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“In (Bill and Fiona’s) escape to freedom, which goes from New York City to Oklahoma to Cuba and back, they run into all sorts of oddball characters, including a freaky assassin in an Elvis costume and a foulmouthed octogenarian with a deep, dark secret.” – Nick Kolakowski

Check out our Q&A with Nick about his latest novel, Slaughterhouse Blues.

Macbeth and The Dark Clouds Shining are reviewed.

Benjamin Sobieck takes us inside his writing space.

Plus: Tweets of the week and links to interesting articles.

And, in our Flashback Feature, check out what Jess Lourey has to say about the shallow dating pool, getting a 12-book deal and gravy-drippers.

Online Issue #1

Our first online issue is live now!

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Earl Javorksy, Gabino Iglesias, Andrew Nette, Tom Piccirilli, David Swinson, Alex Segura, James Sallis, Peter Watts, Stuart MacBride, Christine Mangan, Patricia Abbott, Joe R Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale, Dana King and more.

What’s the deal with online issues? Find out more here.

 

Author Snapshot: Charles Salzberg

Pre-order alert! Second Story Man will be available March 26! Order your copy now.

 

Charles Salzberg has written over 20 non-fiction books, including Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times.. He is author of the Shamus Award nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair, Swanns Way Out, Devil in the Hole, named one of the best crime novels of the year by Suspense magazine and “Twist of Fate” one of three crime novellas in Triple Shot. He teaches writing the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member.

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SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

CS: Obviously, it’s been a while but I think the first book, other than the usual picture books, like Dick and Jane (which probably was inspiring because I figured I had to be able to do better than that) would probably have been Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It showed me you could write in the first person and in the vernacular, and create character that way. Here was a story I could connect with, even identify with: the outsider. An earlier novel was one called, The Winning Forward Pass, a sports novel about an All-American college football player. It showed me how to tell a story. I actually found a copy of that book in a second-hand bookstore and bought it. And the other book that probably helped shape me as a writer, was Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day, which I read as a teenager, simply because it was on sale at the local drugstore, which was attached to the building where I grew up. I think it was the title that grabbed me, and somehow, I identified with the ineffective “loser,” Tommy Wilhelm, most likely because I was so shy as a kid.

SR: What’s your new book/work in progress about? What inspired you to write it?

Second Story Man Final Cover

CS: I’m working on another Henry Swann novel, called Swann’s Down, which would be the fifth in the series. I thought the last Swann, Swann’s Way Out, would be the last in the series because I thought I’d taken the character as far as he could go. But after a year or so, I was suddenly struck with another idea for him, something that would tell the reader something more about Swann and his outlook on life. In it, Swann is working two cases. One, is for the ex-wife of his partner, Goldblatt, who was swindled out of a large sum of money by a fortune teller. The second plot, involves Swann being hired by an attorney friend to find a missing witness on a murder case which involves a professional hit man who swears he did not commit this particular murder.

 

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

CS: I don’t write horror, so for me that would be the most difficult emotion to elicit: fear. Why? Because what hasn’t been used before? I mean, the normal scary things, including clowns, have been done to death. Of course, no one can do that better than Stephen King, so why even try?

 

SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your book is about in 30 words or less.

CS: Second Story Man: Two lawmen, a retired Connecticut State investigator and a Cuban/American Miami police detective team up to bring down the arrogant, brilliant, athletic, manipulative master burglar, Francis Hoyt.

 

Charles Salzberg PhotoSR: What’s the best thing about writing?

CS: You can do it at home, in your pajamas, and you never have to leave the house, or in my case apartment, when the weather is bad. And, no tie and jacket. And I guess that moment, which doesn’t come often, when you think you’ve written the perfect sentence.

 

SR: What’s the worst thing about writing?

CS: Having to do it.

 

SR: Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?

CS:

  1. Lolita
  2. Herzog
  3. The Great Gatsby
  4. The Sound and the Fury
  5. The Natural
  6. Portnoy’s Complaint
  7. The Continental Op
  8. A Short History of Nearly Everything
  9. In Cold Blood
  10. The Executioner’s Song

 

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

CS: There are three protagonists in Second Story Man, and they all have the same fear: failure. All three are obsessed with being the best, with winning, and to differing degrees they will push the envelope of decent behavior to be the best.

 

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

CS: The challenge was to write from three completely different points-of-view, in the first-person. That meant I had to create a different “language” for each of them. There was always the risk that they would sound alike, and so, using their different backgrounds, I had to make sure that each voice was distinctive, that I didn’t necessarily have to label who was speaking at any one time (I did, but I think if I stripped away their names, the reader could easily tell whose voice he or she was listening to.)

