I stole this from a panel presentation I had the pleasure of taking part in last evening through our county library system. The program, Behind the Page, was taped, and you can find it here: http://facebook.com/crrlnews and while it is technically Facebook, YOU DO NOT need to have Facebook to check it out. Merely go to the link and settle in for an informative evening with two authors, one of whom is me.
In addition to a reading I did from my newest book, Fan Mail, I was asked questions from the moderator and from a couple of the viewers. Because time was limited and because I didn’t want to hog all of it, I thought I would expand on what I said last evening. They were great questions and worth talking about.
When did you start writing? What made you decide to pursue publishing?
I had mentioned this in previous posts, but in sixth grade, my teacher, Sr. Josephe’ Marie Flynn, had story starters. She would write three or four paragraphs on a 3 x 5 notecard, and if we wanted to, we could take one from her desk after we finished with a test or our seat work, and complete the story. No credit was given, but she would give us feedback on what we wrote.
I soaked them up! I couldn’t wait to take one. In 1986 or 87, I watched a movie, Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me, which was adapted from a Stephen King novella, The Body. It was a coming-of-age movie about four kids on a journey to find a body of a kid who was hit by a train. But in reality, the movie and story is more than just a search for a body. It was a search of self, of friendship and support, of living through a struggle in dead end households and a dead end town. These are themes I use in my own writing, though wrapped in a thriller-crime-mystery genre.
I was so moved by that movie (I read King’s story at least a half-dozen times), that when I got home, I wrote the first draft to a story, Dusty and Me, that ended up getting published a short time later in 1987, I think. But it wasn’t until 2014 when my first book, Taking Lives, the Prequel to the Lives Trilogy, was published. Quite a journey with large gaps in between.
I think it is a natural, logical progression for any writer to pursue publication once something is written. Scary, because all eyes are on it and it might not be “loved” by others the way the writer loves it, but it is also satisfying and accomplishment to be celebrated.
I noticed many of your characters are teen boys. Why did you choose the thriller genre to feature teens and children?
I write thriller-crime-mystery because that is what I enjoy reading. My go-to authors include James Patterson, David Baldacci, John Sandford, C.J. Box, and an Indie author, Mark Dawson. I try to read a little each night. As King likes to say, “If you don’t read, you won’t have the tools to write.”
As for the teens and kids being my characters, two reasons come to mind. First, for 47 years and counting, I’ve been in education. I’ve worked with kids as a teacher, coach, counselor, and administrator. When I semi-retired in 2020, I went back into the classroom on a part-time basis, which I’m doing as I write this, working with kids.
Kids are almost masters at hiding feelings, disguising urges and needs, and shy about wanting to be accepted and loved. My background is in counseling and psychology, and my “study” of them is a natural by-product in my writing.
Mostly, as a counselor, some of the stories I heard in my office behind the closed door were tragic and heartfelt. It is these stories you read in the pages of my writing. Some of that stuff I didn’t and can’t make up. During my counseling, I volunteered as an adjunct educator for the Wetterling Foundation for Stranger Abducted and Sexually exploited kids. My job was to educate parents on keeping their kids safe, educate kids on keeping themselves safe, and speaking to staff and teachers to look for signs and signals that kids might be in danger.
I wanted to “tell the story” of missing and exploited kids, so I did that in the Lives Trilogy and Prequel: Taking Lives, Stolen Lives, Shattered Lives, and Splintered Lives. When those were published, it seemed natural to me to continue the story of those kids, the characters from those stories: what happened to them after they were freed from captivity and exploitation? How are they adapting to life in the world now? So like some of my favorite writers, I take the same characters and move them forward in each of the books I write. Some of the same characters, different adventures.
In your acknowledgements in Blaze In, Blaze Out, you thank several subject experts. How did you find subject experts? Do you have a suggestion for writers on how to approach them?
