How Did You Come Up With That? — Kay Thomas

kaythomasheadshotolpharlequin_3Hello and thanks so much for having me here this weekend at Petticoats and Pistols. A lot of folks have been asking where I got the idea for my April Intrigue, BULLETPROOF TEXAS. This romantic suspense thriller is about a pharmaceutical research scientist and a brooding caving guide who are forced to work together extracting cancer-eating bacteria from a flooding Texas Hill Country cave. As the sparks fly and passions rise, so do the dangers when a competitor decides this potential cure shouldn’t see the light of day–and is willing to kill anyone who gets in the way.

I seem to get some of my best ideas while I’m traveling. When my family and I were on spring break in Carlsbad Caverns a couple of years ago, I was listening to an audio tour that talked about cancer-eating bacteria found in a nearby cave. New research with the bacteria is showing great promise and from the moment I heard the details of this medical ne_devils_spring_jonesdiscovery, I was fascinated with the idea of setting a romantic suspense novel against such a backdrop. I’d just finished a manuscript with a biomedical edge and a pharmaceutical company’s machinations as part of the plot that would later be my debut novel, BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF (Harlequin Intrigue, January 2009). This new idea seemed the perfect fit for a sequel.

Once I got home, I did some reading to figure out where I could set my fictitious cave. In Lechguilla Cave, near Carlsbad, where the real discovery of cancer-eating bacteria was made, the cavern is not open to the public. In fact there’s a vacuum-sealed door to keep those pharmaceutical-grade discoveries untainted by any outside pollutants.

In order to get a feel for caverns in general, I watched the amazing footage on the PLANET EARTH video series and several movies featuring caves and climbing, too. (Have you noticed that every recent movie set in a cave is a horror movie?)

discoveringinnerspacecavernI’m sort of claustrophobic so doing a “get-dirty-down-on-my-belly-with-a-headlamp strapped-to-my-forehead-and-squeeze-into-a-crack-for-research” kind of venture was not in my future. But I do love walking through caverns on guided tours, so I decided to visit another cave in person. 

Inner Space Cavern, just north of Austin, is part of the Edwards Aquifer system (also featured in BULLETPROOF TEXAS.) This cave was accidentally discovered in 1963 by a road crew working on Interstate 35. The workers were testing the ground to see if it could support a highway overpass and their drill bit kept busting through the limestone into nothingness. (Unknown to them at the time, this was one of the cavern rooms). The crew decided to lower a man through the one of the enlarged “test holes” on a drill bit. What they discovered was an extraordinarily well-preserved cave and prehistoric animal remains.

At the time of my visit, Inner Space Cavern was experiencing major flooding from heavy spring rains and run-off. Some rooms were completely underwater. No one working there had ever seen anything like it before. The tour guides were as excited about the flooding as the tourists, some even coming in on their off days to see how far the water had risen. The rooms I saw were all electrified and many of the lanterns were still operational. Lightcavewithpool reflected off drenched surfaces everywhere with a constant drip, drip, drip in the background. As I walked through the partially submerged cavern rooms, I knew I’d found my setting in Texas. It was right there in front of me.

As for the hero and heroine, there’s a bit more to the Carlsbad Caverns story. On our spring break trip, my husband and I got separated from our children in the caverns. And we were assigned the grumpiest Park Ranger in the National Park Service to help us find them.

Now normally Park Rangers are very friendly, right?  Not this one. I kept thinking why are you so prickly? (I’m the one who should be upset here…my kids are lost!)

For the record, my kids were 9 and 15 at the time and they were together. So my husband and I knew they were okay, but it was extraordinarily unnerving to not know exactly where they were in the caverns. And it took about an hour to find them. All while this Park Ranger was downright surly.

bulletprooftexascoverfromhqI kept thinking, you are going be in a book one day. But I’ll have to give you a reason to be unhappy or no one will like you! And that’s how Zach Douglas, my brooding Park Ranger, was born.

