A Certain Kind of Ruthlessness: An Interview with Scott Phillips

9781641291095_f585dScott Phillips is one of those authors other authors revere (or are downright jealous of). He often uses the crime novel as a frame for satire, but never lets his characters simply fall into types or symbols. His latest target is Southern California with attorney Douglas Rigby, who lost all of his money, actually his last client’s money, on a drug deal. To get it back, he hatches an art fraud scheme involving his wife, mistress, and a forger dealing with a painting owned by the client, Glenn Haskill, a t.v. producer in sixties and seventies with fond memories of his casting couch. The book is funny, profane, and engaging as all hell. Scott will be joining Jon Bassoff and Jason Pinter for our Crime Writing Outside The Lines discussion on March 16th, but went solo for this interview we did with him.


Scott Montgomery: You’re mainly known for covering the Midwest, what set your sights on L.A.?

Scott Phillips: I lived there for more than a decade. It’s really about Ventura and Santa Barbara than LA, about an hour to two hours away, depending on traffic.  I think I can only write well about places I’ve lived or spent lots of time. Parts of this one are set in St. Louis, where I live now. This was one I couldn’t have set entirely in the Midwest — the old TV producer, Haskill, wouldn’t have fit in, for one thing. Also the desperation of the real estate business and the equally desperate need for a certain kind of Southern Californian to maintain a level of conspicuous consumption.

SM: What is the major difference in writing about the two areas?

SP: There’s a certain kind of ruthlessness to life in Southern California, be it show business or real estate or the law or getting your kids into the right school.

SM: How did you come upon art fraud as the center of the story?

SP: I’ve always wanted to write a book about art forgery. Forgers like van Meegeren, the Vermeer forger who’s mentioned in the book, and Elmyr de Hory, about whom Orson Welles made his documentary F for Fake, have always fascinated me. Originally the book was much more about the forgery and the relationship between Paula Rigby and the old forger, but that didn’t work for me so I trimmed it way back and made it more of a crime novel.

 

SM: This crime novel has even more moving parts to it than The Ice Harvest and The Rake. How do you approach something like this without the characters being drowned out by the plotting?
SP: As I said, this book was originally much more about the forger and Paula, with the other characters being much more minor. When I started concentrating on the plot, each of the characters started taking on more heft. Because a character like Keith, the golf pro, becomes more important to moving the plot forward (one thing I always knew was that he and Rigby were going to have a beat down of some kind), I have to dig a little deeper and figure out what motivates him.

SM: Glenn, the old producer, is a character I like despite myself. How did you go about constructing him.

SP: One thing that I love about Southern California is the presence of the ghosts of Hollywood. I know and knew some old character actors, and they all had great stories about the old days in TV and movies. The fact is that predatory creeps like Haskill were all over the place then, and they’re all over the place now, as the Weinstein trial just demonstrated. Haskill’s not based on any one person, but there were lots of guys just like him. I wanted him to have a little kernel of humanity, which shows through his devotion towards his nephew back in the Midwest, a devotion that doesn’t work out very well for him.

SM: I was happy to hear that SOHO is also reprinting two of your earlier books, The Walkaway and Cottonwood. How would you describe these books, particularly

SP: The Walkaway is a followup to The Ice Harvest, more than a sequel. I started with the premise of the money in the satchel–what happens to that money? It all started one day when I was getting on the 405 freeway near the VA hospital (where my grandfather used to work as a barber) and I saw an elderly man in a suit trying to hitch a ride on the onramp. Later it occured to me that he might have been attending a funeral at the National Cemetery nearby, or he might have just walked out of the VA hospital. SO that was the hook: man with dementia walks out of a nursing home looking for some money he vaguely remembers having hidden years earlier. Cottonwood is the story of the Bloody Benders, serial killers on the Kansas prairie, and it’s also the story of the birth of a town. Its protagonist, Bill Ogden, is the ancestor of a lot of characters in my other books, mostly illegitimately. I’m really grateful to SOHO for bringing them back.


That Left Turn at Albuquerque is available for purchase in-store and online today through BookPeople. And be sure to catch Scott Phillips alongside Jason Pinter and Jon Bassoff for MysteryPeople’s Crime Writing Outside the Lines discussion of crime fiction on March 16th at 7PM!

