Interview Questions??? – I

Interview 1a picI have done numerous interviews throughout the years for various blogs and radio programs-and any more you would like to direct my way will be appreciated-and I admit to having to answer many similar questions. Not often do bloggers or hosts come up with a new or unique question. This is not a criticism of them because I appreciate whatever publicity they will do for me. My challenge has been to come up with a different way to answer those same questions or a different way to explain those same answers. Usually, I do it with humor. Throw in a funny line-or what I hope to be a funny line-and go from there. A joke, then get around to actually answering the question.

One of those questions is:

When did you start writing?

My answer is: when I was a child. I enjoyed reading and would buy up books any chance I had. I collected books. Mystery books. Horror books. Some sci-fi. One of my first collections was The Hardy Boys. I was after each in the series. I even have some of the original brown hard cover volumes. Sometimes you can find them in antique stores. I tried a Nancy Drew, but it wasn’t the same. I mean, the main character is a girl, right? How exciting can that be? Lol. Before you women start with the nasty replies, I’m joking. Okay, but truth be told, I didn’t think they were as fun to read as Joe and Frank…who, throughout their entire series of books, even when they teamed with Nancy, never grew older than 17 and 16. I’ve often wondered if anybody has done a study to see just how many real life years their books would cover. I’m 52 and-another confession here-I still enjoy them. I’m missing a few here and there, but some of those Hardy mysteries are still in my to read list.

I also collected the entire series of Alfred Hitchcock and the Three investigators. I thought those were awesome books. I was disappointed when I realized the series didn’t last too long.

As for other young adult series, I read a few, but didn’t get too interested in collecting them. I was into mysteries. I would check out the school library’s collection of Encyclopedia Brown books. Okay, they were simple and cheesy, but I enjoyed the mystery in each short story and the challenge to find the clue to solve the mystery before the solution was revealed at the end.

As time passed, I progressed to more adult oriented stuff. Ellery Queen I really loved. Ditto Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout. Ed McBain, John MacDonald, John Lutz, and so many more I’ll be here all day thinking of them. I tried to collect as many of my favorite authors as I could.

My standards on the quality of the books has dropped. Not in the story itself, but in the appearance. When I went into a bookstore, I wanted the most pristine copy of a book I could find. It couldn’t have any spine defects or creases. When I read a book, I would NEVER crack the spine and I still adhere to that latter policy today. I realized, though, that some of the older pulp fiction books and others were so difficult to find, I’d never find a clean copy. So, while I still look for good copies, if they have a crease here and there or have been cracked or used…well, I’ll reluctantly get them because I don’t want to wait for another opportunity. Plus, usually I’m buying bargain bin, yard sale, flea market stuff and when you get 12 books for a buck…

Next week, I’ll get around answering the question and not sound like a politician rambling on saying a lot but nothing substantial.

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Prepared for Testing


(This is an actual picture of me…hey, how did I get that tattoo?”

I’m writing this post back at the end of January but I see this won’t be posted until near the beginning of July. My goal by this time is to have received permission to test for 6th Degree Black Belt at the World Expo next Thursday morning at 7 a.m. (What? 7?) I have been training, especially on the Fitness Test portion. I’ve been recording my progress daily on the 35 pushups I must accomplish within a minute and the holding of a 2:21 forearm plank position.

Last year at this time I experienced some anxiety. I hadn’t been to the Expo in years (not since 2006 when I tested for 5th). I was going for a third midterm to wrap up that requirement. I think I was concerned about performing for the judges all week long. Up until Thursday when I walked into the testing arena and saw hundreds of other testers all preparing. I went through some stretches and pieces of my form to get used to the mat surface…

…and felt better. I thought, “I can do this. It’s a testing. I’ve been through many before, even a couple here at the Expo. I can do this.”

And I did. I was the first name called so I was able to do my form and sparring first. When it came to boards, I believe I went second. I don’t mind going first. I get it done with. I don’t have to stand there waiting my turn. During the fitness test afterward, I did alright. I don’t know if it was exceptional, but I did alright. Unfortunately, I didn’t pass. If I would have broken my boards on the first attempt, I probably would have passed. However, I did another midterm at the Sioux Falls tournament two months later and passed.

