Monday, February 20, 2017
Friday, February 17, 2017
My first suggestion comes from the late, great Chester Himes, whose work, along with his amazing life, demands to be considered a national treasure on a scale beyond the Chandlers, Hammetts, and Ellroys. Described by the autobiographer James Sallis as "a novelist in whom autobiography and fiction are inextricably and often maddeningly intertwined," Chester Himes dared to write hardboiled fiction that, in his own words, "was (meant) to force white Americans to confront the horror and brutalisation of the black ghettos." Whereas historically, African American characters are used as foil and fodder in the genre, Chester Himes shows us that other America by centering his plots with blackness. I hear often that my work does the same, and to welcoming effect. I'm not the first. I'm standing upon the shoulders of this black giant.
If only to lead folks to all of his mighty works, I suggest the final book in what is known as the Harlem cycle, or Harlem Detective series: Blind Man with a Pistol.
New York is sweltering in the summer heat, and Harlem is close to the boiling point. To Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones, at times it seems as if the whole world has gone mad. Trying, as always, to keep some kind of peace—their legendary nickel-plated Colts very much in evidence—Coffin Ed and Grave Digger find themselves pursuing two completely different cases through a maze of knifings, beatings, and riots that threaten to tear Harlem apart.
I'd wager you'd go back and start at his For Love Of Emmabelle a.k.a. A Rage In Harlem and continue all the way through. In our genre, black America is often treated as underbelly or nether-region that is navigated by choice, or desire. In this work, Chester Himes gave us not an African America, but the actual America, not in another shade or hue, but in stark white light-level reality.
"Blink once, you're robbed," Coffin Ed advised the white man slumming in Harlem.
"Blink twice, you're dead," Grave Digger added dryly.
Though our nation is a cluster of cultures that only blur into a mélange when pureed by our mastication of consumer experience, the twin halves of the American identity is interminably black and white. Yet along the equator of daily life, through the miasma of this abject oversimplicity, we are able to journey through several distinct cultural realities. Worlds upon worlds exist alongside the influences of white supremacy and black resistance. We just have to, say, ponder who cooks our tacos and chow mein. We have to consider going deeper, beyond the weekend excursions and staycations and treat our car windows as the looking glass where we see other beings so similar and yet most unlike ourselves.
My frequently expressed dictum for writing in our genre is crime touches us all. It is the grand equalizer of the American experience. Henry Chang's Detective Yu series boldly reclaims Asian American crime themes from Earl Derr Biggers and rekindles the complexities of the Chinese people in America to stirring effect. I read Chinatown Beat and, though I identify as African American, I was at home in its protagonist Jack Yu's internal and external conflicts. There is deep American commonality in these books.
NYPD detective Jack Yu must investigate the rape of a grade-school girl on the fringes of Chinatown, where he grew up and has just been stationed. Meanwhile, would-be gangster Johnny Wong is carrying on with Mona, the gorgeous mistress of his employer, Uncle Four, head of the local branch of the Hip Ching tong and a powerful underworld figure in both New York and Hong Kong. As Yu digs deeper into his case, he finds evidence of a connection between the rapist and the local gangsters.
Henry Chang may not be from your neighborhood, but he understands his neighborhood, and 'hood recognize 'hood, y'all.
Most folks know I have a love for heroes. I prefer a good hardboiled mystery or thriller that puts a protagonist at odds with a con, conspiracy or overall oppressive force that wants to chew up the little guy and gal with impunity. Elliot Caprice, the protagonist of my novel, A Negro and an Ofay (May 2017, Down & Out Books), is, to his continual frustration, bound by a singular personal ethic: "It's wrong, and it happened in front of me. That makes it my business." We write what we know. I know heroes. Even anti-heroes are still heroes.
Though I don't reach for caper stories and criminal tales, in which the con is the thing, and the plan is to get away with it, they often fall in my lap, and I enjoy them all the same. Except I didn't enjoy Vern E. Smith's brilliant—and sole—crime novel, The Jones Men, nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author in 1975. I couldn't stand it, as it was the psychological equivalent to being locked in a room with all my friends and family members who came up on both sides of the American hypocrisy of narcotics: pushers and users. There's less mystery in the plot, though plenty can be found in the motivations and activities of the characters, and especially within the notion that any of them will succeed.
