Thad Diaz - Unputdownable Firefighter Mystery

Thad Diaz - Unputdownable Firefighter Mystery
tampa heat

Thad Diaz is a retired Tampa Bay firefighter who cut his teeth on Sci-fi and Fantasy. He now spends his days writing the Cigar City Case Files, a gritty, hard-boiled detective series set in Tampa. He still lives in the Tampa Bay area with his wife and kids.  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 Logan Walsh, an active-duty firefighter who’s a bail bondsman and PI on his days off. He and his dad get drawn into a case that goes back twenty-five years to a real chapter in Tampa’s history.

Can you share what inspired you to transition from writing sci-fi and fantasy to hardboiled mysteries like "Tampa Heat"?

It’s not the transition you might think. I have always loved mysteries Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly are two of my favorites. Though I like Chandler, MacDonald, and Mosley, too. I enjoy unravelling the layers and getting to the core of the case with the wonderful characters these authors create.

The writer in me appreciates the challenge of writing complex stories that aren’t convoluted. Because of this all of my sci-fi is either straight up cyberpunk noir (“Lunatic City”) or includes a strong espionage element (“Hard Rayne”).

How did your 25 years of experience as a firefighter influence the storyline and characters in "Tampa Heat"?

Quite a bit. “Tampa Heat” and the rest of the Cigar City Case Files are first and foremost hardboiled detective stories set in the great city of Tampa. The firefighting aspect of Logan’s life plays a larger part in “Tampa Heat” for very logical reasons, but it is less front and center in the later stories.

That said, I incorporate fire department culture into Logan’s identity, and use the handful of chapters he spends at the station to reflect the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the fire service.

Besides writing, what other "secret" skills do you have?

I like to bang on the drums and might be decent with training and practice, but I’m too busy running my small business and writing books to make that happen, right now.

Logan Walsh is a complex character juggling his firefighting career, personal life, and unexpected detective work. How did you develop his character, and are there any aspects of Logan that are based on your own experiences or people you know?

A lot of Logan’s aspects come from my experiences but only in general terms. Most firefighters work multiple jobs and face challenges of maintaining healthy relationships with their family while putting themselves in harm’s way and dealing with the worst society has to offer. I’ve seen and lived this struggle first-hand and try to portray the challenge of balancing these things in an emotionally and intellectually honest way.

Another aspect people might not appreciate is the keen street sense firefighters develop over time. We run a high number of non-fire calls. Many of these have a criminal element to them, and we often walk into these situations without the benefit of police protection.

Veteran firefighters develop a nose for deceit and an ability to read situations. We frequently know something isn’t right before being able to put our finger on what we don’t like. You learn to trust that instinct.

It’s a survival skill that would be useful to a detective. But it comes from a place not seen in most fictional detectives. Logan isn’t a former DA investigator who was pushed out by politics or a free-thinker who couldn’t fit the police department mold. He’s a street-savvy firefighter who’s sharpened his investigator skills working in his dad’s bail bonds business. I think that’s a unique and refreshing take.

Hopefully, the readers agree.

The relationships in Logan's life, particularly with his family and colleagues, are central to the story. How did you approach writing these dynamics to ensure they felt authentic?

I wanted to make Logan a blue-collar everyman sort of character. I wanted him to have the same problems we all face while giving him some of the struggles faced by those who work these jobs on on a regular basis.

It’s hard to go from dealing with human tragedies of death and loss one moment and going to Disney or some cookout with the fam the next. That kind of stress takes a toll and is something most people don’t understand, but it happens everyday. I tried to create characters and scenes that echoed these struggles and felt genuine and real.

I think that lends a lot of authenticity that is more important than the mechanics of being a firefighter or detective.

Tampa's unique setting plays a significant role in the story. How important was it for you to accurately portray the city, and did you include any personal favorite spots or hidden gems?

It’s critical. Tampa is a great city. It mixes a very Old World feel with the new. Downtown is undergoing a renaissance while Ybor still (mostly) clings to its nineteenth century roots. We have a hodgepodge of cultural influences here: Cuban, Italian, and lesser known French Canadian with all the architecture, language, and food that go with it.

