Wendy Whitman has a unique background through her decades-long work as an executive and producer for Court TV and HLN, covering almost every major high-profile murder case in America. Through her knowledge of the most detailed aspects of the crimes, Ms. Whitman has become an expert on the subject of murder in America. Before attending Boston University School of Law, Whitman worked for comedians Lily Tomlin and George Carlin. After graduating from law school, the author embarked on what turned out to be a twenty-year career in television covering crime. She spent fifteen years at Court TV and another several at HLN for the Nancy Grace show, where she appeared on air as a producer/reporter covering high-profile cases. Whitman received three Telly Awards and two GLAAD nominations during her tenure at Court TV. Her debut crime thriller novel, Premonition, was released last year. The sequel, Retribution, will be out this July.
RETRIBUTION: After the shattering conclusion of Cary’s quest for justice for the victims of a suspected serial killer in Premonition, Retribution picks up with her cohorts continuing their investigation to hunt down the person responsible for the heinous murders. Who will be next? More importantly, who will come out on top in this deadly game of vengeance?
What brought you to writing? My passion for murder victims and what they have gone through drove me in large part to begin writing. After Court TV and then on Nancy Grace’s show at HLN covering high-profile murder cases, I always felt I had a book in me. I wanted to share my knowledge of the legal system with the public. Although I initially thought I’d write a non-fiction book, I realized I could do everything I wanted in a fictional novel. So one night, I sat down and didn’t stop writing until the early morning hours of the following day. My first crime thriller, Premonition, was a labor of love. I incorporated twenty-plus true cases throughout the book, which I think is unique for a crime thriller, and gave it that extra touch of realism. My second novel, Retribution, picks up where the first one left off. Since I began my writing journey, I have found ideas popping into my head all the time. I am already working on my third novel.
Tell us about your writing process: I didn’t have a plan when I began writing Premonition. The words just flowed out of me. But as the first draft progressed, I knew I had to make a daily schedule in order to complete the book in a reasonable amount of time. So I decided every day, no matter what came up, I would write a certain number of pages; usually, that was twenty or so. Often when I was out and about running errands, an idea would pop into my head, and I would pull over if I was driving and make a note of it. Then when I got home, I would continue to write until I reached my goal for the day. They say, “write what you know.” That thought guided me throughout each writing session. This technique worked well for me, and I completed the first draft in under four months.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? This can be a tricky question to answer. I think one of the most common questions an author gets asked is: “Am I in your book?” As I wrote my novels, I found that I automatically drew upon my experiences; my life. So in that regard, you could say every character has some basis in reality. However, none of my characters were based on one single person. They were either composites or, in some cases, completely made up. Although some situations in the book may be loosely based on actual events, the characters in those situations are not necessarily actual people. When writing fiction, it is especially important to distinguish your characters from the real people in your life: they are not one and the same.
What kind of research do you do? Generally speaking, when an author is writing a fictional novel, there is less research to do than if they were to write a non-fiction book. However, in the case of Premonition and Retribution, since I included references to many true cases in both novels, I had to be careful to get the facts straight. I chose certain murders to highlight in each book for different reasons. Some cases I chose had been neglected by the media; others because the protagonist or killer in the novels was fixated on them. I looked up each case to ensure I remembered the crimes’ details correctly so the books would be as accurate as possible.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? The answer to this is both. Again “write what you know” is a good guideline for any author. The best way to maintain true authenticity throughout a novel is to write about something you have firsthand knowledge of. My novels are set in Connecticut, in the general area where I reside. Although in certain cases, I modified the name of a town or business. Each was based on an actual place. In certain instances, I used the real name because I thought it was important for the setting. So my books have both real locations and fictional ones inspired by real places.
