Monday, April 23, 2018



Michael Mirolla, in The Photographer in Search of Death, tells us stories that blend the explicable with the inexplicable. As if a camel were actually passing through the eye of a needle, these stories pass what is commonplace through a hyper-realistic lens into the utterly mysterious. Houses have rooms that appear and disappear. Very real objects, invaded by an unbelievable force, become believably unreal. Streets filled with everyday individuals become – in our modern technological environment – ultra ordinary. What we wish to avoid becomes unavoidable. This is a world beyond the merely “magical” – this is a binary world of becoming.

Book Details:

Title: The Photographer in Search of Death

Author’s name: Michael Mirolla

Genre: Magic realism/Speculative fiction

Publisher: Exile Editions (November 2017)

Page count: 128


A few of your favorite things: Daily SuDoku, AC Milan Official Soccer Shirt, Grade Six Certificate for Religious Instruction, Tom Swift Jr. books, signed Charles Bukowski, baseball cap from City Lights Booksellers, portrait of Silenus the Satyr.
Things you need to throw out: Instruction Manual for Grade Six Religious Instruction, pre-2000 Income Tax Receipts, running shoes whose bottoms flap, worn-out jogging pants that could serve as veils, T-shirts predicting the Y2K disaster, Kuerig coffee maker.

Things you need in order to write: Computer in reasonable working order with memories of a typewriter in reasonable working order, espresso.
Things that hamper your writing: Everything else in the universe seeking engagement and attention from cardiac rehab classes to young idealists in search of sage advice, and thoughts of a Kuerig coffeemaker.

Things you love about writing: The idea of creating something out of 26 letters of the alphabet, the startle and elation of a story or a poem or a play coming together, the interaction with the characters, the sending out of one small paper boat on the seas of entropy.
Things you hate about writing: The necessity of endings, the downward spiral waiting for new ideas and inspirations, the greyness of the world between creations.

Hardest thing about being a writer: Trying to balance life as a writer with life as a family person, as a social animal.

Easiest thing about being a writer:
Nothing easy about being a writer but to choose the least hard – the impression of making a difference.

Things you love about where you live: Peacefulness, ease of travel, diversity, easy-access mall
Things that make you want to move: Lack of excitement, blandness, distant neighbors, easy-access mall.

Things you never want to run out of: Ideas, compassion, espresso, seeds for the winter birdfeeders, a good supply of undergarments.
Things you wish you’d never bought:
Kuerig coffeemaker, barcode scanner.

Words that describe you: Taciturn, witty, slow to anger, sensitive.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: Dour, pun-ny not funny, slow to act, emotionally fragile.

Favorite foods: Cornmeal and cabbage, lentils and rice, olive oil on Italian bread, all sprinkled with hot peppers.
Things that make you want to throw up: Butter, ketchup, mustard, Kraft Food Products, snake oil salespeople.

Favorite music or song: Folk/folk rock/hardcore punk; song: "Highway 61." Revisited or anything by the Dead Kennedys.
Music that make your ears bleed: Michael BublĂ©, Celine Dion, anything in today’s Top 40.

Favorite beverage: Red or white wine.

Something that gives you a pickle face: Bailey’s with or without castor oil.

Favorite smell: Grated orange peel sprinkled on rice pudding.

Something that makes you hold your nose: Uncleaned rabbit hutch, fish remains in the composter.

Something you’re really good at: Compromise and copy editing.

Something you’re really bad at: Decision-making, I think

Something you wish you could do: Pilot the next flight to Mars, or go along for the ride.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: Texting, chemical formulae, formal logic.

Something you like to do: Special occasions with the entire family (grandparents/parents/kids)
Something you wish you’d never done: Leave Italy.

People you consider as heroes: The peace makers, activists, and healers [Gandhi, MLK, Mandela, Mother Teresa, Doctors Without Borders]

People with a big L on their foreheads: Grubby, mealy-mouthed politicians, sold-out hacks, self-involved narcissists—they know who they are.

Last best thing you ate: Sushi
Last thing you regret eating: Pizza that wasn’t margarita pizza.

Things you’d walk a mile for: To burn off some calories and get the heart pumping, tickets to an Arsenal soccer match at the Emirates.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: Hearing a gun lobbyist justify being an accomplice to murder.

Things you always put in your books: Some part of myself; a surprise around the corner; mysterious deeds that almost (but not quite) reach a metaphysical level
Things you never put in your books: Facile situations or plots; meaningless characters; obvious politics; formulaic writing.

Things to say to an author: “I read your book. Can I buy you a beer and talk about what I liked and didn’t like about it?”

Things to say to an author if you want to be fictionally killed off in their next book: “I’ll give you a thousand bucks if you include me in your next book.”

Favorite places you’ve been: Nigeria, India, Kashmir, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, England, France, Germany.

Places you never want to go to again: Dubai.

Favorite books: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Waiting for Godot, The Good Soldier, Schweik.

Books you would ban: Anything by James Patterson.

People you’d like to invite to dinner:
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Dylan, Maggie Smith
People you’d cancel dinner on: The current President of the US (obviously), Boris Johnson, James Patterson.

Favorite things to do: Write, edit, evaluate manuscripts, watch soccer, watch British mysteries, attend readings, travel, write
Things you’d run through a fire wearing gasoline pants to get out of doing: Go shopping, drink Kuerig-made coffee.

Things that make you happy:
My partner, writing, watching soccer, watching British mysteries, being married for 46 years, having grandchildren and watching them sprout, getting books published, publishing good books
Things that drive you crazy: Listening to mealy-mouthed politicians, being called a civilian by police officers, Super Bowl hype, self-identifying authors, any and all TV ads, listening to Jordan Peterson being called a genius.

Most embarrassing moment: Picking a fight just to show off in front of friends.

Proudest moment: The launch of my first published book.

Biggest lie you’ve ever told: That I never lie.

A lie you wish you’d told: That I always lie.

Best thing you’ve ever done: Switched from science to the arts in my second year at university.

Biggest mistake: Not pursuing a higher degree beyond my masters.

Most daring thing you’ve ever done: Purchased a literary publishing house at the age of 62.
Something you chickened out from doing: Skydiving from a plane when invited to do so with a friend.

The last thing you did for the first time: Drove a car.

Something you’ll never do again: Drive a car.


Michael Mirolla is the author of numerous novels, plays, and short story and poetry collections. Among his publications are three Bressani Prize winners: the novel, Berlin (2010); the poetry collection, The House on 14th Avenue (2014); the short story collection, Lessons in Relationship Dyads (2016). “A Theory of Discontinuous Existence,” was selected among the stories chosen for The Journey Prize Anthology. “The Sand Flea” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. Born in Italy and raised in Montreal, Michael now makes his home in the Greater Toronto Area.

Connect with Michael:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads 

Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Indigo

Saturday, April 21, 2018



In January of 2014, the village’s beloved herbalist fell dramatically ill. The shock of this event brings the community of Joshua Tree together, each member using their own form of wit, practical magic and spiritual wisdom, in a desperate effort and race against time to save the life of their beloved Jenny Q. 

A close-knit desert community takes center stage in this unique book. A woven compilation of letters, prose and poems tell the story of the power of love to overcome adversity, death, coma and amputation.

While the words of her community tell the story from an outside perspective, Jenny Q’s own insightful writings provide a fascinating window into a range of rare experiences–from the worlds encountered inside a coma, to being ravaged by sepsis, the absolute alteration of losing one’s legs, the subtle venom of PTSD, and the nightmare of opiate withdrawal.

Though Held Together ruthlessly explores dark and fearful places, it is also a celebration of the human will and the power of love.

Book Details:

Title: Held Together

Author: Jenny Q

Genre: Narrative nonfiction

Publish date: June 1, 2018

Page count: 500


Jenny, how long have you been writing and how did you start?
I have been writing most of my life.

What inspired you to write this book?

Right after I got home from the hospital, many people asked me to write a book about this event. While I loved the idea, I was still so sick, it seemed like an impossible feat. I had a couple of close friends, and my wife, as cheerleaders that gave me the courage. I asked my community for their stories, and as they came in, I felt my life get patched back together, being gifted memories I had no access to, as I was so far gone into coma, pain, and painkillers for much of a year.

How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me three years to write this book, but there was a lot of time when I was too sick to give it much time.

What do you hope readers will get from Held Together?
I really want to reach out to other disabled/alter-abled folks and others struggling to get off their reliance on opioids and other addictive substances. When I came home from the hospital, I felt so lonely. I felt like the only disabled person in the world.  I am not saying that I intellectually thought that, but emotionally felt that way.

Also, I wanted to tell the whole story, the down-and-dirty, painful journey and the gifts received. So much wisdom was gained. But mostly, I wanted to speak of the love from my family and community. That love kept me alive and kept those that love me sane. It really is a miraculous tale of how we weave our own story, and my community did just that. They refused to let me die, they willed me alive with their love and prayers.

How did you come up with the title?
My wife thought it up! Well, really, there was much discussion and meditation surrounding that. For a while, I thought about calling it Yoga on Stilts, as I spent much time in asanas meditating on how my whole life had become what felt like a balancing act. But this book is written by and about a community that holds each other together emotionally and physically.

Do you have a day job?
I am an herbalist and own an apothecary, called Grateful Desert in Joshua Tree.
I am a mom and homeschool my beautiful twelve-year-old daughter, and I am the wife of a miraculous and gifted singer and songwriter, Myshkin Warbler.

How would you describe your book in a tweet?
Love letters & intimate revelations tell the true story of a Joshua Tree community and a mother’s battle to overcome death, coma, and amputation, for love.

How did you come up with your cover art?
My dear friend Georganne Deen is a renowned artist who lives in Joshua Tree. When I was still in the hospital, she heard a story about me asking for a scotch on the rocks right after emerging from a coma. She painted this idea and sold it to Danny Elfman in a benefit to financially support my family while I was away.

I commissioned her to paint my first vacuum prostheses with symbols that relate to my life.
I’ve done my best to find the beauty in this very difficult experience. I feel like this is well illustrated by these prosthesis, which are such a hardships to wear but are beautiful.

The beauty of her art combined with the reality of an amputee was a powerful combination for the cover of this book. These painted legs illustrate the beauty and hardship that is my life.

What was your favorite childhood book?
Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time. That book really shaped my life. I still live by science embedded in magical beliefs.

What book are you currently reading and in what format?
I hadn’t had a chance to read a novel in so long! I have been so entrenched in writing this book that all my free time was spent on my own work. That being said, I just picked up a book by Sue Grafton. I love her series, a good who-done-it that is not too gory. Plus, you can’t help but fall in love with her characters.

Do you have a routine for writing?
My life is so full: parenting, family, community, people coming and going through our home much of the day. So it is no wonder that I get up at 4:30 in the morning to have quiet, uninterrupted time. I make myself an espresso and get out my journal. Much of my book comes from these pages.

Name one thing you couldn’t live without.
My community.

Where would your dream office be?
Well, in truth, I would have a few of them. One of the perks, and curses, of having traveled is dreaming of many places. I would have an office in Scotland, in Hawaii, in Tuscany, and of course right where I am, in Joshua Tree.

If you had a swear jar, would it be full?
Unfortunately, yes. My poor daughter . . .

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I think almost everyone I know would call me an extrovert, though I have introvert tendencies. I like the word my friend Sue used the other day . . . ambivert. I am definitely that.

What's your favorite treat for movie night?

Popcorn with curry and nutritional yeast.

What is the most daring thing you've done?
Chose to live.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Losing limbs and extremities has forced me to find alternative ways to do things. I love to crochet and knit. I just picked up embroidery. And I have always been a music devotee. After I lost my legs and many fingers, I picked up the cello and fell in love with my new instrument.

Do you sweat the small stuff?
Perspective is a beautiful thing. I didn’t work this hard to survive to be sad and frustrated all the time.

How long is your to-do list?
Don’t even get me started.



the meeting (excerpt from Held Together by Jenny Q)
foggy times.. not much of reality to grasp a hold of.. in and out.. people around me..
doctor after doctor after doctor.. 
confusion, pain, hallucinations, fear..
starting to recognize people around me.. the nurses, the doctors..
watching nurses do their jobs, taking vitals, administering meds, dressing wounds,
looking for pulses..
there is to be a meeting.. it is talked about.. 
i remember it because it was mentioned over and over..
the meeting, everyone will be there, a big deal..
a party almost.. this is not correct, i know, but they are talking about it with such anticipation and preparing me for it as though there will be cake and candles..
everyone will come! all your doctors and nurses and family! 
let’s clean you up and prepare you!
everyone is there.. they are all around me.. in a wide arch around the room, squeezed in because there are endless surgical teams.. colorectal, wound, infectious disease.. what else? social workers?  my sister joyce is there, and my brothers johnny and jimmy, mom, dad and myshkin.. 
as a matter of fact, it does feel like a party: doctors sitting on stools, people perched on my bed.. everyone talking and looking at me..
it is long and i drift in and out.. they are talking about my health, speaking of my progresses and declines..  i sleep a little, i think..
then sharp focus to doctor bernal.. she is talking about my legs.. they are not getting better..
they will need to be amputated..
everyone is looking at me.. holding their breath it seems, and staring..
i know i need to hold them up, let them know i can do this..
i somehow know that this is my job...
so i let out a deep breath and say confidently, “let’s do it!” and start to cry..
everyone in the room is crying..


Jenny Q was born in Southern California to Palestinian immigrants. Her love of herbs
began in her teens while on the road following the Grateful Dead. After exploring many heart
homes, she set her roots in Joshua Tree, California, where she opened Grateful Desert, the
local apothecary.

Joyously sharing her life with her tight-knit desert community, Jenny lives with her
beloveds~ Yazzy, her daughter and Myshkin, her wife.

Connect with Jenny:
Website  |  Blog  |  Facebook

Buy the book:
Coming in June!

Thursday, April 19, 2018



There's a corpse among the chanterelles!

Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast manager Kelly Jackson is hosting a cooking class during the week of the Mushroom Festival to attract guests, not drama. But soon after she finishes foraging for an edible mushroom species on sacred Native American land, a local newspaper reporter gets shot dead at the same site. With suspicions spreading like fungi in the quaint Northern Californian community over the culprit's identity, Kelly and a savvy gang of sleuthing seniors known as the "Silver Sentinels" must uncover the truth about the secluded property before a tricky killer prepares another lethal surprise . . .

Book Details:

Title: Murder at the Mushroom Festival

Author’s name: Janet Finsilver

Character’s full name: Kelly Jackson

Genre: Cozy Murder Mystery

Series: Kelly Jackson Mystery, 4th in series
Publisher: Lyrical Underground (April 17, 2018)

On tour with: Great Escapes Book Tours


Kelly Jackson was raised on a Wyoming cattle and horse ranch. During the summer months it operates as a dude ranch. She has two brothers and a sister. They live and work on the ranch along with her mother, father, grandfather, and her brother-in-law. Kelly decided to leave home and explore different careers. She currently works for Resorts International and was recently hired to manage Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast. She loves animals and horseback riding.


Tell the truth, Kelly. What do you think of your fellow characters?

I think they are wonderful! Helen Rogers and her son Tommy live on the grounds. She bakes wonderful food for the guests’ breakfasts and assists in numerous ways. Ten-year-old Tommy is a bundle of energy. Fred, his basset hound, puts a smile on my face numerous times a day. The crime-solving group of senior citizens, the Silver Sentinels, is dedicated to helping their community. They are a very smart, savvy group. I’m enjoying getting to know Scott Thompson, a fellow Resorts International, employee, better. He’s kind, considerate, and always willing to help.

If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?
Go horseback riding! That question was easy!

What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?
A divorce. A difficult, painful divorce. My husband and my best friend fell in love with each other. To be betrayed by the two people I loved and cared for the most outside of my family was devastating. I learned to be careful where my heart is concerned.

I'll bet. What are you most afraid of?
Snakes. I know, I know. A Wyoming cowgirl scared of snakes. It’s true. I have a really hard time when I have to deal with them in the barn or the pasture.

What’s the best and worst traits Janet has given you?
Caring, compassion, and loyalty to my friends and family are the best traits. The worst is this darn red hair that goes completely frizzy on me in the fog or when I’m near the ocean.

Speaking of worst, what’s Janet’s worst habit?
Collecting paper. I know part of it goes with the job. She’s always cutting out articles that give her ideas for her books. BUT it does make for a messy office at times.

How do you feel about your life right now?

I LOVE my life right now as the new manager of Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast. It’s filled with wonderful people, it’s a fun job, and I live in a beautiful place.

Is there anything you would like to change?

Well, Scott Thompson, a fellow employee for Resorts International is a really nice guy. I feel an attraction to him, but my divorce hurt so much I’m not ready to trust again. I’d like to get over that.

What aspect of Janet’s writing style do you like best?
She thinks up some unique plots, often incorporating aspects of the surrounding area that are unusual. In addition, a lot of readers have commented on how her descriptions have them feeling like they are in Redwood Cove.

Describe the town.
Redwood Cove, California, is a vacation destination for many people. It’s on the northern coast with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean. Lush redwood forests provide scenic hiking opportunities. The town has worked hard to keep its charm from the early days. There are boardwalks instead of sidewalks. Many of the buildings were built in the 1800s and have been beautifully preserved. Gourmet restaurants are in abundance.

Sounds wonderful. Describe an average day in your life.
I get up early and help Helen Rogers, the inn’s baker and assistant, prepare the breakfast baskets for the guests at the inn. She bakes amazing pastries the day before. We assemble a fruit salad in the morning and take them to the rooms. After that there are orders to fill and ongoing upkeep of the inn. It was built in the 1800s, so there’s always something that needs looking after. Being new to the area, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about the different events in the area so I can share them with my guests.

What makes you stand out from any other characters in your genre?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, I’m a Wyoming cowgirl raised on a cattle and horse ranch. My author weaves this background in throughout the books. She puts in similes and metaphors as well as references to what my life was like on the ranch . . . and why I sometimes act the way I do.


Janet Finsilver is the USA Today best-selling author of the Kelly Jackson mystery series. She and her husband reside in the San Francisco Bay Area. She worked in education for many years as a teacher, a program administrator, and a workshop presenter. Janet loves animals and has two dogs—Kylie and Ellie. Janet has ridden western style since she was a child and was a member of the National Ski Patrol. One of the highlights of her life was touching whales in the San Ignacio Lagoon. Her debut mystery, Murder at Redwood Cove, released in October 2015. Murder at the Mansion and Murder at the Fortune Teller’s Table followed. Murder at the Mushroom Festival was released in April 2018.

Connect with Janet:
Website  |  Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads 

Buy the book: 
Amazon   |  Barnes & Noble 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018



New York City, 1936. In the midst of the Great Depression, the Big Apple is defiantly striving toward an era infused with art, architecture, and economic progress under the dynamic Mayor La Guardia. But those in City Hall know that tumultuous times can inspire both optimism and deadly danger . . .
It’s been six months since Lane Sanders was appointed Mayor Fiorello “Fio” La Guardia’s new personal aide, and the twenty-three-year-old is sprinting in her Mary Janes to match her boss’s pace.

Despite dealing with vitriol from the Tammany Hall political machine and managing endless revitalization efforts, Fio hasn’t slowed down a bit during his years in office. And luckily for Lane, his unpredictable antics are a welcome distraction from the childhood memories that haunt her dreams—and the silver gun she’ll never forget.

When Lane gets attacked and threatened by an assailant tied to one of most notorious gangsters in the city, even the mayor can’t promise her safety. The corrupt city officials seem to be using Lane as a pawn against Fio for disgracing their party in the prior election. But why was the assailant wielding the exact same gun from her nightmares?

Balancing a clandestine love affair and a mounting list of suspects, Lane must figure out how the secrets of her past are connected to the city’s underground crime network—before someone pulls the trigger on the most explosive revenge plot in New York history . . .

Book Details:

Title: The Silver Gun

Author: L.A. Chandler

Series: Art Deco Mystery, 1st in series

Genre: Cozy mystery

Publisher: Kensington (August 29, 2017)

Paperback: 336 pages

On tour with: Great Escapes Book Tours


Food and Drinks Galore

The first book in The Art Deco Mystery Series, The Silver Gun, is full of food and vintage cocktails. I am often asked about this fact. I get a lot of quotes like, “Be prepared to always be hungry when you’re reading!” and “I love all those cocktails!”

Well, there are two reasons why I write so much about the culinary aspect of the city. The obvious one is that New York is a veritable haven for foodies. You could live here forever and never visit all of the restaurants. Every day, all day, you walk by restaurants and pubs and smell the delicious food all around. Experiencing the city involves all the senses. The second reason is not so obvious. When you come here and fill your day running all over the place doing touristy things, or if you have a job like my protagonist, Lane, where you are traveling around the city like crazy, you have to be prepared to be simply ravenous. All. The. Time.

You use a lot of energy. I always tell people you have to be able to really walk in your shoes, even the high strappy kind. (One time I was trying on a pair of high heeled red shoes –my favorite—and my husband caught me with them on striding jauntily across the store. He looked at me with a cheeky grin and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Marching. I mean, trying on my shoes!”). And be ready to need to find food at a moment’s notice because your stomach is viciously growling.

Since the era of the Art Deco Mysteries is directly after Prohibition ended, cocktails were really big. Lane and the gang have a variety of cocktails, especially when they’re out dancing. There’s the Bad Romance, a Sidecar, a FloraDora… In my newsletters, I share recipes for vintage cocktails and those recipes always have the highest click-rates!

My favorite appetizer recipe–and the one that I get asked about all the time–is the crumb-coated olives that Lane and Finn have at the Italian place in Little Italy. I love them so much, but they can be hard to find. Below I have a recipe for you. I also have a vintage recipe of a Flora Dora cocktail you can make as a mocktail or fully leaded.

All in all, food and cocktails are to this day a big part of the city. To skip that part, you would miss a dynamic aspect of city living. But what makes these aspects really powerful in the books, is that they have a fantastic ability to bring people together. And that’s the best part!

Crumb Coated Olives

½ cup flour
½ cup bread crumbs
1 beaten egg
Olive oil for frying
Pitted green olives

Dry the olives well, then dredge in flour, then the egg, then the bread crumbs. Fry in 1/2" of olive oil until golden brown. Can top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. They are fantastic by themselves, or you can make a dipping sauce with ½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt, juice and zest from ½ of a lemon, ¼ teaspoon parsley flakes, and 1/8 teaspoon of garlic salt (to taste). 

Flora Dora – it has a beautiful pink color

In a pitcher combine 1 cup gin or vodka, ½ cup Chambord (raspberry liquor), and the juice of 1 lime. (Double or triple for larger groups – can also add lime slices to the pitcher).

Over ice, fill the cup halfway with Ginger Ale, then the other half with Flora Dora mixture. Garnish with lime slice.

For a virgin Flora Dora, fill pitcher with Ginger Ale, the juice of 1 lime, 1 lime that’s been sliced (just add right into the pitcher), and ½ cup of raspberry puree that’s been strained of its seeds. Pour over ice.


L.A. Chandlar is the author of the Art Deco Mystery Series with Kensington Publishing featuring Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and a fresh take on the innovation and liveliness of 1930s New York City. Her debut novel, The Silver Gun released August 29, 2017, and the sequel, The Gold Pawn, will release September 25, 2018. Laurie has been living and writing in New York City for 16 years and has been speaking for a wide variety of audiences for over 20 years including a women’s group with the United Nations. Her talks range from NYC history, the psychology of creativity, and the history of holiday traditions. Laurie has also worked in PR for General Motors, writes and fund-raises for a global nonprofit, is the mother of two boys, and has toured the nation managing a rock band.

Connect with the author:
Website  |  Social Media Quick Link  |  YouTube  |  Goodreads

Buy the book:
Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble  |   Kobo    |  Google Play  |  BookBub

Sunday, April 15, 2018



Professional gambler, Johnny Chapman, plays the hand he’s dealt, but when he’s dealt a series of losers, he decides to up the ante with more money than he can afford to lose. Just when he thinks his life can’t get any worse, it does. The loan shark he owes the money to demands that he pay up and sends his goons after him. The man offers Johnny one way out—fix a race by fatally injecting the dog most likely to win. A piece of cake, Johnny thinks, until he looks into the big brown eyes of the beautiful dog, and the price suddenly seems too great to pay. Now Johnny’s on the run and the goons are closing in…

Book Details:

Title: The Fix

Author’s name: Robert Downs

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Black Opal Books (12/2/2017)

Page count: 166

On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours


A few of your favorite things: Road trips and short flights, country music and Walk the Moon, pens and paper, and my laptop and HP printer.
Things you need to throw out: Old clothes and expired food. I also have more books than I could possibly read in the next five years, but I don’t believe in tossing books out. I believe books are a gift that should be passed on to the next eager reader.

Things you need in order to write: My laptop, and if that fails, a pen and paper. Everything else is negotiable.
Things that hamper your writing: Time and sometimes life gets in the way. Experiences feed the creative process. If I write too much, I’ll eventually run out of things to say, and if I only have experiences and no writing time, as you can probably imagine, I won’t right a single word. Life is all about balance. I feel like everything I do somehow informs my writing.

Things you love about writing: I’m living my dream every day. My biggest fantasy has become my reality. I love typing as fast as I can through that first draft, and I enjoy shaping the novel throughout the editing process.
Things you hate about writing: I don’t hate it, but the hardest part of writing for me is once the book comes out, and the marketing process rushes full speed ahead. I’ve studied it quite a bit, and heard other writers talk about it, and I still feel like I don’t do it well.

Things you love about where you live: The vast amount of activities I can do in and around Los Angeles. If I’m bored here, I’m probably not looking hard enough for something to do.
Things that make you want to move: The traffic and the sheer number of people. I can’t walk five steps without bumping into someone. I don’t know if this is the right word, but it feels claustrophobic to me at times.

Things you never want to run out of: Pens, paper, printer ink, and battery life on my laptop.
Things you wish you’d never bought: An electronic keyboard and a pair of PJ Harvey concert tickets. Let’s just say the latter was to impress a woman, and it didn’t work out so well.

Words that describe you: Persistent, honest, optimistic, organized, introvert, planner, creative, and self-confident.
Words that describe you but you wish they didn’t: I’d say the hardest thing for me and the people around me is being a perfectionist. It helps me reach my goals and keeps me pushing forward, but it has probably been the downfall of more than one relationship in my life, and it often means I’m never satisfied with my successes.

Favorite foods: Pasta, chicken, leftovers, and anything I don’t have to cook myself. I also have a mouth full of sweet teeth, which often leads me to believe the food pyramid needs to be reversed. Chocolate and sugar should cover the widest part of the pyramid.
Things that make you want to throw up: Canned spinach and vinegar are not my friends. My mom mixed the two and cooked it in the microwave, and it stunk up our entire house.

Favorite music or song: "Shut Up and Dance," "Learning to Fly," "Castle on the Hill," and "Copperhead Road." There’s plenty more, but I’ll stop there. The correct answer for music genre is always country.
Music that make your ears bleed: I’m not a big fan of jazz or rap.

Favorite beverage: Water
Something that gives you a pickle face: Anything sour.

Favorite smell: Fresh linens
Something that makes you hold your nose: If anyone is smoking in a three-block radius of me, I can smell it, and it makes me want to gag.

Something you’re really good at: I hope the correct answer is writing, but the jury is still out on that one.

Something you’re really bad at: I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but public speaking still makes me uncomfortable. I do it because it’s required, but I’m usually not happy about it. I’m an introvert, so I prefer to blend. I don’t feel like I need the spotlight.

Something you wish you could do: Play the drums or dance. But alas, I am a man with no rhythm. I just hope it’s not hereditary.
Something you wish you’d never learned to do: I don’t know if I had a good answer for this one. I do know I probably should have stopped playing the saxophone before the marching band. (See previous answer.)

Something you like to do: Traveling, reading, watching movies, writing, and road trips with little to no traffic. Streaming services and Redbox are wonderful inventions.

Something you wish you’d never done: Marching band and band camp. Again, it’s the no rhythm. I feel like I have a theme here.

People you consider as heroes: My parents. I’m also a sucker for a good underdog story, since I feel like I’m constantly underestimated in my own life.

People with a big L on their foreheads: Los Angeles has a flakey reputation, and I can say it often doesn’t disappoint in this regard. I like to think I am a man of my word, and I wish more people felt the same way.

Last best thing you ate: The cinnamon roll I ate this morning, and the iced sugar cookie I ate this afternoon. Both were quite good.

Last thing you regret eating: See previous answer. Life is tough, and it’s even tougher when you’re addicted to sugar.

Things you’d walk a mile for: Ice cream, a good book or movie, good music, a good story idea, or the woman of my dreams.
Things that make you want to run screaming from the room: Cigarette smoke, liars, hypocrites, and flakes. Bats and snakes are not my friends either.



The taste of liquor still lingered on his lips. Six months without a drink, and he had the chip to prove it. His eyes were downcast, the table was green felt, and his wooden seat jammed the lower part of his back. The overhead light was dim, and he had his hat pulled down over his eyes. Johnny Chapman had lost three hands in a row, and he didn’t want to lose a fourth.
The Indian sat across from him with his hands folded across his chest, wearing dark sunglasses in a dark room, his hair shaved close to his head, and a tooth missing near his front. He cracked his knuckles between hands and even once during. The sound bounced off the walls in the closet of a room.
“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Thomas Kincaid asked. “I ain’t got all night.” His lips formed a sneer before he took a long pull on a dark drink. His eyes flicked in every direction except straight ahead.
“Don’t rush me.”
“If you move any slower, we’ll both be looking up at the daisies,” Thomas replied. He looked at his two cards for what must have been the third time.
Johnny sucked his lip between his teeth, flashed his eyes once toward the ceiling, and flipped a chip onto the deck. The roar in his ears nearly pulled him away from the hand, but the click of the ceiling fan managed to hold his attention. The darkness helped with his focus as well.
The girl sat across from him, dark hair drifting to-ward her shoulders and even a bit beyond. Teeth as white as a bowl of rice. A drop of moisture near her upper lip entered the equation. Her T-shirt bunched out at the front, and her eyes were as cold as Alaska. She played her cards close to her chest, and her bets were even. For the most part. She managed to toss in a few extra chips when she had a hand. But she was a straight shooter and hadn’t bluffed once. Johnny knew it was coming, though. He just didn’t know when. Even if he managed to run like hell, she’d probably still clip him at the ankles. Her chip stack sat more than a third higher than his own.
She had a good smile. That one. Not too much of the pearly whites, but just enough for a man to take notice. The words on her chest accentuated her assets. Tight, clean, and turquoise—the T-shirt, not her breasts.
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his watch, and his phone buzzed in his pocket. The alarm. His leg vibrated for a second more and then it stopped.
It was almost time. The medication. It took the edge off, and stopped his mind from racing off to infinity and beyond. The man with the dark rims and the white lab coat prescribed it in a room bigger than the one he was in now. If he didn’t take his meds in the next ten minutes, the headaches would start soon after.
The ceiling fan whirred again. The backroom was stale and damp, the casino out on the edge of the reservation with nothing but tumbleweed and small trees for over a mile. Diagonally opposite from the little shithole that he called home for the past several years. The run-down piece of trash with the broken Spanish shingles, cracked stucco, and clouded windows.
Seconds turned over, one after another, and still there was no movement from the Indian to his right. Lapu Sinquah flipped his sunglasses up, and dragged them back down, but not before his eyes looked around the table. The Indian made a face and flipped two chips onto the green felt.
The girl was next. She scratched her forehead. Her expression remained neutral. When Caroline Easton flipped her head, her hair remained out of her eyes. Her look resembled cold, hard steel. She followed the Indian with a two-chip flip.
Thomas tossed his cards away, and it was back to Johnny. He felt it: an all-consuming need to win this hand…and the next one…and the one after. Desire consumed him, after all. Or maybe it didn’t.
The hand that got away. The hand that consumed him, pushed him over the edge, and had him calling out in the middle of the night. One voice. One concentrated effort before the moment passed him by. He couldn’t imagine losing, ending up with nothing. Bankrupt.
This minute reasoning had him playing cards night after night, hand after hand, reading player after player. Moment after moment. Until the moments were sick and twisted and filled with jagged edges and punctured with pain. Or left him dead and buried on the side of the road in a ditch with half of his face missing.
The winning streak wouldn’t last. It’d be gone again. Like a sound carried away by the breeze in the middle of a forgotten forest. This time, he wouldn’t fold too soon. This time, he’d play it differently.
The one that got away. The pot in the middle that would have covered three month’s rent. But he tossed his cards aside, even though he’d been staring at the winning hand for damn near three minutes.
His eyes flicked to each of the three players before he once more peeled his cards back from the table and slid the two spades to the side.
The Indian glared at him through the darkness and his dark sunglasses. “Well?” Lapu asked. “What the fuck, man?”
Johnny tossed his shoulders up in the air. “I’m out.”
“Just like that?” Caroline’s long dark hair whipped around her head.
“Sure, why not?”
The Indian rubbed his shaved head. “You’re one crazy motherfucker.”
Johnny shrugged. “I never claimed to be sane.”
The ceiling fan whirred faster, clicking every five seconds. The air was heavy and suffocating, and he yanked on his collar with his index finger. Two drinks were drunk, and a glass clinked against a tooth. One chair slid back and another moved forward.
“There’s over two grand in the pot,” Lapu said.
Johnny gave a slight tilt of his head. “And I know when to walk away.”
The Indian jerked to his feet and extended a finger away from his chest. “It was your raise that started this shitstorm.”
“True,” Johnny said. “And now I’m going to end it.”
Caroline combed her hair with her fingers. “You haven’t ended anything.”
“I’d rather have that as my downfall than lose it all to you nitwits.”
Caroline smirked. Her white teeth glinted against the light overhead. “Who made you queen of the land?”
“I’d like to think it sort of came up on me,” Johnny said. “It sort of took me by surprise. Existence is futile.”
The Indian smirked. His stained teeth were nearly the color of his skin. “Futility won’t help you now.”
The hand was between the girl and the Indian. Her assets versus his. One smirk versus another. The sun-glasses were down, and both the movements and expressions were calculated. Chips were tossed, and the last card was flipped. Caroline took the pot, and her cold expression never wavered.
A ten-minute break ensued. Johnny used the bath-room, washed his hands, shoved two pills into his mouth, cupped his hands underneath the spout, sucked water from his palms, dunked his hands underneath the liquid once more, and splashed the water on his face. He grimaced at his own reflection, the dark, sunken eyes. He sucked in air and dried his hands. His shoes clicked on the broken tile on his way out the door.
His chips hadn’t moved, and neither had the table. The stack of chips was smaller than when he started this game. As the losses mounted, his amount of breathing room decreased. His longest losing streak was thirteen hands in a row.
The blinds were doubled, and his mind numbed. Compassion was a long forgotten equation, and sympathy wasn’t far behind.
The conversation picked up again, and the Indian perfected a new glare. “I never heard so much chatting over a game of cards.”
“It’s not just a game,” Thomas said. “Now, is it?” One dark drink was replaced with another, and the man’s eyes glazed over.
The girl tapped her wrist with two fingers and flipped her hair. “I think we’re already past the point of sanity.”
“If there was ever a point, it was lost—”
“I had a few points of my own that were somehow hammered home.” Johnny flipped three chips into the pot in one smooth motion. He had a hand, and he was determined to play it, even if he had to stare down the girl and the Indian at the same time.
“The game of life succeeds where you might have failed,” Lapu said.
Thomas knocked back the remainder of yet another drink. “I don’t accept failure.”
Johnny’s eyes flicked to his wrist. “You don’t accept success either.”
“Why do you keep looking at your watch?” Thomas asked. “Are you late for a date?”
The girl called and tossed three chips into the pot with only a slight hesitation. She had a hand, or she wanted to make it appear as such. Her lips moved less and less, and her eyes moved more and more. Her features were clearly defined.
Johnny kept his expression even.
“You’re not late for anything that I’ve seen,” Caro-line said.
Both the Indian and Thomas folded.
“I’d like to take you out back and shoot you.”
“Would that somehow solve the majority of your problems?” the Indian asked.
Johnny nodded. “It might solve a few.”
“Or,” she said, “then again, it might not.”
The last card was flipped, and bets were tossed into the center of the pot. Johnny raised, and Caroline countered with a raise of her own. He called, flipped his cards over, and his straight lost to her flush. Half of his stack disappeared in one hand. He ground his teeth and chewed his bottom lip.
“I don’t like you,” Johnny said.
Her expression was colder than Anchorage. “You never liked me.”
“There might have been mutual respect, but that ship sailed out into the great beyond and smacked an iceberg.”
“Does not equal acceptance,” Johnny said.
“It will keep you up most nights,” the Indian said.
Determined not to lose again, Johnny kept his eyes on the prize and his dwindling stack of chips. The girl to his right had never flashed a smile, and now her stack of chips was nearly three times the size of his own. His eyes flicked to his wrist once more, and he grimaced.
For several moments, the ceiling fan took up all the sound in the room.
His breath hiccupped in his chest, and he swayed in his chair. The wood jammed against his lower back, and the angry green felt kept an even expression. His mouth moved, but no sound escaped from between his lips.
He fell out of his chair and cracked his head on the carpet. For the next few minutes, he drifted in and out of consciousness.
“Did his heart just stop?” Lapu asked.
Thomas leaned across the table. “What the hell are we talking about now?”
Lapu stood up. “I think that fucker passed out.”
“Which fucker?” Caroline’s chest pressed hard enough against her shirt to slow down her blood flow. Her eyes narrowed, but her hand was steady.
“The one that was losing.”
“That’s all you fuckers.” She tapped her tongue against her upper lip. “You’re all losing.”
Lapu shoved his chair back. “I don’t like losing.”
“But you do it so well.”
Thomas’s body shifted in his chair. “Not on purpose.”
The ceiling fan stopped, and the walls trapped all remnants of sound. One beat of silence was followed by another.
Lapu moved first. He slapped two fingers to Johnny’s wrist and checked for a pulse. The heartbeat was low and weak and arrhythmic.
“What do we do now?” Caroline asked. “Have you got a plan?”
Thomas stood up and sat back down again.
“Cayenne pepper and apple cider vinegar,” Lapu said. “Both have the potential to reduce the effects of arrhythmia.”
She pointed. “Or maybe he has pills in his pocket.”
Lapu nodded. “That is also an option. Check his pockets while I prop up his head.”
“I need another drink,” Thomas said. “I’d rather not be sober if a man is going to die.”
Caroline rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so melodramatic.”
Lapu had watched his father die with a look on his face not that far from the one Johnny wore now: the lost eyes and the still body, with his spirit on the verge of leaving this world for the next. Lapu poked through his pockets in a methodical fashion and found a prescription bottle with a half-peeled label. He popped the top, poked his finger through the slot, and removed two pills. He peeled Johnny’s lips apart, shoved the pills inside his mouth, and forced him to swallow. Minutes later, his life force had altered considerably, and color had returned to Johnny’s cheeks.
Lapu nodded his head. “There’s a purpose to every-thing.”
Thomas leaned over and slapped Johnny on the cheek. “I believe in the possibilities of a situation. Those moments that lead from one into the next, filled with passion and compassion and equality, and some other shit.”
Caroline smirked. “Which is what exactly?”
“Not losing another hand.”
Johnny inched his way to a sitting position and slapped his forehead. “Fuck me—”
“Not likely,” Caroline said. “It neither looks enjoy-able nor promising, but that’s a nice try, though.”
“Your perspective has gotten skewed,” Thomas re-plied.
“That’s certainly possible,” she said, “but I wouldn’t be so sure.”
< <
More hands were played, and more hands were lost. Johnny’s stack of chips diminished faster until he was left with two red ones and half a drink. His even expression had vanished long ago, and his feet had started tap-ping during the last three hands. The Indian had six chips to Johnny’s two, and the rest were distributed between Thomas and Caroline, with the girl staring above a tower nearly level with her chin. Her expression hadn’t changed, and neither had her methodical approach to playing cards.
The barrel of a gun dug into Johnny’s lower back-side after he expunged the last two chips he had to his name. He didn’t have time to move or breathe, and he hadn’t even noticed Thomas shift his weight and remove the pistol from somewhere on his person. But the digging did further enhance Johnny’s focus and destroy his moral support. “Cuff him.”
“What the fuck?” Johnny replied.
“It’s time you realized the full extent of your losing.”
Johnny couldn’t see Caroline’s expression, but her voice was filled with menace and hate and exhibited more force than a battering ram.
“Stand up, you piece of trash.”
The gun shifted, and Johnny rose. The room spun, and he considered passing out all over again, but he pulled himself back and inched his way toward the metal door that was a lifetime away.
The barrel against his back never moved or wavered.
< <
She hated cards. Had hated the act and aggression of gambling most of her life. The thrill of winning and the heartbreak of defeat neither moved nor motivated her. Tossing chips into a pot, calculating the odds in her head, reading players around the table, and playing the hands of the other players instead of playing her own made her head throb from the weight of the proposition. But she did it, over and over again. If she thought about it long enough and hard enough, Caroline might have called herself a professional gambler, but that was a term she hated even more than the act of taking money from unsuspecting souls who had a penchant for losing. But if her two choices were paying the rent, or living on the street, she would choose rent every time and worry about the consequences later.
She couldn’t change her fate, or her odds. All she could do was play the hand she was dealt, match it up against what the other guys and gals had around the table, and study the ticks and idiosyncrasies that made each player unique. Over-confidence and euphoria were concepts she knew well, and she could smell it coming like a New Mexican thunderstorm. Even though she understood what she needed to do, she hated her hands even more than she hated long division. With each passing second, her trepidation grew, and the calm she exuded on the surface was a thunderstorm underneath the shallow exterior. It had gotten to the point that it was totally out of control, and probably would be for the rest of her life. It wasn’t satisfying, or even mesmerizing, and yet here she was week after week, going through the motions. The same types of players sat around the table with the same types of expressions painted on their uneven faces. The voice in her mind echoed in time, and she did her best to keep the whispers at bay. But the plan backfired, just as all good plans did that were built on a foundation of lies.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Caroline asked.
“Trying to win,” Johnny said. “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Losing,” she said. “And not even admirably. You really are one stupid bastard.”
She had been called to test him, to see if he would break and crumble beneath the weight of a bad hand or two or ten, and he had folded faster than a crumpled handbag smashed against a mugger’s face. She had chipped away steadily at his chips, until two red ones were all he had left, and a tower of multicolored circles stood in front of her.
< <
Johnny had a hand that was planted in his lap by the gods, or maybe it was Julius Caesar himself. He couldn’t remember the number of times he’d lost in a row. Six or maybe it was seven. The torment and punishment continued unabated, and he licked his lips more with each passing second. The hands played out one after another against him, and the gates of Hell had opened before him. The girl to his right was methodical, and the jabs kept on coming, one right after another.
Her hands were probably her best feature. The way her fingers slid across the table, shoving chips and poking at her cards, and prodding the weaknesses of those around her, only made him long for her even more.
But this was it. His moment. And he wasn’t about to let it pass him by. Two minutes later, though, the moment passed, his chips were gone, a gun was shoved against his backside, and he was escorted out of the building.
Excerpt from The Fix by Robert Downs. Copyright © 2017 by Robert Downs. Reproduced with permission from Robert Downs. All rights reserved.



