Sunday, December 30, 2012

Larry Light - Triple Crowner: Financial Genius, Top Crime Novelist, Stellar MWA-EVP!

Larry, an award-winning journalist, the author of the acclaimed Karen Glick series of thrillers set on Wall Street, is a man of many talents.

You may have heard him speak at one of the nationwide MWA University programs. Or worked with him on a project, where he has served nobly as Executive Vice President of MWA. Or followed his solid track record at the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Newsday or the Congressional Quarterly.

A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, he also served in the Army as a Lt. Colonel.

If you've read his crime novels, you've been grabbed by the throat on Page One. "Tonight Danton was going to kill a member of the Billionaire Boys Club." !!! ( And you stay up all night to finish that story!)

In Larry's novels you know at once you're in for one helluva ride, in posh surroundings, where money flows like free wine!

Please welcome Larry as our guest today!

Thelma J. Straw

How did a nice finance guy like you get into murder and crime?

I always enjoyed mysteries. I read the Hardy Boys when I was a kid and Nero Wolfe as a teen. And when I was a young reporter, I covered the cops. I got along well with them, as they were like the guys I knew in the Army. Covering crime was a tour on the dark side, a place of anger and downright evil.

Were you thinking of a future in crime writing when you studied at the Columbia School of Journalism?

Not at all. I wanted to be an ace political reporter, the David Broder of my generation. But that did not come to pass.

As an editor/staff member with the WSJ, Forbes, Business Week, Newsday and the Congressional Quarterly - you have a broad grasp of the financial scene. How does this influence your fiction?

Money lies beneath so much. It motivates much of what we do, defines our status, makes us dream of (possibly unachievable) riches, where you need not worry about how to send the kid to college. But mainly, money is the fuel of power. What I care about is the abuse of power. All my books are about that. Theodore Roosevelt referred to the errant wealthy as "malefactors of great wealth." You don't need to be a socialist to agree with him.

Tell us your method/schedule of writing.

Since I have a demanding day job -- I'm the editor of a new financial website, AdviceIQ -- I write on the nights and weekends. That's tough because I often am wiped by then. But I truly do enjoy it. It's like watching my favorite TV show, but I get to direct.

Do you start a novel with character, plot or setting? Can you tell us more...

I write thrillers, so plot is important to me. My first book, TOO RICH TO LIVE, borrowed the plot from the COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, in which four friends conspire to send a young man to prison for a crime he didn't commit. Thanks to that scheme, they grow rich and powerful. Their victim (they think he's dead) returns years later as the fabulous and mysterious Count, who himself has loads of money. The Count plots to take away from each villain what he values most and then to kill him. In my modern version, the conspirators are in a buyout firm.

What has been the reaction of your financial colleagues to your crime fiction?

A few business journalists I know, like Bryan Gruley and Matt Richtel, write mysteries. Most journalists think my fiction calling is amusing and not very serious. They have no idea.

What is the best writing environment for you?

Either in the garden behind my home, or in cold weather, at my desk looking out on the garden. It is peaceful and lovely.

How do you handle dry periods of writing – if any?

I don't tend to have them. My problem is finding a good snatch of time to write. I can't do it 20 minutes here, and 20 minutes there.

What modern writers have been an influence on you?

John Le Carre for creating a whole world – mainly the Circus, a.k.a. MI6 – filled with fascinating and flawed characters. When I read a mystery/thriller, I want to be transported to another place, a fascinating place. I adore Ross Macdonald because he dealt with families and their secrets and the world of the rich – and showed how lyrical writing can enhance our beloved genre. I devour the Pendergast series by Doug Preston and Lincoln Child, because they create a bizarre world existing alongside ours with a vaguely supernatural subtext, and a hero who is a magnetic oddball unable to give up.

How do you go about creating a character?

For me, a usually use people I know and of course change them dramatically. Once in a great while, there is payback involved. I once had a horrible boss who hated me and would tell any lie to get rid of me. This person became one of my characters, who was every bit as vile. My heroes and heroines, certainly, are different versions of myself. I insist they they have a sense of humor.

What do you want me to think/feel when I finish one of your novels?

First, entertained. Second, satisfied that powerful, arrogant bastards got theirs. The exception was the noir novel I wrote with my wife, Meredith Anthony, LADYKILLER, where everyone gets screwed and evil triumphs.

You've been very active in MWA. What are some of the duties of an executive VP?

Mystery Writers of America, which I've headed for three years as EVP (I am term-limited out after that), is a wonderful service organization. It stands up for writers. We have gone to bat for writers, sometime alone, when powerful forces (sound familiar?) want to diddle them. MWA upholds standards for the industry -- through our rules for joining the organization, our accepted publishers criteria and the Edgars, which reward the best in our genre. I'm proudest of our new initiative, MWA University, a one-day program we take around the nation that teaches writing. It only costs $50 for the day. As EVP, my job is to harness the great energy in our organization. With the invaluable work of Margery Flax, our dauntless administrative director, MWA is there to help writers every day of the year.

Thank you, Larry, for these wonderful insights and for all your sharing and devotion to the Mystery Writers of America, an organization many of us love!


Friday, December 28, 2012

The 2012 Retrospective

The time has come to look back over the past year, pointing with pride, viewing with alarm, shuddering with fear and loathing. It was a mixed bag, almost more so than most years. People died that I was quite fond of. Others came down with grave illnesses. We had dreadful storms. The Lambertville water grew as foul as anything I've ever experienced coming out of a tap. They'll fix it on January 13 of next year, they claim. Don't hold your breath. Or do. The smell is still awful.

The canal bank, ravaged by Hurricane Sandy
On the other hand, my candidate won the election, and if you were unhappy about that I can only hope that things won't go as badly for you as you fear they will. In other good news, St. Andrews Lambertville, my little Episcopal church, has made such strides with its music program that we are singing Bach cantatas in German, with a small pickup orchestra, and we sound pretty good. In fact we sing so much in German these days that if you were to wander in off the street you'd think you were in a Lutheran church. Which is perfectly appropriate, come to think of it, since the Episcopalians have been in full communion with the Lutherans for years.

I got a flu shot, which is a plus, since I had no reaction to it whatever and in fact forgot about it right away. I finished writing MONKEYSTORM, quite an amusing book. Look for it soon. Also on the plus side, my kitchen was spared the annual infestation of meal moths that causes me to have to throw out all the flour, rice, corn meal, waffle mix, and in a really bad year baking soda, every September. (Imagine laying eggs in a box of baking soda and expecting your offspring to thrive.) So when I was forced to throw out everything in the refrigerator and freezer on the third day of the power outage from Hurricane Sandy, I at least had some flour and corn meal, not that we had any way to cook anything.

Furthermore the world didn't end. That was a definite plus. I wouldn't have said I was paying any attention to the Mayan apocalypse until I went to write down a doctor's appointment for next January on the calendar we keep on the refrigerator door. There wasn't one for next year. I forgot to buy a refill. Or maybe I secretly believed I wouldn't need it.

