I really appreciate the depth and detail of this kind review by Midwest Book Review for my forthcoming thriller, 95, due for release in November. See the actual review below from Sr. Book Reviewer, D. Donovan, which will be published in September, 2021:
In Ninety-Five, Zak Skinner is a college student bent on exposing a dangerous scheme—one that initially seems to involve a campus crime, but quickly evolves to a savvy crime ring that uses the dark web.
As the story opens with Zak’s first-person observation of this scam in action, readers receive a fast-paced opening that talks of new beginnings and a frat environment that leads to a dangerous confrontation, even though Zak reflects that he is “New to campus, barely social, not wealthy. What attributes would be of value to them?”
Not only is this not the fresh start Zak and his mother had in mind by moving from NYU to the University of Chicago, but it holds an immediate, different threat that brings with it the coordinates of an even greater danger.
Thriller readers will appreciate the time taken to describe both the college environment and Zak’s transformation to a bigger picture of danger.
As the story evolves to where he is ambushed and separated from his support systems, Zak is continually challenged to track down the truth, even if it means he will be pursued by powerful adversaries, and even if this means he has made the leap from concerned citizen and savvy college student to radical activist.
Zak’s social, political, and investigative transformation is a powerful part of this thriller and lends to the suspense element as he walks a thin and challenging line that leads straight into a potential murder investigation.
As Zak and his only trusted friend Riley field an increasing number of threats and possibilities, they move from their college milieu into an adult world replete with different challenges.
Lisa Towles excels in keeping the action fast-paced, but always firmly rooted in Zak’s expanding abilities, perceptions, and social and political savvy. Her depiction of the college environment and the moves into adulthood are especially astute and realistic, embracing all the technological toys of modern times and the attitudes of those who wield them with power and purpose.
The underlying psychological encounters that motivate and drive the characters is very well done: “His outlandish creation myth, however, of being the vast force behind the whole operation, lacked credibility considering how desperate he looked asking me for the receipts. He was pleading with me, vulnerable almost, friendless in his tower of control, trying to appeal to my sense of compassion. Sorry, fresh out.”
The result is a well-written romp through college and adult underworlds alike. Ninety-Five‘s ability to follow Zak through a series of puzzles that challenges his survival skills and his determination as well as his problem-solving abilities and alliances makes for a story hard to put down, and a standout in the genre of new adult thriller reads.
Bharat Krishnan is a multi-published and multi-genre book author. After 10 years of working in politics, he tried to explain how the country went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump by writing Confessions of a Campaign Manager. Then he wrote Oasis, a desert-fantasy novel that examined what makes a family and how refugees should be treated. Krishnan is always looking to make a political statement with his writing, because he knows politics seeps into every aspect of society.
Privilege is the first in his WP Trilogy, an #ownvoices series about an Indian-American set in modern-day NYC, followed by Power (Book 2) and Promise (Book 3). In Privilege, Rakshan Baliga will have to choose between the American Dream… and his own. New York’s drug problem is Rakshan’s solution. Getting his hands on a super drug called WP could earn him glory, power, and a chance to win back his ex. But stealing it from the Top 1% is costly, and if Rakshan isn’t careful he’ll pay with his life.
And in the WP Trilogy, readers will find an examination of the Indian-American diaspora, toxic masculinity, racism as magic, misogyny, LGBT rep, and, most importantly, an answer to the question: what does it take for an immigrant to succeed in America? Krishnan’s hero, Rakshan Baliga, lives in an alt-present America where WP is a magical drug that is distributed freely to white people. The drug affects people differently, giving some super speed but others super strength, enhanced perception, and super intelligence. Rakshan works at a hedge fund and is about to propose to his girlfriend, but in one day he loses both his job and the girl and believes WP can fix his life. He devises a plot to steal it from his former employer and takes four childhood friends along for the ride.
Interview with Bharat Krishnan
How did you develop the idea for Rakshan’s story?
I was feeling very helpless with the way the 2016 elections went and I felt betrayed by the Democratic Party that I’d served my entire professional life. And you have to remember, the Black Lives Matter movement was still not viewed very favorably in November 2016. In fact, I remember working on a campaign in New Mexico in 2014 when Trayvon Martin was murdered and feeling this same way. And nothing changed. Not between 2014 to 2016 to when I started writing Privilege in 2018. It seemed like a whole host of issues were making themselves known in plain sight, and the country just kept ignoring them and ignoring them until finally the natural result of that ignorance was Trump’s ascendancy. And then you saw it on the other side almost overnight, with the BLM movement gaining popularity and gun safety laws being passed and suburban women coming out hard against Republicans. This book was borne of all those hopes and fears.
Your novels seem to cross genres in a very innovative way, including adventure, romance, and politics. How do you keep track of these different threads? Do you outline and, if so, how extensively?
I outline extensively. Pages upon pages upon pages. I start with a plot, then flesh out the characters needed to serve that plot, and through it all the world-building takes shape according to what the plot and characters need. I’m proud of the fact that while I do write across genres extensively, my readers can always spot a throughline in my books of radical emotional honesty and politics.
How did you get started writing? And which came first for you – fiction or nonfiction?
When I left politics, I knew I wanted to write a memoir about my times on the trail. I’d worked in over a dozen states and I’d worked at the local level, gaining an appreciation for the importance of local government. So that was how I got started, with nonfiction. Once I knocked out the first book, I thought the idea of writing other books was less scary, so I just kept going.
Having worked for a decade in politics, which is more satisfying for you as an author – writing your nonfiction Confessions book or turning your insider knowledge of that world into a realistic political thriller?
Great question. I really enjoyed writing Confessions because I feel like that’s a terrific way to get to know me as a person. But when it comes to why I love being an author, that’s fiction. Taking that knowledge and churning out this tome of a book that people have made fan art for and sent me their own theories, that’s really fun.
What advice could you share for novice writers wanting to get started writing a series?
So many people think there are rules and routines you have to follow. To be an author, you’re only required to do one thing: publish a book. Whatever it takes, whatever that means to you, just sit down and write. You can spend your whole life waiting for inspiration to strike or worried that you won’t be able to execute this idea you have correctly, but just give it a shot. You eat a whale one bite at a time. So just sit down and write 200 words a day and within a year, that’ll be a book.
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m writing a prequel to Privilege, actually. It doesn’t have anything to do with Rakshan; it’s about Sadiya and Maadhini during their college years. I’m not sure when that’ll be out, but you should sign up for my mailing list here to find out!
This is for book authors but can be applicable to any kind of short video.
Lumen5 is a tool I’ve used to make short (1:30 or less) “book trailers”, which are essentially short video content like a movie trailer to get readers excited about your story before your book is published.
I gave a presentation for Mystery Writers of America NorCal Chapter today on Facebook LIVE about book trailers – what they are, why they’re useful, some digital marketing metrics, and I showed 2 example book trailers that I’ve made and then gave a demo of the Lumen5 tool. See the recording of the live broadcast here: https://www.facebook.com/MWANorCal/videos/859001841331798
Gone are the days of paying $9,000 for a book trailer that takes 3 months to produce. Now you can make them yourself using easy, straightforward online tools like Lumen5 and many others. My video takes you through the 4-step process of creating a script, choosing a template, selecting music, and then selecting video clips to tell your story.
If you need a book trailer or short video and don’t want to create one, email me and I can help: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit my website to see some of the different types of book trailers and videos I’ve created: lisatowles.com/bio.
I’m so excited to unveil this month’s Author Spotlight. When I think about what makes a story and a writer’s voice authentic, it’s when someone draws on their own life experience, knowledge, and wisdom to create a new world that readers will want to inhabit. Author Louis Kirby has certainly done this with his bestselling medical thriller, Shadow of Eden.
Kirby is a medical doctor – specifically a neurologist specializing in the research and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Kirby served as the principal investigator on 400 human clinical trials, has presented at national and international conferences on drug development and has consulted for the government and the pharmaceutical industry. With Shadow of Eden, he has turned his intimate knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry into a chillingly realistic portrayal of how the drug safety system can be corrupted. Throughout his life he has been drawn to writing. While in medical school, he published several stories, one landing him in hot water with the Dean of Medicine.
What’s Shadow of Eden about?
Eden, the miraculous new weight loss drug, rips through a society intoxicated by the allure of attainable physical perfection. It is at once more ubiquitous than Tylenol and more fabled than Viagra . . . yet it harbors a deadly secret, putting millions at risk. Dr Steve James discovers its fatal flaw and suddenly finds himself in the crosshairs of a determined assassin. In Washington, D.C., bewildered White House staffers and Cabinet members scramble to cover up President Dixon’s alarmingly erratic behavior while managing an escalating confrontation with China over Taiwan. Dr. James, running from the relentless contract killer, realizes he alone may know what is wrong with the President—with less than twenty-four hours before war begins with China. Shadow of Eden will take you on a non-stop breathless rollercoaster of intrigue, murder, corruption and sabotage.
