Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Journey That Started My Journey

by SJI Holliday

When I was maybe ten or eleven years old, I found a big box of books in my mum’s bedroom. It was mostly full of James Herberts and Shaun Hutsons, and some of the covers were downright terrifying. Some kids might’ve run screaming from the room, but not me.

I started to read them.

Fast forward a few years, and it was Stephen King who held my attention, before I made a sideways move into crime and thrillers… Jonathan Kellerman, Bret Easton Ellis, Thomas Harris… the list goes on. You get the picture.

After school, I went to university to study microbiology. I kept reading… more than ever. I got a job as a statistician in the pharmaceutical industry and it was all going well. But there was an itch. I knew I wanted to write – I just didn’t know how or when I was going to manage it.

In July 2005, there were terrorist attacks in London. My sisters were on a train down from Edinburgh to meet me, and they got turned away on the fringes of the city. I was stunned. Scared. Realised that life was too short. So I decided to take a break from work to travel the world. I spent the rest of the year planning it, and then off I went (with my fiancé in tow).

In 2006, I found myself on the Trans-Siberian Railway, travelling between Beijing and Moscow. I’d picked up Stephen King’s On Writing somewhere along the way. I had a notebook and a pen. I started to write.

So it began.

Between then and now, I’ve written hundreds of flash fictions and short stories, mostly in crime and horror. In 2013, after lots of false starts, I finally managed to finish my first novel. I met my agent at a writing festival, and some time later, he signed me up based on 10,000 words. I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t.

Black Wood was released on 19th March. I had launches in big name bookstores in London and Edinburgh, where I was interviewed by two bestselling authors – Martyn Waites and Craig Robertson.

People are contacting me, saying how much they loved my book. They want me to write another one… I’m doing it. I’m doing it as fast as I can. Yet still, it doesn’t feel real. I’m a published author now. I have to keep pinching myself. Some day, I hope a kid will find some of my books in a box in their mum’s bedroom. I hope I can inspire – because if I can do this, while juggling a tough job and everything else that life can throw, then so can anyone.

Here’s my advice to anyone who wants to write. If you want to write, just write. Read a lot, write a lot. Network on social media; go to events. Tell yourself that you’re an author. Because one day, it might just come true.

SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. She works as a Pharmaceutical Statistician, and as a life-long bookworm has always dreamt of becoming a novelist. She has several crime and horror short stories published in anthologies and was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham Prize. After travelling the world, she has now settled in London with her husband. Her debut novel, Black Wood, was inspired by a disturbing incident from her childhood. You can find out more at or follow Susi on Twitter @SJIHolliday.

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo's story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun. But what is the connection between Jo's visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Outward Appearances, Illusions, and Innermost Secrets

By Michael H. Rubin

Television, radio, social media, and newspapers are filled with stories about cultural disputes, religious intolerance, and the resulting injuries and deaths. Determining an individual’s religion, however, is not always easy, especially if he or she does not wear obvious religious garb, such as a turban for a Sikh, a burka for a Muslim woman, or a kippah for a Jew. Absent such telltale signs, religion can be a deeply held belief not immediately apparent by outward appearances. On the other hand, we tend to think that we can tell someone’s “race” by his or her facial features and skin color. But determining the “race” of others can be as difficult as determining their religion. Before the Civil War, for example, discrimination against individuals who were as little as 1/64 “black” was legal in Louisiana. In other words, anyone who had a single great, great, great black grandparent was considered to be a Negro in the eyes of the law and could be enslaved, even if their skin color and countenance appeared to be “white.”

At their heart, thrillers are about uncovering truth which, like race and religious belief, is often difficult to discern. Readers gravitate to books that draw them in, allowing them to discover the truth alongside (or even ahead of), the protagonist and to distinguish between illusion and reality without having to explicitly be told.

Charles Dickens in “David Copperfield” and Mark Twain in “Huck Finn” wrote so cleverly that their readers understand things that the narrators of their novels sometimes do not. Long before David Copperfield discovers how shallow Steerforth is, the reader knows it. Huck Finn’s initial uncertainty about the moral right but the “legal wrong” of concealing Jim allows readers to grasp how and why moral justice should triumph.

