By George Ebey
Cat Connor brings us CRYPTOBYTE, the next installment in her “Byte” series of crime thrillers. This time, as she juggles twin toddlers and a new position in the FBI as Special Agent in Charge of Delta, Ellie Iverson gets a request to help the Missouri Police Department. The case explodes with truck hijackings, missing families, and cryptic text messages.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Connor to discuss the series and learn more about what CRYPTOBYTE has in store for readers.
For the uninitiated, can you tell us a little about the series?
The Byte Series follows SSA Ellie Iverson—née Conway—on her journey as a member of an elite FBI team that functions on dark humor, close relationships, strong coffee, and sometimes tequila straight from the bottle.
The journey began with a chat room death threat in real life and a question, “What’s the worst case scenario?” That incident evolved into Killerbyte, the first of the Byte Series novels. By the end of Killerbyte I really enjoyed the characters and their world. I never intended to write a series when I started Killerbyte. And even when I’d written the first three books, I didn’t think I was writing a series. Turns out I am! I’m currently writing the 12th book, so I guess we can say it is a series.
Theme always seems a bit “literary” for a crime writer like me and it’s not something I’m conscious of when I write. In saying that though, each book has its own theme and that becomes apparent as I near the end of the writing process. The overall theme for the Byte Series is: Hope. That might sound strange for a crime thriller series but without hope we have nothing.
For CRYPTOBYTE the main theme is “loss and the inability to move on” with a secondary theme of “Obsession.”
Where did you get the idea for CRYPTOBYTE?
The premise behind this story came during a walk home from Writers Plot Bookshop with my daughter, Caoilfhionn. We came up with this crazy idea involving (things I can’t say) and a whacky backstory surrounding the person behind it all. We spun the idea until we got home—by then I knew I was writing the story! It was crazy and we knew it would work.
Tell us about your main character, Ellie Iverson. What has her journey been like up until now?
When we meet Ellie in Killerbyte she is barely 30 years old. We learn about her family as the story progresses, which provides some insight into why Ellie is so driven and why she chose the FBI. As the series moves on we find out more and more about Ellie and her past. We also discover she has the ability to see the truth and doesn’t always believe her gut. The series is as much about her relationships outside of her Delta A team and her relationships within her team as it is about whatever crimes they’re investigating. She’s someone I’d love to hang out and drink tequila with.
As for Ellie’s journey so far, it’s been a bit rough to be honest. She’s dealt with more than her share of traumatic events and injuries. She’s been the object of affection of a serial killer, twice her homes have exploded, her first husband was killed, she lost a daughter to suicide, she survived a helicopter crash and a knife fight with a Marine. She was abducted, betrayed, framed for murder, and among other things, exposed to a potentially lethal pathogen during an investigation. But this is the life she chose. She’s resilient, caring, tough when she needs to be, and kind when required. No matter what life throws at her, Ellie displays a delightfully dark sense of humor. I don’t want to give the impression that life is bleak for Ellie; it isn’t. She married her childhood sweetheart and they have a family.
What type of research did you do to prepare for this book?
CRYPTOBYTE called for some really interesting research. For the first time in this series I needed to research some aspects before I started the writing process but I can’t tell you what that particular research was about, because it’ll give away too much!
Some aspects required research during the writing and that involved a lot of conversations with people who know about the elements I needed to research. Cryptic? Why, yes! I will say that I listened to a lot of podcasts, especially the Break it Down Show. And I have had quite a number of conversations with Pete Turner. He was fantastic at explaining cryptocurrency to me.
How do you keep things fresh and remain invested throughout the life of the series?
I have no trouble keeping things fresh throughout the life of the series. I think that’s due to the glorious characters I have to work with. After 11 books, a few novellas, and numerous short stories, I still don’t know all there is to know about Ellie and her team. The fact that they can still surprise me and keep me on my toes, sure helps keep things fresh.
I really like my characters, and I’m sure that makes a difference when it comes to series writing. I feel privileged that I get to see them grow, adapt, and take on new roles. Series writing is challenging but at the same time it’s like settling down with old friends. I can relax and trust the characters to show me the story.
From an author’s perspective, what are some of the advantages of working on a series versus a standalone work?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve found is introducing the characters to new readers who pick up one of the later books. So, I’m always looking for interesting/different ways to let people know who is who and how to make that happen early on within the story. We’ve made sure that readers can start anywhere in the series and have found that if they start with the later books they tend to end up back at the beginning because they want to know how something happened or why one of the characters ended up where they did.
As much as I enjoy writing standalone stories, I have loved writing the Byte Series. I’m about to start on a standalone, with potential to become another series, with totally different characters, so that will be fun.
Why crime? Why not? She’s the first to toss out the warning: be careful or you’ll end up in my novel (gutted by my pen).
The DIY kiwi attitude gives Cat’s work a distinct flavor and is in fact why she started writing—if you can’t find what you want, create it.
She’s also co-director and co-founder of Writers Plot bookshop: The only bookshop in the world that only stocks Kiwi authors.
To learn more about the author and her work, please visit her website.