K.J. Howe is the author of the highly acclaimed Thea Paris series of Kidnap-And-Ransom thrillers. Her first book, The Freedom Broker, received starred reviews from both Booklist and Kirkus, as well as praise from the likes of Lee Child, Grant Blackwood, James Patterson, and many others. She is not only an award-winning thriller writer, but also the ITW’s Executive Director overseeing ThrillerFest, the organization’s annual conference. Her latest book, SKYJACK, was released last year and has been called a “nail-biter” and a “spine tingling thriller.” K.J. has been gracious enough to take a few minutes to answer some questions.
MB: Let’s start by talking about you and your character, Thea Paris. You’re known for being a bit of a globetrotter and an adventurer. How much of your own experiences went into the creation of Thea Paris?
KJH: My father worked in telecommunications, so I lived in many different places while growing up, including Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, Europe and more. I was often the foreigner in a foreign land, so I wanted to create a series that had global settings. I love research, exploring new places and bringing that locale to the reader. And adventure is a passion, so I find ways to integrate it into my books and my trips! Authenticity is key for me, and I like immersing myself in these aspects of my novels.
MB: In preparation for writing both The Freedom Broker and SKYJACK, I assume you had to do a tremendous amount of research. Can you talk for a moment about your research process? Did you discover anything unusual or life-changing when preparing for either of your books?
KJH: I’ve spent the last six years learning about kidnap and ransom, hoping to bring authenticity to the books, and I continuously meet new people in this field. I have an insatiable desire to learn more. I benefit greatly from the knowledge and experience of my experts. I have a substantial list of gurus in the acknowledgements section of my novels, as without these generous people, the books would lack verisimilitude. I read everything I can on the topic, but then I ask pointed questions to my experts, zeroing in on what information is key to the story.
I could list hundreds of unusual things I’ve learned over the years, especially about travel safety and the world of kidnapping. A couple of things do stand out.
When you’re kidnapped, your nationality can have a massive impact on your chances for a safe return home. Many countries have a policy of not paying ransoms, and other countries pay them quickly. Depending on where you are kidnapped and by which group, these factors can greatly influence your potential release.
On my website (www.kjhowe.com), I have a map of the kidnap hot zones in the world. Some might surprise you. Please be sure to take travel advisories seriously when planning your next vacation or trip.
For SKYJACK, I did extensive research on aviation. Statistically, the safest place you can sit on an airplane is the rear section. As you walk by those folks drinking champagne in first class, you can remember this with a smile.
MB: What was the hardest scene you had to write for either of your books?
KJH: Without giving away any spoilers, I had to kill off a character in SKYJACK that was emotionally challenging for me, but after deep thought, it felt like the right choice. I’ve had many readers share they were touched deeply by that death. When we read, we want to experience emotion, as it’s cathartic, and sometimes that emotion can be dark.
MB: Let’s talk for a moment about your work with International Thriller Writers. You’ve been the Executive Director of ThrillerFest for several years. For those who are unfamiliar with the conference, would you take a moment to speak about what it is and the benefits it offers to both thriller readers and writers?
KJH: Sure, I love my job at ThrillerFest. I work with a dynamic team all year long to plan the conference. We offer phenomenal craft classes, opportunities to pitch agents and editors, brilliant panels about the publishing industry, cocktail parties where you can network with top authors, and much more. I encourage people to visit www.thrillerfest.com and to drop me a line with any questions. It’s a fun, professional, and friendly conference that can change your life if your dream is to write suspense.
MB: Let’s chat about writing for a moment. What do you find to be the most difficult part of your writing process?
KJH: I’m an organic writer more than a plotter, so I find it tough to write synopses. The joy I experience discovering things as I write is much more rewarding than if I have everything planned out. This process has led to surprising twists, and I hope that if I’m surprised, then my readers will be as well.
MB: Who would you list as your literary inspiration, and why?
KJH: David Morrell, the creator of Rambo and the bestselling author of countless other novels. When I first read David’s spy trilogy, I thought to myself, “if I could ever transport a reader like he has transported me with his words, it would be a dream.” I knew I wanted to write thrillers, but traveled a circuitous route to doing so. I completed a business degree and then pursued medical writing. I finally realized that fiction was my true passion, so I completed a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction. Guess who came to Seton Hill as a guest lecturer? David Morrell. I met my idol and had an inspiring conversation with him. Next, I attended ThrillerFest where I had a chance to write a feature on David, which he still has up on his website (under Literary High Flyer). David kindly offered to mentor me, and he has been a wonderful influence, pushing me to dig deeper into character and become, as he says most eloquently, “a first-rate version of yourself rather than a second-rate imitation of someone else.” SKYJACK is dedicated to him.
MB: You have two books out now. What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
KJH: I’m working on the third book in the series, BLACK SEPTEMBER, about a news team kidnapped in the Syria/Jordan area. And Thea’s ex-boyfriend is the security expert traveling with the journalists. Very excited about diving into the world of war correspondents, as these people are brave warriors.
MB: Finally, let’s wrap-up with something a bit offbeat. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
KJH: A monkey. I’m crazy about monkeys. They are cute, curious, and always stirring up trouble!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with Skyjack.
You can find out more about K.J. Howe and her books at www.kjhowe.com. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Facebook. You can also find out more about ThrillerFest by visiting www.thrillerfest.com.