and what has made her the writer she is.
For me, New Orleans was like another character in the book, providing the perfect atmosphere and setting for this gripping paranormal romantic suspense. Did the setting provide the inspiration for this series, or did Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn come calling first?
A bit of both! I was in the city mulling the kind of series I wanted to do and I saw the perfect place for their shop on a corner of Royal Street. Also, the city really lends itself to a paranormal suspense—and has as long as I can remember. It’s also a writer’s city—Truman Capote liked to claim he was born in the Monteleone (also on Royal Street) though I think the truth is that his mom went into labor there. Tennessee Williams—think A Streetcar Named Desire!—spent a great deal of time at the hotel, as did Eudora Welty, and many more. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a guest at the Cornstalk House while mulling Uncle Tom’s Cabin after seeing the slave market and . . . the list is endless! I have a free booklet up at Amazon that’s a collection of blogs on why I love NOLA for anyone interested. The city was simply perfect for the people I needed for the series—and the people were perfect for NOLA.
Known for capturing readers from the very first line and then surprising them with every carefully plotted twist and turn, what makes #1 New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben’s books downright frightening is the underlying message reminding us just how frail the line is between order and chaos in our lives. With his latest, that message is as strong as ever. Coben once again reminds us there is a reason we call it the “American Dream” and the scary part is the possibility that we are all on the verge of waking up. THE STRANGER (Dutton; March 24, 2015) centers on the many secrets people keep when they think they’re anonymous – especially online – and how easily those secrets can be revealed when that information falls into the wrong hands.
In THE STRANGER, readers meet the Prices, who appear to be the perfect family. Adam and Corrine have a great marriage, with two wonderful sons, and a nice house in the New Jersey suburbs. Their world gets turned upside down when Adam meets the Stranger. Adam doesn’t know who he is, what his motive is, but the secret he has just shared about Corrine is not only devastating, it’s true.
The evening after he confronts his wife, Corinne disappears – and without even as much as a note to her boys. Did she run off on her own or could the stranger have had something to do with it? As Adam searches for Corinne and tries to track down the stranger that has just destroyed his life, he realizes he is tangled in something far bigger and darker than even Corrine’s deception.
By John Clement
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP is the third book in Kristi Belcamino’s acclaimed series of thrillers chronicling the life of Gabriella Giovanni, an Italian-American crime reporter who happens to make a mean biscotti on the side. Not for nothing, Belcamino is herself Italian-American, and she knows a thing or two about baking biscotti as well, but it’s her career as a crime-beat reporter that imbues her fiction with a unique and rare note of authenticity. Her readers have come to expect suspenseful and gripping page-turners, and they’ll be happy to know that this new book does not disappoint.
I sat down with Belcamino to talk about her life, her work, and her latest novel.
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO WEEP is out this month, and it’s already receiving high praise from readers and critics alike. Can you talk a little about the story?
Gabriella stumbles onto a horrific crime scene with only one survivor—a baby girl found crawling between the dead bodies of her family members. Reeling from the slaughter, Gabriella clings to the infant. When Social Services pries the little girl from her arms, the enormity of the tragedy hits home. Diving deep into a case that brings her buried past to the forefront, Gabriella is determined to hunt down the killer who left this helpless baby an orphan. But one by one the clues all lead to a dead end, and Gabriella’s obsession with finding justice pulls her into a dark, tortuous spiral that is set to destroy everything she loves …
It is a story about family, forgiveness, betrayal, and government cover-ups.
By John Darrin
I was quite excited to get this assignment—Simon Wood, author of twelve novels, six short story collections, two audio books, and numerous non-fiction how-to articles. Quite a library of work. And I’m sure he’s sold a lot of them—over 500,000, I’m told. Five of those to me.
In THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, Wood delves into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, something we’ve all heard about and think we understand. His interest in the subject led him to study the subject with everyone from returning veterans and advocates for abused women, and he found that “PTSD is something people don’t understand generally. It’s something I didn’t really understand myself. I’ve attempted to highlight the issues and behaviors in the book with the hope people will look into the topic themselves.”
In addition to his own writing, Wood participates in writing and publishing events and even holds workshops on marketing. These came about in what has to be a formidable and impressive decision.
“About five years ago I was on the ropes career-wise. I’d lost one publisher, the rising popularity of ebooks and the recession was moving another publisher towards chapter 11 and my career looked dead. I was desperate, so I took a risk and invested in my writing. I negotiated my rights back, pulled together my backlist, repackaged it, promoted, advertised and did what I could to build a readership, and it worked. I built some momentum and ended up with new book contracts on the back of it. People asked how I did it and the workshops were born.”
By Jeff Ayers
Vincent Zandri is the NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than 16 novels including THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT RISES, and his latest, EVERYTHING BURNS.
When Reece Johnston was a boy, a fire destroyed his home, killing his mother and brothers while leaving him scarred for life. It also kindled something dark inside him: an irresistible attraction to flames in all their terrifying, tantalizing power. But after two failed arson attempts and two trips to the mental ward he was finally able to put down the matches and pick up the pieces.
With a career as a bestselling crime writer going strong, Reece is working to fix his broken marriage to Lisa and be there for their preteen daughter, Anna. He’s not just dealing with his own demons; there’s a world of deadly hurt bearing down on him in the form of the jealous rival he’s bested in literature and love, who’s determined to see Reece crash and burn. But a guy like Reece knows how to take the heat. And thanks to his lifelong friendship with fire, he also knows how to bring it.
Vincent chatted with The Big Thrill about his new novel and his past work.
What sparked the idea (pun intended) for EVERYTHING BURNS?
The basis for the plot was derived from the true story of my second wife and myself. We divorced some years ago, but stayed very close. For a while, my ex dated a would-be novelist. I found this rather odd since we, novelists, don’t exactly grow on trees. So what are the chances of that? Then one day, for reasons I won’t go into here, my ex-wife and I decided to start dating again. During that time, she underwent cosmetic eye surgery. On the morning her mother picked her up for the surgery, I also found out that the ex-boyfriend-would-be-novelist had been calling and texting again. Bingo! The plot for Everything Burns suddenly shot into my brain like a transfusion. The bit about the fire and the pyromania came later.
As a monstrous blizzard threatens to bury Atlanta, GA, high-tech business executive J.C. Riggins braves the storm to deliver a company proposal. If he doesn’t, the company will lose a big contract—and Riggins will lose his career. Meanwhile, weatherman Tom Priz is also fighting to keep his job. He can’t tell his boss, the beautiful and ambitious Sophie Lyons, just how bad the snow and wind will get because if he guesses wrong, they’ll become media laughing stocks and get tossed out onto the frozen streets.
In BLIZZARD, H.W. “Buzz” Bernard delivers a thriller that will tumble over you like an avalanche. Here, Bernard took some time to answer a few questions about his latest release, offer up advice for new writers, and tease a little about what he’s working on next.
In BLIZZARD, the narrative is actually two big stories woven together—the plotlines of J.C. Riggins and Tom Priz each trying to save their careers. The story depends a lot on the narrative switching back and forth between what’s happening to J.C. and Tom, yet the two characters live in separate worlds. I imagine this type of story would be hard to manage as a pantser, so what was your process?
My first novel, Eyewall, involved three different plot lines. I was advised by an experienced author to write the first draft of the book as three separate “novelettes,” then fit them together into a single, coherent story. Easier said than done. The “fitting them together” bit turned out to be a lot like working on a jigsaw puzzle that required me to cut and whittle the pieces to make everything fit. I decided maybe that wasn’t the best way to do things. So, in BLIZZARD, I basically wrote in chronological order, switching back and forth between the plot and subplot, at a pace I thought would keep readers engaged.
Sophie Lyons, Tom’s boss, was a great foil to present the commercial realities behind the weather business. Was she based on someone you know?
Not really. She and Tom represent the extremes of a dichotomy that exists in the real world: the split between professional meteorologists who endeavor to present forecasts of major weather events in a responsible, objective manner; and, members of the media who are too often all about generating hype, headlines, and hyperbole. Both characters are products of my imagination.
Bestselling author Alex Kava burst onto the publishing landscape in 2000 with her breakout novel, A Perfect evil. Since then, she’s written thirteen books and is the creator of the bestselling Maggie O’Dell series. Now, Kava begins a new series featuring ex-marine Ryder Creed, debuting in BREAKING CREED.
Despite his tough exterior, Ryder has soft spot for animals in need and has built a business rehabilitating abused and discarded dogs he then trains to be search animals. His weakness for the underdog leads him to rescue and harbor a young girl being used as a drug mule—despite the fact that it will make him the target of dangerous and ruthless drug dealers.
In this Q&A, Kava takes time to answer some questions about his start in the industry, his writing process, and what inspired BREAKING CREED.
You’ve stated in interviews that the two years leading up to your first book being published were very tough. You were working several jobs, one of them delivering newspapers, and had to rely on credit cards to make ends meet. What was it that allowed you to persevere in pursuing your dream of writing full-time, when so many others would have given up and gone back to their day jobs?
I was totally burned out in my previous career. I’d spent fifteen years in advertising, marketing and public relations. One day I just decided: “I can’t do this anymore.” I gave my two-weeks notice and quit my job as director of public relations. I’d always wanted to write. So I told myself that while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next with my life, I’d write a novel and try to get it published.
Of course I had to give myself a time limit because I knew my savings would only last so long, and I couldn’t afford to go too far into debt. During those two years my roof started leaking, my car had to be replaced along with almost every appliance in my house, and I had to say goodbye to my fourteen-year-old dog. Now it sounds like a bad country western song, but it was very tough. Probably the thing that kept me going the most was simply that I no longer wanted to do what I had been doing for fifteen years. I desperately needed a change even if it meant jeopardizing my comfort level.
By Wendy Tyson
Jean Heller is no stranger to the world of investigative reporting, and in her latest thriller, THE SOMEDAY FILE, Jean’s knowledge and experience show. THE SOMEDAY FILE follows the sharp and spirited Deuce Mora, a columnist for The Chicago Journal, in her dangerous quest for justice as she unravels the truth behind a fifty-year-old crime. Well-plotted and tightly-written, with a fascinating glimpse into the sometimes grim reality of print journalism, THE SOMEDAY FILE is a thrilling read.
Jean graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What can you tell us about THE SOMEDAY FILE that’s not on the back cover?
This is a book about obsession, guilt, obligation, and overcoming impossible odds under incredible pressure. Deuce Mora is a columnist for The Chicago Journal, a newspaper like most in the United States struggling against financial ruin in a digital world that seems to have left traditional newspapers in the gutter. She tries to interview an aging, low-level mobster who is living on beer, bourbon, and regret for the one mistake in his life that cost him everything. Deuce’s questions trigger a horrendous event that propels her into the nightmare of a fifty-year-old crime. To solve it, she must fight the cops, the Mob, politicians, prosecutors, and even her own editor. At the very least, Deuce’s quest will ruin her reputation and cost her job. Just as likely, it will cost her life.
As you note, The Chicago Journal is a newspaper struggling to survive in a digital world. You are well acquainted with journalism. In fact, you’ve had quite a career yourself, a career that includes eight Pulitzer Prize nominations. How have your experiences in the field of journalism impacted your novels? Deuce Mora’s character?
If I hadn’t been a journalist, I couldn’t have written the book. I was trained as a projects and an investigative reporter, which taught me legitimate ways to find elusive information. A retired New York City police detective said he was recommending the novel to young cops as a how-to on digging out information bad guys don’t want them to know. He told me my novel would be more effective than a police manual because the information is delivered in the context of a fascinating mystery, so young cops are more likely to remember it. And writers write what we know, or at least we should. I had so many incredible experiences as an investigative reporter I could populate a lifetime of thrillers. As for Deuce Mora, she’s younger than I am and taller than I am. But her sense of humor, her smartass responses to life, and her self-doubts are all mine.
By Tim O’Mara
I was in the Albany auditorium during the 2013 Barry Awards ceremony when Michael Sears and I both did not hear our names called for Best First Novel. About an hour later as we walked to a local bar to get some help with our mutual disappointment, he took the opportunity to call his wife.
“Hey, Hon” I remember him saying, “this not winning thing is getting a lot easier.” He laughed at something she said, but I could tell he’d rather be making the phone call for another reason. Michael’s first book, Black Fridays, had garnered five nominations and the Barry was the fourth one he “did not win.”
The following evening he took home the Shamus Award for “Best First P.I. Novel.” (“I didn’t even know I had written a P.I. Novel.”) He was so excited he called his mother and told her about the victory.
“Wonderful,” she said. “You won the Irish award.”
“I tried to spell the name for her,” he told me sometime later, “but she wouldn’t hear of it. She spelled it for me. To her it was the Seamus Award. And I had a second cousin Seamus so…it’s now known as ‘The Irish Award.’”
Speaking of cousins, Michael has always been close to his, and this was one of the reasons he decided to give his hero, ex–Wall Street wizard and ex-con Jason Stafford, a son who has autism. Two of his cousins have children “on the spectrum,” and Michael feels a great responsibility to get it right. (As a special education teacher, I can tell you he does just that.)
“Having a kid with autism,” he explained, “is an everyday reminder of never being able to do enough for your kids. It’s constant guilt. I’ve always been interested in writing about fathers and sons, and I felt very confident I could do this particular type of relationship. I read Temple Grandin’s book on how to parent an autistic child and I remember thinking, ‘This is true for any parent.’ The relationship between a parent and their child with autism is just so much more.”
Caroline Cashion’s idyllic upbringing has always been a source of comfort to her, the result of which is a close adult relationship with her parents and siblings. She leads a quiet, academically rich life, spending her days teaching nineteenth-century French literature, and nights with her nose buried in a book. So when her chronic wrist pain leads her to have an MRI, she is stunned to discover that she has been carrying around a bullet in her neck.
One discovery leads to another. As her past unravels, she learns that the first three years of her life are a mystery—her parents are not really her parents, but adopted her and kept it from her all her life. Readers accompany Caroline on her harrowing ride to discover who murdered her birth parents, and whether the evidence she never knew she had, will make her the killer’s next target.
You have extensive experience traveling the world and reporting on very serious matters. Did you find it hard to sequester yourself and spend hours on end in the world of fiction?
It’s just a completely different job. I don’t mean making up a story from scratch; you’d be surprised how much creativity a news reporter exercises every day. Sure, you’re constrained by the facts, but you decide how to tell your story: where to begin it, and which voices to include, and what details to deploy to bring your facts to life. Send two journalists to cover the same dull Senate hearing, and you’ll end up with two very different reports, and one may be vastly more informative and entertaining.
For me, a key difference between daily news and writing fiction is one of scale. A typical news reports for the BBC or NPR runs about four minutes. A typical novel runs about four hundred pages. It’s a fascinating challenge to figure out how to sustain a reader’s interest for that long. Curling up with a novel feels like one of the last holdouts of continuous, deep attention in today’s crazy world. We all have so many demands on our time, and if a reader chooses to invest several hours in my novel, well, I want to make it worth his while.
