Michael W. Sherer

Blake Sanders Thrillers/Tess Barrett YA Thrillers/Emerson Ward Mysteries

Timothy Hallinan


KT Bryan


Paul D. Marks






Credit Matthew Ryan Williams for NPR
Dr. Jim Olson meets with Carver Faull at Seattle Children's Hospital in August. Carver, now 12, had surgery to remove a brain tumor in 2012.








What I almost won...

Simple pleasures.

This used to be our view.

This is our view now.



Anne K-J at senior prom with date Mack. Graduation tonight!

Toni McGee Causey


Instruments of torture?







Stoner?

Credit: David Snyder/National Park Service

NPS and federal agents discovered and eradicated six illegal marijuana fields in North Cascades National Park Complex in 2008, a scene you won't see anymore now that pot's legal in Washington.








Will books like this help indie authors make money?

Photo Credit: Manoj Vasanth, Flickr

The Old Library, Muntmuseum of Utrecht, The Netherlands

ONI headquarters in Suitland, Md.

Slightly smaller than a standard HK45, the HK45C has all the same features.

An SH-60B Seahawk helicopter and SH-60F Seahawk prepare to land on the flight deck of USS Kitty Hawk.

the Writing Life

The Writing Process

May 18, 2014

Tags: writing, fiction, creativity, inspiration, Timothy Hallinan, Paul D. Marks, KT Bryan

Blog hops are sort of like the latest variation on chain letters—you hate to break the chain, yet wonder if all the hassle will really bring you good luck. But when thriller author Peg Brantley asked me to join this series on The Writing Process, I was delighted to take part. Talking (or blogging) about what we do is reminiscent of show-and-tell in second grade, an opportunity to contemplate and brag a bit about how we approach this business. It also gives me a chance to see how others whose work I admire practice their craft. (Who knows, I may end up stealing some terrific ideas.)

Peg posted her answers to four burning questions last week on her blog, which you can find here: http://suspensenovelist.blogspot.com. In turn, I tagged three terrific mystery/thriller authors—Timothy Hallinan; Paul D. Marks; and KT Bryan about whom you can learn more at the end of this post. They’ll be giving their own answers to these questions next week, on May 26, 2014.

These three authors were kind enough to agree to perpetuate this blog hop, but I chose them for a reason. Tim Hallinan writes the kind of books I wish I could write—tense, intricately plotted, with emotional heart and prose so beautiful it literally makes me weep. KT Bryan should be way better known than she is because her books fit neatly into the pantheon of women authors who write tough characters, and here I’m thinking Allison Brennan, JT Ellison, CJ Lyons, Alafair Burke and LJ Sellers. Her books are not for the faint of heart and her style propels her stories like a naturally aspirated 5.0-liter DOHC, 32-valve, direct- and port-injected V8 engine with variable valve timing, that is to say quickly and smoothly. Paul D. Marks is an under-appreciated author of Shamus Award-winning tough-guy novels in the best of the L.A. noir tradition.

So, here we go…

1. What am I working on?

I’m finally making decent headway on Night Strike, the fourth Blake Sanders thriller. Night Blind, the first in the series, was nominated for a Thriller Award by ITW, which was both an incredible honor and a challenge. My goal as an author is to write every book better than the last one, but ITW raised the bar for me with that recognition.

Even before the nomination, I knew that this book had to be bigger in scope, both geographic and thematic, than the three previous books in the series. A large part of what made Night Blind work is Blake himself. Though the plot involves large-scale thriller elements like a Civil War era secret involving nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in buried gold and a potential bio-weapon that could start a pandemic, it’s Blake’s story that keeps the book on a personal level.

To broaden the scope in Night Strike, I’ve brought back not only Blake’s romantic interest, naval intelligence officer Reyna Chase, but also Trip Macready, a character introduced in Night Drop, the third in the series, out this Sept. 8th. And I’m giving larger roles to some supporting characters, which gives me the opportunity to tell the story from more points of view.

