Category Archives: Brett Battles

THANK YOU

by Brett Battles

The problem with not being able to do my Murderati farewell post until late in the month is that much of what I would normally say has already been said. At the risk of repeating at least a portion of what others have written, I owe JT a debt of gratitude for asking me to be a part of something great…something that has become an institution. And to the rest of the then current member—most prominently, Pari—my undying thanks also for backing the idea of asking me to join.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I believe the last time was last summer when I guest posted about my jump into the independent publishing world. When I first started with Murderati, I was a traditionally published author with, I believe, two books out. My career was looking up and I was just about to take the step into full time writing. Actually, the span from my traditional publishing life through the independent phase of my career clearly demonstrate the vast changes in the publishing industry Murderati has been around to witness and report on.

Looking back through all the post here—and by no means am I talking about just mine—is like taking a walk through living history. The ups, the downs, the highs, the lows, the triumphs, the uncertainty, the just plain excitement of being published. It’s all there. And I am so grateful for having been able to be a part of it.

Of course, the most important part of Murderati has never been those of us who were writing the posts. It was all of you—the readers and commenters who helped create this wonderful community. I personally want to thank you all so much.

I’m glad to hear an archive of the Murderati posts are going to remain up and accessible. If nothing else, some future grad student could use the info found here to write a pretty damn good research paper. Hell, maybe even a book. Not that we know anything about books here.

As I write this, I have a glass of beer beside my computer. Really, I do. Let me take a moment, raise it in the air, and say, “Thank you Murderati, every damn one of you. To remembering the past, while forging ever forward!”

The Wildcard Tuesday New Year Interrogation

Zoë Sharp

The first moon of 2013

Welcome to the first Wildcard Tuesday blog of 2013, and an enormously Happy New Year to you all. For this I asked a few lighthearted questions of fellow ‘Rati past and present, and below are their answers. I hope you find them worthy of a giggle.

(As a small aside, I started off searching for sensible author pix, but what I’ve actually ended up going for are the silliest pix that came up on the first page of a Google Images search on that author’s name.)

ALLISON BRENNAN

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home, as usual.

What would have been your ideal location?

Home! (Though, I would have liked to have gone to Disneyland right after Christmas … maybe next year!)

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

My husband once gave me an electric grout cleaner. Needless to say, I never used it.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

The absolute best Christmas dinner we’ve had was when I decided to cook prime rib instead of the standard turkey or ham. It was pricey, but oh-so-delicious! I think that was back in 1997 …

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Traveling for Christmas.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

Watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school—and hearing her and the Seraphim Choir sing the National Anthem. They were amazing.

I’m not going to ask about New Year’s resolutions, but do you have one ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Walk daily, meet my deadlines, don’t sweat the small stuff.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Two Lucy Kincaid books from Minotaur/SMP—SILENCED and STALKED; a short story in the anthology LOVE IS MURDER; an indie published novella MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

A Lucy Kincaid novella in March (RECKLESS), and two more book STOLEN and COLD SNAP. Plus a short story for the NINC anthology and maybe another indie novella. If I have time.

 

DAVID CORBETT

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home alone, if “choose” and “celebrate” are the correct verbs. Mette arrives on the 28th, so things should get merrier at that point.

What would have been your ideal location?

Buenos Aires. Ireland. A beach in Mexico.

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

Best gift I ever “received” was one I gave. As a gag gift I bought my late wife a red flannel union suit with a button seat flap that she absolutely loved. Slept in it all the time. Cozy as hell. Damn, she was happy.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

When I was a kid one of my classmates’ families came over during the holidays and brought cookies that literally made me gag. I picked one up, sniffed it like a cocker spaniel, recoiled, and put it back. My brother started bellowing, “You touched it, you have to eat it.” Unfortunately, King Solomon (my father) agreed. I almost upchucked trying to get it down.

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Oh, let’s not go there.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

A weekend in San Antonio for the wedding of one of Mette’s dearest friends, when I got introduced to the inner circle. Also, the moments when I read the cover quotes I received for THE ART OF CHARACTER. I was incredibly humbled and grateful so many writers I respect said so many kind and generous things.

One ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Make the new book a success, and wrap up the novel I’m working on to my own persnickety satisfaction.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Open Road Media and Mysterious Press re-issued all four of my novels in ebook format in 2012, with a brand new short story collection titled KILLING YOURSELF TO SURVIVE.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

The new book, THE ART OF CHARACTER, comes out on January 29th, 2013 from Penguin.

 

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF

Where?

New Orleans.

Ideal location?

It’s hard to top New Orleans.

Best/worst gift?

Well, there’s this pretty spectacular amethyst necklace…

Best/worst food?

I’ve served many a bad meal to others. For everyone’s sake I stopped trying to cook long ago. Personally I don’t care much what food gets served, but I do remember one Christmas morning in London with blackberry jam on waffles and whisky for breakfast. The blackberry jam ended up all sorts of places and it was all very lovely.  I could do that again.

Christmas From Hell?

It’s hard to narrow that down, actually. Endless scenarios spring to mind. I hate being cold, though, so winter is perilous.

Favourite moment from 2012?

For public consumption, you mean? The general reader response to HUNTRESS MOON has been a real high.

One ambition in 2013?

I’d like to find a really wonderful place to live.

Books this year?

My crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON, a boxed set of three of my supernatural thrillers called HAUNTED, a novella called D-GIRL ON DOOMSDAY in an interconnected anthology with three other dark fantasy female author friends: APOCALYPSE: YEAR ZERO. And I got several backlist titles back and put them out as e books at wonderfully affordable prices: THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, THE HARROWING and THE PRICE.

And for 2013?

The next book in my Huntress series comes out in late January:  BLOOD MOON. My next book in the paranormal Keepers series, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, comes out in May.

I’m selling my house in January and buying another as soon as possible, probably in California.

 

PD MARTIN

Where?

Every year we have Christmas Day at our home (in Melbourne) and then go down to the Mornington Peninsula (seaside) for most of January. It’s the hottest time of year here in Oz, so it’s great to be near the beach. We stay in a 1970s holiday house my grandparents bought in 1972, and given I spent summers down there as a kid it’s particularly special to now be going down there with my children.

Ideal location?

The Peninsula is pretty good 🙂 Although we’ve always said that one year we’ll do a white/winter Christmas in New York or something.

Best/worst gift ever received?

Best gift I ever received was actually for my birthday this year—my Kindle. I’m a complete convert to the point where I can’t imagine ever reading a ‘real’ book again. I prefer the Kindle reading experience for some reason.

Best meal?

I am biased, but I make a mean Tira Misu. I got the recipe from a chef and it’s divine! And great because you make it a day or two before, so it’s one thing to cross off the food preparation list early.

Christmas From Hell?

Mmm….I guess having to run around. You know, multiple visits. We do that a bit on Christmas Eve, but I enjoy the fact that then on Christmas Day we just kick back. We start with oysters at midday, then it’s prawns (yes, on the BBQ), then an Asian style salmon fillet dish then Tira Misu (at about 4pm). Then a movie!

Favourite moment from 2012?

That’s easy for me—picking up our son, Liam, from Korea and making our family of three a family of four 🙂

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I’ve got a few books I’d like to finish. And hey, a best seller or a lotto win wouldn’t go astray either.

Book(s) this year?

THE MISSING (two short stories), WHEN JUSTICE FAILS (two short true-crime pieces), HELL’S FURY (new book in spy thriller series), and two novels for younger readers that I’ve released under the pen name Pippa Dee—GROUNDED SPIRITS and THE WANDERER.

What’s next?

Probably what I’ve been doing the past few months—juggling motherhood and writing…and feeling like I’m going to crack under the pressure! 

 

JT ELLISON

Where?

Nashville and Florida.

Ideal location?

A family trip to Italy would have been fun.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

I got engaged during Christmas 1994, so that ranks up there….

Worst meal?

Italy, Cinque Terre, a large full fish the size of a cat, with its baleful eye staring up at me… I swear the thing was still breathing. Ugh! 

Christmas From Hell?

There’s no such thing. I love Christmas.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my DH in his gorgeous new kilt for the first time. *fans self*

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I want to learn how to paint. In oil, large canvas abstracts. 

Book(s) last year?

A DEEPER DARKNESS, EDGE OF BLACK, STORM SEASON

And for 2013?

Writing, writing and more writing. Deadline January 30!

 

 MARTYN WAITES (half of Tania Carver)

Where?

At my in-laws. The kids wanted to go to see all their cousins. They love a big family get together. As for me, I’m pretty bah humbug about it. I don’t care where I go or what I do or whether I get any presents or not. As long as I get to see Doctor Who, I’m happy.

Ideal location?

Somewhere abroad. Morocco would be good. If they were showing Doctor Who.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of presents. I can’t think of specifics in terms of best or worst, but for me the worst kind of gift is the thoughtless kind that someone has put no effort, time or care into. The best ones are the ones you absolutely want. Even if you don’t know you do until you get them. I was lucky enough to get one of those this Christmas.

Best/worst meal?

At Christmas? It’s all the same. I’m not a fan of Christmas dinner. Or any roast dinner for that matter. I eat it, but that’s because it’s what you do at Christmas. Like getting into water and swimming. The best meal I was ever served was at a Persian restaurant in Birmingham in 1988. It involved chicken and pomegranates and I’ve never tasted anything like it to this day. The restaurant disappeared soon afterwards in a kind of Brigadoon fashion and I sometimes wonder whether I actually went there. As for bad food . . . loads. In fact, it probably outnumbers the good food. That’s why I try to remember the good ones.

Christmas From Hell?

Being forced to spend time with people I hate. That goes for the rest of the year as well. And not seeing Doctor Who.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Well, I wrote about my favourite cultural things on the last Murderati post—Y Niwl and the Hammer films retrospective—so they would be there in a big way. But other than that, it was something very small and personal that I’m afraid I couldn’t share and that I doubt anyone would be particularly interested in.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I do. I can’t say anything about it in case I jinx it, but it will be the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Or at least I hope it will.

