Tell us about yourself:
Thanks for having me, I’m delighted to be able to stop by. I write romantic thrillers and the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. I’m originally from New York but got bitten by the travel bug early in life when I went to college in Paris. Mexico inspired me to write fiction and my first novels have all been set there.
What was your first book?
My romantic thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY took me 10 years to write. Well, to be more precise, it took me 2 years to write and 8 years to edit (see red pen drama above).
I first wrote it entirely from the point of view of Luz de Maria, the female protagonist, which meant too much repetition as people explained things to her that had happened “off camera.” The book really came together when I broke up the initial 800 page (!) draft and rewrote key scenes from the point of view of Eduardo Cortez Castillo, the ex-cop and federal attorney who breaks a drug smuggling ring.
My writer’s critique group liked the chapters and the book came together as a thrilling Cinderella story set against the backdrop of Mexico’s drug wars and presidential elections. People have told me that compared to the recent US presidential elections, the political slogans and sex scenes in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY are much better.
Describe your first break.
My first big break came when screenwriter and director Emily Skopov contacted me in early 2015. She is probably best known for TV series Xena, Warrior Princess and Andromeda. Her interest in the Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series led to a contract with a major television studio this year. Hopefully next year we’ll all be watching a series based on my books. FYI, I’m still pinching myself!
What is your favorite genre to read? To write?
I love both reading and writing mystery series. Once a character and setting intrigues me, I will read all the books in that series. I just finished all of the Dr. Genevieve Lenard series by Estelle Ryan, which is about an art crime-solving team headed by a woman who is both autistic and a specialist in body language.
When I write a mystery the most important thing for me are the relationships between characters. I’m not in love with forensics or technology. People are much more compelling! I want to probe motive and just how far someone will go to get what they want or hide their tracks.
Are Happy Endings are must in your stories?
I want my characters to live to fight another day and to have someone who will stand by their side. So while the crime and the corruption still swirl around them, they have the strength to go on.
Hotel manager is the person standing by Emilia Cruz’s side. She has a hard time with commitment, and is always assuming he’s going to break up with her and leave Acapulco, but their relationship is a key theme in the books.
What makes a protagonist interesting?
I think characters have to be authentic and multi-dimensional. And they should have a Fatal Flaw that becomes integral to the plot. Detective Emilia Cruz is an exceptional liar. Her ability to lie at crucial times--and inability to tell the truth at others—can really create mystery!
What is the best thing about being a writer?
To tell entertaining stories that also make people think about something in a new way. So many readers tell me how much they have learned about Mexico from my books. My next book, however, is a romantic thriller with a paranormal twist set in Virginia. In AWAKENING MACBETH, a university professor realizes that her dreams are a game in which the devil steals souls. I wonder what people will say they have learned from that!
What is the worst thing?
The hardest thing about being a full time author is using my time wisely. I have a needy dog and a fixer-upper house so there are always other things I could be doing.
Pantser or plotter?
Plotter! I’m an outline addict. Before I start a novel I create an outline. I scribble “scenes” on sticky notes and post them on a wall. I’ll arrange and rearrange until I like the flow at which point I’ll tape them to a poster and hang it over my desk.
That preliminary outline usually survives to about the middle of the book, at which point I’ll have had better ideas and will repeat the sticky note process. For KING PESO, I did this three times. By time the book was done, the last poster was a mess, with some stickies overwritten in red and others hidden behind a snowfall of new ones.
What do you see the direction of your future writing taking? What can we expect next? Give us a little taste.
AWAKENING MACBETH, a romantic thriller with a paranormal twist, will be released just before Christmas this year. After that I’ll return to the Detective Emilia Cruz series. The 5th novel in the series, PACIFIC REAPER, is slated for a February 2017 release after which I’ll be hard at work on 43 MISSING, the 6th in the series.
While I doubt I’ll ever run out of ideas for the Detective Emilia Cruz series, another mystery series is taking shape in the back of my mind that takes place in Norway during WWII. Another excuse to travel!
Just for fun:
Cat or dog person?
Dog. Our rescue mutt takes me for a walk every morning.