 

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

CS: Movies—I’ll see practically everything—reading, and hanging out with friends. Fortunately, I have enough freelance friends to schedule lunches at least three times a week, including one with my pal and fellow writer, Ross Klavan. Every week, we meet at the same restaurant, and try to solve the problems of the world. Not much luck, so far, but we’ll keep eating until we do. And then, of course, there’s Fantasy Baseball to keep me busy six months out of the year.

 

SR: What strategies do you use to keep your books fresh? Particularly if you write a series character, how do you keep them consistent without retelling the same content book to book?

CS: That would be deathly for me, and it’s why I almost ended the Swann series with the last one. But I have a simple way of keeping things fresh. I usually do not write about murder. In other words, I’m not interested in writing your traditional mystery, where there’s a dead body, a host of suspects, and the detective solves the crime. That leaves me so much more room to create, because I can choose from a host of other crimes: fraud, theft, blackmail, crimes of the heart, embezzlement. In fact, I’m kind of proud of the fact that in Swann Dives In, which takes place in the world of rare books, you’re not sure what the crime is until halfway through the book and then by the end of the book you’re not even sure there was a crime. So, one of the fun things for me is to figure out what crime I’m going to write about and what world I’m going to set it in. I have used murder in my novels, but for instance in Devil in the Hole, the murder takes place before the book even begins, the reader knows who committed the crime, and there are no other murders in the rest of the book.

 

 

SR: 6 Fun facts about you, or your protagonist:

CS:

  1. Favorite color: blue
  2. Favorite game: baseball
  3. Favorite vehicle: a city bus
  4. Favorite social media site: Facebook
  5. Favorite subject in school: English, as in literature. I read so much anyway it wasn’t even like taking a class, and I was exposed to so many new writers.
  6. Favorite pet: dog.

 

 

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

CS:

Book signing at Mysterious Bookshop (NYC), April 3, 6:30 p.m.

Book signing at Book Culture (NYC, Columbus Avenue), April 30, 7 p.m.
Book signing at Page and Palette (Fairhope, AL), May 19th, 2 p.m.

Blog Talk Radio, “Literary Viewpoints” with Fran Lewis, March 26, 10 a.m.

Blog Talk Radio, “Gus’ Guy’s Radio, Robert Manni, April 25th, 7 p.m.

Author Snapshot: Derek Thompson

Which is true about Derek Thompson?

  1. I ONCE WAITED ONE YEAR AND A QUARTER TO HEAR BACK FROM A FANTASY FICTION PUBLISHER. IT WAS A ‘NO’!
  2. I WAS ONCE A CASUAL VICTIM OF GUN CRIME IN THE UK (NOT TARGETED – JUST AT THE WRONG TIME AND PLACE)
  3. I WAS AT A FUNERAL WHERE MY NAME WAS INCLUDED IN THE COMMITTAL AT THE END, INSTEAD OF THE DECEASED (MY BROTHER)
  4. All of the above

(Answer at the end of the profile)

Derek Thompson is British author who spent a year in the US. His love of film noir and thrillers began with The Big Sleep. Much of his fiction involves death, loss or secrets. As the saying goes: write about what you know. His Spy Chaser series follows Thomas Bladen in the Surveillance Support Unit, combining intrigue, action and sardonic humour.

SpyChaser series 2018

SR: What’s your new book/work in progress about? What inspired you to write it?

DT: As the security services scramble to deal with the aftermath of a coordinated terror attack in London, undercover operative Thomas Bladen is in deep trouble. His department is taken over by MI5, his girlfriend’s gone, and he’s “lost” a handgun during unofficial surveillance of a politician. Then two of his senior colleagues disappear. Who’s taken them and why? Bladen’s search for answers is blocked at every turn, but what he discovers may change the rules forever.

I’d always planned to set a novel at the time of the 2005 London Bombing. As Thomas Bladen’s team is based at Liverpool Street, London, it would have been moral cowardice not to reference the real and terrible event that took place there. I also wanted to explore the effect on my central character, and on the story arc across the novels of the battle between the self-appointed pan-European ‘Shadow State’ and the ‘Alliance’ that opposes them.

https://www.amazon.com/FLASHPOINT-gripping-action-packed-espionage-thriller-ebook/dp/B079HYYYW7

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

DTC-colourDT: We’re able to compartmentalize the different parts and people in our lives – essential for keeping secrets!

SR:  How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

DT: He’d observe them undetected to learn their intent, and more importantly learn about their weaknesses. After that, it’s a judgment call! By the end of the book he’d either be doing a deal to protect them or fighting alongside the resistance.

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

DT: You always have a choice.

SR: Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

DT: My brother died in 2005 after an epic battle with cancer. I think that loss made me want to live and write more authentically.

SR: Your protagonist has to flee the country. Where are they headed to and why that location?

DT: Either Halifax or Winnipeg in Canada; it’s mentioned in one of the books. He chose Canada because of the language, access to vast open spaces and wildlife photography, and the unlikelihood of meeting anyone who ever knew him. Thomas Bladen always has a plan!

SR: What conspiracy theory is your protagonist most likely to believe in? Roswell? JFK? Princess Diana? What about you? Any conspiracy theories that you think might have some truth to them?

DT: Thomas comes to believe in the conspiracy that underpins the Spy Chaser series. That a group of politicians, military leaders and industrialists took Churchill’s call for a United States of Europe (from a 1946 speech in Zurich) literally and made their own arrangements! Think of it like a Europe-wide equivalent of Eisenhower’s warnings of a Deep State.

One of my mantras is ‘People only tell you what they want you to know’. There’s always more going on than we are aware of – sometimes that’s for our own good and sometimes it’s for other people! I’m always partial to a good alien tech story, or theories about the work of Nikolai Tesla. I also like the theory that we are probably living in a computer simulation.

SR: If hell was watching one movie over and over and over again, what would the movie be for you? For your protagonist?

DT: For me, it’d be Mamma Mia, The Break-Up, or Signs (although Sixth Sense remains a classic). I couldn’t get on with any of them. For Thomas Bladen, it’d be any of those plus the Bridget Jones films (I disliked them initially but learned to appreciate them – Thomas would give only them one shot).

SR: Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison? FLASHPOINTmini 2018

DT: For the things Thomas has done or is willing to do – prison. Desperate times call for desperate measures. But I think he’d use what he knows, and who he knows about, and be on a plane to Canada before it came to that.

SR: What movie world do you wish you could live in? What movie world would you be most likely to be living in if you lived in a movie world? Why?

DT: Aren’t we all living in The Matrix already? If not, I’d opt for In a Lonely Place and The Big Sleep – writer by day and gumshoe by night! Cinematically, they portray a time of optimism and change (remember those?), when a few good people could make all the difference. Plus the music and styles appeal to me. I think Thomas Bladen would be more suited to The Ipcress File – he and Harry Palmer would get along fine, until they find out they’re spying on one another!

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

DT: Nothing in my diary at present, but I’m always open to invitations. I’ve done a couple of slots on radio – some would say I have a face for radio! I live in the far south west of the UK, so most contact is online. I’d come back to the US for a book tour though – it’s been too long!

My Twitter handle is @DerekWriteLines if you want to come find me.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

DT: One of the earliest books I can remember being affected by is The Guardians. My memories are pretty sketchy, but it focused on a runaway caught between two divided classes or societies, and the consequences of his decision to rebel against the life planned for him. A key theme of the book was secrets and half-truths. Looking back, it was quite a grown-up read for an 11 year-old! I always loved escaping into books and this one presented me with a world I could relate to. As a writer I try to get under the skin of my characters to reveal the layers – there are few absolutes in my books.

SR:  What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

DT: Empathy or sadness. It’s relatively easy to shock readers with a violent scene, or get laughs from dialogue. But having readers actually care about your character/s and their causes, even when they screw up along the way (because, let’s face it, who wants a perfect heroine or hero?) requires a subtle balance between the needs of the story and the protagonist’s nature. Much like moviegoers, readers have to sign up for the ride and totally buy into it, even when you want to push the boundaries on the journey.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

DT: The freedom to explore and experiment with ideas, and to express yourself creatively. Feedback from readers is awesome too.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

DT: The uncertainty in whether anyone will ever read your words, and if they’ll connect with what you’re trying to say. Reviews some with the territory, so no complaints there – a review means someone has at least read your book (usually…).

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

DT: Writing is an obsession, so all of the above! Dialogue is key for me because it informs character, allows your creations to interact authentically in the world you’ve created, and that puts living, breathing people on the page.

 

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

DT: Loss of self-control or loss of self-determination.

SR: Would you prefer you see your novel/s on the big screen or as a TV series?

DT: My preference would be for TV because of the recurring relationships, double-deals and overarching story lines.

SR: Where can we find out about you and your books?

DT:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SpyChaser1/

Twitter https://twitter.com/DerekWriteLines

Author Central page https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08

 

Which answer was true? D) All of the above!

