Elise Cooper interviews

Annelies by David R. Gillham has Anne Frank surviving the Holocaust. As the “what if” comes true, the book presents a story of hope, survival, trauma and redemption. But it is also a reminder of what was lost during the Holocaust: how many of those lives taken away had such promise. Gillham gives Anne Frank’s life back to her, a life brutally cut short by the Nazi monsters.

 

Gillham skillfully transforms Anne from a bright-eyed girl with dreams and ambitions to a bitter, angry teenager who suffers from survivor’s guilt and PTSD. The author should be applauded as he realistically portrays what many Holocaust survivors suffered.  Because of enduring the atrocities and emotional/physical pain readers see Anne with a haunted tone that has different ideals. She is not the same person as she was when writing in her diary prior to, during, and immediately following the time her family and others were hiding in the space above her father’s workplace. In reading inserts from her diary at the beginning of each chapter people see an optimistic young girl who never gave up hope despite the cruel, unexplainable hatred and danger that threatened her daily.

 

But after being betrayed the family and their friends were found by the Nazi Gestapo Amsterdam branch.  First sent to a concentration camp in Holland with her sister and mother, she was then transferred to the Auschwitz death camp and ended up in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. These scenes show how Anne and her family endured the packed train to the concentration camps, and the despicable conditions of dirt and disease throughout them. It is where the alternate history begins. Unlike the reality where Anne dies of Typhus she is rescued and reunited with her father Otto in Amsterdam. Now seventeen she grows from a person filled with frustration, rage, anger, and guilt to someone who finally understands she must live her life and honor the dead by using her diary to teach the world about her experiences. Although her father at first would not let go, he eventually allows her to move to America where the last pages show her with a happy ending, one the real-life Anne Frank never had, as she replies to readers notes about her best-selling book, The Secret Annex.

 

In reading portions of the real-life diary, people understand how Anne had hope amid the darkness of humanity. This novel transports readers as they take Anne’s journey with her to the hiding place, the concentration camps, and as she struggles to survive the aftermath of the Holocaust. Gillham should be given a shout-out for taking on this risky project, but he did it successfully with sensitivity and humility.

 

Elise Cooper:  Why take such a harrowing undertaking, writing this alternate-history?

David Gillham: In writing this story, I was constantly aware that Anne Frank was a real person who wrote one of the most defining books of the twentieth century. I understand she is an icon and have tremendous respect for her legacy.   I had Anne survive the Holocaust to give her the life she was cheated of.  Through telling the story of one girl, I hope to tell the story of all the “Annes,” showing the lost potential of the millions who perished.  Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope and I want to show what we are missing in our world today, because of their loss.

 

EC:  How did you get the idea to write a novel where Anne Frank survives?

DG:  It started thirty years ago after reading Philip Roth’s novel, The Ghost Writer.  In it Roth’s protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, imagines that a young European woman in her twenties, is actually Anne Frank. Nathan quickly realizes that it is his imagination at work.  But this book inspired me to read Anne’s diary where I became thunderstruck by her insight, perception, humor, and brilliance as a writer. I thought about writing a novel where she survives.  After numerous attempts, about 6.5 years ago the story finally emerges with Anne surviving the camps, returning to Amsterdam, and being reunited with her dad, Otto.

 

EC:  What about truth versus fiction?

DG:  Everything that happens up until she survives is based on reality.  I read many Holocaust histories, biographies of Anne Frank and her father, and transcripts of interviews with people who knew her.  I visited in Amsterdam the old Jewish Quarter, the Resistance Museum, the former Diamond District, the bookshop where she might have bought the diary, her and her sister’s school, the former Gestapo headquarters, the Frank family apartment, and the Anne Frank house. I based her experience in the concentration camps on survivor accounts and those who had contact with Anne and Margot in those places.  For example, the scene in which Anne meets her friend Hanneli at the barbed wire fence in Bergen-Belsen is based on an actual meeting.  

 

EC:  What about the characters in this story?

DG: Those in Anne’s family, and those in hiding with them are based on the real people. Miep, Bep, Kugler, Kleimann, and Jan are all based on the Dutch individuals who supported the Frank family in hiding.  The important characters entirely fictionalized are the Dutch boy, Raaf, the bookshop proprietor, Mr. Nussbaum, and Anne’s stepmother, Dassah. It is also true that two uncles of Anne did emigrate to America in the 1930s, while the Frank family went to the Netherlands.  

