Author Christopher G. Jones, Ph.D./CPA, goes under the pseudonym Topper Jones for his detective novels featuring surfing crime-fighter Thaddeus Hanlon and his sassy partner Bri de la Guerra. All That Glisters—book one in the series—has a release date of September 20, 2023, and is being published by The Wild Rose Press in both print and e-book format.
Before devoting himself full-time to writing, Jones worked in public accounting and higher education, where he taught accounting, computer information systems, and business writing. To be close to his family, he makes his home in the southwestern desert rather than his native California, but every chance he gets; he treks the 450 miles to the Pacific Coast to get in a little “water therapy” and catch a few waves.
All That Glisters is an edgy contemporary whodunit involving financial skullduggery, high-level political intrigue, and a behind-the-scenes view of cyber sleuthing. Here’s the pitch:
When the facts don’t add up in his surf buddy’s bizarre death, forensic consultant (and daddy-to-be) Thaddeus Hanlon investigates, volunteering to go undercover to pick up where best friend Rafi Silva left off in a secret probe of the U.S. gold stockpile—every last bullion bar.
Rafi’s spunky fiancée, Bri de la Guerra, has suspicions of her own and soon joins Thad on the hunt for answers. Together, the two amateur sleuths delve deep, stumbling onto a financial a-stock-apse in the making, triggering a brutal manhunt along the Eastern seaboard meant to silence anyone looking to set the ledger straight.
How long did it take you to write your first book? All that Glisters was 45 years in the making. I got the initial idea for ATG in 1977 after reading Robin Cook’s medical thriller Coma. I thought: If a physician can write a bestseller, why can’t a certified public accountant? We were both professionals. All I needed was a preposterous premise.
Rather than have my protagonist discover [Spoiler Alert] human organs being illegally harvested for the black market as in Coma, I decided to have my main characters discover “something” equally chilling regarding the financial markets—a disturbing “something” that would upend everything. Total economic meltdown and the consequences! Banks failing, riots in the streets, and breadlines stretching from coast to coast.
A few years later, while working as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company, I penned the first draft of ATG on my morning commute into downtown Boston. Fortunately, that draft never found a home. The writing was amateurish and unschooled. So, I took classes in creative writing and kept plugging away at my craft.
When I retired from my day job some forty years later, I pulled out my abandoned proverbial “novel in the drawer.” With the help of a developmental editor specializing in mysteries, I rewrote the thing from scratch. All except the preposterous premise.
What’s the premise, you say?
You’ll have to read the book to find out. 😉
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Both! I’m a big fan of the late Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat!® approach to story structure, so I tend to “beat out” the major plot points in my novels, complete with scene cards. Each card has a short scene description identifying the Hero/Heroine, Goal, Obstacles, and Stakes, along with notes on the emotional change from scene opening to scene close.
As I write the scene, magic sometimes happens, and the “players” don’t behave as expected. I end up channeling the characters, leading to surprises I never would have imagined during the outline phase of the project.
Listening to the Muse means trusting the “pantsing” side of my brain. When that happens, I’m more than happy to rewire the plot. So, for my writing process, it’s both plotting and pantsing. But, always plotting first.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? At the novel’s midpoint, halfway through the book. Up to then, in my mysteries, the protagonists usually have been navigating the down-a-rabbit-hole world of sleuthing without much success. We’ve seen them search for clues, learn who to trust, and eliminate some dead ends. But they need a breakthrough to solve the case.
For example, by the middle of All That Glisters, the protagonists have run into a wall in their investigation. The only way they can scale that impasse is by learning to “color outside the lines.” When the protagonists decide to go rogue to find the killer, the antagonist takes notice and doubles down to avoid exposure. Things get serious. The pace quickens. And more bodies drop.
What are you currently working on? Book Two in the Thad Hanlon & Bri de la Guerra Mystery Series has been workshopped, reviewed by beta readers, and is currently under revision. Here’s the logline: Newly licensed private investigator, Thad Hanlon, takes a break from catching waves along the California Central Coast to land his first client—a former exotic dancer from Bakersfield looking for her surf prodigy son who has gone missing in the wake of a string of ritualistic murders terrorizing Oceano Beach.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Workshop your work! Whatever it takes, get feedback from people interested in your success. And be open to what fellow writers have to say. They can tell when something isn’t working when characters behave out of character, and when your language isn’t capturing your intention. Listen and revise accordingly.
You can often find writing critique groups at your local library or through state and local writing organizations. I found my “writing safe space” through the Heritage Writers Guild, a local chapter of the League of Utah Writers. The Writers Improvement Group (WIG for short) meets each week to review what we wrote since the last session. Knowing I need to have “something for WIG” motivates me to get words on the page. The weekly goal: five pages double-spaced. In my case, my critique group functions as both a sounding board and an accountability group. Everyone needs a little encouragement. Especially writers!
Book Link: https://topperjones.com/product/all-that-glisters
Groups I belong to:
Mystery Writers of America
League of Utah Writers
Heritage Writers Guild
Utah Mystery Writers
International Thriller Writers