Book(s) this year?

CHOKED, the fourth Tania Carver book came out in September in the UK. THE CREEPER, the second one, came out in the States. There have been other editions round the world and I think Russia finally got round to publishing my 2006 novel, THE MERCY SEAT.

And 2013?

Finishing the new Tania, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, which I’m uncharacteristically quite pleased with. Although it could all go horribly wrong. And then there’s the afore(not)mentioned secret project . . .

 

GAR ANTHONY HAYWOOD

Where?

At the family’s new home in Glassell Park, which we moved into in October.

Ideal location?

At the family’s new home in Aspen, Colorado, which doesn’t exist.

Best/worst gift ever received?

The best was a dictionary.  It was given to me many years ago by a wonderful woman who at the time was my mother-in-law to be.  She knew I was an aspiring writer and gifted me accordingly, which, oddly enough, no one in my immediate family had ever thought to attempt before.  I still own that dictionary, too.

Don’t get me started on the worst gifts I’ve ever received.

Best/worst food?

The best, far and away, is the egg nog my godfather makes over the holidays. It tastes great and man, does it have a kick to it.

Never been given a fruitcake as a gift, and I pray I never am.

Christmas From Hell?

I think I actually experienced it last year.  Attended the worst Catholic midnight Mass possible: cornball music, pointless sermon, and theatre lighting (the service was being video-taped) that would make a mole cover its eyes.  Awful.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The family’s spring break vacation in the Galapagos.  Unbelievable!

One ambition for 2013?

Completion of a manuscript that a conventional publisher buys for a tidy sum.

Book(s) last year?

Didn’t have a book published this year, though my Aaron Gunner novels were re-released as e-books by Mysterious Press/Open Road.

And for the early part of 2013?

Early?  Maybe my first book for middle-graders, which my agent is shopping now.  Later in the year?  With the grace of God, a publication deal for my first Aaron Gunner novel in almost 10 years.

 

STEPHEN JAY SCHWARTZ

Where?

Stayed at home with the wife and kids—enjoyed the beach and the beautiful Southern California weather.  Played Scrabble and hung out in cafés.  Enjoyed a big meal of matzoh ball soup and tofurky.

Ideal location?

Ireland.  Clifton or Dingle, to be precise.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I haven’t paid attention to holiday gifts for a long time.  I think the worst gift I ever got was for my bar mitzvah—it was a belt buckle.  No, actually, perhaps the worst was the beer stein my father gave me for my high school graduation.  This, instead of the car I had my eyes on.

Best/worst item of food?

Probably that tofurky we had last week.

Christmas From Hell?

Again, tofurky takes the price.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my son come back healthy and happy after a two-month hospital stay in Wisconsin.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Main ambition—work to live a creative life, 24/7.

Book(s) this year?

Move along, nothing to see here.

What’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

Move along, nothing to see here either…

 

BRETT BATTLES

Where?

The first half I spent in a hot, tropical location with my feet in the water, a beer nearby, and a Kindle in my hand; the second half at home in L.A. with my kids, my parents, and my sister and her kids.

Ideal location?

Nailed it this year.

Best gift ever received?

This year I got the complete set of Calvin & Hobbs from my parents. It was perfect!

Best food?

I made a pretty awesome ham this year that was juicy and delicious. Hmmm, I’m craving leftovers right now!

Christmas From Hell?

Not being able to spend time with my family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

It was a pretty good year all around, so one event…? Going to San Diego for a week with my kids and parents was pretty damn fun!

One ambition for 2013?

Just more of the same … write, travel, and spend time with friends and family.

Book(s) last year?

2012: THE DESTROYED (Quinn #5), PALE HORSE (Project Eden #3), THE COLLECTED (Quinn #6), and ASHES (Project #Eden #4)

And for 2013?

At least four more novels (hopefully five), including a secret collaboration I can’t quite talk about yet.

 

TESS GERRITSEN

Where?

At home. With family.

Ideal location?

Exactly the same place.

Worst gift you’ve ever received?

An orange pantsuit.  I mean, really. My husband has not bought me anything orange ever since. (I’m guessing it didn’t look like this, then, Tess? ZS)

Best/worst meal?

For Christmas?  Not one bad meal sticks out.  On Christmas, everything tastes wonderful.

Christmas From Hell?

Being stuck in an airport. Far from family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Standing on the Great Wall of China, with my husband and sons.

One ambition, for 2013?

To finally plant a vegetable garden that the deer can’t demolish.

Book(s) out last year?

LAST TO DIE was published this past summer.

And what’s on the cards for 2013?

Early 2013, I am headed to the Amazon River.

 

PARI NOSKIN TAICHERT

Where?

At home in peace. No requirements, no expectations. I just let myself be.

Ideal location?

The only other place I can imagine being this calm and relaxed would be Antibes . . .

Best gift?

Probably the best gift I’ve received so far is an essay my younger teen wrote about a difficult incident we shared last year and how it has taught her empathy. Made me cry, it touched my heart so.

Best/worst meal?

The best meal remains one brunch I had in Puerto Rico: fresh flying fish brought in that morning from a catch in Barbados, steamed bread fruit, Barbadian yellow hot sauce, fresh mangos picked minutes before from a tree just steps from where we ate.

Christmas From Hell?

I think it would be one filled with efforts to make it perfect, so many efforts that they’d hit the tipping point and tumble down to the other side of happiness.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The one where I finally realized I’m going to be all right, that the trials of this last year may continue . . . but they’re not going to pull me down into the depths of despair anymore.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Yes.

1. I’d like to e-publish the book that “almost” sold to NYC. It’s the first in a new series and I’d like my character to meet readers and vice versa.

2. To continue to explore my creativity in whatever ways it’s now manifesting, to give myself permission to let it fly.

Book(s) last year?

Nothing in 2012. I’ve been in hibernation for many reasons including the whole copyright issue and the divorce.

And for 2013?

To begin writing again and to enjoy it . . .

 

ZOË SHARP

As for me, I also spent Christmas this year with my family, which was where I wanted to be.

My ideal would probably have been a ski-in/ski-out chalet somewhere with plenty of snow. Not necessarily for skiing, but definitely for sculpting. I never did get to finish that Sphinx …

As for my ambitions for 2013, to find a life/work balance and to continue to improve my craft.

And books? In 2012 I brought out two e-boxed sets of the first six Charlie Fox novels, plus several short stories, and of course, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

In 2013, DIE EASY is hot off the press in the States. I’m also editing two new projects—a supernatural thriller called CARNIFEX, and a standalone crime thriller called THE BLOOD WHISPERER, as well as working on the first in a new trilogy, the first in what I hope will be a new series, a novella project I can’t say too much about yet, and—of course—Charlie Fox book eleven. That should keep me going for a bit 🙂

So, it only remains for me to wish you all an incredibly Happy New Year, and to thank you for your comments and your feedback during 2012.

And So Here It Is…

by Brett Battles

As I mentioned two weeks ago, today is my last post as a Murderati regular. I have had a wonderful stay. The fantastic crew of authors, the wonderful readers and conversation contributors, you’ve all made this an excellent place to call home.

My departure has not come without thought. In fact, it’s taken many months of internal deliberations. But workload, focus, quality of ideas have all played a part in this decision. I’m writing more than I ever have before, and I don’t see that letting up anytime soon. I have so many stories I want to write, so many characters I want to bring to life, so many little moments I want to describe. But to really do that, I need to redirect my time and focus into these areas, and stepping aside so you can meet someone new, and discover things I would not be able to show you.

Pari and JT, you are the backbone—the soul—of Murderati, and I can’t thank you enough for asking me to be a part of it. JT, our bond is deep and long…Killer Year forever.

Zoë, my Thursday mate, it’s been great sharing the day with you, and spending a little time with you when you and Andy visited L.A. You are an original in the best of all ways.

J.D., I still remember when we—along with your beautiful wife—were waiting at the airport after Bouchercon in Madison, sharing stories and laughing. As much as I was exhausted and wanted to get on my plane and go home, the time passed too quickly.

Alafair, that picture from the party at Mystery Bookstore’s LA Times Festival of Books party a few years ago is still one of my favorites! And I still laugh about that time I was too nervous to even talk to you.

Louise, you continue to be an inspiration…not just to me, but to the whole extended Murderati family. You are so much stronger than you even know.

Tess, your quote graces the cover of my debut novel, and as much as I am eternally grateful for that, what I remember most was an email you sent me while you were reading it. Me, a still to be published author, and you telling me that you were on tour but also in the middle of reading my book and “loving it!” I’m not sure my feet have touched the ground yet.

Steve. Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve, Steve. We have been good friends for more than twenty years now…dorm life, film school, astronomy class with a teacher who had a few too many on finals day…a gap…then a reconnection before the release of BEAT. A reconnection that has meant the world to me.

Alex, from the very first Thrillerfest to today, seeing you in the crowd always makes me smile. You’re a haven of light.

Cornelia…we have traveled a similar road. We have shared tears high above I-don’t-know which city. We have an understanding for which few words are needed. I am here for you, as I know you are there for me.

Allison, you’re energy, your spirit, your drive in the face of everyday life is to be more than simply admired. You are gifted on so many levels, and I’m glad to call you friend.

David and P.D. as I’m sure you’ve already found, you’ve landed someplace special. My only advice is to have fun.

And to a few Murderati of the past—Rob, I know enough to not say anything nice about you…well, except to say you have become a great friend; Toni, I haven’t seen you in person in years, I miss you, I miss your stories, I miss your laugh and your smile. You brighten things wherever you go; and Ken, your words are amazing, and your heart is huge. It’s always a privilege just being around you.