Author Snapshot: Michael Niemann

I’m a bit of an expert on the world of chocolate. I used to teach a course on the politics and economics of cocoa and chocolate. ~ Michael Niemann

Michael Niemann writes international thrillers. Illegal Holdings is his third Vermeulen novel. The others are Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade. During his academic career his work focused on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

MN: I grew up in Germany and at that time, almost every boy read the adventure books of Karl May, a 19th century German writer. They were all set in the American West and I remember reading as many as I could get my hands on. The first one I read had an Apache chief Winnetou as the hero. I still remember the dramatic scenery, although I found out much later that May had never visited the United States until very late in his life.

Illegal Holdings Cover

SR: What’s your new book about? What inspired you to write it?

MN: Illegal Holdings is about access to land in Mozambique, a poor country in southern Africa. It dives into the machinations of powerful international donors and the resistance of ordinary people against it. My protagonist Valentin Vermeulen, an investigator for the United Nations ends up in the middle of this and has to choose a side. I was inspired by my personal experience in the country and my distrust of the increasing power wielded by large philanthropic organizations in poor countries.

SR: Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?

MN: Actually, my wife and I moved to a very small house three years ago, and not because of taxes, but because we wanted to. So I’ve had to pare down my book collection to a minimum. Although I have more than ten books, here are the top ten that made the cut. You’ll notice few fiction books on the list. That’s because I’m an avid user of my local library and because these days I can have as many ebooks as I want on my devices.

  1. The Production of Space – Henri Lefebvre
  2. Security, Territory, Population – Michel Foucault
  3. Critique of Everyday Life – Henri Lefebvre
  4. The Constant Gardner – John Le Carré
  5. The Long Twentieth Century – Giovanni Arrighi
  6. Citizen and Subject – Mahmood Mamdani
  7. On Writing Well – William Zinsser
  8. Werke – Heinrich Heine
  9. Vengeance – Lee Child, editor (because one of my stories is in it)
  10. Jim Knopf und Lukas, der Lokomotivführer – Michael Ende (one of my favorite books as a child)

SR: Do you listen to music when you’re writing? How does music/art influence you creatively? MN: Yes, I do. For my first Vermeulen thriller I listen to The Clash a lot because it was his favorite band. Funny, really, that I chose that band. I was never much of a punk fan, but grew to like the band and it helped me get to know my character better. He’s mellowed since, but the occasional Clash song will still show up in later novels. My musical tastes are wide-ranging. For this novel, I listened a lot to Mabulu, a Mozambican marrabenta band. Music creates a cocoon of sound in which my imagination can thrive, at least that’s what I tell myself.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

MN: Is all of the above an option? Let me focus on character names. Since my novels are set in far away places and involve many local folks, I do have to research first and last names. So I do spend a fair amount of time finding out what are common last names, common first names in the country. Once I have a set of names, I play with different combinations of first and last names until I find a combination that sounds good to me. This isn’t as easy as it might sound. In some circumstances, certain names are tied to specific ethnic groups. So I have to be careful not to combine the wrong names.

SR: Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

MN: Prison, definitely! One of his drawbacks is his stubbornness. Once he’s figured out what’s what, he doesn’t let go. Although he hasn’t been in prison yet, the nature of his work and the locations where he does it will eventually land him in prison. Not every country has a Bill of Rights. It’s only a question of time.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

MN: I like to cook and bake. For example, I bake all the bread we eat at home. I make a damn good flourless chocolate cake and some tasty biscotti. Cooking is a creative process almost like writing. The choice of ingredients, the pairing of different food items. Having said that, I don’t consider myself a “foodie.” I don’t follow the latest trends. I have a repertoire and add to that when inspired.

SR: What strategies do you use to keep your books fresh? Particularly if you write a series character, how do you keep them consistent without retelling the same content book to book?

MN: Because Valentin Vermeulen works for the United Nations, I get to send him anywhere in the world. That’s probably the first ingredient to keep the books fresh. One of the challenges is to keep introducing him in fresh ways. So far it hasn’t been a problem because he’s only appeared in three novels (I’m working on the fourth). There are many tricks to get background into the story without becoming stale. In Illegal Holdings, for example, his first appearance is told from the POV of a different character.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

MN: I have a book release event at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland OR on March 1 at 7 pm. I’ll be at While Away Books and Espresso in Roseburg, OR on March 17 at noon and at Barnes & Noble in Eugene, OR that day at 3 pm. Readers can also listen to an interview with me on Literary Ashland