Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

by Lois Winston

We authors are often asked where we get our ideas. “Write What You Know” is such a well-known maxim that even non-writers have heard of it and assume that all authors must have some personal experience in regard to their characters and plots.

Disclaimer: No, my husband didn’t gamble away our life’s savings, max out our credit cards, and borrow fifty grand from a loan shark before dropping dead at a casino in Las Vegas. He’s very much alive and a nice guy.

Disclaimer: No, I have never stumbled across a dead body in my office or anywhere else.

Disclaimer: No, my mother is not descended (nor did she believe she was) from Russian royalty.

Disclaimer: Yes, I have worked as a crafts editor but for a book publisher, not a women’s magazine.

Disclaimer: Yes, my mother-in-law was a communist.

Sometimes authors do mine their own backgrounds and the people they know for source material, but most often we make things up. That’s because we’re writing fiction. And fiction by definition is stuff that isn’t true.

So where do I get most of my ideas?

I’m a news junkie. I read the newspaper every morning while I’m getting my first of many caffeine fixes throughout the day. The daily news is an author’s best friend. Why? Because the old adage TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION really is true. That belief is reaffirmed every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news. And from all that truth I glean a wealth of ideas for my books.

For me the daily news becomes a wonderful source for plots, subplots, main characters, and secondary characters. Newspapers are incredibly cheap resources. They’re also a tax deduction if you’re using them for research. The reason I like the newspaper over the nightly news is because the newspaper has the luxury of going into greater detail about a story. Ninety second news bites can only give the broad picture of a newsworthy event. Often it’s the nuances not told on the evening news that will trigger a brainstorm.

I don’t always take the news story at face value, though. I brainstorm from them. Many news stories on the surface seem like they’d only be the catalyst for a suspense, thriller, or mystery, most – if not all – can actually be used as a spring board for all fiction genres.

Here’s an example:

The sidebar headline in the morning newspaper awhile back was “7 SOLDIERS DIE IN IRAQ AS SURGE CONTINUES.” This could certainly be used as the basis of a thriller plot about a group of soldiers fighting in Iraq. But how else could this story be used to generate plot for other genres? Here are a few I came up with off the top of my head:

– As a soldier lies dying after a roadside bombing, he makes his friend promise to take care of his pregnant wife. Because the dying soldier saved his friend’s life on an earlier expedition, the surviving soldier feels honor bound to carry out his friend’s last request. There’s one not so minor hitch, though – he hates kids, and she’s pregnant with triplets. – romantic comedy or woman’s fiction

– A roadside bombing in Iraq leaves three survivors who are captured and held by terrorists demanding the release of a leader they don’t know has been murdered by a rogue officer. – thriller

– After a roadside bombing in Iraq that leaves all but three members of a squad dead, one is captured, one is injured, and one is missing. Soon after, the region is struck by the same plagues visited upon Egypt during the time of Moses. – horror

– When a roadside bomb goes off during a foot patrol in Iraq, seven soldiers are killed. One survives, but he wakes up in ancient Mesopotamia to find a very beautiful woman tending his wounds. – time travel or erotica

– After surviving a roadside bombing that killed the other members of his squad, a young soldier is nursed back to health by a local woman. There’s only one problem: In order to save his life, she’s had to turn him into a werewolf. – paranormal

– Same premise as above with a slight twist: She’s turned him into a werewolf, and he’s allergic to animals. – humorous paranormal

Other sections of the newspaper as well as magazines can be used to generate ideas. Don’t overlook the human interest stories, editorials, advice columns, and op-ed columns. You can find a wealth of plot and characters in every section of the newspaper and between the covers of any magazine, including the ads, especially those found in the backs of magazines.

Here are two ads I came across that just might make their way into one of my mysteries some day:

– Did you know that imaginary girlfriends and boyfriends are up for sale on eBay? For the right amount of money you can pay to have someone send you emails, letters, and photos from pretend lovers.

– You can purchase panties with a hidden computer chip that will keep tabs on a girlfriend, wife, or daughter 24 hours a day via satellite transmissions to your computer, cell phone or PDA.

Even the most unlikely reading material can produce idea gold.

Bio: Lois Winston is the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Read an excerpt at http://www.loiswinston.com/excerptap2.html. Visit Lois at her website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.

Lois is currently winding up a month-long blog tour where she’s giving away five signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll. To enter the drawing, post a comment to this blog or any of the others on the tour. You can find the complete schedule at her website and Anastasia’s blog. In addition, she’s giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/15173-death-by-killer-mop-doll

Monday, January 30, 2012

“In small measure, life may perfect be.”

This quote from Ben Jonson had special meaning for me this week. Three small, perfect things happened and I was reminded that the big events in life like marriage, births, publishing books, etc., occur only once in awhile. It’s important to appreciate those smaller things that happen in between, such as:

1.  A Good Joke: 

My daughter, Anne, called and told me my two-year-old grandson, Nate’s latest antic. My son-in-law couldn’t find the flip-flops he liked to wear around the house. He searched everywhere. He asked Anne if she’d seen them. She hadn’t. Finally, in desperation, he asked Nate, my two-year-old grandson, “Have you seen my flip-flops?”

Grinning, he ran into his room, opened the cupboard under his changing table, and came running back clutching the flip-flops. He threw them at his father’s feet and gave a big, belly laugh.

His first joke was a big success!

2.  A Nice Surprise: 

Bob and I arrived home at midnight after a long, grueling train ride. We were exhausted and starving. And I knew the refrigerator was empty. “I’m afraid water is all we have,” I said, and opened the freezer to get some ice cubes. Lo and behold, there were two strawberry sundaes from MacDonald’s that I’d bought the week before and forgotten all about — the perfect answer to our plight. We went to bed happy and satisfied.

3.  A Kind Deed:

Recently I took some packages and a half- dozen thank you notes to the post office. When I got there, the notes were gone! I must have dropped them. I retraced my steps, to no avail. They were nowhere to be found. Thank-you notes are a pain to write the first time; to write them twice is unthinkable. I sent a brief e-mail to those friends and relatives explaining what had happened. Soon, I received six replies that went something like this, “Don’t worry, Robin. We got your note. It arrived a few days ago.”

So, some kind soul must have picked up those notes from the sidewalk and taken the trouble to put them in a mailbox. What could be more perfect than that?

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Robert Knightly's The Cold Room

In this book we are drawn at once into a story with themes of human love, the struggles of a decent NYPD cop, the sale, slavery and violent abuse of Eastern European illegal immigrants - young women bought, sold and destroyed in a global business that portrays the worst in human barbarism.

THE COLD ROOM is a tale that might jump out at us in the pages of today's Times or the Post. The horror and sadness are paired exquisitely with the timeless story of human relationships, both sexual and platonic. We are absorbed in a delicate dance between Detective Harry Corbin and his former partner, Adele Bentibi. Vivid, passionate, yet sincere and tender, these people get inside our heads and challenge our own skills in interpersonal relationships. We walk along the streets of New York in an unfolding drama that is raw, poetic, gentle as a flower unfolding, solid as stone.

The beginning of the book is not for the faint-hearted. The early scenes set the stage for the development of the intricately woven plot and the revelations of multi-textured characters on an unforgettable stage that seduces you and locks you into its breathless embrace.

Few novels promise so profoundly — "In the beginning is the end..." Knightly succeeds in what every serious novelist tries to do — he makes you laugh. He makes you cry.

Change the setting from the boroughs of New York City to Helsinki or Stockholm, Berlin or Lisbon. Any global urban melting pot — and the novel still soars as a well-constructed art form. And work that entertains. Human love and respect share dazzling levels of insight into the psyches of the main characters. The mutual respect of the cop for the nun; the professional religious woman for the dedication of the cop.

The author's ubiquitous desciptions of both majestic nature and seedy urban environments soar like verbal eagles! The author weaves nature constantly in and out of the exposed live wires of human emotion and psychological tensions. At times the reader has to stop to catch his breath at the blatant cruelty of nature that is somehow translated into sheer poetry.

Intricacies of sexual tension are woven into the pages seamlessly, with both the delicacy of a spring violet and the force of a summer thunderbolt.

The author has the good sense to infuse many key scenes with humor — in several minor characters who appear on stage for their unforgettable fifteen minutes!

This story is a model for how to write a gripping suspense novel — with ascending steps that ratchet up the tension. Just when you think you've got the answer to the intricate plot puzzle, you get another shock — unexpected — yet completely plausible!

Through both poetic flights and gruelling action scenes, the author pummels you with the raw sides of real life, til you think he's led you — at last — to the top of the mountain — once more — then — WHAM — he knocks you off your feet! Again.

When you close the last page you realize no neophyte could write this story!

On the levels where the author demonstrates skill and knowledge - the cop psyche, knowledge of legal procedures , organizational structure of the intricate world of the NYPD, the inexplicable blending of human and animal nature, this author taps into your veins as deftly as a Euripides, a Shakespeare, a Hemingway.

P.S. I have purposely avoided plot description here — since an attempt to do so would weaken your enjoyment of the book.

Thelma Straw

Friday, January 27, 2012

Young Adult Books of Bygone Times

My favorite book when I was a young teenager was Bab, a Sub-Deb, by Mary Roberts Rinehart, a book my mother liked to read when she was a teenager, indeed the very same copy. I found it on a bookshelf in Granny's house, along with many other delightful books to beguile the long, quiet summers in Canada. What Katy Did. A number of light romances by P. G. Wodehouse. Sherlock Holmes. Some Kipling. And a profusion of mysterious and exotic fairy books.

These days Bab would be considered a Young Adult book, in that the protagonist was a girl of seventeen. When I told my third-year high school English teacher that Bab, a Sub-Deb, was my favorite book, she was convulsed with scorn, possibly because it had been written to entertain and was not Deep. She gave us Arrowsmith to read, and I really did try to like it, but (spoiler alert!) when the doctor's wife died from not getting vaccinated for the disease whose epidemic the doctor had gone to East Djabip to study, I threw it against the wall. Metaphorically, of course. The book belonged to the school; I would never deface public property.

Books by sorrowful Deep Men were considered more worthy when I was in school than books by merry women. Perhaps they still are. I was going to review Bab for you, point out its charm and grace, how funny it is, how prettily it paints the era just before the U.S. entered World War I. Issues deeper than Babs' goofy adolescent concerns are not addressed. Should we be going to war? Is it really our fight? What are these labor agitators carrying on about? Nobody asks these questions. But you couldn't, back in 1917, not without going to jail, and such questions would never have occurred to Mary Roberts Rinehart in any case.

As I think about it I find that instead of reviewing that book, I want to talk about the books that bore our high school English teacher's stamp of approval. Literary men's books. As I remember those tomes they all had messages in them. If you were a manly male writer you could present the wretched neuroses and failures of your protagonist without grace or humor, and everyone would say it was Honest and call it Art. Any well-balanced woman could have seen from afar what the consequences of the protagonist's behavior would be. But, no. Go ahead! Take your wife to the epidemic! Fail to vaccinate her!

And so we conclude that putting your work before your personal life is a bad idea, as if no one could have figured that out without reading a whole book. Spare me your life insights. Entertain me. Give me Bab, a Sub-Deb, every time.

Read it yourself if you like. Here's a copy from Harold's online library:

If you're sick enough to want to read Arrowsmith you'll have to find your own copy.

Kate Gallison

Monday, January 23, 2012

Great Books on War

All the discussion of “Downton Abbey” and WWI reminded me of some war books I have — ”enjoyed,” is the wrong word. Read with interest. Here are a few of them:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
I was in my teens when I read this. WWII had been over for several years and none of my family had taken part in it, because of age or disabilities. My only knowledge of war was from the newspapers and newsreels and Lowell Thomas’s radio accounts. This book had a tremendous impact on me. It was weeks before I could get it out of my mind.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Civil War was just two words to me. I was a Northerner, a native of Pennsylvania. I had no relatives from the South and the only Southerner I had ever known was my Second Grade teacher, who was from Baltimore. This book was a revelation to me. And the thing that fascinated me most was not the war itself, but its aftermath, and the long-term effect it had on the losers — Scarlett and Ashley.

The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
I remember this one mainly for its shock value. My mother wouldn’t let me read it when it came out. The first book she had ever denied me. (I think I was ten or twelve at the time) so, of course, I found it in the library and was duly shocked — mainly by the f-word. Seeing it in print for the first time was an earth-shaking event!

The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
What a fantastic yarn. Wouk is a master writer who whisks you along like a brisk wind. I knew that from reading Marjorie Morning Star, which I loved. Captain Queeg is an iconic character I will never forget. (And not just because Bogart played him.) And Wouk’s rendition of sailors trapped at sea under the rule of a psychopath is unforgettable.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
O’Brien had a new way of looking at war — through the personal effects of the soldiers. This original angle brought fresh insight to an old subject. I read this book in a book club. During our discussion, one of the members confessed he had served in the Army in VietNam and his job had been to collect the bodies from the field and bring them back for burial. Among his duties was to empty the dead soldier's pockets and make sure what he found there was sent to the man's parents or his wife. He described how an unknown body was gradually transformed into an individual as he examined his wallet, the pictures inside, his letters from family or sweetheart, his talismans — such as a rabbit’s foot or a religious medal. By the time he had finished, he always felt grief for the loss of this total stranger.

The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck
This book is not well known in America, but it was a bestseller in Europe during and after WWII — especially among people who were active in the resistance. Somehow, Steinbeck, a native New Englander who lived most of his life in California, was able to get inside the minds of people living under Nazi occupation in a small, unnamed town in Scandinavia. He imagined the situation so well that thousands of Scandinavians and Europeans bought the book from underground booksellers, sometimes risking their lives to do so. This is an example of creative imagination at its height.

Now That April’s Here, by ______________?
I loved this book and have not been able to find it. It was written in the ‘40s, I believe, but I don’t know the author. It was about two British war refugees who were sent to stay with an American family during WWII for their safety. It described how they were changed by this experience and their difficulties readapting to life in Britain when they returned. If anyone can locate this book for me, I would be very grateful.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Joining Things

There’s probably a multi-syllabic, scientific name for my affliction, but the fellows with whom I rubbed shoulders at school, in the Army, and in the NYPD, untutored as they were, put it more bluntly: “Quitter! Fuck-Up! Fool!”

I was okay if I signed on for something that would not let me out if I changed my mind, say, before nightfall: for example, the U.S. Army. I “pushed up” my draft in August, 1961, since if your draft status was “1-A” (meaning you had your ticket and it was about to be punched), then you could volunteer for the Draft and know your Day of Departure. This was desirable mainly because no employer would hire you with so uncertain a future. In 1961, the cry on the streets was: “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” Draftees could look forward to wintering in the German forests or bivouacking on a hill in Korea. At least, I figured, I’d summer at Fort Dix, New Jersey. So on August 22, 1961, I reported to the Army Induction Depot on Whitehall Street at Battery Park and climbed on the bus for Ft. Dix and eight-weeks of Basic Training.

The most trauma I suffered at Basic was being roused from sleep daily while the sky was still dark and advised to “fall out” in the Muster Yard for PT — that is,“Jumping Jacks” and “Squat Thrusts” (aptly named, self-inflicted forms of violence to the body) — and lest I forget: the Run. True, I thought it would be better to train in balmy weather but had not envisioned the endless running up hills and full-tilt on straightaways in 100-degree heat. Yet, I never personally threw in the towel. My sergeant did that for me when I’d fall out of formation from heat stroke as he tossed me his canteen and said: “Take five!” To my credit, the thought never crossed my mind to resign from the Army. (Luckily, too, because that year the Army, in its unfathomable wisdom, sent me and every other graduate of Basic Training who also had a college degree to San Juan, Puerto Rico to teach English to Puerto Ricans so the Army could draft them.)

I was reminded not too long ago of a very ignominious incident from my grammar school past. There was a track meet between my school, St Anthony of Padua, and Sts. Cyril and Methodius in McCarran’s Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I can’t recall how it came to pass (probably, trauma has blocked memory) but I remember running as anchor on a relay team (I was fast) and I remember wearing dungarees while the other boys wore shorts, and I remember being in the lead all the way around the track till I stopped ten yards short of the finish line. That’s what this ghost from my past reminded me about when we crossed paths at the wake of a boyhood friend. Half-a-century later, he didn’t recognize me but remembered my name. I didn’t know him then and certainly don’t want to know him now (Best to let sleeping dogs lie). Although, it is a kind of immortality, I suppose.

When I joined the NYPD as a Patrolman in 1967, it was the pre-Knapp Police Department — that is, the world as it existed before the Whitman Knapp Commission’s Investigation into Police Corruption in the New York City Police Department made the City inhospitable to gamblers, drug dealers, whorehouse operators, and understanding plainclothesmen. Yet, the Commission’s good work left untouched, never made the slightest dent in the tipping habits of the beat cop. The Knapp Commission Hearings may well have been on the TVs above the grand mahogany bar in Luchow’s Restaurant on East 14th Street. It was 1970. I was a rookie assigned to the 9th Precinct on East 5th Street. That day, the Precinct RollCallMan had slipped up and assigned me the foot post covering Luchow’s (a coveted assignment, spelled five dollars). Custom was for foot cops to eat in the kitchen at a big table, served by the busboys. There I sat with four older cops (known as “hairbags,” don’t ask me why): the radio car team that patrolled the Sector, and two traffic cops, one from Traffic Safety B and one from the 9th. Having eaten, it was the custom to leave a tip for the busboy. As we rose and I made to lay down a dollar bill at my place, the Traffic B cop touched my arm to stay my hand. “Don’t ruin it, kid,“ he said with a baleful stare. I left the dollar, after he turned away.

Robert Knightly

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tales from the Great War

Attention, Downton fans: You will recall from the ghost story I told about my grandmother's midnight visitation in the tower room of Fritwell that my grandfather served in France during World War I as an officer in the Canadian army. While Granny and her sisters and my five-year-old mother were frolicking on the grounds of Fritwell Manor, Grandaddy was in the trenches, battling the Hun.

The unpleasantness of trench warfare is well known. My understanding is that it was much worse than what they show on Downton Abbey. In the beginning when the troops went over the top of the trenches to attack the enemy the British forces still kept to the old model of marching in perfectly disciplined formation. Effective against the French at Waterloo, maybe, but against German machine guns not so much. The 'three on a match' superstition arose in the trenches; by the time the third soldier got his cigarette lit the German snipers had a bead on him.

Most folks who have spent any time on a battlefield are reluctant to talk about it afterwards. Nevertheless Granddaddy told a story to my mother, who told it to me.

My grandfather and a fellow officer, a close friend, were occupying a trench together. It was springtime. The friend was moved to climb out and roam the countryside, which was somehow possible just then. He found a rosebush, or a number of them, all in bloom. He cut the roses and brought them back to the trench with him. It was a moment of beauty, a rare thing in that time and place.

Suddenly a shell came screaming into the trench and my grandfather's friend was killed. There he lay surrounded by roses. It was an image that my grandfather carried in his memory to the end of his life.

Were they in Picardy? I don't know. It would take me a month to research it. Anyway here's the famous song of that era.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mohandas 'n Andy

Their statutes face each other over the west side of Union Square. Given where I live, I pass these guys several times each week. Mohandas Gandhi's image stands at the southwest corner in a lovely triangular garden. He's been there for many years. Andy Warhol's image was placed just off the northwest corner of the square within the last year or so. Seeing the two of them standing there week after week, month after month, looking in each other's direction has set me to thinking about how different they were in almost every way.

Gandhi was the first son of a high official in a small Indian princely state and eventually travelled to London to study law at University College. Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, the fourth child of Slovakian immigrants. His father was a coal miner. The rich child became the savior of the oppressed. The working class boy grew up to be the darling of the rich and famous.

Gandhi's statue shows him as he looked on his famous march to the sea to make salt — after he had given up all privilege and devoted himself to a life of simplicity. He was midway in his historic nonviolent campaign to free his country from British domination. His image in the square is classic bronze.

Warhol's statue couldn't be more different. It is silver and so shiny it's impossible to take a decent picture of it on a sunny day. While Gandhi appears wrapped in plain homespun cloth, carrying a staff, Andy's in a suit and carries a shopping bag. Their clothes are perfect symbols of the men. Gandhi eschewed any trappings of wealth and power. Andy was a major conspicuous consumer. (David and I went to the exhibition when his estate auctioned off his possessions at Sotheby's. The goods on offer were a riot of one man's acquisition mania. The curator of the sale told us that when Andy died, his Upper Eastside townhouse had a room full of shopping bags that had been carried home but never emptied of their contents.)

The only thing the two statues have in common is that they are of men wearing glasses.

Both Andy and Mohandas were revolutionaries. Gandhi profoundly so. Warhol in the world of art and the place of the artist in society. I salute them when I pass. Every time I walk by Gandhi-ji, I put my palms together and whisper namaste. I revere him as an archangel. One day last summer, David and I took an empty Campbell's tomato soup can filled with purple flowers and left it at Andy's feet.

The two statues face each other across the part of Union Square where our fabulous greenmarket takes place. There is some logic to that. The mahatma would approve of a place where local vegetable and fruit growers and makers of bread sell their wares directly to consumers. And Andy liked any place where he could buy stuff.

And in a deep and important way, they seem at home here downtown where artists and lovers of peace and freedom have always hung out.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, January 16, 2012

Writing Loves Company

Some writers need music, others need silence; I need company. Last week I spent four days in a remote part of south Jersey with a fellow writer, Elena Santangelo. We had no TV, no Internet, no distractions, whatsoever. Even the birds were quiet, or had vanished to warmer climes.

Elena adopted the front room. I took over the middle room. The kitchen was the common room where we met for meals, and we were allowed to talk. Somehow the presence of another writer working in close proximity spurs me on like nothing else. Maybe it’s my competitive spirit, or maybe the fever of industry is contagious. I’m not sure. All I know is – it works for me. I get twice as much writing done, when I have another writer’s company.

Of course, there were other incentives. I knew I would be interrogated at the next meal about how much I’d accomplished. Fear and guilt played a part. Also, the silence and absence of distractions, didn’t hurt. South Jersey in winter is even quieter than in summer. The traffic passing the house is minimal. No farm equipment rattles or clanks, no bikers zoom, no tourists troll on bicycles or stroll on foot. An occasional pick-up or mail truck are the only moving objects. Even the bands of wild turkeys have disappeared.

Nature itself has conspired to keep distractions to a minimum. The trees, whose leaves in the fall and blossoms in the spring cry out for attention, are gone. Bare trunks and branches are the only decoration in sight. An occasional silver sycamore – may catch the eye. They are more beautiful in winter than in summer. But that’s about it. Everything else – woods, fields, creeks, are some blah shade of grey, black or brown. Except the sky. The sunrise and sunset in winter seem even more vivid than the rest of the year. To remind us that the vigor of nature is still around, lying dormant temporarily, near the surface – resting up – ready to burst forth in a month or two in all its glory!

Meanwhile, Elena and I will keep writing.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MWA-NY Election 2012 . . . and the Winner Is — Patricia King — President!

Madame President, congratulations on your election as 2012 President of the Mystery Writers of America, New York Chapter. This chapter includes a wide geographic area – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Currently, it has about 635 members with a national membership of about 3,000 members. You are now in a line with some of the world's most distinguished writers of mystery/crime fiction.

Q: What are some of your plans for MWA-NY for the coming year?

PK: My approach is always more toward evolution than revolution. And participative. The club provided me with moral support and information that helped me succeed. I want to foster an inclusive atmosphere that will do the same for all of our chapter's members, wherever in our broad territory they reside.

Q: You write under the name of Annamaria Alfieri. Do you prefer to be called Patricia or Annamaria? How does your Italian heritage influence your crime writing?

PK: I prefer Patricia in my ordinary dealings and Annamaria for author presentations. I chose to have a pseudonym for my fiction because Patricia King is such a common name and I didn't want to be confused with others when it came to my novels. My heritage strongly influences my everyday life. Ethnic identity tends to be very intense among Italian Americans, and I grew up with the values of the Italian culture: unbreakable family ties, duty, aesthetic sensitivity. But since my novels are set in South America, the Italian in me comes out in, I think, less obvious ways. Being Italian, I was raised a Catholic and went to Catholic school, so I am prepared to understand pretty well the influence of the Catholic Church in Latin America. I think the family relationships in my stories must be more Italian than anything else, since that is built into my bloodstream. I hope I also have an Italian sense of romance. There are a lot of love relationships in my stories.

I have always loved reading mysteries, but I have to confess that I first joined MWA because a novelist friend advised me to hang around with other novelists and told me MWA-NY was the most convivial group of fiction authors in NYC. He sure was right about that!

Q: You recently published a delightful, insightful picture of the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan on your blog. Do you plan to use this setting in your future mystery novels?

PK: I haven't any plans to do so. But who knows. You never know when an idea will grab you and force you to develop it.

Q: You have a distinguished track record as a writer on non-fiction. What influenced you to turn your talents from that to the world of crime and mystery?

PK: I wanted to be a novelist when I was nine years old. But a working class kid from Patterson, New Jersey, didn't turn to the arts in those days. Though I studied literature in college, to earn a living, I got a job and wound up in the management development field. And being a compulsive writer, began to write nonfiction books in that area. But I continued to think up stories all my life and once my daughter was grown and my business established, I had time to develop my fiction writing skills.

Q: What writers have influenced your style and philosophy of crime writing? What mystery novels did you read in high school or college?

PK: Yikes, I could not begin to list them all. I am a voracious reader. As a little kid I went through all the Nancy Drew books in the Patterson Public Library Riverside Branch. I was an English Lit Major in college, and that left little time for nonacademic reading, but in summers I got into political thrillers and spy stories. Eric Ambler and John Le Carre come to mind. And of course Dame Agatha and Conan Doyle. With the kind of convent school education I had, it was inevitable that I would be drawn to the classics.

Q: In your writing what is most important to you - setting, plot, character?

PK: I wish I could say. By the time I produce a finished (if you could call it that) work, I cannot tease these issues apart. I begin with setting, because I begin by choosing a period of South American history that I find intriguing. Then I develop the plot elements that will help me reveal the history. But once the characters begin to walk around in my mind, they just take over and move everything else around.

Q: You have worked in professional fields other than publishing. How does this experience contribute to your crime writing?

PK: My business career (and my convent school education) gave me self-discipline. I need a lot of that. Also, I know a bit about book contracts and the publishing process. That is always useful.

Q: What is your advice to new members of MWA-NY who want to get published?

PK: Write every day. Hone your skills in every way you can. And never give up. It took me a couple of decades. But it was worth it. Boy, was it worth it!

* * *

Our thanks to Patricia for these words of wisdom and we wish her the best of success as she manages the New York Chapter of Mystery Writers of America the coming year!!!

T. J. Straw

Friday, January 13, 2012

If you Like Downton Abbey, You'll Love Rupert Brooke

I was a fan of Rupert Brooke. What impressionable young girl wouldn't be? So beautiful, so gifted, so doomed. He wrote deathless poetry and then was killed in The Great War. In the old family cottage at The Ledge — a wide place in the St. Croix River near St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, where once there was a seaport and now there are cottages — one of the books was a volume of Rupert Brooke's poetry. Possibly a first edition. It had a blue cloth cover and used to belong to my great-aunt Kathleen, after whom I was named.

When I was fourteen I used to lie around on the moldy-smelling day bed at the cottage at The Ledge when the tide was out reading Rupert Brooke, listening to recorded Strauss waltzes, and wrecking my teeth with MacIntosh's Taffy. What bliss.

After I was grown my mother and I were visiting one of my other great aunts, the one who was then in possession of the cottage and all that it contained. I came across the book on a low shelf, covered with dust, unread, unloved. "Oh, look," I said to my mother. "Rupert Brooke's book of poetry."

"Take it. Steal it," my mother said. It was the only thing she ever advised me to steal. I had a friend once whose mother used to take her to the supermarket, where they would both slip expensive cuts of meat into their pockets and underwear, but my mother was not that sort of person.

So I took it. When I got it home a dead moth fell out of the back cover, a miller, one of those big things. Someone must have squooshed it there on purpose. But the book was still full of deathless poetry. Here's one of my favorites:

V. The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

RIP Cesária Évora

If there is a heavenly choir, it welcomed a new star member this past 17th of December.

Cesária was born in Mindelo, São Vicente, Cape Verde on the 27th of August 1941. Her father died when she was seven and after the age of ten, she was raised in orphanage. She started singing in a sailors’ tavern at the age of sixteen and became something of local hit in her twenties and thirties, but at one point had to give up music because she could not make a living at it. Then, in 1988, a French producer “discovered” her and released her first album in France, which began an international career that eventually led to many awards, including a Grammy for best contemporary world music album. Once she hit the world music scene, her concert tours sold out.

