By Tim O’Mara
ENCRYTPING MAYA (Down & Out Books) by Lawrence Kelter is the story of two academically exceptional kids who set out to change the world and a world that fought back every step of the way. Maya and Josh, two kids as different as black and white, collide in the heat of a North Carolina summer.
Decades later, Maya and Josh have realized their intellectual potentials teaching and researching genetic engineering at Harvard. Diseases long ignored and vastly underestimated by the World Health Organization now threaten a global pandemic. In their hour of greatest need, the government and private sector turn to Maya and Josh for a solution to the planet’s impending crisis.
As Maya and Josh work to stem the tide of imminent global disaster, they are beset upon by forces that seem to defy explanation—a shadowy figure drifts in and out of their lives over the course of decades causing irreparable damage, and the powers who once turned to them for help now seem to be conspiring against them making Josh’s life a living hell. The weight of the world rests on his shoulders; is he still the altruistic youth who set out to change the world or has he become someone very different, and will the results of his work be those everyone expects?
Kelter is such a New York guy in my eyes—especially as seen through his My Cousin Vinny books (also by Down & Out Books). I asked him to talk about his recent move to North Carolina and if that affected the setting and telling of ENCRYPTING MAYA. What’s the importance of setting in his novels? Has the move affected his approach to writing at all?
“Me, a New York guy?” Larry said, emailing in a New York accent. “Takes one to know one, I guess. I grew up in Brooklyn and lived the bulk of my life in towns located across Long Island. I grew up in a culturally diverse section of Brooklyn where there were guys and gals who were Vinnys and Lisas. I suppose that’s why the film resonated with me so much and why I took such delight in writing BACK TO BROOKLYN, the literary sequel to My Cousin Vinny. By the way, the next book in the series, Wing and a Prayer, is due to hit the shelves this coming March.
“As you mentioned, a big chunk of ENCRYPTING MAYA takes place in North Carolina, in rural towns like Maxton and Lumberton. I wanted these passages to have the look and feel of a rural Southern town. I’m a New Yorker, was and always have been. Now, there’s nothing unusual about a novelist writing a story set somewhere other than where he or she lives, and ENCRYPTING MAYA would’ve been no different except that my wife and I didn’t move to North Carolina until January 2019 and weren’t even entertaining the idea of moving until the fall of 2018, well after the North Carolina chapters had already been written.”
Kelter clearly did a lot of research for this novel. I asked him to talk a bit about the pros and cons of research. How much is too much? When do you know when to stop? (It can be seductive, as we all know.) Does he avoid “facts” if they get in the way of the story he wants to tell?
“ENCRYPTING MAYA is a heavily researched book,” Larry agreed. “Fiction is only worthwhile when the story and details are believable. Becoming an ‘expert’ on pandemic diseases, genetic engineering, and CRISPR technology was a big challenge. I did most of the leg work, so to speak, sitting on my butt, researching on the internet and communicating through email with experts in the scientific field, honest-to-God brilliant minds who were kind enough to indulge a layperson like me.
“As writers, we all know that layering in a certain amount of truth, or fact, builds richness into the story. The challenge in this book was to build in enough factual material to captivate the reader without boring them with too much medical gobbledygook. At its heart, this is not a story about science but a story about morality and social conscience disguised in a medical thriller. It’s the story of two brilliant people who wanted to make the world a better place but whose intentions were derailed along the way.
“Now, about this avoiding the facts question . . . the answer is, somewhat. I avoid them if they’re going to disrupt the flow. However, the tidbits I might avoid are mostly minor omissions and not anything that would affect the main storylines.”
Larry switches between time periods in the book. I wondered how that affects the suspense aspect. Does he have any role models for this type of storytelling?
“ENCRYPTING MAYA does bounce back and forth in time a bit. I tried to keep those jumps to a minimum and spread them out as far as practical. I’ve had enough feedback on the story to believe that the suspense has not been negatively impacted. I’ve never been one to stick to a single perspective. Much like Nelson DeMille, I’ve always used alternating first- and third-person perspectives in my books. I believe it makes for more interesting storytelling.
“Speaking of DeMille,” Kelter continued, “I’m a big fan of his and find his characters bold and his dialogue honest with just the right amount of punch. Early in my writing career, he reviewed my work and put pencil to paper to assist in the editing of my first published novel. I remember writing him a letter after reading The Gold Coast. The opening scene takes place at Hick’s Nursery on Long Island where his protagonist, John Sutter, meets Mafioso don Frank Bellarosa. It’s where my wife and I took our kids every Halloween. I wrote, ‘I can’t take my kids to Hick’s without looking over my shoulder for Bellarosa.’ We’ve been in touch ever since.
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t doff my hat to H. G. Wells, who gave us that brilliant piece of science fiction entitled The Time Machine. Much like Wells’ story, ENCRYPTING MAYA has an underlying theme. For Wells, it was class conflict and in my story, it’s racial prejudice.”
A good segue, I thought. Race—and racism—is an issue in ENCRYPTING MAYA. I asked Kelter to talk a bit about how that influenced this story.
“As I mentioned, I grew up in a culturally and racially diverse neighborhood. I lived in the same four-story walkup apartment until I was 25 years old. My friends ran the gamut as far as backgrounds go. I played schoolyard sports like handball, stickball, and basketball. By the way, our playground was just down the block from the original Gold’s Horseradish factory on McDonald Avenue. Whenever they started to cook the beets, our game came to an abrupt end. For those who don’t know, cooking horseradish beets is about as pleasant as inhaling tear gas.
“In ENCRYPTING MAYA, we meet two youths who grew up in a South that was both warm and giving but could also be racially intolerant. As formidable adults, they devote their lives to the betterment of mankind, but the poison that is prejudice creeps into their lives and alters their destinies forever.”
