Zoe Sharp and I met in a Facebook group for authors, and I’ve got to say that I was intrigued with her Charlie Fox series right off the bat. She has amazing reviews, and her covers are fantastic. Haven’t gotten to reading one yet, but her latest book Fifth Victim is in my queue.
This is the first interview I’ve done, and I’m happy I did. So interesting! And, I lose my man card–sucks. Without further ado, Zoe Sharp!
Derek Blass: Charlie Fox is the heroine in your bestselling series. Tell us about her.
Zoë Sharp: Charlie Fox is definitely someone you want on your side in a fight. She’s ex-British army, kicked out in the middle of a Special Forces training course after a brutal attack by a group of her fellow trainees. The start of the series is the turning point in her life, when she comes under threat again and this time she discovers her inner killer instinct. From teaching others how to protect themselves, she progresses into the world of close-protection, protecting others. It’s a profession for which she’s well suited, and one of the few legal options open to ex-military personnel who want to use their skillset to best advantage.
I tried very hard to keep Charlie human and female—definitely not a ‘guy in nylons’. She’s torn
between going too far and not going far enough. She has a vulnerable side, but cross her and she’ll
take you down. My favourite quote about her came from the Chicago Tribune: “Ill-tempered,
aggressive and borderline psychotic, Fox is also compassionate, introspective and highly principled:
arguably one of the most enigmatic − and coolest − heroines in contemporary genre fiction.”
DB: What inspired you to start the Charlie Fox series?
ZS: The very first crime novel that really caught my attention was THE MISFORTUNES OF MR TEAL
by Leslie Charteris, since republished both as THE SAINT IN LONDON and THE SAINT IN ENGLAND. I
loved the character of Simon Templar ‘The Saint’, mainly because he went against the convention
that the detective had to be the hero of the book.
But I quickly began reading the classic thrillers by authors like Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, Alistair
McLean and Clive Cussler. They were great books—I’ve always loved action and pace—but I couldn’t
help noticing that the female characters tended to be a bit on the wussy side. They screamed and
fell over and twisted their ankles a lot, and had to be rescued by the men. I wanted to read about a
woman who could fight her way out of a corner and do her own rescuing. I couldn’t find quite what
I was looking for on the shelves of my local library, so I decided I was just going to have to write my
own. Charlie Fox was the result.
DB: How did your career as an author start?
ZS: I wrote my first novel when I was fifteen, which my father—bless him—typed up for me. (OK, this dates me horribly—pre-computer days!) It did the rounds of publishers and received what’s known in the trade as ‘rave rejections’. Everybody loved it but nobody actually wanted to publish it. It still sits in a box in the attic somewhere.
Slightly daunted by this, I spent my teenage years doing weird jobs like delivering yachts and being a horse-riding instructor and then ended up writing magazine articles about motoring. In a fit of wild optimism, on the strength of my first accepted article, I gave up my job to turn freelance. That was in 1988, and I’ve been making a living writing ever since.
Some years later, I was doing a regular column for one of the car magazines and every time my photograph appeared in the mag, I received death-threat letters. Really nasty, cut-out-of-newspaper jobs—like a ransom note—telling me they knew where I lived and my days were numbered.
This had two effects. The first was I took a sudden and very earnest interest in learning self-defence, which has come in enormously handy not only as research, but also because I occasionally do self-defence demonstrations at conventions like Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and CrimeFest.
DB: “Fifth Victim” is your latest book. What is Charlie up to in this latest installment?
ZS: FIFTH VICTIM sees Charlie on Long Island, the playground of New York’s wealthy and privileged, looking after Dina, the daughter of a rich businesswoman, from threat of kidnap. At the same time, Charlie is trying to come to terms with the after-effects of her last job in California, during which her lover was shot and left for dead, and is still in a coma.
It’s a book about not knowing what you have until it’s gone, and about what you might be prepared
to do in order to get it back.
DB: Now more than ever, there are tons of books being published. Why should someone dig into
the Charlie Fox series?
ZS: Oh, that puts me on the spot, doesn’t it? And I’m a Brit—we blow our own trumpets really badly. Read them if you like a good story, a fast pace, a heroine who’s real and damaged and resourceful, and who grows as the series evolves.
