“Wednesday Writer” – Frédérique Molay

Frédérique Molay is the author of THE 7TH WOMAN, which is the first in an ongoing series of edge-of-your-seat police procedurals set in Paris focusing on the city’s elite Criminal Investigation Division and its Chief of Police, Nico Sirsky. This book won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, was named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, and is already an international bestseller. It was published in English by the digital-first publisher Le French Book.

Frederique MolayME:  When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and what prompted you to attempt your first novel at age 11? Can you give us a quick summary of the story? (Also, I’d love to show a picture of you at that age.)

FM:  When I learned to read, it was like a revelation. It was incredible to discover that letters formed words, then sentences and, finally, stories. Stories that take you into a parallel world, a fourth dimension, a land of dreams–and nightmares.

Very quickly, I became intrigued by the mechanisms of suspense that keep readers turning the pages of a book. So, I made a wish: to discover this power granted to novelists so that I, too, could make others feel such strong emotions. To do that, I wrote my first novel when I was eleven years old. It was a story about a child-killing cat. (Okay, that’s scary. Sounds like the kind of thing Stephen King would have started out writing.)

FMolay1(Frédérique, at 11…obviously a dog-lover)

ME:  You have said that you think writers “are actually made to write in one genre or another” . . . that the writer has to find what he/she is made for and accept it. How did you finally know crime fiction best fits you, and what in your particular brand of crime fiction echoes who you are?

FM:  There are so many books I would have loved to write, magnificent books at that, but I quickly realized that I was made to write crime fiction. This is perhaps because I’m really two different people. One is Cartesian, realistic, reasonable, ordered, the filing kind . . . and the other is a dreamer, the story-telling kind, who feels the need to flee, to escape and to forget.

Perhaps also I feel the need to establish a special bond with the reader that you find in the interactive game offered by the mystery genre. Perhaps it is because I am attracted to the fight between good and evil, and like the search for truth, as well. In 1791, the French philosopher Nicolas de Condorcet said, “The friends of truth are those who are seeking it, not those who boast about having found it.”

And also, perhaps I am afraid of death and I am trying to come to grips with that. What could be more reassuring than discovering a motive and a culprit, a good explanation for a death?

(So many possibilities. Each one sounds reasonable.)

ME:  What was your childhood like, and did anything in it lead to your interest in crime fighting and justice?

FM:  I had a happy childhood; bad luck came to me later on. My paternal grandfather was a Voltaire-style humanist, as was my father, and I always tried to understand rather than judge the things that happened to me. Except that in my stories, good always wins out over evil. I should also mention that I have always loved American movies, and particularly the Marvel universe of superheroes. The ups and downs of life and human cruelty will never make me forget my thirst for ideals and justice.

ME:  Why did you go into politics, and did that motivation have anything in common with why you write?

FM:  Because of my ideals. I wanted to help people and to participate in local development. Building projects, writing speeches for a commission chairman at the National Assembly or for a government minister certainly contributed greatly to my understanding of how investigations work and the attention to detail that is involved. In the end, politics scuffed up my idealism, (Why am I not surprised by that?) but my characters bolster it.

ME:  I’m very interested in the minds of writers. You’ve said, “For me, writing is an outlet, a way to fulfill a need to live in a parallel life.” Does everyone have that need, or just writers, and why?

FM:  I imagine that anyone who gives themselves over to an art form, whatever it may be, does so out of passion, but also because of some inner necessity, some need to externalize emotions and feelings, driven by the desire to share and impact others, and to be loved in return.

As Hermann Hesse said in The Journey to the East, “My happiness did indeed arise from the same secret as the happiness in dreams; it arose from the freedom to experience everything imaginable simultaneously, to exchange outward and inward easily, to move Time and Space about like scenes in a theatre.”

(That’s an excellent summation of the writing process!)

ME:  You’ve also said, “It is a form of self psychoanalysis, but you have to remain Zen.” Could you elaborate on that? What exactly did you mean?

FM:  In Dune, Frank Herbert asks, “Do you wrestle with dreams? Do you contend with shadows?” I prefer to wrestle with dreams. That is most probably my way of escaping the daily grind, of inventing a world where, although there is still crime, the good guys never lose sight of what is essential. Ultimately, my main goal, though, is to give readers strong emotions, an agreeable moment during which they can forget whatever my be bothering them.

ME:  Why do you think people enjoy reading suspense?

FM:  Oh, that magical power we talked about earlier in this interview. Writers of suspense are sorcerers who make readers keep turning the pages, who drag the readers into a story and knowing the end becomes the sole focus. Who killed and why? How can you stop before you know? Watch David Fincher’s The Game with the so-attractive Michael Douglas (I told you I love American movies). It has an excellent plot that ends in a kind of apotheosis. Like a good mystery should.

(Thanks for the suggestion :D)

ME:  Which writers or philosophers have influenced you the most and how?

FM:  Who has influenced me? Enid Blyton was a big part of my childhood, then came Stephen King (Aha! I thought so), Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Michael Connelly and so many others. I am a fan of fantasy and crime fiction, but I often dive into more traditional literature, and read it with great pleasure. I love so many writers, it would be hard to mention them all here. What is interesting is to see the historical and philosophical threads that connect these authors.

For example, in Planet of the Apes, which marked me deeply, the author Pierre Boulle’s commentary on human society, mockery of those refusing to have critical thinking, satire of human pride, and his humor were all inspired by the French philosopher Voltaire’s short story Micromégas, a philosophical tale of an extraordinary voyage, representative of the Age of Enlightenment and symbolizing the philosophical notion of relativity. (Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley, was also inspired by Voltaire’s Candide.)

ME:  I understand you take a fairly structured approach to writing. Could you describe your process in writing a novel from start to finish? Also, what are you working on now?

FM:  A plot revolving around a police investigation is necessarily based on a logical approach: you have to plant the clues, give them meaning and lead the reader to the culprit. There is, of course, still a certain amount of room for the imagination. In THE 7TH WOMAN, I didn’t know who the killer was when I began the novel. It became obvious to me who it was as the story took shape. On the other hand, other stories require knowing who killed and how. But in any case, the characters sometimes reveal themselves to be different from how you imagine them at the beginning. They really do take on a life of their own.


I am also regularly in contact with police officers, medical examiners and judges in order to be able to describe what they do in a realistic way.

Currently, I am working on the fourth book in the Nico Sirsky, Chief of Police, series. It renews with the kind of harshness found in THE 7TH WOMAN, where my hero finds himself facing uncertainty in his private life that makes him both darker and more fragile. I’ll say no more for now. (We understand. :D)

ME:  Finally, always being interested in where writers create their stories, I’d love it if you would describe your writing space in the voice of your main character–police inspector Nico Sirsky–as if he were conducting an investigation there. (It would also be wonderful to post a picture of your writing space.)

Molay_officeFM: (As Nico)

Nico climbed the stairs to the mezzanine that overlooked the living room. Piles of magazines and books surrounded two low chairs and a tiny coffee table. His heart beat faster as he cracked open the door leading to the devil’s lair: his creator’s office. What, or who, was he expecting to meet? What did it matter, anyway? What could possibly be worse than learning that he only lived through a woman’s imagination? That he was just a name on a book cover? That he would die the day his readers turned away from him, with complete impunity? A fate as terrible as getting shot in the heart as you turn a street corner.

The woman was sitting in a black leather chair, behind a long desk made of light-colored wood. She was focused on her computer, lost in a parallel universe, the one she built for him every day. All around her were white walls, with two roof windows letting the light flood into the room. There were paintings, and pictures of children, probably hers. There was one of her with Mary Higgins Clark, when she was younger; a good luck picture. There were other objects, Mother’s Day gifts and travel souvenirs, some look like they are from Russia, where both their ancestors came from. A Plexiglas tower overflowed with CDs. She liked music just like he did, played in the background, or blasting through the apartment. In the end, Nico found the atmosphere to be studious and calm, nothing at all like this woman’s blood-filled imagination with the crimes she set out on his path and made his duty to resolve. He observed her for a minute with a knot in his throat. Her face stiffened and then relaxed incessantly, while her fingers tapped away at the keyboard, nothing gentle at all in her approach. He sat down on a bench, slowly to keep from rustling the papers laid out there, hand-written notes and printed documents for her novels.

His lips formed the words, “Thank you.”

She straightened up, and seemed to look in his direction.

“No, it is I who thank you,” she whispers.

Nico wondered which of the two breathed life into the other, dazed by the very question.

(Formidable! E merci!)

Come back next Wednesday for my interview with Craig Everett, author of the middle grade financial literacy thriller, Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune.

Craig Everett

Originally posted 2013-02-06 06:00:09.

