Kindle Author Interview: Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan, author of The Riyria Revelations, recently signed a deal with Orbit to publish his highly successful and currently self-published fantasy series. In this interview he discusses his books, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: Congratulations on your new publishing deal! After your success as an indie author, why did you decide to sign with a traditional publisher?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: It’s true that we’ve (I tend to speak in the plural because my writing is really a partnership with my wife—I do the writing, she handles the business side) had tremendous success through independent publishing. In fact, I never expected my work to receive as much attention as it has. Going the traditional route was really Robin’s idea. She thought we had gone as far as she could take us and to reach the next level would require access to a larger distribution network (in other words print outlets). The system is really not designed for an indie to do spectacularly in that venue and the investments required are great, as are the risks.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about The Riyria Revelations?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: It’s a fast-paced read with characters that are just a lot of fun to hang out with. I wrote all six books before publishing the first, so I was able to build a longer story arc but did so through individual episodes that have their own conflict and resolution. The series would be considered traditional fantasy, a return to the roots of books like Lord of the Rings, but done in a very light-handed way. Where many fantasy books get bogged down in lengthy world building, I focus on the characters and plot, throwing in a fair amount of twists and turns that keeps you guessing along the way. It is a series that many fantasy readers give to their friends that are not fantasy fans and those are the people who usually love it the most. The work is very accessible. One other thing that many take note of is that it has no sex, graphic violence, or foul language. I definitely wrote if for adults (it is not a YA book), but most share it with their kids.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: My character development can best be described as a long, slow burn. Just as you don’t know everything about a person the first few times you have dinner with them, my readers are exposed to my character’s history and what makes them unique over the entire series. Plus, I really put many of them “through the ringer,” subjecting them to hardships that will either break or make them stronger. The reader sees their growth because they have been with them through the journey. This technique is a risk, by the way, as some people will read the first book and feel they don’t know enough about the main characters to feel fully invested, or will assume I can’t build depth. But, for those who continue with the series, I think they are rewarded with a greater intimacy with the characters and a greater appreciation for the events that have shaped what they have become.

As to differentiating…in real life, if you had a random sample of ten people stuck in an elevator, it’s a crap shoot as to what personality types would be there. As a writer, you get to orchestrate your environment. So I get to define each character and have them bring to the story what I need them to. I like my characters to have a transition. Myron starts off very wide-eyed and innocent, but by coping with loss he develops a Zen like appreciation for living. Having him interact with someone like Royce, who is a hardened cynic afraid to believe in anyone but himself, can create some interesting scenes. That’s the great thing about creating your own universe, you don’t have to accept “what you get” but instead “make what you need.”

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: Interesting question...this can be taken in two ways. The first being who I targeted my book for, and the second is who I would like to see reading my book. I didn’t take the first into consideration when writing the series. In other words, I didn’t develop it for a particular audience or portion of the reading public. Frankly, I wrote a book that I wanted to read. It goes back to what I was talking about in the previous question. Being a writer means you are the master of your own little universe so you might was well fashion it to your liking. If you are lucky, there will be others that like what you do.

As to whom I like to see reading the book…I love reading reviews where it is obvious the person “gets” what I was doing. That on the surface it’s just a quick fun tale meant to entertain. But…if you look harder…you’ll find layers and interconnections that make the book much more than it first appears. I’ve carefully designed the story to be more than the sum of its individual parts. I’ve woven in themes about redemption, overcoming loss, and people deluding themselves into believing the end justify the means. I do this in very subtle ways and when I find someone who points these things out it always makes me smile. That being said, for those who just see it as a good fun read…I’m glad I created something that entertained them.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: Wow, to quote Princess Bride… “There is too much…I’ll sum up.” I started writing at like nine or ten and wrote ever since. After I had completed ten novels I tried to get them published and failed miserably. Looking back, I didn’t really go about it in a way that would lead to success. Achieving nothing, I got fed up and quit writing for ten years.

I have a dyslexic daughter, who was struggling with reading so I bought her the first Harry Potter book thinking she might like it. She didn’t really pick it up but I did and was blown away…mainly because it was just so much fun to read. I was whisked away and loved spending time with the characters in the book. The fact that it was multiple volumes with an overarching story arch was also something I found particularly fascinating. This is what got me to start writing again and my first project was the Riyria Revelations.

After hundreds of rejections I found an agent…she was a great person but really not very “plugged in” and she made some half-hearted attempts with the first volume. It never went anywhere. She had to quit the business for personal reasons and I didn’t want to go on another search for a new agent so my wife submitted the books to a few of the smaller presses…Aspirations Media produced the first book. It was mildly successful (sold out the first print run after 14 months) but AMI was constantly struggling with money problems and couldn’t afford a second printing, so when the rights reverted my wife started Ridan Publishing to put the books out. She also started finding other authors whose works she thought were worth a larger following and brought them on as well.

Sales grew steadily and with the release of book #5 (Wintertide) in October they jumped dramatically. My wife thought the iron might be hot to try traditional. I had a foreign rights agent who helped me with a small deal in the Czech Republic and we asked her if she wanted to shop it around. To be honest…I thought it would take twelve or eighteen months to see anything from this but she had multiple publishers interested in just a few weeks and a done deal in less then a month.

Sales in November 2010 through February 2011 have exploded. I went from 1,000 books a month to 10,000. It’s too soon to know what working with a big-six publisher will be like, but so far it has been great and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: Most of my books take shape over a long period of time. I have a habit of taking long walks and talking to myself…I have whole conversations as if I were explaining the book to someone and I play the devil’s advocate trying to poke holes in my plots. After I get that part over I create an outline, but it is very quick and uninvolved—just a sentence or two describing each scene.

I generally write in the morning, take an extended break at lunch, then start again in the afternoon. When I’m really into something I can sit at the computer for fourteen hours or more straight but most often I do it a few hours at a time.

Once the book is done I give it to my wife and she starts tearing it apart. She indicates scenes that have to be added or removed and sometimes will find flaws in logic or character motivation and then I go and do the rewrites. The basic story really never changes but how it is presented does. A good example is Nyphron Rising, where a peasant girl has been charged to make a catatonic puppet empress prepare for a speech. In the original version I pretty much summed up their meeting and the history of the servant in a few paragraphs. Robin saw their relationship as the keystone of the book and felt that the reader needed to spend more time with them. The result was my two paragraphs became a hundred pages and probably some of the best ones in that particular book.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: During the first part of my writing career, the first fifteen years before my ten year hiatus, I wrote in a number of different genres Everything from literary fiction to mysteries. The only ones I didn’t play around with were Romance or Erotica. I studied various writers and dissected their techniques. I basically absorbed what I liked from each and threw away what I didn’t. This is my short list: plotting from Tolkien; setting from Steinbeck; brevity from Hemingway; characterization from King; fun from Rowlings; trusting the reader from Hosseini; and character descriptions from Rand.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: Another question that is difficult to answer. Does it mean, what book did you like so much you wished it was yours? Or does it mean what book did you think could have been better if you had done it? Or does it mean which book was so successful you wanted the same fame as that author? Or what idea did someone come up with that you wish you had thought of first? Maybe the whole point of asking is a test to see how I would interpret the question. In any case, no matter how I consider what you asked I come to the same answer…none. If there is an idea that intrigues me enough to want to write about, I’d do it. If for instance, if I thought I had a fresh new twist on Frankenstein, then I would write that story, but that doesn’t mean I wish I had been Shelley.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: Wow, another simple question that would take volumes to answer…and it’s really Robin who did all the work so I’m not really the right person to ask. Here’s what I know. We’ve not spent any money on ads of any kind. Both of us tweet a little—and have facebooks but we really don’t devote much time there. Robin does utilizes the Internet because it’s free and spends most of her time at sites like Goodreads and forums about writing or reading. She doesn’t go out there with a bullhorn saying—buy this. Instead she is genuinely interested in reading and writing as a whole and engages as a participating member of the communities she is in. She is proud of my books, and their biggest fan, so of course they come up in conversations but she is just as likely to recommend someone else’s books that fits the topic being discussed. Most importantly she LOVES helping other authors and offers a lot of free advice.

The other thing she spends a lot of time on is cultivating book bloggers. She reads a lot of the sites and has been successful getting them to read and review the series (even those that usually won’t look at an independently published book). We’ve been very fortunate that most of the bloggers have loved the book and have promoted them not only on their sites but in forums. This has been, in my opinion, an integral secret to the success we’ve received so far.

DAVID WISEHART: What are your views on ebook pricing for indie authors?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: Wow, if you ask this of Robin you’ll get a multiple page dissertation. I’ll present my opinions (you should have her back for more on marketing in the digital arena as she knows SO MUCH MORE than I do on this subject). I think of myself as a reader and I’m not the least bit put off by any book priced $9.99 or less. Those above $10…I’d have to be VERY interested in and even then would not snatch them up right away. In general, I think half the price of a trade paperback sounds right to me. Somewhere around $4 - $7.

I know, from talking to Robin, that many authors are pricing themselves at $0.99 or $2.99 levels. I personally don’t get this. I think they do so more out of a “dream” of getting a big audience than a belief that this is what the reading public demands. I think many set their price this low because they feel like they have to because they are “new” or “unknown.” I wish they would have a little more self-confidence in their work and price their books at an amount that is more equitable considering the time they’ve spent and the enjoyment that the reader receives. Most of my books are priced at $4.95 and the latest is $6.95 and I’ve never heard anyone complain about that price…in fact, most of my readers thank me for making them so affordable. By pricing books so low authors are really self-fulfilling their own prophecy. They see big sales and think they chose well, but the reality is they never gave their readers anything else to choose from.

Personally, I think I write good books that are entertaining and most people will feel the time they’ve spent with my creations is well worth $5 - $7. I can’t imagine anyone getting done with one of my books and saying…yeah, that was good but I wish I had only spent $3 instead of $5. Anyway you look at it, ebooks are a bargain in the entertainment industry. Most cost much less than a two hour movie and provide much more enjoyment.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: It’s a no-brainer…and where I get most of my sales from. Amazon’s ability to use buying habits of many people to focus attention on other books you might like is pure genius. They are the ones that really got this whole e-revolution going…before the kindle there was no real adoption. Even with increased completion from Nook, iPad, and others I think they have a track record of being an innovator and leader that I’m betting will continue.

One such example is the way they think about indie authors. They make it easy for anyone to release a book on their platform while other companies like Sony mainly focus on the big publishers. Amazon's open door policy has developed an environment where indie publishers can thrive. More than any other company out there they have really embraced indies and I hope they continue to do so.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN: There was a time when conventional wisdom said if you self publish you’ll ruin your chances at traditional publishing. I think that ship has sunk. Through Robin’s networking she’s always telling me of this author or that author that just got signed, while my non-Kindle author friends are still waiting, stacking up rejections. Putting something out there and building an audience is a thousand percent better than having a manuscript sit in a drawer.

That being said…take pride in your work. Hire help in the form of editing and cover design. Don’t just throw something out there because you see an opportunity. Make not just a good book but a great book. Act like a publisher…because in this environment you are. Your goal is not to create a good self-published book, but a great book by any standard. You need to be better than the books put out by traditional publishers because your audience will be more critical of self-published work. A typo found in a tradition book is an “oops” that snuck by. A typo found in a self-published book is a confirmation of poor or nonexistent editing.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


Born in 1961 in Detroit, Michigan, Michael Sullivan began his writing career when he was just ten years old. After falling in love with Lord of the Rings, he sat down at his sister's manual typewriter to create a similar tale and wrote seven novels before graduating from high school. Serious writing began in 1985 as a creative outlet while raising his children in rural Vermont. Over the next ten years, he wrote six-novels in various genres from mystery to literary fiction but obtained no traction in the publishing world. Disheartened with the process, he quit writing for nearly ten years.

Michael's writing spark re-ignited in 2004 when he read Harry Potter with his dyslexic daughter. He fell in love with the story and decided to write something "just for fun" with no intention of publishing. Drawn to the concept of a multi-book series with an overarching story, he started what would later become the Riyria Revelations.

Finding the project compelling and rewarding, he sold his successful advertising agency in 2006 to pursue writing full-time. He finished all six books before seeking publication, allowing him to weave multiple story lines told as episodes, each containing its own conflict and resolution.

Originally signed by independent presses (Aspirations Media & Ridan Publishing), Michael's popularity spread in large part due to book bloggers who found his work a refreshing change from dark and gritty fantasy prevalent with the genre. The blogging community praised the work as a fast, fun read that returns to the hallmarks of conventional fantasy.

In February 2011, Orbit Publishing (the fantasy imprint of Hachette Book Group USA) purchased the Riyria Revelations and are currently scheduled to produce the series as three 2-book omnibus versions.

Michael currently lives in Virginia, just outside Washington DC, with his wife and three children. He is currently working on a modern-day fantasy entitled Antithesis as well as a three-book series based on Novron from the Riyria Revelations.

2010 Fantasy Book Critic #1 Indie Fantasy (Wintertide & Emerald Storm)
2010 Iceberg Ink Award Best Read (Avempartha)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 25 (Wintertide & Emerald Storm)
2010 Bookworm Blues Overall Best Reads of 2010 (Avempartha)
2010 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (The Emerald Storm)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 12 Novels as of First Quarter (The Emerald Storm)
2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Avempartha)
2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (Nyphron Rising)
2010 Fantasy Book Critic Top 5 Novels of Second Half of 2010 (Wintertide)
2009 Winner of Book Spot Central's Fantasy Tournament of Books (Avempartha)
2009 Speculative Fiction Junkie's Top 5 Close Contender (The Crown Conspiracy)
2009 Top 10 Books by Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews (The Riyria Revelations)
2009 National Indie Book Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2008 ReaderViews Annual Literary Award Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)
2007 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Finalist (The Crown Conspiracy)

The Crown Conspiracy (October 2008)
Avempartha (April 2009)
Nyphron Rising (October 2009)
The Emerald Storm (April 2010)
Wintertide (October 2010)
Percepliquis* (April 2011)

Theft of Swords (11/2011)
Rise of Empire (12/2011)
Heir of Novron (1/2012)

Michael's website:
Michael's blog:
Michael's twitter:
Michael's publisher:

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Book Excerpt from Savage Nights:

The jungle canopy spreads out over them like a leafy umbrella. Its sounds have stilled to occasional raucous cries that give each of them pause as they stand circling the hole, their fingers tight against the triggers of their rifles. There is Sarge, his thick eyebrows knotted over roving red-rimmed eyes. There is Smitty and Packey, standing guard against whatever might come crawling from the hole or stumble out of the jungle's darkness. The others form a small, nervous ring of guns and sweat in various poses.

No one is more covered in sweat than he, and he feels the sheen on his skin soak his clothing all over again. He sets down the black rifle and pack and strips off his web belt. From the pack's loose flap he withdraws a Colt .38 snub-nose revolver and checks the cylinder.

Sweat droplets gather on his chin and dribble in a line to his chest, where the olive drab fabric has turned black. His hand shakes as he methodically inserts six fat cartridges

into the Smith's cylinder. The brass slips between his damp fingers but he gently seats each round in its nacelle and snaps the cylinder shut. Full. Six rounds.

"Loot," drawls Sarge. "Let me lob a couple grenades in there. We got plenty."

"You know that's not good enough, Sarge. Grenades don't do shit in Charlie's tunnels. There's only one way to flush 'im, and that's this old fashioned way. Keep an eye out for other exits, and don't shoot my fuckin' head off if I come squirtin' back."

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Sarge pulls back the bolt of his M-16 and lets it snap quietly forward. The others follow suit.

Loot — Lieutenant Richard Brant — shrugs out of his pack and extra gear, unsnaps his webbed belt and holster, and taps both boot knives down so they can't slide out on their own.

He checks the opening carefully. Charlie's been known to booby-trap everything. Coke cans. C-ration tins. Fallen logs. Trapdoors are a likely booby trap, but Loot traces the edge with a finger and senses this one's clear. He can't see any wires, there's no sign of a hasty set-up or glob of plastique. His sweat trickles into his eyes and he blinks hard. Charlie might be crouching just on the other side of the square door, AK in hand, bayonet fixed, ready to make a suicide strike on the first GI to face him. Maybe there's a squad past the second trapdoor, or maybe there's a hollowed out side chamber behind which Charlie lies, clutching a spear and just waiting for a pink-skinned target to ease into the square hole. Maybe—

Loot senses he's psyched himself out. If he had just opened the trapdoor and climbed in, it would have been fine. But instead he started to play the scenarios in his head. Remembering other holes, other tunnels. He squirms as if the giant spiders were crawling on him again, as in the last tunnel, yesterday, the one that nearly reduced him to tears. He cocks the trigger of the Smith, quietly.

"Fuck this," he mutters under his breath and in one swift motion he pushes the trapdoor into the hole with one hand and reaches into the darkness with the .38 ahead of himself.

The blast blinds him and the pain is an intense lance to the brain and heart, and then to his hands. He sees his bloody hands writhing on the tunnel's dirt floor, one still gripping the pistol, and he screams long and hard even as he realizes that the blast wasn't all, the booby-trap wired to the back of the trapdoor also includes a small container of home-made napalm, and then he blacks out, his eyeballs melting into the skin of his face and his lips liquefying over his teeth like runny glue. His scream turns to a gurgle and then it's blessed nightfall—

—blessed cool nightfall and his eyes blast open but there's no light (yes there is, there it is, the nightlight) and he realizes that he can see after all and his skin feels rough but it's all there and his hands are, where are his hands? In front of his eyes, twitching and clenching, but most certainly still attached to his wrists. He can feel the pain in his wrists, but it's not his pain, it's someone else's.

Fuck, it's Strachowski. That's what happened to him. Not me.

Not me.


He remembered Strach's ravaged face, the blood, the stench. Then, for a second, Strach's face seemed to morph into someone else's. A girl's.

He shook his head violently to erase the image.

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Sample Sunday: "Devil's Lair" by David Wisehart — Chapter 4

A medieval knight leads a quest through Hell to recover the Holy Grail from the Devil...

by David Wisehart


Nadja sat in the two-wheeled cart as it rattled on the road, heading south through the low mountains of Campania, passing stands of holm oaks and service trees.

Next to her, Marco da Roma lay half-dead. He was longer than the little cart. His legs, bent at the knee, dangled over the back. Nadja held his cold, rough hands and prayed over him, whispering the Ave Maria. The words were in Latin, God’s language. She did not know what the words meant exactly, but she had heard them often enough, and had taught herself to say them. They were a comfort to her now.

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus....

She gazed down at Marco’s scarred, angular face. He had fallen forward on the battlefield, had been robbed of his clothes and armor, and had lain a day or more with his naked back and half his face exposed. Now, with the right side of his face sunburned, he looked like two men sewn together, one pale and the other red. The bandage, wrapped about his head like a linen casque, was stained with blood above his right ear. His head jounced and swayed as the wheels of the tumbrel bucked along the narrow dirt road, but Marco remained unconscious, his eyelids closed. He appeared to sleep, as if drowsed by a dwale, like in the children’s story of the knight and the princess, only now it was the knight who was ensorcelled by a spell, and Nadja was no princess. Her kiss would not save him, though if it could she would deny him nothing. Nadja knew his face better than her own, for she had seen it often in her falling dreams. She had sketched his features from memory, in charcoal on paper, but had done scant justice to his savage beauty.

As the sun crested the doddered trees, Nadja began to fret. Marco’s burns would soon worsen. He needed shade. She had an idea. If she could get the other blanket out from under him, it might serve as a canopy. Lifting his left arm to free a fold of the blanket, she discovered a stab wound in Marco’s side, just below his armpit. Odd. The site of the wound, shielded by his upper arm, could not have been an easy target. If the blade had plunged deep it would surely have pierced his heart. Somehow, it had not. Another miracle. She thanked God and repeated her prayers, then held up the blanket to shadow the face of the fallen man.

The road was narrow and treacherous. In some places it ran to the edge of the drop, where one good bounce might send the tumbrel down the mountainside. Nadja preferred to walk, as she had done for most of the journey, trusting in her own two feet, but someone needed to watch over the wounded man. God, she trusted, would watch over her.

William and Giovanni ambled together ahead of the sumpter. The friar thumped his walking stick at a steady gait, poking at the road. A dotted line trailed behind him. Giovanni led the donkey, holding the reins in one hand, a long switch of hazel in the other. He glanced back to see what Nadja was doing with the blanket, then addressed the friar. “He’s too young, Father.”

“And strong,” the friar said, as if in agreement.

“You know what I mean.”

“Do I?”

“He’s too young.”

William fell silent for a dozen paces. The walking stick thumped along, punishing the earth. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “He’s the man in the picture.”

“That picture could have been a dozen soldiers on that field.”

“It is a picture of one man,” said William, “and one man is what we found.”

Giovanni did not seem convinced. “I saw a thousand. I couldn’t tell the Neapolitans from the Hungarians. Some had lost their looks, others their heads. I saw more bodies than faces. I left Florence to get away from the dead, and you walk me through a sea of corpses. For what?”

Nadja spoke up. “This is the man. If he does not look like the picture, it is the fault of my hand, not of his face.”

“And he has the mark,” William added.

Giovanni shook his head in scorn. “Mark of a heathen. No Christian would brand his own flesh.”

“The Templars did,” William said.

“I’ve read many things about the Templars, but I have never read that.”

“Then you have not read their secret books.”

“If you have read them, they are poor secrets indeed.”

“Their meaning was cloaked in a code,” said William. “I doubt you could have read them. My eyes are not what they once were, but they are better eyes than most.”

Nadja wasn’t sure what a code was. It seemed to be a kind of spell that made literate men illiterate. Perhaps a code was like a foreign tongue, like Tuscan or Latin, which made people babble until God taught you to hear the words in a new way, and then they made more sense.

“Code or no code,” Giovanni said, “tattoos are banned by the Church.”

Even Nadja knew that, and she had read no books at all. Her mother had once told her that the tribes of Germania practiced such devilry before the birth of Christ. Nadja had also heard of merchants who traveled to Christendom from India, Tartary, and Cathay with pagan images needled on their skin, but she had never actually seen a tattoo until her revelation.

“Tattoos were the least of their sins,” said William. “The Templars were charged with heresy.”

“On the subject of heresy,” Giovanni retorted, “I defer to your expertise.”

The donkey began to lag. Giovanni tugged at the reins, and when the animal failed to heed the hint, the poet raised his long switch and whipped the sumpter on the rear. The donkey brayed his rebuttal and resumed his former pace.

“He can’t be the man you’re looking for,” Giovanni said. “The Templars were burned at the stake more than forty years ago.”

“You weren’t even alive then,” William pointed out.

“My father was in Paris on business, staying near the church of Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie. He saw it with his own eyes. He said that for three days the sky was as black as midnight with the smoke from the heretics.”

“Yes. More than a hundred were burned. But some escaped.”

“If any survived, they would be your age.”

William sighed. “Perhaps the brotherhood lives on,” he suggested. “Somewhere. In secret.”

“Yes, and perhaps this is the Garden of Eden, and perhaps the sun is rising in the west, and perhaps my donkey here is Balaam’s ass.” He turned to the donkey and said, “Are you Balaam’s ass?” He answered himself in a funny donkey voice: “‘Why yes, pleased to meet you, though I wish you wouldn’t beat me with a stick. Oh, look, is that a Templar in my cart?’”

Nadja giggled.

The friar was not amused. “The man you mock is a Poor Knight of the Temple, the last of a sacred brotherhood, defenders of the Holy Grail. He is the one. He will save us all.” William’s voice was stern, putting an end to the argument.

I hope he’s right, thought Nadja. If not, it would be her fault. She had brought them here. Her visions had led her to William of Ockham, to Giovanni Boccaccio, to Marco da Roma. Her visions now spurred them all south to the infernal gate in search of the Holy Grail, which the Devil had stolen from the world, though she did not yet understand how this wounded man could save them. Her visions were sporadic. She knew the others shared her doubts, but what worried her most was her secret fear: that it was not God who guided her dreams, but something else inside her, something evil.

She heard a soft grunt, and glanced down at the knight. Marco’s eyelids remained closed, but the eyes flittered beneath their veils. Something was happening. Something had changed.


Marco da Roma walked in darkness. A cold mist enveloped him. Through the mist a red light beaconed. As he approached it he perceived more of his surroundings: he moved across a field of ice, a vast floe bathed incarnadine by the blood-red light before him. Trapped in the ice were hundreds of human faces staring up, immobile except for their eyes, which tracked his movements from underfoot.

Walking on, Marco saw the red light divide into two glowing orbs that grew larger as he approached. They became a pair of shimmering eyes, chatoyant as the eyes of a cat. They looked down at him from an immense height.

He stopped, transfixed, shivering in the dark. The flames of those eyes gave no warmth.

Marco da Roma, a deep voice rumbled.

“Who are you?” He recognized his own voice, but felt no vibrance in his throat, no breath upon his lips.

You know who I am.


I am the darkness.

“I don’t know you.”

Better than you know yourself.

“Let me go.”

Do you want to die?

“I want to live.”

Then open your eyes.

The red eyes shut. The darkness shuddered.

Marco opened his eyes. He came to himself in a storm of light. His skin was on fire. A pulse pounded in his ears like the stampede of a thousand chargers. A silhouette obscured the sky: the outline of a woman, her face in shadow, her hair tinged with gold.

“He’s awake,” she said.

But the darkness reclaimed him, and the world fell away.

LAST WEEK — Chapter 3 of Devil's Lair by David Wisehart
NEXT WEEK — Chapter 5 of Devil's Lair by David Wisehart

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Kindle Author Sponsor: Gary Ponzo

Book Title:

A Touch of Deceit


Gary Ponzo

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"A Touch of Deceit  by Gary Ponzo is a great action & adventure story that will  keep you turning the pages so you can find out what happens next."
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"The  plot line was riveting, nail biting and fast paced. It was hard to put  down. Ponzo takes you on a ride that is suspenseful, captivating and  truly an enjoyable read. A real page turner. The ending has a  surprisingly neat twist. I love a book that keeps you engaged from start  to finish. A great thriller."
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Book Description:

Winner of the Southwest Writers Novel Contest, Thriller category!

FBI  agent Nick Bracco can't stop a Kurdish terrorist from firing missiles  at random homes across the country. The police can't stand watch over  every household, so Bracco recruits his cousin Tommy to help track down  this terrorist. Tommy is in the Mafia. Oh yeah, it gets messy fast. As  fast as you can turn the pages.

Book Excerpt:

There  was a time when Nick Bracco would walk down Gold Street late at night  and young vandals would scatter.  The law was present and the guilty  took cover.  West Baltimore was alive with crime, but Gold Street  remained quarantined, reserved for the dirtiest of the dirty.  That’s  how Nick remembered it anyway.  Before he left for the Bureau to fight  terrorists.  Now, the narrow corridor of row houses felt closer to him  and the slender strip of buckled sidewalk echoed his footsteps like a  sentry announcing his presence.  It wasn’t his territory anymore.  He  was a foreigner.

Nick scrutinized the landscape and  searched for something out of place.  The battered cars seemed right,  the graffiti, even the shadows seemed to darken the proper corners.  But  something was missing.  There were no lookouts on the concrete  stairwells.  The ubiquitous bass line of hip-hop was absent.  The  stillness reminded him of jungle birds falling silent in the prelude to  danger.  The only comfort came from the matching footsteps beside him.   As usual, Matt McColm was by his side.  They’d been partners for ten  years and were approaching the point of finishing each other’s  sentences.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Matt said.

“Did I mention that I don’t have a good feeling about this?”               

“Uh,  huh.”  Matt tightened his collar against the autumn chill and worked a  piece of gum with his jaw.  “That’s your theme song.”

“Really?  Don’t you ever get a bad feeling about a call?”

“All the time.”

“How come you never tell me?”

“I’m going to feed the flames of paranoia?”

They walked a little further in silence.  It got darker with every step.  The number of working streetlights dwindled.

“Did you just call me paranoid?” Nick said.

Matt  looked straight ahead as he walked; his casual demeanor caused him to  appear aloof, but Nick knew better.  Even at half-mast, Matt’s eyes were  alert and aware. 

“Maybe paranoid is too strong of a word,” Matt said.

“I would hope so.”

“More like Mother-henish.”

“That’s better,” Nick said.  “By the way, did you eat your broccoli tonight?”

“Yes, Dear.”    

They strode further; low-lying clouds gave the night a claustrophobic feel.    

“This guy asked for you specifically?” Matt said.

Nick nodded. 

“That bother you a little?” Matt asked.

“No,” Nick said.  “That bothers me a lot.”     

Up  ahead, a parked car jostled.  They both stopped.  Neither of them  spoke.  They split up.  By the book.  Years of working together coming  into play.  Matt crouched and crept into the street.  Nick stayed on the  sidewalk and gave the car a wide berth.  In seconds Matt became  invisible.  The car maintained a spastic rhythm.  It was subtle, but  Nick understood the familiar motion even before he flashed his penlight  into the back seat and saw a pair of young eyes pop up through the grimy  window.  They were wide open and reacted like a jewel thief caught with  a handful of pearls. The kid’s hair was disheveled and his shirt was  half-off.  His panting breath caused the inside of the window to fog  up.  He wasn’t alone.  A pair of bare legs straddled his torso.

From  the other side of the vehicle, Matt emerged from the shadows and  charged the car with his pistol out front.  He was just a few yards away  when Nick held up his hand and said, “No.”

Matt  stopped dead.  He must’ve seen the grin on Nick’s face and realized the  situation.  He slowly holstered his Glock and took time to catch his  breath.

Nick heard the kid’s voice through the closed window.  “I ain’t doing nuthin’, man.”

Nick  clicked off his penlight and slipped it back into his jacket.  He  smiled.  “It may be nothing, but you sure worked up a sweat doing it.”

When Matt fell back into step next to his partner, Nick said, “You seemed a little . . . uh, paranoid?”

Matt returned to nonchalant mode.  “Kids that young shouldn’t be doing the nasty out in the street.”

“Consider their role models,” Nick said.  “You can’t change the tide with an oar.”

“Pardon me, Professor Bracco.  Who said that one—Nietzsche?”

“I just made it up.”

“It sounded like it.”

They  slowed their pace until Nick stopped in front of an old brick building  with a worn, green awning above the entrance.  Nick gestured down a dark  flight of stairs where a giant steel door stood menacingly secure.   “There it is.”

Matt nodded.  “You bring me to all the best spots.”  

When  he was certain of their solitude, Nick descended the stairs.  Matt  followed, keeping an eye on their rear.  In the darkness, Nick barely  made out Matt’s silhouette. 

“Listen,” Nick said,  “it’ll be easier if we don’t have to use our creds, but let’s see how it  goes.  I don’t want to say any more than I have to, and you say nothing  at all.  Just be the silent brute that you are.  Capisce?”


“If  we get lucky, I’ll see a familiar face.”  Nick raised his fist, hovered  it in front of the door, then stopped to sniff the air.  “You wearing  aftershave?”

“A little.”

“You have a date after this?”

“Uh huh.”



“Who makes a date with you at midnight?”

“Veronica Post.”

“First date?”


“At midnight?”

“She’s a waitress.  She doesn’t get off until then.”

In the murky darkness, Nick sighed.  He turned to face the door and, just like a thousand times before, he said, “Ready?”

He couldn’t see the response, but he heard Matt unfasten the flap to his holster.  Matt was ready.

Nick  used his wedding band hand to pound on the metal door.  He shifted his  weight as they waited.  Nick heard Matt chewing his gum.

Nick said,  “Midnight, huh?”

A  rectangular peephole slid open allowing just enough light through to  see a dark face peering out.  The face was so large the opening  supported only enough room for one of his eyes.

“Yeah?” the man grunted.

Nick leaned close to the opening so the man could see his face.  The opening quickly slid shut.

They stood in the silence while Nick thought of his next move.

“He seems like a nice fellow,” Matt said. 

The clang of locks unbolting was followed by the door squeaking open.  It reminded Nick of an old horror movie. 

The  large black man wore a large black shirt that hung over his jeans and  covered enough space to hide a rocket launcher. The man ignored Nick and  gave Matt the once over. 

Matt gave him the stone cold glare of a pissed-off FBI agent.  No one did it better.

Then  the man turned his attention to Nick.  His head was round and  clean-shaven.  His expressionless face seemed to be set in cement.

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Kindle Author Interview: Gerald Weinberg

Gerald Weinberg, author of Earth's Endless Effort, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Earth's Endless Effort?

GERALD WEINBERG: It's an idea I've had ever since I first became acquainted with Kebler Pass aspens (which is actually one aspen) and learned it is likely to be the largest living creature on earth. The novel is based on the idea from cybernetics, that any sufficiently large living entity is likely to develop some kind of "intelligence."

So, Earth's Endless Effort is the story of such an intelligence and its struggle to survive the transgressions of humanity—with the help of a few of humanity's unsung heros.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

GERALD WEINBERG: I put them in situations, then as I write about their responses to those situations, I find out what they're like, and what differentiates them from other characters.

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

GERALD WEINBERG: Anyone who appreciates the fact that the world doesn't have to be the way it is, so that slight changes might make big changes in the way the world is.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

GERALD WEINBERG: Wasn't much of a journey. I was always a writer, as far back as I can remember. I don't remember learning to read or to write. It's as if I always knew. English classes in school almost killed my desire to write, until I hooked up with Wilbur Gaffney in college required English Class. He apparently recognized my potential as a writer, and allowed me to choose my own assignments, after which I thrived. When I started working in industry, I began to write articles about things I had learned that nobody else seemed to know. Then I got together with Herb Leeds to write about computer programming, which was a rare topic in those days, more than 50 years ago. We gave each other courage to write our first book, after which I took off, writing about 50 nonfiction books, first about computers, then about the people who programmed computers, then about people who led the people who programmed computers, then about people in general. I always had a craving for writing fiction, but was discouraged for many years by an editor's 4-page review of my first novel. I didn't realize that a 4-page review must have meant that the editor really liked the book enough to spend that much time on it.

My nonfiction writing made me quite rich, enough anyway that I could afford to risk venturing into a fiction-writing career. For the past decade, I've not given up my nonfiction, but I've also been learning how to write fiction, and beginning to build up a second following.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

GERALD WEINBERG: I've described my process in detail in my book, Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method. Fundamentally, it's a method whereby I'm constantly moving my writing forward with just about everything I do every day.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

GERALD WEINBERG: Charles Dickens, Henry James, Dorothy Sayers, Thomas Hardy, Lee Childs, Tom Demarco.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

GERALD WEINBERG: The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

GERALD WEINBERG: I blog. I have a webpage. I do interviews whenever I can, like this one. I tweet to about 2,500 followers. I have fan clubs at least in Japan and China (mostly for my nonfiction, for now). Mostly, though, my fans promote my work.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

GERALD WEINBERG: Well, my wife has a Kindle, and she loves it, so I figure lots of other readers must love their Kindles. So, that's where the readers are. Also, being in the computer business, I've known for a long time that something like the Kindle would be coming along, so I was ready for it when it came. But I got a late start because I was hit with (I was told) inoperable thymic carcinoma just as the Kindle was coming out. I beat that, and hurriedly began moving my portfolio to Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

GERALD WEINBERG: Do it. Write well, and use feedback from Kindle readers to improve your writing. Don't spend all your time, though, revising your first works. Just keep writing new ones.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your books.


I write both non-fiction and fiction, in paper and for e-readers (such as Kindle). My fiction includes such novels as Mistress of Molecules; First Stringers: or eyes that do not see; Second Stringers: the sole advantage; The Hands of God; The Aremac Project; Aremac Power: Inventions at Risk; Earth's Endless Effort.

I am the author or co-author of many non-fiction articles and books, including a number on more effective thinking: The Psychology of Computer Programming; An Introduction to General Systems Thinking; Are Your Lights On?; What Did You Say?; and Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method.

My books on leadership include Becoming a Technical Leader, The Secrets of Consulting, More Secrets of Consulting, and the Quality Software Management four-volume series.

My books cover all phases of the software life-cycle, including Exploring Requirements; Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design; The Handbook of Walkthroughs, Inspections, and Technical Reviews; General Principles of System Design, Perfect Software and Other Illusions about Testing; How Software is Built; and Why Software Gets in Trouble.

I offer several blogs and workshops for writers and technical leaders including Problem Solving Leadership (PSL) and the Amplifying Your Effectiveness (AYE) Conference. They can be see on my personal website is at

You may read more about me in the Festschrift, The Gift of Time, edited by Fiona Charles and written by many of my students and readers.

I also assist my wife, Dani, in training dogs for service activities and as pets. Her work is described in her book, Teaching People, Teaching Dogs, which can also be purchased on Amazon.

Visit his website.

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Kindle Author Sponsor: R.E. Conary

Book Title:
Rachel Cord, PI 'Still a Bitch'

R.E. Conary

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"(M)y favorite mystery authors are James Lee Burke, Dick Frances and Tony Hillerman. Conary brews a plot to compete with these three."
—Lloyd Lofthouse, AuthorsDen

Book Description:

Rachel Cord returns with a vengeance chasing multiple threads through a labyrinth of missing persons, buried bodies, kinky sex, new love, and an ex-lover who may be a serial killer. Threads that threaten to bind Rachel within a tight cord preventing her from getting the answers she needs and saving the woman she loves.

Book Excerpt from Rachel Cord, PI 'Still a Bitch':

Once the convenience store clerk stopped staring at my breasts, he recognized the man in the picture.

“Yeah, that’s Mr. Carter. I see him with Mr. Stanley lots of weekends. They come in for gas and stuff. They usually order pizza on Saturday nights. A large double pepperoni, double cheese with hot peppers and onions. Not from here. I deliver for Pizza Quick at night. They’re good tippers.”

“Did you deliver a pizza last Saturday?”

He pulled his eyes back from staring at my breasts again. He was young, so I tried to ignore it. It happens all the time.

“No, they didn’t call in an order. Didn’t see them at all last weekend.”

He gave me directions to Stanley’s house and I thanked him. He strained over the counter to get a last look as I got into my car. I understood his interest. Every adolescent male from nine to 90 stares at my breasts. A lot of women do too, but that’s a different story. I hate it, it’s my albatross and there’s little I can do about it—yet.

My breasts are huge. Double-H huge that stick out like the bullet bumpers on a fifties Buick. They’re a cause of distraction, but more than that they’re a pain: a pain in the neck and back just trying to stay upright, and a pain to the ego. It's automatically assumed that the bigger the breast the smaller the brain. But one of these days I’m getting them cut back to a pleasanter, more comfortable size: a C-cup at least, or, maybe a B. A girl has her dreams.

The mailbox was just as the clerk described, large and black with three blue reflectors on the post beneath it. I pulled into the dirt lane and stopped.

It rained heavily the past weekend washing the lane smooth. It didn’t look like anyone had been here since. There were no tire tracks. This was Wednesday. Morning light through the trees turned the lane green as it twisted and curved through the woods. I couldn’t see the house. I got out of the car and checked the mailbox. There were some letters and a magazine. One day’s delivery? Three? What time of day? I had no idea. Only one of the letters had a readable cancellation from last week. No help there. I left them. It's against the law to tamper with other people's mail. I try not to break the law—too often.

The rain-swept lane told me Jerome Carter probably wasn’t even here, or Kenneth Stanley either. Maybe they went fishing and hadn’t yet returned. Maybe they had an accident. But they weren't in any hospital that I knew of, nor had any unclaimed bodies shown up. This could be a wasted trip. Still, I couldn’t know for sure until I checked. Carter hadn’t come home Sunday night and this is where his trail led.

Why was I here? Because I was hired to find the guy and hand him some papers? Because it’s what I do for a living? Because I'm Rachel Cord, confidential investigator? Was that answer enough?

I didn’t want to be here. Certainly wasn’t welcome on this side of the river. I could have stayed in bed. Should have stayed in bed. Had plenty of reason to stay in bed and would be much happier there than here. I definitely didn’t want to go down a tree-lined lane to a house hidden in the woods. Nasty things happen in such places. Nasty things that rip you apart, maybe never to be whole again. Nasty memories that didn't need to be dredged up.

Life isn’t always hearts and flowers. Mostly it's pain and suffering. Muck and mire below the surface where the grubs and worms feed. It’s an end and it’s a beginning. It’s dirty little secrets. Secrets that it’s my job to discover, like it or not. My business cards even say so: "Life’s a bitch. So am I.”

Yeah, that's why I was here: to prove to myself I can still handle it; that I’m still tough enough, hard enough.

I started down the shimmering lane. Angled golden light pierced the green canopy sending up hazy mists that promised another hot, sticky, typical September start. The lane twisted around trees like a game trail instead of a driveway built by humans. The quiet crunch of tires on sand sent birds flittering and squirrels scurrying. The lane curved and as I crossed a short wooden bridge over a stream, I saw the log house at the crest of the hill across an open meadow. The meadow was wavy grasses and wildflower bursts of white and yellow, reds and blues. The colors extended up the hill toward the house, a modified A-frame with wings. A two-and-a-half story triangle of windows reflected blue sky.

The lane circled the meadow instead of cutting across straight to the house. There was a low place where the lane turned that still had water from the recent rains and looked pretty soft. No one had tried to drive through it or around it. I pulled to the left through the grasses to avoid getting stuck. Something scraped the undercarriage. The lane curved up the rise and I could see the side of the house, towering trees shading the back yard, and a log garage. The weathered gray logs shone in the sunlight. Beyond was more meadow with an old red barn and then the tree line. I stopped near the back of the house. A dark blue car parked in front of the garage was a late model Cutlass and the license plate matched the information I had. I took the envelope of papers from the passenger seat and got out.

“Hello? Anyone home?”

A tawny tabby came from beneath the deck to greet me. She meowed and rubbed herself against my leg. She leaned in hard as I rubbed her ears.

“You’re a friendly kitty. Where is everyone?”

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Kindle Author Interview: Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, author of Model Agent, discusses his book, his journey as a writer, and self-publishing on Kindle.

DAVID WISEHART: What can you tell us about Model Agent?

SEAN SWEENEY: Model Agent is what I hope to be the first in a line of thrillers. It's actually the second one I've penned; turns out the first one is the sequel to Model Agent. Anyway, Model Agent introduces the reader to Jaclyn Johnson, a partially-blind counter-terrorism agent of the CIA. She's pretty, vivacious. She turns the heads of both sexes. She uses her cover as a fashion model to get close to targets, and then, under the alias Snapshot, manages to defeat her enemies. Model Agent takes place mainly in Boston, along with a few other corners of Massachusetts. I spent a few hours in Boston doing detail research, so the color is there.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you create and maintain dramatic tension?

SEAN SWEENEY: With a thriller, an author must keep the reader on the edge of their seats, then make them say, "I didn't expect that." I talked with a local basketball coach on Thursday night; he's reading the book. I asked him how did he like that first chapter. He said the above. An author must put their characters in crazy situations, or blow stuff up, to make the tension.

DAVID WISEHART: How do you develop and differentiate your characters?

SEAN SWEENEY: We're supposed to develop characters? Who knew? Just kidding... When I find out how I developed Jaclyn, I'll let you know. :)

DAVID WISEHART: Who do you imagine is your ideal reader?

SEAN SWEENEY: In this case, anyone who likes a pulse-pounding, keep you riveted to your chair, action-packed story.

DAVID WISEHART: What was your journey as a writer?

