Friday, May 21, 2004

What Author's Fiction Are You? 

Well, I'm not sure if it's totally accurate, but it's pretty damned close....

Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor wrote your book. Not much escapes
your notice.

Which Author's Fiction are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

(thanks to all the Cabana Boys for the link)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The interview merry-go-round 

In the last six months, including the one I'm embarking on later today, I've interviewed for eight positions in four different cities on both sides of the border. Some were in-person, some were by phone; some I faced only one person, some involved a group; sometimes the panel was all together in one room, other times I saw each person in sequence. While I wouldn't presume to say that I have the actual interviewing portion down to a fine art or some kind of template-with-variations, I'm far more blase about that part of the process than I was a year ago. The same questions get asked, and I'm allowed to ramble about my qualities, credentials, so on and so forth. It's all a blur.

Thing is, the fun only starts when people stop talking, and I move on to the supplemental portion of the interviewing process. Frankly, some of the tasks I've been asked to do range from amusing to vaguely relevant to downright puzzling. I'm sorry, but how is transcribing a Microsoft Word document in its entirety, complete with different fonts, bullet points, tables and graphs, supposed to demonstrate that I can work in a forensic DNA lab?* So, I thought I'd offer up some of the tasks I've been asked to do in the name of determining my suitability for a desired job, then open the floor to you all--either in the backblogs or by dropping me a line.

Aside from the aforementioned transcription, the oddest series of tasks were classified as "manual dexterity tests", specifically designed to quantify my ability to carry out laboratory exercises that make use of fine motor skills. Frankly, I think they were designed with the specific intent to confuse the candidate.

Task one: a pencil and a sheet of paper with a series of boxes sit on the table before me. I am asked to draw two vertical lines on top of one horizontal line in each box, repeating the task for as many boxes until time runs out. I get a practice run, then they time me for 60 seconds. Conclusion: I manage 87 boxes in that time, but I have no idea if this is good or not--since they aren't telling me anything.

Task two: A double sided grid full of holes. The first one holds a series of pegs, all colored yellow (this is important for later.) The second grid is empty. I must move a peg from grid one to the exact position on grid two. If I miss, I can't correct and must move on to the next peg. Again this is timed. I get three tries, 15 seconds each. I think I improve each time, but frankly, I'm too busy hearing the rhythm in my head and responding to it. Similar premise to Task Three, except that I must turn the pegs upside down, so that the yellow color becomes red, and keep it in the same hole it was in before. Flip flop, flip flop. It's all very entertaining, but suddenly, a newly reissued old favorite book pops into my mind as having new relevance.

There were more tasks, but writing about them would not only cure my insomnia, it would probably cure all of yours, too. But suffice it to say that it got even more arcane, and the one saving grace was that the two examiners were very nice guys. Whom I felt extremely sorry for, because they still had another five or six candidates to go that day and several dozen more overall.

And I'm still wondering how doing all these things is supposed to prove I'll be an ideal forensic biologist....

*Actually, when I thought about it sometime later, I did figure out how it would be relevant, but that would mean that the task is completely ingenious, and somehow, I doubt it.

Richard and Judy's Summer Reads 

As announced on the talk show that wields as much influence on UK publishing as Oprah does in the US, the list is as follows:

A Gathering Light - Jennifer Donnelly (Bloomsbury)
Want To Play? (aka MONKEERWRENCH) - P. J. Tracy (Penguin)
PS, I Love You - Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins)
Liars and Saints - Maile Meloy (John Murray)
The Mermaid and the Drunks - Ben Richards - (Phoenix)
Hunting Unicorns - Bella Pollen (Pan Macmillan)

All of these books are available in paperback, and all should, no doubt, sell like hotcakes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

ConnellyWatch (TM) Update 

I'm firmly esconced in the Apple, so on and so forth, and what hits the transom but a rather revealing interview of Michael Connelly that's in Thursday's Independent. Oh sure, it has all the usual biographical information, but what makes this profile different from the others is that Adam Lee-Potter actually manages to dig a little deeper and gets some insight into Connelly's family life, both present and past. The thing is, Lee-Potter does so in a way that seems vaguely admonishing, like he was trying to cast the author in a pre-conceived light and it didn't quite work. See for yourself:
Few authors happily disclose the autobiographical elements they use to shape their work, but Connelly is refreshingly transparent. He uses everything. "It all comes out of my life," he says. "Bosch is my point man, the guy in the jungle. I use him to exorcise my demons. Angels Flight, for example, where he investigates the murder of a little girl. I wrote that book when my daughter was two years old. The nightmares of parenting were just awakening in me. I wrote a book about the worst thing that could happen to a parent. I thought it would help, but it didn't. That fear can never go away."

Perhaps the simpler truth is that Connelly has to use everything because he doesn't have that much to use. He has few friends, his parents are dead and his brothers and sisters are scattered across the country, from Seattle to Boston. "We're not that close."

