Thursday, May 31, 2018

Take ‘Genre vs. Literature’ Out Back with a Shovel, and Bury It Alive

My reaction to the recent Book Riot article, 12 Mystery Novels for Fans of Literary Novels by Heather Bottoms, was "Oh, dear God." Nick Kolakowski, the author of "A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps" and "Slaughterhouse Blues", also tweeted of his displeasure of the absurdity of Bottoms's article.  And when the Book Riot Twitter account awkwardly defended their article, I offered Kolakowski some space here at Do Some Damage to examine the issues of the literary world's behavior toward genre fiction.

Photograph by Eli Duke (CC BY SA)

By Nick Kolakowski

The debate over the merits of genre isn’t new, particularly in the context of crime fiction. Many decades ago, the Times of London couldn’t resist including this little zinger in an otherwise-stolid obituary for Raymond Chandler: “Working the common vein of crime fiction, [he] mined the gold of literature.”

“Common vein”: Let’s take a sip of that phrase, with its implications of shoddy style and rough plots, and roll it around in our collective mouth for a minute. We shouldn’t give the pulp of the 1930s and ‘40s too much credit—flip through an omnibus of short stories from the period, and chances are good you’ll find most of them borderline-unreadable. Nonetheless, the Times neatly summed up an assumption that has stuck with the literary world for decades: that nearly all noir, regardless of author, is worth dismissing as somehow hacky, pulpy.

And just in case you don’t think this bias has endured to the modern day: at Bouchercon 2017 in Toronto, a prominent fiction critic who will go unnamed—I’m not interested in setting too many brush fires this week, although the idea has a certain warped appeal—sat in front of a sizable crowd at one of the more well-attended sessions and pronounced Jim Thompson “trash,” and went unchallenged. Never mind that Thompson was a collaborator with Kubrick and Peckinpah, and hailed as a master by any number of literary lions; in the eyes of this critic, he wrote “pulp,” and that was enough to disregard any possible merits.

Nor is noir is the only genre of mystery or crime fiction afflicted. Take the unfortunate instance of a recent Book Riot column that defined “literary mystery” as books with “substantial character development, stunning narration, and a storyline that reaches for broader emotional or social depth”; the implication being, of course, that “regular” mysteries lack such things. That column listed works such as “Rebecca” (80 years young!) and “Everything I Never Told You” (a brilliant and heartbreaking work, but not really a mystery!) as prime examples of “mystery reading” that offered “a little more heft,” while ignoring a huge swath of contemporary mystery fiction. (As I told the lovely person operating Book Riot’s Twitter feed, I found the article disappointing mostly because the website is usually so attuned to genre.)

This sort of behavior really is too bad. If these critics bothered to crack open a broader selection of crime-fiction novels—either classic or contemporary—they’d find character arcs and philosophical nuance to rival whatever passes for literary fiction most days. Moreover, the line between “literature” and “pulp” has blurred considerably; for example, you would be hard-pressed to explain how Garth Risk Hallberg’s “City on Fire” has more or less artistic “merit” than, say, Jordan Harper’s “She Rides Shotgun,” even though one is supposedly “literature” and the other “genre.” And I’ll further suggest that Jen Conley’s “Cannibals” or Kem Nunn’s “Tijuana Straits” (just to pull two books off my nearest shelf) plunge deeper emotional and social depths than some book that made its biggest cultural impact when FDR was still chortling over his fifth martini in the Oval Office, much less some of the stuff clogging up the New York Times bestseller list.

But maybe that’s just my opinion.

The fact is, “bad” pulp is largely a figment of pretentious literary critics’ imaginations. The genre magazines that once stuffed newsstands—and maybe featured a prose diamond or two amidst their dreck—largely disappeared decades ago. The same with the paperback publishers that churned out endless westerns and urban shoot ‘em ups of questionable quality. In the contemporary publishing environment, where margins are squeezed and publishers are looking for pretty much any sort of quality advantage over their rivals, there’s little room for the overtly subpar, even if many publishers firmly smash certain “hot” trends (erudite serial killers, dead girls with big secrets, and so on) into enduring clichés.

