Guest Post: Charles Salzberg – CANARY IN THE COAL MINE

Good day, book people. I’m a curious reader. I often wonder how publishing companies or authors come up with book covers. Who decided that illustrated (or as I like to call them, cartoon covers) were the way to go with some genres? How does the author choose the perfect name for each character? Who comes up with the title and what’s that process like? See, told you…curious! Fortunately, most authors will explain the inner workings of their minds and writing processes. Today, we’re fortunate enough to have Charles Salzberg, author of Canary in the Coal Mine return for a visit and he’ll be sharing his process for titling his books. I hope you’ll enjoy what he has to say, add Canary in the Coal Mine to your never-ending TBR list, and follow the tour to learn more about this book and author. Thank you, Mr. Salzberg, for taking the time to come back and share your insights into titling a book, I’ll now turn the blog over to you.

A Rose By Any Other Name
Charles Salzberg


Every book requires a title. Sounds easy, right?

Not so fast. For me, titles are particularly difficult. On occasion, they come easy. But that occasion is very rare. Sometimes, I’m lucky and it comes to me before I start writing a book. Other times, it doesn’t come till I’m halfway into it. And still others, even when the book is finished, I’m not satisfied with the title.

Titles are a tricky thing because in many instances the title is essential because it’s what first appeals (or doesn’t) to prospective readers.

Years ago, I got an opportunity to meet one of my writing heroes, Bruce Jay Friedman. I first found Friedman’s work when I read what I consider his comic masterpiece, Stern, which came out about the same time as another favorite of mine, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. Friedman eventually made it out to Hollywood where he wrote screenplays like Splash. I got a chance to chat with him about writing and the subject of titles came up, and he told me this story.

In the 1950s and early ’60s, many writers who came to New York, found themselves working at the so-called men’s magazines—don’t think Esquire, think much lower-brow than that. Friedman wound up editing one of those magazines and one of his writers was a fellow named Mario Puzo. At the time, Puzo was working on a novel about the Mafia. When he finished, he went to his friend (and boss) Friedman and asked him what he thought of the title of his new work: The Godfather. Friedman thought a moment, then shook his head and said, “No. I don’t think so. Too domestic.”

Obviously, Puzo ignored his advice.

Several years ago, I had a student Joel, who was writing a memoir about his experience in Israel. He grew up in Chicago, and for some reason, he idolized the Israeli army—it was probably because of the rescue they pulled off in Entebbe. Anyway, he eventually moved to New York City to make it as a comedian and he acquired an Israeli girlfriend. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but he decided to move to Israel. Once there, he tried to join the Israeli army. At first, he was turned down, because although he was Jewish, his mother had converted to the Jewish faith. Once it was established that she was converted by an orthodox rabbi, he was allowed to join. Alas, the Israeli army he idolized as a kid wasn’t the army he was experiencing. He was 25-years old, but most of his fellow soldiers were 18 or 19 and, think Keystone Kops, didn’t know their right from their left.

Ultimately, he made it through basic training and he was assigned to a tank parked on the Lebanese border. Their job was to look for Hezbollah, their arch enemies. There were three people in the tank. He was the spotter, there was a driver, and then there was the fellow who actually fired their artillery. One night, wearing night goggles, Joel spotted something moving in the distance. He yelled out, “Hezbollah!” and the fellow manning the artillery cranked it up. But before he could fire, Joel saw the figure sit down and start scratching itself. It wasn’t a Hezbollah, but a dog! “Stop! It’s a dog,” he screamed, but it was too late. The tank fired and I’m assuming that poor dog was obliterated.

Fast forward years later and Joel finished his memoir of those years and called it, The Unluckiest Dog in Lebanon, which I think was a great title. He got a publishing contract and one day in class he said to me, “they’re changing the title.” “Why,” I asked. “Because they say people will think it’s a book about dogs.” “You should only be so lucky, Joel,” I said. “Because dog books sell very well.” The title they changed it to was The 188th Crybaby Brigade, which I think is nowhere near as good.

My own history with titles is spotty. Sometimes, they come easily, sometimes not. Several years ago, I was working on a novel based on a true crime. A man murdered his wife, three kids, mother, and the family dog and then disappeared into thin air. I was having trouble finding a title but finally settled on Skin Deep. It was a title I was never happy with because it sounded to me like a bad porn film title. The book was finished and I was walking down the street, listening to my iPod when a Tom Waits song called Keep the “Devil in the Hole.” I stopped in my tracks. That’s how Devil in the Hole was born, which I think is a far better title.

