LISA TOWLES – Supports Writers While Writing Thrilling Novels

Lisa Towles is a crime novelist, a passionate speaker, and an avid supporter of other writers. Her 12th crime novel, Codex, will be released on June 20th by Indies United Publishing and was called “Fast-paced and ingenious” by The Prairies Book Review.

 

 

Lisa lives in northern California and works in the tech industry.

Tell me about your forthcoming book and what kind of readers you’re targeting. Codex, my new (standalone) psychological thriller, aligns with my other books’ pace, vibe, and style – fast-paced, high-concept action thrillers with impact, meaning, and relevance. They’re written for readers who like puzzles and complex plots involving games, conspiracies, politics, corruption, and espionage. I think Codex delivers all of that with a punch.

What are the themes of Codex, and how will they help readers identify with Angus? Mental health and substance abuse are two predominant themes with which Angus struggles throughout all of the challenges put before him. And then, the themes of loss and grief are an important part of how Angus’ mind and heart transform as the story evolves. I think it’s an emotional book to read, and it certainly was to write as well, but not without its rewards.

What is a challenge your character faces in this story, and how does he respond to it? Angus is confronted by two strangers at different points in the story – one gives him a lavish gift, and another tells him that the life he thought he’d lived wasn’t real – that the accident that killed his wife was no accident, and that she was about to expose an unthinkable technology and a massive coverup. Realizing the danger and burden that his wife had faced alone wakes up his mind and inspires his broken heart to find the truth about her killer and expose her story to the world.

What types of research did Codex require? I did a lot of CIA organizational research for this book (online and through a personal contact), historical research on CIA programs, regional research of Half Moon Bay and the peninsula, Texas, and New Mexico, as well as mental health and substance abuse, military, legal, and corporate research. It’s all fun because I learn so much from research and from my characters as we’re on this journey together.

Do you start with a character, a crime, a setting, or something else? They’re all different in the way that they announce themselves to me, and there’s always some catalyst that lets me know that it’s time to put my fingers to the keyboard. For Codex, Angus Mariner showed up as broken and rock bottom. Having been there, I could identify with how he felt and seeing the world from that jaded, dark, vulnerable place.

What are some activities on your writing journey that don’t involve writing? Research for story, plotting, and setting; social media and marketing; graphic design; community engagement to set up events; book clubs to engage with readers; making book trailers; and I’m now hosting a YouTube author interview series called Story Impact that’s so much fun.

What’s next after Codex? Specimen is a young adult thriller that Indies United Publishing will release on December 3, 2024. I’m excited about this story because it confronts some very contemporary themes of gaming, diversity, inclusion, and controversial science and technology. It takes place all over San Francisco and in the Marshall Islands. To learn more about Specimen (and see another awesome cover design from viladesign.net), click here.

Learn more at www.lisatowles.com or follow her at linktr.ee/authortowles.

Pre-order Codex here: https://a.co/d/5eLZmCw

 

6 Comments

  1. George Cramer

    FYI Folks, Lisa makes fabulous trailers.

    Reply
  2. Michael A Black

    It sounds like you did a great job researching and writing this one, Lisa. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Lisa Towles

      Thank you Michael! 📚✍️

      Reply
  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    Lisa, love learning about new authors. Thank you to George for the introduction. You book also sounds fascinating and right up my interest alley! Warning: My TBR stack may soon fall through the floor! Great interview and best wishes!

    Reply
    • Lisa Towles

      Thank you so much and nice to meet you!

      Reply

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BILL RAPP – Writes from the Viewpoint of a CIA Agent

Bill Rapp began his professional life as an academic historian of Modern Europe (B.A.: University of Notre Dame; M.A.: University of Toronto; Ph.D.: Vanderbilt University) but left after a year of teaching at Iowa State for something a little less sedentary.  So, he spent the next 42 years working at the Central Intelligence Agency as an analyst, diplomat, senior executive, and consultant.

 

Bill started writing while still working full-time at the Agency, but after his retirement in 2017, he has devoted the majority of his time to his fiction and, most recently, to his Cold War Spy series.  He claims that this series allows him to combine his twin passions of history and the world of intelligence.  It also provides him with an opportunity to draw on the lessons he learned and things he’s seen over the last 40-plus years and, hopefully, provide readers with a realistic glimpse of what it’s like to live and work in that world. Bill also has a three-book P.I. series set outside Chicago, where he grew up and currently lives with his wife, older daughter, and their two dogs outside Chicago.  He belongs to the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers, and the International Association of Crime Writers.

