Friday, April 09, 2004

All About Sandy 

Because I'm a lazy git who didn't feel like anteing up the cash to pay for it, I haven't been tuning into Alexander McCall Smith's "daily novel" 44 SCOTLAND STREET that's been running in weekday installments at the Scotsman. But for those, like me, who were probably waiting for the serialized novel to be published in book form, here's the news you're waiting for: Polygon, McCall Smith's longstanding Scottish publisher, will bring out the book next year, while Random House (likely the Pantheon imprint that does the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books as well) will publish it soon afterwards.

With 44 SCOTLAND STREET to finish its run in June, McCall Smith is working about 20 chapters ahead of what readers see, and he reveals that a "disastrous emotional development" will be in store, leaving some folks "distraught." As well, there'll be quite the surprise:

Readers could also be surprised, in forthcoming episodes, to recognise some very real people making their way into McCall Smith’s fiction. Already, there has been mention of a number of senior Conservatives, but the first actually to appear in the series will be a leading figure from the other end of the political spectrum.

Ian Rankin, McCall Smith’s next-door-but-one neighbour in Merchiston, has also agreed to appear in the series. McCall Smith said: "The only thing I can reveal is that there will be a mystery which even he will fail to solve."

No word on whether fellow Merchiston resident J.K. Rowling will make a special appearance in the serial. And as for Rankin, hmm, will he be stumbling upon more crime scenes in this fictional world McCall Smith has created? Stay tuned--or wait for the final book version next year.....

A Recovering Fanfic writer speaks out 

Partly because I egged him on, and no doubt in small part due to Lee Goldberg's stylish entry into the blogosphere, Jim Winter delivers with his own tales of writing fan fiction and what, finally, prompted him to leave the whole thing behind. He brings up the major point I always stress whenever the subject comes up in conversations I have with various folks: why spend your time doing this stuff for free when you can channel your energies into creative work that actually belongs to you, that you can get paid for? And so, why do it in the first place?

Most people who do write fanfic are getting their feet wet. I know when I initially did it, I had no idea what I wanted to write. My exposure to PI fiction at the time was limited to Parker, Loren Estleman, and Sue Grafton. I expected two, maybe three years tops. After a while, though, I started getting the ego stroke. "Hey, J, cool story!" I also got immediate feedback. People I learned to trust were giving me honest crit, so one could say I was honing my talent. I'd like to tell myself I was getting better (I was), and that's why I stayed. That was a lie. I could also get better writing original material for writing credit and for pay just the same. I wanted the ego stroke. And getting one in fanfic is easy because even the worst writers can build a following. (Hopefully, I'm not one of those.)

There are also no rules. I could plunder characters from anywhere at will, quote song lyrics with impunity, and thumb my nose at the networks by writing things many execs won't touch. No word counts to manage, no formats, and - this is a double-edged sword - no editing. So I stayed and built my little Trek series that never was. And you know what?

It occured to me that I'd been wasting my time starting with my third year of writing this stuff. I put off writing Nick Kepler and all the other things I'd had filed away somewhere gathering dust. You know, stuff that gets reviewed, gets you legitimate writing credits, respect...


Luckily, Jim's figured it out and his first novel--a damn good one, I might add--will be out this November. But it amazes me just how much fanfic there is out there, in all permutations and combinations. And I'm not even talking slashfic here. Fortunately, my own experiences with fan fiction withered on the vine early enough. Way back in 1999, I think, when Angel was in its first season, I decided to give the whole fanfic thing a whirl. I conceived of a story that began with Angel finding the unconscious form of an Indian girl in princess-y garb, lying on a darkened street in LA. Cue flashbacks to late 19th century India in the aftermath of the Opium war. Throw in a Scottish vampire, a marriage of convenience, and I realized that in order for this story to work, I'd have to do a tremendous amount of research. For fanfic? Please. So I let it go, mercifully.

Because sure, it's easy to use all the reasons fanfic writers cite--honing skills, trying other people's voices--but in the end, it's all about playing it safe with other people's property. Original characters, your own voice--THAT is what's difficult. And that's what's most interesting.

Yes indeed, an actual morning roundup of links 

Martin Sixsmith was forced out of the Labor government after a series of scandals. Now he's written a novel, and the Guardian isn't impressed. To say the least. Looks like he's giving Iain Duncan Smith a run for his money in terms of the bad political thriller sweepstakes....

Is Belle de Jour real or a hoax? Who cares? Jim McLellan points out that whatever the case, Belle might just be at the forefront of a still-emerging movement of blog fiction, although honestly, based on his examples, I'd say the idea is still in the prototype stage, Pamela Ribon and Raisin Rodriguez notwithstanding.

Some of the best Saudi writers are banned in their home country for writing books that are "dangerous and destructive." But as the Christian Science Monitor finds out, such books are still available at home--and selling reasonably well.