Once my first novel, Swann’s Last Song, came out and I decided to make it into a series, I knew that all I had to do was somehow come up with something that had Swann in the title. Hence, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair, Swann’s Down, and Swann’s Way Out. After five in the series, I ran out of catchy titles using the word Swann, and so I shut down the series.

The title of my novel, Second Story Man, about a master burglar, came pretty easily. I liked it because not only is that what burglars are often called, but also because the book is told by three different characters, including the thief, thereby alluding to the “story” in the title.

My latest novel is Canary in the Coal Mine and unlike others, this one came pretty easily, because on the first page the protagonist, Pete Fortunato, wakes up with a bad taste in his mouth. This usually portends something bad which for me immediately translated into “canary in the coal mine” (miners used to send a canary into the mine shafts to make sure there were no poisonous gases. If the canary died, they knew not to go down there until it was cleaned up.)

On the other hand, I’m almost 20,000 words into my next novel and I still don’t have a title I’m happy with. ♦

Canary In the Coal Mine

by Charles Salzberg

April 18 – May 13, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Canary In the Coal Mine by Charles Salzberg

PI Pete Fortunato, half-Italian, half-Jewish, who suffers from anger management issues and insomnia, wakes up one morning with a bad taste in his mouth. This is never a good sign. Working out of a friend’s downtown real estate office, Fortunato, who spent a mysteriously short, forgettable stint as a cop in a small upstate New York town, lives from paycheck to paycheck. So, when a beautiful woman wants to hire him to find her husband, he doesn’t hesitate to say yes. Within a day, Fortunato finds the husband in the apartment of his client’s young, stud lover. He’s been shot once in the head. Case closed. But when his client’s check bounces, and a couple of Albanian gangsters show up outside his building and kidnap him, hoping he’ll lead them to a large sum of money supposedly stolen by the dead man, he begins to realize there’s a good chance he’s been set up to take the fall for the murder and the theft of the money.

In an attempt to get himself out of a jam, Fortunato winds up on a wild ride that takes him down to Texas where he searches for his client’s lover who he suspects has the money and holds the key to solving the murder.

Praise for Canary In the Coal Mine:

“Salzberg has hit it out of the park. Love the writing style, and the story really draws you in. As with Salzberg’s prior works, he has a knack for making his heroes real, which makes their jeopardy real, too. So, say hello to Pete Fortunato, a modern PI who thinks on his feet and has moves that read like the noir version of Midnight Run.”
—Tom Straw, author of the Richard Castle series (from the ABC show) and Buzz Killer

“Salzberg writes hardboiled prose from a gritty stream of conscious. Peter Fortunato is an old school PI to be reckoned with.”
—Sam Wiebe, award-winning author of Invisible Dead and Never Going Back

“Charles Salzberg’s Canary in the Coal Mine is everything a reader wants in a great crime novel, and then some. The rat-a-tat cadence of the noir masters, seamlessly blended with the contemporary sensibilities of an author thoroughly in control of his craft. I liked this book so much I read it twice. No kidding. It’s that good.”
—Baron R. Birtcher, multi-award winning and Los Angeles Times bestselling author

“Charles Salzberg has created a fantastic literary PI: Pete Fortunato. Rash, blunt and prone to violence, you can’t help but turn the page to see what Fortunato will do next. Canary in the Coal Mine is great!” —James O. Born, New York Times bestselling author

Book Details:

Genre: Crime/Noir
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: April 18, 2022
Number of Pages: 276
ISBN-10: 1643962515 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9781643962511 (paperback)
ASIN: ‎ B09Q6418PX (Kindle edition)
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | | | Down & Out Books

Author Bio:

Charles Salzberg

Charles Salzberg is a former magazine journalist and nonfiction book writer. His novels Swann’s Last Song (the first of the five Henry Swann novels) and Second Story Man were nominated for Shamus Awards and the latter was the winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award. Devil in the Hole was named one of the best crime novels of 2013 by Suspense Magazine. His work has also appeared in several anthologies as well as Mystery Tribune. He is a former professor of magazine at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University, and he teaches writing in New York City. He is one of the Founding Members of New York Writers Workshop, and is a member of the Board of PrisonWrites and formerly a board member for MWA-NY.