An all-out drug war explodes in 1970s Detroit when a young Vietnam veteran decides to rip off heroin kingpin Willis McDaniel. In the chaos, rival outfits, the Mafia, and even junkies themselves try to step in to fill the void while one lone assassin tries to hunt them all down—and one determined cop tries to stop it all.
Mississippi-born Vern Smith (1946) was a journalist covering Detroit for Newsweek during the siege of drugs and violence that claimed the city's identity from the prosperity of the automotive boon and its Motown soundtrack. In its pages, he draws a perfect picture of the collusion of all the players in the drug game. Though the reader may pick a side, the work is bereft of heroism, and it plays in the modern mind as a tragedy on the scale of Sysiphus. Though Smith would go on to continue a distinguished career as a journalist covering such seminal events as Hank Aaron's usurping of Babe Ruth's home run record and the Atlanta child murders that had the entire nation captivated in 1980, he never again wrote a novel. The Jones Men is a hole-in-one in the final round of the US Open. It's the goddamned Hope Diamond of crime fiction novels. Yet Vern E. Smith, though he serves America still, has no Wikipedia entry for himself or his novel. Check out Eric Beetner's excellent article on the book at The Criminal Element and track down a copy. If you find it at a flea market or Goodwill, it's the crime fiction equivalent of a rare Rembrandt on markdown. Just don't expect to feel cozy while reading it.
I've yet to be asked to cease asserting my themes and ideas, so I've resolved to keep going and make certain I offer up jewels and gems of literary brilliance that help bring those unlike us into focus and, as a consequence of our illumination, bring us together on and off the page. I appreciate your patience.
Though I'm gonna do it anyhow.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
What 3 mystery books are “must reads” for those who have never read mysteries before?
So many great books to recommend! So many potential “must reads”! How can one possibly choose?
By narrowing things down using my Book-Sort-O-Matic Machine (patent pending)!
I hauled it out of deep storage, replaced the flux capacitor, and programmed the following criteria:
1) Book written by an author who is either an Edgar Award winner or MWA Grand Master.
2) Book itself either won, or was nominated for, a prestigious mystery-writing award.
3) Book features a detective (police or PI).
4) Book has a color in the title.
5) I read the book and enjoyed it.
Three choices popped out!
Winner of the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1993, this is the first in the Harry Bosch series.
The Blue Edge of Midnight – Jonathon King
Featuring ex-cop Max Freeman, this won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2003.
This is the seventh novel in the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series (nominated for a Shamus Award in 1998).
What’s your favorite mystery with a color in the title?
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Monday, February 13, 2017
Friday, February 10, 2017
by Paul D. Marks
Everyone earlier this week had so many great things to say, I hope I have some new ones as well as maybe re-hitting some of the previous things in my own inimitable way, especially as this was written before I saw this week’s posts. But great minds and all of that...
In a sense you’re not just a writer anymore but a small publishing/PR company of your own, even if you’re with a major publisher. The big publishers push the big authors—you know, the ones who don’t really need it, like Stephen King, Anne Rice, Sue Grafton and John Grisham. But you and your little book, whether you’re pub’d by a major, a small publisher or an indie, and who could really use a push, well you’re on your own for the most part. But you can do it. It just takes time, effort and a little money. But not nearly as much money as ad campaigns used to take when your only outlets were print, radio and TV.
So, as much as many writers like to disengage from the world, you have to engage, at least to some extent. Sometimes in person. Sometimes online.
Face to Face:
Be part of the community. That can happen in a variety of ways.
There are bookstore (and other) signings and panels and interviews to do. The problem with signings is that it’s sometimes hard to get people to come out if you’re not one of the aforementioned big stars. On the other hand you might make friends and connections with booksellers who can help you down the line.