There's no question, especially after the Nibbies, that Richard & Judy are a force to be reckoned with in British publishing. The Telegraph meets them and discovers why they are so passionate about books--and why readers are listening to them.

Speaking of the Nibbies, the Scotsman presents its own take on the British Book Award winners, focusing especially on Alexander McCall Smith's win for author of the year.

Adriana Trigiani is the subject of the Independent's weekly author interview, where she talks about why her books--especially her latest, LUCIA, LUCIA--are such successes.

Boyd Tonkin hopes that the "PS" section at the back of HarperPerennial's new paperback reprint line will be a jumping off point for more literary goodies like author interviews, making readers keep their books--and booksellers selling them--just a little bit longer.

ITV, after airing four episodes, has decided not to make any new installments in the Rebus series. One hopes that if the show is resurrected, John Hannah won't be a part of it, but who knows?

The Seattle Times offers a weird review of an even weirder book, by all accounts. A history of African-Americans as told by Strom Thurmond to the authors, in novel form? Fiction, yes, but strange, oh definitely.....

Phillip Margolin gets the sappy contrived treatment
by the Sacramento Bee in honor of his newest NYT-bestselling thriller SLEEPING BEAUTY. I mean, opening with the food he's just eaten? Oy, gevalt.

Newsday really digs Michael Andre Bernstein's sprawling new historical epic CONSPIRATORS, set in the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire. For some reason this book (the Canadian edition, which appears to be the true first) is stocked in the mystery section, but whatever the case, this is a book I want to read. Perfect for a long train or plane ride...

David Montgomery's latest review appears in January Magazine this time--a full length discourse on Gayle Lynds' new thriller THE COIL.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer offers up a short, but positive, review of Ridley Pearson's new Lou Boldt novel, THE BODY OF DAVID HAYES.

And finally, Bookmunch approves of Chris Niles' VANISHED, although not to the same extent that I did when I reviewed the book some time ago. Still, if there's any book that ought to be read by a few folks I know, this is it.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Another mystery writer joins the blogger fray 

Roger spreads the word about a new blog started up by Lee Goldberg, man of many hats--mystery writer, creator of DIAGNOSIS MURDER, and brother of fellow writer Tod, who's been known to read this blog on occasion. Pay special attention to Lee's post about dealing with fan fiction writers, who send vitriolic email after vitriolic email for daring to mess with the characters they love (and proceed to mess up in their own fanfic):

Can you imagine Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Nevada Barr, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich or anybody else with a mystery book series getting mail like this (not that I’m putting myself in their league, of course)?
No one questions a novelist’s ownership of his or her characters, to do with them as he or she pleases. Yes, we might wish that Spenser finally got rid of Susan, but we’d never presume to demand that Robert Parker do it, or take issue with him personally over what he was doing with “our” characters. Not that readers don’t have influence over the choices an author makes (take Sherlock Holmes’ premature death and forced resurrection, for example). But fans of books, even the most passionate, seem to recognize the line between reality and fiction, between their loyalty to the books and the author’s creative right to do as he or she pleases with the characters.
Not so with TV. And, it seems, not so with books based on TV shows.

Indeed. And I can think of at least one person who'll no doubt have some comments to add.

Copy, Tea, or Me 

Another gem from the Marketplace:

Random House editorial assistants Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt's first novel EMILY EVER AFTER, about a young woman who works as an editorial assistant for the largest publishing company in the world, and her efforts to find career satisfaction and a fulfilling relationship, even as her faith and values are tested by the temptations of life in NYC, to Trace Murphy at Doubleday to be published in conjunction with WaterBrook Press, by Claudia Cross at Sterling Lord Literistic (NA)

And you just know that a thousand other young, perky editorial assistant clones not-so-secretly slaving away at their novels are probably submerged in their own jealousy right now.

What's interesting about this deal is the simultaneous publication: Doubleday will do the "normal" edition but WaterBrook Press is Random House's division devoted to Christian and inspirational books. So Dayton and Vanderbilt will appeal to both the chick lit crowd and the spiritually enlightened folks who believe that New York City truly is a cesspool of all that is evil and tempting. (ed. well, aren't they right? Hey, shut up and pass me another vodka tonic.)

Crime Time is updated, finally 

After several months of their home page looking wonky, Crime Time has fixed it and has new stuff, to boot. Debi Alper talks about the genesis of her debut crime novel, NIRVANA BITES (which looks suitably psychotic for my tastes) , Mike Ashley looks at MANHUNT, a long-forgotten pulp magazine, and books by Dan Fesperman, David Lawrence, Ted Sherlock and John Biguenet are reviewed.

More author interviews 

Craig McDonald, the crime fiction world's answer to Robert Birnbaum, has alerted me to some updates to his Modesty Arbor site: a short interview with Laurie Lynn Drummond, author of ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU, and quite a lengthy piece on Ridley Pearson, whose new Lou Boldt novel THE BODY OF DAVID HAYES is getting some nice notices. The Pearson interview is especially insightful into his career, how he was a "silent contributor" to the Washington Sniper case, and his next project: a collaboration with Dave Barry on a prequel to....Peter Pan. It'll be out in September and Borders is already hyping the book up.

The Nibbies 

Last night the National Book Awards, better known as the Nibbies, were awarded in London. Lynne Truss's EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES took home Book of the Year, beating out David Beckham's biography MY SIDE, which was gifted with a special award for being the fastest selling book in Britain of all-time (yikes.) Mark Haddon did exceptionally well, scoring the children's and literary fiction prizes, while Alexander McCall Smith took home Author of the Year honors. As well, Monica Ali was deemed the Newcomer of the Year. And as for the Richard & Judy Prize? That went to Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, and will be presented on a special Richard & Judy Show tomorrow.

Kinja: Everything Old is New Again 

If you’re paying some scant attention to developments in the Blogiverse, then you’re aware that last week, the latest addition to Nick Denton’s Empire was launched. Kinja purports to be the “blog of blogs,” rounding up the most noteworthy blogs in a variety of categories, like music, politics (conservative & liberal), movies, and books. (Full disclosure: for whatever reason, this blog has been “Kinja-approved” and is listed in the Books category.) As well, any user can sign up for free and create his or her own list of blogs that Kinja monitors. So instead of clicking through link after link to see if your favorite site has been updated, Kinja does the work for you. A nice system, right? A novel one, even?

Um, not exactly.

During the heady days of the dotcom boom or bust, back when websites were simply websites and blogs were solely the domain of teenage girls spilling their guts about all the minisculia that filled up their lives, a bunch of folks came up with an interesting idea: why not take the ideas and people that were responsible for some of the liveliest, content-heavy dotcoms and aggregate them all together? As such sites were in a variety of categories—tech, music, culture, to name a few—the proprietors of such sites were responsible for trolling the web and searching out content that related to their original sites—or, when things got lazy, they just linked back to their own.

And so, in early 2001, Plastic.com was born. The project was infused with millions of dollars in venture capital funding; sites like Suck (now known as the place that launched Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette fame), Feed, Inside.com, Spin, News Republic, and Netslaves—all defunct (or virtually so, as in the case of Suck) were asked to be involved, and so they were. Here’s what Steve Baldwin, one of Netslaves’ co-founders, had to say about his time at Plastic:

The Plastic.com site was launched in early 2001 with high hopes that it would soon become "The Slashdot of Culture". Its revenue model was advertiser-based, which was unfortunate, because advertisers were fleeing from Internet ventures at that time. Despite gaining rave reviews from The New York Times, a sizeable number of participants willing to post topical links and engage in online discussions, the site's traffic never reached the critical mass required to either pay external content partners (I worked full-time on the project for several months and never received a penny), or to begin paying for all the bandwidth it was using up.

Automatic-Media limped along until June 2001, when its $4 million of VC-supplied capital ran out. Carl Steadman, one of the founders of Plastic, took the Plastic.com site over and began paying for it out of his own pocket, and it remains today as a place for users to post links, rate stories, and conduct quasi-Socratic debates on issues of the day.

Baldwin points out, and rightly so, that Plastic was sort of a “pre-blog.” And although it still exists, it’s a shadow of the former self it desperately tried to be. But when you promise your contributors that the money that’s allegedly coming will show up in your pocket, and it doesn’t, people get kind of upset about it. Never mind that by mid-2001, the dotcom boom had decidedly turned sour, and people were, and still are, extremely wary about investing in Internet companies.

So why am I bringing up the plight of Plastic? A few reasons: a history lesson, to show that this concept has been tried before, without success, and the fact that Nick Denton isn’t—yet—making an attempt to pay the people that collect the blogs together into handy digests (even though he’s hired on people like Meg Hourihan, one of the founders of Blogger), makes me wonder if history will eventually repeat itself. Also, I’m forever amused by any and all attempts of the blogosphere to “go professional.” Much as harpies like Jason Calacanis think that there’s money to be made in blogs, let’s get something straight—whatever money can be made is minimal. Are people really going to invest in the Internet like they once did? Only on a limited basis, with the prospect of near-guaranteed returns.

And somehow, I just don’t think Kinja meets the above criteria. But it’ll be interesting to watch it, and Nick Denton, try.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Jonathan Carroll interview 

Jessa points to an interview of Jonathan Carroll, one of my all-time favorite authors (see previous gushing, second item down). Like the interviewer says, there's no one quite writing like Carroll, who manages to straddle the divide between genre and mainstream, speculation and reality. What I love about his books, as I've said before, is the sense of absolute wonder he creates with his stories. Though his last novel, WHITE APPLES, caused much polarization amongst those who read it, I was in the "love it" camp because for whatever reason, I dove in and believed wholeheartedly in the concepts of love, death and the universe that Carroll was trying to convey. And I'm excited about the upcoming sequel, GLASS SOUP, which will revisit the lovers' story. In a time of cynicism and snark and irony, sometimes it's just great to leave it all behind and succumb to the magic and wonder of Jonathan Carroll's novels.

