Thursday, September 25, 2014


by Jon Land

Crafting solid fiction these days, especially thrillers, inevitably means relying on facts. But STRONG DARKNESS, the sixth entry in my Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series, has several crucial plot points drawn from the newspaper instead of purely my imagination. Let’s begin from where the book’s concept came.

Did you know that the Chinese built America’s 4G wireless network?

Hey, don’t feel stupid; I didn’t know it either, but they did. It was constructed by a Chinese-owned company called Shinzen based, coincidentally, in Plano, Texas. The night I saw that story on 60 Minutes, STRONG DARKNESS was born with the prototypical What if? question; in this case what if a powerful Chinese billionaire wins the contract to build the 5G network as part of a plot to seek vengeance against the United States? No way I could have pulled that off in fiction if it didn’t have an actual basis in fact, no way. But it did, lending the book added relevance and establishing the kind of credibility that’s crucial for a thriller to succeed. When somebody says, “You can’t make this stuff up,” they might as well be talking about that.

So why does Li Zhen, the book’s villain, hate America so much? Glad you asked! And to answer that question I went back into the past, incorporating a historical subplot based in 1883 when Chinese laborers were greatly responsible for expanding rail lines through Texas. That historical subplot features Caitlin’s great-grandfather, William Ray Strong, also a Texas Ranger, tracking the Old West’s first serial killer whose victims are all young Chinese women. But something else happened in that railroad camp somehow linked to Li Zhen’s motivation for revenge. Fiction from fact again, in other words, even before I decided to team the fictional William Ray Strong with the very real infamous hanging judge Roy Bean (who actually only hung a single man, but that’s another story).

And I didn’t stop there. The modern day, and very real, scourge of human trafficking plays a major role in STRONG DARKNESS through one of the major characters who was a victim of it herself. She’s after her own vengeance and that brings her across the path of Caitlin Strong. One of my favorite moments in the book is a simple phone call between the two of them, because it highlights Caitlin’s flaws and the darkness in her own past. But that scene is so effective because the pain feels real and to a very large degree it is. Fact into fiction again.

I also chose to open the book with a thinly disguised version of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a young veteran’s funeral. I did that simply to give Caitlin somebody to bulldoze into a drainage ditch (Hey, it beats shooting them!) But the scene played so well, and resounded so smartly, I decided to bring the evil preacher back for a well-placed encore later in the book and, again, the emotional resonance comes from the fact behind the fiction.

Want more? How about the Deep Web, cell phone technology, voting machines, the Cloud—whoa, I’m on the edge of my seat just thinking about what I wrote and I’m predicting you’ll have the same experience when you read it.

Now, that’s a fact.

What's your favorite example(s) of fact meeting fiction in a thriller? I'd love to hear from you. And, feel free to pick at least one from your own work!

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 37 novels, including the critically acclaimed series featuring female Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong: STRONG ENOUGH TO DIE, STRONG JUSTICE, STRONG AT THE BREAK, STRONG VENGEANCE and STRONG RAIN FALLING which won both the 2013 USA Best Book Award and the 2014 International Book Award in the Mystery/Suspense category. Jon lives in Providence, Rhode Island and can be found on the Web at

Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong takes on a vengeful Chinese billionaire with a plot to murder tens of millions of Americans.

"Once again Jon Land outdoes himself! In BLACK SCORPION, the story of the charismatic Tyrant (introduced in The Seven Sins) unfolds across a wider canvass, revealing the breadth of Land's talent at storytelling and sheer bravado plotting. It's the exact sort of story I love: combining historical mysteries with ripped-from-the-headlines authenticity. If you've never read Jon Land before, do so now. Start with this book, and you'll know why I'm such a huge fan!"
--James Rollins, New York Times bestseller of THE 6th EXTINCTION

Thursday, September 18, 2014

5 Tips to Keep the Momentum of Thrillerfest Alive

by Ursula Ringham

It’s been two months since I attended ITW’s Thrillerfest. I’m back to my regular work routine in high tech and life with my kids and husband. So, is the energy and excitement of Thrillerfest gone? Not even close. Here are 5 tips to keep the momentum of Thrillerfest alive.

1-Download the sessions
What keeps me motivated to continue writing is all that I learned at Thrillerfest. Two of my favorite sessions were Creating Memorable Characters with Robert Dugoni and Themes and Symbolism with Steven James. I recommend downloading several Thrillerfest sessions because you’ll learn something new that will definitely improve your writing.

2-Review Feedback
If you attended Pitchfest or Master Craftfest you probably received some honest feedback about your book. Go back and review the comments. Maybe an agent told you to improve your pitch? Maybe the plot or some characters need to be reworked? William Bernhart told me to “Make your book bigger. There must be something of consequence. And you need to enlarge the stakes.” This advice has dramatically improved my storyline. Although you might not like the feedback, take the time to review it as I’m sure there is something to be learned.

