Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Rich Zahradnik, Guest Blogger

Let's talk about Rich Zahradnik's book, Lights Out Summer, before I discuss his guest blog.

Lights Out Summer (Camel Press; October 1, 2017)

In March 1977, ballistics link murders going back six months to the same Charter Arms Bulldog .44. A serial killer, Son of Sam, is on the loose. But Coleridge Taylor can't compete with the armies of reporters fighting New York's tabloid war--only rewrite what they get. 

Constantly on the lookout for victims who need their stories told, he uncovers other killings being ignored because of the media circus. He goes after one, the story of a young black woman gunned down in her apartment building the same night Son of Sam struck elsewhere in Queens.

The story entangles Taylor with a wealthy Park Avenue family at war with itself. Just as he's closing in on the killer and his scoop, the July 13-14 blackout sends New York into a 24-hour orgy of looting and destruction. Taylor and his PI girlfriend Samantha Callahan head out into the darkness, where a steamy night of mob violence awaits them.

In the midst of the chaos, a suspect in Taylor's story goes missing. Desperate, he races to a confrontation that will either break the story--or Taylor.

Rich Zahradnik was originally going to write about libraries. And, he did. But, he also touches on a timely, important topic. Thank you, Rich.

Rich Zahradnik is the award-winning author of the critically acclaimed Coleridge Taylor Mystery series (Last WordsDrop Dead PunkA Black SailLights Out Summer).

The first two books in the series were shortlisted or won awards in the three major competitions for books from independent publishers. Drop Dead Punk won the gold medal for mystery eBook in the 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards. It was also named a finalist in the mystery category of the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Last Words won the bronze medal for mystery/thriller eBook in the 2015 IPPYs and honorable mention for mystery in the 2015 Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Awards.

Zahradnik was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter.

Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where he writes fiction and teaches kids around the New York area how to write news stories and publish newspapers.

For more information, go to richzahradnik.com.

I was a journalist for 27 years. Coleridge Taylor, my protagonist in four books including the latest, Lights Out Summer, is a journalist. That leads to inevitable questions. “How much is he like you? Does his career match yours?” There are more differences than similarities, though there are some of the latter, as he could only come out of my experiences. Taylor is a much better reporter than I ever was. I wandered around the news business, trying lots of different things, curious about how newspapers, magazines and websites worked. Taylor is modeled on reporters I met along the way. He has his eyes on one thing: the story he’s after. He’s close to myopic in this. It’s his mission to report on the lives of victims and find out why they were killed and who did it. In many ways, I made him the reporter I thought I should have been. That doesn’t make him ideal—or an idealist. Such single-minded drive can be off putting. And dangerous to Taylor and the small group of people close to him.

I decided I was going to be journalist in the third year of high school. This was about the same time I learned of the McCarthy era witch-hunts, the blacklisting, the lives and careers destroyed. I became fascinated with how Senator Joseph McCarthy used lies to destroy lives. How America could be possessed with a fear that spread like a virus. And how the press seemed unable for much of the period to do anything to counter McCarthy’s lies with the facts.

My fascination, driven by nothing I was being taught in school, sent me to the newly opened Museum of Radio and Television (now the Museum of Broadcasting) in New York. I watched Edward R. Murrow’s surgical dissection of McCarthy’s charges on Murrow’s show “See It Now.” The broadcasting great brought facts to bear to expose the senator for the fraud he was. Murrow’s broadcast is credited, in part, with bringing down McCarthy.

I left high school for college in Washington, D.C., where I was pretty quickly assigned a research paper. I pretty quickly chose McCarthy and the press as my topic. I remained fascinated with journalism’s failure, and then success right at the end, at taking on a bully of national scale. I could have researched the paper at my university’s library. No doubt, they would have had what I needed. But I was in Washington. I had the Library of Congress up the mall behind the Capitol. The Library. Of. Congress. I was going big time, indulging a fancy, I must admit, as well as my curiosity about what it was like to use the nation’s great library for a real project (rather than to take a tour).

My hazy memory tells me I had to figure out something other than the Dewey decimal system. I might be wrong there. I filled out little paper slips. Waited, sitting at my assigned desk in that glorious reading room, in that building with all the books ever printed (well, ever printed and copyrighted in the U.S.). To me, a palace. I wasn’t a book writer then, but I was a big book reader. My materials were found somewhere in the depths of the library and delivered to me. I read and took notes. Learned why the press had stumbled when it came to going after McCarthy’s big lie—that there were communists everywhere in American society. It was because they had to chase all his little lies—there’s ten over there in that government department, fifteen over here. Getting past all the smoke took, did take, hard work to get at the hard facts.

Though I’m not Taylor, I did chase a good many stories of all shapes and sizes in my career, some that officials or executives didn’t want reported. The lessons from my McCarthy research became core to my work as a journalist. Get the facts. Stay focused on the big picture, not the sideshow.

No surprise, facts are a kind of religion for Taylor. If he gets the facts, he can figure out a crime. He isn’t much for quoting historical figures, but he has memorized one thing John Adams said. “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

Would Taylor go to the Library of Congress in pursuit of a story? He’d go anywhere, though for him (unlike me) not for the glory of the building, but the chance of finding a key detail. (The Library has a connection with the most important investigative story of the last century. Woodward and Bernstein plowed through file cards there in their pursuit of a lead in the Watergate investigation. The scene is in the book and the movie. That’s another story, and perhaps another reason I went up there in 1979.)

Taylor well understands the big lie, for it is the tool of all murderers. The villain will use any and all sorts of little lies to distract from the biggest one of all—that he or she didn’t do the killing. 


Kay said...

How very interesting! Thanks, Rich, for doing this guest post for Lesa. I found it quite fascinating (plus the Library of Congress - catnip to a former library staff member!). I'll be looking for your books and seeing if I can meeting Coleridge Taylor.

Lesa said...

Right with you on that catnip, Kay.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Yes, interesting. We were fortunate enough to be in England during the two New York blackouts that happened in the summer, in 1977 (British tabloid headline was "New York in Chaos") and 2003.

Lesa said...

So, the next time you go to England, Jeff, New York will probably have a blackout?

Rich Zahradnik said...

Thanks everyone for the comments...I'll be stopping back to see if there are questions or additional comments. --Rich