You know, it really wasn't meant to be taken literally 

SHERMAN, Texas (AP) -- A jailed man accused of killing and cutting out the hearts of his son, estranged wife and her daughter plucked out his own eye and then quoted from the Bible, officials said Tuesday.

Andre L. Thomas was in a county jail cell Friday night when he tore his eye out of its socket with his hands, said Grayson County Sheriff Keith Gary.

Thomas, 21, then quoted the verse Mark 9:47: "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell."

Maybe he should have stuck to plucking his tooth out and trying to exchange it with someone else's. Yikes.

The Gumshoe Awards 

Mystery Ink announces the winners of its 3rd annual Gumshoe Awards for excellence in crime fiction:

Best Novel: Steve Hamilton, BLOOD IS THE SKY

Best First Novel: P.J. Tracy, MONKEEWRENCH

Lifetime Achievement: Ruth Rendell

Best Crime Fiction Website: well...that would be me.

Here's what they said:

Sarah Weinman's blog, updated almost every day, is both an invaluable resource about the crime fiction world and an extraordinary labor of love. It is required reading for everyone interested in the mystery scene.

What a lovely surprise to wake up to (very late) this morning, and I'm rather pleased about it. And congratulations to Steve, Patricia & Traci, and Madame Rendell as well!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

I think "Do not try this at home" is beyond apparent 

LONDON (Reuters) - A pregnant woman in Mexico gave birth to a healthy baby boy after performing a caesarean section on herself with a kitchen knife, doctors said on Tuesday.

It is thought to be the first known case of a self-inflicted caesarean in which both the mother and baby survived.

The unidentified 40-year-old, who lived in a rural area without electricity, running water or sanitation that was an eight-hour drive from the nearest hospital, performed the operation when she could not deliver the baby naturally.

Wow. That's intestinal fortitude, almost literally.

(Thanks, Jen--I think.)

Bond, Junior Bond 

PEPPERMINT cordial, shaken not stirred. The adventures of James Bond, aged 13, are to be revealed in two new books by comedian Charlie Higson.

The co-creator of the BBC’s Fast Show, who is also a writer of adult thrillers and screenplays, has been signed up to write two prequels set during the celebrated spy’s time as a pupil at Eton.

And, following the successes of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter tales - which saw applications to boarding school rise - and Anthony Horowitz’s four Alex Rider boy spy books, which have sold in excess of 1.1 million copies, Higson appears set to score a major publishing hit when the first episode comes out in March next year.

Eton? Ya think? I always thought he was a Harrow kind of boy...

Monday, April 05, 2004

Crais Novel Delayed Yet Again 

I'd hoped to run this story with some actual statements from the author, his editor and his agent, but none were available for comment at this time. If such comments come in later on, I'll post them here.

But it looks like the rumor that made the rounds over the weekend is true: after an original publication delay that set the book back from this past February to July 20, Robert Crais' THE FORGOTTEN MAN, the newest and much-anticipated installment in his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series, has been postponed yet again, this time to February 2005.

And although most fans' reaction to the news has been more along the lines of sadness and disappointment, I'd much rather know why. And wonder a whole host of things, from the simple question of "why again?" to what, if any, impact this delay will have on sales of the book, and Crais' career.

Crais began the series way back in 1988 with a paperback original called THE MONKEY'S RAINCOAT. The book, and rightly so, was seen as a fresh, 80s-updated reimagining of the private eye novel. Heavy nods to Chandler, Hamett and perhaps especially, Robert B. Parker, but with enough wit and humor that it won many awards, was critically acclaimed and launched what appeared to be a healthy genre career. Six more novels expanded Elvis Cole's character somewhat, but the books were decidedly "mystery genre." Crais moved from Bantam to Hyperion, but it was his switch over to Doubleday that really signified great things for him. He'd written the 8th Cole novel, THE DEVIL'S CANTINA, for Hyperion, but when Doubleday, in the form of Shawn Coyne, offered Crais more money to join up, CANTINA was expanded, substantially rewritten, and ended up published as L.A. REQUIEM in the summer of 1999. The response was phenomenal. Critics and fans--for the most part--eagerly accepted a more expansive, reflective Elvis Cole, working on a bigger canvas. He wasn't the same character by the end of the book, and the quality of the prose had improved quite a lot.

When Crais announced he would be working on a standalone next, the idea wasn't that much of a shock. Cole was in a precarious position, and it seemed a good idea to let him alone, work on a different character--Carol Starkey, who starred in 2000's DEMOLITION ANGEL. Though LAR had sold very well, ANGEL far outdid the series novel in sales, though there were occasional grumbles about "abandoning" the series. But the gripes really didn't start until 2001's HOSTAGE, although reactions were split--some thought it an extremely enjoyable, fast-paced thriller, while others called it derivative. (Full disclosure: I was in the former camp anyway, even before I learned my name was used as a character in the book. And to this day, I still don't know why.) And when he announced his next book would be a return to the Elvis and Joe and the series, fans rejoiced.

