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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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Blanc, Nero: Author interview

Nero Blanc is the husband and wife writing team, Steve Zettler and Cordelia Frances Biddle. Together they write the Crossword Mysteries series. Steve is also the author of the international thrillers: The Second Man, Double Identity, and Ronin. A native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, he attended Clemson University before joining the United States Marine Corps and serving 17 months combat duty in Vietnam. Prior to his writing career, he was an actor in New York and Los Angeles, appearing in the original production of the Pulitzer Prize winner, A Soldier's Play, as well as the daytime and prime-time dramas Columbo, Falcon Crest, Divorce Court & One Life to Live.

Cordelia's other works include the historical drama Beneath the Wind (Simon and Schuster, 1993), Murder at San Simeon (Scribner, 1996) and Caring for Your Cherished Possessions (Crown, 1989). She has contributed to Town and Country, W, and Hemispheres. As a stage actress, she co-starred in Albert Innaurato's Gemini, directed by Broadway's Jerry Zaks. She also appeared in the daytime drama One Life To Live. She is a native Philadelphian and descendant of Nicholas Biddle, founder of the Second Bank of the United States.

Visit the authors' web site at www.CrosswordMysteries.com or contact them at neroblanc@CrosswordMysteries.com.

 

1. Can you summarize your Crossword Puzzle Mysteries series for our readers?

The series follows the criminal investigations of crossword editor and amateur sleuth Annabella Graham - called Belle because she doesn't like to be teased about being Anna-gram - and her P.I. husband, Rosco Polycrates. The couple lives in the fictional coastal city of Newcastle, Mass.

It may seem unusual that homicides, abductions, extortion plots, etc. might revolve around crossword puzzles, but we've found they're wonderful tools that allow witnesses to reveal information without endangering their true identities. OR, conversely, for culprits to play mind games in order to throw our lexical team off the scent.

As authors, we enjoy playing with language in the midst of all that murderous mayhem - or punning our way through sinister shenanigans.

2. The most recent book published in the series was Anatomy of a Crossword. Are you working on a new book now? When can we next read about Belle and Rosco?

WRAPPED UP IN CROSSWORDS is this year's holiday tale. Perhaps, we should amend that to "tail" as Rosco and Belle's canine companions, Kit and Gabby, have starring roles. We also just finished ANOTHER WORD FOR murder, which debuts in July 2005, and are beginning to discuss a suspense novel for July 2006. Whew!!!

3. You've both published books separately under your real names. Are either of you working on any independent books at the moment?

Indeed, we are. Cordelia is completing a dark tale of serial murders set in Philadelphia during 1842; Steve's novel is about a chance meeting between two Vietnam veterans in 1979 in Hawaii.

4. I would like to know more about how you handle the logistics of team writing. To me it sounds like a recipe for divorce or violence, but you've obviously made a success of it. How do you divide the writerly responsibilities?

How do we write without stabbing each other with a pair of ball-point pens? That's a good question. What is required is talk - lots of it - as well as a good deal of honest and patient listening. We were actors before becoming authors, and we enjoy and make good use of the collaborative process. When things get dicey - and they can - we find ourselves analyzing our difficulties as if we were "reading" characters in a play. It also helps to have two protagonists who have two very different points of view. It might be impossible if we were both trying to get into the head of a single character at the same time! Humor also helps, and we love tossing surprises into our manuscripts in order to make each other laugh.

The logistics for our particular form of co-authorship are simple, although they can also be time-consuming. After discussing the intricacies of two or more chapters, each of us takes one and writes through to the end; then we exchange computer files and rewrite each other's work, then flip diskettes and tackle the entire project again! Hopefully, with every edit, we build on and improve what we've already created.

So far, so good. The downside, though, is NEVER being able to leave work behind. The last thing at night, and the first thing in the morning is: "Maybe the crossword shouldn't be found beneath the body..." etc.

5. How do each of you go about the business of writing? Do you use computers, typewriters, write longhand?

Computers. Otherwise we couldn't exchange files. 2 computers set up in 2 parts of the house, so we don't have to listen to each other pecking away - or not. When we're in outline mode, we revert to longhand, which allows free-association and diagrams. We each keep a personal notebook with queries and theories.

6. How much of a book's plot do you figure out prior to writing it? And if you do outline your books ahead of time, how exactly do you do it?

