Monthly Archives: September 2009

Lisa Black: Top Talent in Top Form

With “Evidence of Murder,” Cape Coral author Lisa Black leaps to the forefront of contemporary mystery novelists. Her protagonist, Cleveland forensic specialist Theresa MacLean, introduced in last year’s “Takeover,” is a new star in the firmament of crime solvers. LisaBlack-2

When Ms. MacLean’s cousin, Detective Frank Patrick, asks her to help him investigate what seems to be a missing persons case, Ms. MacLean complains that she has “a building full of dead people” to examine. Soon enough, however, the missing Jillian Perry turns up dead. Though preliminary findings suggest suicide, other factors cast suspicion on that hypothesis.

To read the rest of this review as it appears in the September 3-9, 2009 edition of the Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Lisa Black

Bonus material: The following capsule biography and interview where prepared for newspaper publication but not used. You get it here exclusively on Phil Jason’s Web Site. See also: Elizabeth Becka and Ft.Myers magazine – Lisa Black

About Lisa Black

 Clevelander Lisa Black started writing fiction in grade school, and she kept on writing longer and more complex stories through high school and college. Shortly after graduating from John Carroll University in 1985, with a B.A. in Political Science, she completed her first full length novel. After too many years as a secretary for a gerontological institute, Black sought a change. She returned to college and earned a B.S. in Biology from Cleveland State University in 1993. After an internship at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office, she was hired full time in December of 1995.

at Cleveland Public Library

at Cleveland Public Library

 Several years later, having become an experienced forensic scientist, Black moved to Cape Coral when her husband persuaded her to escape the Cleveland weather. She began working for the Cape Coral Police Department in 2000, and she also became more and more occupied with her writing, which now drew on the material she had learned as a forensic specialist. As Elizabeth Becka, she published two novels: “Trace Evidence” in 2005 and “Unknown Means” in 2008.

The vagaries of the publishing business led this well-reviewed writer to change her publisher and her writing name. Lisa Black brought out the hostage thriller “Takeover” late last year, and now we have “Evidence of Murder,” officially released on September 8.

PKJ:  Do you outline?

LB: I don’t outline formally, but I’ll jot down a sequence of events. I have to know what’s going to happen from the beginning to the end, with all major plot points. And once I start, I keep myself to some sort of word count schedule, with time off only for vacations and major holidays. I have a fear that if I stop, I won’t be able to start again.

PKJ: Do you stop to polish sentences, paragraphs, chapters? Or do you push through an entire draft and then revise the whole thing?

LB: I’ll stop to polish something if I notice it, or go back and add or change something if it’s vitally important, but otherwise I like to go from start to finish and then revise the whole draft, usually twice.

PKJ: Do you do journal work? Character studies? Any kind of practice or warm-ups?

LB: No, I’m terrible! I should do all of that and I don’t. I’m trying to make myself do more prep work to make my characters deeper and more real, and to reduce rewriting (which I loathe).

PKJ: What parts of the writing process do you enjoy the most? — or find just plain hard work?

LB: I enjoy plotting it all out in my head beforehand. I’ll have this and that, but I still need a reason for this to happen…and you think and you go to work and you exercise and buy groceries and think some more and eventually it comes to you. Rewriting is plain hard work, which is why I loathe it. It’s also stressful because I find it impossible to know if my changes are making the book better or worse.

PKJ: Aside from forensic matters, which you already know plenty about and must keep up with on the job, what kinds of research have been necessary in your writing?

LB: I try to go to the places in Cleveland where my scenes take place, and I read books. I read a few books on hostage negotiation for Takeover, on the history of video games for Evidence of Murder, and on America during the Depression for the upcoming Past Crimes.

PKJ: You’ve been living, working, writing in Cape Coral for quite a while now. Any chance readers will see this town, or SW Florida, show up in a Lisa Black novel?

LB: It would be fun to bring her here on vacation. The differences in the climate alone would give me plenty to write about.

PKJ: Any hobbies or causes that you’d like to share with readers?

BL: Write to the troops with! Otherwise my only hobbies are working out, reading, and going to Cleveland to visit my 90 year old mother. I’m very boring, I guess.

