Sunday, March 30, 2014

Showing the Effect of a Breakup on a Character

In writing my novel Star Time or Star Time (Kindle), I wanted to depict the effect of a love affair's breakup on my female protagonist, the TV reporter Chris Paskins, after her lover tells he has decided to marry another woman. Recovery isn't slow, and it isn't easy.

Here’s an excerpt:

No loss in her life had ever struck so hard at Chris as losing Greg. She had warily opened her heart only to have it ransacked. She had trusted Greg and had loved him totally, and he had betrayed her totally. He loved me, she silently keened over and over. I can't believe he didn't love me.

At times she despised Greg because he had left her despite having loved her, and at other times because she was convinced he had lied about loving her and had used her from the very first. Sometimes, though, she told herself he had fled because he had found nothing in her worth loving, and then she despised herself.

She reached out to a few women friends for companionship, but became so submerged in her despondency that she forgot a Saturday lunch she had scheduled with one and a date to go shopping with another. Abjectly apologetic each time, she begged their forgiveness on the phone and ran out to purchase lavish gifts to be delivered immediately.

Only to Marian Marcus, though, did Chris open up to confide her grief and the reason for it. She had assumed, she told Marian, that she and Greg would spend their lives together—she had wanted to spend her life with him. Living together, she had always believed, was a prelude to marriage. They had argued, but always because their work put pressures on the relationship, never because of what they felt for each other. The one thing she had always been sure about was that Greg loved her.

She had feared his going to New York because it would separate them, not because she ever thought he might desert her. Never once had he mentioned the other woman, only her father. Recalling all the canceled trips, Chris suspected he had been seeing this Diane for months and had lied about his reasons for postponing trips back to L.A. Although knowing that she valued honesty above all other values, he had lied to her. Had he been lying when he said that he loved her?

During those harrowing days, Marian ceased to be Chris's assistant and truly became a friend who cared about her, listening for hours and offering solace as Chris talked out her feelings of sorrow, often sleeping over on the sofa at her apartment just so Chris would not be alone. The friendship that had begun with Marian's outlandish confidences became cemented for life during that bleak time.

That first weekend, Marian insisted Chris accompany her to dinner and a movie. Chris was too preoccupied with her loss to concentrate on the film, and instead they drove for hours and talked. She rode horseback alone in the hills the next day. Her sorrow lurked in ambush behind every tree and in every gully.

Soon, however, Chris began to fight the despondency by losing herself in her work, the only lover she still trusted not to betray her. A workaholic and ambitious before, she became possessed; reporting became her only faith and ascension in her profession her hope for salvation from despair. Much of what used to be her free time was spent perusing stacks of photocopied public records and tracking down potential informers who might be more willing away from their offices to give her leads.

Chris even welcomed the outrage that abandonment by Greg aroused in her because it allowed her to close off her mind and heart to everything but work. She yearned to hurt him as painfully as she had been hurt and felt purified by the primeval rawness of her hatred. But her feelings flowed deeper and wider than retaliation against one man. Not only would her determination to succeed bring her personal fulfillment, but also vindication against everyone throughout her life who had ever tried to block her progress. Her influence would increase with her popularity, she knew, and would safeguard her independence.

She was as zealous to safeguard her emotions. Never again would she expose them to the ravages that dependence on another's love could cause.

Read more: Star Time or Star Time (Kindle).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

People Who Escape Air Crashes Because of a Premonition

In writing my book Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle), I wanted to introduce another suspect as the air crash's saboteur, one who refused at the gate to walk down the ramp to board the doomed plane because she claimed to have gotten a premonition that it would crash. She would later remember something that occurred at the gate that would prove to be crucial in identifying the actual saboteur.

Here's an excerpt:

Through the opening the men could see the back of a blond-haired woman in a black leotard sitting cross-legged on the floor. . . . A murmuring sound emanated from the room as if she were speaking to someone. . . .

Off the screen and without makeup, the famous seductress's face seemed fresh and wholesome, her large eyes clear. She rose gracefully and approached them. The sex-symbol promotion upon which her early career had been built left her visitors unprepared for the intelligence in her voice.

"I usually meditate in the nude, so I thank you for telephoning first."

Clayton wondered how much more there could be to see. The deep V-neck of her leotard exposed large expanses of breast, and the nipples pressed visibly through the taut material.

"You were talking to someone?"

"To Rolf."

Both men looked stunned.

"Or trying to," she continued in explanation. "But he's probably holding off contacting me out of pure spite."

"You've heard from him since the crash?" asked Clayton sharply.

"No, have you?"

Clayton was confused. "Why would he contact me?"

"He was rather an admirer of the Bureau." Darlene gestured toward the large pillows spilled randomly about the floor. "Why don't you sit down?"

Clayton dropped clumsily onto a pillow after great exertion. Will followed with more grace, accustomed to lowering himself on the strength of his single full leg.

"I have a feeling we're not speaking the same language," Clayton said.

"His spirit must be quite confused. They often are, after an accident. It's difficult for them to make the transition when they've had so sudden and violent a passing."

Clayton took a deep breath. "Let's start again, Miss Valentine. Is your husband dead?"

"That's what your people told me. They found his physical body."

"Then who were you talking with before we came in?"

"I was trying to contact his spirit. He's probably wandering around out there."
"In Utah?"

"In confusion. Space and time don't exist in the spirit world. He's having difficulty making the transition, I just know it."

"Please, Miss Valentine, let's keep the conversation to this world. Was your marriage unhappy?"

She nodded.

"Unhappy enough for you to place a bomb aboard his plane?"

Her eyes snapped wide open in apparent astonishment. "Why would you think that?"

"Witnesses at the airport reported hearing you tell people the plane would crash."

"Yes, I knew it would happen. Oh, not the way you're thinking. I suddenly had a vision in my mind of the plane bursting into flames. It was terrible!"

Will spoke up for the first time, sarcasm edging into his voice. "You seem quite composed for someone who has just lost her husband so 'terribly.'"

"Once I could no longer stop him or all those others, it was clear to me that they were all meant to make the transition."