Thematically, the book borrows from current geopolitical situations and the rising tension between the West and Russia. What starts as a promise from Blake to a dying man ultimately leads to a confrontation between Russia and the U.S. in the middle of the Pacific, and only three people—Blake, Reyna and Trip—can stop it from escalating to war.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I can honestly say I’ve never read a book quite like this particular series. That’s not to say they don’t exist, just that I haven’t come across them. My Chicago-based Emerson Ward mystery series was likened by The Chicago Tribune, among others, to the Travis McGee books by John D Macdonald. But the Blake Sanders thrillers are a little tougher to pigeonhole. They don’t fit neatly into any thriller subgenre though they do have elements of a military thriller, a techno-thriller, a conspiracy thriller, and more.

Blake is, in most respects, an fairly ordinary fellow, with no special training and no special skills to help him in his battle against better equipped foes. Three things do set him apart, however: his ADHD, which influences both his behavior and the way his thought process works; his extraordinary height, which is both a help and a hindrance; and his tenacity. He fights not just for his life and that of those he loves, but also for his own set of moral values.

And, for me, the writing is as important as the story. In that I try to emulate authors whose work I admire—Hurwitz, Crais, Hallinan, Unger, Huston, Parker, Flynn, Sakey, Winslow, etc. All too often I’ll pick up a book and start reading a fast-paced story with interesting plot twists only to finish feeling vaguely unsatisfied, as if I’d just eaten Chinese food, knowing that I’ll be hungry again in an hour.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write books I’d like to read. Though I enjoy a wide range of fiction, I’ve been drawn to mysteries and thrillers ever since I discovered a Judy Bolton mystery on the shelves of our “library” at home. Our ranch-style home on the farm where I grew up had a small study that contained a small spinet piano and nearly a wall of books. The few Judy Bolton novels on the shelves had been given to my mother when she was a young girl. I went on to devour Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Dick Francis and many others on my way to becoming an author myself.

I like stories, particularly stories that move, stories with pace and action. But I also want to learn. Genre fiction is story-based, but also can deliver the same lyrical beauty of “literary fiction,” the same moral dilemmas, the same depth of character. (For a terrific take on “genre” vs. “literary” fiction, see Tim Hallinan’s two-part blog at “The Blog Cabin.”)

Mysteries and thrillers also gives me, and the reader, a few things that other fiction sometimes does not. Usually, they have definitive endings as opposed to the nebulous, indeterminate conclusions of literary fiction, especially. They may not always end happily, but most of the time, the good guys win and justice is served. When nothing in life is certain, I think mysteries and thrillers offer readers a sense of order in a world of chaos.

4. How does my writing process work?

Most authors fall into one of two camps—“pantsers” and “plotters.” The former jump into each book feet first with no idea what it’s about or where it will end up. The latter rely on a carefully crafted story with a beginning, middle and end, usually noted on paper somehow (outlines, sticky notes, white boards are some tools writers use).

I’m a “plodder,” which is to say I not only rely on detailed notes and an outline that serves as my roadmap, but I work slowly and methodically. I have to know the beginning, middle and end of a book before I can start writing. And unlike writers who can jump around, writing a scene here and another there and eventually assembling them all into a whole, I write linearly so I know how the story develops, and don’t forget things when I come to later scenes.

However, having a roadmap doesn’t mean I don’t get sidetracked and take the scenic route on occasion. These diversions are part of my creative process and often are the most delightful surprises of writing every book. Last week, for example, as I was writing a chapter, a character that I’d designated as a Chechen mole aboard a Russian destroyer turned out not to be the mole at all, and the book will be better for it.

I use what I call the A.I.C. writing method—ass in chair. Unless I’m on deadline with another project, I try to write every day. I keep regular office hours, and have my latest chapter open on my laptop even if I’m not working on it. Every day that I devote to writing, I start by rewriting what I wrote the day before, which gets me into the story, and I go from there.

