Saturday, January 14, 2017

Rocco welcomes Suspense author Mike, M.A, Lawson!

ROCCO’s guest…suspense author Mike, aka M.A., Lawson!

Mike Lawson is the award-winning author of fourteen published novels.  He has been nominated for the Barry Award six times and has twice won the Portland-based Friends of Mystery Award for his Joe DeMarco political thriller series. The first book in his second series, titled Rosarito Beach, involving a rogue DEA agent named Kay Hamilton, was optioned for television.  Mike’s eleventh DeMarco book, House Revenge, was released be in July 2016 and his third Kay Hamilton book, K Street, in January 2017.  Prior to turning to writing full time, Mike was a nuclear engineer employed by the Navy and he lives in the Northwest.

R:  Welcome Mike! Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became interested in writing.

ML: Thanks ROCCO! I’ve always been a big reader and in the job I had working for the navy, there was actually a lot of writing involved.  At some point, I decided to try writing a novel. This was way back in my thirties.  The mechanical process of writing – on a typewriter, whiting out typos, etc. - was simply too time consuming for a guy working ten, twelve hours a day.  What really got me started writing were programs like Word Perfect and Word and the invention of the laptop computer.  Writing these days – and more importantly re-writing and editing – is just so much simpler with the technology available now, which is one of the reasons so many people write books.  The other thing was, I used to take a ferry every day from Seattle to my job in Bremerton.  It was a fifty minute ride and in the morning I’d do navy stuff but in the evening – and I had no idea how big a deal this was at the time – I had forty or so minutes of uninterrupted time in which to write – which for a working guy with a family was really a gift.  The last thing that launched my writing career was that I read a book by a very famous author – I’ll never tell you his name – and the book really wasn’t very good.  I said to myself: Self, you can write a book as bad as that one – and, in fact, I wrote one even worse.  It never got published but I proved to myself that I could write a novel.  And then wrote my first novel which was eventually published.

R: What writers in your genre would you say have made the greatest influence on your writing?

My favorite writers are guys like Richard Price and George Pelecanos, and in non-fiction, Michael Lewis and Eric Larsen.  But I would say writers like John Sanford, Robert B. Parker and Elmore Leonard, who always have some humor in their books and a simple – I guess you’d say a “non-literary” way of writing – probably influenced my style more.  

R: Tell us about your Demarco series. How did the idea for that come about? For your second series? 

ML: The DeMarco books came about in two stages.  The first was I wanted some sort of D.C. setting because there’s so much in the news every day – corruption, scandals, boneheaded things that politicians do – that I can always come up with an idea for the next book.  Most of my books are based on some real life event.  The other thing I wanted was a protagonist who wasn’t a cop or a detective or a lawyer – there are already too many of those characters out there – so I came up with DeMarco – a fixer working for a corrupt politician.   The second series with Kay Hamilton started with a conversation with a television producer looking for a story with a female protagonist.  I never completed the deal with the producer – that’s a different story – but wrote a screenplay that I eventually turned into Rosarito Beach.

R: Tell us about your newest release.

ML: K Street was in some ways inspired by the movie Three Days of the Condor – that is by the beginning of the movie, when Robert Redford walks into his office and finds all his co-workers dead – which is basically the beginning of K Street.  After that it was a matter of pitting a covert, under the table intelligence agency (The Callahan Group) against real intelligence agencies, namely the NSA and the Chinese intelligence apparatus.   What I like about the Kay Hamilton character is she’s ruthless and totally independent and not bound by convention.

R: Which of (your character) adventures was the most fun for you to write? Were any of them the least amount of fun?

ML:  I enjoy writing all the books.  Even the research can be fun.  But I suppose the characters that are the most fun to write are the villains.   I like villains who aren’t “Terminator” types  - unemotional, pure evil, driven only by killing.  I like villains who have an ordinary side to them, a human side, something that in some ways can make you like them just a little bit.  In one of the books, the professional killer was a short, dumpy guy who ran a bar and was a terrible shot.  That kind of character.

R:  Do you have a “how I got my agent” story you’d like to share?  How did you feel when you got the call your first novel had sold?

ML: It took me ten years to find the right agent and get my first novel published.  I had four or five other agents during that period – some of those stories are a hoot – like the lady in Ohio – but I found my current agent in sort of an unusual way.  I’d go to bookstores – when there were still bookstores – and look at the acknowledgment section of debut authors because they always mention their agent.  I figured if an agent would take on one unpublished writer he or she might take on another.  Anyway, that’s how I found my agent – found his name in a book because the guy doesn’t need to advertise – and sent him a query letter.  When I found out he was John Grisham’s agent … Well you know that expression: Thought I’d died and gone to heaven? He got me a two book deal literally within days of agreeing to represent me.   As for how felt when I got my first book deal – well I’m back to that expression: Thought I’d died and ….

