Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Antique Argument

Scott D. Parker

I’ve spent some time touring Houston (my hometown and where I live) this week, kind of a stay-cation type thing. Went up to Brenham and visited the Blue Bell Creamery, down to Alvin (Bill Crider’s neck of the woods) and visited the wildlife animal park, and then went to the beach at Galveston yesterday. Had a great time with the family and, even though school starts the day after tomorrow, I still cling to the last threads of the summer state of mind until Labor Day.

My wife and I made an interesting discovery this week: our boy enjoys looking at antiques. Everywhere we went, we stepped inside antique stores. The best one, by far, is the Antique Mall in Alvin. Fantastic facility. Huge selection of just about anything you’d want. Even had a great--and I mean great--booth full of old paperbacks, Ace doubles, and lots of bins of old-school pulp magazines. It was heaven, and I found yet another A. A. Fair book.

The thing I enjoy is the memory trip I take when perusing an antique store. I’m old enough now that much of the stuff I knew as a lad is considered antiques. What’s really neat is seeing things I actually owned: Houston Oilers mugs, Star Wars figures, albums, etc. I enjoy seeing these things, holding them, reveling in the memories, and telling my boy and wife about a “when I was growing up” moment.

This kind of memory excursion will be almost impossible with digital media. Sure, we’ll be able to remember what DVD we watched in the car on the family trip to Florida, but it won’t be quite the same thing. The more “stuff” that is available digitally, the less “stuff” we can hold in our hands. As cool as it was to see those old pulp magazines, there won’t be an “antiques” store for digital media. Well, let me rephrase that. There won’t be a physical location where you can stroll and browse. There will be search engines and lines of text to peruse. But it will not be the same thing.

I’m all about digital media. I love it. My paradigm for music has already changed so much so that I get irritated when I have to buy a CD to get something I want. I don’t necessarily have a drive to own movies. I’m content to buy the very special ones and rent the rest. Books are the exception. For as much as I love ebooks--and for every *new* book that comes out, I’m more liable to buy the e-version; old books still come only in the old way--there really is something to holding an old paperback.

What I particularly enjoy about browsing the aisles of an antique store is the treasure hunt, the stumbling upon something you were not actively seeking. The A. A. Fair books (Erle Stanley Gardner’s pen name) are my particular darlings at the moment. I know I can pop online right now and order all the ones I don’t have. But I don’t. I carry around a complete list of the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam books with me (on paper, in my wallet) so I know the ones I have and the ones I don’t. And, I’m reading them in order. Just yesterday, in Galveston, I found Number 9, Give’em the Axe. I actually found three others I need, but left them on the shelf. I’ll get to them when I get to them. I’m weird that way. I want to be surprised someday in the future when I’m really looking for one more Cool and Lam novel and it finds its way into my hands. That’s a priceless feeling.

And one you can’t get from an ebook, with a searchable database, and everything instantly available. I’m not lamenting the future, mind you. There’s a lot to look forward to with electronic media and, frankly, I’m pretty excited about it. But I also love putting on the imaginary pith helmet, looking for that lost treasure I never knew I wanted, and taking a trip down memory lane I get every time I step into an antique store. That’s one thing I’ll miss in thirty years...and my boy will miss it, too, when he takes his child to an antique store and the artifacts from his life are all in some electronic device that no longer works. Makes me wonder if we’ll lose some of our acquired knowledge if all the servers one day stop running.

Friday, August 20, 2010

We interrupt your expected transmission....

By Russel D McLean
(or maybe not)

Bit of an unforseen circumstances this week chez McLean. Some watery madness from above (ie, a freak rainstorm) has got Russel involved in clearing water and fixing drains. So he's barely even realised that Friday is rolling around.

So he'll fill in time this week, presenting to you the most realistic depiction of the author-agent/editor dynamic ever committed to theatre...

And also (via Mitchell and Webb) a scene Russel finds quite familiar. Not from working with anyone in recent years, but he did once, or maybe not once, deal with, or maybe not deal with, a editor similar - or totally different - to this one. Or not.

Normal service, he assures you will be resumed next week. But in case you think he's all doom and gloom, here's a link to his reaction to some much happier news from last week.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Kindle Problem--A Moral Conundrum

by Dave White

I have a confession to make.

After a long time resisting the trend, I got myself a Kindle. It was a wedding gift I asked for, and I was first able to use it on my honeymoon. And having the Kindle on the cruise gave me the idea for this blog post.

