Saturday, August 14, 2010

Literary Heroes

Scott D. Parker

(With all the new marriages around here, I'll go ahead and give a shout out to this, my 11th Anniversary. Thus, nothing earth-shattering today, just a revisiting of an old blog list.)

A couple of years ago, I blogged about my literary heroes. I decided to review the list and update where appropriate.

In no particular order:

Ian Fleming (for James Bond...the books) [Currently reading Goldfinger]
Edgar Rice Burroughs (for Tarzan and John Carter)
Anthony Bourdain (for being as sharp with prose as with a knife)
Erle Stanley Gardner (for crafting novels in exquisite fashion)
George Pelecanos (for Hard Revolution and Derek Strange trilogy)*
Dennis Lehane (for Mystic River and Darkness, Take My Hand)*
Ernest Hemingway (for For Whom the Bells Toll and short fiction)
Hammett (for The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man)
Chandler (for Philip Marlowe)
Elmore Leonard (for Out of Sight, and the Carl Webster stories)
J. D. Robb (for Eve Dallas' saga)
Ken Bruen (for The Guards and The Dramatist)
David McCullough (for Truman, John Adams, 1776)
Michael Chabon (for Yiddish Policeman's Union and his love for great stories)
J. K. Rowling (for Harry Potter)
Stephen King (for Green Mile, The Stand, Salem's Lot, Bag of Bones)
Orson Scott Card (for Ender's Game)
Max Collins and Charles Ardai (for Hard Case Crime and Gabriel Hunt)
Ted Chiang (for literate SF)
C. S. Lewis (for Narnia)
J. R. R. Tolkien (for The Lord of the Rings)
Timothy Zahn (for his Star Wars "Thrawn" trilogy)
Carlos Ruiz Zafon (for The Shadow of the Wind)
Jim Dale (for his audiobook readings of the Harry Potter stories)
Scott Brick and Jonathan Davis (for their audiobook readings that bring books to life)
Doris Kearns Goodwin (for her history books and on-screen insights)
David Brooks (for his social books and his NY Time columns)
Don Winslow (for The Dawn Patrol)
Dan Simmons (for Hyperion)
Jonathan Franzen (for The Corrections and How to Be Alone) [Looking forward to his new book]

What are some of your literary heroes?

Friday, August 13, 2010

"The baby is dead in his mother's arms..."

By Russel D McLean

Quick precursor note: as this post was going to press, Russel was nominated for a Shamus Award by the Private Eye Writers of America. He is hugely honoured to be shortlisted among such talented company. For more info, the full shortlist can be found over here: We now return you to your scheduled ramblings:

The book was,

California Fire and Life.

It blew me away. I think it was the first time I consciously remember being stunned by voice more than anything else.

The problem was, I found the book – by accident – pre-internet. I kept checking for its author on the shelves of my local. Never saw him again. For a few years, Don Winslow became something of an aberration in my reading. A joyous one off I’d probably never re-discover.

And then came Power of the Dog.

I started to see it on the shelves. I saw this blurb by no less than Ian Rankin saying this guy was so good you almost wanted to keep him to yourself.

And, yeah, I thought, he was that good. So that having read California Fire and Life, I almost wanted him to be my secret. I was cooler than the other kids because I’d read that book and no one else seemed to know what I was talking about. The guys I lent the book to were specially chosen because I knew they’d dig it.

Question was, would this new book be as good?

Oh, man, it was better.

It was tight. Controlled. Epic. A modern-day James Ellroy in its sparse prose, over-arching themes and densely compacted history. This book sung in a way no other book had sung to me.

After Power of the Dog I made a concerted effort to reach out and discover the rest of Winslow. And what I found made me weep with joy. It wasn’t just that he evolved with every book, its that he experiments every time, finds himself a new way of telling stories that he either hasn’t tried before or that feels substantially different to the last book.

