Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Author: Mark Gilleo

The Story Plant
brings Mark Gilleo here today to talk about his novel, Favors and Lies, a mystery/thriller set in Washington, D.C.

About the book:

Dan Lord is a forty-year-old private detective with a law degree working the blurred line between right and wrong in the Nation’s Capital. As a self-employed solutions broker and legal consultant, he works for a very select clientele. He doesn’t advertise and only takes cases on referral. But when two people close to him are murdered, Dan's work becomes very personal.

With the assistance of a newly hired female intern, extracting clues from a ladder of acquaintances, Dan bounds through both the underbelly and elite of society, each step bringing more questions and yet ultimately taking him closer to the answer he seeks. A bail bondsman, a recluse hacker, a court clerk, a university student, an old-school barber, a high-class madam, an intelligence officer, a medical doctor, and a police detective are among the list of people Dan must cajole for help. 

His quest will lead him to discover things he never wanted to know, and put him in the position to reveal things that important people would prefer remain unrevealed.

Tense, ingenious, and filled with the unforgettable characters that have become a Mark Gilleo trademark, Favors and Lies is the most thrilling novel yet from one of the great new voices in suspense fiction.

Excerpt from Favors and Lies

The cab pulled to the curb on one of the city’s myriad one-way streets and Dan spoke through the holes drilled in the security glass. “What’s the damage?”

“Nineteen even.”

Dan stepped from the back of the cab and slipped a twenty through the front passenger window. “Keep the change.”

“Thanks, big spender,” the burly driver replied, shoving the cash into the front pocket of his sweaty shirt.

Dan bent at the waist, his manila folder in hand, and peered into the open window. The glare from Dan’s light-blue eyes melted the driver’s bravado, bringing long-sought momentary silence to the interior of the car. The cabbie muttered something unintelligible and the car pulled away from the curb into evening rush-hour traffic.

Dan straightened his dark blue suit and his red tie before heading down H Street. The business side of the White House sat just beyond Lafayette Square to his left. As a white male in a suit, within spitting distance of the White House, Dan was perfectly camouflaged. Despite the changing face of American society and the dual terms of President Obama, those making the rules remained largely as it always had been – lily white. An hour watching C-Span was the only proof needed. 

Dan walked deliberately to the corner of H and 16th streets and silently mingled with a half-dozen like-minded suits waiting for the light. The pedestrian signal changed from an illuminated red hand to the depiction of a person walking. The crowd moved. Dan took three steps toward the street and then froze at the edge of the curb. He scanned his environment for a mirror reaction from anyone in the vicinity. Sometimes the best way to see if you are being followed is to stop. It was a standard counter-surveillance move, likely perfected a hundred thousand years ago by an animal on the Serengeti trying to avoid becoming dinner.

The sidewalk around Dan emptied as the pedestrian signal on the far side of the street began to count down. Dan swiveled his head slowly, finishing with a glance over each shoulder. No one, he thought. At least no one on foot. Walking against traffic on a one-way street mitigated most of the possibilities of being trailed by car.

He waited until the countdown on the pedestrian signal reached five and then crossed the street illegally in the opposite direction, dissecting a group of lawyers and think-tankers on their way to a local watering hole to finish their briefs and pontifications for the evening.

On the far side of the street Dan turned right and headed back in the direction from which he came. Once again he checked for surveillance. Nothing.

Near the end of the block, with a taxi queue ten yards ahead, Dan checked his watch with a casual glance and turned left down an alley without looking back.

He passed several dumpsters and looked up at the darkening sky framed by the buildings on both sides of the alley. A light scent of urine wafted through the air. Under a fire escape near the corner of the building Dan turned again. He followed a staircase downward, his hand running along a worn metal handrail, his shoes trampling cracked concrete steps. Three stories above the urban crevasse, room rates started at eight hundred a night. 

Dan forced himself to relax. Feeling out of place was the single greatest contributor for being spotted in an area where one had no earthly business. But with the appropriate behavior and movement, a man in a suit in an alley was no more out of place than a man in overalls in the lobby of an office building. Properly portrayed, every appearance could be overlooked.

Dan reached the bottom of the stairs and admired the collection of discarded cigarette butts thrown half-heartedly at an empty coffee can resting just outside the door. He took one more calming breath and pushed through an unlocked metal door that read “Exit Only” in neat white print.

Unlocked doors were goldmines. Half the buildings in the Nation’s Capital were circumventing million-dollar security systems with propped open doors. A brick here. A doorstop there. If you knew where to look, an employee with a smoking habit could be better than a week of surveillance. Not to mention cheaper and less risky than paying off a doorman. 

Inside the building, Dan entered an elbow-room-only foyer facing another door. He watched the light under the closed door and waited for the telltale movement of people on the other side to subside. When the timing was right and the movement ceased, he pulled the knob.

An attractive blonde in an off-the-shoulder red dress took a breath of surprise. Dan muted his response and without pausing pointed towards the men’s room with his chin. “Wrong door.”

The lady in red smiled and Dan followed through on his impromptu ruse and entered the restroom. 

“Shit,” Dan whispered, looking into the mirror over a granite sink with gold fixtures. He had rules. One adjustment in the plan was standard. Two put him on notice. Three unforeseen adjustments to a plan and he aborted – immediately and without exception. There was little he could do about the woman in the hall so he pushed it aside. That’s one, he thought. A little early for an adjustment.

The lower level back door at the Hay Adams Hotel was a direct line into the living room of the elite. Off the Record – the appropriately named bar in the basement of the Hay Adams Hotel – boasted a history as long as its client list. It was where the rich blew off steam. People with faces too famous to enjoy a quiet drink in Georgetown or along Connecticut Avenue. Faces from the morning paper and evening news. Off the Record embraced customers who didn’t mind overpaying for drinks or the forty bucks it cost to valet their cars. Money was rapidly becoming the last legal barrier for keeping out the riffraff.

The Hay Adams Hotel, and its subterranean watering hole, was public. Dan could have chosen to walk through the lobby. He could have nodded at the bellhop and doorman as he strolled in unquestioned and unmolested. He could have slowly crossed the ornate wood-paneled entrance and past the polite scrutiny of the front desk as he made his way to the stairs. But why announce your arrival when you didn’t have to? Especially so close to payday.

In the mirror in the bathroom, Dan checked his watch, his hair, his face, his glasses, his teeth, his fingers. He peeked inside his manila folder. He exited the room and walked through the lone swinging door into the bar. He located his target before his first foot hit the deep burgundy carpet. He completed his room assessment by the time his second foot landed. Nine men and four women, he calculated, parsing his headcount before anyone noticed he was in the room. Five men at the bar, two of them seated together, most likely coworkers. Two women alone at a table on the far side of the room in similar black dresses. Waiting for dates, he thought. A table of three huddled in the opposite corner, far enough away to be out of most contingency scenarios. Dan added two more to the headcount for the bartender and waitress, and one more for the lady in red who was now in the bathroom.

Dan stepped from the dark corner near the bathroom and approached a man in his early fifties sitting alone at a table, his hand caressing a glass of Maker’s Mark.


Judge McMichael,” Dan said, sitting quickly without invitation.

The judge tried not to look surprised but the corner of his eyes betrayed him as they danced towards the entrance of the bar.

“The back door?” the judge asked.

“Bathroom window,” Dan replied straight-faced.

“Am I at the correct table?”

“Yes. Thank you for following instructions.”

Dan didn’t take his eyes off the judge. The judge looked older than his pictures in the press. More stately. Fifty and fit with large hands and sharp eyes. The lighting at the table was romantic – enough light to see the judge, but dark enough to erase cosmetic imperfections from across the table. Perfect call-girl ambiance.

The judge stared back across the table at a short grey mop of curls and wild blue eyes dancing behind thick black-framed glasses. The judge’s eyes dropped to Dan’s hands and the manila folder on the table. Dan noticed the judge’s attention and he covered one hand with the other, both on top of the folder.

“Why don’t we both agree to keep our hands on the table,” Dan suggested before getting to work. “See the two guys at the far end of the bar?”

The judge turned his head slightly.

“They are with me.”

The judge nodded.

“I will make this short and sweet. Your wife has divorce papers for you to sign. She also has an agreement regarding alimony and the custody of your stepson and stepdaughter. She says you have been refusing to sign these documents and have threatened her and her children.” 

“Do you know who I am?”

“Yes. Judge Terrance J. McMichael. Born in Naperville, Illinois. Educated at Princeton. Law School at Dartmouth. Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit… also known as the D.C. Circuit. Wife is named Cindy. Stepdaughter is Caroline. Stepson is Craig.”

“And you are?”

“Someone willing to ruin your life. Your wife hired me to make a request on her behalf. You are a highly intelligent man so I’m going to assume you heard my request the first time and that I don’t need to repeat myself.” Dan paused for effect. “You are going to sign the papers.”

“Do you have any idea what I can do to you?”

Dan slid the manila folder into the middle of the table and opened it. The first photograph showed the judge’s wife with raccoon eyes, her nose broken, swollen to twice its normal size. Her torn and blood-drenched clothes were on full display next to her. The photo was taken in a bathroom, the reflection of the cameraman, the judge’s stepson, clear in the mirror.

“She fell,” the judge said.

“Well, as convenient as that explanation may be, I think sympathy will wane when the public sees the next pictures.”

The judge waited for Dan to turn the next photo in the stack. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

“Those are bruises on a ten-year-old girl. Your stepdaughter.” Dan flipped to another photo. “If you notice, there is a telling shoe print on her back, which I imagine is a little bigger than your wife’s size.”

“What do you want?”

“I told you want I want.”

“Whatever she is paying, I’ll pay more.”

“It’s not about the money . . . well, not entirely. Besides, whatever she pays me is your money anyway.”

“You motherfucker,” the judge quietly hissed. The veins in his neck bulged.

“Certainly all those years of schooling must have linguistically prepared you better than that.”

The judge took a sip of his drink, his hands shaking slightly. Dan stole a glance of the room as the judge’s eyes dipped beneath the edge of the upturned glass.

The judge returned his glass to the table but didn’t release his grip. “You are aware that blackmail is illegal.”

“I’m asking for your cooperation. I’m not asking for money. Though, now that you have offered money, it wouldn’t be blackmail if I accepted.”

“You won’t get away with this. You don’t become a D.C. Circuit judge without friends. You don’t serve on a court that has bred more Supreme Court Justices than any other without knowing people.”

“Don’t let pride get the better of you. You’re not the first person I’ve made a deal with. You won’t be the last. Not in this city.”

Dan let the statement sink in before he continued. 

“You have one week to sign the papers and file them with the court. If I don’t hear from your wife by then, I will release the story to the press and to certain people at the Justice Department who may not share your enthusiasm for unmitigated power. Certain people who believe the oath they took means something. I should also mention if something should happen to your wife between now and the filing of the papers, the photos and taped testimony from your wife and children will go public. If your wife mysteriously changes her mind in the next say, month or so, the photos and her testimony still go public.”

“How do I know you won’t go public after I sign the papers?”

“You don’t.” Dan paused. “Are you familiar with the Lady Justice Statue, the one with a woman holding a set of scales?”

“I am a judge.”

“I appreciate that sentiment, but given your non-judicial behavior on other fronts, I didn’t want to take anything for granted.”

“Your point?” Judge McMichael grunted.

“The Lady Justice Statue depicts your current situation. On the one hand you have the possibility of me going public if I don’t hear from your wife by next week. The weight of this possibility is driving down one side of the scale in Lady Justice’s hand. On the other side of the scale is the possibility I will go public with your information regardless of what you do. I would consider this side of the scale far lighter than the other.”

The judge glanced quickly at the front door of the bar. “I can’t do it in a week. I need more time for my attorney to review the documents before they are filed.”

“Judge McMichael, a man of your talents can have this done before you get up from your seat.”

The judge finished his drink and he set the glass on the table with a thud. “Anything else?”

“One thing.” Dan pulled out the last photo in the folder. “I recognize the woman in this photo, so I’m sure you do as well, particularly given the lack of clothing both of you are displaying. Except for the socks. Your partner’s knee-high, red fishnets are very naughty. So before you do anything rash, remember it’s more than just you and your ego at stake.” 

The judge brooded, his anger visible in his eyes, the corner of his lips quivering. 

Dan continued. “I’m offering you the path of least resistance. I suggest you take it.” Dan took another look around the room and waved at the two men at the bar who waved back in a look of inebriated recognition before turning towards one another and resuming their conversation. The rest of the bar was still in their respective places. All systems checked. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Dan readied to stand and added another condition. “And if something happens to me in the near future, before or after the documents get filed with the court, the photos and taped testimony go to the press. I have a secure website with some unique programming. If I don’t login in pre-determined increments, well, you get the picture. And so will everyone else.” 

“Are we done?”

“Follow the rules and you will never see me again.” Dan stood. He gestured towards the folder on the table. “You can keep those copies for your records.”


When Dan left the table the judge frantically removed his cell phone from his pocket and made a call to the off-duty police officer posted in the lobby upstairs. Then he waved over the waitress and ordered another drink. A double. 

The judge was still in his seat when the plainclothes policeman briskly crossed the floor of the bar minutes later.

“Did you find him?” the judge asked.


“How long did it take you to get to the back alley?”

“Thirty seconds. Ten to get outside. Another twenty to run halfway around the block. Plus the few seconds it took to take the call.”


“How would you like to proceed? I didn’t call it in, per your instructions.”

“Let it go for now,” the judge said. “Check those two guys at the bar and see if they know the man who was just here. I doubt they do. I’ll let you know if I need anything else.”

“Yes, sir.”

The officer spoke briefly with the two men at the bar and then shook his head in the direction of the judge. The judge raised a hand and dipped his head. The officer nodded and left. The judge removed the digital voice recorder from the inside pocket of his jacket. He pressed play, listened for a moment, and then hit delete.

Praise for Mark Gilleo and Favors and Lies

“Some of us spend decades learning how to write. Mark Gilleo is one of those rare naturals – or at least it seems that way. Love Thy Neighbor is a shockingly good debut, fascinating and gripping from the first page to the last. It belongs between Ludlum and Forsyth on your shelf.” 
– Jeff Stein, columnist and National Security Editor, Spytalk

“A riveting story, filled with suspense, Love Thy Neighbor will stay with you long after the last page has been read.” 
– Single Titles

“Awesome. Chilling.” 
– Simply Stacie on Love Thy Neighbor

Sweat is a political thriller that will engage any and all readers. Very well written and highly recommended!” 
– Crystal Book Reviews

“Once again Mark Gilleo has hit the ball out of the park.”
 – The Top Shelf on Sweat

About the author:

Mark Gilleo holds a graduate degree in international business from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in business from George Mason University. He enjoys traveling, hiking and biking. A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he currently resides in the D.C. area. His two most recent novels were recognized as finalist and semifinalist, respectively, in the William Faulkner-Wisdom creative writing competition. 

Website | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Spotlight on: Alison Bruce

Partners in Crime has Alison Bruce on tour with her novel, The Silence, a Guy Goodhue mystery #4. 

Book Details:

Genre: Fiction, thriller, crime 

Published by: Witness Impulse 
Date: 06/24/2014 

Number of Pages: 293

ISBN: 9780062314208

About the book:

DC Gary Goodhew searches for the link between an old woman's terminal illness, a brutal murder, and a series of suicides in Cambridge.

Joey McCarthy is stabbed to death in a parking lot in a random act of violence. Shortly afterward, Charlotte Stone's terminally ill mother dies and then, within weeks, two of her teenage friends commit suicide. With her home life disintegrating and both her father and brother racing toward self-destruction, Charlotte realizes that her own personal nightmare is just beginning.

When Gary Goodhew, a loveable, warm-hearted detective, finds the body of another suicide victim, he is forced to recall some deeply buried memories of an investigation that had a profound effect on him--memories that lead him to Charlotte Stone. Working together, they begin to wonder whether all these tragedies are somehow linked. And if they are, who will be the next victim?

Excerpt from The Silence:


Libby wrote: Hi, Zoe, thanks for the friend request. How are you? I heard you died.

‘Doing well for a dead person. LOL.’

There was a gap of a few minutes before Libby replied. Sorry, that was bad taste.

Then there was a gap of a few minutes more.

‘I heard about your sister,’ Zoe wrote. ‘You know she was in my year at school?’

Of course. Your profile picture comes from your class photo. I think you’re standing just behind Rosie. She’s got a funny look on her face, told me once how you pulled her hair just as the flash went off.

‘Yeah, I was in the back row and we were all standing on gym benches. The kids in her row were messing around, trying to get us to fall off. Mrs Hurley saw me wobble and yelled at me. I tugged Rosie’s hair to get my own back. I reckon that was Year Seven or Eight. I don’t remember seeing Rosie much after that.’

Libby had hesitated over the keyboard. She didn’t want this to become nothing more than awkward and pointless chit-chat. She had an opportunity here and, although she guessed it was going to be difficult to get things started, she knew that she needed to do it.

I have a proposition . . . a favour, I suppose. You see, I don’t have anyone to talk to. Rosie’s death left a hole, but there’s more and, if I’m honest, I’m struggling a bit. I’ve tried writing it down, but it just doesn’t work. I get so far, then I’m stuck. So I wondered if I could message you?

‘Do you think that would work?’

I don’t know, but I’d like to try. I thought you might ask me some questions, prompt me to look at things differently. Or maybe I just need to let things out, I’m not sure. The point is, I need to talk.

Those first messages took up little space on her computer screen, yet Libby felt as though getting even that far had taken up the equivalent effort of a 2,000-word essay. She had worked hard to balance her words, to load them equally between truthfulness and understatement. I need to talk had been a tough admission, as it stank of being unable to cope. The last thing she had wanted, through all of this, had been to load anyone else with any part of this burden. But she now accepted that it was the only way to move forward. She thought of Nathan and wished she could speak to him or her parents even, but they were almost as inaccessible as her brother.

And what about Matt?

No, when she looked at him she recognized what other people saw when they looked at her. It was a hollowness that scared her.

She read Zoe’s ‘Okay’ and nodded to herself. This was something she had to do.

I’m not sure where to start, she told Zoe.

‘Begin with Rosie.’

Libby took a deep breath. Rosie, Rosie.

Rosie was in your year, Nathan was one year below, and then there was me, two years below him. I’m 18 now, just to save you working it out, and I’m at sixth form college. The course is a bunch of ‘A’ levels and the college propectus calls them a ‘Foundation in Accountancy’. I’d always wanted to work with small children, but I assumed I’d just leave school and get a job in an office or something.

Instead I chose this course. I gave them all the spiel but, in truth, the only reason I’m doing it is because they were the same ‘A’ levels that Rosie took. She was going to get a degree. She wanted to be a primary school teacher one day, and I bet she would have managed it.

I’m explaining it this way because it shows what Rosie and I were like; how we were similar but different. On a parallel track except I was always a little bit behind, and a little bit in her shadow.

‘But she was three years older?’

Yes, and I’m almost the same age now, but I still haven’t caught up with her in so many ways. And you’re misunderstanding me if you think I feel that’s a bad thing. I was happy in her shadow: it was always a safe and comfortable place to be.

For my entire childhood I could look up and see Rosie and Nathan. Rosie teased Nathan, and Nathan teased me; that was our pecking order. And if Nathan ever upset me, Rosie stepped in, or the other way round.

I can’t remember one single time when I didn’t have one or other of them to look after me.
Anyhow, now I feel like I need to follow in her footsteps, at least for a little while. I’m not ready to let go of her yet, so I sit in the same lectures and try my hardest to get grades as good as hers. That’s what got me through school. It’s like she’s been there before me and I can feel her looking over my shoulder. She says ‘Go on, Bibs, you can do it.’ No one calls me Bibs any more, and I wouldn’t want them to.

Then after a gap of almost twenty minutes, Libby added, Can I message you tomorrow?

‘Of course.’

About the author:

Alison Bruce was born in Surrey but moved to Cambridge in 1998. She is the author of three other Gary Goodhew books, Cambridge Blue, The Siren, and The Calling. She is married with two children.

Website | Amazon | Barnes & Noble  

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spotlight on: Lisa de Nikolits

The Witchdoctor's Bones

by Lisa de Nikolits

on tour with Partners in Crime, July 1-29, 2014


 Congratulations to Lisa! Her book, A Glittering Chaos just tied to win the IPPY Silver Medal for Popular Fiction, 2014!


Book Details:

Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller
Published by: Inanna Poetry and Fiction
Publication Date: May 21, 2014 
Number of Pages: 460 
ISBN: 1771331267 (ISBN13: 9781771331265) 
Purchase Links:    

About the book:

In The Witchdoctor's Bones a group of tourists gather. Some have come to holiday, others to murder. Canadian Kate ditches her two-timing boyfriend and heads to Africa on a whim, hoping for adventure, encountering the unexpected and proving an intrepid adversary to mayhem.

The tour is led by Jono, a Zimbabwean historian and philosopher, and the travelers follow him from Cape Town into the Namib desert, learning ancient secrets of the Bushmen, the power of witchcraft and superstition, and even the origins of Nazi evil.

A ragged bunch ranging from teenagers to retired couples, each member of the group faces their own challenges as third world Africa pits against first world greed, murderous intent and thwarted desire. The battle between goaded vanity and frustrated appetite culminates in a surprising conclusion with shocking twists.

With the bones of consequence easily buried in the shifting sands, a holiday becomes a test of moral character.

Unpredictable, flawed, fun-loving, courageous, bizarre, weak, kind-hearted and loathsome; the individuals in this novel exist beyond the page and into real life.

Seamlessly weaving history and folklore into a plot of loss, passion and intrigue, the reader is kept informed and entertained as this psychological thriller unfolds.

Comparative synopsis:

A psychological, travel-based thriller set in Africa. A work of crime fiction in the continuation of the Agatha Christie tradition but with history and sociological facts woven through the narrative much in the way of The Witch of Babylon by D.J. McIntosh. The Witchdoctor's Bones is a more hard-hitting and literary version of Alexander McCall Smith's Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency but also has aspects of humour, as well as a likeable and appealing female protagonist. The novel is similar to Deon Meyer's tough Heart of the Hunter with a touch of The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder, conveyed by the profound darkness of muti murder and witchcraft. The novel also explores how various individuals respond to their emotional pain and how even dangerous men attract women who find them attractive for their own complex psychological reasons. A holiday becomes a test of moral character.


Beautiful, sexy, exciting, mysterious, dangerous and twisted.  Those words can be used to describe not only the alluring locations depicted in Lisa de Nikolits’ thrilling novel The Witchdoctor’s Bones, but also some of the eclectic characters fatefully traveling together on a tour bus through South Africa and Namibia.  A suspenseful page-turner that will bewitch you until the end.
Warning: You may get hungry reading this book. Some of the exotic dishes described in this novel sound so enticing you may want to risk being on a bus-load of crazy people to sample them.
- Alexander Galant, author of ‘Depth of Deception (A Titanic Murder Mystery)’

"Imagine you've signed up for a low-budget safari in South Africa and find yourself cheek-to-cheek on a battered van with the most bizarre travellers you've ever met - except in some ways they do remind you of characters you've encountered in a late-night screening of Moulin Rouge.
By planting her characters in the untamed landscape of the South African wilderness, de Nikolits has stripped away the niceties and rigours of polite society. You're drawn in. Illicit love, rejected love, misfired love, machinations of all sorts, and all involving characters of dubious integrity and (in some cases) of questionable sanity. Such are the players in Lisa de Nikolits's The Witchdoctor's Bones, who've embarked on a journey that soon seethes with peril (physical and psychological), and not solely because of the wild creatures roaming the bush veld.
Sweet-talking Kate, the Canadian, is the closest thing you get to a heroine in The Witchdoctor's Bones, proof that the best woman will be left standing."
– Doug O'Neill, Canadian Living 

Fascinating South African lore comes to life in The Witchdoctor's Bones. De Nikolits gives us more than an intriguing mystery - a look at the dark side of the human soul and the healing power of love.
– D.J. McIntosh, national bestselling author of The Witch of Babylon and The Book of Stolen Tales (Quill + Quire's top thriller for 2013).

Take sixteen travellers from around the world, gather them on a tour bus bumping its way along the rough roads of South Africa and Namibia, add jealousy, sexual obsession, secrets, violence, magic, poison, mental breakdown and the breathtaking arrogance of tourists treating Africa (and Africans) as their playthings, and you have Lisa de Nikolits’ psychological thriller, The Withdoctor’s Bones. As the travellers and their guides slowly reveal their true (and sometimes twisted) natures, the tension ratchets higher and higher in a narrative that draws deeply on African lore and history, with echoes of Christie’s classic Ten Little Indians, Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. - Terri Favro, author of The Proxy Bride

Put together an international group of travelers, each with their own secrets, in a bus touring Africa and you have the makings of a very suspenseful tale! Lisa de Nikolits does a masterful job of drawing the reader in and not letting go until the last delicious word! Set against an exotic backdrop of Africa and Namibia, this story is a great read!  - Joan O'Callaghan, editor and contributing author of Thirteen

“A cast of intriguing characters is thrust together for an African adventure. What results is far more perilous than anyone could have imagined. Against the beautiful backdrop of South Africa and Namibia, danger and death lurk around every bend in the road, as the trip of a lifetime becomes the holiday from hell. Within the pages of The Witchdoctor's Bones multiple mysteries emerge, as Lisa de Nikolits takes the reader on a suspense-filled journey that won't soon be forgotten.”
—Liz Bugg, author of the Calli Barnow Series

Lisa de Nikolits has done it again. This time she shines her characteristically unflinching but loving and humour-filled gaze on the land of her birth, deftly weaving Africa’s ancient witchcraft practices, superstitions, breathtaking beauty and disturbing struggles into the journey of a group of modern-day tourists — whose motives for coming on the “trip of a lifetime” are in some cases highly suspect. The myriad conflicts between the characters are handled so subtly and the physical terrain of southern Africa painted so vividly, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from your own seat on the bus, even as the body count begins to rise.
- Brenda Missen, author of Tell Anna She’s Safe

What I really enjoy about Lisa de Nikolits is her refusal to be pinned down to a particular genre. Besides the fact that The Witchdoctor’s Bones is so different from all her other novels, it’s also incredibly difficult to classify it in its own right. Part travelogue, part psychological thriller, part sociological and anthropological study, The Witchdoctor’s Bones entertains, educates and fascinates all at the same time.  It’s  a gripping read that draws you into the heart of darkness, both in the literal and figurative sense; the action takes place in untamed Africa, but it’s the darkness in the human heart that de Nikolits portrays with such chilling precision. It’s a page-turner that will keep you biting your nails right up to the bitter end.
- Bianca Marais, Musings of a Wannabe Writer

Read an excerpt:

Kate and Marika made coffee and rejoined the others who were huddled around the fire pit while Stepfan and Charisse moved off to one side and were deep in a private conversation.
“So what’s the big discussion about?” Kate asked, sitting down.
“I’m trying to explain the difference between sangomas versus witchdoctors,” Helen said, sitting back on her heels. “I thought I knew but then once I started explaining it, I realised I’m confused. Jono, maybe you can help us out?”
“I can,” Jono said, accepting a beer from Richard. “Thank you. First, some facts. Eighty-four percent of all South Africans consult a sangoma more than three times a year and there are more than 200,000 sangomas in South Africa alone. A witch and a sangoma are not the same thing whereas a witchdoctor,” he emphasized the last word, “is the same thing as a sangoma but the term witchdoctor is considered to be a perjorative one that came from the European settlers. Sangomas are practitioners of complimentary medicine and they serve a long apprenticeship learning to become intermediaries between the world of spirits and the world of the living. Witches are a whole other thing, they are evil and dangerous and if they cannot be cured, they are stoned to death or buried alive.”
“Yes, they certainly gave Kleine Skok the heebie jeebies,” Richard stretched his feet towards the fire. “Poor fellow, he had this godawful lump of dried up rabbit’s blood and I asked him if that was something a witchdoctor would use and he nearly shot right off the mountain. I felt quite dreadful for asking.”
Jono laughed and took a drink of his beer. “Yes, I can imagine that frightened him in a big way. More than six hundred people have been killed in the last ten years in Gauteng alone, because they were accused of being witches, so even the mention of such a thing is frightening for many people.”
“Can you cure someone of being a witch?” Eva asked.
“Yes, but it’s not easy,” Jono said. “You have to call an isanusi, a professional who can smell out witches and get rid of them.
“There are many kinds of witches,” he continued, “one of which is the night-witch who is invisible during the daytime but then at night, changes into an animal; a crocodile, a hyena, a lion, a wolf maybe. Night-witches devour human bodies, dead or alive during the night and they can been seen flying at night, with fire coming out of their bottoms.”
“They fart fire?” Mia found this hysterically funny and the rest of the group joined in, laughing. “Oh lord, fire-farting witches, knock my bleedin’ socks off.”
“Isn’t it true,” Helen queried when the laughter died down, “that Western doctors found a high correlation between schizophrenia and epilepsy in individuals who have been accused of being witches?”
Jono nodded. “Which would explain the hallucinations they have,” he said. “And some of them have also been found to be manic-depressives and schizophrenics. But if you ask me, this does not mean that Western medicine has any kind of increased knowledge in this area, it’s just that you call your witches by a lot of medical-sounding names and find different ways to treat them.”
“Touché.” Richard exclaimed while Helen nodded enthusiastically.
“So,” Jono said, “we have the isanusi or shaman, or the witch-finder, who sniffs them out, and then you have the witch-doctor, an igqira, who can smell by moral, not physical means, the corrupt presence of the witch or sorcerer. The isanusi is the diviner, and he is called upon to explain the source of your misfortune and to see if you have a witch. The sangoma, which is a Zulu word by the way, is the one who will be invited to cleanse an entire village of witchcraft by giving them emetics, or sneezing powder or making incisions into which medicine is rubbed, or by many other methods.”
“How does the isanusi know what to do?” Kate asked.
“The diviners, or isanusi, receives his knowledge from the spirits and there are more than sixty documented methods to ask the spirits; reading the stars, throwing sticks, studying lines in the sand, observing the blood trickling from a victim, even by looking at how birds are flying or how they are sitting on a tree. A lot of people think that diviners are not good because they are trying to know God’s secrets before God wants us to know them, and we should not be attempting to steal divine secrets.”
“I’m divining that it’s high time for schnapps.” Mia got to her feet, and brushed embedded grass from her legs. “I’m getting the Archers. Go on, you lot.” She waved and walked across the grass. “Don’t wait for me.”
“Yes, carry on Jono,” Richard said, “Mia won’t mind, she’s not into this sort of thing.”
“I find it incredibly amazing,” Helen spoke up quickly, “I wish I’d had time to learn more. Well, better late than never.” She smiled at Richard who cracked open another beer and missed her meaningful glance.
“So the sangoma tries to cure the witch…” Kate reminded Jono where he had left off.
“Yes,” Jono said, “but curing witches is a very small part of what the sangoma does as his life’s work. The main function of the sangoma is to heal and protect people in the community.
“Are sangomas only men?” Eva asked.
“No, both men and women can be sangomas, and they are generally very respected members of the community. Even Nelson Mandela was circumcised by a sangoma when he was sixteen by a famous ingcibi, a circumcision expert. Sangomas conjure up potions, known as muti to make you better and muti is made from all sorts of herbs and things. Then the sangoma dances herself, or himself, into a trance, usually with his drum which also has a spirit, and this is how they contact the spirit. Then they will alter their voice and begin to talk, using two voices, relying on their powers of ventriloquism.”
“I was told you can recognize a sangoma by their dress which is covered in beads, and is very ornamental, in red which is bomvu, black which is mnyama and white, mhlophe,” Helen said, hoping to impress Richard with her knowledge.  Jono nodded. “The medicine the sangoma mixes can be based on colours also. The sangoma mixes opposite colours together, uniting them symbolically and then real life harmony follows. Light colours represent life and masculinity, dark colours are death and femininity.”
“I knew it.” Richard poked Mia who had returned with the bottle of schnapps and a sleeping bag, “you women are the death of men.”
Mia tittered, slapped him on the shoulder and wrapped herself in the sleeping bag. She opened the bottle, took a long swig and passed it to Jasmine.
“Is it true,” Marika asked, “that sangomas study for as long as doctors?”
“Yes. It takes seven years for the sangoma to study, and he, or she, studies a lot of things; techniques of divination, treatment of psychological, mental, physical conditions, animal and plant medicine use, the anatomy of the soul, ritual mastery, prayer and invocation, throwing the bones, trans-body, chant and song, channeling souls, soul ascension, case study, tradition and culture, and finally, techniques of investigation. Sangomas are also very good detectives and great historians and guardians of local culture and learning.”
“Impressive,” Kate said. “But the witches sound horrible.”
“They are. Witches operate on fear, superstition and rumour,” Jono said. “The evils of gossip. Nowadays even some of the churches use witchcraft to bring new worshippers, convincing them their problems are due to supernatural witch curses that only the church can cure. Some churches even preach that diseases like AIDS and leprosy, blindness, deafness, impotence and infertility are muti curses by witches.”
“Before we left,” Richard said, “I read an article about how Tanzanian witchdoctors have been killing albinos and harvesting their body parts because they think it will bring them good luck. What’s with that? Why albinos, why body parts for good luck?”
“What have you been reading, my friend, to hear that?” Jono asked and Richard’s expression became guarded.
“Oh, general research and whatnot. One’s interested in studying up before a trip, and what with the Internet, it’s astounding what one comes across. Some scary stuff actually. But why albinos, Jono?”
“Because they are considered to be very sacred. They are treated with deep respect because they are believed to be spirits born as human beings. And the whole muti body parts thing, well, that’s a whole other area, my friend, that is a dark thing for sure.”
“I’d be super keen to hear the whole bangshoot,” Richard said.
“Maybe you are, my friend but it’s not a discussion for the faint-hearted,” Jono warned. “And yes, Richard, I know the events of which you speak. At this time, nineteen albinos have been murdered in less than a year. But one last word on witches; they are also accused of inciting adultery, alcohol abuse and theft. Witches also have immense power to turn innocent people into witches and therefore it’s possible to become a witch without even being aware of it, simply by eating contaminated food or picking up an ‘impure’ object.”
“Oh, do not, for the love of God, tell Harrison any of this,” Richard said, “we’re all sworn to secrecy. Can you image what he’d be like if he heard these sorts of things? He’ll be rubbing everything, including us, in antiseptic.”
“All for one and one for all, we say nothing,” Helen assured him. “Jono, what about tokoloshes? I’ve tried to find out about them but no one would really tell me anything.”
“Ah,” Jono said, “the infamous tokoloshe. Helen, here is the secret to creating one – you remove the eyes and tongue from a full size corpse, then you blow a secret powder into its mouth and it is comes to life and will obey your every wish. But there is a high price for creating a tokoloshe, including the death of a relative within a year, because the spirits do not give life freely. If you are prepared to create an unnatural life, then you must be prepared to destroy a natural one.”
“An unnatural life,” Kate echoed and even the fire seemed to flicker and dim. Mia offered her the bottle of schnapps but she shook her head. Mia shrugged and passed the bottle to Jasmine.
“The tokoloshe,” Jono continued, “is a spirit in the households of witches and warlocks and they speak with a lisp…” “Sofie’s a tokoloshi.” Mia sat up, giggling “I suspected it all along.”
“She’s not small and brown,” Richard objected.
“Nor does she have a penis so long it has to be slung over her shoulder,” Jono said. “Sorry Mia, but she falls short of many of the physical characteristics needed.”
Mia found this so hilarious she nearly fell into the fire.
“Easy there, cupcake,” Richard said, kicking a burning log further away from her.
“I’m fine.” Mia protested, “perfectly composed. It’s the thought of Sofie with a giant penis slung over her shoulder, lisping…” She and Jasmine hung onto each other, hooting with laughter.
“The tokoloshe,” Jono said, “is very unusual in that he has a single buttock. Apparently Satan was unable to replicate this uniquely human feature, of our lovely, well rounded bottoms. So if you wish to scare away the devil, you must bare your buttocks at him and he will be frightened by that which he cannot have.”
“Ah that’s why mooning is such a handy tool,” Mia yelled. “Never mind crosses for vampires, just pull down your pants to the devil. Go on Richard luv, show us your moon.”
“Yes,” Helen chimed in, “show us.”
“I respectfully decline the invitation,” Richard said, “go on Jono.”
“I am too worried to continue,” Jono said. “I am afraid this discussion is being a health hazard to Mia.”
“No, I’m fine,” Mia gasped, “but my stomach hurts from laughing. Oh bleedin’ hell, this is hilarious. Go on Jono.”
“Part of the tokoloshi’s duties,” Jono said, “is to make love to its witch mistress, which is why he was created so well-endowed. As a reward for fulfilling these sexual duties, the tokoloshi is rewarded with milk and food.”
“Milk?” Kate was perplexed. “Why milk?”
“Milk is considered a sacred drink in many parts of Africa,” Jono explained, “it has many healing powers.”
“Likes to suck on a bit of tit, does he?” Richard was thoughtful. “Sign of a good man if you ask me.”
Jono ignored this comment and continued. “If you do see a tokoloshe, do not annoy it by talking to it and most certainly do not point at it because it will vanish immediately.”
“How on earth can I not look,” Mia shook with laughter, “when its hung like a bleedin’ donkey?”
Despite having downed half the bottle of schnapps, Mia was surprisingly coherent, unlike Jasmine, who had abruptly fallen fast asleep and was snoring slightly.
Jono finished the last of his beer and looked regretful. “Well, everyone, I must go to sleep or I will be a bad driver in the morning. Thank you very much for listening.”
He looked at Kate who grinned at him.
“No, thank you,” Richard said. “You’re incredibly knowledgeable, Jono, and I look forward to more stories about muti and witchdoctor’s and the like. Anyone else like one for the ditch? Last call, people, last call.”
“I’m going to bed,” Eva said. “Thanks Jono, thanks everyone.”
“Yeah, we’re calling it a night too,” Kate and Marika said, getting up.
“Me too,” Helen said. “That was fascinating, thanks Jono.”
“I’ll have one more,” Mia said, “lay it on baby.”
Jasmine was still fast asleep and Mia patted her head.

About the author:

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain.

Her first novel, The Hungry Mirror, won the 2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women's Issues Fiction and was long-listed for a ReLit Award.

Her second novel, West of Wawa won the 2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and was one of Chatelaine's four Editor's Picks.

Her third novel, A Glittering Chaos, launched in Spring 2013 to much acclaim and is about murder, madness, illicit love and poetry.

All books published by Inanna Publications.

Catch Up With the Author:  


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spotlight on: James Lilliefors

The Psalmist

by James Lilliefors

on tour with Partners in Crime, July 1-31, 2014


Book Details:

Genre: Crime, Suspense
Published by: Witness Impulse 
Publication Date: 7/22/2014 
Number of Pages:  
ISBN: 9780062349682 
Series: A Luke Bowers & Amy Hunter Mystery, 1
Purchase Links:    

About the book:

Luke Bowers is in the good and evil business.
On a cold, late-winter morning in the Chesapeake Bay community of Tidewater County, Bowers discovers a dead woman seated in a pew at the church where he is pastor—her eyes open, her hands clasped as if in prayer.

Nothing at the scene identifies the woman or explains why she was at the church. And when state police homicide investigator Amy Hunter comes to town to head up the case, not everyone is pleased that a young, female outsider has the job. The only lead in solving the crime is a sequence of numbers that has been carved into the victim's right hand, which Bowers suspects may be a reference to the Book of Psalms.

With Bowers's help, Hunter follows a chain of seemingly innocuous clues to track down a deranged serial killer and unravel an elusive criminal enterprise that is more powerful than they ever could have imagined.

About the author:

JAMES LILLIEFORS is a journalist and novelist who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and currently lives and works in Florida. He has written for numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, The Boston Globe and the Baltimore Sun. He started his journalism career as a writer and editor for Runner's World magazine and worked for many years as a newspaper editor and reporter, in Maryland and in Florida, winning a number of reporting awards. Since the late 1990s, Lilliefors has been head writer at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida. He is the author of several non-fiction books, including America's Boardwalks, Ball Cap Nation, and Highway 50, as well as a satirical mystery novel, Bananaville.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spotlight on: Tom Avitabile

About the book:

When the smallest imagined particle of matter threatens to destroy all that matters, science and religion collide on the world stage and within the corridors of power. Presidential Science Advisor William “Wild Bill” Hiccock and his top-secret Quarterback Operations Group (QUOG) have already faced down some of the most sinister high-tech rivals imaginable. Now they must face one that can eliminate all life on Earth in an instant.

The God Particle is a super-kinetic thriller that pits brains, religion, political power, and common humanity against the onslaught of extremely dangerous, narrowly focused scientific exploration into the fabric of creation, complete with a plot to shoot down one of the President’s helicopters. Fringe religious groups – but not the usual suspects – engage in terror. Ugly espionage is set against the beauty of the Cote D’Azur. The romance of Paris offsets the grit of Boston’s South of Roxbury while the Euro-pop discos of Switzerland punctuate the quest.

In the end it comes down to one question: Can former FBI agent Brooke Burrell, now QUOG’s lead operative, choose between her personal and professional life in time to solve the puzzle and stop it all?

Excerpt from The God Particle:

At 7 p.m., Brooke was getting dressed. At 8 p.m., Brooke was still getting dressed. She and Mush were only two floors apart at the Washington Marriot.

The phone rang. “Should I swing by and pick you up?”

Brooke was nowhere near ready. In fact, she was in the middle of her fourth outfit change. She was about to say, “Give me a half-hour more,” when she caught sight of herself in the mirror. She still had the new boots on, but had removed her dress. Looking at herself she said, “Yes, I’m ready. Come get me.”

She ran to the bathroom and checked her makeup. She gave the hair one more brush, checked her teeth for lipstick smear, gave herself one more look-over and headed for the door. On the way, she tenuously reached for the hotel robe. As she held it in her hand, she considered it and then placed it back on the bed. At three steps from the door, she turned to retrieve it. There was a knock, she started to put it on, but then carried it to the door. She thought to check the peephole, lest she give some poor bellboy a very wrong message. Even distorted by the fisheye lens of the peephole, Mush looked good. She breathed in and went for it.

Mush had his hat in his hand and was fingering the brim. When the door swung open, he was walloped with a thud of invisible energy that literally knocked the air out of him. The hat hit the floor. It took a half a second, but he managed to shut his mouth and put his eyes back in their sockets. Standing before him was the object of many nights of desire. His circuits overloaded as he took her in in her lacy black bra, panties, and tall boots with giant heels. She was pure sex. The epitome of every male fantasy he had ever dared dabble in. Her physique was cut, but not bulky. Her curves were perfect and the shape of her legs and tapered thighs just invited him to explore — but instead he stepped into the room, shut the door with his foot, grabbed the robe and draped it around her. “We need to talk.”

* * *

There are many reasons men don’t wear leather pants anymore, but in the after-hours clubs of Switzerland, the diffused euro-sexual gender ambiguity was in full view. In this case, the view was that of Raffael Juth’s simulated-cowhide-covered butt. The observer was Hanna Strum, an attractive woman whose long curly blonde locks dangled and played peek-a-boo with her pushed up breasts that Victoria was not trying to keep secret. Raffey, of course, exhibited all the male characteristics of trying not to stare while staring that tickled Hanna at a level she dared not let on. After he caught her looking a few times, he drummed up the courage to walk over to her breasts and ask if she’d like to dance. She made sure not to look at him approaching; however, another woman watching would have noticed the subtle “girls up” pose she morphed into.

“Hi, I am Raffael,” he said as he bobbed and weaved a little to place his face in her line of sight as she was scanning the room.

“Hi.” She gave him a quick glance then continued her not-interested investigation of the gyrating room.

“I was wondering if you would like to share a dance with me?”

“You were?” She said without looking at him.

“Yes, unless you are here with someone?”

“Would that matter to you?” She said, finally locking eyes with him. “It would be a pre-condition of which I was not aware and therefore acceptable to me as your preference.”

“I don’t understand a word you just said. What are you, some kind of word nerd?” She turned her attention back to the dancers on the floor.

“No I assure you, words are not my craft.”

“No kidding.”

“I am more of a theoretical physicist.”

“If I dance with you, will you talk like a normal person?”

“Most assuredly — eh, yeah. Sure.”

“You’re learning,” she said as she offered her hand.

She sounded like she was from the U.S., but there was something else, something Germanic mixed in. Raffey couldn’t discern it over the throbbing bass of the music.
They hit the floor as the DJ changed to a popular house music cut that any American would have known was five years old, but the crowd let out a collective “whoo” as the first slamming drum beats were instantly recognized. Hanna’s hand flew from Raffey’s fingers as she became a writhing, flame-like entity, wavering to the seductive beat. Raffey maintained his two-step, stiffly choreographed routine, one that most girls let pass for some kind of dance. In her throbbing bass-induced dance trance, Hanna was in a world of her own. Raffey was drawn to her indifference, as if she were beckoning him to her boudoir with a come-hither finger gesture. He was hooked.

* * *

Hanna’s gyrations weren’t attracting Raffey’s eyes alone. Prince El-Habry Salaam, nephew of the Saudi King, was unwinding in the VIP section of the club. His father had sent him to study banking in Switzerland so he could better administer the Royal Family’s billions. Across the velvet ropes, Hanna’s undulations made him don his hated glasses, which he never wore in public, in order to see if she was the vision she appeared to be. Upon more focused inspection, he nodded to Abrim, his head of security. Abrim knew the drill.

As Raffey and Hanna were in the middle of their fifth dance, the six-foot-three-inch guard of the Prince appeared and, in English with a hint of Arabic accent, asked for forgiveness. “Pardon the intrusion, but my employer wishes for you to join him.” He pointed in the direction of the roped off area.

Hanna shot a quick glance at the thin, dark-skinned man wearing dark glasses in a dimly lit corner of the club. “No, thank you.”

Abrim pushed, “He is a prince of the Royal Family Saud. His intentions, I assure you, are the most honorable.”

“Not interested.” Then she turned away and danced even more seductively.

Raffey moved in close, “Who was he?”

“An errand boy. Want to get a drink?”

Raffey smiled and led her to the bar. It being three deep, he decided to get the drinks while Hanna found a small table. She removed her right shoe and rubbed a complaining instep. When she sat back up, Abrim was there.

“You again?”

“With apologies.”

“Look, why doesn’t he just come over here himself?”

“He is a Prince. He could not be seen making an overture to a... a... “

“Commoner? Is that the term you are looking for?”

Abrim just half smiled.

“Well, my father always called me Princess when I was a little girl, so what’s he so high and mighty about?”

“The Prince has a great interest in you and would be happy to pay you for your time.”

“Oh he would, would he?”

“Yes. Ten thousand dollars, U.S.?”

“Fuck off!”

Abrim imperceptibly twitched his hand, the result of the conflicting instinct to strike this infidel bitch, and the training that the social dictates of these Western countries demanded, which immediately stopped him. He just nodded and walked away.

“What did she say, Abrim?” the Prince asked.

“She declined your offer.”

“No, I mean what exactly did she say?”

“A crude woman, I’d rather not repeat it.”

“What did she say exactly?”

“She said, “Fuck off!”

He turned to admire his new interest. “Brilliant. She is full of spirit. One to be tamed.”

Abrim just rolled his eyes.

Raffey came back with the drinks. “I saw him from the bar; he came over again. What did he want this time?”

“He didn’t want anything, he was sent by someone with no balls. At least you had the courage to approach me yourself. Let’s get out of here.”

“But our drinks...”

Hanna reached down and grabbed Raffey between the legs, “You’d better have a set.” Then she walked off.

Raffey followed like an obedient dog.

* * *

Outside the club, Raffey took out his ticket stub for the valet; Hanna stuffed it back in his pocket. “My place is just on the corner. You can pick up your car in the morning.”

Raffey liked the sound of that, especially the “in the morning” part.

As they walked off down the street arm in arm, Abrim emerged from the club and watched.

In the hallway of the flophouse hotel, Hanna fumbled with the key as Raffey started kissing her neck. She laughed and shook him off to better focus on the lock and key. Once inside she went straight to the cabinet and pulled down a bottle of vodka. “The bathroom is through there. I’ll fix us a drink.”

“That’s okay; I don’t need to use the bathroom.” He plopped down on the couch and started to unbutton his shirt. Because her back was to him he didn’t see the slight mask of frustration wash across her face. He grabbed the remote for the TV and turned it on. Behind him, a man emerged from the bathroom with a rolled towel between his two fists. As Raffey yawned, the man brought the towel down across Raffey’s mouth. Startled, the young man started to scream, but the towel heavily muffled it. Hanna was tapping the air out of a syringe when the doorbell rang.

She and her accomplice were stunned. “Hold him.” She put down the syringe and went to the door. “Who is it?”

“It is Abrim. I have a message from the Prince.”

“Scheisse. It’s the goon from the club,” she said in a whisper to the man who was trying to stop Raffey from making any noise.

“Get rid of him,” he whispered loudly.

“Go away — I am not interested,” she yelled to the door.

“The Prince has asked me to tell you he will pay fifty thousand dollars if you’ll just agree to have dinner with him tomorrow night.”

“Fine, I will. I will be at the club tomorrow at eight. You can pick me up there. Now go away.”

Abrim didn’t know whether to believe her or not. But he didn’t really care. He had done his “pimping” for the night. He could report back that he had made the offer and she accepted. If she didn’t show up, it would only make the Prince more smitten and he’d up the sum to one hundred thousand. He turned to walk off.

Raffey had started to kick and caught the coffee table in front of the couch. It swung his body sideways and his next kick toppled the ginger jar lamp on the end table. It hit the floor with a terrible crash. In his attempt to stop him, the man had loosened the grip on the towel and Raffey’s scream accompanied the crash.

Abrim stopped dead in his tracks when he heard the calamity and went back and pounded on the door, “Is everything all right in there?”

The man behind the couch punched Raffey in the face as hard as he could and Raffey slid down to the floor like a sack of hammers. Rubbing his fist, the goon nodded to Hanna to open the door and let the man inside. He stepped to the right of the door and snapped open a stiletto-type knife. Hanna saw the shiny blade and knew at once what she had to do.

“No, please help me, he’s passed out,” she said as she opened the door. Abrim saw Raffey barely moving on the floor. “Could you just help me get him on the couch to sleep it off?”

Abrim was no more than four feet into the apartment when the blade entered his lung between the sixth and seventh vertebrae. The killer’s hand came down on the man’s mouth at that same instant to stifle the scream. But Abrim was a big hulk, and even though fatally wounded, he shook off his attacker like a rag doll. Hanna grabbed the vodka bottle and hit him hard on his temple. The bottle shattered and he went down on his back. She thrust the broken end of the bottle into Abrim’s neck, severing both his carotid arteries, which sprayed blood all over her. The man held his hand over Abrim’s mouth. In ten seconds his legs kicked one last time. He was dead.

When Hanna rose to wipe the blood from her face, she saw that Raffey was gone. The window to the fire escape was open. She turned to her partner, and cursed in German, “Verdammte Scheiße! You idiot.”

Raffey, choking, spitting blood, and gasping for air, was hobbling with a limp from jumping the last six feet off the fire ladder. He bounced off cars and storefronts as he staggered down the empty 3 a.m. Genève streets.

Praise for Tom Avitabile:

“Frighteningly realistic. Most of Washington really works this way. Homeland Security had better read this one and take corrective action.”
– U.S. Ambassador Michael Skol on The Eighth Day

“Awesome. I could not go to sleep last night because I couldn’t put it down!”
– Donna Hanover, WOR Radio 710 on The Eighth Day

“The Hammer of God is a tightly plotted, fear-filled and all-too-realistic thriller that is finely written, in fact the best this reviewer has read in a long time. It should be a best seller and will make the reader anxiously awaiting the third and final novel in this thriller trilogy! Great job, Tom Avitabile!”
– Crystal Book Reviews

“Well done and insuring that the reader will grab book three as soon as available.”
– Bookbitch on The Hammer of God


About the author:

Author Tom Avitabile, a senior creative director at a New York City advertising firm, is a writer, director and producer with numerous film and television credits. He has an extensive background in engineering and computers.

Avitabile’s work on projects for the House Committee on Science and Technology helped lay the foundation for The Eighth Day, his first novel. In his spare time, Avitabile is a professional musician and an amateur woodworker. He is currently at work on his next novel featuring William “Wild Bill” Hiccock.

Buy the book:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Friday, July 18, 2014

Spotlight on Uncuffed

Paul is a retired counter terrorist detective and published author. Working with police writers in the UK and the USA (some of whom have never been published before and some of whom are well known), Paul and his colleagues have produced an anthology, Uncuffed, to which I would like to draw your attention.

About the book:

Uncuffed is an Anthology from retired and serving police officers from the United Kingdom and the United States of America whose collective experiences are almost too many to count. This has resulted in an eclectic mixture of short stories, poems, rhyming narrative and other short works which stretch from fantasy and young adult, to romantic through to satire and gritty crime thrillers. There is something for everyone. From literary prose to contemporary procedurals, there is a wonderful depth and array of reading pleasures here waiting to be consumed. Showcasing writers from both sides of the Atlantic – some already published, and some soon to be so – this only whets the appetite of what is still to come. With proceeds going to a fine charity – 'COPS' – (Care of Police Survivors) which tirelessly help survivors of officers who have lost their lives protecting us all.

About the authors:

Contributors to the Anthology are Paul Anthony, Roger Price, Ray Gregory, Ian Bruce, Dave Miller, Simon Hepworth, Edward Lightfoot, Mike McNeff, Wayne Zurl, Scott Whitmore, Meg Johnston, The Station Sergeant, and The Boss's Snout.

You can find the books of published authors Simon Hepworth, Mike McNeff, Wayne Zurl, Scott Whitmore, and Paul Anthony at Station Seargeant and Boss's Snout are close friends of Paul's but mysteries in the world of journalism - they write satirical comments about policing and the government in the national UK police magazine…and their identities remain 'under wraps'. (Don't worry--they're not in trouble - it's just part of the plot.)

Buy the book:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Spotlight on: Merry Jones

Book Details:

Genre: Suspense
Published by: Oceanview
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Number of Pages: 288
ISBN: 978-1-60809-116-4
Note: Excessive strong language

About the book:

Elle Harrison has taken a leave of absence to mourn the death of her husband Charlie.
Her friend Becky takes her out to dinner to cheer her up and, on impulse, drags her into a fortune teller's shop. The fortune teller predicts that Elle will travel and meet a new man. She also says that Elle is surrounded by a dark aura that draws the dead to her.
Elle dismissed the predictions as hogwash. But then her friend Jen takes her, Becky and another friend, Susan, to Mexico where she is getting lost cost cosmetic surgery. Elle is attracted to and asked out by Jen's surgeon, Alain DuBois. And Elle finds a woman hanging onto the balcony next to hers by her fingertips. Elle tries to save her and fails, almost dying in the process.

All of the fortune teller's predictions have come true. And, as the week progresses, more of Alain DuBois' patients are gruesomely killed, Jen is attacked, Elle is nearly murdered, and the spirit of her dead husband Charlie keeps appearing to her.

Who is trying to kill Dr. DuBois' patients--And why? Who is trying to murder Elle? Why does she keep seeing Charlie--Is she nuts? Or is his spirit really trying to protect her?
Elective Procedures makes a week in Mexico into a chilling page turner, full of twists and unexpected developments, as well as a face lift or two.

Excerpt from Elective Procedures:

Don't look down. Don't look down.
I kept repeating those three syllables, a singsong mantra to steady myself and get through time, pushing through seconds and minutes until it would be afterwards and this nightmare would be over.
Don't look down.
But I didn't have to look. I knew what was beneath me. I could picture what was lying six stories down on the concrete beside the kidney shaped swimming pool, near the mouth of the alligator water slide. Under the glowing light of sunrise, I imagined a widening crimson puddle. A clump of arms and legs. A shattered bone protruding through flesh. Tangled hair matted into a cracked skull.
Don't look down, I said again, and I didn't. Instead, I aimed my eyes straight ahead focusing not on the brick wall in front of me, but on the air surrounding my head. I stared into it, straining to see my aura, looking for stains, for splotches of darkness. Was it possible to see your own aura? Was there even such a thing? If there was, I couldn't see it, saw only inches of emptiness between me and the bricks, and, at the periphery of my vision, the railing. For the briefest moment, I had a lapse; I almost turned my head, almost looked down at my hand. Don't look, I chanted. Don't look. Looking would mean moving my head. And if I moved it--if I moved anything at all, I'd disrupt my balance and slip, and then, with a thud, there would be two blobs of bones planted beside the pool.
A pelican dive-bombed past me, the rush of air nearly knocking me over. I held my breath, holding steady. I called out again, hoping someone would wake up, but no one came. So I told myself to stay steady and thing of other things. Other times. I stared at the wall and repeated: Don't look down don't look down don't look down.

About the author:

Merry Jones has written the Elle Harrison suspense novels (The Trouble With Charlie, Elective Procedures), the Harper Jennings thrillers (Summer Session, Behind The Walls, Winter Break, Outside Eden, and this fall, In The Woods), the Zoe Hays mysteries (The Nanny Murders, The River Killings, Deadly Neighbors, The Borrowed And Blue Murders). She has also written humor (including I Love Him, But...) and non-fiction (including Birthmothers: Women who relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories). Jones taught college creative writing for fifteen years. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and appeared in many magazines, including Glamour. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, The Authors Guild, International Thriller Writers, and The Philadelphia Liars Club. The mother of two grown daughters, she lives outside Philadelphia with her husband.

Connect with Merry:

WebsiteFacebookTwitter  | Goodreads

Buy the book:
AmazonBarnes & Noble

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When Bad Publishers Happen to Good Writers

Back by popular demand...

Publishing warning signs for Dummies (and newbie authors)

If you’re a writer, I don’t have to tell you that writing a book is hard work and getting published is even harder. Publishing companies are inundated with submissions, and more and more small presses are popping up. Unfortunately, some of them prey on new and hungry writers. If you’re not careful, your hopes and dreams can turn into despair and nightmares.That's what happens when bad publishers happen to good writers.

Anyone can call himself a publisher. All you have to do is put up a website, spout promises, and declare yourself a publisher. The desire to be a published author can sometimes cause writers to don rose-colored glasses that color their judgment. Before signing with a publishing company, interview them, so to speak. They will be, after all, working for you. Just because someone offers to publish your work, it’s not a given that they’re legitimate or that they’ll be fair. If you’re not careful, you could end up signing away your rights to your characters, settings, and future books.

It's easy for rogue publishers to be less than truthful to new authors. They think they can (and often do) tell an unpublished author anything, because newbies don't know better. Since true learning comes from life experiences, it would be nice if newbie authors could learn from the mistakes of others.

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on the Internet. But I have heard enough horror stories to compile some dos and don’ts you should know about before you sign on the dotted line. Some of these will be easy to spot when you're offered a contract, and some will take some investigation. Trust me, it’s worth the time and effort. And if red flags start popping up, then run.


•    Look at the publisher’s online presence. Scrutinize their website and social media pages. What sorts of things do they post? They should have a solid social media presence with both quantity and quality posts. Publishers should have active, engaging websites, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads pages. Their websites and posts should be professional, nit free, and up to date. 

Note: this step should be taken before you submit your work. It’s much easier psychologically to cross a publisher off your query list than to turn a publishing contract down. Once you get an offer, those glasses turn rosey.

•    Google, research, and investigate the company and the people associated with it. Do an Internet search on the publisher’s and the company’s name. How long have they been in business? Check to see if they’re listed negatively on Preditors & Editors, Writers Write, Absolute Write, or other online writers’ forums. “But they may have changed their ways since that was posted,” you say. Yeah, and Elvis might still be alive.

•    Look for positives as well as negatives. How do their authors feel about the publisher? Verify positive experiences. Contact other authors who have had works published by them. Yes, someone has to be the first author for companies just starting out. But don’t let it be you. If you find negatives, can’t find positives, or can’t find anything about the publisher at all, then run like there's no tomorrow.

•    Verify quality for yourself, don’t take someone else’s word for it. Examine books the company has published. At the very least, read an excerpt from Amazon’s “Inside the Book” feature. Are there nits? Bad grammar? Poor formatting? Poorly written work? Make sure the editing and the product is quality.

•    Be clear on their royalties policy. You’ve worked hard and deserve to be compensated, so make sure the wording in the contract specifically states how the publisher pays royalties and on what royalties are based. In a perfect world, all authors would be paid royalties based on list price. But unless you have a book in every bookstore in the country, that probably won’t happen.

Beware of a clause that waives royalties on a certain number of books. (See the Don'ts section.)

Take note of wording. If a contract says you'll be paid 50% of net profits, you're thinking that's really sweet, right? Think again. Most small presses pay royalties on net income or net profit, which are two different things. Net income is the money publishers receive after bookseller discounts have been subtracted, which is a sweeter deal than net profit, which is what the publisher makes after any number of expenses are deducted. Are taxes, editing, printing, shipping and handling, marketing, distributor fees and/or their dry cleaning deducted? If production costs aren't defined, they could feasibly count anything they do as a production cost.

Do they require you to buy books? Do they withhold royalties until a certain number of books are sold? Make sure production costs are clearly defined.

One more point on royalties: Watch for a clause stating the publisher will freeze royalty payments in the event of a legal dispute. If a publisher does something to cause an author to take legal action, or if they take legal action against the author, the publisher will still get paid, but the author will not.

•    Be cautious if there's no advance offered. An advance simply means the company has faith in the author. Rogue publishers might say they don’t pay advances so they can keep overhead low and be able to pay their authors more. Probably bologna. They might say no advance is standard for first-time authors. More bologna.

Note: there are many legitimate small presses that don’t pay advances, so no advance isn’t always a red flag. If your royalty percentage is higher than average, it may offset no advance. It's just something to consider.

•    Beware of mumbo jumbo. In addition to looking at how royalties are paid, take notice of verbose or overly complicated wording in a contract. Smoke and mirrors, people. 

Read the terminology carefully.

Look at this clause:
Work Expenses means all reasonable amounts actually incurred by [Publisher] in connection with the exercise of the Granted Rights that are identifiably attributable to the Work as a standalone work, to a maximum amount equal to 25% of Gross Work Revenues. By way of example only, Work Expenses include the costs of creating versions and copies of the Work (including, without limitation, manufacturing costs related to the Work and the costs of manufacturing ancillary products), shipping costs, advertising expenses related solely to the Work, and charitable contributions derived from sales of the Work, but do not include expenses related to the general overhead costs of Publisher."

Say what?

Or this one:
We calculate net property by taking the Sale Price minus retail discount minus production costs aggregated across the minimum print run: SP-RD-(PC/MPR)=NP.  This is split 50/50 with the author so the Author’s Royalties are 50% of net profits.

I wonder if the writer of that clause even understands what it says. Walk away from mumbo jumbo clauses.

•    Watch out for bait and switch. Verify that the promises the publisher has made on the website, in emails, or in person are also in the contract. Sadly, people break promises. They even break clauses in contracts. But the law is on your side if all expectations are in writing. For example, the publisher may talk about obtaining reviews for the author, but is it in the contract? They may say they’ll do the editing for free, but is it in the contract? Ask them to be specific.

•    Beware of smoke and mirror marketing claims. Enticers are proficient at wording things that can be interpreted differently by different people. 
An example might be:

“The Author hereby grants the Publisher the rights to publish the characters found within the Work and the setting established therein for the purposes of marketing and promotions.”

See what they did there? They mentioned marketing and promotions, so you think that’s something the publisher will do. Read it again. All that clause says is that you grant them the right to use the characters and setting in marketing—-there is no promise of a marketing effort. What is their marketing plan? Is it only through social media and book signings? If the publisher offers no marketing or nothing more than marketing that you can do yourself, or if the wording is ambiguous, or if they require you to pay for services, then run. Because you might as well be doing it yourself and reaping all the profits.

•    Beware of publishers preying on newbie authors. If a publisher contacts you or advertises for Legitimate publishing companies have so many submissions they don’t have to look for authors. Don’t buy the line that they want to help first-time authors, or your work is so fantastic they just have to publish it. It’s just that—-a line.

•    Verify their employees’ experience and that they even exist. Anyone can claim anything on a website. They have five editors with a combined twenty-five years experience? What exactly is their experience? Where did they get it? The school newspaper? They're writers themselves? What have they written? A grocery list? (And notice the word "writers" instead of "authors.") Who are these employees? Are they even real people? Verify. It's entirely possible their editor, Arlo Cooper, is the combined names of their dogs, Arlo and Cooper. Don’t take their word for it. Google. Research. Verify.

•    Ask who will print the book. Some companies use CreateSpace. Don’t give away royalties for something you can do yourself.

•    Verify the publisher’s address is an actual address. It's a big red flag when a publisher lists their address as a post office box. If there’s an address listed, Google the address and see what comes up. Google map it and go to the street view. Is the address a reputable building or a mail store in a strip mall?

Look at this bogus address:
Rogue Publishing
123 Scumbucket Lane, Suite 666,
Scammers RS, 12345.

What’s wrong with that? Looks legit, right? Wrong. “Suite” can also mean “box.” Who knew? 
Do they list a phone number? Google it. Call it and see how it’s answered. If it’s not an actual business address or company phone line, then run like heck. Sure, some brand new publishers may start with a home office. But why didn't they list that address? They're probably trying to appear like more than they are, or they're hiding something.  

•    Make sure there are no hidden costs. Does the contract clearly state the editing and formatting of the book are services provided by the publisher free of charge? No legitimate publisher charges for editing and formatting.

•    Ask about the distribution plan. Will the publisher get your book in brick and mortar stores? Will it be available on the distribution lists that go out to all booksellers and librarians? Will it be available for order outside of and Barnes& It’s hard to sell books if your book isn’t distributed properly. Make sure the distribution plan is in writing.

•    Be certain who pays for review copies. Make sure the contract states who will be responsible for sending the book to reviewers—-you or the publisher? That should be part of the production cost. If they require you to foot the bill or offer no assistance, then you should probably run.

•    Make sure the contract states in what forms the book will be printed. If the clause says “May be” or “At the publisher’s discretion,” request the wording be unequivocal. They may promise an eBook or a hardback, but unless it’s in writing, they don’t have to honor their promises. Don't sign a contract in which the wording is vague, or two clauses contradict themselves.

•    Ask for a galley proof. Is there a clause in the contract stating the author will receive a galley proof at the publisher’s expense? Don't assume. As the author of the book, you have every right to see a galley, and it should be part of the production cost. (When you upload a book to Amazon, you have the option of getting a free .mobi copy so you can proofread. Note: free. Your publisher should forward that to you.) It's your book and your name on the front. A galley or .mobi should be offered--get it in writing.

•    Keep every email or letter you receive from your publisher or liaison. You never know what you may need in the future to prove a point of contention. Keep everything.

•    Negotiate the contract. You should see a huge red flag waving in your face if the publisher refuses to negotiate. If you’re uncomfortable about something, ask, and don’t buy the line, “it’s standard in publishing contracts.” Contracts are meant to be negotiated so they’re fair for both parties. If you ask questions and get mumbo jumbo answers, or are asked to sign the contract as-is, instead of signing, you should be running.

•    Hire a lawyer or agent to look at the contract before you sign. Yes, lawyers are expensive. But which would you rather do: spend money up front to make sure the contract is fair, or spend money later to get you out of the contract you didn’t fully understand? Be clear on what you're signing, because rogue publishers count on duping newbie authors with double talk and mumbo jumbo.


•    Do not, under any circumstances, sign a contract with a clause giving the publisher first rights of refusal on subsequent works. If this becomes a major sticking point, then a) run like a house afire, b) ask for a two-year opt out clause, where you can at least get free and clear after two years. Legitimate publishers will work to retain your loyalty. Dubious publishers will force you to publish with them or not at all. If the publisher does his job to your satisfaction, then by all means sign a new contract with them. But if their work was unsatisfactory, or your relationship turns sour, you need to be able to walk away. If you’ve granted a publisher first rights of refusal, it may be years before you can publish another book because you’re sure as heck not going to give some #@&*^ more of your work to screw up—-right? Run, don’t walk, away from first rights of refusal clauses.

•    Don’t give the publisher exclusive rights to publish works based upon characters and settings of the work for the duration of the contract. Never, never, never agree to that. If things go horribly wrong, you’ve lost control of your work. If you'd intended on writing a sequel or a series, someone who might be unscrupulous and vindictive could hold your work hostage because of one stinking clause. If you don't want them to publish subsequent works, your choice is to wait years until the contract expires and you can publish again, or spend thousands of dollars suing to regain your freedom. Run from the term "exclusive."

•    Don’t accept free books in exchange for royalties. You're in red flag city if a clause in the contract states you will not be paid on the first 100, 200, or any mumbo jumbo number of retail copies sold of any edition.

An author deserves to be paid for every book sold. If a publisher wants to give you free books in exchange for royalties on a certain amount of books, just say no. Publishers should give authors free books for promotional purposes—-period. Publishers pay authors, not the other way around. Run like crazy away from a clause that cheats you out of hard-earned royalties.

Note: If a contract has the double whammy of no royalties on the first X-number of books, and they pay on net profit, from which they deduct production costs, run to the law, because you're about to be robbed.

•    Don’t agree to a book purchase requirement, even at a discount.
Just don't. There's no reason you should be required to purchase a certain number of books. None. That's a huge red flag.

•    Don’t sign multiple contracts until you have one book under your belt. Even if the publisher produces a quality product, what if your relationship goes south? Protect yourself.

Note: Publishers do take a risk on first-time authors, and the more books the author writes, the better the first book will sell, so ideally it’s only fair to reward a publisher’s faith in you by publishing multiple books with them. If you’ve done your homework, and the publisher is solid with no other red flags, signing a two-book contract is a show of good faith in each other. Just don’t sign away an entire series. Stuff happens. And it wouldn't hurt to have an opt-out clause just in case.

After you sign on the dotted line...

Verify, verify, verify:

•    Verify promises. If the contract states the publisher will have the work copyrighted within a certain amount of time, verify that he has done so. Just because the contract says he will, doesn't mean it will happen. Protect yourself.

•    Verify formatting quality. Formatting should be included in any service a publisher offers. But just offering it isn't enough. Readers notice sloppy formatting. If the eBook formatting isn’t done properly, insist it be fixed and don’t take anyone’s word for it. Verify. If it’s not fixed after a reasonable amount of time, Amazon might pull it for review, and you will lose sales. A badly formatted eBook will affect your reviews, ratings, and reputation.

•    Verify sales. Would you believe there are some rogue publishers who try to falsify sales reports? Shocking, but true. Since Amazon doesn't allow authors to see Kindle sales (can someone please explain to me that decision?), the author must trust the publisher's reports. But watch your online sales closely. If you feel you've been given an incorrect report, verify.

•    Verify facts. Take screen shots if you believe your publisher has violated the contract and there is online evidence. You may need it at some point in the future. Be a boy scout. Be prepared.

"It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.” ~ Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Final thoughts

I'm certainly not disparaging all small presses or pointing fingers at any specific publishing companies. I believe there are a number of great Indie publishers out there doing really fine work. But I've heard so many stories about publishing nightmares, I think it's worth writing about to hopefully keep other authors from falling victim to a rogue publisher. Have you had a nightmarish publishing experience? Leave an anonymous comment so others can learn from it.

If you're comfortable with some of the red flags above, that's your decision. It's up to each individual author to decide what he/she can live with in a contract. But I believe the more informed you are, the better able you are to make educated decisions.

It’s sad that sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. The above points are not melodramatic or overly cautious; and what's worse is, I'm sure it's not comprehensive. Bad things happen, even to nice people and good writers. Don’t disregard red flags or fall for false promises. Be aware. Protect yourself. Investigate. Verify. If you see the warning signs, prepare to run, because chances are, if you don’t run away, you’ll be running into a stonewall.