September 20, 2012

Made It Moment: Grant Jerkins

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:43 am

The Ninth Step

Such a long, lovely parade of authors have come to the Made It Moments forum that to my sorrow, I can’t always have read their work. And that’s OK. I want this place to reflect a wide range of reading tastes and picks, not just my own. But today it happens that I have read the work of our guest, Grant Jerkins. And while there’s nothing “long” or “lovely” about either The Ninth Step or A Very Simple Crime–both are stark, spare novels that will not only stay with you, but become a part of you–the level of power in Grant’s writing makes them worth reading, whatever genre and type of book you tend to. Read on, and I think you will see what I mean. Oh, and then listen to this song by Toby Keith. It’s the perfect counterpoint for Grant’s Moment.

Grant Jerkins

When Jenny first asked if I had any interest in contributing to her Made It Moments series, I, like many of the other writers I’ve seen featured here, was resistant. The whole “I made it” thing. It’s a bit odious. Self-congratulatory in the worst possible way. “Look at me, common people, I made it. And you, well, you remain common. Bask in my greatness. I will allow it.”


Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as a big a whore as the next writer (and, trust me, the next writer is a pretty big whore). I want the exposure. Crave it. I’m all about me. In fact, let’s talk about me for a minute. Check me out on my website. Read my blog—it’s all about me. Like me on Facebook. Follow me on twitter. Pin me (like Christ on the cross) on Pinterest. Join me on LinkedIn. Add me to your Google+ circle. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

I’m sorry, what were we talking about? It doesn’t matter. For now, I want to talk about me. Just for a bit. My writing. My career. My made it moment. Because, make no mistake, I have made it. Big time.

Of all the fabulous things that have happened to me me me me me me me me, it is hard to pin down (stab me on Pinterest!) just one moment as the defining event. But, if forced, I do have to acknowledge that one particular moment does stand out. And I can tell you this; it’s been no bed of roses, no pleasure cruise…


I’m finished with the snark. No more snark. It’s as odious as any of it. The truth of the matter is that I actually do have a made it moment, and I don’t want to admit it. A moment when I felt I had arrived. That my dream had come true. But I just don’t want to share it. It’s too personal.

Screw it.

Okay, this is real.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve gotten most of my books used. It was the only way I could afford them. Used bookstores, yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores. I discovered a lot of great writers that way. On the cheap. These second-hand stores are like time machines. What was old is new again. How can you not love that? Yes, you have to put up with the occasional squashed bug in your books. Silverfish damage. Various body fluids that were expelled from various body openings having found their way to the absorbent pages. Dust jackets sporting odd leprotic lesions. And the atmosphere in which you browse is often not conducive to scholarly shopping. Sometimes you have to breathe in the exceedingly unpleasant odor of the used shoes racked on the next aisle over. (The disinfectant they spray them with never quite masks the foot odor, does it?)

But let’s get back to me.

If I close my eyes, I can still picture the kid me contemplating the possibilities in all those literary lepers. Those born again books. My fervor in resurrecting them akin to that of a Pentecostal preacher. I have a passion for books. I will always have a passion for books. But I don’t think I will ever love books the way I did back then. It’s just not possible. The hunt for them. The reading of them. The resurrecting of them. And they of me.

About six months after my first novel came out, I was pawing through the broken, beat, and scarred cast-offs—the books that had been abandoned by their previous owners, the books that nobody loved enough to continue to shelter them in their home—in my local Goodwill, and I saw the distinctive red and white spine of A Very Simple Crime. And my name in black on that spine. Me. My book.

Over the preceding year, as the novel was conveyed through the publishing machinery, I’d seen the cover copy, the cover art jpegs, and the copy-edited manuscript. I’d held the advanced reader’s copy, corrected the page proofs, and cut through the packing tape on my carton of author copies. But all of that had been oddly anticlimactic for me. It rang hollow somehow. I don’t know why.

But this, seeing the book jammed thoughtlessly on a thrift store shelf, the cover soiled, the corners bumped, and the pages well-thumbed—dog eared even—this excited me. I’d visited the book in captivity, in retail stores, but this was the first copy I’d ever observed in the wild. And it made me feel like I’d made it.

I took the copy off the shelf, glanced around to make sure no one was watching me. And I inscribed it.

I put the book back on the shelf. But in my mind, in my imagination, it wasn’t just a dingy shelf in a thrift store that smelled of Lysol, black leather wing tips, and open toed sandals. No, these are places of healing. Where the laying on of hands will work miracles.

And most importantly, these places really are time machines. I was sending the book back in time.

To the kid me.

Look what you did. You made it.

Grant Jerkins‘s first novel, A Very Simple Crime, has been optioned for film by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Nicholas Kazan (At Close Range, Reversal of Fortune,) with Barbet Schroeder (Barfly, Single White Female) attached to direct. The Ninth Step, about what happens when an alcoholic struggles to recover and remember her crime, has recently been released by Berkley.

