A few years ago, I heard about this great author who had a new book coming out that, as a dad, I might especially enjoy. It was other authors, by the way, who first told me about Owen Laukkanen. . . and the book was called The Watcher in the Wall.
That’s a book I still think about. It dealt with bullying among teenagers and a game where kids are talked into committing suicide. The absolute worst part about it is that so much of the book is based on real information. Laukkanen’s story is fictional, but similar things are happening in the real world. As a father of six kids, that terrifies me.
The book stuck with me, but so did the author’s writing ability. If you haven’t read anything from Owen Laukkanen, you’re missing out. This guy is super talented and has shown the ability to be extremely versatile throughout his career. Most might know him for his Stevens & Windermere books, but his latest thriller is, in my opinion, his best work to date. A maritime thriller, Gale Force is incredibly well-written and plotted, but it’s also really unique.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first started it, but quickly found myself sucked into the universe Laukkanen’s created and loved following McKenna and her crew as they battled harsh waves and stormy conditions to try and help a stranded freighter two hundred and fifty miles away from land. If it sounds straightforward and linear, it’s not. Laukkanen has more than a few surprises in store for McKenna, her crew, and, of course, the readers. Trust me, it’s one heck of an adventure!
Read the brief Q&A I did with Owen Laukkanen — who was kind enough to go on the record for our Five Questions segment — below, then make sure to pick up your copy of Gale Force, now available wherever books are sold.
TRBS: First of all, I really loved this book and was very surprised by it. How did you come up with the plot idea, and how much research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write it?
Laukkanen: “Coming from a maritime family, I’d always wanted to write a thriller set at sea, and the gold-rush environment of deep-sea salvage really appealed to me. The basic plot revolves around a shipwreck inspired by the real-life Cougar Ace, which wrecked two-hundred miles off of the coast of Alaska and inspired a salvage team to race feverishly out to save her and claim an eight-figure reward.
“It sounded like the perfect frame for a thriller, especially if I took a little artistic license and added a stowaway with $50m into the mix!
“I familiarized myself with the basics of deep-sea salvage and the specifics of the Cougar Ace’s wreck, but I didn’t want to get so bogged down in research that it hampered my writing the story. My strategy is to do some initial research so I’m comfortable with the topic, and then start writing and if questions pop up—and they always do—I’ll seek to answer them while I’m writing.
“But I definitely drew on my experience as a commercial fisherman up and down the west coast of Canada for inspiration and descriptive detail!”
TRBS: Do you see this book being a standalone, or part of a new series for you?
Laukkanen: “I’m really hoping readers like Gale Force enough to want more of McKenna and her crew! I have a few sequels already mapped out, and the world of salvage on the high seas is so fascinating and fraught with drama that I could write for years about this stuff. So if readers love the story as much as I do, there will be plenty more books to come!”
TRBS: Your last Stevens & Windermere book was a hit with your fans and critics alike. When might readers see them again. . . and do you have any idea what they might be up to next time around?
Laukkanen: “I’m not sure when Stevens & Windermere will return; I have a few more stories lined up for them, but I also have a new series dropping next year and, with any luck, more Gale Force books on the horizon. So it’ll depend on the demand from readers and fans for more S&W; I am definitely susceptible to bribes.
“I was tinkering with a sequel to The Professionals, my first S&W novel, this spring. Without wanting to spoil too much, it would essentially follow the kidnappers and the people whose lives they impacted, ten years after the fact, when a certain Detroit businessman’s “family” targets the surviving kidnappers for revenge. Stevens and Windermere have a couple of cameos, but it’s really Marie McAllister’s book.
“For Stevens and Windermere, their next book will put them at odds with each other. They’ve been getting along too well lately, and I’d love to see how they react when their objectives are drastically different. I’m thinking a terrorist attack puts Stevens’s family’s lives at risk and Windermere can’t or won’t help them. But we’ll see!”
TRBS: What is your writing process like, and what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Laukkanen: “My process is to treat writing like a job, and to write five days a week, to a set word count every day. It used to be five thousand words a day, but I’ve slowed down to a couple of thousand, these days. But I think so long as you’re writing every day, you’re doing it right. Just keep moving the story forward until you have a finished draft.
“I always tell writers, don’t be afraid to suck, which is to say, don’t worry about writing a perfect first chapter; you’re better off writing a flawed first draft and then going back and tinkering with it. Talent only gets you so far, and what differentiates professional writers from people who are trying to get there isn’t so much writing ability as it is work ethic and the ability to assess your own work objectively.
“Edit your writing like your worst enemy wrote it, and cut everything that doesn’t work. Be ruthless!”
TRBS: Lastly, who are some of your favorite writers, and what books are currently on your nightstand?
Laukkanen: “I’m a huge fan of Don Winslow’s writing. I picked up Savages a few years ago and since then I’ve been hooked. I buy his new stuff as soon as it comes out, and I’m working my way through his back catalogue. He’s also a writer whose career path and kindness toward other writers I find inspirational.
“I also really like Nick Petrie’s “Peter Ash” series, and J. Todd Scott’s writing. I’m working my way through Ace Atkins’ “Quinn Colson” books, and I just discovered Michael Ferris Smith (Desperation Road), which was one of the best books I’ve read this year.
“I read pretty widely, and my TBR stack is massive and constantly growing. Every time I do an event at a bookstore I seem to buy as many books as I sell; it’s an addiction, but I just really love reading and being surrounded by books.”
For all lovers of maritime adventure comes an electrifying thriller of treachery and peril on the high seas featuring a dynamic new heroine, from multi-award-nominated suspense star Owen Laukkanen.
In the high-stakes world of deep-sea salvage, an ocean disaster can mean a huge payoff–if you can survive the chase.
McKenna Rhodes has never been able to get the sight of her father’s death out of her mind. A freak maritime accident has made her the captain of the salvage boat Gale Force, but it’s also made her cautious, sticking closer to the Alaska coastline. She and her crew are just scraping by, when the freighter Pacific Lion, out of Yokohama, founders two hundred miles out in a storm.
This job is their last chance–but there is even more at stake than they know. Unlisted on any manifest, the Lion‘s crew includes a man on the run carrying fifty million dollars in stolen Yakuza bearer bonds. The Japanese gangsters want the money. The thief’s associates want the money. Another salvage ship, far bigger and more powerful than Gale Force, is racing to the rendezvous as well. And the storm rages on. If McKenna can’t find a way to prevail, everything she loves–the ship, her way of life, maybe even her life itself–will be lost.
Filled with bravery, betrayal, sudden twists, and pure excitement, Gale Force is a spectacular new adventure from the fast-rising suspense star.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) 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.