Review: INTO THE ASHES by Lee Murray – an intense thriller that will have you holding your breath, and perhaps your heart

Screenshot_20190214-133937_FacebookAll hell is breaking loose in Lee Murray’s INTO THE ASHES right from the start. A constant series of eruptions coupled with activity from the volcano have prompted an extensive evacuation of parts of New Zealand’s North Island. NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna* is ordered to evacuate people from the area and has no idea how just how complicated that’s going to be.

First, the ground is splitting apart. Second, there are fire demons that may or may not be wreaking havoc and claiming lives. Third, there are rivers of rubble blocking roads and sweeping people and vehicles away.

Oh, and there just happen to be a group of armed convicts from the prison who are on the loose with a dangerous leader who is determined not to be charged for the murder of a guard that he commits in order to gain his freedom.

Add in that Taine’s ex-girlfriend, Jules, is on the mountain and is taken hostage by the convicts and you have a cat-and-mouse game with Taine determined to rescue Jules, but forced to overcome obstacles every step of the way.

This is an edge-of-your-seat white-knuckle ride that is action packed and intense. You never know what will happen on the next page. Murray is an expert at weaving multiple plot lines and perspectives together and always keeps the reader straight so they know whose eyes they’re seeing the world through and where they are. As the characters intersect the obstacles increase and the body count rises. Both Taine and Jules are coming to terms with the fact that they still love each other, but equally aware of the likelihood that they’ll never get a chance to put things right.

Lee Murray has been a guest at Toe Six. Check out her actor picks to play Taine and Jules here. Learn about her writing assistant, Bella, here. Read an interview about Into the Sounds here. And then Lee was back with Dan Rabarts to talk about their collaboration here.

* Completely personal note. In three of my novels set in Canada I have a protagonist named Tain, who is Native. And in my novel Harvest of Ruins my protag’s surname is McKenna. How can I not love a character who combines two of my favorite names to make one supercharacter (who thinks he’s a superhero)? And he has some Indigenous blood from one of New Zealand’s tribes as well, so he’s in tune with the spiritual aspects of the story.
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Imogen’s Story: B Fleetwood talks about how a novel became a trilogy and what’s next for Imogen

Haven’t heard of B. Fleetwood? Let’s correct that right now. I had the opportunity to read both Imogen’s Secret and Imogen’s Journey not that long ago and they are already perched on top of my best 2019 entertainment list. I could not put these books down. Ya/Coming of Age Sci Fi with a bit of romance, some tremendous worldbuilding and a riveting plot that keeps you turning the pages all hours of the day and night. I finished both books in a matter of a few days and just had to catch up with the author to find out a little more about Imogen, the idea for the story, and where things will go in book 3.

Buy Imogen’s Secret

Buy Imogen’s Journey

51jg7gt99tlThere’s a lot of worldbuilding in the Chroma series books, and there’s also a very compelling cast of characters. What came first for you – the worldbuilding or Imogen? How did Holis affect Imogen’s character as she took shape?

Imogen came first. I had imagined a character with the ability to ‘see’ lies for many years, long before I put pen to paper.

When I began to seriously consider why my main protagonist would have the ability to read Chroma, or auras (I did not want this to be a magical power), I decided there needed to be a genetic reason for her gift. Writing the first chapter, it came to me; Imogen had to be of another race, a race that had been genetically engineered. This would allow her to have all sorts of other differences, like her ability to absorb information, ‘read’ thoughts by touch and for her body to self-heal.

It became crucial to her character development for the truth to have been hidden from her; she could not know she was from the planet Holis. I wanted her and the reader to fathom it out together. As Holis developed as a tangible place, Imogen’s abilities crystallised on the page. As a new author, I am rather in awe of how her character evolved.

 

515lgq7ukalConsidering all the talk about global warming and damage to our planet, your series is both incredibly entertaining and captivating, and also timely. Every now and again we hear about other planets that have been discovered that might be capable of sustaining life. Do you think if we had the capability to reach such a planet that we’d learn from our mistakes or repeat them? Was this something that inspired you as you developed the series? (What did inspire you?) 

I studied Sociology at University, fascinated with what makes a society ‘tick’ and conversely, what makes societies break down.

