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Todays Visitor: Ellen Kirschman, Ph.D.

A Clinical Psychologist People call the Cop Doc

I write the Dot Meyerhoff mysteries: Burying Ben; The Right Wrong Thing; The Fifth Reflection. My non-fiction titles are: Counseling Cops: What Clinicians Need to Know (with Mark Kamena, Ph.D., and Joel Fay, PsyD); I Love a Cop: What the Family Needs to Know; I Love a Fire Fighter: What the Family Needs to Know. Many writers use my non-fiction books as references and get story ideas from the vignettes.

Did you always want to help people and write? When I was a child and again after my second non-fiction book when I grew tired of reality and thought it would be easier to make things up. It isn’t. It’s harder.

Did it take long to become a published author? My first non-fiction book was picked up on the first round of submissions.

Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? I am traditionally published, but maybe try indie publishing in the near future.

Where do you write? I have a home office with a standing desk, and I use a computer.

Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? I cannot write to music. My sentences have to have a certain rhythm. Music interferes with my ability to hear that rhythm.

How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? My protagonist, Dr. Dot Meyerhoff, is somewhat autobiographical, although younger and thinner. As a psychologist, she does things I would have lost my license for doing; impersonating a public official, breaking and entering, and assault with a deadly weapon. I have plagiarized my husband Steve’s entire life for Dot’s love interest, Frank Hollis.

Describe your process for naming your characters? Dot Meyerhoff is named after my mother (Dorothy, aka Dot) and my maternal grandmother, whom I never knew, Rose Meyerhoff. The names of other characters just come to me.

Real settings or fictional towns? I use real settings with fictional names. This gives me the latitude to make stuff up and avoid getting email from readers telling me I got the directions wrong. I’m not consistent, I just finished a short story using real names of towns.  As a working police psychologist, I need to protect the identities of my clients and the departments they are associated with.

What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has? Dot Meyerhoff loves popcorn with red wine. And she never gives up on anyone.

If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? There are too many to name.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?  In terms of writing, I can get pretty riled up at books about cops who kill three people singlehandedly in one day and never suffer any psychological aftermath. As a police psychologist, this isn’t how it happens. Ditto for stories about abused children who grow up to be ninja warriors and kill their abusers.

You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves? Bread, books, and my husband, Steve.

What was the worst job you’ve ever held? There are so many. Being a tour guide at Rockefeller Center almost made me crazy. Repeating myself over and over was torture. I’ve been a secretary/typist/cocktail waitress and gym instructor. Think “Mad Men,” and you’ll understand.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Once again, there are too many to list. I love language, so my favorites, be they mysteries, non-fiction, or literary fiction, have to combine beautiful sentences, deep characters as well as a compelling structure (aka plot).

What’s on the horizon for you? Don’t want to jinx myself, but just maybe another non-fiction book for cops. I also have a completed fourth novel in the Dot Meyerhoff series that is looking for a new publisher. And I’m having a great time working on a standalone. Thanks to the pandemic, I’m really focused.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? This was a different interview. Thanks for asking so many off-the-wall questions. I appreciate your interest. One of the many surprises of being part of the mystery community is how hospitable and supportive my fellow writers are.

Website and/or blog links: www.ellenkirschman.com. I also blog with Psychology Today and contribute a column to the SinC Quarterly.

 

BLACK PEARL – A Review?

Bell, Donnell Ann. Black Pearl. Bell Bridge, 2019.

In most good detective stories, the hero almost always states: “I don’t believe in coincidences.” I beg to offer a different view. In over fifty years of law enforcement and private sector investigations, I have run across more coincidence than you can shake a stick at.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted a few book reviews that I was quite proud of until I got a telephone call.

My best friend is a voracious reader. After but a brief hello, he said, “Cramer, I have to tell you I think a couple of your reviews are bad.” Yep, he used the “B-word.” He went on to tell me that one review was of such a frightening nature; he would never read the book.; another so boring he wouldn’t spend money on it until he read some reviews on Amazon. The Amazon reviews convinced him otherwise.

I asked my friend what was so bad about my reviews, and he said, “You didn’t write them for a reader, you wrote them for someone like you.”

My usual response to criticism about what I’ve written is to get angry, set the comment(s) aside for a few days, and then with a much cooler head examine the %&^$#. Usually, I find value and what has been suggested. In this case, I didn’t need to wait or think it over. I knew he was right.

