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.
My latest thriller, The Unseen, was published in June 2019 by 9mm Press and was a Distinguished Favorite for the 2018 IPPY Awards in the Thriller category and was the winner of the Crime Fiction category of the 2019 NYC Big Book Award.
“Lisa Towles weaves an exquisite tale of deception, ancient scrolls, and kidnapping that spans continents and lifetimes. Beautifully rendered, The Unseen is a must-read for thriller lovers!” (Cat Connor, Author of The Byte Series)
My standalone thriller Choke was published in 2017 by Rebel, and it’s about a bioengineer who develops a cigarette that cures lung cancer. That book was a Distinguished Favorite in the 2017 IPPY Awards and the 2018 NYC Big Book Award in the category of Thriller.
My four previous books were published under my previous name, Lisa Polisar, including Escape: Dark Mystery Tales (2010, Nukeworks Publishing), The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007, University of New Mexico Press), Blackwater Tango (2002, Hilliard & Harris), and Knee Deep (2001, Port Town Publishing).
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Trusting my writing voice enough to allow it to lead the way. Learning to let go of the reins and not try to control everything is a hard lesson. But I’ve discovered that my best writing comes out when I get out of the way, listen, and let my characters take over.
Plotter or Pantser? My outlining style is like driving with my low beams on. I don’t really plan chapter-by-chapter, but I keep a list of upcoming scenes, so I typically know what to do for the next 3-4 chapters. I often get glimpses of how a book is supposed to end and have no idea how I’m going to get there. And that’s the whole fun! -?
What are you currently working on? I’m writing my first series right now – a California-based thriller series, and I’m about 80% done with Book 3. I’m also writing a new standalone thriller.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Oh my goodness, yes. The Mystery Writers of America NorCal community means so much to me and was an important anchor to help me get through 2020. More recently, I re-joined Sisters in Crime NorCal and have been enjoying their frequent write-ins, including a small group that writes from 10-11 pm weeknights. Both organizations have some really wonderful programming that keeps me connected to the how and why of crime writing.
Favorite books/authors: I have so many favorites it’s hard to narrow it down, but I’ll list four:
• Montana, 1948 by Larry Watson is one of my early favorites. I love that book because it’s about what I care about the most in my books – secrets.
• The Resurrectionists by Michael Collins
• The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez Reverte
• The Quantum Spy by David Ignatius.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I think about six months. I wrote my first book when I was 20 after I finished reading the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I wrote that book, called Real Horizons, longhand on legal pads. I wouldn’t allow myself to buy a new legal pad until I’d filled in every inch of the current one because I didn’t want to jinx it, so to speak. That book was never published, but it was one of my most important accomplishments because when I finished it, I could finally say that I’d started a creative project that I actually finished.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I think characterization, in general, can be very challenging. My book The Ghost of Mary Prairie is a heartland suspense that takes place in Grady, Oklahoma, in 1960. The main character is Jake Leeds, a 15-year-old boy. I don’t have any brothers, so I’m still a bit bewildered by that book, and I don’t really know why Jake Leeds’ voice and presence was so strong in my head.
What kind of research do you do? Exhaustive research. Internet research, but that’s top down, so I also try to link up with someone in the field I’m writing about to consult with an actual expert who has more foundational (professional training) knowledge in the field I’m writing about. And before the internet was so widely used, I used to connect with someone from the Chamber of Commerce in whatever area I was researching to ask for maps, feedback, local resources, and people in a community who could answer questions. To me, the most important thing about research is to get a hands-on experience of what I’m writing about.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I feel like I wasted a lot of time, in my early 20’s, trying to be good instead of trying to be me. I read constantly, I still do, focusing on the classics and the masters. In my desire to be taken seriously as a writer, I think I was trying too hard to emulate those masters. In so doing, I think I hindered my authentic writing voice from coming out. So my advice to novice writers is to read a lot, write, and just keep writing to cultivate your unique voice. That’s the voice of your creative passion, the voice that will sustain you.
How do our readers contact you?
My writing website: http://lisatowles.com/
Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/Lisa-Towles/e/B001JS7KWI?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1618725756&sr=8-1
My writing blog: https://digitalraconteur.wordpress.com/
Facebook Author Page: Lisa Towles | Facebook
Linkedin Profile: www.linkedin.com/in/lisatowles/