Exploring pen names and crossing genres
I just came back from a week in Chicago, where I used my pen name, Caleb James. It was fun, though it did take some adjustment.
It started when I picked up my badge at Book Expo America. The woman asked, “What’s your name?”
It caught me off guard. I’ve been Charles Atkins or Dr. Atkins for decades, but without an embarrassing silence, I said, “Caleb James.” I worried that she’d ask for ID. But no, she looked me up, handed me my pass, and I was good to go.
So why use a pen name? And why now, with my 15th or 16th book?
As Charles Atkins I’ve written mysteries and thrillers set in the real world. They include the Barrett Conyors series of forensic psychiatric thrillers and the Lil and Ada series of Connecticut cozies. There have also been a number of one-offs, like Risk Factor and The Cadaver’s Ball, both with St. Martin’s Press. There are little to no supernatural or paranormal elements in any of those books. Dr. Atkins—and yes I did go to medical school and am a board-certified psychiatrist—has written both plainspeak books on Alzheimer’s and Bipolar Disorder, as well as a recent textbook on co-occurring substance use and mental health problems.
When I set out to write my first young adult novel—Haffling—it was different from anything I’d done. It was time for a new name, kind of like creating a product line. I still did what I always do, fuse my love of psychiatry with intense stories, plots, and characters. In the case of Haffling it’s about a 16-year-old gay kid, his little sister, and his schizophrenic mother. What starts as a sad tale of a teen trying to keep his sister and himself out of the New York foster-care system, rapidly turns into a cat-and-mouse thriller that weaves in Irish mythology and a cannibalistic fairy queen bent on multi-world domination. There will be three in that series. The second, Exile, will be out this winter, and I’m about halfway through the first draft—and those are always nasty—of Hound, the third book.
Alex Gordon never felt an overwhelming urge to become a novelist.
“(It was) more a persistent nudge in that direction, followed by that sense I’d finally found my place,” said Gordon, who lives in the Chicago area. “Teachers had complimented my essays and reports all through grade school and high school, so I always felt comfortable writing. With that in mind, in college I enrolled in my first creative writing class. And I bombed. I started out well, but over time the instructor came to feel I was more of an essayist than a fiction writer. He wanted me to go sit on the far side of the room with the pre-law students who were taking the class in order, I assume, to learn how to write better briefs. I declined, and dropped the class.”
An alumna of the University of South Florida, Gordon has now written five science-fiction novels under her real name Kristine Smith. In fact, she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. However, with the publication of her urban fantasy novel Gideon in 2015 and its recently-released sequel Jericho, she began writing under the Gordon pseudonym.
“Since Gideon was such a departure from my science-fiction, it was decided at the time to make a clean break and have it come out under a pseudonym,” she said.
Gordon recently sat down with The Big Thrill to talk about her writing career.
How did you break into print?
I started writing seriously in the early 90s. I attended conferences and science fiction conventions, took classes, and spent evenings and weekends writing. I sent out a few short stories to the mystery magazines—Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock—which were rejected. I started another story, which kept growing and growing. Eventually, I realized that I was working on a novel. I wrote draft after draft in 10-point Times New Roman, hundreds of pages, learning to write while working on the story that became Code of Conduct.
The author of the best-selling Witching Savannah series has done it again with his newest novel JILO.
JILO is about a woman forced to follow a dark path that may lead to her destruction—or might just be exactly what she needs.
J.D. Horn is a man of many talents. He’s a captivating author, runs marathons, speaks multiple languages, is an accomplished traveler and even has an MBA in international business. This month, Horn spoke to The Big Thrill about his new book.
Tell me about your new novel, JILO
JILO is by far the most challenging book I’ve written. It’s a magical fantasy set in Jim Crow era Savannah. I’ve done my best to balance the elements of paranormal horror with the actual historical horrors, without trivializing or exploiting the suffering of those who lived through the period. Only readers will be able to determine how successful I’ve been in my attempt.
JILO is the backstory of one of the Witching Savannah series’ most popular characters, Jilo Wills. With the success of the series, it seemed natural to explore the origin of this reader (and author) favorite. When I started considering what this woman’s early life would have been like, considering her age and geography, I realized that I’d be up against a lot of ugly history.
The cover text sums the story up like this: “Young Jilo—fiercely independent, intelligent, and ambitious, but thwarted by Savannah’s maddeningly genteel version of bigotry—finds herself forced to embrace a dark power that has pursued her family for generations, an ancient magic that may prove her salvation…or her undoing.” It’s a gripping multigenerational story with a lot of characters you’re going to root for, and a few you’re going to want to throttle.
Although JILO is the fourth book in the series, it’s also a prequel, so new readers can pick up the series with JILO and then, if they’d like, circle back to The Line.
By Cathy Clamp
When heiress Alexa Manchester decides to gift her alternate world with unlimited energy, courtesy of her late father’s brilliant invention, she unwittingly captures the attention of supervillian crime boss, Momo. And after sabotaging the invention, Momo threatens to destroy the world unless everyone agrees to his demands. Only a superhero—or a super heroine—can stop him now.
Or maybe one of each.