An Interview with Jon Bassoff, author of ‘The Lantern Man’

cover-bassoff-lantern-man-300x450pxJon Basoff’s latest, The Lantern Man, is a mix of different media, created news clippings, repots, and diary, as well as prose that tell a gothic psycho noir story of a family whose three children suffer much dark fate. Jon will be attending our Crime Writing Outside The Lines panel discussion with Scott Phillips and Jason Pinter. He was kind enough to take a few questions from us about this different sort of book.


Scott Montgomery: The Lantern Man is a very unique story, especially in its telling. How did it come about?

Jon Bassoff: I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with the narrative techniques of novels, maybe more so than plot or character or anything else. I don’t have anything against conventional narratives, but I get excited when I read works by Nabokov or Danielewski or anybody who pushes the envelope of what a narrative can be. With The Lantern Man, I knew the basic story I wanted to tell, knew that I wanted it to take place in Leadville, Colorado, but it took me a while to figure out how I could effectively use a multitude of point-of-views in a relatively fresh way. I decided to use footnotes and journals and artifacts. Basically, you’ve got the main narrative, which is a journal written by a girl shortly before a rather awful death, but you’ve also got the detective’s investigation, told through the footnotes and artifacts. It’s up to the reader to put all the pieces together, namely, to determine how much of the journal can be believed and how much of the investigation the detective is getting right.

SM: What was the biggest challenge in writing it?

JB: Keeping all the pieces of the puzzle straight. Different characters know different things at different times. Different characters have different motives for being dishonest (or honest). And, as with every novel, a huge challenge was determining how much to reveal to the reader at various points in the narrative. That balance is tricky. I hope I did it right.

SM: One of the themes of the book is about storytelling. What did you want to explore about telling tales?

JB: One of my favorite lines in the novel is this one: “We all need a narrative. Something to get us through the day.” From the time we’re old enough to understand language, we’re told stories. Hell, religions, entire civilizations are based around them. In a lot of ways, The Lantern Man explores the power of stories, not just how they can be used to comfort, but also to frighten and manipulate. The characters are manipulated by the stories. And so, I think, are the readers.

SM: How did Leadville get chosen as the backdrop?

JB: For the better part of the past decade, I’ve gone up to Leadville every summer to write. It’s an anomaly in Colorado—a living, breathing mountain town without skiing or gambling. It’s got an amazing mining history and plenty of secrets buried beneath the dirt. I always knew I needed to write a story that took place there. And when I stumbled upon this old abandoned railroad tunnel, called Hagerman Tunnel, I knew where I wanted the heart of my story to take place.

SM: Is The Lantern Man based on any urban legend?

J.B. : Well, there are mythical creatures referred to as lantern men, and I expanded on that myth to make it my own. More generally speaking, my particular lantern man is based on the boogie man, which has a place in most societies, and in most children’s imaginations. But it comes back to storytelling. That’s what the boogie man is. A story. An archetype. And in my story, he represents the evil that we all possess, depending on the right circumstances.

SM: You live in Colorado where there seems to be a concentration of dark and offbeat crime authors. What’s in the water?

JB: It’s true! We’ve got a lot of strange ones here. Ben Whitmer and Steven Graham Jones to name a couple of the stranger ones. I don’t know if it’s the water. Maybe the high altitude? Messes with our cognitive functioning? But, yeah, I’m glad to have discovered the crime fiction/horror community in Colorado.


The Lantern Man is available for purchase in-store and online today through BookPeople. And be sure to catch Jon Bassoff alongside Jason Pinter and Scott Phillips for MysteryPeople’s Crime Writing Outside the Lines discussion of crime fiction on March 16th at 7PM!

An Intriguing Prospect: An Interview with Jason Pinter, author of ‘Hide Away’

9781542005906_dc4d5Jason Pinter’s Hide Away introduces Rachel Marin, a mother of two who, after a horrifying incident, molds herself into a vigilante. A murder of the former mayor draws her into a plot that puts her up against the two police detectives investigating it and risks her life as well as her children.
Jason, also the founder and editor of the acclaimed indie press Polis Books, will be joining Scott Phillips and Jon Bassoff for our Crime Writing Outside The Lines discussion panel on March 16th at BookPeople. He was kind enough to do this pre-interview with us.

Scott Montgomery: How did the character of Rachel Marin come about?
Jason Pinter: I had been thinking about starting a new series, and Rachel’s character came to me shortly after the birth of our first daughter. I was fascinated by the notion of a protagonist who was smart, capable, and strong but also incredibly vulnerable. And I don’t think you ever feel more vulnerable in your life than when you are literally responsible for the lives of others. So the gears started turning—how would someone balance being a brilliant criminalist with raising two children? How would she deal with the trauma in her past, and how would she try to help her children with it? But I also wanted to know how and why she became who she is. Why did she feel the need to train her mind and body obsessively? Answering all those questions for myself was an intriguing prospect, and I thought readers would enjoy learning them too.
SM: Is there a challenge writing a character who is a vigilante and single mother?
JP: Absolutely. There’s a reason Batman is single with no kids. Can you imagine if he went out every night with the possibility of getting shredded in a million different ways, but also had a spouse and/or children to care for, who loved him? I really wanted to explore the conflict Rachel felt in being someone who was capable of solving crimes, but in doing so could also jeopardize the tranquil life she’d created for her family. And she doesn’t always make the right decision. And when she does, there are more lives at stake than just hers.
SM: You have two story lines, the murder mystery and Rachel’s origin story. Is there a certain rhythm you developed from going from one to another?
JP: It was very important to me that we saw how Rachel got to the point where we see her in the opening chapters. We know something terrible happened to her, and we know that, down the road, she’s very, very capable. But how did she get from point A to point B? I thought it of like Sarah Connor in the first two Terminator movies. How did the waitress become the warrior? I didn’t want the “flashback’ scenes to overwhelm the narrative—after all, the inherent existence of a flashback means the story isn’t being driven forward—so I had to be very judicious about when I used them and how, and that they only came when they needed to.

SM:  All of your characters are indelible. How do you go about constructing them?

JP: That means the world to hear. First and foremost, I hate “stock” characters. People who exist in a book (or movie, or show) just for the sake of existing, or to further the plot. I wanted my main cast of characters to have full lives. This was most important when it came to creating the two police detectives, John Serrano and Leslie Tally. They are at odds with Rachel a great deal of the book, but I didn’t want them to be stereotypical “cops who get in the way of our hero” types. They both have interesting lives and interior motives. They could each be the protagonist of their own novel. And because of that, we understand them and can sympathize with them, which creates more conflict with Rachel. Serrano and Tally are quite competent, and because of that it allows us to doubt Rachel just a bit.

SM: Has being a publisher affected your writing at all?

JP: Absolutely, the most in terms of time. I essentially put my writing career on hold

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Jason Pinter, author of Hide Away

while I was launching Polis Books because, frankly, there are only so many hours in the day. I always wanted to, hopefully, work on both sides of the desk, but I needed to concentrate on the company for a fairly lengthy period of time to get it up and running. Nowadays, I’m very careful about how I wear both hats, especially when I’m at a conference or convention when I might be promoting both Polis titles and my own. It’s hugely hugely important to my authors at Polis that they know I keep my writing and publishing separate—I do not use one to benefit the other. It’s impossible for there to be no overlap—that would be easier if I was, say, a publisher and an auto mechanic. But being a publisher also inspires me, in that we have so many writers telling incredible stories, and it’s a privilege just to work in the same industry as them.

SM: I’ve heard Rachel is going to be a series character. What can you tell us about the future you have in store for her?
JP: I actually just turned in the last edits for the second book in the Rachel Marin series. It’s currently titled A Stranger at the Door, and it’s scheduled to come out in early 2021. After that, I have an idea for the third book that’s hugely exciting to me, and whether that comes out depends on how readers react to the first books. The great thing about writing the second book in the series is that you’ve established the world and the main characters, and now you can go about expanding and exploring that world, deepening the readers’ relationship with the characters you’ve already introduced, while also sprinkling in new ones to spice things up. So I hope I can keep adding to that stew as long as readers are hungry for it.

Catch Jason Pinter later this month in conversation with Jon Bassoff and Scott Phillips for our Crime Writing Outside the Lines panel discussion on March 16th at 7PM.

About the Author: Jason Pinter is the bestselling author of six novels: the acclaimed Henry Parker series (The MarkThe GuiltyThe StolenThe Fury, and The Darkness), the stand-alone thriller The Castle, the middle-grade adventure novel Zeke Bartholomew: SuperSpy, and the children’s book Miracle. His books have over one million copies in print worldwide. He has been nominated for numerous awards, including the Thriller Award, Strand Critics Award, Barry Award, and Shamus Award.

