MysteryPeople Q&A with Brad Taylor

Wednesday, Jan 15 at 7PM we will be hosting Brad Taylor to discuss and sign his latest, The Polaris Protocal, a thriller dealing with a plot to shut down the GPS system. We talked to Brad about the premise of his latest book and about the popular series in general.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: The main threat from the bad guys in this book concerns the GPS system. How likely is it that something like that could happen?

BRAD TAYLOR: Having had the honor of being allowed on the floor of the control center for the GPS constellation at Schriever Air Force Base, my initial answer is “very little chance.”  Access to the GPS constellation is one of the most secure areas I have ever seen, and I’ve accessed some pretty secure areas.  Having said that, I’ve also done business inside the NSA – which is locked up pretty tight – and yet that traitor Edward Snowden managed to walk off with our entire playbook.  At the end of the day, trust is the cornerstone of any organization, and it scares me that we have people like Snowden within our intelligence architecture who believe more in their own innate sense of right and wrong and are willing to ignore the damage to national security for their own personal vendetta.  Long-winded answer, but no, given what I saw, the GPS architecture is very secure.  On the other hand, that’s exactly what the NSA said a year ago.  All it would take is one jerk like my character, Arthur Booth, to cause chaos.

MP: What’s the key to writing a good action sequence?

BT: For me, it’s the reader’s ability to visualize what is happening seamlessly.  That’s it.  Am I conveying the words in such a way that the scene is flowing across the reader’s brain, to include the emotional impact that it deserves, without bogging the reader down with needless details that cause a blip in the enjoyment?  That would seem to be easy. But in truth, when you’ve got five bad guys and five good guys, it’s hard to do.  Everyone needs to be actively engaged, and everyone needs to act in a manner that is commensurate with what that character would do in a particular situation.  All too often I write a scene and really like the emotional impact. Then, upon reading it a week later, I think, “Why on earth would he do that?  No way would I do that.  I’d grab weapon X and start shooting target Y.”  I then enter into the re-write trying to get it right.

MP:  You use a lot of movie references in your books. Are you influenced by filmmakers as much as novelists?

BT: Okay.  Hidden secret:  I am influenced by movies, though not as much as I am by books.  Reading is my first pleasure. But the fact remains that we live in a visual world.  Not a day goes by where I’m talking about my books when someone asks, “When’s it going to be a movie?”, as if that were my goal.  I don’t write anything because I want to see it on film. I do use movies as reference because I’m more certain the reader will relate to it.  But it’s not an absolute.

I just used a reference to Gollum from The Hobbit in my forthcoming book (available in July), Days of Rage; and I’m sure someone will think I’m talking about the movie, but I haven’t even seen it.  At the end of the day, though, I love a good movie as much as a good book, and there are certain scenes that just stick with me.  In fact, The Princess Bride has become a reoccurring reference in my books precisely because I’ve always loved that movie.  I have an Easter egg from it in every single manuscript since All Necessary Force, including The Polaris Protocol.  In the past, it was obvious. Now it’s a little harder to discern, but it’s there.  Beyond that, though, some movie scenes are just really, really good.  Clint Eastwood  as Josey Wales, “Dying ain’t much of a living,” or  William Munny, “We all got it coming kid.”  They evoke the same emotion as the written word, and have influenced me the same way.

MP: As a writer, what makes Pike and the rest of the team worth returning to?

BT: For me, it’s the characters.  The action scenes are fun to write, but it’s the impact and affect on the world I’ve created that matters. Coming back to watch Pike and Jennifer grow, along with how the bureaucracy evolves around the Taskforce—which provides it’s own challenges in keeping current—are what bring me back.  Life marches on in my real world, with my family and my previous military career, so it’s fun figuring out where my characters’ lives will go.  I’m sure it’ll get harder and harder, but that’s why I like coming back.

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MysteryPeople Presents Brad Taylor here on Wednesday, Jan 15 at 7PM. If you can’t make it to the event, we’re currently taking orders for signed copies of The Polaris Protocol via our website. We ship worldwide. 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner has put her mark on the thriller genre with her characters Evan Delany and Jo Beckett. In her latest, The Shadow Tracer, she introduces us to Sarah Keller, a skip tracer, who is in hiding herself with a girl she has taken to protect from one messed up family. Meg will be at BookPeople to sign and discuss The shadow Tracer at 7PM on tonight, June 26th. She is a great lady with a wonderful sense of humor which can be seen in our recent Q&A.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did the idea for The Shadow Tracer come about?

MEG GARDINER: I’m a lawyer who cares about civil liberties, and a mom whose kids’ social lives thrive online. I started thinking about privacy, and how technology enables corporations and governments to keep tabs on us. Also, I had signed up for the UK’s IRIS recognition system, which allows you to skip the passport line at Heathrow airport. My husband was horrified. “You did what? MI5 is probably watching you through the TV right now.” I laughed. Then I read about the vast facility the NSA is building in Utah to store their bajillion-terabytes of information. And I wondered: in today’s hyper-connected world, how do you keep yourself from becoming a fly under glass?

So I thought: What if you needed, absolutely, to run and hide? Could you do it? What if you needed to run… with a little kid? What if the people chasing you had money, resources, and determination? What if they were criminals, and the FBI? From there, the story of Sarah Keller going on the run to protect her daughter Zoe came to life.

I say all this patriotically, in the name of PRISM!

No, don’t write that down.

MP: In the early chapters you get a good sense of how a skip tracer works. What kind of research do you do for your characters’ professions?

