Up Close: Heather Graham

Apocalyptic Execution in the Everglades

By K. L. Romo

The Book of Revelation’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse take center stage in bestselling author Heather Graham’s second novel in the Four Horsemen series, CRIMSON SUMMER.

It first appears to be a gang-war killing deep in Florida’s Everglades. Someone executed 20 gang members, turning the swamp water red. But as law enforcement works the scene, they find a small red horse. It appears to be a toy. But Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Special Agent Amy Larson knows it’s part of a sinister plan to exact justice against the wicked. She and her boyfriend, FBI Special Agent Hunter Forrest, also found a small red horse on their room service tray with the chocolate and champagne, while vacationing in the Bahamas.

In a prior case, Larson and Forrest had arrested Ethan Morrison, the leader of a cult who proclaimed to be a messiah, and also the White Horseman—the Chosen One. Is Morrison involved in the current massacre? It seems the connection isn’t a coincidence.

When someone murders members of a rival gang in New York City, it first appears to be a revenge massacre. But what if the murders are part of a plot to pit rivals against each other, causing infinite retribution? Law enforcement can’t help but notice the similarities between the current murders and the cult executions. Forrest knows how cults work—he was raised in one until his family escaped.

Heather Graham
Photo credit: Marti Corn

This is war, and failure is not an option. No one knows who’s at the top of the pyramid—the Red Horseman—who assigns the killings. But it’s clear that if they don’t accomplish their mission, they will be tortured and killed, along with their loved ones. As with a cult, the leader recruits volunteers who can’t leave and live to tell about it.

It soon becomes clear there’s a grand scheme to exterminate the wicked and build a new world order. But can Larson and Forrest identify the puppet master before they sacrifice more lives?

Here, Graham talks with The Big Thrill about her inspiration for the apocalyptic story, her Florida roots, and what writers can do to keep their stories and characters intriguing and relevant.

What was your inspiration for the story in CRIMSON SUMMER?

This is the second in a four-book series featuring Amy Larson, an FDLE agent and Hunter Forest, an FBI agent who specializes in cult crimes. The series is based on crimes committed using Revelations and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In my lifetime, some horrible things have happened within cults through the power of mind control; thus, the series came into being.

While going through the Everglades—there are miles and miles and miles—you can feel as if you’re truly alone in the wild. Or not!

Graham takes part in a name change/blessing for a boat that was hit by a hurricane.

Again, I’m fascinated by the human mind and those who have the power to control the minds of others. We all believe what we want to believe, but faced with irrefutable facts, we usually nod and accept that the truth might not be what we expected. But through the decades, dictators created propaganda, and cult leaders accrued believers and caused horrible things to happen. Most of the time, people fall into cults believing in friendship, caring, giving, faith and hope, but in the end, they learn what happens to those who question leaders or events. Fear becomes the most powerful control there is.

How has living in Florida informed your writing, especially this book?

The Florida Everglades have fascinated me since I was a child. There is a great deal of natural beauty to be found in our “River of Grass,” along with a lot of natural dangers as well. Beyond that, we’ve had strange things happen in the area—there are sections that are isolated and throughout the years, those sections have been used to hide many an evil deed.

Graham visits a seafood restaurant with her friend and colleague Connie Perry.

Is there a message you’d like readers to take away from the novel?

We have a few problems, but I love my home state, so please visit! Florida has a rich history, from early explorers to pirates and salvage divers and so much more. Warm water you can go in year-round. There are Mikasuki and Seminole tribal lands that are fascinating to visit, and their history is incredible—they never surrendered, and learned how to survive in the vastness of a land that can be sweltering and brutal. A message? Always look at facts and think for yourself. I use a Voltaire quote in the series: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

 Can you give us a hint about your next book?

Three books in the Krewe of Hunters series are coming up in the Summer. I have a great time with the Krewe books. Since the special agents featured are part of the minute percentage of people in the world who can see and speak with the dead, they are fun because I can bring back anyone I choose to help with the situation. This summer, the trio begins with Sound of Darkness, out in May. And I’m currently working on book number three in the Four Horsemen series.

Having written more than 200 books, how do you keep your plots and characters fresh?

Graham gives her granddaughter a swimming lesson. 

For one, my books include mystery, suspense, historical fiction, romance, horror, and fantasy. I was a lucky kid, having grown up with parents who were readers and read everything. I love all kinds of fiction and non-fiction. For me, it has to do with people and places. I love quirky bits of history that are woven into, or used as, a basis for a plot. We like to joke that now that our five kids are grown, they’ve introduced me to an amazing array of people—from a Hollywood fabricator to a US Marshal. People are all unique and in creating characters, I like to think about the things that make every individual distinctive.

I’m also grateful to ITW and other groups for amazing opportunities. Thanks to ITW, I’ve visited the FBI and the CIA, and listened to amazing speakers who really work the streets. I love fiction that takes off from truth.

What advice can you give other writers?

Be true to yourself. There is no right or wrong way to create stories. Go to conferences (in person or virtual) and listen to all that you can. Some advice you receive will work for you and some won’t. We’re all different. Some writers work on one book a year, while others work on several. Some love mornings, and some love nights.

Be disciplined, of course, but as John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens when we’re busy making plans.’ Be dedicated, but don’t beat yourself up if life happens. Just “get back on the horse.” Don’t forget to live—living reveals people and places and thoughts and all kinds of wonderful things. Living is a part of writing.

Graham with author Marcia King Gamble

Are The Slush Pile Players scheduled to make any upcoming performances?

The Slushpile Players were all set for ‘Murder in Fantasyland’ at the planned NOLA Bouchercon this year. COVID put a halt on that—a good thing since a hurricane moved in. But yes, Slushpile will be back!

Tell us something about yourself your fans might not already know.

This is a hard one—I’ve been around for a few years, so, I’m an “open book.” I majored in Theater Arts, worked theater in Miami until I had too many children. I made my way through school by becoming a Red Cross certified lifeguard and worked on South Beach a bit and taught swimming lessons. And I bartended and waitressed, and I remember how hard it can be, how kind some can be and how rude too. To this day, I over-tip.

K. L. Romo
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