Scott Butki Interviews Kathleen Barber

9781982101985_c2863For her second novel, Follow Me, Kathleen Barber has written a thriller that is based on a scary but true fact: That with the right technology and software, people can be watched through their computer.

In the book’s introduction Barber explained how she learned of this alarming fact and concludes: “I was so deeply unsettled by the thought of an anonymous ratter lurking around my computer that I did two things: first I covered my laptop’s built-in webcam with a sticker, as Mark Zuckerberg and James Comey both reportedly do, and then I began writing this story.”

Barber’s first novel, Are you Sleeping, received much acclaim. The Apple TV+ series, Truth Be Told, based on Are You Sleeping, starring Octavia Spencer, Lizzy Caplan, and Aaron Paul, premiered December 6, 2019.

Scott Butki: Follow Me is a wild story based on true, scary, sobering facts. Can you tell the story of how you come to discover that some people are able to watch others through cameras on computers and other places including home security cameras?

Kathleen Barber: I was messing around online one afternoon and stumbled across an article entitled “Meet the Men Who Spy on Women through Their Webcams.” It was horrifying, to say the least.

According to the article, it was fairly easy for these guys to remotely install something called a remote administration tool (or “RAT”) on your computer, which would then grant them access to your hard drive and webcam. The men who installed the RATs (nicknamed “ratters”) had different goals. Some had the relatively innocent plan of playing pranks, while some were after credentials and financial information. And then there were the ratters who really terrified me: those who made a game of collecting “slaves” (their name for the women they spied on) and then trading or even selling access to the “slaves” amongst themselves. I was so shocked and disgusted, I had to read it a couple of times just to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood—and then I immediately covered the camera on my computer.

SB: Once you got over the shock of that how did you go about turning that information into a novel?

KB: I had such a visceral reaction to the article about the ratters that I instantly knew I wanted to write about it. Moreover, I wanted to explore how it felt to be on both sides of a webcam that had been compromised like that—and so I created both Audrey, the woman who unwittingly downloads the RAT onto her computer, and “Him,” the man who uses it to spy on her. I had also been interested in doing something with oversharing on social media and the accompanying casual disregard for personal safety, and that felt like a natural fit with this story.

SB: This is a pretty mind-blowing topic. Did this ever get too wild and you needed to take a break from it?

K.B. : I wouldn’t say that I ever needed to take a break from it, but I was thoroughly unsettled. It made me think more about what I’m posting online—something that is especially important to me now that I’m a mother and have more than my own personal safety to consider.

SB: How did you go about researching this book?

KB: I used the original Ars Technica article I’d found as my primary source, and then I

Author, Kathleen Barber

continued searching for other information about these RATs and how they could be used. I have to admit, I was a little worried about getting flagged for searching things like “how to spy on women online.” Additionally, I did some research on influencer culture—which was a lot more fun than the research about RATs!

SB: Did you encounter much skepticism as you told people about this story, from folks sure that this must not be a real thing that happens?

KB: I found the opposite, actually! I’ve heard so many stories now about other wifi-enabled devices that can be used to spy on us in our own homes. I find the stories about video baby monitors being hacked particularly frightening!

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book, besides that they may want to cover up the camera in their computers?

KB: I hope people will think more carefully about what they post online. I feel that, as social media has become more pervasive and an integral part of our daily lives, we have become more complacent about online safety. Many of us unintentionally give away dozens of tiny details that, when put together, could reveal a starting amount of information about us and our routines. For example, in Follow Me, Audrey often posts from the same coffee shop, which enables her admirer to learn where he can find her.

SB: This is your second novel. What was it like having your first novel, Are You Sleeping, picked up and turned into the Apple TV+ series, Truth Be Told? How involved are you in that production?

KB: It was an absolute dream come true to have my debut novel adapted for the screen! I can’t properly describe what a thrill it was to see my characters reimagined and brought to life onscreen—especially by the incredibly talented cast. Octavia Spencer starred as investigative reporter Poppy Parnell, and I thought she did such an incredible job. Plus, Lizzy Caplan was exactly how I had pictured the Buhrman twins (especially Lanie) and Aaron Paul was my dream casting for Warren Cave. I wasn’t involved in the production, but I did visit the set and watch a couple of days of filming, which was an amazing experience.


SB: You come from a background as a former attorney. How did that background help you write this book?

