When she’s not writing bestselling and award-winning Gothic Victorian Fantasy, Leanna Renee Hieber moonlights as a licensed ghost tour guide in New York City’s Boroughs of the Dead.
Perhaps that should come as no surprise. An online search for “ghosts of New York City” yields more than 80 million results, while “haunted New York City” garners more than a hundred million. The Big Apple loves its haunts, and Hieber’s work is both haunted and haunting, her spectral characters as developed as those of flesh and ink.
Set in 1899, THE SPECTRAL CITY features Eve Whitby, a gifted young medium in charge of New York City’s Ghost Precinct. When her ghostly contacts begin to disappear, Eve and her network of fellow psychics and wayward ghosts must work with the diligent but skeptical (and all too attractive) Lieutenant Horowitz to thwart a force so evil it threatens even the dead.
Asked what readers can expect from her book, Hieber says, “I hope readers will feel connected to Historic New York and also think about the bond between the living and the dead as something beautiful and full of interest and help.”
Her ghosts are not the horrifying specters depicted in Hollywood horror films. “I’m interested in presenting ghosts in a helpful, friendly and unique light,” she says, “and I hope this provides a compelling paranormal adventure that’s refreshing for readers. I hope readers will love my mediums, a group of young women who are brave and professional, at a time when women were emerging presences in the average workforce. I hope readers will love a realistic 19th century New York where the paranormal is normal; a seamless blend of history and fantasy.”
Hieber feels that mystery and thriller elements have always been “the core and binding part” of her cross-genre work. She blends crime and suspense with supernatural elements and a rich historical setting. Her research into the creation of the New York Foundling Hospital led to some of the novel’s more poignant moments.
Let’s welcome her to The Big Thrill.
Congratulations on your new book, Leanna! And thank you for taking the time to talk to us about it. Why don’t we start with a little bit about your writing journey and how you came to be a professional writer?
I fell in love with Edgar Allan Poe in grade school and never looked back. I began my first novel around age 11, set in 1888. My chosen time period has been a life-long obsession. Mutually in love with the stage and the written page, I graduated with a BFA in theatre performance with a focus in the Victorian era. Years later, at a Broadway callback, all I could think about was the book that became my debut novel, so I shifted my focus and placed novel writing at the fore.
You describe your work as Gothic, Gaslamp Fantasy with strong elements of mystery and suspense. Tell us a little bit about the genre and what attracts you to it?
The Gothic novel, one of the most misunderstood and maligned genres in literary history, has always had its finger on the pulse of popular fiction, intimate psychology and internal conflict. Writing deeply passionate, psychological, and spirit-filled novels in a historic setting allows me to grapple with important aspects of human existence as a timeless question while crafting a gamesome adventure in lyrical prose. Nineteenth century Spiritualism cracked open society’s understanding of life and death, paving the way for new voices in a restrictive time period. My characters live fully in that freshly carved historic space full of wonder and possibility.
Why did you choose turn-of-the century New York City for this book?
Gilded Age New York City is dizzying in its wealth as contrasted with its squalor, great works of philanthropy balanced against cruelties, a city of dichotomies, wonders and new technologies, filled with larger-than-life characters. Simply put, it’s irresistible. I’ve been a licensed New York City tour guide sharing history for over a decade and I can promise you there’s never a dull moment in this city’s past.
Can you tell us a little bit about your main character, Eve, and her little group of mediums?
Eve Whitby’s family has been with me for a decade. I love them beyond measure. Each of my series stand alone, but readers who have followed me will greet familiar faces. Eve is perhaps the boldest, most no-nonsense heroine I’ve ever written. She has delightfully surprised me all along the way. Her three fellow mediums come from vastly different backgrounds and their found family dynamic is an ever-evolving treasure.
You explore a number of modern issues in THE SPECTRAL CITY. How do you blend the discussion of women’s roles in society and transgender issues into a historical background?
The fight for women’s equality blossomed in the 19th century as women began working in all kinds of new spaces. Movements that finally gained the vote in the 20th century were built decades prior. Victoria Woodhull ran for president with Frederick Douglass as her running mate 27 years before the setting of my book. The issues and biases Eve and Detective Horowitz confront were part and parcel of contemporary Victorian discourse.
