Today I have the pleasure to present the author who spent four years of his life in Iran and England, and has traveled and worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Allen Kent wrote the popular Unit 1 thriller series, the Whitlock Trilogy of historical fiction, and a number of other mysteries and thrillers.
You have described The Shield of Darius as the novel that launched your popular “Unit 1” series of international thrillers. Can you explain what you mean by that?
The Shield of Darius was initially written to be a stand-alone novel. But I immediately began to get questions from readers about what happened to the Unit 1 people, members of a deep cover group of maverick agents within the US intelligence community that essentially “cleans up” messes that are too sensitive for the more visible agencies to deal with. Readers enjoyed Fisher and Nita and wanted to know about their next adventure. So I felt compelled to write The Weavers of Meanchey, then the other three Unit 1 thrillers that now make up the series.
One of the reviewers of “Darius” wrote “this may be the ideal Allen Kent starter book. Be prepared for a powerful story with scenarios almost too realistic. You know the kind of things Mr Kent writes about could happen (and maybe already have?) but the situations can be shocking. Also be forewarned good guys do not always finish first or even survive!” Can you comment on the “good guys do not always finish first or even survive” observation?
There are really two parts to this answer. First, I see every character as having both admirable attributes and flaws. so sometimes it's hard to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys. In this novel, it’s difficult not to have something of a “love-hate” relationship with a couple of the characters. Secondly, as the reviewer said, I try to write about security situations or threats that are potentially very real. And in reality, everyone involved in addressing these crises faces real danger. Some survive. Some are destroyed by them. Whether they make it is mainly a reflection of what they are doing and when.
Several earlier readers of “Darius” noted that it seems to have a more intimate, personal character to it than some of the later Unit 1 novels. Is there any basis for that observation?
That’s a pretty astute observation. Although I always write about places I know reasonably well, there are some semi-biographical segments of this novel that must show through. I lived in the Middle East during my high school years and served as a pilot in the Air Force during the Vietnam conflict. Some of the episodes in Darius were written looking through the eyes of those experiences. I also spent a few years living in the northeast part of England and can very easily get lost in writing description of the English countryside, one of the most picturesque places in the world.
You make a point of emphasizing that, as a former educator, you always want your novel—even the thrillers—to teach. How does that show up in “The Shield of Darius?”
There’s a great quote from Emily Dickenson that says, “There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away." When people finish one of my books, I want them to know more about the world and its people, better understand some of the complex issues that face our time, and have a sense that they could visit one of the places I describe and think, “I believe I’ve been here before.” That doesn’t always work. I have a zinger of a review from a reader of Darius, a close friend in fact, who thought I was unfair to a group described in the novel. I think I simply described them as fairly as I could, and believe she wasn’t interested in an objective description.
I believe you have two other books featured this month via free, one-day promotions. What are they and when can readers expect to see free offers?
On the 19th of June, a favorite domestic mystery, “Backwater,” will have a one-day free promo. It involves a kidnapping in which a young girl’s father with mob connections tells the kidnappers he will put out a contract on them for the requested ransom amount if the girl isn’t back within 24 hours. It has remained one of my top-ranked sellers. The second, promoted for free on the 20th will appeal to Dan Brown fans. It’s a thriller based on discovery of an ancient letter that gives credibility to the Christian Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. While religious scholars try to obtain and publish the letter, the "Guardians of the Second Son" work to keep it secret. I think readers who enjoy page-turning action and unexpected twists of plot will find both exciting reads. They can find summaries and links to the books at my website.
Please share an excerpt from “Darius” with us.
Ben’s mind awoke before his body. He felt only pain. Sharp explosions bursting between his temples. He cracked open his eyes and squinted dizzily at the white, mildew-spotted ceiling above him. With each throb, the ceiling seemed to sag downward, then retreat. Sag. Retreat. His gut twisted into a cramped spasm and he swallowed hard to keep from retching, gagging on his thick, pasty tongue. The room was musty. Smothering. He closed his eyes again and struggled to capture a complete thought, but found only images. The castle ruin above him on the hill. PJ on the tumbled stone wall.
Feeling a swollen tenderness behind his left ear, Ben wondered fleetingly if he had fallen from the wall himself, and was in one of those colorless London hospitals he had seen in the city. The pain forced life into his other senses and he focused on sounds, finding the irregular drone of distant traffic. This must be London. He struggled again for images, piecing them together until they suddenly coalesced into a memory, capturing the frantic woman in the woods and the race to the van.
As the memory developed, a pressure in Ben’s chest grew with it, crushing him downward until he could barely suck in a breath. He wanted to groan but as the sound formed, he choked it back, realizing he may not be alone. Letting his lids droop shut, he concentrated again on sounds, straining to discriminate voices from the general din beyond the room. More honking than usual in the grumble of distant traffic. Rush hour. In another direction, the faint clatter of metal against metal. Pans or garbage cans.
Suddenly Ben’s nose intervened, sending a jolt of olfactory electricity to his brain that caromed wildly about, searching for meaning, then shot to his heart with a surge that charged it into furious pounding. It was not a solitary smell that sparked Ben’s memory, but a mixture of odors that were more vivid than sight or sound. Not the sour-sharp blend of sickness and antiseptic that meant hospital, but a faint acrid odor of fetid water mixed with raw sewage. Strong spices favoring garlic that lingered in the air after a meal was cleared. Earthen buildings that smelled of damp clay, even when dry, and the sour tang of sweat from men and animals. And diesel fumes. A sky full of diesel fumes spewed from the tail pipes of a thousand Mercedes taxis and red double-decked buses. The smell was as distinctive as a signature. Ben Sager was back in the Middle East.
Books links (in the same series):
Today I have the pleasure to present the award-winning and bestselling author of eleven novels. Danielle Girard writes gripping medical thrillers. Her books have won the Barry Award and the RT Reviewers' Choice Award, and two of her titles have been optioned for movies.
Why did you choose the crime thriller genre?
I’ve always loved the life and death stakes of the suspense genre; you can’t have more on the line than you do facing a killer. That makes the stories naturally engaging and fast-paced, my favorite kind. I have a VERY worst-case scenario imagination. If there's something terrible that could happen, I've already worked out how. I find that writing about those fears is cathartic. I'm also drawn to the darkness of the genre. People are sometimes surprised by the darkness in the books because I'm definitely not a dark person. Don't judge a book by its cover. J
The other piece of the genre that appeals to me is police and investigators. I have tremendous respect for law enforcement. They literally have the toughest job. Well, maybe the president. That would be impossible, too. But to go out every day and know you might get shot and to have to react in a split second and not make a mistake—because an error means a life… Wow. That's so intense.
There's so much controversy today over how the police manage things, and there’s no question that the mistakes and abuse in the system need to be addressed. At the same time, it's such a demanding, stressful job. I feel like when you get down to why someone would choose police work as a career—in the vast majority of cases—it's got to be to help people.
How would you describe your writing process?
The first hundred pages are the hardest. Everything is set up in those chapters—the protagonist, the supporting cast, the mystery, the dynamics. These first pages take the majority of my time. I do a lot of staring out the window. And I'm always writing down little nuggets. I keep notebooks everywhere!! And I encourage other writers to do the same. In particular, keep a pen and paper by your bed, since the best ideas always seem to come as you’re falling asleep. Your mind relaxes and that in-between stage can be magical for brainstorming.
In the beginning, I compile those ideas, create some spreadsheets because I'm weird that way, AND, most importantly, I stumble through a thousand words of writing each day. Many of those might get cut, but even if I'm writing backstory or character information, it's still worthwhile.
Sound painful? It can be. Like moving one inch forward then two feet backward. But, if you can get those first hundred pages right, it’s all there. After that, it comes to writing every day, since it can be hard to get back into the flow if I let the story sit, even for a day.
Do you ever base characters on real people?
I've never based a character on someone specific, but I think the characters are probably a collage of people I know or have met. It would be hard to create characters without stealing traits from real people as a guide—how else would I know where to start? Beyond that, many—if not all—of my characters also include a sliver of my own personality, or someone I would like to be.
Which of your books is your favorite, or the one that you’re most proud of?
The most recent book is always my favorite. Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. I’ve reached the 10,000 hour-mark in my writing career and I think that shows with each new book.
In this case, that is book 4 of the Dr. Schwartzman Series, EXPIRE. If readers are unfamiliar with the series, they might want to start with book 1, EXHUME. I’m extremely proud of the whole series and I loved the process of getting to research the life of a medical examiner. I was fortunate enough to have access to a real-life ME who answered all my strange and bizarre questions.
So, the latest book is my best work. Well, my best work so far, but I am working on a new one due out July of 2020…
Do you read reviews of your books? Do they affect you?
Yes, I read them and I hate them. The fact is that the most successful books in the marketplace, the ones that people are drawn to, receive the strongest reactions, and they’re not all positive. If you’re writing material that some people really love, the chances are that someone else is going to really hate it. The truth is you just can’t let those reviews affect how you write. Constructive reviews can be helpful on a purely mechanical level, but stylistic ones are so subjective that you can’t let them bother you.
That said, the bad ones still sting. They always will.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Despite what people think, there’s nothing sexy or romantic about being a writer. Writing a book is like exercising—everyone wants to do it once and see the result but it's really about consistency and making it a habit. If you do put in the work, eventually you’ll get the reward, but it’s a long slog. No one starts off knowing how to write well.
