New Release: Deep Zero

I’d like to share with you some photos I took today of ice floes on the Hudson River. These are fitting illustrations for my new legal suspense novel featuring prosecutor Dana Hargrove.
What lurks here? Deep Zero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve had a great week visiting many fabulous authors and bloggers.

Thank you Art Taylor for hosting me on SleuthSayers, the site for Professional Crime-Writers and Crime-Fighters, where I talk about the Dana Hargrove novels and writing legal suspense.

I shared hot cocoa and good conversation about Deep Zero with Linda Hill on “Staying in with…” on Linda’s Book Bag.

Deep Zero was featured on Indie Crime Scene and included on the new releases page of Dru’s Book Musings.

Author Connie Johnson Hambley invited me for a return visit to her outstanding blog, Out of the Fog, where I offer my reflections on how far the Dana Hargrove series has come.

Got some nice words about Deep Zero from reviewers on NetGalley, Mystery Sequels, and The U.S. Review of Books.

Thanks to all of these wonderful authors, bloggers, and reviewers, and extra thanks to fabulous cover artists, Roy Migabon and Eeva Lancaster.

Now…time to write a few short stories before brainstorming about the next Dana Hargrove novel…

The Dana Hargrove Novels: Author Video

Thanks to talented filmmaker Blake Horn for producing a short video, filmed in my home, about my inspiration for the novels featuring prosecutor Dana Hargrove.

Blake Horn at work.

 

Click the link below to watch the video on YouTube:

The Dana Hargrove Novels

The fourth standalone Dana Hargrove novel, Deep Zero, will be here soon!

Farewell 2017! A page from my personal journal

Farewell 2017! From the personal journal, it’s a fond farewell. On December 30, 2017, my beloved husband Kevin and I celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary. This year has been as rich and loving as always, and I’m thankful for the many warm and wonderful times together and with our daughters, other family members, and close friends.

In my legal mystery novels, protagonist Dana Hargrove juggles the demands of a high-powered professional career with her personal and family life. She has a loving husband, Evan, to support her. Evan and Dana are nothing like Kevin and I except for one thing: We are a team, giving each other space to pursue our personal interests. For this I am very grateful. I would not be able to accomplish my artistic goals without Kevin.

These are my professional and artistic highlights for 2017:

Publishing my fourth story collection, Love and Crime: Stories, to starred reviews by Foreword  and BlueInk.

 

Interviews with exceptional authors Eowyn Ivey  and William Burton McCormick on VBlog.

 

Getting on stage again after a break of many years, performing the stellar choreography of Katiti King and making many new dance friends along the way.

 

Many hours of joyful dance with my favorite teachers at Gibney Dance and Steps NYC, including Diane McCarthy, Laurie DeVito, Katiti King, Max Stone, Teresa Perez Ceccon, and Bethany Perry.

 

 

An amazing master class with Lynn Simonson, the creator of the Simonson Technique.

 

A wonderful sendoff by my coworkers and friends at the Appellate Division upon my retirement from my fulltime legal career.

 

Thank you to editor Janet Hutchings of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine for posting my humorous account of my (now former!) commuter life, Rock ‘n Rail, on Something Is Going to Happen.

 

 

A lot of fun working on a video of my work with talented filmmaker Blake Horn. Stay tuned! The video will be posted soon to Amazon and Goodreads.

Putting the finishing touches on my fourth Dana Hargrove novel, Deep Zero, to be released on January 25, 2018!

 

I wish you a happy, healthy, artistic 2018!

Love from V.

Lenin’s Harem: Book review, conversation with William Burton McCormick, and reflections on my Latvian heritage

For this installment of Fiction Favorites & Awesome Authors, I welcome William Burton McCormick to VBlog. McCormick writes suspenseful historical fiction of considerable depth and intelligence in beautiful prose. His works should be on your “To Read” list!

