Guest Blogger: Rebecca Marks

October 9, 2017

I am delighted to welcome Rebecca Marks to the blog!

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Meet Dana Cohen
by Rebecca Marks

Dana Cohen is the protagonist of my mystery series. Dana is a beautiful, 40-something, redheaded, hard drinking, former NYPD detective who has “retired” after her 22-year stint with the department. Her mother passed away years ago from cancer, but she has now moved back to her childhood home on the North Fork of Long Island to take care of Sam, her aging father who has succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease and lives at the Island Breeze nursing home.

Dana’s ex-husband is Pete Fitzgerald, another NYPD detective she met soon after joining the force. The two married quickly when Dana found out she was pregnant. Both the pregnancy and the marriage were doomed—after Dana’s miscarriage, Pete’s roving eye finally “got to” Dana, and the two separated. But somehow, they never seemed to “pull the trigger” on a divorce, with Pete claiming his Catholic religion wouldn’t allow him to do that. In reality, although they got back together from time to time, with Pete swearing he wouldn’t stray again, it never really worked for them, and now that Dana has moved to Long Island, Pete has stayed in the city and on the job.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Dana cannot seem to resist sticking her nose into getting to the bottom of some terrible crimes that rock the normally peaceful town where she lives. She works with or without the cooperation of local police to solve whatever “unsolvable” crimes happen, despite warnings from the police to mind her own business and let them do their jobs.

As tough as Dana is, though, she also has a soft side that she doesn’t like to admit. When she meets Alex Frasier, her father’s nurse at Island Breeze, the two are instantly attracted to one another. They quickly begin an intense love affair, which seems idyllic until after four residents at Island Breeze are murdered, Dana has reason to suspect Alex of being the perpetrator, and she shares that suspicion with local police. Alex, who is actually completely innocent of any wrongdoing, is so mortally hurt and offended by Dana’s lack of trust, that he says he may never forgive her, and that their relationship is over. But Dana finds out she is pregnant by Alex, whom she still loves deeply, and as she struggles about whether to go through with the pregnancy at the “ripe old age” of 43, she tries desperately to get Alex’s love and trust back. Having been a very heavy drinker during her career and after she moved back to Long Island, the pregnancy forces her to stop drinking, and her sobriety gives her a great deal of insight she never had before.

Dana puts herself out in every way she can imagine, waiting on Alex hand-and-foot, apologizing over and over again, and doing everything else she can think of to win him back. Although he admits he’s never stopped loving her, he is recalcitrant to get back together with her until a mutual friend acts as an intermediary and urges Alex—who is desperate for Dana to go through with the pregnancy—to let Dana know he will be there for their baby no matter what.

After Dana decides to keep the baby, and after a great deal of effort on her part, Alex finally comes around, and the two are reconciled. That gives Dana a great deal of relief, although her father’s declining health is a constant source of sadness. She regrets that her father will never have the opportunity to really know his grandchild. When Alex gets down on one knee and proposes to her, Dana tearfully accepts his proposal and is thankful that she will be with the man of her dreams, and that even at this age, they will be starting a family together.


STONE COLD SOBER by Rebecca Marks (Black Opal Books; September 23rd)

Dana Cohen, a forty-three-year-old, hard-drinking NYPD detective, spent twenty-two years on the force before retiring to Long Island. Now Dana’s best friend, Marilyn, is directing a local musical theater production. Dana’s estranged lover, Alex Frasier, the father of the child she’s carrying, is a Morris dancer in the show, but Dana has no theatrical talent at all. So Marilyn cooks up a way to get the two former lovebirds together, hiring Dana to work security for the production. When Dana discovers a gruesome murder during one of the show’s rehearsals, her “detective gene” overtakes her, and she can’t resist the urge to throw herself into this case. But as she investigates, she uncovers some dark secrets and realizes, too late, how far someone will go to keep them hidden…

About the Author
Rebecca Marks has been writing, playing music, and singing for as long as she can remember. In September, Stone Cold Sober, a Dana Cohen mystery, joins the two other books in that series: On the Rocks and Four Shots Neat. Marks is also the author of About Time and About Face. Visit her website at

Guest Blogger: Rich Zahradnik

October 2, 2017

I am delighted to welcome guest blogger  Rich Zahradnik!

An  Introduction to Coleridge Taylor by Rich Zahradnik

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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 WordsDrop Dead PunkA Black SailLights 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


Guest Post: Romance Writers of America

September 12, 2017

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Do you believe in second chances?

Romance Writers of America brings together seventeen of today’s hottest authors in an anthology of never-before-published tales that reveal true love always deserves a happy ending.

Follow New York Times best-selling authors J. Kenner and Christina Lauren back to reader-favorite worlds.

New York Times bestseller Alyssa Day sprinkles djinn magic in her humorous paranormal romance, while Rachel Hauck brings the enchantment of the holidays in her New Year’s Eve contemporary love story.

And Liliana Hart delivers thrills and adventure in her characters’ search for the impossible.

With characters who find love through tough situations, in an elegant 1800s ballroom, with an old friend who shows up when least expected, at a tender age when cliques and homework get in the way of relationships, or after a random encounter in an unlikely setting, Second Chances delivers romance to strike every reader’s fancy.

Plus tales from:
Marilyn Brant
Kerri Carpenter
CiCi Coughlin
Cassandra Dean
Tina Ferraro
Renee Luke
Ariella Moon
Brandi Willis Schreiber
Lizzie Shane
Sharon Sobel
Damon Suede
Tara Wyatt

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Guest Blogger: Linnea Hartsuyker

July 31, 2017

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I am delighted to welcome Linnea Hartsuyker to the blog!

Behind The Half-Drowned King
by Linnea Hartsuyker

In D’Aulaires’ Trolls, a nine-headed troll in the Norwegian Mountains steals nine princesses from their father so each of the women can massage one of his itchy, lice-ridden heads, all of which are constantly arguing with one another and keeping the others from sleep. My father, a wonderful storyteller, scowled and scratched his own head when he got to this part, demonstrating why the troll needed these maidens. Eventually, a hero strong enough to lift the troll’s giant sword came along, killed the troll with one blow, rescued the nine princesses, and married the eldest.

Tales of Norse gods and giants formed the imaginative bedrock of my childhood. These were the legends of my ancestors and, growing up in the middle of the woods in upstate New York, it wasn’t hard to picture myself in the deep, dark Norwegian woods where giants lived in caves and battled with heroes. Scandinavian legends explained why my family was so much taller than my friends’, why I loved the cold and the snow, why my mother made pepperkaker cookies at Christmas and decorated the house with straw goats and wooden Dala horses.

The women in these stories were remarkable as well: the giantess Gefjon who turned her sons into oxen and plowed so deeply that she separated Zeeland from the Danish mainland, or Skadi who forced the Aesir gods to give her a husband, but had to choose him by looking only at his legs. There was not much difference between gods, trolls, and giants in this world; a brutal giant father could have a beautiful giant daughter desired by the handsomest gods. In the Norse heaven, warriors battled each other all day and then put their limbs and bodies back together to drink and feast all night.