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

ML: Mostly I just need a place to sit.  In the early days I wrote on the ferry and wrote a lot in coffee shops.  So I don’t even need total silence as I can usually just block everything out and focus. (People gabbing on cell phones are an exception.) These days I write mostly at home but I don’t need anything special – like music or a sound proof office - just a lot of coffee and functioning laptop.  I’m one of those people who wake up very early, and I write everyday.  Some days it goes well, some days it doesn’t.  But I get up about five and just start writing and I’m usually done by ten or so and then I go play golf or do whatever my wife tells me to do.

R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?

ML: You know that’s an interesting question and I suppose a lot of past eras would be interesting just to see how much reality matches written history.  But the truth is, I’d much rather go forward in time to see if mankind ever manages to escape its own worst instincts or if we’ve totally screwed up the planet, the way we currently appear to be doing.  

R:  If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?

I would really like to see either the DeMarco books or the Kay Hamilton books turned into television series.  I think both have enormous potential – DeMarco because of the political aspects of the books and the humor – and Kay Hamilton because she’d make an interesting, unconventional female protagonist.  (Rosarito Beach was actually optioned for television but in the end the series was never produced.)   Regarding who plays the lead characters, I just want it to be some bankable star who would attract viewers.  I honestly don’t have a particular actor in mind for either character.

R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

ML: It seems that most people are surprised that I worked as an engineer when I had a real job.  (Writing’s too much fun to be classified as a real job.)  Most people seem to think of engineers being too “left-brained” to be creative.  The fact is that writing is kind of like a little engineering problem when it comes to developing plots.   

R: What is the craziest thing you've ever done? 

ML: I could come up with a long list of crazy things I did when I was a kid – the kind of things where I could have been seriously hurt or killed – the kind of stupid things it seems most boys do.  But as an adult I can’t really think of anything particularly crazy.  Does going out on sea trials of a just overhauled nuclear submarine – where they take the ship down to test depth to make sure everything was put back together correctly during the overhaul - count as crazy?

R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

ML: Enjoyment.  I’m not trying to push any cultural or political agenda in the books.  I want people to be entertained and I hope they are. 

Just for Fun:

Night or Day?   - Definitely Day.  I get up so damn early that I go to bed pretty early, too.  Can’t remember the last time I was in a bar when they said they said: Time to drink up, we’re closing

Dog or Cat? (answer carefully) – We had a cat for years.  I like that they’re independent and don’t require a whole lot of care – Okay, I’m talking about having no desire to walk behind a dog and pick up poop and put it in a bag.

Beach or Pool?   Beach side bar is more my style.  
Steak or salad?   Both.  It’s the baked potato I can’t handle these days.

Favorite Drink?  Coffee of the non-alcoholic type.  I’m not a Coke guy.  Vodka Martinis when it comes to the other type.

Favorite Book?  Don’t really have a favorite.  I read a lot, like both fiction and non-fiction.  I just finished reading Richard Price’s “The Whites”,  Michael Harvey’s “Brighton”, and “The Pope and Mussolini” (non-fiction) by David Kertzer

Favorite TV Series?  The Wire.   Thought it was brilliant. 

Favorite Movie?  The Shawshank Redemption

Favorite Actor:  One of my favorite actors was Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He was a brilliant character actor and his passing was truly a tragedy.

Favorite Actress: I’m really impressed by the actresses who seem like they’re ageless, the ones that have lasted even after the bloom of youth is gone, actresses like Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon.  I think actresses like Cate Blanchet and Kate Winslet are those kind of actresses and will be acting into their eighties.

Hawaii or Alaska?  Hawaii.   Especially as I’m writing this.  There’s snow outside and I can’t play golf.

Finish this sentence:  If I could meet anyone in the world, past or present, it would be:
J.D. Salinger.  Why in the hell did he decide to stop writing? Or did he?

If I had just one wish, it would be:  The best, happiest lives possible for my wife and son.  I’ve had a great life and have no complaints.

If I could trade places with anyone in the world, it would be: Hell, I don’t know.  Santa Claus?

Thanks for a great interview, Mike.