LGBTQ+ folks have always existed, that’s no modern invention, though 19th century existence came with complications, biases, and legal issues. Oscar Wilde’s trial took place two years before my 1899 setting, so methods of hiding, passing, and code-switching for LGBTQ+ folk remained vital for safety. That’s why Eve understanding and welcoming Antonia is so important. While the vernacular of the time period was different than today, it would be inaccurate to exclude these identities from a city as historically diverse as NYC. The important part for me was presenting a trans character who simply exists, safely and helpfully, who isn’t a point of conflict or tragedy. For a wonderful window into 19th century LGBTQ+ life, please visit the Alice Austen house in Staten Island for a treasure trove of period photography and information.
What are some of the resources you use to ensure historical accuracy?
My go-to resources are guidebooks from the time period, catalogues, periodicals, maps, museums, articles and advertisements; the voice and images of the era. This time around, I was thrilled to obtain a book cataloguing Harry Houdini’s theatre bills, so I was able to recreate one of his exact escape advertisements.
Conversely, what kinds of liberties do you take with historical facts—especially in light of the paranormal aspects of your work?
The steepest veering off historical course is creating the Ghost Precinct itself. While there was no official department investigating things via paranormal aid, mediums, psychics, mesmerists, magicians, occult and mystical figures teemed this point in history. Every aspect my characters embody matches the obsessions and preoccupations of the era.
What’s next? Will we see more of Eve and the Ghost Precinct?
THE SPECTRAL CITY is set for at least a trilogy! And the fourth and final installment in my popular Strangely Beautiful saga, Miss Violet and the Great War, after years of trials and tribulations, will finally release with Tor Books February 2019.
Actress, playwright and author Leanna Renee Hieber is the award-winning, bestselling author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens. Her Strangely Beautiful saga, beginning with The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, hit Barnes & Noble and Borders Bestseller lists and garnered numerous regional genre awards, with new revised editions from Tor Books now available. Darker Still was named an American Bookseller’s Association “Indie Next List” pick, a Scholastic Book Club “Highly Recommended” title and a Daphne du Maurier award finalist. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy saga, The Eterna Files trilogy, is now available from Tor Books. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies such as Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, Willful Impropriety, The Mammoth Book of Gaslamp Romance, featured on Tor.com and she writes for Criminal Element. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy series The Spectral City begins Nov. 2018 from Kensington Rebel Base. A four-time Prism Award winner for excellence in the genre of fantasy romance, Leanna’s books have been selected for national book club editions and translated into languages such as Complex Chinese, German and Polish. A proud member of performer unions Actors Equity and SAG-AFTRA, she lives in New York City, where she is a licensed ghost tour guide and has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire and Mysteries at the Museum.
She is represented by Paul Stevens of the Donald Maass agency and is active on Twitter @leannarenee and has resources and more information on her website.
By George Ebey
Author Kim Alexander’s latest work, THE GLASS GIRL, is the third installment in her ongoing paranormal fantasy series, The Demon Door.
In this installment, newly blessed (or cursed) with wings and fire, Prince Rhuun of the demon realm of Eriis sees hope for his life on the human world of Mistra with his fierce human lover, Lelet va’Everley. She literally went to hell and back to save him, and she’s not about to let anything—or anyone—ruin their perfect future.
All too soon, the claims of family, duty, and justice force Rhuun and Lelet to confront new griefs and old mistakes as they attempt to restore balance to the throne of Eriis. But, with every jealous rumor and each vengeful whisper, friends turn, family schemes, and forgotten enemies creep from the shadows.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with the Alexander to learn more about her exciting series and THE GLASS GIRL.
Jason Jack Miller has had a varied and interesting career path. He’s worked as a record store clerk, a whitewater raft guide on some of Appalachia’s wildest rivers, and a concierge in one of Florida’s finest hotels. His writing career got its start when he co-authored an outdoor travel guide with his wife in 2006. Since then his work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones, and in the award-winning writing guide Many Genres, One Craft.
His life has exposed him to some interesting stories and points of view, and it appears that many of these end up in his fiction.
