Category Archives: travel

Absolution is Here!

ABSOLUTION, the latest Leine Basso thriller, is finally here! It’s been a long process to publication, and yes, I’m stoked. Early reviews have been off-the-charts–a ginormous thank you to everyone who read and reviewed an early copy! (See below for special pricing on the Leine Basso thriller series.)

cover for Absolution

This novel has been such fun to write. I’m hugely attached to Leine and the characters in her life, and can’t think of a better crew to work with. I get emails from readers almost daily telling me how much they’d love to meet/have a drink/hang out with her. Me, too 🙂 This installment pits Leine against her alter-ego, Salome, from The Last Deception and Dark Return. I wanted both the protagonist and the main antagonist to be women, which was unsurprisingly easy to do 😉 

Absolution is the eighth novel in the Leine Basso world, and my intention is to continue the series as long as readers like it. I’m not a fast writer, but promise to give everything I’ve got to each book. Some of the stories came together quickly, like A Killing Truth. Some practically wrote themselves (I’m looking at you, Serial Date). I agonized over Cargo, hoping like hell to get daily life in Africa right, and bring to light the horrors of ivory poaching and canned hunts.

We all know I love to travel. With Kate Jones, I had a blast writing Yucatán Dead after visiting that region. Ditto for A One Way Ticket to DeadCruising for Death, Death Rites, and Dead of Winter. (Absolution, Dark Return, and The Last Deception too.)

cover for Yucatan Deadcover for A One Way Ticket to Dead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest influence on my writing, though, is a burning desire for justice–the devastation wrought by greed,. crime, and ignorance knows no bounds, and I aim to do my admittedly small part in bringing awareness. Bad Traffick and The Body Market were my first forays into the hell that is human trafficking, and set the tone for the series.

cover for Bad Traffickcover for The Body Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first started writing, my initial aim was to show people how strong they could be. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard women talk about how powerless they felt in different situations (men, too, but the majority have been women–and this was long before #metoo). I was brought up to believe in myself and to defend who and what I hold dear. It was eye opening to realize how many people felt as though they couldn’t or shouldn’t fight back. As a writer, I did the only thing I could think of and wrote about it, trying to understand the dynamics of fear, of feeling “less than,” and then turn the tables and rewrite the narrative.  The Leine Basso series is my way of righting wrongs and exacting justice–she’s good at what she does and isn’t afraid to kick ass when the situation demands it. 

That being said, I do my best to avoid preachy, soap-box-y diatribes–just try to provide well-researched information so readers can make up their own minds. Nothing turns me off faster than someone shoving their views down my throat when I’m reading for entertainment. 

And ultimately that’s what we thriller writers produce: entertainment. The day writing becomes less than entertaining for either the reader or myself is the day I find something else to do with my time.

Links to ABSOLUTION (on sale for $3.99 for a limited time):

Amazon

Apple Books

Barnes & Noble

KOBO

Smashwords

 

SPECIAL PRICING:  

*Serial Date is on sale through February for 99c. Bad Traffick, The Body Market, and The Last Deception are on sale for $3.99 during February. Absolution is $3.99 for a limited time.

 


Thriller Ink Interview

Keyboard and penThere’s a fun interview over at Thriller Ink today–find out why I write action/adventure and whether I put real people in my novels 🙂

http://thrillerink.com/d-v-berkom-author-interview/


Readers Want to Know…Yucatan Peninsula

Lately, I’ve gotten emails from readers asking how I came up with some of the scenes in Yucatan Dead and thought it would be fun to post the photographs that inspired them from my latest trip to Mexico. I’ve found actually traveling and researching a specific area and noting the sights, sounds, smells, and general feel of a place works wonders on my imagination and lends more credibility to the scenes.

Ek Balam

At the ruins of Ek’ Balam– a true Indiana Jones moment…

Before I left on the trip I’d been writing what I thought was going to be a mystery with my character, Kate Jones. This trip was supposed to be for researching a future novel. But Mexico changed all that.

And, as I’ve learned, you don’t argue with Mexico.

So, my mystery turned into a full-on thriller about the ruthless drug cartels that have destabilized so much of that country. Since I’m a novelist and basically lie for a living, I made up a group of off the grid commandos working deep in the jungle, fighting the cartels. Little did I know at the time, but groups of locals had steadily begun taking up arms against the cartels. Some of these groups have been backed/trained by the CIA and/or the DEA, as well as the Mexican government. Some continue to operate clandestinely. Many are now being hunted by the cartels, and the number of people from several ‘hot’ areas in Mexico who are requesting asylum in the United States has skyrocketed. Although there are still several places deemed by the State Department as safe to travel in Mexico, obviously, there are some areas you should avoid. Driving through Sonora and Sinaloa in an old jeep in the middle of a scathing hot September would be one of them 🙂

El Castillo

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Back to the trip: in the book, I gave one of the drug cartels Kate ends up fighting against the name of El Castillo, which is the name of one of the main structures at the archaeological site of Chichen Itza. Visitors are no longer allowed to climb the pyramid after someone fell to their death a few years back, but it’s still mighty impressive to look at.

