Interview with Dennis Palumbo, author of Mirror Image
Posted by Writing PIs on August 17, 2010
“Dennis Palumbo establishes himself as a master story-teller with his first crime novel, Mirror Image. Using his background as a licensed psychotherapist to good advantage, Palumbo infuses his fast-moving, suspenseful story with fascinating texture, interesting characters, and the twists, turns and surprises of a mind-bending mystery. Very impressive.”
~Stephen J. Cannell (writer/creator of The Rockford Files; New York Times best-selling mystery author)
From Colleen, one of your Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes’s author-PIs: I first met Dennis Palumbo over thirty years ago when we toiled together on a Hollywood sitcom (I was the “script girl” and he was a staff writer). Afterward, he continued building a successful career as a Hollywood writer, eventually co-writing the Oscar-nominated film My Favorite Year. After working through a mid-life crisis by living in and trekking through Nepal, Dennis became a licensed psychotherapist specializing in creative issues while writing non-fiction (Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within, articles, blogs) as well as mysteries (From Crime to Crime by TallFellowPress.com and his current release Mirror Image by Poisoned Pen Press, the first in a series featuring psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh police). Thanks to Dennis for virtually sitting down with Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes for this interview!
Book Giveaway: On Sunday, August 22, a name will be picked from everyone who posts a comment–that person will receive an autographed, hardcover copy of Mirror Image. When leaving a comment, be sure to include your email address so you can be easily reached if you’re the lucky winner!
You’ve had a heady string of life experiences and successes…how did you end up writing mysteries?
As a reader, I’ve loved mysteries since my Dad bought me an illustrated collection of Sherlock Holmes stories when I was a kid (I can still smell that crisp hardcover binding!). Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading mysteries and thrillers over the years, especially those of authors capable of blending puzzling stories with rich characters. One of my first published short stories appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and I’ve been writing whodunnits ever since. Though I did publish a novel before (City Wars, Bantam Books), it was a sci-fi thriller. Mirror Image is my first crime novel, as well as the first in a new series set in Pittsburgh, my home town.
You started out performing and writing a stand-up comedy act. This led to Gabe Kaplan asking you to write jokes for him, which led to your writing for the sit-com Welcome Back, Kotter, among other TV writing jobs. If a writer has a funny streak and has an eye on a Hollywood writing career, would you still recommend stand-up comedy as a possible showcase as a writer?
Absolutely, since, as a newcomer, it is always hard to get people in the industry to read your work. In fact, I only did stand-up because I wanted some producer or network exec to see my act and hire me to write for a show. Believe me, I wasn’t a very good comic, though a few of my routines were funny enough to get Gabe’s attention. Though by then I had joined with another (much funnier) writer named Mark Evanier, with whom I went on staff on Kotter as part of a writing team.
In your profession as a psychotherapist specializing in creative issues, you’ve worked with many writers, both unpublished and published. What is one often-heard concern writers have about their profession, and how do you address it?
That question has two prongs to it: in terms of the craft of writing itself, I usually hear from writer patients dealing with writers’ block, procrastination, fear of failure, etc. In terms of the business, there’s the ever-present concerns of making a living, staying viable in a rapidly changing business, getting the opportunity to do the kind of work you really care about. Both these aspects of the writing life are stressful, and, as we work together in treatment, we find they are inevitably entwined with long-standing personal issues.
A fiction writer forwarded this question: “Do you have any advice for surviving and thriving in the totally unpredictable world of writing — where you’re up one day and out the door the next?”
Well, the worst thing you can do is try to predict or latch on to the latest trends. The marketplace is so fickle, it’s always best to write that which moves and excites you, and hope that others agree. Darryl Hickman, a wonderful acting teacher, once said something about the difficulty of breaking in as an actor…and I think it applies equally well to writers. He said, “Keep giving them you, until you is what they want.”
In this month’s review of Mirror Image on Book Bitch (Bookbitch.com), the reviewer applauds the “great main character” Dr. Rinaldi and compares your efforts to Jonathan Kellerman’s. Lovely compliment, and do you agree: Is your style similar to Jonathan Kellerman?
