Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

(I reviewed this book over on my personal blog a couple of weeks ago. This series is one of the Big Discoveries I've made in 2012. I really have enjoyed the first two books in this series and want to post the review here in case y'all missed it.)

The adventures of Isaac Bell came to me in a rather serendipitous way. On the one hand, I was in a grocery store last year and I saw a book on the shelf and admired the cover. The cover of The Race showed two planes, clearly early 20th Century vintage, engaged in a dogfight over a city. The image got me for numerous reasons, but, since the To Be Read pile is so large, I basically forgot about it. Cut to New Year’s Day 2012 when my cousin, an avid railroad enthusiast, told me about "this series about a detective who operates on railroads." Cool, I said, seeing as how I had created my own railroad detective and didn’t want to copy anyone else, what’s the title? The Chase by Clive Cussler. Well, image my wonder when, upon looking up The Chase, I discovered That Cover I had forgotten about. And, thus, I found my way not only to Clive Cussler (and Justin Scott, his co-author) but also to Detective Isaac Bell.

I read The Chase earlier this year and was completely entertained. The Wrecker maintains the excitement, the intrigue, and the chess-like machinations of the hero and the villain. The hero is Isaac Bell, a detective of the Van Dorn Detective agency. A tall man with blond hair and mustache, he is the imperturbable, stoic hero of many a story you've read before. What sets him apart isn't his good looks, skill with a gun, nor his hand-to-hand ability. It's that Bell actually gets beat up, dirty, and flummoxed throughout both books I've read so far. He's a bit like John McClain from Die Hard. He may win, but it'll exact a price.

The title character of The Wrecker is the villain. That nickname is the moniker given to the man blowing up various railroads of the Southern Pacific railway in the Cascade Mountains, Oregon, all in an attempt to bankrupt the company. The president of the railway hires the Van Dorn Detective Agency to stop it. Set in 1907, what follows is a wonderful cat-and-mouse game between Bell and the Wrecker.

By giving his villain a nickname, Cussler is able to hide the true identity of the Wrecker for more than half the book. Interestingly, once the identity is revealed, Cussler actually fluctuates between the actual name and the nickname. I found that a little odd. What really sets this book apart from your general thriller is the timeframe. The year 1907 is just modern and technological enough where you have the beginnings of automobiles, phones, and planes. At the same time, it's old enough to where railroads and telegraph are the primary means of transportation and communication. What this mix does for a reader in 2012 is build in some interesting tension. If a hero in 2012 needs to travel across the country from Oregon to New York, it's a plane ride of a few hours. Need to contact some allies across the country? Use the cell phone. Detective Bell can't do that. A trip across the continent takes days. At one point, he needs to contact associates in Oregon while he's in Los Angeles. With the telegraph lines cut, there is only one way to communicate information: in person. That means, take the train. All of this builds tension and the excitement increases.

I've only read three Cussler books, two in the last few months. They are so well choreographed that they just sweep you along. The history is always fascinating and the detail is accurate. If you are tired of the modern techno-thriller, try a historical thriller featuring Isaac Bell. Very good read.

Friday, October 12, 2012


By Russel D McLean

When THE CASUAL VACANCY came out the other week, lots of people reviewed the book (some of them, those amazon customer reviews, reviewed the lack of proper digital formatting rather than the book itself). Reading those reviews, I was astonished by one constant theme running them: the continual references to Harry Potter.

Now, perhaps that was inevitable because Potter’s legacy is the Potterverse, but at no point during the pre-publicity (and there was a lot of it) for THE CASUAL VACANCY did Rowling state that this book had anything to do with Potter. In fact she went out of her way (as did the publishers) to state that it was a book for grown ups. A book that was set in “the real world”, something that had nothing to do with what she had written before.

And yet the reviews were littered with references to Muggles and hogwarts and magic and the fact that Rowling dared to have a very strange reference to a used condom in the book. Few of them seemed to take the book and its merits on its own terms, preferring instead to play on the author’s past rather than seeing what Rowling was attempting to do in the here and now.

It left me with a feeling that Rowling would have been better (expectations wise at least, but not sales wise) to have released the book under another name. I know there are many reasons why that didn’t happen, of course, but the expectations that came with the Rowling brand were too much for The Casual Vacancy to be taken entirely as its own thing. Like the crime writer who can’t break out of the genre and do something different because of publisher and reader expectations* Rowling faced similar difficulties on a massive scale, and I have to wonder what will happen with her next book. Now that sales have been so huge because people were intrigued as to what she would do, will they come back now that that curiosity has been satisfied?

Writers have strange expectations placed on them, especially genre writers. Readers and publishers expect them to do something the same “but different”. We are put into holes of expectation and only rarely allowed to break out of them.

I always think of movies, how directors and actors can have a go at different genres and yet people will still come flocking to their movies (seriously, if Arnie had been a writer, then Jingle All The Way along would have killed his career) without the same kind of baggage of which they approach writers. Perhaps because its difficult not to pigeonhole writers. After all we are solely responsible for the product that reaches the readers. It is our name that is most important. Whereas in the movies, its always a team effort; its not simply the star, but the director, the scripter (even though people rarely notice them), the co-stars and so forth. There are so many people to blame or praise for a movie, whereas with a book, its just one person (even when behind the scenes there are other people assisting, such as editors, first readers, researchers etc etc) and the public easily start to associate that one person with a particular style which is why it can become difficult to break that style.

Writers are often more than the readers expect. They have the same complex and varied interests as anyone else, and to pigeonhole them in one genre is often a mistake, You can tell when a writer has reached the point of writing for contract and expectation instead of their own passions, and I think that is such a sad thing to see. Reinventing, taking risks and simply playing with words is part of who a writer is. We shouldn’t limit them. We should take each book on its own terms rather than comparing it to something which it is not.

*I’m thinking of Stuart MacBride’s brilliant Half Head which deserved a sequel and a chance to build up the man in another genre

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Your Rank = You're Rank

Concerned that you authors were getting bored refreshing your Amazon book page, hoping for a move from #2,183 in Mysteries to #183 in Mysteries, the nice folks at Amazon have now instituted AMAZON AUTHOR RANK.

Now you can find out where you rank by category or overall. Here's an example which is totally not altered in any manner at all:

As of this typing, Sylvia Day is the greatest author, living or dead. She writes books about humping. 

According to a recent imaginary survey of real authors, 94% of authors are opposed to the new AMAZON AUTHOR RANK because it gives the authors "a sadz :(" for the rest of the day.

So why did Amazon start this ranking? Is it to sell more books? Is it to help readers find books they might like?

Is the AMAZON AUTHOR RANK so much different than the a list of best-selling books? 

Is it easier for authors to survive "Well, my book is down at #42,937, but at least I'm still handsome" than it is for authors to say "I'm the 826,983rd most popular author on Amazon"?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Creating the Crime Novel Cover

Over at Blasted Heath crime e-publishers, the cover artist of choice is JT Lindroos. Here's the final version of the cover for HARD BITE written by Anonymous-9, available everywhere e-books are sold on October 25th, 2012. JT Lindroos talks about the cover-art process, in his own words...

Being a movie buff, when I got the logline for the book ("A wheelchair bound vigilante with an assassin monkey") I thought of an AMAZING MR. NO LEGS and MONKEY SHINES poster mashup. Given budget and time constraints, this is a simplified and modernized version of that initial idea.

With any e-book cover you want keep it simple. Much as I'd love to do a retro pulp or faux movie poster cover, the amount of time and money allotted for e-book covers means finding shorthand to get an idea across. I thought it might be a funny gag cover to send to Al [Guthrie] for a laugh, but soon as I drew it up, it just worked. I quickly assembled the rest of the cover and sent it off to Al hoping he'd like it too. I often send covers I 'kind of like' for some feedback, but in this case I was hoping he'd just go with it. He did.

The rusty background provided texture more interesting than a solid, clean surface. Grit, rust, whatever is another easy and appealing shorthand for something that's visceral and lo-fi, not overproduced pablum. It suggests and implies, but allows you to read into it whatever you wish.

Note: The editor for the HARD BITE book trailer, Mark Oguschewitz, took all the elements of the cover and utilized them in the video title cards. Now, the handicap-icon stick figure rolls through the video brandishing his gun, and the rusty, textured background is the new backdrop for quotes about the book.

