Dec 9, 2021 | Memoir, Mystery, Police Procedural / Crime, Uncategorized |
Ellen Kirschman, PhD. is an award-winning public safety psychologist and author of I Love a Cop: What Police Families Need to Know, I Love a Firefighter: What the Family Needs to Know, lead author of Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know, and four mysteries, all told from the perspective of police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff. She blogs with Psychology Today and is a member of Sisters-in-Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Public Safety Writers Association.
Thanks, George, for inviting me back just in time for the December 12th launch of my latest, never-before-published fourth Dot Meyerhoff mystery—The Answer to His Prayers—and my first venture into the world of independent publishing.
Poor Dot is in trouble again. She’s trying to plan her wedding to Frank when a 911 dispatcher takes the worst call of her young life. As Dot helps track down the possible arsonist, she proves herself a sensitive yet doggedly persistent sleuth—even when ordered to mind her own business. The case drags her through the seedy underbelly of her small town and finally to the local prison where she meets the imprisoned puppet master Badger, who is an unexpected acquaintance from her past. Badger believes Dot is the only one who can help him get what he wants most in life—contact with a son he’s never met. Stopping at nothing, including kidnapping, his efforts to bend Dot to his will endangers Dot and everyone she loves.
Crime is not the only thing on Dot’s mind. Her anxiety about getting married is causing rifts in her relationship with Frank. Memories of her family and her first marriage are overwhelming, prompting Dot to start therapy with Dr. Philipp Rogoff. Their relationship is contentious. Dot thinks Rogoff doesn’t know what he’s doing. Rogoff thinks Dot is resistant to his advice and only pretending to want help.
I had a good time writing this book, especially the dueling relationship between Dot and Dr. Rogoff. Therapists make the worst clients. Ask me; I’ve been on both sides of the couch. I loved writing about Rivka Meyerhoff, Dot’s plucky widowed mother. Rivka’s rants about anti-Semitism are timely, given the recent rise in hate crimes against Jews. Even though I am Jewish, writing and thinking deeply about what it means to be Jewish in the modern world is a first for me. I have written about religion before. Buddhism is at the heart of The Fifth Reflection, as the mother of a missing child cloaks her pain with kindness, frustrating the police who need her cooperation to catch the abductor.
What I’m Working on Now: Moral choice and moral pain are themes in many of my books, including my WIP, a standalone that is taking up a lot of my time. The provisional title is Call me Carmela. It’s the story of a young girl searching for her birth parents. What she discovers will destroy one family and heal another. The theme is courage: The courage to let go of someone you love, the courage to overcome trauma to help someone who needs you, and the courage to pursue justice, no matter the cost.
For the first time ever, I joined NaNoWriMo with my buddy, Anne Gelder, author of much short fiction and the enchanting, off-beat novel, Bigfoot and the Baby. Another first, I joined up with a NaNoWriMo sub-group of the NorCal Sisters-in-Crime chapter. About ten of us, including our blog host George Cramer, met online almost every day for a short chat and shared writing time. It was more helpful than I anticipated. It helped me stay on track, kept me accountable, and reduced the isolation that is part of any writer’s life. These groups will continue after NaNoWriMo. I intend to keep on going.
Another first is the entrance into the world of independent publishing. When my traditional publisher rejected The Answer to His Prayers, I decided to get my rights back so that I could publish the series all under one roof. I am working with an online marketer. All four books are now available as eBooks on Amazon, with a boxed set coming in January. So far, so good. The first book in the series, Burying Ben, was a #1 best seller in the Kindle Store, Literature & Fiction, Women Sleuths, Police Procedurals, and Jewish American Fiction. The others are also doing better than ever before. Stay tuned to see where this heads.
Thanks again, George, for the opportunity to vent, crow, and indulge in SSP. I am happy to assist my fellow writers with any questions they may have about police psychology, PTSD, psychotherapy, self-publishing, etc. Your readers can follow my occasional blog on Psychology Today or sign up for my occasional newsletter at www.ellenkirschman.com. New signers get a copy of my mini-memoir about my short-lived career as a dance hall hostess.
Dec 6, 2021 | Historical, Mystery, Thriller |
Dragon’s Ridge – An orphanage headmistress must use her wits to escape from a dragon, but only compassion can set her free from both dragons and men.