3-Set Goals
If I did not set goals, I would never have completed my first novel nor attended Thrillerfest. So what are my goals now? Complete book #2 by end of 2014. I also want to attend Thrillerfest 2015 as it will motivate me to start book #3. And to stay connected with my new author peeps, I want to attend more writer conferences. I’m thinking about Bouchercon in November. Setting goals will make you accountable but also help you succeed.

Thrillerfest is filled with people from all walks of life: aspiring writers, self published, ridiculously famous, debut, and fans. The moment I stepped foot in that first session with the FBI, I realized I had found my tribe. A tribe that gets me, understands my need to write and wants to help me succeed. And I use social media to stay connected to this new network of writer friends. If you met writers at Thrillerfest, keep in touch with them and build out your network. You never know where a connection might take you…because we’re all in this together.

5-Pay It Forward
I attended the annual ITW member meeting during Thrillerfest. What a great organization of writers, run mostly by volunteers. I offered to lend my social media skills from my day job. And now I am on ITW’s Career School Committee. By staying engaged and helping others, I feel like I am paying it forward for the next generation of writers as I continue on my quest for success. If you possess a skill that can help fellow thriller writes, I encourage you to get involved.

So, there you have it. Five tips to keep the momentum of Thrillerfest 2014 alive. Where will I be when Thrillerfest 2015 rolls around? Who knows. All I can say is that attending Thrillerfest gave me the confidence and the support to move forward with my writing. And the thrill of it all has just begun.

Ursula Ringham was born and raised in Palo Alto, California with a family immersed in real estate development and local politics. She has been on the inside of some of the Valley's biggest tech companies including Apple and Adobe. For over a decade, she worked in Developer Relations helping start-ups and strategic accounts bring products to market. Today, Ursula stays actively engaged in the high tech industry helping software giant SAP build better brand identity. Her love for writing began when she was 13 years old and entered a short story contest. Ursula lives in San Jose, CA with her husband and two children. Visit her at

In Silicon Valley, product ideas are stolen every day. Hundreds of millions of dollars of intellectual property and countless hours of R&D lost in a millisecond. A high risk, high reward business, but is it worth risking your life? Young, ambitious Kate Crawford is about to make it as one of Silicon’s Valley overnight millionaires. She has her hands in a secret product that will catapult software company Obsidian to rock star status on the eve of its IPO. A week before the public offering, Kate realizes her company might be involved in illegal activity that could jeopardize the launch of the new product but also her life. With millions of dollars on the line, will Kate untangle the web of lies surrounding her career or will she become another casualty in a conspiracy that lies at the root of her very existence?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Writing with a Day Job

by Lori Rader-Day

Now that I’ve launched my first novel, The Black Hour, I have one thing to say to aspiring novelists.
Don’t quit your day job.
Before you start howling, give me a chance.
The hard truth in publishing is that hardly anyone makes a living from writing. That’s the bad news. There’s plenty of good news, though, including that a job and writing don’t have to be mutually exclusive endeavors. In fact, I think a day job can be a helpful complement to the writing life.

Want a job done? Give it to a busy person.
Look, there’s no question I’d like to have more time to write. But you’ve heard the adage about who gets the job done, right? If you want to write a book, you have to add it to your to-do list and then get it to-done. People who accept that kind of challenge more often are better equipped to check things, even writing books, off their list.

One word: Deadlines.
A long, languid day of writing sounds great right now, but have you ever tried it? Our squirrelly attention spans are probably only good for a few hours of writing a day, which is why even when you have all day to write, you probably don’t. I write during my lunch hours. One hour. That plan doesn’t always work, but when it does, the rest of my day is better.

Spend money to make money.
Time to be honest. One of the reasons I think day-jobbing and book-flinging work together is because I use one to pay for the other. Going to conferences, putting out bookmarks and other marketing items, hiring a publicist—you don’t have to do all or even any of them. But you have to market yourself somehow, and that requires investment. Your investment.

A different kind of support system.
There’s no question that being a full-time writer is the romantic dream. But when that dream hits a rocky spot—a lukewarm review, creative blockage, a low-energy day where you start to question every decision you’ve ever made—having a paycheck is reassuring. You don’t have to write. You don’t have to— but you want to! And then you’re back in the game, your head on straight. Writing with a day job is stressful, but I suspect it’s less stressful than, say, trying to pay the mortgage with a late royalty check.

Day jobs as inspiration?
The Black Hour would not exist without the day job I had while I wrote it. As much as spinning tales from up in your writer’s garret sounds like an introvert’s dream…how inspiring is the inside of a writer’s garret? A day job forces you out into the world, either literally or figuratively, and puts you into contact with life. All of it can turn into words on the page, as long as you’re paying attention.
As a writer, that’s your true job: paying attention. Can you do that while you work, pick up the kids, run to the store, all while your hair is on fire? The speed at which your life is moving isn’t always under your control, but we all have the same 24 hours. Just this one day. Pay close attention, before another one passes you by.

