JQM Literary Chat Welcomes Thomas A. Burns, Jr.
Tell us about yourself:
I’m 67, and I was born and raised in northern New Jersey. I attended Xavier High School, a Jesuit military academy in Manhattan, commuting from Jersey every day. I went on to Michigan State University where I earned two BS degrees in Zoology and Microbiology, and then to North Carolina State University where I got a MS degree in Microbiology. For the rest of my career, I worked as a toxicologist and a technical writer in academia, industry and government. North Carolina has become my home, where I married the best wife in the world and had two wonderful, now 21 and 14. I’ve been a long-time Dungeons and Dragons player and dungeon master, which taught me how to get people involved in a story. I also love to travel, and I’ve had dogs and cats all my life. I’m an avid shooter, NRA-certified pistol, shotgun and rifle instructor and range safety officer, which is invaluable as a mystery writer. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a mystery series, so about two years ago, I became a full-time fiction writer.
Tell us about your book:
Because I don’t think easy things are worth doing, I decided to create a protagonist for my series who is as different as possible from myself. At the beginning of the series, Natalie McMasters is 20, a college student majoring in pre-law at the fictional State University, and bisexual, although she doesn’t know it yet. She’s earning money by working for her uncle Amos Murdoch in his 3M Detective Agency. Amos got her a certification as a private detective trainee, of which she’s prouder than she likes to let on. Most of 3M’s business comes from dogging people who’ve filed workman’s compensation claims to be sure that they’re injured as badly as they say. It’s a perfect gig for Nattie, sitting in a car all day and studying while waiting for her subject to do something worth photographing. Then one day, she sees something she’s not supposed to see. That’s the starting point for the first Natalie McMasters short story, Stakeout!, which you can read for free on my website.
The first novel in the series is Stripper!, which picks up immediately after the events in Stakeout! Nattie meets another student who bears an uncanny resemblance to her, and everything in her life changes. When her new best friend is brutally murdered and Amos is critically injured, she immerses herself in the seamy world of web cams and strip clubs to hunt the killer. Her investigation forces her to reassess many of the ideas that she’s lived by her whole life and do things she’s never considered before – strip on a stage, question her sexuality, and rediscover the meaning of love itself. Nattie eventually exposes a drug ring, police corruption, and an assassin-for-hire online. Then she stumbles upon the true face of evil, and her encounter does not leave her unscathed. The second novel, Revenge!, immediately follows Stripper! and tells of Nattie’s search for an unknown person who is tormenting her, her family and friends, for an unknown reason. In the third novel, Trafficked!, Nattie must trace a very important person in her life through the squalid sexworld of New York City. All of the novels can be enjoyed as standalones, but are better read in order.
What influenced you to write your current genre?
As a kid, I started reading the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and RickBrantmysteries. By the time I was in high school, I had graduated to the classic stories by Sir Arthur ConanDoyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and RexStout, to name a few. I began writing fiction as a hobby, starting when I was 8 or 9 years old, with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backedcopybooks. When I finally had the time to write fiction, I was torn between mystery, sci-fi, fantasy and horror. I finally settled on mystery because it involves the least world-building.
Who are your favorite authors?
Way too many to list! Ten authors who have influenced me the most are:
- Ayn Rand
- Robert A. Heinlein
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Edger Rice Burroughs
- Louis L’Amour
- Rex Stout
- Erle Stanley Gardner
- Ed McBain
- S.S. Van Dine
- John Dickson Carr.
What are your favorite books?
I’ll list ten, in no particular order:.
- Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
- The Hound of the Baskervilles by A. Conan Doyle
- A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert A. Heinlein
- For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
- The Golden Spiders, by Rex Stout
- At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft
- In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, by Jean Sheperd
Who are your favorite literary characters?
Again, ten in no particular order.
- Sherlock Holmes
- John H. Watson, M.D.
- Nero Wolfe
- Archie Goodwin
- Perry Mason
- Captain Ahab
- Sir Henry Merrivale
- Hannibal Lecter
- Lord Peter Wimsey
- Philo Vance
Is there anything you want to share with potential readers?
The Natalie McMasters Mysteries contain realistic and graphic depictions of sex and violence. They also endeavor to illuminate important contemporary social issues, such as the treatment of sex workers, illegal immigrants and homeless people, the unintended consequences of political correctness, gun control, and society’s reactions to alternative lifestyles, among others. The books have a strong LGBTQ focus. They are definitely adult reading and not cozy mysteries.
I’m often asked about the exclamation points in the titles. Several people have suggested that I overuse exclamation points in the books, but I’ve always considered Nattie an exclamation point kind of girl. So I decided to embrace the exclamation points by including them in the titles. It doesn’t hurt for branding, either.
Where can we go to learn more about you and your literary works?
The 3M Detective Agency website: https://www.3mdetectiveagency.com/
Facebook: Nattie’s Readers grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/541595279667727/