But then, THE LAST DETECTIVE was delayed six months. But hey, these things happen. If the author needs more time, people can wait. However, what people may not have realized at the time was that in between the publication of HOSTAGE and TLD, Crais' editor, Shawn Coyne, had left to start his own publishing company, Rugged Land. So the person who had been so instrumental in bringing Crais over to Doubleday was gone, and in his place was Jason Kaufman, who no doubt had some ideas of his own about the direction of the series.

TLD was published in early 2003, around the time that Random House was going mental with the firing of Ann Godoff and Gina Centrello taking over a merged Random House/Ballantine. And this new Elvis & Joe book was, well....different. More focused on suspense. Faster-paced, more cinematic. And although the reviews were good, people murmured that it wasn't as good as LAR. That the book seemed "over-edited." Crais had, evidently, tossed out a good 80 pages of backstory involving how Cole and Pike first met, which had originally been promised but was no longer in the final draft. There were great moments--especially involving Cole as a young boy--but somehow, the parts were greater than the sum.

But the book did well. And fans looked forward to another Cole/Pike novel the next year. But obviously, we were wrong. Because according to sources, the book isn't even finished yet. Another deadline missed. So what's going on?

I suppose it could be a number of things: other commitments, problems in translating ideas into the written word, editorial conflicts or personal matters. Whatever it is, I guess it would be nice to know, but I'd also like to know why a deadline couldn't be met, especially with the previous history. Is it even reasonable to expect the book to be ready for a February release date?

And I wonder how this news trickles down. Delay six months, and the sales reps have to tell booksellers, who have to change their plans. The story goes that the news leaked out because a California-area bookstore called up a Random House rep to ask about booksignings, only to find out that there wouldn't be any--not for another six months, at least. Delay it, and suddenly those trade publications may not pay as much attention to the book like they would have before. Delay it, and fans simply won't be around to care when the book's out. They can be a fickle sort, after all.

Ultimately, I guess I want to know why. And what's going on in the publishing culture that's messing with a writer's head that he can't deliver the book he's capable of in a timely fashion.

UPDATE: As Dave pointed out in the comments, the latest edition of Crais's newsletter has gone out with the following information:

Some of you may have already heard that RC's next Elvis Cole novel, THE FORGOTTEN MAN, which was originally scheduled for release this August, has been delayed until February 2005.

As RC was finishing THE FORGOTTEN MAN (along with doing triple-duty on his film, HOSTAGE, and keeping tabs on the development of WANTED, the Warner Brothers/CBS series based on his original script, DECOY), his mother was hospitalized with double-pneumonia and emphysema.

RC immediately stopped all work and flew to Louisiana. Thankfully, his mother is now recovering, but her recovery is slow. RC has remained with her to oversee her hospitalization, and her recovery is now the sole focus of his attention.

THE FORGOTTEN MAN has been delayed until he can once more give it his full and complete attention. He apologizes for not personally answering the questions and good wishes that so many of you have sent, but he wanted me to thank you all for the kind words we've received, and make this announcement to explain THE FORGOTTEN MAN'S delay.

Well, what can you say except that we wish Crais's mother a speedy and full recovery. Some things are, indeed, more important than finishing a book in a timely fashion.

Pre-Seder tidbits 

As reported around the 'sphere, the Pulitzer Prize winners have been announced, and Edward P. Jones' THE KNOWN WORLD is the winner for fiction. When was the last time a book took the honors for this and the National Book Critics Circle in the same year? Enquiring minds want to know....

Robert Birnbaum interviews George Pelecanos for the second time, what with HARD REVOLUTION in stores all over the place and racking up the critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ed remembers Kurt Cobain on the tenth anniversary of his death. So too do a variety of folks writing for the Black Table, including Tom Perotta, Jonathan Ames, and Amanda Stern (last link from Maud.)

And finally, a couple of props to Roger Simon, who ingited a fascinating thread about intellectual property based on the fight Lawrence Lessig is having with Stephen Manes, and who offers up his own thoughts on Passover, and how, more than ever, it's a relevant holiday for Jews and non-Jews alike.

And except for one more post, I'm on my weekend blogging schedule till the Seders are finished. Happy Pesach, everybody!

Everybody makes a mistake.. 

..but some of them come back to haunt you, again and again.

As already well-documented here, Lawrence Block is on tour across the United States promoting his new book, THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL, and he's blogging about each stop he makes. It's generally been a good one, but some things are less wonderful than others. Especially because various picky readers are pointing out the same mistake over and over:

In PROWL, I referred to the song about loving the girl one's near. And I---or Bernie, if you want to be technical---identified it as being from My Fair Lady. Well, it's from Finian's Rainbow, and I knew that. I suspect Bernie knew it as well. But somehow it got past both of us, and my editor and copy editor and proofreader, and indeed everybody who saw it, and the book came out that way.