Coffee. Also anything Italian, especially if someone else is doing the cooking!
You’re kidding right? There is no such thing as one. But if I had to pick a thriller it would be THE KEY TO REBECCA by Ken Follett. Everyman hero, historic time and place, lovely yet flawed heroine, tantalizing sex scenes, high drama, gripping climax, happy ending. It was my role model when I wrote the romantic thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY.
Anything with Bill Murray.
Christmas, probably because I’m from an Italian family and have wonderful memories of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and the party my mother always threw afterwards. We’d stay up until the wee hours toasting friends and family, but somehow be up at dawn to open presents!
Would you rather be the princess or the villain? Why?
Princess, of course. I assume that princesses have better shoes.
Who has more fun, orcs or hobbits?
Hobbits. I first read Tolkien’s books in high school. I even had some friends who wrote notes to each other in Elvish. Orcs held no appeal, either then or now.
Readers often wonder how Emilia Cruz came to be the first female police detective in Acapulco. The only place to find that out is in “The Beast,” the short story that I wrote in response to all the requests. It’s part of the Made in Acapulco story collection available on Amazon OR you can get it for free here as part of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. You’ll also get my monthly email newsletter, Mystery Ahead.
In addition to “The Beast, the Starter Library includes “The Angler,” a story based on the true-life murder of my pastor, Father Richard, in Mexico City. The drug addict who disrupted Christmas Eve didn’t kill him; in fact his murderer has never been caught. But in “The Angler,” Detective Emilia Cruz will bring the killer to justice.
Thanks for having me and happy reading! All the best, Carmen
KING PESO is the fourth book in the sensational Detective Emilia Cruz mystery series recently optioned for both television and film. Emilia is the first female police detective in Acapulco, where Mexican drug cartels battle for control and politicians are bought with blood money.
Three cops are murdered, execution style. Emilia worked with them all.
Her partner’s wife is killed in a home invasion. Was he the real target?
Is Emilia the next?
She hopes to be assigned to a task force to investigate the killings, but is instead directed to a new police unit championed by Acapulco’s ambitious mayor and overseen by a shady union strongman. But when Emilia stumbles upon a falsified report, she will conduct a private investigation, even as another murder victim carries a stark message for her.
Home is no refuge for Emilia; hotel manager Kurt Rucker has a shocking secret that could tear their relationship apart.
Unexpected help comes from a frightened attorney and a famous movie star, but each new clue to the murders unravels the one before. Meanwhile, Emilia’s ongoing hunt for a missing girl, a continuing series subplot, leads to the infamous El Pharaoh casino, a place she knows only too well.
What do a casino and a cop killer have in common? Emilia bets on her partner, but his gamble could cost both their lives.
“Detective Cruz, I’m so glad I found you.” It was Claudia Sanchez again, but no longer Emilia’s new best friend. She thrust out a cell phone, the gesture full of shaky bravado. “I need your contact information.”
Emilia blinked at the woman.
“We need to schedule our first planning meeting,” Claudia continued. “I’d like to make it the same time every week. We’ll meet in my office in this building until we move to the Las Palomas headquarters.”
She paused and looked at Emilia expectantly.
Emilia didn’t move.
After a moment of confusion, Claudia went on doggedly. “We have a lot of decisions to make. Carlota has given me a file full of her ideas. We really need to focus on the uniforms. Carlota wants something with that signature Las Brisas pink.”
“Do you have any idea what it means to be a cop in this city?” Emilia asked abruptly.
“I . . . I majored in public administration and security in college,” Claudia stammered. “I’ve been working for the mayor for almost two years.”
Emilia was nearly speechless with sudden fury. “Have you ever listened to your partner describe how he came home to find his wife a bloody dead mess?” She launched herself off the wall as she spoke. “Paid a snitch on the street for information to keep your friends from being killed? Scraped bodies off a sidewalk after a gang fight?”
Claudia took a shaky step away from Emilia. “You’re not being very nice, Detective Cruz.”
Emilia’s anger fled as quickly as it came. Claudia’s face was puckered with the effort not to cry.
The situation was hopeless.
“I have to go,” Emilia said.