I’m delighted to focus this month’s Author Spotlight on a wonderful middle grade fantasy author, Laura DiNovis Berry.
Laura’s latest publication, The Nasties of Nastgant Swamp, was released by Indies United Publishing last October and is the 2nd book in her Story of Antyfas series. I love middle grade fantasy books so I wanted to take this opportunity to share this wonderful author, her story and her wisdom with you.
What’s it about?
It’s not every day that a gnome invites you to dinner. When Valentino is invited to a special gnome party deep in the Nastgant Swamp, he can’t wait to go. Unfortunately, he isn’t just the guest of honor — he’s supposed to be the main course! Join Valentino on his fantastic adventure filled with trolls, gnomes, and danger.
The Nasties of Nastgant Swamp is filled with all of the creative…
It’s raining! It’s raining so much, it’s flooding—the perfect time to stay inside and get cozy with a cup of hot chocolate and an exciting book. Here are my winter thriller picks:
Re-releasing on January 18th by award-winning crime writer, Lisa Towles, Choke won A Big NYC Book Award in 2018 and has been cited as a”compelling story” and “a smoking’ good read”. I totally agree. It’s a IUPH reprint that was originally published by Rebel Publishers in 2017. I loved it then and again! In typical Towles-style, this fast-paced psychological thriller is a puzzle for the reader to piece together. Through snappy dialog, characters’ on-going internal anguish and tightly crafted and complicated plotting, Choke is a thrilling ride guaranteed to keep you awake way too late. I highly recommend Choke—and all of Lisa Towles‘s thrillers. See the trailer here.
Kerry Stine’s life is destroyed when she’s blamed for the death of a hospital patient. Not only is she fired, but she’s wanted by the police. On top of this, a squatter in her apartment thinks she’s hiding a priceless historical treasure—and wants it. Elsewhere, Dr. Adrian Calhoun is a target and a liability to the pharmaceutical industry for the controversial cancer cure he’s developed. Kerry’s search for the truth about her squatter leads her to a different truth – about a part of her past she’s not ready to face and a precious jewel that can’t possibly be hers. Adrian must protect not only himself but his secret formula and his vulnerable control group, before Pharma gets to them first. The destinies of Adrian and Kerry collide to piecing together stunning revelations that change their lives forever.
Published in 2021, Blood’s Echo is the first of three Veranda Cruz police procedurals set in Phoenix, Arizona. Veranda is determined to take down the heir to a ruthless Mexican cartel, but is she willing to lose everything, including her life, to see justice? Not only is Bartolo Villalobos unstable and vicious, but foes on the force stand in her way. Her new homicide team and an arsonist ally are drawn into the danger as the investigation heats up. When Veranda learns information held secret for years, she has no choice but to protect her family . . . and stop Villalobos.
Blood’s Echo deservedly won the Mariposa Award for the best First Novel. It’s a fast-paced, thrilling procedural dealing with some of the most dangerous police work: fighting the drug cartels. Hank Phillippi Ryan describes it as, “Taut, tense, and relentlessly authentic. Isabella Maldonado-with her unique personal knowledge of the danger, conflict and emotional toll of law enforcement is an important new voice in crime fiction.” I picked up my copy before getting on a plane and only put it down when I disembarked three hours later. Everything about Blood’s Echo kept me reading. Veranda is smart and strong, but she’s also a loving family member. I loved being a fly on the wall observing her big Latin immigrant family. I will read the rest of this series and the touted Nina Guerrera series too. Don’t miss this high tension, adrenaline producing thriller by Isabella Maldonado.
“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
– Mortimer J. Adler
All Her Little Secrets is one of the best books I’ve read. Wanda M. Morris is an accomplished writer; her sentences are beautiful, her language is intelligent, and her ability to drop into various voices is smooth. The book is an edgy, hard look at racism, secrets, the legal system, and family. Morris doesn’t mince words. Character Ellice Littlejohn’s descriptions of being a powerless poor Black child in Georgia and an invisible Black professional woman in Atlanta are heart wrenching. Ellice’s secrets might have held her back, but her strength and determination to protect her family keep her going where a lesser person would give up. What a debut! All Her Little Secrets won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Debut Novel. Congratulations Wanda! I look forward to more of Wanda M. Morris’s books.
Ellice Littlejohn has an Ivy League Law degree, a great corporate job in Atlanta and a long-time lover—who is white and her boss. When she finds him on his office floor shot through the head, she walks away. But why? She’s afraid her past, her jailbird brother, her impoverished upbringing, must remain secret. The following day she’s promoted to her boss’s position, but why didn’t the top executives go to the funeral? Ellice, the only Black employee, starts to uncover the rot at the core of the corporation. As she gets closer to the company secrets, her own secrets are exposed. It’s a moral and ethical nightmare, and a heart-pounding ride!