There’s also conventions like Bouchercon, Malice and Left Coast, etc. All good places to meet people and network. And just have a good time. I haven’t been to Malice, but I’ve really enjoyed Bouchercon and Left Coast. And if you get on a panel so much the better. On top of that, my wife and I always book a few extra days so we can explore the convention city. We went to Bouchercon in Albany, not a place I had ever really expected to go or to like. But we enjoyed its New England Flavor and history, as we enjoyed all the cities of the various conventions we went to.
There’s also groups like Sisters in Crime, ITW, and MWA, and others. These groups hold social functions, informative meetings, have an online presence. They’re a great way to meet people.
Face to Facebook:
I went kicking and screaming onto Facebook a few years ago. Publicist and friend Diana James “gently” suggested that I should go on it.
“I don’t want to see pictures of what people had for breakfast…or worse,” I said.
So, after much cajoling from Diana I took the dreaded step and signed onto FB. At first I didn’t know what to do, how to use it. I was an evil lurker. Of course, since I had few FB friends I didn’t have much to lurk at. So I’d check in every few days or so, still not knowing what to do, but gaining a few friends here, a few friends there.
And then when White Heat came out I put up some posts about that. And other people shared them. And I think it did help get the book known, get reviews and make sales. But the key is, as everyone says, not to only push your books. People get turned off by that big time. Be a friend. Be part of the community. Comment and share other people’s posts. Participate.
Besides Facebook, there’s also Twitter and Instagram and Reddit and so many more online entities that you can’t count high enough. The key here, I think, is to pick one or two, maybe three, to focus on. Otherwise it just gets out of hand. I do mostly Facebook and Twitter, with the help of Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, which is the only way to make Twitter decipherable.
Have FB and Twitter made me a NY Times Bestseller? No. But they’ve definitely helped get me more readers and connect with people with similar interests, which is more than I could have done by going on a cross country book signing tour …and it costs a lot less. And I figure now there’s not a state in the country that I couldn’t have lunch with someone if I happened to be passing through—and if I do I’ll be sure to post the photo of the meal. Hell, there’s several countries on different continents that I could have lunch with someone I know from social media. Anyone for tennis?
Pay or Play:
If you’ve got money you can hire a publicist. But, just like with anything or anyone else, some might be good, others not so good. And just because they work for a big company or have a fancy office doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better. When I was working in Hollywood my then-writing partner and I got one of the Big Three agencies as agents (have I told this one before?). We thought it was the best day of our lives. Celebrated. Flying high. But it turned out to be the worst experience as we were the little fish in the big pond. (But I’ll leave the details for another time.) And the best agent I had was working out of his converted garage when I met him. He hustled for me. And got me work. And he was eventually picked up as a VP by another large agency and took me with him. The point I’m making here is don’t let the trappings of a big publicist (or publisher for that matter) fool you into thinking you can sit back and do nothing or let things slide.
Besides publicists, you can try to get your book on Book Gorilla, etc., or place ads in things like E Reader News or Kindle Nation Daily or Kindle Review or the very expensive and very choosy Book Bub. Even Facebook ads.
Yammer Yammer Yammer:
Get out there and talk, to anyone and everyone who will listen.
Blog. You can start your own. Guest on other people’s. Join a blog like Criminal Minds. I blog both here and on SleuthSayers.
Try to get radio interviews. People, especially internet radio, are always looking for interesting guests.
Try to get your book reviewed. Not always easy, but there’s a ton of bloggers in the great cyberspace out there who review books. Contact them.
Do blog tours.
Word of mouth is one of the best things. If you can get people talking about you or your book/s, you’re on your way. Easier said than done, but not impossible.
Use Goodreads and other sites like that.
Pay It Forward:
Pay it forward. A lot of people have been nice to me over the years. And while I want to repay their kindness directly I also try to pay it forward in general. The mystery community seems pretty nice and pretty supportive overall and I want to contribute to that atmosphere.
And the bottom line is write a good book.
Available now from Down & Out Books:
A collection of 15 Private Eye stories from some of the best mystery and noir writers from across the country. Also available on Amazon: