Tell our readers a little about yourself and your writing.
I am a native Californian. I grew up in Southern California and have lived there all my life, except for military service. I spent twenty-some years in journalism as a crime reporter and investigative reporter, and later as an editor, before switching careers and becoming a Navy analyst in combat casualty care.
The Navy job came about because of my military service as a medic of one kind or another in three branches of the service. In fact, I retired from the reserves in 2016 with 27 years of active and reserve service. I also spent several years as a medical specialist with the local sheriff’s wilderness search and rescue team, and with a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team. That background inspires my mysteries and thrillers.
Tell us about your pets. Are any of them models for pets in your writing?
My wife, Winke, and I are great animal lovers, and our son, Brandon, grew up with the same love for creatures great and small. When we first met, Winke had two orange tabbies, Teddy and Franny. The cats and I fell in love immediately. I’ve always joked I married Winke for her cats, and she agreed to marry me only because the cats insisted.
Currently, we only have one cat, a 15-year-old orange tabby named Harry Potter Maximilian. Unfortunately, Harry’s twin brother, Alexander Theodore, passed a couple of years ago from a stroke. Harry and Alex’s mama cat died in childbirth, and the litter was being hand fed by the owners. But Harry and Alex didn’t respond well to hand feeding. They were near death when they were given to our vet, Dr. Bruce Lindsey. Bruce is a great healer and through a herculean effort saved their lives. About the same time, we lost our two previous cats, Max and Molly, so Bruce gave us Harry and Alex. Harry was the sickest of the two when they arrived at Bruce’s clinic, so we named him Harry Potter, the cat who lived.
We also had a cockatiel we got from my parents. Her name was Tweetie and she ruled the roost. She literally would take no guff off Harry and Alex, but they adored her. They would curl up next to her cage all the time. It’s incredible how much personality can be packed into such a little package.
We also helped raise four or five generations of raccoons. One Christmas several years ago, I looked out our big bay window to find four little bandit faces looking at me over a fence. We immediately put out food and water, and they returned every night until they were grown. Later, the females would bring their babies. Two of the females had distinctive markings, unusual for raccoons, so we could identify them from the others. They always traveled together and would bring their latest babies. We called them Megs and Bines. They would come right up to the window or the sliding glass door and wait for us to put food out. Then they would play or curl up on our deck and sleep. Megs and Bines are gone now, but we still get mommy raccoons bringing their babies to us.
What writing projects are you currently working on?
My latest thriller, The Butcher’s Bill, was published this past June. It’s the second in my Linus Schag, NCIS, series, and is centered around the real-world theft of $9 billion in U.S. cash from Iraq—the biggest heist in history and it’s never been investigated. You can read more about this true-life crime here: https://www.slideshare.net/MartinRoyHill/historys-biggest-heist-and-why-no-one-ever-investigated-it
My current work-in-progress is called Polar Melt and involves a special U.S. Coast Guard team investigating the mysterious disappearance of a research ship’s crew in the nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean. It’s a military sci-fi adventure inspired by global climate change. I spent 13 years in the Coast Guard, active and reserve, and it’s always been my favorite branch.
Did you have childhood pets? If so, tell us about them.
I pretty much grew up with cats, though I also had a dog named Whiskers, a couple of hamsters and turtles, a parakeet, and fish. But cats were always there. When I was just a toddler, we had a cat named Peaches. One day my mother caught me trying to give Peaches a bath in a bucket of soapy water she was using to mop the kitchen floor. Fortunately, she caught me in time. But Peaches never protested or did anything to hurt me. She just put up with me. She was a sweet, gentle thing.
How do you use animals in your writing? Are they a character in their own right or just mentioned in passing?
I haven’t written much about animals. I write thrillers and I hate the idea of putting an animal in jeopardy in a story. Once I read a James Rollins novel in which a dog was a character. All through that book I kept yelling, “If you kill the dog, I’ll never read your books again!” Fortunately, the dog lived.
I did write a short story once in which a young woman takes vengeance on the man who killed her cat. I wrote it in a fit of anger after reading a newspaper article about an animal abuser. I never sold the story. Probably just as well, because the fate of the abuser was not pretty.
What’s your favorite book or movie that had an animal as a central character? Why?
I would have to say it was Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey with Sally Fields, Michael J. Fox, and Don Ameche as the voices of the cat and dogs. We watched it all the time when Brandon was little, and we still love it.
What’s your real-life funniest pet story?
All our cats have had strong personalities, but Franny had the most ferocious personality. We took her to an animal psychic once who said Franny was only the second animal she ever knew who saw no difference between animals and humans. We were all equals in Franny’s eyes.
Once we had to take her to the emergency animal clinic and the vet, a stranger to us, told us Franny was blind because she wouldn’t follow his finger when he moved it back and forth in front of her face. He wouldn’t believe us when we explained she was simply being stubborn because she was upset about being at the clinic. Finally, I said, “Franny, follow the doctor’s finger.” The vet tried again and, sure enough, Franny followed his finger. It blew the vet away. But that was our Franny.
When did you know you were a writer? And how did you know?
In high school, I had an English teacher who enjoyed the compositions I wrote for the class and urged me to consider writing as a career. I got a position on the school paper and started writing short stories. I’ve been doing it ever since.
What do your pets do when you are writing?
Due to my work schedule, I do most of my writing on the run sitting in coffee houses and such, using my Kindle Fire and a Bluetooth keyboard. When I do work at home, I sit on the couch with my laptop. When Alex was alive, the laptop was his favorite place to relax. So, whenever he jumped up on the couch and settled down on the keyboard, I knew my workday was over. Harry, on the other hand, likes to curl up on my chest. He drapes himself over my shoulder and chest, and I keep on working.
Harry and I also have a daily ritual. When I get home from work, we go out to our enclosed patio—also known as our “cat-tio.” Harry gets some fresh catnip and I get a Scotch. We call it our “cat-tail hour.”
What’s in your “To Be Read” (TBR) pile right now? And how many TBR piles do you have?
I just finished reading Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions. I have Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil waiting in my Kindle, along with a collection of H.G. Wells’ works, and another collection of Jules Verne’s works. In addition to those, I have several novels written by author friends that I’m planning to read.