We need to create a strong outline, and that takes a sizeable chunk of time and plenty of conversation. But even after all of our meticulous plotting, we're liable to abruptly change directions as we did in TWO DOWN when we were inspired to do an entire switcheroo.

7. In Anatomy of a Crossword your main character, Belle Graham, goes to Hollywood to serve as a technical advisor on a crossword-related made-for-TV movie. I would think that your series would lend itself well to a television series, a MacMillan and Wife for the new millennium, with crosswords. Has there in fact been any interest in adapting your books for television?

Rumors, so far. Nothing "inked". We think the series would make great TV fare, too. We've made on-screen crosswords for television interviews, and they always get a great response. We've been told that forty million Americans are puzzle fiends, and we've just gotten word that our books will be appearing in Brazil... Maybe lexicographomaniacs (people who are crazy about crosswords) are not such a secret society, after all.

8. Do you intend to take your characters on the road again in any upcoming books?

Next year, probably not. But who knows about the future? It's fun to stay fluid, but we like our secondary characters too much to leave them behind. In the case of ANATOMY OF A CROSSWORD, having actors play our favorite denizens of Newcastle, Mass, wasn't quite the same for us as spending time with the real folk. Or, wait a minute, everyone in our novels is fictional.... When you're writing a series, you start to believe that all your characters are real.

9. If you were to ask me what television programs I would want to have available to watch while stranded on a desert island, my first answer, without hesitation, would be Columbo. Steve, you, as it turns out, had a role in one of the "new" Columbo episodes, Columbo Goes to the Guillotine (1989). What was the experience like?

The entire cast and crew of the "New" Columbo series were great people to work with. I also had the opportunity many years ago of performing in a play at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago while Peter Falk performed in another space in the same theatre. He's a very gracious talent. I've been lucky enough to have worked with some major stars & even Academy Award winners, and to a person, all have been a treat to know. Most actors are hard working dedicated professionals, and all seem to have a great commitment to their families and country.

10. Do either of you want to do any more acting?

Steve has. And he was dynamite in a very demanding role. (Cordelia wrote this.) Unfortunately, once we're committed to a book, we need to stay focused, so it becomes a matter of time constraints. During the run of a play, your entire concentration is on the character you're portraying. You live with that person 24/7. Short answer: we miss the stage, miss the excitement of interacting with an audience, but as long as we're writing novels, no.

11. You construct the crossword puzzles that appear in the Crossword Puzzle Mysteries. Do you work together on the puzzles? Do the requirements of the puzzle--what words you find end up fitting in the grid--ever influence the course of your stories?

Steve is the crossword constructor; Cordelia helps with clues and references. Although some readers don't complete the puzzles - or skip to the answers in the back of the books - we've found that creating each crossword is integral to how we view plot development. The not-so-simple act of building a puzzle always inspires us to move in a new direction. Steve is adept at step-quotes, a quotation or message that runs through a crossword; those hidden references are wonderful stimuli for the imagination.

12. Do you spend a lot of time solving crosswords as well as creating them?

We're puzzle addicts - which is how the series began. Like all crossword aficionados, we get frustrated with clues (or maybe, with ourselves); and that's what inspired the first novel: the desire to wreak vengeance on a particularly clever crossword editor....

13. I am aware of one other crossword puzzle mystery series, the Puzzle Lady books by Parnell Hall, whose first book in the series I believe came out the same year as your first. Have you had any contact with Mr. Parnell, given that you're all together in the business of supplying mysteries to puzzle fanatics? (The situation has all the makings of another Columbo episode--rival writers of crossword-themed mysteries find that the mystery section of the local bookstore is just too small for all of them....)

Hmm.... Puzzle pencils at twenty paces?

14. On your web site you say that you have auctioned off fictional characters in support of charity. What does it mean to auction off a character?

We feel very fortunate to be able to write full-time: and we like to support favorite charities with our earnings: a social services agency here in Philadelphia, the SPCA, a literacy program, the Alzheimer's Foundation, among others.

What a charitable organization auctions is the ability to choose a name in the latest Nero. The charity reaps the financial benefits; and we then substitute the winning bidder's real name for a fictional character in our newest work-in-progess.

Often that identity - again, word association - considerably alters the character. A case in point was THE CROSSWORD CONNECTION when a blue-collar construction worker ended up with a patrician and old-school name. We were forced to reinvent our potential criminal.

Which brings up the important point that we need to make clear that we write murder mysteries; most of the folks who appear in our novels are suspicious types....

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