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Category: Meet the Author

NOVEMBER 15, 2010
Ann Littlewood ~ In the Author's Own Words

Please welcome guest blogger, Ann Littlewood, author of two Zoo Mysteries, featuring zookeeper, Iris Oakley. Littlewood, herself a zookeeper for twelve years at the Oregon Zoo is able to recapture her love of animals and zoos through her writing. We're looking forward to more adventures from this author.

Night kill & Did not survive


How I Came to Write Zoo Mysteries

Ann Littlewood

I’m an example of the power of the right book. While I was in college, a fellow student raised some cash by selling me his copy of Management of Wild Animals in Captivity by Lee S. Crandall. Copyrighted 1964, it was the first effort to pull together all the information available about keeping exotic animals alive and well in zoos. I was a psychology major mostly because I got to do behavioral research with pigeons and monkeys, and this book fascinated me. I still remember odd bits, such as how to lay the cement for a giraffe yard to avoid slipping—"swept when freshly laid with a coarse broom." Yes, I still have the book. It planted a seed that affected my life.

A few years after college, the seed germinated, and the lure of beautiful and strange species at Oregon Zoo inspired me to wrangle a job there as a zoo keeper. For twelve years, I worked in the nursery and raised baby cats such as servals, sand cats, and cougars, plus a lioness and a tiger. We taught orphaned deer to nurse from a pop bottle, pushed smelt down the throats of abandoned baby harbor seals, and nursed little bears back to health. One of our biggest stars was a baby hippo that became injured in his exhibit and had to be hand-raised.

After many years and many critters, it became necessary for me to move on. Next came a rewarding career in corporate America working as a technical writer and then as a publications manager. But I missed the zoo world and always wanted to return, if only by visiting zoos and in my imagination.

Somewhere along the line, the seed from Lee Crandall’s book hybridized with my life-long love of mysteries. My early reading memories include Erle Stanley Gardner, Nero Wolfe, and Ellery Queen. Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Cristie soon followed. I loved how mysteries could lead me into worlds I knew nothing about.

After a long germination, my first zoo mystery, Night Kill, grew from blending these two passions. Now it has a sequel, Did Not Survive, with others planned. It’s great fun to invent Finley Memorial Zoo and to stock it with any animal I want. It’s challenging to invent a story that will interest and puzzle mystery fans, a wily and sophisticated audience! In Did Not Survive, I was able to explore the issues around keeping elephants in captivity, with a denouement that highlights a surprising threat to many wild animals. The protagonist, zoo keeper Iris Oakley, is pregnant in this one, so I got to re-live my own two pregnancies as a zoo keeper—the worries about diseases from animals and the problems of finding a uniform big enough. As for the mystery, Iris must redefine everything she thought she knew about her boss.

Night Kill focused on big cats and the end of Iris’s marriage, Did Not Survive on elephants and her pregnancy, and now I’m thinking about parrots, especially macaws, and romance. Iris is a single mother with a demanding job. If she ever gets a decent night’s sleep, she’s likely to realize that she’s lonely and misses having a man in her life. Her romantic choices have been a little erratic, so there’s likely trouble ahead.

Lee Crandall might be surprised to know where his magnum opus led, but I think he would be pleased that, while my means is an engaging puzzle, my goal is to encourage others to appreciate animals and to participate in protecting them and their habitats. That would be no mystery to him.

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Category: Meet the Author


NOVEMBER 1, 2010
Michael C. Dooling ~ In the Authors Own Words

Please welcome guest blogger, Michael C. Dooling, author of

Clueless in New England

Workin’ on Mysteries without Many Clues
By Michael C. Dooling
My work on Clueless in New England started about 20 years ago when I read an anniversary article relating to the disappearance of Connie Smith.  Connie, a camper at Camp Sloane in Lakeville, Connecticut, left the camp and was apparently heading to use a telephone in the village center.  She was seen hitchhiking by a number of people along busy Route 44, and then she was gone, never to be seen again.  It bothered me that someone could disappear so completely; and I clipped the article and filed it.

A few years later, I found an article about Paula Welden of Stamford who was a sophomore at Bennington College in Vermont.  She hitchhiked her way to the Long Trail a few miles from the college and she too disappeared.  I started wondering if there were others who had similarly vanished.   More than four years ago I started researching the cases in earnest and soon found another young woman, Katherine Hull, who disappeared near the New York border with New England.  Her case was different; seven years after she disappeared, a group of hunters discovered her skull perched in the crotch of a tree on a mountainside outside Pittsfield, Massachusetts – five miles from where she was last seen hitchhiking!

I was hooked and started to search for every bit of information about the three cases.  The police files for the Smith – Welden cases still exist and information was abundant, but the Katherine Hull case was considerably more difficult.  Police investigation files were disposed of over the years since the case wasn’t considered a capital crime.  Visits to libraries in Albany, Syracuse, Pittsfield, Springfield and Bennington netted me microfilm editions of most of the newspapers that covered Katherine’s story.  Slowly, I was able to piece together the details surrounding her disappearance and the discovery of her skeleton.  The similarities to the other cases seemed too great to be coincidental.
Once I understood the sequence of events, I managed to obtain a missing person poster from an old newspaper file in Pittsfield, located a photo of investigators in Syracuse, and learned the names of the Pittsfield hunters on a visit to Springfield.  I managed to track down one member of the hunting party, now living in the state of Washington.  He was 15 at the time of the discovery and still remembers that day very well.  He provided a firsthand account of the events of that December day when they found Katherine’s skull staring them in the face.

