Friday, August 09, 2013

Guest Blogger: JEANINE PIRRO

I am honored to have as my guest blogger Jeanine Pirro, author of the terrific Dani Fox series of legal thrillers. Who better to write about the law than the woman who lives it? Read on to learn more about the book and how you can win your own copy!

From Jeanine Pirro:

I came into law enforcement at a time when women were nearly invisible--not as victims, there were plenty of those--but as prosecutors, lawyers, investigators, advocates and judges.   The year was 1978.  Entering the courthouse in Westchester County was like entering an all boys club.  As a woman in the District Attorney’s Office and then as the first woman District Attorney I was most often the only woman in the room.

It meant that I had to fight harder and have a thick skin.  But, I saw things the men missed that a woman would know that made my cases even stronger.

As I look back at that time in my career I realize how difficult it was.  Writing these novels about a naive woman prosecutor coming up through the ranks like I did lets me take another look at this amazing period of transition and see it in a way I couldn’t when I was focused on my role in the criminal justice system. 

I spent years building cases--piecing together details gathered by detectives and others, asking questions, looking for the lies as well as for the truth.  I was looking for the bad guys but I also got an education I wasn’t expecting:  as it turns out, the justice system is one of the best schools for writing fiction.  Love, greed, desperation--I saw it all move people to do terrible things.  I realize now that I see the world a little differently after all that--and the instincts to see through a story in a particular way has never left me.  Now I get to really dive into what moves the detectives, what goes through the mind of a sociopath, how the politics of the system can shift the direction of an investigation in ways the public never realizes. 

Building a case is like creating a blueprint for the crime—it traces back from the crime to its beginnings.  You want it to be clear how each step led to another.  Writing a novel I realized can’t be that sure-footed or you will lose the reader. It was a great challenge to figure out how to create all the layers in Dani Fox’s, my main character, world so that the reader would experience the case in the same way she does, slowly, sometimes through detours, filtered by her experience and those around her.  I’ve always had an ear for the way people express themselves—the banter of people who are used to working with each other in difficult circumstances, the way language can be used to put class distinctions front and center, and how the words chosen tell so much more than the speaker even knows—so getting the voices right of each of the characters has been some of the most fun of all. 

But believe me, it’s been hard work!  Coming up with the crime is the easy part—writing about all the people involved in solving and prosecuting it was not.  And the more intimate scenes!  I wanted to make Dani Fox, my main character, believable in every way and that meant getting not only her professional life right on the page, but also her personal life, her love life which since she’s young is bound to be complicated. 

I didn’t know what it was going to be like when I first started writing fiction.  A literary agent—now my agent--chased me for years before I said yes.   Now, I can’t stop thinking of what Dani is going to face next—and it’s a case I can’t wait to tackle.   

 CLEVER FOX is the second installment in Pirro's adrenaline-laced series featuring Pirro's alter-ego, young assistant D.A. Dani Fox. Outspoken and fiery, Pirro has a wide-ranging perspective of the criminal justice system in which she worked for decades. Celebrated for her ground-breaking advocacy and fearless stances, this crusading prosecutor, judge, and Emmy-winning television host (Justice with Judge Jeanine on the Fox News Channel) now turns to fiction to reveal a different kind of truth about crime and justice.

I loved this book! Here's my review, as published in Booklist:

This sequel to Sly Fox (2012) finds prosecutor Dani Fox summoned to work on New Year's Eve 1979. The only woman in the Westchester County district attorney's office, she heads up the newly formed Domestic Violence Unit and fights the entrenched old-boy network on a daily basis. A New Jersey Mafia dons daughter is found tortured and murdered, and Fox and her journalist boyfriend, Will, rush to the crime scene, in Yonkers. As Fox and her investigating officer start digging, they find that the dead woman had been having an affair with her father's most hated enemy, head of another crime family. The FBI has an eyewitness agent who can place the don at the scene of the crime, and political pressure becomes unbearable as Fox's boss demands immediate justice. She isn't comfortable with charging a man based on circumstantial evidence, and as witnesses start disappearing, the pressure really heats up. Pirro joins the ranks of fellow prosecutors Linda Fairstein and Marcia Clark in turning out tautly written legal thrillers, and Pirro's expertise shines on every page.

If you would like to win a copy of CLEVER FOX, just send an email to, with "CLEVER FOX" as the subject. Make sure to include your name and mailing address in the US only. This contest is going to run for two weeks, so your odds of winning are pretty good - if you enter by August 23, 2013. Good luck!

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Meet Ivy Pochoda

One of the highlights of ThrillerFest for me was getting to spend a little time with Ivy Pochoda, author of this year's summer sensation, VISITATION STREET.

VISITATION STREET by Ivy Pochoda: If you're the type that only reads one book each summer, look no further. This latest from the Dennis Lehane imprint at HarperCollins is a tour de force, an unputdownable, powerful read, garnering starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist, as well as being the pick of the week at People magazine and Entertainment Weekly and An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2013. Not to mention all the glowing newspaper reviews! The praise goes on and on, with nary a negative word in sight.

Usually when there is this much hype about a book, it is almost impossible to live up to, but Pochoda manages to pull it off. Set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, an area divided into the "projects" and the "neighborhood" - with some crossover bound to happen, especially with school age kids. This waterfront community takes a hit one hot summer night. 

June and Val are best friends, fifteen years old and in that gray area between childhood and adulthood, looking for some fun. The girls have a pink inflatable raft and decide to take it out on the bay, but that decision has devastating consequences.

Jonathan, their music teacher, finds Val unconscious, washed up on the shore, but June has disappeared. Jonathan is a Julliard drop out, drinking too much and spending all his free time in the neighborhood bar. 

Chief suspect is Cree, a young black man from the projects that was seen in the area that night. Cree has a guardian angel, of sorts - a young, homeless graffiti artist has decided to befriend him, and protect him.  

Fadi is a Lebanese shop owner trying to assimilate into the community, and wants his store to become the center for information on the missing girl. All of these characters are fully brought to life, and Red Hook itself becomes yet another character in this tightly written and moving story. 

This is ostensibly a mystery, but the story revolves around the characters, and they are wondrous. This is a memorable read, beautifully written and imaginatively conceived. Don't miss it.

I loved the book, and when I heard Ivy was going to be at ThrillerFest, I arranged to meet her. She was on a panel, which unfortunately I missed; timing is everything, and mine was off. Afterwards, we chatted about Brooklyn, Dennis Lehane and more.

I found it very amusing that Ivy didn't even realize she was writing crime fiction. She wrote about this great place, Red Hook, which she originally was going to call something else to disguise it. But her editor convinced her to keep the real name, which to me adds something to the story when you know it is a real place. In fact, the day we met, Ivy was very nervous about going home to Red Hook and doing a reading at the bar where much of the book is set. I wasn't there but I'd bet it went really well.

Visitation Street is her second novel. Her first, The Art of Disappearing, came out in 2009 to some nice reviews, but didn't do much sales-wise. I asked her what she was doing between then and now, and was surprised to learn that Ivy is a celebrity ghostwriter. She's written a couple of NY Times bestsellers for celebrities and lives in the Los Angeles area. That said, it took her two years to write Visitation Street.

Ivy is a big fan of HarperCollins editor Lee Boudreaux, at the Ecco imprint. Lee edits literary fiction that Ivy loves, including such notable authors as David Wroblewski, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Arthur Phillips. Ivy told me she asked her agent to submit Visitation Street to Lee, and if she rejected it, then to try other publishers, but Lee snapped it up. 

I asked how Dennis Lehane came to be involved with the project. A lot of the publicity this book has received is because it is the second book from his eponymous imprint. Turns out Lee Boudreaux sent it to him blind, looking for a blurb. Instead, he asked to publish it, so it is co-published by two very esteemed editors. 

Ivy comes from a publishing family - her father was a vice president at Random House while she was growing up. He then moved to a university press, and is now retired. She learned about the business of publishing from her dad.

Ivy told me that she never thought of Visitation Street as crime fiction, but rather a story that answers a question. As a crime fiction reader and reviewer, I had to disagree and apparently I'm in good company. This is a memorable book that revolves around a crime, but it is the characters that bring it to life. 

I had a lot of fun chatting with Ivy. She's smart, funny and energetic. I am already looking forward to her next book!

Stacy Alesi & Ivy Pochoda
ThrillerFest 2013

Monday, August 05, 2013

Win The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

I am delighted to offer one lucky reader a copy of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker!

A Conversation with
Emily Croy Barker, author of
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking; on-sale August 5, 2013; 9780670023660; $27.95

Q. Which of the characters in THE THINKING WOMAN’S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC did you most enjoy writing?

A. Aruendiel, no question. He says exactly what he thinks, and he doesn’t mind giving offense to anyone. Not something that most of us can get away with in our daily lives.
Of course, Ilissa was also a lot of fun, too. Because she’s also honest—Faitoren can’t tell lies—but at the same time, she’s thoroughly deceitful.

Q. Are any parts of this novel autobiographical?

A. You mean, is it about the time I stumbled into an alternate world and started studying magic? Sadly, no.

There were things in my life that I deliberately borrowed for the novel. The way Aruendiel talks about other magicians—I was thinking of how my father, who was a painter, used to talk with his artist friends about other artists, about who was doing good work and who wasn’t. My dad was the kindest and most gentle person ever, but he was ruthless when it came to criticizing bad art. It’s the idea that you have a calling that you have to follow and you don’t sell out.

I gave Nora some of my interests—a penchant for memorizing bits of poetry, a love of cooking—although she’s much better at both things than I am. She’s also braver than me. You could never get me to go up a cliff like the one at Maarikok, even with a levitation spell! And I let her take a path that I considered but never took—going to grad school in English.

Q. Your heroine, Nora Fischer, is swept away by magic into a kind of too good to be true existence.  Even though a part of her knew it wasn’t right she stayed.  Why would she allow herself to be easily enchanted?

A. As Aruendiel himself would point out, Faitoren enchantments are very hard to fight, because they give you something you want. Nora was feeling bruised and defeated, and suddenly she had everything that she thought she was missing.

I also think the kind of idealized femininity that Ilissa offers Nora—being beautiful, being the belle of the ball, having this perfect romantic love—is a very seductive thing, even for someone like Nora who has read all the feminist theorists and has really chosen the life of the mind. Maybe especially for someone like Nora.

Q. You have so many literary references, John Donne, Miguel de Cervantes, William Carlos Williams, Alice in Wonderland and Grimm’s Fairytales, but it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice that Nora ends up with as her only possession in the alternate world.  What is the significance of this particular book?  Any personal connection to it?

A. Well, Pride and Prejudice is so modern in many ways, although written and set in a premodern time. So it seemed like a good match for A Thinking Woman’s Guide, where a contemporary woman is thrown into a world where women are still second-class citizens, at best. And Pride and Prejudice reflects some of the themes that I was interested in—an intelligent woman engaging with a man who has both higher status and worse manners than she does—without being too closely parallel to the plot of my story. Finally, I love Pride and Prejudice! And so do many other readers. So I hoped it might resonate with those who read my novel.

Q. Words are a powerful tool and language is a very important status symbol in Nora’s new world. Women are uneducated and don’t speak to men the same way Nora does; something she is repeatedly frustrated by.  How did you develop Ors, the language Nora must learn in order to communicate?

A. Language reflects society, so as I thought about Aruendiel’s world, I tried to imagine what sort of linguistic rules it would have to help keep women in their place. And as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there are all kinds of subtleties that you don’t pick up right away. You can make blooper after blooper, sometimes for years. So Nora keeps bumping up against things like the feminine verb endings, which she never noticed until Aruendiel rather officiously points them out to her.

I was also inspired by how Tolkien, who was a philologist, essentially began imagining Middle-Earth by inventing various Elvish names. He wrote poems about these characters and, eventually, fiction. I thought, wow, what a powerful tool to create a believable fantasy universe, to develop some kind of logical linguistic framework that underlies your story.

Q. You’re a journalist by trade. What was it like, switching to fiction? Where do you write? Do you set hours or just put pen to paper when inspiration strikes?

A. It took me a while to feel comfortable writing fiction. It’s a different kind of narration. Suddenly, after years of having to be super-careful about collecting facts and double-checking them, I could make everything up. That felt wonderful! But what exactly do you include, what do you leave out? Beginning writers are always told, “Show, don’t tell.” Well, in fact there’s a lot you have to simply tell, or you’ll write twenty pages and your character will still be finishing breakfast.

The journalistic skill that I found most useful in writing fiction was simply the ability to sit in front of the computer and write. Even if you’re just trying to write, even if what you’re writing isn’t great at the moment or if all you have to show after three hours is three sentences. And then to do it again the next day. It doesn’t matter if you have to rewrite it all over again—because you’ll find something that’s worth keeping, or you’ll learn what not to do. The important thing is to keep going.

Usually I write at home on my laptop—sometimes on the train when I travel. I write best during the day. If I try to write at night, I’m usually too tired to get very far. Or occasionally I’ve had the opposite problem—I get really into it and then suddenly it’s way past my bedtime and I’m useless the next day. So starting out, I wrote for a couple of hours every weekend. Then it became every spare moment of every weekend. I still owe huge apologies to so many of my friends for turning down all their lovely invitations to go to museums, parties, movies, et cetera, over the past seven years.

Q. Who would be in your dream book club? Where would you meet and what would you talk about?

A. Henry James, Charlotte Brontë, Scott Fitzgerald, Mary McCarthy, Zadie Smith, and couple of my friends. We’d meet at Florian’s in the Piazza San Marco every third Tuesday in the month—this is a dream, right?—and talk about whatever I happen to be reading at the moment. I imagine it would be a lively group.

Q. Are you a fan of other fantasy novels?

A. Yes, although I certainly haven’t read everything that’s out there. I tend to like the denser, more literary kind of fantasy. Unlike Nora, I love Tolkien. Also Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, Alice Hoffman, Margaret Atwood, Ursula LeGuin, and Kelly Link. Kate Atkinson is best known now for her Jackson Brodie mysteries, but I’m really glad that I didn’t read her Human Croquet until after I wrote The Thinking Woman’s Guide, because in some ways that’s the book I wanted to write.

Q. Your writing is loaded with references from history, literature, and fantasy. What sort of reader did you envision for this series?

A. I tried to write the kind of novel I would want to read, so I guess in that sense I wrote it for myself. And as the book took shape and it became clearer that I would actually finish a draft at some point, I decided I would send it first to one of my oldest friends to see if she thought it was any good.  She and I grew up watching Star Trek and Monty Python, reading Sherlock Holmes and The Black Stallion and Jane Eyre, and doing the ultimate in geekdom—taking Latin—so I trusted her judgment. She liked it, so that encouraged me to keep revising.
Beyond that, I was thinking that it might appeal to some of the adults who loved Harry Potter but who wanted more of a adult perspective and a strong female character at the center of the novel. 

Q. The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic ends on a cliffhanger. Can you hint at what’s next for Nora and Aruendiel?

A. I’m pretty sure that Nora will find her way back to Aruendiel’s world. The two of them really need to talk and to be straight with each other, don’t you agree? And of course she has a lot more to learn about magic—and how to use it properly.


If you would like to win a copy of The Thinking Woman’s Guide To Real Magic, just send an email to, with "Real Magic" as the subject. Make sure to include your name and mailing address in the US only. This contest is going to run for less than two weeks, so your odds of winning are pretty good - if you enter by August 19, 2013. Good luck!

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