It's been a long time since a spy story really kept me guessing. Thrillers are such a staple of my reading diet that it's easy to become jaded with the formula, and if you're in the same frame of mind, these are the books you need to remind you how exciting thrillers can be. It's a linked trilogy of different protagonists solving the same mystery. That's all I can say without giving too much away, but if you think that's a tough way to tell a story, think the exact opposite instead. Lisa pulls it off with great skill. And the good news is, there will be books in the series (so we can look forward to the fourth and fifth books in the trilogy, hahaha).
I invited Lisa for a chat about the Black Cipher books, her current projects, and more about her career.
Brian Drake: The Black Cipher Files felt like a modern interpretation of a Robert Ludlum book, with the wide scope and roller-coaster ride of "who can you trust?" moments. Have you read a lot of espionage novels, or did you take the plunge following your best judgement?
Lisa Hughey: Brian, first of all, thank you so much for having me here, and comparing (even in just the slightest manner) my work to Ludlum! A long time ago, before I was writing, I read Le Carré and other thriller writers. I love movie thrillers, and the Bourne trilogy is a personal favorite. However, I didn’t really study them, I mostly started with a “what if?” and went from there. I read a fascinating book on the National Security Agency, and besides all the research details, when I read about TICOM (a joint task force between the US and Britain from WWII) and the fact that information about what happened to the code-breakers captured in Germany in 1945 is STILL classified, I was hooked. What happened to all those people captured?
BD: The idea of telling one long story over three books with three separate protagonists is very intriguing. I had to buy the box set to see how you pulled it off, and it was very impressive. Did you chose that avenue because of the expectation that romance novels will have a definitive end? Was it hard to write the books that way?
LH: In romance novels, typically (though not always) there are one set of main characters per full-length book, so I started out with the idea that I would write an over-arching plot through three books. I knew who my main characters were for the first two, and I knew Zeke would be the third hero but I didn’t really start thinking about Sunshine until I was part way through Betrayals. Was it hard? YES! I did know who the villain was at the beginning of Blowback but making sure I tied up all the loose ends and that I continued to weave plot through all three books without irritating readers and leaving too many open-ended questions at the end of Blowback and Betrayals was tough. There were a few points while writing Burned that I wanted to tear my hair out.
BD: You have the first three big Black Cipher novels where we learn the mystery of Department 5491, and now there is a Black Cipher #4 available. Will there be more such adventures or have we reached the end?
LH: So the most current Black Cipher book, featuring Barb the scientist who appears in all three original series books, actually has to do with a mystery from South Korea in 1980. I wanted to continue in the vein of using historical events that impact the future but the Dept 5491 storyline was definitely played out. I absolutely love this story, but it is a little different from the first three. Sort of a Die Hard meets the Black Cipher Files. We haven’t reached the end. My plan is for a book featuring Bella (who we meet in Blowback), Kat (who we meet in Betrayals), and one with Carson and his wife Antoinette. These will be shorter works, more along the lines of Dangerous Game (#4). I’m still working on story lines for these. I expect Carson’s story will be out in 2017. Bella and Kat are yet to be decided!
BD: You have, of course, written other books. Can you tell us more about Family Stone and the Archangel stories? Of your body of work, so far, which are you most happy with?
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The Archangel stories are a bit of a departure from my regular thriller/suspense work. These are paranormal stories about the seven archangels who inhabit the Angelic Realm and are tasked as guardians to earth and the Human Realm. Each archangel falls in love with a human which is strictly forbidden. There is a suspense plot in each one (of course!) that drives the romantic relationship but these books too deal a little bit more with family dynamics and there is an over-arching enemy because I seem to be incapable of writing books that are not interconnected.
BD: How did you start writing?
LH: I started writing while I rode to work on the train into San Francisco. I had read a few books in a row where I was dissatisfied with the endings and I found myself re-writing the ending in my head. I thought, I can do better than that! Of course, that was just the beginning because writing is hard work. It took a long time to learn my craft and let my voice come out instead of trying to sound like someone else.
BD: What is something, other than reading great books, that fuels your imagination for your own stories?