SEAN SWEENEY: My journey has been a crazy one. Lay offs from newspapers convinced me to stay away from the 9 to 5 grind, or to the 1 to 11 grind, what have you. I've learned so much being freelance, more than I learned in high school or any college courses I've taken.

DAVID WISEHART: What is your writing process?

SEAN SWEENEY: A dream inspired Model Agent. I outlined the plot in about a week, went to Boston and Worcester for detail research. I tried to have a 2,000-word-per-day pace. When I come up with a concept, I can think of nothing but that little idea: dishes go unwashed, clothes unfolded. I have to write down my ideas in categories: characters, settings, plot points. I'll then go ahead and hand-write a 15-25 page treatment which I use as my guide while I write.

Once I start writing, I have a routine: I wake up early, have a couple cups of coffee, then get started. I can usually get a few thousand words written by noon. I have lunch, take a nap, then, if I don't have an afternoon game, I'll write a couple thousand more before I go to a night game or make dinner. After I file my gamer or eat, I'll write a little more. Rinse, lather, repeat.

DAVID WISEHART: What authors most inspire you?

SEAN SWEENEY: Steven Savile, R.A. Salvatore, J.R.R. Tolkien, Vince Flynn.

DAVID WISEHART: What one book, written by someone else, do you wish you'd written yourself?

SEAN SWEENEY: Wow... probably Steven Savile's Silver. It's only been out a year, but that book is the book I wish I had written. Of course, it's based in Europe, so my traveling exploits wouldn't do it justice the way Steve did.

DAVID WISEHART: How have you marketed and promoted your work?

SEAN SWEENEY: I've become involved in several different online communities.The Amazon Forums,, I've Tweeted, Facebooked. I've spoken at a few libraries. I visit the Kindle and Nook Facebook pages daily. Just being friendly and down to Earth has sold many books.

DAVID WISEHART: Why publish on Kindle?

SEAN SWEENEY: This is the way the publishing world is headed, like it or not. E-publishing cuts out the gatekeepers who deem for the reader what to read. That's not the way this country was founded; that's not democratic. With Kindle (and Nook, and Smashwords), I'm in full control of the content, how it looks, and what the price for the consumer is. I keep the price low because I want readers, and I want to be read.

DAVID WISEHART: What advice would you give to a first-time author thinking of self-publishing on Kindle?

SEAN SWEENEY: Easy: These are Joe Konrath's rules. 1. Have a low price; 2. Have great cover art (my cover art lacks, but hey, it is what it is); 3. Write a fantastic description to give customers a good idea what they are buying; and 4. Write a damn good book. Make sure you do your research and decide what your goals are. If I were a first-time author, I'd go with Kindle and its ease. Let the readers decide if you're good enough to publish.

DAVID WISEHART: Thanks, and best of luck with your book.


Sean Sweeney was born in the city of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1977. His love of fantasy began 11 years later when he was handed J.R.R. Tolkien's classic The Hobbit. His passion for writing began in 1993, as a sophomore in high school, when he began to write sports for his local newspaper, the Sentinel & Enterprise. Since then, he has written for several Massachusetts newspapers, including the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and the Southbridge Evening News in Southbridge. He has since returned to where it all started, as he came back to the Sentinel in April 2008. He also strings for the Springfield Republican and Turley Publications.

Sweeney also writes under the pen name John Fitch V. Read my previous interview with him about his book Turning Back the Clock.

Visit his website, read his blog, check out his facebook page, and follow him on twitter.

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Kindle Author Sponsor: Paul Levine

Book Title:
Fool Me Twice

Paul Levine

Kindle Price:

Available from:
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Book Reviews:

“Wildly entertaining blend of raucous humor and high adventure.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“A fast-paced thriller filled with action, humor, mystery and suspense."
The Miami Herald

Los Angeles Times


“Mystery writing at its very, very best.”
—Larry King, USA TODAY

"Irreverent...genuinely clever...great fun."
The New York Times Book Review

"Just the remedy for those who can't get enough Spenser and miss Travis McGee terribly."
St. Petersburg Times

"Jake Lassiter is attractive, funny, savvy, and brave."
Chicago Tribune

“Genuinely chilling.”
Washington Post Book World       
“Take one part John Grisham, two parts Carl Hiaasen, throw in a dash of John D. MacDonald, and voila!  You’ve got Jake Lassiter.”
Tulsa Sun

Book Description:

“You ever hear the expression ‘Fool me once, shame on you?’”

“Sure.  ‘Fool me twice, shame on me.’”

“No, Lassiter.  Fool me twice, you’re dead.”

Linebacker-turned-lawyer Jake Lassiter is back in Fool Me Twice, this time defending Blinky Baroso, a “repeat customer” and unrepentant con man.  In lieu of a fee, Blinky forks over stock in Rocky Mountain Treasures, Inc., and that’s where Lassiter’s problems begin.  The stock is phony; Blinky’s partner is found dead; and Lassiter is the prime suspect.

To find the real killer, Lassiter follows a trail of evidence to an abandoned silver mine under the ski slopes in posh Aspen.  That’s where a priceless artifact of the Old West may be buried: the missing Silver Queen statue from the 1893 World’s Fair.  Or is that just a “Maltese Falcon,” the stuff dreams are made of?

Either way, a homicidal rancher is after the treasure, and so is Blinky.  Then there’s Lassiter’s ex-girlfriend Jo-Jo, Blinky’s sister.  Why is she suddenly trying to re-kindle the ancient romance with Jake?

It all leads to an explosive finale underground where Lassiter confronts his checkered past and his precarious future.

Book Excerpt from Fool Me Twice:



Louis “Blinky” Baroso squirmed in his chair, tugged at my sleeve, and silently implored me to do something.


Clients are like that. Every time the prosecutor scores a point, they expect you to bounce up with a stinging rejoinder or a brilliant objection. This requires considerable physical and mental agility, something like prancing through the tires on the practice field while reciting Hamlet.

First, you’ve got to slide your chair back and stand up without knocking your files onto the floor, and preferably, without leaving your fly unzipped. Next, your expression must combine practiced sincerity with virtuous outrage. Finally, you have to say something reasonably intelligent, but not so perspicacious as to sail over the head of a politically appointed judge with a two-digit IQ. For me, the toughest part is simultaneously leaping to my feet and veiling “objection” while buttoning my suit coat. Sometimes, I slip the top button into the second hole, giving me a cockeyed look, and probably distracting the jurors.

Blinky’s eyes pleaded with me. Do something.

What could I do?

I patted Blinky’s forearm and tried to calm him, smiling placidly. The captain of the Hindenburg probably displayed the same serene demeanor just before touching down.

“Chill out and stop fidgeting,” I whispered, still smiling, this time in the direction of the jurors. “I’ll get my turn.”

Blinky puffed out his fleshy cheeks until he looked like a blowfish, sighed and sank into his chair. He turned toward Abe Socolow, who was strutting in front of the jury box, weaving a tale of deceit, corruption, greed, and fraud. In short, Honest Abe was telling the life story of Blinky Baroso.

“This man,” Socolow said, using his index finger as a rapier aimed directly at Blinky’s nose, “this man abused the trust placed in him by innocent people. He took money under false pretenses, never intending to perform what he promised. He preyed on those whose only failing was to trust his perfidiously clever misrepresentations.”

Socolow paused a moment, either for effect, or to round up his adjectives. “What has the state proved this man has done?” Again, the finger pointed at my presumably innocent client, and the cuff of Socolow’s white shirt shot out of the sleeve of his suit coat, revealing silver cuff links shaped like miniature handcuffs. In prosecutorial circles, this is considered haute couture.

“The state has proved that Louie Baroso is a master of deceit and deception,” Socolow announced, answering his own question as lawyers are inclined to do. “Louie Baroso is a disreputable, manipulative, conscienceless sociopath who gets his kicks out of conning people.”

I thought I heard Blinky whimper. Okay, now Socolow was getting close to the line. Still, I’d rather let it pass. An objection would show the jury he was drawing blood. But then, my silence would encourage him to keep it up.

“This defendant is so thoroughly corrupt and completely crooked that he could stand in the shadow of a corkscrew,” Socolow said with a malicious grin.

“Objection!” Now I was on my feet, trying to button my suit coat and check my fly at the same time. “Name-calling is not fair comment on the evidence.”

“Sustained,” said the judge, waving his hand in a gesture that told Socolow to move it along.

Unrepentant, Socolow shot his sleeve again, fiddled with one of the tiny handcuffs, and lowered his voice as if conveying secrets of momentous portent. “A thief, a con man, and a swindler, that’s what the evidence shows. Both Mr. Baroso and his co-defendant, Mr. Hornback, are guilty of each and every one of the counts, which I will now review with you.”

And so he did.


My attention span is about twelve minutes, a little more than most jurors, a lot less than most Nobel prizewinners. I knew what Abe was doing. In his methodical, plodding way, he would summarize the evidence, all the time building to a crescendo of righteous indignation. While I was half listening, scrupulously not watching Socolow so that the jurors would think I was unconcerned with what he said, I scribbled notes on a yellow pad, preparing my own summation.

I am not invited by Ivy League institutions to lecture on the rules of evidence or the fine art of oral advocacy. Downtown lawyers do not flock to the courthouse to see my closing arguments. I am apparently one of the few lawyers in the country not solicited by the television networks to comment on the O. J. Simpson case, even though I am probably the only one to have missed tackling him—resulting in a touchdown—on a snowy day in Buffalo about a million years ago. I don’t know the secrets of winning cases, other than playing golf with the judges and contributing cash to their re-election campaigns. I don’t know what goes through jurors’ minds, even when I sidle up to their locked door and listen to the babble through the keyhole. In short, I am not the world’s greatest trial lawyer. Or even the best in the high-rise office building that overlooks Biscayne Bay where I hang out my shingle, or would, if I knew what a shingle was. My night law school diploma is fastened by duct tape to the bathroom wall at home. It covers a crack in the plaster and forces me to contemplate the sorry state of the justice system a few times each day, more if I’m staring at the world through a haze induced by excessive consumption of malt and hops.

I am broad-shouldered, sandy-haired, and blue-eyed, and my neck is always threatening to pop the top button on my shirts. I look more like a longshoreman than a lawyer.

A dozen years ago, I scored straight C’s in torts and contracts after an undistinguished career as a second-string linebacker earning slightly more than league minimum with the Miami Dolphins. In my first career, including my days as a semi-scholar-athlete in college, I had two knee operations, three shoulder separations, a broken nose, wrist, and ankle, and turftoe so bad my foot was the size and color of an eggplant.

In my second career, I’ve been ridiculed by deep-carpet, Armani-suited, Gucci-briefcased lawyers, jailed for contempt by ornery judges, and occasionally paid for services rendered.

I never intended to be a hero, and I succeeded.

On this humid June morning, I was slumped into the heavy oak chair at the defense table, gathering my thoughts, then disposing of most of them, while my client kept twisting around, whispering snippets of unsolicited and irrelevant advice. Each time, he leaned close enough to remind me of the black bean soup with onions he had slurped down at lunch. Nodding sagely, I silently thanked him for his assistance, all the time staring at the sign above the judge’s bench: WE WHO LABOR HERE SEEK ONLY THE TRUTH.

Sure, sure, and the check’s in the mail.

Philosophers and poets may be truth seekers. Lawyers only want to win. I have my own personal code, and you won’t find it in any books. I won’t lie to the judge, bribe a cop, or steal from a client. Other than that, it’s pretty much anything goes. Still, I draw the line on whose colors I’ll wear. I won’t represent child molesters or drug dealers. Yeah, I know, everybody’s entitled to a defense, and the lawyer isn’t there to assert the client’s innocence, just to force the state to meet its burden of proof. Cross-examine, put on your case, if you have any, and let the chips fall where they may.

Bull! When I defend someone, I walk in that person’s moccasins, or tasseled loafers, as the case may be. I am not just a hired gun. I lose a piece of myself and take on a piece of the client. That doesn’t mean I represent only innocent defendants. If I did, I would starve. My first job after law school was in the Public Defender’s office, and my first customers, as I liked to call them, were the folks too poor to hire lawyers with a little gray in their hair. I quickly learned that my clients’ poverty didn’t make them noble, just mean. I also got an education from my repeat customers, most of whom knew more criminal law than I did. Nearly all were guilty of something, though the state couldn’t necessarily prove it.

These days, I represent a higher grade of dirtbag. My clients are too smart to pistol-whip a liquor store clerk for a hundred bucks in the till. But they might sell paintings by a coked-out South Beach artist as undiscovered works by Salvador Dali, or ship vials of yogurt as prize bull semen, or hawk land on Machu Picchu as the treasure trove of the Incas. All of which Blinky Baroso did, at one time or another. Sometimes twice.

But back to ethics. I’m not interested in the rules made up by bar association bigwigs in three-piece suits who gather in ritzy hotels to celebrate their own self-importance. Their rules are intended to protect clients and industries with the most money. It’s just like my old game, which they sissified to protect the lah-de-dah quarterbacks. To me, a late hit is just a reminder that football is a contact sport.

Anyway, as far as I could tell, no one in courtroom 4—2 of the Justice Building was zealously engaged in truth seeking at the moment. My client had a more elementary quest. Blinky Baroso merely sought a not-guilty verdict (“Gimme a big N.G., Jake”) so he could resume his career of shams, swindles, and sleight-of-hand business deals.

Judge Herman Gold, peering at us over his rimless spectacles, just wanted a verdict—any verdict—in time to play a couple of quinielas at the jai alai fronton.

Chief Prosecutor Abe Socolow, looking appropriately funereal in his black suit, wanted another slam-dunk guilty verdict to add to his ninety-six percent conviction rate.

The jurors gave no indication of wanting anything at all, although number five, a female bus driver, looked like she had to pee. It was a fairly typical jury by Miami standards. Besides the bus driver, we had a body piercer (noses, nipples, and ears), a shark hunter, a lobster poacher, a county kosher meat inspector, and a self-proclaimed show girl, who was telling half the truth, since she was a he who performed at a cross-dresser’s club on South Beach.

The jurors sat, poker-faced (except for the squirming bus driver), occasionally shivering in the air-conditioning, usually staring into space, once in a while smiling at an inadvertent witticism. Trials are usually so stultifyingly boring that the slightest glimmer of humor is nearly as welcome as the mid-afternoon recess. When I was a newly minted lawyer, having just passed the bar in what was most likely a computer glitch, a judge asked my first client, a repeat offender car thief, if he wanted a bench trial or a jury trial.

“Jury trial,” my client responded, somewhat hesitantly.

“Do you know the difference?” the judge asked.

“Sure, Judge. A jury trial is six ignorant people instead of one.”

Ah, from the mouths of babes and felons.

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