By Rob Brunet
Pastel hospital curtains offer more than a false sense of privacy. We know to look away. We try not to hear the conversation between doctor and patient. It’s personal. Not ours to know. With LITTLE BLACK LIES, Sandra Block takes us behind the curtain in a psychiatric ward and gives us an eyeful. She probes the mental state of everyone from her protagonist-doctor to the patients she treats.
The story is told through the eyes of Zoe Goldman, a psychiatric clinician. But Zoe is also a patient herself and the child of an institutionalized mother. The book peels back layers on the human mind while it draws us into Zoe’s life, revealing mysteries long kept hidden, buried deep, veiled by fire.
Block knows a thing or two about the human brain. As a neurologist, she has a special perspective on what makes us tick. She shared some of that perspective with The Big Thrill in an interview about her debut medical thriller.
Mental illness, dementia, altered perceptions of reality, and false memory—all of these weave together tightly in LITTLE BLACK LIES. At times, it seems everyone is somewhat off-kilter, or has been. Do you think that’s just part of the human condition?
Yes, that’s exactly Zoe’s opinion. Everyone is crazy; it’s just a matter of scale, otherwise known as the “human condition.” As one patient says, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”
In LITTLE BLACK LIES, Zoe Goldman has returned to Buffalo to complete medical studies after studying at Yale, whereas you did the same, but from Harvard. She’s a psychiatrist, you’re a neurologist. You know I have to ask, how much more of you is in Zoe.
My husband pointed out the same thing! Yes, there is some of me in Zoe and some of Zoe in me. I would say Zoe is more unstable and prone to self-destruction, while I’m a more centered (and certainly more boring) person. However, I also have about twenty years or so on Zoe, so I’ve managed to learn some tricks along the way.
By Dawn Ius
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger can usually pinpoint the exact moment, or germ for a novel. There’s a little zap, generally sparked by a poem, a slice of music, a news story, or in one instance, a piece of junk mail.
But in the case of her newest release, CRAZY LOVE YOU, Unger says she just woke up one day with an edgy, unstable voice in her head.
“I knew it wasn’t my voice because it was male, and he was a graphic novelist—a world I knew nothing about,” she says. “So I called up my friend Gregg Hurwitz, who has also written for graphic novels, and said, ‘Help! I don’t know anything about my character’s job.’”
Hurwitz immediately connected Unger with Judd Myer at Blastoff Comics who helped provide the important—and fascinating—background for Unger’s character, Ian.
Desperate to move on from the deadly family secrets he’s shared only with his best friend, Priss, Ian meets sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love inspires him to be a better man. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, bad things happen.
“At its core, CRAZY LOVE YOU is about obsessive love, the twisting nature of reality and fiction, and going down the rabbit hole of addiction,” she says.
It is perhaps one of Unger’s darkest stories, which is saying a lot since it marks her thirteenth published novel. Not surprisingly, several of her thrillers have made the New York Times bestseller list. With more than 1.8 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Unger is well known by her fans to produce stories that deliver a gripping plot and deeply complex characters.
I knew I’d find Jamie Mason sympathetic when I read in her bio that she hates the sound of ticking clocks. In the first few pages of MONDAY’S LIE, I knew I’d love her work too. It’s wonderful when you sit down with a new book and go “Ahhh, I’m in great hands here.”
The heartrending, crystalline opening (the central character, Dee Vess’s thirteen-year-old self laid bare)—mirrors my own philosophy: “later, and for years after, the thing that twisted me into a restless tangle in my sheets was the certainty that every normal night was on a hair trigger, leaning in at the ready to explode into something else entirely.”
Mason is a master of the psychological insight. Dee Vess defines herself by using her mother as a foil: “I’ve been adamant that her contradictions are not mine, that gentleness and warmth don’t come in the same package as danger and cunning.”
I’m in love with the character of the mother, Annette Vess, whose supreme self-possession and badass tradecraft coexist with deep maternal devotion. Annette, the undercover agent, cannot but help to train her two children: “In her games and in her axioms she’d been more candid with her soul than anyone else I’d ever known.”
Packages are delivered by moonlight, people are defined by what they hide. The atmosphere is dark, pulsing with apprehension, psychologically rich. Mason’s prose is elegant and strongly individual: “a cool grey tentacle of premonition strokes the back of my neck.” She talks of: “the burn of being prey.”
Over to Jamie for some fascinating and idiosyncratic insights into her life and work.
A major theme of MONDAY’S LIE (as the title would suggest!) is lies. As authors, I’ve always thought we are mythomanes, inventing legends for other people, not for ourselves. But those skills and that predisposition can easily spill over into our own lives. Are you partial to the occasional lie? If so, can you pull it off?
I don’t know if I’m any good at it, because beyond the occasional “little white lie” to grease the skids of everyday life, I try to avoid lying. This is not because I’m noble. It’s because I hate anxiety. I’m a cautious creature and I do what I can to arrange my life and my personality to keep my stress levels low. Lying about significant things would probably just do my head in.