I’ve been inspired by the ability of great authors such as Dickens and Twain who fashion their stories in ways that allow readers to divine aspects of the truth more quickly than do their characters. From reading Dickens and Twain, as well as the works of other authors of both great literature and great thrillers, four valuable writing techniques have become apparent to me:

     FAIR CLUES: Clues to the plot or to a character’s motives should be given fairly. Authors of memorable novels allow astute readers to comprehend their clues’ growing importance as the story develops. Clues are not so deeply disguised that they can only be uncovered by an almost magical divination on the part of the protagonist or so very obvious that there is no mystery at all.

     PLOT AND CHARACTERS IN EQUAL PORTIONS. Characters should not be lightly sketched stereotypes. They should have depth, and “unpeeling their layers” should not impede the development of the storyline but rather should enable the characters to both react to events and attempt to interpret them.

     PLAUSIBILITY AND CONTINUITY. Once the characters have been established, they should act in ways that are fully believable, even if the reader may not immediately understand their motives or their responses to unfolding events.

     A UNIFIED WORLD. Environments should be so real that readers have a combined sense of gratification and loss at the conclusion of the book: gratification because the story has reached a satisfying denouement, and loss because the readers have become so immersed in the world the writer has created that they hate to leave it.

I kept these four techniques in mind when I wrote The Cottoncrest Curse. They can serve as a guide for all authors who want to create memorable thrillers with intriguing but fully believable characters whose outward appearances conceal inner secrets. By employing the four techniques cited above, novelists are more likely to craft characters who operate in a fully realized world and create stories that readers will find hard to put down.

Michael H. Rubin has been a professional jazz pianist in the New Orleans French Quarter, a radio and television host, a nationally-known speaker who has given over 400 multimedia presentations around the country, and not only is one of the managing members of a law firm whose offices stretch from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast to East Coast, but also is a law professor whose many publications have been cited as authoritative by state and federal courts. His debut novel, The Cottoncrest Curse, is a multi-generational thriller dealing with suicides, murders, religion, and race, tempered with a dose of humor. Published by the award-winning LSU Press, it has been praised by Publishers Weekly as a “gripping debut,” and the Chicago CBA Record proclaims that “the writing is masterful.” Visit Michael at Follow him on Facebook at Michael H. Rubin, Author.

Locals think that the Cottoncrest Plantation is cursed because of the mysterious suicides that continue to claim the lives of generations of its owners, the most gruesome of which occurred two decades after the Civil War, when an elderly Colonel viciously slit the throat of his beautiful young wife and fatally shot himself. But was this a suicide, or was it a double homicide? Suspicion falls on an itinerant peddler with deep secrets to conceal. The deaths ignite feuds that burn a path from the cotton fields to the courthouse steps, from moss-draped Louisiana bayous to 19th century New Orleans’ bordellos, from the Civil War era to the Civil Rights era and into the present, as several generations desperately seek to unravel the mystery of and the truth behind The Cottoncrest Curse.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Debut Releases

It's the first Thursday in April and that means new releases.

Please take a look and let’s celebrate these debut authors' success!

T.J. Turner - Lincoln's Bodyguard (Oceanview Publishing) April 7, 2015

In Lincoln’s Bodyguard, an alternative version of American history, President Lincoln is saved from assassination. Though he prophesied his own death—the only way he believed the South would truly surrender—Lincoln never accounted for the heroics of his bodyguard, Joseph Foster. A biracial mix of white and Miami Indian, Joseph makes an enemy of the South by killing John Wilkes Booth and preventing the death of the president. His wife is murdered and his daughter kidnapped, sending Joseph on a revenge-fueled rampage to recover his daughter. When his search fails, he disappears as the nation falls into a simmering insurgency instead of an end to the War. Years later, Joseph is still running from his past when he receives a letter from Lincoln pleading for help.  The President has a secret mission. Pursued from the outset, Joseph turns to the only person who might help, the woman he abandoned years earlier.  If he can win Molly over, he might just fulfill the President’s urgent request, find his daughter, and maybe even hasten the end of the War.

Gwendolyn Womack - The Memory Painter (Picador) April 28, 2015

What if there was a drug that could help you remember your past lives? What if the lives you remembered could lead you to your one true love? What if you learned that, for thousands of years, a deadly enemy had conspired to keep the two of you apart?

Two lovers who have traveled across time. A team of scientists at the cutting edge of memory research. A miracle drug that unlocks an ancient mystery.

“ In The Memory Painter, Gwendolyn Womack delivers a multi-layered debut novel like no other: passing through the veils of time and brimming with history, mystery, science, intrigue, and passion.” —KATHERINE NEVILLE, New York Times and No. 1 internationally bestselling author

And as a special treat - here's the Book Trailer 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Craziest Story I Ever Heard

by Steve Cavanagh

On Saint Patrick’s Day 2011 I lost my mother to cancer. If you’d told me that day that exactly four years later I’d have written a novel, gotten an agent, had multiple auctions for the publishing rights and just seen my first book hit the shelves – I’d have said you were crazy.
And I’d be right. That is crazy.

In 2011 I wasn’t writing. In fact I hadn’t written anything for about fifteen years. In my late teens I wrote a couple of screenplays, didn’t get them sold, and gave up writing around the age of 20. At 35 I was fairly rusty. I hadn’t written anything in the intervening period and I’d no plan to return to that life. I was a lawyer with a decent salary, a young family and I worked pretty long hours in a law firm just outside Belfast, Northern Ireland.

But something happened. My mother was the person who gave me my first crime novel – Silence Of The Lambs. I was hooked ever since. She gave me the love of reading and she encouraged me to write. Her passing felt wrong, like we were robbed. Something inside of me said that some good had to come out of this; that somehow I had to try and fix things. What could I do? At that time I had a new baby, and in hindsight I’m pretty sure I was depressed.

In September 2011 I decided I was going to have another shot at writing. A novel, this time. I was going to write the kind of novel that my mother would’ve enjoyed reading. This was one more roll of the dice – for her. I started writing at night. I’d begin around 10:30 and write until my head hit the keyboard. It felt desperate. But I enjoyed it – because I was escaping into a fictional world that I could control. When I was writing I wasn’t thinking about my own problems.

Around nine months later I had a book. Now I wanted to see it on a shelf. So I set about looking for an agent. Like everyone, I got rejections. A lot of them. So I kept revising the book, and submitting. In April 2013 I got an email from a respected agent telling me that the book would never be published. That was on a Monday night and I’ll never forget how terrible that felt – like I’d failed my mother. On the Wednesday of the same week I got offers of representation from some of the biggest and best agents in the UK.

September 2013 my first novel was sold in a four-publisher auction to Orion Books – who publishes some of my heroes like Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben and Ian Rankin.

The Defence was published in the UK on 12th March 2015 and I visited my mother’s grave. I told her that I’d done it. The pain was still there.

But I knew she was there too.

Steve Cavanagh was born and raised in Belfast and is a practicing lawyer. He holds a certificate in Advanced Advocacy and lectures on various legal subjects (but really he just likes to tell jokes). He is married with two young children. The Defence , has been chosen as one of Amazon's great debuts for 2015, as part of their Amazon Rising Stars programme. In 2015 Steve received the ACES award for Literature from the Northern Ireland Arts Council. Steve writes fast-paced legal thrillers set in New York City featuring series character Eddie Flynn. The Defence is his first novel. Find out more at or follow Steve on Twitter @SSCav.

Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren't that different. It's been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn't have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie's back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial - and win - if he wants to save his daughter. Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his 'client' and ensure Amy's safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Writing Journey

By Mark Leggatt

How did I get here? Well, the journey from Day One to the moment my first book ‘Names Of The Dead’ was accepted for publication by Fledgling Press took quite a while, so let me give you the abridged version.

Around eight years ago, on a sunny Tuesday morning, in a wee village outside Toulouse in southern France, I was lying in the bath, thinking what I was going to do for the day. I had a few months off between work contracts, so I was enjoying the time off, mooching around the house, chopping firewood, and taking long walks in the forest with our Cairn terrier. But I was getting bored, and rather than a Eureka moment, I had a JFDI moment, and decided to finally stop talking about writing a book, and actually do it.