The Murder Ballads and Whiskey series comprises four books so far, including the just-released ALL SAINTS. It’s difficult to review a book that comes fourth in a series. Don’t get me wrong; you can read this as a standalone, but there are events that are deeply etched into the fabric of the larger canvas. It’s almost like looking at a corner of a picture without moving back a little and taking in the entire image.
In a nutshell, we’re introduced to an immortal woman and a man haunted by his past and suffering from PTSD. Ben joined the army after the horrific events of September 11th and found that the reality of war was more brutal and dehumanizing than anyone should have to bear.
The story begins with a chase at sea. Almost immediately we are thrown into what appears to be a drama that has played out for a much longer time than seems possible. Love, redemption, and mysticism take center stage as we are hurtled along on an unforgettable ride.
Harry Black has a curse he doesn’t understand, or could it be a gift he can’t escape? He’s the last heir of a dying clan, but there’s a problem. To inherit, he must fulfill the only stipulation in the will—accept the Black Family Legacy. After seven weeks of the same nightmare, Harry is desperate to see a psychologist to be “cured.” But instead of help at the hands of Dr. Virginia Rankin, Harry falls headlong into the legacy’s grip when he experiences an ecstatic utterance and inexplicably reveals information to her that he couldn’t possibly know.
Shocked that this stranger has knowledge of her family’s dark secret, Ginny makes a frantic call to her brother. The call makes the Minority Whip of the US Senate late for a meeting at a world economic summit in DC, delaying him long enough to avoid a terrorist bombing that kills two other senators and dozens more innocent people. By saving the life of Dr. Rankin’s famous brother, Harry has also sealed his own fate. Wanted or not, the Legacy has finally come to him…
The Big Thrill met up with author S. P. Brown to discuss his latest novel, THE LEGACY:
In the late 1800s, Augustus finds a job as lighthouse keeper on a beautiful but isolated island. He can’t wait to bring his new bride home to the lighthouse, set on majestic bluffs, which have laid claim to many shipwrecks.
Augustus soon suffers from the effects of self-induced isolation, as Adelia watches her husband’s gradual decline into madness.
Meet Hope, a modern-day quiet, quirky young woman with a case of agoraphobia—or so it would seem. She feels an inexplicable pull toward the lighthouse and the bluffs beyond. Hope struggles with her internal battle and seeks to find the truth about her unsettling recurring nightmares. Maybe then she can discover why she has always felt so alone and unusual.
The Big Thrill sat down with Mya O´Malley to discuss her novel, THE HOUSE THAT ADELIA BUILT:
For the forces of evil, Sam Roberts is catnip. Even during periods of calm, Sam knows that evil is just biding its time before challenging him again. So when he is asked to defend a wealthy shut-in charged with murder, he is suspicious. Why is the largest and wealthiest law firm in town hiring an outside attorney who is a sole practitioner to represent Mr. Blake May?
Sam’s client resides in the sublimely creepy Frost Home, a “haunted” mansion given a wide berth by the residents of Champaign, Illinois. The house has been engulfed in rumors of death, missing children, and mystery since before the Civil War. Blake May is accused of not only murdering his girlfriend but decimating the remains until they look like marinara. But the agoraphobic middle-aged man rarely, if ever, left his rooms. If he indeed killed Heather, why can’t the police find a murder weapon? Everyone seems to want Blake declared insane rather than acquitted.
Sam and his buddy Bob Sizemore know that Heather’s grizzly fate can’t be blamed on something as mundane as murder. There is a force at work in the house, and it seems to emanate from the mirror hung in the room where the remains of the body were found. Can Sam and Bob end the Frost Home’s eerie legacy of evil?
HABITAT FOR HUMAN REMAINS author Scott A. Lerner discussed his novel with The Big Thrill:
I have a theory about authors. It’s not a very original theory, nor is it startling in its concept. Everyone has a shadow personality, I believe. One that resides only in our heads, and occasionally escapes, often to our chagrin. I think that there are two groups who intentionally let this shadow come into the light: authors and sociopaths.
That’s not to say that authors are sociopaths, and certainly not Patricia Hale, only that we share a trait. In one case, it manifests as anti-social behavior. In the other, it’s codifying all sorts of behavior – some of it anti-social.