Now in BULLETPROOF TEXAS, Zach is grieving the death of his sister so he’s a very sympathetic guy, even though he’s a bit dark. But that line about “what you do may appear in my next book,” yep, it’s absolutely true!  I seem to get my best inspiration on vacation, especially traveling in the Southwest.


Have you ever been inside a cave? If so, where was it? Did you like it? Or, if you’ve never ventured inside a cave, which one would you like to visit if you could? One lucky commenter will receive a copy of my new April Intrigue, BULLETPROOF TEXAS.

View Kay’s Trailer!  


BULLETPROOF TEXAS is Kay Thomas’s second novel from Harlequin Intrigue and is on US store shelves this week. Romantic Times gave BULLETPROOF TEXAS 4 stars calling it “taut, tricky and worth the read.” Cataromance gave it 4 ½ stars calling it “non-stop action, nail-biting suspense and fiery passion.” Her debut novel BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF was released in the US in January and in Australia in March. To see excerpts, book trailers, enter Kay’s “Bulletproof Sighting” contest and more please visit


To Buy BULLETPROOF TEXAS, go to Amazon.


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49 thoughts on “How Did You Come Up With That? — Kay Thomas”

  1. Welcome to the junction, Kay, I am completely intrigued about cancer-eating bacteria! Congratulations on your fantastic books! I hope I win your name-draw!

    I have been in a couple of caves in the Sierras. I recall the ranger putting out the lights and it was unbelievably thickly dark. I agree, I would not like to be lost inside there. I am admittedly afraid of the dark.

    The stalactites and stalagmites were fantastic, I recall, the formations like wedding cakes etc.
    I even remember the little jingle they taught us. Stalactites stick TIGHT to the ceiling, stalatmites MIGHT grow up to meet them.

    Thank you for the wonderful post.

  2. I’ve only been in one cave outside of Tucson AZ.

    It too was wired with lights. At one point, we did have to skimmy around on our bellies. They told a story of outlaws hiding out in them to escape the law and enticed us with the possibility of loot still being hidden in the cave.. I did not like it when they turned out the lights. I’m extremely claustrophobic! So..this was quite the challenge for me.

  3. Hi Kay, I’d love to see Carlsbad. If we ever drive back to California from Virginia, we’re going that way so I can see it.

    Here in Virginia, we have Luray Caverns. My husband and I have passed the exit four or five times, but we’ve always been going somewhere else. One of these days we’ll make a special trip.

  4. Hello Kay,

    I’ve been to see the Carlsbad Caverns when we went to the Grand Canyon. It was beautiful. There is a cavern in Bristol, Tennessee that I’ve been to but I can’t remember the name. I’d love to go see the Inner Space Cavern. They are all so beautiful in their own way. Have a great day.

  5. Hi Kay,
    I have seen some caves from the distant access was closed off for some important reason. My husband, a friend and I did stop at Lost River Cave in Bowling Green, KY when going through KY one year. Lost River Cave is a underground boat tour of a small cave. The water was probably knee deep, but they took you in a canoe and showed different areas with a flash night. We didn’t think it was worth the price you paid, but it was interesting to see.
    I would like to see some of the other caverns in KY some day. I would like to go to the Diamond Caverns, Mammoth Cave and Onyx Cave to mention a few. I think it is very interesting to see the formation and development of caves.

  6. Kay, welcome to Wildflower Junction! We’re so happy to have you here, sharing your inspiration. Love the trailer, too! What did we do without You Tube? 🙂

    Alas, I’ve never been to a cave. Carlsbad is on my list . . .

  7. Hi Tanya Hanson,

    Thanks for dropping in. I’m so glad you enjoyed hearing about my “adventures in caving.” I confess. I always get the stalactites and and stalagmites confused, too. But some are amazingly beautiful. What astounded me was to hear how long some of the active ones had been forming. Thousands of years in some cases? Still dripping water.

    And “thickly dark” is exactly right. I have a bit of claustrophobia myself and when those lights went out, it felt like a black blanket had been lowered. The ranger doing the tour talked about early cavers running out of matches, batteries and oil for their lamps….I got a little breathless just thinking about it. : o

  8. Hi Laurie G

    Thanks for stopping by. Oooh, I would not have liked to have shimmied on my belly, either. You’re made of tougher stuff than me!
    Being an outlaw back in the Old West one wouldn’t have been able to have claustrophobia. I’d never have made it as bank robber hiding out in a cave…I’d have thrown myself on the mercy of the posse!