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives in Chicago with her husband and dog. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Time Out Chicago , and others. Her next book, the mystery Little Pretty Things, will be published by Seventh Street Books in 2015. Visit her at

For sociology professor Amelia Emmet, violence was a research topic—until a student she’d never met shot her. He also shot himself. Now he’s dead and she’s stuck with a cane and one question she can’t let go: Why her? All she wants is for life to get back to normal. Better than normal, actually, since life was messy before she was shot. Then graduate student Nathaniel Barber offers to help her track down some answers. He’s got a crush and his own agenda—plans to make her his killer dissertation topic. Together and at cross-purposes, Amelia and Nathaniel stumble toward a truth that will explain the attack and take them both through the darkest hours of their lives.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

September Debut Authors

It's the first Thursday in September, which means debut releases. Please take a look and let’s celebrate their success!

Rob Brunet - Stinking Rich (Down & Out Books) September 8, 2014

What could possibly go wrong when the backwoods Libidos Motorcycle Club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Plenty, it turns out. In a world where indoor plumbing’s optional and each local wacko is more twisted than the last, drug money draws reprobates like moths to a lantern. From loveable losers to gnarly thugs and law-and-order wannabes, every last one of them has an angle—their best shot at being stinking rich. And with their own warped ideas about right, wrong, and retribution, the Libidos aren’t far behind

Matt Cook - Sabotage (Forge Books) September 9, 2014

An extortionist commandeers a weapons technology that could irreversibly alter the international balance of power. Nothing is known about him, other than his alias: “Viking.” Pitted against terrorist conspirators in a bidding war for the technology, the responsible U.S. defense corporation can’t touch him as long as he controls a hijacked cruise ship in the North Atlantic.

The key to bringing the Viking down may lie in the disappearance of Stanford professor Malcolm Clare, celebrated aviator, entrepreneur, and aerospace engineer. Searching for Clare is doctoral candidate Austin Hardy, who seeks out the man’s daughter, Victoria—an icy brunette with a secret that sweeps them to Saint Petersburg. Aided by a team of graduate students on campus, the pair must devise Trojan horses and outfox an assassin in order to unravel the Viking’s scheme.

Austin and Victoria are not alone in their efforts. Former Air Force combat weatherman Jake Rove, one of three thousand passengers held hostage aboard the luxury liner, is determined to weaken the ship’s hijackers: He must evade detection, dive by night, and communicate intelligence to the Stanford team as they struggle to prevent international disaster and economic collapse in the United States.

Both on U.S. soil and thousands of miles away, the story roars into action at supersonic speed as Austin and Victoria race to uncover the Viking’s trail of deception, betrayal . . . and sabotage.

L.R. Nicolello - Dead Don’t Lie (Harlequin HQN) September 1, 2014

You can run from the past…but you can never truly hide…
Detective Evelyn Davis delves deep into the minds of monsters for a living. She's the best psychological profiler in the Seattle P.D., with a talent that comes from heartbreaking experience. When Evelyn was just eighteen, she received word of her family's murder in the form of a horrifying video. Fifteen years later, tracking down other psychopaths is the only thing that brings her some peace.
But now two local families have been wiped out. Though the chilling crime scenes suggest murder-suicides, Evelyn believes a serial killer is at work. So does Special Agent Marcus Moretti, whose easy charm and fiercely protective instincts are breaking down all her defenses. Evelyn needs to put aside her emotional attachment to find the madman stalking her city—but with each discovery, this case becomes more personal. She's starting to suspect the killer wants her—and he is edging closer with every step, ready to make Evelyn pay a devastating price….

David Swatling - Calvin’s Head (Bold Strokes Books) September 15, 2014

Life in Amsterdam isn’t all windmills and tulips when you’re homeless. Jason Dekker lives in a jeep with his dog, Calvin, on the outskirts of the city. A thesis on Van Gogh brought him to the Netherlands and the love of Dutch artist Willy Hart convinced him to stay. But Willy is gone and Dekker is on the brink of a total meltdown. On a sunny summer morning in the park, Calvin sniffs out the victim of a grisly murder. Dekker sees the opportunity for a risky strategy that might solve their problems. Unfortunately, it puts them directly in the sights of the calculating stone-cold killer, Gadget. Their paths are destined to collide, but nothing goes according to plan when they end up together in an attic sex-dungeon. Identities shift and events careen out of control, much to the bewilderment of one ever-watchful canine. Oscar Wilde wrote that each man kills the thing he loves. He didn’t mean it literally. Or did he?