Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Conversation with Mystery Author BJ Bourg

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with BJ Bourg
with BJ Bourg

We are delighted to welcome author BJ Bourg to Omnimystery News today.

BJ's new suspense thriller is James 516 (Amber Quill Press; December 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats) and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk more about it.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to the lead characters of James 516.

BJ Bourg
Photo provided courtesy of
BJ Bourg

BJ Bourg: London Carter is a patrol cop and the leader of his department's sniper team. He's endured some personal tragedy early on in his life, and that's what inspired him to pursue a career in law enforcement. He's motivated by a sense of justice and will do anything — within the parameters of the law — to find the murderous sniper who is attacking members of his department. Enter Bethany Riggs, an intelligent, driven, and no-nonsense internal affairs officer, and you've got a dynamic investigative team whose skill sets compliment each other.

OMN: How did you go about creating an environment for these characters to play? And will we see them again?

BJB: So, as with most of my novels, James 516 began at the end. I had an idea that I thought would make a great ending to a story. This idea was basically the motivation for the killings that are being investigated in the book. Once the ending was firmly in my mind, I created some characters, tossed them into some situations, and watched them react to the circumstances and people around them. I gave no thought to the future of the characters; I simply allowed them to live their lives.

Once the final period was pushed into place and the literary dust had settled, I wondered what might be next for London Carter and his cohorts. I seriously considered writing a follow-up, but I couldn't come up with an idea that bested James 516. And isn't that the point? In my view, at least, the second book should be better than the first, and the third should be better than the second, and so on (unlike The Hangover movies). If I can come up with a viable storyline that I feel will compliment James 516, London Carter will definitely be back.

OMN: Into which genre would you place James 516?

BJB: It's always hard for me to pigeonhole the genre in which my books fall. James 516 can definitely be considered a Police Procedural, but there're also some elements of Suspense, so I guess I'd call it Cross-over or Hybrid Crime Fiction, sort of a "Crhybrid".

OMN: Tell us something about the book that isn't mentioned in the synopsis.

BJB: What's not mentioned in the publisher synopsis is that James 516 is a mystery with a message. As one reader/reviewer put it, "I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone, but there is a message here for honesty, integrity, and ethical police work."

OMN: How much of your own experience have you included in the book?

BJB: My background in sniper work was crucial to writing James 516. Many of the finer details (e.g., how it feels to sniper-crawl across a boiling rooftop in the sweltering Louisiana heat, blinking sweat from your eye while peering through your rifle scope, etc.) are based on activities I've experienced firsthand. Without these experiences, I would not have been able to write the book.

If you ask my wife, she'll tell you that London Carter is a lot like me. When reading James 516 for the first time, she'd often stop and exclaim, "You say that!" One of the main ways we're alike is in our refusal to use "comfort equipment" (e.g., shooting mats, kneepads, and elbow pads) in sniper work, and an objection to the dependency many snipers have on pinch bags. London actually stole one of my own quotes when he says to fellow sniper, Jerry Allemand, "Innocent people could die in the time it takes to set up all that shit. All a real sniper needs is his rifle, data book, lots of ammo and a radio." I feel so strongly about the topic that I wrote two articles on point; Equipment Dependency (Law and Order, Jan 2013) and Pinch Baggers Anonymous (Tactical Response, May/June 2013).

No, none of the situations in James 516 are based on real events. However, four years after I wrote James 516, a real event made national news and that event was eerily similar to something that happens in the book. I can't identify the event, because it would spoil some of the story, but many people should recognize the similarities when they read it. My friend, who read the first draft of James 516, found out about the incident first and emailed me the link. I was a little surprised when I read it.

OMN: Tell us a little more about your writing process? And where do you usually find yourself writing?