  9. Hi Victoria Bylin

    Thanks for your post. I’ve read such wonderful things about Luray Caverns. I kept running across it in my research for Bulletproof TX. Sounds like maybe you have a road trip in your future?

  10. Hi Roberta Harwell

    Ooh, you’d like Inner Space. It’s fascinating. I grew up hearing about all the interesting caves in Tennessee, too. (I’m originally from Mississippi.)

    I’d love to visit the Grand Canyon. My whole family wants to see it. One of these Spring breaks…

  11. Hi Becky Ward

    An underground boat tour sounds fascinating! There’s lots of water in Devil’s Hollow (my fictitious cave in Bulletproof Texas), so that sounds particularly intriguing to me! ; )

    KY has all kinds of caves, too, doesn’t it? I’ve heard a lot about Mammoth Cave.

    Growing up, that’s the big thing I remember about long driving trips with my family. Seeing the big billboards for various caves that were literally hundreds of miles away. Sometimes more than a state away?

    I don’t think it’s quite so much that way now, although on our last family road trip we saw some billboards for caves that were quite a distance away. The way some caves are advertised, I believe they are often an “impulse visit” for people vacationing on the road. A couple of our cave tours (before I knew I would write a book about one) certainly were!

  12. Hi Kay!

    A big welcome to P&P! We’re so happy to have you here. We hope you enjoy it and will want to come back.

    I grew up in New Mexico and our family went to the Carlsbad Caverns at least once a year so I know it pretty well. It was lots of fun. There was something about the chilly damp darkness that spurred my imagination. A person could get lost in there without even trying. It’s so huge. Definitely a place of mystery. I can see why you set your suspensse story in a cavern.

    Bulletproof Texas looks like a great read. The cover says it all. I’ll have to put it on my list. Fantastic trailer too! Wow!

  13. Hi Elizabeth Ludwig,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you like the premise for BTX and the trailer!
    And yes, I do believe that Park Ranger would be very surprised to see how this ended up. (To be fair, the Ranger was probably just having a “bad day.”) Ultimately, I can’t regret the experience. My kids were completely safe (and blissfully unaware of what was up) and I’d never have been inspired to come up with my brooding Park Ranger hero! : )

  14. Hi Pam Crooks

    Thanks for having me at Wildflower Junction today. I’m having so much fun.

    I think you would like Carlsbad…even for those with claustrophobia (like me!). The rooms are so huge and the ceilings positively soar. You don’t feel like you are underground at all, or I didn’t. And you can stay in the “Big Room” where they won’t turn the lights out on you either!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the trailer. You Tube…isn’t it great? I could spend…too much time there. Have you seen this one with Mentos and Diet Coke? It’s my all time favorite You Tube video, and educational, too. Cheers!

  15. Nice to see you here Kay, I really enjoyed your post and where you got you idea from. Your book sounds like a fasinating read and I would love to read it. I love Romantic Suspense books.

    Yes I have seen inside a cave, but the cave I was looking in was blocked off to where you couldn’t go in. I have also been back inside of tunnels that were created from a Rock Quary, these tunnels go for miles. This is also where the High Bridge Spring water is bottled. It is an underground natural spring, back in these tunnels.

  16. Hi Linda Broday

    Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here at the Junction. I’m so glad you like the sound of Bulletproof Texas.

    Wow, you got to see Carlsbad often? That’s way cool. We only saw the Big Room (with those huge ceilings and massive rooms) and the King’s Palace tour. Did you do Left Hand Tunnel, Lower Cave, and Hall of the White Giant? Those looked fascinating but definitely smaller. : )

    I was amazed by the lighting throughout the caverns. You’re right, it was very mysterious. Almost like a movie set. They’ve done an amazing job.

  17. Hi Quilt Lady

    Thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you enjoyed hearing about my “caving adventures” and that Bulletproof Texas sounds interesting to you.

    Are tunnels created from rock quarries blasted out with explosives? I hadn’t thought much about man-made caves until today and reading y’all’s responses.

    I bet it was fascinating to see where the spring water was bottled. I’d like to see that, too. I hadn’t considered a natural spring source being back inside a “man-made” cave. Did they just accidentally come upon the spring when they were blasting? Hmm. I’m completely hooked and googling again… : )

  18. Wow, Kay, your book sounds amazing. Years ago, in college, I did some of the crawling around with a light on my head variety of caving. It was scary but fascinating. I love caves and have put your book on my TBR list! Thanks for visiting today.

  19. Hi, Kay,

    Very much enjoyed Better Than Bulletproof, which I won on your visit to the Lair! I know I will also enjoy reading BTX. I will enjoy cave photographs, but, sorry, I will be the one who does not enter the caves!! Claustrophobia has made itself known in my old(er) age!

    Pat Cochran

  20. I visited Carlsbad Caverns and found it fascinating. I enjoyed it even though I was glad to get outside, especially after they told us about all of the bats leaving it at dusk. I understand the one outside of Tucson, AZ called Kartchner Cavern is even more intriguing.
    Your book sounds really good and I have added it to my TBR list.

  21. I have been in a famous cave in southwestern MO (they have tram tours they are so big) when I was a kid–but I can’t remember the name. Neat rock and geological formations.

  22. Hi Elizabeth Lane

    Thanks for your kind words about BTX. I hope you enjoy it.

    Wow, you’re a real caver! I don’t know that I could handle the tight squeezes you are describing! I can’t even watch it on screen. One of those movies I watched for research- The Descent I think it was called- had a “cave in” scene. I had to fast forward….gave me the willies. : 0

  23. Hi Pat Cochran

    It’s good to see you here. I’m so glad you enjoyed BETTER THAN BULLETPROOF. I had a great time with the Banditas, too.

    BULLETPROOF TEXAS takes a plot thread and one of those characters from the first book and pulls the pharmaceutical theme along, too.

    Claustrophobia…Yes, m’am I hear you. I could only do the larger cave tours myself in the research.

  24. Hi Joye

    Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ll like Bulletproof Texas.
    Carlsbad was amazing wasn’t it? That they had an elevator to get you down into the caverns blew my mind. We weren’t in Carlsbad at the right time of year to see the bats. (Too early in the spring or something?) I gotta admit I wasn’t altogether sorry I missed that. : )

  25. Hello Kay – Thanks for sharing today. Bulletproof Texas sounds like a great story! I love caverns. A couple years ago we visited the Caverns at Desoto, AL in late October. It was interesting how cool it was inside – definitely needed a jacket. They have a light show at the end which is pretty nice! Actually we have caverns right here in my hometown (in the panhandle of Florida) but we haven’t been to those yet. Yikes – it must have been a bit scary getting separated from your children! Glad you were able to get a character out of the experience!

  26. Hi Kay. Bulletproof Texas sounds good. I have never been in a cave. I have always wanted to visit Mammoth Cave in KY.

  27. We have a underground cave with a lake inside called The Lost Sea,it so cold,it stays like 54 degrees all year long,havent been there for a few years since my kids were little,but its located in southeast Tennessee,they have behind the scene over night stays they call splunking,my sons boy scout troop stayed one night an came back covered in red mud,I threw those clothes away an hosed him down outside,that type of mud/clay doesnt come out or off easily

  28. Hi Kay, the spring has been in High Bridge for as long as I remember. High Bridge is a small community in KY and I grew up there. It got its name for having the highest railroad bridge in the world. This bridge crosses over the KY river. As far as the spring goes a lot of the people from there got their water supply from this spring. I think it is a huge underground spring that runs all over the community. Of course years ago the water was not filtered, but all that is bottled there is ran through a large osmosis filter system.

  29. Hi Kay. Nice to meet you! So good to hear about your book too! I’ve read a few of the Intrigue books but not yours yet! Nope I’ve never been in a cave, but I’ve read some that made me feel like I was in one! I love the suspense of the hiding in there that some does in books and imagine the colder air in there and the darkness! I’d love to visit one! As long as no bats in there!

  30. Have been in several caves. I’m a bit claustrophobic, too, but they were worth the trip. Went to Howe Caverns in N. Y. when in high school. There is a long elevator ride down and at one point they turned all the lights off. Took our family to Carlsbad in 1983. It is awesome. My nephew got a kick calling his mom from the pay phones at the bottom. We went into a State Park cave in Puerto Rico in 1998. Very different from the other caves. Went to Jewel cave in South Dakota a few years ago. Very different types of features. Lots of stairs and some narrow sections. My husband was a spelunker in college. Our son enjoys it and is way too adventurous. I’d like to see him go on one of the Carlsbad New Cave tours. I have problems breathing if the walls start getting too close. Our girls enjoyed caving in Virginia when they were in high school, The Scout troop went into some small muddy caves. They would have to crawl and squeeze through passages. They were coated with sticky mud when they came out. We’d have to hose the clothes off and soak and rinse them outside before even thinking of putting them in the washer. NO THANK YOU!
    Your books sound good. Intrigue is my favorite Harlequin line.

  31. I have visited a couple of caves in The Black Hills. Was a sponser on a tour of high school kids when we visited the Wind Cave. It was wonderful and while I don’t care for small closed places, I loved it. The elevator took just a few back to the surface so had to make many trips. The adults(?) left for the final accent hid just around a bend for the guide to return. Imagain her surprise when the doors opened and there was no one there!

  32. Hi Martha E

    Thanks for finding Bulletproof TX interesting. The constant temperatures are amazing aren’t they? We visited Inner Space Cavern in the middle of a hot Texas summer when it was 95-100 degrees above ground but below it was a nice and cool. I understand it stays that way year round.

  33. Hello Estella

    I’m learning so much here this weekend about the various locations of caves. I don’t believe I’d ever heard of the ones in Oregon until today. That’s a National monument, right? (Y’all have me googling again!) : )

  34. Hi Crystal B

    Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for your kind words about Bulletproof Texas. Mammoth Cave in KY is one I’ve always wanted to see, too.

  35. Hi Vickie Couturier

    The Lost Sea is a name filled with amazing possibilities. How cool that your son’s boy scout troop got to spend the night camped beside it. I’ll bet it was an unforgettable experience. I’m chuckling about having to hose him down and throw out the clothes. Boys seem to attract some powerful dirt at times, don’t they?

  36. Hi Caffey

    Good to meet you, too! Don’t you love it when an author takes you away and you can actually feel the setting all around you? I love getting lost in a book like that!
    Even the creepy parts. Ahh…that sensation of being sweep up in the story.

  37. Wow, Patricia Barraclough
    You and your family are extraordinarily well-traveled cavers. How wonderful. I didn’t realize there were so many with elevators?! It’s interesting to hear how different the geological formations can all be.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  38. Connie Lorenz

    That’s a cute story. When the chaperones hide from the guide and the kids, you’ve had quite a day! I love it.

    Thanks for the giggle. : )

  39. Hi Quilt Lady

    You’re welcome!
    I was so excited when I found it. I was thinking that might be a shot of the world’s tallest railroad bridge you mentioned in the beginning, too?

  40. Caves, wait once I do go into one, it was a family trip somewhere. But to be honest I do not remember much on the details. Now thinking about it, it probably would be fun to explore one and see what one could see now as an adult!

  41. Hi Colleen
    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, caves are terrific “family outings” and make some great vacation memories. I bet you’d enjoy going back now, too!

  42. Thanks so much for a lovely time here at Wildflower Junction this weekend. And thanks to all the Fillies for the invitation. I’ve had a blast. I appreciate everyone sharing your caving adventures as well. I’ve enjoyed hearing about them and I’ve learned a ton about new places I’d love to go visit.

    Thanks for your interest and encouragement about BULLETPROOF TEXAS. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

    My very best to you,

    Kay Thomas

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