Saturday, August 15, 2015

Inaugural Author Talk

Scott D. Parker

When you’re an author, there’s a list of things you know you want to do: have a book you wrote actually published; have folks tell you they liked the book; be interviewed; and give a talk as a professional author. Well, I can cross off that last one.

About a month ago, the men’s group at my church asked me to speak as a professional author. The man who asked me I’ve known for a long time. Long time. In fact, he taught my Sunday School class back in the day. He and I now attend the same church. He bought Wading Into War, enjoyed it, and asked me to talk to his group. It was an honor to say yes and, this past Tuesday, at 7am, I was there as a guest.

It’s an odd feeling to be the guest of honor. This counts as my first time anywhere, anytime. It meant I got to get my breakfast first. Large scoop of eggs, bacon, biscuits, and pancakes fill me up ahead of my talk.

I brought some items for show-and-tell. I told the story of how I went from being only a reader to a published author who now runs his own publishing company. It’s a fun tale, full of twists and turns, a lot of rejections, but ultimate getting to the first finish line. I have no issues with public speaking. I find I can get quite comfortable in front of a microphone and people. I’ll admit, however, that the first couple of minutes were a little tense.

Afterwards, many of the guys came up to me to thank me for talking and how much they enjoyed the event. A musician particularly enjoyed me talking process and how my process and his process for practicing guitar kinda matched. Of all the nice accolades, one gentleman made my day: without any prompting by me during the speech to indicate I enjoyed CASTLE, this nice man said that when he looked up at me talking on the stage, it was like watching Richard Castle from the TV show. Awesome!

The talk was a great pleasure. I know my fellow DSDers have delivered talks, and I have finally joined their ranks. It was a blast and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Conversation with Lisa Unger

By Alex Segura

I like Lisa Unger's books because they're not conventional, they change things up and they keep you guessing. She does this consistently with each of her novels. Imagine my delight when I learned that one of her latest, CRAZY LOVE YOU, featured a protagonist who also happens to be a comic book creator. I took a shot and asked her to come visit this here website to chat about writing, the book and the two mediums. 

While CRAZY LOVE YOU is unlike a lot of her previous work, that's par for the course for the versatile author - which, in turn, is refreshing and fun for the reader. Dark, evocative and hard to put down, CRAZY LOVE YOU makes for a quick and intense read, very much worth your time.

Thanks to Lisa for taking the time to chat and to the amazing Erin for making it happen. This interview was edited a bit for clarity, etc. 

Let's dive in, shall we? What can you tell us about CRAZY LOVE YOU?

Each of my novels begins and ends with a character voice. There’s usually a germ or a spark that leads me to do a lot of research. If all of that connects with something else going on with me, I usually start to hear a voice, or see a scene over and over. That’s how almost all of my novels have started. But it wasn’t that way with CRAZY LOVE YOU. I just started hearing Ian Paine’s very edgy, very male voice in my head. And I started writing just because I was interested in who he might be. I’m not really sure what the initial germ was.

Ian is a graphic novelist, living in Manhattan. He’s escaped from an ugly past, and shed his former self — a bullied, overweight boy, who was hated and feared in equal measure. When we first meet him, Ian has a successful graphic novel series called FATBOY AND PRISS, loosely based on his own past. One of the main characters, Priss, is modeled after his lifelong friend of the same name. Ian is newly in love with a girl named Megan. And his complicated relationship with Priss is starting to be more of a liability than an asset in his life. Though Priss was his only friend growing up, his avenger in many ways, standing up for him, and making trouble for the people who made trouble for Ian, as they grew older, their relationship changed, grew darker. Where she used to bring out the best in him, now she brings out the worst. Even his editor is hinting that it might be time to move on from the series — where Priss suddenly seems more like a villain than a hero. Ian knows it’s time for a change, time for a grown-up relationship with someone who doesn’t encourage him to indulge his darker urges. But Priss isn’t willing to let go, not on the page and not in real life. The more he pulls away, the more out of control his life becomes.