I believe there must be planets out there that would support human life or alien lifeforms.

Would we make the same mistakes if we reached them? This intrigues me. I don’t have a clear answer. Do humans have a basic destructive nature they cannot escape or a capacity for nobler action? The optimist in me wants to believe humans are capable of rising above greed, self-interest and perpetuating differences. In Chroma, my superior Holans look at Earth with much disdain. And whilst it’s easy to despair of our race, I believe there is an integrity / spark within us all which, if encouraged, will allow the human race to advance to a point where we would learn from our mistakes.

 

You’ve billed this as a trilogy. Did you have a clear plan for all three books from the start? How much advance plotting did you do before you started writing? 

My decision to create Holis transformed Imogen’s Secret from a standalone novel into the first of a trilogy – I had not planned this in advance. It honestly just ‘came to me’ with an unshakeable conviction: it had to be more than one book. I knew if I was the reader, reading Imogen’s Secret, I would want to go to her home planet and see how it all worked. For a few weeks, during the writing of Imogen’s Journey, I considered finishing the tale in two books (I think I was feeling rather daunted by the task!) but as Holis became more than a vague imagining, I realised there would have to be a third book in order to do justice to the story.

 

Which character do you relate to the most in the books and why?

It would have to be Imogen. She finds out there is a whole new world out there and she cannot take things at face value if she wants to uncover the truth. She goes from being passive to active. This directly relates to the revelations I experienced at University – my coming of age –discovering the world was not all as my parents had painted it and the start of questioning everything!

 

There definitely seems to be a connection between Imogen’s people and sites on earth, such as the pyramids. Some people do believe the pyramids were built by aliens. What do you think? Or is this something you just wanted to play with in the story?

I have visited Egypt and been astounded at the building of the pyramids, temples and obelisks. The race was so advanced for the time. Do I believe aliens intervened? Not really, but I decided to play with this in the story. It makes a great link to how Holan folk ended up on Earth (more to be revealed in Book 3!).

 

There are five personality lines on Holis – Ra, Iris, Nut, Hathor and Amon Anon. If you could only choose one of those personality lines to be, which one would you pick and why?

The five lines have been lifted from general psychological theories (still used in management evaluations today). Whilst I don’t like putting people in boxes, I can see that personality traits are more dominant in some folk than others. If I had to pick just one, I guess it would be Iris (creative and imaginative – or over imaginative perhaps?) or maybe I’d be a Bi-Crypt with Hathor (compassionate and caring – I cry at the slightest thing!) as the other line? This is mainly because I don’t fit the other lines; I’m neither dominant or decisive, calm or disciplined!

BTW: the name, Iris, was originally Isis (the Egyptian Goddess) but I felt compelled to change the name to Iris after the militant terrorist group took Isis as their name. Grrr… An example of how politics influences writing!

 

If you were Imogen would it be Araz or Tarik?

Araz! The chemistry is compelling; however, he would need to lose his arrogance and grow Tarik’s sense of humour to be completely perfect!

 

Whether intended or not, there’s certainly some political commentary the books make in a subtle way. The people from Imogen’s home planet don’t even seem to question their leaders, which leads to abuse and manipulation from those in power. Was this intentional or is it just coincidence that it feels so timely given the current state of politics around the globe?

The lack of challenge by the Holan populace was intentional. With no conflicts, no disparity and no enemy, I decided to portray Holans as having become complacent in their ‘idyllic’ lives. I am also influenced by the political state of the world and the seemingly incomprehensible decisions made by supposedly intelligent beings. Just because a race is superior in intellect, it doesn’t necessarily mean they would not make the same mistakes.

 

Give us a teaser for book 3. What do we have to look forward to? What do we have to fear?

Imogen, separated from Holis and Araz, must unlock Kekara’s secret, stolen from her chambers. Could it have anything to do with the new direction being taken by the Holan regime? The reason the history of Holis has been re-written?

Imogen is unaware the regime has developed a hybrid version of the Repros. Will they follow her and can her family keep her safe?

