"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser

'Phantom Limb': A Conversation With Dennis Palumbo


Photo: Nathanson's Photography

Dennis Palumbo is a thriller writer and psychotherapist in private practice. He's the author of the non-fiction book, Writing from the Inside Out and a collection of mystery stories, From Crime to Crime. He has also been writing the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series. He was formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, whose credits include the film My Favorite Year, which was nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay. He was a staff writer for the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. Currently, he blogs for the Huffington Post and has a column, Hollywood on the Couch, for Psychology Today.

His mystery-thriller series concerns Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert, who consults with the 
Pittsburg Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime who suffer from the traumatic after-effects of those experiences. Rinaldi suffered such a trauma when his wife was killed during a mugging. Though he too was shot, he lived, but struggled with survivor's guilt long afterwards. Now, his mission now is to help others deal with their trauma symptoms, but in the process, he manages to get heavily involved in police investigations, often to the consternation of his police colleagues.

In Phantom Limb, the fourth book in the series, Dr. Rinaldi consults with a prospective patient, a woman he last saw thirty years ago in Playboy. Lisa Campbell, ex-starlet and current trophy wife of elderly tycoon Charles Harland, plans to kill herself at 7 o'clock that evening. Daniel has only fifty minutes, the length of their session, to talk her out of it. Soon after Lisa leaves his office, she's kidnapped. As a psychologist who may have heard critical information, he's ethically bound not to share what they discussed. So, Rinaldi must navigate tricky waters to help the police locate Lisa. Rinaldi find himself amid a tangled web of kidnapping, murder, sexual deviance, and family secrets.

It seems in some respects, Daniel Rinaldi bears a resemblance to you. True?

He does, in the sense we're both born and raised in Pittsburgh. We both went to Pitt. We're both Italian-Americans and the big similarity other than we're both psychologists, is we straddle the Pittsburgh of old and new. When I went to college, the city was loaded with steel mills. They're all gone now. Industrial Pittsburgh has been replaced by a high-tech, sophisticated city. Daniel and I are very aware of that change, from a formerly dingy city, with its skies filled with smoke and ash, and coal barges going up and down the Allegheny River, to what it is now: a city with gleaming skyscrapers and clean air.
Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)
Daniel is also some things I'm not: he's a former amateur boxer; he's brave and resourceful, which I'm not (Laughter). The things he gets involved with would have me running in the other direction. Kirkus Reviews called him 'Jack Reacher with a psychology degree.' (More laughter).

As a psychotherapist yourself, how much of your training do you bring to the Daniel Rinaldi novels?
I've been a licensed therapist for almost twenty-eight years. For three-and-half years, I worked in a psychiatric hospital with schizophrenics. Earlier in my career, I spent five years in training on trauma theory with the nation's leading trauma expert, Dr. Robert Stolorow. That's one of the reasons I made Daniel a trauma expert. In most thriller novels, the effects of trauma on crime victims are never dealt with. In the Daniel Rinaldi series, these effects are very important. That's part of what my training as a psychologist brings to the writing.

The Daniel Rinaldi novels are written from the first-person perspective. What are the advantages of this style?
For me, the advantage is we get to be inside Daniel's head and thoughts. From that perspective, we really hear his voice. Rather than hearing a removed, third-person authorial voice, we get to stay within Daniel himself; we're inside his head. So, not only will he say something to another character, but he'll also think something to himself, something to which the reader is privy. We get a solid sense of who he is. I also like that by using the first person, the reader only knows what Daniel knows. Often, in thrillers, the reader knows what the bad guy is thinking. So, from a first person perspective, it's a bit more difficult to build suspense, but I'm able to do it. I construct the story so enough dread is foreshadowed to make the reader worry for Daniel.

You've been outspoken about the thriller-mystery genre being a venerable one. Will you talk about that?
Many people question the literary quality of crime thrillers. I think crime novels, from Sherlock Holmes on, have done what Tom Wolfe said, 'The purpose of a novel is to show the details of an era's status, to demonstrate its culture.'

If you want a picture of Victorian London, read any Sherlock Holmes novel. It's revelatory. I don't think there's a better dissection of modern marriage than what's depicted in Gone Girl. Whether it's Camus's The Stranger, or Conrad's Heart of Darkness, they delineate the era in which they were written. And, they're crime-mystery novels. There's tremendous literary value in these works.

There's a tendency to think of literature, and crime novels as inhabiting two separate spheres, as being in different categories. The best crime novels are indeed literature. I don't think there are better writers than Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, or for that matter, Dostoyevsky, Twain, Hugo, or Dickens. To one or another extent, they all wrote novels about crime. When it comes to writing, there's good writing, mediocre writing and bad writing. That's it.

What has surprised you about the writing life?

What's most surprising to me is that success in writing is much more about craft than talent. It's really a matter of hard work and diligence. It's not sitting around, drinking absinthe, and waiting for inspiration. It's hard work. You sit down every day at the typewriter or keyboard, and do the work. And hopefully, thirty-five years later, you have something to show for it.

What do you love about the writing life?
I've been a writer since I was twenty-two. The thing I love most is the creation of a completely different world in a novel. Screenwriting is a collaborative process; things get rewritten by various people; they're then interpreted and changed by directors and actors. If, in the end, there's any resemblance to what you initially wrote, it's a small miracle. But in my Daniel Rinaldi novels, I get into his head and construct his world. I love that. I love creating a whole new world.

What advice would you give novice writers?

My advice is very simple: don't follow trends; don't try to copy other people's success; keep giving the readers you, until you is what they want.

Congratulations on writing Phantom Limb, the fourth in the Daniel Rinaldi mystery-thriller series. Publishers Weekly called it "twisty," "satisfying," and said it "ends on a cliffhanger." I found it to be a riveting novel.

Mark Rubinstein
Author of Mad Dog House and Love Gone Mad

Follow Mark Rubinstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrubinsteinCT

Reposted from The Huffington Post

Marjorie's review: The Arousal Plan

purchase on Amazon.com

The Arousal Plan is a daily 10-week program to help you optimize your Arousal and achieve your goals. Created by Sarah White, The Naked Therapist, and based on her session experiences with over 1,000 clients, the Arousal Plan consists of 70 daily inspirations, exercises, and assignments, each around a different theme. In the first week, Sarah shows that Arousal is not only rooted in our sexual energies, but that it has its basis in the Three A’s: physical Activity, mental Alertness, and emotional Availability. To optimize your Arousal, you must optimize the Three A’s.


The Arousal Plan by Sarah White is a very good self-improvement program. It is hard work but it does work if you stick to it. It is a ten week program to help you achieve your life goals. There are 8 Pillars that the plan operates under, they are: Food, Exercise, Clothing, Living Space, Sex & Love, Work & Money, Culture and power Project. Sarah White shares with the reader, "Arousal is about having a balanced baseline of excitement and motivation that influences you positively in all areas of your life." I recommend this book to everyone who are interested in making their lives better. I look for more from Sarah White.

 Find out more about Sarah and the Arousal Plan at www.SarahWhiteLife.com and www.ArousalPlan.com.

Reposted from Goodreads

Dennis Palumbo Contributes to And All Our Yesterdays: Stories of mystery and crime through the ages

A new anthology of historical mysteries from DarkHouse Books. Available as both an e-book and a paperback.

Dennis Palumbo's historical short story is titled, "A Theory of Murder," and originally appeared in The Strand
Magazine. Featuring a young Albert Einstein as an amateur sleuth.

purchase on Amazon.com

The Picture Kills review and meet and greet with author Ian Bull

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since the war, Steven Quintana has been running from his past. He decides to fill the hole in his heart by using his talent for photography to take pictures of celebrities. This backfires when a photo he has taken is used to cover up a kidnapping. He is then compelled to rescue the victim. Does he succeed or does he die trying? You will just have to read this compelling thriller novel to find out.

I found this book to be a wonderful suspense novel filled with action, drama, loyalty, and humor. The plot is fast paced and flows well. I especially like when he starts naming the bad guys I was chuckling the whole time. I would recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers, dramas, or a dangerous rescue of a damsel in distress.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Donald Ian Bull, and my pen name is Ian Bull. I am a husband and a father, I live in Los Angeles, and I grew up in San Francisco. I have been a TV writer, director and producer. Now I edit TV shows and write novels, screenplays and my blog, CaliforniaBull.

What genre do you like to write?

I like to write thrillers, but with strong female characters. Some people have said I write romantic thrillers, or thrillers with romance, if there is such a thing. I’ve only published one book so far, so it may change.

If you were to branch out from your current genre which one(s) would you like to explore?

I’d write historical fiction, or historical recreations/examinations. I love reading about the past.

How long have you been writing? What prompted you to start writing?

I have been writing since I was ten. I’ve always wanted to write novels, but the truth is, I didn’t have the courage to pursue it. I chose a “sensible” path that led to writing news for TV, that led to documentaries, that led to TV writing, and screenplays. Perhaps I also have enough life experience now to tackle a novel.

What inspires you to write?

I have imaginary conversations in my head all the time (in a good way), always arguing two sides of a conflict. I am also inspired by my own mortality, the problems in the world. Those drive me to act. My family also inspires me, in a positive way..

When a story idea pops into your head, how long does it typically take to write it (from start to finish)?

Years. That’s because I am writing two hours a day (three on weekends) while also earning money as a TV editor working eight to ten hours a day, and also being a husband and father. I wish I could flop it and edit two hours a day and write for eight!

What did you find to be the most difficult part of the writing process?  Easiest?

The hardest part of writing for me is when I paint myself into a corner with a plot point or a character’s behavior and I realize I must back track and fix it. The easiest part for me is to rewrite and edit my first draft. I don’t find that difficult, because I do it all day with my TV footage.

Of all your characters whom do you most relate to?

The main character Steven. He’s great at what he does, yet he knows he could be doing more, yet is plagued by doubt. That’s me…and plenty of other people! I’d like to be like Carl Webb, but I’m not.

Is there one of your characters that you did not like when you started writing about them, but found yourself liking by the end of the story?

Trishelle. I first made her ditzy, and then my wife pointed out that women have friends for a reason — they compliment each other and support each other, even if they’re very different, and Julia wouldn’t have a one-sided friendship. She’d have a friend as strong and smart as her, but in a different way. I went back and made Trishelle strong and capable in her own way, with her own vision of the world that is different than Julia’s. She’s much more street smart and savvy about the ways of the world than Julia is, especially when it comes to politics and men.

What is your least favorite part about writing? The Most?

My least favorite part of writing is fighting to find the time to write. My favorite part of writing is finishing a chapter and then telling my wife.

When you are not writing or editing what do you do for relaxation?

I read, I swim, I play with my daughter, hike with my wife and cook.

What genre of books do you like to read?

I like thrillers, histories, dramatic histories, and contemporary fiction.

What author(s) do you enjoy reading?  Why?

I go on kicks. Right now I am reading Karen Russell, who wrote Swamplandia, Vampires in the Lemon Grove and Sleep Donation. I am also reading This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein about Climate Change. I also love anything by T.C. Boyle and Steinbeck, my favorite California writers. For thrillers, I like John D. MacDonald — old school.

Tell us about your books where can people find them?

THE PICTURE KILLS, is available on Amazon, in print and digital formats.  The sequel, SIX PASSENGERS, FIVE PARACHUTES, will be out in 2015!

Ian Bull is the pen name of Donald Ian Bull, a TV producer and director turned thriller novelist. His TV credits include The Real World, The Osbournes, and Dr.90210.  He grew up in San Francisco, attended UC Berkeley and then UCLA, and now lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter.

Reposted from Sally Wolf Reads

Guest Post ~ The Last Witness by Jerry Amernic

Many years ago – just how many it was I have lost count – I got this idea of writing a novel about the last living survivor of the Holocaust. It lingered at the back of my mind for the longest time, and then one day I started putting the story together.

My character was born in 1939 in the Polish city of Lodz. He was Jewish, of course, but was part of the Jewish ghetto which meant that his parents had to hide him from the Nazis. As a little boy of four he would sneak into the Aryan section of the city, going through the sewers, so he could steal food for his family. And so, I learned whatever I could about the Lodz ghetto, the sewers, and the people who tried to avoid being found.

