Calibrating the balance of crime-fueled suspense, romance, and comedy in a novel is fiendishly hard—yet Janet Evanovich makes it look easy, and the results are in. TRICKY TWENTY-TWO debuted at No. 1 on The New York Times hardcover best seller list on November 29th, business as usual for Evanovich. Bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, a curly-haired Trenton girl with a pair of handcuffs she can’t always clamp onto her prey, two men trying to get into her skinny jeans, and one gerbil running the wheel at home, has won legions of devoted fans.
Evanovich grew up in South River, New Jersey, and in her thirties began pursuing a writing career. After numerous rejections and four months into a secretarial temp job, she sold her first story, a romance, for $2,000. She now lands onto Forbes‘ list of 100 Highest-Paid Celebrities.
Evanovich’s first novel featuring Stephanie Plum, One for the Money, was published in 1994. Along with that series, she’s written the Lizzy and Diesel series, twelve romance novels, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Troublemaker graphic novel, How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, as well as the Fox and O’Hare series with co-author Lee Goldberg. She lives in Florida, her family working on her book empire alongside. According to Evanovich, “It turns out I’m a really boring workaholic with no hobbies or special interests. My favorite exercise is shopping and my drug of choice is Cheeze Doodles.”
We caught up with the fast-moving Janet Evanovich to learn a few of her secrets.
The judge of a screenwriting fellowship recently said a strong writer’s voice is the most important thing in launching a career. I think it’s more important in fiction than people realize. You have an effective and entertaining voice in the Stephanie Plum series. How would you advise writers to develop it?
I don’t think a writer can “develop” voice. Voice comes from a writer’s point of view and is heard in a writer’s head. It’s a reflection of a writer’s personality. Some writers have a generic voice that disappears on the page and others, like me, have a voice that is more unique. The hard part is not developing the voice but rather recognizing that the voice is there.
What is the most rewarding aspect of a long-running series? What is the most challenging aspect?
The most challenging part of a long-running series is the reintroduction of continuing characters. It has to be done in a way that is interesting to both the core reader and the new reader. The most rewarding aspect for me is the fun of getting up in the morning and going into The World of Plum or The World of Wicked or The World of Fox and O’Hare and watching the characters develop with each new book.
How do you write sustained dialogue passages in which there is laugh out loud comedy?
Comedy is the easy part for me. I grew up in Jersey watching I Love Lucy. Most of my comedy is character driven so I simply get into a character’s head (like Lula or Grandma Mazur) and run with it.
What is your secret to keeping suspense levels high in a book that has that many light moments?
For the most part I follow the pattern of a screenplay and divide my book into three parts. When I get to a pivotal plot-point mark, I drop in a dead body. Sometimes just for variety I blow up a car or have someone get kidnapped or fall off a fire escape into a pile of dog poop.
In Top Secret Twenty-One there are some intriguing crime developments having to do with Russia, in Tricky Twenty-Two it’s biological warfare. How did you conduct that research?
Google, Google, Google.
How do you incorporate Trenton’s rising murder rate into the books, or do you feel it’s best to stay away from that?
The books are set in Trenton, but my characters live in The World of Plum. My characters don’t age. Good guys and hamsters don’t die. Crime is a constant. And at the end of the day Stephanie succeeds in thwarting evil. I tend to ignore the changing face of Trenton.
You didn’t achieve a writer’s contract quickly or easily in the beginning of your writing career, and you persevered to outstanding success. How would you advise beginning writers who are frustrated with trying to find an agent and publishing contract?
This is a tough one. You need to have a thick skin and tenacity and you need to hone your sales person skills when it comes to getting an agent. I think organizations like ITW and RWA can be helpful.
Do you hear from real-life female bounty hunters on Stephanie Plum?
Every now and then I’ll get a letter or someone will pop up at a signing. In the beginning of the series I attended PBUS conferences and had much more contact with actual bounty hunters and bondsmen than I do now. Unfortunately (or fortunately) my writing schedule has me pretty much tied to my office these days.
Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series, the Fox and O’Hare series, the Lizzy and Diesel series, the Alexandra Barnaby novels and Troublemaker graphic novel, and How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author.
To learn more about Janet, please visit her website.
Photography Credit: Roland Scarpa
I found the idea for THE THRONE OF DAVID while reading the Old Testament—and knew it was a high concept idea from the very first. Understanding the scope of the story helped me stay focused as I wrote the manuscript, and when I sent out queries, two of them, both agents wanted the book. I’m convinced it was the high concept element that got their attention.
I can hear you asking, just what is high concept and how do I incorporate these ingredients into my writing?
High concept fiction is a term hijacked from Hollywood. Think ‘visual’, ‘high stakes’, and ‘easily communicated.’ It’s attractive to publishers and agents and eventually, readers and moviegoers.
The reaction you want when an agent reads your synopsis is: “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “Why hasn’t somebody written about this before?” Or, “You tell me your amazing idea, and then I decide I have to kill you so I can steal it!” When people light up after you tell them about your book, you know you’ve got them. This is what high concept is all about.
The essential elements of a high concept book are:
- an original idea
- mass commercial appeal
- a great title
- a big problem
By Ian Walkley
Sherry Fowler Chancellor writes thrillers, romances, and YA novels, and her latest thriller offering, THE EISENGER ELEMENT, follows a determined young detective, Emilia Hammond, on her first assignment with the New Orleans Police Department, determined to prove herself capable and worthy of her shield.
Sherry Fowler Chancellor is a lawyer by day and writer, amateur photographer, and history buff by night. She lives on the beautiful gulf coast of Florida and loves her little slice of paradise.
