I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and in 1969, I was drafted into the U.S. Army. After basic training and military police school, I spent a year with the 557th M.P. Company at Long Binh, South Vietnam, in 1970. Upon completing my military service, I joined the Pleasant Hill Police Department. I retired in 2001 as a Sergeant after 30 years of service. I was then hired as the lead Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC) instructor for the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office. I have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration through California State University.
My writing career began when another Sergeant at the police department, a fellow Vietnam veteran, and I swapped stories of our experiences in Vietnam. The other members of the department would listen and began to encourage me to write down my stories. They said it would make a good book. So, taking heed of their advice, I started my first novel. After two years, I began shopping for a publisher, choosing to go the small press route. I was lucky enough to be accepted for publishing by Writers Exchange, and the Vince Torelli series was born with the publishing of M.P., A Novel of Vietnam.
I continued my writing endeavors with my second book, relying on my 30 years of police experience for authenticity. I used the same main character as in M.P., Vince Torelli, now 25 years older and a homicide inspector with the San Francisco Police Department. I have written five books in the Inspector Torelli series, one stand-alone thriller with a paranormal element and a demonic possession horror story. I am currently hard at work on my ninth book, the first in the Detective Sergeant Louisa (Louie) Princeton, Richmond County Sheriff’s Dept, Georgia series.
All my life, I have been an avid reader. I remember my mother taking my brother and me to the local library every two weeks so we could check out books. Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, and I have always admired authors who could spin a good tale. As such, I get much more pleasure from hearing a reader say they enjoyed one of my books than the royalties from the sale. By the way, my favorite author is Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I want to thank George for having me as a guest on his wonderful blog. He is an accomplished, award-winning author in his own right, and I am proud to call him my friend.
People often ask me what my favorite thing about writing is. I answer unequivocally—researching places, events, and the history of the locations where the stories take place. By making Vince Torelli a San Francisco PD homicide inspector, it is easy, and exceeding interesting, to research scene locations, like the 19th-century tunnels under the city utilized by the killer in The List, to landmarks like Mt. Davidson, where the climax of Blood Debt takes place, to extensive research into demonic possession and exorcism for An Echo of Lies. I have to say- that was VERY frightening!
When I’ve changed locations to places out of the San Francisco Bay Area and California— as I did in several of my books—to Tennessee, Atlanta, Augusta, Northern California, South Carolina, and others, it sparked my research gene to find real places—hotels, restaurants, streets, highways, etc. Most key scenes in the five Vince Torelli books are in those places. Even in my Vietnam book, a work of fiction based in part on some of my personal experiences, takes place in real places, and all the military units—American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong, and North Vietnamese are actual units that were operating in the area at the time. Using real places, streets, and buildings in my books, I think, adds a touch of realism for the readers. I have received several comments that they recognized certain places and liked it very much. It adds a visual reference to the scene and drama being played out as they read.
As a fun thing, I’ve used the address of my childhood home in one of my books and the name and address of my best friend, a big fan of my books, in another, and knowing my friend will be reading the book, I didn’t tell him what I had done. I gave him a copy and awaited his phone call when he got to where he was mentioned. I also have dedicated a couple of my books to special people in my life, living and deceased. That is special to their families and me.
So, can you tell how much I enjoy writing?
In closing, If I could advise any aspiring writers, there would be two things. First—sit your butt down and write, write, write—the basic mantra for writers.
Second, have fun doing it! It will make your writing more enjoyable and the finished product better!
Please take a moment to visit my website—currently being updated— where the first chapters of some of my books are posted, along with a couple of short stories. And thanks for taking the time to read this.
Follow me at my Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100023497601286
Nick Chiarkas grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, Nick became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a U.S. Army Paratrooper; a New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way, he picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University, a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their child is hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to desperation? That’s why Nick wrote “Weepers”—for them.