And so far six readers have let me know about it. Boy, do I ever know about it. We'll fix it in the paperback, and we may even fix it in future printings of the hardcover, although that's not as easy to manage as you might think. But one thing I don't need is to hear any more about it, and I know I will. Sheesh, the book's only been out there for two and a half weeks.

I wish I could say this kind of fan behavior is unusual, but it isn't--not at all. There's a joke in the mystery world that fans can let major plot and character details slide but god help you if you get something wrong about guns--especially if you write that there's a safety on a Glock. The pickiest, tiniest little detail, which normally shouldn't even be noticed by the common man--that's the one that people write in time and again to say, "by the way, I just wanted to tell you...."

Anticipating further emails on that regard, Block has come up with a solution:

This morning I prepared a form email to respond to the next three hundred people who drop me a helpful line. I mean, I don't want to seem ungrateful here. All the people who've let me know about it did so as an act of kindness, and made a point of saying nice things about the book. They just wanted to be helpful, and they were indeed helpful, or at least the first one was. But. . .oh, never mind.

And now, a confession: I read the proof of THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL about a month ago, and enjoyed the book very much. But on page 100, I came across that musical switch, and wondered how the mistake had gotten past everyone. (Also, FINIAN is truly one of my favorite musicals, due in large part to the humor of Yip Harburg's lyrics and the sheer melodic quality of Burton Lane's score. Oh, and David Wayne. He rocks.) So...I dropped an email to Block, trying to be nice about it. If I wasn't the first to point it out, I think I was close to it. But even at that time, I knew--just knew that I'd be far from the last to write in. And so it has come to pass...

But the question is, what can an author do once such a typo or mistake is out there? Beat everyone to the punch? Post a standard response on his or her website or mention it in the pre-amble at a booksigning? Seems rather much, really. I guess the trick is to find humorous ways to respond while still being nice about it--because of course, every person who reads a book is brand new to it, and coming across the content for the very first time, and isn't always magically aware that a zillion other people have alerted the author to the same mistake before he or she did.

Still, I can imagine why some folks get driven up the wall by such things.....

Morning roundup 

Good god, it's cold outside--isn't it supposed to be spring? Hello, cosmos, you obviously got something mixed up in your collective heads. Anyway, with sleep deprivation and still too much to do before Seder night, here are, as usual, the links:

Mikhail Kodorvorsky is a Russian tycoon better known as "the Oligarch." Once one of the most powerful men in the country, he's now in jail on charges of tax evasion and fraud. But bestselling pulp author Tatiana Ustinova views him a little different--as the basis for a major character in her latest book.

The Houston Chronicle presents a lengthy retrospective on the career of Joe Landsdale, whose latest, more "mainstream" novel, SUNSET AND SAWDUST, has been getting lots of good notice since its release a couple of weeks ago.

Patrick Anderson's back from vacation and does a two-fer: Ace Atkins' DIRTY SOUTH gets a solid review, but it's Frank Huyler's debut novel that really gets the reviewer's attention.

Speaking of Atkins, he's interviewed in the Birmingham News, home state of his old stomping grounds back when he played football for Auburn University in the early 1990s.

Christopher Priest isn't exactly raking it in as an author, but he gets by. But until the pension office called to tell him he was eligible for a credit, he had no clue of such things. Thus begun a byzantine effort to claim it....with surprising results.

The Tampa Bay Tribune likes Lisa Miscione's new novel TWICE, her third entry in the Lydia Strong series.

Kinky Friedman is, to say the least, a rather interesting figure, being a singer-songwriter, novelist, and general gadfly. Now that he's making serious noises about running for governor, the Christian Science Monitor goes running to find out why. They don't quite seem to get it, but I'll give them props for trying.

Sigh. I guess the Guardian isn't so keen on Lee Child's new book THE ENEMY, having made the book its latest victim of their 400 word condensing project. I guess I liked it a hell of a lot more than these folks ever will.

And finally, whither Sidd Finch? Indeed, the subject of George Plimpton's hoax cover story for Sports Illustrated back in 1985 proved so popular that the late author expanded the piece into an entire book. But as the Tampa Bay Tribune points out about the now-reissued novel, the end result was less than the original story, alas.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

'Twas the night before Pesach 

Oh, Passover. Truly, it's the obsessive-compulsive's holiday, where any trace of neurosis a person posesses kicks into ultra-high gear. It's hard to explain the process of converting one's kitchen for the holiday even to reasonably observant Jews. How to explain that one shouldn't eat matzah (this kind, at least) until the night of the Seder, and get into all the different types that exist (and I'm not talking regular vs. whole wheat, although I eschew the former for eating voluminous amounts of the latter. Or I just splurge on this.) Truth is, I can't even keep up with the changes that rabbis and governing bodies make year after year. Why is it okay to use the regular microwave now when it wasn't last year? Can I still take certain kinds of medications? How many new foods have been deemed Kosher for Passover? It's enough to drive any person crazy.