Sherry, could you give us the “elevator pitch” to the story?
A Garden District lawyer and a New Orleans detective with a shiny new gold shield collide at the scene of a murder.
I understand you developed the essence of the book during NaNoWriMo in 2013. How did you discipline yourself to that challenge?
THE EISENGER ELEMENT was my NaNoWriMo story for 2013. I’ve participated and won every year since 2009. I love it. The mad dash to the finish line motivates me. I get excited to update my word count and watch that graph move along. I’m a lawyer in my day job and it’s pretty hectic there, too. I seem to thrive on the pressure. I do a lot of lunch hour writing and use the weekends to really up the word count.
Did you change the story much during the editing?
I actually didn’t change much on this story after I submitted it to the publisher in May of 2014. I finished the first draft during NaNoWriMo and polished it for a few months afterward but once I turned it in, I waited for the edits and made just the editorial changes as suggested.
Michael Stanley is the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Both were born in South Africa and have worked in academia and business. Stanley was an educational psychologist, specializing in the application of computers to teaching and learning, and a pilot. Michael specializes in image processing and remote sensing. He also contributes to the monthly Africa Scene feature in The Big Thrill.
On a flying safari to Botswana, they had the idea for their first mystery, A Carrion Death, which introduced Detective “Kubu” Bengu of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department and was short-listed for five awards. The series has been critically acclaimed, and their third book, Death of the Mantis, won the Barry Award for best paperback original mystery and was shortlisted for an Edgar Award. Deadly Harvest–the next book in the series–was shortlisted for the ITW best paperback original thriller award.
Set amidst the dark beauty of modern Botswana, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY is a thrilling insight into a world of riots, corruption and greed, as a complex series of murders present the opera-loving, wine connoisseur detective with his most challenging case yet.
When grief-stricken Kubu defies orders to bring the killers to justice, startling and chilling links emerge, spanning the globe and setting a sequence of shocking events in motion. Will Kubu catch the killers in time … and find justice for his father?
What inspires you about Botswana?
Botswana is a beautiful country with friendly people, superb wildlife areas, and good governance. It may seem odd that we–as South Africans–chose to set our books there rather than at home. However, we have spent time there in various capacities and know the country well.
Apart from giving us an excuse to explore parts of country we don’t know so well, it allows us to investigate issues important to the region that aren’t the legacy of the apartheid era in South Africa.
When a young girl is found murdered in a Pennsylvania rye field in the autumn of 1897, Ned Gebhardt, a feeble-minded youth known to have stalked the victim, is the prime suspect. Incidents involving another girl and gossip stir emotions to a frenzy, nearly leading to a lynching.
Evidence against Ned is circumstantial and there are other suspects. Influenced by the opinions of Ned’s stepsister and Ellen, a woman who has perked his interest, Simon Roth, the investigator, is inclined to give Ned benefit of the doubt. Then he discovers damaging evidence.
Still unwilling to view Ned as a cold-blooded killer, Roth puts his job and reputation in jeopardy as he seeks to assure a fair trial for the accused.
In PYRAMID DECEPTION, the new release from author Austin S. Camacho, Private Eye Hannibal Jones takes on a case he can’t afford to lose. His girlfriend Cindy Santiago has been betrayed by a close friend and swindled out of all of her money. Hannibal closes in on Irene, his first credible lead, only to get framed for her murder. As he fights to clear his name and recover Cindy’s stolen funds, he stumbles down a rabbit hole of red herrings, double-crosses, and more killings. Hannibal’s quest for the truth puts him and Cindy in the crosshairs of a homicidal mastermind who’s not afraid of adding another name to his list of victims.
The Big Thrill caught up with Camacho this month to talk about the inspiration behind PYRAMID DECEPTION, his writing process, and what readers can look forward to next.
This was a complicated story peopled with characters of dubious motives. Did you flesh out a profile for each character or did they form organically as you wrote the story?
I had all the major characters clearly defined before I started writing. Of course, in the writing those people always evolve and grow a bit. That’s part of the fun of writing. But I knew them pretty well before I set them in motion.
The end was a big surprise, yet it answered the story question with great satisfaction. How did you construct the plot to do such a deft and tight job? Did you have the end in mind beforehand or did it appear as you finished the story?
I am a plotter, not a pantser in any way. So the first thing I know is the beginning of the story, and the very next thing established is the end. Then I kind of sit back and say, “well, that happened. Now how can I make it not obvious? How do I leave in all the necessary information and still lead my detective down the wrong path, so the reader will follow him?” I love building a corkscrew of a puzzle, and if I can leave the reader feeling I played fair but still fooled him, I’m one happy writer.
By James Ziskin
THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC, Jennifer Kincheloe’s smart, irresistible debut mystery, is a fun romp through 1907 Los Angeles in the company of one of the most infectiously likable heroines you’ll meet all year. Anna Blanc is a poor little rich girl, sheltered to the point of captivity by her domineering father. She craves adventure, is fascinated by detective work, and–oh, yes–is most eager to be ravished by her husband-to-be. But when she discovers a string of murders in the seedy brothels of Los Angeles, the irrepressible Anna risks everything–her comfortable life, her impending marriage, and her reputation–to solve the crimes.
THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC is a delightful madcap frolic and an addictive read. Both hilarious and tragic, it’s an unusual mix that succeeds to perfection. That’s hard to pull off. Tell us how you balance comedy and tragedy in one story.
