Friday, March 05, 2004

Martha, Martha, Martha 

Guilty on all four counts.

The Stewart trial has been a source of contention in my house. You see, I am gleeful that an evil bitch got hers, while my mother is sad that Stewart's taste and style has been forgotten amidst all this trial stuff. Such is life. Maybe Martha can do a cooking show from jail....

Marketers of the Year 

Publisher's Lunch points toward a report by the Advertising Age on the 12 top entertainment marketers of 2003. Unsurprisingly, the team behind Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE, Adrienne Sparks and Suzanne Herz at Bertelsmann/Doubleday (conglomerate, imprint....it's all the same really) get one of the spots. I've long thought the success of the book was due to a particularly effective marketing campaign and obviously, it was due to be recognized at some point or another.

Others on the list include Jonathan Abrams (of Friendster fame), and Vivi Zigler (who launched QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY).

How well read are you? 

Take this quiz and find out if you can match the opening line with the right book. I only scored 6 out of 10, but the quiz is only a small portion of the fun; the best part is at the end, reading the opening lines suggested by would-be writers. My favorite:

Never begin a book with a poor first line because you will never get the publishers attention.

You better believe it, kid.

Thank Heaven for little Fridays 

Actually, I hate the song, but I do have a weird fondness for the "young" Maurice, of Love Me Tonight and The Smiling Lieutenant fame. Lubitsch and Mamoulian rock. But let's get to the news of the morning, shall we?

First, the Independent's big interview is with David Peace (I did say he was one of my favorite authors, right? Well, I'll say it again), whose new novel, GB84, deals with the Miner's Strike that devastated good portions of England in 1984/85. Evidently his portrayal of certain persons in fictionalized form made his agent and editor nervous--but he stuck to his guns nonetheless. I really do have to get a hold of this book....

Edward P. Jones has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his novel THE KNOWN WORLD, while Studs Terkel received a Lifetime Achievement Award. (story first linked by Chicha.)

Ah, the Book Babes. Now they actually respond to the petition started by The Elegant Variation (and signed by a number of notable bloggers, including yours truly) and still manage to miss the point completely. We're not against your name or your appearance; it's what you write and how little substance it really has that gets people riled up, and rightly so.

The town of Blenaevon has undergone some serious economic hardships but last year, they got the idea to turn nearly every shop into a bookshop to revive its former glory. Just in time for World Book Day, it seems, at least, to be working....

Another UK cabinet minister jumps on the memoir bandwagon, and this time, it's Clare Short, who famously disapproved of Tony Blair siding with the US entering Iraq.

Gillian Slovo is profiled in the Guardian, talking about her own life and that of her parents, who were strong anti-apartheid supporters even while living in Leningrad in the 1930s, and are the basis for her new novel, ICE ROAD.

Robert Browning's love letters to Julia Wedgewood, a pottery heiress 21 years his junior, fetched the tidy sum of 84 000 pounds. Not bad at all.

So really, the only question anyone wants to know is: Was Helen Stapinski a music groupie? USA Today doesn't exactly answer this question.

What books would have kept your children enthralled during World Book Day (and thereafter)? Georgia Byng offers up a top ten list that includes some of the usual suspects...JK Rowling....Roald Dahl....Philip Pullman....Yann Martel's LIFE OF PI? Wha..?

The Winter issue of Hardluck Stories is now up. Thomas Deja is the guest editor, picking stories by the likes of Stephen D. Rogers, Graham Powell, and Robert Tinsley that have a recurring theme: homage to the unjustly forgotten PI Shell Scott, who was once a force to be reckoned with back in the Gold Medal Paperback days.

I stumbled across the Manchester Evening News' site and have found some interesting new crime reviews, including one of Anthony McGowan's debut STAG HUNT and a lukewarm take on Massimo Carlotto's THE COLUMBIAN MULE (which, obviously, I don't agree with.)

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dug Daniel Silva's new Holocaust-themed thriller A DEATH IN VIENNA, which debuted this week at #5 on the New York Times' list.

And finally, happy birthday, Danny. Hope you're feeling better this morning.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

An adult Harry Potter? 

LONDON (AP) -- Harry Potter may be set to grow up. Writer J.K. Rowling hinted Thursday that she may not stop at seven books about the adventures of the young wizard and may write a further installment featuring the adult Harry.

In a live Web chat to mark World Book Day, Rowling - who has always insisted she'll write only seven Potter books - was asked by a fan if she intended to write books about Harry after he leaves Hogwarts, the academy for wizards.

"Probably not. But I'll never say never because every time I do I immediately break the vow," she replied.

Oh, god, the agony. And don't get me wrong, I love the books, I always will (no matter how much the last two needed serious, ridiculously serious editorial help) but let it go, Joanne. Write your Standalone Adult Novel afterwards and leave Harry to the rabid fanfic types who've already found a way to slashfic every character under the sun and turn that into academic research. It's just not worth it. Really.

To all my hardboiled buddies 

And you know who you are:

Run, do not walk, to get a copy of Massimo Carlotto's THE COLUMBIAN MULE, which is not available in the US but for cryin' out loud, it oughta be.

I'd mentioned a few days back that I'd picked up the hardcover edition during my Toronto trip, and I'd eagerly awaited some time to settle down and read it. Was I ever glad I did. You want noir? Can't get much more than this. A hapless Columbian drug-runner is arrested at the airport with cocaine in his belly, and an Italian man, Nazzareno, is arrested for orchestrating the crime even though he's innocent. But in Italy, the law's used more to settle scores than to find truth and justice. That job's left to the likes of the Alligator. All he wanted was to be a blues singer, but a stint in prison changed all that. Now he's out and has turned detective, with the help of his friends Rossini and Max the Memory. They are hired to find out who's really trafficking in Columbian cocaine and of course, get themselves waist-deep in grudges, bent cops going after other bent cops, seedy swingers clubs, vengeful traffickers, and much more.

All in about a hundred and fifty pages. There is not a wasted word here. The translation is only a wee bit stilted (I think an American English version would smooth out some of the inconsistencies) but overall, Christopher Woodall did a fabulous job in capturing Alligator's quest and the underbelly of the Italian criminal world. I want more. And luckily, there is such to be had, as THE COLUMBIAN MULE is actually the fourth in the series (five overall) and Orion is planning on releasing at least a couple more in the next year or so.

Carlotto's history is even more fascinating than his novels; born in 1956, he was a leftist radical as a young man when he came across the body of a woman, brutally murdered in his neighborhood. Instead of going to the police, he tried to save her and got his clothes covered in blood. The police didn't buy it and had him arrested for the crime. Just when it looked like his appeals would run out, Carlotto's lawyers advised him to run, and so he did, staying a fugitive all over the world until he was found in Mexico thanks to some petty betrayals. After serving five years in prison, Carlotto was pardoned in 1993 due to some international campaigning. He then turned to writing novels, all with a theme of searching for truth and justice in a brutally amoral world. He's also written a standalone, ARRIVEDERCI AMORE CIAO, the synopsis of which seems to make Jim Thompson's books seem like cozies by comparison.

Hurry up and get Carlotto's books translated, please; I am so on the bandwagon now.

An unusual path 

Everything you ever really need to know about this particular author can be summed up in the way he once acknowledged his editor:

First off, I'd like to thank John Williams for championing my books and helping me to get started. I can't speak highly enough of him. In fact I think I'd even go so far as to say that if he lost a bit of weight, grew some hair, was a few years younger, became a woman and had a few quid in the bank I'd be half-tempted to give him one (if I was really pissed.)

Suffice it to say that few writers would ever even think to write such a thing, let alone get away with it, but then, few writers are Danny King.

I'm not totally sure how I'd first heard of him, but since I gravitate towards UK crime fiction--the meaner, the better--when I heard of some guy who was writing a series of "diaries" centering around various criminal professions, I suspected that I might like them. I picked up King's first book, THE BURGLAR DIARIES, and within a few pages was laughing my head off at the antics of Bex, a burglar who is frighteningly ordinary. The chapter where he explains, in point-counterpoint style, why he doesn't give a toss that stealing is breaking a commandment, is still one of the most acerbically funny passages I've come across in the genre. While BURGLAR doesn't really have much of a plot per se, it doesn't need one; it's all about anecdotes of the criminal lifestyle, and the launch of a most unusual series.

BURGLAR was followed in short order by THE BANK ROBBER DIARIES (where I pulled the quote from) and THE HITMAN DIARIES. Though both are excellent--especially HITMAN, where poor Ian Bridges just wants to love someone but keeps killing off all the prospective candidates--I'm not quite as fond of those books as I am the first. Such is how it goes sometimes in the world of series. But I must admit to being especially excited for the next installment: THE PORNOGRAPHER DIARIES, which is due out from Serpent's Tail in July. For one thing, it'll be informed by King's own experience in the porn mag business, as he was once the editor for Mayfair, one of the top such magazines in the UK. And for another, well, porn is just very very funny.

So who is this fiendish mind that comes up with all these crazy books? Well, thank goodness King is writing, because for a while he was on a path to serious criminal offending. But he managed to shake himself out of that and start a crime novel that is still unpublished. When he finished BURGLAR, he got a slew of rejections, and even the house that eventually took it, Serpent's Tail, initially passed. But when King got in touch with Williams, who is the crime consultant for the publishing company (and an excellent author in his own right) and asked him what had happened, Williams expressed doubt that the book could be turned into a series. But with a bit of fancy-footing, King came up with another idea, and the "Diaries" series was born. And, judging by his site, it seems King has a slew of ideas to work with in the future, whether he's serious or not.

Me, I'm dead keen on THE HIGHWAYMAN DIARIES and THE PIRATE DIARIES. But I'm all for making fun of Errol Flynn-like antics, after all....

This is what happens when I wake up late 

I totally miss the buzz on the New York Daily News' "Women Who Blog" article, which features some of my very favorite people. How freakin' cool.

The World Book Day Roundup 

And let's lead off with a teeny bit more info on everybody's favorite blogger-turned-author, Belle de Jour. According to the Telegraph, her book "Diary of a London Call Girl" (yo, Tracy Quan, can you sue for title appropriation?) will be published just in time for Valentine's Day next year. So get your sweetie some flowers, champagne....and some anecdotes on the mundane life of a courtesan. Um, yeah.

