Friday, June 28, 2024

To (Re)Write Some Wrongs - by Harini Nagendra

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who hurt you?

For as long as I can remember, I loved books. My sister, 11 years older than me, was often in charge of child care - she told me made-up stories, and taught me how to read early - she could give me a book and I would sit quietly for hours, instead of pestering her with questions :-)

We also played a game, one that I loved very much - which I also follow now with my daughter. We think of three things - like a princess, a tree, and a tomato (the more bizarre the list, and the less obviously connected the items are, the more fun this is) - and off we go! One person begins the story with a few lines, hands it over to the other to continue, and then it goes back again, to the first in line. 

(here's one we did some months back - The Princess and the Giant Tomato

Since I loved to read, I thought I'd also try my hand at writing! My father was my first, very patient reader - he traveled a lot on work, and I would write small 'books' for him on sheets of school notepaper, stitch them together with thread (this was in the dinosaur age, before staples were a common household accessory) and he would lavish praise on me (very patient, as I said). I kept writing, mostly for myself, occasionally also writing stories for newspapers and magazines. When I started to write popular science pieces for wider audiences, that's when the writing bug truly bit me - in my mid 20s, about a quarter of a century back. 

But writing mysteries took longer - much longer. I first got the idea for the book that would later become The Bangalore Detectives Club in 2007 - but it took me several years to get from the idea to the finish line. Now, in 2024 - with four non-fiction books, and three fiction books, I finally feel somewhat like a writer, but I can't say in any way that I ever imagined writing as a career option - it's just something I always liked to do, just like reading. What a joyous privilege, to spend hours storytelling, and get paid to do it!  

Who hurt me, though? No one... but I do write a lot about issues of environmental degradation (in my non-fiction) and women's rights (in my fiction). Though not personal, they bother me, as they bother most right-thinking people. My 1920s Bangalore mysteries respond to both of these. By re-creating the past, when Bangalore was a city of verdant meadows, emerald lakes, tree-lined avenues and wooded parks, where kites swooped overhead and turtles and fish lined the waterways, where people left the first handful of cooked rice out for the crows, and kept sugar and milk at the base of anthills for the ants to feast on, I can retreat to a better environmental past, and - hopefully - get people to re-imagine a world where people and nature can co-exist. And by talking about the challenges that my heroine Kaveri and her women friends confront daily, to study, work and function as equals within society - I hope to shine light on the many obstacles placed on women during those times, challenges that women in my own family faced - like both my grandmothers, very bright women, who were taken out of school early, and married in their early teens. Those kinds of hurts have a way of transmitting themselves down through generations, in oral memories. 

You can't change history, but a writer can try and re-rewrite some wrongs!      


Thursday, June 27, 2024

A Blue Royal Typewriter from James W. Ziskin

 When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who hurt you?





I knew I wanted to be writer when I was twelve years old. Can’t say today why I suddenly decided I wanted to write, but that’s when it happened. I wrote my first book. It was a terrible adventure novel about World War I. Just what you’d expect a twelve-year-old boy to write. One hundred and ten perfectly fine sheets of paper ruined...

If I recall correctly, I stayed up late nights banging away—single spaced—on a blue Royal portable typewriter. It was a lonely but exhilarating time. It made me feel complete. Made me feel like someone. Since I was a lousy two-fingered hunter and pecker, I used erasable onionskin paper so I could correct the typos. The result was a smudgy mess. I can still see the typeface: modern, mono spaced, with a computer or robotic vibe. Not courier, as you might expect from a 1960s machine. The letters looked like Olympia’s Senatorial typeface, but that would mean I might be misremembering the typewriter in question. I’m fairly certain it was a Royal, but the typeface looked like Olympia’s Senatorial. Like this:


As I mentioned above, that book was awful, but it lit a creative urge in me. From that young age, I set my sights on becoming an author. Of course it took another forty years before I finally wrote something someone wanted to publish, but never mind that tiny detail. Success was a long time coming. I wrote five more unpublished novels after that first book. No, none of them ever saw the light of day and they never will. But they were part of the journey. My training. And, to be fair, each one represented a step forward in quality and maturity. Each one was better than the last, yet still not good enough.

