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Character Interview: Dr. Bruce Starkman from Allen Malnak’s historical thriller, Hitler’s Silver Box

ATT00002We’re thrilled to have here today Dr. Bruce Starkman from Allen Malnak’s new historical thriller novel Hitler’s Silver Box. Dr.Starkman is a thirty year old ER physician living in Chicago, IL.
It is a pleasure to have him with us today at Beyond the Books!
“Thank you so for this interview, Dr. Starkman. May I call you Bruce?”  
“Please do.”
“Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?
“I don’t view myself as a hero. All I wanted was to be allowed to pursue my profession. To me working in an ER is not heroic, and what I did in the novel I needed to do not only to protect the life of my loved one and myself but to prevent a worldwide tragedy.”
“Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?”
“Except that Allen made me a tad too charming and much better looking, he did an OK job.”
“What do you believe is your strongest trait?”
“My ability to think and react quickly when bad things are happening all around me.”
“Worse trait??
“That damned claustrophobia when I’m in a confined space, especially a dreaded tunnel, when it’s dark. Just can’t breathe or think clearly.”
If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be? 
“I’d pick Ben Affleck.”
“Do you have a love interest in the book?” 
“Miriam is the love of my life. I’d do anything to keep her safe and by my side. She’s also a wonderful human being and a true hero.”
“At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?”
“There were several times. The worst was when I was stuck in the tunnel. The other was near the end when we both were fighting for our lives.”
“If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?”
“I would not want to be Gerhard. To me he will always represent unadulterated evil.”
“How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?” 
“I’ve often been disappointed with endings. This one was close to perfect with all the loose ends tied up.”
“What words of wisdom would you give your author if he decided to write another book with you in it?”
“Don’t let any of my favorite characters be murdered by sadists.”
“Thank you for this interview, Dr. Starkman.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?”
“You’ll have to ask Dr. Malnak, but I hear he’s working on a sequel. Unlike me, he’s gotten kind of lazy.”
Purchase the book on Amazon and B&N.

ATT00001After completing his medical residency and liver disease fellowship, Dr. Malnak practiced as a board certified internist. He served as Chief of Internal Medicine at the US Army Hospital, Fort Sill, OK., and was medical director of several organizations. Dr. Malnak was also a Clinical Assistant Professor at the Stritch School of Medicine of Loyola University.

Dr. Malnak’s father emigrated to the US from Lithuania when he was sixteen, leaving behind a large family. They were all subsequently sent to a Nazi death camp during World War II and were exterminated. As a result of that tragic familial history, Dr. Malnak developed a keen interest in the Holocaust and has read widely on the subject. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Florida with their whippet, Paige, and parakeet, Kiwi. Hitler’s Silver Box is his first novel.

Purchase the book on Amazon and B&N.


Character Interview: Bianca Nerini from Gabriel Valjan’s mystery/suspense novel Threading the Needle

452aa0176bbdf3729bb23aa476635f5fWe’re thrilled to have here today, Bianca, from Gabriel Valjan’s new mystery/suspense novel, Threading the Needle.  Bianca is a thirty-something forensic accountant living somewhere in Italy.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so much for this interview, Bianca.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

I have to say that I was a little defensive when I first read the book. The first two chapters make me out to be a cold-hearted bitch. First, I dragged one of my friends, Commissario Farrugia, into the mess; but that isn’t true at all. He insisted on helping me. Who knew what would happen to Charlie? I mean, it was supposed to be a simple meeting. Whatever. God, now I sound like Alessandro. In the second chapter Dante grills me about what happened, I couldn’t tell him that Charlie had slipped me a jump-key before he got killed. I had to at least find out what was on the thing, right? Dante wasn’t very nice to me, and don’t get me started on Loki, who told me flat out to stay away from this; but how could I? Farrugia was now in a mess with Internal Affairs and this young kid, Charlie Brooks, was dead and it is was all somehow my fault. The news blew it all out of proportion. Let’s just say that the author and I didn’t see eye-to-eye from the start, but it all worked out, with a lot of yelling and revisions.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

Colorizing? I can’t say that I’ve heard that term before. Well, I have to say I was a real mess this time around in Milan. It’s not like Rome or Boston where I felt I held the cards in my hand. When I read through the drafts, I think the author was fair. He’d let me know when I was difficult, but he also showed me what a wonderful group of friends I have. I had to rely on them a lot because I was rather cloistered in Milan, with Loki as my only contact, which was no picnic at times. Matters were tense between me and Dante and I hated – HATED – being dependent on everyone. I was in a new city and I had an ant problem in my apartment. I also had to admit that I was out of my element. If it wasn’t for Gennaro explaining to me about Gladio…yeah, I was colorized well.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

Some people say it is my intelligence, but I think they’ve got it wrong. Yeah, I’m competent, but my talent is persistence, my discipline, and my capacity to make creative leaps with information. I’m not always right, but connecting the dots is what drives me, and I don’t mean in a conspiracy–theory kind of way, although with Rendition you never know. I used to work for a covert organization that focused on white-collar crime before any one knew what white-collar crime was…what I’m trying to say is it’s like seeing a number in those colorblind tests. Not everybody can do it. You could see a six or a nine, but I see both. I’m good at that.

Worst trait?

Where do I start? Pride. I’m stubborn. Dante and I have had monumental arguments over this. I’m not exactly romantic or girly-girly, but a part of me refuses to capitulate and admit that I want to be desired, taken care of; but the thing is, I have a hard time letting my guard down. You can say that I have “trust issues.” Like I said, I have too much pride and I’m stubborn.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

Kate Winslet. I wish that I looked like her. She is pretty. The point is I want an intelligent woman, one with soul, who will do me justice. I don’t want some bobblehead with breasts. Not that I don’t have a nice figure, but readers of Roma, Underground and Wasp’s Nest know that I like to eat. All I ask is that someone let it be a real woman. I’d also like a dog, a cane corso, to make a cameo appearance, like Hitchcock did in his movie, but that is an inside joke between me and the author. Kate Winslet would be my ideal.

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Dante. He drives me nuts, but I’d go through the gates of hell for him. Enough said.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

I knew how it would turn out. My worry was whether the author was going to get the Italian point of view right. That’s not something I could do but to his credit the author delivered. He conveyed a difficult time in Italian history, one that I think few Americans know about but should, since terrorism and manipulating public opinion are relevant today.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

Loki. I would not want to be Loki. Why is very simple. I walked away from Rendition on my terms, which is not to say that I haven’t paid a price, but I can’t imagine being Loki and living life in two different worlds. I don’t even know whether Loki is a he or a she, but I know the weight of living in the shadows has to be tremendous. The one thing I learned about working in the intelligence community and from observing organized crime is that you never leave, never are free, but something has to be said about living life on your own terms. I’m not convinced that Loki does – but then again I’ve always wondered with Loki if I am being played.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

I am a better person.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if he decided to write another book with you in it?

Like I said earlier, I am not a girly-girl kind of woman, but maybe show a softer side to me? If I am difficult it is for a reason. I have a lot on my mind. If it is not Dante, then it is Alessandro and his love misadventures, or it is Gennaro in one of his legendary moods, or I am stumped like everybody else as Silvio negotiates Italian and English. At least, I can say that the food is great. The author writes food well.

Thank you for this interview, Bianca.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Rumor has it that the author has already written the next two books, Turning to Stone and Corporate Citizen.

 Purchase THREADING THE NEEDLE on Amazon / B&N


gabriel_valjan_wintergoose-199x300Gabriel’s short stories and some of his poetry continue to appear in literary journals and online magazines. Ronan Bennett short-listed Gabriel for the 2010 Fish Prize. Gabriel won first prize in ZOUCH Magazine’s inaugural Lit Bits Contest. Winter Goose Publishing publishes his Roma Series: Roma, Underground(February 2012), Wasp’s Nest (November 2012) and Threading the Needle(October 2013). Gabriel lives in New England.

Twitter: GValjan

Character Interview: Captain Shelby from Jesse Giles Christiansen’s mystery suspense, PELICAN BAY

We’re thrilled to have here today Captain Shelby from Jesse Giles Christiansen’s new mystery suspense novel, PELICAN BAY. Captain Shelby is of unknown years and is a commercial fisherman living in Pelican Bay, South Carolina.

It is a pleasure to have Captain Shelby with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so much for this interview, Captain Shelby.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

Methinks me author did his right best, but if all ye scopies had left me alone the way ye should’ve, there’d be no need for this here book. It’s got words too big fer me to read anyway.   

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

Color me personality? If ye mean pertrayed, ‘twas better if I was pertrayed as a man left in peace to fetch his fiskr from the deep. A man found innocent of them accidents and other land nonsense.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

PelicanBaymedForMayraFer a man to know himself, he must know the sea. I know the sea better than ye, so I suppose I know meself better than ye.

Worse trait?

Sometimes the sea and her ally, the sky, become right crooked on me behalf. But that wouldn’t happen if ye would leave me be. 

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

Me boy Ethan told me once there be this actor named Johnny Depp. Said he could capture all me sides and looks. Don’t know who he be, but methinks Ethan’s a right smart scopie. 

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Love interest? Ye must be referrin’ to me Laura Lie. But she joined the sea too long ago fer me to remember. 

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

Never minded much the ways of the land. But truth be told, started gettin’ right nervous when that boat mob formed.

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

That poor old Pete and his uncle. In the wrong places at the wrong time, and cursedly part of a dim-witted line.  

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

The ways of the land are only after givin’ a man a fair shake if he follows their plan. Men are quick to condemn he who sails his own course. 

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

Please be after showin’ me origins, fer I be a man too, just like ye. 

Thank you for this interview, (name of character).  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

That be up to me author, but truth be said, me nerves be tattered with all this book stuff and land nonsense.

Purchase PELICAN BAY on Amazon.


JGCAuthorPhotoJesse Giles Christiansen is an American author who writes compelling literary fiction that weaves the real with the surreal. He attended Florida State University where he received his B.A. in English literature. He wrote his first novel, “About: Journey Into The Mystic” after spending a summer in Alaska working on fishing boats. His newest novel, “Pelican Bay,” focuses on a very old fisherman, Captain Shelby, and the mysterious happenings linked to him surrounding a nosy, sea-battered beach town (release date: July 20th, 2013, Imajin Books). One of his literary goals is to write at least fifty novels, and he reminds himself always of something that Ray Bradbury once said: “You fail only if you stop writing.”

Web Site:

Character Interview: Anne Williams from Catherine Astolfo’s psychological suspense, Sweet Karoline

We’re thrilled to have here today, Anne Williams, from Catherine Astolfo’s new psychological suspense, Sweet Karoline. Ms Williams is a 33-year-old Executive Assistant living in Los Angeles, California.

It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!

Sweet_Karolina_Createspace_Front_CoverThank you so for this interview, Anne. Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

I’m not so sure Catherine Astolfo was entirely sympathetic to me. After all, I was going through a very rough time. I’d endured the tragic death of my best friend. I’d made several shocking discoveries that threw my entire world into turmoil. In fact, I likened it to an earthquake that changes the landscape. A person has no idea how to travel through the territory. I think it’s perfectly understandable that I was conflicted and somewhat bitter. Perhaps the author could have left out some of my more caustic remarks.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality? If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

As I mentioned, I believe the author could have focused a little more on my positive remarks and thoughts. Including everything I said or thought was a little bit much, in my opinion. I’m sure Ms Astolfo wanted to ensure the readers got the full picture, but when a person is down, do you take everything they say seriously? Did she have to include all the mistakes I made? Why not show my good side to the public instead of the whole person? People might misunderstand my personality.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

I’m very smart. I worked hard at becoming the Executive Assistant at Grace Productions here in Los Angeles. I’m also loyal, a trait that is a rare commodity it seems.

Worse trait?

My worst trait is that I trust too easily.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

Halle Berry. She looks like me (perhaps she’s a little older than when the book takes place, but she can easily be made to look younger).

Do you have a love interest in the book?

I certainly do. His name is Ethan Byrnes and he’s a wonderful man.

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

Oh, my, right from the first sentence. Talk about spilling your guts and misleading the reader!

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

I would not want to be Karoline. She only appears in flashbacks.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

Once again, I think the author could have kept some things a secret. Why do readers have to know everything?

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

Catherine, try to be a little less revealing, would you, please? Confessions are not always a good thing. Sure, the readers like it, but isn’t there such a thing as being circumspect?

Thank you for this interview, Anne. Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

I don’t think so. I’m pretty much retired. Unless something else happens to yank my life off track again…



IMG_2453aaCatherine Astolfo retired in 2002 after a very successful 34 years in education. She can recall writing fantasy stories for her classmates in Grade Three, so she started finishing her books the day after her retirement became official. Her short stories and poems have been published in a number of Canadian literary presses. Her story, “What Kelly Did”, won the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Crime Story in 2012.

In the fall of 2011, she was thrilled to be awarded a four-book contract by Imajin Books for her Emily Taylor Mystery series (previously self-published), and has never been happier with this burgeoning second career!

Catherine’s books are gritty, yet portray gorgeous surroundings; they deal with sensitive social issues, but always include love and hope. They’re not thrillers, but rather literary mysteries with loads of character and setting. And justice always prevails.




January Justice by Athol Dickson Book Blast & $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

Reeling from his wife’s unsolved murder, Malcolm Cutter is just going through the motions as a chauffeur and bodyguard for Hollywood’s rich and famous. Then a pair of Guatemalan tough guys offer him a job. It’s an open question whether they’re patriotic revolutionaries or vicious terrorists. Either way, Cutter doesn’t much care until he gets a bomb through his window, a gangland beating on the streets of L.A., and three bullets in the chest. Now there’s another murder on Cutter’s Mind. His own.

Link to purchase:

Athol Dickson’s mystery, suspense, and literary novels have won three Christy Awards and an Audie Award. Suspense fans who enjoyed Athol’s They Shall See God will love his latest novel, January Justice, the first installment in a new mystery series called The Malcolm Cutter Memoirs. The second and third novels in the series, Free Fall in February, and A March Murder, are coming in 2013.

Critics have favorably compared Athol’s work to such diverse authors as Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly), Hermann Hesse (The New York Journal of Books) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). Athol lives with his wife in southern California.




Pump Up Your Book and Athol Dickson are teaming up to give you a chance to win a fabulous prize!

Here’s how it works:

Each person will enter this giveaway by liking, following, subscribing and tweeting about this giveaway through the Rafflecopter form placed on blogs throughout the tour. This promotion will run from March 18 – Mar 22. The winner will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter, contacted by email, and announced on March 25, 2013. Visit each blog stop below to gain more entries as the Rafflecopter widget will be placed on each blog for the duration of the tour. Good luck everyone!

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If the Rafflecopter form doesn’t load, please visit the JANUARY JUSTICE TOUR PAGE to enter the giveaway:

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A Chat with Gabriel Valjan, author of Wasp’s Nest

My guest today is Gabriel Valjan, author of the Roma series, published by Winter Goose Publishing. The first book,Roma, Underground, came out earlier this year. The sequel, Wasp’s Nest, was just released this week. The third installment is scheduled for August 2013.

Valjan attended the University of Southern California for his undergraduate education and completed graduate school in England at the University of Leeds. Ronan Bennett short-listed him for the 2010 Fish Short Story Prize. Valjan’s short stories continue to appear in print and online literary journals. He recently won ZOUCH Magazine’s inaugural Lit Bits Contest. He lives in New England.

Find the author on the web: Website/blog / Winter Goose Publishing Author’s page / Pinterest for Wasp’s Nest

Wasp’s Nest is available on Amazon Paperback / Barnes & Noble Paperback / Kindle / Nook

Read my review of Wasp’s Nest on The Dark Phantom Review.

Thanks for this interview. Tell us a little about what got you into writing?

Like most things in my life the road was not always obvious or straight. I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. As a child I read voraciously, so I was quite awed, quite intimidated, by the great talents on the bookshelves at my local library. I began with a lot of self-doubt about my ability to sustain an idea, create multidimensional characters, and capture the tics of dialogue. I knew what I enjoyed in literature, understood to some degree how it all worked. I was convinced (still am) that nobody could teach the idea that starts a short story, a novel, or a poem. When I had set aside the initial excuses and insecurities, I discovered that I was having fun and I had stories within me.

What was your inspiration for Wasp’s Nest?

After I wrote the first in the series, Roma, Underground, I knew that I had created my cast of characters. Two things happened then: one, I wanted to see how each of my characters would grow and evolve, interact with each other, the world around them, and bond emotionally; and two, I wanted to take my own sense of ‘what if’ thinking and create situations and see how my characters would negotiate them. I believe what makes my characters interesting is that they each of them has their own ‘issues,’ as we all do in life, but mixed in it all is a cultural collision of American and European. In Wasp’s Nest, the ‘what if’ has to do with cancer research and technology. What if someone had a way of detecting cancer at the level of DNA and prevent cancer from occurring without chemotherapy, radiation, and disfiguring surgeries? Since the majority of us will die either from heart disease or some form of cancer, there is that ‘what if.’ And then there is the ‘what if’ in Wasp’s Nest of the threat a potential cure poses to those industries that profit from chronic illness. I don’t suggest that ‘what if’ is a pure either/or. Dance with the angel of a cure, but don’t forget that the Devil was also once an angel.

For those readers who haven’t read this or the first book yet, what is the blurb of the series as a whole and how many instalments are you planning?

I haven’t committed to an exact number, but I had planned six novels. The overall arc of the series is watching friends learn how to love and trust each other, learn how to move within a morally compromised world. The main character Alabaster (or Bianca if you prefer her alias) is difficult to know, extremely intelligent, and dichotomous at times in her thinking. She sees things others do not, yet she struggles with intimacy and trusting another person. Dante, her boyfriend, is a nice guy, a little too patient with her at times. Farrugia is a stoical investigator with an edge to him. His peer Gennaro is a widower who has never forgiven himself for causing his wife’s death. Alessandro has brains but picks the wrong women. Then there is Silvio, the ambitious and humorous interpreter. In Wasp’s Nest, readers will be introduced to Diego Clemente, a garrulous, very Boston character. Throughout the Roma Series I try to infuse authentic Italian culture and food.

In this novel, you dive into the controversial world of biotechnology, genetics, and pharmaceutical companies. Is the theory about wasps, the methyl toolkit, and their connection to cancer in your story a real thing?

The Nasonia wasp is real. There are three species indigenous to the U.S. and a fourth was indeed discovered in Brewertown, New York. In the novel I mentioned Mendelian genetics, which should return readers to basic biology. I try to keep it simple. I address the reason why this wasp was selected and why the fruit fly is an imperfect model. The reader will discover that the Nasonia wasp is no pleasant creature, but what I said about its genetics is true; it is easy to study, easy to manipulate, but the ‘what if’ is that current research in Nasonia is devoted to the development of pesticides. The concept of the methyl toolkit is real. The ‘what if’ I propose is pointed at oncology. I don’t think that it is misleading to say that we all have the potential for cancer. Women with a familial predisposition to cancer, for example, can be tested for the BRCA1 and HER2 genes for ovarian and breast cancers, respectively. A while back, the actress Christina Applegate tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which was unexpressed, but she opted for a double mastectomy as a pre-emptive strike. This is an example where technology exists and the ethical debates begin. While some sophisticated ideas do exist in Wasp’s Nest, I tried to not make them inaccessible. I believe readers are intelligent and seek intellectual engagement while they enjoy a story.

How much research did the book required?

I always do a great amount of research, but I hope that what I decide to include is articulate and not beyond the grasp of the reader, or so implausible that it is science fiction. I research technology online and in technical libraries. While I don’t have a Ph.D, I’ve retained a working vocabulary from my scientific education. With the methyl toolkit I did speak with an immunologist and instructor who researches cancer and teaches at the graduate level. While I was remiss in thanking him in the Acknowledgements I had him in mind when I introduce readers to Portuguese food in Wasp’s Nest.  I should also mention that another form of research necessary to the Roma Series is cultural in nature. Two of my friends act as my editors. Dean proofreads all my work; and Claudio does the ‘cultural editing.’ Both men are far more knowledgeable in Italian than I. Claudio is a native speaker, a linguist, a journalist and a professional translator, with northern and southern Italian culture in his veins. While I can read Italian with respectable facility, only the native speaker can give you the authentic phrases and turns of phrase. This ‘cultural editing’ was crucial to the third novel, out in August 2013, since it deals with a volatile part of recent Italian history, with an unfortunate American connection.

I love the title, which of course suits the story well because it works on two levels. Did you come up with it right away or did you have to brainstorm?

I knew the title from the start. I had wanted to create a story in Boston. The title does work on many levels. It alludes to the insect, the Bostonian stereotype of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and the colloquial expression of getting into a mess, although I think the proper phrase has to do with a ‘hornet’s nest.’ One of the particular joys with Wasp’s Nestwas working with Winter Goose in designing the cover art. I should point out that the wasp on the cover is not a Nasoniacritter, but a yellow jacket wasp.

How long did it take you to write the novel and did you plot in advance?

I wrote Wasp’s Nest in four to six weeks, BUT I spent longer editing and shaping it before I submitted it to Winter Goose, where it underwent more editing with James Logan. Fellow Winter Goose authors Jessica Kristie and Sherry Foley provided me with invaluable feedback and suggestions before James touched the manuscript. Jessica is a poet so her contribution around imagery was helpful. Sherry is the author of two Winter Goose thrillers: A Captive Heart andSwitched in Death. She taught me other “suspense tricks.” I can’t emphasize how helpful they were for both Wasp’s Nest and for me as a writer. In terms of plotting, I knew where I was going with this novel. It did feel at times like “seat of your pants” writing, but I advocate getting the story down on paper and then editing afterwards.

What made you decide to make your main character a woman? Has this been challenging? If yes, in what way?

The genesis for the Alabaster character came from a dare. I was talking to a work colleague whom I’ve known for over ten years. Margaret knew that I was writing short stories at the time so she suggested that I try my hand at writing a female character.  The result was a short story entitled “Alabaster.” Yes, it is challenging to write out of gender and I would add that it is also difficult to write from a child’s perspective. I have a deep respect for children’s authors since they have to modulate story and vocabulary to their audience. I don’t think writing from a female point of view is insurmountable. Research can get you the answers. The skill is in transforming the knowledge into believable action and dialogue.

In Book I, it was Rome. Now, it is Boston. In both novels your locations are fleshed out in vivid detail. How important is a sense of location in a story?

In the Roma series I try to make the location a character. We can take our environments for granted. Wasp’s Nest takes place in Boston, the third, fourth, and fifth novels take place in Milan, Naples, and Boston. Cities change all the time: think of Whitman’s Manhattan and New Jersey, T.S. Eliot’s London, and Baudelaire’s Paris. The modern metropolis provides a remarkable backdrop to our individual and social conflicts and pleasures.

How do you keep up with what’s out there in terms of spy gadget technology?

I hope readers don’t think that they are getting Jane Bond. John le Carré Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy proved that spy-craft is a slow game of chess. As I mentioned earlier, I read a lot so I read the geek articles whenever I find them, rummage in the libraries when an idea takes root, but in terms of gadgetry I think I use a remarkable device called the ‘intelligent brain,’ and it happens to belong to a woman.

As it’s the case with book I, there’s a lot of marvellous food description in Wasp’s Nest

Starving is not an option in Italy. How could you not love the food and the attitude of La Dolce Vita?

If you could narrow down the three main elements of a good spy story, what would they be?

Ambiguity. Misdirection. Movement. A story has to move; the pages have to turn. Ambiguity in character and motivation is true to life. Human beings are not selfless creatures; that is why I think altruism is a virtue. One of the joys of a good mystery is watching intelligent people being intelligent.  This is damned difficult to write, since your protagonist has to be smart enough to spot something that neither the other characters nor your readers can see, even though it’s right in front of them.

You also write poetry and short stories, having published many in literary journals. What do you find more enjoyable: working in a poem, a short story or a novel?

Each has its appeal. Poetry is a house with all the necessary language; and by its nature, not often natural language. The short story is an airplane with a short runway and flight is imminent or the plane crashes. The novel is an endurance race, where there are miles to go, numerous paths to take, but you have only so much water and food: use them wisely. For me poetry is intimate and personal. While I enjoy the short-fiction format, I have noticed that what was once acceptable – twenty to fifty pages is now impractical, with most stories clocking in at 5,000 words. Flash or micro fiction is challenging. Is it a story or a vignette? I’ve only had one flash-fiction piece published; it was a 111-word story that I did for a contest for ZOUCH Magazine.

Congratulations on winning first prize in ZOUCH Magazine’s Lit Bit contest. Can you tell us about it?

I was searching for the “calls for submission” web pages and I saw page after page of requests for flash fiction. I felt dismayed but then I thought: What can I tell in a short, SHORT piece? I wrote one sentence that told a hero’s journey. The brevity of the form drew upon my experience in writing poetry.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m almost done writing the fifth book in the Roma Series. I’m trying to find a publisher for a three-volume noir series that I have written. It has two main characters, an American and a British woman, who are part of the American intelligence community. The novel starts in Vienna and continues in McCarthy-era Los Angeles and New York, highlighting the time, the mores, and the dark rivalry between the CIA and FBI.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Write because you love to write. No matter how great you think the writing is, please have someone edit it for you. Respect your reader and try to understand that not everyone will like you, that criticism, while an opinion, is an opportunity for improvement. If you find a writer that you like then write a balanced review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Last but not least – thank you for reading.

This interview originally appeared in Blogcritics

Book Review: Wasp’s Nest by Gabriel Valjan

In this the second installment of his Roma series, author Gabriel Valjan takes secret government analyst Alabaster Black from Rome to Boston to investigate Nasonia Pharmaceutical and its CEO, Cyril Sargent for Rendition, the covert government agency she works for.

Nasonia uses advanced molecular biology and genetic sequencing technology to target human diseases. Sargent, who’s demonstrated lack of transparency in his dealings and unorthodox strategies in the past and who’s named his new controversial venture after a group of wasps, claims that his company is in no way perverting the natural order of things or doing anything unethical. He also claims that his research with wasps might lead to developing a methyl toolkit to use against cancer.

Thus, it is up to Alabaster to figure out what’s really going on and, because of her unnatural pattern recognition ability, she she soon gets hired by Sargent.

While this is going on, Alabaster is still being haunted by her last adventure in Rome in the form of a Bulgarian hit man set on killing her after a price has been put on her head. Old friends and a love interest from book I join in, adding further tension to the story as they uncover a twisted conspiracy.

I really enjoyed reading Wasp’s Nest. In fact, I liked this book better than the first one. Somehow, I was able to feel closer to Alabaster: she’s smart, bold and fearless yet has a soft side that is at times humorous. But mainly, I think it was the whole idea about DNA and wasps that did it for me. The information was fascinating. As Valjan did with Rome in his first book, Boston is fleshed out in vivid detail in this one, to the point where the setting becomes almost like a character. Also, as in the first book, the author goes into detail bringing Italian food to life–to the point where the reader has no other option but to love it. In short, an interesting, entertaining read. Recommended.

Read my interview with the author.

Purchase links:
Amazon Paperback
Barnes & Noble Paperback
Kindle / Nook

This review originally appeared in Blogcritics.

Guest Post & Review: The Inspiration for The Moroni Deception (and no, it wasn’t about torpedoing Mitt Romney), by Jack L. Brody

ImageRecently it seems I’ve been asked, or more accurately, been accused, of writing The Moroni Deception as an attempt to disparage Gov. Romney and hurt his Presidential chances almost as many times as I’ve been asked what inspired me to write the novel.

The first question I have to say makes about as much sense to me as asking Dan Brown if his first two Langdon novels were personal attacks on the Pope.  While some conspiracy-minded readers might want to draw the conclusion (although more often than not it seems to be from people who have not actually read the book) through Mr. Romney’s association with the LDS church, the beliefs and roots of which are explored in The Moroni Deception, that the novel is a personal attack, I would again remind them that I started writing the novel over five years ago.

The idea, as I’ve mentioned previously, was first sparked after reading Jon Krakauer’s Under The Banner of Heaven.  From his book I got a condensed education with regards to the founding and history of the LDS Church–although I would point out that most of the modern day stuff his book dealt with had to do with the FLDS, one of the polygamous offshoots of the Mormon family tree (and which I make a fairly clear distinction between the two branches in my book).

After I saw how much potential there was for weaving in some of the more interesting elements as part of a novel, I did over a full year of additional research.  I will admit that the novel did in fact start out as something completely different.  While still a thriller, the story had to do with an FBI agent conducting a personal investigation into the murder of his fiancee who had grown up as a member of one of the polygamous Mormon offshoots.  Somewhere along the line it morphed into what it mostly is now and the protagonist became an investigative journalist.  This was around the same time Mitt Romney was running against John McCain about 5 years ago and when I came across the “White Horse Prophecy” that I got the idea for the Brockston Ratchford character.

Those things coming together then seemed to start the percolation of a different story headed into an entirely new direction.  The fact that Mr. Romney won the GOP nomination five years later, right around the time I was finally finishing the book, was just dumb luck.  It did, however, seem like the perfect time to release it with all the interest there has been in the Mormon religion over the last several years in our popular culture, rather than waiting another couple of years to try to go the more traditional publishing route, and at a time when there might be far less interest.  So finally, to those who want to go on maintaining that “Brockston Ratchford” is just a veiled reference to Mitt Romney, I would point out that in the novel, Ratchford is described as a charismatic, fiery conservative–three descriptions I have never heard made describing Gov. Romney.


Review of The Moroni Deception:

Jack L. Brody’s The Moroni Deception is an exciting page-turner in the tradition of The DaVinci Code, one that will be relished by fans of suspense thrillers.

The presidential election is just around the corner and it looks as though charismatic Republican candidate and Utah senator Brockston Ratchford is going to win. The fact that his wife has been brutally murdered and his daughter kidnapped has only gained him public sympathy.

However, his wife isn’t the only one whose throat has been cut from ear to ear and whose forehead has been marked with strange symbols. A retired history professor by the name of Martin Koplanski has suffered the same fate, and the fact that he’s the author of a book that apparently doesn’t sit well with the powers that be in the Mormon Church doesn’t look like a coincidence.

New York Times journalist Chenault begins working on the story. With the help of Rachel Potter, a fledgling reporter for the The Salt Lake Tribune, he sets out to investigate the murders. Soon, a dark grim history begins to emerge, one of ancient artifacts, secret societies, and a mysterious prophecy that points to none other than Senator Ratchford.

Who, in fact, is The Prophet? Who is meant to be The Great Restorer? As the clock ticks and the presidential election approaches, the bodies pile up.

I enjoyed this novel immensely. The Moroni Deception is a hell of a ride. The pace is quick, the characters compelling, the stakes high. I really liked Chenault. He’s smart and sympathetic and has a good heart. I especially like that he’s not one of those tortured journalist heroes with a bitter past and prone to drinking. That was refreshing. The ending is surprising and satisfying.

The Moroni Deception is a controversial novel in the same way as The DaVinci Code is. So if you enjoy thrillers with religious and historical undertones, you’ll get a kick out of this one.

Visit the website at
Purchase from Amazon.

Review by Mayra Calvani

Interview with Jack L. Brody, Author of The Moroni Deception

Jack Brody is a writer, ex-military, and an avid traveler. After his Army stint and then deciding to pass on law school, he went to film school, wrote screenplays, and held a number of jobs which ran from everything to working for a newspaper for one day, to film production, to then going into real estate (with at least five others along the way). He’s fascinated by history, politics, and architecture, all of which play a part in his novels (yes, he already has two more in the works). When not writing, he can often be found hiking with his two faithful dogs, occasionally breaking out the old BMW bike for a ride though the mountains, or playing volleyball or bar trivia with his friends. He divides his time between his home in the Southern Appalachians and wherever his passport will take him. After reading Jon Krakauer’s bestselling “Under the Banner of Heaven,” he was inspired to undertake a full year of research in preparation for the novel. Taking what he’d learned, along with a bit of imagination, the result was the conspiracy thriller, The Moroni Deception. Go to for more information about the novel and to read the first chapters for free.

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Jack. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

The Moroni Deception is my first novel. Prior to that I had only written screenplays. I would just add for your readers who are probably not not familiar with my work that The Moroni Deception is a political conspiracy thriller with religious overtones, ala Da Vinci Code, only in this case the Mormon religion is the backdrop.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

The path I took came about as a result of several things coming together. First, I’d heard an interview with writer Barry Eisler (the author of the successful “Rain” series) in which he announced he was going to walk away from the latest six-figure publishing contract that had been offered to publish exclusively for e-Readers. This was also right around the time that Amazon announced that they had sold more books for their Kindle than they had in hardcopy. I also came to the realization that after having spent over five years researching and writing The Moroni Deception, if I were to go the “traditional route”–find an agent, a traditional publisher, etc, –that it could potentially take another two to three years to see the novel released–and that’s best case scenario. So once Gov. Romney got the nomination– because of the rather eerie similarities to the story that takes place in my novel as well as all the recent interest there seems to be in the Mormon religion — that pretty much sealed my decision to directly publish The Moroni Deception and release it through Amazon, Barne’s & Noble, and several others through Visigoth Press, the publishing company I formed with the help of two friends.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

I was obviously quite happy, as well as relieved when I finally finished the novel, because there were times I sometimes wondered if I ever would finish it. Also,seeing it listed on for the first time when it came out was actually pretty cool in itself.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

Visigoth Press issued a nationwide press release that coincided with the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte announcing the release of the book . Since part of the plot deals with a Mormon politician running for President, I thought the timing worked quite well.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

To tell you the truth, I don’t think you can really grow as a writer unless you’re writing, which I haven’t been do much of lately because I’ve been spending so much time on promoting The Moroni Deception. I do know know after looking back at my early drafts, and then later looking at the final product that has since been edited, revised, and rewritten countless times, that I’ve gotten quite a bit better. I also know, though, that I still have a ways to go before I can even think of approaching the writing ability of some of the genre writers I admire like Raymond Chandler, Elmore Leonard, and John Le Carre, but in the mean time I’ll just keep reading their work and writing away.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

I can’t say I’m really surprised, since all businesses like to have a competitive advantage, and publishing is no different. Their competitive advantage of distribution and marketing is still imposing, but it appears to be eroding as digital publishing grows. In fact, I’m a little amazed that more of them don’t have divisions just focused on digital books.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

The first thing is mainly just knowing that you’re an author with a completed novel, which is something relatively few others can lay claim to. But perhaps even more importantly, in the bigger picture, that you had an inspiration and followed it through to it’s conclusion.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

I guess just write what inspires you and hopefully it will entertain, inform, and inspire others.

Visit the website at
Purchase from Amazon.

The Secret Life of Worker Bees by Cozy Mystery Author Kim Smith

Our special guest today is Kim Smith, author of the cozy mystery novel, Buried Angel.  She is also the radio hostess for her own radio show, Introducing Writers! on Blog Talk Radio.  If you’d like to find out more about her, visit her website at

The Secret Life of Worker Bees

Many authors are not full-time at what they love to do. They are only part-timers at the writing game. The rest of the time, they go to a nine-to-five job where they put on the clothes of a whole other person.

That would be me.

In my daytime hours, Monday through Friday, I am what is known as the IT Supervisor, and in some worlds I am called a Network Administrator,  but in reality, I just hold down the fort and troubleshoot things and tear my hair out when they don’t work right.

Take the day the network died.

Buried Angel by Kim Smith (click on cover to order online)

I suddenly began getting hollers from all over the office about not being able to get into files. Then, I couldn’t get a printer to respond. Immediately, I went to my network board and began working. It didn’t take long to know that somewhere at some place, things had begun to fall apart. Soon, nothing worked right.

This is what we all know in the IT world as a day from Hades. Nothing frustrates more than a computer system that won’t work. I struggled through for a few hours trying different this and different that before admitting that I was not an island and I needed help.

I called up my dear friend who is a very excellent technician and he came out to see if he could help me figure out the problem.

See? Even worker bees need help sometimes!

It didn’t take him long (with the assistance of a laptop, and some fancy software) to determine that my network was totally dead.

“Dead?” I gasped.

“Ding dong, the witch is dead dead,” he replied.

We began assessing things that had happened during the morning before this terrible disaster had befallen. I explained that I had moved some old equipment out and had tried to untangle a few cables. Nothing major.

“Aha!” says he.

“What aha?” asked I.

“This aha,” he replied. Then he pulled a network cable out that was disconnected.

“What’s that?” I eyed it.

“Your problem,” he said, plugging it in.

Surely enough, the network began responding and things picked up nicely. In a few short moments, life was good.

Apparently, I had disconnected the network from its main source of power. The wall outlet.

Sheesh. And for this, I give up the real love of my life. Writing. Yes, every day I say goodbye to my WIP and tootle off to be subjected to such humiliation.

There oughta be a law!

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