I am delighted to welcome guest blogger Rich Zahradnik!
An Introduction to Coleridge Taylor by Rich Zahradnik
First his first name: Coleridge Taylor hates it. His father, an alcoholic English professor at City College of New York, chose it in honor of the academic’s favorite poet. If you look up Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a biographic dictionary, it will be listed thus: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Drop the comma and you have Taylor’s name. He’s dropped his first name all together. He doesn’t use it and forbids friends and family to. As you’d expect, I’m a big mystery fan. This last-name-only idea is, in part, homage to Colin Dexter’s Morse, whose first name was not revealed until the character’s death.
As for family, Taylor’s mother is dead before the series begins in 1975 with Last Words, and his brother has been MIA—dead, Taylor is certain—since the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam in 1973. He is closet to his grandfather, who runs the Odysseus Coffee Shop, also known as the Oddity, on Madison Avenue in NYC.
Taylor and I are both journalists. There the similarity ends. He is by far a better reporter than I ever was, with a laser focus on the story he’s after that can sometimes border on obsession. Okay, he crosses the border. A lot. Me, I was too easily distracted by other projects: starting a weekly newspaper (which is not the same as being a reporter driven to get that one single story), running websites, writing novels. In some ways, I probably made Taylor the reporter I thought I should have been. Or, more precisely, I’m pulling from memories of what I believed at the beginning of my career. Because I love what I’m doing now.
By the middle of the seventies, journalism was close to completing the transition from trade to profession—a transition that directly impacts Taylor. He entered the newsroom of the New York Messenger-Telegram in the mid-1950s at the age of seventeen, hired to be a copy boy with a high school degree. Yep, copy boys existed, running typed stories to editors and to the composing room. He worked his way up to reporter and onto the beat he loves, cops. This was the career path in journalism for decades; Taylor was one of the last to follow it. In the seventies, most newspapers were demanding college educations. Kids rushed off to get BAs and even masters degrees, a trend that was further encouraged by Woodward and Bernstein and the attention they received for bringing down President Nixon. These new hires flooding the newsroom make Taylor insecure about what he knows and his own modest Queens upbringing. Still only in his mid-thirties, he believes he’s good at the job, but wonders if the new kids have some special knowledge he doesn’t.
Facts are all-important to Taylor. He will not move a story forward without the facts to support it. He won’t invent—something he was once accused of at great damage to his career. He won’t bend or twist quotes. While he’s not one to sprinkle his speech with historical quotes, there’s one from John Adams he lives by: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” They are stubborn, almost as stubborn as Taylor is in pursuit of them. Because he knows if he gets the facts, he can tell the story of a victim and bring some sort of justice. That’s exactly what he’s trying to do in Lights Out Summer, in which an African-American murder victim is ignored as the press pack chases stories on the Son of Sam serial killer during the spring and summer of 1977.
About the book
Lights Out Summer
A Coleridge Taylor Mystery, Book 4
In March 1977, ballistics link murders going back six months to the same Charter Arms Bulldog .44. A serial killer, Son of Sam, is on the loose. But Coleridge Taylor can’t compete with the armies of reporters fighting New York’s tabloid war–only rewrite what they get.
Constantly on the lookout for victims who need their stories told, he uncovers other killings being ignored because of the media circus. He goes after one, the story of a young Black woman gunned down in her apartment building the same night Son of Sam struck elsewhere in Queens.
The story entangles Taylor with a wealthy Park Avenue family at war with itself. Just as he’s closing in on the killer and his scoop, the July 13-14 blackout sends New York into a 24-hour orgy of looting and destruction. Taylor and his PI girlfriend Samantha Callahan head out into the darkness, where a steamy night of mob violence awaits them.
In the midst of the chaos, a suspect in Taylor’s story goes missing. Desperate, he races to a confrontation that will either break the story–or Taylor.
About the Author
Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (Last Words, Drop Dead Punk, A Black Sail, Lights Out Summer).
The first two books in the series were shortlisted or won awards in the three major competitions for books from independent publishers. Drop Dead Punk won the gold medal for mystery eBook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards. It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller eBook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards.
Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.
Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where he writes fiction and teaches kids around the New York area how to write news stories and publish newspapers.
For more information, go to richzahradnik.com.