A Turkish Triangle, a quick summary:  It is October 1962, and the Cuban missile crisis has the world on a nuclear edge.  CIA officer Karl Baier is sent to Turkey to investigate the deaths of three Soviet assets, all of whom have either disappeared in the bowels of the KGB headquarters in Moscow or were shot execution style in Ankara and Istanbul.  It isn’t long before Baier realizes that the three deaths are only the tip of an espionage iceberg and part of a much more ambitious Soviet operation to undermine America’s posture and policy in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and beyond.  Before his assignment is over, Baier will face challenges to his mission, his integrity, and his perception and understanding of the people he has spent his career with inside the Agency.  This is the fifth book in the Cold War Thriller series.

What brought you to writing?    I have always loved literature, a term I define as broadly as possible.  In fact, during my undergraduate years, friends were surprised to learn that I was a history major because I spent so much time reading fiction.  During my graduate studies, I found that I occasionally needed a break from reading history, and I was lucky to discover the works of such masters as Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.  Not only did I find those books incredibly enjoyable, but they were also inspiring and challenging.   Once I started dabbling in the world of mysteries and thrillers, I couldn’t stop.  I started with a private eye series, naturally, but soon found that my background in intelligence–and a new publisher–led me to a new series in espionage fiction.

What are you currently working on?  A Turkish Triangle is the fifth book in the Cold War series, all of which lead the reader through the 1940s, 50’s, and 60’s as we faced off with several adversaries. but principally the Soviet Union, in a global competition.  The series began in the ruins of postwar Berlin in 1945 and then progresses through such seminal events as the Hungarian revolt and Soviet invasion, the building of the Berlin Wall, and now the Cuban missile crisis.  In the next book, CIA officer Karl Baier–the protagonist throughout the series–is sent to Vietnam in 1964 by then-Director John McCone for his assessment of the developments, challenges, and prospects as Washington prepares to Americanize the war effort.  The Director warns Baier not to get involved in operational activity while on this particular assignment, but, of course, as a prototypical operations officer, Baier cannot resist when he discovers the makings of a budding espionage plot that illustrates the dangers and complexities the US faces in that environment. The new book is tentatively titled Assignment in Saigon.

What kind of research do you do?  Given my background in history, I am already familiar with much of what went on during the Cold War.  However, that information does not suffice for a deep probe into the specific events of the period.  So, I do additional reading before I begin to familiarize myself further with the setting and environment for the story, which fortunately gives me an excuse to buy more history books (which drives my wife crazy).  But then, like most authors, I find it necessary to do a second, more specific round of research as questions arise over individual items and occurrences as the story unfolds.  For example, I often need to find more information on the weapons or automobiles that appear in the story, not to mention the roles of certain historical individuals I introduce.  That is also where I can focus more effectively on the physical world as it existed at the time.

Where do you place your settings – real or fictional locations?  All my locations are real.  I use specific events and crises as the backdrop to the stories to bring the reader to the heart of the Cold War and to help them understand the ambiance, mindset, and perspectives of the period and how the characters react to the challenges of that time.  My publisher was the one to suggest this series, and I readily agreed, noting that there are numerous events during the Cold War that provide an intriguing and exciting setting for the novels.  That also allows me to create stories that stand alone, despite the use of a single protagonist and other characters that often reappear in the various editions.  Each setting and time are unique, which makes for a unique story.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process?  I think there are two aspects to that question.  The first has to do with my impatience.  It’s basically why I am a pantser and not a plotter.  Aside from the fact that I find the former more fun and more creative, I also find that once I start thinking of a story or plot, I want to just sit down and put pen to paper.  The other aspect that applies to the Cold War series in particular, is the challenge of placing myself and my characters in an accurate environment for the period.  By that, I do not mean the proper physical backdrop–as important as that is– but rather the outlooks, perceptions, and preferences.  Writing some 50 to 80 years after the fact, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making your characters prescient and omniscient. I know how the various crises turned out, or I know what sort of pitfalls we fell into in Vietnam, for example.  Karl Baier and the other characters did not have that advantage.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Well, there are still numerous Cold War crises that await Karl Baier.  The largest on the horizon would be the Czechoslovak experiment in “Socialism with a human face”  and the subsequent Soviet invasion it produced.  I also skipped right past the Korean War and am wondering if there isn’t a way to travel back to that time, much as Philipp Kerr did in his Bernie Gunther series.  Also, now that my family has moved back to the Midwest after four decades in the Washington, D.C. area, I’m tempted to revive the suburban noir series starring P.I. Bill Habermann, which is set in the Chicago area and principally my hometown of Naperville.