Brian Thao Nguyen Gunney was born in Vietnam and escaped to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975. After briefly considering a creative writing major, he earned a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and scientific computing from the University of Michigan. He drew on his technical training, outdoor experience, and interest in history to bring dragons into the real world in his first novel, Dragon’s Ridge. Brian works in scientific computer simulations. He writes, hikes, runs, and bikes in Northern California, where he lives with his wife and two teenage children.
Dragon’s Ridge – An orphanage headmistress is snatched, saving a child from a dragon, and the world believes her dead and eaten. For centuries, Gascony’s top predators have treated humankind as easy prey.
But Isodore’s misery has only begun. On a lonely ledge high in the Pyrénées, where even the famed dragon slayers won’t go, she comes to terms with the nature of dragons, her fate in her captor’s hands, and her own dark secret. A child survivor of a dragon’s wrath, she has relied on her wits to stay alive. But it’s compassion that gives that life meaning, stirring a warrior’s idealism, breaching class divisions, and sustaining love for an outcast. On Dragon’s Ridge, Isodore’s struggle brings the two virtues into conflict. She placates her captor to plot her escape, unaware that the plan will cost her a part of herself she can never get back.
Dragon’s Ridge will test the fortitude, resourcefulness, and humanity of the humble headmistress. It will forever change her, the lives she touches, and the world she lives in.
Writing Dragon’s Ridge was an opportunity to present a fantasy setting with scientific plausibility. There is a tradition of minding scientific plausibility in sci-fi, but not so much in fantasy, maybe due to the reliance on magic to explain things. In real life, science and technology are governed by natural laws, with limitations and consequences. When fantasy resembles that, the story feels true to life for me. When it doesn’t, it’s like a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I’ve enjoyed stories like that, like fairytales or humor or satire. But for adventure stories, I want to feel like I’m right there with the characters, sharing their world and their agency. Scientific implausibility makes it difficult for me.
To complement scientific plausibility, I used a real-world setting. My goal was to make the setting as authentic as possible from the scientific and historical perspectives.
What brought you to writing? I have a very active imagination. A story gets inside my head, and I have to write it down so that it won’t distract me from my work. I had never thought of myself as a writer until I looked back on my life and saw how much writing I had done. Writing is something I’ve returned to time and time again.
Tell us about your writing process: Ideas linger in my head, sometimes for years. They grow without direction or constraint. Sometimes, they collide and happen to fit together like pieces of a puzzle. I think that’s when they turn from ideas into story and grow like a rolling snowball. That’s the inspiration. The telling of the story is the work. My California Writers Club – Tri-Valley Branch critique group, helps keep me making progress. Talking about my drafts helps me think about it, dissect it, understand what’s going on, and see things I had overlooked. Not only can I fix what’s wrong, but I can also find out what else I could add to the scene.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Writing characters who are very different from me. I have to get into my characters’ heads to see how they think and respond, but it’s hard to get into a head that’s very different from mine. For example, I’m rather introverted, so it’s hard for me to write outgoing characters at a party.
In the editing process, polishing the manuscript for publication is challenging. Writing is fun and something I do for myself. Moving toward publication means getting a lot of technical things right. It’s important but tedious. I struggle with certain details of the English language, particularly with verb tenses and plurals.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Being around writers in TWC reminds me that it’s okay to write. The encouragement I received kept me going when I was stuck. My critique group helps to keep me writing regularly. I knew nothing about publishing or marketing books. Learning from speakers and my peers about how all that works is very helpful to give me an idea of the road ahead.
How long did it take you to write your first book? The idea first came to me about thirteen years ago, and I put the first words down eight years ago. I worked on the book six out of those eight years. In all, I wrote five complete drafts.
How long to get it published? Once I decided to publish the book, it took almost two years. I continued working on the manuscript because I was still studying the art of writing and incorporating what I learned into the manuscript as I was preparing for publication. I didn’t have any luck after a few months of trying the traditional publishing route. I believed I had a good story to tell, so I approached Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press, an independent publisher in our writing club.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? No. As long as a character is authentic, I find them interesting. My characters seem to have minds of their own. If they go off-script, that’s all the better. It shows they’re independent of me. The best ideas come from them acting on their own.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? As a novice, I used to be concerned that I didn’t have enough subplots, but when I saw how long Dragon’s Ridge was getting, I stopped being so concerned. Weaving in subplots, for me, is a lot of work. I usually don’t know the subplots ahead of time, so when I get an idea, I have to do quite a bit of rewriting and editing to weave it in tightly.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? Isodore is fighting for her life from the first scene, so the stakes start out very high for her. But it’s when she wants more than just to live that the reader sees the full depth of her character. For her, the stakes were raised by the opportunity to get things she had thought were out of her reach. Can she bring peace between two enemies? Will she avenge the injustices she had to endure? Could she be her true self? It’s similar for the antagonist. He’s not concerned only with the present struggle. He wants to survive the changes he knows are inevitable, among other things.
I didn’t start the story with complex stakes. They kind of created themselves. I think authors get to play god in their stories, but I don’t think I’m the kind of god who rubs my hands together saying, “Ah-hah!” After constructing the premise of Dragon’s Ridge, I mostly left the characters to find their way to the ending. I like being the observer more than the master.
What kind of research do you do? I had to learn a lot about the setting to figure out how the characters would interact with it, everything from the daily life of peasants to historically significant events. I read up on medieval history, and it’s fascinating. The medieval world was dynamic and lasted a thousand years. It started as the remains of the western Roman Empire and became the foundation of the Renaissance. Popular culture often portrays a composite setting, putting together elements that didn’t overlap much, if at all, in real life.
An example is the chivalrous warrior knights in shining armor. Knights of the Early Middle Ages didn’t care much about chivalry, which was a concept invented by the clergy to incentivize more civil behavior from the warrior class. By the time shining suits of armor came around, knights pretty much stopped being warriors. They were more like athletes competing in tournaments.
I also read about the people, their language, and their technology. I studied the geography and the ecology of the region. I obviously inserted elements of fantasy into the setting. Still, I wanted to keep that minimal and make the setting as historical as I could.
For scientific realism, I had more of a head start because of my aerospace engineering background. To make sure I had scientifically plausible dragons, I did some aerodynamics calculations, which led to a blog post. I also looked at recent theories on giant pterosaurs. I was comforted that my dragons aren’t much different in size than those prehistoric flyers.
I even made tallow torches to verify that what I wrote about them was accurate.
After studying the medieval world, I can’t help but change my perspective on my life a little bit. Salt, one of the cheapest and most ubiquitous commodities in our world, was once available only to the most important people of the medieval world. Now, when I measure out half a teaspoon of salt, I feel rather privileged.
How do our readers contact you? https://dragonsridgebook.com/
In addition to presenting the book, the website has a blog and a contact page. I also have set up an author page at Good Reads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/21950689.Brian_T_N_Gunney
Brian enjoying the great outdoors.
Dec 2, 2021 | Historical, Memoir, Mystery, Poetry, Police Procedural / Crime, Thriller |
ATSNStop the ThreatChuck Thompson
Sarah’s latest crime fiction thriller is The Carlucci Betrayal.
Here is a glimpse into Sarah’s award-winning career:
Sarah Cortez, a Councilor of the Texas Institute of Letters, Fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, and Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has poems, essays, book reviews, and short stories anthologized and published in journals, such as Texas Monthly, Rattle, The Sun, Pennsylvania English, Texas Review, Louisiana Literature, The Midwest Quarterly, Southwestern American Literature. Winner of the PEN Texas Literary Award, her debut poetry collection is How to Undress a Cop. Her books have placed as finalists in many contests, such as the Writers’ League of Texas Awards, Los Angeles Book Festival Awards, and the PEN Southwest Poetry Awards Latino Book Awards, Border Region Librarians Association Award, Press Women of Texas Editing Award. She has been both a Houston and Texas finalist for poet laureate; she is a law enforcement veteran of 28 years. Her memoir entitled Tired, Hungry, Standing in One Spot for Twelve Hours: Essential Cop Essays brings the reader into the patrol car as it reveals America’s most dangerous profession.