Last year I put up the whole series in e-format so people can finally start from the beginning without difficulty. If you want to dip a toe in the water, there’s also FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection, which contains five stories of Charlie that span her career and give you a real taste of the character and the world in which she moves.
Apart from that, I’m going to quote one of my heroes in the crime thriller genre, Lee Child: “If I were a woman, I’d be Zoë. If Jack Reacher were a woman, he’d be Zoë’s main character, Charlie Fox.”
DB: On a personal note, your Facebook page has you sitting on a Buell motorcycle. Does that say
something about your personality?
ZS: Oh Derek—you lose a Man Card for that It’s a Triumph Street Triple, not a Buell. (Charlie rides a Buell Firebolt in FIFTH VICTIM, and still has a Honda FireBlade sitting in storage at home in the UK.) I’m tempted by a Ducati Monster next, actually …
But, to get back to your question, I suppose it does. It says I’m not averse to calculated risk in certain areas. That I like to move fast, but always stay in touch with my surroundings and what’s happening around me. When you ride a motorcycle you’ve got to be there, every second, looking for threats and hidden dangers before they appear. If you snooze or you’re likely to end up dead. These were characteristics I wanted for Charlie, too, which is why she rides a motorcycle in just about every
book in the series.
DB: For the authors out there reading this, what thoughts do you have on a path to success in the
ZS: Wow, how long have you got? Basically, the first—best—thing you can do is write the very best book you can. If you’re going the indie publishing route, get the book professionally edited and proofread and get a really great cover. Do what you can to get your name out but without ramming it down people’s necks. Be professional, be polite, and pay it forwards. Take reviews—good and bad—with grace and equanimity. Listen to all editorial comment but then apply the rule of thirds:
One third of advice you follow absolutely.
One third of advice you consider.
One third of advice you ignore completely.
(Of course, working out which third is which is the tricky part …)
The final piece of advice is that persistence is everything in this game. I have often thought there are more persistent published writers than there are talented published writers. You’re going to take a lot of hits—somebody once told me that writers have to face more criticism in a year than most people face in a lifetime. How you respond to those knock-backs will define you. Keep working to improve your craft.
DB: Do you have a “must” when you’re writing (i.e. music, coffee, a great view, etc.)?
ZS: LOL! I’d love to say I have a rider that includes a permanent supply Jelly Belly jelly beans (with the cinnamon and root beer ones removed) and fresh-brewed Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, but in truth, I’ll write anywhere and under just about any circumstances.
If I’m at home I do listen to music a LOT when I write. Nothing creates the mood or atmosphere I need for a particular scene faster. But really, if you’re a writer, you write wherever and whenever you can. All I need is a pencil and a load of scrap paper (also known as a myPad or an iBrain) and I’ll scribble.
In fact, I’ve found I work better if I make detailed notes just before I start on each new chapter, so time away from my computer can often be really productive. And long car journeys are great for untangling knotty bits of plot. I often work on my laptop in the car. But NOT while I’m driving!
DB: What’s next in the pipeline for you in terms of books?
ZS: I’ve delivered the next in the series, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, to my publisher, so now I’m indulging myself. For years I’ve had an idea for a supernatural thriller that I’ve kept putting off writing. Its time has finally come! I started in early March and am already halfway through the story. After that I’m going to start on what I hope will be the first in a trilogy with a new female protagonist who’s a bit like Charlie … with the brakes off. Plus I have a standalone crime thriller that’s waiting for edits, and then I’ll be back to Charlie for the eleventh installment in the winter. (She says breezily… Actually, I’m having cold sweats thinking about the amount of work I’ve taken on this year, but I’ve always thought that sleep is very overrated!)
DB: You obviously have a loyal base of readers. Anything you want to say to them?
ZS: “Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!” Without readers, we’re talking to ourselves in an empty room. The feedback I get from people constantly touches me. Writing can be a very isolated business and knowing that your voice is being heard and liked and understood is wonderful.
A satisfied reader is always a writer’s best friend.
Derek, thank you so much for inviting me to chat. It’s been a blast!
Don’t you just think she’s great? Can’t wait to dig into your books, Zoe! All of here books are available on Amazon, but click on this cover to start with Fifth Victim!