The World as Inspiration

I am delighted to have fellow International Thriller Writer Michael Niemann on my blog today! His latest thriller ILLICIT TRADE (Coffeetown Press, Feb 1, 2017) was  recently released, and today he answers the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”


By Michael Niemann

Where do you get your ideas? That’s a perennial question, authors of crime fiction face. And the answer is different for every one of us. So let me tell you the story of how I get my ideas.

For the past thirty years, I’ve had the following conversation innumerable times.

Person at a party: “What do you do?”
Me: “I teach.”
“What do you teach?”
“World Politics.”
“Oh, that must be really interesting right now.”

All these years, I have puzzled over this response because I knew there hadn’t been any increase or decline of the level of interestingness of world politics for as long as I’ve been teaching it. Since I started writing fiction, I think I’ve found an answer.

In his book on detective fiction, French sociologist Luc Boltanski points out that in modern western societies reality is represented as robust and predictable. We generally believe in the reality of reality. Everyday life would become impossible if we didn’t. At the same time, we can’t help but have anxieties about the reality of reality. Our governments claim to have things under control but all of us have had experiences that make us less sure about that claim. That anxiety is even more prevalent when it comes to world politics. The world is so patently messy and complicated. How can one not be anxious about it? The answer “Oh, that must be really interesting right now” reflects this unease.

But this anxiety also insures a continued readership for crime fiction fiction. Because, as Boltanski points out, “the particular sort of excitement called suspense, originates in the possibility of calling into question the reality of reality.” Crime fiction channels an already existing anxiety into something more enjoyable we call suspense.

Which brings me to my genre, international crime fiction. It dates back to 1648 when Giovanni Paolo Marana wrote Letters Writ By A Turkish Spy. Since then all kinds of sub-genres have emerged in response to the changing dynamics of world politics. Childers’ Riddle of the Sands anticipated World War I. Buchan’s Thirty Nine Steps took place during that war. Graham Green anticipated World War II in The Confidential Agent. The Cold War brought us George Smiley and James Bond. The post Cold War era terrorism, global crime networks and corporate malfeasance emerged as topics of choice. My protagonist Valentin Vermeulen is firmly part of the post Cold War world. He works as an investigator for the United Nations, an international organization whose tasks have grown dramatically since the early 1990s.

When looking for a new plot, I don’t have to do a lot of searching. Given Vermeulen’s job, I can send him all over the world wherever the UN is active. And that world is full of possible stories. The Office of Internal Oversight Services for which he works is an actual entity. I can read the annual reports for plot ideas.

But, as all crime writers know, I have to navigate that fine balance between plausibility and suspense. The plot has to connect to that anxiety I mentioned above. It must be in the realm of the possible. That’s the easy part. I find lots of incidents that did actually happen, like the visa fraud at the beginning of Illicit Trade. That really did happen. But by itself that’s not a terribly exiting story. Most fraudulent behavior of real humans is rather pedestrian. And we don’t want our readers to say, “Meh.”

So my job is to take something that actually happened and link that to something else that also happened. And do it in such a way as to turn a reader’s low level anxiety about the world into a suspenseful story that could have happened but fortunately didn’t.

And that’s a lot of fun.

illicit_tradeILLICIT TRADE by Michael Niemann

Two poor Kenyan men visiting the U.S. are found dead, one in jail, one on the street. Both used forged UN documents to enter the country. Valentin Vermeulen’s superiors have no interest in the plight of undocumented immigrants, but they want him to stop the fraud. The clues take Vermeulen from New York City to Newark, where he riles a woman known as “The Broker,” then to Vienna.

Earle Jackson, a small-time hustler and the last person to speak with one of the dead Kenyans, has taken the man’s passport and money. He also finds a note listing an address in Newark, where his efforts to cash in on the situation go awry. Fleeing for his life, Jackson flies to Nairobi using the dead man’s passport.

Vermeulen and Jackson have chanced upon a criminal network more extensive and vicious than either could have imagined. To survive, Vermeulen must do more than sever a few links. He must find the mastermind at the top.

NiemannColor copyMichael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world.





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Creative Minds Profile #23: Cathi Stoler

I believe I first met Cathi Stoler at the Brooklyn Book Festival a couple of years ago when she signed my copy of FAMILY MATTERS, a Murder New York Style Anthology, published by the New York/Tri-State Sisters in Crime. Her Derringer-winning short story, “The Kaluki King of Queens,” appears in the anthology, and it is definitely worthy of the honor. I have since had the pleasure of getting to know Cathi through Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, and I am delighted to have her on the NOT EVEN JOKING today!

stoler2Cathi Stoler is the author of the three volume Laurel & Helen New York Mystery series, as well as the novella, NICK OF TIME. She has recently completed a new Urban Thriller, BAR NONE, A Murder on the Rocks Mystery and OUT OF TIME, a full-length sequel to NICK OF TIME. Her latest book is BAD THINGS HAPPEN, a collection of short mystery stories. Cathi won the 2015 Derringer for Best Short Story, “The Kaluki Kings of Queens”. She hangs out with the usual suspects at Sisters in Crime New York/Tri-State, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers and lives in Manhattan with her husband, Paul.


stoler1Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking! Congratulations on the release of your BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Does your writing process differ when you are writing a short story vs. a novel?

It does in some ways and doesn’t in others. Both my novels and short stories usually start with a question: What would happen if…? Once I see the answer, or beginning of an answer, in my mind, I start to build around it.

For a short story, conflict and resolution have to be condensed. My character development needs to be more immediate, readers need to know who these people are right away. The plot has to go forward and resolve itself quickly. And, there’s not a lot of room for backstory, or introducing peripheral characters. I think my career as an advertising copywriter has given me the ability to find an idea and condense it to its essential elements—there are only so many thoughts and words that fit into a :30 second TV spot or a two paragraph ad. It’s the same for a short story.

BAD THINGS HAPPEN is a collection of six of my short stories. Each one is very different but they all move at a good pace and hopefully give the reader that combination of conflict and resolution.

For a novel, the What would happen if…? is more about creating a grabber opening that draws the reader in and sets up the plot. While the action still has to keep moving along at a good pace, there’s more time to develop the narrative arc, build suspense, bring in characters who interact with the protagonist, introduce sub plots and toss in a few red herrings. Of course, in the end, it all has to be resolved. I never want the reader to feel cheated, or wonder “Where did that come from or how did that happen?”

You’ve set your novels in some pretty fabulous locations, including Florence, Venice, Las Vegas and of course, New York. What inspired these magnificent backdrops?

I love to travel and have been to all the locations in my novels except Monte Carlo. Florence, Venice, Prague, Zurich, London, Las Vegas, and of course, New York all have a certain glamour and cachet attached to them. Writing about them brings readers a taste of International luxury and indulgence they can enjoy at home. And really, what better places than these cities for mystery, murder and intrigue?

What’s next for you? Will we be seeing more of PI Helen McCorkendale or Nick Donahue?

I hope you’ll be seeing more of Nick Donahue very soon. I‘m working on getting the next Nick book, OUT OF TIME, into print in the near future. The novel begins in Dubai with Nick Donahue hanging from the spire of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. While that might seem pretty intense, Nick’s problems only get worse from there as he travels to New York and the Kentucky Derby to fight the ultimate terrorist battle. Actually, my husband and I are going to Africa and then Dubai next month, so I’ll see if I got all the details right. If not, I’ll be doing some rewriting.

As for Helen McCorkendale, I plan to work on a book featuring her after I complete my current projects. I just retained the rights to my 3-book Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series and am deciding how to proceed with those. Helen is one of my favorite characters and I would love writing something with her again.

What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

I love living in New York and being in the city. It’s exciting and vital and it inspires me in so many ways. Walking around, listening to people on the street, observing what’s going on—it’s amazing what you see and hear.

I’ve never really been passionate about politics, but in this current climate, that’s what’s been firing me up every day. It’s a big change for me. I feel I have to find positives ways to help.

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write mysteries?

If you’re intrigued by mysteries (or thrillers or suspense or crime stories) read a ton of them. Think about the ones you think are really good and what makes them work—it’s always good to understand the genre and how other writers approach their characters, plot, settings, etc.  People may tell you that you can’t have more that two points-of-view, or third person works better than first person, or put a pet in your story. With that said, I don’t really think there’s any right way or wrong way to write a mystery. Be yourself. Let your story come alive on the page the way you see it happening.

Thank you so much for joining me here today! And safe travels! Dubai and Africa…how exciting! And that is wonderful writing advice. I think writers often try to be someone else when they write, but finding your own voice is so important!

Readers, you can connect with Cathi Stoler on her Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.






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Directing THE CRUCIBLE in 2016


When I am not writing mysteries or plays, or trying to be super-mom, I am a high school drama teacher.

This past fall, I directed Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

I need to choose plays that are going be a good fit for my student actors, but I also strongly believe that theater must be relevant.

I wrote a director’s statement in I which discussed some of my reasons for selecting the play. Here it is:

I often ask my theater students, “Is this play relevant today?”

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was first produced in 1953. Its subject matter deals with the Salem Witch Trials, but it is an allegory for the McCarthy Era Communist Witch Hunts.

And yet, it remains one of the most performed plays in high schools across the country.

This summer, when I was selecting a play to produce, like many people, I was being bombarded with news about the upcoming election. Alarming headlines—from both ends of the political spectrum—would pop up in my newsfeed. It was hard to avoid the contention, the arguments, and the animosity.

Two words kept popping out to me: fear and lies.

The Crucible deals with both.

It shows us, quite clearly, what can happen if we blindly trust sources of information without examining them more closely. It shows us what can happen in a society divided by unfounded accusations. It shows us what can happen if we let our fears overpower our reason.

It shows us that decent human beings—and yes, I do believe the people of Salem started out that way—can resort to horrific acts if they are misled.

The play continues to be relevant, now more than ever.

There was another reason I felt The Crucible was pertinent to our times.

At one point in the play, John Proctor, upon being accused of witchcraft states, “I am no Goody Good , who sleeps in ditches, nor Osburn, drunk and half-witted.”

The implication is, of course, that it was okay to accuse those women of witchcraft, but not John Proctor. After all, Proctor was a landholder, a churchgoer, a decent man (well, except for sleeping with a teenager thing.)  He was someone in the eyes of his society.

Goody Good and Goody Osburn were expendable, but not John Proctor.

Here’s the thing I wanted to convey with my direction of The Crucible: no one is expendable.

When we abandon the Goody Goods and Goody Osburns of the world, we abandon ourselves. Until we recognize this, we are all in danger of hanging.



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2016: My Year in Books

In 2016, I made a goal of only reading books by people I know. By “people I know,” I mean either those I have met (online or in person ), or at the very least, those  I have seen speak at a writing conference. In other words, people I have been in the same room with at some point in time, or perhaps interviewed on my blog.

Since I have become much more involved in various writing organizations, and since starting this blog, I have become acquainted with many fabulous writers. I wanted to support my new friends and colleagues by buying and reading their books. This, however; was not purely an altruistic decision; many of their books also sounded awesome!

I am so glad that I made this decision! I ended up reading many books that had been on my “To Read” list for a while, and I had a very enjoyable reading year. I’d love to recap a few of my favorites:

Cover Trail of Secrets (2)I ended 2015 reading TRAIL OF SECRETS  by fellow Fire & Ice YA author Laura Wolfe. This was really my official kick-off to my decision to read books by people I know. Laura has been a Twitter buddy and appeared on my blog. Her mystery has the perfect blend of teen girl drama, sketchy characters and intrigue.





cryofthesea4 (3)It seemed appropriate to launch 2016 with another fellow Fire & Ice YA author, DG Driver, who has also appeared on my blog more than once. CRY OF THE SEA, the first book in her Juniper Sawfeather Series, was a great way to start off the year. Mermaids, environmental themes, and a splash (no pun intended) of romance all drew me into Juniper Sawfeather’s world.




death-and-diamonds1 (2)You might recall that I started listening to audio books in 2016. I even blogged about how rediscovering audio books was life changing. My first audio book of the year was Jeff Markowitz’s DEATH AND WHITE DIAMONDS. I met Jeff through Mystery Writers of America. This book is laugh out-loud funny, and a great mystery as well.





I really enjoyed so many of the books I read this year. It’s hard to pick my favorites, but here are a few more that really blew me away.


fighting chanceFIGHTING CHANCE by B.K. Stevens. I met online B.K. Stevens through the Sisters in Crime listserve. She also appeared on my blog. This action packed YA mystery got me interested in Krav Maga and kept me turning pages.






Vatsal cover (2)A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR by Radha Vatsal.  I met Radha through Mystery Writers of America, and have had the pleasure of getting to know her at a variety of writing events over the last year. This intriguing historical mystery immersed me in the world of Kitty Weeks. I can’t wait for the next book in the series!






the-drowning-gamesmTHE DROWNING GAME by L.S.. Hawker. I met L.S. HAwker at ThrillerFest 2016, where were were fellow debut novelists. This may have been my absolute favorite book of the year!






So, what will my 2017 year in books look like? As much as I had thought I would steer off the “books by people I know” path, I don’t want to!

bodyandbonesmI started off the year with BODY AND BONE by L.S. Hawker (and interviewing her on my blog) Loved it!







Death Unscripted cover-1 (2)I also just started listening to M.K. Graff’s DEATH UNSCRIPTED on audible. I thoroughly enjoyed all three books in Graff’s Nora Tierney series, which I listened to on audible in 2016; I love stepping into the worlds she creates.






FastWomenNeonLightsCOVERI definitely plan to read some short story anthologies this year, since I am writing more short stories these days. I’ll be starting with FAST WOMEN AND NEON LIGHTS: EIGHTIES-INSPIRED NEON NOIR, in which my short story “Big Hair, Banana Clips and the Figure-Four Leg Lock” is published. OK, I know I’m biased, but I’ve read a couple of stories in it (other than my own) already, and they are like, totally rad!




I’d love to know what’s on your “TO READ” list for 2017! Feel free to comment below, and visit me on Goodreads!









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Creative Minds Profile #22: LS Hawker

I had the pleasure of meeting LS Hawker at the 2016 ThrillerFest in New York. We were both debut novelists. Her thriller, THE DROWNING GAME, sounded fascinating. I downloaded it on Audible as soon as I had the chance, and I have to say, it was AWESOME! Honestly, it was one of my favorite books of the year! Strong female protagonist, insane situation, a truly thrilling roller coaster ride of a book! I just started reading her second published novel BODY AND BONE last night on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get back to it this evening. It grabbed me from page one! So needless to say, I am super excited to have LS Hawker—who will release her third novel later this month—on my blog today!


LS Hawker signs books at ThrillerFest.

LS Hawker is the author of the thrillers THE DROWNING GAME, BODY AND BONE, and END OF THE ROAD, published by HarperCollins Witness Impulse. She has won many awards, and THE DROWNING GAME is a USA Today bestseller and finalist in the ITW Thriller Awards in the Best First Novel category.

Visit to view book trailers for THE DROWNING GAME, BODY AND BONE, and END OF THE ROAD, listen to her podcast with daughter Chloe, The Lively Grind Cafe, and read about her adventures as a cocktail waitress, traveling Kmart portrait photographer, and witness to basement exorcisms.


Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking! You write novels with strong women stuck in seemingly impossible situations. They are edge of your seat page turners. Is your real life as dangerous and thrilling?

I do sometimes wonder how I’m still alive. When I was younger I had a weird compulsion to put myself in less than safe situations (I suppose I was something of an adrenaline junkie). But even more than that, strange things always seemed to happen to me, like the time I was falsely arrested, locked in a room with seven men and interrogated for four hours, then strip-searched. I used to joke that I had a fiery red arrow pointing at my head that only crazy people and freaks could see. Since getting married and having children, I’ve settled down quite a bit (although maybe not enough…) Many of my barely fictionalized misadventures wind up in my novels. Not gonna tell you which ones.

Oh my goodness! I had no idea you had lived such a perilous life! Well, I guess it’s all good if it has inspired your writing, right? You grew up and currently live in Colorado, but you consider Kansas your “spiritual homeland.” What is it about Kansas that inspires you?

My grandparents lived in the tiny town of Lincoln, Kansas, and it had the most beautiful court house, limestone buildings, and hundreds of huge, gorgeous trees. The vegetation there is obscenely lush, and fireflies light up the landscape, unlike where I grew up in suburban Denver. In the suburbs, we had to drive anywhere we wanted to go. Not so in Lincoln—we could walk downtown or to the swimming pool. Kansans are notoriously friendly and accepting. It was a magical place. It still is.


THE DROWNING GAME was released September 22, 2015. END OF THE ROAD—your third novel with HarperCollins— will be released at the end of this month. First of all, WOW! How does it feel, and how do you do it?

These last two years have been like a dream. I still can’t believe I get to do this for a living, and every day I am filled with gratitude. Thriller/suspense fans, I’ve discovered, are kind, gracious, and fiercely loyal. But it’s been an adjustment writing to deadline. I used to write whenever the fancy struck me. Now I have to write whether I feel like it or not, which is not a bad thing. It’s taught me that I can be creative by willing myself to be as opposed to waiting for the muse to strike. My second book, BODY AND BONE, was the most difficult to write because I’d never “had to” write a novel before! It was a great lesson in discipline, and taught me that self-doubt and insecurity are indulgences we can’t afford in this career.


What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

I’m a music head. I’m always on the lookout for new music, and I’ve a got a huge collection—150K+ songs. My love of music led me to a fairly short-lived career in radio, which then became part of the basis for BODY AND BONE. My protag is a music blogger with a satellite radio show, the studio for which is modeled on the first radio station I worked at back in the day. I also love technology—messing around with design and film programs is one of my favorite things in the world. This particular passion was helpful in END OF THE ROAD, since my protag is a computer scientist. Third, my arm-candy husband Andy and I love entertaining and look for any excuse to throw big, noisy parties.

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write thrillers?

Pay attention in psychology class. Study history and current events. Try to understand the motivations of people who do evil or desperate things. Read widely in the genre. This will help you internalize the structure and elements of what makes a good suspense/thriller.

If you’re truly committed to getting published, then listen to industry experts. Go to conferences. Learn the craft—don’t rely on your “talent.” I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve heard say things like “That (editor/agent/publisher) doesn’t know what’s good. My work is so unusual and brilliant that they’re just too dumb to get it.” NO, THEY’RE NOT. They’re the ones who know what sells. Don’t expect them to conform to your expectations and desires. You’re the one who needs to adapt and change according to the industry. LISTEN TO THEM AND DO WHAT THEY SAY. And most importantly, don’t ever give up—no matter how discouraged you get, no matter how long it takes. I gathered more than 100 rejections before I got to yes! I’ve had the same quote hanging over my desk since I was in college:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. – Calvin Coolidge

Wow! Thank you so much for this interview, and for this wonderful advice.

Thriller fans, if you haven’t discovered LS Hawker’s books yet, you absolutely MUST put them on your to read list! And you can connect with LS Hawker on her Website, and on Facebook and Twitter. Her books are available at IndieBound, Amazon, B&N and wherever books are sold.









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Cover Reveal: The Perfect Trip

Today I’m excited to celebrate the cover reveal for THE PERFECT TRIP by Stacy Barnett Mozer releasing March 24, 2017 from Spellbound River Press. Stacy has joined me on NOT EVEN JOKING for both a Creative Minds Interview and to share a “bite of her book” and a yummy recipe on BOOK BITES. Before we get to the cover, here’s a little about the book and the author:

About the book: Sam Barrette’s life is finally going in the right direction. She’s made the boys travel baseball team, her friendship with Mike is turning into something more, and she’s even connected with her stepmother. But a family camping trip filled with secrets and surprises challenges everything she thought she knew about what the future will hold. To save her dreams, Sam must find a way to fix her perfect trip.

About the author: Stacy Barnett Mozer is a middle grade author, a book blogger, and an elementary school teacher. Stacy started writing novels when one of her third grade classes told her there was no way a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise as much as she asked them to revise. She’s been revising her own novels every since. Stacy is an active SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) member and is an Assistant Regional Advisor for New England SCBWI, coordinating the region’s critique groups. She is also the founder of Sporty Girl Books, a blog for anyone who loves to watch, play, read, and write about women and girls in sports.

THE PERFECT TRIP is the companion novel to THE SWEET SPOT, which released from Spellbound River in March 2016.

About THE SWEET SPOT: When thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude’s holding her back, she wants to hit him in the head with a line drive. Why shouldn’t she have an attitude? As the only girl playing in the 13U league, she’s had to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like “Go play softball,” all season, just because she’s a girl. Her coach barely lets her play, even though she’s one of the best hitters on the team.

Finally, here is the cover of THE PERFECT TRIP, illustrated by Lois Bradley:


Like the cover? You can win an ARC of The Perfect Trip by signing in here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Spellbound River Press will be holding a Stocking Stuffer Event on Thursday night. Here’s the link:



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Creative Minds Profile #21: J.J. Hensley

One of the fabulous things about being a member of writing organizations like International Thriller Writers is that you get to meet some of the most fascinating people. When I met author J.J. Hensley this past summer at ThrillerFest, I knew that I wanted to interview him here on Not Even Joking! I am delighted to have him join us here this month. His path to becoming a writer is truly inspirational.


J.J. HENSLEY is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.  He is the author of the novels Resolve, Measure Twice, and Chalk’s Outline.  J.J. graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. degree in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University.  He lives near Pittsburgh, PA.

Mr. Hensley’s first novel RESOLVE was named one of the BEST BOOKS OF 2013 by Suspense Magazine and was named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.

He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime.

hensleypicThank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking! You have had a fascinating career in law enforcement. And now, you write crime novels. Was there a particular moment during your prior career that you realized you would become a writer?

Absolutely not.  In fact, I can still be standing in a crowded room and overhear someone say, “He’s a writer” and I scan the room to see who the person is talking about.  I can’t say I became a writer by accident as much as by experiment.  I was working as a Secret Service agent in Washington, D.C. and thanks to our ridiculous commutes, my wife and I were going through audiobooks like crazy.  We had always been readers of crime fiction, but we got into the habit of listening to the same books at the same time and then discussing them in the evening.  One day, my wife said, “You should try to write a book.”  Now, since I’m a male, I didn’t take her advice for several years, but when I did decide to give it a try, I cranked out a first draft of RESOLVE in about three months.  I hoped it might be good enough to self-publish, but the next thing I knew I had an agent, a publisher, and then some awards recognition.  Things kind of took off from there.

henselyresolve I recently read a review of your novel CHALK’S OUTLINE, which stated, “the story will make you question the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘justice.’” I love novels that make me consider such questions. Will your newest novel BOLT ACTION REMEDY (due out in 2017) also plunge the reader into the fascinating waters of moral ambiguity?

jjhensleychalkAll of my books deal with some level of moral ambiguity.  One of the reasons I decided to take on the challenge of writing was that I was sick of characters being so black and white, good and evil, or right and wrong.  Real people are gray and that’s what I wanted to reflect.  None of my books are particularly morbid, but they aren’t modern day fairy tales either.  BOLT ACTION REMEDY involves a protagonist who is a recovering heroin addict who was forced out of a police department, although there are mitigating circumstances.  Like most of my “good guys”, he’s a knight in rusty armor.  The main character, Trevor Galloway, probably should be seeking to lead a simple existence, but when he agrees to look into a cold case involving a murder in which the victim was killed by someone skilled in shooting and skiing, life gets complicated when he discovers the crime scene is near a biathlon training camp.  The result is an internal struggle that has some external consequences.

BOLT ACTION REMEDY features Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway. Have we seen the last of Homicide Detective Jackson Channing?

To quote Bon Jovi, Never Say Goodbye.  I’ve written one book featuring a character named Cyprus Keller, one with Jackson Channing, and one with both of those characters.  Now I’ve created Trevor Galloway and he’ll be visiting us in Bolt Action Remedy during 2017 and I just signed on for another Galloway book in 2018.  However, none of my publishers own the rights to the characters I create and therefore they will be popping up from time to time in short stories or possibly make other appearances in novels.  I’ve been given a lot of latitude and I plan on taking advantage of that fact.


What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

I have a five-year-old daughter and I’m in my early forties.  Not to be dark and depressing, but the reality is that it’s possible I won’t be around when my daughter is in her thirties.  Writing, even writing crime fiction, is my way to make sure she can still hear my voice after I’m gone.  Not that I’m planning to kick the bucket anytime soon, but wanting to leave an echo for my daughter to hear is what drives me to crank out the words.

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write thrillers?

This is tough question for me, especially since I didn’t start writing until my late thirties.  If a young aspiring writer were to ask me for advice, I’d have to say:  Read a lot, live a lot, and integrate those experiences into your writing.  We all accumulate a few scars in life—some of us more than a few—so leave some of those on the page.  Also:  Writing and exercise are great outlets for emotion, so use them.  For instance, I’m a runner and lift weights.  I exercise angry, I write angry, and doing those things leaves me happy.

 Thank you so much for joining me here! What wonderful advice.

 You can connect with J.J. Hensley on his Website, Facebook, Twitter and on his blog Steel City Intrigue. Also, he has two books coming out (in 2017 and 2018) and you can find out more about those here:









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Creative Minds Profile #20: R.G. Belsky

I first met R.G. Belsky when we were reading from our mystery novels at KGB Bar in New York as part of a Mystery Writers of American New York Chapter event. At the time, he was reading from what was then his latest novel, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, a mystery about a “closed-case murder of a Hollywood actress.” Did someone say Hollywood? I was definitely intrigued! Since then, I have had the good fortune of getting to know Dick Belsky; we always seem to run into each other at  writing events like Brooklyn Bookfest, Thrillerfest, and various other mystery writer gatherings. His latest novel, BLONDE ICE was released last month, and it features a female serial killer!

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in New York, NY (John Makely / NBC News) NBC News Dick Belsky.

Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in New York, NY (John Makely / NBC News)
NBC News
Dick Belsky.

R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His new suspense thriller, BLONDE ICE, was published by Atria on October 18. It is the latest in a series of books from Atria featuring Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The first book in the Gil Malloy series – THE KENNEDY CONNECTION – was published in 2014 and SHOOTING FOR THE STARS came out in 2015. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. At the Daily News, he also held the titles of metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. Before that, he was metropolitan editor of the New York Post and news editor at Star magazine. Belsky was most recently the managing editor for news at His previous suspense novels include PLAYING DEAD and LOVERBOY.  He was the Claymore Award winner at Killer Nashville 2016 and also a Silver Falchion Finalist.


Thank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking and congratulations on the release of BLONDE ICE! The novel is set during a New York City mayoral election…and its release during a major election season seems quite timely! Was your writing inspired by the current political climate?

Not really the current political climate, I based it more on the politics I’ve seen and covered in New York City for many years. And one of the biggest political issues here – thru mayors Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Bloomberg and now Bill DeBlasio – has always been crime. The mayor takes the credit or the blame for high profile crime cases/statistics. So I thought setting the hunt for a deadly female Son-of-Sam type serial killer during a mayoral election added extra drama to the story. And the fact that the killer is a sexy woman who’s picking up and then murdering men for thrills raises the stakes even more when it comes to the potential political consequences in the ongoing mayoral race

I am a huge fan of serial killer novels…and particularly intrigued that BLONDE ICE features a female serial killer!  Were there certain real life serial killers that inspired this novel?

Well, that would have to be Son of Sam – which is the most famous serial killer story of my lifetime.  I covered the Son of Sam case as a young journalist at the Post in the 70s. So I lived through all of that terror and fear that gripped New York City, as David Berkowitz – who called himself Son of Sam – gunned down women and couples on the streets. It began slowly until people realized the murders were connected, then paralyzed the city through the so-called Summer of Sam in ’77 and finally ended with relief when he was captured.

I try to recreate some of that in BLONDE ICE. Only this time the serial killer is a woman killing men, instead of women being the victims.  All the infamous real life serial killers – Ted Bundy, the Zodiac Killer, the Boston Strangler and Son of Sam – were men. There have been some women serial killers who murdered for profit or in a hospital out of some sort of “angel” motive. But I wanted to create a female Son of Sam or Ted Bundy type character. A woman (and, in my book, a beautiful and brilliant woman) who murders men simply for the thrill of it.

And Gil Malloy being a man means that, in addition to covering the story as a journalist, he will eventually become a target of her deadly game too.

Like Gil Malloy, you are a journalist. Does the similarity end there, or are you like Gil Malloy in other ways as well?

Well, he’s certainly not me. Although sometimes I wish he was, because he seems to have a lot more fun than me. And he’s not really based on any specific reporter. Let’s just say that I ran across a lot of very colorful characters in the newsrooms I worked in over the years. People who were consumed with being first with the big story on the front page and were tremendous journalists. But their personal lives were often a mess because of their passion for the job. That’s kind of like Gil’s life. One of my favorite descriptions of him was from a reviewer who said: “Gil Malloy is not much of a friend, and he’s a lousy husband – but he’s one helluva great reporter.” I’ve known a lot of people like that. And Gil is truly a sort of combination of a lot of these real-life journalists.

What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

Well, the two things I’ve enjoyed doing most in my life are working in newsrooms and writing mystery novels. I’ve published 10 novels in my lifetime so far, most of them written while I was working full time as a journalist. Clearly it had to be a labor of love for me to get up early every morning before going to a real newspaper to spend a few hours working on a novel about a fictional one. But actually both have always been great fun – and yet vastly different experiences. As I often say to people who wonder how I could do both things at the same time: “Working at in a newsroom means you spend most of your time making sure the facts are right – as a crime novelist I get to make the facts up!” Now that’s fun.

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write mystery novels?

My advice is very simple, and I’ve given it to many people (with varying degrees of success) over the years. If you want to write a mystery novel, just sit down and write the damn thing. A lot of people talk about doing it, but you won’t know if you have the ability and dedication until you actually try it. It can be a daunting task looking at that blank computer screen when you start – but there’s no other way to be a writer than to write. It’s the crucial first step before a writer can even think about anything else.

Two other things I’d like to mention:

I love the fact that one of the author cover blurbs for BLONDE ICE comes from Joe Eszterhas, the legendary Hollywood screenwriter who created movie femme fatale Catherine Tramel in “Basic Instinct.” Joe and I went to college together at Ohio University and remained friends after that. His quote after reading BLONDE ICE was: “Blonde Ice is white-hot.  Even better than its title is Dick Belsky’s thriller itself.  Read it and . . . burn, baby, burn!”

In addition to the serial killer plot and the political backdrop, BLONDE ICE also deals with all the changes in newspapers today. It’s impossible to write a novel newspaper now without acknowledging the way more and more people get their news from online sources than print. So Gil is no longer the traditional reporter who runs to a pay phone to call his story into rewrite. Instead, he files immediately from a scene via Twitter, texting, livestreaming etc. and all the other modern social media tools. Web traffic has replaced number of papers sold as the No. 1 circulation goal he has to strive for with the sensational BLONDE ICE story.

Thank you so much for joining me here this month! Congratulations again on the release of BLONDE ICE!

Readers, you can connect with R.G. Belsky on his Website and on Facebook. and Twitter. You can find BLONDE ICE on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Simon & Schuster, and wherever books are sold.










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Creative Minds Profile #19: Daniella Bernett

I first met Daniella Bernett at a Mystery Writers of America New York Chapter event last year. At the time, she was about to release her first novel, LEAD ME INTO DANGER, an Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery. She joined me on this blog a year ago to share a “bite” of that novel. Today, I am thrilled to welcome Daniella back for a Creative Minds Interview! The second mystery in her series, DEADLY LEGACY, was released last month!

daniella-bernett-new-author-photoDaniella Bernett is a member of the Mystery Writers of America NY Chapter. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in Journalism from St. John’s University. Lead Me Into Danger is the first novel in the Emmeline Kirby-Gregory Longdon mystery series. She also is the author of two poetry collections, Timeless Allure and Silken Reflections. In her professional life, she is the research manager for a nationally prominent engineering, architectural and construction management firm. Daniella is currently working on Emmeline and Gregory’s next adventure. Visit or follow her on Facebook at  or on Goodreads.

deadly-legacy-front-coverThank you so much for joining me this month on Not Even Joking and congratulations on the release of your second novel, DEADLY LEGACY! How was the experience of writing this novel different from writing your first novel LEAD ME INTO DANGER?

I would have to say that I was more confident in myself and my characters when writing DEADLY LEGACY. However, I actually had the idea for the first few books in my head before I even started writing LEAD ME INTO DANGER. Since it is a series, I had to know how Emmeline and Gregory would evolve and what clues and plot twists to drop here and develop further in the next book. In terms of the writing itself, I found that scenes between Emmeline and Gregory or the cat-and-mouse exchanges between Gregory and Chief Inspector Oliver Burnell seemed to become more fluid as DEADLY LEGACY was unfolding.

lead-me-into-danger-front-coverYour books contain so many interesting elements: murder, jewel thieves, spies and international settings! Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is derived from all sorts of places. It could be a newspaper article; a snippet of overheard conversation; a real-life crime; or a dream. Of course, location plays an important role in my books. I’ve been an Anglophile since I was a little kid, so naturally my characters had to be British and London had to figure prominently in my books. I also adore Venice. That enchanted city’s history of intrigues was simply begging to be featured in LEAD ME INTO DANGER.

I get a lot of ideas from the sights and sounds of a city or an area that has made a strong impression on me. You’re either going to laugh or you’re going to run very quickly in the opposite direction, but oftentimes I come across a place and think, “Wouldn’t this be the perfect setting to find a dead body?”

Are you working on another Emmeline Kirby & Gregory Longdon Mystery? And if so, could you give us a little hint about what we might expect from it?

Yes, I am working on Emmeline and Gregory’s latest adventure. I’m actually in the middle of Book 5. However, I would be happy to give you a tiny hint about what awaits them in FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, Book 3, which will be released in 2017. The story is set in Torquay, Devon, on England’s rugged west coast. It’s supposed to be a restful holiday for Emmeline far from her recent harrowing escapes from spies and others with nefarious objectives back in London. She also needs distance to sort out her conflicted feelings for Gregory. But who should turn up out of the blue? You guessed it. The ever-charming, devastatingly handsome Gregory.  That’s when secrets from his past—and murder—shatter the serenity of picturesque idyll.

What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)

Reading. I’m a voracious reader. I think that as a writer one has to be a reader first and foremost. At heart, a writer is a reader who has given full vent to the story swirling around in his or her head. In my case, I’ve had a love affair with language and the written word since I was very young. As you might have surmised, I have a particular affinity for mysteries and spy thrillers. However, I also enjoy reading the classics, history, biographies, anything except science fiction and horror. (I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I read those types of books.)

Another thing I’m passionate about is traveling. It’s delightful to discover new places and meet people from different backgrounds. It broadens the mind and also serves as spark for my imagination.

What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to write mystery novels?

Again, I would tell an aspiring writer to READ. Read everything you can get your hands on. There are myriad subgenres under the “mystery” umbrella. Read books from each of these categories to get a feel for the pacing, moods evoked, subjects written about and the language. Read different authors to see how each handles the narrative and plot twists. In the end though, let these other books merely be your guides.  The most important thing is to write the story that you want to write and not what others tell you or what the current market trends are. To write a great story, you have to breathe it, live with it, and nurture it in your dreams and waking hours.

That is wonderful advice! Than you so much for joining me here today!

You can connect with Daniella on her website, Facebook and Goodreads. Her books are available on Amazon, B&N, from Black Opal Books, or where ever books are sold.

Daniella will be doing a reading and signing at the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan (58 Warren Street) on Friday, October 7 at 6:30 pm. You can pre-order a SIGNED copy here:










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At the end of August, I had the opportunity to appear on Red River Radio with fellow mystery author and Sister in Crime, Radine Trees Nehring. After I heard about her mystery A FAIR TO DIE FOR (Oak Tree Press, 2012), the 7th Something to Die For Mystery, I knew I wanted to have her over here to share a “bite.” I am delighted to have her join me here today. She also shares a no-thaw meatloaf recipe, which sounds perfect for me these days!


Who are your main character? What are they like?

A FAIR TO DIE FOR  features two main characters:  Carrie McCrite (a retired reference librarian) and Henry King, (divorced, and a retired Kansas City Police Major in the Homicide Division. Each of them moved to Arkansas on a quest, Carrie to forge an independent life after the death of her parents and first husband, and Henry to locate a daughter he has never seen. The two meet, and, in the third series novel, are married.

What would Carrie McCrite and Henry King choose for their last meals?

Carrie probably could not answer this question because she thinks very little about either cooking or eating. Her husband, Henry King, does enjoy his food, and his on-line friendship with chef John Bohnert is featured in this novel. Henry’s recipe for Sort-of Tomato Soup is one of the recipes appearing in the story along with a couple of Chef Bohnert’s special recipes.

How about you? What would you choose for your last meal?

 Today I would say a special treat meal would include medium prime rib and a fluffy baked potato.  I recently enjoyed those when my husband and I celebrated an anniversary.

Why should someone bite into A FAIR TO DIE FOR

It’s October—craft season in the Ozarks, and people from distant areas of the United States as well as locals are enjoying the many craft fairs in the area. One of the largest and longest-running, the War Eagle Fair, has judged Carrie’s best friend, Shirley Booth, as eligible to display and sell her baby quilts and cuddlies during the four days of the fair–when up to 200,000 visitors are expected.  Though the fair is closely regulated and guards are on hand, perhaps you can guess at crimes that fit easily into a craft fair setting. Shirley and Carrie are blissfully unaware of these until a maybe cousin of Carrie’s appears, and . . . . 

Do you have a recipe you’d like to share?

As I said, Carrie is no cook and has paid little attention to recipes at any time in her life, but when she needs a recipe for meat loaf, “No Thaw Meat Loaf” is what she comes up with.  The Nehrings enjoy this meal fairly frequently, and readers have named it their favorite of all the recipes included in my novels to date.



 Preparation time: 15 minutes. Oven time at 350: 1:30

1 pound lean hamburger rmeat, frozen in its original package

1 large onion, sliced in length-wise strips

1 large bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, sliced into length-wise strips

1 can no-fat beef broth or similar beef juice product

1 individual-size can, tomato-juice. (Note: feel free to use your imagination here. Left-over picante sauce, salsa, or whatever tomato something-or-other the refrigerator holds will also do quite well. You may also add garlic, basil leaves, or other seasonings to the liquid.

Salt and pepper.


How to:

Unwrap meat, (still frozen solid), and plunk it down in a large casserole dish or roaster with a lid.

Salt and pepper the meat lump.

Pile slices of onion and green pepper artfully over the top.

Pour beef broth and liquid tomato product around the sides of the meat. If the tomato product you chose is thick, add water so there is plenty of liquid around the meat, (but not over the top of it) at all times during baking.

Bake, covered, for an hour and a half. (The meat will have a pinkish tinge throughout when done because of the tomato juice.)

Want gravy? Thicken juice at the end by adding a tablespoon or two of cornstarch blended with a bit of water and stirred thoroughly into the liquid. Return pan to oven until gravy thickens. You can also pour the liquid into a pan and heat over a stove top burner until thickened.

Serve with boiled potatoes or rice, vegetable, and fruit.

I have to say, this sounds like the perfect meal for me these days, as I have just returned to teaching, and it is so hard to remember to thaw meat to cook for dinner! A FAIR TO DIE FOR sounds so intriguing! Thank you so much for joining me here today!

Readers, you can connect with Radine Trees Nehring on her Website, Blog, Facebook and Twitter.

A FAIR TO DIE FOR can be found on Amazon and B&N, in ebook and in print. You can also find it Indie Bookstores in the Arkansas Ozarks and at




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