Now, here I am again. At the time of this writing, I am anxious. I’m cool with my form. I’m okay with my sparring but I will do fine. I’m confident (but not overly so) with my board breaks. As I write this, I remember I will have some opportunities to train further with my instructor during the month of February. I am anxious about the fitness test. I do not like pushups. When I’ve tried to get 35 completed in a minute, I get to about 20 and my body has reached its limit. The plank is just as excruciating. 60-90 seconds and I’m done. To last 2:21…

However, I plan to progress into it. I cannot give up. I cannot slough off. I must do this. I must be confident about the fitness test. Otherwise…well, let’s not consider otherwise. The fitness test, if done exceptionally, can add to my overall point total for testing, which might put me over the top for passing.

Right now, I’m feeling good. Let’s see how I feel when this posts.

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Around The Globe With Nicholas Lombardi, Jr.

Kampot-Cambodia-Flickr-PW-1After scheduling my earlier post regarding my upcoming testing, (posting this afternoon) I had to get away for a while, so I went to pick up the latest author for an interview. In the transporter I asked him where he wanted to go and he said, “Kampot, Cambodia”.



“Seriously? I mean, you could pick Hawaii, a beach in North Carolina, Florida or the Riviera. France. London.”


Well, I’m not going to argue with my authors, so off we go. Actually, as I came to find out, we’re out side of Kampot. Peaceful. Relaxing…wait, I need to go back for some bug spray…

1. Who are you and what makes you the most fascinating person in your city?

First, I would like to say my happy place is my home, which is in the countryside just three kilometers from the small town of Kampot in southern Cambodia, where myriad birdsongs serenade me all day. I don’t know if I am the most fascinating person around, but the fact that I’ve lived in many countries spanning three continents might make me stand out. I’ve been in remote areas an ordinary tourist would never see when I worked as a geological engineer. As a consequence of living and working in foreign countries, I have been fluent in five languages during the course of my lifetime.

2. Without revealing a deep dark secret (unless you want to), what one thing would people be surprised to learn about you?

I was born into a lower class family with uneducated parents (fourth grade education) and raised in relatively poor neighborhoods, yet I’ve travelled the world. I once lived with the Turkana people in northern Kenya, where the men wear a blanket draped over their shoulders and women wear goatskin aprons with nothing on the upper part of their bodies, living the life they have led for hundreds of years (herding livestock). There, the food consisted of goat milk fermented with animal urine. Not bad actually!

3. What interested you to become a writer rather than something else such as a rock star?

The irony is, I never thought to become a writer, that is until I suffered a broken heart in Kenya, and wrote my first novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, which served as a catharsis to help me get over my emotional pain. Never thought I would write again. Until fifteen years later while living and working in Laos, where I discovered a secret war had taken place during the fifties and sixties, which resulted in Laos being the most heavily bombed country in history. This revelation disturbed me so much, I just had to write about the consequences of that war, and I wrote my second novel (actually the first one published), The Plain of Jars. After that I was hooked. My latest novel, Justice Gone, came about after getting a daily dose of what was going on in America, via the news media. I am happy to say it has won The National Indie Excellency Award and is being considered for two more literary prizes, which sort of justifies my decision to write.

I did want to become a rock star (money for nothing and chicks for free), but never had a good enough opportunity to embark on that career, although I was a singer in a band as a teenager.

4. Writers are readers. With which author(s) would you enjoy sharing dinner? Why?

There are two I can think of offhand. One is John Le Carré, because of his cynical pragmatism resulting from his career as a government bureaucrat involved in the spy business, and his keen and poetic sense of observation, particularly of people and their personalities.

The other is John Grisham, because I admire his infusion of social issues into his novels, and his experience as a liberal who has spent much of his life in the relatively conservative deep south of the US. Justice Gone was partly inspired by many of Grisham’s novels.

JG cover NIEA5. If I were stranded on a deserted island or suffering from a four hour layover at the airport, why would your book(s) be great company?

Several reasons. In all my books, the writing style is quite cinematic, so the reading experience can be somewhat visual, almost as if you were watching a film. My first two novels take place in exotic settings (Journey Towards a Falling Sun – in the wild frontier of northern Kenya; The Plain of Jars – in the jungles of Laos) which adds to the escapism, and the last one, Justice Gone, is a suspenseful courtroom drama that could easily be adapted to film. All the novels have memorable characters and the stories are full of emotion: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll forget the time that goes on by.

