Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Personal Touch and a Bookstore's Dexterity

Scott D. Parker

Today, as I was yesterday, I am reveling in all the geeky goodness of Houston’s Comicpalooza, home of comics, artists, movies, video games, anime, and naturally that’s where you’d find Houston’s preeminent mystery bookstore, Murder by the Book.

I’ll admit that, when I saw their name on the dealer list, I was a tad puzzled. What’s a bookstore that primarily deals with mystery fiction doing at a place that primarily focuses on science fiction, fantasy, etc.? Well, they’re doing what they always do: find a way to fit in and adapt to this ever-changing marketplace of books. People start buying ebook? They sell ebooks.

Another example of how they stay above the fray is through author events. They host nearly an author a day in any given month. I think it’s safe to say that for most any mystery author on a book tour, Houston and Murder by the Book is a destination location. You simply must come here. It’s great to have that kind of store in my hometown.

And, as it turns out, McKenna and company played host to the one author I most wanted to see: Alan Dean Foster. He was my first favorite SF author back when I first learned what SF was. He wrote the very first new Star Wars novel, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, back in 1978. Little did I know then that he also ghost wrote the novelization of Star Wars. Soon thereafter, I learned that he wrote the adaptations of the Star Trek animated series, listed as Star Trek Logs 1-10 to differentiate them from the James Blish adaptations of the original series. By the late 1970s, with the show off the air and decades away from a DVD, Foster’s books were the only way to experience these stories. The hunt for all ten logs became my first great treasure hunt. I found one in Boise, Idaho, another in Tyler, Texas, and places in between. They were a prized collection back then and remain so to this day.

When it came time to bring one of my logs (I didn’t want to bring all 10) to the con, I settled on Number 3. Not for any of the particular tales, mind you, but rather for the inscription my fourth-grade self inscribed on the front page. My elementary handwriting labeled this book as mine. And Mr. Foster has since put his inscription in this volume, too. He heard my story and wrote a nice addition: “For Scott--Movin’ on from the 4th Grade.”

It’s a personal touch that Foster did for me. I thanked him then and again thank him here. He also signed his book of nonfiction, Predators I Have Known, his recounting of his world travels to six of the seven continents over these past forty years. I look forward to reading it next.

The personal touch is what sets Murder by the Book apart as well. For me and all the patrons that walk into that store, it is literally the bookstore equivalent of the “Cheers” bar: they know your name, your likes, and are quick with a recommendation. Even yesterday, when I realized I missed Foster’s initial signing, McKenna texted me to let me know when he’d next be at the table. The personal touch. It makes all the difference. Thanks McKenna.

P.S., In case y’all outside of Houston missed it, here’s the piece our local CBS affiliate, KHOU, did on Murder by the Book.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sequelitis (a flashback)

By Russel D McLean

Russel is currently knee-deep in his day job but here's a little bit of a way-back ride for you. This piece originally appeared over at Chuck Wendig's blog where it had a very intro about how Chuck was stashed in a box for the day. You can read it there if you like and while you're there you can check out Chuck's posts. And then you can buy his books. Russel just finished Chuck's new one - THE BLUE BLAZES - and he thought it was excellent. The piece in question was written for the release of The Lost Sister, and it deals with sequels. This has been on Russel's mind lately after watching Iron Man 3 and Star Trek: Into Darkness. But since Russel got caught in this day job madness he'll present some older thoughts to you about sequels that he still pretty much believes in.

A sequel has to achieve a lot of stuff. It has to pull in new readers while pleasing old ones. It has to remain true to established facts while giving something new. It has to stand on its own and yet acknowledge the past.
It has to do something different.

Oh, yes. That’s the one that most people forget. While it’s considered the safe action to rehash old glories – see NATIONAL TREASURE 2, THE MUMMY 2 etc etc – what you wind up doing is boring people. Because while people think they want the same experience, what the really need is that same sense of excitement and unpredictability they got the first time round. It’s just tougher to put that into words than it is to say, “more of the same please”.