Okay! Pick a book or three and make the perfect hot chocolate. Here’s how:
INGREDIENTS: 1 SERVING
1 cup milk, soy milk, almond milk, or water
1 package/disc Taza Chocolate Discs (any flavor)
Salt to taste
1. Roughly chop or grate one disc of any flavor and set aside.
2. Heat one cup of milk or water in a small saucepan over medium heat to just below a simmer.
3. Remove the milk from heat and add a pinch of salt.
4. Slowly mix in the chocolate, stirring frequently until dissolved.
5. When the chocolate is dissolved, return the mixture to the stove and re-warm over low heat.
6. While the chocolate is warming, use a whisk or molinillo to froth the chocolate.
7. When the chocolate is hot and frothy, remove from heat and serve.
by Marie Sutro Book 1 of the Kate Barnes police procedural series
Police detective Kate Barnes is becoming a criminal profiler with the help and insight of her mentors. When Kate’s young protégé is brutally murdered in a ghastly public display, Kate discovers she is central to the murderer’s plan, and vows to capture the perpetrator. Soon, it’s clear the murderer is the infamous Tower Torturer, a serial killer known for his medieval-style cruelty, who has emerged after years of inactivity. But why now? And why is he interested in Kate? She struggles to get ahead of the monster, but he is two steps out of reach, taunting her throughout the complex, twisted plot. Kate is horrified and darkly attracted to this case, which stretches her abilities to their limits and causes her to step up to a new level of police detecting. Dark Associations has been compared to the Silence of the Lambs for its psychological suspense and sheer creepiness. I couldn’t put the book down. The story is grisly, the plot relentless and the characterization of Kate is deep. Marie Sutro’s 2017 series debut, Dark Associations
, is an excellent entree to the Kate Barnes series. Although late to the party, I’m anticipating reading more of these frightening, compelling thrillers. #2, Dark Obsessions is already on my TBR pile.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Stories of Family
by Aletheia Morden
“From the English countryside to San Francisco and Venice Beach, California, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea contains stories of the ups and downs of family life, plus a little murder.” is the message on the back cover, that doesn’t quite capture the droll, ironic, sometimes disturbing, yet always surprising nature of the nine stories in this slim volume. I laughed. I cried. I thought about my own familial experiences, and above all, I stayed up way too late reading! My favorite story, “The Queen of Tonga.”
Dubbed “the thriller nouveau,” Martell’s first in a post-cold war series written in the 1990s, is a masterpiece of intention, angst, danger and dark action. Antihero Pascal, marked for his selling out his comrades in a 1980s radical group is trying to atone for past sins. He lives alone hand-to-mouth, flophouse to cheap hotel to back alley taverns in Barcelona, hiding. When he thinks he might have escaped his past, ex-lover Katixa with a suitcase of cash stolen from a political kidnapping in hand, turns up. She’s looking for away out of Spain and Pascal can’t resist her. On the run, Pascal hones his old skills to survive as betrayal dodges their steps and he realizes everything is a lie. Tension runs high throughout. Tightly crafted to put the reader into Pascal’s mind, I couldn’t help but experience the action in a visceral way. As dark as this story is, I cared about Pascal. I wanted him to triumph. Not only did I visit parts of Barcelona no tourist ever sees, but I was introduced to the familiar streets of Barri Gótic, anew—narrow, winding, dark-shadowed and suspicious. Some have criticized the writing style as ponderous for its deep characterization. I found the exploration of morality juxtaposed against Pascal’s passion and the violence of this fictional world to be superb—it’s what elevates Lying Crying Dying above a straight spy thriller. If you love suspense, getting into the character’s heads, travel, and the post-cold war spy genre of novel, read this book!
For the Birds
by Crissi Langwell
I’d never heard of a ‘second chance romance’ before, being mostly a crime fiction reader, but For the Birds by Crissi Langwell has made me a convert. How could a second chance at lost love not be entertaining? This book does not disappoint! From the darling cover designed by the author herself, to the make-you-laugh-and-cry story, to the surprise twists throughout, and the warm, engaging prose I was riveted. Cricket has been pining for her lost love, Sonny, for a year since he took a job in another state. Now he’s back and the two are tasked to organize an anniversary party for Sonny’s new boss. Cricket can’t let him know she still cares. Meanwhile Cricket’s sister has sent her an exotic bird before turning up injured. Cricket is pried out of her closed-down life to deal with the obnoxious pet, a hurting sister and keeping herself from losing her tattered heart all over again—all while she goes on her own journey of self-discovery. Cricket is a great character, one I think many of us will find inside of ourselves. I commend author Langwell for her wonderful humor, great dialog and beautifully written passages. If this is what today’s romance books are like, I want more!
Blanket A Papa Tell Me a Book series Book 2
by Ron Kinscherf illustrated by FolksnFables
Ron Kinscherf has created a wonderful concept with his Papa Tell Me a Book series. I’ve just read Blanket and am thoroughly charmed. Little David doesn’t nap anymore, he “rests,” but not before he asks his grandfather to ‘tell him a book’ and picks a theme. This one is a blue blanket that has been handed down through the ages. Of course, David falls asleep during the story and dreams. He’s got quite an imagination spinning out of a blanket into dragons, monkeys and crocodiles. The illustrations from FolksnFables are delightful. This series, written for children aged baby to seven years, is a perfect introduction to books, storytelling and reading. The language is simple and by seven a child could read it to himself. In my book, entertainment and learning are the perfect combo! Kudos to author Ron Kinscherf for giving Papi and Grana a new book to share with our little fellow.
Special Event Harvest / Halloween / Celebration on October 22ndwith special guests: Lisa Towles, award winning author of Hot House Ana Manwaring, award winning author of Nothing Comes After Z October 22nd 12pm – 4:00pm 16851 Cull Canyon Road, Castro Valley CA 94552 Space and parking are limited.
Laid out on the page like the players on the pitch, Laura DiNovis Berry’s first poem, “Meet the Players”, in Egg Shaped Ball published by Indies United Publishing House LLC, is a map to women’s rugby. We see where each stands and we learn what kind of women play:
12) Insider Center: Less /woman, more wild horse. /She tramples, charges, bucks
14) Right Wing: She is like/ a bolt shot from a crossbow,/ an uncatchable foe
I’d never considered sports as poetry before reading this volume of poems. In fact, I’d rarely considered sports much beyond a way to hang with my ice hockey loving college boyfriend—we never missed a home game. Now I have a new appreciation for not only sports, but women’s sports. These poems focus the tension, the tests, and the triumphs of women’s rugby.
The lingering trail of fire is mesmerizing. How can you look away from her? A comet scorching earth, destroying every body in her trajectory. She combusts at her destination, appearing as a constellation of triumphant stars.
Laura’s team is named White Horses. Sounds pastoral, serene. Think again! “the ensuing stampede is always unexpected”—hooves score the earth. The game is brutal and the women must play harder than men to be recognized. “First Contact”—Shoulder breaks into/ spongy flesh above the hip/. . ./ Crashing down into oblivion . But the poet assures us “It’s true, we can serve cold punishment too./ A hard shoulder drive, some nice footwork,/ but we must be clever, quick -/wily.” from the tongue-in-cheek poem: “A Rugby Player Scoffs At Victim Blaming After Being Tackled Repeatedly By The Men On Her Team. ” According to Laura, “Bruises are Medals”,
Masochists: Bruises are medals and badges we flaunt.
Sadists: Our hearts are full of sneers./The scrum of flesh becomes a battering ram.
The poems tell the story of “the pain of the biting, pounding fray,” the exhilaration of the play and the pride of the win. They also depict the debilitating defeats and the fight for the right to play. Title poem, “Egg Shaped Ball”, a prose poem, says it all: You would have seething before. Back in the days when you’d first gotten your hands on that egg shaped ball and felt something click into place with a snarl. Fighting for the privilege to be smeared to shit on a dirty field meant everything.
This collection is a passionate view into a world few of us know. It’s a collection of strong action, physical duress, joyful wins and deep introspections into a topic of timely import: women’s sports. Told in vivid language from the pitch and Laura’s poetic heart, it is at times bold and prosaic and other times lyrical with unexpected rhythm and rhyme—something like White Horses galloping across a plain.
About the Poet:
After having once been forced by circumstance to ignore poetry, Laura DiNovis Berry has since dedicated her life to it. She has fallen madly, deeply in love with this craft. Inspired by all the ridiculous, frightening, wonderful, and adorable things she has discovered during her time on Earth, Laura DiNovis Berry writes what she hopes will be wonderful things for others to discover.
In addition to writing poetry, Berry also provides free reviews at Berry’s Poetry Book Reviews for her fellow poets in hopes that modern poetry can be shared with a wider audience.
FICTION NON-FICTION HISTORICAL MEMOIR MYSTERY THRILLERS POETRY AND MORE:
Julie Annette Bennett: The Phoenix Man; Nadine Condon: Confessions. Stories to Rock Your Soul; Ida Rae Egli: Krisanthi’s War; Robin Gabbert: Diary of a Mad Poet; Cynthia Goodwin: God-Inspired Devotions for Daily Life!; Astrid Harper: From Hitler to Trump; Linda Lambert: The Justine Trilogy; Arnold Levine: Banned By the BBC; Ana Manwaring: The Hydra Effect; Tom Martens: Who Am I Now-As the World Goes so Go I; Brian R. Martens: Three Raven Gate; Benita Mattioli: Three Nights at the Condor; Elizabeth Quiroz: Purified in the Flames; Nichola Randall: End of the Road; Peter Richardson: Savage Journey; Rebecca Rosenberg: Champagne Widows; B. Payton Settles: Cold Dead; Jeane Slone: She Was a WWII Photographer; Mark Tate: Rivers End; Waights Taylor Jr: Kiss of Salvation; Frederick Weisel: The Day He Left.
Greg Randall and I were were going to be on a panel together when the 2020 Left Coast Crime convention was shut down for COVID. To prepare, I read the first of Randall’s Alex Polonia Thrillers, Venice Black and loved it. Imagine how excited I was to bump into him this year in Albuquerque and be gifted a copy of Toulouse For Death, #3 of the Sharon O’Mara series. This is what I love about LCC—you meet someone one year and in another year they’re giving you books they think you’ll like, based on a conversation the year before. Greg and I must have talked about art, travel, and strong female protagonists, because Toulouse For Death has all that. Although the book was first published in 2011, the plot is a twist on a classic theme: good vs. evil and is as relevant in 2022 as it has been since biblical times.
A Toulouse Lautrec painting stolen by the Nazis. A dying man’s wish. Old evils return to the twenty-first century.
Facilitator Sharon O’Mara is hired by a client who wishes to remain anonymous. She is to facilitate the return of five stolen impressionist paintings, one of them by Toulouse-Lautrec, to the rightful owners. The family doesn’t know the paintings exist—they had been originally stolen by the Nazis in 1938. Of course, a find like this makes the news and, in South America, a Nazi survivor sees the report and starts making plans. This could be the link to the lost Nazi treasure—the greatest treasure trove from World War II lost since the allies took Germany. And the treasure is the key to fulfilling a dream of resurrecting the Reich by a clandestine group of New Nazis.
Sharon makes contact with the family per instructions, but before she can deliver the paintings, they are robbed at gunpoint from the delivery van by 4 leather-clad motorcyclists in the hotel garage. Sharon puts two and two together, realizing there is more to her client’s secret treasure than a few paintings. Sharon and helper Kevin Bryan, fly to Paris to meet with the client’s associate for answers, but again, they are attacked. The chase is on: from Paris to the fertile vineyards of the Napa Valley. Something is going down, and Sharon and her team are going to stop it. “After seventy years an American GI and a Nazi SS soldier are again pitted against each other.”
Sharon O’Mara is an ex-military police officer, Iraq vet and now an insurance investigator and “facilitator” for hire. She’s tough, smart, and can be counted on to get the job done. A fiery red-head, she’s bold, brassy—a risk taker, as well as confident, honest and valorous. She’s who you’d want leading your team—because she’s not afraid to act. And if you are an action fan, Toulouse For Death is action packed, fast paced and plenty suspense filled to send your heart racing. This book has been compared to Monuments Men. It’s an oblique comparison, but the book’s premise doesn’t feel so far-fetched after all the shenanigans in U.S. politics in the last few years. One reviewer says of the missing treasure, “Makes one want to grab a metal detector and fly off to Germany.” It makes me say, “the world isn’t safe from megalomaniacs who want to take over.” In this novel, good triumphs. I’m looking forward to more of Sharon O’Mara. She’ll vanquish the baddies and leave me feeling like the world has been made a little safer. At least until the evening news.
Michigan born and Chicago raised, Randall has made the San Francisco Bay Area his home with his wife for the last 45 years. The Randalls operate an independent publishing company, Windsor Hill Publishing. He is a cover designer and artist as well as an author. His books often look at how the past impacts the present, and he’s authored over 20 books. His young adult novel, Elk River, won awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Northern California Book Publishers Association (BAIPA).
A blackmailed Court of Appeals judge from the 9th Circuit, a French art exchange student with something to sell, and Mari E, investigator with an agenda of her own, sets another Towles jigsaw puzzle of characters, clues, motivations, and surprises in motion.
Mari E is Marissa Ellwyn, wealthy owner of the prestigious Marissa Ellwyn Gallery, but when a former detective, her soon-to-be partner knocks, it’s on the door of her work-trailer in a seedy section of L.A.’s Fashion District. They’ve both got things to hide, but she needs back up and he has the skills. Mari is being followed by a dark grey van and has received threatening messages—obviously someone objects to her investigation, but for Mari, “The fate of my family and my heart depended on it.”
Abernathy is investigating a college student who has died suspiciously along with the disappearances and deaths of two reporters following the case and the trail that leads to the judge. The cases are linked and as they investigate, threats come from all sides, even from Mari’s former handlers at the CIA.
Hot House moves at break-neck speed from its seemingly straightforward investigation into a shadowy mystery. Although the story is infused with humor and delightful touches like Trevor, Mari’s “Human Resources Director,” a German mastiff, the motivations of characters make for a dark and layered plot. Mari and Derek are professional and determined, mostly sticking to legal investigating techniques. Both have secret histories with the LAPD Chief of Detectives, and both think the PD did a poor job of the initial search, but it’s not until the dead coed’s secrets come to light that some of the puzzle pieces form a picture. And it isn’t pretty.
I found Hot House thought provoking and suspenseful. I shouted “Ah Ha!” at the end of Chapter Fifteen when a clue fell into place for me, and I realized how much fun I was having trying to solve the case. Besides the charming banter between Mari and Derek, the book challenged me. I jotted thoughts and reactions while reading: oh, crap, this goes deep, uh-oh, hmmm-so why surveillance? What? What? And finally the shocking end—I just plain: didn’t see it coming!
Hot House is a hot book to read with a cool drink in the hammock on a hot summer’s day.
Mari E and Derek Abernathy (and Trevor) make a great investigative team in this first of the E & A Investigations Series. The next book can’t get into my hands fast enough! Hot House may have surpassed The Unseen as my favorite Towles novel. All I can say is, the books just keep getting better and better! (Don’t miss The Ridderscoming this fall.)
An Interview with Lisa Towles
am: Where did the inspiration for Hot House come from?
LT: My husband gave me a character name he thought of one day (he does that sometimes) – Derek Abernathy. I told him to write the name down and put it on the top shelf of an open file on my desk (so I’d see it every day). 18 months later (LOL!) I started writing Hot House. Why that amount of time, how did my husband know that Derek Abernathy was going to be an important part of my future? That’s part of the mystery and magic of fiction writing…and marriage 🙂
am: Like many of your protagonists, Mari Ellwyn is complicated and has something to prove and something to heal. What draws you to this type of character?
LT: I love this intriguing assessment – prove and heal. You’re right! And when you say it in those terms, I think every good protagonist has these elements. Like real people, fictional characters can have an external face that they show the world (how they want to be seen) and a more personal side of how they authentically feel. For Mari, I think she’s trying to prove that she’s healed from her shot-in-the-line-of-duty trauma and she’s ready for prime time with a new partner. But what I think she’s still working on, in this book, is being able to trust other people, which will be an issue for her as she starts this new relationship with Derek.
am: What defines Hot House as a Psychological thriller?
LT: Hot House could be thought of as a psychological thriller because the story has a psychological component in it as it relates to central victim of the story: Sophie Michaud. The narrative and backstory of Sophie’s mental illness played an integral role in why she was targeted by her killer and ultimately why she died.
am: I find your work to be like jigsaw puzzles. Bits of information need to be identified then tried in different directions to find where they fit. Eventually it all comes together.
LT: I’ve always loved puzzles, and for people who love puzzles, they typically don’t mind the not-knowing and temporary state of confusion when it comes to crime investigation. We look for obvious clues that are visible on the surface. And whether those pan out or not, there are always underlying layers of truth that have been established to conceal a crime and its perpetrators.
am: Do you think your background in IT has you wired to think in non-linear ways?
LT: Such an interesting question. Software engineering, I suppose, is a good metaphor for crime investigation. You write code to develop a new application (writing parallel: a theory), but there’s a significant amount of testing and verification in many different contexts and scenarios to ensure that it actually works (proving the theory, evidence, etc). And on the less linear side, there’s an important component of “debugging”, which is a problem-solving investigation to fix any defects and things that don’t work correctly. And I think this is where the creativity and thinking-out-of-box comes in. Why doesn’t something work as expected? What are the variables that could be playing a role? When it comes to real and fictional criminal investigations, details arise that might not readily fit into a framework you’ve created for a suspect. But often investigators feel or sense a connection that might not be visible by others (a hunch). THIS is the nonlinear part. Not sure if working in IT or just reading mysteries since I was a little girl made be interested in this. I just know the investigations are fascinating and great fun.
am: What draws you to the thriller genre? Do you write in more than one subgenre of thriller?
LT: I think the pace, stakes, and vibe of thrillers draws me in as a reader, and that’s what I’m pulled to write as well. My second book, Blackwater Tango, was also a psychological thriller, about a psychologist/profiler investigating a serial killer. I’ve heard from my readers (body in a lobster trap) that this was my creepiest book of all – LOL! The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007) was very different – what I called a heartland suspense, about a 15 year old boy in rural Oklahoma investigating a ghost he encounters, which leads back to his family’s tangled past. BooksRadar is a great site that shows all of my books, with descriptions, in the order they were published: https://www.booksradar.com/towles-lisa/towles.html
am: You have a full time IT job, how do you manage to publish two books a year?
LT: Honestly it’s a constant struggle. Luckily I’m a night owl and I do most of my writing after 9pm and on weekends when I’m more relaxed and have time to think and reflect about my work in progress. I’ve learned that the Pomodoro Method (writing in 25 minute blasts) works well for me. But it’s a hard negotiation to consistently juggle my day job, writing new work, editing my work, and marketing/promotion.
am: What kind of publishing team do you use?
LT: I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Indies United Publishing House for my last two books and I’m really excited to keep going. And I’m so grateful to have an Editor who I completely trust, some smart beta readers (like you, Ana!), loving friends and family who support me, and a growing community of engaged readers who kindly provide feedback to let me know what I’m doing right, what needs refining, and what’s most important to them. After all, nothing is more important than our readers! 🙂
am: What was your first book?
LT: My first book (published under Lisa Polisar) was published in 2003, a suspense novel called Knee Deep about a body discovered in a mineral mine in rural New Mexico (where I lived for many years).
am: What’s coming next?
LT: My next publication is one of my favorite books, a political thriller called The Ridders, due for release on November 30, 2022.
am: When will the next E &A Investigations book come out?
LT: Book 2 in the E&A series, called Salt Island, will be released by Indies United on June 14, 2023
Don’t miss Hot House—
FIRST PRIZE WINNER of the 2022 Book Fest Awards
WINNER of the Literary Titan GOLD Award for Fiction
Right from the introduction to America: Standing Strong, I knew I‘d be powerfully moved by Robert J. Emery’s book. He says, “There is a worldwide upheaval coming if it’s not already here. This time, it feels different; this time, it feels dangerous. Where are the voices of common sense, reason, and compromise? There was a time when America’s two-party system, for example, worked to advance American society despite philosophical differences. Today there is endless in-fighting and political posturing between the parties that do little to advance the lives of citizens. Enough already.” Exactly—enough already!
I’m not a zealous fan of political essays or social histories, although I’ve read a few important books in my day, and this is one of them. The book is not anything I expected when my fellow Indies United Publishing House author asked me to review. Emery has offered readers a look at our divided society, politics, COVID pandemic, racial tension and eroding trust in our government, leaving it up to us, the reader, to form our own opinions. He punctuates his thoughts and illuminates the facts with quotations from famous authors, movies, politicians, songs,—even Forest Gump— all designed to make the reader think and to put things in perspective. Inspired by columnist David Brooks, “. . .when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?” Emery counters with [Brook’s words are] “a call to arms, not with weapons or violence, but as a unified country to meet challenges head-on with honesty, truth, and facts and to roundly reject the voices of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would lead us in the wrong direction.”
Written with humor and straightforward “plain talk,” America: Standing Strong explores where we are on many fronts and how we got here. Emery includes chapters on Dictators, terrorism, Anger and the Loss of Civility, Guns in America, the environment, Conspiracies Theories & Misinformation, Technology & Social Media, along with the expected chapters on January 6th, The 2020 Election and The Pandemic. He says, “Stay with me; it gets messier as we proceed.” He often opens a chapter with “What went wrong, and what went right.” and often ends a chapter with a call to action and a summary of the consequences of the chapter topic and a final word. In the chapter, Whatever Happened to Common Sense? it ends with this:
are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally
each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”
—Voltaire (1694 -1778)—
Writer, historian, and philosopher
Another favorite line of Emery’s is “Make of that what you will.” He isn’t proselytizing or persuading. He’s presenting the facts of our current socio-political life and inspiring us to action by telling it like it is, how it’s been (there’s nothing new under the sun, is there?) and offering steps to right some of our wrongs. As an added bonus, Emery offers a host of books and articles to reference within the text. I read several of them and made a list of many more to catch up on later. That’s because Robert J. Emery has made me a convert.
Rather than sticking my nose into another thriller, now I’m paying attention to real life. How did this happen? Robert J. Emery has written a book that inspired me. The issues are complex but the intent and presentation are simple. America: Standing Strong is fact-filled, often entertaining, and left me feeling hopeful. I highly recommend it. “Make of that what you will.”
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
RJE: I have no idea why I began writing little stories in the 5th grade, like the two pages I wrote when my dog died. I attended Catholic school and my homeroom teacher, a nun, was kind enough to read my one- and two-page stories and she encouraged me to keep writing, which I did consistently all through school and my 4 years in the Air Force. It was a fun way to amuse myself. I never gave thought to where it might lead me one day.
am: You eventually broke in to the film industry. Tell us about that.
RJE: It began with a small ad agency I opened in Canton, Ohio. When the first TV station came to town in the mid-sixties we got into the writing and shooting of local TV commercials. I then created a daily morning talk show which I produced and directed for that station. We were fortunate to have a regular flow of Hollywood actors as guests when they were doing summer stock at the Warren Theater in nearby Warren, Ohio.
At some point, I began writing screenplays with no clue what I would do with them. As it turns out, some local businessmen had an interest in investing in an independent motion picture and that’s how I got my first film made. I then spent 4 decades writing, directing, and producing eight motion pictures and over 140 hours of cable network documentaries, and everything in between that had anything to do with film production.
am: Now you’re writing books. Have you come back to your story telling roots?
RJE: Yes. In 2006, I retired and set out to fulfill a life dream of writing books, which I never had time for during my production career. First came four non-fiction books. A NY publisher asked me if I would write on my experiences producing and directing the Starz/Encore 92-episode series, “The Director.” I followed that with my first novel, In the Realm of Eden, a science fiction story about human/alien first contact. Later, I extended the story to 562 pages, changed the name to The Autopsy of Planet Earth, and released it in two volumes via Indies United Publishing House. Next came the dystopian novel Midnight Black, also revised and expanded and released through Indies United.
am: Tell us about your writing process. You write in several genre.
RJE: I admit to being obsessive writing 6-7 hours a day every day when I can. And I’m fortunate to be able to write in any genre when a subject moves me, fiction or non-fiction, like my current book America: Standing Strong, a subject I’m passionate about. America: Standing Strong is a non-fiction examination of what Americans endured between 2015 and today, and how as a country we will come back strong.
When writing fiction, I believe one of my strengths is creating characters because of my background in writing and directing screenplays. I direct my book characters in my head the same way I did when directing actors. For me, it’s the same process. I try to give each character something that sets them apart from the others. It might be how a character looks or how they talk. In Autopsy, for example, I had one character drop the ing’s on all his spoken words. It’s something I work hard at to give readers a visual sense of who each character is. That, I believe, is the challenge each writer faces.
am: What was the inspiration behind America: Standing Strong?
America: Standing Strong came about because all the books that were coming out by investigative reporters, as good as they were, were about the previous American administration. But what about what Americans endured not only politically, but the pandemic, the racial uncertainty, the 2020 election, the Jan 6 insurrection, unemployment, healthcare, inflation? That’s what was missing from the narrative. That is why I became passionate enough about it to spend over a year writing.
am: So what’s next? Will you write more on the troubling times we live in?
It’s no mistake I happened upon Bharat Krishnan’s Privilege, Book 1 of the WP Trilogy, during this time of social and political change (do I dare say upheval?) in our country and around the world. Power and politics go hand-in-hand, imbuing every aspect of society from the nabobs to the powerless masses. Privilege, an #ownvoices political thriller, takes a hard look at privilege and power in the U.S.— who holds it, how one can achieve it, and who is barred from it. Krishnan claims politics seep into every aspect of society and believes we can’t understand each other without a firm, constant knowledge of how politics affect us.
The story is told by several characters, foremost, Rakshan Baliga, an Indian-American working for a profitable hedge fund in New York City. His boss, Aditya Shetty, has risen into the ranks of the rich and powerful, including acquiring the sought after WP, a drug with magical-like properties, causing consumers to be stronger, smarter, and more prosperous than mere mortals.
WP by law is forbidden to non-whites. But Rakshan wants his share. He also wants to marry Sadiya and have a family. Rakshan has an engagement ring made containing WP and proposes. Once on her finger, she realizes he is not what she wants and breaks up with him. He is determined to win her back and comes up with a plan to steal Aditya’s WP and take over the hedge fund with the help of his best friends. With the WP he can spin a tale the world will believe and avoid arrest. His dreams will come true. That is, if he isn’t killed in the process.
Meanwhile, Sadiya has fallen for her best friend from childhood, Maadhini, and they travel back to India to tell her parents they are going to get married. Although Sadiya drags her feet on the revelation, the tension eases as the story’s themes shift to family and values.
Even though he’s got his WP, things have not gone well for Rakshan, who alienates his friends in his drugged quest. He becomes involved with a congressional hearing to consider legalization of WP for all Americans and aligns with the mother of a boy murdered by the police to give testimony. The current president opposes legalization. The country is in the balance—and the story tension and pacing ratchet up. This story might have been ripped from today’s headlines.
The peek behind closed congressional doors was realistic and chilling. Privilege makes me wonder how any real change can be made and equity for all citizens be achieved with the madness of “privilege” addling our brains. I don’t come from an immigrant experience and have had many advantages in my life. Seeing our country through the “other’s” eyes has given me new understanding and fresh resolve to help with the solution. It’s time to unify our society under an inclusive and equitable system where we all can live healthy, productive and secure lives. How many more massacres at schools can we live with? Privilege is telling us to choose.
An interview with Bharat Krishnan
am: What presidential campaigns did you work on and when?
BK: I started my career with the Obama campaign way back in June 2007. Over the next decade, I traveled the country not just on his campaign but also managing local campaigns across the country, from school board and city council to state legislature. I’ve worked in just about every geographic region of the country, from Los Angeles to Louisiana to Virginia to New Hampshire.
am: What kind of educational background prepares you for this work?
BK: I have my BA in political science, with a certificate in political campaign management which is something my alma matter, American University, specialized in. I later got my MBA at Louisiana State University. Going there and working in places like Wichita, Kansas, I found how much state schools like LSU and Wichita State relied on foreign students who also worked at the schools as grad assistants.
am: How has your education and experience influenced this trilogy?
BK: My knowledge of politics seeped into every aspect of the trilogy, from how presidential campaigns really work on a practical level (i.e., what staffers do) to some legal stuff (i.e., book three has a super PAC in it).
am: Did you have a foursome of friends from school and childhood like Rakshan?
BK: Rakshan and his buddies are based on me and my three childhood friends. I put aspects of me and my life into each one of the five characters: Rakshan, Abhinav, Krish, Ash, and Ravi.
am: When did your family come to the US? How are the characters’ experiences like yours or your family’s?
BK: I really wanted to highlight the first-generation Indian-American experience, and also call out the differences and similarities. Most of Rakshan’s friends grew up here, but you still have Krish who came to the US only later in life. There’s no homogenous experience and I wanted to show that. For myself, my family came to the U.S. when I was about two years old.
am: What are your views on immigration?
BK: We need to do more to encourage immigration. Especially since Trump’s election, people are now afraid to come here and it’s a damn shame we’ve nurtured that type of environment. There’s a long history of immigrants coming here for their education and staying, and to the extent we can encourage that with a more relaxed visa policy, the better.
am: Will we find out what happens to Rakshan, Sandiya and Maadhini?
BK: All three of these characters get an ending that makes sense for them! Everything will be clear by the end of the trilogy.
am: What do you hope readers will take away from Privilege?
BK: I use a story telling device I created myself called STOP. It stands for Story, Theme, Origin, and Plot. I try to sum up all my novels’ stories in one or two sentences, and for the trilogy I’d say it’s this: Power and Happiness are two separate things, and you have to choose which one you want.
am: Where are we going in the next two books? Will there be any happiness?
BK: Book one was just about New York, but in Book two we go to D.C. and India, and in Book three you’ll go to Belize and Guatemala as well! And yes! There is happiness, but it takes big, bold choices and it doesn’t always look the way we expect.
am: What else would you like to say to readers?
BK: I try to make the through-line in my novels radical emotional honesty, with politics always sprinkled in, because everything is political in my opinion. I’m very proud of Privilege for winning “Best Adult Fiction” in Ohio last year, and I hope you have a chance to check it out and my other stuff at www.bharatkrishnan.com.
Bharat calls himself a professional storyteller and amateur cook. After 10 years of working in politics, he’s tried to explain how the country went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump by writing Confessions of a Campaign Manager. Then he wrote Oasis, a desert-fantasy novel that examined what makes a family and how refugees should be treated. Now the WP Trilogy. Looks like he’s on a roll with themes of immigration, equity and power! If you enjoyed reading House of Cards, you’ll enjoy Privilege.
“Krishnan has created a genre-bending ride that reimagines how we tell stories about class in America. A must read. “