Friday, 5 October 2018

Dancing With Myself: DAVID SIMMS interviews DAVID SIMMS




We're sitting down to interview David Simms, the author of the historical thriller, Fear The Reaper, out this summer from Crossroads Press. We find him hiding in the corner, avoiding the four or five jobs he has because of that whole teacher equals poverty thing. Hopefully, he'll have a free moment between teaching high school classes, tutoring every subject imaginable, counselling teens at a military school, giving disturbingly funny ghost tours, reviewing books and giving guitar lessons. By the way, there's a ferocious fiver year-old gnawing at his leg. 

Your first novel was a YA dark fantasy. Why take a U-turn to historical fiction?'

Mental hospitals always pop up in my life, They're inexpensive vacations for teachers and usually in convenient locations.
When I moved to the Shenandoah Valley, I went on a ghost tour and discovered I now lived less than a mile from one of the most infamous hospitals in the history of this country. Well into the writing of a novel that had nothing to do with this topic, I found myself entranced by the dark history of the place. I mean, hell, the most powerful businessmen in America jumpstarted the Nazi movement and nearly caused a similar holocaust right here in the states? How in the hell did I not know this? The more I dug into it, the more I rediscovered my love of history. Yet I doubted I could pull it off. I nearly gave up on it until I talked to David Morrell about it in New Orleans. Neither of us could recall a novel that ever focused on the eugenics movement in America, He told me if I could write a decent story about it , it could be talk show material. You never doubt Rambo's daddy.
Six months later, I still couldn't find a fictional account of this dark chapter in history so I dove deep and researched harder than I did for my Master's thesis. Glad I did. Thanks, Mr. Morrell!

How much of the story actually happened and how much is fiction?

Honestly, about 90% of the events in the novel occurred in history. Of course, the character interaction is fiction and Sam Taylor's family is fictional, as is his girlfriend.  Of course, the sex scenes never happened - most of that is pure fiction. I'm working from memory there, really stretching my own experiences, save for the ghost sex and the bit with the train in the park. I've never defiled anything in my park in Staunton, I swear. Other states and cities, I plead the fifth.
But seriously, many of the scenes were built upon historical accounts from various texts, interviews with former staff (psychologists, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc( of Western State Hospital. There's one major plot point that stretched the truth, but only stretched. The evidence behind it is secure.

What's more frightening, living up the hill from one of the most infamous asylums in America or surviving New Jersey?

Have you ever been to Jersey? I'm kidding. I absolutely love New Jersey - just hated living there. Chris Christie, The Jersey Shore show, and the taxes. I prefer to live in a state where a teacher can afford a decent house and not pay $1500 for a one bedroom apartment. Nothing beats the music scene, pizza, bagels, and my friends.
But, try driving there for a few months and tell me how much it ages you - if you survive. I'll take the asylum any day.

Staunton, Virginia is always on the best small towns list. What's been the reaction from the citizens there towards the book?

Schizophrenic. Many in this amazing town want the story to be heard. Many have had relatives who were patients in the hospital, operated on, experimented on, tortured, etc. They've been trying to have their stories told for decades. Yet the old guard keeps sweeping the truth under the rug so much until the mound is bigger than the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround the town. I've had two reviews that were obviously written by disgruntled bingo players who are pissed that I'm not driving a pickup with confederate flags, wearing a MAGA hat, and keeping my mouth shut like they prefer the townsfolk to do. I'm curious to see the reactions to the three book events I've been invited to in town. I thank the many people who own the history and want it to come to light. Years ago, I visited Dachau. The people there own what happened and want to ensure history never repeats itself. Staunton, for the most part, has the same mindset, at least when bingo isn't in session.

You give a historical ghost tour in town. Did that play a role in the development of the novel?

