Monday, May 29, 2017

The Other Side of the Writing Endeavor

Please welcome guest blogger Myra Jolivet, who is a fellow member of the Sisters in Crime NorCal chapter. A bit about her follows her answer to this week's big Q.

Q: Does Marketing Your Book Feel Oppressive or Liberating?

Vocational irony is an alternative description of the shoe-less cobblers wife and the cake-less bakers kids. When you promote and market others for a living, then find yourself with a piece of you to market, it is liberating.

Its not that I dont enjoy building strategies for others to win political campaigns or using marketing tactics to build client databases and influence; but once I had gathered the guts to fuel my passion to create cozy mysteries, I had my own thing to pitch and push. My brainstorm sessions happen now with my committee of me and we argue about angles, differentiation and layered strategy.

I hope that every author who bleeds at a key board can find creative release and enjoyment in writing unique marketing plans. I have had incredible mentors who helped to open my mind to my own purposes. I realized that book signings can happen at unlikely places that may be mentioned in your story. Social media communities are free, limitless resources for finding your readers both live and on-demand. Imagine using Facebook live to present a targeted, virtual book signing, internationally. Or using Google+ to define market segments tweaked to your genre. Once you have them, you can send newsletters, poll them on plot developments, ask their opinions on cover styles, and promote upcoming events. Youll notice the key word is targeted. In the earlier days of public relations, finding highly targeted market segments was much more difficult than it is today with social channels. Back then, we used six-figure surveys, scientific focus groups and huge manual efforts to find what can now be determined in an internet browser search. Finding non-fiction, fiction, romance and mystery book clubs can happen in minutes. Once you have a target audience, you can reach out to them and connect them to your books. This excites me!  It is liberating. The ability to connect, directly with those who enjoy your work product, is a rush. The freedom to experiment with marketing plans can bring creative satisfaction.

It is work. Yes, it is work. But, if youve ever worked endless days pushing a political candidate platform to disinterested voters or boosting a product you only marginally like, the opportunity to participate in the marketing of an extension of your time and talents, will feel like a luxury.

My committee of me is currently trying to figure out how to connect with a well-known vodka company because my amateur sleuth loves her martinis made with their product.

If marketing is not your vocation, it can become your passion when you consider the available tools to find your audience. It can become liberating to consider marketing your work, in your way, as the next step of your creation.

Myra Jolivet 

At 4 years old, I had an imaginary friend. I think my storytelling began there. Later came a career in television news, politics and corporate communications; more writing.

Working with writing coaches and editors, I began a series of murder mysteries that connect northern California to the colorful Louisiana Creole culture.

I am a Bay Area native with Louisiana Creole roots. In our quiet Berkeley neighborhood, my parents often hosted gumbo Sundays seasoned with hushed stories of relatives who spoke to the dead and had cast more than a spell or two. Those "secrets" fueled the voice of mystery and humor within me.

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Rage On My Bookshelf, or The Reclamation of Chester Himes

How do books you love stack up to their film adaptations?

For me to come out of a bag on A RAGE IN HARLEM (1991 - Miramax Films) is to risk the ire of a generation of African-American filmgoers who prize the work as a marvel of hilarity. Back when movie audiences were bifurcated along racial lines (pre-GET OUT's paradigm shifting phenomena) the film stood as a considerable achievement in the ability of black storytellers to take a black author's property and bring it to the big screen, albeit with a white fella from within the system as their producer (the great Stephen Wooley, responsible for everything worth seeing from Neil Jordan among others.)

Except the necessity of creative invention produced a film that only slightly resembles the novel upon which it was based: FOR LOVE OF IMABELLE, authored by none other than the great Chester Himes, who wrote boldly and dangerously of the reality of black American life, consequently depicting the hypocrisy of the America who thinks of itself along racial and economic lines.

