Trust A Cop? Not The Amish!

Guest Blogger: Karen Harper

Unless you know Amish thinking as well as I do, after studying and visiting them for twenty years and writing nine suspense novels set among them (or, OK, unless you remember the classic movie WITNESS,) you probably don’t realize the Amish usually “have no truck” with any form of law enforcement.  Besides their desire for privacy, this is mostly because their people were hunted down and persecuted for their religion in Europe by those who were law enforcement officers there.

The Plain People have very long memories.  Basically, they don’t trust anyone with a badge.  And that has been one of the big challenges of writing thrillers set among these nonviolent people.

When I began FINDING MERCY and other books set in the same area (FALL FROM PRIDE and RETURN TO GRACE,) I knew a cop character would be needed to help solve serious crimes.  My nephew had held such a post in rural Ohio, so I used him for a source.  Jack Freeman, my fictional county sheriff, has had to work hard to earn the trust of the Amish.  His love interest, also non-Amish who runs the local, popular country cookin’ restaurant, helps build this trust with Amish patrons and especially with her Amish staff.  So, although the Amish heroine of each book works to solve a lethal crime, the local Plain People slowly learn to trust the sheriff during these novels.

Why do the Amish, after all these years away from persecution by the state churches of Europe, but now living in “the land of the free” which has protected their religious rights, still mistrust law enforcement today?  Their past during which they were imprisoned and many burned at the stake (or often tied to wooden ladders and roasted) is part of their heritage they keep alive, so that they can encourage their young people to remain “a people apart.”  Each Amish home has an illustrated BOOK OF MARTYRS with stories of their persecutions for their belief in adult baptism rather than infant baptism.  And many of their current practices are directly related to those days of mistrust and terror.

Why do the Amish wear beards but not mustaches?  Because their law enforcement enemies of earlier times had mustaches.  Why do they refuse to use buttons on their clothes?  The uniforms of their persecutors had many “prideful” buttons.  Why have church services in different barns or homes every other Sunday instead of building a church?  Because moving their worship service around in the old days meant a better chance of not being arrested.  (Their services are still in High German.)  The past among the Amish is still alive in more ways than just using horses-and-buggies.

This mistrust of law enforcement today makes for great tension in a thriller novel as does the setting itself.  An area with no electricity, few phones to call for help and slow-moving buggies which make it hard to escape an enemy work well in a suspense plot.  And there is nothing like a chase scene or the depth of darkness in a pitch black barn or a tall corn field to ratchet up suspense and fear.

I love to take my readers into this world of contrasts and crime.  The Amish have a saying that “Life is not all cakes and quilts.”  I think FINDING MERCY and my other Amish books take full advantage of that truth.

Karen Harper is the NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of contemporary suspense and historical fiction. A former secondary and university (Ohio State) English instructor, she now writes full time. She is the winner of the Mary Higgins Clark award for her Amish suspense DARK ANGEL and has written eight other thrillers set in Amish country. Karen and her husband divide their time between Ohio and Florida. Please visit her website here.

Where Stories Come From

Guest Blogger: Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

Sometimes the inspiration for a story comes from an event in the writer’s past.

That was the case for my young adult fantasy TWO MOON PRINCESS. Andrea’s journey from her medieval kingdom to modern day California and back parallels my own between Spain and the States, even though Andrea travelled through an arch in the                                                                               beach and I, by plane.

A journey, an emotional one this time, is at the core of my second novel THE KING IN THE STONE. A journey through love and loss as devastating for my protagonist in an eighth century Spanish village as it was, in real life, for me.

In both cases, the outline of the story was in my mind before I wrote it. My latest book, IMMORTAL LOVE, on the other hand, evolved in a totally different way.

Back in the fall of 2010, I had just finished my third YA fantasy and was querying agents to represent it. At the same time, with the excuse of doing research, I was reading many YA novels. As you may remember, vampires, demons and fairies, were big those days in the YA world —no complaint here for I love the genre— but after a while all these stories started to blend in my mind: the good guys were always young and beautiful, the bad ones, old and ugly. Not being either young or beautiful myself, this started to bother me.