I research heavily, even more than I used to, because it’s easier now with the Internet and because it’s easier for readers to catch me in a mistake than it used to be. I do a lot of my research during the plotting phase because I need to know how things work in order for the plot to work. But I research while I write, too, using Google Maps, Street View and satellite views to work out logistics and get a sense of places that I can’t get to in person.

For me, writing is slow work. Typically it takes me a year to 18 months to research and write a book. In the seven years since I started the Blake Sanders series, I’ve written five complete novels—three in that series and two in a YA thriller series—and part of the book I’m working on now. It is often, as Tom Clancy once said, “like digging dirt.” But because there are gold nuggets and precious gems in that dirt, for me writing is the most rewarding career I could have chosen.

Next week, be sure to find out how these amazing thriller authors approach The Writing Process:

Timothy Hallinan has lived, on and off, in Southeast Asia for more than 25 years. He wrote songs and sang in a rock band while in college, and many of his songs were recorded by by well-known artists who included the platinum-selling group Bread. He began writing books while enjoying a successful career in the television industry. Over the past fourteen years he has been responsible for a number of well-reviewed novels and a nonfiction book on Charles Dickens. For years he has taught a course on “Finishing the Novel” with remarkable results – more than half his students complete their first novel and go on to a second, and several have been, or are about to be, published. Tim currently maintains a house in Santa Monica, California, and apartments in Bangkok, Thailand; and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy-Hallinan. http://www.timothyhallinan.com

KT Bryan is an action, adventure, romantic suspense novelist who enjoys good wine, great art, Tuscany, and a touch of mayhem. (You never know what you might see when you wake up suddenly in the dark.) She's the author of the TEAM EDGE series. KT currently lives in Georgia with her family, one overweight German shepherd and two very spoiled cats. She has a varied background in the military, the airlines, antiques, and medicine. Her favorite career is writing and sharing stories with readers and fellow writers. Find her at www.KTBryan.net or on Twitter @KTBryan1.
Amazon Bestseller EDGE Of TRUST

Paul D. Marks' novel WHITE HEAT is a 2013 SHAMUS AWARD WINNER. Publishers Weekly calls WHITE HEAT a "taut crime yarn." Paul is also the author of over thirty published short stories in a variety of genres, including several award winners – and LA LATE @ NIGHT, a new collection of five of his stories. And he has the distinction, dubious though it might be, of having been the last person to film on the fabled MGM backlot before it bit the dust to make way for condos. Find out more at: www.PaulDMarks.com or www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks

Mike Faricy's New Book Out

April 9, 2014

Tags: Mike Faricy, Dev Haskell, private investigator, mystery

Today I have the pleasure of featuring Mike Faricy as my guest blogger. Mike is the author of the Dev Haskell P.I. series, and Mike gives us a taste of it in the following excerpt.

Ten minutes later we were pulling into my driveway. I gently shook Heidi awake. “Heidi, come on. There’s a nice warm bed upstairs we can both climb into. Wake up, honey.”

“Oh, God, bed sounds wonderful,” she said, but she said it in a way that made me think we were suddenly on opposite wave lengths.

She was sound asleep when I came out of the bathroom. I heard that deep Prosecco induced breathing, remembered the elbow she gave me the last time I’d attempted to wake her and knew there was no point in trying. I’d have to wait until morning.

“Dev, Dev, wake up. Come on, wake up.”

It was music to my ears as she gently shook me awake, no doubt unable to control her passion and wait any longer. My patience was finally paying off and this was going to be worth it. I rolled over and focused on Heidi sitting on the edge of my bed. She appeared to have showered and was completely dressed. In fact, she’d already pulled on her winter coat.

“What time is it? What the…”

“Come on, get dressed, you have to drive me back to Bunnies so I can get my car. I’ve got a client coming in at nine this morning and I have to go home and change.”

“Could we just take a few minutes here and…”

“No, come on, I mean it. Besides, I’ve already showered. I gotta get going,” she said and stood up.

I lay in bed for half a second, thinking ‘This can’t be happening. I don’t believe it."