Mike will be giving away a copy of his latest release, K Street, to two lucky commenters! To enter, leave a comment on this blog post with your name and email address (entries without email will be disqualified). For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link:
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link:!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Winner will be chosen at random using  Don’t forget to mention all you’ve done in your comment. Good luck! Contest ends midnight, January 22!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Revisiting ROCCO's 2016 interview with....GERRY SCHMITT!

Ma-row! My guest today is author Gerry Schmitt who is probably better known to you as Laura Childs! Today I am interviewing her on her new series!

Gerry Schmitt is the author of Little Girl Gone, an Afton Tangler Thriller to be released July 5, 2016. Writing under her pen name Laura Childs, she is
the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty-six mysteries, including the Scrapbooking Mysteries, Tea Shop Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. Gerry is the former CEO of her own marketing firm, has won dozens of TV and radio awards, and produced two reality TV shows. She and her professor husband enjoy travel and their two Shar-Pei dogs.

Welcome, Gerry! As Laura Childs, you write three fabulous cozy series. What made you make the leap into thrillers?

Thanks for having me, ROCCO!  It’s not such a huge leap. I’ve been writing what I call a “thrillzy” for years. This is my own brand of hybrid book that dances between a thriller and a cozy. Instead of sweet little ladies with cats, I incorporate smart, daring female entrepreneurs, double murders, international jewel thieves, arson, ponzi schemes, car crashes, smash and grab robberies, hangings, drownings, maniacal cult leaders, haunted houses, horse thieves, etc. If it’s crazy, evil, or exciting, I’ll stick it in one of my books.

Tell us what inspired this new series, the Afton Tangler Thrillers. Where did the idea for LITTLE GIRL GONE come from?

The first time I saw a “reborn” doll, a doll that had been stripped of factory paint and then reworked to look like a real infant, I thought to myself, “This is amazingly creepy.” I mean, this doll had hand-inserted hair and eyelashes, a perfect airbrushed paint job, and even a tiny motor to imitate a heartbeat. People who bought these dolls actually signed adoptions papers! From that sort of jumping off point it was easy to build a twisty, off-kilter plot.

Which do you prefer writing, thrillers or cozies?

I’m a commercial writer who’s written screenplays, TV commercials, reality shows, etc.  So I pretty much love writing everything. Writing thrillers is a little more difficult, however, because they demand a longer format and slightly more intricate plot.

Are you a fan of thrillers? Who is your favorite thriller author?

I read every thriller I can get my hands on, but my favorite thriller author is John Sandford. He’s the master of casual dialogue and intricate, gritty plots.

With four series on your plate, you are one busy lady! How do you keep your characters/plots straight and how do you schedule your writing so the series don’t overlap?

It’s fairly easy to keep my characters and plots straight because I work from a very tight outline. I always sketch out characters and key plot ideas before I start writing, and then I forge ahead with a ninety-page outline. That outline gives me a very tight parameter that’s easy to work from. As far as my series overlapping, they do! I’m usually working on two books at once. I’m a binge writer, so the minute I run out of ideas or energy for one book, I switch over to the second book. For some reason I can always find my mojo again!

Big question for your cozy fans: Do you intend to keep on writing your other three series and if so, can you tell us any future plans for them?

Actually, much of the future’s already written. CREPE FACTOR, the next Scrapbooking Mystery comes out in October and I’m already writing GLITTER BOMB, which will be the next book with a Mardi Gras theme. EGG DROP DEAD, my next Cackleberry Club Mystery, will be out in December, and I’ve already started writing EGGS OVER UNEASY. PEKOE MOST POISON, the next Tea Shop Mystery, will be out in March 2017 and that’s already written and sent off to my publisher. Now I’m working on the plot for PLUM TEA CRAZY. And I’m also working on an Afton Tangler Thriller for July 2017 publication. No title yet, but it involves a helicopter crash, international smugglers, a home shopping network, and a deranged widow out for revenge!

Describe your workspace.

It’s a mess. Press kits, ARCs, and boxes of books everywhere. My husband says I need an office and a mailroom. I agree.  (And I can’t forget my dogs, two Chinese Shar-Pei who sprawl everywhere.)

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” – Napoleon Bonaparte. (Harsh but very true when you’re in the middle of a business deal.)

What’s the best and worst part of being an author?

The best part is working for myself, which I do as an author and did for almost twenty years as CEO of my own marketing firm. The worst part (really the hardest part) is not having my former team around me anymore. (Although my designers have been brought in as freelancers.)