So, I decided to write a book where an older woman, a single mother of two teens as I was at the time, is the one in charge of saving the world, and because my favorite paranormal story of all times is BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, the bad guys became vampires.

I posted the story at first in weekly installments in my blog Dare to Read as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did in the magazines that were so popular in their time.

But no sooner had I started writing that my unconscious wish to find an agent became my protagonist’s and my vampire antagonist morphed into the perfect agent. A perfect agent who could be no other than Becquer, the most romantic of the Spanish poets whose poems of unrequited love I, and every other teen in my class, had memorized the first time a clueless boy broke our hearts.

Becquer was the perfect agent because during his life he tried and failed to be recognized as a writer, and had to work odd jobs to make a living. Who better than him to understand my struggles to get published? Besides he was handsome and had but a short life. A fact, this last one, that I decided to change by making him an immortal in my story.

As I wrote, Becquer’s personality I had gathered by reading his letters and his stories took over my character and make him act in ways that were his own. His interaction with my alter ego, Carla, became an intimate dance between them of which I was only an observer for, in the magical way every author will recognize, my two protagonists had become alive and were telling me their story.

To keep this paranormal story believable for my readers, I chose real settings like the ones represented in these pictures taken in Bucks County, PA where I live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But even in beautiful places, evil lures and Carla and Becquer must fight both internal and external demons before making the ultimate decision that will seal or break their relationship.

As you can see by my examples, personal experience and real places are always an integral part of my stories.

What about yours? Where do your stories come from?

Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban is the author of the young adult fantasy TWO MOON PRINCESS (Tanglewood Press) and the paranormal romance IMMORTAL LOVE (Crimson Romance). The amazing Ginger Knowlton at Curtis Brown represents her YA novels.

Originally from Spain, she lives in Bucks County, PA, where she works as a freelance writer, editor and translator. Visit her for more information at www.WriteEditPublish.com.

 

 

How Characters Change With Real Life

Guest Blogger: Eric Van Lustbader

When I created the character of Jack McClure for FIRST DAUGHTER, I made him very much like me. He was a dyslexic. My dyslexia is far less severe than Jack’s is, but nonetheless it created both challenges and advantages for me. I kept exchanging letters within words, exchanging some words for others. On the other hand, my mind works exceedingly quickly, and my dyslexia allows me to concentrate almost preternaturally on my writing—as well as whatever else I set my sights on.

In the beginning, Jack’s main relationship was with Allie Carson, the president’s daughter. Jack’s own daughter—and Allie’s best friend—had been killed in an auto accident. Allie was estranged from her parents, so it became logical that the two of them should forge a father-daughter relationship. This relationship perfectly mirrors the one I have with my god-daughter, whose relationship with her own father was never good. I became her second father. When I started thinking about FIRST DAUGHTER, I knew I wanted to explore that unusual and rewarding relationship.

But time marches on and everything changes. Last year, my wife and I took our god-daughter to Paris, making good on a promise we had made to her years before. In Paris, she met a guy, they fell in love, and now they are married, living in Geneva, where he works at CERN as a particle physicist. An amazing story, but also an end to the first part of my relationship with her.

So, too, with Alli. In FATHER NIGHT, her story arc comes to a most satisfying conclusion, closing the book, so to speak, on the first four novels in the series. As with my god-daughter, Alli will be moving to Europe—Paris, not Geneva—to take a position with Interpol. She may get her own series one day, but for the time being Jack’s new main relationship is with Annika Dementieva, whom readers first met in LAST SNOW, the second novel in the series.

For me, the most exciting and rewarding aspect to writing is to mold the relationships and futures of my main characters in the same way those things change in real life. In the Jack McClure series, readers are given the opportunity to experience these changes in much the same way I do. It’s something I know they appreciate.

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Eric Van Lustbader is the author of many New York Times bestselling thrillers, including FIRST DAUGHTER, LAST SNOW and BLOOD TRUST. Lustbader was chosen by Robert Ludlum’s estate to continue the Jason Bourne series, and his Bourne novels include THE BOURNE LEGACY and THE BOURNE BETRAYAL. He and his wife live in New York City and on the South Fork of Long Island.

 

Why I Wrote LAST TO DIE

Guest Blogger: Tess Gerritsen

When I was ten years old, I got a fingerprint kit for my birthday. I’d been obsessed with Nancy Drew mystery novels, and I was convinced that I, too, could be a spunky girl detective and track down all the dangerous criminals lurking in my suburban San Diego neighborhood. The fingerprint kit consisted of a brush and a baggie of black powder. I practiced by dusting various surfaces in my house, blowing off the excess powder, and using Scotch tape to capture the patterns. I never nabbed any dangerous criminals, but I did discover the interesting fact that fingerprint powder is really hard to clean off white walls and furniture.

Thus ended my career as spunky girl detective.

The years passed and I grew up to become a doctor and then a thriller novelist, but I never forgot my childhood fantasy of being a crime-fighter. I realize now that it was a variation of a universal fantasy we all share: that even ordinary people can do extraordinary things. It’s a theme we see often in fiction and in movies: Harry Potter, the despised boy living under the stairs, becomes the world’s greatest wizard. Luke Skywalker, a farm boy, becomes a Jedi knight. So why couldn’t a mere kid help catch a criminal?

In my newest novel LAST TO DIE, that’s exactly what happens.

It’s the tenth in my Rizzoli and Isles crime series starring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. This time they’re on the hunt for a killer who’s stalking three surviving orphans of different family massacres. Assisting Jane and Maura are a few brilliant young sleuths who belong to The Jackals, a student forensics club at the remote and mysterious Evensong boarding school. The three threatened orphans — Claire, Will, and Teddy — are now sheltered at Evensong, where frightening new events at the school make Jane Rizzoli wonder if the killer has tracked the orphans to the isolated sanctuary that was supposed to keep them safe.

But Evensong is no ordinary school, and Evensong’s students are certainly not ordinary children. Among the students is sixteen-year-old Julian “Rat” Perkins, who saved Maura’s life in my book Ice Cold. As president of The Jackals Club, Julian leads this oddball group of amateur detectives, and they have more than a few tricks up their sleeves — tricks that may save the lives of Jane and Maura.

I never fulfilled my childhood fantasy of being a girl sleuth who catches bad guys. But I can finally bring that fantasy to life in LAST TO DIE, where it just might be the kids who bring down the killer.

Tess Gerritsen is the internationally bestselling author of 24 novels, including the “Rizzoli and Isles” crime series. Her books have been translated into 37 languages and 25 million copies have been sold around the world.

 

 

Sex and Secrets: THE OTHER WOMAN

Guest Blogger: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Who would be “the other woman?”

The dentist’s office was a strange place to consider that. I was in having a root canal—sigh—and reading an old PEOPLE magazine in the waiting room. (That’s what you do, right, when your face is puffy and the dentist is late?)

I happened on an article about Mark Sanford, the now-ex-governor of South Carolina, and his bewildering story. He’d told his wife, staff, and constituents that he was out hiking the Appalachian Trail—when he was really off on a tryst with his Argentinean mistress.

I was fascinated. Because—who would do that? It’s an absurdly terrible decision. It’s career endingly, reputation-ruiningly dumb. Did he think he could get away with it? From Dwight Eisenhower to Gary Hart to Bill Clinton to John Edwards—it’s clear you can’t. It’s clear you’re on the road to disaster and humiliation.

Just as intriguing to me—who would become the other woman? What kind of person would agree to play that role—and why? Love? Lust? Power? Delusion? Certainly you’re going to ruin the live of the man you ostensibly love—that’s a bombshell conflict. You’ll make his wife and family miserable—who would be able to deal with those emotions? In this case, the guy was the governor of a state—so you’d also be creating a situation where his constituents—the voters—would become even more cynical and dismissive of politicians and their situational ethics.

I’ve worked in many political campaigns—and was a staffer in the US senate for a few years. I’ve watched—and participated it—politics from behind the scenes. As a TV reporter for the past 30-some years, I’ve covered how politicians and their entourages behave, and what they say, and what they do—and what they look like when the lie. I’ve watched them manipulate and rationalize—and I know how some who feel so entitled and powerful, they think they can get away with anything.

As I got into the world of Mark Sanford’s indiscretions—and the fallout, and the repercussions and the crashing dominoes—I began to wonder: Who would be the other woman? And would there possibly be a reason that would be—acceptable? Understandable? Even—sympathetic? And if so…what if…

And there, as any mystery aficionado recognizes, was the beginning of the book. At the end of the PEOPLE article, one person says: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences.”

And at that moment, I got goose bumps. Soon my tooth was fixed—and so was my future! I spent the next year finding the story that became THE OTHER WOMAN—a story of reporter Jane Ryland, who thinks she on the trail of a senate candidate’s secret mistress, a mysterious woman who keeps appearing in the campaign rally photographs. It’s just before a pivotal election—if Jane’s wrong, she could ruin people’s lives—not to mention her already-rickety career. Even if she’s right—should she tell?

I wanted THE OTHER WOMAN to be a page-turner of a suspense thriller about sex and secrets and duplicity and power—about how far a person will go to get what they want—and most of all, about consequences. And now BOOKLIST’s starred review calls it “The perfect thriller for an election season.

Are you interested in a candidate’s private life? And if you were a reporter with some inside scoop on an illicit affair—would you tell?

Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-the-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. A TV reporter since 1975, her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. Along with her 28 EMMYs, Hank’s won dozens of other journalism honors. She’s been a radio reporter, a political campaign staffer, a legislative aide in the United States Senate and an editorial assistant at ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE working with Hunter S. Thompson and Richard Avedon.

Her first mystery, the best-selling PRIME TIME, won the Agatha for Best First Novel. FACE TIME was a BookSense Notable Book, and AIR TIME and DRIVE TIME were nominated for the AGATHA and ANTHONY Awards. Hank’s short story “On the House” won the AGATHA, ANTHONY and MACAVITY.

Her newest thriller, THE OTHER WOMAN (an Indie Next Great Read) came out in hardcover September 4 from Forge.  Hank is president-elect of national Sisters in Crime and blogs at Jungle Red Writers. You can also find Hank on Facebook and Twitter.

Starred review for THE OTHER WOMAN from BOOKLIST:

Ryan knows her way around politics at high levels, and she uses that knowledge to fashion a revenge-fueled plot that twists and turns at breakneck speed. Political skullduggery and murder make a high-octane mix in this a perfect thriller for an election season.

Starred review for THE OTHER WOMAN from LIBRARY JOURNAL:

Ryan, the Anthony and Agatha Award–winning author… employs her much honored investigative reporting and political background to craft a dizzyingly wild labyrinth of exciting twists, turns, and surprises. Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized by this first installment of her new series.

What is smart?

Guest Blogger: Kathleen George

Sometimes a panel—even one you’re on—makes you think about it a whole year later.  That was the case for me long ago, after the 2011 Thrillerfest.

Joseph Finder took a lot of abuse for coming up with our panel title, “Can a Thriller Be Both Exciting and Smart?”  We insisted, “Of course it can!.”  David Liss, moderator, had written to us that he would have preferred the title, “How Can a Thriller be Both Exciting and Smart?”  But we stuck with the original title/question and complained about it a bit during the panel.

Yet Finder’s original question is still with me and I’m not sure it’s such a bad question because I’m still tossing it around.  When I’m writing a character who is in danger and acting quickly, it’s fair to ask, is that person being smart, too.  Is that character’s mind engaged?  Sometimes yes (because logic apparently kicks in, even in split second decisions), sometimes no (the character can’t think, is out of control).  But are we also talking here mainly about what happens to the reader?  When thrilling scenes cause a reader to feel heart-pounding and to turn pages rapidly, is there time for the reader’s more philosophical self to be engaged?  Possibly not.  And this then goes back to the writer.  Does she or he have time to play with thoughts?

