Friday, January 29, 2010

A distinction without a difference ...

Tell us how you feel about genre vs. literary.

By Shane

I was sitting in a mall in Iowa, drinking stale coffee and hawking my first crime novel. A lady walked up and asked:

"Do you write literary fiction? Or genre?"

I replied:


She blinked confusion.

Then asked me where the bathrooms were.

I wasn't trying to confuse her, or make her want to tinkle. I was quite serious: genre is literary. Good writing is good writing, period. The rest is marketing, PR, fairy dust, and labels created to allow one group of writers to look down on another group of writers and thus feel better about itself. America doesn't have royals, so we insist on creating them ourselves.

It's a particularly silly distinction, anyway, literary vs. genre. Most real people can't tell the difference. Don't believe me? Then take my "Is It Is or Is It Ain't?" quiz and find out!

1. "This is a valley of ashes—a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air."

How about this:

2. “The house looked oddly like a skull, with its glassless windows gaping out at the snowscape. Pink fiberglass insulation was everywhere, sticking out of the house, blowing across the snow, hung up in the bare birch branches like obscene fleshy hair.”

Or this:

3. "The sky above us was the color of ever-changing violet, and towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns."

Or this:

4. "It was cold, bleak, biting weather. He could hear the people in the court outside go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them."

Or, finally, this:

5. "He stood in front of a curtain of pine trees crusted with snow lumps, which steamed in the cold rain. His fur was a mottled brown, turning gray near the rump. White tufts spackled his ears, throat, and snout. His nose was the blue-black of engine oil; his antlers large and airy. Each branched into a chandelier of tips that twinkled amber in the vapor lamp standing lonely sentry over the exit."


1. Literary: F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
2. Genre: John Sandford, Rules of Prey
3. Literary: James Joyce, Araby
4. Literary: Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
4. Genre: Hey, that's me, in Torn Apart

But it's all good writing! So the labels are meaningless and silly and we're all better off drinking Scotch and smoking cigarettes in ivory holders and talking about turns of phrase so goddamn brilliant they tingle your skin and catch your hair on fire.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

There's Someone For Everyone

by Sophie

Tell us how you feel about genre vs. literary.

How do I feel about genre vs literary? I feel like there is no way to have that discussion without me ending up wanting to scream and pull people's ears off their heads, so let's talk about something else. (Warning, though...anyone who drags their sorry ass into MY SFARWA meeting while I'm president and exhibits one ounce of genre snobbery will find him- or herself shown the door...)

This is related, and it was on my mind today: writer crushes.

I don't mean that you have a crush on the writer. Well, you sort of do, but only because they write such beautiful prose that you want to marry their book and make it omelettes and take care of it when it's sick and tattoo its name on your hip.

(I am sorry, but I am not going to reveal the identity of my current writer crush because it would be wayyy to embarrassing and also way too easily misconstrued. Kinda like when a certain dear friend of mine, with whom I had shared the identity of the author who I modeled Stella's would-be boyfriend after, figured it out and announced it to the whole bar where he happened to be sitting.)

Anyway it's all subjective, of course, which is nice because just like your mom always reminded you that "There is someone for everybody" it turns out there is also some book for everybody as well.

Me, I love a knock-down turn of phrase. It's language that gets me every time. I went through this Woodrell phase where whole paragraphs were lodged in my head. (Fellow Woodrellites get it; I was in the TallyHo once when the whole table was quoting at each other. I'm sure we sounded deranged...) If it had occured to me I probably would have bought an extra GIVE US A KISS and made a dress out of the pages, or something.

But other people don't care about the language - they love the cliffhangers. Or the worldbuilding. Or the action scenes. Or even, God love 'em, the unapologetic gore or the super-creative were-creature love-fests with fur and fangs 'n stuff. That's cool! Hey, you don't give your best friend a hard time about the fella from the cop bar who started out as a dirty weekend and ended up moving his toothbrush into her bathroom...cause it's really not your business who she chooses. She gets to like who she likes. In guys and also in books.

