I wanted to write something new—something big. Something “high concept,” a term they use in television. Something big, bold, maybe even sexy. My husband and I were watching cable news over dinner one night and saw Jon Mark Carr’s plane coming in for landing. He had been extradited from another country (Sweden?) and he said he had a story to tell. He claimed he killed Jonbenet Ramsey. (He lied.)
The jet Jon Mark Carr came in on belonged to the Sheriff’s office in Colorado. All the reporters stood, microphones ready, waiting for the Sheriff’s plane to touch down in the meadow runway– must-see television!
And that was how Glenn and I came up with the idea for THE SHOP. Right there as we cooked dinner and watched Jon Mark Carr’s plane come in.
We wanted something big, high-concept, and chock-full of choices for law enforcement. We wanted someone in high office to utilize the death of a celebrity to distract from some of the unsavory things he was doing.
And since our bad guys needed a distraction from all the illegal things they were doing in government, they decided to create a big one: the murders of a famous female star and the young, glamorous people on her reality show.
That was how we came up with THE SHOP.
THE SHOP probably ran me more than I ran it. So after the first couple of pages, I realized that my book–THE SHOP itself–was dictating terms. More to the point, Assassin #1 was running THE SHOP.
It’s my fault. First, I gave Assassin #1 a neat name. As a kid who went to catechism long ago, the church Saint Cyril’s stuck in my mind. A good enough name for a guy with a walk-on part: Cyril Landry.
So, I started typing the scene. Bad guys had been sent to kill the star of the reality show to create days of coverage by the media, thus taking the heat off some U.S. government hijinks no one wanted anyone to know about. So I started writing:
Landry thought: The kid’s positively giddy.
Landry had been getting comfortable with the night, watching from the woods as the party wound down at the house on Castle Creek Road, people getting into their expensive cars and driving away, leaving just the core group.
Shortly after, the young man came out and made his unsteady way to the deck railing. He had spiky hair and a scarecrow frame. He looked down at the rushing water, then up at the stars. Landry could see his smile even from where he was. The kid’s skinny arms hugged his body, as if he couldn’t quite believe his good fortune. Tipsy—more than tipsy, inebriated—but something had delighted him, thrilled him. Something had gone very right for him today.
The young man twirled around, looking at the stars. Mesmerized by them. He could have been the leading man in his own musical—the wonderful story of his life. He could barely contain his joy. He had less than an hour to live.
* * *
As they reached the walkway, Landry said, “Gloves and masks from now on.”
They split up. Jackson would go in first, through the back door. Landry and Davis would go in the front. Green would remain outside; he was surveillance only.
They waited for Jackson to report in. “Upstairs clear.”
“Two. The couple. They were laying in bed.”
“Lying,” Landry said.
And that’s when I knew. Landry was NOT going to take this bit part of Assassin #1 lying down. This faceless killer turned out to be a star in his own right.
A hired killer who corrects people’s grammar.
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With all the talk about building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, it brought to mind the scene I wrote with the help of former Special Forces operator John Peters, on trucks illegally crossing the border between the U.S. and Mexico. This is from my Cyril Landry thriller, SPECTRE BLACK, which came out last year.
In SPECTRE BLACK, the bad guys were smuggling goods into Mexico, not out. Here’s the scene:
Landry doubted that the semi trucks were empty. In fact, even if they’d found a way to go through Customs, they very likely would have made it through without a hitch. Customs had drive-through x-ray machines, but these trucks no doubt had the technology to blank out their x-ray, making the inside of the truck box appear empty. Yes, the Border Patrol had dogs, but dogs couldn’t sniff out weapons—guns were just metal and oil. And if the scanners were aced out…there would be no problem at
It was the unexpected thing. The truth was, the Border Patrol wasn’t as worried about contraband being smuggled into Mexico from the United States than the other way around.
Jolie stared into the darkness, wondering if her eyes would play tricks—or whether she’d see them at all. She knew that their target didn’t want anyone to see his blacked-out trucks. Or even get wind of their passing.
Landry checked in with Jolie. She answered immediately, her voice low.
“Looks like they’re taking the easy route. We’re right here. Can you see us?”
As they spoke, the car leading the short convoy went dark, and so did the others. The place was ideal: a dark spot, no lights, no contrast: Dark.
Suddenly, a tow truck came from the Mexican side, parked, and two men jumped out and ran to the fence. They used precision tools to cut grooves toward the top of the iron fence, eighteen feet between them. They worked from opposite sides, using plasma cutters shielded by light-weight steel shields—a little circle around the nozzle of each gun.
Otherwise, the light would be seen for miles.
It would take them all of five seconds to cut and drop the fence. When the trucks were through, they’d use the tow truck’s pulley to replace the fence, and tap-weld the fence here and there to make it would look as if it had never been cut.
The lead semi, which had been idling, shifted gears. In another moment it would nudge the fence, causing it fall flat. And then the semi would drive over the prone fence and right into Mexico.
Time to stop it.
Find out what happens next in SPECTRE BLACK!
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You know about that TV show “ripped from the headlines”.
There’s very little that’s new under the sun, and that goes for homicides, as well. And in the case of homicide, one factor stands out: psychopathy.
Here’s an interesting fact: psychopaths are pretty much all the same. There isn’t much “there” there. Yes, they can be cunning. Yes, they can be smart—very smart. Yet all of them are predators, whether they’re just ruining a co-worker’s day, or destroying a family unit, or killing someone because they feel like it. It’s all a matter of degree.
Because they are so empty inside, you wouldn’t think they would be all that interesting. But this is where character meets horror; a garden-variety intellect can overcome the odds by its willingness to do something terrible—and there are plenty of opportunities for that. Psychopaths are hunters. They can sense the weak animal in the herd. If three girls are at a nightclub drinking, the psychopath knows which one to cut from that herd. The one who will give them the least trouble, the one who will comply. They have a killer instinct, whether they’re driving a hard business deal or stalking a victim. They are predators. Even the psychopath who never kills a soul will destroy lives in other ways. And the people who find themselves in the rubble wonder, “How could she do this to me?” “How did this happen?”
Sociopaths and psychopaths live among us, and they look like everybody else. They have the same foibles, the same appetites, the same good looks or extra poundage or excellent teeth. They live in neighborhoods, they have cars, they have children, they have wives or husbands. But, wonder of wonders! Things never go right around a psychopath. The people who are touched by them, who live with them, often are off-kilter, worried about things—even vague worries—and they have a bad feeling, they feel angry, feel sad, feel put-upon, feel wretched. And usually, they don’t realize that those feelings are usually right at the surface when they’re around a certain person: a person who makes them feel bad.
Not all psychopaths are killers. That said, psychopaths are basically the same. They may not kill you, but they will find ways to hurt you. Even small ways. And you find yourself stepping back emotionally from them, you find yourself watching your step, watching what you say, because deep down inside, you don’t trust them.
Worse than that, if you’re long in the company of a psychopath, you don’t trust yourself. You might second-guess yourself. Or make excuses for a person who has no regard for you at all. Thinking they are normal human beings, and are driven by the same forces you are. It’s what you know. What you expect.
There are warning signals. People know when something’s wrong with a person, and many of them take a step back. Maybe they’re polite about it, but it’s like an animal smelling a poisoned carcass. Better just unentangle. Still, psychopaths can be charming. They can read a person. They know how to manipulate the weak sheep they pick out of the herd, and they know just how far to go and when to pull back, so that the victim wonders if it’s just her imagination.
And then we come to the famous psychopaths. The killers. They’re no different from the garden-variety psychopath (both psychopaths and sociopaths have a very dull inner life), except for the fact that they enjoy the whole predatory experience, especially the killing. Sadistic psychopaths are not brilliant. They just don’t care, and they have a certain animal cunning. They can sense the weakest animal in the herd. They know which deer they can take down.
Without that cunning, they would be completely empty. That they can put something over on you, or even take your life (depending upon their appetite) gives them a lift.
How do smart people fall for these predators? They assume that these folks are just like them: driven by the same wants and needs. And the predators hide in plain sight, acting like a normal person, looking like a normal person, and fool you because they’re so good at this.
And that is how I came to write my work in progress, LADIES MAN, in which a smart, sensible woman crosses the path of a killer, and never suspects what’s behind the mask.
Until it’s too late.
My husband Glenn and I went out yesterday on a beautiful and sunny Tucson morning to go get a Christmas tree. I love that. Just to smell that spicy pine scent takes me back to when I was a kid, dressed in my fringed Annie Oakley outfit, draping those shimmering strands called “Icicles” on the tree. When I really believed that Santa was coming—and I’d stay up and then fall asleep and just miss him. He was a wily one. Today I’m hanging ornaments on the tree. Many of them are very old—the ones that survived my childhood. Another thing survived my childhood. My parents had an aluminum tree (way back) and a color wheel. I still have the color-wheel and it’s rotating right now, casting pine shadows on the ceiling, going from red, to yellow, to blue, to green.
We all have traditions. Big families, small families. Pets. People coming from all over. On a sunny Arizona day, we put the old lights (again, these are the old ones, from long ago) up on the roof. Generations of cats have been outside with us, enjoying the fact that we were working assiduously. In their way, they all enjoyed the ceremonial Light Stringing.
I know you guys all have your own traditions, and if you like, please share them on my Facebook Author Page—I’d love that!
Happy Holidays to you all, and a joyous, peaceful, and love-filled season.
Maggy and Glenn
I studied to be an opera singer. I did pretty well, had talent, but eventually it came to me that I was trying something that did not work for me. I got two degrees and played a few leading roles, despite stage fright, which stuck with me ALWAYS. Then one day sanity knocked on my door, and I realized that when I was younger, all I did was write and illustrate “books.”
One night, Glenn and I were watching “The New Twilight Zone”… series, and there were natives in the Amazon jungle who appeared whenever the guy aimed his camera at the landscape. And they were coming at him with spears. He’d have to take their picture right quick to stop them. We brainstormed it and thought it would be great to have an old camera that took pictures of the past. And we knew the EXACT place to set the story: Bisbee, Arizona.
Bisbee is spooky as hell, and the buildings are the same as they were at the turn of the century. PERFECT. And so I came up with an old box camera that took pictures in the present – but these pictures developed as pictures from the past.
And just like that, I started writing (when I was a kid, I wrote tons of stories, before getting sidelined into opera singing). I had a lot to learn, but I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun as I had on that quest. I finished the book, found an agent, and tried to sell it. It didn’t sell for a couple of years, but finally ended up at Kensington (DARKSCOPE, a Pinnacle paperback). I’ll never forget the day I went into Frys and there was my book on the racks. There was a lot to learn, and I’ve come a long way since then, but that first book – like a first painting or a first dog show ribbon or (especially) a new baby – A first is always something exhilarating, and will stay with you forever.
What was a First for you, and did you think you were half-crazy to try it?
I have been lucky enough to find a good man to live my life with.
A large part of this, of course, is due to his parents and mine. Both of his parents were good and kind and smart, but more than that, they had integrity.
I think “integrity” is at the heart of the Zero the Hero story.
Let me back up a bit. My mother-in-law, Jean McCreedy, had a rich spiritual life. She explored her inner space, finding many ways to turn the Rubik’s Cube of her life. She was a questioner. She was the kind who would follow the path and then, if that path petered out, she would go beyond it.
Creative people always try to go farther. They want to learn more, and often they want to learn about themselves.
As a writer, I can relate. There are many ways I have approached writing (especially when I’m stuck)—there are other neural pathways that I try to access. Here’s just one of them. If I’m having a hard time moving forward on a story, I’ll go for a walk—and plan NOT to think of the book I’m writing.
