The Face that Launched 1000 Words

The Face that Launched 1000 Words

Some authors look for visual cues to help create setting and characters. Most call it research.

I call it antiques hunting.


To build the Galliano Club series, I have my grandfather’s account books from when he was City Marshall, as well as a wealth of family stories.

But when I saw this photo hanging on a pegboard in an antiques mall, I knew it was the face of my protagonist. Gianluca “Luca” Lombardo is bartender and jack-of-all-trades at the fictional Galliano Club in fictional Lido, NY.

Vintage portrait

The man in the sepia photograph is 19 or 20 years old, younger than Luca, who is 27 at the start of the first Galliano Club thriller, MURDER AT THE GALLIANO CLUB. He is wearing a suit that is far too big. The jacket is puddled around his waist and the trouser legs spread like a tablecloth.

He’s posed on a leather chair that fairly gleams. His gaze is direct and clear, which is what caught my eye.

The oval frame is beautiful burled wood and in near pristine condition. The glass over the photograph is domed, an expensive feature rarely seen any more. (which accounts for the glare in the photo here.)

Someone in the 1920’s invested heavily in this portrait of a handsome man.


It seemed crazy to buy a photograph of someone I didn’t know. But to make a long story short, I lugged Luca home and hung him on my office wall. To further immerse myself in 1926, I also brought home a giant red cigar box, which at least is a useful organizing item.

The youthfulness of the man in the photograph led to a great backstory element that has already made its way into the first book in the series:

Luca came to the United States as a 19-year-old immigrant from Italy in 1919. Like many others who came from Italy at the time, he lived in a New York City tenement on Elizabeth Street. With little English and no professional skills, he took any job he could find, including bare knuckled prizefighting.

In between bouts, a photographer offered Luca $20 to have his picture taken to display in the studio window. The photographer was hoping a handsome face would entice female customers. Luca agreed and wore clothes provided by the photographer for the picture-taking event.

With the money in his pocket, Luca never gave the portrait another thought.

See more about the forthcoming GALLIANO CLUB series here.


This is a different process than I followed with the Detective Emilia Cruz series. My mind’s eye saw Emilia very clearly but there was no actual face to go with that image until around Book 5, PACIFIC REAPER, when I stumbled upon this image of a Latina boxer.

the face

She’s the spitting image of Emilia. Don’t you agree?

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Author to Author with British Mystery Writer M.A. Comley

Author to Author with British Mystery Writer M.A. Comley

British author M.A. Comley is here to talk about her multiple mystery series. Her latest book IN PLAIN SIGHT, 3rd in the DI Hero Nelson series, came out last week and quickly shot to the top of Amazon’s Hot New Releases chart!

1. Carmen Amato: You are the master of the short swift mystery novel built mostly around a single plot thread, a format that has really resonated with readers. Tell us how you came to embrace this style and if you have a writing role model.

M.A. Comley: Hi Carmen, thank you for inviting me to take part in this Q&A with you. To be honest with you, I’m not one of those writers who try to fill their novels with worthless words just to achieve an 80K word count. My first two books were 88.000 and 80.000 respectfully but then I cut it down to writing 60.000 only because I had very impatient fans who wanted to see more and more books from me. My role model has to be James Patterson, the only difference between us, is the fact that I write my own books. Ha ha.

MA Comley

With her dog, Dex

2. CA: You write multiple series and maintain a fast publishing pace. Tell us about the different series and how you keep each fresh and unique.

MAC: I used to just write and publish the Justice series as the main character Lorne seemed to be the only character shouting, urging me on in my head. Then I started writing the DI Hero Nelson series, he’s the only male character I write. All of a sudden, all these other characters started screaming at me, demanding to be heard. Therefore, I went on to write a Private Investigator series, the Intention series. Finally, I began writing another police procedural series, the DI Sally Parker thriller. I intend to alternate the series over the coming years. Recently, I have co-authored two other series with Tara Lyons and Linda S Prather, although they were fun projects to write, I think I’ll be concentrating more on writing my own books going forward as I’m a bit of a control freak at heart. As for keeping the characters fresh and unique, they tend to do that themselves to be honest during the writing process, I suppose I’m lucky in that respect.

3. CA: Who is your target reader? What other authors do they read who are similar to you?

MAC: My target readers are anyone who appreciates a fast-paced thriller, sometimes they can be a little gory, but then you only have to look at a news bulletin every night to see that unfortunately, we live in a violent society, it would be totally unrealistic not to include at least some violence in my novels. Again, I have to mention James Patterson, Karen Rose, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen.

MA Comley

4. CA: Which of your characters are your favorites? No, wait. I’ll make this harder! Tell us about a favorite relationship in one of your books.

MAC: That’s a no-brainer, it has to be Lorne Simpkins/Warner, she is me. We both escaped a violent abusive marriage, the only difference really is that Lorne went on to find the love of her life in Tony, an ex-MI6 agent. I think I’ve given up hope of that ever happening to me. I’m too devoted to my career as a writer now to ever contemplate getting out there and finding a man who I can trust to have my best interest at heart.

5. CA: I hear one of your series is coming to the silver screen. Tell us all about it!

MAC: Crikey, not sure where you heard that, of course if Hollywood came knocking I’d bite their hands off. Until then, I’ll just have to dream about my characters playing out their roles on the silver screen.

6. CA: You can invite any author, living or dead, to dinner at your home. What are you serving and what will the conversation be about?

MAC: Sorry to sound repetitive, but again it has to be the master crime writer himself, James Patterson. I’d get my mum (she’s a qualified chef) to serve up a traditional roast beef dinner with all the trimmings, followed by a steamed syrup sponge and custard, lots of calories but sooooo good to eat. The conversation would be all about him and his books, his phenomenal writing ethic, and would end with me pleading with him to co-write a series with me, I live in hope of that happening, we always sit side by side each other in the charts so he must have noticed me, surely. 😊

7. CA: Can you leave us with a quote, a place, or a concept from a book that inspired you?

MAC: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou

Thank you!

More about M.A. Comley: I’m a hybrid author with a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books. I started self-publishing the Justice series in 2010 and now have over thirty full length novels and several novellas and short stories to my name. I intend to write and publish four more books in 2017, beginning with COLD CASE due out May 2017t.

Visit  M. A. Comley’s website and find her books: Amazon author page

KOBO author page

iTunes author page

Barnes and Noble author page

Google Play author page


Facebook author page

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MA Comley


Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


MA Comley

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