First coincidence: I had just settled down to read Bell’s, Black Pearl. I had my usual toolkit with me, Post-It notes, pencils, red, black, and blue ink pens, three different colored hi-liters, and a note pad. If you looked at books I’ve reviewed, you would them almost destroyed by the different underlining, high lighting, comments written in the margin, and dogeared pages. These readings take anywhere from one to two weeks.

After the call ended, I took all my weapons of mass destruction and dumped them on my desk. I retired with Black Pearl to where I only read fiction by Bernard Cornwell, Michael Connelly, J.A. Jance, and a rare few others. I read until dinner and then spent the evening enjoying it with my wife.

The next morning, I skipped breakfast and finished Bell’s book before lunch. I enjoyed it and felt fresh; it wasn’t like I had been working on an MFA review.

41lbPhTdeILToday, I wrote and submitted this Amazon Review. I hope it works for my friend.

“Drenched in mystery and violence, from the first page, Bell gives both misleading and factual clues. These are in such a cryptic fashion; it only becomes clear at the end of the action who the killer is. Or does it?

There were several places where I was taken out of the story by a confusing sentence or statement.

What worked for me, but then gave me concern were descriptions. The friendly difference of opinion between Agent DiPietro and the retired sheriff about their choice of motorcycles was realistic and added to the pleasure for me. What didn’t work for me was the lack of description of the Harley-Davidson. Even more distracting was the lack of a word picture of Ouray County and Montrose. I’ve ridden my H-D through there. It is some of the most breathtaking country in Colorado. Bell left out a description of the countryside, as well as some of the other settings.

What worked was the interaction of the characters. Bell drew me into the conversations, and unsaid messages that conveyed much of the action, and worked well with the story’s pacing.

It was an excellent and riveting read. I will buy more of Donnell Ann Bell’s work.”

Second Coincidence: During Shelter in Place (SIP), I am not wearing shirts that require ironing, just T-Shirts. In my closet is a stack of over a hundred of these souvenir shirts. Most are from Harley-Davidson shops. I just reach in and take the one at the top of the pile, sight unseen.

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Today: BLACK PEARL Harley-Davidson, Belize

Book Review: Tracks – A Novel

Erdrich, Louise. Tracks: A Novel. New York: Henry Holt, 1988. Print.

Tracks, Erdrich’s fourth of fourteen novels, is set between 1912 and 1924. The message Tracks_(novel)she delivers is that unless tribal members stand together, they face extinction at the hands of the whites. Nanapush, a wise tribal elder understands there must be some accommodation to maintain as much tradition as possible.

Nanapush remains the same wise trickster throughout the story. A tribal elder, he wishes to hold on to the old customs while surviving the new ways forced upon his people by the whites. Early on, he establishes his belief in “…the unrest and curse of trouble that struck our people…was the doing of dissatisfied spirits. I know what’s fact…” (4). He follows with this about the (white) government, “Our trouble came from living … liquor . . . the dollar bill. We stumbled toward the government bait, never looking down, never noticing how the land was snatched from under us at every step” (4).

Nanapush is much more than a thoughtful and straightforward elder. He reads and writes English. He tells his granddaughter about his ancestors, her mother, and about mystical and historical events in an attempt to keep the Chippewa oral traditions alive. He is a survivor, as well as a trickster. He can step back from the force of white encroachment and use traditional life as a shield to avoid extinction.

Pauline Puyat is introduced in Chapter Two when she tells of the men who died saving Fleur’s life and the time the two young women spent together. Much of what we learn about Fleur comes from Pauline’s narration. Twice Fleur drowns, is presumed dead, and then rescued. Both times the rescuers’ reward is an untimely death. “…death by drowning, the death a Chippewa cannot survive unless you are Fleur Pillager” (11). By using these incidents to establish a relationship between Fleur and an evil spirit in the lake, Erdrich shows the reader that Fleur has frightening and mystical powers. Pauline tells the reader: “‘She washed on shore, her skin a dull dead gray, but George Many Women…saw her chest move. Then her eyes spun open, clear black agate, and … ‘You take my place,’ she hissed’” (11).

Nanapush realizes that not just whites cheat the Indian, but Indian cheats Indian.

Nanapush sees that the future requires accommodation if the tribe is to maintain a modicum of Chippewa tradition and allow him to save his granddaughter. “For I did stand for tribal chairman…To become a bureaucrat myself … the only place where I could find a ledge to kneel on, to reach through the loophole and draw you home” (225).

Tracks is a dark but dynamic, and well worth reading. Erdrich provides a deep understanding of the plight of the indigenous people of this continent without a moral discourse.