Wednesday, December 28, 2011

DAMAGE CONTROL - a Carl Brookins Review

Damage Control
by Denise Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0-7432-9674-8
a 2011 hardcover release from
Scribner. 372 pages.

More than just romance can often flower under the hot desert moon. In southern California, a lot more. In the artificially irrigated hothouse of perfectly sculpted bodies, overabundance of wealth, aggressive power and overweening ambition are a dangerous combination that leads, almost inevitably, to corruption. And it is corruption that’s at the heart of this complex, lyrically written tale, along with a strong dose of murder and mystery.

Maggie Silver grew up on the far side of the tracks. Now in adulthood with a mortgage, a failed marriage, and an ill mother, she’s scrambling for a place, if not in the sun, as near as she can get without singeing her fingers. Her values are aspiring middle class. She’d like to be one of the beautiful people, and for a while in a private school with a rich girl friend named Anabelle Paxton, the giddy, youthful exuberance of unsupervised teenaged life seems to point to a life to come of luxury and happiness.

Fast forward to today. Having lost that youthful connection to the good life, Maggie is establishing herself as a fixer. Working for the powerful public relations firm, Blair Company, she find herself once more entangled with the Paxton family, Henry, now a powerful U.S. Senator, Luke, the golden son and Anabelle, once her very best girl friend. A murder has happened and the situation must be managed. The Blair firm gets paid a great deal of money by wealthy clients to do exactly that. What happens then, to Maggie, the Paxtons, to other members of the firm is enthralling, complicated, and almost a Greek tragedy.

The author has taken a common theme, power, wealth and their corrupting influences, and infused the story with a strong dose of both good and evil. and while she carefully and fully illuminates much of the evil that resides in Los Angeles and its special culture, there is at times, a faint but fascinating aura of envy, as if the author yearns, however ruefully, for just a little taste of the life she writes about. The genius of the novel lies in part in the complex and convoluted story and the way the author infuses this story with life.

Hamilton has not penned a polemic against the culture of southern California. Rather she holds up the citizens, and the organizations to a searing light and lets readers judge the actions and the influences that result. Unlike Raymond Chandler, with whose writing she is compared, her sympathies clearly lie with all the characters, while never condoning their actions, or trumpeting the consequences. So in the end, readers, themselves having perhaps experienced a little bit of envy for the characters, can close the book and ponder the questions we all may ask ourselves, to whom do we really owe the greatest loyalty?

Carl Brookins, Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky

Friday, December 16, 2011

William S. Shepard - A New Genre is Born!

My guest this week is William S. Shepard. 


Now residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Shepards enjoy visits from their daughters and granddaughters, fine and moderate weather, ocean swims at Assateague, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and the company of Rajah and Rani, their two rescued cats.

Prize winning mystery writer William S. Shepard is the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. That mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the United States, during which he served in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five Washington tours of duty.

His books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. He evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in Bordeaux, in Vintage Murder, the first of the series of four “diplomatic mysteries.” The second, Murder On The Danube, now also available on Kindle, mines his knowledge of Hungary and the 1956 Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler, his main character, is just married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of France is interrupted by murders. The most recent of the series, The Saladin Affair, has Cutler transferred to work for the Secretary of State. Like the author, Cutler arranges trips on Air Force Two – now enlivened by serial Al Qaeda attempts to assassinate the Secretary of State.

 Now I have a few questions for Mr. Shepard (eight to be exact):

1. In Vintage Murder, Robbie Cutler, your protagonist, is a suave, smart American diplomat living in France. How did he join the Foreign Service?

 Bordeaux is his second diplomatic assignment. To join the Foreign Service, he passed the Foreign Service oral and written and security exams (still I think about 1 in 100 survive). Robbie grew up in a Foreign Service family, so is used to living overseas. He is also though a fairly junior official. I had a problem with that, for I wanted him to have, here and in succeeding novels, access to highly classified information. That is how Uncle Seth came about – a nationally prominent man who keeps Robbie in the picture on national security matters.     

2. What do you and Robbie have in common?

 Like Robbie, I am a Francophile. I supposed that started with Dad’s stories about World War One when he was a combat veteran there, and then a university student. I was a French literature major in college, and taught in a French high school for a year after graduation. His love story is his own business, with very little help from me!
3. The setting for Vintage Murder is the lush countryside of Bordeaux and the rugged region of the Basque country in France. What made you set the story here?

