Good morning. I am Albert vande Steeg, an immigrant from the Netherlands. My careers include ranch hand, police officer (detective) contractor, and a builder of missionary buildings in fourteen foreign nations; Europe, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific.
Cops have many stories that relate humor, intrigue, serious crime, and danger. Most of these stories are told when cops get together and they “one-up” each other. Others are told at family gatherings. When the stories are good and told well, someone will say, “you should write a book.” That is what my former partner said, and six months later, The Black Band had its first draft.
Yes, it was a struggle to get published. Having no experience and no writers club or conferences to guide, I found the Writer’s Market with all the publishers and agents listed. Reading this taught me how to persevere. Six months later, the contract was offered, and nine months later, The Black Band was published by Oak Tree Press.
The Black Band has been rewritten and titled “The Canopy.” Many of the stories found in the book originated at the cop bar, The Canopy. That is where stories were told and retold over mugs of beer and giant “Texas” cheeseburgers.
Writing about places is easier if one is familiar with the setting, so the descriptions are natural and real. Maps are used to correct street names and create a community the reader will identify as genuine.
Finding names for characters posed a real difficulty. Remembering created names of people not known brought a memory fog to writing. The solution was to name all the good and liked characters the first name of a friend or person that is admired and the last name of another such person. The bad guys then became people who are not liked or admired, again mixing first and last names. That is easy to do when doing police work.
For instance, there was a particular thief who stole calves from farmers. Knowing that many farmwives use the cash they receive from selling calves for their grocery fund, I was offended because my early years were spent in hunger during WWII. His name and that of a Sergeant who stole a pistol from the evidence locker became the name of the calf thief.
Speaking of hunger reminds me of that time enduring the pangs of hunger and the fear of living under the Nazi occupation, a story told each year to the fifth graders at our local elementary school. Having heard the war and immigration story, these students and their teachers suggested that it would be a good read if written.
That was the birth moment for writing The Dutch Winter. I knew how it started and how it would end; the plot and stories would flow as writing began for a historical novel. It had to be a novel in order to include the many stories told by parents, uncles, and aunts and historical accuracy for locations and events. The research was done by touring the sites in Holland and subscribing to a group that publishes Dutch war events, and I interviewed people who lived during that time.
Since there is a retirement home with many Dutch residents nearby, it is easy to find people in their nineties who would tell their stories over a nice lunch at their favorite restaurant. There I found a spry ninety-three-year-old lady who carried messages for the underground resistance as a girl of sixteen. She was a lovely lady with great humor who cried when telling of the horrors she experienced.
The Dutch Winter is not limited to one hero or heroine. The Dutch were patriotic and brave in their zeal to resist Germany and protected the lives of the underground fighters and Jews from capture and extermination in concentration camps.
Another main character is a Dutch patriot that returned to Holland from Minnesota to fight the Nazis. He is paired with the girl who delivered messages, and they fight side by side, and, as every story needs some romance, they marry.
That required that I know where he came from and be familiar with his hometown. I chose a small country town where a friend was born and raised. Along with a map and internet search of the town, Pease, Minnesota became real.
To ensure that the cities, streets, and places in Holland were spelled correctly and placed geographically, I secured maps of these places to verify accuracy.
All my writings bring the characters to life with their beliefs and practices. During WWII, it took faith in God and strength of character to survive hunger and fear. Thirty thousand Dutch died of starvation during the winter of 1944-45. The majority were grandfathers who gave what little they had to their children and grandchildren and then searched for food and died on the streets, too weak to continue.
That patriotism and spiritual strength is evident in The Dutch Winter.
The Dutch Winter and The Canopy are available to order at any bookstore or Amazon.
My website is Albertvandesteeg.com and my email is email@example.com
Vicki Weisfeld’s short stories have appeared in leading mystery magazines and various anthologies, winning awards from the Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Public Safety Writers Association. She’s a book reviewer for the UK website, crimefictionlover.com.