Finally, I asked Kelter if he could put together a dream panel for ThrillerFest—persons living or dead—who would be on the panel, why, and what would the topic be?
“Okay, let’s keep it tight. How about Elmore Leonard for his cut-to-the bone writing style, Nelson DeMille for his kickass characters, Michael Crichton for his vivid imagination, Agatha Christie because . . . I mean come on, and James Patterson for his storytelling genius.
“The topic would be Let’s Write A Book You’d Want To Read Over And Over Again For The Rest Of Your Life.”
Lawrence Kelter never expected to be a writer. In fact, he was voted the student least likely to step foot in a library. Well, times change, and he has now authored several novels, including the internationally bestselling Stephanie Chalice and Chloe Mather Thriller Series. Early in his writing career, he received support from literary icon Nelson DeMille, who was gracious enough to put pencil to paper to assist in the editing of the first book, and felt strongly enough about the finished product to say, “Lawrence Kelter is an exciting new novelist, who reminds me of an early Robert Ludlum.” He lived in the Metro New York area most of his life, but now resides in North Carolina, and relies primarily on familiar locales for story settings. He does his best to make each novel quickly paced and crammed full of twists, turns, and laughs.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.
Storm Freeman gave the world a miracle. She designed The Gatherer to draw electromagnetic energy from the air and disperse free and infinite electricity to rural and underprivileged communities. Her invention helped people but devalued power industries. Some revered Storm as a deity. Others saw her as an eco-terrorist.
Then the miracle became a curse. The Gatherer unleashed a plague that damaged the human electrical system, bringing pain, suffering—and eventual death—to anyone continually exposed to the technology. Stricken herself, Storm goes into exile, desperate to find a cure—and destroy her invention.
But there are people in the government and in the corporation that funded The Gatherer who refuse to publicly acknowledge the connection between the device and the spreading plague. And they will stop at nothing to find Storm and use her genius for military applications…
The Big Thrill caught up to author Colleen Winter and had a chance to discuss her latest thriller, THE GATHERER:
Karis Hylen has been through the New York City dating wringer. After years of failed relationships, she abandons her social life and whittles her days down to work and spending time with her dog, Zeke. Her self-imposed exile ends up saving her life when an untreatable virus sweeps the East Coast, killing millions.
Alone in her apartment building, Karis survives with only Zeke, phone calls to her mom, and conversations with two young girls living across the courtyard. With the city in a state of martial law, violence and the smell of rotting corpses surround her every day. But her biggest enemy is her own mind. As cabin fever sets in, vivid hallucinations make her question her sanity.
In addition to her dwindling food and water stash, Karis must now struggle to keep her mind in check. When a mysterious man enters the scene, she hopes she can convince him to help her make it to the quarantine border. With the world crumbling around her, Karis discovers her inner strength but may find that she needs people after all.
The Big Thrill caught up to author Nicole Mabry and had a chance to gain some insight into the creation of her thriller, PAST THIS POINT:
Our civilization is changing the earth’s climate, as evidenced by accelerated global warming and extreme weather—but what if instead of trying to fix that, somebody set out to make it even worse?
That’s the premise of CHILLING EFFECT, the latest book by thriller veteran R. J. Pineiro, who got his start writing science and military thrillers in the early ’90s and now has an impressive 20 novels in his bibliography. Pineiro recently sat down with The Big Thrill to talk about his high-tech background, the evolution of publishing, and infusing his thrillers with real—and sometimes terrifying—science.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’m an engineer by trade and I believe it is this passion for technology that fuels my drive for science-based thrillers. In the case of CHILLING EFFECT, that science is global climatology.
When I watch documentaries such as Planet Earth, One Strange Rock, or the Blue Planet series, I walk away with a couple of realizations: one, that our planet is amazingly beautiful but also quite fragile, and two, that our very existence depends on our planet maintaining a delicate balance between the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land, ice, and the moon, as well as the incoming energy from the sun and the radiation that reflects back into space.
Alexander Volga, a respected philanthropic billionaire, hides a murky lineage with a veil of respectability. He’s gifted with a uniquely devious and sharp mind and responsible for literally millions of lives destroyed. Sensing storm clouds of retribution approaching, Volga prepares for his ultimate deception. He invests his enormous fortune in a mind-bending effort to make his dream of immortality become a reality.
An unexplainable force draws Detective Harriet O’Keefe to Volga. She’s head of a new drug enforcement agency, CRUNCH (Crime and Racketeering Unit of Narcotics-Cocaine and Heroin). “Dirty Harriet,” whose job is to track down the big chieftains of the cocaine and heroin world-the “Merchants of Powder”-finds herself dangerously close to falling for Volga’s lure.
Volga’s estranged godson shares information with Harriet about his godfather’s past. Desperate to find a lead, Harriet dabbles in hypnosis and is shocked when recollections of past life confrontations with Volga are discovered. Harriet dismisses the revelations and decides to deal with Volga in the present with the realization he’s the most wanted and insidious man she ever matched wits against.
With tension mounting from all sides, and uncertain of where loyalty remains, Alexander Volga sets a Machiavellian plan in motion. His digital alchemists have been working feverishly to have him immerse in an entirely synthetic alternate world—a Shangri-La, that will allow him to escape. When the countdown begins, Volga’s enemies better check their life-insurance policies…and Harriet O’Keefe, her heart.