Add to that some comments about Connelly's "ruthless" nature in delaying having his daughter until well into his marriage to his wife Linda and some perceived surprise at the fact that he's a "loner" and an "introvert" and I have to ask: what exactly did Lee-Potter expect here? I mean, writers are a fairly solitary lot. They spend hours a day at their desks writing, or many more hours letting their imaginations roam free with characters living inside their brains. Besides, a simple search would have turned up a whole host of prior interviews where it would have been obvious that Connelly's not exactly a flashy persona.

So he's not close to his extended family, whatever there's left. Big deal. Essentially, it seems that Connelly's the Pete Sampras of crime fiction: perceived as "boring" and "uninteresting" because he's not extroverted and isn't a tortured soul. But he writes great books every time out, sells awfully well and has a huge fan base. And will probably be remembered several decades down the line as one of the greats. Capiche?

There she goes 

In a few minutes, I'll be heading to the airport to travel to a Secure Undisclosed Location (otherwise known as Manhattan.) No guest blogger this time, so expect sporadic dispatches of the essay-driven sort, when the mood strikes. And for those who weren't wondering, yes, airports are my new best friend (although the jury's still out on customs agents.) A bientot.

Raison D'Etre 

The New Straits Times, a Malaysia-based newspaper, has an interesting article that asks a seemingly simple but really very complex question: what attracts people, both readers and writers, to crime fiction? Not surprisingly, there are a myriad of reasons:
"Crime is a great way to talk about society," said novelist Ian Rankin in an interview with the New Straits Times last year. Rankin currently has two books in bookshop Kinokuniya's list of top 10 crime bestsellers.

"Where are the books that talk about the here and now - the problems we have: unemployment, drugs, prostitution, the fact that people live in fear of criminal activity? Where are the books that address these issues? Crime fiction."

Crime fiction, he added, has "very serious" antecedents: "People like Fyodor Dostoevsky and Charles Dickens, for example, used detectives, crime and murder as a way of exploring the human condition."

While the crime fiction social novel has certainly grown in leaps and bounds thanks to some of Rankin's peers like Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Walter Mosley, and many others, there are more basic reasons for the attraction to the genre:
Roy Chan, 67, has been a voracious reader since retiring from teaching over a decade ago. His tastes vary from popular fiction and thrillers (such as the novels of Jeffrey Archer) to "true crime" accounts and biographies.

"I also read a lot of crime fiction. There's something in it that appeals to the curious in me, just like we're always curious about murders and scandals in the newspapers.

"I suppose it's just a part of human nature to be fascinated by events that could conceivably happen to us too, but what I enjoy most about crime fiction observing the range of human actions that can be criminal."

Modern life can't be divided neatly into little parcels distinct from each other, Chan said. "Many issues we must deal with today are related, for example: crime and poverty links the law to economics."

I'd say I've been a serious crime fiction reader for about five years now, although in my formative years I read my fair share of Agatha Christie, some Nero Wolfe, Walter Mosley's early Easy Rawlins books, Edna Buchanan's Britt Montero books, and both of the Kellermans. But it was around the summer of '99 that I discovered Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, and Dennis Lehane, and they still embody my "idee fixe" of what I like best about crime fiction. I've moved in different directions since then, adding many more authors to my "must-have" list, especially from the UK and other foreign countries. But the hardboiled/noir/social novel school (it's a broad spectrum, but a spectrum nonetheless) is what I gravitate towards, rather than the amateur sleuth/traditional stuff.

So what is it about the genre that I love so much? Many things of course, but ultimately it boils down to the tension between order and chaos. Sometimes, chaos is resolved into order. Other times, order gets broken down into chaos (the hallmark of noir novels.) Sometimes chaos persists throughout, and other times there's a constant mixture. Add in, at least in the best examples, great characters, good writing, and a reasonably cohesive plot and there are the necessary ingredients for a good book.

It's occurred to me at various points to wonder if I'll ever get tired of reading within the genre, and occasionally, I do have to take breaks with non-fiction and other types of fiction. But I always come back, because I must have my order/chaos fix that isn't quite fulfilled anywhere else. And luckily, though the constraints are there, the possibilities are ever-expanding for what's acceptable within a crime novel. As long as people have imagination and a questioning mind, crime fiction will continue to go down the dark alleys and secret pathways that other types of fiction wouldn't dare touch.

And sometimes, it's a good idea to remember exactly why we read, why we love this genre.

The Wednesday Link Dump 

Interesting--I start a new job, and suddenly I have more time to blog. Either that's a violation of the time-space continuum, or...well, I don't want to admit what the alternative is. Anyway:

Top story, no question: Billy Joel jumping on the children's book bandwagon. The first book is called, innocuously enough, GOODNIGHT MY ANGEL. The second? Oh boy....NEW YORK STATE OF MIND.

Jeff Guinn at the Dallas Fort-Worth Star-Telegraph rounds up the must-reads (and the buzzworthy) for this summer. More important is Janet Evanovich's author photo, where she has finally aged to the point where she was at about ten years ago (before fame made her take this detour)

Neal Stephenson is the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for his novel QUICKSILVER. It also happens to be the longest entry, especially since it's really only 1/3 of a book....