Living in the country, I learned about the work it would take an ancient Norse family to stay alive through a cold winter. My family skied our frozen forest, and heated our house with stoves that required constant chopping and carrying of firewood. I learned to knit, weave, and sew at a young age, because those were my mother’s hobbies, and she saw virtue in knowing how to do things from scratch, from baking bread to making clothing.

When I was in my teens, one of my relatives decided to trace the Scandinavian side of our family, identified all of our relatives back to Alma, five generations ago in Sweden, and we met many new cousins through our explorations. What intrigued me more than the recent history, though, was the misty recesses of the family tree; Scandinavia’s church records are nearly unbroken back to the coming of Christianity in the 11th century, and beyond that, the sagas record ancestry back to the loins of gods and giants. One branch of my family can be traced to Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway in the 9th century.

Because Harald fathered over twenty sons, most people with any northern European ancestors can trace their lineage back to him. But learning that did not put a damper on my imagination. As an undergraduate, I researched Harald in Cornell’s libraries, reading The Heimskringla, the Saga of Norwegian Kings written by Snorri Sturlusson, when I was supposed to be doing my engineering homework, and learned about the princess Gyda who said that she would only marry Harald if he conquered all of Norway, so he swore he would not cut his hair or shave his beard until he had done so, and fifteen years later, he came back and married her.

When I began trying to write novels and short stories more seriously in my early twenties, I always thought that someday I would write the story of Harald and Gyda—once I had practiced enough, and had enough confidence as a writer. But one night, after bogging down while attempting to write another novel I didn’t care enough about, I decided that if I only wrote one story in my life, it should be this, and I was wasting time working on anything else. In Harald’s story, I found a world in which I could spend years, because, in many ways, I already had.

In reading The Heimskringla again, this time as a writer, I found that Harald’s story is not a particularly compelling narrative for a novelist: Harald is the brightest and the best and he always wins. In Arthurian retellings that King Arthur is often the least interesting character; it’s the people he surrounds himself with, torn between duty and their own desires, who have far more engaging stories. At Harald’s side, I found Ragnvald of Maer, his right-hand man, who makes hard sacrifices for his attachment to Harald. The Heimskringla gives only a bare-bones account of Ragnvald’s involvement Harald’s conquest, leaving plenty of room for invention. And Ragnvald had a sister Svanhild about whom even less was known; together they provide a canvas for a tale of betrayal and hard choices, of families torn apart, and brought back together again.

The dawn of the Scandinavian kingdoms was a fascinating time. Small kingdoms sent out viking raiding parties against one another and all of Northern Europe, terrorizing monasteries, and sacking Paris—twice. Early Norse kings ruled only as far as they could walk or sail in a day. Women had a great deal of agency and independence: they could divorce their husbands, and, as widows, own property and even command armies. But they could not swear oaths or testify at trials unless a man could not be found to stand witness, and were not required to consent to marriages. Without reliable birth control, they were bound to constant childbearing, which often killed them young.

I wondered what about 9th century Norway would make some people long for the security of a king, and others rebel and strike out to found the shockingly democratic country of medieval Iceland. In The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild embody two sides of that conflict, and much like in fantasy or science fiction, I hope that showing how people navigate these issues in a very different world illuminates something about how we confront them now.

An Indie Next Pick for August 2017

A Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Pick for Summer 2017

A Buzz Books Pick for 2017


THE HALF-DROWNED KING (Harper; $27.99/$34.99 Can.; Hardcover; ISBN: 9780062563699; on sale August 1, 2017), Linnea Hartsuyker’s assured and compelling debut novel, launches an epic saga drawn from her own Scandinavian lineage. This first installment in a trilogy brings to life the cold and violent ninth century when Norway’s first king, Harald the Fair-Haired, united a warring nation and ascended to the throne. Drawing on extensive research, Hartsuyker crafts a richly-veined work of historical fiction that is propelled by her natural storytelling gifts. “Steeped in legend and myth, Hartsuyker’s debut is a swashbuckling epic of family, love, and betrayal that reimagines the Norse sagas,” says Kirkus Reviews, “While Hartsuyker’s prose is straightforward, the plot is as deliciously complex as Game of Thrones. And, in an era so dominated by the tales of men, it’s nice to see a complicated, cunning heroine like Svanhild swoop in and steal the show. Hold on to your helms and grab your shields—Hartsuyker is just getting started.”

            While THE HALF-DROWNED KING is a work of fiction, it takes its inspiration from classic Norwegian texts. “In the thirteenth century the Icelander Snorri Sturluson, a historian, poet, and politician, would write down theHeimskringla, and many other sagas—roughly the equivalent of someone today writing the story of the founding of the United States with only oral tradition on which to base his narrative,” reports Hartsuyker, who has traced her own direct bloodline back 1200 years to Harald the Fair-Haired. “The Heimskringla almost certainly has gaps and inaccuracies…. In writing The Half-Drowned King, I have used the stories in the Heimskringla as a jumping-off point, and also asked myself what might have been the real events behind the stories that Snorri Sturluson and others passed on and recorded.”

            The story Hartsuyker crafts from this historical raw material is exhilarating. In an age of chaos, a hundred petty rulers are willing to kill over the smallest parcels of land. But, a prophecy has promised the rise of a high king who will unite all of Norway. While sailing home from a raiding trip to Ireland, Ragnvald Eysteinsson—the son and grandson of kings—is attacked and left for dead by a man he thought an ally. The attempted killing, he will learn was engineered by his own stepfather, Olaf, who wishes to claim Ragnvald’s land and birthright as his own. Rescued by a fisherman and nursed to health by a widow trying to survive on the land of her slaughtered husband, Ragnvald plots his return and his vengeance.

            After the death of their father in battle, Ragnvald has sworn to protect his sister, Svanhild, who, as a woman, has remained behind with their mother and the scheming Olaf. Because of her sex, Svanhild is simply expected to make an advantageous marriage and leave matters of honor to men. Without Ragnvald to protect her, Svanhild could easily be married off to the man of her stepfather’s choosing. But her independent mind and adventurous spirit drive her to take control of her fate. When the chance to leave her stepfather’s cruelty comes at the hand of her brother’s arch rival, Svanhild is forced to make the ultimate choice: family or freedom. Meanwhile, Ragnvald sees opportunity with Harald of Vestfold, the strong young Norse warrior rumored to be the prophesied king. Ragnvald pledges his sword to Harald, a choice that will hold enormous consequence in the years to come.

Critics are raving!

“Making her fiction debut, Hartsuyker, who claims descent from Norway’s first king, writes an absolutely top-notch Viking saga, and readers will eagerly await the next two volumes in this trilogy.”

 Library Journal*Starred Review*

“A terrific historical epic…Posing thoughtful questions about the nature of honor and heroism, and devoting significant attention to women’s lives, the novel takes a fresh approach to the Viking adventure genre…The action scenes will have the blood humming in your veins.”

Booklist*Starred Review*

“Steeped in legend and myth, Hartsuyker’s debut is a swashbuckling epic of family, love, and betrayal that reimagines the Norse sagas….While Hartsuyker’s prose is straightforward, the plot is as deliciously complex as Game of Thrones. And, in an era so dominated by the tales of men, it’s nice to see a complicated, cunning heroine like Svanhild swoop in and steal the show. Hold on to your helms and grab your shields—Hartsuyker is just getting started.”