The Big Thrill caught up to author David Orange to discuss his latest thriller, THE POWDER MERCHANT:
Grant Taylan is an adventurer-paleontologist also known as “The Dinosaur Detective,” a polite term for what he really does, which is track down the more dangerous criminals in the Dinosaurs Fossil Black Market and bring them to justice, sometimes the hard way. But his latest case is about to land him in the strangest situation of a lifetime: a vacation island in the South China Sea known as THE LOST WORLD OF KHARAMU. Developed by the Chinese corporation MuTron International, they’ve taken Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park concept in a very different direction: the ultimate immersive role-playing experience tailored to only the exclusively wealthy elite. With real dinosaurs.
On the resort’s first major beta run, Taylan finds himself fighting dinosaurs, Russians, Vietnamese commandos and his ex-girlfriend in the ultimate vacation gone-wrong, where only the strongest, quickest – and the luckiest – will survive.
Robert J. Stava took time out of his busy schedule to meet with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest thriller, THE LOST WORLD OF KHARAMU:
At the edge of the Solar System, beyond the Heliosphere, a massive warship comes out of Faster Than Light Transit. It is the Ancient Enemy spoken of in myths and legends.
Do we deserve a Second Chance?
Mike Turcotte, the Special Forces officer who led the fight against the Airlia, which ruled our planet from the shadows for over 10 millennia, has returned to Area 51. Earth has freed itself from the shackles of alien domination, but at high cost while winning World War III. He has learned what he believes is the truth about human origins.
A truth so devastating he insists it cannot be made public.
But the thing no one on Earth knows is that in winning the war they’ve initiated the seeds of their own doom.
Something worse than World War III.
Something worse than the Airlia.
Something that means the end of all life in the Solar System.
But there is one who might have a solution; except she’s not human.
AREA 51: REDEMPTION author and New York Times bestseller, Bob Mayer, sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest thriller:
By Derek Gunn
I started reading F Paul Wilson back in 1981 with The Keep, and the book remains on the top shelf, the one reserved for my favorites, to this day (along with quite a few of his other books). This novel kicked off the truly excellent Adversary Cycle which brought in several characters, Repairman Jack being the most famous, with 23 books at this point, from other books in a wonderful apocalyptic series.
Fast forward more than 30 years and Wilson has written in nearly every genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult, a children’s Christmas book (with a monster, of course), medical thrillers and political thrillers. He has been a regular visitor to the New York Times bestseller list and has won many awards, including the Bram Stoker. The Keep was also made into an excellent movie.
THE GOD GENE is the second book in the ICE Sequence which began with Panacea in 2016. I was planning on waiting for all three books before I started these, something I like to do with favourite authors so I don’t have to wait for the next piece if they leave it on a cliffhanger. Anyway, the need to do a review meant that I had to read both books in quick succession. Not a chore in any way, I can assure you.
The first book introduces us to Rick and Laura as they search for the fabled panacea of legend. Despite a single cure-all being medically impossible, Assistant ME Laura Fanning finds herself with dead bodies which are in impossible condition. Her investigations lead her on a quest financed by a terminally ill multi-millionaire. Of course, the hunt is not without its perils, as religious fanatics are determined to wipe all traces of the panacea from the earth.
Wilson is a qualified MD and his knowledge shines throughout the story. The characters are believable, likable, and the story flies along at an alarming pace. I would recommend reading Panacea before reading THE GOD GENE, as there is a large back story which is important for the continuing story.
THE GOD GENE begins about a month after the first book. Rick’s brother has gone missing and his erratic behaviour before he disappeared, and a mystery surrounding a previously unknown species, lead Rick and Laura in a search that will, again, pit them against dangers and impossible revelations about the world in which we live.
The theme of “outside” influences on the human race again comes to the forefront in this book. The idea that evolution, miracles and unexplained phenomena throughout mankind’s history is a recurring theme in Wilson’s books, and he handles the disbelief of a modern doctor and the uncompromising fanaticism of religious groups with equal gusto. Influences and story threads from Panacea continue to impact in this novel as the mystery grows.
I had become quite jaded with thrillers that all had similar plots where ancient mysteries come crashing into modern life and mayhem and violence ensue. The ICE sequence is different. It looks forward rather than back. It confronts moral dilemmas and questions mankind’s place in the universe. It poses questions that are difficult to answer.
I was lucky enough to get a few questions to the author for The Big Thrill.
Ex-Navy SEAL Nolan Kilkenny receives a desperate plea for help from doctors frantic to save the life of a young boy with a deadly genetic disorder. The boy, who came to his parents through a blind adoption, has no known blood relatives. Nolan agrees to help, but as he is being prepped for surgery, the boy dies. Further genetic testing then reveals an astonishing truth: Nolan and the boy share the same biological father. Nolan must confront his own father to find out the truth behind the discovery, and uncovers a heinous blackmail plot and desperate victims and villains.
UNDENIABLE, the sixth Nolan Kilkenny thriller from international bestselling author Tom Grace, takes Nolan into the brave new world of reproductive technology, where the building blocks of life are manipulated in a Petri dish, women lease their wombs like rental properties, and money trumps morality. In an age of rapid advances in human genetics, cloning and stem cell research, what seemed impossible just a few years ago is now a reality. DNA has been reduced from a miraculous molecule into a data storage device, and the information it contains is as easy to hack as any computer file. UNDENIABLE is a novel that steps beyond the traditional parent-child relationship into a chilling new reproductive reality.
International bestselling author Tom Grace recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his latest science thriller, UNDENIABLE:
The war ended. Their mission did not.
Eighty years later, Japanese-American scientist Amika Nakamura won’t let rules stand between her and scientific glory. When the ambitious young virologist defies a ban on the genetic manipulation of influenza, she’s expelled from the university. Desperate to save her career, she accepts a position with a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. Soon after, a visit to a disputed island entangles her in a high-profile geopolitical struggle between Japan and China. Applying her singular expertise with bird flu in a risky experiment may be the only way out. Little does she know that Japanese ultranationalists and a legacy of unpunished war crimes lurk in the shadows, manipulating people, politics, and science.