Gee, thanks! Much of the comedy is Anna’s internal dialogue and how she reacts to things. So just staying true to her as a character really helps. Our own lives are both ridiculous and tragic. I was trying to capture both of those aspects of 1907 Los Angeles. After reading a draft, my agent suggested that I make the crimes worse and tone down some of the farce that was external to Anna. Her instincts were absolutely right. There is one scene that is so dark, I cringe that I wrote it.
You’re a research scientist with a PhD. I have to ask you about the rich historical detail in your book. Everything from period clothing to police stations to city planning and language. It’s all so authentic. How do you go about gathering the information to build such a realistic backdrop? And how do you restrain yourself from overdoing it?
Being an expert in one thing—public health research—makes me hyper aware that I wasn’t trained as a historian. As a result, I probably over-researched the book to boost my confidence. I read fiction from the period to harvest the slang and mores. I read memoirs, eyewitness accounts, sermons, books about politics written during the period. I studied maps. I watched film footage from the 1900’s—street scenes, mostly, and old movies that my character would have seen. I listened to 1900’s music. I looked at the art. I watched videos of animal dances, which Anna would have done. I called museum curators. I would sit and read old L.A. newspapers for hours, and got many of my story ideas from there. I looked at thousands of pictures of old Los Angeles, Central Station, Bunker Hill, the clothes Anna would have worn. I even had a historian who specializes in L.A. prostitution in the 1900’s read the book cover to cover—Annemarie Kooistra. She was great, and I approached her cold. Anytime I needed help, she’d answer my question. One thing I couldn’t get was access to LAPD archives. You literally have to get permission from the chief of police.
By Dawn Ius
Like that of many authors, Judy Penz Sheluk’s publishing journey was not without obstacles. Persistence paid off, though, and last July, THE HANGMAN’S NOOSE debuted with Barking Rain Press, making at least one of Sheluk’s publishing dreams come true.
Inspired in part by Sheluk’s varied careers, THE HANGMAN’S NOOSE tells the story of Emily Garland, a small town journalist whose research into a community issue puts her in the middle of a deadly investigation of murder and intrigue.
Sheluk took some time out this month to talk to The Big Thrill about her road to publication, THE HANGMAN’S NOOSE, and what readers can expect from her next.
You mention on your website that your journey to publication was long—please share a few highlights (or low lights) from that journey.
I finished THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE in February 2013 and thought I needed an agent to get a publishing deal. I even had an agent who had expressed real interest at Bloody Words 2012 (a mystery conference in Toronto, Canada) and so I was convinced she would fall in love with the manuscript, sign me up, and sell it to one of the major publishing houses. That didn’t happen. I wrote about the experience quite candidly on my blog and The First Cut is the Deepest launched the My Publishing Journey series.
Beyond the obvious highlight—landing a publishing contract with Barking Rain Press—by far the most fun I’ve had is helping with the cover design for THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE. I can’t speak for other publishers, but at BRP it’s a very collaborative process.
When I opened Erica Wright’s new novel, THE GRANITE MOTH, I expected it to be good. I didn’t expect to be so fully transported into the story. Wright has a crisp, fresh writing style, a flair for language, and a deep understanding of character that made this book a pleasure to read.
Wright’s facility with language should come as no surprise, considering her roots as a poet. Her first book was a poetry collection, Instructions for Killing the Jackal. She’s also written another novel called The Red Chameleon. So how does a poet become a crime writer? By teaching English at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she developed an interest in crime fiction. That marriage of poetic language and gritty crime stories turned out to be a perfect match.
She’s graciously agreed to answer some questions about her latest work.
Let’s get the obvious out of way first. How does it feel to have your book chosen by O, The Oprah Magazine as a 2014 Best Book of the Summer? And…may we rub your head?
I’m a bit of a fainting goat. Bad news or good, I can tip right over. When I got my copy of O Magazine, I managed to stay standing, but I definitely thought, Is this real life?
You started your writing career as a poet. How does your background in poetry influence your novels?
Switching between genres can be challenging, but there’s definitely some overlap. I found studying forms like sonnets and sestinas to be really useful. There’s creativity, of course, but also an element of puzzle solving. Mysteries require those dual skills as well.
In J.R. Scott’s newest thriller, THE HORSE HIDE, murder at a racetrack draws ace reporter Alie McCull into the dark underworld of the horse business. But that’s only the start of her problems. She’s blindsided by infidelity, and the untimely appearance of an old flame serves to complicate both her personal life and her investigation. As she creeps through a labyrinth of deception and misdirection, every uncovered truth brings her closer to mortal danger.
In this Q&A with The Big Thrill, Scott talks about his inspiration for his protagonist—and explains the background behind his intriguing bio. Scroll down for the full story!
Alie McCull is an interesting protagonist. Is she based on someone you know? What brought her about and why do you keep returning to her as a protagonist?
I fashioned Alie as a character who has a little bit of all of us in her. Or how deep down the way we’d like to be; loud, brash and impatient with a world that seems unjust. But tempered with empathy for the little guy trampled on by society. Alie is not always “politically correct”—she’s not too concerned about offending people. Just because you tick someone off doesn’t mean you’re not right. As a woman, Alie has a strong sense of empowerment and equality. Using her as a recurring character is a literary tool to examine the world through a microscope. All the people under the lens are creatures just trying to make sense of events in their daily lives.
THE HORSE HIDE, with its backdrop of horse racing, reminded me of the late Dick Francis. Did his work influence you?