 I served as the American Consul General in Bordeaux, and so it is an area that I know very well, on both sides of the border. I wanted a vivid enemy, and the Basque ETA fit that requirement. What they have not done is take my “suggestion” and start blackmailing the owners of the great wine estates in Bordeaux. If that happened, I’m not sure I would still be welcome there!

4. Where does Robbie go from here?

He is assigned to the Embassy in Budapest for the second novel in the series, Murder On The Danube. Here, the murder of a prominent American visitor sets off a change of events. The back story is the Hungarian Revolution against the Russian occupation. Someone apparently was a traitor to the Freedom Fighters, and is now trying to cover his (or her) tracks). My research into the actual events was extensive, and had the assistance of both the American Embassy in Budapest (where I served as Political Officer), and the Hungarian Embassy in Washington. I was honored to be invited to present this novel at both the Library of Congress in Washington, and at the Hungarian Embassy.

5. Describe your writing process.

 There are times when I cannot write (March/April, devoted to income tax preparation). I try to set aside roughly half a year, and then spend lots of time plotting out the novel. After that, it is a ruthless deadline – one chapter each week. I write in the morning. A cat perched on the desk usually helps!

 6. Authors today are expected to do most of their own promotions. How do you balance social networking with writing? What promotions work best for you?

 This is a work in progress. Writers’ blogs such as this one help spread the word. So do personal acquaintances. Reviews are most helpful. So is some paid advertising. I would like to be at the stage where this all melds together and is self-sustaining. But not yet, I fear!

 7. What inspires and motivates you to write?

 I enjoy storytelling, and writing is based on that. It may be something of a family trait. I had an uncle who was a gifted storyteller, and had virtually no formal education. He was a spellbinder. He and my Aunt took in foster children. When someone misbehaved, the worst punishment would be banishment to bed, and no story hour! Of course this was before television, but Irvin Foster really had the gift.

8. What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about starting a novel?

 I’d say there are four things to consider. First, write about what you know and have experienced. Second, do try to plot out the entire novel, at least as a sketch. Third, consider whether what you have planned fits the entire story line. For example, in my novel Murder On The Danube, the back story continually involves a small group of Hungarian Freedom Fighters. Who is present at what stage of the fighting is crucial, and that had to be planned with great care – the one who was missing might be the one who betrayed the group! Fourth, sit down and write the first chapter. Then revise it, again and again. Characters you hadn’t considered will begin to assert themselves, you’ll see!
Yes, we will see. Murder On The Danube (Robbie Cutler Diplomatic Mysteries) eBook: William S. Shepard: Kindle Store Vintage Murder (Robbie Cutler diplomatic mysteries) eBook: William S. Shepard: Kindle Store

Thank you for letting us know about this new genre. Fascinating!


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Meet Alina Adams - "turning visual into words"

Welcome Alina. You've had a busy, prolific career and we'd like to know more about it and you, so the forum is now yours.

By Alina Adams

I spent close to a decade of my life working in figure skating: As a researcher for ABC, as a producer for ESPN, as a Contributing Editor for “International Figure Skating Magazine” and as a writer of non-fiction titles like “Inside Figure Skating” and “Sarah Hughes: Skating to the Stars,” as well as fictional mysteries like “Murder on Ice,” “On Thin Ice,” “Axel of Evil,” “Death Drop” and “Skate Crime.”
I spent close to a decade of my life turning something purely visual into words.
Now, I am in the process of turning words into something purely visual.
Because, after a decade of describing world-class skating, I came to a simple conclusion: World class skating is indescribable.
I like to think that my mystery novels (originally published by Berkley Prime Crime) do a pretty good job of introducing engaging characters, tangling complex plots, and generally making readers smile in both amusement and periodic “oooh!” surprise as we twist our way towards the final Whodunit.
What they don’t do a nearly good enough job of is conveying the beauty, grace, control, and raw power of elite figure skating.
Until now.
In the past, storytellers had no choice but to be limited by words, even when dealing with subjects where words were decidedly not enough.
But, with the advent of technology, a plethora of options have opened up that were inconceivable even a few years ago.
I no longer need to merely tell about the skating going on in my books. I can show it.
In partnership with The Ice Theatre of New York (, I am re-releasing all five of my skating mysteries as enhanced e-books, with real, professional quality skating videos embedded in the text as part of the story.
Ice Theatre gave me access to their entire video library (even routines by stars like Johnnie Weir).
Now, in a perfect world, I would write a story around the videos I had.
And I still intend to do that… down the line.
But, right now the world isn’t perfect (I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed), and, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had.” (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the world is currently so imperfect…)
Which means that I needed to take the edited and published books I already had, and the videos I got from Ice Theatre, and make the two fit together.
In some cases, I got lucky. “Skate Crime” features a prominent subplot about an African-American woman skating pairs with a white man at a time when that just wasn’t considered acceptable. And, what do you know? Several Ice Theatre videos just happened to feature the exact same combination skating together! To see how I worked the videos into the text, check out my $.99 cent excerpt, “Skate Crime: Multimedia” at: on Amazon. (You’ll need a reading device with an Internet connection and the ability to play videos.)
With other cases, I was forced to massage the text just a little bit to make it match up with the available footage. Obviously, I couldn’t change a character’s race (that would be one too many cases of Search and Replace, and utterly out of the question in cases where race was a key part of the story). But, I’ll admit, a few imaginary people did receive a quick change of hair-color just to make the juxtaposition flow easier.
I plan to release “Murder on Ice: Enhanced Multimedia Edition” and “On Thin Ice: Enhanced Multimedia Edition” on Amazon this December 2011, with the last three books in the series, “Axel of Evil: Enhanced Multimedia Edition,” “Death Drop: Enhanced Multimedia Edition” and “Skate Crime: Enhanced Multimedia Edition” in January of 2012, just in time for the US Figure Skating Championships.
Please check them out and let me know how you think I did!

In addition to her Figure Skating Mystery series, Alina Adams has written romances for AVON and DELL (a reprint, "When a Man Loves a Woman" is also available as an enhanced e-book on Amazon), and NYT best-selling tie-ins for the soap operas, "As the World Turns" and "Guiding Light." Her enhanced, nonfiction e-book, "Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama's Greatest Moments" was an Amazon best-seller in 2011. In addition, her company, Alina Adams Media, produced "The Worldwide Dessert Contest: Enhanced Multimedia Edition" by Dan Elish, a children's fantasy with an original musical score. She is eager to work with other authors to help turn their previously published works into enhanced e-books.



As the newly crowned 2011 US Figure Skating Team prepares to make its debut at the World Championships in Japan this coming March, Alina Adams, author of the figure-skating cozy mystery series of books including “Murder on Ice,” “On Thin Ice,” “Axel of Evil,” “Death Drop,” and “Skate Crime,” has taken experiencing her books to an unprecedented next level by adding skating videos (courtesy of The Ice Theatre of New York; right into the text!
While all five novels were initially published as trade paperbacks by Berkley Prime Crime, only one, “Skate Crime” is currently available as an e-book.
“Skate Crime: Multimedia Edition” does not contain the entire text of the original but is, instead, a condensed excerpt enhanced with video clips. When figure skating coach Lucain Pryce is murdered on the eve of his own televised tribute, the suspects include his much younger wife, his resentful daughter, the student he guided to Olympic gold, as well as the one he drove to a nervous breakdown.
The portion high-lighted in “Skate Crime: Multimedia Edition” looks back at Lucian’s romantic relationship with his former Pairs partner… and why she might have had the best motive of all for wanting to see Lucian dead.
Adams got the idea to combine text and visuals after spending ten years as Creative Content Producer at TeleNext Media/Procter & Gamble Productions. “While at P&G, I developed two on-line properties for them, and Mindy Lewis’ Twitter, which told serialized, romantic stories in a combination of words and video clips. I thought that if it worked for on-line soap-operas, it would be even better for figure skating, which is such a visually-oriented sport.”
She also wrote the “New York Times” best-seller “Oakdale Confidential,” (an “As The World Turns” tie-in), and co-wrote, “Jonathan’s Story” (a “Guiding Light” tie-in), along with the romance novels “When a Man Loves a Woman” (DELL), “Annie’s Wild Ride,” “Thieves at Heart,” and “The Fictitious Marquis” (AVON).
Adams says, “I have been fascinated with the potential of enhanced books ever since the idea became technically possible. However, most of what is currently available is either non-fiction or, if the enhanced book is fiction, it features extras like author interviews, music, or historical context. I was itching to make the added videos an integrated, vital part of the story, like I had with my on-line work. “Skate Crime: Multimedia” fits that bill. It’s not exactly a book and it’s not exactly a movie. I see it more as Storytelling for the 21st Century.”
“Skate Crime: Multimedia Edition” retails for $.99 cents in Amazon’s Kindle store at: and can be experienced through the Kindle app on iPad, iPhone, and your desktop.

Thank you Alina for being my guest and best of luck for your future success.