Category Archives for Interview

Author Spotlight: Anthony Flacco

We are especially excited for the upcoming relaunch of Anthony Flacco’s The Last Nightingale. Flacco has created a unique tale set during the Gilded Age in San Francisco that introduces honest police detective, Sergeant Randall Blackburn, and his unlikely partner, twelve-year old orphan Shane Nightingale. We talked with Flacco about the inspiration behind the setting, characters, and plot, as well as what he loves about his job.

SRP: The Last Nightingale is set in San Francisco in 1906 after the Great Earthquake. What made you pick that place and that time period?

Anthony: I have always thought San Francisco was the most physically beautiful city in America (just my opinion, folks, I don’t want to fight about it), and the atmosphere of fog seemed ideal for a mystery. I chose the Great Earthquake and Fires because it remains the most significant event in that city’s history today.

SRP: This plot is incredibly unique—an orphan who witnessed a brutal murder teams up with a police officer to hunt down a serial killer. How did you create this plot and unlikely duo?

Anthony: The victimization of children by unfeeling adults is a theme in my work. It has so many aspects to it, there are as many variations as there are children cowering in a corner at this very moment, desperately hoping not to hear adult footsteps approaching. One book could never cover it all.

SRP: Which came first—the plot, the setting, or the characters?

Anthony: For this book, it was the setting first as I mentioned above, but the plot and characters came out together and are interdependent. I spent days walking around the city checking out potential locations, all of which helped to stitch the fiction to fact, but by then I already had the general plot and characters in mind. Refinement of concept came in the writing of the first draft.

SRP: What was the most exciting part of this book to write?

Anthony: The same answer holds true for each book in this series: I love, love, love to reconcile historical fact with acknowledged fiction, but restrict the process to using all available facts and only employing fiction where the facts have holes in them. The most enjoyable part of that process is stitching the two while attempting to disguise the seams.

SRP: Would you get along with Sergeant Randall Blackburn?

Anthony: I sure hope so. I might strike him as a bit artsy-fartsy, but I would hate to ever miss an opportunity to befriend someone with a moral and ethical stance like his. I believe in the concept that if we want to be better people, we should hang out with better people. And if you need a definition of “better people,” look for the ones who try to build up others instead of picking at them and tearing them down.

On that basis, I would try hard to be a friend to Randall Blackburn. His combination of humility and capability is inspiring to me. Plus the man adopted two homeless orphans as a thirty-five year-old bachelor, not because it was something he craved, or something he had any idea of how to do. His pain and empathy for those children—his fears of the future they faced alone in the world—were enough to overcome his own fears that he had no idea what the hell he was getting into. He did it anyway.

Here is something from recent news events, for what it’s worth: Ukrainian President Zelensky famously said, when offered a government plane to fly to safety from advancing Russian forces, “I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition.”

We would have heard the same response from Randall Blackburn.

SRP: This is the first in The Nightingale Detective Series. Can you tell us a bit about what happens in the following books and what to expect from new releases?

Anthony: My theme of forcing innocent children into the path of terrible human beings comes from my own cry of pain that such things exist to be written about in the first place. It is a statement of both innocence and corruption meant to launch an investigation into whether the goodness threatened by corruption can prevail, and in ways readers can and will accept.

My worldview, namely that optimism is smarter than defeatism, causes me to write plots showing ways in which such people find recovery. Not happy-ever-after stuff, but a realization of inner strength which we can take away, as readers, and which we can leave them feeling content that if they were real, they would use it to forge well in their lives. As for the worst of the perpetrators, most of them will be caught, or die in the process of carrying out their crimes. But never all of them. Some will get away because in life some get away. I will not insult a reader’s intelligence by telling a story wherein evil is forever vanquished. The best we can ever do is to beat it back to invisible embers left glowing beneath a forest fire we hope to have extinguished .

Evil in my stories will always be represented by those embers. The implied—but unspoken—message carried by the steadfast traits of the Protagonists will always be that those traits not only create their victories, but are the same as those we carry, offering a hopeful challenge.

SRP: What are you working on now?

Anthony: Book #4 of the series. This one follows the pattern of weaving fiction into fact and is concerned with international crime, using a hidden organization of ostensibly law-abiding people that is far larger than anything the general public has ever heard about. So I am currently battling away on behalf of our Protagonists, also introducing a new one whom I am hopeful our readers will love.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

Anthony: I just finished The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson. I’m a fan. I can only speculate he has an army of researchers to deploy like a swarm of flying monkeys who are not permitted to come home for dinner unless they bring along a validated fact. Because otherwise, you know, come on.

SRP: What’s your favorite part of being an author?

Anthony: Oh, no contest, it is the opportunity to read and think and write for as many hours of the day and night as energy will permit. The quiet. A life free of Muzak beamed down from overhead speakers. My work constantly pushes me into the virtual company of intelligent people who have challenging thoughts to offer and sometimes delightful ways of expressing them. It’s a great way to turn an office into a gymnasium.

The Last Nightingale releases tomorrow, March 15. Pre-order your copy today!

Author Spotlight: Bruns and Olson

David Bruns and J.R. Olson have been creating thrillers together for 6+ years. Their new series, Command and Control, launches January 11 with the explosive first book, Command and Control. In Command and Control we are introduced to Don Riley, head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats group as he and his team investigate unexplained attacks around the world. We spoke with Bruns and Olson about the inspiration for this new series, their author team writing process, and more.

SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for this new series?

We had already written four novels together, each one a standalone story with continuing characters. When Severn River Publishing asked us to develop a new series, we decided to expand our horizons.

We wanted to tell a BIG story, develop a series where each book was a self-contained chapter in a much larger narrative arc. The Command and Control series describes what a clash of great powers might look like in the 21st century.

We write what we call “national security thrillers,” which to us encompasses more than just military conflicts. Our novels delve into political intrigue, intelligence operations, and military operations to create a holistic look at the next generation of warfare.

SRP: What can you tell us about the plot of the first book in the series, Command and Control?

US President Rick Serrano has only recently taken office when a new crisis erupts in the Strait of Hormuz. As Don Riley, Director of the Emerging Threats Group at the CIA, works to unravel what is happening, more incidents crop up around the globe, each growing in severity.

The Russians are at it again and Serrano acts to protect American national security interests. Both sides refuse to back down. The stakes escalate. Russia and the United States are closer to all out war than at any time in modern history.

But something is not adding up for Riley. As the clock ticks down, Riley sifts through the layers of deception to discover who—or what—is behind these events…

SRP: How did you create Don Riley, head of the CIA’s Emerging Threats Group? Is he based off of anyone you know?

Our first novel together, Weapons of Mass Deception, which we wrote back in 2014, introduced Don Riley. He was the favorite Plebe (freshman) for a couple of senior midshipmen at Annapolis. Don was medically discharged from Annapolis, but he rebounded, earned a degree, and entered the US intelligence community as an analyst. He’s been in every book since.

Don is our “everyman” character, an amalgamation of the kind of people we met every day during our time in uniform. He’s apolitical, professional, and an expert in his field. He also could stand to lose a few pounds, has no social life, and has an awkward habit of saying the truth even if the people he’s talking to don’t want to hear it.

Don just wants to serve his country to the best of his ability. Unfortunately for him, that’s not how our stories work. We like to drop Don into some pretty challenging situations and ask him to do the right thing.

SRP: After a chance meeting at a USNA event in 2014, you decided to team up and started writing together. How does your writing process work?

So, what you really want to know is how do two Type ‘A’ personalities, who are both trained to lead and have extensive experience doing so under high pressure situations, put aside their egos long enough to co-write a novel together?

Very carefully. <insert laugh track here>

For us, it’s always a work in progress. With each book we change some aspect of our process to see if we can get more efficient. Some things work, most don’t.

At the beginning of each project, we talk through the concept of the book together until we have a story arc that we like. (That can take days, weeks, or months, depending on schedules, deadlines, or life.) J.R., the career intelligence officer, works out a rough draft and we go through it again and again until we have a chapter-by-chapter story.

At that point, J.R. works on in-depth research and detailed chapter outlines. David writes the first draft of every chapter and hands it off to J.R. for editing, addition of technical details, or plot punch-up work.

We follow that process though the entire book. (Our novels are typically 50-70 chapters, so this takes a few months.) At that point, David does another chapter review and consolidates the manuscript into a working draft. We review the full manuscript together for completeness and plot issues. If we have outside technical experts, we send them the manuscript at that time. We work very hard to get the technical details right, so this part is important to us.

Once we work through those final details, we send the completed manuscript to Severn River Publishing for copy editing.

SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

All of our books extrapolate from current events and Command and Control is no exception. Since J.R. is a retired naval intelligence officer, he sees endless potential hotspots around the world: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran—pick your poison, we could do this all day. There are as many national security challenges to the United States now as at any time in our history.

The biggest challenge in writing our near-future novels is developing the threat scenario. War is changing very rapidly, often before our eyes, which makes us address a lot of questions. For example, how will unmanned platforms be used in a future scenario? What about AI? How about economic warfare? Or cyber? We try to put together a this-could-happen scenario that is often eye-opening.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

Olson: I just recently purchased The Strategy of Denial by Elbridge Colby. I mostly read Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and what is called the Early Bird, which is a news story aggregator that collects many of the impactful commentary on national security issues. Other excellent websites include War on the Rocks, Defense News, and the various service papers like Navy Times. All of those things keep me pretty busy and help to guide me in inviting guests to join me on my weekly radio show, National Security This Week, which is on KYMN Radio each Wednesday morning at 9AM Central time. The radio show is also available via podcast services.

Bruns: I read (and listen) widely. In the non-fiction space, I’d recommend This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by Nicole Pelroth. It’s a first draft of the history of cyberwarfare and it’s fascinating/terrifying. I just re-read Dune by Frank Herbert in advance of the movie release. (It was just as fabulous the fifth time as it was the first time.) My favorite current authors are Don Winslow (his Power of the Dog series about Mexican drug cartels is stunning), Michael Connelly, and Bernard Cornwell (his Last Kingdom historical fiction series is brilliant). If readers want a different take than ours on World War Three, try 2034, by Admiral James Stavridis and Elliott Ackerman.

SRP: What would you include in your “Author’s Survival Pack”?

Bruns: The first thing I would include is my writing partner, J.R.. Without the two of us working together, these books don’t happen. Next, a laptop because I have horrendous handwriting. Copies of all the books I mentioned above, of course. Lastly, I’d take my dog, Lucy, because the best way to address a plot problem is to take a walk with a friend.

Olson: That’s pretty funny. I have no idea. Honestly, I’ve written so many intelligence reports, both as an analyst and as a case officer, not to mention policy documents, operational plans, et al, during my career that if I were thrust into a truly desperate situation and writing was only an option, I’d be fine with not writing another word.

However, I enjoy writing. I enjoy the creativity that comes with the process. And, most importantly, I thoroughly enjoy the shared creative process I’ve built with David. We’re a good team, and we plan to deliver our best work to Severn River Publishing as part of our partnership with their publishing house.

Command and Control by David Bruns and J.R. Olson launches January 11.

Author Spotlight: LaVonne Griffin-Valade

LaVonne Griffin-Valade brings back our favorite witty, cynical, and a bit profane Oregon State Police Sergeant Maggie Blackthorne in Murderers Creek. When Maggie arrives on a murder scene and finds out the victim is her ex-husband, she’s plunged into an investigation that positions her as a potential suspect. We asked LaVonne about the creation of this latest installment, who inspired Maggie’s creation, and the importance of music in both Maggie and LaVonne’s lives.

SRP: We are excited for the return of Maggie Blackthorne in Murderers Creek. Can you tell us a bit about the plot and how you came up with it?

LaVonne: Even before I had finished writing Dead Point, the first Maggie Blackthorne novel, it was clear to me that Maggie’s story deserved to be a series. I had spent much of my early childhood at my grandparents’ small farm along the John Day River. The picture window my grandmother had insisted be installed in their house held a stunning view of the Aldrich Mountains from which Murderers Creek flowed to the river. And since Maggie’s Oregon State Police district covers that entire area, I knew there wasn’t a better setting or title I could come up with for the second Blackthorne novel than Murderers Creek.

SRP: Is Maggie modeled after anyone in your life?

LaVonne: I always find this to be a difficult question to answer, particularly since I didn’t grow up in a family of law enforcement folks, nor did I go into policing as a profession. But if Maggie is modeled after anyone, it would be my mother—at least that’s where the acid wit and comic timing comes from. And as I’ve mentioned before, Maggie’s a justice warrior and a bit of an iconoclast, and I’ll admit, good or problematic, those qualities stem from her creator.

SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

LaVonne: In all honesty, writing on someone else’s timeline was the most difficult part of writing Murderers Creek.

SRP: Author is one of many career paths you’ve taken. How has your previous work as schoolteacher, working with homeless youth, and as a government performance auditor influenced your writing?

LaVonne: 1) Being a schoolteacher, much like being a mother of four, taught me patience. Trust me, a writer needs patience. 2) I grew up in a working class household, and often times were tough. For several years, I shared a bedroom with my sister and two of my younger brothers, while my baby brother slept in a crib in the living room. But there was always food on the table, a roof over my head, and love. Working with homeless youth was the most difficult career path I ever traveled down because those young people had lived with very little security regarding their own physical and emotional lives, and they were expected to effectively become responsible adults. Among other things, that experience taught me to work at creating fully-formed, three-dimensional characters in my stories—characters that are capable of messing up and figuring things out as they go through life, as well as have authenticity and/or being dogged by inner demons from time to time. 3) Being an auditor grounded me in the art of objective observation, analysis, and reporting, but it also helped me become more cognizant about writing clear, clean prose that is readable and says something worth reading and learning about.

SRP: Can we expect to see more Maggie Blackthorne in 2022?

LaVonne: Yes! I’m working on the third novel right now. It’s title is Desolation Ridge, and it’s scheduled for publication in the Summer of 2022.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

LaVonne: My annual counts of the books I’ve read that year have declined in the last several years. But a writer has to read in order to write! I currently have two mysteries going—Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo and Inspector Imanishi Investigates by Seicho Matsumoto. I recently read novels by two of my favorite writers—So Much Blue by Percival Everett and The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld. And I have a new novel on order written by another of my favorite writers, Claire Vaye Watkins—I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness.

SRP: We know Maggie loves a good playlist. Do you have a favorite writing playlist?

LaVonne: No surprise, but Maggie and I have very similar tastes in music. But I do like to change up what I listen to while writing, so I often put on classical music. I’m particularly fond of Yo-Yo Ma, Kathryn Stott, Joshua Bell, and the 2Cellos, a Croatian duo. I also have several R&B musicians I really like: Roberta Flack, Sade, Marvin Gaye, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone…you get the idea.

Murderers Creek launches November 23.

Author Spotlight: Chris Glatte

This week, we talked with Chris Glatte about his upcoming release, Dark Valley, the fifth installment in his Tark’s Ticks: WWII Novels. Lieutenant Clay Tarkington and his squad (“Tark’s Ticks”) have been on the ground fighting through the Pacific Theater in World War II. In Dark Valley, historical fiction readers and military thriller fans will find themselves deep in the valleys of New Guinea, fighting to protect a vital airstrip.

SRP: Your Tark’s Ticks: WWII Novels Series puts readers in the boots of a fictional squad of soldiers battling through the Pacific during World War II. What made you want to write about this period and the Pacific theater specifically?

Chris: The first book (Tark’s Ticks) starts on the Bataan Peninsula during the battle which led to an Allied defeat and the Bataan Death March. The Allies fought valiantly with dwindling supplies and constant attacks from veteran Japanese soldiers, for four months. I wanted to start this series there because it’s not a battle that gets much attention and it fascinates me. I write books set in the Pacific theater for the same reason.

SRP: Tark’s Ticks have been through a lot throughout the series. In Dark Valley, Lieutenant Tarkington and his men are tasked with defending Wau Airfield. Can you tell us a bit more about the plot?

Chris: Right after the Allies overran the Japanese at Buna/Gona in New Guinea, the next obvious target lay to north in the Lae/Salamaua region. Because New Guinea is mountainous and choked with jungles and swamps, traveling overland was nearly impossible. Airfields set between towering mountains became extremely important. The Wau region had such an airfield, and the Allies owned it. They needed to hold it in order to bring in troops and supplies and keep the pressure on Lae, only fifty air miles away. The Japanese saw the value of the airfield and sent a large force to take it from the Allies. An epic battle ensued.

SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing Dark Valley?

Chris: The Battle of Wau was primarily fought by Australians. Americans contributed the aircraft and the pilots, but few if any American infantrymen fought on the ground. I wanted to write about the battle, so I had to figure out a reason for Tark’s Ticks to be there. I think I achieved that and was still able to tell the story of the Australian’s incredible fighting spirit and bravery.

SRP: We know how incredibly important it is to adhere to events as they happened when writing historical fiction. How do you stay true to facts, while also creating a compelling story and believable characters?

Chris: It’s like walking a tightrope. I read everything I can find about the battle and highlight the really pivotal moments. I put my characters into those moments and try to imagine what it would be like for them.
Most of these campaigns in New Guinea occurred over months with lots of downtime between any real fighting. I condense the events to make it more exciting and readable.

SRP: What’s next for Tark’s Ticks?

Chris: Book six has already been written and I’m in the final editing phase right now. It begins a few weeks after the end of the events in book 5 and involves the Lae/Salamaua region of New Guinea, but doesn’t end there. New missions will put all of Tark’s Ticks skills to the test.

SRP: What books have stuck with you/had the most influence on you throughout your life?

Chris: My all-time favorite book is: A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin. He’s a great writer, and I re-read the book every couple of years and literally can’t get anything else done until I’ve finished.

SRP: What’s one tool you couldn’t write without?

Chris: That’s a tough one. I doubt I could get much writing done without my trusty Macbook Air. I had an electric typewriter in high school and tried writing stories on it, but it’s a brutal process, although at the time I didn’t know any better. Also, Google Earth is pretty indispensable. Travelling to New Guinea or the South Pacific, isn’t really feasible for me, so Google Earth helps immensely.

Some missions are FUBAR from the very beginning.

Tarkington and his men are tasked with a long-range reconnaissance mission deep behind enemy lines. But when their C-47 is shot down, Tark’s team must make the perilous trek through the jungle to a besieged Wau airfield. The airfield is vital to both the Allies and the Japanese, and soon Tarkington and his men are embroiled in its defense. To make matters worse, an American airman has been captured by the nearby Japanese forces.

Can Tark’s Ticks defend the airfield and rescue the downed aviator? Or will a hostile jungle and determined enemy prove to be too much?

Dark Valley by Chris Glatte launches November 2.

Author Spotlight: Carolyn Ridder Aspenson

Readers were introduced to Carolyn Ridder Aspenson’s scrappy, smart protagonist, Detective Rachel Ryder, in Damaging Secrets. With Ryder, Aspenson has given readers a protagonist they connect with and realistic police procedurals that keep you turning the page and shocked by the twists. Ryder returns to the page with the third installment, Overkill, on October 26.

SRP: In Overkill Rachel Ryder goes back to school—high school that is—as an undercover school counselor. How does she find herself in this position?

Carolyn: First off, let’s just say Rachel has some serious reservations about this gig. She’s been asked to participate in a DEA provisional task force, which she’s happy to do. Where the reservations come into play is in counseling the kids. Kids aren’t high on Rachel’s favorites list. They’re emotional and she believes she isn’t, so she’s unsure how to handle them. It’s one thing to handle a criminal, but, for Rachel, it’s entirely different dealing with teenagers.

SRP: Teenagers come with a whole bag of emotions and complications. Do you find the process of writing teenagers and adults differs?

Carolyn: I think for me writing adults is more complicated because they tend to hide their emotions. For the teens, it was easier in the sense that they wear everything out on their sleeve, so I wrote them the way I’ve seen my own kids and their friends react to situations. The adults were entirely different. The key with adult emotions is in figuring out how to show a character’s emotions to the reader without showing those emotions to the character. Adult characters, like real people, often don’t see themselves the way others do. For example, Rachel believes she is unemotional, and that she doesn’t connect with others easily, but she does. Once she puts her guard down, she lets people in, and they see her true self. She just doesn’t always see her true self.

SRP: Was it fun putting Rachel in an uncomfortable position (surrounded by teenagers) or did you find it difficult to put her discomfort on paper?

Carolyn: I loved putting Rachel in an uncomfortable environment! She had to dig into the part of her she barely knows, pick out what she could to handle drama-driven, scared teens, AND deal with authority figures she didn’t like or respect. It was like going to a carnival, filled with things you know will drive you crazy, but you can’t resist. It’s fun to challenge a character and see what happens. I never understood how authors would say things like “my characters have minds of their own” etc, but they really do. Rachel ended up handling the kids in a way I didn’t foresee, and I think it worked out perfectly.

SRP: Rachel is working with the DEA again, specifically Agent Kyle Olsen. What research did you do to ensure authenticity of this inter-organization investigation?

Carolyn: The best part about writing the Rachel series is keeping the procedural parts as true to life as possible. I meet a lot of people in coffee shops, and I might have an ear tuned into the conversations of others. I met a man who is DEA. He now trains instead of actively working investigations, so he was able to provide me with a wealth of information, and I am eternally grateful! It was a tough lesson to learn, however. He provided me information that doesn’t make it to the media, and I grew to understand the drug problem is so much bigger than any of us realize. It’s scary, but I hope my story will allow people to understand how big it is.

SRP: What’s next for Rachel Ryder?

Carolyn: Rachel’s sticking close to home in Countdown, book four in the series, but the story is still intense. Personally, I think she and Bishop deserve a vacation, but a double homicide stops that from happening. In the process of examining the scene at that double homicide, they learn there is a Type One diabetic child missing, so the clock is truly ticking. There are some disagreements and additional problems with the team and the investigation, and Rachel has some personal things going on, but that’s real life, and I do my best to keep Rachel’s experiences real.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

Carolyn: I’ve read Susan Hunter’s Leah Nash books most recently. I read one, then suddenly, I’d finished the next, and the next…now I’m impatiently waiting for her to write faster. I’m heavy into a deadline, so for the next month or so, I’ll be head down into my own book.

SRP: You recently moved out to the mountains. Has the fresh air and occasional animal visitor affected your writing process?

Carolyn: I love the mountains, primarily because of the wildlife! Now that it’s cooling off, I can write outside, so I’m easily distracted by the deer and wild turkeys. The deer are fun to watch. They keep their distance, but they’re only a few feet away. The turkeys are a different story. They like to come right to me and gobble at me for bird seed. It’s a little intimidating, but we’ve come to an agreement. I keep some seed nearby, and when they come, I throw it as far away from me as I can and watch them scurry toward it. Trust me, those things are BIG! I’m just grateful the bears only come around—to the front door—at night.

