Friday, February 20, 2004

Peter Robinson switches publishers 

Holy crap, this is kind of a big deal, as reported in Nicholas Clee's latest Bookseller column for the Guardian Review:

The best authors for publishers to poach are ones bubbling under the very top of the bestseller lists, but with the potential to get there. The current bestsellers will want bigger advances to move; and the advances they are getting already are probably at the limit of what is affordable. But up-and-comers will get much larger offers from optimistic publishers than they have ever seen before.

That is how Peter Robinson secured a rumoured 1.4m (pounds) four-book deal with Hodder & Stoughton. The Yorkshire-born, Toronto-based Robinson has been publishing novels since 1987. Set in the Yorkshire Dales and starring Inspector Alan Banks, they have been gaining sales steadily in the past few years.

So far, so good, and I have no problems whatsoever with this, being a huge fan of his work and hopeful that he can break out even bigger than he already has. But here's the most interesting part:

...an oddity about the deal is that Robinson still has seven editions - a Banks novel in paperback, plus three more titles in hardback and paperback - to publish with Macmillan, the firm he is leaving. Macmillan's strategy will be interesting to observe. Of course, it will want to sell a lot of copies; but it does not have an incentive to put all its energy into creating a star for a rival publisher to inherit.

That is indeed a bit weird. So basically, if he had 3 books to go, chances are that Robinson signed a three-book deal or at least had a 3-book extension done fairly recently--so why is Hodder & Stoughton knocking on his agent's door for a deal right now? Are they really going to want to wait three books before publishing him? Did said agent try to break the contract with MacMillan and fail to do so? And come to think of it, why even bother making the deal public at this point? Many other major deals are completed long before they are announced for all sorts of reasons, mostly not to rain on the former publisher's parade or to cause mutiny among the agent's other clients. So in short: what the hell?

Any further enlightenment on the matter would be very much appreciated. I believe Robinson's finishing up his Canadian tour and may be in my town Monday night; if I have the chance, I'll ask him myself.

UPDATE: A quick search on Amazon UK did clear things up a little bit. The paperback edition of Robinson's current book, PLAYING WITH FIRE, will be out early in 2005. His next released book is NOT SAFE AFTER DARK, a collection of short stories originally published in the US by Crippen & Landru in a limited edition in 1998. The hardback comes out in September with the paperback the following summer. Then in January 2005 is the next Inspector Banks book in hardback, with the paperback released the following year. So that leaves only one hardback/paperback combination unaccounted for.

The niche of mystery 

Yesterday's Columbus Dispatch had an article by Bill Eichenberger on the genre and its propensity for books catering to a specific crowd. No link available, alas, as the Dispatch is a pay-registration site, but here are some choice bits with my own comments.

"It used to be that if someone wanted a mystery to do with forensics," Toni [Cross, co-owner of the Foul Play Mystery Bookshop in Westerville, OH] recalled recently, "you handed them a Patricia Cornwell novel.

"Now you have forensic anthropologists, forensic paleontologists. Today, Watson would have to be a pediatric periodontist.

"Now you have mysteries solved by hairdressers . . . and mysteries solved by hairdressers who only do blondes. I'm holding in my hand right now a book called Highlights to Heaven . It's subtitled A Bad Hair Day Mystery -- not just any kind of hair day, a bad -hair day."

Matters aren't helped by authors who switch from one niche to another, as most eventually do.

"When they switch, they usually switch names, too," John said. "Monica Ferris (A Stitch in Time: A Needleworkers Mystery ) is on her third name. So you don't just have to keep track of all the series; you have to keep track of the authors as they change names."

Willetta Heising -- author of Detecting Women: A Readers Guide and Checklist for Mystery Series Written by Women, in its third edition -- understands.

"Hey, when we say there's a mystery for everyone, we're not kidding," she explained with a chuckle. "I just got 15 in the mail today with subtitles like A Needlework Mystery, A Scrapbooking Mystery, An Antiquing Mystery and A Figure-Skating Mystery .

"I envisioned someone sitting around the editorial department of a publishing house, having just come off a binge of Home & Garden Television, concocting all these mysteries."

Now, I myself don't read most of these overly compartmentalized mysteries, because what's only pointed out later in the article is that the vast majority of them fall into the cozy category, which I am deliberately less familiar with than the more hardboiled genre. But even in the grittier section, there are tons of different starring roles: cops, forensic pathologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, PIs with differing specialties, all kinds of journalists, Wall Street types, and on and on. But hardboiled readers are, to my mind, different because they look for books that have a certain feel or type, and are less obsessed about a particular profession or interest. But like Cross says in this article, I can attest to the customer who walked into the bookstore and demanded a certain type of mystery, setting, or character, and did we stock such a thing. And almost invariably, we did, whether in the regular stalls or the out-of-print section, no matter how out of left field the request was.

What's also interesting is that many of these subtitled mysteries are from a single publishing house program: Berkley Prime Crime, which puts out dozens of paperback original cozies per year and are expanding the number they publish each month. St. Martin's is fairly cozy-heavy, as well, and we need not talk about the success of the Cat Duo, Rita Mae Brown and Lilian Jackson Braun (because frankly, I'd really rather not.)

Which leads to the crux of the article: why are niche mysteries so damned popular? Margery Flax, Office Manager of the Mystery Writers of America, had the answer:

"The reason there are all these sub-genres? They sell. People like to read stories that might have their personal interests as part of the story, or they like learning about something when they read."

And as long as fans rush into the bookstores to buy the latest releases and demand even more specialized books, these niche mysteries won't be going away anytime soon.

Memo to Lloyd Grove 

I suppose it would be a bit unseemly to ask if you might give some credit where credit is due, but what the hell. Oh, and Lee was 29 in 2001, when he was revealed as the man behind Urban Expose, a website not unlike the ones he took issue with, except--you know, reversed.

And while I'm at it, like, what's up with your blog obsession? It's kind of cute.

Another one gets Gothamized 

The lovely and talented "SuperMaud" (as deemed by no less an authority than The Teachout) is the latest to be Krucoff-ied (forgive me, that was way too easy) in his series of Young Manhattanite Interviews. Although the definition of what a Manhattanite is may be a tad loose, since so far half the subjects live in Brooklyn (and even elsewhere, in those upcoming)

Best choice bit:

3) "I hate computers for replacing the card catalog in the New York Public Library and I hate the way..."

...the keys are sticky after TMFTML finishes "trying to track down that book [he] wanted."

What got left out was that he didn't actually find the book he wanted, but went on a massive detour instead.

Thank Heaven for Fridays 

First, the latest from the Independent, and they concentrate heavily on the conglomerization of UK publishers, what with the impending disappearance of Flamingo and the merger of Harvill with Secker & Warburg. Is it a death knell for diversity? And who, if anyone, is to blame? Of course, wait till Bertelsmann buys up the entire industry and creates a more monotheistic, er, unilateral approach....

The paper also gives a pass to the new novel by Mark Watson, who I should point out is younger than I am. Gotta get a move on....

Speaking of insanely young and successful new authors, Cecilia Ahern answers her critics. Again. Me, I couldn't help noticing she had no business wearing that shirt. Stripes in all the wrong directions! Yuck.

Caryn James takes a look at the Hollywood novel, a trend that's been ever-present of late. I like the fact that she brought up Nathanael West, but how can you do a roundup like this and not bring up Budd Schulberg's WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN? That book could eat all those other bitchy novels for breakfast in about two minutes flat. I think I might have to reread the book again....

Be careful about bylines. An argument about sharing one got Peter Craven sacked as the editor of Australia's Quarterly Essay. He's now been replaced at the helm by Chris Felk.

Reports are already starting to trickle in about the goings-on at Left Coast Crime in Monterey; The Californian offers up a print overview. No mention, sadly, of what's happening at the bar, which I've been told has been rather sedate compared to conventions past. That simply cannot be!

The latest issue of Mystery Morgue is now up, featuring new reviews and an interview with author Ralph Pezzullo.

The popularity of romance fiction is both denigrated and envied in the industry. It is the top-selling genre, after all, and fulfills "emotional needs," according to this article in Florida Today.

I'd be a little leery of any memoir that's deemed "the best since Elizabeth Wurtzel's PROZAC NATION," but this one by Wesley Gibson about roommate hell sounds pretty good.

Dale Peck's final negative review: coming soon from....Maisonneuve? (link from Bookninja.)

And finally, Peter Howell of the Toronto Star marvels at the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue. The timing, can it possibly be coincidental that it comes out just as the Oscars are about to be awarded? Nah... (related, the Cinetrix has been analyzing the issue in all its hatefulness over the last couple of posts.)

Thursday, February 19, 2004

A Marketing Challenge 

I recently finished Scott Phillips' new book COTTONWOOD. I'd been looking forward to reading this book since news started trickling in maybe a year or so ago on what the author of two of the most hardboiled novels published in the last few years, 2000's THE ICE HARVEST and its sequel, 2002's THE WALKAWAY, was working on: an historical western. But what excited me evidently had his publisher, Ballantine, in knots.

Why? Well, the answer lies in my recounting of Phillips' backlist. Ballantine (and his UK publisher, MacMillan/Picador) signed him up on the basis of his first two books, which were in the style of noiristes like James Crumley, Charles Willeford and Jim Thompson--amoral, fast paced, and a high body count. THE ICE HARVEST did especially well critically, garnering a slew of nominations (Edgar, Hammett, Anthony) and winning high profile fans like George Pelecanos and Dennis McMillan, who now publishes the limited-run first editions for his publishing house. So when Phillips announced his next book would be a Western set in Kansas in the last half of the 19th century, no doubt his publishers were, to say the least, unsure what to make of it.

What gained Phillips fans and critical acclaim was the quality of his writing; his books took pulp conventions and elevated them because of something extra in his writing style. But in the crime fiction world, there's a strong belief that a writer should stick to a similar course with each successive book. Sure, there's room for some change, and switching to a standalone after a few books is a yawningly familiar expectation by now. But substantial departures are a different story. Some of your favorite writers who got their contracts dropped? It was because they floated the idea of something radically different which their publishers didn't want to take, or their agents felt they couldn't sell. There's a sense that once an author builds his or her fan base, they can only expand outward from what's established, and not take flying leaps into alien or unfamiliar territory. Or if they do, then adopt a pseudonym or switch publishing houses or do something equally drastic.

But a funny thing happened with COTTONWOOD; so far it's gotten excellent reviews, some of the best ever for Phillips. And for damned good reason; no, it's not a hardboiled novel, and it may not even be crime fiction. But it's atmospheric, seedy, and full of great characters. We're catapulted into the point of view of saloon owner Bill Ogden, who has quite a liberal take on his marriage vows. He switches allegiances and betrays supposed friends, falls in love but runs away (albeit for good reason.) And once again, Phillips' writing was the biggest hook, was what kept me reading. His dialogue seems to be pitch-perfect, and he takes a real-life case of a family on a killing spree and spins a novel that scrutinizes the development of a small Kansas town into something bigger, but not necessarily better.