In true Golden Age comic fashion, an accident with a hydroelectric generator transforms Alexa into Electromancer, a super hero who can harness electricity and fly. Aided by her sexy chauffeur, Sigfred Sawyer, a mysterious pet cat named Miss Marbletop, and the intoxicating superhero, The Blue Arrow, Alexa is more than up to the task of taking down Momo and his chief enforcer, the 4’11” hitman, Biggie Bitterman.
ELECTROMANCER is author Daco’s latest thriller, a follow-up to her #1 bestselling 2013 debut novel, The Libra Affair, and her 2015 short story, The Pisces Affair—a 2015 Global eBook Award double gold medalist, as well as a Shelf Unbound Notable 100 and Publishers Weekly Pick. Even Daco’s name is sort of thrilling. Her physicist father personally created the name by using the derivative (D) of acceleration (A) at the speed of light in cm per second (C) being equal to zero (O), where C is the same as in E = mC2. Daco is quite literally the speed of light.
Janelle Samara’s debut, OUR ONLY HOPE, blends myth and legend. When a young Native American named Hope sprouts angel wings, her elders declare her the fulfillment of a prophesy, the savior of her tribe from a war that could end society. Doubting her ability to save anyone, she seeks help from Deema, a vampire. Life becomes further complicated when Hope discovers she’s pregnant with the vampire’s child. She worries she will not survive, especially when she hears a prophecy about a blood drinker who will distract her from her mission and turn her into a demon. Could the prophesy be referring to Deema and, if so, does she have the strength to give him up before the coming war destroys her people?
Samara spoke to The Big Thrill about her new book and writing in general.
OUR ONLY HOPE, labeled a supernatural thriller, centers around a Hopi end of the world legend. What drew you to this theme?
I was drawn by my great love for dystopian books. I chose the Hopi people simply because their name is so close to the central character, Hope. I made a point of not researching Native American myths and legends for this book so that I could create my own mythologies as necessary. I needed Hope to be earthy, from a culture steeped in ancient stories, and not be labeled as a wannabe or a hippie by critics for loving nature and being self-sufficient. I decided that having her be a Native American would fill all of my needs for her character. I wanted to honor the cultures of the First People of America by borrowing names of tribes and creating legends for them to fit into my novel.
What else would you most like readers to know about you and your book?
My book is not young adult by any means, and it’s also not an erotic romance novel. There’s some bad language, some sex, some smoking, and some bloodshed. Hope’s ever-shifting visions of the future and the many mysteries waiting to be revealed add tension. The story twists and turns, while giving the reader small bits of foreshadowing. It’s also a romance because of the love story between Hope and the vampire, Deema.
By John Darrin
Darynda Jones is into “badassery” (her word, coined, I’m sure just for this interview). If I couldn’t figure that out from the actions and attitude of her protagonist, Charley Davidson, then Darynda’s reverence for Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm was a strong clue. And if I’d missed those, as I am wont to do, there’s Charley’s cherry-red Jeep wrangler named “Misery” (thank you, Stephen King) and the bumper sticker that reads, “If it has tires or testicles, it’s gonna give you trouble.” And, of course, the friendly motorcycle gang with the leader riding “Odin.”
And if I still could miss all of those clues, there’s the number of times she used some derivation of the word “badass” in our chat.
So THE DIRT ON NINTH GRAVE gives Charley another opportunity to practice her own form of badassery. This time (there have been eight others, as the title implies) in a small village in New York where she is living as Jane Doe, a girl with no memory of who she is or where she came from.
Charley begins to realize she can see dead people, and the live ones entering her life seem to know things about her, things they hide with lies and half-truths. She senses a darker force that wants to cause her harm, and finds a friend she feels she can confide in and trust. A devastatingly handsome man whose smile is breathtaking and whose touch is scalding. She almost feels safe with him around, except for the lies.
But no one can outrun their past, and the more lies that swirl around her, the more disoriented she becomes, until she is confronted by a man whose mission is to kill her. Sent by the darkest force, one that absolutely will not stop until she is dead. Thankfully, she has a Rottweiler.
Her quest to find her identity and recover what she’s lost will take all her courage and a touch of the power she feels flowing like electricity through her veins. She will get to the bottom of this if it kills her. Or that handsome liar. Either way.
By George Ebey
Gigi Pandian brings us the next entry in her magic-centered Accidental Alchemist series.
In this installment, Zoe Faust finds that deciphering an ancient alchemy book is more difficult than she bargained for. She’d much rather be gardening and exploring her new home of Portland, Oregon—but time is running out for living gargoyle Dorian Robert-Houdin. If Zoe isn’t able to unlock the alchemy book’s secrets soon, the French gargoyle will remain awake but trapped in stone forever. When Zoe gives herself a rare night out to attend a classic magic show that reminds her of her youth, she realizes the stage magicians are much more than they seem. A murder at the theater leads back to a string of unsolved robberies and murders in Portland’s past, and a mystery far more personal than Zoe and Dorian ever imagined.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Gigi to learn more about her work
THE MASQUERADING MAGICIAN is the second book in your Accidental Alchemist series. Can you give us some background about the series?
The Accidental Alchemist mysteries feature centuries-old alchemist Zoe Faust and her impish gargoyle sidekick Dorian, who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician who didn’t realize the alchemy book he was reading from contained real magic.
