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Friday, December 25, 2015

The Greatest Challenge by V.S. Kemanis

Happy Holidays to you!

A simple prompt to explore the concept and reality of strong women has brought about not-so-simple explorations of lives and perspectives. My next guest, V.S. Kemanis, is a lawyer-turned-author (sound familiar?) with a perspective that hit close to home. I often struggled with the 'opportunity' that women could have it all. What did that mean when our legal careers took us into world seemingly intent upon keeping us from exactly that?

The Greatest Challenge by V.S. Kemanis

For any woman juggling family responsibilities and intellectual pursuits, the greatest challenge in life is to effectively manage and harmonize the many worlds she inhabits. At least, this has been true for me. In my professional career as a lawyer, I’ve been a prosecutor, civil litigator, and court attorney, while never letting go of my artistic passions—fiction writing, dance, and choreography—which I crammed into little corners of “spare” time. During the early part of my legal career, I was also tackling the toughest job of all, raising two children, trying to keep my priorities straight.

I went to law school in the late seventies, a time when the male/female student ratio was finally getting close to 50/50. It was an era when a well-entrenched women’s movement had laid down some imperatives. As a young woman struggling to find myself, I perceived a twofold message:  (1) women are capable of doing anything they wish to pursue, and (2) not only are women capable, they should do it all (and do everything well). This was my understanding, whether accurate or distorted. Now that I’m older and wiser, I look back and see the enormous pressure exerted by a culture of “we can have it all.” Supermoms. Superwomen. I’m not so sure what the message is for young women today. Every day, I’m trying to learn what the message is for my daughters, who are now young adults. The world offers so many choices, it’s difficult to know which direction to take.

Certainly, everything is possible. I feel blessed to have had the freedom to use my intellect for a rewarding career outside the home. I can’t imagine living in a society in which such pursuits are denied to women as they are, even now, in many parts of the world. I never had to break new ground, to go where women had never gone before, but I rode in on the tidal wave of female entrance into the legal profession. Even so, it was not easy. I remember many occasions feeling like the fifth wheel or the unwanted interloper in the old boys’ club. A few bad feelings and uncomfortable situations from the early years of my career will never fade from memory. There was an appellate judge who told me during oral argument in open court that I sounded like a “schoolteacher.” A boss who made jokes about not being able to get around me in the hallway when I was pregnant. A roomful of seasoned investigators explicitly discussing a woman’s body, unmindful of my presence.

But these indignities were insignificant in comparison to the challenges I faced in the casework itself. Nothing is so sweet as the resolution of a thorny problem after an exercise of mind-bending, exasperating effort.
Like every writer, my life experiences inform my prose. The women in my short stories have their own challenges to work through, and usually become stronger for it. If not stronger, enlightened, which is another form of strength. My collection Everyone But Us is devoted to tales of women from every walk of life.

My legal mystery series features a female prosecutor by the name of Dana Hargrove. The plan for the series is to take Dana through several stages of her life at six or seven-year intervals. In the first novel, Thursday’s List, Dana is a rookie prosecutor, and in the second, Homicide Chart, she is a young mother and an experienced trial attorney. In the third book, to be released in April 2016, Dana is a bureau chief at the DA’s office. An underlying theme in each story is the interplay between Dana’s professional and personal lives. She is a strong woman, but shows her vulnerabilities and internal dilemmas when her job conflicts with personal relationships. Apart from this theme, the novels are full of interesting legal conundrums, exciting courtroom scenes, details of police investigation, and all of the drama that crime stories evoke. For me, as a lawyer, criminal cases pose the most fascinating ethical and legal questions of the human condition.

Thank you, Connie, for inviting me to share these thoughts on strong women in everyday life and in the world of fiction!


V.S. Kemanis is the author of three award-winning story collections and the Dana Hargrove legal mystery novels, Thursday’s List and Homicide Chart. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Crooked Road Vol. 3 anthology, and noted literary journals. She is an attorney with years of experience in criminal law.

You may find her on Facebook, Goodreads, and Amazon.


FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 

If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

American Library Association - January 8 - 12, 2016

What do I have in common with Chelsea Clinton, Isaac Mizrahi, and Andres Dubus III? We are all going to be at the American Library Association's conference in Boston!

(I think the comparisons stop there.)

I'll be joining my other Sisters in Crime authors in the exhibit hall for a bit of murder chat, book signing, and telling everyone about what a great organization SinC is!

Sat 10-12: Sheila Connolly, Leslie Wheeler. 
Sat 12-2: Gin Jones, Arlene Kay
Sat 2-5: Julie Hennrikus
Sun 9-11: GM Malliet, Edith Maxwell
Sun 11-1: Barbara Struna, Marian Lanouette 
Sun 1-3: Peggy Gaffney
Sun 2-4: Connie Hambley 
Mon 9-12: Joy Seymour

Mon 12-2: Clea Simon, Susan Fleet 

See you there!

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Irrepressible Vermont Woman by Nancy Means Wright

I met Nancy Means Wright when we were both panelists for a Sisters in Crime discussion at a library in Vermont. Maybe it was a shared love of the mountains that nudged me to take a shine to this blunt and eloquent woman. Once we started talking, my upbringing on a dairy farm sparked her interest to tell me about her mysteries set on a dairy farm in Vermont. Then the talk went on to burning barns, and, well, the rest is history. 


Vermont has always seemed an Eden, a land of milk and honey, a place for healing and quiet meditation. A land that, early on called itself a Republic, a self-governed country that coined its own money and broke the rules it didn’t care for. Like the biblical Eden, there is always a snake in the garden. A decade ago I saw that small independent farmers were losing their farms, and that harmful drugs were infiltrating our paradise, poisoning our youth. I felt compelled to write in defense of those children and their parents.
When a pair of elderly famers were assaulted back in the ’90s, I began a novel, knowing only that I would set it on a hardscrabble farm run by a female farmer whom I’d call Ruth after a resourceful relative of mine. She would be tough and resilient, yet vulnerable as women often are, and angry at anyone who would harm her kids or do any kind of injustice to a neighbor. Since it was March and my driveway a mud bath, I would set the novel during mud season and call it MadSeason. A Boston Globe editor who’d liked one of my books said that locale should be “a reason, not merely setting” for a plot, so I tried to make the fictional town of “Branbury” a virtual character. Vermont is, after all, a land of extremes: ice, snow, heat, mud. In winter we huddle beside our woodstoves; when claustrophobia sets in, tempers might explode. The crime rate in Vermont is low, but when a murder occurs, it can be violent–and usually domestic.

My fictional Ruth Willmarth (a family surname) would have thirty cows on her farm, which she’d name after famous or literary women like Jane Eyre, Oprah. She’d be like myself as author, fumbling and bumbling and trying to find out whodunnit and why—especially why. Since I was going through a divorce at the time, I would make her a single mother of three whose husband has run off with another woman (that snake in the garden again). When Mad Season came out from St Martin’s Press (I lucked out, using my husband’s name as agent), The Philadelphia Inquirer called Ruth “earthy, funny, hot-tempered, and sexier than she knows—the glue for this admirably crafted first novel.”

I wrote four more before the series came to an end (Harvest of Bones, Poison Apples, Stolen Honey, Mad Cow Nightmare with Belgrave House).

By now I had a number of other published books, along with four grown children, and for their sake I began to research my forebears. At the turn of the 20th-century my Scottish grandmother took ship to NYC, alone, at the age of seventeen. Her half-sister had married an American, died in childbirth, and my granny had to give up a chance at university to be nanny to that sister’s brood of seven children. In time, she married her middle-aged uncle, gave him six more babies and ultimately moved to Vermont. I soon discovered in the Edinburgh, Scotland archives that she was illegitimate! It took a few scotches for me to digest this stunning news. But, I had to tell her story, along with the story of her oldest child, my mother Jessie.

I would put these women in a novel rather than memoir because in fiction one can make changes and write the story “slant.” After all, I had only the basic facts, along with family legends, doubtless altered with the telling, like the fictional tale of my grandmother’s journey to America, published in Seventeen Magazine. I would set the novel in the machine tool town of Springfield, Vermont, which was on Hitler’s list during World War II. I created a love affair between my heroine, Jessie, who teaches English to foreigners, and a young Polish poet, of whom her pious uncle bitterly disapproves. As far as I know, my grandmother was never in love with a young Pole, who despite his pacifism, fights for his new country in WW1, but like my proud mother Jessie, who never revealed her illegitimate origins (if indeed she knew) my granny stored her secrets deep inside.

Since my novel (Queens Never MakeBargains, published by Wind Ridge Books) tells the story of three passionate Vermont women who carry on their lives through two world wars, a pandemic and a Great Depression, I write from three different points of view. In Part 3, for instance, I’m in the head of rebel Victoria, the youngest of Jessie’s charges, who is hopelessly in love with a married professor and with the Spitfire airplane she ferries during WWII.

But, it’s Jessie who holds the family—and the book— together. Jessie, based on my own mother who nourished four children through two wars and endured the early loss of a husband with no money for health or life insurance. I was the youngest and she took me with her into a girl’s boarding school so I could have an education while she worked.

For me, Jessie is the quintessential tough, creative, irrepressible Vermont woman.


Nancy Means Wright has published numerous books of fiction (mystery and mainstream), with St Martin’s Press, Perseverance Press & elsewhere, including two historical mysteries featuring 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her most recent historicals are Walking into the Wild (Prince and Pauper Press), and the multi-generational novel, Queens Never Make Bargains (Wind Ridge Books).  Short stories appear in American Literary Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Level Best Books, et al. Her children’s mysteries have received an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Nancy lives in Middlebury, Vermont, with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats. 

Next week my guest will be attorney and author V.S. Kemanis. If you are in New York on December 19, join V.S. and other mystery writers at the KBG Bar for the Mystery Writers of America Crime Fiction Reading. V.S. will be reading an excerpt from her upcoming novel, Forsaken Oath.


FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 

If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 



Sunday, December 13, 2015

With a Heavy Heart

With a heavy heart, I learned that a great man died.

If you live outside of the north shore of Massachusetts, I doubt you ever heard his name. If you didn't have children in the schools here, you wouldn't have had a reason to seek him out. He was a school teacher, physical education instructor, and coach. Heavy set. Walrus mustache. Low key. 

Yet, if you had a child lucky enough to have him as a teacher or a coach, you'll know his name. You'll know the hole in the community his death creates. 

Were we lucky that we had time to say our thanks and good-byes? At the start of girl's basketball season -- a season he was slated to coach -- he met with team and told the girls of his diagnosis. Brain Cancer. Three months to live. We held our breath knowing January was too, too soon.

Maybe he was the lucky one. The community rallied. Appreciation was given in the form of private talks, choked-up thanks, and induction into the high school's sports hall of fame. People had time to share what so often remains unsaid when we believe we have nothing but time. He was incredibly courageous for being public. The public spoke their love. Bravely. With tears of laughter at his induction.

But it was only two months. This morning we heard the news. Quietly. With family. As he wanted it.

So why bother writing about a life well lived with time for good-byes? No unfinished business. All the cards were face up.

Because he will live on in our children who were lucky enough to have him in their lives. My daughter is one of many. She is stronger because of him even though his death made her shake with sorrow.

I think a great deal about strong women, who they are and how to raise one. During one particularly challenging time with my daughter, I sought him out. The advice he gave me that day helped me be a better parent. A little bit supportive. A little bit corrective. All of it insightful.

That is why I will miss Doug Woodworth, Ipswich High School's beloved teacher and coach. We all had the chance to be a little bit better under his gentle guidance. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Women in the Law by Jerri Blair

Ever notice people who share interests seem to gravitate toward one another? My next guest is Jerri Blair, an attorney who turned to writing fiction. Her high profile cases have prompted her guest appearances on 20/20, Larry King, Good Morning America, and other shows. One case was even the basis for a movie. I know you'll find her perspective on strong women and the law interesting.

Q. Your first book, Justice for the Black Knight, won the 2015 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Legal Thriller as well as receiving critical praise from Kirkus and others. You also received great success in your professional life by being counsel on several high profile cases. Your hard work earned you an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court Gender Bias Commission. Did being on that commission alter how you viewed the experiences of women in the law? Did it alter your perception of what a strong woman is?

A: When I first began practicing law, there were only a handful of women lawyers in the county where my firm was located. My first year, I was the only woman in attendance at the barbeques and fish fries, which were the only real meetings of the local bar, one woman in the midst of sixty or seventy male lawyers. I never felt anything but fully accepted as a top notch lawyer and friend by that group of men. Perhaps it was because I had grown up surrounded by athletes, coaches, and referees that it went so well for me. I think the acceptance was largely due to the fact that I was always myself. Whatever the cause, it gave me a view of women in the law that was ignorant of the impact gender was having on many women attorneys.

I am so grateful to have had the appointment to the Gender Bias Commission because it opened my eyes to the need for change in many areas of the judicial system. It wasn’t just the women who were lawyers that we reviewed, but the impact of gender on the judicial system at large. I talked to litigants, prisoners, judges, and lawyers from all walks of the law. We looked at the statutes and how they impacted differently based on gender. I believe the efforts of the commission helped to effectuate some very good change. However, it did not change my perception of what a strong woman is. Just like in every other walk of life, to be a strong person, woman or man, you must take your experiences, whether good or bad, and use them to make yourself a better person.

Q: Being a lawyer is not for the timid. Do you think you drew upon a reserve of strength to be effective in your profession that was different from other professions?

A: To be a good trial lawyer, you have to learn to think like a lawyer. You have to dissect the existing law and the facts of your case and weave an argument or a story that will win the day. I was a scientist before I went to law school. I believe the analytic skills I learned in the lab added greatly to my ability to do those things. I’ve always had a strong intuition, something frequently attributed to women, and I know that helped me immensely picking juries and more than that, just finding that little something-something that would take my case over the top. Only the strong survive in the courtroom. I’m sure that any profession requires strength of some type, but I know you have to have it in the courtroom. So it might be a little different than that required in other professions.

Q: A quick search of legal thrillers on Amazon shows six books in the top forty were written by women.
            -Any thoughts on why?

A: I believe meaningful change takes time. It’s sometimes a bad thing for change to occur too rapidly. It makes the effect of the change less than it should be. For instance, in the legal arena, women were almost nonexistent a fairly short time ago, and obviously things had to change. Women needed the chance to move up the ladder in firms and as judges. However, we wouldn’t want a person to be chosen as a judge just because she’s a woman if she doesn’t have the skills necessary to make her a good judge. It would actually be bad for women in general if that happened. It’s the same with literature. Historically, there have been fewer women accepted as great writers. The feeling is obviously different today, but the change to equal numbers of women given star roles in the literary world will take time. With legal thrillers, the difference is not surprising because the number of women in the legal profession has changed so radically in such a short time. It will take time for more women attorneys to make their way from the courtroom to the pages of the legal thriller novel.

            -Do you think readers have an unconscious bias toward books written by men?
A: I certainly wouldn’t say they don’t have a bias built on past experiences. By that I mean that there were fewer books written by women in the past, and certainly fewer that actually had the backing to make them widely read. Once those connections are made in the brain, it’s hard to change them for much of the world. It’s really the same phenomena of change. It will take time.

            -Do women authors of legal thrillers have to be ‘that much better’ than men in order to be considered good?

A: Maybe, at least for a few more years. I don’t think gender really enters into the question of whether an author is great or even good. There will always be great men and women authors, or at least I hope so as a reader, as well as good, mediocre, and bad men and women authors. At this point, the good, mediocre and bad women authors probably have a lower chance of making it than the good, mediocre and bad men authors. The great women authors perhaps have an advantage because they’re women.

Q: Is there a similarity between being a woman in a profession considered to be male dominated and being an indie published author in the traditionally published world?
A: There are similarities because both involve a bias based on ignorance. There are many indie books that could be classics if issued from a traditional publishing house. No matter how good an indie book may be, it is not eligible for many of the literary prizes it might qualify for if issued by a traditional publishing house. There appears to be a “glass ceiling” that prevents an indie book from the same consideration by critics and those with the power to make it widely perceived as a truly great book. However, the tides of change may eventually catch up with this difference and dissolve the differences.

Q: In writing about strong women, are we unconsciously saying weak men?

A: I don’t think so. Men have always been perceived as the stronger sex, partially because physical strength played such a huge part in the survival game historically, partially because men have historically been the wielders of power in the political, business, and other public arenas. Women were perceived as the weaker sex, but over time, the term “strong women” became a sort of recognition that women had a different kind of strength, an emotional strength that was equal to or more powerful than physical strength. It was the power that came from standing tall through the greatest adversity. The same quality can be found in both genders.  


Ms. Blair practiced for almost thirty years in state and federal trial and appellate courts. She was involved in many high profile cases involving different areas of the law from murder/death penalty to high stakes commercial and family law cases. She was very active in seeking to improve the legal system’s treatment of children’s relationships with those who make up their family and in redefining the concept of family to include those outside of the traditional biological parent/child relationship. Her best known cases involved Gregory K, a child the media dubbed as a boy divorcing his parents, and T.W., a case involving a teenager seeking an abortion without obtaining parental consent. Both cases involved serious constitutional issues as well as compelling life-changing factual situations.

Ms. Blair has appeared on many television and radio news shows including 20/20, Dateline, A Turning Point, Larry King Live, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Discovery, PBS News, and many others. She has also been a guest as an expert on numerous television and radio talk shows. One of Ms. Blair’s cases was voted Court TV’s all-time most popular trial for many years and was one of the first cases ever to be telecast live on CNN. The case was also the subject of two television movies, one of which, “A Place to Be,” featured Rhea Perlman as Ms. Blair. Ms. Blair’s cases and her experiences as a trial attorney have been the subject of numerous published articles including articles in NewsWeek, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, newspapers all over the world, and in numerous books and treatises.