For those interested in learning more about my books, please visit my website at billrappsbooks.com.  Copies of all the books are available on Amazon, from my publisher Coffeetown Press, at Barnes & Noble, or at bookstores near you.

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. John G. Bluck

    Bill Rapp has had an interesting life, and I look forward to reading his books. I also lived in the general area outside of Chicago where Bill now resides. It reminds me of how differently people’s lives unfold as the years go by.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Bill Rapp writes with a sort of retrospective historical hindsight that covers important events in our history, but also reminds us that these events are more than things we read about in a history book. Although his books are fiction, they are also reminders that heroic individuals were involved in making these situations turn out for the better. I highly recommend his books. He’s walked the walk and knows what he’s talking about.

    Reply
  3. Jim Guigli

    I met Bill in Las Vegas at the PSWA Conference. I read two of Bill’s books and think they are first rate.

    Reply

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LISA TOWLES – Salt Island is Here – Check it Out

SALT ISLAND, author Lisa Towles’ 10th novel, is available now from Indies United Publishing and sold in three formats on Amazon, with an audiobook forthcoming soon.

In this riveting international thriller series, heroine Mari, an ex-CIA and determined private investigator finds herself thrust into a perilous world of high-stakes corporate espionage and personal redemption. With her newly formed partnership with Derek Abernathy put to the ultimate test, Mari faces a daunting challenge that forces her to confront powerful ghosts from her past.

When billionaire CEO Jack Darcy’s reputation and IPO deal are jeopardized, Mari is thrust into the heart of the storm. As Jack’s glamorous wife goes missing, media attention intensifies. Mari must navigate the treacherous waters of Thryve, Jack’s acclaimed environmental startup.

But a journalist has learned Darcy’s dirty little secret and is hell-bent on exposing it to the world at large.

While Derek goes underground to investigate a series of mysterious deaths on a California farm, Mari’s journey takes her on a path of self-discovery. Haunted by the shadows of her past, Mari unravels the secrets of her missing father—a former CIA operative—and the startling revelations about his double identity and hidden life. Her search leads her to the British Virgin Islands, where painful truths about herself, her father, and her future come to light.

As time slips away and Mari stands exposed and alone, the weight of her choices becomes unbearable. Will she risk everything to uncover the truth, or will the powerful forces working against her succeed in burying it forever?

Salt Island is the second installment of Towles’ E&A Investigations series, following Hot House (June 2022). Switch, the series finale, will be forthcoming in 2024.

Buy Salt Island:: https://a.co/d/9Iz1r53

Follow Lisa Towles: https://linktr.ee/authortowles

 

1 Comment

  1. ana

    I loved this book! One of my favorites. Mari and Derek are a great team. This is book 2 of the E & A Investigations series. Don’t miss Hot House, the first. Another thrilling read. I couldn’t put either of them down.
    5 stars for each!

    Reply

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BILL RAPP – Cold War, Berlin Wall, Espionage

The title of my latest book is Berlin Walls, the fourth book in the Cold War Thriller series from Coffeetown Press. In Berlin Walls, CIA officer Karl Baier returns to Berlin to exfiltrate a KGB defector just as the Wall is going up. The world of Cold War espionage is about to change forever. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, Baier’s German-born wife asks him to help get her family out of East Germany at the same time.

Karl Baier is the protagonist in each of the Cold War spy stories in this series, which begins in the months immediately after the end of World War II in the ruins of Berlin. His adventures then take him to Vienna on the eve of the signing of the State Treaty ending the occupation of Austria in 1955 (The Hapsburg Variation) and Budapest during the Hungarian revolt and Soviet invasion in 1956 (The Budapest Escape).

I was initially attracted to mysteries as a graduate student working on my Ph.D. in European History. When I needed a break from all those history books, I took to reading mysteries and fell in love with the novels of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. Throughout my 35 years working for the CIA, I harbored the dream of writing my own stories and finally broke through with one set against the fall of the Berlin Wall, which I experienced during my assignment in the city between 1989 and 1991. I followed that with a three-book private detective series set outside Chicago, where I grew up. Later, my memories of the many times I had visited and lived in Berlin and Europe brought me to the first spy thriller, Tears of Innocence, and the Cold War series that followed. I draw on my years of experience as an analyst, diplomat, and senior executive at the Agency and my background in European—and especially German—history for these novels, a writing experience that allows me to blend two of my greatest passions: history and intelligence.

I am definitely a pantser. I usually start with little more than a general idea and an opening scene, and then I find that my characters tend to take over the story. I have to confess that I find working on an outline a bit daunting and, frankly, too much work. I really have only a vague idea of where the storyline will go eventually. But I also find that to be a much more enjoyable creative process. And things rarely unfold as I had initially thought they would.

I would not say that the characters disappoint, but they often do not act as I thought they would—or should. Raymond Chandler never had his great hero, Philip Marlowe, become romantically involved with anyone he met while working on a case because he feared it would compromise his integrity, something that made Marlowe good enough for anyone’s world and the best man for his own (to paraphrase the master). And yet, in the third book of my P.I. series, the protagonist, Bill Habermann, does just that and ends up with the woman at the end of the book. I had to sit back and ask myself how the hell that happened. In the current Cold War manuscript I’m working on, Karl Baier has an affair with a Turkish woman. However, in the real world, an intelligence officer wants to avoid putting himself in such a vulnerable and compromising situation. And Baier is happily married! But in the real world, people do not always act rationally and responsibly. No one is perfect. But it is also the author’s obligation to ensure that there are consequences when something like this happens.

The best book I have ever read? That is perhaps the toughest question on this list. And I am going to cheat by breaking that down into separate time frames. It’s how I respond to the question of the great American novel because each book reflects a different stage of our country and its culture and how those have evolved. I begin with Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, then move onto Henry James’s The American and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. From there, I select Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March. Granted, there are no spy novels on this list. Still, I can always say that I find the novels of Charles McCarry, especially The Last Supper and Secret Lovers, as the finest in that genre.

My advice to anyone starting out in this field, or thinking of becoming a writer, is to read and then read some more and more again. I find that critically important in developing your own voice because you will find writers who speak to you more so than others, often because of how they have come to learn their craft and how to express themselves. You have to be careful not to become too imitative (my initial attempts at writing detective fiction read like the work of a Raymond Chandler-wannabe). Still, it will really help in finding your own voice, one that you are happy to put on the page and tell your story.

 

12 Comments

  1. Bill Rapp

    Thanks, Joseph. See you in July. We should have even more to talk about.

    Reply
  2. Bill Rapp

    Robert, I hope these books in the series mean something special to you.

    Reply
  3. Bill Rapp

    Thanks, John. I enjoyed meeting and talking with you in Las Vegas. I’ve got M.P. on my reading table and will finish it before the next PSWA conference. See you there.

    Reply
  4. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Bill we met at the PSWA conference. I knew from our first conversation that you had some interesting experiences and I envied your travels as well as your time with the agency. I definitely will be buying some of your books and look forward to seeing you at the next conference.

    Reply
  5. Thonie Hevron

    I just finished Bill’s first novel, Tears of Innocence and loved it. I’m looking forward to Karl’s adventures in the second book. A fun interview, Bill and George. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Bill Rapp

      Thanks so much, Thonie, for your kind words. I’m really glad you enjoyed Tears of Innocence. I just hope you find the others in the series as interesting and worthwhile.

      It was great meeting you in July, and I hope to see you at next year’s PSWA conference.

      Reply
  6. John Schembra

    Good to meet you, BIll. Sounds like you led a very interesting life. Good luck with your newest book. I definitely will be checing out your stories!

    Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Bill Rapp is the real deal. His writing has a sophisticated edge to it and I strongly recommend his work. His advice to prospective writers to read, read, read, is right, right, right. Good luck with your new one, Bill.

    Reply
    • Bill Rapp

      Thanks, Mike. I’m about to pick up the The Heist and really looking forward to it.

      Reply
  8. Madeline Gornell

    Great to meet you, Bill, and very much agree–read, read, read, then find your own voice. Continued success! (I was also born and bred in Chicago! Though haven’t been back there for many many years. Different times way back then in the dark ages(smile)).

    Reply
    • Bill Rapp

      Madeline,
      Great to hear from a like-minded colleague–and Chicagoland native! I’ve been fortunate to return to my old haunts in Naperville and the Fox River Valley at least once a year for decades now (except when I’ve been overseas, of course). You should get back there. it’s changed, but then so much remains the same. I get inspired every time I return.

      Reply
  9. Robert Coburn

    I was an United States Army occupation soldier with the 6th Infantry Regiment in Berlin from March 1955 to August 1957. This time included the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

    Reply

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ALEC PECHE – Why Write a New Series?

