Saturday, November 22, 2003

The blogosphere goes meta 

The First Annual (Ever?) Jonathan Ames Write-Alike Contest has begun at Low Culture, and while the winner hasn't been announced yet, it might well be...Jonathan Ames:

How embarrassing! My new novel, which I've just finished, has all the aforementioned qualities -- use of Yiddish, allusions to Fitzgerald, questioning of sexuality, and a first-person narrator. I'm terribly predictable.

Coming soon: the Shirley Hazzard Genre Fiction contest, where folks are asked to write a genre pastiche combining the best (or worst?) of Shakespeare, Conrad, and Stephen King. Perhaps it would be a bit much to expect Shirley to enter, but one never knows....

And a lovely morning it is 

The sun is shining, it's not that cold...so naturally, like most weekend days, there won't be much content today.

Let's get right to it, and first we turn to the esteemed New York Times. A.O. Scott reviews Tobias Wolff's new (and first!) novel, OLD SCHOOL. Margo Jefferson takes a look at how to overcome the influences of TV and such on the seeming decline of books in the main culture; Charles McGrath examines just how the heck THE DA VINCI CODE became a bestseller; Jimmy Carter's "thin self portrait" is reviewed; and Adam Bellow's book IN PRAISE OF NEPOTISM "has great merit" even it's written by the son of a famous author.

Then there's Stasio's crime column. Kinda likes the new Deborah Crombie, enjoys Carolyn Hart's latest, is less than impressed with Cuban author Arnaldo Correa, finds Yasmina Khadra's rhetoric too over-the-top, even in translation, and rather likes the latest installment of Andrea Camilleri's increasingly popular series.

At the Guardian, Martin Kettle examines two new biographies of Kennedy and Clinton; author Nina Bawden is profiled a year after her husband was killed in a crash and she was injured; Dublin author Flann O'Brien is regarded very highly.

In thrillers, Mark Lawson appreciates Richard North Patterson's anti-NRA stance; and Chris Petit takes on a slew of new-ish blokey books, the last review (of Iain Duncan Smith's THE DEVIL'S TUNE) which I shall quote completely because it's just freaking hilarious:

I view thrillers by serving politicians with scepticism: how do they find the time, and haven't they got better things to do? Some vocational guidance for IDS: please - not a word used before in this column - do not consider writing another. Stop dreaming of Archer-type millions because, unlike the old lag, you show no facility for making things up. Not that there's anything wrong with your plot, apart from metal fatigue - art scams, theft, political shenanigans - it's the telling that's so clumsy. The style can only be called unhappy. I was struck by one sentence in particular: "The insistent aroma intrudes and pulls his heavy eyes open again on thin strands." What are these "thin strands"? I now look for them everywhere without success. Is this a torture scene?

Still laughing, I turn to the Globe and Mail, and Margaret Cannon's column on crime books. She adores William Tapply's new work, finds Minette Walters' DISORDERED MINDS a complex but worthy read; is extremely disappointed with Caroline Carver's DEAD HEAT; admires the new James Patterson; and many more, as it's a double helping of reviews.

At the Washington Post, Paul Skenazy takes on a host of mysteries. He likes the Khadra book a hell of a lot more than Stasio did, and has the same reaction to Arnold Correa's nove, finds a reissued Robert Wilson book to be "taut and terrific", and finds RIch Copp's book a breezy, favorite sitcom-like experience.

Looking at the National Post, there's a review of David Guterson's latest, calling it a "novel of ideas," while Lisa Gabriele looks at the heart of Amy Tan's memoir: an unforgettably crazy mother.

The Independent had a reporter at the National Book Awards, and this is his particular take. The paper also has an in-depth look at the William Hill Sports Awards, whose winner will be announced on Monday.

Finally, though I can't link to it, friend and colleague Ali Karim has alerted me to Carl Hiaasen's new deal in the UK. For a low six-figure sum, his next novel, Skinny Dip, will be published in September by Transworld, jumping ship from his longtime publisher MacMillan. It seems like an amicable parting, based more on the fact that Hiaasen "hadn't reached his potential" and might do better with a new publisher. Everybody wishes him well.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Friday afternoon humor 

Courtesy of D-Nasty. Although the limits of said person's ability to defend may be hampered by the fact that he hasn't passed the Bar yet....

And while you're at it, stay for the Paris Hilton Haikus.

The bandwagon gets heavier 

Add Philip Kerr to the ever growing list of crime writers crossing over to children's lit. He gets a seven-figure deal from Scholastic (both US and UK):

Kerr, who will write for kids as P.B. Kerr, tells of 12-year-old twins of a New York couple whose uncle is a genie and turns them into djinns, able to make people's wishes come true; first up, next fall, is The Akhnaten Adventure.

Coming soon: a cuddly tale of happiness and love for kids from Andrew Vachss.