Zoe has been living out of her Airstream trailer for years, never staying in one place for too long, until she falls in love with Portland, Oregon. She’s hoping to find a normal life, at least for a few years—but she learns that she can’t escape her past.
Kim Alexander’s debut fantasy-thriller THE SAND PRINCE, the first installment in the Demon Door series, introduces readers to not one, but two new worlds, and a cast of characters torn between those universes where demons, magic, and high adventure are part of the landscape.
On the war-ravaged demon world called Eriis, Hellne, a strong young demon queen, struggles to keep her people alive. On the world of Mistra, demons have become whispered myths and a handful of people guard The Door, an opening between the two worlds.
Readers know, of course, that the status quo can’t be maintained in any novel, so both worlds are destined for upheaval. That the door is destined to be opened, and the two worlds are destined to collide.
In THE SAND PRINCE, that comes when Rhuun, a demon prince of Erris, uncovers a book with secrets about another world. When he’s forced through The Door, he finds more than he expects on Mistra, including a fierce and headstrong human heroine named Lelet. And in Mistra, the people soon learn demons are more than myths.
Alexander, who grew up in the wilds of Long Island, NY, crafted those worlds after a stint as co-programmer of Sirius XM Book Radio, where she interviewed some of her favorite writers, including Anne Rice, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, among hundreds more.
She currently lives with “two cats, an angry fish,” and her “extremely patient husband” in Washington, D.C., close enough to the National Zoo “to hear the lions and the monkeys.” At least she hopes that’s what those noises are.
This month, she fields a few questions for The Big Thrill about her latest release.
Veronica is a biochemist and a vampire. She likes humans more than most, but physical attraction to one is unthinkable. Joe, a human, needs Veronica’s help to find his brother’s killer, but she has no plans to get involved in any sort of human problem. What neither counts on is the attraction that pulls them together, and the conspiracy that could destroy them both.
Cheryel Hutton trained as a registered nurse, which only partially satisfied her love for science. When her health forced an early retirement, she took advantage of the development to take classes and study the sciences, primarily biology, on her own. Combining that knowledge with her other love, writing, she uses real science to write fantastic stories about vampires, dragons, bigfoot, and other creatures. She especially likes to use fiction to speculate on how mythical beings could actually exist. BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT uses genetics to offer some logical conjectures about how vampires might exist.
BLOOD OF THE INNOCENT is part of the unique multi-author Lobster Cove series from Wild Rose Press. What was it like working on the project?
The books revolve around Lobster Cove, a fictional town on the eastern coast of Maine near Bar Harbor. The series includes all kinds of different stories: historical, contemporary, women’s fiction, erotica, suspense, paranormal, comedy. What they have in common is the setting and a sprinkling of crossover characters. The authors support each other, and the series editor, Lori Graham, made the complicated information easy to find and use. Being a Lobster Cove author has been a great experience, and I’m glad I could be a part of it.
By Anne Tibbets
THE WICCAN WITCH OF THE MIDWEST, set in Champaign, Illinois, delves deeply into tarot card readings and Wiccan practices—but research doesn’t scare lawyer and novelist Scott A. Lerner.
“I generally research as I write,” he says. “When it comes to witches and wiccans, their beliefs tend to vary from coven to coven, and even witch to witch. In some ways I combine different philosophies from different times and cultures. I hope I get it all right, but I am sure someone will let me know if I don’t. When it comes to beliefs people hold sacred, they tend to be vocal when I screw up, so I do my best not to.”
But, with this being the third book in the series, keeping the ideas fresh can be difficult, he admits.
“After all, there is not a limitless supply of creatures that go bump in the night. I try and stay ‘fresh’ by allowing my characters to evolve. Sam is very different than he was in Cocaine Zombies. Sam is no longer a reluctant hero, but a man on a mission. The characters are beginning to accept what would have been impossible for them to cope with only a few books back.”
So, if research doesn’t scare Lerner, what does? “I am not as brave as Sam,” he confesses. “A lot of things scare me. My son just got his license, so driving with him is terrifying. I am also not a big fan of demons, mummies, voodoo spirts and the like. At least, I am not a fan of being at odds with them. However, I love to read about them.”
Reading, as well as writing, are loves that keep Lerner’s words flowing. “…There is a dream scene [in THE WICCAN WITCH OF THE MIDWEST] that I really liked writing. Sam dreams he is in a supermarket. The song ‘Lost in Supermarket’ (by the Clash) is playing in the background as Sam wanders through a very freaky grocery [store]. He must try and pull meaning out of seemingly random events.”
At the age of twelve, Claire Evans, along with dozens of other children, was kidnapped and held by a madman. To her horror, she discovered that shapeshifters, known as Sazi, existed in our real world, and her captor intended to make her one. He succeeded.
Now an adult and a newly minted agent for the Sazi law enforcement branch, Wolven, Evans has been sent undercover to secluded Luna Lake, Washington to investigate what her superiors believe is another series of kidnappings. Will local wolf Alek Siska be a help or a major distraction to her goal?
For The Big Thrill this month, author Cathy Clamp discusses FORBIDDEN, the first book in her new spin-off series.
This is the first book of a new series, but it’s in the same world as the USA Today bestselling Tales of the Sazi series. Would a new reader have to have read the previous books to understand this one?
Not at all. While FORBIDDEN starts at a point a decade after the events of the eighth book in the original series, Serpent Moon, the ending of that book was the equivalent of an apocalypse in the reality. The characters in this new book were children when the prior events took place, so they grew up in an entirely different world than the previous group of people.
Help readers catch up by telling us a little about what has changed in this fictional world.
There were two attacks against the Sazi hierarchy over the course of the original series. One attack was a direct one, where a group of snake shifters (cobras, rattlesnakes and other vipers) attacked the other shifters, attempting to become the only shifting species on earth. But the other, more devastating attack, came from within. Some family members who were human, who never became shifters, came to fear and hate their shifting family and created a chemical cocktail that “cured” shifting. But like many other drugs, there were side effects. Some shifters went rogue—insane to the point that they were feral wild animals and had to be put down. Others lost the ability to heal or were maimed. It became a plague instead of a cure. Luna Lake was a refugee camp for shifters, a place to band together those who survived. Many of the children were orphans and were raised in group homes by foster families. Much of Luna Lake is composed of “after plague” parents and siblings. The plot of the book is that there’s a threat to that last bastion of stability.
In the literary sense, I’m afraid I’ve never grown up. For a lot of writers, all you have to do is look at what they were reading as kids to see what they’ll write as adults.
Back when I shared a freezing bedroom with one of my brothers in Evanston, Illinois (I remember ice on the inside of the handle that cranked the windows shut), my half of the bookcase was packed with two kinds of books.
First, there were books I could count on to scare me, including the Alfred Hitchcock anthologies for young readers I bought at the annual Orrington Grammar School Book Fair. The jubilation I felt at landing a new volume of these can only be equated now with learning that I can finally, hallelujah!, go off of one of my costly blood pressure meds. These books were filled with spooky stories by everyone from H.G. Wells to Robert Louis Stevenson, and I was always torn between rationing them out and ripping through the whole anthology as fast as I could.
As I got a bit older, the books got even more terrifying and demanding. My copy of Frankenstein had a cover that portrayed the monster as a haggard human with a jutting jaw and long, straggly hair; Karloff’s was also a great rendering, no doubt about it, but I could never give up on that cover illustration either. Thus, cognitive dissonance first entered my life.
By Ronnie Allen
I had the pleasure of talking with two multi-published authors, Jean Rabe and Donald Bingle, who recently released—as a collaboration—THE LOVE-HAIGHT CASE FILES: Seeking Supernatural Justice. This novel is a fun ride with paranormal creatures known as OTs—Other-Than-Human—as they wreak havoc through the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. As you can tell from the title, this novel has a lot to do with the law. You’ll meet Gargoyles, Ghouls, Vampires, Fey, Ghosts, and Zombies whose characters are so well developed they might sound like living and breathing humans until you read their colorful descriptions and realize they are anything but. Each one has a unique voice—some comedic, some mysterious, and some ominous.
There’s a mix of life in this district. The OTs live amongst the humans who perpetuate many of their problems. Attorneys Thomas Brock and Evelyn Love crusade and protect the rights of these OTs. We see them in the courtroom fighting for a father’s right to see his children, and in the streets overcoming danger as they protect the lives of gargoyles doomed to die when buildings they protect are demolished, fighting breed-specific legislation, and saving a vampire being framed. I’m not telling you more. You’ll have to read the book. The plot encompasses the real life concerns and emotions of many in an urban-fantasy world.
Rabe and Bingle recently answered a few questions for The Big Thrill.
Jean and Don, I’m thrilled to be talking with you today. With thirty-one novels and four thrillers and countless stories, respectively, I’d certainly appreciate your expertise as well as I’m sure our readers would. To start, how did your collaboration evolve for THE LOVE-HAIGHT CASE FILES: Seeking Supernatural Justice? How did you divide the labor, so to speak, and what roles did each of you have? What ground rules did you set for accountability?
Jean: We approached the novel as “cases,” and we divided the work that way. I’d take a case, Don would take a case, we’d banter ideas back and forth, and we’d proof each other’s work. Made for a clean manuscript, consistent characters and dialog, and allowed the book to come together smoothly.
There is another side to the paranormal. A dorky side, a goofy side. A world filled with giant bugs and poodle icons, a place where graves are robbed not only of their corpses, and garbage trucks fly through the air. Eric Turowksi reveals this side in his first Story By Tess Cooper novel, INHUMAN INTEREST.
After writing several brutal novels of extreme horror, the humorous side of Turowski was dying to break free. You could tell, because an entire month of research went into determining the veracity of hyperoxygenating a Las Vegas casino for the sole purpose of growing spiders the size of Shetland ponies—and making it plausible.
Something had to give before things got too strange.
Indeed, something did give, but things got strange anyway. Turowski’s career in journalism spawned the dissatisfied, klutzy-but-spunky Tess Cooper, a reporter weary of corporate news. The character was borne from a mash-up of several dozen friends and acquaintances, all women in newspaper careers—cynical, hard-bitten, idealistic, and always on the verge of burning out, breaking down, and overeating.
Turowski’s family, seekers of bizarre truths (and Bigfoot) who could still hold down normal day jobs gave birth to Davin Egypt—an amoral, eerie, know-it-all occultist and all-around weirdo.
Beth Cato falls into the category of author who doesn’t just sit in the lonely garret turning out works to delight her readers. She’s highly supportive of other authors, both at her blog and in person, especially at Steampunk-related events. Even in our brief talk, I quickly gained the impression that she’s somebody who has been inspired, and wants to pass that inspiration on.
Cato writes in a variety of genres, and her latest title has been rightly described as a cross between Dr. Quinn and Dreadnought (with a healthy dose of Agatha Christie in the mix).
Beth, the request for this interview dropped into my email inbox the day after some Steampunk jewellery I’d ordered dropped through my letterbox. So I have to ask, what grabs you about the world of Steampunk?
Oh, now I want to see this new jewellery of yours! Steampunk grabs me because it crosses over with other genres and creates something fresh and fun. I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder at age eight and fell hard for historical fiction, and then as a teenager I was deeply into fantasy. I blend together epic fantasy and an Edwardian-inspired world for my Clockwork Dagger series, but I also add in mystery and romance. The first book, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER, came about because I wanted to do a Steampunk take on Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
The jewellery included a flying kraken brooch, which I wear for school governor meetings. I know you also go all out and dress up in Steampunk style sometimes. What’s the worst aspect of that, apart from the uncomfortable corsetry?
Well, I live near Phoenix, Arizona. It’s awfully hot here most of the year. My Steampunk attire tends to be more on the modest side, which means high boots, long skirt, long petticoats, and the corset over a blouse. If I wear that for any length of time, even in air conditioning, I soon understand why women used to swoon.
By J. H. Bográn
It’s been a while since Samuel Roberts was called upon to save mankind, and he’s getting restless. His girlfriend Susan thinks he’s a danger junkie, and he’s worried he has a hero complex. So Sam’s back to his usual small-town lawyerly duties in Champaign-Urbana, handling divorces and helping people beat DUI raps.
Until a young fraternity pledge calls.
During an initiation ceremony the pledge witnessed the live sacrifice of a young woman, but he had so much alcohol in his system that no one believes him. Except Sam. Lately Egyptian lore has been creeping into his life, his dreams, and his movie preferences, and he’s pretty sure he knows why. Evil is knocking on his door again.
THE FRATERNITY OF THE SOUL EATER is Scott A. Lerner’s third novel starring Sam Roberts. Fans of the series are already familiar with the paranormal elements in his books, and with zombies and demons badges already earned, he now tackles another of the all-time reader’s favorite topics: Ancient Egypt.
Of the traditional monster gallery of werewolves, vampires, I’ve always had a fascination with mummies and anything pyramid-related, so I was thrilled by the opportunity to catch up with Lerner about his exciting new book.
By Dawn Ius
Like Harry Potter to young readers, Anne Rice to vampires, and Dan Brown to conspiracy theory thrillers, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series—both in continued novel form and the more recent TV adaptation—has re-opened the portal for time travel adventures.
Just in time for Gwendolyn Womack’s stunning debut, THE MEMORY PAINTER.
“It is a time travel story, but not in the classical sense,” she says, “In the present day storyline, our two lovers remember their past lives as if they’re living it in real time, so it makes the story feed like time travel—although it’s their minds tunnelling them deeper into the past until they arrive at the lifetime where it all began.”
If it sounds complex, you aren’t far off the mark. Spanning six continents and more than 10,000 years, THE MEMORY PAINTER required extensive research, including riveting information about ancient Egypt that not only surprised Womack, but became the springboard for the novel’s thrilling climax.
“If readers are interested in alternate theories about Egypt’s history and the intended purpose of the Great Pyramid, then I recommend Christopher Dunn’s book The Giza Power Plant, and Robert Bauval and Graham Hancock’s book The Message of Sphinx.”
Of course, these works were just a drop in the research bucket for what was required to successfully weave her characters through time with authenticity. Ironic, perhaps, given that Womack’s background is in theatre and she’d originally intended to write THE MEMORY PAINTER as a feature film. A much more truncated version of the story, of course.
“When I sat down to write the novel years later, I completely wiped the idea of it being a movie from my mind and let the story go into far off places without thought of ‘how are we going to shoot this?’”
By Dawn Ius
Pet owners understand the power of unconditional love. That stampede of feet when you walk through the front door can make you feel like the most important person in the world, and nothing can comfort sadness faster than a tender feline kiss. Your pet can heal your heart just with its presence, but if your fur companion is under the weather, it can sometimes leave you feeling helpless.
For author J.G. Faherty the unfortunate stomach troubles of his chocolate lab and subsequent trip to the vet inspired THE CURE, a paranormal horror about Leah, a young veterinarian both blessed and cursed with the power to heal.
“I remember thinking about the famous novel by F. Paul Wilson, The Touch, where a man gets the power to heal. And I thought, wouldn’t it be great if a vet had that power? Animals would never have to suffer,” Faherty says. “And right away I knew I was on to something, but I didn’t want it to be just a rehash of the other book, so I took some time and came up with a bunch of twists and problems that were unique to Leah.”
Indeed, the dark side of her special ability is explored when a force of evil murders the man she loves, transforming the shy, dorky Leah into a demon of retribution. She resurrects her love and embarks on a mission for revenge, leaving readers to eventually question whether Leah has control over her power—or whether it controls her.
