Thursday, December 28, 2023

Our Year in Review

 Happy holidays to all! The Beloved Spouse™ and I hope your 2023 was as good as ours, which was so good it started last year.

We spent Christmas 2022 in Florida visiting The Sole Heir™ and Sole Son-in-Law™. Mostly TSH, as SSiL was on deployment with the Coast Guard. Contrary to expectations, we froze. Literally. The Sole Heir™ and I had to put a space heater in a friend’s boat so the engine wouldn’t freeze.

March saw us attend our first in-person Suffolk (VA) Mystery Authors Festival. (I had been to a pair of virtual events in previous years.) An added benefit was having dinner with two good friends from my largely misspent college days.

April opened with a visit from the California branch of TBS’s family,. We all went to an escape room in DC and had a ball. We don’t get to see them often enough and had a wonderful day.

The latter part of the month was full of writing-related activities. First we went to Yonder in Hillsborough NC to read at a Noir at the Bar event. The next week we trained it to New York for my first reading at the Mecca of Noirs at Bars, Shade. Then to Bethesda MD for three days at the Malice Domestic conference. We had a great time, saw old friends, and made new ones.

Back to Florida in June where Sleuthfest gave us an excuse to visit The Sole Heir™ and Sole Son-in-Law. Alas, SSiL was deployed again, though we had a lot of fun with TSH and Reny. (Reny = 80-pound yellow Lab.) Sleuthfest was a much better time than anticipated. We’ll be back.

In July we finished a renovation of The Beloved Spouse™’s craft room. No construction was done, but the room had lost much of its allure as her tastes in projects shifted from card-making to quilting until it no longer suited either. We – mostly her – stripped it down and built it back up to better accommodate her current interests.

My eighth Penns River novel (The Spread) came out in July. This launch was made special through two events. A dear friend opened her home to host a reading and Q&A; later in the month another friend made his restaurant available for a discussion of writing and craft.

The Sole Sibling™ and I celebrated his 60th birthday with a road trip that started in New Jersey to visit relatives; went to Cooperstown NY for the Baseball Hall of Fame; then on to New Berlin NY for the Motocross Nationals at Unadilla, the most hallowed track in the country. I had never been to a motocross race before; don’t be surprised if you see me at another.

September marked the tenth Creatures, Crimes, and Creativity conference, of which I have attended nine. We are already registered for next year.

October sent us back to North Carolina for another Noir at the Bar, Halloween Edition. From there we went to the Outer Banks for a lovely weekend with two good friends. The weather and company were perfect.

As for the extended family, The Sole Heir™ is working as a primary care physician for the Veterans’ Administration as part of a pilot program that allows her to see patients remotely from her home; patients do not have to go to a VA facility, just a local doctor’s office where a physician’s assistant handles the hands-on bits. The program is popular, TSH loves the work, and it will serve her well when The Sole Son-in-Law gets his next transfer orders, as she can work from anywhere.

SSiL continues to thrive as a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. We didn’t see as much of him as we’d like in 2023 but we plan to make up for that in 2024.

We all hope everyone had at least as good a 2023 as we did and looks forward to 2024 as much as we are. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Triple Forte Now Available for Kindle


The Nick Forte Rebranding Tour continues with a bow toward last-minute shoppers and those who will have holiday cash burning holes in their pockets. Today marks the availability of the first three-volume “boxed” set of Forte novels, titled Triple Forte. Included are:

A Small Sacrifice, the first Forte, nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America as Best Indie Original.

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of. Blogger extraordinaire Peter Rozovsky wrote in “Detectives Beyond Borders,” “It's a kind of authorial magic that The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of works as a tribute and as a story, and that neither aspect interferes in the least with the other… I can imagine this book finding its way into a class on writing crime fiction as an example of how to pay tribute to one's predecessors while at the same time writing a story that can stand on its own. It's an impressive accomplishment.”

And last but not least, The Man in the Window, Shamus-nominated as Best Paperback Original.

Triple Forte is available for Kindle only for $3.99. (See the Amazon web site for prices outside the U.S.)

The next few months will see more rebranding as a lead up to the first new Forte novel in six years:

January – A Dangerous Lesson, in which Forte’s dark side come more into the open as he matches wits with a serial killer.

February – Bad Samaritan pits Forte against men’s rights activists in a story that shows best intentions, inexpertly applied, can go terribly wrong.

March – Off the Books, the first Forte since 2018. What appears to be a trivial case in a small town unearths a heinous criminal enterprise Forte does not trust the authorities to deal with.

The Forte character means a lot to me, as do his associates Goose, Sonny Ng, Jan Rusiewicz, Sharon Summers, and especially, his daughter Caroline. PI fiction was what attracted me to reading crime, and Forte was the first character I created as an adult writer. There is more of me in him than in any other character (even Ben “Doc Dougherty), so writing Forte always seems like a bit of a homecoming.

That’s why it has been so good to hear from folks who are looking forward to his return. This will not be a one-off. I have two more Forte novels on the back burner after Off the Books, and he will make at least one more appearance in Penns River.

Merry Christmas, all.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Hill Street Moonlighting

 The Beloved Spouse™ and I recently opened the Hulu vaults for a couple of shows we loved when they were first aired, Hill Street Blues and Moonlighting. We did not last long with either.


Hill Street was first. Few programs have broken as much fertile ground as well as Steven Bochco’s premiere effort. The enormous ensemble cast, showing the cops’ lives beyond the station, the stresses no one thought about in the early 1980s. The list of what Bochco showed first could fill a blog post of its own.


That’s why I feel half guilty about cutting out near the end of Season 2. Bochco broke the ground, but a lot of people have since planted crops that flourished there. The Wire. The Shield. Even Bochco’s and David Milch’s NYPD Blue. All took the baton from Hill Street and ran with it, pushing the envelope ever farther. While they might not be here if not for Hill Street, Hill Street cannot compete.


Again, much of that is due to changing standards in television. Hill Street was among the first shows – and, I believe, the first cop show – to extend stories beyond one episode. This has become such a common thing it is now typical for crime series to invest an entire season in one primary line and hang lesser plots from that tentpole. Think of how clearly all five seasons of The Wire focused on a primary story while retaining others to flesh it out, sometimes going back all the way to the show’s origin.