Her music was in the Cape Verdean style called morna, her singing suffused with sodade—a Cape Verde creole word that means nostalgic longing. If the deep, beautiful waters around her native island had a voice of their own, it would have been Cesária’s. Listen to her song called “Sodade”:

She performed barefoot to show her solidarity with poor women. Her first studio album was called “La Diva aux Pieds Nus” (The Barefoot Diva). It was not until 1995, that her international career took off and her repertory took on new sounds and combinations of styles from Cuba, Brazil, and Egypt. Here’s a song from my favorite of her albums, Cabo Verde:

And before we leave her, if I were in the Big Boss of that heavenly choir, here is the number I would request for the finale of her first concert in the great beyond.

Cesária Évora is gone. But her music is immortal.

Annamaria Alfieri

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vaclav Havel…

…had the misfortune to die the same weekend as North Korean leader, Kim, and Havel's death was overshadowed by that dictator’s. But I doubt if Mr. Havel would have cared. He was not one to seek the limelight. On the contrary, The New York Times describes him as “a shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless.”

Unlike the politicians we hear so much about and from, today, he quietly followed his beliefs, landing in prison several times, living under police surveillance for many years, and having his plays and essays banned in his own country. When the Communists were finally routed in the Velvet Revolution, which he played a large part in bringing about, he reluctantly became president of the new Czech Republic. Reluctantly, because seats of power were not where he felt comfortable. He was required to wear a business suit and sit behind a desk in the Hrad (castle), when he would have preferred to be in a café with his friends, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, downing coffee or a Pilsner.

Vaclav Havel was the epitome of a true statesman. He began as a dissident, working against a powerful, despotic regime, risking his life for his ideals. Gradually, with the help of others who shared his beliefs, he accomplished his goal of freeing his country from tyranny. Then, he accepted the reins of leader, despite his dislike for such a role, and guided his people back to a life of freedom with all its responsibilities and demands.

To me, Vaclav Havel is one of the great heroes of the Twentieth Century. Our present leaders should look to his example for achieving their goals.

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Diary of a ‘Corrupt’ Cop: or, It Was the Custom

If you are past sixty and were a Patrolman in the New York City Police Department in the 1960s and 1970s as I was (not to mention the 80s), then the name KNAPP divides your memories, like Moses parting the Red Sea, into the nostalgia-drenched PRE- KNAPP Days and the paranoid POST-KNAPP World.

Sure, I took money; everybody did. It was the custom. But not with both hands like Patrolman William Phillips, nor with the princely touch of Detective Robert Leuci, nor stupidly like my buddy, Patrolman Edward F. Droge, Jr. It was more a Gentlemen’s Agreement: that the “gratuity” (a Knapp word) be offered, and bad manners to refuse. At least, that was the way things were when fellow-Brooklynite Eddie Droge and I joined the Finest on May 15, 1967, and that’s the way things stayed until KNAPP fell upon us like a pack of wolves on a herd of nodding sheep.

I refer to the Knapp Commission Investigation Into Allegations of Police Corruption in the New York City Police Department, anointed by Mayor John V. Lindsay on May 21, 1970, in the wake of a story in the New York Times on April 25, 1970 by muck-raking journalist David Burnham. It revealed the graft being paid by gamblers and whorehouse madams to every swinging plainclothesman in every Division in every Borough of the City. Well, not quite every plainclothesman. If Diogenes had still been abroad with his lantern, his quest for an honest man could have ended with Plainclothes Patrolman Frank Serpico. Serpico was reporter Burnham’s Deep Throat, who took a bullet in the face for his principles, but survived to become an international figure, the subject of a biography by Peter Maas and a movie starring Al Pacino.

The ‘pads’ (a cop word) guaranteed each plainclothesman $500 in an envelope each month if he worked in the Fifteenth Division in Queens, $800 if assigned to the Thirteenth Division in Brooklyn, $800 in the First and Third Divisions in Manhattan, and $1,500 in Harlem (the Dream Posting). It was all news to me; with three years on The Job I was still regarded as a rookie. Plainclothesmen worked out-of-uniform, were not dispatched on calls over the police radio. Worked in teams, focusing on their own pre-determined targets by surveilling them on stakeouts and illegally wiretapping their phones. They answered only to the Plainclothes Sergeant. Even a rookie knew that much. But if you were “in clothes,” you didn’t talk shop with outsiders.

The KNAPP Commission, headed by the Wall Street lawyer Whittman Knapp, invented the word corrupt and tagged the NYPD with it during its first public hearings in October, 1971. I know this because when Eddie Droge and I were appointed Probationary Patrolmen in May, 1967, nobody in the New York Police Department was corrupt. From 1967 till the coming of KNAPP in 1970, I don’t recall ever hearing corrupt or corruption applied to New York City policemen. Not because we didn’t take money or didn’t do what KNAPP exposed that we were doing, but simply because those terms weren’t in general currency then. It took Commissions like KNAPP and MOLLEN (the latter also named after its head, former Judge Milton Mollen, appointed by New York City Mayor David Dinkens in 1992 “to investigate Police Corruption, etc”) – to give corrupt, corruption and corrupt policemen the currency that has long outlived memory of the bodies that coined them.

I know this because New York City cops in 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970 (and probably since time immemorial) — with as few exceptions as there are genuine saints in heaven, or wherever they reside — all of us took gratuities (another KNAPP word) of one sort or another. There were cops like me who, at end of tour, might end up with a little extra in his pocket or been fed “on the arm” (no charge) by a restauranteur. And then there were the Phillips, Leucis and Droges who shook down every gambler or drug dealer who crossed their paths. I never knew personally any Phillips or Leuci – whose raison d’etre was to score (a cop word) every gambler, prostitute, pimp, whoever had an illegal dollar in his or her pocket that they could get a hand on. Most cops were like me and, I suppose, Eddie Droge, at least at the beginning.