Of course. Paranormal people rock. When I became a tour guide for Black Raven Paranormal, I hung with the best people. I also had to learn a ton about the town's history, and not the stuff that's found in books. I spoke to several business owners, townspeople who have had generations of their families here since Dejarnette was torturing people. I didn't want to add the element of the supernatural into a thriller but it may have crept in... just a hair, or two.
6. What was the most challenging aspect of writing something that history has spent nearly a century hiding?
Convincing people that this actually happened. The contingent in town who still believe life was best when separate water fountains and schools ruled frothed at the mouth when word got out. I interviewed a few people who flat out denied the events happened. When I showed them photos, they cried (what else?). "fake news." That tells you a lot about the mindset. Thankfully, much of Staunton is pretty modern, especially the thinking. Those who fight the results of the Civil War and go to church armed to the teeth typically reside outside the town limits.  The sad part came when I met with a few agents who thought it was a cool story but refused to believe it really occurred. I asked one guy to Google it, since we were in a pitch session. He refused and said I was lying. You can't fight ignorance.

What was the wildest thing you learned while researching FEAR THE REAPER?

That people used to party on the asylum grounds.  Western State Hospital was the best looking property in town. Families came to picnic there. It annoyed the patients so much that the iron fance was built to keep people OUT. Also, the mass graves out back. Seeing rows upon rows of unmarked tombstones, knowing each plot held up to six corpses is enough to give anyone chills.

You've played lead guitar and helped form an interesting band. The good, the bad, and the surreal?

Yikes. First of all, it was the best experience of my life. The Killer Thriller Band, formed in 2006 for the first ever Thrillerfest came together on a whim. I snuck into the band thanks to a special writer friend who convinced the powers that be that I had some skills. She was telling the truth. I also play a decent guitar.
When we hit the stage in front of several hundred people in Phoenix, and then NYC a year later with David Morrell, F. Paul Wilson, Heather Graham, Michael and Daniel Palmer, John Lescroart, Blake Crouch, Alexandra Sokoloff, Harley Jane Kozak, and Scott Nicholson, I don't think my feet ever hit the floor.  The good? Playing the House of Blues in Disney World or the Brighton Pier in England.  The bad? Having only a few hours to practice with each other before hitting the stage.  That never bodes well. One time in Burbank, we were kicked out of the hotel, then Yahoo (corporate office) called the cops on us, so we were kicked back INSIDE (which was good since a thunderstorm had began), and then to a room where most of the outlets didn't work. Thankfully, most of the audience drank heavily that night and didn't hear well.  The surreal? Signing autographs in Disney because a crowd thought we were Guns N Roses (they were playing the big stage at the venue). We obliged, of course.

Everyone has a quirky writing routine or superstition. What's yours?

I've learned to write just about anywhere. Having multiple jobs and a 5 year old will do that to you. However, when I sit out on the porch (a screened in treasure that looks out into the mountains). The world melts away out there. 

You've given music therapy workshops for a long time. How the hell does that fit in with writing?

Writers can be pretty messed up people, psychologically speaking. Not all, just many. I wrote my Master's thesis on how music can help de-stress back in 2002 and quickly discovered that most teachers are over-stressed. Then I discovered writers. Amazingly, when you find the right groove, usually between 60-80 beats per minutes, regardless of the genre, your body adapts to the tempo, completely. I've had writers come to me afterwards and tell me they've found more rhythm to their stories after a few days of listening while on their laptops. The science is nothing new but it's fascinating how it turns stories into works of music.

What's next?

Checking into that fine mental hospital for a little vacation. I think it's where all teachers wind up. Actually, I pitched two novels I've completed to agents this summer at Thrillerfest. One is a middle-grade adventure series for my little guy and the other is thriller with a bit of black comedy about a teacher who moonlights as an assassin. That's mostly fiction.

You manage to carve out time to review books. Why bother? Cloning yourself, hiring minions, or just reading the cover flaps and lying? 

Free books! What can be better than that? I love to discover new writers, help get the word out about great books, and simply read for fun. Now, if only some of those writers could review my books... Actually, some have and have helped out tremendously. I have one rule about reviewing. I won't write up a bad one. If it sucks or just doesn't work for me, I don't share it. There are plenty of others too willing to go there. A book is a living part of the author. My subject taste shouldn't be used to tear someone apart.

Some people are expecting you to spontaneously combust one day from overextending yourself. What are the odds you'll wind up in Western State Hospital one day yourself?

They've got a room ready for me. I just need my guitar and books and I'll be ready to check in.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

BONANZA

Today and into early next week, I have a plethora of offers available to you. 