“Wednesday Writer” – Gregg Luke

(Note: A comment on this post earns you a shot at winning an autographed copy of my new book, A NIGHT ON MOON HILL.)

Having now penned six medical thrillers, Gregg Luke has definitely created his own niche among LDS authors, and all while dispensing drugs (legally) by day as a pharmacist. When I first met him at an LDStorymakers Conference, he struck me more as a blond-haired version of Tom Selleck (the mustache, of course) and so I wasn’t at all surprised to learn he wrote mystery thrillers. I should have suspected he’d be involved with movies, too.

Me:  Tell me about the story you wrote in 4th grade that prompted your teacher to write “Wonderful imagination” on the paper? What was it about and do you still have it?

Gregg:  Yes, I still have it. The story is about a village whose well had run dry. One day it rained so much that the well filled up. The mayor said each villager should only take enough water to survive. But someone came back that night and took even more. In the morning all his water was spoiled. No one could figure out the mystery until the guy finally confessed to having taken more. The mayor concluded that the water had been a gift from heaven and that the well would always remain full as long as no one else got greedy.

Yeah, I know it’s not very original, but hey, that was back in 4th grade! In retrospect, it sounds just like the Old Testament story of manna from heaven. I probably stole the story idea from a primary lesson. (Hmmm…he was into crime even back then.)

Me:  When and why did you actually begin to consider writing a book that would be published? And what did you imagine your first book would be about at that time?

Gregg:  I’ve always loved telling stories. Growing up I devoured the Willard Price adventure series. I decided right then that I wanted to write a bunch of novels filled with excitement, adventure, and cool facts.

I wrote numerous short stories for creative writing classes, but it wasn’t until I’d finished college that I thought I had the ability (or time!) to write a full novel.

My first novel was actually a Book of Mormon adventure that garnered an inch-thick stack of rejection letters.

(I think several of us have experienced that. It’s a rite of passage for any author . . . well, any author but Stephenie Meyer, perhaps.)

Me:  Growing up in Santa Barbara, CA, I imagine you must have tried your hand (actually, your hands and feet) at surfing. You just strike me as the surfing type. If so, what did you like and what did you dislike about it? If not, why not? (And even if you weren’t a surfer, I must have a picture of you from your high school years.)

Gregg:  Ha! I was definitely a beach bum, but I’ve actually never tried surfing. I was pretty good at boggie boarding (yes, it’s spelled that way) and volleyball, but my real passion was snorkeling and scuba diving. I think the best way to describe scuba diving is that it’s kind of like flying. You basically fly above the seabed, hovering, going up or down, and interacting with the marine life without ever having to touch the ground.

From boggie boarding…

to scuba diving. What will he try next?


Me:  In high school, what did you like more, writing or making movies? And why? Also, so many writers I know were into theater at some point in their lives. Were you involved with theater at all in high school?

Gregg:  I think writing and movie making (and even song writing) are simply different means of storytelling. I’ve done all three, because (as I said earlier) I love storytelling. Each form has its own challenges, advantages and disadvantages, and appeal. I don’t necessarily like one over the other, but I think you can learn something from each that will strengthen your craft in the others. But back then I was definitely more into filmmaking. I love everything about the craft!

Yes, I was involved in theater and choral performance in high school. I was in a few choral groups and small plays, but I never went hardcore into the drama scene. I didn’t like the emphases prevalent in those days. You gotta remember that I grew up in the 70’s where the moral attitude was “if it feels good, do it.” I didn’t want to get involved with productions which promoted that viewpoint. (I guess my high school drama group was a little more tolerant of a strict Mormon. Sure, that attitude was around, but they didn’t push it on you.)

Me:  I know you got a scholarship to BYU in Cinematography, so what made you change your major to Biologic Sciences? And did your mission to Wisconsin have anything to do with it? (Also, if you happen to still have one of your short films from those days, I’d love to feature it here. Hint, hint.)

Gregg:  I got that scholarship because I had shown a short, special effects film I made to one of the department heads at the insistence of my mom. The summer before my mission, we were on a family vacation and I’d brought a few super8 movies with me to show my cousins. We stopped by BYU so my mom could see old friends (she’s an alum), she mentioned my material to one of her friends who had a friend in the film department, and before I knew it I was showing my work to a couple department heads. I didn’t think anything of it until my mission president suggested I apply to BYU because he’d heard they had a good film department. Next thing I knew I had a scholarship because one of the department heads remembered my material.