"Miss Valentine," Clayton interjected harshly, "the ramp agent told us that your husband walked aboard the plane with a large attaché case. Do you happen to know what was in it?"

"Of course, promotional materials for the interviews. Greater Good—the picture we just made together—opens around the country tomorrow, and we had a string of TV and newspaper interviews coming up. Denver was the first. We thought announcing the divorce right now would hurt the film."

Will bent forward, his prosecutorial training surfacing. "So you continued to live together—and hate each other. . . . Perhaps it was to your benefit to have him dead: more profits, no worry about dividing up community property." . . .

Her face grew very sorrowful and then began to twist in anguish.

"I'm so sad for you, Mr. Nye. I'm so sad for everyone who lost a loved one on the plane. You have so few real friends. You trust so few that each is particularly precious."

Her eyelids lifted. "I'm sorry. I really am."

Will realized that his fingernails were digging into his thighs and that he could not speak.

"Perhaps if your friend had been psychic," Darlene added, "he'd have been alive today."

Read more: Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle).

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Tension When Shooting a TV Episode

In writing my novel Star Time, I wanted to describe the shooting of a TV episode, so that my readers would get the sense of the tension that arises during the shooting of a show:  Here's an excerpt:

Biff Stanfield was nearly insane with worry. He had watched the rehearsal just before the initial take of the first scene between Sally and Chad and had nearly thrown up. The woman character he had created so carefully now seemed as contrived as a Saturday-morning cartoon, Chad's as stiff as an ironing board.

"It'll be fine," the man in the safari jacket answered.

John Rosenthal was a red-bearded producer-director who had cut his teeth at MTM and directed a dozen hit shows over the years. The high fees he now received and the residual checks that came in each month had made him a rich man. He was heavily in demand during pilot season because of his touch with comedy. This year, though, the project he and his wife, Marti, an experienced producer, had personally developed had fallen through at the last minute, and Marian Marcus had talked them into joining the team for Adam and Eve's pilot.

"You keep telling me not to worry,' Biff was agonizing, "but somebody sure as hell better!"

John smiled. He walked over to Sally and Chad. "Take it a little faster this time. And move a little closer."

"That's it?" Biff moaned when the smaller man returned to his chair. "If the world was collapsing in front of James Cameron’s eyes, would he just say, 'Move closer?'"

"Marti!" John called over to the pretty, round-faced woman in discussion with Marian Marcus near the side of the studio. "You've worked with Cameron. Would he have told them to move closer?"

She noted the hint of a smile as he spoke, and she shook her head. "Farther apart."

"John turned back to Biff. "I guess you have your choice."

Unnerved, Biff rushed away.

"Let's shoot it this time," John directed the cast and crew. "And let’s have it faster.”

Read more:  Star Time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Adultery in America and STAR TIME

I think many people were as surprised as I to learn that adultery, one of the charges in General Sinclair's court martial, is grounds for discharge from the military.  In effect a Biblical admonition that has become for most people a question of personal morality is, in the military, grounds for the ending of a career and losing one's income.  The only way that stance seems justifiable to me is by recognizing that because military installations are basically sealed-off communities, adultery is a disruptive act that threatens the stable functioning of the entire base and, thus, American security.

My novel STAR TIME addresses adultery in a wider context among highly prominent participants, where there is no imbalance of power between the offending parties or their spouses, who are all powerful in their own rights.  Nonetheless, the offending couple finds that their moral choices have consequences as damaging as if their actions had been banned by law or regulation.

Greg Lyall is a TV news producer in Hollywood.  Christine Paskins is a local TV reporter.  Their love affair is passionate and committed--until he meets the daughter of the TV network's powerful CEO, who can accelerate his career into the stratosphere.  Ten years later, when Greg is running the network, he hires Chris, now a nationally known newscaster, to be his network's nightly news anchor, its Diane Sawyer, if you will.  The passion that burned so hotly ten years earlier re-ignites with hurtful consequences for both families. Like the general, Greg is put at risk of being toppled from his elevated position, in his case by his outraged father-in-law. Chris's husband is a U.S. senator, who finds much more than his marriage at risk when she begins to investigate a secret government program.  Although the lovers understand how hurtful their affair will be to their spouses, their passion burns so hotly, so all-consumingly, that this time they cannot break off and separate.  They must face the consequences of their actions.  And those consequences, while personal and not institutionalized, can be as harsh as if the penalty for adultery were carved on a stone tablet.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Reconstructing a Downed Airliner to Learn the Cause of the Crash

I've written a number of novels, including Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle). A Question of Proof or A Question of Proof (Kindle); Star Time: New Version & New Introduction or Star Time(Kindle); Birthright or Birthright (Kindle); and Deeds or Deeds (Kindle). In writing my book Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle), I wanted readers to know how National Transportation Safety Board investigators reconstruct a downed airliner to aid them in discovering the cause of a crash.

Here's an excerpt:

Sunday morning in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is for church or sleeping late. For Will and Clayton, the morning was for viewing a reconstructed section of a 747 in a drafty hangar at the edge of an airfield.

Hunks of debris from 211, the first plane downed, were marked with chalk or tags and scattered about the floor, while the tail, still miraculously whole, towered high into the steel joists, emphasizing the devastation of the rest.

Tal's plane would look like this one, Will realized with a start. As a boy dragged along to church each week, he had pictured the Apocalypse like this—cemeteries littered with the broken toys of the forever departed.

"It's the most perfect flying machine ever built," Bill Ewing said softly as he led them around the twisted metal wired on wooden scaffolding into the rough configuration of what used to be the front end of a 747. "So perfect it can take off, guide itself across country, land and end up within twenty feet of the gates with the flight crew playing gin rummy all the way. Every system has a backup. It can fly routinely on three engines and land on two. It has even made it safely down on one. It flew two billion miles without a fatal accident."

Ewing pointed to the far end of the empty hangar. "Those engines can lift over three quarters of a million pounds of fully loaded plane forty-five thousand feet into the sky and fly six hundred miles an hour carrying between four and five hundred people. But if only ten or twenty pounds of that load is high explosive, this is what you have left."

Bill Ewing had spent half of his sixty years designing and building ever larger, more sophisticated airliners, and the last ten years putting bits and pieces back together.

"Where exactly was the bomb placed?" Clayton asked.

Ewing pointed. "Right about there. Above the left lavatory in first class. Whoever put it there unscrewed a ceiling panel that shields the light fixture, placed the bomb inside and put back the panel."

Read more: Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mutual Distress Over a Plane Crash Begins a Love Affair

In writing my book STALKING THE SKY, I wanted to show how, in the course of talking about her feelings about the death of her co-worker in their airline's recent plane crash and her fears about flying again, flight attendant Donna Harney can develop a rapport with the novel's protagonist, Will Nye, an executive with the airline, that can blossom into an intimate personal relationship.

Here's an excerpt:

Donna was standing in the doorway.

"Can I speak to you?" she asked.

He nodded.

She closed the door behind her. The blue eyes were anxious.

"You were kind before . . . and I have to tell someone."

The words seemed to hang back, like outnumbered soldiers. "Now that I know you’re with the company, maybe you can tell them for me."

She was leaning against the wall, relying on it. "I’ve never been afraid to fly. I never really thought about anything happening up there. The evacuation drills, the oxygen masks and life vests were just something you did as part of the job, not because you might need them." She paused to refocus her thoughts. A hint of her fear was beginning to quicken her words. "I should have been on that plane last night. Jeanne would be alive. I barely knew her. Jeanne was just a stew who happened to live in my new building and was willing to switch trips with me."

She turned on her listener. "You can’t understand what it’s like knowing you’ve caused another person’s death, and this isn’t the end of it. Every day I’d have to wake up to a job of flying in something that can kill me and hundreds of other people in an instant."

"Whether I understand or not isn’t the point," Will responded. "If you want to quit, I’ll call Personnel for you and advise them. Do you have another way to pay for your apartment?"

"We’re talking about my life!"

"Your home seemed awfully important a few hours ago."

"A lot has happened since then. I’ll just have to get another job. With a normal schedule maybe I can go to college."

"How are you getting back to Denver?"

"What difference does that make? Train. Bus."

"They take a long time. If you wait a few hours or so and can bring yourself to fly one more time, I’ll be able to tell you when the Westwind is heading back."

"You really are an annoying bastard," she said, anger beginning to replace the fear and the sorrow. "I was right about you last night, I really was."

"I gather then you don’t want a lift back to Denver."

Unexpectedly, she laughed. "I hoped you would at least give me the satisfaction of talking me out of quitting."

The laugh had been warm, her distress genuine. Will was caught off-guard by the unanticipated intimacy. His own tone softened.

"If it’s cheap advice you want, I’ll give it to you. But let’s get some lunch. I’ve got a two-thirty appointment I can’t be late for."

He held the door for her. She did not move.

"You know," she said, not bothering to mask the surprise in her voice, "it just occurred to me that you’re probably important enough to get me fired, the way I talked to you last night."

"You just said you were quitting."

With a smile she allowed the surprise to burst on her features again. "I knew I heard that somewhere."

Donna did not bother to change out of her uniform, but while she washed up, Will read newspaper accounts of the crash. With a sinking feeling Will realized that the intimations of a criminal cause could lay the blame for failing to prevent the mass deaths at his own door.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

How the FBI Investigates Suspects in Airliner Sabotage

In writing my book Stalking the Sky, I wanted to show in a brief way the slogging person-by-person investigation that must be undertaken to find possible motives behind the sabotage of an airliner that killed hundreds of passengers by describing the FBI agent's visits to relatives of three of the deceased. 

Here's an excerpt:

Clayton’s last stop was at the home of Sandra Guerin, the wife of the late SEC official. Grief was slowly evolving into resentment at having been left behind to cope with raising children, paying the mortgage and the taxes, not having enough insurance money to stay in graduate school, and worst of all, having to live out every day, from rising till sleeping, alone.

They had spent Thanksgiving weekend with her mother. She and the kids had planned to spend the rest of the week at Grandma’s before returning to Washington on Friday. He had left for the airport at eight, attended a meeting there and caught a later plane than he had originally planned to take.

Charles Guerin had received a telephone call that morning, his wife explained. She had overheard snatches of a conversation that seemed to deal with the Senate confirmation hearings. He appeared to be angry after he hung up, and said only that he had agreed to an airport meeting and would have to change his reservation.

No, she didn’t have any idea whom the appointment was with. No, she didn’t have the name of anyone else who might know.

Clayton’s colleagues had already questioned dozens of people who had been at O’Hare the night before. They had all been shown a photograph of Guerin, but none could recall having seen him. Clayton held out little hope that more information would be uncovered.

Occasionally Owen was struck by the realization of how superficially even the most intense investigation scanned a person’s life. Markowitz might have been hated by a mistress no one would ever know about. Evelyn Flein might have had a secret suicide compulsion. Charles Guerin might have had a shoe-box full of thousand-dollar bills stashed in a closet. And there were three hundred and thirty-six other passengers and crew members whose lives would ultimately remain as much a mystery as these. Clayton knew that his best chance was to stumble after motives and hope he bumped into the real one, like a grown man playing blind man's buff.

As Clayton was about to leave Guerin’s house, Sandra Guerin added to the mystery by remarking she was sure that when Charles left the house that night he told her he was flying to Washington, not New York.

Read more: Stalking the Sky

How a Banker Capitalized on the Suez Crisis

In my historical novel BIRTHRIGHT, I wanted to show how Samuel Kronengold, the dominant figure in the British Kronengold bank, could try to maneuver political leaders to his will, while simultaneously deciding where to place the bank's investment bets. I chose the Suez Crisis. Egypt's President Nasser had just ordered the seizure of the Suez Canal from Britain and France. Along with Israel, they countered by attacking Egypt to retake the Canal, infuriating U.S. President Eisenhower. Within days, Britain's weak-willed prime minister, Anthony Eden, would cave in to the U.S. and end the invasion.