You see, I was all ready to say e-Readers weren't becoming popular. We were on a ship of 2000 people, and I figured it would be a good way to survey the popularity of the e-Reader.

The first day I had my topic. E-readers aren't popular outside of publishing. I wandered the pool deck and saw hundreds of people reading actual books. The Girl with the... The Joe Torre book... Jennifer Weiner... But no e-Readers. I was convinced. Only I had one, and that was because I was into publishing and was trying to conserve space in the condo.

And then a funny thing happened. As the trip went on more and more e-Readers popped up. At one point I had a running count 6 Kindles, 4 Nooks, 2 Sony, and two iPads. By the end, I think I was over 20.

It strikes me this isn't just a fad, it's really starting to catch. And I think authors are going to really love it. At one point I was talking to a couple about their iPad and Kindle (both liked the Kindle better) and the woman bought a copy of WHEN ONE MAN DIES on the spot.


It's hard to do that kind of hand selling on a vacation.

And here's where I come to the problem. It's a selfish problem, but a problem nonetheless.

I don't like the e-Reading culture. The e-Reader is going to create book monopolies. Apple and Amazon (and maybe BN will hang in there) are going to be the only booksellers and the rest will just drift away like independent record stores.

And I love my indie bookstores. So how do I reconcile my love of an indie with my love of the Kindle?

I spent the week thinking about this, before I started writing this blog. And here's what I came up with:

Anytime I want to try a new author, the book goes to the Kindle. They're cheaper, there's less risk involved. But my favorite authors.... yeah I still love the feel of a book in my hand. I still love wandering the stacks.

I love the smell.

So when my favorite authors put a new book out, I'm going to an indie. I'm ordering from an indie. I will not just download the book.

Laura Lippman's newest, for instance. Sometime in the next week I'll be taking a trip to a local store to buy it, even though I have a gift card to Amazon sitting in my account.

It clears my conscience. It makes me feel better.

It means I can have my books and Kindle too.

What do you think?

PS: Thanks to Joelle and Bryon picking up the slack the last two weeks. I read Joelle's Thursday posts, and Bryon's other posts and they did a bang-up job. Really appreciate it.

BTW, if you want to hear my thoughts on my actual honeymoon, check out my actual blog by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella

review (sort of) by
John McFetridge

Go buy this book. I bought it on Amazon.

I don't need to write yet another glowing review, there are already dozens of them all over, from Publishers Weekly to Amazon customers. They all say basically the same thing, Charlie Stella is in Elmore Leonard and George V. Higgins territory, and that's true, so I don't need to say it again. Except he has his own voice, and it's great.

What I'd like to do is sit down with a beer and a few of you and talk about our favourite characters in the book, our favourite scenes, our favourite moments.

My favourite character might be Nan. Sure, she's a bitch, sleeping with her first ex-husband, planning to rob her second ex-husband and staying with her current husband long enough so she gets half his money in the divorce, but I like her. John Albano (Johnny Porno, though, of course, he hates the nickname) is also a great character, a working guy (who lost his union construction job for punching out a foreman) who needs money for child support and is on the edge of the mob, not wanting to get involved but not catching a break anywhere else. I believed this character completely.

And even though this is a great crime novel with terrific mobsters and cops my favourite scenes are the ones between the men and women. And there are plenty of those scenes. They're all daggers to the heart, of course, but so sharp and so real I can't help but smile a little as I feel the pain (thankful tat it's not me but knowing those moments well).

Johnny Porno takes place in 1973 and is about the mob profiting big-time from the banning of the movie Deep Throat and the cops trying to catch them showing it illegally around New York - I read a lot of the book with Google maps opened looking to see exactly where Carnasie and Massapequa and Rockaway Parkway are.

So, on the one hand it's about big social and political ideas; how organized crime benefits from a prohibition, how pornography started to become mainstream, how divorce affects children, what family really means and so on, but it's also a street-smart story of working people trying to make it day by day.

I've said here a few times that I like what's happening with the small presses these days and this book is a perfect example.

Okay, go buy the book, read it, come back and we'll talk about our favourite parts and our favourite characters. That scene with Johnny and Melinda, their first "date" in the diner where her friend is working - that is just a fantastic scene isn't it? I mean I read it and then right away I read it again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bye, Bye, Baby. Allan Guthrie

By Jay Stringer, pet detective.

As much as we would like to be open minded about all genres, each of us will have a few prejudices. Sometimes they make sense, sometimes they're based on nothing more than a whim. For my part, it takes a lot for me to read a police procedural. It takes something really special for me to enjoy the hell out one.

