Characters Who Invite Themselves into the Story by William Petrocelli

Today I welcome William Petrocelli to talk about his first novel, The Circle of Thirteen. The year is 2082 and U.N. Security Director Julia Moro finds herself on the trail of the leader of a terrorist organization targeting women, including the Women for Peace, a group which was headed by thirteen bold women who risked their lives to achieve world peace and justice. But as Bill explains, not every character in The Circle of Thirteen was originally “invited” to the story…at least not in the role they ended up playing.

William PetrocelliA story may begin with an idea. It may even begin with a place, a memory, or a mood. But those things can easily fade and drift away until the writer is not really sure what he or she had in mind in the first place. The story only becomes real when a character invites herself into the story.

I say “herself” when, of course, I could just as easily say “himself.” And, in fact, there is an important male character who invited himself into my novel The Circle of Thirteen at a very early point and has clung to the story like death. And that’s the problem. Wherever Jesse goes, bad things happen. He might have invited himself into the story, but he’s not someone you would ever invite out for a drink or welcome into your home for tea.

I feel much better about Julia and Maya – the two main female characters in the book. When the book was finished, I was happy that there were two important women characters that I still genuinely liked.

Julia needed no invitation to the story, because The Circle of Thirteen basically revolves around her. (The novel is mostly told through Julia’s first-person voice, but not entirely – Maya has a lot to say, and Jesse pokes his way into the narrative as well). Julia grew up just north of San Francisco and went to University at Berkeley. During the main part of the story in the early 2080’s she is living in New York, where she is the Security Director for the reinvigorated United Nations. She’s in her late 30’s, tall, physically strong, and not afraid of very much – except her own inner demons. Throughout the novel she is fighting the memory of her mother’s illness and death and the man she holds responsible.

A Killer Beginning by Ken Goldstein

Today I welcome to the blog Ken Goldstein, author of the satirical Silicon Valley crime-thriller This Is Rage. Given the intricate sequence of events that open This Is Rage, you’d think Ken had a detailed, master plan in place for the book’s plot from the outset…you’d be wrong.

Ken Goldstein It started with an initial thought — what if the unlikely collision of a failed radio talk show host and a voracious venture capitalist caused an extraordinary impact on the economy at large? For the most part, I imagined I knew how the story would unravel but then reality kicked in and character development took me down a very different path.

Having worked as a tech insider for many years, I knew the types of storylines and sub-storylines I wanted to incorporate but as a first-time novelist, I wasn’t sure of the pacing of the book. I felt some of the elements in the first few drafts sounded a bit forced, so it was back to the drawing board.

I had to put it away for a few weeks and remind myself of what I like to read and that’s dialogue. A great exchange of words can make me feel as if I’m in the book; knee-deep in the situation, which is the feeling I wanted my readers to share.

Banned Books Week 2013: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

CBanned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadToday is the start of Banned Books Week 2013:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.”

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, visit their official website.

Hardboiled Wit Runs a 4-Color Gamut of Comic Book Chatter by Andrez Bergen

I am incredibly pleased today to welcome Andrez Bergen back to the blog. Andrez is one of the most gifted and creative authors I’ve had the good fortune to discover in recent years. His first two novels, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, made my Top 10 Reads lists in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and he’s back now with his latest, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Andrez BergenHeropa is, for me, many things but mostly about the dialogue.

It circles around the way in which people interact, smearing naturalness with an underlying surrealism. Flip, awkward moments, misunderstandings, bravado and poignant asides all have their moment in the spotlight, since this is the way of the real world. People don’t always “get” one another straight off the bat — yet sometimes we click completely.

But this is also fiction, allowing artistic license to push the conversational tangents and have a bit of fun with the content.

The dialogue slant is also something that hallmarks classic hardboiled 1930s-40s detective romps — along with the 1960s Marvel comics I grew up on thanks to my older half-brother’s stash.

Just as in books like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work with the early versions of comic-book-people-now-famous (think Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor and Iron Man, along with the reinvention of Captain America — originally created by Kirby with Joe Simon in 1941) smacked dialogue right in there as a key point of the journey alongside costumes and fisticuffs.

In both the noir and comic books there’s a ton of interaction between oddball characters and the ofttimes rather scarred protagonist. Rapid-fire repartee, pithy remarks, the odd pun and bickering galore ride superbly cynical roughshod over the story to be told.

Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain

Son of a Gun A Memoir by Justin St. GermainThe events of September 11, 2001 dealt a blow to us collectively as a nation. Mere days later, while still reeling from those historic events, two young men were dealt another, much more personal blow.

While attending the University of Arizona, Justin St. Germain returns home from classes one afternoon only to be informed by his brother that their mother, Debbie, has been murdered in Tombstone, Arizona.

Shot in the back in her trailer, Debbie appears to have been the victim of domestic violence gone to the ultimate extreme. Her current husband, number five, has gone missing and is the prime suspect.

Given Debbie’s somewhat troubled history in Tombstone, both with a succession of ill-fated marriages and relationships, as well as in her business dealings, her murder amounts to little more than a blip on the locals’ radar–fodder for bar gossip and not much more.

For twenty-year-old Justin, however, his mother’s murder marks a very clear turning point in his life, even though it will take him nearly seven years to realize it and embark on the journey that led to Son of a Gun: A Memoir.

The King’s Jar by Susan C. Shea

Susan C. SheaI was beginning to think this particular treasure was very bad luck. — Dani O’Rourke

Dani O’Rourke, chief fundraiser at San Francisco’s prestigious Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, knows a thing or two about both treasures and bad luck. In her position at the museum, Dani has the good fortune to be surrounded by some of the greatest paintings, sculptures and relics from the world of art, past and present.

She is also, however, apparently a magnet for bad luck, as evidenced by her misadventures in Murder in the Abstract, the first entry in the series. The follow-up, The King’s Jar, once again finds Dani juggling more than just socialite dinner seating charts and the egos of the über rich.

The newest exhibit at the Devor is mere weeks from opening when its centerpiece, the recently acquired King’s Jar, a legendary African artifact, goes missing. Complicating matters tremendously, the archeological expert who discovered and authenticated the piece is murdered, and there subsequently arises some ambiguity as to who exactly legally owns the piece: the museum, which hadn’t technically taken receipt of the piece yet; the socialite couple who were donating it to the museum; or the government of the country in which it was discovered, which now alleges the piece was removed from their borders illegally.

The police are justifiably more interested in solving the murder than they are locating the missing artifact, but Dani believes the quickest way to find the killer is to find the King’s Jar. And given the massive influx of money the museum stands to lose if the exhibit doesn’t open on time, both from patrons’ donations and revenue from visitors to the exhibit, Dani’s interest in locating the King’s Jar is more than academic…the museum’s very future may depend on it. So, it’s once more unto the breach for Dani and dear friends.

Devil’s Night by Todd Ritter

Todd Ritter“May the fires of Hell rise up to consume this place.” — Rebecca Bradford

Those words, the last uttered by a young Pennsylvania woman accused of witchcraft and killed in 1692, seem to have come back to haunt the current residents of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, when Police Chief Kat Campbell is roused from her fitful sleep in the wee hours of Devil’s Night by the sound of sirens…a lot of them.

As she responds to what turns out to be a fire raging through Perry Hollow’s Historical Society and Exhibition Hall, Campbell can’t help but be reminded that Halloween marks the one year anniversary of the town’s last major fire, the burning of the old mill during the Grim Reaper investigation (Death Notice)–a fire she and Perry Hollow Gazette journalist Henry Goll were lucky to escape with their lives.

Once the fire is extinguished, it’s a rather quick job of determining arson as the cause. Complicating matters immensely are the two sets of human remains found in the smoldering building. One is obviously that of the Historical Society’s curator, Constance Bishop, though she appears to have been bludgeoned rather than burned. The other is a tidy pile of bones contained in a burlap sack, identity unknown. Even more ominous than the remains, however, is the message Campbell finds scrawled on one of Bishop’s hands: This is just the first.

Fire On My Mind by Todd Ritter

I’m very pleased to welcome Todd Ritter, author of the Kat Campbell mystery series, back to the blog for another guest post. The third book in the series, Devil’s Night, will be released tomorrow. Today, Todd shares a look at the story behind the story, and explains how Devil’s Night was a book thirty years in the making.

Todd RitterStory ideas can be a pain in the ass.

Most aren’t. Most pop into a writer’s head, rattle around there for a day or so and then vanish just as quickly as they appeared. Those are whims, not ideas — as thin and impermanent as clouds.