KB: When I practiced law, I focused on corporate restructuring, so not much of that subject matter makes its way into my fiction. But the communication skills I learned in law school and while working in a law firm have definitely improved my fiction writing. Among other things, they taught me to be very precise and economical with my language—quite a change from the paragraph-long sentences I used to write!

SB: I like to end my interviews with a bonus question: What question do you wish interviewers would ask you? Here is your chance to ask and answer it.

KB: I like talking about other people’s books even more than my own, I always love to be asked what books I recommend. Some of my books that I’ve recently been telling all my friends about are Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald, Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, and The Swap by Robyn Harding (which comes out in June 2020).

About the Author: Kathleen Barber’s first novel, Truth Be Told (formerly titled Are You Sleeping), has been adapted for television by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine. Kathleen was raised in Galesburg, Illinois, and is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Northwestern University School of Law. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and son. Follow Me is her second novel.

In The Worst of Scenarios: An Interview with Don Bentley

9781984805119_e5d4fIt’s difficult to read Don Bentley’s debut novel, featuring Matt Drake — a former ranger pulled back into a mission for The Defense Intelligence Agency. He’s returned to the place that brought about his PTSD, got men killed, and crippled his friend Frodo who now helps him out. Mr. Bentley flew Apache helicopters in Afghanistan as was awarded The Bronze Star and Air Medal. It was an honor to talk to him about his novel.

Scott Montgomery: Which came first, Matt Drake or the plot?

Don Bentley: Great question. Matt definitely came first.  I wrote three books that didn’t sell before writing Without Sanction, and I like to say that each book brought me closer to Matt.  I’m a huge fan of Nelson DeMille and what he does with his witty, first person protagonists, especially his John Corey series. I remember reading Plum Island the first time and telling my wife that I would read a book about John Corey going to the grocery store, just so that I could listen to him talk.  I decided to give something similar a try while writing my third book, and while that book didn’t sell, it did give me Matt. Looking back, I think that was a pretty good bargain!  In the military thriller/espionage genre, plot is what keeps your readers turning the page, but characters are what bring them back for the next book. Hopefully, Matt resonates enough with readers to keep them coming back for the next book.

SM: You show a relationship between Matt’s mission and a crisis in the White House. What did you want to explore with that?

DB: Thank you for noticing!  The technology that connects warfighters to civilian decision makers has improved exponentially since September 11th.  Even so, there’s still a dissonance between what the men and women on the ground are seeing and thinking and what is going on in a crowded situation room thousands of miles removed from danger.  In the best of circumstances, decision makers give warfighters their marching orders and then stay out of the way while the professionals do their jobs. Often times this isn’t the case. Sometimes this is because the decision makers truly are privy to details that warfighters aren’t.  But in the worst of scenarios, politicians make short-sighted, politically motivated decisions that result in devastating consequences for warfighters operating in harm’s way. This is what happens in Without Sanction.

SM: Frodo is a great character. How did you go about constructing him?

DB: When I started writing Without Sanction, I knew that Frodo was going to be an integral part of Matt’s story.  Frodo needed to be from Matt’s world, but still wholly different from Matt. One of the things I cherished about my time in the Army was the opportunity to serve with people from every creed, color, and religion.  It didn’t matter where we grew up or whether we went to church on Sunday. What mattered was that we all wore the same green uniform and swore the same oath to defend the constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  I wanted the relationship between Matt and Frodo to reflect this dynamic. Frodo and Matt are two very different people, who if not for the military, would have never crossed paths. But through love of country and a desire to serve, they become brothers in arms.

SM: As somebody who was in combat situations abroad, what did you want to convey about that experience?

DB: That’s a hard question.  I don’t know that I set out to convey anything about combat as much as I wanted to give the American public a glimpse of the men and women who are fighting on their behalf.  I am not Matt Drake, but I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some people who could be. Three of my close friends are veterans of the Army’s storied 75th Ranger Regiment, just like Matt.  Rangers are famous for a great many things, including their strict adherence to the Ranger Creed.  Non-Rangers might mistake the six stanzas comprising the Ranger Creed for just another organizational mission statement or HR-generated set of values, but nothing could be further from the truth. To a Ranger, these simple, yet powerful words form a code which still governs their lives long after they leave the military.  Less than one percent of Americans serve in the military. This means that most American’s don’t have a veteran as a close friend or family member. I would love to help bridge that gap.

Author Don Bentley

SM: How do you deal with the challenge of writing about events and regions that are changing with the news on a daily basis?

