When she isn't writing or researching her latest high-adrenaline novel, KJ Howe enjoys tennis, cycling and swimming. She is also a globe trotter who has had the pleasure of riding racing camels in Jordan, surfing in Hawaii, ziplining in the Costa Rican jungle, diving alongside Great White Sharks in South Africa, studying modern combat in the Arizona desert, and working with elephants in Botswana. As our Author of the Day, she talks about Skyjack, one of her Thea Paris novels, and reveals some details from her research for the book, which included interviews with a test pilot, commercial airline pilot and stealth bomber pilot.
Please give us a short introduction to what Skyjack is about.
In Skyjack, Thea Paris is escorting two African orphans from Nigeria to their new home in London, when the plane they are on is skyjacked and landed in Libya. The skyjacking has been orchestrated by an old nemesis of Thea who is involved in an international plot to commit genocide and gain control of nuclear materials. The action kicks off from there and moves to many locations around Europe as Thea races to save the hostages and prevent a genocide. The CIA, Vatican, Secret Stay Behind Armies…lots of intrigue ahead.
What inspired you to write a hijacking thriller?
Flying has always been a passion and interest. When my family lived in East Africa, my father secured his pilot’s license and eventually competed in aerobatic flying competitions. He would do the craziest stunts, like flying to 5000 feet, opening the copula, and throwing out an unravelling roll of toilet paper. The pilot that could cut the roll the most times before it hit the ground with his propeller won! I would often fly with my father during practice runs and came to love the freedom of being in the air. It was a natural fit to write a kidnap thriller on board a jet.
Tell us more about Thea Paris. What makes her so special?
I wanted to write a kick-ass protagonist, a female version of Bond or Bourne. But what makes Thea unique is the fact she suffers from type 1 diabetes. Modern crime literature has a dearth of characters who suffer from chronic illnesses (other than alcoholism, of course), and I felt it was important that some of our heroes better reflect the real world. I would also like people with chronic illnesses to know that despite their challenges, they can still conquer the world and live a full and exciting life.
How much research have the Thea Paris novels required from you and what was the most interesting aspect of your research?
I love researching and each novel an immense amount of it. The research takes months for each book and continues on even while I’m writing. And this is great fun for me, as I’m able to interact with people who have eclectic and exciting areas of expertise. I’m amazed by how generous people are with their time and knowledge when I ask them for information to make my work as authentic as possible. For SKYJACK, I worked with a test pilot, stealth bomber pilot, and commercial airline pilot to verify the details about aircraft, security, and performance. The pilots’ enthusiasm and passion for their milieu is contagious. Almost impossible to choose one aspect that is more intriguing than any other when it comes to research—but what touched my heart the most was hearing about Peter Moore’s time as the longest held hostage in Iraq. Peter was taken with four British security guards, and sadly, Peter was the only one to return home. His tale of enduring the hardships, mock executions, boredom, uncertainly, and other compelling obstacles during his time in captivity inspires me to bring awareness about all the other hostages out there who have yet to come home.
You have traveled across the world. How have these travels influenced your writing?
Although I was born in Toronto, Canada, my father worked in telecommunications so we moved constantly—spending time in Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and Austria to name a few places. I always knew any fiction would have the backdrop of international settings, so readers could enjoy a snapshot of the world without leaving their own home. I do my best to spend extensive time in all of the locales that I include in my books. There is no substitute for experiencing the tastes, sounds, sights of these fascinating settings. Besides, I love the research trips and the pleasure of seeking out intriguing destinations.
Skyjack also contains conspiracy. What, would you say, makes conspiracy so fascinating?
Our lives are becoming more stressful and busy. At times, the world can seem like a scary place. Conspiracies give us a sense that events are happening with a larger purpose in mind—whether for good or ill—and that they aren’t just happening randomly. That’s what makes conspiracies a natural fit for fiction. Good novels deliver a sense that things either are or can be made right in the world through action and discovery. I want to leave readers with a satisfying conclusion, confirming moral people can triumph against the vast forces that are arrayed against them.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a halfway decent tennis player, have studied gourmet cooking, and have taken many courses in firearms and combatives. I also crave adventure and have been diving with Great Whites in South Africa and ridden racing camels in Jordan.
Your books are action-packed and keep readers at the edge of their seats. How do you pull this off?
Pacing is the key to a good thriller. Short chapters, dialogue, minimal introspection, avoiding info dumps, and lean prose all need to be deployed to turn a novel into a page turner. If you combine whiplash pacing with characters your readers care about, you’ll have a winner on your hands.
What drew you to this specific genre? And what types of books do you read for your own entertainment?
Thrillers have always been my natural home as a reader. I enjoy escaping the grind with a fast-paced adventure through international locales. I was particularly inspired to write by the work of my mentor, David Morrell. When I read BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE, I thought it would be a dream come true if I could make people feel the way his work made me feel. I love learning so I adore non-fiction that focuses on science, history, and many other topics. When it comes to fiction, I gravitate towards thrillers. Peter James, Andrew Gross, Greg Iles, Steve Berry, and Karin Slaughter immediately come to mind, but we really are living in a golden age of thriller writing.
Skyjack contains a couple of twists and turns. Did you plan them all out before you started writing or did some of them just happen along the way?
They say there are two different kinds of writers; plotters, who outline and “pantsers” who write by the seat of their pants. I classify myself as pants on fire! I develop my theme or the basic premise of my book and then attack my plot by writing it. I have a general idea of where I’m headed when I start, but until I get to know my characters and the dynamics between them, the details are unwritten. Writing this way is a fun journey of discovery filled with delights and surprises.
Skyjack thrusts readers right in the action. Why did you take this approach?
Novels are faced with a lot of competition for people’s time and attention. The internet, television, and smartphones are all potential distractions. It’s critical to engage readers’ imagination and attention immediately, offering a double shot of espresso to kick things off. Once you have their attention, you can play with pacing a bit more, but you need to start strong to keep their eyes glued to your pages.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on the third Thea Paris novel which involves a group of journalists kidnapped in Jordan, and Thea is assigned to secure their release. The stakes are high as one of the hostages has a very personal connection to Thea.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
My website is kjhowe.com. I’m also active on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. I love doing bookclubs by Skype or phone if I can’t be there in person, and you can always find me at Thrillerfest in NYC every July. Thanks for having me on.