Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Tomato Is Not a Book

Scott D. Parker

A tomato is not a book.
A shocker, I know. We all know what a tomato is and we all know what a book is, but, for the sake of this essay, I wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Last weekend, at a local nursery, I attended my first tomato contest. My wife is the gardener in the family and she takes great pride in its care, what things grow in it, and the overall look of this little piece of earth in our backyard. My role is typically in the tilling stage early in the year: clear out the dead stuff from the previous year, crack the hardened earth, and make the ground ready for the new crop.
This year, our garden produced the largest tomato she has ever grown. Excited, she took it and a couple cherry tomatoes up to the nursery where, with a dozen or so other contestants, the various tomatoes were graded on both size and taste. The rewards were pretty good: $100 gift cards. Two judges, a man and a woman, held court in one of the interior, air-conditioned decorating rooms, surrounded by artificial plants, an odd thing at a nursery. Bottles of water were made available to the contestants and patrons and a few chairs were arranged in front of the judging table. My wife sat next to an elderly couple and across the aisle from a middle-aged couple and a family of three. I stood and observed while my son—although one to enjoy digging in the dirt and, on occasion, helping his mom in the garden—entertained himself on my iPod Touch.
The weighing portion of the judgment was first. My wife’s tomato, a Cherokee Purple for all you vegetologists out there, was among a dozen or so vying for the Largest Tomato prize. One thing was obvious from that group: there was a clear winner, and it wasn't my wife’s Cherokee Purple. There was one other that looked close, but this one, large, misshapened tomato was going to carry the day.
Each tomato, the large ones and the other ones up for Best Tasting, was placed on a Styrofoam plate with a number. Under each plate, taped to the underside, was the contestant name. As the judges brought forth the knife and began slicing (the romas were first), the two of them spoke in hushed undertones. I was only five feet away and I could barely hear them. Very soon, the air was filled with the meaty, earthy smell of tomatoes. It was not an altogether unpleasant experience, that smell. I may not be a gardener, but I do appreciate the sweet smell of the earth and the things produced by it. All the while, soft murmuring conversations were taking place. The folks talked methods of growing, types of food given to the tomato plants. As our election season hits the warm months of summer ahead of the fall campaign, with heated words already starting to fly, the contestants all were congenial and kind to each other. After a bit, we started talking about fishing off the coast near Palacios, Texas. With the growing odor of tomatoes in the air, I quickly started thinking how good tomatoes would go with red fish. Shoot, I'm already thinking about a weekend trip down there. Been wanting to get some fishing done since the end of this season of "River Monsters."
Before the winners were announced, an honorable mention was awarded to a young lad of five. His entry nearly won the tasting contest, and he was quite pleased with his certificate of merit. That, and the extra tomatoes he inhaled after the contest. I asked him his secret: fish heads in the soil. Yes, really. When I disclosed this to my wife, she nodded. She knew, of course, having purchased the vile, oily liquid variety. I never knew you could actually bury a fish head.
During the time at the nursery, a strange thought occurred to me: these growers, unlike us authors, basically had very little to do with the end result of the thing by which they were being judged. Sure, there are different methods of feeding the vines, tending the leaves, and helping Mother Nature out, but, in the end, it is she that does all the work. In recent days, lists of nominations for various mystery awards have been released and all of those authors have been happy to be nominated. Each one wants to win because, in some part, the award will be the reward for the long hours of imagineering, writing, editing, proofing, and selling the fruit of their labors. While you might make the analogy that writers are gardeners of the imagination, they are not only the gardener but also the Mother Nature of a book. They control every aspect of a book, for the most part, and, as such, have much more invested in the outcome.
Once the winners earned their awards and had their pictures taken, we all got to sample the winning tomato and the others on the table. Of all the flavors of summer, fresh tomatoes are among my favorites. It was a very pleasant way to spend a part of a Saturday morning in June, and it proved just a small insight to a different type of competition: one in which Mother Nature was being judged more so that mere humans.

Friday, June 15, 2012

What's In A Name?

By Russel D McLean

The Good Son.

 The Lost Sister.

 Father Confessor.

