AUTHOR: Greg Ahlgren
BOOK TITLE: The Medici Legacy
PUBLISHER: Booklocker, Amazon Kindle
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/medici-legacy-greg-ahlgren/1102238889?ean=2940012378743&itm=1&usri=the%252bmedici%252blegacy
Please tell us about yourself?
I was born and grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire. After finishing college and law school, and clerking for a year in Philadelphia, I returned to my home town and opened a criminal defense practice. That is still how I consider myself – as a lawyer – and how I make my living. The writing is just something I do on the side, like some people who play golf on weekends, but don’t earn their living on the PGA tour. On Mondays they return to their real job, and so do I.
Tell us your latest news?
Well, my novel The Medici Legacy was just published at the end of 2011. It’s been an odd journey for me. For my first book, the true crime analyses Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, I had an agent and it was published traditionally. It had some literary and commercial success, and I started thinking that maybe I could write after all. I played around with other non-fiction ideas before getting my novel Prologue published in 2006 by a very small publisher, which then almost immediately closed its doors. When I finished writing The Medici Legacy I was told by several other writers that it was unlikely that an American publisher would ever publish an American thriller with a non-American chief protagonist (unless the book was already a success abroad), but that if I changed my main character to an American it could be placed. I thought about it, but ultimately decided against it, so I just went to Kindle directly. I like my main character and did not want to change him. Then last year I also put Prologue up on Kindle in e-book format, and then found a paperback publisher to take over the old print contract for it, so I actually had two releases last year.
When and why did you begin writing?
I guess I’ve always been a storyteller, and now at my age it’s almost part of my profession. Except in my case my stories tend to be given orally, and to small select groups of twelve at a time. I think you need to have a pretty good imagination to be a criminal defense lawyer, and know how to string facts together into stories and tell them in a convincing way, and maybe writing thrillers just flowed naturally from that. I think criminal defense lawyers have the third greatest sense of imagination of any profession – exceeded only by insurance defense lawyers and cops at suppression hearings.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Actually, I don’t. I consider myself a trial lawyer who writes on the side. But after the rather surprising success of Crime of the Century I began thinking hey, maybe, and so I started devoting a bit more attention to it. At first I thought about another non-fiction true crime analyses, but then tried my hand at fiction.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was Crime of the Century: The Lindbergh Kidnapping Hoax, a non-fiction, true crime analyses of the so-called Lindbergh kidnapping case. It got written more by accident. In 1990 I had stumbled across an old article about the case. Of course, reading about the child’s disappearance, and the subsequent investigation and trial, some fifty plus years after the fact, I had the advantage as a modern criminal defense lawyer of being privy to information about forensics, motivations and knowledge of intra-familial crimes that law enforcement officials did not have in 1932. Over the years the case had been looked at by journalists or others who had never tried a criminal case to verdict, and therefore lacked that perspective. What started out as a hobby for me ended up evolving into the book, which I co-authored with a police criminal investigator. And I’ve been rewarded with the number of contemporary investigators, victims rights advocates, etc., who have contacted me since its publication and said how obvious the solution was. Obvious today, perhaps, but it was unthinkable in 1932.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Not really. I just like to tell a fun, and hopefully interesting story. If the reader ends up learning a little bit about some history along the way, well, all the better.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life? (Has anyone ever realized it?)
Not really. However, all three of my books are actually based on real historical events, although obviously not my own. Crime of the Century is a true crime book analyzing the Lindbergh kidnapping case. Prologue is a time-travel novel centered around the John Kennedy assassination in 1963, and The Medici Legacy is based in part on the Japanese germ warfare experiments of World War II, especially the notorious Unit 731 actions in Pingfang, so if there is a common "experience," it would be historical events.
What books have most influenced your life?
My two favorite books are The Great Gatsby and All The King’s Men. I have read each several times. Gatsby for Fitzgerald’s analyses of the human condition, and Warren’s for the poetry of his writing. And maybe I’d throw Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 in there as well. Funniest and most clever book, ever.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I think that the two fiction writers who I have drawn the most from would be Daphne duMaurier and Tim Green. Two different styles, certainly, but I have learned a bit from each. Both are outstanding in their own way, and I think both are underappreciated.
What book are you reading now? What do you like, or not, about it?
I am reading Dana Stabenow’s A Cold Day For Murder. I like the fact that her main character is a female Native American criminal investigator in Alaska. That aspect is pretty unique. And her book is well edited, with few, if any, mistakes. But I don’t like the fact that she hits you over the head with her sociological analyses of the Native American population in Alaska. Look, every state in the union has geographical sections like the one she describes in the national parks: little hard-luck pockets that time forgot where everyone’s a cousin. Just grab a handful of files off any public defender’s desk anywhere and you can read all about it. She should have just made her point and moved on with the plot. Reading the same conversation over and over again didn’t really drive the plot sufficiently. And the murder plot itself comes across almost as a literary superstructure to her sociological rant. But it’s the first in the series, so maybe she got it out of her system in the first book.