It is a nice compliment, since Kellerman’s books are both well-plotted and enormously successful. However, our writing styles are not much alike. Nor are the stories we tell. Plus, while Daniel Rinaldi is also a consultant with the police, he’s somewhat more tortured than Alex Delaware!
In your article “Taking the Mystery out of Writing Mysteries” you refer to a quote from Michael Connelly (“The best mysteries are about the mystery of character”). Tell us about the mysteries of the protagonist in Mirror Image, Dr. Daniel Rinaldi.
Well, without giving away too much of the story, Daniel Rinaldi’s own struggle to recover from a trauma in his personal life inspires him to treat other victims of violent crime. Add to this his uneasy, somewhat haunted relationship with his late disapproving father, his own quick temper and maverick approach to doing therapy, and you have a recipe for a strong though complicated lead character. I hope!
Thank you for your answers, Dennis, and for offering an autographed, hardcover copy of Mirror Image to a name selected from this week’s comments!
Praise for Mirror Image
“Mirror Image is a rich, complex thriller, built around a sizzling love affair. A compelling read, with surprising twists and characters that leap off the page.”
~Bobby Moresco (Oscar-winning writer/producer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby)
“Mirror Image is a deviously plotted thriller with lots of shocks and surprises you won’t see coming, and a smart, sympathetic hero-narrator who takes you along as he peels back layers of lies and wrong guesses to get closer to the truth.”
~Thomas Perry (Edgar-winning, New York Times best-selling crime novelist)
“Dennis Palumbo’s experience as a psychotherapist hasn’t just helped him make his hero, therapist Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, authentic, human and a man in full, it’s endowed him with the insight to craft a debut thriller filled with action, deduction and romance, expertly paced for maximum suspense.”
~Dick Lochte, award-winning author and critic
“Dennis Palumbo’s novel is stark and disturbing but there’s a humanity running through the core of it that makes this book special. Maybe it’s Palumbo’s dual training – as a writer and as a psychotherapist – that allows him to plumb the depths and bring up not only darkness but those occasional diamonds of light that sparkle and illuminate and make a book worth reading.”
~T. Jefferson Parker (Edgar-winning, New York Times best-selling author of The Renegades and Iron River)
“Mirror Image is a standout mind-bender! A wonderfully constructed novel that has you seeing double — and all through the eyes of an intriguingly fresh character: a psychologist. Dennis Palumbo knows his craft. This guy can write.”
~Ridley Pearson (New York Times best-selling crime author)
“A gripping thriller, chock full of the desired twists and cliffhangers, with the added layer and intriguing access of a therapist narrator/detective. A page turner!”
~Aimee Bender (New York Times best-selling author of An Invisible Sign of My Own)
Mirror Image Synopsis
MIRROR IMAGE, a complex, erotic novel of suspense, is the first in a series of mysteries featuring Dr. Daniel Rinaldi, a psychologist who consults with the Pittsburgh Police. His specialty is treating victims of violent crime—those who’ve survived an armed robbery or kidnapping, but whose traumatic experience still haunts them.
Kevin Merrick, a college student and victim of an armed assault, is one of these people.
A fragile, troubled kid desperate for a role model, a sense of identity, Kevin has begun dressing like Rinaldi, acting like him, mirroring his appearance. Before Daniel has a chance to work this through with his patient, he finds Kevin brutally murdered. Stunned, he and the police suspect that he, not Kevin, had been the intended target.
Feeling responsible, Rinaldi is determined to help find the killer, who’s begun leaving death threats for the psychologist. His journey takes him through a labyrinth of friends and colleagues, any one of whom may be the killer. It also includes an affair with a beautiful, free-spirited Assistant DA with secrets of her own. And when Kevin’s identity as the estranged son of a Bill Gates-like biotech giant is revealed, the investigation of his murder turns into a national story…even as another person turns up dead.
Mirror Image at Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/27hth99
Mirror Image at Poisoned Pen Press: http://tinyurl.com/27tytly