Oh, my...looky there, in my usual lurching and clumsy circular manner I've managed to address today's subject after all. Just in case you missed it....let me paraphrase: genre or lit? - take your pick; but telling anyone else what to read is like telling your friends who to hook up with at closing time. It ain't cool and it's not your business.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Literary vs. Genre?

by Rebecca Cantrell

“Tell us how you feel about genre vs. literary,” says a reassuring voice with a light Viennese accent.

The lights are dim. The Persian rug on the floor is red with an elaborate pattern of what look like flowers. The chaise is oxblood leather.

The patient shifts on the chaise. “I feel fine.”

“Does it make you feel denigrated when someone calls your work genre?” The doctor strokes his pointed beard.

“I’m just happy when someone calls it anything at all. It has genre elements. People die mysteriously. Their murders are investigated and solved. Justice, alas, is complicated.”

“But,” says the doctor. “It is more than that. What about the writing? The voice? The historical background? The themes you try to convey?”

“It has all that too,” the patient says. “Why wouldn’t it?”

“Because it’s genre!” The Viennese voice sounds a little annoyed now.

“Genre doesn’t have to be reductionist.”

“Of course it does!”

“Why?” The patient sits up and adjusts her socks.

“Aren’t you supposed to by lying down where I put you? Answering the questions that I ask you?”

The patient stands and starts doing jumping jacks.

“You must calm down.” The Viennese doctor stands too. He strides behind his desk and watches her nervously. He looks at his telephone, undecided.

“I am calm. I can be calm and do jumping jacks. I can write things that are literary and genre.”

“You can’t.”

“Read it and weep.”

So, the Viennese doctor puts down his notebooks and pen, adjusts his horn-rimmed glasses and begins to read. He reads through that session and the one after. He reads all afternoon, book after book.

Because, reading can be fun. And unexpected. And anything you want it to be.
So, calm down, do some jumping jacks. Read what you want, call it what you want. The books and the story will endure regardless. Or not.

Friday, January 22, 2010

With a broom and a brush ...

By Shane

"With a broom and a brush, cleaning up for the rush ..."

The songs were the thing.

The TV shows of my childhood were, frankly, sucky. Wooden performances, bad writing, poor production values. I loved them anyway. They were fun and exciting, and made me think I could do the stuff those actors did if only I was cool like them.

But what I loved the most were their theme songs.

Yep, the theme songs. Those pretty bitty ditties that summed up the premise of the shows in one to three minutes of singin' and dancin'. They were so memorable as to be unforgettable; I mean, who can't still sing "Gilligan's Island," right?

"... the movie star ... the professor and Mary Ann ...

Right. But great theme songs didn't apply only to the shows. The music in the commercials was equally catchy. I can't think of a single modern beer commercial I can sing. Yet, I can still belt out, "A beer is a beer is a beer is a beer until you've tasted Hamm's."

So join me now in some of the great theme songs from back in the day, courtesy You Tube ...

And this ...

Another memorable beer commercial ...

With this from the same brewer ...

With the full lyrics, for those who don't quite remember. I wish I could find a video with the full song, but alas, it doesn't seem to exist. So, everyone:

I've had beer from a pitcher
and from a German mug.
I filled up a paper cup
I poured it from a jug.
I've had beer mild.
I've had beer bold.
I drink it whenever I can.
But a beer is a beer is a beer is a beer
Until you've tasted Hamm's.

This product was memorable if you needed to smell good after a couple of those beers ...

Hey, this is a crime-writin' blog, right? Let me introduce you to a few of my favorite crime-related (broadly interpreted) TV themes ...

Lest you think my fave TV themes were all dramas ...

For cops everywhere ...

Thanks for hanging out with me singing.


P.S. This one's for you, Kel, and for everyone who loved those morning kids shows ...

Shane Gericke is a national bestselling thriller writer who wants his own theme song in the worst way. The newest in his series, TORN APART, launches worldwide on July 6.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Favorite Childhood TV Show

As a kid I spent "way" too much time in front of the TV - yes at one point I had the whole ABC, NBC, CBS schedule memorized (We didn't have cable - funny thing is I spend $100 a month on a satellite dish now and I still mostly watch the networks - but I digress.)