Read the Human's article on Gerry Schmitt in this month's issue of Night Owl Magazine: Night Owl - New Face for Suspense - Gerry Schmitt

Sunday, January 1, 2017

ROCCO revisits a popular interview from 2015 - VICKI DELANY



Vicki Delany is one of Canada’s most prolific and varied crime writers, author of the Constable Molly Smith police procedural series, standalone Gothic thrillers, and the Klondike Gold Rush books, as well as Rapid Read novellas including Juba Good, currently a finalist for the Ontario Library Association’s Golden Oak award. Under the pen name Eva Gates she is writing the Lighthouse Library cozy mystery series from Penguin Random House, set in a historic lighthouse on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The second in the series, Booked for Trouble was released in September 2015.

Rest Ye Murdered Gentlemen, the first book in the Year Round Christmas series is Vicki’s 20th published book.

A former computer programmer and systems analyst, Vicki lives and writes in bucolic Prince Edward County Ontario. She is the current President of Crime Writers of Canada.


  • Tell us a little about your background

My career was as a computer programmer and systems analyst. I left that seven years ago and am now a full time writer, author of 20 published books (so far).  My three daughters are all grown up, and I live a quiet life in a little house in the countryside in Southern Ontario.

  • Tell us a bit about your latest book, REST YE MURDERED GENTLEMEN. Where did that idea for a Christmas cozy come from?

The bones of the idea was from my agent, Kim Lionetti of Bookends. She suggested a Christmas themed store, and I took that further and created a Christmas themed town.

  • Tell us about other books you’ve written.

I have three standalone novels of psychological suspense from Poisoned Pen Press, the Constable Molly Smith series, also from Poisoned Pen, of which the eighth, Unreasonable Doubt, will be released in February, four books in the Klondike Gold Rush Series. And under the pen name of Eva Gates, I write the Lighthouse Library cozy series for Penguin Random House

  • How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I used to be a true pantser, but now that I am writing for Penguin Random House, they require an outline, and I find I really like writing that way.  The outline’s the hard part.  Get that out of the way, and writing the book’s the easy bit. 

  • Which do you consider more important, plot or character?

Character determines plot. People act in certainly ways because of their character. So, saying that, I think character comes first.

  • Do you have an “How I got my agent” story you want to share?

I got my agent, Kim Lionetti, because my good friend Mary Jane Maffini recommended me to her. Kim didn’t want the work I was proposing, but when she heard of something I might be able to do she contacted me. The moral of that story, I believe, is the importance of networking. Of making friends in the writing community.

  • What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I am currently writing the third in the Year Round Christmas series, Hark the Herald Angels Slay.  The third Lighthouse Library book, Reading Up A Storm, will be out in April. I hope to continue writing both those series, as well as the Constable Molly Smith books.

  • What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

I am a total creature of routine.

I get up every morning, seven days a week.  I go to my main computer in my office, and read e-mails, read the papers online, spend a bit of time on Facebook or Twitter. 

Then it’s time to start to write.  I walk into the dining room and stand at my Netbook computer which is on the half-wall between the kitchen and the dining room and boot it up.  (In the summer I might sit outside on the deck) As I pass through the kitchen, I put one egg on to boil.

I always write, standing up, on the Netbook.  I read over everything I did the previous day, doing a light edit as I go.  I then take my egg into the study and eat it while checking email. 

Then back to the small computer for several writing hours, usually finishing around one.

And that’s pretty much it.  I can’t write in small chunks. I can’t write as the spirit moves me.  

Three to four hours a day, every day of the week, every day of the year when I am home, unless I have company.

  • If you could take only three books with your for a year-long writing retreat in a gorgeous setting with no library, which three would you take?

I’d probably go for length, if they have to last me a year. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy would be one. (Is that cheating?). An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears, because it’s long but also because it’s one of my favorite books of all time.  And something that would require a lot of concentration: How about the collected works of William Shakespeare, or a history of the world perhaps.

  • What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

My advice is always the same. Read, and read a lot. Only by reading extensively is a writer able to know what works, and perhaps more importantly, what doesn’t.

  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

I drove across North America, and up and down (Ontario to the Pacific; Alaska to San Diego) alone when I first retired. Had a marvelous time.  I wouldn’t say that’s anything crazy though, because it’s what I like to do.

  • What’s one thing your readers would be surprised to find out about you?

That I’m an extreme introvert.  But remember, introvert doesn’t mean shy. Because I’m not that.

  • What question do you wish interviewers would ask? (And what’s the answer?)

Q: Tell us about the Crime Writers of Canada.

