If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Look for our new bloggers this month. Debra Sennefelder will blog on 1/15, and Debra Goldstein debuts on 1/22. Please welcome our double Debs to WWK.


Don't miss our January author interviews: 1/10-Lawrence H. Levy, 1/17-Kaye George, 1/24-Janet Bolin, 1/31-Kathy Aarons. And E. B. Davis will interview Shari Randall on Monday 1/29 about the publication of her first novel, Curses, Boiled Again. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


Our January Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 1/6-Becky Clark, Pat Hale, Leslie Karst, Edith Maxwell, Shawn McGuire, C. Perkins, and Sue Star, and 1/13-Polly Iyer. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 1/20, and Kait Carson on 1/27.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Lawrence H. Levy Interview by E. B. Davis



It's the summer of 1894, and an infidelity case has brought PI Mary Handley to a far corner of Brooklyn: Coney Island. In the midst of her investigation, Mary is contacted by a convicted man's brother to reopen a murder case. A prostitute was killed by a Jack-the-Ripper copycat years ago in her New York hotel room, but her true killer was never found. Once again it's up to Mary to make right the city's wrongs. 
   
New York City's untouchable head of detectives, Thomas Byrnes, swears he put the right man behind bars, but as Mary digs deeper, she finds corruption at the heart of New York's justice system, involving not only the police, but also the most powerful of stock titans. Disturbing evidence of other murders begins to surface, each one mimicking Jack the Ripper's style, each one covered up by Thomas Byrnes.    

As Mary pieces together the extent of the damage, she crosses paths with Harper Lloyd, an investigative reporter. Their relationship grows into a partnership, and perhaps more, and together they must catch a killer who's still out there, and reverse the ruthless workings of New York's elite. It'll be Mary's most dangerous, most personal case yet.
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I enjoyed reading Last Stop In Brooklyn by Lawrence H. Levy. His female PI character, Mary Handley, is a progressive thinking “old maid,” at age thirty, with Irish roots and a self-determined outlook. The plot started with Mary’s pedestrian case of spouse spying and quickly incorporated the politics of the day, famous names of the times, and the issues debated then (and now). Mary’s fidelity case morphs into a personal dilemma and engulfs her in murder. What I didn’t realize fully until I read the author’s notes at the end—much of this story is based on real events and people. Lawrence Levy wove his fiction around fact—well, which is why I wanted to interview him. Please welcome Lawrence H. Levy to WWK.                                                                                                             E. B. Davis
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You wrote for TV, were nominated for two Emmys—why the transition to books—especially historical fiction?

First of all, whether it’s TV, novels, films or any other medium, I consider myself a storyteller and not just tied to one medium. True, Second Street Station (the first Mary Handley Mystery) was my first novel and friends of mine were amazed that I was so successful with it (numerous publishing companies bid for it), but I never considered what a long shot it was in the writing of it. If I did, I probably never would have written it. Fear and anxiety does that to you. It was merely a story I was passionate about and wanted to tell in the best way. To me, all stories boil down to the simplistic child bedtime request, “Tell me a story.” Of course, there are more nuances, details, and subtleties in adult stories, but if the bones of a good story aren’t there, you’re in trouble.

As far as the transition to historical fiction is concerned, it happened by accident. I was helping my son with a term paper about that period and came across the Edison/Tesla feud over the electricity market. I found it fascinating, especially discovering that Edison wasn’t everything that had been fed to me in school. However, I decided that if I was going to tackle this subject matter, it would be more interesting to tell it in the context of a real murder investigation that happened around that time and put the two stories together. That is when I found the real life Mary Handley. In crafting her character, I fell in love with her and she became the main focus. I decided to do it as a novel because then I would have no budget constrictions and didn’t have to worry if actors and a director would help or hurt my vision. In a book, it’s all there. Also, if I wanted to do it eventually as a movie or TV series, Hollywood is more prone to do period pieces based on books.

Your story is set in Brooklyn where Mary Handley lives. Did you grow up in Brooklyn, know the area well, or live there now?

I was born in Brooklyn and grew up in New York City. I live in Los Angeles now but go back frequently. So, I do know the area well. However, Brooklyn was not chosen because I lived there. It was chosen because that’s where Mary Handley lived and worked. I have to admit though that it was very interesting researching my hometown and learning about events that had taken place there of which I had no knowledge.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I would say 90% plotter. I strongly believe you can’t (at least, I can’t) write any story, whether a novel, TV teleplay, film, short story, etc. without knowing where you’re going. I’m not anal about it. I don’t work out all the details and stick to it no matter what. I do make room for ideas that occur to me in the writing process. However, I find it much easier to craft dialogue and action when I know where people will wind up. It gives me the opportunity to lay foundations early on for things that happen later in the story


Your story starts in 1894 with two cases of Mary’s that end up being tied together even though they are very different cases. It was the week of our nation’s very first Labor Day, which was a concession to labor by Grover Cleveland after he sent in troops during the Pullman Strike, which resulted in thirty strikers’ deaths. Why did you start your story at this time?

Ah, this was part of my plotting. I started it there for a number of reasons. First of all, I wanted the time to coincide with other things that were happening in the piece: the dates of the Jack-the-Ripper murders; Teddy Roosevelt becoming President of the Police Commission the next year, etc. When I found out in my research that was the first Labor Day Weekend, it seemed like a perfect fit.

Henry L. Norcross, the U.S.’s first suicide bomber in 1891, entered capitalist Russell Sage’s office and exploded a bomb. Although he is no hero, there are sympathies to his message to the robber barons because he chose Sage to victimize, who ended up walking away with barely a scratch. Sage was known as a greedy capitalist, which later he proves in his legal dealings with William Laidlaw. Did Sage have undo influence during that time? Would someone be able to appeal five times today and never pay a cent to his victim? 

Sage did have a lot of influence at that time, but to counteract that, Laidlaw’s lawyer, Joseph Hodges Choate, made sure that he was portrayed as a greedy coward. That solidified Sage’s decision to fight Laidlaw no matter how much it cost. In the long run, he may very well have paid more in legal fees than Laidlaw would have taken in a settlement. (I believe one of the appeals was made by Laidlaw.) As far as it happening today, I’m not completely sure how many appeals a person can get today, but depending on the circumstances and evidence, I’d say it is entirely possible. Money talks.

Many of the real characters you’ve included are shown to have great shortcomings. (Andrew Carnegie, Russell Sage, Jay Gould, etc.) Are there any dangers in highlighting their faults? Recriminations from family members, renegade historians?

I guess you always run that risk, and that was a concern of mine. However, I was careful to be historically accurate with those figures. Besides, it’s a work of historical fiction, and I emphasize the fiction part. My publisher told me there was nothing to worry about.

Mary’s mother fixated on Mary’s single status and her brother’s anti-dating stance causing much fighting during the family’s weekly dinners. Did the mother have a personality disorder, disrespecting her children’s boundaries, or was she merely a frustrated housewife with too much time to think?

I would say that their mother, Elizabeth, was a product of the time and the conventions of that society. She truly believed that if her children would only heed her advice, they’d be happy. There was also the public embarrassment for her in front of her friends, etc. that her children were odd. Being a control freak, Elizabeth’s relentless attacks were hurtful and wrong, but she knew no other way and thought it was for the greater good. God knows how many wrongs have been committed for the greater good!

There were many societies at that time bent on discrimination against just about everyone except those of Anglo-Saxon heritage, such as The Immigration Restriction League and Austin Corbin’s American Society for the Suppression of Jews. Were they all based on eugenics?

It’s hard to really answer this question. I’m sure eugenics played a part, but I would say though that it was good old-fashioned prejudice; the “I don’t want to see or deal with these people because they’re different.” Of course, myths (lies, really) grew and were embellished about the immigrants – that they were criminals, lowlifes, classless, etc. and ruining our economy. Sound familiar? I’m sure it was also very irritating to these people when immigrants became successful and took business away from the “pure Americans.”

Mary is asked by a condemned man’s brother to help exonerate him. The murder of Carrie Brown and subsequent incarceration of Ameer Ben Ali for the crime was real (and eleven years later, he was released). Your invention of his brother, not only links the two cases, but gets Mary involved. How did you blend the real with the fictional, creating characters when needed?

What it gets down to is this. I start with the real life case, and then try to figure out how Mary would get involved. That is how the brother was invented. Of course, I try to introduce him in an interesting way, and I believe I do that. The same thing goes with Andrew Carnegie, Russell Sage, Thomas Byrnes, and the other real characters. I start from what they really did and what really happened in their lives and then decide how I can weave those events and characteristics into the story I want to tell.

Ameer’s case comes down to fingerprints, which in 1894 hadn’t been used as evidence in a U. S. court of law. Juan Vucetich, an Argentinian police official, was the first to fingerprint criminals in 1891. It wasn’t until 1911 that the U.S. court system allowed fingerprints to be evidence of identification in criminal cases, but could fingerprints eliminate a suspect in 1894?

Not in the United States. However, I had Mary use them in the book as another piece of evidence added to the mounds of evidence she had already collected. She figured that should at least earn Ameer a new trial, if not set him free. Of course, Thomas Byrnes’s ego was at stake, and he was not budging.

Arthur, a white man, runs the “Kill the Coon” arcade on Coney Island, and yet he wasn’t prejudiced. What explains this contradiction?

I portray Arthur purely as a business man and not a bigot. He was making money with the “Kill the Coon” game and that’s what mattered. If a “Kill the White Guy” exhibit would have made him money, he would do that. Also, Edgar was such an engaging guy that, if Arthur had prejudicial notions, dealing with Edgar probably changed his mind.

Edgar, a young black man, is an admirable character. Tell our readers about Edgar.

Edgar was one of those characters and subplots that came along as I was writing. When I read about the “Kill the Coon” arcade attraction, I began to wonder who would agree to become the target of such a disgusting game. Instead of just making him a poor African American who was down on his luck, I decided to make Edgar more interesting. I gave him a strong career ambition and a strong personal reason to be working at Coney Island. He’s also bright, charming, and a good, caring person. Possibly more important, he’s very human and can get angry and make mistakes. It shines a spotlight on the wholesale prejudice against him and all African Americans, making it look absurd and just wrong.

Mary Handley’s nemesis, police Inspector Thomas Byrnes was a real character who was only ousted from office, along with Captain Alexander “Clubber” Williams, after Teddy Roosevelt was persuaded to become president of the police commission. Why can’t Mary’s friend police Superintendent Campbell fire Byrnes and Williams?

This story takes place when Brooklyn and New York were still two separate cities (which I address in Mary’s previous book, Brooklyn On Fire). Brooklyn and New York didn’t officially merge until 1898. So basically, Campbell had no power over Byrnes and Williams.

What’s next for Mary?

I haven’t come up with a title yet for Mary fourth adventure. It will involve Mary trying to solve several murders, one very close to her, and a group of privileged men (and this is fact) who, like out of the headlines today, would drug young women to have sex with them. I hope to keep Mary busy for a long time.

Are you a beach or a mountain guy, Lawrence?

Much more beach than mountain, although when you write all day in your office at home, there’s not much time for the fresh air of the outdoors.

                  http://lawrencehlevy.com/bios/lawrence-h-levy

10 comments:

Warren Bull said...

What an interesting setting and heroine. I'm going to have to read this.

Tina said...

I do love novels that weave history into fiction--great interview!

Margaret Turkevich said...

Fascinating historical period and protagonist! And your interest was piqued helping your son with a term paper. I look forward to reading your series.

E. B. Davis said...

I felt as if this novel not only entertained with a good, solid mystery, but I learned a lot of history history that was glanced over in my history classes in school. Lawrence researched and provided details I'd never heard of before. The books are good reads. Don't miss out on them.

Shari Randall said...

Here's another book for my TBR pile. I love when an author takes historical figures and brings them to life. Great interview, EB and Lawrence!

Kait said...

Turn of the century NYC, what a fantastic setting. Looking forward t spending time with Mary!

Grace Topping said...

Sounds like an intriguing series. Interesting interview, Lawrence and EB.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks for sharing with us. I love reading authors who strive to make their historical fiction accurate. It transports me to another time and place.

Ellen Byron said...

Hi Larry! Ellen Byron, fellow TV scribe here. We met last year at the SoCalMWA Christmas party. Congrats on the series! Great interview. Looking forward to reading the books.

Lawrence H Levy: novelist, TV and movie writer said...

Yes, Ellen, I do remember meeting you quite well. Thanks for the congrats. I really hope you enjoy the series. I personally fell in love with my heroine, Mary.