J.R. Mason sets a "sexy crime thriller" in Pittsburgh with Stolen Pieces | Pittsburgh City Paper

J.R. Mason sets a "sexy crime thriller" in Pittsburgh with Stolen Pieces

click to enlarge J.R. Mason sets a "sexy crime thriller" in Pittsburgh with Stolen Pieces
Photo: Tiffany Varela
Author J.R. Mason
J.R. Mason has a lot to say about modern dating. The Pittsburgh author self-published two books about her struggles to find love, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In her third work, Mason trades the horrors of swiping right for more traditional chills.

The Beaver County native and local marketing professional recently released Stolen Pieces, described in a press release as a "riveting, fast-paced psychological crime thriller that reads like an epic two-hour crossover event of Criminal Minds and Law & Order: SVU." Now available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon, the book follows homicide detective Claudia Martinez as she hunts down The Keeper, a killer leaving dismembered body parts around Pittsburgh. The case becomes more complicated when Martinez realizes that The Keeper may be stalking her.

“After two novels about the tragic Pittsburgh dating scene, I wanted to write the type of book that reflects the murky space where my dark mind resides," Mason states. "Now that it’s done, early readers have messaged to tell me things like, ‘This is crazy! If you couldn’t find a date before, you’re definitely never gonna get one now.’ I just laugh because they’re probably right.”

Pittsburgh City Paper spoke with Mason about exploring a new genre, going all-out to promote a book, and setting a grisly tale in the City of Bridges.

I like that you have a female protagonist in Stolen Pieces was she based on anyone?

Oddly enough, I see much of myself in Detective Claudia Martinez. Anyone who knows me will see the similarities from loving Canada Dry, to food preferences, to least favorite chores, to the attire she sleeps in, and so much more. I'm told most authors write themselves into their books on some level.

Conversely, I also have a great deal in common with my serial killer, who has affectionately been nicknamed "The Piece Keeper" lol ... so I'm mildly concerned about that.

How did you create that character?

In the prologue, by the second paragraph, Claudia experiences a type of trauma that literally stays with you, and it shaped why she became a detective. A fellow author read the manuscript and voiced her concerns that my main character seemed cold, emotionless, lacked empathy, and seemed self-absorbed. This blew my mind and forced me to take a deeper look at this character because I didn't get any of that when I was reading it.

So I consulted my six beta readers who all vehemently disagreed. They felt like, in her line of work, in addition to that past trauma, they fully expected an emotionally detached character, and that she was real in those situations where she was being accused of portraying those aforementioned characteristics.

That's what I wanted  a main character who was real and relatable. She's just like any of us  moody, sexual, insecure some days but not others, professional, but makes questionable decisions based on past experiences. She is flawed. But she recognizes it and is seeking treatment to better herself. She is the furthest thing from perfect and I think that is what makes her likable and respectable as a character.

Therapy plays a huge part in this book, just as it did in my previous two because people can't experience trauma like that and think that it's not going to affect their behaviors. And, of course, you're going to appear self-absorbed if the person who is dismembering people is the same person stalking you. How could anyone possibly do their best work in that situation?

What made you decide to write a thriller, and how did that experience compare to your previous work?

So many people have requested a thriller from me because I'm pretty dark, so they figured I'd be able to tell a good story. I didn't have quite as much faith. But here we are, and it's getting tremendous feedback so far.

It was so much harder than writing about my dating disasters. That was real life. I literally had to create people for this book. People with quirks and weird idiosyncrasies. Characters with depth who struggle with life issues. It was just so much more work! In a comedic memoir, I am not necessarily worried about plot holes because it's my life. My love life is one enormous plot hole! I wanted to have surprises popping up and weird twists.

And yes, even though it is a sexy crime thriller, there's definitely humor involved because it just wouldn't be a J.R. Mason novel without a few dark laughs.

What about the genre appeals to you?

Nothing excites me more than trying to figure out whodunnit, whether I'm watching a suspenseful television series or reading a psychological thriller. I'm pretty good and can usually figure out the killer by halfway through the book, so my objective was to write one that would hopefully leave the reader still wondering until much closer to the end.

Do you have any favorite thriller novelists? If so, did they influence your writing in any way?

I enjoy Jeneva Rose, but I wouldn't necessarily say that she's influenced my writing style. I've always been someone who enjoys sex with my murder and a little humor thrown in. They say [to] write what you like to read because you're going to have to read it about 87 times, so that's what I did.
click to enlarge J.R. Mason sets a "sexy crime thriller" in Pittsburgh with Stolen Pieces
Photo: Rebecca Perza
J.R. Mason with her book Stolen Pieces

What was the biggest challenge in writing Stolen Pieces?

Gathering information. You have no idea how many people I consulted with to get this book out into the world. There was a lieutenant, a detective, an officer, a therapist, a trauma specialist, two medical doctors, a pathologist, a barista, two sanitation workers, a public transportation driver, and random friends who had experience with the prison system. The amount of information necessary to make sure the therapy scenes were authentic and the correct terminology was being used in certain instances was astounding.

Then just sitting in fear, waiting to see which officer or agent was going to knock on my door to question me for my Google search history that is probably among the most disturbing they've ever seen. I promise I'm just an author.

I also wanted to create a situation where the reader is conflicted. Since my "Keeper" is only really ridding Pittsburgh of the bad people, it eventually causes the reader to question, wait, who should I be rooting for here?

One important thing I would like people to know: while yes, this is a psychological crime thriller that I often compare to Criminal Minds meets Law & Order: SVU, there's no graphic violence in this book [though domestic violence and assault are addressed]. People have expressed interest, but then follow up with, "But I can't read anything scary or gory." My "Piece Keeper" is very meticulous, thus body parts show up and we know that violence has occurred, but it's not vividly described in the book. I like to use the term" implied violence."

How was the publishing experience different from your previous works?

The actual publishing experience was easier since I had already done it twice before, but not much different.

What was more fun though is, this time, I created evidence boxes wrapped in crime scene tape. I sent these out to my beta readers, bookstagrammers, and the first few people who ordered books from me. These boxes all had a chain of custody seal and contained the book, a few sweet treats that were relevant to the story, white chocolate-covered pretzels with red blood spatter, a Stolen Pieces pen, and a specially-designed, handwritten murder card. No one was expecting that so they were so incredibly excited, especially the ones who thought they were just getting a book.

Do you think you'll keep writing thrillers?

Almost everyone who has read it so far has asked, "What happens next?" I feel like I ended the story, but it's definitely left open enough for a sequel if I feel motivated. I wasn't planning on writing any of the books I have right now, so how motivated I am for the sequel is still up in the air.