 

EC:  What about the diary?

DG:  The day the family and friends were arrested by the Nazi security the diary went into hiding.  The Sergeant in charge was looking for something to hold the valuables he could steal and took her father’s briefcase where the diary was stored. He dumped it on the floor.  It remained there until Miep finds the papers all over the floor and sticks them in a drawer, awaiting Anne’s return. Even after Otto returns she remains silent, hoping Anne will come back.  But when it becomes clear Anne is dead she gives the diary to Otto.  

 

EC:  You made Anne’s sister her “ghostly” alter-ego?

DG:  I wanted to explore how people recover from trauma.  She lost her sister and mother and wonders why she survived and they did not.  Anne brought Margot home in her mind to cope with what happened. Margot is sometimes scolding, critical, wise, but is also a reminder of the past. Remember at the beginning of the novel, she tells Anne she will never leave her, and never does.  

 

EC:  How would you describe Anne before capture?

DG:  Vivacious, precocious, demanding, high energy, charming, fun, a dreamer who could be self-centered. She loved to be the center of attention, a chatter-box, and what you saw is what you get.

 

EC:  How would you describe Anne after the Holocaust?

DG:  All the before was still there, but buried under the fear, anger, and trauma. She is angry, guilty, and feels betrayed by everyone including her protectors, and feels like a dislocated soul. Anne is lonely and rebellious.  

 

EC:  Anne and her dad are at odds?

DG:  They had two different approaches to redemption and trauma.  Otto refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past and looks to a better future. He tells Anne in my book quote, “What is the point of having survived? What is the point of living if we are to be poisoned by our own sorrow?” He refers to their motto of work, love, courage, and hope. He feels that those loved ones who died can be kept alive with love in the survivor’s hearts. But Anne refuses to relinquish these tragedies and faces them with anger and guilt.  She believes the guilty deserve punishment and the dead deserve justice.  I drew a book quote from survivors who wondered where was God at Bergen-Belsen?  Anne feels, “The only thing God has given us is death. God has given us the gas chambers.  God has given us the crematoria.  Those are God’s gifts to us and this:” She then exposes her forearm with the number A-25063.

 

EC:  The book and diary show that Anne had a strained relationship with her mother? 

DG:  Yes, especially when they were in hiding.  Otto actually edited the diary where Anne was unfairly cruel to her mother, but remember she was a teenager.  Witnesses reported after they were arrested and sent to the camps the two sisters and their mother were inseparable, and the conflict with her mother vanished.  I hope I get this across in the book, especially in the scene in Bergen-Belsen.

 

EC:  It is inconceivable to me that at the end of the war the Germans were still cruel.  I guess a leopard does not shed its skin?

DG:  I also had a hard time understanding the psychopathic attitude of the Nazis. At the beginning of Anne’s diary, she refers to the German language as uncivilized. Even at the end of the war they still tried to murder as many Jews as possible.  They tried to hide it by blowing up the crematoriums.  It is hard to get into the mindset of the Nazis.  For example, the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen at the end of the war agreed to turn over the camp to the British.  The SS staff and he were continuing to do their duties and expected to be treated as soldiers after capture.  They were actually shocked when the Commandant was immediately arrested. 

 

EC:  You also have a scene where returning Jews were required to pay unpaid taxes?

DG:  True.  In Holland those returning from concentration camps faced a tax bill.  I am not aware that anyone said they would let it slide. 

 

EC: What about those in Holland deporting Jewish refugees back to Germany after the war? 

DG:  Also true.  A scene in the book has Anne being told that those in Holland, by denouncing the Nuremberg racial laws, have converted all German-born Jews back into German citizens-thereby branding them ‘enemy nationals,’ that are subject to deportation back to Germany.  It was not specifically directed to German Jews, but I think in 1946 there were about fifteen German Jews deported to the people that brutalized them. Anne’s character at the end of the war has no sympathy for the Germans.

 

EC:  What about the betrayals?

DG: I put forth the many theories because there is no smoking gun.  The only character who overtly declares her belief concerning the identity of the betrayer is Bep who feels it was her sister Nelli, a Nazi collaborator, who betrayed the Franks to the Germans. A story told to me by someone who knew Miep, another family friend: They asked her if she knew and she answered ‘can you keep a secret.  Well so can I.’

