In anticipation of her upcoming appearance on the Crime Cafe podcast, lawyer and mystery author V.S. Kemanis is my guest blogger. And, per the usual procedure, she’s holding a book giveaway.
It’s a genuine thrill to shine the spotlight on other authors who write legal mysteries. Not that I’m biased. Much. 🙂
In any case, I’ll let our guest blogger take it from here!
I’m pleased to join Debbi Mack on Crime Cafe to talk about the Dana Hargrove novels. With the fifth novel, Seven Shadows, scheduled for release on January 28, 2020, it’s a good time to reflect on how these novels came into being.
Interestingly, the year 2020 reminds me of my first attempt at novel writing. Does anyone here remember the Turner Tomorrow Fellowship Award? In 1989, Ted Turner offered a cool half million dollars and a publishing contract for a novel set in the near future on the theme of “creative and positive solutions to global problems.” Who wouldn’t take a stab at a prize like that? My entry, entitled Perfect Vision, was set in 2020 (ha ha, you get it). The award, announced in 1991, went to Daniel Quinn for Ishmael, and Perfect Vision ended up in my trashcan. I don’t remember what it was about.
Although my first novel didn’t fare well, I had better luck in the 1980s with short stories, a form that was easier to squeeze into the cracks of my demanding legal career in New York’s criminal justice system. City life and criminal cases were providing plenty of material to ignite my imagination, but free time to write was limited. I didn’t attempt a novel again until the mid-90s, when I took a long break from the law for more time with my two young daughters. It was then that my third baby was born. Dana Hargrove.
At that point, I had served five years with the Manhattan District Attorney and five years with the New York State Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF). These experiences mixed to suggest the story in my first novel, Thursday’s List. At OCTF, I’d investigated the money laundering schemes of a Colombian narcotics cartel and developed a case to forfeit the ill-gotten gains in the many forms they took. Piles of street cash from cocaine sales flowed into banks and flowed out again into brokerage accounts, corporations, and tangible property. In Thursday’s List, Dana Hargrove is a 26-year-old rookie prosecutor, the junior member of a team investigating cartel money laundering in 1988. I drew on my earliest experiences as a fledgling assistant district attorney in Manhattan to depict Dana’s professional life. She’s smart and capable but also inexperienced and insecure. In addition to these challenges, she’s caught in the vise of an ethical dilemma, forced to make a seemingly impossible choice between her loyalties to friends and her employer.
My first draft of Thursday’s List landed in a drawer; I didn’t revisit it for years. After a big revamp and several edits, the novel was published in 2012. I liked Dana’s character so much that I wanted to write about her again. At the time, I was working for the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in Brooklyn—the busiest appellate court in the country—and my head was jammed with interesting cases and plot ideas. But to get Dana involved in my fictional cases, she needed more experience! I decided to leave her rookie days behind and write standalones, set several years apart, placing Dana at different stages of her personal life and career. The next four novels are set in these years: Homicide Chart (1994), Forsaken Oath (2001), Deep Zero (2009), and Seven Shadows (2015). The sixth and final story will take place in the year of its release, 2022, bringing us up to date.
My novels have a few common thematic threads. Of great interest to me are the contrasting professional responsibilities of prosecutors and defense attorneys; every Dana Hargrove story involves knotty ethical dilemmas in high-stakes criminal cases. Also, in my life, the greatest challenge has been to maintain a healthy balance between the personal and the professional. In each novel, Dana juggles her responsibilities to family and friends against the demands of her high-powered professional career. Often, the collision of family and career takes a dangerous turn, threatening one sphere of Dana’s life or the other.
In addition to novels, I love writing short stories on wide-ranging themes, and 2019 was a great year for that. My fifth collection, Your Pick: Short Stories, won the Eric Hoffer Award for best story collection, and three new stories appeared in these publications: “Dzintra’s Tale” in the July/August 2019 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Sucker Punch” in the anthology The Best Laid Plans, and “No Outlet” in the anthology Me Too Short Stories. If you’re a short story aficionado, check them out.
Giveaway! With the upcoming release of Seven Shadows, a number comes to mind. I’m offering seven copies of the first Dana Hargrove novel, Thursday’s List. To enter, send me the message “Thursday’s List please!” through the contact page on my website. The first six people to contact me will receive e-book copies of Thursday’s List by e-mail attachment. The seventh person to contact me will receive an author-signed paperback copy of Thursday’s List by snail mail. I’ll respond to the first seven entries with a request for details enabling me to send the books to you.
Good luck, and thanks for reading!
Award-winning author V.S. Kemanis has enjoyed an exciting and varied career in the law and the arts. As an attorney, she has been a criminal prosecutor for county and state agencies, argued criminal appeals for the prosecution and defense, conducted complex civil litigation, and worked for appellate judges and courts, most recently as a supervising editor of appellate decisions. Ms. Kemanis is also an accomplished dancer of classical and contemporary styles and has performed, taught, and choreographed in California, Colorado, and New York.
Short fiction by Ms. Kemanis has been widely published in literary journals, anthologies, and magazines such as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and The Crooked Road Volume 3, among others. Her award-winning stories are collected in five volumes, including Your Pick: Selected Stories, winner of the 2019 Eric Hoffer Award for best story collection. Her novels of legal suspense feature prosecutor Dana Hargrove who, like the author, juggles family life with a high-powered professional career in criminal justice. Ms. Kemanis is currently a board member of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America.