And finally, to you, the members of the Murderati community, you are the reason we are all or have been a part of this blog. There are not enough words to thank you properly, so I’ll merely say, “Thanks,” and hope you know what I mean.

Okay. All that said, it’s not like I’m completely disappearing. I’m sure you’ll see me in the comments, and, hopefully, my friends here will allow me back now and then to let you know how things are going.

If you’d like to bookmark my personal blog where I sporadically post news click here…no pressure, though.

Until I see you again…

HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE

by Brett Battles

After reading Tess’s and JD’s posts from the previous 2 days, I thought about changing what I was going to share with you today. I mean, after all, it’s definitely BSP, and after the important topics we’ve been discussing here, I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do.

Two things stopped me. First, one of the secondary themes of the book I wanted to tell you about is bullying, and second, this is my penultimate post as a Murderati regular, so what better time to discuss it? In view of all this, I hope you’ll forgive the BSP… 

Unlike the other two books I’ve mentioned lately, the book I just released is a little different. HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE is my first foray into the world of younger readers. Technically I think it would be considered a cross between middle school and tween genres, but in reality can be enjoyed by anyone 10 and up.

It’s a mix of reality and my own brand of mythology, with humor, suspense, and more than a couple scary moments thrown in. Oh yeah, and thrills, too. I can’t get away from that.

I can’t tell you how much fun this was to write. I’ve wanted to work in the middle school/YA market for a while. Part of it is because I read and love the genre books, but probably the biggest reason is that my kids are in that reading group. I think some of the most innovative and interesting work is being done for readers 20 and under.

To say MR. TROUBLE holds a very special place in my heart, would be an understatement. Here’s a bit about the book:

ARE YOU LOSING THINGS?

ARE PEOPLE YOU KNOW ACTING STRANGE?

IS SOMEONE CLOSE TO YOU MISSING???

DO YOU FEEL LIKE THINGS ARE BEYOND YOUR CONTROL?

ARE YOU IN…TROUBLE?

When Eric Morrison sees the advertisement, he doesn’t know which is more surprising—the ad’s sudden appearance or the fact that his answer to every question is YES!

Not only can’t he find things, but the bullies at school are suddenly picking on him for no reason, and, worse yet, his mother has disappeared but he seems to be the only one who’s noticed. Even his best friend Maggie thinks he’s only run into a little bad luck.

But if Eric thinks his life is upside down now, it’s nothing compared to what’s about to happen when Mr. Trouble and the Trouble family arrive to assist him in solving his problems.

One thing’s for sure—Eric will never see the world in the same way again.

 

If that caught your interest, I guarantee what you’ll find is a wild ride that you’ll enjoy no matter how old you are. Currently it’s available as an ebook, priced at $2.99 from all the normal outlets (links below). By the end of the month a trade paperback version will also be available through Amazon.com.

If I could ask your help…MR. TROUBLE may not necessarily be for you, but you may know someone who might enjoy it. I grateful request is that if you could, please pass the information about the book on to them.

It’s a great story with wonderful characters, and, yes, I know I’m biased. But I truly believe this.

Here are those promised links:

HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE in the Amazon Kindle Store

HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE in the Barnes & Noble Nook Store

HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE at Smashwords.com

HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE in the Amazon UK Kindle Store

And if you’d like to read more, here’s the first chapter:

 

1

It started with a guuuuuuurgly suuuuuuuck.

Eric Morrison twisted around, trying to see what had caused the noise.

“Are you going to just sit there all afternoon?”

He would have sworn the sound had come from the other side of the classroom, but he didn’t see anything over there that could have caused it.

Please tell me I’m not hearing things, too.

As he started to turn back around, someone punched him in his arm. “Hey, are you ignoring me?”

He glanced over his shoulder. Maggie Ortega was standing right next to his desk. He’d been concentrating so hard on the gurgly suck he hadn’t heard her walk up.

“Why’d you do that?” he asked, rubbing the spot where she’d hit him.

She stared at him over the top of her glasses as if he’d lost his mind. “The bell? It went off like two minutes ago. You’re usually the first one out the door.”

Eric glanced at the clock hanging at the back of the classroom. Two fifty-two p.m. School was out. How had he missed that?

“Thanks,” he said. He gathered his books and started shoving them in his backpack. “I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

She looked down at him for a few seconds, then said, “What’s wrong with you?”

What’s not? “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been acting all weird for days now. Stop it. I don’t like it.”

“No, I haven’t,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “Yes, you have,” she said, heading for the door.

She was right and Eric knew it. He had been acting weird, but given what was going on, how else was he supposed to act?

“Everything all right back there?” Mrs. Bernhardi asked from her desk at the front of the room. She was their sixth-period English teacher.

“Yeah. Fine,” he said as he stood up.

“Eric, I expect you to have your essay in on time next Monday. It’s not like you to fall behind.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Like he needed that reminder. Still, just like Maggie a few seconds earlier, Mrs. Bernhardi was also right. It wasn’t like him.

He was a good student who always got his work in on time in the past. But for the last two weeks, even though he was sure he’d put his finished assignments in his backpack, when it came time to turn them in, they weren’t there. Math, history, English—it didn’t matter.

It almost felt like he was going crazy.

Actually, maybe not almost, he thought. If I am going crazy, that would explain everything.

“Hurry up!” Maggie called from the doorway.

“Have a nice afternoon,” Mrs. Bernhardi said.

“You, too,” Eric replied quickly, then headed for the door.

The main corridor of Valley View Middle School was nearly deserted as they headed toward the front exit.

“Come on, come on,” Maggie said.

“If you’re in a hurry, don’t let me hold you back,” Eric said. “I’ll just see you tomorrow.”

She whirled around, stopping right in front of him. “Tomorrow? What do you mean tomorrow?”

“I’m just saying, if you need to be somewhere, I don’t want to be the one who makes you late. I know you hate that.”

She did hate it, but that wasn’t the real reason Eric was urging her to go on without him. Unlike the rush she seemed to be in, he definitely was not in a hurry. Chances were there’d be another one of the Neanderthals waiting to mess with him on his walk home. It had been happening almost every day lately, since about the same time he’d started forgetting his homework.

Plus there was another reason he wasn’t anxious to get going. Eric really didn’t want to be at his house at all, not if it meant opening his front door again and finding out his mother was still gone. It would be the fourth day in a row.

His dad had told him she’d gone on a business trip, like it was a normal event, and had been completely unconcerned about the fact she hadn’t said goodbye to either of them before she left. But it wasn’t normal. Not even close. And skipping goodbyes? No way.

Eric’s mom worked at a small beauty salon in town. She didn’t go on vacations, let alone business trips. “Time away means time we’re losing money. And we can’t afford that.” How many times had he heard her say that?

“Have you forgotten what we’re supposed to do today?” Maggie asked.

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Eric turned his head, trying once more to pinpoint where the odd noise was coming from. “Did you hear that?” he asked. It sounded both distant and right around the corner.

“Hear what?”

“That sound.”

“What sound? I didn’t hear anything.” She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “You’re just trying to distract me, aren’t you? Well, that’s not going to happen. We agreed to go to the library this afternoon to work on our China report, remember? Now, come on.”

The China report. Right.

She took off down the hallway at a pace that was more a run than a walk. After a deep breath, Eric started after her.

• • •

The Tobin City Library was a single-story building about three times larger than Eric’s house. It was only six blocks from the school so the walk didn’t take them long. But because they had gotten a late start—Eric’s fault, as Maggie pointed out several times on the way over—the only open table when they got there was the one nearest the librarian counter.

“Great,” Maggie said as she dropped her bag on top.

Mrs. Kim, the head librarian, looked over, one eyebrow arched high into her forehead. “Shhhh!”

Mrs. Kim was the reason no one wanted that particular table. She could hear everything you said. The second you started goofing around she would “Shhhh” you and remind you that if you weren’t there to study, you were welcome to leave.

“Sorry, Mrs. Kim,” Maggie said, glaring at Eric.

As soon as they sat down, Maggie pulled a thick folder of loose papers out of her bag and slid it across the table to him.

“You’re responsible for the part about the Great Wall,” she said.

Eric picked up the folder. “What is this?”

“Research I printed out from the Internet last night.”

He looked at a couple of the pages. “You printed all this out last night?”

She sat back. “Well, given the way you’ve been acting lately, I knew you weren’t going to do it.”

He ignored that and asked, “Why am I responsible for the Great Wall? Aren’t we supposed to decide who does what together?”

She stared at him, her face blank.

After a moment, he said, “Fine. I’ll take the Great Wall.” He thought about asking what she was going to work on but was afraid she might snap at him again, so he said nothing and glanced through the pages instead.

“You’re going to have to read them,” Maggie said.

“I know. I’m just trying to get an idea of what’s here.”

She scowled, pulled out another equally thick folder and started going through it.

After twenty minutes, Eric leaned back and rubbed his eyes. He’d only made it about a third of the way through the folder but he was seriously thinking about skipping the rest. He was sure he already had more than enough information. The only problem was Maggie. Since she’d taken the time to print everything out, she probably expected him to read it all.

He gave his eyes one more rub, then opened them. As annoying as it was, he was probably going to have to—

He suddenly became aware that there was someone sitting in the chair next to him. He turned his head just enough so he could see who it was and immediately wished he hadn’t.

Filling the chair beside him was the six-foot-two, two-hundred-and-who-knew-how-many-pound solid body of terror known as Peter Garr. That was his legal name, anyway. To most of the kids at school he was known as King of the Jerks.

In the two weeks since Eric had become the victim of choice for after-school intimidation, the one guy who hadn’t bothered with him yet was Peter Garr. Apparently, that was about to change.

With his oily blond hair hanging partially over his face, Peter sneered long and hard at Eric, then opened a car magazine that was sitting on the table and started looking through it.

I didn’t even hear him sit down.