Catch Up With Charles:
Instagram – @CharlesSalzberg
Twitter – @CharlesSalzberg

Tour Participants:

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Guest Post: TG Wolff – RAZING STAKES

Good day, my bookish divas and divos. I have vivid childhood memories of spending every Saturday morning in the children’s department at my local library, choosing the six or seven books I wanted to read for the upcoming week. I’m forever grateful to my mother for instilling the love of reading in me, as well as one of my aunts for bringing me boxes of books to read during the school year. (My aunt worked for the state board of education and they often received print review copies and, even as a child, I got to experience books prior to their release.) Although I grew up loving to read, I’m somewhat of an anomaly amongst my siblings. My eldest brother was definitely a reader (I still miss being able to discuss books with him), but my younger brothers only have moments when they’re willing to grab a book and read (not an issue for me because they both have incredibly hectic jobs and lives). Today’s guest, TG Wolff, author of Razing Stakes, will be sharing her experiences on becoming a reader. Thank you for joining us and sharing this story, Ms. Wolff. The blog is all yours.

On Becoming a Reader
by TG Wolff


Hello Book Diva’s Readers. I am TG Wolff, mystery diva, here to entertain you. Why? Because that’s what books are to me, the happy place I go to catch a break from real life. This is true for both reading books and about 15 years ago, I discovered the same was true for writing them.

Confession: I wasn’t a reader as a child.

I HATED reading. It was all so boring. I don’t think I ever finished an assigned book in school (I was lucky that I was smart enough to still pass the tests.) As an adult, I realized I hated reading because every book assigned was BORING or worse. Go ahead, English teachers, light me up ( I have had this conversation several times with my English major, literature teaching husband. I am standing on solid ground!

Teachers (or at least those who set curriculums) feel that the books used in schools must first and foremost teach lessons. And that is where they fail to cultivate readers. The ONLY genre I can remember reading from was literature. No mystery. No suspense. No humor (God forbid we laugh while we read). No sports. No science fiction. No – well, you get the point.

In short, I hated reading…until Nero Wolfe.

My grandfather loved cowboy stories and Nero Wolfe mysteries. I reluctantly borrowed one from his bookshelf and didn’t stop until I had finished his small collection. Here, to my delighted surprise, were puzzles wrapped in a book. Who knew such a thing existed?

Fast forward twenty years. I lived in Cleveland, Ohio, working as a Civil Engineer, and had a client in Northern Kentucky. The five-hour drive between the two was mind-numbingly boring. Long before the age of podcasts, there was little to keep me attentive. And so, I began imagining. Little vignettes entertained me as the miles passed. Then at the hotel that night, I would write the final version. After several months of driving and imagining, I had a book.

Last year, I re-read that first story and it was pretty bad. I didn’t know the rules. Heck, I didn’t know there were rules and maybe that was why it was fun. When I submitted the first of my De La Cruz series to Down & Out Books for consideration, I had over a dozen books fully written, never intending to publish any of them. I wrote them to entertain myself, to play in someone else’s sandbox, to make myself laugh.

Consider giving Detective Jesus De La Cruz and me a try. I hope you laugh and wonder and beat him to the solution.

Happy Hunting, Detective. ♦

Razing Stakes

by TG Wolff

April 1-30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Razing Stakes by TG Wolff

The first day of summer is the last day of a young accountant’s life. Colin McHenry is out for his regular run when an SUV crosses into his path, crushing him. Within hours of the hit-skip, Cleveland Homicide Detective Jesus De La Cruz finds the vehicle in the owner’s garage, who’s on vacation three time zones away. The setup is obvious, but not the hand behind it. The suspects read like a list out of a textbook: the jilted fiancée, the jealous coworker, the overlooked subordinate, the dirty client.

His plate already full, Cruz is assigned to a “special project,” a case needing to be solved quickly and quietly. Cleveland Water technicians are the targets of focused attacks. The crimes range from intimidation to assault. The locations swing between the east, west, and south sides of the city. This is definitely madness, but there is a method behind it.