Are there any new authors who have grabbed your interest?
There’s a bunch of new and emerging indie authors out there. Simon Breit, Bill Grasso and Helen Hanson are three who come to mind, even though Helen prefers Glocks to Berettas, but heck, no writer is perfect.
What are your current projects?
I am playing around with the 1960’s again, a sort of follow-up to my Prologue themes. Like today, the sixties were very divisive, generally along the lines of those who alternately supported or opposed the Vietnam War. At the two extremes there were those who went and fought, and those who stayed and fought against the war. In our current polarized society we tend to either vilify or glorify one of the sides, depending on which end of the political spectrum we are standing. But both sides acted honorably in many ways, and both made sacrifices. I think that story still needs to be told.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I’m one of those guys who drives home from a courthouse after a successful and sometimes emotional jury verdict still wondering what I could have done better – part of my Catholic upbringing no doubt - so yeah, I am always thinking what I could have done differently in any book. That is why I like to hear from readers. In The Medici Legacy I think that I could have possibly developed the theme of parental pressure more, perhaps had a clearer resolution of that dilemma for my main character, and I always think that I could have driven the plot with more action, especially earlier in the plot set-up. Sometimes I am concerned that my novels are more Downton Abbey than Bourne.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Most writers who answer this question describe some maudlin kindergarten memory of scribbling a story about a unicorn. For me it was more evolutionary; I stumbled into my first book, and then discovered that I liked the process. And as for it being a mid-life crisis thing, it’s a lot cheaper than a red sports car.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Starting. When I first open the notebook (I write longhand) the trail seems to stretch so far into a vast wilderness.
Do you ever have problems with writers block? If so how do you get through it?
Since I freely acknowledge that writing for me is part-time, I am always willing to set a project aside for awhile, sometimes even for a year or so until I get the bug again, or again find the time. When I get stuck on plot I often do that. I think that at one point I laid Prologue aside for almost two years before finally figuring out how I wanted to go with it. The so-called writer’s block comes from putting pressure on yourself to finish something when you don’t yet see a clear path. Take time, toss it aside, take up something else for awhile, the files will always be there when you decide like buckling down again.
What do you do when you’re not writing/editing or thinking about writing/editing?
I am both a self-confessed history addict and a college sports nut. I think if I had to spend eternity watching just one cable television network all day long it’d be a toss-up between ESPN and the History Channel – as long as it wasn’t Ice Road Truckers. I really don’t care if the big rigs get through.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I can’t really say that there’s any one particular author I’m addicted to. I like particular works by some authors, but then not other books they’ve written. And of course, there are writers that I’ve drawn from, but I really don’t have a favorite.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Editing and Rewrites. There’s this image that a writer types the last word, leans back in his chair, and cracks open a bottle of Vouvray. When you type the last word you are actually about 40% done. Now make sure it makes sense, with correct grammar, and make sure that the spelling of the characters’ names in the first chapter matches the last – heck, make sure they have the same name and you didn’t kill one off in chapter 3. Then give the manuscript to someone who doesn’t particularly like you and let them have at it. On and on, over and over. I’ve read major bestsellers where a character leaves a room, other characters continue their conversation, then the first character stands up and leaves again. It happens.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
There’s a fair amount of historical research behind all my books. In The Medici Legacy researching the World War II atrocities in China was extremely educational. It is a forgotten, and sometimes untaught topic, and I was glad to be able to breathe a little life into it.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t have an ego! If there is a criticism that you receive, don’t become defensive. Think about it and try to figure out how you can improve. And for God’s sake, get an editor. Don’t assume that your agent or publisher will help you - or be especially good at it. It does not have to be a professional editor (they can be expensive and I really don’t know how good they are anyway) but with the advent of Kindle and e-publishing I am seeing a lot of stuff with mistakes - missing grammar, misspelled words that spell check often won’t catch ("than" for "that," etc) so get someone else to comb through it, again and again.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yeah, don’t be shy. Give me a holler. I think any writer likes getting feedback from readers. And it needn’t be all flowers and candy either.
Who is your publisher and how did you connect with them?
Well, I’ve had three different publishers. After my second publisher (that was publishing Prologue) closed its doors, I went to Kindle directly for The Medici Legacy. I liked Kindle’s contract, they seemed to be targeting a new and emerging market, and for one of the few times in my life it gave me the chance to actually get ahead of the technological curve. That, and the fact I was told don’t bother going traditional with Medici because the main character was not an American. I then had Booklocker take over the publishing contract on Prologue, and they also agreed to publish the paperback version of The Medici Legacy.
How can we find you? Website, Facebook, Twitter, blog, etc. - please share your public links.
When thirty-something Deputy Inspector Antonio Ferrara of the Italian Polizia di Stato discovers that the seemingly random victims of a Tuscan serial killer may actually all be illegitimate descendants of one Giovanni di Cosimo de Medici, a 15th century Florentine banker, his superior scoffs at his theory, the Italian military police caution him to leave this closed case alone on the basis of “national security,” and even his father uses the occasion to hector him to leave police work and return to the family art business. Undeterred, Antonio enlists the aid of Rachel Fuller, an American Fulbright scholar working on her Medici dissertation in Florence, and together they travel to America to unlock a secret that spans three continents.
“You'll catch your death, M'lady,” Carlotta said.
The tall figure standing at the open window, gazing out on Florence's magnificent piazza, didn't react. The servant girl opened her mouth to repeat her warning, but closed it silently, pulling her black woven wrap tighter around her shoulders.
She cleared her throat.
“Father Joacha will be along shortly, M'lady. I saw his coach pull up before the front gates.”
Anna Marie Medici turned so swiftly Carlotta stepped back. Even from the distance she could feel the anger smoldering in the Electess Palatine's body.
“And the good Father,” the Electess spat, “he will be able to pray away the six thousand Austrian soldiers defiling our land?”
Carlotta knew better than to answer or move.
The Electess turned back to the piazza, sighed, and closed the window. Turning again to the room she took three steps and stopped, reaching out gently for the corner of a table. Carlotta moved toward her but the woman waved her away.
“It is nothing,” she said, momentarily swaying. Without assistance, she walked to her bed in the center of the chamber and sat on it.
“Such a sad, dark place,” the Electess muttered. “Darkened streets. Darkened houses. Beggars everywhere. Monks parading about pointlessly in dark robes, with no salvation for themselves, let alone for Florence.”
She turned to face the servant girl.
“Luigi Genero. Our very own Arte dei Giudici e Notai. He will come today as well?”
“No M'lady,” Carlotta said. “He sent a message saying he was unavoidably delayed, but that your will, and the treasures of the Medici, are safe. The Lorrainers will never take…your…art…”
Carlotta fell silent under the Electess's piercing glare.
“Indeed. Some…lawyer assured you of that, did he? ‘Unavoidably delayed’-running for his miserable hide-he assures you our treasure is safe? He's safe from the Lorrainers, who care less for him than for a mange-ridden dog, perhaps that is what he meant.”
The woman turned her face to the ceiling, covering her eyes with her hand.
“Do you have a headache, M'lady?” Carlotta asked, turning toward the door. “I think I hear the-”
A noise of voices and boots tromping up stairs grew louder and Father Joacha's powerful voice boomed through the Ducal apartments. “For the sweet Virgin's sake, Leo, some wine!” he bellowed, adding in a lascivious tone, “Of course I'm not talking about you, Maria,” as Maria, giggling, opened the door and announced the priest. Joacha brushed past Maria, who squealed and slapped his hand before darting away.
He strode to the bed where he knelt and took the old woman's hand.
“And how is the Duchess today?” he asked.
“The same as yesterday, and I am still not a Duchess. You know well enough, Joacha, that being the younger sister of the last Duke does not a Duchess make.”
“You haven't changed in 58 years, Anna Marie.” He turned to the still-open door. “Giovanni’s blood! Where's my wine?” he yelled, as a young kitchen boy hurried up the stairs and stumbled into the room with a decanter and glass.
“Three Pater Nosters, young man, and I won't damn your soul to hell for making me wait,” he said, slapping the lad on the shoulder. He grabbed the decanter and waved the glass away. Opening it he took a long drink. “Tastes as good as it does when it's blood,” he declared, chuckling at Carlotta's reproachful look.
“So,” he said, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his cassock. “To what do I owe the pleasure of a visit to My Lady's chamber?”
“The pleasure of seeing an old lady pass from the earth,” the Electess said, lying back on the bed.
The priest snorted. “God isn't quite ready for you yet, Anna Marie,” he said, swigging at the wine. “You're as healthy as I am.”
“Which of my servant girls can I confirm that with?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
Father Joacha roared with laughter. “Ah, take your pick.” He turned to Carlotta. “Who have we here?”
“Carlotta. From the Caucasus. Recently arrived, I think.”
He eyed her up and down before giving a quite noticeable wink. Carlotta stiffened and turned to busy herself with something on the other side of the room.
“Joacha, I have a favor to ask of you.”
The Electess almost smiled. “Such a dry wit. No, Joacha, I need an old friend for this one. Some worm of a lawyer has written a will in my name stipulating that all the treasures of the Medici-the palaces, the art, the sculpture-will pass to the Lorrainers but remain within Florence when I die, that the Lorrainers are not to take them away. Of course you and I know they will take what they please, and that the other jackals of Europe will do nothing except sniff around for scraps the Lorrainers miss.”
Joacha pointed with the decanter out the window toward the unseen encampments in the hills above the city. “They wait even now. Five hundred years of Medici rule in Tuscany will come to an end when you pass, Anna Marie. Glorious indeed.”
“Just so. But do you know, Joacha, that the true treasure of the Medici will not pass to them. Carlotta, you may go.”
Carlotta left the room, closing the door and standing outside, making softer and softer footfall sounds. She knelt down to listen.