🥳📚Happy Publication Day to ALL IN, the debut crime novel by Jeff Smith.
When Jeff first approached me, I knew I had to work on his manuscript when he told me he was a crime scene investigator based in Las Vegas. One of the reasons that I work in crime, suspense and thriller fiction is because, as children, my sister and I were essentially brought up on crime television programmes, whether that be Midsummer Murders, Poirot, Jonathon Creek, but every Saturday night at 9pm was the holy grail: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Of course, there were the spin-offs, but none were as compelling as the original series set in Las Vegas. Its The Who soundtrack brings back so many memories!
Anyway, when Jeff, Grissom-like in his wisdom, approached me, saying he’d written a novel using his CSI knowledge, I just had to be involved. And his main character, Kailyn Logan, an embalmer by trade, is a sassy and strong-willed lead with far too in-depth a knowledge of how long a body takes to rot! With characters that intrigue and plots that grip, this a new series that you just have to dive into!
Jeff was brave enough to offer his time to answer some burning questions about making the leap from CSI to published author, so scroll down to read an exclusive interview with the author!
ALL IN by Jeff Smith
Kailyn Logan is an embalmer who spends her days preparing the dead for the last leg of their journey through this world. Even though she loves her job, she’s become disgruntled with it. But she’s about to discover that caring for the departed is simpler than wrestling with the living.
Seeing an opportunity for something different when a long-time friend makes a chilling request for her help, she starts down a path that turns out to be very different from what she was expecting.
Helping her friend exposes Kailyn to a dangerous legion of men who would have no remorse for killing them if their business is compromised. Kailyn’s personal and work life are turned upside down as she tries to figure out who is on her side and who wants to kill her.
Jeff, welcome! All In is your first novel. Tell us a little more about it.
All In is the story of Kailyn Logan; she’s an embalmer here in Las Vegas who gets asked for help by her life-long friend after he makes a terrible decision. And, of course, Kailyn’s friend hasn’t told her the whole story behind, opening up an entire new set of problems for both of them. Kailyn has to spend the novel wrestling with why she’s helping her friend out when he’s not being truthful with her, as well as trying to figure out who might be coming after the both of them.
Kailyn Logan is the star of the novel, and she’s quite a character. Can you talk a little bit about how she came to be, and how you got to know her?
Kailyn is a character, in all senses of the word. She’s a quirky woman whose customers she deals with every day are dead. Therefore, it’s no surprise that her affects how she deals with everyone in the real world. Seeing the things she sees on a daily basis has desensitized her a little bit and maybe thrown off her moral compass a little bit.
Kailyn’s character was definitely influenced by my girlfriend, who is an embalmer here in Las Vegas, as well as the work she does. This book came out of us discussing one of her days at work and one of the normal work situations that happen in the funeral industry, but this profession is so different from the everyday 9–5 that the rest of society sees during their everyday life that I just had to write about it. I wanted to try and see how her character can grow and learn about this whole new world she’s found herself involved in.
Who inspired you to start writing? Have your influences changed since then?
I’ve always read a lot of Michael Connelly (Harry Bosch), John Sandford (Lucas Davenport), and Lee Child books, so the police-procedural type books have always been a staple for me. Stephen King and Gillian Flynn have always been an influence on me too.
Some of the amazing TV shows I’ve seen have shaped me writing as well. Breaking Bad and Ozark are two that really come to mind. Seeing these normal people make sometimes terrible decisions and get themselves into a world full of crime and killers makes for such good stories.
Why did you choose to write thriller/crime?
I think I gravitated toward that because crime is what I see for forty hours a week, sometimes more, at my job. It was a lot easier for me to start writing about something that I know, something that I’m more familiar with.
Most of the crime I see is very menial, however. Lots of burglaries, stolen vehicles, robberies. Writing this type of fiction gave me a chance to come up with the perfect crime, the type where it requires some thought and planning. I thought using what I’ve seen in my career and putting it together with a good story would be an interesting path for the reader to go down.
What is the biggest challenge you faced when writing your first novel? How did you overcome it?
So much of my job as a crime scene investigator is writing crime scene reports and documenting the evidence recovered at scene. It’s just a description of what I see at the scene and what I do. My job requires me to be objective and not put any opinions into my reports. Nothing about what I think happened, or who the suspect is, or what my theory on the crime is. It’s just tell, don’t show.
Writing a novel is precisely the opposite of that: show, don’t tell. Painting a picture for the reader: what is the coffee shop like, how does it smell, what are the people around the characters doing, what music is playing, and what are the characters feeling.
My first draft of All In was too much telling, not showing. It sounded like a crime scene report at times. I had to break out of my writing as a crime scene investigator and jump into writing as an author. It was tough to get out of that mindset, but as I went and re-worked the chapters of All In and the characters, it slowly became a little easier each time.
Who knows, maybe my crime scene reports at work will be a little more eloquent and descriptive after writing novels.
Do you like to plan the action of your novels (plotter) or do you just let them write themselves (pantser)?
I’d have to say I’m 75% plotter and 25% pantser. I can’t just sit down and let the story write itself. I need to have some outline for the story. But the 25% pantser portion of the writing is probably the most fun. It’s always amazing to come up with something that wasn’t part of the outline or wasn’t where I thought the story would go at that point. It doesn’t necessarily change the whole book, but it is a blast coming up with something that I can reference later or tie back to something earlier in the book that I’d never thought of when I was trying to outline the basic story.
One of the novels unique selling points is the detail in which we go into the gory details of the crimes in the novel (no spoilers, please!), but alongside your writing you are a forensics specialist, no? How has your day job influenced your writing of the book? Did you have to do a lot of research for the darker sides of the novel? Was it difficult getting the details right?