Grant lives with his wife and son in the Atlanta area where he has worked for fifteen years advocating for adults with developmental disabilities.

September 6, 2012

Made It Moment: Hank Phillippi Ryan

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:47 am

The Other Woman

Occasionally I hear from writers who ask what I think about writing conferences. My answer always comes fast: I love them. (Just recently I co-authored a piece about the fabulous ThrillerFest for The Big Thrill e-zine). But today’s Made It Moment illustrates the real reason I think conferences are such a wonderful experience. If I hadn’t gone to Malice 2011, I wouldn’t have met Hank Phillippi Ryan in person. Hank had long been an author whose work I admired, but when I signed up to sit at her table at the banquet, I had no idea she would become such a person to admire, too. You’ll see what I mean when you read Hank’s Moment, which gets at the doubt we writers live with everyday, and how we just might surmount it.

And if you get hold of a copy of Hank’s hot-off-the-press latest suspense novel, The Other Woman, and play the video which goes “behind the scenes,” well, I think you might find real inspiration there, too. I did.

Hank Phillippi Ryan

For me –a TV reporter—the “made it moment” has a completely different meaning. As in—it’s two minutes until 6 PM, my news story is on the air at 6, and we’re still in the edit booth. The seconds tick by. If I miss my slot–a cardinal sin in TV news–that will not be a good thing. The machine whirs, the computer connects, the pictures are all in place, my voice is there, no black holes in the video—we push ENTER! Right on time.

Made it! I say.

And if that moment sounds stressful and frantic–yes, indeed it is.

Which is why my made-it moments in my other world of fiction writing are so wonderfully different.

I’ve been a reporter for 30 years—more!—wired myself with hidden cameras, chased down criminals, confronted corrupt politicians—and it’s often instant gratification. You got the story, or you don’t. You get the sound bite, or you don’t. Yes? No? And the next day you start from scratch.

But in writing fiction—imagine that, I get to make stuff up–the timeline is incredibly different. I’ve learned—it all takes a long time. Overnight successes are measured in years. Years! Think how long Charlaine Harris has been writing, Lee Child, Lisa Scottoline, Tess Gerritsen. My heroes in the mystery world are—long-term heroes. And it took impatient me some time to understand that the glory of writing a novel is that it takes a while. A long while.

And you have to be diligent, and persistent, and devoted. Even—obsessed.

So every day I write, I have a made it moment. I sit down at my computer, I hear the hum and I revel when the manuscript is –yes! still there!– and hasn’t disappeared in some unpredicted disaster. I’ve made it back to my place. The story is moving ahead, unfolding. I’m never sure what’s going to happen next—with no outline and no plan, my new world takes shape.

(I had a little separate made-it moment when I got the idea for THE OTHER WOMAN, I must say. The moment I thought about this sentence: “You can choose your sin, but you cannot choose your consequences,” I realized I had a story to tell. A story of secrets and sex and duplicity and revenge and consequences—and the conflict created when a devoted reporter thinks she’s onto a big pivotal election scandal—but what if he’s wrong?)

And—a year or so later—that turned out to be THE OTHER WOMAN. But every day that year, at the end of each writing session, I thought—oh, I made it! I did this. I’m doing this! I’m a writer. My story is growing and soon—but okay, not THAT soon—I’ll know what happens.

And I cannot wait until I make it to my desk again the next day. A new world awaits. In just the next moment.

Hank Phillippi Ryan is the investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. A television journalist since 1975, she has won 27 Emmys and ten Edward R. Murrow awards for her work. Her work has resulted in new laws, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosure, and millions of dollars in restitution. A best-selling author of four mystery novels, Ryan has won the Agatha, Anthony and Macavity awards for her crime fiction. Her newest thriller, THE OTHER WOMAN, was published by Forge in September 2012. She’s on the national board of directors of Mystery Writers of America (and an instructor at MWA-U) and will be president of national Sisters in Crime in 2013.

September 5, 2012

Made It Moment: Gigi Pandian

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:17 am


Boy, do I love a good publication journey. And Gigi Pandian, who got close, time and time again–agent, recognition from the illustrious Malice Domestic team–has a journey that belongs uniquely to this time, when going things independently can sometimes leave a writer in greater stead than a more traditional route. Gigi is forging her own path, but she’s been helped along the way by some greats. Hers is a blend of unique features from both approaches to a writing career, and I am thrilled for her success so far.

Gigi Pandian

My first mystery novel, Artifact, was released just a couple of weeks ago, but it was an event that took place four months before my book launch that made me realize I’d “made it” as a mystery writer. It was the day I received a book blurb from a mystery author I’ve idolized since I was a teenager.

I couldn’t quite believe it when I received the email. Aaron Elkins is a writer whose books made me want to be a mystery writer, and not only had he read my book, but he liked it!

How wonderful to see a young, new writer who harks back to the Golden Age of mystery fiction…. Artifact is witty, clever, and twisty…. Do you like Agatha Christie? Elizabeth Peters? Then you’re going to love Gigi Pandian.
AARON ELKINS, Edgar-winning author of the Gideon Oliver “Skeleton Detective” mysteries

It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point, and I’ve celebrated a lot of joyous moments along the way, but that was the moment that stands out as making me feel like I’d really made it.

Writing is a tough pursuit, so I’m a firm believer in enjoying all the mini “Made It Moments” along the way. There was my “time-to-take-my-writing-seriously” moment when I was awarded the Malice Domestic Grant for a draft of Artifact. And a “life-is-good” moment when I signed with my wonderful agent, Jill Marsal. Of course there were many “boy-this-is-difficult” moments as I learned to craft a good mystery, which thankfully were followed by a lot of “wow-did-I-write-that?” moments.

The vast majority of my writing moments have been fun, which is why I stuck with it for so many years. And regardless of what happens in the future, I already feel like I’ve made it, and I plan on continuing to have fun writing mysteries for many years to come.

Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program in favor of art school. But adventurous academic characters wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. Gigi was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant for her debut mystery novel, Artifact, which was released August 28, 2012.

September 1, 2012

Made It Moment: Steve Piacente

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 10:00 am


Two things I love about being a blogger: getting to have an author whose book I’ve read appear on Suspense Your Disbelief, and celebrating a release day. Today I get to do both. Steve Piacente is a writer I met when I was desperately trying to get published. I can still remember the advice he gave me as I stalked around our basement, telling myself this would happen one day, really it would. Steve remains one of the most thoughtful, innovative indie authors I know, and now his second novel of twisted motivation and passions and hatreds is about to be launched into the world. Congratulations, Steve. And here’s to exciting reading–and publishing–vistas for all.

Steve Piacente

Ike Washington: Guilty with an Explanation

Bootlicker began more than a decade ago with a question.

What would anyone do if faced with the choice that confronted young Ike Washington?

There is no definitive answer, and there is no correct answer. There is, however, a novel that I’ve launched today, and a Made it Moment built on the story raised by the question and the conversation I hope it will provoke.

It’s 1959. Ike is a black teenager living in a small town in the Deep South. The Civil Rights Movement is racing to a boil. Racial violence is rampant. One day Ike and a friend sneak off for a few beers in the woods.

In the forest, they approach a clearing and hear a man pleading for mercy. Ike freezes at the sight of a Klan lynching led by the local judge. The other teen bolts.

The Klansmen catch Ike and present a confounding choice: join the dead man or help the judge win black support so he can advance in state politics. It is beyond his grasp. The man who lynched one black man wants his help appealing to blacks statewide?

But Judge Lander McCauley knows the old ways are coming to an end. Perhaps the lynching was his exclamation point. To maintain his political ascent, he must have black support. And for that, he must have a secret liaison in the black community, someone he can personally train and control. Fate delivered the perfect young man.

Terrified, Ike agrees. One thug holds Ike down while McCauley smashes his hand with a mallet to ensure there will always be, as the judge puts it, “order in the court.”

One year turns into five, five turn into ten, ten into twenty. Ike becomes a power in his own right, U.S. Senator Lander McCauley’s man behind the scenes in every black enclave throughout the state.

Ike’s family has money and respect. The days of forcing him to cooperate are long gone. He and McCauley are the unlikeliest of political allies. By 1992, Ike stands poised to become the first black congressman elected in South Carolina since the Civil War.

But there is the guilt, the ever-present, all consuming guilt, and Ike’s knowledge that he rose to power on the judge’s bloody coattails, and helped the white-robed murderer rise from judge to congressman, and then to United States senator.

The saga of Ike Washington and Lander McCauley is less about race than about choices and character. It’s about guilt, hope and redemption. And it will take readers where the TV cameras are never invited, to back rooms where decisions are made, futures are decided, and the line between right and wrong is not so easily defined.

Now that you know the story, how do you judge Ike Washington?

How will the voters judge him when a young reporter reveals his secret just before Election Day?

Most of all, how will Ike judge himself after everyone else has spoken? Can he win the historic election and assume the role of congressman, or will he forever wear the label sneered by his critics?


Steve Piacente (@wordsprof) has been a professional writer since graduating from American University in 1976. In 2010, he self-published Bella, the story of a widow’s quest to uncover the truth about her husband’s death on an Afghan battlefield. Forthcoming Bootlicker (available Sept. 1) is the prequel.

Steve started as a sportswriter at the Naples Daily News, switched to news at the Lakeland Ledger, and returned to D.C. in 1985 as Correspondent for the Tampa Tribune. In 1989, the native New Yorker moved to the same position for the Charleston (SC) Post & Courier. He is now deputy communications director at a federal agency in Washington, D.C., and teaches journalism classes at American University. Contact Steve at Bella is available at

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