In any case, have a very happy new year. Stay well. We will try to do the same.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in the Village Redux

Today is the first day of Christmas, so you should, by rights be looking at a partridge in a pear tree, but I am honoring the season by rerunning my post from last year.  There is sad note to this, though.  Our brilliant and beloved Partners in Crime is no more.  The Greenwich Village mystery bookstore succumbed to the changing neighborhood and book selling milieu last September.  But here it is again In Memorium.  GREAT good wishes for a wonderful 2013!

“City Sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style,
In the air there’s a spirit of Christmas!” 
Our neighborhood is decked out for Christmas. We’ve been around photographing how lovely it looks at this time of year.

In human history, the Village began as a camping site for the Carnarsee Indians.  They fished in a local stream they called Manetta or “devil water.” (A lot of devil water is still being served up in local watering holes.)

The Dutch grew tobacco hereabouts in the seventeenth century, and the hamlet remained a northern suburb of New York after the British conquest and through the Revolutionary War. As the city grew up around it with its grid pattern and numbered streets, the Village retained much of its colonial town charm and layout. Folks from outside the neighborhood are still flummoxed by the crooked streets with names like Bleecker and Morton and Grove. And they often wander around, map in hand, disbelieving the fact that West 4th Street intersects with West 10th, West 11th, and West 12th. We even have a street sign marking the corner of Waverly Place and Waverly Place.

As the centuries passed, the character of the village evolved from a quaint and picturesque backwater, to the preferred address of the Golden Age upper classes (who lived around Washington Square with its arch designed by Stanford White), to a magnet for German, Irish, and Italian immigrants, to a shabby bohemian hangout. It became the cradle of the Beat Generation of the 50’s and the capital of New York’s gay community and hippies of all sexual persuasions in the 60’s and 70’s. Remember: “I met a man named Frank Mills on September 1st right here in front of the Waverly…” from “Hair?”

The Village is world famous for many reasons, including its literary history. A remarkable number of writers have lived and worked here. The Wikipedia entry on our neighborhood mentions:

Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Anaïs Nin, Thomas Wolf, Robert Lowell, Horton Foote, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Marianne Moore, Maya Angelou, and Dylan Thomas.

The brilliant Willa Cather is not included, but she was also one ours. She first lived at 82 Washington Place and later at 35 Fifth Avenue. I used to live down the block from her house at 5 Bank Street. I would imagine that many, many others haven’t made the list.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was actually named after our local hospital. While her mother was pregnant for her, her older brother, then twelve years old, became dangerously ill. After the nursing Sisters of St. Vincent’s saved the boy’s life, the grateful mother named her new baby Edna St. Vincent.

Though today, the Village townhouses are often owned by hedge fund managers and big time lawyers, there are still enough rent stabilized apartments and tenement flats to keep the Village’s diversity intact, at least for the nonce. The charm endures thanks to historic architecture, lovely neighborhood pubs and restaurants, and independent bookstores. And writers. Lots and lots of writers. Including yours truly, who wishes you a beautiful Christmas Day.

Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Inside Santa Claus

This is my thirty-seventh year of dressing up and going on stage as Santa Claus and I still get performance anxiety. You’d think I’d be beyond such a thing by now? No way: those expectant little faces that turn to me and fix me with their unselfconscious stares give me pause until I bounce through the doorway and shout in my deep Santa baritone: “Children, children, where are the children???”

Of course, I am in my red velvet, white fur-trimmed jacket, pantaloons, and droopy cap with a jingle bell on the end, my own salt-and-pepper beard (more salt now) having been allowed to grow long, carrying a green laundry bag stuffed with small items: a paper fan in a gauze bag for girls, a kaleidoscope for boys, and sex-neutral games that included tens of thousands in fake money (a big hit). The too big cap used to slip down over my eyes ruining many a mom’s picture of her child on my knee, until my wife cured the problem with a safety pin. Mine is no chintzy, off the rack Santa suit; I paid a C-note for it at an exclusive Santa Claus emporium in the West 20s on the edge of Manhattan’s Garment District in 1989, the year I went to work for The Legal Aid Society of NYC. I was expecting to encounter a more demanding audience among the lawyers and their children than the cops I’d just left. Not to worry: same kids. The store where I bought the suit threw in a nice pair of black plastic simulated-boots that covered the tops of my shoes to complete my accessories.

Perhaps, my Great Impersonation is coming to an end. In past years, besides Legal Aid, I’d go on at my wife’s family’s Christmas Party in Springfield, Mass. She’s a Smith, one of twelve, all living and propagating. There’d be several generations at the party, 60 to 70 easily, at least 15 to 20 children of an impressionable age: meaning I could con them into believing I was the real thing. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so; children need their imaginations fed by the likes of me, not video games. What could be wrong with a gang of small children, after my departure from the home, running from windows facing east to windows facing west, looking for reindeer, one of them yelling: “I see them! I see them!”?

When I enter a room full of children, I don’t walk like an ordinary man. I bound; I scuttle; I walk bowlegged like Quasimodo, all the while calling the children to me, my outstretched fingers making come-hither motions, HO! HO! HO! HO! all the way. After all, I am not just anybody.

That’s how I burst upon the scene of my Neighborhood Association’s Christmas Party last Thursday evening at the University Club in Downtown Albany. I head to the chair in the corner of the room and they make a beeline for me. The best is when a 4-year-old runs, arms outstretched and leaps into my arms. Iula goes on one knee and her sister Lily goes on the other and I gather to me as many as I can. Mothers’ cameras get busy, but at this moment the children are my captive audience, awaiting The Word. I say it : “You are a GOOD boy/girl” This they need to hear off the bat: reassurance to their anxious little selves. Next, Lily, Iula, Razi, Kimberly, Julie, Jennifer, Scott, Tom, John, Zvi (and all the others whose names I can’t remember but whose faces are unforgettable) tell me their names. Then I ask and they answer in close-up whispering what present they want Santa to bring on Christmas Eve. Often, I can’t make out what their little voices are saying but no matter. I advise all that they must tell their mommies what they just told me: that’s the Chain of Command.

Sometimes children don’t want to get off my knee, like 4-year-old Iula who asked me to sing, and without pause, began herself to sing ‘Jingle Bells’. Her sister, Lily, age 6, on my other knee, joined in as I did. Next, a chorus or two of ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’, then the mother took pity and reclaimed the Singing Sisters. I notice one small boy circling us, keeping his distance. I address him directly: “You! Yes, You! C’mere!” His name is Zvi. After I mispronounce it multiple times, he tells me it’s Hebrew and the last time I said it was close enough. He’s six. I give him the pinball game containing the wad of fake money (for betting, I presume) and tell him it’s a Hanukkah present from the Hanukkah Santa Claus. He seems satisfied. As I make my exit, I notice Zvi playing with the others on the hardwood floor, wads of play money scattered about their knees.

Robert Knightly

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crime Family Values

The actor Paul Sorvino once remarked in an interview that according to FBI records there were about two thousand Italian-American organized criminals in the United States.  Given that there are 17,250,211 Americans who claim to be of Italian descent, that is .0000116% of the ethnic group’s population.  Sorvino quipped that he had met more than two thousand Italian-American actors who were making a living playing mobsters in the movies and on TV.

