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

The Dark Madonna: A Fable of Resiliency and Imagination by Nicolas Bazan A Review

The Dark Madonna
by Nicolas Bazan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Dark Madonna: A Fable of Resiliency and Imagination by Nicolas Bazan is absolutely mesmerizing with its intriguing blend of fact and fiction! With few pages, the tale of art forgery, greed, and religious beliefs and mysteries lead a scholar on a journey across continents and cultures, that left me wanting more from this brilliant author.

Nicolas Bazan has written with a passionate pen, telling his story in the first person, deeply emotional and moving, almost like a pilgrimage of self-discovery and inner awakening as I was taken to ghostly remains of the German prison camps, where the determination to survive and the spirit of those who died there could be felt in the air. On visiting Poland, almost drawn by fate, our main character finds his scientific expertise put to good use when a sacred relic appearance to be a clever forgery and a young religious man goes missing. Who is behind this great deception to the faith of the masses? Will the vandal e found? Will the relic be found? Were the reasons behind its theft truly evil or misguided? Can the answer to a religious mystery be found in science?
Wonderfully entertaining and very well written, this short novella feels like a much longer work with its attention to detail and deeply thought out plot.

A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for my honest review and I highly recommend it!

Story Merchant Books Launches Tell Your Story to the World & Sell It For Millions

New from Story Merchant Books
Available for review and author interviews


If there’s a story distracting you during the day and keeping you awake at night, ask yourself: Is this is a great story? If your answer is yes, then this is the book for you!

Writing a book or a screenplay that causes that effect is the bar, the end-all, dope, the cat’s ass. Storytelling is the mind and heart’s counterpart to sex—an essential act of communication by which life itself is perpetuated. After you read a good book or see a great movie, what do you do? You share it with a friend.

Part I of Tell Your Story to the World & Sell It for Millions is a step-by-step guide for writing your own top-notch page-turner. Part II teaches you the cutthroat publishing and Hollywood ropes so you, too, can achieve commercial success and join the ranks of writers making seven, eight, and nine figures annually.

In our encounters with other publishers, managers, producers, studio execs, attorneys, coaches, and agents, we found ourselves agreeing with them about one thing: it’s never a great scenario to submit a terrific concept that’s unprofessionally executed. Our mission is to shave years off your learning curve and make your storytelling dreams come true.

Dr. Ken Atchity’s lifelong core expertise is stories. He’s edited them, taught them, developed them, sold them (yes, for millions!), produced them—and written them. Author of two dozen books, longtime reviewer for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, professor of literature, literary manager, career coach, and motion picture and television producer, Ken has spoken, workshopped, lectured, and keynoted about storytelling and the story market at dozens of universities, writers’ conferences, at high schools, grade schools, and adult education centers throughout the US, Asia, and Europe.

Lisa Cerasoli and Ken are long-time colleagues and friends, and as of this book, partners in writing. Lisa has been working as Ken’s VP at Story Merchant since 2013. For the authors who have books they can envision on the big and small screens, Lisa serves as a bridge by assisting, advising, as well as writing, developing, and editing every step of the way. Lisa has authored and co-authored numerous books, her works have garnered over twenty-five national and international awards, and her memoir has been optioned for a television series.

To request a review copy or schedule an interview with the authors, please email atchity@storymerchant.com

Guest Post: What's So Bad About Good Notes? by Dennis Palumbo

Opportunities in a Dynamic Environment

Story Merchant Dr. Ken Atchity believes in the power of stories to change the world. A storyteller himself (his thriller, The Messiah Matrix , can be visited on www.messiahmatrix.com) Ken has been privileged to spend a lifetime helping stories reach their ideal audiences in both publishing and entertainment. As a literary manager he has sold over 200 books (fiction and nonfiction), and overseen over twenty New York Times bestsellers, including Mrs. Kennedy and Me, The Kennedy Detail, Dracula: The Un-Dead, and The Last Valentine. As a producer working with both major studios and indie financiers, he’s produced thirty-something films, most recently Hysteria, Erased, The Lost Valentine, and the Emmy-nominated The Kennedy Detail.

His own books include several for storytellers, including How to Publish Your Novel, Writing Treatments To Sell, and A Writer’s Time: A Guide to the Creative Process from Vision through Revision.

