Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Zoë Sharp

Victoria Gotti w/Joe Dolci photo Mafiessa10ab.jpg

Zoë Sharp is the award winning author of the fast paced, action packed Charlie Fox novels. Her writing has been nominated for the coveted Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the Anthony Award presented by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, the Macavity Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers’ Association. Die Hard, number ten in the popular Charlie Fox series, is out now.

Zoë met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about her latest release and crime fiction.
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Tell us about Die Easy.

DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten is my homage to the original Bruce Willis movie, Die Hard, but set in New Orleans, The Big Easy. No grubby vests, though!

“Zoë Sharp is one of the sharpest, coolest, and most intriguing writers I know. She delivers dramatic, action-packed novels with characters we really care about. And once again, in DIE EASY, Zoë Sharp is at the top of her game.”
―New York Times best-selling author, Harlan Coben

‘In the sweating heat of Louisiana, former Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard, Charlie Fox, faces her toughest challenge yet.

‘Professionally, she’s at the top of her game, but her personal life is in ruins. Her lover, bodyguard Sean Meyer, has woken from a gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. Piecing back together the relationship they shared is proving harder for him than relearning the intricacies of the close-protection business.

‘Working with Sean again was never going to be easy for Charlie, either, but a celebrity fundraising event in aid of still-ravaged areas of New Orleans should have been the ideal opportunity for them both to take things nice and slow.

‘Until, that is, they find themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone.

‘When an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation, the motive may be far more complex than simple greed. Somebody has a major score to settle, and Sean is part of the reason. Only trouble is, he doesn’t remember why.

‘And when Charlie finds herself facing a nightmare from her own past, she realises she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back. This time, she’s got to fight it out on her own.’

I like to constantly challenge the character. In DIE EASY I isolated her from her back-up, disarmed her, gave her two principals to protect, had her worrying about the fate of those left behind, and also had her not knowing who she could trust. It was a cool mix to play with.

Do you think the fact that much crime fiction centres on threats to the family reflects anything about modern Western society?

That’s a very interesting question, although does much crime fiction centre on threats to the family? I think the more interconnected we become by social media and the internet, and the more worldwide tragedies are reported to us, the more hardened we become to what’s going on around us on a wider scale. A day does not go past without terrible events being reported. Usually, we never hear the conclusion to these stories, so they are left to hang over us and terrorise our darkest imaginings. Threats to the family—to people we care about deeply on a personal level—suddenly bring all that nebulous lurking danger into sharp focus, and bring it closer to home in all senses of the word. Most people are prepared to react far more strongly to threats to those they love than to themselves.

Who are your literary influences?

Hard to say who are my influences. I suppose the most influential book from my childhood was BLACK BEAUTY by Anna Sewell. Amazing to think that book brought about such huge changes in public opinion on the humane treatment of animals.

When I first started reading thrillers they were the classic Arthur Hailey, Alastair McLean and Jack Higgins stories but I wanted stronger female characters. When I didn’t find them I think that’s when I first decided I might have to write my own.

Now, I love the prose-poetry style of Ken Bruen, the intricacy of Jeffery Deaver and Harlan Coben, the pared-down style of Robert B Parker, the page-turning quality of Lee Child and the immediacy of Elmore Leonard.

Is there a particular event that has changed your life and influenced your writing?

I knew from a fairly early age that I wanted to write—I wrote my first novel at the age of fifteen. My father typed up those longhand pages for me and it did the rounds, receiving what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’. So I put my fictional aspirations aside and after getting sidetracked into various other fields of work, some of which I really shouldn’t talk about, I became a freelance photojournalist.

It was in the course of that job I ended up on the receiving end of death-threat letters. They were cut out of newspaper like a ransom note, calling me filth, scum, and telling me my days were numbered because they knew where I lived. The police never tracked down who was responsible, and all in all it was a pretty sobering experience.

The death-threats had two results. The first was I set out to learn as much as I could about the not-so-gentle art of self-defence. My instructors were smiley guys with lethal fingers, who taught me a few of the secrets of karate, judo, Kyushu-jitsu pressure-point techniques, as well as knife-work. I was, shall we say, a motivated student.