Of course I didn’t spend all of those forty years writing books that never sold. I went to college and grad school, lived in France, got married, and embarked on a long and successful career. I traveled and worked in India for nearly four years and had a blast. So, yes, life got in the way, as I’m fond of saying. And, in the process, my dream of becoming an author took a back seat. But all of it was fodder for my eventual writing success, humble though it’s been. I don’t regret my apprenticeship.

As for who hurt me? Well, perhaps the better question is who gave me this blessed longing? The stubborn, unfulfilled desire to create and to write stayed with me and defined my hopes for forty years before I finally managed to realize a piece of that dream. Along with those hopes came pain and failures aplenty. A dream deferred, to quote Langston Hughes. Or, as Tom Petty put it, “the waiting is the hardest part.” 

And that’s where the hurt in this week’s question comes into play. Wanting to be a writer brings with it with so much disappointment and frustration that it sometimes—always?—feels like a savagely masochistic endeavor. But as any masochist will tell you, they LOVE the pain. So I guess my answer is, “‘Tis I. ‘Tis I who hurt me.” And I’ve loved it all.



Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Frank Zafiro's guest post

Greetings! Frank Zafiro here, former panelists on this gang of happy writers. Dietrich was kind enough to ask me to guest post this week, and I jumped at the chance to say hello again. Answering the query of the week is pretty easy, so I thought I might also update you on my recent doings, if that's okay.

First, the question. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who hurt you?

No one hurt me. I mean, people have -- that's the human experience. But pain isn't what made me a writer.


What did, then?


I don't know. All I know is that I've always been one. Ever since a young age, this is how I saw myself. What I aspired to be. No, more accurately, what I aspired to fulfill


Now, if that sounds pretentious, okay. I would equate it to a musician who knows from early on that she's going to sing or play guitar (or both). It's part of my earliest sense of identity and it simply is.


I know some people discover writing later in life. After retirement, that sort of thing. That's great, and they're writers, too. That just wasn't my path. I was telling stories (my parents called them lies, but what did they know?) as soon as I could speak, and writing them down as soon as I could write.


As for the "hurt" part... well, that's another post. Certainly, writing has, at times, been a means of catharsis, a way of relieving or addressing pain. Not exclusively, of course, but at different times in my life, more than a few hurts found their way into the prose... and somewhat out of me as a result.


Maybe that's a boring answer -- "I've always been a writer" -- but if the truth is boring, so be it.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------


Hopefully, you won't think this next part boring -- what I've been up to since last we spoke, which was November of 2022.2023 was a busy year. 


I wrote five novels, one novella, one short story collection, and one coloring book (believe it or not, that last one was in production the longest!)


You can see the titles in the photo. Several of these were installments in my various crime fiction series, such as All the Forgotten Yesterdays being #14 in the River City series. I've been moving many of these series (though not River City, which is my flagship) toward a point in the series where a resting place makes sense -- more on that in a bit.


The episode of A Grifter's Song that you see here is part of a novella anthology series that I created, edited, and contributed to over five seasons. Into the Dying Sun is the final episode. I edited six others for season five, leading up to this finale. This is a series with some incredible authors, including two who is on this very panel.


Line Changes represented the end of a four-book arc for Sam as a peewee hockey player in this middle grade series. The coloring book, on the other hand, is targeted at a slightly younger age group.


2023 also saw me revive my podcast, Wrong Place, Write Crime, from its hiatus. This came with a caveat -- less frequent episodes. The reason I shut it down was due to time constraints, so I needed to find a happy medium between my desire to keep it going and my need to spend time elsewhere -- writing and marketing and oh, yeah, spending time with my wife.


I was fortunate to win a couple of awards at the Public Safety Writers Conference in July 2023 for my 2022 novels, The Ride Along (Charlie-316 #5) and The Worst Kind of Truth (River City #11).


At the end of 2023, I set up a direct sales option for readers, the Code 4 Press Bookstore. As part of this strategy, I left Kindle Unlimited, which had been underperforming for me for most of 2023. I've also altered my process for new titles. Now, all new releases will be exclusive to my bookstore for the first 90 days before releasing to retail outlets. Additionally, my bookstore prices are less than retail ($6.99 instead of $7.99). 


What about 2024 so far? 


Well, it's been busy, too, though the releases that result in that work will mostly happen in the latter part of the year. A few things have made it into the world already, however.



 Sam & the Magic Hockey Gear, the children's book (for which the coloring book serves as a companion) was finally released after a long development process. Meant for kids under 5 who are excited about hockey.