— Kirkus Reviews 

“The author, who can trace her lineage back to Harald Halfdansson, recreates the half-civilized, half-primitive landscape of his time, where a dragon boat sailing up a fjord struck dread in all who saw it. Befitting its subject matter, the book is replete with exciting battles, duels, and sieges, but the author makes Svanhild’s domestic tribulations equally dramatic. In the end, this novel can stand proudly with Edison Marshall’s The Viking and Frans G. Bengtsson’s The Long Ships as an immersive fictional recreation of a bloody moment in Scandinavian history.”

Publishers Weekly 

“A spellbinding evocation of a long-lost world of magic and blood feuds, populated by characters riddled with doubt and human failing beneath their epic exteriors.” — BookPage

“Suspenseful, intriguing, gripping!… Treachery and astonishment and surprise are always right around the corner…As with all great historical fiction, there are strong similarities to actual events. Good research is very important to a believable historical novel. This book has it. If you enjoy Bernard Cornwell, do not pass this book by. It is well worth the read!”
— New York Journal of Books

“Inspired by the Icelandic sagas, this action-packed first volume in a planned trilogy will transport readers to Viking Norway, where Ragnvald battles his treacherous stepfather in order to claim his true birthright after his father’s death. Meanwhile, Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild seeks a marriage that will give her the freedom she craves despite the era’s restrictive social roles for women. An adventurous summer read, in which vivid historical detail meets a fast-moving plot.”
— Library Journal’s List of Summer Escapes

Game of Thrones will be back on our screens by the time this epic Viking saga comes out, and it’s a safe literary bet for those of us who enjoy a bit of Westeros action. Ragnvald Eysteinsson is betrayed by his avaricious stepfather, and in trying to gain back his rightful inheritance, he pledges his sword to a young warrior plotting to become the king. If you like your heroes noble and your struggles for power bloody, this one’s for you.”
— 24 Best books To Read This Summer from 

“Linnea Hartsuyker brings myth and legend roaring to life in this superbly good page-turning saga of Viking-era Norway. Hartsuyker is fearless as she navigates a harsh, exacting and hair-raising world, with icy fjords and raiding seasons and ancient blood feuds. But the book’s fiercest magic shines in the characters of Ragnvald and Svanhild, as unforgettable a brother and sister duo as I can remember in recent literature. Linnea Hartsuyker is an exciting, original voice in historical fiction, and The Half-Drowned King is nothing short of mesmerizing.”
— Paula McLain, bestselling author of THE PARIS WIFE and CIRCLING THE SUN


Linnea Hartsuyker grew up outside Ithaca, New York, and studied Engineering at Cornell University. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. She has read extensively of Icelandic sagas, kayaked and skied the fjordland settings for this novel, and has even become proficient in lifting Husafjell stones, as the Vikings did to become stronger. She lives in New York City with her husband.  For more on Linnea and her writing, visit:

A Conversation with Linnea Hartsuyker, author of THE HALF-DROWNED KING

Q.: Your debut novel, THE HALF-DROWNED KING, is set in ninth century Norway. What is your personal connection to the story?

When I was in my late teens, one of my relatives decided to trace our Scandinavian ancestry and identified all of our relatives back to Alma, five generations ago in Sweden. Scandinavian church records are nearly unbroken back to the coming of Christianity in the 11th century, and beyond that, the sagas record ancestry back to the loins of gods and giants. We found that one branch of the family descends from Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway in the 9th century.

I was fascinated by this connection and when I went to college, I researched Harald in Cornell’s libraries, reading The Heimskringla, the Saga of Norwegian Kings written by Snorri Sturlusson, when I was supposed to be doing my engineering homework. I learned about Princess Gyda who proclaimed that she would only marry Harald if he conquered all of Norway, so he swore he would not cut his hair or shave his beard until he had done so, and fifteen years later, he returned and married her.

My mother is a geneticist, and when we found out about our ancestry, she calculated how much genetic material we would share with Harald—some fraction of a single chromosome—and in my later research, I learned that most people with Northern European ancestry are descended from Harald, but it did not dim my enthusiasm.

Q.: What inspired you to write a novel—the first in a trilogy in fact—that focuses on this long-ago period in history?

I grew up on a dirt road in the wilderness of upstate New York, where my family skied our frozen forest, and heated our house with stoves that required constant chopping and carrying of firewood. I learned to knit, weave, and sew at a young age, because those were my mother’s hobbies, and she saw a virtue in knowing how to do things from scratch, from baking bread to making clothing.

My parents both love legend and folk lore, and I grew up with books of women-centric folk tales like Tatterhood and Maid of the North, and also the tales of my Norse ancestors. I loved the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and wanted to live in the 1850s, if not earlier.

When I got serious about writing as more than a hobby, in my late twenties, I was living in New York City, but a part of me always felt more connected to deep, dark woods and ancient legends than to the modern world. I no longer want to live then—I love modern conveniences—but I also love imagining what life was like in Viking-age Norway. A writing teacher once told me that you should write a novel about something you’re obsessed with; because you will spend so long with it, you will need that obsession to pull you through. I have always been obsessed with the borders between history and legend, between myth and reality. In telling the story of Harald, Ragnvald, and Svanhild, I am drawing on and expanding my own foundational myths.

Q.: Who are Ragnvald and Svanhild, and why did you decide to focus the story on them rather than Harald, who became the first king of Norway?

When I did decide to tackle this story, I re-read the Harald portions of The Heimskringla, and found that King Harald’s story is not a particularly compelling narrative for a novelist: Harald is the brightest and the best and he always wins. In Arthurian retellings that King Arthur is often the least interesting character; it’s the people he surrounds himself with, torn between duty and their own desires, who have far more engaging stories.

At Harald’s side, I found Ragnvald of Maer, his right-hand man, who makes hard sacrifices because of his attachment to Harald. The Heimskringla gives only a bare-bones account of Ragnvald’s involvement Harald’s conquest, leaving plenty of room for invention, but what we do know sketches a fascinating, conflicted character. And he had a sister about whom even less was known; together they provide a canvas for a tale of betrayal and hard choices, of families torn apart, and brought back together again.

Q.: How much about Ragnvald and Svanhild is based on fact and how much did you fabricate for dramatic purposes?

I have taken some liberties in order to tell the story I wanted. The primary sources only relate a few important events involving Ragnvald and his children. Nothing of Svanhild is known beyond her name and one of her husbands. I created other aspects of Ragnvald and Svanhild’s backgrounds and personalities to fit these scraps of information—adding a personal dimension to a political conflict. I noticed that Ragnvald names his son Ivar after his grandfather, but none of his sons or grandsons are named for his father Eystein, who was known as Eystein the Noisy—the implication being that he was a boaster. What kind of son would a boaster have? Perhaps a taciturn young man, uncomfortable with praise.

