Friday, October 7, 2011

Losing Control by Zoë Sharp

A lot of authors in the crime fiction business write tough. Far fewer of us live tough. But for Zoë Sharp - professional photographer, motorbike enthusiast, sharpshooter - hanging tough is just what she does. Her Charlie Fox series, about a take-no-prisoners bodyguard with an Army background and a messy personal life, developed a cult following in the US long before First Drop was published in an American edition. Her writing has been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, the Barry and the Short Story Dagger, among other critical plaudits.

Zoë Sharp knows bravery. She knows risk. But she also knows the kind of courage and hazard-taking that has nothing to do with fast cars and firearms.

As I write this, I’m sitting in hospital wearing the most unflattering garb ever designed by man, with the cannula already in my vein and my wrist tagged like a parolee. I’ve been admitted – an interesting word meaning not only to be let in, but to concede, to confess, to accept – and I’ve signed my form of consent. I’ve agreed to hand over control to a stranger who ran blithely through the details without evening bothering to introduce himself or look me in the eye.

I feel like I’ve signed my life away and, if I’m honest, that’s the thing that scares me most.

Of course, I’ve written about the loss of control many times. It’s a subject that should be familiar to me. But there’s only so far I’m willing to go in search of absolute authenticity.

My main character Charlie lost control of her life and regained it, and the battle was hard-fought and bloody. Before the first book in the series even starts she’s been a victim, raped and beaten and betrayed by the very people she was supposed to be able to trust with her life. And instead of justice, she was pushed around by the system, had everything about her life shoved under a microscope and found wanting. Betrayed a second time.

In effect, she was handed the blame for her own downfall. Sink or swim. It would have been so easy for her to let go, and go under.

She fought back.

And now Charlie faces different fears about loss of control. She knows that if she does, people will die. Killing has become an option for her, under the right circumstances, for the right reasons. But what happens when thosereasons aren’t quite right enough?

Maybe living on that knife-edge is why she loves her motorcycles so much. The freedom and the experience of riding a big bike, fast, is intense. But one false move and suddenly your world becomes a rapid, painful cartwheel sequence of: ground, sky, ground, sky … ambulance.

Still, as I sit here watching the second-hand drag slowly round past theatre time, I hope she’s lent me a little of her steely resolve.

Before you start to worry – or shrug – I’m not here for anything serious (at least, I damn well hope not). It’s a relatively routine procedure. My doctor has just told me he’s performed two thousand similar procedures without mishap. Mind you, he’s also just told me the risk factor for someone of my age is one in two thousand. And when I comment dryly these figures seem to indicate he is about due for a slip-up, I discover that medical men have very little sense of humour to speak of. (I should have known – Charlie’s orthopaedic surgeon father would have responded exactly the same way.)

It’s not that I’m risk-averse. As a photographer I’m more than happy to hang out of moving vehicles scraping my elbows on the blacktop. I’ve broken a couple of ribs in the process. But I’ve always felt in control of my own destiny. Another reason why – like Charlie – I’d always rather be in charge of a motorcycle, rather than just the pillion passenger.

And as a writer I hope I take risks, too. Shooting your main protagonist twice on the first page (in SECOND SHOT), having her cross the line between good and evil (FIFTH VICTIM). And next year I’m going to take an even bigger risk – new characters, new genre.

Why so brave?

Control. Recently I took control of my otherwise out-of-print backlist. I turned down a deal with a respected publisher and decided to bring out the first five early Charlie Fox books myself in e-format, plus a short story e-thology, FOX FIVE. It was a big step.

Understatement – it was a huge leap in the dark.

Almost as big and scary a leap as waiting here, in this ridiculous hospital-issue sack with a tap in my arm, to give control of the next thirty minutes of my life to a stranger who I think I may have just pissed off a little . . .

So, Reds, what was the last time you lost control, or took control, or annoyed someone you really, really shouldn’t have done?

You can find out much more about Zoë at her website. You can converse with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter as @authorZoeSharp, and read her at the marvelous blog Murderati.


  1. Losing control - for those of us with Type A personalities, that's one of our daunting fears.

    Wondering who designs Zoe's covers? They are SHARP.

  2. Oh,Zoe...I hear you. The doctor/surgery/procedure thing is terrible--you KNOW it'll be fine, but as authors we can always imagine the worst possible scenarios. Our brains just do that.

    My mom always tells me that I instantly ratchet up every situation to the most terrible ending. Good for fiction, bad for real life.

    Keep us posted.

  3. Hi Zoe! Sending you good vibes for the procedure (don't you love the way they call it this rather than the dreaded 'operation'?

    You are my tough broad idol so I'm sure you'll breeze through it.

