Originally from London, James T. Bartlett is the author of Anthony Award-nominated The Alaskan Blonde: Sex, Secrets, and the Hollywood Story that Shocked America, a true crime book reexamining a scandalous 1953 murder that began in Alaska and ended with a suicide in Hollywood.
As a travel and lifestyle journalist and historian, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, BBC, Los Angeles Magazine, ALTA California, High Life, Hemispheres, Westways, Frommers, Crime Reads, American Way, Atlas Obscura, The Guardian, Daily Mirror, Real Crime, Variety, Whitechapel Journal, Sunday Life, History Ireland, and Bizarre, among others.
He also wrote the Gourmet Ghosts alternative guides to Los Angeles and has appeared on Ghost Adventures and The UnXplained, while his short story “Death Under the Stars” features in the recent Sisters in Crime Los Angeles anthology Entertainment To Die For.
The Alaskan Blonde: In October 1953, Alaskan businessman Cecil Wells was shot dead in what his badly-beaten wife Diane said was a home invasion turned deadly, but then the police got a tip she was having an affair with Black musician Johnny Warren, and the murder became a national sensation. Seventy years later, The Alaskan Blonde reexamines this unsolved cold case.
My main job is as a journalist covering travel and lifestyle, but I have managed to carve out a small niche in true crime, as it was initially a big part of the two alternative Gourmet Ghosts guides I wrote about Los Angeles in 2012 and 2016.
I have only written one mystery short story, but I get to live vicariously in that world through my wife, Wendall Thomas. She has just finished Cheap Trills, her fourth book in the Cyd Redondo Mysteries series, and I am in awe of people like her who can create fictional stories out of their imagination.
Working in true crime means there is usually no need to create a killing, a suspect, evidence, or the complex machinations of how it gets solved by the end of the book. Life is not that simple, but history is bursting with real examples of murder and mayhem, lots of them unsolved or unresolved.
Also, as I am sure many PSWA members know, things happen in actual criminal cases that you could never write as fiction because people would not believe it. I came across a number of those with my recent book The Alaskan Blonde: Sex, Secrets, and the Hollywood Story that Shocked America, so buy me a beer one day, and I will tell you about them!
What brought you to writing? My paternal grandfather Jim – who died before I was born – was a respected daily newspaperman in England, where I come from, and that may be where the seed of my being a journalist/writer began.
Otherwise, it comes from being naturally curious. I like to meet people and want to know how things work – the stranger or more obscure, the better. To that end, I always try to write like I talk, with enthusiasm, and I try to write about things I am interested in and would want to read about.
That curiosity certainly led me to The Alaskan Blonde, which reexamines a sensational murder case that happened in Fairbanks in 1953 and ended with a suicide in Hollywood six months later.
What kind of research do you do? For The Alaskan Blonde, I came across a brief article about the murder in the Los Angeles Times archives while I was writing Gourmet Ghosts 2, and had thought: “Well, what happened next?”.
When I couldn’t find anything more substantial about the investigation on Google, I was hooked, so I initially requested police/FBI/archive files as a jumping-off point and then tried to track down living family members to ask them what they remembered about the case.
Being a complete outsider – not family, not from Alaska, not from America, not even born when the murder happened –helped, believe it or not. My English accent did too, but after meeting initial skepticism about why I cared about something that happened so long ago, I was astonished to find out that no one I talked to really knew what happened in 1953. It was simply not talked about and had even been brushed aside as Alaska fought for statehood.
Assembling as many pieces of evidence as I could, I went down many rabbit holes on the internet and, as is necessary, became somewhat obsessed with it all, but by the final chapter of the book, I felt that I could write what I think happened on the night of the murder.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? For The Alaskan Blonde, the hardest thing was interviewing family members and friends and then deciding what was necessary to go in the book, which, after much structural re-arranging, I felt needed a chronological narrative.
Most of the interviewees had been children in the 1940s and 1950s, and almost without exception, the shock waves from the murder still affected them today and had affected their entire lives – and that of their children, too. As such, I often felt uncomfortable and wondered why I was bringing up something so many of them still found it difficult to talk about who I was.
How long did it take to get it published? It took five years of work before the book was ready for people to read. After publication, I was relieved and pleased to get several supportive emails from those family members, thanking me for what I had done: they felt they could finally talk about something that had been a black hole in their history.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? The everyday life of a journalist is about finding and researching ideas, then pitching them in a way that intrigues an editor. The research and writing are the fun part; getting a paying gig is a challenge!
I tend to write at home, as I don’t like to be too far from teabags, milk, and a kettle, but just as often, you’ll find me at the library. Sometimes I’ll listen to music, as it can give me an energy boost and make me write like a demon, but just as often, I’ll wear noise-canceling headphones so I can have silence. I don’t have a set schedule, but I like to work late when the mood takes me. My wife prefers to write in the early morning, and we often pass each other like ships at night.
What are you currently working on? Most recently, I published a Gourmet Ghosts (Pocket Guide) featuring some wild Los Angeles true crime stories about a Catalina Island pirate, a 1930s “Bonnie & Clyde,” and the rumor that Jack the Ripper was in the City of Angels before he bought death to London.
As for my next book project, it may be another Fairbanks story (a suspicious suicide from the 1970s), but that depends on whether my friend at Fairbanks PD finds anything on microfiche that was in cold storage – literally.
You can find out more at www.thealaskanblonde.com and www.gourmetghosts.com and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
I wonder how I would’ve ever gotten where I am today without mentors. This includes the mom down the street who took me under her wing when my mother struggled with her own demons. Early in my law enforcement career (as a meter maid), there was a motor officer who introduced me to the concept of “badge-heavy” and changed my adversarial attitude with the public while I issued tickets–I didn’t have to be a jerk. Later, Fred, a patrolman, was another crucial association. He invited me to testify to the county grand jury as part of an investigation of our police administration. Standing up for the integrity of the job was a beautiful burden. These people were life mentors who taught me valuable lessons that extend through my life today.
But let’s talk about mentors for writers.
Pat Tyler – In most other industries, colleagues could look upon newbies as potential competition. While I’ve found that all writing teachers aren’t necessarily mentors, I can say I have never seen professional acrimony toward another. My first true writing mentor, Pat Tyler, during her Jumpstart Writing class, encouraged me with provocative prompts. She provided a safe, non-judgmental place to read and hone my stories. Then, she pointed me toward Redwood Writers (a branch of the California Writers Club), where I found much more to learn. The motto of the club is “writers helping writers.” It made a significant impact in my writing career.
Sharon Hamilton – Sharon is a prolific romance writer I met through the Redwood Writers. Soon after I joined the club, the idea of signing your emails with your author name and including the links to your work. Sharon barely knew me but spent half a day helping me set this up. This little thing stayed with me. She’s a living example of “writers helping writers.”
Marilyn Meredith – Another invaluable mentor is Marilyn Meredith. She’s a board member of the Public Safety Writers Association, who I met in 2014 at the club’s annual conference. Marilyn is an experienced author who helped me navigate small press publishing and writing ethics. She’s a prolific author of over 40 books who gets up in the middle of the night (4 AM) to accomplish her myriad goals. Even with huge family demands, she writes and promotes almost every day. A lady in the most refined sense, she’s also a model of Christianity—not the clichéd version. She walks the walk. She’s unpretentious, accepts people the way they are, and believes in sharing her gifts—as she has with me. I’ll bet she never even considered herself a mentor. But she is. She continually inspires me to be better.
Recently, I was privileged to be offered a contract job for multiple books. I’d be paid a flat rate for each, and the publisher would reap the royalties. It was a dream come true. But the time frame was strenuous-three books in six months. Yikes. With the support of my family, friends, and colleagues, I signed the contract. The colleague who facilitated this offered me one piece of advice. Write the book, then go back and edit.
So, I did that. In all my years of writing, I’d always thought a thousand words a day was optimum. But with the timeline I had, I had to kick it up a notch. I wrote consistently and turned in 2500 words per day. With the aid of a flexible outline, I completed all three before the deadline. Even though I’d signed on the dotted line, I had no idea that I could do that much work. Until I did it.
That one simple piece of advice changed my work habits forever. I look upon that colleague as a mentor, although he’s too modest to agree with me.
How did mentors change your writing? Do you have one or many? Do you help new writers as they begin this arduous journey?
Even if you don’t consider yourself a mentor, I want to suggest why you should consider it.
- It could change someone’s life—really. Think about words of encouragement you heard that motivated you. Be that person. (see above)
- It will take you out of your own world—we create them in our heads, don’t we? Telling another person about your process attaches words to abstract thoughts. Sharing can enlarge thoughts if you listen. For both of you.
- You’ll be building a writers’ community based on the positive aspects we’re talking about here.
- The life you change may be your own. Sometimes, verbalizing the process gives us a clearer picture. Sharing and giving aren’t unique to humans, but we’ve refined it through evolution.
Let’s keep working and helping each other.
Thonie is the author of four police procedural mysteries set in the Sonoma Wine Country. While three of the books are on Amazon now, they will be re-edited, re-covered, and re-published by Rough Edges Press, an imprint of Wolfpack Press. The fifth book in this series will debut sometime in 2023.
Thonie’s website is www.thoniehevron.com
Author Facebook page: Thonie Hevron Author
By Force or Fear
Intent to Hold
With Malice Aforethought
Felony Murder Rule
With the impending release of George’s latest novel, Robbers and Cops, I suggested he let me interview him for his blog. I happen to know that George is a talented writer and that he’s also very modest. Tooting his own horn is not in this man’s DNA, but I insisted. So here it is: an interview with the author, the man himself.
Now I get to turn the tables on Big George and interview him about his new book and a few other things. Michael A. Black
Okay, George, let’s start with an easy one: In which genre(s) do you write? I’ll try to make it complicated. I began Robbers and Cops as somewhat of a memoir but got bored with the protagonist, switched to a police procedural thriller, and then stopped for eight years to write The Mona Lisa Sisters as historical-literary-woman fiction.
I also write some, very little, poetry. And I love writing flash fiction.
Why did you choose those? I get pieces of stories in my mind that determine what I’ll write. Flash fiction’s inspiration is about telling a story, beginning to end, on one page. Poetry is either about writing or a social issue, such as the 1864 massacre of a peaceful Arapaho and Cheyenne village in “Sand Creek.”
Now tell us a bit about your writing process–Plotter or Pantser? Outlining and I don’t get along. I begin writing with an idea and create ten thousand or so words either at the beginning or at the end. Then, I ponder how I got there, how or where the journey began. I take lots of detours.
Have you ever tried doing it the other way? Yes—total failure.
What do you need for your writing sessions? I still write in cursive, and my handwriting is so bad I need a laptop. Add a flat service and comfortable straight-back chair, and I’m set. I can be at my desk, kitchen table, library, or coffee shop. Conversations don’t bother me, except at home.
Does anything ever hamper your writing? Artificial sounds, music, radio, or television.
It must be hard to screen all of those out. Do you have a special place where you like to write? Libraries, surrounded by books.
What do you love about writing? The hope of using written words to paint a picture another person can experience in such a way as to place themselves in the setting and scene.
Painting a picture… That’s very metaphorical. Your first book references a rather famous picture—The Mona Lisa. Care to tell us what that one’s about? I was attending an introductory workshop when the instructor randomly handed out pictures of scenes. We were given fifteen minutes to describe the setting. Instead, I wrote the end of the manuscript. Eight years later, I finished the journey.
What’s the most challenging aspect for you about writing? It’s when I’m searching for the right colors (words) to paint that perfect scene.
What do you find to be the hardest thing about being a writer? Sitting down and writing that first word. Or when I’ve finished the manuscript, I’m about 10,000 words short. I don’t want to add fluff.
That’s interesting. Most writers try to cut words from a manuscript. How do you determine the proper length? When I finish adding 10K new words, I’ve cut at least 5K and have to go back again.
What is the easiest thing, if anything, about being a writer? The ability to take on any project that allows me to avoid sitting down and writing that first word. My best escape from creating new material is to self-critique and edit my already-written work.
Is there something that you always put in your books? Last year I heard that some author always puts his name somewhere in his work. I took that as a challenge, and I’m hidden in Robbers and Cops. In New Liberty, the first in the Hector Miguel Navarro Trilogy, George Cramer gives advice to a young detective.
Things you never put in your books: Steamy sex. I tried it once, but my two daughters were horrified that I would write about sex—never again.
What are your favorite books (or genres)? Now that is a tricky question. I like Bernard Cornwell immensely. I was not a fan of his until I read a few of his works while studying for an MFA at the Institute of American Indian Arts. But that is strictly for fun. Among my favorites for content and impact, I would have to include Hard Times: For These Times by Charles Dickens in 1854; and The Stranger, the 1942 novella by Albert Camus.
Those would be considered classics by most people. Which current writers influenced you the most? Right up there is The Round House by Louise Erdrich and Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling. These two indigenous authors are incredible.
Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena should be a must-read for every person living in these trying times.