Former professor of comparative literature at Occidental College and Distinguished Instructor at UCLA Writers Program, Ken has also served as Fulbright Professor to the University of Bologna and as regular book review for The Los Angeles Times Book Review for twenty years.

With what he calls “the new Gutenberg Revolution” in full sway with the technologies of communication, Ken says, “I’ve not been this excited about helping storytellers for years. Today there is truly a level playing field, where the old gatekeepers are giving way to new methods of reaching the audience.” At a recent Thrillerfest in New York, his talk on “Direct vs Legacy Publishing” was the most highly-attended workshop in Craftfest. His analysis of the situation can be found on his website www.storymerchant.com.

For all his background as manager, producer, writing coach, and author, Ken is proudest of being known for “thinking outside the box.” “If I find someone stuck in old ways of thinking,” he says, “I’m not sure I can help him. We’re living in a world of accelerating change, and your mind must be open to seizing the opportunities such a dynamic environment presents. Storytellers haven’t been this fortunate in over a hundred years.”

Steve Alten The MEG & I: 20 Years in the Making Podcast Part 2 with Kent Hill



I first read MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror when it arrived on the scene in the late 90’s and believed then – just as a certain movie out at the moment  has confirmed for the world – that it was/is the basis for something cinematically awesome. But that was twenty years ago, when Alten was poised to become the next Peter Benchley and have his man vs big shark, or in MEG’s case, prehistoric bad-ass shark, optioned before it hit the shelves. All of the ingredients seemed to be there. A new JAWS, it appeared, was on the cards – then, it didn’t happen.

I followed the gestation throughout the years of this mighty megalodon movie that got away. Talented filmmakers crossed its wake, and I confess, I would have liked to have seen Jan de Bont’s take on the material – this talented director of photography  that came to the director’s chair and gave us SPEED and TWISTER. I think had his next picture been MEG, we might well be talking about Jan in a different way – and it might have saved us from SPEED 2?

But they all saw MEG a different way. They didn’t see it the right way. Thus the production floundered and the seasons came and went. The MEG, all the while, lay silent in the depths of development hell.


I contacted Steve (https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2017/08/02/20-years-in-the-making-an-interview-with-steve-alten-by-kent-hill/) to talk about the arduous journey his big shark book had taken to get to the screen. (A year before the worldwide press descended with the onset of the film’s success, I might add.) I was excited because, at long last, it seemed as though there was no stopping it now. A live action feature was in production and MEG, or The MEG, as it was soon to be titled, was rising and with or without the ‘The’, we who call ourselves ‘Megheads’ were about to have all we’ve ever wanted.

20 years in the making: An Interview with Steve Alten Part 1 by Kent Hill

Sometimes good things take time. Still, it is rare that Hollywood, being in possession of what it believes is such a ‘hot property’, would allow said property to languish in the depths of development hell. Especially for 20 years. But that is exactly where Steve Alten’s bestseller has been in residence. That, of course, is about to change. 

Yes ladies and gentlemen (and in case you haven’t been following the story) next year Alten’s leviathan shall rise and finally arrive at a cinema near you. I have long been fascinated with the journeys movies take on the road to the big screens on which we witness them. Some of these films never arrive, some appear in a confused and unfinished form. Others are the victims of too many cooks and most are a product of the machine. 

For the films that don’t make it, (see great documentaries like Lost in La Mancha and Jodorowsky’s Dune (though Gilliam seems to have at last remedied this)) their journey is often as intriguing, if not more so, than what the final product might have been. But with MEG, the powers that be have what is a potentially massive franchise on their hands. So, why the wait? 

The fates are strange and fickle. Steve Alten’s bestseller was optioned before it was complete, but it has taken the better part of two decades to arrive. I found this story intriguing, mainly because this was not some sort of artsy passion project or some grand tale of ridiculous hubris. No, what could have been, and what we may yet experience, might very well be the next JAWS? And while Spielberg’s film is by its nature a far more intimate piece; the shark menaces a small community and finally three men set out to kill the beast, MEG is something we are definitely going need a bigger boat for. A really BIG boat for! 

Thus Steve Alten agreed to have a chat with me about the origins of his book’s long gestation toward its screen adaptation. What he relayed I found fascinating, and still believe it could become a great extra feature or a terrific stand-alone documentary of the ride this big shark movie as taken. But, like most fans, I am just grateful that with each passing day, we finally are at last drawing closer to the MEG movie’s premiere. Of course the real relief belongs to the creator. In many ways it has been worse for him, he having served on the front lines, he having been present for each false start and each heartbreaking hurdle. I have agreed to catch up with Steve before the film’s premiere next year. As the hype builds and teasers and trailers and all the ads bombard our senses, what brings me pause and makes me smile is the thought of Steve Alten waking the red carpet, entering the theatre, taking his seat . . . and enjoying the movie… …as I hope you will enjoy this. 

Guest Post: A DARK MIRROR: Crime Fiction As a Reflection of Society by Dennis Palumbo

The author Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities) once said that the purpose of fiction was, among other things, to chronicle a society’s “status details.” In other words, to give the reader a felt sense of the social, cultural and political realities of the world the novel portrays.

Usually, this task has been seen as primarily the province of the “literary” novel, such as Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, or Updike’s “Rabbit” novels. But I believe that, in a similar manner, the best crime fiction has been exploring and illuminating the contours of American society for years.

For example, to get a sense of how Los Angeles worked in the 30’s and 40’s—how money and power actually operated in the lives of both the privileged and the desperate —you need only read Raymond Chandler. The “mean streets” that private eye Phillip Marlowe walked took the reader from the monied mansions of robber barons to the back alleys of two-bit hustlers and the chumps they made their prey.

Just as, fifty years later, nobody provides a clearer view of contemporary L.A. than Michael Connelly, particularly with his Harry Bosch novels. From the O.J. trial to the Ramparts police scandal, from the self-inflicted woes of the wealthy and influential to the municipal response to torrential rains, Connelly uses his dogged police detective to dissect life in the City of Angels.

For a wry, amused and knowledgeable look at Boston society, high and low, you’ll find few better guides than the late Robert B. Parker’s character Spenser. Or equally few authors who capture the self-delusions and broken-hearted dreams of petty criminals as well as Elmore Leonard. And I can’t think of a writer who better reveals the dark, noirish heart of the ostensibly laid-back surfer scene than Kem Nunn.

My point is, great crime fiction offers what no sociology text can provide. To feel the living, breathing essence of New Orleans, both pre- and post-Katrina, check out the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke. In similar fashion, Tony Hillerman brought the Native Americans of the modern Southwest to life in his novels about Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn. Just as Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski gave fictional heft to the idea of a strong female protagonist, and Walter Mosley’s “Easy” Rawlins gave us perhaps our most well-known African-American one. Since its inception as a genre, crime fiction has both mirrored and commented on society’s often-tumultuous change. In short, it told the truth about it.

So forget FrontLine. If you want to get the straight dope about the thriving gun trade going on along the border between the US and Mexico, look no further than T. Jefferson Parker’s thriller of a few years back, Iron River.
If you want to know what it’s really like to be a cop, read Joseph Wambaugh. If you want to hear the authentic street rhythms of New York’s Lower East Side, read Richard Price.

What all these fine crime novelists have in common is their use of suspense and intricate plots to underscore the conflict among vivid, fully-realized characters; and, moreover, how that conflict is inevitably intensified by the social context these fictional men and women inhabit. Utilizing the high stakes and narrative drive of crime fiction, these writers demonstrate how issues of class and status, and the yearning to re-invent oneself, continue to define the American character.

In the case of my own Daniel Rinaldi series, I use the exploits of my intrepid psychologist and trauma expert to illustrate a number of contemporary issues, not least of which is the current state of mental health treatment in America. Moreover, as a consultant to the Pittsburgh Police, Rinaldi treats people traumatized by violent crime—those who’ve survived a kidnapping, sexual assault or armed robbery, but still suffer the after-effects of their experience. Symptoms we associate with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. As noted psychoanalyst Robert Stolorow has pointed out, we live now in an Age of Trauma, exposed almost daily to the threat of pandemics, natural disasters, terrorism—and, at the most personal level, violent crime. As I’ve tried to demonstrate in the five Rinaldi books published so far, the dedicated, determined and admittedly head-strong psychologist will never lack for patients.

Then there’s the city of Pittsburgh itself, which has undergone a startling transformation in the past two decades, morphing from a blue collar, industrial powerhouse into a white collar hub of technology and state-of-the-art medicine. Or, as I like to term it, a shot-and-a-beer town that’s collided with the Information Age. Since Rinaldi was born into a blue collar world, yet through ambition and schooling became a jacket-and-tie professional, he—like the city itself—has a foot in both Pittsburgh’s storied past and gentrified present..

However, in the latest Rinaldi thriller, Head Wounds, it’s Daniel’s personal past that reaches out to torment his present. Launching an intense, terrifying cat-and-mouse game with an obsessed killer who threatens not only the psychologist’s own life but that of those closest to him.  During the course of these events, the reader encounters many of the dangers associated with our current computer technology, highlighting issues as pertinent as Internet privacy and the limits of personal security, as well as the challenge to a rational mind when faced with an irrational one. 

Which brings me back to my point: no genre of fiction illuminates the “status details” of our evolving, conflicted society better than crime fiction. Where and how that conflict is played out, and how realistically it’s depicted, determines how powerfully the novel affects us.

In a line stretching from Dashiel Hammett to Dennis Lehane, from James M. Cain to George Pellicanos, from Ed McBain to Gillian Flynn, the best crime fiction—like all great fiction, period—shows us who we are.

via Poisoned Pen                                                                


Dennis Palumbo is a former screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and author of the Daniel Rinaldi mysteries. For info, please visit www.dennispalumbo.com.

MaryAnn Anselmo Competes in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Competition: SASSAY Awards


Discover the jazz greats of tomorrow today at this exciting afternoon of performances by the five finalists in this seventh annual event, initiated in 2012 by NJPAC and WBGO in honor of Newark’s “divine” jazz icon.

Please VOTE HERE  and and share each of MaryAnn's 4 songs submitted to the competition.

Maryann Anselmo will be competing with rising vocalists from around the globe for the chance to perform in the finals of the competition, also known as “The SASSY Awards.” The only event of its kind, this competition for outstanding jazz singers gives the winner a platform for embarking on a career in the music business.

Singers will be evaluated by a panel of special guest judges, and rated for vocal quality, musicality, technique, performance, individuality, artistic interpretation, and ability to swing. The grand prize winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize.

This year’s judges include multi-GRAMMY-winning bassist Christian McBride, NJPAC’s Jazz Advisor; six-time GRAMMY nominated jazz vocalist-composer Nnenna Freelon; Mary Ann Topper, President of the Jazz Tree, Inc. artist management; WBGO Jazz 88.3FM radio personality Sheila Anderson, and trumpeter, conductor and composer Jon Faddis.

Voting Ends Oct 3, 2018 2:00 PM Read more 

THE MEG: How Imageworks Helped Make a Massive Megalodon


Visual effects studios are constantly being asked to deliver more shots more quickly than ever before. It can be a major challenge to get effects out the door for review, work to final them, and then deal with inevitable changes. Which is why Sony Pictures Imageworks Visual Effects Supervisor Sue Rowe decided to tackle things slightly differently when she took on the challenge of helping to craft the third act of Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg, the tale of a previously undiscovered prehistoric giant shark, or megalodon.

“When the Production Supervisor Adrian De Wet and Visual Effects Producer Steve Garrad came to us, they knew this third act was going to be tricky because story points in the climax of a film are always developing, and they knew they would need a really powerful engine behind them to get that work done,” Rowe tells VFX Voice.

“So the deal we entered into at the beginning was, ‘Hey, we’re going to give you perhaps 400 shots, and we want you to turn them around really fast and then give them to editorial, and then we’re going to hone it down from there.’”

Shark 2.0

To enable Imageworks to turn around so many shots for the third act of The Meg so quickly, Rowe employed several new methods. The first was to rely on Maya’s Viewport 2.0 to work on high-quality but still early versions of the shots directly in the viewport without the need to render.

“The reason I really liked it is that it was super fast,” states Rowe. “You can add fog as depth and you can put spotlights in. You see, when you distill everything down that you need for an underwater movie, it’s pretty much about bubbles and particulates.”

By using Viewport 2.0, Imageworks could turn around versions quickly in a kind of ‘post-vis’ workflow. This included shots that ultimately did not make the final cut of the film. Artists would quickly roto and matchmove plate photography of the actors filmed in a water tank (against an underwater bluescreen) and then hand that over to animation and layout. There was no lighting or compositing done for these early deliveries, but the results were more than good enough for the filmmakers to review shots, after which Imageworks could move onto generating finals with more precision through its traditional pipeline.

 Imageworks provided quick versions of the shots using Viewport 2.0 to get sign-off before continuing.

 Water cavitation effects played a big role in selling the final shots.

The final frame.

    “This is what I always say to people who start out in the industry – the computer might solve it in a certain way, but if it doesn’t look how the director ultimately wants it to look, then we just have to make sure it fits into the movie.”

    —Sue Rowe, Visual Effects Supervisor

Real muscle

Another weapon in Imageworks’ arsenal was Ziva Dynamics’ muscle- and skin-simulation plugin, Ziva VFX. The software takes a physically-based approached, which means more accurate looking skin sliding and movement straight out of the plugin.

“If you build your skeleton accurately, that’s the starting point,” says Rowe. “The system the guys have written will then make the muscles and skin move in the correct way so you don’t have any intersections and it won’t fold in on itself. What was interesting was, it’s also flexible. So if I wanted to have the shoulder of the shark shudder, but in a really extreme way, we could push it to that if we wanted.

“The idea that we employed for Meg was,” adds Rowe, “if you ever look at a thoroughbred horse and how their muscle shakes, it ripples down their body. And from that you know that this is a really muscular, powerful character. So we said, let’s do the same for the Meg. You’ll see a little twitch in the muscle or the gills. We definitely amplified those things using Ziva.”
Lots of coral, super-fast

In addition to the shark itself, Imageworks had to imagine an underwater environment, parts of which required vast amounts of coral. The studio had developed a scattering tool for plant life on Kingsman: The Golden Circle called Sprout, and this was also employed on The Meg for the underwater coral.

Imageworks’ animation pass for a scene involving the underwater glider and the Meg.

Lighting pass.

Final composite with effects and lighting.

    “We built multiple types of coral, different types of rock and sand, and we had some fish in there as well. And then we clustered them altogether and covered it in coral with Sprout. The cool thing about it was, I’d sit down with my effects artist, and they would show me a first pass of it all being laid out, and we were able to interact with the coral, scale them up, scale them down and move things about. It’s a really cool tool.”

    —Sue Rowe, Visual Effects Supervisor

“It’s a way of building indices or replicas of objects very quickly,” explains Rowe. “We built multiple types of coral, different types of rock and sand, and we had some fish in there as well. And then we clustered them altogether and covered it in coral with Sprout. The cool thing about it was, I’d sit down with my effects artist, and they would show me a first pass of it all being laid out, and we were able to interact with the coral, scale them up, scale them down and move things about. It’s a really cool tool.”


Imageworks had been able to craft a realistic shark and a realistic underwater environment, but there was still another element that was needed to help sell the shots: bubbles. More specifically, it was the cavitation of bubbles around submarines, propellers, and even the Meg itself.

Rowe and her team looked at a multitude of cavitation reference (cavitation actually occurs when the propellers cause the water to boil and get ejected out the back). Noticing that the cavitation trail tends to be quite elongated, this was how Imageworks originally approached simulations in Houdini. However, at some point, notes Rowe, “the director saw a few shots where the cavitation actually rose up, rather than shoot out straight. He really liked this look, even though it wasn’t necessarily physically correct.”

Animation pass for a scene in which the Meg breaches the water surface.

Muscle-simulation pass.

Final shot.

    “If you build your skeleton accurately, that’s the starting point. The system the guys have written will then make the muscles and skin move in the correct way so you don’t have any intersections and it won’t fold in on itself. What was interesting was, it’s also flexible. So if I wanted to have the shoulder of the shark shudder, but in a really extreme way, we could push it to that if we wanted.”

    —Sue Rowe, Visual Effects Supervisor

That meant Imageworks had to re-do several of its original bubble and cavitation simulations. Rowe thinks the ultimate result was much more engaging. “This is what I always say to people who start out in the industry – the computer might solve it in a certain way, but if it doesn’t look how the director ultimately wants it to look, then we just have to make sure it fits into the movie.”

Similarly, there were moments when the filmmakers felt that some underwater shots were still missing something. Rowe realized the ‘secret source’ were things she called ‘streams’ – bubbles that matched the tail movement of the Meg, or even crept out of the creature’s nose. “It just created this slight sense of movement underwater that we really needed,” says Rowe. “I remember sitting in dailies and going, ‘Give me more bubbles, give me more, more, more, more bubbles!’”

Read more

Ken Atchity: Pitching Your Story to Hollywood with Laura Powers host of Write Hot

LAURA LOOK2-48 smaller cropped.jpg

Laura Powers is an actress, model, producer, host, writer, psychic, singer and speaker who helps other receive guidance and communicate with loved ones. While she was building her psychic business, she was making her living as an actress. 

She now focuses on all the things she loves to do. She has a television show in development and is currently producing her first film. Laura currently hosts several podcasts on design, music, the entertainment industry, writing, health and spirituality, as well as business and empowerment. She has millions of listeners and viewers and her audience is growing quickly! She is also an author and a writer with 6 published books and 3 more to be released this year. 

Starred Kirkus Review for Story Merchant Clients Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin's Mrs. Kennedy and Me

An Intimate Memoir
Author: Hill, Clint
Author: McCubbin, Lisa

Review Issue Date: March 1, 2012
Online Publish Date: February 13, 2012
Publisher:Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster
Pages: 320
Price ( Hardcover ): $26.00
Publication Date: April 3, 2012
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-4516-4844-7
Category: Nonfiction

Evocative memoir of guarding First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy through the young and sparkling years of the Kennedy presidency and the dark days following the assassination.

Secret Service Special Agent Hill had not looked forward to guarding Mrs. Kennedy. The action was with the president. But duty trumped preference, and he first met a young and pregnant soon-to-be First Lady in November 1960. For the next four years Hill would seldom leave her side. Theirs would be an odd relationship of always-proper formality combined with deep intimacy crafted through close proximity and mutual trust and respect. Hill was soon captivated, as was the rest of the world, by Mrs. Kennedy’s beauty and grace, but he saw beyond such glamour a woman of fierce intelligence and determination—to raise her children as normally as possible, to serve the president and country, to preserve for herself a playful love of life. Hill became a part of the privileged and vigorous life that went with being a Kennedy, and in which Jacqueline held her own. He traveled the world with her, marveling at the adulation she received, but he also shared the quiet, offstage times with her: sneaking a cigarette in the back of a limousine, becoming her unwilling and inept tennis partner. When the bullet ripped into the president’s brain with Hill not five feet away, he remained with her, through the public and private mourning, “when the laughter and hope had been washed away.” Soon after, both would go on with their lives, but Hill would never stop loving Mrs. Kennedy and never stop feeling he could have done more to save the president. With clear and honest prose free of salaciousness and gossip, Hill (ably assisted by McCubbin) evokes not only a personality both beautiful and brilliant, poised and playful, but also a time when the White House was filled with youth and promise.

Of the many words written about Jacqueline Kennedy, these are among the best.

Story Merchant Client Terry Stanfill's Realms Of Gold Kirkus Review

Kirkus Reviews


Stanfill’s (The Blood Remembers, 2001) novel follows an unlikely pair of lovers as they piece together an ancient puzzle that will shed light on an age-old mystery.

In 1953, an archaeological team working in Vix, a small town in the Burgundy region of France, found the 2,500-year-old tomb of a woman some claim to have been a Celtic princess. The burial site, surprisingly well preserved, housed both the woman’s body and a treasure of immeasurable value that included a perfectly intact krater (a ritual wine vessel) likely cast in Southern Italy. While the groundbreaking find revealed much, it left many questions unanswered: Who was this mysterious woman? Why was she entombed with such treasure? And what was the origin of the foreign urn? These questions—which still vex experts today—drive Stanfill’s scintillating tale of intellectual discovery and budding romance.

In contemporary Venice, Bianca Evans Caldwell—an American author—crosses paths with archaeologist Giovanni de Serlo at a wedding and immediately falls for the suave, confident Italian. But neither suspect that this chance meeting would send them both on a continent-spanning adventure that will help solve the mysteries of the Vix krater and the sleeping princess, all the while delivering surprising new insights into the mythology of England and France. Stanfill’s narrative initially feels ornate, but it morphs into a lively, precise plot. The author pours her estimable learning into this, her fourth novel, and she’s equally comfortable writing about the nuances of ancient art, the links between myth and history, and the nooks and crannies of modern-day Italy. And though her book seems by turns a travel guide or an archaeology textbook, its details only add verisimilitude to a satisfyingly complex story of love, learning and intrigue in Europe.
An erudite thriller that recalls Brown’s Robert Langdon series—only smarter.

Three Bags Full by Dennis Palumbo for Femme Fatales

The Femmes welcome author Dennis Palumbo, a licensed psychotherapist and Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year, Welcome Back, Kotter, and more.). Dennis's his fifth thriller, Head Wounds, features Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police. www.dennispalumbo.com. Enjoy his story. -- Elaine Viets

How my latest Daniel Rinaldi thriller let me check three items off my writing bucket list

By Dennis Palumbo

In the years since I began my series of mystery thrillers featuring Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist and trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police, I’ve wanted to do three particular things with the series. And yet it wasn’t until I wrote the latest, HEAD WOUNDS, that I got my chance.

Head wounds

First, I was able to write about the delusional condition called erotomania (also known as De Clerambault’s Syndrome). As both a therapist and a mystery author, I’ve always been fascinated by it.

imply put, erotomania is a disorder in which someone falsely believes that another person is in love with him---deeply, unconditionally, and usually secretly. The latter because this imaginary relationship must be hidden due to some social, personal or professional circumstances. Perhaps the object of this romantic obsession is married, or a superior at work. Often it’s a famous athlete or media celebrity.

Not that these seeming roadblocks diminish the delusion. Instead, they can even provide a titillating excitement. Often, a person in the grip of erotomania believes his or her secret admirer is sending covert signals of their mutual love: for example, wearing certain colors whenever a situation puts them together in public; or doing certain gestures whose “special” meaning is known only to the two of them. Some even believe they’re receiving telepathic messages from their imagined beloved.

What makes the delusion even more insidious is that the object of this romantic obsession, once he or she learns of it, is helpless to do anything about it. They can strenuously and repeatedly rebuff the delusional lover, denying that there’s anything going on between them, but nothing dissuades the other’s ardent devotion.

I know of one case wherein the recipient of these unwanted declarations of love was finally forced to call the police and obtain a restraining order. Even then, her obsessed lover said he understood that this action was a test of his love. A challenge from her to prove the constancy and sincerity of his feelings.

In terms of treatment, the clinical options for the condition are limited to a combination of therapy and medication, usually anti-psychotics like pimozide. If the symptoms appear to stem from an underlying cause, such as bipolar disorder, the therapeutic approach would also involve medication, typically lithium.

What makes erotomania so intriguing as a psychological condition, and so compelling in an antagonist in a thriller, is the delusional person’s ironclad conviction---the unshakeable certainty of his or her belief.
Which brings me to the second box I got to tick off on my thriller-writing checklist: while the previous Daniel Rinaldi novels emphasized narrative twists and psychological suspense, there was always a whodunnit aspect to the story. The reader doesn’t learn the identity of the bad guy until the end.


However, with HEAD WOUNDS, I had the perfect opportunity to reveal to the reader right up front who the villain is: Sebastian Maddox, a computer genius who, in the grip of erotomania many years before, had killed Daniel Rinaldi’s wife Barbara, disguising the murder as a mugging gone wrong. Having formed a psychotic obsession with Barbara before she’d even met her future husband, Maddox is outraged when he learns that she and Rinaldi had gotten married. To his mind, the marriage was an unacceptable betrayal of the love that he believed he and Barbara shared.

So, instead of a whodunnit, HEAD WOUNDS turns on a deadly cat-and-mouse game---all these years after Barbara’s death--- between Sebastian Maddox, who’s spent ten years in prison on an unrelated drug charge, and Daniel Rinaldi. After a decade’s careful planning, stewing in his jail cell, Maddox can now complete his mission of revenge.

Since I’d never written a mystery in which both the bad guy and his motive were clear from early on, writing this latest book caused more than a few narrative headaches along the way. But it sure was fun.

Which brings me to the third element of the Rinaldi series that has plagued me since the beginning: namely, what had actually happened to the psychologist’s wife that fateful night? Seasoned crime readers certainly know (or at least suspect) that a simple mugging is never either simple nor, in fact, a mugging. So why did Barbara Rinaldi die? And, more importantly, who wanted her dead?

Throughout the release of the previous novels, I’ve heard from many readers wanting to know what really happened to Rinaldi’s wife. Now, at last, I got to answer them. As well as provide myself with a satisfying resolution to an important aspect of Rinaldi’s back-story.

What can I say? I’m a therapist. I like closure.

Buy Head Wounds here.

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Steve Alten Meg's Writer Explains Where The Meg 2 Could Go

The Meg has become a somewhat unlikely global hit, which, of course, creates the inevitable question, could there be a sequel? Well, since The Meg is based on a novel, which itself has several sequels, there's plenty of material to draw from for future Meg movies. The author of the original book, Steve Alten, thinks that there is plenty of stuff in the follow-up books that would make for great follow-up movies. Now that the first movie has introduced the idea of prehistoric creatures being alive today, sequels can have fun with different monsters just the way the books have. According to Alten...
The thing about the book series is, I just finished book 6, Meg: Generation, and each book ups the ante a little bit more. So if the producers, and [producer] Belle Avery especially I know she will follow the sequels. If they follow the sequels then they won't have to reinvent the wheel. Because it takes it to new places and introduces new monsters. A lot of people like dinosaurs, and I did, too, growing up. But the sea creature monsters and dinosaurs are much more fearsome than the land creatures. There's the T-Rex, but that is pretty much all you really have on the land. In the ocean you have some amazing sea creatures, and I'd love to see them all brought back to life.
The Meg is the most recent in a film tradition of giant monster movies, and when previous films in the genre became successful sequels frequently happened. When they did, there were some obvious ways for them to work. One was to create more monsters, the other was to create bigger monsters. The book sequels to The Meg do both of these things and Steve Alten tells Metro there's no reason the movies can't follow suit.

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Kirkus Reviews Praise for Story Merchant Client Robin Johns Grant's Debut Novel Summer's Winter

In Grant’s debut novel, a young woman’s fascination with a Hollywood star affects her life in ways she never could have imagined.

For years, 21-year-old Jeanine DeValery has been in love with Danny Summer, a character from a book series, played in a series of films by movie star Jamie Newkirk. Jeanine, in her adolescent confusion, believes that God promised her that the actor—or the character he played—would change her ordinary Georgia life into something more romantic. When the author of the book series dies in a mysterious fire, Jeanine grieves but continues to believe in her destiny. Soon, her dream seems to be coming true, as Jeanine’s adored actor enters her life for real and seems to be falling for her. At the same time, she finds out about plans to restart the film series. But things aren’t as romantic and perfect as she had imagined: Jamie’s former girlfriend suspiciously dies, in the same house in which his mother apparently committed suicide two years before. Both women had similarly shaped burn marks on their skin. Jeanine soon finds out a host of strange things about the people involved in the film series, uncovering other mysterious deaths and battles over money and power. She also finds out that Jamie is keeping secrets about his family—but even after he’s arrested, Jeanine dedicates herself to proving his innocence. This complex story is told in lush, heated prose (“Heaven is as tangible as the taste of a juicy peach on a hot day, as easy and close as stepping out the school door and into another world at recess”), with a clear underpinning of Christian ethics (“Not once in the sleazy motel parking lot had [Jeanine] thought about what God wanted her to do”). Readers drawn to Christian fiction will find much to keep them turning pages. For secular readers, however, some of the story’s coincidences may be a bit difficult to believe.

A passionate, well-wrought mystery by a Christian novelist to watch.

Reposted from Kirkus Reviews