There’s a scene where Kate stumbles upon an undiscovered Maya site (of which there are said to be hundreds in Mexico and Guatemala) which had a cenote, or fresh water spring hidden beneath decades of jungle growth.

photo of jungle

It’s a jungle out there…

If you look closely, you’ll see an ancient wall underneath all that vegetation…

photo of hacienda

Hacienda

While inland, I stayed at a historic hacienda built on top of an ancient Maya site by the Spaniards in 1523. These Spaniards went so far as to use the stones of a Maya temple for its walls (the hacienda is now run as an eco-tourism resort managed by Maya). In Yucatan Dead, Kate is kidnapped and taken to a hacienda deep in the jungle to meet her nemesis, Roberto Salazar. The description of the place grew from my experience while at the hacienda, and my jumping off point was the entrance (note the brick wall–these were ancient Maya building materials, most likely from the temple that had stood there centuries before).

Hands-down, my favorite places were the ancient Maya archaeological sites of Ek’ Balam and Coba (Chichen Itza and Tulum were pretty fantastic, too, but sooo crowded, it was hard to get a good feel for them). The showdown between Kate and Salazar takes place at a fictitious Maya site that I based on a combination of them all. Here’s a bird’s-eye view of Ek’ Balam, one of the most recently discovered sites on the peninsula (yes, those are my hiking shoes):

photo of Ek' Balam

The ruins at Ek’ Balam

The next picture is where I got the idea for the entrance to the temple at the top of the pyramid. This is called the Temple of the Jaguar, and is located on the tallest pyramid at the site. You can still climb this structure as well as the rest of the buildings, although I’m not sure how long that will be true. More and more people are discovering the site and the impact of all those tourists on the ancient structures is growing.

Photo of Temple of the Jaguar

Temple of the Jaguar (Ek’ Balam)

Roughly translated, Ek’ Balam means black jaguar, or bright star jaguar, and the big cat figures prominently in Yucatan Dead. In the photo above, the teeth along the bottom form the lower jaw, depicting the open mouth of a jaguar.

photo of carved jaguar

Carving of a jaguar

There are carvings of winged beings, some sculpted with a distinctly smaller arm, allowing for the Maya belief that people born with physical differences had special powers.

picture of winged beings at ek' balam

Nohoc Mul

Nohoc Mul

This picture is of the pyramid at Coba, which you can still climb (as of 2013). It’s the tallest pyramid on the peninsula (138 feet) and when you’re at the top you can see dozens of mounds in the distance that are thought to be undiscovered ancient Maya sites. The view from the top is fantastic, to say the least, and was one of the high points of the trip.

A structure with a small room sits at the top of the pyramid, with a carving on the outside depicting the Descending God, an upside down dude with a helmet. He’s also referred to as the Honey God, since honey was one of Coba’s main trade products. No one really knows who or what he represents, but that’s their best guess.

An interesting tidbit: many of these sites are connected by what are called sacbes, or raised paved roads (usually white since they were/are covered in limestone and stucco). One of them runs from Coba all the way to the coast and many were used as trade routes between communities.

The Observatory at Chichen Itza

The Observatory at Chichen Itza

Another structure referred to in the showdown scene in Yucatan Dead resembles the Observatory at Chichen Itza, which is thought to have been used by the Maya for studying the cosmos.

And, of course what pictorial essay about Mexico would be complete without the obligatory Caribbean beach shot?

photo of beach at Tulum

Beach at Tulum

The Yucatan Peninsula was one of the most intriguing places I’ve been to and I plan to re-visit the area. It’s relatively safe, although you still need to be on the lookout for the ubiquitous gas station pumping scams and slow-moving farm machinery. Cartel violence has been reported just outside of Cancun, but is miniscule compared to other places in Mexico so don’t worry unnecessarily about going. Victims are generally related to the cartels in some way, either by being in the business or knowing someone in the business. Don’t take stupid chances like walking alone at night, or going into a dangerous area alone (just like when you go anywhere new). Otherwise, the Mexican people are warm and welcoming folks, and will treat you well if you treat them the same. Mexico is a fabulous country to visit and has many, many faces. I guarantee if you keep an open mind, you’ll enjoy what it has to offer.