With Ragnvald, I wanted to explore why a highly capable man, older than the king he serves, would do

so much for him, and never rebel even when he had reason to? From there I imagined a young man descended from kings but whose family has fallen in recent generations, whose upbringing has caused him to doubt his abilities and curtail his ambitions, and who would eventually grow into the man known as Ragnvald the Mighty.

Q.: When did Christianity reach Norway? Your characters still pay homage to the gods Ran and Odin. Did Ragnvald and Solvi learn of this new religion from their travels?

The Half-Drowned King begins around 860 or 870 CE. At that point, even Germany and England had only officially been Christian for 150 years. The Vikings were aware of Christianity, but unlike the Frankish Empire and England, their rulers had no political reasons to become Christian. The Half-Drowned King is about the consolidation of power in Norway, at a time when all of the Scandinavian kingdoms transitioning from regional rule to nations with kings.

Vikings believed their gods gave them good harvests and victory in battle, and understood that different people had different gods; they believed in the Christian God and Christ as much as in their own gods, but thought that their gods must be stronger, as long as they won in battle. They would not be interested in throwing over their own gods for a weaker god.

Once they started to lose battles to Christians, Christianity became more attractive. At the same time, in the early 11th century, Scandinavian rulers began to see the value in converting to Christianity so they could make alliances with other Christian kings. The church also provided an educated, literate class of bureaucrats—priests and other church officials—who could help them administer their larger countries.

Q.: It is rare to have a woman as a central character in fiction set in this time period, and yet that is exactly what you have done with the character of Svanhild. Was this a conscious choice, spurred by twenty-first century awareness, or simply the result of her having been an important figure?

Svanhild is only mentioned briefly in The Heimskringla and no other sources, but as Ragnvald’s sister, and a player in the era’s politics, she could be as important as her brother. I wanted to create a character who was plausible for the Viking Age—not a 21st century feminist woman in period clothing—while making her sympathetic to modern readers. The Icelandic sagas are full of women who cause trouble, and spur their reluctant husbands on to vengeance or other actions. Wealthy women, especially widows, could also accrue a great deal of power. I wanted Svanhild to be aware of the influence she can wield, while also feeling trapped by the unique pressures of womanhood in her era.

Women’s stories have always been erased from recorded history, and in fiction, are often shunted into their own genre. In writing this book, I struggled with the fact that we know much more of men’s history and actions. I tried to give my women characters unique personalities and understandable motivations, rather than making them only helpers and maintainers of the men in their lives. I wanted The Half-Drowned King to show the various ways women could wield power: through their sexuality, childrearing and housekeeping, and even occasionally in politics and warfare.

Q.: What did you do to research the novel? Did you spend time in Norway? Do you speak Norwegian?

I researched The Half-Drowned King by reading a great deal of saga literature, criticism, history, and archeology. I’ve traveled to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Ireland a few times, as well as the Orkney, Shetland, and Faroe Islands where some events in the subsequent novels are set. I visited museums containing Viking artifacts, and have learned some Viking crafts I did not already know, like Nailbinding, a precursor to knitting. In Roskilde, Denmark, I was even able to help row a replica Viking boat for an afternoon.

Q.: You first learned the bones of the historical details that found their way into the novel by reading The Heimskringla, or Saga of the Norwegian Kings. What other sources did you tap?

I read some other Icelandic sagas and Eddic verse, including Egil’s Saga, The Orkneyinga Saga, The Eddas including “The Havamal” which references King Harald and his sons. Another primary source is the Gesta Danorum, written by Saxo Grammaticus, a 12th century chronicler of Danish history, which notes some Norwegian history where it overlaps with the Danish.

I’ve also read a great deal of history, archeology, and anthropology of the Viking Age. Because the Vikings did not use a written language, much of what we know about them comes from archeological research.

Q.: Do you find inspiration in reading other historical fiction series? If so, which ones have influenced you?

I’ve always loved historical fiction and fantasy, because both genres draw their readers into unfamiliar worlds, where the author can explore universal problems in different settings. I read widely in many genres, including literary fiction, but my inspiration for The Half-Drowned King comes from folk tales and myth, as well as the beloved novels of my teens.

As a girl, I loved The Mists of Avalon and The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley, historical fantasy novels that used Arthurian Legends and The Illiad as their sources. I was fascinated by their depiction of cultures that existed Christianity, or as Christianization was just taking place. Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogion Cycle and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain do a similar thing for Welsh mythology. I also read Sharon Kay Penman’s Welsh trilogy in my teens, and found her world, 12th century British Isles, to be as fantastical and alien as anything invented from whole-cloth.

Some other influential books include: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, a mystery novel set in a medieval monastery, Illusion by Paula Volsky, a novel that recreates the French Revolution in a fantastical setting; and The Lord of the Rings, which is rooted in Norse history and mythology. More recently I have enjoyed the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian and the Hornblower series by C. S. Forrester. The Other Boleyn Girl did a wonderful job exploring an overlooked character in history, and provided some inspiration for me to do the same. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset evokes medieval Sweden in a way that was very inspirational, but also quite different than the age of The Half-Drowned King, since the church has a very strong influence on Kristin.

Q.: What relevance, if any, does a story such as this one have in our own politically turbulent times?

I began researching and writing The Half-Drowned King right after the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, when I was concerned about how many of my fellow citizens were willing to give up their civil liberties for what seemed like more of a feeling of safety than actual safety. One of the main conflicts for leaders in the Viking Age was whether to give up some personal power and freedom in exchange for a king’s protection and the greater power of a centralized government. Everyone in Norway answered this question differently: the founding legend of Iceland is that the elite who did not want to be subject to King Harald fled to there to create their own democratic society.

Historical fiction allows us to see universal human concerns play out in a world very different from our own, and, I think, see them differently, and even more clearly, because of the distance of time. I wrote my first draft of the sequel, The Sea Queen, before the most recent presidential election, but in it, Ragnvald still struggles with the question of what he is willing to put up with in a leader, even if his leader’s actions conflict with his own morality. In the final book of the trilogy, Harald will push him even farther.

With the recent rise of activism in the US, as US citizens reclaim their political power, I’ve been reminded that all governments exist only with the consent of the governed. This was true in Viking-Age Norway, when kings were elected in ting assemblies from among noble candidates, and were killed if they did not use their power well, as today when town halls serve a similar function, though we are far less violent. The question of why we have a government, what we want it to do, what we give up in exchange, and what we do if it betrays our ideals, is evergreen.


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Guest Blogger: Dana King

May 8, 2017

I am delighted to welcome guest blogger Dana King!

Research can be a lot of fun. Should be, actually. Learning something new about a topic you’re interested in is always entertaining. It’s part of what separates us from lower forms of life like fish and birds and cockroaches and science deniers. Research that becomes drudgery is probably an indication you’re either doing it wrong, or the topic doesn’t suit you. Write about something else. Life’s too short. (We’re talking about fiction here. If you’re a technical writer, suck it up. As Hyman Roth said, this is the life you chose.)

