New York computer whizz-kid, Tony Luna, is burnt out at the tender age of 19. Working since his mid-teens as a video games developer he makes the sudden decision—against his mother’s wishes—to quit and investigate his late father’s Sicilian aristocratic ancestry.
So far, nothing unusual. As far as the story goes, anyway. The writing is a different matter. It’s lovely. The language embraced me and took me into the story, away from my own setting and into Tony’s.
This book is not a quick read. Originally three novellas the author has rolled them into one very-satisfyingly long read. I love a big book and much to my regret these are now hard to find.
Mind you, to keep you reading big books need to be good.
And this one is good. I found the phrase ‘tour de force’ playing around in my mind and I don’t think I’m wrong.
It has so many elements in its exploration of the present entwined with the past that presents lessons that Tony needs to learn for the future that I find it hard to put it into any genre. I notice that in Amazon’s best-selling lists it’s categorised under Visionary, Metaphysical, Horror, and Occult. One could add Fantasy, Computing, Crime—and probably more than I can conjure up.
This is a story that defies easy labelling and that’s part of its beauty and appeal. There is so much going on it totally occupies the mind.
Carolyn Arnold is the author of four series and several novels so she has obviously been writing for a while. However, I’m new to her work, having just read and reviewed one of her standalone novels, ASSASSINATION OF A DIGNITARY. Apart from liking the story I was impressed with the level of detail that had me wondering how she knows so much about the criminal mind and weaponry. So I decided to ask her!
Alana: Carolyn, welcome. Before we get into the nitty gritty of your writing would you tell us something about yourself. For a start, American or Canadian? I ask that because your website gives little away, saying only that you grew up in a small town and now call Toronto home.
Carolyn: I’m Canadian, eh. But let me tell you a little more. I was born in Picton, Ontario and live in Southwestern Ontario. I’m a city woman with the heart of a country girl. If given the choice between a nice hotel and camping, the choice would always be the former. But there’s also got to be time in life to just walk around barefoot outside, dip my toes into the water, and stroll through the woods.
Alana: Full or part time writer? If part-time what else occupies you?
Carolyn: Thanks to my amazing readers I became a full-time author the summer of 2014. There’s been no looking back. I realize every day how I’m truly living the dream and am full of gratitude.
Alana: That’s definitely the dream! How many books have you written, counting those within the series?
Carolyn: That it certainly is. It’s getting to the point that I’m losing count, but I’ve written nearly thirty books.
Alana: You’re an internationally best-selling author. What’s the criteria? Do you have to sell a specific number of books in certain countries?
Carolyn: To proclaim myself an international best-selling author I’ve reached within the top 100 of my genres on Amazon in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. I’ve also hit best-selling ranks on Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble.
Alana: That’s one hell of an achievement! How many had you written before you hit the big time? Was it a case of being an overnight sensation or a gradual climb? Was it a particular series that swung it for you?
Carolyn: Wow, those are great questions. I published my first book, TIES THAT BIND, in May 2011. The movement at first was very slow. No one really knew who Carolyn Arnold was at all. By the fall of that year, sales picked up and continued to do so. Winter of 2011, I published two more books. But Ties that Bind was already working its way up the best-selling lists on Amazon.com. The book hit the top 5 in Police Procedurals on Amazon.com by the spring of 2012. I was moving thousands of copies a month.
Also key to my continued success is writing series. Readers love it when they can become attached to the characters, knowing there will be more stories with them.
Alana: Does your background, where you grew up, what you’re familiar with, make it into your books in any way?
Carolyn: Absolutely. I don’t see how it would be possible to keep those things out, and I believe it’s those elements that make it so readers resonate with certain authors. There are definitely deeper meanings embedded in my books and this comes from me as I’m a deep person.
Alana: Okay, that has definitely got to be explained. What do you mean by ‘deep’?
Carolyn: Oh, I like to give thought to the more universal questions about life—the whys, the why nots, and the what ifs. Some people don’t ask themselves these questions or look within, but I think it’s important for us to all spend some time by ourselves in silence, journaling, and just Being.
Alana: Do all of your books fall into the police procedurals category or do you also write in other genres?
Carolyn: The genre I’m primarily known for is police procedurals. Two of my four series fall into that category. I also write a cozy mystery series and I just published a debut novel in the action-adventure genre this past November. Even with the latter, there is a police investigation going on.
Alana: You use the tag ‘POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™’ on your website. How did you receive that endorsement?
Carolyn: Last April I attended a conference in Toronto with some powerful speakers on the roster. This included Raymond Aaron, Jack Canfield, and Loral Langemeier. A lot of the event was about branding. I came home and gave the matter a lot of thought. What made me stand out from other authors in my genre? What could I boast about specifically?
It came to me that I’d received many e-mails over the years from readers either currently serving in, or retired from, law enforcement. The feedback contained a common theme: I provided entertainment and accuracy. It was said that I got everything right from procedure to the interaction between my detectives and agents.
Thinking on this led me to my trademark: POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™.
Alana: Would you tell us in a few words what each of the series is about?
Carolyn: Brandon Fisher FBI Series: New FBI agent and profiler Brandon Fisher hunts serial killers on a team with the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
Detective Madison Knight Series: A blend of Eve Dallas and Olivia Benson, Madison Knight is a feisty, chocolate-loving detective who will not let anyone—or anything—stop her from finding justice for murder victims.
McKinley Mysteries: Romance. Humor. Murder. Whether a case takes the McKinleys undercover, off the books, or around the world, they’ll get to the bottom of things … And they’ll be romancing it up along the way.
Matthew Connor Adventure Series: Action-adventure books for the mystery lover. In this series, modern-day archeologist and adventurer Matthew Connor travels the globe with his two closest friends to unearth treasure and discover legends the world has all but forgotten. Indiana Jones meets the twenty-first century.
Alana: Now for the question I promised to ask in my introduction. How do you seem to know so much about the criminal world and weaponry?
Carolyn: I have contacts who work, or who have worked, with law enforcement. If I have any questions concerning procedure or forensics I reach out to them.
Alana: And finally, can you say what you’re currently working on?
Carolyn: Currently I’m working on the final stages of edits with one manuscript while prepping another for a development edit with a professional. The fifth book in the Brandon Fisher FBI series, VIOLATED, is due out April 28th and is currently available for pre-order.
Alana: Carolyn, thank you for being my guest today.
Carolyn: Thank you for having me.
Carolyn’s bio: Carolyn Arnold is an international best-selling and award-winning author, as well as a speaker, teacher, and inspirational mentor. She has four continuing fiction series—Detective Madison Knight, Brandon Fisher FBI, McKinley Mysteries, and Matthew Connor Adventures—and has written nearly thirty books. Her genre diversity offers her readers everything from cozy to hard-boiled mysteries, and thrillers to action adventures.
Both her female detective and FBI profiler series have been praised by those in law enforcement as being accurate and entertaining, leading her to adopt the trademark: POLICE PROCEDURALS RESPECTED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT™.
Carolyn was born in a small town and enjoys spending time outdoors, but she also loves the lights of a big city. Grounded by her roots and lifted by her dreams, her overactive imagination insists that she tell her stories. Her intention is to touch the hearts of millions with her books, to entertain, inspire, and empower.
She currently lives just west of Toronto with her husband and beagle and is a member of Crime Writers of Canada.
Raymond Hunter, a retired Mafia assassin, has been living a quiet life for fifteen years with his adored wife Brenda, daughter and son, when the son of his old boss comes calling, wanting one last job done. Ray’s in no position to refuse when his family is threatened.
What ensues is gripping, gritty and compelling suspense. The police are on Ray’s trail almost from the start, the FBI becomes involved and a Mafia internal power play draws them all in.
I can’t remember the last time I read a story in which I found myself rooting for the assassin, but in this one I did.
The author’s knowledge of crime and weaponry adds to the atmospherics as does the writing style. I’ll say it again: gritty.
The reason I’ve given it a four star rating rather than a five is because Ray’s wife and daughter get a minimal point of view airing. I think the story would have benefitted from either staying exclusively with the main characters or giving the women in his life more page space.