Do you have any advice for new writers? The first piece of advice I would give a new writer is twofold: the overused but critically important “write what you know” and write about something you are passionate about. That combination is a winning formula. Part of the reason I think it was relatively easy for me to complete the first draft of my debut crime thriller, Premonition, in under four months was because I had so much knowledge bottled up inside of me about a topic, i.e., murder. Readers can distinguish between an author who knows what they are writing about and one who does not. Trying to pen a novel about a topic you don’t have a handle on will go nowhere. You can’t fake it; write from the heart, and nothing can stop you. One last piece of advice: when writing, don’t stress about whether you will find an agent or a publisher. How will you promote the book? These are distractions that need to be put on the back burner until you have finished the actual task of writing. Take pride and pleasure in your creation; most of all, have fun with it.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Writing my first novel, Premonition, was therapeutic for me for several reasons. Having covered some of the most horrific murder cases for decades, I wanted to find a release from the horror of it all. Writing turned out to be the outlet I needed. I wanted my debut crime thriller to pay homage to murder victims and their families. I think I accomplished that goal, and I believe that intention is what makes my novels distinctive from other thrillers. The tagline of my website is: Bringing True Crime Experience to Crime Thrillers. That is exactly what I tried to do with Premonition. The story continues with Retribution, and I am currently working on a third novel to complete the trilogy.
*Facebook: Renee’s Reading Club; A Novel Bee; Global Girls Online Book Club; Peace Love Books; Wild Sage Book Blog
*Sisters in Crime National and Sisters in Crime-CT
*ITW (International Thriller Writers)
*Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/3IEbXqs
The heading is my life in a nutshell. It’s my birthday, so I’m taking a break from the usual routine to tell you a little bit about me and answer two questions posed by fellow authors—who tried to stump me—they failed.
If you don’t already know, I’m an enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California. Combining police, private investigator, and corporate experience, I have about forty years of investigative experience. Earning a BA – History from California State University – Hayward took me a dozen years of poor scholarship. Nearly four decades later, I returned to school at Las Positas College. I took a break to earn an MFA-Creative Writing Program from the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, before finishing an AA in English from Las Positas.
I was fortunate to conduct and manage thousands of investigations throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia. After forced retirement, I kept my investigative skills honed by volunteering as an investigator at the San Leandro, California, Police Department.
I want to begin with a shout-out to an incredible mentor, Ramona Ausubel. Ramona was one of my mentors at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is a fantastic author, and her latest novel THE LAST ANIMAL is the People Magazine Book of the Week. PRE-ORDER NOW!
Besides writing, my passion was long-distance motorcycle riding on my 2001 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic—my first scooter was a 1959 or 60 Honda 50 (I got stopped for drag racing on it). My sixty-year biker life ended last year when an accident left me with several broken bones—it wasn’t the first time.
Shelley Riley asks: What inspired you first to start telling tall tales? I’m not one of those who has been writing all their life. I was about to turn sixty-seven when the most incredible place I ever worked, PALM, was bought out, and the layoffs began. I ran security and investigations and got advance notice of pending layoffs. Near the end, my name came through.
Feeling strong and unprepared to retire, I began an unsuccessful job search. I learned all about age discrimination. I had sworn never to enter a Senior Center until a writing class was offered. I falsely believed it would help my stellar resume, so I signed up.
To my surprise, it was a fiction writing class. Amazingly, I fell in love with writing and gave up looking for any other type of work. I have two stand-alone novels, and Book One in the New Liberty – A Hector Miguel Navarro series comes out in a few weeks.
Michael A. Black asks: Your writing of dialogue in your books is fresh and realistic, yet it also moves the story along. What tips would you give to other writers for writing convincing and authentic dialogue? I learned early on that I had to leave out the normal jibber-jabber that occurs in our everyday conversations. However, dialogue has to seem natural and to the point, adding to the plot and character development. When I began writing, I included a lot of unnecessary chit-chat. With rewriting and the help of Critters, I started writing more explicit dialogue—there has to be a reason. I ask myself: Why am I writing this? I cut, reevaluate, and rewrite if the conversation is unclear or without purpose. Occasionally, the dialogue seems to wander. When this happens, I’m laying the groundwork for a future event or character development of someone not in the conversation.
I try to add a touch of humor at least once in each chapter, helping humanize my characters.
May will be busy as New Liberty is released, and I will be doing readings and book signings. I hope you can join me at one or more events.
1. 5/9/2023 – New Liberty release – available for pre-order
2. 5/10/2023 – I will moderate the Upstate South Carolin Sisters-in-Crime Mystery Book Club. Michael A. Black with be discussing Chimes at Midnight.
3. 5/13/2023 – Las Positas College Literary Festival – Book signing with local and indigenous authors. Tommy Orange is the keynote speaker. It’s FREE!
4. 5/18/2023 – Barnes & Noble, El Cerrito, 6:00 – 7:330 – Book signing with Lisa Towles
5. 5/20/2023 – NorCal Spring Author Showcase, Orinda Books, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. – I will read and sign
6. 5/272023 Barnes & Noble, Dublin – 1:00 – 3:00 Book signing.
7. 5/28/2023 – Barnes & Nobel, Walnut Creek – 2:00 – 4:00 p.m Book signing
You can find me at:
California Writers Club – Mt. Diablo
Crime Writers of Color
Sisters-in-Crime – NorCal
Sisters-in-Crime – Colorado
Sisters-in-Crime – Coastal Cruisers
Mystery Writers of America – NorCal
If you can, pop over to Lois Winston’s blog. Her guest today has the initials: GDC.
Links for my books:
The Mona Lisa Sisters
Robbers and Cops
New Liberty -Book 1 in the Hector Miguel Navarro Series
Vaseem Khan is the author of two award-winning crime series set in India. His debut, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was a bestseller, translated into 16 languages, and a Sunday Times 40 best crime novels published 2015-2020 pick; the series won a Shamus Award in the US. In 2021, Midnight at Malabar House, the first in the Malabar House novels set in 1950s Bombay, won the Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger, and in 2022 it was shortlisted for the prestigious Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award. MW Craven, CWA Gold Dagger winner.
ELEVATOR PITCH – THE DYING DAY by Vaseem Khan. Bombay, 1950. A 600-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy vanishes, leaving behind a series of complex riddles and bodies. ‘The Da Vinci Code meets post-Independence India.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I wrote and submitted my first novel aged 17! It was awful. I spent the next 23 years and seven novels trying to get published before landing a four-book deal for my Baby Ganesh Agency series. Perseverance is important. But more crucially, it’s important to recognise that quality will out – it takes time and effort to bring your writing to the standard that agents and publishers consider publishable. On my website www.vaseemkhan.com you’ll find a blog piece entitled “Is this is a Dagger I see before me – lessons from 30 years of writing”. It might be useful.
What was your debut novel? And what happened next? My debut, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, was written after I went to work in India for ten years. It became a Times bestseller after I launched it on the BBC Breakfast sofa to an audience of several million! I then found myself having to write a novel a year. That has meant strict discipline. Luckily, I’m a deadline masochist!
Tell us about your writing process: Wake up. Drown in a few moments of existential angst. Remember that there are still books and cricket in the world, so it can’t be all meaningless. Write for about three hours until my brain stops working. Potter around for the rest of the day, avoiding any DIY assignments my wife would like me to tackle.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? I’m a detailed plotter – that takes months to get right. My current historical series is compared to Agatha Christie in style – so much so that this year I’m speaking at the International Agatha Christie Festival. The books include complex clues and, sometimes, codes and cyphers, as well as a wealth of historical detail about the period when India became independent after 200 years of British rule. Balancing all these elements is a challenge!
What do you feel are your biggest writing achievements? Getting published after two decades of trying! Followed by winning a Crime Writers Association Historical Dagger, the world’s premier prize for historical crime fiction – for Midnight at Malabar House. In the book, we meet my protagonist, Persis Wadia, newly qualified as India’s first female police Inspector at a time when India is still an intensely patriarchal society. No one knows what to do with her, so they stick her in Bombay’s smallest police station – Malabar House – where all the rejects and undesirables are sent. And then a sensational murder – of an English diplomat – falls into her lap… and she’s off! In fiction, we love pioneers. There’s something mythic about a protagonist challenging the status quo. Persis, as a woman in a male dominated environment, is forced to prove, time and again, that she belongs. As a man, it wasn’t easy to write such a character!
Why do you write about India? I was born and grew up in England but lived in India for a decade in my twenties. It was an intense culture shock. In The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, there is a chapter that takes place in a slum in Mumbai. I visited that slum while living in India, and it was eye-opening to observe poverty on a scale we simply can’t imagine in the West. At the same time, it was life-affirming to see the locals just getting on with things – especially the ever-grinning kids!
How do you come up with character names? A great character name is euphonious, meaning it is pleasing to the ear because it fits the character completely and makes them more real. I trawl through hundreds of online name lists to get just the right name.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, introduced a middle-aged Mumbai policeman who must solve the murder of a poor local boy – whilst dealing with the odd dilemma of inheriting a baby elephant. What do you do when you live on the fifteenth floor of a tower block, and someone sends you an elephant? Read the book to find out! That elephant has become incredibly popular with readers around the world, so much so that I continue to get email about him. To be clear: he doesn’t talk or fly or solve the mysteries. The elephant is merely a symbol for India and allows me to showcase a different side of Chopra’s personality – he’s a very rigid and honest man. He has to gradually come to terms with the idea that he is responsible for this animal’s welfare.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? I wrote a female lead for the Malabar House series because I wanted to say something about the patriarchal, sometimes misogynistic society that was India in the 1950s. Persis is ambitious, so much so that she is sometimes quite ruthless in her desire to prove herself. And why shouldn’t she be? We allow male mavericks in crime fiction, so why not a female?
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? Always! For instance, inThe Dying Day, the second book in the Malabar House series, we see twin plots. A 600-year-old copy of Dante’s The Divine Comedy vanishes from Bombay’s Asiatic Society, and the case lands on Inspector Persis Wadia’s desk. Uncovering a series of complex riddles written in verse, Persis – together with English forensic scientist Archie Blackfinch – is soon on the trail. But then they discover the first body.In a subplot, Persis must also investigate the murder of a beautiful white woman whose body is found on train tracks. Could the two cases be related? The trick is to plan in advance exactly how your subplots fit together. If they don’t hang together at all, I think it can sometimes lead to readers feeling cheated! .. Oh, and to date, only one person – an Australian reader – has claimed to have solved all the riddles in The Dying Day. The challenge is made!
Do you base any of your characters on real people? A lot! Early on in Midnight at Malabar House, Persis finds herself working with Archie Blackfinch, an English forensic scientist based in Bombay. They get off to a rocky start, but we know this is going to be one of those will-they-wont-they situations. And this presents a challenge for Persis. Because, of course, this is India just after Independence. The idea of an Indian woman in a relationship with a white Englishman… They’re both socially awkward people – but whereas Archie is one of those Englishmen who’d rather hack their own arm off than speak out of turn, Persis’s determination to succeed sometimes means that she’s a bit ruthless, such as when she almost shoots Archie’s ear off. I guess you could say there’s a lot of me in Archie. (Though my wife hasn’t shot my ear off. Yet.)
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m getting ready to promote THE LOST MAN OF BOMBAY, the third book in my Malabar House series, out in August in the UK and Kindle in US on August 18, 2022, hardcover on November 22, 2022, in the US. Frankly, I’d buy it just for the amazing cobra on the cover! It’s set in 1950 in Bombay, India. In this one, a white man is found frozen to death in a cave in the Himalayan foothills. His face is crushed, making his identity a complete mystery. When the case lands on Persis’ desk, she discovers a notebook on the body holding a series of cryptic clues. As Persis and Archie Blackfinch chase down the clues, more murders occur in Bombay of Europeans. Could there be a serial killer loose in the city? Pre-orders really help, so don’t be shy!
How do our readers contact you?
The Book Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/readrecommendreview
UK Crime Book Club https://www.facebook.com/groups/ukcrimebookclub
Lost in a Good Book https://www.facebook.com/groups/1715381925391873
Mystery Readers Café https://www.facebook.com/groups/2024429557790696
Bookaholic Café https://www.facebook.com/groups/BookAholicCafe
Book Connectors https://www.facebook.com/groups/1466353170351020
Crime Fiction Addict https://www.facebook.com/groups/507750129408471
The Crime Book Club https://www.facebook.com/groups/CrimeBookClub
The Fiction Café Book Club https://www.facebook.com/groups/FictionCafe
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”