A group of 40 authors, including JK Rowling, has teamed up to fight the abolishment of recommended prices on book jackets. Because if those disappear, then booksellers and chains can price the books however they like which could affect what kind of royalties the authors get per book. Is it really so important to let the supermarkets rule the day?

Walter Yetnikoff was the president of CBS Records from 1975 to 1990 (i.e., right after Clive Davis) and, it seemed, spent much of that time in a drunken and drugged stupor. He's written a memoir dishing the dirt on his life of debauchery.

Mark Sanderson's Literary Life column focuses on the growing--and somewhat disturbing--trend of celebrities and adult authors who turn their hand to children's books. Ian McEwan? Peter Ackroyd? Who'd have thunk it?

An interview with George Pelecanos is not unusual at this time, since he does have a new book out, HARD REVOLUTION (and a fine book it is.) But an interview with him in a Greek paper, Ekatherimerini, is a little more off the beaten trail. Here, he chats about his views on Iraq, whether he's coming to Greece anytime soon, and oh yeah, the books.

Which profession is tops amongst those who read for pleasure? Not MPs, not teachers, but...accountants, according to a study commissioned for WBD.

Does publishing one's writing online allow for greater exposure and nurturing talent? That seems to be the case in China, according to a number of area writers there.

The shortlist for the Authors' Club Prize for Best First Novel has been announced: some of the usual suspects (DBC Pierre, Mark Haddon, Dan Rhodes) and some not (Elizabeth Garner, William Newton, Kym Lloyd.) And a special congratulations to blog reader Babs Horton on her nomination for the award as well!

Speaking of awards, Audrey Thomas was the recipient of the $15 000 Matt Cohen Trust award for writing; but she wouldn't let herself believe it till she had the envelope in her hands.

And finally, WaPo senior Book editor Michael Dirda took questions from the peanut gallery yesterday--and based on some of the questions, we'd venture to guess that he'll be checking out our friends at the Literary Saloon on a regular basis from now on.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The Gumshoe Awards 

The nominations for Mystery Ink's Third Annual Gumshoe Awards have been announced:


Marshall Browne - Eye of the Abyss (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Lee Child - Persuader (Delacorte)
Barry Eisler - Hard Rain (Putnam)
Steve Hamilton - Blood Is the Sky (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Minotaur)
Jim Fusilli - Tribeca Blues (Putnam)


Maggie Estep - Hex (Three Rivers)
Elaine Flinn - Dealing in Murder (Avon)
Mark Haddon - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Doubleday)
P.J. Tracy - Monkeewrench (Putnam)
Louise Welsh - The Cutting Room (Canongate)

The winners, along with awards for Best Author Website and Lifetime Achievement, will be announced on April 7. Congratulations to all the nominees!

A mother's intuition 

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A fire that authorities six years ago thought killed a 10-day-old girl was a ruse to kidnap the infant, Philadelphia police said Monday.

The baby, Delimar Vera, was sleeping in the upstairs front bedroom when a fire broke out at her family's two-story row house in north Philadelphia on December 15, 1997.

And it gets even stranger: the mother managed to prove her daughter was alive when she saw the now-six year old at a birthday party and recognized her, then pretended to remove gum from the girl's hair in order to get some hair strands for DNA testing--which showed the girl was, indeed, her biological daughter.

Now granted, I don't know a hell of a lot about fire investigation, although I did cover it to some degree at grad school, but I do know that it takes a very high temperature to incinerate a human body. Crematoriums can only do their job at about 2000-3000 degrees celsius. House fires, however, almost never get that hot, so what on earth possessed the Philly police to declare the baby had been burned up in a fire? Something will invariably be left around, like teeth or bone or hair, but since that wasn't the case, well, no wonder the mother was suspicious.

Suffice it to say that this case was weird to begin with and no doubt will get weirder as it heads towards trial.

Non-Career Advice 

Daniel Green of the Reading Experience, a fairly new blog that's joined my hit parade of lit blogs, offers up some provocative commentary on whether the "book business" stunts an author's opportunity to produce his or her very best work:

The "book business" is something to avoid. What has the book business ever done for American literature (or Canadian literature, as the case may be)? Earlier incarnations of the book business (now the "industry") overlooked Hawthorne, neglected Melville, probably helped to kill E.A. Poe, sneered at Mark Twain, ran Henry James off to Europe, couldn't at first have cared less about Faulkner. Even now some of the best American writers--Gaddis, Gilbert Sorrentino, James Purdy, John Hawkes, numerous others--have been and still are cast aside by the "industry," obliged to supplement their "careers" through teaching, or advertising, or not at all and forced to just scrape by. Most of these writers thought the "book business" their enemy.

I've posted my comments over there--naturally, my opinion is quite a bit different than Daniel's--and Robert Birnbaum and Mark Sarvas have done so as well.

The Morning wrap 

March 4 is World Book Day, and there will tons of events--readings, workshops, signings--to commemorate this. John Walsh at the Independent ponders the newfound significance upon current and budding readers.

Sara Nelson offers her thoughtful commentary on the Amazon flap. I can't get over how a publishing party would de-evolve into obsessing about rankings at Publisher's Marketplace, but then, let's not underestimate the insecurity and neuroses of certain writers....

