By George Ebey
Lis Wiehl is one of the nation’s most prominent trial lawyers and highly-regarded commentators. She’s also the author of numerous legal thrillers. Her latest work, THE NEWSMAKERS, is the first in an exciting new series set in the world of on-screen news broadcasting.
In this first installment, TV reporter Erica Sparks has become a superstar overnight. On her first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all of the other networks. Mere weeks later, another type of tragedy strikes— again, right in front of Erica and her cameras.
Is it luck, or is Erica at the center of a spiraling conspiracy? She’ll stop at nothing to uncover the truth—even if it means once and for all dealing with her troubled past.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Lis to discuss her work in both broadcasting and fiction writing.
Can you tell us a little about your background in news casting and how that helped you prepare to write this story?
I began my career as a lawyer and law professor at the University of Washington. The Seattle NPR station would occasionally ask me to comment on a story. This led to my being booked on Bill O’Reilly’s radio show. In 2001, I joined FOX News as a legal analyst and later became an anchor as well. Working at FOX is an immersive experience, when you’re delivering the news 24/7 there is literally no down time, the stakes are high, and the competition is fierce. I knew this pressure cooker environment would make a great setting for an action-thriller. It provides a spicy mix of suspense, risk, larger-than-life personalities, romance, money, and ruthless ambition. It also takes readers behind the scenes to show them the often-messy truth behind the polished presentation they see on screen. How I could I resist setting my new series at a cable news station?
THE NEWSMAKERS is the first in a new series featuring your character, Erica Sparks. Can you tell us more about Erica, who she is and what her journey is about?
Erica is an “It” girl. When she’s on screen, your eyes go to her. It’s a quality that can’t be bought or taught. She’s also young, beautiful and smart—and carrying some very dark secrets. She grew up food-stamp poor in a dying mill town in Maine, the only child in an abusive family. It wasn’t pretty, and it’s left Erica with some deep scars. At Yale, on a full scholarship, she felt intimidated by the ease and privilege of her classmates. Erica started to drink. After graduation, she landed a job as a reporter at a local Boston TV station. She married a perfectly nice schoolteacher and had a daughter, Jenny.
L.J. Sellers may have had a rough and busy year in 2015, not the least of which included a broken leg, but she took time to chat with me about stand-up comedy, writing screenplays, and exploring the world of a sociopath in her new thriller POINT OF CONTROL.
Known for her wildly popular Detective Jackson series and a spin-off series starring Agent Dallas, Sellers has also gained acclaim for her standalone novels like The Baby Thief. The standalones are her way to explore new characters, new settings, and new plots. “Police procedurals can be limiting,” she says, “because detectives have to follow an investigative structure. They also don’t allow me to write from the antagonist’s point of view—because the ‘who’ in a whodunit has to be saved until the last moment. Writing the bad guy is often my favorite part of the process.”
Ironic coming from a woman who says humor is her outlet. She loves funny movies and has actually written three comedic screenplays. Balancing the gritty thriller writer and the comedian wasn’t easy at first. “I felt like I needed help with the comedic elements and dialogue. So I took a comedy writing class. That’s how I ended up doing standup in public.” Even before she wrote and performed her own routines, she was a fan of live standup and continues to attend acts whenever she can. “I still write short standup sketches just for fun, but I rarely perform. I keep telling myself I will again—soon. But I’m so busy!”
Sellers has an entire list of things she’s trying to make more time for, including learning to play the hand-drum she bought three years ago and capitalizing on what she learned in that comedy writing class. “I have a PI series planned with another writer that will have humorous elements. I’m due for that kind of change.” A new series is just one component in her upcoming production schedule. “The 11th Jackson book comes out next June (Death Deserved), and I’m writing another standalone thriller that is very different from anything I’ve done. I may self-publish, but I’m also considering submitting it to Skyscape [another Amazon Publishing imprint].”
By David Healey
The first pages of NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD by German author Stefanie Ross are filled with an extensive list of dramatis personae and it soon becomes clear why because there is so much going on in those opening chapters: drug raids, police department politics, an apparent abduction, and even the involvement of both German and American Special Forces. These seemingly disparate plots come together like a batch of holiday Glühwein made with warm red wine, spices, a little orange rind, and sugar. Take a sip—it’s a delicious winter cocktail, just as this is a delicious thriller.
With this novel, the author is finally making her first appearance to American readers after several popular novels in her native Germany.
In between visiting Germany’s famous Christmas markets and getting ready for the holidays, Ross answered a few questions about her 2016 debut for American readers.
One of the things that’s really interesting about NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD is that while there is plenty of action, there is a lot of focus on male friendships between characters like Mark, Sven, Dirk, and Danny. These are tough guys, but they care deeply about one another. This is something that’s often glossed over in many thrillers. Can you talk a little about your insights into these male friendships?
Well, NEMESIS: INNOCENCE SOLD is the fifth part of this series, so there’s a history behind these men. They fought together, learned to trust each other, and know each other very well.
I love the male friendships in movies like Top Gun (Maverick and Goose) or Lethal Weapon (Riggs and Murdock), but thought about them as a “Hollywood thing.” When I started to research Special Forces and even talked to some members of a German unit, I learned that this kind of friendship is a significant part of their job. They have to trust each other and know exactly how their partner is acting and thinking. I’ve tried to show this in my books and it works. My readers love it and I’ve also heard from men in similar jobs that this part is quite realistic (even if the cases are fiction.)
Suzanne Redfearn is no ordinary author. She is an inventor, golfer, surfer, kick boxer, mom, wife, and self-proclaimed geek.
She writes about everyday moms, dads, and children who are put in untenable situations where the conflict is tangible and the pacing moves at lightning speed. Not unlike the Wonder Laces she invented, her latest novel, NO ORDINARY LIFE (Grand Central, out this month) is taut and gripping.
NO ORDINARY LIFE centers around a family led by a mother, Faye, who is estranged from her truck-driving husband, Sean. Hustling to make ends meet and protective of her family, Faye has to uproot her three children, Tom, Emily, and Molly, to live with her mother. During the transition, Faye is interviewing for jobs with her children in tow. Four-year-old Molly brings every parent’s worst fear to life when Faye cannot find her in a teeming outdoor plaza. During her frantic search, she discovers a huge crowd cheering for her precocious Molly, who is dancing with a sidewalk artist using the steps she learned from Bo, a family friend. As often happens today, an onlooker uses a phone to make a video of the performance and it goes viral on YouTube. The millions of views lead to an agent tracking down Molly, who lands a gig dancing in a Gap commercial. That performance leads to a starring role in a hit children’s television show called, The Foster Kids.
The set up is beautiful. Struggling Faye finally is able to see the possibility of financial freedom and better care for her children. But her other children are unhappy with the relocation away from friends. Emily, the oldest, is a twelve-year-old middle school student with enough “access to excess” to be dangerous. Tom is nine and shy to the point of speechlessness. Meanwhile, Molly is growing more famous and rich, Faye plays stage mother and manager. What could go wrong?
Finding no similar fiction story on the market, Redfearn wrote NO ORDINARY LIFE after reading the autobiography of Little House on the Prairie television star Melissa Francis. Redfearn says, “It was heartbreaking, and I knew, after reading it, I had my jumping off point. It required a child too young to choose a path for herself…”
At four, Redfearn’s Molly indeed cannot choose her path and the question becomes, who will? Anyone who has stood in a supermarket line knows the potential headline-grabbing trials of child stardom: helicopter parents, absent parents, greedy parents, substance abuse, brutal hours, and ruthless directors. In NO ORDINARY LIFE, Hollywood and the estranged Sean combine to play equally compelling antagonists, creating conflict on every page. Both Hollywood and Sean impose their will on Molly and Faye, while the repercussions for Tom and Emily are equally threatening.
A series of murders rocks the Los Angeles area, and each victim’s body bears a note addressed to Detective Gabriel McRay. If McRay knows the killer, that knowledge is locked in the suppressed memory of a childhood trauma.
Teamed with his forensic pathologist girlfriend and a psychiatrist, Gabriel runs two parallel investigations: a dark journey into the terrifying recollections of his past, and a hunt for a killer who knows more about Gabriel than he knows himself.
What inspired you to create such a dark storyline, Laurie?
I’ve asked myself the same question, because I consider myself a positive person.
Like many other people, I’m fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind, and how a catastrophic event can alter a person’s entire perspective on life.
But I didn’t want the main character to be mired in his problems. He wants to be happy and is willing to do the work to achieve balance in his life. I did a lot of research and consulted professionals to find out what kind of therapy could be used to aid in his healing process.
Gabriel is working through a childhood trauma, the memory of which he has suppressed. So, while the story is dark, and Gabriel’s history is certainly dark, I wanted to weave that thread of hope throughout, because I do believe that such a thing exists.
Do you have any personal experience with repressed memories?
Yes. I had an experience where Researching hypnotic drugs for the series actually made me realize that at one time I was drugged without my knowledge. I had experienced the same effects that I was creating for characters in the story.
How’s that for the inner workings of the human mind?
What motivated you to write your novel?
With the impact of social media on our lives today, do you see the events you write about as possible in our near future?
Yes. Maybe not this specific story, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see an Internet corporation abuse its power in the future. Everything in my novel is possible today. All that’s missing is motive.
“If you write crime fiction, never allow yourself to think that your mom might someday be reading what you’re writing,” says J.D. Rhoades, the North Carolinian author of ICE CHEST .
Considering that Rhoades became famous for writing gritty and dark crime stories, his advice seems legit.
With ICE CHEST Rhoades creates a heist novel with a very unusual MacGuffin: a piece of lingerie made with precious stones worth five and a half million dollars. It becomes the target of a gang of inept thieves.
“Researching the real-life ‘Fantasy Bra’ for ICE CHEST was quite a bit of fun,” Rhoades says, while also stating how much he loved writing the main female character, Clarissa Cartwright. “She’s continually underestimated because she’s so beautiful. But she’s smart and tough and doesn’t take crap from anyone.”
Rhoades is the author of the praised Jack Keller series that deals with a disturbed bounty hunter living in the American South. Rhodes currently lives in Carthage, NC, where he also works as a lawyer. His vast experiences as a reporter, club DJ, television cameraman, ad salesman, waiter, attorney, and newspaper columnist helped him become a published writer.
While working as a columnist for The Pilot newspaper, Rhoades decided to take the suggestion of his editor and start writing fiction. The journalistic work also led him to meet writers such as Katy Munger, Karin Slaughter, Sean Chercover, and Kat Richardson, which encouraged him to give fiction-writing a shot. In Rhoades’ words, “once you start meeting novelists, either in person or online, somehow writing a novel seems much more of an obtainable accomplishment.”
Some places seem too beautiful to be touched by horror. Summit Lake, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is that kind of place, with charming stilt houses dotted along the pristine water. But two weeks ago, Becca Eckersley, a first-year law student, was brutally murdered in one of those houses. Now, while the town reels with grief and shocked residents gather to share their theories, the police are baffled.
At first, investigative reporter Kelsey Castle thinks of the assignment as a fluff piece. But as Kelsey digs deeper, she feels a growing connection to the dead girl. And the more she learns about Becca’s friendships, her love life, and her secrets, the more convinced she becomes that learning the truth about Becca could be the key to overcoming her own dark past…
By Dawn Ius
A mile from Carol Goodman’s house is a long and winding road. Haunting as it is picturesque, this stretch of highway was the catalyst for Goodman’s return to writing adult fiction. Well, that and an unfortunate incident between her car and a deer.
RIVER ROAD begins with Nan Lewis—a creative-writing professor at a state university in upstate New York—driving home from a faculty party after finding out she’s been denied tenure. Tired, a little tipsy, and a lot pissed off, she doesn’t see the deer that darts in front of her vehicle until it’s too late. But when she gets out of the car to look for it, the animal is nowhere to be found.
Frazzled, and eager to take shelter from the oncoming snowstorm, Nan goes home, pours herself a drink, and vows to forget the entire night. That is, until the next morning, when the police arrive with horrifying news—one of Nan’s students, Leia Dawson, was killed on River Road the night before. And because of the damage to her car, Nan is suddenly suspect number one. Nan now finds herself ostracized by the very community that once rallied around her when her own daughter was killed in an eerily similar accident on the same road.
“The experience of hitting the deer stayed with me for days, weeks,” Goodman says. She even wrote a poem about it, trying to process her feelings and shake off the overwhelming sadness.
A month or so later, a tragic double hit-and-run in her community further solidified Goodman’s need to write RIVER ROAD. “Two college girls were killed only a few miles from my house. This incident also impacted me greatly.”
The woman responsible for the deaths was caught, but Goodman became fascinated by her, desperate to understand the experiences that would have led this woman to make choices that ultimately ended in tragedy. As soon as she wrote the first chapter of RIVER ROAD, Goodman had built the foundation for her protagonist, and the story branched off from there, forcing the author to stretch outside her comfort zone.
Writing a Fast-Paced Thriller Laced With Fascinating Detail
By Dawn Ius
Barry Lancet doesn’t study martial arts or Japanese art, but some of his friends do, so he watches. Carefully.
These keen observations transpose with awe-inspiring fluidity onto the pages of Lancet’s award-winning Jim Brodie thrillers, creating a cultural depth—to say nothing of the action sequences—that have catapulted the series onto “best of” lists and garnered the attention of none other than Star War’s J.J. Abrams.
PACIFIC BURN, the third installment featuring rogue second-generation P.I. Jim Brodie, is no exception.
As a special liaison for the San Francisco mayor’s Pacific Rim Friendship Program, Brodie enlists the help of his friend, a renowned Japanese artist named Ken Nobuki. But the promising start of a partnership takes a nosedive when Nokubi is attacked by a sniper and ends up in a coma. To get to the bottom of who is behind the attack on not only Nokubi but Nokubi’s entire family, Brodie goes up against the CIA, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security—and a killer operating on both sides of the Pacific.
Many exceptional fight sequences ensue.
“Every novel has so many different types of scenes,” Lancet says. “And there is a separate art to each type. Even fight scenes. And within the fight scene, there is nuance and many ways to create suspense.”
Lancet achieves this with almost cinematic flair, creating vivid action scenes that are easily visualized, perhaps even meant for the screen, which explains the attention Brodie has received from Hollywood.
“The reason J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot ears perked up with the Jim Brodie books is because of Brodie’s unique abilities, I was told,” Lancet says. “As a Japan expert, Brodie knows two worlds extremely well. And like other classic detectives such as Sherlock Holmes and even television’s Monk, he sees things others cannot fathom. At the murder scene in Japantown he is able to point out details the SFPD miss, and in the aftermath of the attacks in PACIFIC BURN, only he sees the critical clues.”
Authenticity Knocks—and Shocks!
By Dawn Ius
Carla Buckley doesn’t write about terrorists. She isn’t interested in the day-to-day drama of (fictional) presidents. And you’re not likely to find her protagonists facing off against a deranged serial killer.
Buckley’s books are part of the ever-evolving and increasingly more popular “domestic thriller” genre—stories of real families facing real dilemmas.
“I want my readers to be able to put themselves in my characters’ shoes,” Buckley says. “I want them to ask themselves the same, hard questions.”
In her newest release, THE GOOD GOODBYE, the “bad guy” is the question that lurks in every parent’s heart: how well do we really know our children?
Told through three alternating points of view—cousins Rory and Arden, and Arden’s mom, Natalie—THE GOOD GOODBYE is the chilling story of an estranged family forced together after a fire in a college dorm leaves Rory and Arden in the hospital and one of their friends dead. As the mystery of how the fire started begins to unravel, disturbing truths come to light, culminating in a whopper of a plot twist.
“The idea for the novel was inspired by a true event a number of years ago when two devastated families were pushed together under the most terrible of circumstances,” Buckley says. “The event forms the central reveal at the story’s midpoint.”
The journey to this shocking turn is a compelling read, guided by Buckley’s seemingly effortless prose, filled with unexpected curves and an authenticity that truly positions Buckley as one of the genre’s best.
“I work really hard to write tight because that’s what I like to read,” she says. “I focus on scene openings and endings especially, because that’s where you can lose a reader. I chop, chop, chop.”
And just when she thinks she’s got the book where she wants it, she chops some more.
Writing Two Heroines in One Thriller
By Dawn Ius
Writing partnerships can get complicated. Egos, creative differences, writerly quirks—the potential for disaster hovers just below an author’s naturally thin skin.
Unless you’re Allison Brennan and Laura Griffin, the dynamic duo behind the popular female P.I. series, Moreno and Hart. While both are New York Times bestselling novelists in their own right, the co-authors credit a unique writing process for their partnership—and series—success.
“What works is that we each write our own character,” says Brennan, who is the voice behind Scarlet Moreno, the slightly older, more experienced former cop who was pulled into being a private investigator when she was pushed out of the Los Angeles Police Department. “Laura writes Krista Hart, the former rookie cop who thrives as a P.I. and is the only person Scarlet really trusts.”
For each book, the authors discuss the general over-arcing storyline and key character growth points—and then break off to write what ends up being individual novellas that are carefully stitched together to create two unique versions of the same story.
“I think it goes back to voice,” says Griffin. “These heroines—Scarlet and Krista—have such distinct personalities, it seemed natural for us to trade points of view within each book, part one told from one character’s perspective and part two told from the other’s.”
LOST AND FOUND, the third in the Moreno and Hart series, begins with Krista on the most dangerous skip trace of her career. With their P.I. business on the brink of failure, Krista doesn’t think twice about bringing in rival investigator (and potential love interest) R.J. Flynn to help track down the missing witness. Meanwhile, Scarlet is following a lead that could answer the question that’s been dogging her for three years: who is behind the mysterious shooting that cost her her badge and nearly her life?
As Scarlet begins to unravel a shocking conspiracy, Krista hones in on the witness—and realizes someone close to them is watching their every move. With the clock ticking and the body count rising, LOST AND FOUND builds to a heart-pounding climax that has become the hallmark of Brennan and Griffin’s work.
In the last interview I conducted for The Big Thrill, I was revelling in uncovering the hidden lives of my fellow ITW authors, finding out about their surprising skills and interests. Little did I guess that my latest interviewee would combine a passion for writing with a career as a sculptor.
Guinotte, is the creative process very different for those two media?
Not that different, actually. I’ve always said about the sculpture that it happens in the process, and it does. I start out with a thought about what the thing is going to be, but it often goes in another direction. Sometimes a startlingly different direction. If it’s a horse it will end up as a horse, but often not the horse it started to be. If it’s abstract, no telling where it’s going or how big it will be. An art news publication called me “a cross between Rube Goldberg and John Chamberlain” and I like that a lot.
What’s the most usual reaction to your sculptures?
Either “I could do that,” or “Where do you get your ideas?” Seriously, the reactions are all over the place, but mostly real positive and nice to hear. At every opening for a solo show, I’m gratified to see familiar faces of those who actually want to see the latest that I’ve done, and some of those are buyers, patrons. Some of them have several pieces, and that’s saying a lot because sculpture takes up more room than some can spare. I do pieces with smaller footprints for people with less space, and they do buy them.
The fact is, I’d do the same things even if nobody liked them. At openings with free booze, you learn to mentally trim the effusiveness to a realistic, somewhat positive response. Quite often the best response to a nonrepresentational piece is “I can’t explain it, but I get it.” The design has to work on some level above the intrinsic interest of the materials in order to be regarded as art, I think. That’s not easy to accomplish, but sometimes I feel I do.
It’s not often I get inspired by a visit to the gym. I get bored too easily and think of all the writing I could be doing instead. Not that I get any specific ideas there, because a gym with over-loud music just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe it’s the pain as well.
But this one time I got one. An idea. And it illustrates how something seemingly insignificant will stick in the memory until days or even months later.
I’d just completed Close Quarters, the second in the Marc Portman Watchman spy thriller series, and was toying with what to do next. I hadn’t anything specific in mind, but I knew I wanted to try something different, for a break, to see what came out. I’ve always worked that way, switching between magazine short fiction, features and books, and within the book genres themselves; from the Inspector Lucas Rocco crime series set in France (Death on the Marais, etc.), to the Harry Tate spy thrillers (Red Station, etc.).
Anyway, empty of brain, I opened the locker to put away my clothes, and saw a business card on the shelf. A white one, stark against the dark interior, with a name, telephone number and address—I forget the details, but they’re irrelevant. When I turned it over out of idle curiosity, I saw it had my name scrawled on it. Adrian.
OK, that was a bit spooky for a second, but that was all and I knew it wasn’t addressed to me. Call me psychic. Probably the beginning of a message that never was, for another Adrian.
I put it back, did my session of self-torture and went home. Except something about what I’d seen in the locker wouldn’t let go. What hit me was the sheer randomness of a piece of card with my name on it being in a locker at a public gym.
What if someone hired husband-and-wife detectives to solve a murder while someone else paid married assassins for hire to make sure the facts of the murder stayed hidden? Well, you’d have Thomas Perry’s latest novel, FORTY THIEVES.
The book is definitely a thriller, although you could mistake it for a mystery. After all, it opens with the body of an unidentified man stuck in a storm drain, as in a murder mystery, and two detectives are hired to find the killer. But after the first few chapters, we spend half our time with the perpetrators, as in a thriller. Which term would the author favor?
“As a rule, I don’t spend much time thinking about genre boundaries,” Perry says. “I’ll use any narrative method that will amuse a reader, regardless of the tradition it came from.”
In either case, it’s the characters that make a novel, and this one kicks off with Sid and Ronnie Abel, a pair of middle-aged former LAPD detectives running a two-person private detective agency in Los Angeles. The likeable pair has built what they think of as a “last chance” agency, the firm that clients take their problems to when everybody else has failed.
“They’re worldly and have seen everything human beings do a couple of times by now,” Perry says, “and they have a kind of wise humor that only seems to develop over the course of a long marriage. I do consider them heroes, but they would simply consider themselves pros.”
To match those pros, Perry gives us a great pair of villains: Ed and Nicole Hoyt. While the Abels have seen everything, the Hoyts have done a lot of things—various professions, relationships, vices—and found them all unsatisfying. That is, until they found each other at a gun enthusiasts’ training camp.
As Perry puts it, “They realized that they were both good at the skills it takes to kill people, and didn’t have any particular objection to killing as a way to live. Their only loyalty is to each other. Each has an unspoken gratitude to the other for saving them from their previous lives of failure and disappointment. As killers they’re content, confident, and even proud of themselves.”
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Vincent Zandri sat down with The Big Thrill to talk about his new novel, ORCHARD GROVE, a tale about a very ordinary neighborhood with not-so-ordinary neighbors. A depressed screenplay writer, his secretive wife, and the seductive serial killer living next door are the cast who take us down a path of manipulation, mind games and dangerous lies.
Hi Vincent. Thanks for joining me. Your main protagonist—Ethan—is a depressed screenwriter. Is there something special about writing a writer as a main character?
Well it boils down to the “write what you know” thing. I’m a writer and at least in terms of my experience, I know what it’s like to live the life of a writer, particularly the ups and downs and sideways adventures. I also know how tenuous this business is and how stunningly fragile loyalty can be. Ethan has been through it all as a screenwriter. On top of the world, sharing smokes with Johnny Depp out in West LA and then, in the not too distant future, facing foreclosure on his house and the failure of his marriage. He’s a desperate guy and they tend to do desperate things. When he falls in “lust” with his lovely new blonde neighbor, Lana, he finds he’ll do just about anything to get her all to himself. Even if it means murder.
I’m interested in the dichotomy between setting your novel in a sleepy, ordinary place and then filling it with extreme and dangerous characters. Can you share the process that went into creating the town?
I’m fascinated by the concept of the evil that lies within, if that makes any sense. Who knows what lurks behind the closed and bolted doors of your neighbor’s house? The pretty, pastel-colored houses that make up a nicely manicured, cozy suburban neighborhood could, in theory, be a breeding ground for murder, terror, evil, sexual deviance, and much more. That nice man who’s waving to you from across the lawn while pushing his lawn mower just might have a few bodies buried in the backyard.
