Please welcome J. Carson Black, author of the stunning new series featuring Laura Cardinal!
Synopsis and Review:
Dark Side of the Moon by J. Carson Black
Publisher: Signet ISBN: 045121725X
J. Carson Black follows up her stunning debut novel featuring Arizona Detective Laura Cardinal with an outing that's just as thrilling as her first. This time out Laura, who is still recovering from her last brush with danger, is called to the scene of a brutal double murder in which a young couple has been killed while camping in the Arizona wilderness. The crime, which at first seems random and impersonal, begins to take on a different tone the deeper the investigators delve, with the trail eventually leading them to an underground organization as well as a myriad of suspects with much more personal reasons for seeing the couple dead. Is this a case of obsessive love gone wrong, or something much more complicated? As Laura searches for the answer to this question she will soon find herself facing danger from a truth which is much closer than she thinks.
In this second outing featuring Laura Cardinal, J. Carson Black has added even further depth and substance to this already compelling character, making this read even more gripping than the first, for it's in this character where the strengths of the story lie. Intimacy shy, but courageous and fearless in her job, Laura is the reason the pages simply fly by unnoticed. Not to say the plot is inconsequential, quite the opposite, creative and gripping from the first page forward, you'll find yourself hooked all the way to the explosive ending. If you have yet to read this bright new voice in suspense fiction, you're missing out, because we expect the next to be just as invigorating as the first two.
1. Give us a bit of background on Laura Cardinal, the heroine of your new series.
It’s no secret--although I have made only a few references to it in my first two books—that Laura’s parents were killed during a home invasion. Someone got the wrong house, demanded drug money from a couple of schoolteachers, then executed them when they couldn’t comply. Up to that point, Laura had lived a normal, if sheltered, middle-class life (as I did). She majored in Communications in college and had a fiancé. Then, overnight, her life changed. Seeking stability and longing for a family, she married her fiancé shortly after the killings. The marriage was doomed from the beginning, and their young, healthy relationship broke up from structural damage, falling in pieces into a deep, painful void. An only child (like me) she was now truly alone in the world. She learned from this experience that she could depend on no one but herself. Laura also learned that she could not trust her own instincts when it came to men.
A few more failed relationships and Laura had a new mantra: I don’t do relationships well. There was one relationship she did do well, however, and that was her relationship with the homicide cop who investigated her parents’ murders and stood by her side during the ensuing trial. Frank Entwistle became her mentor, and the whole trajectory of her life changed. To get control of her life and her circumstances, Laura became a cop. She wanted to come from strength, not weakness. It would be great if she found someone, but she was self-sufficient. She didn’t need anybody to make herself complete. Of course, we see how that breaks down in DARK SIDE OF THE MOON.
2. Where did your inspiration for Laura's character come from?
I have always been intrigued by people whose lives change, usually through tragedy. I’m fascinated by those whose lives become bigger than they were before. John Walsh is a perfect example of this. His son is murdered, and his whole life changes. He has been responsible for the capture of hundreds of criminals, and in the process, become larger than himself. I grew up with a friend whose life was altered by tragedy. Like Laura, she was middle-class, went to college, and she was artistic. But after the tragedy (a result of gun violence) she became something else: a black-belt, multiple-Rottweiler-owning, gun-toting cop. Perhaps this person always resided inside her, but the transformation was incredible and complete. She has become an urban legend among the cops at TPD; some of them think she uses her hallway for a shooting range. I’ve been in her hallway, and there’s no way.
3. It's interesting that you put Laura into the Department of Public Safety, why this particular department?
I chose the DPS for Laura on the suggestion of my good cop friend and mystery writer police consultant, John Cheek (he runs Cops ‘n Writers). As an investigator with the state police, Laura can assist smaller jurisdictions on cases they can’t handle on their own. The benefits of this for me are two-fold: there will always be friction—okay, out-and-out resentment—whenever Laura comes in from the outside to work a case. The other benefit is strictly for selfish reasons: I love small towns and rural areas. I gravitate to greasy spoon diners, old motels, wide open spaces, and small-town politics. So if I can figure out a justification, I can take Laura anywhere in the state or beyond, which also serves to open up the scope of the story. This also means I have to do research and go to the town myself. And it’s tax deductible.
4. Why did you decide to go the route of a series as opposed to stand-alone type novels?
I think of a series as building equity. With every book you write, whoever comes late to the party realizes you have a book before that and a book before that, and they buy those, too, which is good for your backlist. So many stand-alone books are just plain lost. Now, with amazon, if someone really wants to buy your first three or four books in a series, they usually can. But the main thing for me is continuity. I want someone I can depend on and grow with. Laura is perfect for me and I can’t wait for the next adventure to start. In fact, I already wrote the opening chapter of the fourth book in the series, THE WITCHING HOUR, while I was reworking the last thirty pages of the third book. I’ve never done that before. It seems that with every Laura Cardinal book, I get more and more excited. It’s a marvelous feeling.
5. Where do you get your plot ideas?
From everywhere and anywhere. I’ll be honest and tell you I had a leg up on the first book in the series. Cops, again. Two of them approached me and asked if I had a premise for the first book in my series. They were seriously worried about internet predation on children and wanted to get the message out to parents. They thought fiction was a good way to do it. They even had a scenario which impressed the heck out of me. (These guys could have been screenwriters!) The premise was open-ended and could lead anywhere: what would happen if cops in a small town took things in their own hands and lured a sexual predator to their town—and it all went bad? And so I wrote DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. The second book, DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, started with one idea (the dark side of love) but I realized that it needed another component. I read something on the truckloads of nuclear waste traversing our highways, going through the heart of two major cities: Flagstaff and Albuquerque. I wondered what would happen if someone got control of one of those trucks.
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, at its heart, is about how we see ourselves, and how we want other people to see us. It’s about what happens when that image of self breaks down.
THE DEVIL’S HOUR, which I have just finished and sent to my agent, is about a sociopath. I don’t want to give away the story line, but this, too, was inspired by an undercover detective who told me about that strangest case he had ever been involved with. (Another cop. Are you beginning to see a theme here?) And then one day I was sitting at a light and there was a purple PT Cruiser behind me. The man driving it was somewhere between forty and fifty, and he had a salt-and-pepper beard, wire-rimmed glasses, and hair parted in the middle that fell to his shoulders. Later that week I was finishing the last rewrite of DARK SIDE OF THE MOON in a cabin in the woods, throwing pages of hardcopy on the floor when I was done with them, when I suddenly thought of this guy. Now he had a name, a real white-bread monicker: Steve Lawson. And he had a dog, a black labrador named Jake. The next morning I awoke at four in the morning and wrote what would happen to Steve Lawson and why. And what his connection to Laura Cardinal was.
6. Do you usually know where your book is going and where it will all end when you start, or are you the type who makes it up as you go along?
With police procedural/thrillers, I think it’s good to know who the killer is. Although I’m sure there are some writers who don’t even know that. I try to outline some, and I try to just write my way in, too. It’s different with every book. I just sort of muddle through. Although with DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, I was asked for a detailed synopsis halfway through. If I didn’t deliver it, I wouldn’t get my next paycheck. So I ended up writing about 20 pages of outline, which is pretty detailed. I followed it, too, although there were plenty of differences. I believe the real changes and the real writing come in the second draft. The first draft--for me, anyway--is just somehow getting it down, even if it’s complete and utter crap.
7. Does any of your own personal background go into Laura's stories? If so, how about some examples.
Laura grew up where I grew up, in the El Fuerte area of Tucson, Arizona. El Fuerte means “the fort”. Fort Lowell was a cavalry fort outside Tucson in the late 1800s, and a neighborhood later grew up around the ruins. When I was growing up, there were lots of farms and ranches along the riverbed. And a little desert cemetery that gave me nightmares.
The orange and white 1955 Chevy Bel Air that was used in the murder of Julie Marr was the same car that chased me when I was fourteen. I had been walking down a road after getting into a fight with my friends and splitting up with them. Recently, I found a three-page description I wrote of the chase for English class. It was overwritten; heavy on the heart-pounding, throat-closing, knees-shaking, but a nice effort nonetheless.
Laura had a horse, and so did I. When I was seventeen years old, I spent a goodly number of nights sitting on the ground waiting for a mare to foal; she never did—not until I had gone home to sleep. So I used this for an important event in DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.
8. What do you find the most difficult about writing this series? The least difficult? And what is your favorite part of the whole process?