DB: It’s not easy.  I took much longer than I should have to lock down Without Sanction, and in an earlier version of the book, ISIS played a more substantial role.  While I certainly celebrated the destruction of the Caliphate, it caused me no small amount of rewrites! That said, I don’t try to “beat the headlines” or base my story on something that could change tomorrow. My novels are character driven, so if I have to change a few details here or there, it shouldn’t adversely affect the novel.

SM: This being your first book, did you draw from any influences?

DB: Absolutely. There are so many excellent writers in this genre, and I feel lucky just to be able to share shelf space with them.  People like Tom Clancy, Brad Thor, and Vince Flynn built the modern version of this genre, while authors like Brad Taylor and Mark Greaney have brought even more readers into the fold.  I’m also thankful for writers like Alistair MacLean and Jack Higgins who were their predecessors. The Eagle Has Landed is still one of my all-time favorites, and I grew up wanting to be Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie version of Where Eagles Dare.  Still, of all the great authors I mentioned, Nelson DeMille and Daniel Silva have been particularly impactful.  Nelson DeMille’s witty, first person protagonists gave me the courage to find Matt’s distinct voice. In the same vein, I think that Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series has some of the best story telling the genre has to offer.  I tend to re-read Daniel’s books when I’m editing or just need inspiration.  He’s a true craftsman, and my life’s ambition is to be counted as a friend of Gabriel Allon!

Without Sanction  is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

“Nothing Is as Vivid as the Theater of the Mind,” An Interview with Meg Gardiner, author of ‘The Dark Corners of the Night

Meg Gardiner’s latest UNSUB novel takes FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix to Los Angeles to track down The Midnight Man, a killer who strikes families, leaving the children behind to tell the tale.The book is our Pick Of The Month and her most chilling yet. Meg will be at BookPeople February 22nd at 5PM to sign her book and be interviewed by author Amy Gentry. We got the chance to talk to her earlier about the book and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.

9781982627515_ae431Scott Montgomery: In the first two UNSUB books, the antagonists were loosely based on real infamous serial killers. Are there any seeds of reality in The Midnight Man?
Meg Gardiner: Yes—the Midnight Man had his genesis in the Night Stalker. I drew on the residual dread I’d felt while living in Southern California during the Night Stalker’s attacks. That was a bright yet chilling time. A killer was loose who could strike anywhere. He silently invaded family homes—sometimes attacking twice in one night. It seemed like there was no way to keep him out, and nowhere to hide from him. He owned the night, and no matter how vigilantly we tried to keep watch, we all had to sleep sometime.
SM: There is a major and unsettling reveal about The Midnight Man’s profile. Was that something you knew from the beginning?

MG: Not consciously. The identity of the Midnight Man gradually became clear to me as I wrote my way into the story. A bit like the way Caitlin Hendrix analyzes the unknown killer and realizes who she’s actually dealing with.

SM: How did you come across the idea of setting it during Christmas?

MG: I wanted to set the novel near the start of winter—to have the the nights grow

Meg Gardiner, author of The Dark Corners of the Night (2020)

longer and colder as the story progresses. That meant it would take place in December. Christmas came along with the dark, starry skies.

SM: This time Caitlin and crew are tracking a killer in L.A. What did that setting provide you as an author?
MG: The glittering sprawl of Los Angeles provides a backdrop for Caitlin and her team that’s both beautiful and disorienting. L.A. has beaches and mountains, skyscrapers and abandoned buildings, nightlife and coyotes. And it’s stitched together with hundreds of miles of freeways. The city is constantly in motion. Which makes it fiendishly difficult to pin down a killer who invisibly roams anywhere and everywhere.

SM: Particularly with the UNSUB series, you’ve developed a reputation for knowing how “to bring the creepy,” yet most of those moments aren’t gory or violent. Are there certain writer tools or things you keep in mind when writing those more unsettling passages?

9780307947307MG: The thrillers I write aren’t about violence, but about its impact on the characters, and the choices they make in its wake. Novels take readers on an emotional ride, and a little bit of violence goes a long way. I’ve never forgotten something Jeffery Deaver said: Nothing is as vivid as the theater of the mind. Hint at a few details, and each reader will fill in the rest from their own imagination.
SM: What is the most unsettling (in a good way) book you’ve ever read?
MG: The Stand, by Stephen King. It showed me how a novel about an apocalyptic plague could be completely riveting, because it’s all about character—and community, and courage. I read it in college, and even today if I see a crow sitting on a telephone wire, or hear the scuff of cowboy boots on a sidewalk, I shudder and think of the villain, Randall Flagg. That’s great writing.

The Dark Corners of the Night is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online. And don’t forget to catch Meg Gardiner in person on February 22nd at 5PM for a discussion and signing of this featured title.

About the Author: Meg Gardiner is the critically acclaimed author of the UNSUB series and China Lake, which won the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever. Stephen King has said of Meg Gardiner: “This woman is as good as Michael Connelly…her novels are, simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.” Gardiner was also recently elected President of the Mystery Writers of America for 2019.

The Dark Corners of the Night will be the third novel in her Barry Award-winning UNSUB series, which received three starred reviews from the major trade publications and was sold to CBS Television.

“A Bonfire at the Beginning with Liberal Amounts of Gasoline Along the Way”: An Interview with Kathleen Kent, author of ‘The Burn’

9780316450553_8fd28Kathleen Kent, a well respected historical fiction writer, won over crime fiction fans with her novel The Dime, featuring Dallas Narcotics detective Betty Ryhyz. She returns with Betty in The Burn, with our heroine going rogue to figure out the connection between heroin stolen from the Sinola Cartel and confidential informants that are popping up all over town dead. Kathleen was kind enough to talk about the book and writing with Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

Scott Montgomery: How did it feel writing a second novel with Betty Ryhyz opposed to the first?

Kathleen Kent: This is my first series–all of my previous historical fiction novels were stand-alone—and I had to rethink how to structure not only the book I was working on, but future books in the series.  An important thing I learned from my editor was that the “Sophomore book” is crucial to keeping a reader’s interest going forward. You may like the first book, but the second will often determine whether you want to read the third, or fourth.  Writing The Dime was an exercise in learning the genre of contemporary crime fiction: pacing, narrative tone, and maintaining suspense.  But developing The Burn necessitated a deeper dive into not only Betty’s character, but of those who populated her world.  There were a lot of rewrites to The Burn to get it right, and I had to remind myself at times to maintain a balance between the darker themes of the book, of which there are plenty, with lighter, more comedic elements.

SM: I really felt the Dallas streets and the working relationships of the narcotics squad. What kind of research did you do?

KK: I grew up in Dallas but moved to New York once I’d finished college. After living and

The Burn author, Kathleen Kent

working in Manhattan for twenty years, I decided to move back to Dallas. Big D had changed drastically in those two decades in terms of urban development. But a lot had stayed the same and was distressingly familiar in terms of social intolerance.  Once I had committed to writing a crime novel, I channeled some of my experiences of feeling like an “outsider” into Betty’s character. Doing research with law enforcement proved to be quite a challenge.  While writing historical fiction, I found there were always experts willing to talk about their unique knowledge of history. Active law enforcement, especially those working undercover, can’t speak to a civilian about their operations for obvious reasons. One workaround was to talk to retired police officers, one of whom was the first female detective in Dallas.  She gave me a lot of hilarious, and hair-raising stories, that I incorporated into both crime novels. My most important source, though, was a close cousin who, in his thirty-year career, worked both narcotics and vice undercover, as well as SWAT. I was also invited to several police retirement parties, and it’s amazing what you can learn by sitting quietly in a corner holding a glass of Jameson whiskey, and just listening to the stories unwind.

SM: I was happy to see Jackie’s uncle play an important part. He’s one of my favorite characters in the series. What do you like about him as a writer?

KK: He’s one of my favorites as well. There’s something noble about people who, despite their frailties and vices, continue fighting to stay afloat, to be useful, to be of service to other people.  James Earle has a dignified past as he served in Vietnam as an MP, and he understands the difficulties and pressures prevalent in law enforcement. In many ways he’s a stand in for Betty’s beloved Uncle Benny, the man who was Betty’s polestar growing up.  I’m happy to say that James Earle will be a constant character going forward.

SM: You wrote several acclaimed historical novels and fell into this gritty cop series where you both deliver and subvert the genre goods like somebody who has been writing this kind of book for a decade. Were you a fan of the genre before you started?