BIO: JT Lindroos was born in Finland. Happily married for the past 12 years, Lindroos gained his US citizenship 5 years ago. He's a fast worker, affordable, and whatever fields he's been in (design, publishing, writing, statistics) he's—for better AND worse—self-taught in all of them.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Crankiness

I haven't written fiction in a while.  I'm in the middle of a draft of a novel I'm very excited about and I really wish I was further along.  I haven't lost the thread, I haven't gotten frustrated with it, in fact, I can't wait to get back to it.  In my eyes, it has the potential to be really good.

And, of course, I'm a writer (well, sort of, like I said, I haven't written fiction in a while), so I have two or three other potentially good ideas in the pipeline.  And, I'll get to them.  The problem is, as one of my favorite sayings goes, life got in the way. 

Most of you know about the baby, and you know what it's like to raise a baby, so I'll gloss over that one without getting too sappy.  Plus work has been really busy.  And I'm taking graduate courses for work.  So each week I'm writing reflection essays, reading about curriculum, and drawing up lesson plans. 

But what gets me is this:  Usually when I don't write for a while (I got through slumps all the time, I'm a streaky writer), I get cranky.  Like mega mood shift cranky.  Can't focus, temper is short. 

But right now I'm not. 

This time, I think it's because I'm legitimately busy.  Too much going on, my subconscious hasn't had the chance to roll over my lack of writing.  And, now I'm letting that bother me.  I have no intention of stopping writing, but I honestly can't write right now.  At all. 

And that stinks.

But I can't do anything about it, so all I can do is bide my time.  And wait.  I'll be back, I'm promise.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A plea and a free

When Snubnose Press was started I wanted to be in a position where I could publish a book for no other reason then I liked it, without consideration of it needing to sell X amount of copies.  I wanted to take a chance on titles that otherwise might not get picked up by a traditional publisher. 

So when I read a submission that was a 20k word noir poem I just knew that I had to publish it.  To me Nothing Matters by Steve Finbow was the kind of title that exemplified what it meant to be a small publisher.  Most other publishers wouldn't have touched it but we would. For no other reason then because it was good.

We tried to soften the blow of a 20k word noir poem by including a novella version as well. That way the reader would have a choice. The reality is that, as good as Nothing Matters is, no one is buying it.

Snubnose Press hasn't done a lot of free giveaways but what better way to get someone to try something.  We're giving away Nothing Matters all week.  Just because we want you to have a chance to try it. Because we think that you'll like it if you do. 

Written in prose that’s as projective as a hollow-point bullet, Nothing Matters explores the dark side of desire, the surreal side of sex, and the horror that humanity witnesses.

Man and woman. Love and hate. Sex and violence. A road trip to the end of the world. On the way—murder, torture, lust, and despair. Shadowy figures haunt the anti-couple. As does their past... and their present.

From the deserts of Nevada and California to the gargoyle-sentried skyscrapers of New Babylon, X and Z will stop at nothing to be together. But will they kill for it? If you loved Romeo and Juliet, you’ll hate this.

Nothing Matters—a torque song for the 21st century, a torture song. X and Z are at the end of love, the end of language—read their story to find out Y.

If you like...
...experimental poetry
...lean hardboiled prose
...the above stated editorial philosophy

Please consider trying this book, on us.

David Rachels, the author of Verse Noir had this to say:

Steve Finbow's NOTHING MATTERS asks the remarkable question, Are you tough enough to read poetry? X and his femme fatale Z trade blood- and sex-soaked narratives in noir's first epic poem. And for the faint of heart, there's a prose version, too.
Benoit Lelievre from Deadend Follies had this to say:

NOTHING MATTERS is a great, beautiful and entertaining experiment with the economy of genre. It's like Finbow had boiled a noir text and the essential words came out scattered on the page. The sense, the bigger picture in between the verses is loose, but is there. If you ever doubted that noir had a stylistic essence of its own, read NOTHING MATTERS and think again. I really, really enjoyed this. Read it in two sittings and even dreamed about it. It's a first time it happens for me, for a book.
Here is a brief excerpt of the novella version that we ran at Spinetingler:

“…my bar, a music bar somewhere on the road between LA and Barstow, a stop for truckers, fuckers, and no-luckers. We have booths with personal jukeboxes, a stage for bands and dancers, rockers and strippers, shockers and dippers, the lonely and the never befriended. I bankrolled it through my dead husband’s leavings (he upped and died of shock, the third that never happened)—eventually—after X greased a few cops, threatened the insurance investigators, took a cut, set fire to it, watched my face in the glow of the flames, watched the green turn black, watched the metaphor for exchange turn to ash, watch my lust for him shrivel and die.

The thing is, once he had done what I asked of him, he was no longer necessary. He stayed around until I found something else for him to do, someone else for him to do, somewhere else for him to be. Not here. There. That was always important. I wanted him close but distant. He was distant but close. Proximity is relative. I saw him through the reverse end of an emotional telescope. His proximal philosophy was to share pulses. Gone but not forgotten. Forgotten but not gone. Never anywhere between.

Not long ago, two men came to me with a business proposition—they’d help finance the bar, bring in better-looking girls, more violent dogs, champion roosters, psycho boxers, bring in the crowds, all they wanted was use of the cellar bar for one night a month, no questions asked, no answers given—two faggots with muscles upon muscles. I closed the bar one night a month, gave them access, saw the black garbage bags wet with sticky saliva, the spill of black blood and white powder, the impenetrable eggs, the splashes of dark red urine, the burned women’s clothing, the collection of cheap jewelry scattered in the Sunset Debris dumpsters.

One night, the faggots brought me a present. Straining on its leash, spit running down its jaw, its white teeth glistening, its pink and grey gums trembling, its stub of a tail vibrating. I bent down and scratched its head, its hair short, a strawberry blond and I said,

“And what’s your name, big boy?”

And one of the faggots says, “Pinker. He’s an American pitbull. You could do with some protection.”

I rubbed the dogs ears and looked into his eyes. He gulped and wagged some more.

“The only thing I need protecting against is myself,” I said.”

And finally here is a book trailer for Nothing Matters.

To get your free copy of Nothing Matters, the kick ass 20k word noir poem by Steve Finbow, go here.

Snubnose Press news - We've been steady pumping out the noirboiled books over the last few weeks.  Check out: The Subtle Art of Brutality, Karma Backlash, A Healthy Fear of Man, and our latest book, Captain Cooker by Todd Morr.

Pick one up and give it a try, cheaper then a fast food meal.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Roller coaster ride

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This week has been an up and down ride.  For those keeping score, SKATING ON THE EDGE, the second of the Rebecca Robbins novels launched on Tuesday.  The best part of this launch is that it involves Roller Derby girls.  Members of the Windy City Rollers were on hand to celebrate the book, the sport and give away free stuff.  They even gave me my derby name – Jo-Hell!

Of course, when any new book launches, there is nerves, worry and a large dose of fear that people won’t like it.  That those who once loved the characters now think they are dull or boring or unbelievable.  Happiness and fear often go hand in hand in this business.

Luckily, I didn’t have all that much time to dwell on the worry since Wednesday I packed the car and headed out to Cleveland for the annual celebration of crime fiction, mysteries and thrillers – Bouchercon.  And yep – I’m still here.  There are lots of late nights catching up with friends, panels that discuss writing (I was on the Popularity of Young Adult fiction panel), parties and meetings with editors and agents.  I am fortunate enough to say that I had amazing conversations with Heather Graham (who graciously asked me to sing with her band at the House of Blues Friday night), Jeffery Deaver, Val MacDermid, Lee Child and Michael Connelly.  Yeah – pretty amazing!  I’ve also had a chance to go bowling and laugh with people who are creative and smart and somehow allow me to be their friend.  YAY!

During the happiness, there is also a bit of sadness.  Perhaps that is because life needs to be balanced in order for us to really understand that we need to celebrate the good in life.  On Thursday, my family said goodbye to a beloved member.  She has joined my father who I am missing more today than ever.  Today is the fourth anniversary of the day he found peace and left us with the memory of his love.

I am happy.  I am sad.  Through it all I celebrate the good.  I hope all of you find something wonderful to celebrate today.