Persistence and a bit of obsessive-compulsiveness are what it takes to ferret out information about very cold cases.  If it were easy, someone else would already have done it.  I think personal satisfaction is greater the harder one has to work for something and I am quite satisfied with the results of my research on these three cases, though there are just a couple of more things I’m still looking for…

Obsessively yours,

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Category: Meet the Author


AUGUST 10, 2010
In the Author's Own Words - David Howard

Please welcome guest blogger David Howard, author of
Lost rights : the misadventures of a stolen American relic

Here is one of those ironies you can appreciate best only after spending years as a freelance writer trying to think up great ideas. The biggest story of my life arrived when my mind was several thousand miles away. It’s true: I was sitting in my office in my apartment in New York City one spring morning in 2003, planning a trip to Guatemala. The phone rang. Just that quickly, the trajectory of my life would change.
It was Charley Monagan, the editor of Connecticut Magazine. I had written a number of stories for Charley in the past, and was always glad to hear from him. But that day he was calling with one of the more bizarre-sounding stories I’d heard in a while. He said the FBI had just seized an original Bill of Rights in a sting operation down in Philadelphia. An antiques dealer from Woodbury named Wayne Pratt had been trying to sell the document for $5 million dollars to a museum, and did I want to look into it?
It would’ve been easy to say no. I had a lot going—probably more than I could handle right at that moment. Instead, I immediately blurted out yes. I love complicated stories, and I love history—and already my mind was spinning with questions. Like a lot of people, I assumed there was only one copy of the Bill of Rights (as I later learned, there were actually 14 handmade originals), and the idea that one was floating around out there for sale was just unfathomable. It was as if someone was trying to auction off the Liberty Bell or the Brooklyn Bridge.
Once I plunged in, I encountered a number of questions that weren’t easy to answer. The document had been taken from North Carolina’s Statehouse by a soldier in Sherman’s army near the end of the Civil War. One family in Indiana had possessed the Bill of Rights for most of the 138 years it had been missing. But how had it reached Pratt, and how did he come to try and sell it for $5 million?

That wasn’t easy to figure out. Pratt was not talking. His lawyers were fielding questions for him, saying he wasn’t available because Pratt was facing potential arrest, and there was a court case looming over ownership of the document. After writing the article, I was more fascinated than ever. I knew that if I circled back later, some of the smoke would clear and the lawyers would have packed up and gone home. I could get the full story.
I let about three years go by. In that time, lots of things happened in my life: I went to Guatemala, which resulted in an article for Travel Leisure; my wife and I had a son and moved from New York to eastern Pennsylvania, where I took a job as a magazine editor; we bought a little house from the early 1800s that was filled with big projects.
But I never let go of the story of the Bill of Rights—and in the fall of 2005, when a literary agent approached me asking whether I had any book ideas, I told him I had one that was burning a hole in me.
The end result is Lost Rights: The Misadventures of a Stolen American Relic, which came out over the Fourth of July weekend. I’m proud of the book. When I hold it in my hands, I think of my long journey, and the even longer journey of an amazing artifact, and how, as a writer, no matter how busy I am, I need to be wide open to the next big idea that drops in out of the sky, and then I have to grab hold and hang on tight, and stay with it wherever it carries me.

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Category: Meet the Author


JUNE 28, 2010
In the Author's Own Words ~ Nancy Pickard

Please join me in welcoming Nancy Pickard, author of the award winning Jenny Cain mystery series and several excellent standalone novels. The latest,  The Scent of Rain and Lightning. received a star review from both Booklist Magazine & Publisher's Weekly. Read  Why Kansas? and share in Nancy's love of her home state.


Hi, everybody--
 I'm writing to you from Very Warm Kansas, the state where I live and where I have mysteriously decided to set my novels.  I say "mysteriously," because--let's be honest here--most people think of my state as flat and boring.  What kind of foolish writer would try to lure readers to a state like that?

This one would, and I'll tell you why.

A few years ago--after having written books set in Mass., Ct., N.Y., Fla., Ala., Ariz., Colo., and just about everywhere but here--I was struck by a couple of things.  One was, how very Midwestern I am from the soles of my feet to the gray roots of my hair.  I have never lived anywhere but the Midwest.  This part of the country is not only what I know best, it's what I love best. 

Why do I stay?  Because I love it, that's why.  Because it's beautiful, and dramatic, and endlessly interesting in its history, its geography, and its dramatic contrasts in everything from scenery to politics. Because behind the stereotypes and misconceptions are real people doing their best in difficult economic times, and because I'd like to show readers that Kansas, the one I love.  My own political ideas are 180 degrees different from the majority of folks here, but our hearts beat to the same desires to love and be loved, to do right by our families, to live good lives. That's the place I aim for when I write these books--the deeply-felt places where human beings have so much in common, even if we sometimes express it in contradictory, confrontational, confusing, foolish, or even violent ways.

A few years ago, I was swept by a desire to do nothing but write novels about Kansas for the rest of my life.  I don't know if I will go to that extreme, but so far that desire has not ebbed at all.  First there was The Virgin of Small Plains, and now there is The Scent of Rain and Lightning.  I'm currently writing the--untitled--third one, with a fourth one already percolating in my brain.  Each is or will be set in a different part of Kansas--places that call to my imagination so strongly that they will not let go of me until I write about them.  In each case, the characters seem to reflect where they live, which makes them different from one another.  But they are all the “same” in that heart place I mentioned earlier.

It's gratifying to me to hear readers say of my settings, "I never knew there were places like that in Kansas!"  It's even more satisfying when they tell me they visited the settings of my books.  It thrills me to know that people might be inspired to get off I-70 and go take a look at the beautiful Flint Hills or the amazing Monument Rocks (which I call Testament Rocks in "Scent.")

I've come home to Kansas, and I'm so grateful when you come with me!

Best regards,

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Category: Meet the Author


MAY 14, 2010
In the Authors Own Words ~ Richard Brawer
Please welcome guest blogger Richard Brawer, author of Beyond Guilty, as he gives us a behind the scenes look at this writing life.

My latest book, “Beyond Guilty” was inspired by a screen play written by my daughter. In her script, the protagonist is an African-American male wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Despite her being a lawyer in the movie industry and the screen play winning a number of awards including $1000.00 from a "Writer's Digest" contest, she was not able to generate interest from her associates in Hollywood. I said to her, "Let me write it as a book with an African-American female protagonist as there are many African-American actresses looking for a meaty, leading role." Thus "Beyond Guilty" was born.

However, in the process the book took on a life of its own and dramatically deviated from the screen play. The only parts that remained the same were that the lead character was wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death; and she escapes death row and fights to prove her innocence. All the fighting, chases, and the ending are entirely different from the screenplay.