I must confess that I’ve never read a Dick Francis novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the old ‘50s and ‘60s hardboiled mystery novels I read as a kid, Ross MacDonald and Mickey Spillane being on the hit list. And the classic noir films that pop up on TMC every so often. The backdrop of THE HORSE HIDE came from the hours spent on tedious research that most writers do, but afterwards always gives me that pesky brain-damaged feeling.
Allen Eskens’ debut novel, The Life We Bury, was a breakout hit for Seventh Street Books in 2014. His second novel, THE GUISE OF ANOTHER, releases October 6, 2015. I sat down with Allen to talk about his writing, his success, and THE GUISE OF ANOTHER.
First, congratulations on the success of The Life We Bury, which won the Rosebud Award at Left Coast Crime and was a finalist for the Edgar for Best First Novel and ThrillerFest Best First Novel. If that weren’t enough, Suspense Magazine and MysteryPeople named it one of the best books of 2014. And a starred review from Publishers Weekly and a movie option, all in less than a year. Tell us how you keep yourself grounded and in the saddle writing more books.
Thank you, Jim, for this interview and for the kind, congratulatory introduction. It has been a terrific year, no doubt, far exceeding my wildest dreams. For a while after The Life We Bury launched, it seemed like there was some new review or internet post every day that pulled at my attention. I didn’t have quite the discipline I’d hoped to have, but I have a multi-book deal and in order to remain on pace I’ve had to create discipline.
THE GUISE OF ANOTHER is a heart-pounding thriller, a game of cat and mouse between a cop and a ruthless assassin. The Life We Bury is more of a mystery. Are you moving in a new direction or will we see more of both from you?
My first two books are similar in some ways, but they do have clear differences. The Life We Bury is more character driven and has a stronger emphasis on literary writing. THE GUISE OF ANOTHER is more reliant on thriller elements and plot. This came about because after I completed The Life We Bury, I started the arduous process of seeking an agent. After the first couple weeks, I realized that agents weren’t clamoring to get me as a client, so I distracted myself by starting a second novel (THE GUISE OF ANOTHER). Because I didn’t have a readership, I decided to write something a bit different than The Life We Bury.
Before The Life We Bury hit the store shelves, I had submitted THE GUISE OF ANOTHER to Seventh Street Books and signed a three-book deal. I like playing with the spectrum of plot and character (and scene) and plan to keep adjusting those elements depending on what I think the story calls for.
By E. M. Powell
The first novel featuring cops’ reporter Gabriella Giovanni, Blessed Are The Dead, is nominated for both a Macavity and an Anthony Award. Now author Kristi Belcamino has brought Giovanni back for a fourth time in her latest release, BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN.
Although she’s in a happy relationship with Detective Sean Donovan, one that has given them their beloved daughter, Grace, Giovanni can’t let go of her traumatic past. When a string of young co-eds start to show up dead with suspicious Biblical verses left on their bodies—the same verses that the man she suspects kidnapped and murdered her sister twenty years ago had sent to her—Giovanni fears the killer is trying to send her a message.
It’s already a taut, fast-moving read. But when Grace’s life is threatened, the novel becomes a nerve-jangling hunt for her, with Giovanni increasingly terror-fueled in her desperate attempts to save her daughter.
A mother herself, Belcamino acknowledges that she is extremely fortunate that she has never had to deal with anything as serious as Giovanni has in her books, describing it as “absolutely the worst nightmare I can imagine.” She does however convey that visceral fear of motherhood under one of its most extreme challenges with great skill. At one point she has Giovanni musing that if anyone had told me that motherhood leads to this: your heart ripped to shreds while you are willing to beg the devil to take your soul in exchange for the safety of your child—if I had been magically given a glimpse of my life right now by the Ghost of the Future, I would’ve said, “Fuck that.”
But as a newspaper reporter covering crime, Belcamino has spent time growing close to parents who have lost their children in the most horrendous ways imaginable. She alludes to the tragic case of Xiana Fairchild, a little girl who was kidnapped and murdered. Belcamino maintains a friendship with Xiana’s family to this day, and believes she lost a lot of objectivity writing those very difficult stories.
If you’ve ever wondered what goes on in the minds of police officers, pick up one of Ellen Kirschman’s books. Her latest, THE RIGHT WRONG THING, takes psychologist Dot Meyerhoff behind closed doors and into her sessions with cops in crisis. It is a world where outsiders are unwelcome and closed ranks are the norm. When rookie officer Randy Spelling shoots an unarmed pregnant teen, it is the catalyst for a series of events that tears the community and the department apart.
For over thirty years you’ve worked with police and first responders. What first made you interested in specializing in this area?
I was working as a social worker in an outpatient psychiatric clinic. Several of my clients were married to cops who were struggling with depression, nightmares, post-traumatic stress, angry outbursts, and alcoholism. These women needed help and there was none available. I decided to start a support group for police wives and the response was so overwhelming it drove me back to school for my doctorate and later on to write I LOVE A COP. Today police families have a lot of support and acknowledgement. I’m gratified to have been part of that beginning effort.
Is there anything you would like to see changed in the way police departments handle the psychological health of their officers?
I would like to see every agency, big or small, have a confidential peer support program including family members as peers, family orientations at first hire and again every five years, a chaplaincy program, supervisors who are knowledgeable about spotting mental health issues and compassionate when talking to their officers, and easy access for officers and their families to culturally competent, confidential, low-cost counseling. I’d like to see police academies devote more time to teaching officers and their families how to manage stress and develop resilience, and I’d like to see field-training programs incorporate behavioral science principles and promote wellness, both physical and psychological.