Think of Laura (Stefan Kopriva Mystery #5) is out, too, though currently exclusive to the Code 4 Press Bookstore. Also in Kopriva news, my short story, "A Checkered Past" appeared in Tina Wolff's anthology, Games People Play: Opening Gambit. (and related Murder to Die For podcast).


Lastly, my science fiction novel, Kemper's House, came out in May. I wrote this under a different pen name. What up with that, you might wonder? (I also "re-authored" my 2018 alternative history novel, An Unlikely Phoenix, to this pen name to align the genre)


There is more on the horizon. At least three short stories in different anthologies, for starters. On the novel front, we'll see a new entry in several series:  River City #15, SpoCompon #6, Charlie-316 #6, and Sandy Banks #3. The latter three books will likely represent at resting place for those series, at least for a while.


Why? Because I'm delving into the fantasy series that has been hounding me for about a decade -- Seasons of Wither. Given the world-building that goes into such endeavors, I am giving some of my crime series a rest to focus my attention here. 


I grew up on fantasy and science fiction, so it only makes sense that I'd find my way back around to those genres. I think the timing of my career really taking hold while I was working in law enforcement certainly informed my choice of crime fiction as a genre to play in for a long time. I still love it and will never leave it entirely, but I've written over fifty books and out of those, crime fiction titles number in the low forties of that figure. Stretching as a writer is important, but even more important is writing what you want to write. There's only so much time we have on this planet, right? And the benefit of being an independent author is having the latitude to make that choice.


Circling back to the question that started this post, the one thing that isn't a choice is that I'm a writer. I will always be writing. What I write may vary, but writing is who I am.


If you're still reading this guest post, thanks. I'd love to hear from you in the comments or directly via other means. 

And... I hope your writing and reading journey is all you want it to be, or more.


Tuesday, June 25, 2024

In the Beginning

 

Terry here, with this week's question: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who hurt you? The question is not so much when I knew I wanted to be a writer, but when I knew I wanted to write crime fiction. I was always a writer.
I loved writing stories, and when my junior high school teacher assigned a story and she read mine aloud in class, I was hooked. I liked watching people hear the story read and being wowed by it. The fact is, even if she hadn’t read it aloud, I loved the story and was proud of it. I wanted to write more…and more. 

 My first published stories were not mysteries, except in the sense that every story has a mystery at its heart. No, I wrote, and wanted to write “literary” fiction. In college I had stories published in small literary magazines and thought I was a hot commodity. I’d get out of school and become a novelist and before you knew it I’d be famous. Pipe dreams. 

 Somewhere along the line, I heard that getting published was hard (duh), and that it was easier to get a mystery published. So in my brilliance I thought, “I’ll write a mystery, get it published, and then turn my attention to the Great American Novel.” 

 Not so fast, sweetie. Writing a mystery was harder than I thought, especially since I neglected to know when I started out who the killer was. I just thought of a good hook, assembled some characters, and started writing. About 75% of the way through, I suddenly came to a grinding halt with the question that haunts every mystery novelist: Who dunnit? 

 I came up with a convoluted resolution that in retrospect looks ridiculous. But at the time I thought it was “clever enough.” That word “enough” is not the word a budding writer needs to depend on. Thinking the book was good enough that an editor could whip into shape, I began sending it out. Meanwhile, I had enjoyed the process of writing a mystery and thought I should write another one with the same protagonist. This one by some miracle had an ending that seemed pretty good. “Pretty good.” That’s another no-no. Good enough. Clever enough. Pretty good. Sort of okay. Ish. It’s all in the same junk pile. I thought editors were there to take a sort of okay novel and make it into gold. No, they were there to find gold and polish it. It took me years to realize that. 

 None of those stories ever sold, but by then the desire to write the Great American Novel had become the desire to write the Great American MYSTERY novel. I wrote another one with different protagonists. Then another one, each time thinking the idea was good and that if the writing was good, an editor would fix it. With that attitude, it only took me another twenty-five years to get published. 

Only when I realized that a book I sent out had to be the best it could possibly be did I start getting the attention of publishers. During this time, I had no trouble getting solid agents, but none of them could ever sell my books. I blamed the publishing industry for not recognizing my genius. 

 Then I took a workshop that revealed to me that “good enough” was not good enough. That I had to write not a careless “mystery,” but a book that meant something to me. A book that had characters who spoke real lines and had real thoughts. A book with a plot that not only made sense but told a good story. A book with heart. Two months after the workshop, I began writing A Killing at Cotton Hill, the first of what is now an 11-book series.
So who hurt me? I did, by not recognizing that a good idea is not enough. Even good writing isn’t enough. To be successful you have to write not just from the head, but from the heart. You have to learn the craft of writing a mystery novel—how to grab and keep a reader’s attention, and how to do that without resorting to clich├ęs and tropes. The funny thing is that these are lessons that you have to learn again and again. With each new story, you have to dig down and find that part of the story that only you can tell, from your perspective, with your particular style and tone and voice. With a few twists.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

When I Grow Up ...

 When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Who hurt you?

Brenda here

I think that I always wanted to write, but the idea of being an author didn't come about until after I had my two daughters and completed about fifteen years working as a teacher. 

In my early twenties, I earned an English literature degree, which included a full-year creative writing course. The course taught the basics of poetry and short story writing, and I just loved the creativity. However, I never considered writing as a career path and continued on to teachers' college to gain a marketable skill. Once I began working, my writing went from essays and assignments to lesson plans, reports, and more reports.

I stayed home and tutored at odd hours when my kids were young. One day, a girl in grade eight was reading a book aloud to me, a mystery that she'd brought with her. I remember thinking, I could write better than this. Around the same time, a friend told me about someone they knew having their book published. I felt such a wave of jealousy that it made me realize this was something I really craved doing. I decided to spend the second half of my working life as a writer. So, I wrote my first mystery novel for my daughters, who were nine and twelve at the time while I began getting contracts in the government as a writer-editor and later in communications. After a lot of searching, a small publisher in Toronto accepted that first novel and it turned into a four-book series.


Once I secured a permanent job in the government, I continued my creative writing in my spare time. As most writers know, it is extremely difficult to earn enough initially (and often ever) through penning books, short stories and poetry to live on. I wasn't wrong in my university years to realize making a living through creative writing alone would be difficult if not impossible.

I'm now fortunate enough to be able to write full-time, supported by my pension and other sources of income. Not having the pressure to make money really is freeing. I recently published my 25th book, 20 years after Running Scared was released.


As for 'who hurt me', I can't say that this has been the motivation for my writing journey. I've always been spurred on by my love of the written word, a good story that gets my imagination working, and a suspenseful mystery. Having people read and enjoy my stories is icing on the cake.

Website: www.brendachapman.ca

Instagram, Threads & Facebook: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter (X): brendaAchapman

Friday, June 21, 2024

Railing Against the Algorithm Gods, by Josh Stallings

 

Q: Tell us about your ideal reader. For whom do you write and why don’t they ever leave reviews or tell you how you’re doing?

A: I never want to feel like I’m walking the same writing path twice. My ideal reader is someone who is flexible in their literary taste to join me on my journey. 


I have never been really good at following rules. Not because I see myself as a rebel or an iconoclast, but mostly because I’m not wired to remember illogical rules. My creative process as both a writer and a film editor is to stuff my head with facts and thoughts and feeling and research. Then I toss it all out the window and trust the good stuff will stick and the unnecessary will drift away. 


Side note: I see lately how connected my process is to my voice. I just looked at my latest WIP I have 37,000 words in my research file. I doubt I will reread any of my notes, but the act of writing them says to my brain, “Pay attention, I might need this info.” By not doggedly adhering to my original thoughts I allow myself to wander down side tracks chasing ideas that I’ve only seen from the corner of my eye. Some readers like my flow, others are irritated by it. But the fact is that flow is my voice regardless of the genre or sub genre I happen to be playing with at the time.


My ideal readers are curious, and willing to go into places that feel unfamiliar and even confusing, trusting the writer will get them home. I just described myself as a reader. So my ideal reader is me I guess. That is also who I write for. 


I write for me as a way of making sense of the world. A way of understanding myself and my life. I write because even at its most difficult it brings me joy. 


As for readers leaving reviews, it is not their responsibility to take any action just because they bought my book, or checked it out from the library. I understand it is about sales. They say that reader’s reviews matter to the algorithm gods at Amazon. That’s the A10 algorithm that replaced its predecessor A9. Okay I have zero idea what that means. I Googled algorithm to figure out how to spell it and found out how much I don’t know. 