There’s been a heck of a lot of domestic, psychological thrillers released in the past few years and the sub-genre is enjoying enormous success. Do you think readers will keep coming back for more?
I think and hope so. Certainly publishers have noticed the upsurge in the demand for these Hitchcockian novels. Thomas & Mercer and Polis Books have asked me to write more of them. I had always thought the detective PI series thriller would be the ticket to ultimate success, but it turns out I’m enjoying a very nice run with the stand-alone domestic psych thrillers, like Everything Burns and The Remains. I’ve moved hundreds of thousands of units between the both of them.
By Kim Powers
In my day job—my “barista job” as I call it—I’m the senior writer for ABC’s newsmagazine, 20/20. One of the highest-ranking and most moving shows we’ve done in the last several years was Diane Sawyer’s incredible one hour special with Jaycee Dugard, the 11-year-old girl who had been kidnapped by a crazed husband and wife in California in 1991. Held captive by them for the next 18 years, even forced to bear two children by the man, Jaycee was finally rescued during a rare trip outside the backyard compound, which had become both her prison and her home.
At the time of Diane’s interview with Jaycee and her mother, Terry Probyn, I hadn’t started writing my new kidnapping thriller, DIG TWO GRAVES, although I had written a version of the story as a screenplay. There was one moment in Diane’s interview that never left me, and that became a guiding light for me in my book; not a big, over-the-top, hysterical moment, but a much quieter, off-the-cuff, indelibly human moment. Jaycee’s mother, hard-worn and hard scrabble, said that one night in her backyard, years after Jaycee had been taken, she just looked up into the sky and said, “Jaycee, where are you?” To me, it was probably the most deeply-felt, intimate, naked moment in the program. And the way Terry, the mother, told it to Diane, replaying it: the cock of her head, just the slightest layer of tears that came across her eyes; I could visualize her in that backyard, probably taking out the trash or some completely humdrum task that said life went on, but she had never given up. Asking her question to Jaycee, God, the universe. Hoping that if there were any shred of justice or good in the world, she’d get an answer back.
That perfectly still moment found its way into DIG TWO GRAVES. (Write what you know, or at least see on TV, right?) A 12-year old girl named Skip has been kidnapped; her father Ethan Holt, a former Olympic Decathlon hero, saysto himself, “Skip, where are you?” after everyone else has gone home. Ethan, who had been proclaimed the best athlete in the world—jokingly nicknamed “Hercules” by his teammates; a man who, in his prime, could have ripped apart a thick metropolitan phone book. Now, all he has is himself, in the dark of the night. The one-time strongest man in the world is impotent; his muscles can’t solve the problem any longer. The police have packed up, exhausted and out of leads; they’ve been living on cold pizza and Red Bull for days. But Ethan can’t go to sleep while his daughter is missing. He can’t tuck himself into a nice warm bed, while something horrible might be happening to her.
By E.M. Powell
Lee Child has described Elizabeth Heiter’s new release, SEIZED, as being “suspenseful from the start and intriguing throughout.” That’s praise indeed and having read the book, I would agree it’s just that—and a whole lot more. It’s Heiter’s third novel in The Profiler series, featuring FBI profiler Evelyn Baine. A routine investigation for Evelyn goes badly wrong when she’s kidnapped by a dangerous cult of survivalists. As she’s held inside their compound, she realizes that the cult is not what it seems and fears she’s stumbled onto an emerging terrorist threat – and a leader who has a score to settle with the FBI. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team is closing in but if it breaches the compound, Evelyn’s dead for sure. If they don’t, the cult plans to unleash a surprise attack that could leave the whole country shattered. It’s a fast-paced, gripping read with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers guessing.
Evelyn is a complex and engaging heroine and from what readers have said in reviews of the first two novels in the series, Hunted and Vanished, she is very popular with them. Heiter explains that she got the idea for the character from real life: “Many years ago, I picked up a book about profiling—Mindhunter by former FBI profiler John Douglas— and I was fascinated. The idea of having a character who would go to a crime scene and look at the behavioral clues instead of the physical ones (the pieces of him- or herself the perpetrator didn’t even know were visible in the crime itself) sounded very different, and it was someone I wanted to create.”
But as Heiter continued her extensive research, the challenges of the job of profiler became only too apparent to her. As well as having to visit horrific crime scenes, there is the emotional toll of being away from home and family on a regular basis. Heiter recalls: “I wondered who could stick with a job like this? And in some ways, this was particularly true for a female profiler, because with serial crimes, most often the victims are other women. So, I decided my heroine needed a really compelling personal reason to become a profiler.” Heiter gave Evelyn the disappearance of her best friend when she was twelve years old. Her friend was never found, and it became the driving force in Evelyn’s life to discover what had happened to her.
Jan Needle brings back the beloved characters from KICKING OFF in the second of a series. This one is called THE BONUS BOYS. Cynical investigator Andrew Forbes – drinker, smoker, gambler – was always an unlikely partner for Rosanna Nixon, so apparently demure that she’s known as the Mouse. Their love affair has not survived their first brutal clash with sordid reality, although both have found the break-up devastating. Now they are thrown together in the world of “the bonus boys”– men so rich that normal rules do not apply.
But the world of wealth and country mansions loses its veneer when a gang of psychopathic killers comes to call on Thea Hayter while her husband is – conveniently – in America. As it turns to blood-soaked horror, a blundering police force and a politician on the make turn up the screws to fever pitch. It seems impossible Rosanna, hostage in a hidden chalet in a wood, can survive.
Let’s talk about your main male character in the series Andrew Forbes. He’s the complete opposite of Rosanna Nixon. What does she see in him?
Although she’s got an inner core of steel, the Mouse gets involved in the brutal worlds of politics and crime only when she meets, then falls in love with, Andrew. He is hard-bitten and cynical, but he’s very much on the side of the angels underneath it all. He’s a widower, and essentially a one-woman man. But life has knocked him about a lot. They say feeling sorry for a man is the most dangerous thing a woman can do. Rosanna does – and falls!
Do you envision this to be a long running series?
Yes. Andrew and the Mouse came together in the first book, Kicking Off, almost by accident, and it took me some time to realize they were going to be inseparable. Then, of course, they separated. The strains they both live and work under are very great, and will get worse as the series goes on. To be quite honest, I don’t know how, or if, they’ll survive! That’s why I love writing about them.
Building the Scariest, Smartest Villains
By James Ziskin
Peter James writes terrifying thrillers. The kind you know are going to scare you, but you read them just the same, because once you start, stopping is not an option. You know the scary parts are coming, but you can’t look away. James’s realistic, nail-biting police procedurals and their popular hero, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, have earned him a bushelful of prestigious awards on both sides of the Atlantic and in France. But it’s not just Roy Grace who keeps James’s millions of readers turning the pages. His villains are the smartest, scariest, and most complex bad guys you’ll find anywhere.
James has written 28 novels, including 11 in the wildly successful D.S. Roy Grace series. The latest installment is YOU ARE DEAD, which follows Grace’s harrowing pursuit of a twisted serial killer.
I had the pleasure of talking to Peter James about his latest book and even managed to squeeze in some questions about writing and his career as well.
YOU ARE DEAD is the 11th novel in the wildly popular Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. More than 16 million books sold. Sorry, let me just say that’s a lot of books. Readers and writers are always interested to learn about the journey. Has this series met your expectations? Or did you dream of even wilder success? Tell us about your writing aspirations before you made it big.
I never started out with a finite number of Roy Grace books in my head–and I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, the global success that Roy Grace would have. I love writing these books more than anything I have ever done in my life and just so long as my readers keep enjoying them and wanting more, I will continue. The success of these novels has totally astonished me, I never expected him to be this popular–and it is wonderful –I’m immensely grateful to all my readers and, of course, now I feel very protective of him!
In the early days I had years of rejection letters as an unpublished author. It was as if there was a wall, like a Berlin wall, on one side of which were the publishers and the published authors, and on the other side were all those desperate to be published authors–and never the twain should meet. I became hugely despondent in my mid-twenties, really believing that the dream I’d held since the age of eight, of being a published author, would never come true. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be any good at writing novels, that I just did not have what it took.
Weather played a vital part in the genesis of A COLD WHITE FEAR, according to R. J. Harlick. “Most people think winter and Canada are synonymous and yet only one of my previous books, Red Ice for a Shroud, takes place in winter. So I decided the seventh would capture its full fury. I also wanted to try my hand at a thriller. While the other books in the Meg Harris series are suspenseful as any thriller, they all have crime-solving plots. In A COLD WHITE FEAR, I wanted to place Meg in jeopardy from the get-go and watch how she musters all her resources to get out of it alive.”
About the writing of this latest entry, Harlick said, “I know Meg very well so the continuing development of her character easily flows from one book to the next. She is joined by Adjidamo, a young Algonquin boy who has appeared in earlier books. So the writing of both characters was relatively easy, along with the setting, Meg’s home, Three Deer Point, which I also know intimately.
“For me the hard part was the unfolding of the story within its narrow parameters. The action takes in less than a day and in a single location. Since a change in time or location were not tools I could use to move the story forward, I found myself delving deeper into the souls of all the main characters, including the bad guys, and used this to drive the story to its tumultuous ending.
“Because A COLD WHITE FEAR takes place in western Quebec—a setting I know intimately—and during the kind of blizzard I wish I didn’t know intimately, I didn’t have to do much research.” But some research was required. Aside from the standard Internet research, Harlick had her main character handling a gun for the first time, so off she went to a local gun club to hold, fire, and see “what it felt like.” Her books are, after all, set in Canada.
Although Harlick doesn’t outline she does know certain things before starting. She establishes the setting, the community, the social issues, and most of the main characters. She knows where the story will start and has a general idea of the arc. “But I’m a pantser,” she said. “I let the story flow from chapter to chapter. Rarely do I know whodunit until the very end. In A COLD WHITE FEAR, there is one scene in particular that appears close to the end that came as a complete surprise to me. Though I had done some foreshadowing, I hadn’t fully thought out the implications until I reached the point in the story where it needed to happen. For me it was a very difficult scene to write.”
This is probably the most common question readers ask about the psychiatrist-protagonist of the Zoe Goldman series.
The honest answer: I didn’t give Zoe anything. That’s just how she came to me. Maybe this sounds glib, but it’s true. Once I heard her voice (and believe me, it was rather loud at times), it was obvious that Zoe had “issues.” Her thoughts kept zigzagging, her moods cycled up and down, and she made these impulsive decisions that weren’t helping anyone, including herself. I’m a neurologist, so it didn’t take long to make the diagnosis.
In a fortuitous way, her ADHD is literary gold. Zoe’s thoughts may be scattered, but also self-deprecatingly funny. Her voice shifts based on her meds and her moods, and her perspective is certainly unique. Does this make her—get ready for the dreaded word—”likable”? I don’t know. That’s a loaded word for any female protagonist. One reviewer said, “Sometimes I want to put my arm around Zoe, and other times I want to smack her.” I get that. I want to smack her myself sometimes.
But who wants a genius as a protagonist, always armed with the right zinger, who can suss out a villain a mile away? Not me. I like my main characters flawed, and Zoe Goldman is certainly that. Still, our flaws can be our strengths too. Her thought process, though helter-skelter at times, allows her to make connections that others miss. Her decisions are impetuous and even self-destructive. But they also yield unexpected results.
Ultimately, her ADHD is neither her saving grace nor her handicap; it is just part of who she is. My subconscious was simply responding to the milieu, or as they say, “something in the water.” Neurocognitive disorders such as autism and ADHD are on the rise, and Zoe Goldman is just one of many out there. Not only do we as a society need to get used to it, we need to recognize the positives of these disorders and drop our dependence on biased “normative” standards. Who is normal, after all? As a patient in Little Black Lies said (in a line which I stole from a real-life patient), “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.”
By David Healey
What do you get when you combine a plumbing sales professional, an expert Cape Cod boater, and former music student? You get an author like Kevin V. Symmons, who uses his unique background and experience to write thrillers such as CHRYSALIS, his newest novel.
In CHRYSALIS, the story revolves around Paige Fuller, a champion equestrian who is slowly making a comeback from a devastating riding accident. She feels that she lives in the shadow of her sister, Candy, who is more outgoing and has those classic “Cover Girl” looks that attract boys in the way that a seashore picnic attracts seagulls.
When childhood friend Morgan Cahill visits the Fuller family estate on the Massachusetts shore for the weekend, Paige is expecting that the Harvard football star will be polite but eager to get away—or to spend more time with Candy. Of course, Morgan is not just any boy, but the one that Paige has been secretly in love with since she was a little girl.
When Morgan falls for Paige, much to her surprise, it begins a romantic adventure that features twists, turns, dark secrets, thugs and ex-cons, and redemption—not to mention the 9-11 terrorist attacks as a backdrop.
One of the more intriguing aspects of this new romantic thriller is that it is mostly written from the viewpoint of an eighteen-year-old woman—a character very different from Symmons himself. He adds that in many ways, the story and the character chose him. Paige had a story to tell, and selected Symmons to tell it.
How did he get inside her head?
Uncovering the Motivations of Complex Characters
By Josie Brown
Nuanced in your writing voice. Detailed in your research. Prolific in your output. In this era of publishing, these are the key ingredients for a successful thriller author.
Allison Brennan is proof of that.
Come April 2016—just 10 years since her debut as an author—she will have published 30 books and 12 novellas. Besides racking up numerous book award nominations—and being awarded finalist status 12 times—Allison is a Daphne du Maurier award winner. She has also won a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award, and was a finalist for “Best Paperback Original” with International Thriller Writers.
In her latest novel, NO GOOD DEED, Allison’s protagonist, FBI agent Lucy Kincaid, is up against an escaped convict—former DEA agent Nicole Rollins—with a vendetta against her. Yet, after a daring escape, Nicole does one very stupid thing: She sticks around in order to play cat-and-mouse with Lucy. At the same time, Nicole has a more pragmatic motivator not to flee: embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars.
All great stuff. And all the more reason to get Allison to open up on what it takes to stay at the top of her game, one book at a time.
Talk about good cop gone bad! Allison, how did you come up with this dual plot dilemma? And for that matter, did the yin and yang of Nicole’s motivations make your writing process for this story more difficult or more fun, considering the number of obstacles it puts in Nicole’s way, and of course Lucy’s too?
One of my favorite parts of writing is uncovering the motivation of my characters. For Lucy it’s easy—NO GOOD DEED is her tenth book. I know why she does what she does, and for me the fun part is giving her more complex and difficult decisions to make—and putting her in unfamiliar situations. But a villain is only as compelling as his or her motivation.
While Nicole does have a vendetta against Lucy and those who (in Dead Heat) uncovered her illegal activities and put her in prison, there is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t about the money, she would have left the country. Nicole was stuck—if she didn’t get the money that the FBI seized, she wouldn’t be able to stay in hiding for long. It was a risk she had to take because her long-term survival depended on having the resources to elude authorities. I didn’t quite figure that out at first … but as soon as I got into her head, it all came together.
Delving Deep into the Assassin’s Story
By Dawn Ius
International bestselling author of more than thirty novels.
An insatiable appetite for storytelling.
Advocate for literacy.
On all accounts, David Baldacci is guilty as charged.
The lawyer-turned-author is known for producing some of the most gripping, page-turning fiction in the genre—a fact he attributes to several factors that include setting, brevity of words, a genuine love of storytelling, and a healthy dose of fear.
“I love starting from a blank slate and getting out of my comfort zone,” he says. “I think writers should be terrified every time they sit down to write. Fear is a great antidote to complacency.”
Indeed, Baldacci’s infectious passion has paved the way for a boisterous publishing career that includes novels for adults and teens. His books have been translated into more than forty-five languages and sold in over eighty countries—a staggering 110 million copies are in print worldwide.
And if that’s not enough, several of Baldacci’s novels have been made into TV and movie adaptations, beginning with his debut Absolute Power, which was directed by —and starred—none other than Clint Eastwood.
“I felt like I had hit the lotto jackpot,” Baldacci says. “I called everyone I knew. Everyone was throwing checks at me. It was very surreal. When it happened, I remember thinking, ‘This is never going to happen like this again. Take it one, slow breath at a time.’ ”
A difficult task for an author that truly waits with breathless anticipation to begin each new story.
By J. H. Bográn
They say writing is a lonely profession. A writer sits in a room with only a computer and imagination. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once in a while two writers join forces and produce tremendous work. And so it is with the acclaimed duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They’ve co-authored New York Times bestselling thrillers for years, including the Agent Pendergast series. Next month the FBI agent extraordinaire is back in CRIMSON SHORE. In this story, Pendergast, New Orleans born and bred, takes the alluring Constance Greene to a town in Massachusetts. The story begins with the theft of a rare collector’s wine, but quickly expands into a mystery that weaves back to an earlier century.
Since I really can’t elaborate any more without giving away the plot, let’s see what Mr. Preston and Mr. Child have to say about their latest novel.
How did the idea originate?
We wanted to write a book with a similar feel to our earlier Still Life With Crows, in which Agent Pendergast is placed in an unusual and alien environment far out of his comfort zone, where he finds himself essentially a fish out of water. A charming New England setting, which Doug and I are both familiar with, immediately suggested itself as a good possibility.
What’s new for Agent Pendergast in this novel?
This story is more like a Sherlock Holmes tale than our usual novels, in that Pendergast takes on a private for-hire case. Of course, things very quickly begin to get out of hand…
What kind of research did you have to go through for CRIMSON SHORE?
I can’t answer that in too much detail without spoiling things, but suffice it to say that we had to give the Salem witch trials a pretty close look. As I allude to above, we’re both familiar with the New England coast, so the particular setting of CRIMSON SHORE—the fictitious town of Exmouth, Massachusetts—was relatively easy and fun to both assemble and describe.
In an intense thriller that’s perfect for fans of Lee Child or Lisa Gardner, security specialist and PI Jamie Sinclair tackles a cold case that could cost her the one person who means the most to her.
Hardworking Jamie Sinclair can’t wait for the weekend. She plans to be off the clock and on the road to wine country with handsome military police officer Adam Barrett. But when a strung-out soldier takes an innocent woman hostage and forces his way into Jamie’s bedroom, everything changes. Jamie’s never seen the soldier before. But he’s no stranger to Barrett—and with one word he persuades Barrett to pack a duffel and leave Jamie in the lurch.
Jamie cannot fathom why Barrett would abandon her without explanation. But as the consequences of an unsolved crime threaten to catch up with him, a late-night phone call sends Jamie racing to Barrett’s hometown in upstate New York. In a tinderbox of shattered trust and long-buried secrets, Jamie must fight to uncover the truth about what really occurred one terrible night twenty years ago. And the secrets she discovers deep in Barrett’s past not only threaten their future together—they just might get her killed.
In writing his first novel, Paul McGoran wanted to create a noir thriller with fully developed characters. At the same time, he felt a need to turn the old femme fatale trope on its head. His protagonist had to be a woman, and her best-laid plans would be annihilated by an attractive, but deadly homme fatal.
Welcome to MADE FOR MURDER (New Pulp Press), a suspense thriller in the classic tradition that pits mercenary socialite Helena Swann against a lethal ex-con named Sam “Shoo-fly” Porter. When they meet on a flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco, their mutual attraction is palpable, but Helena tries to resist—she can’t quite bring herself to dump a rich and adoring fiance, Brad Styles.
Thus begins the see-saw of Helena’s emotions tilting her first toward Sam’s drive and sexual magnetism, then back toward Brad’s wealth and prestige. But a bible-spouting private eye comes along to disrupt the narrative. He attributes a double murder back in Las Vegas to Sam, who bolts—the start of a long odyssey leading to Miami Beach. In fear for her own life now, Helena flees in secret to relatives in Newport, Rhode Island—where MADE FOR MURDER’s climax takes place after more plot twists and two more brutal slayings.
What made you want to write this book? Did you start with plot, theme, or character?
MADE FOR MURDER started life as a screenplay treatment. When it dawned on me I had no one to pitch it to and no prospects of going to Hollywood, I put it aside. Later, I wondered if I might try it as a novel. It was then I asked myself what was driving me to tell the story. What stuck in my mind from beginning to end was the blind ambition and will to power of Sam “Shoo-fly” Porter, a stone-cold killer who nevertheless thinks he can make it into the top echelons of business and society.
Is Shoo-fly a serial killer? Can a serial killer be a hero, Dexter notwithstanding?
Sam Porter doesn’t have the distinctive M.O. of a serial killer. His crimes come from frustration and rage. Besides, this is noir—there’s no real hero. The protagonist is Helena Swann, she’s the one under pressure, the one whose decisions drive the story. In Frankenstein, for instance, the focus is on the monster, but the doctor is the protagonist.
By Rob Brunet
Secrets—their holding, their telling, their discovery—are an important part of crafting an engaging story. Some characters do things only the reader will know. Others learn things after we’ve discerned them, whether good or bad.
With the launch of her latest series, Bonnie Hearn Hill gives her readers a chance to not only meet Kit Doyle, but to watch Kit uncover secrets of her own past. An amateur sleuth who airs other people’s stories on her radio talk show, Kit knows better than most that some secrets are better left hidden. But the bombshell her mother reveals to kick off her story isn’t something she can ignore.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Bonnie Hearn Hill gives us a look at where her stories come from, and what she thinks of how secrets shape our stories, and our lives. more »
The Boundless World of Jack Reacher
A TRAIN STOPS at night next to “a grain elevator as big as an apartment house,” and a single man gets out. “There was mist in the nighttime air like a note on a calendar.” A woman emerges from the shadows, eager to speak to him, until she realizes he’s not whom she was expecting, and her disappoint shows.
So begins MAKE ME, the twentieth novel written by Lee Child featuring Jack Reacher, a former major in the U.S. Army Military Police who now wanders America alone. Something always happens, and Reacher is, in his creator’s words, “in deep shit for the rest of the book.” Or to put it another way: “He’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time.” MAKE ME, which made its debut on The New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list at Number One, is “pretty hard core even for a Reacher book,” said Child at a tour stop at Barnes & Noble in Manhattan’s Union Square. The twists are truly shocking. “I have a big surprise and then I have a bigger surprise,” the author said with a smile. To prevent spoilers, no more can be said on the plot of MAKE ME.
No less a fan than Malcolm Gladwell, in the pages of The New Yorker, described the appeal of Reacher’s “lawless pleasures”: “We know going in that Reacher will kill the bad guy through some combination of tactical brilliance and brute force. The pleasure is in Reacher’s moment of introspection in the millisecond before the action occurs: his silent consideration of the variables of physics, geometry, and psychology that comprise a violent encounter.”
In an interview with The Big Thrill, Lee Child opens up about his creation, Jack Reacher, and the craft of writing.
The first question from the audience at your Barnes & Noble event in September was about Tom Cruise playing Reacher, and later you were asked about another film being adapted from a Reacher novel. It seems that people frequently want to ask authors about film possibilities.
Yes, and you know I don’t care who plays Jack Reacher. The books are my thing. I don’t like the presumption that the books are not enough. In this view, it’s as if a book is a chrysalis yearning to be a movie. But for me, the book is the final product.
And of course authors have to accept the realities of adaptation.
I love Hollywood people, I like the movies. But if you’re going to turn a book into a movie, it will change a lot. A book has ten times the content of the movie.
Your novels are so very visual, they have a filmic quality, that could be bringing this about. The geography of the Reacher books is critical. What drew you to these remote towns, these wide open spaces?
Well I come from Europe, where we have places that are radically different 30 miles apart. And when I was driving through West Texas, I could go 80 miles without seeing a physical structure. I met a woman who said that she could not eat anything that she didn’t grow herself or shoot herself without needing to drive five hours to buy it. I loved that.