Which brings us to Patricia Hale, her new book, THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY CHILD, and its particular brand of anti-social behavior. Pat is the furthest thing from a sociopath. She’s your neighbor. She’s a wife, she’s a mother, she works at a holistic veterinary hospital, she has dogs and a cat. She has an MFA! Sociopaths are automatically excluded from that program during the application process. Right there, I think it’s toward the end – “Are you a sociopath (Yes/No)?”
So, where does her shadow personality reside, and what does it look like?
Let’s start with a synopsis of THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY CHILD and see if there are any clues.
Who they are and how they died is a mystery.
Zach Harris knows a sinister force is at work. Problem is, from his experience there are too many to choose from. Elliot Jorgenson, chief of police, is camping out in the land of denial. Lucy Lane, the town’s reporter of all things strange and unusual, is on the case as well, and nothing is going to stop her from getting the scoop, not even dinner with a vampire.
When an old friend returns from the dead harboring an unusual secret and a sugar-loving fairy-tale girlfriend, things get complicated. An influx of ghoul-like creatures and a mass exodus of Private Acres residents clues Zach in to how dire their situation is.
After a cryptic warning from someone who could be friend or foe, Zach rallies his rag tag team of not-quite-heroes to try and avert an apocalypse.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to interview APOCALYPSE BY MIDNIGHT author Suzanne Robb, and here’s what she had to say:
By George Ebey
Author Bob Bickford brings us plenty of chills in his latest novel, A SONG FOR CHLOE.
Hollow Lake has a legend. The locals say that the spirit of Chloe Hunter, a teenager drowned in 1980, haunts its waters. She has been seen every year since, especially during late autumn when she appears as an eerie figure swimming in near-icy waters.
Nick Horan knows the legend, but he doesn’t believe in ghosts…until late one night, when Chloe wades out of the cold lake in front of his eyes. As beautiful as she is terrifying, the vision stirs something inside him, but before he can react, she vanishes into the dark woods.
It’s clear that Chloe isn’t from here. She’s a doorway to somewhere else—and Nick might just follow her anywhere.
The Big Thrill recently checked in with Bickford to learn more about his haunting new tale.
Twenty-five year old Steven Jameson is a junkie who lives on the streets and finances his habit by robbing unsuspecting tourists. One Saturday night he meets a beautiful stranger named Anna Marie Jennsen, who tells him that she’s the leader of the Morphia Clan, a family of vampire addicts. Anna Marie offers Steven membership in the clan, provided he can pass the gruesome test of loyalty she requires. Steven is transformed into a vampire and formally inducted into the clan, where he quickly makes friends with his fellow vampires. Among these are Teresa, a tiny, offbeat vampire who appears to have joined the clan in her late teenage years and Eric, who Steven immediately dislikes and distrusts. Steven’s story climaxes during a raid on a large pharmaceutical manufacturer, during which he discovers that not everything is as it seems, and that there are hidden dangers everywhere.
The Big Thrill caught up with Billy Lyons to discuss his debut, BLOOD AND NEEDLES:
Hell has released its ravening horde of demons, leaving most of humanity a puke-spewing, head-spinning mess of possession.
Humanity’s last hope? A team of misfit gargoyles—including a cigar chomping, hard-ass grotesque—come alive and ready for battle during the End of Days. They guard the last cathedral-turned-sanctuary atop a bald knoll in the North Carolina mountains.
Gargoyle protection grudgingly extends to any human who can make it inside the sanctuary, but the power of the stonecutter blood magic, which protects the sanctuary, may not be enough when a rogue grotesque and his badly-wounded ward arrive.
All the hounds of hell are on their heels. The last sanctuary is about to fall.
Author Jake Bible stopped by The Big Thrill to discuss his latest novel, STONE COLD BASTARDS:
Caleb Crowe is back as a professor of archaeology with psychic abilities. A cross between Indiana Jones and the X-Files, THE TESLA OBJECTIVE pulls directly from actual secret government experiments and historical facts in a perfect blend of action and suspense.