I hold a Master’s degree in music, which is only important because it provides context for the story I’m about to tell. I took a course called “Chamber Music Interpretation,” taught by a charming and insightful man named Benjamin Zander. First day of class, Ben sat us down and explained the fact of musical life to us: We had all chosen to devote our lives to music. (Obviously the mileage varied among those listening to Ben’s speech, or you wouldn’t be reading this.) This was, in Ben’s eyes, a wonderful and noble thing, to bring beauty to others. It was also not without cost. We could never again merely listen to music as entertainment. Any music we heard—even a string version of “Poker Face” in an elevator—needed to be actively listened to. What was done well? What didn’t work? How would we do it? Not that we shouldn’t enjoy music—of course we should—but mere enjoyment was no longer enough. I internalized that lesson so well that to this day, thirty-plus years later, I can’t have music around me when I write.

What does this have to do with researching your book? The same rules apply if you want to make it as a writer. Anything you read—anything—has potential to serve your craft. People usually think of this as writing advice. Ways to drop in back story, set a scene, apply dialog tags unobtrusively. It’s also topic research, at least if the source is trusted. You think Michael Connelly knows a little about how police investigations work? Does Joe Wambaugh have a feel for street cops? Changing media, did The Wire nail how drug gangs work and how cops can investigate them? True, The Wire’s techniques are dated now but the principles of investigation and interplay between characters likely hasn’t changed much.

The same is true of daily life. News stories and even non-crime shows and books are full of tidbits you can use. Watch people the next time you grab a sandwich alone or are stuck waiting for a plane or a friend. I’m not saying to make it a compulsion. Just pay attention and be aware of serendipitous opportunities. File them away in your memory or your journal. (William Goldman once said he didn’t keep a notebook with ideas because he’d remember any idea worth writing about. I believe that’s true, to a point. The context in which something sparks a greater idea changes over time. I’ve found it nice to have a journal I can peruse to see if an idea that I liked enough to write down but not enough to follow up on might appeal to me more now.)

(Spoiler alert!) True story: My first Nick Forte detective novel, A Small Sacrifice, is about a crime boss who wants Forte dead. Forte has information that may lead an even bigger crime boss to want the other guy dead. The Big boss tells Forte to go away for a few says, these things have a way of sorting themselves out. In the original, Forte goes away until he gets a phone call to tell him it’s safe to come back.

I worked hard on that ending to make it as credible as I could. Problem was, it was also anticlimactic. The story’s resolution happens off stage. I pondered this for a while until for reasons that are still not clear to me, the end of the movie Three Days of the Condor came to mind. The result was for Forte to come back and arrange to be alone with the guy who wanted to kill him, only to have the hitter hired by said mob boss show up. Forte figures he’s a dead man until the hit man kills the mob boss. Why? The bigger boss hired him to kill the other guy, and the big boss is who the hitter will answer to when this all shakes out. The ending must have worked all right. The book received a Shamus nomination.

Is that plagiarism? Hell, no. It’s paying attention. It’s finding things in the world around you—wherever they are and whatever they are—and finding ways to bend them to your purposes. Don’t limit yourself by believing research consists of looking things up in the hope of finding something useful. Be ready for when something useful finds you.

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A Penns River Crime Novel Series, Book 3

As if things aren’t bad enough in Penns River, development and funding of a new religious-themed mall grinds to a halt when heavily-armed assassins cut down five leaders of the town’s fledgling drug trade while eating lunch in the food court. The television minister behind the mall has associates not normally associated with a ministry, outside drug gangs may be muscling into town, and the local mob boss could have an angle of his own. The cops have this and all the usual local activity to contend with in a story that extends beyond the borders of Penns River.


“Dana King’s Resurrection Mall is a patchwork of desperation from a depressed river town written with genuine style and grit.” ›Reed Farrel Coleman, New York Times bestselling author of What You Break

“Another thoughtful, taut, suspense filled novel from one of America’s best new writers, the great Dana King.” ›Adrian McKinty, author of the Sean Duffy trilogies

Resurrection Mall is a brilliant crime novel that deserves to win every award in sight. One of the best of the year.” ›Tim Hallinan, author of the Poke Rafferty, Junior Bender, and Simeon Grist mystery series

“Dana King’s Resurrection Mall draws you in from the beginning, like sipping a fine single malt that opens wonderfully in the glass and you have to keep sipping until the end. King has a skillful grasp on character and dialogue, and that, along with his rock-solid police procedure, makes for a gripping, authentic read. I am a big fan of the Penn River series, and I want more.” ›David Swinson, author of The Second Girl

“Along with Worst Enemies and Grind Joint, Resurrection Mall elevates Dana King’s masterful Penns River crime series into the best hard-nosed police procedural since TV’s The Wire. Fun, gripping and thought-provoking, this third entry firmly plants ace Detective Ben ’Doc’ Dougherty in the ring with heavyweight crime-stoppers Elvis Cole, Alex Cross and Jack Reacher. All of King’s characters burst with no-nonsense, rural Pennsylvania life, but the author dives deepest into the most realistic and engaging crew of municipal cops I’ve encountered since Joseph Wambaugh. Don’t miss it!” ›Jack Getze, author and Fiction Editor for Spinetingler Magazine

“Complex characters, smooth dialogue and a hell of a plot make this one a winner. Rest easy, Ross Macdonald. The torch has been passed.” ›Terrence McCauley, author of Sympathy for the Devil and A Murder of Crows

RESURRECTION MALL by Dana King. Down & Out Books (May 1, 2017). ISBN 978-1943402656. 372p.

About the author

Dana King owns two nominations for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award, for A Small Sacrifice (2013) and again two years later for The Man in the Window. His novel Grind Joint was noted by Woody Haut in the L.A. Review of Books as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013. A short story, “Green Gables,” appeared in the anthology Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash.

Dana lives in Maryland with The Beloved Spouse.

Find Dana King online …

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Guest Blogger: John Beyer

April 20, 2017

I am delighted to welcome guest blogger, author John Beyer! 

Many years ago as a rookie patrolman, I happened upon a little pink bicycle dumped in a dirt field. It had been the mode of transportation for an innocent eight year old girl named April, murdered by a villain just two days earlier.

It was my first venture into the evilness that sometimes overtakes humans. The thought of taking a life for a thrill – as was the case with April’s murder – was almost more than I could bear.

The pain people cause others never dulled me from my humanity; the job had to be done. Patrol work led to my becoming a training officer, and ultimately I joined the SWAT team.

After serving nearly ten years in law enforcement, I made the decision to leave and move to the field of education and serve in a different capacity. A public servant to the end.

I went back to college to study humans in more depth. Since I was in education, I earned a doctorate in educational management to move up the proverbial ladder in administration and then later a doctorate in clinical psychology. That degree was designed and intended to help me understand people. Did it help? To a point. But can anyone understand the true depravity of certain humans? We would like to say we can, but some aspects remain shrouded in mystery.

Writing had always been a passion of mine since time immemorial, and over the years I have written a number of non-fiction pieces for various magazines and newspapers but had never tried my hand in fiction until I met a writer by the name of Ray Bradbury. It was one of those meet and greets with a famous author in the small town of Lucerne in Southern California. After listening to him inspire the guests of the evening, I asked him for an interview and he agreed.

The piece was published and we stayed in contact until his death in 2012. He was a mentor and encouraged me to try fictional writing. I did and was rejected more times than I could count.

But I persevered.

Then in 2010, I completed my first novel. Nearly thirty years after I had found April’s bicycle, I penned, Hunted. It didn’t have much to do with the innocent girl’s murder except to inspire me to write about and try to understand – if anyone can – what truly goes on in an evil person’s mind.
The turn to fiction was a change of pace, but isn’t that what we need sometimes in this often crazy world?

Hunted (about a spree killer who decides to hunt the detective who is after him) was purchased and published in 2013 by Black Opal Books, who also subsequently published my second novel, Soft Target in 2014 (about an Islamic terrorist group that takes over a middle school in America) and Operation Scorpion in 2017 (about a rogue military officer trying to sell nuclear waste to the highest bidder).
All deal with the dregs of society – those who wantonly take advantage of those who are weaker, both physically and mentally.

But there is always the protagonist(s) who, perhaps does not exactly save the day, but does put a stop to the path of destruction the antagonist(s) are weaving. My ‘good’ characters are wounded by their past, but they put aside personal feelings and emotions to do what is right. They become real for the author and the reader even though they are fiction. And the bad guys? Well, they usually get put away – permanently.

I like happy endings.

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About the book: Operation Scorpion

PI Frank Sanders is “blown away” by the woman who strolls into his office one morning. Not only is she drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also rich and willing to pay whatever it takes for him to find her missing father, world-famous geologist Dr. Stephen Jaspers who went rock hunting in the desert and hasn’t been heard from since. A retired Riverside California Police Department detective, Frank is used to searching for people. He takes the case, assuming it’s a simple missing person. But what he uncovers is more than he bargained for, leading him to suspect that he’s about to be blown away–literally, this time–along with everyone else in Southern California.


I downshifted the Jeep. We ran through the cloud of exploding dirt clods and continued toward the dry lakebed Alicia had told me about. In the distance, I could see the opening of the canyon. I also could hear another missile being fired, but this time it was a lot closer and nearly ripped the front of the Jeep off, if I hadn’t instinctively yanked the wheel to the right and skimmed the fenders off the west wall of the ravine.

I looked over at Alicia and saw a slight trickle of blood escaping from a small wound on her forehead but couldn’t make out the words she was yelling. I was stone deaf at that moment.

Daylight broke in on us like a waterfall as the Jeep shot out of the canyon and sped across the dry lakebed. My hands were trembling on the steering wheel and my concentration was nearly shot as I heard the roar from above getting closer. I started to zig-zag across the bed of the dry lake, trying to make us a harder I was looking at the high walls around us as the Jeep drove through the ravine. “We’re sitting targets here.”

I wasn’t psychic but it was a pretty good guess since Alicia screamed, and I heard the unmistakable sound of a rocket being fired from behind us. A good half-ton of mountain blew skyward thirty yards in front of us.

My hearing was still off but the loud explosion beside me crashed into my eardrums. I turned and saw Alicia kneeling on the seat, shooting the Glock at the approaching Apache. This is really starting to get dangerous.

About the author:

Former street cop, training officer and member of SWAT John Beyer has been writing most of his life. He’s traveled to at least 23 countries (and was actually shot in the head in Spain in 2000 during a march between Neo Nazis and Communists two days after running with the bulls in Pamplona). He was caught in a hurricane off the coast of east Baja (Bahia de los Angeles) while kayaking and lived to tell about it. Essentially, it’s hard to tell where experience leaves off and fiction takes over. You’ll want to read his books.

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Twitter: @Drjohnrbeyer



Operation Scorpion by John Beyer. Black Opal Books (January 14, 2017).  ISBN 978-1626945968.


Guest blogger: J.L. Abramo

April 16, 2017

I am delighted to welcome my guest blogger, author J. L. Abramo

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by J. L. Abramo

Crime fiction, film and television are extremely popular among readers and viewers worldwide.  Fiction writers are often categorized, listed and known for their particular genre—be it crime, mystery, romance, horror, science fiction.  Genre is defined by Merriam-Webster as a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.  And as stated by Joyce Carol Oates in The New York Review of Books, “In genre fiction there is an implied contract between writer and reader that justice of a kind will be exacted; ‘good’ may not always triumph over ‘evil’, but the distinction between the two must be honored.”

I have often been asked why I chose mystery and crime fiction as my literary genre.  It might be more accurate to say that the genre chose me; and to add that a particular genre is simply the vehicle in which the writer journeys through the landscape he or she is compelled to explore.  In my experience as a reader it is the theme and not the plot of a novel that carries universal and lasting impact; making the particular genre secondary to the thoughts and feelings which the writer is consciously or unconsciously driven to express.  Crime and Punishment, Les Misérables, A Tale of Two Cities are, on the surface, crime novels; classic literary works that greatly influenced generations of readers and future writers; not as a consequence of their genre, but for their examination of the trials and tribulations of the human experience.  Similarly, the same holds for visual art and music.  A timeless painting or a lasting musical composition is one that leaves a profound impression on the viewer or the listener; be it renaissance, religious, impressionist, avant-garde, symbolic, dada, classical, folk, country, blues, jazz or rock and roll.

That being said, the selection of crime fiction as my vehicle of choice was a consequence of my exposure to literary works which examined crime and its ramifications and which greatly influenced me as a young man and adult—Dostoyevsky, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain.  And by exposure to films like The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, On The Waterfront, Anatomy of a Murder, Witness for the Prosecution, The French Connection, The Godfather and countless others.  And I have always found it to be the genre I am most adept at and most comfortable in—something akin to the well broken-in pair of shoes you prefer slipping into.

In the latest work, Coney Island Avenue, I employ the crime fiction genre to revisit the Brooklyn neighborhood of my youth.  It is a continuation of the novel Gravesend, which moved my focus from the San Francisco and Los Angeles of the Jake Diamond private eye novels to the Sixty-first Precinct in Gravesend, where I was born and raised.  Once again I take the journey in the vehicle I feel most comfortable travelling aboard.

So, the question arises—are we, practitioners of the written word and members of professional guilds like the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America and the International Thriller Writers, novelists or crime novelists.  And the simple answer is we are writers, willing to use any means of transport which will help us tell our tale and help entice readers to come along for the ride.

About Coney Island Avenue

THE DOG DAYS OF AUGUST IN BROOKLYN and the detectives of the 61st Precinct are battling to keep all hell from breaking loose.

Lives are taken in the name of greed, retribution, passion and the lust for power—and the only worthy opponent of this senseless malevolence is the uncompromising resolve to rise above it, rather than descend to its depths.

The heart pounding sequel to the acclaimed novel GRAVESEND—from Shamus Award-winner J. L. Abramo—CONEY ISLAND AVENUE continues the dramatic account of the professional and personal struggles that constitute everyday life

for the dedicated men and women of the Six-One—and of the saints and sinners who share their streets.  Coney Island Avenue is an emotionally packed chronicle of good and evil, triumph and tragedy and—just below the surface—Abramo’s narrative is a universal tale of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

About the author

J. L. Abramo was born in the seaside paradise of Brooklyn, New York on Raymond Chandler’s fifty-ninth birthday. Abramo is the author of Catching Water in a Net, winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America prize for Best First Private Eye Novel; the subsequent Jake Diamond novels Clutching at Straws, Counting to Infinity, and Circling the Runway; Chasing Charlie Chan, a prequel to the Jake Diamond series; Gravesend, Brooklyn Justice and Coney Island Avenue.