KK: I’ve always been a huge fan of crime novels, the darker, the better! My sister and I grew up reading, and watching on TV, a lot of British crime series, which our mother read as well. The three of us used to talk at the dinner table about the finer points of Murder Most Foul, often horrifying our dad with the gruesome details.  Even in my works of historical fiction I never shied away from violence. The Heretic’s Daughter is based on my nine-times great grandmother, Martha Carrier, who was hanged as a witch in Salem in 1692. The Outcasts is set in post-Civil War Texas and has hangings, torture and murder.  The themes of villainy are often the same, regardless of the time period.  The challenge for me as a writer, though, was to change the way the story was presented, which is to say I had to pay close attention to pacing, keeping the reader on the edge of his or her seat.  I would liken historical fiction writing to a slow and steady burn, while crime writing is often a bonfire at the beginning with liberal applications of gasoline along the way.

9780316024495 9780316206112_e2de0

SM: What has writing contemporary novels allowed you to do that you couldn’t in the historicals?

KK: I think writing contemporary crime novels has allowed me to indulge in more absurdist fantasies.  In my historical novels, I often tried to stay close to the actual true events of the time. This “reality” construct was used as a framework, or scaffolding, to build my fictional story.  In both The Dime and The Burn I felt less constricted to that model.  Some of the contemporary narrative started as a newspaper headline, for example, but I was able to move the resulting action in unexpected directions.  I’ve really enjoyed bumping riiiight up against what stretches credulity.

SM: Has it presented any challenges?

KK: A lot of readers had grown accustomed to my works of historical fiction.  And some were surprised at the seemingly abrupt shift to contemporary crime.  So, it was a challenge to entice those people to read these latest two novels, especially if they weren’t enthusiastic crime readers to begin with.  But, happily, many of those readers have now eagerly embraced Det. Betty and her adventures. I think it points to the importance of having relatable, courageous characters and compelling stories no matter the genre.

About Kathleen Kent: Kathleen Kent is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated The Dime, as well as the bestselling historical novels The Heretic’s Daughter, The Traitor’s Wife, and The Outcasts. Kent lives in Dallas, TX.

About Scott Montgomery: A legendary crime bookseller, Scott Montgomery runs MysteryPeople, the mystery bookstore within BookPeople. He also runs The Hard Word blog, covering hard boiled fiction. Always a crime fiction fan, Scott worked on the sales staff of the acclaimed and influential The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles for four years. He is a regular contributor to Crime Reads and his fiction has appeared on the site Shotgun Honey and in the anthologies Murder On WheelsLone Star Lawless, and Eyes Of Texas. His Bullet Book, Two Bodies, One Grave, debuted Fall 2019.

The Burn is available for purchase in-store and online now.

Good People Pay a Price: An Interview with ‘The Wild One’ author, Nick Petrie

9780525535447_d5c86Nick Petrie’s Peter Ash is a series hero for his time. A drifting  marine vet, suffering from PTSD and a concern about his enjoyment of the violence he encounters, Petrie has taken the Jack Reacher style character to a more introspective place while never skimping on the bone crunching action and smart pacing.
In The Wild One, Ash goes to Reykjavik to find a missing boy that leads to a government conspiracy. Mr. Petrie was kind enough to talk about the challenges of writing the book and dealing with violence in and action series. 

Scott Montgomery: How did Iceland end up as the major location for Peter’s latest adventure?

Nick Petrie: The first time I went to Iceland, I wasn’t planning a novel – I was just backpacking with my son.  But Reykjavik is a quirky city, and the rugged, lonely landscape outside the capital is richly evocative of Iceland’s epic history.  The whole experience was deeply compelling. And at the end of our trip, as we waited in the airport, an entire novel appeared in my head, beginning to end.

This had never happened to me before, so I grabbed my notebook and scribbled as fast as I could.  I got about twenty minutes before the novel disappeared again, and I spent the next eighteen months trying to recreate that strange, singular vision.  The result is The Wild One.

SM: Is it easier to write about a location fewer readers know, or is it more of a challenge?

NP: In each of my books, I’ve felt a lot of pressure to get setting right, whether the California’s tech coast, Denver’s cannabis culture, or the richness of Memphis.  As a writer, I’m always very conscious that I’m an outsider, and that readers will definitely let me know if I haven’t done justice to the place they call home.

Iceland was more of a challenge than other settings because, in terms of language,

Nick Petrie, author of The Wild One (2020)

history, and culture, it felt so very different from the U.S. and thus harder to step into, imaginatively, than other places I’ve written about.  For me the breakthrough came when someone described Iceland as the Wyoming of Europe. I’ve spent time in a lot of places where the road comes to an end, Wyoming included, and that comparison helped me understand the personality of the place, and that maybe Iceland wasn’t so different after all.