I have always carried a notebook on my travels. I had years of scribbled notes, half written chapters, sketchy sketches of characters, and plots with more holes than a colander. I counted my notebooks. There were around 150 of them, in various sizes. I scanned through them for hidden gems, but I got the feeling that I wasn’t going to find anything of much use (in the long term, I was wrong, they were crammed with golden nuggets, but I just couldn’t see it.)

So, I decided to start from scratch. I drove up to the next village and found a newsagent, where I stocked up on pens, pencils and an artists A3 sketchpad. I arrived home, cleared the dining room table, and started scribbling.

I had no where I was going, but that was fine. All I wanted to do was write, keep writing, and trust that I’d find my way. Well, I did, but it took me a lot longer than I expected.

It was four years of work before I was ready to submit to agents, and another three years before I found an agent. In total, it took eight years before I was accepted for publication. But in all that time, after that first day, there was no way in hell that I was giving up. I had a objective, and I was determined to see it through.

The first few months before I went back to work were spent scribbling any story that came into my head, and walking around the garden, followed by our dog, who was wondering what the hell I was doing. Plots came, plots went.

Travel allowed me to read widely, and I’ve spent about ten years dotting from job to job in various airport lounges three times a week. I’ve lived in every sort of hotel from a five star palace in Den Haag to a seedy dive in Montmartre, where the lights of the Moulin Rouge flickered outside my window, the carpets were as sticky as treacle, and you could hear the whorehouse banging away next door.

I noted everything down as I moved from city to city. Amsterdam, Berlin, the history of Paris and it’s inhabitants, and any news that I found interesting, plus the people involved. The research gave me tools for my toolbox, and a platform to research the softer skills of dialogue and emotion, to draw the reader into the mind of the characters. These softer skills I had to develop, and through imagination and observation, I wrote down why people acted in the manner that they did. What were their fears and motivations, what drove them on, and what fear (or strength) stopped them? I used my notebooks to record these thoughts, and educate myself in what exactly was driving my characters. I wanted my characters to do what they wanted to do, not what I wanted them to do. It took time, and a lot of notebooks, but my characters emerged, along with their passions, strengths and fears.

Four years later, I was at a point where I could justify and explain why my story would work. That was the beginning of Names of The Dead. I took the decision to lay aside all the previous work, and call that my “Prentice Piece”. Then I picked up the pencils once more, read my notebooks, and began the plot for Names of the Dead.

Yours aye,


How I Got to Where I Am and What a Crazy Ride It’s Been

by Daniel J. Barrett

I have absolutely no business publishing a book at age 66 but here I am. How did I get here? Is there anything worthy to share with my fellow writers?

I’ve had a varied career over many decades. I was in banking. I worked for an international manufacturer, traveling worldwide as the manager of planning. Marketing said I was the only finance person who spoke English and not finance. I went on to become a financial consultant and grant writer.

I wasn’t any more prepared for writing grants than I was for writing books when I started. Being a grant writer meant reading 10 newspapers a day and keeping current to win financial awards. I made the grants readable so anyone could understand my proposals and their goal--to serve the most at-risk youth. It worked. We won $200 million dollars to help kids. Learning on the job paid off.

Six years ago, I decided that I was tired of television, other than watching baseball, and I started reading books. I’ve read 1,600 books over that time. Why? I wanted to learn what made a great book fun to read. I’ve read over 450 different authors. Were they all good? No, but a publisher thought they were. It was their decision.

Two years ago, I took the plunge and began writing novels. I’ve always learned the hard way, so I transferred my fearlessness in writing grants to my desire to create fiction. What I didn’t know about writing novels now makes me cringe. Did you know you’re not supposed to use semi-colons in fiction? I didn’t. Quotations, punctuation, and contractions became a Berlitz course, and when told to fix something. I did. Being pigheaded and stubborn with my desire to publish actually paid off. Here I am.

Like a present from heaven, Black Opal Books sent me an email and told me that Conch Town Girl had promise. I brought the novel up to publishing standards and they gave me a contract. I revised two other books and received another contract. I have just finished my fourth book in two years and will be sending that in shortly. As soon as Conch Town Girl was released, I had to learn the publishing and marketing side of being an author. All while continuing to write grants full time.