The crime/mystery/thriller genre is what I like to read, so that’s what I write. Puzzles, seeing justice meted out, preventing catastrophes. Some thirty of my short stories have been published, and this summer, my first novel, the murder mystery Architect of Courage, comes from Black Opal Books. I especially enjoy stories about ordinary people in difficult situations where they must use their wits and skills in new and unexpected ways. And I like a story with a bit of a lift at the end. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one trending toward better days.
My novel’s protagonist, successful Manhattan architect Archer Landis, is one of those ordinary people. Ordinary, that is because he doesn’t have any martial arts training or obscure weapons expertise. No experience tracking ne’er-do-wells. He is a Vietnam veteran, but his service was decades before this story takes place in the summer of 2011.
People often ask where I get my ideas. The short answer is: everywhere. Real-life events, interesting people, or amalgams of several of them, tricky situations born in my imagination can be an initial spark. Architect of Courage is a 350-page novel that started with a specific imagined situation. I envisioned a married man (Landis) entering his girlfriend’s apartment and finding her murdered. It’s all I had, and I covered it in the first two pages. 348 to go!
The threads that eventually worked their way into the story—his marriage, his troubled relationship with his son, how the police treat him, their suspicions about the dead woman, her faked identity, whom he relies on among his friends and colleagues, the succession of mysterious attacks—all that developed later.
If you know the terms “plotter” and “pantser,” you’ve probably already pegged me as a “pantser.” I could no more plot out all my scenes before I begin, as some excellent writers do than I could fly to the moon. I write by the seat of my pants, letting the story grow organically, and the relationships deepen as it moves forward. I throw in bits of information (potential clues) as they occur to me and keep those that ultimately fit. Yes, it’s a little messy at times, but I enjoy that thrill of discovery.
For example, early in the story, the police show Landis shocking photos of scars on his girlfriend’s wrists, evidence of a serious suicide attempt. He hadn’t known about that. The explanation of the scars isn’t revealed for 258 pages, when it emerges as a significant piece of evidence, totally unanticipated those many pages earlier. I credit my subconscious mind with figuring out that problem and giving me the answer when I could use it!
Truthfully, I do make some efforts to organize the chaos. When I get to a place where I can’t easily answer the question, “now what?” I take a big sheet of paper, write the main character’s name in the center, and array all the other characters around, maybe with a few notes about their conflicts or characteristics. Then I draw lines to show how they intersect. Opportunities for new and unexpected connections emerge and points of possible conflict. Perhaps a superfluous character is revealed—someone with few connections to anyone else. That person may best be edited out!
One strategy I’ve found helpful in moving from short story to novel is to keep a list of “story questions.” I can’t reveal everything upfront; it is a mystery! Unresolved issues may be, “Where did the gun come from?” or “How did he know she’s allergic to shellfish?” Making sure all those questions or clues have answers—artfully buried, I hope—means that when readers reach the end, they feel satisfied. Television programs too often do not do this. The credits roll, and it’s “What just happened?”
Nor can I withhold some key piece of information and plop it on the last page. Readers have to have reasons to at least suspect that two characters are brother and sister, for example. They need “Aha!” moments. As Aristotle pronounced a long time ago, the best endings are both surprising and inevitable.
I’m also asked what it was like to write a male protagonist. I’ve spent a lot of time around confident, assertive men. I know how they act. Landis is a busy, successful professional. He’s not rude, but he’s direct. It saves time. He’s also a mentor to the people working for him in a profession that requires creativity. He can’t squash their inventiveness, and he’s full of praise when it’s merited. Typically, he makes clear his expectations about end results and lets them figure out how to get there.
I did pick over his dialog to make sure it wasn’t laden with weak phrases like “I just want,” “If you don’t mind,” “May I suggest,” and qualifiers like “somewhat” or “kind of,” which I consider waffle-words. If Landis wants something, he says so. And I usually substitute “need” for “want.” There’s a website where you can paste in your manuscript—any length—and run it through an analyzer to find out whether it reads “masculine” or “feminine.” Architect of Courage is “weakly male,” but at least it’s male! I found that aspect of writing this book interesting. Fun, too.
A few words about the publishing journey. Long. Hard. Exhausting. Though I’ve internalized all the advice about crafting pitch letters, synopses, etc., my queries to agents rarely received a response. I gave up on that and turned to smaller publishers who take unagented queries and are open to genre literature, especially crime. Architect of Courage was professionally edited twice. While, on the one hand, I hoped this would suggest to prospective publishers they wouldn’t have to invest a lot of editorial time, on the other, I didn’t want to give the impression I considered the book perfect and would resist their ideas and suggestions.
The best advice I have for wading into the publishing waters is to develop a long—and growing—list of prospects and send queries (strictly adhering to their wildly varying requirements, of course) in batches of three to five. Two weeks later, send another batch. An Excel spreadsheet helps, and save a copy of each cover letter to be sure of what you sent. Having additional prospects in the wings keeps the job from being too disheartening. I handle my short stories the same way. Rejection? Fine. Next! At least it has worked for me thirty times!
Vicki blogs at www.vweisfeld.com.
Nick Chiarkas grew up in the Al Smith housing projects in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When he was in the fourth grade, his mother was told by the principal of PS-1 that “Nick was unlikely to ever complete high school, so you must steer him toward a simple and secure vocation.” Instead, Nick became a writer, with a few stops along the way: a U.S. Army Paratrooper; a New York City Police Officer; the Deputy Chief Counsel for the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; and the Director of the Wisconsin State Public Defender Agency. On the way, he picked up a Doctorate from Columbia University, a Law Degree from Temple University; and was a Pickett Fellow at Harvard. How many mothers are told their child is hopeless? How many kids with potential simply surrender to desperation? That’s why Nick wrote “Weepers”—for them.
Weepers: The murder of an undercover cop in a New York City Housing Project in 1957 has unexpected ties to the unsolved disappearance of a young father walking home in those same Projects with his son, Angelo, on Christmas Eve 1951. The only witness to the cop killing is Angelo, now 13, as he was on his way to set fire to a grocery store at 2:00 am. The killers saw him. These events forge a union between a priest, a Mafia boss, a police detective, and Angelo, a gang member. In Weepers, we see that if you drop a rock into the East River, the ripples will go all the way to Italy. In the end, Weepers shows us that the courage of the underdog—despite fear and moral ambiguity—will conquer intimidation.
Awards for Weepers:
• Firebird Grand Prize Best Book Award (2022)
• Best Mystery Novel for 2017 the John E Weaver Excellent Reads Award by Earthshine. https://www.speakuptalkradio.com/nick-chiarkas-firebird-book-award-winner/
• Award Winner – Best Novel of 2016 by the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA)
• Award for Best Book Award by Midwest Independent Publishers Association (MIPA)
• Award for Best Young Adult Novel for 2016 by Bookvana
• Award for Best Crossover (Mystery & Young Adult) Best Books Award for 2017
• Award for Best Young Adult Coming-of-Age by Readers’ Favorite for 2018
Nunzio‘s Way: Nunzio drifted back to his childhood there on the Lower East Side. The narrow, trash-lined streets and alleys weaved together decaying brownstone tenements with common toilets—one per floor. Alone at ten years old, after his mother died, he learned to survive in one of the most notorious neighborhoods in the city. He shoveled coal and guarded the produce stored there by the ships docked off South Street to pay for living in the cellar at 57 Canon Street. After school, Nunzio mostly walked the streets. He recalled the putrid smell of decomposing cats and dogs covered with a trembling blanket of insects, rats, and things he didn’t recognize. And lying in the gutter against the sidewalk on Pike Street was a horse, with old and fresh whip wounds, shrouded in a cloak of flying and crawling insects. Only three years later, at the ripe age of thirteen, Nunzio killed his first man, a hulking longshoreman people called “the bear.” His life and the lives of four of his friends changed forever. Plenty of other horrors and hardships confronted him throughout his life, but when he closed his eyes, Nunzio saw the horse.
“Nunzio’s Way” In 1960, Declan Arden, an ambitious New York City lawyer, asked his boyhood friend and client, Nunzio Sabino, the most powerful organized crime boss of his time, to help him win the election for mayor. Nunzio agrees to help Declan, telling him, “In this city, you can have anything you want if you kill the right four people.” In Italy, after killing a top member of the Gomorra, Heather Potter, arrives in New York City seeking vengeance on the people who murdered her family. Those people include Nunzio Sabino and Mac Pastamadeo. Mac is the father of Angelo, the leader of the Weepers gang.