By David Healey
You might expect a Washington, D.C., lawyer to write a legal thriller filled with intrigue and conspiracies. Robert Palmer has done just that … except for the part about it being a legal thriller. Instead, Palmer’s debut novel THE SURVIVORS features a more unusual protagonist, therapist Cal Henderson. He is privy to some of Washington’s biggest secrets, and as it turns out, he has a few of his own.
Palmer’s thriller is the fascinating story of the therapist and a client who have a shared and tragic past. Together, they uncover a past that takes them both by surprise and puts them at deadly risk. While Cal is more used to talking things out than taking action, he soon finds himself dodging FBI agents, mysterious black SUVs, and powerful figures in the defense industry as he and his client search for the truth about their mutual past.
In THE SURVIVORS your main character is a therapist whose troubled client becomes the catalyst for the novel. What kind of research did you do to get the details of therapy right?
I’m a lawyer and happen to have a lot of clients who are health care professionals, including a number of psychologists (and psychiatrists). That gave me a ready-made pool of experts for my many, many questions. One thing I learned early on: psychologists are a very diverse group. If I asked a few people the same question I almost never got the same answer twice. As an example, some psychologists have “patients.” Others will never, ever, use that term and claim instead to have “clients.” And some use both terms and can’t see why it’s a problem. The best way to explain that is that psychologists work to their own personal beats. Some are warm and full of stories; some are much more clinical and distant. They are a fascinating and wonderful bunch.
By George Ebey
In Linda Thorne’s exciting debut, JUST ANOTHER TERMINATION, a career human resources manager flees bad bosses and guilt-ridden memories due to her coerced role in a wrongful termination that prompted a suicide. She finally lands a job with a good employer, but her new workplace is spun into turmoil when a young female employee is found shot to death. Then another murder occurs, and there’s a connection—both are linked to a double homicide twenty-five years earlier. Knee-deep in the investigation, the protagonist finds information that draws her back into the life of one evil, prior employer, and keeps the memory of the suicide heavy on her mind.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Thorne to learn more about her and her debut JUST ANTOHER TERMINATION.
How did you first get bitten by the writing bug?
I think it may have been in sixth grade. I have a clear memory of a homework assignment to write a poem based on any subject we’d studied that year. I chose what we’d learned about the planets. After several drafts, I finalized Mrs. Earth So Pretty. My parents seemed impressed and I pictured my teacher scrawling a large A in red ink at the top of the first page. Instead, she called me to the front of the class, gave me an airy “tsk-tsk,” and returned my assignment in a sealed envelope addressed to my parents. When my mom opened it, to our dismay, the only thing scribbled over the paper was a message stating I’d obviously copied the poem or had someone else write it. Grade: Incomplete. My mother hauled me back to school where I pleaded my case to the teacher, my mom backing up my every word. I got the A, but more importantly I felt my first rush of success and brandished a grin for creating a poem that a teacher thought was too good to have been written by an eleven-year-old.
By E. A. Aymar
Grant McKenzie doesn’t pull punches, but they’re not thrown without purpose. His new thriller, SPEAK THE DEAD, opens with three different people experiencing brutal encounters; splits time between a mortician and a hardened detective; and involves a misguided, bloodthirsty cult, none of which is gratuitous. The book moves at a fast clip, and McKenzie does a terrific job of weaving the tension into the plot; one element is never abandoned in favor of another.
McKenzie cut his teeth on five thrillers before SPEAK THE DEAD, as well as the three books in the Dixie Flynn series (under the pen name M. C. Grant) including the Shamus-nominated Beauty with a Bomb. He was kind enough to discuss his new thriller, his craft, and his journey (both the past and what comes next) in the interview below.
How did you end up working with Polis Books? Can you describe your path to that publishing house, and the experience of working with them?
My publishing journey, like a lot of authors today, has been a rollercoaster ride. I have been published by Random House, Penguin, Heyne in Germany, and others, but always, for some bizarre reason, outside of the U.S. This is especially puzzling as all my novels are rip-roaring, U.S.-based thrillers. Jason Pinter at Polis Books read my novel No Cry for Help—which was published in the U.K. and Germany by Random House—and loved it. He contacted me about U.S. rights and we ended up signing a five-book deal that is bringing one of my most popular books, Switch, to the U.S. for the first time, plus four new novels. Switch was released in trade paperback in August, and SPEAK THE DEAD arrives in hardcover in September. This will be followed by two trade paperbacks, K.A.R.M.A. and The Fear in Her Eyes, in 2016, and a brand new hardcover next September. The relationship with Polis has been wonderful as Jason and the gang truly believe in the nail-biting stories I’m telling, and they really, really want to share them with as wide an audience as possible. I’m excited for a whole new audience of readers to discover what my U.K. and German readers already know: you can’t put these thrillers down.
By Basil Sands
Laurie Moore is a cop turned investigator turned lawyer turned thriller writer. At the age of six, Moore wrote her first novel in orange crayon on blue construction paper and gave the mystery-horror hybrid to her father for his birthday.
Since then this sixth-generation Texan has come a long way. Reared in South Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. degree, she rebelling against her parents’ wishes that she become a Spanish teacher, Moore joined the police department. For six years, she worked street patrol and criminal investigations until the brass decided to promote her to the rank of sergeant (their way of getting a maverick officer to comply with standard operating procedures). Bad move.
She later worked as a DA Investigator in Austin, Lockhart, and San Antonio before moving to Fort Worth in 1992 to attend law school at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. She is currently in private practice and lives with her husband and two rude Welsh corgis, and recently retired as a licensed, commissioned peace officer after thirty-four years in law enforcement.