“Dev, come on, I told you I’m not kidding, get going,” she said. She checked herself briefly in the mirror before she walked out of my bedroom. She called again as she headed downstairs. “Dev.”

Heidi was the first one to finally speak as we drove to her car. “Oh, God, you big baby, will you please quit pouting. I’ll make it up to you,” she said. We were just a minute or two away from the parking lot at Bunnies. Heidi was brushing on makeup using the mirror hanging from the back of my passenger seat visor.

“Sure, not a problem. I mean, I interrupted my night. I stopped working. I drove down to Bunnies. I gave all your girlfriends a ride home. My ears are still hurting from the noise level in the car.” I shot her a glance.

“Maybe if the heat had come on we wouldn’t have had to talk so loud. God, everyone was frozen half to death. We had to talk just to stay warm.”

“Hey, you called me. Like I said, I was working.”

“Sure you were,” she said and just let that hang there for a couple of blocks.

You can get Mike's new book here: http://www.amazon.com/Ting---Ling-Dev-Haskell-Investigator-ebook/dp/B00J3697KQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1395703392&sr=1-1&keywords=Ting+a+ling+Mike+Faricy

"The Dirty Lowdown" called Mike Faricy America's hottest new mystery writer. Robert Carraher and the Irish Gazette referred to him as Minnesota's Master of the Bizarre. He has been nominated for a Minnesota book award. All his books are filled with the sort of oddballs we're all curious about, but wisely prefer to keep at a distance. His characters serve not so much as an example as they do a warning to us all. None of them will be saving the world from terrorism, international banking conspiracies or government coups. Rather, his characters inhabit a world just below the surface of polite society. The circumstances they find themselves in are usually due to their own bad decisions, but then bad decisions make for interesting stories.

The books in Mike's Dev Haskell series, in order, are; Russian Roulette, Mr. Swirlee, Bite Me, Bombshell, Tutti Frutti and Last Shot.

Mike is originally from St. Paul, Minnesota, where he spends part of his time as well as in Dublin, Ireland. You can follow Mike on Twitter @mikefaricybooks or connect with him on his Facebook page at facebook.com/MikeFaricyBooks or email him at mikefaricyauthor@gmail.com

What Inspires You?

March 13, 2014

Tags: writing, fiction, creativity, inspiration

People often ask me where I get ideas for my thriller novels. And as often as I’m asked, I’m still surprised by it. I think it’s the wrong question. A better question is “What inspires me?”

Ideas are easy to come by, a dime a dozen. Open the newspaper and you’ll be assaulted with plot ideas. Stories about NSA eavesdropping, big business scams and $13 billion settlements, George Zimmerman’s latest brush with the law, even Obamacare are ripe and rife with kernels that can germinate and grow in the soil of a fertile imagination.

The origin of the plot for my first published mystery came from a story my father told me about how an investor cornered the market on shares of a company’s stock back in the ‘50s. The premise of my second book, in which a college student hangs himself in the woods off campus, evolved from a similar incident at my alma mater when I was a student. Blake Sanders, the protagonist of my current thriller series, grew out of a remark the local bookstore owner made about his newspaper carrier. And the concept for Night Tide, my latest novel, resulted from reading an article about a man freed from jail after serving 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

Ideas are everywhere. You can’t turn around without practically tripping over them. I sometimes think the most difficult aspect of being a writer is coming up with a) ideas no one’s thought of, or a new way of presenting them, and b) plots that are more thrilling than what’s in the news every day. Truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s our job as writers to take the same old same-old and breathe new life into it. The task—facing all those blank pages waiting to be filled with exciting plots and characters and settings that readers want to learn about—can be daunting.

Which is why I think the question of where inspiration comes from is more interesting. I’m inspired by a variety of sources in many different areas of my life. I play tennis five mornings a week with two different informal men’s groups. I also sub for another group occasionally on Sundays, and I’ve been on a USTA men’s doubles team this fall. On weekdays, I play at 6:45 a.m. every day, and there are days when that hour of the morning seems to come all too early.

