Legal Eagles: Attorneys Writing Fiction (2)

Re-blogging here an entry from the Kirkus blog by editor Myra Forsberg, entitled “Legal Eagles”!

“Through the ages, the works of playwrights, novelists, and filmmakers, from Shakespeare to Steven Spielberg, have gleefully skewered lawyers. In Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, the first movie in the popular franchise, a discerning dinosaur chomps on a particularly sleazy attorney, delighting fans worldwide. But depictions of heroic lawyers also remain plentiful, particularly on TV, in classic series (Perry Mason) and more recent fare (The Good Wife).

Forsaken Oath“Kirkus recently reviewed three legal thrillers that focus on resourceful attorneys pursuing justice. In V.S. Kemanis’ Forsaken Oath, Manhattan prosecutor Dana Hargrove finds herself embroiled in three cases, including the murder of a fashion designer. In this page-turner, she must uncover the truth and save her career. “The author manages to compellingly depict many distinct areas of the justice system, from the cops on the street to the lawyers on both sides of the courtroom,” our reviewer writes. Jerri Blair’s Black and White, set in 1979,follows Florida public defender J.T. Lockman, who takes the case of an African-American accused of murdering a white car dealer. J.T. believes a Ku Klux Klansman committed the crime but must gather the evidence to prove it. Our critic calls the novel an “energetic tale that’s rife with drama and mystery.” A sinister figure kidnaps teenage girls in Brian Clary’s Amicus Curiae: the daughter of Texas attorney Michelle “Mickey” Grant disappears and the police soon arrest Willie Lee Flynn for one abductee’s murder. Although he’s convicted, Mickey harbors doubts and files an amicus curiae brief, seeking to retry Flynn and discover her daughter’s whereabouts. Our reviewer says, “Fans of crime dramas will find Clary’s suspenseful yarn a welcome addition to the genre.”


Stay tuned for the third installment of Legal Eagles! I’m currently reading a great legal thriller by attorney Manuel Ramos, soon to be reviewed.

Highlights: 2016

Dear readers, writers, editors, bloggers, friends, and dancers:

As the year comes to a close, regardless of what may have challenged, frustrated, or saddened us, we can be thankful for these enduring gifts we all share: imagination and creativity. The creation and enjoyment of art in any form enlightens and delights us, sustains and enriches us. I am blessed to have had another fulfilling year in my two favorite art forms, fiction and dance.

The highlights include the publication of my new Dana Hargrove novel, Forsaken Oath, and interviews about my work with bloggers Jeff Kivela of Buttonholed Books, Marika from Mystery Sequels, and mystery writer/playwright Nina Mansfield.VSKPaperbacks - Copy


My story “Journal Entry, Franklin DeWitt” (combining my love of dance and mystery!), was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, …Journal Entry, Franklin DeWitt Aug 2016

and a story on the lighter side, “Ballet, Law, and Mystery,” was posted on EQMM’s blog Something is Going to Happen.


There were many interesting and enlightening events with my fellow mystery writers. To name a few:  The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s 75th Anniversary Symposium, and MWA-NY’s Holiday Revels with Reed Farrel Coleman

I danced injury-free all year and enjoyed many wonderful classes with my favorite teachers at Gibney Dance, including (especially!) Diane’s four hour holiday class! dianes-class-12-22-16In 2017, I look forward to completing another short fiction collection and the fourth Dana Hargrove novel!

I wish everyone a healthy, happy 2017, with many creative, inspiring moments.


Reflections on the 75th Anniversary of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine

On a dismal, drizzly afternoon in Manhattan, an array of editors, authors, artists, and crime fiction aficionados jammed a large meeting room at the Butler Library to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  Appropriate to the occasion were several surprise visits from beyond the grave (an eerie, other-worldly screeching from the HVAC system), and a chilling reading by Joyce Carol Oates from her story “Big Momma,” a creepy tale from The Doll-Master and Other Tales of Terror.  Shivers!

In a publishing environment where magazines and journals of short fiction easily come and go, EQMM can be proud of its longevity. The secret (or mystery) of this success was one of the topics explored during the afternoon of panel discussions by notable authors and editors.  Some shared fascinating personal experiences about working with the founders of the magazine, the cousins Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee, who collaborated as Ellery Queen. The distinguished panelists included Otto Penzler (proprietor of The Mysterious Bookshop and founder of The Mysterious Press), Sarah Weinman (author, editor, and expert on women crime fiction writers), Jeffrey Marks (biographer of Anthony Boucher, at work on a biography of Dannay and Lee), Russell Atwood (ftomrobertsormer managing editor of EQMM), and award-winning authors Jonathan Santlofer, Joseph Goodrich, Josh Pachter, and Charles Ardai.

Especially fun was the slide show of several EQMM covers from different eras of the magazine, along with interior black-and-white illustrations of the stories. Janet Salter Rosenberg, the daughter of cover designer George Salter, gave insight into her father’s creations. Artists Laurie Harden and Tom Roberts discussed their respective works and their appreciation of the artistic freedom EQMM affords them in bringing their visions of the stories to life. Here is an evocative cover by Roberts from the July 2011 issue. The cover for the very first issue, and a clever story about it by Arthur Vidro, can be found on the EQMM blog, Something is Going to Happen, posted on August 31.

The symposium was capped by our trip up to the sixth floor, enticed by the promise of a glass of wine and (the real inducement) an exhibit of EQMM artifacts displayed in a small alcove of the rare book and manuscript library. Of particular interest to me were the yellowing pages of manuscripts, typed out on an old Remington or some such, with Dannay’s edits marked in pencil. Those of you who know of my life as an editor will guess at my delight in seeing Dannay’s flourishes and variances of the universal copyediting symbols and his spot-on word choices!  The exhibit is on display through December 23.

Why has EQMM endured?  The panelists and current editor Janet Hutchings agreed on a few key ingredients: a commitment to quality and a wide variety of stories of different styles within the mystery genre.  Wait a minute:  I’m going to ban that word “genre”!  It’s thrown around far too often and stirs up preconceptions that limit a reader’s horizons.  As an author who resists a pigeonhole for her own work, I would do the same for EQMM, unless you take the most expansive view of the term “mystery” as an essential element of compelling writing.  As stated on EQMM’s website, when founders Dannay and Lee were “deciding how to orieeqmmallnationsnt their new magazine, there could not have been any question that its outlook would be global. Both men had cosmopolitan tastes and a knowledge of world literature. It has become part of EQMM lore that Dannay, who soon took over the editing of the magazine, aimed to prove, in its pages, that every great writer in history had written at least one story that could be considered a mystery.”

Jeffrey Marks notes in his essay in the September/October issue that EQMM has published such literary luminaries as William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Mark Twain, and E.M. Forster, as well as several Pulitzer winners.  This year, in the May issue, we were treated to a reprint of Borges’ iconic story exploring alternate realities, “The Garden of Forking Paths,” which was originally published in EQMM in 1948.

Another masterpiece, Stanley Ellin’s “The Specialty of the House,” is reprinted in the current issue. Beyond these prize reprints, the range of writing that appears monthly in EQMM’s pages includes something for everyone, whether light or dark, police procedural or private eye, cozy or locked room. My taste runs to stories of psychological suspense and intellectual challenge, and I can always find them here. Janet Hutchings has maintained Dannay and Lee’s expansive vision for the magazine and the tradition of high quality. I’m grateful that my own writing, which bears absolutely no resemblance to Agatha Christie’s, has been printed in two issues of EQMM eqmm_sept-oct2013and its e-book anthology, The Crooked Road Volume 3.  I’m also fortunate to have been welcomed into this community of amazing authors. As one of the panelists noted, mystery and crime writers are a really nice bunch of people because we’ve transferred every bit of aggression and nastiness to our fictional characters!

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Slightly off-topic, on the subject of anniversaries, I note here that October 26 marks a milestone for me.  A year ago, the print editions of my first two novels, Thursday’s List and Homicide Chart, were released.  To help celebrate, I’m running giveaways for signed copies of the two novels on Goodreads.  Be sure to enter for a chance to win!

New Short Story!

Journal Entry, Franklin DeWitt Aug 2016

I’m proud to be a contributor to the August 2016 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. This is an important year for EQMM, celebrating 75 years as the preeminent mystery magazine. In this ever-changing world of publishing, EQMM’s longevity is a significant accomplishment, undoubtedly due to the quality of the magazine and the enduring appeal of mystery fiction.

The mystery field covers many genres, including cozy, police procedural, noir, historical, legal thriller, hard boiled, locked room, psychological, and private eye, to name a few. Every issue of EQMM includes a wide range of writing styles and genres, so there’s always something in the magazine to interest virtually every taste.

Here is the description of my story on EQMM’s website: “Enter the world of Cold War era professional ballet dancing in V.S. Kemanis’s moving classical whodunit Journal Entry, Franklin DeWitt.” You will also find suspenseful stories in this issue by authors Joseph Goodrich, William Burton McCormick, Scott Mackay, Dave Zeltserman, Jonathan Moore, and others.

This issue is also dedicated to EQMM’s past editors Eleanor Regis Sullivan and Frederic Dannay (who was half of the Ellery Queen writing team with his cousin Manfred B. Lee). The articles about these editors give fascinating anecdotes and insights into the history of the magazine.

All in all, a great issue. Pick up a copy and enjoy!

Legal Eagles: Attorneys Writing Fiction

We all know that lawyers write some of the best fiction. Okay, so I happen to be a lawyer who writes fiction—but I’m not biased. Really. I have proof!

Here are three fantastic reads by my fellow/fella colleagues at the bar. We’ve all had our days in and out of court tackling tough cases, flaky witnesses, annoying adversaries, and exacting judges. We’ve experienced the thrill of investigative discovery, the tedium of preparation, the surprises and heartbreaks that arise in the midst of trial. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the criminal courtroom provides fertile ground for moral dilemma and human drama, a launching pad for the imagination of the novelist.

The writing styles and plotlines in these novels differ greatly, but each author touches on a common underlying theme: the life story behind the face might not be what you expect. Each novel features a character who may just end up surprising you. I will attempt to avoid spoilers and give you merely an enticing flavor of each.

A Good Killing, by Allison Leotta a-good-killing-small

Leotta is a former sex crimes prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. A Good Killing features her fictional sex crimes prosecutor, Anna Curtis. In an unexpected twist, family loyalties cause Anna to switch hats for the first time in her career as she takes up the defense of her sister Jody, who finds herself in big trouble with the law, indicted for murder. The victim is a revered high school coach, Owen Fowler.

The storyline will hit home with any woman who can think back to high school days and find, in memory, a teacher, coach, or counselor who was popular, maybe even the subject of a young girl’s dreams, only to realize later, with the maturity of adulthood, that the perception was dangerously skewed. Coach Fowler is just such a character, a man with a nasty secret. Other secrets abound in this novel, as Jody does her utmost to keep Anna in the dark—not a good thing for an attorney representing her sister in the trial of her life. Tensions between the personal and the professional always draw me in, especially when the conflict implicates the ethical obligations of an attorney.

Another interesting aspect of A Good Killing is its structure, written from two points of view in alternating chapters. We hear Jody’s voice, speaking to Anna in first person, alternating with Anna’s point of view, written in third person. The technique is effective in building suspense, as the two tales ultimately merge in a satisfying conclusion.

This is the fourth novel in the Anna Curtis series, but each is a standalone. The fifth is soon to be released. Click here for Allison’s website

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens  life-we-bury-small

Eskens is a criminal defense attorney with previous experience on the other side of the courtroom as a prosecutor. His debut novel, The Life We Bury, cannot be pigeonholed. It has characteristics of literary fiction, mystery, and legal thriller. Protagonist Joe Talbert is a college student turned boy sleuth when he undertakes a writing assignment for English class and interviews an unlikely subject for a biographical essay—war hero and convicted murderer Carl Iverson.

This novel draws you in from the start with engaging, unique characters and vivid writing that makes use of all the senses. You can smell the unique odors of the nursing home Hillview Manor, see the “old woman wearing a crooked wig,” and feel the ambience of an archive room, where the “essence” of “millions of souls packed away on microfilm” waits to be “felt, tasted, and inhaled again.” In one of my favorite scenes, you can hear the pro forma litany between judge and attorney during a bail hearing, likened to “a Catholic funeral mass.” The suspenseful and entertaining conclusion of The Life We Bury takes Joe Talbert through harrowing twists and turns that may test the bounds of plausibility—but you’ll be so immersed and on the edge of your seat that the ordeal becomes all too real.

Eskens has published a second novel, and the third is on the way. Click here for Allen’s website

A Conflict of Interest, by Adam Mitzner  conflict-of-interest-small

Mitzner is a partner in the commercial litigation department of a New York City law firm. His expertise in securities litigation finds its way into his debut novel, A Conflict of Interest. Of the three novels under review here, Mitzner’s contains the most courtroom drama and litigation strategy—all of the kind of stuff that fascinates lawyers and law buffs alike!

In this novel, protagonist Alex Miller is a white collar defense attorney representing client Michael Ohlig in a securities fraud prosecution. Mid-trial, Alex learns a secret about Ohlig—a very serious transgression—that profoundly affects Alex’s personal view of his client. Trying not to let his animosity stand in the way of providing a brilliant defense, Alex must also grapple with a client who constantly battles him over issues of trial strategy, right down to the crucial question of whether Ohlig should take the stand in his own defense. The stress level hits a high note as the author depicts, in detail, the high stakes environment, pressure, and politics of a big law firm, and the toll that the environment takes on the lawyer’s home life.

If you want a fast-paced courtroom thriller, A Conflict of Interest is for you. Mitzner has also published two other novels, and a third will be released in April. Click here for Adam’s website

A common lament among mystery/suspense/thriller writers is the lack of time to enjoy the many fine novels of our contemporaries, as we struggle to find every spare minute for our own writing. I’m currently on a break between the third and fourth Dana Hargrove novels and have a bit of time to write a few short stories and to read a few extra novels. Prediction: another installment of Legal Eagles will make its way to this blog! Reading another good one now…