So yes, it's a departure, an unexpected surprise. But humor my perhaps-naive belief that a well-written and evocative book will find its audience, and that a writer--provided he delivers the goods--can stretch his ability to new and deeper levels. And while you're at it, say hello to Scott while he tours around the country to promote COTTONWOOD. We need more writers like him.

Talk about gastrointestinal distress 

BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- French doctors were taken aback when they discovered the reason for a patient's sore, swollen belly: He had swallowed around 350 coins -- $650 worth -- along with assorted necklaces and needles.

The 62-year-old man came to the emergency room of Cholet General Hospital in western France in 2002. He had a history of major psychiatric illness, was suffering from stomach pain, and could not eat or move his bowels.

The guy died 12 days after they opened up his stomach and took out all the stuff he'd swallowed. No word on who inherited the contents of his stomach.

News o' the morning 

And, what's this? Can it be? Maslin not reviewing airport fiction? Why, that can't be possible...but of course, it is. And it's a book about the history of Texas, to boot. (Pun not necessarily intended.)

I'd said I would comment about the Agatha nominations but really, I have little to say. I don't read much in the way of soft-boiled or cozy mysteries, though I can recommend Erin Hart's debut novel HAUNTED GROUND and Elaine Flinn's DEALING IN MURDER is getting a lot of good notices.

Speaking of PBO authors, the Sacramento Bee had a feature on Robin Burcell, most recently the novel of COLD CASE. She's a police officer and writes a series about policewoman Kate Gillespie, though she's leaving that series behind for her next book or two.

Newsday raves about Bruce Murkoff's WATERBORNE, a fictionalized account of the building of Hoover Dam. They ask "where Murkoff has been hiding out during his 50 years on the planet, but his talents as deft storyteller and writer of burnished prose are present on every page." The SF Chronicle, however, is less enthusiastic about Murkoff's literary charms.

Robert Irwin, author of THE ALHAMBRA, presents his top ten books on Islam and Muslim culture in today's Guardian.

Jonathan Yardley finds Mark Katz's book about his life as a joke writer for President Clinton (!) to be too self-referential and self-absorbed. I loved this line: Katz by my reckoning is now 40 years old, but he doesn't seem to have grown much beyond the ninth-grade kid at Felix V. Festa Junior High in suburban New York who got off this book's one genuinely funny line, which is when his teacher botches the word "quiz" into "quizzicle" and Katz calls her on it in teenage toilet humor fashion. According to Yardley, Katz hasn't been funny since.

Yiyun Li, whose fiction cracked the New Yorker and who has inked a book deal for a short story collection and novel, is the winner of the Paris Review's first annual Plimpton Prize. I could have sworn this announcement was made ages ago, but perhaps not.

It seems that the popularity of Alexander McCall Smith's #1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY Series has not extended to India. In a review of the 4th book in the series, the Business Standard declares, "The fat lady may have sung a trifle early, but she was one hell of a dame for a while."

In the 1960s, Broadside Press, a Detroit-based small press, was the leading publisher for African-American fiction. Now Melba Boyd has written a biography of Dudley Randall, the man behind the publishing house.

And finally, so much for background checks: a killer who nailed his victim to the floor landed a small role in THE JACKET, a Clooney-Soderbergh coproduction starring Keira Knightley and Adrian Brody that's shooting now in Scotland. Though the producers were furious when they found out, hey, he queued up just like any other sap who wanted to audition....

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Her citizenship was revoked 

As reported elsewhere, Dana has taken a peek at the 19-page proposal offered up for "Citizen Girl," aka the book by the Nanny Diaries duo (Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, but really, no one remembers their names anymore) that was shelved by Random House last week. Whether Dana was lucky to see this proposal, however, remains in serious question based on her reaction:

The whole thing read as though the writers were snorting rails off each others' fat advance checks the entire time. And also being distracted by butterflies. Reading it made my sphincter tighten impossibly and I became nauseated. "I'm impressed you got through the whole thing," Caftan Lady told me right before she ripped the smudged pages from my hands and roared off on her Ducati.

I must admit that the best rumor I've heard about the debacle was that whoever ghost-wrote THE NANNY DIARIES wasn't available for CITIZEN GIRL and the poor women actually had to try writing the book on their own. More's the pity, really. I mean, who wouldn't want to read a novel whose opening paragraph repeats the word "penis" so many times that it ceases to become an interesting word by the paragraph's end? God knows what havoc they would have wreaked on real curse words; they might have rendered them utterly tedious and banal. So alas, it looks like McLaughlin and Kraus will be packed up to the one-hit wonder category; who's next in the sophomore jinx class to scrutinize? Lauren Weisberger's a pretty good bet.

Dark Side of the Force is Winning, Part II 

"Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday it had agreed to buy the Muppets and "Bear in the Big Blue House" characters from Jim Henson Co. for undisclosed terms."

Granted, Disney's been trying to buy Henson's company for as long as he's been unalive (almost 14 years now) but still. Gawker, naturally, produces the memo Eisner sent to his minions confirming the deal, including an email address where you can write in to say what you think of this!

Horse, Mule, Horse, Mule 

"It was a little rocky on the roof last weekend.

On Sunday, Barbara Barrie, the veteran actress who was playing Yente the Matchmaker in the revival of "Fiddler on the Roof," was fired from the show.

"Also on Sunday, Thane Rosenbaum wrote a "think piece" in the Los Angeles Times that knocked the revival for not being Jewish enough."

My, my, my. I do love a good bit of upheaval and controversy. I wonder what possessed the producers to hire Barrie (the fact that she's show lyricist Sheldon Harnick's sister-in-law and mother of one of the producers notwithstanding.) She is a great actress, but as Yente? Don't see it. But of course, original cast member Bea Arthur is indelible in my own mind, so that's what I'm comparing everyone to (Molly Picon was way miscast in the movie.) And as for the show being "not Jewish enough," well, it wasn't that Jewish to begin with--just an entertainment approximation with a book chock full of old Jewish jokes. But then, the real stories (by Sholom Aleichem) the musical was based on were depressing and unwrenchingly sad, albeit with some black humor tossed in to lighten things up a bit. But that doesn't make for a good show.

I have an ambivalent relationship with FIDDLER--it was de rigeur listening throughout my childhood and I still love the original cast recording (Zero Mostel! Julia Migenes before she was a famous opera singer! Bert Convy before WIN, LOSE OR DRAW! Bea!) but after too many weddings and Bar Mitzvahs that played "Sunrise, Sunset," I want to annihilate that particular ditty. I think what sometimes irks me is that it may well be "Jewish-lite" and I like a little authenticity in my Jewish music, or at least the perceived notion of such. That's how I got into klezmer and Yiddish music in the first place a few years ago, and recently, I heard the FIDDLER score in Yiddish translation, and suddenly, the music took on greater life. "Tradition" became "di Torah," and it picked up a particular, for lack of a better word, verve that wasn't even on the original cast. The Yiddish production sang the score like it meant something extra, like all that sadness and black humor that had been stripped out of the original stories had been re-introduced.

Anyway, I wish the new production well, though I won't be seeing it any time soon, I suspect.

News Notes 

And we begin with the curious story of Charles Chadwick, a 71 year old retired civil service who just landed a gonzo book deal. His UK publisher, Faber & Faber, are describing the book as a "masterpiece"--even though it's not finished quite yet. He's getting $300,000 for the US rights alone. Well, allegedly. We'll see what Publisher's Marketplace has to say later....

Cressida Connolly reviews Stella Duffy's novel STATE OF HAPPINESS for the Telegraph, calling it an absorbing and unflinching tale of a young woman's battle with a terminal illness. Although my TBR pile is practically overflowing, this is one book that once I get my hands on, I'll be reading ASAP.

Thanks to the efforts of University of South Carolina professor Matthew Bruccoli, the collected manuscripts and writings of George V. Higgins (of FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE fame) will be housed at the university. (thanks, Mark!)

Bill O'Reilly's 1998 thriller THOSE WHO TRESPASS, originally published by Bancroft Press, is being released again in a more splashy manner by Broadway Books. Salon has the scoop (and you need that freaking daypass, I know, but I'm too lazy to reproduce the article. Besides, it's O'Reilly, why would I waste any more ink on the guy?)

Jane Juska, the sixtyish author of A ROUND HEELED WOMAN, has been commissioned to write a sequel. Whereas the current book was an anecdotal account of her foray into sexual adventuring at an advanced age, this new book, due out next year from Chatto & Windus, will be more analytical in approach. (third item down)

Ken Follett travels far and wide to research his thrillers, and last week he headed north to Winnipeg to check out their state-of-the-art virology lab. He enjoyed the experience but did find it "rather weird."

I suspect UglyTown didn't realize its reach extends all the way across the globe, but one of its releases, Curt Colbert's SAYONARAVILLE, got a great review from Japan's Daily Yomiuri Online over the weekend.

Ten years ago, Randy Shilts died. The name sounds familiar? It should, as he was the author of AND THE BAND PLAYED ON, a gripping expose of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. The SF Chronicle remembers him and his legacy.

The "Get London Reading" campaign is about to begin in London, and booksellers are on board, as they feature the 12 chosen titles with 3 for 2 paperback promotions.

Alex Good weighs in with his own perspective about the Amazon reviewing glitch kerfuffle, while Ron's been following the story from his perspective as a former (paid) reviewer for the company.

And finally, booksellers can now sell books in libraries? What the hell's next, you can download music for free in record shops? (link from the Literary Saloon.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

The Million Writers Award 

StorySouth has announced its notable list for the Best Online Fiction of 2003. I'm proud to say that one of the stories I edited for SHOTS, Carol Anne Davis's "How to Save Your Own Life," made the cut. If you've never read Carol's work before--she's the author of four novels, the most recent being KISS IT AWAY, this story is an excellent place to start. For my money, she's about the most noir female writer in the business, disturbing the hell out of me on a regular basis--and I'm not that easily disturbed.

I was also heartened to see Stephen D. Rogers' story from Shred of Evidence among the notables. Kudos to each and every writer and publication that made the shortlist, and special props to Laila for making the list as well.

A Brief History of John Lee 

The 'sphere is agog over John Lee's blistering, albeit ill-informed attack on Choire Sicha and Ana Marie Cox of Gawker and Wonkette fame, respectively. Lee's perceived problem is that both blogs somehow denigrate blacks and make them out to be "second class citizens." Um, OK, I actually thought they poked fun at everyone and thus all folks are second-class citizens, but nobody asked me. Besides, as soon as I saw the byline, my eyes nearly popped out. Then I started laughing because truly, everything and everyone gets recycled after a certain period of time.

Not everyone has long memories, or paid attention to what was going on as the dotcom boom turned into a fizzling bust, but about three years ago, Lee was making waves (and enemies) in fronting Urban Expose, a website geared for minority groups with the following mission statement:

Urban Exposé is an industry pariah. A news site dedicated to covering the exploding urban media market in new media , film , television , fashion , magazines, and music. UE delivers timely relevant information on the industry in a humorous fashion.