My inspiration for showing up every day comes from a few places. Three of the men that play in the MWF group are within spitting distance of their 90th birthdays. If they can get out on the courts without complaint, certainly I can. And in fact, they’d be the first to say that upright and breathing beats the alternative, for which I’m grateful every day. The TTh men are a little younger—most are in their 60s and 70s—and many are better players than I am. They inspire me to play up to their level. And, of course, watching the pros play on Tennis Channel inspires me to take lessons so I can improve even more.

The volunteers at the Homeless Cooking Project, sponsored by St. Clouds restaurant in Seattle the third Wednesday of every month, inspire me to give back to the community more often. I love working in the restaurant—I spent several years during and after college working in the business—and feel even better knowing that I’m helping make really nice, restaurant quality meals for about 500 people.

Writing, Tom Clancy once said, is like digging dirt. There’s little remuneration for many authors, and the process can be long and thankless. So why do we do it? What inspires us to dream up stories and put them down on paper or in digital files, hoping readers will find them? Most of the authors I’ve talked to say they feel compelled to write. They can’t walk away from its siren call.

When it comes to writing, two things inspire me most: reading authors whose work I admire, and those whose work is inferior but for whatever reason is widely read. The former spur me to practice and hone my craft, to try to become a better writer with each book. The latter motivate me to prove not only that I am a better writer, but also that there’s an audience out there for good writing as well as good stories.

My greatest inspiration? The love of my life—my wife Valarie. She inspires me to be a better person each and every day.

What inspires you? Where do you turn for inspiration?

Celebrating Life

September 24, 2013

Tags: heart disease, coronary artery disease, angioplasty, stent, lipoprotein (a), niacin, gratitude

Today, I got some of the best news I’ve ever received. I didn’t win the lottery. No, it wasn’t a film deal with a major Hollywood studio, though that would have been pretty spectacular. And no, it wasn’t an amazing sales report for my latest thriller, Night Tide, though that would have been welcome, too. This bit of news actually was far better.

Twelve years ago, when I was 49, I ran three miles daily. Well, it was more like a shuffle since they were nine-minute miles. But I ran some hills, so for me it was a good workout. One day while out running, however, I experienced pain on the right side of my chest. When I stopped running, the pain dissipated.

I’ve always been in good health, have never had a problem maintaining my weight, have always eaten a healthy diet, so the pain perplexed me. Since I felt fine otherwise, I did nothing for two weeks. But the pain persisted, only when I ran, of course, so I finally called my doctor. After hearing my symptoms, the first thing she did was x-ray my chest to rule out a pulmonary embolism. When that turned up negative, she ordered a stress test. That turned out normal.

Puzzled, she scheduled a stress-echo test at the cardiology department of the hospital she’s affiliated with. As you probably know, a stress test simply involves walking on a treadmill to increase your heart rate while they monitor pulse, blood pressure and EKG readings of the heart itself. The treadmill increases in speed and incline every three minutes. The “echo” part of the test is ultrasound pictures of your heart at rest and again after you’ve cried “Uncle” on the treadmill when your heart is racing.

I met with a cardiologist after the test who said when I came in he was tempted to send me home without conducting the test. My weight was fine; my cholesterol levels were good. I was obviously fit and active. He went on to give me the results of my test. “The good news,” he said, “is that you’re in the physical condition of an average 16 year-old. The bad news is that there’s definitely something wrong with the way you’re heart is working.”

He scheduled me for an angiogram, and not surprisingly given the stress-echo results, found a coronary artery that was 80 percent blocked. He put in a stent, prescribed a cholesterol-lowering statin (despite my excellent cholesterol numbers), and sent me on my way.

The miracle of modern medicine. In 1975, My uncle died of a heart attack at the age of 48, suggesting my coronary artery disease is genetic. But advances in medicine saved me from a similar fate. Except that all the preventive steps I took to ward off the disease and a recurrence of a blocked artery didn’t work. In the summer of 2012, I went back into the hospital for angioplasty, this time getting two stents.