The ups and downs of the smaller press 

The Australian crime fiction journal Crime Factory recently became an online-only zine, and ever since some wonderful content has been made available. In their most recent update, they post interviews with two of the best independent publishers going in the genre: The Do-Not Press in the UK, and Uglytown in the US.

I love Uglytown's answer to what kind of books they look for:

"Well-written ones. Ones with engaging characters, moving stories, and exciting language. Our concept of crime fiction extends to -- perhaps even centers on -- books like Umberto Eco's, Foucault's Pendulum, Haruki Murakami's Wild Sheep Chase, and J.G. Ballard's Cocaine Nights."

It's just part of the possibility and potential within the seeming confines of genre that I spoke about yesterday.

Crime Time 

The latest issue is on newsstands, and so they have finally updated their website with new reviews and interviews. Natasha Cooper talks about why she (and others) choose to write crime fiction, Sue Rowland waxes eloquent about the importance of Sue Grafton in the PI genre, and Jason Starr discusses his latest novel published in the UK, HARD FEELINGS.

Blogs for our times 

Thanks to Marc, who voted it one of the "Worst Blogs of 2002", I have discovered that our soon-to-be prime minister has had his own blog for a while now.

So granted, as he explains in the "Why Does Paul Blog?" section, he hasn't quite gotten the hang of things:

Good question. One that I asked my staff when they first made the suggestion to me. After all, its not like I can pretend to be the kind of guy that spends a lot of time surfing the web. To be honest, until a few weeks ago, I didn't even know what the hell a blog was - I joked that I thought it was something that might climb out of a swamp.

But now that he's in power, perhaps the blog format would give Canadians a unique view into the world of the PMO and maybe, just maybe, we can get some unfettered pieces on what Martin really thought of his predecessor, enlightened despot Jean.

And now, dear readers, I turn it to you: send me a sample paragraph of how you think your favorite dead leader--you know, Pol Pot, Stalin, FDR, Mao, people like that--would blog if he (or in a few cases, she) had had such a thing available to them at the time. I'll post the best ones on Thursday, while les Americains are at the dinner table chomping on turkey and watching football.

Friday morning roundup 

I thought about doing my usual installment of mocking the NY Times Bestseller List, but frankly, the end of the year is a really boring time for books. All the big guns are out, and if they aren't, they are this season's version of Christmas books. Also, what the hell can I say about the fact that SKIPPING CHRISTMAS is in the main list for the umpteenth year in a row? So, the feature is on hiatus until the New Year, or whenever I feel like it.

Yesterday I reported on Hari Kunzru's rejection of the Llewellyn Rhys Prize. The Guardian has more information, and unsurprisingly, people were very upset with the dropped bombshell:

The novelist Deborah Moggach, however, could not contain her fury. Hammering an auctioneer's gavel on her table, she stood up and said: "What happened today should not detract from this fantastic prize. It is one [literary] prize that hasn't been hijacked by celebrities, and I don't want it to be hijacked by what happened.".

The Independent interviews Toni Morrison, who reveals that unusually for her, LOVE "completely sprang out of her head," and was not inspired by news stories as were the last four or five novels.

Crime fiction master John Harvey reviews two other lions of the genre: James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley.

Catching up with mystery reviews at the Telegraph: Susanna Yager's roundup, and Toby Clements reviews Henning Mankell's standalone novel.

Gore Vidal's INVENTING A NATION is examined as a "virtual expatriate look" at American life and culture.

Janet Maslin offers suggestions for the coffee-table book lover this holiday season.

Swedish writer Kirstin Ekman, called the "A.S. Byatt of her country" is interviewed by The Times. (registration required.)

And finally, the latest interview with Marion Ettlinger makes me wonder when the other bigshot photographer of authors, Jerry Bauer, will do a book of his own work.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The evening's news 

Speaking of awards, Hari Kunzru has rejected the Llewellyn Rhys Prize awarded to him for his debut novel THE IMPRESSIONIST. Kunzru did not attend the ceremony today but his agent, Jonny Geller, read out a prepared statement, where he criticized the political stance of award sponsor the Mail on Sunday:

"Along with its sister paper the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday has consistently pursued an editorial policy of vilifying and demonising refugees and asylum-seekers . . . As the child of an immigrant I am only too aware of the poisonous effect of the Mail's editorial line. The atmosphere of prejudice it fosters translates into violence and I have no wish to profit from it."

The prize will be awarded to one of the remaining shortlistees, including Chloe Hooper and Sonya Hartnett.

The Man Booker Ceremony will have a new home next year, as they are done with the British Museum's acoustically challenged Great Court once and for all:

“To me," Martyn Goff said, "the Great Court is like the Millennium Dome – a brilliant idea and brilliant architecture, but no one had really worked out what is to be done with the place. The space there is vast – you have a couple of shops, a café, and then nothing."

Having been there several times, I have to agree. It's this great big expanse of--what, exactly? A lot of white. It just looks extremely uncomfortable and soulless. Not exactly architecture at its finest...

