Thursday, October 17, 2019


According to the Pew Research center, 26% of those who had read a book in the past 12 months said that what they enjoyed most was learning, gaining knowledge, and discovering information, while 12% said they liked the entertainment value of reading, the drama of good stories, the suspense of watching a good plot unfold.  That was back in 2012 when the world was a simpler place to live.  I suspect that 99% of people buying Jeanine Pirro’s book, “Liars, Leakers and Liberals,” are conservatives who want reinforcement on their conservative philosophy.  Just as 99% of people who bought Michelle Obama’s book, “Becoming,” were political progressives.  Unfortunately, people don’t buy books to discover another political point of view.  They want comfort in knowing their point of view is the right one. 

This brings me to people who read thrillers.  I truly believe (without research to back me) that people read thrillers because they want to see justice prevail.  This is true of conservatives and liberals alike.  Everyone wants to see the hero overcome obstacles to save the day.  Why?  Because our lives have become so stressful and so unfair and so partisan that we can’t see justice ourselves.  That bully at school or work is not going away and there seems to be no consequences anymore.  That’s where fiction comes in to play.  A good writer has the ability to get you invested in the protagonist and watch him or her face challenges, just like you.  They face obstacles and bullies and sinister villains who antagonize them and cause pain.  We can sympathize, even empathize with their challenges.  But all the while we are convinced the protagonist will get his/her revenge.  It may be as simple as overcoming these obstacles without ever causing harm to the villain, but more times than not, the bully gets theirs. 

In today’s political climate, everyone has been affected by the barrage of media outlets inundating us about the White House and Washington’s behavior.  The Trump supporter will relate their hero’s retribution as if the villain is a liberal.  The resister will see this as an affront to the Trump presidency. Either way, thrillers allow us resolution where the real world will not.

The reason why movie theaters are stacked with superheroes is because we know who will win and yet we still show up to see how it happens.  If you already know Ironman will succeed, why bother going?  Yet we do, don’t we?  It’s the same with books.  Readers want the challenge.  They want our protagonist to face an uphill battle because it makes the win so much more enjoyable, doesn’t it?  It gives you a sense of justice prevailing.  Something you rarely find on the cable news, or in newspapers or social media.  It’s cathartic. 

One of the reasons I’ve never given my Nick Bracco character a political persuasion is because I don’t want my readers to choose sides.  We’re all on the same team.  Right versus wrong.  It should be as simple as that.  Why reminder us of our differences when we could team up against the challenges we face together. 

Bottom line, people read thrillers for entertainment and to escape the real world.  Because right about now, that’s a really good place to be.    

Monday, March 11, 2019


Peter Leonard is a stellar writer.  I know, I’ve read five of his books and have never been disappointed.  His work is taut and tense and humorous, sometimes all at once.  He takes you on a ride and you don’t really care where it’s going as long as he’s at the helm.  It’s the main reason I contacted him for a quick interview.  His latest thriller is titled, “Raylan Goes to Detroit,” where he breathes new life into U.S. Marshall, Raylan Givens, a character who his father Elmore Leonard created back in the early ‘90’s.  It’s the same Raylan Givens who was the main character of the FX hit series, “Justified.”

I mention his famous father with apprehension, because Peter’s writing acumen is phenomenal all by itself and he deserves more recognition for his body of work.  If you like gritty thrillers with realistic characters who speak like real people, then you need to get one of his books.  Start anywhere, they all stand alone by themselves.  Now here’s Peter:      

1-Raylan Goes to Detroit was so satisfying because Raylan reacts exactly how you would imagine.  Did you feel any pressure to keep his voice and actions within the framework of his past experiences?

I felt very comfortable stepping into Raylan’s boots. He was like an old friend. And yes, I thought it was important to keep Raylan's sound and attitude from Elmore's previous novels: Pronto and Riding the Rap and his short story: Fire in the Hole.

2- Forgive me if this is too personal, but your novels are so proficient, your father must’ve been very proud of your accomplishments.  Was there ever a time that you wished your last name was Shlotsky?     

Being Elmore’s son was a blessing and a curse. Probably more of a curse.  Every review I received early on compared my first couple books to his forty-five. It was frustrating and unfair but that’s the way it is. However, that kind of negativism motivated me to get better. And now I’m often favorably compared to my father.

3-No matter what the plotline, your readers are led through your stories by interesting characters doing interesting things.  These are true page-turners.  Do you have to know where you’re going?  Or is it all by feel?

I start with a character in a situation and build from there. I know how the book begins and often where it’s going to end. But I don’t know how I’m going to get from point A to point B. I try to keep the reader off balance. I try to create a plot/story that isn’t obvious. If I’m not surprised the reader won’t be.

4-I suspect that you would write thrillers even if you never were paid a dime for them.  Is that a helpful criteria for an effective novelist? 

I might have written a couple books without being paid. But I’ve always worked for money.
And writing a book, although satisfying and entertaining, takes a lot of time and effort.

5- What future projects do you have lined up?

I’ve just finished a novel called Sweet Dreams. The main character, Kate McGraw is a US marshal and the lone female on the alpha male fugitive task force in Detroit.  The character is based on a female marshal I rode with for a few days. I think it’s my best work to date.

Monday, February 11, 2019


This is the end of one of my favorite books, "The Lion's Game," by Nelson Demille, so if you have any intention of reading it, stop right now.  Basically it just confirms that the good guys survive.  So, anyway, after 900 pages of thrilling drama, the protagonists John Cory and Kate Mayfield finally escape a harrowing encounter with a viscous Libyan assassin, nicknamed the Lion.  Here is the final scene where they set up the sequel very well:   

Gene pointed to the distant treeline and said, “We found fifty-two shell casings on the ground.  I’ve never heard of so many shots fired by a sniper at two people.  That guys really wanted what he couldn’t have.”
I think he was telling us that the game wasn’t over.
The treeline was making me a little nervous, so we moved on. Gene showed us where Ted Nash had been found on a riding trail, less that a hundred meters from the VORTAC, with a single round through his forehead.  I have no idea where Ted was going, or what he was doing there in the first place, and we’d never know.

Considering we were on our honeymoon, I’d suggested we’d seen enough, and we went back to the ranch house, had a Coke, ate a few jelly beans, and moved on to points north.
We had left Kate’s cell phone back in New York, not wanting any calls from friends or assassins on our honeymoon.  But just as a precaution, we both brought our guns along.
You never know.

Thursday, February 7, 2019


I'm going to update this blog regularly with classic thriller scenes.  These are scenes that are either tense, funny, or in the case below, both.  I may even begin a poll with my readers voting on their favorites.  You can leave comments with suggestions and I'll definitely add them to the mix.
Below is a scene from the opening chapter of Elmore Leonard's Freaky Deaky.  Chris and Jerry are bomb technicians who were called to the house of a known mobster who's sitting on a chair with a bomb underneath.  Chris and Jerry left the mobster alone inside, screaming at them to fix his problem.  They're walking to get their equipment to diffuse the bomb, when they strike up a conversation about Chris's wife.  Enjoy:  

“What it is,” Chris said, “Phyllis says things even some guys would like to but don’t have the nerve.”
“Yeah, ‘cause she’s a woman,” Jerry said, “she doesn’t have to worry about getting hit in the mouth.”
Chris shook his head. “I don’t mean putting anybody down or being insulting.  Like, we’re at a restaurant, one of those trendy places the waiter introduces himself?  This twinkie comes up to the table, he goes, ‘Hi, I’m Wally. I’m going to be your waitperson this evening.  Can I get you a cocktail?’ Phyllis goes, ‘Wally, when we’ve finished dinner, you gonna take us out and introduce us to the dishwasher?’  She goes, ‘We really don’t care what your name is as long as you’re here when we want something.’”
Jerry grinned, adjusting his Tiger baseball cap.  “That’s good, I can appreciate that.  Those guys kill me.”
They drew on their cigarettes.  Chris looked at his, about to say something, working the butt between his thumb and second finger to flick it away, and the French Doors and some of the windows on this side of the house exploded out in a billow of gray smoke tinged yellow.  They stood looking at the shattered doorway, at the smoke and dust thinning, settling over glass and wood fragments, shreds of blackened green-and-white debris on the patio, silence ringing in their ears now.  After a few moments they started down the drive, let the people waiting in front know they were okay.
Chris said, “Yeah, the twink comes up to the table, says he’s gonna be our waitperson.  But you have to understand, Phyllis wasn’t trying to be funny, she was serious. That’s the way she is.”

Monday, November 26, 2018



                                                                  A Touch of Terror
                                                                        Chapter 1 

            Every time the bomb rattled in Dane Kanter’s trunk, icy neurons fired through his bloodstream. 
            With each sharp turn in the road, his heart stuttered with anticipation.  He winced at every creak from the back of his Honda Accord.  He’d been gripping the steering wheel so tightly that his arms ached. 
             It was pure greed that had put him in this situation, driving up the Pacific Coast Highway at five in the morning, heading toward Los Angeles.  A college dorm prank that turned into the scariest drive of his life.
            Why had he ever considered taking the envelope from that stranger in Tijuana?
            Traffic was light on this portion of the winding road, but his brain throbbed with every  turn.  The ocean waves peeked out of the morning fog to his left as the sun seeped through the tree line to his right. 
            A fine mist was spitting on his windshield as he manually engaged his wipers every thirty or forty seconds.  The road glistened and he felt his tires hydroplane on the sharp turns.  Everything seemed to conspire against him.  Even the city planning wouldn’t cooperate.  His gas gauge had been on empty for twenty miles, but this stretch of quiet road lacked a gas station. 
Just trees and asphalt and the continuous threat of an explosion to keep him company.
            Dane kept imagining ways to rectify the situation  .  He couldn’t abandon the car, the Mexican had made sure of that.  A detonation device was strapped to his chest and the bomb would explode should he move even thirty feet from the driver’s seat.  A code-locked keypad secured the chest strap and only one person knew the proper code to detach the strap.  One wrong sequence of numbers and Dane’s worries would disintegrate.  Along with Dane.
            The ”low gas” warning light blinked on and he almost    puked at the sight.  He was being monitored with a GPS device and a miniature camera was attached to his dashboard for surveillance.  A gas stop might be tolerated, but a prolonged stoppage like running out of gas on the side of the road would only expedite the explosion.
            Plus there was the deadline.  He’d been given eight hours to get to his destination.  At eight hours and one minute he became extinct.  There had to be a way of getting rid of this device without exploring the next world, but nerves and rain and wet roads kept him focused on just one thing.  Get to the drop and have the detonator removed safely. 
            He wiped a patch of sweat from his forehead, then squinted as the road curved around a sharp bend and he saw flashing lights swirl against the trees to his right.
            “Shit,” he muttered.  Less than a mile ahead was a road block, with white and green SUV’s parked on each side of a single-lane bottleneck of cars.  He thought about turning, but saw it was Border Patrol vehicles.  It was rare to see a road block this far north.  But Dane was a pasty white teenager with blond surfer hair.  He should be of no interest to them.  Unless he acted suspicious. 
            He tried to control his breathing as he approached the line of cars waiting for inspection.  Even in the morning chill, his hands were clammy around the steering wheel.  There were three cars ahead of him; the first was waved through by the green-uniformed Border Patrol Officer after he bent to inspect the contents of the small sedan.  The line crept forward as each car received a quick glance and a wave of an arm. 
            Finally, it was Dane’s turn.
            With his window open, he rolled the car forward, expecting the officer to wave him through without stopping. But the guy held up a hand and Dane nearly dropped a load in his pants.  That’s when he looked at his side view mirror and spotted the German Shepherd sniffing at the back of his car.  Another officer was pulling on the leash to restrain the dog.
            “Are you carrying any weapons with you?” the officer asked.
            The question surprised Dane and he stammered.  “N-no, of course not.”
            The dog was sniffing so hard Dane could hear him puffing at the base of his car.
            “Would you please pull the car over to the side of the road?” the officer asked.
            That was it.  There was no chance he could survive an inspection.  And the Mexican was hearing everything.  Seeing everything.  He could detonate the bomb remotely at any moment. 
Dane’s heart pounded like a jackhammer. 
            There was no choice.
            He slammed on the accelerator.  

Thursday, August 16, 2018


David Baldacci is a tireless advocate for adult literacy.  He and his wife Michelle have raised millions for the cause.  It’s hard to imagine anyone so devoted, but it makes sense.  His Amos Decker and Will Robie series are the epitome of literature.  Sure, he’s a thriller writer, but the cadence in which he writes is very rhythmic.  You can get lost in his stories and almost forget there’s a plot to pay attention to.
Baldacci was also way ahead of his time.  His 2009 thriller, The Whole Truth, foreshadows the fact that the Internet has made it possible for disinformation to sound so convincing and to spread so fast that facts become irrelevant.  This was a decade ago.
“It's ironic,” Baldacci told Bookpage Magazine. “I think we have less truth today than we had 50 years ago," he says, adding, "You can go onto social media and throw out percentages and figures and they can be a total lie, but people believe them."
In The Whole Truth, Nicholas Creel is the head of the world's largest defense contractor and he hires a "perception management" company—the so-called PMers don't just spin facts, they make stuff up—to re-ignite Cold War fears about the Red Menace, driving nations toward the edge of WWIII.  Ten years ago this could’ve been considered farcical had a master writer like Baldacci not delivered the story with a deft touch.

The disinformation campaign that propels The Whole Truth begins with the release of a grainy amateur video showing a Russian man recounting the horrors that he and his countrymen are suffering at the hands of the Secret Russian Federation police. By the way, that man is an actor. The entire world buy it—and nations buy trillions of dollars worth of Creel's weapons. The scenario is not far-fetched, insists Baldacci, who says he got the idea for the book by talking to real people in the perception management business.

Politically, Baldacci considers himself an Independent, but he pays attention to the news and decides to use his fiction to mold his thoughts into place.  It’s amazing just how much he got right a decade ago.  We can only hope that his 2017 release, The End Game is not nearly as accurate as The Whole Truth was, otherwise I’m staying under my bed at least until the Midterms.  

Friday, January 19, 2018


Different is bad. 

Have you seen the new models of cars that came out for 2018?  Look similar to last year’s models?  Of course.  Have you noticed the plethora of sequels in your local movie theater? Of course.  The reason is partly capitalism at it’s finest.  Feed the masses a familiar theme and they will flock to the store for it.  It’s why there’s a Starbucks on every corner of the globe.  Think about it, when you’re traveling and there’s a coffee shop nearby, do you opt for Benny’s Cafe, or Starbucks?  My guess, you’re going to Starbucks.  Why?  Familiarity.  You know exactly what you’re going to get and who knows what’s available at Benny’s.

This theme can easily be transferred to books.  You want a thriller, James Patterson.  You want a legal thriller, John Grisham.  But increasingly the most creative stories are being told by independent authors with independent thoughts and no Big 5 Publisher to tell them how to change their story to make it more appealing.  That’s code for more cliché.  More familiar to readers.

Now that may seem like a huge generalization, but not so fast.  If you’ve heard the accomplishments of people like Hugh Howey, Andy Weir, EL James, Amanda Hocking, or John Locke, you’ll realize publishers weren’t knocking down their door for their novels.  Their stories were different, edgy, in EL James’s case, pushing the envelope between romantic thriller and pornography.  But it was different.  And when different becomes popular, it becomes mainstream and it changes the landscape in good way.

Back in the early ‘80’s I was living in Seattle when a friend of mine invited me to go see this band called REM.  They were playing in a bar in front of 300 people.  I loved it.  I’d never heard this type of music before.  It was hard to characterize.  It was different.  Outside of the fact that Michael Stipe spent the entire concert with his back to the audience, it was great.  And maybe REM had a record contract, but it was with a small record company that left them alone to do whatever they wanted.  The results were magnificent.  There are dozens of bands who’ve gone on to imitate Peter Buck’s jangly guitar from Gin Blossoms to Nirvana.  It changed everything.

All of these examples come from creative people who were unbridled to do whatever their hearts desired.  Hugh Howey imagined a post-apocalyptic society living one-hundred and forty stories below the surface of the earth.  Creative.  John Locke created an anti-hero in Donovan Creed.  A quirky Ex-CIA hitman who straddles both sides of the law to accomplish his goals.

Where is the future of creative fiction coming from?  I don’t know, but I’ll bet an Indie author is working on it as we speak.      

Sunday, December 3, 2017


      1- Would you still write if you were never paid for your work?
      Shhhh! Please don’t tell my readers, agent, or foreign and audio publishers:  I’d continue to write even if I weren’t compensated. Not only would I; in many years, I have. Writing has been my life since I was a kid. It’s not something I do; it’s what I am.

       2- How much of your day is spent writing, or on the business of writing?
       When I’m in the planning stages, probably 4-6 hours. However, once I’m really “in the zone” and writing the story, the clock and calendar disappear. I often go 9 to 12 hours. During the final stages, racing to complete a book, my marathon sessions regularly become all-nighters. I once worked two-and-a-half days straight while writing my just-published thriller WINNER TAKES ALL. (Yeah, I know: I need a shrink.)

        3- Tell us about your latest Hunter thriller?
        WINNER TAKES ALL is the third book in my opening Dylan Hunter thriller trilogy. It’s a big, fast-paced, deviously complex political thriller that touches on just about everything in today’s headlines.

     Dylan Hunter is a journalist with a hidden past. Secretly, he’s also a justice-seeking vigilante who targets corrupt, untouchable elites.
     In this one, Hunter has promised Annie Woods, his fiancée, he’ll stop his violent activities. But an investigative reporter probing the source of illegal campaign funds is murdered. A visionary presidential candidate is targeted for personal destruction. Then, unspeakable terrorism rocks Washington, D.C.

     On the trail of the culprits, Hunter finds himself the target of a treasonous, power-hungry billionaire and his hired assassin. He faces an agonizing choice: a future with the woman he loves—or waging a one-man war against a deadly conspiracy poised to install its puppet in the White House.

       4- In your writing world, what would you consider success?
       a. Making enough money each year to continue to write full-time. b. Having readers continue to tell me the ways my books have enriched their lives. That never gets old.

        5- What made you decide to get involved with Thriller Firsts? And what do you hope to accomplish?

      How could I possibly turn down an invitation to have HUNTER share space, within a single volume, with debut thrillers by iconic authors whom I revere? I hope its place in this collection introduces many more thriller fans to my bestselling Dylan Hunter vigilante-justice thrillers. With the opening trilogy in the series—HUNTER, BAD DEEDS, and now WINNER TAKES ALL—finally complete, I’d be delighted if thousands of readers who love action, suspense, mystery, and nail-biting thrills will find a new hero to love, and a new author to follow.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


There's been a secret project brewing for a little while that hasn't been announced yet.  Big names in the industry coming together to offer their first book in their series for practically nothing.  One of the participants is Cheryl Bradshaw, the NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Sloane Monroe series of thrillers.  She was kind enough to break away from her busy schedule for a quick visit.   

1-    Would you still write if you were never paid for your work?

I plan to continue writing and publishing books for the rest of my life. For me it’s more than just a career. It’s something I’m passionate about. Whenever I take a break from writing I always look forward to getting back to it.

2-    How much of your day is spent writing, or the business of writing?

Between writing and overseeing all aspects of my brand, I estimate I work around sixty hours a week.

3-    Do you have a preferred method of corresponding with your readers?

Any social media outlet where I can interact with fans is something I enjoy. Facebook seems to be the biggest gathering place, and I try to check in every day and engage with my readers.

4-    In your writing world, what would you consider success?

When I finished my first book and published it, I considered myself a success because it took me until I was in my late thirties to do it. Since then I’ve achieved so many things I never knew I would, and it all goes back to finishing that first book and getting it out there.

5-    What made you decide to get involved with Thriller Firsts? And what do you hope to accomplish?

I couldn’t ask for a better group of writers to be involved with, so it was easy for me to take part. My goal is to reach new readers who have never read my books before. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Obviously every top ten list is subjective, however, the ‘90s was the decade that introduced some great authors who went on to wild success in their genre.  Lee Child and John Grisham just to name a couple.  The other aspect of this list is that I’ve read each one of these books so there’s no guessing as to the validity of their worth. I’m not just going by sales figures or popularity, although most of these books were bestsellers.
Here now is my list, in no particular order:

The Firm—John Grisham
Yes, technically this was his second book, but we all know this was the one which got him noticed.  There were courtroom dramas before this thriller, but Grisham took you out of the courtroom and into the family room.  He brought crime to an unsuspecting and naïve lawyer who had everything to lose.  The tension is taught all the way through and it’s a relief when it’s finally over.

Jurassic Park—Michael Crichton
This was a mixture of pure entertainment and wildly imaginative scenarios.  Crichton’s narrative is subtle and his explanations for the recreation of dinosaurs is so believable that you never have to suspend disbelief.  This was really a pure joy to submerge yourself into a world where humans become corrupt and animals behave like animals.

Gone Baby Gone—Dennis Lehane
This was a deeply twisted storyline that kept you guessing all the way through.  At one point I thought I had it figured out, but was completely wrong.  It’s a Good versus Morally Correct scenario and Lehane is a master at bringing the complexities of the human condition to the forefront of the narrative.

The Black Echo—Michael Connelly
The very first in the Harry Bosch series.  This also won the Edgar Award for mystery novel.  At its heart this is a mystery, but there are thriller elements to the narrative that can’t be dismissed.  Harry Bosch is a complicated character and Connelly spent painstaking time delivering that element to the reader.  Of course there’s a twist ending, but Bosch’s troubles are always on his shirtsleeve.  A fine debut.

The Killing Floor—Lee Child
This is a no-brainer.  Our introduction to Jack Reacher.  The first time I read this book I was taken back how the prose was so sparse, yet so detailed at the same time.  It seemed that Child would draw you into Reacher’s mind with such vivid imagery, you almost forgot about the great dialogue.  The story is probably the strongest in the series, because it was all new to us.  So glad there would be a jillion more Reacher stories to follow.

The Bourne Ultimatum—Robert Ludlum
The final book in the Jason Bourne series and quite possibly the best.  Carlos the Jackal is after Bourne and the storyline is complicated, but Ludlum masterfully navigates his way through the narrative.  There are bribes, assassins who guess wrong, double-crosses, and ultimately a satisfying ending for Bourne.

The Lion’s Game—Nelson Demille
My favorite of the bunch.  Yes, technically published January, 2000, but that’s close enough.  At first the New York detective John Corey character was too wise-guy for me, but I developed an affinity for it and by the third chapter I was engrossed.  The opening scene has a 747 landing at JFK Airport without contact from the pilot or crew while carrying a Libyan terrorist on board.  The scene goes on for several chapters and switches point of view from the terrorist to John Corey.  The book is 700 pages long, but that was way too short for my liking.  My first introduction to Demille and I grew to love his work.

LA Confidential—James Ellroy
Many books on this list are more popular because of the movie version, but this one needs the respect of the writing to be appreciated.  Ellroy writes with a unique style of giving you snippets without indulging you with all the facts.  Some writers tend to oversell the story, but Ellroy is just the opposite.  If you feel like you missed something, just keep reading and you’ll catch on eventually.  No matter where you are in this story, you’re going to enjoy the ride.

Into Thin Air—Jon Krakauer
Yes, this is nonfiction and therefore not considered a thriller.  However, this book told one of the most spellbinding stories I’d ever read.  The fact that it was a true story written by someone who actually summited Mt. Everest, makes it completely enthralling.  Krakauer follows a team of enthusiastic, yet inexperienced climbers as they battle ferocious hurricane winds, altitude illness and minus 70-degree temperatures.  Krakauer’s prose is powerful and honest and rips at your gut as confused climbers suffering from oxygen deprivation decide to sit down and pull off their clothes in uninhabitable conditions, expediting their demise.  Truly a mind-blowing ride.

Be Cool—Elmore Leonard
This guy is my all-time favorite authorUntil I read Glitz in the early ‘80s, I had no idea that dialogue could be so gritty.  It hadn’t dawned on me that certain seedy characters spoke in slang and didn’t speak in full sentences. Be Cool is the sequel to Get Shorty, which was also a great book, but there are some memorable scenes in this one that takes it over the top.  I’ve spent half my writing career trying to create a character as clever as Chili Palmer.  If only.   

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


It was the late 90’s and I’d received some critical acclaim for my short stories.  I felt like I’d proven myself as a writer and now it was time to take on the novel.  Now, what kind of book was I going to write?  Clue, I wanted to write something that I’d like to read.  I’ve always been a fan of thrillers.  It started way back with my penchant for Raymond Chandler’s mysteries.  His wise guy, Phillip Marlowe, character had me glued to the page.  I will never forget some of the lines Chandler wrote: “She had a voice like an angel and a body that would make a Priest kick a hole through a stained-glass window.”  Classic. 

So, naturally when it was time to create my protagonist, I decided on a law enforcement officer with a witty disposition.  I went back to my youth working in my father’s candy store in Brooklyn.  The characters in that store were full of . . .  well, character.  There was a special type of character who tended to linger around the store most of the day, in shifts.  They were friends of my dad.  They were dark-skinned, dark-haired and had names like Vinny and Joey and Max.  Yeah, the Mafia.  You see my father was Sicilian and because of that, these guys tended to protect the store while my father was gone and I was alone in the store.  I learned something about that dynamic.  Loyalty.

So, fast forward thirty years, and Nick Bracco was born.  Nick is a Sicilian FBI agent who has a cousin, Tommy, who’s involved in the Mafia.  Tommy ends up being the true wit in these thrillers and I get at least a request a month asking me to write a book with Tommy as the main character.  I had to do tons of research on the FBI and how they operated.  I even interviewed an FBI agent as part of my research.  But Tommy’s character I never had to research.  It seemed I knew at least twenty Tommy’s back in Brooklyn.  

True story, I never had any intention of writing a sequel to A Touch of Deceit.  It wasn’t until I’d sold over 50,000 copies over the first six months that a reader emailed me and asked when the sequel was coming out.  A sequel?  Well, I’m currently working on Nick Bracco #6 and hope to keep going as long as people want to read my stories. 

Writing is hard.  Research can be grueling.  But whenever I hear from happy readers, it makes everything else seem worth it.

Saturday, May 13, 2017


I wanted to title this post, “What is a Published Author,” but changed my mind when I realized there was a deeper issue I wanted to address.  When I received my acceptance notice from Potato Eyes Literary Magazine for my first short story “Saving the World” some twenty years ago, I had never been more excited.  Truth be told, even after selling over 100,000 copies of my Nick Bracco series, that’s still my favorite accomplishment.  And when I sold my stories to Potpourri and Evansville Review and Amazing Journeys and so on, the success gave me a sense of achievement.  It let me know my work was accepted within the literary community.

Then later, when I received my first Pushcart Prize nomination for the best short story of the year, it solidified the fact that I had some skill.  After a second Pushcart Prize nomination, I finally had the confidence to write novels.  All of these steps led me to where I am today. 

Fast forward twenty years.  Past the literary agent who kept my manuscript on the bottom shelf until a very kind assistant recommended I leave the agency or wait for a phone call that will never come.  Past the second literary agent who said my work was exceptional, but the industry was changing and new authors were pushed to the bottom of the pile.  Publishers were better off trying to sell the fifteenth novel from a somewhat known author than the first one from a fresh voice. 

Recognize this sequel strategy in the movie industry?

So, when I approach the subject of independent authors, I truly mean writers who are independent.  Writers who can choose their distribution method.  They can choose their editor.  They can approve their own cover design.  The independent authors I’m speaking of are not the rare ones who slipped past the gatekeepers by writing inferior work, then posting it on Amazon and hoping for sales.  I’m speaking about writers who chose to take on the industry by forging ahead with their career despite the odds.  Writers who could’ve been published with a legacy publisher but chose not to wait. 

Instead of wasting time railing against the traditional publishing companies who try to squeeze out independent authors, I’d rather stress the positive.  And here are just some of them:

John Locke, J.A. Konrath, Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking and Jonas Saul, just to name a few.  Authors who decided to take their own path to acquiring an audience for their work.  Writers who weren’t told by a publisher they had to leave politics out of their story, or keep their idea more mainstream. 

So how do we encourage this outbreak of creative storytelling?  Support them.  Blog about them.  Write them.  Tell them what you liked about their stuff.  Tell your friends about their work.  Anytime you’re promoting their product, you’re boosting their chances to create more original work.  You’re giving someone an opportunity to spend more time writing and less time working their day job.  It sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true.  There are so many authors who need to find other means to produce income outside of writing.  It’s grass roots support that could make the difference.

So, if you like an author’s work, nurture it.  Blow on the flames slightly to get the kindle started.  Pun intended.  I will continue to support these fine writers and I hope you will as well.

Here are some other authors who deserve your consideration.  Some are hybrid authors who straddle the line of traditional and independent publishing, but their quality of work is worth your attention:
Robert Bidinotto, Cheryl Bradshaw, Luke Romyn, Lawrence Kelter, Jennifer Chase & Dean Lappi.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


There are so many books to read and so little time.  Over the past few years I’ve discovered a pattern in my reading habits: I’d read an author I’ve always liked— Lee Child and Elmore Leonard for example—then I would branch out to find someone new.  It’s during this branching out period that I found myself disappointed and returning to my shortlist of writers who I know would never disappoint.  How I wish I had a clone with my exact taste who could read books then make recommendations, like Pandora for authors.  So I thought I would try to accomplish something with this post—or at least open doors for some worthy writers who might be flying under the Vince Flynn-David Baldacci, radar.

First up, J.A. Konrath.  Even though he’s sold over two million books in twenty countries, it still feels like he doesn’t get the props he deserves.  His writing is succinct and chilling.  He has a very matter-of-fact way of squeezing your larynx and smirking simultaneously.  It’s a rare talent who could make you cringe and grin on the very same page, but Joe makes it happen on a routine basis.
Check out Joe’s webpage here: if you’d like to read one of his more recent Jack Daniels thrillers, check out Last Call.

Next up, Diane Capri.  She began her career as a lawyer, but don’t hold that against her.  Think John Grisham with a sharp wit.  Her writing is simply impeccable.  She doesn’t waste time on narrative that’s unnecessary to the plot, yet you feel like the scene is happening right in front of you.  Her Judge Willa Carson thrillers are my favorite, but her Hunt for Jack Reacher series is probably more known.  I would recommend trying her latest Judge Willa Carson Mystery, True Justice:

Now for Rick Murcer.  He began his writing career later in life, so his style is tight and to the point.  No wasted motions.  As if he only has so many books to write and he wasn’t going to waste time with superfluous storylines.  His Manny Williams series contain some tremendous thrillers.  Don’t believe me? Just read some of the reviews from the readers who’ve followed him along the way.  I would try out his latest, Cajun Fire.  Read the first chapter and tell me you aren’t hooked.

Vincent Zandri is a photojournalist who travels around the globe to capture the feel of his settings better than any author on the planet.  While most writers delve into their imagination to portray the image in the reader’s mind, Vincent can actually paint it for you from memory.  He’s been there, spoken with the natives, and returned with a story that almost certainly was influenced by the adventure he witnessed during his research. Don’t believe me?  Check out his webpage here: And as far as his books, he writes several series, but his Dick Moonlight is the creepiest and most interesting to me.  Try his Murder by Moonlight. This was the book that got me excited about his work.

And Finally, one of my favorites, Claude Bouchard.  Claude is a Canadian businessman who got the writing bug and made it his fulltime job.  And I’m glad he did.  His dialogue-heavy thrillers keep you turning the pages while giving you plenty of chills discovering what his characters are up to.  I would try his latest Vigilante series thriller, Getting Even.  There is a cathartic thrill to watching an assassin exact revenge on people who do bad things.  And don’t we all want justice to be served?

I can assure you that I’ve read at least one book from each of these authors and wouldn’t recommend them if I didn’t find their work riveting.  Hopefully you’ll find someone in this group who will fill your days with nail-biting thrills.  They are definitely worth a try.    

Tuesday, February 28, 2017


When I first created my Nick Bracco character some fifteen years ago, I had very little knowledge of how the FBI operated outside of what I’d seen on TV and in the movies.  It was Nick’s Mafia cousin Tommy that I had a much better grasp of, since I was surrounded by Sicilian family members all the time during my youth.  But I needed to research the FBI so I could bring a reality to my character.  I read several books that were truly informational, including a great one by Ron Kessler titled, The FBI.  However, there were still questions that lingered in my mind that I needed answered.  Remember, this was pre-Google.

I picked up the phone and dialed the local Phoenix FBI field office and asked if I could interview an FBI agent for a book I was writing.  Now, here’s the important part—I didn’t tell them it was fiction.  I think that might have something to do with the fact that a moment later I was transferred to a gentleman who introduced himself as Agent Simpson (let’s go with that, since my memory is foggy.)  He was pleasant, even asking me if he could have my phone number in case we got disconnected. I knew, of course, he was staring at my number on his caller ID, so right away he was making sure I wasn’t lying.

After the guy answered a litany of questions for me, I was fascinated that someone would take time out of their busy schedule to do such a thing.  Until I discovered that was actually doing his job.  Each field office has a Public Affairs Specialist who’s there to work with the media, including writers who are working on articles or books about the FBI.

If you’re writing a thriller, it’s not a bad idea to make that call.  I remember asking things like: Does an FBI Agent have to use government-issued weapons or can they buy their own?  Does every shooting incident require a debriefing?  Do FBI agents get to choose their partners?  I can tell you that some of these answers were not what I expected.

I’ve heard of writers doing ride alongs with police and I’m not sure the FBI does that, but I promise if you call your local field office there is someone there who can answer some of your questions.  Hey, your tax dollars are helping pay for this service, so why not take advantage of it. 