Philosophical thinking is of course only one kind of smart.   There’s street smart and word smart and history smart and human behavior smart.  And how-machines-work  smart.  And where do the smarts in each case reside–in the author or in the characters that author creates?  Erg.  All right.  Can we take Hamlet as an example?  He is philosophical-smart.  He’s not street smart, not a survivor, but wow does he have a lot of metaphor making going on.  He sees associations everywhere.  His leaps of the imagination are a wondrous kind of smart.  The grave diggers are smart.  They say dumb things that come out smart and true.  And Shakespeare was smart that he could put these different versions of thinking together.  And yet it doesn’t take an especially gifted person to enjoy the play.

“Where do you think writers go wrong when they go wrong?” Liss prodded.  I didn’t have a chance to answer, but my list of warnings comes from where I go wrong when I go wrong.  1.  Wrong:  When you find yourself writing and writing about motive, the motive isn’t clear or believable.  When it is, you don’t have to explain it.  You have that feeling that in the circumstances set out, you would likely do exactly what the characters do.  2.  Wrong:  Thinking in terms of “and” instead of “but.”  But is better.  “She is tired of her husband and she also wants to start a whole new career ” is not as interesting as “She loves her husband, but she wants to start a whole new career that will make her leave him.”  3.  Wrong:  Adding red herrings and surprises making your work suspiciously formulaic.  When you get the plot right, you don’t have to add them.  They’re there.

Joseph Finder’s question was actually pretty reasonable and we could have talked for hours.  Thriller writers get made fun of (Witness Dwight Garner’s New York Times article in which he suggests a game of imitating the bad lines of thrillers.)  It makes us look unsmart.

My next novel is SIMPLE which . . . may or may not be smart.

Kathleen George is the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIRand the author of  TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (Edgar finalist, best novel), HIDEOUT, and the forthcoming SIMPLE.  The novels are set in Pittsburgh.  The author teaches theatre and writing at Pitt.

Kirkus starred review for Simple:

George’s Pittsburgh cops (Hideout, 2011, etc.) investigate a robbery-murder that’s a lot less routine and more sordid than it looks.

Gubernatorial hopeful Michael Connolly can’t keep his hands off Cassie Price, a new paralegal in his father’s law firm. But as he tells Todd Simon, his campaign manager, his need to maintain a squeaky-clean family image means that he can’t acknowledge her either. So Simon takes Cassie out for a margarita to find out how dangerous she is. By next morning, she’s no danger at all, because she’s been killed in the house she’s been fixing up in the low-income neighborhood of Oakland. Witness accounts and other evidence send Detectives Coleson and McGranahan to Cal Hathaway, the son of the Connolly housekeeper. Damaged as a child by a concussion and subject to blackouts, Cal seems tailor-made for the role of Cassie’s killer, and after hours of interrogation, he says he did it, or he didn’t, or he can’t remember. That’s good enough for the cops, who lock him up and get ready to move on. But Cmdr. Richard Christie, dissatisfied with the case against Cal, keeps playing devil’s advocate, urging that Detectives John Potocki and Colleen Greer look at other scenarios and other suspects. As they painstakingly build a second case against an unsurprising suspect, Cal makes friends and enemies in jail, raising the distinct possibility that even if the police arrest someone else, his vindication will be posthumous.

George’s all-too-familiar story is so richly observed, subtly characterized, precisely written—her syncopated paragraphs are a special delight—and successful in its avoidance of genre clichés that you’d swear you were reading the first police procedural ever written.

Starred Review  Booklist

The case seems simple from the start. When Cassie Price is strangled in her home, handyman Cal Hathaway, who found the body, soon confesses to the crime. But as the reader knows from early on, Cassie, a beautiful and promising paralegal about to enter law school, was having an affair with her law firm boss, married gubernatorial candidate and golden boy Mike Connolly, whose handlers considered Cassie “unreliable.” Pittsburgh PD Homicide Unit Commander Richard Christie, a self-confessed meddler, is troubled by the confession obtained (and soon recanted) after hours of questioning from a man who suffers from brain damage and blackouts, the results of a childhood beating. So the investigation starts anew, led by Christie; his partner, Artie Dolan, and the team of Colleen Greer and John Potocki, whose ever-closer personal relationship is leading to their professional breakup. What most distinguishes this police procedural, the sixth in its series, after Hideout (2011), is its fully realized cast of characters, a close-knit group of detectives who deal with shades of gray in crime-solving. George’s deft prose, skillful plotting, and winning characters are reminiscent of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, and her fiction is almost as praiseworthy

 

Researching the Amish

Guest Blogger: Julie Kramer

For my latest thriller, I decided to go Amish.