I honestly didn’t mean for this to happen. The McNee books weren’t really meant to have that whole family connection, but it became more and more clear as I wrote them that they did. I have an obsession with families in my writing. In what makes and doesn’t make a family. In whether families are about blood or something else. It runs through a great deal of what I write. Don’t ask me why. Ask my psychiatrist.

And while you’re at it, you can ask what my obsession is with older characters and violence. From David Burns to a 75 year old attempted assault in a McNee short story to the determined oldsters of Angel of Mercy, I have a thing about old people bringing the pain.

Again, ask my psychiatrist.

 But the title thing intrigues me. I hate titles. Right now I’m trying to name a potential standalone and every title I use is taken or too associated with other things. And of course I’m naming the fourth McNee which has something do with mothers. But its tough to name it (although fellow DSDer Sandra Ruttan may be able to work out – four years after the fact – what name that she suggested is currently acting as a placeholder).

Titles can be great things. Or they can be dull. They can have rhythms in a series or not. Say what you like about James Patterson, naming those early Alex Cross books for children’s rhymes was kind of inspired, given that they tapped into all kinds of fears and anxieties in the reader. After all, we’re easily scared as children and as adults we’re easily scared for them, so using those kinds of titles (Big Bad Wolf, London Bridge, Along Came A Spider) tapped into all of that and primed the reader to be on the edge of their seat and unnerved. Much more so than when he finally just started calling the books, Cross, Double Cross etc etc.

By that point, the titles imply that the books have become routine. But that can be just what readers want, too. The promise of familiarity can be enticing. And of course there are only so many nursery rhymes in the world.

Doug Johnstone tells a story about how he had a great title for his book, but the publishers changed it to the very literal “Hit and Run” for publication. While I think the original title (which I now can’t remember) was more appealing, the use of a simpler title actually works. The bluntness is effective and in terms of genre, thrillers seem to work best with punchy titles. Look at thriller powerhouse Jonathan Kellerman who these days only uses one word per title.

But long titles, too, have their place. I adore the titles of Philip K Dick:

Do Androids’ Dream of Electric Sheep?

 Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

We Can Remember It For You, Wholesale

In Milton Lumpky Terrtitory.

And yes, that last one is the name of one of his non SF, more literary works.

Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder Mysteries had some great, lengthy titles too:

A Long Line of Dead Men

A Dance at the Slaughterhouse

The Devil Knows You’re Dead

When The Sacred Ginmill Closes

Often the longer titles have the feel of a reference or quotation. Many times that’s what they are. But that’s great, because if the reader gets the connotation, they’re ready and set up for what awaits them.

A good title sets you up. It gives you an idea about the book. It lets you know what to expect. Which is why they’re damn hard to get right. And why they’re one of the parts of the process I enjoy the least when it comes to creating them.

And let me say, that just for the record, despite some waggish suggestions that have come by email, the title of the fourth J McNee book will absolutely, definitely, posilutely, not be,

Mother F***er.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Learn How To Fail

By Jay Stringer

Not for the first time, my day has been changed by reading something that the mighty Chuck Wendig has written. His words will tip your head over onto your ass. It's also a scary thing; I have his novel Blackbirds next to my bed, but it has to remain unread until I've finished the first draft of my own novel, because I know his prose style and decisions would creep into my own work.

But on this particular day, it's a little different. He's posted on the subject of a meme that's doing the rounds on the facebook, and (whilst I'm in full agreement with him on the issue) It was inspiring a long reply from me. But hey, why post a reply on Terrible Minds when I had a DSD slot to fill? Cheers, Chuck!

And sure, some of my thoughts will overlap with things he's already said. But when he says them he has a beard, and when I say them I have an English accent. When he says them, he still has a beard, but I have the full authority of William Shakespeare and Alan Rickman. To be or not to be, thrown off the Nakatomi building. I might be rambling, have you noticed?

Anyway. Here's the meme that Chuck points to-

I'm not here to weigh in on the whole "indie author" thing -nor to try and grapple with what that phrase actually means- because I think it's a silly conversation. And that's not a dig at Wendig, he agrees on that too, I believe. And I'm not here to point out that the meme disproves it's own position. No, I'm here to weigh in on rejection.

Did I miss a memo? When did this become a bad thing?