 

EC:  What do you want readers to get out of the book?

DG:  Anne is a representation of the Holocaust.  Six million is but a number, but in reading her diary we see a tragedy.  In this book, I hope people will see that Anne is someone we can identify with on an emotional level.  She is a very skilled writer as evidenced by her last entry in August 1944.  The message of the book, and maybe what Anne Frank tried to tell us is that hope can survive even in the face of destruction, despair, and brutality.

 

THANK YOU!!

Verses for the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child brings back the return of their beloved character FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. There is a slightly new recipe for this famous crime solver with a new boss, partner, and medical examiner.

 

A welcome relief in this story has the authors moving away from anything supernatural and deciding to stick to crime-solving, understanding that the story and characters are riveting by themselves. In this old-fashioned mystery, a Florida woman while visiting her husband’s grave has her dog find a human heart with an apology note. The current victims are women whose throats have been slit and breast bones split open to remove their hearts, all in quick and expert fashion. The killer leaves notes at the graves of women who committed suicide and signed it “Mister Brokenhearts.” As other body counts mount up it becomes apparent that the notes left have a tinge of literary verses from T. S. Eliot to Romeo & Juliet.

 

Unlike his past supervisor Pendergast must now deal with Walter Pickett, an FBI assistant director recently assigned to the New York City field office, who is determined to keep this maverick agent under his control by assigning him a partner, Special Agent Coldmoon. The new partner is expected to report back on any of Pendergast’s deviations from the rules. Both Agents are a contrast of each other.  Coldmoon is part Lakota Indian and part Italian. Pendergast dresses like an undertaker, and always seems to have more money than the average FBI agent preferring the luxuries of a fine hotel, private jet, and nice car. Soon Coldmoon realizes his partner is astute, smart, observant, and has a way of looking outside the box. They enlist the help of the medical examiner who is willing to go against her supervisor to find clues.

 

Sorting through betrayals, lies, and deceptions, readers are treated to a unique storyline that is highly volatile.  An added treat is the humorous banter between the characters that is both refreshing and amusing.

 

Elise Cooper:  How did you both decide to write together?

Lincoln Child:  I was an editor for St. Martins where my job was to find new properties.  I specialized with non-fiction that included the sciences. I visited the Museum of Natural History in New York and saw peculiar objects, a bizarre history, with eccentric people. I thought this is worthy of an Indiana Jones movie.  I did some research and found the guy who wrote most of the historical articles. We became friends after I edited his first non-fiction book.

Doug Preston:  I was sitting at my desk at the museum and this distinguished editor gave me a call asking me to lunch at the Russian Tea Room.  What struck me is that he appeared younger than I was; and impressively at the tender age of twenty something he was already a Senior editor.

 

EC:  How was Pendergast born?

DP:  I wrote the first few chapters of this novel that had two policemen.  Lincoln said that these two were essentially the same character. He wanted to fold them into one character.  In about fifteen minutes Agent Pendergast was created. When he arrives at the scene of a murder it becomes obvious he is not a conventional FBI agent, and looks more like an undertaker with his black outfits.

 

EC:  How would you describe Pendergast?

DP:  A person out of place and out of time.  A gentleman from the Old South, specifically New Orleans.  He is looked upon as a total freak. He does things off the books, unorthodox, wealthy, and an iconoclast. He is like a twisted, dark Sherlock Holmes.

LC:  We have fun writing him.  He is an over the top character that is eccentric.  He enjoys his comforts. He has become legendary to go rogue and work on his own.  

 

EC: How would you describe Agent Coldmoon?

DP:  He is one of the finest characters we have written.  Very iconic that keeps to himself. One scene we wrote in the book shows their different tastes.  Pendergast is a terrible coffee snob while Coldmoon likes camp coffee with that foul smell. At a certain point Pendergast buys his partner a fine expresso coffee. Coldmoon takes one sip and pours it out.  This shows their differences, but they both end up respecting each other.

LC:  One thread of previous Pendergast books is saddling him with lazy and incompetent law officials that he had to work with.  Coldmoon is not a boring person and we hope he made an impression on the reader. He looks like a Native American with long black hair and piercing eyes.  Quietly he shows Pendergast he is an equal with the same intelligence and observations.

 

EC:  There are many contrasts from loyalty to betrayal, the coldness of Maine to the hot humidity of Miami?

DP:  We like moving our characters into different places literally and figuratively to see how they would react.  Coldmoon is from South Dakota so the Maine coldness does not bother him, but he could not stand the Miami muggy heat.  On the other hand, Pendergast in Northern Maine is freezing to death, but from New Orleans is used to the Miami weather.  

LC: Regarding betrayal versus loyalty Coldmoon is assigned as Pendergast’s partner with a secret agenda.  As time passes he realizes it is wrong. He must choose loyalty to his superiors or loyalty to his partner. Whoever he is loyal to the other will see it as betrayal.   

 

EC:  Another contrast is insubordination versus thinking outside the box?

DP:  The FBI has evidence gathering rules to collect for trial.  Pendergast has a high closure rate of his cases, but rarely do they reach trial because the perp is dead.  At first, Coldmoon is appalled by his partner’s tactics, and the treatment of the FBI rule book. They have quite a bit of conflict about this.  

LC:  Pendergast only accepts one dollar a year because he is wealthy and is doing the job for the enjoyment of the work.  He thinks of it as solving a puzzle. As the story progresses his new partner sees the reasons behind what Pendergast does.

 

EC: You have humorous banter?

DP:  We write it by playing off each other.  We keep re-writing it to make it funnier.  Sometimes our level of amusement gets out of hand and we have to take a step backwards. The author Joyce once said, “Tragedy is merely underdeveloped comedy.” We read what we write, books with a certain level of humor.

LC:  The partners try to one up themselves which can be humorous. Finally, there are scenes influenced by the setting.  For example, Coldmoon thinks he has a ten-minute drive, which turns into two hours because he got the name wrong.

 

EC:  Can you give a shout out about your next book?

LC: The next Pendergast book is out next winter.  We are discussing if Coldmoon will return in the next novel or sometime in the future.

DP:  We are starting a new series that will have two characters first introduced in the Pendergast books.  The recurring characters are Corrie Swanson, a newly minted FBI agent, and Nora Kelly, an archeologist. The two of them get tangled in a horrific case that has taken place in California’s Sierra Mountains.  This is where the Donner Party got stuck in the snow in 1847. Half died of starvation, and half ate those bodies. In the present, Nora does an excavation of the campsite, and something happens that puts the party in mortal danger.  It will come out this summer and is titled Old Bones.

 

THANK YOU!!

 

Crucible by James Rollins reunites the Sigma Force team in this thrilling story.  Released just after the holidays, this plot is anything but merry.  But readers of Rollins are used to a roller coaster ride where they get plenty of action blended with cutting edge science, historical mystery, and the latest technologies. 

It is Christmas Eve where the Sigma Force friends are gathering to have a joyous holiday.  But Monk Kokkalis and Gray Pierce find their holiday spirits quickly dampened after returning to Monk’s house in Maryland. The Christmas Tree is toppled, Kat, the computer expert of the group, is lying unconscious on the kitchen floor, and Monk’s two young girls have been kidnapped, along with Gray’s pregnant wife, Seichan. This happened shortly after a massacre in Portugal where five women scientists have been brutally massacred.  Also missing is Mara Silviera who was making advances in artificial intelligence research. She is on the run, protecting herself and her computer’s life. Gray, Monk, and company set out to find Mara after realizing that she is the key to finding their loved ones and also to saving humanity,.  

The action keeps moving at a brisk pace in this latest novel that is crafted around plausible scientific data.  Rollins has a knack for weaving together new and old as well as warning readers what can happen in the not too distant future.

 

Elise Cooper:  Artificial intelligence stories are as believable as alien stories?

James Rollins:  I made sure to read the contrary view that question if AI is a threat.  There are certain hurdles that will need to be crossed to bring about a self-aware human-like AI. Their position is that this technology will happen. Of those two dozen experts I interviewed the consensus is that it will happen in five to ten years because of the rapid advances.  Two of the researchers thought we have already gone there.  It is not an if, but a when.

 

EC: What about the non-believers who think this is pure science fiction?

JR:  I use as an example, the story of AlphaGo, the first computer program to defeat a human. It played the board game, Go. The next generation self-taught itself in three days and also beat his big brother, the original version of the program.  I think this book is written for the non-believers, and I did not write it like the movie “Terminator.” 

 

EC:  How did you get the idea for the story?

JR:  I have an idea box.  If I see an interesting article I put it in my box.  Over the years I have collected more and more articles about AI.  After reading the book, The Final Invention, the story idea popped into my head.  

 

EC:  You seem to have a good track record predicting what can happen?

JR:  I would remind people that in my book, The Bone Labyrinth, which came out a few years ago, I warned how the Chinese researchers genetically altered the human gene at the sperm level.  We just read last month: they did just that. What sounded like science fiction when this book came out has come true today.  I think we will see that with Crucible, and readers will understand I raised the red flag.  We need to make sure we produce a friendly AI.

 

EC: Are humans being taken over or helped by technology?

JR:  I show this with the prosthetic arm of Monk that is controlled by his brain implants.  This technology is out there.  Currently they are working on prosthetic skin that can determine the difference between soft/hard, and cold/hot.  The concern is that the brain controlled prosthetics can be hacked into and someone’s limbs can be controlled by another person.  It is not much different than hacking into and controlling someone’s car.

 

EC:  This is not a very happy Christmas story?

JR:  I put the line in the book by one of Monk’s young daughters, “We’re we bad…Did Santa take us instead of giving us presents?”  It is as much a Christmas story as “Die Hard.” The heroes of the book are put through a very brutal Christmas before they get a happy ending.

 

EC:  Why compare the witch trials to AI scientists?

JR:   The witch trials were the persecution of women who questioned the natural world so they had to be killed.  Women in the sciences today are also questioning the natural world and although they are not killed they face a form of persecution.  Many are listed at the bottom of research projects and this year a woman finally won the Nobel Prize in Physics, the first women to do it in 113 years. 

 

EC:  Locked-in syndrome is really scary?

JR:  Yes, when a person is basically awake, aware at times, but can’t move their body.  This is the most terrifying thing in the world.  Many who have this can hear but cannot move. They are fully aware of what is going on but cannot respond.  It is like being locked in a prison. What is hopeful are the new functional MRIs that can map the way people think and picture things.  It is a form of mind reading and a way to communicate with people in a coma.

 

EC:  How would you describe the AI, Eve?

JR:  She matured from a narrow AI to AFI then eventually to ASI.  I based her on the book Flowers for Algernon that was made into the movie “Charley.”  Over the course of time his vocabulary increases multifold. He surpasses intellectually the average person’s language. There is math on one of the pages of my book to show how Eve goes beyond scientifically the human understanding, just as Charley had done in the movie.  I gave her a double personality where she is split between dark and light.  The one cared for by Mara nurtures and protects humans, while the other one, which was stolen, mirrors the torture done to her.  

 

EC:  There are three types of AI?

JR:  We are in narrow AI currently, such as Siri or self-driving cars.  What everyone is pursuing is AGI that have computers self-aware of themselves with some human level of intelligence that can differentiate. ASI will advance far beyond our intelligence and accelerates rapidly.  I wanted Eve to start with a cold and calculating intelligence and then mature as she is trained in different types of environments. 

 

EC:  You refer to Valya as the Snow Queen.  Did you ever read that book?

JR:  It was written by Hans Christian Anderson and is a very disturbing story. It is about a brutal woman who tortures children. The early Fairy Tales told to children are pretty darn gruesome.  We forget that because Disney cleaned up a lot of these stories.  In my story, the Snow Queen is not based on the Disney character in “Frozen.”  

 

EC:  You also use the story as a warning?

JR:  Remember when the Internet came out it was supposed to create a rosy world where we are all connected and can come together.  Instead, we are more isolated and hide behind screens that allow the worst of ourselves to shine.  What sounded like a great boon to humanity is actually the direct opposite.  The same is true for AI.  I hope people are not wearing rosy glasses.

 

EC:  What do you want readers to get out of this novel?

JR:  The whole point of the book is to make sure there are boundaries and that any AI has empathy.  Just like Putin said, whoever controls it will control the world.  It is probably true that whoever is the first will have a huge economic advantage.  Government and corporations want to be the first and are not worrying about the consequences.  

 

EC:  Why no reference to Sigma on the cover?

JR:  There was a lot of debate.  I thought it should have been put on it.  Some thought by putting it on there, new readers may be stopped from picking up the book; even though I write a book that can stand on its own.  Just FYI: Amazon and Barnes & Noble have different editions, each with different endings and do refer to it as a Sigma team novel.  

 

EC:  Your next book?

JR:  It will be an anthology of all my short stories. I also include a 110-page Tucker and Kane novella.  It will be out in the summer.  The next Sigma will be out in January 2020.

 

THANK YOU!!

In Dog We Trust

Beth Kendrick

Berkley Pub.

Jan 8th 2019

 

In Dog We Trust by Beth Kendrick says it all with the title.  This fun-loving book is a must read for all dog lovers and those that want smiles on their faces.  In addition, readers get an interesting mystery where greed is the antagonist. The story is enjoyable, amusing, and entertaining. 

The plot takes place in the Delaware seaside quirky quaint town of Black Dog Bay. It has become well-known for being the “best place in America to bounce back from your breakup.” Charming seaside diners, boutiques, bakeries, and a bed and breakfast capitalized by having names of “Home to Better Off Bed-and-Breakfast, the Eat Your Heart Out bakery, the Jilted Café, the Rebound Salon, and the Whinery bar.” The owner of “Black Dog Bay Books” created a legend about an apparition of a black dog as a harbinger of hope and change. 

The main character Jocelyn Hillier helps her mother run a laundry rental business in the beach town. A chance encounter leads to Jocelyn’s meeting Mr. Allardyce, the owner of several pedigreed Labrador retrievers and living in one of the fanciest shore-side mansions. He is gruff, a penny pincher, and a social outcast, but decides to hire Jocelyn as a dog walker and dog sitter.  After Mr. Allardyce suddenly dies, he leaves all of his money to his three show dogs, appointing Jocelyn as their guardian. She has control of the money and is able to live in the mansion. An interesting premise that encircles the story, how an eccentric dog owner would appoint a trustee of the dogs who inherited the wealth. But life becomes troublesome when his estranged son, Liam, and the dog’s trainer, Lois, decide to sue her for the inheritance left to the dogs and her guardianship.

Besides having likeable characters and cuddly dogs this story delves into scandal and betrayal. The humorous banter allows for a very fun read.

 

Elise Cooper: The dogs are a background to the story?

Beth Kendrick: I like writing about the relationship between the owner and the dog along with the dog’s spirit and the environment surrounding everybody.  The story cannot happen without the dogs, who are agents for change.  People and pets have a very significant relationship.

 

EC:  Dogs are a special breed?

BK:  Dogs know who is kind and nurturing.  It is that saying, ‘if my dog doesn’t like you neither do I.’  There is something about having another being to rely on us.  There is a deeper level of nonverbal communication that is satisfying and profound.  My vet once said to me, dogs want to be useful and serve.  I think we have an obligation to give that back to our dogs.

 

EC: How did you come upon the premise?

BK:  The name of the town is Black Dog Bay. In the first book, Cure For the Common Breakup, these is a mystical and magical legend in the town, an Irish Wolfhound.  The dog is a symbol for hope and change.  But in literature it is the symbol of depression and despair.  I like playing off both: how hopelessness turns into hope, the dark into light, and the feeling of being totally isolated/lonely into finding a companion.  This is the kernel of the whole series.

 

EC: Is this town made up?

BK:  Yes. It is loosely based on some of the Delaware beaches such as Bethany Beach.  I like the atmosphere and vibe that has the old-fashioned boardwalk and huge mansions along the beach.  Too bad this prime real estate is empty most of the time and not occupied.  

 

EC:  How did you get the silhouette of the dog in the beginning of each chapter?

BK:  I wanted a simple outline.  I think we went through five to ten kinds.  Some were too distracting and some were unclear.  I could not find an Irish Wolfhound since most are so shaggy they look like sheep.  For me, this silhouette is like a lucky penny bringing good luck.

 

EC:  How did you come by the storyline of a dog’s inheritance?

BK:  I was reading with my eleven-year-old son a National Geographic story.  It was how all these dogs are bequeathed millions and millions of dollars. There is plenty of legal precedent even though the dogs actually cannot spend money.  All they want is food, water, and a human.  Pet trusts are routinely now part of estates.  I understand how we owners want them well cared for. 

 

EC:  Are you a dog person?

BK:  I write a series set in Black Dog Bay that includes a book titled In Dog We Trust, so I think we all see where my loyalties lie. I wrote a book, The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service, that helps humans find their canine soul mate, making sure the humans and dogs get their needs met.  In this book, I write about dog breeders and dog shows even though I have adopted all my dogs from the pound.  I think dog people have a spiritual and creative streak that are mostly kind and helpful.

 

EC:  Do you go to dog shows?

BK:  Yes.  A scene in this book is inspired by true events.  Jocelyn takes the dogs to a show and they are boisterous and badly behaved in the ring.  They were not naughty but just could not control themselves.  The judge remarked that they are acting like labs.  All the other breeds appeared like they wanted to win.  But the labs just wanted to say hi to each other and other people.  

 

EC:  How would you describe Jocelyn?

BK:  Sweet, attractive, smart, and sensible.  She has been restrained her whole life and is aware of the limits placed upon her by family, friends, and the community.  She has a great sense of responsibility, especially to the dogs. She is very practical and has a sense of obligation to the dogs, her mom, and her friends. Once she has been given some financial freedom she is able to let go a bit.

 

EC:  How would you describe Liam.  I think readers will fluctuate between liking and disliking him?

BK:  He is determined and obstinate. He has a clear understanding of how money changes someone’s life.  For him it is not personal, but business.  In a sadistic way, I had fun torturing him when the money mixes with the personal.  I think one of the turning points is when he helps with the puppies’ birth where he had a metaphorical and spiritual transformation.

 

EC:  How would you describe the three labs?

BK:  Carmen is the rebellious one.  Hester is sensitive and sweet.  Curtis is charming and goofy.  I wanted to show how each have their own nuances with a distinct personality.  

 

EC:  The humorous banter?

BK:  This is my natural voice.  I have tried to write very dark and serious perspectives but cannot do it.  Even when I watch TV I still gravitate toward shows with some humor.  I think life can be short and complicated, but we can deal with it through humor, even when things are really messed up.

 

EC: Why the book quote, “My dogs are better than most people.”

BK:  I wanted to say something nice about the dog owner, Mr. Allardyre who had some tough times in his life.  In some way, this is the theme of the book.  Dogs are not selfish or prejudiced, and are willing to engage, serve and connect.  Mr. A. left all the money and made Joselyn the dogs guardian because he wanted a guardian that could be trusted.  Even though when he was alive he treated her badly and paid her practically nothing, she still hung in there for the dogs.  He saw that in her and trusted that she would treat the dogs well.

 

EC:  You even have a dog romance? 

BK:  Yes between Carmen and a mutt, Friday.  I based him on my own dog because both dogs are very charismatic.  I liked to compare this romance to the Disney movie, “The Lady and The Tramp.” I think this relationship was very spontaneous and organic.

 

EC:  Do you like the group Duran Duran?

BK:  Yes.  I put their songs in the story as a shout out to my college roommate. I also needed a group that would be age appropriate.  I would go to see them in concert if they appeared.

 

EC:  Next book?

BK:  I am still in the process of deciding on the next book.  I do think there will be another “Bay Dog” novel.  Right now, I am working on something else that I am not allowed to talk about, but if I had to bet there will be a dog popping up.

 

THANK YOU!!

The First Conspiracy by Brad Meltzer brings to life a spy thriller that actually happened.  This non-fiction historical mystery delves into a plot to assassinate General George Washington, exposing the spies, killers, counterfeiters, and traitors and how those in the still forming government addressed the plot.

 

This is Meltzer’s first non-fiction book, written with writer and documentary producer Josh Mensch.  It tells of a hidden event that took place during the most critical period of America’s birth.  The heart of the book takes place after Washington’s arrival into New York City in early 1776.  After having to flee to a British ship docked in New York’s harbor, the Governor of New York, a Loyalist, William Tryon devises a treacherous plan to kill the US General.  He enlists the help of the city’s mayor, David Mathews, and some in the civilian population that have divided loyalties and shifting allegiances.  All are willing to sacrifice their devotion to the highest bidder.

 

Shocked by these rumors Washington decides to assemble an elite band of soldiers, the Life Guards, to protect him. In addition, he along with another Founding Father John Jay, established the secret Committee of Intestine Enemies, designed to uncover the traitors, learn their plans, and stop them. The clandestine operations showed how Jay regarded the importance of counter-intelligence, and the Life Guards can be considered the precursor to the Secret Service.

 

Although a non-fiction story it reads like a spy novel with a sense of immediacy and peril.  Readers will be astonished that this “First Conspiracy,” was but a footnote in American history until now, when the authors bring it to the forefront. 

 

Elise Cooper:  How did you find out about the story?

Brad Meltzer:  I discovered the story a decade ago.  I wondered if the secret plot to kill George Washington was real or nonsense.  After looking into it I found it was true and was blown away by it.  I even went to the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Joseph Ellis who knew of the story.  He told me it was ‘A true mystery that very few Americans know,’ and that it might be tricky to research.  This is an amazing rabbit hole to jump down.

 

EC:  Why not write it as a fictional thriller?

BM:  I did use it in one of my thrillers, The President’s Shadow.  There is a page where I mentioned the exact plot. But, I wanted to do more with this incredible story.  After five years it was still in my brain so I knew I had to write a book about it.  Usually I would take some real detail and expand on it.  But this was all real and so very fascinating.  

 

EC:  You also break some of the myths about the early years of the Revolutionary War?

BM:  The myth says we were a ragtag army who held hands and came together to defeat the powerful English.  But in fact, we were not unified, but acted just like today.  For example, our Massachusetts regiment hated our Connecticut regiment who hated our Virginia regiment.  They were all different with dissimilar beliefs and customs, including wearing different uniforms.  I show this in an amazing scene in the book.  Someone from the Virginia regiment meets someone from the Massachusetts regiment who starts to make fun of the Virginia uniform.  A fight breaks out until George Washington rides on his horse and picks them up, emphasizing the need for a team.  If ever there was a metaphor for where we are as a culture there it was.  He helped build the United States by holding us together. The book delves into getting rid of the myth that we were all together and shows how hard fought it was to get us together.

 

EC: Do you think Washington’s leadership helped bring us together?

BM:  He knew if there was no discipline there was going to be problems.  He wanted the men not to gamble, drink, or fight amongst each other.  Just look at the Battle of Brooklyn where we got our butts kicked.  The British outfought us, had better training, and better experience.  What Washington did was adapt.  In the middle of the night he plotted that daring escape on the East River.  He refused to get into any boat until all the troops were rescued.  I think that was one of the defining moments where we came together.  

 

EC:  How would you describe Washington? 

BM:  He never gave up.  The one word that exemplifies him:  honor, honor, honor.  He had integrity, humility, and would put others before himself.  What we are missing today is a leader who finds more of what we had in common than what separates us, something Washington did best.  He is a doer who had a depth of character.

 

EC:  How would you describe John Jay? 

BM:  He created a secret organization within our government that came out of the plot to kill Washington.  He is an incredible investigator who did interrogations to collect information.  He actually built a counter-intelligence operation by using civilians to ferret out information about the traitors.  He built an entire system for the government to protect itself.  I call him the original American bad ass.

 

EC:  How would you describe the British General William Tryon?

BM:  He is an evil doer.  As a villain, he could come out of any of my thrillers. There is a scene in the book where he and Washington enter New York at the same time.  All the people were cheering Washington and not him.

 

EC:  What is the theme?

BM:  Leadership, loyalty, and the harm betrayal does.  It is summed up in the final sentence of the book, “In our lowest moments we always find our greatest strengths.” 

 

EC:  President Bush wrote a blurb-was this recent?

BM:  It was about a year ago. What is very special to me is that he wrote about our first President, while he was our oldest living President. He wrote, “A wonderful book about leadership-and it shows why George Washington and his moral lessons are just as vital today.  What a book.  You’ll love it.” This is a book about everything President Bush did, including counter-intelligence since he was also the CIA Director.  I considered him a dear friend.

 

THANK YOU!!

Latest comments

24.12 | 00:28

Always look forward to your weekly blog, Marti ... safe travels this week. Merry Christmas!

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23.10 | 11:23

Awesome interview! B.J. Daniels books are just GREAT!! Always anticipating the next one! Appreciate her talent, and bringing us wonderful hours of reading!

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22.10 | 18:12

For one, I’m glad you can come up with ideas and that the characters talk to you. Keep them talking and thank you and your characters.

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22.10 | 17:30

I adore B J Daniels’ books. She grabs me from the first sentence and doesn’t let go until the last sentence. I loved this interview.

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