Tell us about your fourth book in the Deb series, DAWN OF THE DEB.
Dainty Prescott is a privileged celebutante, broadcast journalist for WBFD-TV, and the owner of the Debutante Detective Agency. In need of money, she accepts and squanders a retainer from oil baron, Avery Marshall, and becomes obligated to groom his awkward stepdaughter, Dawn, for the upcoming, uber-exclusive Rubanbleu ball. To kick off the training, Avery sends Dainty, Dawn, and Dainty’s socialite friends away for a spa weekend, but the trip goes terribly wrong when the girls witness killers storm the lodge and execute the owners and staff. As they run for their lives, Dainty quickly discovers that Dawn is mentally ill and un-medicated, making her as dangerous as the men they’re fleeing. Celebutante Dainty and her socialite friends must move quickly to unravel the reason behind the resort murders, while staying one step ahead of four men in black ski masks who want them dead.
DAWN OF THE DEB is a fast-paced thriller that offers a look into the world of Dissociative Identity Disorder, what was formerly known as multiple personality disorder.
By Amy Lignor
There are interesting lives; there are interesting authors. Then, there are interesting authors who’ve led interesting lives. Alice Loweecey is one of those people.
From hearing the “call” and heading to the convent to, in her words, “jumping the wall” and moving on to become an actress, wife, mom and, of course, beloved author, Alice Loweecey has become a literal godsend to her fans. Vivacious, fun, and as entertaining in real life as her characters are in her books, this interview is time spent with one of the coolest minds out there, who will go on your list—if she’s not already there—as being the author you most want to have lunch with. Perhaps she’ll even bring along her “mascot,” which you will most definitely want to see.
You have gone from ex-nun to on-stage prostitute to accepting a marriage proposal on the second date from a very lucky husband. The question here should be “Huh?”, but instead I’m going to ask, with all this action, when did the writing bug enter your world?
Actually, I got the writing bug at the wee age of nine. I’m one of those fortunate people who hit adolescence before the Internet came along, so all of my “angsty” teenage poetry and short stories have long been shredded and burned.…You’re welcome.
The Falcone & Driscoll series is spectacular suspense: humorous, charming, and the mystery within to be solved is riveting. Is it easier for you to create these novels having the background of being a nun? There is no guilt factor, I would assume, having a character who is a whole lot fun, yet ceased to be a nun.
Writing Giulia is both easy and a little stressful. Some situations she gets into bring on convent flashbacks for me, more so than for her. She’s getting tougher with more PI experience. My family, on the other hand, gets weirded out by the oddest parts of the books. My oldest son said he felt uncomfortable reading a scene where Giulia and Frank sit down to a normal dinner and then snog, as married adults are wont to do. I laughed at him rather than apply sympathy. He was not amused.
The voice that came first: “World weary, and sad, but also sharply funny.” This is the beginning of Stephanie Gayle’s novel IDYLL THREATS.
The voice belongs to the main character, Thomas Lynch, a former New York City policeman who is the new Chief of Police for the town of Idyll. He brings baggage to his new position—baggage that affects his ability to do his job.
Lynch’s journey toward peace is played out against the murder of a young girl, Cecilia North, who is found shot to death at the local golf course. On the surface it should be a slam dunk for the Idyll police department, but just hours before her death, Lynch found Cecilia and an older man seeking privacy for sex in an old cabin. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem for Lynch, except he was at that cabin for the same reason.
With the discovery of the dead girl, Lynch is left wondering whether the man recognized him and how to steer his detectives toward the cabin and the man Cecilia was with without revealing his own secret—he’s gay.
Not trusting his detectives with his secret, Lynch is forced to seek help from unlikely sources including a Goth teen and a UFO-conspiracy theorist while contending with pressure from the mayor to solve the crime before the town’s premier tourist event takes place. On a daily basis Lynch must cope with the suspicions of his men, casual homophobia, and difficult memories of his partner’s recent death.
It all makes Lynch realize Idyll, Connecticut, is not safe, especially for a man who holds secrets that threaten the thing he loves the most—his job.
When New York journalist and recently bereaved mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet these are not the nightmares of a grieving parent, she soon realizes. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees, if only she can make sense of them.
After a little boy in a boat appears in Charlie’s dreams asking for her help, Charlie finds herself entangled in a thirty-year-old missing-child case that has never ceased to haunt Louisiana’s prestigious Deveau family. Armed with an invitation to Evangeline, the family’s sprawling estate, Charlie heads south, where new friendships and an unlikely romance bring healing. But as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust—and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could’ve imagined. A Southern Gothic mystery debut that combines literary suspense and romance with a mystical twist, THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is a story that readers of Gillian Flynn, Kate Atkinson, and Alice Sebold won’t be able to put down.
By Rob Brunet
With something like four percent of the people taking psychopathy tests scoring “psychopathic,” you might be inclined to wonder why the world isn’t harsher than it is. Fortunately, most socio- or psychopaths find meaningful work as CEOs, politicians, lawyers, and in other demanding high-profile roles where a lack of empathy can come in handy.
In HOLLOW MAN, Mark Pryor takes us into the mind of one such character and shows us what can happen when personal controls fail and the wheels start to come off.
Dominic’s world is tightly managed, to the point of being manipulated. He fakes his way through human interaction so well, his peers in the district attorney’s office are oblivious. He uses his side gig as a guitarist to hook up with college students who are afraid of hurting the presumably emotional artist when their crushes wear off.