One of my worries with the ease of publication in the modern age is that we're beginning to think that rejection is a step to be avoided. An inconvenience that we can all sidestep at the touch of a button. On this very subject Paul Cornell once wrote; "a boxer doesn't learn to fight by avoiding getting punched in the face." Show me a comedian who has never faced rejection and I'll show you one who has never told a joke. We learn to succeed by failing. We learn to walk by falling over often enough that we learn to miss the ground.

Looking at that list, the easiest thing in the world is to say, "pfffft, 22 people didn't know what the hell they were talking about when James Joyce showed them his work." But the honest professional writer looks at that list and thinks, "I wonder what state Dubliners was in for those first 22 submissions."

Here's the (open) dirty secret in writing; You don't sit down and write a good book. You sit down and fail at writing a good book. You show your work to people, you take criticism, and then you fail better.

The first person to whom I showed a completed first draft of Old Gold told me exactly what was wrong with it. (I won't name names, but he was an agent and novelist, and has recently added publisher to that list, and also is Scottish. And may or may not be named Allan.) After seeing a sample of the book he lead off with a compliment, "the writing is, on the whole, excellent." That got my ego up and told me what I already knew- I had written the best book of all time. But after luring me in with the praise he gave me a list of all the ways the book failed. (The word "failed," wasn't used, but only because he was being polite.) After another edit, and after many of those problems were fixed, he gave me another list. This one contained one of the most important pieces of criticism I've ever received, "if you want people to read it, you need to learn formatting." He the had to explain to me some very basic conventions of formatting a book. Until that moment I hadn't realised I was using my learning difficulty as an excuse- my brain doesn't do certain things and therefore I had decided I should get a free pass on them. Nuh uh.

The first short story I placed online at a crime fiction webzine was one that had already been rejected twice. Not because the first two people were idiots, but because the story wasn't ready. On the third attempt, and with some additional editing input from Elaine Ash at BTAP, the story got an award nomination and saw me wind up in a print anthology beside Rankin, Guthrie and Banks. Professor Weddle rejected a story of mine for Needle, and he was right- it wasn't a very good short story. It's looking like it may be a good opening to my current novel instead.

Hearing, "no," in any of it's forms is not pleasant. It's not a happy experience. But it's also vital. The meme above seeks to rob us all of this. It states that, "the readers opinion is all that matters," and suggests that each of the numbers in the list represents a failure of taste or decency. I look at each of those numbers in the list and see opinions that may well have helped the author, or strengthened to book. Even if it was an opinion that wasn't taken on board (because we each develop a sense of when to listen and when to hold firm) it's still a test, a moment that has helped the story stand on it's own to feet either through change or resilience*.

It would be lovely to sidestep all of this. It would be nice to sit and write thousands of words then simply walk away from them and call it finished. It would be lovely, but it wouldn't be writing. The above meme is really advocating not trying.

I give out writing advice as rarely as I can get away with, but here's one that I think needs to be said;
If you want to be a writer, you need rejection. You need to fail. Only then can you fail better.

*I'm pretty sure the list is wrong. As far as I know it's a total misrepresentation of the publication of The Diary Of Anne Frank. Though it would be odd to think -even after everything I've just said- of 16 editors saying that the book lacked drama and tension.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

WOWZER: The Frank Wheeler, Jr Interview

By Steve Weddle

Fellow Team Decker member Frank Wheeler, Jr. stopped by to talk about his critically acclaimed debut, THE WOWZER.

In the Arkansas Ozarks, old-timers spin tales of the Wowzer, a giant panther-like creature that decapitates those who wander too far into the woods. County sheriff’s deputy Jerry was raised on Wowzer stories, but they aren’t enough to stop him from carrying out his own business in the remote hills. Jerry’s more than a sheriff’s deputy; he moonlights as muscle for local drug traffickers, who sometimes need people to get hurt—or get dead. 

Fortunately, Jerry’s pretty good at his job. And since Tom Haskell runs the sheriff’s office and the drug-protection racket, Jerry doesn’t see much of a moral dilemma. That is, until he starts thinking about getting out of the trade, and then things get complicated fast. For starters, Jerry’s girl Maggie flees the state after learning about a disturbing diagnosis tucked inside Jerry’s psych report. And now Sheriff Haskell is dragging his feet paying Jerry his cut of the drug money. Is Haskell just reluctant to lose his top muscle? Or is he plotting to take out the man who knows his dirtiest secrets? Fans of hardboiled, “country noir” fiction will love gnashing on Frank Wheeler’s violent and darkly comic debut, sneaking a glimpse into the mind of a killer whose inner monster is about to be unleashed.

Steve Weddle: What’s the one book you most often suggest to people?

Frank Wheeler, Jr: There’s a couple, of course.  For fiction fans, I often suggest “Old Man and the Sea.”  I’m still in awe at how Hemingway managed to pack so much into a hundred pages and change.  That’s how you do it.

For writers looking to improve their craft, I suggest Forster’s “Aspects of the Novel.” It still gives the best, simplest, and most useful overview and breakdown of how a novel works.

SW: You’ve said your family stories pushed you towards THE WOWZER. What other family stories have you heard that would make good stories? Or what other overheard stories are you wanting to tell?

FW: My former-cattle-rancher great uncle in Oklahoma told me plenty.  I’ve got another great uncle who, along with my grandma, was raised in northern Louisiana.  He was a one-legged truck driver and later raised dachshunds.  Another uncle, from the Arkansas bunch, was a submarine commander in the nuclear navy.  I’ve grown up in the best possible place for a storyteller to be… surrounded by other storytellers whose experience I may profit from.

SW: Do you think being labeled “Crime Fiction” helps market your book? Does a label like “Rural Noir” provide too tight a limit?

FW: Sure.  There are lots more people who read “Crime Fiction” than there are people who are turned off by it.  I don’t object to the label “Rural Noir” because that’s what this book is.  A story set out in the woods can be just as interesting as one set in a big city.

SW: What’s your ideal book reading as an author? As a listener? Do you prefer readings from the work followed by questions and answers? Do you prefer stories about how the book came about?

FW: Truth be told, I haven’t given a reading of my work in close to ten years, so I really couldn’t say.  As a listener, I like the Q&A to follow the reading.  And I find that the stories about how the book came to be are often the most interesting part of the reading.  Frequently, I can relate to them, and it makes my own process not seem so arbitrary or directionless.

SW: As a debut novelist, what’s the one thing you know now that you wished known two years ago?

FW: I wish I’d known that it can take a lot of time to get a manuscript from a submitted draft to a printed book.  And I don’t just mean the calendar days.  The time feels different, passes more slowly.  That whole watched-pot-never-boils thing.  Yeah, I was pulling out my hair for a while.  I wish I’d known that even though mine didn’t take that long (relative to the publishing business norm), that space between acceptance and publication was going to feel like an eternity.

SW: Patricia Highsmith was a hot topic at the last NoirCon. How does THE WOWZER fit into a world with what she and others – including Jim Thompson – have done in terms of the protagonist’s state of mind?

FW: I heard someone say about James Cagney that all the bad guys he played didn’t know they were bad guys.  I love Highsmith’s work, and her Ripley novels were a big part of my decision to make the character a psychopath.  But to be honest, I didn’t know who Jim Thompson was until I read what Scott Wolven wrote, comparing THE WOWZER to Thompson’s work.  What I like about this type of character is that it’s a kind of day-pass into a world without the constraint of conscience.  You get the experience of doing lots of bad things, and don’t have to feel guilt over it.  And then you get to come back from it.

SW: Why does THE WOWZER have to take place in the Ozarks? Why not Florida? Seattle?

Frank Wheeler, Jr
FW: Cause that’s where Jerry’s from , don’t you know nothin’?

I love the Ozarks.  A lot of relatives on my mother’s side lived there, and we’d visit now and then.  Being a flatlander most of my life (Central Texas, Eastern New Mexico, Nebraska), the mountains made quite an impact.  So did the great uncles who showed me what storytelling was.  That was the voice I tried to capture: my uncles from the area, spinning a yarn.

SW: THE WOWZER has been called “a profane, violent, strangely captivating romance.” How is it that a hard-boiled piece of country noir can also have a romance?

FW: Even monsters need love.  Well, some of them, anyway.  That’s what I learned from those old HBO “Iceman” documentaries.  The guy did love his family, but kept that separate from his job as a hitman. That’s in our nature.   We seek companionship and intimacy with others.  Even those who are profoundly detached, they still have that instinct, even if they can’t conventionally, or safely, express it.  

SW: Why don’t you have a website? Why aren’t you on Twitter all day? Are you sure you’re a real author?

FW: I’m what you might call a “slow learner” when it comes to computers.  My brother in law, a programmer-genius, is actually helping me develop a website that should be up in the near future.  As for Twitter, see, I have a couple of these things called jobs.  And also a wife I like to spend time with. But I drop in occasionally to shoot my mouth off.

SW: What are you working on next?

FW: I’m in the last stages of revision for a new novel.  It’s set in Nebraska, in a place very like my hometown. If I just call it hardboiled WESTERN noir, then that means it’s hardboiled noir set between 1865 and 1900. So I guess it’s hardboiled CONTEMPORARY western noir. Or whichever sequencing of those words works best.  Maybe I just invented that category.  This novel is actually based on my short story “The Good Life,” which appeared in issue #7 of CrimeFactory magazine.  And I’m also chipping away at  a sequel to THE WOWZER.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are we the 99 percent? Are we the 1 percent? Who cares?

The other day I raged out on Twitter about seeing the same arguments over and over about self-publishing and traditional publishing.  Both sides grip their arguments tight to their chests, unwilling to let go of their side, unwilling to even loosen their hold.

I think this mentality actually ties into the world's view right now.  Or at least the view of the country.  With all that's raging on and on about the "99 percent" and the "1 percent," that mentality has begun to bleed into many other aspects of life.  And I think self-publishers believe they're the 99 percent.

And so they protest.

They yell and scream and push and prod trying to get people to believe that this is the new way.  The only way it will work.  Self-publishing will soon shut down the EVIL PUBLISHERS, everyone will sell millions of copies, and everyone will be happy bestselling writers.

Meanwhile, with this new assault, a lot of traditionally published people have taken to the streets warning everyone about the dangers of self-publishing.  You won't get exposure.  You won't sell millions of copies.  You'll have a crappy cover.  Life will be horribly awful for you and you'll never win.
Traditional publishing the is only way to go.

Tastes great.

Less filling.

Shut up.

Seriously, everyone shut up.  Take a deep breath.  Take a step back and shut up.  Look at what you're doing.

This is not an either or.  There are pros and cons to both.

You can do both.

You can sell millions self-published, but still have the support and help that a traditional publisher brings.

Find what works for you, and exploit that.

But don't try to convert everyone.  I'm okay with you if you're a Self-Publisher.

I like that you're traditionally published.

Neither of you are failures in my eyes.

Come on now.

Group hug.

Just stop speaking in absolutes.  The world works in many ways.  And there are more than 50 Shades of Grey in life.

Ugh, after that joke... I'm bailing out of this post.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Report: 5 I Loved and 5 I want to Read

Today's post will be a quick one sharing some books that I've enjoyed recently and that are highly recommended.   

Big Trouble in Little Boots - From the Misadventures of Butch Quick by Brian Knight

Butch Quick. Repo man, bounty hunter, nightclub bouncer. Butch is a man who doesn't have to go looking for trouble... It comes after him often enough to keep him busy. But this night, big trouble comes to him in the form of Go-Go Gidget, the Dancing Midget. When an interstate stalker tracks Gidget down to the nightclub where Butch works, it is up to Butch to make sure she doesn't end up a statistic. 

This is an insanely entertaining long short story/novelette. Dark, violent, sexy, fun, and at times very funny.  When I was finished reading it I wanted there to be more but it was probably the perfect length because any longer and it's possible the magic would have dimmed.  This isn't a knock against Knight's writing, which was spot on, but instead an observation that certain types of stories benefit from a shorter length , and this is one of them. 

I bought this for .99 at Amazon but it is FREE over at Smashwords.

It looks like Knight has future installments planned for release. Count me as a fan.

Growing Up Dead in Texas by Stephen Graham Jones

An investigation of the places we're from, and the places we still live when we close our eyes, Growing Up Dead in Texas explores small-town life, family, and what it really means to go home.

It was a fire that could be seen for miles, a fire that split the community, a fire that turned families on each other, a fire that it's still hard to get a straight answer about. A quarter of a century ago, someone held a match to Greenwood, Texas's cotton.

Stephen Graham Jones was twelve that year. What he remembers best, what's stuck with him all this time, is that nobody ever came forward to claim that destruction.

And nobody was ever caught.

Greenwood just leaned forward into next year’s work, and the year after that, pretending that the fire had never happened. But it had. This fire, it didn't start twenty-five years ago. It had been smoldering for years by then. And everybody knew it. Getting them to say anything about it's another thing, though.

Now Stephen's going back. His first time back since he graduated high school, and maybe his last. For answers, for closure, for the people who can’t go back. For the ones who never got to leave.

Part mystery, part memoir, Growing Up Dead in Texas is packed with more secrets than your average graveyard. Stephen Graham Jones’ breakout novel is a story about Texas. It’s a story about farming. A story about finally standing up from the dead and walking away.

On a practical level Growing Up Dead in Texas is a beautiful piece of autobiographical fiction with Stephen Graham Jones exploring an event from his childhood.  But it is so much more then that.

As the keeper of stories in my family I feel like this book was written for me, or at least by a kindred spirit. For some reason nobody else wants the family stories and they will likely die with me unless my kids remember any of them. And who wouldn't want to hear about when my grandfather swallowed a nickle as a kid during the depression and caused a stir; or the way that glove box on the old Mercury had a busted lock and never opened until that one time we hit a hard bump; or that time I visited the picket line and saw the scabs catch a beating on a road that doesn't exist any more; or that my grandfather's sister dated a local gangster during prohibition.


But I want all of those stories. Always did. Always want more too.

Growing Up Dead in Texas is for those who remember all those little details and the worlds that they open up, like understanding that a good hat, with a brim curled just so, only becomes a good hat after a lot of use and can't be bought at a trucker cap store (I had one once too. It was the only hat that fit comfortably on my head AND in my back pocket).

And that, to me, is what Growing Up Dead in Texas is "about".

Jonah Man by Christopher Narozny

Narrated by a one-handed juggler who moonlights as a drug trafficker, a talented young boy who longs to escape the shadow of his abusive father, and a police inspector whose overzealous efforts to solve a murder result in a series of calamitous missteps, Jonah Man explores the dark side of life behind the curtain, where artists resort to the most extreme measures—including drug dealing, self-mutilation, even murder—to prolong their time in the limelight. 

Jonah Man is an unconventional murder mystery/crime novel that takes place in the vaudeville days.  It's divided into four sections, each from the perspective of a different character and circling around the murder.
The characters and the world in Jonah Man are richly brought to life but in a concise way that lends itself well to caring for these characters. Narozny's economical style feels bigger then it is, in other words he does in a short space what would take other authors more space.  There is also a subtle bizarre, other worldly quality to the world of Jonah Man that is richly rendered.

Immobility by Brian Evenson

When you open your eyes things already seem to be happening without you. You don't know who you are and you don't remember where you've been. You know the world has changed, that a catastrophe has destroyed what used to exist before, but you can't remember exactly what did exist before. And you're paralyzed from the waist down apparently, but you don't remember that either.

A man claiming to be your friend tells you your services are required. Something crucial has been stolen, but what he tells you about it doesn't quite add up. You've got to get it back or something bad is going to happen. And you've got to get it back fast, so they can freeze you again before your own time runs out.

Before you know it, you're being carried through a ruined landscape on the backs of two men in hazard suits who don't seem anything like you at all, heading toward something you don't understand that may well end up being the death of you.
Welcome to the life of Josef Horkai….

Welcome to the life of Josef Horkai….

Evenson is a longtime stop-what-your-doing author for me. I've long since maintained that Evenson is a crime writer who won't admit to it.  He just doesn't self-identify as one. His work has found acceptance in other circles and often he is identified in some capacity as a horror writer in print.  I maintain that thematically, his work often runs along side of crime fiction and noir.  In-arguably there is a noir influence to his writing.

Immobility is a post-apocalyptic memory mind fuck that takes place over a desolate noir-ish landscape (mindscape?).  It also has that rare shocking ending that is so satisfying when done right. 

Zombie Bake-Off Stephen Graham Jones

It's time for the annual Recipe Days bake-off in Lubbock, Texas. Soccer moms and grandmothers gather to show off their family recipes, learn new secrets for the perfect shortcake, and perhaps earn a chance to be on the famous cooking show, How Would You Cook It, Then?

When the bake-off is crashed by a federation of pro wrestlers -- including American Badass, Jersey Devil Jill, Tiny Giant, The Village Person, Jonah the Whale, the Hellbillies, and the fan favorite Xombie -- all hell is set to break loose. Your heart beats faster as you anticipate who will come out on top in the ultimate showdown of the century: soccer moms or pro wrestlers. Anything can happen.

An infected batch of donuts has transformed most of the wrestlers into mindless brain-eaters and the doors of the convention center have been chained shut, leaving the survivors locked inside, forced to fend for themselves against the hungry dead.

One of my favorite books this year so far is a zombie novel.  Jones is one of my drop-everything-to-read-his-latest authors. And the beauty is that you never know what you are going to get and in 2012 we get a heart breaking work of autobiographical fiction (see above) and a freaking zombie novel that is the greatest movie that hasn't been made yet.

The great thing is that Zombie Bake-Off promises a great concept (pro wrestlers, soccer moms, and zombies all trapped in an arena) and then proceeds to deliver like nobody's business.

I simply cannot recommend this book enough.


Here are five books that sound great and that I'm looking forward to reading

Faith by John Love

Moby Dick meets Duel in John Love's debut novel of Space Opera and Military Science Fiction! Faith is the name humanity has given to the unknown, seemingly invincible alien ship that has begun to harass the newly emergent Commonwealth. 300 years earlier, the same ship destroyed the Sakhran Empire, allowing the Commonwealth to expand its sphere of influence. But now Faith has returned! The ship is as devastating as before, and its attacks leave some Commonwealth solar systems in chaos. Eventually it reaches Sakhra, now an important Commonwealth possession, and it seems like history is about to repeat itself. But this time, something is waiting: an Outsider, one of the Commonwealth's ultimate warships. Slender silver ships, full of functionality and crewed by people of unusual abilities, often sociopaths or psychopaths, Outsiders were conceived in back alleys, built and launched in secret, and commissioned without ceremony. One system away from earth, the Outsider ship Charles Manson makes a stand. Commander Foord waits with his crew of miscreants and sociopath, hoping to accomplish what no other human has been able to do — to destroy Faith!

Zombie by JR Angelella

Fourteen-year-old Jeremy Barker attends an all-boys Catholic high school where roving gangs of bullies make his days a living hell. His mother is an absentee pillhead, his older brother a self-diagnosed sex-addict, and his father disappears night after night without explanation. Jeremy navigates it all with a code cobbled together from the zombie movies he's obsessed with: Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, Planet Terror, Zombieland, and Dawn of the Dead among others.

The code is put to the test when he discovers in his father's closet a bizarre homemade video of a man strapped to a bed, being prepped for some sort of surgical procedure. As Jeremy attempts to trace the origin of the video, this remarkable debut moves from its sharp, precocious beginnnings to a climax of almost unthinkable violence, testing him, and the reader, to the core.

One-Eyed Jacks by Brad Smith

At 35, Tommy Cochrane is a washed-up boxer who missed out on a shot at the heavy-weight title and has to hang up his gloves for good when he's diagnosed with an aneurysm. His best friend and former sparring partner, T-Bone Pike, isn't in great shape either as the two of them head to Toronto on a quest for the $5,000 Tommy desperately needs to buy back his grandfather's farm.

In the big city, Tommy and T-Bone encounter an intriguing cast of characters operating on the questionalble side of the tracks. Fat Ollie runs the weekly poker game on Quenn Street; Buzz Murdoch gives Tommy a job as a doorman at the Bamboo club; Herm Bell is a sharp kid on a run of luck; and Tony Broad is a small-time hood with big-time ambitions and a seedy sidekick named Billy Callahan. There's also Lee Charles, a sharp, cynical, smart-mouthed torch singer, who happens to be Tommy's ex-girlfriend.

The five grand ultimately becomes available to a number of these people in a number of ways - all at great risk to Tommy and T-Bone. 

I Hate Hockey by FanCois Barcelo 

"I hate hockey!" is the first and last sentence in this novel that offers a great take on our love-hate relationship with hockey. Narrator Antoine Vachon blames the game for killing his marriage with his beautiful ex-wife (well, that and the power outage that brought her home unexpectedly to find him in bed with her intern). But hockey is a pretext for unlikely adventure in this sardonic roman noir that at times flirts with the outrageous.Antoine Vachon is a total loser living in a pitiful bachelor apartment after he has lost his wife and his job as a car salesman. When his son’s hockey coach is found dead, he is browbeaten into coaching the team for one game. He makes it through the game (to great comic effect), but things take a turn for the worse when they stop at a motel after the game. Who killed the former coach and why? Was Antoine’s son involved? Or his ex-wife? The late coach was liked by all and was a pillar in the community. He was close to his player, perhaps too close… Why is Antoine unable to communicate with his son?

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

Still in her early twenties, she's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can't save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she'll have to try.

Currently Reading: Submissions, Ghosting by Kirby Gann, 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

BEA, parties and the Amazon/Avalon combo

By: Joelle Charbonneau

This week I attended my very first BEA.  For those who aren’t familiar with the acronym, BEA stands for BookExpo America.  The expo is held at the Javits Center in New York City (a place all New Yorkers seem to have a love/hate relationship with) and is packed with over 20,000 publishers, agents, booksellers, librarians, authors and readers.  I thought I had mentally prepared myself for how huge the event was going to be.  I was wrong!  The event is massive.  So many people handing out ARCs, running to meetings or events and talking about their love of books. 

Love of books is the theme of BookExpo America.  So, if you love books and you can swing going to BEA, I totally recommend it.  Not because it will land you and agent or an editor.  It won’t.  Editors and agents don’t have time to talk about as yet unsigned projects.  They are too busy talking about their upcoming lists or pitching books to film people and foreign rights agents.  In fact, attending BEA will not make you “the author” feel important at all.  Because this isn’t a conference about writers and authors.  This is an expo about books.  If you are looking to stand out in the crowd, you probably need to wear stilts and even then you might not get noticed.  (Trust me.  The ten foot inflatable Captain Underpants doll barely got a second glance.)  But while you won’t stand out in the crowd, you will feel a sense of unity with everyone around you because everyone in attendance LOVES books.  They want to find better ways to connect readers with books and to keep the industry alive and thriving. 

BEA for me was fun and intimidating.  I got to sign copies of SKATING AROUND THE LAW, SKATING OVER THE LINE and early copies of MURDER FOR CHOIR.  Seeing MURDER FOR CHOIR for the first time was pretty awesome.  I also had meetings with my three editors and talked to my Houghton Mifflin Harcourt team for the first time.  Oh – and I got to see a bound copy of THE TESTING.  Not an ARC – since we are a few weeks/months away from that yet, but it was still exciting to see it getting so close.  I didn’t do much of the party scene, although I understand there were lots and lots of them.  There was a fun YA bash that I crashed with the fabulous DMLA agent, Amy Boggs, which was held at the top of a building near the Hudson River.  The view of the city was pretty amazing!  The bloggers who threw the party knew what they were doing when they picked the location. 

The one thing that I thought I was going to hear more buzz about during my BEA experience was the Amazon buyout of Avalon.  I mean, Amazon timed the announcement to coincide with BEA.  They wanted the acquisition to garner attention.  Only….it really didn’t.  I mean, people noticed the announcement.  It was kind of hard to miss.  But instead of talking about the move as proof that Amazon was doing good things or that they were evil and trying to take over the world, everyone just kind of shrugged.  I’m not sure what that means, but no one was surprised or compelled to talk about that particular announcement.  Maybe it was because it made sense that Amazon would buy genre books that had never been brought to the digital market.  While there are lots of things I don’t understand about the Amazon business model, I do understand that they understand e-books.  So, I guess I’m one of the masses on this and shrugging at the big announcement because this buyout totally makes sense.   

How about you?  Did you hear about the announcement and shrug?  Did you cheer when you heard the news or did the news not make it onto your radar?