Abramo’s short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies including Murder Under the Oaks, winner of the Anthony Award.

Circling the Runway was the recipient of a Shamus Award presented by the Private Eye Writers of America in 2016.

Guest blogger redux: Lisa Black

February 7, 2017

I am delighted to welcome back guest blogger Lisa Black!


Nobody reads them any more. Major dailies have been shutting their doors, laying off staff right and left, selling out to the large chains like Gannett and McClatchy. Soon they will disappear for good.

Or so everyone says.

I feel very strongly about newspapers. My most rock-solid, secure childhood memories would be waking for school in the 4th, 5th through 12th grades. My father would make me two pieces of buttered toast and a cup of tea and give me the “Life” sectioindonesian_magazines_jakartan with the movie reviews and the comics, and we would eat in companionable silence until it was time to catch the bus. Reading the paper over breakfast is still my favorite part of the day, a self-indulgent luxury I refuse to give up. I’m lucky that I live in a city (Fort Myers) that still has a decent-sized paper with seven-day home delivery.

Newspapers were a vital form of communication in the days before the internet, cable, television, radio or even telegraph. With the advent of the printing press newspapers began in the 1700s and grew steadily. Most were heavily biased and bore more resemblance to the National Enquirer than the Times. Writing an entire story based on complete supposition was not frowned upon. Businesses paid for favorable portrayals. You think today’s elections are dirty? Check out the John Adams vs. Thomas Jefferson election of 1800, in which each candidate had everything from their parentage to their masculinity savaged in print. But newspapers also became forces for advocacy and exposition, a vital part of everyday life.

newspaper-boxesSo what changed? As one character explains to my protagonist, forensic specialist Maggie Gardiner, “Technology, to give the simplest explanation. Television, radio grabbed our audience and readership began to decline. This was the forties, long before the internet and Craigslist decimated what we had left. Reading newspapers is a habit, and it’s a generational habit. Then another whammy came in the sixties and seventies, when the printing process changed. It began to require more skilled labor, more sophisticated machines. Small town, family-owned papers were overwhelmed. The chains came in like carpetbaggers.”


“Gannett, Knight-Ridder, Tribune, McClatchy. They threw money at the families who were pained but relieved to sell out. By 1977, ten percent of newspaper corporations owned two-thirds of the papers in this country. They invested, updated equipment, eliminated at least fifty percent of production line jobs. Printing, handling tasks were handled by machines instead of men. Profits, not coincidentally, climbed. People say now that the business model for newspapers never did work well, but that’s not true. Papers had always been profitable, but no one expected more than percents in the teens. Suddenly profits were in the twenties and the teens were no longer good enough. Hell, in 2008 Gannett slashed ten percent of its workforce when they were still making eighteen percent! McClatchy slashed a third when they were making twenty-one. Times hadn’t changed, so much as expectations.”newspaper-stack

Another character adds: ““And now here we are, maybe having come full circle. News—news, as an entity, has gone back to being the utterly biased, paid-for-by-sponsor pack of screed it started out as in the 1700s because it can’t turn a profit any other way. It did for nearly a hundred years, but Craigslist and eBay and Twitter have gutted the only thing about a paper that brought in more than it cost–advertising. Everyone keeps saying that it will all sort out and we’ll settle into some balanced system of digital and print media, and, oh, find some way of paying for it. Maybe through advertising, except that’s not panning out because too much of the internet is free. Hugely popular blog or multimedia sites, like the Drudge Report or HuffPost, still largely repeat content they get elsewhere and barely break even money-wise. Or maybe some system of public funding like PBS, libraries, and schools, which is not as much of a conflict of interests as it first appears. Something. Anything. But I’ve been watching and waiting for this ‘settling’ to occur. So far, it ain’t happening.”

And that’s what happened to newspapers.

About the book:

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A Gardiner and Renner Novel, Book 2

Maggie Gardiner, a forensic expert who studies the dead, and Jack Renner, a homicide cop who stalks the living, form an uneasy partnership to solve a series of murders in this powerful new thriller by the bestselling author of That Darkness.

It begins with the kind of bizarre death that makes headlines—literally. A copy editor at the Cleveland Herald is found hanging above the grinding wheels of the newspaper assembly line, a wide strap wrapped around his throat. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has her suspicions about this apparent suicide inside the tsunami of tensions that is the news industry today—and when the evidence suggests murder, Maggie has no choice but to place her trust in the one person she doesn’t trust at all . . .

Jack Renner is a killer with a conscience, a vigilante with his own code of honor. In the past, Jack has used his skills and connections as a homicide detective to take the law into his own hands, all in the name of justice. He has only one problem: Maggie knows his secret. She insists he enforce the law, not subvert it. But when more newspaper employees are slain, Jack may be the only person who can help Maggie unmask the killer– even if Jack is still checking names off his own private murder list.

About the author:lisa-black-2016

Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Guest Blogger: Neil Plakcy

November 15, 2016

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I am delighted to welcome guest blogger Neil Plakcy!

About Site Filming

With the prevalence of video everywhere online, you’d think that the FBI would be on the bandwagon, taking video footage of every scene they investigate. But when I participated in the FBI’s 10-week Citizen’s Academy, presented by the Miami office, I’ve learned that’s not true.

The Bureau does use videotape in a number of ways — for example, in videos for education and training purposes. In 2015, they produced a film about an emergency response scenario at George Mason University’s Prince William Campus in Virginia. Last year, several agents came to Broward College in South Florida, where I teach, to present a film about a naïve college student recruited by the Chinese government as a spy – based on a real life incident.

The most newsworthy relates to the fatal shooting of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupier LaVoy Finicum. The Bureau released the video in order to provide “an honest and unfiltered view of what happened and how it happened,” according to comments made by Greg Bretzing, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oregon.

Bretzing continues, “The plane is following the vehicles, and the camera sometimes pans from one vehicle to the other, a white truck in front and a Jeep in back. At other times when the vehicles are in a fixed location, the plane is flying in a pattern over that location. Because of that flight pattern, there are portions where trees obscure what is happening.”

I thought it was interesting that the press release included this note: “Pilots use Zulu Time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), when they fly. Zulu time is eight hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (PST). Therefore, although this footage was taken on January 26, 2016 in Oregon, the date/time stamp on the video shows just after midnight January 27, 2016.”

I can see how small details like that might confuse people or make them believe that the footage had been altered in some way. And how the obscured vision could also cause questions or controversy.

This video covered an ongoing action, however, rather than filming a crime scene, which is an area that I cover in my new book, The Next One Will Kill You. I learned that the Bureau has a policy against taking video footage of crime scenes as part of evidence gathering. Here’s an excerpt from the book that explains why.

