Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Interview with suspense author Michele I. Khoury

Author Michele I. Khoury joins me today for a conversation about her new suspense novel, Busted.

Michele I. Khoury, an award-winning entrepreneur in the technology industry, lives in Orange County, California with her husband and two dogs, Bubbles and Thriller. While attending the University of California Irvine's Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Novel Writing program, she created Busted

Welcome, Michele. Please tell us about your current release.
Busted is about three people who collide over cocaine.

Impacted by the recession, twenty-four-year-old artist Gina McKenna is down to her last few dollars and days away from living in her car when a successful businessman buys a painting and commissions another. As their relationship evolves, she’s seduced by his charm and mesmerized by his luxurious lifestyle until she discovers he’s a drug kingpin. Her world turns upside down, and she struggles to survive vicious brutality.

Miguel Lopez is a cocaine supplier with a weightlifter’s physique and “the rules do not apply to me” attitude. Maniacal and ruthless, he has no qualms about killing anyone who interferes with his distribution network, including Gina.

Dedicated to eradicating illegal drugs, DEA Special Agent Bobby Garcia spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars working undercover to buy his way up the dealer chain to identify the moneyman. When his fourteen-year-old daughter overdoses on cocaine, he traces the blow to Lopez. As Bobby's mission becomes personal, he makes emotional decisions, which negatively impact civilians and his job. Unable to let go, he risks his career to orchestrate the biggest drug sting in Southern California. What happens isn’t what he expected.

When a deputy district attorney meets Gina at a party, he is smitten. As his attraction grows, so does Gina’s involvement with the DEA’s case, of which he is the designated prosecutor. Mindful of his professional ethics, he tries to stifle his feelings.

Sex and violence permeate the twists and turns of this cautionary tale about choosing one’s friends well.

What inspired you to write this book?
Ten years ago, I took a Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Writing Course from the University of California at Irvine’s Extension Program. One of the first assignments was to plot a novel. While driving home from class, the idea came to me. The following week I presented my outline, and my professor said, “This is fascinating. You have to write this book.”

Excerpt from Busted:
Chapter 1
Movie-Star Smile

The Laguna Beach Soup Kitchen leased a renovated warehouse where twenty-four-year-old Gina McKenna served dinner. She volunteered two nights a week along with a dozen others, and as she watched the bedraggled men, women, and children file through the food line in the onion-and-Lysol-smelling room, a walnut-sized lump formed in her throat.
The kids, displaying dirt-smudged skin and clothes, yanked Gina’s heartstrings the most. Every few months, she collected her stepbrothers’ and stepsister’s old garments and toys and offered them to the homeless children. Their reactions ranged from wariness to cautious acceptance to joyful appreciation.
Timmy, a skinny twelve-year-old boy, approached and bounced up and down as if he were on a trampoline.
High on cocaine. Having witnessed such manic behavior many times, she glanced at his parents, whose expressions reflected resignation. She didn’t know if they’d surrendered to their son’s drug usage, their circumstances, their fate, or all three. As she scooped mashed potatoes onto their plates, she felt powerless to help. Sorrow filled her.
Five years ago, when she began helping at the soup kitchen, she discovered the homeless were starved for more than food: they craved contact and connection. Often she was the first person who’d acknowledged them all day. If she had a little extra cash, she’d slip someone ten or twenty bucks. The money wasn’t much, but their gratitude was hugely rewarding.
A stoop-shouldered man shuffled over. He was in his midforties and wore multiple layers of grimy clothing.
“Hi, Sam,” Gina said, giving him a warm smile. The broken and enlarged blood vessels covering his cheeks and nose from alcohol abuse made him look seventy. Knowing he liked mashed potatoes, she added an extra spoonful. “Here you go.”
“Thanks,” he muttered and ambled along.
The empathetic soup kitchen director, conducting a fund-raising tour, escorted a gray-haired woman dressed in a chic black pantsuit and carrying a Louis Vuitton purse.
“Sixty percent of the homeless in Orange County are children,” he said.
The woman held her hand over her mouth, and her large diamond ring sparkled. “I had no idea.”
He nodded. “The OC is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, which makes real estate extremely expensive. The lack of affordable housing is a major problem.”
Gina glanced around the cavernous area, observing people standing on the perimeter holding their trays and waiting for a seat at one of the long tables. She hoped the wealthy woman became a patron, because more families kept showing up. For many, this meal was their only food of the day, and the sound of silverware scraping plates dominated the room.
The director pointed to the line. “Most people lived paycheck to paycheck, and when the recession claimed their jobs, they couldn’t pay their mortgage or rent. Eviction followed. People come here feeling ashamed, humbled, and hungry.”
Even though Gina had heard the spiel numerous times, she cringed. The director could be talking about her. She hadn’t sold a painting in the last two months; she'd depleted her savings; her six-hundred-dollar rent was due in ten days; and she had hardly any money left. The crushing anxiety over her looming homelessness haunted her. Needing to devote all her time and energy to her art, she’d decided tonight was her last time serving. As she secretly said good-bye and wished each person well, her heart was breaking.
The last in line was a forlorn ten-year-old girl, who waited patiently. Gina ladled the potatoes onto her plate, and when the child moved on, Gina couldn’t contain her tears any longer.
She’d helped feed the less fortunate, but they’d nourished her soul.

