DV Berkom loves strong, intelligent, smart-ass, and kick-ass female characters. So, it's not surprising that the USA Today best-selling author of two action-packed thriller series features impressive female leads: Kate Jones and Leine Basso. Her drive to create such women stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, mysteries, and thrillers— and longing to find the female equivalent within those pages.
After a lifetime of moving to places people typically like to visit on vacation, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do. Her most recent books include Dakota Burn, Absolution, Dark Return, The Last Deception, Vigilante Dead, A Killing Truth, and Cargo. She's currently working on her next thriller.
DV was happy to entertain some questions from us. If you enjoy reading (and perhaps writing) thrillers, you just might find her experiences and advice enlightening.
Thanks for playing along with us! Let's start with the obvious questions. What do you find most appealing about writing series? Do you think series are easier to write and market than stand-alone novels?
Other than short stories, I've only ever written a series—I really love them. The form gives me the ability to explore the main character much more in-depth than a stand-alone novel. Plus, I get to concentrate on the story, the setting, and the secondary characters since I'm familiar with the MC and don't have to build her from scratch. But easy to write? I'd have to say writing, in general, is about as easy as balancing on top of a unicycle in the middle of the I-5 during a Seattle rush hour, while sipping a cocktail and having a conversation with my editor.
As for marketing, I think having a series is definitely easier than writing one-offs. There are so many more entry points for a reader and, if they love a character, many will burn through the entire series, which helps tremendously.
When creating a series character like Leine Basso or Kate Jones, is the character growth and maturation planned or a natural progression?
To be completely honest, I started both series without a plan of any sort. At that point in my writing career, I was a pantser (seat of your pants writer). I'd sit down with a sketchy idea of what I wanted to accomplish, and then just have at it. While that was terrific fun, I ended up writing myself into so many corners that I would spend hours revising scenes so they'd work. Yeah, my novels used to take a LOT longer to write back then. Now, I usually work up an outline that I try to refer to when I get stuck. I say try because one of my later Leine Basso thrillers, Dakota Burn, went entirely off the rails because I got caught up in the storyline and completely forgot I'd written one. When I finally came up for air, I read through the said outline and thought, "Huh. Well, that would have worked too."
So, to answer your question, character growth for both Kate and Leine was a natural progression in the beginning (re: pantser days), then became a bit more planned as I worked my way through each of the series.
What do you think, will Leine and Kate ever cross paths?
Lots of readers have asked me that question. I've considered it, just haven't found the right story yet. It would definitely be an interesting encounter. They're so different— Leine is the calm, objective, capable professional, while Kate is an emotional, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kinda gal. But both are gutsy, independent women, so there is that.
Bourne or Bond?
Tough choice. I grew up reading Bond, and never miss a 007 movie, but I can say the same for Bourne. If I absolutely have to choose and we're talking movies, I'd say Bourne. The action scenes are soooo good (although I really like Daniel Craig as Bond). The books are a toss-up. I'd be happy with either.
Let's talk about Leine for a minute. She's a former government assassin. What research was required to develop her character?
If I told you, I'd have to kill you. Seriously, since I'm not exactly an international assassin, I had a lot of help. I'm fortunate to know several folks I can turn to for information who have been in similar situations as my character. First and foremost, I have a great relationship with a former Special Forces sniper. We met through a friend's Zoomba class if you can believe it. He made me meet him there (I'd never Zoomba'd in my life) and make a total ass of myself before he'd talk to me. It was great fun and soooo worth it J I'm also good friends with several law enforcement folks, and some people who possibly-might-have-been-okay-yes-they-were on the other side of that line. Then, once I've nailed down the human side of it, I dig deep and research as much as I can. I try to get to every place I write about, but if that isn't possible, I have friends all over the world I can rely on to help with logistics and setting.
I love to travel and have been to all kinds of places. So I can draw on those experiences, as well. I've also practiced with several different weapons throughout the years, so I have a familiarity with firearms.
As for her inner demons, we all have those to some degree. I'm great at playing what if and imagining how a character would feel if such and such happened (some call it empathetic, I say neurotic), but I also have a ton of experiences to draw from. One of the many perks of growing older…
Leine is something of a badass, no-holds-barred woman, with a bit of satire and dark humor mixed in. How much fun is she to write?
Way too much fun. My whole reason for creating Leine was to show that a woman can be a badass, but also have a human side. As one reader put it, she's effed up from her past but tries to work through that as best as she can—kind of like all of us.
Dark humor is second nature to me, so it had to bleed through into my books. Serial Date, the first novel I wrote with Leine Basso as the lead character, was intended to be a stand-alone thriller. I needed a strong female that could go toe-to-toe with a cannibal/serial killer. A former government assassin seemed the way to go. Both kill, but for different reasons. Are they really so different? I try to answer that question in the novel. The story itself came from a twisted dream I had, and I just let loose on the characters. The satire in the book (which is pretty much nonexistent in the later novels) was my response to the plethora of serial killer thrillers and reality shows on television at the time. Why not write about a reality show where ex-cons pose as serial killers and women vie for the opportunity to hook up with them? We're not that far from those kinds of "reality" based programs right now.
How much of Leine Basso is DV Berkom?
Good question. There's definitely some element of me in all my books— I don't think a writer can ever really erase that, and I don't think they should. It's what makes one book different from the others. That being said, Leine's tougher, more attractive, and a hell of a lot better shot than I am.
What is your most vexing problem when writing?
You'd think after 15+ novels, things would get easier. If anything, it's harder. I tend to jump into a book with great enthusiasm, then about 15k words in I wonder what the hell I was thinking. 20k to 50k I figure it'll be my last book, since I obviously don't know what I'm doing. 55k in and I'm finding it hard to dress— jammies and T-shirts all the way. At 60k+ personal hygiene takes a backseat, as does anything remotely resembling housecleaning. And then it's all unicorns and rainbows because I finished the book and I can start another one. Much champagne is had and life is wonderful. It's a wonder my long-suffering partner, Mark, doesn't just live at the nearest bar.
If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Work in finance? Seriously, I probably wouldn't change much. Every writer has to go through their own trajectory. Mine has been all kinds of fun, but also filled with challenges, which is the whole point, I think. I tend to remember the lesson more if it was difficult. Sad, but true.
Columbo or McGyver?
McGyver, definitely. Action, action, action.
You're planning a backyard barbecue and you can invite three special guests— authors or fictional characters, contemporary or from the past. Who do you invite? And what conversation would you hope to initiate?
Papa Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, and Miles Davis. Music, writing, and sarcasm— what more could a gal want? Of course, I'd ask them all to bring their friends. And, if I could have one more guest, I'd absolutely invite Amelia Earhart and ask her what happened when she and Fred Noonan disappeared.
Any new authors that have snared your interest?
I'm always on the lookout for new authors. Lately, I've been reading Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X series (yeah, I know— I'm late to the party), but I also enjoy Tim Tigner, Carmen Amato, Andrew Warren, Kristi Belcamino, Mark Dawson, and scads of others that would take up way too much space to list here.
Who is your favorite superhero? And why?
Every woman I've ever met. From my mother and sister to friends and acquaintances to people I've only read about, women have proven to be resilient, fearless, and amazing. I am in awe of all of them.
Can you tell us about your current project?
I just published Leine Basso #10, Shadow of the Jaguar. This time, Leine's in South America in the Amazon, searching for a member of an expedition on the trail of a kind of El Dorado— a city of gold. I wanted to write more of an action-adventure similar to Cargo (Leine Basso #5), and the whole searching for a lost city thing really intrigued me. The entire time I was writing the book, though, I kept berating myself for attempting such a clichéd plotline (especially since so many other authors have already done it so well), so I worked hard to make the idea fresh rather than a rehash of the genre. From what early readers have said, I succeeded.
(A version of this interview was published in the 2020 Spring issue of Suspense Magazine.)