Friday, December 05, 2003

Looking for Fun and Feeling Bloggy... 

Ah, the joy coursing through my drone-like existence at the thought of the weekend before me. Reading, writing and filling out Christmas cards as the squirrels outside complain bitterly about the lack of fresh seed in the birdfeeders. But, I find the time to trawl through a few news items that having me spewing coffee on my monitor and thinking, "There but for the Grace of God and personal trainers, neurosis, a few million dollars and a celebrity boyfriend go I."

Poor Gwyneth! Besides having a lispy name and poor fashion sense, she now has to speak to complete strangers about her pregnanacy! When she relates, "I touch wood and I pinch my stomach - it's a good luck thing. Now there's a lot more to pinch." I chortle and slap my knee. If she swallowed a peanut, there would be more to pinch.

Now, we all know Sarah's feelings about Paris Hilton. Courtney Love is my Paris. She suits me more. Trashy, briefly a shining orb of well-dressed bliss, then right back to bad hair, bad clothes and bad mouthing everyone. How is Courtney doing these days? Relating to the judge that she is not guilty of drug possession, she pleads for rehab. Apparently, she experienced Divine Injection.

I hope everyone has a lovely Friday. I anticipate a lot of coffee, a few curses during the drive to work and a 50-yard dash for the time clock when 3:30 comes around.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Introducing our Guest Blogger 

I'm going out of town for the next few days, but rather than keep the site stale the entire time, I'm handing over the reins of this blog for the rest of the week to a fellow reviewer, colleague and friend, Jennifer Jordan.

I first met Jen at the Austin Bouchercon last year. She's the younger sister of my friend Jon, who is one of the nouveau machers in the crime fiction community, a position cemented with the release of his book INTERROGATIONS. He thought the two of us would hit it off, and did we ever. Of course, copious amounts of alcohol consumption hastened matters considerably as we compared notes about books, philosophies, and men. The usual things, I suppose. We pick each other's works apart and try really hard not to give bullshit criticism. Jen's take-no-prisoners attitude comes across in her work, as well. She reviews for January Magazine, and has had several features and interviews published in Deadly Pleasures, Web Mystery Magazine, and Plots With Guns. I do believe she has a short story or two in the pipeline, and has several other projects ongoing. Writing is just as much of a passion for her as is reading. I fully expect to get a three-sentence writeup of her book deal in an upcoming issue of Lunch Weekly (but no pressure, chick.)

So, enjoy. I'll be checking in sporadically from the road next week, but won't resume full blogging duties till next weekend or so. In the meantime, it's Jen's world: we just think we live in it.

Be careful who you piss off in print 

Mel Gussow's profile of Jim Crace reveals the author of GENESIS (actually, it's SIX) to be a rather affable sort. However, there are times when the cheerful veneer falls abruptly away:

Provocative novels of ideas, the books have received negative as well as positive reviews. Mr. Crace does not respond to the criticism, assuming that the bruises will disappear. This is why a recent episode in Toronto, where he took part in a book fair, seemed so out of character. One London critic, D. J. Taylor, has repeatedly and personallyattacked him in print. In Toronto Mr. Crace was sitting at a table with Helen Dunmore and other writers, he said, when Mr. Taylor suddenly approached and was introduced to the group. "I know everybody here," he said, "except for this gentleman," indicating Mr. Crace.

"You may not know me," Mr. Crace said, icily, "but I've been on the receiving end of your needless venom four or five times too often." The critic said, "Not venom, just appropriate critical response." Mr. Crace continued excoriating him. As he recalled: "The whole room went silent. Everyone knew me as a cheerful sort of fellow. I was told afterward that now he is very frightened of me. I've never scared anybody in my life."

Granted, I haven't found any additional evidence of Taylor critiquing Crace's works, but if he really went to the well four or five times, that does seem a bit much. A negative review--par for the course. Two--pushing it, but OK. After that, I wouldn't bother reviewing the author's work ever again, no matter how much fun it would be excoriating said person in print.

A Late Lunch  

Scanning the non-fiction side first:

Trudy Garfunkel's KOSHER FOR EVERYBODY, introducing the benefits of Kosher products to consumers both inside and outside the Jewish
community, to Alan Rinzler at Jossey-Bass, by Richard Curtis.

Well sure, that's all well and dandy, but how can kosher be for everyone when there's more than 300 different organizations which deem food as such, each believing it is the only authority to do so? But this is the kind of questioning that gets me in trouble with my more ultra-Orthodox relatives, so moving on...

Nick Webb's WISH YOU WERE HERE: THE OFFICIAL BIOGRAPHY OF DOUGLAS ADAMS, the authorized biography, to Betsy Mitchell at
Ballantine, in a good deal, by Russell Galen at Scovil Chichak Galen (NA).

Oooh, this looks mighty tempting. Might have to go in and reread the first three of the Hitchhiker books (the other two, frankly, were rather crappy for my tastes.)

Mike Jay's THE AIR LOOM GANG, the bizarre true story of James Tilly Matthews, a Welsh spy and madman in 18th-century London who believed his mind was being controlled by a gang of revolutionary "terrorists" and their dastardly "air loom" machine, and who remains one of the most famous cases in psychiatric history, to Jofie Ferrari-Adler at Four Walls Eight Windows, by Helen Edwards at Transworld UK.

Loony spies. Conspiracy theories. Works for me. Never mind that there has to be a novel treatment out in the ether somewhere, preferably on the crime fiction side.

New York Post sports columnist Mike Vaccaro's DAMN YANKEES, DAMNED SOX, a detailed look at the intense seven-game 2003 ALCS,
used as a backdrop to explore the most bitter, heated rivalry in all of sports, to Jason Kaufman at Doubleday, in a good deal, in a pre-empt, by Greg Dinkin and Frank R. Scatoni at Venture Literary.

Ahh, the rivalry. Reminds me of a conversation I overheard in a not-so-crowded subway station heading down to Greenwich Village one Sunday morning. Three teenage boys, and only one a die-hard Red Sox fan. He had no chance in the argument, much as he tried to defend his position against the Yankee-lovers.

Turning to fiction:

Former senior editor at Spin Dana Shapiro's THE EVERY BOY, about a precocious 15-year-old boy who drowns mysteriously and leaves behind a bizarre and often hilarious diary that educates his parents about his surprisingly colorful life and death, to Heidi Pitlor at Houghton Mifflin, for publication in spring 2005, by Leslie Falk at Collins McCormick.


First-time novelist and poet Martha O'Connor's THE BITCH POSSE, an anti-chick lit novel set in a small-town high school in Illinois in 1988, featuring a cheerleader who dropped normality to join forces with the care-taker of her drug-addled aging hippie Mom and the most brilliant student in the school (and also the one who dives into life the most and finds herself in way, way, way over her head) to form the Bitch Posse, a take-no-prisoners bundle of fierceness, also revealing each of these women today, struggling in their intensely separate ways to make peace, if they can, with a devastatingly horrid event where things went far too awry, to Jennifer Endlerin at St.
Martin's, by Mary Evans (NA).

This has much promise. 1988, the tail end of the wasteland that was the 80s (not that any other decade has been much better, granted.) Anti-chick lit. Sarcastic characters. Humor. O'Connor's in good hands, as she'll be edited by the woman responsible for making sure Jennifer Crusie and Janet Evanovich are up to snuff for reader consumption.

Colin Cotterill's THE CORONER'S LUNCH, a first mystery novel set in the Far East, to Laura Hruska at Soho Press' Crime imprint, by Richard Curtis.

First of all, I love SOHO. They pick high quality stuff and package them with gorgeous covers at trade paperback prices. Second, it looks like John Burdett's BANGKOK 8 has indeed started a new mini-trend for Far East-set books. Be interesting to see if Cotterill's is a tale more conventionally told.

And finally, methinks J. Robert Lennon won't have to worry his little head too much anymore about the perils of being a midlist author after this particular bit of news:

Film rights to J. Robert Lennon's fourth novel MAILMAN, a black comedy about a neurotic mailman whose quest for love and professional fulfillment causes him to descend into madness, optioned to Paramount with Robert Evans producing, by Josie Freedman at ICM's Los Angeles office on behalf of Lisa Bankoff at ICM.

Robert Evans, though. Hmm. Not sure what to think of that. But hey, it's money in the bank for Lennon, enough that whatever financial difficulties he may have had before are at least somewhat assuaged now.

Tuesday morning QB 

We lead off with Chris Lehmann's review of VERNON GOD LITTLE. He didn't like it. At all. Calling it a "teeth-grindingly feeble stab at satire and virtual random-search engine of potty humor." Wow, think that'll be on the blurb in the US trade paperback edition?

Brazilian author Rubem Fonseca is the winner of the 2003 Juan Rulfo Literature Prize. He received it from Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a ceremony held in Mexico a few days ago.

SF Said is the winner of the Nestle Smarties Book Prize for Children's Literature, the only prize voted on by school pupils. His win was for the age 6-8 division. Other winners are listed here.

Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES, a book about how to use grammar properly, has proven to be an unexpected success in the UK. The Guardian profiles the author and this new phenomenon.

The Globe and Mail gets on the Martin Amis promotional gravy train. So does the National Post. Why do I keep linking to all of these interviews when they pretty much say the same thing over and over again? Hell if I know.

Random House UK is doing some serious reshuffling, as they merge their fiction divisions into one greater whole. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen....

Adapting books to film is an awfully hard endeavor, and most movies don't stay all that faithful to the book. Which authors are actually happy with the results, rather than cashing the cheque and pretending the movie version doesn't exist? USA Today finds out.

Newsday looks at REVOLVE magazine, the Cosmo-meets-Christian values glossy for girls.

John Le Carre is rather pessimistic about the state of the world, feeling that there is no room anymore for "optimistic novels" and that despair has set in. (Link from Maud.)

Jim Fusilli rounds up crime fiction for the Boston Globe, particuarly focusing on Pete Dexter's new novel TRAIN.

Finally, Timothy Noah of Slate provides us with the most sought-after feature at Amazon: its customer service number. Which happens to be 1-800-201-7575. (link from Moby.)

Monday, December 01, 2003

Talk about prolific 

Mark Sarvas has alerted me to this article about Seiichi Morimura, the newest recipient of the Japan Mystery Novel Prize. The award has evidently invigorated the 70-year-old Morimura, who feels "as if new energy had been applied to a top losing spinning speed," and that he "should work harder to beat talented young writers." Considering his output averages out to about 8 novels a year and he's already written 320 novels, one might think the author should be well-satisfied, but he wishes to fulfill the wish of his best friend, the lateSaho Sasazawa--to write a total of 400 books.

I'm rather curious that Our Man in Japan has no additional information about this, but perhaps it will be forthcoming. If I learn anything more, I'll post further.

Minor technical note 

A reader has kindly pointed out that my prior grumbling about the lack of comments may have been due to the fact that users were required to put in their email and URL, whether they liked it or not. Thus I have switched to Haloscan for comments, and those who wish to remain anonymous (or not) are free to post. Enjoy.

Evening roundup 

Originally this was slated for mid-morning. However I did not take into account the fact that it's rather hard to do regular updates when your pupils are horribly dilated (ironic that I was far-sighted for several hours when the eye doctor deemed my vision "near-perfect" and my eyes "healthy." It does seem weird to be one of the few souls who does not have to wear glasses, at least for a few more years yet.)

In any case, I opened up my local paper and found Dennis Lehane staring back at me. A welcome sight as he posed in a Vancouver-area bookshop. The interview was fairly standard, though informative as well.

La Maslin is proving rather prolific in the reviewing department this week, having magically answered my call to review something more worthwhile than James Patterson's latest tome. This time she sets her sights on THE MURDER ROOM, P.D. James' newest Adam Dalgliesh adventure.

The Glasgow Herald presents a long feature asking authors for their best books of the year. The Evening Standard does as well.

What's the party type du jour amongst the tony Washingtonian set? Why, the book launch, of course. A chance to hobnob with the upper echelons of politics, media, and book publishing. It's important to buy a book or two, of course. The only problem from a publishing standpoint is that these bashes don't exactly sell a lot of books. Simple correlation: the amount of free booke is inversely correlated with the number of books sold. Remember that for future reference... (link from Publisher's Lunch.)

Kinky Friedman has decided to run for governor of Texas. Frankly, he's got a hell of a good chance to pull it off. He's certainly one of the more unique candidates going....

The latest issue of Holt Uncensored looks at how a new deal signed by President Bush would expand media ownership, allow for more mergers, and generally be bad news for publishing. There's also a transcript of Nicki Leone's audio editorial explaining her position on Stephen King's NBA achievement. Yes, we're already sick of the subject, but Leone has an interesting viewpoint that makes enough sense to me, even if I don't necessarily agree with her position.

The SF Chronicle interviews author Victor LaValle, who seems to specialize in "oddball African-American fiction."

And finally, after reading this particular story, all I have to add is: try saying that man's new name three times fast.

If you read this blog, you probably know this 

But if not, Laura Lippman's Letter "to Paige" is an absolute heartbreaker. Paige Rose was the co-owner of Mystery Loves Company, an independent mystery bookstore situated in Baltimore, and the store where Laura almost always launches her novels. Paige died suddenly in June of 2001 and she is greatly missed by the mystery community. I never knew her, but I certainly wish I had. She was a tireless supporter of the genre and one of the most beloved booksellers in the business.

Hard Revolution: The CD 

Earlier this year, people who bought copies of Michael Connelly's latest Harry Bosch novel LOST LIGHT got a complimentary gift: a CD compilation of classic jazz tracks by the likes of John Coltrane, Art Pepper, and Clifford Brown. The idea originated with the author, and with the help of his webmaster (and sister) Jane Davis, the CD was made available through Connelly's publisher and was certainly one of the most interesting book promotional materials I've come across.

Said publisher, Little, Brown & co., is repeating the same promo with another of their authors, George Pelecanos, in conjunction with the publication of his next novel, HARD REVOLUTION. It'll be in stores in March, but the advance copies have been out there since the end of May, and so most of those "in the know" have already snagged their copies. Personally, I think this is Pelecanos's best book in several years; although the Strange/Quinn trilogy (which ended with 2003's SOUL CIRCUS) ranged from excellent to very good, I found that there was some sense of spark lacking that had been present in his previous books, most notably the "DC Quartet" novels chronicling Washington from the 1940s to the present day. HARD REVOLUTION is set in the time period leading up to the race riots in the late 60s (1959-68) and once again, Pelecanos captured the essence of the period, the simmering tensions and problems endemic to the poor neighborhoods of the Washington, D.C. the majority of us will never know and never be exposed to. All these with characters who are never less than three-dimensional and storytelling at its finest. If you've never read Pelecanos, this would be a good book to start with, but if you can't wait, I highly recommend the DC Quartet's first book, THE BIG BLOWDOWN (1996).

The CD that will accompany copies of HARD REVOLUTION is made up of 8 cuts from the soul era chosen by Pelecanos himself. As evident from his comments, it's obvious that he's a huge fan of this kind of music, something that surprises no one who reads his novels. He's well known for filling the prose with music cuts which truly give insight into the time period and the characters' thoughts at the time. In THE SWEET FOREVER (1998), for example, which is set in the mid-1980s, a woman not quite on the wrong side of thirty has a "Susannah Hoffs" haircut and swears by Echo and the Bunnymen. That says more about her than pages and pages of description ever could.

The CD will have liner notes from Peter Guralnick, the author of popular music history books such as FEEL LIKE GOING HOME and LOST HIGHWAY. I can't wait to see what he has to say, and to own the CD for my very own.

Monday morning blues 

Earlier blogging than usual (or late, if you consider I didn't get to it at all yesterday) due to various commitments and appointments and such. Not that you necessarily care, so here's the news as I know it (with an update for later in the morning):

Maslin reviews James Patterson's latest. To which I ask, what is the point? The book will sell like gangbusters. Patterson is his own phenomenon, never mind that he hasn't even written his books for years and years. It doesn't matter in the slightest what she thinks. Come on, NYT, stop being lazy and hmm, review some kind of midlist-y type of genre novel? Oh, the humanity, I know....

The Observer's big interview yesterday was with Noam Chomsky. He waxes eloquent about a lot of things, being his usual ornery self, really.

What were authors' favorite books of the year? There are a variety of interesting choices amongst the writers the Guardian asked for this feature.

Patrick Anderson examines Mickey Spillane's new novel, which is, surprisingly, a standalone. The review is more of a platform for Anderson to reminisce about the old Spillane of Mike Hammer glory, and summing up, the new one just doesn't hold up as well as the early stuff.

Oline Cogdill reviews Ruth Franscisco's debut novel CONFESSIONS OF A DEATHMAIDEN (interesting premise but flawed execution) and the coffee table book on the Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters.

Umberto Eco lectured last month on whether the electronic media was rendering books obsolete. My own firm answer to that question is "Hell, no."

Robert McCrum examines the curious difference between continents in how to package and market a book, namely the latest by Paul Krugman.

Bill Crider presents a wonderful feature at January Magazine on the five best Western Mysteries through the decades.

There are all sorts of things that can cure writer's block. For poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw, it was the Arctic chill.

Finally, Margaret Cannon does her bi-weekly crime roundup. The usual collection of raves and not-quites, though Carol Higgins Clark is a long way past the third book in her series (I think it's the sixth or seventh by now.)

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