Nick Kolakowski’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, North American Review, and Carrier Pigeon, among other venues. He lives in New York City.

The photograph, Attleson Farm: Digging a Grave by Eli Duke, can be found on Flickr.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Good Step at Bouchercon

I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when Bouchercon announced an official Harassment Policy and Code of Conduct through their Twitter account. Many fan conventions have been putting these in writing, because common courtesy and common sense aren't enough. You'd think they would be, but in organizations, people tend to protect people they know and see any complaints as an attack, so you need these things codified. You'd think that putting your hand on a fellow panelist's leg under the table would be something you know not to do, but some don't.

There's drink involved, it's a vacation of sorts, so professionalism can go out the window. You need a policy, and after many years, Bouchercon now has one. Go read it. It's nothing out of the ordinary if you've worked in an office in the past thirty years. You are expected to treat your fellow con-goers with respect. Nothing onerous. If you find yourself incapable of this when you imbibe, perhaps don't imbibe. Some bars have bouncers for this purpose.

Alexandra Sokoloff started a thread on Facebook for women to speak of the inexcusable behavior they've been subjected to at Bouchercons past, and it was an eye opener. It was always a place for friends, and I was not so much surprised as disappointed. But this happens whenever men think they can get away with it. Thankfully, this policy is one small step to show them that they can't.

If you agree that the policy is important, then on the Friday of Bouchercon at 2 p.m., show up to the General Meeting for the convention and vote to make the policy permanent.

I've heard a lot of complaints about Bouchercon, mostly by people who haven't attended, but some by those who have. It is not a monolithic entity run by a secret cabal. If you attend, show up to the general meeting, run for the board, if you want to make changes. Some, like Jay Stringer and others, have done so with success. When it is held in Toronto, it is not because a bunch of rich crime novelists decided to make it difficult for people who can't enter Canada. It's because Toronto crime writers and fans put together a proposal several years ago and it was approved. There's a process for "bidding" to host it in your city that doesn't involve money, it involves finding a hotel that has 60,000sqft of convention space and can handle 1500 guests for a week in September-November, and you learn by doing. By volunteering and attending.

Bouchercon is far from perfect, but it has always been a lot of fun for me. I'm privileged enough to be able to make it my vacation every year since 2010. The next step is increased diversity at Bouchercon. I'll be honest- I don't know if guests of honor are flown in. I do know that general panelists and moderators (I've done both) don't get comped registration, hotel, or travel. There are so many panels that this would cost the con a fortune, and the registration fee would have to double or triple, making it tougher for fans and writers to attend. Anthony nominees aren't comped either (and this isn't saying they should be! disclaimer: I've been nominated for editing Protectors 2: Heroes, and for my first Jay Desmarteaux novel, Bad Boy Boogie).

If writers you love can't attend, maybe it's time we take a look to SF fandom where GoFundMes to get writers to conventions are common. I remember there was one for a bookseller a few years ago, so it's not unheard of. Most writers and fans wait until the convention is held closer to home, and then drive there and sometimes share a hotel with friends. There's no shame in trying to crowdfund this. If your publisher pays for your trip, good for you! That's great and not so common anymore.

The thing about Bouchercon is if you compare costs with other conventions in and outside the fandom, it's a bargain. Thrillerfest is great, you meet a lot of people there, but it's business-based (few fans, mostly writers) and very expensive, if worth it. I'd love to attend LCC. It was in Hawaii a year or two ago. I've been to Hawaii when a friend had an empty apartment for us to crash in, I loved it. If I go again, I ain't chumming it up with my fellow crime writers, sorry. Some one and two-day cons cost as much or more than Bouchercon! There's one in my home state that I haven't attended because I can't justify the cost. Since we never talk money, I spent a month's salary last year to promote Bad Boy Boogie. I am thrilled that it was nominated for an Anthony and has sold well, but a few more years of that and I'll be declaring bankruptcy like a casino magnate. I don't regret it, I'm lucky to have a good day job. But if I had to choose one con, it will always be Bouchercon. (second? Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee. And if I loved closer, it would be #1!)  I don't always sell a bunch of books there, but I always meet readers and writers and come away better than I was before I went. I can't say that about some vacations. When I get that from what's considered a business trip, I can't say no.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

One Long List, One Short One

We're always having discussions about who is the best actor to portray a certain character on screen.  Who's the best Bond?  (I go with Daniel Craig).  The best Philip Marlowe? (For my money, Robert Mitchum - though only in Farewell, My Lovely).  The best Kurt Wallander? (I think Kenneth Branagh does a solid job, but the Swedish actor, Krister Henriksson, in the Swedish made Wallander series, is the character).  We could go on and on with this, obviously.  And the same goes for villains.  How many actors over the years, indeed, the decades, have played Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu, Norbert Jacques' Dr. Mabuse, or, in various incarnations, period-set and contemporary, Professor Moriarty?  Who do you think, of the various actors who took these roles, played them best? Do you perhaps prefer Boris Karloff or Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu? Perhaps neither, since there is a dated element to seeing an Anglo actor (however great) play this evil Asian mastermind who comes from pulp fiction of an earlier era.  I think Eric Porter is superb as Moriarity on the PBS made period-set Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but damn is Andrew Scott great as Jim Moriarity in the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock series.  

Having said all that, how many women characters from crime fiction, on TV or in the movies, have gone through several incarnations with different actors playing them? Among supporting characters, there are many, like the different actresses over the years, going back to the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, who have played Mrs. Hudson.  But in terms of leads, the central detective character or an arch villain, I can only think of one character who has been played over and over, for different generations, by different people. That's Agatha Christie's Jane Marple.  She was played in the 1960's by Margaret Rutherford, later by Angela Lansbury (a dry run for Murder She Wrote?), and Helen Hayes.  On Mystery!, Joan Hickson, Geraldine McEwan, and Julia McKenzie have played her.  Of all these, Joan Hickson, is the best one.  Still, are there any other women detectives who have gotten the same treatment, with different actresses getting a chance to interpret them? Nancy Drew (in a 1930's film series and a 2007 film), but really, does anyone remember any of these movies?  And you did have the Swedish and American versions of the Stieg Larrson books, with Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara each playing Lisbeth Salander in different versions.  Beyond that, it's slim pickings, at least of the films and television shows that I can think of.  But if you can name any more examples of different women playing the same character from crime fiction, please let me know.  It seems to be a short list.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Malmon Monday...POW! It's the amazing Dan Malmon! KaBam!


The AMAZING Dan Malmon and his SUPER friends propose a few humble champions for you to appreciate.


Dan Malmon

The internet is a crazy place.

A few weeks ago, I had posted an appreciation for Free Comic Book Day (why is this not a national holiday yet) on Facebook. Marietta Miles, author extraordinaire and regular contributor to this storied site, reached out to me to talk comics.

I am always down for that.

Realizing that there is big time crossover between the mystery community and the comic book crowd, Marietta thought it would be cool to ask some notables in the mystery scene to give fans of the Marvel movies some recommendations/ introductions to the comic book realm. Cool, right? So, let’s get to it.

Man, the Avengers movies are so much fun. Watching your favorite Marvel characters come together in one film, crack wise with each other, fight the bad guys, and win the day. (The jury is still out on what happens in Infinity War II.)

But what happens when the Avengers go up against a coordinated threat that they can’t beat? What happens when they lose? And lose BAD? AVENGERS: UNDER SIEGE tells that very tale.

In 1986, just prior to me starting to read comics regularly, Roger Stern (veteran comic book scribe) and John Buscema (my favorite all time comic book artist) were crafting an epic story. Baron Zemo- one of Captain America’s main villains- realized that whenever the Masters of Evil threw down with the Avengers, they always lost. Not because the plan was bad, but they usually had a membership of roughly the same number of Avengers. They built their roster to go man-to-man. Hero-to-villain. Zemo had the realization that, why stop there? Build a bad guy army and just pile on. Don’t let up.

Let evil win the day.

So, over the course of Avengers #264-277, as well as a number of references in other Marvel books at the time, the Masters of Evil launched their plan. And it worked. Captain America is taken prisoner. Hercules is drugged and beaten to a bloody pulp. Jarvis, the Avengers faithful butler, is tortured without mercy. Not even their stately New York mansion is left standing.

This was all very heavy for 1986 Dan, let me tell you.

Roger Stern and John Buscema show the world that being heroes is more than just saying that you are a hero. Everyone takes their licks sometimes. But real heroes get back up again. With or without a fancy New York headquarters.

Dan Malmon is a reviewer for Crimespree Magazine and Writer Types podcast. You can find him every Wednesday at the comic book shop, where he tells everyone who will listen how comics cost .75 when he first started reading them. You could get an issue for .80 with tax.


Ed Aymar

About a month ago, I had the chance to discuss The Night of the Flood on Michael Pool's "Crime Syndicate" podcast with my co-editor Sarah M. Chen. The conversation, as it occasionally does with crime fiction, turned to the question of vigilantes – the plot of The Night of the Flood is predicated on an act of violent retribution. Michael asked for our thoughts on vigilantism and, given that I was actually wearing a t-shirt with The Punisher on it, I realized that I was somewhat in favor of it.

I understand the irresponsibility and immaturity behind that position, but the popularity of Marvel's The Punisher (in comics, movies and, most recently, television) speaks to the notion that I'm not alone. Frank Castle has gone through any number of reinventions, but certain aspects always remain true – a male loner who prefers to violently solve his problems, something he shares in common with any number of superheroes. Is that characterization dangerous? A remnant of outdated masculine fantasy? Reminiscent of the kind of personality that ends up horrifically involved in a mass shooting? Ultimately problematic?

Absolutely. All of that is true.

And that's why the Punisher MAX run (2004-2009) by Garth Ennis, and The Punisher show (which aired on Netflix in late 2017), are both so fascinating. Both vehicles are aware of the problems that presenting a mass murderer as heroic presents; the Netflix series explores this in more depth, but Ennis (as he typically does) has no qualms with showing his character in a balanced light. The Netflix series is terrific; particularly given the emotional departure that the show's creators and star (Jon Bernthal) took with the character. Castle is typically played with a silent sense of homicidal determination, but Bernthal's Punisher is emotional and volatile. He shouts and roars and stays emotionally naked.

The walls he's built around himself are glass; hard, but ultimately transparent.

Watch the series, and contrast it with Ennis's work. If you don't want to read the entire MAX run, then I recommend simply reading The Punisher: The End, a one-shot graphic novel that brutally, beautifully encapsulates Frank Castle, and perfectly merges the myth into the man.

E.A. Aymar is the author of "I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead" (2013) and "You’re As Good As Dead" (2015), both from Black Opal Books. He also writes a monthly column for the Washington Independent Review of Books, and is the Managing Editor of The Thrill Begins (for the International Thriller Writers). His short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of top crime fiction publications.


Dana Cameron

If you liked “Captain America: The First Avenger,” run, go read Captain Marvel, Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More (DeConnick and Lopez). I’m a huge fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s writing and love her take on the questions (what’s right? what’s lawful? what’s possible?) every superhero should ask. What I love best about Carole Danvers, a/k/a Captain Marvel, is that she keeps looking for solutions to an impossible situation even when faced with the reality that her desire to help isn’t enough—and isn’t particularly welcome. (Bonus: It doesn’t hurt if you also enjoyed “The Guardians of the Galaxy!”)

Dana Cameron's novels and short stories are inspired by her career as an archaeologist. Her crime fiction has won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards, and has been short-listed for the Edgar Award. HELLBENDER, the third urban fantasy novel set in her Fangborn 'verse, will be published in March 2015. Dana lives in Massachusetts, USA; learn more at


Angel Colon

Secret organizations? Mass government conspiracies? Mysterious, potentially evil benefactors? Global Frequency will scratch that out of this world espionage itch you never thought you had. The set up: The Global Frequency is an independent intelligence organization headed by one Miranda Zero. The Frequency is made up of 1,001 people, all from different walks of life and with different specialties. When needed, Miranda pulls them in and away we frigging go.

Cut short after 12 spectacular (and standalone) issues and suffering two failed attempts at getting a TV show, Global Frequency is a special kind of comic. Warren Ellis (a personal favorite of mine) goes all-out, building a world filled with bizarre super science and bizarre conspiracies. If you’re a writer in need of a master class in world building and character establishment, this is the comic to read. Readers benefit from having their minds blown on that special level only Warren Ellis can accomplish.

Angel Luis ColÃn is the Anthony and Derringer Award-nominated author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS, the BLACKY JAGUAR series of novellas, the collection MEAT CITY ON FIRE (AND OTHER ASSORTED DEBACLES), and the upcoming PULL & PRAY (July 2018). His fiction has appeared in multiple web and print publications including Thuglit, Literary Orphans, and Great Jones Street. He also hosts the bastard title - an author interview podcast series focused on craft, pop culture, and general rabble-rousing.


Shaun Harris

Like Ant-Man? Try Las Vegas Repo.

I’m just going to come out and say it. Superman is boring. Don’t @ me. Ninety percent of every Superman story entails somehow making him not Superman. Oh, he’s away from Earth’s yellow sun. Oh, there’s whatever spectrum of kryptonite that conveniently shows up. You always know he is going to win.. And, yes, you know every superhero is eventually going to win, but I like there to be some element of doubt involved.

Give me Ant-Man. In particular the MCU version of Ant-Man. Put aside the fact that he is played by Paul Rudd who is arguably the most charming and likeable guy in this or any other universe. Put aside the fact that Hank Pym is played by Michael Douglas who has a lifetime pass for Romancing the Stone – although that pass was almost revoked for Jewel of the Nile. Put that aside folks, because Ant-Man checks every box on the Shaun Harris Hero Checklist.

Give me a reluctant hero. The first words Scott Lang says after Hank Pym tells him his plans are “I think the first thing we should do is call the Avengers.” I love that. I like a hero who is not only not the best man for the job, but also knows he’s not the best man for the job. It puts some stakes in the story, like maybe this guy is going to screw it all up. Superman never said, “Hey, maybe Aquaman would be better suited for this particular adventure.” Learn some humility, Superman.

Can we talk about redemption? Redemption is my all-time favorite theme. This may be because I’m pretty sure I’m a terrible person and I like the idea that someday I won’t be. Maybe not. Scott Lang is an ex-con who can’t even get a job at Baskin Robins and he ends up saving the world. I like the idea of someone who is good at bad things and uses those bad things to do good. Did everybody follow that? I likes me some good-hearted capers is what I’m saying. Superman never had a good-hearted caper. Screw you, Superman.

And let’s not forget that Ant-man is played by Paul Rudd who is arguably the most charming and likeable guy in this or any other universe.

So, yeah, there are only three boxes on the Shaun Harris Hero Checklist, but Ant-Man checks all three. Superman doesn’t check any. You lose, Superman.

Are you picking up what I’m laying down? Can you dig a hero like Ant-man? Do you like the Seventies and possibly defunct slang from said Seventies? You do? Then maybe you should check out Las Vegas Repo due out this July from IDW Publishing. It’s the story of Floyd Burbank, a disgraced magician turned con man turned repo man working in Las Vegas in 1976. While trying to earn some scratch working for a PI buddy, Floyd ends up embroiled in a conspiracy involving the Russians, the CIA, a secret society of proto-foodies, and Mr. Howard Hughes himself. Also, there is a boxing kangaroo. It’s got everything. Reluctant hero? Check. Redemption? Check. Paul Rudd? Well, we’ll see.

Also, I personally know the writer and he’s a good guy.

Shaun Harris grew up the son of a homicide detective in Southern New England. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in both American Studies and Film and Television. As such he has a crippling obsession with Fighting Irish Football. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife, two kids, and a dog. Jim Rockford is his spirit guide. The Hemingway Thief is his first novel.


Dave White

If You Liked Spider-man: Homecoming check out “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut.”

The MCU did teen Parker really, really well. But what stuck with me this whole time after watching the film, was another aspect of Spidey’s character the MCU got right. His tenacity. In Homecoming, Peter never gives up, whether that means ditching his dance date or pushing his way out from under a ton of rubble. He does what he needs to to take out the bad guy.

And he never gives up.

That personality trait is evident in a lot of Spider-man comics, but the most famous moment (at least to me) came in a two issue “arc” in the eighties by Roger Stern. During issues 229-230 of The Amazing Spider-man, the usual X-man villain and unstoppable bear of a man in armor called the Juggernaut is rampaging through New York City for, uh, well… reasons. (It’s been a while since I’ve read it, and forgive me, I don’t think I can accurate describe Madam Web’s involvement here.)

Anyways, the Juggernaut is rampaging, and it’s up to Spider-man to stop him. The Juggernaut is hard to stop… I mean nothing can stop him. It says so in the title. The Juggernaut beats the every living crap out of Spidey. Everything Spidey throws at the Juggernaut does nothing…including a gas tanker truck! Most of it, the Juggernaut just shrugs off. Meanwhile, Spider-man keeps getting worn down. Beaten. His costume torn.

There’s no way to save New York, and Madam Web. No way to slow the beast of a man.

But Spider-man does. Not. Give. Up.

He keeps trying.

Stern keeps the action moving at a brisk pace and you really feel Spider-man getting warn down because of brilliant art by John Romita, Jr. If there’s ever a brief two-issue story that really nails Spider-man to his core without re-doing the Uncle Ben drama, it’s this one. There’s action, pathos, and suspense. Everything you want in a comic book.

Dave White is the Shamus Award Nominated author of the Jackson Donne series and thriller WITNESS TO DEATH, available from Polis Books. He has been nominated for multiple awards for both his novels and short stories. In his spare time, he's a middle school teacher.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Writing an Ensemble Series

Today I'm thrilled to welcome author Christine Carbo to Do Some Damage. Christine and I, after passing by one another at several different conferences, finally had a chance to officially meet and talk at Left Coast Crime this past March in Reno. And I'm so glad because now her Glacier Mystery Series is one of my favorite things going (The New York Times agrees, calling her writing "stunning ... it's in depicting nature's drama that Carbo's writing thrives.") The fourth in the series, A Sharp Solitude, comes out Tuesday. It's not your typical crime fiction series - here's Christine to tell you why that is . . .

As a new writer who knew so little about the business when I first entered it, my initial instinct was to get a book – one book – on the shelves. To be published, I had considered most of my life was about getting an agent, selling a book, and finally seeing the one book with my name on it sitting on bookstore shelves. So, earlier in my life, after writing two non-genre novels that I didn’t try very hard to get published, I decided to get serious and write The Wild Inside. I was thrilled beyond words to imagine my book making it that far.
hat I love to read. I wrote a mystery and tried my hardest to see my dream through. When things began happening, I was giddy with excitement. I flew from Montana to New York City to meet my agent and the two editors who had both made offers on my debut, The Wild Inside. I was thrilled beyond words to imagine my book making it that far. 
Then, within fifteen minutes of conversation of each meeting with the editors, each one asked me, What’s next?
I was completely unprepared for the question. Because I had concentrated on simply publishing one book for so long, I had not considered how I would follow up. But once I began contemplating it, one of the first things that came to my mind was how much I enjoyed Tana French’s approach to her Dublin Murder Mystery Series. I loved the concept of plucking a side-character from one book and developing that character’s point-of-view in the next. When I write, I tend to follow the advice of Michael Connelly when he says that “the best crime novels are not how a detective works on a case; they are about how a case works on a detective.”
And although Michael Connelly has written one character over an entire traditional series, the sentiment also applies particularly well to the ensemble series, in which the author can focus on a dramatic event or theme in the protagonist’s life and play out his or her full character arc. In my first book, The Wild Inside, once I teased out the central dramatic theme, the protagonist’s character arc had been completed and it seemed like it would be hard to revisit the same character in a follow-up novel without him feeling a bit flat. I began to think that the best approach to additional novels for me were ones that felt like stand-alones; but I knew I needed to appease my publisher in terms of having continuity. Where I live and how crime butts up against the wild is what my agent and both editors loved. So I decided to establish my setting, which is Glacier National Park and its surrounding area (titled the Glacier Mystery Series), as the common thread. The best way to achieve this was to follow that ensemble series formula, and I’m so glad I made the decision to do so because it's worked really well for me.
I am amazed at authors who can make one lead character fascinating to follow through an entire series. I would have a lot to learn if I tried to follow the traditional formula, and I hope to try at it some point, but so far, through the ensemble approach, I’ve been able to develop a strong, dramatic sense of place and explore fascinating new characters with each book. My first features a lead detective from the Department of the Interior who is called to Glacier to investigate a serious crime; however, Glacier is the last place he wants to be because he witnessed his father get mauled and killed by a grizzly bear while camping there one night when he was a teenager. While he is in Glacier, one of the law enforcement officers helps him with the case. It is this character that I spotlight in my second book which involves a fictional therapeutic wilderness school located near Glacier. In my third, I pluck the county forensics’ team leader who has helped out in both the first two. It involves a missing boy from one of the campgrounds, so the local resident FBI agents are involved as side characters. It is one of these characters that I pull to star in my fourth, A Sharp Solitude, which comes out on May 29th.
Going this route has not only allowed me to delve into different characters and various traumatic events in each of their lives, but it has enabled me to avoid the Cabot Cove syndrome of tripping over dead bodies in Glacier. The world I create around each of these players expands and allows me to explore all sorts of problems people might encounter in differing factions of law enforcement. I have had to do a bit of research with each one, but I enjoy learning about the various branches of law enforcement around the area I live. Lastly, it allows me to write stand-alones while working within the continuity of a series, which is where I presently feel most fulfilled as a writer. Therefore, readers can start anywhere they like, just like in French’s series, but they don’t have to feel like they’ve lost out on anything crucial involving the main character by not reading earlier books.
So, if you’re in the position where someone is asking you, What’s next? consider the ensemble series. It’s a great way to write stand-alones while still tapping into the fan base that organically grows a series.
Christine Carbo is the author of an ensemble series set in and around Glacier National Park. Her books include The Wild Inside (2015), Mortal Fall (2016), The Weight of Night (2017) and A Sharp Solitude (2018, Atria Books). She is a recipient of the Womens’ National Book Association Pinckley Prize, the Silver Falchion Award and the High Plains Book Award. After earning a pilot’s license, pursuing various adventures in Norway, and working a brief stint as a flight attendant, she got an MA in English and taught college-level courses. She still teaches, but in a different realm as a Pilates instructor. She and her family live in Montana. Find out more at A Sharp Solitude is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local independent bookseller.