What is the point of this blog? Never give up? Don’t worry what people tell you or think about your writing? Be true to your heart? Stay on course? If you start something, finish it?

I wanted to prove that I could do anything I wanted when I put my mind to it. I can. You can. Anyone can. We teach this to at-risk kids. They don’t get an opportunity to have someone tell them they can be anything they want, at age 15, or at age 66. Colonel Sanders, age 65, started Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1955 and sold it 10 years later to John Y. Brown, Jr., the future Governor of Kentucky. Colonel Harlan David Sanders became a multimillionaire and international icon. You can will your way to success. Just try.

Daniel J. Barrett was born in Rutland, Vermont and has lived his entire life in Troy, New York, ten miles north of Albany. He is a graduate of both Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. with a BS in Finance, and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y, with an MBA in Management. Dan has had a varied career with extensive international experience, traveling worldwide. You may contact him at

Julie Chapman grew up in Key Largo, a tenth-generation Conch, raised in the Florida Keys by her grandmother, Tillie, since Julie’s parents were deceased. Then one night Tillie has a car accident and ends up in a coma, leaving Julie and her best friend Joe to wonder if it really was an accident. As Julie and Joe start digging for the truth, they uncover some dark and desperate secrets that can not only cause them a good deal of trouble, but also cost them their lives.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Welcome to the Club

By Julia Dahl

I’ve been reading mysteries and thrillers since before it was probably appropriate. I was in the Agatha Christie book-of-the-month club in elementary school, and by high school had graduated to Stephen King, Christopher Pike, Patricia Highsmith, Dean Koontz, and John Grisham. But it wasn’t until I happened upon a copy of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects that I actually thought I might be able to contribute to the genre I love so much.

I was initially drawn to the cover – all black but for a single, menacing razor blade. When I turned the book over and saw the author picture, I remember thinking: I know her! And I did, sort of. My first job out of college was as an intern at Entertainment Weekly where Gillian was then a television writer. We chatted occasionally, and she was always very nice. When she got promoted, I applied for her position but it went to a much more talented culture writer and I ended up at another magazine.

I took Sharp Objects home and read it in about 48 hours. When I was finished I had a mission: I was going to write a mystery novel.

I picked up Sharp Objects in 2007, and in 2012 I finished writing my own mystery/thriller, Invisible City. What now? I knew enough to know that just sending the manuscript to an agent who didn’t know me was likely to get my book thrown on the slush pile. So I took a chance: I sent Gillian Flynn a Facebook message. We hadn’t seen each other or spoken in more than 10 years, but this was before Gone Girl came out so she wasn’t yet an international sensation. I figured, why not try?

The message I sent was short -- just a quick intro (You may not remember me but we both worked at EW…), a description of my book, and a request: Do you have any advice for a new writer?

Two weeks later she emailed me back saying yes, she remembered me, and that she had mentioned my book to her agent who thought it sounded interesting.She said you should send it. A couple months later, I signed with her agent – my agent. Six months after that, we sold Invisible City and its upcoming sequel, Run You Down, to Minotaur.

In the year since Invisible City came out, I have been astonished by the generosity of writers in the mystery and thriller world. Cara Hoffman, author of So Much Pretty and Be Safe, I Love You has become a friend, and when I was terrified at the prospect of finishing a novel in a year she talked me off the ledge: You’ve done this before. You’re better at it now. And she was right. Lorenzo Carcaterra, author, most recently, of The Wolf, invited me to his book club and recommended Invisible City to readers of the New York Post. Hank Phillippe Ryan, author of Truth Be Told, introduced me to Lee Child and Julia Spencer-Fleming while we were at Bouchercon.

Writing a novel is a solitary endeavor, but publishing, promoting and selling a novel – all the things that turn one book into a career - is the opposite. You need relationships, you need support. I’m here to tell you that this community is silly with support. And I’m honored to be a part of it.