6. Share your process of writing in regards to: plot and character development, story outline, research (do you Google or visit places/people, or make it up on the spot), writing schedule, editing and number of rewrites.

Imagination. Whoever you are, not only me, if you are a fiction writer you have to be able to imagine things in your head, like dreaming. Sometimes the plot changes as you progress, and that’s good, it usually means improvement (if you are not getting carried away). The characters become real-live entities, like people you know, and they should elicit feelings in you (admiration, empathy, loathing etc.).

I don’t write outlines, and certainly don’t have a schedule (maybe pulp-fiction writers who write formula books can do that). The number of re-writes vary from three or four, and sometimes even too many to keep track of (I can have up to ten different versions on my computer). I always have a third party editor. Having two editors is even better.

As far as research goes, because The Plain of Jars is a historical novel, I had to do a lot of background reading – I must have gone through a hundred books or more. And for Justice Gone, because I am not a lawyer but wanted 100% accuracy for the courtroom drama, I spent hours studying the legal system in the state of New Jersey.

7. “I think I have a good idea for a story, but I don’t know where or how to begin. Your process may not work for me. Any advice?”

Just write your ideas down, and mull it over. You can always work on it in the course of time.

But again, you need imagination. If you don’t have imagination, then write non-fiction.

8. I saw an amusing T-shirt the other day which read, “Every great idea I have gets me in trouble.” What is your philosophy of life?

How about “ Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut, that held its ground.” That’s from David Icke, the alien conspiracy guy.

Or how about “Thou shall not be such a shit you don’t know you are one.” That’s from William S. Burroughs.

But the most important is “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said that.

All of these attitudes have helped me through life.

9. Please tell me you’re not going to stop writing? What’s next for you?

It’s interesting that you mention “stop writing.” That option is certainly in the cards. If sales of my books continue to be dismal (a few hundred copies) I might question whether it’s worth the effort. Good quality writing isn’t enough these days to keep one’s book from being buried by the thousands of new fiction titles coming out each month. Constant exposure is key.

But before I take that step, I do have another manuscript that will definitely be published. It can be a considered a prequel for Tessa Thorpe, the main character in Justice Gone (I actually wrote it before Justice Gone). It is a psychological thriller about a psychiatrist and a patient who claims he is a well-known terrorist. Publication date to be sometime in 2020.

10. Where can people find more information on you and your projects?

I am most active on Goodreads, then also Facebook. I do have an author’s website, but it’s not yet fully developed (http://author-n-lombardi-jr.com/). I have profiles on AllAuthor.com, and The Author’s Den. I also have a website dedicated to The Plain of Jarshttp://plainofjars.net

N_Lombardi_2N. Lombardi Jr, the N for Nicholas, has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).

In 1997, while visiting Lao People’s Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years.
Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc. http://plainofjars.net

His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.

His latest novel, Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.
Nick now lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Visit his goodreads page:

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Let’s Be Funny

hmorI never set out to write comedies. I don’t write jokes. Yes, I wanted Mallory Petersen to have some goofy cases so as to temper the serious cases which are the main thrust in her stories. I don’t write jokes. In fact, I steal humor. In Beta, I stole a joke I heard years ago from Redd Foxx. I don’t know if the one he told was original to him, but I remembered it after years and used it in the story.

For the other humorous scenes, those are the difficulties I have when trying to temper the serious parts. Sometimes, it’s tough creating humorous situations for Mallory. I don’t want to go too far over the top, but I do want some laughter. For the Val-Air ballroom scene in Alpha, that wasn’t supposed to be a humorous scene. Mallory was supposed to have a chase scene in an empty building, maybe down in the basement with construction projects going on. I’ve told the story how the scene came about and it’s humorous without being over the top and without being disrespectful.

Most of Mallory’s humor comes from the cases she takes on where she follows prospective cheaters and there I have the fun of coming up with different scenarios. One bit of humor I used in Beta came from not a real life experience, but a story I heard about one of my classmates. If you’ve read Beta, it’s the scene where she discovers the supposed marijuana someone is smoking isn’t really weed.