But then there are the real ideas. The aforementioned pain-in-the-ass ones. They refuse to go away, sometimes resurfacing weeks, months, even years after they first arrived. The idea behind DEVIL’S NIGHT, the third book in my Kat Campbell mystery series, was one of those. In fact, I’ve been carrying it with me for going on thirty years.

In DEVIL’S NIGHT, the small town of Perry Hollow, Pa., is terrorized by a series of arsons on Halloween. And the idea for it first took hold of me when I was at the ripe old age of nine. That was the year the general store in the tiny village where I grew up burnt to the ground on Halloween night.

I don’t know why the fire spooked me, but it did. It might have been because fires were a rare occurrence during my sheltered childhood, as dangerously exotic as, say, an avalanche or tornado. Is also could have been due to the fact that my school bus rumbled past that store every day, which, to a kid, suggested some sort of kinship and familiarity. Most likely, though, the blaze unnerved me because of when it took place. A fire on Halloween felt ominous and vaguely sinister to a nine-year-old with an overactive imagination. It conjured up thoughts of demons and devil’s and witches. I didn’t know it back then, but the idea for DEVIL’S NIGHT was born.

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save Yourself by Kelly BraffetHe had, it seemed, developed a talent for seeking out the worst possible thing he could do in any given situation, and then doing it.

Though everyone certainly feels that sense of not being able to do anything right at some point or another in their lives, Patrick Cusimano really does seem to be batting zero when it comes to the “good decision” arena, his most recent lapse being a particular biggie.

A year prior to the start of Save Yourself, Patrick was home one evening with his brother when their father staggered in, quite drunk and even more distraught. An investigation of his father’s car revealed it to have been in a serious accident…one which resulted in the hit-and-run death of a six-year-old.

Unfortunately, Patrick waited 19 hours before calling the police, a delay that the residents of their small town have never forgiven the brothers for. The resulting cold shoulders and sideways looks forced Patrick out of his warehouse job, and he now finds himself working the graveyard shift at a convenience store.

The Elshere sisters have also found themselves on the receiving end of a less than warm welcome from their peers, though arguably through no fault of their own. Daughters of a strict fundamentalist, the teens became the focus of bullying when their father’s campaign against the teaching of sex-ed in Biology resulted in one of the high school’s most popular teachers being fired. Older sister, Layla, responded to the taunts and torment by joining up with the school’s clique of Goths and rejecting her parents’ Christian teachings.

No Show by Simon Wood

No Show by Simon Wood“You don’t seem to know squat about your wife.” — Sheriff Holman

Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he’s ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.

Only, Sarah isn’t there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to “their” house, a place he’s never actually been. Sarah isn’t there either, which forces Terry to break in…something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.

Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily–there’s no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing–and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?

Killer Ideas by Simon Wood

I’m very pleased to welcome Simon Wood to the blog. A man of many talents–race car driver, licensed pilot, occasional PI–his latest novel, No Show, was recently released by Thomas & Mercer. And though it’s a question many writers admit to hating, Simon’s here to talk about one place he gets inspiration from.

No Show by Simon WoodI live with a cold blooded killer. I haven’t turned him into the cops because he’s my cat, Tegan.

He’s on a roll at the moment. It’s spring and that means young and inexperienced creatures are poking their heads from their protective homes and Tegan is there to bite them off. I spent last week picking up the chewed remains of mice, rats, birds and a lizard. As soon as I’d drop a carcass in the trash, he’d have the remains of something else dangling from his jaws.

“Tegan, you git. Stop killing things.”

He’d look at me with a typical cat arrogance that said, “Yeah, right.”

After I’d dealt with his latest trophy and sat down, he joined me on the couch for cuddle and a purr (okay, I purr. It’s what I do). I stared into his big eyes and I looked for a sign of remorse and obviously saw none. Morally, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s an animal and his genetic code is programmed with the need to hunt and kill—irrespective of how much kibble I give him. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. But he takes lives on a pretty regular basis without a hint of killer’s repentance.

Paying the Piper by Simon Wood

Paying the Piper by Simon WoodIf Scott Fleetwood thought he was suffering now, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

Eight years ago a serial kidnapper known as the Piper terrorized San Francisco. He successfully snatched child after child from the city’s wealthiest families, holding them until a ransom was paid. In every case, he collected the ransom and returned the child unharmed.

Until crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got involved, that is. Contacted by someone claiming to be the Piper, Fleetwood withheld information from the police and FBI, bent on chasing the story–and resulting book deal and fame. Only Fleetwood wasn’t really dealing with the Piper, merely a wannabe copycat.

What should have been simply a career embarrassment turned into a disaster, however, when the Piper killed the child he was holding at the time of Fleetwood’s spectacular blunder then disappeared without a trace. The resulting backlash from the public, his employer, police and FBI branded Fleetwood with a scarlet letter, though arguably no one was harder on him than he was on himself.

Now the Piper has returned, apparently up to his old games. Except, this time it’s about more than money. With the selection of one of Fleetwood’s own sons as the first target in his renewed career, the Piper serves notice that he’s come out of retirement for more than money–he’s back to collect his pound of flesh as well.

Fish Bites Cop! by David James Keaton

David James KeatonTurns out they look just like us on the inside. The fish, not the cops. But he swears their hearts might be a little smaller. The cops. Not the fish.

I first came across David James Keaton’s writing via the short “Mosquito Bites,” which was included in the outstanding Pulp Modern (Alec Cizak, Editor). The story is told from the perspective of a recently paroled con whose determination to stay straight is immediately derailed by a betrayal, and includes a passage so descriptively disgusting – and I mean that in a good way – that it still makes me shudder when I think about it.

I immediately began seeking out other work by him, not too difficult considering he has appeared in over 50 publications, including Noir at the Bar, Chicago Quarterly Review, Thuglit, Beat To A Pulp, Needle and Grift. Still, I wanted more, and so was very happy for both Keaton and myself when he announced awhile back that he had been signed and would be releasing a collection of his works under the title Fish Bites Cop! Stories To Bash Authorities (Comet Press).

As the title implies, the collection of 30 stories, which includes the aforementioned “Mosquito Bites,” all revolve in some way, shape or form around people in positions of authority, specifically police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Unlike the heroic light in which those first responders are often cast, however, Keaton’s stories all explore a decidedly darker aspect of those in uniform, taking an unflinching look into the shadows at the occasionally less than honorable motives some men have for seeking positions of power and authority.

If You Were Here by Alafair Burke

If You Were Here by Alafair BurkeOnce you start asking questions, it can be impossible to stop, even when you know you should.

McKenna Jordan’s life is finally settling back down after a promising career as an Assistant District Attorney was spectacularly derailed by scandal. Having left the D.A.’s office under a black cloud, Jordan reinvented herself as a journalist and, ironically, is now enjoying the biggest success of her life as a result of a feature she wrote about the very case that got her run out of the legal profession.

Needing to capitalize on that success, Jordan begins looking into the case of a mysterious woman who rescued a teen from certain death when he fell onto the tracks in the path of an approaching subway train. Jordan discovers more than she bargained for, however, when she finally gets her hands on a video of the events shot by a fellow commuter…she thinks she recognizes the woman.

More startling than that, it’s someone she, and everyone else, had long since presumed dead after the woman mysteriously disappeared ten years ago. A classmate of Jordan’s husband, Patrick, while they were at West Point, Susan Hauptmann was one of the most gifted–both athletically and intellectually–people Jordan had ever known. Now, convinced that Hauptmann’s reappearance signals the tip of an iceberg awaiting discovery, Jordan begins a search that will lead her places she could never possibly have imagined, and into unimaginable danger.

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

And When She Was Good by Laura LippmanHeloise long ago reconciled herself to the idea that all is fair in love and war, which is just another way of saying that nothing in life is ever fair, because life is love and war.

Helen Lewis has a story that is, sadly, all too familiar. Abused by her father and passively neglected by her mother, Helen was understandably starved for attention and affection, and at the age of seventeen she ran off with the first man who gave them to her.

Unfortunately, her knight in shining armor turned out to be a drug addict and thief, and at the ripe old age of eighteen Helen found herself stripping and giving lap dances to earn enough money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

So when a dealer her boyfriend owed money to offered Helen a chance to get out of the relationship, she jumped…out of the frying pan and into the fire. Turned out the dealer was also a pimp, and he promptly put Helen to work as one of his girls. Things finally took a turn for the better when Helen’s pimp was arrested for murder and she was able to get away and start over.

The more things change, however, the more they stay the same. Though she has changed her name to Heloise, has a son, and now lives in an upscale neighborhood in the D.C. suburbs, Heloise is still up to her old tricks…literally. Only now she’s the madam as well as one of the escorts.