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.
The title of his latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales: Crime and Sci-fi Short Stories.
John G. Bluck is the author of five books, some in the crime/mystery genre and others science fiction. He worked for thirty years for NASA and retired as a public affairs officer. Prior to that, he was the daytime crime reporter/photographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA) in Washington, D.C. During the Vietnam War, Bluck was an Army journalist at Ft. Lewis, Washington.
Another of his recent books, Death in the Holler, earned praise in a BookLife review printed in the January 11, 2021, issue of Publishers Weekly magazine. “For Southern murder mystery fans, this whodunit and its heart-of-gold protagonist will hit a bullseye. Murder, gangs, and black-market marijuana run rampant in this testosterone-filled thriller. . . . Bluck’s mystery keeps readers quickly flipping the pages with short, fast-moving chapters.”
Tell us about your most recent book. My latest book is Florida Grand Theft & Other Tales. It’s a collection of sixteen crime and science fiction short stories; some are strictly fictional crime stories. Others are solely in the science fiction genre. Many of the yarns combine both crime and sci-fi genres. Florida Grand Theft was released on October 4. The first image below is for the paperback and the second is for the eBool.
I began writing a couple of the stories as long as fifteen years ago when I was working at NASA. Over the years, I edited and revised them numerous times. One of those stories is the “DNA of History.” In it, ant-sized extraterrestrials visit a young boy, affecting his entire life. A second sci-fi story that I began developing a long time ago is “Adventures in Time.” In this story, an astronaut transmits a message as his ship careens toward a black hole.
I dreamed up other stories only months ago. That’s obvious when you read one of them, “Big Brother’s Bracelets,” which is related to the current pandemic and Covid-19. In this story, a feuding couple has to adjust their lives.
In the first story in the book, “Florida Grand Theft,” a young woman short of money tells how she’s tempted to steal a purse. In “Death by Snub Nose,” a hobo is accused of murder. These are among the crime and sci-fi stories I wrote recently, as is “Buzz.” Buzz is a robotic bee who’s an undercover agent.
Why do you write in more than one genre? I spent much of my life in a career path that’s linked to both crime and science-fiction. When I was in the army, I wrote news stories for an army newspaper and read army news on a couple of local radio stations.
After that, I worked a few years in Washington, D.C., as the television daytime crime cinematographer for WMAL-TV (now WJLA). I mainly covered homicides and bank robberies. Naturally, I covered other stories, too, including sports, politics, and even Watergate. I was in a pool of about six or seven still and motion picture photographers who filmed the submission of President Nixon’s letter of resignation.
Then NASA hired me to be a documentary producer. I saw many fascinating things at NASA that were true, but which might as well have been science fiction. I saw huge rocket engines; walked under the Space Shuttle; peered through telescopes, and wandered through laboratories, machine shops, wind tunnels, as well as many other locations.
When I explored NASA and filmed news for TV, I met many kinds of people. Whether they were in bad or happy situations, they taught me about human nature. Covering news “on the scene” in city streets and later working in science and engineering environments gave me a myriad of potential story ideas related to both crime and science.
How do you create your characters? Lately, I’ve been consulting a psychology book to try to shape some of my characters’ personalities so that they are vastly different from each other. This can lead to conflict and drama.
I don’t try to dictate what a character will do all of the time. I like to put characters with different personality traits into the same room or location. I begin to write dialogue rapidly. I permit the characters to talk, to say what they want. This is hard to describe, but it’s as if they wake up and begin to speak. I simply type what they’re saying. That’s why I say I don’t try to make the characters do or say what I want them to say.
However, there are times when something specific has to happen—a climax, a turning point. Then I might dictate that a tree will fall, a ship will sink, or a fire will erupt. The characters then have to react to the situation based on who they are and their personalities, which I have assigned to them. Sometimes, that personality changes when a character starts to act and come alive. I’ve found that if I “listen” to my characters, rather than try to shape them too much, the people who populate my books are more realistic, more human.
Do you outline, or do you write as you go? When I design a novel (plot it), I like to outline “sort of.” That is, I use the Act I, Act II, and Act III format. I know where the climax is supposed to be. I write the beginning and the end first and perhaps the climax, and then I fill in the middle of the story. Each scene is like a bubble or a block. I note what “should” happen in a scene.
But as I go along, I let the characters have a lot of freedom, and they may take me off on a tangent. Also, sometimes when I’m writing, a character will just pop up. This is where the “sort of” comes into my writing process. I then have to decide if an unexpected path taken by a character is good or is merely a diversion that takes the story too far off course.
I like to work in this hybrid—mostly planned—but freewheeling kind of a way.
What’s your next book going to be about? Its potential title is Murder at NASA. Luke Ryder, the protagonist of my last mystery novel, Death in the Holler, is called into work undercover to solve a cold-case killing at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, where I worked last at the agency. I’m quite familiar with the Ames campus, which some Hollywood producers have called a great location to make a movie. I doubt that Ames would ever be the set for a major movie, but the place has so many good locations for me to use in a novel. I’m almost salivating; I’m ready to completely plot my ideas and turn the characters loose at Ames.
How do our readers contact you?
Readers can message me through my website: http://www.bluckart.com.
They can visit my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnGBluckSciFi.
My Twitter page is located at: https://twitter.com/JohnBluck1.
Readers can sign up for my e-mail list by visiting: http://eepurl.com/cJh_pP.
What does an emerita professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison do when she no longer leads a research lab? She writes!
Most efforts to recruit women and minority students to science majors are minimally successful. Thus, I was fascinated when a woman professor reported a number of minority and women students majoring in biology claimed they first considered a career in science after they’d become fans of the kooky Abby on NCIS television program.
That’s when I decided the heroine in my mystery and thriller novels would be a woman scientist. I quickly decided I didn’t want my heroine tied down to a laboratory but wanted her to have skills that would make her a valued consultant by a variety of agencies. Hence, my heroine Sara Almquist emerged as a globe-trotting epidemiologist who dislikes the constraints of university departments and loves her Japanese Chin dog Bug. Sara and Bug have been together now in eight novels in my Science Traveler Series, even though Sara’s human love interests have evolved over time.
The first, The Flu Is Coming, explores the psychological effect of a police-enforced quarantine on an upscale, gated community where a new type of flu virus kills nearly half of the residents in less than a week. The Centers for Disease Control recruits epidemiologist Sara Almquist to find ways to limit the spread of the epidemic. As she pries into the residents’ lives, she finds promising scientific clues, but violence ensues when she learns too many of the residents’ secrets. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578423251
In Murder…A Way to Lose Weight, the second novel in the Science Traveler Series, Sara helps police discover who killed the diet doctor—an ambitious partner, disgruntled patients, or old-timers with buried secrets. Sara consults on public health issues in Bolivia in Ignore the Pain and tries to increase scientific cooperation between Cuba and the U.S. in Malignancy. However, in both countries, she learns too much about the international drug trade and is nearly ambushed by drug dealers several times.
I’m fond of the fifth book in the series I Saw You in Beirut because it allowed me to write about my experiences as a science consultant in Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. In this thriller, Sara must examine her past to find the clues needed to extract a nuclear scientist from Iran. https://www.amazon.com/ dp/0960028544
My sixth book, Riddled with Clues, is based “loosely” on a friend’s notes (a CIA operative in Laos during the Vietnam War) and my experiences working with homeless veterans as part of a pet therapy team with my real dog Bug. In this mystery, Sara is attacked after listening to the strange tale of an undercover drug agent recovering at the VA hospital in Albuquerque. As she fights to survive, she keeps receiving riddled clues from a homeless veteran. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237
I think A Pound of Flesh, Sorta has one of the most mischievous first chapters I’ve read in a thriller. A box of animal guts is delivered to Sara’s home. Did I mention the box is ticking and contaminated with bacteria that cause the plague? The police and Sara can’t decide if the box is a threat, a plea from a rancher fearing another round of plague in his livestock, or a clue needed to solve a series of mysterious “accidents.” https://www.amazon.com/ dp/0960028560
My latest novel is Dirty Holy Water. In this psychological mystery, Sara’s world is turned upside down. Instead of being a trusted FBI consultant about to vacation in India with her boyfriend, she’s the chief suspect in the murder of a friend. Sara soon realizes the difference between a villain and a victim can be alarmingly small. https://www.amazon.com/dp/0960028587
I try to make my readers feel like they are part of the action in my novels in several ways. The settings are real. I’ve visited the foreign locations mentioned in my books, and I pay attention to details. Even the foods served in restaurants are consistent with the restaurants’ menus. The characters have carefully researched backstories, sometimes based on those of real people. There is a theme in each novel that reflects a current issue. For example, scientific patents and immunotherapy for the treatment of cancer are featured in Malignancy, and water pollution is a focus point in Dirty Holy Water. I include two pages called “The Science Behind the Story” at the end of each novel. It’s a way to assure my readers that the scientific facts mentioned in my books are accurate. Two of my books (Malignancy and Murder: A Way to Lose Weight) won the annual contest conducted by the Public Safety Writers Association. Many have been finalists in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards competition.