“For me, it was all about how a good person will sacrifice anything to help the person they love, and a better person will do it to help innocent animals,” Faherty says. “But there are other themes as well—such as no good deed goes unpunished, keeping secrets can be bad, power corrupts, and so on.”
Amazon recently sent me an ad for crime novels, grouped, not by author, or publisher, or genre subdivision (noir, police procedural, etc.), but by crime. As if I’m sitting there thinking, “What I need is a damn good kidnapping,” or, “I could use a bit of larceny tonight,” or, even, “Gosh! I wonder if they’ve got a good book about jaywalking?”
Well, I suppose it’s as fair a way as any to classify a book. Personally, though, I’ve always had a thing for books that don’t quite fit the marketing pigeonholes, however they’re arranged. Books that take a bit of this, a bit of that, throw in a whole bunch of disparate ingredients, and turn them into something new. Start with a detective story, bolt on a Victorian penny dreadful, add a bit of Wellsian SF, and, if you’ve done it right, you’ll have my interest. The ingredients may vary. It’s the way they’re mixed that counts.
My new novel, DEVIL IN THE WIRES is one such hybrid beast—although I’m hoping, if I’ve done it properly, you’ll soon be so caught up in it, you’ll never see the join. On the one hand, it’s a contemporary thriller. It starts with a perilous mission in Iraq, moves to Paris, then London, and ends with some very bloody goings-on in Chicago. What makes it different is the premise, which is fantasy: that there are ancient powers—gods, for want of a better word—which can be captured, drained of energy, and used to provide electric power for modern cities. Handling them is big business, as you might expect. It’s also dangerous. The entity in the present book, for instance, could make Three Mile Island look like a fun day in the park, if it wanted to.
And that, of course, is the thing our hero has to prevent.
By Ethan Cross
Hemophage (n.): One who subsists on blood; a vampire. Also, strigoi.
Made strigoi against their will, Robin Bradford and his lover Naomi Paris confront a series of threats from other vampires dedicated to destroying them both. Author Stephen M. DeBock’s narrative begins in 1600s England and carries forward to the present, weaving actual historical events into the chilling story of two star-crossed lovers.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with DeBock to talk about HEMOPHAGE, the thrilling conclusion to The Pentacle Pendant trilogy.
Tell us about HEMOPHAGE in one line.
Made vampires against their will, Robin and his lover Naomi must confront a host of enemies dedicated to destroying them.
What kind of research did you conduct for HEMOPHAGE?
The novel spans some four hundred years, with settings in 17th Century England, colonial America, the Pacific theater in WWII, Vietnam, inner city Newark, NJ, Washington, D.C., and environs. I did extensive research on the Internet, also in books relating to the eras and events described, and further used my own experiences when writing about some of the contemporary venues. As the third book in The Pentacle Pendant trilogy, it incorporates characters found in at least one of the first two books and necessitated the making of a gigantic spreadsheet incorporating names, dates, and events in the first two novels—and then slotting in the newest characters and their narratives to ensure the integrity of the entire scope of work.
Describe your typical writing day. How do you balance your writing with marketing, editing, plotting, and all other commitments?
I’m a retiree, so my writing day can begin at any time inspiration strikes. This is a blessing. At times, I’ll wake up and head straight to the computer and write for two to three hours; at others, I’ll detour on the way to bed and write for another hours-long stretch.
By Dawn Ius
Inspired by the strength of some of the women in his life who were facing tough times, Ethan Reid conceived The Undying trilogy, a series of apocalyptic novels, the first of which is centered on a young American named Jeanie learning to survive after a worldwide electromagnetic pulse creates a terrifying new reality.
THE UNDYING: SHADES, the second book in the trilogy, picks up on the journey several years later, as Jeanie and the baby boy, Ren, she saved attempt to survive in the devastated landscape of Southern Spain.
“SHADES is, at heart, a coming-of-age YA novel, as the main character is a teenager struggling to survive in post-apocalyptic Europe,” Reid says. “While the first novel was about birth and survival, the second book follows Ren’s adolescence as he enters adulthood.”
Shifting the focus to Ren was perhaps the hardest part about writing SHADES, Reid says, admitting that the strong, resilient Jeanie was a tough character to leave behind. And as the dark—and sometimes comedic—story moves forward, readers are introduced to several new characters, both the living, and the undead.
“I find humor is the way to stay afloat,” Reid says. “To create characters who can laugh around the campfire after clearing out a city full of the undying ones.”
Charley Davidson has enough going on without having to worry about twelve hellhounds hot on her trail. She is, after all, incredibly pregnant and feeling like she could pop at any moment. But, just her luck, twelve deadly beasts from hell have chosen this time to escape onto our plane, and they’ve made Charley their target. And so she takes refuge at the only place she thinks they can’t get to her: the grounds of an abandoned convent. Of course, if hellhounds aren’t enough, Charley also has a new case to hold her attention: the decades-old murder of a newly-vowed nun she keeps seeing in the shadows of the convent.
Add to that the still unsolved murder of her father, the strange behavior of her husband, and Charley’s tendency to attract the, shall we say, undead, and she has her hands full…but also tied.
By E. A. Aymar
Suzanne Johnson enjoys keeping a foot in two worlds.
