Thursday, November 20, 2014
Dandy Gilver No. 8 - A DEADLY MEASURE OF BRIMSTONE - is out today and I'm preparing for a launch party tonight. The eggs and butter are coming to room temperature and soon there will be cakes.
BRIMSTONE is stuffed to the brim with technology. It's set in 1929 in Laidlaw's Hydropathic Hotel in the hills of Moffat, where affluent and sickly patrons go for the likes of Faradaic, ultraviolet and galvanic heat baths. It's basically sulphurous spring water so disgusting it must be good for you and electricity - new and exciting!
Water and electricity combined - how could it possibly go wrong? Well, it does. The Moffat Hydro is pretty luxurious but it shares one feature with every motel in mystery fiction. Guests check in . . . and you can guess the rest.
I'm not so much for technology, me. I don't own an e-reader and don't have any plans to, even though that meant that over the summer I took five paper books to Scotland with me to prepare for Bouchercon moderating and then brought them back again in case I needed to check anything.
I like the double-page spread of a book. I enjoy seeing the jacket design while I'm reading one. I would miss the way your fingers tell you how much of a book is left and so you can plan the last reading session, with a cup of tea and guaranteed quiet while you race to the end.
I *can* read online, but it always feels like work, never pleasure. Likewise I can use a clothes drier, but I don't own one and the smell of line-dried clothes is one of my life's pleasures. I can use a microwave but I don't own one and the sound of a bubbling pot on the stove makes me happy. I always say I'd make a great Amish housewife if it weren't for the fundamentalism.
And the small matter of being a crimewriter too.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Q: "Have you switched to reading mostly ebooks or do you still hanker for the feel of a bound book in your hands? How would you prefer to have your books published?"
But when I'm reading, I have a definite preference. I prefer books.
I understand the convenience of reading on a Kindle or Nook. I can only imagine the space it would free up in my suitcase when I travel. And, as I look over a pile of books I brought back from Bouchercon, I'm pretty sure switching to e-books would mean a lot more room in my house too. But I'm pretty stuck on printed books.
I like the soft ivory of the page behind the black ink. I like being able to easily see if I'm half way. I like the weight of a hardcover, and the feel of a paperback. I just like books.
Although if someone wants to perform for me an interpretative dance of Catriona McPherson's latest book, A Deadly Measure of Brimstone that would be fine too. (It's out now, so go and buy it!): http://catrionamcpherson.com/
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
I browse on Amazon and buy in real life.
- I hear about a book that intrigues me.
- I download the free Kindle sample and start reading on my phone.
- About 95% of the time, that's as far as I go with a book. Most books don't hook most readers, and I'm not willing to spend time in a book where I'm not compulsively driven to turn the page.
- If I want the book, I browse local bookstores to see if it's in stock. If I find it, I buy it. If it's not, and I'm just THAT hooked on the sample, I order from the evil empire. (I'm not willing to pay the store to order the book for me if it's not in stock, for two reasons: 1. It's a pain to have to add one more errand, to go back to that shop when the book comes in. 2. I'd be paying them a 40% premium to do something I can do myself: order the book online.)
- I also buy books at launches and book parties from whichever bookseller has made the effort to come out and sell. My most recent purchase (from Vancouver's Dead Write Books) is Owen Laukkanen's Kill Fee. Amazing book so far. It's coming out in paperback soon, but I bought the hardcover because after hearing him read, I just couldn't wait.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Friday, November 14, 2014
As I write this, I'm struggling frantically to get things done before catching a plane Thursday morning for the West Coast for this year's Bouchercon—and I know I need to write this now because I'll hardly get a chance once everything gets underway in Long Beach. (More on that in a moment.)
This week's question—"How would you characterize the kind of mystery you like to write and why did you chose this sub genre?"—is one that I wish I could answer more definitively. As another of our Criminal Minds panelists, R.J. Harlick, mentioned earlier this week, a lot of us would rather resist the kinds of labeling and pigeonholing that's expected by publishers, publicists, booksellers, and reviewers, and I'll admit that as a short story writer, I particularly love the options I have to try out a lot of different subgenres, styles, and structures. My fellow short story writer Brendan DuBois explained this far better than I ever could in his post for Ellery Queen's blog Something Is Going to Happen when he explained his revelation: "With short stories, practically anything is possible."