Himes was at his best when he was at his most caustic. In fact, this was what earned him his fame, and eventually the ire of the publishing establishment: he was just too damned good at putting the world on blast for its bullshit. Unfortunately, what was written as a fast-moving, intricate and searing crime novel, which revealed societal contradictions around every one of its twists and turns, became a frickin' laugh riot filled with cameos of every black actor of note that was either working at the time or hard-up for a role so they could keep their SAG card. Danny Glover, Zakes Moake, Badja Diola, Samm-Art Williams, Stack Pierce, Helen Martin, T.K. Carter. Hell, they lured George Wallace off the Vegas casino comedy circuit to actually deliver a performance that, along with Stack Pierce, makes you wish someone kept The Harlem Series adaptations going, if only for their portrayal of Coffin Ed and Gravedigger.

The basic plot is still there: Jackson, a hapless milquetoast, meets and immediately falls in love with the beautiful and deceitful Imabelle and is promptly conned out of a load of bread he pilfers from his undertaker boss. Her main thang Slim is the leader of a ruthless gang of black country bumpkins. Jackson's con-artist half-brother Goldy gets involved, and as he is an informant to none other than Harlem Detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, the crew comes to pay the price for runnin' game in the biggest of big cities.

Unfortunately, aside from some glossing over of elements of black-on-black crime, corrupt policing and black female empowerment (particularly well-crafted in the performance of the underrated Robin Givens as Imabelle,) the film distances itself from addiction in all its forms (gambling, sex, drugs, alcohol,) black female sexuality and sexual aggressiveness, and, most disappointingly, the multi-racial reality of Harlem debauchery in all its depraved sustenance. Of course, the Hollywood of the 80s and 90s wouldn't allow such aspects to make it onto the screen, what with Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING driving studio executives to risk management meetings. Still, FOR THE LOVE OF IMABELLE just as well could be filmed as an edgy thriller (maybe even a horror show,) yet it was framed for investors as a comedy geared toward African Americans. Not as the adaptation of a crime fiction classic that deserves to be held in the same esteem as any of the works of Chandler or Hammett.

Speaking with the BBC back in 2006, Stephen Wooley broke on the approach during filming, including an anecdote about Bill Duke that no one who has been in the room with the brilliant veteran would disbelieve:

...[A]bout halfway through we were looking at a scene, and I turned to Bill [Duke] and said 'You know [pause] that wasn't quite as funny as it was in the script. And I don't know why. And he said to me , 'We're not making no god-damn comedy.' I'd raised the entire money for this film on the base that it was a comedy. It was Chester Himes, it was supposed to be funny. And a shiver went down my spine...I hoped that Bill was joking. But I realized he thought we were making Porgy and Bess.

And there it is. To finally get Chester Himes to the big screen, they had to neuter the book and turn it into some sort of all-star comedy. Reviewing the film for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "painless, occasionally funny" but with a "heedlessly incomprehensible plot…" No one who worships at the altar of Himes would ever associate his work with such disparagement, including the "occasionally funny" bit. Although it pulls laughs out of readers, Himes' work isn't comedic. Ain't really nothin' about it funny, same as how black life in America ain't funny, though we wring laughs from it as well.

A film so removed from the visceral thrust of its source material could only be created by writers and producers who are disconnected from the wealth of the author's work. I exempt Bill Duke, as he is regarded as an artist of compromising vision. Also, he's bigger than me and I have an even-money chance of running into him at some Diversity in Hollywood gathering or something.

If you don't relate it back to FOR LOVE OF IMABELLE (retitled as A RAGE IN HARLEM, to take advantage of post hoc awareness of Himes' genius) it holds up. It's a damned good film. Its laughs and tears are well earned. For years, I looked past its flaws, if for no other reason than I have to cape for black folk who succeed in the Sysisphean quest of getting a film to market. Back then, the achievement was just too remarkable not to hold it in that light.

Yet now we are in an age where, once again (and for about the one-hundredth time) Hollywood is realizing that great films made by African American creators aren't, by default, only for black audiences. Tragically, this is occurring at the same time the achievements of the great Chester Himes are lost on so many of my fellow crime fiction scribes, including those who owe him a debt. I have to accept that, no matter how noble this somewhat-masterpiece may be, it still leaves us a lot of work to do, if not a lot to be desired.

- dg


My debut novel, A NEGRO AND AN OFAY, is a work which is decidedly in conversation with Chester Himes, who led the way with crafting crime fiction that deals unguardedly and fearlessly with race and class in America. It is set in the same period and hopefully achieves for Chicago what Himes' depictions did for Harlem, New York. It's available from Down & Out Books. As always, I deeply appreciate your support.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mission Possible

by Alan

How do books you love stack up to their film adaptations?