One particularly interesting deviation is the theme about nanomedicine.  I like to incorporate something educational in my books.  In my mysteries it is historical vignettes about the Jersey Shore.  In “Beyond Guilty” it’s nanomedicine.  In my daughter’s screenplay, after her character escaped he had to salvage his DNA to prove his innocence.  Seemed like old news to me.  I had recently read an article on nanomedicine so I thought, why not go cutting edge?
Nanomedicine is the creation of microscopic, computerized robots that are infused into the blood stream carrying medicine to attack a specific diseased cell.  Unlike current drugs that attack many parts of the body and create additional problems as explained in TV ads, nanomedicine robots home in on infected cells and destroy them, and them alone, with no side effects.  Having no medical experience, I researched nanomedicine on the web.  But did I portray it correctly?  Did I write it so a layperson could follow it?
To answer the first question, I started sending e-mails to the authors of the articles I read.  One scientist, Robert A. Freitas Jr. J.D., Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing, was kind enough to edit my references to nanomedicine and has written an essay at the end of the novel explaining how far this research has come and when it will be available.
The second question was answered by the reviewers.  “The author’s inclusion of the concept of nanomedicine in the plot is articulate and intriguing...” Von Pittman for The Genreview
Others called it “fascinating”, “interesting”, “engrossing”, “a scientific morality play”.  No one said they could not understand it.
I really felt I had written an excellent book so I started querying agents.  Unfortunately the rejection letters started piling up.  Frustrated I began looking at small publishers.  (As you will see below, my past experience made me leery of small publishers.)
I wanted one with a good track record, that paid an advance and paid royalties.  I found those qualifications in L & L Dreamspell.  They have been absolutely wonderful.  Although a small press, they run their business like a big New York Publisher.  Yet, even with their contract looking very beneficial I still had a lawyer go over it for reasons you will see below.  (I’m lucky. I have a lawyer in the family who specializes in contracts.)
I am now looking forward to a long relationship with L & L Dreamspell Publishing for novels I will be writing in the future.

How did I get started writing books?
After graduating the University of Florida and a stint in the National Guard, I spent 35 years working in the textile industry.  I lived at the New Jersey shore and commuted an hour and ten minutes to New York City by train.  To fill the time I read the newspaper in the morning and books on the ride home.
Always having a vivid imagination, I would occasionally come across a newspaper article that really hit me and would wonder what would happen if?  I didn’t do anything with my wonderment until I retired in 1998.  I did a little sailing and also some gardening but I needed something more to fill my days, especially in the winter.
Then one day I read a horrendous article in the newspaper about a father in Boston whose child was born with brain damage and he refused to take him home from the hospital.  He thought he could return the child like a damaged piece of merchandise he bought in a store. (Interesting that this coincides with the child recently returned to Russia.)  The nurses were outraged and their disgust was quoted in the article.  That’s when my imagination took over and I asked myself, “What if the child was misdiagnosed?”
With mysteries being my favorite genre I took that thought and began making notes.  The notes turned into paragraphs and the paragraphs into chapters.  Thus my first Murder at the Jersey Shore mystery, “The Nurse Wore Black” was born.

So now I had a book, but what do I do with it?
Being a complete novice, I did the usual things most new writers do, I sent out query letters to agents and received a stack of rejection letters. Lamenting my woes to a friend, he told me about a publisher, Vista Publishing, in Long Branch, New Jersey, the town next to mine that specialized in publishing books about nurses.  Excited, I dropped in cold to their office. Two weeks later they said they wanted to publish my book. Wow!
 When I saw the finished product, the “Wow” factor fell into the depression factor. The cover was not well done and leafing through the book I saw a number of typos.  The publisher had never discussed the cover with me nor did they give me a proof of the typeset book to look over. At the time I didn’t know enough to ask for them. As far as I knew, I thought they would do the editing as well as create a proper cover.  Needless to say, I did not push to sell this book.  It was an embarrassment.
The moral to this story is, be involved in every step of the publishing process. View the cover. Don’t take it for granted. Demand a proof of the book. If you find poor editing, demand the publisher re-edit or pay to have it edited yourself.
My second book in the Murder at the Jersey Shore mystery series, “Diamonds are for Stealing,was inspired by another newspaper article about phony diamonds.  It was published in 2001 by Hilliard and Harris. With the above experience still weighing heavily on my mind I was totally involved in the publishing process, especially proof reading. Hilliard and Harris did a wonderful job editing and publishing this book. I could not find one mistake. So what happened that made me not want to give them my next book? It was in their contract, which here again was a learning experience.
As with Vista, Hilliard paid all the publication expenses to bring this book to market.  However, they had a clause in their contract that said they do not pay royalties until they recoup their publishing expenses from book sales. Again, my naiveté let me pass right over this clause without a thought. (My daughter was not yet a lawyer.)
As we all know, writing is a dual process, creating the product and publishing the product. Neither party has anything without the other. Since I created the product and would be spending money to promote and sell the book, I felt I was entitled to some return from the sale of book one even if it was only a nickel a copy.  (I did eventually sell enough books to get some royalties.)
Again, the moral: Read your contract carefully and get a lawyer to go over it.  Study every clause. If you don’t like something try and get it changed. If the publisher balks you have two choices, agree or don’t sign, but at least you know exactly what you are getting into.