At the beginning of my career, when I was still working in finance, I wrote three suspense novels, which I sent to agents and editors. This was back when we mailed query letters at the post office. I got a lot of rejections.
One rejection on the first book, “Murders and Acquisitions,” said something along the lines of, "The title is great. The rest is not." I probably don't need to tell you that none of those books sold. They're permanently "buried in the backyard," as I like to put it. That's okay. Whether it was stubbornness or sheer stupidity, I kept writing. Sent a book out, collected rejection letters while I was starting the next one. Rinse and repeat.
The only way to get better is to write. Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers suggests that gaining expertise takes 10,000 hours. I think he's right. I've spent that much time writing now. So, you want to be a writer? Get your 10,000 hours.
The other thing about this business is that you’re going to have to deal with rejection. From the industry, from fans, and occasionally from a less-than-tactful friend. You can’t stop for any of that. Your job is to write. When you’re done with book one, write another book. Worst case scenario (or best-case scenario, depending on how you look at it) you’ll have 3 or 4 books ready to sell when you land that perfect agent. But you can’t give up. The only way to guarantee you’ll never make it is to quit.
It helps to have people in your life who help you keep going. I’ve had the good fortune of being with my husband for 25 years, and he’s been an incredible and encouraging foundation. Being a writer involves a lot of jumping and trusting you’ll land somewhere safe, so it is important to surround yourself with people who will support the process, even if they don’t understand it.
Bestselling Author of
And other books
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a new friend and the author of psychological thrillers. Jenifer Ruff is an avid fitness enthusiast and hiker. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her family and a pack of greyhounds.
Tell us a little about your books.
My primary genre is thriller—psychological and medical. My books deal with contemporary issues—ISIS, human trafficking, social media—and all are dark and twisty. My books contain no sex and no swearing, but a variety of disturbed characters stay quite busy plotting sinister activities as they go about otherwise normal routines.
What is your latest thriller about?
I have a new thriller series featuring FBI Agent Victoria Heslin. The Numbers Killer just came out this week and will appeal to fans of the Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn as well as serial killer favorites like The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and The Bone Collector by Jeffrey Deaver. And you’ll never view odd numbers the same way again. Here’s a taste of what’s inside:
When a key witness in an organized crime trial turns up dead in his kitchen with liar and the number two scrawled on his forehead, the FBI assumes the murder was a hit to silence him. Then the calls start coming in—more victims with similar markings and no connection to the mob.
As agents Victoria Heslin and Dante Rivera struggle to catch a break in the case, they receive a series of cryptic, personal messages from the killer, complicating the investigation. Something disturbing and frightening is underway, and anyone might be next, including the agents, unless they uncover the common denominator.
Book two in the series, Pretty Little Girls, will be published in the fall of 2019.
Readers have commented that your books have strong but flawed female characters. Can you talk about that?
When my main character, Victoria Heslin, was younger, her mother was kidnapped for ransom and died in the hands of her captors. After a stretch of feeling afraid and powerless, Victoria became an FBI agent. She now has the training and confidence to take care of herself as well as others. Victoria has an easier time relating to and having compassion for her animals than she does with people, but she’s working on that.
The Brooke Walton series features a brilliant, confident, and disciplined medical student, but there’s so much more to her than what meets the eye. I don’t want to spoil the twists for future readers, but she has a very dark side.
My goal with every book is to create fascinating characters that readers don’t want to look away from. I strive to make the psychopathic, delusional, and brainwashed captivating, but also as real and as relatable as possible. I give them admirable traits and strong motivating factors. They might be psychologically disturbed, but most of them are also strong, independent, and have a slew of skills and accomplishments. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want any of them in my real world, but I hope readers enjoy having a glimpse into their lives as much as I’ve enjoyed creating them.
Tell us a little about yourself. What parts of your life make it into your books?
When I’m not writing, I like to be at the gym or hiking with my dogs. I’m an animal lover and dog adopter and rescuer, a mother of three sons, a volunteer in the community and school system, an expert at yard work and cleaning house, and a national debate and speech judge. Dogs and workouts have made it into my books, but not much else in them resembles my everyday life.
You do a lot of book signings, interviews, speaking and personal appearances. How can readers find out about your events and new releases?
I have done a lot of interviews and book club appearances in the past, but only when I’m invited. Book clubs are the best. Everyone has already read the book and they have interesting questions. I love hearing my characters discussed as if they were real people. But the vast majority of my sales are from ebooks and audio books and that’s where I focus most of my time and marketing efforts, which is nice because I can do it all without having to get dressed up. To find out about my events, new books, and exciting giveaways, readers can follow me using the links below or on my website: Jenruff.com
Chaos at Crescent City Medical Center (Alexandra Destephano Medical Thriller)
The Case of Dr. Dude (The Michaela McPherson Crime series)
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a great friend and the author of numerous medical thrillers. Dr. Judith Lucci has spent her life saving lives and taking care of people, most of them strangers. She's a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia. She's a doctorally prepared nurse who has practiced clinically for years. She's worked as a bedside nurse, a clinical nurse specialist, a hospital educator, a hospital administrator and college professor. Judith has run hospitals and consulted to them. She's even been around to figure out the best way to build hospitals for maximum efficiency for caregivers and patients. She is a Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon best-selling author, and the award-winning author of the Alexandra Destephano Medical Thriller and the Michaela McPherson Crime series.
Judith, you’ve written leadership and medical-surgical textbooks, done tons of research and had over a hundred academic publications in your name. Please tell us about the joy of writing suspense thrillers.
In my years of clinical practice, I’ve learned that there's never "one best way" to do anything.
So now, in my semi-retirement, I contemplate how to kill as many people as I can in a single book and leave as little evidence as possible. I'm not a big believer in bullets... then I have to check blood splatter, and bullet trajectory. Rather, I like killing people in much more creative ways. I rely on her medical background to plan my murders.
You have so many literary achievements, Tell us about your series.
My newest medical thriller series, Sonia Amon MD is featured in the book Do No Harm, a collection of seventeen medical thrillers. I hope to release three Sonia Amon MD books this fall.
Alexandra Destephano Novels include Chaos at Crescent City Medical Center, The Imposter, Viral Intent: Terror in New Orleans, and Toxic New Year: The Day that Would Never End, and Evil: Finding St. Germaine
Michaela McPherson Novels include The Case of Dr. Dude, The Case of the Dead Dowager, The Case of the Man Overboard, and The Case of the Very Dead Lawyer.
My Artzy Chicks Cozy Mysteries feature a group of eccentric, talented but zany artists in their Art Gallery at a Mountain Resort in Virginia. The series includes The Most Wonderful Crime of the Year and The Most Awfullest Crime of the Year.
My books have won multiple Gold and Silver medals and many amazing Indie book awards. Each of my current books has been #1 in their genre in the Amazon Kindle Book store. My advice to new authors is to build their backlist and learn to understand Amazon.
Tell us about your favorite things.
My favorite things are reading, writing, art and animals. In my spare time I teach painting, love animals and raise money for needy causes. I live with my family and my four dogs and one cat in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
I love to connect with my readers on Facebook and am available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check our my website and sign-up for a free copy of Chaos at Crescent City Medical Center.
Please give us a taste of your upcoming thriller.
Three stun grenades were simultaneously tossed through bunkhouse windows. The flashbangs temporarily disoriented the terrorists sleeping in the building and allowed the Delta Force operators considerable advantage. The operatives aggressively entered through two doors and shot through several windows. Most of the sleeping terrorists were immediately killed. A firefight broke out, but within minutes, Delta Force exited the building. Not one terrorist remained alive.
Five American operators entered the Emir’s residence. Using hand signals, they cleared the first floor and quickly climbed to the second floor where, once again, they used a flashbang grenade to stun and neutralize Faisal’s bodyguards. Several minutes later, they were on the third floor of the residence where Faisal slept. The operators neutralized three additional bodyguards. They searched for the Emir. His bed, though slept in, was empty. Emir Faisal Muhammed wasn’t there.
Two operators raced to the roof and saw Faisal at the far edge. Their plan to take the man alive was going south. The operatives sprinted toward him just as he jumped off the three-story roof. The two Americans stared at the ground. “His neck is broken,” the first man said. “He’s dead.” The men quickly exited as the sound of nearby gunfire directed their attention to their comrades. They could see automatic weapons flare from the woods behind the Emir’s house.
The first operator cursed under his breath. “What the hell is going on? Where’s the gunfire coming from? We only know about three buildings.”
The second operator shrugged. “Yeah. I don’t know. Let’s get the hell out of here. We need to recon with the others.”
Judith Lucci, PhD., RN
WSJ Best Selling Author
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Susan Mills Wilson
Today I have the pleasure of presenting an author of suspense novels and short stories, who is also an avid blogger on a wide range of topics. Susan Mills Wilson is the leader of the Charlotte Writers Club Mystery Critique Group and a board member of Charlotte Writers Club. Much of her research on law enforcement for her suspense novels is derived from her participation in three citizen police academies where she was given a certificate of completion, but thankfully no gun or shield.
What inspired you to write Twisted Fate?
I wanted a story about a person wrongly accused of a crime who finds a way to seek justice. I use a tornado to help artist Brody Trent escape house arrest and go on the hunt for the real suspect. And because I am a romantic at heart, it was only natural to put a beautiful woman in his path. She turns her initial distrust into empathy.
What was your biggest challenge in writing this story?
The character of Sarah is an insecure, woman-child, desperately seeking love and approval. My biggest challenge was showing her so vulnerable, readers would care deeply when she is manipulated and abused by others.
You write in detail about the tornado which Brody experienced. Is this from personal experience?
No, although I have made it through two hurricanes without injury or serious loss. For this story, I read numerous articles, watched videos of tornados, and listened to first-hand accounts by survivors.
Is there anything in Twisted Fate drawn from your personal life or experience?
The setting of the low country, around Charleston, South Carolina, is very familiar to me. I love the area and visit it often since I have family there. Another thing dear to my heart is the dogs mentioned in the story. Brody’s love interest is a veterinarian with a passion for animals. I am a big dog lover and suffered the loss of my golden retriever a short time before writing this story. In the book, the dog named Daisy is a tribute to my beloved pet.
Despite the serious nature of your stories, you include minor characters for comedy relief. Is that true of this book?
Yes, I have two unique characters. One is Brody Trent’s friend, nicknamed Marley for his similarity to the famous reggae singer. His spirited interactions with Brody in a Jamaican dialect lighten the serious mood. There is another character called Fuzzy, an older man who resembles Santa in a Hawaiian shirt and sandals.
Linda Lee Greene
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a multi-award-winning author and artist, Linda Lee Greene. Her writing style is influenced by her artistic background: “…each well-chosen word is a masterful brushstroke in her rich and expressive novels…,” states a reviewer, incorporating “characters that literally jump off the page.” Drawn from her extensive research into the topics relevant to her multi-layered stories, she blends fact and fiction seamlessly in her cross-genre novels. Greene is the mother of two adult children and the grandmother of two grandsons. She lives and works in the Central Ohio area of the United States.
What was your inspiration for writing Cradle of the Serpent, which a reviewer describes as “told from varying viewpoints in varying states of existence and so becomes quite unique and utterly fascinating?”
Cradle of the Serpent is the story of a woman’s search for the truth behind her husband’s infidelity, a pursuit that unearths dark secrets and monstrous circumstances, but in the end illuminates her path to a new and better life.
I didn’t realize it until I was well into the story, but in important ways it is an exploration of my own marriage, or at least, of lingering issues that haunted me, and for which I needed to find—no—for which I needed to author their closures. While the particulars of the marriage in the novel are different than that of my own, the act of writing it was healing for me in a way nothing else has been. Your readers might appreciate knowing that in 2018 it won the position as a Finalist in the American Fiction Awards cross-genre category.
I am intrigued by the “monstrous circumstances.” I don’t want you to give the story away, but do you mind sharing a little bit of that aspect of it with us?
The husband and his mistress in the novel are victims of gunshots—I won’t reveal the circumstances here—which leaves him paralyzed permanently from his shoulders down, and her dead. My secondary motivation for writing the story, Uvi, is my admiration for the deceased actor, Christopher Reeve, our truly enduring Superman on screen and in real life. Your readers will remember that he was left a quadriplegic after having been thrown from a horse. The marriage between Christopher and his wife, Dana is one of the great love stories of all time, and I wanted to put my female protagonist (Lily) to some of the same tests I imagine Dana faced as a result of Christopher’s incapacity for the rest of his life. I didn’t know whether or not my Lily would meet Dana’s standard. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know the answer until I wrote the last chapter of the book, which came to me of its own accord with no pre-planning on my part at all. It simply broke through the complexity of the story like a sapling bursting through earth’s deep crust. I was utterly surprised by it. I love it when my stories surprise me to such a degree.
Jumping into a subject like quadriplegia is a super-sized challenge, Linda. How did you manage it?
I read both of Christopher Reeves books on the topic. I visited libraries and read other books and magazine articles. I listened in on online discussions among people dealing with paralysis. I studied medical reports and journals. I researched the subject matter for several months before I felt competent enough to include it in my novel.
That doesn’t surprise me at all, Linda, based on the fact that you are admired widely for your detective skills in the area of researching and your talent for bringing your findings to your books. You must enjoy that facet of the work.
Conducting research is one of my favorite writing tasks. I almost salivate at the prospect of tackling the investigation required for new subjects that capture me. I have much of Arthur Conan Doyle in me, I think. I wonder if my ancestry would link me to him?! I have recently completed a novel set during World War II, which is based on a true story. I plan to publish it later this year or early next year. World War II is a centerpiece of some of your work too, Uvi, therefore, you know firsthand about the hour upon hour of study required for such a project. I am also about halfway finished with another World War II novel.
Please come back and visit us again when your first World War II novel is released, Linda. Do you have a title for it yet?
It is titled Searching for Solomon. Thank you for the invitation to come back, Uvi, and thank you as well for giving me the opportunity to convey to your readers some tidbits about one of my current novels. Cradle of the Serpent is available in eBook and soft cover at online booksellers such as Barnes & Noble, iBooks, GoogleBooks, BooksAMillion and others.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing a medical thriller author. In his writing, Timothy Browne, MD leans on his experiences as an orthopedic surgeon and medical missionary. He and his family have traveled the world with mission groups such as Mercy Ships and Hope Force International.
Please tell me about your book, Maya Hope.
Dr. Nicklaus Hart is a gifted trauma surgeon searching for meaning in his life. His self-reliant spirit is broken with the death of his missionary best friend, found sacrificed at the base of a Maya Temple. Going to Guatemala to fill the shoes of his friend at the mission hospital, he discovers God’s redemption and peace in the smiles of the children he cares for. But his own life is in danger as he and his team stumble onto a deadly North Korean plot.
Wow, what inspired that story?
I love writing inspirational fiction. Serving in both Guatemala and North Korea, I knew what amazing setting these places would make. Plus, with my years as a medical missionary, some of the people and stories that we encountered are more astonishing than what I could come up with my own imagination. So I use many of these real-life stories (fictionalized, of course) in my writing. In Maya Hope, you’ll meet, Isebella, one of these young patients. So many people around the world go without medical care. Isabella was one of those that was born with clubfeet and never was treated, so her feet kept turning in until she literally walked in on the tops of her feet.
You were able to perform surgery on her feet?
Yes. It took a team of us, but a year later we visited Isabella and her family in the high jungles of Guatemala. She’d hoped for two things: to be able to wear shoes and to go to school with the other children. It was amazing to see her doing both and having recovered so well. We found that when we got there, her three-year-old sister also had clubfeet and we packed her up and took her to the hospital to fix her feet that week.
So you have been a medical missionary?
I am an orthopaedic surgeon and practiced in Montana for five to six years, doing mostly trauma and sports medicine. A good friend of ours asked my wife and me to go to Guatemala on a mission trip, and it changed our lives in a huge way. We basically cried for most of the week as we saw this incredible need for medical care. Because we were there to do basic medical care and not surgery, treatment of one little baby haunted me. A very young mother brought the newborn in, wrapped in many blankets. As I unwrapped this beautiful little Guatemalan baby, it was super healthy except for syndactyly of the hands. The fingers were all stuck together like mitts. There are all kinds of syndactyly, but this particular child had the simplest form…basically webbing between the fingers. It would have been easy to correct surgically, but we had no supplies or a facility to do the surgery. It broke my heart. We came home, sold everything, gathered supplies and went. We have been so blessed to serve in many places around the world.
When you wrote Maya Hope, did you have any idea that North Korea would be front and center in the news? You have actually been to North Korea?
When I started Maya Hope, six years ago, I had no idea how pertinent the book would be today. Yes, I was asked to go to North Korea in 2000 with a mission’s organization that was responding to the news that over two million people had died of starvation. It was a medical team that went, and I must say of all the places I’ve been in the world, North Korea was one of the most fascinating, but challenging. Many of the stories you’ll read in Maya Hope, although fictionalized are true-to-life. When we were picked up from the airport, a young woman in a military uniform got on the bus and “welcomed” us to North Korea. She started with praise for the leaders of the country and then went into all the ways that the DPRK would destroy the fascist American pigs. What a way to start a trip! Because they knew that myself and one of the other physicians were orthopedic surgeons, they took us to the hospital to show the local surgeons performing a hip replacement. The poor patient was laid out on an archaic operating table with an incision that is never used and an ancient style hip replacement that was going to be implanted. Of course, I will never know, but I imagined that the patient came straight from one of the labor camps.
Besides North Korea, what is another one of the hardest places you’ve served?
That’s easy. I was in Haiti three days after the massive earthquake. We ended up at one of the few remaining hospitals in Port-au-Prince and were faced with unbelievable devastation…lines and lines of broken and battered people. Plus, the fact that the hospital had no electricity, no water…nothing. It was truly like the worst of battlefield medicine. This experience is the foundation in writing the second book of the Dr. Hart Series, The Tree of Life.
What else would you like your readers to know about you?
My real claim to fame is that I flunked second grade. I couldn’t or wouldn’t read…so every time I can share about my writing it’s a victory…yes? I’m severely dyslexic. I think my parents were just as surprised when I began writing. In fact, I ran into an old friend the other day that knew how I struggled in English, especially spelling, and he said, “You must use spellcheck a LOT.” I’m currently just finished my fourth novel, Larimer Street—isn’t that God’s restoration!
How can people find out more information on your books or you?
Any final words you’d like to add, Dr. Tim?
I absolutely love to hear from my readers. Writing is super hard, and I am so blessed by the encouragement from people. One of the things that I have realized is life can be tough on all of us. We need to discover where we can find hope. I thank my readers for allowing me to tell His stories…stories of redemption, restoration, provision and of course the greatest of all…love.
Today I have the pleasure of introducing a talented medical suspense author, Edwin Dasso, MD. Ed is an Amazon #1 Best-Selling medical thriller author, writes works of fiction that leverage many of his "stranger than fiction" experiences from years of practice at major medical centers and community hospitals.
Where did the character Jack Bass come from?
Well, honestly, he’s probably my alter ego…except for the compassionate part. I like to think he and I share compassion and empathy for our fellow man. He’s the “take no lip” kind of personality, though, that stands up for what he thinks is right. Especially when it comes to protecting the innocent, downtrodden or vulnerable.
Were you concerned that readers might be put off by a doctor who responds to bad people the way he does?
A little. But I hoped that, once people got to know Jack, understand him, understand how he’s gotten to where he is emotionally that they’d identify with him. I think that’s happening – readers talk about how much they love him and feel bad when he has a hard time. He doesn’t ever look for trouble – it seems to find him. Many have said they’d love to meet a doctor like him.
Jack seems to be uncomfortable w/ forming a relationship w/ Lori – why is that?
I let out hints of that throughout the series about Jack’s relationship hesitancy. Let’s just say his character didn’t have a pleasant childhood. His mother, the most important person of his youth, was killed right in front of him by someone that makes the trauma of that event even worse. As an adult, he’s afraid to let himself feel love for a woman for fear he’ll feel that searing pain of loss again.
Here's pic of Wid doing a pilot script read-thru w/ some actors (that's supposed to be Afghanistan on the background screen).
Here's pic of Wid doing a pilot script read-thru w/ some actors (that's supposed to be Afghanistan on the background screen).
Where does inspiration for your stories come from?
Believe it or not, reality. It can often outdo anything I could dream up! I take a lot of my personal experiences, enhance them and weave them into a tale that I hope is engaging and enjoyable for readers.
He seems like a cat w/ 9 lives - how long will Jack survive his black cloud?
I don’t know. He’s had a lot of close calls already. I tried implying his death once and readers didn’t like it. I had an uproar on my hands! At this point, I guess he’s gotta survive until, hopefully, we can get the TV series we’re pitching in Hollywood on the air. Then, who knows?
For now, let me share this pic of a pilot script read-thru with actors, against the background screen of Afghanistan.
Please share an excerpt with us.
Jack looked down the length of the barrel and quickly noted Lori’s emerald green eye focusing on him over the sights of the pistol. He let out a large, long sigh.
“Jesus Christ, you scared the hell out of me!” They spoke in unison, then stared at each other a couple of seconds before they burst out in laughter. Lori lowered the gun, released the hammer, and replaced the Model 1911 Colt .45 in the holster she wore on her web belt.
“Jesus, Lori! You’re packing heat?” Jack asked.
Lori rolled her eyes.
“Jack, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in an active combat zone…and I’m a woman. If anyone gets close enough to touch me, I’m probably pretty much done for.” She patted the pistol. “This is what keeps them from getting that close.”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “You know how to use that thing…?”
“Yes, Jack! I’m a girl, but I know how to shoot a pistol. I’ve shot competitively since I was a young teenager, and any time you want to challenge me to a match—”
“Okay, okay, got it. I didn’t mean to insult you.” Jack held up both hands in a placating gesture.
“Where’s your sidearm? You should be wearing it any time you’re away from the main camp.” She put her hands on her hips. “Please don’t tell me you’re one of the ‘Hawkeye Pierce’ types.”
Jack blushed and looked at the ground. “No...I’m not. I grew up around guns, too, but…I’m not a big fan of them.” He looked straight into her eyes. “I may just take you up on that shooting match someday, though.”
He stood poker-faced for several seconds before finally winking at her and flashing a grin. A smile crept onto her face as she shook her head. Jack couldn’t remember noticing the brilliance of her smile on those infrequent occasions he’d seen her smile while working together; she’d always struck him as a very intense person.
“Any time, Jack, any time. But don’t get mad when I beat you.”
“As far as being unarmed, this is my first active theater deployment. I guess I’m just not thinking in those terms yet, but, yeah, you’re right, I should be wearing my Beretta.”
“Yep…but enough said about that.” She raised an eyebrow inquisitively. “So, what brings you out here to the wilderness?”
Before he could answer, she turned and moved back to where she’d previously been seated against a tree.
“Oh, uh…I just needed a little alone time after all the bullshit over the past couple of days.” He paused as he kicked at a stick near his foot. “When I was a kid, I always went for walks in the woods when I needed to get away from…stuff.”
Audrey J. Cole
Today I have the pleasure to introduce a talented author who is a registered nurse. Audrey J. Cole writes thrillers set in Seattle. After living in Australia for the last five years, Audrey has moved back to the Pacific Northwest where she lives with her husband and two children.
What inspired you to write The Summer Nanny?
I got the idea for this novella a couple years ago when I was a new mother. I was home alone with my baby one night, and I checked the video feed on her monitor while she was sleeping. At the time, I didn’t know the monitor initially displayed the last image it had shown. So, when I turned on the monitor, the screen showed hands in my baby’s crib. It scared me for a moment until the screen changed to its live feed, and I realized the hands it had shown had been my hands in her crib earlier that evening. After taking a deep breath, I thought That would make a great book!
The Summer Nanny is the third book in your Emerald City Thriller series. Can it also be read as a standalone?
Yes, definitely. The Summer Nanny is an action-packed novella that can be read at any point in the series, or as an introduction to the Emerald City Thrillers. So far, I’ve written all the Emerald City Thrillers so they can be read as standalones or as part of the series. The characters do carry over between books, but each book is its own complete story.
Your Emerald City Thrillers are all set in Seattle, but you were living in Australia when you wrote the first two books in this series. Do those books have any Australian components?
They do. There are some subtle references to Australia in The Recipient, the first book in the series. In the second, Inspired by Murder, the antagonist is an Australian living in Seattle, and I take the story to Australia for part of the book.
Although there are medical themes in some of your books, what attracted you to write in the crime thriller genre as a registered nurse?
I love reading true crime as well as fictional crime and psychological thrillers. I’m a huge fan of Ann Rule, who wrote true crime books that mostly took place in the Seattle area. Although my books are fiction, some of them are inspired by true crime events. I got the idea for The Recipient after reading an article about a death row inmate in Oregon who petitioned to donate his organs after execution. Inspired by Murder is loosely based on the crimes of Robert Durst. I try to take what I loved about Ann Rule’s books and blend those aspects into fictional stories with a Seattle backdrop. As an author, I think it’s important to write what you love.
Thanks, Uvi, for having me onto your blog!
My pleasure Audrey!
The Summer Nanny is available for pre-order and will be released on April 16.
Robert I. Katz
And numerous mystery and science-fiction novels
Today I have the pleasure to present a talented author of medical thrillers and science fiction. Robert I. Katz grew up on Long Island, in a pleasant, suburban town about 30 miles from New York City. He loved to read from a very early age and graduated from Columbia in 1974 with a degree in English. Not encouraged by the job prospects for English majors at the time, he went on to medical school at Northwestern, where in addition to his medical degree, he acquired a life-long love of deep dish pizza. He did a residency in Anesthesiology at Columbia Presbyterian and spent most of his career at Stony Brook, where he ultimately attained the academic rank of Professor and Vice-Chairman for Administration, Department of Anesthesiology.
Please describe your mystery series, Kurtz and Barent Mysteries, for us.
Since I’m a physician, it made sense for me to write a series about a physician. My protagonist, Richard Kurtz, is from a small town in West Virginia. Kurtz is ex-army, six feet, two inches tall, has a black belt in taekwondo and is a surgeon at Easton Medical Center and Staunton College of Medicine in New York City. In the first book of the series, Surgical Risk, a former girlfriend of Kurtz’, an obstetrician, is found strangled in a hospital call room. In the second book, The Anatomy Lesson, a former professor of Kurtz’, with whom he has remained friends, is found dismembered in his office. The book that I’m currently working on, the sixth in the series, is If a Tree Falls. In this book, Kurtz returns home for a month, where he has contracted to provide coverage for a surgical group, one of whose members has recently died. Things become complicated when it becomes apparent that his employer, surgeon Jerry Mandell, is at least borderline senile, and become considerably more complicated when the dead bodies of fifteen young girls are found buried the woods.
Please describe your latest book for us.
My most recently published novel is The Well of Time. It’s the fifth book in a science fiction series, The Chronicles of the Second Interstellar Empire of Mankind. The first two books in the series are about the adventures of Douglas Oliver, a young, ambitious industrialist in the nation of Meridien, on the world, Illyria, whose citizens were genetically engineered to be superior soldiers. They’re smart, physically superior, aggressive, and live for competition. The protagonist of the next three books in the series is Michael Glover, who had been a soldier for the First Interstellar Empire and is revived after two thousand years in cold sleep to become an agent for the Intelligence Services of the Second Interstellar Empire of Mankind.
