A Writer Who Defies Expectations
Alex Kava’s literary career is a beautiful paradox. In addition to great writing, a series of accidents, surprises, and unintended consequences have helped bring us some of the most beloved mystery thrillers being written today. On the eve of the release of her latest novel, RECKLESS CREED, Kava spoke to The Big Thrill about her surprising journey.
To begin with, Kava didn’t set out to write thrillers. In fact, genre was not a consideration at all.
“When I wrote my first novel, A Perfect Evil, I wanted to capture the raw emotions of a small-town community held hostage by a killer,” she says. “My killer was loosely based on serial killer John Joubert. I worked for a newspaper during Joubert’s killing spree in the fall of 1983. He kidnapped and murdered two Nebraska boys before his capture.”
Surprise number two: Although she worked on the paper, she was not a journalist but a paste-up artist and part-time copy editor. Still, being in the building, she learned more about the case than the general public. So when she decided to write a novel, she was able to use bits and pieces from the Joubert case. By then she had already committed to writing after 15 years in marketing and advertising.
“I quit my job as director of public relations for a small college. I’d always wanted to write novels. I even had one in my bottom desk drawer that had received 116 rejections from literary agents.”
That novel remains unpublished, but she moved full steam ahead into the next, doing whatever she had to, to give herself time to write.
“I taught part-time, delivered the Omaha World Herald on the weekends, and ran up my credit cards to help pay the mortgage and living expenses while I wrote A Perfect Evil.”
With so much marketing experience, you might think she sold that novel easily. Well, not exactly, but she was sharp enough to see the lesson in her 116 rejections.
“There were too many comments in the margins that said stuff like, ‘This is too harsh to be a romance,’ or, ‘The suspense is good but you need to tone down the violence,’ or ‘Add some romance,’ ” Kava says. “I suspected that the literary agents expected a romantic suspense novel from Sharon Kava, which is my real name.”
Taking a Series to New Heights
Anyone who has attended ThrillerFest knows Jon Land, award-winning author of bestselling novels and nonfiction, including his series featuring Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. They’ll also recognize him as a tireless whirlwind of energy, whose larger-than-life personality matches his increasingly action-packed thrillers. His latest is certainly no exception.
I met Jon Land at ThrillerFest 2012 when he gave a CraftFest session on pitching a book to agents. His advice: Speak from the heart about why your story means so much to you as a writer, why it demanded to be written. So I thought it would be fun to turn the tables and ask him to give us a pitch for STRONG COLD DEAD.
What makes the eighth story in his series as compelling as the first?
Wow, making me think right off the bat—that’s not fair! Okay, how about this: ISIS comes to Texas and only Caitlin Strong can stop them from unleashing a deadly weapon on American soil, somehow connected to a long-buried mystery on a shadowy Indian reservation. Does that make you want to read the book? As for the second part of your question, what makes STRONG COLD DEAD as compelling as Strong Enough to Die is that the characters are facing different challenges. Caitlin’s surrogate son Dylan, for example, has fallen in love with a Native American girl who may or may not be setting him up. As for Caitlin, well, she has a personal history with one of the book’s primary villains.
You’ve talked in previous Big Thrill interviews about how you developed the character of Caitlin Strong to fill a gap in the market re: women in action thrillers. Now she faces growing competition. Do you have a strategy for keeping her “strong”?
That’s another great question! As the series has progressed, the books have spiraled out into the more traditional action thriller form. The action scenes have gotten bigger, the villains badder, and the plots more devious and potentially devastating—in other words, the stakes have gotten higher across the board and that includes emotionally for the characters. I think it’s fun watching Caitlin deal with the fact that she’s become a living legend. Keeping her “strong” isn’t just about her prowess in bringing down the bad guys, it’s also about how she negotiates the politics of law enforcement and deals with the emotional demands of her lifestyle.
A Journalist on the Hunt for a Killer
By Dawn Ius
R.G. Belsky knows his way around a newsroom.
Now, with the release of the new book in his Gil Malloy mystery thriller series, Belsky deftly demonstrates that he also knows his way outside of the newsroom, delivering another gripping story featuring his hard-driving reporter with a penchant for breaking stories on the front page of the New York Daily News.
In BLONDE ICE, Malloy is inadvertently caught up in the hunt for a devious killer—a fair-haired femme fatale who is killing men for thrills.
“Serial killers are such a staple of so many things,” Belsky says. “But one thing I noticed—especially in fiction—is that there are so few women serial killers. I thought it was a fresh concept.”
Definitely, though writing about women is almost old hat to Belsky, whose previous works have included several female characters, often in a lead protagonist role.
“I find writing about women easier in some ways,” he says. “I had a lot of fun putting myself in the character’s head space. It makes it more unique, and the story flows better. If the writing was hard, I wouldn’t want to write the book.”
To loosen the process, Belsky begins with excellent character development, which is what he first looks for when reading the works of his peers. Once settled into point—or points—of view, Belsky is ready to take his cast on an epic journey of twists and turns that ultimately shape the plot.
By Basil Sands
Best Selling author Diane Capri has two action packed books coming out back to back. First is Book #7 of The Hunt for Jack Reacher Series DEEP COVER JACK. Then comes BLOOD TRAILS, a new series. Diane Capri is the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon bestselling author of numerous series, including the Hunt for Justice and Hunt for Jack Reacher series and the Jess Kimball Thrillers .A former lawyer, she now divides her time between Florida and Michigan. Capri has been nominated for several awards, including the International Thriller Award, and she won the Silver award for Best Thriller e-Book from the Independent Publishers Association. She is currently at work on her next novel.
Diane, you’ve got two books coming out. Tell us about them.
In DEEP COVER JACK, FBI Special Agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar pick up where Lee Child’s “Persuader” leaves off in The Hunt for Jack Reacher. In this exciting follow-up to the ITW Thriller Award nominated “Jack and Joe, Otto and Gaspar will wait no longer. They head to Houston to find Susan Duffy, one of Reacher’s known associates, determined to get answers. But Duffy’s left town, headed for trouble. Otto and Gaspar are right behind her and powerful enemies with their backs against the wall will stop at nothing to keep the secrets Reacher left behind.
Hunting Jack Reacher is deadly business — and lots of thrills. As Lee Child put it when this series was being conceived, “Who in their right mind would go looking for Reacher?” Otto and Gaspar are on the hunt and have lived to share their adventures with us — so far.
BLOOD TRAILS, a completely different series, tells the story of Michael Flint, an heir hunter of last resort. A forensic genealogist and former clandestine agent specializing in high-end private investigations, he promises clients he can find anyone, anytime, anywhere—dead or alive. Laura Oakwood stands to lose more than $50 million in mineral royalties if she’s not found within seventy-two hours. But she presents an extra challenge: she’s been running from the law due to her involvement in a deadly armed robbery twenty-eight years ago.
What can you tell us about your book that we won’t find in the jacket copy for the Hunt for Jack Reacher series?
It’s very difficult to write this series, and Deep Cover Jack was no exception. My books in this series have a long list of rules and coloring inside the lines is quite a challenge. In Deep Cover Jack, Otto and Gaspar are battling one of the biggest blizzards to hit the east coast on Thanksgiving weekend while they attempt a rescue from a remote location on the Maine coast, a fortress Reacher breached in Persuader. Reacher survived then. Everything about this story was a challenge.
Paul McGoran’s chronicle of the elegant but toxic Chitworth clan continues in THE BREASTPLATE OF FAITH AND LOVE (New Pulp Press)—his follow-up to the 2015 noir thriller, Made for Murder. The action begins in old-money Newport, then shifts to a contrasting pair of upscale and hardscrabble neighborhoods in San Francisco.
While the new novel stands alone as a psychological thriller/murder mystery combo, it also marks the start of a series featuring P.I. Stafford Boyle, a small-time gumshoe from Rhode Island. His keynote is a kind of sophisticated naivety. He’s the kind of fellow who relates his clients and their cases to his favorite film noir plots and the actors who starred in them. He’s also a dogged sleuth.
Stymied at first by a job that has him chasing down a promiscuous reality-show winner and a missing fiancée, Boyle is refocused when the trail leads to Dismas Cottage, the gilded-age mansion of the wealthy Chitworths. Under a mandate from Ivan and Claudia Chitworth to conduct a ‘discrete’ investigation of their west coast relatives, a reluctant Boyle departs the cozy confines of Newport and flies to San Francisco where he confronts:
- A pair of socialite sisters haunted by scandal;
- Two ex-cons battling over an extortion scheme;
- A family stonewalling the cops about a corpse on the staircase; and
- A youngster pondering the legacy of his serial killer daddy.
It’s a hell of a mess, but it’s all connected, and Boyle must figure out how. When the last piece of the puzzle locks into place, he’ll be forced to abandon his client and break the law to protect the life of an innocent child.
THE BREASTPLATE OF FAITH AND LOVE has a spooky sound to it. What does your title refer to?
In the novel, it’s the name of a storefront mission in San Francisco. Beyond that, it symbolizes the strength found in truth and forgiveness, something my cast of confused and volatile characters needs to contemplate. The phrase goes back to St. Paul in the New Testament.
Writing a Gutsy Heroine From the Heart
By Wendy Tyson
Hank Phillippi Ryan is well known on several fronts. She’s an award-winning on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate and an award-winning bestselling crime author. Fans love her Charlotte McNally series and her Jane Ryland thrillers—as well as her anthologies and short stories. How does she do it all? This month in The Big Thrill, Hank shares a few of her secrets. She also gives us a glimpse into AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME, her two summertime releases from the popular Charlotte McNally series. Thanks to some innovative moves, Charlotte is back.
Congratulations on the recent release of AIR TIME and the upcoming release of DRIVE TIME. What an exciting summer—two releases in the Charlotte McNally Series in as many months. Many readers know and love your Jane Ryland thrillers, but you actually wrote the Charlotte McNally series first, and now that series is back in print. Can you tell us something about AIR TIME that’s not on the back cover? DRIVE TIME?
Uh-oh. You’re going to make me reveal one of the pitfalls of being an investigative reporter as well as a crime fiction author. The Charlotte McNally stories are so realistic, and so true to life for a reporter, that sometimes I get reality and fiction confused. (Happily the confusion is all on the fiction side. You can’t make stuff up for TV, right?)
First let me say how thrilled I am that the Charlie books are back in print. The initial releases had so many fans, and were so well received, and I actually jumped up and down when I learned Forge wanted to reissue them in those gorgeous new hardcovers. So I am endlessly grateful.
Anyway as a television reporter for 40 years, I am used to telling stories. And sometimes, in the midst of an investigation, a gem of an idea emerges that I know can grow into a compelling novel.
You know the first line of AIR TIME? “It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying.” I actually said that, on a flight from Atlanta to Boston. The deadly runway incursion that had just taken place really happened. And I actually got off the plane and covered the story. What happens in the book is very different from what happened in real life. But that moment was my take-off point for AIR TIME. And trust me, you’ll never look at baggage claim the same way again.
DRIVE TIME too, has a scene or two that really took place. We did a big investigation about car recalls, and a high-tech method for stealing cars. When you get to the part where Charlie is undercover at the car dealer? That’s me. The diabolical scheme the bad guys use—I made that up. But it would work. Just saying.
Hailed as “one of the best thriller writers in the business” by Library Journal, Rick Mofina is the acclaimed author of 19 novels and many short stories. Mofina writes standalones and four series (Reed-Sydowski, Jason Wade, Jack Gannon and Kate Page). He has garnered numerous nominations and awards, including the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel in 2003 for Blood of Others. A 30-year veteran journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald and Southam News wire service, among others, Mofina uses his journalistic experience to write tight, white-knuckle thrillers.
Reporter Kate Page returns in Mofina’s latest thriller, FREE FALL, a terrifying race against time as airplanes start falling out of the sky for unknown reasons. Kate Page is a tenacious heroine who can’t let go of a story even when it isn’t supposed to be hers. In FREE FALL, she butts heads with her editors, the NTSB and law-enforcement officials who believe pilot error is to blame for the mishaps. And when the untraceable masterminds behind the nefarious plot select Kate as their mouthpiece, she too becomes a target.
FREE FALL is great stuff. The kind of thriller that keeps you up late into the night reading. It also might well leave you cursing the author for scaring you to death.
You have a long history in journalism. That shows in your descriptions of the investigative reporting process. This is the fourth book in the Kate Page series. And you’ve written three other series, all featuring reporters. Can you talk about your work history and how it shapes your fiction?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was in grade school. I went to university to study English literature and journalism, hoping to find a job in the news business with the aim of gaining experience that would serve my fiction. It all came together for me when I was assigned to my newspaper’s crime beat. Unless you’ve done this kind of work, nothing prepares you for it. You see what cops, paramedics, firefighters, emergency experts see. For me, as a reporter by day, novelist by night, a light had been switched on. Covering human tragedies and dramas up close was overwhelming. But on another level, having a university degree in English literature and journalism, and having studied courses such as Religious Responses to Death and American Detective Fiction, I felt I was equipped to try to make sense of what I was experiencing. To try to convey through fiction, the truths I’ve learned.
By E. M. Powell
I’m sure we all treasure the wisdom of our friends. But I’m equally sure we envy Christopher Farnsworth this particular relationship: “A good friend of mine says that writing is painting yourself into a corner—and then flying out.” Even better is that Farnsworth has acted upon this advice. His latest release, KILLFILE, most definitely flies and then some.
For starters, it has such an original and compelling premise. Psychic John Smith was trained by the CIA to weaponize his unusual talents. Not only can he hear people’s thoughts, he can also bend the will of others to his own. He has moved on from government service to private consultancy to the very wealthiest. Hired to investigate a young software genius and recover priceless intellectual property, he rapidly finds himself the target of people willing to kill to him for his talents. And he’s no longer alone. Smith has to use his gift to protect himself and a young woman caught in the crossfire—no matter what it takes.
Now, there may be those for whom this premise has a whiff of the “look into my eyes” or trumpets at séances. I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth with KILLFILE. Farnsworth’s creation of John Smith is masterful. Smith’s gift verges on intolerable as he seeks silence and peace from the non-stop banal chatter in the heads of others. Worse, he absorbs terror, fear, and physical pain too. Within the first couple of pages, Smith’s world was reality for me. Add in relentless action and humor drier than martini-dissolved bone, and you have a winner.
His premise of the psychic spy had a long gestation, says Farnsworth. He credits his early reading in his junior high library for planting the seed. “My research started when I spent way too much time as a kid in the weird sections of the library, reading the dodgy books about psychic phenomena, unknown creatures, and other strange stuff. It left me with lots of odd facts stuck in my head—like the story of Wolf Messing—that eventually mutate into ideas.”
Lili Wright’s debut novel, DANCING WITH THE TIGER, is set in Mexico, a country the author knows well. Wright lived in Mexico twice, and she infuses this rollicking novel of art and addiction with her reporter’s eye for vivid detail.
The story begins when a meth-addicted looter digs up what he believes is Montezuma’s funerary mask, a priceless artifact. A tense chase ensues as an eclectic cast of characters pursues the treasure for very different reasons. In addition to the meth-addicted looter, there is a masked tiger, an expat art collector, a dying drug lord, a lesbian housekeeper, and most importantly—Anna Ramsey, a 30-year-old American with a history of bad choices. Ramsey needs the mask to redeem her father—and save herself.
Here, Wright chats with The Big Thrill about her first foray into fiction.
Why did you choose to set your novel in Mexico?
I fell in love with Mexico years ago during a language immersion trip to Cuernavaca. At the time, I was a newspaper reporter in Salt Lake City and was taking a night class in Spanish. My professor, John Bahoric—I dedicated the novel to him—adored Mexico and, like the Piped Piper, seduced us into following him on his annual trip there. At the time, I spoke almost no Spanish and spent most of the trip asking my Mexican host family, “Mande?” (Slang, for What?) Like John, I adored Mexico. The country was so colorful, so different from staid New England where I grew up. Soon after, I won a year-long grant to return. I studied in Guadalajara and then landed in San Miguel de Allende. A decade later, I spent a sabbatical year in Oaxaca. Mexico always calls me back.
Much of the story revolves around masks. Why?
Even in our lowest moments, it is possible, often required, that we put on our game face and carry on. Friends and co-workers often haven’t a clue that we’re hurting. I remind myself of this when people are rude or distant. Who knows what’s going on in their lives? Maybe their dog died or they fought with their husband or they are worried about money.
That was one piece. Also, in my English classes, I teach essay writing. The founder of the modern essay, Michel de Montaigne, has this quote I adore: “We must remove the mask.” A good essay, or any creative writing, requires revelation, risk, digging below the surface. This isn’t easy. Most of us prefer to gloss over uncomfortable subjects and avoid conflict. In the opening paragraph of DANCING WITH THE TIGER, the looter notes: “Few people have courage or imagination to dig.” At the risk of sounding grandiose, I believe a willingness to dig, to expose, to talk openly about hard subjects, would help society solve many ills.
By Joe Moore
Changing course in the middle of a successful writing career is a big gamble. Especially moving from light, humorous novels to much darker, serious subject matter. When I heard that my friend Elaine Viets was doing just that with her new novel, BRAIN STORM, I had to find out why. It came as no surprise that her motivation grew from events in her life. Now I know that this course change will be just as successful as her previous path. Here’s what I learned.
Elaine, why write a dark psychological suspense novel? You’re best known for your funny Dead-End Job mysteries and cozy Mystery Shopper novels?
I started writing dark novels, the Francesca Vierling newspaper mysteries for Bantam Dell. Then the publisher’s division was wiped out, and I spent two years working dead-end jobs in Florida, where the work is weird and the customers are weirder. I met witches buying a book of spells in a Barnes & Noble, very old men buying skimpy outfits for very young women, and bridezillas who wanted their bridesmaids’ dresses to match the hotel carpet. They inspired the funny, traditional mysteries in the Dead-End Job series for Penguin. That series did well, and Penguin asked me to write the cozy Josie Marcus, Mystery Shopper series. The series got off to a good start when Dying in Style tied for first place with Stephen King on the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association bestseller list. Meanwhile, I kept writing dark short stories for anthologies edited by Lawrence Block, Charlaine Harris and others. Josie was supposed to be a three-book series, but by book ten I felt I’d done all I could with that series. My agent rolled the last Josie book into the 15th Dead-End Job mystery.
But I’d gone through some very dark times, and my writing was turning dark. I wanted to explore the one fear that we cannot escape: our own mortality. Brain Storm is a deeply personal mystery, with hardheaded forensics.
What research did you do for BRAIN STORM?
I took the Medicolegal Death Investigators Training Course for forensic professionals given by St. Louis University’s School of Medicine. Here are the topics for just one day of the two-credit college course: We started with gunshot fatalities, explosion-related deaths, motor vehicle fatalities and drowning–before lunch. During lunch we watched a teen driving and alcohol video, which made me want to buy an armored personnel carrier. After lunch it was alcohol-related deaths, suicide, blunt trauma fatalities and more. So much more I was a vegetarian for about six weeks.
By Matt Ferraz
In TAG, YOU’RE DEAD, author J.C. Lane presents a chase around the city of Chicago, where the innocent game of tag becomes a matter of life and death. Writing from the point of view of six different characters, the author decided to do something radically different from her previews books, published under the name of Judy Clemens. No spoilers here, though. You can see the result this month, when the book comes out.
Your book is set in Chicago. What’s the importance of this city in your story?
I have always loved Chicago. I grew up in northern Indiana, so when our family went to “the city,” it was Chicago, where we visited the Field Museum, Orchestra Hall, The Museum of Science and Industry, and The Berghoff Restaurant, with its amazing rye bread. I also lived in Evanston for a year while my dad was getting his doctorate at Northwestern University, so I have good memories from that time. A few years ago my husband took me to Chicago to celebrate my birthday, and we stayed at The Palmer House, a National Historical Landmark hotel, went to a play, and attended a recording session of my favorite NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” The trip was a reminder of how much I love the city, and when the idea for TAG, YOU’RE DEAD came to me, Chicago was automatically the place I wanted it to be set. The characters end up in so many of my favorite places, including the Adler Planetarium, Wrigley Field, and the Art Institute, just to name a few.
Could you picture your book taking place somewhere else?
I suppose the story could have taken place in a different big city, but Chicago has a special place in my heart, and I hope that affection comes through in the writing. I would have had to research other cities, and with Chicago’s blend of downtown, a river, a lake, two baseball teams, and all of its special buildings and museums, another city would have a completely different feel. We spoke about characters earlier, and my hope is that the city of Chicago has its own place as a character in the book!
By J. H. Bográn
There’s always something appealing about a reformed crook. Many of the greatest heroes started off their careers in the wrong side of the law: Wyatt Earp, the Dirty Dozen, Remington Steele, even Severus Snape and Megamind. Among this celebrity group we can count Felicity O’Brien and Morgan Stark, an unusual pair composed of a thief and a mercenary—and quite the pair they make. Note that I don’t use the word couple because their relationship is strictly platonic, with a touch of the paranormal. However, one thing is certain; they were meant to be together.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to interview Austin Camacho about his new book, THE LOST ART ASSIGNMENT.
Say you meet me at a bookstore, how would you sell me your book?
It’s old-school action and adventure with some of the most interesting characters you’ll meet in a novel. An Irish ex-patriot jewel thief and a hardened mercenary soldier combine their talents to take on an ingenious gangsta who has the brains and the balls to take over New York city’s organized crime.
Some scenes of the book occur in places that no longer exist. Were research for them a challenge?
Actually, the research was great fun. Once I decided that our new-age gangsta had a thing for Harlem’s heyday, I dug into the era of my father’s youth. There’s a surprisingly rich bank of literature about the Harlem Renaissance, the Apollo Theater, and so forth. What an interesting place and time.
There are plenty of discussions about art and artists. Are you an art connoisseur or aficionado?
Not in the least, but since one of my main protagonists is, I had to learn a thing or two. Luckily I live close to Washington, D.C., so not only do I have access to great museums, but also to the people who work there who just love to answer art-related questions.
By Dawn Ius
Writing one novel is hard enough, but German author Melanie Raabe’s ambitious debut takes the challenge to another level by including a “novel within a novel”—a thrilling story by THE TRAP’s protagonist, a recluse novelist determined to set the perfect trap for her sister’s murderer.
If that wasn’t challenge enough, Raabe throws in a claustrophobic environment—Linda hasn’t set foot outside her home since her sister’s death—and an unreliable narrator that has been compared to those recently made famous by authors Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.
What could have been a recipe for disaster has instead catapulted Raabe into the spotlight as THE TRAP (translated by Imogen Taylor) has sold in multiple languages and earned the author an impressive Hollywood deal. In this interview with The Big Thrill, Raabe talks about overcoming obstacles and how she’s dealing with whirlwind success.
The premise for THE TRAP is unique and really compelling—what was the inspiration for the story?
The premise was presented to me on a silver platter, really! I am always looking for interesting things, characters, or events to write about. One evening I was having dinner with a friend, and at some point she told me about an article she had read about a reclusive author who never leaves her house. I immediately wrote that down: reclusive author. On my way home from dinner my imagination started running wild: Why doesn’t this woman leave the house? What happened to her? What would need to happen to make her leave the house again? That was the origin of THE TRAP.
Unreliable narrators are all the rage right now (thanks to some wonderful books that are consistently on the bestseller list). What do you think is the allure of the unreliable narrator? How did you approach Linda’s character?
I did not resolve to go and write another book with an unreliable narrator at all, it just developed in that direction organically. I had set my mind on writing about this woman who has not left her house in 11 years and who lives very much in her own head. It soon became clear to me when I started working under this premise, that this very lonely woman lacks all the correctives that ordinary people have. She does not communicate with others on a daily basis, she very much lives in her memories and in her imagination. She is destined to have distorted thinking.
My unreliable narrator does not know she is unreliable. She is actually trying to be truthful, and I like that about her. I think an unreliable narrator works best if it isn’t self-serving, but really fits the character that is telling the story.
PARAISO is the new genre-bending thriller from Gordon Chaplin. The story follows the relationship of brother and sister, Peter and Wendy, as they make their separate journeys to Paraiso, facing murder, terrorism, and many dark secrets. Gordon Chaplin very kindly took a few moments out of his Memorial Day celebrations to talk to me about PARAISO, writing, and his feverish imagination.
PARAISO opens with Peter and Wendy making a break for Mexico as children. Why Mexico? Was this important for you as an author? Have you been to Paraiso?
For the last 30 years I’ve co-owned a house in a little village in Baja very similar to Paraiso. From the moment I arrived the town and its characters seemed an ideal setting for a novel. It is known throughout the region as a magical town and recently was officially designated a Pueblo Magico, making it eligible for all kinds of government financed “improvements” which actually haven’t helped it much.
The story is written from two perspectives, Peter’s in the first person and then Wendy’s in the second. Did you identify more with Peter than Wendy as an author, and can you tell us about Peter? Do you have a similar Peter/Wendy relationship with your own siblings?
All novels draw on material the author is familiar with, starting with his or her family situation. This is all I want to say on this subject.
Another famous Peter and Wendy duo comes from classical children’s literature and throughout the book you reference Peter Pan. How did this story influence your own work?
PARAISO is the dark side of Peter Pan. My story is designed to resonate ironically with the famous fairy tale, forcing the reader’s mind into new and noir connections with material that is part of everyone’s childhood. James Joyce used a similar technique in Ulysses, his 20th century parable based on the Odyssey. It recognizes that all stories we tell each other are based on earlier stories.
L.S. Hawker broke into the thriller world with The Drowning Game, which is an ITW Best First Novel nominee and a USA Today bestseller. Now, she has released BODY AND BONE, the powerful story of Nessa Donati, a late-night radio show hostess. She has a three-year-old son who doesn’t speak, a soon-to-be-former spouse who is a chronic substance abuser, and an Internet troll who evolves from an ugly pest to a threat to her safety.
Ms. Hawker is an avid music aficionado whose own music library includes more than 160,000 songs. She provides thematic playlists for her books on her website.
We interviewed her by email.
Your heroine in BODY AND BONE does a graveyard-shift radio show. Your description of the tiny studio and the conflict with the producer has the heft of reality about it—what research went into this part of the book?
I pulled the graveyard shift at the one major-market station I worked for. It had just switched to an automated system, so I got to babysit a computer from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. overnight—no board or voice work. The general manager was a lunatic who forbade me from doing anything but literally staring at the machine for eight hours—even reading. He caught me one night editing the public affairs show in the production studio during my shift and screamed at me as if I’d abandoned my guard post on the Berlin Wall.
Nessa’s radio studio is modeled on a small-market midwestern station where I worked, but the producer isn’t based on anyone who worked there—he’s an amalgam of hipster types that I’ve butted heads with through the years.
By John Clement
Hollie Overton grew up in a tiny Texas town with a population that hovered just under 20,000. Painfully shy as a teenager, she was encouraged to audition for a local production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The moment she stepped on stage, a lifetime in the arts began. After studying theater at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts and writing at Hunter College and Burlington College, she moved to Los Angeles, where she joined the writing staff for the CBS drama, Cold Case. That led to two seasons writing for Lifetime’s The Client List and the ABC family drama Shadowhunters. Her debut thriller, BABY DOLL, will be published in the UK by Penguin Random House and by Hachette Red Hook in the States.