How did that transition to science? I’ve always been fascinated with the sciences. I love everything about discovering the world around us. I love learning how it ticks. I also love watching documentaries on nature. Some are painfully boring, others are riveting. The reason why? The good ones don’t simply disseminate facts, they tell a story. I guess my love of both disciplines melded into a single passion. 

Me:  Which has had more of an influence on your writing: biology (and your current occupation as a Pharmacist) or cinematography? And please explain how.

Gregg:  Oh my career as a pharmacist has had a far greater influence on my writing. I can take just about any drug from my pharmacy shelves and with a few “what ifs” can create a story around it. Plus, I have an almost limitless cast of characters to choose from in the patients I encounter. (Some have even asked to be included in a novel. It’s a little disconcerting how many of those want to be villains instead of heroes!) (Okay, I’m not a patient, but can I be a heroine?)

Me:  Please describe your writing space as if a killer is sneaking in and trying to learn clues about the occupant in order to murder him. (And provide a picture, as well . . . not of the murder, but of your writing space. :D)

Gregg:  Really? Um, okay. Remember, you asked for it.

The small house was quiet, unassuming. Entering it had been child’s play. The intruder knew the occupants were simply empty-nesters with no real assets or valuables worthy of theft. But that’s not why she was there.

No one was home. The only living creature was an overweight, yellow cat that spent ninety percent of its life asleep. The cat was nowhere in sight. No matter. The moment was now. She’d done just enough research to know her timing was perfect.

Just inside the front door, the intruder passed a display case of archaic pharmacy paraphernalia. Glancing at the ancient medicines, she allowed herself a rare smile, imagining with a morbid sense of irony which one might complete her nefarious task with the maximum amount of suffering.

She shook her head and continued down the hallway. The first room had been converted into a small library. Such arrogance; such temerity. Even without going in she knew the shelves would be lined with his twisted taste in literature. Dean Koontz. Steven King. Stephanie Black. They were all there. All the sickos. And more. There was probably an entire shelf devoted purely to his own macabre writing. She harrumphed, knowing she could write circles around him with one hand tied behind her back . . . in her sleep . . . having gone weeks without food or water . . . or brushing her teeth.

The next room was his office. Two L-shaped desks; one for him, the other for his wife. She wrote YA fantasy: Marvelous, uplifting material that had real substance. He wrote repugnant, implausible drivel; predictable hogwash rife with blood, guts, gore, and big words that nobody knew how to pronounce, much less what they meant. The left side of his desk held his HP laptop; the right side a large blotter on which he scrawled seemingly important notes, trivial appointments, and upcoming deadlines.

Dead-lines, she snickered inwardly. Oh, there would be some very “dead” lines on that desktop real soon. The hutch above the blotter was ideal for her plans. Two sliding doors hid an assortment of reference books and teaching materials. But there was room for a bomb, too.

The rare smile returned as she removed a high yield, thermal nuclear warhead with a nominal aspect of thirty kilotons of enriched uranium, all cleverly disguised in her Mary Kay compact. Oh yes. Yes! Finally, this would be the end to Gregg Luke’s sophomoric authorship. Never again would she be drawn into his macabre tales of disease and death, which kept her up at night with really, really yucky dreams.

Setting the trigger to detonate in precisely forty minutes, the time at which he’d return from home teaching, she slid open one of the hutch doors—and gasped. Sitting inside the cubby, with a look of smug superiority and imminent doom, the yellow cat crouched poised for attack. Obviously overlooked in her shoddy research, she did not realize that the cat was a seventh-level Ninja. In a blinding flash the cat lunged, subdued the intruder, deactivated the bomb, and returned to the foot of his master’s bed to continue his nap.

The rest is history.

(Nicely done, but drat! You made me the villain. Ha! I flatter myself.)

Me:  After giving scriptural fiction a couple of tries, you seem to have found your stride by becoming the Michael Crichton of LDS medical thriller writers with such hits as BLINK OF AN EYE, ALTERED STATE, BLOODBORNE and the recent DEADLY UNDERTAKINGS. Any plans on following him further down the science fiction path and creating something “Jurassic Park”-like?

Gregg:  Wow, I’ll take that compliment! Thanks! My hero is the late Michael Crichton. He graduated from Harvard Medical School, but never really practiced medicine because he had more fun writing novels and making movies.