How do you construct a plot?
Years ago, I was at a science fiction convention, listening to a panel of established writers giving advice to new writers. Connie Willis had a simple answer. She said, “Learn to plot.” Everybody knows what they like when they read a book, but it’s not always obvious why they like it. All successful plots follow some essential rules and share some essential characteristics. If your book has these characteristics, then readers will probably enjoy it. If it doesn’t, then readers will find it tedious or boring. First, you start with a protagonist, for whom the reader can feel sympathy. The protagonist has a problem that he or she must solve. The protagonist’s efforts to solve the problem fail, and often make the problem worse. Finally, when all seems lost, the protagonist solves the problem—or comes to a realization that the problem was not worth solving in the first place. An example would be a man who is pursuing wealth but comes to realize that what he really needs is a career helping others and the love of a good woman. Many books have been written on the essential nature of plot, and there’s a lot more to it (constructing a “sympathetic protagonist” for instance), but this is always where you should start.
Can you tell us about your career?
I graduated from Northwestern University Medical School in 1979 and completed my residency in Anesthesiology at Columbia-Presbyterian. I spent most of my career at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where I was at various times the Chief of Obstetrical Anesthesia, Chief of Neuro and ENT Anesthesia, Director of Pre-Operative Services, Chairman of the Departmental Finance Committee and Vice-Chairman for Administration. And now, I’m retired. Prior to my career in Medicine, however, I graduated with a degree in English from Columbia.
I’ve always wanted to write. My first novel, Edward Maret: A Novel of the Future, was published in 2001. It got excellent reviews from Science Fiction Chronicle, Scavenger’s Newsletter, InfinityPlus and many others. My second novel, Surgical Risk, the first in the Kurtz and Barent mystery series, was published in 2002 and received excellent reviews from Mystery Review Magazine, Mystery Scene Magazine, Midwest Book Review and many others. Now that I’ve retired from medicine, I have the luxury of pursuing writing full time, and my production has greatly increased. Between 2001 and 2016, I published four novels and two short stories. Since 2016, I’ve published 8 more novels, 2 more short stories and a non-fiction book on investing. For me, being able to write full-time is like a dream come true.
How do you include “theme” in your books?
Somebody once said that theme is “a high-falutin way of describing the protagonist’s problem.” That might be simplistic, but I do think it gets to the essence of what theme is and is supposed to be. The theme of a mystery can be “good versus evil,” or perhaps “chaos and the restoration of order.” Common themes in science fiction include “the nature of mankind,” or “the nature of the universe,” or “the nature of intelligence.” Other common themes might include “love conquers all” or “hatred and love can be closely intertwined” or “to thine own self be true” or “pride goes before a fall.” A book’s theme most always is embodied in the character of the protagonist, particularly the protagonist’s flaws. For instance, a protagonist can be head-strong, or ruthless, or excessively ambitious. All of these characteristics highlight the book’s theme, usually in the form of actions to avoid. Scholars and critics tend to talk a lot about a book’s theme but as a writer, I don’t dwell on it too much. A book with an engrossing plot and an interesting protagonist is going to have a theme that resonates with the reader, and to me, the theme grows organically from the story.
Today I have the pleasure of presenting an author who weaves Celtic myths and legends into the historical backdrop of Ancient Rome and Britannia. Since childhood, Linnea Tanner has passionately read about ancient civilizations and mythology which held women in higher esteem. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts. She actively researches ancient history, myths and legends, and archaeology, and has traveled to sites in the United Kingdom and France which are described in each book. A native of Colorado, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. She lives in Windsor with her husband and has two children and six grandchildren.
Provide an overview of Apollo’s Raven, Book 1 in the Curse of Clansmen and Kings.
Apollo’s Raven is a Celtic tale of forbidden love, mythological adventure, and political intrigue in 24 AD Ancient Rome and Britannia where Celtic kings hand-picked by Rome are fighting each other for power. King Amren's former queen, a powerful Druid, has cast a curse that foretells Blood Wolf and the Raven will rise and destroy him. The king’s daughter Catrin, a Druidic princess, learns to her dismay that she is the Raven and her banished half-brother is Blood Wolf. She must find a way to break the curse, but she is torn between her forbidden love for a Roman noble and her father’s enemy, Marcellus, and loyalty to her people.
What inspired you to write the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series? A particular person? An event?
As a young girl, I was an avid reader of mythology and legends that portrayed females as goddesses, Amazonian warriors, and cunning sorceresses. I’ve always been drawn to the bigger-than-life epic heroes and heroines who steered the fate of humankind. In my travels to London, I was struck by the statue of Boudica and her daughters riding in a chariot near the Thames River. The celebrated warrior queen united the Britons in a revolt against the Romans and almost threw them out of Britannia in 61 AD. After doing more research, I became fascinated with the enigmatic Celts— renowned warriors, Druids, and craftsmen.
What's the most distinctive attributes about the main character, Catrin?
In the beginning of the series, Catrin is a naïve, Druidic princess who demonstrates both vulnerability and unflinching bravery when her love for Marcellus and loyalty to her people are tested. She is guided by a spiritual raven that empowers her with foresight and the ability to change the future, often resulting in unexpected and dire consequences. As the series continues, Catrin will journey on a road of self-discovery and learns new mystical powers that prepares her to be a formidable warrior queen.
Will the ill-repute of Mark Antony and his descendants became a central theme in the series? Will history repeat itself for the star-crossed lovers, Catrin and Marcellus?
Though Marcellus is a fictional character, his father is based on the actual historical figure of Lucius Antonius—the grandson of Mark Antony and the son of Iullus Antonius. Mark Antony’s honors were revoked and his statues destroyed in an act of damnatio memoriae after Augustus defeated him and Cleopatra. Lucius was banished to Gaul for his father’s treasonous affair with Augustus’s daughter, Julia. The stain left by Mark Antony and his descendants will impact the star-crossed lovers, Marcellus and Catrin, who will repeat some of the history of Mark Antony and Cleopatra but with a Celtic twist.
What are the special challenges in writing a series?
The biggest challenge in writing the Curse of Clansmen and Kings series is to make sure the characters, plot, and backstory are consistent in each book. Book1: Apollo’s Raven is actually the fourth book I wrote in the series. After I received feedback from agents and other writers on the first three books, I realized there needed to be an earlier book that clearly sets up the complex political situation and draws the reader into the fantastical world of the Celts. When I wrote Apollo’s Raven, the storyline took unexpected, yet exciting new directions which I had to weave back into the original books I had already drafted. Along the way, I’ve changed some of the plot and added characters to enhance the tale. Each book needs to be kept fresh by introducing new characters, themes, and settings. The epic series has expanded beyond what I had first envisioned. It will now be a five-book series. Book 2: Dagger Destiny has been released and Book 3: Amulet’s Rapture is anticipated to be released in Fall of 2019.
Apollo’s Raven Links:
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a Two-time USA Today Bestselling Author and seven time Amazon All Star Author, Dianne Harman. Being a dog lover and having attended numerous cooking schools, she couldn't resist writing about food and dogs. Dianne is the author of several cozy mystery series.
Dianne, why did you write this book?
Over the years I’ve received many, many emails thanking me for having my main characters be of midlife age, rather than in their 20’s or 30’s. People told me it was refreshing to read books about people who were experiencing the life changes they were. I thought a series that dealt with women in their midlife journey would appeal to people who are going, or have gone, through real life struggles.
What type of struggles do you mean?
By the time someone is in their midlife years, they may have had to deal with a loved one’s death, divorce, empty nest, parent’s care, worries about their job being taken over by someone younger, and just the general aging process. I believe that just because someone is in their middle years, it doesn’t mean their life is over. I wrote my first book when I was 69 and six years, later, I’ve sold well over half a million books, and I had no clue what social media even was!
Are your main characters always women?
They are, but certainly there are plenty of men in my Midlife Journey Series. The first book, Alexis, dealt with a woman who was forced to deal with the fact that she was very overweight. It deals with her struggles and eventual happiness with herself and a midlife romance. Since I believe so much that miracles are possible, maybe even probable, my books tend to have happy endings.
Beverly is set in the south. Why?
I tend to set my books in the western part of the United States, because that’s where I live, but again, a number of readers said they’d love a series set in the southern part of the United States.
You mention that this is a series. In what respect?
I’ve always thought the Sue Grafton series with the letters of the alphabet was brilliant, so I decided to somewhat pattern this series on that concept. The first book is Alexis, the second is Beverly, Carol, the third is being written, and I’ll continue. I also receive a lot of questions from people wondering if they’ve missed a book in a certain series. With the letters of the alphabet it makes it a lot easier. Does that mean there will be twenty-six books in the series? Hope so!
Dianne, what’s next for you?
Along with this series I’ll continue to write books in my six cozy mystery series, Cedar Bay, Liz Lucas, High Desert, Midwest, Northwest, and the newest one, Cottonwood Springs. I invite people to visit my website, http://email@example.com and pick up two free books. Additionally, you can follow me on BookBub, http://ow.ly/NDaE30m1lTU and Amazon, http://ow.ly/b6Bn30m1m8v
Thanks, Uvi, for the chance to be a part of one of your interviews!
