"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."

—Muriel Rukeyser

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Welcome Back to Gotham City Interview with Dennis Palumbo


Dennis, you’re a Pittsburgh native but now have a psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles. I can understand why you’d want to place the Daniel Rinaldi thrillers in the Steel City. Are there any plans for sending Rinaldi to LA in the future?

Not at the moment, but you never know. The Eastern guy experiencing LA for the first time has been done to death, so I’d have to come up with a pretty compelling reason to send Daniel Rinaldi to the City of Angels.

Like you, Rinaldi’s a psychologist from Pittsburgh. But rather than merely grafting some of your experience onto your protagonist, you’re using your three decades of being a licensed psychotherapist to make you a better writer. Almost exactly two years ago, you’d written an article for The Strand Magazine saying how, precisely, being a psychologist has made you a better writer. It’s one thing to analyze a living human mind and another entirely to analyze one that you first have to create within yet outside your own. Which is more difficult for you?

Well, I find doing therapy and writing to be similar in that both are difficult but satisfying. In the clinical setting, one of the most crucial traits for a therapist is the ability not only to empathize with a patient but to relate to that patient. In other words, the therapist has to take ownership him- or herself of many of the same feeling states and core meanings that the patient exhibits. I believe the same is true when crafting characters. In my view, all writing (whether fictional or nonfictional, and regardless of genre or medium) is autobiographical. The characters in my Rinaldi mysteries are all birthed from within my own psyche, and represent my own experiences, prejudices, virtues and vices. Even the bad guys! I sincerely believe that the more a writer mines his or her own feelings and beliefs, the more personally relevant the writing becomes, which translates to the narrative being more compelling to the reader. As Emerson said, “To believe that what is true in your own heart is true for everyone---that is genius.”

Every hero has a weakness. What’s Rinaldi’s demon, his nemesis?

He has several. In general, he certainly drinks too much and can be a real smartass when dealing with authority figures, both among his clinical colleagues and with the Pittsburgh Police officials with whom he works. He’s very stubborn, can be quick to anger, and sometimes resorts to fairly unconventional means as a therapist in pursuit of helping his patients. Many of his professional colleagues view him as a maverick, which doesn’t bother him one bit.

At a deeper level, he still struggles with survival guilt, having survived a murderous assault that killed his wife but left him alive. Having been an amateur boxer in his youth, Rinaldi feels he should have been able to stop the assailant. But, more to the point, having survived at all has fed his survival guilt to such an extent that friends and colleagues fear he has a “hero complex” or “death wish.” So besides his clinical specialty of treating victims of violent crime---who often struggle with the classic symptoms of PTSD---he tends to see his work as a kind of “mission” that results in his getting involved in high-profile criminal cases, despite the protest of the Pittsburgh PD.  

Have any of your patients ever made their way into one of your novels?

Not directly, no. However, the issues that patients with whom I’ve worked have had to address---both in my private practice and my internship at a private psychiatric clinic---
show up in all of my novels. From depression and anxiety to substance use and relationship crises, emotional and psychological issues underlie the themes of all of my stories. Because I write mystery thrillers, these issues are enhanced or exaggerated for dramatic effect, and to sharpen the edges of my characters, but I try not to stray too far from reality. In other words, when I portray a narcissist or sociopath, I make the portrait as accurate as I can, just as I try to describe the trauma symptoms (PTSD, etc.) that arise from horrific personal events as realistically as possible.

Your career arc is almost a complete circle. You started out as a TV and screenwriter, then you became a psychotherapist before deciding to take up novel writing. Was this a deliberate circular route or did you just fall back into the writing game?

None of my career path was planned, though it does have the circularity you mentioned. In college, my goal was to be a novelist. However, when I also discovered a love for film and TV, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue those goals. I was very lucky in my Hollywood career, and when I retired to go back to grad school and become a licensed therapist, I thought my writing days were behind me. But the bug never went away, and after building up my private practice, I started writing short stories and essays, until finally getting the opportunity to do what I’d originally intended, which was to write novels. Since I’d loved mysteries since my Dad bought me “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” when I was home sick from school, I figured why not create a series character? And that’s how Daniel Rinaldi came to be. Perhaps most gratifying is that doing the series allows me to write about two things that I love: my hometown of Pittsburgh and the profession of psychology. They both provide (to me, at least!) a fascinating world from which to fashion suspenseful, complex thrillers.

Put yourself on the couch for a moment. You’d written an essay explaining how being a psychologist has made you a better novelist. But is the reverse true? Has being a novelist made you a better psychotherapist dealing with other creative types?

It’s hard to say, since most of my patients are in the entertainment industry, and so I tend to think that it’s my own seventeen-year experience in Hollywood that offers me a unique perspective when dealing with these patients. But I’m sure that in ways too difficult to quantify, my dozen years as a series novelist has given me an even deeper appreciation of the struggles all creative types go through. Including me.

In an earlier interview, you mentioned a pivotal “Road to Damascus” epiphany after a talk with a Hollywood producer and it led you to abandon your TV and film work and devote yourself exclusively to your patients. So was there a similar turning point that led you to get back into writing or did you know you were temporarily lying fallow?

As I mentioned above, I did think that after attaining my clinical license and going into private practice my writing life was behind me. But after being asked to contribute an article about writing to WRITTEN BY (the magazine of the Writers Guild of America), I realized my love for putting one word after the other had never gone away. That article led to a monthly column in the magazine (called “The Writer’s Life”) which addressed the issues most writers struggle with: blocks, procrastination, rejection, fears of failure, etc. Then the column led to a book called WRITING FROM THE INSIDE OUT. By now, I’d returned to submitting mystery short stories to various magazines, something I’d done even throughout my show business career. So I think it was a natural leap to the idea of writing books, particularly a mystery series.  

You co-wrote My Favorite Year (a nominee for a Writers’ Guild of America award). As a young screenwriter, how did it feel hearing Joseph Bologna and Peter O’Toole speaking your dialogue for the first time?

Pretty amazing, though it’s important to remember a film is a group effort. Not only was the script co-written by Norman Steinberg, but there was the usual amount of ad-libbing and other creative bursts while the film was being shot.

Was O’Toole’s character Alan Swann based on a specific actor you knew in Hollywood, was he an amalgam of several or was he pure fiction?

That’s an easy one. The character is wholly based on Errol Flynn, my Dad’s favorite movie star. I remember watching the Late Show on TV with him, where he’d introduced me to The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood. I wrote the first draft of the script specifically for Peter O’Toole, an actor I’d always loved. There were, of course, many fictional aspects woven into the script. For example, while the film explores what happens when an Errol Flynn-like character is booked to appear on a TV show modeled on Your Show of Shows, in reality Flynn was never a guest on the actual real-life program.

I know you’re juggling a psychotherapy career with running your personal life and several other commitments but what’s your typical writing day like? Do you set word goals, use a notebook, laptop or a combination of both?

I’m afraid I’m not that organized! Given the weight of a full therapy practice, I write whenever I can squeeze in an hour or two, which is why so many years go by between Daniel Rinaldi novels. I know my crime-writing colleagues often turn out a book a year (and sometimes two!), a situation I can only dream about. On the other hand, I like the balance that I have to maintain between my two careers. Especially, as I’ve alluded to above, I believe one feeds the other. In terms of writing tools, I write directly on my laptop.

Is Daniel Rinaldi the only series on the horizon or are you mulling/planning another?

Believe me, I’m amazed that I’ve turned out five books in the Rinaldi series so far. The thought of considering another series gives me a headache. But if I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that my crystal ball has a lot of cracks in it, so my predictions about the future aren’t to be trusted.

I already know the answer to this since I’ve read your old interviews but for the readers at home, are you a plotter, pantser or plantser?

Definitely a pantser. I literally have no idea what each Rinaldi book is going to be about when I start. I tend to pick a murder victim about fifty-sixty pages in, and then figure out the culprit by about page 200. Then, of course, I have to go back and seed in all the clues, red herrings, etc. It’s funny, because often readers tell me they love the twists and turns in my narratives, the unexpected surprises, etc. What they don’t know is that these twists and turns come as a surprise to me, too! They just announce themselves to me as I’m writing. Obviously, this approach isn’t for everyone, since it’s clumsy and requires a lot of re-writing. But I don’t mind, since I’d rather write than think.

Since the first entry in the Rinaldi series, Mirror Image, debuted a decade ago, you’ve gotten plaudits from luminaries in the mystery-writing community such as John Lescroart, Thomas Perry, Stephen J. Cannell, T. Jefferson Parker and Ridley Pearson, to name just a few. You’ve been with Poisoned Pen Press the whole time. But if a Big Fiver comes calling, what do you think you’d do?

Tough question, since Poisoned Pen Press has become an imprint of SourceBooks, a much bigger publishing entity. In terms of publisher, I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I remain a huge fan of the people at PPP who’ve remained since the changeover and hope it will continue to be a good fit.

If Daniel Rinaldi had you on the couch, what do you think he’d first ask you?

“Some of the crimes and situations in your stories are so horrific, Mr. Palumbo, I’m worried about you. Are you all right?” If I were to guess, I’d suspect that further therapeutic investigation would suggest that my intense, suspenseful books are a way to explore and expiate my own darkest impulses in a safe, contained way.    

What’s next for Doctors Palumbo and Rinaldi?

I’ll have to ask Dr. Rinaldi and get back to you. As you can imagine, he’s a very busy man and not so easy to reach.



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Empathy, Anger, & Hate: A talk with Vincent DiPersio, Documentary Filmmaker

It was our pleasure to work with Vince as Director on our Emmy-Nominated "The Kennedy Detail."


Vincent DiPersio (RUP ‘76) is a three-time Academy Award nominee for Documentary Feature. He has three Emmys. Last month he debuted a new film called Killed By Hate on the Oxygen Channel called Uncovered: Killed by Hate. It’s an examination of how the back-to-back murders of James Byrd and Mathew Sheppard led to Barack Obama’s enactment of Hate legislation and then examines how in the last two years hate has been on the rise in America.


From oxygen.com:

On June 7th, 1998, James Byrd Jr, an African American was murdered by three white supremacists in Jasper, Texas.  He had been beaten, tied to the back of a car and dragged for three miles. Four months later, on October 6th, 1998, Matthew Shepard, an openly gay student at the University of Wyoming was beaten, tortured, set on fire and hung from a fence and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming. Both James Byrd Jr. and Matthew Shepard succumbed to brutal injuries, but it was a far greater force that took their lives: Hate. Nearly a decade after their murders, President Barack Obama signed into Law the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. With one swift signature America sent a message to the world; that we would not tolerate crimes committed against people based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or disability. Now, ten years later, the real question is, has it worked?

Interviewer: I was hoping to talk to you briefly about the process in making Uncovered: Killed by Hate. You are playing to two very strong emotions: deep empathy and anger. As a director, I’d like to get your take on this. How do you tell the story in this setting? Obviously the interviews are very important. Could you say a few words about the role of empathy as you enter the process of making a film like this?

Vincent DiPersio: Empathy. That’s a big one.

I’ve done so many projects where emotions run high.

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations. The absurdity of the so-called war on drugs. The madness of gun violence. The lie that led African Americans out of the Delta up north during the war only to pull the rug out from under them once the white boys came home from the war. The horrors that police officers see every day.

I’ve had to shine light into a lot of dark corners. It could make you cold and cynical. Or by some mysterious gift of grace it could lead you by the hand to empathy. Somewhere along the line, I really don’t even know how, this rough neck kid from Philly acquired that grace.

I know this. I know that it starts with listening.

It begins with arming yourself with enough knowledge of a story that you feel confident about loosing that knowledge in the face of someone who actually lived it.

What I’ve come to understand over the years is that when people are in crisis, most of us rush in to help. To make it better. But in the process, intent on achieving some positive effect, we don’t really listen. We don’t let the other person fully express their grief. I’ve talked about it endlessly with my crews over late night beers. But collectively, we’ve come to understand that our job is to listen. To let the person we’re sitting with channel their voice through us. That’s the secret really. That simple act of listening, having the courage to understand that no matter how much you’ve prepared, you don’t know as much as the person you’re interviewing, sitting there listening, really listening, that’s what builds empathy.

Interviewer: What about anger? 

Vincent: Anger? Man, that’s a whole other issue.

The kinds of stories I try to seek out, something that needs serious illumination, those kinds of stories can surely raise your hackles. But again, and this happened over years, I’ve come to realize that anger can sometimes be just another pair of blinders. Anger can slant your vision, push you to infuse the story with too much of you and not enough of them.

I’ve also learned that yeah, you can make a dynamite film from that angry point of view. And that everyone who agrees with you will go along for the ride. But is that really your purpose? To preach to the converted? Or is it maybe more important to be expansive with your voice. To let in enough points of view so that maybe someone who didn’t agree with you going in, comes out the other side having the scales gently removed from their eyes.

So while I may throw an occasional shoe at the T.V. set, I’ve learned to temper my anger when I put on guy director’s hat and instead zero in on the larger, often very complicated truth.

The biggest part of all this though is your fellow travelers. The people riding around in that van with you from location to location, interview to interview. Over time you learn to read people quickly and to use that to surround you with people who not only share your approach, understand the empathy needed and the ability to be open, but that will also lift you up when you flag.

I always equate it being in a jazzer’s band, say like Miles. Miles always said that he wanted guys in his band that, if he were having an off night, would just play right over him. Guys who were going to make the night magic whether he was up to it or not. I”ve been lucky to find men and women to ride with me who are just like that.

Interviewer: And Goddard College? In what way did your education at Goddard prepare you for this work?

Vincent:  None of this, and I’m not being ingenuous, none of this would have been possible had I not come across a Goddard catalogue in my Community College back in Philly.

 At the time I was an angry young kid. From a broken household and a dirt-poor neighborhood.

Fresh from a stint in the Army that just made the chip on my shoulder bigger. The men in my life up to that point were ravaged by drink and working class torpor. I’d been told so many times that I was worthless or wouldn’t amount to anything that I almost believed it.

Almost.

The G.I. bill gave me the freedom to do what my broken household couldn’t- consider college.

Over the years however, I’d become awfully suspicious of rules, of authority, of the “accepted” way to go through your life. That Goddard catalogue, I remember it had a beautiful young woman in a peasant dress on the cover, promised something else. Promised the freedom and space I’d never had to explore, to figure out with some guidance exactly how to release this voice in my head that said things needed to be done about the world.

From the time I got off the Montrealer on that crisp fall morning and loaded into the back of a pick-up truck my life began to change. In those north woods, on that glorious campus I found men and women willing to reach out to me and ask me where I was headed, what I was trying to say.

For the first time in my life I was encouraged to not only find but also to have the courage to follow my own path. They did it with love, with compassion, with understanding. And with listening!

I mean this with all my heart, if it weren’t for Goddard, I wouldn’t be here today.

I was lost and those remarkable men and women who ran the joint and taught helped me find myself.

Interviewer: What’s next?

Vincent: Currently I’m working on a prison reform program with Kim Kardashian West, chronicling Kim’s efforts to get legislation passed to enact prison reform and to get the prison sentences of people who’ve proved themselves rehabilitated overturned, all in an effort to fight mass incarceration.




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StoryHinge: Kenneth Atchity A Life of Stories - PART TWO


With more than forty years’ experience in the publishing world, and nearly thirty in entertainment, Dr. Ken Atchity is a “story merchant”– writer, editor, producer, career coach, teacher, and literary manager, responsible for launching hundreds of books and dozens of film and television productions. His life’s passion is finding great storytellers and turning them into bestselling authors and produced screenwriters.

In one of his recent works he produced the film called “The Meg” (Jason Statham, Warner Brothers), “Hysteria” (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Informant Media), “Expatriate” (Aaron Eckhart, Informant), the Emmy-nominated “The Kennedy Detail” (Discovery), “The Lost Valentine” (Betty White; Hallmark Hall of Fame), “Joe Somebody” (Tim Allen; Fox), “Life or Something Like It” (Angelina Jolie; Fox), and “14 Days with Alzheimer’s.”

His own books include novels, The Messiah Matrix and Seven Ways to Die, and nonfiction A Writer’s Time, Writing Treatments that Sell, and Sell Your Story to Hollywood.

This month is your chance to mastermind with Kenneth Atchity!


All you need to is:

Step 2: sign up for the mastermind with Ken and I.

When you get yourself a copy right now, you're invited to a one-of-a-kind mastermind with Ken and myself where we'll discuss all things Hollywood (especially how to get your story on the big screen)!

Here's what Emmy award-winning producer Norman Stephens said about the book:

Authors Kenneth Atchity and Alinka Rutkowska combine for a resume of talent and experience that towers above most pundits of the entertainment industry. Every page of "Your VIP Biography" is a gift to writers and producers whose personal lives may lack the extreme conflicts of a story’s principal characters, yet they embrace stories of others to share with a wide audience.

CHANGING SPIRITS WITH DREAMS: Lu Xun's Wild Grass by Carolyn T. Brown


One day Chuang Chou dreamed that he was a butterfly fluttering about, doing as he pleased. He was not aware of being Chuang Chou. Suddenly he awoke with a start and he was Chuang Chou again. But he could not tell whether he had dreamed that he was a butterfly, or whether he was a butterfly dreaming that he was Chuang Chou.

The dream of the ancient Taoist philosopher Chuang Chou (369-286) is the most famous of a long, rich tradition of dream narratives in Chinese literature. Chuang Chou's dream poses a problem of human freedom: how to transcend the limits of any duality whose first term, in this case dreaming, logically generates its opposite, waking.

Dreamworks 5:2: 1986-1987 (Dreamworks Magazine Book 5) by [Atchity, Kenneth]
Excerpt from  Dreamworks 5:2: 1986-1987 (Dreamworks Magazine)
Kenneth Atchity Available on Amazon

The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People






The daily life of great authors, artists and philosophers has long been the subject of fascination among those who look upon their work in awe. After all, life can often feel like, to quote Elbert Hubbard, “one damned thing after another” -- a constant muddle of obligations and responsibilities interspersed with moments of fleeting pleasure, wrapped in gnawing low-level existential panic. (Or, at least, it does to me.) Yet some people manage to transcend this perpetual barrage of office meetings, commuter traffic and the unholy allure of reality TV to create brilliant work. It’s easy to think that the key to their success is how they structure their day.

Mason Currey’s blog-turned-book Daily Rituals describes the workaday life of great minds from W.H. Auden to Immanuel Kant, from Flannery O’Connor to Franz Kafka. The one thing that Currey’s project underlines is that there is no magic bullet. The daily routines are as varied as the people who follow them– though long walks, a ridiculously early wake up time and a stiff drink are common to many.

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New From Story Merchant Books Larry D. Thompson's The Trial: A Thriller







Luke Vaughan thought he had retired from trying lawsuits. That was his intent when he left Houston and moved Samantha, his teenage daughter, to his hometown of San Marcos, Texas, to establish a low-key office practice. Instead, he found that he traded the stress of trial work for the greater stress of raising a rebellious daughter. After Samantha volunteers as a subject in the clinical trial of a new antibiotic that both the drug company and the FDA knew was dangerous, she develops liver failure.

Unable to pay for a liver transplant, Luke is forced to return to the courtroom one more time in a last-ditch effort to save his daughter's life. When Luke's efforts expose fraud and corruption in both the drug company and the FDA, he is suddenly confronted with a ruthless adversary who is willing to resort to bribery, kidnapping, and even murder.

Echoing themes from today's headlines, The Trial is a classic David-and-Goliath tale of a small-town lawyer fighting the incestuous relationship of a giant pharmaceutical company with the FDA. In this fast-moving legal thriller, Thompson exposes the corruption involving the drug industry, which, all too often, leads to the approval of new and very dangerous drugs in the United States.