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (November 2014) or I could experiment with the thriller formula (and with second person narration) in "Premonition," which was just published in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays, the latest anthology from the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime. And my novel-in-stories On The Road With Del and Louise, due out next September from Henery Press, finds itself somewhere in the mix of cozy mystery and screwball comedy and buddy movie—with an edge or two (or three) along the way.
But while it's fun to range through a number of subgenres like that from one story to the next, that diversity also poses a challenge in an era when branding and marketing seem to be a key part of any author's success. "What do you write?" and "Would I like it?" become much more difficult questions to answer in casual conversation—or when trying to pitch your own work either to a fan or to an editor or agent.
My friend E.A. Aymar, author of I'll Sleep When You're Dead, asked me about this very dilemma in an interview he posted on his blog—and the question hit me pretty hard at the time, something I'll admit I'd (foolishly) never thought about in the midst of just following each new story in whichever direction it seemed to go. Here's our exchange there:
Aymar: Your fiction tends to change its identity according to the story, but many crime fiction writers do the opposite, and work in a recognizable or distinctive prose. Do you think your approach could potentially delay building an audience, considering it plays outside of standard genre conventions?
Taylor: A good question. Yes, I've thought about that myself. I like playing with different voices, different tones, different subgenres, so my stories range from pretty dark noir to much lighter fare. I've been very lucky to have had attention for my stories in terms of honors and awards, and I've had a couple of publishers approach me about a story collection, but I have serious concerns that my stories so far wouldn't entirely be cohesive enough to gather into a collection—troubling to say the least. And in terms of writing a novel someday… well, I know in today's publishing climate, brand means almost everything.
Here's a telling anecdote: I spoke with an editor at a major publishing house last year about several ideas for novels, and she said that I really needed to think about not just one book but a series, projecting ahead into the future—no big surprise there. But here's what's telling: When I mentioned the idea of working in various directions as I've done with my stories—and hearkened back to a writer like Donald Westlake, who wrote some of the funniest mystery novels ever as well as some of the coldest and bleakest—the editor said that she felt certain those choices had compromised his career (read: "sales") tremendously. I'm not likening myself to Westlake, of course—that was never my point—but the conversation was sobering, and a little intimidating. And I'm not sure what any of that means for the way that I've been approaching my career here. Perhaps not good news.
I'm still not sure what it all means. Comments here certainly welcome....
And in the meantime, I'll hope to see lots of folks in Long Beach. By the time this appears, my panel presentation ("Short But Mighty: The Power and Freedom of the Short Story" with Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti, and Paul D. Marks, and moderated by Travis Richardson) will already have taken place, and we'll know whether or not my story "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants" earned the Macavity this year—fingers crossed! (Update: WON! Can hardly believe it.....) Beyond that, I'm looking forward to Saturday night's presentation of the Anthony Awards (fingers crossed again), and to seeing lots of folks at other events and panels—and in and around the bar too, of course.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
As we know, there are many different sub genres for crime novels, from cozy and amateur sleuth through to police procedurals and noir. How would you characterize the kind of mystery you like to write and why did you chose this sub genre?
When people ask me what I write, I usually say novels. When pressed further, I’ll often say I’m a mystery writer. I find that it’s a whole lot easier than offering some intricate, convoluted explanation about the characteristics of various sub-genres and where I feel my work falls within those amorphous boundaries. After all, most people know what a mystery is—they’ve read them or seen mysteries on television. They’ve heard of Agatha Christie, even though they may never have read any of her work.
Which is fine with me. I certainly don’t mind being known as a mystery writer (I’ve been called worse things).
The truth is, I try not to pay much attention to genres, sub or otherwise. As a kid, when I’d go to the library, I wasn’t looking for any specific type of book. I was simply looking for a good book. A compelling, captivating, page-turner with great characters and a memorable plot. I know, not much to ask for, right?
It was only when I started writing, and then querying agents, that I found I had to place my work into a specific cubbyhole. The book will have to go on a bookseller’s shelf, I was told, and they need to know which shelf it will be. The publisher will need to market the book, I was told, and the marketing types need to know which readers to target. Certain reviewers will need to be contacted, certain conferences attended, certain awards aimed for, I was told, and all of that is genre-dependent.
I never set out to write a mystery; I was just trying to write a good book.
Ideas pop into my head and I run with them, not paying too much attention to the shelves they may eventually sit upon. Now, it so happens that my brain feels most at home wallowing in the word of crime (draw your own conclusions). I guess it’s not surprising, then, that most of my ideas revolve around bad (and illegal) things happening to my beleaguered protagonists.
However, I haven’t written exclusively in the crime realm. I wrote a horror novel (bad things happened to my protagonist in that one, too). And I wrote a YA coming-of-age novel. But pretty much everything else I’ve written could be classified as a crime novel.
So I guess, technically, I’m a crime writer. But if you ask me what kind of crime writer I am, I’ll probably just shrug and start mumbling something about simply trying to write a good book.
If you haven’t had a chance to read the excerpt from my novel in the Kindle Scout program, there’s still time! Check out RUNNING FROM THE PAST here. If you like it, I’d love a nomination! Thanks!
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Monday, November 10, 2014
Genre? Subgenre? I don’t choose my genres, they choose me. I have an idea and then I follow it through the book. This used to drive my agents crazy, but I think they’ve resigned themselves to it now.
I started out in a clearly defined subgenre: historical mystery. My Hannah Vogel series is set in Berlin in the 1930s and it ticks off those boxes nicely. Ironically, I didn’t set out to write a mystery at all. I had this idea for a character, a gay cabaret singer in Berlin at the end of the Weimar Republic. He was clear in my head—strong, funny, immensely talented—and then someone killed him and I had to find out why. So, I wrote a murder mystery called A Trace of Smoke. Then another. Then two more.
I detoured into horror with my YA horror books (iDrakula and iFrankenstein) and then my grown up vampire books with James Rollins (The Blood Gospel, Innocent Blood, and Blood Infernal). I was playing with new ways to tell stories (iPhone app, anyone?) and writing (co-authoring with someone else) and the supernatural (vampires, sentient artificial intelligences, vampires again).
Now I’m working on a new mystery/thriller series. I was walking down into the subway one day and I had an idea about a character who couldn’t leave. I typed in a bunch of notes while hanging on to a pole with one hand and I knew I had to know who that guy was before I got to my stop. I rode around for a while after that, just watching the stations go by and thinking. By the time I got home, I knew that the guy underground was Joe Tesla—an agoraphobic software millionaire who can’t go outside and lives in the tunnels under New York City, with a home base in a Victorian house built a hundred feet under Grand Central Terminal for the original engineer’s family. It wasn’t long before he came across a man breaking open a brick wall underground with a sledgehammer and he looked inside and there were three skeletons—two human and one monkey. I had to find out what that was about and the result was The World Beneath.
Because, for me, reading is about losing myself to play in another world, and writing is about that, too. It’s about playing with the characters, with the worlds, with the readers. I don’t think about genre—I think about fascination, obsession, and fun. If I do land in a genre, I tend to play at the boundaries—the places where things are new and fun for me and, hopefully, for my readers.
What about you, where do you like to play? And why?
Friday, November 7, 2014
And for a little BSP. I’ll be at Bouchercon next week. Here’s my sked:
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
with ER Brown, Dietrich Kalteis,
Owen Laukkanen & Linda L. Richards
Monday, November 3, 2014
- - “Short” is a relative term. These ranged from about 1,500 words to 50,000 and no one length had an aesthetic edge over another. Historicals tended to be longer and no wonder; there’s a lot of scene setting to do.
- - They use all of crime fiction’s sub-genres and a lot of the clichés, perhaps because they have to move into action so quickly that shortcuts are useful.
- - The crimes were major, and felt particularly brutal, and I wondered if that was because there’s less space to hint, tease, lead the reader slowly into the darkest places in the story.
- - There was very little, almost no, humor in the submissions. They tended to be dark, twisty, and lacking the kinds of endings where justice is meted out.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Have I ever had a change of heart about a character I intended to dispatch, and found I had become attached to him or her?
The short answer is yes to the attachment, no to the change of heart.
The longer answer is more complicated, of course.
"50 Visually Stunning Horror Movies for Twisted Aesthetes," a great list, with beautiful imagery to boot). After it was over, we watched a short documentary interviewing the screenwriters, Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote novels both individually and together (under the name Boileu-Narcejac) but whose work is probably best known through film; their novel Celle qui n'était plus (She Who Was No More) became Les Diaboliques in the hands of director Henri-George Clouzot, and Alfred Hitchcock turned their story D'entre les morts (Among the Dead or, better to my mind, "Between Deaths") into his masterpiece, Vertigo.
Needless to say, they've got a good resume.
The interview with Boileau and Narcejac, part of the Criterion Collection DVD, is also available online here, and it offers insights into their long history and collaborative process. But what struck me as most interesting was how they distinguished their own work from the vast array of approaches to writing mysteries and thrillers.
"It's the novel of the victim," explained Narcejac. "To simplify, one could say Agatha Christie typifies the detective novel, inspiring curiosity about the investigation. And crime novels are about the killer, aren't they? But we write novels about the victim."
I'd be hesitant to compare any of my own work with the mastery in Boileau-Narcejac's writings, but I felt an immediate affinity with that explanation. As I wrote in a recent post here at Criminal Minds, the lines between hero and villain and victim in my tales frequently blur or twist over the course of the story. When I've slated a character for death in the plotting stages of a tale, then his or her fate is sealed; I've never changed that, not to my knowledge. But those victims (or seeming victims) are almost always part of the primary focus, and as I'm crafting those characters within the story (their scenes, their backgrounds, their actions and reflections, the small, revealing details about them), I'm trying not just to develop their depth but also, explicitly, to build the attachments that this week's question asks about—attachments both for myself and for the reader, since without the one there's probably no chance of the other.
In the end, I'm always hopeful that even as sympathies shift from one character to another, readers won't just be surprised at some plot twist but might also find their other reactions becoming more nuanced: an enriched sense of loss, an unexpected change of perspective, some broader range of mental and emotional engagement with it all.
I don't kill characters because I have no feeling for them anymore than I just kill the characters I don't like or don't care about. Just the opposite, the best deaths on the page mean something to us. They carry some weight.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Have you ever had a change of heart about a character you intended to dispatch, and found you had become attached to him or her?
Nah, I’m too heartless to become attached to any of the characters I create. They are merely pawns I manipulate in my fever-induced written fantasies. Mwa ha ha!!
Well, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I do try not to become attached to any of my characters—protagonists, villains, victims—albeit for different reasons.
Because I try to heap a lot of trouble onto my protagonists, it’s better if I’m not too “close” to them. If I became attached, it would be like seeing dear friends suffer through one tragedy after another, with the outlook only looking bleaker and bleaker. (When it comes to fiction, I suppose I’m a fair-weather friend.)
Most of my villains are nasty people, or do nasty things, or have different values than I do. Becoming attached to that type of person doesn’t seem very appealing, even if I know that they’ll get what’s coming to them in the end.
As for getting close to my victims, well, why bother? They’re not going to be around very long.
Many writers say that sometimes their characters will take on a life of their own and do things that the writers never imagined, never planned for. If a character in one of my books started freewheeling and doing things I didn’t plan (and didn’t want), I guess that would make one aspect of my plotting go a little easier.
I’d have identified my next victim.
And now, for some BSP:
My book, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, is part of the Kindle Scout program. Here’s how it works: You read an excerpt from a book; if you like it, you nominate it. Then Amazon’s Scout Team evaluates those books with the most nominations and rewards publishing contracts to those it deems worthy.
It’s like American Idol for books.
If you can spare a couple of minutes, I’d love for you to read an excerpt. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/12QP79x
A bonus: If a book you nominate goes on to get published, you get a free advance copy of the entire novel.
(And feel free to share this with all your suspense-loving friends!)
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
by Tracy Kiely