Friday, April 21, 2017

Guest Post: Brian Klingborg - Kill Devil Falls

Midnight Ink would like to welcome debut author Brian Klingborg to our blog! 

Brian takes a moment to explain why he is extremely into writing those terrifying, scary, creepy, dark mysteries. His first thriller/horror/suspense novel Kill Devil Falls is available now.


I like my mysteries and thrillers the same way I like my coffee – pitch black.

I’ve always been drawn to flawed protagonists, sympathetic villains, gallows humor, frequent violence, and moral ambiguity.

Don’t get me wrong -- I coo over babies and puppies, offer up my subway seat to those in need and never fail to mist up when watching the “You had me at hello” scene in Jerry McGuire.  In other words, I’m a big softie.

But I’m attracted to dark-hearted tales like a sailor to a siren.  I’ve pondered the reasons why, and I think I finally have an answer.  It’s my parents fault.

Let me explain.

When I was about five, my mother decided it was time to provide me with some exposure to religion.  Not that she was particularly devout, but she was raised in a family that went to church most Sundays, and derived some sense of community from doing so, and anyway, why the hell not?
So off I went to a preschool church group.  I don’t remember what the program consisted of, but I assume it involved a few games, a couple of Bible stories, milk and cookies, and then the grand finale – an invitation to establish a personal relationship with Jesus.

What the church group didn’t know was that my father was a veterinarian.  One who was justifiably proud of his skills, and not above a bit of grand-standing.  Docking puppy tails in our garage, performing emergency suturing on our dining table, that sort of thing.  As a result, even at that tender age I was no stranger to actual blood and guts in all their technicolor glory.  So, when the unsuspecting church group leader asked if I was ready to “accept Jesus into your heart,” I took his meaning literally and freaked out. Big time.  He had to call my mother to come pick me up.  And I was not invited back.

During those formative years, my parents worked hard to make ends meet, and there wasn’t a lot of money for extras.  When they wanted to splurge, they went to the movies.  And because they couldn’t afford a babysitter, they took my older brother and me along.  That’s how I ended up as a toddler watching The Godfather on the big screen, complete with its severed horse’s head and toll-booth machine gun rub-out of Sonny Corleone.  (Side note:  The Godfather remains one of my favorite movies today.)  I also recall seeing MASH, The Poseidon Adventure, and a few other 70’s classics with rather high body counts.


I’m not saying my fondness for scary stories, noir and gore are entirely a result of this early introduction to gross anatomy and celluloid shocks – some folks naturally like kittens, while others prefer extraterrestrial creatures with acidic blood.  But certainly, in my own writing, I reach back to those childhood influences for inspiration.

For example, has there ever been a scene more fraught with the anticipation of impending violence than the one in The Godfather where Michael Corleone sits down for dinner with Virgil “the Turk” Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey?  Watch as the tension slowly, excruciatingly ratchets up to eleven, punctuated by Michael’s nervous eye-shifting and the jarring crescendo of an approaching subway train. Quentin Tarantino has based his entire film career on emulating that kind of cinematic brilliance.  As a writer, I’d love nothing more than to put my audience on the edge of their seats the way that scene does to me.


Likewise, having a front row seat at live births, operations and autopsies (animal, not human) has given me an eye for detail when it comes to things such as medical procedures and the odor of various kinds of bodily fluids.  What many people might find disgusting, or at least off-putting, was a common topic of conversation around our dinner table.

Fast forward many years and I have two children myself.  When my kids were young, I carefully curated what they read and viewed.  Nothing too violent or disturbing.  They are in their teens now, so I let them make their own choices, but I still issue a verbal warning if they are about to enter the room when I’m watching zombies or a bloody shoot-out on TV.   Thus far, neither of them have demonstrated the same love for the grotesque that I possess, but time will tell whether these preferences are a matter of nature or nurture.

In the meantime, my youthful experiences continue to inform my work.  As a parent, I probably wouldn’t have considered taking my kids to see The Godfather.  But as a storyteller, I appreciate having a deep well of visceral memories from which to draw.  Without it, I’d probably be writing about stuff like dragons and iron thrones.  And who needs more of that nonsense?  (Kidding – I love you George R. R. Martin!)


Anyway, what I guess what I’m really trying to say is -- thanks mom and dad!

***

When U.S. Marshal Helen Morrissey is tasked with collecting a fugitive bank robber from a remote town in the Sierra Nevadas, she braces for a rough trip. After all, with a name like Kill Devil Falls, her destination must be a real hellhole.

Turns out that it’s worse than she imagined. Much worse. After barely surviving a white-knuckle drive in what she suspects is a sabotaged car, she’s stuck in a virtual ghost town populated by a handful of oddballs and outcasts. But it’s not until her prisoner turns up dead that Helen realizes she’s in real trouble. There are secrets buried below the surface of Kill Devil Falls. Secrets worth killing for.


Brian Klingborg works in the educational publishing field. He’s written books on Kung Fu, and he wrote for the Winx Club television series. Kill Devil Falls is his first novel. He lives in New York City. You can follow Brian on Twitter: @OjiiKlingborg.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Guest Post: Steve Hockensmith - Give the Devil His Due


Give the Devil His Due, the third entry in the Tarot Mystery series by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco, came out this month, and to celebrate we asked Steve to stop by the blog and share some thoughts on the book. As you’ll see, he had a lot to share about not having a lot to share.


Point Blank

I have nothing to say. Which is really saying something. Aren’t writers supposed to write because they’re burning with a feverish desire to share their most passionate feelings and important ideas?

Nope. That’s internet trolls. Oh, and some writers, too. But not me.

I do have passionate feelings. “Love Actually” is terrible! “The Big Lebowski” is wonderful! Wheat beer is an abomination! Stout is the stuff of life! See? But did I make the world a better place by sharing all that? Did I change your mind about anything? Did I get you to buy my latest book? I doubt it.

I have ideas, too, but I don’t presume that they have any importance. A lot of them are about books and stories I (or someone) should write, and that ain’t gonna change the world. My ideas about life and people and politics are important, I suppose, but they’re not original. Other people are saying the same thing — and getting shouted at by people who have different ideas about life and people and politics.

I don’t like being shouted at. If I were the renegade cop in a ‘70s movie — the one called in to see the precinct captain, who barks something like “You’ve really screwed the pooch this time, McCloskey! That was the mayor’s son you just shot!” — I’d whimper and turn in my badge and gun immediately. (Even before the later scene where the captain tells me to turn in my badge and gun because I just threw the mayor off a bridge.)

Yet we can’t help but say something sometimes, even when we don’t think we’re opening up our big yaps. Cozy mysteries get knocked because they’re supposedly disposable escapist fluff. Well, allow me to actually say something: Hurrah for supposedly disposable escapist fluff! And supposedly disposable escapist fluff can make a statement — even when it doesn’t have a point per se beyond entertainment — because it’s a reflection of its creator.

Or creators in the case of the tarot mystery books I do with Lisa Falco. Lisa, a knowledgeable and sincere tarot expert, came up with the general idea for the series: a tarot reader uses her skills with the cards to help her clients. Then I, a cynical writer, added my own spin: Why not make the protagonist a reformed con artist so we can show how the tarot can be abused? A lot of the people peddling prognostication are charlatans. Shouldn’t the books reflect that?

And they do…while simultaneously offering readers a “How to –” guide for using the tarot. So what is it that says? Maybe “The tarot is a cool tool for finding personal insights, but don’t forget it can be used to manipulate you, too.”

The books don’t hit you over the head with that message, though. Because at the end of the day, here’s the main thing I’m trying to say to our readers — the real point of all the writing I do:

Enjoy!

***

Alanis McLachlan, reformed con artist turned tarot reader, gets paid for predicting the future—too bad she didn’t see all the trouble in hers. First a figure from her past tries to drag her back into the life of crime she thought she’d le behind. Then a new suitor tries to sweep Alanis off her feet, threatening her on-again, off-again romance with hunky teacher Victor Castellanos. And there’s the little matter of the ominous reading she gives to a new client, which could have deadly consequences. Danger is in the cards for Alanis, and she’ll need all her skills at reading both people and tarot if she’s going to survive.

Steve Hockensmith is the author of between fourteen and nineteen books (he’s lost count), including the first two entries in the Tarot Mystery series (The White Magic Five and Dime and Fool Me Once) and the Edgar finalists Holmes on the Range and Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle.

He can be found on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/steve.hockensmith.7

And on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/MrHockensmith

And his website is here: http://www.stevehockensmith.com


And this is a cat eating a banana:

Friday, April 7, 2017

Guest Post: Isabella Maldonado - Blood's Echo


We'd like to welcome debut author 
Isabella Maldonado! 


MY BIG FAT LATINO NOVEL
by Isabella Maldonado


The Latino equivalent of Windex is Vicks VapoRub, which is used to treat everything from a head cold to a sucking chest wound. Now you know.