Pinter is the founder of Polis Books, an independent press, and was honored by Publishers Weekly‘s Star Watch, which “recognizes young publishing professionals who have distinguished themselves as future leaders of the industry.” He has written for the New RepublicEntrepreneur, the Daily BeastEsquire, and more. He lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with his wife, their two daughters, and their dog, Wilson.

Three Picks for March

Scott Phillips returns with a conniving lawyer at the end of his rope when he loses his only client’s money on a drug deal gone bad. To get back in the black and ahead he hatches an art fraud scheme that depends on a forger, his wife, and his mistress. Tight, funny, and populated with the sleaze bags he writes so well, this caper novel skewers L.A. life with precision. Scott will be joining Don Bassoff and Jason Pinter for our Writing Outside The Lines discussion at BookPeople on March 16th at 7PM.
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The Lantern Man by Jon Bassoff
Bassoff mixes psycho-noir with the gothic tale in the tragic story of the Grenier siblings in Leadville, Colorado. After one is drowned in front of the other two, the brother is arrested for murdering a classmate. The remaining sister’s charred body is found in a burned up cabin along with her diary in a safe that proves nothing may be as it seems. Bassoff uses the diary, newspaper clippings, and other media along with his moody prose style to deliver a unique thriller with one hell of  reveal. Jon will also be at the Writing Outside The Lines Discussion on March 16th.
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Are Snakes Necessary? by Brian DePalma & Susan Lehman
The acclaimed director of films like Dressed To Kill, Blow Out, and The Untouchables collaborates in prose for this entertaining potboiler of a photographer, his two lovers, and a ruthless senator’s aid who weave around each other in a tale of sex, politics, and murder. The book contains the style, pace, and quirky, dark humor of many of the director’s films.
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You can shop for all three titles in-store and online this month at BookPeople. And be sure to catch Scott Phillips and Jon Bassoff in-store for their MysteryPeople-hosted panel discussion on March 16th at 7PM.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: ‘City of Margins’ by William Boyle

MysteryPeople’s Pick of the Month for March 2020 is William Boyle’s City of Margins. It hits shelves on March 3rd, but before you purchase it, check out what Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery had to say about Boyle’s latest.


9781643133188_af811Anybody around me for the last twelve months heard me rave about William Boyle’s A Friend Is A Gift You Give Yourself. The mix of crime fiction and dramedy was a fresh breeze blowing into the genre. The book created some slight trepidation when I cracked open his latest, City Of Margins. I expected a strong piece of writing, but feared it would come off lesser in comparison. Those doubts vanished by the first chapter.
At first glance, City Of Margins, appears to revisit his debut, Gravesend, with him examining the impact of a crime on a Brooklyn community. This time, it is the murder of a degenerate gambler who owed money to the burrough mobster “Big Time” Tony Ficalora. Tommy sends a cop on his payroll, Donnie Rotante, to collect. Donnie’s already problematic temper has recently been pushed by the suicide of his teenage son. Donnie ends up tossing the man off of a bridge. The death is believed to be a suicide.
Two years later, Donnie has been bumped off the force for striking a superior and works full time for Big Time Tommy. The victim’s son Mikey Baldini, dropped out of college and returned home to his mother, Rosemarie, who struggles to pay her husband’s debt. Tommy propositions Mikey to work for him as a collector to erase it quicker.
Instigating much of the action is Nick Bifulco, a weasley high school teacher who wants to break out of his dismal life my selling a screenplay, even though he has no knowledge about the art form. He decides to base it off of Donnie, due to an incident where he went after Mikey with a ball bat years ago. It leads to Mikey going over to Donnie’s ex, Donna. The woman is still trapped in the mourning of her son with a roomful of records. The two find a connection as they and other characters crash into each other, either helping or hurting.
Boyle uses a full author’s pallet to tell this story. Where Gravesend always carried a somber tone, Boyle goes deeper into his into his characters and the reactions to their situations. He discovers they each contain different feelings in combat with each other. Instead of relying on quirks, like lesser writers, Boyle knows these people so well he is able to play off their experiences and degrees of desperation to make each of them stand out. with pathos, humor, and the overhanging threat of violence, he ties the community together and depicts its inertia.
Boyle makes City Of Margins a gritty crime version of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. It looks at two different generations struggling with the despair their lives have trapped them in and the missteps and moves they make to break free, William Boyle brings them to life in all their sad, funny, brutal glory.