LH: I absolutely LOVE research. I read a lot of nonfiction espionage books. I’ve read books on the CIA, the NSA, the FBI HRT guys, snipers, former SEALs, former case officers, old US/Russian espionage lines. I read papers by research institutes and think tanks. I try not to get super technical but if I have an interesting plot device or trick or trap in my stories, typically it is something I found in my research and is based on something that really happened. Most of my plots and story lines spring from “what if?” scenarios that pop into my head while I’m reading the research.
BD: Writing for the Kindle and e-reader audience can be pretty daunting. How do you keep up on the demands of both writing and promotion and chasing the constant carrot that is ebook success?
LH: Promotion is my nemesis. I would rather write ten books than promote but it is necessary in our current climate. I’m still searching for ways to market and promote that I’m comfortable with and that won’t take up too much time. Writing is my happy place so I try to spend the bulk of my time playing around with plot and characters. The positive of the explosion of ebooks is that it has allowed more writers a voice for their work, especially if you write books that straddle more than one genre. And because we have cut out middlemen we can give the reader a less expensive book. The negative is that there are so many voices out there. I do believe that if you put your head down and stay true to your process and to your stories that eventually your audience will find you. This isn’t to say that you can sit back and do no promotion, but I also think that it’s a slow build so I advertise my free books, I do Facebook parties (I love interacting with readers), I network with other writers and cross promote their work, and I keep writing.
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BD: What drew you to romance and romantic suspense in particular? Was that what you liked to read or is that where the money was? If you weren't writing romance, which subject matter do you think you'd tackle?
LH: I started reading romance when I was a teenager. Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Nora Roberts were and are some of my all-time favorite writers. I also read thrillers and some science fiction but my favorite books are ones that have a central romance. I love the double satisfaction of the triumph of good over evil and the girl gets the boy.
I think if you write for the money, it shows. Writing is intensely personal, and if you are following a trend that’s when readers can sense that your heart isn’t really in it.
If I wasn’t writing romance, I think I’d write in a futuristic post-apocalyptic world after a massive disaster resets the human race. I have no plans to write in that world right now but I do play around with ideas every now and again.
BD: What upcoming books can you tell us about?
LH: The current series I’ve been working on is The Nostradamus Prophecies based on the premise that Nostradamus really was able to see the future, but that it isn’t set in stone. He creates a family book of companion quatrains that is passed down from generation to generation. The current descendant has to decipher the quatrains and stop them from coming true to prevent WWIII. While she is crucial to the stories, she is not the heroine in the first two books. The series features a group of psychic warriors in the CIA’s Project Specter. They use remote viewing for surveillance and intelligence gathering. This is based on a program that actually existed in the CIA in the 1970s. This series combines espionage and paranormal elements. The second book in the series, Never Say Never, released on July 14th. Here’s the blurb:
A very special team of operatives goes deep into Mexican cartel territory … but their point man would rather go deep with the cartel boss's daughter.
This hero doesn't do guns, gangs or crying women … Kelvin Jackson has had a lifetime's worth of all three. But thanks to his remote viewing of the inside of a remote cartel compound in Mexico, he's in for a lot more. He spots the Russian-made weapons his team is after, and a beautiful woman in mortal danger. His mission--stop the weapons from being distributed by the cartel. Can he do this and save the woman?
She needs a man who'll stop at nothing to save her … Eva Pacheco has watched her father kill everyone who mattered--except her younger brother. Now he uses her bruja powers for profit. She's getting ready to flee with her brother. But the huge, battle-scarred American her father just hired steps square in the middle of her escape route.
If they don't work together, the next deaths will be their own … Eva is irresistibly drawn to the warrior who saves her from a brutal attack, and shields her from her father. But she can't let their sizzling attraction interfere with the plan she's already put in play. Kel soon realizes a different woman lives under her glamorous façade. But her explosive secrets place his entire op in danger--because someone else has a deadly plan for the cache of weapons, and for Eva.
Also, if your readers are interested, the first book, View To A Kill is on sale for $0.99 right now.
BD: I better get out the credit card!
LH: Thank you so much!