FRANK ZAFIRO – The Pain and Joy of Writing A Long-Running Series

Frank Zafiro writes gritty crime fiction from both sides of the badge. He was a police officer from 1993 to 2013, holding many positions and ranks. He retired as a captain. He is the award-winning author of over forty novels, most of them crime fiction. You can find out more at http://frankzafiro.com

 

 

 

On October 4, 2023, my novel, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, the fourteenth installment of my popular River City series, will be released. When I wrote the first book in the series, Under a Raging Moon, back in 1995, I couldn’t have predicted that I’d still be writing about these characters almost three decades later.

     

But I’m glad I am.

River City is a police procedural series that follows an ensemble cast of officers, detectives, and even leaders as they face a different challenge each time out. To date, RCPD has encountered robbers, kidnappers, rapists, gangsters, a school shooting, a serial killer, a terrible chief of police, and more. Through it all, one of my intentions was to show these events in a realistic light. In fact, these books have been favorably compared to the works of Joseph Wambaugh and Ed McBain in that respect—high praise, if you ask me. One reader called them “a paperback ride-along, ” which also sums it up well.

In the beginning, I thought I’d be focusing mostly on a young patrol cop named Stefan Kopriva. But by the time I hit the second book, Kopriva’s fate on the department was already sealed (though he lives on in a spinoff series, the Stefan Kopriva mysteries). Another officer, Katie MacLeod, rose to the forefront. And while she was certainly first among equals, I spent considerable time with a half dozen other characters—the veteran Thomas Chisolm, partners Anthony Battaglia and Connor O’Sullivan, and police leader Lieutenant Robert Saylor, to name a few.

That’s not to mention a score of others that the reader gets to know less well but still interacts with. Then add in the fact I’ve written enough short stories in this setting to fill more than three collections, and the result is that the River City canvas is heavily painted upon. (The nice thing about the short stories is that it allows me to explore main characters more deeply at times, and at others, to explore characters who don’t get to be stars in the novels but do in their own short story).

The River City timeline starts in 1994 with the first novel. The newest book, All the Forgotten Yesterdays, is set in 2010. That’s sixteen in-universe years. A lot of things change in sixteen years (especially when it’s been twenty-eight years for me in our world!). I’ve made sure these changes are reflected in the series. New technologies and tactics emerge. There are marriages, retirements, and even deaths. No one is safe from the ravages of time.

Katie MacLeod was in the very first book, and by the third book, she had emerged as the core character of the series. Even so, she sometimes plays a minor role in certain books, such as her sole appearance, Chisolm’s Debt. In other outings, she is the POV for the entire book—this is true in The Worst Kind of Truth and again in All the Forgotten Yesterdays. She will retain her status as a major POV for the next couple, as well.

But time marches on. More than half of the officers prominently featured in the first book have either retired, been promoted, or are dead. It’s been difficult to say goodbye to them, whether that was due to their demise or simply because their new position meant I wasn’t going to be featuring them nearly as much. This is the pain I’m referring to in the title of this essay.

The steady march of time also requires rookies to join the department and graduate to veterans. As Katie’s role changes, new officers fill in her old roles—whether as a patrol officer or a detective. Getting to know these new officers and introducing them slowly over the course of several books, is one aspect of that joy I referred to in the title.

Does this require knowing where things are going for the next seven or eight books? If you’re not an outliner, this might sap the fun of creation for you. I’m not an extensive outliner myself—more of a note-taker—but I have to say I have found it at least as satisfying to view my series through the meta lens as through the micro.

In the micro, I’m right there on the street with the characters in each individual book, reveling in the details that make for good police procedurals. That experience is about moments.

In the macro, I get to see the long view of things and explore the journey and the ultimate fates of these fictional characters. That experience is about the years, even the decades.

Honestly, there is joy and pain in both elements. Here’s what I mean: I’ve only been moved to tears while writing a scene on two occasions. The first was in the fourth entry of the series, And Every Man Has to Die. As the title suggests, someone does die. Writing that scene—indeed, reading it back to my wife later on—choked me up and brought tears to my eyes. It was all pain.

The other instance was in The Worst Kind of Truth, which I wrote eleven years later. This time, the scene was a wedding. Now, I don’t normally cry at weddings. But this one was a long time coming. It tied directly back to that death in book four and represented a sort of healing without forgetting. Thus, it was both happy and bittersweet. Pain and joy, you see.

I think, in the end, what it comes down to is this: after spending almost three decades of my life with these characters and shepherding them through almost two decades of their own fictional lives, I’ve come to see them as being real. I know it’s a writer’s worst cliché, but it is absolutely true. And because their journey hasn’t been a static one, but has passed through time and events as well, there has been plenty of opportunity for both pain and joy to occur.

But, on balance, mostly… joy.

(Note: Even though this is #14 in the series, each volume stands alone, too. You can start anywhere in the series, but if you want to experience what I just wrote about, I suggest going back to number one).

http://frankzafiro.com/
email: frankzafiro@msn.com (or contact button on website)
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/frank-zafiro
Buy ALL THE FORGOTTEN ESTERDAYS: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BSB6HFPJ
Check out the whole River City series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRDW2SN

14 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    This was a terrific post. I just finished The Ride Along. It knocked my socks off! I just started the The Worst Kind of Truth which I bought at the Public Safety Writers Conference. Frank graciously personalized it for me. These opinions are right on–Frank is a writer’s writer. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      Thanks, Thonie! I am mid-way through BY FORCE OR FEAR at the moment and look forward to seeing how it wraps up. I’m already composing my (positive!) review!

      Thanks for your kind words about THE RIDE ALONG. It is a book I am especially proud of, so it feels good to hear it landed for you.

      Enjoy THE WORST KIND OF TRUTH!

      Reply
  2. Vicki Weisfeld

    I’m so glad you confessed to tearing up when you read certain scenes in your own novels. I do that! Even though I know what’s coming and have read the scene many times. I thought maybe I was being too semtimental, too Something. BTW, I enjoyed the story about the mummy that you gave out at the conference. Good work!

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      Thank, Vicki! I’m glad I’m not the only one, too!

      I think it comes back to how real your characters feel to you. Plus, as authors, I believe our empathy factor is dialed up to eleven to begin with, so…

      I’m glad you liked THE BASTARD MUMMY!

      Reply
  3. John Schembra

    I met Frank at the PSWA conference a couple of years ago, and can sympathize with his feelings on writing two or more diferent series. On the one hand, I really dislike leaving my Vince Torelli series (6 books) to undertake another series with a new proagonist and other characters, which is an off-shoot of the Torelli book #6, Southern Justness. It almost feels like I am insulting Torelli to do so, feeling like he is no longer interesting, but it’s also exciting.
    I will return to Vince in the near future for a 7th book, at least, but will write 2 or 3 in the new series, with Detective Sergeant Louise (Louie) Princeton. Using a different locale for her stories helps asuage those feelings of betrayal of Vince- talk about your characters becoming real, eh?
    By the way, I have a copy of The Ride Along waiitng on my nightstand to-be-read-stack.

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      That’s an interesting take, John, and I know how you feel… sorta. I mean, I always enjoying “fooling around” with other series but going back to River City has the feel of a comfortable pair of jeans to it.

      Looking forward to your thoughts on The RIDE ALONG!

      Reply
  4. James L'Etoile

    I agree with Michael Black’s comments here. Frank is the consummate professional. He’s a superb writer and the River City series is but one example of his ability to bring real life into his fiction. Many ex-cop writers can tell a story, Frank makes you feel the story.

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      Thank you, Jim! Coming from you — a talented storyteller — that means a lot!

      Reply
  5. Marilyn Meredith

    I met Frank long ago in Seattle during a mystery convention Delighted to meet him again at a PSWA conference. All the praise for his books are well-deserved. And as for his comments about his series, I totally agree about writing a series, I have two and to me the characters are real. I know how they will act and what they think. Thanks for sharing

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      High praise, Meredith — thank you!

      And you would know, when it comes to writing long running series!

      Reply
  6. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    I enjoyed this post immensely, Frank. You know you’re doing something right when your own writing chokes you up, and I’m so glad you told us about those two times it happened to you, particularly as you stressed the importance of the long-term connection between time 1’s tears and time 2’s tears. Thanks for exploring the ‘micro’ and the ‘macro’ with us. Congratulations on the success of this series.

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      Thank you, Pamela — it was my pleasure. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Frank Zafiro is a writer’s writer and a pro’s pro. Last year I was blown away by his book, Ride Along, which he co-wrote with Colin Conway. I was fortunate enough to meet him at the PSWA Conference two years ago and can say he’s a nice guy. It’s interesting that he began this series when he a young copper, and continues to write it after he retired from the force. The comparisons to Wambaugh and McBain (especially the latter) are very appropriate. He’s an excellent writer and his River City books reflect not only his writing talent but a unique, behind-the-scenes look at how police think, feel, and react. Check out his books, You won’t be sorry.

    Reply
    • Frank Zafiro

      Wow, Mike — thanks for the high praise! It means a lot, coming from you.

      Reply

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JAMES T. BARTLETT – Journalist – Public Safety Writers Association Member

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 jbartlett2000@gmail.com

 

4 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    Thanks for this, James. I enjoy learning about a book’s origin story. It’s also interesting how sometimes what we expect to work against us (like you NOT being from Alaska) ends up being a plus rather than a negative. Best of Luck with ALASKAN BLONDE.

    Reply
    • James T. Bartlett

      Thanks Michael – they’re certainly easier for me than fiction, because the structure etc is already in place. And honestly, as we all know, there’s nothing more fascinating and strange than what people will do in real life…

      Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Sounds like you’ve got a lock on those true crime mysteries, James. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • James T. Bartlett

      Thanks Michael – they’re certainly easier for me than fiction, because the structure etc is already in place. And honestly, as we all know, there’s nothing more fascinating and strange than what people will do in real life…

      Reply

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THONIE HEVRON – How Mentoring Helped Shape Her

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.

Why?

  • 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

28 Comments

  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I’m with you Thonie, Marilyn is also a mentor of mine, not just about writing, but about living. The most important mentor I’ve had in regards to writing has got to be Michael Black. He has a gift in the sense of not being critical, but being constructive. He’s certainly made a different in my writing. That’s the wonderful thing about the PSWA group, so many of our members are more than willing to offer ideas, suggestions and literary help. I would have to say that the entire membership of PSWA, at least the ones who have attended the conferences in the last 14 years I have been a mentors to me.

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      So true, Joe! Some terrific folks willing to help.

      Reply
  2. John Bluck

    Thonie, I’ve read two of your books, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Thank you for telling your personal story here. Cheers!

    Reply
  3. Steve Rush

    Thonie,

    Thank you for this insightful article, and congratulations on your success. I look forward to reading your novels.

    Reply
  4. Mysti

    Thanks for sharing this! What a great reminder that a rising tide floats all boats–so let’s keep helping each other!

    Reply
  5. Donnell Ann Bell

    How lovely, Thonie, I have so many mentors I couldn’t possibly name them all. I hope I have returned the favor. I have certainly tried. Congrats on managing such a hectic schedule!

    xoxo

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Donnell, I’ve almost read through all your books. You are fast becoming my favorite author! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Reply
      • Donnell Ann Bell

        What an amazing compliment. I am fast becoming one of yours 🙂 Thank you!

        Reply
  6. Sharon Hamilton

    Thonie, so great to see your successes over the years. Thank you for mentioning me, although I really didn’t do very much. But it is nice, when you’re first starting out, to have someone point you toward something you can do, until you find your voice, pacing and footing. There’s a lot more to writing great books than just the writing of them. An encouraging word is always helpful to me as well, even with my books out. Everyone always looks up to someone.

    One thing you probably never knew was that I was one of those people you gave a ticket to “badge heavy”. I came back to my car when you were writing me up! No talking could talk you out of it, either! As it should be…

    I didn’t have the heart to tell you that, but now I can! LOL. All the best for your future successes to come. Sending love and yes, love Florida. I think I’ve always been a Southern Girl at heart. Found my home.

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Offline, Sharon and I figured out that it wasn’t me who gave her that darn ticket!

      Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Rest assured I got my humility handed to me on a plate by this cop who I truly respected. The nature of the job is a negative for the public (tickets for being a minute late…) but I like to think after my epiphany that I made it less miserable.

      Reply
  7. Thonie Hevron

    George,
    Thanks so much for having me today. As always, I appreciate your kind thoughts. I’m looking forward to seeing you in Las Vegas for the Public Safety Conference in July! You’re one of my favorite folks.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      I’ll be there with bells on. By the way, you just made me blush. Awh, Shucks.

      Reply
  8. Pete Klismet

    I have 3 favorite writers and Thonie is one of the three. I also have my wife and sis-in-law hooked on Thonie’s books. She is a great writer and, even better, is a great person with a tremendous imagination. We always are anxious to read Thonie’s next book. Knowing we have three to read soon is a great bonus.

    Reply
  9. Michael A. Black

    Thonie is an inspiration to all of us. She’s a fabulous writer and I’m looking forward to her next book.

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Thanks, Mike. I hope you recognized some unnamed mentor(s) in that post. You’re a pal and I treasure your help through the years.

      Reply
  10. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Wonderful post! Thanks, George & Thonie. Paying it forward is the best way to journey on in this career. 🙂

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Thanks, Rhonda. This is best as a shared journey.

      Reply
  11. John Schembra

    Terrific article. Thonie is a great writer- I have read all her books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Only one thing I disagree with- Knowing this wonderful, kind person, I find it hard to believe she ever could have been a “jerk” 🙂

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Thanks for your kind thoughts, John. But there was a time when I had my role in law enforcement all wrong. I thank God that officer had the sand to speak to me. He opened me to the path of many valuable life lessons.

      Reply
  12. Marie Sutro

    Love this article! Mentors matter and everyone has something to give. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  13. Galit

    Wonderful essay – it’s good to give thanks!
    But WOW, 2500 words a day? Hope you still enjoy writing!

    Reply
  14. Marilyn Meredith

    Thonie, thank you. I’ve always admired you and your words are extremely kind. My biggest mento was a woman named Willma Gore who is no longer with us. She and I were in a writing group together and she taught me so much about writing. The group was founded and run by Shirley Hickman who taught me so much about grammar. Both women were, and is Shirley’s case, are close friends.

    Reply
    • Thonie Hevron

      Marilyn,
      You’re in my personal hall of fame–both as a writing mentor and friend. Hope to see you in July!

      Reply

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The Tables Are Turned—George Cramer Is Interviewed

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. BlackAmazon 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?

Email: gdcramer@outlook.com
Website: https://gdcramer.com
Blog: https://gdcramer.com/george-cramer-blog/
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/george.cramer.56211

Buy Books: There is a buy link on my website.

Amazon – https://tinyurl.com/4xw228ft
Barnes and Nobel -: https://tinyurl.com/4t4h6x8y

20 Comments

  1. Camille Minichino

    What a team here! Thanks George and Mike, not only for your massive contribution to the world of great books, but for all you both do for authors.

    Reply
  2. Donnell Ann Bell

    40 years of research helped you write Robbers and Cops. I have been so self-absorbed with family, forgot I read this marvelous interview. Mike, you ask phenomenal questions that really help a person consider how to answer. Well done, you two.

    Reply
  3. Donnell Ann Bell

    Lovely interview. Thanks, Mike for interviewing George. George I’m honored you like Black Pearl, and I, sir, should be asking for YOUR autograph! Think I’ll try your library system for writing. I like absolute quiet too!

    Reply
  4. Marie Sutro

    Love that you still write in cursive! Can’t wait to read Robbers & Cops!!

    Reply
  5. Jonathan

    Always enjoy learning new things about you.
    Sounds like we need to plan a dive trip.

    Reply
  6. Madeline Gornell

    Great interview of a great guy! Kudos Mike and George!

    Reply
  7. Johanna Meadows

    What a great interview. Always good to hear about you George!

    Reply
  8. Violet Moore

    To Michael and George. One of the best interviews I’ve read .

    Reply
  9. Cynthia

    Great interview. I did not know you didn’t swim! I have pre ordered your current book Robbers and Cops!!! Can’t wait till it comes in…and you sign it!!

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth Varadan

    What a great interview. I’ve enjoyed reading the blog posts here, but especially enjoyed learning more about you and your books this time. Robbers and Cops definitely goes on my TBR stack.

    Reply
  11. Victoria Weisfeld

    What an entertaining interview! Thank you both, Mike and George.

    Reply
  12. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    George, your honesty was refreshing. I too don’t like horror stories, but one of my favorite books was Stephen King’s THE STAND. Mike is a great interviewer and obviously knows his way to get writers to say things they wouldn’t normally say. I truly enjoyed the interviewer and the interviewee. I admire both of you and look forward to reading ROBBERS and COPS.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Thanks, Joe. I’m glad you enjoyed both Mike and me. It was fun for us as well.

      Reply
  13. Michael A. Black

    George, you’ve done so much to support other writers that I couldn’t pass up this chance to turn the tables and have me interview you. I read an advance copy of Robbers and Cops and thought it was great. Thank you for letting me sit in your chair for this one. Stay strong.

    Reply
  14. Wanda Dean

    George, I so enjoyed this interview! You amaze me in many ways.
    Writing is a lot like painting as you say! And when you say you don’t add fluff, I sure can
    identify with that… Fluff just takes away from the words and the painting…
    I downloaded 2 of the books you mentioned and look forward to reading Robbers and Cops!

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Hi Aunt Wanda, this must be a beautiful time in Western New York, especially for such a talented artist as you. Keep those brushes moving.

      Reply
  15. George Cramer

    Mike, Thanks for reversing the tables on me. You must be a detective! You forced information out of me that I would never have shared otherwise.

    Working on this blog has become joy.

    Thanks to all the folks who have posted here and those who visit and support the community of writers.

    Reply
  16. Lynn Carlson

    Have read many of your blog posts -enjoyed learning more about you! Thanks for supporting other writers.

    Reply
    • George Cramer

      Hi Lynn, thanks for dropping by and your kind comments.

      Reply

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MICHAEL A. BLACK – From the Wild West to Modern Day Bounty Hunter

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.

19 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    Thanks, Joe. I value your friendship as well. Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply
  2. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I certainly agree with what everyone has said about Michael’s books and will continue being a buyer. I’ve already read 5 of his books and only have 42 to go. The thing I like about Mike is not only his friendship, but it’s the help he has given me with my writing. He is unselfish and generous with his critiques without being condescending. As a novice writer it is good to have a friend who is such a professional.
    George, as always, your interviews are first rate.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Raymond, Rick, and Maddie thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. Your friendship and support means a lot to me.

    Reply
  4. Madeline Gornell

    Congrats, Mike! You are amazing…off to Amazon right now…

    Reply
  5. Rick McMahan

    Another really good series from you, Mike. I enjoy the characters and storylines. Keep it up, brother.

    And a great interview.

    Reply
  6. Raymond Benson

    I’ve known Mike a LONG time. He’s a consummate professional and I’m happy to know him.

    Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Thanks, to all of you who’ve stopped by and especially to those who commented.
    I appreciate your support. These comments, coming from such a talented group of writers means a lot to me. You’re the best.

    Reply
  8. D. Record

    Congratulations on your series. Look forward to reading your latest book and when your Western comes out.
    Continued success. You’re an inspiration to the rest of us.

    Reply
  9. Mysti Berry

    congrats to one of the hardest-working writers in crime today!

    Reply
  10. Dave

    I have always enjoyed Mike’s novels and stories. You get a real sense of the street in them. Not only are his books entertaining, but they remain authentic as well, obviously written by one who’s been there. Can’t wait to dig into the newest one(s), lol!!!

    Reply
  11. CAMILLE MINICHINO

    OK, it took me a minute, but now I get it. Mike BLACK distantly related to Zane GREY. Good one, just like all your books!

    Reply
  12. Martin G

    Mike’s books are well-written. Looking forward to his latest.

    Reply
  13. Nick Chiarkas

    Excellent Blog Post. I will pick up your book and read it with a glass of bourbon.

    Reply
  14. Nick Chiarkas

    Excellent blog; I’ll pick up your book and read it with a glass of bourbon.

    Reply
  15. Bob Doerr

    Hi Mike, looking forward to reading these!

    Reply
  16. Steve Rush

    Hi Mike,

    I purchased Devil’s Vendetta two days ago and look forward to reading it and the others in the series. Thanks for sharing a bit about yourself and your writing.

    Reply
  17. Victoria Weisfeld

    Ordered my copy of Mike’s new one. Coming soon . . . But can I keep up??

    Reply
    • John Schembra

      Mike is a friend and a terrific, prolific author. I’ve read a couple of his Executioner books and a couple of his westerns. I’ve enjoyed every one. He is an amazing writer.

      Reply
    • George Cramer

      Victoria, I know what you mean. I just ordered the last two in an effort to get caught up.

      Reply

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