Michael Crichton

I’ve never written any sci-fi to speak of. I suppose I could try but I really like writing copy that has its foundation in real science. I believe that adds to its creepability (new word?). It’s one thing to say a mutation-causing element was discovered in a galaxy far, far away; it’s another to say this virus is REAL and it CAN cause the horrible things I describe. Jurassic Park the novel was infinitely better than the movie(s) because Crichton used actual science (with a little speculative license) to recreate the dinosaurs. I think I came close to that in Altered State. SPAAM is a chemical of my own making, derived from existing chemicals that function as I described in the book. Whether they actually allow for mind control is another matter; but the chemistry behind it is real. (Having a very unscientific mind, I’ll just have to take your word for that.)

Me:  Given your background in film, do you storyboard your novels, or how would you describe your writing process? And what are you working on now?

Gregg:  Believe it or not, I’m more of a discovery writer. (Me too!) I have blocks of information and disclosure that are arranged in a specific order, but I have no idea how I’m going to get from point A to point B until my characters take me there. However, in writing any scene I always “watch the movie in my head” before I begin typing. I’ve had several readers say my novels read like watching a movie, and that’s why. I use many of the elements of good filmmaking in my storytelling.

I’m currently working on about four projects. One is nearly complete, one is well under way, and two are still in their infancy. I just completed a collection of scary stories for Halloween 2013. I was asked to co-author the collection with Stephanie Black and Traci Abramson. We each wrote a Halloween-themed novella to be compiled by Covenant into one book. I’m very excited about it. I’m also dabbling in adapting Do No Harm into a screenplay. Time will tell if that pans out (pun intended). :D

Me:  Finally, is it true that you used to fence, and, if so, how did you become introduced to the sport? (I’d love a picture of you in fencing attire, preferably in the middle of a match or a practice session.)

Gregg:  Okay, now you’re scaring me. How the heck did you know that?

I like doing things out of the norm (big shock, I know). When required to take a foreign language in college, instead of taking Spanish like everyone else, I took Japanese. Instead of taking a basic gym class, I took fencing. I loved it. My coach was a former coach of the Russian Olympic team. I fought epée. But I wasn’t very good. My size was a mixed-blessing. I had a three-meter lunge, but I also presented a pretty large target to skewer.

Gregg getting skewered! (Just kidding . . . this is what he gets for not providing any pics) 

Wow, Tanya, this was fun. Talk about walking down memory lane! Thanks for your interest in my less-than-average life. It’s been fun, and I certainly hope it continues. I feel very, very blessed (and I hope that continues too).

Seriously, it was fun for me too. I wish you had your website up and working so I could point our readers to it, but you can check out all of Gregg’s books here and maybe even buy one!

Originally posted 2012-10-10 06:00:41.

“Thriller Thursday” Preview and How Suspense Fits In

Present word count of WIP:  59,427

They say not all thrillers are suspense novels and not all suspense novels are thrillers. So what’s the difference? And how does Mystery fit in?

It remains confusing in my mind, but I like Maeve Maddux’s delineation here. Nevertheless, I think one of the reasons I’m taking on this huge reading project is to help me clarify these genres.

As defined by International Thriller Writers, you can characterize a true thriller by “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”

For a lengthier description of what makes a novel a thriller, I recommend this site.

For those of you who haven’t yet looked up NPR’s list of “Killer Thrillers,” these are the first 20 I’ll be devouring in order:

1. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris 

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

3. Kiss the Girls, by James Patterson

4. The Bourne Identity, by Robert Ludlum

5. In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

6. The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown

7. The Shining, by Stephen King 

8. And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie

9. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy

10. The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

11. Dracula, by Bram Stoker

12. The Stand, by Stephen King

13. The Bone Collector, by Jeffery Deaver

14. Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton 

15. Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown

16. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham

17. The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton

18. Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

19. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth

20. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

In all honesty, I’ve already read at least seven of these thrillers (I can’t recall for sure if I read “The Andromeda Strain” or if I’m simply remembering the movie). However, I am not going to skip over those I’ve already read. I’ll read ALL of them in order to gain the full perspective.

One of my readers, Bob, already contacted me about having read and/or seen the movie version of most on this list. I realized then that much of what we might think of these stories has likely been slanted either positively or negatively by their movie versions. I thought that would make for a couple of good questions to put to all of you:

How many of these first 20 have you actually read (before seeing the movie)? (If you only saw the movie, it doesn’t count.) Of those you have read, which would you rank at the top?




Originally posted 2012-06-28 13:16:14.