Here’s an excerpt that occurs just after the three countries attack Egypt:

EGYPT'S SEIZURE OF THE SUEZ CANAL from Britain and France in July of 1956 set into motion events on a scale far larger than a single person's or a single family's destiny. The resulting crisis four months later would threaten world peace; would shake the Atlantic alliance; would humiliate Britain, dishearten it, and hasten its decline, its self-absorption, and the fall of its prime minister. It would frustrate France and accelerate its loss of Algeria, the end of its Third Republic, and the return to power of Charles de Gaulle; and provoke hostility to Britain as a future Common Market partner. It would endow Israel with more secure borders for the next decade and a port on the Gulf of Aqaba, leading to the Indian Ocean; would safeguard Egypt and make a hero of Gamal Abdel Nasser, that nation's chief of state; and would sow the seeds of a pan-Islamic oil policy based on nationalistic needs and concerted action, which would someday bring to once poor countries wealth and power beyond their wildest hopes and shake the foundations of the industrialized world.

The first retaliation for Egypt's seizure of the Canal occurred on October 29, 1956, when Israel attacked Egyptian positions in the Sinai. Two days later, in accordance with a secret scheme previously agreed to with Israel, Britain and France began bombing Egyptian airfields, alleging they were acting to protect the Suez Canal, an essential international waterway. Israel had swept across the Sinai on schedule to prearranged positions near Suez while pressing southward to free the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping.

As the days passed Anthony Eden, Britain's prime minister, hesitated to give the word that would unleash the French and British troops waiting on Cyprus and Malta and begin the full-scale attack. He faced a host of pressures: a popular outcry against the bombings in his own country, blustering condemnation from a Soviet Union allied with Egypt and trying to divert attention from its own invasions of Poland and Hungary, and perhaps most telling, United States President Eisenhower's fear that his own NATO partners were bringing the world to the brink of war. With only days remaining before the U.S. presidential election, Eisenhower, in order to force Britain to back down, was exerting both diplomatic influence in the United Nations and financial muscle by weakening the British pound.

Fearing that Eden was about to get cold feet and leave his secret Jewish allies militarily and diplomatically high and dry, Israeli high officials cast about for someone who might approach the British prime minister and allay his fears about Eisenhower's ability to undermine Britain's currency and economy. When they learned that Eden and his wife, Clarissa, were scheduled to attend a dinner at the home of Baron Samuel de Kronengold on that very night of November 4, 1956, they asked Pierre, his French cousin, to telephone Samuel about speaking to Eden.

Although Samuel was a contributor to Israel, the Israelis were far closer to Pierre, who spent a good deal of time in Israel and funded numerous projects there. The two cousins had been in negotiations for months about merging their banks into a larger, unified financial institution—after a century of separation—now that it appeared Britain would soon join the Common Market. Both men feared, among other things, that a failure to retake the Suez Canal and topple Nasser would result, instead, in toppling both the French and British governments. That would put an end to British acceptance into the Common Market for the time being and, thus, to the merger of the French and British Kronengold banks.

Samuel needed little convincing by Pierre, viewing Britain's refusal to knuckle under to Nasser as a reassertion, at last, of British greatness. He spent the day rehearsing the arguments he would use to stiffen Eden's backbone.

Only after dinner, when Samuel led the men, erect in black tie and tuxedo, to the Trophy Room, was he able to talk alone with Eden. Although they sat in a corner and conversed for a very long time, all of Samuel's persuasion proved fruitless; he found himself facing a very ill, very frightened man.

Read more:   BIRTHRIGHT

Friday, March 14, 2014

The First Things an Airline Does When a Plane Crashes

I've written a number of novels, including Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle). A Question of Proof or A Question of Proof (Kindle); Star Time: New Version & New Introduction or Star Time (Kindle) and Birthright or Birthright (Kindle) and Deeds or Deeds (Kindle). In writing my book Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle), I wanted to describe the processes that are put into motion when a jetliner goes down without making the description tedious, so I had an executive in charge concisely describe to the CEO the steps his people had taken.

Here's an excerpt:

Conway handed Buck a folded computer printout and took a seat. "One of the guys at the Tech Desk asked me to bring up the plane’s maintenance log. I also thought you’d want to see the flight crew records. I’ve already been on the phone with our Chicago and New York people. We’re doing everything we can for the families and friends. Not three months ago I had every airport office review the procedures in case something like this occurred, so you can be proud your people are on their toes."

Read more: Stalking the Sky (Kindle).

How Investigators Discern Early If Sabotage Caused a Plane Crash

In my novel STALKING THE SKY, I wanted to show how an investigator from the National Transportation Safety Board and an FBI agent obtain an early sense of whether a plane's crash was caused by sabotage.

Here's an excerpt:

Dwight Raeburn, head of the NTSB’s Go-Team, looked up from the bright tangle of ripped wires sprouting from the sliced-open rear fuselage and spotted Clayton. They had worked together in the past, but on nothing of this immensity.

"It’s a God-awful mess, isn’t it?"

"When are the dogs expected?" Clayton asked.

"The FAA says they loaned the closest team out to you guys investigating a theft of explosives from an army base. Another’s sniffing out a bomb in an office building. There’s no longer an emergency here."

"What does it look like?"

"Can’t be sure. The front of the fuselage folded up like an accordion when it hit. Any evidence of explosive decompression in the fore section is hidden right now."

"But you’ve got to be suspicious. Items from the plane are turning up for miles around."

"Owen, I can’t be sure of anything yet. This is one where we won’t know definitely until we pull it out of the crater and piece it together."

Clayton remained insistent. "And those other parts that blew off it all the way down."

The process of hauling every piece of the wreckage to an empty hangar and diligently reconstructing the mammoth airplane, like a great Chinese puzzle, could take months.

"I can’t wait for that—the trail will be cold by then," Clayton said. "Have you spoken to your guys checking out Operations and Air Traffic Control at O’Hare?"

