By George Ebey
Kay Thomas’s latest thriller, HARD TARGET, blends romance and suspense to kick off the first installment in her ELITE OPS series.
Former DEA agent Leland Hollis wasn’t planning on being a hero. Recovering from an injury sustained during a drug bust gone wrong and with more personal demons than he cares to admit, he wants nothing more than peace and a chance to rebuild his life. But when Anna Mercado’s crazy ex shows up wielding a baseball bat, Leland can’t ignore his instinct to help. And after her son is kidnapped, Leland agrees to deliver the ransom into dangerous territory south of the border. Anna has no choice but to go with this stranger she’s just met if she ever wants to see her son again. But getting the boy out of a violent cartel region involves risking everything. And for that Leland will have to convince Anna to do the scariest thing of all…open her heart and trust him.
I recently caught up with Kay to learn more about her take on writing and what’s in store for readers of her new ELITE OPS series.
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I didn’t always know I wanted to write. The first week of “Freshman Comp” my professor read something I’d written out loud to the entire class as an example of something “well done.” I still remember how that made me feel.
Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last… I was a one-hit wonder in composition and was thrilled when I barely squeezed out of there with a C. I had another English professor tell me that I couldn’t write at all. But my fourth year, I met the teacher who would become my writing mentor, Joe Stockwell. And, I started to “get it.”
Joe said, “Write on one side of the page only. You can write all over the page if you must, but one side only for your papers.”
You really have to understand Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS to do that. You can’t B.S. your way to a conclusion in a one-pager unless you have the concept down and can write tight. I fell in love with that kind of writing and I still keep in touch with Joe today. He edited my first two books and helped me with revisions when I was getting those manuscripts ready for submission to agents and editors. Joe is in his late eighties now. A wonderful man. I dedicated HARD TARGET in part to him.
What led you into working in the world of romantic suspense?
Initially, I was writing straight suspense because plot has always come easier for me. As I learned more about the craft of writing, I realized I was just as interested in the characters’ relationships as what was happening around them.
When I read, see a movie, or hear any kind of story—I prefer happy endings, and despite the body count in some romantic suspense novels, the stories always end with a happily ever after moment. I love that no matter how dark and dire the circumstances, when you read a romance, you know everything is going to end up okay. Today, with so much uncertainty in our world, I believe it’s a huge comfort to readers to escape into a book they KNOW is going to end well.
HARD TARGET is the first installment in your ELITE OPS series. Will future installments feature connections to HARD TARGET or will they focus on stand-alone storylines?
Each book in the ELITE OPS series will stand-alone but the stories are very much connected with a common villain and a mystery arc that deepens as the series progresses. HARD TARGET is about a woman who overhears her estranged husband planning her murder and their son’s kidnapping. Her son is ultimately kidnapped and a burned-out DEA agent, who is there when the boy is taken, agrees to help her deliver ransom money into an area of Mexico overrun with cartel violence.
ELITE OPS revolves around a private, specialized security consulting agency made up of ex-military men and women, some of whom have also worked for the DEA and other intelligence services. Each book in the series will focus on a particular agency member’s story.
What elements do you believe are needed in order to create a good suspense story?
I’ve always been fond of a ticking clock. My books are all quite time compressed, most taking place within 2-3 days. This keeps me focused on making every scene count.
For me that combination keeps the suspense tighter and the characters slightly off balance. Their emotions are “raw,” and much closer to the surface. My hero and heroine don’t have time to dissect their feelings (like we do in real life). They simply react and respond to circumstances around them. When I get bogged down in writing a scene or even in plotting, I usually find it’s because my characters are “sitting and thinking” versus acting.
That lack of time for the characters to analyze the relationship combined with the ticking clock is what I believe keeps the sexual tension building as well, important for romantic suspense. For the reader, my hope is this sense of urgency keeps one turning the pages and wanting to find out what happens next.
What is the thing you like most about being a writer?
Hmmm. I’d have to say it’s a tossup between the commute and working in my pajamas. I feel incredibly fortunate that I’m able to work from home, although some days when I’m really into a story, I have to remind myself to wash my face and brush my hair or I’ll scare the UPS guy.
Kay Thomas didn’t grow up burning to be a writer. She wasn’t even much of a reader until fourth grade. That’s when her sister read THE BLACK STALLION aloud to her. For hours Kay was enthralled—shipwrecked and riding an untamed horse across desert sand. Then tragedy struck, her sister lost her voice. Kay couldn’t wait to hear what happened in the story—so she picked up that book, finished reading it herself and went in search of more adventures at the local library.
Today Kay lives in Dallas with her husband, two children and a shockingly spoiled Boston terrier. Her award-winning novels have been published internationally. To learn more about Kay, please visit her website.