MG: I read copiously. Books, articles, interviews – whatever I can get my hands on. And whenever possible I meet people who do the jobs my characters do. That’s the best way to learn what it’s like to be a skip tracer, or a search-and-rescue expert, or a forensic psychiatrist. For the scene in The Shadow Tracer where Sarah Keller serves a subpoena, I talked to my brother, who owns an attorney support service like the one Sarah works for. It was amazing to hear his tales of tracking down sneaks and fraudsters, and to realize how gutsy he has to be to confront them. Of course, my baby brother is now 6’3″.

And I realized how difficult it is to stay under the radar when I ordered a book online, about skip tracing. A dialogue box popped up: “Share that you purchased How To Disappear with all your social networks?”

MP: Sarah is trying to protect a child she has raised from her own biological family. What did you want to explore about motherhood and family in this book?

MG: Sarah has raised five-year-old Zoe virtually since birth. The little girl was handed to Sarah by her dying sister, and Sarah swore to protect Zoe no matter what. The book explores how that promise has become the central purpose of Sarah’s life. She has become a skip tracer to learn how to disappear, because she fears the day that the people who murdered her sister come back for Zoe. At first, Zoe was an unexpected detour in Sarah’s life. But she has become the daughter of Sarah’s heart.

Sarah’s promise to her dying sister is put to the test when the bad guys show up again. Risking herself for Zoe is a choice. When it’s life or death, what will she do?

As for questions about motherhood and family, my son recently texted me: “I just realized that pretty much all your protagonists have kids that aren’t quite theirs. Do we need to have a conversation?”

I assured him that we didn’t… but that I needed to tell him about his evil twin who lives in the attic.

MP: You have a lot of fun with the locations in the book, particularly Roswell, New Mexico. How do you make a setting be more than just a backdrop?

MG: When I was a kid I spent every summer in Roswell. My grandparents lived there. I loved the austere desert landscape. I loved New Mexico — White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns and the Bottomless Lakes and the town of Lincoln, birthplace of Billy the Kid. It was bright and wild and exciting. Now, of course, Roswell has a reputation as UFOville. Which I am not supposed to talk about, okay? Just sayin’.

The southwest is a challenging landscape I have great affection for —  from Oklahoma, where Sarah’s flight begins, through Texas and into New Mexico. I tried to bring my childhood memories to life, and then to add hit men, U.S. Marshals, and car chases.

MP: The action passages in the book are relentless. How do you approach those parts from a craft standpoint?

MG: In a novel, action scenes need to be extremely clear and visual, and even more emotionally powerful than they are on a screen. Readers don’t experience the visceral sensory impact that viewers get from watching action sequences in a movie theater, so I have to make up for it by delivering other kinds of punches. If a chase scene is going to excite readers (not just keep them from becoming bored, but excite them) it has to avoid every cliche and twist that they’ve seen or read before. I have to imagine all the action scenes I’ve seen — or written — and turn them inside out to surprise readers.

Bullitt is iconic. Try to duplicate it, and you’ll just write a cheesy, predictable knock-off.

One other point: explicit violence doesn’t raise the fear factor. What does increase fear and tension is a threat that remains partially veiled in mystery. Readers’ imaginations will create terrors more frightening than I can portray. The theater of the mind is more powerful than a bucket of blood.

MP: As somebody who has two series characters, what does a stand alone do for you as a writer?

MG: Writing stand alones frees me to tell stories that range beyond my series, and to write about characters who, in a series novel, would be secondary. Sarah Keller had to be at the center of The Shadow Tracer. The book is about her world and her life. If the story wasn’t hers, it would have lacked heart and guts. I want readers riding along with her as she makes her desperate run and tries to spirit Zoe to safety.

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MysteryPeople welcomes Meg Gardiner to BookPeople tonight, Thursday, July 27 at 7PM, to speak about and sign The Shadow Tracer. If you can’t make it, you can pre-order a signed copy of the book through the store’s website.

SHADOW TRACER: The Summer Action You’ve Been Looking For


If you love Meg Gardiner, you’ll relish her stand alone, The Shadow Tracer. You will want to clear your schedule before sitting down with it, since you won’t want to stop turning the pages. The book shows all of the author’s talents, undistilled.

Gardiner gives us one of her most fascinating heroines in Sarah Keller. In the first chapter, we see her working as a skip tracer in Oklahoma City. We get a a lot of cool details about the approach and philosophy of the job as she grabs someone in hiding. We also soon learn that Sarah is a fugitive herself.

She has been living under a different identity with Zoe, a little girl she took in and and became a mother too. When a bus accident blows their cover, Sarah takes the girl and starts running. She is pursued across the Southwest by the FBI, US Marshals, and the Worthes, the family Zoe is protecting them from.

The Shadow Tracer has the skill and craftsmanship of a well made movie thriller. Each character is clearly defined in his or her purpose. Many of their reasons, like many of the other reveals, are given at the exact right moment for dramatic impact. The pace and action are brilliantly executed with great set pieces, like the final confrontation at an airline graveyard. Gardiner also knows how to weave in humor so you don’t feel pummeled by a story that is so relentless. This could be the only edge of your seat thriller that has an Animal House reference.

This is Meg Gardiner at the top of her game. She gives us an incredibly competent and human heroine in constant danger, peeling the secrets away at a steady pace. DVR your favorite shows and forget about going to the movies. The Shadow Tracer gives us the summer action we crave.

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MysteryPeople welcomes Meg Gardiner to speak about & sign The Shadow Tracer here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 27 at 7PM. If you can’t make it, you can order a signed copy via the store’s website.