In fact, his writing routine might seem tedious or even archaic to some—two handwritten drafts, followed by carefully reciting the book into the computer using speech recognition software, and then the often painful revision-edit-revision process.
But for Pinkerton, author of seven full-length works including his latest thriller, BENDER, this writing ritual allows for the greatest creative flexibility and control. Not to mention, a cool opportunity to garner extra interest in his books.
“I give away the handwritten pages,” he says. “Anyone who posts something about one of my books—a review, a book cover, anything—can contact me and I’ll send them a free page.”
This time around, that page would come from BENDER, the story of a recovering alcoholic who falls off the wagon with disastrous results. Described as The Hangover meets Hitchcock, BENDER is a twist on the classic set-up of an innocent man on the run, framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Except in this case, the consequences don’t only affect the protagonist—they also endanger his wife and daughter.
An NFL linebacker, Brian Williams, is found dead in the middle of the street in the Nation’s capital. Other famous athletes are murdered one by one in the following weeks. The serial killer stumps the police and FBI by using a different method in killing each victim.
This is the premise of Annie Rose Alexander’s new novel, RETRIBUTION.
In the story, homicide detectives Ariel Summers and Paul Costello interrogate victim Brian Williams’s wife, who hires Private Detective, Jason Steele, not knowing that Jason is Ariel’s boyfriend. Jason and Ariel clash when evidence surfaces that causes Ariel to arrest Brian’s wife. But as the death toll continues to rise, they are forced to work together on a plan to trap the nation’s most dangerous and cold-blooded assassin.
What prompted you to write this story? It touched upon a lot of cultural memes that made the story seem especially timely. And what’s your fascination with murder?
I think what prompted me to write this story was the murder of NFL Washington Redskins safety, Sean Taylor, and other athletes who were murdered before and after Sean’s untimely death.
I wouldn’t say that I have a fascination with murder but the public wants to know why people kill and they are intrigued by the ways people commit the crime. And I think people have a need to know about motivation and means in order to prevent crime and protect themselves from crime. And because of this need to know, or fascination with murder, the public buys the mysteries and thrillers we write.
Things that go Bump in the Night and Bodiless Voices that Haunt Me
A Journey into a Writer’s Mind
My father helped me to make my first crystal diode radio set for Halloween when I was just ten years old. I remember stringing the antenna, like a clothesline, between the grapefruit trees in my backyard and attaching it to the thin metal screen of my bedroom window and waiting, patiently for nightfall. Night, my father told me, was when radio signals—like things that go bump in the night—traveled best across the cooler desert floor. With my crudely-made copper-bound receiver at my bedside, I huddled beneath the sheets of my bed, pressed the earphones to my ears and strained to hear the scratchy voices of old radio plays. I was convinced I had pulled their bodiless voices through the ether and somehow managed to pierce the boundaries of a three dimensional universe.
My imagination was on fire.
I decided right then, if radio waves existed, other forms of communication, those not yet known to man and far more powerful, were hidden in the shadows around me. I just had to tap into them.
In my early writings I dabbled with the idea of alternative universes, living side-by-side with our own. None of it amounted to much. I was just a kid with a wild imagination. Remember that citrus orchard? By now it was strung with an early warning system to alert me of intruders. Our sequia, or the man who irrigated our orchard by moonlight, dressed in a poncho, sombrero and waders, was a space alien, and the largest of the trees, now my spaceship.
By Eileen Carr
A few years ago, I was at a writers’ conference and during one of those late night slightly boozy conversations, I mentioned an idea I had to another author. She thought it was a great idea and asked why I wasn’t actively working on it. I told her I wasn’t sure I could do it.
“Ah,” she said. “It scares you. Then that’s totally the book you should write.”
Her opinion was that if you had an idea that was big enough and important enough to you that it scared you to try to write it, then it absolutely had to be written.
Writing VEILED INTENTIONS has scared me more than writing any of my other books. I have written about serial killers and vampires and sociopaths and werewolves, but writing about the goings on in a northern California college town has kept me up at night and made me chew off more fingernails than all of the other books combined.
I was a little afraid of the subject matter. Part of the idea for the book came from my own ignorance. I got into a conversation about Islamophobia with someone. I found myself unable to support my opinion that an entire group of people should not be vilified based on their religious practices because I really didn’t know anything about Islam. I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking to people, but I’m still afraid I didn’t get my facts straight.
I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the voices right. There are several teenaged characters in the books and while I’m kind of immature, I’m pretty far from being a teenager. Luckily, I had actual live teenagers in the house upon whom I could eavesdrop. They were also very patient with me asking what the kids are calling things these days. But slang changes quickly and book publication is slow. I’m afraid that what was au courant while I was writing might be old and busted now.
By Rob Brunet
The world’s eyes are turning to the Arctic, and none more acutely than James Abel’s. A pseudonym for a journalist with deep experience in far-flung places, Abel is the author of WHITE PLAGUE. The thriller is set in a part of the world largely ignored in geopolitical fiction since Alistair MacLean wrote books like Athabasca and Ice Station Zebra.