But DNA doesn’t lie. Amika uncovers a shocking truth: a deadly virus is about to put the “gene” in genocide.
Author of THE HAN AGENT, Amy Rogers, spent some time with The Big Thrill discussing her latest novel:
It’s the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport—a secretive firm headquartered in New York City. Their slogan: Departure… Arrival… Delight!
Joel Byram, our smartass protagonist, is an everyday twenty-fifth century guy. He spends his days training artificial-intelligence engines to act more human, jamming out to 1980’s new wave—an extremely obscure genre, and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. Joel is pretty much an everyday guy with everyday problems—until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting.
Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him.
Author Tal M. Klein recently sat down with The Big Thrill to discuss his debut novel, THE PUNCH ESCROW:
I believe the scariest thrillers are those rooted in fact. So despite its science-fiction spin, RESURRECTION AMERICA will chill any reader to the bone.
It all starts when helicopters and armored vehicles filled with soldiers in Hazmat suits quarantine the small mountain town of Resurrection, Colorado. The town follows martial law out of fear of an airborne virus, but Sheriff Rick Johnson isn’t buying the official version of events. Johnson is a good man who has managed to retain his sense of decency and morality after seeing the worst atrocities of war and, as the author tells us, he steps up to defend his community: “He clings to his small, failing town, understanding that it has become symbolic of his own ability to survive. He doesn’t view himself as a hero, but he’s a man of action who will do anything to save the people he cares about.”
As Johnson investigates, the cover story unravels and he discovers the military’s presence and the salvation they offer isn’t what it seems. A massive plot is underway, driven by a chilling super-patriot named Colonel Keefer.
“While Rick hopes for a return of community, Keefer plots to forcibly reshape the world to match his vision of America’s greatness, no matter how many people must die to make it a reality,” Gunhus says. “He personifies the danger of patriotism devolving into ultra-nationalism, reflecting, in my opinion, dangers we face today in our current politics.”
In the not-so-distant future, an explosion on the moon generates a world-crippling electromagnetic pulse. Tensions between the US and China mount to an all-time high, as the two countries begin a renewed space race to discover what tore a huge gash into the moon’s surface. Renegade archeologist Dr. Elias Zell and his protégé, Alan Donovan, join NASA astronauts and train for the trip that could finally answer the question of whether we are alone in the universe. International conspiracy and intrigue force cooperation between the superpowers to give the mission any shot at success. For Donovan, completing the mission will give him closure with his father, a disgraced former astronaut from the Apollo program, as well allowing him to be first on an earth-shattering discovery that will change mankind forever. This fast-paced read will keep readers engaged to the final twist and turns as the conspiracy unfolds. Mari and Brown’s first SF collaboration is a good pick for those new to the genre as well as more seasoned readers.
Authors Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown recently spent some with The Big Thrill discussing their novel, OCEAN OF STORMS:
What do you hope readers will take away from this book?
Christopher Mari: The fact that people have in the past and can in the future work together to successfully complete ambitious projects. We did it before—in abolishing slavery, in World War II, in curing polio, during the Civil Rights movement, landing on the Moon. And I genuinely believe we can do great things again if we set clear goals and apply ourselves.
Jeremy K. Brown: I second what Chris said and would add that the book is a reminder that we are all in this together. From coming together to return humans to the Moon to facing the future together with hope, optimism and a better plan for humanity, the book illustrates that we are all united and this little ball of mud and rock is all we’ve got. So we’d better make our stand here and make it count.
By David Healey
H.W. “Buzz” Bernard has just the sort of resume you might expect from an author of weather-related disaster thrillers. He has a degree in atmospheric science, spent a career in the Navy as a weather officer, was a senior meteorologist for The Weather Channel, and has gone in search of tornadoes with professional storm chasers. He has even flown into a hurricane aboard a hurricane hunter, an experience that helped prompt his best-selling thriller, Eyewall.
Now, Bernard has decided to shake things up.
His newest novel is CASCADIA, set in the Pacific Northwest town of Manzanita. The plot focuses on Dr. Rob Elwood, a geologist who makes a startling prediction. Not only will a cataclysmic earthquake strike the region once again, but the event will be followed by an epic tsunami. Elwood knows this from his study of the geological record, which indicates that another “big one” is on the way.
Elwood puts his career, and even his marriage, on the line by making a very specific prediction: disaster will strike the Cascadia Subduction Zone over the busy July Fourth weekend.
The scariest part of the story may be that Bernard’s book, like his others, is based on fact.
“I try to stay within the realm of possibility,” Bernard explained.
Much of CASCADIA is based on current geoscience, he said, which points toward a natural disaster much like the one imagined in those pages.
“Unfortunately, that is a worst-case scenario that is going to happen someday,” he said. “When it happens, it’s going to be the worst natural disaster in the United States.”
By Dawn Ius
Meet Addison Gunn. Military genius. Recluse. And a real tyrant. But, of course, completely fictional.
Gunn is the shared pen name of Anne Tibbets and Malcolm Cross, the co-authors of a thrilling new science fiction series featuring jaded military recruit Alexander Miller. In EXTINCTION BIOME: INVASION, Miller and his men are pulled into service to stop a deadly parasite that is infecting humans, and threatening to destroy the Earth, one eco-system at a time.
EXTINCTION BIOME: INVASION is bloody (really bloody!), action-packed, and science fiction at its finest—everything I’ve never loved in a novel. Until now. This month, Anne Tibbets talks to The Big Thrill about writing for a tyrant to co-write a thrilling military sci-fi that grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let go until the very bloody end.