Weepers: The murder of an undercover cop in a New York City Housing Project in 1957 has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same Projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve 1951. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, as he was on his way to set fire to a grocery store at 2:00 am. The killers saw him. These events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In Weepers, we see that if you drop a rock into the East River, the ripples will go all the way to Italy. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
Awards for Weepers:
• Firebird Grand Prize Best Book Award (2022)
• Best Mystery Novel for 2017 the John E Weaver Excellent Reads Award by Earthshine. https://www.speakuptalkradio.com/nick-chiarkas-firebird-book-award-winner/
• Award Winner – Best Novel of 2016 by the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA)
• Award for Best Book Award by Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA)
• Award for Best Young Adult Novel for 2016 by Bookvana
• Award for Best Crossover (Mystery & Young Adult) Best Books Award for 2017
• Award for Best Young Adult Coming-of-Age by Readers’ Favorite for 2018
Nunzio‘s Way: Nunzio drifted back to his childhood there on the Lower East Side. The narrow, trash-lined streets and alleys weaved together decaying brownstone tenements with common toilets—one per floor. Alone at ten years old, after his mother died, he learned to survive in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city. He shoveled coal and guarded the produce stored there by the ships docked off South Street to pay for living in the cellar at 57 Canon Street. After school, Nunzio mostly walked the streets. He recalled the putrid smell of decomposing cats and dogs covered with a trembling blanket of insects, rats, and things he didn’t recognize. And lying in the gutter against the sidewalk on Pike Street was a horse, with old and fresh whip wounds, shrouded in a cloak of flying and crawling insects. Only three years later, at the ripe age of thirteen, Nunzio killed his first man, a hulking longshoreman people called “the bear.” His life and the lives of four of his friends changed forever. Plenty of other horrors and hardships confronted him throughout his life, but when he closed his eyes, Nunzio saw the horse.
“Nunzio’s Way” In 1960, Declan Arden, an ambitious New York City lawyer, asked his boyhood friend and client, Nunzio Sabino, the most powerful organized crime boss of his time, to help him win the election for mayor. Nunzio agrees to help Declan, telling him, “In this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.” In Italy, after killing a top member of the Gomorra, Heather Potter, arrives in New York City seeking vengeance on the people who murdered her family. Those people include Nunzio Sabino and Mac Pastamadeo. Mac is the father of Angelo, the leader of the Weepers gang.
NICK’S FAVORITE WORKSPACE
Five fun facts most people don’t know about me (Nick Chiarkas)
- I received the Law Enforcement Commendation Medal from the Sons of the American Revolution, and I received the Equal Justice Medal from the Legal Aid Society – These two awards are not in conflict but in harmony. I believe that no one is above the law’s enforcement nor below its protection.
- I raised my two oldest children mostly as a single dad – just the three of us. They taught me a lot.
- I was one of a handful of NYPD cops sent to Woodstock in 1969 to provide security – it was incredible.
- While in an Army hospital, I received a very kind letter from J.D. Salinger.
- I was in the movie The Anderson Tapes (Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Walken).
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, University of Wisconsin Bookstore, Mystery to Me, other local independent bookstores, and from the publisher.
The title of his latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales: Crime and Sci-fi Short Stories.
John G. Bluck is the author of five books, some in the crime/mystery genre and others science fiction. He worked for thirty years for NASA and retired as a public affairs officer. Prior to that, he was the daytime crime reporter/photographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA) in Washington, D.C. During the Vietnam War, Bluck was an Army journalist at Ft. Lewis, Washington.
Another of his recent books, Death in the Holler, earned praise in a BookLife review printed in the January 11, 2021, issue of Publishers Weekly magazine. “For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye. Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. . . . Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters.”
Tell us about your most recent book. My latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales. It’s a collection of sixteen crime and science fiction short stories; some are strictly fictional crime stories. Others are solely in the science fiction genre. Many of the yarns combine both crime and sci-fi genres. Florida Grand Theft was released on October 4. The first image below is for the paperback and the second is for the eBool.
I began writing a couple of the stories as long as fifteen years ago when I was working at NASA. Over the years, I edited and revised them numerous times. One of those stories is the “DNA of History.” In it, ant-sized extraterrestrials visit a young boy, affecting his entire life. A second sci-fi story that I began developing a long time ago is “Adventures in Time.” In this story, an astronaut transmits a message as his ship careens toward a black hole.
I dreamed up other stories only months ago. That’s obvious when you read one of them, “Big Brother’s Bracelets,” which is related to the current pandemic and Covid-19. In this story, a feuding couple has to adjust their lives.
In the first story in the book, “Florida Grand Theft,” a young woman short of money tells how she’s tempted to steal a purse. In “Death by Snub Nose,” a hobo is accused of murder. These are among the crime and sci-fi stories I wrote recently, as is “Buzz.” Buzz is a robotic bee who’s an undercover agent.
Why do you write in more than one genre? I spent much of my life in a career path that’s linked to both crime and science-fiction. When I was in the army, I wrote news stories for an army newspaper and read army news on a couple of local radio stations.