Libby Fischer Hellman
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a critically acclaimed crime writer. Libby Fischer Hellmann is loved by readers the world over for her compulsively readable thrillers and strong female characters. Her fast-paced crime fiction spans 15 novels and 25 short stories. She has also edited a popular crime fiction anthology called Chicago Blues. Her newest work, "HIGH CRIMES" was released in November, 2018.
You’ve written many different sub-genres within the crime/mystery genre: amateur sleuth, PI, historical thrillers, police procedurals, and even a cozy. Why?
I like to say I am “writing my away around the genre.” I love crime fiction in ALL its variations, because an unsolved mystery or questions about evil-doing is one of the most elemental plot drivers in literature. The answers to those questions opens the door explorations of good and evil; heroes and cowards, social and cultural institutions—in other words, human nature itself. So I enjoy trying different ways to get at those explorations. Of course, I have to do my homework and make sure the story is as accurate and faithful to the genre as I can, but that part is fun for me. The truth is that each story presents its own challenge, and I enjoy challenging myself.
How would you describe your Ellie Foreman series? What about Georgia Davis?
Ellie Foreman is a documentary film producer; in other words an amateur sleuth. She has a senior citizen father, a teenage daughter, a best friend and an ex-husband who shows up in every book. She also has a wry sense of humor which I love. But the Ellie mysteries are not cozies; they are suspense novels. Because of that, I often say the books are “Desperate Housewives meets 24.” Georgia Davis, on the other hand, is a PI and a loner. She’s cautious, distrustful, and keeps people at a distance. She has baggage. While Ellie will go out to lunch with you and give you TMI about her life, Georgia won’t go out to lunch at all. As a former cop, she doesn’t want you to know too much about her.
Actually, the fact that Ellie IS an amateur sleuth is the reason I developed the Georgia thrillers. It’s just not realistic for a film producer to keep tripping over dead bodies, and by the 4th book, I was turning back flips trying to come up with a credible reason for Ellie to investigate. For Georgia, though, that’s her job. It’s much easier to get her involved.
Which novel is your favorite? With which did you accomplish your challenge?
That’s like asking which child do I like best. I love them all. EASY INNOCENCE was close to my heart because it was the first Georgia Davis full length novel in which I spread my wings and wrote dark, which I love. A BITTER VEIL was close because I wrote about a time and culture that was very unfamiliar, yet I think the characters speak their own humanity. And HIGH CRIMES is close because it was a catharsis for me to write.
What is your strength as a writer? Your weakness?
I come from an audio-visual background, and I’ve always had an ear for dialogue. So that comes easily, particularly dialogue that rises out of conflict. Given the chance, I could stretch dialogue through many chapters. Narrative is tough for me – I want my prose to sing… to rise above “workmanlike.” So I always feel uncertain whether I’ve risen to the task.
What do you want people to remember about your work when you’re no longer writing?
That I was a good storyteller and that they stayed up way too late because they just HAD to finish one of my novels.
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a historical fiction author, Kathryn Gauci. Kathryn was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design where she specialised in carpet design and technology. After graduating, she spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. She now lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Your WWII novel, Conspiracy of Lies, is part historical fiction, part romance, and part thriller. How did you balance all three in your writing of this novel and how does it feel to cross boundaries between genres?
At the time of plotting and writing, I knew I wanted certain elements to give the story depth. Primarily, it is a WWII story and therefore the fact had to be as correct as I could get them, which is probably the most difficult part as there is a lot of cross-checking and the timeline has to match up with the events in the plot. It is part thriller because these were times when most people, especially those who lived under occupied rule, were never sure what tomorrow would bring. They were forced to live on their wits. And it is part romance because this gives light and shade to the characters, especially the protagonists. In fact, a huge part of Conspiracy of Lies is romance but not in a frivolous way. I never think of myself as a romance writer.
How much research goes into your writing? How do you flesh out the details of the WWII era in a transparent manner, so that the details support the story without being overbearing?
I love research. It’s never-ending and I’ve always got at least half a dozen books on the go, and I am on the computer almost every day, double-checking something or other. In fact I have to stop myself sometimes so that I don’t overdo it and cramp the creative spirit which is spontaneous and takes us into unknown areas. The facts are often represented in the settings and peppered throughout the dialogue. I like to think my readers are learning about history without thinking they are reading a history book. Bringing out the senses is vital and If my readers have transported themselves into the era and are walking alongside my characters, then I think I have achieved this.
Tell us about your character, Claire Bouchard, and the ways that ghosts from her past make her double life as a Gestapo Commandant’s mistress more painful than she could have imagined.
In many ways, Claire Bouchard is a complex woman. She is both vulnerable and tough. She is also an intelligent woman. This is her dilemma. She falls in love with someone she knows nothing about, against her instincts. It’s so deep that even she questions her actions, yet at the time she has no idea the depths to which this will take her. When the Germans invade France, Claire flees to London and is recruited by the Special Operations Executive. When she is sent back into occupied France – Brittany – and accidentally befriends the wife of the German Commandant, the wheels of fate are set in motion, resulting in an affair with the Gestapo Commandant. At this point she can either continue her mission for SOE or be pulled out of France. Instead, she chooses to stay. Honour bound to her country and to a man she will love till her last breath, Claire knows this is a situation that will ultimately end in tragedy. Whilst developing her character, I was not only inspired by the female agents behind enemy lines, but by the men and women on the wrong sides falling in love. I looked at images of women with shaved heads and thought to myself that some of these probably developed a genuine love for each other. Not every German wanted to be where he was. Fate throws people together in strange ways and makes us do things we would never have expected to do. There is a strong romance in this story but it is because only a deep love like this could have allowed her to do what she did.
Tell us a little about yourself and why you are passionate about writing WWII stories.
I grew up in post-war England listening to the music of Glenn Miller and other wartime favourites. My father was in the RAF, my mother worked in a munitions factory. I also loved the films of that era, Casablanca, The Third Man, and others – Film Noir got under my skin. When I left college, my first work as a designer was in Vienna. The factory was situated on the outskirts of Vienns and had been in the Russian Sector. My fellow workers told me stories of the war from their perspective. Indeed, much of Vienna was still being rebuilt and still had the feel of The Third Man about it. Then I went to live in Athens and was not only confronted with the Greeks under the German occupation, but their earlier wartime history since 1822. Coincidentally, I lived a street not far from where one of the most famous heroines of WWII lived. Her life influenced my plot in by first book, The Embroiderer, and the current WIP. Writing about war gives enormous scope for plots that may seem larger than life, but in reality were common at the time. People react in ways they never thought possible. I love it when an ordinary person finds an inner strength they never knew existed. And of course, WWII is relatively recent in the scheme of history and even if we weren’t actually a part of it, we feel we are.
I know you studied textile design at Loughborough College of Art and later at Kidderminster College of Art and Design, where you specialized in carpet design and technology. Are there parallels between the way you plot your stories and the way you design your art?
Yes, I think there are many similarities. First of all, creativity is open to possibilities and writing is the same. Apart from each book having its own little idiosyncrasies, generally, I follow the same thought process I followed when designing textiles. Firstly, and this is purely from a business perspective – know your market. Who are you aiming this for? Who are your competitors? Then I aim for the beginning and the end. I like to visualize the end to give me a direction to aim for. It might change at the end, but that’s fine. Then I create the skeleton of the plot. Some plots need a more detailed skeleton if they cover quite a few real-life events. After that I begin to fill in the story (design) allowing for the shading. Plots must have light and dark shading also to give interest. Certain places will have more depth than others. But every mark must be there for a reason. If not, it is superfluous to the story (design) and I get rid of it. And last but not least, it must appeal to the senses and grab you.
The French guard shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s not a good day,’ he said in a low voice. ‘Saboteurs have blown up a part of the tracks. The Caen–Rennes train is delayed. ‘You’d better make yourself comfortable. Goodness knows how long it will take to fix it.’
He indicated to the prisoners about to board the goods train. ‘And with the filthy mood the Bosch are in, I don’t like their chances.’
Claire made her way to the large waiting room. It was already full but a woman nudged along the seat to make room for her.
‘That’s the third lot of deportees in under an hour,’ she said. ‘They’re not wearing the Star of David so no doubt they’re going to a transit camp and on to Germany, poor bastards.’
‘I heard the line has been blown up,’
‘Serves them right,’ the woman scoffed.
Give us an excerpt from Conspiracy of Lies.
The atmosphere in the waiting room was stifling and the children began to get restless. Outside a group of soldiers stood about talking animatedly, swearing and looking at the people malevolently. It was late in the afternoon when a message came over the loudspeaker that the train was about to arrive. Whilst they jostled on the platform, soldiers and guards alike continued to walk up and down asking to see documents again and using any excuse to rifle through someone’s luggage.
She found a compartment and placed her suitcase on the overhead luggage rack and sat down to read. Within minutes the compartment was full. The last person to enter was a shabbily dressed man of thin build with a raincoat slung over his arm. He looked around the compartment, doffed his hat towards Claire and after hoisting up his suitcase on top of hers, squeezed in between two occupants opposite her and began to read his newspaper. She noticed his shoes were muddied and by the look of his five o’clock shadow, he hadn’t shaved in days. Every now and again he looked at her from over the top of his newspaper. Claire thought him highly agitated.
