Bookpleasures welcome as our guest Solange Ritchie, author of Firestorm.

Solange was born in Jamaica of a Jamaican father and a French mother and immigrated to the United States at age eleven.

As a lawyer in Southern California, she was dubbed “the Case Saver” for handling intense legal motions that either make or break a case, especially in the areas of business, labor, and employment law. In 2014, she received the State Bar of California’s Solo and Small Firm Section’s highest award, the Myer J. Sankary Attorney of the Year Award. When Solange was just thirty-seven years old, her first husband died due to gross medical negligence. She began writing creatively as a way to deal with the stress of his hospitalization and death. She now lives in South Florida.

Norm: Good day Solange and thanks for participating in our interview.

How did you start writing? What keeps you going?

Solange:: I always loved words. In high school, people used to call me the novelist. As an attorney, one of my roles is to take the facts that clients provide me and turn them into a compelling story for a judge or jury. So, I guess storytelling and writing have always been part of my DNA. I started writing fiction, specifically thrillers, because that’s the genre I like to read. I started writing novels as a form of escape and stress relief when my first husband became very ill and died. He died when he was forty and I was thirty-seven. Writing helped me to get through that difficult time.

What keeps me going? The fun is in creating characters that are compelling, memorable, and intriguing—characters that leave readers wanting more. Delivering a good story is rewarding. I love the joy and surprise I feel when a character does something that I never saw coming.

Norm. How did your upbringing color your writing? Do you have a specific writing style?

Solange: I lived in Jamaica until the age of eleven. Growing up in a multi-ethnic culture in the Caribbean made my writing more multidimensional and vivid. When I write, I incorporate all the senses. In Jamaica, everything seems to smell and taste sweeter. The people have a sense of connection with nature, the land, and each other. That is the reason that Jamaica’s motto is “Out of many, one people.”

As for my writing style, I have a fast-paced, quick style. When I write a scene, I think about all the senses and what the character feels, sees, tastes, touches, and hears. Then I take it a step further and ask, What is the character’s reaction to this situation? What emotions are they feeling?

I also write in a somewhat linear style, and I often use the same phrase over and over in a chapter. This is for emphasis. As a lawyer, I understand the value of white space on a page and the importance of having a catch phrase that repeats in the reader’s mind.

Norm: Why were you drawn to writing a psychological thriller? What are the aesthetic advantages and disadvantages peculiar to this genre? Does it have a specific form, and what do you think makes a well-written psychological thriller?

Solange: Judging the psyche of a client is a very important skill for a trial lawyer. You have to determine whether the client is mentally strong enough to withstand the rigors of trial, possible direct- and cross-examination by a skilled opponent, and the possibility of losing at trial. Yes, lawyers do lose at trial! Any lawyer who says otherwise is a liar or doesn’t go to trial.

What are the advantages of the thriller genre? In thrillers, pacing is very important. I like a story to move quickly because that is how my own mind works.

What are the disadvantages? I can’t think of any. I don’t think thrillers have a specific form, although I believe that ensuring that the reader understands the inner workings of both the protagonist and the antagonist is always important.

Norm: What were your goals and intentions in writing Firestorm, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

Solange: Firestorm was really a labor of love. With The Burning Man, readers fell in love with my lead character, FBI special agent and forensic pathologist Dr. Catherine “Cat” Powers, and her young son, Joey. My readers wanted to learn more about her. They demanded a series. Firestorm, and the novels that will follow it, grew out of those requests. I think I achieved what my readers wanted because Firestorm will reveal more about Cat and what makes her tick.

Norm: What was the timeline between deciding to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?

Solange: Firestorm was originally written in 2015 and originally had a different title. Since its inception, I got divorced and moved cross-country from California to South Florida. I am happy to be in a good place now where the writing comes free and easy.

Norm: Are your characters based on people you know or have encountered, or are they strictly fictional?

Solange: My characters are a little of both. Dr. Cat Powers is not based on any one individual, but I interviewed police officers and people who work in law enforcement while developing her. I toured jails, prisons, and county morgues. One of my police-officer friends was on-scene in a helicopter on 9/11. I have seen haunting photos of that day that were never released to the public.

The character of Eric is fictional, but I did research serial killers. The character of David also came from tons of research about arsonists and interviews with fire investigators. My research binders are often thicker than the novels themselves.

Norm: Did you write your novel more by logic, intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.

Solange: I write using a combination of the two. I always know my opening scene and my ending scene. In between, the characters take on a life of their own and tell me where the story should go.

I don’t believe in following preset rules when I write. If a character needs to die, I will kill him. If a plot twist demands that I move the story in a certain direction, I go with it. I recently listened to a writer who spends eight months plotting out his books on Post-it notes before he ever writes a single word. I could never do that.