City of Margins is available for purchase in-store and online today.
About the Reviewer: Scott Montgomery has worked over a decade as a respected bookseller and authority on crime fiction. His articles and interviews have appeared in crimespree, Crime Reads, and his own site, The Hard Word. His short fiction has appeared online in Slag Drop and Shotgun Honey and the anthologies Murder On WheelsLone Star Lawless, and The Eyes of Texas. He is the co-author of the novella Two Bodies, One Grave with Manning Wolfe.
About the Author: William Boyle is from Brooklyn, New York. His books include: Gravesend, which was nominated for the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière in France and shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in the UK; The Lonely Witness, which is nominated for the Hammett Prize; and, most recently, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself. He lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

An Interview with Russ Thomas, author of ‘Firewatching’

Russ Thomas has created a much talked about debut with Firewatching, featuring D.I. Adam Tyler. Tyler catches a high profile case when the body of a loathed businessman is discovered walled in his own estate. Tyler was picked up by the man’s son the night before. Paired with the funny and feisty Det. Amini Rabbani, Tyler pursues the case his lover could be a part of that is also connected to several fires being set around Sheffield. Thomas will be at BookPeople on March 3rd at 7PM to sign and discuss Firewatching, but was kind enough to volunteer for this advance grilling about this character driven and moody police thriller.


9780525542025_0735bScott Montgomery: Firewatching is a very unique police thriller and very character driven. Which came first, DS Adam Tyler or his adversary?

RT: Hmmm. Interesting question. Stories always start with character for me but in this case it was the character of Lily which came first. I wrote a short story about her many years ago, and she stayed with me. I think I always planned to revisit her and try and tell more of her story. Then, when I realized I was writing a police procedural novel, the rough idea of DS Adam Tyler was formed. It took a long time, many, many rewrites, and a name change or two before I got him right. The book was called Firewatching from very early on though and the concept of an arsonist setting light to various places around the city hasn’t changed all that much. So I suppose the concept of Tyler came first but it took me a while to fully realize him.

SM: The way you deal with Tyler’s homosexuality is deft. It’s definitely a part of him and he has obstacles because of it, but it doesn’t define him. What did you want to explore with that aspect of the character?

RT: I always saw Tyler as a gay character, right from the start but I really didn’t want the story to be about the fact that he’s gay. Growing up gay myself in the 1980s and 90s I always wondered why, when they included gay characters in TV shows/books/films (which was rarely), the story always had to be about them struggling with their sexuality or coming out. I’m not saying those stories aren’t important, I just feel they’ve been very well-explored and that there are other gay stories to tell. After all, LGBTQ+ people are also husbands and wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons; they are police officers and fire-fighters too. I wanted to write a story with a gay character where his sexuality is just one part of who he is and not necessarily the driving force of the plot. Yes, he has issues with his sexuality in the workplace, and his love life puts him in a very tight corner in this book, but his bigger problems stem from his past and who he is as a person. If he’d been a straight man in this story I think the outcome would have been the same, pretty much.

SM:  Rabbani is already a character readers of the book love. How did you construct her?

I didn’t really construct her, she just turned up fully formed. I wanted another voice in the book, someone who could show us a side of Tyler he perhaps doesn’t see himself. And someone who would be his ally in the novel, even though he doesn’t necessarily think he needs one. So I wrote the scene near the start of the novel where he turns up at the crime scene and the officer on duty tells him he isn’t allowed in. I made her a woman, for contrast, and Asian for much the same reason, and also because there’s a large Asian community in Sheffield, much as there is in most major cities in the UK and it felt right to reflect that. But other than that I didn’t plan her character. She just turned up, got in Tyler’s way and suddenly began to steal the show. I love her so much.

SM:  History plays an important part in the novel. Where there any challenges of dealing with the past?

RT: I had one major problem, which was Lily and Edna’s ages. Without giving too much away, it was crucial that they met during World War II but that made them a little older than I would have liked. It’s one of the reasons the book is set a few years in the past. Some people are very fit well into later life but Lily has to be quite able-bodied in the story and I was stretching credulity a little bit. Other than that, not really. I did some research of course but mainly into the famous fires detailed in the blog posts. The flashback scenes with Lily and Edna came almost wholly from my imagination so if I’ve got some historical detail wrong it’s entirely my fault.