But eventually they were discovered and the family was sent to Auschwitz, the most notorious death camp of the Nazis. My little boy would survive, the only member of his family to do so, and how he made it out of there would be a tale for the ages. And it is.

It’s in my novel The Last Witness.

But fast-forward to his 100th birthday when he’s living in a seniors’ home in New York City. The year is now 2039 and just about everyone he encounters doesn’t know much about the Holocaust. Some people think the whole thing was exaggerated while others don’t believe that it ever happened at all.

To write a novel like this I made a point of meeting real-life, former child survivors, and to say that each of them has a unique story would be an understatement. But I listened to them and took it all in. I also asked these people if any of them thought that my premise about Holocaust ignorance in the near future was far-fetched.
Not one of them did.

However, a publisher who turned down the book had that sentiment, which gave me another idea. I decided to produce a video. A videographer and I spent an afternoon asking university students what they know about the Holocaust and World War II. You can see the video, if you like – http://youtu.be/CRC_T07dwZo – but believe me when I say that the level of knowledge for the next generation of our leaders is pretty damn abysmal.
And for that I blame the schools because they just don’t teach history the way they did when I was young, which only makes my near-future story more relevant. At least, I think so. Hopefully, you will too.

Publisher: Story Merchant (October 1, 2014)
Genre: Historical Thriller
ISBN-10: 0990421651
ISBN-13: 978-0990421658
​Buy: Amazon, Kindle, IndieBound, The Book Depository

The year is 2039, and Jack Fisher is the last living survivor of the Holocaust. Set in a world that is abysmally ignorant and 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 all 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.

Reposted from Lori's Reading Corner

The Crime Writers Chronicale Interviews Author Dennis Palumbo

Dr. Daniel Rinaldi and the Phantom Limb…

Dennis Palumbo's new smooth-as-silk book with psychologist and Police Department consultant Dr. Daniel Rinaldi—PHANTOM LIMB—will knock your socks off! Page one will hook you… and you won't stop for lunch, dinner or sleep! This new book by Hollywood former screenwriter for bigtime shows grabs you by the throat and does not let you go til the end.

Kirkus Reviews said, "Jack Reacher with a psychology degree." I've read all the Reacher books… and Dan Rinaldi has more heart, soul and compassion!

Dennis is the author of a mystery collection, FROM CRIME TO CRIME, and his short fiction has appeared in
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and The Strand.

We are delighted to welcome Dennis Palumbo back to
Crime Writer's Chronicle today!

Thelma Straw

Thelma: Is Lisa Campbell based on a real person? Or a composite? You had me by the throat with her first
appearance on p. 1.

Dennis: Prior to becoming a licensed psychotherapist, I was a Hollywood screenwriter for 17 years. During that time I met a number of women like Lisa—women "of a certain age" who were once young, naive actresses exploited for their looks in less-than-meaningful films. In PHANTOM LIMB, the character of Lisa is a composite of such women, for whom I have both sympathy and respect for the fact that they're survivors. Plus, like Lisa, these women tend to have razor-sharp, expletive-laden tongues.

Thelma: You have the cop lingo and mannerisms down pat. Did you train with the police?

Dennis: No, though I've met with a few police detectives over the years. Mostly what little I know comes from research.

Thelma: As a real therapist do you base your characters on real people? Like Noah?

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)Dennis: Interesting that you should ask that question, since Noah Frye is the only recurring character who is in fact based on a real person. He's loosely based on a patient I met thirty years ago when I was an intern at a psychiatric facility. Like Noah, this person was a paranoid schizophrenic, but as funny, smart and sardonic as a Vegas stand-up comic. Though the details of his life are vastly different than what I created for Noah, he's the source of my character's rueful view of the world and what is commonly thought of as "crazy wisdom."

Thelma: Your dialog and actions move so well - does it come easily or do you re-write a lot?

Dennis: First of all, thanks! I work hard on making the action sequences flow smoothly, which does entail a good bit of re-writing. This is not the case with dialogue. Perhaps because of my former career as a screenwriter, dialogue tends to come easily for me. Plus I love writing it.

Thelma: Daniel Rinaldi is a complex, intriguing man. Where did you find him?

Dennis: Mostly I just looked in the mirror. Like me, he's from a blue collar, Italian-American family, born and raised in Pittsburgh. He's a Pitt grad, a therapist and a bit of a maverick when it comes to some of the more hide-bound beliefs of the mental health profession. We also share the same sense of humor, and a love for the Steelers. Unlike me, he's a former amateur boxer. He's much braver and more resourceful than I am, too. Most of the situations he finds himself in would have me running the other way. Kirkus Reviews calls him "Jack Reacher with a psychology degree." Trust me, that's not a description that would apply to me!

Thelma: You are a superb wordsmith. Your prose is so vivid. I love "Women… defined by their jewelry." Have you always been a writer?

Dennis: Again, thanks for the kind words. Yes, I've been writing since I was in college and worked for the Pitt News. Even after I came to Hollywood to write scripts for TV and film, I was writing prose, mostly mysteries. Fun fact: the same week I was hired to write on staff at the ABC-TV series WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, I sold my first mystery short story to ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. I must admit, that was one of the best weeks of my then-young life, for which I was both grateful and astonished!

Thelma: Why do you write mysteries?

Dennis: I guess because I've always loved them. The first time I encountered them was when I was about 10 years old, stuck in bed with the flu, and my Dad got me a hardbound, illustrated ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Believe me, it was love at first sight. I haven't stopped reading mysteries since. On a slightly more serious note, I think I enjoy reading—and writing—mysteries because they combine my two favorite aspects of story-telling: a compelling narrative and an exploration of the human condition. Which is probably why I'm so grateful for my dual career as a therapist and a mystery writer: both jobs involve this same exploration.

Thelma: You have worked a lot in other teams. Do you see yourself as a team player rather than as a solo artist?

Dennis: If I understand your question, you're referring to the collaborative nature of film and TV writing. If so, the truth is that this aspect of the creative process in Hollywood was the one I liked the least. One of the joys of novel writing is that it is a solo effort. Other than comments and concerns from my editors (which have always seemed to me to strengthen my books), as a novelist I get to write what I want, how I want. So, if I'm being honest, I guess I'm not much of a team player: as both a therapist in private practice and a novelist, I like working solo!

Thelma: Why did you choose the term "phantom limb" as a title?

Dennis: Actually, it more or less chose me. As you know, one of the main characters in the novel is an Afghan vet who lost a leg in combat and suffers from the condition known as "phantom limb." Though his leg is gone, he still experiences it as attached to his body. It itches; it feels cold. In my novel, I use the phrase "phantom limb" both in its literal sense as a medical condition, but also as a metaphor for that felt sense of loss we all experience when faced with a trauma like a divorce or the death of a loved one. That sense that the missing person is still "here," still in our lives. When we find we have to remind ourselves that the person is in fact gone.

Thelma: In your opinion, why do many crime writers , often mild people, choose such strong themes?

Dennis: Because we all have operatic inner lives! No matter how calm and appropriate our outer persona, the face we show the world, we have within us deep feelings of grief, rage, and passion. I know, because I've seen it for almost 30 years in my therapy practice. I also feel it within myself. That's why perfectly nice people can write about psychopathology, sexual crimes, and violence. I believe, as writers, we all have the whole range of the human condition within us: in other words, we can envisage everything from a nun to a serial killer. Most good writers let this rich, dark, troubling inner world run free on the page… which, by the way, is where it belongs!

Thelma: Harper Lee once said that writers have to have thick skins. What is your comment on that?

Dennis: The thicker the better! And I say this as someone who survived the slings and arrows of a Hollywood writing career. The hard part is having enough sensitivity to create living, breathing characters that reflect real life… and yet a thick enough skin to tolerate rejection, criticism, and failure. If you're like me, sometimes I walk that fine line pretty well, and sometimes I don't. I recall once, when I was grieving a rejection of something I'd written, a friend said to me, "Look, don't take it personally." To which I wanted to respond, "How should I take it? Impersonally?" I think the best way to handle the ups and downs of a writing career is to just keep giving them you, until you is what they want.

Thanks, Thelma, for asking me to participate in this interview. I hope your readers enjoyed it. For those interested in learning more about my Daniel Rinaldi series, please go to www.dennispalumbo.com

Reposted from The Crime Writers Chronicle