With a shudder, he returned to Maggie’s printouts. But the words refused to cooperate and he soon found himself reading the same sentence over and over and over.

Focus!

Just as Eric was starting to relax enough to understand what was on the page, Peter set a meaty hand on the table. He flexed his fingers then curled them into a fist as he turned his head just enough so that he could look Eric in the eye.

Eric wanted to turn away but Peter’s stare held him in place.

The corner of Peter’s mouth inched upward and he began a laugh so low that Eric almost didn’t hear it. It was nearly half a minute before he turned back to his magazine.

“What are you doing?” Maggie asked. “You can’t be done yet.”

Had she not seen what just happened?

“Nothing. I was just…never mind.” He returned his attention to the folder, but just as he started to read a new page he heard the noise again.

Guuuuu–

His head snapped around, scanning the area behind him. It was close. So very close.

–uuuuuuuuuuuu–

But there was nothing there.

–uuuuuuurrr–

He looked back at Maggie. “Tell me you hear it now,” he said, his voice raised so he could be heard over the sound.

–rrrgly suuuuuu

“Quiet,” Maggie whispered, her eyes wide.

“You hear it, right?”

uuuuuuuuuck.

“Why are you talking so loud?”

“Shhh,” Mrs. Kim said from behind the counter.

“Yeah. Shut up,” Peter said beside him in an oddly monotone voice.

Eric turned and looked back again. It had to be there somewhere. But all he could see were bookcases.

Must be in one of the aisles.

He pushed himself out of his chair.

“Where are you going?” Maggie asked.

Peter looked at him as if he was interested in the answer, too.

“The sound,” Eric said.

“What sound?” she asked.

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

 “That sound.”

Peter, who had been obviously listening to their conversation, narrowed his eyes as if he didn’t quite understand what Eric was talking about but thought he should.

Maggie shrugged. “The only thing making any noise is you.”

“Shhhhhh,” Mrs. Kim commanded.

Eric shook his head. “Never mind.”

If he was right, the sound was coming from just the other side of the nearest bookcase.

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

He walked around it and stopped at the end of the aisle.

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

No question about it. The gurgly suck was coming from somewhere down there and it seemed to be speeding up. But he couldn’t see anything that could be causing it.

Cautiously, he entered the aisle.

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

When he’d gone halfway down the row, the sound grew so loud he had to put his hands over his ears just to think straight. He looked back the way he’d come, expecting to see a crowd of people gathered there wondering what was making all the racket, but there was no one.

Was he really the only person who could hear it?

He peered through the bookcase back at the table where he’d been sitting. Maggie was writing something in her notebook and Peter appeared engrossed in his magazine. Behind them, Mrs. Kim sat quietly at her desk using the scanner to check in books. If anyone should have heard the noise, it would have been her. Her hearing was scary good.

But she showed no reaction at all. None of them did.

It’s just like everything else that’s been going on. I’m the only one it’s happening to.

The thought that he was going crazy crossed his mind again.

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Eric whipped around in surprise, the noise right behind him. But as he turned, his foot caught on the carpet and sent him banging into the bookcase.

“Shhhh!” Mrs. Kim said. “If you can’t be quiet, then you’ll have to leave.”

Guuuuuuuuuurrrrrgly suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

It was so close Eric felt he could almost reach out and touch it.

Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly. Suck. Suck. Suck. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

Then, though he knew it was impossible, the air moved.

Not like a breeze you could feel. He could actually see it. It was like an inflating balloon expanding toward him.

As the last of the sucking sound faded, the air jiggled then collapsed back to normal.

Eric reached out and put his hand through the area where it had been. There was nothing there.

Had he been seeing things? Had he–

Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly. Suck. Suck. Suck. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

The air bubble shot out again, coming straight at him. He fell backwards onto the floor but it stopped just inches from where he’d been standing and hovered there. As he scrambled back to his feet, he could see it wasn’t round like he’d initially thought. It was more like a box—a foot long, maybe a little less than that wide, and about two inches thick—but definitely a box.

Once more it snapped back and disappeared.

Eric reached out again, this time halting just short of where the box had been.

Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly. Suck. Suck. Suck. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.

The air rushed out so quickly it knocked into his fingers before he could pull them away. What he saw had to have been an illusion. There was something solid inside, something definitely not, well, air-like.

Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly. Gurgly.

The box pushed out further.

Suck. Suck. Suck. Suck. Suck. Suck.

It was sticking out at least three feet from where it had started, warping the air around it. Then the box began to vibrate up and down, up and down, up and down. Faster and faster and faster.

Gurgly. Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu–

SNAP!

The air split open and the whole building began to shake.

As Eric grabbed the bookcase so he wouldn’t fall down, he could hear yelps of surprise from the other side.

Then, when the shaking reached its height, a book shot out from the rip in the air.

The moment it landed on the ground at Eric’s feet, the gurgly suck stopped.

• • • • 

Things only get wilder from there! Thanks for giving me a little bit of your time. 

The Edit Ninja

By Brett Battles

Photos by Mari Deno

Okay, so you’ve written a book and decided you’re not going to look for a publisher and will it publish yourself as an ebook…or…you’ve written a book, shopped it around but while you might have had a few nibbles, no bites, so you’re going to publish it yourself as an ebook. Easy, right? Just upload it and it’s done.

Wrong. I think many independent authors (not all) try to take short cuts, and think all they have to do is upload their book and that’s it. That’s not it. Not even close.

As an independent author, what you need to do is think of yourself as a publishing house. And by that, I mean just because you’ve finished writing the book doesn’t mean it’s ready.

First step…story editing. This could mean hiring a professional editor (especially advised for those who have never been published before, but when looking for one shop around and get recommendations), or finding some other means of getting the feedback you need. For me, I have a group of trusted, savvy, and insightful readers who read my book and give me detailed feedback. The group contains several respected published writers, and others whose opinions I trust.

Okay, that’s done. Next: a cover. The rule of thumb here is: You get what you pay for. So if you want a cover that looks professional and will draw the attention of potential reader instead of turning them off, be prepared to pay for it. And trust me, it’s worth it.

But wait, your book’s still not ready. There is a vital step that cannot be skipped. You need (need, need, need, need, need) to have someone copyedit/proofread your manuscript. And I’m not just talking about finding someone who isn’t doing anything at the moment, and having them look for errors.

Good copyediting and proofreading are skills that only a small percentage of people have. I don’t have it. Never have, never will. So I’m lucky to have someone who excels at this who I can go to when I have a manuscript that is ready for this step.

I’d like to introduce you to her today. Meet my professional copyeditor and renowned Edit Ninja, Elyse Dinh-McCrillis.

BRETT: Okay, Elyse, first question: Why torture yourself copyediting other people’s material? I know that would drive me MAD! (Of course, as you well know having worked on a couple of my books now, I would suck at it.)

ELYSE: It’s much more torturous for me to read books full of errors! When I was younger, whenever I saw a mistake in a book/magazine/newspaper, I’d let out a full-throated ARGHHH! a la Charlie Brown when the football is yanked away. People in the room with me would say, “Why don’t you do something about it?” So I did. I like to think I’m helping put better books out into the world and preventing readers like me from the same kind of aggravation.

B: When did you first realize this was a skill you had?

E: I wrote for my high school paper and my journalism teacher said I was the only student who always turned in perfectly clean copy. I was compulsive about proofing my own work because I never wanted to look like a moron due to some stupid typo. My teacher named me features editor and I found I had a knack for telling others what to do editing other people’s work, too.

I also read a lot and retain much of it (do not flash your credit card numbers around me). I think it’s important to not only know the guidelines of grammar and style, but also be aware of pop culture and current events. A sharp editor would know there’s no such thing as a Mazda CRX, that sixty-six Americans were originally taken hostage in Iran but only fifty-two were held for 444 days, that the non-lightsaber weapons in Star Wars are called blasters, not guns. These may not be earth-shattering mistakes but you never now who might find them important.

B: Doesn’t everyone know they’re blasters? Oh…God…I’m a nerd, aren’t I? Anyway, you obviously enjoy doing it enough that you do it professionally. So, have you seen a psychiatrist lately? And if not perhaps one of our Murderati readers can recommend one to you. (Is my bias for how much I would personally hate being a copyeditor showing?)

E: Ha! Funny that you mention therapy because I think part of my job is being a therapist to my clients. I’ve spent hours on the phone with writers who are certain they can’t finish their book or they’ve written the worst book in the history of man. I talk to them and ask questions to help them figure out how to fix their problem areas. It’s quite satisfying for me when they achieve that breakthrough. That’s not to say I’m touchy-feely. If you’re just whining, I don’t have patience for that.

B: Joking aside, I cannot express how grateful I am for the work done by a good copyeditor, and in my case, that’s you. You have saved me from embarrassing myself multiple times in SICK and HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE. So I want to publicly thank you for that! Thank you.

E: Thank you for trusting me with your manuscript babies. You make my job a lot easier by writing thrilling stories. Plus you pay me and that’s cool, too.

B: Wait…are you implying you’d do it for free? Probably not, right? Okay, so why don’t you tell us a little bit about the process, how you work with authors, and what authors should expect from you?

E: The process is tedious so I should probably say something interesting like, “Well, Brett, it involves Samoan masseuses and corn” but that might confuse your readers. The real answer is, my fee includes fixes in grammar and style, rephrasing of awkward sentences, comments to help you fix weak spots, and fact-checking. Turnaround is about two weeks for a full-length ms, but I can do it faster if you have a specific deadline. If I’m doing developmental editing, I’m available for phone consultations and minor therapy as mentioned above. I’m not a licensed doctor, though, so you might have to sign a waiver releasing me from liability if you suddenly develop a drinking problem.

B: I know I have things I screw up all the time. In fact I have a list on my wall to remind me to check for some specific types of errors when I finish a manuscript. (It’s true, taped to the wall next to the kitchen.) What are some of the common mistakes you see authors repeating all the time?