But if that's how you were brought up, you just roll your eyes, accept your due, and get to work--weeks in advance.

So, at least in my house, it's been rather nutty of late. Clean out the fridge and freezer of food, make sure they are devoid of anything chametz. Heat the oven to maximum to make sure every piece and speck of dirt is burned up, then kosher it. Rinse and repeat for the stove top and microwave. Figure out how to consolidate kitchen space so there will be room for the Passover utensils and pots and pans--and yes, because this is my house, it means there are three separate streams of household items, just like there are for the other 354 days a year. I know people who have completely separate Passover-only kitchens that are empty and shut-up for the rest of the time, but that always seemed rather extravagant and excessive. (Or maybe they know something I don't). And only once the kitchen's ready, then it's time to cook.

My mom, still somewhat infirm and due for another major round of medicine, is actually ahead of the game this year. Usually she's killing herself right up until the last minute, going nuts that she hasn't finished the cooking until an hour before the first Seder. But this time she's enlisted the help of her friends to cook and, to a certain extent, get the kitchen ready. Though there's still lots of last-minute things to do, we're in pretty good shape, and--dare I say it--tomorrow might be a somewhat relaxing day.

At the very least, there's barely anything to eat in the house that's not-for-Passover. Which was why my parents and I, along with some family friends, went out to dinner. We chose a favorite Chinese restaurant that we'd been to a few times before. We arrive there, and I laugh, because about six other Jewish families we know had the same idea. My family doctor. Former neighbors. I saw a couple of girls I had gone to elementary and high school with. What the hell is it with Jews and Chinese food? A stereotype I'd never given much thought to suddenly stared me in the face.

But of course, the reason was obvious--we're all sick and tired of the preparations, and with no food to eat in the house--well, nothing that doesn't have KOSHER FOR PASSOVER stamped on it--there was nothing else to do but go out for dinner. And even though the first Seder isn't until tomorrow night, once 11 o'clock rolls around, it's time to break out the Pesach food. Well, except for the real matzah. Egg matzah will have to suffice until then.

Luckily, for the most part, I really like Passover food. For the first few days, anyway. And a good thing too, since I'll be eating a prodigious amount of such food the entire time. It helps that for the most part, a lot of stuff I normally eat I can still eat during the holiday. But you better believe I'm going to miss being able to run to the coffeeshop and sit with my cup and read a book. Or go out for sushi.

But hell, it's only eight days. And interesting ones, at that.

And now, your massive weekend update (TM) 

Good lord, we've jumped an hour ahead, and I totally forgot. I wonder how that happened? Oh yeah, the whole Daylight Saving Time thing. And I could have used that extra hour's sleep....

Anyway, having done a cursory look around the horn at all the usual book reviews, the pickings, overall, are somewhat slim. Which means more mystery, less everything else.

Andrew Taylor's AN UNPARDONABLE CRIME (that's THE AMERICAN BOY to the rest of you) gets a rather puzzling write-up in the Paper of Record. Maybe because of the closing line that damns the book with faint praise:

For his hard work, Andrew Taylor deserves the attention of readers of detective stories who do not expect to find work that transcends its genre.

Uh, wha? I read detective stories, and I just want to read good books, whether they "transcend genre" or not. Sounds like Frederick Busch was expecting one thing and was a little pissed he got something else. So fie on him, go read the book anyway.

But enough hissy-fitting, let's go to Margaret Cannon's crime column in the G&M. It's kind of hit and miss, as worthy books (Michael Dibdin's MEDUSA, Pelecanos' HARD REVOLUTION, new books from Carolyn Haines and Iris Johansen) are reviewed alongside those that, frankly, were better left tossed aside (another Robert B. Parker review? Why? WHY? Isn't there a freaking moratorium on reviewing his books by now?) But I've never laughed so hard and stared oddly at my computer screen as I did when I saw this:

Miss Sex and the City already? Wonder how you'll get that great vicarious Manhattan fix without reruns or another night of Woody Allen DVDs? In fiction, hardly anyone beats Lawrence Block. His books are only incidentally crime novels. The real centre is the city, and Block is its devoted lover. This novel has style, wit, great funny characters -- and New York.

Larry Block and SATC in the same paragraph? Totally bizarro. And yet....Cannon has a point. Because THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL really does provide that inimitable Manhattan fix that you can't get anymore because Carrie & the gang are off the air. Man, I love when wacky segues pop up in reviews. I gotta do more of that myself.

The Washington Post Book World has finally figured out what the NYTBR did twice before: Lizzie Skurnick is absolutely rocktastic as a reviewer. Give her a column. Let her review for major papers every week. OK, I'll stop the cheerleading, but having never heard of this Matt Pavelich person before, now I want to run out and give the book a try. That's smart reviewing.

