Monday, October 31, 2011
Sunday, October 30, 2011
“Lily Moore is one of the most appealing ‘amateur’ sleuths I’ve encountered in years. The vivid sense of place — Peru, in this case — is everything one would expect from a seasoned travel journalist like Hilary Davidson, the story is deliciously twisty, the characters engaging. I know I can’t be the only reader looking forward to more Moore.”
Saturday, October 29, 2011
At the Criminal Minds blog, we’re one big happy, bloodthirsty family, which puts me in mind of another murderous extended family – The Sopranos. David Chase’s brilliant series provides a vast cast of characters to draw from at Halloween and the costumes aren’t really too tough. For the men, all you need are some gold chains, a silk shirt and a sport coat or leather jacket. For the women, big hair and leopard prints will do nicely.
Like anything so deeply embedded in our popular culture, organized crime is remarkably versatile as a metaphor. In THE INSIDER, I drew parallels between Yuri, the Russian thug trying to rise in the ranks of the mafiya, and Will, a young corporate associate striving to make partner. In both worlds, being a “good earner” is paramount. But Tony Soprano and his crew can also serve as a metaphor for the crime writing business.
Tony is grappling with an era of diminished expectations. The glory days of the Five Families are gone and organized crime is not so organized anymore. Similarly, the publishing industry is arguably in a period of decline, or at least retrenchment and transition. The reading audience for fiction is declining and the traditional publishers are still struggling to define their relationship to e-publishing. And any student of The Sopranos can tell you what happens when turf is up for grabs. People get whacked.
I’m not going to even attempt to justify my casting here in assigning roles to my fellow Criminal Minds. We’re really not at all like this devious, murderous, duplicitous bunch – right?
Joshua “Bacala” Corin – Silvio Dante
Sue Ann “Jailhouse” Jaffarian – Rosalie Aprile
Kelli “The Hat” Stanley – Livia Soprano
Michael “Mikey Corn Nuts” Wiley – Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri
Meredith “Brooklyn” Cole – Adriana La Cerva
Lois “Glue Gun” Winston – Carmela Soprano
Rebecca “The Fang” Cantrell – Angie Bonpensiero
Tracy “The Bride” Kiely – Dr. Jennifer Melfi
Graham “Cracker Crust” Brown – Christopher Moltisanti
Gabriella “Little Mongoose” Herkert – Meadow Soprano
Gary “Baby Shacks” Phillips – Tony Soprano
Hilary “Beretta” Davidson – Janice Soprano Baccalieri
Vicki “Canadian Club” Delany – Charmaine Bucco
My only regret is that we didn’t have enough guys on this blog for me to cast favorite Sopranos characters Feech La Manna, Herman “Hesh” Rabkin and John “Johnny Sack” Sacramoni. Just roll those names around on your tongue and you can almost taste (and smell) Jersey ….
Friday, October 28, 2011
Halloween always takes on a certain sort of magic--the joy of dressing up as something powerful, scary, sexy and adventurous. Something or someone that is not us in our day-to-day lives. The homemade costumes are my favorite. So are the timely ones (I'm sure this year there will be Occupy Wall Street protestor costumes, and Charlie Sheen and Michele Bachman masks).
When I lived in DC, every Halloween there were the "drag races" where men in drag first paraded around in amazing outfits, and then ran a block in high heels to much applause and fanfare. Weeks before I'd run into the guys shopping -- they would hold up a high heel shoe at a store and ask the clerk if it came in a size 13.
But what interests me more is the costumes we wear on ordinary days. Lydia McKenzie is of course a huge clothes horse who focuses on what she wears everyday. She likes to dress for the occasion, and enjoys fabrics and colors, and vintage designs. I can sometimes rise to the occasion when I get dressed, but never give it as much time and attention as she does.
And then there is the anxiety that comes with dressing up as an author. What do you wear to a book signing? New writers sometimes get a bit nervous at their first event, as if there's some secret costume code and they're going to look too casual or too dressed up when they arrive at the party.
Authors spend days in their pajamas with unwashed hair (okay, so maybe it's just me) and having an event where you actually talk to people can be exciting--or intimidating. Some authors dress as professionally as their previous (or current) career. SJ Rozan says that you should consider yourself lucky if an author puts on earrings for an event. Hank Phillipi Ryan always looks stunning and polished in a suit, her news persona. Kelli Stanley wears her trademark fedora and is easy to find in a crowd. I have clothes in my closet just for going on tours--stuff that doesn't wrinkle, looks professional and isn't all black.
But author outfits are often all over the map. One person in jeans, another wearing a blazer. And perhaps some of us get some flack for not taking the time to put on make-up or get really dressed up. But writers live mostly in their heads so it's hard for us to come back to reality with a thud. Wear a dress? Maybe. A tie? Doubtful. Bring good pens? Of course.
So we clothe ourselves and go out in public, perhaps clutching our book in front of us for protection. And hopefully we discover that each time we read aloud, or discuss our characters in front of readers it gets easier. And our author costumes feel more natural and more like a part of us. After all, in the end, it's all about the story.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Happy Halloween! My favorite holiday, mainly because it's about a social pact and collegiality that's not commonly found in our daily life. I mean, strangers knocking on your door is the stuff of suspense and horror movies--not a smile and a fistful of candy.
Halloween also means the freeing up of inhibitions, the night you're allowed to indulge your costume fantasies and play dress up. And what fun have we, getting to dress our fellow Criminal Minds!
So, to take a page from Becky and Graham, we're trick-or-treating as a cast this year, and shedding our Muggle wear for the world of ... Harry Potter!
As Harry, the boy who survived, who else but the brilliant, boyish and delightful Josh Corin? I swore I saw a lightning scar on his forehead at Bouchercon. Josh is the kind of person whom civilization should depend on.
Harry's courage is matched by his best friends: the incredibly smart and brave Hermione (a natural for the incredibly smart and brave Rebecca Cantrell) and the plucky, lion-hearted and loyal Ron Weasley. With a bit of red hair dye, Graham is perfect for Ron, since he's always downplaying his own great accomplishments.
Speaking of redheads, Ginny Weasley simply must be Gabriella Herkert. Spunky, courageous, and independent--a true freedom fighter, and a star in her own right.
Sue Ann Jaffarian possesses magic in abundance, as she juggles three successful series and a full-time career. How does she do it? Maybe she's an elf. Sue Ann can seamlessly shift from starring as an Ewok yesterday to Dobbie today.
Lois Winston trades off on Mondays with Sue Ann, is inventive, handy with glue guns and all kinds of other tools, and I think she'd make an excellent Poppy Pomfrey. She'll know what to do if we drink Polyjuice Potion during Halloween!
For her deliciously dry sense of humor and ability to transform from Jane Austen's England to contemporary America, who else but Tracy Kiely as Minerva McGonagall? She'd even look terrific in the hat. Plus, she's practically British!
Michael Wiley ... well, that Shaggy quality from Tuesday is still clinging to him, but always heroically. He's one of my favorite characters: the courageous, noirish werewolf, Remus John Lupin. As a writer, Michael is a master of the Dark Arts! Besides, I hear he howls at the moon.
And that brings us to Meredith Cole, who, like Michael, won a Best First Mystery contest from St. Martin's. What's more natural than Meredith as Nymphodora Tonks, particularly because she's smart, super talented and looks great in black?
Reece Hirsh is next, and since Reece is both a successful thriller writer and an attorney, he understands what it's like to lead a dual life. He's the mysterious Severus Snape!
That leaves us with one of my favorite characters: Hagrid. Who better than the uber-talented Gary Phillips to play a gentle (but ferocious and loyal) giant? And anyone who's ever heard Gary's laugh knows how infectious it is and how good you feel when you hear it.
Award-winner Hilary Davidson is known for her dark, poetic prose and fabulous writing, so while she could conceivably play a bad girl (Bellatrix), let's keep her on the good side. I think she'd make a very cool Lily Potter--she's super-smart, very loyal, has powers way beyond the average wizard, and besides--that's her heroine's name!
Finally, there's our newest member, Vicki Delaney, who is delightful and delightfully talented! Vicki is one of the nicest people I know, but tough and loyal like Molly Weasley. Just bring on more red hair dye!
As for me, it's an easy enough change from Obi-Wan on Wednesday to Dumbledore on Thursday.