Julia Dahl is a journalist specializing in crime and criminal justice. She currently writes for and her feature articles have appeared in Salon, the Columbia Journalism Review, Pacific Standard and many others. Her first novel, "Invisible City," is a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and was named one of the Boston Globe's Best Books of 2014. Julia was born in Fresno, California to a Lutheran father and a Jewish mother, and now lives in Brooklyn.

INVISIBLE CITY is the story of Rebekah Roberts, a Florida native whose Hasidic Jewish mother abandoned her as an infant. Now a tabloid reporter in New York City, Rebekah is called to report on the story of a murdered Hasidic woman in Brooklyn. She soon learns that because of the NYPD's habit of kowtowing to the powerful ultra-Orthodox community, the murder may go unsolved. Rebekah can't let the story end there. But getting to the truth won't be easy--even as she immerses herself in the cloistered world where her mother grew up, it's clear that she's not welcome, and everyone she meets has a secret to keep from an outsider.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

March Debut Releases

It's the first Thursday in March and that means new releases. 

Please take a look and let’s celebrate these debut authors' success!

Steve Cavanagh - The Defence (Orion Books) March 12, 2015

Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren't that different.

It's been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn't have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie's back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy.

Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial - and win - if he wants to save his daughter.

Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his 'client' and ensure Amy's safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible?

Lose this case and he loses everything.

Glen Erik Hamilton - Past Crimes (William Morrow) March 3, 2015

Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s the  main suspect.

The only way he can clear his name is to go back to the world he’d sworn to leave behind. Tapping into his criminal skills, he begins to hunt the shooter and uncover what drove his grandfather to reach out after so long. But in a violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all. 

SJI Holliday - Black Wood (Black and White Publishing) March 19, 2015

Something happened to Claire and Jo in Black Wood: something that left Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. But with Claire suffering memory loss and no evidence to be found, nobody believes Jo's story. Twenty-three years later, a familiar face walks into the bookshop where Jo works, dredging up painful memories and rekindling her desire for vengeance. And at the same time, Sergeant Davie Gray is investigating a balaclava-clad man who is attacking women on a disused railway, shocking the sleepy village of Banktoun.

But what is the connection between Jo's visitor and the masked man? To catch the assailant, and to give Jo her long-awaited justice, Gray must unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendship and tainted love. But can he crack the case before Jo finds herself with blood on her hands?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Learning on the Road

by Rob Brunet

Long before I had an agent or a publishing contract for Stinking Rich, I pasted a map of the U.S. on the wall behind my desk. It listed cities where I knew someone well enough to have dinner. I played connect-the-dots and wound up with a ring around the country with a few long stretches of know-no-one-land in-between. I tallied up the miles, divided by the speed limit, and announced to my wife that when my book was published, I’d be on the road for nine or ten weeks promoting it. I imagine the main reason she didn’t whack me on the spot was I didn’t even have a completed manuscript at the time. As midlife crises go, dreaming of a road trip from behind a desk while writing a novel was pretty tame stuff.

Jump forward to two weeks before I left last September and she took to asking me a couple times a day, “How long are you going for?”

A better question may have been, “When’s your next trip?”

Setting aside all the friendships made and renewed, the best part of being on the road was non-stop opportunities to learn. Publishing is packed, end-to-end, with people inspired by their work. From authors to booksellers, librarians to editors, reviewers to agents and publisher’s reps. No one’s in the business to get rich—far too many easier ways to pull that off. And people who are passionate about what they do generally love to share the reasons why. Wear big ears and you’re bound to learn a ton.
As a debut author, I’ve been repeatedly overwhelmed by the willingness of industry veterans to share what’s what. If I simply listed the names of seriously helpful people I’ve met at conferences, Noir at the Bars, Sisters in Crime meetings, bookstore readings, library events, workshops, and launches, this post would run well past its word limit.

There’s never been an easier time to connect with people. Social media has smashed physical boundaries to the point even the most reclusive among us can reach out and meet strangers. Many of the people I spent time with on the road were Tweeps or Facebook friends first. And yet there’s nothing like meeting someone in person—over coffee or beer or a plate of ribs—to cement the connection and acknowledge what it means.

Did I lose time at my keyboard? Absolutely. And I learned how much more discipline I’ll need to make it in this game. Jon Jordan of Crimespree told me of one headlining author who only agrees to appear at conferences provided he can be kept off the morning schedule, because mornings he writes. Even on the road.