When I retired from crime fighting and took up crime writing, I decided to create a story with a different vibe. After over two decades in law enforcement, a police procedural was a natural choice. I loved reading about grizzled homicide detectives working the mean streets of New York or L.A., but wanted to offer something different to readers.

Different…like Mexican-American characters and culture and a strong Latina heroine with a complex back story and a huge heart. I’d seen movies and novels featuring Latino villains, but I wanted to reflect cultural diversity on both sides of the law. I also chose to set my story in a major city that wasn’t New York, L.A., Chicago, D.C., or Miami.

Not exactly what you see populating the shelves of most bookstores.

For a while, I hesitated, wondering if such a book would be published. Would crime fiction fans enjoy reading an edgy thriller with a large dollop of salsa picante on top? Then, as I watched my husband dab Vicks VapoRub on a cut one afternoon, I had an epiphany.


In 2002, Nia Vardalos’s romantic comedy, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, brought people to
theaters in droves.  Caught up in the fun, I recall discussing the movie with several friends of various ethnic backgrounds. Whether their families originated in Greece, Cuba, Ireland, Italy, or Scandinavia, they all claimed the film reminded them of their own relatives’ quirky behavior.

The movie didn’t succeed because people of Greek ancestry went to see it, but because it struck a chord with millions of families who make their way to our beautiful nation of immigrants. There was also the coming-of-age story of a young lady who is trying to break free from the smothering (if loving) influence of her relatives to discover who she is and make her place in the world. Many people, regardless of their own ethnic background, can relate. Stories, after all, are about the human condition. And good stories transcend specifics.

Energized, I wrote BLOOD’S ECHO, a police procedural set in Phoenix, featuring a Latina detective who pits herself against a Mexican drug cartel. Definitely not a romantic comedy, the story is fast-paced, brutal at times, with twists, long-buried secrets, and only a few humorous moments. Her relatives are both an asset and a liability for her, as is her police team and the arson investigator who stokes her fire.

Family is key, and this story features three types of families whose stories intertwine. Detective Veranda Cruz’s boisterous ethnic clan is undergirded with strength and resolve. Having immigrated to this country with nothing, they built a restaurant, created a new life, and now consider themselves Americans.

Meanwhile, the Villalobos cartel is run by another family, one in which ruthlessness and cunning are prized.  Hector Villalobos has set up a dynasty and his adult children vie for his seat at the helm of their vast criminal empire. Unfortunately, Veranda Cruz stands in their way.

The third group is law enforcement. I can tell you from personal experience that police departments are a kind of extended family that can be the tightest, or the most dysfunctional, of them all. When you depend on each other for survival, knowing there are people who would kill you if given the chance, a unique bond forms with your fellow officers. Detective Cruz is forced out of her position and into a different part of the department, where she must quickly determine who her allies and adversaries are.

Real families come in all sizes, configurations, and ethnicities. I’m hoping readers will enjoy a different culture and a fresh setting as they take a wild ride. After all, everyone has a family, and there’s more to bring us together than set us apart.


I am forever grateful to Terri Bischoff, who saw the book’s potential, and to Midnight Ink, which gave BLOOD’S ECHO the chance to find its audience.

***

Whenever the lust for drugs, money, and power lays claim to a city, brutality is never far behind. Phoenix detective Veranda Cruz is dead set on taking down the Villalobos Cartel, but the ruthlessness of her quarry demands a ruthless edge of her own.

Detective Veranda Cruz leads an elite task force on the Phoenix Police Drug Enforcement Bureau. Bartolo Villalobos is the heir apparent to the most powerful cartel in the world. No one in the department suspects the secret motive behind Veranda’s obsession with the cartel . . . until an operation goes horribly wrong.


Targeted by an increasingly unstable drug lord, Veranda must protect her family and stay clear of adversaries within the force while she sets a trap for Bartolo. As the desert action heats up, Veranda and her new Homicide team—along with an arson investigator who kindles a flame for her—are all drawn into a deadly gambit. Taking down Bartolo is the ultimate goal, but is Veranda ready to trade life for justice?


Isabella Maldonado retired from law enforcement as a Commander of Special Investigations and Forensics. During her long career, she was recognized with a Meritorious Service Award and a Lifesaving Award, and she was selected to attend executive management training at the FBI’s National Academy. Isabella is the immediate past president of the Phoenix chapter of Sisters In Crime. She lives in Mesa, Arizona. You can visit her at www.IsabellaMaldonado.com.