After sifting through 1500 applicants from all around the world, the longlist for the Lit Idol Competition has been announced. One of the hopefuls to make the shortlist of five is Tom Easton, a Production Manager with Hodder Children's publishing.

Edgar Allan Poe's legend will endure forevermore, but a spate of recent books, both fiction and factual, are helping in this endeavor. Nancy Pate at the Orlando Sentinel examines Poe's influence on books by the likes of Andrew Taylor, John May, and more.

There's a project going on to research the life of poet William Blake and his ancestors, and interestingly, it's turning out they are quite the wanton bunch. Is heightened sexuality linked to greater artistic pursuits? Hell if I know....

Even though Phyllis Alesia Perry's A SUNDAY IN JUNE was not "her ideal read," Audrey Niffenegger gives it a very good review nonetheless.

Looks like Alexander McCall Smith's serial novel 44 Scotland Street is catching on with readers as its home, The Scotsman, had hoped.

Can we all finally just admit that the whole J.M. Coetzee "reluctant interview" thing is a sham? For someone so publicity-shy, he's been making the rounds all over the world of late, and most recently, Australia.

Conrad Black is hot, hot, hot--at least as a subject for two upcoming books, both slated to be released this fall. Rebecca Caldwell of the Globe and Mail has the scoop on what's considered to be a "gripping example of modern mismanagement."

And finally, Karin Slaughter has posted pictures from the LIKE A CHARM launch party last month. I do have only one question for one of the contributors: Mark, could you stretch that any further?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Nannies have landed 

I swear, I could just loiter at Publisher's Marketplace 24/7 and never have to blog about anything else if I could. So without further adieu:

Nanny Diaries co-authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus's CITIZEN GIRL, originally under contract to Random House before the house rejected it, about "the employment odyssey of an ambitious woman confronting what it is to be young and female in the New Economy," to Brenda Copeland at Atria, for publication in fall 2004, in what others say is a very good deal, by Suzanne Gluck at William Morris (NA).

Truly, is anyone surprised about this? Only a few days ago, I remarked to an agent I know, after a lengthy discussion about reactions to the initial rejection by Random House, that I expected CITIZEN GIRL to be picked up somewhere. I didn't think it would be so soon, but there you have it. Of course, we'll see whether the folks at Atria can edit the book into enough shape so that the critics don't have their knives out at maximum sharpness. This could be quite interesting.

I am curious about what Marketplace means by "what others say is a very good deal." By their calculations, "very good" means somewhere in the 200-250K range; but the Random House contract had been for 3 mil, and the story went that McLaughlin/Krauss received $1 million up front, which was what was expected to be paid back. So by that count, they are still in the hole for a fair amount of cash--and it remains to be seen if they can actually pay the money back to Random House.

But at the very least, this story is far from finished. And I'd also venture to guess that the authors will emerge from hundreds of hours of media training to be kinder, gentler versions of themselves by the time the publicity machine kicks into gear--assuming, of course, there is such a thing.

How did I miss this 

Meet January Magazine's newest contributor. Nice job, Monsieur Champion.

Ian Rankin tells all 

Well, not exactly but Craig McDonald's interview is wonderfully in-depth as he gets Rankin to talk about his early career, his current success in the US, why he's not sure he wants his older books to be reprinted (there goes the pension fund!) and why he's taking his current book--200 pages done, publication date September (!)--with him on the road:

McDonald: Are you able to write on the road?

Rankin: No, I can?t. I can?t. Which is slightly unfortunate, because I?ve had to leave the new novel I?m writing just now. It?s up to page 200. I?ve had to leave it while I come and do this tour.

McDonald: Have you ever had a novel die because you?ve been away too long?

Rankin: Oh God, don?t say that! I?m touching wood, I?m touching wood!

McDonald: Sorry, I?m sorry. I?ve just heard other writers who?ve had that experience ? claiming the novel cooled on them and they couldn?t get back in.

Rankin: I?ve actually brought the manuscript with me, and I?ve brought all my notes, so I can keep reading it. I can keep it fresh in my mind. I can keep notes about where it can go next.

McDonald: You?re still in the "country of the book" then?

Rankin: I?m still in. And, before I left, I made sure I left it half-way through a chapter with big long notes about where it should go next. Because, I was afraid if I left it at the end of a chapter, you?re sittin? there with a kind of a blank slate. You don?t know where it?s going to go next.

Blogrolling, rolling, rolling 

When I saw Whitney Pastorek's piece in the Village Voice basically ripping into the blog culture this morning, I was a tad confused. Never mind that the timing of this piece just as Jennifer Howard is getting into the blogging thing (hey folks, it was her first day, she's still testing the waters. I'm betting by Friday she'll be a seasoned pro) is amusingly coincidental, but more importantly, what was Pastorek trying to say, exactly?

For one thing, if she was trying to make a point about the "drinking patterns of twentysomethings," she picked the wrong blogs to highlight. Last time I checked, The Elegant Variation was a highbrow look at the literary world, Cup of Chicha was about arts, culture, and lit as seen through the eyes of an MFA graduate student, and Old Hag is well....sui generis. If she is so "addicted to blogs" as she claims, then surely she could have come up with more appropriate examples of whatever she's complaining about?

