K.J. Howe – First Entry

by K.J. Howe

A diary is a great place for secrets, so let me share a few of mine,–how I fought and scrabbled to a place where next February I’ll be holding a hardcover of THE FREEDOM BROKER, the fulfilment of a lifelong dream.  During the next six months, I hope to help you by sharing in-depth information about this twisty and often challenging road.  In this first entry of my Debut Diary, I will chronicle what led to my first sale, hoping it inspires any of you who are still working towards this special goal.

Growing up, I lived in many places, from Africa to the Middle East to Europe.  Always the new kid, I lost myself in books, and it helped me cope with my tumultuous life.  I knew that I wanted to create this kind of escapism for others, a safe place to lose oneself in a parallel universe, a sanity break from the real world.

Fast forward to science courses and a business degree—after all, every parent wants their child to have a “useful skillset” in order to survive and put food on the table.  But the urge to write never subsided.  Maintaining some level of practicality, I started working as a medical, health and fitness writer, which was brilliant training for concise, clear prose.  I had a patient mentor who highlighted my errors in neon yellow.  I studied, learned, studied, improved.  But writing about heart disease and first aid didn’t satisfy my urges to create a fictional world where characters faced down Uzis and unstoppable antagonists, and somehow triumphed. 

Fascinated by the world of kidnapping, I immersed myself in that milieu, interviewing kidnap negotiators, former hostages, reintegration experts, Special Forces soldiers, and many other professionals in that field.  I wanted to write the story of Thea Paris, an elite international kidnap negotiator who travels to hot spots across the globe to bring hostages back home.  Knowing I also needed to learn everything I could about writing fiction, I enrolled in courses at my local college, read every “how-to-write” book I could find, and made the decision to pursue my Masters in Creative Writing at Seton Hill University.  Some of the writing books I found most helpful include:

Putting my hat in the ring, I entered writing contests, and even won a few with previous manuscripts.  Instead of vacations, I attended writing retreats where I had the pleasure of surfing with Steve Berry one day and having him bleed all over my pages the next with his red pen.  I volunteered at ThrillerFest, benefiting from the advice of the generous authors I met through ITW.  David Morrell gently encouraged me to dig deeper emotionally and get to the heart of the characters, because those characters are truly microcosms of ourselves.  I studied with the talented Karin Slaughter who saw something in my scribblings that she felt her agent might like.  And when I signed with my dream agent, Victoria Sanders, she kindly explained that my manuscript wasn’t quite ready for submission.  Okay, roll up the sleeves again.  I worked with independent editor Jaime Levine who pushed me to re-conceptualize the story, re-frame my structure, and hone my prose.  And I studied with Lee Child who taught me that writing is really music, and the beat had to be in sync for the reader to want to dance with the writer.  Every single word had to earn its place in the manuscript. 

One takeaway I value from meeting all the authors at ITW is that overnight successes are few and far between.  Most of the writers who managed to thrive in this challenging marketplace steadily built a following by growing their audience with every book and worked hard on marketing strategies to break out.  Perseverance, dedication, and commitment.  They wanted to write more than anything, and they kept at it, even when obstacles and challenges tested their will.  I spent a lot of time working on my writing before I sold, and I hope to continue learning, honing my craft, and developing my storytelling skills.  It’s a lifelong expedition, and you need to have bucket loads of patience.  But there are those special moments where all that hard work pays off.  And getting ‘the call’ was one of them.

Vicki Mellor at Headline in the U.K. bought THE FREEDOM BROKER in a two-book deal in 10 days, and then kindly reached out to Nathaniel Marunas at Quercus in the U.S., asking if he would like to publish the book together with her.  Thankfully, he said yes.  So THE FREEDOM BROKER will be coming out in the U.S., U.K., my home country of Canada, and a number of other English-speaking countries as well as foreign language editions. 

In preparation for publication, I’ve been through more rounds of edits thanks to the generosity of my insightful editors.  I tried to internalize the lessons they taught me, hoping to make their work easier in the future.  What have I learned?  You can only write the best prose you are capable of that day.  It may not be ready for the world, but you can keep editing and improving. 

Please join me next time when we’ll delve into what happens after the sale—meeting your publicist and marketing manager, finding a striking cover, participating in panels and speaking at debut author events along with a host of other ‘firsts.’  Thanks for taking the time to read my first entry.  Please be inspired to keep reaching for your dream.  It’s there, waiting for you.


Born in Toronto, Canada, KJ enjoyed a nomadic lifestyle during her early years, living in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean, which gave her an insider’s view into many different cultures. While abroad, she read every book she could find, which triggered in her a desire to create her own stories. She attended Salzburg International Preparatory School, Neuchâtel Junior College, and Albert College before earning a Specialists Degree in Business from the University of Toronto. KJ found success in the corporate world, but her passion for travel, adventure, and stories drew her back to school where she earned a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. She also won several writing awards, including three Daphne du Maurier Awards for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense.

While honing her fiction skills, KJ worked as a medical, health, and fitness writer. She then became involved with the International Thriller Writers as the Executive Director of ThrillerFest, the organization’s annual conference held every July in New York City. In preparation for writing THE FREEDOM BROKER series, which focuses on elite kidnap negotiator Thea Paris, KJ spent extensive time researching the dark world of kidnapping. She has interviewed former hostages, negotiators, hostage reintegration experts, special forces operatives, and K&R insurance executives.

KJ is an avid tennis player, cyclist, and swimmer. Travel and adventure still rank high on her priority list. She has had the pleasure of riding racing camels in Jordan, surfing in Hawaii, ziplining in the Costa Rican jungle, diving alongside Great White Sharks in South Africa, studying modern combat in the Arizona desert, and working with elephants in Botswana. Home is in Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action.

To pre-order a copy of THE FREEDOM BROKER, click here.