Monday, November 19, 2012

As Real As It Gets

We at the Outfit are delighted to welcome CJ Lyons, one of the most well known indie authors around to the Outfit. She's got what sounds like a fabulous thriller that was just released. Read on...

Sometimes as writers we create characters who who we wish we knew in real life. Lucy Guardino, my Pittsburgh soccer mom who also happens to be a kick-ass FBI agent, is one of those characters.

But the cool thing is, I actually have met several versions of Lucy (both male and female)-and police officers and FBI agents have written to tell me that they love Lucy because she reminds them of partners they've worked with in real life.

Lucy came into being because I was tired of reading thrillers featuring female FBI agents who were driven by angst, fleeing demons, fighting addiction, stalked by serial killers, or with dark, forbidden secrets, etc--all things that would never allow them to do their job effectively in the real world. As a woman who has always worked in a male dominated field (Emergency Medicine), I wanted to create a main character I could relate to. Someone facing the same kind of struggles balancing work and family and who was "real."

So, I thought, why not go as real as it gets? How about a Pittsburgh soccer mom, who has a loving and supportive family? No angst, no dark past, no addictions or demons…Just the very real need to do her job the best she can while also giving her family as much love and attention as possible. Of course, I can't go too easy on her, so I give her the worst possible job, tracking pedophiles and sex offenders. The fact that she happens to be good at it only makes her life more complicated because she fights a constant battle of protecting her family from her work.  

I was lucky enough to meet a FBI Supervisory Special Agent who was teaching at Quantico and invited me to stay with her family as well as visit the FBI training academy. The academy was a blast (I even got to teach part of a class on interview techniques!) but the best part of the visit was meeting her very normal, very nice husband and kids and watching her do her job while living a life without the melodrama of "demons chasing her" like the usual thriller FBI character. Then I interviewed several more FBI agents, both male and female, who worked crimes against children--which was one of my own specialties as a Pediatric ER doc. Just like me, they fought to keep their cases and their feelings for their victims compartmentalized so they didn't spill over onto their families. But they also realized the importance of doing this work--a job no one wants to do because it does hit so very close to home with each and every victim.

Readers seem especially attracted to Lucy's character--despite the fact that her cases take her into the darkest recesses of the human soul. Her first adventures in SNAKE SKIN and BLOOD STAINED were actually difficult to write because they struck so very close to home with my own experiences working with victims of violent crimes. Now comes KILL ZONE, a book where the research literally gave me nightmares and I had to cut the real life violence by about 90% so that readers would accept it.

How many times have you heard a thriller writer say that?!? KILL ZONE deals with dark and violent realities that could happen right here in our own backyards--which makes it all the more frightening as Lucy puts everything at risk to save her family and her city. But I don't think it's the darkness that makes Lucy so popular. I think it's the light. The fact that no matter what she's facing, no matter how heinous the crime or the criminal, her family is always the reason she does what she does. Lucy reminds readers that they have it in themselves to be heroes. So, you tell me. Do you like your thriller heroes to feel as real as Lucy does? Or more "out of reach," like James Bond or Jack Reacher?

If you want a great snapshot into Lucy's life, check out her video: 

For more info on the research that went into creating Lucy's world, go here: 

Want a free book? Anyone who signs up for my Thriller with Heart newsletter can choose to get Lucy's first adventure, SNAKE SKIN, as a free e-read.

Thanks for reading! CJ

About CJ: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sixteen novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday). Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at

About CJ: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of sixteen novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart. CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday). 

Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at and everything she knows about being a bestseller at and everything she knows about being a bestseller at

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Launch Day!

by Jamie Freveletti
I am pleased to announce that the book I wrote for the Estate of Robert Ludlum is on sale today! Several people have asked me what it was like writing a continuation of a series begun by a legendary writer such as Robert Ludlum and I can say this: Scary, fun, difficult and engrossing, but the things that I thought would be difficult weren't and the scary aspect just had to be ignored or nothing would get done.

I was and remain a huge fan of Robert Ludlum, of course. His The Bourne Identity is just about a perfect premise for a novel; you've been shot, have lost your memory, and are learning bit by bit about who you are and the signs are pointing in an ugly direction.

I had to think long and hard about what Ludlum would like as I wrote. His books contained international plot lines, non stop action and nasty players in the world arena. They often dealt with government gone awry. The Covert One series is about a group of covert operators accountable only to the President of the United States and deployed by him when matters get deep and ugly.

The main character, Jon Smith, is a military man, microbiologist and a member of the United States Medical Research Institute on Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. (USAMRIID actually exists and a strain of anthrax there was suspected to have been used in the mailings from 2001). He's the perfect Ludlum character because he's upstanding, competent and willing to do what it takes. While he's not as dark as Bourne, he's just as deadly.

I learned that I was chosen to write the next in the series while I attended a mystery conference called Bouchercon. My own debut novel, Running From The Devil had just won a Barry award for best first novel and after the ceremony I met with the representatives of the Estate in the hotel bar. I remember sitting in the Hyatt and thinking what a wonderful, and slightly surreal, day I was having. Later that evening I was charged up and started writing. I realized that I wanted Jon Smith in trouble from the moment that he opened his eyes and I wanted the trouble to just keep coming. He's in a hotel that's under attack by terrorists. The first line is this:
Lieutenant Colonel Jon Smith opened his eyes to see a shadowy figure standing at the foot of his hotel room bed pointing a gun at him.
The terrorists are swarming through the hotel, where leading scientists and doctors from around the world are attending a meeting of the World Health Organization. The attackers have a hidden agenda. While the hotel is under attack, Oman Dattar, a strongman who is held in a prison nearby while being tried by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, escapes.

Dattar hates the United States and holds it responsible for his arrest and extradition and he also hates Britain, because that country has agreed to imprison him. He acquires a deadly weapon that kills silently, quickly, and once deployed cannot be contained, and he begins to carry out his plan of revenge. Smith and the other members of Covert One will have to use all of their skills to stop him.

I had a blast writing this novel, and I hope you enjoy it!



Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Grotesque Romance

A  niece of mine recently had her class read The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells, and she wrote to ask me why I thought the novel was subtitled "A Grotesque Romance" as it certainly wasn’t a love story.  I hadn't read the book, but I did see a film version.  The question intrigued me, though, so I did a little research and came up with the following:

According to Wikipedia, "The romance novel is a literary genre developed in Western culture, mainly in English-speaking countries. Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."

Romances are generally love stories, though the category has sometimes been stretched to mean love of adventure, ideas, inanimate objects, non-human animals (in the non-ick sense of the word love. The other kind of human/animal love is classified as porn.), etc.  So I think the subtitle "A Grotesque Romance" may be intended to classify The Invisible Man as the story of a twisted love affair that has an unhappy, if not unsatisfying, ending, i.e. an egotistical man's love of his own idea gone horribly awry. (Basically extreme egophilia carried to an illogical extreme.)

Not having read The Invisible Man, I can't say whether the main character, Griffin, is in any way a sympathetic or noble figure, or if the novel rises to the level of a literary tragedy, but The Invisible Man seems very similar in theme and moral to Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. (The title of which is the name of the egocentric doctor who created the monster, not the name of the monster itself.) Frankenstein is a classic tragedy of a good man whose ego got the better of his common sense and humanity.  The Invisible Man seems to have the same disorder.

That's my take anyway.  Someone must have read both novels and formed an opinion on the subject.  What do you think

Monday, August 13, 2012

The end of Izzy McNeil?

False Impressions, the 6th suspense novel in the Izzy McNeil series will be released in a few weeks. The cover shows a piece of art, paint dripping to form the Chicago skyline. The rest of it shows the face (the bottom half anyway) of a beautiful redhead. My publisher and their cover designers had nailed the image—the woman on the cover is, in fact, Izzy in my head, as well in my publisher’s collective mind and hopefully in some readers (although really, we encourage you to envision the characters any way you’d like. To me, this trait remains the number one draw for reading)). 

In writing it too, my editor and I had been in perfect agreement on everything. Same for my freelance editor (the fact that she’s my sister made this all the more remarkable). Stylistically, everyone on the team saw the book—an art mystery about the stalking of an Chicago gallery owner—in the exact same way.

So six books in and it seems we’ve figured Izzy out, at least in her current permutation as a human. Is it time to say goodbye? For the moment?

The decision to write a suspense series featuring a redhead lawyer from Chicago who moonlights as a private detective was conceived at a New York breakfast with a couple of novelists who pointed out that every redhead I wrote about was either evil or slutty. They also asked why I wasn’t writing more about the law as I now had experiences in both civil and criminal, and in one of the most interesting (yes, the loose version of the word) cities. Why, they asked, didn’t I use Chicago more as a character? And thus, Izzy was born. 

I spoke to my agent and my publishers' and we decided on a trilogy about Izzy McNeil. In the first, Red Hot Lies, she’d lose her boss, her fiancĂ© and a job. None of us were sure whether she’d get any of those back. The events that started it all for Izzy would also be the ones to cause her to question—with a great amount of concurrent curiosity and sadness—whether she knew anything about herself, her world, or all the rest of it.

In Red Blooded Murder, the second, she tries her hand at a TV new gig for a legal cable station.

Red, White & Dead, the third of the trilogy saw Izzy getting back on her feet, starting to come into her own, working in the law again with best friend, Maggie, and as a P.I. in a side-job for John Mayburn. She did not want for gorgeous men. But she also couldn’t choose among them.

There seemed to be so much more story to tell, so we decided we’d do four more Izzy novels which included Claim of Innocence and Question of Trust leading to the newest one, False Impressions. Yet now that it’s done and almost out into the world, finding Izzy in a very unexpected place, it feels like a good place to stop. Or maybe to just pause and let Izzy grow on her own now that she’s ended up where she has? We won’t give away a spoiler, but when read it let us know what you think.

Looking for an local Independent Bookstore, CLICK HERE.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Flight Has Flown

There's a very cool write-up of the round-robin short story several members of the Outfit (including yours truly) wrote at the April Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Chicago. We wrote it with audience participation. Check it out right here. And just so you know, the story is FREE all month at Smashwords. Use coupon #SSW75.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ellie's baacckk!!

Ellie's baaacckkk! Now you can read (or re-read) the award-winning suspense series featuring Ellie Foreman, a single mother and video producer in the Chicago suburbs. Meet Ellie’s father Jake, her daughter Rachel, her boyfriend David, Fouad, Susan, and others. Think “Desperate Housewives” meets “24.” With the emphasis on "24." Heavy on suspense and quite dark, none of the four novels are cozy. All are now available on Amazon and other e-tailers, and AN EYE FOR MURDER will go free on Amazon soon. So start here instead. It's my favorite of the Ellie books (but don't tell the others.) Best of all, the short story prequel to the series, "The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared" is FREE now! On Amazon and Kobo.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Jury Is In

Ask this question to anyone who works at 26th and Cal (the hub of Chicago's criminal legal world and the busiest court system in the nation)--How often does a criminal defendant get together after trial with his jurors?  You'll probably get a laugh. The answer will likely be 'almost never.' But the case of Jovan Mosley, and the dedicated jurors who decided whether he was guilty of murder, has never been typical.

After Jovan's trial, lead attorney, Catharine O'Daniel, and I went in the jury room, where they made us promise to take care of Jovan. Then they did one better. The foreperson--Andrea Schultz, took Jovan shopping for school supplies. Another--Alfonzo Lewis--called me frequently for updates on how Jovan was doing. A few months later, they both suggested a reunion.

I wrote about this juror reunion in the book Long Way Home: The Story of a Young Man Lost in the System and the Two Women Who Found Him. A few people wrote me, wondering if that occasion had really taken place. Today, while defragmenting both the computer and the home office with Carol Miller, I found lost photos from the event. Since Long Way Home is newly out in trade paperback (purchase here B&N, Amazon), I thought I'd share them.

Alfonzo Lewis, Jovan Mosley, and Andrea Schultz

 Schultz, Mosley, Lewis, and Catharine O'Daniel

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Farewell to the Outfit?

A must read (and slightly zany) article in Chicago Magazine this month: The Mob's Last Gasp

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Got Drugs?


April 28, 2012 

 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has scheduled another National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day which will take place on Saturday, April 28, 2012,  from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

 This is a great opportunity for those who missed previous events, or who have subsequently accumulated unwanted, unused prescription drugs, to safely dispose of them. 


Those who participated in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on October 29, 2011 turned in more than 377,086 pounds (188.5 tons) of unwanted or expired medications for safe disposal.  Let's make this month's totals even better.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Kindle Fire GiveAway!

by Libby Hellmann

Interested in winning a Kindle Fire? If so, come on over here to find out more. The contest is running now.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Virtual Book Chat Reminder -- A Bitter Veil

Acckk... It's almost here!

On Tuesday, April 17, at 6 PM (Eastern time so plan accordingly), Libby Hellmann will be talking about A BITTER VEIL, the state of publishing, and anything else that's on your mind during a 45-minute video chat online!

Shindig Events is a brand new service that allows up to 500 people to interact together. And it is so easy to use that even her 92 year old mother will be there. All you do is go to this website. That's it! You'll be able to ask questions, watch a slide presentation (don't worry—it's short) and even chat among yourselves. So please kick back and join her online.

RSVP here to get a same day reminder or just come on over.

Libby hopes to "see" you there.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thrillers and Romance-Oil and Water or Does Danger Add that Certain Something?

by Jamie Freveletti

The Romantic Times Convention is in Chicago this weekend and The Outfit members will be there enjoying every minute. I've never been to an RT Convention, and having it in Chicago is a wonderful opportunity to attend. Of course, I got to thinking, does a Thriller writer belong there? It seems as though thriller writers don't write romance and often, if they do, it just gets panned, or worse yet, nominated by The Literary Review for the "Bad Sex in Fiction" Award.

I'm not kidding, the award exists. Here are the 2011 nominees.
And can I tell you how I do NOT want to make this list?

Writing romance in a thriller comes with a certain set of logistical problems that are built into the genre. By definition, a thriller sets a protagonist against an antagonist that wants to kill or maim. When you're writing one you'd hate to have your protagonist do something silly rather than try their damndest to get to safety. That's a quick way to lose a reader. So, you try to imagine what a real person would do in the same circumstances. If someone was running toward me with murderous intent romance would be the last thing on my mind. I'd be running--as fast as I could run. Likewise, if cornered I'd be working out in my mind which aikido move I would use to disarm the assailant before--you guessed it-- running away.  I teach aikido and I always emphasize to my students the running away option as optimal in all circumstances. I tell them the best aikido move is the one that allows you to avoid doing any techniques.

But there is something interesting that occurs when one writes a thriller with a female and male character. There's always a question in the reader's mind whether they're going to stop running away or solving the mystery and take some time out to get it on. The best thrillers have sex scenes, both in the movies and in books. In one of my favorite books, The Bourne Identity, Jason Bourne and Marie are in chased all over and hole up in a hotel alone, worried, and wired. They find the perfect way to address their surfeit of adrenaline. 

And in the movie North By Northwest the character played by Cary Grant gets chased, a lot, but somehow ends up romancing the woman who may or may not be a villain.

The romance in North By Northwest is handled well, though, and his concerns about her add to the suspense. I also liked the approach taken by the X-files throughout all the episodes until the very end. They were colleagues first, began to care about each other, and then became lovers.

Because I write a female protagonist who is action oriented, I don't have her worry too much about what the men are thinking or not thinking with regard to romance. The men hit on her a bit, but most need her unique knowledge and sharp brain to help them get out of dangerous circumstances and they focus on getting out of trouble first.

However, I do think that she'll have a free moment soon. Maybe on a train ride like the one above.

And when she does, let's just hope that the resulting scene doesn't get nominated for the bad sex in fiction award by the Literary Review!

I look forward to seeing everyone at the RT Convention!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

"Sing, Sing, Sing" -- A Chicago Story

by Libby Hellmann

I first came to Chicago in the fall of 1977. At the time I was looking for a job in broadcast news (Which turned out not to be, but that’s another story). I’m still not sure who told me about it, but I stayed at the Belden Stratford, an apartment-hotel in the middle of Lincoln Park, which at the time, housed one of the best Mandarin restaurants in Chicago, the Dragon Inn. (I still go to the Dragon Inn North – same owners).

But I digress.

In 1977 the Belden-Stratford wasn’t an assisted living facility, but you might have mistaken it for one. Formerly an elegant hotel, the lobby still had a patina of style, but most of it had faded into a dusty, dingy, place with frayed carpets, and cracked leather furniture. (It appears to have been remodeled since). I booked it for a month, spending my time going on interviews, working freelance, and seeing the sights of Chicago.

I would get back to the hotel around four, and would be greeted by a phalanx of senior citizens lounging on chairs and sofas in the lobby. They would stare at me as I swung through the door. Most of them looked vacant, some sad, and no one smiled. I didn’t stop but made a beeline for the elevator.

One day, though, one of the women did smile at me, and I decided to sit next to her. She must have been well into her eighties, she looked frumpy, and she walked with a cane. We started to chat about this and that… nothing important, just passing the time of day. She asked me why I was staying there, and I told her. I asked her how long she’d lived there, and she told me. I was about to say goodbye and go up to my room when she said. “You’re probably too young, but do you happen to know who Benny Goodman was?”

Now, you have to know that my late father was a party animal. He was the guy everyone wanted to be around when the music started playing and the drinks were flying. And along with Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, he had all of Benny Goodman albums. In fact, at least once a week, usually on Saturday nights, the strains of Benny’s clarinet or Ella’s perfect soprano or some other Swing and/or Big Band tune would float upstairs as I was trying to fall asleep. I told the woman that.

She grinned. “Well, I’m Benny Goodman’s sister.”

Once I put my jaw back in alignment, she said, “Come with me, sweetie.”

We went up to her small, cramped apartment. Every available inch of wall space was covered with framed photos and newspaper clippings. Other mementos spilled onto end tables next to china figurine miniatures, lace doilies, and other tchotchkes. Most of them were a memorial to her brother.

There were photos of him playing with Gene Krupa and Harry James at the Blackhawk restaurant, album covers (some the same as my father’s), family photos taken in the Maxwell Street area where they grew up – there were twelve siblings – and one photo of their father, who died before his time in a traffic accident.

I was fascinated and looked through everything. Then I asked if I could bring my camera down so I could take pictures of the pictures for my father.

“I have a better idea,” she said (To this day I can’t remember her first name… my bad). “How would you like a photo?”

I nodded, and she gave me a picture of Benny, Gene Krupa, and Harry James. It was a candid, and they were rehearsing. She didn’t know where. I do remember two of them (don’t recall which ones) had cigarettes burning.

I sent my father the photo the next day.

That was my first “Chicago” moment, not particularly exciting or memorable except to me. A piece of Chicago’s past had been shared with me, and I felt a bond with the city, its history, and the talent nurtured on the shores of Lake Michigan.

That was over 30 years ago. Benny Goodman is gone, his sister is too, and so is my father. But during the few moments I spent in her apartment, something registered. A sister who was inordinately proud of her brother and was able to tell the tale to a younger person who appreciated it.

It was a special moment, and I knew from that day forward that I belonged in Chicago. Come hell or high water. Maybe even so I could tell this story one day.

Stick around to hear SIng, Sing, Sing, by the Benny Goodman Orchestra (with Sid Casear too)!

Chicago is a Small Town: Doggie Style

Chicagoans say it often—Chicago is such a small town. The big-city-that—sometimes-feels-like-a- hamlet is of the reasons authors like to set books here. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility (in fact, it’s squarely inside) to have a character run into someone she knows on the El train (or at least someone who knows someone she knows). Who knew it was true for dogs as well?

Today, Shafer was raring to go for a walk. We went to Jonquil Park, where she endlessly chased and fetched a white ball. Then we headed home.

Shafer is the kind of dog who likes to sit in the middle of a walk, just to curiously watch a branch-ful of birds. I figured that’s what was going on when she suddenly plunked down in the middle of a sidewalk on Schubert Avenue. It was curious, since my house was in view (a sight that normally makes her pick up the speed).

Across the street, the door to our vet’s office opened. Shafer perked up and started heading across the street in that direction, then veering to the left when she saw another dog.

As we got closer to the dog, I noticed that the dog’s owner was a blond woman dressed in jeans, and the dog…? Well, the dog looked an awful lot like Shafer, only bigger and with redder hair. The other dog looked up.

“Is that a goldendoodle?” I asked the owner.

“Yeah,” she answered. “His name is Sailor.”

“Shafer is a goldendoodle too,” I said, pointing.

Suddenly, the two dogs lunged like they were long lost cousins. Then they commenced playing and jumping all over each other for the next twenty minutes. It took only one of those minutes for the owner and me to discover that we had both gotten our dogs from Country Mini Doodle in Tipton, Indiana.

She told me that they were in the neighborhood that day to get Sailor’s shots at the vet’s. He was in the waiting room when he suddenly whimpered, which he rarely does. His owner took him outside. And there was Shafer. Turns out they were born within a week of each other. We’re tracing family lineage. It’s possible they’re not just long lost cousins but siblings as well.

Meanwhile, this is giving me the stirrings of a new book…..

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Poetry with an Edge: It's not only hearts and flowers

by Jamie Freveletti

I'm headed to a poetry slam this week and was thinking about the poetry I love; the nice and not-so-nice. I must admit, most of my favorite poetry is of the not-so-nice category and that which has hidden meanings.

I'll never forget reading Keats' Ode to a Grecian Urn and being a tad...bored. The lovers chasing each other into infinity is an interesting image, I admit, but the rest didn't really catch me until the last famous line about beauty and truth. I was in an English Literature class in college when a substitute teacher showed up. His name was Lucien Stryk and he was teaching Ode and called on me to give my thoughts.

"Boring," I said. "But I like that last line." He didn't seem insulted, but began teaching a poem by Sylvia Path. He started to talk about her life and I recall raising my hand and asking, "Do all poets have to be tragic figures? Or can you be balanced as a person and still write it?"

I'll never forget him laughing. Then he pulled out the poem that I love to this day: My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning. It's a poem written by a nasty, evil man and I gasped at the end when I realized what he had done.

I read all of Browning and bought his collection of poems, which managed to survive all of my moves throughout the world and is on my bookshelf today. I read it when I need to create a subtle, but nasty villain.

When Mr. Stryk left the class he pointed at me and said, "I expect you'll be writing one day." I remember wondering why he thought such a thing. Guess experience shows, because he was right.

The other creepy poem that I love is Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. This poem talks about evil, demon-like trolls that suck the life out of their victims and leave them gray and withering. Great stuff and the lesbian imagery struck me as pretty blatant for a poem from an earlier century, but when I asked my teacher, who had returned for this class, if anyone else had commented on this aspect he frowned and shut down the question. I remember thinking that Mr. Stryk would have answered me, and I went off to research it myself. (Seems that feelings are mixed; some say the imagery is deliberate, but others think that Rossetti didn't mean to imply this, but had begun working at a home for wayward women and was warning of the ruin that comes to women who are used by men and flung aside. These critics think that she was trying to write about sisterhood.).

From there we went to WB Yeats, The Second Coming, and I was hooked. The idea of a demon slouching toward Bethlehem is exactly what a thriller writer would love: impending doom heading our way.

For a grim view of World War I, read Wilfred Owen's Dolce Et Decorum Est. This poem, written by a soldier who fought and died in the war, describes mustard gas poisoning in a heartbreaking series of lines that will stick with you.

I'm looking forward to the slam for a dose of edgy, concise and affecting imagery. Should be a great event!

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mystery and Motive: Some Criminal Minds

By Jamie Freveletti

I was reading the newspaper and getting my daily dose of stories about mayhem, brinkmanship and near world annihilation when I paused and took another look. Wait, Russia is defending Syria? Why?

Further down in the article I saw a possible reason: "Syria is Moscow's rare ally in the Middle East, home to a Russian naval base and a customer for its arms." Reuters          

And there you have it--money--the oldest motive in history and the most enduring. Money, when linked to its sister motive: Power, is a driving force behind a whole lot of murder and mayhem in this world. I would argue that Power is a distant second in terms of motivators, because while it's often desired by Nations there aren't as many of those as there are people, and people often do things purely for money. For many people, power is secondary and if you offered them a chance to be really, really rich they'd forgo the power. Not all, of course, but many.

Which brings us to mystery novels. Most writers are aware that power and money are the really big motivational players in the human psyche and most exploit this trait when writing their own stories of murder and mayhem. Thrillers tend to lean toward the Nation/State and Power module, while Mysteries lean toward the Individual and Money/Greed motive, and both give us really twisted tales of both.

Here are some nice, filthy tales of money and power, in no particular order:

Absolute Power  David Baldacci.

A career criminal is trapped in the house that he is burglarizing when he sees the President of the United States having an affair with a woman. The situation turns violent, the Secret Service breaks in, kills the woman, and after learning that the criminal saw the murder go down, blames it on him. Love this novel. Goes right to the top of the Power food chain and implicates the President of the United States.

Another novel about a president and a dead mistress but this one is non-fiction.  I've met Ms. Burleigh after a speech for her other novel, The Fatal Gift of Beauty, about Amanda Knox trial and I find both books well researched and written. The motive in the Knox trial is even more sinister because it isn't readily apparent why a prosecutor would handle a case in this manner.

And the tales of average, everyday mayhem for money. I'm going to focus on the ones that include humor just to narrow an extensive field and lighten up a bit:

Pest Control Bill Fitzhugh

When down on his luck exterminator Bob Dillon creates a brochure for his new, environmentally friendly extermination method involving hybrid assassin bugs (which Mr. Fitzhugh says are very real) it ends up in the hands of a European murder- for- hire broker, who decides to eliminate the competition. Funniest story about assassins trying to slaughter the competition that you'll ever read. If you loved and watched the movie Grosse Pointe Blank, which I'd recommend as one of the best movies of the "assassin wishing to go straight and being targeted by his former colleagues" genre, then you'll love this one.

Cosmic Banditos AC Weisbecker

Another very, very funny (in a sick sort of way) story about a down on his luck drug dealer who becomes obsessed with learning the secrets of the universe and heads north to California to confront a physicist with his theories while dodging the authorities who have charged him with drug dealing and terrorism. The story of the librarian will make you laugh out loud. This is a cult novel, and requires a twisted sense of humor to fully appreciate.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

E-Reader Owners Watch Your Wallets: Plagiarism Abounds

by Jamie Freveletti

If you haven't read the recent Fast Company article about rampant plagiarism on Amazon, check it out. Turns out that some entrepreneurial souls are uploading plagiarised material and swiping the cash from under the noses of the legitimate authors. While the article focuses on erotica books, I presume it is occuring elsewhere as well. I was surprised by the number of plagiarised works one "author" uploaded--51, with more going up every few days.

It takes me about nine months to write a book and two months to rewrite. At my rate it will take me over thirty years to match her (or his) output. Honestly, I couldn't type, format, create a cover and upload a book that fast. They must be buying them, scanning them, and then uploading it again with a new title and author name. In this case, copy and paste is a beautiful tool.

While this fraud hurts the writer, clearly, it also hurts the readers as well. 

A friend recounted to me that one of her relatives, an avid reader, downloaded a kindle book, read it and then downloaded another. Guess what, the second book was exactly the first, but with a new title and author. Naturally, she was upset. While the outlay wasn't great-the book was either .99 or 2.99, she was still hoodwinked. She wasn't sure who had repackaged the book--the author trying to make a second sale out of the same manuscript or a con man looking to make some fast cash. I'd like to think it was a con man but there is really no way to tell.

And there's little that can be done unless the platform software--in the story it's Amazon, makes an effort to run the book through a program to catch copying.

So just another way for thieves to part you from your cash.

As if we didn't already have enough to worry about!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Writers' Conferences --Tips and Tricks

by Jamie Freveletti

I’ve been asked to comment on writers’ conferences. I’ll be attending a few conferences and I always enjoy them. I began attending as an unpublished writer and now attend as part of the industry, but I still enjoy just listening to the panels and talking books. Writing conferences are the something I didn’t attend as a reader. I would attend signings periodically, but had no idea that entire conferences existed until one year after I had completed a manuscript and was surfing the web for industry information.
Once I began attending I realized that I had been missing out. Conferences immerse you in fiction, provide a great weekend of interesting things to do, and let you rub shoulders with authors that you would have never met otherwise. Bouchercon  was in Chicago that year and Love Is Murder (also Chicago) popped up. It was a week before Bouchercon and I plunked down my Visa card and signed up. I arranged for childcare--the conferences generally run over a weekend so no depending on school to keep them busy-- and rode my bicycle down Lake Shore Drive to the hotel and….
Entered a wonderful world.
I remember reading the bulletin and circling the different panels that I wanted to attend. I listened to authors I had read tell about their books and writing process and what they love. I was enchanted. (The next is set for Cleveland in October and I’m registered to attend, but just haven’t added it to the website just yet).
By the time Love Is Murder rolled around I was on a serious mission to get some input on a new manuscript. I paid for a manuscript review and was assigned to the now New York Times bestselling author Julie Hyzy. She was just starting her career then and she was wonderful to me. Love Is Murder is a smaller, but very congenial conference that I adored and I have tried to attend every one since that first. It’s an excellent way to meet authors and industry professionals because it’s so intimate. I’d hit this one now or in the next few years because I suspect attendance will grow. (And this year Julie is a guest of honor!).

Sleuthfest  was the fourth conference that I ever attended. Generally set in Florida, this year it’s in Orlando! I’m really excited to go, because not only will the weather be superb but this industry-minded and fan conference usually provides something for everyone. I listened to my first forensic pathologist give a particularly fascinating lecture there and still use some of what I learned in my writing. This year Jeffrey Deaver and Charlaine Harris will be among the attendees and I look forward to hearing them speak. You really can’t beat the location and many people will tie it into a trip to Disney, I’m sure.
Thrillerfest  is the newcomer on the block. It started a few years ago and has grown steadily since then. I was present for the first and what a blast that was! It was located in Arizona and has since moved to New York City. This conference has really moved forward as an industry conference by virtue of its NYC connection. Heavy hitters in the thriller writer world are here: Tess Gerritsen, Ken Follett, Lee Child, John Sandford, Lisa Gardner and Jeffrey Deaver have all attended, to name just a few and this year Catherine Coulter and Karin Slaughter will be there as well.
There are definite tips to attending a conference. Here are some of mine:
1.       Book the hotel early. The conference rate is the best and goes quickly. BUT, if you miss out (as I have) sometimes you can score a room a couple of days before. Inevitably things pop up and some attendees will cancel and you can scoop up their slot.
2.       Check out the panel list and plan accordingly. There is a lot to do and you don’t want to miss out on something or someone you’ve always wanted to hear speak.
3.       Hit the hotel bar afterhours: You’ll see a lot of authors wander in and out there. In the early years I was too intimidated to speak to them, but it was really cool just to author watch. It still is.
4.       Buy the books you want with abandon and ship them home. I still look at my bookshelves and see the books that I bought at the conferences and they always make me smile. They’re all signed and they bring back great memories.