The Carlucci Betrayal takes readers deep into the Mississippi Delta during Prohibition to witness the founding of a criminal empire, and not since The Godfather has a Mafia family captivated readers the way the Carlucci brothers do in Robert Wilkins’ and Sarah Cortez’s rollicking novel of love, lust, and naked ambition.
Michael Bracken – Anthony Award-nominated editor of The Eyes of Texas
Genres in Which I Write: I write in more than one genre, and I love seeing how the interaction of skill and intention translates and doesn’t translate across genres.
I began as a literary fiction writer, then to poetry, then to memoir. At this point, I think I’ve been published in almost all popular and literary genres and subgenres. I love all kinds of writing and edit all genres.
Writing Process: In terms of my writing process, I don’t have much leeway to choose a particular set of locations or circumstances to write. As a full-time professional writer/editor, I write when and where I can. I always seem to have deadlines breathing down my neck, whether for writing or editing. I am also an editor for a large international Catholic online journal of the arts. Those deadlines keep me very busy. www.catholicartstoday
First Publication: My first book came out within less than three years of beginning to write poetry. I now have 14 books—all traditionally published. For quite a few years, I had one or two books published per year. I have been very fortunate to work with publishers who really believed in my book projects.
Characters: In the popular genre of crime fiction, there are usually two strong-willed characters: the criminal and the sleuth. They must be fairly evenly matched in order to have a drawn-out conflict that is sufficiently interesting for a reader to read the entire novel.
The process of creating a 3-D character, particularly a main character is involved and mysterious. Tomes have been written about it. Curiously enough, it is the one critically important step that most fiction writers, particularly beginning fiction writers, don’t spend enough time doing. All the hours of research, imagining, taking notes, thinking through personality and choices, and personal history of the character pay off. Yet, most fiction writers either skip this step or do it quickly—a fatal mistake to both plot and the possibility of writing a book that readers enjoy.
Writing Characters of the Opposite Sex: Due to police work and my corporate career before policing, most of my life has been spent working with men. I do not find it a particular challenge to write from a male’s POV. In fact, most of my literary and popular fiction is written in a male’s POV.
Do You Base Characters on Real People? As a freelance editor who has been privileged to work with many writers, I think that basing a fictional character on a real person is an absolute no-no. Fiction that does this results in erratic character motivation and is often boring. Characters must be free to act according to the psychological and emotional dimensions based on the imagined history and personality that the writer has given them. So, you can see from this line of thought that I never base my characters on real people and certainly never on myself.
How To Raise the Stakes for Characters? Especially in popular fiction, but also to a lesser degree in literary fiction, the author’s “job” is to apply stress on the main character. These stresses of circumstance create conflict, and conflict creates plot. The way the stress is applied to each character will be different since each character has a different personality and history.
Does a Protagonist Ever Disappoint You? As an author, I am not thinking about my reactions to characters in a book. I am always thinking, however, about what the scene needs to be of interest to a reader. Sometimes a protagonist needs to fail, whether that failure is of his choice or imposed on him. If the writer is writing a protagonist that changes throughout the book, the protagonist will make mistakes. Some characters, like James Bond, do not change over the course of a book. But even this type of character does experience failure of action and choices.
vintage Italian mafia gangster in 1930 in New York
What Kind of Research Do You Do? I research what I need to research. Sometimes that involves an entire era with its cultural artifacts of music, dance, clothes, attitudes, disasters, politics, etc. Sometimes research is very specifically related to a particular scene. For instance, in The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to find out how a young male below the age of military service would get to Europe in 1938 to volunteer to fight against Hitler. Since 1938 was before the U.S. declared war, I had to see which avenues were open to this young man. This only affected a couple of sentences in a phone conversation between two main characters, but it had to be historically accurate.
Also, for The Carlucci Betrayal, I had to research Mississippi law regarding homicide and manslaughter in the late 1920s for a courtroom scene and for the lawyer’s arguments to be accurately based on the law.
A Writer You Admire: I greatly admire Megan Abbott, a wonderful noir writer. She successfully combines what’s best about crime fiction with exquisitely styled prose. She is so successful because so few writers write with her precision and energy in such gorgeous prose. My favorite title of hers is Bury Me Deep.
