Episode 27: Nancy Cole Silverman

shadowMy name is Carol Childs. I’m a reporter… And now, right in front of me was exactly what I needed, a damn good story.

Shadow of Doubt, Nancy Cole Silverman

Nancy Cole Silverman worked both on the air and behind the scenes in radio, covering every kind of story. That wealth of experience creates the world of Carol Childs, “the world’s oldest cub reporter.” Having moved from sales to the newsroom — against the better judgment of her new boss — Carol needs to score a headline story in Shadow of Doubt, the first book in the series. And then, early one morning, a distraught neighbor pounds on her door.

Nancy takes the headlines and shapes them into satisfying and clever mysteries, although the real pleasure is watching her protagonist, Carol, with her friends, family, and colleagues. Having worked in news myself for a spell, Nancy captures the craziness and camaraderie to a T.

beyondBook Two of the series deals with human trafficking, and I can’t let the opportunity pass to remind you of the crackerjack (although much harder-edged) P.I. novel by Desiree Zamorano that mines some of the same territory. You can check out my interview with Desiree to see if it’s your cup of tea. But whatever else, don’t miss Nancy’s deft treatment in Beyond a Doubt

Nancy mentions that one of her favorite writers is Sue Grafton — who of course is one of mine as well. But if you’re a fan of older mysteries, let me recommend the novels written by Sue Grafton’s father, C. W. Grafton. The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope is a terrific mystery from the 1940s and one of my all-time favorites.

In honor of Halloween, I have to link to her scary short story, The Blood Drive. Check out Nancy’s website or follow her on Twitter, @NancyColeSilver

As always, if you’d rather read than listen, the transcript is below. Enjoy!

— Laura

Transcript of Interview with Nancy Cole Silverman

Laura Brennan: Nancy Cole Silverman is an author, on-air news reporter, and radio sales and managing superstar. Like Ginger Rogers, she did all this in high heels, at a time when there were few other women in the newsroom. Nancy has channeled her vast knowledge of radio, crime, and human nature into the multilayered Carol Childs Mysteries.

Nancy, thank you for joining me.

Nancy Cole Silverman: Thank you for having me, Laura. It’s a joy to be here today.

LB: Since the local news is the background for your series, why don’t we start there? You started by taking the world by storm in local news, isn’t that right?

NCS: Well, not in Los Angeles, but yes, I started in radio way back when women’s voices were considered too light and too feminine for anything too hard. And then I kind of fought my way to stay in news and when I moved to L.A., I did both news and copywriting and ended up with a career on the business side and retired as the general manager of a talk radio station.

LB: And when you did that, that’s when you started to turn to writing?

NCS: I did. I did. I had always been a writer, I had a degree in journalism, both broadcast and print, so I had always done some writing, but when I got to Los Angeles, broadcast was really something I wanted to get into. And so I spent some time, both in print and broadcast journalism and then kind of got the ‘golden handcuffs’ put on me, as they say, where you start in the sales department and the marketing end of the business and you make a lot of money and, really, unfortunately, more than the reporters’ side does. So I ended up spending a lot of time there and always wanted to go back, kind of like my character, to the talent side. So when I was dreaming up what I was going to do after I retired, as general manager of a sports radio station — which is only proof God has a sense of humor, because I was not a sports babe — I decided I would go back into writing. And having had a reporter’s background, it was pretty easy to pull from the headlines and make this up as I went along.

LB: Well, you took a detour, too, though. Speaking of sports, you are a horsewoman and you founded The Equestrian News.

NCS: I am. I am. You’ve done your homework there! Yes, I was in radio for 25 years and I enjoyed that, and then I was running a radio station here in Los Angeles, it was a sports radio station. And it was sold. It was sold and it became a Korean. Well, I don’t speak Korean. So what was I going to do? So I decided that rather than go back and work for kids that were half my age, most of whom I had trained in radio at this point, I would do something kind of different. And I’d always wanted to ride. And so I went over to the Equestrian Center here in L.A. and I started riding again. And I decided, you know, after launching different radio formats in L.A., why didn’t somebody launch a print format for the equestrian community? Because no one was doing that. And so I launched The Equestrian News, thereby using both my reporting skills and my marketing skills. And I did that paper for about eight years, until I had a very bad accident and my husband came to me and said, okay, horse or husband? So I had to make the ultimate choice. But I was getting a little too old to be riding. You can only fall so far, after you’re a little older, it’s best not to fall.

So I retired my stirrups and went back and thought, well, now what do I do? So I thought, well, you know, I’ve always wanted to just write fiction. I grew up thinking it would be fun to write beach reads, and so I went back and became a fiction writer and started the Carol Childs series.

Shadow of Doubt, which was book one, you may remember, oh, gosh, several years ago, there was an Academy Awards, a big awards ceremony here in L.A., which we have every fall and early part of the year. And an agent was coming home and she was murdered. And about a month later, I saw an article in the paper that said that agent had two nieces, and that she had left one niece a million dollars and the next one, one dollar. And I thought, oh, my gosh! This is a story, I can’t ignore this. So I sat down, and of course I changed the names and the modus operandi of the murder and came up with Book One, Shadow of Doubt, where an agent comes home and is found the next day, in the bathtub, murdered. And it begins a whole string of events that were very loosely based on experiences I saw and knew of. And that began the series. And then Book Two, Beyond a Doubt, which deals with human trafficking, and Book Three, which is Without a Doubt, which deals with international jewel thieves.

LB: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Book Two. Beyond a Doubt tackles human trafficking. What brought you to that arena?

NCS: You know, I’m glad you asked that question, because that is a very good question. Because, yes, I do write soft-boiled cozies, but like when I was in radio, you know there are the seven deadly words you cannot use on the air — and if you’re familiar with George Carlin, you know those seven deadly words. And I thought, why can’t I take any subject that would have come into the newsroom and handle it the same way? And so, we’re not actually seeing the terrible things that happen firsthand to these young women that are kidnapped and taken into the slave trade, basically, because you wouldn’t have seen it in the newsroom. You could have reported on missing girls. And my point when I took up Book Two was that, sex trafficking people thought didn’t really happen, when I was writing that, in the United States. That was something that happened elsewhere. But in Los Angeles, I actually knew we had these experiences because I was able to interview, over the course of my career, people who worked in the Missing Person’s Unit. And they said, for one thing, they are flooded with assignments every day of people who go missing, because this is a large city, and it’s not a crime to go missing. But not all of them get the attention that a young, white girl who lives on the Westside would get. And I really wanted to call attention to that.

So I, in Book Two, I thought it was interesting to be able to talk about how these young girls are drawn like moths to the flame to L.A., because they’re drawn with invitations over the Internet, to come to — if they’re the next Scarlet Johansson, there’s an agent looking for you. We’ll help you make it to the top. And of course this is all bait and switch, to find young girls who they could lure into the slave trades. Actually, and it is because, having worked in a newsroom, you ride that roller coaster of very serious, stomach-tourniquet news that has you so upset, to kind of gallows humor. So you go through this. So, while it is not a craft cozy of any kind, it was not — it was a book we were able to handle dark subjects in a lighter way. And still inform the audience.

LB: And I think that informing the audience is huge, because the problem with so many crimes for so long was that we never discussed them, we never talked about them.

NCS: And, actually, that was one thing that Carol had to fight for, in Book Two, was that, there were certain things they didn’t want to put on their air because they were a Westside station, targeting an upscale, Westside market. And we describe that in the book, of how there’s radio stations, they all have their market, and they didn’t want to address that issue. It was okay to address the issue of some girls missing, but not to the degree, and not all the types of girls that might be missing. And Carol really fights for that, to get those names out there, and their identities out there. And breaks a lot of rules in order to do it.

LB: One of the themes that appears in some of your novels is that disconnect between the glamor of Hollywood and the venal people —

NCS: (Laughter)

LB: — You know, the backstabbing, and the luring into danger and death that also exists right alongside with the Oscar ceremonies and the beautiful dresses.