Meanwhile, Louisa Waugh takes home the Ondaatje Prize for her novel HEARING BIRDS FLY, which "best evokes the spirit of a place." Contrary to popular belief, the winning entry is not a ghost story.

J.K. Rowling offers up a progress report on Book Six, saying it's "well under way." No word on the potential title for the still very much unfinished book, although I suspect my suggestion of "Harry Potter and the Six Bunnie-Wunnies" won't make the shortlist...

If there's anything from reading the recent accounts of the sale of Arthur Conan Doyle's collection shows, it's that it would make a hell of a book--betrayal, suspicious deaths, playboy sons, careless relatives. Somebody get this tortured mess a book deal!

Continuing ConnellyWatch (TM), this time, a review at USA Today. Hey, I'm not consciously trying to keep track of this stuff, I just keep finding them...

Anthony Rainone gives a thumbs-up to Terrill Lankford's Hollywood noir satire, EARTHQUAKE WEATHER, for January Magazine.

Crime Time has updated their website with a slew of new reviews, including the latest from Caroline Carver, Freda Davies and Walter Mosley, and a nice feature by Natasha Cooper on the upsurge in translated crime fiction.

And finally, Best. Interview. Ever.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Gold Fish 

Another in the "all over the 'sphere" files: Tom Perrotta's LITTLE CHILDREN (a book that's languished on Mt. TBR for a while) was released way back at the end of March, got a boatload of great reviews, cracked the New York Times list, and has gone back to press six times. Slight snafu: the goldfish on the original cover are actually Goldfish (TM), as manufactured by Pepperidge Farm, the company responsible for Nantucket, Sausalito, and all those other too-hard cookies that really kind of suck, if you ask me. Anyway, they got pissed and demanded the cover be changed. And so, even though the new version is still unavailable online, it will have--instead of those lonely little fish--a couple of homemade chocolate chip cookies:
And this time [Dori] Weintraub, [associate director of St. Martin's Press] made sure those cookies wouldn't make any trouble. "I baked them myself," she says.

Coming soon: complaints from the person who created the recipe Weintraub used to make the cookies, demanding a new cover because the cookies do not accurately reflect the recipe in question. It's a hard, litigious world out there, you know...

Continuing the Detroit Theme 

Just over the Publisher's Marketplace transom:

Mitchell Bartoy's debut noir novel THE DEVIL'S OWN RAG DOLL, the first in a series set in WWII Detroit featuring a troubled detective who must solve a murder to stave off a race riot, learning the hard way that friends are rarely what they seem, family ties are often deceptive, and the bravest thing a man can do is think for himself, to Ben Sevier at St. Martin's Minotaur in a nice deal, for two books, by Andrea Somberg at Vigliano Associates (NA).

Hmm, Walter Mosley meets Loren Estelman, or thereabouts? Anyway, it certainly sounds intriguing. A quick search shows that Bartoy graduated at the end 2002 with an M.A. in English literature from Wayne State University, which would make sense, seeing as it's located in the city he's basing his series.

Adding to the blogroll 

If you ever care to cast your eyes at the right hand side, I've tweaked the blogroll a little bit, the most notable addition being a new blog by Elliot Feldman, who authored one of my favorite "below the radar" books of 2003, SITTING SHIVA. I like to think of it as the closest a book can get to my utopian "Yid Noir" concept, never mind that it's an especially poignant look at a boy's Jewish upbringing in 1960s Detroit (which may, or may not, interest some of you.) Feldman's blog, Detroit Crazy, is, well, centered around the city of his birth and upbringing, and also highlights his side career as a cartoonist.

The nitty-gritty of book signings 

This piece from the WSJ about how to prepare for book signings by bigtime celebrities has been linked in all sorts of places (I first saw it on Publisher's Lunch). Not surprisingly, something akin to an emergeny response plan has to be in place to control the crowd and make sure they are only after a signature, nothing more:
The memorabilia problem is particularly nettlesome when dealing with an author whose fame derives from achievement on the playing fields or pop charts. Inevitably, there coming through the line will be a tsunami of programs, apparel and CDs, items that have absolutely nothing to do with the business at hand. "In the interests of letting all the people who attend have an audience with the celebrity, you have to put a cap on what will and won't be signed," says Mr. Bogaards.

Signature management is similarly problematic for perennial bestseller types like John Grisham, Tom Clancy and Jan Karon, author of the wildly popular "Mitford" series. "Some of them, like Anne Rice, have a backlist of five or 10 or 20 books, and we could have a reader coming through the line wanting her to sign all of them and also wanting her to sign some body parts," adds Mr. Bogaards, declining to get specific about the body parts in question. "So now at her signings we say she'll sign one thing from the backlist plus the new book. Everybody walks away happy."

OK first of all..."signature management"? Is that like an official career field or something? Jokes aside, these are the kind of events that have me just a bit disenfranchised with the whole signing etiquette as a whole. Long lines for a simple signature? I'll pass, thank you very much, especially considering the print runs are so enormous that a simple signature's not going to be worth a hell of a lot anyway. Sure, fans like "the touch" as Bogaards puts it at the article's close, but is it really worth it in the end?