Knowing a little bit about your personal life, especially your childhood, I think it’s hard not to draw parallels to your novel, its story and characters. Can you talk a little about that? How much did your personal life influence BABY DOLL?
The initial idea for BABY DOLL came at a time when I was unemployed, having lost my TV writing job and planning a wedding I knew we couldn’t afford. While I battled my anxiety, I spent a lot of time watching the news and that’s when the story broke about Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who held three women captive for ten years. What those girls endured was unthinkable and I found myself obsessed with what would happen next. My mother and my twin sister Heather are the most important people in my life and I couldn’t imagine what would happen if we were separated for that long or how we’d pick up the pieces. I kept thinking how each of us would handle such a horrible loss; so that was the jumping off point.
There were a lot of relationship and character moments in BABY DOLL that came from real life. To me, the twin dynamic is the heart of the novel. My twin sister, Heather and I are best friends, and I have a lot of twin friends. It’s an amazing relationship, but it can also be incredibly co-dependent (or dysfunctional depending on the day, week, month, etc). I wanted to play that out in a novel. But I also wanted to show the good parts of being a twin. There are things that my sister did or that I blamed her for doing that play a big role in BABY DOLL. It’s fun working out my issues in my writing. It’s basically free therapy
This has a similar vibe to ROOM. What is the fascination with this kind of thriller, and why is it important to focus on escape and recovery vs capture and torture?
These types of stories are fascinating because they expose people’s darkest nature. A man who will take what he wants no matter how unlawful or immoral goes against everything that society teaches us. I felt really drawn to telling a story about that through the perspective of a multitude of characters. I knew that Emma Donoghue created a beautiful book when she wrote Room, a story all about surviving captivity. But I always saw BABY DOLL as an entirely different book. It’s the aftermath of captivity. That’s why Lily, my main character, escapes in the first chapter. We never go back inside the cabin where she was kept. I always wanted to explore how Lily’s abduction alters the course of everyone’s lives, especially her twin sister Abby. To me, that’s the heart of BABY DOLL, the relationships and how Lily’s kidnapping shattered their family and what it takes to put the pieces back together.
A Game-Changing Female Protagonist
Brad Meltzer writes carefully crafted, high-stakes thrillers loaded with secret history. So he’s delivering a hot story to the thriller crowd while making legions of nerds very, very happy. (Their fact-checks on the Internet while reading Meltzer’s books often lead to loud exclamations of “He was right about that!?”) While not writing his bestselling novels, Meltzer also crafts nonfiction for adults and children and hosts History Channel shows. Oh, and he writes comic books.
Meltzer’s 2015 thriller, The President’s Shadow, featuring brilliant National Archivist Beecher White, was the third in a successful series. His latest book, THE HOUSE OF SECRETS, co-written with Tod Goldberg, introduces a new kind of main character for Meltzer: Hazel Nash. When she was six, her father taught her that mysteries need to be solved. Hazel’s father is Jack Nash, the host of America’s favorite conspiracy TV show, “The House of Secrets.” Even as a child, she loved hearing her dad’s tall tales, especially the one about a leather book belonging to Benedict Arnold that was hidden in a corpse. Now, years later, Hazel wakes up in the hospital and remembers nothing, not even her name.
Meltzer took some time to catch up with The Big Thrill and talk career, history, and the care and feeding of readers.
This book, without giving anything away, revolves around Benedict Arnold, a fascinating man from history and, of course, a traitor. You’ve written about Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the past, both great men. How long have you wanted to put Benedict Arnold in a thriller?
For years. Truly. The last moments between Benedict Arnold and George Washington are among the most heartbreaking in U.S. history. When Washington learns what’s happened, he’s devastated. They say it’s the only time the father of our country is ever seen crying. But the craziest part is what happens next: Benedict Arnold writes to George Washington and asks his old friend for three things: 1) To protect Arnold’s wife Peggy, who everyone now wants to hang too. 2) He tells Washington that all of the commander’s aides are innocent and have nothing to do with Arnold’s treason. And 3), in one of the oddest requests a person could make in such a moment, Benedict Arnold asks that his clothes and baggage be sent to him.
Think about it. Benedict Arnold has just put a knife in the back of his best friend, become one of the most hated men since Judas, has basically abandoned his life, and his wife is in danger of being murdered—and what does he ask for? He wants his luggage. He even says he’ll pay for the expense of sending it. And for some reason, Washington obliges. It’s a moment no one can explain: Washington hates this man. He spends the rest of the war hunting him and calling for his death. So why in God’s name does he send Benedict Arnold a final care package? And what’s in this so-called luggage? To this day, no one knows the answer. As for my theory, it’s in THE HOUSE OF SECRETS, of course. (How’s that for a tease?)
Embracing the Legacy—and Setting a New Mark
I’ve heard that varied experiences, an artistic temperament, or even genetics could predict writing talent. By any of those measures it’s no surprise that Daniel Palmer has turned out a steady flow of bestsellers. After earning his master’s degree from Boston University, he spent a decade as an e-commerce pioneer. He’s an accomplished blues harmonica player. And he’s the son of bestselling author Michael Palmer, whose legacy lives on because Daniel’s been asked to continue his father’s oeuvre. Which means now two of Daniel’s novels are being released at the same time.
MERCY is the second Michael Palmer medical thriller Daniel’s written in the tradition of his late father. In it, Dr. Julie Devereux is an outspoken advocate for the right to die—until a motorcycle accident leaves her fiancé, Sam Talbot, a quadriplegic. While Sam begs to end his life, Julie sees hope in a life together. But then Sam suddenly dies from an unusual heart defect, one seen only in those under extreme stress. It appears that Sam was literally scared to death. As Julie investigates similar cases, she finds a frightening pattern, and becomes the target of disturbing threats. As Julie discovers more cases, the threats escalate, until she is accused of a mercy killing herself. To clear her name she must track down whoever is behind these mysterious deaths, but someone has decided that killing Julie is the only way to stop her.
In FORGIVE ME Angie DeRose is a private investigator in Virginia, working to find and rescue endangered runaways. In the wake of her mother’s death, Angie makes a life-altering discovery. Hidden in her parents’ attic is a photograph of a little girl with a hand-written message on the back: “May God forgive me.” Angie doesn’t know what it means. Could she have a sister she never knew about? Angie sets out to learn the fate of the girl in the photo. But the lies she unearths drag the past into the present. Everything she holds dear is threatened by the repercussions of one long-ago choice, and an enemy who will kill to keep a secret hidden forever.
Beyond writing thrillers, Palmer is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children where he is hard at work on his next novel. Palmer has kindly agreed to share his thoughts on his two new books, his writing process, and what it means to be carrying on his father’s work.
FORGIVE ME seems to have a very personal theme. Did the story arise from a personal experience or did you snatch it from the reality of today’s society?
Angie DeRose’s search for a runaway girl named Nadine Jessup coincides with her quest to identify a girl in a photograph she finds hidden among the mementos in her parents’ attic.