Norm: Did you initially have a difficult time fleshing out your characters? What was your main intention when you created Dr. Catherine “Cat” Powers?

Solange: No, I did not have a difficult time. Cat and I are much alike. She dives into a law-enforcement world filled with men. I do the same in the courtroom as a female trial lawyer in the male-dominated field of law.

I wanted Cat to be smart, sassy, strong, and capable, with a sense of humor. I didn’t originally plan for her to have a sixth sense. It just crept into her story line. My intention in creating her was to show a character that was strong, yet vulnerable. I wanted to create a woman with many sides—some hidden from public view.

Norm: What is your secret to sustaining intensity throughout a novel?

Solange: Intensity—such an interesting word. Yes, I guess my novels are intense. I don’t have a secret, really. I write in a chronological time frame—none of this jumping back and forth between subplots just to tie everything up in a pretty little bow at the end. I find that annoying and taxing on the brain.

I don’t fill my books with a lot of dialogue. Dialogue must be necessary to move the plot along. And if you are looking for rainbows and butterflies, you should read another author’s work, not mine.

Norm: Some say that writers should write what they know. Did any elements of the book force you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach that part of the writing?

Solange: Yes—the firefighter turned arsonist required a great deal of research. I interviewed firefighters and arson investigators. I read numerous articles about arsonists and what makes them tick. I researched real-life cases of firefighters who became arsonists. All of this was new to me, and I found it fascinating. Perhaps that is part of the fun of writing for me—the puzzle of finding answers to my questions while researching my criminals.

Norm: Do you agree that good drama requires an emotional charge that usually comes from the individual squaring off against antagonists either out in the world or within himself or herself? If so, please elaborate on how that fits into your novel.

Solange: Yes, good writing demands conflict. I recently spoke about the value of what I call big-impact moments at SleuthFest, the Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s annual convention. Now, a big-impact moment doesn’t have to literally be big impact, like a car crash or an earthquake. It can be as simple and small as a bee sting. But the question becomes how that moment triggers an emotion and a reaction in each character. What inner conflict does it create? What outer conflict does it create? How does the moment change the characters? Does it change their perspective? How does each character perceive the big event differently?

For instance, on the outside, Cat appears strong and capable and smart. But her inner turmoil comes from leaving her young son, Joey, alone with neighbors for long periods of time while she works. She wants to be a good mother, but her career is taxing.

Cat is a perfectionist. Her inner turmoil comes from her own self-doubt. She questions whether she is doing the best job she can. She wonders if she overlooked a clue. This kind of inner turmoil makes her real to the readers. They become invested in her because of these vulnerabilities—vulnerabilities that we all can relate to.

Norm: When writing your book, did you ever have it in the back of your mind that you could turn it into a movie or television project? If so, who would you want to play Catherine “Cat” Powers?

Solange: I have actually been approached by two movie producers who read my first Catherine “Cat” Powers novel, The Burning Man.

When I started writing, I never considered the possibility of a movie deal, although I think the series could easily be made into a TV show or movie. Right now, the public is fascinated by crime shows, such as Forensic Files, so I believe an audience exists for an adaptation of my series.

Who would I want to play Cat? Well, Charlize Theron comes to mind. Her performance in Monster was amazing.

Norm: Are you working on any projects that you would like to share with us?

Solange: Yes. The third and fourth novels in the Dr. Cat Powers series are complete and being edited. The fifth and sixth books in the series have been outlined. I am currently talking to specialists in the field of cyberhacking for book number five.

Since my novels “push the edges of noir almost into darkness,” as one critic put it, I have decided to try my hand at Southern Gothic. I just started a novel called “Fiona’s Box” about an antique, jewel-encrusted silver box that has special powers over young girls. Once you possess Fiona’s box, Fiona’s box possesses you.

Norm: Where can readers find out more about you and Firestorm?

Solange: Firestorm is available for preorder now on Amazon. The official release date is May 15. On May 17, I start a book tour that will stretch into June and beyond. Most of my tour stops will be in in South Florida and California. For dates and locations, you can visit my WEBSITE  

I will host interactive workshops for fellow writers locally at the Nova Southeastern University library in Fort Lauderdale and at Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore in Delray Beach in June. Again, information on these events is available on my website. I did a number of TV and radio interviews following the release of The Burning Man—all are available for your viewing and listening pleasure on my website. My website also has information about the new radio interviews I’m doing for Firestorm.

I am on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Goodreads, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

Norm: As our interview comes to an end, what question do you wish someone would ask about your book but hasn’t?

Solange: You know, I can’t really think of anything.

Thank you for the interview. It has been a pleasure.

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