E: Lie vs. lay, dangling modifiers, the misplacement of “only” in a sentence (“I only have one dollar” and “I have only one dollar” do not mean the same thing), i.e. vs. e.g., possessive pronouns vs. contractions, less vs. fewer, and redundancy (“I thought to myself,” “I rushed quickly through the door,” etc.). I guess that last one isn’t a mistake, it just annoys me.

B: Any pet peeves?

E: When potential clients want to pay me only $8-10 an hour and say that’s the going rate on Craigslist. I say go back to Craigslist and good luck.

E: HA! Good one. I refer readers back to the “get what you pay for” statement I made above about covers. Applies here, too. If an author is interested in hiring you, is there someplace they can go to find out more information about your services?

E: The Edit Ninja website.

B: Ooooh. Spiffy! Anything else you’d like to add?

E: I think there’s a misconception that editors are sticklers for rules. I’m not. As long as your language serves your story, I don’t care if you coin new words or end your sentences in prepositions. But if your style starts distracting from your story then it needs adjustment. I think astute readers can tell the difference between someone who flouts grammatical conventions intentionally and someone who doesn’t know what they are.

B: Thanks for spending a little time with us today, Elyse. I love hearing your insights.

Let me just say to everyone, if you’re a writer in need of a copyeditor, I couldn’t recommend Elyse more. The only thing I worry about is that too many people will start using her services and she won’t have time for me when I need her. Seriously though, if you have a book in need of copyediting contact Elyse. You’ll be very happy with the results.

Now, if you have some questions you’d like to ask Elyse—specific or vague or completely off topic—fire away. Elyse will be checking in all day.

SICK

by Brett Battles

At some point today, SICK should be available in the Kindle store both in the U.S. and the U.K., at barnesandnoble.com, and at smashwords.com. In celebration of that, thought I’d give you a taste from the beginning:

 

A cry woke him from his sleep.

A young cry.

A girl’s cry.

Daniel Ash pushed himself up on his elbow. “Josie?”

It was more a question for himself than anything. His daughter’s room was down the hall, making it hard for her to hear his sleep filled voice in the best of circumstances. And if she was crying, not a chance.

He glanced at the other side of the bed, thinking his wife might already be up checking on their daughter. But Ellen was still asleep, her back to him. He’d all but forgotten about the headache she’d had, and the two sleeping pills she’d taken before turning in. Chances were, she wouldn’t even open her eyes until after the kids left for school.

Ash rubbed a hand across his face, then slipped out of bed.

The old hardwood floor was cool on his feet, but not unbearable. He grabbed his t-shirt off the chair in the corner, and pulled it on as he walked into the hallway.

A cry again. Definitely coming from his daughter’s room.

“Josie, it’s okay. I’m coming.” This time he raised his voice so he was sure she would hear him.

As he passed his son’s room, he pulled the door closed so Brandon wouldn’t wake, too.

Josie’s room was at the other end of the hall, closest to the living room. She was the oldest, so she got to pick which room she wanted when they’d moved in. It wasn’t any bigger than her brother’s, but Ash knew she liked the fact that she was as far away from mom and dad as possible. Made her feel independent.

Her door was covered with pictures of boy bands and cartoons—she was in that transitional stage between kid and teenager that was both cute and annoying. As he pushed the door open, he expected to find her sitting on her bed, upset about some nightmare she’d had. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

“Josie, what’s—”

His words caught in his mouth.

She wasn’t lying in the bed. She was on the floor, the bedspread hanging down just enough to touch her back. Ash rushed over thinking that she’d fallen and hurt herself. But the moment his hand touched her he knew he was wrong.

She was so hot. Burning up.

He had no idea a person could get that hot.

The most scared he’d ever been before had been when he’d taken Brandon to a boat show in Texas, and the boy had wandered off. It took Ash less than a minute to find him again, but he thought nothing would ever top the panic and fear he’d felt then.

Seeing his daughter like that, feeling her skin burning, he realized he’d been wrong.

He scooped Josie off the floor, and ran into the hallway.

“Ellen!” he yelled. “Ellen, I need you!”

He knew his voice was probably going to wake Brandon, but, at this point, he didn’t care. Josie was sick. Very sick. He needed Ellen to call an ambulance while he tried to bring their daughter’s temperature down.

“Ellen!” he yelled again as he ducked into the bathroom.

Using an elbow he flipped on the light, then laid Josie in the tub. He wasted several seconds searching for the rubber plug, then jammed it into the drain, and turned on the water, full cold. To help speed up the process, he pulled the shower knob, and aimed the showerhead so that it would stream down on her, and cool her faster.

Where the hell was Ellen?

He put the back of his palm on Josie’s forehead. She was still on fire.

“Ellen!”

He was torn. He wanted to stay with Josie, but the pills Ellen had taken must have really knocked her out, so that meant it was up to him to get help.

“Hang on, baby,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”

He raced into the hall and back to the master bedroom. The nearest phone was on Ellen’s nightstand, next to their bed.

“Ellen. Wake up.”

He shook her once, then picked up the phone, and dialed 911. As he waited for it to ring, he glanced back at the bed.

Ellen hadn’t moved.

“911. What is your emergency?” a female voice said.

He reached down, and rolled Ellen onto her back, thinking that might jar her awake. But her eyes were already open, staring blankly at nothing.

He flipped on the light. The skin around her mouth and her eyes was turning black, and there were dark, drying streaks running across her face from her eye sockets where blood had flowed.

“911. What is your emergency?”

“Oh, God. Help,” he managed to say.

“Are you hurt, sir?”

He touched Ellen’s face. It was as cold as Josie’s had been hot.

“Send help! Send help, please!”

 

And that is just the start. If you’d like to read more, you’ll be able to download a longer sample at the sites where it’s for sale. Or you can just buy the whole thing for $2.99.

I’m pretty jazzed about SICK, but I’m biased. So here’s what Elyse at popculturenerd.com has to say: “Like a fever, SICK makes you sweat and keeps you up all night, wondering what the hell is happening. It’ll make your heart race like someone shot you with an EpiPen. You think Battles was badass before? He just cranked it up to 500 joules. CLEAR!” I probably owe her a few bucks for that quote.

So, what did you think? Intrigued? Not? Something you’d want to read more of?

Get SICK for the Kindle here!

Get SICK for the Nook here!

Get SICK at Smashwords.com in most formats here!

Sleepless in … Los Angeles. Please give a warm Murderati welcome to – our very own Brett Battles!

You may recall, at the beginning of March, Brett very kindly did an interview/review for the US publication of my Charlie Fox thriller, FOURTH DAY. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to return the favour with his latest – the excellent THE SILENCED. I confess I’d put off reading this book – but only because normally, reading on screen makes my eyes go a bit square, but this one no hardship at all! Highly unusually for me, I read it straight through in about a day and a half. Yeah, once the story grabs hold it really doesn’t want to let go.

Brett, as you all probably know, is the award-winning author of three previous books in the thriller series centring around Jonathan Quinn, whose chosen profession is that of covert cleaner. He’s the man who knows exactly where the bodies are buried – mainly because he’s the one who put them there. THE SILENCED is the fourth outing for Quinn, accompanied by his deadly companion, Orlando, and young apprentice, Nate, on a deadly chase across America from west to east coast, and then on to Paris and the UK.

Zoë Sharp: So, Brett – sitting comfortably? Is that spotlight OK? Electrodes not pulling out too many hairs, I hope? Duct tape allowing some circulation?

Brett Battles: Uh…help?

ZS:  So, let’s begin. You were one of the original KILLER YEAR authors – the class of ’07. For those of us with the attention span of a goldfish, can you remind us how that all came about, and how much you feel it helped kick-start your career?

BB: Ah, yes. KILLER YEAR. It started back in 2006. There were several of us with books coming out in 2007 who had taken to blogging as a means of interacting and getting our names out there. We started following each others’ posts, sharing information, and becoming friends. We were always talking about how hard it was to get attention and market our books. I’m not sure who mentioned it—Jason Pinter or our own JT, one of those two, I think—but someone said if only we could band together, it would be easier to be heard. Instantly a big giant light blub went off over our heads, and within minutes a tag line came to me: It’s Going to be a Killer Year. Jason or JT shortened this to KILLER YEAR, and we were off.

It was great! And did exactly what we hoped, especially within the Thriller and Mystery community. When we showed up at conferences, people already knew who we were. Other members included former Murderati folks Toni McGee Causey and Robert Gregory Browne, and also Bill Cameron, Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey, Dave White, Marc Lecard, Gregg Olsen, Patry Francis, and Derek Nikitas. We got an anthology out of it (KILLER YEAR: STORIES TO DIE FOR edited by Lee Child—that was almost all JT’s doing – thank you JT!) Also, the debut novelist program that ITW runs now is a direct offshoot of KILLER YEAR.

ZS: Where did the character of Jonathan Quinn originally come from? And did the name arrive all of a piece, or did you agonise over it?

BB: I didn’t agonize, but he didn’t arrive fully formed either. I knew I wanted to write an international espionage type story, but I didn’t want to do an assassin or super spy. There were enough James Bonds and Jason Bournes and John Rains in the world. I wanted to do something different. I also have this fascination with the concept I refer to as “what happens after?” By that I mean what happens after the main event occurs. We get news articles about accidents or murders or robberies or whatever, but we seldom ever get the follow up stories of what happens after these things occur. I consider Quinn an “after” character. He gets to work after the main action goes down, though he then is often pulled into creating some of that action himself. So I thought about him for a while, and he slowly took shape, and when I finally felt I had a good idea of who he was, I started writing.

ZS: Quinn’s character is a cleaner – he moves in and deals with the aftermath of death, cleaning up and disappearing the bodies. On the surface, he doesn’t sound like a very sympathetic character. How do you go about combating that?

