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By Keith Raffelthe-panic-zone.jpg

I met Rick Mofina at BEA in 2009.  Rick was just launchingVengeance Road which has since been nominated for a 2010 Thriller Award.  We got together again to discuss Rick’s latest book, The Panic Zone.

Dean Koontz calls The Panic Zone, your latest, “a headlong rush toward Armageddon.”  Whew!  Would you give us a sneak preview?

The Panic Zone tells the story of Emma Lane, an anguished mother from Wyoming who refuses to believe her baby died in a tragic car crash. Jack Gannon, a wire service reporter from New York, joins her in the hunt for a perfect killer whose trail leads around the world in a race against time.

The Panic Zone is the second in your Jack Gannon series after your Thriller Award nominee Vengeance Road. How does Jack compare with the protagonists in your other two series?

Tom Reed, the protagonist in my first series, has a wife, kid and a drinking issue but he’s married to his job as a reporter with The San Francisco Star. Jason Wade, the rookie reporter in my second series, is dealing with his ex-cop father’s ghosts while learning his craft as a crime reporter in Seattle.  Jack Gannon is a blue-collar loner from Buffalo driven by his dream of leaving town for a job with the World Press Alliance, a global wire service in New York. In getting the job, Gannon becomes something of a metaphor for the newspaper industry — an industry that I worked in and love. Gannon’s hometown paper, The Buffalo Sentinel, is dying in the community it serves. The wire service that hires him is a content provider for the Internet and news outlets everywhere. Gannon covers the world. In many cases he is a fish out of water when parachuted into a story, something I experienced often. In some ways Gannon is like Jason Bourne with a laptop in pursuit of the truth, connecting the dots.

What motivates you to start a new series?

My publisher. And, I was ready to create a new protagonist with new circumstances. I really like Jack Gannon, we’re planning more assignments for him.

What kind of research did you need to do for The Panic Zone?

For Jack Gannon’s job as a correspondent with the World Press based in New York, I drew upon my own time as first a newspaper reporter then a wire service reporter in Canada. I also have friends with Reuters and the Associated Press. I visited the AP’s world headquarters in NYC and discussed my character with staff there, to get a better feel for him in that sort of environment.

mofina-rick2.jpgAt the outset of The Panic Zone, Gannon is dispatched to Rio de Janeiro to dig up the truth behind a café bombing that killed 10 people, including two journalists from the WPA’s Rio bureau. I reached into my own experiences of being dispatched at a moment’s notice to a story, to places such as the Caribbean, Africa, Kuwait. I recall being told one day, “we need you to go to the Bahamas to chase a story.” Then there was the stomach-twisting time I was dispatched to the tragedy in Columbine. “Just grab a laptop and get on a plane.” I got on the next flight from Calgary and bought what I needed in Littleton.  For other aspects of The Panic Zone, I did a lot of reading. The research never stops. I’ll be researching while I am writing. It all depends on what I need, or think I need.

The Panic Zone.  Great title.  Did you come up with it?  How often have you had titles changes?

Yes, it’s my title. Here’s the title history of all my books.

If Angels Fall (mine)
Cold Fear (half mine – the “fear” part)
Blood of Others (mine)
No Way Back (not mine)
Be Mine (not mine)
The Dying Hour (mine)
Every Fear (mine)
A Perfect Grave (mine)
Six Seconds (mine)
Vengeance Road (mine)
The Panic Zone (mine)
In Desperation (mine – coming Apr 2011)

Vengeance Road is up for a Thriller Award this month.  Congrats.  If you win, can we count on your providing free drinks to all ITW members, fans, readers, fellow journalists, and Canadians for the rest of the year?

Yes, but only if you like drinking Moosehead in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Thanks for the acknowledgment.   It truly is an honour / honor to be recognized with Tom Piccirilli, John Lutz and John Gilstrap, a great group of authors.

You live in Ottawa.  It doesn’t seem like a city filled with thrills.  Am I wrong?  If not from where you live, where does your inspiration for your books come from?

I get most of my thrills contending with Ottawa’s rush-hour traffic  or its version of a mass transit system. Beyond that, I draw on my days as a reporter, or heck, just make things up. Always looking at a situation then asking myself – what if?

Is there anything distinctive that you and other Canadian thriller writers bring to the genre?

A few key things: We know the actual motto of the RCMP is “Maintain the Right.”  We know that 29C is pretty darned hot. We can find Saskatchewan on a map of Canada faster than most people. We know what it means to ask for a double-double. We know our way around a Canadian Tire store. We can spell Saskatchewan without looking it up and most of us know the proper pronunciations of Toronto, Calgary, Newfoundland, and Iqaluit.

So many of today’s crime fiction novelists were, like you, newspaper reporters.  Why?  What does this say about the next generation of crime fiction novelists when the pool of newspaper reporters will be so much smaller?

I am not sure why, perhaps it’s just the evolution of the tradition that reaches back to early days of newspapering. Look at how many authors were journalists for a time – Dickens, Crane, Orwell, Hemingway  – the list goes on and goes way back. Journalists tell stories for a living, and in some ways they take on the God’s-eye view of life that all novelists employ. I don’t think that tradition will fade, it will shift and evolve. At its core, newspapering will always be story-telling; the vehicle by which stories are delivered will always be in flux. Manual typewriters disappeared from newsrooms, replaced by keyboards, now replaced by key pads, or touch screens, but the heart of the enterprise is story and that being said, crime will never go away, so there will always be a story to be told.

I noticed the American edition of the first Jack Gannon thriller, Vengeance Road, came out a regular mass paper format and listed at $7.99.  The Panic Zone is in the new taller format that seems to fall somewhere between mass paper and trade paper and lists for $9.99.  What do you think of of it?

I like it. It is the first time for me to be published in that format. Being in the “premium tall” format will hopefully mean better placement and visibility. It’s a great cover and a good looking book, I’m very pleased with the presentation. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s received.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just written my 12th novel which will be released in the early part of 2011. It is titledIn Desperation and will be the third book in the Jack Gannon series. I expect to do more in the series and possibly another standalone. And I’m working on a children’s picture book with my daughter based on a bedtime story I used to tell her called The Girl in the Pumpkin. My daughter is now studying art at university and is working on the pictures. So if any publishers are interested …..

Keith Raffel
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