The second item in the article addresses criticism of the Booker having a longlist in the first place. From Viking Publishing Director Juliet Annan:

“I think it’s cruelty to authors. It’s one thing to find yourself not one of six, but it’s another, much more public humiliation, not to find yourself one of 26.”

Perhaps, but on the other hand, it's kind of fun to pick apart a longlist first, and then bet on who's going to make the shortlist.

The head of Bertelsmann, Gerd Schulte-Hillen, has resigned suddenly after 30 years with the parent company of, among other things, Random House.

The latest fad for crime and thriller writers is to make the jump to children's books. Carl Hiaasen did it with HOOT; Colin Bateman's RESERVOIR PUPS is just out in the UK (with a US release date to be announced) and Elmore Leonard's kiddie opus is expected next year. Now Andy McNab, "the father of SAS thrillers," has signed a deal to produce four teen novels (with the help of screenwriter Robert Rigby) for Doubleday, the first of which will be out in Spring 2005.

More on the NBA 

As promised, Terry Teachout delivers the inside gossip, with additional information offered by the folks at Publisher's Weekly, and an extra side dish from That Gawker Boy. What may have been lost in the focus on King's speech and Shirley Hazzard's response is that Farrar, Straus & Giroux did extraordinarily well with the awards, taking home all but the non-fiction prize.

Not surprisingly, much is focusing on King's quasi-confrontational manner of his acceptance speech, imploring the audience to read genre fiction types such as Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, John Grisham and others. While I agree, I think had I been in the crowd, I may well have squirmed in my seat--and god knows I adore genre fiction and will continue to do so, never mind that in spirit, I agree with King's sentiments. But when is it appropriate to make lists and start lecturing and when is it wiser to keep a steady campaign going, to talk about books one loves, to highlight what makes genre fiction so good and complementary, even, to literary fiction? Point is, I think mainstream and genre have much to learn from each other, and that's a process that must be a continuous one. Snobbery helps no one, but neither too does pointing fingers. Good writing is good writing, whether in a literary, mainstream, genre, or alternative context, whether there's a plot, strong characters, vivid settings, a sense of place, truth or fiction, memoir or biography. People tell stories the way they must, and all I ask for is that the crap go away and the good stuff prevail. Enough of navel-gazing and pondering--unless the writing is truly strong enough to back it up. Feel like genre fiction is "common" or fluff? Then look deeper at the prose, the overall story, the issues conveyed.

Good writing is the key. It's in places we don't necessarily expect it to be, and comes in many different forms. Let's keep our minds open and welcome all the possibilities. No, literature isn't a "competition," as Hazzard put it, and nor should people feel any sense of guilt that they aren't reading the authors King recommends. These things take time, obviously. But labels are just that, designations often arbitrary. If it's good, then that's all that should matter.

Daily Trash 

Billy Crudup is one cold, cold dude. Dumping his nearly 8-months-pregnant girlfriend, Mary-Louise Parker, to go shack up with Claire Danes (who also dumped longtime bf Ben Lee)? Ay yi yi, not cool at all.

As Jon Stewart pointed out last night on the Daily Show, Paris Hilton is devastated about the release of The Tape. "It's too embarrassing. I don't want to go out anymore. I don't want to party. This has really made me think about changes I want to make." We've done a bad bad thing, folks, in ensuring that sweet young things like Miz Hilton will no longer be gracing the clubs, knocking back shots, or dancing on chairs. That's just appalling. Who's going to pick up the slack now?

Rush Limbaugh is in deep doo-doo. It's one thing to be a pill popping junkie but money laundering? Sorry, but 30-40 withdrawals of just under 10 grand in a short period of time doesn't tell a pretty tale.

And I wasn't going to say anything about Michael Jackson, but evidently the rumor going around is that the cops were looking for tapes. The kind that people won't be gleefully rushing to download from the Internet (in other words, Paris, people will forget, eventually.)

What's new, what's not so new 

Shirley Hazzard is the winner of the National Book Award for her novel THE GREAT FIRE. Other winners include Carols Eire (non-fiction), K.C. Williams (poetry) and Polly Horvath. At the beginning of the ceremony, Stephen King received his lifetime achievement award and received two separate standing ovations from the crowd. For more commentary, look for Terry Teachout's report later today.

Ah, elections. Lots of news, lots of fights, and lots of headaches for publishers trying to release timely books. If only the world would cooperate with their desires!

I first heard about this "Lit Idol" thing over the summer and I still think it's kind of a weird idea. The judging panel of the would-be novelists is skewed somewhat towards chicklit, as it includes Jenny Colgan and Emlyn Rees (as well as Colgan's agent, Ali Gunn.)

Jeanette Winterson explains why she loves the country life.

With his novel WICKED now a Broadway musical, and a new book out (MIRROR, MIRROR), Gregory Maguire is well into the round of interviews.

January Magazine is rather lukewarm on Peter Carey's MY LIFE AS A FAKE.

Pete Dexter is interviewed at PW where he talks about his work, lazy readers, and Stephen King's NBA win. (link from Mark Sarvas.)

The Scotsman features another debut success story, newly minted children's novelist Janey Jones.

Mystery Ink has several new reviews of the latest books by Jill Churchill, P.D. James, and Kit Ehrman.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen, place your bets 

As Choire tries to raise the bail money (although I'm a might confused as to why he's doing this) I shall be waiting with bated breath for the inevitable next step, now that an arrest warrant has been issued for Michael Jackson. Because frankly, we were quite disappointed in the last major celebrity apprehensions. Robert Blake? Tepid. OJ? Talk about a letdown. Watching Larry King Live or whatever station that had it on, wondering why the hell the chase was so freaking slow and dammit, why there was no fiery crash to end the scene. So do us a big favor, Jacko--deliver the goods. Give us the car chase we've been weaned on from action movies in our childhood. Hell, throw in a tossed apple cart or two, while you're at it. Don't disappoint, now.

The plight of the indies 

The Boston Globe has a feature today on niche bookstores in the city and its environs. Not surprisingly, I fixate on the last mention, Kate's Mystery Books, which is now the only independent mystery shop in Boston as the other one, Spenser's Mystery Bookstore, is shutting down. Although Kate's proprietor, Kate Mattes, is doing reasonably well with her store and with her new publishing venture with Justin, Charles & co., she is not without her anxieties:

Mattes acknowledges that even in her niche -- which she will soon no longer share with Spenser's -- she has a never-ending financial struggle. She has unusual assets: She owns the building, lives upstairs, and rents an apartment in the back. And she has no paid staff, only volunteers. "I don't know how other bookstores stay in business," she says.

That is the question, isn't it. Obviously, an independent bookstore is not something to do if you're in it for the money. As a labor of love, it's one that time and time again, people say they wouldn't have started if they had known what the realities were. But at the same time, without the indies, who would be making a concerted effort to sell books that would otherwise disappear, interact on a personal level with customers, and go the extra mile? If anything, I see the future of publishing as a more splintered affair, with targeted campaigns to get a certain kind of audience for a certain kind of book. There will still be the big bestsellers of course, and the books that "everyone has to read", but as small presses pop up to absorb some of the quirkier fare, there has to be bookstores in place who are willing to sell these books. So I don't think the independent bookstore is a dinosaur. But it would be nice if some of them could turn a profit once in a while, somehow. Even if it's just a utopian ideal.

Irvine Welsh's new venture 

So writing gritty novels about the underbelly of Edinburgh wasn't enough. Now he's training for a celebrity boxing tournament this March:

In the ring, he shadow-boxes, dancing lightly on the balls of his feet. He stares daggers at his reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, throwing methodical two-punch combinations at his own shaved, sweat-drenched pate.

The boxer in training is Irvine Welsh, the Scottish author whose headlong tales of drinking, drugging and black-comic depravity among Edinburgh's youth tend to suck the wind from readers like so many Sonny Liston body blows.

I know the perfect opponent for him: Chuck Palahniuk.

News for a wednesday morning 

So it looks like the rush to judgement on who the next editor of the New York Times Book review will be delayed a fair bit:

In a memo to staff last Thursday, Bill Keller noted that McGrath won’t officially be leaving the post until "early next year," before he went on to open up the internal interviewing process ("Applicants may start the deluge...now," he wrote). A spokesperson said only that "the timing for any announcement has yet to be determined."

Aw, that's no fun. I was so ready to pounce on the new candidate, to rip him or her apart and be supremely critical and cutting. But I gotta wait several months to do that? Well...OK then.

There's more analyses at the NY Observer and The Village Voice. (links from Moby.)

Most of the time, booksignings are pretty sedate affairs. But occasionally one comes along that makes the news and offers up a bit of controversy. Like Conrad Black's at Indigo yesterday. Originally there to promote his new humungous book about FDR, he got some decidedly different questions instead---the vast majority as he stepped out of the limo to get to the actual signing.

So your kids read Harry Potter. What next? Rachel Billington at the Guardian has some good ideas.

Sara Nelson's latest column takes a closer look at James McCourt's Queer Street, a rollicking look at New York City's gay scene as it emerged several decades ago.

Anthony Read picks the top 10 books about Hitler. I'm trying not to repeat that in a Wayne's World singsong kind of way.

The Globe and Mail interviews new bestselling sensation Audrey Niffenegger.

The Maritime Museum of Greenwich will host an exhibition devoted to Tintin, the globetrotting, somewhat clueless cartoon boy, in honor of the 75th anniversary of his creation. Coming soon: the Asterix exhibition.

A Shania Twain biopic. Why?

Ben Profune at the NY Observer evaluates the, er, thespian skills of a certain Paris Original.

