Welcome to Steven P. Marini!
We met this past summer, at the Cape Cod Writers Conference, where we both took CE Lawrence’s terrific Mystery and Thriller Workshop. Steven’s got a crime series out, and he took the time to answer a few questions.
Devon Elington: What were the inspirations for this particular story and these particular characters?
Steven Marini: Jack Contino was inspired by a real life cop with Boston’s Metropolitan District Commission Police, Joe McCain. He was portrayed in a non-fiction work called LEGENDS OF WINTER HILL (Cops, Con Men and Joe McCain, The Last Real Detective), by Jay Atkinson. I think Leo Barbado is my take on Lenny Brisco from Law and Order. Maria is an amalgamate of several women, but nobody in particular. Ben is pure fiction.
DE: How do you manage to juggle the threads of Jack, Maria, and Ben? Did you work each out separately all the way through first individually and then weave them, or work through, section-by-section and then see how it fit together?
SM: I just wrote the story as it came to me, but there was a lot of change along the way, especially for Jack. He was not the protagonist at first. Maria was, but I realized that wouldn’t work for a series. I had to cut back on her story and build up Jack’s. Ben just seemed like a natural antagonist and badass killer, with a soft spot for Maria.
DE: What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?
SM: That I could write a book. Really. I’ve never been able to do this before. I tried once, but with a full time job (I was in my early thirties) and little kids at home and before word processing, I just couldn’t stick with it. Old age has made writing much easier.
DE: Can you tell us a little about the next book, DECEPTION?
SM: The title is up for grabs on that one, but let’s still call it DECEPTION for now. It’s the next story in the Jack Contino series. After thirty-plus years of chasing bad guys and taking a serious shot to the gut, Jack decides to slow down and retire. His wife helps push that decision. But Jack can’t give up it up altogether, so he takes a job in Dennis, MA, on Cape Cod. He’s the Chief of Detectives in the small town and hopes for a quieter life. But small towns can have big problems. A murder takes place, with racial overtones. In CONNECTIONS, I created an underworld character named Tommy Shea who is a thorn in Jack’s side. He carries over into DECEPTION and he heads up a gang from the Winter Hill section of Somerville, MA. Sound familiar? Well, any resemblance between Shea and Whitey Bulger is purely coincidental. There is a twenty-something waitress who worked with the victim. She’s a bit unstable. Her boyfriend, Jared Wilkes, has a history of racist behavior. Tommy Shea and his pal, Sammy White, are involved. Jack, Leo and the FBI work to solve the murder, but there is a twist at the end that leaves them stunned.
DE: Do you plan on continuing the series indefinitely, or do you have a fixed end point in sight?
SM: I’m about 45,000 words into the third book, currently called CALCULATION, and I certainly hope to write at least one more. I guess it depends on how successful I am in this genre. I also have an idea for a history book about the Kennedy cabinet, but I’m having too much fun writing crime fiction right now. Let’s see how far it will take me.
Although he describes himself as a “card carrying New Englander,” Steve lived for twenty-six years in Maryland while pursuing a career spanning four federal agencies. His background has enabled him to serve as a project manager at the National Security Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Fire Academy and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, where he worked with teams of experts in various fields to develop state-of-the-art training for both classrooms and distance learning technologies.
A “Baby Boomer,” Steve took up fiction writing as he moved into his career final frontier. Married since 1975, a father of three and a grandfather, Steve and his wife Louise own a home on Cape Cod that will serve as his private writer’s colony for the years ahead.
His first novel, Connections, is being published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, an ebook publisher from Texas. It is the first in a series featuring Detective Jack Contino, battling crime in New England in the 1970’s.
Steve holds a Master’s degree in Educational Technology from Boston University and a B.A. in Business Administration from New England College and spent over thirty years in the Education/Training field, including posts in higher education and the federal government. In 1999 he won a finalist Telly award, for writing , producing and co-hosting a training video on the Emergency Education Network (EENET), a cable network that serves firefighters and law enforcement emergency responders
CONNECTIONS, by Steven Marini:
Four guys lay dead. Can Detective Jack Contino connect a name in a dead man’s notepad, a young Mob guy and a Back Bay beauty?
“Fat paced and suspenseful…Skillfully constructed…the perfect blending of characters, action and drama gives the reader topnotch entertainment…The perfect read for a weekend of enjoyment…”
-Tom Farrell, Massachusetts State Police (Ret).
“A dash of Chandler, a dab of Hammett and a fast paced narrative that will keep you glued to the page. Connections is a roller-coaster ride into Boston’s past, complete with snappy dialogue, engaging characters and an intriguing plot. If you like crime novels that seamlessly blend violence, sex and action, this is your kind of novel.”
_Arlene Kay, Author of INTRUSION.
And now, an excerpt from CONNECTION:
“You know him, Jack?”
“I’m afraid I do. Young Tommy Shea, neighborhood tough guy and overall pain in the ass. I went to high school with his older brother, Jimmy. He’s an asshole of another kind. This one thinks he can beat up the world. He’s already done time in juvy. He’s getting on my nerves.”
Jack stood up from his table and pushed his chair back.
“Jack, we’re off duty.”
“I know. This will be strictly unofficial. Stay back unless he’s got help. Just me and him.”
He approached Shea while Leo looked around the room to see if anybody else got up.
“Hey,” he said, getting in Shea’s face. “I’m trying to enjoy my beer and you’re making it difficult with all this noise. Why don’t you take it outside?”
Shea turned and recognized Jack. “Oh, the big tough cop wants me to take it outside. Yeah, I know who you are. Think you’re a tough guy ‘cause you’re a cop. Contino the wop cop.”
Jack swallowed hard and kept quiet. His mother had always taught him to count to ten when he got mad. This time, he didn’t make it past five. “Like I said, why don’t you take it outside.”
“Why don’t you take it outside, wop cop, if you got the balls.”
Jack felt his heart quicken as the anger built. “You know what, Shea? This is my lucky day because I just happen to be off duty. So I’d be happy to get in some fresh air. Why don’t you come along?”
In a minute they were standing in a back parking lot facing each other close up. About half the bar patrons, including Leo, rushed out the door to form a circle around the too fighters. Jack held his fists like a trained boxer. Shea looked like a caged animal about to pounce on whoever opened the cage door.
They inched closer to each other and suddenly Shea threw a fast right hand at Jack’s head. He slipped the punch easily. Shea stepped towards Jack and threw another right. Jack deflected that one with his left arm. Then Shea landed a left hook to Jack’s mid-section. He followed it up by rushing into Jack with his shoulder, hitting Jack in the gut, knocking him back but not down. He grabbed Jack, wrapping his left arm around him in a clinch. While they tugged at each other, Shea’s right hand produced a shard of beer bottle glass from his pants pocket. As Jack pushed him back from the clinch, Shea swung at Jack’s face with the glass, grazing the left side of his chin. Blood appeared immediately.
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Today is the 11th Anniversary of 9/11. A lot of fanfare was placed on the 10th, but the number 11 has significance. It’s considered a number of spiritual importance. It is a pair of ones together — ones being fresh start and independence, and, when you add them together, you get 2 — partnership and duality. It’s a prime number in mathematics (a number that can only be divided by itself or 1 and is greater than 1). It’s the first number beyond that which can be counted on our ten fingers. Different cultures and traditions layer in more meanings as well.
The events of 9/11 impacted everyone, but especially those in New York (just about everywhere in the city), at the Pentagon, and at that Pennsylvania field — and the families and friends of those directly involved. There are different ranges of experiences, depending on where you were on that particular day and who you lost. Two people might be standing side by side thousands of miles away from the events, but one lost a family member and the other didn’t know anyone who died, so those are two different experiences.
As writers, we try to make sense of the world. So it makes sense that writers try to make sense of this event, both in the scope of the personal and the universal. The non-fiction came out quickly, and will continue to come out. Anyone who hasn’t read the 9/11 Commission Report (which took awhile, but was thorough) — do it. There’s important information there that should affect all our choices moving forward.
But what about fiction? I believe it’s easier to tell emotional truth in fiction in a way that resonates more deeply with people. That’s one reason genre fiction can work so well — it speaks to emotional truths.
Plays were the first to tackle the events, the questions, and the stories. Drama is a form of ritual, a way to draw people together in a common experience, energy between what’s happening onstage and in the audience intermingling in a way that a book or a film can’t. Also, in theatre, we live by “the show must go on.” Those aren’t empty words for those of us in the business. Broadway was shut down for two or three days after the attacks, and then joined in the movement to get people out of their apartments and back into the world — be it through a comic musical or a quickly-penned one act dealing with the events everyone tried to sort through. Theatre is active and interactive, and a theatre person’s instinct is to tackle the experience in order to try to make sense of it. The Chicago Sun-Times has a good article about the plays that jumped into the melee.
Films came out, and some of them continue to do so. I’ve heard some are very good. I haven’t seen any. I still have trouble with news footage from the day — I don’t know if I can sit through a film, no matter how well done or well-intentioned. I might never be able to do so, and I accept that.
A spate of novels came out shortly after the attacks. Although there were many cynics out there, I believe most of these writers needed to sit down and write in order to cope with the tragedy. As the years progress, more novels have come out, dealing with the tragedy and the aftermath. As more and more First Responders deal with the consequences, I’m sure there will be more novels to reflect their experiences. It’s a way for us to understand, to move through the grief, and to continue living. The situation has conflict, it has drama, it has high stakes. There are also thousands of people personally invested, for whom it feels like a few days passed instead of 11 years. It makes one wonder how long after each of the wars we’ve been involved in had to pass for the novels about that time not to feel like opening fresh wounds.
C.E. Lawrence writes thrillers featuring NYPD profiler Lee Campbell. The books are set in New York City several years after the attacks. They are not about the attacks, but the way the effects linger and filter into daily life is one of the best depictions I’ve read in fiction thus far that deals with it. It’s handled with a combination of both compassion and directness that many other novels I’ve read that deal directly or touch on the events lack.
I remember commuting in and out of Grand Central Station in the months after the attacks in order to work on Broadway. Everyone was silent and tense as the train pulled out of the station and moved through the tunnel. It wasn’t until the train emerged near 125th Street that people breathed a sigh of relief and began to talk or read the paper or do something other than hold our breaths. It was the same coming in — we hit the tunnel, and the train was silent. We weren’t sure we would make it safely into the terminal.
Commentary Magazine had a stimulating article last August about 30 post-9/11 novels. I’m not keeping an actual track, but I bet more have been released since. The Washington Post also has a thought-provoking article on the time it’s taken for fiction to appear, and suggestions for some of the best.
As no one should be forced to visit the Memorial until they’re ready, neither should anyone feel bullied into reading fiction about it unless they wish. But for those of us who write, it is bound to influence what and how we write, even if we don’t deal with it directly. It is still the ghost hovering over our shoulders, whispering, “Remember.”
We kick off the fall season on A BIBLIO PARADISE with guest Sharon Buchbinder and her newest release, KILLER KISSES.
Devon Ellington: First of all, I love the premise of each and every one of these stories. Over how long a period of time were these stories written?
Sharon Buchbinder: Thank you for your kind words, Devon. I started writing these stories in 2006 and published the first one, CATASTROPHE, in 2007. About one came out each year until 2010. About that time, I asked for the seven stories to be put together in an anthology, but for business reasons, the publisher declined. I really wanted a collection of my short stories, so when my contracts expired, I asked for my rights back so I could re-issue them under one cover.
DE: Are these characters one-offs? Are they tied to other works, or is there a potential to meet any of them again?
SB: There is a full length book related to this anthology. BONDED FOR LIFE has Isabel Ramirez as Lola Getz’s cousin. She appears off stage. In DESIRE AND DECEPTION (Red Sage), Isabel was a main character.
The 2 reunion stories grew out of the genius of Kathy Cottrell, the Senior Editor for the Last Rose of Summer line at the Wild Rose Press. She came up with the Class of ’85 Reunion for Summerville High School and some key characters (e.g., Richard and Elizabeth Heade). The authors then had the pleasure of populating her fictional town with characters and giving them life. The only thing we had to include was the invitation. If you enjoyed BONDED FOR LIFE and AN INN DECENT PROPOSAL, please be sure to check out the other wonderful Class of ’85 stories at the Wild Rose Press.
DE: Is there such a thing as a “typical writing day” in your life, and, if so, what’s it like?
SB: These days, it’s more like writing sprints. I’m an academic and in 2010, I quit the day job as a tenured full professor and department chair and became a full time consultant and writer. A year later, my consulting role led me to a part time teaching position in nursing. I realized how much I missed teaching, so now I’m back to work full time and love my job as a full professor and program coordinator for the MS in Healthcare Management program at Stevenson University. Now my writing occurs either early in the morning or on weekends. My next project is huge and I’m very excited about it. That will keep me getting up at 5:30 am to write.
DE: Do you prefer to work on one project at a time, or juggle multiple projects?
SB: My life is inherently about juggling projects. Right now I’m deep in reviewing copy edits for a textbook, CASES IN HEALTH CARE MANAGEMENT, which is due out in spring 2013 from Jones and Bartlett Learning. And, I’m building a new MS in Healthcare Management program. And, I’m working on the epic novel. I like to use both sides of my brain, the logical scientific side and the creative, world building side. They feed each other.
DE: You mentioned participating in Maryland Romance Writers and RWA. Are you part of a writing group that meets regularly? How have all of those connections supported and strengthened your writing?
SB: I belong to a wonderful critique group that meets once a month. There are six of us in it, and we critique everyone each month. It keeps me moving forward, doesn’t allow me to slack off. We are cheerleaders for each other and celebrate each accomplishment. We are also very picky about our writing. We have high standards and hold each other to them. It makes our work stronger.
DE: What’s next?
SB: I have a 3rd book under review with a publisher (fingers crossed). It is a paranormal romance. In OBSESSION, a recovering addict must work with a Mexican drug lord to rescue her one-year old son from the clutches of a cult leader who believes the child is the Chosen One.
And, I’m beginning to write the sequel to KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF. KISS OF THE VIRGIN QUEEN is the story of the epic romance the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon and the impact of their relationship on their descendant, Eliana Solomon. It will be a paranormal romance.
Thank you, Sharon, for spending time with us!
Sharon Buchbinder has always been a story-teller. As a child, she got into a lot of trouble for “making things up.” Now, she is rewarded for making things up. She’s been writing fiction since in middle school and has the rejection slips to prove it. After graduating with a BA in Psychology and no job, she realized her dreams of working in the attic writing great prose would have to take a back seat to the simple pleasures of eating, drinking, and having a roof over her head. After working in health care delivery for years, she became a researcher, an association executive, then an academic. She had it all– a terrific, supportive husband, an amazing son, and a wonderful job. But that itch to write (some call it obsession), kept beckoning her to “come on back” to writing fiction. She found friendship, support and the opportunity to develop as an author with the Maryland Romance Writers and the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Since romance has over a dozen sub-genres, she was able to turn her fascination with horror and mystery into paranormal romance and romantic suspense. When not writing she can be found reading, fishing, working out, golfing or enjoying a good meal and laughter with friends and family.
On Twitter: @sbuchbinder
BLURB for KILLER KISSES
Killer Kisses is a collection of Sharon Buchbinder’s tales, ranging from contemporary, short and chaste to paranormal, long and spicy.
In A Peck on the Cheek: Hurricane Jason, a female private investigator searches for a two-timing husband, but lands in an hurricane shelter. Does she get her man?
In Cat Nips: Catastrophe, a crazy cat lady is evicted by her drunken landlord and the lives of her cats are at stake. Will she and her rescues wind up on the street? Or will a secret admirer find a better home for everyone?
In Hot Lips: Lake Placid Cure, a woman finds her husband in a compromising position–again. Looking to recover her dignity, she sets out for a medi-spa, encounters a murder mystery and discovers that miracles still happen in Lake Placid.
In French Kiss: Pigmalion, a speech pathology graduate student needs one more subject for her research project to graduate. She runs into a hot guy with a heavy accent and tries to recruit him into her study. Will she teach him the language of love?
In Sizzling Smooch: Bonded for Life , a Mexican artist runs for her life to hide in the little town where she graduated from high school. She’s convinced no one will find her there. But a boy with a high school crush on her grew up to be a hunky cop–and he has her in his cross hairs.
In Delectable and Delicious: An Inn Decent Proposal, a chef and a hotelier join forces at a foreclosure auction on an old inn and outbid a small time hood. The thug doesn’t like being on the losing end of the deal. Things heat up outside and in the bedroom. Can the couple make a go of it? Or will the hood destroy their dream?
In Release Your Inner Wild Women: Kiss of the Silver Wolf, a young woman searches for the truth about her brother’s debilitating disease. An intriguing man with silver hair and a penchant for long night runs insists she’s his life mate. How does this sexy man figure into her family secrets?
And the excerpt:
Prologue: The Hunt (Part I)
He leaned down on his front paws, relieved the kinks in his back, and shook out his thick coat. Beneath the cold air, a hint of spring tantalized his senses. Under the moist leaves, between the tree roots, alongside the chortling streams, the sleeping earth mother stretched her legs and wiggled her toes too. He gazed at the pearl white moon as she rose on the horizon, full and iridescent in the February sky. Only a few days left to enjoy this part of his life.
Time for a run. He began to trot, then broke into a long easy gait, loping around the perimeter of his territory, through trees and winter-bare brush. He picked his way across a snow-melt-swollen stream, past massive rock formations and darkened houses, enjoying the feel of his muscles as they kept pace with his pounding heart. This was what it felt like to be alive.
Too soon he reached the asphalt and the end of his fun. Panting, he turned away from the road and walked at a slow easy pace, back to the pack’s meeting place. Time to speak to the Old One about the future. Midnight runs no longer suppressed his primal feelings, the visceral urge he felt when the full moon rose.
Each month, the call to mate was stronger—irresistible as the pull of the moon on the oceans—and on him. The females in the pack were off limits, bonded forever to their soul mates. Besides, their scents didn’t arouse him. No, the one he wanted was far away, almost an unattainable being. The moment he saw her smoky-eyed image, he knew she was The One. Often when he was alone at night, he gave into his dark urges and fantasized about holding her and making her his own. But in the morning, he was still alone, his dream-mate a dust mote on a sunbeam. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and stepped into the apple orchard.
Half-hidden in shadows beneath the moonlight dappled trees, the Old One nodded his head, a knowing glint in his bright orange eyes. The younger male trotted over to him and bowed his head. Half a dozen adolescents tumbled over and around the Old One, bit his gray ears, and nipped his toes. When the smaller ones looked up and saw the younger male, they yipped, hobbled over to him, and threaded between his legs. The Old One’s mouth opened in a grin, and his tongue lolled.
The younger male fell to the ground, rolled on his back, and the six pups leaped on his belly. He chuffed and pawed at them, cuffing each one lightly. He enjoyed the role of honorary Uncle, but what he really wanted was his own pups to play with. After a few minutes, he gave a great sigh and flipped onto his belly. The little ones seemed to sense his change in mood and hobbled off to play with sticks.
He locked gazes with the Old One. When will I have my own mate? It’s not enough for me to watch the little ones play.
The Old One winked and nodded. My job is to preserve the pack, to keep our people alive. I have chosen your mate. You know who she is. You have my oath.
The younger male shook his head. You didn’t answer my question. When? When do I get my mate and become Pack Leader?
The Old One leaped to his feet, glared at the younger one, and growled a deep throaty roar that belied his age. You dare to question me? Me? The one who saved you? Is that how you show your gratitude?
The younger male put his ears down and lowered his head, his nose touching the ground. Forgive me. I’m—I’m so lonely. My heart aches for a loving mate and my own pups. Every moon the urge gets stronger, the hunger greater.
The Old One came closer, grabbed the back of the younger male’s neck with his teeth. The large signet ring on his iron necklace clanked as he gave the upstart a small shake. The time is coming near. I promise. You will—
The unmistakable crack of a rifle sounded in the distance.
The Old One’s mate barked out orders to the other females. Grab the pups. Get them home. Hurry, hurry.
The younger male found a straggler hobbling along as fast as his legs permitted. He lifted him by the scruff of the neck. C’mon, little one. I’ve got you. You’re safe now.
A second shot rang out closer by.
The little one whimpered and shuddered in his grip. Please don’t let the hunters kill me, Uncle Zack. Please?
“I told you to hold your fire!” Special Agent Eliana Solomon stood by the abandoned mine and drummed her fingers on the butt of her Sig Sauer.
“Sorry, Sir—Ma’am…I thought I saw a wolf in my night scope.” The newbie looked downward as she glared at him.
“This isn’t a hunting trip with your buddies. It’s an active operation and I’m in command. One more shot and I’m taking your rifle away from you. Got it?”
He gulped, clutched his weapon, and nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”
She had asked for experienced soldiers; instead they sent a bunch of green boys. She understood the Middle East took precedence, but didn’t the Army get the concept of domestic terrorists?
The mission of Project Aladdin was to find jinn, the portals where they came through from a parallel dimension and to shut the gateways down. Contrary to popular TV images of a pretty girl in a bottle, the jinn, or genies, were not nice. Powerful shape shifters, they hated humans and wanted to take over the world. If a terrorist ever found a way to conjure and command even one jinni, the world would never know what hit it.
Despite her obsession and round the clock investigations, she’d been unable to make any progress. With her evaluation coming at the end of the month, she had to find something. Otherwise, she’d be exiled to a desk and spend the rest of her professional life analyzing emails. She shuddered at the thought of death by tedium and twisted the heavy signet ring on her left hand.
Strange energy signatures had been seen on satellite images of this area and identified as the type associated with jinn. The abandoned mine was the logical place for a porta—but so far the scout they’d lowered down into the shaft hadn’t reported anything. She glanced at her watch. He’d been silent for twenty minutes. He was supposed to be reporting in on the quarter hour.
Mouth dry, she keyed her radio. “What’s going on down there?”
“Hello. Can you read me?”
A long burst of static was followed by garbled voices. A man screamed.
She wheeled on the pale-faced young corporal holding a rope. “Get him out of there!”
He leaned back and grunted, red-faced with exertion. “Something’s wrong, Ma’am!”
She raced behind him, screaming at the stricken-looking young men huddling together. “Get over here. Help us get him out.”
Three of them put their backs into the effort, finally bringing the scout up into view. Limp-limbed, the young man’s head lolled back, his camouflage uniform covered in blood. They hauled him onto the ground and rolled him over.
A soldier held a flashlight as Eliana pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his face off. Something was on his forehead. She dabbed at it and stopped. The words burned into the man’s forehead told her all she needed to know. She stood on shaky legs.
Bug eyed, the corporal turned to her. “What is it? What’s it mean?”
She chose her words with care. “It’s Hebrew. It says: GET OUT.”
She flexed her fist and rubbed the heavy signet ring inscribed with pentacles and letters from an ancient language. She was going to need help from a source that some people said didn’t even exist.
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