Networks and streaming services now understand viewers have adequate attention spans to handle such programming; Bochco had to teach them. Watching several of the three-to-four-episode arcs we could not help but think that some stories deserved more time to breathe. Looking back forty years, Hill Street’s moves in that direction seem tentative. We’re past that now. Bochco’s genius was in many ways hoist on its own petard.


(Full disclosure: Hill Street left Hulu about the time we finished Season 1. We found it on Amazon, but after another handful of episodes they started charging $1.99 an episode, which adds up if you intend to watch them all. TBS found it on the Internet Archive, but that was more trouble than we wanted to take for a show we weren’t sure how long we wanted to stick with.)


Then there is Moonlighting. Both of us loved that show when it originally aired, but it fell flat with us after a few episodes on the re-viewing. What was wrong?


Personally, I remembered it as being funnier. I wondered why I didn’t think so this time – it’s not like my sense of humor has become any more elevated* – until TBS mentioned one evening how Bruce Willis’s irresponsible smart-ass act has been done to death. We were tired of it.


Again, it’s not Bruce Willis’s fault that he helped to create such a lasting trope. That still doesn’t make it any fresher after all this time. Each episode seemed like something we’d seen before, and done better.


(Even fuller disclosure: It also did not help that I have since learned Cybill Shepherd was a pluperfect bitch on the show. This is why it’s never good to know too much about performers’ backgrounds.)


I feel badly that two shows I loved when they were fresh and new no longer entertain me. It’s a little like seeing an old flame years later and expecting him or her to look the same. Even if their personalities haven’t changed – and certainly Hill Street’s and Moonlighting’s have not; I mean, they’re on videotape – they look and feel old.


So do I. That means I don’t have the time to stick with something because I might like it down the road; I don’t have as much road left as I used to, and it’s a dead end. I might watch Hill Street Blues again on my own sometime as research for a book, but probably not. There are far more timely and incisive examples today.


Thank you, Steven Bochco and Glen Gordon Caron, as well as everyone involved with each of your projects, for not only providing the younger me with wonderful and memorable entertainment, but also for raising my standards in such a manner your programs have lost much of their appeal, though not their luster.


(* - We watched both Cheers and Frazier start to finish a couple of years ago and loved them. All in the Family also holds up well.)

Thursday, December 7, 2023

An Interview With Alec Cizak, Author, and Editor of Pulp Modern Magazine

 Alec Cizak is the editor of Pulp Modern magazine, as well as the author of several novels, novellas, and numerous short stories. He also founded All Due Respect and his championing of dark, gritty fiction that pays homage to the original pulps of a hundred years ago is unflagging and respected. One Bite at a Time was lucky to grab a little of his time so those who are as yet unaware can learn more bou t him.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome to the blog, Alec. You’re best known as a pulp writer and editor. “Pulp” is a term that’s been around for a long time and, like “noir” it has almost come to mean whatever the speaker wants it to. For some, the two terms seem to be interchangeable. What is your definition of pulp, and how does it differ from noir?


Alec Cizak:  Thanks for having me! I guess pulp is a term that encompasses all the genres that make “literary” writers grumble about what does and does not constitute “real” literature. While “literary” writers tend to dwell on the boring, mundane minutiae of ‘reality,’ pulp makes the medicine go down with a hint (or sometimes an overdose) of the fantastic. Whether it’s horror, adventure, fantasy, westerns, or even romance, the function of escapism is fully engaged in pulp fiction. We should always remember the original pulps had their prime in the 1930s, during the Great Depression. Just imagine how important escape was when you had to scratch and claw for a piece of bread to trick your belly into thinking you’d had a full meal. Noir differs, I believe, in that it sneaks up on the realism “literary” fiction pretends it has a monopoly on and offers readers an escape that is dangerously close to reality. The sole relief, perhaps, being that the fate of characters in a good noir is much, much worse than whatever momentarily troubles the reader in his/her/their ‘real’ life.


OBAAT: You were the originator of All Due Respect, which became a leading platform for your kind of fiction. Starting up such a magazine is a considerable effort. What made you decide to do it?


AC: I wanted to create a venue that spotlighted a single writer for a month. I also wanted to create a venue that didn’t handcuff writers with restrictions on subject matter. Crime is dirty. Crime is nasty. Crime is violent. And crime is ugly. I wanted to publish fiction that reflected these aspects of criminality.


OBAAT: You eventually moved on from ADR to start Pulp Modern.  What’s the story behind that?


AC: Pulp Modern started because no venue gathering all the pulp genres in one place existed. As others have said, if you want to see it and it doesn’t exist, you must create it. So, I did.


OBAAT: Most of your books are of the type of story you’ve featured in your magazines, except Lake County Incidents. What’s different about that one and why the departure?


AC:  When I started writing short stories back in grade school, they were always horror stories. As I got older, however, I decided I wouldn’t write horror unless I thought for sure I could freak out the reader in some way. I think if a story is advertised as horror, it is obligated to scare the audience. Too much horror I’ve read over the years has failed in this respect. A lot of horror is predicated on gore, on what Stephen King called “the gross out” (in his book Danse Macabre). That’s not interesting to me. I had a flash of inspiration, however, in 2015, and wrote a series of stories I believed would unsettle readers. Most of them were published at various venues. My publisher, ABC Group Documentation, asked to see a collection of them and eventually published it.


OBAAT: You’ve written several novels. For someone new to your work, which would you suggest they begin with to get a representative idea of your style and voice that is most accessible. (Full disclosure: I ask this because when I decided to investigate James Ellroy I began with The Cold Six Thousand, which is brilliant but definitely not the place to start.)


AC: Depending on who you ask, I’ve only actually written two novels, Breaking Glass and Cool It Down. (A reviewer erroneously called Cool It Down a novella; it’s not. It’s well over 50,000 words. I consider that the low end of novel length.) Those books are a little challenging to newer readers as I experimented with the genre and I’m not convinced they were successful experiments. For straight up noir that is easily accessible, I would suggest the novella Down on the Street.


OBAAT: Given the kinds of stories you write and accept as an editor, what are your thoughts on trigger words, or, more generally, on words polite society would not want us to use?