Despite the facts, if you are Italian-American—or even “worse” Sicilian-American and born in New Jersey, there are vast numbers of people who are willing to assume that your relatives, if not you yourself are criminals.  Complete strangers in Alaska or Indiana, within approximately thirty seconds of finding out about my background, have said the word “mafia.”


They see the evidence in the movies or on television.

So what?

I could grouse and show my upset at this prejudice against me, but instead I will tell you why I think screen and mystery writers, especially ones who are not of Italian descent, perpetuate the myth that most really bad guys are Italian.

They want to make their characters, especially on the screens—large and small—interesting and believable, easier to watch than just pure evil doers.

There are organized criminals of every ethnic persuasion.  Sometimes, movies are made about groups other than Italians.  For reasons I cannot fathom, the bad guys in those films are almost always one dimensional.  I once saw a movie about English organized criminals—The Krays.  It was ugly!  The main characters were cold and nasty, through and through.  They had no life but crime and vile behavior.  In fact, the story was so all-of-a-piece that no matter how much the movie’s makers revved up the tension, they could not make their film interesting.  All I can imagine is that the screen writers could not think of way to portray the Krays as bad AND human.

Consider, instead, The Sopranos.    (A show, by the way, that I began by rejecting as more myth perpetuation but then succumbed to on Netflix)  What made that crime family so much more interesting than the Kray brothers?  It was the relationships between the family members. An extreme example: Uncle Junior has tried to kill Tony Soprano, but when Uncle J is diagnosed with cancer, Tony goes with him to the doctor.  It is a nephew’s duty, and criminal though he may be, Tony does it.  And we believe it.

In American culture, I think we long for families that accept us as we are.  A lot of people believe this to be true of Italians.  Perhaps this nearly universal assumption explains why fiction writers choose the bad guys they do.  They want ones who are more than just criminal.  They want ones with mothers who worry about them and nephews who will never desert them.  This may also explain the popularity of the Addams Family and The Osbournes.

 In our post-Freudian world, where parents are to blame for their adult children's every unhappiness and 87.6% of the time the word “dysfunctional” is followed by “family,” we long for families who will love us, no matter how much they may dislike our behavior.  We all need people we know will stand by us no matter what.  Fiction writers for screen and page know we like stories about that.  They cut their bad guys to fit our needs.

Annamaria Alfieri 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Covers: What Sells Books?

(New cover)
(New cover)
A big chunk of my backlist is up on Amazon Kindle. Being the penny-pinching, nickel-nursing miser that I am, I designed the covers for the first two books in the Nick Magaracz series personally, rather than have it professionally done. On reflection, they're probably sort of lame. The books are just lying there. I don't think I've sold ten copies. And yet, the books are very entertaining! Honest, guys! The critics liked them!

As you probably know, when the rights for a writer's hard-cover or paperback book revert to the writer, the rights to the nice cover the publisher had their artists design for the book do not revert. The writer must make or hire another cover for the e-book. And there's a lot to think about, when you do this. You know how it is with covers. They should be thematically related to what is written in the book, attention-getting, and attractive. Legible is also good.

Do a search online for good book covers and the internet will show you artistic covers from the golden age of publishing. THE GODFATHER. THE GREAT GATSBY. Stuff like that.

I like Hank Phillipi Ryan's cover for THE OTHER WOMAN. Red, white, and gray are perfect colors for a political thriller, and the bridge and the woman in the red coat have to do with what the book is actually about.

Inspired by this, I got busy and made new covers for UNBALANCED ACCOUNTS and THE DEATH TAPE, the first two books about soft-boiled Trenton detective Nick Magaracz. Do you like them? Would they get you to buy the book? I think I like them. They're kind of arty. Maybe a little grim, but we aren't dealing with cozies here. The pictures are real pictures of Trenton. I tell you what, though, if I thought it would sell books I'd put LOL cats on the cover.

Kate Gallison

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The San Joaquin Valley's Special Crime Writer – Sunny Frazier

Sunny Frazier wears two hats, that of a crime writer and also the hat of an acquisitions editor of a press that publishes crime writers, some of whom have been guests on The Crime Writers' Chronicle, like our colleague Marilyn Meredith. (Other authors with the Oak Tree Press include Ilene Schneider, Radine Trees Nehring, Morgan St. James, and J. Michael Orenduff.)

Our guest today lives where they have verrry hot summers and winters laced with dense Tule fog!

Much of the material in her crime novels is based on her own life in law enforcement, in the Sheriff's Department, with an emphasis on her strong interest and expertise in astrology.

In company with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, J.A. Jance and many others, Sunny is included in
The Mystery Writers Anthology, edited by Jean Henry Mead.

As a former WAVE in the U.S. Navy, Sunny has seen the world! And now writes about it! You can visit her at ...but today we are delighted to have her stop by Crime Writers' Chronicle.

Thelma J. Straw

You wrote somewhere about the "dense Tule fog" in the winter, near where you live in the San Joaquin Valley. Can you tell us what this is and if/how it affects your writing?

Tule fog is the bane of the Valley. It sits low on the landscape and holds us hostage in our homes for days at a time. I look across the street and can't see my neighbor's house. It's dangerous to drive in. As a child, we would play hide-and-seek by running into the fog and standing still. In my book I say "It comes like an unwelcomed mother-in-law who stays too long." There is a sense of isolation and foreboding that drifts in with the murk. That's our winter white.

As a sheriff for several years and as an astrologer – these are wonderful areas for a mystery writer! How do they feature in your novels?

I wasn't a sworn officer, I was support staff at a high level. For novels, I don't have to think up plots. I have all the cases from those years in law enforcement, especially in the narcotics division, to pull from. The characters in my book are based on the people I worked alongside. Not perfect individuals, but all with a sense of honor and duty. I will not write about "bad cops." The astrology was fun because I actually do cast horoscopes for my characters and sometimes adjust the plot to what I learn. This drove my writing teacher crazy! I try to present a different aspect of astrology to readers in each book and show the practical application (even if it's to catch killers).

Can you describe how you felt when you went undercover?

I was undercover only to the extent that I was not allowed to tell civilians where I worked. Even people at headquarters didn't always know where our narc unit was located. Our photos were not included in the yearbook. There is a sense of detachement with the rest of the world, but an intense closeness with the people I worked with. As the only woman in the unit, I would wave as my team went off to busts, knowing that I might be the last woman they saw if they were killed in the line of duty. I represented their wives, their sisters, their girlfriends, their mothers. They were incredibly loyal to me and I would do anything for them. But, I was also left alone in the office and many times drug dealers would figure out where we were. It was frightening to come to work and have my office staked out. How many secretaries deal with that? I also had to deal with snitches, parolees, dealers we turned because I was the contact person to relay information to the detectives. The criminal element is an interesting group. They never think they are doing anything wrong.

You were editor of your high school paper - I was too, and found it helped my writing on a schedule later on. How did this help you in your later career as a crime writer?