And the second result was I dug out my notes for a story with a female protagonist who has been a victim and is determined not to become so again. She is teaching self-defence in a small northern city and trying to put her past behind her. But instead 250x186_KillerInstinct photo 250x186_KillerInstinct_zps8ba3324f.jpgof making her a less-attractive target her skills actually make her the focus of attack for a vicious sexual predator who’s hunting local women. That book became KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one.

I had one or two other close shaves, like the time I had my kneecaps threatened while digging into a story about insurance companies, but that was just part of the job. I’ve never stopped looking over my shoulder, and I’ve never stopped learning new techniques whenever I come across them. I even do the occasional self-defence demonstration at crime-writing events—if I can find a willing volunteer …

What do you make of the E Book revolution?

For me it has indeed been a revolution. I had already reverted rights on a number of my backlist titles and decided to bring out new e-book editions of them towards the end of 2011. Since then the series has enjoyed a huge renewed burst of success throughout the world. I’m delighted that the Charlie Fox series is finding so many new readers by such an affordable means. I’m now putting out trade paperback editions of the early books and have a digital original crime thriller standalone THE BLOOD WHISPERER coming out very soon. The freedom of e-books has also finally allowed me to write outside my current genre—I’ve just finished edits on a supernatural thriller I’ve wanted to write for years. And if I’m not offered a deal I’m happy with by a mainstream publisher I now have a viable alternative. I’m thrilled by the whole thing.

Graham Greene famously said ‘writers have a splinter of ice in their hearts’. What do you make of his observation?

It’s a great quote. I’d answer it with one from F Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

A writer—and particularly a crime writer—has to be able to write as convincingly from inside the mind of the hero as the villain. After all, the villain often views himself as the hero of his own story. So the writer has to be able to be fully engaged with his/her characters on an emotional level, and yet still view them with an entirely dispassionate eye. It’s a wonder we’re not all quite mad really, isn’t it?

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m working on edits for the standalone crime thriller, THE BLOOD WHISPERER, which features Kelly Jacks, a CSI turned crime-scene cleaner who went to prison for a crime she can’t remember and who now fears the whole nightmare may be starting again. TBW is different from my series but still features the kind of strong female protagonist who will—I hope—appeal to readers who already enjoy the Charlie Fox books.

After that I hope to begin another new project. I have a couple of ideas on the go so it’s a case of which one shouts loudest in my ear once I have these last lot of edits out of the way. And then it’s back to Charlie. I have the setting and the set-up for the next book in mind, and letting the idea percolate in the background is really giving it chance to grow into something bigger. I love it when that happens.

What advice would you give to yourself as a younger woman?

Go and get a proper job.

What’s on the cards for the rest of the year?

Erm, that question partly depends on how much I can get done and how little sleep I can manage to survive on. In terms of travelling about, I’ll be at CrimeFest in Bristol UK in May, the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July, and both Bouchercon in Albany NY and Bloody Scotland in Stirling UK in September. Apart from that I intend to spend an awful lot of time bum-in-chair doing what I set out to do all those years ago—tell stories to the best of my ability.

If you were hired to carry out a hit and escape detection how would you do it?

LOL. Probably from six hundred yards away in the treeline. But I hate to plan my day because then words like ‘premeditated’ get bandied around the courtroom …

Thank you Zoë for a perceptive and informative interview.

450x116_ZoeSharp photo 450x116_ZoeSharp_zpseb24233a.jpgLinks:

Get a copy of Die Easy in the following formats:
__Kindle at Amazon.com (USA only), Amazon.com (rest of world), Amazon.co.uk
__In print, get a paperback at Amazon.co.uk and a hardcover at Amazon.com
__Buy Audio copies at Audible.com, Amazon.com, Audible.co.uk and Amazon.co.uk

Find Killer Instinct in the these formats:
__Kindle at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk
__Get a paperback at Amazon.com or hardcover and paperback versions at Amazon.co.uk
__Buy Audio copies at Audible.com, Audible.co.uk, and Amazon.co.uk
__Large print is available in hardcover or paperback at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

See Zoë’s Bookshelf for all available buy links, to include other countries, for Die Easy, Killer Instinct, and all her books.

Find all things Zoë at her website.

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