At that time, I didn’t realize that Amish fiction was on an upswing. I just needed another Minnesota-based adventure for Riley Spartz, the reporter/heroine in my series set in the desperate world of  TV news. Minnesota has one of the fastest growing Old Order Amish communities. And it’s not far from the family farm where I grew up and where my ancestors farmed corn and cattle for more than 130 years.

Much of the Amish fiction in the news these days falls in the genre of inspirational or romance. Mine is more along the line of mystery and suspense. While my books don’t contain explicit sex or violence, they do have a higher body count than many Amish stories. Although in my defense, only three people die in SHUNNING SARAH.  In previous books, I’ve killed as many more characters. Fictionally, of course.

SHUNNING SARAH enabled me to combine two parts of my life in one story: flashy TV news vs. the reclusive Amish. In the world of the Amish, a TV antenna is the devil’s tail; while a TV screen is the devil’s tongue. So this guaranteed conflict, the key to any intriguing story. When a homicide victim is recognized from a forensic sketch as a local Amish woman, Sarah Yoder, her family objects to the picture being broadcast because of the biblical ban on graven images.

I hadn’t had a lot of contact with Amish since I left the farm. My novel is set in the real life community of Harmony, MN. So I ventured there for further research, touring the countryside, staying at an Amish bed and breakfast, and buying potatoes, baskets and cashew crunch from Amish families. While Amish tourism is a booming business in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it’s just getting a toe hold in Minnesota. I asked questions, but didn’t mention my interest was in the name of research. So in my book’s acknowledgments I didn’t list the name of any real Amish, because I didn’t want to cause trouble over any misunderstandings.

I most enjoy in the field research like this, but I also needed to understand the Amish faith and learned that it dates back to the sixteenth century.  While Mark Luther was leading the Protestant Reformation, another movement was underway to change the Catholic Church: the Anabaptists. They ended up being persecuted by mainstream theologians and had to practice their faith in secret. Many scholars believe the withdrawal of the Amish from society came from this oppression.

As far as reviews go, I especially appreciated ones that cited my research like this one from the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Kramer’s research into the Amish realm is impressive and integrated skillfully into the plot.”

The more research I did the more I realized the Amish – while they shun electricity and modern society for a simpler life – suffer discord within their own communities, just like the rest of us. And that became the basis of SHUNNING SARAH.

Investigative television journalist Julie Kramer turns novelist writes a series of thrillers: STALKING SUSAN, MISSING MARK, SILENCING SAM, KILLING KATE and SHUNNING SARAH – set in the desperate world of TV news. Julie won the Daphne du Maurier Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best First Mystery as well as the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has also been nominated for the Anthony, Barry, Shamus, Mary Higgins Clark, and RT Best Best Amateur Sleuth Awards. She formerly ran the acclaimed I TEAM for WCCO-TV before becoming a freelance network news producer for NBC and CBS.

 

Caitlin Strong: Action Hero!

Guest Blogger: Jon Land

Female action hero.  For many thriller fans, that’s an oxymoron.  And you can’t really blame them.  A woman capable of mixing it up with the likes of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher?  Come on, no way, right?

Wrong.  Caitlin Strong, who returns this month in STRONG VENGEANCE, is a Texas Ranger capable of mixing it up with just about everyone.  Her past three adventures have pitted her against a villainous Haliburton-like company responsible for torturing her husband (STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE), a renegade Mexican colonel about to launch a guerilla war against the U.S. (STRONG JUSTICE), and a radical right-wing militia intent on starting a second civil war (STRONG AT THE BREAK).  Now in STRONG VENGEANCE she’s up against homegrown Islamic terrorists planning to wipe out the United States as we know it.  Those plotlines may seem more fit for Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone, James RollinsSigma Force, or Vince Flynn’s wonderful Mitch Rapp.  Only difference is they’re men . . . and not Texas Rangers either.