I chase after them. For the investigation work, I use Police Chief Jamie Graff, who appears in my books as Detective Jamie Graff, along with a Sheriff Deputy, Earl Coffey, who is also a part-time character in my books, and used to be SWAT team member. I’ve worked with both and developed a friendship with them. For anything dealing with forensics, a former student, James Dahlke, known as Skip Dahlke in my books, answers my many “what if” questions, because he has a degree in Forensic Science and works in that area fulltime. For anything medical, I’ve worked with some phenomenal school nurses: Sharon King (now an ER nurse) and Filippa Unger, now retired, and I also have a sister, Mary, who practiced as a nurse and taught nursing to students. There is also a wonderful Facebook group, Cops and Writers, I belong to who take the time to answer my questions.
Specifically for Blaze In, Blaze Out, I know absolutely nothing about hunting or fishing. Truly, nothing. Fortunately, one of my friends, Nick Roman, is an avid hunter, and taught me everything I needed to know and then some for that book. My brother-in-law, Brian Jorgenson, filled in some gaps for both Betrayed and Blaze. Another friend, Roger Spencer, gave me information on fishing, even down to the types of lures and bait used for fish and bodies of water. For anything dealing with Navajo culture and language, I reached out to Robert Johnson at the Navajo Museum in Arizona, along with Brenda Hat, a native Navajo and Eric Painter, who lived and taught on the Navajo reservation. I had to hunt for them, but they were gracious to answer my many questions. If you read my work, you know two of the adopted boys, George Tokay and Michael Two Feathers, are Navajo.
My advice is to seek out politely, and most anyone is willing to help and answer questions. When in doubt, Google it, but it is always nice to have firsthand, accurate information.
Why did you choose True Crime as a genre to write in?
I didn’t, and I don’t. True Crime deals with actual people, places, and events that have occurred. Sometimes, writers will write about a cold case that occurred, and perhaps try to solve it. I don’t do any of that, other than make a reference to something that has happened either in the past or perhaps something taken from the headlines that’s currently happening in our world.
The genre I write in is thriller-crime-fiction. Accent on the “fiction.” I make it up, except for what might be taking place in the world today. For instance, for Caught in a Web, I used the current events of fentanyl use and heroin overdoses that are taking place across the country and affecting teens on the streets and in our schools, along with the rise of MS-13 in the area I live in. Most everything else I wrote about is “made up” and fiction.
What are you working on now?
This brought a smile to my face and I almost jumped out of my chair. I am currently over 34,000 words, about 109 pages into a book, At Any Cost, which is a follow-up, a sequel, to Caught in a Web. For those of you who read Caught in a Web, and as I mentioned above, it deals with MS-13 wanting to find out who was cutting in on their drug trade in and around the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin (where almost all of my stories take place either in part or in whole), and exact revenge and teach a lesson. A shooting took place in a home at the end of that book, and five individuals were killed. A “secret” was formulated to protect four individuals in that home at the time of the shooting. If MS-13 were to find out the truth, those four individuals wouldn’t be safe. A secret is only good until someone shares it with the wrong individual. Needless to say, MS-13 has heard what might actually happened in that house, and now, the four individuals that secret was meant to protect are in danger because MS-13 is back in Waukesha seeking the truth of that evening.
Most, if not all, of my books contain a twin, sometimes triple, storyline, one of which is a coming-of-age theme. At Any Cost has little, if any, coming-of-age theme. It is thriller-crime-mystery through and through, and I’m just a little excited about it. Okay, I lied. I’m super excited about it, and I think readers will love it.
Can you read a little from your most recent book?
My most recent book is Fan Mail, which is available for preorder currently (the link and description is below with my other books), and will be launching March 30th. Fan Mail is a coming-of-age story about the Evans family, told through the eyes of Brian, wrapped in a thriller-crime-mystery. It weighs more heavily on the coming-of-age theme than my other books, and so far, the reviews have been truly fantastic.
The chapter I’m presenting for you needs some setup. Brian has been shot and his life teeters in the balance. The family and medical staff don’t know if he is going to make it. His adopted brother, Michael, who everyone calls Two because his last name is Two Feathers (a Navajo boy) is particularly hit hard by Brian’s shooting. Unnoticed, he leaves the waiting room and goes to the hospital chapel. Jeremy, father to the boys, and Michael’s step-brother, George, go off in search of him, and find him there. This passage takes place in the chapel upon his discovery. (I apologize ahead of time for any formatting issues as I cut and paste).
The little chapel, darkened except for dim lighting and votive candles, was empty except for Two, who sat in the second pew on the left. Head down, shoulders hunched, weeping quietly.
Jeremy and George sat down on either side of him.
“I thought I’d feel Brian here.”
Neither Jeremy nor George responded.
“I prayed just like Brian taught me. I came with thanks and praise. Then I asked God to protect Brian.”
Jeremy sat back, shocked. What else did Brian teach him?
“I think I prayed correctly,” Two said as he wiped tears from his eyes.
“I’m sure you did,” Jeremy said as he slipped an arm around the boy’s narrow shoulders.
“But why couldn’t I feel him?”
It came out as a sob, and Jeremy hugged him and kissed the side of his head.
“Because Brian is alive,” Jeremy whispered, hoping he was correct.
Two shook his head. “Brian can’t die yet.”
“We don’t know anything yet, Two.”
“No, you don’t understand. It’s cold and rainy outside. Brian wants to die on a sunny day with a bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds. But not until sunset. That’s his favorite time of day. Sunset is when he talks to God about his day. He talks about how he screwed up and he apologizes and promises to do better. He can’t die yet. It’s raining, and it’s cold, and it’s not sunny. It’s not sunset. He can’t die yet.”
How could Jeremy argue with that? He knew there was nothing he could say that would make sense to Two. It wasn’t the time or place to talk to his youngest about weighty thoughts.
“I want to be with Brian. He shouldn’t be alone,” Two whispered as he wiped away tears.
Jeremy gave Two a hug, kissed the side of his head, and said, “Let’s go back to the waiting room. The doctor or your mom should be out soon, and they’ll give us an update.”
Two sighed, nodded, and the three of them stood and left the chapel together to be with the rest of the family. And wait.
I hope you enjoyed this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please go below and throw in a comment. Below are the links and descriptions to my books:
My newest, Fan Mail, just won a Literary Titan Silver Book Award, and is Available for Preorder at https://www.blackrosewriting.com/thrillers/fanmail
Use code PREORDER2023 to receive a 15% Discount. If you head over to my author website at www.jrlewisauthor.blog/ you will find the cover to Fan Mail, along with the book trailer, and the first two chapters to preview. You can also PREORDER the Kindle Version on Amazon at: amzn.to/3WBbRps
Fan Mail: New Release! A Literary Titan Silver Book Award Winner!
A barrage of threatening letters, a car bomb, and a heart attack rip apart what was once a close-knit family of adopted brothers. Randy and Bobby, along with fellow band member and best friend, Danny, receive fan mail that turns menacing. They ignore it, but to their detriment. The sender turns up the heat. Violence upends their world. It rocks the relationship between the boys and ripples through their family, nearly killing their dad.
As these boys turn on each other, adopted brother Brian flashes back to that event in Arizona where he nearly lost his life saving his brothers. The scars on his face and arms healed, but not his heart.
Would he once again have to put himself in harm’s way to save them? And if faced with that choice, will he?
Blaze In, Blaze Out: Best Action Crime Thriller of 2022 by Best Thrillers! A Literary Titan Gold Book Award Winner! A Readers’ Favorite Award Winner! A Reader’s Ready Recommended Read! A BestThriller’s Editor’s Pick!
Eiselmann and O’Connor thought the conviction of Dmitry Andruko, the head of a Ukrainian crime family, meant the end. It was only the beginning. They forgot that revenge knows no boundaries, vindictiveness knows no restraints, and ruthlessness never worries about collateral damage. Andruko hired contract killers to go after and kill O’Connor and Eiselmann. The killers can be anyone and be anywhere. They can strike at any time. They care nothing of collateral damage. Andruko believes a target is a target, and in the end, the target must die. https://amzn.to/34lNllP
Betrayed: Two Top Shelf Awards: 1st Place Fiction-Mystery; and Runner-Up Fiction-Crime; A PenCraft 1st Place Winner for Thriller-Fiction! A Maxy Award Runner-Up for Mystery/Suspense! A Literary Titan Silver Book Award Winner! A Reader’s Ready Recommended Read Award Winner! A Reader’s Favorite Honorable Mention Award Winner for Fiction-Crime-Mystery!
