THE FREEDOM BROKER by K.J. HOWE (Q&A and giveaway)

Hello, remember me? I'm still working on my "soon-to-be-online, brand-new website" but lots of travelling for full-time work (and life in general) is complicating things quite a bit. I also wanted to write a list of my recommendations for Summer Reading but that was pushed aside as well by other commitments (those that come with $$$ and that help pay the bills and feed the kids).

But hey, summer's not over so here's a short Q&A with writer K.J. Howe about her thrilling debut-novel "THE FREEDOM BROKER". It's the perfect summer read packed with explosions, murders, kidnappings, and romance; a well-written story with believable characters that are carved out of life experiences, an action-packed plot that'll sometimes leave you breathless and on the edge of your seat. Even if it's all fiction, it all feels well-researched and you'll learn about hostage rescue missions, the wheeling and dealing of international corporations (specifically on environment and natural resources), and maybe learn a word or two of Greek. 

UPDATE: I almost forgot that I have a giveaway for you. A free, signed hardcover copy plus a baseball hat of The Freedom Broker! Send me an email at if you're interested. I'll draw a name out of the hat, on Saturday, August 19th at noon (Montreal Time). Bonne chance!

To learn more about The Freedom Broker and its author, here's my interview with K.J. Howe:

HoCaMCan you tell us about the inspiration for Thea Paris and her interesting job?

KJHLovely to be here with you today.  Thanks for inviting me to talk about Thea Paris and THE FREEDOM BROKER.  There are twenty-five response consultants in the world who travel to global hotspots, risking their lives to bring hostages home.  These elite kidnap negotiators often come from MI6, the FBI or other governmental backgrounds, and they usually speak at least one other language. With over 40,000 reported kidnappings a year, there is a growing demand for these skilled individuals. After intensive research into the world of kidnap and ransom, I created Thea Paris, a female freedom broker who has a very personal motivation for pursuing this line of work. 

HoCaMThea suffers from Type 1 diabetes; although it is not life-threatening when monitored properly, it can become lethal without proper care. This gives you an emotional aspect to Thea (it’s always in the back of her mind) while also providing you with an additional tool to raise the tension when Thea is in the middle of the action and getting physically weaker. How did you manage the general storyline, and specific action sequences, while never leaving out the potential dangers of insulin deficiency?   

KJHVulnerability in a character is critical, as it offers a human dimension.  Who wants to read about a perfect person?  Although Thea is smart and capable, she is far from infallible.  She has emotional issues rooted to her family background, and she has diabetes, a disease that demands daily care.  I wanted to demonstrate that having a chronic illness, diabetes or otherwise, doesn’t have to stop you from reaching for your dreams and pursuing your dream career.
I worked as a medical writer for many years, and my grandfather had diabetes, so there was a personal connection to choosing this illness.  I also spent intensive time speaking to several active women who had type 1 Diabetes, as I wanted to do my best to accurately represent this illness. Not wanting to overwhelm the reader with too many details and mentions of diabetes, I tried to weave it through the story in a natural way, mimicking how it would affect someone in real life.  I relied on my editors and my friends with diabetes to give me feedback on how much was enough.  I was honoured that the American Diabetes Association chose to feature THE FREEDOM BROKER in their monthly magazine.

HoCaMHow extensive was the research for The Freedom Broker, and do you stop the process entirely when you start writing, or is it ongoing?

KJHFor the past three years, I’ve been meeting with kidnap negotiators, former hostages, reintegration experts, K&R insurance executives, and Special Forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues.  I’ve immersed myself in this world, and my education continues every day, as I meet new contacts and enrich my understanding of this growing international crisis.  I hope that the FREEDOM BROKER series brings attention to all the hostages out there who have yet to come back home. 

HoCaMYou must have wondered a few times, either while researching or writing, how you would react if you were ever held hostage; what would help you stay sane and hopeful?

KJHExcellent question.  It’s impossible to predict how I would handle captivity, but given my research, I hope that the knowledge would help me persevere.  The good news is that over 90% of hostages are eventually released.  I would keep that stat forefront in mind, and I’d use the desire to get back to my loved ones as a motivator to survive. 
When humans are under threat, we are biologically programmed to fight, flight or freeze.  All of these natural reactions need to be controlled, as they can be deadly in a kidnapping.  Instead, we need to summon mental strength to endure:  endure the boredom, the hardships, the beatings, and the fear of waking up every morning wondering if today might be your last.  It’s critical to establish routines, keep your mind active, and foster a burning flame of hope that you will go home one day.  I’d also try to find a way to bond with my kidnappers so I could secure small luxuries like soap, a toothbrush, along with paper and pen.  My abductors might have control of my body, but I would fight tooth-and-nail to maintain control of my mind.

HoCaMWorking as executive-director of ThrillerFest means that you’re in touch with many writers; what is the best advice about writing that you’ve received?