To learn more about me, visit my website: http://www.jlgreger.com and my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/J.L.-Greger/e/B008IFZSC4%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share.
THANKS, GEORGE, FOR WELCOMING ME AT YOUR BLOG SITE.
Mark Langley – Talks About his Approach to Writing
My latest book, Death Waits in the Dark, is the second in a series concerning Arthur Nakai, a former Marine, ex-Shadow Wolf for the CBP. He has left that life and runs his own outfitting business in Northwest New Mexico. His wife, Sharon, a local KZRV news reporter and sometimes anchor, is still struggling with the loss of their first child, and the two of them are trying to move forward in their marriage. This is stressed in my first book, Path of the Dead, and begins to reshape them in Death Waits in the Dark.
I have always wanted to tell stories. After a terrifying car crash in my thirties, I sat in the hospital wondering what if I hadn’t made it? What if I was alive only with the help of machinery? What had I done with my life? From that moment on, I decided to live and go where I always wanted to go: the American Southwest. My parents took me there on a vacation when I was twelve, and the land had been a part of my soul ever since. I had to go back. I had to go back to what I felt was my home. Upon doing so, the urge to write of characters that inhabited that land grew evermore present inside me. I took a two-week trip and dictated everything I saw, felt, smelled, and heard into an old Panasonic tape recorder. That trip became Path of the Dead.
I’ve been told I do things a little backward. I normally think of a title and then create a story around it. Then I sit down and create characters along with backstories and begin to work out the plotline. I may go through several drafts, but I sit down at my laptop and let the Characters take over when I have all I need.
The third book in my Arthur Nakai series, When Silence Screams, is about a missing nineteen-year-old from Santa Fe. When Arthur is visited by the girl’s mother and her brother, she has been missing for six months. The family believes she has been sold into sex-trafficking. While Arthur is searching for her, he learns of a fifteen-year-old girl that has vanished, leaving only her bicycle behind. Then a young woman in her early twenties is fished out of a lake on the Navajo reservation with a ghastly revelation. Are the three connected? Arthur will have to find out.
After reading about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls on the reservations in both the US and Canada, I created this story. Like Shirley, Becenti tells Arthur, “When a white girl goes missing from a golf course, the world hears about it. Let it be an Indian, and no one cares.” When I read that in 2016 alone, 5,712 girls and women went missing, I had to tell a story that would make people aware and think. I don’t tell the reader how to think but encourage them to form their own opinions.
Currently, I am reading Craig Johnson’s Longmire series as well as Anne Hillerman’s continuations of her father’s works. I confess I don’t get a lot of time to read, but I have read my author idols: Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, and Ernest Hemingway, along with Ian Fleming and John D. MacDonald (whom I share a birthday with).
Path of the Dead took me about 20 years to write. I have a favorite saying John Lennon said years ago: “Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.” I began Path of the Dead under the title Navajo Wind, then met the woman who became my wife, worked hard, took her adolescent daughter as my own, and life took over. Other things became more important. For the next 20 years, it was an on-again-off-again romance with writing. Then, at the end of 2016, after retiring, I decided to take my one chance at making my dream come true. And thank God, it did. A few months later, I had an agent and a two-book deal with Blackstone Publishing.