Betrayed is Now Available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback! https://amzn.to/3AfUUpS
A late-night phone call, a missing kid, a murdered family, but no one is talking. A promise is made and kept, but it could mean the death of a fifteen-year-old boy. Greed can be all-consuming, and seeing is not believing. No one can be trusted, and the hunters become the hunted. https://amzn.to/2EKHudx
Spiral Into Darkness: Named a Recommended Read in the Author Shout Reader Awards!
He blends in. He is successful, intelligent, and methodical. So far, he has murdered eight people. There is no discernible pattern. There are no clues. There are no leads. The only thing the FBI and local police have to go on is the method of death: two bullets to the face- gruesome and meant to send a message. But it’s difficult to understand any message coming from a dark and damaged mind. Two adopted boys, struggling in their own world, do not know they are the next targets. Neither does their family. And neither does local law enforcement. https://amzn.to/2RBWvTm
Caught in a Web: A PenCraft Literary Award Winner! Named “One of the Best Thrillers of 2018!” by BestThrillers.com
Caught in a Web is also available in Audio Book, Kindle and Paperback! http://bit.ly/2WO3kka
They found the bodies of high school and middle school kids dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. A violent gang, MS-13, controls the drug trade along the I-94 and I-43 corridors. They send Ricardo Fuentes to find out who is cutting in on their business, shut it down and teach them a lesson. But he has an ulterior motive: find and kill a fifteen-year-old boy, George Tokay. Detectives Jamie Graff, Pat O’Connor and Paul Eiselmann race to find the source of the drugs, shut down the ring, and find Fuentes before he kills anyone else. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07CKF7696
The Lives Trilogy Prequel, Taking Lives:
FBI Agent Pete Kelliher and his partner search for the clues behind the bodies of six boys left in various and remote parts of the country. Even though they live in separate parts of the country, the lives of Kelliher, 11-year-old Brett McGovern, and 11-year-old George Tokay are separate pieces of a puzzle. The two boys become interwoven with the same thread Kelliher holds in his hand. The three of them are on a collision course and when that happens, their futures grow dark as each search for a way out. https://amzn.to/34nXBH5
Book One, Stolen Lives: Editor’s Pick by BestThrillers! Literary Titan Gold Book Award Winner! A Crime Thriller finalist in the 2021 Best Thriller Book Awards!
Two thirteen-year-old boys are abducted off a safe suburban street. Kelliher and his team of FBI agents have 24 hours to find them or they will end up like the other kids they found- dead! They have no leads, no clues, and nothing to go on. To make the investigation that much tougher, Kelliher suspects that one of his team members might be involved. https://amzn.to/3oMo4qZ
Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, Shattered Lives:
The boys are home, but now they have to fit back in with their families and friends. Their parents and the FBI thought the boys were safe. They were until people began dying. Now the hunt is on for six dangerous and desperate men who vow revenge. With no leads and nothing to go on, the FBI can only sit back and wait. A dangerous game that threatens not only the boys, but their families. https://amzn.to/2RAYIk2
Book Three of the Lives Trilogy, Splintered Lives:
Three dangerous men with nothing to lose offer a handsome reward to anyone willing to kill fourteen-year-old Brett McGovern. He does not know that he, his younger brother, and a friend are targets. More than anyone, these three men vow to kill George, whom they blame for forcing them to run and hide. A fun vacation turns into a nightmare and ends where it started, back on the Navajo Nation Reservation, high on a mesa held sacred by George and his grandfather. Outnumbered and outgunned, George will make the ultimate sacrifice to protect his adoptive father and his adoptive brothers- but can he? Without knowing who these men are? Or where they are? Without knowing whom to trust? Is he prepared for betrayal that leads to his heartbreak and death? http://bit.ly/SplinteredLives