DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of action-packed, fast-paced thrillers. Known for creating resilient, bad-ass women characters and page-turning plots, her love of the genre stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, action/adventure books, and crime thrillers. I’ve been hooked on her Leine Basso series of thrillers for a while now, and I thought readers might be interested in learning more about the woman behind the words…
Tell us about yourself… how did you become a writer? Did any other writers influence you?
I’ve written short stories since I was a kid, but didn’t tackle a full-length novel until 2005. A fantasy/satire, no less. That one took a year to write, and although it’s still in a virtual drawer, once completed, I was hooked on long-form writing. The next book, Touring for Death, which ended up being the third novella in the Kate Jones thriller series, took four months to write and over a year to edit as I learned the craft. I showed the finished manuscript to a friend who suggested I write a prequel to explain how Kate got to where she was. At the time, news reports of drug cartels and their growing influence were beginning to trickle across the border into the media. Having lived in Mexico for a time I was horrified at what was happening, so I wrote that into the storyline. That book became Bad Spirits, the first novella in the series. Bad Spirits was published by an online publisher in 2010 and sold well. I wrote three more novellas followed by a full-length novel in the same series. In February of 2012 I released the first Leine Basso thriller (now book #2), Serial Date. Both series did well enough that I was able to quit my job that summer. I haven’t looked back.
As for influences, there are several. One of my favorite authors is Carl Hiaasen. His books showed me that you can write an entertaining story while still tackling social issues. I don’t use quite as much satire or scathing social commentary as he does, but I still like to keep a hand in—subtly, of course. Thrillers tend to be a tad more…serious. Another author, Ken Follett, was one of my early influences—his WWII-era novel, Eye of the Needle, was an epiphany for me, and introduced the first gutsy heroine I could identify with. I devour Michael Connelly, Daniel Silva, Joseph Wambaugh, Gregg Hurwitz, John Sandford, Vince Flynn, Lee child, etc. You name it, I’ve probably read it. I also really enjoy your books—there’s a certain cinematic quality to your stories that allows me to get lost in the pages.
What drew you to the thriller genre? Are there any other genres you’d like to write in someday?
Thrillers, especially spy novels and action adventure stories, have always been my go-to genre. I love the immediacy and the excitement of racing the clock, the fast pace and the life-or-death situations, the double-crosses and setbacks, the weapons and the fight scenes. Growing up, there was a dearth of great female role models in the books I read, so when I started writing I set out to create a female character I would have loved to read. All three of my main characters were created with that in mind.
Recently, I wrote a series of novellas set in the Wild West that feature a woman who loses everything, then learns how to navigate in a “man’s world” by becoming a gunfighter (the Claire Whitcomb Western Series). She gets to meet Doc Holiday and Wyatt Earp along the way, and a bunch of other historical figures, which was great fun to research. Claire, the main character in the series, is a witness to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral with Doc’s mistress. Turns out, the mistress wrote a memoir in real life and mentioned that she and a friend watched the gunfight from a boarding house window. She never named the friend, so I took the liberty of placing Claire at the scene.
I’ve thought about trying different genres, but keep coming back to action-oriented stories. I tend to get bored with books that don’t immediately capture and hold my attention, so I’ll most likely continue writing in the same vein.
Leine Basso is one kick-butt thriller heroine…. What inspired you to create her? And what do you think makes her so popular with readers?
Leine Basso is a kick to write, too. I think that’s one of the biggest reasons readers love her. The books are fun to read (so I’ve been told.) Another is her unshakeable sense of justice. She’ll have your back as long as you do right by her. She’s trying to atone for her past by righting wrongs and defending those who need defending. She’s got her flaws, too. Throughout the series, she’s had to deal with guilt, PTSD, her unusual parenting skills, and a whole host of other issues. One astute reader/reviewer pointed out that in the last book, A Plague of Traitors, Leine was dealing with her own trauma by helping another character with hers.
