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Catching Up With Alex Segura

April 11, 2016 by  •
Alex Segura is a busy man. In addition to his longtime, ongoing work with Archie Comics, he’s already had a novella (Bad Beat, co-written with Rob Hart) and a full-length novel (Silent City) released in 2016, with a second full-length novel (Down the Darkest Street) ready to drop on April 12th. He and his wife also added a beautiful baby boy to the Segura family in February. Despite his hectic schedule, Alex was kind enough to make some time recently for an interview, during which we talked comics, crossovers, his approach to writing, how location shapes and informs a story, and what he has planned for the future.

You’ve always kept busy as a writer, both through your work in comics and novels, as well as your background in journalism, but 2016 is posed to be a particularly bountiful year for you. It kicked off in January with the digital short exclusive Bad Beat, a crossover you co-wrote with Rob Hart. The story features both your character, Pete Fernandez, and his, Ash McKenna (New Yorked, City of Rose). How’d that collaboration come about, and what was it like co-writing with someone in a purely prose setting versus the collaborative work you’ve done in comics?

It came up really organically, which was nice. Rob and I were having dinner after an event and got to talking about our mutual affection for comics, which lead us to talk about great crossover. Eventually, we latched onto the idea of doing it with our own characters in advance of our new books. By the time we were on our respective trains home, Jason Pinter at Polis Books had OK’d the idea and we were off.

I’m not going to lie, I was a little worried the idea would fizzle – mainly because Rob and I are both very busy. But the writing was seamless and easy. We brainstormed the outline and where the story fit in our respective character timelines and then split up the work. We’d each take turns writing our sections and then took passes editing the whole thing. We both have journalism backgrounds, so I think that helped in terms of letting someone else tinker with your work. The end result was a fun story – and one that I got to nod to in the reissued version of SILENT CITY, making it more “canon.”

Rob and I have similar sensibilities and work ethics and I love the Ash books, so it was really a treat to work with him. I hope we can do it again, if the stars align the right way.

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The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger

April 7, 2016 by  •
I’m sort of like Death’s GPS. — Finn Harding

Finn “Mr. Finn” Harding has a unique talent for finding people, even those who desperately don’t want to be found. Unfortunately for the people he locates, once he finds them they’re usually never seen again—hence, Death’s GPS.

Once a legit, licensed private investigator, Finn strayed a little too far over the line into murky ethical waters during an assignment for a client and had his license revoked by the state of Ohio. Now, he’s been reduced to working for people who not only don’t care he doesn’t have a license, they kinda prefer it given they work outside the law themselves.

When Bishop, the owner of an underground website called Dark Brokerage that traffics in stolen sensitive and financial information, becomes the target of a blackmailer who hacked the site, Finn is hired to locate the source blackmail. Easy enough, it’s Finn’s speciality after all.

Except, once Finn locates the blackmailer it doesn’t end there. Bishop persuades Finn to accompany fix-it man Little Freddie to…take care of the problem. Little Freddie will do all the heavy lifting, Finn is assured, he’ll just be along for the ride as backup. Right.

Though the task doesn’t go quite as planned, Finn gets more involved than he’d prefer, he and Freddie are successful, leading to an offer of more work for Finn from Bishop. Against his better judgment, Finn finds himself getting pulled farther and farther down a path he knows it’s not safe to be walking.

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Surveillance by Reece Hirsch

March 28, 2016 by  •
“How are we going to run from them? How do you run from an agency that’s in the business of surveillance?” — Ian Ayres

There’s a saying that no good deed goes unpunished, and surely something similar to that has to be top of mind when Ian Ayres walks into the San Francisco law firm of Chris Bruen. A so-called “ethical hacker,” someone who hacks into companies at their request to test their cybersecurity and show them where their weaknesses are, Ayres found far more than he bargained for on his last job.

While conducting what he thought was a routine security probe, he came across information that indicates the existence of a highly classified, top-secret government organization, one which has apparently developed a program called Skeleton Key that can break any form of encryption. Unclear whether the program is on the company’s servers intentionally or if they’re being hacked/surveilled, Ayres brings his discovery to their attention. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

When the company that hired Ayres not only cuts all ties with him but denies having hired him in the first place and accuses him of hacking their system, Ayres knows he’s stumbled onto something far out of his league and that he desperately needs help. Enter Chris Bruen. A former Department of Justice cybercrime prosecutor, Bruen is well known to those in the hacking community, and it’s him Ayres turns to for help. Along with his partner, Zoey Doucet, a former black-hat hacker turned ethical hacker, Bruen has literally just opened the doors of his new private practice for the first day of business when Ayres shows up on the doorstep with his problem, and a whole lot of trouble in tow.

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Crosswise by S.W. Lauden

March 16, 2016 by  •
“Do your job, Mr. Ruzzo. Everything else will become clear in time.” — Mr. Adamoli

Tommy Ruzzo was once a promising NYPD officer. That was before his access to the precinct evidence locker, and the cocaine in it, sent his life on an unexpected detour. Though Internal Affairs was never able to prove Ruzzo took the coke, the cloud of suspicion he was placed under killed his career.

With no options on the table locally, Ruzzo tags along with his girlfriend, Shayna Billups, when she moves back to her hometown of Seatown, Florida. Given that Shayna, and her coke habit, was the reason Ruzzo was dipping into the evidence locker to being with, it’s a particularly low blow when she leaves him for her ex-husband as soon as the drugs and drug money run out.

Stuck in Florida with no chance at resuming a legitimate law enforcement career, Ruzzo is forced to settle for work as a rent-a-cop at Precious Acres retirement community. Despite being promoted to Head of Security after only a couple of months, Ruzzo knows the job is a dead end, and resignedly settles in to a pattern of fielding wisecracks from septuagenarian retirees and chasing off mischievous teenagers during the day, then getting bombed out of his skull every night.

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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.