As far as right now, I choose Black Pearl by Donnell Ann Bell. I can’t wait to get her autograph and talk writing.
Are there any books you won’t buy? Horror stories by Stephen King. I can’t handle horror. However, I have a paper and hardback copy of Stephen King On Writing because he is such a phenomenal author.
All right, we’ve dallied long enough. Your new book is Robbers and Cops. Tell us about that one. I’m leaving that to you with the blurb you graciously wrote.
A fascinating odyssey of complex characters—robbers and cops that spans five decades in its telling. Imagine if Elmore Leonard had written The Grapes of Wrath, tossed in a dash of The Naked and the Dead, and finished up morphing into a pure Joseph Wambaugh police procedural. ~Michael A. Black – Amazon Bestselling Author.
Robbers and Cops will be released on November 1, 2022, and is available for pre-order.
So would you say it’s a crime story or police procedural, or a sociological novel? Wow! I would have to say a thrilling sociological police procedural.
You’ve got an extensive background in police work and investigations. Has this helped you with your crime fiction? With Robbers and Cops, I wanted to build a story around two brothers. I met one of them when I helped a San Mateo detective take him into custody. My involvement in the incident was limited to hours, yet the story haunted me for decades. When I fell in love with writing, I used four decades of investigation experience to go from the ending back forty years in time and created the road that ended with my completed manuscript.
What is one of the most daring things you’ve done? Overcoming my fears while becoming a certified scuba diver without knowing how to swim so I could dive with my oldest son, a professional deep water diver—we never did.
That sounds like it would make a good story. Have you considered writing about your experience as a memoir or fictionalizing it into a novel? Never going to happen.
Who’s the most remarkable person you’ve ever met: My Dad.
You’ve got a lot of fans out there. Anything else you’d like to tell them? Please visit my blog and then come make a guest post about your work.
All right. Thanks for the opportunity to let me place the master blog interviewer on the spot.
How do your readers contact you or buy your books?
Buy Books: There is a buy link on my website.
Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/4xw228ft
Barnes and Nobel -: https://tinyurl.com/4t4h6x8y
Our guest today is Michael A. Black, author of over 47 books, including his latest series featuring ex-army ranger Steve Wolf as a modern-day bounty hunter.
Michael A. Black is the award-winning author of 47 books, most of which are in the mystery and thriller genres. He has also written in sci-fi, western, horror, and sports. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations.
Black was awarded the Cook County Medal of Merit in 2010. He is also the author of over 100 short stories and articles and wrote two novels with television star Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). His Executioner novel, Fatal Prescription, won the Best Original Novel Scribe Award. His latest novels are the Trackdown series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, Devil’s Advocate, and Devil’s Vendetta) and Chimes at Midnight (under his own name), Dying Art and Cold Fury (under Don Pendleton), and the Gunslinger series (Killer’s Choice, Killer’s Brand, Killer’s Ghost, Killer’s Gamble, and Killer’s Requiem) under the name A.W. Hart.
Let’s start with something off the beaten track. Tell us something about yourself that isn’t in your bio. Okay…One of the reasons I was interested in writing westerns is that Zane Grey is a distant relation of mine.
You have a new book out. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about it? I’d be glad to. It’s the latest installment of my Trackdown series about disgraced ex-army ranger Steve Wolf, who was wrongfully accused and convicted of a war crime in Iraq and sentenced to prison. Upon his release, his mentor, Big Jim McNamara, picked him up and helped him get back on his feet with Mac’s bail enforcement business, i.e., bounty hunting. Wolf and McNamara had several adventures through the first four books in the series (Devil’s Dance, Devil’s Fancy, Devil’s Brigade, and Devil’s Advocate), and the newest one takes up where the last one left off. It’s called Devil’s Vendetta.
Sounds like a devilish series; what’s the new one about? Devilish is right. Wolf’s goal is to clear his name since he was wrongfully convicted, and through the first four books, he fought to do this by trying to bring the rich and powerful adversary who framed him to justice. In the fourth book, he came close to succeeding, but as everyone knows, nothing is simple when it comes to our justice system. Devil’s Vendetta continues this theme and begins a new story arc. In this book, Wolf receives a call from his mother in North Carolina that his younger brother, Jimmy, has fallen in with a bad crowd, and an intervention is needed. After going back home for the first time since his release from prison, Wolf finds the old adage, “You can’t go home again,” grievously accurate. His hometown has a bit of a problem with political corruption and a growing crystal meth epidemic. To make matters worse, Wolf’s brother and his friends have concocted a dangerous scheme to rip off a drug kingpin. Wolf finds himself battling against superior odds trying to save what family he has left.
And this one continues the series, correct? It does. It’s actually number five in the series. Numbers six and seven are also coming out in short order as well.
You’ve got three new books coming out together? Right. Number six is Devil’s Breed, which takes up where Devil’s Vendetta left off, and then number seven, Devil’s Reckoning, follows in short order. My publisher, Wolfpack, is releasing all three books in the space of about a month (October 4th, October 25th, and November 15th) under their new Rough Edges imprint. I’m feeling a little bit like Charles Dickens. He used to do a chapter a week when his novels were serialized in the newspaper.
That certainly does sound like a quick succession. How long did it take you to write these? I started working on these three last year (2020) in August. I wrote straight through to this past August, with a few other projects interceding from time to time. It was a busy year.
It sounds like it. Three novels in a year is pretty impressive. Actually, I managed to squeeze in a fourth one, but that was a co-author project. I did a novella, too. They don’t call me the fastest keyboard in the Midwest for nothing.
That sounds like a well-earned title. So does the series continue beyond these seven books? Well, each book is a story in itself, with continuing plot threads. At this point, the series could end, but I’ve left enough of a thread that it could continue. That’ll be up to the readers.
What are you working on currently? After spending so much time with Wolf and Mac, I had a yearning to do something different. I also write westerns and had an idea on the back burner for a while. It’s set in 1913 during the early days of motion pictures. It’s got a troubled veteran of the Philippine/American War, a silent movie being filmed, real-life author Ambrose Bierce, the Mexican Revolution, and of course, some nefarious goings-on.
Sounds ambitious. Good luck with that one. But, before we let you go, I have a question about a group you are active in, the Public Safety Writers Association. I understand that you are not just engaged but, in fact, chair the annual PSWA Conference. Please tell us about that.
Sure. I’ve been a member of the PSWA for a number of years and work with the other board members to run the annual conference in July. We always host it in July at the Orleans in Las Vegas and have a great time. I’ve been to many writer’s conferences, and I can truly say that the PSWA Conference is the best. It’s all about sharing your experiences and becoming a better writer. The people are great, and the members come from a variety of backgrounds. It’s affordable and always a lot of fun. Check out the PSWA website for a glimpse of this past conference.
Thanks for stopping by.
Always a pleasure to be on the best of the best blogs, George. Thanks for having me.
How can our readers contact you and buy your books:
Well. Someone in China hacked my website, and I still haven’t gotten around to organizing another one, but all of my books (Ebooks or paperbacks) are available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or at your local bookstore. If you want to get hold of me, my email is DocAtlas108@aol.com. I’m always glad to hear from people.
Whatever you wish to list here, like links to seller/buy sites or any URL.
Devil’s Vendetta: A Steve Wolf Military Thriller (Trackdown Book 5) – Kindle edition by Black, Michael A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Devil’s Breed: A Steve Wolf Military Thriller (Trackdown Book 6) – Kindle edition by Black, Michael A.. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Valerie J. Brooks is a multi-award-winning author of femmes-noir thrillers where the women are badass and take center stage. The first in the Angeline Porter Trilogy Revenge in 3 Parts, was a finalist for the Nancy Pearl Book Award. NYTimes bestselling author Kevin O’Brien called her second novel Tainted Times 2 “… a real nail-biter from the first page to the last.”
Valerie is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. She teaches workshops and classes on writing noir and creating plot twists.
1 Last Betrayal A former criminal defense attorney receives an alarming text and races in desperation to Florida only to find a ransacked apartment, a poisoned dog, and a missing half-sister.
Let me tell you a story – When I was sixteen, I worked as a New England Tel & Tel switchboard operator. Back then, this was a prime job for someone my age, but it could also be boring, sitting there, waiting for lights that indicated a call.
One day, I connected a call from a Laconia phone booth to a Massachusetts number. I asked the caller to deposit the correct amount of change for the three-minute call, connected the two numbers, and closed the switch. I went on to other calls.
After three minutes were up, I went back to the call. As I did with all calls made from a phone booth, I pulled back the switch to listen in on the call so I could break in during a lull in the conversation without the caller knowing.
What I heard felt so dangerous that I couldn’t talk. The man from the Boston number was setting up a hit with the man in the phone booth. I wish I could remember the conversation, but I did understand that the Boston man gave instructions to the man in the phone booth to kill someone who lived in Belknap Acres, a ritzy, gated residential area that was rumored to have an armed guard at the gate.
I wrote down the two phone numbers and the name of the Boston man associated with the number. I wrote down the few specifics I was able to hear. The conversation was short.
After they hung up and I disconnected the line, I questioned what I heard. Was I imagining it? Was it a joke? But I’d heard too many rumors about Belknap Acres and what went on there, who lived there, why there was an armed guard. I had no idea who was supposed to be killed, but I did have an address.
I had to work a little longer before I could signal the switchboard foreman that I needed to speak with her. We went into her office, and I told her about what I had heard.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do anything about this,” she said. “You know we’re not allowed to listen in on calls, and we would have to explain how we heard this information.”
I knew the rules but thought this situation would be different. Someone was going to get killed.
All afternoon, I worried about the call. The hit was planned for that evening. I decided to tell my parents when I got home. They were strict with us kids about living by the rules, but I figured they wouldn’t care that I listened in, not for something like this, and Dad often talked about how corrupt Massachusetts was.
Right away, my mom called the FBI. We figured that someone would take the info over the phone, and that would be that.
Instead, twenty minutes later, two FBI special agents knocked on our door. My parents invited them in. One sat down across from me while the other stood by the door. They wore street clothes, no suits. The agent who asked me questions seemed like anyone I’d run into in town—non-descript shirt and pants, a little overweight, a kind smile. I answered all his questions and gave him the piece of paper that I had saved with all the info. The agent spoke softly and made me feel comfortable, not what I’d pictured from an FBI agent. He thanked me for calling them. I asked him if he’d let us know what happens. He just smiled and said, “No. You won’t find out anything about this unless, for some reason, something happens that the news finds out about.”
He thanked my parents, and they left. We never heard anything else. My dad said they must have been working on a local case, and it could have had to do with the information I gave them.
That was the beginning of my interest in mobs and the FBI.
Now to back up a bit – I’d always loved dark stories, gothic tales of secrets, and writers like Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier. Later I fell in love with Jean Ryss novels. Growing up in New Hampshire added to my interest. As children who were expected to be seen and not heard during adult gatherings, we heard plenty. Families worked hard to be perceived as perfect, but we knew better. Perception is a tricky bit of flimflammery because truth seeps out. And who better to know this than children who seemed to be invisible. Early on, I was aware of what I would later call hypocrisy, but because it didn’t pertain to me at the time, I didn’t explore it until much later when I moved to Oregon and began writing.
My interest in the underbelly of life took full bloom while taking college courses in film noir. I loved the voice, the tropes, and the truthful examination of our culture, lifestyles, and capitalistic drive/greed. For me, noir dispelled the fantasy idea of “happy ever after” and “justice wins.” Perry Mason was a fantasy of good winning over evil. Of course, we need fantasy to escape the hard realities at times, but I just couldn’t write like that or write in black and white. As the brilliant Dennis Lehane says, “I live in the gray.”
Living in the gray when you’re a writer sometimes makes the work harder. How do I give a satisfying ending? What do my characters do that make them fascinating? Usually, my characters are like me, except they push boundaries as I never would. For example, Angeline has killed two mobsters in self-defense. Could I ever do that? I don’t know, but I love her for it.
Being a pantser, I start my thrillers with a setting. I might have an idea about the character, but as in my first of the Angeline Porter Trilogy, I wanted to set my story in Paris. Having been to Paris in 2015 and having taken many notes, Angeline came to life, stepping off the Metro. With the second in the trilogy, the setting had to be New Hampshire, where I grew up. There’s not as much action, but there’s a lot of atmosphere and secrets that Angeline discovers, setting her on a direct path to the third thriller I just finished, 1 Last Betrayal. The secrets lead her to trying to save a sister she never knew she had. Off to Hollywood, Florida, where mobsters ruled back in the day. Its history made me yearn to know more about the setting, which was perfect for the “final showdown” with the mob.
Now I’m immersed in the promoting and launching of the third thriller. I miss my characters. Miss them terribly. I’m tempted to write another Angeline story. “We shall see,” as my Brit mom used to say. One thing I know for sure—I need to start writing again. Whatever the story.
Valerie’s short story prequel to the Angeline Porter trilogy is available for free.
Download it here: “Lake Winnisquam 1982”