Abel’s three decades of research and writing have taken him to the Amazon, the Sudan, the Galapagos, the Maldives, and Somalia—places where he’s encountered “the border between order and anarchy.” That borderland is where he has set the first in a series of thrillers featuring Joe Rush, a Marine doctor tasked with rescuing the crew of the United States Navy’s newest submarine.
The sub has surfaced north of Alaska, on fire, and what Rush discovers is far worse than a nautical accident. The crew are sick and dying, with 103-degree fevers, wracking coughs bringing up frothy blood, and blotched faces and chests along with burns from the fire. The sub is under foreign military threat, and spies are aboard the icebreaker that carries Rush there. If he cannot effect the rescue in secret, he must destroy the sub, because what is happening hidden from public view threatens not only the Arctic but the rest of the world.
“The new Arctic is a character in this novel,” says Abel. As shipping lanes open up, there’s a race for undersea territory among the circumpolar nations. The United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (via a self-asserting Greenland) are all staking claims. It’s no wonder. Estimates are roughly twenty per cent of the planet’s discoverable oil fields are under the Arctic Ocean, and the region is already home to the world’s largest diamond mines.
The suspense of international intrigue is not restricted to government intelligence agents, as M. A. Lawson proves in his latest novel, VIKING BAY.
This novel continues the adventures of Kay Hamilton, the DEA agent protagonist who went rogue in Rosarito Beach. In VIKING BAY, Hamilton is ejected from the DEA and goes undercover in Afghanistan for a private firm. Hamilton is perfect for such an assignment. She’s a confident, independent woman who is fearless, competitive, and as comfortable in the world of espionage as James Bond. But as Lawson points out, his heroine is not perfect.
“She’s not a team player,” Lawson says. “She feels the rules don’t apply to her. She has a hard time admitting when she’s wrong. And lastly, she’s a mother that’s not the least bit maternal—although she’s trying.”
In need of a job so she can take care of her daughter, Hamilton goes to work for a shadowy quasi-governmental agency called the Callahan Group. Her first mission is to get close to Ara Khan, daughter of the man the U.S. government wants to become Afghanistan’s next president. Ara is her father’s key political advisor, and Hamilton must go undercover to learn her secrets and prod her thinking in line with America’s interests. It’s realistic and thrilling spy work until things go horribly wrong at a clandestine meeting in Afghanistan. Hamilton then faces the kind of danger fictional heroines often face. But does Hamilton see herself as a heroine?
“Not at all,” Lawson says. “She’s thrust into situations she’d avoid if she possibly could, but when she can’t, she does what’s necessary. But she’s not trying to be a hero. She’s just trying to do a dangerous job and come out of it alive.”
In preparation for writing his first novel, CONCH TOWN GIRL, Daniel J. Barrett’s read over 1,500 books, all in the last several years. Upon completion, Barrett’s debut work found a home at Black Opal Books, a boutique press founded in October 2010, dedicated to producing quality books with “stories that just have to be told.”
Barrett’s protagonist, Julie Chapman, grew up in Key Largo, a tenth-generation Conch. After the deaths of her parents, she is raised in the Florida Keys by her grandmother, Tillie. Then one night Tillie is involved in a car accident and ends up in a coma, leaving Julie and her best friend Joe to wonder if it really was an accident. As Julie and Joe start digging for the truth, they uncover some dark and desperate secrets that may not only stir up a great deal of trouble, but also cost them their lives.
“Developing characters from my imagination is very rewarding,” Barrett has said. “Having people discuss these individuals as if they are real people is very satisfying. I hope that you enjoy reading CONCH TOWN GIRL as much as I have enjoyed writing it.”
By J. H. Bográn
As the famous story goes, Steven Spielberg ran into Michael Crichton and asked what he was working on. The author replied with two words: DNA and dinosaurs. Of course, this later became the franchise known as Jurassic Park. Now, author Cara Brookins is taking DNA, and its experimentation in a totally different direction. For starters, as Brookins revealed to us this month, we’re now talking about humans.
What’s the premise of your new book, LITTLE BOY BLU?
Blu Tracey grew up isolated in the Appalachian Mountains and is the only child in his family without a genetic abnormality that causes blue skin. But when he discovers his mother intentionally had abnormal children for a reality television show, he becomes the target of a killer. If Blu doesn’t expose someone in his own family as a suspect, his siblings will be exploited for their rare, genetic mutation, and worse, they could be the next targets in the killer’s pursuit of fame.
How did the idea behind the DNA abnormality come about?
I’ve always been interested in science and unusual genetic possibilities. I read a short news article about Methemoglobinemia, a rare genetic abnormality that originated in the Appalachian Mountains, and instantly knew I had to write a novel about it. I tucked it away in my idea dump folder and waited for a plot to take root. I loved the sci-fi feel of blue-skinned people and the remote setting allowed for sinister possibilities.