Sales matter. If reader reviews convince the algorithm to put my book in front of more readers that is a good thing. Or maybe it’s not. I’m not just looking for readers, I’m looking for readers who will be predisposed to dig my books. 


How do you choose what to read next based on Amazon’s suggestions?

For me it is almost always a personal recommendation. I read Rachel Kushner’s THE FLAMETHROWERS because Charlie Huston said he thought it would be in my wheelhouse. He was correct, it ripped the lid off what I thought could be done with a novel. It felt familiar to how my brain works and yet also excitingly foreign.  

I’m reading Adam Rapp’s WOLF AT THE TABLE on a recommend from my agent Amy Moore-Benson, she said it reminded her of my work. And so far I love it. It is a hard book dealing with broken folks trying to make it through this life. It also has a technique I really dig. Every chapter jumps forward in time. Things have happened and you aren’t sure why or how. This builds suspense without needing a ticking time bomb. Adam Rapp’s command of withholding information and knowing when to tease it and when to deliver is masterful.


None of this is to say I don’t love hearing from readers, I really do. Writing is solitary by nature so when when someone tells me that my books have meant a lot to them, it helps fuel my inner writer. Novels like all art forms are conversations between the creator and the viewer. I was at a bookclub in Idyllwild where they discussed TRICKY, it took the “conversation” to a new level. 


My feeling on readers writing reviews? If it brings you joy, or if it helps you clarify your thoughts about a book, do it. If you love a book, shout about it. Or think of who you know that might love it as well, and tell them about it. We readers are a community that depends on each other to find our way through a massive stack of books to the ones that are right for us. 


There are no wrong answers. There are no books you shouldn’t read or write. In these tech driven days we are reminded, nobody knows nothin. And if they do, it will all change by tomorrow.


Here are some words that made me smile;


“I was going 145 miles an hour. Then 148. I was in an acute case of the present tense.” — The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner

 

*****


What I’m reading right now:

WOLF AT THE TABLE by Adam Rapp

Thursday, June 20, 2024

"I write to tell you your book is tripe" by Catriona

Tell us about your ideal reader. For whom do you write and why don’t they ever leave reviews or tell you how you’re doing?



Three separate questions here. I'll answer them in reverse order. Why don't they ever leave reviews? They might. I wouldn't know. I don't read them. I mean, I read reader reviews as a reader. That's what they're for. But I don't read reader reviews of my own books, since I'm not planning on picking one up anytime soon. 

And I did recently advise a friend to start ignoring GoodReads reviews of her own new book, after she had a bruising encounter with an ill-informed opinion there (shocker!). 

Wait though, I'm being too grand here. (Grand might be the wrong term. Wurdz iz hard, after all. Just see that sentence two paragraphs back with all the "read", if you don't believe me.) I do sometimes catch a glimpse of the total number of reviews, if I find myself checking something about my own book on Amazon. So I find out that, yes indeed, reviews can be thin on the ground. Of course, when I catch that glimpse I also see the overall star-rating, so I'm not always sorry there aren't more. Sheesh!

But I don't read them. I've heard it called restraint, steel and even courage. Gimme a break! It's rampant, snivelling cowardice.

My cowardice doesn't protect me anyway. Because they do tell me how I'm doing. They email me. That can be lovely. My favourites down the years have been an elderly gentleman in . . . let's say Missouri; that's not far wrong - who got in touch to say that a bit of Scots I had used was a phrase he knew from his emigrant mother, that he hadn't encountered it since she died in the fifties, and that he had never seen it written down before. Another gem was someone telling me she was rereading Dandy Gilver from Book 1 to soothe herself during trying times. I think I sent her the one she was missing. How could you not?

More often though, the emails are from people who've taken the time to tell me that they didn't like my book and stopped reading on some early page. I write back congratulating them on their sensible use of reading time and hoping they've found something they prefer. (This is not polite. This is passive agression. I always hope it leaves them impotently seething.) The final cohort is people who've found a mistake and broken into a trot to get to the keyboard and let me know. 

Now, here's the thing. If you're reading a new hardback, I want to know about the typos. There's a good chance we can fix it before the paperback comes out. But if they're reading something five years old, I already know. And I think they know I already know. They're telling me nothing about my book. They're telling me a great deal about them, though. None of it good.

(There's someone I used to know in real life, who's still got my email address and only ever gets in touch if he finds something amiss in a book. Years go by and then up he pops again. Such a staggering lack of self-awareness, right?)