As for the rest of the WaPo: Yardley's bowled over by James Hynes' sense of the weird; Bill Sheehan likes Poppy Z. Brite's new kinder, gentler incarnation; a double dose of Alice Hoffman; and Michael Dirda looks at a cultural history of Alice in Wonderland and its effect on contemporary literature and mores.

Henning Mankell's newest novel in translation, THE RETURN OF THE DANCING MASTER, is not a Kurt Wallander book. But as Wendy Lesser says, that shouldn't stop you from reading the book, as it's the start of a brand new series.

I'm guessing that the link to Oline Cogdill's newest mystery column, on Reed Arvin's THE LAST GOODBYE, will show up on the Sun-Sentinel's site at some point, but it's already been picked up by the Arizona Republic.

David Montgomery returns with his semi-regular column for the Chicago Sun-Times, where he covers Gayle Lynds' THE COIL, Ace Atkins' DIRTY SOUTH, Daniel Silva's A DEATH IN VIENNA, Michael A. Black's WINDY CITY KNIGHTS, and Lawrence Block's THE BURGLAR ON THE PROWL.

Speaking of Atkins, he plays tourguide for Jeff Johnson at the Sun-Times, who is in search for the birthplace of the blues and other notable landmarks. Fascinating stuff.

Tom and Enid Schantz are back with their monthly mystery column for the Denver Post. Meriting their attention is Leslie Silbert's THE INTELLIGENCER, Donald Westlake's new Dortmunder novel THE ROAD TO RUIN (where Dortmunder poses....as a butler?? Oh man, I gotta read this) Lev Grossman's THE CODEX, and Denise Hamilton's LAST LULLABY, which they seem to feel gets bogged down in romantic entanglements and chase scenes. Hello? It's called character development and action, and both were relevant to the story.

Speaking of Grossman's THE CODEX, it gets a very nice review in today's Boston Globe, as Caroline Leavitt, who admit she doesn't read many of them, finds this thriller "fabulously entertaining." She also is impressed with Mark Dunn's new experimental novel, IBID. A LIFE.

David Morrell is practically a legend right now; writing FIRST BLOOD and the other Rambo novels will do that. On the eve the "Reading Las Vegas" book festival, he's interviewed by the Nevada Review-Journal.

The article that appeared in the LA Times about Faye and Jonathan Kellerman has been reprinted in the Evanston Courier Press. Read how the married duo have finally collaborated on a project together.

Jonathon King, author most recently of SHADOW MEN, is interviewed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the new book, and brings up his bemusement about the whole CSI thing, as he tries to incorporate forensic material in the books without overdoing it. They are, after all, mostly about atmosphere and character.

Elizabeth George's WRITE AWAY, a guide to fiction writing, is taking her across the country. The Seattle Times catches up with her and asks her about her new tome, certainly much different than her English-set psychological thrillers.

Just when we thought we'd escaped the Believer types, look! Up pops up Heidi Julavits again, as THE EFFECT OF LIVING BACKWARDS is now available in the UK. Scotland on Sunday calls it "exquisitely odd." What that means, exactly, I do not know....

R.D. Zimmerman used to write mysteries that were mired in midlist. A name change and a shift into historical fiction, and he cracked the NYT bestseller list with last year's hardcover THE KITCHEN BOY. He spoke to the Chicago Tribune about his new success and what he's doing next.

Agatha Christie....the computer game? Yes, it's true. Some of her most beloved novels, like MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, have been adapted for the PC and made interactive. But if you read the book, doesn't it kind of kill the suspense of the computer game? Just asking....

Cory Doctorow of Boingbong.net fame is wowing the critics again with his newest sci-fi novel. Robert Wiersma of the Toronto Star is quick to beat the drum that Doctorow is one of "ours," a Canadian ex-pat who's writing some swell speculative fiction.

Lionel Shriver instructs readers of the Jerusalem Post on how to write a novel, but gives quite the fair warning:

Telling people how to write a novel is like telling them how to have sex: really, it's whatever works for you. So, consider the following literary erotica. This is what works for me.

That is so beyond quotable that I know I'll be using this somewhere or another.

And finally, Roger Miller covers one of my favorite books which became one of my favorite musicals: Douglass Wallop's THE YEAR THE YANKEES LOST THE PENNANT the Faustian bargain that proved so popular upon publication 50 years ago that it became the basis for DAMN YANKEES, which launched the career of Gwen Verdon (and especially her dancing legs), furthered that of Bob Fosse, and featured some damn fine tunes ("Heart" "Whatever Lola Wants" and especially Ray Walston's oozing turn "Those Were the Good Old Days"). Like Miller, I think it's time to reread my own beat-up copy as well...and shake my head that things really haven't changed so much, and people are still hoping, wishing, and praying for the same exact result.

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