Robert Downs aspired to be a writer before he realized how difficult the writing process was. Fortunately, he'd already fallen in love with the craft, otherwise his tales might never have seen print. Originally from West Virginia, he has lived in Virginia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and now resides in California. When he’s not writing, Downs can be found reading, reviewing, blogging, or smiling. To find out more about his latest projects, or to reach out to him on the Internet, visit the author’s website.

Connect with Robert:
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Friday, April 13, 2018



In 1902 New York, Alice Roosevelt, the bright, passionate, and wildly unconventional daughter of newly sworn-in President Theodore Roosevelt, is placed under the supervision of Secret Service Agent Joseph St. Clair, ex-cowboy and veteran of the Rough Riders. St. Clair quickly learns that half his job is helping Alice roll cigarettes and escorting her to bookies, but matters grow even more difficult when Alice takes it upon herself to investigate a recent political killing--the assassination of former president William McKinley.

Concerned for her father's safety, Alice seeks explanations for the many unanswered questions about the avowed anarchist responsible for McKinley's death. In her quest, Alice drags St. Clair from grim Bowery bars to the elegant parlors of New York's ruling class, from the haunts of the Chinese secret societies to the magnificent new University Club, all while embarking on a tentative romance with a family friend, the son of a prominent local household.

And while Alice, forced to challenge those who would stop at nothing in their greed for money and power, considers her uncertain future, St. Clair must come to terms with his own past in Alice and the Assassin, the first in R. J. Koreto's riveting new historical mystery series.

Book Details:

Book title: Alice and the Assassin

Author’s name: R.J. Koreto

Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction

Series: Alice Roosevelt Mystery #1

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books (April 11, 2017)

Page count: 288

On tour with: Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours


R.J., what’s the story behind the title of your book?
"Assassin" says it all—it's Alice Roosevelt solving the mystery of President McKinley's assassination in 1901. The second book in the series, The Body in the Ballroom, comes out later this year.

Where’s home for you?
Rockland County, New York.

Where did you grow up?
In New York City, just like Alice Roosevelt.

Who would you pick to write your biography?
Henry Fielding, who wrote Tom Jones. What a wonderful story teller he is! He also holds an important place for mystery writers, as he founded the Bow Street Runners, London's first police force.

What’s one thing you wish your younger writer self knew?
Not only do you become a better writer, but you become a better editor. That is, you become a better judge of your own work.

Do you have another job outside of writing?
I have a job outside of fiction writing. I spend my day writing articles about tax and accounting regulations. I've been asked if I ever wanted to write a murder mystery set in the accounting world, and I might, because I have a great idea for a title: Bored to Death.

I love that! How did you meet your wife?
We met when found ourselves at adjoining desks, when we were editorial assistants at a  publishing company, some 30 years ago. I bought an IBM-PC and encouraged her to buy one too. I helped her carry it back to her apartment. She cooked me a hamburger. The rest is history.

Would you rather be a lonely genius, or a sociable idiot?
On the spectrum, I'm more on the lonely genius end. There is some controversy about the "genius" level.

What’s one of your favorite quotes?
Friedrich Schiller: "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain." Isaac Asimov used it in a novel.

What’s your favorite line from a book?
“I was thinking, that when my time comes, I should be sorry if the only plea I had to offer was that of justice. Because it might mean that only justice would be meted out to me.” ― Agatha Christie, Murder at the Vicarage.

What would Alice Roosevelt say about you?
Alice might say: "I do think that for the most part, Mr. Koreto provides a fair portrayal of me and accurately describes my successes. But in several places he makes it sound as if I am often difficult and even arrogant. Everyone knows that's not true about me."

To which Mr. St. Clair, her Secret Service bodyguard, might say dryly, "Yes, Miss Alice. He sure got that part wrong."

How did you create the plot for this book? Is it based on real life?
Absolutely! William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, but so much remains unknown, such as the emotional state of the assassin. It was fun, and a challenge, to neatly merge real history and fiction. There really are a lot of unanswered questions about the assassination of William McKinley. My plot is fictional, but based on the real political turmoil at the beginning of the 20th century.

Are any of your characters inspired by real people?
Not just inspired—they actually were real people. Alice Roosevelt, her Aunt Anna, her president father, and Nicholas Longworth, who would become her husband. Her bodyguard Joseph St. Clair is fictional, but based on real Rough Riders.

Are you like any of your characters?
Alice's bodyguard, Agent St. Clair, is very different from me: he's a Westerner with little formal education but a lot of experience as a lawman and soldier. But we have one important thing in common: neither of us has any patience for fools.

Who are your favorite authors?
Agatha Christie: No one writes better plots. No one.
George Simenon: He has no equal in setting a scene.
Rex Stout: I wish I could write dialog half as well as he could.
John le Carre: The Smiley books left me dumbfounded.
J.R.R. Tolkien: The richness of his world is a triumph of imagination.

What book are you currently reading and in what format?
I'm more of a print reader than an e-book reader. Right now, I'm catching up on my Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines.

What’s one pet peeve you have when you read?
Plot holes. Everyone can make a mistake, but sometimes I read a mystery where there's a huge logic chasm. I remember throwing one book down and saying, "If that got published, I can certainly write a novel!" I started that weekend.

Do you have a routine for writing?
I write evenings and weekends, usually with a little noise in the background. I grew up right in Manhattan and as a result I can't think if it's dead quiet.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your writing?
In an online review, one reader wrote she liked the protagonist of one of my books so much that she wanted her to be her friend. I can't even imagine a greater compliment.

You can be any fictional character for one day. Who would you be?
It would probably be a character out of Lord of the Rings. My daughters will laugh at me.

What’s the worst thing someone has said about your writing? How did you deal with it?
One publisher returned a manuscript saying he liked my writing but didn't find one single sympathetic character in the book. Actually, I liked my characters. So I'm thinking, "OK, I'm not a failure as a writer. But I might be a sociopath." That took a while to get over.

What would your dream office look like?
Wood-paneled walls lined with books, all bound in leather. A huge antique wooden desk. A working fireplace.

Are you happy with your decision to publish with Crooked Lane?
I was very lucky to find a wonderful and shrewd agent, Cynthia Zigmund, who gave me valuable advice and then proceeded to reach out to publishers. My publisher, Crooked Lane, was still pretty new, and they were willing to really work with me on my books. It was a wonderful education.

What are you working on now?
Something I'm very excited about. In rural England in 1888, a fledgling police constable helps investigate the murder of a young woman he knew well, the daughter of an Earl. He helplessly watches as the wrong man is convicted and hanged—thanks to the Earl's prejudices. Over the next 35 years, as he rises through the ranks, he keeps revisiting the case, from London to India to the battlefields of World War I, even as the Earl's family faces the repercussions of the murder, generation after generation. We see the change in the noble family, in the constable and in England itself, over the decades.


I had a nice little runabout parked around the corner, and Alice certainly enjoyed it. It belonged to the Roosevelt family, but I was the only one who drove it. Still, the thing about driving a car is that you can't easily get to your gun, and I didn't like the look of the downtown crowds, so I removed it from its holster and placed it on the seat between us.
"Don't touch it," I said.
"I wasn't going to," said Alice.
"Yes, you were."
I had learned something the first time I had met her. I was sent to meet Mr. Wilkie, the Secret Service director, in the White House, and we met on the top floor. He was there, shaking his head and cleaning his glasses with his handkerchief. "Mr. St. Clair, welcome to Washington. Your charge is on the roof smoking a cigarette. The staircase is right behind me. Best of luck." He put his glasses back on, shook my hand, and left.
It had taken me about five minutes to pluck the badly rolled cigarette out of Alice's mouth, flick it over the edge of the building, and then talk her down.
"Any chance we could come to some sort of a working relationship?" I had asked. She had looked me up and down.
"A small one," she had said. "You were one of the Rough Riders, with my father on San Juan Hill, weren't you?" I nodded. "Let's see if you can show me how to properly roll a cigarette. Cowboys know these things, I've heard."
"Maybe I can help—if you can learn when and where to smoke them," I had responded.
So things had rolled along like that for a while, and then one day in New York, some man who looked a little odd wanted—rather forcefully—to make Alice's acquaintance on Fifth Avenue, and it took me all of three seconds to tie him into a knot on the sidewalk while we waited for the police.
"That was very impressive, Mr. St. Clair," she had said, and I don't think her eyes could've gotten any bigger. "I believe that was the most exciting thing I've ever seen." She looked at me differently from then on, and things went a little more smoothly after that. Not perfect, but better.
Anyway, that afternoon I pulled into traffic. It was one of those damp winter days, not too cold. Workingmen were heading home, and women were still making a few last purchases from peddlers before everyone packed up for the day.
"Can we stop at a little barbershop off of Houston?" she asked. I ran my hand over my chin. "Is that a hint I need a shave?" I'm used to doing it myself.
"Don't be an idiot," she said, with a grin. "That's where my bookie has set up shop. I've had a very good week."
Excerpt from Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto. Copyright © 2018 by R.J. Koreto. Reproduced with permission from R.J. Koreto. All rights reserved.


Death at the Emerald: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery

Death Among Rubies: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery

Death on the Sapphire: A Lady Frances Ffolkes Mystery

The Body in the Ballroom: An Alice Roosevelt Mystery


R.J. Koreto is the author of the Lady Frances Ffolkes mystery series, set in Edwardian England, and the Alice Roosevelt mystery series, set in turn-of-the-century New York. His short stories have been published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

In his day job, he works as a business and financial journalist. Over the years, he’s been a magazine writer and editor, website manager, PR consultant, book author, and seaman in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Like his heroine, Alice Roosevelt, he was born and raised in New York City.

With his wife and daughters, he divides his time between Rockland County, New York, and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Connect with R.J.:
Website Facebook  |  Twitter  |  Goodreads
Buy the book:
Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, April 11, 2018



What’s the couple next door really hiding? Vintage fashionista and amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter finds out in this engrossing cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of The Book Club Murders.

In a small town like Oakwood, Ohio, everyone knows everyone else’s business—except for Charley Carpenter’s standoffish new neighbors, who tend to keep to themselves. But behind closed doors, Paxton Sharpe’s habit of screaming bloody murder at all hours of the day keeps Charley awake all night. Coupled with the stress of the increasingly delayed expansion of her shop, Old Hat Vintage Fashions, the insomnia is driving Charley crazy. Her only distraction? The local paper’s irreverent new advice column, “Ask Jackie.”

Jackie’s biting commentary usually leaves Charley and her employees rolling on the floor, but her latest column is no laughing matter. An oddly phrased query hinting at a child in peril immediately puts Charley on high alert. After arriving home to a bloodcurdling scream next door, she follows the noise into the basement and makes a grisly discovery: the body of Judith Sharpe’s adult daughter.

With Detective Marcus Trenault off in Chicago, Charley decides to take matters into her own hands. Convinced that the murder is connected to the desperate plea for help in “Ask Jackie,” she embarks on a twisted investigation that has her keeping up with the Sharpes—before a killer strikes again.

Book Details:

Title: The Advice Column Murders

Author: Leslie Nagel

Genre: Cozy mystery, 3rd in series

Series: The Oakwood Mystery series

Publisher: Alibi (April 3, 2018)

Print Length: 250 pages


Write What You Know? Yes . . . And No

Let’s talk about method acting. The core of “The Method” is emotional analogy. When you want to play a part in a convincing way, you must feel the emotions of your character. Sometimes that requires living the life of that character, literally walking a mile in her or his shoes. So, if you’re tasked with playing the part of a killer, do you go out and bump somebody off?

Thankfully, that won’t be necessary.

Instead, you try to resurrect the most homicidal feeling you’ve ever had and bring that sense of all-consuming rage to the part. It doesn’t take much – a memory of having your new car sideswiped in a parking lot could suffice, IF that memory is enough to bring your blood to the boiling point.

So how does emotional analogy apply to writing fiction?
“Write what you know” is both one of the best, and one of the most misunderstood, pieces of advice, ever. It encourages new writers to keep their setting and characters grounded in familiar territory, which hopefully translates into relatable, believable stories.

But it also paralyzes aspiring authors into thinking that authenticity in fiction means thinly veiled autobiography. If you’re a drunken, brawling adventurer like Hemingway, no problem. If you, like Jane Austen, are a gentlewoman living in a world obsessed with the marriageability of young women and the suitability of their admirers, you need merely to gaze out your window for inspiration.

But what about the rest of us? Do I only write books about being a part time teacher and raising a couple of kids? Of course not. How boring would that be to write, much less read? Conversely, have I ever killed a bunch of people and arranged them like scenes from favorite mystery books? I have not. But I wrote about it, and quite convincingly, according to my readers. How did I do that?

Well, has Andy Weir (The Martian) ever been stranded in space? Did Ernest Cline (Ready Player One) live in a future dominated by an immersive video game? NO, and NO. Yet both novels are authentic and convincing. How did they do that?

I don’t mean to suggest that writing about the world you know is a mistake. If you are a new writer still mastering your craft, I highly recommend it. After all, I set my Oakwood Mystery Series in my very real hometown. It’s relatively easy for me to describe the sights, smells, sounds, the people, even the weather, allowing me to focus on planting all those red herrings.

However, “write what you know” isn’t just about the five senses. It’s also about the six sense: emotions. You can write a scene about two people standing in your kitchen having an unexpected moment of romantic connection. You can describe their appearance. It’s your kitchen: you can describe the scene right down to the teacups, curtains and pot holders hanging on the wall.

But if you’ve never had a crazy crush, if you’ve never made eye contact with a sexy someone and felt the blush heat your cheeks before setting your pulse racing and your tummy fluttering, your scene will fall flat. However, if you connect emotionally with your characters, you can put your story on Pluto, and readers will buy into it one hundred percent.

I teach writing at a local college. Of the five steps of the writing process, I find prewriting is the most neglected. But prewriting is exactly how to get you where you want to go. Remember the emotional analogy of method acting?

As you prepare to write your scene:
1.    Evoke a memory that mirrors the emotions your character is feeling. (Nobody feeling anything? Reduce that exposition to one line and get to the good stuff.)
2.    When you have that memory, you need to dwell there for awhile. Think about the five senses you experienced while living it. Take your time. Then grab a pen and begin generating an emotional word bank.

Your heroine is walking down the hall toward a closed door. “She walked down the red carpeted hall toward the closed door.” Okay, despite the adjectives, I am asleep. WHY is she doing it? What is on the other side of that door?

Let’s say she’s heading in there to pick a fight. Before you write a line, you need to think of the last time you got in a good, heated shouting match. Then begin to generate emotional words for your word bank. Here are a few of mine (I fight a lot):  Stomp, Shout, Heat, Black, Fury, Slam, Idiot, Stupid, Hands Sweating, Red, Tight Throat, Silently, Scream, Rejection, Anger, Fear, Burning, Interruption, Savagely, Slash.

This process should also take a while. Start with a few, leave it, come back. Ultimately you’ll have a lot of sensory words that stem from your emotions.

Notice that I’ve got adjectives, nouns, adverbs and verbs in there. This is a BRAIN DUMP; nothing is off limits. Anything and everything that remotely comes to mind as you live that scene in your head goes into your word bank.

Stuck? Try switching places with another player in the scenario. Who is waiting behind that closed door? Watch yourself reacting through their eyes as whatever happened, happens to you.

Take a look at your list. If you’ve worked it hard, you’ll discover something interesting. While you dwelt in that emotional memory, the other five senses crept in! And that is the secret of writing what you know. Armed with a list of sensory words brimming with the feelings you want your characters to convey, you are now equipped to write a scene that will vibrate with emotional authenticity, a scene that will come alive for your reader.

I leave you to imagine your heroines, hallways and everything that lies behind that closed door. If you’re feeling it as you write, your readers will, too.


Leslie Nagel is a writer and teacher of writing at a local community college. Her debut novel, The Book Club Murders, is the first in the Oakwood Mystery Series. Leslie lives in the all too real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where murders are rare but great stories lie thick on the ground. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son, and daughter, hiking, tennis, and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

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