Ybor’s Seventh Avenue is so reminiscent of New Orleans’s Bourbon Street, while its variety of Cuban restaurants, the Italian Club, and cigar shops give it a very Tampa identity. Add the port, upscale waterside living, and the same dark and dangerous alleys you find in any city, and it makes the perfect setting for hardboiled detective tales.

And, yes, I included a gem of sorts. “Tampa Heat” opens in the parking lot of a gentlemen’s club on the edge of the neighborhood in which I grew up. They follow their quarry through that childhood neighborhood and past my high school alma mater.

The book touches on Tampa’s darker history. How did you research this aspect, and were there any surprising or particularly intriguing historical facts that you discovered during your research?

I’m a native Tampanian, and I lived through the era to which “Tampa Heat” harkens back. So, it’s less a matter of research and more how I thought at the time “someone should write a book about this.” And, while I describe “Tampa Heat” as being torn from the headlines, I make no claims of this being a true crime book in any way.

Like the real-life experiences from which I draw, I fictionalized the time period and made it my own, while keeping an emotional and intellectual honesty I hope will resonate with others who lived through it.

"Tampa Heat" weaves together themes of corruption, crime, and personal redemption. What message or themes were you hoping to convey through the book?

The main thematic focus is the power of family. Lo’s relationship with his kids are front and center in his life, but all of his relationships are important, and I strive to task him with cases and challenges that help shape his outlook and attitudes towards the people in his life.

Perhaps a secondary theme in “Tampa Heat” is that no lie can stay buried forever, though that’s hardly unique to mystery novels.

The plot involves a mix of biker gangs, crooked cops, and land speculators. How did you balance these elements to create a cohesive and engaging mystery?

Maybe my old sci-fi/fantasy world building roots are showing here, but I have a good image of who the central villain is. Once you have that figured out, things start to fall into place, based on the role these people would play in the bigger story.

Can you describe your writing process for "Tampa Heat"? How did you approach plotting and pacing the story?

I’ve tried writing other ways. People will tell you this is wrong, and I see the logic. But I start with a crime, a general theme/character development I want to write and dive in. I correct and research as I go, and exercise just about every other habit people in the know would tell writers not to do.

I do have beats and scenes in my head and have taken to writing story ideas when they occur to me, but less as a formal outline than as a flash card to refer to when I’m ready to write. Some of the stories are in my head, but I’m waiting for the characters to emotionally earn the central conflict/challenge. This is true of “Interbay Squeeze Play.” Those who’ve read it probably know what I mean.

I have more stories like that floating around in my head, but I have to get there.

"Tampa Heat" is the first book in the Cigar City Case Files series. What can readers expect from the subsequent books in the series?

Hopefully more of the same character-driven, tightly woven mysteries that feature Tampa as equal parts setting and character. I’ve created quite the rogue’s gallery almost by accident, but, man, are they fun to write.

And I’m looking forward to getting back to them after getting “An Alafia Hijacking”, the fifth book in the series, into the wild on Independence Day.

If "Tampa Heat" were to be adapted into a film or TV series, who would be your dream cast for the main characters?

I’ve thought about this and even modeled one character on a departed Hollywood great.

I’d like Ryan Gossling or maybe Mark Walburg for Logan, but I wrote Jean Francois Mondesir with the late Chadwick Boseman as a muse. I loved him as T’Challa in the MCU and the less-successful 21 Bridges. Sharon Stone is too old for Val, maybe Lo’s mother?

I have definite images of the other characters, but no actors come to mind, right now.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I’m on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/thaddiazauthor/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThadDiazAuthor/

My website is: https://www.thaddiazauthor.com/

People can get onto my email list here and get a free 35k word e-book. But if you buy “Tampa Heat”, you’re better off joining the same list from the link in the back. It gives you the same e-book and a bonus email about the crimes that inspired “Tampa Heat” in the first place.  
If you’re a local to Tampa Bay, I’m always out at the local markets, selling autographed books to the crowd. Follow me on Facebook or IG to stay informed.

Tampa Heat
Thad Diaz

Lo should have listened. But it's too late for that. People are dead. People he cares about are in the crosshairs. Now, he must dive head-first into a case with no bottom. The broken trail of clues leads him on a twisting trail through bent cops, crooked land speculators, and biker thugs. Before it 's done, he will confront a decades-old evil and face off against Tampa's most dangerous men.

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