None of which suggests he’s going to actually care when a beautiful young woman presses her way into his life then cries wolf. And Dominic doesn’t care. But he’s intrigued enough to step off his carefully crafted track and see where this unexpected development takes him.
Where it leads him is on a rough ride through some of Austin’s less-traveled roads and into the criminal mind of a man who knows both sides of the game.
In this interview for The Big Thrill, Mark Pryor gives us a peek at Dominic, at Austin, and at his own more empathetic place in the world.
By J. H. Bográn
In the early days of my journey learning to streamline the voices in my head and convert them to stories, I took many online writing courses. In one of those courses we had an aspiring writer who complained about his inability to write longer works and getting stuck with short stories. The teacher offered some life-changing advice: Think of a novel and its chapters as a succession of short stories as each chapter by itself must have a beginning, middle and ending. Shocking, right? Fast forward fifteen years and I meet Art Taylor who wrote this wonderful novel told, you guessed it, in short stories. Each of these stories tell the adventures and misadventures of Del and Louise, one of those couples you know always find trouble even when they’re not looking. In Taylor’s own words this is kind of a “different project,” but one that is bound to find an audience.
Taylor graciously agreed to answer a few questions for The Big Thrill.
What can you tell us about ON THE ROAD WITH DEL & LOUISE?
Del’s a small time crook with a moral conscience. He robs convenience stores only for tuition and academic expenses. Louise is brash and sassy, and she goes pretty quickly from being a holdup victim to Del’s lover and accomplice. Together, the two of them are trying to make a fresh start and an honest life, and trying to build a family together, but fate conspires against them time and again. Fate maybe, or maybe they’re just their own worst enemies.
Their adventures cover a fair amount of territory. A real estate scam in recession-blighted Southern California. A wine heist in Napa Valley. A Vegas wedding chapel holdup. A kidnapping in an oil-rich North Dakota boomtown. Along the way, the question keeps coming up whether they can stay on the right side of the law? Or even whether they can stay on one another’s good side? And when they head back to Louise’s hometown in North Carolina, there’s even more trouble in the form of Louise’s nagging mama, who’s been hovering over the story from the start and may be the biggest adversary of all to them.
How about the character’s themselves?
While Del’s name is first on the cover, these stories really belong to Louise: She’s the narrator and it’s her voice—Southern, smart-alecky, a little brassy—that drives the storyline. Originally from North Carolina, Louise went West—to New Mexico—in hopes of building a fresh life for herself. After the convenience store she worked in was robbed, she found a new direction: with Del, the man who held her up. As it turns out, he’s after a fresh life of his own, and the two of them try to go straight but keep getting pulled back into various kinds of crime—as the folks committing them or as victims themselves—in place after place: Victorville, CA; Napa Valley; Las Vegas; Williston, ND; and finally back in Louise’s home state of North Carolina.
Lynne Raimondo’s debut, Dante’s Wood, introduced readers to blind psychiatrist Mark Angelotti. The book was a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month and earned Raimondo comparisons to Agatha Christie, John Grisham, and Sara Paretsky. Her second book, Dante’s Poison, has Mark investigating the pharmaceutical industry as he undergoes experimental drug therapy. DANTE’S DILEMMA, released last month, turns up the heat on Mark’s personal and professional life.
In DANTE’S DILEMMA, Mark is asked to evaluate Rachel Lazarus, estranged wife of a slain University of Chicago professor. The professor’s body was discovered during the school’s world-famous annual scavenger hunt. Though she’s confessed, Rachel is pursuing a battered woman’s defense. Mark must testify against Rachel while he’s mired in a legal dispute of his own for custody of his son. He then uncovers evidence that Rachel may be innocent after all. In the midst of a brutal Chicago winter, Mark must battle the elements, the ghosts of his past, and a killer intent on making sure Rachel is found guilty.
I recently got a chance to talk to Lynne about DANTE’S DILEMMA.
DANTE’S DILEMMA is the third in your Mark Angelotti series. Are the books easier to write as you delve further into the series? Or are their limits to writing a series book?
A little bit of both. The character is certainly easier. At this point, I have a fairly good idea of how my protagonist will think and act, and I’ve sketched out a character arc for Mark that spans several installments into the future. The hard part for me is plotting the mystery and overcoming my perfectionist tendencies. I can’t move ahead in a manuscript until I’m 80 percent satisfied with what I’ve written so far, so I sometimes get stuck polishing scene after scene when I should just be getting the damn thing done! The challenge of writing a series is including enough backstory so that a reader can understand where the character has been, and at the same time not give everything away. Each book should stand on its own, but ideally entice someone new to the series to go back and read earlier books.
What’s better than watching one of your favorite detectives work a complex case? How about two of them, teaming up to catch a killer. That’s what J. A. Jance gives us in her latest mystery, DANCE OF THE BONES.
In this new novel, Brandon Walker of Jance’s Walker Family series joins forces with J. P. Beaumont. Beaumont’s cold case in Seattle is somehow connected to a cold case Walker is working on in Arizona.
The two sleuths bring this character-driven mystery to life. Jance describes Beaumont and Walker as two homicide workhorses who have been put out to pasture. Of course, being a homicide cop was never just a job to either of them. But Beaumont calls the Pacific Northwest his beat, while Walker calls Tucson home and has close ties to the Tohono O’odham reservation and its people. So how do they find themselves working related cases, and cold cases at that?
“Brandon has been involved with a volunteer cold case squad, The Last Chance (T.L.C.), for many years,” Jance says. “Recently Beau’s agency, the Washington State Attorney General’s Special Homicide Investigation Team, S.H.I.T., has been dissolved, leaving Beau at loose ends. He’s not especially enthusiastic about being recruited into T.L.C., but what’s a guy gonna do?”
Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on assignment in the United States with St Louis PD, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore follows her, keen to pick up where they left off after their last case – but the last thing Simms needs is Fennimore complicating her life. A call for help from a sheriff’s deputy takes Fennimore to Oklahoma: a mother is dead, her child gone – and they’re not the only ones. How many more young mothers have been killed, how many more murders unsolved, children unaccounted for?
As Fennimore’s abduction-murder leads back to Simms’s cold case, the investigations merge. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Red, adventuring in Oklahoma’s backwoods, has no clue that he and his mom are in the killer’s sights. But soon the race is on to catch a serial killer and save the boy.
“Fine attention to forensics and investigative techniques distinguishes this stellar thriller.” ~Publishers Weekly STARRED review
“Garrett evoke(s) not only the suspense of serial killings, but an emotional triangle and a tantalizingly unresolved crime that keep the pages flying.” ~Kirkus Reviews
Fifteen years later, the building is scheduled for demolition. When a salvage team discovers a skeleton curled up in a locker, a hole in the left temple, Lockport’s chief of police, Neil Redfern, is called in to investigate.
When Redfern learns that his girlfriend, Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall, also graduated that fateful year, he reveals details of the grisly discovery. She insists she knows who his victim is, but before any headway can be made in the case, another grad is killed. Could the two murders be connected?
Despite being warned against meddling in police affairs, Bliss enlists the help of two former classmates to find the killer. But digging into the past proves to be a dangerous pastime. Her unconventional methods jeopardize the investigation, her relationship with Redfern, and her own life.
Sarah Hilary is writing a detective series set in London and her second book, NO OTHER DARKNESS, is published in August by Penguin. Alex Marwood writes standalone crime novels and her latest, THE KILLER NEXT DOOR, is out now.
SH: I wanted to start by talking about the difference between writing a series and writing standalone novels. Your first two books, The Wicked Girls, and THE KILLER NEXT DOOR are standalones. I tend to think I’ve got the easier gig—writing a series—as I know my central cast of characters, which gives me a starting point, although each book does have its own distinct mystery to be solved. Do you start with the mystery, or the characters?
AM: Yes, it’s swings and roundabouts, I think. Personally I have huge admiration for people who can pull series off. Just the thought of persuading my butterfly mind to keep it all together for years on end gives me hives. For me, it’s a bit of both: I’ll get an idea for a situation that will cause massive fallout, and then start exploring what sort of people might cause that situation, who the innocents caught up in it might be and how they would respond.
One of the things I love about your Marnie Rome books is the fact that you carry your main characters’ personal issues over from book to book with such subtlety. Marnie, who’s been scarred by a piece of family history so horrific it would destroy most people, spends so little time overtly thinking about her parents’ murder, but it clearly influences her every decision and makes her a better copper—or at least a more dedicated one. I loved how little interaction she has with murderous foster-brother in NO OTHER DARKNESS, and yet he looms over the whole thing like a vampire. Are we going to see more of him? Find out what warped him so terribly?
SH: I think so. Stephen is Marnie’s foster brother, and I absolutely love writing the scenes with him and Marnie. I think book four is going to be all about Stephen and Marnie…
Coleridge Taylor is searching for his next scoop on the police beat. The Messenger-Telegram reporter has a lot to choose from on the crime-ridden streets of New York City in 1975. One story outside his beat is grabbing all the front page glory: New York teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, and President Ford just told the city, as the Daily News so aptly puts it, “Drop Dead.” Taylor’s situation is nearly as desperate. His home is a borrowed dry-docked houseboat, his newspaper may also be on the way out, and his drunk father keeps getting arrested.
A source sends Taylor down to Alphabet City, hang-out of the punks who gravitate to the rock club CBGB. There he finds the bloody fallout from a mugging. Two dead bodies: a punk named Johnny Mort and a cop named Robert Dodd. Each looks too messed up to have killed the other. Taylor starts asking around. The punk was a good kid, the peace-loving guardian angel of the neighborhood’s stray dogs. What led him to mug a woman at gunpoint? And why is Officer Samantha Callahan being accused of leaving her partner to die, even though she insists the police radio misled her? It’s hard enough being a female in the NYPD only five years after women were assigned to patrol. Now the department wants to throw her to the wolves. That’s not going to happen, not if Taylor can help it. As he falls for Samantha—a beautiful, dedicated second-generation cop—he realizes he’s too close to his story. Officer Callahan is a target, and Taylor’s standing between her and some mighty big guns.
After the sudden loss of her husband, Joe, Nora Cooper makes a startling discovery: shortly before his death, Joe secretly sold their newly purchased dream home on Martha’s Vineyard, where the couple had planned to retire.
Nora doesn’t know what to think. As she searches for answers, she is tormented by grief and doubt—until she starts receiving mysterious and inexplicable messages in Scrabble letters, messages that Nora believes could have been written only by Joe.
Using a strength she didn’t know she had, Nora follows these strange clues to discover the truth about Joe and their life together—and navigates the danger inherent in her new, special gift.
The dead man had something of great importance; but was he killed because he was part of a conspiracy, or because he had discovered the conspiracy?
The third book in the Ian McBriar Murder Mystery series takes readers back to Toronto in the 1970’s, this time starting with a death that should not have happened, and a trail of bodies going back a decade.
“Another great book in the series!”
“Meet my newest friend, Ian Mc Briar.”
“Is Azzano on to a new form in crime fiction?”