Author names: Michael A. Black, aka Don Pendleton, aka A.W. Hart
I met Mike through the Public Safety Writers Association. He is always willing and ready to help others, whether it be writing or life in general. Mike has become a friend and mentor. Mike is holding a copy of one my favorite Michael A. Black novels: Legends of the West – A Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves Western.
Genre/genres you write in: It’s always been my goal to be published in as many different genres as I could. So far, I’ve been published in mystery, thriller, western, sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, mainstream, new pulp, sports, historical, and horror. I’m still working on a romance story.
My latest ones are westerns under the name A. W. Hart, who’s an Amazon Bestseller. My titles in the series are Gunslinger: Killer’s Choice, Gunslinger: Killer’s Brand, and Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost. I try to blend historical accuracy with the traditional American western. Actually, I have some legitimacy in this genre. Author Zane Grey was a distant relative of mine.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? I’ve always had an interest in writing. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade and read it in front of the class. The teacher scrawled D—Poor work across the front of it in red pen and told me never to do it again. Naturally, I didn’t listen to her. I look back on the experience with fondness. I didn’t know it at the time, but it sort of foreshadowed my entire writing career to come: I got my first assignment, my first deadline, and my first rejection all in the space of about three days.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? I struggled for at least ten years trying to get published. In those days, they’d send you a rejection slip with your returned story. I had enough of them to paper the wall in every room in my house. One day I got another story back in one of my self-addressed-stamped-envelopes and noticed the one editor had scrawled something along the seal: Close, but no cigar. Too long. Try again. I was ecstatic. I’d finally gotten some actual feedback for an editor. I promptly rewrote the story and submitted it to another magazine, and it turned out to be my first published story.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? All of my stuff has been traditionally published. However, I started out in small press magazines. The market was a bit different back then. They didn’t pay a lot, sometimes only with contributor’s copies, but it gave me a place to learn. As Elmore Leonard once said about the old pulps: “They gave you a place to be bad.” I’ve been published by small press, big press, and a lot of them in between. To me, it makes little difference. I’m just as proud as of my stories that have appeared in those small press mags as I am the big houses. Although the money is nice, I always try to be professional and give my writing the best effort each time out, regardless of the size of the publisher.
Where do you write? I like to write at the kitchen table on the laptop. Once I’m into my zone, I don’t have to worry about anybody bothering me except one of my cats. I’m very leery about writing outside of my home because of my concern about being vulnerable. Some people say they like to write at a restaurant or coffee shop. For me, this would be virtually impossible due to me constantly watching my surroundings.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? I’ve tried listening to music, and it usually distracts me more then it helps. Normally, I don’t listen to any music and try to remain free of distractions.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular? Being a military vet who served overseas and having been a police officer for thirty some years after that, I’ve had a ton of experiences to draw upon. I’m hesitant to use very many of them because so many involved victims of crimes. I’d never want a victim or a victim’s family to read something I’d written and think that I was capitalizing on their suffering, so I always mask these experiences heavily. Mostly it’s about what the characters experience, and I use the emotions and feelings that I experienced in my writing. I know what it feels like to experience danger, injury, be stabbed, have a bullet whiz by my head, etc. And I know what it feels like to be scared, and I know what it feels like to be lucky. As Winston Churchill once said, “The most exhilarating feeling in the world is to be shot at without result.”
Describe your process for naming your characters? Names are a double-edged sword for me. I tend to repeat them often. The name Jim turns up in my writing a lot for some unknown reason. I keep a character log listing each name I used when I’m writing a book. It’s one way of keeping them straight.
Real settings or fictional towns? I use both and often use fictional settings within real cities. I try to keep things realistic if it’s set in an actual location. I think a bit of artistic license and discretion is a good idea in regards to setting. It’s never good practice to portray a real place in your book in a negative way.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? I’ve had a lot of characters with quirks, so this is a hard one to answer. Writing the Executioner series (as Don Pendleton), I have to come up with James Bond-type villains who are larger than life. I usually try to put a dose of kink into some of the villains, but it’s also important to give the bad guys one of two good aspects, so they don’t come off as cardboard. An agent once advised me to give one of my villains a severe dental problem or a pet dog to which he was fiercely loyal. So I did the next best thing and gave him a phobia about tooth decay and had him brushing his dog’s teeth religiously. Since no good deed goes unpunished, I had the dog subsequently urinate on the guy’s rug.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why? This is a tough one. I’d have to pick one of the books that I was forced to read in school, perhaps The Scarlet Letter or Moby Dick … maybe one of Faulkner’s such as Light in August. I’d choose any one of the above, so I could cut all of the excess out of them and make sure they had satisfying endings.
Everyone, at some point, wishes for a do-over. What’s yours? I haven’t thought about it much. There are no do-overs, only regrets. But that’s why life is bittersweet.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? I don’t suffer fools gladly.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Food, water, and a quick way to get back to civilization.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held? I’ve had quite a few, but I’d have to say pulling KP in the army was one. Well, maybe latrine duty … But these gave me the incentive to apply myself to become a squad leader, so I didn’t have to pull those anymore. When I was 19, I had to drive a truck around the South Side of Chicago delivering tires to gas stations. That was pretty bad.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Wow, this is a tough one. There have been so many. I suppose the best one is Deliverance, by James Dickey. He was a nationally recognized poet in the 1960s. He spent ten years writing a first-person thriller about four city dwellers who go on a canoe trip into the mountains of Georgia and have a horrific experience that changes them forever. It has the best first line of any book I’ve ever read:
It unrolled slowly, forced to show its colors, curling, and snapping back whenever one of us turned loose.
Man, that guy could write. When I finished the novel, I went back and reread that first line and realized he had summed up the entire book with that one sentence.
What’s on the horizon for you? That remains to be seen. Hopefully, more books and short stories to be written. I’m currently working on a new series for Wolfpack publishers about modern day bounty hunters. We’re calling it the Trackdown series. The first one is due on in October, and it’s called Trackdown: Devil’s Dance.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? My books are meant to be entertaining. I always try to write the kind of book I’d like to read, and this is essential because, as any writer knows, you have to read your own book several times before you turn it in.
Contact Information, Website, and/or blog links: Right now, my website is out of commission. I have an Amazon Author’s Page as well as author pages on Crossroad Press and Wolfpack Press. Anybody wanting to chat, my email is DocAtlas108@aol.com.
A Clinical Psychologist People call the Cop Doc
I write the Dot Meyerhoff mysteries: Burying Ben; The Right Wrong Thing; The Fifth Reflection. My non-fiction titles are: Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (with Mark Kamena, Ph.D., and Joel Fay, PsyD); I Love a Cop: What the Family Needs to Know; I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know. Many writers use my non-fiction books as references and get story ideas from the vignettes.
Did you always want to help people and write? When I was a child and again after my second non-fiction book when I grew tired of reality and thought it would be easier to make things up. It isn’t. It’s harder.
Did it take long to become a published author? My first non-fiction book was picked up on the first round of submissions.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I am traditionally published, but maybe try indie publishing in the near future.
Where do you write? I have a home office with a standing desk, and I use a computer.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? I cannot write to music. My sentences have to have a certain rhythm. Music interferes with my ability to hear that rhythm.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? My protagonist, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, is somewhat autobiographical, although younger and thinner. As a psychologist, she does things I would have lost my license for doing; impersonating a public official, breaking and entering, and assault with a deadly weapon. I have plagiarized my husband Steve’s entire life for Dot’s love interest, Frank Hollis.
Describe your process for naming your characters? Dot Meyerhoff is named after my mother (Dorothy, aka Dot) and my maternal grandmother, whom I never knew, Rose Meyerhoff. The names of other characters just come to me.
Real settings or fictional towns? I use real settings with fictional names. This gives me the latitude to make stuff up and avoid getting email from readers telling me I got the directions wrong. I’m not consistent, I just finished a short story using real names of towns. As a working police psychologist, I need to protect the identities of my clients and the departments they are associated with.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? Dot Meyerhoff loves popcorn with red wine. And she never gives up on anyone.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? There are too many to name.
What’s your biggest pet peeve? In terms of writing, I can get pretty riled up at books about cops who kill three people singlehandedly in one day and never suffer any psychological aftermath. As a police psychologist, this isn’t how it happens. Ditto for stories about abused children who grow up to be ninja warriors and kill their abusers.
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Bread, books, and my husband, Steve.
What was the worst job you’ve ever held? There are so many. Being a tour guide at Rockefeller Center almost made me crazy. Repeating myself over and over was torture. I’ve been a secretary/typist/cocktail waitress and gym instructor. Think “Mad Men,” and you’ll understand.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Once again, there are too many to list. I love language, so my favorites, be they mysteries, non-fiction, or literary fiction, have to combine beautiful sentences, deep characters as well as a compelling structure (aka plot).
What’s on the horizon for you? Don’t want to jinx myself, but just maybe another non-fiction book for cops. I also have a completed fourth novel in the Dot Meyerhoff series that is looking for a new publisher. And I’m having a great time working on a standalone. Thanks to the pandemic, I’m really focused.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? This was a different interview. Thanks for asking so many off-the-wall questions. I appreciate your interest. One of the many surprises of being part of the mystery community is how hospitable and supportive my fellow writers are.
Website and/or blog links: www.ellenkirschman.com. I also blog with Psychology Today and contribute a column to the SinC Quarterly.
GHOSTED – The Drifter Series: Book Four
We have the great pleasure of a visit from Jackie Taylor Zortman. A fine write, Jackie lives in the Colorado Mountains not too far from the Million Dollar Highway, one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever ridden. Jackie writes police procedural, paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction grief.
When you finish check out Jackie’s website:www.jtzortman.wordpress.com
Please tell us a bit about your newest book in the Drifter Series.
Jake rides his Harley again in GHOSTED – The Drifter Series Book #4. He brings his carefully concealed personal secret out into the open for the first time. An untimely and unexpected classified mission in The Tetons of Wyoming takes him away from Kimble, Colorado, at the worst possible time in anyone’s life. His leaving without warning creates hurt, embarrassment, and fury in Tomi. Will it end their relationship forever this time?
Leaving his beloved red Harley behind, Jake has his pilot friend, Stephan, fly him into Jackson Hole Airport in his private plane. Without his cycle, he rents a Jeep to pursue his assignment. An old friend suddenly re-appears in Jackson Hole and indirectly becomes an important fixture in Jake’s world as he finally settles an old score that changes the lives of many beloved people.
Find out what shocking discovery Jake has exposed this time and learn if it turns out to be the wonderful surprise he expected or a total disaster. It’s all there inside the pages of GHOSTED.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? My 21-year-old grandson fell to his death in the black of night from a mountain ledge. Sixteen months later, I sat down and wrote WE ARE DIFFERENT NOW to soothe my aching soul. It sold like hotcakes and still sells, as needed. I feel Pete lives on through its pages.
As for writing novels, my husband once mentioned he’d like to see a particular case he worked for the Wichita PD as the Senior Homicide Detective as a book. I wrote FOOTPRINTS IN THE FROST, spiral bound it and tossed it on a shelf. Years later, I ran across it, modernized it, and sent it to the Public Safety Writers Association’s Writing Competition in 2014. If it bombed there, it was going into the trash. Imagine my surprise when it won First Place Fiction Book Unpublished. I wrote the sequel, SNOW ANGEL, and it won an Honorable Mention, so I was off and running as a novel writer.
Next, I began writing my JAKE series – he’s a drop-dead handsome hot-shot wildland firefighter with a Harley who is a drifter. He hides a secret and only stops when some place flags him down where there’s a disaster for him to solve. Women want him, and men envy him. I’ve written WHISKEY, WATER & WILDFIRE, WINDS OF CHANGE, ECHOES OF SILENCE & GHOSTED featuring Jake.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? My first non-fiction book was published immediately by Oak Tree Press, as was my first novel Footprints in the Frost, probably because of the award it won.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I was originally traditionally published by Oak Tree Press and then Aakenbaaken & Kent, but now I independently publish by choice.
Where do you write? I write in my office in the Colorado mountains on my desktop PC and scribble occasional notes by hand when I’m away from the office.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Depends on the book. My Detective Max Richards is loosely based on someone from real life. The other characters are pure fiction. My Jake character and most of the characters in those books are pure fiction, except for one. A young male friend wanted to be included in the book I was writing, so I put him in, but in a fictional manner.
Describe the process you use for naming your characters? I knew immediately what Detective Max Richards should be like, so he was easy. He’s very much like my detective husband. Everything about Jake came to me totally out of the blue and completely intact, name included.
Real settings or fictional towns? Why? At first, I used only fictional towns. Then I discovered it was okay to use actual towns. I prefer to use a fictional name for the town, that is my base setting. So the answer is, I use both. The reason I prefer fictional towns is that I don’t want readers who know me to confuse fiction with fact. I’ve discovered readers see themselves or people and places they think they know in my books, though they are wrong.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Secrets of the Dead by Caleb Pirtle III is my all-time favorite. However, in a different genre, I think Where the Crawdads Sing is a fictional masterpiece.
What’s in the future for you and your writing? Hopefully, Jake will continue to stay with me as I continue to write. Book #5 is already haunting me. I also intend to write another non-fiction book about Mild Cognitive Impairment because it has touched my life via someone very near and dear to me.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? I am a Charter Member of the Public Safety Writers Association, having started with Roger Fulton as The Police Writer. I am also proud to have won ten PSWA Writing Competition Awards since the day I sent that first manuscript in to see if it would sink or swim. I’m also a member of The Rocky Mountain Fictions Writers. GHOSTED is my seventh published book.
Jim said, “If we kill him, and get caught, they will electrocute us. If we kill him, we have to do it in a way that can’t be proved.” He went on, “We gotta make sure the rest of the prisoners know it was us, so they’ll fear us.” They spent weeks coming up with plan after plan.
* * * * *
Ben, the youngest and least threatening on the chain gang, was the water boy. He shuffled up and down the line passing out water from two canvas buckets hanging by ropes from a wooden yoke. A tin cup was attached to the yoke by a cord. The prisoners were allowed to dip bug laden and brackish water twice each hour. Pete reveled in his domination of Ben by forcing him to fill the cup and hand it to him.
Ben said, “We can grind up glass to a fine powder and put it in his cup. It’ll cut his innards to pieces.”
“It’ll cut you, and the guards will see your bloody hands.”
“I’ll carry it in something and slip it in before I get to him.”
“I like the idea, but not glass. There are too many risks. If you get caught, what’ll you say?”
The chain gang was on a particularly tough stretch of the swamp, clearing brush and bamboo. Hardly a week went by without someone getting bit by a snake. Everyone, including the guards, was jumpy. As one of the prisoners put it, “You had-ta look where you was cutting every time you swung your machete. Otherwise, you could-a hit a snake.”
The men carried long bamboo shafts to thrust ahead of where they worked to get the snakes to move away; even the guards had poles.
Ben had read somewhere that finely shaved bamboo slivers could kill a man slowly and painfully with little evidence. In these surroundings, he was sure he could conceal this deadly gift.
“I’ll try bamboo and see if it does the job.”
The next day Ben cut a few inches from his shaft. Working with a jailhouse knife made from a piece of tin, he cut fine shards. So fine, they were almost invisible to the human eye. He wasn’t careful, and a sliver got stuck in his finger. He felt the pain but could not see the offending shard. “Damn, this hurts.”
“How you gonna test it?” Jim asked.
A pack of mongrel dogs hung about the camp surviving on scraps, roadkill, and what they could beg off the prisoners and guards. “I’ll try it on one of the mutts.”
Jim asked, “How can you do that?”
“Easy, I’ll save my meat Saturday and mix in the bamboo.”
Angrily, Jim retorted, “I mean, how can you kill a dog?”
“Easy if it will help get rid of Pete.”
Jim slumped, head down as he whispered, “Oh, God.” After a moment, he looked up and said, “Okay.”
Two days later, Saturday, the one night a week they got meat, Ben saved what passed for meat, ground-up hog, beef entrails, and chicken scraps. Because it was his plan, Ben said, “I’ll do it.” After dinner, he slipped one of the dogs, a mangy collie mix, a handful of bamboo-laced meat.
Ben and Jim watched the mongrel. The first day they saw no change in its behavior. The second day the dog began whimpering and crawling around in pain—the third, it passed blood from its ass and coughed up more—the fourth it died.
Two days later, Ben gave Pete a water and bamboo cocktail. Based on their experience with the dog, they expected some sign on the second day. Pete seemed as healthy as a sadistic bastard can be. Ben thought about giving him another dose of bamboo. Jim vetoed the idea as too risky.
Ben smiled at Pete and said, “How’s the water?”
“What the f*@k are you talking about, punk?”
Ben smiled. He made sure that Pete’s crew overheard the exchange, a conversation he repeated as the day wore on.
On the third day, Pete began to complain of severe stomach pain. Walking up with a bright smile, Ben almost sang, “Hey Pete, you want another cup of water? I fixed it special for you.” Pete declined—by then—it was too late.
By the fourth day, Pete was shitting and puking blood. He couldn’t walk. Even the guards knew he was dying. Once again, Ben offered to bring him water.
It took Pete five days to die.
No autopsy, no investigation, just a quick burial in an unmarked grave: the other prisoners knew Ben had killed Pete, only not how. Life on the chain gang remained hard.
Ben was never attacked again.
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/author/george.cramer
Public Safety Writers Short Story Non-Published
Honorable Mention – HARD TIME
The story is serialized in three segments. “Hard Time” was the inspiration for a chapter in A Tale of Robbers and Cops, a historical novel covering fifty years in the lives of two brothers, career criminals, and the men and women in blue who must deal with their crimes.
Hard Time – Part 1
They weren’t killers by nature. Jim Tucker born, in 1912 to Georgia sharecroppers, was three years older than his brother Ben. His memories of home were of a one-room house, a shack really, where he, his parents, two brothers, and two sisters ate, slept, hated, and grew old prematurely. His family survived on less than $350 a year, half what maintained most American families. They were lucky. They had inside running water. The one place where any privacy could be found was the stinking privy out behind the equally foul-smelling chicken coop.
The landowner refused to do anything to ease their suffering. The walls were of roughhewn planks cracked and decayed to the point they no longer kept out the wind or rain. The Tucker’s waged a constant battle with the elements to keep the place livable. Nailing and repairing the wooden walls, applying tar paper, and sheets of tin seemingly did nothing to solve the problem. Their father succumbed to alcoholism and consumption at the ripe old age of forty as the Great Depression began. He left behind a wife and five children to fend for themselves.
Nine months later, their mother remarried a widower who had four children of his own. With eleven mouths to feed, Jim felt it would be easier for all if he left. Ben went with him. Two days later, they stole their first car—their first step in a life of crime.
The following week, broke, hungry, and with nowhere to sleep, they held up a gas station. Immediately caught, there was no trial. The deputy sheriff who arrested them said, “It’ll go better for you if you plead guilty and get it over.”
The judge who presided over their arraignment did not ask or offer them an attorney. Instead, he said, “Boys, the deputy tells me you want to plead guilty.”
Jim answered, “Yes, sir, I guess so.”
“Did you steal the car?”
“Did you hold up Mr. Smyth’s gas station?”
“I guess we did,” Jim began and added, “Yes, sir, we did, sir.”
“It sounds to me like y’all are guilty. How do you plead?”
“Ben, how do you plead?”
“I guess guilty, sir.”
“Son, you have to plead guilty or not guilty, one or the other.”
Sentenced to three years on a Georgia Chain Gang, they endured back-breaking work. The labor was difficult enough without the swamp, inhumane guards, and brutal inmates. Still years away from becoming a wildlife refuge, the Okefenokee Swamp covered 400,000 acres of Northern Florida and Southern Georgia. This shallow peat-filled quagmire was home to more than four hundred species of animals, including alligators, venomous snakes, and panthers.
Assigned to lay down a roadway for what was to become Georgia State Route 94, the convicts cleared a swath of land wide enough for a two-lane road into the heart of the swamp. They suffered immensely from the heat and never-ending swarms of insects. The prisoners had no protection from the elements other than the rotting and mildewed tents, the warden and guards referred to as inmate shelter.
The guards fared little better in the hastily erected temporary buildings moved whenever the roadway inched another five miles into the unforgiving swamp. The warden had a decent home in Fargo, miles outside the swamp. An infrequent visitor, he came to inspect the camp once a month to verify the records of new, released, and deceased inmates. If an inmate was unfortunate enough to die after the warden’s monthly visit, his remains were unceremoniously buried in a shallow, unmarked grave.
Guarding the prisoners was an unpleasant task made even more so by the environment: rain, sweltering heat, humidity, insects, snakes, and any number of other unpleasant experiences. The guards endured constant pain and discomfort. They were generous in passing their pain on to the convicts. One guard was often heard repeating, “If I have to put up with this shit, dem fu%#ers are going to suffer even more.”