See, it comes down to credibility.  Building a believable female action hero starts with a foundation the audience will buy into and the Texas Rangers form the perfect basis for that.  These lawmen (and now lawwomen!) have been legends for nearly two centuries now, coming to exemplify the lone hero so vital to the development of American fiction in general.  The Rangers’ exploits have reached a mythic, virtually iconic level and they remain to this day symbols of standing up for what’s right no matter the odds.  Which describes Caitlin dead solid perfect.

Of course, some will say that casting female Caitlin in the all-male Texas Rangers strains credibility in its own right.  So I made her not just a Ranger, but a fifth generation Ranger with her forbears all being veritable legends in this exclusive community.  That helps lead to her being accepted but, ultimately, she has no problem proving herself against bad guys every bit the equal of those run down by Caitlin’s father Jim and her grandfather Earl Strong.  That’s why I decided to frame all the Strong books by featuring them in subplots set in the past that inevitably turn out to be connected to what and who Caitlin’s pursuing in the present.  In STRONG VENGEANCE, for example, Caitlin has to solve the thirty-year-old mass murder of five college students, a case her legendary father and grandfather never solved, in order to stop those homegrown terrorists from wreaking havoc on the nation.

Stephen King once said “it’s not the tale, it’s the telling.”  Well, for me it’s not the gender, it’s the person.  And Caitlin Strong can stand toe-to-toe with any of her contemporaries, even though that doesn’t necessarily mean eye-to-eye!

Jon Land is the bestselling author of thirty thrillers, most recently the Caitlin Strong series that includes STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, STRONG JUSTICE, andSTRONG AT THE BREAK. The next entry, STRONG VENGEANCE, was published by Forge on July 17. He’s also bringing back his longtime action hero Blaine McCracken in PANDORA’S TEMPLE for Open Road Media in November and this past year published his first ever nonfiction book, BETRAYAL. BETRAYAL is currently being developed as a television series by Fox for Denis Leery and Jon is on the verge of inking a deal with Sony to bring Caitlin Strong to the small screen as well. He lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the Web at jonlandbooks.com.

 

 

For Honor’s Sake

Guest Blogger: Merry Jones

Thrillers and mysteries are supposed to entertain.  I write with that in mind.  But sometimes, in the course of writing those entertaining books, I come across information that affects me.  For example, while doing research for BEHIND THE WALLS, I learned about the following:

Case 1: In 2008, a woman in Saudi Arabia was killed by her father for chatting to a man on Facebook.  The killing aroused public outrage, but not for its brutality; rather, for Facebook’s role in causing family strife.

Case 2: In 2002, a Kurdish man in London stabbed his daughter to death because, after hearing that a love song had been dedicated to her, he suspected she had a boyfriend.

Case 3: In 2010, a Sikh man murdered his daughter for being too “westernized” in her attitudes and style.

I’ve mentioned only three, but the list of killings of girls and women by their family members goes on and on.  It spans decades, centuries, even millennia.  It crosses cultures, religions, countries and continents.  But, despite their differences in time, place and ethnicities, the cases are basically alike:  They are all honor killings.

Honor killings.  No doubt you’ve heard of them.  I had, but never paid much attention until writing a book where a victim’s family is suspected of killing her.

In my research, I learned about “honor killings,” a specific set of homicides in which a member of a family or social group is murdered by others in the family or group in order to avenge perceived dishonor or shame brought upon them by the victim.   Mostly, these crimes occur among Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian cultures.  Each year they claim over 20,000 lives.

Over 20,000 fathers killing daughters, brothers killing sisters.

So, what sort of dishonor is so unbearable that it leads a father, brother, mother or uncle to kill a daughter, sister or niece?

Well, there are many.  The victim can be guilty of:

Dressing in a manner disapproved of by the family.

Associating with men independently.

Opposing an arranged marriage.

Desiring to marry by choice.

Wanting to end a marriage—even an abusive one.

Adopting behaviors of another culture.

Engaging in sexual behavior outside marriage—even being raped.