The two cases are different and yet the same. Motives, opportunities, and alibis don’t point in a single direction. In these mysteries, Cruz has to think laterally, yanking down the curtain to expose the masterminding of the strings.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: February 14, 2022
Number of Pages: 294
ISBN: 978-1-64396-245-0
Series: The De La Cruz Case Files, 3rd in series
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Down & Out Books

Author Bio:

TG Wolff

TG Wolff writes thrillers and mysteries that play within the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong. Cause and effect drive the stories, drawing from 20+ years’ experience in Civil Engineering, where “cause” is more often a symptom of a bigger, more challenging problem. Diverse characters mirror the complexities of real life and real people, balanced with a healthy dose of entertainment. TG Wolff holds a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Catch Up With TG Wolff:
BookBub – @TG_Wolff
Instagram – @tg_wolff
Twitter – @tg_wolff

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Guest Post: Charles Salzberg – SWANN’S DOWN

Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg Banner

Good day, book people. I hope everyone is having a wonderful week. If you’re like me, you’ve probably read quite a few books that are part of a series. And also like me, you’ve probably wondered how the author determines when or if a series should end. Today, I’m pleased to welcome Charles Salzberg, author of the Henry Swann detective/noir/mystery series including the latest release Swann’s Down, and he’ll be discussing the author’s choice behind continuing or ending a series. Thank you, Mr. Salzberg, for taking the time to stop by today and sharing with us. I hope you all will enjoy Mr. Salzberg’s information, read more about Swann’s Down, and add this series and book to your TBR list.

Author’s Choice
Charles Salzberg

All good things (and some bad, though they seem to take much longer) must come to an end. 

For those of us who write series, it’s sometimes difficult to admit when the end is near. 

Some writers, when they start a book already have a series in mind. You do this for several reasons. One, because you like the character and enjoy writing about him or her. Two, because your editor flatters you by insisting you keep going.  Three, because there’s unfinished business when it comes to the character. And four, and this is probably the most important reason of all, you’ve actually amassed a hardcore fan base that demands you keep going. 

In terms of the latter, it’s not really the fans who determine the longevity of your series, but rather sales.  I have a number of friends who, after the third book in their series (publishing “wisdom” is that a series needs at least three books before it catches on if it’s going to catch on) were dropped by the publisher. It rarely has anything to do with quality. It’s almost always an economic decision. If you’re lucky, and it is a matter of luck because editors and agents tell us that once you’ve started a series with one publisher it’s very unlikely that another one will pick up the series. This, too, is an economic decision. Unless you come armed with the rights to the previous books in the series, the new publisher will have no control and no long-term economic interest in the series.

It’s too bad because by the third book most authors have finally begun to figure out their main character. They know how he or she thinks. They know how he or she will react in certain situations. And if you’re a good writer you can see that your writing and story-telling is getting better with each installment. Your characters stop existing in a fictional world but start to exist in the “real” world. I know, I know, people are committed for this tenuous hold on reality, but writers may be the exception.

In my case, the Swann series came about by accident. Not only did I have no intention of writing a sequel, but I had no intention of writing another crime novel. You can tell by the title of that first one. It wasn’t Swann’s First Song but rather, Swann’s Last Song. Would I have used that title if I had any inkling that it would be anything other than one and out? Not a chance. 

So, what happened? I won’t go into the checkered history of the manuscript, that it sat in my desk for almost twenty-five years before I decided to send it out again. The reason was the ending. Or rather the non-ending. Detectives are supposed to solve the crime, putting a chaotic world back together. But in the original Swann, the detective follows all the clues but it doesn’t lead him to the solution. Instead, he finds that the world doesn’t make that kind of sense. In fact, the world is in a state of chaos, and although we do find out who committed the murder that sets the book in motion, it has nothing to do with all the clues Swann follows diligently, across the continent and then across the world. 

But when I agreed to change the ending, a publisher agreed to publish the book. Meanwhile, I was onto something else. But when the book came out and was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, my world changed. I didn’t win, but I did get pissed off enough to care myself to keep writing them until I won something or ran out of catchy titles.

Swann’s Down is the latest in the series and most probably the last. I’ve learned to never say never, but I am pretty certain about this. First, I think I’ve taken the character about as far as he can go. And I want to quit before the books become formulaic, which would pretty much take the fun out of writing them. And they have been fun.

Swann has been good to me. He’s allowed me to write about all sorts of things I was interested in. The world of rare books. The art world. The crazy world of Hollywood. Broken Hearts. Collectible photography. The world of rare artifacts. And now, in Swann’s Down, the spirit world. He’s allowed me to write about ethics and morality—especially in Swann’s Down when he’s hired to find a missing witness who might give an alibi to a notorious hitman. 

But now it’s time to move on to other things, other characters. I love the world of crime simply because it allows me to write about anything I want, especially human nature. I’m halfway through a novel with another PI, one who’s very, very different from Swann. And I had so much fun writing the complicated, evil character of master burglar Francis Hoyt, that I’m seriously thinking of writing a spin-off centering around him. And there’s more.

With so much on my plate, I’m not sad about leaving Henry Swann. He’ll be fine without me. And I want to thank him for opening the door into a literary world I never would have found without him.

And so, Henry, it’s not goodbye, because he’ll always live in those five books and also in my mind, but rather, “it’s been a fun ride, pal, and see you around.”

Author Bio:

Charles Salzberg

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in New York magazine, Esquire, GQ, Redbook, The New York Times Book Review and other periodicals. He has written over 20 non-fiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times. He is author of the Shamus Award nominated Swann’s Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann’s Lake of Despair, nominated for two Silver Falchions, Swann’s Way Out, Devil in the Hole, named one of the best crime novels of the year by Suspense Magazine. He was a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member. He is a member of the MWA-NY Board.

Catch Up With Charles Salzberg On:, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg Banner

Swann’s Down

by Charles Salzberg

on Tour May 1 – June 30, 2019


Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg

When Henry Swann is asked by his quirky partner, Goldblatt, to find a missing psychic who’s swindled his ex-wife out of a small fortune, he just can’t say no. Although he doesn’t actually expect to get paid, he figures it might give him a chance to finally learn more about his partner’s mysterious past. His search takes him into the controversial, arcane world of psychics, fortune tellers, and charlatans while raising questions in his own mind about whether or not there is an after-life.

While working his partner’s case, he’s approached by a former employer, attorney Paul Rudder, to track down a missing witness who might be able to provide an alibi for his client, Nicky Diamond, a notorious mob hitman who’s scheduled to go on trial for murder he claims he didn’t commit in a week. Swann’s search for the missing witness, who happens to be the defendant’s girlfriend, takes him from Brooklyn to a small beach town across the Bay from Mobile, Ala. But what does she really know and will she even come back with him to testify for her boyfriend?

Book Details:

Genre: Detective/Noir/Mystery
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 978-1-64396011-1
Series:Henry Swann
Purchase Links: Amazon | | Goodreads

Praise for Swann’s Down:

“Psychics, double-crosses, missing persons–Charles Salzberg’s latest Henry Swann book has it all. Swann’s Down is a gritty, no-frills PI novel that brings to mind greats like Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager and Michael Harvey’s Michael Kelly. Whether this is your first Swann adventure or the latest, you won’t want to miss the brass-knuckle punch that is Swann’s Down. Trust me.”
~ Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

“From Manhattan to Coney Island to the steamy shores of Alabama, Charles Salzberg delivers a top-flight mystery with his latest Henry Swann outing. Highly recommended.”
~  Tom Straw, New York Times bestselling author as Richard Castle

Swann’s Down gives readers two intriguing mysteries for the price of one, as skip tracer Henry Swann pursues a woman who might alibi a murderer and a psychic who swindled the ex-wife of Swann’s partner. Shamus Award-nominated Salzberg does a superb job cutting between the two investigations. I kept turning pages to stay with both chases as the suspense increased to the very end. Whatever is going on, Swann is at the center of this story. His wry wit, quotes from authors and philosophers, genius for questioning suspects, and dark past make him a character readers will follow anywhere as he seeks his quarry. This is another thrilling addition to this excellent series.
~ Rich Zahradnik, Lights Out Summer, winner of the 2018 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Private Eye Novel

Henry Swann dives in where others fear to tread in Swann’s Down: Fast. Funny. And Smart. This time out, Swann crosses paths with a psycho hitman, a phony psychic and Swann’s mysterious partner, a disbarred lawyer. Who could ask for more? I hope we’ll see a lot more of Swann in the future and that this isn’t Swann’s swan song.
~ Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-winning Author of White Heat and Broken Windows.

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