Interview: Terry Ambrose

Please welcome Terry Ambrose, author of the McKenna Mysteries and License to Lie series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
My perfect day begins with a walk on a warm, sandy beach. With the trade winds blowing gently and the day becoming warmer and more humid, it would seem that nothing could go wrong. Grabbing a couple of hours to write in the shade of some kauaitemptationstall trees would be a fabulous addition. Then, I’d finish it off with a dip in the ocean to feel refreshed and energized for the evening.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
This question seems to come down to style. Mine tends to be island style. Aloha shirts, shorts, and barbecued chicken or fish.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Ed Stackler is the first one on this list. He was my first editor and the one who got me moving in the right direction when it came to writing mysteries and suspense in a way that kept readers intrigued rather than bored. While I never met him, Jack M. Bickham’s book “Scene and Structure” has also had a major influence on my writing. At a time when I found myself wondering what the next step was, I read that book and knew instantly what direction I wanted to take my writing. Number 3 on my list is Ray Bradbury. In addition to devouring his books when I was younger, I was fortunate enough to see him speak at a writers conference.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I’ll listen to music to help set the mood. It’s especially helpful to me to listen to Hawaiian music when writing the McKenna Mysteries.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If Kauai Temptations were chocolate, it would probably be something like the “Chocolate Dome” at PF Chang’s. It’s a deep dark chocolate on the outside and even richer on the inside, then drizzled with a raspberry sauce. Best of all, it’s gluten-free!

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I’m a victim of identity theft myself and the feelings that McKenna experiences as he learns about what’s happened are those I went through. While McKenna actually puts his plan to bring the thieves to justice in place, I was never that brave. Maybe this book is me doing what I would have liked to have done at the time—without the whole murder caper, of course.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
My stories usually involve a con artist or scammer of some sort. In the McKenna Mystery series, I’m currently focusing on the issue of redemption. In the License to Lie series, which features a female con artist as a protagonist, I explore the issue of trust—what we must do to gain it and how far we must sometimes go to keep it.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
In the McKenna Mystery series, my protagonist is Wilson McKenna, a guy who is struggling to put his life back together after having fled to Hawaii years before. His “go to” reaction when he’s not in a difficult situation is typically one of fragility and avoidance. However, as the stakes rise, his inner strength comes out and the more trouble he gets in, the stronger his resolve and personality become.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
One part Jessica Fletcher for his sleuthing
One part Thomas Magnum for his somewhat fractured personality and his ability to play a hunch
One part Richard Castle for his sharp tongue, theories, and flighty behavior in mildly difficult situations.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
What mystery author dinner party would be complete without Sue Grafton? I’d also love to see Hank Phillippi Ryan attend—I’m sure she’d keep everyone talking with her questions. I met Andrew Gross at a lunch one time and would have really liked to talk with him more, so let’s invite him. I’d also invite a couple of relative “newcomers”: Kim Fay and Susan Elia MacNeal. Both were 2013 Edgar Finalists for Best First Novel, but have been writing for years. And just to keep us all laughing, I’d round things out with Carl Hiaasen.

What’s next for you?
My next project is the sequel to License to Lie, which is called Con Game. In this installment, Roxy Tanner (a con artist) and Skip Cosgrove (a criminologist) have taken their relationship to the next level and are still sorting out whether they can trust each other enough to continue. The book opens with Skip being shot by a man he helped put in jail and Roxy conning an L.A. stockbroker out of a $1 million. In order to save themselves, the two will have to fight off a killer, recover a stolen fortune, and help a homeless 12-year-old to survive.


Terry Ambrose is a former bill collector and skip tracer who now uses that background to write mysteries and thrillers. His debut mystery Photo Finish was a 2013 San Diego Book Awards Finalist.



14 thoughts on “Interview: Terry Ambrose”

  1. Thanks Cynthia. McKenna is a lot of fun to write, but dangerous. I sometimes wonder what people think when I’m in a public place and I just start laughing…will they have me locked up for being looney tunes? Anyway, thanks for having me as a guest!


    1. Hi Hank and Kim! Thanks for stopping by. Kim I want stories about your adventures in Cambodia! And Hank, hope you’re bringing red. See you on Saturday for the MWA University. That should be a fun day, too! xoxo


  2. Hi Terry-I was going to say, having met Hank and Kim, I just might crash your dinner party (or at least volunteer to dress up as a server and keep the wine flowing). Your mash-up paints a picture of a very cool customer. Good luck with your series!


    1. Hey Diane, you’d be welcome to crash. Dressing up as a server would be lots of fun because you could whisper in each person’s ear to keep thing really stirred up! LOL Thanks for stopping by!


  3. By the way, I should have mentioned this earlier, but if any of you Mysteristas have an upcoming book and would like to do an interview for my Crime Fiction column on, just let me know. Terry


  4. Another good interview. (I was lucky enough to have Terry on my personal website before, so It is good to catch up again). I would also want Hank Phillip Ryan there. And your dream day sounds so wonderful. I may have to wait to read your book until I’m in the pit of winter here in Minneapolis and dreaming of warm beaches!


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