The train began to gather speed. After they had passed the first village, the door to their compartment slid open and the ticket inspector, accompanied by two plain clothed men asked to see their papers. Claire offered hers first and gave the men a sweet smile. They did not reciprocate her friendliness. When they came to the man opposite, they looked closely at his papers.
‘Would you care to step outside,’ one of them said, with a coldness that made Claire’s flesh crawl. ‘We’d like to ask you a few questions.’
In fear, the other passengers looked away when he stood up. Claire noted the tell-tale thin trickle of sweat that ran down the side of his forehead. He was clearly scared. He threw her a quick glance as he exited. The door slammed shut and she heard their footsteps moving away down the corridor. A few seconds later they heard a scuffle and a gunshot. Her fellow passengers looked at each other in silence. Claire’s hand instinctively reached for the crucifix around her neck. She fingered it nervously resisting the urge to open the door and look. For a brief moment the rackety sound of the train’s wheels appeared louder. Then she heard a door slam. When the man failed to return, Claire waited for a few minutes and then got up to have a look. A guard spotted her and told her to return to her seat but she feigned severe stomach cramps and asked where the toilets were located. The man indicated further down the corridor. When she passed him, she noticed bloodstains near the exit door. Clearly they had shot him and thrown him out of the train. Alone in the toilet, she grasped the small sink and splashed water onto her face. This was exactly the sort of danger they had spoken of in her training. No-one was immune.
The train arrived in Rennes shortly before curfew. Claire reached for her suitcase and realized the man’s suitcase was on top of it. She waited until all the occupants had left and pulled it down. She would take it with her. She also noticed his overcoat was still hanging on the hook next to his seat and quickly searched the pockets. Apart from a few francs and a handkerchief, there was nothing to identify him.
Claire couldn’t have arrived in Rennes at a worst time. The area in front of the railway station had taken a hit during a bombing raid and was swarming with soldiers. She made her way past the French inspectors and plain-clothed Germans scanning the platform for a sign of something amiss and stood by a kiosk next to a fire-blackened building in the square outside the station as she had been instructed, and waited. Within minutes a man approached her from and introduced himself as Jean -Claude.
‘You made it. And Gilbert; did you meet up with him? He was supposed to be with you.’
He looked towards the station expectantly. His words jolted her. The man on the train must have been Gilbert - her contact. She started to describe him and told him what had happened.
Jean-Claude spat on the ground in disgust. ’Bastards!’ he exclaimed. ‘He had something of importance for us.’
Claire then understood that the man had recognized her by the apple sprig on her lapel as Monsieur Cloutier said he would. That was why he kept looking at her and why he had entrusted the suitcase to her for safe-keeping. Jean-Claude told her he had boarded the train when the tracks were sabotaged. He must have realized the Germans were on to him.
‘You might find whatever you’re looking for in there,’ she replied dismally, pointing to the suitcase.
The Half-Bloods Series #2
Today I have the pleasure of presenting a bestselling historical fiction novelist and screenwriter. Jana Petken is critically acclaimed as a bestselling, gritty author who produces bold, colourful characters and riveting story-lines.
Jana is a bestselling historical fiction novelist and screenwriter. She is critically acclaimed as a bestselling, gritty author who produces bold, colorful characters and riveting story-lines, and the recipient of numerous major international awards for her works.
Before life as an author, Jana served in the British Royal Navy. During her service, she studied Naval Law and history. After the Navy, she worked for British Airways and turned to writing after an accident on board an aircraft forced her to retire prematurely.
Tell us about your book, The Vogels, On All Fronts.
Germany, September 1939. At the outbreak of War, Dieter Vogel and his family face catastrophic events and separation as each member embarks on their deadly paths towards survival, love, and freedom.
Dieter Vogel, a German industrialist, believes in protecting his family at all costs, but in a bid to keep his English wife and children safe, he is plunged into a well of deceit that tears the family apart.
Doctor Paul Vogel is coerced into working in the Nazi eugenics programme and soon discovers that sterilising handicapped and mentally-ill Germans is just a prelude to a more lethal plan against those the Reich deem unworthy of life. Paul, trapped by the SS, seeks help from the unlikeliest of people and is plunged into a world of espionage and murder.
British Army Major, Max Vogel, is attached to The British Intelligence Services and Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive. His missions in occupied Europe are fraught with danger, and his adulterous affair with a woman he cannot give up leads him deeper into the quagmire of treachery and lies.
Wilmot Vogel dreams of winning the Iron Cross, but when he confronts a mass killing of Jews in Poland, his idolatry of Hitler is shaken to its roots, and he finds himself imprisoned in the infamous Dachau concentration camp with no release date in sight.
Hannah Vogel has no ambition other than to marry her English fiancé, Frank, before the lines of war are drawn. Against her father’s wishes, she leaves Berlin on the eve of the German invasion of Poland, but when she arrives in England, she learns that Frank is not the civilian engineer he claims to be.
Please share one of the reviews for this book.
Here is an editorial Review by Readers' Favorite:
The German Half-Bloods (The Half-Blood Series Book 1) by Jana Petken is an intense, nail-biting ride through WWII Germany. The unique perspectives of the characters in Germany, as well as those in England, were refreshing and charismatic. I am well-versed in the history of the time period, and I must say that very few historical novels of the period are satisfactorily accurate enough for me to enjoy, this book being a rare exception. I was deeply impressed with the characters' viewpoints and the extent of the plot. The author spun such an intricately woven web of intrigue that I didn't want to stop reading. I was transported back in time and enjoyed every minute of it! I loved this novel! It is beautifully written and deeply moving. Although there are some historically accurate details that may disturb a younger audience, I feel that this novel is an essential historical read.
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is a historical fiction author whose series, RESCHEN VALLEY, covers the interwar years in a northern Italian province. The building of a controversial reservoir serves as the historical background and main conflict of the series.
Chrystyna, you grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota but now live in western Austria in the alps. What made you emigrate?
I am a first-generation American of Ukrainian immigrants and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of “Nordeast” Minneapolis. However, early on, I had the travel bug. I still credit James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small”. I loved his series and when it aired on television, I was convinced that I would live abroad. I was also convinced that I would be a veterinarian in order to be able to write.
But you aren’t a veterinarian?
No. I was no good at the science bit of things and you sort of have to be. I turned to journalism and switched my major to English three years into pre-vet med. My last job in the States was as a managing editor at a magazine publishing company. Realizing that I wasn’t writing there either eventually made me take a huge leap of faith. In 2001, after travelling around a lot, I emigrated to Austria “for good” where I now write and work from a little hut in the alps. I have a wildly supportive husband, a dog, a cat and the two businesses I run, the second being my writing and publishing.
Did you always want to write historical fiction?
Not really. I set out to write travel narratives, won some great awards for my stories and got published. I dabbled in literary stuff, with a lot of melodrama, and some humor. But then, I made a promise to my grandmother that I would write “the family’s” stories on how they came from Ukraine to the U.S. and their experiences in WW2. Right after I published that novel, I was coming over the Reschen Pass between Austria and Italy. I’d visited the Reschen reservoir several times but that time it really got to me. I can’t explain this without people gawking at me but I tell you, there were ghosts rising from the surface of the lake and telling me their stories!
The last thing I wanted to do was research again. I was so done with research! I was done with historical stuff! But they did not let go. Five years later, I had the language and the energy to start writing the first novel.
In a nutshell, what's the Reschen Valley series about?
The series take place in South Tyrol, just located south of the Austrian border. It is a story about a Tyrolean woman who is fighting for her land after WW1, when her province is cut in two, one half remaining in Austria, and her half being annexed to Italy. When she discovers an Italian veteran, who has been attacked and left to die on her mountain, rescuing him thrusts both of them into a labyrinth of corruption, prejudice and greed. The series spans three generations between 1920 and 1961, and I have the last two to write yet.
What intrigued you and motivated you to write this particular story?
You have to imagine driving south from Austria over the Reschen Pass in the Alps and then crossing the border into Italy. The first thing you expect are pizza and pasta stations, Italian signs, and Italian architecture. But that’s not what happens. It still looks like Tyrol with a few Italian names. In fact, everything is still in German and in Italian and everyone speaks German.
Then it comes: spreading out before you, an unbelievably beautiful lake some 4 miles long and nestled in the Alps. The sight takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 100 meters from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower, sticking straight out of the water. My first reaction was, “What in the world happened here?”
When I started to do the research, I was horrified that we never learned about this part of history. The Tyrolean-Italian conflict was a huge deal! And the pain of that history is still there, just under the skin, hot as embers and as volatile as gunpowder.
And you’re hoping to bring this more into the public’s conscience?
Just recently, I was featured with an Italian novelist and an Austrian film producer as three people who, in three languages, were bringing the story to the surface, so to speak. I mean, people stand at that tower and take photos. It’s been called a scene out of a fairy tale. No, it’s not! The devastation that took place was a nightmare! Yes, I want people to know what lies beneath that lake.
So, is historical fiction your forte, or are you going to try and veer back to something else?
Fat chance. I’ve got a 16th-century series all outlined as soon as I have finished these last two books for Reschen Valley.