BJB: For the most part, I usually start with the ending to a story, rewind to a point earlier in time, create some characters, thrust them in situations that probably make them hate me, and then sit back and watch what they do. That's what I happened with James 516. I did have a slightly different approach to my latest novel. I came up with the ending and then went right into creating a biographical sketch for most of my characters. The reason? I plan on taking this one to a series and I want to remember what color hair each character had, if they were married or not, how many kids they owned, if they gave birth to any pets, if they hated their mother-in-law, etc.

My writing stance is the butterfly stretch (have to remain limber enough to throw head kicks) on the sofa, with my laptop resting on a pillow in front of me — not a pretty sight, but comfortable. I usually have the television on in the background. If I really need to concentrate, I mute the television and play music from my phone. (At the moment, Tim McGraw's "Shotgun Rider" is playing.)

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

BJB: Nearly every aspect of everything I've ever written has been based on firsthand experience, because I obeyed that timeless rule, "Write what you know."

OMN: Are your stories set in real places?

BJB: The locales in which my characters find themselves trapped are fictional, but most of them are influenced by my home state of Louisiana.

OMN: If we could send you anywhere in the world, at our expense, to research the setting for a story, where would it be?

BJB: That's easy: the Smoky Mountains, because that's my idea of Heaven on earth. However, that question is a couple of years — and a few thousand dollars — too late for me. In 2012, I wrote a YA titled The Missing Six (to be published) that is set in the fictional Blue Summit Mountains. The Smoky Mountains influenced my creation of the Blue Summit Mountains, as I had visited the Smokies a half dozen times prior to 2012 and absolutely loved it. Now, I had to rely on memory and thousands of vacation photographs, because I never anticipated writing The Missing Six. In order to connect on a more personal level for a rewrite I had planned for the book, I took my family on another vacation to the Smokies last year and took note of a lot of things that helped to make the book seem more authentic — in my view, anyway. Once the rewrite was done, I renamed the book The Seventh Taking.

OMN: What are some of your outside interests? And have any of these found their way into your books?

BJB: I love the art of fighting. I've been mixing martial arts and full-contact fighting styles for over thirty years — long before it became vogue — and I boxed professionally from 2002 to 2005. Yes, these activities absolutely find their way into my books … all of them. I love writing fight scenes. One of the characters in my most recent novel is a female cop who moonlights as a cage fighter. She's tough as nails. I'm careful what I write about her, because I don't want her to leap off the computer screen and rearrange the furniture on my face — it's been moved around enough over the years.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author? And what might you say to aspiring writers?

BJB: The best advice I've ever received as a writer actually came long before I embarked upon a writing career. When I was a boy, I bought this book called Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki (it still rests on my bookshelf). I can't recount everything in the book, but one phrase inspired me and stuck with me throughout my life: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." From that moment forward, I approached everything I did as a beginner … as a hungry sponge, constantly soaking up every droplet of information I could find on any given subject. This approach to writing has helped me to constantly grow as a writer, always striving to make my next story or article better than the last one.

If I could offer only one piece of advice to aspiring authors, which includes me (I want to be an author when I grow up), it would be to always believe in yourself and never let anyone discourage you from following your dreams. If you embark upon a path to traditional publication, you may encounter rejections — perhaps even a lot of rejections, as in my case — but let them serve as fuel for your literary fire. Don't ever give up and don't be deterred by rejection slips, naysayers, or other obstacles that might arise.

Regardless of how it is intended, I view every criticism as constructive, and I use the information to improve my stories and myself. The harshest thing I've heard, outside of suggested changes for a story, is in the form of rejections. While I don't like receiving them, I do take rejections like I take punches — I walk right through them and surge forward.

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a mystery author and thus I am also …".

BJB: I am a mystery author and thus I am also cruel. I create these really nice characters who enjoy their lives and who contribute in a positive way to society. I give them parents who care about them, let them have children who rely on them, get them hired onto good jobs, introduce them to the loves of their lives, provide them with the skills necessary to excel in various sports, allow them to have exciting hobbies … and then I kill them. That's just mean.

OMN: Do you use a pen name?

BJB: I write using my initials, BJ Bourg. When I first began writing, I didn't want people around me to know it, because I was a bit bashful about it. Once my cover was blown and the word got out via a local newspaper article some years ago (I had reluctantly initiated the article to promote a book for charity that I was involved with), I figured I should stick with the name for the sake of consistency. Besides, when I was a kid I wanted to be called "BJ" after the character on "BJ and the Bear", but it never took off. Instead, my friends called me "Wild Bill", "Billy the Kid" or "Billiam".

OMN: Was James 516 also the working title of the book?

BJB: I first began writing James 516 on August 16, 2010 under the working title, Mistake of Fact. One month and about 26,000 words later, Bethany Riggs found a message at the scene of one of the sniper attacks. The message read "James 516", and it suddenly occurred to me that it had to be the title.

OMN: What kind of feedback have you received from readers?

BJB: Well, James 516 is my first published novel and it's only been out for a month, so I haven't received a lot of feedback yet. However, the feedback thus far has been positive, and what I enjoy the most is when someone tells me they read it and couldn't put it down.

OMN: When selecting a book to read for pleasure, what do you look for?

BJB: I derive a lot of pleasure from reading instructional books on different topics — sniping, fighting, writing, etc. When I do have time to read fiction, I look for mysteries/crime fiction. Lately, that's been CJ Box's Joe Pickett novels. I love mysteries and I love mountains (I actually snuck a mountain scene into James 516), so his books are a natural favorite of mine.

OMN: What kinds of movies do you enjoy watching?

BJB: I enjoy comedies, horrors, thrillers, and mysteries the most. While none of the films I've watched inspired any of my books, good crime movies keep me motivated to produce something that might someday turn into a film.

OMN: Suppose James 516 were to be adapted for television or film. Who do you see playing the key roles?

BJB: I would want Kieffer Sutherland to play London Carter and Sandra Bullock to play Bethany Riggs, but they'd both have to lose some age.

OMN: Give us a Top 5 list on any topic.

BJB: Top 5 things to do in the mountains:

5. Grill steaks on a deck with a view.
4. Hike the backcountry (especially to a waterfall).
3. Jump in a freezing cold river.
2. Traverse wild rivers (kayak, canoe, raft, pirogue).
1. View wild bears in their natural habitat.

OMN: What's next for you?

BJB: My crime novel Hollow Crib will be released by Five Star Publishing in early 2016, which is very exciting for me. On a personal level, my wife and I will be going on a cruise soon to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and, soon after, we'll be taking our kids on a family vacation to the mountains of North Carolina or Georgia.

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BJ Bourg has spent twenty-four years in law enforcement and has served as a patrol cop, detective, police academy instructor, SWAT officer, sniper leader, and the chief investigator for a district attorney's office. He has provided basic and advanced training to countless police cadets, veteran officers, snipers, SWAT operators, and civilians in a wide array of subjects, including firearms, defensive tactics, officer survival, and all areas of police procedures. He lives in southeast Louisiana with his wife, son, daughter, and step-daughter, as well as their array of critters.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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James 516 by BJ Bourg

James 516
BJ Bourg
A Suspense Thriller

What happens when those sworn to protect are attacked and need protection themselves?

When a high-ranking cop is gunned down by a sniper, Louisiana Sheriff Calvin Burke puts London Carter and Bethany Riggs on the case. London and Bethany quickly uncover information involving a sex triangle within the sheriff's office and they subsequently arrest police sniper Kenneth Lewis for the killing.

When Kenneth commits suicide in police custody and another high-ranking cop is killed two days later, however, London and Bethany realize the case is far from closed. Things are further complicated when they locate a mysterious message at two of the crime scenes — the words "James 516."

Immense pressure is put on London and Bethany to solve the case. As they scramble to track down the killer, that pressure turns to heat, and they find themselves falling for each other even as they attempt to decipher the meaning of the message "James 516" before the murderer takes out the sheriff's entire staff. Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)  Kobo eBook Format


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