With some conspiracy theories being more than just theory, David Sakmyster takes us on a wild ride. He explores some of the greatest mysteries in history. From cover-ups to secret societies, it becomes hard to tell which events are fiction and which seem too strange to be true.
The TESLA OBJECTIVE is the fourth book in the Morpheus Initiative Series. It revolves around psychic archaeologists, which I didn’t know could be a thing. Are they archaeologists who became psychic or is this a niche field?
Psychic archaeology is a real thing, although obviously very rare (and disputable, I’m sure), but back when I was researching the first book, The Pharos Objective, I came across the term in relation to work being done as part of a scientific team exploring various mysteries in Egypt. The key to that team was that they were using “remote viewers” with claimed psychic powers to visualize the precise location, for example, of Cleopatra’s sunken palace.
Dorian Robert-Houdin, the three-and-a-half-foot gargoyle chef who fancies himself a modern-day Poirot, is slowly turning into stone, and it’s up to Zoe Faust to unravel the alchemical secrets that can save him. From Portland to Paris, Zoe searches for the hidden knowledge she needs, but a cold case harkening back to 1942 throws her off course. With an ailing friend desperately trying to discover his elixir of life and a new romantic interest offering the first chance at love she’s had in nearly a century, Zoe is torn between a dangerous form of alchemy and her desire for a safer life. Library Journal gives the Accidental Alchemist series “High marks for a modern twist on an ancient practice,” including the third book in the series, THE ELUSIVE ELIXIR.
Gigi tells us the Accidental Alchemist mysteries begin when centuries-old alchemist Zoe Faust, a loner who’s been running from her past for decades, falls in love with Portland, Oregon. Zoe decides to stop running and stay, but her new friends become more important to her than she imagined. In the first book in the series, her defenses were up. In THE ELUSIVE ELIXIR, Zoe has so much more to lose because of the people she loves.
One of the challenges for amateur sleuth authors is to create a compelling reason for the protagonist to get involved—generally at great personal risk—in solving the crime. Gigi says,
“Though Zoe isn’t a detective, she’s on a quest to save the life of her best friend who’s dying an unnatural death because of a dangerous form of alchemy. That quest creates a secondary mystery, causing Zoe to get involved in solving crimes she would otherwise stay away from.”
Gigi avoids the “Cabot Cove” syndrome (people dying all around the sleuth) by having trouble find her rather than having Zoe seek it. “Since Zoe is a secret alchemist, her past catches up with her in Oregon. By bringing ancient alchemy to the modern world, I’m having fun melding historical alchemy parallels with a community feeling in present-day Portland.”
After Zach Harris is attacked by a wolf, the most bizarre consequence isn’t that the police suspect he’s the serial killer… or that he’s growing hair in funny places, wants to mark his territory and chase rabbits…not even that he’s falling for Lucy Lane, a tenacious reporter who can expose his secret. What is truly strange is the wolf who bit him now turns into a man during the full moon.
Sucked into a murder investigation, Zach races against the clock while the Moonlight Killer taunts the police. As the pickled body parts pile up and one of Logansville’s finest goes missing, Zach forms a strange alliance to avoid life in prison orange, catch the real murderer, and try to save the woman he loves.
Suzanne Robb recently took some time to discuss DEAD BY MIDNIGHT with The Big Thrill:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
I hope they smile and see there are many ways to tell the same story in a different way. I also hope they take away a smile and a few chuckles.
How does this book make a contribution to the genre?
I think it creates a new way of looking at an old mythology. A “what if” scenario that has not been done before. And that is not to toot my own horn, the concept has not been done, so it will either be really cool or really terrible…
Most of the “werewolf rules” we’re familiar with— such as transformation during a full moon—spring from the movies. In his new book STORMWOLF, Stephen Morris takes readers into an urban fantasy world where older werewolf myths are in play. You might say it’s a wild ride.
Morris, who holds degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy, draws on his study and research of medieval magical practice for the tale of Alexei, a young man who “breaks the terms of the wolf-magic he inherited from his grandfather and loses the ability to control the shapeshifting, becoming a killer and slaughtering his neighbors, his friends — even his family.”
