Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Introductions are in order!

Top Suspense is proud to introduce our three newest members: Naomi Hirahara, Libby Hellmann and Stephen Gallagher.

Naomi Hirahara is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai mystery series, which features a Japanese American gardener and atomic-bomb survivor who solves crimes. Nominated also for Macavity and Anthony awards, the novels in the series include Summer of the Big Bachi (Book #1), Gasa-Gasa Girl (Book #2), Snakeskin Shamisen (Book #3) and Blood Hina (Book #4). She is at work on the next novel, which will focus on the strawberry industry.

Her crime short stories are featured in Los Angeles Noir, Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, A Hell of a Woman and The Darker Mask. Her book for younger readers, 1001 Cranes, was chosen as an Honor Book for the Youth Literature of the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in 2009. She also contributed a mystery serial, "Heist in Crown City" to an English-language weekly in Japan, Asahi Weekly. Two of her Mas Arai mysteries have been published in Japanese.

Hirahara, born and raised in Southern California, is a former editor of The Rafu Shimpo daily newspaper. She also has produced seven nonfiction books on local horticulture and Asian American history and has worked on exhibitions/multi-media programs at the Visitors' Center of the Manzanar National Historic Site and the Japanese American National Museum. A graduate of Stanford University with a degree in international relations, she served as the chapter president of the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America in 2010.

Her web site is

Naomi wrote the following introduction:

Why I Love Series and Genre Fiction

One of the first fan letters that I received was from a woman in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts.

She wrote, “Mas [the series protagonist] is a curmudgeon but I really miss him.”

Now, I had published a number of nonfiction books in the past – albeit with small presses – but the last statement, “I really miss him,” shocked me.

For how compelling my subjects had been in my nonfiction works, nobody had this kind of visceral and emotional attachment. And then the light bulb went on. A-ha! That’s the beauty of series and genre fiction.

A product of 1970s television, I’ve always gravitated towards episodic stories. I wanted to know, what happens to James Rockford and his dad? I watched reruns of “The Rifleman” after school everyday (most likely because I had a crush on Johnny Crawford). “M*A*S*H,” “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “The Jeffersons” were favorites, along with, of course, any acne-faced teenage girl’s staple – “The Brady Bunch” and “Partridge Family.”

It took me some time to produce my first novel with Mas Arai, an aging Japanese American gardener and atomic bomb survivor. When it was finally picked up by a New York publisher, I wasn’t expecting a request for another one. (Actually it was more than a request – it was a provision in the contract.)

In a recent radio interview, the artist Christo explained that the limitations and bureaucratic requirements imposed on his public art projects define the work itself. In the same way, the twists and turns of the publishing world also establish the rhythm of a mystery series.

So what is the role of e-books, at least for me in this stage of my career? They help to maintain the continuity of a series, especially as bookstores reduce their inventories. And by keeping interest in a series alive, e-books may ironically help sales of physical books on the shelves.

If you’re someone who has to start off with the first in the series, go for Summer of the Big Bachi. You are most likely going to enter a very different kind of world and hopefully, if all goes well, you’ll miss Mas and want to visit him again.

Libby Fischer Hellmann is a transplant from Washington, D.C., where, she says, “When you’re sitting around the dinner table gossiping about the neighbors, you’re talking politics.” Armed with a Masters Degree in Film Production from New York University, and a BA in history from the University of Pennsylvania, she started her career in broadcast news. She began as an assistant film editor at NBC News in New York, but moved back to DC where she worked with Robin McNeil and Jim Lehrer at N-PACT, the public affairs production arm of PBS. When Watergate broke, she was re-trained as an assistant director and helped produce PBS’s night-time broadcasts of the hearings.

In 1978, Hellmann moved to Chicago to work at Burson-Marsteller, the large public relations firm, staying until 1985 when she founded Fischer Hellmann Communications. Currently, when not writing, she conducts speaker training programs in platform speaking, presentation skills, media training, and crisis communications. Additionally, Libby also writes and produces videos.

Her first novel, AN EYE FOR MURDER, which features Ellie Foreman, a video producer and single mother, was released in 2002. Publishers Weekly called it a “masterful blend of politics, history, and suspense,” and it was nominated for several awards. That was followed by three more entries in the series, which Libby describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24.”

A few years later, Libby introduced her second series featuring hard-boiled Chicago PI Georgia Davis, which Chicago Tribune describes as, “a new no-nonsense detective . . . . Tough and smart enough to give even the legendary V.I. Warshawski a run for her money.” There are two books in that series so far: EASY INNOCENCE (2008) and DOUBLEBACK (2009), which was selected as a Great Lakes Booksellers’ Association “2009 Great Read.”

Her 7th novel and current release, SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, (December, 2010) is a standalone thriller that goes back, in part, to the late Sixties in Chicago. Publishers Weekly describes it as “top-rate” and says, “A jazzy fusion of past and present, Hellman's insightful, politically charged whodunit explores a fascinating period in American history.” Libby has also edited a highly acclaimed crime fiction anthology, CHICAGO BLUES (October, 2007). In May, 2010, she published an e-collection of her own short stories called NICE GIRL DOES NOIR. In 2005-2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3,400 plus member organization committed to strengthening the voice of female mystery writers. Hellmann also blogs with “The Outfit Collective” at

TSG: Describe yourself as a writer?

I’m an insecure writer. Always second guessing myself. Always trying to improve. But every once in a while I write a passage that, on reflection, I’m able to say, “Hey, that wasn’t half bad.” I love writing suspense – In fact, it seems to insinuate itself into my work on every page. But I love creating characters too. Particularly those who make unexpected choices. That’s the fun part.

TSG: Your influences?

Like most of us, before I was a writer, I was a reader, and I loved staying up way past the time I should, because I “had to see how it turned out.” That quickly morphed into a love of thrillers, particularly espionage. So I read a lot of LeCarre, Deighton, Ludlum, Follett, Thomas Gifford. After a while, though, they all started to sound the same – ie the world was going to blow up, the hero saved the world, and rode off into the sunset with his girlfriend. So I branched out into general mysteries and crime fiction, because of (at the time) superior characterization.

TSG: Your muses?

That’s a hard one. When I’m having a bad day, I usually turn to whatever I’m reading at the time. Usually, by the time I’ve read 10 pages or so, the solution to whatever problem I was having pops up. It’s magic. Or my subconscious. So I have lots of muses.

TSG: Your first sale? My first sale was a short story called “Dumber Than Dirt.” It was sold to an e-zine that no longer exists, called Blue Murder and published in June, 2000.

TSG: Your biggest, most memorable thrill as a writer?

That’s easy. It involves the writer’s group I’ve been a part of for over 15 years now. But this happened when I was still the newbie in the group. At the time everyone seemed to critique my work. Constantly. I still remember thumbing through the pages I’d read after one group critique, and saying, “I don’t think you guys missed a single line…” At any rate, after a while, I started a new novel and read the first chapter at group. Suddenly, it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. I thought I had screwed up. Royally. When I finished, the person who’d probably been the hardest on me said, “This is wonderful. You found your voice.” Btw, that book became my first published novel, AN EYE FOR MURDER.

Stephen Gallagher is a novelist, screenwriter, and director. He is the author of fourteen novels, including Nightmare, with Angel; Red, Red Robin; and The Spirit Box.

Described by London newspaper The Independent as "the finest British writer of bestselling popular fiction since le Carré ... Gallagher, like le Carré, is a novelist whose themes seem to reflect something of the essence of our times, and a novelist whose skill lies in embedding those themes in accessible plots." According to Arena magazine, "Gallagher has quietly become Britain's finest popular novelist, working a dark seam between horror and the psychological thriller."

The Daily Telegraph wrote, "Since Valley of Lights, he has been refining his own brand of psycho-thriller, with a discomforting knack of charting mental disintegration and a razor-sharp sense of place." Charles de Lint wrote in Mystery Scene magazine, "Gallagher is a master of abnormal psychology and he just gets better and better." Also in Mystery Scene David Mathew added, "never a writer to rest on his laurels, he has written good hard thrillers, some horror genre work (such as Valley of Lights), and a novel (Oktober) that might even qualify as a vague distortion of contemporary world fantasy… in places. You might go as far as to employ that overused phrase sui generis. He is, at any rate, one of the best writers of his generation."

Winner of British Fantasy and International Horror Guild awards, Stephen Gallagher's screen work began with Doctor Who and includes miniseries adaptations of his novels Chimera and Oktober, which he also directed. He created and wrote for both the British and American versions of Eleventh Hour, which starred Patrick Stewart in the UK and Rufus Sewell in Jerry Bruckheimer's CBS remake. His most recent novel is The Kingdom of Bones and his next will be The Suicide Hour, both from Random House.

TSG: Describe yourself as a writer?

A novelist at heart, a screenwriter by trade, always drawn back to prose fiction as the bedrock of all storytelling.

TSG: Your influences?

A mixed bunch of American pulpsters and British postwar thriller writers; I'm particularly drawn to novelists who demolish all barriers between low and high art for the sake of a thrilling tale. I like good contemporary suspense and I also like a great historical, as long as there's a streak of darkness in it.

TSG: Your muses?

The ghosts of Arthur Conan Doyle, James M Cain, Gavin Lyall, and all the dogs I've ever owned, and the woods we've roamed in while I worked out my stories.

TSG: Your first sale?

An adaptation of my first radio serial. Radio drama was the first and most valuable step in my education. Unlimited landscapes with a tight focus on plot and character.

TSG: Your biggest, most memorable thrill as a writer?

Driving down to Santa Monica in October 2008, seeing a giant billboard advertising one of my TV shows while the trail for another played on the car's radio. In a convertible it would have been a perfect moment; in a rented Hyundai it was still pretty good.

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