What: His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributing editor for their official e-zine, The Big Thrill. His latest novel is POISONED TEARS.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
Congrats on your latest novel, POISONED TEARS. Can you tell me how this story came together?
POISONED TEARS came about probably from the silliest of places, a TV Show about the most poisonous animals in world. You know, one of those Top Ten Lists. I sat there mesmerized and a part of my brain started to think “what if somebody used those animals to kill people? It’d be a perfect crime!” Yeah, I know, scary how writers pull those thoughts out of thin air. The idea stuck with me and I began developing a scenario where a person could get away with murder disguising the crimes. That’s the novel in a nutshell, the elevator pitch if you will.
My country, Honduras, used to have tight liaison with New Orleans. In fact, I have family living there. One time we were discussing books with a cousin and he suggested New Orleans. It would be the not-much-needed excuse for me to go there, besides, my cousin put the money where his mouth was and bought me the ticket! How could I refuse? I prepped for the trip and had a list of places to visit, particularly the parks around the city where my murderer drops the body.
Your protagonist, Alan Knox, is a retired P.I. with a football background. Why did you decide to make sports part of his back story?
While in New Orleans, I attended a Saints game in the Superbowl. I became a fan of the team obviously and when I wanted to add a reason for my character to hate New Orleans, losing his football career at a game there seemed like a perfect fit. Alan entered the Superdome as an athlete, and left with a knee injury so severe he still limps.
The serial killer in the book uses exotic poisonous animals as his weapon of choice. What kind of research did you do to bring this plot element to life?
Lots of research. At first, I referred to the original list I had seen, but plausibility made me drop most of it, so there I was, lurking the internet for poisonous animals and how quickly they could kill a person. Then at a high-school reunion I discovered one of my classmates had gone into marine biology. I sent her so many emails her server considered me spam. I can’t really say which animals made the final cut, but there’s a reason why a scorpion appears on the cover.
How does the writing in POISONED TEARS differ from your previous novels, TREASURE HUNT and FIREFALL? How have evolved as a writer?
Tough question, especially because at some point I may come across as presumptuous. The element that would stand out at first glance is probably word-count. Each book is longer than the previous one. I’d like to think the writing has also gotten better. Re-reading old passages from TREASURE HUNT, I see this cocky little young man who thought writing in another language would be a walk in the park. I also notice lots of detailed descriptions. I needed a paragraph to describe a man walking down an airplane aisle with a gun hidden away in a manila envelope. I still visualize everything I write, but I am more selective of which details I include. I’ve learned that I don’t need them all to tell a story, just enough to paint a picture.
Overall, the plots are getting more complex. TREASURE HUNT was a straight action adventure of a thief hired to look for a treasure, while FIREFALL had several POV’s from character who didn’t meet until the last third of the book. Now with POISONED TEARS, I develop suspense from the start. First there is a question if there really is a serial killer, then nobody believing Alan Knox for thinking that, then a few more twists that land the wrong people in jail, and so on.
You were born and raised in Honduras and write in Spanish and English. How does your background influence your approach to writing thrillers?
During the 90s I was eager to read anything I could get my hands on. A couple of friends from the US brought me two boxes of old paperbacks. Win-win situation, they cleaned their closets while I got plenty to read. The novels dated from the 70s and 80s. I read a lot of Robert Ludlum, early Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, then I became a fan of Tom Clancy. I remember reading PATRIOT GAMES when somebody told me, “Come on, José! The movie is five years old already!”
Back then I was so infatuated with thrillers that I wanted to write them, then was told Latin American authors don’t generally write thrillers. I was disappointed, but then thought it would be easier to write them in English where there is an audience for the genre. Again, cocky young man.
I became a member and volunteer in 2010. These seven years of experience have helped me stay up to date with the genre. I’ve become friends with some of the author’s I’ve interviewed so there is also the benefit of networking. This helps me especially when I can’t attend writing conferences and mingle with them there.
What other publishing plans do you have for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
Well, diversification is nice long word, isn’t it? I wrote the script for a comic book. The offer came through a friend who put in a good word for me with this Comic book guru called Charles Mossant. He’s currently running a Kickstarter for it so we’ll have to wait and see how we do there.
Also, although I’m currently working on my next stand-alone, I’m also in conversations with brilliant British author Steven Saville and we’ve agreed to a prequel to his novel SUNFAIL. I loved that book so much, specially one character that I told him I’d love to take a crack writing about. A year later he told me we could, so we’re working on that.
Some Recent Interviews:
S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, was published in October 2016. His first Tommy & Shayna crime caper, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books. The second novella in that series, CROSSED BONES, will be published in May 2017. He is also the co-host of the crime/mystery podcast, Writer Types.