Her Sentinels series takes place both in contemporary New Orleans and an intricately developed paranormal universe that lies just beyond the city. Her characters battle both supernatural and human conflicts, but Johnson is too skilled a writer to let the physical fights overshadow the emotions that led to them. And although her books employ a number of fantasy conventions, Johnson uses actual historic incidents and figures (such as Hurricane Katrina, and the French pirate Jean Lafitte) in her work.
Additionally, she co-writes the Collectors’ series under the pseudonym Susannah Sandlin. Despite her busy schedule, Johnson took the time to discuss her writing and her latest book in the Sentinels series, PIRATE’S ALLEY.
What’s been your biggest challenge with maintaining the Sentinels series?
Building and sustaining a large multiverse—lots of species, each with different types of magic or powers—without drowning the reader in too many characters or complexity. I’ve introduced the major political players slowly, with the wizards and historical undead in the first book, Royal Street, then shifters and the water species in River Road, the elves and vampires in Elysian Fields, and now the fae in PIRATE’S ALLEY. As the series marches toward an interspecies war unless heroine DJ finds a way to prevent it, I hope introducing the species slowly in this way will help readers keep them straight!
By Steve Turner
Readers of Gigi Pandian’s novels know she likes to feature lost artifacts, quirky characters, evocative locations, and unexpected twists. Her latest novel, THE ACCIDENTAL ALCHEMIST, also delivers these ingredients.
This urban fantasy thriller is based in Portland, Oregon, an appropriately fashionable setting for the unusual and strange. And sure enough, after only a few pages, we soon learn this is going to be a tale that embraces the extraordinary. The protagonist, Zoe, seemed as surprised as I was to discover that the other main character was a diminutive French-speaking gargoyle with a penchant for fine dining. Next we find that Zoe herself is not quite the ordinary girl she first appears to be, but is actually significantly older, providing a rich backdrop for the story’s past and present.
As the plot unfolds, we follow the exploits and adventures of this very unusual pair of sleuths, who lead us, hand in tiny stone hand, on a very curious journey indeed. The narrative maintains a relatively light atmosphere amongst shades of darker things and sinister goings-on, but avoids fixating on the grim to conjure an enjoyable escapade.
I interviewed Gigi to gain an insight into the book’s creation and also for a sneak a peek into her diary of future plans.
Imagine discovering everything you believe about yourself to be a lie. And that the truth could stir a killer from his lair.
Following the death of the woman she believed to be her mother, twenty-eight-year-old Naomi Waters learns from a malicious aunt that she is not only adopted, but the product of a brutal rape that left her birth mother, Mary Rose Francis, a teenager of Micmac ancestry, in a coma for eight months.
Dealing with a sense of betrayal and loss, but with new purpose in her life, Naomi vows to track down Mary Rose’s attackers and bring them to justice. She places her story in the local paper, asking for information from residents who might remember something of the case that has been cold for nearly three decades.
She is about to lose hope that her efforts will bear fruit, when she gets an anonymous phone call. Naomi has attracted the attention of one who remembers the case well.
But someone else has also read the article in the paper. The man whose DNA she carries.
And he has Naomi in his sights.
The reviews are in—and they’re strong, comparing Joan Hall Hovey to Hitchcock and Stephen King. The author graciously agreed to say a few words to our readers:
I have a book in front of me that’s fiendishly hard to classify, as it contains elements, among others, of the thriller, the paranormal, and the weird. But these many facets combine to form a polished and original end-result; one particular gem is the unique spin on the mortals-immortals relationship that sees humanity using them as a source of energy.
Its believable, down-to-earth characters depict pleasantly imperfect people, who must face situations both of and beyond this world. We meet protagonist Chris Copeland, his job description being neatly encapsulated in the book’s title, who crosses paths with a chain-smoking, chain-swearing Hungarian detective who is certain to find her way into reader’s memories. Together they provide plenty of fascinating interplay, and form an unlikely human team facing off against fleeting inhuman entities whose brevity forces us to gulp down concentrated doses of spookiness.
I was fortunate to hunt down Tim Lees and subject him to a round of questioning in an attempt to shed light on the thought processes behind the darker side of the creation of such a novel.
Your novel, THE GOD HUNTER, could be described as a paranormal thriller. What appeals to you most about writing for the paranormal genre?
You can play with ideas. Your story automatically has an extra level to it. On the one hand, you have the usual matter expected of a novel such as characters and plot, but then you have this sort of mythic level on the top of that, setting up all kinds of resonances. If everything goes well, it can be a very pleasing combination.
Ken Newman has loved stories of the supernatural since listening to his grandmother’s tales of witches, haints, boogers, and catawamps when he was a child. Author of urban fantasy novels, his fiction reflects his Tennessee roots and his love for all things that go bump in the night.
Mixing folklore with modern themes, Ken’s novels create a universe of supernatural creatures and larger than life heroes where nothing is as it seems and myth and legend are terrifyingly real.
Ken graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his latest novel, THE VOICE IN MY EAR.
Where does this book take readers?