After that, I worked a few years in Washington, D.C., as the television daytime crime cinematographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA). I mainly covered homicides and bank robberies. Naturally, I covered other stories, too, including sports, politics, and even Watergate. I was in a pool of about six or seven still and motion picture photographers who filmed the submission of President Nixon’s letter of resignation.
Then NASA hired me to be a documentary producer. I saw many fascinating things at NASA that were true, but which might as well have been science fiction. I saw huge rocket engines; walked under the Space Shuttle; peered through telescopes, and wandered through laboratories, machine shops, wind tunnels, as well as many other locations.
When I explored NASA and filmed news for TV, I met many kinds of people. Whether they were in bad or happy situations, they taught me about human nature. Covering news “on the scene” in city streets and later working in science and engineering environments gave me a myriad of potential story ideas related to both crime and science.
How do you create your characters? Lately, I’ve been consulting a psychology book to try to shape some of my characters’ personalities so that they are vastly different from each other. This can lead to conflict and drama.
I don’t try to dictate what a character will do all of the time. I like to put characters with different personality traits into the same room or location. I begin to write dialogue rapidly. I permit the characters to talk, to say what they want. This is hard to describe, but it’s as if they wake up and begin to speak. I simply type what they’re saying. That’s why I say I don’t try to make the characters do or say what I want them to say.
However, there are times when something specific has to happen—a climax, a turning point. Then I might dictate that a tree will fall, a ship will sink, or a fire will erupt. The characters then have to react to the situation based on who they are and their personalities, which I have assigned to them. Sometimes, that personality changes when a character starts to act and come alive. I’ve found that if I “listen” to my characters, rather than try to shape them too much, the people who populate my books are more realistic, more human.
Do you outline, or do you write as you go? When I design a novel (plot it), I like to outline “sort of.” That is, I use the Act I, Act II, and Act III format. I know where the climax is supposed to be. I write the beginning and the end first and perhaps the climax, and then I fill in the middle of the story. Each scene is like a bubble or a block. I note what “should” happen in a scene.
But as I go along, I let the characters have a lot of freedom, and they may take me off on a tangent. Also, sometimes when I’m writing, a character will just pop up. This is where the “sort of” comes into my writing process. I then have to decide if an unexpected path taken by a character is good or is merely a diversion that takes the story too far off course.
I like to work in this hybrid—mostly planned—but freewheeling kind of a way.
What’s your next book going to be about? Its potential title is Murder at NASA. Luke Ryder, the protagonist of my last mystery novel, Death in the Holler, is called into work undercover to solve a cold-case killing at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where I worked last at the agency. I’m quite familiar with the Ames campus, which some Hollywood producers have called a great location to make a movie. I doubt that Ames would ever be the set for a major movie, but the place has so many good locations for me to use in a novel. I’m almost salivating; I’m ready to completely plot my ideas and turn the characters loose at Ames.
How do our readers contact you?
Readers can message me through my website: http://www.bluckart.com.
They can visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnGBluckSciFi.
My Twitter page is located at: https://twitter.com/JohnBluck1.
Readers can sign up for my e-mail list by visiting: http://eepurl.com/cJh_pP.
A murdered metal sculptor. A Russian mobster on the hunt. Can a talented PI outsmart a vindictive killer who has her in his crosshairs?
I’m a lifelong reader of mysteries – historical, contemporary, futuristic, paranormal, hard-boiled, cozy … you can find them all on my bookshelves and in my e-readers. I honed my logic and planning skills while working as an IT project manager. Still, my characters and dialog benefited greatly from my second career as a Congregationalist minister. (No, I don’t write Christian fiction, but I confine myself to mild profanity as needed for the character and avoid any explicit sexual scenes. No judgment on those who do. It’s just my preference.)
I grew up an Army brat, living in Germany, France, and Korea, and several states in the U.S. After my dad retired, we settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I raised my daughter and son there while working at AT&T.
My Maltipoo Teeny and I now live in Wellington, Colorado, a few miles south of Cheyenne, Wyoming. One of my greatest joys is hearing my three granddaughters shout ‘Nana’ when I come in their front door in Fort Collins, Colorado. No matter where I make my home, I will always be a Green Bay Packers fan.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’m a mystery/crime thriller gal, through and through. That said, there are a gazillion sub-genres under those two big umbrellas, and I’m looking forward to exploring a few. I’ll start a historical spin-off series to my Angelina Bonaparte books next. And there may be a dog in one or two of those. Or even a paranormal element. We’ll see.
What brought you to writing? I was always the kid with my nose in a book. I just love to read. Back then, I used it as a way to escape reality, and I still do. In the late 1990s, as I planned to enjoy a pre-bedtime chapter or two, I once again got that feeling of ‘I could do better than this.’ So I put my money where my mouth was and started taking classes. Then I joined a local writers’ studio, where I learned accountability (pages due!) and where creative feedback and encouragement really energized me to write. From there, I worked up the courage to send my baby, Truth Kills, into the world.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a micro-office in one corner of the guest bedroom – comfy chair, computer cart to hold my laptop and monitor, and the biggest distraction in the world – my Maltipoo, Teeny. She’s a senior dog now, but she does demand intermissions from me for potty breaks, feeding, and a few minutes of toss the toy. If not for Teeny, my neck would probably be more cranked than it is, so I don’t complain.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I remember being afraid to enter a writer’s group at the beginning. What if they don’t like my work? What if someone steals my ideas? What I found was a place where I could safely fail and start again. A place where I was told that I was good enough—a place that felt like home. I wouldn’t be a published writer without that kind of support, and one of the first things I look for whenever I move is a critique group.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It seems like it took forever because I worked full time at a demanding IT job and raised two kids as a single mom. Besides, I was learning the process as I went. (Thanks to patient critique partners and a writing coach.) Truth Kills was published in 2012, after more than a decade of work on it. Since then, I’ve averaged a book every two years. I’m certainly not the fastest writer out there!
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I’ve never killed a main character in the series arc, but I did kill a sympathetic character in Honor Kills, book four. The story called for it, and I could find no authentic way to end it happily. I will say that I got mixed reactions from readers, who to this day tell me that I need to resurrect the dead. I love that the readers really related to the character and I, too, feel the pain of letting him go.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I started out as a pantser exclusively, but now I’m more of a hybrid. After two books that required extensive rewrites because I created big plot holes without realizing it until the end, I learned my lesson. Now I follow James Patterson’s recommendation in his Masterclass – I lay out a high-level outline and write one paragraph per intended chapter. Of course, there are still a few kinks. In Blood Kills, I moved the exposure of the murder victim as an assassin (but was he?), which resulted in a cascade of edits to keep all the pieces in place. So I don’t strictly adhere to an outline, but I find that a general sense of how the story will unfold keeps me from needing to start over.
What kind of research do you do? I hate to be caught out in a factual error, so I contact experts (who are surprisingly willing to help), run internet queries, ask online groups for help, and, of course, talk to librarians. And some lovely readers even do occasional research for me. Typically, only about 10% of the research ends up being used in the book. However, it is still very useful in guiding the actual writing.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My PI Angelina Bonaparte Crime Thrillers series is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up after my dad retired from the Army. I use the local landmarks and the Milwaukee slang and cultural group accents (think Polish- and Italian-American) to flavor the stories. Like P. D. James, I treat setting as another character in the novel. Of course, Wisconsinites love it, but a reviewer from New Zealand even mentioned that she felt as if she ‘knew’ Milwaukee after reading the books. Love that!
What is the best book you ever read? The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So deeply layered, with characters (even the villains) that just leap off the page. I was delighted that the movies were largely faithful to the books.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? At the end of Blood Kills, Angie asks her papa for more information about her mother, who died when Angie was a child. She’s surprised when he stonewalls her, and her Aunt Terry tells her to look to the future and not the past. The last line in the book: Well, I thought, if they won’t help, I’ll have to do some investigation on my own.
This leads into my new spin-off series that follows Angie’s mother (involved in uncovering WWII espionage), grandmother (1920s journalist), and great-grandmother (post-Civil War feminist and astronomer). I see lots of research in my future!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Let me just say to all those people who always wanted to write a book, but whose lives got in the way, it’s not too late! I’ll reveal my age and say that I was in my early sixties when my first book was published. I’d had two careers before then: IT project manager and Congregationalist minister. At every step of my life, I was able to take what I already learned and leverage it for a new adventure. If you’re willing to put in the work and realize that it’s usually a slow process to publication and an even slower process to build a reader base, you can make it happen.
How do our readers contact you?