Engaging in homosexuality.

And so on.

Historians suggest that these killings originated in patrilineal cultures, which sought to control parentage.  Only by controlling the sexual/reproductive behavior of women could men ensure that their children were actually theirs.  Killing a wayward wife set a harsh example for other women, controlled the bloodline and prevented outsiders from polluting the tribe.

The attitudes behind today’s honor killings are ancient.  These crimes were committed way back in Hammurabi’s time, 1200 BCE.  Aztecs and Incas performed them.  Ancient Romans killed rape victims as acts of mercy.  Some Chinese husbands cut off the hair of adulterous wives and had them stomped to death by trained murderous elephants.  Some Native American tribes punished adulterous women by cutting off their limbs and mutilating their bodies.  Persians left such women to die in a well. And all of these murders, throughout time, have been conducted without stigma or apology.  They have been regarded as justifiable, even rewarded–as their name suggests–with honor.

Today, with multicultural populations worldwide, honor killings have been reported in the US, Canada, Germany, Russia, the UK, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Latin America, Pakistan, India, the Congo, etc.

More than 20,000 victims each year.  Many of the deaths unreported, invisible, unpunished.  Un-mourned by their own families.

The injustice and betrayal are staggering.  BEHIND THE WALLS certainly doesn’t come up with a way to end a tradition that precedes the Bible.  But maybe, by presenting the topic within an entertaining plot, the book will raise awareness about these killings.  And if awareness is raised, change might follow.  Someday.

At least, we can hope.

Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers, SUMMER SESSION and BEHIND THE WALLS, as well as the Zoe Hayes mysteries, THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, and THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS.   She has also written humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS: WOMEN WHO RELINQUISHED BABIES FOR ADOPTION TELL THEIR STORIES.)  She is a member of The Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and Philadelphia Liars Club.  Visit her at MerryJones.com

 

I, Judas: Faith & Reason

Guest Blogger:  Bob Mayer

What if Judas is still alive and it appears the Second Coming is upon us?

That’s the basic premise of my latest release, I, Judas: The Fifth Gospel.  The story takes place in the present and the inciting incident is the sudden appearance of an object on a collision course with Earth.  Two very powerful groups take this event two very different ways:  The Brotherhood views the object as Wormwood, one of the signs the Rapture is near.  The Illuminati view is as a threatening object that needs to be destroying.

Further muddying up the issue is the rumor that Judas Iscariot, cursed by Jesus to wander the world until the Second Coming, is hiding somewhere in the Amazon and he’s written a Fifth book to Bible, one that tells a very different story.

As nations scramble to try to stop the Intruder, as they call it, the Brotherhood seeks to implement the Great Commission:  sending the word of God to every person on the planet; and their mode of doing that could a threat by itself.

I use two timelines in the novel, which is always difficult to pull off.  I spend time on the last day with Judas and the survivors of the team sent to assassinate him as he educates them about what the Second Coming really is; and then I move back three days to when the object is first sights and how the world reacts to it.  Both timelines merge at the end.

To me the key to the book is the danger of believing one has absolute knowledge about something.  I think there is a balancing act between knowledge and faith.  However, other people believe faith has to be absolute and not questioned.

What do you think?  Should one question their faith and does the very act of doing that, destroy that faith?  Should one question what they think they know and open their minds up to the infinite possibilities of the universe?

Bob Mayer is the NY TIMES Bestselling author of factual thrillers. He steeps his stories in military, historical and scientific facts, then weaves those facts through fiction creating an exciting ride for the reader. He’s a West Point graduate, former Green Beret, and author of more than 50 books that have sold over 5 million copies in print, digitally and in audio. He’s been on bestseller lists in thriller, science fiction, suspense, action, war, historical fiction and is the only male author on the Romance Writers of America Honor Roll. He is one of the top grossing indie authors in the world. He is the CEO of Cool Gus Publishing, which has earned over a million dollars in just eighteen months after selling only three eBooks the first month in business. He is a leading expert on digital publishing and the eBook market. He will have a new major release from 47North of Amazon on 11 December 2012: AREA 51: NIGHTSTALKERS.