Now, all we need is a little of that magic J.K. Rowling sales dust to land on all of us! And that's what I wish all the Criminal Minds for a very Happy Halloween! :)
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Instead I will treat you to the 7crim version of the Star Wars Saga. I'll start with Becks whom so kindly turned me into an ascot wearing big man on campus - Fred from Scooby Doo. In return I get to dress Becky up as Princess Leia from Star Wars - don't worry Becks I'm not having impure thoughts. You are not the scantilly clad Princess Leia from the Jabba the Hutt scene in Return of the Jedi, but the pure, dressed in white Princess Leia from Episode 4 - which was actually movie 1 - the original. Not sure how we're going to get your hair like that but we'll bring lots of hair spray.
I can just See you confronting our Darth Vader - who would have to be Gary Phillips, partly because he reminds me of James Earl Jones and partly because he writes " ..." Now does that not sound like something James Earl Jones would say? FYI - I always thought if they let me cast Black Rain I wanted James Earl Jones to play McCarter. But if we cant afford him we'll be in touch with Gary's agent.
Not long after Becky's capture we meet R2-D2 and C-3PO - I must cast Lois as R2 because her book Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun sounds like something the resourceful little droid might do. I myself will play C-3PO because sometimes he rambles a lot and sometimes just needs to shut up and well... you get the idea.
After Lois and I crash on the planet Tatooine, go our separate ways and get captured by the Jawas, we are soon rescued from oblivion by Joshua Corin Skywalker - young farm boy and flying ace who longs for adventure among the stars. Josh has the boyish charm and I think he can pull off the 1977 Mark Hamill - the dont have barbers on Tatooine - hair.
Eventually Lois runs off - she's like that. Joshua and I go after her in his 57 chevy. We catch her - how she gets over all these rocks and cliffs with the little tiny wheels nobody really knows but she does - we then meet Obi Wan Ke-Stanley - known around here as Kelli - wise in the ways of the force and of DRAGONS and SECRETS.
Kelli teaches Joshua the ways of the force and takes us to LAX - I mean Mos Eisley - a wretched hive of scum and villainy. There we encounter Michael Wiley Solo - researching his next book Striptease in a Space Cantina and trying to get enough money together to pay off his publisher Jabba Imprints. And you thought your publisher was rough.
None of us are actually tall enough to play Chewbacca - not sure anyone wants to be Grand Moff Tarkington - former Vikings quarterback and now in charge of the Death Star and so the rest of you are stormtroopers or Rebel X-wing pilots with those cool Orange visors. Take your pick.
AND IF ANYONE is still reading - Happy Halloween.
- Scooby – Gary Phillips, for his love of donuts, which we know Scooby loves too.
- Yabba – Reece Hirsch, the brave brother who solves crimes.
- Scrappy – Josh Corin, the glib youngster of the group.
- Shaggy – Michael Wiley, because I can see you in that green shirt, and I sense you can do the voice.
- Velma – I decided to have an evil Velma and good one. Hilary Davidson, you get to be good Velma (you have that brainy science side, we know it) and Meredith Cole, you get to be evil Velma (mostly because Meredith it also techier than she looks, and she also has good Evil Velma boots).
- Daphne – This one was a gimme. Who is the wild red head of our group? Gabrielle Herkert. But she has to be evil Daphne. If you knew her, you’d understand. If you don’t, you’d never believe me if I told you. Tracy Kiely gets to be good Daphne, because I bet she has a purple mini-skirt someplace and she totally has that hair flip thing down.
- Fred – Graham Brown. Because he can accessorize, or he'd better learn by our upcoming Top Shelf in Tucson (wooden beaded necklace like Richard Hammond, don’t forget it!)
Monday, October 24, 2011
Rebecca Cantrell writes about Berlin in the 1930’s. I’m dressing her as Lola-Lola, the Marlene Dietrich character in The Blue Angel.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Now, what was the question again? Oh right. Books that surprised us. That we read this year. Some people wandered off to discuss past reading, but I’ll try to stick to the question.
