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Six Things I Learned While Writing Surveillance by Reece Hirsch

March 15, 2016 by  •
I’m pleased to welcome Reece Hirsch to the site today. Hirsch’s latest thriller, Surveillance, third in the Chris Bruen series, drops today from Thomas & Mercer, and the plot couldn’t be more timely. Bruen, an attorney specializing in computer-crimes, and his partner, Zoey Doucet, a hacktivist, get drawn into a life or death scenario involving a top-secret government agency that has developed a program that can break any form of encryption. Today Hirsch is here to talk about quantum computing, domestic surveillance and what it’s like to write thrillers that may put you on the radar of exactly the type of people and agencies you’re writing about.

Six Things I Learned While Writing Surveillance

Like a lot of writers, I tend to think about my life not so much in years but in books. Whatever book I happen to be writing at the time casts its shadow over everything else that I happen to be doing. The things that I’m learning writing the book tend to seep into my personal life, and my personal life certainly seeps into the books. Here are six things that I learned while writing my new thriller Surveillance:

1. Spy vs. Spy. In researching the NSA for Surveillance, I learned that a state-of-the-art laser microphone can reproduce a conversation from the vibrations of sound waves against the glass of a window. Of course, for every surveillance tactic there’s a countermeasure. The NSA employs dual-pane windows in its offices and pipes music in between the panes to block the sound waves from conversations.

2. No Quantum of Solace. In my books, I’m always trying to look over the horizon to the next scary privacy and cybersecurity issue that might provide fodder for a thriller plot. In Surveillance, I speculated that quantum computing, which seems like something out of science fiction, could become a reality. Unlike traditional computing that is based on ones and zeros, quantum computing uses “qbits,” which can be both a one and a zero – at the same time. A quantum computer could theoretically perform calculations at such blinding speeds that it could break any form of encryption. In Surveillance, I suppose what might happen if the NSA developed a quantum computer and what that might mean for its surveillance of U.S. citizens.

So far I’ve managed to stay ahead of the headlines with the subjects my books. However, it’s often a close call — earlier this year, a few months before the release of Surveillance, Google announced that it had tested the first quantum computer.

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An Empty Hell by Dave White

March 11, 2016 by  •
This was all about him, and everyone else was collateral damage.

It’s been a year since former NJ cop turned private investigator Jackson Donne was involved in a case that ended with two men dead and Donne pegged by law enforcement as the killer. (Not Even Past) Though on the face of it evidence did seem to indicate Donne was responsible, the reality of the situation was far more complicated.

Unfortunately, Donne is persona non grata with the local police, who hold a serious grudge against him for his actions while a member of their ranks. So, rather than stick around and try to explain Donne decided a change of scenery was in order.

Now, the lifelong Jersey resident finds himself using the name Joe Tennant and working as a handyman in a small town in Vermont, living pretty much off the grid and isolated from all but a few locals. It’s a situation that’s far from ideal, but one Donne has come to accept as the way things need to be.

Trouble seems to have a way of finding Donne, however, and the first hint of it occurs when the owner of the small motel where Donne works is abducted. Donne makes the mistake of indulging his investigator instincts and pokes around the motel, where he comes across information that leads him to believe the abductor wasn’t only after Donne’s boss/friend, but that Donne is a target too.

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Crossword Puzzles Save Lives by S.W. Lauden

March 9, 2016 by  •
S.W. Lauden is a busy man. His debut novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, dropped last November and the follow-up, Grizzly Season, will be published this September. In the meantime, he’s managed to sneak in a novella, Crosswise, out now from Down & Out Books. Today he’s here to talk about how crossword puzzles figure in to Crosswise, and how having a firm grasp of one’s apse can save lives.

Crossword Puzzles Save Lives

Flying means one thing for me these days: crossword puzzles.

The first thing I do when boarding a flight is take the airline magazine out and flip to the back. The game is to complete the crossword puzzle before the plane takes off.

The logic is simple. Finish the puzzle before the plane takes off and we won’t crash. Fail, and, well…let’s just say that my fellow passengers should be very thankful I’m so good at word games.

I invented this ritual many years ago in response to my latent fear of flying, which, I’ll admit, seems at odds with the implied God complex. But that’s a dilemma for another blog post.

Now, when I say that I’m good at crossword puzzles it should be understood what I mean. In my experience, crossword puzzles are less like an IQ test and more like learning a rudimentary language. Do enough of them and you’ll start to see certain clues and answers repeated. When’s the last time you used words like “apse,” “etui,” and “oleo” (or “olio,” for that matter) in polite conversation?

You haven’t, and neither have I. That’s the point.

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How to Publish Your First Novel at Fifty by Jeffery Hess

March 7, 2016 by  •
I’ve had the pleasure over the past few years to both know Jeff Hess as a friend as well as to work with him as his editor. We’ve worked on everything from short stories to a novella to a full-length novel. And that’s why I am especially honored to welcome Jeff to the site—the novel we worked on together, Beachhead, drops today from Down & Out Books. Given my early involvement with the book, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to formally review it. (But it is great, so go get it!) I’m more than happy, however, to share Jeff’s tongue-in-cheek, but still true, step-by-step process for becoming a debut author…at fifty.

Jeffery HessHow to Publish Your First Novel at Fifty

1. Make the decision to become a novelist at seventeen years old.
2. Begin creative writing in earnest at twenty-five.
3. Take creative writing classes at a university with no true creative writing program.
4. Dream up half-baked ideas and force them into the short story form.
5. Get as much writing time as you can—lunch hours, nights, weekends, etc.
6. Ruminate on the page about all the thoughts and memories of your character.
7. Ignore the character’s interior and just detail every minute action in his or her day.
8. Complete a novel and revise it.
9. Send it to agents.
10. Appreciate the rejections for both the compliments and criticisms they contain.
11. Sacrifice more of your social life to devote to writing.
12. Even with this increased writing time, make time to read great books, including craft books.
13. Have a penchant for offbeat characters without wide appeal.
14. Go to graduate school and change the way you write.
15. Write and workshop a thesis that will one day embarrass you.

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Cambridge, England and the Noir that Lurks Beneath by E.G. Rodford

March 2, 2016 by  •
It’s always fun to be in at the start of a series, and today I’m pleased to welcome E.G. Rodford to the site to talk about The Bursar’s Wife (Titan Books). The first book in a new series, The Bursar’s Wife is set in Cambridge, England, and features former policeman/current private investigator George Kocharyan. One normally associates Cambridge with picturesque university campuses and the pinnacle of academia, not the sort of down and dirty antics that normally take place in a PI series. So why’d Rodford decide to set the series there? I’ll turn the floor over for an explanation straight from the author.

 JD RhoadesCambridge, England and the Noir that Lurks Beneath

I have been asked a few times now why I set The Bursar’s Wife in modern-day Cambridge, England, a city that is hardly considered to be an urban cesspit of drug-ridden vice and crime. The question got me thinking as to why I did, beyond the fact that it meant the research was easy because I live here. Coming up with an answer meant giving some thought to what noir crime means to me.

Noir, and more specifically the sub-genre hard-boiled private eye version of it, can seem dated, and is easily parodied, what with its wisecracking cynical protagonist and dubious attitude to women. But to my mind one of the conventions of noir is that there exists a decadent reality lurking beneath the façade of respectable society. And the more respectable, cloaked in tradition and monied, the more decadence the façade camouflages.

This obviously makes somewhere like Cambridge (both the UK and US versions!) an ideal setting for such a crime novel. Cambridge is chock full of brilliant minds and academics who embody the best of British intellectual life and also happens to be a major tourist destination. People come from all over the world to see the gothic spires, go punting on the Cam, and generally clog up the streets trying to catch sight of students in their graduation gowns.

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Ice Chest by J.D. Rhoades

February 29, 2016 by  •
 JD Rhoades“We’re a team of the best security and personal protection operatives in the world, surrounded by half-naked women dressed as tropical birds, protecting a bra that’s worth the GDP of a small country.” — Zoe Piper

Clarissa Cartwright isn’t entirely sure how she ended up being the “It Girl” for Enigma lingerie’s newest fashion line, nevertheless she finds herself heading out on a multi-city tour, ready to be the face of the company.

Of course, considering she will be sporting a jewel-encrusted bra worth over 5 million dollars in diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds, it’s not likely many people will be looking at her face anyway, gorgeous as it may be.

Paragon Security’s Charles “Chunk” McNeill and his partner, Zoe Piper, have been tasked by Gareth Gane, promotions manager for Enigma, with keeping both the so-called “Fantasy Bra” and the Birds Of Paradise, what Enigma calls the models in their show, safe.

It’s a bit of a challenge considering the number of people traveling with the production, not to mention the local personnel at each tour stop, but McNeill is a twice-decorated police veteran turned private security operative with over twenty years’ experience. Even the most experienced security professional, however, can’t account for every possible situation, especially when there are wild cards involved.

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Mixed Up With Murder by Susan Shea

February 25, 2016 by  •
“I’d love to. It’ll be a nice break from the routine.” — Dani O’Rourke

On one hand, Dani O’Rourke, chief fundraiser for the Devor Museum in San Francisco, can be forgiven for thinking a trip back East to serve as a consultant at a quaint New England college sounds like a pleasant distraction.

On the other hand, Dani has an unfortunate history of finding herself caught up in highly irregular situations… ones that usually involve dead bodies. (Murder in the Abstract | The King’s Jar).

Not one to turn down an interesting professional endeavor—the consulting job involves overseeing the donation of a large art collection, as well as a twenty million dollar endowment—Dani heads to Lynthorpe College in Bridgetown, Massachusetts for what is billed as a straightforward one-week review. She’s there less than a day, however, when it becomes clear there is some dissension amongst the bigwigs at the school about the terms of the donation.

It seems the donor, school alumnus Vincent Margoletti, while never outright accused or indicted, has been involved in some business deals during his climb to wealth that some have found shady at best. And for some strange reason he’s pushing the college to accept the donation immediately, before Dani’s vetting process is completed, with a not so implied threat of its withdrawal otherwise.

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City of Rose by Rob Hart

February 23, 2016 by  •
Rob Hart“If collecting scars by means of stupidity were a hobby, I’d be ready to go pro.” — Ash McKenna

When readers last saw Staten Island born and bred bouncer/amateur private investigator Ash McKenna (New Yorked), he’d been through the ringer trying to get to the bottom of the murder of his longtime friend and unrequited love, Chell. Along the way things got rough and people, including Ash, got roughed up.

Having burned a few bridges and ruffled more than a few feathers, Ash decides it’s time to take a leave of absence from his beloved New York City. He ends up in Portland, Oregon, working as a bouncer at a vegan strip club named Naturals.

Determined to leave his past in the past, Ash has embraced non-violence and is determined not to slip back into his old ways—control your anger before it controls you is his new mantra. So it’s with only the slightest hesitation that Ash refuses a request from one of Naturals’ dancers, Crystal, to help her locate her missing daughter.

A funny thing happens on the way to tranquility, however. Only minutes after Ash turns down Crystal’s request he is abducted at gunpoint—by a man wearing a chicken mask, no less—and warned off having anything to do with Crystal or the search for her missing daughter. Bad move. There are many things Ash McKenna does not like, but top of the list is being told what to do, or not do as the case may be. Add to the mix the fact Chicken Man breaks Ash’s phone during the abduction and, well, it’s on.

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Five Faroe Island Facts by Chris Ould

February 19, 2016 by  •
It’s an honor to welcome BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Chris Ould to the site today. Chris has been working successfully as a screenwriter for quite some time, and has also written novels, both a YA series and several standalone offerings. Today, Chris is here in conjunction with his latest release, The Blood Strand, the first in a new series. The Blood Strand finds Jan Reyna, now a British police detective, returning to the Faroe Islands, where he was born and spent his early years, after his estranged father is found unconscious and covered in someone else’s blood, a shotgun near him. The novel’s setting is unique, and today Chris presents a little “getting to know you” primer about the Faroe Islands for readers.

Chris OuldFive Faroe Island Facts

When I first read about the Faroe Islands a very long time ago there was precious little information to be had. What there was just added to their mystique: out in the middle of the northern Atlantic; a small population speaking a language known only to themselves; ancient traditions going back to the Vikings…

Finally, years later, I made it out there to research the islands as a setting for a crime novel and I fell in love with the place. Truly. To me the islands have a majestic, awe-inspiring, unique quality: completely different to anywhere else I’ve ever been. So, when I was asked to come up with five facts about the Faroes for anyone who might be tempted to go there, I thought it was like asking me to choose my favourite child. Only five? (Yes, because it alliterates, stupid.)

So, this has taken me days to decide, but here goes.

Fact One: It’s wet. Often. Very. Even the proudest Faroe Islander will admit that they don’t (quite) have a Mediterranean climate. So there’s every chance you’ll be rained or drizzled on for hours. And then, because it’s the Faroes, the sun will come out and the dazzlingly saturated colour of every house, boat and field will make your eyes hurt.

My personal theory is that the Faroese paint everything brightly to make the most of the sunlight when it appears. I exaggerate for effect, of course, but waterproofs and decent boots are essential, even in summer. And on my first day there I discovered there’s no point in wearing a baseball cap. I spent half an hour trying to retrieve mine after the wind tossed it over a cliff. Not recommended. I went and bought a waterproof beanie instead.

But whatever the weather you’re experiencing at any given moment, the chances are that it’s the polar opposite at the other end of the island, or on the other side of a mountain. It’s not unusual for the Faroese to drive thirty miles from a fog-bound Borðoy to Streymoy just because someone’s called to say it’s sunny there.

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The Evolution of a Character by Dave White

February 17, 2016 by  •
It’s a pleasure to welcome Derringer Award-winning author Dave White to the site. An Empty Hell, the latest entry in White’s series featuring New Jersey-based ex-cop turned private investigator Jackson Donne (following last year’s Not Even Past), is out now, and White stopped by to talk about where the inspiration for characters can come from, and how those characters’ voices can come and go seemingly of their own volition.

The Evolution of a Character

Way back when I was a kid, my dad wrote a private detective novel called Blood Tells. He wrote it after Ross MacDonald died, and he submitted it—without an agent—to Knopf, because that’s whom he said published MacDonald. Eventually, he got a rejection slip back and to my knowledge, my dad never submitted it again.

I’ve read the novel. It’s good. It features a detective named Matt Herrick, who’s caught up in a very MacDonald-esque case. Sins of the Father and all that. I loved the character’s name. It stuck in my head for years.

Until 2006, when I was in the middle of drafting the first Jackson Donne novel, When One Man Dies. Because of Donne’s situation in the book, I didn’t want to put him in the middle of a new short story, but I had an idea. So, I created a new detective. An older man with a family. He was the exact opposite of Donne. And, he needed a name.

I chose Matt Herrick (with my dad’s permission).

Then a weird thing happened. After the story was published, Herrick’s voice went away. Don’t know why, don’t know how. But several times I tried to write about it and just couldn’t get past a paragraph or two. Herrick was there for one story.

For a bunch of years, the character went away.

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The Joy of the Heist by J.D. Rhoades

February 12, 2016 by  •
I’m pleased to welcome J.D. “Dusty” Rhoades to the site today. After a successful run of novels featuring hard as nails Gulf War veteran turned bail enforcer Jack Keller—series debut The Devil’s Right Hand was nominated for the Shamus Award for Best First P.I. Novel—as well as the standalone Breaking Cover (an intense thriller featuring a deep cover FBI agent), Dusty has decided to lighten up a little in his newest novel, Ice Chest (Polis Books), a comedic heist caper. In today’s guest post, Dusty explains what motivated him to switch things up a bit, and what challenges doing so presented.

 JD RhoadesThe Joy of the Heist

“So, Dusty,” you say, “here you are, a writer with a small but devoted following, known for writing what’s come to be called ‘redneck noir’—dark crime fiction set in the American South. Why on earth would you turn to writing something as different as your latest book, ICE CHEST–a comic heist novel?”

To this I would answer, “Excuse me, but who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

But seriously, folks, why would I undergo the perils of changing from gritty thrillers to zany caper novels? Because make no mistake, there is a certain amount of peril to switching up like that. Fans want something just like the thing that made them fall in love with your work in the first place. Publishers want something just like the thing that was successful last time, only different. It’s a little like a restaurant owner going to a table of regulars and saying, “I know you you’ve always enjoyed the steak here, but I’m going to bring you the tilapia. Trust me, you’ll love it.” Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.

But it’s a little scary to make that change, especially when you’re doing something as subjective as humor. There are few things more awkward than telling a joke or making an observation you find hilarious, only to have your listener stare at you blankly and say, “I don’t get it.” Imagine doing an entire book you hope is humorous and having it fall flat. So why do it?