Zack Cole never enjoyed living in Bryson City, Tennessee. Being the direct decedent of a bloody serial killer made Cole a pariah and when he was old enough, he left, never intending to return. Coaxed back after two years to attend a memorial for his best friend was a bad idea and Zack finds himself the lone survivor of a bloody massacre. Not only is his body broken, his memory does not jibe with the official police version of events. On the day of his release from the hospital, Zack receives a mysterious visitor who forces Zack to make good on a deal he made moments from death. In exchange for his life, Zack agrees to become the host of a very special entity. Laylakokumi Akirasoon Shu, better known as Layla, was the most powerful witch to every walk the earth, but that was 4000 years ago. Cursed to exist as an earthbound spirit trapped in the form of a tattoo, Layla needs a host to survive. While Zack and Layla struggle with their new relationship, they have no idea they are pawns in a deadly game between the Fallen.
What attracts you to this type of story?
From a young age, we are led to believe that the world in which we live is well ordered and devoid of anything outside natural laws. All the tales of witches, monsters and supernatural creatures were the creation of backward superstition. I think the concept of the world around us as being more mysterious and dark than we believe is too enticing to let go. Just imagine if myth, monsters, and legends were not only real, but lived among us, fighting a secret war? A war that from time to time we mortals were drawn into. What if your third period school teacher was secretly a warlock? Perhaps the pastor at your church was a fallen angel, or your next door neighbor a shape shifter?
By Dan Levy
Like many successful authors, Alex Gordon was drawn to writing early in life and continued through high school. Then, Gordon explained, “I poked around with the idea of writing a (science fiction) novel in college, but that fizzled.”
Gordon shelved her writing for a time, but as it is with so many, the call was strong. “In the early nineties, I saw that so many of my coworkers were returning to school for MBAs. I thought that I would give writing a shot, that some sort of writing course would be my version of an MBA,” she said. The result was Code of Conduct, the first in the Jani Kilian science fiction series, written under my real name, Kristine Smith.
Nearly a decade later, Gordon returns with a supernatural thriller entitled GIDEON, set for release this month. THE BIG THRILL caught-up with Gordon to learn about her latest work and her shift from science fiction to the thriller format.
First, why the switch?
The main reason I want to write thrillers is because I love to read them. Supernatural, science fiction, espionage, medical—I enjoy the high stakes, rapidly-evolving plots, larger than life characters. They’re a blast to read and a real challenge to write. You need just enough detail—too much and you bog down the story. You need interesting characters, but you have to remind yourself that you’re not writing character studies. Revelations need to tie into the main plot.
The #1 New York Times bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris spawned the hit TV show, True Blood, and captivated fans around the world—including many writers. Now a group of writers, specifically chosen by Harris and co-editor L.P. Kelner, pays tribute to “the southern, mind-reading belle who gets mixed up in the world of vampires and magical creatures” (The Kansas City Star) with a collection of fifteen all-new stories about your favorite residents of Bon Temps.
DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN is the seventh paranormal anthology produced by Harris and co-editor Kelner, an acclaimed writer in her own right. With this latest effort, the powerhouse duo may have outdone themselves.
Kelner and Harris graciously answered a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
The smash-hit Sookie Stackhouse series may have had its finale, but Sookie’s world set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, lives on in this collection of 15 stories. This DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN anthology includes an incredible line up of notable authors. How did you decide which authors to invite to write new tales within the Sookie universe? And were you looking for a diversity of narrative styles and voices to create this collection or similar appeal?
Toni Kelner: Of course, we wanted great authors, but also we were looking for people we knew to be actual fans of the Sookie books, people who’ve spoken to Charlaine over the years about their favorite characters and storylines. Since Charlaine has had such a huge influence on urban fantasy and paranormal romance, it wasn’t hard to find folks.
By J. H. Bográn
I first met author Maria Alexander in the hallways of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City during the 2010 ThrillerFest. We exchanged book pitches and business cards. Hers was made of thick pink cardboard, with black lettering, lilac leaves on each corner, and neatly framed. There was this message on the back that has haunted me ever since: “I’ve suffered for my art. Now it’s your turn.” We kept in touch, and when I got this month’s assignment I was thrilled to find out it was for Alexander’s MR. WICKER.
Tell us about MR. WICKER.
Alicia Baum is missing a deadly childhood memory. She must find it before it destroys her. Located beyond life, The Library of Lost Childhood Memories holds the answer. But the Librarian is Mr. Wicker—a seductive yet sinister creature with an unthinkable past and an agenda just as lethal.
What can you tell us about Alicia?
She’s intelligent. Independent. Passionate. Depressed. Angry.
Authors rarely kill off the main character in the first paragraph, but that’s exactly what I’ve done in MR. WICKER.
While she is certainly in a bad way at the outset, her enormous imagination and courage later help her process extraordinary events that would drive you and I insane. Her strong will and rebellious streak don’t always help her make the best decisions. However, you can see the size of her heart in her defense of and compassion for those weaker than herself. Publishers Weekly said some lovely things about both the book and Alicia. It made me very happy.
Can you give us some dirt on the librarian? Without giving away the ending, of course.
Mr. Wicker, who presides over The Library of Lost Childhood Memories, is one unforgiving bastard, even when it comes to centuries-old hurts. The contents of the Library have corrupted his mind, yet there is still a chance for him to learn forgiveness. Whether he takes it or not is to be seen, but Alicia’s life might depend on it.