It’s the late morning or early afternoon of October 21, 1971, and I wake up in my apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn alone, hung-over after a four-to-twelve tour the night before, which always extends to 4 a.m., the last four hours of which we spend in Cal’s Bar on East 5th Street adjacent to the 9th Precinct where I’m permanently assigned. I wake up and punch on the TV for the news and weather and there is my Police Academy classmate, my buddy Eddie Droge, in the witness stand testifying before the KNAPP Commission. Eddie has the youthful appearance of a 24-year-old. I can still see the kid-cop who, during breaks in the Police Academy gym, would bend our ears about the Beetles and joys of smoking pot. The only addition to the baby face is a pencil-thin moustache above his lip.
Aside from that, it’s the old Eddie Droge except that what he’s saying is not how I remembered the old Eddie.

He was describing to the KNAPP Commission, and the world, how he and his partner — and, it was implied, all the other cops of Brooklyn’s 80th Precinct, in Bedford-Stuyvesant — would routinely score any gambler they came across while on patrol. In fact, they hunted gamblers like deer in season. Gamblers apparently were always in season in the old Eight-O. And when Eddie and his partner were fortunate enough to snare their prey, they’d take the gambler indoors or strike the bargain in the back of the radio car. The gambler ransomed himself by agreeing to a ‘Monthly Pad’ for Eddie and his partner and the two other radio car crews in that sector — I forget the amounts mentioned, but it was per man per month, depending upon the size of the gambler’s action. I remember thinking if there were a lot of gamblers in the old Eight-O, it would add up.

Eddie was testifying under a promise of immunity because he had arrested a ‘mope’ (cop term) for selling narcotics in the 80 Precinct sometime earlier that year, but had been persuaded to accept $300 in the men’s room at Brooklyn Criminal Court at 120 Schermerhorn Street in lieu of giving truthful testimony at a Suppression Hearing on the arrest he had made. He sold the case for a $300 bribe. What Eddie didn’t know in the men’s room, however, was that he had been shopped by his arrestee, who had been fitted out with an electronic recording device by KNAPP investigators.

Eddie’s deal with the KNAPP Commission was his testimony, painting a picture of the routine, bottom-feeder corruption practiced by the ordinary cops of the Eight-O. And the 80th was meant to stand in for all seventy-five police precincts in the city at the time.

Eddie did what he had to do to avoid jail. He had been on a one-year leave-of-absence from the Department attending college in Los Angeles. I’m sure he intended to never return, to put the Job and the old life behind him. Yet, the Knapp investigators had coerced his return to testify, and the anecdotes he recounted rang true. Afterward, he was allowed to resign and return to California. At the time and still, from the vantage point of forty-plus years, I don’t fault Eddie for what he did. Cops don’t jail well. Once, I googled Edward F. Droge, Jr. He’d published two books in the 1970s about his police days: an autobiography, “A Patrolman’s Story,” and a novel; I’d read both. I didn’t know that he’d gotten a PhD in Education from Harvard, taught there, and over the past twenty-five years been headmaster at various private academies. Eddie had turned it around.

Maybe I’ll give him a shout, talk about the good times.

Robert Knightly

Friday, January 6, 2012

Embracing the New Year

Yes, folks, 2012 is here, probably not the year the world will end. I think we were a lot closer in 1953. Remember the doomsday clock? Remember how the authorities told us to duck under our desks and cover our heads? As if that would save us when the ICBMs came raining down. Remember the house the government built out in the desert somewhere, a nice split-level like the ones we all lived in, so that they could blow it up with an atomic bomb and show us the footage on TV? I particularly recall the venetian blinds, how they flew off the windows and sliced the dummies all up. Don't use venetian blinds, the voice-over guy told us. They'll cut you to ribbons before you have a chance to burn to death when the bombs come.

So I ain't scared of a bunch of dead Mayans. Our government has them way outclassed in the way of spreading the fear of the End. No, I'm looking forward to 2012, and the two-hundredth anniversary of the War of 1812, one of my favorites, where Canada and the US fought to a draw and later on decided to be friends. Or earlier on, in the case of the St. Croix River Valley. In honor of the new year, and in the confident hope that I'll survive to see the end of it, I'm overhauling my web site yet again.

Check it out. Harold says I should get a focus group to look at it and tell me what they think. I started out by tinkering with the author photo, where I thought my face might be a tad too red. Nice photo, by the way; it was taken by photographer Maureen A. Vacarro, who likes a credit when I can fit one in. But I tinkered with it until I looked about three days dead, and I sort of liked it. Harold didn't, though. Of course he was right as usual and I put it back.

You'll notice that the page has a big white space in the middle. There I mean to post little YouTubes from time to time, new trailers and items of interest. You'll notice also that the links lead to the same old inner pages, which need work. I'll get to that. Also I have to post the press photos. Right now the press is not beating down my door for photos and interviews, but it never hurts to be ready.

And so, Happy New Year! Onward and upward!

Kate Gallison

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Vine in the Blood, Leighton Gage's Latest

Today, I have invited my friend and splendid writer Leighton Gage to drop by and tell us about his latest, A Vine in the Blood, which launched last week in the United States and Canada. Leighton lives in a small town in Brazil and writes fascinating police procedurals set in that country. I already have my copy. Once you’ve read the reviews, you’ll want one, too!

Annamaria Alfieri

A Vine in the Blood, the fifth in the Chief Inspector Mario Silva series, is set against the background of the soccer World Cup.

But you don’t have to like the sport to enjoy the book.

Glenn Harper, writing in International Noir Fiction, put it best:

I'm not a fan of football/soccer, and the (subject matter) gave me a little pause – but I needn't have worried. The book is in part about the social phenomenon of football, but not really about the game.

A Vine in the Blood begins with the kidnapping of Juraci Santos, the mother of Tico Santos, Brazil’s greatest striker. And the timing of her abduction couldn’t be worse: only days remain before the beginning of the tournament.

Tico is distraught, and completely off his game. If Silva and his team can’t recover the lady in time, the team may have to play without him.

And that would put them in grave danger of suffering a humiliating defeat by their greatest rival.