SM: Was there anything about the city or country you were looking forward to portraying?

NP: Writing about place is important to me – I think of setting as another character and treat it as such.  So I was really looking forward to seeing Peter, my protagonist, in conflict with the essential, unchanging Iceland, its landscape and weather.  What I didn’t anticipate was how much fun it would be to write about strong, stoic, individualistic Icelanders. No matter what I may have planned for a book, the characters always surprise me.

SM: What’s interesting about the plot of The Wild One is that the reader is piecing things together, but they are a little ahead of Peter. How did you pull off that balance?

NP:That was one of the major challenges of the book.  The Wild One is really two stories told in parallel, and that form didn’t evolve until fairly late in the writing.  The trick was to keep the tension of each storyline intact, even as I alternated between them, simultaneously managing what information the reader gets from each.  There was a lot of tweaking at the end to get it just right. Funny, but if I’d actually set out at the beginning with this form in mind, I don’t think I could have done it.  Sometimes, when we’re lucky, the choices writers make out of desperation can turn into something sublime.

SM: Is there something you have to keep in mind when writing a character who suffers from PTSD?

NP: When writing about post-traumatic stress, I feel a huge amount of responsibility to those veterans who suffer from it, especially because I’m not a veteran myself.  I’ve done a great deal of research and spoken with many veterans about this. PTS is often vastly oversimplified in fiction and on the screen, and I’ve found that veterans really appreciate a nuanced approach not only to PTS but also to the experience of surviving war, with its complex stew of pride, dignity, humility, regret, and shame.

Veterans reach out to me all the time, telling me how well I’ve captured what they’re going through, and that means the world to me.  It also means that I get to convey this same feeling to readers who have not served in the military or gone to war. Because of our highly professionalized all-volunteer armed forces, most people have no idea what life after war is like for our veterans, and helping readers understand the hidden cost of armed conflict is part of my personal mission.

SM: While you deliver a lot of action, Peter always carries the weight of his violence, justified as it may be. Do you feel an author has a certain responsibility when portraying violence?

NP: This goes back to your previous question.  I don’t know how other authors feel, but the consequences of violence – and the attractiveness of it – is one of the central themes of my work.

People join the military for many reasons, including family tradition, opportunity, and the chance to be of service to something larger than oneself.  But there’s a reason that most boys play with toy swords and toy guns from a very early age. The dirty little secret of war, and the secret reason our young men (and it is mostly young men) continue to sign up to fight, is that war is exciting as hell.  I’s a chance to test your mettle, to prove yourself in a certain arena. The chance to be a hero and to blow shit up.

But most who join the military have no real idea of the long-term consequences of combat.  Yes, there is pride and a sense of identity, not to mention powerful friendships that will last until the end of their days.  But many veterans have told me that the experience of combat has never left them. I know many Vietnam vets who still go back to that war in their dreams, night after night, more than fifty years later.  And it’s not just military veterans, either. I’ve talked with long-time police officers and firefighters who suffer the consequences of that challenging work, too.

Sometimes violence is necessary, either individually or as a group.  To stop bad people, to correct the course of a society gone off the rails.  But there are always consequences to that violence, even if it’s not convenient.  Good people pay a price. We saw it writ large after Vietnam, and after almost twenty years of war in the Middle East, we’re seeing it again.  As a writer interested in capturing a slice of America on the page, that’s compelling stuff. And also, I think, necessary.

Nick Petrie’s The Wild One is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

“…in the form of little jigsaw pieces…”: Scott Butki interviews Katrine Engberg, Debut Author of ‘The Tenant’

9781982127572_df6d8With The Tenant, Katrine Engberg has written an excellent first novel. One with a clever, intriguing concept in addition to interesting, fleshed out characters and good plot twists.

Esther de Laurenti owns an apartment building which contains two young women and an elderly gentleman. As the book begins the gentleman discovers one of the women is dead. So far, not so wild, right?

But then it is discovered that whoever killed her used details from a murder mystery novel Esther is writing, specifically cuts along the victims face. Esther says she’s not the killer but that the number of people with access to the details of her story is limited.

Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case and they are interesting characters. They try to determine if Esther is the culprit or just another victim in the killer’s twisted game.

Katrine is a former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater.

She agreed to let me interview her by email for this first book in a series. The book s getting praise from such authors as Kathy Reichs and Camilla Lackberg.

Scott Butki:  How did you come up with the idea for this story?

Katrine Engberg: A few years ago, I was taking a walk with my family in an area north of Copenhagen when I happened to notice a nameplate on the door of a house as we passed by. It read “Family Laurenti.” In that instant, a woman named Esther de Laurenti moved into my head. I can’t explain how it happened, but she was crystal clear to me in every little detail: I knew that she had dyed red hair cut short, drank too much red wine, and was a retired professor of literature working on the draft of her first crime novel. That was the beginning of The Tenant.

SB: Which came first, plot or characters?

KE: Plot, characters, and environment came simultaneously in the form of little jigsaw puzzle pieces that, at first, didn’t really connect. I had ONE character, ONE plot idea, and ONE location; everything else was a blur. But then connections slowly built, more pieces came together, and the story started to unfold.

SB: How did you research this book?

KE: I had to learn everything from scratch. My background is in dance and theater, so my knowledge of police work and forensic pathology was limited — to say the least! Fortunately, people are very willing to share their knowledge with aspiring authors. I rode in a Copenhagen Police patrol car and was allowed to go everywhere, from crime scenes to the ER, with the officers — as long as I kept quiet and wore a bulletproof vest. I learned a lot from those experiences!

SB: What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

KE: To me, crime novels can and should be about more than violence and suspense. I hope readers will connect with — and care for — my characters. I strive to make what is in many ways a wildly fantastical genre into something relatable for them. I myself grew up with crime novels that were also love stories, political comments, and just all in all great literature. That is a literary tradition I wish to continue.

SB: What is it like being described as “already an international star”? And being published already in more than 21 countries?

KE: The short answer is: it’s great! I would be lying if I pretended not to be stoked about my success. Having so many readers has to be the ambition of most writers. That said, labels like “international star” are just … well, labels. What really makes an impression is the direct response I get from readers — in person and on social media. THAT makes me feel successful and happy!

SB: I understand you went from a dance education to working in theater and TV, first as a dancer, then as a choreographer. How did you get from that point to becoming a mystery novelist? And how has that background helped you as a writer?

KE: I grew up in a home full of books and learned to love literature from an early age. My mother was always telling stories to my sister and me — at bedtime and on the long walks up Greek mountainsides that she always forced us to take. She also taught me to love the theater. For me, the two worlds are closely intertwined; telling stories is the same whether it’s done with bodies on a stage or words on a page.

SB: I understand you had to make the decision between being a theater director and a crime author. How did you go about making what must have been a hard decision?

KE: It was actually the easiest decision of my life. I debuted as an author and as a theater

Katrine Engberg, author of The Tenant (2020)

director within the same week in February 2016, so you could almost say I had a vertical tasting of the two careers. Both things went well and had potential, but I had absolutely no doubt in my heart which of the two I wanted to pursue. I actually told my husband on the opening night of the play: “I am giving up the theater. I know life as a writer is uncertain, but I only want to write for the rest of my life!”

SB: What are you working on next?

KE: At the moment, I am writing the next book in the series. It is a very dark and rough book, revolving around a theme of loneliness. So it probably sounds crazy to say this, but I am having so much fun with it.

SB: I call this my bonus question: What is a question you wish interviewers would ask? This is your chance to ask it and then answer it.

KE: What is the significance of the tattoo on your wrist?

Under my wristwatch, I have a tattoo of three dates: My wedding day, the birthday of my son, and the death date of my father. These life markers remind me every time I look at the clock that time is short and life is truly a gift.

The Tenant is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

Work-A-Day-Guys: An Interview with Wilson Toney, author of ‘Alibi For a Dead Man’

9781944520861Wilson Toney’s Alibi For A Dead Man won the Carter Brown award and much like the work of that awards namesake, the book is a fun, fast moving romp that never takes itself too seriously. It’s two bantering National Agency detectives Bug and Roche (pronounced “rock”) are assigned a car accident that could be fraud. When one of the vehicles was the getaway car for a bank robbery, it leads to a trail of missing money, bad men, and bullets with our heroes in the hard boiled middle. Mr. Toney was kind enough to take a few questions from us.


Scott Montgomery: You have two unique detectives with a unique case.  Which came first?

