Thad Diaz - Fire Fighter Mystery
Thad Diaz is a retired firefighter with 25-years of service, an author of gritty detective fiction, and Tampa native. His Cigar City Case Files series takes place in Tampa. The hard-boiled novels explore the dark side of the city's past and present as only a native who's walked its mean streets can. Tampa Heat is the first in a series slated to go into the double digits. Start your journey today. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Tampa Heat.
Please give us a short introduction to what Tampa Heat is about.
Tampa Heat is the story of an active-duty firefighter who moonlights with his dad as a bail bondsman and part-time PI. He’s drawn into the investigation of a client’s jailhouse murder that leads to a much deeper mystery.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
Actually, there is a fascinating story behind the inspiration to Tampa Heat, but the details give away much of the novel’s plot. I try to avoid spoiling the ending by including the story of inspiration in the series of emails sent only to those who sign up for my email list in the back of Tampa Heat and only those from the link in the back of Tampa Heat.
This makes sure they’ve read the book before I tell them where it came from. However, there is an inspiration behind Lo Walsh I can tell.
I was a new firefighter at Hillsborough County and was working with a veteran captain. He casually mentioned: “I hope we sleep tonight. I gotta chase down a skip tomorrow.”
Well, I was hip to that lingo and asked: “You’re a bail bondsman on your off days?”
(Nearly every firefighter I know has at least one and sometimes more side jobs.)
He said: “I do some PI work, too.”
I was already writing sci-fi and fantasy novels as T. Allen Diaz and knew there was a story to be told there. But I wanted to have a fire service career and writing gritty detective novels about a roguish firefighter with a blue-collar animosity for the fire department administration seemed like a good way to spend my days on a busy ambulance.
So, I shelved the idea … until I retired.
Why did you pick Tampa as the backdrop for your book?
I grew up here. I view the city as character and setting. It’s hard not to see it as a living thing with its wide variety of cultures and scenery. I love the cigar factories and the Bourbon Street feel of Ybor’s Seventh Avenue.
Tampa’s subtropical vibe and swanky nightlife give it an exotic appeal, but it wrestles with many of the routine tragedies other metropolises face. It has all the dark alleys and shadowy waterfronts a gritty crime novelist could want, as well as scenic locations like Bayshore Boulevard, Channelside, or Harbour Island.
Tell us more about Logan Walsh. What makes him tick?
I think Lo fits well into the PI trope of the white knight in a rough city. It’s not much of a spoiler to say the force driving him in Tampa Heat is his guilt over ignoring a plea for help. He has a strong moral compass and a desire to do right by those for whom he’s responsible and the innate curiosity found in any good detective.
But he’s also a firefighter, with a firefighter’s duty to the public and a family man with all the vulnerabilities that go with that life. He can’t run around knocking heads together and shooting people willie-nilly the way Spenser or Marlowe might. He has a career to worry about and a family he’s trying to hold onto.
That isn’t to say he can’t be violent. What hardboiled detective could be hardboiled without the occasional fist fight or gun play? But Lo has to be smart about it and pick his fights. Even when he does the violence comes at a real price.
You are a retired firefighter yourself. How much of your own life experiences have you written into this story?
Specific experiences? None. Emotional and situational echoes that dovetail with any firefighter’s experience? A lot. The emotions and politics and culture, including a limited dose of our irreverent humor, are absolutely front-and-center in Lo and our glimpse into his firefighting world.
My life on the job informs those elements, and I think that makes Lo’s voice more authentic. But I have worked hard to avoid caricatures of specific people and have avoided altogether any particular call or tragedy as hallowed events not to be commercialized.
Interesting cover. How did you decide on it?
I have a subscription to a stock photo website that offers all kinds of pictures. I found this pic of Tampa and knew it was something special. I made several versions on Bookbrush, and I had a great-looking cover of the city that screams gritty crime story.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a really bad wannabe drummer.
I’m also teacher. I still instruct EMTs and paramedics at the local community college and enjoy the reward of passing on my years to the future generation.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Absolutely. Jean Francois Mondesir is the most obvious in the early Cigar City books. He was supposed to be a generic cynical detective but became this smooth-dressing Haitian anti-Columbo with parts in every book. Del Thibodeaux is another. I wanted this scruffy rival PI. Next thing I know he’s this sneaky Cajun with a talent for self-preservation running all over my story. I don’t fight that kind of thing. It’s fun and a big part of the joy this job brings me.
Readers say the book was fast-paced, keeping them up till after midnight. How did you pull this off?
I try hard to be a minimalist, straining to keep exposition to a minimum and infuse descriptions into the action when possible. I strive for short chapters that keep the story moving and try to avoid stacking similar scenes on top of each other.
For instance, I was writing a scene in my current WIP and thought. “This is my third interview scene in a row.” So, it was time for a car chase. I added it and the entire flow of the story was changed. It breathed life into a series of dialogue-heavy interview scenes.
Your descriptions of the scenes and locations are very vivid. What is your secret?
I’m not 100% sure. I spend a lot of time deleting, rewording, and combining sentences and phrases until I get the shortest description that conveys the image I’m looking for. That is one of the keys to keeping the story moving while still capturing the setting.
But if you’re asking how I know what I’m looking for when I see it? Practice? A natural predisposition? Probably a little of both.
This is book 1 of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
You can, but I hope you won’t.
The mystery is self-contained, though I sometimes reference previous events in future books. However, there are threads that stretch from one book to the next, specifically, Lo’s personal life.
I like the idea of a serial that builds one on top of the other, even if the individual cases are standalone.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I don’t think so. I break a lot of the productivity rules. I’m a pantser who knows plotting is more efficient, but I’m not any kind of writing rebel out to make a point. It’s just the way my brain works and the way I like to write.
My workday varies, but I get up between four and five-thirty, check my emails, and write until my wife gets up. I make her coffee, see her off to work, then I get in the pool for two hours of treading water and audiobooks. I get out, go to the college to teach or sit down either for an afternoon writing session or to work on the business aspects of being a writer.
Then, I stop sometime between five-thirty and seven and spend the rest of the evening reading and spending time with my wife.
What are you working on right now?
Cigar City IV! I have almost 90K of a 95K-ish manuscript written. I’ll have to take a few passes and then it’ll be off to the editor.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
You can visit my website at https://www.thaddiazauthor.com/
I’m on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/thaddiazauthor/
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThadDiazAuthor
You can also sign up for my newsletter and get a free 35K word novella here.
Lo told himself this was none of his business. He only moonlights with his bail bondsman father between shifts at the fire department for extra cash. Saving lives is his mission. Now, the responsibility of death weighs on him. And he seeks to bring justice to a stranger's killer. Who will pay for his idealism? Can he stand to let them & how deep into Tampa's dark past does this mystery go?