What do you do with your book after it’s published?
In today’s world, even if you are published by a large New York City publisher, unless you are a major author you have to promote your own book.  Thus you need a marketing plan.  There are many ways to promote your worksocial networking sights, twitter, book signings, mass mailings, through your website, joining internet book discussion groups.  You must create your own plan and work at it if you want to sell books.  It’s time consuming but when you see the reviews and get the feedback it is well worth the effort.
I would like to talk a little bit about self publishing.
I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, America’s first industrial city and the home of the silk industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  I mentioned I worked in the textile industry.  That’s because the family has been in that business since my grandfather started a silk company in 1904.  I wanted to instill in my daughters their heritage so I started interviewing the family in depth and researching Paterson.  The stories were so fascinating I thought they could make a wonderful novel.  But I wrote mysteries and suspense novels.  What did I know about writing historical fiction?  Thus I started reading that genre to see how those books were written.  The result was “Silk Legacy”.
It took me ten years, in between writing the mysteries, to research and write “Silk Legacy”. It is very loosely (and I mean very loosely) based on my paternal grandparents.  My grandmother’s parents did not want her to marry my grandfather because he was an extremely domineering man. (At least that’s what I was told.) Thus the clash between husband and wife is the conflict that runs throughout the book. She gets involved in the suffrage movement and reproductive freedom which angers her husband.  He demands she stay home and take care of “his” house and “his” children. When a strike shuts down the Paterson silk industry, she gives food to the strikers while her husband, a silk industrialist, is fighting the strikers, one of their leaders being his brother.
I tried to get a publisher interested, but again couldn’t land one. To this day I don’t know why.  I’ve read a lot of historical fiction and I knew this was a good book.  Thus, since I was sixty-five, I didn’t want to wait any longer to get the book in print. So I self published it.
As you can see from my web site, “Silk Legacy” has gotten fabulous reviews from everyone who has read it. I have sold it as a tumultuous love story, a family saga and a slice of American history.  Unfortunately the vanity publisher I picked whom, as you can see did a marvelous job on the cover and the layout of the book (I paid to have it professionally edited) has succumbed to this recession and gone out of business.  I now own all the rights and have placed the book on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.  It is also available directly from me. Please see my website,
Two things you must realize about self publishing, (1) you have to be prepared for everyone in the publishing industry to look down their noses at your work, (2) you have to do 100% o the selling yourself.  But it can be rewarding if you are HONEST with yourself.  If you feel you have a good book and a marketing plan to sell the book, go for it. Don’t let the “mavens” in the publishing trade discourage you.
What is my writing process?
First: I form a major premise along with the ending of the story.  In the mysteries it’s naturally "who-done-it."  In the historical fiction novel it’s the resolution between the characters.  And in the suspense novels it’s how to the protagonist gets out of peril.

Second: I create my protagonist and antagonisttheir looks, quirks, and their experiences in life that affect their personalities and the way they react to events.

Third: I create a very rough outline as to how the story will progress from beginning to end.  Note I said very rough as this changes as the story evolves.

Fourth: I try to create a captivating opening chapter such as finding the body in the mysteries, putting the protagonist in jeopardy in the suspense novel and creating the conflict in the historical fiction.

Finally: I write from my opening chapter to the conclusion of the story.  I strive to take the reader on a journey that is never a straight line, but more like the line of a gyrating stock market.  I place red herrings in my mysteries, adventure and jeopardy in my suspense novels and many setbacks in my historical fiction novel.  However, one thing remains constantthere is always CONFLICT.  The most important aspect of a novel is the conflict between the characters.  Without conflict there is no story.
How did I learn to write?
I read a couple of books and many magazine articles on writing, but in writing as in life, the most important lessons come from doing.   Remember, I said I was an avid reader.  If you want to write, first read, read, read.  If you read books with the idea that you may want to be a writer, then you will consciously start analyzing how the author created his work.  When you start writing, write the type of story you like to read.

Once you begin your writing try to find a critique group that will give you honest feedback on character development, dialogue, voice, plot, conflict and setting.  But don’t automatically take anyone’s critique as gospel.  Remember, it’s your story.  Analyze the critiques to see if they have merit.  Say you have a six person group.  If one person criticizes something then it may or may not be valid.  But if three or four in the group say the same thing about a segment then you should take it under serious consideration.
I hope my experiences will help you with your writing and publishing efforts.
Richard Brawer

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Category: Meet the Author


MARCH 16, 2010
In The Authors Own Words ~ Elly Griffiths
 photo by Jerry Bauer

Welcome Guest Blogger, Elly Griffiths as she gives us a bit of insight into her first novel. The Crossing Places. I'm certain you'll agree with me that it sounds exciting. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway returns in The Janus Stone in 2011.

We were walking across a marsh. It was cold and it was raining (it doesn’t always rain in Norfolk, only when I’m there). The kids had run on ahead pretending to be Ancient Romans (they have active imaginary lives but their scenarios rarely fit the occasion, when we were in Rome they pretended to be Martians). Andrew and I stomped along. It was heavy going, the long grass criss-crossed with streams, birds rising up out of the rushes, the wrong step could send you plunging into the mire.

‘You know,’ said Andy dreamily. ‘Prehistoric man thought that marshland was sacred. Because it’s neither land nor sea they saw it as a kind of bridge to the afterlife. Neither land nor sea, neither life nor death.’

And the idea for my novel The Crossing Places came to me in that instant.  

But really the origins of the book lay further back than that. When I met Andrew he worked for a merchant bank. He had a pin-striped suit and an expense account. The problem was, he told me that first night in the wine bar surrounded by braying City types, he had never wanted to work in a bank. He had always wanted to be an archaeologist. But, when he was choosing A-Levels, someone had casually remarked that you need physics to study archaeology. Totally untrue but, as teenagers sometimes do, he changed his mind on the spot. He decided to study law. A safe option.

When we got married, we agreed that, one day, Andy would leave the bank and do a second degree in archaeology. I think, deep down, I never thought it would happen. But, when our children were still at primary school, he went back to university. He graduated with a distinction (it was the first time, he said, that he had ever studied a subject that interested him) and is now an archaeologist.

Our home life has changed completely. We no longer have the city salary but, amazingly, we have hardly noticed. OK, we’ve got a battered car and we have cold, wet holidays, but the children see their dad all the time and that has made us immeasurably richer. And the archaeology has enriched us too. When we are walking on the downs, Andy can bend down and pick up a prehistoric flint hand-axe that was used to butcher mammoths. Imagine that! Mammoths wandering the South Downs. .. Of course, when I pick up an identical stone, it’s always just a stone.

And now he has given me the idea for a book and, in Ruth, a feisty archaeologist heroine.

Elly Griffiths

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Category: Meet the Author


OCTOBER 30, 2009
Laura Brodie ~ In the Author's Own Words

photo Fran Fevrier

Welcome Guest Blogger, Laura Brodie, author of The Widow's Season.