Still, considering how pervasive signing events are as a means of publicizing a book, it is important to have protocols in place. Especially when those collectors show up...

Watching CSI: New York 

9:45 PM last night: "Sarah, the CSI pilot is on in fifteen minutes."

My dad had reminded me of something I'd meant to do but kept forgetting about: watch the pilot episode of CBS's upcoming hit spinoff, CSI: New York, which would air as one of the Miami episodes. Now, every time the whole forensic science degree comes up in conversation, the Number One Question I get asked is, "ooh, so is it like CSI?" To which my stock answer is, "well, no, not exactly. Two main differences: One, CSIs would never interrogate suspects. And two, we'd kill for the kind of equipment they get to use." Which is, of course, why non-profit ventures like the Crime Lab Project get started. But I digress. Point is, I had a vested interest in watching the pilot ep because I went to grad school in the city, know the ME's Office reasonably well (the NYPD to a much lesser extent) and of course, have a pretty good working knowledge of how forensic science operates and is regulated within the confines of New York. I'd venture to guess I'm not the only John Jay graduate or student who watched the show (although none of us would ever admit it; and no, my class (at least) didn't watch any of the CSI shows during our time in school. What was the point?)

So my thoughts? Well...

To my credit, I watched the whole thing, but had to give up on making any sense of it about halfway through. So my comments will be limited to bullet notes:

-Wow, I didn't know the morgue in the ME's Office had turrets.

-The real NYPD would kill to have the kind of equipment the tv ones do.

-I've never seen anyone wear a "NY:CSI" jacket, especially since the real unit is called, well, the Crime Scene Unit, is stationed all the way out in lonely Jamaica, and takes their sweet time getting to crime scenes unless it's a major league Red Alert type of thing. And even then, they are late.

-I'm not exactly sure David Caruso could waltz into a crime scene and not get his ass booted out for crossing jurisdiction lines.

-The less said about any interrogation scenes involving a combination of Caruso, Gary Sinise, Melina Kanakaredes, or anyone else who isn't a real cop, the better.

What finally made me give up was the geographic discontinuity. So...the morgue's in the basement of a hospital, OK that's sort of true. There is a morgue in Bellevue, but only natural cause or highly unsuspicious deaths get to park themselves there--the rest go up the street to the OCME. And the NYPD crime lab is supposed to be in the premises? Well OK, suspension of disbelief, but then they show the Queensboro Bridge and I think, "hey wait, maybe the lab IS in Jamaica!" But then it's back to being in Manhattan again, and I scratch my head.

But of course, this is TV, and realism doesn't make for good TV most of the time. Problem is, the dialogue and storyline was crap. Caruso looking into the teen girl's eyes after her parents have been killed and promising her to "get the killer" no matter what, even if it means the department has to fork over a wad of money to send him to NYC? Cheese. Pure cheese.

I used to like Gary Sinise too, but he came across as stiff and stilted, phoning in a performance. Kanakaredes looked about as confused as I did (is she a CSI? an MLI? I have no idea) and worst of all, New York looked weird and fake, this artificial darkness creeping in to signify "hey, this is New York." Feh.

I know to much, I really do. But hey, I tried.

Tuesday Snippets 

The top story has to be that of Howard Rotberg, who was conducing a booksigning at the Kitchener, ON Indigo bookstore when a Palistinian and a Kurdish national rushed into the shop and started shouting epithets at him. The author of THE SECOND CATASTROPHE was understandably furious, and it looks like events in Toronto will be cancelled.

Murder on the Beach, which moved locations from Ft. Lauderdale to Delray Beach about a year and a half ago, is profiled in the Palm Beach Post. It illuminates how difficult it is to run a bookshop, which is something any prospective owner should keep in mind, because it almost never moves further than a labor of love...

I don't know what's more impressive--that Martin Clark has had a couple of novels published by the age of 44, or that he's been a judge for ELEVEN years in his native Florida. The Floridian profiles this overachiever.

The Associated Press takes a look at C.J. Box, whose Joe Pickett mysteries are picking up quite the following since the first, OPEN SEASON, was nominated for a slew of awards back in 2001. The fourth installment, TROPHY HUNT, will be out next month.

The hype for Harrogate has just begun--at least locally, where they give a nice rundown on who's going to be at the summer crime fiction festival and what to expect.

Newsday interviews E.L. Doctorow, who's just out with his first collection of short stories in over 20 years.

Brian Castro is the winner of the NSW Literary Prize, a mere 2 years after losing out hope his book, SHANGHAI DANCING, would ever find a publisher.

Oh bloody hell--do we really need another historical novel about Jane Austen? Even if this one's mostly about her complex relationship with her sister Cassandra, who had the temerity to burn Jane's letters after her death. Though honestly, I kind of doubt anyone was thinking about posterity at the time, let alone that Austen would be beloved by some 200-odd years later...

Dean Koontz, the horror-meister who has never publicly answered for the mysterious reappearance of his hair, answers questions at ABCNews.com.

I'm a little confused--I thought TROLL: A LOVE STORY came out last year? Or perhaps the original-language version did, but no matter, Chris Lehmann reviews it and likes it quite a lot.