Overkill, the third book in Carolyn Ridder Aspenson’s Rachel Ryder Thrillers, launches October 26.

Author Spotlight: Susan Hunter

We are so excited to have Leah Nash back on our bookshelves this month! In Dangerous Waters, Leah finds herself dealing with a murder that’s much more complicated than it looks.

SRP: How did you come up with this mystery?

Susan: I’ve had the idea for the story for a long time, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it come together, so I always put it on the backburner. Then one day while I was chasing dust bunnies, it hit me. I stopped what I was doing—it doesn’t take much for me to stop cleaning house—and sketched it out.

SRP: Leah is loyal, smart, and a touch impatient. We’re curious, do you see yourself in Leah?

Susan: Leah isn’t a fictional version of me. However, I’m told that, like Leah, I can be a bit bossy—though I don’t see it myself. We also share the same sense of humor and a tendency toward procrastination when the writing isn’t going well.

SRP: For those of us invested in Leah’s love life, when are Leah and Coop going to get together!?

Susan: That’s the most frequent question I get from readers. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to nudge her along, one way or the other, but she doesn’t take direction very well. However, she does make an important decision about her future in Dangerous Waters.

SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

Susan: It’s a fairly complicated plot and keeping track of everyone was a challenge. The wall I face when I’m writing became filled with sticky notes reminding me of who was doing what, when, why, and with whom. When I finished writing, I used them to make a checklist of key plot points and clues to compare to the manuscript to make sure I didn’t leave any threads hanging.

SRP: What’s next for Leah?

Susan: In Dangerous Deception, the book I’m working on now, Leah tries to save a woman who doesn’t want to be saved. As she starts tugging at a few loose threads, she finds that the murder victim is at the center of a tangled web of deception, delusion, and obsession. When the identity of the killer becomes clear, Leah once again is faced with the knowledge that finding the truth isn’t always the same as finding the answer.

SRP: You worked at a small daily paper, then at a university in publications. What made you decide to leave steady employment behind and try your hand at writing mysteries full time?

Susan: I thought about writing a mystery for years, but I always put it off to that distant “someday.” Then I lost both my parents and my oldest friend in a very short time. There’s nothing like three sudden, devastating losses to make you realize that someday might never come. I started work on my first book, Dangerous Habits, partly to manage the grief I felt, and partly to beat the clock on someday.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

Susan: Right now, I’m halfway through The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, which is a really fun read. My book club chose The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, last month, and that was a good one, too.

SRP: What’s your favorite word?

Susan: Warmth. There’s almost no way to say it out loud without having your voice produce a low, soft, soothing tone that matches what the word connotes—kindness, compassion, empathy. Warmth is what makes life livable.

Dangerous Waters launches October 19. Pre-order your copy today.

Author Spotlight: Laura Snider

Unsympathetic Victims is the first in the Ashley Montgomery Legal Thriller Series by Laura Snider. Fans of relatable female protagonists and plot twists that keep you guessing will love Snider’s gripping debut novel. SRP sat down with the lawyer/author to find out more about how she uses her professional experience to shape her books and what simlarities she’s found between the two.

SRP: Ashley Montgomery, the protagonist in your debut thriller Unsympathetic Victims, is a public defender, and, when you’re not writing, you’re a prosecutor. How did it feel to write from the opposition’s perspective?

Laura: I spent seven years as a public defender working in rural communities in Iowa. Yes, I’m a prosecutor now, but I wasn’t when I originally started writing the manuscript. I loved my work as a public defender, but it can be a grind. The case load is overwhelming. The only way to properly represent that number of clients is for public defenders to end up working extremely long hours for little compensation.

Prosecutors are better funded positions. They generally don’t have to work the late hours. Yes, law enforcement sometimes needs guidance in the form of a late-night call, but that work can be done from home. I made the switch because I got married and had children. I no longer had all the time in the world to work, and I felt like I had to decide between my family and criminal defense. I also started my writing career around the same time, and that requires a good chunk of time. Working part-time as a prosecutor has allowed me to be present for my family, work in criminal law, and write.

SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

Laura: I think the most difficult part of writing any book is the revision process. I don’t outline before writing, so that makes for a lot of cutting and letting go. There are characters I’ve created and lost through revisions. I’ve had to trash entire scenes. Sometimes it is necessary to scrap 50,000 words and start over. It’s not fun to let go of a single word, but 50,000 can be pretty gut wrenching. But the truth is that revisions are the only way that a manuscript gets any better. I have come to terms with the fact that the first draft of anything I write is junk compared to the final product.

SRP: What’s your favorite characteristic of your protagonist, Ashley Montgomery? Do you see any of yourself in her?

Laura: I love Ashley’s snarkiness. She’s different from most people and she owns it. I would say I have many of the same thought patterns as Ashley, but I’ve never been strong enough to brazenly say what I think like she does.

Ashley’s character is modeled off the many excellent attorneys that I worked with in the public defender system. I worked with some pretty fantastic attorneys. They fight for their clients in a way that is unapologetic and bold, and I’ve always admired that about them.

SRP: What’s next for Ashley Montgomery?

Laura: Like any other public defender, Ashley’s office is a revolving door of new clients. In each new book, she’ll receive new cases, and with them clients and circumstances that continue to challenge her understanding of true justice.

SRP: Where do you see parallels between working in law and writing fiction novels?

Laura: Deadlines and preparation are both necessary parts of practicing law and fiction writing.

In law, deadlines are constantly present, forcing each case to move along at a fairly expedient pace. There are speedy trial deadlines, indictment deadlines, and motion deadlines. In writing, deadlines are necessary to keep the publication process moving along. There are people who cannot even start working on their job until I finish the writing portion. Blowing deadlines in both writing and the legal profession can cause serious issues for other people.

Preparation is key in both writing and law as well. They each require a different kind of preparation, but in both professions it is time consuming and it shows if you don’t do your due diligence. 

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

Laura: I’m always reading three books – a physical book, e-book, and listening to an audiobook.

At this moment, my physical book is Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen, my audiobook is A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers, and my ebook is A Killer’s Wife by Victor Methos.

Some of my favorite books that I’ve read this year have been, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.

SRP: Are you a pantser or a plotter, meaning do you dive head first into writing and see where the story takes you or do you like to create an outline and work from it?

Laura: I’m a pantser. I write and see where the story takes me. I do this mostly because my books are character driven and I have a hard time deciding what a character will do until after I’ve created him or her. So, I sit down and start writing and as the characters form, so does the story line. It makes for some pretty extensive editing, which can be painful at times, but also much more adventurous. My characters are constantly doing things that surprise me, and I love that about them.

Unsympathetic Victims launches July 27. You can pre-order your copy for just $0.99!

When a defense attorney becomes the defendant, one small town is forced to reconsider their ideas of good and evil.

When successful public defender Ashley Montgomery helps acquit yet another client, people in small-town Brine, Iowa are enraged. Following the verdict, a protest breaks out — and the hated defense attorney quickly finds her life in danger.

But little does Ashley know, things are about to get worse — much worse. One of her clients turns up dead, and Ashley is arrested for his murder. As local investigators Katie Mickey and George Thomanson dive into the case, they start to suspect that Ashely is being framed — but by whom? 

With Ashley’s freedom at stake, Katie and George are desperate to find out the truth. And soon, they uncover a sinister plot born of corruption, greed, and misplaced loyalty that will leave the whole town reeling — and questioning their faith in the people they trusted most. 

Author Spotlight: LaVonne Griffin-Valade

SRP: What can you tell us about Dead Point?

LaVonne: Dead Point is a novel about a smart, tough female sergeant in the Oregon State Police who is more of a justice warrior than a law and order buff. By some measure, the story is based on my own experience growing up in the rural American West where poverty and the baggage that often comes with it are woven into the fabric of local culture. The one constant is the beauty of place, at least for those who love Grant County, Oregon’s vast landscape, which includes high desert country, ranges of blue mountains, profoundly strange fossil formations, forests of Ponderosa pine, fir, and spruce, rangeland juniper and sagebrush, and the sprawling John Day River valley.

SRP: How did you come up with the main character, Maggie Blackthorne?

LaVonne: As I’ve noted before, I didn’t come up with Maggie Blackthorne, she came knocking at the door of my imagination, fully formed, a bit mad at the world, and looking for truth and justice. Well, and with a good heart and some of her own personal baggage.

SRP: Do you see yourself in Maggie?

LaVonne: Absolutely. She is me in many ways, although I would never have the courage or tenacity to chase down a killer.

SRP: What drew you to set Dead Point in Oregon?

LaVonne: I wanted to set the novel in Oregon, in part because that’s what I know best. But largely I knew I wanted the setting to be the eastern Oregon high desert. It’s a relatively unique fictional setting. Plus, most stories set in Oregon take place in or near the lush, green Willamette Valley of western Oregon or in towns and cities on the rugged coast, so I wanted to show a side of Oregon not often written about.

SRP: What’s next for Maggie Blackthorne?

LaVonne: The second Maggie Blackthorne novel is titled Murderers Creek, and I believe it is set for release this Fall. In addition to Maggie Blackthorne, Murderers Creek brings back these reader favorites: Trooper Hollis Jones, his wife Lillian Two Moons, Maggie’s love interest, Duncan McKay, and her surrogate mother and landlord, Dorie Phillips. Crotchety gas station owner, Cecil Burney, shows up again too. No spoilers, but Chapter One of Murderers Creek ends with the brutal slaying of another character from Dead Point and takes off from there.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

LaVonne: I’m currently reading Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain—the poverty and hardship in that book are heartbreaking, and the characters, particularly Shuggie and his mother, are living, breathing beings. It’s a wonderful novel in so many ways.

I like all kinds of novels, and one of my favorite recent reads was Richard Prowers’s The Overstory. Four great mysteries I loved and recommend often are Percival Everett’s Assumption, Lawrence Osborne’s Only to Sleep (a Philip Marlowe update), Julia Phillips’s Disappearing Earth, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing.

SRP: Do you believe in writer’s block? How do you push through it?

LaVonne: I definitely believe in writer’s block. I like to think of it as a necessary pause, a means of my mind and body suggesting, or often demanding, I take a break. I push through it by taking that break—reading, hanging out with family, going for a walk, or going outside and taking in a bit of sun (yes, the sun does come out in Portland, OR). And when I come back from a break, more often than not, my imagination fires on all cylinders.

Dead Point by LaVonne Griffin-Valade launches June 15.

Click here to get your copy.

Author Spotlight: Warshot by Wallace and Keith

SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for Warshot, the sixth book in The Hunter Killer Series, and what can you tell us about the plot?

George: Our regular readers know that real life has had an uncanny way of actually following the plot lines of most of our stories. This is not really accidental. Don and I look at the trends, twists, and turns in current events and then use our imagination to look five to ten years into the future, or at least what we think will be five to ten years in the future. Real life has a way of catching up faster than we anticipate. Since we are both students of history, we look carefully to see what the past tells us, too. Warshot happened just that way. We looked to where the action would be in the next five years. Not surprisingly, we ended up in the South China Sea general area and a confrontation with the PRC. The rest you can either read from Warshot or wait and read in the newspaper in a couple of years.

Don: Our goal in each of the books is to tell a good, believable story, so we necessarily try to anticipate real-world events. Note that with his background and current activities, George has a good perspective on technology and where things are going. The hardware you read about in The Hunter Killer books is just as real as the potential action about which we write. We are already seeing some of those things we put into Warshot playing out.

SRP: You’ve been writing novels together for many years. How did you two decide to start this partnership?

George: I guess that it has been over twenty years now. Doesn’t seem that long. Way back in the Dark Ages, Don and I shared an agent. Robbie Robison, a real character who deserves a story of his own, suggested that the two of us see if we could work together, that he saw potential in that team. (I think that Robbie envisioned Don teaching me how to write a novel.) Don is down in Alabama and at that time I was living in Western Colorado. We exchanged a few phone calls and some emails and decided to give it a try. We write our stories by exchanging emails, phone calls, and files over the internet. When we finally actually met in person, Final Bearing was already a National Best Seller. And the rest is, as they say, history.

Don: Robbie was a former submariner and had recruited me to write a book on a boat on which he had served in the US Navy, the ARCHERFISH. I had only written fiction to that point, ten novels published by then, but the story was so good—during WWII, ARCHERFISH sank the largest vessel ever sunk by a submarine, an aircraft carrier they first mistook for an island—that I had to do the book. Now I’ve been honored to do a long list of submarine and World War II non-fiction books with more on the way. When he told me he had another former submariner who wanted to write thrillers, I agreed to talk with George, admittedly just as a favor to Robbie. But after a few conversations and a look at some of the stories and ideas George had, I was all in.

SRP: What is one interesting or unexpected challenge in partnership writing that you haven’t encountered in your individual writing?

George: The biggest challenge that I have had is in satisfying Don’s inordinate delight in expending ordnance. He is always wanting something to blow up. 😉

Don: And I think our readers want just that! You can only describe docking a submarine so many ways. Seriously, though, I come at the books from a place of ignorance. If there is a system or tactic or action that I don’t understand, I can get George to explain it to me and then I try to write it from the perspective of someone who has not skippered a nuclear-powered submarine. Which I haven’t. And George has.

SRP: What do you do when you disagree on a plot line or character arc?

George: This has been a rare occurrence. Normally we are very much in sync on the story line and the characters. If not, I just pout until I get my way. Except for the beautiful Chinese spy that Don managed to slip in to Warshot. 😉

Don: George rarely pulls rank on me! We seldom disagree on plot or characters. Sometimes I’ll ask George, “Are you sure that could happen?” And he’ll reply, “Sure. It did.” Our biggest conflict occurs outside the realm of writing. George is a proud alumnus of Ohio State University. I graduated from the University of Alabama. They occasionally meet on the gridiron, as happened in the national championship game this year. We have had bets riding on the last two meetings and are currently tied at one win apiece. We’re hoping for a tie-breaker this season.

SRP: Can you speak on your military experience and how it influences your writing?

George: Well, I spent twenty-two years serving in submarines. I served on four different subs, including commanding the USS HOUSTON, SSN713. All of my boats are gone now, replaced by newer, more capable boats. The genesis of my writing was to try to tell the story of what submarining is like, what the dangers are, what the crews and their families sacrifice. After retiring, I quickly found that only a very small percentage of the population had any concept of submarines and submarining. Because of the classified nature of what we did, there was no way to write a factual account. Hence, the novels. The submarine experience is still accurate and the technology, again within the limits of classification, is accurate, too.

Don: And my only military experience was two years of Air Force ROTC in college. But as noted, I have written extensively about military history, with most of the books dealing with submarines. I, too, find so few people know what it was (and is) like to serve aboard a ship deliberately designed to sink. Or what a powerful deterrent to all-out war the “Silent Service” is. Submarines are a mystery to most people, yet so many are fascinated by them and the men and women who serve there. But I maintain that I don’t write about submarines. I write about the people who serve in those vessels. And they are a unique breed. Thank goodness for them!

SRP: We like to force our authors to play favorites, so, if you had to pick, which is your favorite character from The Hunter Killer Series and why?

George: I’m probably going to surprise you. The character that I identified with the most, and thus is probably my favorite character, only appeared in Final Bearing. He never appeared in another story. We have watched many of the characters develop as they progressed from story to story, some we have literally watched grow up. But Dave Kuhn, the Engineer on the SPADEFISH, had a tour on that old boat very similar to my Engineer tour on the old WOODROW WILSON. She was a real challenge to keep running and going to sea. My CO from those days and I have often reminisced about those tales.

Don: I am an unabashed Jon Ward fan. Here’s a guy who followed his father’s example and became a submariner. And has a son who becomes a Navy SEAL. Even his wife gets involved in a story or two. Ward is a stickler for doing things the right way, but he allows and relies on his crew to show their initiative and skills in hairy situations. Situations that might seem mundane to us at first, but that could have a major effect on the success of a mission. Or even the difference between life or death. I never knew some of those flanges and bearings were so crucial! Ward’s leadership skills carry over even when—and this may be a minor spoiler if you have not read the last couple of books—he gets kicked upstairs to head Naval Intelligence.

SRP: What’s next for The Hunter Killer Series? Your stories consistently predict the future, so we’ll be cross-referencing this information with news headlines!

George: We are working on that. To get an idea of where we are going, all you need to do is look at the newspaper headlines for 2030.

Don: There is no lack of bad guys! Or trouble spots. It is a frightening world out there and thank goodness for the men and women who keep an eye on it all and stand ready to defend us. Their stories are the kind we love to tell in the series. And that we hope our readers want to continue to see. Note, too, that we continue to introduce new and (we hope) interesting characters. Some of them may even deserve their own series of books at some point. Just saying.