I love Lee Childs’s Jack Reacher books, so, naturally, I was excited when I first heard that a Reacher movie was in the works. Then I learned that Tom Cruise was slated to play Reacher. For those of you who don’t know, in the books, Reacher is a big man (Maybe 6’5” and 250 pounds—I don’t remember exactly). For those of you who don’t know, Tom Cruise is not a big man (I don’t know his measurements exactly, but you wouldn’t confuse the two in a dark alley).

Now, I happen to like Tom Cruise (as an actor). I’ve seen a lot of his movies, and I think he does a pretty good job in most of them (Risky Business? Top Gun? A Few Good Men? Rain Man? Classics!). But could he pull off portraying the imposing Reacher? When the announcement came out, there was a lot of buzz within the crime-writing community, most of it disbelief. Being a Cruise fan, I reserved judgment until I actually saw the movie.

Verdict: I liked the movie. I’m not sure how closely it hewed to my vision of the Childs books (not only Reacher’s physical characteristics, but the whole movie’s worldview). In other words, if the main character’s name hadn’t been Reacher, I’m not sure I would have recognized it as coming from the books.

But in the end, I wasn’t disappointed with the movie. I haven’t seen the second Reacher movie yet, but I plan to.

For more of my thoughts about book-to-film adaptations, see an earlier blog post HERE.

One last note: I loved reading Clifford: The Big Red Dog books to my kids. I never saw the movie (and I understand a new Clifford movie is scheduled to be released at the end of the year), but I did have the pleasure of meeting Cliffy at this past weekend’s Gaithersburg Book Festival. (Clifford’s the one on the right.)


Me and Clifford

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

From the page to the screen

How do books you love stack up to their film adaptations?

by Dietrich Kalteis

I think of chapters as scenes in a film when I write them, so it’s alway interesting to see a film adaptation based on a novel that I read. One shows the story, the other tells it. One delivers the action with images and sound, the other goes deeper into the reason behind an action. One comes with popcorn … Well, maybe it’s not fair to compare them at all, although one does represent the other. 

Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a great example of a terrific novel turned into a film of equal caliber, the Coen brothers delivering a tight adaptation — a story that has a western feel with a serial killer on the loose, a compressed air tank and bolt gun as his weapon of choice. 

Over twenty of Elmore Leonard’s stories were made into film, and the tighter the film stuck to his original words, the better the film. Both screenwriter Scott Frank and director Barry Sonnenfeld kept true to Leonard’s terrific characters and trademark dialog in Get Shorty, a tale of a Florida shylock making a career change into the movie business. One of my favorite crime novels and films.

Rum Punch is another good example of Elmore Leonard’s work translating to the screen. A twisting crime caper with the quirky characters and dialog typical of a great Elmore Leonard novel. Quentin Tarrantino did it justice in the film version called Jackie Brown. Then there are the two versions of 3:10 to Yuma.

Elmore Leonard sent his manuscript for Raylan to the series creator Graham Yost and told him he could strip it for parts. And that’s just what Yost did, keeping true to the rich dialog and story lines for the series. It’s a terrific series based on one of Leonard’s favorite characters, Raylan Givens, a one-time coal miner, now deputy marshal, going back to Kentucky. Leonard readers will also remember Raylan character from the stories Pronto, Riding the Rap and Fire in the Hole.

Another great one: Nicholas Pileggi’s best-selling book Wiseguy chronicles the true story of Henry Hill, a guy who worked his way up in the mob and turned informant. It went on to become Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, Ray Liotta delivering a powerful performance as Henry Hill, and Joe Pecsi winning a best-supporting Oscar for his portrayal of Tommy DeVito. Both the book and the film are intense and realistic, the classic tale of life in the mob. 

Richard Stark’s Parker character has been portrayed a number of times in film by Lee Marvin, Michel Constantin, Jim Brown, Robert Duvall, Ana Karina, Peter Coyote, Mel GIbson and Jason Stachan. Of all the Parker adaptations, the character’s name was changed for all but the one Stachan played in Parker. It was Stark’s novel The Hunter that was made into Point Blank in 1967 starring Lee Marvin, and as Payback in 1999 starring Mel GIbson. Got to love Parker.

Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer, and the film starring Matthew McConaughey were equally good. And there have been a number of Stephen King’s stories that made their way to film. Among my favorites: The Shining and it’s film adaptation by Stanley Kubrick both cranked up the creepy. Also The Shawshank Redemption and the film starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman; Misery with James Caan and Kathy Bates; Dolores Claiborne, also starring Kathy Bates; The Green Mile with Tom Hanks; and Hearts in Atlantis with Anthony Hopkins.

Other favorite novels that I thought made great films: The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and the film starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey, and the film starring Jack Nicholson. James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and the film starring Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane and the film by Clint Eastwood, starring Sean Penn. The Untouchables based on the autobiographical memoir about Elliot Ness, co-written by Oscar Fraley, and screenplay by David Mamet.

I loved both Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy and the film starring Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt. Waldo Salt did a great job on the screenplay and also wrote the one for Serpico, another terrific film starring Al Pacino, directed by Sidney Lumet, based on the novel by Peter Maas.

Dog Day Afternoon was also directed by Sidney Lumet, starring a young Al Pacino, based on the novel by Patrick Mann. And although it had a great plot, I think the novel Mute Witness by Robert L. Pike had a hard time keeping up with the screen adaptation of Bullitt. Those car chase scenes were the best ever on film, with McQueen ripping through the streets of San Francisco in the late sixties.

For some vintage black and white stuff you can’t top To Kill a Mockingbird — a classic either way, the 1960 novel by Harper Lee and the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck. One won a Pulitzer, the other won three Oscars. 

And there’s Truman Capote’s non-fiction In Cold Blood, brought to the screen by Richard Brooks. The story also inspired a couple more films: Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman who won the Academy Award for best actor for portraying Capote’s experiences in writing the book; And Infamous starring Toby Jones. The book was also made into a two-part miniseries in 1996.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, published in 1939, and its 1946 film adaptation with Bacall and Bogart at their best. And there’s Strangers on a Train, the novel by Patricia Highsmith, film by Hitchcock.

There are many more that could be added, and there are a lot of good books out there that haven’t been made into films yet, but have that potential. And what author wouldn’t want to see one of their own stories up on the screen and watch scenes unfold that he or she created. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Good, the bad and the not so bad

By R.J. Harlick

Sorry, people, I thought I would be able to write a blog in my rush to head out west, but I’m afraid I have run out of time. So I thought I would resurrect a blog I wrote a few years ago.  By the time you read this I will be winging my way to one of my favourite cities, Vancouver.

Do you read reviews? Reply to them? Review the works of other writers?

Even though this was written three years ago, my views on reviews still very much apply. I see them as an integral part of my writing. They along with book sales and fan mail are the only measure I have on how well or not my books are received. They help to reinforce the worthiness of the many lonely hours spent creating and honing the stories. I read them, good or bad.  I don’t hesitate to broadcast good reviews to my readership via Facebook or on my website and other promotional material.

As we authors know, reviews are one of the key tools for attracting readers to our books. Objective reviews by reputable reviewers are often the main tool libraries and booksellers use for book ordering.  I would hazard to guess that more copies of my last book, A Cold White Fear, appeared on library and bookseller shelves than would’ve otherwise after receiving a good review from Publishers Weekly. 

I have sold books at store signings by simply mentioning that my books have been reviewed by a well-known Canadian reviewer. The type of review didn’t seem to matter. What was important was that the book had raised the interest of the reviewer enough for her to put the time in to review it. Keep in mind, reviewers receive hundreds of ARCs and rarely have time to review all of them, so they have to be selective.

Reviews have more than proven their worth on book tours. On one particular tour, my publisher had arranged for a review to appear in the respective local paper of each store signing. I had numerous people come specifically to buy the book after reading the review.

I value all reviews regardless of whether they appear in traditional media outlets such as newspapers and magazines, on review websites, in personal blogs, online bookseller sites or Goodreads. They are equally important.  I won’t however pay for a review.  Remember what I wrote earlier. A good review gives me a sense of accomplishment. Paying for one wouldn’t give me this, because a paid review is ipso facto a good one.