Writing a children's book? Think you're award-worthy? Then go enter the Smarties Book Prize, which will award a host of prizes to the best in children's lit for many ages. Further information here.

And finally, I'm only linking to this article about a man's quest to find out who's really selling BEING JORDAN for the hilarious idea that Hatchards would even touch this book with any kind of pole, let alone a ten-foot-one.

Monday, May 17, 2004

And more on the short side 

Continuing the theme of today's blogging, Maud points to a fairly in-depth article by Kelly Jane Torrance about where short stories fit in today's world, and why it's so difficult to get them published in magazines:
Looking for proof of life in that American institution, the short story, can seem like a fool's errand. Few magazines publish short stories. Few Americans read them—you won't find any collections in the New York Times bestseller lists. Even those in the short story business don't seem to want to talk about the short story.

I called the headquarters of a number of America's best-regarded short story contests and discovered a curious indifference. Sure, they will tell you the names of their famous guest judges. They will reel off statistics about how many entries they receive and how much they pay out in prizes. But just try to engage them in a discussion of the literary form for which they are the standard-bearers.

“I don't read the stories,” confesses Krista Halverson, managing editor at Zoetrope , a well-known literary magazine that sponsors an annual short story contest. Reaching the offices of the Boston Review , I told editorial assistant Brad Plumer that I'd like to talk to someone about the decline of the short story and their own short story contest. Well, he said, “our office is pretty tiny.”

How did we get to where even staffers at literary magazines seem unwilling to stand up for the short story?

Rather scary, if you think about it. The future, as Maud says in the article, is something I've long believed (and espoused) myself: the Internet:
If the short story has a future, it may reside in new technology. “My sense with the short-story market is that it's a matter of failure to fill demand, rather than lack of demand,” Maud Newton says. “I think the mainstream publications resist innovation and that the better stories generally are being published outside their pages. Some of the most vital short stories are published on the Internet these days.”

Torrance only speaks of literary fiction, but I certainly think the same applies in the crime fiction world. Need I bring up such upstart magazines as Plots With Guns, Hardluck Stories, SDO Detective, Thrilling Detective, Shred of Evidence, and SHOTS? All are places where rising stars merge with established veterans, especially as their professionalism and attitude attracts more quality writers, which breeds further respect and reputation for these 'zines.

The Long and the Short of it 

On one of the many mailing lists I subscribe to, DetecToday, there's a spirited discussion happening of late about short fiction, and the pros and cons of writing and reading them. As someone who's written short stories and continues to do so (the next one goes up in a few weeks' time) it's a debate that never ceases to intrigue me, mostly because I seem to go against the grain of many a crime fiction writer and fan.

If there's a consensus opinion, it's as follows: writers tend to gravitate towards novel-writing because they have the room to fully develop characters, explore conflicts, make plots as complex as they like, and have a large canvas to work out their craft issues and flesh out hidden (or not so hidden) meanings. Short stories, on the other hand, meet with less approval because the writer doesn't have enough time and space to construct a solid mystery, deepen characterization, etc.--the limitations of the format are seen as a hindrance.

For fans, the consensus appears to be that they prefer reading novels so they can sink their teeth into a character they can grow to like, get immersed in plot and conflict, and have a (reasonably) satisfactory solution. Short stories don't meet these requirements because they skimp on character, the plot is rushed, and the ending tends to disappoint.

I can safely say that if the above two paragraphs are, indeed, the consensus opinion, I don't share it and never will.

First, I'll put on my reader hat. I love reading short fiction because, when done well, it takes an idea, maybe two, and runs with it. The best stories move fast (or at least, at a sustainable pace) and engage me with a strong main character, snappy dialogue, a great twist at the end, an illumination of a particular idea or premise. Whatever it is, if it works, I'm sold. And I don't have to invest as much time as I would a novel.

Short stories are a wonderful way to see a writer's true voice in action, and sustained throughout. The range of voices are so different, from Sherman Alexie's sadness-tinged humor in his collections (like the recent TEN LITTLE INDIANS) to Angela Carter's wondrously delicious redefinition of old fairy tales (THE BLOODY CHAMBER) to Jincy Willett's razor-sharp observations of human nature (JENNY AND THE JAWS OF LIFE) to Eugene McCabe's startlingly sad depictions of Ireland through many generations (HEAVEN LIES ABOUT US). Take P.G. Wodehouse's madcap shorts, or L.M. Montgomery's depictions of orphans struggling to find family against all odds. Alice Munro, who is quite simply one of the finest short fiction writers alive. And on and on.

That being said, maybe it's no accident that the writers who leap to my mind are not crime writers, although some of the genre stories I've read in the last couple of years have certainly stuck with me, like most of the entries in the TART NOIR anthology, the all-star issue of Plots With Guns last fall, Dave White's "Closure" (one of the best "9/11 aftermath" stories, period) and Dave Zeltserman's "More than a Scam," (which takes the Nigerian spam thing and mutates it into a chilling noir piece), to name just a select few. These stories fulfilled my internal criteria, and that's why I enjoyed them. But most are not "mystery" stories per se; crime stories certainly, but they don't necessarily adhere to the classic structure and construction...only to disappoint at the end. Rather, they take a theme, a character, a premise, mix them all up, and create something special in the process.