So is it Mr Missouri or Ms Ree Read I write for? Hmmmmmmmm. I don't think so. I think I write for the characters, to get them out of my head and put them where they belong: in a book. I might edit for Ideal Reader, but my editors know who that is. I haven't a clue.

I do know who my Ideal Reader isn't. And this storm of emotions is very fresh. As I type this blog entry, my mum is sitting in the same room as me, finishing DEEP BENEATH US and teaching me that if Ideal Reader exists for a corpse-strewn psycho-thriller about a deeply dysfunctional family, including a Medea-style mother, she is not it!

(She's finished it. She enjoyed it.)

Cx 

  

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

My Kinda Page-Turner by Eric Beetner


 Tell us about your ideal reader. For whom do you write and why don’t they ever leave reviews or tell you how you’re doing?


One stark fact I’ve had to contend with is that my ideal reader is an endangered species now. We all know reading has trended downward for many, many years. There are still blockbusters, still loyal readers, still dedicated series fans, but younger generations have so many distractions competing for their attention, it’s an uphill battle to entice new readers.

Some genres do better with newer readers like fantasy and romance. The classic crime fiction fan who used to pick a .25 paperback off a spinner rack would probably really like most of my work. Trouble is, most of those readers are dead.

I’ve had conversations with other writers and it is generally agreed that someone like Elmore Leonard would have a very tough time getting published today. That type of criminal-forward, fairly dark, antihero style book isn’t what is topping the best seller lists anymore. Changes in reader tastes over time have eroded that base of hard-boiled crime action readers for sure. Yeah, those were my people. Domestic suspense, romantic suspense, psychological suspense have all become the more dominant choices for crime readers. 

Many of my books, especially early on, were tagged as Noir, which can be a kiss of death for a book in today’s market. But you can’t expect readers to want the same thing that was popular in the 1930s nearly a hundred years later. Times change and tastes change.

My own readership is small, but loyal. That puts me in mind of another phenomenon I see as a brick wall to new writers wanting to break in. The loyal readers. Whether a series or an author, there are so many established legacy authors and brands now that occupy most or all of a reader’s choices in a year, it’s tough to break through to someone who wants the newest Jack Reacher or VI Warshawski or Harry Bosch.

Now, with series continuing after an author’s death, it makes things even harder. Who thought a writer in 2024 would have to compete with a new novel from Agatha Christie or Robert Ludlum, Stuart Woods, Robert B. Parker or Tom Clancy. 

Then there are the Franchise authors like James Patterson who fill the shelves with so much content that readers are never left browsing a bookstore looking for a new find because their beloved series characters all have new titles every time they walk into a store.

So my ideal reader was probably one of those casual readers who want a fast-paced, simply-told story and want it to be on the shorter side, cinematic in its execution and unexpected in the plotting.

In other words – me.

We all really write for ourselves first, don’t we?

But as labels have perhaps been a barrier to potential readership, I love it when I get a nice note or meet someone who I wouldn’t think would be a fan of my work. Maybe it was too violent, maybe too fast-paced without a romantic subplot. Maybe I’m too mean to my main characters from time to time. But then I meet a reader who went all in on what I was trying to do and I’m surprised all over again.

Now, if I can convince that special reader to write a review, then that’s a bonus. But hey, one step at a time. I’m still trying to figure out how to get them to pick up a copy of the book first.



Currently sitting at 27 reviews. I'd love to get that higher. But I'm looking for readers first, reviewers second. I don't expect people to take on a part time job to go along with their pleasure reading.


Tuesday, June 18, 2024

wherefore art thou Ideal Reader

 Wherefore art thou Ideal Reader?


Tell us about your ideal reader. For whom do you write and why don’t they ever leave reviews or tell you how you’re doing?

 

I can’t answer why reviewers don’t leave reviews. I’m convinced that readers either think reviews don’t matter (THEY DO), or they feel that they can’t write one well. Which leaves me and my fellow authors at the mercy of those who do take the time to leave a few words, for which we are grateful. And then there are the trolls who find that one typo in 300 pages. Rather than their accepting that gremlins exist, they enjoy flogging us writers in public for crimes against language and civilization.

