Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Childhood travels and snipers in the bottom drawer: an interview with KJ Howe

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the 31st instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 203rd overall edition of our long-running author interview series.

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing  writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you.

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. If you've got a favourite writer who hasn't yet been featured yet, let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Canadian thriller writer KJ Howe to Crime Watch. KJ was born in Toronto but had a peripatetic childhood, living in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean - sparking a lifelong interest in travel and other cultures.

She has worked in the business world and as a medical, health, and fitness writer. Her debut thriller, THE FREEDOM BROKER, was released in 2016 and introduced elite kidnap negotiator Thea Paris, a kickass heroine whose creation saw KJ spending time with former hostages, negotiators, hostage reintegration experts, special forces operatives, and K&R insurance executives as part of her research. KJ's second Thea Paris novel, SKYJACK, was released earlier this year.

Said Linwood Barclay:
“The Freedom Broker was no fluke. With Skyjack, Howe shows she is the real deal. An honest-to-God, first class thriller writer who will have your knuckles turning white as you flip the pages.”
KJ has been Executive Director of ThrillerFest, the annual New York City conference of the International Thriller Writers organisation. Her tales have been nominated for the Thriller and Barry Awards, and she has won three Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellent in Mystery and Suspense.

But for now, KJ Howe becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That’s a tough question, as we live in a golden age of brilliant series characters. If I had to pick just one, I’d say Nelson DeMille’s John Corey, as he has the most delightfully distinctive and irreverent voice of any protagonist out there. Nelson is also genius at giving John Corey unforgettable dialogue.  I love it when you can read a few lines of a book and even if the names were blocked out, you’d know immediately which character was talking. Now that’s a lesson in voice.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE by David Morrell.  I moved often while growing up, as my father worked in telecommunications, so we lived in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and many other places. Sometimes it was lonely being the new kid, but books were always loyal friends. When I read David’s spy trilogy, I was transported to another world, a fascinating one with spies!  I knew that if I could ever offer readers that kind of escapism, I would be a happy, happy person. 

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’m a former medical writer, so I have written countless articles about health issues. But I yearned to tell stories so I attended classes, retreats, and then returned to university to complete my Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction. My thesis was a thriller novel about a female sniper. The book had structural issues, so it will forever remain in a drawer, but the character I created will appear in an upcoming Thea Paris adventure. Nothing is ever wasted. You learn something valuable from every word you write.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I’m an avid tennis player, so you’ll often catch me with racquet in hand. I also love adventure travel, and I’ve been known to dive with Great Whites in South Africa, zip-line in the Costa Rican jungle, ride a racing camel in Jordan, scuba dive in the Red Sea, and more. I enjoy being outdoors, especially near the ocean. And I also love to learn—and that’s why I’m immersive in my research. Whether it’s about hot-wiring a car, the kinds of food the Maasai eat, or the inner workings of a kidnapping, I’m fascinated by the smallest details that can bring verisimilitude to the world I’m creating.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
For a large and bustling metropolis, Toronto has an incredible array of green space with endless trails and forested areas.  I’d be delighted to take my visitors on a hike or bike ride down to Center Island then hop on a ferry for a cruise around Lake Ontario while enjoying a decadent dinner. 

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Jack Black—hey, if he was good enough for RL Stine, he’s good enough for me. Charlize Theron or Uma Thurman would also work, because those superstars can kick some serious butt. 

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
This would be an ever-evolving answer, as I tend to be wildly enthusiastic about whatever I’m working on at that moment. If it’s fresh, I’m passionate. Right now, I’m working on book three of THE FREEDOM BROKER series, and Thea Paris is negotiating for the release of a news team kidnapped on the Jordan/Syria border, so I’m deep into research about war correspondents. My friend Ken Perry is helping, as he works as a hostile environment consultant, guarding journalists in war zones. It’s absolutely fascinating to absorb what goes on behind the camera in foreign locales. 

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
After years of hard work on my craft and storytelling skills, it was almost surreal to hold my first hardcover, THE FREEDOM BROKER. On publication day, I was in NYC for the launch to kick off my tour, and I visited my first child at the Barnes & Noble on 5th Avenue. Wow, what a moment.  But the day ended even better with Lee Child interviewing me about my kidnapping research at the Mysterious Bookshop, and we recorded the interview; a day I will always treasure.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I’ve been fortunate that most of my interactions have been lovely and fun.  Fans have used my luggage tag giveaways as earrings, asked for dedications to their dads, and requested posing for playful photos.  No one has asked to be kidnapped—yet!

Thank you KJ, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can read more about KJ Howe and her action-packed thrillers at her website, and follow her on Twitter. 

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