For another, there's a touch of the grandiose about some of the conclusions Pastorek arrives at. The 'sphere is responsible for her not fighting with anyone, not going anywhere, not having anyone show up at literary events? Even if *a select few* (because really, New York City is a huge city; the number of bloggers is ridiculously small compared to this, and let's not even get into the rest of the world) do this sort of thing, well, maybe it's because some of the evenings are spent with people they care about or families or other friends--i.e. non-bloggers. Of course there are get togethers, and because of the nature of things, they talk about blogging and other related matters. But to imply that this is about the only topic of discussion is short-sighted and limiting.

Never mind that Pastorek, by writing this article, has in her own way engaged in the same behavior that she complains about, considering that the aforementioned party she speaks of having attended for "research purposes" was actually due to an invite from Maud, who works as an associate editor for Pastorek's online literary journal Pindeldyboz (full disclosure: my story ran at PBoz in January.)

But every time this subject comes up and goes round and round, I try to remember why I do this in the first place: because ultimately, I have something I want to share with people, which is knowledge and information. Everything else is an added bonus. In the five or so months I've been blogging, I've met amazing people, partaken in what I hope is a thriving, rising literary culture, and received feedback from fans to publishing types to authors and more. My life has changed all for the better since, in some very unexpected and wonderful ways. Sure, it's cool to make snappy comments at other people's playgrounds and have them do so in return, but if that all disappeared one day, it wouldn't really change a damned thing for me, because my goals for this blog remain exactly the same: to keep up with the world of publishing and focus keenly on crime fiction and whatever else piques my fancy.

Yet Another Morning Roundup 

And let's start with Ian Rankin, a favorite of this blog (although I'm woefully behind on the Rebus series--a sad case of backlist-itis at work) and currently on tour for his newest novel. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel interviews him and asks him about his place at the head of "Tartan Noir" and what he's working on now.

Laura Lippman updates her site with her take on some of the news of old but more importantly, her thoughts on the passing of "friend-in-law" Robert Colesberry, whose unexpected death at the age of 57 robs the entertainment world, and most recently, THE WIRE, of one of its important players.

Myrna Blyth, the former editor of Ladies' Home Journal, has written a book that attacks the world of women's magazines she once was at the forefront of. Not surprisingly, this is not making other folks very happy.

Chris Lehmann is awfully impressed with Lucy Ellman's DOT IN THE UNIVERSE, calling it a "wry and blisteringly compassionate novel" that more authors should be doing more of. Sure sounds like it to me....

The oldest copy of Shakespeare's HAMLET is up for auction. The expected fetching price? Oh, maybe 2 million pounds.

What o what will happen to Reed Elsevier, the largest publisher of scientific journals? They want to make money, but scientists want open-access journals where everyone gets the information for free. Now the company has to defend their practices in front of a UK parliamentary committee.

The Christian Science Monitor ponders whether Nancy Drew--newly revitalized for the 21st century--should be taught in the classroom.

Isabel Wolff, author of OUT OF THE BLUE and MAKING MINTY MALONE (and several other chick lit books) has taken up the cause of defending romance fiction. I wish her a lot of luck, considering how little respect the genre--which is much broader than people realize--gets, even while the sales such books rack up garners a hell of a lot of envy.

The Thor Kunkel controversy, and first reported in the Guardian a few weeks or so ago, is picked up by the New York Times. To recap: he's written a book about the Nazis that his German publisher has decided to withdraw, and there's a firestorm of criticism about it.

Sarah Dunant has been garnering some very nice notices for her Italian-based novel THE BIRTH OF VENUS, and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review hops on the bandwagon accordingly.

Penguin UK had a very strong year in 2003, with 840 million pounds of sales overall, mostly in part due to their line of classics and the BBC Big Read books. There's lots more about how the company is faring at this link.

This year marks the centenary of Margery Allingham, one of the earliest of the British "cozy" writers. Several events are being planned by the Allingham society to mark this occasion.

Over the weekend (but missed by me until now) Jim Fusilli's crime column in the Boston Globe featured reviews of books by Kris Nelscott, John Dunning, and Michael Dibdin.

And finally, I'm 100% evil, according to the Germitriculator. (thanks Ed!)

Monday, March 01, 2004

In the end, it was all about the money 

YAZOO CITY, Mississippi (CNN) -- A man investigators believe may have been jealous over an inheritance was charged Monday with killing his cousin, the cousin's wife and their 4-year-old son.

Earnest Lee Hargon was charged with three counts of capital murder in Yazoo County Court and was ordered held without bond.

I've been following the Hargon family case for a while, and while I'm saddened about the ultimate result for them, at the same time, I shake my head at the sheer simplicity of the motive. In the end, murder results from a fairly small number of reasons: passion, greed, revenge, anger, and occasionally, sheer baseless opportunity.

Totally unrelated to the story is that the city where the Hargons lived and died rang a bell, and I realized why: it's the name that's listed in the copyright section of Thomas Harris's novels. As it happens, Yazoo City is about 127 miles from Rich, the Mississippi town where Harris grew up. It's been five years since HANNIBAL was published, and rumors have circulated that he's got a book ready to go in the next year (we'll believe it when we see it, of course.) Perhaps, after the grandiosity that was his most recent book, his next book--should there actually be one--will explore more mundane waters.

Like a Virgin 

Oh look, another gem from Publisher's Marketplace:

Tara McCarthy's debut novel LOVE WILL TEAR US APART: My Life With Flora and Fauna Sparks, about a single, cynical 35-year-old celebrity journalist who finds herself unraveling when she's hired to write the biography of a pair of teenage Siamese twin pop stars, one of whom has just decided to record a solo album, to Lauren McKenna at Downtown Press/Pocket Books, in a nice deal, for two books, by David Dunton at Harvey Klinger (world). Film rights are represented by Shari Smiley at CAA.

While this synopsis does sound rather fun and I've quite enjoyed several offerings by Downtown Press, I cackle because what's not mentioned here is that McCarthy once created a bit of a stir some years back with her memoir "Been There, Haven't Done That," about her life as a twentysomething virgin (even though she'd done just about everything else) which Lizzie analyzed in fearless fashion some years back.

The novel, I suspect, won't give any insight into whether McCarthy's virginal state was eventually relieved.

Odds and ends 

My new favorite site: The Literary Dick, a co-production by Jonathan Ames (author of THE EXTRA MAN and general bon vivant) and Michael Wood as they attempt to solve some of the most puzzling and scandalous mysteries that ever permeated the world of literature. Currently, they seek to resolve the following query: did Gore Vidal and Jack Kerouac really get it on? The answer, it appears, is yes... (link from that Newton Girl.)

Oh. My. God. The Bouchercon 2004 official website has CONTENT. Not much, granted, but at least it's up and running. They promise more info, and it had better be soon.

I suspect this cartoon may hit home with more authors than one realizes.

Jennifer Howard, who infuriated the 'sphere for a little bit last November when she wrote about the coziness and blogrolling that goes on (and I'm freely guilty as well), has taken the reins over at Bookslut as the guest blogger. So far, she's off to a good start, though perhaps a couple of cups of coffee will get her in the posting gear by day's end. Welcome aboard, Jennifer--enjoy your week as a fellow blogger.

Roger Simon grumps about the Oscars. Not liking LoTR? Hell, I totally understand, but then I think I'm one of the few who hasn't seen any of the movies yet. Before the hobbits get me, hey, I'll get around to it--someday. BTW, Return of the King wasn't the only movie that swept a recent award: that honor also goes to Gigli, which took all six Razzies it was nominated for. Go Bennifer! Actually, go away, but they are doing just that, which is fine by me. And for pure, unfettered, nasty commentary post-Oscars, there's really no better place than this.

And finally, Ron takes a look at the jacket flap of Brad Meltzer's latest book and gets pissed off that it seems to have no relationship to what actually happens in the book. So what happened? He speculates that it could be one of two things: that the manuscript was substantially revised prior to publication (and after the copy was written) or that the jacket copywriter just fell asleep while writing it. I can see it being a bit of both, because copy flap is what is sent to the behind-the-scenes folks (sales reps, distributors, publicity managers, booksellers, catalog writers, and so on) so they can decide to sell or buy the book. So it's entirely possible that the copy flap remained the same, based on an early draft or even an early proposal, though the final draft was substantially different. For example, the manuscript may have changed if people at the pub house didn't like how things progressed and thought it "didn't work," and so a change was necessary. There are lots of reasons for such a goof-up but of course, it doesn't change that it's still a bit of an embarassment.

But then, changes right up until publication or deadline time aren't a new phenomenon. In fact, it seems that Robert Crais is doing just that with his upcoming Elvis Cole novel, THE FORGOTTEN MAN. Originally slated for publication in February, it was pushed back till late July, and word comes in that he's still "furiously working on it" and that he may miss the LA Times Book Festival because of this. I'm starting to worry a bit because his last book, THE LAST DETECTIVE, seemed rather patchwork. I liked it--a lot--but somehow the parts were greater than the sum. So I hope the same doesn't apply for this new book.

The perils of publishing, part XIII 

As Maud pointed out, Robert McCrum is, indeed, on a roll, as he goes on about the plight of a twentysomething novelist whose first book was hyped to the nth and then suffered block in writing her second. Nothing terribly surprising, alas, and so I'm more interested in McCrum's closing comments in his column:

Apart from the justly renowned big guns, there are two kinds of writer at work in the English-speaking world today. First, there is the 'writer', who enjoys wide media coverage and is an expert manipulator of soundbite culture. The 'writer' has virtually no readership and keeps him or herself in play by the constant massaging of the literary media. Then there is that almost-forgotten figure: the writer, who stays at home, keeps regular hours, does the work, accumulates a readership and is virtually invisible.

As the Croatian critic Dubravka Ugresic has observed in her important collection of essays, Thank You For Not Reading (Dalkey Archive Press), the former is usually 'a second-rate talent' whose sole ambition is to become 'an unavoidable literary reference'.

The latter is the author of a book you and I might actually want to read.

With all due respect to McCrum, I have to wonder what exactly he thinks he's describing. Yes, there are authors that fit his mythical second bill, but more and more, publishers are demanding that their authors stump for fans, sales reps, booksellers and more in order to keep themselves in play and keep their books in some kind of public consciousness. But then, he's also talking about literary fiction and my slant is genre fiction, where perhaps the rules are very different in terms of writer visibility and necessary promotion.

Is there such thing as too much? Absolutely. In fact, some believe that all this publicity madness is just that--madness. A literary agent recently said to me that she feels publicity, in the end, doesn't sell books--they live and die by the writing. I admit to having taken that statement with some skepticism in light of just how successful juggernaut books like THE DA VINCI CODE or, to a lesser scale, Joseph Finder's PARANOIA have done list-wise and sales-wise. But as someone who has long decried the trend towards a book a year, there's a point where authors simply have to learn to say "no" to increasing demands on their time. Because in the end, the reason for all those bells and whistles--at least we hope--is the book he or she wrote in the first place.

But writer invisibility? Not in this world. People want to know a little something about the people whose book they read. Sure, one still can get away with a minimum of exposure and still sell, at least initially. Audrey Niffenegger's THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE got all its buzz after release, not so much beforehand, and only then did she get interviewed to death and tour all over the place. But having mentioned that, a massively long tour has never seemed to me the way to go. Do we really want exhausted writers going to stop after stop delivering the same spiel over and over? Sure, the fans only hear it once, but it's no longer fresh in the writer's mind to say the same thing repeatedly. Never mind how disheartened they can be when only 2 people show up at a signing.

So once again, a happy medium seems to be the proper solution. Because ultimately, what lasts is not that a writer was a media darling or visited every bookstore known to man and entertained all the sales reps--it's the quality of the writing. And while it's obviously important, and even necessary, to promote a book accordingly, all those unjustified HypeMonsters I keep referring to will fade into the ether, and the good stuff will rise to the top.

Politics and Poker 

SJ Rozan was at Left Coast Crime and offers an inside look into a shadowy, somewhat mysterious, always coveted part of mystery convention life: the late-night poker game:

A word must be spoken about the convention poker games. Those of us without regular games at home treasure these once-or-twice a year late-night games and wouldn't give them up, even though they ruin us for any bright-and-sparkling stuff the next morning, and even though, miraculously, everyone seems to lose more often, and bigger, than they win. How can this be, you ask? I dunno, but there you have it.

Since I don't play, I've never taken part in any of these games, which are deadly serious or lighthearted depending on the year's players. Besides, I suspect that even if I go looking for the BCon one, I won't be able to find it--that's why it's so shadowy....

Monday morning offerings 

Not surprisingly, I'm still trying to catch up from my vacation so this update will be mostly crime fiction and less "current news," if you will. Having said that, here we go:

If you had to pick the most powerful literary agent in the UK right now, chances are very good that Ed Victor's name would cross the lips of the majority who answer (if only because they don't want to say Andrew Wylie's.) He represents Frederick Forsyth, Jack Higgins, and many other heavy hitters--so what makes him so feared and charmed? The Guardian attempts to solve this conundrum. They also make a point about agent-getting: unsolicited submissions are just not a happening thing. So how do you get your foot in the door? Same way as for any other job: contacts, contacts, contacts.

Sean Hughes, who decided after only 25 people showed up for a signing, to invite everyone next door to the pub. Uh, this is a shocker? Then how did I end up drinking with so many crime writers after signings?

What's really cool is that I don't have to make fun of Janet Maslin's newest review because Ron does it so much better. So let's wait till he gets around to the latest edition of "Maslin Watch," shall we?

What happens when a drug-dealing thug steals the identity of a young graduate student on his way to start an MFA in poetry in a sleepy town in Oklahoma? Where, in the same town, a hapless poetry prof wakes up to a dead girl in his bed? Not surprisingly, total chaos and lots of laughs, which is just what Victor Gischler's THE PISTOL POETS has in spades. I loved it, and Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post liked it very much as well.

And another rave review for Scott Phillips' COTTONWOOD is in, this time from Gary Dretzka of the Chicago Sun-Times. Although there were a couple of baseball analogies too many for me, but if it's to make the point that this is a fine novel, well, so be it then.

David Peace is, frankly, one of my favorite writers going. His Red Riding Quartet, which focuses on Yorkshire life before and after the Ripper Murders, is gritty, bleak, but heartbreakingly beautiful stuff (and no easy read by any chance.) Now he's turned to the Miner's Strike of 20 years back with his new work GB84, which is getting some mixed notices already. Euan Ferguson of the Observer thought it worthy but flawed, but John Burnside of the Scotsman was less enthusiastic. Me, I'm eagerly awaiting my copy, which has yet to arrive on my doorstep...

At the Observer, Peter Guttridge rounds up the newest crime dishes, including the new Dalziel and Pascoe by Reg Hill. But others are not so new--I mean, do we really need another take on Jilliane Hoffman's RETRIBUTION? Blah, better use of space to have put something else. Though it was heartening that two of Orion's New Blood books, Richard Burke's FROZEN and John Connor's PHOENIX, got nice notices. (FROZEN was a welcome surprise to me, and I'm looking forward to reading Connor's book, though I chose Massimo Carlotto's THE COLUMBIAN MULE when I was at Sleuth of Baker Street the other day.)