What makes this book personal for me is my connection to the runaway girl. To my surprise, during the writing process, Nadine took over the story. I wanted her storyline to convey the danger facing all runaways, but the horror of her ordeal proved tough to convey. I did not want to write anything too graphic for my readers or myself. At the same time, I wanted to be faithful to the stories of the real-life victims of these crimes. Nadine herself showed me the answer: a journal of her captivity, giving the reader access to her private thoughts and fears. The question was whether I could meet the challenge. I’m a 40-something-year-old man. What do I know about being a teenage girl in such a terrible predicament?
As I began to write, however, Nadine Jessup came alive. I wrote the pages of her journal as quickly as if Nadine had penned them herself. The result is a story different from anything I’ve done before, and I believe Nadine’s journal is what makes this book special.
By Terri Nolan
Sidney Williams is a self-proclaimed nerd with an oversized enthusiasm for creativity in all its forms; apropos for a professor of creative writing. His newest novella, DARK HOURS, features student journalist Allison Rose. Ali is the Associate Editor of the campus newspaper at Pine College, and takes her job seriously. On a stormy night the newsroom at the Evergreen Gazette is abuzz with campus issues: parking problems, condemned buildings, leaky roofs. But Ali is more interested in the rumor that an escaped murderer is hiding on campus. Students are on edge. But no one, not the cops, campus security, or even her editor, seem interested. Then she gets a text: You write good stories, Aligirl. Want an exclusive?
This thriller transpires in a single night, perhaps inspired by a dare. A number of years ago, another author urged readers to consume his novel in one sitting—and Williams took him up on the proposition. On a plane flight, he ran through the book in one sitting, and had a lot of fun. Now, Williams is challenging readers to sit down and become immersed in Allison’s world and experiences: to join in the descent into darkness.
As a reporter who worked the nighttime crime beat was there a particular incident that inspired DARK HOURS?
I covered quite a bit of crime and followed cops down some dark streets, but actually it goes back to when I was still a student. A jail break occurred at a county lockup, which in Louisiana is called a parish lockup.
Ten or eleven prisoners escaped at one time, a huge deal when you think about it. There were rumors that one escaped murderer was hiding out on the college campus. The period of fear that lasted until everyone was caught gave birth to a short story first, called The Exclusive.
What journalistic skills did you pass down to Allison?
My style as a reporter was laid back. I’d take it easy and let people start talking to me. Allison is a little more intense and driven. She’s tenacious and, in fact, can’t let go of things that matter to her. She can’t do half-assed on things that she cares about.
Maybe I share a little of that with her, though. I’ve gone to the mat a few times in my life over the principle things.
Setting as Touchstone and Unforgettable Characters
A great detective never turns his back on a murder, even when he’s on vacation. John Farrow shows us how gripping such a mystery can be in his latest, SEVEN DAYS DEAD.
One reason this story will grip you is the sleuth: Detective Emile Cinq-Mars is based on an actual heroic detective from the past but, of course, he is fictionalized and brought into the present.
“The real guy from the ’50s beat people up,” Farrow says. “My guy doesn’t. Yet he does not compromise for the sake of expediency, or to conform to a superior’s command. Both officers, the real and the fictional, have operated within corrupt departments; they have recognized that fighting internal battles becomes as important as fighting crime on the streets. “
Cinq-Mars is judgmental, quiet, deliberate and firm in his self-expression. And he does not think of himself as a hero. But when long-held secrets start to emerge, he has to get involved. His murder investigation is somehow linked to a woman who has raced through a torrential storm at sea in a small boat to reach her dying father. Being a mystic, Cinq-Mars thinks differently than most people. All that might make you think this book would be character driven, but Farrow says character and plot are not to be separated out in his novels.
“As in real life, who a person is goes a long way to determining what happens,” Farrow says. “And what happens reveals who the person is. I don’t favor novels where the plot-line is such that if you removed a character and substituted someone else, everything could remain pretty much the same. That’s not true in life, and it’s not true in the fiction I prefer or in the fiction I write.”
The characters in SEVEN DAYS DEAD tell their story in an island off the coast of Maine. Farrow likes his stories to have a strong setting which, he says, can yield a number of benefits. It helps ground the story in reality, or at least in what feels real.
Returning to a Reader-Favorite Character 15 Years Later
Die-hard fans of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child will cheer now that the pair has finally written a sequel to The Ice Limit, a bestseller they wrote 15 years ago. Even better, they let their series hero Gideon Crew be the man to take us BEYOND THE ICE LIMIT.
In the fictional universe, it was only five years ago that Eli Glinn led a mission to recover a giant meteorite from an island off the coast of South America. The mission ended in disaster when their ship broke apart in a storm in the Antarctic waters and sank along with its unique cargo. Glinn survived, but was left paralyzed. The meteorite proved to be a living organism from space that now threatens the entire planet. So Glinn calls on Gideon to help destroy it, in part for his expertise with nuclear weapons, but also because he is a hero, if only in a bumbling, accidental sort of way as Douglas Preston would tell you.
“He’s a trickster and a clever, smooth-talking social engineer,” Preston says, “rather than a James Bond-type hero. He does not think of himself as a hero and is often confused and surprised when he succeeds.”
Still, he’s the man Glinn trusts. Readers can see that the relationship between Glinn and Gideon is complex and difficult.
“Glinn is a master manipulator and Gideon is acutely aware that he is being manipulated,” Preston tells us. “Gideon does not like Glinn at all, although he has enormous, if grudging, respect for him. Glinn, for his part, has only liked one person in his entire life and she is dead.”
You might wonder why Preston and Child returned to The Ice Limit after such a long break. Preston says it was fan response to that dark story’s enigmatic ending.
“At the time, we believed no further explanation of that ending was required,” Preston says. “But once The Ice Limit was published, we immediately began receiving a flood of letters and emails asking exactly what did happen after that final page. Even today, at virtually every book signing we do, someone asks us when on earth we’re finally going to write a sequel to The Ice Limit.”
After being introduced in The Ice Limit, Eli Glinn appeared in several more books in both Agent Pendergast and Gideon Crew series. Then, as characters often do, Glinn started talking to his authors, insisting that they tell the rest of the story.
“We realized that Eli and our readers were right: The Ice Limit absolutely demanded a sequel. And once we understood that, a fantastic and truly frightening idea occurred to us, which we ultimately developed into the central concept of this new novel.”
By Dawn Ius
Mary Kubica didn’t start out writing psychological suspense. In fact, the New York Times bestselling author—often dubbed by her peers as a master of the genre—says when she completed her first novel, The Good Girl, she wasn’t even sure how to categorize it.
“Because I don’t plot my novels in advance and prefer them to unfold on their own, even I’m often surprised by the way the stories turn out,” she says. “But more so, I’m intrigued by those somewhat shrewd attributes of psychological suspense—the unreliable narrators, the sleights of hand, and more. I love surprising myself and my readers.”
Kubica continues to surprise readers with her third novel, DON’T YOU CRY, a pulse-pounding tale of deceit, obsession, and yes, riveting psychological suspense. The story follows Quinn Collins on her quest to find her missing roommate Esther Vaughan, who disappears from their Chicago apartment one day, leaving behind a haunting My Dearest letter found amid her possessions.
Meanwhile in a small town outside of Chicago, dishwasher Alex Gallo’s crush on a beautiful stranger quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he could have ever imagined.
And when these seemingly separate storylines collide in a spellbinding ending that will leave you gasping for Kubica’s next book, you’ll wonder how you didn’t piece together the mystery yourself. The reason, of course, is the result of Kubica’s deft skill in peppering in subtle clues to the mystery, and creating characters that truly leap from the page—even if they’re not entirely trustworthy.
“The unreliable narrator is one of my favorite aspects of a good psychological suspense,” Kubica says. “The role of the narrator is to carry us—the reader—along on this 300-and-some page journey, and knowing that some may be unreliable creates this constant sense of discomfort in the reader in the very best way. As the reader, we’re not sure who we can and cannot trust, and it keeps us on edge during the entire experience, being cautious not to put our faith in someone who may deceive us in the end.”
By Anne Tibbets
“… Michelle’s biography did not come out of thin air.”
Deep in the shadows of Hamburg, Germany, prostitute Michelle gets sucked into the underground scene of snuff movies. Looking for the baby sister of an old friend, her best customer, a policeman named Paul, refuses to help. After a brutal rape, Michelle swears vengeance—and to find the vanished girl. eXXXtrem by Svea Tornow is dark, twisted, and as real as the sunrise.
“I wanted to show many aspects of my city,” Tornow says. “The dark underbelly as well as the rich suburbs. More than that, I wanted to explore the topics of family, friends, and trust. Because sometimes you cannot have it all.”
The second novel in an ongoing series, eXXXtrem follows Michelle as she navigates living with her mother, whom she took in after suffering domestic violence, and her growing, but unwelcome feelings for Paul.
After her mother’s partner is found dead and the little sister of a friend goes missing, Michelle embarks on a solo adventure not for the faint of heart.
“There’s a scene where Michelle wants to find information at almost any price. Being a prostitute, she’s even willing to have sex in exchange. But, she makes a bad call and gets into a situation involving two men,” Tornow says. “The scene was supposed to be erotic, only in the end, Michelle doesn’t get the information she had bargained for.”
By J. H. Bográn
After the success of Crossing Savage and Relentless Savage, comes the third book by Dave Edlund, DEADLY SAVAGE. This time Peter Savage finds himself in peril when militants invade the Belarusian State University in Minsk. Held hostage by gunmen who look like Russian soldiers, Peter uncovers a plot to kill thousands of innocent civilians—and lay the blame on the United States. In a desperate attempt to avoid a global war, Commander James Nicolaou and Peter are called to the front lines, and the stakes have never been higher.
DEADLY SAVAGE brings the now familiar globe-trotting adventures, the high-octane plots, and plenty of action in a novel that as Gary Scout says, “…will leave you breathless, and worried, because it just might happen.” And Kirkus Reviews seems to agree: “Crackling action, brisk pace, timely topic; Edlund’s third Savage thriller has all the elements…”
The Big Thrill welcomes Mr. Edlund, who agreed to answer a few questions for our readers.
What prompted the story of DEADLY SAVAGE?
A couple years ago, as tensions surrounding militias and Russian political activities in Eastern Europe were heating up, my editor challenged me to write a novel that would be based in Europe and involve a military conflict between Russia and the U.S. She was asking for a Tom-Clancy-like novel. I had to decline that approach—I’m not up for competing on that playing field—but I did think there would be a way to adapt the concept to a Peter Savage novel. DEADLY SAVAGE evolved from that challenge.
What can the fans of the series expect in this adventure?
I think fans will recognize that Peter has matured in his approach to life-and-death threats. After all, he’s had more than his share of tense situations and deadly encounters. This time, Peter has to be very resourceful and ruthless as he is pitted against a well-armed militia that has taken control of the Belarusian State University. There is a lot of action, as should be expected. And, in keeping with the challenge from my editor, there is a military engagement between the U.S. and Russian forces.
By Alex Segura
The novels of Brigadier General A. J. Tata don’t go unnoticed, that’s for sure. Even former President George W. Bush is a fan. Tata’s well-researched, authentic, and engaging novels are built to keep readers on edge from the first page on, and his latest, THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, is no exception.
The second of Tata’s novels featuring Jake Mahegan, THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT finds the Delta Force vet on the trail of his mother’s murderer. But when an Army geologist is kidnapped, Mahegan must figure out if the two threads are tangled together. When nuclear plants on U.S. soil fall under attack, that question is answered with deadly results. As time winds down, Mahegan must track down the homegrown terrorists hell-bent on tearing the country apart from within before it’s too late. It’s a safe bet this isn’t a low key, slow-moving piece of fiction. Quite the opposite. Tata brings his sharp plotting and first-hand knowledge together to craft a taut, memorable story. We got the chance to talk with Tata about his latest and what’s next for him.
This is your second Jake Mahegan thriller—what makes Jake such a fun character to write? What experience has he gained since the first novel?
Jake’s constant battle internally is that he is trying to escape the warrior life and find love, yet he is continuously thrust back into the fray. Since Foreign and Domestic, Jake has had his dishonorable discharge converted to an honorable one and he has resigned himself to working with the man who made that happen, Major General Bob Savage. Still, hope reigns eternal and he meets Grace Kagami in THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT, hoping that he can trust her to help him.
Your book deals with some very topical things, like domestic terrorism. How much research is involved and how much do you draw from your own professional experience?
I research all of my books extensively. While I have significant experience combatting terrorism, I remain current through frequent news program appearances and studying the enemies of our nation and discerning their intent.
Writing About a World Not Black and White
By J. H. Bográn
They say that word-of-mouth is the most effective marketing technique for selling books. I believe book lending is a close second. A few years ago, a friend lent me David Baldacci’s The Winner. The novel was about a dirt-poor single mother forced into a scheme that began by winning $10 million in the lottery. After I devoured the book in record time, I returned it—yes, I’m one of those—and told my friend that I felt I was the winner, because I’d just discovered a new favorite author. I’ve read plenty of his books since then, so when the editors asked me if I´d like to interview Mr. Baldacci and read his latest novel, you can bet I was sofa-jumping.
Can you tell us in your own words, what’s THE LAST MILE about?
Amos Decker, my hyperthemesia detective with a touch of synesthesia, is back on the case. When convicted murderer Melvin Mars’s execution is stayed because someone else confessed to the killings, Decker sees stark parallels between the murder of his family and Mars’s case. It also doesn’t hurt that the two men played college football against each other. The case takes Decker and Mars on a journey that goes back to before either of them was even born. And I manage to do it all without the benefit of time travel! Take that, Diana Gabaldon!