PKJ: What started you on the path to joining the mystery writer fraternity/sorority?

LB: I think it’s genetic. My grandfather was a juvenile probation officer. My grandmother read mysteries, my father read and tried to write them, and they’re all I’ve read for as long as I can remember.

PKJ: Most readers read for fun; many writers read to learn from other writers. What have you learned from the work of others?

LB: I learned from Jeffrey Deaver to stick to the story. I learned from Tami Hoag to have lots of emotion. I learned from Patricia Cornwell to have conflict from every facet of the character’s life. I don’t remotely succeed in putting these lessons to use in my writing, yet, but I’m working on it.

PKJ: How do you get into the heads of your villains?

LB: The villain is simply someone who wants something really, really bad, and isn’t going to stop at anything or anyone to get it. While the hero has all sorts of rules and conventions and other duties to deal with as they’re trying to solve the situation, and the villain doesn’t. So I look at things from their narrowly focused point of view, because their narrow point of view is what makes them scary.

PKJ: What’s worked for you regarding networking with other writers?

LB: A subgroup of Sisters in Crime called the Guppies (Great UnPublished). We have an email digest where we support each other and discuss questions about writing. That’s how I found critique partners, who were (and still are) invaluable.

PKJ: What are you working on now?

LB: A novel based on a true story about a serial killer who preyed on Clevelanders during the Great Depression.

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Naples Author Pitches Baseball History

“Everything good happens to me on July 5,” says Dorothy Jane Mills.

Indeed, she was born that day in 1928. She moved into her much loved home in The Carlisle, a retirement community in Naples, that day in 2007. And on July 5 this year, Mrs. Mills was credited in The New York Times with furthering a much-publicized FBI investigation into the theft and fraudulent auctioning of rare baseball documents.

A few weeks before the Times article was published, Mrs. Mills had received a phone call from an FBI agent asking her a question that probably no one else could have answered. The agent needed to know if a certain letter had been part of the New York Public Library’s Spalding Collection, a repository of early baseball history.

To see the rest of this article, as it appeared in August 27-September 2 (2009) issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, click  Florida Weekly – Dorothy Jane Mills

Catch up with this fascinating writer at

Here is the cover of her forthcoming book, mentioned in the article:




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Jean Harrington’s “Lion” of a Book

Published in the Sept.-Oct. 2009 issue of Fort Myers Magazine.

Click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Jean Harrington

What Naples author Jean Harrington does so well is provide a fully-textured sense of place.  In the Lion’s Mouth (from Highland Press) is set in Ireland, England, and the colonies of Massachusetts and Rhode Island in the late 1660s. As we follow Harrington’s colorful characters, we encounter the details of clothing, diet and food preparation, rural and urban dwelling places, weaponry, and sailing vessels. We can’t be sure that Harrington is accurate, but she does create verisimilitude.  The abundance of consistent detail makes the world she builds credible. Her characters inhabit it plausibly, and as we believe in them, we believe in their experiences and vicariously share the sensory dimensions of their lives. On these grounds alone, In the Lion’s Mouth is worthy of commendation.IntheLion'sMouth-HighRes

However, much else is accomplished. Harrington dazzles us with the lure of the New World – its vast expanse, its promises of freedom, self-reliance, and opportunity. She also gives us the historical realities of European encroachment on the lands of others, pettiness and greed, and the long arm of English rule.

Against this background, Harrington continues the story of Grace O’Malley and Owen O’Donnell , whom readers first met in The Barefoot Queen. The plight of these two lovers, now married, grows out of the English exploitation of the Irish and particularly the English usurpation of Irish ancestral lands. The haughty and villainous Lord Rushmount is the local landholder in Grace’s and Owen’s corner of Ireland. Grace, like her father before her, has defied him in many ways. When family and friends were perishing from lack of food, Grace took it upon herself to become a deer poacher – and thus a criminal. It’s one thing for a young woman to be at the mercy of a tyrant; it’s something more when that tyrant is obsessed with that shapely woman’s beauty and fire. Grace’s copper-red hair is the symbol of her fiery spirit, both of which Rushmount is driven to possess. Grace has rebuffed his advances and given herself to the handsome, though crippled, Owen. Like Grace, Owen seeks justice for his people. But he and his wife are outlaws, or at least enemies of authority, who must escape Rushmount’s mixture of lust, wrath, and vengeance. They must put Ireland, friends, and family behind them.

As they journey from home to Galway, Cork City, and Dublin, hoping to book passage across the Atlantic, Grace and Owen are regularly threatened by Rushmount. They discover that Liverpool is the closest place to embark on such a journey, and though they don’t wish to spend time in England (the “Lion” of the title), it seems a necessity.  They are delayed there for many months, during which Rushmount puts Grace in a compromising position that she feels she must not reveal to Owen.

Harrington’s narration of the Atlantic crossing aboard the “Seafarer” is masterful. Her verbal art breathes life into the character of the vessel, the living conditions, the ravages of bad food and severe storms, the ebbs and flows of despair and determination, and the ecstatic and bewildering arrival of the young couple to Newport harbor. Of course, the demonic Rushmount is there as well, having made the crossing to serve as a Tax Collector for His Majesty.

Finally, Grace and Owen reach their desired destination – the combined colonies of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation. Harrington involves them with her versions of the historical Roger Williams, founder of these colonies, and Canonchet, the legendary Narragansett chief. Harrington’s treatment of these relationships emphasizes Williams’ respect for the Native Americans and his insistence that their lands may not be taken: they must be fairly paid for. Jean Harrington imagines that a man with Williams’ philosophical pedigree would fully honor the concept of religious freedom and offer the utmost hospitality to the Irish Catholic newcomers.

Before reaching Providence, the young couple meets Absalom, the Narragansett leader who is an adopted son both of Canonchet and Williams. His upbringing has shaped him to be the ideal bridge between the two peoples, leaving him at the same time a man divided. He is also the Noble Savage par excellence, extremely helpful to Grace and Owen in their land clearing, planting, and other pursuits in their new environment. Absalom, however, is no exception to the rule that a man with a pulse will fall for (and maybe from) Grace.

The strains on the marriage, the delights and hardships of Providence, the contrasts developed among Owen, Rushmount (always nearby), and Absalom propel the later chapters of the novel through many suspenseful twists and turns.

Like any good writer of historical fiction, this former college teacher of literature and writing is a good researcher. Using the internet, Harrington found information on the chronologies of English rulers, key historical events and issues in successive reigns, period dress, the evolution of Irish law, and much else.

She writes, “One of the most interesting research sites was the Narragansett Indian web site.  It was a mine of information about sachem succession, planting, food preparation, clothing, house construction, marriage customs, tribal lore. For basic information, or to check facts found on the web, I often turned to the library for verification.  For example, a book on jewelry design there helped me to describe how Owen might have crafted the ring he gives to Grace.   And believe it or not, the children’s section of the library with its illustrated cutaway line drawings of sailing vessels made the internal workings of an ocean-going ship of the period clear to this land lubber.”

 Since most of the available material on clothing and furnishing concerns the aristocracy, Harrington needed to dig deeper to glean similar information about the peasant class. She sought out “tales of descendants and Irish buffs who had much to tell of their forebears’ hardships.”

photo by Martin Miron

photo by Martin Miron

In blending research, imagination, and a nuanced yet highly accessible style, Jean Harrington has fashioned a compelling, earthy, and exciting romance that never flags. In the Lion’s Mouth brings us vigorous, passionate characters leading their lives against the perfectly realized backdrop of a changing world.

See also:

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Books Across the Bridge

Sunshine 4

This was the working title of an article I submitted to the Naples Florida Weekly.  It was published in the August 20-26, 2009 issue. To read it, click here: Florida Weekly – Sunshine Booksellers.

 Here are some other book industry pieces in Phil’s archives:

Trident Press                                      Wickham Books South

Mina Hemingway                                  Whitehall Printing

Ft.Myers magazine – ArcheBooks

Stuart Unsworth in the south branch of Sunshine Booksellers

Stuart Unsworth in the south branch of Sunshine Booksellers

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