SKYJACK: Five Questions With K.J. Howe

KJ Howe

In 2017, K.J. Howe lit the thriller world on fire with her stunning debut, The Freedom Broker.  

While her first book introduced readers to K&R specialist Thea Paris, her second book, Skyjack, continues Thea’s story as she deals with new threats — and even some old ones. 

Howe is known as one of the warmest and nicest people in the publishing industry, and is widely regarded as one of the top debut novelists in years. When she’s not penning high-octane thrillers with relentless pacing and larger-than-life characters, Howe is busy working as the executive director of Thrillerfest — one of the largest gatherings for thriller enthusiasts on the planet. (Think Comic-con, but for fans of thriller novels.)

I first read Skyjack a few months ago and was blown away. Howe really brings the heat with this one, and I for one cannot get enough Thea Paris, who, under Howe’s guidance, has quickly become one of the genre’s most compelling new characters. In fact, I loved Skyjack so much that I picked Howe’s second novel to be this month’s Real Book Spy Book Club selection, and Howe has graciously agreed to a join me in a Facebook live event sometime later this month (we’re still hammering out a date, so be on the lookout for an official announcement) or early on sometime in May. 

A huge thank you to K.J. Howe for agreeing to go on the record as part of our Five Questions segment. . . see the brief Q&A below, then keep scrolling to read more about Skyjack, in stores tomorrow, Tuesday, April 10th. 


SKYJACK: Five Questions with K.J. Howe

TRBS: First and foremost, Skyjack is AWESOME. As much as I loved The Freedom Broker, I think this book is just a touch better. Take me through the process of writing this book. . . how did you come up with the plot idea, and how much research did you have to do?

Howe:  “Thanks for your kind words.  Rambo’s Daddy, David Morrell, gave me some phenomenal advice.  If you spend a year writing a book, use the time invested to push yourself to grow, try something new, stretch yourself.  I’m keen to improve my craft and storytelling skills as I move forward with the series, one day at a time.  Regarding your question about the plot for Skyjack, I scour the internet for unique historical events, and I found two—the Broken Arrow from 1956–it’s a little chilling to know that there are several missing nuclear cores out there.  And the secret stay-behind armies from WWII fascinated me.  The CIA and MI6 along with other NATO intelligence agencies had caches of weapons hidden and secret armies in place in case of a communist takeover attempt.  My imagination was stoked, and I decided to have two of these armies, one from Austria, the other from Italy, go head-to-head in a modern-day battle.  Once I had those jumping-off points, the research just flowed naturally.  As usual, only a small amount of what I learned made its way into the book, but I never feel any of it is wasted.”

TRBS: Thea Paris is just great. There’s nobody quite like her in the genre today, for a number of reasons. First, she’s a strong, tough female operative in a world predominantly made up of men. On top of that, she’s also diabetic. She defies every odd, and somehow always manages to get the job done. Who was your inspiration in creating Thea, and why did you choose to make her a diabetic?

Howe:  “I was inspired to write a strong female character, as there seemed to be a shortage of them in fiction, but not in the real world.  Some of the strongest people I know are women—so why not have a character that exemplifies these real-life heroines, combining their traits to create Thea Paris?  

“I grew up in a home where my father treated me equal to my brothers, encouraging me to pursue adrenaline-fueled activities like scuba diving, riding motorcycles, and other adventures.  I also felt that there was a real vacuum of lead characters who have an illness.  My grandfather had diabetes, so I wanted to honor his memory.  I’ve also had chronic health struggles, so I feel connected to Thea in that way.  And I’d like to show young people that you don’t have to be defined by your illness.  Instead, you can follow your dreams and pursue the career of your choice.  There are famous actors, Olympians, musicians, a Supreme Court Justice, and many others who have diabetes and made it to the top of their fields.”

TRBS: Is there a chance readers might one day see Thea Paris on the big screen, and if so, who would be your dream casting choice to play her?

Howe:  “I sure hope so.  That would be a dream.  When I write, I see a ‘movie’ in front of me, and the international locales and action scenes would be stunning on the screen.  As far as actresses, there are so many talented ones who could do a phenomenal job with Thea.  Just to name a few: Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansson, Gay Gadot.  I’d love to see someone who can kick serious butt take on the role.  No mercy for those baddies.”

TRBS: For those who don’t know, you’re also the executive director of ThrillerFest. What can you tell readers (and aspiring authors who are considering attending) about this year’s event — and will you be on any panels?

Howe: “ThrillerFest is a fabulous conference for any aspiring authors.  Our entire mandate at ITW is to support thriller authors any way we can.  We have craft classes, business panels, pitch sessions, and the all-important cocktail parties.  Don’t laugh…many a contract was initiated at these fun events!  I’ll be on a Rogue Women panel (, so please come say hi if you’re there.  We’re also going to have the brilliant George RR Martin joining us as our 2018 ThrillerMaster along with Megan Abbott, James Rollins, Lee Child, and Lisa Gardner.   This is a great year to join us!

TRBS: Lastly, now that Skyjack is set to hit bookstores, what’s next for Thea, and can readers expect to meet up with her again next year?

Howe:  “I’m kicking off a twelve-city tour on April 10th, and very excited about that.  I’ve already started book three, which will feature Thea trying to negotiate for the release of a group of journalists in Jordan, including her ex, who is a hostile environment consultant.  Hmm, what will Rif think of this development?  I’m keen to show the fascinating negotiation side to the business, demonstrating how different counties react to kidnappers’ demands.   And I plan on having duelling freedom brokers.  Should be fun!  Thanks for the great questions and your enthusiasm for Thea Paris.”


K.J. Howe SKYJACKInternational kidnap expert Thea Paris is escorting two former child soldiers on a plane from an orphanage in Kanzi, Africa, to adoptive parents in London when the Boeing Business Jet is hijacked and forced to land on a deserted airstrip in the Libyan desert.

On the ground, Thea comes face-to-face with a former nemesis, a Sicilian don who wants something, or someone, on that plane. Her old foe imprisons her in the hangar and takes to the air with the boys and the passengers still aboard, mysteriously demanding that Thea use the resources of Quantum International to hijack a truckload of Syrian refugees bound for Budapest. He makes it clear he will return the passengers only when the truck and its contents are in his possession.

Thea, Rif, and the Quantum team must race against the clock to discover the don’s true motives before any harm comes to the two boys and their fellow passengers. Revealing a deadly conspiracy that connects the dark postwar legacy of World War II to the present, this case will bring all parties to an explosive conclusion that will decide the fate of millions across Europe and the Middle East.

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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