Like every author, I also spent a fair amount of time reading. Outside of the pure mystery genre, I also read some thrillers (as long as they are not too violent), paranormal mystery, and some urban fantasy. In both types of books, I’ll read the description to see if it suits my likes. My imagination accepts wizards, but not shape-shifters, witches, or vampires. That’s just my personal taste, and there are many great books with those types of characters enjoyed by other readers.

When acquaintances find out that I’m a mystery writer, they will ask, Did I always want to be a writer? The answer is “no.” I hated creative writing classes in school as I never had anything creative to say. Now I struggle with too many story premises. I have the next story in my head for two of the three series I write at any given time. The third series is complete with four books. The Jill Quint series contains 12 books, and I generally know what the 13th book will be about. I released my new paranormal thriller, NOW YOU DON’T SEE ME, on Thursday, 7/15/2021, which is the first book in that new series.

My protagonist is Michelle Watson, a CIA case officer in her early fifties. After being critically injured on the job as a big-city cop in her mid-forties, she discovers a teleportation skill. I’d like to think of her as an older, wiser, kick-ass, 2021 version of the Bionic Woman. She’ll use her skill to get out of trouble and save the world in each series book.

When I decided I wanted to try my hand at writing a paranormal story, the first thing I had to decided was which paranormal skill I wanted my character to have. My good friend and first-reader suggested teleportation as the special talent that my protagonist would have. Her reasoning was that she hated driving anywhere as it was a waste of time. She asked the question – what good could you do in the world if you could teleport?

I started by making her the police chief of the small town where she grew up and where other paranormal people live. My friend pointed out that it would be a waste of her special talent—how could she impact the world from her small town with her special skill? Good question. She suggested I evaluate making her a spy. Of course, that required creating a new backstory and investigating the CIA and what they do.

It’s been fun creating this new series, especially as I explore how she gets out of tight situations. She’s been with the CIA for five years, mostly working as a lone agent doing hostage rescues. Now for the first time, she’s paired with a partner for a problem so large that only someone with her skill can save the world in time!

Alec Peche is the Northern California author of seventeen novels in three series. Her website is www.AlecPeche.com. There is a free sample of the first two (unedited) chapters of NOW YOU DON’T SEE ME available on the website.
Cheers,
Alec

 

 

13 Comments

  1. Joseph HAGGERTY

    I just teleported to this blog and I’m glad I did. Very interesting to find someone with the same skill. Would it be possible to teleport me a copy of your book.

    Reply
  2. Glenda Carroll

    I would love to meet your protagonist Michelle Watson…sounds like someone I could be friends with. When teleportation becomes available to the public, I’ll be first in line. Great interview.

    Reply
  3. Mary Hagen

    I’m not a paranormal fan, but I love your character’s ability to transport so I will have to look at your book.

    Reply
  4. Debra Bokur

    I love the premise of your new series and can’t wait to read!

    Reply
    • Alec Peche

      Thanks Debra. I hope you’ll enjoy the story!

      Reply
  5. Kathy

    Interesting idea. Sounds like a great book.

    Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Your book sounds very unique. I don’t care for vampires either. Good luck.

    Reply
    • Alec Peche

      The thought that someone who eats blood can be a positive character in a book, stretches my imagination too far. Sure the guys are always described as hunks, but I can’t get past my blood as food aversion, LOL. The great thing about fiction is there is something for everyone out there, soo I can take a pass on vampire stories and still have a large TBR pile.

      Reply
  7. Michelle Chouinard

    Ooo, what an amazing premise! I love the idea of teleportation as a special talent, it’d definitely take a lot of the grunt out of police work. 🙂

    Reply
    • Alec Peche

      My friend who suggested that talent said she hated driving places – she just wanted to be there. Of course, once you think of a paranormal talent you have to come up with the framework under which the talent functions. My character hasn’t tried to teleport aboard the Internation Space Station for some well-thought-out reasons that I describe in the book. It’s fun making logical sense of a paranormal talent.

      Reply
  8. Lisa Towles

    Great blogpost, George, and I can’t wait to read Alec’s latest book!

    Reply
  9. Vinnie

    I am really enjoying this opportunity to get to know the members of our drop-in writing group. Congrats on the start of a new series, Alec!

    Reply
    • Alec Peche

      Thanks Vinnie! George’s blog has been a great way to learn about our fellow SinC NorCal members.

      Reply

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