Suspects abound, and they run the gamut from Tico’s gold-digging girlfriend, to his team’s manager, to a big-time gangster, to a cabal of Argentineans.

There are twists and turns, there’s not a little humor, and I think you’re going to like it.

But I’m not good at blowing my own horn.

Fortunately, a few folks have already stepped-up to speak on my behalf:

Gage knows Brazil well and has a cast of characters so amusing and so skillfully constructed that this novel is irresistible. — Toronto Globe and Mail.

Coincidence, that. The Globe and Mail used exactly the same word (irresistible) that the New York Times used to describe Every Bitter Thing, my last book.

The trade press was also very complimentary:

Rising above Brazilian brutality, corruption, and bribery with uncommon wit and the help of his colorful, appealing colleagues, (Silva) scores a winning goal in an enormously complex kidnap payoff scheme. — Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

And Dana King, writing in the New Mystery Reader, had this to say:

Let’s take a moment to celebrate excellence…(“A Vine in the Blood” is) a great story, well told.

Dana’s review is a brilliant piece of writing, from a guy who knows the mystery genre inside out. If you have a moment, I suggest you go there and read what he had to say in its entirety:

http://www.newmysteryreader.com/November_and_December_Hardcover_Mystery.htm#vine in the blood

At the end, you’ll find a link to an interview he did with me.

Another fine piece of journalism is the lengthy, well-written and well-researched review James Thompson published in the New York Journal of Books:


Here’s an extract:

Mr. Gage is a master of the procedural who paints with a fine brush, using the tools he needs to craft a fine novel — and no more.

Want to sample the book? You can do so on the book’s Barnes and Noble page, where they’ve included an entire first chapter:

(Scroll down and click on “

Finally, for those of you who are into first lines, here it is:

Less than an hour after Juraci Santos was unceremoniously dumped into the back seat of her kidnappers’ getaway car, Luca Vaz crept through her front gate and poisoned her bougainvilleas.

Thanks, Annamaria, for inviting me.

Love this blog!

Leighton Gage

Monday, January 2, 2012

Post-Holiday Letdown…

…is what I’m suffering from right now. It happens every year as the night follows day. But this year it seems worse than usual. I have sought advice. One friend suggested a brisk walk. I tried that and all I saw were rows of naked, abandoned fir trees lining the curb. And, in the stores, signs for Christmas decorations at half-price. Then, to top it off, one clerk was arranging valentines on the shelves. Valentines on January first!

Another friend suggested I go to a movie. A good thought, but when you come out from that dark refuge, you are struck all over again by the grim realities of life. Bills, thank you notes, returning unwanted gifts, etc. My husband thinks he has the perfect solution. He says, “Don’t enjoy the holidays, then you won’t feel letdown afterward.” In other words, stay down all the time. Not for me. I’d rather have the ups and downs, even though the downs are painful.

I have compiled a small collection of quotes to share with anyone out there who is suffering from the same malady as I am. Here they are:

“Christmas isn’t a season. It’s a feeling.” Edna Ferber

“Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.” Mary Ellen Chase

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens

Happy New Year!

Robin Hathaway

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year and a Blessed 20*C*M*B*12 to You!

January, named after Janus the Roman god of doorways and begnnings, looking to the past and the future.

On January 6 many people will celebrate Twelfth Night, a festival concluding the Twelve Days of Christmas. The last day of the Christmas festivities, a time of merrymaking with a wassail punch - bowls of "lamb's wool" made of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale. A time to consume fruits and nuts and eat the King Cake.

January 6 is also known as the visit of the three wise men, the tres magi reges or los tres reyes magos – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, who went to Bethlehem at a time based, not only on the light of a star (or comet) but on the Jewish Feast of Lights.

Many Eastern Orthodox churches treat January 6 as the day marking the birth of Christ.

Caspar was thought to be a Persian scholar, Melchior, Babylonian, and Balthasar, Arab. Some Chinese Christians believe one of the Magi came from China.

Various traditions teach that the remains of the Magi are buried at the Shrine of The Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral.

A tradition in Central Europe involves writing the initials of the three kings with the year number split – as in – 20 * C * M * B * 12 – above the main door of the home in chalk, to confer blessings on the occupants for the New Year.

The initials C, M, B also represent "Christus mansionem benedicat," Christ this abode bless.

Most traditions assume there were three Magi, but some eastern authorities believe in twelve Magi. That the men were Kings may have come from Psalm 72:11 – " All kings shall fall down before thee. "

The Gospel of St. Matthew classes them as "Wise men from the east."

Matthew also mentions the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Tradition has it that gold was a symbol of kingship on earth or virtue, frankincense a symbol of priesthood or prayer, and myrrh a symbol of death or suffering.

In my play, The Birth of Christ, which was presented for ten years by my students at Saint Mary's School, Sewanee, Tennessee, the three kings play a key role, with slightly different interpretations of their gifts.

The old Magi are sensitive and prescient in this drama. They speak of the stars in this land as almost black, except for the one that leads them. King Two says, "Never have I seen any star glow with such fire."

King Three: "There is something touching mankind this night that I have never seen before."

They are fairly specific about the gifts they bring. "My greatest treasure, a babe's weight in pure gold. My gold will buy the finest horses in Arabia, outfit such a king with armor wrought by the finest smiths of Persia and a sword of the new metal I have seen in my travel."

"I bear in my hands the magic of all the east, the perfumes and spices of my people, and a light from the fire that has burned in my city for ages long... Our friend can call himself the light of the world – and such a palace he will have... "

King Three brings "a bit of myrrh for suffering. And a rose - for love... this rose will rise above the dust and snow of men's cold hearts to bring springtime ... and when he has touched it, it shall never wither..."

* * * * * * *
In 2012 we can build our own futures on the past, add on the gifts of the present and create our own traditions, if we wish. . .

May each of us, whatever our faiths, both give and receive our own personal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in 20 *C * M * B * 12.

Thelma J. Straw