The smaller man pulled the clipboard from under his arm. "Just before it went down, the plane was at an altitude of twenty-seven thousand feet and an airspeed of five hundred and forty miles per hour. Nothing near it. Weather clear. No turbulence, so far as we know. And then the plane just dived. It’s not much, but believe me, it’s all we know right now."

"Dwight, I know you don’t want to be put on the spot this early, but if you had my job, would you treat this like a potential criminal matter?"

This time Raeburn did not hesitate. "I’d bust my rear on it, if I were you. Look, any number of things could have caused this, and the clues are still buried in the wreckage. But right now it smells of sabotage. We’ll know more when we find the recorders, but even they might not tell the whole story."

Heavily protected to survive a crash, the recorders monitor the flight and provide hard evidence for investigators after an accident. The flight data recorder chronologically registers takeoffs, altitudes, speeds, angles and other numerical indicia of the flight. The voice recorder captures the voices of the cockpit crew on tape by means of three overhead microphones.

"You haven’t found them yet?"

Raeburn shook his head. "We’re cutting away metal at the place we think the flight recorder should be. We’re just not sure yet where the voice recorder is buried. God, it’s a horror!"

"Call me as soon as you know something more."

They separated. Clayton took a slow walk through the debris. This was a last search for any clue he might have missed that would spark an insight into what had suddenly happened on a clear night twenty-seven thousand feet above the unyielding ground.

In my novel Birthright or Birthright (Kindle), I wanted to show how the brilliant patriarch of the legendary Kronengold banking family discerned a similar brilliance in his five-year-old granddaughter Deborah that set her apart from the other children in the family. I chose the family's celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover in which that incident could occur. 

Here’s an excerpt: 

Deborah was the youngest child present. She had been carefully schooled for several years in the table manners expected of an upper-class young lady, but she was nonetheless bewildered by the number of forks, knives, spoons, and glasses set out before her. When in doubt, she had been told, use the outside utensil, but no meal could possibly have so many courses. There was so much an adult had to know, she decided. No wonder it took so long to become one.

For children the high point of a seder is the hunt for the afikomen, a piece of matzo wrapped in a napkin that is hidden when none of them is looking. Deborah was all concentration, never taking her eyes off of the square of napkin-covered matzo beside her grandfather's plate. She was determined that the prize—traditionally money, she was told—would be hers.

But she had anticipated too soon. When dinner was finally brought in by a file of servants bearing gleaming silver trays, her attention was captured by the display. The butler led, his white collar high and starched, his black bow tie alert, like rabbit ears. Behind him were the liveried footmen. The young ladies who worked for the family followed, their backs straight, their cheeks slightly flushed at the notice their entrance was receiving.

"At last!" Malcolm cried out. "Another minute, and I'd have converted out of pure hunger."

Everyone laughed. Deborah's gaze shifted back to the napkin. It was gone! In that short moment of letting down her guard, someone had whisked it away. Halfway down the table, Malcolm was standing behind one of the relatives. Grandfather's eyes seemed to be laughing at her. All her advantage lost. Deborah folded her arms and glared at him.

When the children were finally unleashed, yapping and scuffling, she bounded to the head of the table. The others searched chuckling dinner guests or opened the doors of cabinets along the walls or peeked behind pictures, but she was convinced it had to be near Grandfather; her surveillance had been broken for only that single instant. Malcolm, empty-handed, had been too far down the table; he had been a decoy. Deborah studied Grandfather's face. He stared as intently at hers, his eyes once again seeming to laugh at her predicament.

"Deborah, you'd better hurry—someone else will find it," Malcolm's wife, Lavinia, prodded.

The heavy older man and the little girl continued to study each other. She could see clearly it was not in his lap or under his chair. Hands locked across his stomach, he sat unmoving in the tall chair. He seemed much stiffer than earlier in the evening. Of course! She plunged into the space separating his back from the upholstery. Having observed her sudden movement, the other children were rushing toward them. She groped around frantically. The bottom of his jacket felt hard and flat; her hands scrabbled underneath it—and the prize was hers. Triumphantly, she held up the glorious square white parcel. The adults applauded and cheered. Richard was fuming. The ignominy of being bested by someone as young, as insignificant, and as female as she was almost too crushing an embarrassment to bear. It would be days before he spoke to her again. She resolved not to care.

"My prize!" she demanded.

"What do you want?" Samuel asked.

"Money. That's the prize ... isn't it?"

"Perhaps some candy." His tone was teasing.

But it's supposed to be money!"

"Deborah, speak to your grandfather with more respect," her mother interjected sharply.

But she was not to be diverted. She continued to stare him down.

Samuel broke into a wide smile. "I honestly believe this monkey would go so far as to destroy my reputation in the City if I failed to pay what I owe her."

He lifted her onto his knee. "You sit here with me, little Deborah. Tomorrow morning I will withdraw one entire gold guinea from the bank just for you."

She hadn't the slightest idea what the value was of the coin Grandfather had named, having never possessed, nor needed to, even so much as a tuppence in her life. "Is that a lot of money?"

"A fortune," he assured her. "And afterward we shall go to a grand restaurant, you and I, to discuss important financial matters."

Deborah had never been to a restaurant, but had often stood yearning to join her mother as she pulled on her gloves and adjusted her hat in the mirror.

"Do you promise?"

He solemnly extended his hand. "Is my credit good until tomorrow?"

They shook hands, and she collapsed happily against his chest.

Read more: Birthright or Birthright (Kindle).

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Mystery at the Heart of a Mystery

In writing my novel A QUESTION OF PROOF, I wanted to create a formidable mystery at the dark heart of the novel that would lurk undiscovered until the end.  The trial of Susan Boelter was intended to expose the answer to the mystery: "Did she kill her husband?" It's a simple question, but in A QUESTION OF PROOF, as in real life, no outsider, no one on the jury, not even the prosecutor, ever truly knows whether the defendant is guilty. And as in real life, the novel's twists and turns, new evidence, lying witnesses, are all part of the process of getting at that final immutable answer to a question of proof.

