Friday, November 21, 2014

Cormac McCarthy’s Three Punctuation Rules, and How They All Go Back to James Joyce

Cormac McCarthy has been—as one 1965 reviewer of his first novel, The Orchard Tree, dubbed him—a “disciple of William Faulkner.” He makes admirable use of Faulknerian traits in his prose, and I’d always assumed he inherited his punctuation style from Faulkner as well. But in his very rare 2008 televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, McCarthy cites two other antecedents: James Joyce and forgotten novelist MacKinlay Kantor, whose Andersonville won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955. Joyce’s influence dominates, and in discussion of punctuation, McCarthy stresses that his minimalist approach works in the interest of maximum clarity. Speaking of Joyce, he says,

James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.

So what “weird little marks” does McCarthy allow, or not, and why? Below is a brief summary of his stated rules for punctuation:

1. Quotation Marks:

McCarthy doesn’t use ‘em. In his Oprah interview, he says MacKinlay Kantor was the first writer he read who left them out. McCarthy stresses that this way of writing dialogue requires particular deliberation. Speaking of writers who have imitated him, he says, “You really have to be aware that there are no quotation marks, and write in such a way as to guide people as to who’s speaking.” Otherwise, confusion reigns.

2. Colons and semicolons:

Careful McCarthy reader Oprah says she “saw a colon once” in McCarthy’s prose, but she never encountered a semicolon. McCarthy confirms: “No semicolons.”

Of the colon, he says: “You can use a colon, if you’re getting ready to give a list of something that follows from what you just said. Like, these are the reasons.” This is a specific occasion that does not present itself often. The colon, one might say, genuflects to a very specific logical development, enumeration. McCarthy deems most other punctuation uses needless.

3. All other punctuation:

Aside from his restrictive rationing of the colon, McCarthy declares his stylistic convictions with simplicity: “I believe in periods, in capitals, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” It’s a discipline he learned first in a college English class, where he worked to simplify 18th century essays for a textbook the professor was editing. Early modern English is notoriously cluttered with confounding punctuation, which did not become standardized until comparatively recently.

McCarthy, enamored of the prose style of the Neoclassical English writers but annoyed by their over-reliance on semicolons, remembers paring down an essay “by Swift or something” and hearing his professor say, “this is very good, this is exactly what’s needed.” Encouraged, he continued to simplify, working, he says to Oprah, “to make it easier, not to make it harder” to decipher his prose. For those who find McCarthy sometimes maddeningly opaque, this statement of intent may not help clarify things much. But lovers of his work may find renewed appreciation for his streamlined syntax.

Reposted from Open Culture

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Reviewing the Evidence Reviews Dennis Palumbo's Phantom Limb

by Dennis Palumbo
Poisoned Pen, September 2014
250 pages
ISBN: 1464202567
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Dennis Palumbo has written a fourth mystery featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, consultant for the Pittsburgh Police Department. As in previous books of this series, Rinaldi spends little time in his office listening to patients and much time chasing after perpetrators and rescuing victims. At the start of the book, the initial appointment of a new client - former porn star Lisa Hartland, now the trophy wife of an aging multi-millionaire - ends with Rinaldi punched unconscious and Lisa kidnapped. Lisa had visited Rinaldi because she was on the verge of suicide and wanted one last chance to be talked out of killing herself. The real reason for her despondency is not revealed until later in the book. This assault and kidnapping is only the first of a long string of heinous crimes perpetrated by a pair of sadistic criminals.

Although the police and FBI believe they can identify the culprits, Palumbo presents us with a number of possible accomplices and masterminds. Rinaldi has the skills that allow people to confide in him and he is able to eliminate suspects by having them open up to him. He is able to figure out their psychology and understand what makes them do what they do, but he is not easily able to find and stop them. He comes close to death more than once, as does his ally, FBI agent Gloria Reese. Rinaldi never seems to get enough sleep or food, as his phone is constantly ringing to inform him of either another crime or another demand for him to respond to.

Lisa's husband Charles, a self-centered invalid in a wheel chair, is clear that no expense will be spared for his wife's return and plans to meet the ransom demand of several million dollars. For reasons that we soon learn, the kidnappers want Rinaldi to deliver the ransom personally. He agrees to do this, as Lisa is his client, and this decision involves him in a series of violent and deadly events. All his cleverness and resilience are needed as he faces these harrowing situations.

One of the author's skills is creating a strong sense of place. As in previous Rinaldi books, the city of Pittsburgh - its neighborhoods, its weather, its bars and outskirts - figure strongly in the tale. Palumbo has also created a multi-layered, enigmatic character in his protagonist. Although an educated professional with a cerebral job, Rinaldi is quick to lash out with his fists when provoked. We learn that an abusive childhood with a father who forced him to fight has left him with deep anger issues. And then there is the back-story of his dead wife Barbara, supposedly killed during a robbery. The kidnapping/murder cases are solved by the end of PHANTOM LIMB, but Palumbo leaves us with a personal Rinaldi cliffhanger. The reader will eagerly await the next volume in this series to learn how that plays out.

§Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, November 2014

Guest Post: Perfect Timing, and How to Get It by Dennis Palumbo

Hollywood on the Couch

The inside scoop on Tinseltown, USA.

Knowing what to write and when to write it

Back in high school, during the late 1960’s, I was part of a tragically un-hip rock band. Desperate to make it big (at least in Pittsburgh), and to ride the wave of the current fashion, we pooled all our available cash and purchased five extremely groovy Nehru jackets. I swear, the very next day, Nehru jackets were “out.” No self-respecting rocker would be caught dead in one.

What this anecdote illustrates, among other things, is the peril of bad timing. I’ve certainly seen this in my work with the creative patients in my therapy practice. Over the years, this painful, maddening aspect of the artistic life has been a common complaint, especially among writers.

“The timing sucked,” a disgruntled TV or screenwriter will say, as another cherished project fails to take wing.

We all know what that’s about. You labor for months on a spec feature script about a murder on a space station, for example, only to learn that a similar idea’s just been put into production. Or you have a great idea for an historical romance, but your agent convinces you it’s not commercial. Then, the following year, two films with similar themes are released to great critical and box-office success.

Recently, I saw an author on PBS whose novel was then riding high on the best-seller lists. He revealed that he’d actually written it 25 years before, but its “government conspiracy”-themed story got it rejected by a dozen publishers.

“This was the post-Watergate era,” he explained. “Political cover-ups weren’t considered sexy anymore.” Only after the recent revelations of the NSA’s dubious actions in the name of national security, and the success of TV series like Homeland, was the author emboldened to send his (updated) manuscript out again. This time it was accepted by the first publisher who read it.

Timing. Every writer has felt its favor and its sting. Certainly, Hollywood is filled with stories of languishing scripts miraculously resuscitated by the interest of an actor who was suddenly bankable enough to get the movie made. Conversely, numerous films and TV series---apparently ahead of their time---appeared before the audience was ready for the material and thus failed.

“So?” you may be saying.The timing of what we write and when we write it is out of our control, right? Case in point: the creators of the cult TV series Archer have portrayed their heroes working for a spy agency called, unfortunately, ISIS. Now, given the current association with that acronym, they’ve announced that the agency’s name will change.

They’re not alone. Every day, films, books and TV series are routinely scuttled by the emotional intensity or political sensitivity of current events. (Just as an equal number of projects seek to capitalize on these same events.)

Yes, timing---like success---is essentially out of our control. However, also like success, there are certain things a writer can do to improve the odds.

For example, writers of all stripes need to be aware of the times in which they live---culturally, politically, and artistically. You might not be lucky enough to write something that hits just as the next wave of the zeitgeist is cresting, but you ought to at least be somewhere near the beach. Nothing is so dispiriting as reading a novel or seeing a film by a veteran writer who seems not to have looked out a window in 20 years.

In addition, the chances of being favored by good fortune (another definition of great timing) improve to the degree to which you apply effort. Pushing yourself to go deeper into character and narrative, to toil more consistently at your craft, to take creative risks. I’m speaking, regrettably, about hard work.

I know too many writers who steadfastly refuse to write a new spec script or take a fresh pass at a novel that isn’t working. In my view, they need to see their task not merely as the completion of this or that project, but as an ongoing, unfolding process of craft-building and discovery, whereby the rewards (if they are to come) arrive unannounced and unforeseen. In which case, success then no longer seems a product of good timing but of dutiful, consistent labor.

As legendary golfer Ben Hogan remarked when praised for his good luck on the green, “Yes, I’m lucky. And the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

Does hard work and artistic relevance guarantee that the gods of timing will smile on your efforts? Nope. But then, if you want guarantees, you’re in the wrong business.

However, there’s one thing I can guarantee will reduce even the possibility of good timing in one’s career: attempting to coerce or anticipate it. Like in my story about the Nehru jackets, all such attempts at success by pursuing the currently fashionable are by their nature doomed. Such as trying to write a thriller “just like” the ones topping the best-seller lists. Or trying to craft an R-rated comedic romp “just like” the ones tearing up the box office.

Sorry to say, in terms of mass appeal, that particular ship has sailed. That cultural moment has passed. And while such moments may be occasionally revisited, as with “retro” clothes and re-booted TV shows, the triumphs are brief, little more than nostalgic back-steps on the continuing path toward an unknown future.

See, that’s the paradox of timing: the only possible preparation for showing up at the right time with the right product involves working authentically in the here-and-now, oblivious to what the outcome of your labors will be.

Which brings me back to my sorry little band. Rather than spending money on new jackets, we would have been better off spending more time rehearsing. Not that I’m convinced this would’ve propelled us to rock ‘n’ roll fame and fortune---but, hey, stranger things have happened. It’s all in the timing.

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), DENNIS PALUMBO is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series. For more info, please visit

Reposted from Hollywood on the Couch

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

An Old Friend Passes: Charles Champlin dies at 88; former L.A. Times arts editor, critic

Former Los Angeles Times film critic Charles Champlin speaks with director Alfred Hitchcock in 1977. Champlin was The Times' principal film critic from 1967 through 1980. (Los Angeles Times)

Charles Champlin, the former Los Angeles Times arts editor, film critic and columnist whose insightful, elegantly written reviews and columns informed and entertained readers for decades, died Sunday at his Los Angeles home. He was 88.

The cause was complications of Alzheimer's disease, said his son, Charles Champlin Jr.

The Harvard-educated Champlin had worked 17 years at Life and Time magazines before joining The Times as entertainment editor and three-times-a-week columnist in 1965.

During his 26 years at The Times, Champlin served as the paper's principal film critic from 1967 through 1980.

He then shifted to book reviewing and, with his "Critic at Large" column, offered a more general overview of the arts. He retired in 1991 but continued to contribute to The Times' daily and Sunday Calendar sections and wrote two books despite becoming legally blind from age-related macular degeneration in 1999.

Charles Champlin, shown in 1979, worked for the Los Angeles Times for 26 years. He retired in 1991 but continued to contribute to The Times' daily and Sunday Calendar sections and wrote two books despite becoming legally blind from age-related macular degeneration in 1999. (Los Angeles Times)

In honor of his film coverage and criticism, Champlin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.

"Charles Champlin was one of the great gentlemen of American film criticism and a pioneer in showing that mass-market newspaper reviewing could be smart and well-written as well as accessible," Times film critic Kenneth Turan said Monday.

His tenure as arts editor in the late 1970s was touched by controversy over the paper's coverage of one of the era's biggest Hollywood scandals: the ouster of David Begelman as president of the motion picture and television division of Columbia Pictures after he had forged $40,000 worth of checks, including one for $10,000 made out to actor Cliff Robertson.

The Times did not investigate the Begelman affair until well after rival papers had thoroughly reported on it, opening the paper to criticism in an era when the paper's entertainment staff was not expected to pursue investigative stories.

As a movie critic, Champlin estimated that he saw 250 movies a year and reviewed half of them. He came to the job at a time when the new movie rating system launched in 1968 gave filmmakers unprecedented creative freedom.

"I quickly came to realize that I had acquired an aisle seat at a period of historic ferment in American films," Champlin wrote in "Hollywood's Revolutionary Decade," a 1998 annotated collection of his reviews from the 1970s.

Champlin was known for being "a discerning critic," as fellow film critic Arthur Knight once noted. But he also was criticized by some for writing what The Times' late media critic David Shaw, in a 2001 examination of how the media cover Hollywood, called "overwhelmingly favorable reviews."

Champlin acknowledged his "reputation as a kind critic." But in a talk he gave at Chapman University in 1977, he good-naturedly offered ample evidence to the contrary by reading excerpts from some of his less-flattering movie reviews.

Of the 1975 comedy-drama "Lucky Lady," for example, he wrote that it was a "cynical, vulgar, contrived, mismated, violent, uneven and uninteresting disaster." As for the plot of the Liza Minnelli-Burt Reynolds-Gene Hackman movie, it was, he wrote, "unmenageable, trois as we will."

Addressing the "perils of being a reviewer in Hollywood," Champlin told his Chapman audience that "it's not that [filmmakers] are going to put pressure on you. It's just that you like them in many cases. It's painful to say a movie is a disaster.

"It pains you to do it, but you have to do it. All you have going for you as a critic is your credibility. If you lose it, you're useless as a critic."

As a film critic, Champlin had many fans among the elite of Hollywood, including actor Jack Lemmon.

"I've gotten some pretty bad reviews along with the good ones from Chuck, but he's always been honest and constructive," Lemmon, who died in 2001, said in Don Widener's 2000 book "Lemmon: A Biography."

Director Arthur Hiller, then-president of the Directors Guild of America, offered his praise in 1992, when Champlin received an honorary Life Member Award from the guild.

Champlin, Hiller said, was "the epitome of a film critic [who] has shown an incredible knowledge of films, a deep caring about films and filmmakers."

The veteran journalist was in charge of arts coverage when the Begelman case broke into the headlines at other papers.

For more than two months after Columbia's initial announcement that it had launched "an inquiry into certain unauthorized financial transactions between David Begelman and the company," The Times ran only three brief stories — two just a paragraph apiece — buried inside the paper.

It was not until the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post published articles on the Begelman case that The Times entered the fray by running an edited version of the Post article.

And it was not until an ensuing flurry of newspapers and magazines latched onto the Begelman case as evidence of widespread corruption in Hollywood that The Times assigned a team of four reporters to the story in an effort to catch up.

"We were absolutely in a state of panic," Champlin recalled in a 1979 Times article by Shaw that chronicled the paper's poor coverage of the Begelman case.

Three months after the story broke, The Times published its first major piece on the scandal. Written by Champlin after a telephone interview with Begelman, the piece was seen as "sympathetic" to the producer and referred to the forgeries as "crimeless crimes" and Begelman as "a culprit who doubles as a victim."

Champlin, who years later said that he "couldn't pretend it was a piece of reporting," was criticized for the article, which outside observers viewed as an apologia.

In his analysis of The Times' failure in the Begelman case, Shaw noted a lack of communication between The Times' entertainment department and the news department. It also showed that, while the entertainment section's critics and feature writers covered the artistic side of Hollywood, it was, as Sunday Calendar section editor Irv Letofsky said in 1979, "not equipped to do hard-news investigation."

The fact that Champlin's article on Begelman didn't follow any investigative stories, Shaw wrote, "contributed to an already widely held perception that the Times had deliberately ignored the Begelman affair because the paper was 'protective' of Hollywood."

Champlin was born March 23, 1926, in Hammondsport, N.Y., a hamlet on Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region, where members of his family had long owned a winery that was effectively closed during Prohibition.

In 1943, Champlin headed to Harvard, where he joined the Army's Enlisted Reserve Corps in early 1944. That May — two months after he turned 18 — the self-described "bookish, introspective and fairly unassertive" college student volunteered for induction into the Army.

While serving in a mortar squad in March 1945, he was wounded in the right hip by a German artillery shell and returned stateside after about three months in combat.
lRelated William F. Thomas dies at 89; former Times chief editor

After his discharge, Champlin returned to Harvard, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in English in 1948. On a recommendation from a writing instructor at Harvard, he was quickly hired by Life magazine as a "trainee" in its picture bureau in Manhattan.

A year later, after moving up to a job as a researcher, Champlin was assigned as a correspondent in Life's Chicago bureau. After three years in Chicago and two years as a correspondent in the Denver bureau, he returned to New York City as a writer for the magazine.

In 1959, having become the senior writer in domestic news, he was assigned to Life's Los Angeles bureau. Before joining The Times, Champlin was a London-based arts correspondent for three years.

Over the years, Champlin brought his arts and film expertise to television, including hosting "At One With" on KNBC-TV Channel 4, "On the Film Scene" on the Z Channel in Los Angeles and "Champlin on Film" on the Bravo cable channel. He also co-hosted "Citywatchers," a public affairs program on KCET-TV in Los Angeles, with the late Times columnist Art Seidenbaum.

Among Champlin's other books are "The Flicks: Or, Whatever Became of Andy Hardy" (1975), which was revised and republished in 1981 as "The Movies Grow Up, 1940-1980"; "George Lucas: The Creative Impulse" (1992); and "A Life in Writing: The Story of an American Journalist" (2006).

His slim (69-page) 2001 book "My Friend, You Are Legally Blind" dealt with his struggle with macular degeneration.

Besides son Charles Jr. of Santa Barbara, Champlin is survived by his wife of 66 years, Margaret (Peggy) Derby Champlin; daughters Katherine Laundrie of Vista, Calif., Judith Desmond of San Anselmo, Calif., Susan Champlin of New York City and Nancy Cecconi of Eagle Rock; son John of Valencia; half sister Nancy Kreis of Camillus, N.Y.; 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Reposted from the Los Angels Times

McLellan is a former Times staff writer.
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

Thursday, November 13, 2014

FREE New Thriller from David Angsten's The Assassin Lotus ~ Nov. 12-14 only!

FREE New Thriller from David Angsten ~ Nov. 12-14 only!

From the author of Dark Gold and Night of the Furies, a new epic adventure thriller is available 3 days FREE for your Kindle or Kindle App.

-LotusAssassin_FINAL_Flat (1) 2What secret might empower a man to overcome all fear?

Jack Duran, a young American travel guide indulging a broken heart in Rome, never thought the lotus plant he grew from a seed was anything more than just another pretty flower. But when it draws the attention of an intriguing Indian businesswoman, men with knives soon arrive wreaking bloody havoc. The lotus, it turns out, holds a long-coveted secret, a mystery harking back to the beginnings of Hinduism and Buddhism—and to the ancient origins of terrorism.

Pursued by a fanatical Islamist assassin, Jack flees in search of the man who sent the lotus seed, the ethno-botanist Daniel J. Duran—a notorious and shadowy researcher who happens to be Jack's brother.Together with Jack’s lost love, the alluring Dutch archaeologist Phoebe Auerbach, Dan has mysteriously vanished into the sands of Central Asia.

Following their trail along the legendary Silk Road, Jack eludes a fatal web of ruthless spies and killers, racing against time and his merciless adversary to uncover a long-lost secret of enlightenment—and battle the resurgence of an age-old terror.

Order The Assassin Lotus FREE at the following links:

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The trade paperback is available for purchase at a discount here:

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Author's request: If you enjoy The Assassin Lotus, please let other readers know by writing a review on Amazon HERE.

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For more information on David Angsten's books, visit his website, his blog, "like" or friend him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @DavidAngsten.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tome Tender Gives Jerry Amernic's The Last Witness Fives Stars!

The Last Witness by Jerry Amernic

My rating: 5 stars

Publication Date: October 1, 2014 (paperback)
Publisher: Story Merchant Books
ISBN-10: 0990421651
ISBN-13: 978-0990421658
Paperback: 334 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble


The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally complacent about events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.

My Review

In a word, riveting. Let’s fast forward to the near future, where people are more concerned with the present than the pivotal moments in time that shaped the world and its people. The horrors of World War II are long forgotten, few are left alive that lived through the genocide performed by Nazi Germany on Jews at Auschwitz and other death camps under their reign of terror. Slowly, these survivors are dying from freak accidents, suicide, old age, or is it murder? Only one survivor remains, Jack Fisher, a 100 year old man, whose body may be failing, but his mind is intact. Within his memories lay the truth of what happened so long ago. But who will listen? Even the educators are saying the Holocaust was overblown, exaggerated. Any source of information has disappeared, but why? What evil has sprung up to end the lives of the last survivors?

People who question history are mysteriously dying, and when Jack’s great-granddaughter goes missing after raising issues about this historical travesty, its Jack the police come to for answers. The story Jack reveals is far more heinous than believable, but deeply buried facts back his story, but will it help find his great granddaughter? Raising more questions, suspicions, and awareness to the true history, Jack has placed a bullseye on his frail back. This time, even his Aryan appearance, converted Catholicism and very American name will not save him. Perhaps the young boy he once was will come forward in the fight for survival, but will it be enough? Will the true past die with Jack before the world finally opens its eyes?

Jerry Amernic took one of humanity’s darkest moments and fictionalized it in a way that brings history to life, personal, human and brutally raw. The Last Witness comes to life as part mystery, part history, and one hundred percent spellbinding. His characters range from the delightfully cogent Jack Fisher to the almost caricature-like police detective that befriends him. The seamless travel back through Jack’s memories is almost too vividly real as he tells his life as a young child through the eyes of a much older man.

Parts of our history are ugly, brutal, but these stories must be told and remembered. Through fiction, Jerry Amernic has done just that with The Last Witness and done it with heart and respect for those who suffered.

Reposted from Tome Tender

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Guest Post: Why I Wrote This Book by Jerry Amernic, Author of The Last Witness

The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally complacent about events of the last century, Jack is a 100-year-old man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. His story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth and to Auschwitz where, as a little boy, he had to fend for himself to survive after losing his family. Jack becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation when his granddaughter suddenly disappears. While assisting police, he finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive.

What inspired this book?
Guest post by Jerry Amernic

The Last Witness is a novel that has been germinating in my mind for a long time. It’s about the last living survivor of the Holocaust in the year 2039, with a protagonist who is 100 years old and still in possession of his faculties. But the near-future world I devise here is abysmally ignorant and even more complacent about events of the past century. Let’s make it clear right off the bat; this is not sci-fi – not even close, I don’t write sci-fi – but rather a commentary on what is already happening in the world today, albeit in the guise of a thriller that packs a lot of history between the covers.

My central character, Jack Fisher, is a man whose worst memories took place before he was 5. After the sudden disappearance of his granddaughter, actually his great-granddaughter who is a schoolteacher, he becomes the central figure in a missing-person investigation that winds up involving two countries – the United States and Canada. A sympathetic NYPD detective takes on the case and, in the process, befriends him. While all this is going on, there is a mysterious string of murders of old people taking place around the world.

It  isn’t long before Jack finds himself in danger and must reach into the darkest corners of his memory to come out alive. Indeed, some of those memories have been repressed through years, decades, of torment and suffering.

Jack’s story hearkens back to the Jewish ghetto of his birth as a hidden child, and then to the death camp at Auschwitz where he had to fend for himself after losing his family. These are all captured as flashbacks in my novel.

While there have been many books about the Holocaust, including works of fiction, I don’t believe anyone has taken a futuristic slant quite like this. But the seeds for despair about the level of knowledge out there are all around us right now.

In researching this book, I met with real-life child survivors, including some who were liberated by the Red Army in 1945; one of these survivors was as young as three and his memories are very sketchy, but the others were older at war’s end, and the things they remember are etched in stone. I had former child survivors tell me that after coming to North America they were put into classrooms and told by their teachers not to talk about their experiences. One woman who now goes into schools doing talks about the Holocaust had a particularly gut-wrenching story; she was visiting a school only to have a number of Muslim students turn their backs on her when she spoke; they had been told at home that the Holocaust never happened.

I also met with eminent British historian Sir Martin Gilbert who has written extensively about the Holocaust and who is the official biographer of Winston Churchill; one of his suggestions really piqued my imagination and found its way into my novel.

So why did I write The Last Witness? Well, I have been seized by the idea that one day in the not-too-distant future, there will be one last remaining survivor of the Holocaust. If this individual was a child survivor who had been born in 1939, in the year 2039 he would be 100 years old. And that is my Jack. What will the world be like in 2039?

Aye, there’s the rub, as the Bard would say.

Consider this. A Gallup Poll done just a few years ago found that knowledge of the Holocaust was pathetically feeble in the United States. For example, only 46 per cent of Americans polled could say how many Jews were killed, and only 44 per cent could properly identify Auschwitz, Dachau and Treblinka as Nazi death camps. It is a sad commentary when less than half of Americans can answer these questions. In another poll some 70 per cent of Americans said they knew what the Holocaust was, but the sorry flipside of that is that 30 per cent apparently had no idea.

Yet another poll, this in the United Kingdom, found that 28 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 claimed to not know if the Holocaust ever happened at all. Then there was the survey done five years ago in Israel which said that 40 per cent of Israeli Arabs do not believe the Holocaust took place.

In my own country, Canada, knowledge is also on the wane, especially in the province of Quebec. Where I live in Ontario, the school system is such that any young person can graduate from a public high school with but a single credit in history during that whole time, and it doesn’t even have to be North American or European history.

This means we have spawned an entire generation that is abysmally ignorant of history, and the future does not hold good prospects.

The McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum in Chicago was America’s first museum dedicated to the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. It opened in 2006, but closed its doors only three years later and took its displays on the road. In 2008 the museum did a survey. Are you ready for this? Close your eyes. According to the study, while more than half of Americans could name at least two members of TV’s fictional cartoon family The Simpsons (22 per cent could name all five of them), only one in four Americans could identify more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

So consider The Last Witness not so much a commentary on what the near future will look like, but a warning about profound ignorance and complacency just a quarter-century down the road. For what it’s worth, the very first person to post a review on Amazon said she read the entire book through the night, that she could feel the pain of the memories of the witness, and even cried during some parts. If there is one thing an author wants from a reader, it’s an emotional gut reaction.

Stay tuned for my next historical thriller. Qumran. That is the place in the Holy Land where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered back in 1947. But the discovery in this story has the potential to make that one pale by comparison.

Jerry Amernic is a Toronto author of fiction and non-fiction books. In doing his research for The Last Witness, he interviewed such people as noted Holocaust historian Sir Martin Gilbert, and met with real-life survivors who were children when they were liberated in 1945.

Reposted from Quiet Fury Books Blog

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Guest Post: My grandson just uttered his first word, and it's not what we expected by Jerry Amernic

My daughter has a one-year-old. His name is William, he’s a cute little guy and we all love him to death.

He has dimples in his cheeks when he gives us his four-tooth smile (two uppers, two lowers). The week after his birthday he did two things for the first time: He walked by himself, and it was something to behold – a cross between Frankenstein and Jimmy Cagney – and the other thing he did was utter a word, but it wasn’t Mama or Dada.

Here’s the story. In our dining room we have this pendulum wall clock, and every time it gongs, William takes note. If he is visiting us at noon and hears 12 gongs, he sits up, completely mesmerized, with his mouth ajar, until the string runs out. He doesn’t even blink. If he’s in his high chair in the kitchen and we ask, “Where is the clock?” he knows where to look and sometimes he points to it.

The other day he finally said it. Clock. It was his first word, only he didn’t quite capture the consonant blend, and so, it came out minus the “l”. Kapeesh?

Now, of course, he’s saying it all the time and my daughter, his mom, is beside herself. She has a book where she records such things as his height and weight at birth, when his first tooth appeared, and his first word. But she is still leaving that one blank.

I am sure he says it when she’s out shopping with him at the grocery store. Or when they visit the other grandparents. Or when they have friends over to the house. It must be embarrassing.

I play old-timers hockey with the guys. The thing about men’s hockey leagues is that when you’re in your 20s and 30s, dressing-room talk is always about women – wives, girlfriends, barmaids. In your 40s, it’s about family and kids. In your 50s, colonoscopies and other bodily issues are the rage, so any opportunity to inject humour into the proceedings is welcome.

When we were getting dressed for a game the other night, the guy next to me, a big defenceman who happens to be a police officer, announced that he just became a grandfather. After offering congrats, I mentioned this little story about my grandson.

Bob – that’s his name – said it’s a good thing William’s initial foray into language didn’t refer to the female anatomy.

Could you imagine? It got me thinking. Can a one-year-old be charged with creating a public disturbance?

I should ask Bob, he’s a cop. But no. I’m sure that a little kid can’t be charged with anything. But the adult who’s running the show certainly can, and that goes for mothers, fathers and grandfathers.

Since I’m the one who got him interested in that wall clock by making a fuss whenever it gonged, I feel responsible, and now it’s obvious that I created a monster.

Because of me, William says “clock” (minus the “l”) when you shove your watch in his kisser.

Because of me, he says “clock” (minus the “l”) when you put him down to play with that Fisher-Price toy that has the round face with the big hand and little hand on it.

Because of me, he says “clock” (minus the “l”) whenever he sees any kind of clock at all.

On his last visit to the house I spent a lot of time with him. We were both looking at his parents’ wedding portrait hanging in the hallway.

“Mama,” I said over and over, pointing to my daughter.

“Dada,” I said, pointing to my son-in-law.

Mama. Dada. Mama. Dada.

Nothing. Not even a glimmer of recognition.

Just then the pendulum wall clock in the dining room issued a single gong, signifying arrival of the half-hour.

“C[l]ock!” William said out loud, turning to the sound. It was as clear as the proverbial bell.

Satisfied, he smiled from cheek to cheek, dimples and all.

I was toast.

Orginally Posted on The Globe and Mail

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Dennis Palumbo

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Dennis Palumbo
Q & A with Dennis Palumbo

We are delighted to welcome author Dennis Palumbo to Omnimystery News today.

Dennis is the author of a mystery series featuring psychologist and Pittsburgh Police Department consultant Daniel Rinaldi. The fourth book in this series is Phantom Limb (Poisoned Pen Press; September 2014 hardcover, trade paperback, audiobook and ebook formats) and we recently had the opportunity to talk with him more about it.
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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to Daniel Rinaldi.

Dennis Palumbo
Photo provided courtesy of
Dennis Palumbo
Dennis Palumbo: My series character is Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating the victims of violent crime: those who've survived the kidnapping, the rape, or home invasion, but still suffer from the traumatic after-effects. Rinaldi himself suffered such a trauma when his wife was murdered during a mugging. Though he himself was also shot, Rinaldi lived and struggled with survivor guilt. Now his mission is to help others deal with their own trauma symptoms. However, he also manages to get involved in some of the crimes himself, much to the consternation of his police colleagues. There have been four books in the series so far: Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, and the latest, Phantom Limb.

OMN: How has the characters changed over the course of these four books?