In Delta (coming soon to an Amazon link near you), I have Mallory encounters a bunch of kidnapped pooches. I wanted so much to have at least one of the dogs try to, uh, hump her leg or arm. However, when it came time to write that scene, I remembered an Evanovich book I’d recently listened to where Miss Plum has a similar scene. I didn’t want to steal directly from her so I changed my scene. It’s still humorous, though not how I REALLY wanted it. Later in the book, I have Mallory encounter some women who used company funds for uh, extra-curricular activities while on a business trip. I thought the entire case she accepts was pretty good. I kept the humor to a minimum, but I hope you’ll enjoy the good moments. In another scene, Mallory attends a speed dating event and has fun with the prospective dates. There aren’t a lot of ha-ha moments, but I’m hoping the scene will bring a smile to the reader. With Delta, the main story deals with some serious material that affects Mallory in a personal way, so I tried to deal with that. I did feel, though, there had to be some humor to offset some of the murder bits.

In the two subsequent stories, Gamma and Zeta, I’m am having to deal with too much humor and over the top humor taking away from the thrust of the story. The humor needs to be lessened so that when it does show up, it’s truly funny. This is the challenge. How not to get too comedic to where the reader will expect it and won’t take the main case with the intended drama. Especially in Zeta, where Mallory’s personal problems come to a head.

At the time of this writing, I’m working on a couple projects, one of which has zero humor and the other-a Reznik story-I want some humor, but not Mallory-type humor. There’s some Reznik humor I’ve developed that I think works well with his character’s cynical nature. And I have time to play with it, tweak it so it’ll work.

Humor can be tricky to write. Several ways to write it, but it depends on what the author wants out of the story and how the author wants the reader to view the story.

What are some good examples of humor in stories you’ve run across?

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To Plot or Pants

outlineA common interview question is whether I outline with the follow up being why.

Let me discuss story outlines. Sure, others have done it before, but let me make it personal. To you and to me.

The common terminology is are you a plotter or a pantser, meaning does one lay out a story from beginning to end or does one start writing the story with no clear direction and see where it takes you. I’ve done both. Actually, I’ve done the free flow writing as an experiment but for some reason my mind jumps ahead and starts to lay out the story. I don’t think that’s bad and probably is the correct way to go.

I have yet to see a true pantser. At some point, one has to turn into a moderate plotter, because at some point, the story, to be complete, has to go somewhere. It has to develop. The characters have to have tension, conflict, and themselves develop. None of this can happen by just writing willy-nilly.

In all my experiments in my free flow writing, I start with a basic idea, then start writing. Soon, a half-formed plot appears and I know in which direction I want to take it. However, more often than not, I stop writing because the mind wants to finish the story, wants to create an outline. Otherwise, I feel like I’m writing nonsense or whatever I churn out will be nonsense, and I won’t like it or else know I have to do some major rewrites.

So, before I start the actual writing, I will create a basic outline. I’ll tinker with some scenes, do a bit of research if necessary, then figure out a cool way to start the story with a hook to attract and keep readers. This may take two days or two weeks. deaverI remember listening to Jeffrey Deaver’s method of outlining a story which is to create a 160 page outline where all he has to do is fill in the blank spaces with prose. My method is simple. I create a two to three page outline highlighting the scenes, then as I write, I may add, subtract, or change those scenes dealing with problems of time and research as they arise.

At the time of this writing (several weeks before the actual posting), I’m working on a couple projects, one being the first of what I’d like to be a series with Harry Reznik and a new partner, Tafari ‘Tiff’ Selby. I had written the outline a few years ago and had even started the story once. Unfortunately, when I wanted to work on it again, I couldn’t find the original, so I started fresh. That’s okay because I would bet the second start will be stronger than the original.

So, my issue with this story came up when I was moving along through the opening scenes. I have a crime established and the partnership created, but I started thinking about the clues the two investigators discover and came to the conclusion that they are coming to fast. Plus, with the timeline I’ve set up, I don’t have the time to deal with a subplot. So what do I do. Well, I had thought of finishing the story as I’ve outlined it, then going back and moving large chunks of it with changes to other places and filling in with more story. I am trying to figure out where/when to start the story. With the third murder or the second? I’m leaning toward right after the second. I think it would give more time for the story and the characters to develop. My problem now is, when do I stop with my current train of writing and go back and give this book a third attempt at a beginning?