Justice for the Black Knight, an explosive legal thriller, is a story of relationships wrapped in a dark mystery from the distant past that holds the key to the salvation of a man on trial for his life. As a child, Freddie Edwards created an alter-ego, the Black Knight, who vowed to fight injustice in all forms. Freddie attempted to live up to ideal all of his life, but he finds himself accused of the brutal murder of a well-respected elderly man, represented by an incompetent lawyer, and facing death in the electric chair. His sister Ruby and their childhood friend Annabelle are reunited at his trial where they begin an exploration into the past to find evidence that will prove Freddie to be a hero instead of a villain, his only chance to escape execution. Their journey brings to light the impact race may have on the system designed to provide justice, and a hopeful portrait of life free of the disease of racism.


FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 

If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 



Friday, December 4, 2015

Women in Horror by Stacey Longo

Ever enter a crowded room and notice a someone assessing the crowd? Maybe she's the quiet member of a group or quietly sipping chardonnay on the periphery. What's on her mind? Work? Kids? If she's my next guest, Stacey Longo, she might be scheming ways to terrify you. 

Women in Horror by Stacey Longo

I am a horror writer. I am also a woman.

The horror genre is largely dominated by men. Yes, there have been some amazing women who have left their imprint on the field: Mary Shelley, of course, with the incomparable Frankenstein; and Anne Rice’s Lestat series redefined vampires for a generation. Shirley Jackson’s influence on the genre, from the short story “The Lottery” to The Haunting of Hill House, cannot be denied. But if you were to Google “top ten current horror writers” (as I just did), the list would look something like this: Clive Barker, Joe Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, Richard Matheson, Jonathan Maberry, Dan Simmons, Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Ramsey Campbell, and of course, Stephen King. Not an ounce of estrogen on that list. Why? I believe there’s a perception out there that women, as the fairer sex, write softer. Weaker. With less carnage and suspense and overall terror.

Boy, are they wrong.

I can tell you that Monica O’Rourke’s novels are so violent, so gore-filled, and so twisted that you’ll find yourself putting it down if only to speculate for a moment on what kind of sicko would think of such things. I can also report that Sarah Pinborough’s elegant prose will lull you so comfortably into a cozy blanket of security that you won’t see the knife coming until it is plunged in to the hilt. And Elizabeth Massie’s novels are chock-full of murder, mutilation, and violence, and yet still manage to evoke a tear from time to time. These women are brilliant, ballsy writers. They also deserve a hell of a lot more attention than they’re getting now.

A lesser woman might look at the excess of sometimes undeserved recognition paid to men in the field (be honest: when was the last time Dean Koontz wrote something you really enjoyed?), coupled with the cold shoulder that talented female scribes often receive, and give up. Try a different genre. Romance sounds nice, doesn’t it?

But I’m the kind of woman who thinks Monster, serial killer Aileen Wuornos’s autobiography, was, underneath it all, a romance. (You can’t deny she was crazy about her girlfriend Tyria. My goodness: Aileen killed just to keep a roof over that woman’s head!) Bodice-rippers are not my style, unless there are human organs being ripped out as well. I don’t always choose to write horror. I wrote a lovely short story once about a girl who moves to an island, finds a job and a boyfriend . . . and then kills and skins her boyfriend, cuts his flesh up for stew, and feeds it to her neighbors with cyanide seasoning. It started out as a fun, happy little piece. (I’d argue that it ended that way as well.) The horror just seems to bleed through when I’m writing. And when I look at the writers I truly respect—not just King, and Brian Keene, and Jeff Strand, but also O’Rourke, and Pinborough, and Massie—I figure I’m doing okay. Those women may not be recognized enough for their brilliance, but they’re not stopping. The viscera and body parts continue to splatter on the pages of these women, and I love them for it.

One of the men in my writer’s group once described me like this: “That’s Stacey. She likes to muck around in the dirt with the rest of us.” I’ll take that compliment any day.

Stacey Longo, author and editor

Stacey Longo is an award-winning author and editor. Her books include Ordinary Boy, a dark fiction novel, and Secret Things: TwelveTales to Terrify, a short story collection, among other titles. Her next book, My Sister the Zombie, is due out in 2016. Longo’s short stories have been published in dozens of anthologies and magazines, including Shroud magazine and Shock Totem. Her non-fiction pieces have appeared in the Litchfield Literary Review and The Works magazine. Longo is a former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, and writes a weekly humor blog at


FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 

If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: