AS: I’ve always liked the idea of telling a story about recovery, as opposed to just spotlighting a hard drinking PI. I wanted to show the steps and stumbles he takes toward getting better. When we find Pete at the beginning of Blackout, he’s not desperate for a drink – in fact, he seems to be in good standing with AA and living a pretty functional life. But that’s on the surface. He hasn’t really dug back into his past and cleared the wreckage. He’s still haunted, and that’s driven a wedge between him and his friends – like his partner, Kathy Bentley, and other supporting characters. So, to answer your question, I wanted to show that Pete’s journey is an ongoing one – he’ll never be completely fixed. No one is. But this book is a big step for him because he’s given an opportunity to make something right, and that, in turn, might allow him to move on, to not be clouded by this guilt and shame, and to maybe embrace being alive. Unfortunately, he has some obstacles to overcome before that can happen – like a deadly cult with its sights set on Pete for meddling in their affairs.
MP: You’ve mentioned one of my favorite private eye authors, Ross Macdonald, in some of your other interviews. Is there anything from reading his work, you’ve applied to yours?
AS: I love Macdonald, so I’m glad you bring him up. I revisited all the Lew Archer books before writing Blackout. And while it wasn’t intentional research, I felt like a lot of that managed to sneak into the writing of the new book. He was a superb plotter, which, to contrast a bit, wasn’t Chandler’s strong suit. And while Lew Archer is unlike Pete in that he doesn’t really experience major, seismic changes from book to book, when you zoom out on the series, you do notice some things, especially when Macdonald plays with themes like the humanity of evil, the environment, or what have you. Those books helped me drill deep and create more compelling “bad guys.” The best villains don’t think they’re villains at all.And, like I said, the Archer books are so tightly plotted. That aspect is often ignored because Macdonald was such a great wordsmith – you can very easily get lost in his language and descriptions. But the books always move at a good clip. Nothing ever feels wasted or like filler. That must have subconsciously nudged me in that direction with Blackout.
MP: As someone who has friends that have dealt both successfully and unsuccessfully with alcoholism, I thought you portrayed that aspect of Pete in a realistic way. What do you keep in mind about that part of him when you’re writing the books?
AS: I try to be honest. Recovery isn’t a linear process, and it doesn’t stick with everyone. I think a lot of people just assume that once you get into AA or some kind of rehab, you’re okay. It’s silly to type that, but I’ve met people who think it’s like going to a doctor. It’s not. It’s a journey fraught with pitfalls and detours and, for many, relapse. So, I wanted to showcase Pete’s quest to get better with that in mind. Just because he’s not drinking doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it, or thinking about his past as a drinker. He’s a haunted character, and that applies to many people who deal with addiction. It’s a lifelong struggle.
MP: You’ve more or less stated that your putting Pete to rest at least for a while after the next book. Do you already have other stories or another series character in mind?
AS: I have at least one more Pete novel in me, which I’m starting on now – Miami Midnight. I’m having fun with that and might find myself at the end wanting another Pete. But as I see things now, I think I’ll at least give him a break. I don’t know if I’ll dive into another series just yet, though I do have an idea for a character. The two strongest ideas sound like standalone to me, though, and touch on subjects I haven’t gotten to explore with Pete.
Kristin Lepionka got our attention with her debut novel, The Last Place You Look in 2017. Her next case with Ohio PI Roxane Weary, What You Want To See, will be out next month, on May 1st. To get a glimpse of her talent, check out this piece of flash fiction about tattoos and revenge published in Shotgun Honey.
When Hunter Kincaid and her partner, Gary follow the tracks of a single male for miles through the desert, they don’t expect to find the man lying face down with bullet holes in his back and head, and all fired from close range, especially when there are no other tracks, except his for as far as they can see.
They call the Sheriff’s Department and the Sheriff himself responds, along with two high profile passengers: multi-millionaire and former Marine and ex-CIA agent-and current presidential advisor Lincoln Jones, and his second–in-command, Ashton Dean. Jones and Kincaid’s personalities clash, until Hunter hears that the dead man at their feet is Jones’ stepson, Cory. Cory is also a CIA Agent, and was working in Mexico as he and his partner, Art Gonzales, hunt through the unfamiliar terrain and towns to locate a drug ring that uses drones to transport and drop drug loads across the U.S. border. Neither was familiar with the Cartel’s new players or the two-thousand square mile area around Ojinaga, Mexico, and the Big Bend. Art is positive this led to Cory’s murder. Hunter also meets three delightful teen boys she sees flying small drones and they teach her how to fly one, as well as educating her on how many types there are.
The climax to this adventure occurs on the banks of the Rio Grande, where Hunter’s new skill flying drones pays off, while unexpected betrayals bring all parties together for a final confrontation.
Drones play a vital part in this novel, and the ones mentioned are all real, with some still not released by DARPA(the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), like the TERN(Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), which can take off like a helicopter and land like a plane.
Drones today are continually being modified at a fever pace, much like personal computers were in the eighties. New ones or new variations seem to appear every week, and many are made by individuals—for a myriad of purposes, both ethical and unethical. Cartels are using them, although the use is selective, not widespread as of yet (still more economical most of the time to smuggle things using the old tried and true methods).
Here’s a video of near-future drone capability (it’s also a sales pitch by the company, but is entertaining–and disturbing–to watch) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlO2gcs1YvM
The use of sarin gas, made from castor beans, was a favorite of the Japanese terrorist group, Aum Shinrikyo. On March 20, 1995, they unleashed a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which partially failed, but even with limited success the attack still killed thirteen and injured five thousand, totally overwhelming the Tokyo first responders and hospitals to the point of incapacity. Today, twenty-three years later, a number of victims continue to suffer physical or mental after-effects of the sarin attack, experiencing complications such as impaired speech, blurred vision and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the unlucky ones are still confined to their beds. There are still over one thousand members of this terrorist group at large, and most are using assumed names and living in Europe.
Other toxic gas such as chlorine can also be used this way. In my Hunter Kincaid novel, The Empty Land, I describe a chlorine attack, and it is based on first-hand reports of actual chlorine-related attacks and accidents. Very nasty stuff, and easily obtained.