The inspiration behind the character is bizarre in its own way. I woke up from a super vivid (and bizarre) dream involving serial killer Charles Manson and a reality show, which became the kernel idea for Serial Date. I needed a strong female character who could go toe-to-toe with a serial killer, so I bounced a bunch of ideas off my husband and came up with a former assassin who was trying to atone for her early life. I thought the interplay between a serial killer and an assassin would be super interesting—how would one play off the other? Would one killer understand the other, even though their motivation for killing was different? How would that affect either killers’ agenda? I ended up writing the book in record time. It’s a bit different in tone from the rest of the series, incorporating more black humor and satire than the others, but it’s still a thriller.
Serial Date was supposed to be a one-off, not the start of a series. But several readers emailed and messaged me on social media, asking for more. The next book materialized after I went to a child sex-trafficking documentary at my local college. The subject matter made me so angry that I decided to dedicate the next book in the Basso series to raising awareness of such a heinous crime against children. That became Bad Traffick, and launched Leine into a new role that incorporated her particular skillset in eradicating anyone who got in her way of protecting the innocent. Eleven books in, and she’s still going after traffickers, along with terrorists, gun-runners, and lots of other villainous targets. I tend to write about subjects that piss me off—the angrier I get, the better the story ☺
Leine travels to some fascinating (and sometimes dangerous) locations. Have you done a lot of traveling yourself? And how do you research locations you haven’t visited personally? Where do you (or your characters) plan to visit next?
I LOVE to travel, and I curse the pandemic. Luckily, my parents liked to travel, so I started early. That being said, I have based several of the Basso books in countries I’ve never visited, like Libya. And although Google Earth and the internet are both fantastic resources, it’s not the same as being there. I’m fortunate to have friends who either live in or have traveled to places I’ve never been, and am able to mine their experiences in a “boots on the ground” way. I also have several military and law enforcement advisers—one in particular has been a long-time collaborator in regard to weapons and military actions. Their expertise help make my books so much better. And last but not least, I have an eclectic group of kickass advance readers who have a ton of life experience from which to draw. As for new scenarios, I have several ideas for different settings in the works, so stay tuned.
What do you think are the key ingredients of a page-turning spy thriller? What do you look for when you read for your own pleasure?
Definitely fast-paced action. For example, it’s super irritating when a writer slows down a fight scene to explain exactly what the characters are doing and/or thinking. I don’t need so much detail—e.g.: what a certain move is called or what the character thinks about their opponent, unless it’s pertinent to the plot. There’s a fine line between giving too much information and showing the reader what’s happening in broad strokes. Keep the pace going. In a fight, you’re laser-focused on your opponent’s next move and your survival. I also think you need plausibility, to a point. Yes, most readers will suspend their disbelief, but you gotta make them think it’s possible. On the other hand, give the reader a pause in the action on occasion, let them catch their breath. Not too long, mind you. It’s all about pacing. Use the downtime to reveal something about the plot or character(s). Two more ingredients to a page-turner would be plot twists and end-of-chapter cliff hangers. Keep the reader guessing and you’ll keep them reading. I also suggest not having a major cliff hanger at the end of the book. Tie up the main conflict or your readers are going to be pissed.
As for what I look for when I read, it’s easier to tell you what I don’t like. I skim over dense paragraphs of description. I know plenty of readers who enjoy descriptive prose, but I’m not one of them. I’m also not a fan of the slow burn. Grab my attention from the first page, and I’ll keep reading. Give me action, action, action, a dash of humor, and a hero/heroine who can get the job done, and I’m there. I’d rather read about a flawed character who knows their shit than one who’s perfect or bullet proof. And don’t get me started on the authors who skim the surface of their characters. Telling me a character had a crappy childhood is not the same as showing me his/her character because of their childhood.
What’s up next for you and your writing? Any new projects or endeavors you’d like to highlight?
I’m currently plotting/writing the next Leine Basso. One of the best parts of writing for me is creating secondary characters. I’ve got a couple new ones in this one that I really like. Who knows? I may just spin them off into a series of their own. Then, who knows? I rarely plan too far ahead of time. Usually, I’ll read something in the news that pisses me off or inspires me, and I’m off to the races. Keeps things fresh!
I’d like to thank DV for taking the time to answer these questions, and share her insights into writing, thrillers, and kick-butt heroines with me! To find out more about DV and her books, visit her website, dvberkom.com.
Her latest release, A Plague of Traitors, is available now on AMAZON.
You can also get two FREE books in her pulse-pounding Leine Basso series HERE…