Posted by Krista Hall
Tara Janzen, New York Times bestselling author, is the creator of the acclaimed Steele Street series of romantic suspense novels about a hotshot crew of former juvenile delinquents and car thieves in Denver, Colorado who grow up to become one of the U.S.A.’s most elite black ops forces. The eleven book series begins with CRAZY HOT and CRAZY COOL and finishes up with LOOSE ENDS. Tara has won numerous awards for her writing, including a RITA from RWA, and nine 4 ½ TOP PICKS from Romantic Times magazine, with seven of the TOP PICKS awarded to the Steele Street series. Two of her books are on the Romantic Times ALL-TIME FAVORITES list: RIVER OF EDEN and SHAMELESS. Tara is giving away an e-copy or print copy of the Steele Street thriller of your choice to one lucky commenter. Be sure to check back on Thursday for the winner.
A few years ago while browsing in Barnes & Noble, I discovered CRAZY HOT and proceeded to race through the Steele Street series as fast as a 1967 Pontiac GTO on a Saturday night at Midnight Doubles. So I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was when Tara accepted an invitation to join us on Kiss and Thrill to talk about her wild world of bad boys, hot cars, big guns, and crazy fun thrillers.
Welcome Tara! I love the role the cars—Jeanette the Jet, Roxanne, Corinna, Charlotte the Harlot, to mention a few—play in each of the Steele Street stories. Which came first, your passion for American muscle cars or the Steele Street series?
Tara: Steele Street came first, but because of what I wanted the stories to be, the chop shop boys came already muscled up with their cars. There was no way to write the books without Jeanette and Corinna, and the mighty Roxanne. We all love American muscle, the roar and rumble of those iron beasts from the late 60’s and early 70’s, but I didn’t know much about them until I started writing the books. Then I fell in love. When I started writing CRAZY HOT, I was positive that a 1969 Camaro, Jeanette the Jet, was the ultimate dream car—until I met Angelina, Creed’s 1970 Chevelle SS 454 LS6, the toughest muscle car to ever come out of Detroit. I’m still in love with her.
Krista (pauses to read from her copy of CRAZY WILD):
Angelina? Cody thought. Now the car had a name? Well, name or not, he was wrong. This car was not going to—Oh, sweet Jesus. The car started. No, that wasn’t right. The car came alive, the whole thing, all at once, from the floorboards to the roof. It turned over, lifted its head, and roared. She could feel the rumble of the engine shimmying through the passenger seat and up her spine, and when Creed pumped the gas, the chassis rocked.
Then asks: What inspired you to give the cars names?
Tara: I had seen a movie that I loved – Gone in Sixty Seconds and it featured a Shelby Mustang named Eleanor.
Krista: Is that Charlotte the Harlot with you in the photo above?
Tara: Nope. Charlotte is a 1968 Shelby Mustang Cobra GT-500KR (stands for “King of the Road” 🙂 ) and I had my picture taken with a 1969 Mustang GT CJ 428—be still my beating heart if I ever get “cheek to cheek” with a Shelby Cobra!
Krista: Do you own your dream car? Does it have a name?
Tara: My dream car is Angelina, the Chevelle SS 454, and no, I don’t own anything like her—darn! For practical purposes, I like something easy to drive with either All Wheel Drive or 4WD and room in the back, and I’ve never named a single car I’ve owned.
Krista: What is it about the street racing culture that appeals to you? Have you ever raced?
Tara: This may not be what you expect, but what really turns me on about the street racing culture is the mechanical ability of the people who build and tweak the cars. I am so mechanically inept, I tend to be super-dazzled by mechanical skills. And about my own “racing.” Well, I do drive a Subaru Impreza WRX that drives like a dream at 120 mph, handles beautifully. In my own defense (which I’ve only sold a cop on once!) from where I live in the middle of nowhere, it’s not unknown to drive for forty minutes without seeing another car. That stretch of road is my own “Midnight Doubles” drag strip.
Krista: DC has the worst traffic in the nation so even ten minutes of driving without seeing another car sounds like nirvana to me, especially if I could do it in my dream car: a 1968 BMW 2002 aka Whispering Bomb…The Steele Street chop shop boys and their kick-ass women pack some pretty impressive weaponry. Have you ever fired any of the weapons they use? How’s your aim?
Tara: Oh, yeah, and dead-on 🙂 I’d never even seen a handgun, except in the movies and on TV, until I started researching the CRAZY books. Now I own Kid’s rifle, a Remington 700 .308 with an amazing Schmidt und Bender 4-16×50 PMII Klein scope that helps me hit a 10 inch circle at 1000 yards (that’s ten football fields – me at one end with my amazing rifle and my dope book, and a 10 inch circle at the other). I also have Skeeter and Red Dog’s shotgun, plus a 20 gauge, three semi-auto pistols, one each in .45 (Dylan’s pistol), .40, and my new baby, the Springfield XDM 9 mm, and three revolvers, a pair of dead-on Colt “six-shooters,” and a Ruger .38 Special. I’ve also had the opportunity to shoot a .50 caliber sniper rifle—totally awesome, and a few AR-15s—which the guys and girls at Steele Street own in abundance.
Krista: Yowzer! Even clay pigeons are safe from me. You’ve created an amazing home for the Special Defense Force operatives at 738 Steele Street: gothic freight elevator on the side of the building, multi-story indoor rainforest, granite lap pool in the basement, firing range on the armory floor. What real-life structures influenced your vision of their urban fortress?
Tara: There’s an alley in Denver between Wynkoop and Wazee, on 17th Street, across from the Oxford Hotel (featured in LOOSE AND EASY), where I always imagine the Steele Street garage. I love that corner and the whole area called LoDo, the historical district. So the whole district influenced my vision of Steele Street. The rail yards are down there and the baseball stadium, and it’s not too far to a lot of industrial neighborhoods. Every time I wrote another Steele Street book, I learned something new about the building. Every character opened different doors, and the readers and I got to peek inside.
Krista: Do you have a favorite chop shop boy?
Tara: You know I love them all 🙂 But there were three that really became the heart and soul of the stories for me – Christian Hawkins, Superman, he’s the heart of SDF. J.T. Chronopolous, hands down he is the soul resonating through all the stories, and Creed Rivera – so flesh and blood, the purest heart (for all his bad boy deeds), the moral compass of the team.
Krista: In addition to bad boys, wild women and hot cars, you’ve written some memorable secondary characters. (CRAZY COOL’s Alex Zheng, the double espresso-drinking, Prada-wearing, former cop with a black belt in tae kwon do, is one of my favorites.) Which quirky secondary character was the most fun to write?
Tara: Alex was great fun to write, and so was Cherie Hacker, the geekazoid. And I loved Scout. All the bad guys were fun to write, even though I felt like Franklin Bleak from LOOSE AND EASY really took me for a ride, and I have to admit that Dovey Smollet, the dumb bad guy in that book, was another one who was great fun to write.
Krista: LOOSE ENDS is on Amazon’s list of Top Ten Romances of 2011. Congratulations! How did it feel writing “The End” for the final book in the Steele Street series?
Tara: Thanks! The vitally important thing for me while writing LOOSE ENDS was that the book be great. I didn’t want the series to end poorly, with just a “let’s wrap it up” mentality. I felt I owed it to J.T. to give him a great story, to not slack off, but to really look for what happened and tell it to the very best of my ability. It has been immensely gratifying to have gotten the response to the book that I have—that the ending left readers feeling satisfied, that all was well, that they’d gotten the whole story.
Krista: Count me as another satisfied reader. I loved the emotional resolution you wove for this “band of brothers.” Looking back from LOOSE ENDS to CRAZY HOT, which characters surprised you by taking the series storyline in unexpected directions?
Tara: Well, again, that’s J.T. and how he shaped everything from CRAZY HOT to LOOSE ENDS without even being on the page until BREAKING LOOSE, except for the flash back in CUTTING LOOSE—that was very very poignant for me to actually “see” him. And then there’s Zach Prade. Alejandro Campos surprised even me when I realized he was the long lost chop shop boy Zachary Prade.
Krista: What was on your playlist when writing LOOSE ENDS?
