Dead Center

Dead Center - Danielle Girard

As a rule, I don't refresh my memory on a book's teaser before reading it. I don't read other reviews nor do I reread the brief description on Goodreads or Amazon. I like jumping into the book with no preconceived notions whatsoever. 

So when I started Dead Center, I was a little confused. The scenes jump around quite quickly at first and I couldn't figure out who's eyes I was looking through at various times. And while this made for a rocky start to the book, what kept me going was the author's strong dialogue and impressive way with words. 

After a few chapters, I was able to pick out which characters were being referenced and I grew accustomed to the way the book jumped perspectives. Then I was really able to focus on the plot.

I was trying to piece the entire puzzle together instead of realizing that there might be a couple different smaller puzzles in the mix. But again, the quick pace of the plot and the author's enjoyable writing style made it easy for me to simply sit back and let the plot take me where it would. 

Overall I highly enjoyed this crime thriller and would recommend it. I look forward to reading more by this author. 

Some Bio Information

Almost two decades ago, Danielle decided she wanted to try to write a book. She set out to write something sweet, maybe even romantic, but on page 5, someone got shot and it's been that way ever since. The Barry-award winning author lives with her husband, who is careful never to lurk in dark corners, and their two children. They split their time between San Francisco and the northern Rockies.


1.    When did you know you wanted to be an author? 

I wrote a little in college, but “writing” was not an acceptable career choice in my house. My parents were doctors and business people, so “art” was not a vocation. It was a hobby. For that reason, the interest in writing was always pushed to the side by “important” things like organic chemistry and calculus II. After college, I worked in finance where met a woman who wrote romance novels. She inspired me to sit down and just start something. I had no idea what it would turn out to be until (on page five) someone got shot. I was 24 and I’ve been writing suspense ever since.  

2.    Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? 

Nothing can replace the time in the chair. If you don’t sit there, even just to stare out the window, you don’t get it done. I try to write a certain number of words every day when I’m in a book (usually 1000) but I fall off that wagon regularly. (Today, for instance.) Sometimes I think it’s my brain’s way of recognizing that I haven’t solved an issue that has to be dealt with before I can keep going. But, I’m also pretty good and getting back up, dusting off and getting back in the chair. And I do give myself time between books to recharge. Usually the next book starts talking to me and I know it’s time to sit down and start again. 

3.    Who is your favorite character in Dead Center? 

I have a real soft spot for broken characters. I guess this comes from my belief that we are all damaged in some way. Some of us do better at hiding it, but it’s these little cracks in our plaster, these little breaks that make us interesting and also real. Jamie Vail, protagonist of Dead Center and lead member of the Rookie Club, is like this. She’s quite angry and a little self-destructive, but when push comes to shove, she’s also fiercely loyal and protective. I love that she is a series of contradictions (like of all of us) so she feels real to me. 

4.    What was the most difficult part of writing this book?

The toughest part of any book is the beginning. I don’t know my character yet, so I have to let her talk to me, tell me who she is and show me how she handles things. For that reason, the beginning takes the longest. I feel like the first 10% (40 pages-ish) has to really hold together before the story can take off. I usually spend a month or more on the beginning. After that, the rest of the book is usually written, edited, and prepared for publication in another 4-6 months. The end is always the easiest because it’s been teasing itself out in the back of my brain for so long. 

5.    Who is your favorite author?

Wow. That is such a hard question. As a person, John Connolly is one of my favorite authors. I think he’s brilliant and kind and his books are magic. I’m lucky to have a lot of authors who I consider friends. Elizabeth Strout, Lisa Gardner, Alafair Burke, Lee Child, Jonathon King, Jeff Abbott. They are both wonderful people and wonderful writers. While most of the readers I know are suspense authors, I read all over the board, so I also love Jeffrey Eugenides, Colum McCann, Sue Mott Kidd, John Green, Jodi Piccoult, Junot Diaz….did you say one favorite?     

6.    Describe your favorite place. 

I love to travel. Love love love it. So my favorite places include the tiny hill towns in Italy, Macchu Picchu, Peru and a tiny island in Thailand called Koh Tao where I was once, twenty years ago. I am lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Montana and I am in love with the mountains and the snow (even when it comes in July). But, if I had to choose just a single place, it would be my office. I’ve got big windows that look out into the yard and the mountains. It’s such a peaceful view. The room, on the other hand, is an absolute mess. I have a sign that says, “Genius is a messy process.” I swear it’s a quote I found somewhere, but my husband is convinced I made it up to explain my office. I don’t like to admit that he might be right.

Despite the mess, the office is also a beautiful space. The walls are painted a light sea green, the wall behind my chair a little bolder. My husband and kids have framed all my covers, so they hang on the walls along with art done by my brothers (who are both artists) as well as some pieces done by my kids and a few photographs. On one wall is a case with all my taekwondo belts in it, from the white one all the way through to my second degree black belt. These remind me that good things take a lot of time and effort. Not to mention sweat and blood and a fair number of tears. 

7.    What’s your ultimate writing goal? 

Ultimately, I want to write a compelling story that is engrossing, draws you in and makes it hard to let go. At the same time, the characters in a story are, to me, the most important part. I want the protagonist’s struggle to be real. Sharing those struggles through genuine characters is a way to help all of us be better and stronger, even in the toughest of times. That’s what I hope to accomplish in my books.

The Someday File

The Someday File - Jean Heller

I've always loved detective thrillers. I started out young with Agatha Christie and have since also grown to love Jonathan Kellerman. One of the aspects to detective stories that I love the most is that I don't have to think. 

Now, I know that some people love to try to figure out whodunit all on their own before the author gets to the end of the book, but I enjoy letting the author's words carry me along on the journey. It's a relief from life, a break from over thinking, and just a general period of rest and relaxation for me. 

Heller's book The Someday File was an excellent example of this. (And yes, I realize that Deuce is a journalist and not a detective, but her research and actions are extremely similar to what you might see from a detective character, so I'm comparing them.) 

I'm not sure that there were enough clues throughout the book for the readers to fully piece together the story or not. Looking back, I don't think I would have been able to piece it together, however, one character continued to stand out to me. Without giving anything away, let's just say that I took note of this character as soon as their name was mentioned and they ended up being central to the plot. 

The writing is excellent, the dialogue is smooth and natural, and I fell in love with the characters. Deuce is funny, likable, and easy to relate to. It didn't take long for me to grow attached to her. And the struggle is realistic. I love watching her fall down the rabbit hole, so to speak, as she finds herself digging deeper and deeper into the investigation. 

Some Bio Information

Most of Jean Heller’s career was as an investigative and projects journalist and editor in New York City, Washington, D.C. and St. Petersburg Florida. Her career as a novelist began in the 1990s with the publication of the thrillers, MAXIMUM IMPACT and HANDYMAN by St. Martin’s Press. Then life intervened and postponed her new book, THE SOMEDAY FILE to publication this year. Heller has won the Worth Bingham Prize, the Polk Award, and is an eight-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.


1. How much research do your books require?

It depends on the book. If it’s a technical story, the research can take months, starting from well before I put a single word on a page, and it often continues right through the writing process. I had to scout locations for THE SOMEDAY FILE the way a film producer scouts locations for a movie. I thought I knew Chicago well, but I still had to do a mountain of research on the city and its history. Since my background is as a newspaper reporter and editor, getting it right is extremely important to me. If I get it wrong, people who know better would flinch, and that flinch could destroy the creative tension and suspension of disbelief I worked so hard to build.

2. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

I could say, “finishing,” but that wouldn’t be true. Finishing is satisfying, but my favorite part of the process is doing one day’s worth of writing that soars, that makes me think when I read it the next day, “Wow, did I write that?”

3. Who’s your favorite author?

Have you got a week? I like so many authors for so many varied reasons. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are incomparable. They are mysteries, not thrillers, but it doesn’t matter to me. I love Alan Furst, Dennis Lehane, James Lee Burke, John Burdett, Lev Raphael, and 300 or 400 more.

4. Where do you draw your inspiration?

That’s pretty easy for a journalist. We see so many different stories every day, meet so many different people in bad situations, that material is almost limitless. Part of the joy of living in Chicago is discovering the enrichment I can give to a story by making Chicago one of the main characters. To be more specific, the idea for my first novel, MAXIMUM IMPACT, was drawn from one single statement made by a U.S. Congressman during the Watergate hearings. It stayed with me forever, knocking on the inside of my head, growing and evolving into a book. The idea for HANDYMAN grew out of stories I read about the hunt for the real Florida serial killer, Bobby Joe Long. The man who led that manhunt actually helped me with the technicalities of the search for a killer. There was nothing specific that germinated into THE SOMEDAY FILE. The idea simply developed over time until it became such a passion I had to write the story. I think those are the best kind.

5. Was there a specific incident that led you to becoming a journalist/writer.

When I was a child, reading inspired me to write. I loved the escapism, and I wanted to bring that to others. I tried writing my first novel when I was in the third grade, the story of people who lived at the center of the earth. When I discovered what it’s really like at the center of the earth, the story went up in flames, so to speak. But just that writing exercise hooked me. My parents were incredibly supportive, which encouraged me. I became a journalist quite by accident. I met one inspirational college professor who turned my career path on its head. And that was it.

6. Can you explain your writing process?

Frankly, no. I’m not sure I have one. If I do, it goes something like this: When an idea is sufficiently aged and kicked around, I start doing research to make certain it’s viable. There’s nothing worse than not doing the legwork and finding six months into the writing process that the idea won’t work. I don’t seem to get writer’s block, but there are times when I’ve really got my head in the game, and times I don’t. When I don’t, I don’t try to write. When I do, I will stay up all day and all night writing. I try to wring everything I can out of those moments of inspiration because I never know when another will come along. 

7. Describe your favorite place.

Granite peaks that soar thousands of feet into the sky. A rushing river with water as clear as glass. A cobalt blue sky so intense it hurts to look at it. And a brilliant sun warming me. I’m standing on the bank of the Snake River with a fly rod in my hands. Jackson Hole, Wyoming.