“The FBI never takes video footage of a scene,” I said, remembering what I had learned at the academy.

“Why not?”

“You never know what might get into the video that might turn out to be prejudicial to a case down the road,” I said. “Like, an agent joking in the background could show evidence of prejudice.”


“Video gives you too much information,” I said. “It makes it hard to focus in on what’s important. Taking still pictures makes you pay attention to what you want in the shot. You have to make conscious decisions about angles and lighting and what to include or leave out.”

“Very good.” We watched as the photographer turned his camera on the crowd that had assembled to watch us work.

I’d heard that it was true that criminals often returned to see first-hand the destruction they had wrought. And whoever rented the warehouse might have come over to see what was going on. So shots of the crowd might prove useful in the future.

I watched as the photographer moved in closer to the bay itself. Another agent, a blonde woman, recorded a paper list of everything that was photographed, including the specifics of each exposure. It was all part of building a case for prosecution.

A third agent had a pad and pencil and was drawing sketches of the property. With a drawing you could remove unnecessary detail that crowded a photo, and the act of drawing helped the eye focus on what was important.

I loved my time at the Citizen’s Academy, even the sessions about job applications and paperwork, because I learned so much. I covered page after page of my notebook with information and it was a real struggle not to throw it all in the first book of my Angus Green series!

To see some FBI videos:
To learn more about the FBI Citizen’s Academy:

About the Book

The Next One Will Kill You: An Angus Green Novel (Angus Green Series, Book 1)

If Angus Green is going to make it to a second case, he’s needs to survive the first one.

Angus wants more adventure than a boring accounting job, so after graduating with his master’s degree he signs up with the FBI. He’s assigned to the Miami field office, where the caseload includes smugglers, drug runners, and gangs, but he starts out stuck behind a desk, an accountant with a badge and gun.

Struggling to raise money for his little brother’s college tuition, he enters a strip trivia contest at a local bar. But when he’s caught with his pants down by a couple of fellow agents, he worries that his extracurricular activities and his status as the only openly gay agent will crash his career. Instead, to his surprise, he’s added to an anti-terrorism task force and directed to find a missing informant.

It’s his first real case: a desperate chase to catch a gang of criminals with their tentacles in everything from medical fraud to drugs to jewel theft. With every corner in this case―from Fort Lauderdale’s gay bars to the morgue―turning to mayhem, Angus quickly learns that the only way to face a challenge is to assume that he’ll survive this one―it’s the next one that will kill him.

About the Author



Neil Plakcy has written or edited over three dozen novels and short stories in mystery, romance and erotica. He is an assistant professor of English at Broward College in South Florida, and has been a construction manager, a computer game producer, and a web developer – all experiences he uses in his fiction. His website is


To win your own ebook, please send an email to with “NEXT ONE WILL KILL YOU” as the subject.

You must include the email address where you’d like the ebook sent.

All entries must be received by November 30, 2016. Two (2) names will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States only. Your ebook will be sent by Diversion Publishing.

One entry per email address. Subscribers to the monthly newsletter earn an extra entry into every contest. Follow this blog to earn another entry into every contest. Winners may win only one time per year (365 days) for contests with prizes of more than one book. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone.

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

The Next One Will Kill You by Neil Plakcy. Diversion Publishing (November 15, 2016). ASIN: B01KUAGZ0I. 207p.

Guest Blogger: Chris Formant

November 9, 2016
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Please welcome my guest blogger, Chris Formant!

One evening, I was walking through my rock memorabilia gallery, with The Doors music in the background, and I stopped to study my latest addition: a two-page article in the Record Mirror from 1964 announcing a hot new band: The Rolling Stones. What struck me the most was how young they were; a fresh-faced Keith Richards, a teenaged Mick Jagger, and Brian Jones, the founder of the Stones. Hanging right next to Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison memorabilia.

Jones, Hendrix and Morrison all died at the age 27 under cloudy circumstances. Urban legends and conspiracy theories have swirled around their deaths for almost 50 years.

An idea got in my head at just that moment that I couldn’t shake and kept haunting me for days. What if they didn’t die by accident? What if they all were murdered?

That is how Bright Midnight got started. A fictional murder mystery that re-imagines the deaths of chris_abbey-road-1-300dpiiconic late 60s and 70s rock stars, not as accidents but as murders.

Creating the original story line was the easy part. More difficult was crafting a sophisticated investigation that would be intriguing to a 21st-century reader.

A former editor of Rolling Stone magazine helped provide unique insight into the personalities of many of the stars. While gaining access to the archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, including original editor and reporter files on each rock star, brought the era vividly to life.

Additionally, former FBI and NYPD investigators, helped me understand the forensic processes and modern cold-case investigative techniques that could apply. Lastly, a top neurosurgeon and researcher from Johns Hopkins Medicine helped interpret the autopsies and suggested alternative means by which the stars could have died physically and chemically.

That set the stage for a creative reimagining of the deaths, seen through the lenses of modern forensic practices and with the application of the latest technology. But even the latest technology couldn’t bridge some of the investigative gaps.

So, being a technologist, I imagined new technologies that are not currently in existence or considered highly experimental. The joys of fiction!

One of the technologies I created was a digital fabric analysis via photo analytics, not unlike the technique used when actual clothing fiber is found at the murder scene. In Bright Midnight, this allowed the FBI to identify the fabric type, the manufacturer, and the possible retail outlet and time period.

Another imagined technology was the use of a virtual crime scene simulator that created life-size holographic murder scenes from the original crime scene photos. Extremely graphic, these allowed a unique 3-dimensional recreation of the murder scene that could be simulated and alternative scenarios tested. Both technologies sound like they could be possible in the future, so their application in Bright Midnight seems realistic.

One thing that proved key to creating unique murder delivery vehicles were actually the autopsies themselves, combined with the limited forensic techniques used at that time. That combination allowed me to envision a much wider set of possible murder options and allowed me to engineer possible chemical causes of some of the murders that would leave consistent chemical traces to the original autopsy.

The result of this melding of modern forensic techniques, imagined future technologies, and advanced analytics with old fashioned investigative gut instincts created a unique, fictional rock-and-roll murder mystery that brings the craft of thriller writing to the genre for the first time.

About the Author

chrisformant-2x2CHRIS FORMANT, who got his start in rock and roll in his early “garage band’ days, never dreamed he would one day hold a seat on the Board of Trustees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Today he is still a student of rock and roll and an avid collector of rock memorabilia. As an executive in a leading global company, running a multi-billion-dollar business, Formant is the unlikeliest of authors of a murder mystery. However, the continued unanswered questions surrounding the deaths of our most iconic rock legends led Formant to first speculate and then re-imagine what would happen if cutting-edge technology were applied to these famous cold cases. By conducting exhaustive research into the archives of the Hall of Fame, studying advanced forensics techniques and gaining creative insights from top doctors, FBI investigators and a former editor of Rolling Stone magazine, Formant crafted what is being referred to as the “The DaVinci Code for Rock and Roll Fans.”

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

BRIGHT MIDNIGHT by Chris Formant. HighLine Editions; New edition edition (October 27, 2016). ISBN 978-1941286920. 275p.