I was recently just blown away by The Ridge by Michael Koryta. The book is described as Horror. Which means I wouldn’t have touched it in normal circumstances. Fortunately it came my way before I actually read any of those attempts to stuff it into a sub-genre. It has a supernatural element, to be sure, but it’s not horror. It’s highly suspenseful, and it just so happens that the suspense is provided by the presence of an evil being. I guess I think of horror as something designed to frighten ME and this book did not attempt to do that. A great read, beautifully written, with a couple of surprising twists. Made me think about the use of subgenres. Can attempts to classify a book into a sub-genre backfire and end up turning off readers who might have liked the book? I’d say yes.
Another book badly classified is the Alchemist’s series by Dave Duncan. Duncan is primarily known as a high fantasy author. I don’t read (much) fantasy and wouldn’t have looked at these books had they not be recommended by my good friend the fantasy author Violette Malan (www.violettemalan.com). I read the Alchemists Apprentice at her recommendation, then immediately bought and read the Alchemist’s Code and have the Alchemist’s Pursuit ready to take on a forthcoming trip. These books are historical mystery, set in 15th century Venice. The catch is that the alchemist of the title is really an alchemist. He practices magic and fights demons. Magic happens and demons appear. They are very much in the style of the Nero Wolfe books. Our young hero rushes about doing the bidding of the intelligent yet stationary master. Light and funny and good mysteries.
I also recently read the Quest for Anna Klein by Thomas Cook and enjoyed it very much. What was surprising about this book is that I think he took a real no-no writing style and made it totally effective. Essentially it’s about an old man telling a young man his story. The scenes pop between the past and the present with head-spinning regularity. Often each time frame is only a page or two in length. There’s lots of telling, not showing as well, as the old man tells the young man how he felt. Just goes to show that in the hands of a master, any rule can be broken.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
You know a wag might say an unlikely place for me to sell one of my books would be a chain bookstore but I say that with tongue firmly in cheek. As to the five most off-kilter venues, here goes:
Number One with a bullet would be going on the O’Reilly Factor to promote my book. I would just love to be on his show and have a knockdown, drag out shouting match with O’Reilly. He’s taller than me but we’d be sitting down and my voice is deeper that his so I’m prepared to go mano-y-mano with the King of the Blowhards. I have some experience shouting my point of view when, er, motivated. What I hope is not that his audience would be interested in my book but that he’d denounce me and my work as “A dark, disturbed tale of corrupt individuals advancing an anti-capitalist agenda, and anybody buying this book is a fool.” Then I’d run banner ads on Lefty sites proclaiming Bill O’Reilly Doesn’t Want You to Buy This Book. Ha. The book would be a hit.
Number Two would be the PTA national convention. Of course officially there’s no way the PTA could endorse my books such as Bangers, about bent cops and ambitious pols or say the Cocaine Chronicles, the recently re-issued anthology of jaw grinding, cautionary tales about that devil powder. But I know if I got to give a presentation on how reading Dickens and Twain in high school kept me interested in school beyond sports. Surely this would resonate and I’d sell some books at the signing afterward…books they’d keep hidden in their nightstand drawer.
Number Three place to hawk my book would be a Klitschko boxing match – either one. For those who might not know, these two Ukrainian brothers between them are the title holders of any and all heavyweight belts. They’re big men, like 6-6, 6-7, and unlike other tall men who box, are coordinated and reasonably fast. Now me and a few other boxing enthusiasts have long suspected that Vitaly, the older one at 40 (his brother Vladimir is 35) has a glass jaw but since very few have been able to penetrate his defense, given his long arms with them fists on the end of it keep you out, this may never be proven. Anyway, I think their fans are the hard-boiled gritty kind. So all I would need is Dr. Ironfist -- did I mention that Vitaly is the only Ph.D. to hold a heavyweight title? Anyway, I know he reads so at the weigh in and stare down, he introduces me at my table off to the side. Then a ring honey clad in a bikini holds up a sign with my name and current book cover on it, and I bet I could move a few units.
Number Four is a cat lovers meeting. I have not killed nor harmed any cats in any of my books or short stories. Right there that ought to set me in solid.
Number Five would be a Trappist monks’ monastery. Okay, I guess they really don’t take a vow of silence but pretty much speak only when spoken to and do like their quiet time for contemplation and what have you. Given that and citing my Number One venue approach, I’m thinking they’d gladly buy a book for me to shut up.