I really enjoyed EXTINCTION BIOME—but wow! I can’t even imagine all of the research that went into this book. What safeguards have you put in place to insure the government isn’t tracking you?
I’m fairly certain the governments of the world have Malcolm and I on some sort of watch list someplace, given the extensive and troubling research that was involved in preparing and writing EXTINCTION BIOME.
I am a huge fan of military sci-fi, but I’m no expert and have no personal experience in battle, so I tried to research every detail—from the parts of the weapons, to the number of rounds it carried, to battle strategy, technology and the advancements happening in that field, as well as coming advancements in medical research, touching on parasites, insects, and cult psychology. Given all those Google searches, and all the reading material delivered to my house, I don’t blame the government for keeping a close watch on me. The good news is, I have nothing to hide. So although I should probably be more paranoid, like “Addison”—I mean, Addison is completely off the grid—I’m assuming once the book is released the government will realize I had a theoretical curiosity and not a practical one.
By far the grossest part of the research was the discovery of orange oil as an insect repellent, and the medical research I did on the application of said oil to the brain. That scene made me physically gag when I wrote it. I’m not going to apologize however—looking back now, it might be my favorite.
Harnessing Dangerous Technology for a Thriller
By J.H. Bográn
In one of Casino Royale’s most memorable quotes, Vesper Lynd tells Bond: There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets, this is the latter. The same principle applies to book series. There are book series that cite the previous entries almost on every page, and then there are book series—like Jon McGoran’s DUST UP—that are a joy to read and that stand on their own without depending on the early books. DUST UP is the third entry in the Doyle Carrick series and this time trouble literally comes knocking to his door.
Ron Hartwell, a complete stranger, is dying on Doyle’s doorstep. A halfhearted investigation labels the murder a domestic dispute, with Miriam, Ron’s widow, the sole suspect. When Doyle discovers the Hartwells both worked for a big biotech company, he suspects something else is going on, but it’s not his case. Miriam tracks him down and tells him her story, landing them in Haiti. Working with Miriam, he must untangle a web of deceit and unconscionable corporate greed in order to stop an epidemic of even greater evil before it is released on the world.
The Big Thrill had the opportunity to catch up with McGoran about his new book.
What can we expect from Doyle Carrick on this new adventure?
It’s definitely the same Doyle Carrick, but the action unfolds on a bigger stage, the issues he is confronting are more expansive, and the events of the first two books, and this one, are weighing on him. His awareness of larger forces around him has grown, and his world view is changing. He’s seeing things on a bigger scale and losing what little patience he has with the smaller scale BS he has to deal with on a day to day basis.
Alien Life in Manhattan? Get Ready!
If you’ve ever wondered whether intelligent life exists on other planets, THE ORION PLAN may well convince you that it does. This heart-stopping, page-turning thriller tells a story that feels not only possible, but terrifyingly probable.
Mark Alpert is a contributing editor at Scientific American and an internationally bestselling author of science thrillers such as Final Theory, The Omega Theory, Extinction, and The Furies. In THE ORION PLAN, he has crafted a fascinating cast of characters whose vast differences would prevent their paths from crossing on an ordinary day. But the arrival of a space probe in the heart of Manhattan is anything but ordinary. A homeless drunk, the head of a street gang, and a discredited scientist will be forced to draw on inner reservoirs of strength to find a way to prevent the destruction of the human race.
Your protagonist, Joe, is a deeply flawed character—a throwaway of society. How did he develop?
It was a process of elimination. The premise of THE ORION PLAN is that the most probable alien visitor to our planet would be a small automated space probe, about the size of a bowling ball, because it would be prohibitively difficult (even for the most advanced alien civilizations) to propel a larger spacecraft across the vast distances between the stars. I wanted this alien probe to land in a part of Manhattan where its arrival might go largely unnoticed, at least at first.
The only places in Manhattan where this could happen are the steep, wooded slopes of Inwood Hill Park at the northern tip of the island. And so the first person to stumble upon the small probe would most likely be one of the homeless people who bed down on those slopes in the summer. I imagined Joe as an alcoholic because many of the homeless people in the park have substance-abuse problems, and then I started thinking about why Joe became an alcoholic. Where did he come from? Does alcoholism run in his family? (It often does.) What setbacks in his life caused him to start drinking heavily? And does he have any hope of overcoming his addiction? Answering those questions helped me develop his character.
All of your main characters are disenfranchised in some fashion. Is there a message you wish to convey by using such paradigms?
I like to write about disenfranchised characters because they usually want something badly. Joe wants to beat his addiction and get his old life back. Emilio, the gang member, feels like he’s been screwed by society, and so he wants revenge. Dorothy, the dying minister, wants to understand why God has given her such a raw deal. And Sarah, the NASA scientist, wants to make a discovery that will restore her reputation and change the world. Because the characters have strong desires, they can move the plot along at a fast clip.
THE SAVANTS is Patrick Kendrick’s first foray into Young Adult thrillers. The book is a techno/political thriller and Kendrick usually writes gritty, crime sagas. But, the author tells us, it has one element common to all of his books: a conspiracy. He answered a few questions for The Big Thrill.
THE SAVANTS seems like a big departure from your other works, including the recently released noir thriller, Acoustic Shadows, released by HarperCollins this summer. Tell us how the book came about?
