Shirley Spain - Deception. Torture. Murder.
Animal lover. Fitness instructor. Author of dark and chilling thrillers. Shirley resides in West Jordan, Utah, USA, with her husband and their four-legged children. She is a graduate of the West Jordan Citizens Police Academy, and a CERT member (Community Emergency Response Team) and a VIPS (Volunteers In Police Service) with the West Jordan police. She enjoys the variety of “research” opportunities her stories offer, including police “ride alongs,” interviews with law enforcement experts regarding matters such as escaping handcuffs without a key and “dead man switches” for bombs. One might be surprised at the experiments she has done on herself—for novel research, of course—involving handcuffs, duct tape, chains, rope, the trunk of a car, a body bag… Shirley describes herself as someone who loves a challenge, thrives on learning new things, and is game to try just about anything once. Hmm. Keeping that in mind when you read her novels, you may wonder how many of the stunts described in the story she might have tried on herself ... but she’ll never tell! As our Author of the Day, Shirley tells us all about her latest book, Mistaken Trust.
Please give us a short introduction to what Mistaken Trust is about.
Deception. Torture. Murder. And a sprinkle of romance!
Mistaken Trust introduces the leading character, Jewels, a sexy investigative reporter with the uncanny knack for attracting deadly trouble.
After a desperate phone call from a friend draws her into a bizarre murder involving a cryptic map, Jewels is kidnapped. Captured and held prisoner by a radical militia, she seeks an ally. Whom shall she trust? The rough-handed prison guard? The militia’s doctor? Or should she wait for the FBI to rescue her? Will she make the right choice to be spared her captor’s savage mutilation? Or will mistaken trust lead to her torturous demise?
Mistaken Trust is the first novel in the six-book Jewels Trust M.U.R.D.E.R. series. The first letter of the title of each book represents a letter in the word murder.
What inspired you to write this book?
Those who know me then read my Jewels Trust M.U.R.D.E.R. novels are sometimes baffled by the dark, violent, and often exceedingly brutal content. A victim of a rape attempt as a teenager and also having experienced several other terrifying incidents involving human predators, I discovered writing about unthinkable acts proved cathartic.
In the series, Jewels is thrust into nightmarish predicaments. Yet she survives, triumphs, and grows in some way from the experience, regardless of the savagery she endured. Hence, the underlying theme in all of my novels is the celebration of the indomitable spirit of humans when faced with the most adverse of situations.
Tell us more about Jewels. What makes her tick?
Jewels’ strengths are her independence, can-do attitude, and belief she can do anything. Of course, in some situations, those also become her greatest weaknesses. She’s a fighter, but her tenacity can backfire on her. Although intelligent, there are times Jewels lacks common sense and can also be naive, especially in matters of the heart.
You are a graduate of the West Jordan Citizens Police Academy and a CERT member. How have these experiences influenced your writing?
As the former publisher of American Gun Review in the mid-1990s, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from experts in the self-defense field. I’ve been invited to participate in militia meetings and training exercises, attend the Soldier of Fortune Conference where I interviewed G. Gordon Liddy, and developed a working relationship with the Salt Lake office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF).
Much of what I learned, particularly related to defensive tactics and the use of firearms, are laced throughout the Jewels Trust M.U.R.D.E.R. series.
Fast forward to 2014 to the present. Conducting research for my novels has included interviewing members of law enforcement regarding an array of subjects such as bomb-making, hostage rescue tactics, and how to escape handcuffs without a key.
The education I received at the citizens police academy and through the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training are often utilized by my characters.
How do you go about making the books and the crime scenes feel so realistic?
Research! And I don’t just mean talking to experts. I often role play scenes with friends and experiment on myself with props, including handcuffs, duct tape, zip ties, and rope. I’ve locked myself in the trunk of my car and attempted to escape, borrowed a body bag (unused) and had my husband zip me up inside then tried to escape, bought a “hazmat” suit and pretended to be the bad guy “attacking” a person, and, well, you get the idea.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m an open person and not afraid to make a fool of myself, especially for a laugh, so this is a tough question. Although not a secret, once a week I teach a high-intensity water fitness class called SWAT (Special Water Aerobics Tactics) and “borrow” some of the exercises and motivational sayings from the U.S. Navy SEALs. Patrons often refer to me as the “Drill Sergeant” because of my rather militant teaching style.