In other words, Urban Expose was a site not unlike Gawker and Wonkette, but done back in the day when blogs were still the sole domain of angsty teenage girls. Anyway, when UE first got started, Lee's identity wasn't known; in fact, he posted under the moniker "Crispus Attucks", named for a American black soldier murdered in 1770. The guessing game for the man behind the pseudonym was rampant, because he had to be an insider, someone who had more-than-common parlance with black culture and media goings-on. Nobody guessed that it would be a then-29 year old man who'd once graced the cover of Wired Magazine for a completely different reason: as one of the earliest computer hackers, one who'd made his "fame" during the Commodore 64 years, who'd just served six months in jail for hacking crimes and now was on the other side, naming names in the shadowy world of hackerdom.

Lee's unmasking on the "Today in New York" program--something he decided to do on his own, by the way--was a major deal at the time, because it was so unexpected. Who'd have thought that a teenage hacker who'd served time would resurface in a completely different context? When the news hit, an old friend of mine was writing for a now-defunct tech website, and he was ecstatic about the news. He'd long thought Lee was a genius and one of the smartest people he'd ever met, and this just seemed to confirm it. But a few months after the news hit, Lee's name disappeared from the news. I last heard of him maybe two years ago when he participated in a tech-based conference said friend was also taking part in. Then, nothing.

But now, John Lee resurfaces as a critic of the kind of sites that seem to mirror just the very thing he tried to do with UE. Either there's nothing new under the sun, or the Internet is a great way for people to resurface in completely different contexts after a time spent below the radar. Maybe the Blogiverse is the new Dotcom Era--albeit with a hell of a lot less money involved.

Alive and Well and Living in Paris, No Doubt 

Gorilla, doing a masterful job substituting for his buddy Grambo, has dug up a Magic 8-Ball to tell us if certain off-the-radar folk are still amongst the living--figuratively or actually. Naturally, this made me think of one of my all-time favorite sites, something that is that for no good reason except that it makes me laugh uproariously every time I visit it. Oh, and because he is one of my favorite actors as well.

And now they've added the ultra-cool remix song to remind you of the time you had Bauhaus stuck in your LP player....or not.

He Speaks, He Opines 

The Tao of TMFTML, as written by Andrew Krucoff in the latest installment of the "Young Manhattanite" Interview:

Just how much do you really love New York?

I love New York so much that I actually got the entire city subway map tattooed on my back. It took eleven hours, over two days. The next week they came out with the new map. I’m still sort of bitter about this.

I do have a weird vision of a Sid Caesar-like figure perched over the boy's shoulder yelling "FUNNIER!" as he typed out his answers, but whatever the brutal means, it worked.

2003 Agatha Award Nominees 

The winners will be announced at a ceremony at the upcoming Malice Domestic Convention to be held on May 1, 2004. More comments later this afternoon.


Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Mumbo Gumbo by Jerrilyn Farmer (William Morrow)
Letter From Home by Carolyn Hart (Berkley Prime Crime)
Dream House by Rochelle Krich (Ballantine Books)
Last Lessons of Summer by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press)
Shop till You Drop by Elaine Viets (Signet)


Dealing in Murder by Elaine Flinn (Avon)
Haunted Ground by Erin Hart (Scribner)
Take the Bait by S. W. Hubbard (Pocket)
Alpine for You by Maddy Hunter (Pocket Books)
Murder Off Mike by Joyce Krieg (St. Martin's Minotaur)
O' Artful Death by Sarah Stewart Taylor (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press Inc.)


Mystery Women: An Encyclopedia of Leading Women Characters in Mystery Fiction, vol. 3 (parts 1 & 2) by Colleen A. Barnett (Poisoned Pen Press)

A Second Helping of Murder: More Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers, edited by Jo Grossman and Robert Weibezahl (Poisoned Pen Press)

Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s and 1950s by Jeffrey Marks (Delphi Books)

Amelia Peabody's Egypt:Â A Compendium, edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread (William Morrow)

Dick Francis Companion by Jean Swanson and Dean James (Berkley Prime Crime)


"Doppleganger" by Rhys Bowen in Blood On Their Hands (Berkley Prime Crime)
"No Man's Land? by Elizabeth Foxwell in Blood On Their Hands (Berkley Prime Crime)
"Safety First" by Marcia Talley in Blood On Their Hands (Berkley Prime Crime)
"Red Meat" by Elaine Viets in Blood On Their Hands (Berkley Prime Crime)
"Sex and Bingo" by Elaine Viets in High Stakes (Signet)


Gangsters at the Grand Atlantic by Sarah Masters Buckley (Pleasant Company)
Danger, Dynamite by Anne Capecci (Peachtree Publishers)
Ghost Light on Graveyard Shoal by Elizabeth McDavid Jones (Pleasant Company)
The 7th Knot by Kathleen Karr (Marshall Cavendish)
Mystery of the Equestrian Park by Gay Toltl Kinman (Amiser Quill Press)

Tuesday's News Day 

Let's begin with a usual target: Michiko. Meriting her critical scrutiny is Yasmeena Khadra's THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL. She likes the fact that it portrays a chilling landscape in wild Afghan territory, but is less thrilled with Khadra's writing style.

With Comcast courting Disney, and the collapse of the AOL Time Warner juggernaut, the New York Times takes a look at how "merger books" fared in terms of actual sales. Their conclusion? Publishers were rather disappointed with how such books fared.

A former terrorist turned crime writer has now been arrested and faces extradition from France. Evidently Cesare Battisti has lived "openly and peacefully" in France since 1990, which has had an unspoken agreement not to arrest or charge those that were "Red Brigade" terrorists nearly 30 years ago. Now the furore has started.

James Nesbitt has just signed on to play Jack Parlabane in a TV adaptation of Christopher Brookmyre's QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING, a book I particularly enjoyed when I read it last year. What's interesting is that Nesbitt also starred in the TV drama MURPHY'S LAW, which was written by another crime writer: Colin Bateman, who also wrote a novel of the same name concurrently.

The Guardian offers up a lengthy, albeit headache-inducing, interview with Carrie Fisher, who's promoting her new novel THE BEST AWFUL every which way and in every place possible, it seems.

The little publishing houses that could: Profile Books is the latest in a series of small publishers whose fortunes were boosted by the huge, unexpected success of a single book or series. Theirs was Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES.

Peter Craven is enthralled by the audio book; no wonder, when he's listening to Stephen Fry (Harry Potter V) and James Earl Jones (the New Testament.) Talk about star wattage.

There's little in the way of African-set crime fiction beyond Alexander McCall Smith's #1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. But Zirk Van Den Berg is changing all that, with his new novel NOBODY DIES.

Nevada Barr's latest Anna Pigeon novel, HIGH COUNTRY, is out now, and favorably reviewed in the Denver Post. Barr's books routinely make the NYT Bestseller List but frankly, I don't get them. Tried one years ago and it didn't suit, but then, I'm not much into outdoorsy things, alas.

Attention, OGIC: you might be interested in Roger Miller's appreciation of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels that ran over the weekend.

And now that I've twigged to the fact that the Denver Post does regular mystery reviews, here's an earlier review of Jodi Compton's highly-regarded debut THE 37TH HOUR, and Tom and Enid Schantz's latest roundup of the newest in the genre.

Blog favorite Craig MacDonald reviews Ken Bruen's latest US-published novel, THE KILLING OF THE TINKERS.

Mark Nykanen's new novel, THE BONE PARADE, is pretty gory fare: a sculptor specializes in creating grotseque images of families based on his real-life crimes. Dan Hays gives the book a rave review in the Salem Statesman Journal as part of his roundup of new and noteworthy books, including my editor's look inside the quirky, offbeat eccentricities of Seattle.

Books in translation are a big deal in Japan, and many American and UK bestsellers are available in that country. Several translators are profiled about the work that's involved and the pitfalls of getting the gist of a novel written in English for a Japanese audience.

And finally, Lillian Nattel's THE SINGING FIRE is in drastically different form than what she intended--on the advice of her agent, Helen Heller, she tore up an entire draft, excised the main character, and was left with only 30 pages. Evidently the book is much stronger as a result.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Conferences I am not attending this week 

The second-largest mystery convention, and one that's growing in numbers and popularity, is Left Coast Crime, held annually in a westerly state. Starting this Thursday (February 19) publishing types, authors and fans will congregate at the Doubletree hotel in Monterey, CA, where perhaps the best-regarded Bouchercon was held back in 1997. The same folks who organized that particular B'Con are holding the organizational reins for LCC this time around, so hopes are high that it'll be just as well-run. In any case, the attending authors list is fairly substantial, with heavy hitters like Lee Child, Jan Burke, Laurie King and SJ Rozan expected to attend.

The thing about these conventions is that for months leading up to it, the mystery lists I subscribe to and message boards I frequent are full of people's plans for get-togethers at the venue, what panels they will be attending, and a general excitement about the prospect, leaving those not attending somewhat envious (the "I can't wait for BCon" fervor begins, oh, about June.) However, reports will stream in when available, and I do believe the prodigiously talented Donna Moore will be submitting an official report for SHOTS, which I'm looking forward to--if anyone can suss out what's going on behind the scenes and who to look out for, it's Donna. When it's posted, and if others weigh in with their thoughts, I'll point you to it.

In more professional matters--well, for me, anyway--the 56th American Academy of Forensic Sciences Annual Meeting starts tomorrow in Dallas, and runs through the end of the week. I attended last year when the meeting was held in Chicago, and was impressed--both by the meeting and Chicago, which I'd never visited before. Granted, that city in February can get rather chilly, but for a Canadian, it wasn't such a big deal, and the Magnificent Mile stacks up to any major metropolis urban downtown area, with something extra: perhaps my favorite American-based chocolatier.

But I digress. The meeting covers all areas of forensic science: criminalistics, jurisprudence, and everything in between. My main area of specialty, forensic biology, falls under the criminalistics section, so I spent much of my time listening to presentations on the latest developments in the field--some so esoteric that it could be years, if not decades, for practical applications of such research. It was also great fun to see some of my classmates give presentations based on their thesis research, and in looking over the schedule this year, several former classmates, professors, and other forensic scientists I know are slated to present or give poster sessions. When I wasn't flitting from session to session or looking at posters, I was in the dealer room, where companies tried so very, very hard to interest the registrant in the latest technology, much of which would never be validated for forensic use. But new toys are always fun to see--as are the bizarre folks who ask if you want a manicure as you walk by. Evidently that company's a staple at the meeting, but no one I asked could give me a straight answer as to why they were there....

I'm sorry to miss out this year--can't do everything--but I suspect I'll have a grand time at next year's Academy meeting, which will be held in New Orleans. It's a city I've yet to visit but want to at least once, and a tax-deductible conference is perhaps the best reason to do so.

President's Day Update 

Chances are good the page views will be down b/c many of you are taking advantage of.....the cold weather in store for you today. Well, at least if you're on the East Coast. Anyway, the news:

It's getting all too predictable. Monday morning, check the NYT, and look! Maslin's reviewing another thriller. This time it's Reed Arvin's THE LAST GOODBYE, which is supposedly this month's winner of the HypeMonster (TM) Award based on the amount of buzz 'n marketing this baby's got. She likes it but feels it could use some closer editing.

Mel Gussow interviews Anne Tyler by email, making it sound like it's somehow not a "real" interview if you use that over the phone or face-to-face. Hey, if it gets your questions answered, it's a viable format....

Jonathan Yardley champions the work of African-American writer James Baldwin, author of novels like GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN.

The Guardian picks up the Amazon reviewing "scandal" and asks some British writers whether they've engaged in the practice of anonymous "reviewing" or not.

Patrick Anderson is another convert to the Cult of Ian, calling A QUESTION OF BLOOD "the most impressive of the Rebus novels [he's] read" and that "it can certainly bear comparison with the best of today's American crime writing." Heady praise, indeed. And since Rankin will be heading out on tour very soon, don't forget to ask him what it was like to visit a crime scene in his neighborhood!

After more than 3 years in the position, Sharon Murray will vacate her post as general manager of Foyles, the largest independent bookshop in London.

Edwin Morgan has been named Scotland's first National Poet. Sadly, Morgan is suffering from terminal cancer, but he's still writing poetry.

In the Glasgow Herald, Ron Ferguson talks to Mark Salzman, who spent much time teaching prison inmates about the craft of writing, and has written a book about the experience. Meanwhile, Rosemary Goring confesses she much prefers libraries to bookshops.

What's Canada's answer to the BBC Big Read? Why, Canada Reads, of course, which stirred much heated debate last year on radio and television. It's back for a new edition this year.

Robert Birnbaum's latest author interview is with Tibor Fischer, talking about his Hungarian roots, particular features of his novels, and why he lives in England.

Peter Lovesey is interviewed by Anne Perry in the latest of Mystery Readers Journal's "At Home" series.

Barbie and Ken are splitsville. But, as Andrea King Collier asks, what about the fans? How will they cope?

And finally, Quentin Tarantino, president of the Cannes Festival jury? Could make for some interesting choices....

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Dark side of the Force is winning 

Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid major league baseball player and a prodigiously gifted shortstop, has been traded to the New York Yankees. Red Sox Fans are doing their best Charlie Brown impressions, as they had been all but assured of a deal last Christmas to unload Manny Ramirez onto the Rangers in exchange--only to see their hopes die on the vine.

What's odd is that A-Rod will switch over to third base, while Yanks captain Derek Jeter--less skilled defensively at the position--will remain at short. But then, these boys have engaged in some not-so-friendly competition a few years back, with Jeter the victor. Perhaps avoiding a fight over position was the best solution all-round....

Save the date 

As I listen to my copy of "Freakin' at the Freakers Ball" for the zillionth time, it seems appropriate to report on HarperCollins' next endeavor in repackaging Shel's children's books for a new audience. This year marks both the 30th anniversary of WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and the 40th Anniversary of THE GIVING TREE. The former was reissued last month with 12 additional poems, while the former will be relaunched in April with an extra surprise--a CD of Shel reading the now-classic tale of a boy, a tree, and how one gives and the other takes. Though Shel evidently made the recording in the mid-1980s, around the same time as his recordings of SIDEWALK and A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC, it's only seeing the light of day now due to contractual and other legal issues. I'm especially glad because perhaps his interpretation of this work will help me get over my own ambivalence.

For someone who has been a serious fan of his work for years and considers him as close to a genius as ever there was, I consider THE GIVING TREE one of his weaker works. It's a statement that Shel himself may have agreed with, especially since he said to Publisher's Weekly back in 1974 that it "wasn't one of his favorite books," in part because it "presents just one idea." But for a short book that develops a single idea, there's no question that it's touched a chord with millions of readers, each who chooses to put a particular spin on what the book's actually about. THE GIVING TREE has been especially embraced by devout Christians who compare the boy to Jesus and the tree to Mary, or something like that.

Somehow, I doubt that's what Shel had in mind at all, and I said as much in this essay I wrote about four years ago. It stemmed from hearing of a now-defrocked priest, Brennan Manning, who lectured around the country and related a story of how his supposed friendship with Shel was the impetus for the book. After doing some checking, I came to the conclusion that Manning was telling tall tales. A couple of years ago I got an email from his assistant indicating that Manning would be sending me a rebuttal letter in response, but he never followed through.

So what's THE GIVING TREE really about? I always thought a clue resided in the book's dedication, "to Nicky." According to Shel's nephew, the Chicago-based music journalist Mitch Myers, Nicky was a girlfriend of Shel's at the time of the book's creation. In light of that information, things suddenly clicked for me; the book was both apology and explanation that he couldn't be the kind of person she necessarily wanted him to be, that a relationship with him would always be limited. That theme recurred later on in some of his songs, especially my personal favorite, "I Can't Touch the Sun":

So say goodbye and don't look back, I've had some happy days with you.
Sorry I can't be the one who stays with you.
And if they ask about me, you can say I was the one with you.
Who never touched the clouds or reached the sun with you.
I can't touch the clouds or reach the sun.

The tree gives, the boy takes. And it's a story that will likely resonate with future generations of readers.

Stirring the pot 

Because I'm bored and a geek, I went to look up what "A Reader in St. Louis, MO" (aka Dave Eggers) had to say about Heidi Julavits' new book THE EFFECT OF LIVING BACKWARDS:

Readers beware: Heidi Julavits is one of the editors of The Believer, a new book review. In a recent issue, they ran an article about something called the Underground Literary Alliance, which is basically two guys who can't get their fiction published. Because they're so frustrated, they spend lots of time saying that anyone who does get published is "well-connected" or such rot. In their view, no one in the world who's been had a book out in the last couple decades deserved to. They have been known to disrupt readings, and to send threatening mail to writers. They're pretty much the crazed stalkers of the literary world. One of their tactics is to get on Amazon and make psychotic claims about every living author's unworthiness to have their books in print. Because Julavits published an unflattering article about the ULA, she's being singled out for special punishment by these sad little loonies. So please ignore the strange reviews on this page. This book lives up to all of its great reviews. It's one of the best books of the year.

Ah, aren't ad hominem attacks and defensive praise just fun to behold? I don't know that I'd go so far as Ed does in saying that Eggers is "an unethical and highly scrupulous enfant terrible" but the above rant certainly seems indicative of a thin skin. On the other hand, everybody likes a good conspiracy theory, right Dave?

UPDATE: Naturally, the ULA weighs in with their own, shall we say, rather skewed take on the NYT article.

AND ANOTHER UPDATE: No, thank you, Jennifer Weiner, for another reasoned, funny, thoughtful post.

Notes on a cold weekend night 

It's a rather slow weekend on the book front--although the front page New York Times report on the Amazon review glitch has been making plenty of waves in the Blogiverse already. And with good reason, as Amazon Canada's snafu unwittingly unmasked the petty wars that rage in the underbelly of the review pages, as authors rally their friendly troops to counter vicious attacks. Though the NYT concentrated on the literary folks we like to stick pincushions in: Eggers, Julavits, the ULA, and so forth--I think that the most vicious fights would have been located amongst more genre fiction titles. I've heard for years about all sorts of smear attacks on romance novels, and to a lesser extent, mystery fiction as well. But the former interests me because it ties into a particular truism that those who write romance engage themselves in all sorts of petty squabbles and worse. But of course, since Amazon.ca fixed the anonymous reviewing problem, I'll never get to investigate the matter further...

Now the news, ever so briefly:

Robert McCrum comments on the Joyce-bashing brouhaha and stirs the pot even further: why stop there? Why not trash other authors like Thomas Hardy, Louis de Bernieres and McCrum's favorite target, AA Milne?

Scarlett Thomas talks about the complications and the little favors involved in soliciting blurbs for her books. Tres impressive that she got Douglas Coupland on the bandwagon.

Could Martin Amis be in line for a literary prize after all? The Independent thinks it's a possibility, as YELLOW DOG is one of the shortlisted for the WH Smith Literary Award.

Also at the Independent, and linked in a bunch of the usual places, is a roundup of authors relating their earliest romantic encounters. I suspect the cheeky rhyme "Lisa Chow, you silly cow, have it off with Hari now." may stick in my head for a little while....

Hey, Chip? I have a hot tip for you: when they are ready, get yourself a galley of SJ Rozan's ABSENT FRIENDS, which will be in stores everywhere around mid-September. It may not be precisely what you're looking for, but I'm willing to bet you'll dig it nonetheless. Trust me on this.

Finally, finally, the Telegraph puts up their interview with Karin Slaughter and Susanna Yager's crime fiction roundup from the week before. Also in the Telegraph is Julie Myerson's belief that many women model their lives after fictional heroines; possibly true, but real-life ones are vastly more interesting.

From the Times Book Review: a race against time, fierce competition, vicious backstabbing....human genomes? You betcha. At the forefront of the race to complete the Human Genome Project was Craig Venter, the subject of James Shreeve's new book THE GENOME WAR, reviewed favorably by David Papineau. Also, Colin Harrison's THE HAVANA ROOM gets another good review.

At the Guardian, Jacqueline Wilson is profiled in the wake of her triumph as the most borrowed author in the UK library system; Richard Williams is impressed with a novel that retells the story of jazz artist Valaida Snow; and Julia Kristeva's mystery novel (French-only) is well-regarded.

Barbara Gowdy is Q&A'ed by the Toronto Star about her latest book, THE ROMANTIC, and why Toronto is a more ideal place for romance because of its cold climate.

Also at the Star, Harley Jane Kozak is interviewed about her debut book, DATING DEAD MEN, and what's in store for the sequel.

Six romance writers, including Candice Hern and Carol Culver, are profiled in the SF Chronicle; no, they don't get a hell of a lot of respect, but this is the genre that outsells every other. In related news, romance fiction is booming in Australia, as readers are flocking to a whole host of newly released titles.

Lord Conrad Black may be in a heap of trouble, but Susan Kastner of the Globe & Mail ponders what may be a more important question: how is this affecting Barbara Amiel and her lifestyle?

More at the G&M: Who better to analyze this "quirkyalone" business than Josey Vogels, Canada's favorite sex columnist? In the end she's rather perplexed by the whole business. Lynn Crosbie, on the other hand, wishes the word would just disappear.

At the WaPo Book World, Louise Erdrich explains how the presence of animals--especially crows--helps her writing; and Tim Page rounds up several music-related books that seem to fall into the "practitioner criticism" category that Terry discussed a few days ago.

And finally, Mark Haddon is interviewed yet again--this time by Australia's The Age, as various schools in Victoria have put THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME on the school curriculum.

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