Were you a comic book/graphic novel reader before writing CRAZY LOVE YOU? What made you want to make one of the protagonists a "graphic novelist”? Did you speak to a lot of comic creators or people in the business to get a feel for what it's like to work in the medium?

I have deal of respect for the medium and a real fascination with idea of the classic superhero figure, particularly Batman. The layers of character and the mythic nature of the storytelling has resonated with me as a reader and writer. But I wasn’t a graphic novel reader per se until I wrote this book. 

CRAZY LOVE YOU didn’t come from that place, necessarily, not from a desire to write about a graphic novelist. When I started thinking about (hearing? seeing?) Ian, it was just who he was, what he did. He was a graphic novelist and a lifelong lover of comic books. He found a home within those exciting, beautiful, idealized pages when he couldn’t find one in the real world. That’s what I knew about him. And I was a little freaked out because I knew nothing about his world. So I called my friend Gregg Hurwitz and said, “I am writing about this guy and he’s a graphic novelist. And I know nothing!” And his classic Gregg response was, “What? Why?” And I said, “I have no idea. Just help me.” So Gregg connected me with Jud Meyers, owner of the amazing, fabulous BLASTOFF comics in North Hollywood. 

During my first conversation with Jud (who is one of the loveliest, smartest, coolest people I have ever met), I said, “I don’t even know enough to interview you.” So, he sent me a vast array of graphic novels and I read them, as well as a bunch of books on how to write and publish graphic novels (like it’s just that easy!) and did a deep dive online until I felt like I knew enough to ask reasonably intelligent questions. And then I stalked Jud, who was my doorway into the whole world. He opened up everything for me, knows just about everything there is to know, and inspired me in all sorts of ways.

What did you learn that surprised you?
There was so much to learn about that whole universe — and I’m sure I didn’t even scratch the surface of what I should know. But for me it was always about Ian — who he was as a person, what his journey was as an artist and a traumatized spirit. Could he make himself whole? What was real with him and what wasn’t? Is there a difference between fiction and reality for the writer/artist? And if so, which one is better, more manageable? The world of graphic novels – meaning the nuts and bolts of the business -- was less critical to me than was the inner life of the artist. (And for that I don’t have to go very far.)

What has always thrilled me about the medium is how art and language unify to tell a story. Flipping through the pages of both the classic “comic book” and the very current, sophisticated and deep “graphic novels” I am amazed by the talent of the artists and the writers, the big stories, and how few words it takes to convey meaning. As a novelist, I am swimming in words. I need a lot of them to weave my universe. But the graphic novel has all these layers of meaning in a single glance. I am also amazed by how collaborative the process is, that people like Ian who do it all are very rare. It’s fascinating to me how a team of people can work together to create a single story. My process is so private, so personal — each novel is an inner journey. The story spins out from inside. There isn’t a story that I seek to tell. There’s a story that tells itself through me.

I think the character of Priss represents something for most people - the dark past relationship we're all trying to move past. Would you agree? What went into her creation as a counter-balance to Ian?

Priss, like Ian, is her own entity. She is not his counter-balance, nor is he hers. Their relationship is a symbiotic one, as perhaps all relationships are to a certain degree. They each fulfill very specific needs for the other, which once upon a time was a positive and powerful thing. But the energy between them has grown dark, a bit twisted. It needs to change. And, yes, I agree that she represents a dark relationship. That relationship might be with drugs, or appetites we know we shouldn’t indulge, or someone we love but who nonetheless brings out our darkest selves. Or it might be with the person we ourselves used to be, someone we’ve outgrown as much as we have those old friendships that keep us living in the past.

Ian has a dark history, and some dangerous appetites, as well as suffering from extreme trauma and addiction. In some ways, it would just be easy for him to continue down the path he and Priss are on together. For Ian, darkness is a siren song. All he has to do is surrender to Priss. The way into the light takes work, he has to claw his way there. I wasn’t sure he had it in him to make it into the light. I am still not. 

How much is the world of comics/graphic novels part of the story? 

All my novels begin and end with character. The world of comics/ graphic novels plays a relatively small part in this story. Much as when I wrote about a fiction writer in DIE FOR YOU, the publishing world was a small element. It’s Ian’s life as an artist, his struggle to separate fiction from reality, what comics and graphic novels meant to him as a kid, and what story means to him now that interested me. It’s always the people we’re involved with, more than the world they inhabit. And that’s true for any genre. I could have been writing about fiction, or painting, or music — any creative enterprise that takes over the artist and becomes more significant than the real world. But the vivid color and rich textures graphic novel storytelling worked perfectly for this novel.

Are there any comics you read regularly? Would you ever want to write a graphic novel?

I kind of fell in love with graphic novels during the writing of CRAZY LOVE YOU. There’s nothing I read regularly, as I always have piles of things I need to read, want to read, should be reading. But during my last visit to Blastoff Comics I bought, on Gregg Hurwitz’s recommendation, I KILL GIANTS by Joe Kelly and JM Ken Niimura. I don’t say this lightly: It was brilliant and beautiful and incredibly moving. Just gorgeous. Some of my favorites during my research: REVIVAL: Volume One: You’re Among Friends by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton; TERM LIFE by AJ Lieberman and Nick Thornborrow; CHEW: Volume One: Taster’s Choice by John Layman and Rob Guillory. My daughter Ocean, who is 9 and a half going on fifteen, loves the new BATGIRL by Cameron Stewart, Brendan Fletcher, and Babs Tarr. But, to be honest, it’s a tiny bit too grown up for her, so we’ve only read a couple together. I love it, too.

My daughter became a little obsessed with my graphic novel/comic pile and kept trying to sneak glances. She’s currently writing her own — and it’s pretty amazing. She’s that rare breed of writer and artist. It will be interesting to see how those twin talents develop. I think it’s more likely that she’ll write a graphic novel before I do.

As someone who's written both novels and comics, I find each medium to be uniquely fulfilling. Comics let you collaborate with another creative person to create something greater than the individual parts. A novel is solitary and allows you to create a clear, singular vision. Would you agree?

The novel is a very personal enterprise, and definitely in most cases a solitary one. I am not sure I could collaborate with another person, not because I don’t want to. Just because I’m not sure how that would work. I’m so deep inside my story and character. And I often find myself waiting for that voice to tell me what’s next, or to see that next scene, or hear that phrase that drives me to the next piece of the puzzle. I’ve always loved the idea of writing a graphic novel, but I’m so all about words, and creating images with those words, I don’t know how I would adapt to that very different process. I already have too many people and voices in my head. But I like the idea, as you say, about the collaboration allowing creative people to make something bigger than the individual parts. I hope I get to experience that one day.

With this book, were you trying to allow them to bleed into each other a bit, and maybe turn on novel-readers to comics and maybe vice-versa? 

So little of what I do is intentional. The way I ultimately told the story -- a dreamy blend of the “real" and the graphic novel within the novel -- was a direct result of who Ian was and how his story unfolded.

I was hoping that there might be a graphic feature to the book. Those interior sections, the graphic novel within the novel is all so vivid and colorful to me. I see it in panels. It’s a shame I can’t draw to save my life! But my publisher was very adamant that the world of novels and the world of graphic novels don’t blend easily. Readers of novels — supposedly — aren’t necessarily graphic novel readers, and vice versa.

But I wonder how that can be so. If you love story, wouldn’t you be excited for any great one, no matter what the format? But maybe that’s just me as a reader. I don’t discriminate — give me a great story with vivid images and well-drawn characters and I’m yours regardless of genre or format. So even though I didn’t really intend to turn novel-readers on to graphic novels or vice versa, I’d be happy if that was a result.

This book is a bit of a departure for you, in terms of character and style - was that intentional? Instinctual? How has reception been so far?

Is it? A “departure” indicates that I’m on one particular path. I’m not. (Which is probably not a good thing from a commercial standpoint!) I am all about character, and the person (or people) in my head dictates how the story is told. So each of my books is going to be a little different from the others — though you can always count on dark themes, and a deep dive into character, and hopefully some twisty suspense.

Ian is my first male, first-person voice. But I don’t feel like I chose that — even though on some level I know I did. So that’s a little bit of a departure. CRAZY LOVE YOU is not my first foray into the “unexplained” for lack of a better word. But it’s certainly my most fearless trip. (I write a little more about there here: 

Like all of my books, some people love it, some don’t. But I think with any truly authentic endeavor, the most we can hope for is deep engagement with the people who do find their way to the work and with whom it resonates. I’m fortunate to have very loyal readers who are willing to follow me wherever I choose to go. The reviews here and abroad have been lovely. So I’m thrilled.

Did I miss anything?

I don’t think so! Thanks for the great questions and inviting me to hang out on your blog! 

My pleasure! Thanks again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Truth About Crime

by Holly West

Awhile back I asked for recommendations for true crime books on Facebook. I got a boat load of suggestions and I realized that though I like true crime a lot, I hadn't read (or even heard of) the majority of books being recommended. So I'm glad I asked.

Here is a sampling of those recommendations:

FATAL VISION by Joe McGinniss
IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote
LA NOIR by John Buntin
THE LAST MAFIOSO by Ovid Demaris
BLOOD AND MONEY by Thomas Thompson
HELTER SKELTER by Vincent Bugliosi

There were a whole lot more. Joseph Wambaugh's books got several mentions. IN COLD BLOOD probably got the most, which didn't surprise me because it's one of my all time favorite books.

Maybe because she died so recently, I decided to read THE STRANGER BESIDE ME by Ann Rule. First published in 1980, it's an autobiographical and biographical book about serial killer Ted Bundy. Rule knew him personally before his arrest and had coincidently been contracted to write a book about the murders he was eventually executed for. Imagine her surprise and dismay when she learned her good friend Ted was the prime suspect. The edition I read, issued in 2008, contained several updates, including a chapter about Ted Bundy's execution in 1989.

I've never been all that interested in Mr. Bundy's story and now, having read it, I'm ambivalent about the book. I woke up last Wednesday morning with a cold so I gave myself permission to lay in bed and read all day. The cold continued for two more days and let me tell you--reading voraciously about a serial killer for three days straight is a bit of an emotional drain. Half way through I was exhausted and disgusted and wanted badly to quit. But I'd invested so much time in the book thus far I had to see it through. And I did, even though my pleasure reading had turned to dread when I contemplated returning to the written scene of Ted Bundy's terrible crimes.

It's not so much that the book itself was bad, though I've read better true crime books. Rule spent a lot of time ruminating on her relationship with Ted Bundy, especially toward the end of the book (which was also chronicling end of his life). Who wouldn't? It must be difficult to process ones feelings about such a person when there's been a close friendship. But I kind of felt like she was doing it at our--the readers'--expense. I didn't need so much self-reflection.

The real problem for me was simply reading, in detail, about such atrocious crimes. There were so many. We'll never know how many women he killed. He never fully confessed to any of the murders until what looked to be his final execution date drew near, when he thought his life might be spared if he began giving up information about the murders he'd committed for the sake of the families involved. When asked if Bundy's life should temporarily be spared in order for them to know the details of their loved ones deaths--and in some cases, the location of their remains--every one of them said no, execute him now.

It touched something dark in me, to be privy to so much senseless death, and it drained me. It made me wonder at my proclivity toward writing fictional crime, my desire to someday write my own true crime book, and my preference for reading both.

And here, finally, is the point I'd like to make: Though I'm not the least bit ashamed of these preferences, I try never forget that there is a true crime behind every fictional one. Which isn't to say that every novel we write is based on a real-life crime, but only to remember that crime does happen in real life and causes a great deal of suffering. My decision to write about it isn't to glorify, but to shed light on it, to empathize with its victims and to come to some understanding about those who commit it.

Ironically, I came to no real understanding of Ted Bundy, even after reading 500+ pages about him. Nor do I want to, particularly. I'm unprepared to call him--or anyone--consummately evil, but boy oh boy, if such a thing exists in this world, he surely comes close.

Maybe I need to detox with a good romance. Got any recommendations?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Let's Talk Frankly about Book Marketing - Publisher Style

by Kristi Belcamino

Let me start by saying that my publisher does do SOME marketing of my books.

And let's face it, it could be worse - but like every other author out there, I want MORE. Way more.

To be fair, I knew when I signed with Witness Impulse - a smallish HarperCollins mystery imprint that focuses on marketing your eBook and basically does a print run to appease my figurative elderly aunts who refuses to read digital - that my books would be low priority in the HC world.

So I was pleasantly surprised after I first signed my book deal to hear the publishing company say that in their eyes a "book is a book is a book" meaning that they intended to treat eBooks the same as their print books. And to be honest, they have done this extremely well -- in some areas:

I have a publicist. My books go through a detailed developmental edit from possibly one of the best editors in the business. My book is also sent out for copyediting and fact checking before it is printed. My covers (at least the last two) are fantastic. My publicist is a true gem. She is incredibly helpful in spreading the word about my books, but the fact is, her hands are tied, as well.

The true power lies in the marketing department, not the publicity department. The marketing department decides where to spend the money and sadly, so much of a book's success depends on this money being spent.

And here's where we speak about the obligatory catch 22 - the publisher will spend money on you if your sales warrant it. But for a debut author, I need that marketing money to garner those higher sales.

This paradox is nothing new. But it really hurts if you  are a debut author trying to figure out how to let people know about your books.

Because here is the cold, hard truth: Unless you have a publisher willing to invest in you, and by invest in you I mean spending MARKETING money on you - if you are a brand new author out the gate - the odds are you will have mediocre sales.

There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course, but this seems to hold true.

I've seen the difference between authors at my level who have a large monetary investment from the publisher and those who don't. It's a HUGE difference. In sales numbers.

This week, a very disheartening article came out that revealed something new to me that I've suspected - sometimes publishers promise the world and then don't deliver. Here's what one author, Steve Hamilton, did about it—spoiler he ditched his publisher.

Read it here on Publisher's Weekly or since it is short, I'll also post it below, although the comments on the PW article are worth reading on their site:

And four days later, after I wrote a rough draft of this post, Hamilton had a four-book deal with a new publisher. Read more here or below.

Hamilton Ends Deal with SMP Claiming Lack of Support

Disputes between authors and publishers are not uncommon, especially when it comes to marketing and publicity efforts. But rarely does an author make a preemptive move, and pull his book before a publisher has a chance to publish it. Which is why thriller author Steve Hamilton's move to end his relationship with longtime publisher St. Martin's Press has highlighted a growing issue in the business: Are traditional publishers doing enough to support established authors?
On Tuesday it emerged that St. Martin's imprint Minotaur Books was canceling Hamilton's October-slated novel, The Second Life of Nick Mason. The sudden move, for a book with strong word-of-mouth, seemed odd. St. Martin's issued a terse statement saying only that, "after many years" of publishing Hamilton, it "had a parting of ways" with the author.
Hamilton and his agent, Shane Salerno, said the publisher's comment was deeply misleading and, contrary to what SMP implied, it was Hamilton who chose to end the relationship. The reason? A lackluster plan from SMP to promote The Second Life of Nick Mason.
A two time Edgar-winner, Hamilton, who has been at SMP for 17 years, said the publisher's statement "wasn’t right factually, and it wasn’t right in principle, not after such a long relationship." He added: "This was my decision and mine alone. And any suggestion otherwise is ridiculous."
The Second Life of Nick Mason, which follows an ex-con unwillingly plunged back into the underworld of Chicago crime after he's sprung from prison, had received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. (Now that the book has been shelved, that review will not be running.) The book also received blurbs from, among others, Michael Connelly, Lee Child and Don Winslow. Additionally, SMP had said that it was planning a 75,000-copy first announced printing. It also claimed, in galleys, to be committed to a number of major marketing efforts, such as a national author tour for Hamilton, and a national ad campaign for the book.
Hamilton, however, said none of those claims are true. "There was no national campaign," he wrote via email. "None at all." Staying with his publisher, given what they were doing, was unthinkable, he added. "The catastrophe that would have transpired for a book with extraordinary advance reviews would have been unfair to me, to my book, and to every bookseller."
When asked about the statements made about the supposed marketing plans for the book, SMP again declined to comment. However, it is an open secret in the publishing industry that claims made on galleys and other material for the trade--about everything from first printings to marketing budgets and efforts--can be gross exaggerations. This fact has begun to spread beyond the confines of the industry, though, as more authors and industry experts take to the Internet with posts about the realities of what Big Five publishers actually do for most authors on the marketing front.
For Hamilton, the focus now is on getting a new publisher. His exit from SMP was negotiated by attorney Richard B. Heller of Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz (who also worked on Janet Evanovich's 2010 departure from the house). Having paid SMP a sum to cover his advances on four books, along with delivery and acceptance fees on the first book, Hamilton and his agent are now fielding offers on print rights for The Second Life of Nick Mason, as well as film rights.
"In the end, I just want to work with a publisher who’s passionate about my work, and who has a real plan for reaching the widest possible audience," Hamitlon said. "That’s all I’ve ever wanted. But I didn't feel like any of that was in place at St. Martin’s Press, or that it ever would be."

and four days later this:

NEW YORK (AP) — Prize-winning crime writer Steve Hamilton has a new publisher just days after leaving St. Martin's Press over what he cited as lack of support.
Hamilton has a four-book deal with G.P. Putnam's Sons, the publisher told The Associated Press on Thursday. Hamilton's "The Second Life of Nick Mason," originally scheduled for release this fall by the St. Martin's imprint Minotaur, will come out in the middle of 2016.
Earlier this week, Hamilton had startled the book world by breaking with St. Martin's, his longtime publisher, and openly criticizing it for not properly backing "The Second Life of Nick Mason," the debut of a series featuring an ex-convict trying to break from his criminal past. Authors have long complained about lack of attention from their publishers, but it's rare for one to leave at the start of a multi-book deal and so soon before a novel's release.
More than 10 publishers "aggressively" pursued a contract with Hamilton, according to his literary agent, Shane Salerno.
"I am overwhelmed by the response to my decision to leave St. Martin's and grateful to have had so many passionate publishers pursuing my work," Hamilton said in a statement issued by Putnam, which is part of Penguin Group USA.
The Nick Mason novel was supposed to have been the first of a four-book deal reached last year with St. Martin's. In a highly unusual step, Salerno said he paid nearly $250,000 to get the author out of his contract (authors traditionally absorb the cost). Salerno added that the deal with Putnam was for substantially more than the near-seven figures Hamilton was to have received from St. Martin's.
Salerno, who besides being a literary agent is a screenwriter, filmmaker and author who in 2013 released a widely publicized documentary and book about J.D. Salinger, said Hamilton did not have the money on hand to buy out the contract himself. He added that he wanted Hamilton "to be completely free of St. Martin's" and able to find an enthusiastic publisher "who would support his work."
St. Martin's issued a statement this week saying that "After many years of publishing Steve Hamilton, unfortunately SMP has had a parting of the ways and will not be moving forward with the publication of 'The Second Life of Nick Mason.' We wish Steve all the best with his new series and his future endeavors."
St. Martin's spokeswoman Tracey Guest said Thursday that the publisher had no additional comment.
Hamilton, 54, is a respected and popular author known for his 10 Alex McKnight books. In 1999, his McKnight book "A Cold Day In Paradise" won an Edgar Award, presented by the Mystery Writers of America, for best first novel. Hamilton's "The Lock Artist" won the Edgar in 2011 for the best book overall.
Hamilton's contract with Putnam calls for two McKnight novels and two Nick Mason novels. "The Second Life of Nick Mason" has received early blurbs from Harlan Coben, Don Winslow and Michael Connelly and was listed by Publishers Weekly as one of the fall's most anticipated books.
"With two Edgars to his name and story-telling chops to beat the band, we're convinced readers will love his new character Nick Mason, and our whole team's aim and focus will be to bring him to a much larger audience," Putnam president Ivan Held, who along with editor Sara Minnich acquired the book for the publisher, said in a statement.