And finally, the Royals really do never learn. Evidently a journalist from the Daily Mirror posed as a servant and served George Bush.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

BSP Announcement #2 

The new issue of Plots with Guns is up, and as usual, it kicks ass. Highlights include Jennifer Jordan's interview of Colin Bateman, Trev Maviano shooting the shit with Sean Doolittle, pics of the Crimedogs @ Bouchercon (as well as Maviano's take on his first time there), Victor Gischler's last Hardboiled Dixie column (waaah) , and 8 extremely cool short stories.

One of them, as it happens, is mine.

The genesis: I'd been working on that particular aria in my singing lesson one day, and as I walked home, I replayed the opening line, trying to work out some kinks mentally, as I often do. I heard a young man's belligerent voice utter the next sentence, and all of I sudden I had the story. I like to think of it as the ending Carmen should have had.

As it's my first piece of published fiction, I'm just a wee bit nervous about reactions. But send 'em on anyway.

BSP Announcement #1 

I am now the fiction editor at SHOTS Magazine. It's been a blast to read submissions, and I'm looking forward to getting more. If you're inclined to write crime stories, see the front page for guidelines.

Here we go again? 

"Police have swarmed over pop superstar Michael Jackson's opulent Neverland Ranch, near Santa Barbara in central California, as part of an unspecified criminal investigation, police say.

" Police did not specify the nature of the investigation, but cable channel Court TV said it stemmed from allegations of sexual abuse brought by a 12-year-old boy against the self-styled King of Pop."

A 20 million dollar settlement and he still hasn't learned a damned thing. Maybe there'll be an arrest this time, you think?

Not that you need any additional reason 

...but please, please do read TMFTML's missive on how a woman over 35 should get herself married. And don't worry, I'm sure that at my hypothetical wedding, there'll be plenty of booze--but you'll just have to put up with the klezmer brass band in the corner....

Further into the IMPAC award 

While most places have reported the salient names of the 125-author strong longlist, what interests me is how....stale the list is. For whatever reason, the criteria for the 2004 award is that the book had to have been published between 1 January and 31 December 2002--that's an awfully long lag time between publication and awarding, especially when the Man Booker prize was awarded to a book that was released in the spring of this year, and others that made the longlist hadn't even officially been published at the time. Why is this so? I'm genuinely curious. Is it because the awards committee has to make sure they read every single book published in a calendar year, instead of getting targeted submissions like other awards? I just look at the list and feel like I've moved on considerably since the time most of these novels were first published.

But having said that, it's a varied list, and on the crime fiction side, though naturally sparse (they never learn...) several contenders include Andrea Badenoch's LOVING GEORDIE, Michael Collins' THE RESURRECTIONISTS, Stephen Carter's THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK, Michael Didbin's AND THEN YOU DIE, Carol Goodman's THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, Patricia Melo's INFERNO, Chloe Hooper's A CHILD'S BOOK OF TRUE CRIME, and Sarah Waters' FINGERSMITH. Especially good to see Collins (a favorite, as already documented here) and Hooper, the latter having written a debut novel that's very disturbing but quite experimental for a crime novel, as it alternates between a psychological thriller style and a story of murder in allegory with animals starring as the main roles. Somehow, it works, and I hope Hooper, an Australian native, emerges with another book soon.

The morning news 

For years, fans of Patrick O'Brian's novels have worried how the books would translate to screen. With MASTER AND COMMANDER now in theaters everywhere, fans are less than thrilled. No kidding. It's a rare feat when a film version of a book is better than the actual book.

Also from the WaPo is Patrick Anderson's latest thriller column, which I inexplicably forgot to include in yesterday's roundup. The object of his scrutiny is Timothy Watts' GRAND THEFT, his first novel in seven years. Watts's writing bears an eerie (or calculated?) resemblance to that of Elmore Leonard.

With George W Bush visiting London, the Guardian asked various authors and other folks to write welcome messages. Pithiest of all is the following entry:

Dear Jorge,

Look out! Behind you!!

Hahahahahahahaha, only kidding.

DBC Pierre

David Guterson's OUR LADY OF THE FOREST gets a mixed review in the NYT.

Daniel Menaker is a publishing bigwig. This qualifies him to describe Johnny Cash as a "historiographer-verging-on-epistemologist." Somehow I don't think those would have been the words the Man in Black would have used.

Pretty much everybody has been linking to Gerard Jones' column at Mobylives on how the unbelievable resource that is Everyone Who's Anyone got started. I, too, crack up at all the exchanges between Jones, editors, agents, and whatnot, and glad that GINNY GOOD has found a home with both an agent and a publisher. Perseverance does pay off in the end.

Finally, I've already mentioned SJ Rozan several times here, and her regular blog appears in the links to my right. With her newest novel, the standalone ABSENT FRIENDS, due out next year, she's decided to start a new blog detailing the process of how a book emerges from start to finish, with all the publishing requirements in between. In the latest installment, she talks about the reason why this novel will be published by Bantam (and edited by the legendary Kate Miciak, who currently has a roster including top authors like Lee Child, Greg Rucka, Rick Riordan, and William Landay) and not St. Martin's Press, which publishes her series novels.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Dinnertime at Lunch 

First, the crime fiction stuff:

Phillip Margolin's next two thrillers to Dan Conaway at HarperCollins, in a major deal for seven figures, by Jean Naggar at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (NA). Harper has also licensed paperback reprint rights to Margolin's 1993 bestseller GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN from Doubleday and is in negotiations to acquire the reprint rights to two earlier books, THE LAST INNOCENT MAN and HEARTSTONE from the Jean Naggar agency. Jennifer Weltz at the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency with UTA recently closed two movie deals for Margolin.

Damn, I guess everything's coming up roses for the guy.

Ex-head of M15 Stella Rimington's AT RISK, a tautly drawn debut thriller about M15 agent runner Liz Carlysle and her race to avert a major terrorist attack, to Sonny Mehta at Knopf, in a significant deal, for two books, by Hutchinson. The book has also sold to: Heyne in Germany, Lattes in France, Unieboek in Holland and WSOY in Finland.

This is already getting tremendous buzz, and Rimington will be at next year's Harrogate Crime Writing Festival as well. If Sonny's got it, expect it to be fairly heavy on the "literary" stuff as well, since Knopf is known for that sort of thing (case in point: John Burdett's BANGKOK 8. Peter Spiegelman's BLACK MAPS and Dan Fesperman's THE SMALL BOAT OF GREAT SORROWS, and that's just from this year.)

TRIAL BY ICE AND FIRE author Clinton McKinzie's fifth and sixth suspense novels featuring Wyoming Special Agent Antonio Burns and his renegade brother Roberto, and continuing with more high-altitude adventure and courtroom drama, to Danielle Perez at Delacorte Dell, in a good deal, by John Talbot at the John Talbot Agency (world).

Oooh, moutain climbing. Perhaps my enthusiasm is lessened by the fact that I wasn't that impressed with the first book, but it's an author's perogative to improve, so hopefully that is indeed the case.

Serge Joncour's psychological suspense novel UV, winner of this year's Prix Roman France Televisions, in which a "friend" of the mysteriously absent son arrives at a family's summer house in Brittany, to Michele Hutchison at Transworld, in a nice deal, by Claude Tarrene at Les Editions Le Dilettante (world English).

This sounds rather neat. French psychological thriller....yeah, floats my boat.

Merry Jones' first novel THE NANNY MURDERS, a woman-in-jeopardy thriller featuring an art therapist who is a single mother and a reluctant assistant to the Philadelphia police department, enlisted to help as a serial killer has been dismembering local nannies, to Tom Dunne at Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, by Liza Dawson at Liza Dawson Associates (world).

Ah, femjep. No doubt a contender for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, in any case. I don't know if this is the same Merry Jones who has authored several books on adoption, birthmothering, and related topics, but it seems like a good possibility.

In other stuff:

Francine Pascal's THE RULING CLASS, a satire of the social wars that take place between the "ruling class" of female high school students and their designated prey, by the creator of the SWEET VALLEY HIGH series, to Paula Wiseman at Simon & Schuster, in a nice deal, by Amy Berkower at Writers House (US; UK).

Good lord, the Francine Pascal juggernaut lives! Wonder how many writers will be required for the factory mill for this particular series....

Author of the John Francis Cuddy private-investigator series and under the pseudonym of Terry Devane author of the Mairead O'Clare legal-thriller series Jeremiah Healy's third O'Clare novel, A STAIN UPON THEROBE, involving the Boston priest-rape scandal, optioned to Flatiron Films (Pay It Forward), in a deal worth up to half a million dollars, by Deborah Schneider at Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents and Steve Fisher at APA.

Now this is cool news. Great to see a long-standing mystery author (and helluva nice guy) finally get some more recognition (and $$$) from Hollywood.

And last but not least, I am especially excited that this deal is official:

Teddy Hayes's Blood Red Blues, Dead By Popular Demand, the first novel in a new detective series featuring Harlem detective Devil Barnett, to Steve Hull at Justin, Charles & Co., in a nice deal, by Bob Silverstein at Quicksilver Books (world, excl. UK and Ireland).

First, a bit of clarification. Teddy's books have been available for a few years in the UK, published by The X Press, an extremely small UK-based publishing company that specializes in minority voices. BLOOD RED BLUES was first released in 1998, followed by DEAD BY POPULAR DEMAND in 2000. The series really started attracting attention when #3, AS WRONG AS TWO LEFT SHOES, was published in in March of this year and received a very favorable notice from Maxim Jakubowski at the Guardian. I read it over the summer and was rather impressed myself. I think it's a real match between a talented author and a fledgling publishing company that I'm always eager to support. I'm also hopeful that Justin, Charles & co., will provide a strong editorial hand, the one finishing touch that the X Press was, I feel, unable to fully give Teddy's books. See for yourself when they are available as of late next year.

PW gets funny 

In a rare move for the trade rag, they actually get--dare I say it? Kind of snarky in discussing how potential candidates would fare as successor to Chip McGrath for the NYTBR throne. But all these Dale Peck references are freaking me out here. I mean, I was just joking. Really. Even if I did manage to give some people near-heart attacks.

ARCs and all about them 

According to Deadly Pleasures, there won't be any advanced reader copies (hence, ARCs) of Michael Connelly's next Harry Bosch novel, THE NARROWS. Connelly explains why:

" As of now they are not publishing an ARC of The Narrows. That may change but right now they figure they are not necessary for selling the book. I sort of agree. especially with this book. There's a lot of stuff in it I think should be kept under wraps until publication time."

I don't sort of agree--I definitely do, for a couple of reasons. One, Connelly's one of the big guys now, regularly hitting the bestseller lists, regularly ensconced amongst readers on the bus, subway, or tube (he's even more popular in the UK, at least based on my own unofficial view). So putting out a marketing campaign which involves advanced copies isn't going to increase his readership any more, because the average reader knows who he is and probably reads his books. Two, the last couple of years, the finished book did not bear a lot of similarity to the galleys. When CHASING THE DIME was released back in October 2002, an ARC preceded it. However, Connelly made substantial changes in the interim, adding as much as nine new scenes of material and excising other bits that in his mind, didn't work. There was evidently enough difference between the ARC of LOST LIGHT and the finished version, which hit stores this past April. By not releasing a galley, it gives him more time to get the book in enough shape that he's happy with it, and not worry that a mistake-filled or "wrong" edition is circulating amongst booksellers sales reps, or Ebay auctions.

So when is an ARC necessary? And why bring them out in the first place?

The whole point of advanced reader copies is to start up the hype, the buzz, the promotional activity. It's a marketing tool. When an author is brand new, or changing directions, out of sight for some reason, then there has to be a way to make sure that bookstores will stock the book, that sales reps will push the books in their departments (be it on the publishing or bookselling side), that distributors like Ingram or Baker & Taylor will keep the books in their warehouses. Thus, it means that people have to read the book and deem it worthy of their time and effort. So if you're an author who is brand new, ARCs are a lot more beneficial than doing an exhaustingly long book tour. It's conventional wisdom that first novelists shouldn't really tour for their first book because who's going to turn out for a new author unless there's been a tremendous amount of hype prior? It's slightly counter-intuitive but the point is, people don't show up to signings for authors they haven't heard anything about. Not usually, anyway. But booksellers CAN still sell the books if they've read them in advance, and when the author's next book comes up, they have a base to build on, and the promotional cycle can increase and build.

I love getting ARCs because I can then start doing what I do best earlier--which is promoting and pushing books I love and telling people that they must read them. If one person reads what I say and goes out to buy the book and then future books, I'm exceedingly happy. It was the case when I actually sold books and now that I'm no longer doing so in a bookstore setting. And OK, it's cool to read books before the general public does, but the general public may not read them if others hadn't gotten their hands on the book first.

But at some point, there's really no reason to bring out galleys of an author anymore. A lot of publishers carry on too long, don't know when to quit. But Little, Brown finally got smart about Michael Connelly. I expect that other publishers will follow suit with authors at about the same visibility level, if they have not done so already.

Bye Bye Black 

Uh oh. Looks like media baron Conrad Black, who runs Hollinger International (which includes newspapers like the Daily Telegraph, The Chicago Sun-Times, and the Jerusalem Post)--and who used to run the National Post before he decided that he didn't like being Canadian anymore and would rather hang out with the House of Lords--has to resign after the discovery of $32 million in unauthorized payments to him and other top executives, and part or all of his empire could be on the block. Get your newspapers cheap....

Literature isn't dead, it's just resting 

Time Magazine features, as Mark Sarvas says, the obligatory "Literature is Dead" stuff & nonsense. This mantra does seem to sound every few years or so, and instead of writing articles about it, how about reading some wonderful new authors? Let me suggest some additional folks that fulfill the criteria of "carefully, lovingly grafting the prose craft of the literary heap onto the sinewy, satisfying plots of the trashy one to produce hybrid novels that offer the pleasures of both." There's Michael Collins, whose latest book LOST SOULS perfectly straddles the literary and thriller world. Robert Clark's MR. WHITE'S CONFESSION is another great example of a literary thriller. Caleb Carr's THE ALIENIST and THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS are often mentioned, but I'd also like to add Lisa Appignanesi's PARIS REQUIEM, Andrew Taylor's THE AMERICAN BOY, and Elizabeth Redfern's THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES to the "literary historical thriller" ranks. Finally, I just want to beat the drum of one of my all-time favorites, Irish author Eoin McNamee, who also writes Alistair MacLean-style thrillers under the pseudonym John Creed. His prose makes my jaw drop on a constant basis, and his writing is as tough as it comes. Some of you know RESURRECTION MAN but it would be a shame to miss out on the rest of his novels (and he has a new one, THE ULTRAS, coming out in the UK in March.)

Point is, it would take a whole hell of a lot to kill literature. But it's nice to get pessimistic once in a while, I suppose.

Manic Monday 

Apologies, but the big announcement will have to wait another day or so. These things are beyond my control.....

So it seems that Tony Perkins, who founded Red Herring Magazine and runs the AlwaysOn Network, wanted to write a book about Google and solicited his site members to help him out. Brian Dear of Brianstorms.com didn't think much of the idea, and now the New York Times is all over this. More proof that blogging is really in the mainstream now....

Speaking of the NYT, there's an excellent article on hardboiled Japanese fiction writer Natsuo Kirino, whose novel OUT was recently translated into English.

The Guardian features an interview with Hanif Kureshi, where he speaks of a rather frightening incident involving racial profiling, among many other nuggets:

Kureishi was arrested, recently, for a driving offence and taken to a police station. "The policeman said to me, 'Racial background?' And he looked me up and down. 'Of Mediterranean appearance,' he said. I said, 'That's not a true description of me.' He said, 'It's not your opinion, it's my opinion.' I said, 'It's not really a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact.' And he underlined it: 'Of Mediterranean appearance. And I was really offended. You think, this fucker can write anything or say anything; it doesn't matter who I am, he can just do this. Imagine what it's like for people who are really in the shit."

In light of the 50th Anniversary of the Paris Review, Robert McCrum takes a good look at the "little magazines."

Publishers Weekly has their huge Year End in Books feature. Naturally, I suggest you all pay close attention to the Mystery selections, although there's plenty good crime fiction in the mainstream category as well.

January Magazine's featured review is of Michel Houllenbecq's latest controversial novel PLATFORM.

On the crime fiction side, the latest Nicci French is picked apart at the Guardian, and January Magazine's wonderful "Rap Sheet" is up for your perusal as well. No reviews by me in this edition, though my friend and colleague Jennifer Jordan has five or six.

The latest installment of the Save Our Short Story Anthology has been posted, featuring short stories from Ian Rankin and Tony Kerr.

Oline Cogdill's latest column reviews Steve Berry's THE AMBER ROOM (she's disappointed) and Sean Doolittle's BURN (she's delighted, with good reason.) I also missed last week's column which features reviews of new novels by Jake Lamar and Gary Phillips.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Compare and contrast 

Embracing all the finer trappings of touring--you know, drinking, smoking, living to excess--is DBC Pierre, the most newly minted literary party boy . He really, really likes America:

"This will sound like sucking up, but this is without a doubt the most open, most hospitable English-speaking country in the world," he said. "Looking at it from overseas, America is an atoll. But there's a reef around it that's your popular media. If you're in England, you don't get the nice bits; you get that there's been 20 people dropped, shot in a restaurant. Nothing comes in or out of that country without passing over that prickly reef."

Leading a somewhat more restrained lifestyle these days is Donna Tartt; she's never watched Sex in the City (it's OK, she hasn't missed all that much), doesn't pay attention to publicity and amazingly, eschews typing for longhand:

Learning how to type does not make you a writer. It was one of the biggest disappointments of my life when I found I couldn't compose at a typewriter. You see so many movies in which pages fly out of a writer's machine and novels pile up next to them. I'm in my late 30s now and I'm still working in those messy little notebooks I had when I was six.

Typewriter? Huh? Granted, Tartt is going to be 40 next year but come on, there were Apple IIes in the early 80s, never mind Commodore 64s. How the hell did she avoid the whole computer thing?

Never mind that movies still persist in perpetuating the typewriter-as-romantic-image claptrap. Though there were many reasons I decided not to see LOVE, ACTUALLY, the last straw was the clip of Colin Firth, playing a novelist, sitting by the beach with his typewriter and watching the pages fly away. I was thisclose to screaming, "Next time get a freaking laptop!"

A day without blogging... 

...is like a day without french fries. OK, maybe not, and perhaps it's a testament to my frazzled state of mind that I'm misquoting Nora Roberts. OTOH, at an earlier point in my life, I was an avid fan and I still admire the hell out of her obsessive work ethic. But I digress. More serious matters had to be taken care of today and so, unless inspiration strikes me later tonight (as it is wont to do) come back tomorrow morning for my latest post-a-thon. Especially as it will contain a very special announcement or two.

In the meantime, it's always important to gain some perspective on what are essentially trivial manners. For further elucidation, turn to Terry "Master T" Teachout for his words of wisdom.

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