I also use reviews to help me hone my writing.  If a reviewer has objected to something in my book, rather than pulling my hair, I will keep it in mind when writing my next book. I have been known to send a reviewer a short thank you note. I don’t dwell on whether it was a good or bad review, but use it as a way of thanking the reviewer for their time spent in reviewing the book. I also want them to remember me next time one of my books appears in their pile.

Although the question is oriented to reviews, I mustn't forget the value I place on reader ratings that are offered on the various online bookseller sites and on Goodreads. I am sure I'm not the only author who finds them valuable. So if you enjoyed a book don't hesitate to let the author know by giving it a rating regardless of whether you have time to prepare an actual review.

As for reviewing other crime fiction books, I rarely do it. The crime writing community, particularly in Canada, isn’t all that large and many are my friends. I feel that if I reviewed one book I would have to do them all. And if I did that, where would I find the time to do what I really want to do, write crime fiction.

Speaking of reviews, my next Meg Harris mystery, Purple Palette for Murder is coming out in October. It will soon be available on Netgalley.  Printed ARCs are also available. If you would like one, please let me know. My contact information is on my website,

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Film Adaptation

Terry Shames and the Film Adaptation

No, my Samuel Craddock series has not been snapped up for a film or TV series. That title was just a come-on. Since my first book came out four years go, I must have been asked forty times who I would imagine starring as my protagonist, Samuel Craddock in a TV series or movie. It has been the object of long discussions at dinner parties. At first I felt like this meant I was on my way to a film adaptation, soon. I kept waiting for the call from Hollywood. Little did I know that this is a party game most authors get to play with their friends. It doesn’t mean a damn thing.

But when I think of the film and TV adaptations that have been done of some of my favorite books, my desire to see Craddock on the screen diminishes. It’s the rare film that does justice to a book or a series character. And rarer still does a film illuminate the book. I’m not sure I want to see Samuel twisted to fit a filmmaker’s version. Okay, I’ll take the money and run, but since it isn’t on offer, I don’t have to worry about that—yet.

I do enjoy some adaptations. In particular, I usually enjoy the movie and TV versions of Jane Austen books. It’s probably the costumes that grab me. But one in particular, Persuasion, is not only my favorite Austen adaptation; it’s one of my favorite movies. That’s because instead of lush female actors and drop-dead gorgeous male actors, all the actors in that particular movie look like every day people. Instead of pristine courtyards for the characters to elegantly move through, the houses are surrounded by muddy yards where chickens run freely.

One of my biggest disappointments in TV adaptations of current fiction was the Thomas Lynley series by Elizabeth George. In the books Barbara Havers is a homely, dumpy, frumpy woman who is always unhappy. In the TV version, she’s a babe with a quick wit. For me it steals the pleasure of watching the two main characters struggle to reconcile their numerous differences. To a lesser degree, I grew impatient with the Longmire series. Craig Johnson’s books are thoughtful, philosophical, and beautifully written. The TV show depends too much on pretty scenery, sexy women, and uneven story lines, no matter how hunky Robert Taylor is.

On the other hand, the fabulous Justified series took a short story by Elmore Leonard and ran with it. Every season was grounded in Leonard’s gritty action, outrageous characters, and clever dialogue. It worked beautifully for those of us who like their violence leavened with snappy dialogue and rough-hewn characters.

I’ve been watching the Bosch series based on Michael Connolly’s series and I like it fine (except for the terrible dialogue in this year’s season—why are they trotting out ever cliché ever spoken?), but it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Connolly’s Bosch. (Oddly, the only character in the TV series that reminds me of the books is the character of Jerry, Bosch’s partner.) That works in its favor. I don’t have to compare it to the books because they are so different.

Why are so many of the adaptations so different from the original? Someone I know who was in the film industry for many years said that movies and TV shows are all about the story line. The characters have to fit in. The best novels are the opposite: Characters get themselves into situations and have to work their way out. The way they do it depends on who they are as characters rather than who wrote the script.

All that said, I’m waiting for Hollywood to call! And wondering who would be the best actor to play Samuel Craddock.