In a genre where many bestselling writers rely on formula for success, Winslow bucks that trend beautifully by reinventing himself every once in a while. By doing almost the last thing you expect. It’s the same reason I fell in love with Pelecanos. Pelecanos tends to stick to a few books following the same them or characters and then jumps ship to try something else. Winslow’s the same. After Power of the Dog, nothing could have prepared you for The Winter of Frankie Machine or The Dawn Patrol, but that’s the joy of a writer like Winslow: you’re absolutely willing to follow him wherever he takes you.

The reason I’m writing about Winslow, of course, is that I just got through reading this live chat transcript with the man himself. I came home from work to find an email telling me about it, and how I could ask the man some questions, but was sadly too late to do anything about. All the same, there are some real smart questions here and Winslow is always worth reading in interview.

This means, of course, that your prescribed reading for this week is Winslow. If you ain't read him, I reccomend either California Fire and Life or Power of the Dog as the starting point. If you have, dig his new one Savages or check out the marvellous Busted Flush Press's upcoming reprint of his first novel, A Cool Breeze on the Underground.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When the bad hits the fan...

by: Joelle Charbonneau (for Dave on his fabulous honeymoon. Congrats!)

This week, I had a day where I found it hard to get words down on the page. On Tuesday, I was trolling some of the publishing trade reviews and found a review for the book of a close friend. It was the first review I’ve seen for the new book and it wasn’t good.

I have to admit that up until this week I’ve been burying myself in work trying hard not to think about the reviews that my book will get. I got the first one last week – thankfully, it was pretty good. More reviews are coming. Just knowing they are on the way makes me a little queasy.

Regardless of what my reviews will be, I know I’ll be okay with them. One person’s opinion will not make me like my writing more or less. The book is what it is. It won’t stand the test of time like Agatha Christie, but hopefully, it will make a few people laugh. That’s what I hope for.

Yet, the review for my friend left me reeling. My heart went out to that writer and to all the other writers with bad reviews in this week’s version of that publication. It hurt to see a reviewer tear apart hard work. The book may not be the writer’s best. I don’t know. I haven’t read it, although I will as soon as it hits the stands. Still, I wish my friend and all writers the strength and belief in themselves to keep writing even when the reviews or even editors and agents say your work isn’t strong. And if you have a trick to keep going when the bad hits the fan, feel free to share.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Clap Along Justice and the Manipulation of Fear

John McFetridge

Instead of a post from me today, I’d like to link to two posts I read online this week that I think are really good.

The first by Barbara Fister was in Spinetingler Magazine (a great site and one I check every day) and is called, Fearful Symmetry. It’s a little about her new novel, Through the Cracks, but is mostly about fear. It starts, “I’m intrigued by the role that fear plays in our lives. Anxiety is a potent factor in the formation of social issues, often manipulated by various groups to amplify their cause, by the media, which needs exciting stories to recruit and retain their audience, and by the state, which uses anxiety to gain support for the regulation of behavior.” She then goes on to talk about the Stieg Larsson books.

The post is here:

And the second is by Benjamin LeRoy and appeared on the Huffington Post. It’s called, “Publishing on the Fringes,” and in it he says he’s not very interested on most books coming from the big publishers these days, filled as they are with, "the trendsetting nouveau rich (and) heavily armed black belt international bad asses who dole out clap along justice." He says he’s not knocking them, just that, “I wouldn't even know where to begin in selecting those titles or the responsibilities and stresses that come with moving 20, 50, 100,000 units of written Hollywood.” He says he’s more interested in books about the “human connection,” and, “I want to know that other people in other places have come to learn the resiliency and beauty of the human spirit when it overcomes obstacles with no hope of a million dollar payout.”

His post is here:

So, I think they’re both good posts and worth the time to read.

Now, maybe to get some discussion going, I’ll say this:

Barbara Fister praised the Stieg Larsson books as not being the usual, “be very afraid,” genre and Benjamin LeRoy used the term, “clap along justice.” My wife went to see the movie version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and when the “revenge” scene played she noticed the young woman beside her smiling from ear to ear and clapping. Pretty much exactly the response from the young men in the audience when I saw Pulp Fiction and the scene where they were going to, “get medieval,” on that guy’s ass played.