Why is THE GODFATHER PART II considered a perfect sequel? It expands upon and gives new life and new perspective on the first movie while still telling its own perfectly logical narrative. You could see GFII on its own, conceivably, and catch up to this world without having seen the original. Sure, some of the grandeur would be lost, but you wouldn’t be so confused as to throw the movie away and then batter your head against a brick wall until your brains dribbled out your ears.


They’re tough.

And not just when it comes to movies.

With THE LOST SISTER – which is a novel, not a movie* – I wanted to tell two stories. First there is the story that stands on its own. The one about the missing girl. Mary Furst, a girl who has no apparent reason to run away, is missing. There are questions about her disappearance, facts that don’t add up. As Our Hero – J McNee – digs into her life, he uncovers some very uncomfortable truths.

That’s my A story. And sure it could have been enough to hold the book by itself. After all, we established our hero in book 1 and if you want, you can keep a series character static. Many people enjoy that kind of thing. Some writers do it wonderfully. Robert B Parker kept Spencer is stasis for decades. Lee Child rarely changes Reacher or gives us any more about him than we need to know.

But I’m not that kind of writer. I need to let my characters change. Be affected by events. So THE LOST SISTER became a chance for me to explore my central character and find more about what makes him tick. I wanted him to confront some of his own choices over the course of the book, to see things in the case that made him question his own ideals and motivations. I wanted there to be something different in his outlook by the end of the book. In short, I wanted to tell a different kind of story with the same characters. Because otherwise… what’s the point? It’s like eating lukewarm leftovers. There’s something in there you recognise, but really it’s not the same.

I also wanted to explore the supporting cast and to see how they reacted in different situations. People I hadn’t expected to see again. Susan Bright, for example, who was supposed to be a throwaway character in THE GOOD SON and became something far more important. And David Burns, local “businessman” who is one of my favourite characters to write for: a man who does bad things for what he believes to be all the right reasons.

THE LOST SISTER changes all of these characters by the end of the book. Not all of them get to “learn” from their experiences, of course. I think we’re all lucky that I’m not God. Because as cruel as He can (allegedly) be, I think I’d be even worse in charge, winding folks up just see how they’d react. But then that’s the job of a writer – wind those characters up and watch them go!

Word so far on THE LOST SISTER – both at home and now in the US – has been positive. I like to think that it’s a good sequel, that it does more than rehash former glories, that it changes things for our characters, that it presents with new challenges and new situations. I’ll tell you what, I had a bloody ball writing it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do Better

By Jay Stringer

Today I mostly want to point you in the direction of a great post from Chuck Wendig, which in turn was a response to this thought provoking piece. I don't have much to add to the conversation today, and sometimes it's best not to; anything I add will be repeating what's been said.

A few weeks ago Weddle questioned whether we think about these issues enough in the crime fiction community. I followed it the next day with my own thoughts, which basically boiled down to what Chuck also says; We need to try harder.

So here we are. The conversation is still there to be had and expanded on. It still feels that other genres and communities have these conversations far more than we do in crime fiction. Please take a few moments to read Chuck and Kameron's posts. Agree, disagree, debate, keep the conversation going.


To continue to riff on one particular aspect of the theme, and to build on something I've been blogging about quite a lot lately, I wanted to take a moment to comment on the BBC drama THE FALL. In my post last week I said;

 "I hate serial killers in fiction. But in using that phrase we really tend to mean a specific thing; we mean those magical walking plot devices who do crazy things for the sake of moving a story forward. They kill people in ways and for reasons that people tend not to kill people. And they often kill attractive young women, or housewives, or schoolgirls, or other forms of victim that help sell books and films to men."

But clearly I don't pay attention to what I write, because I've made it two episodes into THE FALL. I should firstly admit that I am only two episodes in. There is the risk in criticising a show part-way through it's run that you are criticising a book halfway through. In doing so, you run the risk of leaping to conclusions. It could be that the second half of the story shows that they are really attacking the tropes they use in the first half. Hell, I try to do that myself in my fiction, So I'll keep my criticism brief and will come back and own up if later episodes show me up.

The show so far has featured a moody male serial killer and and the (female) detective who is working to track him down. At the end of the second episode we are left with the clear notion that he is about to kill another helpless women who is silenced of voice and wide of eye. The camera lingered just enough that we can see the pure fear in the victims eyes. The camera looks down on the victim, but up at the killer. We are clearly shown our place, and the place of the victim.

The second episode then starts by contrasting the female detectives cold and controlling sexual encounter against the killer's toying with the dead body. We see him manipulate, wash, pose and decorate the corpse of the woman in loving detail. The only contribution of that women to the story is to be the subject of a fetish. Later we get a brief scene of someone discovering the corpse, before we then get longer scenes of the forensic examiner looking at the body. We get a more researched and detailed look at the process of examining a dead body than we do of how it feels to find one, or how someone who has never encountered death before can tell if someone is dead simply by touching them. We certainly don't get any time examining the thoughts, feelings or emotions of the victim.

Later on the killer is alone in a room with a fifteen year old girl. The girl steals something from the killer before dancing for him, teasing him, leaning in for a kiss, and then being attacked because of what she had stolen. The meaning here is also clear. She is the seducer, she is the thief. The fact that she is a fifteen year old girl alone in a room with a killer? Doesn't seem important.

Look, maybe I'm judging it too early, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the show will brilliantly spring a trap on us in the next episode and show that the whole point was to use such tropes in order to then expose and attack them. But if that doesn't happen....what's the point? To quote Chuck again, "Do better."

I'll leave you with a transcription of comments made by Alan Moore. If this interview was published online I would link to it. If the recording was commercially available I would point you towards it. It's from an interview he did on BBC radio with Stewart Lee, and I hope he'd forgive me quoting it. When he was asked about why he wanted to write FROM HELL, and how he was frustrated by the film version, he said this;

"There have been innumerable films about Jack the Ripper. And I got a bit sick of the way Jack the Ripper- it's a kind of pornography. And I don't mean that in a good way. It was a pornography of violence. It was the standard set up where you've got the unrealistically attractive Whitechapel prostitute who's obviously got a great wardrobe manager, great skin care specialist, and she's walking home, she's perhaps singing some sort of song, and then she'll turn down an alleyway and you'll see this shadow follow her, the shadow of the top hat, the Gladstone bag. Her footsteps start to get faster and you see the fear in her eyes, and then it's a dead end, she turns round, she starts to scream and you see the raised knife and then it cuts to a policeman saying "oh my gawd." And that's a pornography. That's not exciting. That's just horrible. And when the film came out, inevitably they make it a whodunit. Inevitably the prostitutes are all implausibly attractive again. To a large degree I think that murder, which is a horrible human event, has kind of been turned into a middle class parlour game."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Stringer on the Shortwaves

Go listen to Jay talk about publishing at FuzzyTypewriter

David talks to Jay Stringer and Josh Christie about their experience as published authors and how the process is changing as they speak. Print. Digital. Everything in between.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I like libraries. Libraries are cool

By Steve Weddle

First, since I was here last week, I've signed the deal with Tyrus Books for COUNTRY HARDBALL. Also, they've made a cover. And there's a page. And stuff. Here, lemme get out of the way for a second so you can click this link. COUNTRY HARDBALL


There seems to be a popular conception that, with each day that goes by, more and more people have more and more access to everything on the internet.

This seems goofy.

I live in the country. Not like in a William Faulkner story or anything, but I'm in the country. The town is 15 minutes away and has a population close to 1,000. We can drive 45 minutes to see a movie, if we want. We have access to the internet through one of those little boxes that we pay too much for. Other people don't. Other people near me use the county/state services to get a bus to come near them, then deposit them places in town. Then they have to rely on the bus to come get them.

Whenever people start to talk about how everyone has access to the internet now, I'm reminded of the opening to GATSBY in which the father tells Nick to remember that not everyone has the same advantages he's had.

My mom would drop me off at the library when I was a kid. I was in summer reading clubs every year. I read books. I checked out books. I read books from my parents' shelves. I talked to the librarians about books I wanted to read. I talked to my parents about books. We lived in a papermill town when the papermill shut down, when everything was dying, and I still had access to the world.

When I was growing, libraries were indispensable. They still are.

Not everyone can afford $100 a month for smartphones or internet boxes.

And I'd prefer to live in a world in which everyone -- even those who can't afford Verizon FIOS and $25 hardbacks -- are able to access the internet, the newspapers, and books. Books. Books.

Heck, I was 12 years old and I was reading John Updike. I had no idea what the hell was going on in any of his Rabbit books, but I was reading them. And I read non-fiction about the Boer War. That was some weird stuff, I'll tell you. And, of course, I read all the Harry Harrison and Piers Anthony I could find. All the librarians could find for me. And I read. And read. Just like so many kids did then, and like so many kids still do.

Books and DVDs and internet access and meeting rooms and book clubs and newspaper archives and on and on. I can't imagine a world without libraries. It's super cool that many of us -- especially those reading this -- can access the internet at a whim. But not everyone can. Not everyone has the same advantages you and I have had.

Rita Meade (@ScrewyDecimal) has a great post up knocking down the anti-library argument.

Do yourself a favor and give it a read.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brief thoughts of Dan Brown hate

I don't have much this week except for a couple of thoughts.
I'm puzzled by some of the Dan Brown hate I've seen recently. Especially from other writers. It seems to me that writers should be open to all sorts of fiction: Fiction from all of the genres; fiction that sells very well and fiction that doesn't; award winners non award winners, lowbrow, highbrow, whatever. And THIS is part of what is meant by read a lot. It also seems to me that you can learn just as much from a badly written novel as a brilliantly written one.

I think criticism of Brown's work is fair, and have linked to some of it in the past, but pointing out the flaws is easy. Reading everything and trying to find something positive, or something to learn from, maybe that's a better challenge.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Summer reading

by: Joelle Charbonneau

First off, I want to say WHOOO HOOO to Steve Weddle's news.  I am so excited that Country Hardball will be published by Tyrus Books.  It couldn't happen to a more awesome person and writer.

Second, THE TESTING launching is just over two weeks.  So if you find me chewing my nails or hiding under the bed--that's why!

Third, the weather has finally taken a turn and spring has arrived...just in time for summer to start.  Trust me when I say I'm not complaining.  As a matter of fact, the less than fabulous spring weather has made it easier for me to stay focused on the work that needed to be done.  I am thrilled to say that I am almost to the end of writing A CHORUS LINEUP and will also soon finish my first round of revisions on GRADUATION DAY.  These two events signal something pretty astonishing for me.  These are the last two WIPs that I have under contract.

I know most writers do not want to go a day without having a book under contract, but I'm pretty stoked to see the light at the end of the contract tunnel.  Oh - don't get me wrong, I've already put together a proposal for the next project that I hope to work on.  But having finished writing the books I had under contract means something very important to me.  Now I will have time to read.

That probably sounds crazy, right?  I'm a writer, so, of course, I read.  Rarely does a day go by that I have not read at least a chapter or two of a book.  But before I started writing, I used to read a book in a day.  I used to curl up in a chair with a story that gripped me and not go to bed until the story had ended.  I miss being able to do that.  So as soon as I am done with this manuscript and the revisions I have to finish, I have promised myself at least a week of doing nothing but reading.

7 days.

7 books.

Since this is a celebration of sorts, I want to make sure that every book I pick up is a fabulous read.  This is where you come in.  I need recommendations.  What books do you think should be on my celebratory to-read list?  Here is a chance to tell me about your favorite author, your favorite book or even something you've written.  The floor is yours.  What books have gripped you that you think will entertain me?