AC: If a story calls for language or situations some might find “offensive,” the writer needs to decide what’s most important to communicate to the reader and go from there. Do keep in mind that I have never published anything at Pulp Modern that is “offensive” merely for the sake of being “offensive.”


OBAAT: Where can readers find out more about you?


AC: The best thing to do is read my short stories. ABC Group Documentation just published a collection called Nobody’s Coming Home.


OBAAT: What’s next on your writing agenda?


AC: I’ve been working on a novel since 2020. My writing agenda is dominated by my desire to finish that damn book!



Thursday, November 30, 2023

In Defense of Blogging*

I sometimes ponder the viability of this blog. The page views are typically a few dozen; comments are uncommon. The frustration always passes and the blog continues. Why?


Because I don’t write the blog for anyone except myself.


What about interviews? I do them because

I enjoy doing them and

I like helping other writers get the word out, even if only to a few dozen people.


The core reason I do interviews is because I love to talk about writing. Just because we’re not doing it in real time does not mean I don’t enjoy it. I ask questions I am curious about and look forward to the answers with the hope of learning something every time I get a response. I am rarely disappointed and I am not above sending follow-up questions if the initial response opens the door.


As for the other posts, this blog is where I work things out for myself. Some topic will strike me – or, more often, gnaw at me – and I’ll form an opinion. Opinions being like assholes (Everybody has them and they all stink), I like to work mine out. Try to develop my own counterarguments and how to either address them or change my position if I find myself to be mistaken.


Several draft posts a year never see the light of day. I either abort them partway through the first draft or they cannot support their own weight through the editing process. I do not consider any of that time wasted. I learned something, even if all I learned was that my initial thought was not worth airing.


It’s also gratifying to receive the occasional comment of appreciation, such as when I list my favorite reads of the prior quarter and someone thanks me for bringing a book to their attention. Or when I review a TV series or movie, or build a list, and people thank me for pointing out something they had not known, or felt was underappreciated. Writers often operate in vacuums, me more than most, so that is how I keep my finger on the pulse of what is going on around me.


So the blog continues. (This is Post 1,094.) I promise not to engage in too much navel-gazing, or too blatantly shameless self-promotion. I am always happy to help others, so feel free to hit me up for an interview or guest post if you have something to promote. If I’m full up, I’ll tell you, but I try to be as flexible as possible with scheduling my posts if it will help to accommodate someone else.


(* - A tongue-in-cheek homage to Peter Moskos’s fine and thought-provoking book, In Defense of Flogging.)

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The Man in the Window


Today is the new cover reveal for the third Nick Forte novel, The Man in the Window.


This is the most personal Forte book for me in several ways. First, it draws on my experience as a musician; a couple of the characters are inspired by friends from my musical life. It also allows me to reflect a little, through Forte, how I felt about abandoning that life. (Though, thankfully, not the friends.)


It’s also largely based on the first Nick Forte story I wrote, “Auditioning Can be Murder.” In the story, Forte is a former musician asked to investigate what a current musician claims was a rigged audition. The story was written as a farewell to my musical life, and a tribute to my friends, several of whom were easily identifiable to those who knew them. It’s an ironic satire sent only to those involved, but was well enough received that I was inspired to continue along that path.


The book takes an entirely different look at the core story, though a pivotal scene is lifted almost word-for-word. (Edited, of course. I learned a few things in the intervening years.) From the back cover copy:


A simple adultery case turns deadly when the client is shot down on his way to receive Nick Forte’s report. Forte has no choice but to write it off as a bed debt until a mysterious man hires him to make sure the police aren’t sweeping things under the carpet. Forte and Goose soon find themselves involved with an old friend, a major symphony orchestra, and international terrorists with a range of backgrounds.


The reviews I cited on the cover are also gratifying:


Dana King's private eye uses a steady string of wise-ass remarks and clever asides to keep you laughing and caring, reminding me every chapter of the greatest P.I. writer of all time, Raymond Chandler. I put down Lee Child when I picked this up. Entertaining as all heck.


Good story and written with a great sense of humor. King's insights into the lives of professional musicians made the book even more enjoyable.


Oh, and the fact The Man in the Window received a Shamus nomination for Best Paperback original in no way diminishes my affection for the book.


Those of you who have read the book already, take note: there is nothing new here except for the cover and a few changes in the Amazon metadata. This “re-release” is intended to bring TMITW in line with the branding changes in preparation for the release of the sixth Forte novel, Off the Books, next March.


If you have not read the book, or have read it and think it would make a good gift – the holidays being right around the bend and all – here is the link to the Amazon listing.



Thursday, November 16, 2023

Small Mercies, by Dennis Lehane

 I don’t often review individual books here. Much of that has to do with the number of books I read each year, which would turn the blog into a review site and that’s not why I’m here. Every so often a book compels me to draw attention to it alone. Dennis Lehane’s latest, Small Mercies, is such a book.


Small Mercies takes place during the lead up to the Boston busing riots in 1974. I’ll not say much about what happens; that’s for you to do if you choose to read the book. Suffice to say the core story concerns the disappearance of seventeen-year-old Jules Fennessy on the eve of the first busing protests, and her mother’s (Mary Pat) attempts to find her.


Small Mercies uses the busing protests much the same as Lehane used the Boston police strike for the backdrop of his 2008 novel The Given Day, though the scope here is much smaller. This is an examination of race relations, neighborhoods, and families, using South Boston as the stage.


The core takeaway is not to judge anyone unless evaluating them in their totality. Mary Pat Fennessy is blind to her own racism, which makes it even worse and harder to work around. She is also a devoted mother, in her way, and that way is how parents raised kids in South Boston, which is recommended in no book ever. Small Mercies focuses on her changes as she learns who her real friends are and how neighborhood dynamics can fracture not only friendships but family relationships.


The culture in which Mary Pat grew up is fiercely loyal and devoted to the neighborhood. People shovel each other’s walks and spread rock salt around as needed regardless of whose piece of sidewalk it will keep from freezing. Old women are helped across streets and into their walk-up apartments with their groceries. This is the standard and everyone accepts it.