    The only time I really take risks, do stupid things, is when I am snorkeling. Then I lose all sense of fear and have been known not to look up until the shore looked like a pencil line. Oh, and I have been known to take a few silly risks when hiking in the mountains.

  4. Best of luck, Zoë, with the "procedure". May it be smooth and uneventful.

    I think the dualities of power and powerlessness, control and the lack of it, and how the weak become strong again are some of the most fruitful, and interesting, themes for a mystery writer to play with. Murder is really the ultimate expression of power (for the killer) and powerlessness (for the victim), isn't it? The same with other violent crimes. I know when I was raped, the feeling of absolute helplessness, the moment of knowledge that "this is what is going to happen, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it" was far worse than any of the physical acts.

  5. Zoe, I hope the procedure goes well for you.

    Losing control is the worst. I can go with the flow, as long as it's not really important or I'm confident I ca take control at any moment I need to. But powerlessness is scary, no doubt about it.

  6. Congratulations on putting your older books out there in e-format! I have a midlist author friend who started doing that with his out-of-prints novels, and he's doing well with it. In fact, I don't think he's publishing traditionally anymore. (If you're curious:

    Get well soon.

  7. Zoe, I am working my way through each of your novels and absolutely love them.

    Thinking of you while you go through your procedure. It will all be over soon. :)


  8. Hi ME

    I'm not sure what Type I am - probably a Mistype ...

    Glad you like the eBook covers. They were done by an incredibly talented graphic designer, Jane Hudson at - would you believe these are her first ever book covers? I was blown away by them.

  9. Hi HPR

    Thanks for the good wishes. It's not the actual surgical outcome that bothers me, it's allowing a stranger to take control over me without first earning my trust.

    Still suffering the after-effects, but writing is a great distraction!

  10. Hi Rhys

    I'm honoured ;-] And I think on balance that having my appendix out was easier. Maybe I'm just less tolerant of being patronised as I get older!

    I learned to scuba dive before I could actually swim, and I've always loved not having to stay on the surface, compared to snorkeling. Plus I always seem to end up with a slop of seawater down my snorkel. Doesn't happen with a demand valve ;-]

  11. Oh Tammy, that's awful. I'm so sorry to hear about your experience. And incredibly brave of you to share it with us here.

    Power and powerlessness are fascinating themes for a writer to play with - and ones that weave through our daily lives.

  12. Thank you Linda - the procedure is over and they didn't find anything horrifying (or at least if they did, they didn't tell me about it at the time...). That's probably about the best I can say about it ;-]

    You make a very important distinction - picking your battles. I try to do that more. Some things tick you off, but you have to decide if they're worth making a fuss about. And if they're not, forget it and move on.

  13. Thank you, Lisa

    And please pass on my congrats to Bob!

    I'm delighted to have the early Charlie Fox books back out there again for readers who really want to start at the beginning of the series and work their way through in order. Had David Thompson at Busted Flush Press not tragically died last year, they would all have been out in trade paperback format from BFP by now. Damn, I miss that guy.

    But so far, the eBooks are going really well. I'm amazed and delighted by the way things have taken off so far.

  14. Hi Jenni

    Thank you so much - I'm really pleased you're having fun with Charlie. I hope my books never disappoint you ;-]

    And thanks for the good wishes, too. As I mentioned, it IS now over. Not an entirely happy bunny, but at least I'm back in my own clothes ...

  15. What I found interesting about this - after I ascertained Zoe wasn't at Death's dooryard - was that the whole "taking control" issue is at the core of the ebook revolution for many authors. Taking control of the publishing process, taking control of the content, taking control of the shares and taking control of ones own career.

    Those of us in the publishing business live, as the ancient Chinese curse says, in interesting times.

  16. Love the question: What was the last time you lost control, or took control, or annoyed someone you really, really shouldn’t have done? Probably the last time I drove in Boston traffic. How do these people even get their first driver's licenses?? Road Rage R Us.

    Congratulations on the new book Zoe!

  17. Hi Julia

    Thank you so much for the invite to be here, and sorry that the time difference between US and UK has made my replies to comments a bit erratic!

    Taking control is a very interesting proposition for an author (in all senses of the word 'interesting') and I'm approaching it from the angle of also being conventionally / traditionally published with other books at the same time.

    Balance is good ;-]

  18. Thank you, Hallie

    It constantly amazes me how rude people are when they're safely protected inside their cars. Or how totally unaware of their surroundings they are.

    Mind you, people walking along the street are also in a perpetual Condition White daze, with all their attention focused on sending their latest text or email from their smartphone.

    I'm thinking of a secondary career as a mugger - it could be very lucrative ...