I’m not anxious about it and I think it will be an easy change over. I’ll probably take some time and create another outline to link the current story with what happens before. It might be a bit of work, but I’m confident it should put the story in too much disarray.

I’m not saying Deaver’s method is wrong. It works for him That’s my point, really. Pick what works for you. I remember my taekwondo instructor making some suggestions on how to breathe while executing my form. I had mentioned I had changed the method a bit, but when he noticed how exhausted I was, he said to go back and try what worked before, or at least take some of what worked before.

So, a method for performing the taekwondo form can be adapted to fit and the principle can be used for writing.

What method works for you?

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With a little help…

picWhile writing the previous series of blogs, I had an idea that I wanted to share with writers, and everyone else. In that series, I had mentioned some assistance I received on the novel Zeta from an author friend and it got me to thinking about all the assistance I’ve received from people whether they knew they were being helpful.

Mike Van Netta (author of Leo’s Birds, which you can purchase if you visit Nearwood Winery south of Knoxville) is a doctor and moderator of the Marion County Writers Workshop which meets every Thursday at the winery. (Okay, technically not the moderator. That job fell to yours truly back in November. And not by choice, either. Ask me about it, I’ll tell you the story.) Whenever I have medical questions, I go to him. He’s helped me on several scenes and has corrected one or two mistakes. The good thing about him is he gives a lot of information, not just the basics. Which is a good thing, because it helps me filter through the information and not take the first idea that pops into my head. For instance, in Zeta, there is a scene where Darren helps a woman give birth. (I know, you’re saying, “Whoa! What? Tell me it’s not Mallory.” Uh, no. Just wait, you’ll see.). When I wrote the original plain Jane first draft of the scene, I knew it was going to be rewritten, but I wanted to get down the basic idea and some of the dialogue. After talking with Mike, I changed a major part of the scene and with a suggestion, made it stronger.

Other friends have helped strengthen my stories. I mentioned in the Origin blogs how a group of women told me the names of two of my male characters needed to be changed to reflect more masculinity. Thus, Jamie and Laurel became Darren and Lawrence.

Anther writer friend, Katherine (not her real name but I’m sure she would prefer the penname here), often told stories of her grandmother and how brazen she was when speaking. I enjoyed those tales enough to include a similar character in a scene in Delta (watch for it coming soon to an Amazon listing near you).

Years ago, at a critique group, an author described an incident involving her aunt and water balloons. That was put into a story, though at the moment, I couldn’t tell you which one.

I’ve mentioned in interviews how I enjoy doing research for stories, visiting sites where scenes will take place. Often my original idea will change to something much better by seeing someplace in person. You can’t get the same perspective from the street view on Google Maps as you can by being there. As many authors will conceive of stories from newspaper headlines (I have a small newspaper clipping I’ve kept regarding a humorous police call that I want to use as a scene), don’t underestimate the benefits of listening to people talk. I’m sure I could jot down loads of ideas from passenger conversations while driving Uber. Surreptitiously eavesdrop on restaurant conversations or those you hear on the street or in the mall, or at family reunions. Listen to the advice from friends and seek out those who know about the subject matter in your story.

Who knows what the end result will be?

(By the way, ‘end result’ reminds me of a bit George Carlin would do. Isn’t that redundant? Isn’t a result, the end of something? Oh, well.)

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Beta Locales, Part II

There were a lot of places I visited when I did a day trip to the Quad Cities. I traveled all over following the route Mallory took when she paired with Lawrence on the search. She first stops at her grandmother’s house. And here it is. Oh, yes, that was my grandmother’s house.

grandma's house

She meets Lawrence in the Blue Building in East Moline. There is no such named building and to tell you the truth, I don’t know where the actual police station is located. However, I’ve put it along 23rd Avenue at Kennedy. The building I used was originally a light blue but as you can see, it’s changed color and is currently the Black Hawk College Outreach Center.

blue building black hawk co outreach ctr

Davenport and the other cities have changed so much that I couldn’t find but two spots Mallory visited in her search. I tried, but nothing looks as it did 15-18 years ago. Anyway, the first place they visit is a gelatin plant. I believe this is the place where I encountered the rude secretary who was put into the book.

gelatin plant

They also visit the Kraft Foods plant downtown, but I renamed it Carlton. The only realities in the book are: the interior part of the reception office where prospective employees fill out applications, the flighty receptionist, and the employee list book. The layout and interior of the plant are based off another plant since nobody at Kraft would describe anything or any piece of machinery when I contacted them. Fortunately, I had a friend who had done some CAD work for a plant in Ottumwa

carlton plant

This next picture is of a vacant lot and I’m a bit sad because the mat market that was in this spot had been there for decades. I don’t remember the original name and I think I was in the place once or twice. I just always had a fondness for the site being so close to my grandmother’s house and I thought it would be the perfect place for the main operation of the bad guys. I created the interior but much of the exterior is based on my memories. Alas, nothing exists any longer.

meat market

Later in the story, Mallory does a ride along with the FBI in a planned raid on one of the houses the bad guys uses. The house I used was the house next door to the right of the brick one in the picture. I feature the brick house because I used to live there until fifth grade when my family moved. 1015 38th Street, East Moline. 200 yards from the high school, but because of the way they carved up the districts, I would have been shipped to the one downtown. Anyway, a few things have changed with this old house throughout the years

1015 38th avenue

One of Mallory’s chase scenes is on a bicycle and she follows the bad guy but ends up in the mud on the Short Hills golf course.

short hills golf course

So there are some interesting spots where scenes in Beta take place.

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Beta Locales, Part I

When I was writing Beta, I was still living in Oskaloosa, but going to Des Moines almost every week to attend a writers’ critique group at Barnes & Noble. Many times, I’d be up there early to drive around to do some research, look at different locations.

Again, some people may recognize the sites I have pictured that I’ve used in the book, but I have changed the names and created interiors when I couldn’t go inside.

Beta begins with a little girl being kidnapped and the beginning of her hellish involvement with child pornography. Mallory Petersen gets involved by being hired by the girl’s mother. Mallory visits various places, talks to different people, including Willy Washington. She meets hi at Java Joe’s down on Court Avenue. By the way, the atmosphere in the book is real and the gentleman she sees who is a bit odd, is based on a real person I saw.


Following a tip, she goes to this place and sees an interesting transaction. Yes, this place is in the book, but it’s called the Video Vault and I fictionalize the interior and I give my disclaimer here that I am not implying anything is illegal here. I used it only because it was there. If the video store was somewhere else, I’d use it there.

video vault

She follows the cashier to his apartment complex off of 86th between Douglas and Hickman and extracts further leads.

86th st. apt. complex

Ditto disclaimer here. I was able to enter this building from the front, but, as mentioned in the book, got no further than the front reception. I used parked here one afternoon and scribbled down some descriptions to use when Mallory comes to visit. I had to create the interior and I have changed the company name to Manchester.


So, the trail leads Mallory to Oskaloosa. I supposed some people would wonder at the logic of taking the girl to Oskaloosa for some photographs, but there you have it. I wanted to use the town. As I mentioned in the Alpha Locales blog, I have looked for some of these places but was unable to find the exact site because of changes, or I just am not able to remember where I went. This is true of the place in Oskaloosa. I don’t know if the building I used still exists, but I know it was down this street. South D.

south d street osky

Okay, Mallory will head to the Quad Cities for the next part of the story and next week, we’ll follow her.

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Alpha Locales, Part II

Continuing from last week on Alpha locales in Des Moines. I put Mallory’s house on Ash Street in pleasant Hill, just down the hill from the back of the building that houses the library and Pleasant Hill Police station. I’ve changed the description of her house because I envision it as more a ranch style residence than a two story with a wider yard. Creative license and all that, but it’s located roughly where the second house from the corner is.

mallory's street

Mallory discovers a narcotics operation going on at the Southridge theatre and I have to fictionalize the theatre’s layout. In the scene, Mallory follows the lead guy inside the building and into the restroom. However, the restroom is located in a different spot in the real theatre. I had to change the location to make the scene work.

southridge theatre

The next phase of discovery is her relaxing at the Botanical Center and seeing a shipment of narcotics come upriver.

botanical center

Later, she follows two bad guys out to a park along the Greenbelt Trail off of 100th Street.

greenbelt trail park

After this, she meets Reznik and a narcotics officer at her fitness center to discuss her discoveries. This isn’t a fitness club near Copper Creek in Pleasant Hill, but I made it one for the book. The area around this building is very nice.

copper creek 24-7

When I was driving around Des Moines either shopping or looking for different places for scenes, I visited the Merle Hay Mall area a lot. On the southeast corner across the street at the intersection with Douglas as an auto mechanic. That stood there for a long time. But, as time goes by, things change and that entire area is now occupied by small stores and restaurants. But this used to be where Sands Auto stood (fictional name), where a task force meets to discuss a sting operation.

former sands auto

Later, Mallory meets a gang that gets involved in the sting operation at Val Air Lanes.

val air lanes

It’s a bowling alley across from the Val Air ballroom, where Mallory has her next fun, then terrifying scenes.

val air ballroom

Mallory has a scene with the missing woman’s ex-husband at the state fairgrounds. Here’s the Grand Avenue entrance.


Mallory and the task force put phase on of their sting operation into play at Glendale Cemetery, along University.

glendale cemetery

Mallory discovers that the bad guys who attacked her outside the Val Air works for Edward Brougham III. Brougham, as mentioned in his character profile, operates The Red Tomatoe bar. Although the bar no longer exists, this is where I have placed it. Where Perkins Sits on McKinley, just north of the airport.

the red tomatoe

THE climax of the story takes place under the East 30th Street bridge south of the fairgrounds. I thought it was a superb place to have it. I tried to describe it as I saw it when I visited the area (inadvertently trespassing according to one official. Don’t worry, no fines or trouble.) and I thought it worked very well.

train yard

So, there’s a bit of Des Moines for Alpha. Next week, we’ll take a look at some sites for Beta.

Stay tuned.

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Alpha Locales, Part I

I have a friend whose mother read both Alpha and Beta (and if you haven’t, then buy them now on Amazon) and kept sending her out to take pictures of some of the locales I uses in the stories. At least those around Des Moines. Beta, of course, ventures down to Oskaloosa, then up to the Quad Cities.

I thought you might like to see some of those locales from some of the scenes in each story. As you may know, I like to use actual places, fictionalized, in order to stay as close to reality as possible. I mean, unless I’m completely rearranging Des Moines in an alternate universe story, people familiar with the city won’t buy that the Principle Building is located on Mils Civic Parkway and E. P. True Parkway if that’s where. I put it. When I set out to write a story, I use as much of reality as possible.

Before I get started with showing you the images (unless you’ve skipped ahead and have already started looking at them), I want to say three things. First, all of the following are screen shots taken from Google Maps either at street level or an aerial shot. There is no advertising being done here so don’t get uptight. The second thing is that some people may recognize these places and that’s okay because, like I said, I fictionalize them, changing the names. In no way am I suggesting that anything illicit or illegal is happening in any of these places. This is fiction. Third, I would have liked to have gotten more pictures of buildings and locations, but many years have passed since I visited these places and the landscape has changed so much in the intervening time period. Some places don’t even exist any longer as you’ll soon see, or else, I’m unable to find them on the maps.

Let me start with Alpha. I’m showing you a stretch of Locust Street in downtown Des Moines. The first building on the left is where I envisioned Mallory Petersen’s office to be. At least I think it’s the building. Again, I can’t be sure since downtown has changed over the last 20+ years, but it’s a pretty good proximity.

locust street-office

Mallory visits the Des Moines Police Department and here it is.

police dept

Moving through the book in a general timeline order, (but don’t hold me to it), Mallory, on the trail of finding some information about her murdered boyfriend, first stops at his mother’s house, then at a bar on 86th near Hickman they frequented. As you can see, it’s now called The Rack, but when I was researching it, it was called something different and actually sat empty for some time.


While searching for answer to the murder, she is also trying to find her landlord’s missing daughter. She first visits the house of her ex-husband who lives in a house not too far down Forest Avenue near the Drake University campus. I don’t have a specific house chosen, but it’s not too far down this block.

forest avenue

One night, she receives a call from Darren who has a police report that she’s been seen up near Hy-Vee Near Euclid and MLK. When Mallory gets close, she sees the woman in a bus depot, ends up losing her and winds up fleeing from some bad guys along a bike path out to a walking bridge that crosses the Des Moines River. There, she defeats one of the bad guys by dumping him in the river.

Next week, I’ll continue through Alpha with more fun places in Des Moines.

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