Desperate to see Araz again and unsure if the Tractus link will be broken between their two planets, Imogen fears for Araz’s safety. She also cannot squash her unease knowing he is twenty light years away with Naomi – a penta-crypt just like her. Could this clone replace her in Araz’s affections? And is the prophecy true? Either Imogen or Naomi must die?

As the growing evil on Holis threatens to come to Earth, Imogen must fight to decide where her true destiny lies.

Killer Instinct: Barbara Winkes Writes About an Ex-Cop With Regrets and Shares Which of Her Characters She’d Take With Her to a Deserted Island

 

KICoverSR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

BW: It’s a vigilante thriller. An ex-cop killed a murderer and, after an investigation, served a sentence. She is trying to distance herself from her past, but then one of her former cases becomes active again, and she can’t stay away—even considering the risk that history could repeat itself.

SR: Where did your idea for this book come from?

BW: I wanted to work with a character that’s a little different from the usual “female cop hunting the serial killer” theme that I am drawn to as a reader and writer, because these women are by the book. Joanna threw out the book. She felt like the system failed, and took matters into her own hands, and she’s been paying for it. A new relationship and past connections create a tug of war between past and present.

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

BW: I’m thinking Arya, because of the setting. Killer Instinct is one of my darkest books, so this would probably be a good fit.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

BW: Generally, the infuriating amount of misogyny that we can’t seem to get rid of on this planet. I don’t think that vigilantism is the solution, but as a writer I have the privilege to explore those ideas in fiction.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

BW: I can easily dwell on old decisions, though in my case, there’s nothing this tragic, fortunately.

SR: If you were the right gender could you have a romantic relationship with your protagonist? Why or why not? Would it be a good relationship?

BW: If I wasn’t married…I might still find her a little intimidating. And I gave her a love interest!

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

BW: I’ve always been drawn to suspense, and serials, right from the start. I read a lot of books with characters like Nancy Drew as a child, then moved on to adult mystery and thriller series. That’s where I always wanted to go as a writer, to have a series that readers can discover and binge on. My next release after Killer Instinct will be Impressions, #8 in the Carpenter/Harding series.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

BW: I had to wait for Christmas! The book is set during the holidays, so I wanted it to come out before. The coziness of Christmas music and parties with friends present a backdrop and also a stark contrast to the isolation Joanna feels in the beginning.

SR: You have to flee the country. Where are you headed to and why that location?

BW: I hope I’ll never have to flee from Canada—it’s my home of choice! Iceland? Since we’re already used to the cold…

SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

BW: The lamp next to me? Otherwise I can only hope that the pen is truly mightier than the sword.

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

BW: Me, not so long. I write action and thrillers, but I don’t think I’d be that savvy when it comes to real zombies…Joanna, she’d be okay for a while. The book is called Killer Instinct, after all.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

BW: Write a lot, read a lot. Develop a good marketing strategy before the first book is even out (this is something I wish I’d known more about six years ago). Get early feedback from people who trust to tell you the truth. There is a lot of advice out there from many. Examine it carefully, and find out what works for you.

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

BW: Jordan Carpenter from the Carpenter/Harding series – she’s as capable as Joanna, but more by the book and less scary! Although she wouldn’t like being apart from Ellie, so she might try to intimidate me into sending her back.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

BW: James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club. I think they’d be fun to hang out with. Or Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles. Either way, we could all share a lot of stories to pass the time…

 

A

 

Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings.


Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.

 

 

 

http://www.barbarawinkes.wordpress.com

Kicking Off The New Year

Better late than never? What a month. My mac is dying in long, slow stages. Our internet was out for weeks, limiting me to tethering for work and little extra time for indulgences.

Plus the list of household repairs got longer and longer …

But what better way to return than with some exciting news for readers.

Great News For Readers! Isabella Maldonado has a Special Announcement:

death blow cover, amzAs luck would have it, my publisher has arranged to have the first two books in my series discounted during the month before publication of the third book. Please let your readers know!

Discounted 1/26/19 through 3/1/19 across all ebook vendors (Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo):

  • Blood’s Echo (Veranda Cruz #1) (9780738751337), discounted to $0.99

o   Print book on Amazon discounted to $7.99

  • Phoenix Burning (Veranda Cruz #2) (9780738753935), discounted to $1.99

o   Print book on Amazon discounted to $7.99

March 8, 2019, Book 3 in the series, Death Blow, will go on sale at bookstores (nationwide and overseas) and on Amazon!