I also worked on a college newspaper and city newspaper. Journalism instills the idea of deadlines, writing tight and word craft. I was the 2nd female newspaper editor in high school, not exactly good for popularity. I was the only female reporter on the city newspaper and dealt with wage discrimination. Their reasoning is that I should have a man supporting me. That killed my love of journalism and turned me to fiction.

Do you use your days in the Navy, as well as your time as a sheriff, in your writing?

I concentrate on my time in law enforcement. Many people want me to write about my time in the Navy, which was at the tail end of the Vietnam war. It was a strange time – birth control pills issued in bootcamp, co-ed barracks, short uniform skirts and the men got to grow beards and mustaches. Admiral Zumwalt wanted us to be like the college kids who were protesting the war. My escapades in foreign countries would make the Navy cringe. I've never written about it and am reluctant to as I'm not sure it's relevant today. It was a very strange era, but I loved every minute.

What is your favorite genre?

International thrillers. I'm a Daniel Silva fan. I also like a good assassin.

Can you tell us what the Posse is?

This is a group I rounded up to teach marketing. Anyone can be a part of it, only an email address is needed. There's no charge. We're about 125 strong. What we do is support each other by bombarding websites that host a Posse member and driving the participation numbers up. The site owners don't know what hit them! Many of the Posse members have gotten to know each other and actively cross-promote. I also put up "Posse Posts" on my website. These are links to important info I find all over the Internet that will train people in marketing skills and understanding of the industry. I think I can cut five years off a newcomer's career path if they follow the herd.

Do you have any conflict with your job as a novelist and as acquisitions editor of Oak Tree Press?

I don't review books because it would be obvious favoritism. My publisher, Billie Johnson, trusts my judgment, lets me have a say in the business. I do have to keep my position in mind when I'm out in public representing the Oak Tree Press. I mind my P's and Q's (to some extent, anyway).

Your job as editor is to rule out "cuss words" ... what do you do if you have an author you love who uses them?

I actually count the number of times the words are used and "politely" suggest that the author discard them. If they refuse, I reluctantly pass on the manuscript. Our readers are primarily middle-aged women and I've never heard one of them say, "I love to read the word f--k over and over."

You have 7 – SEVEN! – cats!! ( I love cats!) Do they appear in your books?

I did give Christy a cat named Shamus. He's actually a clue in FOOLS RUSH IN. In WHERE ANGELS FEAR he is fairly possessive of Christy's lover. In the novel I'm working on, A SNITCH IN TIME, he's left in the care of a roommate who spoils him. Christy's going to have to reinforce some rules when she gets home.

You seem to love your life now as a writer – how does this come across in your novels?

I think people will pick up the fact that I love the area I live in – which is not easy for most people. I call the landscape "cranky." I don't paint a rosy picture, there's nothing idyllic in my descriptions. I'm brutally honest. But, I love the agricultural landscape, the diverse population, the fascinating crimes. I love the 110 degree summers, not so fond of the damp winters. I treasure the support I get from the locals, who are excited to see this area featured in my books. We take up most of California, but are eclipsed by writers who set books in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I just want to set the records straight.

What would you like to write about in the future?

I read a lot of historical fiction. I'm going to pull that element in on the next book. I'm going to get a bit medieval on everyone.

What kind of research do you do for your mysteries?

Other than doing horoscopes and refreshing my memories of certain cases, not much.

When you begin a novel, what comes first – character, plot, setting? How do you usually plot your stories?

I have my characters, the setting is handled like another character and the plots come from parts of my life. I always have a sub-text I want to make in a book. The first book, Christy learns the value of her life. The second, she begins to explore her sexuality (she's a late bloomer). The current book asks "Who's the better friend," in her female relationship. I try to find a way to use astrology a bit differently in each book and then put Christy in a corner and let her figure it out.

What would you like us to know about your writing we don't know?

I'm a pantser, but the whole plot is in my head. I do love it when I watch the words take off in a scene I hadn't planned on. I love the look of words on a page, literally: letters next to each other, white space, different paragraph lengths. I'm a little too fond of alliteration. I love using words people don't bother with, but not the ones they have to look up. I don't try to impress, but every now and then I will pull out all stops and hit the reader with a sentence that's pure gold. I want to make jaws drop. I want writers to think "I wish I'd written that." It makes my ego happy.

Many thanks to you, Sunny, for dropping by Crime Writers Chronicle today. We look forward to your next book!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Kate's Cherry Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Here it is, folks, the recipe I promised you. You won't find it anywhere else, because I made it up, but feel free to share it. Happy Holidays – Kate Gallison

Cherry Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Prep time: 20 minutes to mix, ten minutes to bake
Makes 6 dozen


3 sticks butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract, rum, or Curacao
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 1/8 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp salt
3 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar, add eggs and vanilla or other flavoring and beat until fluffy.

In another bowl, thoroughly whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt. Add chips, nuts, and cherries, and combine with butter mixture until well blended.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake ten minutes. Remove from oven, let set for a minute, and transfer to a cooling rack.

Yum. They keep very well, too, in a sealed tin, so if you don't give them away you can munch on them all winter.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Not How I Imagined It

Today we welcome guest blogger Joyce Tremel! Joyce is a former employee of a suburban Pittsburgh police department with a second degree black belt in Taekwondo. A member of Pennwriter's and a former Vice-President of the Mary Roberts Rinehart chapter of Sisters in Crime, she has written short stories for Mysterical-E magazine and non-fiction articles for The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police magazine, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Penn Writer, and the Sisters in Crime publication Breaking & Entering. She is about to find a home for her first full-length crime novel. Look for her at and

When Kate mentioned that yinz guys (as we say in Pittsburgh) were looking for guests to write on The Writing Life, I volunteered. But when I got to thinking about my writing life, I realized it’s nothing like I imagined it would be. There’s no writing garret, no maid, no cook, no multi-million dollar book deals… But I’ll take it anyway. I mean, really. In what other job can you wear pajamas all day if you feel like it?

I don’t think there is a typical writer’s life (other than working in PJs). For the last eight months or so, my days have consisted of wrangling contractors, making sure they’re getting the work done, reading up on septic systems, wells, and the best way to clean log walls. I’ve become an expert at installing and grouting bathroom tiles. Yeah. We’re building. And no, I’m not coming over to remodel your bathroom. In addition to the cabin stuff, I still have our “real” house to keep up with, although I’ll admit it’s not as clean as I’d like it to be. (I may be the only person in the world who polishes the outside of their washer and dryer.) This is where that maid in the previous paragraph would come in handy—except I’d probably want to clean before she came.

Then there’s Christmas shopping. And decorating. I don’t even want to think about baking this year. In the midst of all this, I still manage to get some writing done.

When I started this writing thing, I never realized how long it would take to even get close to having a published book. Although I’ve been writing off and on since I was a kid, I only got serious about it maybe twenty years ago. I wrote a really horrible story that read like Nancy Drew meets the Hardy Boys. I had no idea what I was doing. Point of view was all over the place, the characters were clichéd, you name it—I did it wrong. Fortunately, no copies of this travesty exist. I even destroyed the 3 ½ floppy discs on the off-chance that someone somewhere still had a computer that had a disc drive.