 

As for an Ideal Reader, I don’t know. I write to explore what I know and have experienced, and to learn what I don’t know about myself and the world around me. While I strive to tell a story and entertain readers, I write for myself. The reader eavesdrops on a private conversation in a public place, but if I had to imagine an Ideal Reader, he or she must:

 

·      Know history, geography, and culture(s); and

·      They have to think about what is said and not said on the page, meaning I don’t spoon-feed the reader. I don’t expect my readers to be passive.

 

I’m the author of three series. The Roma Series* bounces back and forth between the US and different parts of Italy, and the main character is Bianca, a driven and analytical forensic accountant with ‘issues.’ She is on the run from a clandestine US agency. The Company Files** is about the early days of the CIA. The Shane Cleary Mysteries series is set in 1970s Boston. All three series share the common theme of history. A crime is the pretense to every novel, but all my stories are about friendships, about love and trust.

 


The Company Files illustrates some of the serious blunders and growing pains of the intelligence agency. My Ideal Reader would wonder, if an agency could do ‘that’ then, imagine what it can do now. To me, the minds of Allen W. Dulles and Edward Bernays are far more sinister than Hannibal Lecter.

 

I love Italy, the language, and the country’s history. Unfortunately, for most Americans, their idea of what is ‘Italian’ is limited to the immigrant culture of southern Italy that came to the US between 1880 to 1920, so the Italy they encounter in my series might disorient them. What they’ll experience is based on a good knowledge of contemporary Italy and research.

 

There is the unfortunate stereotype that anything Italian must be mafia. In the six books that comprise my Roma Series, two of the books, a collection of five novellas in Five Before Rome and Turning to Stone, deal with the mafias, Sicilian and Neapolitan. The rest present variants of white-collar crime, be it money laundering, archaeological theft, or Big Pharma. In Threading the Needle, I introduce readers to the ‘Strategy of Tension,’ a concerted effort on the part of the US government and its allies to destabilize the only viable Communist party in western Europe through a series of assassinations and terrorist attacks. Postwar Italy was caught between the anvil that was the US and allies, and the hammer of the Soviet Union with its own brand of ‘Red Terrorism.’ My Ideal Reader would compare and contrast cultures, and how we deal with the darker side of international politics.  

 


Real events inspired the plots in the Shane Cleary Mysteries. The murder of a Harvard student in the Combat Zone (Hush Hush). Arson for-profit that entailed systemic corruption in Boston (Symphony Road). Figures in organized crime, while they populate the Shane novels, are tangential to the stories, but accurate to the era. Ditto for the Company Files because the CIA did work hand-in-glove with organized crime, when it suited the US government.

 

My Ideal Reader would question what he or she had been taught or told by their teachers and the media. In confronting a culture not their own, they interrogate their assumptions about geopolitics, about the ‘social contract’ between the individual and their government. As witnesses to history, they’ll see how far American society has come, and how far we have to go.

 

I use humor to offset some of the darkness, so my Ideal Reader must have a sense of humor. I happen to find humor the most difficult to write. There is romance in all three series. Violence occurs, often implied and never gratuitous. At every turn, my Reader will see that I respect diversity and don’t succumb to stereotypes. Women are prominent in each series, yet, for better or worse, they are true to societal norms, though they are fierce and independent. Queer characters are present in the Company Files and the Shane Cleary Mysteries.

 

My Ideal Readers would see that I confront thorny and relevant issues. In the Roma Series, readers don’t hear social issues discussed the way they are here in the US, but they’ll see a different face to the same problems. Immigrants and regional prejudices and stereotypes are issues in Italy. Northern Italy and southern Italy are two antagonists, each half distrustful of the other because of their histories. My reader would see that, despite that the Company Files series is set in the past sexuality, race, and antisemitism were alive and well. With Shane Cleary, a lot depends on the age of the reader. A reader in his fifties or sixties will see how cynical the 70s were because the idealism of the Sixties, whether it was the Kennedy brothers, Hippies, or activism on college campuses, died. They remember that Vietnam was our first defeat as a nation, and our role as the superpower was not secure. A younger reader may encounter history they never knew.

 

I’ve said numerous times in interviews that Americans don’t know their own history or it is highly selective, if not chauvinistic. My Ideal Reader is by default intellectually curious and takes a contrarian perspective to popular narratives. An Ideal Reader may agree with me that the real casualty to Cancel Culture is not the author’s failure to include DEI but the erasure of individual and collective histories.

 

*The Roma Series is out of print, rights reverted, but fate unknown.

**Level Best Books will reissue the Company Files