by Marilyn Meredith
& Pat Browning
Marilyn Meredith had the pleasure recently of interviewing mystery author Dennis Palumbo. After the interview is a review of his first mystery novel, Mirror Image, by Pat Browning and details on how to enter for a chance to win a copy of this book.
Marilyn: Hi Dennis, this is exciting for me because I definitely recognize your name and already know some of your accomplishments. However, the readers of the magazine might not know. I read the review by Mike Orenduff and I am impressed and eager to read the book. Let’s begin the interview by telling me about your background beginning with where your grew up.
DENNIS: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. I also went to the University of Pittsburgh, so I stayed pretty local until I graduated from college. Then, after a few years as an advertising copywriter in the Midwest, I moved to Los Angeles to become a TV and film writer.
Marilyn: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
DENNIS: I remember always loving to write, even as a teenager. Mostly short stories. Then, at Pitt, I wrote articles for the school paper. Though while at college I planned to be a novelist, the few years spent writing TV commercials for an ad agency led to my interest in television and film. Next thing I knew, I’d packed up the car and driven west to seek my fortune in Hollywood.
Marilyn: Who gave you your first break? How did it come about?
DENNIS: No question, I was extremely lucky. I’d begun writing jokes for comedian and TV star Gabe Kaplan, who went on the road doing stand-up during the hiatus from his TV series, Welcome Back, Kotter. By this time, I was trying to break into TV series writing, working with my then-partner, Mark Evanier. Because I knew Gabe from our time on the road together, Mark and I ended up being hired as staff writers for Kotter. And that’s how I got started in TV.
Years later, now working as a solo screenwriter, luck came my way again. Peter O’Toole had just been nominated for an Oscar for his role in the film The Stunt Man, which meant he was “bankable” to MGM. Which meant they agreed to cast him as Alan Swann in My Favorite Year. A nice synchronicity, since before getting O’Toole for the role, the script had languished in “development hell” for a number of years!
Marilyn: Where did you get the idea for Mirror Image?
DENNIS: As you know, I retired from screenwriting to become a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. Though I never stopped writing prose, particularly mystery short stories. When I was planning my first crime novel, Mirror Image, I knew only three things: I wanted it to be the beginning of a series, I wanted the hero to be a therapist, and I wanted to set the series in my home town of Pittsburgh. In terms of the story and characters for the novel, I drew on my experiences working as an intern in both a private psychiatric facility and a low-fee family clinic, as well as my twenty years’ experience in private practice. Though the characters and situations are completely fictional, the material is very much grounded in reality.
Marilyn: Do any of the characters have a resemblance to anyone alive or dead?
DENNIS: Yes and no. (How’s that for an ambiguous answer?) As I said, though all the characters are fictional, many of the personal traits, opinions and backgrounds described in the novel have some basis in fact. One character in particular, Noah Frye—Daniel Rinaldi’s best friend—is a witty, wise and charismatic paranoid schizophrenic, based on an actual patient I knew when I worked at the psychiatric hospital. However, even in this case, practically all the biographical and descriptive details have been changed.
Marilyn: Did the fact that you already had so many writing credits help finding a publisher for this book?
DENNIS: I wish! Given the state of publishing today, finding a publisher for a new novelist isn’t easy. Though I’d published one novel before (City Wars, Bantam Books), it was a sci-fi thriller…and long out of print. Most of my known writing credits were in TV and film, so that didn’t help, either. Again, I have to point to my good luck on this score: my agent gave the manuscript to Poisoned Pen Press and they liked it. They’re a great house, really dedicated to publishing good mystery fiction. I’m grateful to be there, and for their ongoing support of my work.
Marilyn: What kind of things are you doing to help promote your book?
DENNIS: The usual, I guess. I try to get the book reviewed, in print and elsewhere, scramble to get interviews on radio and TV, appear regularly at writing conferences, etc. I’m also trying to get up to speed on using the Internet: I have a website, I blog for the Huffington Post, give interviews like this on mystery-oriented sites. I must say, I really admire those authors who hustle like mad to promote their books. Though as a therapist with a full practice, the time I have available to me to promote my writing work is somewhat limited.
Marilyn: When you aren’t writing, what kinds of things do you do for fun?
DENNIS: Play chess and video games with my teenage son (who routinely beats me at both). I also like hiking in and around Southern California. And, of course, I love to read.
Marilyn: Have you any advice for aspiring writers who might read this interview?
DENNIS: I guess the best advice I can give—other than to encourage them to write every chance they get—is to trust themselves. Rather than follow trends, or try to ape what’s on the best-seller lists, I truly believe writers should write their own stories, their own truth, from the depth of their own feelings, beliefs and experiences. As Ray Bradbury said, “There is only one type of story in the world—your story.”
And in terms of sticking with it, continuing to write in the face of frequent disappointment and rejection, the best advice I ever got was from my friend, actor and director Darryl Hickman, who said, “Keep giving them you, until you is what they want.” I also like something that pro golfer Ben Hogan once said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Marilyn: Thank you so much for answering my questions and giving some insight into Dennis Palumbo.
DENNIS: Thank you, Marilyn. It was my pleasure.
You can learn more about Dennis on his website.
Mirror Image by Dennis Palumbo
Review by Pat Browning
“Shame is a deep well.” The opening sentence is a clue that the reader is in for a harrowing ride. Mirror Image is dark, but explorations of the human heart and mind often are, and I liked the book in spite of the occasional gore. A scene where a cornered mental patient ingests rat poison and jumps out of a warehouse window is especially nasty, but good writing lessens the urp factor.
The author is a practicing psychotherapist, but his earlier success as a Hollywood screenwriter shows in his sharp dialogue and the skillful way he moves the action along.
Daniel Rinaldi, the protagonist, is a former amateur boxer, now a clinical psychologist who acts as a consultant for the Pittsburgh police department. He specializes in treating victims of violent crime.
Rinaldi’s latest client, Kevin, bonds with him to the extent that he wants to be Rinaldi. At the close of their session he picks up Rinaldi’s jacket instead of his own, whether by accident or on purpose we don’t know. When Rinaldi finds Kevin’s body in the parking lot the cops immediately peg the killing as a case of mistaken identity. Was Rinaldi the intended victim?
We get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on among cops, psychologists and psychiatrists, all with their own agendas as they try to catch a killer who apparently killed the wrong person.
When it turns out that Kevin is not just some poor drifting kid but the son of a wealthy, powerful and perverted founder of a genetic research company, old secrets and scandals rear their ugly heads. Everyone, including Rinaldi, is a suspect in Kevin’s murder. The investigation becomes a revolving door, with Rinaldi’s life in danger and the cops tailing his every move.
Rinaldi is a stand-up guy who feels real compassion for his patients. His philosophy: “There are no miracles. Just the hope, in the end, of more good days than bad. Sometimes, that has to be enough.”
Plowing right on through bureaucratic red tape and political roadblocks to find Kevin’s killer, he runs into one surprise after another until he gets the biggest surprise of all in an ending I certainly didn’t see coming.
I read this book in one sitting. It’s a great story, profanity laced, with colorful characters and a sex scene that steamed up my glasses. In the end it’s not so much about murder and sexual perversion as it is about plain old-fashioned greed and corruption in high places. It’s not a book you’d give to your maiden aunt to read. Then again, you never know.
Check out a short story by Dennis in this issue called The Patron Saint.
To enter to win a copy of Mirror Image, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Mirror”, or comment on this article. U.S. residents only please. A winner will be chosen next Saturday, May 28.