Here’s an excerpt:

Dan’s feet swung down. "Damn it, Cal, I don’t know who she is. She says her husband was alive when she left the house, and not a shred of evidence backs her up. Last night, I ran into someone who . . . knew her slightly at college. He wasn’t sure, but he had this vague recollection that she was one of the great party girls at Bryn Mawr. I mean a top student, editor of the paper, but wild. Does he have her pegged right?"

“It sure doesn’t jibe with the impression she gave us of her college years."

“Who the hell is she, really? The gracious lady of high society or a desperate adventuress who’d seduce her estranged husband, period and all? To meet her socially, all that virtue, it knocks you off your feet, but is it a front? In bed there’s all the lust a man could want."

"Cal’s eyebrows rose. 'No wonder you refused a fee."

"I took her case because I believed her. Now I don’t know what to believe."


Criminal Trials Are Not About Discovering the Truth

Surprised?  In my novel, A QUESTION OF PROOF, the trial is to determine whether Susan Boelter killed her husband Peter Boelter, a cynical, callous, charming newspaper publisher. I tried to show the reader that a trial is really a contest between opposing attorneys to present a more plausible version of the facts to the jury. The actual truth, however, proves to be very slippery indeed.

As Dan Lazar, Susan's lover and lawyer, explains it:

"Susan, try to understand. A trial isn't about truth, it's about winning. It's a contest to sway a jury, those twelve people. Everybody says they're after the truth, but they're really after something that will sound true—that will be plausible, whether for yea or nay—to those twelve people. But the actual truth is coincidental. By the end of a trial, if the lawyers on both sides have done a good job, the truth is battered beyond recognition or so disguised in new clothes that no one can really be sure what it is anymore."


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How Is a Plane Crash Investigated

In writing my book Stalking the Sky, I wanted to depict with absolute authenticity the way investigators go about examining the wreckage of a plane crash to determine the cause. 

Here's an excerpt: 

The FBI Disaster Squad, victim identification experts, was on the scene, helping with the tagging and the loading. State police would also pitch in. For many days, both groups would aid local coroners trying to match bodies or sometimes parts of bodies with names. Eventually, they would certify as deceased 339 people, in some cases on evidence as flimsy as the lone, bent earring recognized by a daughter on a table of unidentified passenger belongings.

Local police had cordoned off the site to keep onlookers and the press at a distance—theft of strewn plane parts as grisly souvenirs could prevent discovery of the crash’s cause. Gathered around the twisted debris were small groups of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Global Universal, the airframe and engine manufacturers, the airline pilots’ union and the insurance company, as well as local authorities. Only the first, the NTSB, could be considered fully objective. Their investigation team was composed of government experts whose sole responsibility was to determine the probable cause of the crash. That determination would weigh heavily in recommending improved equipment and procedures and in the court cases that would surely follow. Those found responsible could become liable for millions of dollars in claims made by the families of those on board.

Slipping among the various investigators were photographers and surveyors whose task was to record accurately where objects had been found, an important tool in reconstructing the exact sequence of events. At what point did the plane hit the ground? Were some plane parts already detached before impact? How far were bodies thrown? How far did the fuselage skid?

Power plant specialists were trying to determine if birds had been ingested into the jet fans, cutting off the air intake, or if icing had occurred or fuel starvation or fire. Airframe experts, if metal fatigue had caused failure of a vital structural member. Systems people, whether the electrical, hydraulic or control systems had failed in some way. Only by such painstaking study could future crashes be prevented.

Read more: Stalking the Sky or Stalking the Sky (Kindle)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Birth of the Great Banking Families

I recently released my novel BIRTHRIGHT in Kindle and print, in which I wanted to show how the great banking families, like the one in my novel, the Kronengolds, began in banking and grew into dynasties . Here’s an excerpt:

The beginning of the nineteenth century was turbulent and unpredictable. Winds of democracy, unleashed by the French Revolution, were blowing across Europe, sucking war behind them like debris, until war in the person of Napoleon became the gale itself. In such times clever men could do well.
In Frankfurt there was such a man, Solomon ben Abraham, the only son of the goldsmith Abraham ben Itzakh. He had grown up with none of his father's superb skill at transforming cold, hard metal into gleaming beauty, and his father had feared for the boy's future: For generations beyond memory the family had produced renowned goldsmiths, so useful to the nobility that their house had been left relatively unscathed by the butchery that periodically assaulted the Jewish ghetto. Abraham soon realized, however, that his son had been born with a gift as rare as his own. He understood money in a way that amounted to a kind of genius. He could manipulate it with all the dazzling facility of an artist his paints or a composer his notes. By age ten Solomon could calculate exchange rates and all the coin values of Europe's profusion of duchies and principalities and nations at near instant speed. Before his bar mitzvah he had turned the front room of the family house into a store, from which he sold Abraham's work at prices the artisan had believed impossible and to which he soon added other goods imported from all over Europe.
As the years passed the store outgrew these quarters, and Solomon, now a young man, rented part of the house next door. He could have afforded to build his own by then, but there was no empty land left behind the heavy gates that, on Sundays and Christian holidays, locked Jews into the overcrowded Frankfurt ghetto. For the sign above his store he chose three golden crowns, the mark his father and those who came before him engraved on the bottom of their gold articles. Crowns had been chosen to denote family pride and derived in feeling from the five gold balls that were the insignia of their former patrons, the Medici, whose goldsmiths the family had been. The turmoil that followed Lorenzo's death drove Solomon's ancestors from Renaissance Florence, and they settled eventually in this bustling Teutonic city on the Main River. Beneath the three crowns—the insignia was reduced from five to three as a show of respect—Solomon directed the sign painter to write, not merchant, but money changer, and he took the gold crowns for a surname: Kronengold. In money itself, he sensed—one of the few careers permitted a Jew—was his future and the future of the sons his shrewd, virtuous wife had started to bear him.
If one were then to have picked a family that would rise to dominate the finances of Europe, surely one would have skipped the little building with three crowns over its door on a street only twelve feet wide in a teeming ghetto of outcasts. But Solomon Kronengold understood money. And his wife bore clever sons. And that was the beginning.