I work as a crime scene investigator here in Las Vegas, and some of the things I’ve seen throughout my almost nineteen years have made it into the book in a few places. I haven’t taken one case that I’ve been on and worked it into the book, but bits and pieces of various cases have found their way into the story. A couple of things Kailyn mentions in the book are things that I’ve seen on the job too.
One of the main ways my job has influenced my writing is seeing the decisions that people have made when I go out to a scene. Seeing the after effects of everyday people making these horrible decisions that can change their entire lives can boggle my mind. Looking at things from the outside, I see what they do and ask myself why they decided to follow that path. I wanted to try to get into the head of Kailyn’s friend who’s done this horrible thing and look at how he’s trying to explain to himself why he’s done it. And it’s the same thing with Kailyn, I wanted to see why she decides to help her friend, how does she justify it to herself?
I did have to do some research, especially anatomy. I wanted to try and get things as close as possible to being right. But, thankfully – and readers will understand this after reading some of the things Kailyn does – I don’t know if I ever got it exactly right, and I hope I never find out.
My girlfriend, who is an embalmer, was always my go-to whenever I had questions about Kailyn’s job, the funeral home, how the whole funeral process works, and even what the layout of the building might be like. I always tried to pick her brain and get a feel for the death industry and tried my best to get it right when it came to those portions of All In.
Having my background in crime scene investigation and having someone that’s been an embalmer for years hopefully helped getting all the details in the story as close to right as I could get them.
The novel ends on somewhat of a question mark. Is there more in store for Kailyn?
Yes! There is definitely more in store for Kailyn. She’ll find herself wrapped up in a new world that she didn’t expect to be caught up in but hasn’t shied away from either. I’m very excited about Book 2. There are some great new characters who were a lot of fun to write and get to know, along with a few surprises along the way as well.
What is your desert-island read?
If I could only bring one book it would be Stephen King’s 11/22/63. He did such a great job creating Jake Epping/George Amberson.
Do you have any writing tips to share?
The story changes as the writing goes on; you come up with new ideas and characters that you didn’t start the journey with. But what worked best for me was to just put everything down on the computer whenever I sat down to write. Don’t leave anything up in your head. If I did, I’d forget what that great – or terrible – idea, was. I think that helped me avoid the dreaded writer’s block. Putting it all on the page always gave me new ideas and things to work on and often opened the story up to new concepts or angles for the characters.
What is your writing process like? Do you have a routine? A favourite place to write?
I would tend to write in spurts. When there was an essential section of the novel that I wanted to finish, I’d write every chance I could: at work between calls when I was caught up on reports, after dinner, a few minutes before I went to bed. I’d also spend a lot of time writing when I was on vacation from work. With Covid cutting out the ability to take many actual vacations, I’d spend time at home writing.
How did you find working with an editor on ALL IN?
Working with an editor was an invaluable part of my writing process. Having someone come in with a fresh perspective can help give the novel new and exciting depth. As a first-time writer, working with someone who is part of the business and does this day in and day out helped make my writing so much better.
Also most important question. Favourite writing snack!?
Oh, good question. I think anything salty, especially salt-and-vinegar potato chips, was my go-to snack. I’m not going to lie though, having a good IPA beer after a long day of work would definitely help me relax and get my head in a good place to write.
ALL IN is published today! And I’m delighted to share an exclusive extract with you below.
“I think I need your help,” Todd said as Kailyn sat down across the table from him, coffee in hand.
“You think you need my help? Do you mean you know you need my help, but you’re scared to ask me for it?” She smirked.
The Starbucks was busy for a Monday morning. Customers were no longer rushed commuters, grabbing their coffees to go on their way to work, but were rather relaxed freelancer-types, filling up the tables with their laptops and drinks in front of them. One woman wearing oversized headphones, the volume of what sounded like New Age jazz turned up high, worked her way between the tables to pick up her coffee and bumped Todd’s chair, moving on without an apology. He took a drink of his water and glared at her as she picked up her latte. Kailyn was glad he had only opted for water, as he seemed too amped and nervous to be drinking caffeine.
Kailyn and Todd were both thirty-two years old and had grown up together in Las Vegas, but that was where their similarities ended. Kailyn was tall, five feet ten, thin, strong, with shoulder-length auburn hair. She’d gone to college, graduated, found a promising career and had a full-time job. Todd was also tall, six feet one, but wiry, with next to no athletic prowess and thick wavy brown hair that seemed to have no specific style. He’d gone to college, but only for a semester, followed by a few classes here and there. And no hint of a successful career.
“I know I need your help. You work with bodies, dead ones, right?” Todd said.
“Right. That’s a statement, though, one you already know the answer to. I work with bodies every day. It’s my job. I embalm them. I put them back together. I get them ready for the funeral services.” Kailyn sat farther back in her chair, watching her friend through slightly closed eyes. His fingers drummed against the plastic water bottle, and she saw tiny droplets of condensation spraying out onto the table. Why was he so anxious? He was never typically like this. There was a light layer of sweat on his forehead that she hadn’t seen. His thick, brown, wavy hair was disheveled and greasy, standing out and messy in several places. She was suddenly skeptical, with just a tinge of nervousness beginning to show its head. “As I said, you know this already, so . . .”
Todd took another drink of water and blew out a breath of air. “I’ve done something bad, and I was hoping you could, maybe, possibly, help me.”
Already hooked? Of course, grab your copy of ALL IN here.
About the Author
Jeff Smith was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1973. He received an accounting degree from Texas Tech but found his way to the heat and casinos of Las Vegas in 2003. He now works in law enforcement as a crime scene analyst, and has investigated over 4,000 crime scenes and counting. All In is his first novel.