Leslie Silbert's THE INTELLIGENCER is one debut that's garnering much pre-publication buzz, most likely due to the following things: the author is a youngish Renaissance scholar-turned PI, who's writing about a similar character investigating a manuscript which may have links to 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe. Is it good? I asked Marian Masters at Sleuth about it and she loved it, and we have some similar tastes, and I'd planned on reading it anyway. So it's good to see that Suzanne Ferris has given the debut a fine review, albeit with a caveat about a "forced and disappointing" ending. First novel blues, perhaps.

Craig MacDonald profiles the life and work of Cornel Woolrich, a noir writer who is far less known than the likes of Hammett/Chandler/Cain/etc but ought to be. It's the 100th anniversary of his birth and to commemorate this, Carroll & Graf has released a compendium of Woolrich's unpublished fiction, NIGHT AND FEAR.

Fans of John Dunning's "Bookman" series will rejoice: after a nine year hiatus, Dunning is bringing back Cliff Janeway, his ex-cop-turned-antiquarian bookshop dealer hero and the star of BOOKED TO DIE and THE BOOKMAN'S WAKE, for a third installment. Robin Vidimos of the Denver Post loves it, and is thrilled that a fourth Janeway will be in the bookshops sooner than we hoped--the manuscript is finished and in with the publisher.

Also at the Post is a most flattering review of Reed Arvin's HypeMonster (TM) in training, THE LAST GOODBYE.

Mark Sarvas made me aware of an article in the Nation about the pleasures of foreign crime fiction, looking at authors like Andrea Camilleri, Jean-Patrick Manchette, and Jose Latour. Good authors all, but there's plenty more where those came from, just in Italy alone (Massimo Carlotto, Carlo Lucarelli, and anyone I forgot, I'm sure Jacopo can chime in at this point.)

Ed had linked to an article over the weekend about John Lescroart complaining that in spite of his NYT Bestseller status, he just gets no damn respect. Although he jokes that his name hinders his possible recognition, he's making a point; it's bloody hard to pronouce (because it's the French way, so less-SKWAH) and thus hard for people to say properly. Why didn't his publisher insist on a name change back in the day? Hard to say, and so, it's stuck, but he still sells anyway. And really, is that so much to complain about? If he wants respect, change his name, write something completely different and see what happens. But it might not be pretty. (or, as Ed had put it: "dude, shut up. You've sold ten million books.")

Scottish crime fiction is at an all-time high, but somewhat lost in the shuffle amongst the Rankins and the McDermid's is Quintin Jardine, who's been writing a police procedural series starring DI Skinner for several years now. Scotland on Sunday profiles him to give the author some additional and welcome exposure.

Raincoast Books, the Canadian publisher who makes all its money as the distributor of the Harry Potter books, is opening a small office in Toronto because Vancouver is simply "too far away" from all the action.

Where has chick lit taken off the most? Why, Ireland, it seems, what with the success of the likes of Marian Keyes, Cathy Kelly and now, Cecelia Ahern.

Rosemary Goring celebrates that Canadian fiction is diverse, appealing, and finally "coming in from the cold." Of course, that she's only noticing it now is another matter.

And finally, the Oscars? Oh yeah. I tuned out after Renee Zellweger won for supporting actress and Harvey Weinstein had that creepy look on his face that I haven't seen since Gwyneth won for best actress five years ago. Good lord, I don't even want to contemplate what the hell I thought I just thought. Oh yeah, and I gather I didn't miss much by falling asleep early....

Sunday, February 29, 2004

A return to the stomping grounds 

Briefly checking in before I engage in my annual mockery of the fashion-wearing vapid actors and actresses at the Oscars, which will no doubt be boring and tedious but, what the hell, I watch 'em anyway. Thanks to all who sent in kind wishes about the job hunt. It is both more promising and more frustrating than it was a few days ago. Toronto, however, was absolutely lovely. I guess the good weather people are experiencing all across the East Coast and beyond has spread upwards to Canadian cities and at just about 50 degrees F, it was practically balmy.

The travel book log was somewhat low, although I did get two books finished on the bus ride in: Sylvia Maultash Warsh's Edgar nominated PBO FIND ME AGAIN, which starts slowly but evolves into a wonderful Toronto-set mystery that alternates between 1979 and the 1750s; some very nice writing and a whiff of alternate history as well. I'd have no qualms if this took the Edgar Prize, though I'd have to compare it to the rest of the nominees. Daniel Mason's THE PIANO TUNER is meant for a book club later this month that my friends and I are about to start, but I'd picked the book in the first place and was delighted to find it a ripping adventure set in 1880s Burma. Great escapism for travel. Also finished during my trip: Chet Raymo's THE DORK OF CORK (bad title, wonderful novel with great heart and sly humor) and Kevin Wignall's AMONG THE DEAD, which may have a similar premise to I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER but has some wonderfully nuanced prose and a look at the disintegration of what were once close college friendships. I wasn't quite as enamored with it as his first book, PEOPLE DIE, but it is a matter of taste after all.

Look for the blog to be back to its usual prolific state starting tomorrow morning, with some commentary on Robert McCrum's latest "World of Books" column in the works as well.

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