NICK’S FAVORITE WORKSPACE
Five fun facts most people don’t know about me (Nick Chiarkas)
- I received the Law Enforcement Commendation Medal from the Sons of the American Revolution, and I received the Equal Justice Medal from the Legal Aid Society – These two awards are not in conflict but in harmony. I believe that no one is above the law’s enforcement nor below its protection.
- I raised my two oldest children mostly as a single dad – just the three of us. They taught me a lot.
- I was one of a handful of NYPD cops sent to Woodstock in 1969 to provide security – it was incredible.
- While in an Army hospital, I received a very kind letter from J.D. Salinger.
- I was in the movie The Anderson Tapes (Starring: Sean Connery, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Walken).
Available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, University of Wisconsin Bookstore, Mystery to Me, other local independent bookstores, and from the publisher.
Leaving international thrillers to world travelers, Donnell Ann Bell concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. Traditionally published with Bell Bridge Books, she has written four Amazon single-title bestsellers. Her most current release is Black Pearl, a Cold Case Suspense, book one of a series, and Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense, Book two, to be released May 31, 2022. To sign up for her newsletter or follow her on social media, check out www.donnellannbell.com
Hi, George; thank you for inviting me to chat with your readers on your esteemed blog. Before I begin this extremely important subject, I’d like to ask your viewers, especially if they are reading this on their laptops, how many of you have a sticky note or an obstacle blocking your computer camera lens? I’m not a statistical guru, but I would wager the number is more than 50 percent. That, or your newer laptop comes with a device that does it for you.
Did you know that in 2020 (and quite possibly before), employers purchased software programs to monitor their off-site employees to verify they weren’t surfing unrelated work sites and were, in fact, working? People quickly started logging off at night to avoid these unwelcome electronic voyeurs.
I think about things like this because, as my blog title suggests . . . well, you know. I’m careful to research apps to ensure they aren’t loaded with malware. When I’m at my son and daughter’s homes, I whisper around Alexa, stare cryptically at the baby monitors, and don’t get me started on the Ring doorbell. I’ve even searched the dark web . . . All right, no, I haven’t gone anywhere near the dark web. But my antagonist in Until Dead, A Cold Case Suspense has.
I had so much fun creating an evil character who has in-depth knowledge of everything I fret about. At first, I thought I was being ridiculous, that my ideas were over the top. But I’ll have you know I have people—IT expert friends—who not only didn’t laugh at my plot, they dove in and verified what I was writing.
So, imagine you’re on an FBI task force and an assassin with explosives, weapons, and IT skills, one who calls himself The Tradesman, has been hired to take out an assistant U.S. attorney? Would that make you . . . uncomfortable? I bring back my entire team (and a few newcomers) from Black Pearl, A Cold Case Suspense. Fortunately, this task force is smarter, braver, and far more qualified than the author. But I should warn you—there will be times in Until Dead, my task force is paranoid.
Until Dead, a Cold Case Suspense releases May 31, 2022, and is now available for preorder. Until Dead: A Cold Case Suspense – Kindle edition by Bell, Donnell Ann. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.
Pre-order at your favorite bookstore today!
“This outstanding follow-on to Donnell Ann Bell’s Black Pearl [is] highly recommended!” — Barbara Nickless, Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts Bestselling Author
This killer won’t stop . . . until she’s dead
When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is a gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope’s own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope’s former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.
As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA’s aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.
FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments, knowing he’s being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn’t know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades old cold case.
Connect with Donnell!
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Virgil Alexander was born in his parent’s home in rural Gila County between Globe and Miami, Arizona. His uncles and cousins worked in law enforcement for various agencies. His dad was a volunteer reserve deputy, so he grew up with a lot of cop-talk. His father raised subsistence livestock and kept horses, so as a youth, he spent a lot of time taking care of these. His recreation was camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and riding. His hot summer afternoons were spent reading at the Miami and Globe public libraries. He enjoyed history, mysteries, westerns, and Arizona geography and nature.