To make what could be a very long story short, I kept learning and writing. I’m on my third (and I hope, final!) agent and have a book on submission now. Fingers, toes, and whatever are crossed. I’m working on the next book in the series and also planning some other ideas just in case.

One thing all writers have in common: this writing life is unpredictable.

Joyce Tremel

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Jack Partridge: Why Pool?

I met Jack Partridge in a roundabout way. We were vacationing at the stunningly beautiful Velas Vallarta Resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in March, 2008, languishing at poolside (with one eye cocked, however, for the return of the enormous, regal Peacock who had just made off with Rose’s hamburger, leaving the bun behind). I noticed a couple next door with their daughter who was reading a book whose cover seemed familiar but I couldn’t be sure, so I walked over and introduced myself as self-deprecatingly as I could: “Hey, that’s my book you’re reading!”

Indeed, Sarah Partridge had a copy of QUEENS NOIR, hot off the presses that January. We were inseparable after that. I came to learn that Jack was a partner in a good-sized corporate law firm in Providence, Rhode Island, where they lived. All I knew about Providence then was that its Mayor had been convicted of Bribe Receiving after trial and went to State Prison but upon his release was reelected to another term as Mayor:, and that the Presiding Justice of Rhode Island’s highest court had recently been indicted (for “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” I presumed). I soon learned that Jack Partridge wrote crime novels set in Providence (where else?) and the game of pool figured large in both mysteries, CAROM SHOT and STRAIGHT POOL, so, curious, I asked: Why pool?

Robert Knightly

Why Pool?  It's my metaphor for a murder investigation. Consider the basics of the game. The cue stick confronts and strikes the  cue ball and the cue  ball strikes the object ball  which in turn either heads for the desired pocket or strikes another ball or side rail,  which may end with a ball falling into a pocket. With every shot, a result, some not intended. English on the cue ball, finesse or power on the shot, the rules of the particular game, the spin and the speed, all are in play. Clues and cues are merrily intertwined. A glancing shot here, a misplay there, an errant shot, a cue ball not in the right spot for the next shot: all played out spatially to the grim facts of a murder, the search for motive and the killer.

When Algy Temple, my pool playing sleuth, becomes involved in murder, his object may be  detection and resolution, fingering the criminal, but he is faced with  safety shots, spins, errant shots, and misdirection, before the end of the game. Will  he strike it home? Will  moral ambiguity force him into unexpected results?

When the first Algy Temple  mystery was conceived, I knew that Algy  would be a  Waspish  character, the scion of Yankee nobility, rich but independent, proud of and burdened by that ancestry, not able to remove himself from  his  traditions,  thoughtfully discerning as to today's morals, judgments, and political  and academic worlds. At an early age, Algy  becomes a pool – not billiards – player with buddies he has picked up in school,  begins to understand class distinctions, associates with kids  from varied economic and social and ethnic backgrounds, and finds his own path. Two friends, Tony Tramonti ( to become Providence's Police Commissioner and later Mayor of Providence) and Young Jimmy Hannigan (a pool wizard, hustler , and club owner) are important characters in the series.

Algy, a trial lawyer, has changed his career to become the in-house  lawyer at Carter University, an Ivy League  institution located on the East Side of Providence, a challenging  place  that allows Algy  to display sharp elbows in continuing  town and gown conflicts, while dealing with the often myopic politics of academia, its  social values  and attitudes. In CAROM SHOT, he describes the atmosphere thusly:

" ... an Ivy League campus is ... populated with concentrations of the politically correct and cultural war militants...with sensitive, micro thin skins and memories like elephants" and the job as being "... the Attorney General in a mini-state inhabited exclusively by the smart, the opinionated. and the stubborn, surrounded by antagonists who would like nothing better than rubbing (the University's administrators) faces in the merde."

Much of this  brought into focus by his fiancee and lover, Nadie Winokur, a popular prof at Carter University, who is chic, willful, kind and a feminist to her bones.

Pool, and the characters  that live in that démodé of skill, chance, and gambling, provide  opportunity for brushes with death as does  the academic life.

And Providence? Is there a murkier place in America?  Chicago takes lessons on chicanery from Providence. My Sonny Russo character as the mayor of Providence  captures the too often corrupt, nudge-nudge life of our city government. You have to love a place where mayors sometimes serve 5 years away as a guest of the government – Rhode Island governors just plead guilty – and how do you get anything done in a city where scandal is a way of life. Well, you try.

In CAROM SHOT, it is a serial rapist on campus who incites racial tension (it is always there) and the death of a student  and a conservative and controversial prof  that are the vehicles for investigation; in STRAIGHT POOL, it is the death of a Native American in a fire at a new and exclusive country club; in SCRATCHED, the body of a prominent professor is found in the Providence River during one our famous WaterFire events.

The third in the Algy series, SCRATCHED, hopefully will be out in 2013.

Love to hear from mystery readers. Please check out my blog at

J. J. Partridge

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Poetic License

Some years ago as I was working on on a historical novel – I think it was Bucker Dudley – I realized suddenly that I was too deep into the thing. I truly felt that if I didn't get every single detail right not only would it throw the reader out of the story, it would throw me out of the story, like stepping on a crack and breaking your mother's back. That moment in Somewhere in Time comes to mind, when Christopher Reeves pulls the modern dime out of his his historically correct vest pocket and throws himself back into the late twentieth century, leaving behind the woman he loves.

It wasn't even the fear of suffering public shame. (That's when you get fifty or sixty letters from readers pointing out how you messed up, along with several snarky Amazon reviews.) It was this conviction I had that my portrayal of the environment of a story had to be so perfect that anyone who happened to be transported to that time and place could use it for a map.

Sick, right? First of all none of us are ever going back there. There's no such thing as a time machine. Secondly, the environment of a story exists in the service of the story, and not the other way around. All that's required is that the historical details be plausible. What, after all, is Truth?

It was Harold who reminded me of the convention of Poetic License. So I whipped up an authentic Poetic License and posted it over my desk.

Now I am able to invent bogus historical details without fear or shame. When at a gathering of historians no less an authority than Professor Paul Israel, the world's foremost Edison scholar, gently pointed out to me that there was no such thing as the portable film strip hole punch I had described in The Edge of Ruin, I was able to smile. Because the hole punch served the story.

Kate Gallison

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hank Phillipi Ryan, Crime Writer Par Excellence

Inspired by the advice of Mary Higgins Clark (the Queen of Mystery) – "Start your story by asking, What if?" – our own Thelma Straw presents the impressive bio of interviewee Hank Phillippi Ryan by posing that very question, and riffing on the resulting fantasy.

WHAT IF… that famous, often outrageous, talk show host and generous philanthropist, Don Imus, the I-Man, were to promote Hank Ryan on his show "Imus in the Morning"!

SCENE: The New York studio of WABC/Fox Business Network TV.
MUSIC: "Imus in the Morning"
TIME: 6:04 A.M.

Don Imus rushes in with a book in one hand and a giant Starbucks cup in the other. He throws the book at Bernie McGuirk, who yells, "Boss, you're late!"