Advice for New Writers: I’ll pass along some wise advice from a professional saxophone musician: don’t choose anything but your horn. In other words, writing demands a serious commitment to practice and learning. When the others meet their friends to go bowling or drink at the bars, you must be reading, learning, revising, drafting, studying, etc. If you’re going to be a good (highly skilled) writer, then writing isn’t a hobby. It is your job.
Anything Else You’d Like to Mention: Getting to work on The Carlucci Betrayal was tremendously hard work and also tremendous fun! I’ve always wanted to write Mafia-era fiction. This gave me an opportunity to research plus create three-dimensional characters that acted according to a different era’s pressures in a society that was both more constricted and more free-wheeling than today’s.
I also relished my research into Mafia fashion. Not only for the men but for the women. Holsters, spare magazines, stilettos, razors, cigarette lighters, etc. Types and calibers of guns. Several PWSA members helped me out with these questions. For me, becoming conversant with places of concealment, fashions for men and women, mobsters on different coasts, and what they wore—fascinating! It was a delicious peek into the psychology and practicality of why the mobsters and their ladies wore what they wore.
Readers can contact me at: email@example.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our website, carluccibetrayal.com – Search Results | Facebook, also has a “Contact Me” button.
I am available for virtual book readings and presentations on Mafia Fashion.
Follow us on Facebook at The Carlucci Betrayal | Facebook
Great interview, George and Ellen, wonderful to hear more about your milieu and your forthcoming projects! #inspiration
Thanks Lisa. Good luck with your launch of 95, it’s really a good read.
Good books. I look forward to reading the fourth, Ellen.
Hi Vinnie: Fun writing together with SinC.
I’ve read all your books and am eagerly awaiting the new one! Happy Holidays, Ellen. Hope to see you next year at PSWA.
Hi Thonie: Same to you and yours.
This was a wonderful post. So glad to see what you’ve accomplished. I too hope you can come to the next PSWA conference. Also wondered about your independent publishing experience and your online marketer. Would be a great panel topic.
I am waiting to see how being an indie works out. So far, so good. Fingers crossed we’ll both be at PSWA.
I’ve read I Love A Cop and Burying Ben. That means I’ll be reading more of your books because I enjoyed those two so much. I Love A Cop was very insightful and made me see things I hadn’t seen before in my 41 years in law enforcement. Keep up the great work you do as well as your writing.
Hi Joe- what a compliment coming from you, such an experienced LEO. I’m blushing.
Hi Vicki: thanks for reading and writing. So nice to meet new readers.
Hi Margaret: Thanks for your wishes. I do hope our paths cross in person some day.
Ellen, your WIP sounds intriguing! I’ll look forward to reading it. I’m also glad you will continue with the SinC Norcal drop in writing lessons. They help keep me on track!
Our online writing groups are fun and helpful. See you soon. I’ll miss all next week, but I’ll be back.
Thank you for the interesting write-up about your books. I’m wondering if in your writing process you purposely pit different psychological types of persons against one other. Or do you just rely on your inner muse to guide you when creating characters?
Hi John- interesting question. A combo of experience, inner muse, research, and an eye for individual differences.
Congrats on your new release, Ellen! I’ll be checking our your books!
Thanks so much. Hope to see you at PSWA next year.
So interesting to learn about you.
Hi Vicki- so nice to meet new readers.
She manages to weave current issues into these books in what sounds like a most effective way. Her WIP also sounds fascinating! The whole “birth parent” question is becoming increasingly complicated!
Thanks Vicki. Things are getting more complicated every day.
Ellen, congratulations on becoming a hybrid author. I know this transition has been a lot of work, and I wish you all the best. I hope we get a chance to meet at a conference sometime, and I look forward to reading your new book! Happy Holidays, blessings, and peace.
Hi Margaret: Thanks for your good wishes, I need all those I can get. Hope our paths cross in person in the near future.
Good to hear about your latest writing ventures, Ellen. I hope to see you at the next PSWA conference. Good luck with your new one.
Thanks Mike. I share your hopes to meet up again at PWSA. Good luck with your new book as well.
My goodness, there are so many books I would love to own as a result of reading this blog. Thank you, George, for hosting Ms. Kirschman. I plan to look over her long list of books.
Thanks Donnell. All four in the series will be available as ebooks on 12/11. Some may even be free!