The first of these comes in the form of my teacher noir novel In Loco Parentis. All Due Respect books have lowered the price from $5.99 and £4.64 to the bargainous 99c/99p. This is across all e-book retailers including:


Which is fantastic.

Meanwhile, there are also deals on the Southsiders series. Books 3 and 4 are available for 99c as part of a Kindle Countdown Deal. 






Sunday, 23 September 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE BLONDE by DUANE SWIERCZYNSKI



What would you do if the situation arose whereby if you were ever more than ten feet away from another person, you'd die? And how good would you become at measuring ten feet?

Or if you were in an airport bar and your drink was spiked by a beautiful blonde who claimed to have poisoned your drink and that you'll be dead within eight hours unless she gave you the antidote? You might do nothing, but when you start chucking your guts up as predicted by the woman, what then?

Or, if your partner and unborn child were murdered by the mob and you were a trained killer, how would you respond? And if you were working for some double secret service and had to carry a dead man's head back to base even though it's still attached to the body when you find it?

Or you're a ruthless, mercenary scientist who is ready to sell the ultimate weapon, only there's one person in the way and there's only one way to stop her? 

Blimey, that's a lot of questions. Even so, there are far more in The Blonde (US), only I don't want to raise them and spoil your fun. 

The opening of this novel is about as good as it gets. Attention is held from the off. "I poisoned your drink," is the first line and that's all it took to have me hooked. There's something of The Temple Of Doom about the setup and it really works a treat. You know you're in safe hands from that moment on. Then again, it's always possible that such a winning gambit is a fluke. That possibility is quickly burned out when the multiple points of view weave together to increase the intrigue rather than dilute it.

Jack Eisley is the man who has been poisoned. He's in town to meet with the hot-shot lawyer who's batting for his wife. On the whole, he'd rather be anywhere than Philadelphia. When he realises that the blonde's threat is far from idle, he needs to get the antidote fast and dashes back the airport to find the woman who did the dirty on him. 

Secret agent and war vet Mike Kowalski is also heading for the airport. His instructions are to find the same blonde Jack's looking for. 

When they find the locate her, she's sucking the tongue off some average guy who can't resist such an adorable lady.   

What happens from then on is for you to find out. I won't say much other than to point out that it's a fast-paced adventure with genuine tension and terrific action where each character is stretched to the absolute limit and gets to visit some freaky places along the way. 

The core premise is absolutely ace, but it needs a writer full of confidence and skill to pull it off. Swierczynski clearly has both of those in abundance and he succeeds where others might fear to tread. 

After the adrenaline rush of the novel, it's difficult to imagine how it could possibly end. I mentioned that the beginning was terrific and I can also tell you that it has a conclusion to match - utterly satisfying and bordering on genius.

It so happens that Duane Swierczynski's family is having a tough time right now. It's not my place to explain, but you can find out lots about it here and here (Evie's Braids) if you'd like. There's the option to chip in your support in a number of ways (blood, marrow and cash donation) and I know that the crime writing community has come together and shown its love and respect for one of its own. I know that if you take the time it will be appreciated. And buying books always helps - if you pick up a copy of a DS novel, you're in for a total treat.

And if you have time after all that and feel like checking out a still-warm interview I did over at All Due Respect books, you'll find it here. This time it was me who was asked some challenging questions and I hope I managed to get close to finding the answers. Thanks to Christopher Rhatigan for so many things. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

An Interview with Miriam bat Isaac, Sleuth Extraordinaire



Hello mystery lovers. My name is Concordia, daughter of Marcello Gaius Segundus. It’s almost high noon on three days after the Calends as I wait for Miriam bat Isaac here in Zenon’s café near the Central Plaza of Alexandria’s agora. Against the rasp of soldiers’ boots and the blandishments of peddlers hawking olives, boiled elephant beans, and honey-sweetened water, I’ve been rehearsing the questions—

Oh, wait. Here she comes, stunning in a short-sleeved, floor-length lavender tunic, matching veil, and a light blue, woollen himation pinned to her shoulder with an antique fibula. Certainly not the thirty-something-year-old, wide-hipped matron I expected! I stood to greet her and pointed to a chair facing the shop’s graduated marble shelves of glassware, cutlery, and crockery.

 “Thanks for coming, Miriam. This interview is important. Your community is already aware of your success as an amateur sleuth. Now it’s time for the rest of Alexandria to recognize your contributions.” I hope she didn’t notice the jagged rise in the pitch of my voice. Fortunately, with a few deep breaths, the constriction eased.

Miriam slapped some imaginary dust from her clothes and with one smooth gesture, calmed her skirt, ran her hand over the seat of the chair, and took her place. No sooner had she gotten settled when a mousy-haired, knock-kneed waiter cut a clean line around the tables shouldering a tray of tiropita and proffering her a clutch of flatware rolled in an Indian cotton napkin.

I dismissed him with a wave of my hand.

“My pleasure, Concordi—”

“Call me Dia.”

“Dia.”

I nodded. “I asked you to come so I could learn about the books June Trop has written about you. But first, more generally, why does June write about you?”

“She writes about me because she knows when I undertake a case, justice will prevail, that I have the will to persist and the hunger to survive. Once I had to follow a suspect through the midnight underbelly of our Rhakotis Quarter, where thieves prey on the nameless and dump their corpses into the canal. But even the flickering light of my dying lantern, the stench of the dankest alleys, and the scratch of every whirling piece of trash whispering threats in my ear didn’t discourage me.”

Miriam looked around to make sure no one could overhear us and then lowered her voice to an intimate pitch.

“And I permit her to write about me because she plays fair. She gives her readers all the clues so they have a good chance of not just helping me but coming up with the solution before me. But I’m proud to say—and forgive me for bragging—no one ever has.”

“What’s been your most mystifying case?”

“I think my latest one because it was so complex. June has called it The Deadliest Fever because the definitive clue came from the bite of a rabid bat. She was amazed at how I figured out the connection between a jewel heist in Ephesus—Did you know that the thieves who’d stolen the treasure from the Temple of Artemis sailed here? Anyway, I was able to figure out their connection to the death of a sea captain and the desecration of the Torah mantle in the Great Synagogue.”

“Sounds like quite an adventure. So, how did you get started sleuthing?”

Miriam steepled both hands and pressed her index fingers to her lips. Then she folded both hands in her lap. “June wrote about that in The Deadliest Lie, her first book about me. During my family’s Shabbat dinner, documents were stolen from my home, records so valuable that the bearer, if caught, could be summarily executed.” Miriam spread her palms open on the table. “So, of course, I had to get them back, if only to save the thief’s life. That meant I had to find out who stole them, and I had to do it fast.”

“What are June’s plans for you now?”

Miriam tilted her head slightly and gently stroked her chin. “She’s written a fifth book, The Deadliest Thief. She hasn’t let me read it yet—it won’t be released until next year—but she says it’s about when my Phoebe was kidna—”

Alarm flickered in Miriam’s eyes.

Her mouth hinged open.

“Phoebe? You were saying Ph—”

“Oh, Dia. Over there. Someone has a dagger—Can’t explain now—Just a few words about my chronicler. June Trop has a website, http://www.JuneTrop.com. You can learn about me and her books—four out already—even read an excerpt or buy them right there simply by clicking.”

With that, Miriam wheeled out of her chair, nearly toppling it over as I called to her back, “Thank you, Miria—” And then, turning to the crowd that had gathered before us, I announced, “Mystery lovers, you can read all about my interview with the intrepid Miriam bat Isaac as soon as I can post it on the bulletin board by the East Gate.”

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Dancing With Myself: SARALYN RICHARD interviews SARALYN RICHARD



In today’s “Dancing with Myself,” Saralyn Richard, author of MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT (US) and NAUGHTY NANA, interviews herself.

INTERVIEWER:  Thanks for inviting us into your family room today. Lovely décor, and your Old English sheepdog, Nana, is quite lovely.

SR: My pleasure. Nana and I both enjoy having company. And I’m sure you’ve noticed that Nana is no longer naughty, as she once was.

INTERVIEWER:  So the children’s book, NAUGHTY NANA, is fact-based, then?

SR:  Yes, it is. Just picture the wildest, most mischievous puppy you’ve ever known, and that was Nana. She was in the top one percent of naughty dogs worldwide.

INTERVIEWER:  Speaking of the top one percent, let’s switch gears to your new murder mystery, MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT. What made you decide to, er, switch gears from children’s literature to writing about murder?

SR:  It wasn’t really a huge leap, since there is a bit of a mystery to solve in NAUGHTY NANA, and if Nana hadn’t learned to be nice, there might have been a bit of a murder there, too. In truth, I was always on a road to be a mystery writer, and I’ve read and enjoyed an estimated ten thousand murder mysteries. The children’s book was a gratifying side path along the way.

INTERVIEWER:  So, (looking around the family room) I’m noticing that you don’t appear to be in the actual top one percent. Why did you choose to write about the ultra-wealthy, and how did you know so much about how they live?

SR:  You’re right. By some statistics, to be in the top one percent in New York City, one would have to have an annual income of $2,006,632. I would have to sell a lot of books to get there. I’ve always been fascinated by wealth and how it affects the people who have it, who don’t have it, and who had it and lost it. It took quite a bit of research to learn about the ways of the rich and powerful, but in general people were happy to help me write with authenticity. I even had the pleasure of attending an extravagant dinner party just like the one in the book.

INTERVIEWER:  Your book takes place in New York and in the horse country of Pennsylvania, yet many reviewers compare it to Agatha Christie’s British parlor mysteries. Can you explain why?

SR:  I suppose there are more cultural similarities than differences between ultra-wealthy men and women in England and in America. I binge-read Agatha Christie novels many years ago, and I suppose they left an imprint on my imagination. I also binge-watched Downton Abbey, and before that, Dallas. That long fascination with the wealthy I mentioned earlier apparently crossed the ocean and back.

INTERVIEWER:  Some readers have seen similarities between your characters and wealthy individuals who are in power in America today. Would you care to comment?

SR:  MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental…

INTERVIEWER:  That seems to roll off your tongue, but, really, are any characters patterned after real people?

SR:  Not in my mind. Remember, the book was written awhile ago, and people rotate in and out of the public eye over time. That said, I believe that once a book is published, it no longer belongs to the author. It belongs to the reader. So if a character resonates with a reader in a specific way and reminds him of a living person, far be it from me to shoot that down.

INTERVIEWER:  While we’re on the subject of characters, which character resonates most with you?

SR:  I was afraid you’d ask that question. It’s a little like asking which of your children is your favorite. Even if there is one, I’d feel guilty to name him. Truthfully, there is a piece of me in every character, even the most heinous. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to create him, give him actions, put words in his mouth. I am partial to all of them, but for different reasons. Preston Phillips, for example, is deliciously wicked. He says and does the most outrageous things, and he is so much fun to put on paper. Andrea and I share a number of characteristics, since she is a relatively down-to-earth crime writer, but I’m neither an equestrian or a billionaire, so the resemblance stops there. Detective Oliver Parrott, though African-American and male (neither of which am I), is probably the character who resonates most with me. He is clever and ambitious, has a strong moral compass, and approaches his job with a large dose of humanity. He’s not perfect, but he’s got a good heart and he works hard.

INTERVIEWER:  Congratulations on selecting a highly unusual murder weapon. Would you tell us how you came to use palytoxin?

SR:  I’m a person who faints at the sight of blood, so early on, I knew I wouldn’t have my victim mucked up. I purchased a book about poisons and read it from cover to cover, looking for one that would match the circumstances of my characters and plot. (My husband became a little anxious over my bedtime reading material.) With over a hundred different options, I couldn’t find a single poison that fit, and I was discouraged to the point of considering scrapping the whole idea. Then a friend of mine, who is a doctor, read about this “new” naturally-occurring poison whose symptoms look like a heart attack. It was perfect for the story.

INTERVIEWER:  You must be gratified with the excellent reviews MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT is receiving. What’s next for you and for Detective Parrott?