The I-Man scowls. "Been up ALL NIGHT! Reading this new book! – called THE OTHER WOMAN! Girl by the name of Hank wrote it. Great lookin' girl - Hank Phillippi Ryan."

He stares at his crew. "Damned fine writing. Boys, you gotta read it. Brought a whole load of the books over in my limo - one for everybody here!"

Man in chauffeur's cap enters, pushing a cart, filled ceiling-high with books. They all have the title THE OTHER WOMAN. He hands them out to members of the cast and crew.

The I-Man continues. "Been following those Best Selling Mystery Girls all these years - Mary Higgins Clark and her daughter, Carol, Patsy Cornwell and that totally brilliant and charming D.A., Linda Fairstein. Girls all made a fortune with their mystery books. Could line the walls of Fort Knox, with all the dough the I-Man helped them get!

"But this Hank Ryan woman - she's something else! Worked for top TV up in Boston. Investigation reporter!"

"Investigative, boss," Bernie mutters.

Imus throws him a hard look. "Whatever! Won herself a whole wall full of Emmys and Murrows! Got more trophies than anybody on the planet! Girl's won just about every mystery writer prize you can name - Agatha, Anthony, Macavity - I'm betting on her for one of those little Edgar Poe statues, too!

"She's just been voted in as leader of the pack of that outfit - Sisters of Crime! And if you think that's all, you ain't heard nothing!"

Bernie whispers, " Sisters in Crime, boss!"

"That girl's on the cover of the biggest magazine in town - Mystery Scene! Plus, she's wowing all the writers of romance - got the nod on the Kiss of Death! Don't know what THAT means, but it must be pretty damned good if she got it! Just got the vote of the Best of 2012 by Suspense Magazine!"

Imus takes a swig of the coffee. "Now, that's one damnfine prize for anybody. Right, Bernie?"

Bernie nods and holds up his copy of THE OTHER WOMAN to the camera.

"There's more! She worked with the crew of our boy Senator Ted Kennedy down in Foggy Bottom (godblesshisoul – we miss him) and wearing her TV hat, knocked over some bigtime crooks down in Georgia. Bydamn, this girl's got a resume like a Nobel Prize winner! Next thing you know, she'll be on the Big Screen in Tinseltown! Hell, they might get her to play that guy Reacher's new gal-pal!

"Bernie, get on the horn and tell Miz Ryan we want her to come and be our guest on the program here. She can name her day! Any day - any time! Tell her the I-Man says she's the best durn mystery writer to come down the pike in a month of Sundays! Deirdre thinks so too… now we've got to talk about the news of the day…"

"Comin' up on twenty minutes past the hour, Eastern time. Ladies and gentlemen, Imus in the morning!"

But instead of Imus, Thelma herself interviewed Ms. Ryan. Here's how it went:

Do you plan a series with Jane Ryland?

More than plan! It’s underway. The next in the Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan series is THE WRONG GIRL, which is coming from Forge this time next year. (Is an adoption agency reuniting birth parents with the wrong children?) Some of the characters in THE OTHER WOMAN will return. And some will survive to appear in the next book!

Here’s the video about THE OTHER WOMAN — we took kind of a risk with it — what do you think?

Your book titles are very enticing! How do you choose them?

I will admit to you that they choose themselves. It seems to me they spring so naturally from the story that there’s nothing else the title could be.

Tell us about the Ryan Award June 13 from the Boston Bar Association.

Oh, that was such an honor. They were thanking me for all the work and stories I’ve done over the years focusing on safety in the workplace — toxics use reduction, asbestos, radon, gas leaks, air quality.

You are very involved in three big groups - MWA, SinC, and ITW - in the crime world. How do you fit them all in your heavy schedule? And keep their agendas apart?

Yes, they’re all terrific organizations. I’m the new national president of Sisters in Crime, and on the board of MWA, and a happy member of ITW. How do I keep their agendas apart? I don’t. I think they are the same — at least similar. To encourage good writing, to educate and inspire authors, to create a community of writers and readers, to understand the changes in the publishing world. My publisher was so taken with my enthusiasm both the groups, they created a special video about it.

You have such a full event/tour schedule. How do you handle all those trips and still find time to write?

 I’m organized. As much as anyone can be, at least! I know that writing the best possible book is the top priority, so that’s what I make room for first. When the books are complete, or at the editor, then I know I have a bit more time to travel and speak. So I keep in mind the goal of where I am in the process — when I’m in writing mode, I have a calendar that has chunks of time blocked out for that. I have a words-a-day chart, and I make sure I keep to my quota. Writing has to come first.

You have lots of pictures in costumes! Were you into drama as a child?

Oh, so funny. Ah, I never thought about it that way. Yes, my siblings and I used to put on shows for our parents… We dressed up in crinolines and hats and whatever we could find. In high school and college, yes, I was in plays, most often the 2nd banana character role, or the funny one. But I’m in costume once a year, you know? At CrimeBake. This year my very patient husband and I were Sam Spade and Miss Wonderly from The Maltese Falcon. We carried around the “falcon” which was a stuffed owl we spray-painted black.

How do you keep your mystery hat separate from your RWA hat?

Well, again, they’re the same hat! (Someone asked me once if I could write a mystery without romance. I said – not if the characters are behaving like real people! They said, well, could you write a romance without mystery? I said — Well, no, what would the characters DO?

 You wrote somewhere you felt you'd discovered David Hosp, the Boston crime novelist. A few years ago, the MWA-NY Mentor Committee also felt that WE "discovered" David Hosp! We invited him down to be our guest speaker. What advice do you give to debut novelists?

Yes, I love David! And discovering new or new-to-me authors is such a treat. (One of the joys of my life was moderating the best-first panel at the Edgar symposium. It brings tears to my eyes.) For debut authors? Count your blessings. Things take a while. Things rarely happen overnight. A wonderful thing has happened to you. Keep working. Get better. Be grateful.

You have won – ( gasp!) – 27 Emmys and 12 E.R. Murrows. Plus the Agatha, Anthony and, Macavity! What are you proudest of?

Oh, Thelma. You know that’s impossible. I adore every one of them, and could tell you the whole story for each one. I must say winning the Agatha was… astonishing, since I’d fallen in love with Agatha Christie’s work by the time I was fourteen. And then to win an award named after her — well, pretty cool. But the awards are on my shelves, right by my desk, and I see them and think about them every day. It’s an inspiration.

What in your studies in Germany may have helped you on TV or as a novelist? Or your work on Capitol Hill?

Oh, I was in Germany when I was sixteen or so — it certainly was different from my life back home in rural-ish Indiana. I wish I could think of a cool thing, but mainly we talked about the Beatles and tried to get into dance clubs. I’m still in touch with some of my pals from then, people from all over the world.

My work on Capitol Hill, though? And my years as a political campaign worker? Pivotal. Every day. In my work as a reporter, and as a novelist. I deeply understand how the political and election system works, who controls what and how, the lust for power and the ability to manipulate and portray reality. How far people will go to get what they want. Deception, and desire and revenge and rationalization. (Remember, I was in DC during Watergate and the CIA hearings.)

And writing THE OTHER WOMAN — well, think about today’s headlines. That book is the result, really, of forty years of research!

