MysteryPeople Q&A with James W. Ziskin

Heart Of Stone is the latest in James Ziskin’s series featuring early 1960s “girl reporter” Ellie Stone. James will be joining his fellow Seventh Street author Mark Pryor at a BookPeople signing this Saturday, August 20th at 6PM. Our Meike Alana got some early questions in.


  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

Meike Alana: The Ellie Stone novels are written in the first person, and you write a very convincing female in her early 20’s. How did you develop that voice?

James W. Ziskin: I try to imagine a fully developed character in Ellie. Her thoughts, aspirations, loves, hates. Her joys and pains. Simply describing what she’s doing from chapter to chapter doesn’t cut it, even if her behavior happens to be believable to the reader. That makes for a cardboard-thin character, flat and, ultimately, uninteresting. Instead, I want to climb inside Ellie’s head and create a fully formed character and, by extension, a voice. So how do I get inside Ellie? I mine those emotions I mentioned above. I imagine how she would feel and react in certain situations. Would she keep quiet, mouth off, or feel defeated? What would she say to a man dismissing her as “just a girl”? What would she do if he patted her rear end? What kind of man would she find attractive? Irresistible? Contemptible? It’s hard to do, of course. If you’re truly going to hang flesh on the bones of your character, be she a woman or a man, you need more than just a physical description and a couple of quirks or mannerisms. You need to empathize with your characters. Understand them, think them through. Make them complex, multidimensional, dense, and deep. Give them weight. And once you’ve done that, the voice will come.

“If you’re truly going to hang flesh on the bones of your character, be she a woman or a man, you need more than just a physical description and a couple of quirks or mannerisms. You need to empathize with your characters. Understand them, think them through. Make them complex, multidimensional, dense, and deep. Give them weight. And once you’ve done that, the voice will come.”


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Beautiful women, French food, and rare books: MysteryPeople reviews THE PARIS LIBRARIAN by Mark Pryor

Come by BookPeople on Saturday, August 20th, at 6 PM, for a panel discussion with two fantastic authors from Seventh Street Books! Mark Pryor will be speaking and signing his latest Hugo Marston novel, The Paris Librarianreviewed below. He’ll be joined by James Ziskin, author of the Ellie Stone series, speaking and signing Heart of Stone. 

  • Post by MysteryPeople Contributor and Character in the Novel Meike Alana

9781633881778The Paris Librarian is the latest installment in Mark Pryor’s series featuring Hugo Marston, the cowboy-boot wearing former FBI profiler from Texas who now heads up security at the American Embassy in Paris. It has something for everyone—booze, guns, action, beautiful women, history, humor, danger, fantastic French food, and BOOKS!  

The novel finds Hugo, an avid collector of rare books, negotiating a potential addition to his collection—his friend Paul Rogers, the director of the American Library, is arranging the sale of some books to raise funds for the library.  Hugo and Paul set up a meeting for the next morning, but when Hugo arrives at the library he finds Paul dead, the victim of an apparent heart attack.  Paul had been inside a locked room so it doesn’t appear that foul play was involved, but Hugo has a tingling in the back of his neck which suggests there may be more at play—and years of experience have proven that tingling is rarely wrong.

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On Hollywood and Hemingway: MysteryPeople Q&A with Shaun Harris

In The Hemingway Thief, the recently released debut crime novel from author Shaun Harris, a writer of popular vampire novels is on the trail of the suitcase containing Hemingway’s original draft of A Movable Feast, with a cast of questionable characters. Our Meike Alana got to ask Shaun some questions about the book and the writing process.

  • Interview by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

“As I started to do some research I realized that I hate Hemingway as both a writer and a man. At the prospect of having to read more of his work and then aping it, I decided to go in a different direction.”

Meike Alana: How did the legend of Hemingway’s lost suitcase become the inspiration for your novel?

Shaun Harris: A number of years back I was watching the movie Wonder Boys for the 8 billionth time and Michael Douglas’s character mentioned the lost suitcase in a throwaway line. I looked it up and thought it was an intriguing idea. At first I went for the obvious idea of having the protagonist find the suitcase and pass it off as his own. As I started to do some research I realized that I hate Hemingway as both a writer and a man. At the prospect of having to read more of his work and then aping it, I decided to go in a different direction. So the idea sat in my brain for a while until I came up with what that direction would be. And that will be answered in a later question.

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MysteryPeople Review: HEART OF STONE by James Ziskin

Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781633881839In James W. Ziskin’s latest Ellie Stone mystery, Heart of Stone, our heroine is enjoying a lazy August holiday in an Adirondack cabin belonging to her aunt. One morning, two men are found dead just a few feet away from a tranquil lake—they appear to have fallen from a treacherous cliff. The police treat the deaths as an unfortunate accident, but for Ellie things don’t quite add up—the two men apparently didn’t know one another, and a station wagon belonging to neither was found a few feet from where the men must have fallen. So why did they die together?

In true Ellie fashion, she sticks her nose where it isn’t wanted—encountering a colorful cast of characters with loose morals, zealous political views, and secret romances. She’s tough, smart, and sassy—and can hold her Scotch with the best of them—but her heart may be at risk when she becomes involved with a fellow vacationer. And as she delves deeper into the mysterious deaths, more than her heart may be in peril. The plot has plenty of convolutions with a supremely satisfying ending.

Ellie is one of my favorite characters in the genre. Her intelligence and fearlessness belie her youth. She’s at once vulnerable yet self-assured, intelligent yet impulsive, liberated yet yearning for a romantic connection. But what really sets Ziskin’s books apart is the poetry of his writing—a linguist by training, he excels at poetic and evocative descriptions of the fascinating characters and the nostalgic 1960’s upstate New York setting. Previous installments in the Ellie Stone series are: Styx & Stone; No Stone Unturned (an Anthony Award nominee for Best Paperback Original); and Stone Cold Dead (a 2016 Left Coast Crime “Lefty” Award nominee for Best World Mystery Novel).

Heart of Stone comes out today! You can find copies on our shelves and via

MysteryPeople Review: A BRILLIANT DEATH by Robin Yocum

Event Staffer Meike Alana reviews Robin Yocum’s new novel, A Brilliant Death

9781633881280Robin Yocum’s new novel, A Brilliant Death, explores the fallout from family secrets too long kept in a small town. For almost two decades, the tale of Amanda Baron’s death in a night-time boating accident has been town legend in Brilliant, Ohio. Presumably, the boat on which she and her mysterious lover were trysting was struck by a coal barge; the boat was destroyed and the bodies of Amanda and her lover were never recovered.

Her son Travis was an infant when his mother died. Now in high school, Travis yearns to know more about the mother he doesn’t remember. His father, town bully “Big Frank” Baron, removed all traces of his late wife from their home and refuses to speak her name. So Travis enlists the help of his best friend Mitch Malone (our narrator) and launches “Project Amanda” to learn the details about his mother’s life and death.

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MysteryPeople Review: THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC by Jennifer R. Kincheloe

secret life of anna blancJennifer R. Kincheloe’s debut historical mystery, The Secret Life of Anna Blancis just out from Seventh Street Books. Below, read event staffer and mystery enthusiast Meike Alana’s review. 

  • Post by Meike Alana

T o all appearances (which are of the utmost importance to most people in her social circle), debutante Anna Blanc, protagonist of Jennifer R. Kincheloe’s debut, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, lacks for nothing.  She and her father, a wealthy influential banker, live in a mansion in the finer part of town with a full staff of servants.  Anna wears exclusive handmade fashions crafted by Vionnet at the House of Doucet, hairpieces made of yak hair, designer shoes and extravagant custom-made hats.

But Anna yearns for a different life altogether—what she really wants to be is a detective like Sherlock Holmes.  She hides true crime novels and police procedurals between the covers of the classic books she that are suitable for a girl of her station.   She dreams of being a member of the police force and helping to solve the crimes she reads about.

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MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: WOMAN WITH A BLUE PENCIL by Gordon McAlpine

  • Post by Molly

woman with a blue pencil

In college, I developed an obsession with the film El Otro Francisco, a multi-layered Marxist retelling of a romantic abolitionist novel, and have looked for years for something as satisfying in its combination of story and critique. I’ve finally found that in our November Pick of the Month – Gordon McAlpine’s latest novel, Woman with a Blue Pencil, out from Seventh Street Books on November 10.  

In the film El Otro Francisco, more easily found in academic articles than on a dvd, three narratives are presented. The first, based on the abolitionist novel Francisco (Cuba’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin), tells the story of two slaves, Francisco and his lady love, both in relatively privileged roles on their plantation. The plantation owner’s son falls in love with Francisco’s lover, leading to tragedy for all. The second narrative reinterprets the first with a Marxist lens – enslaved characters pursue freedom, not romance, and the plantation owner’s son is not motivated by lust, but by greed. A third narrative depicts Francisco‘s author, Anselmo Suárez y Romero, distorting the reality of slavery in order to gain a sympathetic elite audience.

The film uses dialectical materialism – the thesis of the first narrative, the antithesis of the second, and the synthesis of the the third – to retell the novel’s story for a modern audience. Read more about this filmLike El Otro Francisco, the novel is divided into three interwoven parts: a series of letters from an editor in New York to a young Japanese author, interned during WWII; a jingoistic spy novel that follows a Korean detective on the search for Japanese fifth columnists; and a second, sub-novel, following two characters cut out of the interned author’s initial draft, trying to figure out why they no longer exist.

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