BB: Good point. I definitely wanted him to be sympathetic, and knew I had to be careful there. Part of what I did was basically give him a personal moral/ethical code that included working for agencies and governments he feels are doing the right thing. This is something, of course, he can’t always know for sure, and could put him in the situation of working for someone he thinks is doing right, but who is actually doing something underhanded. I also try to show that he has a clear human side and cares about things. Though he might try to hide it sometimes, it’s always there, right underneath.

ZS: In THE SILENCED, the character of Liz asks Nate if Quinn is a criminal. He replies that Quinn is possibly the most honourable man Nate has ever met, but doesn’t that side-step the question slightly? After all, Quinn is a freelance operative – he works for the highest bidder, even if he does reserve the right to walk away from jobs he doesn’t like. Did you set out to give him this conflicted set of morals – this ethical dilemma – right from the start?

BB: Yes on all fronts. Definitely side-steps the issue. To many people there’s no question he’d be called a criminal. And I love the internal conflicts this causes him. In my mind, his job is slowly eating away at him from the inside.

ZS: I particularly liked the deceptively simple narrative style of the book, and the straightforward description of the action scenes – you let the action speak for itself rather than trying to over-dramatise something that is, by its nature, already dramatic. How do you go about putting together something like the scene with Nate and Julien’s colleagues in Paris?

BB: Thanks, Zoë. I appreciate that. I wish I could tell you that I sit there and plan everything out and find the best way to tell it, but, honestly I don’t. On that particular scene, I remember thinking, “Okay, Nate needs to go here, and find what he finds, and run into one of Julien’s colleagues,” then putting my hands on the keyboard and just writing it. Turned out he didn’t find just one of Julien’s colleagues but several, and I didn’t know that until it happened.

As far as action scenes themselves, I don’t know how to write them any differently than I do. It’s just the way they come out of my brain. And, like you said, scenes like that are already full of tension. I don’t need to go over the top.

ZS: And, following on from that, what are your pet hates in action narrative? What really pulls you in, and what throws you out of the story?

BB: Over description kills it for me. It makes me aware that there’s a writer behind the words, and takes me out of the actual story. Show me what needs to be shown, keep the tension high, and get to the point. That’s what works for me.

ZS: The supporting characters of Orlando, Liz and Petra are very interestingly portrayed and fleshed out. Are you in touch with your feminine side? Erm, I mean, how easy do you find it to write opposite-gender characters?

BB: Hahaha… I actually love writing female characters, in fact, sometimes they are the strongest characters in my stories. Orlando is often Quinn’s conscience and sounding board. She keeps him focused when he begins to wander off. In THE SILENCED Liz is great, too, as is Petra. These are all women who are sure of themselves while still having doubts and questions like any normal person would have. Am I in touch with my feminine side? I try to be, but that’s for others to judge, I guess.

ZS: It seems that many publishers, if they find a character they like, push for a series rather than standalones? Did you set out to write a series from the outset, or was it publisher-driven?

BB: I didn’t set out to write a series, but by the time I sold THE CLEANER I was thinking that way. A friend and former mentor was the one who mentioned the possibility to me. When he said, “I think you could have a series here,” it was like one of those hit yourself in the forehead moments. Of course, it was the first of a series. Why didn’t I see that?

ZS: The action of THE SILENCED shifts from your home city of LA, across to Maine and New York City, then on to Paris and London. I noticed with a smile the scene that takes place in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt in NYC, as it’s a familiar location to any ThrillerFest attendees and a nice nod to the genre. How did you go about researching the other locations of your novel?

BB: I’m big on location scouting. I love to travel, so I often plan my travel around stories I want to write. Such was the case with the London and Paris locations. I went there specifically because I wanted to feature them in the story, and took tons of pictures and notes and must have walked dozens of miles while I was there. The Hyatt in NYC I’ve been to many times, of course, and thought it would be a kick to set a scene there given that Thrillerfest and the Edgars are held in the building. As for the scenes in Gorham, Maine, I have a good friend who lives there. In fact, the house in question is loosely (very loosely) based on hers.

ZS: You’ve mentioned previously that you’re not an outliner – preferring to come up with the initial idea, maybe bullet-point the plot – and see where the writing takes you. Is that still the case? If so, how many drafts do you typically go through to get to the finished work? How much does the final version usually differ from your first draft, and in what respects? Major plot points? Minor elements? Any examples spring to mind with THE SILENCED?

BB: That’s pretty much still the same way I work. I’ve tried to do more detailed outlines, but a) they’re a chore, and I don’t want writing to be a chore, and b) once I start writing the book from an outline, I feel like I’m straight-jacketed and am just typing more than writing. The way I work is exactly how you described: a few ideas, maybe some bullet points, and usually a handle on where I want to end up, then go. I sometime refer to my first draft as a 300+ page outline. Rewriting is the key. I’ll do anywhere from four to six rewrite passes these days, with the first two or three being major passes and the others more clean up and polishing passes. I can’t recall specifically any huge changes in THE SILENCED, but there is one from THE CLEANER that I’ve cited before. In the version I sold, so that would already be draft three or four at that point, I had killed Nate off in the first 80 pages. Readers of the series know that here we are in book four and Nate’s still around. That’s because a smart editor convinced me it was a mistake to kill him off, and she was definitely right. I should point out that with the earlier books I had to do more rewrite passes than I do now, but that’s because, hopefully, I’m not making the same mistakes as much. I definitely try to learn from each book to the next.

ZS: Who are your first test-readers and what made you choose them/stick with them?

BB: The two I use (read abuse) for most books are Bill Cameron and Tasha Alexander. They are both great writers, and I trust their opinions. Bill and I often talk for an hour or more after he’s read a draft, going over all the points. They have both definitely made my books better. I’ve also started expanding my Beta Readers group. I’ve even roped Rob in to reading my latest.

ZS: I see you have a brand new Jonathan Quinn short story available in eFormat – ‘Just Another Job’. Will this also be available for us paper dinosaurs? Are you a frequent short story writer? I note that your story ‘Perfect Gentleman’ came in for particular praise in the KILLER YEAR anthology. What attracts you to short stories, and how did ‘Just Another Day’ come about?

BB: No plans just yet to bring the shorts out in paper. Perhaps once I have several I can package them together. I haven’t written many in the past, but I do have plans on writing more in the future, including several Quinn shorts from when he was just starting out…basically Quinn origin stories. ‘Just Another Job’ was something I did as a web exclusive for a member-only site a year or so ago, and was now able to make available for others to read. I do enjoy writing shorts, but sometimes find that it’s easier to come up with an idea for a novel than a short story. Don’t ask me why.

ZS: I see that as well as THE SILENCED you also have the first book in a new series with a new main protagonist, Logan Harper – LITTLE GIRL GONE. Tell us about this new departure? Why have you deviated from the Jonathan Quinn series? What avenues does Harper allow you to explore that Quinn didn’t?

BB: First let me say that I love Quinn, and will continue writing Quinn, but I’ve been feeling pulled lately to also write stories that are outside his world. Logan gives me this opportunity. Logan’s a former soldier and defense contractor who has returned to his hometown after losing his job and his wife over a crushing experience while in Afghanistan. He’s now just trying to make it day-by-day working at his father’s auto garage in the small California coastal town of Cambria. One morning when he makes his normal stop to get coffee at a shop owned by his father’s friend Tooney, he finds a man in back holding a gun to Tooney’s head. From there, Logan is thrust into a search for Tooney’s missing granddaughter that takes him first to Los Angeles, and then to Bangkok and finally to the beautiful Wat Doi Suthep temple above Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Logan allows me to have more of an everyman hero—albeit with some advanced training. He’s not a professional like Quinn. He doesn’t work for agencies or organizations. He just helps people, sometime reluctantly, while he tries to deal with his own demons.

I really love getting into Logan’s world, and am extremely happy with how LITTLE GIRL GONE has turned out. It’s been getting a lot of great response that I am very grateful for.

ZS: We’ve actually been to Cambria – lovely place, and we ate at a wonderful little restaurant that played Harry James and served terrific duck quesadillas. But I digress… So, what else is on the horizon for you?

BB: I have another book coming out later in April called SICK. It’s quite possibly the most suspenseful book I’ve ever written. And a story that will keep you guessing until the end. Oh, and then there’s the first in my new YA series, HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE. That will hopefully be out early May. At that point I may curl up into a ball and sleep for a year.

ZS: Well, Brett, it’s been real pleasure. One final question before the gag goes back on – what IS the best way to get rid of a body? Any last-minute cleaning tips I should know about…?

BB: I’d love to tell you, Zoë, but I can’t give away any trade secrets. I’m sure you understand. Thanks for having me! I’ve enjoyed it here at, what did you call this place? Murder-at-i? Well, whatever. Thanks!

I let Brett chose this week’s Word of the Week (think of it as a kind of last request) and he came up with shoice, which means when presented with several options to choose from, shoice is the option “choice” you “should” make.

LITTLE GIRL GONE

By Brett Battles

Okay, so today is actually my birthday. True story, I was born 6 minutes to midnight, so 6 minutes shy of April Fools Day (not that there is anything wrong with that for any of you celebrating tomorrow.) My dad actually heard two cries, one before midnight and one after, and thought that my mom had had twins. In the rush to make sure I wasn’t born on April 1st (apparently the doctor thought that was a bad thing), clamps were used, and my head was a bit pair shaped for a few hours…insert “so that’s what happened” jokes here.

Anyway, I’ve been so busy, I almost forgot it was my birthday. Why? Well, next week t the new Quinn novel THE SILENCED hits stores, and I’m on a mini tour for that, but it’s not the only new book I have out. In fact, it’s the other one, plus a couple short stories I want to talk to you about today…all three of which are available now.

Like my friend and fellow Murderati Dusty, I have jumped into the world of electronic self-publishing. Firmly. Last week I released two short stories and a brand new novel, and those are just the start of more to come.

Let’s talk novel first:

LITTLE GIRL GONE is the first in a new series featuring a troubled man named Logan Harper.

Logan isn’t looking for redemption. He just wants to live in peace and forget his troubled past. But one morning his quiet life is upended when he interrupts the attempted murder of his father’s best friend Tooney.

The next thing Logan knows, he’s on his way to Los Angeles, searching for Tooney’s missing granddaughter and uncovering a sinister plot connected not only to Tooney’s Burmese past, but also to the boardrooms of corporate America.

As the odds stack up against him, Logan must fall back on old skills from the life he’d rather forget. He’s made a promise, and the only way to fulfill it is to bring the girl home alive.

You can get LITTLE GIRL GONE for only 2.99 at the Amazon Kindle Store, BarnesandNoble.com, Smashwords, and, in the UK for £2.12, the Amazon UK Kindle Store.

I’ve also recorded myself reading the first chapter, had have embedded the player here:

I really enjoyed writing Logan, and look forward to created more stories featuring him and the cast of characters around him. And a quick thanks to Jeroen ten Berge—the same designer who Dusty uses—on the awesome cover art!

On the short story front…

 

JUST ANOTHER JOB – A Jonathan Quinn Story, is a glimpse into the life of a cleaner, a man who works in the shadows.

Not everyone who gets shot is supposed to be shot. And those who are shot don’t always die right away. It’s not Quinn’s job to kill people, but it is his job to clean them up. Sometimes, though, they’re not quite ready to go.

JUST ANOTHER JOB is only .99 at the Amazon Kindle Store, BarnesandNoble.com, Smashwords, and, in the UK for £0.70, the Amazon UK Kindle Store.

Cool cover by our own Robert Gregory Browne. Thanks, Rob!

 

PERFECT GENTLEMAN, a tale of a different kind of family.

The girls call Wade Norris, “Papa.”

He’s not their dad. He’s not their uncle. He’s not even related to them. In fact, he was born thousands of miles from the Philippines, the place he now calls home.

No, Wade’s none of those things. He’s their Papasan. He runs the go-go bar where the girls dance and entertain. But that doesn’t make them any less than a family.

And rule number one: don’t mess with the family.

PERFECT GENTLEMAN originally appeared in the KILLER YEAR: STORIES TO DIE FOR anthology edited by Lee Child.

You can purchase PERFECT GENTLEMAN for only .99 at the Amazon Kindle Store, BarnesandNoble.com, Smashwords, and, in the UK for £0.70, the Amazon UK Kindle Store. (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Perfect-Gentleman/dp/B004TGUD5I)

Once more, Rob did the cover.

What better way to celebrate my birthday than to pick up one (or all three) of these? Okay, that’s blatant pandering, but it was too funny to resist.

These are just the beginning. I have another full length novel which will be out before the end of April, and be warned, it is a heart stopper! I’m also planning on releasing the first book in my new YA series HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE around the same time. And there will be more short stories and novels before the years out.

Why have I chosen this route? For one reason, I write a lot, and things have just been stockpiling much to my annoyance. But now with the freedom that self-publishing offers, I no longer have to wait a year or more before a book comes out after I finish it. For another, I like being the one in charge instead of the alternative. And I love the idea that I can write what I want and not worry if someone thinks it won’t do well, so it shouldn’t be published, or will be under-published, etc. I was as stunned as most of you were by Barry Eislers announcement last week on Joe Konrath’s blog. Stunned, yes, but not shocked. It was coming, and I completely understand Barry’s reasons, and, quite honestly, I agree with him. That’s why months ago I had come to many of the same conclusions had have been working to get to this point. 

I’m excited about this new digital world, and am going to be a willing, enthusiastic participant.

I hope you check out LITTLE GIRL GONE, JUST ANOTHER JOB, and PERFECT GENTLEMAN.

If you have any questions—about the books, about epublishing, about the weather—put them in the comments, and let’s discuss!

 

Someone Isn’t Sleeping Much

by Brett Battles

Me again! That’s right, two weeks in a row. Our fabulous Zoë is in the middle of her USA tour, so we’ve switched our order up just a bit to give her time to get over her jet lag…(Zoë, her hubby Andy, our lovely Alex, and I had dinner on Tuesday night here in L.A. It was great catching up!)

Those people who know me well, know that I’m not a huge complainer, especially in public. I’m always the kind of person that lets things go, and finds ways to work around problems instead of through them.

Well…I’m tired today. The schedule I’ve been keeping this year is exhausting me, but I can’t bring myself to back down. I have too much to do. What does that have to do with complaining? (Other than the fact that it’s a complaint in itself?) When I’m tired, I’m less likely to have my guard up, and more likely to rant. So there are a few things I’d like to rant about today in no particular order (warning: there will be a lot of italics):

The NFL (National Football League, for those of you outside the US)

Get. Your. Damn. Act. Together!

You have, by far, the most popular sport in this country. Stop your idiotic feuding and get your labor deal done. I’m looking at all of you—owners and players alike. It is horrendously stupid that there is even a problem. Owners…locking out your players? Come on! What are you, five? Grow up! Players…suggesting that top college prospects not attend the NFL Draft, a once in a lifetime event? Are you kidding me? I understand you’re trying to have some sort of solidarity, and the last thing you want is your new players shaking hands with “the enemy,” but think a little outside your own shadow. For these kids, it’s not about money or collective bargaining, it’s about the recognition of the work they’ve put in so far. And shaking hands with the enemy? The commissioner is not your enemy. The owners are not your enemy. And, commissioner and owners, the players are not your enemy. You are partners in a game. You get to be involved with something millions of Americans would love to be involved with.

And, for God’s sakes, if you want to win the fan vote, quit bitching at each other and get a deal done!

AMERICAN BASED AIRLINES

Screw you, and this whole passengers-have-to-pay-for-bags BS. This is ridiculous! Every time I see a commercial about special deals where there are reduced bag fees, or if you have this credit card your first bag is free, I want to pick up my television, and jam it down your throat. For crying out loud, can you not see how stupid this is?

“Well, it’s not fair to passenger who don’t fly with bags.” I got news for you. I seldom fly with bags if I’m going to be gone for a few days, and I still think this is dumb! When people travel they have luggage. The assumption should not be that luggage is an exception, it is the rule. The ticket price should include at least one bag, probably two. For fifty years, that was never a problem. Raise your ticket price if that’s what it takes. Charging for bags is nitpicky and makes you look cheap and obnoxious. Until this happens, it’s a pretty good bet that if Southwest is flying where I’m going, that’s the airline I’ll be on. Do you not do any PR research at all??

AT&T

Long time customer, first time (public) complainer…don’t know why it’s taken me so long.

Seriously, AT&T, I live in the middle of Los Angeles. The Middle of Los Angeles! I don’t live in a sparsely populated area. I don’t live in the mountains. I don’t live all alone in the middle of nowhere.

I live in the middle of Los Angeles.

The La Brea Tar Pits are a five minute walk from my front door. The L.A. County Museum of Art is a five minute walk from my front door. The Grove, one of the most popular malls in the city, is a five minute walk from my front door. And I can’t get a decent signal in my house? Are you kidding me???

To make a call, I have to go upstairs (I live in a townhouse), and even then, more times than not, the call gets dropped. Don’t tell me I could fix this by getting one of those home hotspot kind of things. Why should I pay even more money when getting a signal here shouldn’t even be an issue?

I live.

In the Middle.

Of Los Angeles.

Maybe you haven’t heard of it. There are, like, ten million of us in the county.

Get it together, AT&T. I don’t need excuses. I don’t really need reasons why, either. I need this problem fixed…three years ago.

Okay, that’s it. I’m done for now. I’ve got work to do, because I know the last thing I want to do is disappoint my fans/customers.

Feel free to comment or add your rant below.  

The Always Dangerous Zoë Sharp

by Brett Battles

Today it is my absolute pleasure to be interviewing our own Zoë Sharp. Her novel, FOURTH DAY, is just out in the U.S., and her follow up, FIFTH VICTIM, hits U.K. shelves March 28th. FOURTH DAY is a fantastic book, that messes around with several preconceived notions that a lot of us have. I thoroughly loved this book. Zoë has created a truly memorable protagonist in Charlie Fox, a tough, smart, talented woman. It’s no wonder that Zoë’s up for the Barry Award for Best British Novel this year!

For those of you in Arizona or California this month, and/or are attending Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe March 24th-27th, be sure to check Zoë’s tour schedule, and try to make one of her signings! 

Brett Battles: First, congratulations on the US publication of FOURTH DAY, Zoë! Since you and I split Thursdays here at Murderati, I think we might be tempting fate for both of us to appear on the same day. But, the die is cast, so let’s dive in and see what happens.

So I have to say that when I first started reading FOURTH DAY, I thought I was going to have a bone to pick with you. Here you’ve set a novel in my home state of California, and it appears that it centers around a cult! A cult! Don’t you realize we’ve been trying to shed that image for decades? But, I have to say, by the end of the book I had forgotten all about any issues I had. So first question, what led you to center a story around the cult culture?

Zoë Sharp: Thanks, Brett, and it does feel a little weird to be here on the wrong day, doesn’t it? Like we’re going to cause some kind of reality inversion …

Cults of all kinds fascinate me, the way people can have their whole belief system turned on its head. And particularly the idea I developed for Fourth Day – that you can’t be rebuilt until you’ve been broken – which was one that fitted in really well with the psyche of my main protagonist. Charlie Fox has been walking a very thin line between whole and damaged for a while now. I wanted to see what happened when that line was stretched to breaking point. Putting her undercover into a cult, having her challenge her view of herself when she already had doubts about her morality, her code of ethics – and then to have those around her begin to doubt her judgment as well. It all felt exactly right for this character at this time in her life. Basically, she’s looking for redemption.