Honestly, the book came about because I wanted to write something my own teenagers could read. My first three books contain significantly graphic violence. I encourage reading among young people and often go to elementary schools to promote reading. I usually hand out comic books to inspire the children to read, many of whom have no other resource. But, given the nature of my work, I am not comfortable promoting my own books to young people. When I won the Florida Book Award for my first book back in 2008, I promised my sons I would write a book that they could read. THE SAVANTS was always a techno/political thriller but in the first drafts the characters were a little older and I could see myself going down the same path I usually do. I realized with the nature of the plot, characters using their intellect to resolve a catastrophic crisis, readers would have to be more flexible with their beliefs in wondrous achievements. Young adults are more willing to do that, to believe in things that are beyond their scope of normal learning. The book is about faith, believing in people who do not seem capable of extraordinary achievements, and believing in those forces in nature that are speaking to us if we only know how to listen. It’s a very positive message disguised in the form of a thriller. Young adults are not jaded yet and are more willing to accept miracles and believe in the underdogs.
Yes, the story’s main heroes are people who are typically outcasts, gifted but with undeveloped social skills. Can you tell us more about them?
Michael Ransom’s THE RIPPER GENE, as strongly suggested by its title, is the fictional existence of a pattern of DNA that indicates someone has the potential for extreme psychopathy.
The reader is guided through the story by the protagonist, Lucas, who is not your average sleuth, but an FBI profiler with a scientific background—expect to come across scalpel-edged forensic and medical detail.
The entire backdrop of the novel cleverly forms a sinister commentary on the nature of a killer: is murder a biological predisposition, beyond conscious control? Pretty dark stuff, but more fascinating as a result.
Ransom’s clever writing manages to impart more emotions beside those of the spine-tingling variety. Early on in the book, there is personal loss, which adds a layer of sadness that helps to develop the main character’s motivation. Anger also abounds, along with resulting profanities; for some there may be a little too much heated language, but for others this may positively add realism, tension, and grit.
The book will make you think, which I strongly suspect is the author’s intention, seeing as he is a man of science and reason. Fortunately, a gene for murder doesn’t really exist—unless the author knows something we don’t…
I was lucky to speak to him about the creation of the book and his entry into the world of thriller writing.
Growing up in the 1960s, I enjoyed watching science-fiction TV, like Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel, and especially The Invaders. Those shows gave me everything I wanted. They took me to another world filled with adventure and thrilling escapades.
In the 1970s, I started reading science fiction instead of just watching it on TV. I loved books like The Forever War, Dune, and The Stand. They had the adventure I longed for, but they also portrayed larger-than-life battles that pitted good against evil.
Then one day I checked The Andromeda Strain out from the library. It was about a microorganism from space that invaded our world. I loved it. A few weeks later I borrowed The Terminal Man, and then Congo. Michael Crichton became one of my favorite authors. His books made my body tingle with fear, but I couldn’t figure out why I felt that way.
I later realized there’s a fundamental difference between science fiction and science thrillers—real science.
I’d venture that many science fiction writers are futurists who like to explore the possibilities of tomorrow. Crichton, and today’s top science-thriller writers, explore what is scientifically possible, here and now.
After writing two standard thrillers of my own, Pursued and Deadly Cult, I longed to explore the scientific aspects of the thriller, stories and plots that that would make my reader’s mind reel with what was possible. In this world. Today.
I think on some level, we all believe we’re going to live forever. There’s a kind of mental block we share that keeps us from looking too far down to the end of that road.
I’m not exempt. I’ve always had a suspicion in the back of my mind that I would outlive everyone I loved, that I would survive as everyone around me passed on. Then I held my newborn daughter in my hands. At that moment, it dawned on me that my clock was ticking faster than hers, and that she would see a world that I could only imagine.
That’s why I wanted to write what would become THE ETERNAL WORLD. There’s nothing like the prospect of your own mortality to get you thinking about eternal life.
In the book, the three main characters are all given a chance to sample the water from the Fountain of Youth. In 1527, a young conquistador named Simon stumbles upon the Fountain and the Native American tribe, the Uzita, who guard it. He betrays Shako, the woman who loves him and saves his life, and as a result, her entire tribe is slaughtered. Almost five centuries later, when the water runs out, Simon hires a brilliant researcher named David Robinton to duplicate it. David is faced with the greatest medical triumph of all time, if he can make it work. He could cure death itself—but only if he survives the centuries-old battle between Simon and Shako.
I’ve been very lucky: I’ve had very little direct experience with death. Aside from my grandparents, I haven’t lost anyone I love. And even my grandparents held on long past any reasonable expectations. My grandfather made it to 90 despite heart attacks and a broken back. My grandmother made it to 93. My father is still hammering up drywall in his seventies. My mother does more before breakfast than I manage to accomplish in an entire day.
A scientist’s outlandish claims about the true nature of reality are initially met with cynicism by former colleague Jacob Kelley, until darker events unfold that force Jacob to take them seriously as he is thrust into a frantic dual reality where he is both the accused and the investigator.
SUPERPOSITION is cleverly written to reflect the quantum world, with parts separated and yet entangled in alternating chapters. This is a truly fascinating approach to thriller writing, allowing the reader a wonderful double view of the entire situation. For example, the story allows us to examine the protagonist’s development in two parallel settings, each providing different challenges to be overcome and thus causing divergent effects.
The story’s strength lies in its ingenious structure that neatly unfolds against an impressive backdrop of science. But fear not, this is no academic quagmire, but a readily digestible thriller.
So, if you are looking for a unique spin on a murder thriller, this could be the one for you—or your quantum twin.
Now, I will hand over to the author David Walton as he answers my questions about the book, the writing process, science, and science fiction.
By Amy Lignor
When it pertains to words and visuals, Eric Red has written and directed projects that have become memorable to many generations. People lose themselves in his heart-racing worlds of action, horror, and sci-fi—plots that cause pulse rates to beat out of control. A creative marvel, Eric knows what delivering goose bumps is all about, and now he has brought a new book to the scene—IT WAITS BELOW—that’s yet another notch on his ‘genius belt’ that will have audiences engaged and engrossed until the final page has come and gone.
Today, we’re lucky enough to speak with Eric Red about his string of accomplishments, and delve into an imagination that simply doesn’t stop.
Let’s begin with the mass question: movie directing, novels, screenwriting, comics… Do you sleep and, if so, where do you get all these incredible ideas?
I sleep very well, actually. And my wife tells me nothing wakes me up. It’s hard to say where ideas come from. I’ve gotten film and book ideas at the market, taking a walk, playing with the dog—almost always doing some ordinary everyday thing.
As a young man, how exactly did you begin this creative path?
I was a total movie, book, and comic geek as a child. Movies, mainly. I dragged my folks to every genre movie that came to drive-ins in Philadelphia or Times Square in New York City…the two locations where I grew up. I also spent all my spare time at stores that sold film stills, comics, and paperbacks. That was before the days of VHS, let alone DVD or Netflix, so if you were a young horror movie fan like me, you purchased fifty-foot 8MM selected scenes of monster flicks and ran them on projectors; or, watched whatever they showed on late night TV.
By Dan Levy
For nearly forty years, Jonathan Maberry has created fiction as a catharsis for himself (at least at first), a mirror for his readers, a microscope for the human condition, and, at times, to offer a laugh that uncorks the pressures of everyday life. He has built a career that includes titles such as author, anthology editor, comic book writer, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, and teacher/lecturer. Among his many accolades are New York Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Awards, and being named one of Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. With literally thousands of works to his credit, we wanted to learn more about him and his latest novel FALL OF NIGHT.
Why do characters like vampires, zombies, and other supernatural beings continue to find themselves at the center of your writing?
Zombies represent a massive shared threat—something so comprehensive that it destroys the infrastructure. Everything we rely upon is gone, no help is coming, and we have had our affectations stripped away. What remains, then, for the story is an exploration of people in a crisis. That’s pretty much the core of drama. Because the zombies have no discernible personality—certainly none that impact the story—they serve as the threat that propels the action without drawing attention away from the human experiences of the characters. On a canvas like that you can paint any kind of story, and because the monster is easy to understand, it allows the reader to “get” the level of threat without becoming otherwise distracted.
For those who read and write about the living, what unique opportunities does writing about the supernatural give you? What challenges does it present?
The supernatural speaks to our core beliefs, the primitive within the shell of the civilized person. Whether we’re talking about the darker aspects of world religion (and remember, demons and Satan come straight out of the Bible), or beliefs in ghosts, vampires, witches, and so on, these are things our ancestors believed. In many cases they’re things people believe today. Even the most skeptical of us wonder if there is a larger and much more complex world than what is concrete and measurable. So telling tales about this larger world is an actual connection point.
The challenge in writing about the supernatural and unnatural is to make it interesting to modern, sophisticated—and yes, even jaded—readers. That’s why most of my fiction is built on a scaffolding of 90% realism. That allows the reader and me to get in agreement on many things, so when I open a door to let something fantastical in, the reader is already in the room with me.
By Basil Sands
Ladies and Gents, may I introduce to you Jon McGoran and his newly released Eco-Thriller, DEADOUT.
If you are worried about genetic modification, transgenics, cloning, irradiation, and the release of genetically engineered foods into the environment may become a nightmare for the world, rest assured Jon’s got enough real life science mixed with heart pumping action to make your fears leap off the page, then get clobbered.
Jon, tell us about DEADOUT.
DEADOUT is the sequel to my previous novel, DRIFT. It’s a biotech thriller about genetically engineered foods and Colony Collapse Disorder, which is killing the world’s honeybees. Detective Doyle Carrick is visiting his girlfriend Nola, who is working on a farm on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, and something mysterious starts killing the island’s bees. A biotech company brings in genetically engineered bees that are supposedly immune to Colony Collapse, dividing the island’s farmers. As the protests turn violent, Doyle realizes the bees aren’t the only thing being modified, and he has to figure out what’s really going on and stop it before it can spread to the mainland, and the world.
When folks think of thrillers, they easily conjure up pictures of terrorists, spies, cops, and even mad-scientists, but seldom do they think of food, and bees even less. How did you land on this topic as a thriller plot?
Thrillers have always drawn on real threats to make their plots more compelling—Nazis, the cold war, terrorists. Today, I see the dangers to our food systems and the environment—and the corporate misbehaviors that aggravate them—as serious and potentially existential threats. And whereas the public has often perceived threats like terrorism as greater than they really are, in these areas, I think the danger is actually under-perceived. Hopefully, the fact that the scary and dangerous issues in DRIFT and DEADOUT are also real will make the dangers encountered by the characters in the books seem more real, as well.
By John Raab
A BETTER WORLD is the second book in Marcus Sakey’s Brilliance Saga series, with his newest character Nick Cooper.
Marcus was born in Flint, Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan. He mentions that he had two majors, both promptly ignored. He spent ten years in advertising and marketing, which gives him the perfect experience to write about thieves and killers. He is the writer and host of HiddenCity, which can be seen on the Travel Channel.
Other books by Marcus include BRILLIANCE, the first book in the new series, as well as THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES, THE BLADE ITSELF, ACCELERANT, THE GOOD PEOPLE, and THE AMATEURS.
THE BIG THRILL was lucky enough to catch up to Marcus and ask him some questions.
What can you tell us about A BETTER WORLD that is not on the back cover?
The Brilliance Saga is the story of an alternate present, a world very much like ours with one fundamental difference: since 1980, one percent of the population has been born with exceptional abilities, akin to savants. Many of the talents aren’t much more than curiosities—able to instantly multiply huge numbers, or play perfectly a song heard only once. But some of them are world-changing, capable of spotting patterns in the stock market, or reading your darkest thoughts from body language.
But this isn’t a superhero novel; to me, the brilliants aren’t the point. The point is how the world reacts to them. What would happen if one percent of the population was objectively better than the rest of us? How would society adapt, or fail to adapt? Would we become dependent on them? Would we enslave them? Would they, in fear for their own safety, work against us?
By Linda Davies
Linda Davies explains how she got the ideas that collide to make her novel ARK STORM, and the fascinating and terrifying true-life science behind it.
What if you could control the weather?
Some years ago, I lived in Peru. Every so often I would escape the mayhem of Lima for Punta Sal, a little fishing village on the border with Ecuador. Hemingway used to fish there for marlin. Framed photographs of him grinning beside his huge catches adorn the walls of the ramshackle bars.
I went not to fish but to swim in the sea, body surfing the huge Pacific rollers. Normally you could only stay in for ten or fifteen minutes without a wetsuit because the Humboldt Current kept the waters cold, but one Christmas, the waters were balmy. I stayed in for two hours, marveling at the difference. El Nino had come, bringing with it warm waters. That’s where it is first felt, in the seas off that remote and under-populated border. Typically, the Nino phenomenon is felt around Christmas time and hence acquired its name—El Nino—the Christ Child.
The fishermen’s children, playing in the unusually warm waters, knew El Nino had come. As did I. But none of the world’s media seemed to have picked up this event, and did not do so for months.
It made me think, what if you or your business had a superior weather prediction system to the competition? With my financial background, I next thought, you could make out like a bandit using weather derivatives. It planted the seeds of a novel. It was a good idea, but not the big idea.
As a thriller writer, I’m always on the lookout for a real-life factual nugget around which I can spin a tale.
By Josie Brown
If A. J. Colucci’s latest novel, SEEDERS, is anything, it is timely, especially with scientists’ latest warnings that human-induced climate change will cause even further extinction of both animal and plant life as we know it.
Colucci uses this conclusion as the starting point for a scientific thriller that has the most unusual villains. Then again, if the goal is to stop the destruction of life on Earth, who is the “bad guy?”
Colluci’s answers will surprise you.
You are living proof that if a steady diet of horror movies and a career as a science journalist doesn’t prepare you for writing this kind of thriller, then nothing will. Still the premise of this book both surprises and horrifies. How did the concept of SEEDERS come to you?
As a small kid, I pulled an Alfred Hitchcock anthology off my mom’s shelf. It was a bunch of scary short stories that were not age appropriate, but my mom didn’t care what I read as long as there was a book in my hands. One of the stories was The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl, about an engineer who invents a device that allows him to hear high-frequency sounds, including the scream of a rose as its being cut by a neighbor. It was so damn frightening and changed the way I thought about nature. So a few years ago, while I was surfing the web and read about all the new breakthroughs in plant signaling, I knew that was going to be my next book.
DUALISM continues Bill De DeSmedt’s exploration of scary science and near-future developments in artificial intelligence and quantum computation. Author and futurist Vernor Vinge calls the book, “An exciting tale of another path to superintelligence.”
When the six-year-old daughter of a billionaire industrialist is kidnapped, ueber-consultant Jonathan Knox and counterterrorism agent Marianna Bonaventure must team up with an experimental artificial intelligence to rescue her, never suspecting the little girl is the key to a plot that could destroy the NSA’s most advanced cryptanalysis capability—and go on to kill every man, woman, and child in the United States.
Tell us something about DUALISM that isn’t mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis.
Okay here’s something almost nobody knew (till now): When I first started to write DUALISM, I had only two short scenes in mind. I knew they both had to be in the book, although I couldn’t figure out where in the book they should go. All the rest of the writing was really about trying to tie those two scenes together.
(Readers: you’re welcome to guess which two scenes those are, and what’s more to email your guesses to email@example.com. The first reader to write in and correctly name the chapters and scene numbers for those two literally seminal scenes will win a coveted ticket to join me at the FanFest party being held during this year’s ThrillerFest. For details, see my website.
By A.J. Colucci
Think science thriller, and you think Douglas Preston. His masterfully crafted, heart-pounding stories take readers slightly past the cutting-edge of science into terrifying “what if” scenarios that sometimes beg the question; do we really want to go there? The latest novel in his Wyman Ford series, THE KRAKEN PROJECT, delves into the world of Artificial Intelligence and the possible consequences of machines outsmarting humans.
Doug began his career as an editor at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, which led to RELIC, his first best-selling novel with co-author Lincoln Child. Since then, Doug has authored twenty-six books, nonfiction and fiction, several of which have been #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestsellers. He continues an active career in journalism, contributing to THE NEW YORKER, SMITHSONIAN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, HARPER’S and THE ATLANTIC. His most recent nonfiction book, THE MONSTER OF FLORENCE, is being made into a movie starring George Clooney.
In THE KRAKEN PROJECT, former CIA agent Wyman Ford becomes trapped in a technological nightmare after NASA builds a probe to be splashed down in the Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Saturn’s great moon, Titan. The probe has been outfitted with artificial intelligence software, but miscalculations lead to a catastrophe during testing and the software, nicknamed Dorothy, flees into the Internet. Ford gears up to track down Dorothy, but realizes that her horrific experiences in the wasteland of the Internet have changed her in ways he can barely imagine. Traumatized and angry, Dorothy devises a plan. As the pursuit of Dorothy converges on a deserted house on the coast of Northern California, Ford questions whether saving Dorothy is the right thing to do. Is the AI bent on saving the world—or on wiping out the cancer that is humankind?