This time I scheduled follow-up after the surgery with a cardiologist in the clinic where my GP works. She told me that things had changed in the eleven years between my angioplasties, that cardiologists know a lot more about the disease now. So she ordered a lipids panel not only to see where my cholesterol levels were but where levels of specific triglycerides were. And she found a possible culprit for why my disease continued to advance despite everything I’d done. Lipoprotein(a). Lp(a) is one of those triglycerides that a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine says could be a major contributor to heart disease in some patients. Mine was high. Other studies have shown that massive doses of niacin, a B vitamin, can help bring it down in some patients. She asked if I was game to try it. Hell, yes!

I worked up to a dose of 1,000 mg of niacin, and after six months had my blood lipids tested again. Lp(a) levels, which had been over 200, went down a disappointing 9 points. My cardiologist told me if I could tolerate a higher dose and was willing to try I might reduce the levels further, and at least the niacin was helping some.

I gradually increased the dosage to 1,750 mg, and had another lipids panel run. Today I followed up with my cardiologist. My Lp(a) level is half of what it was six months ago; my HDL (good cholesterol) is up and LDL (bad cholesterol) is down. In other words, I dramatically cut the risk of the disease advancing further. I may never need another stent or by-pass surgery.

Since my first stent was put in, I don’t think I’ve taken a single day for granted. I’m not stopping now. In fact, if I can tolerate it, I’m increasing my dosage of niacin to 2,000 mg a day—with my doctor’s blessing, of course—to see if I can get that Lp(a) level down just a little more.

Today was a beautiful day.

How do you celebrate life? What good news have you gotten lately?

Ah-ha! Moments

September 13, 2013

Tags: inspiration, Jim Olson, cancer research, Tumor Paint

I love life’s little “ah-ha!” moments. Those times when you’re reminded to look outside yourself and see the bigger picture. To remember why we’re here and what life’s really about. On my way into Seattle early this morning to play tennis (there’s an “ah-ah!” moment right there—several of these guys are pushing 90 and are still out on the courts smacking a tennis ball, which is major inspiration to me), I heard a feature on the radio about a local doctor here in Seattle. (more…)

No Whiners!

September 5, 2013

Tags: Self-confidence, positive thinking, no whining

A couple of weeks ago a marvelous thing happened to me. I was called out by a complete stranger for something I wrote on my blog. He didn’t catch me misrepresenting falsehoods as truth or making a mistake in research. He accused me of an error in judgment, and he was absolutely right. (more…)

Night Tide Free Sample

September 4, 2013

Tags: Night Tide, Night Blind, Blake Sanders, thriller

Chapter One
The smell of gas hung on the porch of the ramshackle house like a bookie’s leg-breaker, heavy and oppressive, full of menace. I backed away cautiously, nose full of the rotten-egg odorant in the gas. Finding a spot where polluted air left off and fresh air began was tough. (more…)

Dumbing Down of American Readers?

August 28, 2013

By now you’ve seen the rave reviews and blog posts about “On The Lam,” the three-day Thomas & Mercer authors event held in Seattle last weekend. One of the terrific aspects of the confab was the opportunity to talk shop with so many great writers in a variety of relaxed social situations as well as more formal workshop panel Q&A sessions. (more…)

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

August 25, 2013

Tags: Amazon Publishing, Thomas & Mercer, On The Lam, Marcus Sakey, Lee Goldberg

This past weekend I took part in an extraordinary event. Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint brought 62 of its authors into Seattle for a three-day whirlwind schedule of education and socializing called "On The Lam." (more…)

What's In A Blurb?

August 10, 2013

Tags: Author quotes, blurbs, jacket quotes

Recently, a first-time author e-mailed me and asked me if I would blurb his new novel. I told him that since I don’t have a large fan base, a blurb from me likely wouldn’t help his sales much. He replied that it wasn’t important; he simply wanted blurbs from authors he admires. Since I find myself in the same position once a year or so, I agreed, but set some ground rules. (more…)