BB: The Fourth Day organization sounded very believable. At the beginning you do a great job of instilling the cult-vibe. What kind of research did you end up doing?

ZS: A LOT of reading, and I did get to talk to a few people who had been involved in cults at one time or another, which was always invaluable for that extra bit of insight. But, as I’m sure you always find with research, you do huge amounts of it, only to discard about ninety percent. I was not intending to write a California guide book, nor an in-depth exposé of cults in general. Fourth Day is not your average kind of cult, so I knew I didn’t have to follow the rules. I was aiming for verisimilitude, an appearance of reality, rather than outright accuracy. Liberating, in its way.

BB: Any fascinating tidbits you learned that you ended up not using you could share?

ZS: Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you … Hey, do you think I could hire Jonathan Quinn to come and dispose of your body?

Erm, Brett, you’re not smiling. I was kidding, OK? Put that chair down …

I did a lot of research about the Branch Davidians in Waco and a nice little piece of info that emerged was that as well as the 75 ATF agents and 10 Texas National Guard counter-drug personnel, plus hundreds of agents from other federal agencies, there were also ten US Special Forces soldiers and two members of 22 Regiment – the British SAS – present as ‘observers’. That little fact sets off all kinds of ‘what if’ scenarios in my mind. I didn’t use it as such, but let me just say that it explains how a couple of guys who were not part of the official federal response to Fourth Day could be present and at least peripherally involved.

I also discovered that the military advisors at Waco recommended the ATF agents had their blood type written on their arms or neck after leaving the staging area and before the raid on the Mount Carmel Center compound. That was another little fact out of pages and pages of information that really stood out to me. I mean, it’s pretty chilling when you think about it. They were as good as telling these guys they were going to get badly injured enough to require blood transfusion. So I twisted it around a little and used it.

Interestingly, though, when I emailed various contacts in SWAT or law enforcement and asked how they would go about attacking or defending such a compound, everybody assumed I wanted to know from the point of view of the aggressors, not the defenders …

BB: In defense of my beloved state, why did you decide to set FOURTH DAY in California?

ZS: Yeah, I had to laugh when you said about picking a bone with me over having a cult in California as the plot of FOURTH DAY. I thought it might provoke that kind of instant reaction – or anti-reaction – which was part of the reason for writing the book. I wanted to take what might have been a same-old, same-old storyline, and put a fresh slant on it. There were various geographical factors that meant California fitted the bill as a location. I also wanted a desert area for its symbolism – Charlie walks out into the wilderness at the start of her search for some kind of self-awareness, for truth. And besides, she had spent a lot of time on the east coast – it was time she headed west for a little sunshine.

BB: What I loved about this story is how you play against preconceived notions, and twist things in unexpected ways. Was that part of the plan from the beginning? Do you rigorously plot that kind of stuff out first?

ZS: Yeah, I have to say it was part of the plan. I don’t like taking the easy way, the line of least resistance. I set a previous book – ROAD KILL – in Northern Ireland, and didn’t go down the paramilitary route. I also had Charlie joining a group of bikers as the main characters for that book – and not a meth lab in sight!

I am a plotter and an outliner I’m afraid. The first thing I write is always the flap copy. I need to know if the basic idea is strong enough to grab me, whether I can get the crux of it across in half a page, make it sound like something I’D like to read, never mind anyone else.

I like to do a basic outline, with the main points, then go over it several times, interweaving the characters and the storyline until I have something both tight and complex. The more I can get the differing strands to weave back into the whole, the stronger the story feels to me. Then I do a final outline that is just from Charlie’s POV. Writing in first-person, she can’t know anything that doesn’t come to her directly, so I like to know in advance how she discovers all the facts in as believable way as possible. I hate books that end with pages and pages of exposition to explain how everything worked out.

I know some people say that if they outline too much, it makes the story boring for them to write, because they know what’s coming next. I don’t find that at all. Instead, knowing the destination frees me up to really enjoy the journey. And knowing WHAT is about to happen is not the same as knowing exactly HOW it’s going to happen.  That’s the fun part to write.

BB: Yeah, we’re on different sides of the fence on that one. I’m one of those people who gets bored if I outline too much. But that’s what’s great about this business. No two methods are alike.

I read somewhere where you said you created Charlie Fox in a kind of response to the lack of strong female characters you saw in other stories at the time. You also mentioned that you didn’t want her to be a guy in a skirt. Well, I think I can say that you’ve certainly accomplished that. Charlie is a kick ass protagonist who is very much a woman. You push her to her limits, and definitely put her through the ringer in FOURTH DAY. I’m wondering if you set out to see how much she can take, and if you’ve ever pushed her too far and had to reel it back some…?

ZS: I grew up reading good old-fashioned thrillers, where the men were men and the women screamed or fainted a lot, or twisted their ankles at vital moments. Charlie was definitely a response to that. I wanted someone who could do her own fighting and was more likely to be in the rescue party than be in need of rescuing.

I always like to pressure-test my character. How people react under extreme circumstances so often defines them. Charlie is very cool and almost clinical in violent situations, which led one reviewer to suggest her attitude to violence bordered on casual. But that’s not it at all – she feels it, but she is professional enough to keep it buttoned down until later. It’s still not as acceptable for women to be capable of acts of violence in fiction. They are so often portrayed as victims. She has been a victim in the past, and made a decision a long time ago that she was never going to be put in that kind of position again. It’s her driving force.

Have I ever had to reel it back some? Well, there was this small torture scene in THIRD STRIKE, which was there to demonstrate how a fundamentally ‘good’ person can be pushed to do unthinkable acts in extreme situations. I thought it was actually quite lightly sketched. A bit like the shower scene in ‘Psycho’ – you think it’s real slasher stuff, but in fact you never see the knife go in. It all happens in the spaces between. So, with the scene in the book, there’s no gleeful wading through gore – I don’t do gratuitous violence – but it was quite a disturbing scene. My US editor made me take out the one paragraph that described what was actually happening, and I think she was quite right. Like that shower scene, you get the full picture in the spaces between the words.

BB: FOURTH DAY is your eighth Charlie Fox novel, and the ninth, FIFTH VICTIM, will be out in the UK this month, with a Charlie Fox short story, ‘Off Duty’ available as a bonus download. How do you go about keeping the series fresh for yourself? Or is that even an issue?

ZS: ‘Off Duty’ was written as a filler story that happens between the events of SECOND SHOT and THIRD STRIKE. In fact, there’s a very small reference to it in THIRD STRIKE, if you read closely enough! I like to come back to ideas from short stories and weave them in. One of the characters from a short called ‘Postcards From Another Country’ which I wrote for the mass market paperback US edition of FIRST DROP pops up again in FIFTH VICTIM, for instance. Things like that all help to keep things fresh.

You have a choice when you begin to write a series. You can either keep the main character unchanging or you can progress them as the series develops. I chose to progress Charlie as the books go on, so there is always a new personal challenge for her to face. Each book has a journey for the character as well as the main sequence of the plot. Tying the two together makes for a more complex and – I hope – ultimately a more satisfying read.

BB: When will the FIFTH VICTIM be available in the states?

ZS: Pegasus Books, who publish FOURTH DAY, will be bringing out FIFTH VICTIM next year. I’ve already seen the proposed cover for the US edition, and it’s stunning.

BB: Are you sticking strictly with Charlie, or have you considered writing a book or even series with other characters?

ZS: I keep trying out new characters in short story form. I have a lot of ideas buzzing around in my head, and I’ve had a supernatural thriller bubbling away in the back of my mind for years. I think it would make a great novel, or graphic novel, or a screenplay. One day, I’ll get around to writing it – maybe even as a collaboration …

BB: You’ve written elsewhere that the most influential book you read growing up was BLACK BEAUTY. Is there also one you could describe as the most influential book you’ve read as an adult? If so, what is it?

ZS: It’s quite true about BLACK BEAUTY. It was a book that changed attitudes and laws in Victorian England – for the better. What greater legacy could a writer wish for? But the most influential book I’ve read as an adult? Hmm, that’s a difficult one. Possibly THE RUBÁIYÁT OF OMAR KHAYYÁM or simply THE CHAMBERS DICTIONARY.

BB: Major congratulations are in order for your Barry Award nomination for Best British Novel! So tell us, how did you find out, and what was your first reaction?

ZS: I had an email from Judy Bobalik with the shortlists, which was amazing. I love the way an email can turn up out of the blue and make you smile all day. My first reaction, looking at the other authors, was that I’m the rank outsider! But at least I get to bask in the reflected glory until the results are announced at Bouchercon in September.

I’d only just got the news that the ITW book of essays, THRILLERS: 100 MUST READS, was up for an Edgar Award in the Best Critical Biographical category. I was one of many contributors, who must all be thrilled (no pun intended) to be nominated.

BB: And, finally, the “what can we expect next” question. So, Zoë, we know that FIFTH VICTIM is almost out in the UK and will be coming to the US next, but what about after that? What can your readers expect after that?

ZS: I’m already into the next Charlie Fox book, which is set in New Orleans. And, incidentally, a character mentioned in ‘Served Cold’, which appeared in the A HELL OF A WOMAN anthology, has found his way into the new book. We visited New Orleans last summer, when we were staying with Toni McGee Causey, and it’s a fascinating place, with a real split personality. I like the experience of light and dark, and if you can get that from a location, it adds so much to the tone of the story. Rest assured that she won’t be there simply to enjoy Mardi Gras and eat crawfish …

BB: Thanks, Zoë!

ZS: Brett, it’s been a pleasure. And hey, I like what you’ve done with the space. Looks different from this side. Next time, you come over to my place and we’ll talk about THE SILENCED.

BB: Sounds like a plan! All right, all, feel free to ask some questions in the comments section. Though I’m told she’ll be a bit jetlagged, Zoë’s promised to check in as much as possible. Let the commenting begin!

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