Seriously, I have thought a lot about why I’m writing what I write now. I grew up surrounded by WW2 victims. Our Ukrainian heritage, roots, language, culture, etc were a daily part of my life and we even believed that we might all return to the “homeland”. Well, that did not quite happen, but when I landed in Austria and called my parents to let them know I’d not be returning, my mother kind of laughed and said, “Well, you’ve closed the circle, anyway.” She’d been born in Salzburg after the war.
But something else had really been prevalent in my life as I was growing up and that’s reading and film. First, books and films that took place in the past (Laura Ingalls Wilder enthralled me). Second, books that took place in foreign countries or foreign cultures (my mother was crazy about Japanese and Egyptian history). And third, books and film that had something to do with true events or real people (insert any Hallmark movie here at the risk of dating myself). And I loved any combination of those factors. Only after I had started writing this series did I realize I’d essentially been predestined to write historical fiction. And now I’m in the midst of producing the first audiobooks for them, which is as near to film as I will be able to get this year.
This is the first book in the series and it is celebrating its release day anniversary until Feb 9th. It’s on sale for $1.99.
Were you inspired by events in your own life to come up with your book, Love is Never Past Tense?
Yes, Uvi. The book was inspired by real events and real people.
Tell me where your life coincides with the lives of your characters.
In many books, the author pulls personal stories and attributes them to several characters. My life shows up only in the character of Janna. Love Is Never Past Tense is mostly about the romantically involved couple. Scenes where they are with each other are true. Secondary characters are also real and accurately portrayed to the depth needed for the story. People are looing for human stories. This is one of hem.
One question I have struggled with is fitting the book as either a romantic suspense fiction or based on my life. The book is a romantic suspense adventure and anyone looking for that should enjoy it. It walks its way through the real crumbling of the Soviet Union. This adds to the authenticity of the story. It is based on a true story but it isn't a history book.
To answer your question directly, another issue was how to name my female protagonist. I was advising with friends all over the world, brainstorming for the name. Nothing worked. I decided to stay with the name Janna.
I love the description of the romance in your book, “Never quite coming together, never quite letting go.” Tell us a bit about the trials and tribulations of your characters and how they try to reach for each other, against all odds.
I am concerned about answering the question here because it might spoil the romance and charm of the story. I'd be happy to respond to anyone who contacts me after reading the book but by then the answer won't be needed.
There is a story behind the story. Serge's father had a high-level position working with cosmonauts in the Soviet space program. A Jewish daughter-in-law was a threat to his credibility. Serge and Janna kept in contact over the years. Oddly, the more difficult it became to keep in touch, the more they did it. Brezhnev's daughter had the same experience when she fell in love with a young Jewish man.
Did you do any research for the book, or rely strictly on your experiences?
There was a heavy contribution by both research and experience. I made a trip back to Europe in 2008 and another in 2009. This wasn't intended as a research trip, but that's when the book became a real project and I had the benefit of being in many of the locations as I was writing about them. The story was based on experience, the events and settings were supported by research.
Tell us about the process of creating the audiobook for Love is Never Past Tense. How did the narrator get into the skin of the characters? How did you feel listening to their voices coming out of her throat?
It took me over two years and more than a few narrators to find one who could capture the voice I heard when writing the book. Daniela Acitelli lives in London UK but delivered an American accent from time in California. Her intonations matched those I imagined as I was writing the book. Her presentation brings another dimension to the story that left me breathless more than once.
Another audiobook feature is a bit of music at the start and finish of the book. It is a short fragment of Chardash Monti from my friend, the famous Armenian violinist Karo Hayrapetyan. I included it in his memory. I didn't identify him by name in the book, but he shows up briefly in the story.
I loved the audiobook and I hope the listener does too.
Excerpt from Love Is Never Past Tense :
She sat calmly, completely oblivious to the rower—to her, it was a pleasant ride, nothing more. Sensing this, the oarsman wondered whether they would actually return to the shore in such an inglorious fashion. He had to surprise her, or at least interest her, for heaven’s sake. But not a single word came to mind. On a schoolboy’s impulse (that's essentially what he was, anyway), he suddenly got up and dove overboard. He wasn't a bad swimmer and was an even better diver, able to hold his breath for a long time underwater. Even now, he effortlessly reached the bottom. It was not deep—just five or six meters. Once at the bottom, he clung to a rock and waited as long as his lungs would allow. He and his buddies from diving class had always competed to see who could stay submerged the longest. He'd won every time, usually holding out for more than three minutes …
At last, he could feel his chest tightening—he knew this was the signal to return to the surface. If you wait too long, you might not resurface, since you can momentarily lose consciousness. That’s what their diving coach taught them. No one, of course, tried to prove him wrong. He released the rock and wound his way back to the boat, now a dark silhouette hanging picturesquely in the silver sky of the water—so seems the sea surface looking up from its depths. Purposely, he carefully emerged from the water at the nose of the boat, keeping himself hidden. Occasionally, he stole a glance at his companion, whose own gaze was fixed on the dark green waters. It was evident: worry was overtaking her. Having achieved his goal, he dove back down and immediately resurfaced right in front of her face, his wide smile expressing satisfaction. But instead of petting his long, disheveled hair, she again reclined, reminding him that it was time to return the boat to the shore; the time for their boat’s rental was coming to a close. He scurried back on board and slowly started moving the oars, but the water seemed to thicken as if feeling his desire not to return to the shore.
Love is Never Past Tense:
What genre do you write?
I write about romance, action/adventure, thrillers and travel in different genres: Contemporary, historical and military. In addition to fiction I publish Travel Tales, short adventure stories from different places around the globe. I demand of myself that the facts be absolutely correct so I spend a great amount of time in researching even the smallest detail, either in other books or with living history—people who have lived through these times and facts. My hope is that my books are entertaining, enlightening and somewhat educational—we learn so much from books! If I contribute even just a little I am grateful. I also hope my readers enjoy the time we spend ‘together’ and for my characters to be just as alive as they are to me, even after the last page is turned.
Tell us about your international background.
I spent twenty years in Europe because of my father, who was with the U.S. State Department, and my mother who was an opera singer. I was exposed to people of different nations, cultures, music and languages. This exposure contributed to my writing stories with international backdrops and characters, and music is the glue that keeps the stories together.
What inspired The Music Trilogy?
My parents led fascinating lives, and ‘Peace of Music’ (book one of The Music Trilogy) is what I call a fictionalized memoir. I originally started writing it for my son, so he could have the story of his ancestral family. It became a novel (much more fun that way) as I could take a few liberties, such as the scenes in China’s 13th century Song (what else?) Dynasty.
The MUSIC TRILOGY is a family saga, a compilation of 'Peace of Music', 'Obsession of the Heart', and 'Warrior Music'. Each book can be read or listened to as a stand-alone and in any order.
PEACE OF MUSIC (Book One): A once lost magnificent antique vase from China's 13th Century Song Dynasty reappears from the depths of the Mediterranean Sea where it comes to dwell on a piano in a doctor's home. It becomes the impetus in steering the lives of this doctor and his descendants through their heartbreaks, romances and ultimately successes. An assassination, a sabotage on a Greek island and amazing musical performances are but some of the events that strike their lives. Spanning from 13th Century China to the present, the story takes place on four continents, with talented individuals of different nationalities and backgrounds, always interrelated by music.
OBSESSION OF THE HEART (Book Two): Set against an international backdrop of jet setters, music, romance, murder, terrorism and true friendship is Davina Walters, an international singer. Davina meets Jean, a young woman almost paralyzed with fear, as her sadistic ex-husband is bent on killing her. On the spur of the moment Davina decides to take her along on tour and the murderer plans his ultimate revenge in a deadly showdown.
WARRIOR MUSIC (Book Three): Max knew the drugs and alcohol would eventually kill him, and sooner rather than later. So he enlisted in the Marines. His timing is unfortunate, as the events of 9/11 find him at the beginning of his military service, and he is sent to Iraq. The journey he embarks on is unlike anything he could ever imagine.
From Washington, Boston and New Orleans to the ancient sands of Iraq, Max and his entourage endure the toils of war with gallantry, patriotism, courage, heartache, romance and passion. Only one weapon gets them through the anguish they come face to face with... Music.
You’re an author as well as an audiobook narrator. Do you have a preference and what are you working on at the moment?
No, I love both mediums. I’ve written several novels and have recorded over fifty audiobooks. I’m always either writing a new book or narrating one, which could be one of mine or another author’s. At the moment I’m finishing a novel and recording a series of world stories from around the world.
Tell us about F-A-F-Y.com
F-A-F-Y.com is a service I created to help authors, narrators, publishers and producers to promote their audiobook titles and at the same time provide listeners with FREE audiobooks. There are quite a few services for e-books such as BookBub, but hardly any at all for audiobooks. It’s a way to bring audiobook lovers and creators together. The listeners get a monthly email where they can choose audiobook titles.
Uvi, thank you so much for this interview. It has been a privilege and a pleasure and I am honored to be featured among such amazing company. Thank you for all you do for authors, bibliophiles and art aficionados. You are an inspiration—a superb artist, a brilliant author and a truly wonderful person! As you say ‘you paint with your pen and write with your paintbrush’, but most of all you create a smile in every heart you reach.
Aw... So glad to have you here, Denise! It’s a pleasure to learn about your writing and narration, Denise! Thank you so much for sharing!