In this story, the busing edict is an infringement on their neighborhood’s rights. To them it’s less about desegregation than resentment over forcing them to send their kids somewhere they do not want them to go. Fears for the children’s safety are cited - and may be legitimate - though it is clear Black families are entitled to the same concerns. More than that, it’s a matter of outsiders telling them how they have to live. The wounds fester because “The people who make the rules don’t have to live by them.” True, the racial prejudice is severe, but class hatred is also a key element. Rightly or wrongly, these people feel pressed between two forces, neither of which has their interests at heart.


As close as the people are, the book makes clear the neighborhood is always paramount; the nail that sticks up will be hammered down with a vengeance. Mary Pat runs into this as she asks uncomfortable questions about her daughter’s disappearance, and through that experience comes to see a little of the other side in this dispute. Both her actions are disloyalties akin to neighborhood treason.


No one combines complex characters, vivid dialog, the right amount of description, and a little smart-assery as well as Lehane. It was he who said crime fiction is the social novel of our time, and in Small Mercies he sets a new standard. If I am still around in a hundred years and see Dennis Lehane is considered at least the equal of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo, the only thing that would surprise me is that I’m still around in a hundred years.



Thursday, November 9, 2023

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

 Today is the official re-branding re-launch of the second Nick Forte novel, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of. (The most astute of you may have noticed the new cover a day or so ago. I’m a one-man operation focused more on writing than production. This is how things work in my world.) The book began as a critical look at the memorabilia industry and ended up as homage to Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon.


Russell Arbuthnot isn’t just a ham, he’s the whole pig. Forte – along with everyone else -  figures the bodyguard assignment Arbuthnot hired him for is a publicity stunt to perk up flagging ticket sales for a one-man show about to go under. When the actor actually does turn up dead, Forte faces the kind of publicity he can do without and decides, when a bodyguard’s client is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what he thought of him. He was your client and you're supposed to do something about it.


Sonny Ng, Jan Rusiewicz, Tony and Joey are all back from A Small Sacrifice, as are, of course, Goose and Nick’s daughter, Caroline. Forte also encounters Arbuthnot’s beautiful but damaged manager, a high-priced escort, and the IRA.


I probably enjoyed writing this book as much or more than any of them. Trying to tread the line between paying homage to Hammett’s masterpiece and ripping him off was a challenge, and few comments have ever pleased me more than Peter Rozovsky’s in his late, lamented blog “Detectives Beyond Borders:”


“It's a kind of authorial magic that The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of works as a tribute and as a story, and that neither aspect interferes in the least with the other… I can imagine this book finding its way into a class on writing crime fiction as an example of how to pay tribute to one's predecessors while at the same time writing a story that can stand on its own. It's an impressive accomplishment.”


That’s the kind of validation anyone can appreciate.


The only thing new about this “re-issue” is the cover and a little of the accompanying material in the Amazon listing; the book itself is unchanged. This might not seem like something that requires an announcement, but it is part of the lead-up to the March release of Volume 6, Off the Books. The changes are small, but they will give all the Forte novels the same look as well as bringing them a little closer to the Penns River branding, which I wanted to do because both series occupy their own corners of the same universe.


The Stuff That Dreams Are Made of is available in both paperback and for Kindle through Amazon, and only Amazon. With all due respect to other platforms, their business models leave little room for me, which leaves little room in  my model for them. I hope that will change someday, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

An Interview With J. L. Abramo, Author of Short Cuts

 One Bite at a Time: Welcome back to the blog, Joe. It’s always good to chat with you.


Your new book, Short Cuts, is a compilation of short fiction and non-fiction with a little memoir thrown in. What gave you the idea and how did you choose what to include?


J. L. Abramo: Since the publication of the first novel, Catching Water In A Net (2001), I have been invited to submit short stories to a number of crime fiction anthologies. I thought many fans (and I use that term in all humility) may have missed many of these—so I decided to collect them all together in one place, add five never before published short stories as well as several nonfiction pieces written through the years about my writing and crime writing in general. The short fiction was easy to selectit includes all of my short works aside from those appearing in my book, Brooklyn Justice, and a story just completed for submission to yet another anthology. The essays were chosen with regard to those I thought most effectively depicted those elements I find important in my writingsuch as location, food, opening paragraphs—and those I felt were worth researching on the subject of crime and detective fiction historically.


OBAAT: You’re best known as a private eye writer, with your Jake Diamond and Nick Ventura characters covering both coasts. What attracted you to the genre and what keeps you coming back?


JLA: I have always been a fan of detective fiction, from Holmes to Marlowe, and the film adaptations. After no one would look at my first attempt at a novelinstead of wallowing in self-pity, I sat down to write. I decided to try something different. Try a first-person narrative, write something lighter. Without premeditation, I wrote 20 pages of a scene in the office of a humorous San Fransisco private detective narrator, Jake Diamond. When I heard of the Saint Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for Best First Private Eye Novel, I kept working on it, won the contest, and was published by St. Martin’s Press. I was advised to continue writing Jake, which resulted in two additional Diamond novels published by SMP. The fourth Jake Diamond novel, Circling The Runway (Down & Out Books, 2015) won a Shamus Award—all good reasons for sticking with the genre. Jake is more over easy than hard boiled andsince I couldn’t change his nature and wanted to take a shot a tougher, more forceful private eye protagonistI created Nick Ventura and placed him in the meaner streets of Brooklyn.


OBAAT: You’ve also written a couple of procedurals, Gravesend and Coney Island Avenue. As someone else who moves in those genres, I find there are different mindsets involved for each. Do you make adjustments in your writing attitude depending on whether you’re writing for a private eye or cops?


JLA: Well, since you asked. The novel I spoke of earlier, the one no one would look at in 2000 (called, at the time, A Blot On The Landscape) featured Brooklyn police detectives. It was reworked throughout the years and ultimately published in 2012 as Gravesend. What differentiates the procedurals from the PI works, at least in my case, is two-fold. Although Jake and Nick sometimes depend on assistance from others—they are, for the most part, the stars of their respective stories. In Gravesend, and its follow-up Coney Island Avenue, the detectives of the 61st Precinct depend a lot more upon each other. These novels, to borrow theater terminology, are ensemble pieces. On top of that, since these works were allowed to be lengthier than what I feel a private eye mystery should be, it afforded me the opportunity to delve deeper into the personal lives of the detectives.


