Saturday, June 21, 2014

Going to School with Mr. Mercedes

Scott D. Parker

I finished listening to the new Stephen King book, Mr. Mercedes, earlier this week and I realized that I was in writing school.

Usually, when I read/listen to a book, I’m not aware of the mechanics of what the author’s doing and, to be honest, that happened with King’s new book. I was reminded how remarkable he is at his craft, how he so seamlessly set the hook of the story and just let me along. The first hook is chapter one, set a few years in the past. I didn’t know what was happening until the event that drives (pun intended) the main focus of the story: a deranged man driving a Mercedes plows into a group of people waiting in line at a job fair. What I learned in that simple opening chapter is the deftness of how King made me care for the folks that I knew were going to die. I made what I knew was coming much more difficult.

But it was the story itself, and particularly the construction of the story, that really got me. From chapter two onward, we jump forward one year and follow two characters: the detective who, now retired, never got to solve the case of Mr. Mercedes and the killer himself. In an interesting twist, King reveals the name of the killer early on, allowing us readers to know things the detective does not.

And that’s where the fun begins. As soon as King identified who Mr. Mercedes was, I thought “Why now? Why not drag it out?” Because King used that to great effect, most effectively when the detective made an assumption based on the data he actually had but was completely wrong. The tension was fantastic.

The points of view only focus on the detective and the killer. That kind of format is nothing new, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read a story like that. I really enjoyed it. King wrote the book in present tense that gave the entire experience and immediacy that got me through the hard labor of the unloading and laying of sod. Lastly, there were instances where I thought “Hmm, things are going too well, I’m just waiting for an obstacle to block the detective’s way.” Blammo, there one was.

SPOILER NOW: There was one aspect of the story that really was tension filled: that would be the bomb a the end. You see, King had a habit of having the characters think as if the events had already happened and they were just telling the story. Tus, when King had the detective say (paraphrase): Yeah, sure, have your sister and mom go to the concert; it’ll be fine. Man, I was really antsy on those times.

A word on the narration: Will Patton was excellent. He changed his vocal qualities to match the detective, the killer, and a couple of helpers. He did it so well that you didn’t even need the “he said/she said” to know who was talking.

I definitely recommend the book and, if you read it in hard copy, do so with a pencil and mark this baby up. You won’t regret it.

Do y'all often recognize how well an author writes a book *while you are reading the book"?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Koko Noir

By Steve Weddle

One of the things that Kieran Shea is so good at is kicking expectations in the crotch. Koko Takes a Holiday opens with a shoot-out in a bar. On display is Koko's skill with weapons. The killing and all. Ba,. Etc. It's vivid, clear, and exciting.

Koko escapes. Here comes some bloodbath, right?

Nope. Koko ends up having to ditch all her weapons before the next stop.

It's the little stuff like this that shows Kieran Shea's skills -- on full display. Show your character is a master at something, then take away that strength. See what's left. It's a stripping away to get at, well, at the character of the character. It's brilliant.

Go read the book. Koko Takes a Holiday.

This post fires off on Thursday, June 19, 2014. Tonight, I'll be in Durham, at a bar with some talented writers, doing some reading and signing. I plan to read a Roy Alison story that is set after the conclusion of Country Hardball.

You can read about the event in the Herald Sun or in Indy Week or, you know, just show up.

Seven crime authors will be reading and signing books at the bar 106 Main (located at 106 E. Main St.) in Durham during the city’s first “Noir at the Bar” event. This reading, signing and mingle event begins Thursday at 6:30 p.m. and continues until 9:30.  "Noir at the Bar" is a nationwide movement popularized in St. Louis by authors Scott Phillips, Jedidiah Ayres and others for crime authors to gather, meet, and read their work. Bars in New Orleans, San Francisco, New York and other cities have presented events.Durham's inaugural event will feature Steve Weddle (“Country Hardball”), Grant Jerkins (“The Ninth Step”), Eryk Pruitt (“Dirtbags”), Chad Rohrbacher (“Karma Backlash”), Peter Farris (“Last Call for the Living”), Charles Dodd White (“Sinners of Sanction County”) and Phillip Thompson (“Deep Blood”).Visitors may purchase books at the bar, or may bring their own copies for autographs.Pruitt, who is organizing the evening, hopes this reading will be the first of many “Noir at the Bar” events for Durham.Admission is free. For information, visit and search on “Noir at the Bar.”

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

I've Got the Promo Blues

by Holly West

(sung to the tune of Honky Tonk Blues)

You can hum that while I take care of a little housekeeping:

I released the official cover of my second book, Mistress of Lies, on Monday:

Isn't she pretty?
It's now available for pre-order on Kobo, Kindle, and Nook readers, so do what you do best and go order it.

Pretty please?

Now that's taken care of, we can get on with today's post.

If you've ever thought to yourself, holy bananas, Holly West sure does complain a lot, consider this: I make an effort not to whine too much. So you're getting maybe 50% of the overall gripes that cross my mind. But today, not for the first time, I lamented all the marketing and promotion I have to do as an author, and darn it, I'm gonna do a little kvetching. 

Let me explain: I spent the last couple of days re-designing my website for the billionth time (which is a whole other problem I have, this chronic dissatisfaction with my website and the compulsion to re-do it every two weeks). As part of this process, I visit other author websites and figure out what I like or don't like about them to figure out what features I want to incorporate in my own. This time around, I was hit with the realization that other authors seem to do a much better job with promotion than I do.

In short, I have promo envy.

Actually, it's not so much envy as confusion. I see authors doing loads of different events, getting blurbs, receiving all sorts of reviews, getting lots of ads placed, etc, and I think: Things? Why am I not getting any of these things?

(said like Withnail when he questions why he doesn't have any soup):

Side note: If you've not seen Withnail and I, you must remedy that situation immediately. Don't even finish reading this post, just go watch it now.

In fairness, the fault lies with me when it comes to dropping the promo and marketing ball. I've nothing against it in theory, but when it comes down to actually doing it, I get overwhelmed. If only there was a comprehensive list of things I should be doing and when I should do them. Does a guide like this exist somewhere?

I asked several authors to give me blurbs for Mistress of Fortune. I followed through on only one of them (shout out to Susanna Calkins) because I was too shy to actually send the others the book.

Shyness doesn't sell books, people! Cajones do!

I know that publishers often set these things up for authors. Carina Press did a few things for me, but I should've done a whole lot more myself. With the release of book two, I'm really trying to be proactive about getting the word out to more than just my friends on Facebook.

I also know that a lot of authors work their butts off doing everything themselves. They do anything they can to get the word out. Here's where I fall flat on my face. I do have a "say yes to everything" policy, but I should be going out there and rustling up business instead of letting it all come to me.

Sigh. This is a depressing post. Sorry. Let's leave it at this: What's the most effective marking thing you've done to promote your book? It's hard to know what directly contributes to sales, but the day I did a guest blog post on Chuck Wendig's blog, I saw a big rise in my Amazon ranking. Of course, many authors say Amazon rankings are essentially meaningless, so take that for whatever it's worth.

Now it's your turn. Tell me the secret to selling lots of books. KTHX.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Finding What Works


This week my buddy, Adrian McKinty, has a post on up his blog about how the idea of writing 1000 words a day is not for everyone.

Well, of course it’s not for everyone, you say, no single method is for everyone. You need to find what works for you and stick with it.

Or, stick with it until until you move on to the next method.

At least that’s the way I feel about it now. I don’t think it ever gets easy to write a book but I do think it’s possible to learn from your experiences and not repeat every mistake. I’m at the point in the book I’m working on now where everything feels like a big mess and I’m wondering why I ever thought I could write this book in the first place. All these loose ends will never come together, there’s really no point in any of this and any ending I tack on now will just be a cheat.

I’m going to do that anyway because that’s exactly how I’ve felt with every other book I’ve written. But I learned a few things from each of those to help me here.

I learned that there will be rewrites. Editors will point out problems to me and I’ll get another chance to fix them.

I learned that no matter how much I think the ending I finally put on the book works there will some people who just don’t like it. And some people who will.

It probably wouldn’t help me to write 1000 words a day but like Stephen King said, amateurs wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work (I know how ridiculous it is for me to use any sentence that has the words “Stephen King” and “us” in it, but there you go) so I’m just going to keep plowing through this till the draft is done.

But that may not be the right method for anyone else. Maybe it would be better to take a break and think about it for a while or start writing something else and come back to it. I’ve used both those methods in the past and I may use them again sometime.

What works for you?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Favorite books of the far

The year is half over. Hereis a quick post with my 6 favorite books of the year so far.

Half World by Scott O'Connor

The CIA ran the MKUltra project, officially, from 1953 to 1973. During that time the Government took citizens off the street and drugged and abused them in order to find ways to control their minds. This was done all over the country and in parts of Canada. Perhaps the most well known of these sites was in San Francisco where some have argued that CIA administered LSD started the counter culture. A quick Google search shows that notable test subjects include Ted Kaczynski, Ken Kesey, and Whitey Bulger. The official documents pertaining to the project were destroyed. You can see from this reductive summary that this has all the ingredients of a potent brew. O'Connor makes the most of it. Half World is scary, and paranoid and haunting. The first part is like a great paranoid 70's movie and the actions will cast a shadow over the rest of the novel.

The Contractors by Harry Hunsicker

The Contractors is a crime thriller that takes place along the Texas-Mexico border. It has non-stop action, morally compromised characters, and a real world setting, what's not to love?

The Fix by Steve Lowe

There have been a number of great boxing novels over the years (The Professional, Fat City) and boxing and noir have long gone hand in hand. Boxing is described as The Sweet Science. If you apply yourself to the strict and rigorous study of this science you can succeed and, through, hard work, make it to the top. It has meritocratic elements and anyone can make it regardless of race, economics, personal history, etc. But because it is also a kind of food chain there can only be one at the top. As such someone is always gunning for you. The Fix portrays all of this in a quick novel that will appeal to all fans of boxing, noir, and crime fiction.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Weird, lush, surreal, alien landscape explored by characters who may not be who they say they are sent by a shadowy government organization. Book one of a trilogy that will be completely published by the end of the year. Can't wait to read the others.

And the Hills Opened Up by David Oppegaard

Deadwood meets Cthulhu? Not quite but close. Great characters, unlikely heroes, and a quiet, creeping dread. 

The Door That Faced West by Alan M Clark

The story of the Harpe Brothers told from the perspective of one of their wives is a stunning portrait of early America and a compelling and entertaining story.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Release Week Madness

By Kristi Belcamino
I expected this post to be all about post pub partum (a term I cribbed from Lisa Alber!) And I’m sure that is going to come, but nearly a week after my book was released into the whole wide world, I’m still flying high on cloud nine.
Here is my release week in a nutshell:
* Waking up the morning of June 10th and having my husband call the kids into the room and say, “Does your mother look any different today? Well now she’s a published author.” That and the dozen red roses he gave me really made the day seem special.
(I spent the entire day doing Italian mama things with my kids, playdates, doctor’s appointments, double-header soccer game —although I did have a beer—I really didn’t do anything special so it was nice my husband made such a big deal.)
* Getting reviews from PEOPLE I DON’T KNOW. Who are not related to me and who don’t even know someone I know. This has been amazing. To see total strangers love my book and take the time to put a review on Amazon or a website. So dang cool.
(I am bracing myself for the bad reviews. I know it happens to every author. I’m always amazed when my favorite authors get bad reviews. But I’ll deal with that when it comes.)
* Having my favorite author in the whole world, Lisa Unger, tweet this:
“If you haven’t read @alafairburke @Slaughterauthor @LindaCastillo11 @KristiBelcamino @jennifermcmahon @hank_phillipi start today! #lovethem.”
Best. Tweet. Ever.
For so many reasons. Simply being mentioned in the same tweet as those other authors is mindboggling to me. But having Lisa mention my name? Wow. Thanks, Lisa. You are a class act.
* My first media interview. For the first time, I was on the other side of the table being interviewed by a newspaper reporter. The book editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press was so wonderful and kind that it was painless, but still an odd experience. I hope I didn’t say anything stupid.
(Babysitter fell through that morning so I dragged my two kids along on the interview. It went surprising well in spite of that.)
*The day after my book release, I escaped to the beach for the afternoon with friends. We sat and watched our kids swim and play and I didn’t check my Amazon ranking or respond to comments on Twitter and Facebook for a few hours.
(I had spent most of the previous day on social media – despite a good friend’s advice to avoid it – thanking people who liked my book or bought it, and, yes, I admit, looking for new reviews on Amazon and how the book was ranking in sales.)
*Appearing on websites of so many wonderful people: The Reading Café, Dru’s Musings, Chuck Wendig, Jenny Milchman. These visits were super fun and I tried really hard to interact with anyone who took the time to read the posts and comment.
(Again, it’s amazing to meet people this way who are excited about my book.)
So, all in all, I had an amazing release week for Blessedare the Dead. I didn’t have any expectations for what it would be like and I think that was probably the right thing to do because I was pleasantly surprised by how exciting and fun it was. And the fun isn’t over yet. The paperback comes out next month and I’m going to have a big party to celebrate at my favorite mystery bookstore, Once Upon A Crime.
So thank you to everyone who made my release week so wonderful! xoxo