Which is what I try very hard to when I write them. So now I'll look at shorts from a writer's perspective.

Frankly, the idea of writing a novel terrifies me at this point, and it's in part because of the way my writing process works at the moment. It's sporadic, anarchic, and damned inconsistent, a combination of weeks of laziness and spurts of inspiration. For some reason, all the stories I've written that "worked" (i.e. that I've been reasonably satisfied with or have been published somewhere) involved me having a "eureka" moment of some sort, rushing home, and banging out a first draft in a matter of hours. Fast and furious, but I cannot stop till the draft's done. Then I leave it for a few days and start to tinker. But every time I've been methodical about a story, done a set word limit or thereabouts, the stories invariably disappoint me (and, unsurprisingly, are the ones that get rejected.)

This can't last, because it's really not a healthy way to write. I do want to write a novel someday, but I can't do an entire draft in a night, let alone a month. That's just far too taxing. But until I can learn how to manage my time, develop some stamina, if you will, I think I'm going to be writing short fiction for the forseeable future.

Which doesn't bother me in the least, because I love doing so. As Gerald said on the list, "For all they demand of the writer, finishing [a short story]--having written something that rings true to readers despite the constraints--is a great reward." And ultimately, whether writing a lengthy or short work, that's what it's about--writing something that rings true, and has some level of satisfaction for both the writer and the reader.

The Booklist Top Ten 

Bill Ott, writing for one of the influential trade mags, compiles the Top Ten Mysteries of late 2003/early 2004:
ABSOLUTE FRIENDS .... John le Carre
DEAD I WILL MAY BE .... Adrian McKinty
HARD RESOLUTION .... George Pelecanos
HAVANA .... Stephen Hunter
HEAT SHOCK .... Robert Greer
SHADOW MEN .... Jonathon King
SUNSET AND SAWDUST .... Joe Lansdale

Definitely a strong list, and a lot of my own personal favorites are on it (though I haven't read about half the books yet.) What also interests me are the sub-listings:
* Charlie Opera, by Charlie Stella.
* The Queen of the South, by Arturo Perez-Reverte.
* Spiral, by Joseph Geary.
* Unwilling Accomplice, by Barbara Seranella.
* Winterkill, by C. J. Box.

Unforunately, Booklist really falls down when it comes to their "Best First Novels" list:
* A Cruel Season for Dying, by Harker Moore.
* Dead I Well May Be, by Adrian McKinty.
* Haunted Ground, by Erin Hart.
* The Hundredth Man, by Jack Kerley.
* Mission Flats, by William Landay.
* The Night of the Dance, by James Hime.
* Quantico Rules, by Gene Riehl.
* Relative Danger, by Charles Benoit.
* Weeping, by Shelly Reuben.
* Where the Truth Lies, by Rupert Holmes.

The list itself is fine, but McKinty's book was his second novel (after 1996's ORANGE RHYMES WITH EVERYTHING), while A CRUEL SEASON FOR DYING is the work of a pseudonymous author who has, evidently, written several books previously (though Moore's identity isn't known at the moment. Believe me, I've asked around.) I also believe Shelley Reuben has written several novels before WEEPING, too. Is it so hard to fact-check these things?

Still, congratulations to all the authors who made the big list or the sub-lists. There were some fantastic reads last year and so far this year, and no doubt the trend will continue till year's end.

Monday morning QB 

It's the start of a new week, and what have we here? More insanity. For it seems the gods have decided that I must, absolutely must, take another trip later this week, and that two major job interviews must happen within 48 hours of each other, 1000+ miles apart. For all I know, it'll come to nought, and I'll just end up back to my former life as a broke unemployed freelancer. But I kind of doubt it.

Enough preamble. Time for the links:

Let the buzz begin: Hari Kunzru's long-awaited second novel, TRANSMISSION, is finally available, and who should have the first word? Why, only Ms. Maslin, who calls the book "wickedly astute" and thoroughly enjoys this tale of man and machine.

There's Ian Rankin, making the news yet again (hot on the heels of finishing up the manuscript for his new novel), this time in harsh criticism of the Scottish executive's grand plan for a Cultural Commission. Rankin, along with fellow authors Janice Galloway and Michel Faber, take issue with the proposed commission for being consumer-driven and not artist-friendly. I have to admit, the use of the term "verbal sludge" was what intrigued me the most...

The Boston Globe interviews Andrew Taylor, the author of the Historical Dagger-winning AN UNPARDONABLE CRIME (I've done the whole "also...blah blah blah" thing too many times, you should all get my drift by now) and likely a contender for next year's Best Novel Edgar. I mean, it would be too perfect, right? A novel about Edgar Allan Poe being nominated the year the MWA has its 60th anniversary? Luckily the book more than deserves that hypothetical nom....