I was first introduced to Bill McCormick’s fiction when we shared the pages of EQMM’s August 2016 issue, which included my story, “Journal Entry, Franklin DeWitt,” about a Soviet ballerina who defected during the Cold War. McCormick’s story, “Voices in the Cistern,” takes us back to ancient times, 50 A.D., where a war is raging in the city of Chersonesus between the Romans and the Scythians. The setting for this edge-of-your-seat tale of thievery and murder is a most unusual place, inside a great, underground cistern containing the city’s water supply. I loved the voice and pace of this story and was impressed by the author’s handling of my favorite theme in fiction: moral dilemma. In my legal thrillers, prosecutor Dana Hargrove is often faced with impossible choices between her personal life and professional ethics. You won’t want to miss the moral dilemma McCormick poses at the end of “Voices in the Cistern”—it’s a real whopper!

McCormick chooses historical settings for his fiction, and his work is meticulously researched. He holds a degree in ancient studies from Brown University, an MA in novel writing from the University of Manchester, and has lived abroad for many years, experiencing firsthand the countries and cultures in his fiction. Here lies another reason I was compelled to read more of his work. A personal reason. McCormick has lived in Latvia for several years and has studied Latvian history extensively.

My late father, Gunārs Ķēmanis, was a Latvian WWII refugee. He lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany from 1944 to 1949 and emigrated to the United States, where he met and married my mother and became a successful engineer. His gratitude to the U.S. was manifested by his complete Americanization; he did not speak Latvian at home, and did not observe Latvian traditions or holidays. In retrospect, I believe this was a coping mechanism for wartime trauma—even after Latvia regained its independence in 1990, my father did not want to visit because of lasting bitterness over the Soviet occupation. Our family name was Americanized, removing the diacritical marks and changing the spoken emphasis from the first syllable to the middle syllable, and my surname did not take on the feminine declension. (In Latvia, it would be written this way: Ķēmane). Conversations with my father and late aunt gave me secondhand knowledge of the Latvian wartime experience, some of which is woven into the stories “My Latvian Aunt” and “Stolen Afternoon” in my collection Dust of the Universe. I’ve also included a second-generation Latvian in my upcoming novel, the fourth Dana Hargrove legal mystery.

McCormick’s short story “Blue Amber,” set in 1910, and his novel Lenin’s Harem, spanning 1905-1941, are works incorporating Latvian history and characters. “Blue Amber” was a Derringer Award finalist in the category of long story. Here, the author pits the protagonist, a Latvian political prisoner, against impossible odds, likely death in either of two ways: at the hand of his Russian captors or in an escape attempt through the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea. This compelling and suspenseful tale kept me turning the pages.

McCormick’s novel Lenin’s Harem vividly portrays the traumatic events spanning the years from the first Russian Revolution in 1905 through WWI, and the Latvian declaration of independence in 1918 through the first Soviet occupation of Latvia at the beginning of WWII. The story is told from the point of view of Wiktor Rooks, a Baltic-German from a wealthy aristocratic family. The action starts with a Latvian uprising against the landowners when Wiktor is a young boy. His family loses the estate. Wiktor becomes a career soldier and ultimately joins the Red Latvian Riflemen, nicknamed “Lenin’s Harem.” As the novel progresses, Wiktor finds more distance from his aristocratic roots, loses his prejudices as he forms personal relationships with Latvians in his regiment, and falls in love with a Latvian woman, Kaiva, who believes in communism. The novel contains impressive insights into relationships that are fraught with conflicting societal and political tensions. One of my favorite scenes is the dinner party where Wiktor introduces his fiancée Kaiva to the family. All is going reasonably well, the family almost accepts her, when a family member mentions that he has petitioned the League of Nations for the return of the family’s land, “illegally seized” by the Latvian government. Idealistic Kaiva innocently professes puzzlement: “Your life seems more than comfortable. Why do you need more?” She observes that their land, which once supported a single family, now supports several Latvian families: “It’s simply a better use of the land.” Who could argue with that? Well, the insult is ultimately tempered somewhat when Kaiva is asked to consider how she felt when she was thrown from her home and became a refugee, causing her to admit that the loss of home is traumatic, no matter what the reason.

If you enjoy historical fiction, tales of war and revolution, political intrigue, psychological suspense, action, family saga, or any of the above, you’ll find it all in Lenin’s Harem, along with a tender love story, all packaged in beautiful prose.

And now, I’ll let Bill McCormick tell us what went into the creation of this superb novel.

Welcome to VBlog, Bill! I find it fascinating that you have chosen to live abroad for years at a time to write historical fiction about the countries you are experiencing firsthand. What led you to make such a dramatic life choice, and what led you to choose Latvia, in particular?

I have always wanted to travel, and I have always wanted a creative occupation. I’m sure those aren’t unusual traits in a writer. Merging them was always a long-term goal for how I wanted to live my life.

Bill at the monument to the Red Latvian Riflemen

As for my interest in Latvia, I was living in Alexandria, Virginia at the time and working on an outline for a sort of generic spy thriller I had dreamed up. In researching a setting for this story, I went to the Latvian Museum in Rockville, Maryland, and bought several books on Latvian history. I was moved about what I learned. I had little knowledge of the cruel events that occurred there. Because of the World Wars, Russian Revolution, Russian Civil War, Holocaust, Soviet deportations to the Gulag, and the exodus of the Baltic-Germans, Latvia lost more than a quarter of its population during the first half of the twentieth century. And I found tragic irony in the story of the Red Latvian Riflemen, who rescued the Bolsheviks time-and-time again and were key in the formation of the Red Army, only to be murdered by Stalin in his purges. After reading this, I ripped up my plan for a spy thriller and decided to write a serious historical novel. At the time, there was little information available on the internet on this era in Latvian history, and what was available was usually in Russian with a decidedly Soviet perspective. So, with a detour through Manchester, England to learn the writing craft, I moved to Latvia. I did not want to depend on third or fourth-hand sources. I wanted total immersion to see the places, the culture, and do the research myself. I arrived in Rīga, knowing no one, without a job, apartment, or command of the language, but determined to write a book that would illustrate to the English-speaking world what happened in Latvia in the twentieth century. I worked with historians, museums, archivists, and interviewed survivors and family members of some of the later events. It quickly went from a novel to a very personal experience. I have since lived in Russia, Estonia and Ukraine, but Latvia, and Rīga in particular, is still the place I think of as home outside of the United States.

I was surprised by the reception the novel received from the Latvian community. I spoke about the book and the history behind it at the Latvian Embassy to the United States in January of 2013. The Latvian Museum, where it all started for me, was kind enough to host a book event. Zvaigzne ABC, Latvia’s largest publisher, published a Latvian-language edition which did quite well, and the book was included in the permanent library of the Latvian War Museum in Rīga. As a foreigner, writing about the history of another nation, I continue to be amazed at the book’s acceptance. It’s still the thing I’m most proud of in my career.

The novel also was well-received in the English-speaking world. Former Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, sent me a note saying he enjoyed Lenin’s Harem so much he read it twice. Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, liked it enough to send me a bottle of wine. Good word from all quarters.

Lenin’s Harem spans the years from 1905 through 1941. During this period, like many in its history, Latvia was a pawn in an endless struggle for control by Germany and Russia. The protagonist of the novel is Wiktor Rooks, a Baltic-German who grew up in a wealthy family that owned land in present-day Latvia, worked by Latvian servants. What led to your decision to tell this story from the point of view of a Baltic-German rather than a Latvian or a Russian?

When writing Lenin’s Harem, I was aware that my readership would likely be unfamiliar with Latvian history, culture and their way of life in the early twentieth century. By creating a protagonist who is an outsider to that society, it allowed me more naturally to explain things to the audience within the narrative. As I too was an outsider, Wiktor’s discoveries and observations could to some degree mirror my own. Or contrast my own in interesting ways. And, of course, as a wealthy Baltic-German, the character is right in the middle of all the conflicts of nation, ethnicity, and class, as society radically changes during the upheavals of the era.

The characters are tugged in many directions by conflicting forces: social, nationalist, political, ethnic, familial. There’s also just plain survival at work, the need to adapt to the current regime. Rooks is Baltic-German, yet he ends up fighting for the Russians and falling in love with a Latvian woman, Kaiva, who believes in communism. For a modern-day reader from a stable country like the United States, it may be difficult to imagine why a Baltic-German would end up fighting for the Russians. Can you comment on some of these conflicts?

Historically many Baltic-Germans living within the Russian Empire were officers in the Tsar’s army. The first sons of aristocratic families managed the estates, but the second and later sons needed something to do. It was common for this class to end up as professional soldiers. But, during the World Wars, of course, this meant fighting other Germans. So, here we have an interesting conflict for Wiktor, one that creates mistrust with both the Russians and the Latvians. And then when the Bolshevik Revolution occurs, with its intrinsic class warfare, Wiktor’s aristocratic past puts him in even greater peril. There was a lot I could do with such a character. Wiktor begins the novel with the racist and classist views common to wealthy landowners of the time. But as the novel progresses, those prejudices fall away as he meets new people and experiences tragedy and triumph in the company of other economic and ethnic groups, particularly the Latvian soldiers he learns to survive with. By the middle of the novel his love for the revolutionary Kaiva is plausible. His character arc happens in logical steps, taking Wiktor into worlds he could never have imagined at the beginning of Lenin’s Harem. I think this is what makes him a compelling character.

The novel takes us through the beginning of World War II, during the Soviet occupation and the so-called “Night of Terror,” June 14, 1941, when the Soviets deported thousands of Latvians. In the ending scenes, the Soviets are retreating again, on the eve of a new period of German occupation, 1941-1944, and the future of the protagonists is left to the imagination. I love the ending of the book, the combination of hope and self-determination threatened by a grim reality. Are you planning a sequel to let us know how Wiktor and Kaiva fared? What is your current project?

 I have very rough drafts of two more novels that extend the story through days of the Forest Brothers who resisted the Soviet occupation in the Kurzeme and Latgale regions of Latvia until the early 1950s. I hope to revise those at some point. There is more to tell of Kaiva and Wiktor, but for now, the ambiguous nature of their fate gives Lenin’s Harem an appropriately uncertain ending for what were definitely uncertain times.

I am currently finishing a modern thriller set predominantly in Latvia called KGB Banker, co-written with John Christmas. John is a very brave man, a whistleblower against the Russian mob in Latvia and elsewhere. Many of his experiences have inspired our story of a Latvian-American banker who takes a job in Rīga, only to find himself embroiled in murder and an international conspiracy to destroy the Western economy and re-establish the borders of the Soviet Union. High octane stuff.

One of the key characters in KGB Banker is a Latvian journalist named Santa Ezeriņa. Santa is a popular character of mine, having appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Over My Dead Body, and the story “Matricide & Ice Cream” which is about to be published in the United Kingdom in the CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery Tour by Orenda Books. People are always trying to kill poor Santa but can never quite do it. She’s a damn tough heroine. I’m looking forward to having Santa in her first full-length novel.

After KGB Banker is finished, former U.S. Senator Harry Reid and I are planning to write a true crime western set in our mutual home state of Nevada. That ought to keep me busy through 2020 or so.

We look forward to your next novel, Bill! Thank you for this insight into your work and Latvian history.

 NOW, dear reader, where can you get Lenin’s Harem and short stories by William Burton McCormick? Click the links! Lenin’s Harem (ebook) (hardcover)Ļeņina harems (ebook in Latvian) (print book in Latvian)Blue Amber (ebook); August 2016 issue of EQMM; upcoming CWA Anthology of Short Stories: Mystery TourSanta Ezeriņa story “Hagiophobia” in AHMM.

To the Bright Edge of the World: Book Review and Conversation with Eowyn Ivey

My next Dana Hargrove novel (coming January 2018!) has kept me from posting recently, but I just HAVE to take the time to share with you my latest exciting read: To the Bright Edge of the World. Let this be the kickoff to a new series on VBlog, devoted to my favorite authors of literary fiction. Eowyn Ivey is at the top of the list.

Eowyn (pronounced A-o-win) LeMay Ivey was raised in Alaska and continues to live there with her husband and two daughters. Her mother named her after a character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings! Her debut novel, The Snow Child, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and became an international bestseller. Inspired by a traditional fairytale, the novel tells the story of Alaskan homesteaders in 1920. Here is an excerpt from my review in 2013:

The Snow Child effortlessly skates the line between realism and magic in beautiful, simple prose… Most surprising is the intense suspense created by the comings and goings of the snow maiden. She is the personification of a beautiful but ever-changing wilderness, and like the main characters in the novel, we want her to remain with us while constantly fearing the moment when she will be gone.

Once again, the inscrutable Alaskan wilderness is the setting (or, perhaps, the main character?) in Ivey’s second novel, published a year ago. Set in 1885, To the Bright Edge of the World tells the story of a reconnaissance into the heart of Alaska along the fictional Wolverine River. The small party of five, led by Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester, is tasked with exploring the territory recently purchased from Russia. Historically based, yet entirely fictional, the novel comprises an assemblage of journal entries, letters, excerpts from books, photographs, and artifacts. This structure gives the novel the feel of nonfiction and adds elements of mystery and suspense. We are carried along with Forrester and discover Alaska for ourselves with each new adventure.

One such fictional letter is a directive from an Assistant Adjutant General to Forrester at the start of the mission: “The objective is to map the interior of the Territory and document information regarding the native tribes in order to be prepared for any future serious disturbances between the United States government and the natives of the Territory.” The arrogance in this missive is chilling, a foreshadowing of the ultimate disruption to the habitat, health, and customs of the indigenous people. Why would the U.S. ever need to be “prepared for any future serious disturbances” unless a military incursion was deemed a matter of right? Here, Ivey lays the groundwork for one of the underlying themes in her book, a juxtaposition of the cold official purpose of the mission and the humanity the explorers show during their contacts with native tribesmen.

As Forrester’s party trudges through ice canyons of terrifying beauty, encountering setbacks, privation, sickness, and near starvation, the lines increasingly blur between man and beast, perception and reality, the corporeal and the mystical. These slender divisions: are they magic or the products of hallucination, brought on by hunger, exposure, and suggestion?

“They believe it is a thin line separates animal and man,” Samuelson the trapper says about the natives. “They hold that some can walk back and forth over that line, here a man, there a beast.” Forrester encounters an elderly Eyak man who is impossibly ubiquitous, always arriving ahead of the party at their next camp. He’s known as “The Man Who Flies on Black Wings.” When Forrester tells a Midnoosky chief that he is “not accustomed to believing in mountain spirits or men who can fly,” the chief’s response is indisputably logical. Isn’t it true that “your people catch light on paper so that you can see something that happened a long time ago,” and you have “wooden boxes that sing”? Today, with our handheld rectangles of plastic and metal, we instantly transport our voices and images around the world. We are, indeed, everywhere at once, living in the age of magic.

Bright Edge has everything you could want in a novel: adventure, history, danger, mysticism, romance, thrills, terror, supernatural phenomena, and suspense. The characters are multi-dimensional and well-drawn, people you will come to care about. There is even a deep love story in the relationship between Forrester and his wife, Sophie, who waits at the military camp in Vancouver for his return. From afar, Sophie is touched by a few inexplicable phenomena, forging a mystical connection with her husband. Pick up this book, and you too will feel the magic of Alaska. As a great side benefit, thoughts of icebergs are a good way to beat the summer heat. Yesterday, it was 93 degrees in New York!

This fabulous author has graciously agreed to answer a few questions I’ve been dying to ask! Welcome to my blog, Eowyn. I’m so pleased you could join me.

The powerful and dramatic landscape of Alaska figures prominently in your novels. In some of your interviews, you’ve said that you’ve always been trying to understand the state you call your home. Has your writing brought you closer to that understanding?

In ways, yes. I’ve always been perplexed by my love of Alaska because even though it is beautiful and majestic, it also has a lot of darkness and brutality. If I can see all of that clearly, how can I still be so attached to it and be sure I don’t want to live anywhere else? But through the writing process, I’ve come to suspect that is the nature of love. In order to love someone or something with honesty, beyond just the postcard image, maybe I have to know all its flaws and terrors. So I feel like I’m making peace with some element of that. At the same time, Alaska’s past and present is complex, like any place I suppose, so I don’t feel as if I’ve got it all neatly buttoned up. I’ve still got some questions to work with as a writer.

Bright Edge taps into the irresistible, vicarious thrill of joining an expedition into unknown, dangerous terrain, an adventure rooted in historical fact, yet almost beyond the bounds of imagination for most of us today. Your writing captures the feeling of wonder, awe, and fear inspired by the vast and terrifying landscape. Have you had personal experiences in Alaska, in the wilderness, where the magnitude of the environment was overwhelming or you felt at the mercy of nature?

First off, thank you so much for that. One of my main aspirations with the novel was to allow readers to experience the adventure for themselves as much as possible, so I’m so thrilled at your response. And absolutely, even after spending my entire life in Alaska, I continue to be overwhelmed and in awe of the wilderness. This touches on the previous question, about my conflicting emotions about Alaska, because it can be simultaneously magnificent and terrifying. I’ve had the more stereotypical encounters—being charged by a grizzly bear, watching the northern lights on a winter night, sleeping in a remote cabin when it’s 40 below zero outside. But more often the moments are unexpected, like when I’m picking wild blueberries on a mountainside and I stop to stretch my back and realize that as far as I can see in any direction there is not another human being, only mountains and tundra and rivers. It’s a bracing, humbling sensation.

One of my favorite parts of the book is a “written record” of an interview between a Midnoosky chief and Colonel Forrester, who desperately needs advice on the best route to take through the unmapped, treacherous mountains. With each question Forrester asks, the chief is more baffled by his motivations. I was struck by the depth of your insight into the cultural differences and assumptions of these two people—their conversation is also quite funny! Can you comment on the source of your idea for this section and whether it is based on research or knowledge of Midnoosky culture.

That’s wonderful that you saw the humor in that section! Writing funny scenes doesn’t come naturally to me, and I worry I’m too subtle sometimes. But I was hoping to capture some of the miscommunication and cultural disconnect that would be inevitable in a situation like that. I did a ton of research over the years as I was working on Bright Edge —I have shelves and shelves of books, both academic and primary source material about the indigenous people of South Central Alaska, including historic interactions similar to this. But the challenge for me, and the thrill, was to then let all that research slide into the background and allow my characters to interact on their own and be themselves on the page.

At various points in the book, the lives of Forrester and his men are saved by the natives, and in his diaries, Forrester seems to regard them with respect and compassion. This contrasts starkly with his official report to his military commander, in which he coldly gives advice on the “feasible means of bringing a military force into the country” and how best to “control” the Indians “in the event of conflict,” by restricting their access to the food supply to “ensure their quick obedience.” What are your thoughts on this dichotomy?

Again, I so appreciate your close attention to the text. I’m not sure all readers pick up on that conflict, and it was an important aspect of the novel for me. During my research, I read countless military reports and historic documents that would simultaneously express gratitude or admiration for indigenous people even as they set out plans to suppress them. It was naive of me, but at first I was really shocked by some of it. But then I began to see just how commonplace it was, and unfortunately in some cases, continues to be. Some of that history can be blamed on institutional racism—the gears are in motion and an individual feels powerless to stop it. What really surprised me, however, is how often I would be reading a firsthand narrative or journal and the person seems to be intelligent and goodhearted in many ways, but then he or she expresses some really hateful and racist view. None of it fell under the convenient labels of villain versus hero. That was something I took away from my research—people are complex and conflicted and inconsistent, and I wanted to allow that to come through in the novel.

Are you currently working on your next novel?

I have some ideas swirling around, but I haven’t really sat down with them seriously. Winter in Alaska is always a better time for me to focus on writing. Thank you for asking! And thank you again for your insightful questions.

We look forward to whatever you have to offer next!

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If you’d like to read more about Eowyn Ivey, take a look at her website and these past interviews on other sites: Writers & Books, The Guardian, Publishers Weekly, For Winter Nights.

 

Legal Eagles: Attorneys Writing Fiction (3)

Today on Legal Eagles, I’m featuring a crime author who also happens to be a fellow alumnus from the University of Colorado, School of Law. Manuel Ramos. I had the pleasure of speaking with Manuel recently at the Mysterious Bookshop, at an event to meet and greet the new board members of the Mystery Writers of America. Click here for a blog piece Manuel wrote about his new status on the national board.

As Manuel makes clear in his blog post, he is one of very few published Latino authors of crime fiction. I would venture to guess that he is also one of the few Latino crime writers with the distinction of having a highly successful law career, which included years of award-winning public service for Colorado Legal Services. He is now retired from the law.

At the Mysterious Bookshop, I picked up a copy of his latest novel, My Bad. I’m glad I did.

My Bad, by Manuel Ramos (Arte Publico Press)

My Bad, by Manuel Ramos (Arte Publico Press)

Many reviewers have written of Manuel’s talent for spare and vivid prose, bringing to life Denver’s Chicano culture and changing neighborhoods. I would add to these accolades that his legal background makes a significant contribution to his work. Those of you who’ve read the Dana Hargrove legal thrillers know of my interest in exploring the ethical dilemmas facing attorneys in the field of criminal law. Manuel enhances his work with plenty of them. How’s this one for a doozy? An ex-con employee of a criminal defense lawyer, tailing a client to investigate a civil lawsuit, unwittingly finds himself at the scene of a murder that implicates the client. Should the attorney report it or keep it quiet? What an impossible tug of competing loyalties! A dilemma of choice among the ethical duties owed in multiple capacities: as lawyer, friend, employer, and citizen. I love this stuff!

Subtitled “A Mile High Noir” in a nod to the mile-high Rocky Mountain city, My Bad is just as much a story of the relationship between attorney Luis Móntez and ex-con Gus Corral, as it is a plot-driven crime drama. Gus is adjusting to life on the outside after serving an unspecified number of years in prison for unspecified crimes. Under the watchful eye of his parole officer, Gus is perpetually on edge, second-guessing every step he makes for possible repercussions to his parole status. The legal mess that landed Gus in prison is the subject of a previous novel. Click here to watch a very cool video about the first Gus Corral novel, DesperadoI haven’t read Desperado, but am now driven to read it, to find out more about Gus. Like my Dana Hargrove novels, Manuel’s books are standalone and can be picked up in any order.

My Bad gives a real sense of place and community in its descriptions of city streets and buildings, Mexican food, family gatherings, social events, and references to music, mostly rhythm and blues. The author also sprinkles in a good number of phrases and words in Spanish. Porque lo entiendo un poquito this was not a problem for me, nor would it pose an obstacle for readers who don’t understand the language. The meaning is clear (or close enough to clear) from context, and you’ll enjoy the flavor that the dialog gives to scene and exposition.

In fiction, I appreciate creativity with language, mood, and scene, and you’ll get a lot of that here. The language is terse and, in some places, tough, but not so very tough. I’m a fan of suggestion, innuendo, clever twists, and leaving a lot to the intelligence of the reader—not a fan of graphic violence, blood and guts, or gratuitous cursing. This novel falls in place with these tastes. The characters are human, flawed, a mix of good and bad, their personal challenges relatable. For example, there’s a good deal of angst expressed by Luis Móntez as he prepares to wind down his law practice and retire, reflecting on his professional and personal life, attempting to come to terms. Does this sound familiar to me? Perhaps so. I won’t go into detail.

I enjoyed this novel and look forward to reading more. Check out Manuel’s website for descriptions of all his works.

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.”

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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.

Love and Crime, Stories

I’m pleased to announce that my new story collection will be released May 1, 2017!

Here’s the blurb:

Lovl & c renderes big and small… Crimes forgiven or avenged…

These are the themes that drive the eleven diverse stories in this new collection of psychological suspense from storyteller V.S. Kemanis.

Meet the husband and wife team Rosemary and Reuben, master chefs known to sprinkle a dash of magic into every dish.

Lucille Steadman, a dazed retiree who can’t explain why she’s left her husband, only to discover, too late, the meaning of love and commitment in the most surprising place.

Franklin DeWitt, an esteemed ballet critic who witnesses—or abets?—a bizarre criminal plot to topple a beautiful Soviet ballerina.

Rosalyn Bleinstorter, a washed-up defense attorney whose stubborn belief in her own street savvy leads her unwittingly into a romantic and criminal association with an underworld figure.

These are just a few of the colorful characters you’ll get to know in these pages, where all is fair in love and crime.

While the endings to these tales are not always sweet or predictable, and self-deception is rarely rewarded, the lessons come down hard and are well learned.

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This collection includes stories originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Lynx Eye, The William and Mary Review, and Iconoclast.

Stay tuned for more news on Love and Crime!

 

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.

V.

Ten Minutes with Reed Farrel Coleman

Last year at this time, I posted My Ten Minutes With Lee Child, so I’m just going to have to follow up and make this a tradition!  This year’s Guest of Honor at the Mystery Writers of America Holiday Revels was bestselling author Reed Farrel Coleman.

I’ve deleted “My” from this year’s title since the “my” part of it may have been more like five minutes—I’m grabbing an extra five from the short and sweet speech he gave to the packed room at the Salmagundi Club after MWA-NY chapter president Laura K. Curtis introduced him as our Honorary Santa.

Mr. Coleman is so personable and approachable that, okay, I’m just going to start calling him Reed.  Is that okay, Reed?  I want to be on a first name basis with you, a man known as the “hard-boiled poet” and “noir poet laureate.”  His accomplishments are many and impressive. At the podium, Laura went through the list.  When she got to his three Edgar Award nominations—Best Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Short Story—Reed was making the shape of an “L” with thumb and index finger on his forehead, a little smile on his lips, setting off ripples of laughter through the audience.  Here is a photo from his website:
reed-farrel-coleman

I have to say this: Reed looks better in real life.  How many of us can say that we look better than our author photos in real life?

After the three “Losers,” Laura mentioned the winners, and there are many of them: he’s a three-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year, and has received Audie, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards.  His novel, Where It Hurts, is on NPR’s list of Best Books of 2016 in the Mystery and Thriller category!  I can say it’s now at the top of my to-read list.

Reed is a longtime member of MWA and former executive vice president.  Have I said how happy I am to be a member of this organization?  Such talented, interesting writers at every meeting, new friendships forged.  Reed’s five-minute speech was peppered with one-liners, a few of them about MWA.  On being chosen the Honorary Santa: “I couldn’t be more honored… yes I could—buy the books!” and “Lee Child was too tall and has too much hair so they had to get me this year!”  On his stint as executive vice president: “I was forced to join MWA, and then they made me king or something.” (He advised us to head for the hills if ever asked to fill that position.)

Later, of course, I was itching to go up to him and introduce myself.  I had to wait until the crowds of friends and fans dispersed.  I told him how much I enjoyed his speech and his writing.  “Do you write a book a year?” I asked.

“Two!”

“Is that stressful?”

“Is it ever.  200,000 words a year!”  He laughed and rolled his eyes heavenward.

(To myself: the stress of being under contract as a bestselling author? Maybe I’d trade in my current stress as a lawyer for some of that.)

“Well,” I said, “if the writing ever stops being fun, you could be a comedian. Have you ever thought of that?”

“I’m related to Henny Youngman, you know. ‘Take my wife … please!’”

No wonder!  It runs in the family.

Reed was born in Brooklyn and lives on Long Island.  I told him where I work in Brooklyn, and he related that he had a job in the same neighborhood years ago.  We spoke of ideas for characters, and writing what we know.  Before becoming a full time writer, Reed had several jobs, including driving a cab, and he draws on these experiences for the characters and locations in his novels.  Many of his characters are everyday people from neighborhoods on Long Island—not the well-known areas where the rich people and tourists flock.where-it-hurts

It was a pleasure meeting you, Reed!

Now, go out and buy his books!