OBAAT: In the section where you discuss Mickey Spillane you wrote “those of us who command a public audience would be careless to underestimate our influence or to neglect our moral responsibility.” I’ve been beating a similar drum for a while now. Not that all stories should have happy endings or that bad guys cannot be protagonists, but that we owe the public a realistic idea of how cops and courts and PIs work. Can you elaborate on your statement a little?


JLA: Although I don’t believe that reading books about serial killers will make one a serial killer (at least I hope not), I am not a fan of gratuitous violence. And there are some bad practices, depicted in books, that might be more readily imitated—particularly relating to how women, minorities and the handicapped are treated. However, the comment you mention here, with regard to Spillane (who obviously subscribed to red scare, better-dead-than-red McCarthyism—fears which in many cases destroyed lives), was addressing the problem I find with fiction that proselytizes. I believe those kinds of opinions should be left to nonfiction—which is why I wrote Homeland Insecurity.


OBAAT: The section on location also caught my eye. Private eyes seem to cry out to be integrated with their settings: The Continental Op and Sam Spade in San Francisco; Phillip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, and Elvis Cole in LA; Spenser and Patrick Kenzie in Boston (Dorchester specifically for Kenzie); Tess Monahan in Baltimore; V. I. Warshawsky in Chicago: Moe Prager in Brooklyn. (I particularly enjoy a newer series by James D.F. Hannah set in West Virginia.) Location is a key element in any novel, but why do you think private eyes become so closely associated with theirs? 


JLA: I totally agree with your observation that location is a key element in any novel, and therefore I am not certain if I can answer your question specific to private eye novels. So, I will relate my thoughts about location in general—and hope it works to address the specific. For me, location is an additional character in the narrative. If the writer does the homework, and is accurate with descriptions of places, it serves a number of purposes. It provides familiarity to those readers who are acquainted with those locations. It gives readers who are not acquainted a taste of what these locations are like. And for me, when I write about places I know welllike Brooklyn, San Francisco or Denver—it makes me feel comfortable and at home. And, conversely, when I write of places I don’t know very wellsuch as Los Angeles and Chicagoit gives me good reason to research and learn. To quickly address the PIs. Jake Diamond crossed the continent to California to pursue an acting career, and moved from Hollywood to Santa Monica to San Francisco on the path to private investigation. He has become totally assimilated to the pace and rhythms of Northern California. Diamond belongs thereand his surroundings provide a particular understanding of his character. Similarly, Nick Ventura is totally a Brooklyn animal—and to not make the borough a pivotal element in his journey would be criminal.


OBAAT: “Even fictional characters have to eat.” Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, food was a key element of any social interaction. When I need to have two characters exchange information, I will often as not send them out for something to eat, as what they eat helps to characterize them and the act of eating provides stage business to help the dialog from being a continuous stream “saids”. How do you use food in your stories?


JLA: Food is an integral part of life. A necessity. We deal with food every single day. And food is present at our most memorable occasionsweddings, birthdays, reunions, holidays, even funerals. These realities, if nothing else, make it difficult for me to write about humans without talking about where, when and what they eat. That being said, your question effectively anticipates my answer. It seems we utilize eating in much the same fashion. I always find it convenient, when I need to arrange a meeting between two or more characters, to use a dining establishment as a setting—and I feel that if I put humans in those situations, I may as well talk a bit about the food since food preferences can serve to demonstrate individual tastes, ethnic backgrounds and cultural traditions—and the foods people choose can help demonstrate the ways these characters are similar or different. And…oh…I almost forgot…writing about food reminds me that I need to take a break from the writing now and then. To eat.


OBAAT: The inevitable closing question: What’s next for Joe Abramo?


JLA: Hopefully, a trip to Sicily.


OBAAT: As always, thanks for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure, Good luck with the trip. Regardless of where you go, viaggi sicuri.





Thursday, October 26, 2023

Readers of the Lost ARCs

 I routinely post quarterly lists of my “favorite” reads of the season that just ended. I am careful not to say these are the “best” books I read, as I’m not into passing that kind of judgment. I use “favorite” as shorthand for “books I enjoyed the most.” While not an endorsement of what’s good and what isn’t, my hope is to make those who share my tastes aware of books they might otherwise miss. Responses to these posts are routinely encouraging and I’m happy to mention books some might not be aware of, regardless of topic or age of the book.


I occasionally receive an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of a book when the author is asking for a blurb or an interview. While some of these books would make the favorite reads list, I have typically refrained from writing about them in the quarterly recaps because I always post links to a book’s purchase page so anyone with an impulse can grab a copy. ARCs are, by definition, not available yet, and I know a lot of people don’t like to be teased with things that are out of reach, so I have always left such books out of the quarterly recap.


Talking to a friend about this the other day got me to thinking this is a misguided policy. Pre-orders have become so important to making a book’s success that I am doing the author a disservice if the book deserves mention and I fail to do so. My reasoning before was that there was no link to give potential readers, but pre-order links are now available weeks, sometimes months, in advance. It’s time I got with the program.


In my defense, I never heard of pre-orders when I started the blog, so they were never a concern. Times changed and I have been slow to adapt. That said, future “Spring/Summer/Fall/Winter’s Favorite Reads” posts will include any ARCs that caught my eye. I will note that they are available for pre-order so that no one gets disappointed if they try to buy one.


That’s the future. Let’s take the remainder of this post to catch up on ARCs from earlier this year that escaped notice due to my misguided policies, with apologies to the authors for my delay.


Double Exposure, Colin Campbell. Grant and McNulty are back, fighting a drug cartel that has a grudge against each of them. You already know I liked this one, as I blurbed it: “Double Exposure shows Grant and McNulty in peak form. No one writes better action sequences than Campbell.” I stand by that.


Sleepless City, Reed Farrel Coleman. Renowned private eye writer Coleman (Moe Prager, Gus Murphy) moves into the realm of more high-octane action thrillers with this, the first in what promises to be a new series. While the type of story told is different, Coleman’s artful writing and careful plotting remain solid. A lot of writers try to shift gears like this. Few do it as well.


The Get, Dietrich Kalteis. This is a typical Dietrich Kalteis book, which is to say outstanding. If you’re already a fan, get this bad boy. If you’re not a fan but like the Elmore Leonard school of writing, there is no better practitioner than Kalteis, who is able to capture the aura of Dutch’s work without sounding like a copy.






Thursday, October 19, 2023

Defending the Leonard Ten

 Of all the writing “rules” I have seen, Elmore Leonard’s are probably the best known and most often vilified, generally because they are misunderstood. The late Mr. Leonard (I want so bad to call him “Dutch” but, even ten years after his death, I can’t bring myself to even imply that level of familiarity) does not need me to defend him, but what else are blog posts for but to say things that could be left unsaid except that the blogger wants to say them. So there.


As Leonard himself said in the original New York Times piece in which the rules appeared, they are not rules at all, but suggestions. That said, I have seen few suggestions that make more sense, or that apply to more cases, than his. I don’t consciously think of them very often, largely because they are now so well ingrained into my writing process I don’t have to, but they are always at the back of my mind when I write.


Here they are, with my interpretations. I use none – well, maybe one -  of his explanations, even though ignoring those is what gets most of his detractors to look foolish.


Never open a book with weather.

“But Get Shorty opens with the weather” is a favorite refrain of those who take issue these rules.


Let’s look at the offending passage:


When Chili first came to Miami Beach twelve years ago they were having one of their off-and-on cold winters: thirty-four degrees the day he met Tommy Carlo for lunch at Vesuvio’s on South College and had his leather jacket ripped off.


It’s a single sentence and less than half of it directly addresses the weather. The inciting incident for the book is the loss of Chili’s coat. This being Miami Beach, the reader would have to wonder why Chili even had a coat with him unless we know it’s unseasonably cold.


Plus, it’s one sentence. Not a page or more describing clouds or rain or how being uncomfortably cold/hot/wet made Susan feel about the weather/her life/ John’s failure to call. It’s a sentence to kick off the story.


Experience has taught me that anyone so willing to ignore context to criticize something isn’t writing anything I’d care to read.


Avoid prologues.

If possible. Sometimes it can’t be helped. My current work in progress is presented as the memoir of a man who lived on the Western frontier, taken from notes that were lost and only recently discovered. I present the prologue as an editor’s note to describe how the book supposedly came to be. (Or a foreword. I haven’t decided yet.)


It's also true, as Leonard himself acknowledges, that you can ignore any of these rules if you’re good enough to get away with it. I’ve read novellas shorter than the prologue to Empire Falls, yet Richard Russo makes his so fascinating I would have been satisfied is that had been the whole story, except that he so masterfully sets up what is to come.


Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.

These two go together. “Said” is an invisible word in dialog, used to avoid confusion about who is speaking. If you feel the need to use a different verb, or to modify “said,” then the dialog itself isn’t strong enough to convey what you feel is missing. Change it, and maybe throw in something to describe how the line is spoken.


Shane said, “I hear you’re a low-down Yankee liar.”

Wilson’s voice barely crossed the room: “Prove it.”


(Note: “He admonished gravely” is Leonard’s tongue-in-cheek way of telling those who are paying attention that not even he is taking this too seriously.)


Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.

This goes with the “said” comment above. Exclamation points too often are used instead of well-chosen dialog to make sure the reader gets it. They’re explanations, and explanations mean what came before wasn’t clear enough. As Renni Browne and Dave King say in Self-Editing for Writers, “resist the urge to explain.”


Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

This is a fundamental “show, don’t tell” thing. Don’t tell us something happened suddenly, show us. And “all hell broke loose” is lazy writing, plain and simple. Unless used as dialog from the mouth of a conversationally bland character.


Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Notice he doesn’t say not to use it. Such language can help to define a character. (Think of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell in James Lee Burke’s novels.) To use too much, or to work too hard to spell the spoken words phonetically, forces the reader to translate what this character is saying when they should be immersed in the story.


I typically don’t care for writers who take examples from their own work unless the are superstars, but this example from my novel The Man in the Window comes to mind.


“Mr. Forte, I want to start by telling you what a fine job you’re doing of fucking up my investigation.” At least that’s what I thought he said. He wasn’t from around here. Farther south, Alabama or Mississippi maybe. … What came out sounded like, “Mistuh Foe-tay, ah wunna staht by tellin yew whut uh fine job y’all’re dewin uh fuckin up mah vestigashun.”


And that’s the last I mentioned it, except for the occasional uniquely Southern idiom, such as how he might be “fixing to do” something.


Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

You want readers to be absorbed in your story, which means you don’t want them to have to stop so they can assemble these people and places in their heads. Give only as much description as the reader needs to create the movie in their imaginations. If a detail is important to the story later on – say a unique tattoo or strikingly-colored eyes – then by all means mention it, but don’t bury it in a shopping list of other stuff.


Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Yeah, well, duh. How many times have you had to go back in a book because a detail provided on Page 123 allows what you just read on Page 136 to make sense, but you skimmed past it because your eyes glazed over from the minutiae that enveloped said key detail? Well, leave that shit out.


And finally, Rule 11, which he described as “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.”


If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Remember, you’re telling a story, not gratifying your ego by impressing anyone with all the cool words you know or constructions you can pull off. Cool words and literary constructions are not bad things unless they get in the way of the story, and, as much as possible, you want your audience to forget they are reading. They should have the feeling they’re sitting back with their eyes closed while a movie plays out in their heads.


That’s what his rules mean to me.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Summer's Favorite Reads

 Old Bill Miner, Frank Anderson. Brief biography of one of the last of the Western train robbers. Miner was known as a gentleman bandit, always polite and deferential. Also not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. The film The Grey Fox is a depiction of Miner’s life.


We Pointed Them North, E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith. Delightful memoir of a man who worked cattle his entire adult life. Helena Smith did a wonderful job keeping Teddy’s voice as much like his spoken dialog as possible. (At least I’m told she did.) It’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s a master class in what it was like to be a cowboy, both on the frontier and after.


Hombre, Elmore Leonard. This was the third or fourth time I’ve read this book and I still think it may be Leonard’s best. When people say Out of Sight and Get Shorty were the first movies to do Leonard justice, they mean the crime novels; the movie version of Hombre is pitch perfect. The character changes made by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. are true to the tone of the book, and they did well to keep as much of Leonard’s dialog as possible.


Last Stand at Saber River, Elmore Leonard. The least of the three Leonard Westerns I read over the summer, but still good enough for inclusion. Written in the mid-1950s, his style was still forming, and there’s too much internal monologue, but the story and characters are top-notch. (The TV movie with Tom Selleck and the Carradine brothers is eminently missable. Just to give an idea, you get to see a dead man start to stand just before a commercial break. Apparently he didn’t wait for “Cut!” and the error was missed in editing.)


Law at Randado, Elmore Leonard. Much better than Saber River, and much more like an Elmore Leonard novel. The dialog is better and the action flows more naturally. Kirby Frye is a character who could have carried a couple of books.


The Bandit & Others - The Best Western Stories of Loren D. Estleman, Loren Estleman. Collections of stories by a single writer are typically more consistent in quality than anthologies by multiple authors. Even so, it’s rare to find a collection where every story is as good as in this one. (Stop me if you’ve heard this before.) People have been after me for years to read Estleman, either for PI or Westerns. I finally listened. Now I must read as much of him as possible.


Her Perfect Life¸ Hank Phillippi Ryan. I don’t typically read psychological thrillers; I like more overt criminal activity. This was in a swag bag from a conference and HPR is a big deal, so I figured what the hell. I’m glad I did. In the interest of full disclosure, I thought there was a little too much time spent in characters’ heads, but that’s a personal preference. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and the story is complicated enough to hold one’s interest without becoming so convoluted you don’t care anymore. The twist at the end is killer.


California Fire and Life, Don Winslow. This book was primed to be a disappointment after the high expectations created by my first trip into Winslow’s oeuvre, The Dawn Patrol. Nope. I enjoyed CF&L at least as much. All the things I liked about The Dawn Patrol were there, with the depth made possible through the use of multiple points of view. Winslow has a unique gift for providing detail in an entertaining manner that would come across as information dumps at the hands of most authors. Highest recommendation.


And Silent Left the Place, Elizabeth Bruce. I will confess, this one is personal. Elizabeth Bruce and I have been friends since we met at a writing workshop twenty years ago. This was her first novel, a literary effort with fascinating characters and a well-crafted story. No navel-gazing here, and no use of language just to show the author has command of it. She displays her talents in an understated yet lyrical manner that made it a pleasure to re-read after all these years.



Thursday, October 5, 2023

Beau Johnson, Author of The Abrum Files

Beau Johnson is an annual visitor here with good reason. There are few more personable and forthright people available in any profession. I just happened to be lucky he’s a writer. Beau’s new book, The Abrum Files, is a continuation of sorts of his Bishop Rider series. What’s a continuation “of sorts?” Beau explains.


One Bite at a Time: Welcome back to the blog, Beau. Your new book, The Abrum Files, picks up where the Bishop Rider saga ends. What’s the skinny on Jeramiah Abrum?

Beau Johnson: First off, thanks for having me back, Dana.  Always awesome to be here. You’re doing good things. As for the skinny on Jeramiah Abrum, well, there’s a story there. One that began some time ago and includes a throwaway line in a story titled “Right Time, Right Place” that sits within the pages of my first collection, A Better Kind of Hate. Jeramiah didn’t even have a name back then either, him only being referred to as someone’s child.  That someone? Marcel Abrum—the very dirtbag who set the deaths of Bishop Rider’s mother and sister into motion. Dun-dun-dun. 


OBAAT: The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah pronounced God's judgment upon the people of his time for their wickedness. May I assume your protagonist’s name is not a coincidence?

BJ: Well, I did not know that. It’s apt, however. And I’d like to say that's how it went down, but no, I just liked the way the name flowed.


OBAAT: Without giving away too much, what are the key differences between Jeremiah Abrum and Bishop Rider? How are they the same? 

BJ: The two are very much the same in a lot of ways. Both sharing the same goals and methods. It’s the scope of things that would sometimes cause them to clash. Before Jeramiah, Rider worked from the shadows, or tried his best to remain there, but Jeramiah has always been more of a big picture guy. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in Rider’s world, it becomes somewhat deadly. A give and take took place over the years, but in the end, they mostly went with Rider’s way of things. With Rider now gone, well..


OBAAT: Is it easier or harder to write for Abrum than it was to write for Rider? Or are they about the same?

BJ: There’s more angst to Rider, always has been, as he struggled with what he set out to do even though he was bent set on doing it, where Jeramiah, well, he seems more freer when I write him. Means I have to go with Jeramiah for the win. Don’t tell Rider. Please.


OBAAT: Abrum faces an existential decision in the book. What causes it, and how does he come to make the decision he makes?

BJ: It comes back to his father and what his uncle and father did. How years after the fact, when Jeramiah actually finds out what they were and what they did to Rider’s life, he makes a choice not many men would make: to make up for the sins of his father. This is all old hat by the way, happening earlier throughout my other books, but I revisit it again in this book, though granted, through another set of eyes.


OBAAT: Is there more of Abrum on the horizon?

BJ: Undetermined. It could be yes, it could be no. I have left some threads that do dangle in The Abrum Files, and I have been writing, but I cannot say with any kind of certainty. I have stopped saying I’m done with publishing, though. That much I can say for sure. If I have something I think works, that I have a throughline, yes, there will be more.


OBAAT: Please tell me the fact that you’ve moved on from a series character is not coincident with losing your taste for cheese. Assuming that is not the case, has your taste in cheese changed since you started writing the new protag?

BJ: Funny you should say that. And no, my penchant for cheese has not abated. However, my middle son has become quite the connoisseur. Lots and lots of new cheeses have entered my house this last year. Stinky feet I can do without, but Havarti will always have my heart.

Thanks again, Dana! Great questions. Fun was had!

Always a pleasure, Beau. Come back any time.


Thursday, September 28, 2023

An Interview with Author, Graphic Artist, Podcaster, and General Entrepreneur Sarah Burr

 One Bite at a Time: Welcome to One Bite at a Time, Sarah. We don’t get a lot of cozy writers here. No offense to cozy writers, but my books were once described as “a cross between Justified and The Wire,” so that’s where the posts tend to fall. We’ll talk about your books specifically in a minute, but first tell us what attracts you to the cozies.


Sarah Burr: There’s so much to love about cozy mysteries. Not only are the settings warm and welcoming, but the people are, too. Readers can always be assured that the good guys will win in a cozy. Yet, there’s something much deeper that drew me to reading and then eventually writing cozy mysteries. Their sense of justice is really quite remarkable. You have an everyday civilian (an amateur detective) willing to put everything on the line to pursue the truth. My heroines could leave things to the authorities, but their desire to do good in the world outweighs hesitation or fear.


OBAAT: The Court of Mystery is a nine-book series, which is a significant undertaking. I’ve written eight Penns River procedurals, so I have an idea of what’s involved in keeping a series going that long. What is it about this universe that keeps you coming back?


SB: My characters are really the driving force for me to return. I love hanging out with Duchess Jacqueline and her friends as they solve mysteries. I love how her mind works and how she must approach a crime scene, given that the Court of Mystery series is set in a medieval-like fantasy world called the Realm of Virtues. I’ve created my own set of rules in this setting, and it’s been so fun to explore everything it has to offer Jax. While I plan for Book Ten to be the final story in the series arch, I do have a spinoff in the works so that Jax’s adventures can continue.


OBAAT: You also write the Trending Topics series of mysteries, which includes #Tag Me for Murder and #Follow Me for Murder. Please give us a feel for these stories and where you came up with Coco Cline, the protagonist.


SB: A podcaster once described the Trending Topic Mysteries as “Nancy Drew Meets Instagram,” and I can’t think of a more perfect summation. Influencer and blogger Coco Cline introduced herself to me several years ago, back when the cozy mystery genre was still hesitant to get involved with social media and technology. It’s hard to make the Internet as warm and welcoming as a small, storybook town. However, as a millennial, I yearned to see more of myself in the characters I was reading about, someone who viewed their phone as a resource, not a hindrance. Not long after, Coco knocked on the door of my imagination, and we’ve been fast friends ever since.


Coco lives in the small coastal town of Central Shores, Delaware. Beyond her popular lifestyle blog, she runs a small online marketing business. When she stumbles across a dead body in her client’s breakroom, Coco realizes she has a major PR nightmare on her hands. Can she catch a killer, or will Coco end up trending for all the wrong reasons?


OBAAT: You also also write the Glenmyre Whim Mysteries, Too Much to Candle and You Can’t Candle the Truth, featuring candlemaker Hazel Wickbury. Catch us up on those, please.


SB: This series allows me to explore my love of the paranormal. Hazel Wickbury isn’t just any old candlemaker. She can see when someone is going to die. So, when a wealthy business developer dies before he was meant to, Hazel knows there’s foul play involved. Since she can’t alert the police to her power—what her family calls a ‘whim’—Hazel teams up with her best friend/aunt, Poppy, to shine a light on a killer.


The Glenmyre Whim Mysteries helped me get through the isolation and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to create a charming, happy place where I could escape, and with the help of Hazel, her friends, and the fictional town of Crucible, New York, I did. This cozy has a sparkle of magic sprinkled over it, and I have so much fun with its diverse cast of characters.


OBAAT: You Can’t Candle the Truth is now available as an audio book. How did that come about? Was there anything unexpected about the process of creating the spoken version?


SB: I first began working with the incredibly talented Melissa Green several years ago to bring the Court of Mystery series to life on audiobook. Since then, we worked together on countless projects, and the partnership we’ve developed has become truly special. I often hear Melissa’s performances in my head as I write; she really has become Jax and Hazel's voice. Also, her performances are so emotive that readers have become too attached to certain characters (me included). I’ve actually changed my decision to kill characters based on her narration.



OBAAT: Apparently writing doesn’t keep you busy enough; you’re also a graphic artist with a niche in helping to create images specifically tailored to book promotion. I’m delighted with the work you did for The Spread. Please talk a little about that business and don’t be shy about telling folks how to get a hold of you.


SB: I’ve always been a creative techie – I love new technology and exploring ways to make myself more productive. This has come in handy as an indie author because you’re required to create your own promotional materials. I discovered so many great applications to help me do this, and eventually, other authors took notice of my social media posts, asking me where they came from. Once I told them I had made the designs myself… well, BookstaBundles was born. Authors began asking me to create graphics for them, and soon, I realized I could help others with my passion for graphic design. I now offer various digital services, as well as bookmarks, posters, and bookplates. If you’re an author looking to post more engaging content featuring your novel, stop by to check out my portfolio and my offerings. (Editor’s Note: I ordered five graphics for The Spreads and wa delighted with Sarah’s work and creativity.)


OBAAT: You fill some of what must be copious free time with The Bookish Hour, a live-stream web series you co-host with J.C. Kenney Thursdays from 8:00 to 9:00 PM ET. The chats revolve primarily around craft, which is a topic I don’t think writers talk about enough, as too many discussions get sidetracked into the business aspects of writing. What led to this, and what are the joys and challenges of keeping it going?


SB: This was another venture that came about unexpectedly. J.C. Kenney is a dear friend of mine in the writing industry, and in May 2022, we both had books releasing at the same time. We wanted to host an online party where our readers could see and interact with us. So, I sat down at my computer, figured out how to livestream a Google Meet call onto YouTube, and voila! J.C. and I had a fabulous time chatting about our books and writing process, and our viewers joined in the fun, too.


After the livestream wrapped, we received several emails from our author pals, asking if they could come on “our show” and chat about their books. With that, The Bookish Hour became a twice-a-month web series, and we’re now booking into 2025. Our biggest challenge is accommodating all the requests we have! To do so, we’ve started a companion show, A Bookish Moment, that allows for much more flexible scheduling. If you have an upcoming release and would like to swing by and talk with us, you can read what we’re about at


OBAAT: Based on what we talked about already, I know you’re working on something now. What’s next for the readers to look forward to?


SB: I have yet another cozy mystery series in the works! I am busy with revisions for Book One in the Book Blogger Mysteries, which features…you guessed it, a book blogger.


Over My Dead Blog releases later this year, and I cannot wait for readers to meet Arwen “Winnie” Lark, her brother Strider, and the folks of Copper Bay, Massachusetts. Interested readers can always learn more about me and what’s happening in my writing world at or by signing up for my newsletter,