Was there an incident in particular that prompted the story?
As a lawyer, I saw stark injustice. If you’re poor and unconnected, you don’t get justice. If you’re rich and connected, you get more than justice, which actually makes it an injustice. Writing thrillers is a lot of fun. But by focusing on substantive issues of interest to me, and allowing people to read about them in a way that may linger with them, makes it even more gratifying.
What is the most frightening thing that has happened to you while researching a novel?
Being chased down an alley by a psychotic dog owned by a double murderer while on a walk-along with a police officer in D.C. The officer later told me that the guy had just left his dog behind when he “went away” for 20 to life. It made such an impression on me that I wrote both the dog and the double murderer into the novel I was working on. I’m a dog lover, so things turned out fine for the canine, but not so nice for the double murderer.
A Search For Light in Dark Places
By R.G. Belsky
The wait is over for John Hart fans. Five years after his last book, Hart–the best-selling thriller author whose writing about the South has been compared to John Grisham and Pat Conroy–is back with the eagerly anticipated REDEMPTION ROAD.
So why the long gap between books? Hart says it took him that much time–including a year spent on a failed novel that he discarded after 300 pages–to find the character he really wanted to write.
“I began that fifth, failed novel without understanding what my hero wanted and valued, and how far he would go to achieve those things,” Hart told us. “It was, in retrospect, an exercise in hubris. After four bestsellers I was overconfident. If I just write, I told myself, then all elements for the book would, in time, resolve. That’s the lesson it took a year to learn: that without the right protagonist I had no foundation for the story.
“When I started fresh, I knew exactly who the main character was supposed to be: Elizabeth Black, who was a small character in that first failed attempt, but one I found endlessly fascinating, not just dark and wounded, but complex and strong and willing to sacrifice. Once I had that fundamental foundation–a character I understood completely–then the book came as the previous four had. The lesson is that we have to do the legwork first, not an outline in my case, but a relationship with the protagonist that is damn near personal.”
Like his previous works, REDEMPTION ROAD is set in the South (Hart’s native state of North Carolina) and features many of the themes that have won him such praise from fans and critics alike: flawed characters, broken families, troubled children, plus–in this book–a terrifying serial killer.
“If there’s a common thematic element to my books, it’s the search for light in dark places, the discovery through hardship of those qualities that make human beings exceptional, things like selflessness and hope, courage and love and family,” Hart says. “Some think I write dark stories, but that’s an unfair assessment. I put people through hell so they might find a bright, warm spark in all that blackness. That’s what the books are really about.”
Keeping a Series Fresh
By Dawn Ius
Back in the early 90s, John Sandford’s son was driving through Omaha in the evening when his car struck a deer head, and the animal’s horns punctured his tire. Knowing his limited-use spare wouldn’t get him through Nebraska, he called his father, already a bestselling thriller writer, for advice.
Using an early mapping program—created long before Google—Sandford was able to navigate directions to an open tire store. His son was back in business within 15 minutes.
The event marked a significant shift in Sandford’s thinking: Technology had taken a huge step forward, and if he wanted to stay relevant, he needed to get on board.
Now, with the release of EXTREME PREY, the 26th book in the Lucas Davenport series, Sandford once again finds himself at a crossroads. In an increasingly fickle marketplace where even long-standing characters have a shelf life, how will he keep the series—and his star protagonist—fresh?
“I thought about killing his wife,” Sandford says. “We actually took a vote on it at a book event and more than 90 percent of the audience voted not to kill her. I guess his wife is too popular.”
That might not seem like a conundrum to some, but it poses a problem for Sandford, who feels his latest books lack some of the romance his readers have come to expect. Davenport can’t fool around on his wife—he’s not that kind of guy—but marriage often reads a bit on the dull side, particularly with thrillers.
If you’re having heart palpitations about the thought of Lucas losing his better half, Sandford admits he’s still mulling over options and there’s no cause for concern—yet. But fans of his Davenport series will note a few missing familiars in EXTREME PREY.
By Dawn Ius
Leigh Russel is no stranger to series writing—for some time she’s been delivering two manuscripts a year, one each for her Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson series’. But with JOURNEY TO DEATH, Russel adds a new character to her regime, introducing Lucy Hall, a young woman looking to leave her worries behind—but finding new, potentially deadly troubles in the seemingly idyllic tropical paradise of Seychelles.
Here, Russell takes time out of her now even busier writing schedule to answer some questions for The Big Thrill.
I really enjoyed the slow build of JOURNEY TO DEATH, almost as though the suspense and tension itself was a “journey.” It would be easy to launch into action action action as many thrillers do—why did you decide to tell the story in this way?
Most of my books begin with dramatic action, but this one is different. My story was inspired by a first-hand account of life under a coup d’etat in the 1970s in the Seychelles, which provides the background to the main story, which takes place in the present day. In addition, setting the action on an island affects the narrative, reflecting the leisurely pace of life in the Seychelles. Once the mystery begins to take hold, the pace speeds up.
Your characters are notoriously well developed—what do you want readers to know about Lucy before they dive into this new series?
Lucy Hall is only twenty-two in JOURNEY TO DEATH, and just beginning to emerge as an independent adult. Recovering from a disastrous broken engagement, she is forced to reconsider her intentions in life. In this vulnerable frame of mind, she is thrown into a challenging situation. As Lucy learns about herself, through the course of the narrative, the reader also learns about her character.
A Legal Thriller With Heart
By Dawn Ius
In THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER, author Anthony Franze—a lawyer at a major Washington, DC law firm and frequent media commentator on the Supreme Court—takes readers behind-the-scenes of the country’s highest court, in a murder mystery that has as much heart as it has suspense.
Sean Serrat, a prominent DC lawyer, seems to have it all: married to the love of his life, blessed with three great kids, and even a possible U.S. Supreme Court nomination on the horizon. That is, until Sean’s daughter is found murdered in the library of the Supreme Court. Serrat is rocked to the core. Not only does his daughter’s death shatter his picture-perfect life, but the killing could also be connected to his potential nomination—or a dark secret from his past.
Secrets and law and more secrets. Each surprising, each lurching story and motive in a different direction. Many an author has built a successful career writing traditional legal thrillers with these elements in mind, and Franze could have left it at that. But the real root of this thriller with dueling legal and domestic angles is family.
“I love thrills and twists, but the books I connect most with have an emotional component,” says Franze. “As a writer, I’m always trying to make an emotional connection with readers—I want readers to care about my characters, I want them to feel. That’s what I tried to achieve with THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER.”
I’m not ashamed to admit that Franze made me cry—more than once. Because murder mystery aside, this novel is about the lengths people will go to protect the ones they love. From Franze’s meticulous attention to detail, careful plotting and superb character development, through to his touching acknowledgments, one gets the sense that Franze—much like his protagonist—would go the distance.
Perhaps, in part, this is because of his life experiences. This month for The Big Thrill, I had the pleasure of interviewing Franze about life before—and after—THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER.