What if you spent a year planning a party, sent out the invitations, and nobody came? For the past year, that has been the scenario for writers and readers. Each writer’s plan was simple: write the book and go on tour launching it. Readers looked forward to the party aspect of interacting with authors at bookstores, libraries, and conferences. Then, on March 14, 2020, the world shut down.
That weekend, I was in Washington, D.C. at a family function, not knowing it would be a year or more until I saw those loved ones again. Before arriving in Washington, I had been on a whirlwind tour for newly released Three Treats Too Many, the third book in Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series. The tour had taken me to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis, Fairhope, New York, and Atlanta in two months. More stops were planned for April through August, but they were canceled.
I, like many authors, had to pivot. We spoke to groups or participated in panels virtually. Authors learned to sit up straight, use microphones or earphones, adjust lighting and backgrounds, and provide bookplates instead of only bookmarks. Using Zoom, Crowdcast, or other platforms was a good substitute, but not the same as live interaction with readers and bookstore owners. Reaction times were different, especially for webinar platforms where readers could only communicate by leaving a chat message.
Although readers still establish links between themselves and the characters in books they choose to read, experimentation with new authors dropped. Why? Housebound, people found comfort spending time with familiar characters and scenes that brought back good memories.
Four Cuts Too Many, the fourth Sarah Blair book releases May 25. In it, Sarah, who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, has no desire to learn knife skills from her friend, sous chef and adjunct college instructor, Grace Winston. But, when Grace’s department chair is found dead with one of Grace’s knives in his neck, Sarah is forced to sharpen her own skills to uncover the elusive killer. The premise and the book are fun, especially for a summer beach, airplane, or bath read, but how to launch it to the most people is a dilemma.
It is a problem that is not mine alone (although it sometimes feels like it). Most authors with release dates that would offer readers the perfect summer book are finding that stores are still not having large in person book parties nor are the usual conferences taking place. Consequently, we’re planning individual virtual store appearances or panels, we’re increasing our number of Facebook parties and group take-overs, more blogs are being written, and we’re hoping for word-of-mouth help.
Whether it is Four Cuts Too Many or any other book you read, review it, and tell your friends about it. Publishers look at sales and numbers, so it is important that readers and writers work together if favorite series and characters are to be survive the pandemic.
I know I can’t wait to see you in person again, but in the meantime, do you have any ideas how you’d like authors to connect with you? I’ve got my pen and paper ready to take notes.
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series, which debuted with One Taste Too Many on December 18, 2018. She also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories, including Anthony and Agatha nominated “The Night They Burned Ms. Dixie’s Place,” have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies including Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, and Mystery Weekly. Debra is president of Sisters in Crime’s Guppy Chapter, serves on SinC’s national board, and is president of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America.
Find out more about Debra at any of the following links:
(Hover over cover for buy links. Click on cover for more information.)
Forgiving Mariela Camacho: A Kurchenko & Gonzalves Mystery, Book 3 of a series
by A.J. Sidransky
Black Opal Books 2021
When a tenant reports a terrible odor coming from apartment 7-F, detectives Kurchenko and Gonzalves know it can only mean one thing: a dead body. But despite all of their training and experience dealing with crime on New York City’s streets, the detectives aren’t prepared for what they are about to encounter.
Sidranky’s first book in this three-part series, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, (reviewed by this writer on December 22, 2020), introduced us to Maximo: his harrowing escape out of Nazi Europe, life as a refugee in the Dominican Republic, and the horrific event that forces him to flee to New York City. In book two, Forgiving Stephen Redmond, (see my review of January 22, 2021), Stephen grapples with his feelings toward his father Maximo, his own dark past, and eventual self-discovery.
In this third and final book of the series, Forgiving Mariela Camacho, Kurchenko and Gonzalves take center stage as they discover how closely their Russian and Dominican lives intersect. Now, more than ever, their partnership will be tested and challenged. How well do they really know each other? How deep is their trust in the other? Solving the case and saving the lives of those they love will depend on how well they can answer these questions.
In Forgiving Mariela Camacho, the most powerful of the three novels, Sidransky weaves a tale of passionate once-in-a-life-time-love, deep-rooted hate, the self-debasement dire circumstances impose upon the most pure and, above all, how essential forgiveness is to the human heart.
The author expertly connects the lives of the seemingly disparate characters and safely carries us to a masterful and satisfying conclusion: the redeeming power of love.
As one of the characters states, “We each have our own destiny.” Sidransky’s novel will make you ask, “What is mine?”
Join us next month on March 22nd for an interview with A.J. Sidransky. You don’t want to miss it!
Forgiving Stephen Redmond: A Kurchenko & Gonzalves Mystery, Book 2 of a series
By A.J. Sidransky
Black Opal Books 2021
Stephen Redmond never understood his late father, Maximo Rothman, or the mysterious ‘other life’ he never spoke about. He considers that maybe, like the changing neighborhood, his dwindling religious community, and the old ways that are disappearing, he should let go of the past and move forward.
But when Detectives Kurchenko and Gonzalves arrive to discuss the dead body found sealed in the wall of a building his father co-owned, Stephen realizes that the past has a will of its own and an iron grip. Shaken by the news of such a gruesome discovery, and knocked off balance by a murky memory he often wondered whether it was real or imagined, Stephen drags himself back through the past forty years in search of the truth. But if and when he finds the truth, what will he do with it?
Sidranky’s first book in this series, Forgiving Maximo Rothman, (reviewed by this writer on December 22, 2020), introduced us to Stephen’s father Maximo: his harrowing escape out of Nazi Europe, life as a refugee in the Dominican Republic, the horrific event that forces him to flee to New York City, and his attempt at creating a better life for his son.
In this second novel, we find Maximo’s son coming to terms with his father’s secret life, and facing the buried ghosts of his own past actions, as he tries to heal the broken pieces of his heart in the hope of finding a peaceful and blessed life.
Forgiving Stephen Redmond is a moving and memorable mystery that touches on themes of the relationship between fathers and sons, confronting a past that won’t let go, guilt, love, learning how to forgive others, and above all, the importance of forgiving ourselves.
Forgiving Stephen Redmond will touch your heart!
The Bethlehem Writers Group, LLC (BWG), is a community of mutually supportive fiction and nonfiction authors based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The members are as different from each other as their stories. BWG also publishes quality fiction through their online literary journal, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and their award-winning A Sweet, Funny, and Strange Anthology series.
Each anthology has an overall theme—broadly interpreted—but includes a variety of genres. All but the first anthology include stories from the winner(s) of The Bethlehem Writers Short Story Award.
Their first anthology, A Christmas Sampler: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Holiday Tales (2009), won two Next Generation Indie Book Awards: Best Anthology and Best Short Fiction.
Released December 1, 2020, the latest title in A Sweet, Funny and Strange Anthology series is Fur, Feathers, and Scales: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Animal Tales.
The award-winning “Sweet, Funny, and Strange” series of anthologies from the Bethlehem Writers Group, continues with this collection of twenty-five tales about real, legendary, or imaginary animals. From snakes to ducks to unicorns, there are tales here to match any mood, provide a chuckle, or warm a heart.
Among our tales, Peter Barbour recounts a legend in “Why Bats Live in Caves,” Jerome W. McFadden asks the question of what animal to choose to be in “Recycled,” A. E. Decker shares an appreciation of cephalopods in “Tipping Point,” Ralph Hieb imagines an unconventional pet in “Buttons,” and Diane Sismour, in “Critter,” reveals that mules are not the only equines that can have a stubborn streak.
In addition, we are happy to present the winning stories from the 20 I 9 and 2020 Bethlehem Writers Roundtable Short Story Awards. Angela Albertson, our 20I9 winner, shares her heartfelt “Oranges and Roses,” and our 2020 winner, Brett Wolff, gives us a good laugh in “Hubbard Has a Fancy Bra.”
This eclectic assemblage of stories includes terrific tales from beloved BWG authors including Courtney Annicchiarico, Jeff Baird, Jodi Bogert, Marianne H. Donley, DT Krippene, Emily P. W. Murphy, Christopher D. Ochs, Dianna Sinovic, Kidd Wadsworth, Paul Weidknecht, Carol L. Wright, and Will Wright.
So cuddle up with your favorite pet-real or imaginary. No matter. You’ll find just the right story to share.
BWG is working on their Seventh anthology, An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue.
In connection with this anthology, they are hosting The Bethlehem Writers 2021 Short Story Award.
The 2021 Short Story Award will open on January 1, 2021. The theme will be An Element of Mystery (broadly interpreted).
BWG is seeking never-published short stories of 2,000 words or fewer. First Place will receive $250 and publication in their upcoming anthology: An Element of Mystery: Sweet, Funny, and Strange Tales of Intrigue or in Bethlehem Writers Roundtable.
The final judge of the 2021 Short Story Award is New York Times best-selling author Charlaine Harris.
With the recent launch of The Collectors, I experienced the same fine emotion I always feel when a book is shared with readers and reviewers. To me, each book is a like a daughter, stepping off the porch barefoot, a bit disheveled, but grinning—perhaps smirking—as she heads out into the real world. As I watch her head on up the road with her battered suitcase and tousled hair, I wish her all the best, confident that I have loved her and done my very best to raise her well. We’ve had our ups and downs, disagreements and arguments, but this was always in the spirit of helping her become the best that she can be.
As always, I hope her journey is good and interesting, just before the screen door slams and I head to my back office, where another young one is waiting to be born.
This is why when I’m asked about having a favorite Danser novel, the answer is always no. How can you, and why would you ever favor one darling child over another?
All the best,
The Danser Novels
Greg Jolley earned a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of San Francisco and lives in the very small town of Ormond Beach, Florida. When not writing, he researches historical crime, primarily those of the 1800s. Or goes surfing.
Publisher: BHC Press
December 15, 2020
Pierce Danser is on the hunt for his soon-to-be ex-wife, the actress Pauline Place, who’s disappeared from the Black Island film set in the heat swarmed waters off the Mexican coast. A wealthy “collector” with a black heart and dangerous, evil mind has kidnapped her, planning a forced marriage to complete his manage of twisted museum pieces. As Pierce starts down the winding, dark, and deadly path in pursuit, his journey is a roller coaster through a horror show. No matter the grisly and dangerous obstacles, he is determined to rescue Pauline, even if it means the loss of his own life.
The clock is ticking, his resources are slim and he’s up against a man of great means as well as a twisted, cruel vision.
“Welcome to the film set, Mr. Kiharazaka. Please mind your step, we’re having a problem with vermin.”
The tall, thin man, fresh from Kyoto, adjusted his stride, placing each step of his spacesuit boots gingerly.
“I’m Rolf. Can I call you Zaka?” the assistant director went on.
“Please, no,” Mr. Kiharazaka replied demurely.
“Will we be going weightless? It was in the original scene.”
“We’re woking on that, yes.”
“A joke. Sort of.”
A few yards away, green gaffing tape marked the edge of the darkened film set. Rolf spoke into her headset and the lights came up, revealing the interior of the spacecraft: the complex helm and seating for the crew. The second set—the crew table and galley kitchen—was half-lit in the distance.
Mr. Kiharazaka stared with unreserved delight. The crew had accurately replicated the 1990s television series Tin Can’s two most famous locations.
Members of the film crew were already on the set, at their places among the equipment; lights, extended boom mics, and various cameras, some dollied and some shoulder-held. Mr. Kiharazaka had to rotate stiffly in his spacesuit, turning his helmet, visor up, to watch the young, professional film crew. He nodded to some and spoke to none. For the most part, these serious professionals looked right through him, focused on their craft.
“Please step in, Zaka. We’d like you to feel comfortable in both locations.”
“Where is the cast? The Robbins family?”
“Soon enough. Please.” Rolf extended her hand and Zaka crossed the green tape and stepped into the helm, noting that the flooring was white painted plywood. With the flight helmet on, the voices about the set were muted. Zaka stared at the helm, admiring, but not touching, the multiple displays. He stood back of Captain Robbins’s helm chair, taking in all the exacting details of the complex spacecraft controls. Easing between the captain and copilot chair, he turned to Rolf with his white gloved hand out to the second chair, asked, “May I?”
Rolf gave him her buttery professional smile.
“Captain, permission to man the helm?” Zaka asked.
Rolf rolled her eyes, up into the complex scaffolding above. The client was already in role, using the famous and familiar dialogue from the Tin Can series. Since none of the cast was yet on set, Rolf answered for Matt Stuck, the sod of an actor who played Captain Robbins.
“Aye, mate. Take thar helm,” she spoke the next well-known line with a grimace.
Zaka bowed to her voice and twisted around into the copilot’s chair.
She looked on as Zaka began the familiar series of taps and changes on the right side of the helm. She could hear him identifying each click and adjustment he made. He was doing a good job mimicking the terse, focused voice of copilot Sean Robbins, but his inflections were clearly Japanese.
The director, Rose Daiss, entered the soundstage, crossed to the set, and for once didn’t trip on the snakes of cables. She wobbled her large rear into the La-Z Boy with “Director” stenciled on the back. Her nickname was “Bottles” and never used in her presence—it was a reference to the many times she had washed up. Her pudgy face was nip-and-tuck stretched, her skin was rough, but rouged well. She did have good hair.
The director’s personal assistants entered the soundstage and roamed to their places just back of the cameras. They donned headsets and leisurely took up their positions, standing deferentially to Bottles’s side, their faces lit by the glow of their tablets.
Rolf shouted for status among the film’s crews, and they called back equally loud. Lighting, boom mics, and cameras leaned in on the set. Mr. Zaka climbed from the helm and walked back into the spacecraft along the equipment bays on the left wall—the right wall of equipment didn’t exist, providing the view for one of the many cameras. He tapped a brief series on the wall panel and the air lock door opened with a gasp. He stepped through, the door closing at his heels, and crossed the short area of soundstage to the side entrance of the crew and kitchen set. Zaka took in every detail of the reproduced Tin Can galley as he moved carefully through the room. He eased himself into his role and the chair assigned to Ruth Robbins, the flight crew’s matriarch.
The director shouted at her assistants, barking orders and questions, sounding semi-lucid. Rose’s drug-addled, fast-clipped voice received intimidated replies. She was enjoying their pale, cowering expressions while chasing two lines of thought, a mixture of movie-making aesthetics and redundant direction. Her face was beading with drug sweat on her upper lip and brow.
“Where’s my cast?” Rose bellowed, finishing the tirade. That done, she promptly nodded off, delighting Rolf, who then inherited the director’s role.
Zaka was exploring the many displays embedded in the galley table, trying to ignore the shouting.
“Heat it up,” Rolf instructed her underling
The assistant typed a series of brief commands on his tablet and the script dialogue for Ruth Robbins—whom Zaka had paid dearly to portray—appeared. The script was scroll ready and at an angle on the galley table that couldn’t be seen by the cameras.
Rolf heard the cast crossing to the set, a scuffing of moon boots and voices approaching from the soundstage. A sweeping flashlight beam guided their way. The cast moved into the back glow from the lights on the set. Rolf pressed the inside of her cheek between her teeth and bit down. Most of the original cast had been hired or persuaded to appear in the remake of the famous season seven-ending cat fight scene. The brawl between the Robbins’ daughters was nominally, impotently, refereed by the only member of the flight crew who was not a member of the family: the handsome, irreverent, and sociopathic engineer, Greer Nails.
Twenty-two years had been most unkind to the once-famous family members. Greer Nails appeared overinflated; the penchant for food and wine, and dessert, over the past years of dimming celebrity had taken their toll. His formerly idolized face was jowled, reddened, and fat. His spacesuit looked like a white dirigible.
The other cast members were naked save their space helmets. Time and gravity and overindulgence had also taken a toll on their bodies. Greer Nails was the lone holdout from nudity, and with obese good reason.
The scene that Zaka had chosen from the menu provided by the studio had cost him a breathless $3.7 million. An additional $1.3 million was invoiced when he selected the option off the Premiere menu for the cast to be nude except for space helmets. He had expressed his desire to be part of the famous scene’s reenactment, in the role of Ruth Robbins, the space family matriarch. Most of his role was to be aghast at the start of a violent family shouting match and brawl. Later, he would be able to view the vignette time and again, for all eternity, receiving sole ownership of the footage of this and the other short scene as part of the package he had paid for.
Zaka watched his castmates approach, trying to keep his eyes on their helmets, not their nakedness. He was delighted and light headed with his proximity to the famous—the real flesh instead of celluloid, but their memorized faces were distorted by their helmets.
Nods were used in lieu of greetings. They had met during rehearsal earlier in the day. Places were taken, and Rolf reviewed the lighting and camera placements.
The first scene was succinctly re-rehearsed. This was of little use to Zaka, who had the script committed to memory. But the rehearsal helped him dissolve some of his lighter-than-air headiness. The rest of the cast drolly joined the read and walk through, their acting marked by a blend of boredom, professionalism, and chemicals.
Zaka was delighted. Here he was, a real actor with an important part in the infamous scene’s reenactment. It was all he could to not giggle. He somehow found the ability to maintain Ruth Robbins’s dithering mothering role.
Julianne, the slutty smart sister, stepped past Greer and pantomimed the jerk-off gesture that would set off her sibling, “Cy,” as in Cyborg. In the television series, Cy had been Greer Nail’s budding romantic interest.
Zaka was enthralled, but also concerned. He had paid for Captain Robbins to sit at the head of the galley table, and he was nowhere to be seen.A booming, authoritative voice carried from the back of the soundstage.
“Welcome to Tin Can Two, Mr. Kiharazaka. You are certainly star material, mm-hmm!” Fatima Mosley called out.
Fatima was the studio head, noticeably short and burdened by a massive chest that gave her stride a wobble. She was dressed in an elegant and trendy style, including a beret. She had a titanium leg, the original lost to disease. The metal ratcheted when her knee articulated.
“Zaka’s doing a great job.” Rolf called over, not turning from the rehearsal.
“It’s Kiharazaka, please,” Zaka politely corrected Rolf again.
“Actually, it’s Ruth Robbins,” Fatima smiled, causing her cheeks to fill and her eyes to disappear.
Zaka flushed with pride at being addressed as Ruth.
“All is well, mm-hmm?” Fatima asked Zaka.
“Yes, yes. Might I ask? Is Captain Robbins ready? And son Sean Robbins?”
“Why, here’s Sean now,” Fatima answered, her crunched face dissolving downward, revealing her wise, ferret eyes. She didn’t explain Captain Robbins’s absence, and Zaka showed good manners by not repeating his question.
Sure enough, Sean Robbins, the Tin Can’s copilot appeared from the shadows of the soundstage, naked save his helmet and boots, looking slightly sedated—well, a lot sedated. His birdlike wrists hung limp.
There was a white worm of drool creeping from his face, now ravaged by years of amphetamine addiction. He was escorted by two of the bigger grips, who held his scarecrow thin arms and pulled him along, his moon boots sketching the soundstage flooring.
The sisters, Cy and Julianne, did not look pleased to be reanimating their once famous daughter roles, no matter the money. They were clearly drugged to an agitated condition and firing foul slurs, even before the shoot began. Julianne had a wrench tattoo on her naked, once-perfect boob. Cy’s sensual body was scarecrow thin, as though drawn of all blood.
The grips assisted Sean Robbins into the hot lights and seated him at the galley table. He opened one eye and panned it across the cameras and lights aimed on him, then barfed into his own lap.
“Unpleasant, mm-hmm,” Fatima observed.
Zaka did the brave thing—he stayed in role, putting on his best Mrs. Robbins bemused and maternal expression.
“Nice,” Rolf encouraged him.
One of the grips wiped up Sean’s vomit. The other cleaned off his chest. Sean stood up and looked on, patting one of the men on the top of the head.
Rolf called out, “I have the set!”
From the film crews came sharp, short calls, and the boom mics lowered overhead.
“Quiet, quiet!” Rolf delighted in her temporary directing role.
“Lock it up,” she hollered.
“Places,” she shouted to the cast.
A young woman appeared with an electric slate, shouted a brief stream of incomprehensible code, clacked the device, and disappeared.
Zaka did well, not looking to Captain Robbins’s empty seat at the head of the table.
Rolf yelled, “Action,” and the movie magic began.
For Zaka, there was a spiritual lift, even as he stayed in his rehearsed movements. He allowed himself to experience the elation, but stayed in the role of motherly concern.
Julianne entered the scene from the door to the helm. She moved behind Sean, who had a line of dialogue but missed. Staring at Cy, she stepped to Greer’s side and hefted the weight of his groin. Cy transitioned fast and smooth, from agog to madness. She fired forward and attacked, going for the smirk on her sister’s face with a clawed left hand and the space cup in the other.
As scripted, Mrs. Robbins took one step back from her end of the table, her expression alarmed and offended.
Greer was looking down at his groped crotch like he was just then realizing he had one. He leaned back as Cy collided with Julianne, and the brawl exploded with screams and nails and fists. The two careened off the galley counter and shelving, swinging and connecting blows.
If Captain Robbins had been at the head of the table, he would have moved fast to separate the two, looking sad and determined and disappointed. Instead, a bit of ad lib occurred, the two brawlers tumbling low in the shot, fists and knees swinging and pumping. Greer performed the ad lib, turning to the mayhem with a slack expression and barfing on himself again.
Mrs. Robbins went into action. She stomped manfully to her scuffling daughters, arms shooing, intending to break up the chaos on the spaceship floor. She was two strides away when Greer stepped out and pushed her back. Mrs. Robbins resisted, flailing her arms, eyes wide with alarm. Greer held her true. The fight continued, the sisters grunting and gasping. Hair was grabbed, a low fist was thrown. Julianne coughed in pain. Cy let out a cry, “You bitch!”
That was Zaka’s cue. He looked away, eyes upward and spoke the season-ending line, “My daughters. The sluts.”
“Cut. Cut. Cuu. Cuush . . .” Rose Daiss, the replaced director, called out in a trailing off slur. She was ignored.
The brawl continued. A mangy rat crossed the plywood set boards, scurrying away from the fisticuffs. The two beefy grips stepped to the edge of the set, poised to separate the sisters. The brawl looked real enough to them.
Rolf took the director’s prerogative, screaming at everyone.
One storm, eight authors, eight heartwarming stories.More info →
When disaster strikes
A Colton comes to the rescue