Lastly you might be wondering about this graphic on the right. It doesn’t have anything to do with my answers – though I did consider a neo-Nazi gathering as a particularly tough crowd for me to sell to as one of my choices. But the illustration is by the great comics artist Joe Kubert, co-creator of Sgt. Rock. It’s for the upcoming film about the all-black Tuskegee airmen who flew fighter planes in World War II. My mother’s brother, Oscar D. Hutton, Jr. was a Tuskegee pilot killed in combat over Memmingen, Germany in June 1944. He was the uncle I never knew. I just dug this poster done as an old school comic book cover that Kubert issued recently, and wanted to give him and these heroes some props.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Lois Winston’s Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun should be sitting next to the actual glue guns in a place like Michaels. Yeah, there’s a risk someone will say she’s provided a blueprint and the necessary tools to implement a major crime but she can always come back with the you can’t lead a felon to a crime scene defense. I think the crafters are both her demographic and unlikely to be suspected based solely on a receipt. There could even be a glue gun holster merchandising deal.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I’ve thought about marketing a lot – as in, thought about it every breathing moment, as in thought about it the way that Ahab thinks about Moby Dick: night and day, while eating meals, in my dreams, while having sex. Does Ahab have sex? If he does, he might cry out in a moment of ecstasy: “Oh, Sister-of-Queequeg, how about magnetic appliqués on the car!” Or maybe that would be me.
Actually, I have no plans for magnetic appliqués – though if you want to drive around with one that says, “Read A Bad Night’s Sleep,” please be my guest. Those plastic-shrink-wrap things that they put on city buses and VW bugs look nice too.
Instead, I mostly think of cross-marketing possibilities. For instance:
(1) Shortly after
This, I thought, has real potential – especially if I can be an aficionado. Maybe as the strippers finish their dances, they could whip out a copy of The Last Striptease and whisper the ISBN in a sexy voice. Maybe they could veil and unveil themselves with book covers the way that burlesque dancers once used boas and balloons.
I’m sorry to say that I passed up the offer. But here I am now, promoting www.stripteasecards.com, so maybe it isn’t too late.
(2) Having learned from my early experience that I should make the most of every sales opportunity, I recently accepted an invitation to talk to a group of women at the other end of the cultural spectrum: the Women's Auxiliary of the Salvation Army. When their chapter vice president asked me to join the Auxiliary for a morning of coffee, cake, and conversation, I explained that my books might be inappropriate for such fellowship. She dismissed my worries, and she was right to do so. When I arrived, a bright-eyed eighty-year-old woman answered the door and, within ten minutes, told me a story about a wedding she’d attended at which the bride handed out Barbie Doll party favors and when you lifted Barbie’s dress you found a Hershey’s kiss tucked between her legs. I said, “That makes me feel better.” The Salvation Army women and I then had a very pleasant conversation, and when we finished, they bought a lot of books.
(3) Not that every event works out so well – not even some of the ones that show the most promise. I’ve long thought that film noir devotees should be a strong audience for my mysteries, which are also noir. So, I’ve twice hired kids to hand out flyers at film noir festivals. What noir fan could resist the allure of a book called The Bad Kitty Lounge after returning home from a darkened theater? Apparently every one of them. As far as I can tell (and I admit that my science is inexact), my sales experienced no bump at all after the movie showings.
(4) Although my fictional private detective’s name is Joe Kozmarski, I haven’t done very well with the Polish-American groups I’ve joined either. My wife has a Great-grandmother Nowakowski, but I personally don’t have any Polish blood – not that I know of. Still, I set my books in
I’ve made Joe as authentically Polish-American as I can, but I seem to have done no better with the Polish-American market than any other. Now, I’m thinking of marrying Joe off to an Anglo-Mexican woman with the hyphenated name Smith-Gonzalez and then hyphenating their names as well under the assumption that a detective named Joe Smith-Gonzalez-Kozmarski will have a broader appeal.
(5) As soon as I write that marriage scene and join all of the Anglo-Mexican-Polish-American clubs that I can find, I also plan to start attending Parenting Classes for Single Dads. I’m a happily married man myself, but Joe isn’t – or he wasn’t before becoming Mr. Smith-Gonzalez-Kozmarski. In the first three books, he has been unhappily divorced – and he has been raising his eleven-year-old nephew Jason alone. So, I’ll sign up for the Parenting Classes for Single Dads, and while the other men are talking about strategies for raising kids and the trials and joys of single parenthood, I’ll work my way around the room selling books.
And when the single dads kick me out, I won’t despair. I’ll go home and Google “Association of Confused Writers.” I’m sure that’s a market I can conquer.
(If you want a copy of my latest, A Bad Night's Sleep, you can find one in all the usual places -- not that I'm trying to sell you one.)
(If you want a copy of my latest, A Bad Night's Sleep, you can find one in all the usual places -- not that I'm trying to sell you one.)
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
As you know, this week’s topic is to discuss off-the wall places in which we might sell our books. I immediately set to work and came up with – what I thought – was a rather impressive list. Of course, I ran it by my own publicist first for her input. Her own insightful comments are indicated below.
Tracy’s Publicist (TP): Um… Tracy, am I reading this right? Prison?
Me: Yes! Why isn’t this one done more? I was thinking, what better place to sell my books? I mean talk about a captive audience! Get it…?
TP: Oh, yes. I got it.
Me: I figured many of the inmates might be bored or in need of a weapon. It is hardcover you know.
TP: I think we should move on.
2. Nudist Beach for First Timers
Me: I really like this one. I was thinking, if I was going to a nudist beach for the first time, I’d be really self-conscious and afraid that I’d end up staring at everyone and then getting asked to leave. I hear that’s a big no-no. Staring, I mean. I’d want to have something to pretend to be absorbed with and/or hide behind. I thought I could sell the books in the parking lot or something.
TP: I have no response to this.
3. Pottery Barn
Me: I know. But, they always have at least one shot in their catalog of a room where there’s a bookcase stuffed with books; but the books are all in backwards! You can’t see the spines – just the pages. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen! But, if we could sell them the books in bulk for their decorating use, I’d reserve judgment.
TP: Do you even want people to read your books?
4. Book Burning Organizers
TP: Book burners? Are you kidding me?
Me: Wait – hear me out. Book burners like to put on a big show, right? I mean, why gather everyone together for a bonfire that only has one or two books? A good entertainer knows how to work the crowd and keep the show going. I thought I could contact the organizers of these groups and pretend to be an outraged parent and say that my books are worse than Harry Potter and Huck Finn combined. It’s obvious that these people never actually read the books they burn – if they read at all. Why should the books that are brilliantly creative or tackle serious issues get to go into reprints because of repeat burning business? I think it’s time to spread the wealth, so to speak.
TP: Back up. You want people to burn your books?
Me: I want people to BUY my books. What they do after that is up to them.
TP: Be honest, have you been drinking?
It was at about this point my publicist suddenly remembered a previous appointment and had to go. However, I suspect though that she will be incorporating my ideas into future client proposals because – let’s face it – they are very different from what most publicists advise. And, we all know that it’s when you think outside the box, magic happens. Or you get arrested. I forget which.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
I could add more, but these are the standouts.
What books haunt you? I really want to know.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Saturday, October 15, 2011
The topic this week is books that surprise. When you think about it, any book that’s any good at all has to be a surprise of some sort, whether it means taking you to a place you’ve never been as a reader, making you examine something you’ve never examined before, or saying something in a way that you’ve never heard it said. Here are four books that have surprised me recently, either upon first reading or rereading:
The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen. I first read this book when it was published, before Franzen had been annointed a Great American Novelist and run afoul of the mighty Oprah. I was surprised by the novel’s odd mix of elements, combining a hyper-realistic portrayal of a Midwestern family and city (St. Louis) with a paranoid political thriller. Franzen clearly intended the book as a not-so-subtle satire of American xenophobia and insularity at a time when we were just beginning to doubt our preeminence on the world stage. However, the thing about the book that lingers in my mind is how well it works as a page-turner while veering off in all sorts of interesting directions. Like just about everyone else, I admire Franzen’s recent books, but I do wonder what he would be up to today if he had continued down this path.
Double Whammy by Carl Hiassen. The surprise of this book is that it actually made me laugh out loud. I know it’s often said, but how often have you laughed out loud at a book? Double Whammy is spit-take funny. I was also surprised that Hiassen could induce me to read a book set in the world of professional bass fishing, which is not exactly my home turf. And, perhaps most surprising of all is the weirdly compelling supporting character Skink -- Bigfoot-like hermit, connoisseur of road kill and former governor of Florida.
The Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn. This book surprised me because it’s an even better exemplar of surf-noir than Nunn’s great Tapping the Source. It’s the story of a down-and-out photographer and a former surfing legend on a journey to find Heart Attacks, a mythic surf spot that adjoins Indian lands. Tapping the Source jumped the shark a bit with its ending, but Dogs is beautifully sustained -- creepy, gothic, mordantly funny and moody as the northern California and southern Oregon coastline where it’s set.
Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty. Like the tortured syntax of its title, Adrian McKinty’s first Michael Forsyth novel doesn’t always take the direct route, but the trip is always worth it. McKinty’s first-person narrative follows Forsyth, an illegal immigrant escaping the Troubles in Belfast who joins the crew of an Irish crime boss in Harlem who is waging war against the Dominicans in pre-Giuliani Harlem and the Bronx. This is ultimately a story of revenge, with a nicely turned twist and payoff at the end. And right in the middle, the book takes a surprising detour to Mexico for a criminal scheme that goes very, very wrong. This is violent, pitch-black Irish noir and one of the most stylish, thoroughly enjoyable debuts I’ve read in a long time.
Friday, October 14, 2011
I love to read. I spent many lovely afternoons as a child with my nose in a book instead of running outside to play (although I did my fair share of playing, too). And it made me so happy to hear my son say in the car this past weekend "I love books!" Yeah. Me, too.
But here's what I have a serious love/hate relationship with: assigned reading. In school, we were given various educational tomes to read, some way better than others. I wanted to read great literature. In the summer, I would go through my academic parents' bookshelves and read Don Quixote (for fun) and other books that had probably been on their assigned reading list at some point. But there's something different about having to read something and knowing there will be a test. I limped through Moby Dick in English class, wishing I could have been reading something else. I felt a tad bit resentful.
I think it's because reading what someone else tells you to read when they tell you to read it feels like work (and it is). Picking out Moby Dick because you're interested in whaling and want to see what Herman Melville has to say--that feels like fun. Same book, different circumstances.
Which brings me to my excuse for why I can't tell you a single great book I've read this year. Assigned reading. I'm a judge for a contest (which will remain anonymous--for now), and every week or so large packages from publishers show up on my doorstep. Instead of the usual glee that I feel at seeing a package (yay! presents!), I feel dread. Not every book is to my taste, but I have to read it. Some books are so awful I can't believe they a) got published and b) anyone is voluntarily reading them. Others are great and absorbing, but... I still feel that niggling resentment. What if I'm not in the mood to read this particular book? Too bad! There will be a test in November, and I"ve got to read through all the books to get ready. What if I hate it from the first sentence? Too bad! It might just be my bad mood, and I've got to dig deeper to find out if it's any good.
So since my reading list is classified, I'll list out what my seven-year-old has been reading lately:
He's about 200 pages in to the third Harry Potter book, and he's been reading Encyclopedia Brown in school. I've been pretty impressed with their homework--they had to figure out character motivation, sum up the plot points and other essential writerly tasks.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
It's a tough topic this week. First, because it's difficult for me time-wise to read anything other than research materials and novels to blurb, and secondly, because I don't dare read fiction when I'm working on a book (I'm afraid it will influence me, and when you're in the business of world-building, you don't want to get sucked in to another world).
See how boring being a writer can be?
How to compensate for this stultifying ennui? Well, here's what I'll do. First, I'll throw in a video, in honor of my buddy Shane Gericke, one of the original Criminal Minds. This one's for you, Shane, ol' buddy!
Next, I'll name five books that surprised me. Granted, I didn't read these this year so they're not exactly recent, but hey--they're books. That I read. And that surprised me.
5. Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand. I'm not politically aligned with Ayn Rand. However, I read this gargantuan political tome/thriller in high school, and it shocked the hell out of me because it was well-written. Whatever else she did or believed, Ms. Rand could write. And English was a second language.
4. The Lost Museum. Hector Feliciano. This is actually a recent read for the next Miranda book. I discovered some interesting facts about art dealers during the Nazi era, in both France and Switzerland, that surprised and disappointed me.
3. Organized Anti-Semitism in America. Donald S. Strong. (Yeah, I know, I know ... I have such a cheery reading list. This was research for CITY OF SECRETS, and the surprises I encountered worked their way into the book).
2. Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie. I read it when I was about eleven years old and I still remember how shocked I was. A masterpiece of pulling the reader along!
1. Farewell, My Lovely. Raymond Chandler. The most wonderful surprise of all. My first Chandler experience. Unbelievably lyrical, tough and tender, Romantic and hardboiled. I've never recovered.
Honorable mention must be mentioned. Short stories are renowned for their twists, but when I was about ten years old, I remember reading Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". It was like a rite of passage into a world far less innocent, and word-for-word, one of the most brilliant things ever written by anyone.
So there you go. I stretched the question and played a video. And I thank you for reading, and for cutting an over-extended writer a little slack on her reading assignments! Please chime in with any treasured surprises from your reading list, past or present. I'll be on the road next week as part of the CITY OF SECRETS book tour, and hope to see any regular Criminal Minds readers at stops in Scottsdale or Los Angeles!
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
On a cold bright day, accompanied by someone close to me, I went to see some of the monuments, including the Lincoln Monument which plays an important part in Black Rain, when Arnold Moore gets thrown off the bridge leading to it after a meeting with an assassin.
I always find it interesting to do these after the fact on site investigations. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Not much you can do about it of course, but its an eye opener about the limits of remote research in getting the details exactly correct.
After realizing the mistakes I made were not all that damaging in this case we proceeded to see the Lincoln Memorial itself. Incredible. Moving. And as Dennis Miller once said - exactly how I want to remember the president - at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.
What surprised me were the inscriptions on the walls - everyone knows the Gettysburg address or at least some part of it (Four score and seven years ago...) not as many know Lincoln's second inaugural speech - where he laid out his understanding of why God allowed the Civil War to inflict such trauma on the nation--both North and South. And why He allowed it to go on for so long. By 1864 - the year of Lincoln's second inauguration hundreds of thousands of men lay dead, hundreds of thousands more lived without arms or legs or in a state of what we now know as PTSD. And still the war raged.
Without getting into a theological discussion let's suffice it to say Lincoln saw the war as some type of penance for centuries of slavery - not just for those who'd perpetrated it, but for those who'd turned a blind eye and tolerated it. For both the South and the North.
His words - "...if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.
At this moment I realized, as I often do, that I didn't know anywhere near as much I thought I knew. In this case about Abraham Lincoln. I reminded myself to get a book about Lincoln, the one President Obama had mentioned came to mind. And then I looked around this great enclosure made of stone: stone walls, stone floor, stone stairs and of course the huge statue carved of marble and saw a small wooden door in one corner, the type that looks like it might lead to a janitors closet or even the offices of a strangely addressed PI from the depression era.
My friend and I walked over to it and found - to our great surprise - a book store the size of a broom closet stuffed into the corner of the monument. Don't really understand it, didn't find any of my books on sale there, barely now even believe its real ( Confirmation from any others who have been there would be welcome).
We went in and among copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address I found a book entitled Lincoln's Melancholy - by Joshua Wolf Shenk.
In it, Shenk tells of Lincoln's depression, how it was documented in him and his family. How he coped with it, fought against it, bore its great burden when he could not shake it off. How it almost destroyed him and ultimately how the strength and fortitude and world view he built up while fighting it made him perhaps the one man who could save the Union that was threatened with extinction in 1861.
It's an incredible book not only for the history you'll never read anywhere else but for the insights, raw emotion and - at least in my case as one who has battled depression in his life - the feeling of personal connection it brought me to our greatest President.
I recommend it highly. I suggest it be read slowly and savored and pondered as opposed to whipped through in a race to the end. And as always I thank you for your time.
Graham Brown is the author of three novels: Black Rain, Black Sun and coming in January, The Eden Prophecy. He is also fortunate enough to be working with Clive Cussler on the NUMA Files Series, the next book of which is titled Devil's Gate and arrives in November.