A: I’d be happy to. I am the current president of the CWC, which is the Canadian equivalent of the MWA in the US or the CWA in the UK. We are an organization representing professional Canadian writers of mystery, suspense and true crime.  Information about our members and our books can be found at

  •  Where can we learn more about you and your books?

My web page is  Eva Gates has her own page at I’m on Facebook at evagatesauthor and twitter @vickidelany

UPDATE:Since this interview, Vicki has published the second in the Year Round Christmas mystery series, WE WISH YOU A MURDEROUS CHRISTMAS.  She also has a new series from Crooked Lane, the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series, debuting in March with ELEMENTARY, SHE READ.

WIN A COPY OF REST YE MURDERED GENTLEMEN, first in the Year Round Christmas series! Leave a comment with your email address in our comments section.  Winner will be chosen at random.  Contest ends midnight, January 8.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

ROCCO's guest CLOVER from BETTER OFF THREAD by Amanda Lee

Hoppin’ Around the Christmas Tree


Hi, ROCCO! Do you like Christmas trees? I do. They’re so pretty and sparkly. I love looking at all the ornaments. And the lights! The lights are wonderful. Veronica—she’s my person—only put lights three-fourths of the way down the tree because she was afraid I’d chew on the wire. She’s got a point. I do have a tendency to chew anything I can get in my mouth. Are you a chewer, ROCCO? It’s a necessity for rabbits, you know. It keeps our teeth from getting too long. Veronica keeps willow sticks around for me to chew on, and that makes things like tree lights less appetizing.
We’ve had company over the holidays. I typically don’t mind company, but there’s a toddler here, and Veronica is afraid he’ll be too rough with me or that I’ll accidentally scratch him. So I’ve been confined to Veronica’s bedroom much of the time that he’s here. He—his name is Jackson—and I have had a few supervised visits in front of the tree. But I’m having to spend far too much time in solitary confinement.

I get regular visits from Veronica, of course. And Marcy comes to see me. Marcy is Veronica’s son’s girlfriend. And, in fact, it was Marcy who introduced me to Veronica. Marcy is busy right now with her shop, the Seven-Year Stitch, and with being an elf at a hospital. She and her friend Captain Moe are there entertaining children. I think that’s nice. My friend Angus—he’s a dog—got to with Marcy, but nobody invited me. They probably thought I wouldn’t like it. Veronica seems to think I’m awfully delicate, but I’m tougher than she realizes. I have to admit, I like it when she pampers me though.
Uh-oh. I hear Ted in the living room telling Veronica that Marcy’s friend Captain Moe is suspected of killer the administrator at the hospital! Ted is a detective. I hope he can help prove Captain Moe’s innocence…if he IS innocent. But he HAS to be, right? Marcy wouldn’t be friends with a killer. Wow, ROCCO, this sounds bad. Could you maybe get your friends Nick and Nora on the case if we need some help?

 Amanda Lee (aka Gayle Trent & Gayle Leeson) Lee writes the Embroidery Mystery Series which features the owner of an embroidery shop in Oregon. As Trent, she writes the Daphne Martin Cozy Mystery Series which features a cake decorator. Trent also writes the Myrtle Crumb Mystery Series. Myrtle is a senior sleuth who lives in Virginia. As Gayle Leeson, she writes the Down South Café.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

ROCCO's guest...Elizabeth J. Duncan!

My guest this week is Crooked Lane author Elizabeth J. Duncan!

Elizabeth J. Duncan is the author of the award-winning and well-established Penny Brannigan mystery series set in North Wales and a brand new series, Shakespeare in the Catskills.
After graduating from Carleton University, Ottawa, with a BA in English, Elizabeth worked as a writer and editor for some of Canada’s largest newspapers, including the Ottawa Citizen and Hamilton Spectator. She lived and worked in London, England for five years as a freelance writer and broadcaster. 
Elizabeth’s first novel, The Cold Light of Mourning,  won the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic 2006 Grant for Unpublished Writers and the 2008 St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Award for best first traditional mystery and was nominated for an Arthur Ellis award in Canada and an Agatha Award in the United States.Her fourth novel, A Small Hill to Die On won the 2013 Bloody Words best light mystery (Bony Blithe) and the fifth book in the series, Never Laugh as a Hearse Goes By, was nominated for the same award in 2014.

R: Welcome Elizabeth! What writers in your genre have had the greatest influence on your writing?

Thank you ROCCO.  Reading the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie many years ago introduced me to the joy of mysteries. Since then, I’ve discovered many wonderful writers. Favourites today include Simon Brett, Jeanne M. Dams, P.D. James, Peter James and Peter Robinson, all writers of elegant, engaging stories that entertain and inspire me.

R: Tell us about your new release, Ill Met by Murder.

It’s the second in the Shakespeare in the Catskills series, featuring costume designer Charlotte Fairfax. Here’s what it’s all about:

It’s the most important night of the year for the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company--the annual fund raising performance at the country estate of the wealthy widow Paula Van Dusen. This year, the company will give a moonlight performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as part of the wedding celebrations for Paula's daughter, Belinda, and her fiancé, Adrian. But then Hugh Hedley, family friend of the Van Dusens and Adrian's rival in the cutthroat world of high-end Manhattan real estate, is found murdered, along with a stolen prop from the play.

Paula, desperate to keep her daughter’s name of out of the paper, enlists Charlotte's help, despite the fact that Charlotte's already got her hands full amidst her costume design responsibilities and finding a home for the company's new theater school. But Charlotte nevertheless throws herself into an investigation of shady business deals, and long buried family secrets because "though she be but little, she is fierce!"

R: Which of your characters’ adventures was the most fun for you to write? Were any of them the least amount of fun?

Don’t want to give away too much of the plot, so let me just say the answer to both questions involves a missing dog.  (R:  no surprise there, eh??? Merow!)

R: What’s a must have for you when you are writing? What aids the creative process?

I like to get tasks and distractions, like emails and errands, out of the way before I start to write. Or is that just procrastination?

Exercise is really helpful with the creative thinking process. My best ideas come when I’m walking or swimming.

And there’s nothing like a looming deadline to make me get my skates on.

R: If you had access to a time machine, which historical moment would you travel to and why?

I’d attend a performance of a Shakespeare play at the Globe Theatre in London. It would be wonderful to see how the play was received in its own time but unfortunately, because of the changes in language and pronunciation over the past four centuries, I wouldn’t be able to understand much of it. Still, it would be great fun to be part of the audience.

Oh, I’ve just checked my ticket. It’s for June 29, 1613. This is going to be so exciting!

R:  If a movie were to be made of one of your books, which one would you want it to be and who would you pick for the lead roles?

Untimely Death, first in the Shakespeare in the Catskills series, would make a nice opening episode for a television series. I wouldn’t worry too much about the human casting, but I would certainly want to be at the auditions for the pivotal part of Rupert the corgi!

R: What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?

I’m on level 1969 of Candy Crush and have used only 10 boosters to complete all those games.

R: What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?

Hours of reading pleasure.

R: have you considered writing in other genres? If so, which one(s)
No. I write two mystery books a year, and that’s enough for me, thanks!

R: If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Searching for that big chunk of my life that went missing.

R: What book is on your TBR shelf you can’t wait to get to?

I’ve got more than 200 books on my TBR shelf. At one time, each was the book I couldn’t wait to read. So I guess the best answer is to tell you the title of the last book I placed a hold on at the library. And that book is: The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher.

Thank  you Elizabeth!
Now it's giveaway time!

One lucky reader will receive a copy of Ill Met by Murder, courtesy of Crooked Lane Books. To enter, leave a comment with your email address in our comments section.  Sorry, USA only. 
For extra entries, you can do any or all of the below:

* Follow my blog (+ 1 point)
* Follow me on Twitter (+ 1 point) (Link:
* Tweet about the contest (+ 1 point)
* Friend me on Facebook (+ 1 point) (Link:!/
* Mention the contest on Facebook (+ 1 point)
* Mention the contest on your blog (+ 1 point)

Contest ends midnight, December 20.  Good luck!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A conversation with....Geraldine Brooks

The below courtesy of Penguin/Random House

A conversation with Geraldine Brooks, author of
What interests you most about King David? How did you decide to write a novel about him?
When my son was about nine years old, he made the unusual decision to learn to play the harp.  (I’d been braced for drums, so I didn’t actually resist the choice.)  Watching him, dwarfed by his teacher’s gorgeous concert instrument, I began to think about that other long ago boy harpist, the shepherd who became a king. He’s ubiquitous, after all: a cliché in our language (how many contests are David and Goliath battles?); gorgeously depicted throughout the history of Western art; the psalms attributed to him sung in churches and synagogues across millennia. But who was this warrior-poet-musician, this lover and killer, who experiences every human joy and every human heartbreak?  I went back to the bible to look for him, and found that the best stories from his life are the least told ones.

How did you research and prepare to write THE SECRET CHORD?
I started with the period itself, the Second Iron Age, to discover as much as I could about the context for a leader like David.  How did tribal power work? What did people eat? How did they fight?  What would they have known about the wider world?  Archaeology and ancient history answered many of these questions.  Others had to be answered experientially.   What was it like to herd sheep on a hot afternoon in the Judean hills?  My younger son and I went and did it. We also visited sites associated with David, going to places like the Valley of Elah where he clashed with Goliath, Ein Gedi where he hid out from Shaul and exploring the tunnels under Jerusalem where excavations are uncovering buildings of the Davidian period. I talked with Israeli military experts about some of the strategic issues David faced.  I consulted experts on early Hebrew music, trying to get a feel for the sound of what David might have played. 

As a journalist, you covered the Middle East for the Wall Street Journal.  Did your experience with the location and its history enhance your ability to write THE SECRET CHORD?
My first impulse is to say no, because in three thousand years, too much has changed.  The flora and fauna are entirely different. The land is dense with millions of people rather than the scattered thousands who lived there in that era. And yet on reflection, a number of experiences did shape my thinking. Covering modern desert warfare, interviewing contemporary despots and seeing how absolute power is wielded, living among people whose lives are entirely shaped, and sometimes deformed, by absolute religious conviction—all these things fed my imagination in some way.

David is a complicated character—at once a warrior and despot, a lover and adulterer, a poet and composer, a coarse yet refined man of fierce will and great appetites who is also capable of baseness and treachery. In your opinion, what are David’s biggest flaws? What are his greatest strengths?
Well, he’s a murderer, which is pretty hard to get past. He abuses power.  He’s also a criminally indulgent parent.  But he is paid out heavily for these crimes and flaws.  Unlike many of our modern leaders, when he makes a mistake, he admits it. He listens to criticism.  I’m drawn to his ardency, his huge capacity for love.

David has been widely depicted in art, literature, and film. Did you consult other portrayals while writing THE SECRET CHORD? Is there anything you feel previous depictions get wrong about him?   
I read everything I could find.  I watched some truly execrable movies.  I revisited favorite art works and discovered masterpieces that were new to me. The Australian painter Arthur Boyd, for example, has a poignant depiction of David and Shaul that taps into the artist’s own pain as the son of a mentally unstable father.  Many of the scholarly works (Robert Pinksy and David Wolpe’s books being two notable exceptions) tend to be either/or, black/white, twisting data to condemn or exonerate him. To me it was more interesting to accept the contradictions in his nature, the multi-faceted complexity of it.

How did you decide which stories and characters from David’s life to include in the novel, and which to leave out?
I didn’t leave much out.  Perhaps I tended to dwell less on the military campaigns and more on the domestic entanglements. I found myself most drawn to the women in the narrative, the love stories—and, yes, hate stories—of his many relationships.  

Which character did you find easiest to write? Which was the most challenging?
I loved reimagining the story of Mikhal.  Her love for David, the huge risk she takes to save him from her father, the terrible retribution the king then exacts for that betrayal, and all that follows—this powerful story is told in a handful of lines in the Bible.  Marvelous lines, to be sure, but very few.  Putting in the missing passion, the rage, the bitterness—that was very satisfying. I think David himself is always going to be the most challenging because he embodies so many contradictions. My struggle was to bring balance to all his contrasting traits, all the lights and shadows of his nature.

The novel is primarily told through the eyes of Natan, the mysterious prophet who becomes David’s direct connection to the divine, his lifelong companion and advisor, and the moral conscience of the novel. Where did your inspiration for Natan come from?
The inspiration was two references in the bible that I have used here as epigraphs, each of which refers to the lost “book of Natan.” The bible says Natan has given a full account of the lives of David and Solomon, all their acts, “from first to last.”  What would such a man have seen?  What would he have known?   How would his portrayal differ from the accounts that we do have, in the two books of Samuel, in Kings and in Chronicles? It’s tantalizing, and it took hold of my imagination. I’ve always loved the Hebrew prophets, in any case.  These are men of huge moral force, pain-in–the-ass truth tellers who had the guts to castigate their society and its rulers, often in the most exquisitely crafted language.  You can feel their fierceness, their penetrating intelligence, their bravery. 

You’ve written many historical novels, but none set so far back in time as THE SECRET CHORD. Was it challenging to capture the voice of the period?
I don’t think it’s possible to recapture the voice of a period so distant from our own.  What I tried to avoid were the familiar flowery cadences of King James Bible English, striving instead for something that evoked the bluntness and the austere beauty of the biblical Hebrew.

Humanity’s relationship with God is a major theme in your books. How would you describe your own faith, and how does it drive your work? 
I’m interested in believers, and in what faith does for us, and to us.  As a foreign correspondent in the Mideast, I witnessed first-hand the excesses born out of fanatical belief, and I draw on those experiences to imagine the past, where faith was often the defining essence of day-to-day existence.  I’m drawn to the human quest for meaning. I like asking the questions.  I haven’t found the answers.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered in the writing of this novel?
David shimmers somewhere in the half-light between history and myth. My challenge was to approach an emotional truth that seemed real and recognizable without losing the sense of the supernatural, the slightly magical aura that surrounds a man we’re told lived his life in the hand of the divine.

What can David’s story teach readers today? Why is his legacy still important?

There are myriad facets of his life that reward contemplation.  He experiences everything: triumph, celebrity, exile, repudiation. Love and hatred. Children who tear apart his family and try to steal his position; a child who grows up to become a byword for wisdom and good governance. He is famous for his art, he is renowned as a fighter, he is celebrated as a nation-builder.   He’s a descendant of the most important Biblical figures and the antecedent of Jesus.  I think the question is, What do you want to learn?  If it involves the experience of being human, you’ll find insight in the life of David.

Monday, December 5, 2016

ROCCO interviews....Nick Charles!

Merow, my guest today is that handsome, dashing literary feline who, of course, is patterned after myself...none other than Nick Charles from the Human's Nick and Nora mystery series!  I caught up with Nick and managed to ask him a few questions!

ROCCO:  Meow, welcome Nick!

Nick:  Merow, thanks for having me ROCCO

ROCCO:  So, tell me - how does a handsome feline like yourself get involved in solving msyteries?

Nick:  Well, to be honest Nora is the one who gets involved. I just use my superior sleuthing skills, taught to me by my former human, Nick Atkins, to help her!

ROCCO:  You've saved Nora's hide more than once. Like playing the knight in shining armor?

Nick:  Well, let's put it this way. No Nora, no food.

ROCCO:  You're also a model for pet collars. What's that like?

Nick:  Chantal means well, but collars aren't really my thing.  Im an independent, macho cat, y'know? Anyway, it makes her happy - and my photo does look good up in the store, so I figured why not?  Plus, she always has some sort of treat for me after we're done!

ROCCO:  In your last adventure we met Nora's old flame, Leroy Samms. How prominently does he figure in your new adventure, if at all?

Nick: Oh, Samms is there.  And he's a VERY prominent figure.  As a matter of fact, I'd say he'll be around for quite a while.

ROCCO:  Who do you prefer for your human? FBI agent Daniel Corleone or Detective Leroy Samms?

Nick:  To be quite honest, I hadn't thought that much about it. They both have their pros and cons.  I don't think Nora knows which one she prefers either, Merow.

ROCCO:  What would people be surprised to find out about you?

Nick:  That I'm really that  much into mice.  I mean, they're tasty and all, but I wouldn't go out of my way for one.

ROCCO:  Can you tell us a little bit about your latest adventure, CRIME AND CATNIP?

Nick:  Certainly.  While catering a gala for the Cruz Museum, Nora agrees to look into the disappearance of museum director Violet Crenshaw's niece.  She soon finds out that it's a case undertaken by my former owner, Nick Atkins, a PI whose whereabouts are currently unknown.

As we pull  at the string of clues, we begin to unravel a twisted tale of coded messages, false identities, theft, murder and international espionage!

ROCCO:  It sounds exciting!  Dare we hope that there is a resolution to the "whatever happened to Nick Atkins" mystery?

Nick:  (gives sly wink) Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out won't you? It debuts tomorrow, December 6.

ROCCO:  Sounds great, Nick. So what does the future hold for Nick and Nora? Can you give us any hints?

Nick:  More adventures, I sincerely hope.  the story of Nick and Nora is far from over, that much I can tell you.

ROCCO:  Thank you for spending time with us today, Nick! Folks, the third Nick and Nora adventure, CRIME AND CATNIP is out tomorrow! 

The Human will give away a signed copy of CRIME AND CATNIP to one lucky commenter!  Leave your name and email address iin our comments section to enter! For extra entries, you can:

Friend the Human on Facebook
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You get one extra entry for each action! Contest closes midnight, December 9! US entries only please.

Good luck!