DP: I've had my characters age and change, and plan to continue to do so. People get married, fall off the wagon, get romantically involved with other characters in the series, etc. In fact, if the comments I get from readers is any indication, they're very interested in the lives of my supporting characters. Especially that of Noah Frye, a paranoid schizophrenic who also happens to be my lead character's best friend; Sgt. Harry Polk, the detective who bumps heads with Daniel Rinaldi during each case, and Polk's partner, Det. Eleanor Lowrey, with whom Rinaldi has an on-again/off-again romantic relationship.

OMN: Is Daniel Rinaldi based on anyone you know?

DP: Daniel Rinaldi bears a remarkable similarity to his author: both are Italian-American males, born and raised in Pittsburgh, and graduates of the University of Pittsburgh (the first in their respective families to go to college). We also share a beard and glasses, the same point of view about the mental health industry and how to conduct psychotherapy, and a love of jazz and the Steelers. However, Rinaldi is much cooler, braver and more resourceful than his author! He's also a former amateur boxer, another aspect of his character where he and his creator part company.

OMN: Into which genre would you place this series?

DP: I would call them mystery thrillers, or crime thrillers.

OMN: Tell us something about Phantom Limb that isn't mentioned in the publisher's synopsis.

DP: Though the main story concerns a suicidal patient who is kidnapped right outside Rinaldi's office, the subplot of the novel deals with a returned Afghan vet who lost a leg to an IED in combat. The younger brother of Charlene Hines, Noah Frye's girlfriend, the vet suffers from "phantom limb" syndrome, the sense that his missing limb is still "there." That it itches sometimes, or feels cold. As the novel progresses, I use the phantom limb syndrome as a metaphor for the felt sense of loss we all feel when something or someone is wrenched from our lives. The death of a loved one, perhaps, or a divorce. That experience we often have after such a significant loss that the person is still "here." Still walking the earth. Having lost his wife to murder, and his cop father to alcoholism, Rinaldi can easily relate to the unhappy vet's experience. Whether he can help him or not is another matter, especially when it seems the vet might be linked somehow to the kidnapping.

OMN: You mentioned that Daniel Rinaldi bears a remarkable similarity to yourself. How much more of your personal or professional experience have you included in your books?

DP: Certainly my twenty-seven years as a therapist in private practice, as well as my training at a psychiatric clinic, influence my characters: how they relate, the issues they confront. Especially how Rinaldi works with them as a therapist. Moreover, my childhood and college years in a heavily-industrial Pittsburgh serve as a vivid counter-point to contemporary Pittsburgh, whose steel mills and factories have been replaced by state-of-the-art technology firms and world-class medical facilities. I don't base my plots on things that have actually happened to patients (who thankfully have few cases of murder, bank robbery and kidnapping in their backgrounds!), though I use what actually transpires emotionally in a therapy session to inform the way Daniel Rinaldi relates to his patients. Also, my five years of training with Dr. Robert Stolorow, one of the nation's leading trauma experts, lends credibility (I hope) to those aspects of trauma and its treatment that are woven into the narratives.

OMN: Tell us more about your writing process.

DP: My writing process is completely open-ended. I neither write outlines nor character bios. I usually start with a character or situation in mind, and then just start typing. The truth is, I'd rather write than think! Of course, this means the first draft takes me down a lot of blind alleys and into assorted brick walls, but I don't mind. For one thing, you never know what such a detour will produce: a nice exchange of dialogue or a vivid description that can make its way into the final manuscript. For another, even if I write myself into a corner, I always learn something that informs the rest of the book. Maybe a character does something surprising that gives me an idea of how to use him or her in a different manner later in the story. Whatever. This is a dangerous way to write, I must admit. Sort of a high-wire act without a net. In fact, I usually don't know who the bad guy is until about halfway through the book. Then I have to go back and seed in the kinds of details that make the reveal of his or her identity credible. On the plus side, I figure that if I'm surprised, the reader will be, too.

OMN: How accurate are you to the setting of Pittsburgh in your books?

DP: I make every effort to be accurate as to setting. Though I've lived in Los Angeles for the past 40 years, I still visit Pittsburgh regularly. I also rely on maps, Google, and my family and friends still living in the Steel City to help me with certain details. While my memory of the Pittsburgh I grew up in is vivid and reliable, the new, "gentrified" Pittsburgh has changed so much that I need these resources to make sure my depiction of the city as it is now is accurate. But you bring up a funny point: whenever I hear from Pittsburgh residents about my books, it's rarely to discuss the plot or the characters. Usually it's to point out things like, "Hey, you have Rinaldi make a left on Second Avenue. You can't do that during rush hour!" Or "Nobody crosses the river on the Fort Pitt Bridge to get to Mt. Washington! What's wrong with you?" It keeps me humble, that's for sure.

OMN: What is the best advice you've received as an author?

DP: The best advice I ever got about writing actually came from an acting class I took, over three decades ago, back when I was a working Hollywood screenwriter. The teacher was Darryl Hickman, and his advice about pursuing any kind of show business career was simple but profound: "Keep giving them YOU, until YOU is what they want." In terms of writing, I think this means just write what you want, in your voice, in your own way, about things that interest you. Don't chase trends in writing, trying to emulate the latest books on the best-seller lists. Just write from the core of your authentic self, and do your best to get the work out into the world. If it's your karma, and the stars align, you'll eventually find your audience. I also very much agree with famed golfer Ben Hogan, who was asked once, given his great success, if he considered himself lucky. He answered, "Yes. And the harder I work, the luckier I get." I think that should be pasted up on every writer's wall, right above where they write.

OMN: What's next for you?

DP: As an author, I'm looking forward to writing the fifth book in the Rinaldi series. One of the pleasures of my writing process, as I mentioned previously, is how I get to surprise myself as the narrative unfolds. In other words, I can't wait to see what kind of trouble Daniel Rinaldi is going to get into next. He and I will find out together! On the personal front, the big excitement around our house pertains to our son's first year away at college, three thousand miles from home. Though our excitement is tempered by that gnawing "empty nest" syndrome that everyone warned my wife and me about. Luckily, we now have FaceBook, texts and Skype, and stay in pretty good contact with him. Which means that, to the relief of my friends and colleagues, I can point to something positive about all this new technology, instead of continuing to view it as evidence of the end of Western Civilization. (Though I think the jury's still out …)
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Dennis Palumbo, M.A., MFT is a writer and licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in creative issues. Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, Palumbo’s credits include the feature film My Favorite Year, for which he was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Screenplay. He was also a staff writer for the ABC-TV series Welcome Back, Kotter, and has written numerous series episodes and pilots. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Pepperdine University, he serves on the faculty of UCLA Extension, where he was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook.

Reposted From Omnimystery News

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Phantom Limb by Dennis Palumbo
Phantom Limb
Dennis Palumbo
A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery
Psychologist and Pittsburgh Police Department consultant Daniel Rinaldi has a new patient. Lisa Harland, a local girl, once made a splash in Playboy and the dubious side of Hollywood before bottoming out. Back home, down and out again, she married one of the city's richest and most ruthless tycoons. Lisa's challenge to Danny is that she intends to commit suicide by 7:00 PM. His therapist skills may buy some time — but, exiting, she's kidnapped right outside his office.

Summoned to the Harland estate, Danny is forced, through a bizarre sequence of events, to be the bag man on the ransom delivery. This draws him into a deadly cat-and-mouse game with a brilliant, lethal adversary. Complicating things is the unhappy Harland family, whose members have dark secrets of their own along with suspect loyalties, as well as one of Danny's other patients, a volatile vet whose life may, like Lisa's, be at risk. What is really at stake here? Print/Kindle Format(s) Print/Nook Format(s)  iTunes iBook Format  Kobo eBook Format

Friday, October 31, 2014

Join Dennis Palumbo for Murder at the Beach, Bouchercon 2014!

Why We Write Thrills: Exploring the Human Psyche

 Saturday November 15, 2014   4:30-5:30 pm

Moderator: Dennis Palumbo

George Fong
Michelle Gagnon
Joshua Graham
Becky Masterson
Gregg Olsen


Mind Games: Psychological Thrill Rides

 Sunday November 16, 2014    10-11 am

Moderator: Ali Karim

Patricia Gussin
Andrew Kaufman
Wendy Webb
Dennis Palumbo

Register and for hotel, or (optional) tour arrangements, we encourage you to do so today.  

Chair, Bouchercon 2014, Murder at the Beach

The World Mystery Convention is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization which holds an annual convention in honor of Anthony Boucher, the distinguished mystery fiction critic, editor and author. It is the world's premier event bringing together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community, and is commonly referred to as Bouchercon. [bough'·chur·con]

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Museum at Chatillon Features Terry Stanfills "Realms of Gold"

                                Amis du Musée du Pays Châtillonnais
                                                                                                 Trésor de Vix
No oo1  Lettre aux Amis du Musée  Automne 2014
Fédération Française des Sociétés

d’Amis de Musée (FFSAM)

Notre association est adhérente à la FFSAM à l’instar de quelque 290 autres sociétés d’amis de Musée. En plus de son rôle d’interlocuteur des Pouvoirs Publics, la fédération est un organe de promotion des Sociétés d’Amis et par voie de conséquence des musées, une source de contacts et une occasion d’échanges d’expériences. C’est ainsi qu’un article sur l’AMPC est paru dans le dernier numéro de la revue de la FSAMM. Par ailleurs nous sommes entrain d’établir des relations avec nos collègues de Bourgogne en vue de donner un second souffle au groupement régional (Bourgogne) des sociétés d’amis de musée.
Affaire à suivre.

Un roman autour de la Dame de Vix :

Les royaumes dorés par Terry Stanfill.

La Dame de Vix a inspiré un roman original écrit par une Américaine résidant en Californie, Terry Stanfill.  A l’occasion d’une visite touristique de la région, cette écrivaine eut un véritable coup de cœur pour la Dame de Vix et tout ce qui l’entoure. L’ouvrage
"Les royaumes dorés" en Anglais "Realms of Gold " imagine les circonstances dans lesquelles le vase de Vix est arrivé dans notre Châtillonnais. Naturellement, c’est une fiction : elle met en scènes divers évènements et protagonistes réels ou imaginaires. Les versions françaises et anglaises sont en vente à la boutique du Musée (15€).  


                                                Contacts : Président Robert Fries  Tél :03 80 93 14 42
                                                                      Secrétariat : 06 36 60 92 78  courriel
Permanence les jeudis de 9h. à 12h. (sur rendez-vous)