Get an inside look at the author and his process as he discusses Shadow of Eden and other books below.
You’re a doctor, a researcher, a consultant, a CEO – you wear many hats. What does a typical day look like for you?
It has been an interesting trajectory getting to where I am. When in med school, I figured I’d be a practicing doctor for my entire career, but soon after I joined a practice, I realized I had to find new challenges. And I did. I started and grew a clinical research company, and after selling it, I moved into drug development consulting where I help guide the development of therapeutics for brain disorders. Each phase has given me growth opportunities and new insights into the world. These days, I work from home, pushing emails and trying to avoid the video feed on my Zoom calls.
How much of Shadow of Eden is fiction, and how much is based on real research, technologies, and real-world medical scenarios?
Research is one of the fun parts of writing my thrillers. For Shadow, I talked my way into a 747 while flying over Greenland (spectacular!), I spent half a day with a former admiral and top gun pilot, interviewed a former assistant director for the CIA and I personally explored the National Cathedral and Smithsonian museums where critical scenes take place. I discussed my underlying medical theory with experts and they validated my approach. Basically, all the scientific details and facts are real, which makes the story so believable and, I hope, chilling.
How much of Dr. Steve James is based on your own experience as a doctor? How does he transform as a character as a result of his trials and challenges in this book?
A neurologist as an action hero runs counter to all expectations. So I place a perfectly normal doctor, curious and thorough, into an unwinnable situation, but one where the option is either crumble and die or figure out a way to protect his family and his livelihood and ultimately prevail. The path is arduous, yet it tempers the doctor and he emerges a different person. I like to think we all have a core of steel that emerges when tested, so his trajectory, while unexpected is entirely real and relatable.
Shadow of Eden is a wonderfully compelling story. Where did you get the idea for the plot?
You pick up your new prescription from the pharmacy and take your first pill. Most of us don’t give it a second thought. In the back of our minds, we understand that the system of research and regulatory review has ensured that our drugs are safe and effective. But what if the system was manipulated, deliberately, with the intent to make billions? Even though legal, it is still the drug trade… And my career in drug development gave me the inside knowledge of knowing exactly how that could be pulled off.
Why do you think dirty politics and corporate corruption are such tantalizing topics to readers of thrillers?
Any individual is singularly powerless. Corporations and politicians wield considerable influence over us. We hope they act ethically and toward a common good, yet we are so often disappointed and injured when they don’t. As a result, they make both frightening and believable villains. Thrillers, by and large, take on these corrupt impulses to bend the arc of justice in the right direction. And as readers, we root for the success of these heroes, as they (usually) represent what we would do given their skills and position.
What are you writing now and do you have any new books coming out anytime soon?
I have an agent looking at The Genesis Agenda, the first book of a new trilogy. I love history, so I feature a just-translated ancient Sumerian tablet that launches a scientific expedition to discover the fabled Garden of Eden. Of course there are a lot of twists and turns including secret agendas and unknown antagonists that our edgy, conflicted hero has to root out, if he can stay alive long enough. I ground the narrative in real science and have fun exploring biblical history and let it recapitulate in unexpected ways that drive the narrative.
What is your approach to writing villains? Who is the antagonist and how did you create him?
I have two, really. The first is Viktor Morloch, the charismatic, patrician CEO of Trident Pharmaceuticals. He’s smart, ruthless, calculating, and absolutely unflappable. Think Roy Scheider in pinstripes. The other is an ex-FBI assassin, Kirk Mallis who is cool, poised, relentless, and cunning. Yet they are written as real people. We get inside each of their heads, we see their successes and their frustrations, and I want the reader to care about what happens to them.
Do you have a philosophy behind your choice of topics or how you approach storytelling?
I love science and medicine and how they shape our culture, politics religion, and philosophy. Think how “the pill” shaped our cultural psyche and led to the sexual revolution and gave women control over their reproduction. In this case, Eden, the blockbuster weight loss drug, exploits the obsession America has with physical looks, and the extent to which we will go to achieve those ends. All my books have a core of science around which I explore the broader societal impacts that interest me, and ultimately, I hope the reader.
You can buy Shadow of Eden from Amazon as well as other retailers.
Les Edgerton is a multiple award-winning fiction and non-fiction author with 22 books in print. His fiction has been nominated for or won the Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, Edgar Allen Poe Award (short story category), Derringer Award, among others. He has a B.A. (with Honors of Distinction) from Indiana University, an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, he’s taught creative writing for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program, Trine University, St. Francis University, New York Writer’s Workshop, and was Writer-in-Residence for University of Toledo. He is an ex-con who served two years of a 2-5 year sentence at Pendleton Reformatory in the 1960’s for second-degree burglary, and he served 4 years in the U.S. Navy as a cryptographer.
As my mentor and personal friend, I had the honor of talking with Les about his upcoming release, Hard Times, his inspirations, and his writing classes below.
You historically create very multi-dimensional villains in your novels, such as Truman Ferris Pinter in your novel The Rapist. How do you do that?
I don’t write about villains and heroes. The protagonist is simply the person through whose point of view you receive the story, and the antagonist is the individual whose goals most conflict with those of the protagonist. I don’t see morality as part of either character.
Who inspired your legendary character, Lucius Tremaine from your upcoming book Hard Times?
He’s based on a hack I knew in Pendleton, who saved my life. His name was Jones and we just called him Jonsesy. I’d received my parole and, not knowing any better, I talked about it – something you just don’t do. If you’ve gotten parole, you have something of value to guard and other inmates know that and take advantage of it. The day after I got my parole and was celebrating it, there was a conflict at the prison barber school that resulted in me chasing another inmate around the room with my straight edge. The guard on duty was Jonesy and luckily he separated us, probably saving my life. But Jonesy saved my life again by not writing me up. Had he done so, I certainly would have kissed my parole goodbye, might have become institutionalized and never gotten out. And I easily could have ended up dead in the process. Jonesy took a huge risk by not writing me up; he could have lost his job and that took a lot of courage. I knew then I had to use his character in a book somewhere down the line, and I did. He’s Lucious.
How much outlining do you do personally, and what guidance do you give your writing students about it?
Outlining is a requirement in the novel-writing classes I teach online. But it’s probably a far cry from what many people think of as outlining. No pages and pages of Roman numerals. It’s five simple statements, consisting of 16-24 words. Words. Here’s how it works:
The first statement is the inciting incident.
The next three statements are the result of the three major proactive actions the protagonist takes to resolve his/her story problem.
The last statement is the resolution, which must contain both a win and a loss for the protagonist.
The thing is, I wouldn’t take a trip to Alaska without a map and I wouldn’t dream of taking the trip of 250-400 pages without a map either. I know from experience that such trips usually peter out around page 80. Such an outline requires thinking through the novel. And as sometimes happens, better actions appear to the writer, and that’s no big deal. They simply sit down and rewrite the outline and they always have a solid guide for the novel. Since close to three dozen people have either published or obtained a good agent over the course of my classes and personal coaching, I think that’s proof that this process works. Even so-called “pantsers” such as Hemingway outlined – he just didn’t call them outlines. He called them “Draft #1,” “Draft #8,” and so on. I used the same outline for a short story, a novel and a screenplay of the same story, The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping.
In addition to writing, you’re a deeply committed and inspiring writing teacher. What are some do’s and don’ts for novice writers?
Don’t try to “create” characters. Simply go to the deepest part of yourself—that part deep within that nonwriters never want to reveal… and reveal yourself through your characters. It’s extremely hard and most are unwilling or unable to do so, but if you want to create truly memorable work, I think it’s necessary.
As for novice writers, I’d urge them to simply try to write the book they wish someone else had written and hadn’t. Don’t worry about what you think you know or don’t know. The only way I know to become a good writer is to be a good reader. If I get someone in class who reads very little, I know that person isn’t going to make it. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Jim Harrison said it best: “Read the whole of the past 400 years of Western literature and, if time permits, read the same of Eastern literature. For if you don’t know what passed for good in the past, how can you know what passes for good today?”
How do your writing classes work?
I teach 10-week classes that go on continually. When we finish one, we take a two-week break and begin the next one. Classes are purposely small – only 10 writers at a time, because I spend a lot of time with everybody’s work. The fee is $400 for the class, and you can also audit the class for $50, which means you can see what everyone else is doing but you’re not an active participant. The goal of each class is to have everyone become published well. Right now, we’re at week 5 of the current class – taking a week off to recharge batteries and then the final stretch, after which we’ll have a two-week break and start anew. If anyone’s interested, email me at email@example.com.
Thomas Burchfield’s short story, “Lucky Day”, will be published TODAY, May 5th, as part of the Berkeley Noir anthology by Akashic Press. He is the author of Butchertown, a ripping 1920’s gangster thriller, praised as “incendiary” by David Corbett. Thomas’ vampire novel, Dragon’s Ark, won IPPY, NIEA, and Halloween Book Festival awards for horror in 2012. He is also the author of the original screenplays Whackers, The Uglies, Now Speaks the Devil, and Dracula: Endless Night (ebook editions only). Published by Ambler House Publishing, all are available on Amazon, B&N, Powell’s, and other retailers. Thomas’ reviews and essays have appeared in Swing Time Magazine, Posthoc.m, Bright Lights Film Journal, The Strang Magazine, and Filmfax. Thomas also posts essays on Medium.com and his own webpage, A Curious Man. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Elizabeth.
Thomas, warmest congrats on today’s release of Berkeley Noir and the publication of your story, “Lucky Day”. A few questions for you below.
What kinds of inspiration do you draw from the Bay Area and do you feel this region cultivates writing and creativity?
Wherever we find people, we find trouble in the form of murder and its related skullduggeries. But the Bay Area is blessed to be an international hub dotted with hills, often blanketed by fog, that great trope of mystery. Its vistas provide a playground for the imagination through stories of suspense and intrigue; from Mark Twain through Dashiell Hammett to Fritz Leiber, Jr. and across the bay into the East Bay hills. Though I don’t see myself as a regional writer per se, I can’t say the Bay Area hasn’t sparked my imagination.
What was the first form of your published writing?
Stories. Like I suspect all writers do, I started out by copying my favorites, back when I was in shorts and suspenders. A.A. Milne and Bram Stoker were the first writers I stole from (along with horror movies). That’s how we learn and don’t let any indignant barking snob tell you otherwise. Then as I got better, I got bored with being a literary thief and starting to do my own conjuring.
Where did you learn how to write, and who were your most influential writing teachers?
The best writing group I was in was James N. Frey’s writing workshop in the mid-1980’s, where I learned structure. After a while, writers groups decay into ideological conformity. They’re essential for learning the basics, but after a while, some writers need to lift anchor and ship out alone. Now, I submit my closing drafts to several different readers and use a developmental editor for final decision making.
What genre do you feel closest to, as a writer and a reader?
As a writer, I’m drawn to tales of suspense, mystery, espionage, noir, westerns, and horror. As a reader, I’m a pluralist: anything, so long as it’s good. I read more non-fiction than fiction. I do a lot of research-reading, plus history and theology for deeper delights. For fiction, Nabokov through Eric Ambler to vintage Luke Short western novels – solid genre novels the world could always use more of.
What advice would you give a novice writer who was inspired to write a book but didn’t know how to start?
Start anywhere you like. Read some how-to’s, but not too many so you don’t become swamped with confusing information and opinion. Everyone does it differently…and so will you. The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, David Corbett’s The Art of Character and The Compass of Character, The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer are a few. Read enough of these, and let your sense and spirit guide you the rest of the way.
Writing badly is not a crime – failing to recognize and fix it is. So don’t be afraid to write badly. But do NOT show your first draft to anyone – not me, not your dog. Put it away for a while, then look at it again with fresh eyes and you’ll see all your mistakes.
Where do your ideas come from?
“Lucky Day” sprouted out of an anecdote told me by a colleague at work. Butchertown started with a gnawing dissatisfaction while reading a subgenre of crime fiction. And Dragon’s Ark, my Dracula novel, was sparked by a teasing remark from my wife while we were wandering the California Sierra one twilight evening.
How disciplined are you as a writer?
I’m a mixture of consistent and persistent. I write about four days a week, due to my day job. Inspiration doesn’t come that often, and I always try to keep music on, especially when things feel a little dreary.
How do you think living through the experience of this pandemic is likely to impact your writing going forward?
The impact will be subterranean. I see my first duty is to enchant and entertain. If the coronavirus manages to infect a particular narrative, then it’ll happen. I won’t push it. There’s nonfiction and journalism for that. Fiction is freedom, maybe the only free place there is in this tangled world.
Berkeley Noir and Thomas’s short story Lucky Day are available for purchase on Amazon in paperback and Kindle HERE.
This is actually the past. In the present, you used a time machine to come back to this point in time and correct a mistake you did. Unfortunately, your memory of events from this point to the present was erased in the process.