Most difficult? Since I’m so early in the series, it doesn’t really seem difficult. I’m sure, though, that as I go along, I’ll paint myself into some corners. The more information that leaks out about Laura, the more trapped I’ll be. I do have a hard time remembering names from the previous books, or specific places or instances, so I have to go into the last book and hunt for them, to be accurate. Sometimes I wish mystery books had an index. Wouldn’t that be neat? Then readers could find the exact page where the clue they missed was planted.
The least difficult? Having Laura. She is my touchstone, and I trust her to bring me through.
My favorite part of the process (and the most maddening part, too) is writing. Particularly the second draft, when I can really let go and have some fun. Writing is hard, but it’s worthwhile. I used to think that seeing my book in the store would be the best part, but that usually leads to other worries—mainly, who’s not going to like it? Why aren’t there copies in this store or that store in my hometown? There’s a lot of insult heaped onto injury in this biz. All the insecurities bubble up, so I actually find the book-coming-out part stressful and slightly painful. Although getting that first copy of the book and holding it in your hand—that’s unbeatable! And a great review is like a day of sunshine.
9. At what point did you know this is what you wanted to do with your life?
I should have known when I was five years old. My dad, a schoolteacher, used to leave me paper, usually mimeographed tests but the back sides were blank. I always made books, having my mom staple several pages together. I was a horse nut, so as I went through elemetary school and got my first typewriter—a manual—I wrote lots of books about horses. “White Mistral of Graythorn Mountain.” “Hotspur, a Stallion.” “Red Ember of Whispering Pines.” I illustrated the covers, usually a horse standing on a hill. I rarely got past “Chapter One”, but once I wrote a 200+ page single-spaced half-a-book called “For Want of a Horse.” It was set in Wyoming. I’d been there on a camping trip with my parents.
But I sang in the high school choir, and, being a malleable sort, let myself get shunted into two vocal performance degrees at the University of Arizona. I sang in a few operas and really thought I’d make it to the Big Time, but I was just in denial. I had the voice, I think, but not the temperament. I do have the temperament for writing. Finally, I figured that out. I can’t do anything else—I can’t even make change--so this is it!
10. Any great inspirations you'd like to share?
Just a couple of things that I think are important to being a writer. One, you control a lot more of the universe than you think—you just have raise your sights and go for it. You be the one to frame the debate. Two, to be successful in any discipline, it comes down to two basic prerequisites: knowing what to do, and working hard to back it up. These two prerequisites are accessible to anybody.
11. What are your greatest hopes for Laura in the future?
I hope I can keep her in the desert. The desert replenishes her spirit; it’s an island of calm in a very rough sea. At the moment—and I don’t want to give away too much—her future in the desert is in doubt.
I also hope she finds the right guy. Having been happily married for twenty-five years, I’d like to see her have a companion who will watch her back. It gets lonely talking to a ghost. Especially when that ghost wears cheap polyester suits, has dandruff and smelly feet. Laura just might have found the right guy, but it may be impossible…
12. And finally, what’s next for Laura?
The girl is really up against it in THE DEVIL’S HOUR. She runs head-on into her biggest challenge yet, an efficient and remorseless predator who takes from her those things that are most precious. This predator, whom Laura calls The Mamba, is her nemesis. I’m not sure how this will all play out; Laura follows The Mamba through THE DEVIL’S HOUR and into THE WITCHING HOUR, like Captain Ahab after the whale.
J. CARSON BLACK BIO:
J. Carson Black was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona. As a child, she developed strong legs in order to stay on her wily Navajo pony, Cookie, who bucked her off at every opportunity. Those strong legs stood her in good stead when, as a teenager, she was chased through a desert area by a man in a 1955 white-over orange Chevrolet Bel Air. The Chevy Bel Air haunted her dreams for years, finally coming to life in the thriller DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN (Penguin/Signet, 2005). J. Carson Black started out her professional life as an opera singer, quickly saw the error of her ways, and turned to writing novels. She has written eleven novels (not counting the approximately two million first chapters she wrote as a child), over fifty magazine articles, worked as a writer for Raytheon Missile Systems, and wrote internet content for two-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey, Kent Desormeaux.
In 2002, two police officers, worried about the growing problem of sexual predators on the internet, approached J. Carson Black and asked her if she would be interested in writing about that subject. She had just developed the idea for a new police procedural/thriller series starring Laura Cardinal, an Arizona Department of Public Safety criminal investigator who troubleshoots homicide investigations in small towns. She took their suggestion under advisement, and a book was born.