Homicide detective Veranda Cruz takes on the most ruthless member of the Villalobos cartel in the latest thriller from Isabella Maldonado.
Now three books into her series, Maldonado’s franchise is heating up in a big way, as Cruz joins the ranks of Jon Land’s Caitlin Strong and Meg Gardiner’s Caitlin Hendrix as one of the premier female protagonists in the genre. Now, a month after Death Blow first hit bookstores, I was able to catch up with Maldonado, who agrees to go on the record for our Five Questions segment—and I asked her about everything from how she came up with the story idea for her latest novel to what’s next for Detective Cruz.
TRBS: First of all, what a page-turner! How did you come up with the plot idea for this book?
Maldonado: Glad you enjoyed the story, and if it kept you up late, I’ve done my job! Death Blow is the third book in the Det. Cruz series, and for this one, I pitted my strong, smart female protagonist against her match: an equally strong, smart female foe. The two women are opposite sides of the same coin, with similar personality traits. Delving deep into their characters emphasizes how their choices at crucial points in their lives set them on opposite paths.
TRBS: What kind of research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write?
Maldonado: I have an extensive background in law enforcement, so that helped with police procedure, but the rest required a great deal of research. My last assignment was Commander of Special Investigations and Forensics, but science is constantly improving, and I had to familiarize myself with recent developments in familial DNA, a branch of forensic analysis that is changing criminal investigations in many ways. I reviewed that aspect of the story with an expert, who made sure I got the facts straight. The cutting-edge work currently performed at police crime labs is impressive, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to enhance my knowledge.
TRBS: What’s your writing process like? Do you outline your books before writing? Have a target word count that you try to hit each day?
Maldonado: I make a detailed outline, but inevitably deviate from it. My brain needs a jumping off point before getting into the flow, then the story takes me where it will. In a suspiciously similar way, I also plan each day’s writing time, and always deviate from that too. With a busy family life and many other commitments, I don’t have the luxury of turning off the phone and isolating myself to write. As we speak, I’m trying a new approach that will hopefully provide uninterrupted brief interludes. My goal is to set aside several blocks of time throughout the day exclusively for writing and guard them fiercely. I’ll let you know how that works out.
TRBS: What advice do you have for new or aspiring authors?
Maldonado: First, set a goal that’s difficult but achievable (for example: I will finish my manuscript by this date). Declare that goal out loud to others. Mark it on your calendar. This creates both accountability and—hopefully—support. Second, attend conferences. It’s a huge commitment, but the return on the investment of your time and money is enormous. If you can’t manage a large conference, then attend smaller ones that occur regionally year-round. You can avoid airfare and hotel expenses, and you will still garner major benefits in studying the art and craft of writing as well as networking. Third, join a professional group for writers. There are many excellent organizations that provide resources to both aspiring and seasoned authors. I’m a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the International Society of Latino Authors.
TRBS: Lastly, now that DEATH BLOW is out, what’s next for you?
Maldonado: I’m currently working on a new series that will feature the FBI. All new characters and investigations, but with the same high-octane pace, complex plots with twists and surprises, and deep character development that are hallmarks of the Det. Cruz series. I’m also planning another Cruz book too, so this should be a busy year!
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). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.