SRP: What are you working on now? (if different from above)

Don: I have just completed Only the Brave, which tells the true story of the two Battles of Guam in World War II. This is one of those stories that tends to get lost in history yet ranks right up there with Iwo Jima and Okinawa. And, as usual, I try to tell the human side of the story, including its effect on the proud Chamorro people of Guam. Only the Brave releases in June 2021. I am now working on a book about one of the great personalities in the submarine war in WWII, Admiral Eugene B. Fluckey, who is one of only eight submariners to receive the Medal of Honor. His boat, the BARB, also sank a train. Torpedo Run will be published early in 2022.

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

George: Actually, I’m going back and reading the complete works of Mark Twain. Looking at how the old masters wrote.

Don: With the recent death of Larry McMurtry, I just went back and re-read both Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo.

SRP: What would you include in your “Author’s Survival Pack”?

George: Ibuprofen and beer. And access to a good search engine.

Don: Definitely the search engine! Just remember that not everything you see on the web is true and that 68% of all statistics there are made up. And when I speak at writers’ conferences, I urge would-be authors to become very familiar with the “Synonyms” menu item in Microsoft Word.

Warshot by Wallace and Keith is out May 25. Get your copy here.

Author Spotlight: LynDee Walker

LynDee Walker is an Amazon Charts best-selling author of eleven books in two riveting thriller series. Her protagonists are strong, smart, and confident women who run headfirst at a problem. We talked with LynDee about her writing inspiration, how COVID-19 changed her writing process, and what she simply cannot write without.

SRP: You have published 11 books and 2 novellas throughout your two series, The Nichelle Clarke Crime Thrillers and The Faith McClellan Series. Do you have a favorite? (We know this is like asking a parent to pick a favorite child, but we promise we won’t judge.)

LynDee: Haha! Truth. They’re all special in their own way, for sure. In the Nichelle series I’d probably pick Small Town Spin as my favorite by a hair, because I have a lot of fond memories of exploring Gwynn’s Island doing research for the setting, and I think that was the book that made me realize I could really make a career of writing fiction.

For Faith, I think again it’s SUCH a close race, but Leave No Stone probably wins in a photo finish, because I really stretched so many of my abilities with that book, writing things in a way I’d never tried before, and I was so pleased with how it all finally came together.

SRP: Readers are loving your latest release, No Sin Unpunished. Can you tell us a bit about the plot?

LynDee Walker: The hunt for a serial murderer whose preferred weapon is fire turns deeply personal for Faith when former members of her father’s staff begin to die horrifying deaths. In digging up old secrets that could be motive for the attacks, Faith learns some things about her family, while questioning her role in trying to save people she doesn’t necessarily think deserve saving.

SRP: You wrote No Sin Unpunished during the COVID-19 pandemic. Did you notice any differences in your writing style or process as a result?

LynDee: Yes—all of them. I started this book in January of 2020, I got COVID in March and took a seven week sickness break from writing it, and by the time I was back on my feet, my quiet writing days were gone because my three children were learning from home. It took a few reinventions of routine and a family effort to get this one across the finish line, but it makes me feel deeply connected to—and especially proud of—this book.

SRP: You write strong female characters who can handle themselves in some pretty dangerous situations. Do you see yourself in Nichelle and Faith? Were they modeled after women in your life?

LynDee: There’s a little of me in them both, but probably moreso in Nichelle. One of the things I love about her is that she begins the series just as naive as I was as a young journalist, but through the dangerous situations she gets into, she learns and grows. She’s more savvy and jaded and definitely tougher by the later books. It makes those books harder to write, because someone who’s had her experiences wouldn’t walk into danger trusting people so easily, which means I need craftier ways to get her in trouble, but I love a challenge and I’m so proud of the way she’s grown.

Faith is fun to write because she reminds me of my mom and my granny: they were both pretty badass in their own ways. If you’ve ever watched Designing Women (and if you haven’t, it’s on Hulu), I swear they modeled Julia Sugarbaker after my mother. From the 80s business suits to the quick wit and sharp tongue when it was needed, my mom was a pretty extraordinary woman. She was brilliant and kind, never afraid to call out injustice where she saw it, and quick to help folks in need. A lot like Faith. My granny was 5’2 with waist length black hair that never went gray, raised mostly out in the country during the depression, and to my knowledge never met a human she was afraid of. Family legend holds a great story my mom and aunts all swore was gospel truth, about my tiny little grandmother standing alone on her front steps in California in the early 60s successfully ordering an angry contingent of the Hell’s Angels off her lawn.

SRP: You started your writing career as a journalist. Do you ever miss the hustle of “getting the story” and making a print deadline?

LynDee: Only when there are big things happening in the news, and less even than in recent years. I have a specific memory from a few years ago: at the time, our congressman was the House Majority Leader, and it was primary day. I’m a political junkie, so I was at home watching the returns come in, and it became apparent that he was going to lose his race. I turned immediately to my husband and said “Cantor’s going to lose. Wow, what I wouldn’t give to be in a newsroom tonight.” The adrenaline rush of those kinds of nights, when something you thought was a lay-up goes crazy, or a big story breaks, make the long hours and sad stories worth it.

SRP: What’s up next for Nichelle and Faith?

LynDee: I am finishing up the final touches on Faith #4, Nowhere to Hide, this week, and next month I’ll start writing number 5. And it just so happens that I have a contract in my inbox for Nichelle #9, a project I am super excited to begin, brought about largely by letters and messages from loyal readers—I can’t wait to share details with everyone about that soon!

SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?

LynDee: Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One knocked my socks off, as is normal for her books. And I have a brand new Kindle waiting on my desk and an advance copy of a favorite author’s latest teed up for Spring Break: I have loved everything Laura McHugh has ever written and cannot wait to read What’s Done in Darkness.

SRP: What’s the one thing you couldn’t write without?

LynDee: Coffee. Hands down.

No Sin Unpunished by LynDee Walker is out now in all formats. Buy your copy here.