I read your childhood hero was Thomas Edison. Can you share the reason?

Because getting a “wrong” answer is just as valuable and educational as getting the right one. That perseverance and hard work can lead to success and inspiration. That you can find the answer if you just work on it. That you can discover something new. (I lobbied to get my step-kids to name our first grandson Edison. They didn’t. There’s still time.)

In the outstanding work you did as an investigative TV reporter in Georgia, were you ever in any real danger?

Ah, besides the time I was in the hot air balloon over the hills of north Georgia? Oh, and I did white-water raft the Chattooga. (Cue the banjos.) Well, sure, I guess so. But that’s not what I really think about. The thing about being a TV reporter is there’s usually a photographer with me. So I always tell them: if it looks like something bad is about to happen, make sure you’re rolling.

Have you ever thought about a career in the CIA? Sure. But reality is better. You've had such a wide range in investigative reporting - do you keep involved in any of those issues?

Well, I’m still on the air, of course, as investigative reporter at the NBC affiliate in Boston. So, sure. Everything is a possible story! And look at THE OTHER WOMAN!

Where does your current name come from?

I’m laughing. My birth name is Harriet Ann Sablosky. Someone in college decided I should be Hank. Add a couple of ex-husbands, and there you have it.

What is a usual writing day for you like?

Heaven. I have a huge amount of coffee and read the morning papers. I check my email and etc on a separate computer, not the one in my study. I set a time where I’m going to begin writing so I don’t lollygag around. When that time comes, I go to my work computer, and do nothing else until I get my words for the day. When I have a day where all I have to do is write, that’s the best. It’s not always FUN, but it’s the best.

Do you have writing partners or first readers?


You are one of the most gracious writers I've encountered! What is your secret?

Oh, well, thank you!

How do you usually de-compress from your heavy schedule?

I’ll let you know when I figure that out. Seriously. I decided not to work one bit on Thanksgiving Day. That didn’t happen.

People who read this would like reassurance re their own careers. What advice do you give?

Oh, listen. My husband and I don’t celebrate the anniversary of the day we met. We celebrate the anniversary of the day BEFORE we met. And we call that “You Never Know” Day. Because you never know what wonderful thing is around the next corner. Right? So when you’re disappointed about something – it’s not worth it to worry. You don’t really know what’s good or bad – so don’t waste your energy in regret or sorrow. Someone said to me – don’t quit five minutes before the miracle. It’s a little Hallmark, I know. But still…

Thank you, Hank, for your sharing and all the advice to your fellow writers! We'll be cheering for you with your next book!

Thelma J. Straw

Win a copy of THE OTHER WOMAN! Send your mailing address to to be entered in the drawing.

***12/5/12 – We have a winner! SUSAN PATURZO of Denver.***

"Political skullduggery and murder make a high octane mix in this perfect thriller . . . " - Booklist starred review
"Ryan . . . employs her much honored investigative reporting and political background to craft a dizzyingly wild labyrinth of exciting twists, turns, and surprises. Readers who crave mystery and political intrigue will be mesmerized by this first installment of her new series." - Library Journal starred review

You can also find Hank in the following places: twitter @hank_phillippi Blogging at @junglereds

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Miracle on 44th Street?

No, even though it is almost December and trees are lit up all over Manhattan, this post is not about a little girl and a Santa-impersonator.  Even though I am a crime writer, I would not want to know about the sort of crime story that could lead could lead to.

This is about a mysterious sighting last evening.  At a few minutes before six, I had just turned the corner from Fifth Avenue onto Forty-fourth Street when I saw this:

Plenty of people were rushing past, east to Grand Central Station or west to the Theater District, but it was obvious that none of them had any connection whatsoever with the crutches abandoned there.

I walked another three steps and then I thought: I have just witnessed evidence of a miracle.  I could picture the former owner dropping them, taking a few steps and saying, "I can walk!"

(Fans of Downton Abbey will see Matthew Crawley recovering from his WWI injuries.)

After whipping out my phone and taking this picture, continuing on my way to dinner, I began my typical crime writer's fantasizing about what those abandoned instruments might mean if they were in a murder mystery.

Here's the challenge, mystery writers and readers out there: if it were your story in which this scene appeared, what would it mean to the solving the crime?  Please write us a scenario.

Annamaria Alfieri 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Better Late Than Never: Dancer In The Flames

I met Stephen Solomita at an MWA dinner 20-plus years ago. I struck up a conversation, having read his first novel, A Twist of the Knife, with the inimitable NYPD Det. Sgt. Stanley Moodrow. Steve had driven taxicabs on the streets of NYC that he described so lovingly. Then I discovered that we were neighbors in Stuyvesant Town, the middle-class project bordering East 14th Street, First Avenue to the East River, to E. 23rd St. We kept talking and I kept reading his books: 21 novels under the Solomita name and David Cray pseudonym. As he says, “I’ve written a series, stand alones, buddy books and three out of my last four books have had three distinct protagonists per book.” I don’t know any writer the equal of Solomita in creating so many memorable characters to drive his novels. You can’t go wrong by starting with A Twist of the Knife, KeepLock, Bad Lawyer or his newest, Dancer In the Flames, whose genesis he describes next.

— Robert Knightly

For the most part, I write by the seat of my pants. An idea emerges from the inner depths, usually limited to a premise and couple of major characters, and off I go. Mostly, it works out. When it doesn’t, I discard the material, no matter how far along I’ve come. In fact, in order to avoid the near occasions of sin, I delete the files and recycle the hard copy.

Dancer in the Flames (to be published later this year in the U.K. and early next year in the U.S.) found its way into print by a more circuitous route. The work began more than ten years ago as a short story. A New York City detective, Boots Littlewood, interrogates a bookie in the death of the bookie’s sister as they watch the end of a Yankee-Red Sox baseball game in the bookie’s living room. The detective is a fanatical Yankees fan who bets on the games. The bookie, Frankie Drago, who takes his bets, has been a friend since high school.

I never made any great attempt to publish the story and it sat in a drawer for many months while I worked on another project. But it never entirely vanished. Boot’s quirkiness continued to appeal, even months later. Though utterly absorbed in the close, back-and-forth game – The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees are ancient enemies – Boots remains a professional. The game’s tension becomes a weapon he uses to ratchet up the pressure on the hopelessly outmatched Frankie Drago.

Eventually, I returned to the short story and added several chapters. Enough to form the beginnings of a novel, enough to be certain that something was missing. I might have chucked the whole project at that point, but I remained intrigued by my detective. Boots is a model of inconsistency. A detective third grade who labors in an obscure precinct, he believes only that, on this little patch of ground, he might be able to improve the lives of his friends and neighbors. At the same time, he protects the bookie who takes his bets. Yet even here, he’s inconsistent. Boots is willing to overlook Frankie’s bookmaking activities, because it’s in his interests to do so, but he won’t overlook a homicide. The dead must be avenged.

For a second time, Boots and his adventures went into a drawer and I continued on to other projects. Then, perhaps a year later, I happened to watch an American skier named Pikabo Street race in the 2002 Olympics. Specifically, I watched her fly down a nearly vertical slope on a pair of sticks at 70 miles, or 122.6 kilometers, per hour. A gold medal winner in the 1998 Olympics, Ms. Street finished 16th in the 2002 downhill. That’s because she’d torn a ligament and snapped her left femur in two when she came off those sticks in a prior competition.

Not being the brightest star in anyone’s firmament, it only then occurred to me that women participate in all of those danger-junkie activities we generally associate with men, from extreme snowboarding to assaults on Annapurna. But what moved them? I didn’t think they were very much like the women I knew, any more than I was like the men who engage in similar pursuits. Not only couldn’t I imagine myself emulating Pikabo Street, I couldn’t imagine myself standing at the top of the slope without becoming dizzy. For me, making an illegal left turn at five o’clock on a Sunday morning is as risky as it gets.

Male or female, these adrenaline junkies weren’t primarily inspired by money. Of this I was sure. Too many amateurs and too many pursuits, like rock climbing, without a monetary payoff. No, what these risky pursuits had in common was risk. Not the simulated risk associated with roller coasters, but a real possibility that you won’t come through in one piece, or at all. How many times can you challenge fate before you end up in a wheel chair with a ventilator tube protruding from a hole in your throat? Or in a closed coffin?

Being a mystery author, it didn’t take long before I put my risk-taking woman in a police uniform. I wrote six short stories about a cop named Jill Kelly. Dubbed Crazy Jill by her admiring colleagues, she works the streets of a small, fictional city. Two of these stories were published, the first in a defunct online magazine and the second in the anthology Queens Noir, which is still in print. A third story, Crazy Jill Fights Her Duel, recounts the incident that led her peers to pronounce her crazy. It’s available on my website,

Jill Kelly possesses a finely-honed skill, like most thrill seekers. A veteran of shooting competitions, including fast draw contests, she only missed qualifying for the Olympics by a hair. She takes this skill to the mean streets in search of the very confrontations most cops dread. When the shooting begins, unlike her panicked colleagues, Jill remains calm, focused and deadly. While others dive for cover, she runs toward the threat, only waiting for the shooter to show himself.

I don’t know why it took me so long to put Crazy Jill and Boots Littlewood together, but when I finally did, Dancer in the Flames wrote itself. Conservative Boots, who still lives in his childhood home, a two-family house owned by his father, and who regularly attends services at a local parish church. Crazy Jill Kelly, who’s tied only to the moment, and who tells Boots, “As far as I’m concerned, the examined life’s not worth living.” These two are thrown together by the powers that be, including Jill’s uncle, the NYPD’s Chief of Detectives. Whether either will survive is an open question.

Steven Solomita

Stephen Solomita has been writing novels for so long now that he has difficulty remembering a life before he began pounding a keyboard. He has vague memories of growing up in Bayside, a community located at the outermost reaches of New York City in the borough of Queens. His published works are legion.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On Thanksgiving: Two Icons of American Culture

I am grateful for (among many other things):


What I did yesterday instead of writing a blog.



Annamaria Alfieri

Sunday, November 18, 2012

DeMille's PANTHER Knocks It out of the Park

Imagine a scene near the temple ruins not far from Marib in Yemen. Bulus ibn al-Darwish (his Al Qaeda nom de guerre is al-Numair – The Panther) wearing a ceremonial jambiyah, the curved dagger of Yemen – butchers a bunch of Belgian tourists.

He yells at the bodies, "You have learned that in Yemen death comes!"

Fade to NYC, where smart-mouth John Corey, ex-NYPD, currently on New York's Anti-Terrorist Task Force, takes center stage.

And his mouth does not stop for 625 tense pages!

Remember that curved dagger…

John and his FBI wife Kate are assigned to Yemen, to hunt down the bad guys who bombed the USS Cole in 2000. John knows that everyone who journeys to Yemen doesn't come back!

John and Kate arrive in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. We can smell the danger…

They are met by another spook, a guy we've met before, the hero of The General's Daughter and Up Country, Paul Brenner, now with the Diplomatic Security Service. Paul is one of the few good guys in this tale, in a desert filled with black hats in every cave, on every camel.

The author and I both revel in writing about psychopathic villains who are bigger than life. The Panther has traits we've met in other DeMille thrillers – the killer in The General's Daughter, the sadistic cop in Spencerville, the slimeball vintner in Plum Island, the mass murderer in The Lion's Game and The Lion, the weird oil tycoon in Wild Fire. Even that likable Mafia guy in The Gold Coast.

My theory is that John Corey existed way before his appearance in Plum Island. I saw shades of Corey in other books: as Keith Landry in Spencerville. And John Sutter of The Gold Coast was a John Corey type, in some ways. And Paul Brenner in his earlier roles could have been a twin of John Corey.

None of these appearances detract from the current power of Corey and his ability to keep on center stage for six major novels!

I see him as a kind of Everyman, who began early in the author's career, a man who has a smart mouth habit, yet has a lot of depth and compassion – and even a tender side - and wears very well – for years and years and book after book after book.

His fans love him and accept him as he is – and want to move with him into his future.

I'd like to see a woman take a stronger role in John's life – perhaps a female villain!

Maybe another place on the planet that has the same authenticity of upstate New York, Long Island, Ohio.

American readers are devoted and loyal to their home turfs. Could the gold coast move to the gulf coast? Could John and Kate get assigned to a small town in Texas?

The sites of Yemen and Vietnam were very authentic and carefully researched. But the home turf hits the reader in the gut.

As I came to Page 625, and slowly closed The Panther, very satisfied with the just ending (and you will be too!) I felt, that as exciting and nail-biting as this book is, the prize still goes to the author for his finale that has no equal – in Night Fall!

His finest literary hour in all 17 novels!

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

P.S. I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please leave us a comment…

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sandy Blasted, a Photo Essay

Whole Foods in Union Square was packed with people as Sandy approached.

After the storm barreled through, the streets of
blacked-out Lower Manhattan were deserted,
All stores, restaurants, etc. were closed.

Above 42nd Street, where the lights did not go out,
it was business as usual.  A refugee from downtown
could eat a gorgeous meal, if she was willing to walk
three and half miles each way to get to it.

Power companies from all along the Eastern seaboard sent their employees
to help New York get its citizens back into the 21st Century.  The visiting
 workers marshaled in Union Square.

The National Guard came to help, too.  All along Park Avenue, one could
see military vehicles, many painted in desert camouflage and guardsmen in

Though the power was off for almost a full week, five hours after it
 came back on, the first store to open in our area  was the venerable
 and  incomparable Strand Bookstore--at 9 AM on a Sunday morning.

With the Sanitation Department stretched to its limit trying to clean up in
 devastated neighborhoods in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten island, the city
stopped picking up recyclables until further notice.  As of November 15th, they are still piling up. 
By Tuesday, November 13th, life was so back to normal, that four stalwart
mystery writers along with their moderator were able to present a panel
at the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library.  Let to Right:
Julia Pomeroy, Jon McGoran, Lucy Burdette, Dirk Robertson, and your reporter.
 Annamaria Alfieri