Character names seem to fall into place as I develop the persona of each character. If the name flows, I use it. If it doesn’t, I keep searching. The names have to feel real, not contrived, for me to create a character around them.
As most writers can attest to, you can think all you want about how they would react. Still, whether they are having a conversation, involved in some action, they tend to have a mind and will of their own and do things you hadn’t thought of. Their own “humanity” comes to the surface.
I don’t believe that a man can’t write from a woman’s perspective or vice versa. A lot of Sharon’s actions and words are my wife’s. I think that adds to the reality of their marriage. And my readers have told me they love the characters because they are believable. In Death Waits, I deal with PTSD and Arthur’s military past. Having never had that experience, I turned to my friends that had joined after high school and had been in Afghanistan. I sat and listened and learned a great deal. Then I did a lot of research, and that made me able for Arthur to convey that bond of brotherhood and talk of his past truthfully.
I love having subplots. In Path of the Dead and Death Waits in the Dark, I use them. I find that even if they are little things that actually have happened in the area Arthur calls home, not only will the readers that live in that area remember them, but other readers will see the subplot as an interesting little detour.
Arthur’s looks are based on a Native actor. Sharon is based on a TV reporter I got to know. Jake Bilagody resembles my grandfather in stature. In When Silence Screams, a few characters are based on friends I had in high school and my first job.
I always outline. I find it is much better to have a road map than to wing it. I outline the story as a whole, then each chapter. That always seems to change, however, when the characters take over the narrative.
I compile folders, if not binders, of research concerning what the story will be involving. That is both the hardest part and the most enticing part of being a writer—learning about things of which you had no idea.
I tell my readers that 98% of the locations are real. I have been there, driven the hard-packed roads, and tried to bring those places to life. Then, the other 2% are fictional because there is so much more leeway to accomplish what a writer needs to.
When Silence Screams will be out next August, but right now, I am researching book four, “GLASS.” It concerns the terrible grip crystal meth has on the reservations. In this age of Covid, I cannot visit the area as I have in the past. I rely on doctors near me and the internet to explore this scourge. Glass will be set for release in 2022.
The best advice I have for other writers is to never give up. Perseverance is the key. Never give up on your dream and goal, and NEVER give up on yourself. If you do, then you have lost. No matter how many naysayers there are, they do not understand your dream or goal. That cannot even imagine it. Only you do. Live your truth.
Here is my contact information:
The Birth of The Mona Lisa Sisters
Ten years ago, I was managing Safety and Security for Palm, Inc. A few months later, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm in what is often referred to as a disastrous acquisition. Not long after, H-P began the layoffs. I got a weekly list of those to be laid off the following week. When the notice came for my team, I gave them the week off to start on a job hunt. A few weeks later, I learned I would be terminated the following Monday. I cleaned out my office but hung around in case there were any problems.
Then began my introduction to how rampant age-discrimination had become. After three months, it was so obvious; I started a spreadsheet. I recorded 140 applications after that. Often, I could swear the hiring company had used my resume as the requirement for the position. My mistake was being honest. I included that I was a Vietnam War Veteran. Any H/R person in the world would spot that and know I was at least sixty years old. I got one interview. I walked in, business suit, tie, and white hair. The two people I talked with were wide-eyed twenty-somethings. They were polite in their T-Shirts, torn pants, and sandals . . .for about five minutes. Then, “Thank you for coming in, George. Have a good day.”
Early 2012, I saw that the local senior center was offering a writing class. I figured it might help with a new resume—wrong. It was a fiction writing class. I was learning creative writing, and I loved it. After a month or so, the instructor passed out random pictures to each student. The assignment: “Study the image, take fifteen minutes, and describe the scene.”
I took one look at my picture, two girls looking up at the Mona Lisa, and ignored the assignment. In those fifteen minutes, I knew I would write a novel. I had notes on paper, the story in my mind, and the title. And it all came together to form the genesis for The Mona Lisa Sisters.