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

RT: I’m sure I did in all sorts of ways both conscious and unconscious. There are definitely shades of the Golden Age of crime here. I read an awful lot of Agatha Christie when I was young and I love that way she had of presenting a small cast of characters as suspects in a locked-room mystery. That’s much harder to do across a city landscape but I’m sure there are reflections of that, especially in the village of Castledene and its dubious residents. I read a lot of Lee Child and I’m in awe of his ability to leave you breathless as the story rattles along. If I’ve managed to echo that even slightly then I would be happy. Finally, there’s a definite nod to Chandler and the gumshoe detective. I like to think of Oscar as an homme fatale, dangerous and seductive, with an agenda the reader is not quite sure about.

SM: Do you have another case for DS Tyler ready?

RT: Yes, indeed. The second book is already written. Nighthawking picks up a few months after the end of Firewatching and we discover that Tyler is a little preoccupied by something Doggett has told him about his past. Then a body is dug up by a metal detectorist in Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens and… well, I’d better leave it there for now.

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Russ Thomas, author of Firewatching (2020)

Don’t miss Russ Thomas in-store on March 3rd at 7PM where he’ll discuss and sign his burning debut, Firewatching.

Tight and Tough: A Review of “Trouble Is What I Do”

MysteryPeople’s Scott Montogmery review’s Walter Mosley’s latest Leonid McGill novel, Trouble Is What I Do.

9781549121296_62c66Leonid McGill is quite possibly my favorite Walter Mosely creation. The ex-boxer and former underworld “fixer” who now tries his best to do honest work as a private detective, often reverting to his old ways to get the job done. Leonid is tough, capable, funny, and knows the score. It’s a joy to have him back in the short novel, Trouble Is What I Do.
An elderly black bluesman, Catfish Weary, hires Leonid, on a referral from an assassin McGill crossed paths with. He needs the detective to get a letter he promised to deliver from an old lover to a granddaughter about to be married, revealing her mixed race she knows nothing about. In McGill’s way is the woman’s well connected banker father, who can’t afford to have the secret out. In fact, right after he hires McGil, someone puts three bullets into him. Leonid hits the streets with some of his associates, including his son Twill, who is even more of a rogue — working hustles, alliances, and underground contacts to get around the power broker and his minions.
Mosely demonstrates his brilliance in creating worlds that exist under or to the side of the mainstream one. Leonid McGill negotiates his quest through a colorful array of criminals, killers, and street personalities. They make up a shadow city where everything could end, including your life, with the wrong step or word. It is how our hero moves through it that makes him so cool.
Leonid McGill and Walter Mosley carry this tale on a wonderful voice. McGill’s dialogue and interior thought have the ring of electric blues, capturing his life’s humor, humanity, and violence. It’s great to have this visit with him. I hope he comes around more often.

Trouble Is What I Do is now available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Meike Reviews ‘The Sun Down Motel’

9780440000174_212bcThirty five years ago, Viv Delaney vanished during the middle of her shift as the night clerk at the Sun Down Motel in Fell, NY. There were hints that she didn’t leave on her own–her car was left behind in the parking lot, her purse (and her money) were left behind in the office. Oddly, no one reported her missing for 4 days. The police made a half-hearted attempt to find out what happened to her, but young girls had a habit of disappearing from Fell in those days.

Her aunt’s mysterious disappearance has always haunted Carly Kirk so she travels to Fell to see if she can come up with any clues. On visiting the run-down motel where Viv worked, Carly sees a notice that the hotel is looking for a night clerk—the same position that her aunt disappeared from—and on a whim she decides to apply, thinking it might give her some insight into what happened to Viv. The seedy motel doesn’t seem to have changed at all since her aunt worked there, and Carly quickly comes to realize that there’s something very wrong with the Sun Down Motel. Lights flicker for no reason, doors fly open all on their own, and there’s a mysterious scent of cigarette smoke even when Carly is sure she is quite alone. Certain the motel holds the key to Viv’s disappearance, Carly goes back every night until she’s thinks she might have figured out what happened all those years ago. But is the motel ready to give up its secrets?

 I normally don’t read books that edge toward the paranormal, but the amazing cover on this one pulled me in and once I started I couldn’t put this down. The motel itself is as much a living, breathing character as any of the people in the story. It’s seen bad things over the years, and can sense when bad people come around. St. James does a masterful job revealing the story in alternating time lines, switching back and forth between Carly’s story and that of her aunt Viv. The Sun Down Motel is a captivating and chilling psychological thriller.


The Sun Down Motel is available for purchase from BookPeople in-store and online now!