There was just one more deficiency for me. Towards the end of the story Brenda’s past and a possible part in the crime is alluded to without being explained. It left me wondering. If there is to be a sequel, then I understand, because it may be explained at some point. If there isn’t a sequel, then it’s left me hanging.
I’ve just finished reading Mary Smith’s novel, NO MORE MULBERRIES, a story about a Scots woman who marries an Afghan chap and moves to Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was such a good read I immediately wanted to discuss it with Mary; she said Yes to an interview, so here we are.
Alana: Mary, welcome. I traditionally ask guests if they would talk a little about themselves first, before getting on to their books and writing. You were born in Scotland and apart from 10 years in Pakistan and Afghanistan you continue to live there, am I right? Would you describe where you live and tell us what keeps you there.
Mary: Thanks so much for inviting me, Alana. I’m delighted you enjoyed NO MORE MULBERRIES. I live in a small market town (pop about 4,000) in Dumfries & Galloway in the south west of Scotland. It’s a beautiful part of the country and although our hills are not as high as in the Highlands they provide a stunning backdrop to lush farmland, forests, and glorious beaches. It’s a magnet for artists and is a really vibrant, creative place to live with a strong sense of community.
Alana: The photos you provided certainly make me want to do a bit of wandering around there. I was watching Escape to the country a couple of weeks ago; it featured the area and mentioned a walk. So who knows! You work part-time as a journalist, what are the types of stories you encounter?
Threave Castle just outside my town. I often walk here and in the summer watch the osprey which nest near the castle.
Lochs, hills and winter trees on a walk not far from where I live
Part of the coastline where I like to walk
Mary: Over the years I’ve worked on a wide range of stories from local history, including articles on locals who became explorers or writers – what I call my dead famous series—to interviews with writers and artists living in the area. I’ve also written more hard-edged stories on the difficulties of our young people finding a house to buy or rent, heroin use, and domestic abuse.
Alana: It sounds like you’ll tackle anything.
Mary: I love the variety. My last three features were on a major research project into dying with the aim of ensuring everyone can have a ‘good’ death, an interview with the head of a local university, and a feature on a locally-based charity which works to open schools in Afghanistan.
Alana: Talking about Afghanistan … the 10 years you spent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, how did they come about?
Mary: Believe it or not initially I only went to Pakistan for a two-week holiday!
Alana: So you ended up staying?
Mary: No, that visit was just for the two weeks. While there I visited the headquarters of the leprosy programme which received funding from Oxfam, for whom I worked. I was impressed by the work being done towards controlling leprosy and wanted to contribute in some hands-on way. It was suggested I stay and start up a health education department. When I pointed out I didn’t have any medical qualifications they said that was okay, they would provide that.
Alana: But you didn’t stay?
Mary: No. I came home but couldn’t settle and eventually wrote an application letter for the post. I knew they had been going to advertise and expected other, better-qualified people would have applied. However, I received a letter asking me to come as soon as possible. I signed a contract for three years, handed in my notice at work and headed back to Pakistan.
Alana: What did you do there?
Mary: I set up the health education department to help raise awareness of leprosy and spread the word that it is curable. After three years I signed up again but this time to work in Afghanistan where I established a health project teaching Afghan women to become local health volunteers.
Alana: So you were in Afghanistan for seven years? Is Miriam’s daily life in the book drawn from your own experiences?
Mary: Yes and yes. And also from observing what life was like for women in the rural areas of Afghanistan.
Alana: What has stayed in your memory of your time there?
Mary: I miss the excitement of new experiences and the colour and the sunshine. The hospitality of the people—in both countries—is something I will never forget. The adventure of travelling in central Afghanistan through amazing landscapes, over high mountain passes on bone-jarring roads will always stay in my memory. And a few less happy events will not be forgotten either—being caught in a bombing raid, or the time I was tied up by armed robbers in our house in Mazar-i-Sharif. The good memories far outweigh the bad. Oh, goodness, so much has stayed in my memory from those years—enough to write another couple of books I should think!
Typical of where I stayed when running the health course for women – and also in which Miriam and Iqbal lived.
Band-i-Amir in central Afghanistan is a popular tourist spot with its series of lakes of the most incredible colours. The water is reputed to cure all kinds of illness. This is where Iqbal’s father took him in an attempt to cure his leprosy.
Typical Afghan landscape with the tortuous road leading to a village in the valley
Alana: How about a series? NO MORE MULBERRIES was a lot of things including entertaining and emotional, but for me it was a real insight into the lives of people, particularly women, there. I imagine it has struck many readers that way. I’d love to gain more insight.
Mary: Very often when watching something on television about Afghanistan or reading in a newspaper, or even a novel, I find myself shouting, “But life for Afghan women is not ALL like that!” I feel very strongly that Afghan women deserve so much more than always to be depicted as repressed, downtrodden creatures, unhappily married to violent husbands. For sure, in some cases, this is true just as it is true in every country including mine. I wanted to show there are other aspects to women’s lives like having fun, enjoying a laugh with friends or taking delight in their children. I’d already written a non-fiction book but thought perhaps a novel would attract a wider audience. I was also interested in exploring what kind of problems a western woman would encounter if she was married to an Afghan man and if their marriage could survive.
Alana: Tell us about your other published works.
Mary: As I mentioned above, I’ve also written a non-fiction book. DRUNK CHICKENS AND BURNT MACARONI: REAL STORIES OF AFGHAN WOMEN is a memoir of the last three years I spent in Afghanistan. It describes the work I was doing and introduces the reader to some of the women (and their families) with whom I worked. I wanted to share my experiences of living in Afghanistan and, as I couldn’t persuade people to come and visit, I thought at least by writing about it I could give people an opportunity to be part of that life for as long as it took them to read the book.
I have a collection of poetry called THOUSANDS PASS HERE EVERY DAY which includes some poems about Afghanistan but also about where I live now and about family and childhood. I’m slowly—very slowly—working towards another collection.
My most recently published book is something quite different. DUMFRIES THROUGH TIME is a picture-led local history book with a ‘then and now’ format. I worked with a photographer who took photos of the places for which we’d sourced old images.
Alana: And you have two blogs, My dad is a goldfish: caring for a demented dad and Take Five Authors —would you discuss the ideas behind them both?
Mary: My dad is a goldfish is about caring for my dad, who had dementia. He died in December 2014 and I thought of not continuing with the blog but decided to keep on, though I’m blogging retrospectively. I’ve met some bloggers in a similar situation; some caring for a parent, some for a spouse and it has been good to feel connected with others. I think we all appreciate knowing we’re not alone on this journey.
Take Five Authors is a blog I share with four other writers. Some are traditionally published, some indie, and we put a new post up each week. This means each of us only has to blog once every five weeks. We blog about all aspects of writing and reading from new publications to overcoming the fear of writing; from saving public libraries to running writing courses. It’s a new blog and we’d love to welcome new followers to it.
Alana: I understand you have several projects currently underway. Do any of them involve a new book?
Mary: I want to publish My dad is a goldfish as a book. I’ve just started the process and have realised it’s going to be a bit more complicated than I first thought as the structure has to be changed. I don’t want it just to be a series of blog posts like journal entries, so I need to create something a bit more cohesive. I would like to think I could have it done before the end of this year—it was one of my New Year resolutions.
Photographer Allan Devlin and I have been asked to do another local history book featuring a different town and we’re starting the search for old photos and postcards.
And in case I feel I don’t have enough to challenge me, the other day I found the original manuscript for a book about my first six-months in Afghanistan – the first book which never sees the light of day!
Alana: Ah yes, we all have those. I have three!
Mary: There is quite a lot of material I haven’t used in my other books so I’m thinking of doing a major edit and getting it out there.
Alana: Mary, thank you so much and all the best with your endeavours.
Mary: Thank you so much, Alana. I’ve enjoyed our discussion – hope I didn’t ramble on too much.
Alana: Not even a hint of rambling, Mary. Loved listening.