The Widow’s Season: A Ghostly Story for October


Back in the 1990’s, when I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, I got interested in a strange subject: husbands who fake their deaths in order to spy on their wives. I had encountered several of these men while researching a dissertation on widows in English literature, and the husbands weren’t real people—they were characters in plays, mostly from the 17th century.

I thought it was pretty weird, all these playwrights imagining men who wanted to preview their deaths. The husbands were curious to see how their wives would behave, and inevitably the women behaved badly, taking new lovers and preparing to hand over the family property, until their "dead" husbands emerged from the wings to take vengeance. I didn’t like the punitive aspect of those plays, but I did enjoy the voyeurism. It got me thinking about ghosts in literature who watch their wives (like the dead King in Hamlet), and centuries of conduct books and educational treatises for women that instructed widows to imagine that their husbands’ ghosts were observing them.

I wrote a dissertation chapter on the subject, and there the topic would have rested, lost in obscurity, until one day, many years after graduate school, when the subject came up again. I had just published my first book, Breaking Out: VMI and the Coming of Women, a nonfiction history of the transition to coeducation at the Virginia Military Institute (America’s last all-male military college). That book had been published by Pantheon and Vintage, so I had some assurance that I could become a professional writer. And yet, my only ambition when it came to writing about dead husbands was to turn my dissertation chapter into a scholarly article.

My living husband vetoed that idea. "A scholarly article?" he said. "Why don’t you write something that will make some money?" That might sound crude, but he had a point. With three daughters growing up quickly, I needed to think of ways to bolster our college savings plan. Unfortunately I had never written fiction—never published a short story—and I knew that most novels languish on their authors’ shelves, read only by family and friends. Still, I thought that if I could map out fifty pages of a novel in my head, I might as well write my ideas down, and soon enough I was immersed in the story that would become The Widow’s Season.

I didn’t want to create a husband who deliberately fakes his death; something more mysterious and haunting seemed better, with open-ended possibilities that blurred the line between life and death, imagination and reality. I also wanted to delve deeply into a widow’s mind, with respect for the grief and confusion that comes with the loss of a spouse. My mother and grandmother were both widowed at young ages, so I had first-hand knowledge of their experiences. As I began writing, the style I embarked upon seemed to fall under "Southern Gothic meets women’s fiction."

It took six years from the time I started the book, to its eventual publication last June, and now I am grateful to all of the readers who have been willing to give this debut novel a try. Because of them the book is now in its fifth printing, and my editor has asked me to write another novel. I also have a memoir coming out in April called Love in a Time of Homeschooling, about one year when I gave my oldest daughter, Julia, a break from her public school routine. A lot of parents dream of taking a year off with their children, to learn together as a family and study what they value most, and that’s what Julia and I tried when she was ten years old. So now I’m looking forward to that book’s release, and I’m busy plotting another novel set in southwestern Virginia. Any readers who want to sample excerpts from my books, or see pictures of the area where I live, should check out my website— There’s a giveaway going on right now for free copies of The Widow’s Season

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Category: Meet the Author


OCTOBER 20, 2009
In the Author's Own Words ~ Therese Walsh

Please welcome Guest Author, Therese Walsh.

The Story Behind the Story of
The Last Will of Moira Leahy
I had to write it.                            
If I were to write a memoir of my time with my debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, that is how that memoir would begin. All first lines should do a job, and if that one is working properly you are now wondering, “Why did you have to write it?”
Let me tell you.
I began writing this story in 2002 as almost a writing exercise. I’d been writing children’s picture book manuscripts, but I’d become increasingly enamored of longer words and meatier stories. I decided to give myself a bigger canvas: adult fiction. I thought, at first, that I would write a romance, a traditional love story, but as I wrote my story veered off into unromantic territory.

Originally, the main character, Maeve Leahy, did not have a twin. But one day, Moira was just there, explaining her sister’s behaviors and trauma. And there was a Javanese keris involved in the story, demanding its fair share of attention.
You can see the problem, I’m sure: When I submitted the book, it was rejected by agents—not for lack of voice or unique content, but because it was too much of a square peg. It was structured like a romance, but the breadth of the novel didn’t fit the genre. One agent suggested I should be writing women’s fiction. Deep down, I realized that agent was right. What was I going to do? Begin a new book? Quit entirely?
The timeline is a little fuzzy, but 2004 was a big year for mulling over my options. I did a lot of thinking, a lot of reading in the genre of women’s fiction, and a lot of craft work. All the while, my rejected project writhed in the “unfinished business” category of my mind. There was no use fighting it.
I had to write it.
I salvaged one critical scene from the old draft and started over again in 2005. Then I scrapped everything again in 2006 and started over for a third time.
Maybe I would’ve quit but my characters refused to leave me alone. You know that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, that disquiet you feel when you know something needs to be done and it’s important and you’re messing up? That’s how I felt whenever I wasn’t working on this project. When I was at least actively thinking about it, the anxiety eased. And so, little by little, I worked through the last draft.
In 2008, I finished polishing the women’s fiction version of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and found an agent, Elisabeth Weed. Shortly thereafter, she sold the book to Shaye Areheart, an imprint of Random House, in a two-book deal.
How do I feel about my second book, my work in progress?
I have to write it.

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Category: Meet the Author


In the Authors Own Words ~ Mike Angley ~ updated 9/15/09*


 Welcome Guest Blogger Mike Angley

Child Finder, the debut novel by Mike Angley, launches his new mystery/suspense thriller trilogy. Angley introduces a protagonist as tough as 24's Jack Bauer, but with the endearing, family-values heart of 7th Heaven's Eric Camden-Special Agent Patrick S. O' early-thirties Air Force Major assigned to the Pentagon when the 9/11 terrorist attacks take place. His haunting dreams about missing children reveal a hidden psychic gift which the government eagerly exploits, drawing him into a TOP SECRET program to find abducted kids. But to make matters complicated, Uncle Sam has other ideas in mind for his unique paranormal talents...after all, there is a War on Terror underway. One thing's for sure-ever since joining this new, secret community, he is surrounded by murder, and the very real threat of harm to his own family! 

O'Donnell is a man of deep faith and is a loving and devoted husband and father. He must make tough ethical choices in order to balance his desire to rescue children with what he knows to be right and wrong when it comes to what the government expects him to do. And all the while he threads through this murky moral morass, he must solve the murders that occurred because of him, while protecting his family who have become trapped in a twisted web of government intrigue.

Child Finder received some outstanding reviews before it launched. Library Journal said, "This compelling debut novel, the first in a trilogy, features a memorable protagonist who is a combination of devoted father and mystic. For fans of supernatural thrillers and those who enjoy the TV show Medium, this is a real find." Armchair Interviews gave it five stars and noted, "I loved this book! This is a book for anyone who loves political suspense, secret government agencies, and uniquely gifted heroes!"

While the story itself is certainly unique, so is the author's background. Colonel Michael "Mike" Angley retired from the US Air Force in 2007, following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), the USAF equivalent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). He held thirteen different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Squadrons and a Wing.

Mike is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. Following the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, he was dispatched to command all OSI units throughout the Middle East, with responsibility for 23 countries. During his tenure he and his teams effectively neutralized numerous terrorist threats to U.S. forces in the region, to include an imminent threat to senior Department of Defense officials.

Angley has an M.A. in National Security Affairs from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, and a B.A. in Criminal Justice and Psychology from King's College, Wilkes-Barre, PA. He is a former National Defense Fellow and Adjunct Professor of International Relations at Florida International University, Miami, FL, and is an Honor Graduate of the Defense Language Institute's Korean language program.

Child Finder gets its inspiration from Angley's long, multifaceted career where he was able to experience the full gamut of felony-level criminal investigations, as well as dangerous counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations around the world. His second novel, Child Finder: Resurrection will debut in the fall, 2009, followed by the third story in the trilogy, Child Finder: Revelation in late 2010. His personal website is





*9/15/09 update*
We'd like to congratulate Mike Angley on  winning the following award:

Debut Author Wins National-Level Book Award

When Mike Angley retired from his USAF counterterrorism career he had no idea his debut novel would end up winning in a national awards program.  His mystery/thriller, Child Finder, took the Silver Medal in the Fiction category of the Military Writers Society of America's 2009 Awards program.  All award winners were announced on the Veterans Radio program ( on September 12, 2009.  Mike Angley will attend the MWSA's annual conference in Orlando, FL from October 9 - 10 to receive this prestigious honor.  (

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Category: Meet the Author


JUNE 29, 2009
In the Authors Own Words ~ Chris Knopf

 Please welcome guest blogger, Connecticut's own, Author, Chris Knopf.   

            I started writing the Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mystery series because of a house. A little yellow house, a cottage, really, in Bay View Oaks in the North Sea area of Southampton, Long Island. It’s right on the Little Peconic Bay, and I imagined a guy sitting on the enclosed sun porch that faces the water, a middle-aged burnout, on his last legs, drinking vodka and brooding about his life. I wondered, what would be in his head?
            Writers will tell you that the most important thing about a work of fiction is the narrative voice. Especially when it’s first person. With this guy, who I named Sam Acquillo, I knew his voice from the start. I just needed to give him a life story to tell, and a world in which he could both rediscover his true self, and have some interesting things happen that people would want to read about. 
It turns out that Sam was once a technical trouble shooter for a big industrial company. So figuring out puzzles was a big part of his life’s work. It seemed to make sense that a guy like that would naturally take to solving the murder of an old lady that no one else thought had been murdered.  
            I was on the second or third in the series, and after being interviewed numerous times, I began to realize where Sam came from. Actually, one of my best old friends pointed it out to me, that Sam sounded a lot like my father.  He was a mechanical engineer, and a born trouble shooting Mr. Fix-it. He was also a very tough guy, charming and brutal at the same time, with an Ivy League education. So there you go.
            But Sam isn’t just my old man. He’s a lot of other things as well. Like all fictional characters, he’s part of several real people, and part entirely made up. People ask me how much of Sam is me, and I have to say, not much. We share carpentry skills and a penchant for reading arcane stuff, but that’s about it. 
            Oh, and I guess I’ve been known to hoist a vodka or two.
            The Sam Acquillo series has a regular entourage of characters, one of whom, Jackie Swaitkowski, is starring in a new series of her own, with Short Squeeze, to be published by St. Martin’s Press in Jan/Feb, 2010. Writing from the perspective of a woman, who lives in the same world as Sam, was an interesting and enjoyable challenge. But as with Sam, I knew her voice. I knew what she sounded like in her own head, I just had to figure out her deeper issues, and make a world for her that made sense.
Not all the regular characters in these books are of the human variety. One stand-out is Eddie Van Halen, a rescue mutt who lives with Sam.  Eddie definitely has a mind of his own, an independent streak like Sam’s, but of a far more joyful nature. He’s the eternally sunny balance to Sam’s eternal noir. And so they fit well together. 
            Eddie is a complete lift from my own life. When my son was a little boy, he had three imaginary friends – Michael Jackson, He Man and Eddie Van Halen. Whenever Van Halen was playing on the radio, James would say, “That’s you, Van Halen.” I passed this gift along to Sam’s daughter. 
            Eddie’s personality comes from my own dog, Samuel Beckett. If you read the books, you’ll know what he’s like. 
            There are two other non-human regulars. Sam’s ’67 Grand Prix and the Hamptons themselves. That’s one of the secrets of fiction – things and places can be characters, if that’s how you think of them.   

The Sam Acquillo Hamptons Mysteries

Hard Stop
Head Wounds
Two  Time (on order)
Last Refuge

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Category: Meet the Author


JUNE 15, 2009
Meet the Author ~ Elizabeth Duncan

Set in North Wales, The Cold Light of Mourning introduces Penny Brannigan, an ex-patriate Canadian who has lived in the village of Llanelen for over 20 years. A water colour artist and manicurist, Penny is thought to be the last person to have seen a posh bride who goes missing on her wedding day. Is it a case of last minute jitters or something more sinister? 

When Penny notices that something is not quite right at the funeral of her dearest friend, she becomes emotionally invested in the case, and sets out to investigate.
The Cold Light of Mourning is a traditional mystery and follows the conventions for that genre – a close group of characters who know one another, no excessive violence, and the protagonist is an amateur sleuth.
The Cold Light of Mourning has won both the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for unpublished writers (2006) and the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic award for best first novel (2008). I am the first person to win both awards and the first Canadian to win either award. Malice has been very good to me! And I was also very fortunate in that The Cold Light of Mourning is my very first attempt at fiction.

I learned from this experience that to be successful at just about anything, you need to get yourself in with the people who do what you aspire to do. And, of course, you meet wonderful folks along the way. Attending the Malice convention every spring and hanging out with my American friends is one of the highlights of my year. (
I was a journalist for many years – more writer than reporter – and in the mid 1990s made the career transition into public relations. Writing can play a big part in that profession, too, so I have always been a writer of one kind or another. Just different goals and objectives.
As I write this, my book has been out for about six weeks. People have asked me what’s the best thing about being a published author and in that short period of time I have come to realize that two things absolutely delight me: First, hearing from a reader (usually a nice American lady) who has taken the time and trouble to send me an e-mail telling me how much she liked the book. I love that.
The second thing that really thrills me is knowing that my book – the little novel that I wrote with no guarantee of publication – is now available at public libraries throughout Canada and the United States. That someone in a place I’ve never heard of – a town in Connecticut, say, -- can borrow my book, take it home and hopefully, enjoy it.
I have been a great library user and supporter since I was able to read and I’m delighted that patrons of the Saxton B. Little Free Library will be able to borrow my book.
Thank you for this opportunity to say hello to you, and to share a little of my writing life.
Please visit my website

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Category: Meet the Author


JUNE 1, 2009
Meet the Author ~ Stefanie Pintoff

   Author Photo by Alison Sheehy


My new novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, is the first in a new   

historical mystery series set in turn-of-the-last-century New York.    

It introduces Detective Simon Ziele, who has left New York City to   

rebuild his life in a small Westchester town following the loss of his   

fiancée in the Slocum steamship disaster (the worst disaster to strike   

the city prior to 9/11).  But the brutal murder of a young woman draws   

him right back into the city – and when early criminal profiler   

Alistair Sinclair becomes involved, Ziele finds himself caught in   

unusual circumstances. 


Alistair believes that he knows the killer’s identity – in fact, he is   

convinced the killer is someone he interviewed in the course of his   

experimental research into the criminal mind.  His evidence is   

compelling, but Ziele is suspicious of a solution that seems too good   

to be true – and leery of putting too much trust in a man whose   

methods are unorthodox and whose agenda is directed by his own   

ambition. They make an unlikely pair:  Alistair is a high-brow society   

figure with a consuming passion for understanding criminal violence,   

and Ziele is a pragmatic investigator with Lower East Side roots and a   

remarkable affinity for each victim he encounters.  And at the heart   

of their relationship is a larger debate:  when lives are at stake,   

how much can we trust in the new, unproven methods of modern forensics? 


By 1905, more innovative criminal scientists were just beginning to   

challenge the prevailing opinion that criminal behavior resulted from   

a flaw of nature – a view popularized by Lombroso’s theory of the   

“born criminal.”  Scientists like my Alistair Sinclair sought to   

challenge these notions by interviewing and learning from a variety of   

incarcerated criminals.  “Evil is less threatening when we understand   

it” is his mantra.  But people worried that if we came to understand   

the criminal mind too well, then we might excuse (and not punish)   

criminal behavior.  Alistair’s ambitions were also limited by a   

virtual race against time.  Unlike today, when convicted murderers   

typically spend years on death row before facing the executioner,   

justice worked fast in turn-of-the-century New York.  Appeals were   

adjudicated in months, not years – and the execution date usually   

followed within weeks, if not days.  So someone like Alistair had very   

little time to gain the trust of and interview more violent offenders. 




Of course, Simon Ziele and Alistair Sinclair don’t just take the   

reader into the world of early criminology.  Their investigation of a   

terrible murder also leads them to explore all that is glamorous – and   

gritty – in old New York, from high-class restaurants and society   

parties to saloons and gambling dens.  If you’d like to learn more   

about me or my book – which should be available here at the Saxton   

Library soon – I encourage you to check out my website at  


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Category: Meet the Author


MAY 19, 2009
Meet the Author ~ Dara Horn

   Please welcome Guest Blogger, Dara Horn, author of All Other Nights.

My newest novel, All Other Nights, is about Jewish spies during the American Civil War. The main character, Jacob Rappaport, is a soldier in the Union army whose commanders discover that he has relatives in New Orleans, including an uncle involved in a plot to kill Lincoln. They then send down to New Orleans to assassinate his own uncle before the plot can progress. After this harrowing mission, his commanders have another "opportunity" for him, involving the daughter of a Virginia family friend. But this time Jacob’s task isn’t to murder the spy, but to marry her. Suffice it to say that this marriage doesn’t work out the way anyone expected.

I first began thinking about this subject while on a book tour in New Orleans years ago, during which I came across a Jewish cemetery. I was surprised to see graves there that dated to the early 1800s. When I began reading more, I discovered a wealth of information about Jewish communities during the Civil War, including many paradoxes that went against the typical ways we think of our country during that time. Ulysses Grant, for instance, the general from the supposedly more enlightened North, was the one who expelled the Jews from areas he conquered in the South. And in the institutionally racist South, the Secretary of State, Judah Benjamin, was Jewish; he was Confederate president Jefferson Davis’s closest confidant and also served as spymaster. Many real spies for both sides, both Jewish and non-Jewish, served as inspiration for the characters in the book. I became interested in the espionage stories because of the way they dramatized questions of loyalty. Such questions were very personal to American Jews at the time, who felt tremendously loyal and grateful to their country (whether North or South) but whose loyalty was not always rewarded. But loyalty is also what defines each person in every circumstance, then and now. Ultimately this is a story about freedom and its consequences, and what makes us free is our ability to choose our loyalties—to determine for ourselves who deserves our devotion, and why.

I think every historical novel is really about the time in which it is written, rather than the time in which it ostensibly takes place, and that is very true for this book. I was drawn to this subject because of how polarized the country has become in recent years, how impossible it has become to even have a conversation about current events without knowing in advance what the other person believes. So many of these divisions really do go back to the Civil War; when we talk about "red states" and "blue states," they usually follow the Mason-Dixon line and its legacies. We think of the Civil War as being fought over slavery, but the enduring divide in America is over something far more subtle: between the American ideal of valuing independence and the right of each family to maintain its property and traditions, and the equally American ideal of valuing social justice and progress at all costs. A similar divide exists in Jewish culture between conservative and progressive beliefs, each of which has a claim to being the heart of the tradition and neither of which really is. And this divide—in American life or anywhere else—will never really go away, because it exists within each person: the everlasting tension between the people we were born to be and the people we hope to become.

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Category: Meet the Author


APRIL 28, 2009
Meet the Author ~ Juliette Fay

Please welcome Guest Blogger Juliette Fay, author of Shelter Me

"For as long as I can remember I’ve always had a story or two running in my head. Possibly this is evidence of a minor psychosis issue, but nevertheless it’s entertaining and harmless—sort of like the imaginary friends small children have, only I don’t serve mine tea with my teddy bears.

I cook up a story to mentally play with, eventually get tired of it and start a new one. It’s very handy on long car rides and during boring work meetings. A couple of years ago I was driving somewhere with my youngest child, who was about four at the time, and we were both very quiet. I was mulling over some story, and suddenly he said to me, "Mom, have you seen Shrek 5?" I said, "No, sweetie, I don’t think that’s out yet." He said, "Yes it is, and it’s playing in my head!" And I thought, Wow, he’s got it too, Mommy’s little cranial DVD player.

I never wrote any of these stories down until a few years back when I happened to read a really bad book. It was a complete stinker, but I couldn’t put it down—it was fascinating in its badness! And I began to think, Even I could do better than this. I started writing out a story, and it was so much fun I couldn’t stop. It was like falling in love; I thought about my characters all the time and I couldn’t wait to get back to them to see what would happen next.

At first I was very secretive about it. I had no idea if I would ever finish, and I didn’t want people asking me "So, how’s the novel going?" if I was only ever going to write 17 pages. I had to test my own seriousness. After several months, I finally admitted to a couple of close friends that I was writing, and allowed them to read what I had.

It’s helpful for me to have a few trusted people read as I write because often their questions change the course of the story in small ways and occasionally in larger ways. Before the writing begins I generally have a sense of the narrative arc and major themes, but not chapter-by-chapter detail. It keeps the story a little bit of a mystery even for me, and I enjoy the surprise of it.

   That first novel was never published, but it was good practice. I started Shelter Me soon after, based on a story that had been bobbing along in my head since I got married: I had finally found somebody I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, but what if he got sick or had some sort of accident and died? How would I ever be able to pull myself back together? I tend to be a little bit of a worry wart, so ruminating on the possibility of his death really gripped me until I was able to make a story out of it and have the main character be someone other than me. And that’s how Janie LaMarche was born. 

I’m working on a new story now, inspired by the worst three years of my life: middle school. It’s about a newly-divorced mother trying to help her children navigate those piranha-infested waters, while dealing with her own insecurities and uncertain social status. Though not a sequel to Shelter Me, it is set in the same fictitious town."  Juliette Fay

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Category: Meet the Author


APRIL 1, 2009
Meet the Author ~ David Hewson

  photo Mark Bothwell

Please welcome our guest blogger, British Author, David Hewson. Read on for a heads up on what makes his character, Nic Costa, tick and a bit of insight into his latest novel in this fascinating series, Dante's Numbers

"The worst advice budding authors ever get is 'write about what you know'. Do that and you're halfway bored already, and about to share it. I believe in writing about what you don't know, so that you have to discover your fictional world first for yourself, then build it brick by brick for your readers. This is why my series is set in Rome usually). In order to write it I had to move there temporarily, enroll at language school to learn Italian, and try to think, speak and act like a Roman. In a way this kind of activity is second nature. Until I became a full-time author a few years back I'd been a busy journalist for papers like the London Times and Sunday Times, so research comes naturally to me. Whether it's digging up the ancient pagan religion of Mithraism, as I did for the fifth book in the series, The Seventh Sacrament, or trying to find traces of Caravaggio in modern Rome in the sixth The Garden of Evil, I'm happy trudging those cobbled streets in search of inspiration. But fiction isn't journalism. It's about subjective, not objective truth, a search for questions, not answers. The issues I try to approach in these stories are more complex, and more open than any I could tackle within the strict rigors of newspaper reporting. My principle vehicle for doing this is the series protagonist, a Roman detective called Nic Costa. I deliberately set out to try to break the mold with Nic. He's not middle-aged, melancholic, alcoholic, divorced, miserable, cynical... you know the picture? No, he's young, a little naive, ordinary, and fallible, but always, always, shot through with integrity and decency, the kind of straight, good human being you'd really want around when things go wrong. Around him I've built a regular cast of characters who hopefully add some variety to the mix, and let me try to produce a different kind of book with each title. This is my way of avoiding Conan Doyle syndrome, the perennial disease of series writers who end up hating their creations and desperate to kill them. I can honestly say I feel more enthused by Nic and his colleagues now, as I write the ninth book, than ever. So at least he works for me. In the latest book in the series, Dante's Numbers, I throw a curve ball into proceedings. This starts off in Rome as usual, at the premiere of a big budget CGI horror movie of Dante's Inferno. But after some decidedly nasty events the story travels to San Francisco for the rest of he book, where Nic and his colleagues find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery very much set in the history of the city by the bay, not their native Italy. Why move them? I like shifting things from time to time. In Rome, my characters are at home, in charge of their own domain. When they travel they become strangers, a little vulnerable, and liable to show new sides to their character. In San Francisco a story that, at the start, appears to be linked to the work of Dante soon melds with a more recent fantasy, Hitchcock's wonderful movie Vertigo. So you get what I think is a typical book from me - complex, textured, twisting, unpredictable, a reader's book, not some super-quick, linear airport read. But it's quite unlike anything I've written before, or since (the next book being finished, and the one after close to completion). If you like them you can find lots of original research photos and other material on my web site

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Category: Meet the Author


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