So, I guess we’re getting closer to equality of the sexes. We’re now pushing the same emotional buttons on men and women to get the same results.

Is that good?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Knocking On Mine

By Captain Jay Stringer

Seems we have quite the theme going this week.

I'm not the kind of guy to walk into a room and immediately change the topic of conversation. Well, actually, I'm exactly that guy. But not today. I'm liking this little chat we're all having and I want in.

Me and ebooks haven't always gotten along. It used to be that I couldn't see the point in them. Ipods? Sure. My record collection is big, and carrying all that around plus a gramophone strapped to my back doesn't seem like a good idea. I might want to listen to any song in my collection at any given moment, so it's nice to have a little device in my pocket that can help me out in my three minutes of need.

But books? Pffft. I'm only reading one book at any one moment (give or take,) and so I don't need my entire book collection with me. And on top of all of that, books are already perfectly designed. They're portable. They're durable. They don't run on batteries and they don't lose signal if you put your hand on them.

And books are wonderful. They smell and bend, they hold triggers of memories for us of moments and feelings. The cover can be a work of art and there is something magical about a good edition of a book; that combination of page, binding, cover and text....

(excuse me, I need to be alone for a second....okay.)

You can't replace that. And you won't replace that. Books will always be books. I got to be pretty good at that whole argument.

Then I woke up. The world changes, we change, language changes, my underwear occasionally changes. As Bob Dylan himself said, the time's they are a changing. He also said that we could be in his dream if he could be in ours, and Chris Nolan likes dreams, and this all seems to work out to be a pretty good deal.

So wait, one device that means I can carry a couple of books, and some magazines, and my comics, and a newspaper. Maybe even a few episodes of TV? Yeah, that would be my satchel. But hey, a device that does all of that in the palm of my hand and is shiny and pretty?

A device that means an authors book never goes out of print. That the writer can always be making money off their work, and that everybody everywhere can have access to that work? Holy crap, that's a brave new world, (Miranda says hi.)

You know those fun little boxes in the old Spidey comics that would refer to what happened in a previous issue? Well, now that little box can be a hot link that takes you to the previous issue. A novel can have a soundtrack. A film adaptation of a book can come pre-loaded with the book it was based on as an easter egg. If the first twenty years of the internet age was about exploding the page outward into a maze of world wide web-slinging, the next age seems to be about bringing it all back home. We already perfected the book, and now we have a grasp on the web, lets tie them all back together in one sexy little bundle.

Good times.

But hey, you're clever people. More than that, you read other blogs. Not. One. Bit of what I just said will be new to you. None of it. That's all a conversation that's already been done to death.

But what Bryon and Gumbo Snr have been saying has gotten me thinking. And when I start to think, my dirty dishes sit and cry. I like to climb inside of an idea and sit there for a while, stare at it's walls and check out how well plastering and wiring is holding up.

So I'm here to just add a few questions to the conversation and stir a few pots of boiling stuff, then sit back and check the plastering work.

1. The devaluation of books.

Has traditional book publishing become devalued because of ebooks and the internet? Or, rather, has it become devalued over the last decade as book selling has become about slashing prices as low as you can get them? Are books struggling because we have easier and faster options available, or because we now expect to be able to pick up the greatest book ever written, in hardback, for 2 quid at the local supermarket?

Ebooks are not the enemy of books, just as CD's were not the enemy of Vinyl. They all still exist, and they allow for artists and fans to have a greater selection to suit their own tastes.

2. People read crap?

Sure. People also eat crap, buy crap and wear crap. As a species we like ease of consumption. And yet, the Iliad survives. Shakespeare survives. Daredevil #181 survives. Will you look at that.

Just as with films and everything else; twas ever thus. People want to be entertained. Those who want no deeper form of entertainment than an elephant performing sexual congress on a mouse while a van explodes, well they can have their entertainment. Those who want to dig a little deeper and to know the social background of the elephant, and the ambitions of the mouse, they can have theirs too.

Question again; Do 'people' care about art? To my mind it would seem the only people who care about art and craft are the artists and craftsmen. Everybody else just cares about being entertained. So its the artists responsibility to find a way to engage with their audience whilst maintaining high standards. The audience? Their only responsibility, surely, is to pay the going rate for whatever entertains them.

So if we think that we have reached, or could reach, a tipping point where the new technology opens floodgates to lower standards, how about we just raise our standards? None of us - except on those days when I get to be all powerful- can control the world. We can't suddenly decide what other people will find entertaining, or what passes for quality work. But we have almost total control over what passes for our own quality. We get to be in charge of our own craft and our own tastes. And there's the real drug, right?

3. What can we do?

Well, damn, I don't know. That's why I asked you. But if I had to come up with a suggestion, I'd say there are hundreds of things we could do, but only two things we should do.

Write the best damn stories that we can. Read the best damn stories that we can.

Ebooks will happen. the industry will change, then change again, and again. Books will fade, books will grow, fashions will swirl around and around. The oil will run out and all of our wonderful ebook technology will be for nothing. Then the six people left will renew energy and ebooks will be the future again.The way a writer earns a crust will change, the value of words will go up and down.

But none of that is within our control. And none of that, really, truly, matters as much as the two basics.

Write the best damn stories that we can. Read the best damn stories that we can.

I leave you with the words of the last great prophet of our time; Mr Paul Westerberg.

"Comic Books. The Bible. Roadmaps. Pornography.
Whatever you wanna read.
Go out and sit in a field sometime."

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Kindle can DO that?

By Steve Weddle

So BQ took a look at ebooks yesterday. And Chris LaTray has been blogging about his Nook.

My brand new Kindle is going back next week (probably) so that I can get the new one, Aug. 27.

Let's throw all of this into the DSD blender and see what some of the ideas here are.

> Having free or cheap ebooks available online means we're swamped with lower quality works. If we don't have publishers and editors and curated bookstores, how will we find quality?

The idea is that if we have a totally open market ungoverned by corporations,our best seller lists will be filled with poorly spelled, horrific, nearly unreadable, low-quality novels instead of books by James Patterson and Glenn Beck, books in which most of the words are spelled correctly.

The counter-argument to this is: "I don't buy books based on best seller lists. I buy books based on recommendations and reviews."
Yeah, but the reviews go to best selling authors. People hear about books because they've heard about the authors. The system (oh, noes. the systems ruins everything. or is that 'society' that ruins it all?)

So what's wrong with having ebooks straight from the authors? Not enough proofreading? The book hasn't gone through corporate gatekeepers?

Look, I've read tons (seriously, I've weighed all the books I've read. Roughly 47,323 pounds of books.) of great books from big, big, large, enormous publishing houses. I haven't read as many great books that I've downloaded for free. But I'm not convinced one thing has much to do with any other. I've read big house books with typos every 10 pages and flawlessly comma-ed first drafts. Whuppy-damn-ding-dong.

Would I be more likely to read a big house book than some free PDF I downloaded from some dude's geocities site?

But I'm reading three free ebooks right now on my Kindle. And they're great.

You see, years ago if someone wanted me to read some pages she'd written, she'd mail me 20 pages. Then if I survived, maybe another 50. I'd mark up and send back.

Then folks could just email me a PDF and I could read it on my laptop, sitting at my desk or in front of the TV, scrolling through pages until my eyes hurt.

Now my fellow writers can email me a file and I can load it on the Kindle and read it just like a "real book" while I sit on my back deck, drinking iced tea and watching the sun go down. I can read a fantastic zombie novel from a future best-selling author in the exact same way I read the latest John Corey novel.
I haven't seen too many people point this out, but it's phenomenal. I don't have to take my pal's PDF file down to Kinko's for a print-out I can carry to the park. I carry the Kindle and it has the file on it, as well as "books." I dunno, this just seems so handy.

Not only that, but I do a good deal of submission reading for NEEDLE magazine. Someone sends in a 3,500 short story for consideration and I take it with me, not printed out on dead trees, but wedged between some books I'm reading. Handy.

Having this Kindle has allowed me to ignore what the book looks like. I don't know what has thirty blurbs on it and what just got emailed to me. I mean, I DO, of course, but it doesn't stick. The Kindle is the great equalizer. I can't just judge a book by its cover. I have to start reading it and see what holds my attention, whether it's a heist story for NEEDLE or the latest from Michael Connelly.

I'm reading a good deal of unpublished material of high quality on my Kindle, so the argument that the removal of barriers to publication will allow people to read more crap doesn't make too much sense to me.

Like I said, Big House Publisher puts out good books. I know, because I've read some good books that have been on the best seller lists. But you know what? When I've been out there listening to folks, looking around, bouncing from idea to idea, I find some pretty cool stuff, stuff that doesn't pop up on the best seller lists.

Does opening the flood gates to ebooks mean that we'll drown in crap? I don't think so. More likely, I'll fill up my Kindle with some stuff I wouldn't have discovered otherwise, some things I'll want to tell everyone about.

Books will get "blurbed" by email and tweets, by Facebook updates and great blog reviews.

Maybe ebooks will help us more from best seller lists to a list of good reads.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Readers and Reading Part One

By Bryon Quertermous

So somehow I got conned into covering two Sundays for Joelle while she covers for Dave while he's off getting married. But the real joke will be on Dave when he realizes what he's gotten himself into with this whole marriage thing. I kid, I kid, but two weeks in a row gives me a chance to tackle something I'd been meaning to talk about but couldn't really contain to one blog post.

Now this is sort of about e-books, which I know is a subject that has been discussed way past death and bores even me, but it's not so much about the publishing side of e-books, rather the what all of this has to do with the experience of reading. Part one today we'll talk about some things I've discovered while trolling the Kindle boards and places like GoodReads and review blogs and such. Then, next week, I'll give you my pet peeves about new additions to the reading experience.

Now, I'm fascinated by all of this e-book stuff and can't help but follow all of the news and predictions and broad pronouncements, but the one thing I've noticed most in all of this is that readers are having a greater influence in publishing more than ever before. And, as with most changes, there are good and bad aspects to this.

The Good: Readers, and I say this as a reader myself, don't care about the minutia of publishing. The sorts of things we as authors and editors and publishers and publicity gurus debate passionately like genre and tense and style and such just don't register to the average reader. The want to be entertained. They don't care how you do just as long as you do it. And I realize this is true of myself. I read widely across genres and have enjoyed books that involved things as varied as second person narration and even animal narrators. So yeah, that's cool and puts to rest a lot of the bunk we hear about "rules" and which genres are hot or dying or whatever.

The Bad: Readers, and this one doesn't include me, don't care. Other than improper use of grammar, mistakes regarding guns, and swearing, nothing seems to bother the legion of readers snapping up these Kindle books for $.99 with awful writing, poorly developed characters, and stories that just generally drip crap out of every electronic orifice.

And I'm not talking Dan Brown or James Patterson type bad. Those guys are All Stars compared to these amateurs. But it doesn't seem to bother readers. Sure, they'll comment on it in an Amazon review or whatever, but then mention that they still loved the story and will buy the next book by the author.

But my biggest insult comes from the fact that they don't seem to distinguish AT ALL the difference between an author who has slaved and sacrificed and put in the hard work to make their book the best they can be then run the gauntlet of gatekeepers, rules, traditions, whims, luck, and corporate landmines that hold together the publishing industry or the author who gave up on the traditional route and slapped up a rough draft with some zippy copy and a garish self-designed cover with some blurbs from their mom and their old aunts writing group. It's hard some days when the writing isn't coming or the rejections are coming too fast and I want to give up. But I've known all along that I don't just want to be published, I want to be published right. Call me elitist, call me traditional or stuffy or whatever, but that's what I signed on for and that's what I'm working toward.

But this isn't all about me. How about you? What do you care about in fiction? Why do you think it is that the bulk of readers (in actuality it's the bulk of society about everything) just don't seem to care about quality? And why do I find it so bloody necessary to use "just" so many damn times in one blog post?