In theatre, there’s a saying: “Try NOT to think of the White Bear.” It was a way of accessing the stuff underneath, because God only knows, if you tell yourself not to do something, part of you will want to do it in the worst way. And that gives you access to something more that you can use on stage.
Like the White Bear, Zero the Hero is a way to reach farther with the mind and soul. His home (which is whimsical) has an open floor plan. I think Jean deliberately made her creatures, including Zero, to be open-ended and full of possibility. There are spaces to dance around in. It’s not the neat, small spaces that many of the wonderful coloring books out there provide. Her story is bigger than that, and more things are possible.
I couldn’t leave the book alone. I used soft-core colored pencils, a whole host of them, and shaded from one color to another. I went a little crazy, too, filling some spaces with … I dunno, I guess you’d call them dapples. Like you’d see on a horse.
There are lots of fantastic coloring books out there-beautiful ones. But this one, I believe, is kind of a grownup’s coloring book, where YOU make the decisions, and you have more space to fill, and more ways to go.
Getting into that space and time, I left a bunch of unnecessary stuff behind. I think that that is the essence of what Jean wanted to achieve with her coloring book.
She wanted people to explore the spaces, not just the outlines.
And she wanted them to discover the creativity in themselves.
You can find ZERO THE HERO: ADULT COLORING BOOK FOR MEDITATION AND RELAXATION on Amazon.com. https://www.amazon.com/Zero-Hero-Coloring-Meditation-Relaxation/dp/1939145201/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1476638912&sr=8-9&keywords=zero+the+hero
Books do one thing that television and movies can’t do:
They give you your own personal experience. Reading calls upon you to see what YOU see, and while it might be similar to the author’s intention, what you see comes from where you live, who your family is, how you see the world, the experiences you’ve had. If you lived in Greenland, you would experience a different world than a person who lives, say, in Tucson, Arizona.
I’ve never been to Greenland, so if someone describes it, I still see it my way: a vast platform of ice, populated by polar bears. Or maybe it’s taken from a TV show I saw as a child—Eskimos fishing. It comes from everything I’ve learned up to this point.
Childhood, school, the area where I live, what the people are like in my neighborhood, if I live way out on a ranch somewhere or cheek-to-jowl in a crowded city. People have mutual experiences, like school, learning to drive a car, your job. Your car might be an expensive beauty, and mine might be falling apart.
So we see everything through the prism of our own minds and experiences—and books give us the freedom to do just that.
MY view of a cabin in the woods, depending on the area you or I live in, would look different from YOUR cabin in the woods. My picture of a strong female cop might be different from your idea of a strong female cop. She could be massive and strong. She could look like the cop on Criminal Minds. She could be red-haired, freckled, model-thin, with a whip-smart mind and a smart mouth to go with it. Whoever she is, she’s YOUR person. You made up your half of her.
If my character is driving on a lonesome winding highway in the middle of the night, YOU’RE driving on a road that might be like it, but it’s all your own—it’s your road. You fill in the pieces of the puzzle. That, in a nutshell, is the wonder of reading.
And because you hold the other piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I respect you and I respect what you add to the story. It takes two to tango. And I can’t help but wonder: what do YOU see?
Here are five subjects that have appeared in my books. I’m going to furnish you with a short description of each scene, and it’s up to you to fill in the blank. What does it LOOK LIKE?
Please post those pictures here on my Pinterest Page. Choose as many as you’d like. I’m really curious how you see these places and people.
1. A cabin in the woods near Aspen, Colorado—the opening scene of my thriller, The Shop.
2. A guy out in the boonies with a camper and a dog on a chain—from The Survivors Club.
3. A bombed-out house in Iraq with a secret stash of incredible riches—from Hard Return.
4. A bandshell in a western town—from Darkness on the Edge of Town.
5. A horsewoman teaching a riding class—from The Survivors Club.
I wonder how different your photos will be from other peoples’ photos, or what I saw as I wrote these scenes. I really want to know what YOU see. Go to https://www.pinterest.com/carson9648/