Links to each book across all retailers: https://tinyurl.com/NanciRathbunBooks
Twitter handle: @nancirathbun
Twitter link: https://twitter.com/NanciRathbun
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nanci-Rathbun/e/B00E9E7QCI
Mystery/Thriller, Supernatural, Military
In Blood Debt, San Francisco Homicide Investigator and Vietnam veteran Vince Torelli strives to clean up the violence in San Francisco. But, after a suspect in a double murder is killed during an attempted arrest, he finds himself protecting the good police officers of the city he considers family. His efforts put him in the line of fire when he’s targeted. The brother of the suspect victim wants revenge on the officers responsible, and he’ll stop at nothing. He kidnaps Vince, a man obsessively loyal to his job as well as those he works with and defends, a man as smart and committed to his principles as the criminals he catches almost without fail. Vince knows best, though; a blood debt always demands payment.
How long have you wanted to write? When I was a young boy, my mother instilled in me a love of books and reading. I read mostly adventure stories, in particular, a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and I admired how he could spin such wonderful stories. I vowed at a young age to write my own stories someday, as I knew the joy I got from books. I wanted to someday write books that would give that joy to others.
How long did it take you to reach your goal of publication? Many years! With growing up, school, college, the Army, becoming a police officer, marriage, and raising two children, there just wasn’t time for me to write, though I never lost the desire. The opportunity came when the kids were in college, and I had finished my master’s degree. One afternoon, another sergeant and fellow Vietnam Veteran and I were swapping stories from our tours in the police department briefing room. Other officers heard us and stopped to listen. They told me later that day I should write my stories down, they would make a good book. That night, I began writing.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Traditionally published. I researched small publishers, on the advice of a genuinely nice lady, and very prolific author I had met at a writer’s conference and was lucky enough to have one accept my manuscript. I have been with them, Writers Exchange, for 18 years, and all five of my books have been published by them. I have two new novels currently in their queue undergoing editing. I hope to have them published by mid-2021. By the way, that nice lady and I are fast friends and have been for 20 years.
Where do you write? A small 4th bedroom in my house was converted to an office/writing room. It gives me the privacy I need to concentrate, with no interruptions from family (other than the dogs). I have a TV in there. I tune to soft rock music, at low volume, as a background when writing. I find I am more proficient when writing with the background music. It helps me concentrate.
Where do you find your characters? How do you name them? All of them are drawn from real life, at least the main characters. I’ve patterned them after friends, family, and other people I know or have known. Obviously, I change the names, but I have had some readers recognize the character and ask me if the character is based on them, or on so-and-so. I usually tell them, “not entirely.” A couple of times, I have used their real names, with permission, of course, because the name suits the character. Those persons really get a kick out of being in the book!
I try to develop names that suit the characters. If a tough guy is needed, I’m not going to name him Chad, or Chip, or Timmy, etc. I chose Vince Torelli as the name for the protagonist in five of my books—a tough, dedicated, homicide inspector with San Francisco PD. An Italian name, to me, rings of toughness. Of course, the character’s personality has to echo the tough name. I also like to have the protagonist exhibit compassion at times, too. I try to avoid cliché names like “Reaper,” “Savage,” and the like.
Real settings or fictional towns? I use both. In M.P., a Novel of Vietnam, all the locations were real, and all the military units, from whichever side, were real and operated in the area at the time setting of the book. All the areas mentioned in the Torelli books, in San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, are real, as are all towns, streets, highways, hotels, restaurants, etc. I even used the address of my childhood home in one of the books! I like to think it adds a sense of realism when the reader knows or has visited the areas where the scenes take place.
If you could have written any book already written, which one would it be? Any of the Tarzan books! ERB is my absolute favorite author, and I have read almost everything he has written (80 books), a lot of them more than once. His writing is what got me hooked on reading and inspired me to become a writer. By the way, I have 73 of his books in my bookcase.
One other book is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. An absolutely amazing book, skillfully written. I felt I was on the boat with him. Some of the best descriptive writing I’ve read.
You’re stranded on a deserted island.. what must you have? All my ERB books, my reading glasses, and a Lazy-boy recliner
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? As I mentioned, I have written seven books—five published (in Kindle and paperback) and two at the publisher’s. I have posted the first chapters of all my published work on my webpage, including a couple of short stories (non-published). Please take a few minutes to visit the site, learn more about me, view some photos, and read the excerpts. Between the five books and a short story, I have been fortunate to receive eight writing competition awards.
A big thank you to my friend, and award-winning author, George Cramer, for inviting me to post at his blog.
If any of you read a book of mine or the short stories, I would love to hear from you. Please post a review at Amazom.com, or send it directly to me so I can post it at other sites.
Thanks for taking the time to read about me and my writing. I appreciate it.
Best wishes, John
Website and links: www.jschembra.com https://www.facebook.com/Books-by-John