Most mornings for breakfast I eat plain tuna in water right out of the can.
I love to dress up in costumes. And not just at Halloween. I publish a quarterly newsletter called, Splash, for the water fitness patrons where I work. I often run fitness challenges which provide an opportunity for me to dress up.
Tell us more about the title - why “Mistaken Trust”?
To me, trust is everything. It’s a cornerstone in life. Trust is paramount in any relationship, from the trust related to a spouse and friends, to the grocery store where I shop, to my insurance company, and even the car I drive. With trust being so central in life, I wanted trust involved in the challenges Jewels would have to overcome and learn from to grow her character.
Speaking from experience, I’m guilty of making decisions—decisions which ended badly—based on the trust I mistakenly awarded to a person not worthy of it. Therefore, I thought "mistaken trust" would be a great way to start the series.
Some readers said this book reads like a Die Hard movie, featuring Jewels instead of Bruce Willis. Was this your intention?
If “intention” is to mean the creation of a story that’s fast-paced and presents hurdle upon almost impossible hurdle for Jewels to face and overcome, then, yes! A book that reads like an action movie with a strong female lead was my intent, but not exactly Die Hard.
What is the best writing advice you’ve received?
I’m a “late blooming” author. I self-published my first novel, Mistaken Trust, on my 53rd birthday in 2013. I could not have published my first book (and subsequent books) were it not for the undying support of so many wonderful people in my life.
However, if I’m challenged to choose the “best” writing advice I received, I’d have to say it came from USA Today best-selling author, Heather Horrocks. She advised me to “never quit” despite the challenges, setbacks, and frustrations that would arise when learning the ropes of writing and publishing. Her advice proved priceless because there were many times I considered throwing in the towel and giving up writing … but that notion lasted for about two hours.
Thanks to Heather’s advice to “never quit,” now six years later, I’ve written thirteen novels, two novellas, a short Christmas story, and a nonfiction book. I continue to learn something new every day as I hone my writing/publishing skills. I love living my dream as an author.
Which of your characters has been the most challenging to write for?
The antagonists. I write about serial killers and the crimes they commit which are unthinkable. Yet, I think them up with a bit of ease, my inspiration often coming in the shower!
Having said that, thinking up horrible crimes is one thing. Spelling out the details is another. I know this might sound a bit creepy, but for me to write about the hideous crimes, I mentally “become” the bad guy.
I’ve done a bit of research into the thought processes of serial killers, what turns them on, and the background that “nurtured” their behavior. Thus, I attempt to take on that mindset when I’m writing those torturous scenes. After writing a scene and no longer “being” the antagonist, I sometimes cringe at the gruesomeness when I reread it. Then I grin, for it’s that intense physical reaction I strive to achieve in those scenes.
What are you working on right now?
As Shirley Spain, author of dark and chilling thrillers, I’m working on a stand-alone novel, MURDERED - never thought it would happen to me, as part of my “Killer Among Us” collection.
I recently experienced “ax throwing” for the first time and loved it. Almost from the moment I threw the ax, I knew my antagonist would capture his victims and use them for “ax throwing” target practice. Eeeeek!
Under the pseudonym Alice Holladay, author of “clean” suspense books, I finished book one, Buried Bones of the “Ruff and Tumble Cozy Thriller” series which features Louise Tumble and Ben, her crime-solving canine companion. I’m working on book two, Bad to the Bone. The Ruff and Tumble series will be released when I finish book three, Bone to Pick, which I hope will be available in the fall.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
If they visit my website, I’ll be happy to send them a digital copy of my stand-alone novel, Forever Breathless, free of charge, and include them in my readers club.