SR:  Having a successful debut novel is a little like hitting the lottery on the first ticket. One might think that would be enough excitement to last for a lifetime, but actually, it just fuels the fire for the next book. I’ve completed a standalone mystery, and I’m working on another Parrott novel.  Both Parrott and I are just getting started.

INTERVIEWER:  Coming full circle, I can’t help but ask this last question. Why did you give Parrott a pet cockatiel, instead of a fluffy sheepdog like Nana?

SR:  Haha! It’s funny how every interview starts and ends with Nana. I considered having Nana make a guest appearance in MURDER IN THE ONE PERCENT, sort of like Hitchcock’s bits in his movies or Toulouse Lautrec’s images in his paintings, but it just didn’t seem practical for a detective who lived alone and worked crazy hours to care for a sheepdog, who requires constant attention and grooming. Horace, the talking bird, seemed a better fit for Parrott’s lifestyle. He was a gift from Parrott’s fiancée Tonya, and he serves as a kind of Greek chorus throughout the book. I checked with Nana before sending off the manuscript, and she was okay with sharing the spotlight. She likes her role as narrator of NAUGHTY NANA better anyway.

INTERVIEWER: Well, that concludes our interview for the “Dancing with Myself” column. Thank you for your time. I’ll just mosey back into the office now and work on a new chapter.


Friday, 31 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: THE RUNNER by PAUL HEATLEY


Set in the town of Amble, The Runner is anything but. It sets off at a cracking pace and ends in a sprint finish where not everyone will make it to the line. Muscular and brutal fiction.

Blurb: 

Davey Hoy's money has gone missing. Jackson Stobbart thinks he knows where Cathy has run with it and he follows her north-east to their seaside home town. He's hoping to get it back before anyone notices it's gone. Unfortunately for him, Cathy has run to her ex-boyfriend to hide-out, and Jackson's never been much of a fighter. However, if Jackson has to go through the ex-boyfriend to get it, well, he'd rather do that than tell Davey the truth. 

Meanwhile, back in Newcastle, Davey has problems of his own. Desperate to prove himself to Michael Doyle, a man he despises, Davey has to try and keep his cool while dealing with people he knows to be lesser than himself. And that's before he finds out that someone has done a runner with the money he's been stealing from Doyle. 


The Runner is now available from Amazon (US). 

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

One Man's Opinion: 'TIL DEATH by ED McBAIN


Steve Carella's sister is getting married. On the morning of the wedding, Carella is called by his future brother-in-law (Tommy Giodarno) who needs some help. The first element of support relates to his worries about his impending wedding night. What's he going to do if he can't perform or his new wife is disappointed? The second issue comes in the form of a tiny package which has been left outside addressed 'To The Groom'. Inside it is a Black Widow spider. Tommy wants to play it off as a wedding day prank, but both men know that there's a more sinister intent in there somewhere. 

Carella has to think quickly. He enlists the help of Hawes and Kling and they shelve plans for the day to attend the celebrations and act as bodyguards. Meanwhile, Meyer Meyer is out on the streets chasing the only lead Carella can come up with, a disgruntled ex-serviceman who blames Giodarno for the death of his friend in Vietnam. 

As the day unfolds, the dangers to the bride and groom become all too real and the pace quickens nicely to it's electric climax. 

The plot is nicely put together. It stretches the imagination at points, but that's what books do. All the pieces fit. There are red herrings, blue herrings and green herrings which all keep the reader on their toes. The finite time and confined location work well in a time-honoured way and the story benefits from all the advantages these offer. 

What is particularly pleasing about this one is the insight into the lives and characters of the detectives. McBain adds details and layers to his characters in each book, but in 'Til Death (US) he drills down further than usual, particularly into Steve Carella's past. The wedding takes place in the home in which he grew up; we meet his parents; get to see his childhood bedroom; find out about the Italian community; feel the friction between him and his heavily pregnant wife as he meets an old flame on the dance floor; understand his loyalties to his sister and her beloved; experience his own nerves about becoming a father for the first time; and get a flavour of the relationships between him and his colleagues. We also find another window into Cotton Hawes and he mixes business with his pleasure and finds himself in uncharted waters in each. 

In short, this is an exciting and well-rounded read that is a must for fans of the 87th.