Mark Sarvas (of Elegant Variation fame) delivers on his long-awaited Q&A with Andrew Sean Greer, the author of THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI, which is racking up praise every which way (and fwiw, Faber will publish the UK edition of the book this fall.)

Patrick Anderson uses Lincoln Child's new futuristic thriller DEATH MATCH as a means to...expound upon the perfect marriage? Seriously, although he does find the book to be extremely derivative and slick.

Beryl Bainbridge is something of a doyenne in Britain, but she's at a crossroads: writer's block, and giving up her beloved smoking in order to ward of death? In any case, she speaks to the Independent about battling her demons.

The Denver Post is ecstatic to have Tres Navarre, the wisecracking English lit prof/PI hero of Rick Riordan's novels, back after a one-book hiatus. In other words, SOUTHTOWN gets a very, very nice review indeed.

On the muted enthusiasm front, there's David Hellman's review of Michael Andre Bernstein's CONSPIRATORS. Hellman admires the book for its intelligent approach to the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, but ultimately feels the novel falls short because it's "too ponderous." Well, light reading it certainly ain't...

Holy crap--Jordan's biography is doing amazingly well, as her publisher, John Blake, has just ordered up a reprint of 100,000 copies. I freely admit to finding the phenomenon of Ms. Price terribly fascinating, because she really hasn't done anything to merit her fame, and would get laughed out of LA or New York in about six seconds, whereas it took about fifteen to have the same effect on the Beckhams. Or something like that.

Maud Newton wins the caption contest at Bookninja! Huge congrats, as it was extremely funny. (My own entry: "I didn't mean to take funding away from 826 Valencia!" )

And finally, I suppose it had to happen. They stock CDs, so why shouldn't you be able to buy a book with your venti chai soy latte? Yes, it seems that Starbucks is getting into the books racket. Great, just what I need--copies of the latest bestsellers available in each of the chain shops that dot practically every corner on the Upper West Side (and yes, I can make a list. Please don't ask, it's scary that I can even do this.)

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Conversing with Lee Child 

Now that his latest novel, THE ENEMY, is out and attempts to climb up the big bestseller lists, Lee Child's well into the promo circuit, and is currently on tour for the book. On the date of the book's publication, he spoke with C.M. McDonald about the impetus for writing a prequel, switching between third and first person for different books, and his contribution to the "thriller task force" convened post 9/11 to come up with possible ideas for terrorist attacks that the government could plan for:

McDonald: A number of writers, immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — and people in the Hollywood industry — were pulled in by government agencies to supply ideas for attacks that the FBI and others could then program against. Were you one of those?

Child: I was actually, yeah. I contributed a few scenarios. Frankly, the main one that I was worried about, nothing's been done about it yet.

McDonald: I guess then I won't ask you to elaborate if there is a big hole out there to be exploited.

Child: There is. Hopefully they'll get around to it in the end.

And of course, McDonald had to ask the inevitable "what's next" question (my own favorite of the Usual Author Interview Questions, as it happens) and the premise for the next Reacher novel, ONE SHOT, sounds most intriguing:
The next one is already finished. As I said, we work a year in advance. It's a current day story, set in Indiana — in a medium-size, unnamed city in Indiana. It starts with a sniper outrage. Some kind of psycho hides in a parking garage and shoots down into a crowd. Random bystanders are killed. The guy is very quickly arrested thanks to good police work. Six hours after the first shot, he is in custody. He refuses to talk. They give him a lawyer and he still refuses to talk until the lawyer says, "C'mon, you've gotta say something." Whereupon the guy says only one sentence: "Get Jack Reacher for me."

Definitely in the one picture, thousand words category 

As described in an earlier post, Lawrence Block received the CWA's Cartier Diamond Dagger Award last Wednesday. There's no question that after seeing this picture, he was more than thrilled to receive the honor. (The article ran in The Times over the weekend.)

UPDATE: Ali alerts me to Mark Lawson's short interview with Larry from Thursday's BBC Front Row program. They talk about his early pulp days, September 11, and of course, the Diamond Dagger honor.

Just another Massive Weekend Update 

No rants this weekend, just links, links, and more links. Going around the horn:

The big Book of the Week, obviously, is Neil Lanctot's NEGRO LEAGUE BASEBALL, the fascinating account of the league that made stars of the likes of Satchel Paige and Cool Papa Bell. The New York Times adored the book, while the Washington Post was just as laudatory. You better believe I'll be reading this book--although I'm still waiting for an account, even a short one, of Jackie Robinson's Montreal days...

Otherwise, the Grey Lady features a whole sub-section on children's books, which I'll just link to en masse, Benedict Nightingale's take on John Gielgud's letters (anxiously awaiting being plucked from my own TBR pile) and an interesting (though not-quite-positive) review of Michael Kruger's THE CELLO PLAYER.

And at the WaPo, Dennis Drabelle rounds up the latest in mystery fiction, choosing to give good reviews to the new Anne Perry, Boris Akunin, Richard Barre and Katharine V. Forrest, while extolling less enthusiasm for David Housewright's return to print.

The Guardian review is rather swell this week, but mostly for Ali Smith's appreciation of Angela Carter, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite writers. THE BLOODY CHAMBER? A beautifully brilliant collection of short stories that modernize fairy tales in new and startling ways. THE MAGIC TOYSHOP? Full of wonder and horror with the kind of prose you can literally sink your teeth into and taste all sorts of merry delights. I suspect I'll be tackling Smith's favorite, THE INFERNAL DESIRE MACHINES OF DOCTOR HOFFMAN, fairly soon. Also in the Review is Adam Thorpe's explanation of why he works best under pressure, an abridged excerpt of Peter Ackroyd's new introduction to Henry Fielding's JONATHAN WILD THE GREAT, and Nicholas Clee namechecks our friends at the Literary Saloon. Very cool!

After the Guardian, there must be the Observer, which has a long feature on Hari Kunzru and how he overcame the weight of being a Bonus Baby to produce a second novel, TRANSMISSION, that's vastly different from the first and still pretty good, according to Rachel Cooke. Also, James Wood, who recently had a little tete-a-tete with The Reading Experience, gets a nice review for his new collection of essays, and Robert McCrum gets snarky--well, as snarky as he'll ever get--about a call for a "Poetry Olympiad." All I have to say is....oy gevalt.

I'll start my Globe and Mail roundup with, of course, Margaret Cannon's crime column. Even if she actually likes the new Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown book. But one has to forgive these sort of things. She also reviews new releases from Sylvian Hamilton, Anne Perry, David Rotenberg, Thomas Wheeler, and Stephen White. Otherwise, there's a blistering rant about a new short fiction collection by writers under the age of 25, Martin Levin's analysis of a new book that tries out a little revisionist history with major events, and Annabel Lyon's take on Booker shortlist favorite Colm Toibin's THE MASTER.

On the Australian front, David Sedaris gets quite the lovely write-up at the Sydney Morning Herald, as he'll have a new book coming out fairly soon. Never realized his popularity was global, but there you have it. The paper also takes a look at a newly reissued book, LIVING ALONE AND LIKING IT, that still resonates with women today, almost 70 years after its initial publication. While at the Age, Sue Turnbull positively sniffs at Michael Connelly's THE NARROWS for being too "gimmicky" and basically having too many Easter Eggs. Hey, I guess not everyone's happy he was basically saying a big "f**k you* to the movie of BLOOD WORK....

And in the roundup-free news:

Jim Born, whose upcoming debut novel WALKING MONEY will be out next month (and has some major-league buzz attached to it) is interviewed in his hometown paper, the Palm Beach Post. He's got an interesting background as an investigator for the DEA, and as an adviser to people like Elmore Leonard and the folks at the late, lamented Karen Sisco. The article doesn't mention that Born made a whole host of new friends during Edgar Week, but hey, they can't reveal everything...

Somehow I missed Oline Cogdill's column from last week, when she gave nice reviews out to John Sandford and David Hiltbrand, whose debut KILLER SOLO is about rock tours, groupies, sex, drugs--in other words, a book I definitely want to read, and soon. This week she takes on Terrill Lankford's EARTHQUAKE WEATHER and is suitably impressed by the book's style, pace and subject matter.

Sir Walter Scott's home attracts many visitors, but now that his last descendant has died, there are questions as to what will happen to the ancestral lodging. The Sunday Herald makes a visit and tries to ascertain the future of the house.

The Arthur Conan Doyle archives will likely get a pretty penny when they are auctioned off on Wednesday--$3.5 M, it looks like--but in the meantime, a bigtime Holmes scholar's death gets the inquest treatment, since the man did die in rather bizarre circumstances...

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel adds its voice to the consensus that Lee Child's THE ENEMY is a damned good thriller, although the reviewer really seems to harp on the whole genre/formula thing. Dude, it's a cleverly written ass-kicking book. What else are you looking for? And only thirteen more books before we must mourn Reacher's passing....

Lara McClintock, the sleuth of Lyn Hamilton's archeology mysteries, is back for an eighth installment, much to the liking of the Toronto Star's Jack Batten.

A few mysteries are collected together in the roundup by the Grand Forks Herald: John Sandford's latest Lucas Davenport novel (I can't be the only one who's totally lost track of which title is which) gets a nice nod, as do new releases from David Hiltbrand and P.J. Tracy.

Speaking of the pseudonymous Tracy, the duo--Patricia and Traci Lambrecht, that is--are profiled in the Albuquerque Journal, where they reveal how the plot for book #3, MILK RUN was formulated as they drove along a completely deserted small-town street.

More from the Michael Connelly publicity racket: he's interviewed in a fairly boilerplate Q&A fashion by Connie Ogle of the Miami Herald.

Les Roberts picks up two mysteries for his column in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Richard Barre's ECHO BAY gets his seal of approval, but Dick Cady's THE EXECUTIONER'S MASK doesn't get quite the same level of praise.

And finally, who'd have thought that Being Jordan would be so, well, difficult? Actually, the Scotsman reviewer of Katie Price's over-the-top autobiography isn't so sure about that--and doesn't find much in the way of redeeming values about the book, either.....

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