I don't really want to call Allan Guthrie's BYE, BYE, BABY a police procedural, I'd rather point out that it's a dark and funny thriller that has police in it. The approach is so fresh that it makes the whole thing feel like the first time I've read a police story, but all of the regular pieces are there; coppers, kidnapping, office politics, corruption and family secrets.

It also has a few other staples thrown in for good measure; a love triangle, a troubled marriage, an unpopular constable and a high ranking family member. But if that all sounds like a story you've read before, I dare you to find another writer that has taken each and every one of those elements in the direction Guthrie does here.

As with novels like HARD MAN and SAVAGE NIGHT, Guthrie seems well aware of the conclusions the reader is making, and knows just the right moment to turn each one on its head. There is a lot to be said for the art of letting the reader figure things out a couple of seconds before the characters, but the tartan ninja of crime fiction has developed another skill -he let's you think you've figured it out before laughing at you and running down a different corridor.

The story centres around DC Frank Collins. He's the but of a few jokes in CID, and has a sordid sexual past with one of his work colleagues. All of this has to be put to one side when a child is abducted from school, and Collins has to figure out not only where the child has gone, but also what dark secret the mother is hiding. That all seems fairly safe and standard, right? Don't get used to it, it won't last. Let me say; the first twist is a doozy, and it gets stranger from there.

This is an interesting change for Guthrie. So far we've been given events mostly from the point of view of the criminals or the outsiders, the psychopaths and sociopaths that inhabit his version of Edinburgh. The establishment had been relegated to the fringes of his work altogether or, in the case of SLAMMER, has been the machine that grinds people into the ground. Here the establishment is front and centre, but that doesn't mean things have been cleaned up at all. But here we do see a more controlled voice, a more logical and restrained progression of the story. It's also the least blood thirsty of his stories so far. The violence is hinted at and -in some ways I can't reveal- parodied. But of the blood is fake, the morality is still suitably fucked up. There are some very dark goings on, and the casual manipulation of a characters' grief and mental state is chilling if you stop to think about it.

There are still many of the same themes at play here as in previous stories. There is grief, madness, self delusion and greed. Characters are manipulated to near breaking point by their own pride and by forces out of their control. There is also one of the funniest lines of dialogue about a blindfold that you will ever read, because Al's trademark twisted humour is out in force. If this change in gears marks a new phase of Guthrie's writing career, I look forward to seeing what comes next. I would love to see this kind of fresh and interesting approach applied to a full length novel, and too see how many more ways he can twist a police thriller into a new shape.

Guthrie's previous novella, KILLING MUM was published through five leaves press, who also published GUN by Ray Banks and two novels from our very own Russel D McLean. BYE, BYE, BABY is set to be published by Barrington Stoke but you can catch it right now, this very second, by heading on over to smashwords and buying the ebook. You can read it on your kindles, your ipads or your iphones. An ipod will let you read it while you listen to music, and I'm pretty sure some toasters will be able to display it for you while cooking your breakfast. Point is, here is a cracking book by one of our best writers, all for $2.99.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whether to blog

By Steve Weddle

So the HuffPo did this thing the other day about whether Twitter helps authors sell books.

The author of the piece and some of her partners took a close look at the connection. "After tracking over 20 books during a 6 month period, we realized that the correlations are there but they are unpredictable."

Well, that's interesting. So it might help, but understanding how is confusing. Oh, by the way, the author of the piece is "Founder and President of FSB Associates, a web publicity and social media firm specializing in creating awareness for books and authors."

Ain't that helpful?

I'm not interested in whether the post was meant to send business the author's way. They were clear about the fact that this was a post by someone who makes a living at this sort of thing, so I don't think it was in bad faith at all. Though, you know, that was my initial reaction, which kinda gets to the point of Twitter and blogging that I want to look at. Do folks blog just to be self-serving?

So Twitter maybe helps an author get the word out. OK. And maybe bookstore readings help. (Certainly they help the people who work at the bookstores get to know the people who write the books.) Maybe having a MyFace page helps. And maybe blogging helps. But, you know, what's an author to do?

I've seen many authors who have blogs that lie dormant until the next book comes out. Then, lo and behold, the author is a blogging tsunami. "Hey, look at me. I'm a real person with a daily life. Buy my book." My first thought on this was a cynical one, thinking that author was just trying to pitch a sale and get you to his or her reading. You know, the tabs at the top of the page: "Bio. Books. Blog. Dates. Contact." Yes, buy the books and come to the readings. And contact the writer through a form on the Web site. But, you know, I understand a little more about how this works than I first did.

We have a difference between a blogger and a novelist. Some folks write a blog post every day and do a nice job. Some write a blog post every day and suck. Sometimes, it's hit and miss. Still, this is the medium that person writes in. The give-and-take with the audience. The immediacy of it all. Instant gratification. For a novelist, the gratification is years in the making. And it comes in bursts, doesn't it? A novelist writes by the word, not the post. "Hit 1,000 words already. Going for a walk." That's a novelist's Twitter update, isn't it? A blogger would update "Today's post is live. Swing by and comment."

The blog ain't the novel. Ain't supposed to be. Not that a novelist can't blog or a blogger can't write a novel. Heck, I'm not even sure you have to be in one camp or the other.

But if a novelist is supposed to Twitter and blog, what the heck is he or she supposed to tweet or blog about?

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a reader? Saying how she just read this great book or discovered a new author? Only glowing reviews? Most novelists wouldn't want to insult other writers for fear of being stabbed at Bouchercon. "Hey, Stringer? You're the one who said I write like I'm rubbing a turd on a wet sidewalk? How's about we step outside?"

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a "regular joe"? Saying how he just took the kid's to the dentist and now is heading out to mow the yard? Is that how Samuel Beckett did it? "Just put up with more of Joyce's babbling bullshit about his eye and how he can't get his own drink. What am I? His secretary? Oh, yeah."

Is a novelist supposed to blog as a working writer? "Working on more revisions because the editors like my writing, just not the book I've written." Great idea. Then someone sees a writer complaining about the business and the writer ain't got so much business any more.

Is the novelist supposed to blog as an enthusiast? Used cars? Gun collection? Old movies? BBQ? Scary pictures and freaky collectibles?

Is the novelist supposed to blog at all? Why? To connect? To time away from writing the novel?

The question of whether what you've blogged and what you've twatted helps sell books is certainly worth considering. Another question: "why?" (Another is why Weddle is allowed to write such clumsy sentences. Sheesh.)

I'm all for connecting with readers -- I've been known to tweet a bit in my day. I don't question why, usually. I just kinda chat with folks because I like to chat with those folks.

Maybe those FBS folks can help do the publicity for me. Maybe they can blog for me and get me something viral going along the Internet. Or, if I really need a good virus spreading around, I can call this HOPA/HPOA. Nothing like a good fake-out for the fiction writing.

Are you a novelist who blogs? Do you have a "thing" you do? Why do you blog?

Are you a reader who goes to an author's blog with regularity? Is it good stuff? What do you look for?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Action News

So I think I promised to followup my post from last week about the modern reading experience, but good god, I think we can get by another week without me spouting about e-books again. Instead I'd like to talk about the piss poor state of the modern action movie.

My dad and I went to see THE EXPENDABLES this afternoon and prior to that I was watching the original LETHAL WEAPON. Last night I was working on an action-oriented short story for the Kung Fu issue of CRIME FACTORY. So I'm in a bit of an action mood.

Watching LETHAL WEAPON then going to see the Old Timers Game that is THE EXPENDABLES got me thinking about how lacking we are for decent action films on a steady basis. Yeah, every once in a while we get something good like THE TRANSPORTER and the last Die Hard movie was good fun and I enjoyed THE A TEAM quite a bit, but man, back in the 80s and 90s we had two or three good action movies a month. Even schlock like CON AIR or THE ROCK was good fun. But lately, nada. I don't really care to speculate on why this is, but, like I said, I'm in an action kind of mood.

We don;t really have a lot of action novels either. Sure, we've got a lot of thrillers with chases and stuff in them, but not a lot of gun fights and hand-to-hand combat and car chases and shit. I'd like to see more of that. That was one of the things I liked best about Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie novels. Sure there was all of the literary crap he did so well, but man, did those suckers move. There were gun fights in cool locations, car chases off of bridges, and lost of hand-to-hand fighting. Lee child does some good work with his Jack Reacher series, but again, other than that...

So what are your thoughts dear readers? Why the dearth of fun action? Have we become too serious? Too thriller oriented? And what of the actions scenes you do write (or read). I hate writing them because I think I suck at them. But I'm writing more and might possible be getting better. I still find myself glossing over them in books if they go on more than a page or so. Hollaback to a blogger.