Monday, March 10, 2014

A Child Learns She Was Adopted into a Legendary Family

I’ve written several novels including A QUESTION OF PROOF, STAR TIME, and DEEDS. I recently released BIRTHRIGHT, in which I wanted to show the effect that learning of her adoption has on a highly intelligent child, my heroine Deborah de Kronengold.

Here’s an excerpt:

Now Deborah could express her own concern. "Mummy, I heard Father say he didn't know I'd be a savage when he agreed to take me in. What did he mean?"

Deborah saw her mother's body stiffen, and she held her breath.

"'Agreed to take'—oh, Dee, you must have misunderstood," Madeleine said in an oddly strained tone.
"That's what he said."

Madeleine's shoulders sank. Her wide brown eyes stared into Deborah's without blinking, as if hypnotized by headlights on a dark road crossing.

"I had hoped ... when you were older," she finally said. Her voice seemed to come from another part of the room. She glanced down and spent much too long straightening the blanket. "I'm so sorry it has come out this way. Perhaps it's for the best."

She brushed a stray lock off Deborah's forehead and took a deep breath. "Dee, six years ago, at the end of the war, I gave birth to a baby girl who died."

"Like Calico's kitten?"

"Yes, just like that."

Liquid was forming in the corners of Madeleine's eyes. "I had wanted a second baby very much. Just after the war ended, cousin Nathan called on the telephone to my brother, Pierre, who was in Italy, and told him what had happened. They both knew how much having a little girl meant to me." She gently touched Deborah's cheek. "Our family—your uncle Pierre's and mine—owned factories and a bank in Italy before the war, and Pierre had spent the war there, so he had many friends. One particular friend was a nun who was head of an orphanage where children were protected from the war and given a ... home." The last word caught in her throat. She lifted her eyes to Deborah's. "Your uncle Pierre decided to bring me the most beautiful, most wonderful little girl he could find to be my very own."

Madeleine embraced her daughter, their cheeks close. She could feel Deborah's heart pounding.

"Dee, you were only a few weeks old," Madeleine whispered. "You were the most marvelous baby in the world. He chose you for us out of all the other babies. And we adopted you."

Deborah had no idea what that meant, but it frightened her. "What's adopted?"

"Do you remember when I told you how babies are born?"

Deborah stared at her mother, barely nodding; she had struggled to understand Madeleine's very simplified explanation.

"Well," Madeleine continued, "you had ... you had a different mother you grew up inside of until you were ready to be born. Then I became your mother."

"Where is she?"

Madeleine could hardly hear her own answer. "She died too. You needed a new mother." Madeleine's heart cried out for all the distress battering her daughter at once. "My darling, I wanted so much to be your mother."

Deborah lurched apart from Madeleine. "You mean I'm ... like the war orphans!"

"Yes," Madeleine murmured.

"Is Richard adopted?"

"No, but that doesn't mean we love him any more than you."

"He belongs to you, and I don't!" The inescapable knowledge raked her soul and racked her small body with sobs. Even as Madeleine seized her in a hug to smother physically the misery consuming this child she loved so deeply, a void engulfed Deborah, a black horror isolating her from every other living being, every familiar object in the universe. Someone went shopping and brought home a child, Deborah thought. Much as one chooses a puppy, she had been chosen as a gift for this woman and her husband in London.

"Will you keep me?"

"Oh, God, we love you. You're our daughter." She crushed Deborah in her embrace.

Read more:  BIRTHRIGHT.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Life of a High-Spirited Aristocratic Child

I recently released my novel Birthright, in which I wanted to show how lively. clever and independent my heroine Deborah de Kronengold was even as a five-year-old in the sheltered world of the very rich aristocracy.

Here’s an excerpt:

IT HAS OFTEN BEEN WRITTEN that the Kronengolds are different from other people. On a spring afternoon in 1951, when Deborah de Kronengold was nearing her sixth birthday, she learned she was different from other Kronengolds.

She had always known she was different in one way, of course: her red hair. She yearned to have brown hair like her mother, whom she adored. Her mother appeared thoughtful when Deborah demeaned her own hair color, not happy or indulgent, as she usually seemed when they were alone together. At those moments she would hug Deborah or reach forward impulsively to take her daughter's hand and tell her how fortunate she was to have such beautiful hair. But in the very possessiveness of her grip, Deborah could sense her mother's worry.

A beautiful child with bright blue eyes from which a startling and precocious intelligence shone, Deborah was the only daughter of one of Britain's richest families. Despite such gifts, she had remained an affectionate little girl, sweet and considerate, but she possessed a prodigious store of energy.

From the very first, Nanny Duhamel, a young Frenchwoman hired to watch over Deborah and perfect her French, had found herself unable to cope with Deborah's high spirits and curiosity. "It is the red hair ... that red hair," the harried nursemaid usually grumbled desperately as she raced after Deborah like a white kite the child suddenly yanked here to chase a squirrel or there onto some playground apparatus that brought her to the very rim of danger—and always when the inexperienced young woman least expected it.

Nanny Duhamel breathed a sigh of relief at the end of this particular spring afternoon, when she could finally shepherd Deborah out of Hyde Park through the Park Lane exit in the direction of home. The Frenchwoman considered the day far more successful than most. Deborah had not added a new scrape to the small scabs that covered her knees and elbows like shifting squall clouds, and her hat and dress were still reasonably clean.

The woman and her charge were only a couple of blocks from the house when, without warning, Deborah's face suddenly lit with a smile and she sprinted off. She had caught sight of her older brother, Richard, who had spent the day with his school friends, all out on spring "hols." Following at his back like a square-sailed galleon was his elderly Nanny Stock, too old to take on an energetic new charge like Deborah, but kept on out of obligation by the family. She both protected Richard and propelled him with a subtle dominance the young Frenchwoman admired, but feared she would never master.

Richard was nine, three years older than Deborah. Like his parents, Richard had dark hair and eyes. His skin was pale and his physique very thin, conveying an impression of delicate health. As Deborah approached him, she could already sense that his attitude toward her now would be the sort of tolerant disdain he had increasingly adopted when they were in public, particularly when he was with his friends. "You're a child," he took pains to explain to her at such moments, "a tedious, silly child." The first time, she was too offended to react. The next time she had kicked him in the shins as hard as she could, and had been rewarded with a punch in the arm and then a slammed door between them. The exclusion had hurt far more than the blow.

Deborah fell into step beside Richard and tried to begin a conversation, but all his attention was focused on the yo-yo he snapped down and up ahead of him as he walked, and Deborah was forced to fall silent beside him and watch. He had promised to play with her the night before and refused when he became absorbed in his stamp collection. He had then told her they would play today, and Deborah was eager for his company. She glared at the yo-yo as if at a mortal enemy.

The Kronengold mansion rose like a gray fortress above one entire side of a park-like square in the Mayfair section of London. A black iron fence, like giant hair combs set on their spines, guarded the stone building's periphery. As they neared the front gate, Richard loosened the string around his middle finger, permitting Deborah her opportunity. She ripped the yo-yo out of his hand and raced ahead, the red hair whipping behind her like a cavalry flag. Richard gave chase, but she was too quick, bounding onto the stone pediment and statue at one side of the entrance and then scampering up the iron stanchion beside it to the top. Her hat had blown off, the white stockings had ripped, but Richard could not reach her. Balanced atop the narrow iron beam, feet planted between the pointed spikes, smiling at her advantage over him, she raised the yo-yo above her head.

"Richard, if you climb after me, I'll throw it into the traffic."

Nanny Stock had already gripped Richard's arm, her responsibility seen to.

"Viens ici! Viens ici, je t'en prie!" Nanny Duhamel's face tipped up to Deborah, white with fear. She wanted to run into the house to summon help from one of the male servants, but feared to leave Deborah for an instant.

"Please ... please ... come down," she begged helplessly, her arms bound to her sides, as if with ropes, by the possibility that an impulsive move on her part might cause the child to slip.

Deborah ignored her. "Richard, if I give it back, do you promise to play with me after supper until bedtime?"

"It's no concern of mine what you do with it," he answered. "I have another."

His indifference was infuriating to her after days of it. "You're a liar, Richard Edgar Henri de Kronengold! This one is your favorite."

She drew back her arm and studied his face. His mouth was quivering faintly.

"And we play Family," she pressed.

"Snakes and Ladders," he countered reluctantly.

"Young lady, you are coming down!"

Her father's voice. She looked toward the sound. He and her grandfather were striding toward her; she had not noticed the arrival of the black Rolls limousine that brought Father and Grandfather back from the bank. Grandfather's mansion spread over the next adjacent side of the square, so they occasionally rode home in one car. Her father was tall and strong, quite capable of reaching and lowering her.

"Snakes and Ladders," Deborah swiftly agreed, and bent toward her father. Looping her arms around his neck, she dropped into his arms. "Good afternoon, Father."

Read more: Birthright.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Life In New York City in the Early 1900s

In writing my book, Deeds, I wanted to depict the lives of three generations of the Behr family, beginning with Raphael Behar, who came to New York City in the early 1900s. I undertook a good deal of research to immerse the reader in that world and time.

Here’s an excerpt:

Raphael caught sight of the impossibly tall tower long before he reached Twenty-third Street, and was stunned by it. He hurried toward it. Stopping impatiently at a street corner to let a carriage move past, he counted the floors. Twenty! A slim and elegant wedge twenty stories high! Paris had ornate facades, but no building so modern, so striking as this. This was what he had come to America for.

He stood in front of its entrance, staring upward in awe, blocking pedestrians who hurried by: women whose skirts swirled upward in the drafts caused by the tall building and the men trying to glimpse their ankles.

“Twenty-three skidoo!” a large policeman with a walrus mustache pointed to the street sign on the Twenty-third Street corner jerked and his thumb to indicate Raphael must move on. No ogling the ladies’ ankles in his domain. The man’s accent was as Irish as the teamster’s who had driven Raphael from the pier.

“What is it called, the building?” Raphael asked, bursting with curiosity.

“The Fuller Company Building, but everyone calls it the Flatiron Building.”

“Of what is the building made?”

“Steel.” The policeman was used to the question. “A steel frame.”

Again steel, Raphael observed, like the Eiffel Tower. The Greeks and Romans, the Gothic-cathedral builders, had all erected exquisite structures, but all were earthbound because they lacked the knowledge of building with steel.

When a woman opened the door to leave the building, Raphael noticed the elevator inside the lobby. Steel to gain the height, he reflected, and an elevator because people cannot easily walk up more than maybe four or five floors. He thought, The lessons are all around me if I keep my eyes open.

The signs and clothing changed abruptly when Raphael crossed the Bowery, leaving the Italian and entering the Jewish section. Many women wore ill-fitting wigs and, even in the heat, the men wore skull caps or black derby hats, and their dark suits covered layers of shabby clothing. Pushcarts formed a line along the gutter that slowed pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk to a trickle. Store signs were written both in English and Hebrew letters. But Raphael did not recognize the Hebrew words, until he sounded out the names “Goldstein and Weintraub,” which he recognized as Jewish names from Northern Europe, where Yiddish, not Ladino, was spoken; the Hebrew letters were being employed to write Yiddish. In English the sign declared that Goldstein and Weintraub were tailors.

Such signs covered every storefront, hung from every shop. As Raphael made his way deeper into the Jewish section, the profusion of people and smells became stifling. He had to push his way through. He stopped at a cart with dates and figs among the fruit and okras among the vegetables. The man had a grand mustache and wore a fez. Raphael commented in Ladino on the quality of the foodstuffs. They struck up a short conversation. The man said he was from Smyrna, and that there are more of us here than you might think. But with so many Ashkenazi Jews, I wear a fez so our Sephardim can find my cart.

At Allen Street a train rattled along the elevated right-of-way. Amplified along the dark tunnel formed by the track structure above and grimy buildings with saloons on both sides, the sound crushed down on him. A woman accosted him. He turned the corner and found someone who was able to direct him to the shirt store on Delancey Street.

Read more: Deeds.