Tara: I’m in the process of having my website revamped and updated, and I’ll get all the playlists up to date, but for LOOSE ENDS, it all started with Dylan in Chapter One, and the song was Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan. That really set the mood for what was about to unfold. For Jane, her song was Second Chance by .38 Special, and for J.T., his song was Extreme Ways by Moby.
Krista: What’s on your playlist now?
Tara: Yikes! What a confession you’re pulling out of me! It’s a heavy song, Bartholomew by The Silent Comedy and a little Patsy Cline, Chris LeDoux, and Concrete Blonde.
Krista: What’s sitting in your TBR pile taunting you to make time to read it?
Tara: A book about the western hemisphere before Columbus came calling, titled 1491, and the rest of SEAL of My Dreams. I haven’t finished all the stories in there yet.
Krista: I recently read that SEAL of My Dreams raised $46,000 in the first month of publication for the Veterans Medical Research Foundation—Wow! Tell us a bit about how you how you got involved in the project. Does the short story you wrote—PANAMA JACK—tie in to the Steele Street series?
Tara: PANAMA JACK was so much fun to write, and the cause is one so dear to my heart, so when we found out how much SEAL earned in just one month, the authors were elated!! I got into the SEAL book via my good friend Cindy Gerard who was involved pretty early on. When she found out they still had room for one more writer, she contacted me. Thank you, Cindy!!
PANAMA JACK does have a tie-in to Steele Street. The hero of the story, Jack Corday, is a SEAL friend of J.T.’s.
Krista: Will we be seeing more short stories/novellas from you in the future?
Tara: I’m definitely planning on writing more short stories, especially a collection for the Steele Street crew titled CRAZY HEARTS. I hope to have the book out in e-format by the end of the year.
Krista makes a note to pre-order: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Tara: I go out to the gun range at least once a week to kick around in the dirt and throw lead downrange with my buddies. I love going to the movies, and I cook a lot. I also spend a lot of time running around with my kids, even though they’re in their early twenties, and my husband and I both love to travel, especially to Europe.
Krista: Tell us about one of your guilty pleasures.
Tara: Ammo. I reload for my XD .40, but I’m shelling out $$$ cash for all the other “toys.” And going out to breakfast. I am the “Going Out To Breakfast” Queen, even though it’s usually lunch when I get there. I have a list of favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants a mile long.
Krista: Ammo! LOL! I was expecting mango mousse filled cupcakes with pineapple cream cheese frosting 😉 Any New Year’s resolutions you’d like to share with us?
Tara: Resolution #1: Get all my Loveswept romances online as e-books by the end of February. So far I’ve got AVENGING ANGEL and DATELINE: KYDD AND RIOS up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. I should have the first six up by the end of January, and then seven more by the end of February. I’m hoping to have the web site revamped by then to showcase the hot new covers on the books.
Resolution #2: Get organized!!! It’s the same every year, and I have never managed it. My daughter cleans my office and gets everything ship-shape after every book, and I have the place in shambles again inside of a month. She knows more about where stuff goes than I do.
Krista: Excellent resolutions! Be sure to check out Tara’s website at TaraJanzen.com. Any other good news to share with your readers?
Tara: I received some great news this week. I’ve just gotten the rights back to RIVER OF EDEN, an adventure/romance on the Amazon River called by Romantic Times “One of THE most breathtaking and phenomenal adventure tales to come along in years!” I’m very excited to be getting that book ready for its new e-book release. I’ve got new material for the book that wasn’t in the original publication, and I think readers are going to love getting to know Will Travers and Annie Parrish a little bit better. For any readers who fell in love with the Steele Street crew in the CRAZY/LOOSE books, RIVER OF EDEN will be fabulous fun.
Krista: High praise indeed for RIVER OF EDEN. I’ll be looking forward to adding that title and your other re-releases to my Kindle library! Thanks for joining us today, Tara!
Tara is giving away an e-copy or print copy of the Steele Street thriller of your choice to one lucky commenter so tell us about your favorite CRAZY/LOOSE characters, dream cars, weapons, songs for chop shop boys, or any burning gotta-know questions for Tara. What’s on your mind?
Be sure to visit us on Thursday to find out if you’re the winner!