Author sitting next to Hacienda arch


Ode to a Library

I don’t know about you, but libraries will always have a special place in my heart. I remember my mother taking me to the town’s only library every week, and while she perused the art and mythology sections, I would ransack the children’s nook. If I didn’t find anything interesting there, I’d move on to more adult genres,books,boys,education,libraries,men,people,readings,research,shelves,students,studying,academic like mysteries and spy novels. When I got older, I devoured the biography section along with whatever caught my fancy, from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius to photojournalism to the French Revolution. Luckily, my mother spent countless hours there, so I was able to feed my overactive imagination without worrying about running out of time.

I haven’t been back in a long while, and I’m sure it’s not nearly as big a building as I remember. I don’t even know if the structure is still there. Several levels opened to the lobby, all boasting heavily polished floors and creaky wooden shelves, groaning under the weight of so many hard-bound tomes, giving it an old world, floor-to-ceiling bookstore feel. Early on I discovered an ancient circular stairwell behind the stacks and when I grew tired of searching for something new, I’d hide there, alone with the subject du jour, lost in another world of my choosing.

The lobby at SPL

2nd Floor Lobby at SPL

This past weekend my cousin Fieke, visiting from the Netherlands, suggested we visit the Seattle Public Library.  She works as a photographer in Eindhoven and was acquainted with the photographer who assisted the architect, also from the Netherlands. I’d been to SPL a couple of times before, but hadn’t been able to take the time to really discover the place.  If you haven’t had the chance to visit, put it on the list for whenever you’re in Seattle. It’s an amazing, mind-bending building dedicated to all things literature.

The structure is a honeycomb of concrete, gleaming steel, and glass. The natural light streaming in through the walls is impressive on a sunny day–and it’s a fabulous place to be in the middle of winter when the skies are the same steel-gray as the supports. Each floor is its own world and conveys a different feeling, from future-shock orderliness to saturated, mind-warping tomato reds and neon yellows. Nothing here is understated. Every nook and cranny demands that you pay attention.

Photo of the 4th floor of the Seattle Public Library

4th Floor Red

That Seattle voters chose to support the revitalization of the library system in such large numbers is a telling regional character trait. Folks who live in the Pacific Northwest, from Vancouver, BC to Portland, Oregon, are known as voracious readers. (Yes, we’re heavy caffeine abusers and like our wines and microbrews, but when it’s dull gray and bone-chilling wet outside, curling up with a good book, be it on our Kindle, Nook, iPad, or the printed page, is one of this area’s favorite pastimes.) The libraries in western Washington embraced eBooks early, and several offer a large selection of audio books for downloading. One of the benefits of living in a tech-heavy area (Amazon and Microsoft are based here, among several other tech organizations) is that early adopters drive innovation and concepts are introduced here long before other areas of the country.

Below are a few more of the photos I took of the interior. Do you have a library story?  I’d love to hear it 🙂

Happy Monday!

Photo of SPL

Looking down at the 2nd floor

Neon Yellow Escalator

SONY DSC

SONY DSC


Storytelling, Travel & Nature

Photo of Petroglyph Trail

Petroglyph Trail

Recently I hiked to one of my favorite places in Arizona: Petroglyph Trail in Gold Canyon, outside of Phoenix. It’s a fairly easy hike and it gets you into the desert quickly—always a plus when you only have so much time. I tend to prefer hikes that are scenic the whole way and provide a good payoff at the end, and Petroglyph delivers.

Pools

Pools

The payoff I’m referring to is a pair of cascading pools surrounded by massive granite boulders covered in the art of the ancient world: petroglyphs. As soon as you crest the small ridge you notice the clear water beckoning you to take a dip, but what really makes the hike worthwhile are the figures carved and painted into the rock by long-ago hands. It’s easy to imagine storytellers as they entertained a rapt audience by reenacting legends handed down through generations. Dangerous hunts and thrilling encounters with spirit animals or other tribes were all fodder for these ancient bards.

As a writer, I’m honored to be one of many to carry on the storytelling tradition. Human beings have done this since the beginning of our time here, whether for education or entertainment, and will continue to do so long after you and I are gone. For me, this thought places life and all of its detours and false starts into proper perspective, giving me a longer view of things, and is one of the main reasons I travel. Life looks different when you experience it from another angle. Fresh ideas become more abundant and my dreams are often more vivid when I’m away from business as usual.

Picture of petroglyph

Petroglyph

All of this replenishes the well, so to speak, and helps me bring a different perspective to the craft of writing. For me, being close to nature does more for my mood than a week at a luxury spa (although I certainly wouldn’t turn it down). I envy the ancient storytellers their connection to the wild, and enjoy imagining the evenings they performed, campfires blazing, children watching in awe, the convivial banter between attendees…

With a scene so evocative, I may just have to sit down and write…

More petroglyphs


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