He’s soon driven to wander into encounters with other wolf practitioners in a tale that garnered high marks from Kirkus Reviews:
“Morris’ werewolf isn’t a fur-coated romantic, but a refreshingly murky protagonist who’s both flawed and sympathetic; he kills innocents, but never intentionally. There are quite a few werewolf onslaughts, which the author unflinchingly portrays as bloody and brutal…. A dark supernatural outing, featuring indelible characters as sharp as wolves’ teeth.”
Morris is a former priest who served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University, and a Seattle native making his home in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot. He’s written non-fiction of the Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life and has also penned a trilogy, Come Hell or High Water.
This month, The Big Thrill posed a few questions to Morris about STORMWOLF.
International best-selling author, dad and all around awesome guy MichaelBrent Collings has just done it again. He’s written THE LONGEST CON, and his latest novel is a phenomenal read. Tip: If you aren’t already a Michaelbrent Collings fan, do yourself a favor and read a book or two of his today. Definitely worth your while.
Tell me about THE LONGEST CON?
Well, we all know that people go to comic cons to cosplay as monsters, but what most people don’t know is that monsters also go to comic cons to cosplay as people. Obviously, this presents a lot of problems since monsters plus people in close quarters equals carnage. The con organizers’ solution is to seed “Wardens”—the equivalent of undercover Air Marshals—throughout the cons. These Wardens are in charge of stopping problems before they happen, or cleaning up the bodies and punishing the killers after.
The fun part of it is that I’m the main character of the book: the Warden tasked with solving the murder of a high-ranking monster whose death could set off an apocalypse. And other very popular and successful writers—including Larry Correia, Kevin J. Anderson, Orson Scott Card, and more—are also major characters. Some are wizards, some are supernatural weapons dealers, some are even weirder. All of the authors in the book gave permission for me to make great characters out of them, and they all enjoyed it. And, so far, the readers seem to be enjoying it as well.
When did you start writing? What got you interested in the craft?
I started writing very young. My father was the head of Creative Writing at a major university, so books and words—both to be read and to be written—were a part of my DNA. The first time I wrote something, I was four years old (I started reading very early), and it was a “story” that was four sentences long and written in red crayon. My father read it, put on his teacher hat, and talked to me about the good parts, how I could make it better, and what to do next. Being a great author, I took his editing notes in stride and radically overhauled my parrot opus, creating an epic that was now five sentences long, and which debuted to rave reviews from my mommy. Thus a writer was born.
By Amy Lignor
Although Mark Spivak is an award-winning author, he has just recently taken his first foray into fiction. With a background as a writer and editor in the areas of wine, food, and culinary travel, Spivak’s debut novel is about America’s most famous chef…and the deal he makes to achieve fame and fortune. Now working on a political thriller, Spivak does not wish to hold himself to any one specific genre. Instead, as he explained in our interview, his multitude of thoughts and ideas make for an exciting future as he walks a variety of paths to create memorable stories.
This is your first fiction title after publishing non-fiction work. Can you tell readers the differences between the two, and whether you found it more difficult to create fiction?
They’re very different processes, obviously, but it’s much harder to get a novel published. With non-fiction, the author is usually an expert in a particular field and has a following that he/she can demonstrate or quantify. Debut novelists are total cyphers to publishers.
Could you give readers a short synopsis of your debut novel, FRIEND OF THE DEVIL?
FRIEND OF THE DEVIL tells the story of America’s most celebrated chef; a man who has cut a deal with Satan for culinary greatness. It’s really a tale of human obsession and greed. David Fox, a freelance writer from New York, goes to Florida to do a story on the 25th anniversary of the restaurant. He’s immediately attracted to the restaurant’s hostess, which unknowingly puts him in competition with the chef. He’s even more intrigued with the chef himself, who is charismatic and manipulative. David has heard all the rumors about the chef being demonically possessed.
The chef invites David to write his biography. David accepts, and finds himself caught in a vortex of romantic rivalry, drug dealing and murder. There’s a unique twist at the end, which of course I won’t give away….
If you knew that a thousand years from now, someone wanting to be an author would dig up a time capsule with a note in it from you offering advice, what would your letter say?
DON’T GIVE UP.
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.
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.
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 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.