That began an eight-year journey.
I enrolled at Las Positas College and took writing classes. Unlike my earlier college years, it was no longer drudgery. I earned straight As. The assignments lead to multiple revisions of my novel.
In a class taught by Karin Spirn, I read about a fantastic instructor at UC Berkeley who did not have a doctorate. Instead, he held an MFA. In another class, I was introduced to the work of Native American poet Joy Harjo. She was recently appointed to a third term as the U.S. Poet Laureate. I began following her on social media. I saw that Harjo was a guest lecturer at the Institute of American Indian Arts, MFA Program. An enrolled descendant of the Karuk Tribe of California, I called IAIA and applied. Five days later, I received an acceptance notice for the Low-Residency MFA Program. IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For the next two years, my manuscript was my thesis paper, The Mona Lisa Sisters. I rewrote, revised, and learned. My mentors were terrific and have, over time, become much more to me. One area that I got dinged on was when I brought my characters to the dinner table. The settings often lacked enough detail to draw the reader into the scene. Ismet “Izzy” Prcic, roared “People don’t go to dinner and leave. They eat. What the “F” are they eating—saying?”
Mona Lisa is set in the early 1890s. So, I had much research to do before bringing food to the table. I did it—overdid it—added several thousand words. Izzy, “I don’t need to know every single effen thing they ate and how it was prepared.” I subtracted words to please him.
Each addition or subtraction required rewrites.
The program required a great deal more than working on my manuscript. I attended lectures, readings, workshops, and read and wrote critical reviews of over forty books. Two authors I had held extreme distaste for became favorites—Albert Camus and Joyce Carol Oates. Most of those forty books are full of underlining, highlighting, and writing in the margins. My mentors and I collaborated on the selection of books. Native Americans wrote at least half our choices. I was introduced to the work of such great authors as,
- Debra Magpie Earling (Bitterroot Salish) – Perma Red
- Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) – The Round House
- David Treuer (Ojibwe) – Little
- Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo) – Ceremony
I met many who shared their world and writing. I met Joy Harjo and chatted over cafeteria dinner. Tommy Orange, There There, was a contemporary, as was Angela Trudell Vasquez. Angie is the Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin.
When I faced the challenge of my thesis/manuscript, one of the questions came from another, fantastic teacher and author, Pam Houston. Her first question had to do with the scenes set in . . . the dining room. I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. I know Izzy put her up to it.
This year, I finished the twenty-third revision of The Mona Lisa Sisters. Agent queries had been returned with polite rejections. I sat back, told the manuscript, “I’m starting to hate you. I’m finished.”
I reached out to Paula Chinick of Russian Hill Press and told her I was done and wanted her to publish the bloody thing. She agreed. I figured my work was done—wrong.
The cover design took months. Getting back-cover reviews became urgent. I was stuck until I recalled a talk where a young author mentioned he sent out requests to known authors and asked them to read and write reviews. “What have I got to lose?” I asked myself and sent out four requests. Three agreed to write reviews. I even had one person, out of the blue, offer to write one.
I used two. Ramona Ausubel wrote one. I love her novel No One is Here Except All of Us. The other, by playwright, editor, and UCLA instructor Victoria Zackheim. I also used a Kirkus review.
Violet (Vi) Moore came on board as the editor. She forced me to pick up the manuscript and read it line by line and make corrections before she would touch it. I’m glad she did. Over two months, we made more corrections and changes than I will ever admit.
Then the galleys came, and Paula made me do it all over again. The editor is usually done by then–nope. Vi called and ordered me to reread it. I know we missed at least one typo. One of my readers sent me a note informing me of my oversight.
Paula, Vi, and the cover design team were all very reasonable in the charges to bring the project to fruition.
Amazon released The Mona Lisa Sisters on August 14, 2020. A little over eight years after the instructor handed me a picture of two young girls looking at the Mona Lisa.
I met and have become friends with so many fine people as the result of my diving into the world of fiction writing. I have been and will forever be blessed for having started the journey when I couldn’t find a job.