What exciting story are you working on next?
My next book, The Sheriff’s Wife, is about domestic violence and abuse and is loosely based on ex-Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca. The book is fiction.

Sheila McKay is married to the Los Angeles County Sheriff, who blames the stress and pressures on his job for his abusive behavior. After one particularly brutal experience, she wondered who she could call for help? Known throughout the law enforcement community, her husband is one of the most powerful and popular cops in California. No one will believe her.

Where can she go? If she escapes to a friend’s or a family member’s home, he knows where they live, and that places everyone—including the children—in danger. If she seeks refuge in a shelter, chances are he’s been there, and if he hasn’t, he has easy access to addresses.

Should she have him arrested? Most police—out of fear of losing their job or retaliation—will invoke the code of silence and not charge a fellow officer. (This is what happened to Sheriff Baca’s wife.)

If Sheila was successful in filing charges then dropped them, she’d lose future credibility and protection.

Will she take him to court? As an expert witness, he’s testified many times and knows the system. It would be her word against his. Should she seek a conviction? If she won, he’d lose his job and would retaliate against her.

How she manages to escape, survive, and protect her three children is her story.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
This is an interesting question. I didn’t consider myself a writer until I received positive professional reviews on Busted, and the book was published. I equated “writer” with “author.” The writing class I attended consisted of many talented writers, and I remember being in awe and intimidated by their skills. Then, I stopped comparing myself and started observing their styles and studied what made their work effective.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I wish I could focus on writing my novel full-time. Every morning I walk our dogs for 1.2 miles, and workout three days a week. On Mondays and Fridays, my husband and I baby-sit our grandchildren. One day each week is dedicated to researching, writing, editing, and publishing my blog to promote Busted. (I’m amazed at how much time this requires.) I’m also an active board member of Human Options, a non-profit dedicated to ending domestic violence and abuse, which entails meetings twice a month. In addition, my husband and I are designing and building a new home. We’ve just completed the design stage, and the building stage will take another year and a half, requiring weekly visits to the job site. Every Wednesday, I attend my writing professor’s mentoring group along with six other authors from 6 to 9 p.m. So, to answer your question, sometime during the week I squeeze in six to eight hours to compose the next seven pages of my novel.

Just for fun:
I play cribbage on Thursday afternoons from 3 to 4:30, have lunch once a week with one of my friends, and in the evenings, I love to read. Also, on the weekends, we have dinner with friends, family, or see a movie.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I’m a perfectionist. Which is not the most efficient way to write. I’ve learned how to edit, and now when I’m creating, I’m simultaneously editing.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t have any lofty goals or aspirations as a child. However, during my first and second careers in the technology industry (one in the corporate world and one with my own business as an entrepreneur), I always wanted to write fiction. I’d write short stories and share them with my friends and co-workers. Their positive feedback encouraged me.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
If you’re interested in writing, I recommend taking a class from a qualified instructor. Be wary of “Writing Groups”; if they are not led or managed professionally, the negative critiques can be devastating and de-motivating. Also, do your research. I’ve seen many talented writers who are too lazy to dig into the details that make a story authentic. Lastly, writing is like a marathon, and with any endeavor, passion helps, but commitment is critical. I wish you the best!

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Thank you for joining me today!

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