NCS: Yeah. I think in Book Three, you see that, too. Because in Book Three, there’s an international jewel heist that goes on. And it opens up — and, understand, Carol’s working for a talk radio station that is constantly in format change. And in Book One it is kind of a general talk radio; there’s entertainment talk, there’s sports talk, there’s breaking news and so forth. Book Two, it continues on in that, and then in Book Three, it’s become more of a light talk — Chick Radio, if you would. And she is just not wanting to work for Chick Radio, where they don’t want anything too hard on the air. They want to be everybody’s friend, they want to tell nice news. And of course, she’s out on a morning and they’re doing a fundraiser, kind of a charity campaign for their chocolatiers, for the holidays. And their listeners are invited to come take the chocolatiers tour — and you’ve probably seen it in L.A., we have all the chocolatiers at Christmas time invite people to come in and vote on their favorite chocolate. And in exchange for the promotion, the radio station is going to make a nice grant to a local hospital.

Well, Carol’s out doing the chocolate tasting, on the air, and describing the luscious chocolate, when she finds herself in the middle of an international jewel heist. And suddenly things take a very quick and Southern turn. So, you know, you can do this because that’s the way news is. News can be one minute, where we’re hearing something about, for instance, here, in Los Angeles, the Pasadena bears have now gotten thirsty from the drought and are spending the afternoon in someone’s pool, right up to a shooting. So you are always weaving back and forth between something that’s casual and fun and enjoyable to something that’s very earth-shattering and shaking.

LB: Do you miss the news?

NCS: I enjoyed the tension of the newsroom. I found it fun to work around all the time, the excitement. It was like a Grand Central Station. I spent a great deal of my career at KABC and that was kind of the Grand Central Station for Los Angeles during its heyday. If you were anyone in town, if you were a visiting dignitary, if you were a politician, at one point you were probably on the air and in our lobby and definitely in our greenroom. So that was fun to be able to see these people up close, and also realize that sometimes, when you didn’t see their faces, they were very different people than what they projected on the air, that you heard on the air.

LB: One of the things that I do like about Carol is that she’s very grounded. How did you develop her character? How did she come to you?

NCS: I think she was loosely based on my experiences, but not totally. Carol’s far gutsier and much more aggressive than I think I ever would have been. And you can do that on the page, that’s the nice thing, you can make your character much stronger than you ever would have been. But I wanted her to grow over the books. And when she first starts, she’s really come at this whole idea of being a reporter from the marketing side, the business side, and she hasn’t worked as a journalist since, in college. She’s a girl who got married very young, so she does have children. Her children are a little older and they are finally at the age where she believes she can now have some time for her, do what she wants to do with her career.

And so, like anyone, an opportunity, there’s going come something that’s going to try to block you. So when Carol’s given this opportunity to what we call ‘jump the desk,’ and go into the talent side, the news director she meets for the first time in Book One is a 21-year-old whiz kid that’s half her height and half her weight and looks at her and calls her the world’s oldest cub reporter. And he’s not happy about having her work for him. So she really has to win him over. Now, the advantages of having someone who’s a little older, who’s been around, who’s got kids who are not much younger than he is, is that she does understand how to work with it. What Carol really has to learn is the world she’s reporting on, there’s a massive grey and black that she’s going to step into and get herself in trouble with.

But fortunately, she has her good friend Sheri with her a lot. Sheri is every girl’s best friend. She’s the gal you go home with if you’re single and have a glass of wine with and you share all kinds of secrets. And together they kind of work things out, and Sheri bolsters her up, gives her a lot of confidence that she might not ordinarily have.

LB: You’ve written other stories as well, and I noticed that you have audio books.

NCS: I do! I have — my very first books were audiobooks. They were basically novelettes and I really began my writing career, before I started the Carol Childs series, I started doing those novelettes. And they are based on Western experiences. The first is called The Salvationist, which was based loosely upon a great-grandmother of mine who worked for the Salvation Army. Way back in the 1800s. And the Salvation Army was one of the first equal opportunity employers, and if women could become qualified, they were paid the same as men to go out into these little desert communities and help close bars and pull women out from prostitution brothels and try to save their souls. And I found it very interesting, so I wrote a very tongue-in-cheek novelette about her experiences. And then I wrote several others based upon things in the West. I grew up in the West, so I was very influenced by the dry desert and the big skies and some of the stories I heard growing up.

LB: That is so much fun. It as if, when you started writing, you were an explosion of creativity!

NCS: Well, thank you. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I think it’s a good thing for a writer to branch out and do short stories as well as novels because I think a lot of times they are works in progress, sometimes exercises that you can later use in a book, for a character. Or sometimes they’re just a short story, but it helps you with your pacing, it helps you find your voice and your market. And I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been a lot of fun.

LB: So what writers have influenced you? Who do you read?

NCS: Joyce Carol Oates, Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton. I’m just finishing a book by Heather Graham right now. There’s been quite a few. And I look for different voices, I look for different ways that they’ve developed their story. And not only just female authors, I also like to, I read a lot of male authors. I love Michael Connelly. Harlan Coben, of course. Stephen King. Love Stephen King. I’ve been very influenced by Stephen King. I have an audio book/short story and I’m going to reissue it in an anthology I’m going to be doing some time, when I get around to it, called The Blood Drive. And this really toggles back and forth between my radio experiences and what happens when a young girl is driving through the desert alone at night. It’s a good one for October, I highly recommend it to anybody who wants a good, spine-tingling story.

LB: Oh, my! So what is next for you?

NCS: I am continuing on with the series. I have another book coming out next year called Room for Doubt. So there’s a lot of ‘doubt’ in my life with Carol Childs! So I will continue that. At some point I think, I’m not done with this series yet, I’ve got a lot of stories that concern her and her growth I’d like to continue, although I don’t think I’m going to be able to keep ‘doubt’ in the title, so I don’t know where I’m going to go with that. And then I’m toying around with another series idea, I’m not quite sure where that’s going. And my short stories, I’ll always continue with that. I enjoy those, they’re a lot of fun.

LB: Your most recent Carol Childs mystery, Without a Doubt, deals with the jewel thief. Where did that come from? I mean, it’s a very glamorous, Hollywood type of idea. Is that something you covered?

NCS: I have a girlfriend and she and I do a lot of hiking and walking through the city. This girlfriend and I had recently done the chocolatiers tour that I talk about in the book. You go from chocolatier to chocolatier in Beverly Hills and sample their chocolates, and I thought, gosh, this would have been a great promotional idea in radio. And then of course you go right by these big jewelry stores and you think — they’ve always got guards out. And I was thinking about, gosh, the next thing I wanted to write — and actually, when I finished Beyond a Doubt, which dealt with the sexual trafficking of women, I wanted to write something that was a little bit more like a French farce. That was fun. And so, when this friend and I were doing this chocolate tour and we passed the jewelry stores, I thought, that’s it! I’m going to have all kinds of fun with this one. Because jewel thieves are really more, now this is going to sound kind of funny, but when I started researching jewel thieves, they don’t consider themselves crooks at all. They don’t consider themselves robbers. It’s an art. They like to do something that, the higher the stakes, the more they can get away with, without harm — there’s not supposed to be harm — the bigger their name. And that was the goal, for these jewel thieves to be able to come in and go into this big jewelry store in Beverly Hills and rob the jewels that would be there at Christmas time. Because what happens is, these jewelers want these actors and actresses to wear these beautiful pieces down the red carpet. And they’re shipped in from France and from London and from all over the world with De Beers Diamonds and so forth to be on display for these big shows. And I thought, oh, I could have some fun with that. What if they were stolen? What if you were scheduled to wear some fabulous piece down the red carpet and all of a sudden you couldn’t wear it, and your whole costume has been designed around this. So that was the basis of that.

LB: Isn’t it funny how mystery — I know all writers draw from life, but mystery writers, the most innocuous thing, you’re there chocolate-tasting, and what do you see? Potential crime.

NCS: That’s right! And the other good thing, people ask all the time, what are you thinking about? Don’t worry, I’m just thinking about some murder. I’ve never murdered anybody, so this is a good thing, I think.

LB: I think so, too. Nancy, thank you so much for joining me.

NCS: Laura, thank you for having me. This has been a lot of fun, I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.