Blu’s character came to me immediately, including that he was the only child in his family who was not blue. But it wasn’t until several weeks later, after reading a separate news story about Nadya Suleman (known as Octomom) that I put the full plot together with the mom’s motivations. Suleman appears to have intentionally given birth to multiple children with the hopes of a reality show. The natural question became, “How far will a person go for fame?” And more importantly, “How gray are the lines of this mindset?” In our reality show–obsessed society, it fit very well for a contemporary novel. I especially love that even though it sounds like wild fiction, it’s all possible.
By Basil Sands
DARKNET is John R. Little’s fourteenth book. Primarily working in suspense, horror, and dark fantasy, his novella Miranda, won the Bram Stoker Award. Two of his other books, Ursa Major and The Memory Tree, were also nominated for the same award. In addition to novels, John has published dozens of short stories over his career. He lives in southern Ontario and writes as much as possible. You can find out more on his website or on Facebook, where he loves to interact with his readers.
John, tell us about DARKNET.
The novel is about a woman who has no way to escape from her abusive husband. She’s desperate to find a way to have a new life with her ten-year-old daughter, but she can’t find a way. However, she learns about the dark side of the Internet, where anything is possible, including hiring a contract killer. With no other option, she starts a conversation with an anonymous killer, but that soon results in consequences for her that she could never have predicted.
Although based in real technological situations, the novel is really about a scared woman who is trying desperately to save her daughter.
DARKNET addresses some very dark sides of human personality, including abusive relationships, sociopathic behavior, and revenge. What was your motivation for writing on such themes?
I’ve wondered that myself over my career. I think that some writers are born to write romances, some crave the wonder of science fiction, while I’m drawn to the darker side of the human condition. I’ve loved reading horror and other types of dark fiction my whole life, and those are also the movies I watch. Why? I think it’s just something in the genes. They control how tall I am, the color of my eyes, and the type of stories that fascinate me. I don’t know how else we find at such a young age that a certain type of fiction appeals to us more than others.
By George Ebey
Author Patricia Stoltey steps into the world of suspense fiction with her latest novel, DEAD WRONG.
Lynnette is a woman on the run from her abusive cop husband, but she’s dead wrong about who’s chasing her. A thug known as Fat Ass Sammy Grick carelessly switches laptop cases at the airport and puts Lynnette in greater danger from Sammy’s boss and the killer sent to retrieve the laptop contents. Then Lynnette finds out her husband was murdered and she’s a person of interest….
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Patricia to discuss the writing process and to learn more about the world of DEAD WRONG.
What first got you interested in writing crime fiction?
My mom introduced me to the traditional mystery novel when I ran out of Nancy Drew books to read, so I was hooked by the genre very early. Once I read a few thousand mysteries and thrillers, I began to wonder if I could craft one. I created Sylvia Thorn and Willie Grisseljon, a brother and sister in the over sixty crowd and let them help solve a couple of murders. Series are limiting, however, so trying out stand-alone suspense was my next challenge.
How did the idea for DEAD WRONG come to you?
I love to read “woman on the run” novels, so I started there. The criminals in DEAD WRONG are involved in a check theft ring. That idea came from a real-life experience many years ago when a large check was stolen from the company I worked for. In conversations with an FBI agent later, I learned about the check theft ring and how they managed to get a check cashed before most accounting departments discovered the check was missing. I have no idea where the foul-mouthed thug Fat Ass Sammy Grick came from, but I had a lot of fun writing from his point of view.
By Ken Isaacson
When Reece Hirsch’s debut novel, The Insider, hit the scene, John Lescroart proclaimed that he was fit to run with the big boys, while Gayle Lynds warned John Grisham to watch his back. The Insider was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. With the upcoming release of Reece’s third book, INTRUSION, he proves himself once more to be worthy of the acclaim.
All of Reece’s books draw upon his experiences as an attorney—though his legal work is a lot less exciting and hazardous than that of his protagonist Chris Bruen. Reece is a partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm and co-chairs its privacy and cybersecurity practice.
In INTRUSION (coming December 9 in eBook, Paperback and Audiobook from Thomas & Mercer), we once more meet attorney Bruen, former DOJ cybercrimes prosecutor. When a powerful client summons him for a midnight meeting, Bruen knows something is very wrong. Zapper, the world’s most popular search engine, has been compromised, and its most valuable asset—search algorithms—has been stolen. The company suspects that this most recent instance in a wave of high-tech crimes originated in China, and that the government itself is behind the systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property.
Bruen travels to China to search for evidence that will link the intrusion to the People’s Liberation Army. With remote assistance from Zoey Doucet, the head of his firm’s computer forensics lab and his maybe-girlfriend, Bruen uncovers information that takes him even deeper into the shadowy world of cybercrime. Now he is trapped in a foreign land with a hard drive containing information that puts his life in jeopardy. In this secretive world of Big Data, Bruen will risk everything to fight an elusive enemy as far-reaching as the Internet itself.
By Rick Reed
In DEAD OF AUTUMN, Alexa Williams is a successful lawyer who volunteers weekly at a women’s clinic. One autumn day she takes Scout, her giant English Mastiff, into the Pennsylvania woods, and her world is turned upside down with the discovery of a body. She becomes entangled in a murder mystery—one that she tries to unravel by linking it to experiences in her own life and can’t shake the feeling that there is some sort of connection to the murder victim. She thinks back to the stories she heard as a child, about the Babes in the Woods, who were murdered close to where the victim’s body was found, wondering if that might be why she draws the connection.
Alexa soon finds herself amidst violence aimed at the clinic where she volunteers, when she’s almost raped, ambushed by religious zealots who wish to convert her. When the murderer strikes again, Alexa must rely on her knowledge of local history and terrain in order to save her own life.
Almost a century earlier, Dewilla Noakes, a child of the Depression, has recently lost her mother. Dewilla’s father packs up the girls—and their attractive cousin, Winnie—and hits the road to look for a job on the east coast. Along the way, money becomes tighter, food becomes scarce, and relationships become strained. Dewilla’s father fears he’s brought nothing but misery to his family. Running out of options, he begins to consider the unthinkable…
DEAD of AUTUMN ties together the struggles faced by females, young and old, past and present, and the degrees of power they embrace to combat their situations.
Tell us about Alexa Williams. What kind of person is she, and how did you create her character?
Alexa is smart, articulated and committed. In her late twenties, she’s still learning her strengths but still has a tendency to want to please other people. She was dumped by the love of her life. Now, she’s avoiding a serious relationship by experimenting with casual sex. During the course of the novel, Alexa’s character evolves. She comes into her own as she confronts mounting danger.
By John Raab
Steven James brings his epic Patrick Bowers series to an exploding conclusion with CHECKMATE. The bestselling author of more than three dozen books put his master’s degree in storytelling to good use in this compelling and satisfying end to the series that began with James’s riveting, The Pawn. Already, CHECKMATE has been named a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2014.
Despite the end of an era, James fans need not fear, the author is hard at work on more novels. And, as he recently explained to THE BIG THRILL, it may not be the last fans see of Patrick Bowers.
CHECKMATE is the last book in your Patrick Bowers series. Give us a little insight into how the series wraps up.
Well, without giving too much away, I can say that a few years ago when I was writing one of the other books in the series I was truly frightened by the antagonist. I had nightmares and actually had to set the book aside for a month before coming back to it. So, I’ve wanted to see that villain return and now, at last, he does—along with Patrick Bowers’s nemesis, who has been lurking in the background for much of the series. So, Patrick has to face both of them and stop a plot that involves one of the deadliest attacks ever on U.S. soil. It creates an unexpected ending with a lot of twists along the way.
You don’t outline before you write your novels, so the ending of the series was a surprise to you also, but when did you realize exactly how it would end?
That’s a good question. I really work hard to make sure that each addition to my series is unique and not a cookie-cutter plot, so as I worked on this book I kept thinking, “I could use a knife fight… no, wait, I did that earlier.” Or, “I could have a chase scene in a warehouse… no, been there, done that.” So, while I wanted to avoid repetition and I had lots of promises to keep from the previous seven books, I wanted something unique, exciting, and unforgettable. It wasn’t until about a month or so until my deadline that I came up with that ending. It took some long days of writing and editing to pull it all together. I honestly believe that writing organically and being open to the story’s direction are some of the keys to great storytelling. I have yet to write a book in which I knew the ending when I started writing it. I love twists and I figure that if I’m not surprised by the direction of the story most of my readers won’t be either.
From an early age, Elizabeth Heiter always knew she wanted to write novels.
“I’ve always been drawn to fiction—I love it. I love getting lost in it and figuring out the mental puzzle of a mystery… I took as many creative writing classes in college as I could because I’ve always known I wanted to do this. I almost went to law school, but decided no—I wanted to write books more,” said Heiter, of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, who graduated from The University of Michigan in 2001 with her undergraduate degree in English literature.
Heiter has a slew of books coming out in the months ahead. The first of four books is Vanished, the second book in the Profiler series of mystery-thrillers, which will be released Dec. 30. After that, each book in The Lawmen trilogy—Disarming Detective, Seduced by the Sniper, S.W.A.T. Secret Admirer—will be released one after the other in February, March, and April, respectively.
Vanished, the sequel to Hunted—which debuted in late 2013—features FBI criminal profiler Evelyn Baine.
“I knew I wanted to write about a profiler,” recalled Heiter. “I started reading about profiling; it was really fascinating to me that you could have someone go to a crime scene where there weren’t any suspects because the victim didn’t really have any enemies and there wasn’t any good forensic evidence to use, but you could get someone to just look at a crime scene… (and say) what kind of person had done it. I thought that was so fascinating, so I knew I wanted to write a profiler.”
Heiter made it clear that Evelyn is not psychic. “I didn’t want Evelyn to be psychic in any way; I wanted her to do the work. I wanted her to understand it in a way so that when she profiles something, I would be doing it properly. So I took a lot of old cases and tried to profile them, then compare it to the outcome to see how I did. I could make up a crime scene, have her look at it and say, ‘Okay, this is the kind of person that I would suspect did it.’ I really wanted it to be accurate,” she explained.
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 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.
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?