Have you ever been at an utter loss as to what to do?
I’ve felt that way before a blank page, but the stakes in Grant McKenzie’s NO CRY FOR HELP are far, far greater.
The logline of the novel is:
A family vanishes.
No reason. No ransom
No Cry for Help.
I had the privilege of reading the first chapter of NO CRY FOR HELP by Grant McKenzie, due out this November by Bantam/Transworld, and I’ve never been quite so frustrated that I couldn’t turn the page to read Chapter 2. As the father of three girls, and married to a wonderful wife, I stood there with the protagonist, Wallace Carver, turning in circles. Stunned.
Compounding my sense of helplessness is Wallace, an average Joe, a bus driver, reacting as I would, growing angry, realization slowly dawning that his family is gone. To say he’s in over his head is an understatement.
And the blurb suggests the complications don’t stop there:
During a cross-border shopping trip, a family vanishes. No reason. No ransom. No cry for help. Bus driver Wallace Carver fears the worst when his family fails to meet him at the Bellingham, Washington mall. His anxiety is justifiably heightened when security cameras unexplainably show that he crossed the Peace Arch border alone. Now all Wallace wants to do is get his wife and sons back. But first he has to work out why they were taken and by whom.
This is clearly no simple family-in-jeopardy thriller. Ken Bruen, best-selling author of Cross, calls Grant’s writing “Think Harlan Coben on speed.” And Linwood Barclay, author of No Time For Goodbye, says, “Grant really knows how to make a story move.”
Having just returned from Scotland myself, I’m even more intrigued to speak with Grant who hails from the old country; I just hope I can understand what he’s saying.
I’ll stop poking fun before you pull your dirk. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Can you tell me a little more about your novel, NO CRY FOR HELP, and why readers should go order it now?
Excitement! No Cry for Help is one of those stories that begin with a heart-wrenching scene anyone who is a parent can relate to, but then starts to spiral in a direction that only a thriller can with the mystery and action piling on until you just can’t stop reading.
Part of what interests me in this book is the fact that Wallace is a bus driver. Now I have a friend who is a brilliant poet and drives a bus, so this is not a question of capacity to deal with things, but more wondering what possible enemy Wallace could have. Best-selling author Lee Child called your debut, SWITCH, “A terrific little-guy-in-big-trouble thriller…” What attracts you to these sorts of protagonists?
I love the idea of an everyday character that everyone can relate to who is suddenly thrust into an impossible and yet completely believable situation. Wallace doesn’t have any special powers or ninja training; he’s just your average bus driver whose biggest problem was middle-age spread until he suddenly has to find a reserve of courage and dogged determination that he never knew he possessed.
Where’d you get your inspiration for NO CRY FOR HELP?
The inspiration for Wallace came while I was commuting daily to work from the small seaside town where I lived to the big city. The commute was by ferry and I became friends with a great guy named Paul who commuted to his job as a bus driver. Every night as we waited for the last ferry home, Paul would tell me hilarious stories of his day and I became fascinated. When I first started to write No Cry, I really wanted to bring some of Paul’s humor into play – unfortunately, Wallace’s ordeal becomes so intense so quickly that it turned out there wasn’t a place for it. As for the inspiration for the plot, that’s just my twisted imagination 😉
Your first novel SWITCH featured families in jeopardy as does NO CRY FOR HELP. Why is family an important theme in your writing?
I think it’s the Mama Bear syndrome. I’ve been blessed with a loving and supportive wife and daughter, and I’m normally a real easy-going guy. But mess with my family and that inner Mama Bear can come out – all claws and teeth! I think most spouses and parents can relate.
I know many authors set their thrillers in the US for marketing purposes and SWITCH was set in Portland. So why did you chose to bridge Canada and the US in NO CRY FOR HELP?
I loved the idea of the border, of Wallace being in a country that is so similar to Canada and yet as soon as he crosses the longest undefended border in the world, he’s alone. With all his support network gone, he can’t even go to the authorities because suddenly he’s illegal and subject to arrest.
You wrote a great piece on your website about an odd little boy who arrived in Canada, nearly peeing himself because the teacher couldn’t understand him when he asked to go the washroom – “I’m burstin’, miss. Canna no use the loo?” What do you think your Scottish heritage brings to your writing? Does it make it into your characters?
I emigrated to Canada with my family at the awkward age of 13, so suddenly I went from being almost like everybody else (as a redhead, I was always the visible minority in a sea of sameness and thus an easy target for the bullies who needed to pick on someone) to a complete oddity with a thick Glasgow accent who had never owned a pair of blue jeans, or heard of McDonald hamburgers, or watched Happy Days. But growing up in Scotland in the mid-70s, I was also exposed to a level of street violence that Canadian kids wouldn’t experience for decades to come. It’s this combination of experiences that allows me to write both “insider” and “outsider” characters that readers can really relate to. I’ve never stopped being proud of my heritage, but I also became equally proud of growing to be more than I was, a citizen of two countries with memories in each that make me the person I am today: the weird adult with the ginger hair.
You wrote five books before hitting paydirt with SWITCH. What would you tell an aspiring thriller author that would help them get published?
I definitely became a better writer with each book – so none of them was a waste. Everyone will tell you they have a great idea for a novel, but the biggest challenge is taking that idea and making it into a novel-length story that’s interesting, fun and publishable. After that it’s pure, boneheaded persistence. I refused to give up and the only way I knew how to do that was to keep writing, keep sending queries out to agents, and never giving up. Despite being set in the U.S., my debut, SWITCH, and No Cry For Help found their first home at Bantam in the UK and are still waiting to be snapped up by a U.S. publisher. SWITCH, however, has just been published in Canada from Penguin and, along with a terrific German edition from Heyne, is currently being translated into Chinese and Russian.
In your debut ITW feature for SWITCH, you mentioned that your next manuscript was called SPEAK THE DEAD. It’s neat to see the creative process of other authors. Would you tell us what happened to this project?
I am very proud of Speak the Dead. Great characters and a very cool plot. It was originally planned as the second book in my two-book contract with Bantam. The outline was approved by my editor, my agent thought the finished manuscript was great, but when I turned it in, the book industry had been thrown into turmoil, several book chains had gone under, and people were panicking. As such, Bantam looked at what the biggest selling thrillers of the year had been and decided that Speak the Dead slipped outside of their comfort zone because it had a very slight supernatural element to it. As such, I was thrown into a panic and had to pitch the next idea in my arsenal. Luckily, Bantam loved the idea and No Cry for Help became the second book.
Can you tell us anything about your next project? How is it coming?
I’m very excited about the new novel that is just now making the rounds of publishers. The feedback from editors has been terrific and I fully expect that this will be the one that breaks me into the U.S.
‘Ta,’ Grant! Much appreciate your time and really look forward to seeing your name on the charts.
Born in Scotland, living in Canada and writing American fiction, Grant likes to wear a toque and kilt with his six-guns. His debut novel, SWITCH, earned fantastic reviews internationally and has been translated into German, Chinese and Russian. His short story, Underbelly, was published in the ITW anthology First Thrills anthology. As a journalist, he has worked in virtually every area of the newspaper business from the late-night “Dead Body Beat” at a feisty daily tabloid to senior copy/design editor at two of Canada’s largest broadsheets.
You can learn more about Grant McKenzie at his website, www.grantmckenzie.net .