Wilson Toney : The detectives came first.  I came up with Roche a long time ago, and while my original take on his character has changed considerably, the constant of him being a work-a- day guy that just wants to do his best then go home, and get paid for his effort, has remained a constant. Bug, however, was something different and is loosely based on a man I worked with for a lot of years. He was unique, and while he wasn’t quite as funny as Bug, still he was never at a loss for words, and didn’t mind who heard him whether it was a boss or not didn’t enter into his thought process.

The case came after a lot of thought and many false starts, and frankly a lot of revisions.  It is hard to come up with something that hasn’t been done before, and to make it as logical as possible.  I likely spent more time on the plotting than I did the actual writing, for once you get the blueprint in place, the writing goes rather smoothly.    I hope to be able to repeat this process in the future, but only time will tell.

S.M.: Was writing a plot with so many moving parts a challenge?

W.T.: Was it ever.  Even with a plot outline, it still required a lot of re-thinking and a lot of thought to make sure I said enough to keep the reader interested and not to give away the game too early.  But I always liked complex plots, which I think is reflected in my writing. That being said, I wanted to make the plot challenging, but intelligible and try to not have an ending where only the protagonist knows some obscure clue that is revealed in the end, and thus the bad man, or woman for that matter, is revealed.  I hate those types of novels, and I hope never to write one.

S.M.: The book’s voice has echoes of the forties and fifties detective novels.  Did you draw from any influences?

W.T.: Without doubt, the Gold Medal novels from the 40s-70s influenced me greatly.  Some of them were great, most less so, but they had a hard-boiled edge that I enjoyed and likely some of that shows in my books.  More importantly, I have read many other types of mysteries and the butler did it type always left me cold and quickly were banished from my budgetary allowance.  I am sure that some of the greats such as Chandler, Hammett, and Hamilton influence my thought processes, but I’ve read a lot more bad fiction than good and I am afraid that some of the lesser greats have their share of blame as well.  Ultimately, when I decided to write, I decided to write the stuff I would want to read, because, I didn’t really think anyone else would ever see the stuff. I was the most surprised person in the world when I won the Carter Brown prize, but I wrote the novel before I knew of the contest, and I wrote it for myself.

S.M.: What made you decide to have Bug and Roche work for an agency?

W.T.: I knew I wanted to write about work-a-day guys, and those guys just had to work for an agency.  My own work history explains most of that decision. I have worked at several engineering firms in my long and not so storied career, and I wanted to give the reader a flavor of just how it would be for guys to be doing this for a living not because they were dedicated crime solvers, not because they were trying to help the helpless, these guys are doing it for a buck, it’s how they earn their living and they do it for that living.  I also wanted to be able to call on others in the agency when needed for specialty work such as data analysis and photographic enhancement. The easiest way to accomplish that was to have them work at an agency. Ultimately though, it was because I didn’t really think this particular form of detective fiction had been done to death. The errant knight has been done to death and I did not think I could write a convincing novel using that as my template.

S.M.: What makes the book work is the relationship between Bug and Roche.  How did you approach it?

W.T. :Roche is everyman, the guy that’s not special, but does his job, and expects to be paid for same.  Bug is the kid in the back of the glass, cutting jokes every time the teacher turns his head. That was the basis of the novel, the interplay between them is based on a lot of years of banter between fellow workers, mostly male admittedly but some female.  I personally am likely a mix of the two with Roche being what I liked to think I am, but Bug being who I am more often than not. It was a case of making sure that their dialogue rang true, was funny when comedy was needed and being serious when that was required.  All that being said, what really happened was I wrote the thing based on my initial outline, then rewrote it probably two or three more times, thinking of just what these guys would say to each other. I also gave Bug his pet Agnes, because he needed something in his life that was real.  Roche is made of different stuff so I gave him bad books to read. I have both a cat and have read a lot of bad books, so like I said, these guys are likely a mixture of what I hope I am. Doubtless I am wrong.

S.M. : What made you want to tackle a detective book as your first novel?

W.T.: There’s an old saying in writing, write what you know.  What I know, engineering, is mostly boring and would definitely not hold a reader’s interest, likely not even the interest of a fellow engineer.  But I do know detective fiction. I have been reading detective fiction (not exclusively, but more than any other genre except for physics books) for fifty years and I know what I liked when I read those stories.  As a result, I wrote a detective novel, again, for myself more than for any other reason. I am glad this work has resonated with those that publish books for a living, and I can think of no better future than writing more Bug and Roche novels until the end of my days.

Alibi for a Dead Man is available for purchase in-store and online now.