He worked for 42 years in mining jobs, from laborer to corporate management. After retirement, he began consulting with museums on mining and Arizona history, researching and writing papers for the Historical Society, and articles for newspapers, magazines, and webpages. He is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, Public Safety Writer’s Association (PSWA), Western Writers of America, Southwest Writers, and Storymakers. He has won awards from the PSWA in categories: Best Published Fiction Book and Best Non-fiction Published Article.
Alexander’s contemporary rural police series, the Deputy Allred & Apache Officer Victor Series, consists of five mysteries published by Aakenbaaken & Kent. Broken Earth is the 5th book. Alexander’s books are infused with real settings in which the natural and human history of the place is part of the setting. The western lifestyle of ranching, farming, timber, and mining feed into the stories, as does the contemporary Hispanic, Mormon, and Native American cultures.
Broken Earth: Released by Aakenbaaken & Kent on October 6, 2021.
Sergeant Al Victor must walk a thin line between legal ethics and sacred Apache secrets when a fellow medicine man goes bad and flees into the sacred Broken Earth.
My Writing In my pre-retirement career I wrote technical manuals, standard operating procedures, research papers, and training manuals. I also wrote public communications articles and project newsletters. This turned out to be a handicap when I started writing fiction. I sent my first draft of Wham Curse to an editor, and she called me and asked, “Are you an engineer?”
“I’m a technical superintendent.”
“I thought so. You write like an engineer; STOP IT!” She then spent several weeks teaching me not to write like an engineer.
When I’m actually writing my story, I have the general idea in mind. From this, I create a simple outline to refer back to when I start wondering where is this going? But I don’t write to the outline; I let the story flow as it goes. This impromptu style often takes turns I didn’t plan on and often requires adapting earlier parts of the story to make more sense.
I write in vignettes representing one viewpoint, either of a character or the all-knowing narrator. In order to keep track of characters, I maintain a spreadsheet of all my regular and minor characters. So a jeweler, or medical examiner, or rancher from an earlier book might reappear in the book I’m working on when I need one of those people. Likewise, I track all the vignettes and storylines on a spreadsheet. These allow me to control my clues and events in a logical sequence.
Because my books involve two neighboring agencies, I always have multiple storylines. Some of them involve both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tribal Police, and others only involve one of the agencies. So I may have from three to six major storylines, plus quite a few minor ones.
I write several strong women characters in my books, principally Deputy Pat Haley, but also FBI agents, a State Department attorney, ranch women, and Deputy Sanchez’s petit wife, Jennie, who in one of the books shoots a bad guy to save her husband. How do I write my women characters? I think of a man then take away reason and accountability… Wait. No, that was Jack Nicholson. I base my women on women I know or have known. I was fortunate in my career to work with many outstanding and competent women, many in nontraditional roles. The women closest to me, my wife and daughters, are highly accomplished and leaders in their chosen fields.
I generally do a lot of research as I write. Since I really have no idea where my story may take me, about the only preparatory research I do is on the places I plan to use and if I have a particular source of murder I want to pursue. So when I wrote scenes in Chaco Canyon, I researched the place, as well as the organizational structure of the park, the routes that can be used, hotels and restaurants my people would use, etc. Then as I develop the story, I research new items as they pop up.
I use real places for my settings, including towns, streets, specific stores, cafes, wilderness trails, mountains, rivers, hospitals, etc. The only time I use a fictional place is if the place is really bad so that I won’t put a bad light on a real place. If somebody gets food poisoning at a restaurant, it will be a nonexistent place.
Many of my characters are based on real people I have known. I don’t say who I translate as a character because some would be honored, and some would sue. Most are a conglomerate of several people from whom I’ve borrowed their looks, integrity, dark side, or manner of speech.
Looking forward, I will likely write more books in this series. I would also like to get my book on the history of ranching in Gila County finished up. I have been dabbling in writing an epic historical novel using all real people and history to track the western movement of the American frontier, factual but written in novel style.
George, I appreciate the opportunity to appear on your blog. If anyone wants to know more about me, they can go to my webpage to see an expanded bio, all my books, my blog, coming events, photos, and more at: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/