By Karen Harper
Karen Harper recently chatted with M.C. Grant (alias Grant McKenzie) about the release of his new thriller, ANGEL WITH A BULLET. It was great fun because the heroine is not really an angel, and the author is multi-talented in several genres.
Can you tell us a bit about ANGEL WITH A BULLET?
Wisecracking reporter Dixie Flynn thinks fast and talks even faster — it’s the only way to survive the San Francisco crime beat. When she’s assigned to look into the death of her former lover, artist Diego Chino, Dixie’s instincts tell her there’s more behind the apparent suicide than the police are letting on.
Dixie’s canvassing of the Bay Area art district reveals it to be a perfect picture of corruption, with a handsome art dealer and a reclusive patron in the foreground. After a romantic evening in Chinatown ends in a brush with death, Dixie is more determined than ever to expose the truth. But when a fire in her vicinity turns out to be more than just performance art, it’s clear the perpetrators would rather see Dixie dead than let her destroy their criminal masterpiece.
David Hagberg describes your book with the words, “Wow! Grant has jumped into the thriller field with both feet.” Yet you yourself describe ANGEL WITH A BULLET as a mystery. In which camp would you place your latest book–or both–and why?
I always aim to leave my readers breathless and anxiously turning the pages. For a mystery, the focus is more on “who done it” with the killer being unknown until the big reveal. In a thriller, the killer can be known, but not necessarily his actions. A “Why done it” if you will. ANGEL WITH A BULLET actually delivers on both counts as Dixie is the only person who believes the death of Diego Chino may be murder, and in order to prove it, she not only has to find the killer but also has to discover why anyone would want him dead.
You have also written successful short stories and a screenplay. Do you have a favorite genre for any reason?
I love them all for a variety of different reasons, but the bottom line is that I’m a storyteller. There are some stories that are just made to be short, frenetic explosions (UNDERBELLY, featured in ITW’s FIRST THRILLS anthology, is such fun) or screenplays, and others that are definitely novels. If I’m writing, I’m happy.
Your journalism background sounds like a great entre to fiction writing. Or is there a huge difference? What of your past as a journalist or what from your Editor-In-Chief position of MONDAY MAGAZINE helps with your thriller writing?
Journalism honed my word craft and gave me a great respect for discipline and deadlines. It also put me face-to-face with dead bodies, undercover cops and unsavory characters, which all add to the realism of my fiction. It’s wonderful to have flights of fancy with your imagination, but unless you get those ideas and characters down on the page, they remain wisps of what could have been. Journalism also pays the bills, which my family appreciates.
Bestselling author Linwood Barclay, says of your books, “Grant McKenzie really knows how to make a story move.” That sounds to me as if he’s saying you’re great at breakneck pacing, which is a must for thriller writing. Can you give other writers and readers any pointers on how you write thriller pacing?
It was so wonderful of Linwood to read my novel, and I was thrilled that he enjoyed it so much. Yes, pacing is an essential part of writing a gripping thriller. Editors will tell you not to let your protagonist fall asleep, as this gives the reader an opportunity to put the book down. I don’t go that far, but one of the funniest stories one of my readers told me was when she was reading my novel SWITCH. She was so engrossed, but needed to use the toilet, so she kept reading as she made her way to the bathroom without putting the book down…and peed on the closed toilet lid. I knew I had done my job properly that day 😉
I was intrigued to see you have written humor columns in magazines around the world. Is there a place for humor in thriller writing? Have you used that talent in ANGEL WITH A BULLET?
Absolutely, but depending on the book. As a member of the dead body crew (journalists, cops, paramedics, firemen, nurses, doctors, etc.) I have a dark sense of humor, and I do use it often in my books. The detectives in SWITCH, for example, use humor all the time. I was actually planning to use more humor in NO CRY FOR HELP as its protagonist is a bus driver (and they are hilarious) but the hero gets into so much danger so quickly that it just didn’t work for that novel. ANGEL WITH A BULLET, however, is packed with humor – and I love it. People really seem to respond well to Dixie’s wisecracking – she’s quite the card. And wait until you meet her next-door neighbors; one of whom works as a research assistant for several bestselling authors. You won’t believe what Janet Evanovich and John Sandford have been researching lately 😉
Would you rather write stand-alones or a series, such as you are launching with this new novel? What are the pros and cons of each for you?
I actually planned to write sequels to just about every book I have ever written, but ANGEL WITH A BULLET is the first one that a publisher has specifically asked me to turn into a series. Readers have been asking for a sequel to my dark thriller K.A.R.M.A., but I’m really enjoying sinking my teeth into Dixie’s life and that of her quirky neighbors and friends. When starting a series, you start to plant seeds for books further down the line and that is very exciting.
Can you share with us what you are working on next? I’m assuming Dixie can’t stay out of trouble, but are you also writing other things?
Dixie definitely can’t stay out of trouble. I’m busy wrapping up the sequel, DEVIL WITH A GUN, and it’s a real firecracker of a plot. The events of ANGEL WITH A BULLET have toughened her up and made her more aware of her vulnerabilities, but if Dixie thought she went through the wringer in ANGEL WITH A BULLET (and she does), she’s going to need all of her wits – and maybe even some firepower – to get through the next chapter.
I’ve also just released K.A.R.M.A., which is a very dark thriller that’s really got people talking. And I have two new thrillers that are currently looking for a home, but have perked some interest . . . so who knows?
M.C. Grant is Grant McKenzie, an award-winning screenwriter, editor, and novelist. He is the author of SWITCH and NO CRY FOR HELP (both published by Bantam TransWorld UK). His short stories have been featured in the FIRST THRILLS anthology edited by Lee Child (Tor/Forge), and Out of the Gutter and Spinetingler magazines. His first screenplay won a fellowship at the Praxis Centre for Screenwriting in Vancouver. As a journalist, he 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. Born in Glasgow, Grant currently resides in Victoria, British Columbia, where he is editor-in-chief of Monday Magazine.
To learn more about M.C. Grant, please visit his website.