Just don’t tell him your last name is Ponzo and your father used to help the Mafia run the numbers in his candy store back in the '70s.  I’m sure the statute of limitations has run out by now, but somehow I skipped that part during my interview.      

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Elmore Leonard has had a profound effect on my writing career.  Anyone who’s familiar with my Tommy Bracco character knows what I’m talking about.  Before I began reading Elmore’s work, characters always seemed to have a stilted tone to their dialogue.  Like a 40's movie where everyone spoke in perfect English.  But Elmore, Dutch, Leonard came along and changed the game for good.  Suddenly, gangsters were talking in slang without explaining it to the reader.  Just follow along, Elmore seemed to suggest.  You’ll get it after a while.

Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about.  Below is the opening scene to Freaky Deaky. Chris Mankowski is a bomb expert summoned to Booker’s home.  Booker is a gangster who answered his telephone where the women he was dating told him to sit down. When he sat down, she told him the chair he was sitting on had a bomb in it and the moment he stood up he’d be killed:

"Man, be careful there," Booker said, bringing his hands off the chair arms to bunch the skirts of the robe between his bare legs, up tight against his crotch.

"You feel anything under you?"

"When I sat down it felt… like, different."

Chris slit open the facing of the seat cushion, held the edges apart and looked in. He said, "Hmmmmm."

Booker said, "What you mean hmmmmm? Don't give me no hmmmmm shit.  What's in there?"

Chris looked up at Booker and said, "Ten sticks of dynamite."

Booker was clutching the chair arms again, his body upright, stiff, telling Chris, "Get that shit out from under me, man. Get it out, get it out of there!"

Chris said, "Somebody doesn't like you, Booker. Two sticks would've been plenty."

It’s a thing of beauty.  The entire scene.  But this post isn’t about Elmore.  This post is about his son Peter.  You see, when Dutch passed away in 2013, it left an empty hole in my reading sequence.  I tended to give new authors a try, but once I finished that book, I would always resort to another Elmore book to get that flavor back in my mind.  Sometime in the past year I was groping for another book and realized that I’d read everything Elmore had written.  And that’s saying something, since he’d written over 50 novels.

That’s when I discovered that his son, Peter, was also a novelist.  Just on a lark I read the beginning to one of his books and realized very quickly that Peter was the spitting image of his father when it came to writing fiction.  The narrative and dialogue was a perfect replica of his father’s tone.  Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s not copying his father’s work, it’s his own style and his own imagination, but boy, it’s remarkably appealing to anyone who’s familiar with Dutch’s work.

So far, I’ve read Unknown Remains, Trust Me and Eye Closed Tight.  The first two were fantastic reads.  The third book jumped around a little bit too much for my liking, but the dialogue was so enjoyable, that I pressed on and finished liking the story very much.

I’m writing this to encourage anyone who’s an Elmore Leonard fan to give Peter’s books a try.  I think you’ll enjoy the experience.  Do yourself a favor and go to Amazon and read the beginning to one of his books.  Or go to a bookstore and pick it up.  You’ll know within a page or two whether it’s the style you would appreciate.  If it is--enjoy.

And you’re welcome.     

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


There’s a famous scene in the 1992 movie, The Player, in which a young Hollywood executive played by Peter Gallagher tells the veteran executive, Tim Robbins, “Who needs writers, this thing writes itself.”
And honestly, there’s a segment of the entertainment industry who still subscribe to that theory.  We’ve all been to those movies too.  The ones that follow a familiar formula with familiar punchlines and familiar dialogue.  Battlefield Earth anyone?  But whenever there’s a hit, there’s good writing.  A great example is this year’s critically acclaimed drama, Manchester by the Sea.  This is by far the most depressing movie I’ve ever witnessed.  I wanted to go see Schindler’s List just to lighten my mood after this one.  However, the dialogue was so moving and the acting so superb, you ignored the fact that you’ve seen this movie plenty of times before.

If you think about your favorite TV shows, the one which makes you laugh, the one which made you relate to the characters, it was almost purely the writing that got you there.  I had this feeling leaving the movie Why Him? this past weekend.  It was a plot that seemed so typical that it would be easy to pass up.  However, the writing is done so well, that it’s almost impossible not to laugh. 

Think about some of the most iconic movies in the past fifty years and you’ll almost always have a line that brings it all back to you:

“You can’t handle the truth!”

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“There’s no crying in baseball.”

“Go ahead, make my day.”

You get my point.  The best actor in the world can’t deliver a crappy line and make it work.  However, a good writer can make an average actor seem extraordinary.

So the next time you’re enjoying something on TV, your phone, or the big screen, remember who drew you in and got you to watch the next scene.  It was that pimple-faced writer who spent his or her youth learning how to create a cogent passage with heart.  Writing may seem to be dissipating with advent of digital media, but believe me, those words are just as potent in your book or on your screen.  Writers make the world of fiction go around and I’m just glad to be a small part of that community who appreciates the effort.