 

To celebrate, Isabella is sharing a look into her workspace!

 

 

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Plus, we have Dana King chatting about

his new novel, Ten-Seven.

 

 

The Truth Waits Cover with quotes

 

And – lost in the holiday season shuffle –

Susanna Beard talks about what made her an author.

Plus, catch up with her TBR pile and author assistants!

Triple Threat: Three Things That Turned Susanna Beard into an Author

Formative events that made me a writer:

1. At school, my writing was often chosen by the English teacher to display at the end of term. So I always felt that I might want to write a novel. When I was about seventeen years old, I told my father this. His reaction was that I would find it far too difficult: you needed to do a tremendous amount of research to write a book. The inference was that I wasn’t clever or able enough, and although I remember thinking: ‘But I like researching’, I was certainly delayed by his response.

I’m sure he didn’t mean to be negative. My sister and I agree that he had huge respect for writers and said this because he couldn’t imagine anyone in his family achieving the dizzy heights of publishing a novel. Nonetheless I vowed that one day I would do it.

Perhaps it was his reaction that made me all the more determined.

2. In my teens, I adored my English teacher. She was perhaps the only teacher at my grammar school who earned my respect. She oozed enthusiasm for Dickens, Austen and the Brontes – and therefore so did I (to this day, Bleak House is one of my favourite Dickens novels). She loved Thomas Hardy (oh, the Mayor of Casterbridge!), and she read us Pooh Bear stories at the end of term. Just for this, she was my hero.

She would sit on a spare desk at the front of the class, fold her skirt under her demurely, and let us listen and rest. I still adore Pooh. What a woman! I know she would be proud of me now.

3. Many books have had a lasting impression on me, and it’s tempting to talk about the most recent one. But I think the one that affected me most when I first read it was Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits, published in 1982. I was stunned. It’s beautifully written, and through the skill of her writing the story has a magical, mystical feel.

I haven’t read it recently, although I promise myself all the time that I must, but I know her writing would inspire me again. It’s one of those stories that has deep, dark secrets which gradually reveal themselves through the characters and their reactions to events. The story details the life of the Trueba family, spanning four generations, following the post-colonial social and political upheavals of Chile (unnamed in the book). Allende deals with some very complex and dangerous subjects while bringing to life the fictional family.

It’s an extraordinary book, and even more so for being a debut!

251A1726Susanna is fascinated by human relationships. She can be found people-watching wherever she goes, finding material for her writing. Despite the writer’s life, she has an adventurous streak and has swum with whale sharks in Australia, fallen down a crevasse in the French Alps and walked through the sewers of Brighton – not in that order.

Her passions include animals — particularly her dogs — walking in the countryside and tennis, which clears her brain of pretty much everything.
Susanna’s debut novel, Dare to Remember, a psychological thriller, was published in February 2017; her second, The Truth Waits, was launched on 1 November 2018. She aims to keep writing, and never to get old

Creative Chaos: Isabella Maldonado’s Workspace

death blow cover, amzBy nature, I’m a neat and organized person, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend. Over the course of writing a novel, increasing levels of entropy creep into my workspace toward the end of each draft.

In a bizarre parallel with the frenetic pace of my characters hurtling toward the climax of the story, my life becomes increasingly chaotic when the end of a manuscript is in sight. I step back from social media, socializing in general, and sometimes household chores like tidying my desk.

Because I’m the designated vice-president-in-charge-of-household-papers, the pile of documents to sort, coupons to cut, receipts to file, and general detritus spreads until I consider putting on an outbreak suit to wade through it.

This stage of the process drives me a bit batty because, as I mentioned, I’m kind of a neat freak. But I’m in the flow, so there’s no stopping or slowing down to take care of routine paperwork. I vow to get to it later. The compilation of settings, plot pieces, and characters in my mind competes with the growing collection of incoming information screaming for my attention. All but the most urgent papers are pushed to the back burner as I sprint headlong toward the finish line.

At the end of the day, my husband ventures into my office with a fresh stack of mail. Scanning the desk, he raises a brow. I narrow my eyes. He wisely says nothing and puts the newest pile on a chair in the corner before slowly backing out.

True to my word, when each draft is finished, I clean and purge my workspace. The office is returned to its usual state of orderliness. Peace is restored. Like a bear in the springtime, I crawl out from the cave ready to engage the world again. Thankfully, this only seems to happen in the last month of the process.

Attached are a couple of pictures of my office as it is now. I’m embarking on a new novel, so I’ll document the before status of my surroundings. Later, I might get pics of the after status! Or not…

 

Don’t forget to check out the details here about Isabella’s books, which are on sale for a limited time, and her new release in March 2018.

 

hi rez author photo, maldonado, 600x600Isabella Maldonado is an award-winning author, retired police captain, and regular contributor on News Channel 12 (Phoenix NBC affiliate) as a law enforcement expert. Her last police position was Commander of Special Investigations and Forensics. During her career, she was a hostage negotiator, department spokesperson, and precinct commander prior to attending executive management training at the FBI National Academy in Quantico. The first Latina to attain the rank of captain on her department, she received Meritorious Service and Lifesaving Awards. Isabella is a past president of the Phoenix Metro chapter of Sisters in Crime. She lives in the greater Phoenix area, where she writes the Det. Cruz mystery series. Her debut novel, BLOOD’S ECHO, won the 2018 Mariposa Award for Best First Book. The second in the series, PHOENIX BURNING, received a starred review in Publishers Weekly and was named one of the best suspense books of 2018 by Book Riot. The third installment, DEATH BLOW, will be published on March 8, 2019 and is available for pre-order now.

Online Issue 16

Lots of crime fiction and horror goodness with Eryk Pruitt, Lucy A. Snyder, Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts, plus a resurrected article on doing great bookstore events (with insights from someone who does this for a living!) and thoughts on authors and social media and toxic tropes.

 

First, an important public service announcement:

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Here on Toe Six:

Eryk Pruitt on truth and storytelling, reading bad books and the appeal of writing short stories

Eryk Pruitt talks about the appeal of writing short stories and how the process helps him focus on lean, mean writing, as well as the inspiration he took from a man with Parkinson’s and The Knockout Game.

The Journey to Publication, Axe Throwing and Tough Protagonists: Lucy A. Snyder talks, snakes, spiders and Garden of Eldritch Delights

Your female horror fix is in: Lucy A Snyder’s Garden of Eldritch Delights puts a lot of female protagonists into stories with titles like “The Yellow Death”, “Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars” and “That Which Does Not Kill You” – just in time for Halloween.

Lucy A. Snyder’s Purrbuddy, Monte

Lucy shares about her author assistant, Monte.

Teeth of the Wolf authors Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk spending eternity with Hermione Granger, Geysercon, fighting zombies with measuring tapes and hair clips and more

Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk about whether or not they relate to their characters and who’s tougher. Dan tells us, “Matiu would kick my butt with one hand in his back pocket, and still look chill while he does it.” Plus, Lee and Dan share their casting call for Teeth of the Wolf.

Reviews:

Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Bonus:

Flashback Feature: Having a Successful Bookstore Event

Trying to figure out what will work and what won’t? Author Sarah L. Johnson speaks from experience – both as an author and as a bookstore events coordinator.

 

Over at The Big Thrill:

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? How much value do authors place on social media? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Colin CampbellEllen ByronLee MurraySandra Ruttan and DiAnn Mills as they discuss authors and social media. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!

What did we all have to say? Check out our thoughts in the comments and chime in with questions or insights. Initially, I’d planned to post a short response about most authors overestimating the value of sites like Facebook for selling books; however, recent events prompted me to expand. The other authors have weighed in as well. If you’re considering how to use social media as an author there’s plenty of food for thought.

And On Twitter:

I don’t need to rehash what was covered in my thoughts at The Big Thrill, so if you want to see what I think about the Caffeine Nights debacle and the Chuck Wendig situation, head on over to the ITW post linked to above.

However, I did see this particular gem on Twitter and thought it was worth sharing:

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And what may be the best book dedication ever goes to Megan Spooner. From her book, Hunted:

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