KJHI’m honored to know many talented writers via ThrillerFest, and it has been an incredible journey learning from these masters of the genre.  The piece of advice I treasure the most comes from my mentor, David Morrell, creator of Rambo and author of over 40 bestsellers.  David advises authors to be “the best version of themselves rather than a second-best version of someone else.”  We’re all huge fans of super talented authors, but what they write comes directly from their hearts, minds, and souls.  We need to tap into our own muses, figure out what we’re passionate about, as I believe the best stories come from writers who live and breathe their characters and stories.  I always knew I wanted to write a strong female protagonist, and kidnapping captured my imagination.  Listening to what really spoke to me meant that instead of chasing any trends, I created the story of my heart.  We can’t control how readers will react to our tales, but I do believe they can sense when the story and characters come from a genuine place.  David is a brilliant man, and I’ll always be grateful for his thoughtful guidance.

HoCaMYou move the plot of TFB in various places around the world and you give each of them specific details that help immerse the reader very effectively. You’ve traveled extensively and lived in different countries; is there one similar aspect that you’ve noticed in every single country? And what do you want to experience, or are looking for, when you go to a country you’re visiting for the first time?

KJHMy father worked in telecommunications so we lived in many different places, including Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean.  I loved the adventure, the travel, and the helpful education experiencing such a variety of cultures.  The one common element in every country was the importance of family.  No matter what language people speak, what religion guides them, or what their values are, family is paramount.  That’s why the major theme of every book I’ll write will be family—the interactions, the pain, the joy.  It’s a powerful connector that brings us all together.
When I visit a country for the first time, I try to engage my senses, discover the sights, sounds, tastes, feel of the place, so I can hopefully bring those experiences to the reader and make the setting come alive.  I also speak to the locals, dig underneath the surface, trying to learn interesting facts about the place to add spice to my stories.

HoCaMCan you share a bit about your background and also your major influences and inspiration?

KJHAs I shared above, travel played a key role in my life, so I always knew I wanted to write international novels, and Thea Paris’ work ensures she’ll always be headed to a unique location.   I’m an adrenaline junkie, doing things like: racing camels in Jordan, cage-diving with Great Whites in South Africa, hanging with elephants in Botswana.  So the thriller genre kind of chose me. 
When I read BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE by David Morrell and THE PERFECT HUSBAND by Lisa Gardner, I thought to myself: If I could ever create a story that allows others to escape into another world like these authors have done for me, then that would be a dream come true.  I worked hard on my craft, became a medical writer, and kept working on my fiction.  I studied with incredible talents like Lee Child, Steve Berry, Karin Slaughter, and David Morrell.  I hope to keep growing as a writer with every book.  It’s truly a lifelong journey.

HoCaMWhat’s next for Thea? Do you have many stories in mind or are you going book by book?

KJHSKYJACK will be Thea’s next adventure, and the book will be coming out February 6, 2018.  Thea is shepherding two African orphans to their new home in London when the plane they’re on is hijacked.  Secret stay-behind armies from WWII, the CIA, the Vatican, the Sicilian mob—all play a role in this next adventure.  I’ve also mapped out a few other novels in the series, as I am fascinated by Thea’s world and want to keep sharing her adventures.

HoCaMAny news on the film rights and translation in other languages?

KJHYes, it's came out in the U.K. July 27th, and we’ve sold the rights in Poland, Croatia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and we’re working on others.  As far as film goes, I’ve connected with a talented producer, hoping Thea and Quantum International Security will be able to come to live on the screen.  We have Jason Bourne, James Bond—wouldn’t it be great to have a female action hero?

HoCaM--Thank you for taking the time to do this Q&A! I'm looking forward to reading SKYJACK.

KJH-- Truly an honour.  Thanks for inviting me, and I hope to see you again soon.



Nick Cutter, author of the highly praised horror novels The Troop, The Deep (both with Simon & Schuster), and The Acolyte (ChiZine), returns with his most accomplished horror story so far: Little Heaven features unnerving scenes that will test your stress levels (and sometimes your gross level limits), roots of fear will creep and stretch around your brain, squeezing it in sync with your heartbeat. Cutter's writing is sharp (no pun intended), his dialogue is efficient, filled with funny repartee and tongue-in-cheek banter; also, one of the plot threads is a particular love story that kindles the fire of hope in this dark, dark world.

More about Little Heaven tomorrow. For now, here's a Q&A that I did recently with Nick Cutter:   

1.  In The Troop, the story is set on an isolated island; in The Deep, the story takes place in a workstation at the bottom of the ocean; and now, in Little Heaven, danger is in a small settlement in the middle of nowhere. What makes evil scarier in smaller, more isolated or contained spaces?

Nick: Well, I think that’s just one of those classic horror techniques. If you look at The Walking Dead or The Mist or … honestly, any number of horror works … The Thing, Prince of Darkness … anyway, it goes on … look at these and you’ll see one major element is isolation. The Shining! And one thing you’ll see—Lord of the Flies!—is that the isolation is in a lot of ways the driver of the plot and the action, and it allows a writer to show who these characters are. Because the person you are in a civilized setting, with rules and laws, may not be the person you are in an anarchic situation cut off from the rule of law. So there’s the external threat, which is whatever the writer or creator wants it to be, but it’s understood that ultimately, the biggest threat is from within: the people themselves, the way they manipulate and scheme and try to ruin one another, angling for some superior position within a crumbling structure. Or you’ve got characters who feel they couldn’t have gotten luckier, in that chaos and anarchy are their natural element, and until the events that got them isolated transpired, they never had the chance to indulge that savagery.

2.  The Troop and The Deep are a mix of EC Comics-style horror with a good dose of gross and bloody stuff, Alien meets The Abyss meets The Thing kind-of stories; pure horror, some would say. Little Heaven has some of those vibes but it’s also a Good vs Evil battle that you develop at a slower pace, with richly-drawn characters and a plot with more meat on the bone. How different were your approach and creative process for Little Heaven compared to what they were for The Troop and The Deep?

Nick: That EC Comics analogy is apt for those books. There was a good dose of on the nose horror, pull no punches horror—which, honestly, is my speed. Horror kinda goes through epochs. There’s a wave of quiet horror, then more loud or splattery horror, then maybe quiet again … I mean, throughout this there are writers plying their trade on both sides of the divide, and maybe this is just a way for me to paint myself into a box and say that I’m some kind of rebel against the prevailing times (I’m not), but I feel that right now we may be in a more “quiet horror” time. And the books coming out of this are great; I won’t name any titles, because maybe those authors wouldn’t see it as a compliment or wouldn’t see themselves as writers of quiet horror. Anyway. I’m LOUD. You are what you are, right? You play to whatever perceived strengths you have. So yeah, those first books are loud, EC Comics, splatter-punky type books. Which is great, because that’s what I grew up reading in part. But I’ve always been interested in character, in drawing rich characters, in putting those characters through their paces and confronting them and changing them and seeing how those changes affect them. And I suppose as one goes along one wants to stretch a little, see if they can pull off a longer narrative—not War and Peace, not The Dark Tower series, but something with a little more heft. And that’s what I tried to do. Although I think in essence it’s still a simple story: three people go on a quest.

3.  Little Heaven is also a story of friendship between unlikely friends and, ultimately, about redemption and hope. Without revealing (or spoiling) anything, I think that within its darkness it has a positive outlook that was absent from The Troop and The Deep. How important was it to create a different vibe, and did you think of an alternate, bleaker perspective and outcome?

Nick: Yeah, I think you’re right. I mean, as a person, I’m generally a hopeful individual … I should amend. I think humans are capable of great love and nobility and grace and honor on a small, person-to-person scale. As a species, I’m kinda certain we’re on an extinction vector. But on that small scale—as family, friends, those small close unions—I see a lot of love and care and attention and yeah, hope. So I’d like to hope that’s reflected in Little Heaven moreso than the earlier books. The good thing about horror is that you can go for the bleak ending. I mean, some people read horror especially for those kinds of ending and maybe they’ll think ole Cutter’s gone soft with this new book. But it is reflective of my personal sense that people are capable of immense strength and growth and personal change—even the worst of us can be redeemed.

4. You also write non-genre novels, and non-fiction; was writing horror always the career plan, something you wanted to explore, or did you just have an idea one day and started from there?

Nick: I can’t honestly claim I’ve ever had a plan! I’m still kinda just winging this. But the standard answer is that I grew up reading horror. I was a horror reader and horror lover first. Always. And while there was a time when I got into other kinds of books and had these other avenues opened to me and as such drifted away from horror for a bit—I mean, Christ, it’s a big ole world out there as a reader! But I came back to the fold, as I always kinda-sorta figured I would. And it’s been a happy homecoming from me. And a lot of my ideas … I mean, they hover on the edge. They occupy a grey borderlands. They could tip into horror at any time if you just mess with a few elements.

5.  How has adulthood and fatherhood changed your perception of the things that hide in the dark? How do you prepare your child for them?

Nick: Oh, well, massively. Both The Deep and Little Heaven (and the new Cutter book) all dwell in some way on matters of being a parent. There has never been a more profound and transformational event in my life. I’m obsessed with it, because it’s my element. I’m sitting here writing this and my kid’s running around, trying to feed the cats, distracting me, asking “What’s for dinner?” over and over. So he’s in my head—now he’s asking if he can go play Minecraft—all day and all night. And he’s the greatest source of both fear and joy in my life. As yet, he’s not totally afraid of things that go bump in the night … though the other day he pointed to the corner of his room at bedtime and said, unnervingly, that “The boat’s up there.” The boat? What the hell’s that? It’s an idea, is what that is! Anyway, I’m not sure there’s a way to prepare my son for what’s eventually going to scare him. Hold onto it, kiddo! I might say. You might end up making a living from it one day.

January 12th, 2017