I didn’t have to spend a couple months in my fourteen-year-old car to meet people in the industry. I live in Toronto, a city where there are multiple literary events every night of the week, year-round. And anywhere there’s a bookstore, a library, or a local writers’ workshop, there are ways to find people who share a passion for reading, writing, publishing, and everything that goes with working with words and stories. I know my life’s been made richer since I started get out there.

A couple weeks ago, I took my road trip map from the wall. There’s a blank spot there beckoning. Wonder where I’ll go next.

Rob Brunet’s debut Stinking Rich was listed as a Best of 2014 by both Crimespree Magazine and The Ottawa Citizen. His award-winning short crime fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (February 2015), Thuglit, Noir Nation, Shotgun Honey, and numerous anthologies. Brunet is co-host of the Toronto edition of Noir at the Bar and before writing crime, he ran a Web boutique producing sites for titles like Frank Miller’s Sin City and cult television series Alias. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and son.

Called “deviously funny” by Canadian Mystery Reviews, Stinking Rich asks, What could possibly go wrong when the backwoods Libidos Motorcycle Club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Plenty, it turns out. In a world where indoor plumbing’s optional and each local wacko is more twisted than the last, drug money draws reprobates like moths to a lantern. From loveable losers to gnarly thugs and law-and-order wannabes, every last one of them has an angle—their best shot at being stinking rich. And with their own warped ideas about right, wrong, and retribution, the Libidos aren’t far behind.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When The First Book Started Answering My Questions

By Rich Zahradnik

Writing—the writing process itself—changed in a big way for me from my first novel to my second, and in a way I didn’t expect. This is fresh in my mind because the first book came out Oct. 1 and I turned in the manuscript for the second on Jan. 4.

Like many, my fiction career started while I was working full-time. The first book took a long, long time to finish, because, depending on the job, I might have an hour or a half hour to work on the manuscript. I’m actually embarrassed to say when I started that manuscript, but let’s just say the word “decade” is a fair count of the years. Then, after it was finished, there were the three years or so it took to get an agent and for my agent to secure a publishing deal. A long time.

Last spring, I sat down to write the second book in the series (the publisher contracted for four books). For the first time in my life, someone wanted the manuscript I was about to start. They’d set an actual deadline. And I was working close to full-time on writing (less time spent as stay-at-home dad). For all these reasons, I expected I’d go faster. Let’s face it, I kind of had to, given the deadline. But what surprised me was how much faster I was able to write.

I was a 500-words-a-day writer when I worked on the first book (and had the time). I know some people like goals, some don’t. I do. So I pushed myself and found to my great surprise I was turning out a 2,300-word chapter in a day. It was all messy first draft material, of course.

The why of this is what I really want to talk about. What changed between the first book and the second, aside from time constraints? I realized it was the questions, the thousands and thousands of questions I had to ask myself as I wrote the first book. Is this the right way to handle attribution tags? Too many chapters? Too few? Too many adjectives? Too few? Is the plot working? Is the mystery a mystery? And on and on. Pretty much every other word I typed brought up a question that needed considering and answering as I tried to turn myself into an author.

Some bit of magic happened after the first book was published. You see, now I knew the answers, either because I’d done the right thing in the first place or learned what the solution was during the editing process. You’d be amazed how much faster you can write when a question doesn’t pop up every other word, nagging at you, pulling you back. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know all the answers, just the first 10,000 or so basic ones. It’s like I now understand the code. Book one gave me the gift of confidence—but not too much of it—and made writing my second manuscript a faster process, though I’d never say easier. Writing never gets easier. The confidence let me get down more words a day and take on bigger challenges in plot structure and character development.

And so came more questions.

Rich Zahradnik is the author of the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series published by Camel Press. LAST WORDS is the first novel in the series and was published Oct. 1, 2014. He was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter. In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction. Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches elementary school kids how to publish newspapers. You may visit him at:

In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he's wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official. Taylor's efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn't wrap this story up soon, he'll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline. Last Words is the first book in the Coleridge Taylor mystery series.