I guess the answer really depends on what part of childhood. When I was really young it was anything to do with adventure and Sci-Fi. Star Wars was a revelation to me, so when Battlestar Galactica hit ABC - I was all over it. Of course even then I thought it was cheesy that they kept showing the same cut of the Cylon ship getting blasted by the Viper every time they shot one of those metallic bastards down. (Did they really think we weren't going to notice.)

I'm also down with what Josh said earlier - loved all the action adventure shows, the A-Team, the Fall Guy, (my plan was to someday marry Heather Thomas, which reminds me, what happened to my poster?) I will even admit to thinking the Dukes of Hazard was cool - I wanted a car like the General Lee, welded shut doors and all. Then of course there was Dallas, which I loved because I wanted to be JR, but I realized deep inside I'm a lot more like Bobby a good hearted sap, but it was okay because he had Victoria Principle as his wife. Hey I'm seeing a pattern here - high school kid with no dates in love with beautiful TV women.

Later though, I needed something cooler. Really thought Miami Vice was awesome. Don Johnson and PMT, the music, the Ferrari, Edward James Olmos as Lt. Castillo (who later showed up on the awesome new version of Battlestar Galactica). It was so cool - at least it was at the time - the thing is I've seen some episodes recently on NetFlix - the good ones are still pretty deep, but the bad ones - what the hell - this is not how I remembered it. Some of the dialogue makes me cringe, the clothes and the hair - how did we think this was cool? I can only chalk it up to 80's syndrome, world in some kind of bizarre flux, which can be verified by my own hair and clothes including many photo's of me walking around with my collar up and spiked hair - or worse yet the "mullet". thank goodness this was pre-JPEG era or you guys would force me to post a picture.

But in the end there can be only one - and my favorite TV show of all time - I haven't even seen a repeat since I was like seven years ole - The Six Million Dollar Man. What's not to like, Astronaut, pilot, all around stud super hero in a track - suit. The cool bionic sound when he jumped and crushed things and of course the most awesome theme song of all time.

Steve Austin, a man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology...

Ahh, memories.

Television Boy

As a child, my favorite TV show was all of them. I loved me my Muppets. I loved me my A-Team. I loved me my poorly translated Japanese anime. It's not that I was indiscriminating. I just grooved on escapism. I still do. Don't you?

But if I had to choose one TV show that I absolutely had to watch, every week, it probably would have to be the" Creature Double Feature." It always ran on Saturday afternoons on UHF Channel 56 out of Massachusetts and I almost always got home in time from Saturday morning services to catch the first of that day's two sci-fi/horror flicks. Since I wasn't really into the Wide World of Sports - both on TV and outside on the street - the "Creature Double Feature" became my default Saturday afternoon treat.

The sci-fi/horror flicks which were broadcast during these Saturday afternoons were very much not appropriate for Saturday afternoon broadcasts. Some of the films I remember watching during the "Creature Double Feature" were James Whale's Frankenstein, Tod Browning's Dracula, and Roger Corman's The Raven. Yep, The Raven. With Vincent Price. At 2pm in the afternoon. For all the non-athletic kids in New England to behold, absorb, and retain.

On a school day, when I was sick, I also enjoyed VHF Channel 6's "Dialing for Dollars," which was pretty much the same concept as the "Creature Double Feature" except there was only one film (usually horror but sometimes Fletch) and occasionally, during the commercial breaks, there would be a sort of lottery drawing where viewers could win cash. I myself never dialed for dollars. But I wanted to.

As I grew up, I really began to gravitate toward the syndicated shows out of Canada (Degrassi, Friday the 13th: The Series, Highlander, Forever Knight, War of the Worlds) if only because they were just so weird. Plus they tended to share casts, so it was like watching rep in the comfort of my own bedroom. Funnily enough, the "Dialing for Dollars" concept originated in Canada, and Janis Joplin immortalized it ("Dialing for Dollars," not Canada) in her song "Mercedes Benz."

On a side note, my small TV (once I finally got my own) had a malfunctioning on/off button, so it often would click on in the middle of the night. This is how I learned about infomercials and the Star-Spangled Banner.

(Special thanks to this fantastic website for the first graphic.)

ADDENDUM A: Since today is my day to post, it also becomes my pleasure to announce that today, our own Sophie Littlefield has been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author!!! Congratulations, Sophie!!!

ADDENDUM B: Sadly, it is also my duty to share with you this news, courtesy of our own Shane Gericke: "Robert B. Parker has just died at the age of 77. He was at his desk, writing, when he slumped over and was gone. He is, of course, the author of the immensely popular Spenser for Hire private-eye books, among so many others." Well put, Shane. Mr. Parker was a genre legend, a writer's writer, and he will be missed.

Monday, January 18, 2010

True Confessions

Meredith Cole directed feature films and wrote screenplays before writing mysteries. She won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition, and her first book, Posed for Murder, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in February 2009. Her next book, Dead in the Water, will come out in May 2010. She teaches screenwriting and mystery writing. And she's very glad to be guest blogging again at Criminal Minds.

I have a confession to make. My parents didn’t own a TV when I was a kid. It made playing TV tag a total embarrassment. Every time I got tagged, I would try to remember shows I’d seen at someone’s house, but I'd often end up repeating myself.

Most of my childhood was spent finding other ways to amuse myself. I read a lot. I drew paper dolls with huge extended families, large wardrobes and complicated biographies. I rode my bike, roller skated, and learned how to dance to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. But when my parents split up, my father started a television repair business. Suddenly his house was full of TVs, and I had some catching up to do.

My father (who is British) made sure to introduce me to Monty Python and Benny Hill at an early age. We watched M*A*S*H together, too, even though I think quite a bit of it went over my head. I never did come to like Benny Hill much, but I developed a life-long appreciation for Monty Python.

So what was my favorite show? When I thought it over, sadly none of the great TV classics popped into my head. Instead, it was The Love Boat.

When I was in fifth grade, my friend Betsy and I would watch the show at our respective houses, and talk on the phone during the whole episode. We would predict who was going to fall in love (the doctor almost always got involved with a woman--it's a good thing there weren't too may medical emergencies on board), and discussed the pros and cons of each relationship. It was like a story and character analysis seminar conducted by eleven-year-old girls.

What made The Love Boat so entertaining for me? Even now I’m not sure. Maybe it was its predictability. The boat sailed at the beginning of each episode, people fell in love and and broke-up, but in the end they all returned to homeport. Despite each episode having multiple story lines, I can’t remember a single plot point going unresolved. It had a satisfying symmetry to it, kind of like a mystery novel. And kind of like life.

So--what was your favorite childhood TV show?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Gender Question

by Michelle Gagnon

Shane asks:

Gayle Lynds, Alex Kava, and other female novelists found it difficult to gain acceptance in the crime-writing business because they weren’t men and therefore “wouldn’t know what it’s like in the mean streets,” etc. But they entered the field years ago. Since you’re relatively new in the business, has that changed? Are you being accepted as a female crime writer?

I know there's considerable disagreement about this issue, but here's my stance. More books written by men are reviewed than women's- across the board, according to a study conducted by Sisters in Crime last year. Many female crime fiction writers still go by initials to mask their gender. And I believe that there are men who, consciously or subconsciously, are more likely to pick up a book by a male author than a female one.

I think that with thrillers, this effect is particularly pronounced (although the balance is slowly shifting). There are some amazing female crime fiction writers gaining prominence, among them Chelsea Cain, Tana French, and Gillian Flynn. But it remains a struggle. I was recently told by one editor that my books were a bit too "testosterone-driven," too much like Lee Child's work (and that's a bad thing?!)

I've also discovered that the same bias applies to female characters. I wrote a book featuring a kind of female James Bond. The response from editors was universal: she was too perfect, she needed a flaw. And yet if you look at the work of Clive Cussler, Lee Child, and others, their male characters are practically supermen: smart, attractive, almost unbelievably strong and skilled. And no one says, "Oh, that's so unrealistic. At least give him a drinking problem."

Another irony: of the writers I mentioned earlier, most of their work features a male protagonist (at least with their first book). Chelsea Cain has Archie Sheridan. Tana French kicked off her series by focusing on Rob Ryan. Only Gillian Flynn featured a female protagonist- and a terribly flawed one at that.
(As an aside, going back to our cover discussion, each of these writers was also graced with some of the best cover art I've ever seen).

So the more things change, the more they remain they same, sadly.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Cheapest Form of Travel

by Michelle Gagnon

Kelli asks:
You write nail-biting, suspenseful thrillers that pack a wallop and leave readers hungry for more…how do you detox after delving into that kind of stress and adrenalin?

Liquor, and lots of it.


Thanks for saying so, Kelli. My goal is always to keep my readers up all night.

I have to confess, there are days when it's hard to come down off that high. It's always a little disconcerting to look up and realize that I have to switch from a chase scene across abandoned WWII naval vessels to making dinner (one excuse for why I don't do much of the cooking). But that's the writer's life, I suppose- we live a significant chunk of it vicariously, through our characters. Aside from my immediate family, I've spent most of the past four years with Kelly Jones and Jake Riley. I have days where I don't even leave the house, yet feel like I've spent the majority of it somewhere else (at the moment, Mexico City, where my next book is set).

But then, that's the benefit of writing, and reading. Books can take you all around the world without leaving the comfort of your armchair. Saves a lot on airfare, that's for sure.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Art of Covers

by Michelle Gagnon

Sophie asked:
How do you get so lucky with your covers? They're all terrific, though BONEYARD is my favorite.

BONEYARD is my favorite, too- and I think because of that striking cover, it remains my bestselling book. It just went into a third printing.

I honestly wish I could take credit, but as any writer knows, we have very little control over the way our work is presented. For every book I fill out a form detailing the basic plot, characters, other book covers I like...and I suspect that very little of that information comes into play when my publisher's art department sets out to design the cover. Not that I'm complaining-most of my covers have been good (although Sophie, the cover for A BAD DAY FOR SORRY blows mine out of the water- it's fantastic!)

In retrospect, had I known more at the time, I probably would have had my agent fight for a different cover for THE TUNNELS. The one we ended up with isn't bad, but isn't all that remarkable either. I've included both the North American and Australian covers (I much prefer the Aussie version on the left).

And for THE GATEKEEPER, I love the design, but would have gone with a different color scheme. I think the muted brown and ambers come across a little flat. You really want a cover that grabs the attention of a book browser, and I'm not certain that this one does.

The trick, I've discovered, is to try to get your editor to pass along the earliest possible versions of the cover so that you can at least have some input. Some publishers are more willing to do this than others. If you really hate a cover, sometimes your agent can persuade the publisher to make some changes- but again, depending what point in the process they're at, those changes might be minimal.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I-(Don't Get Your)Tunes

by Sophie

Do you use music to define your characters?

I recently spent a very pleasant half hour going through Peter Robinson’ very fine FRIEND OF THE DEVIL, checking out all the music he references throughout the book. (Or rather, music that plays on Inspector Banks’ iPod, which he keeps in shuffle mode, evidently enjoying surprising himself.) I even bought a couple of tracks, so perhaps Robinson can congratulate himself on successfully shilling for his favorite bands.

There’s no doubt that Banks’ musical taste is a telling window into the character. It confirms for me that I would love, love, love to sit in a pub with the guy – or rather, drive around in his Porsche listening to his music, perhaps with a flask. Music colors his relationships (a cd is central to his hookup with his new flame) and provides backdrop to his ruminations. (I especially liked his conviction that his shuffle is capable of discernment, that the playlist it puts forth on any given day contains a message or even a wry commentary).

Other authors do this too, of course. Music references are excellent for setting tone, particularly if you’re going back a few years. (I knew I was going to be a Cornelia Read fan when her book referenced all the music I loved from the 80’s. Violent Femmes, anyone?)

Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus is another mope who can’t seem to function without music in the background. The thing is, I haven’t done the iTunes exercise with Rebus, and I feel like I’m missing something. And I wonder if that detracts from the book. If a book came with, say, 3-D glasses, and you read it without them, wouldn’t you feel a little ripped off? (Dennis LeHane’s books should, come to think of it, though if they keep making movies that are better than we have any right to hope, it won’t be necessary – do see Gone Baby Gone – it’s that good.)

It’s almost like there’s an “in” joke and I, un-hip as it’s possible to be when it comes to music, am missing out entirely. Although sometimes the characters listen to ridiculous music, which makes me feel a little better. (Hey, don’t you feel like, when the characters listen to nothing but classical, the author’s sitting there googling “oboe music” and going “oho, that’ll make me sound smart”? I just read a book where – honest – the character listens to Wagner whenever she’s mooning over her beloved. Don’t know much, but I do know Wagner’s far better suited to, say, marching into your boss’s office and demanding a raise.)

There are books out there that do require you to sit near your computer. I recently read a Didion, for instance, that had me wiki-ing just so I could understand the historic context. So maybe I’ll just have to read Robinson with iTunes queued up and ready to go. As always, though I believe that any book that asks more of you than immersion is a lesser book.

Until they figure out how to have the book itself launch tracks when you turn the pages – and in adequate sound quality, not like these Hallmark cards that scare the shit out of you when they start squawking when you open them – I think the whole device will continue to leave me feeling a little left out.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Oh, Deer ...

By Shane Gericke

My editor said Ick.

I said Hey.

She said No.

I said Way.

You decide:

The deer smelled the giants across the water.

He started to bolt.


Sniffed again.

They smelled familiar, these giants. But not unpleasant. Not like the other giant, the one with the yellow hair. The one with the thunder-stick.

The one who'd tried to kill him.

He flicked his ears, wondering why he wasn’t fleeing, because a giant was a giant.

Remembering ...

A full sun's movement after the yellow-haired giant fired his thunder-stick into his flesh, he was punctured by another object: a thunder-stick that had no thunder. It was a slender stick with wings, and it jammed deep into his fur. It put him to sleep before he could run four steps.
When he awoke later, he was inside a cave. It was bright, the cave, with a blinding white sun that did not move. The cave was unlike any he’d ever known, with a flat top and bottom and sides, none the color of a rock or tree or clouds or sky--

Another giant walked into the room.

The deer shook its antlers, ready to fight the two-legged predator. But the antlers did not move. They were caught in the strap-web that kept the rest of his body immobile.

The giant spoke. The deer didn’t understand, as he didn’t speak their language. But the tone was gentle. Soft. Not the harshness of the blond giant's cry fter firing his thunder-stick and watching the deer fall bleeding to the forest floor. This giant had kind eyes, and rubbed the deer’s fur with warm hands, talking quietly.

The deer fell asleep, as if hit again by the winged stick.

[Note from Shane: this deer was shot at sunrise by a man who liked killing things. Later, the deer was darted--the winged stick--by firefighters in order to rescue him. Now he's undergoing treatment at an animal hospital; that's the bright cave with the sun that didn't move. This passage makes much more sense in context, of course.]

The deer woke again, this time outside, though inside an enclosure the giants called a fence. He could see sky and sun and trees. He could smell rain and lichen and rabbits. Surprisingly, he could walk without pain or stiffness. He was able to lick the many holes from the blond giant's thunder-stick, and find them filled with a round lumpy substance that tasted like his own skin.

“Your wounds have healed over,” the giant told him, though the deer didn’t know what it meant. That the pain was gone, and these giants had been good to him, was enough.

The deer fell asleep.

He woke again, in the forest, near the river where the sleeping-stick first hit him.

By himself.

Free of giants.

He got to his feet, shook himself tail to nose. Felt strong. Alive. Seeing and hearing, tasting and smelling, even better than before.

He was home.

In a way he didn’t understand, though, he somewhat missed the giants. Not the one with the yellow hair. He missed the ones who'd petted him and helped him and treated him as their own clan ...

That was it, he realized with a start. Those healing giants had the same scent as the giants he now watched across the water. They were kin, somehow, to the ones in the warm cave with the unmoving sun.

With them he knew he was safe and free ...

This is from TORN APART, the book that comes out in July. Parts of the story are set in Wisconsin during deer hunting season. I wanted to tell the story of hunting from the deer's POV, in order to parallel the serial killer's human hunt going on simultaneously. I thought it was brilliant. Sadly, the boss thought otherwise. Too magical for a hard thriller, she said.

When I started writing books, I would have resented the advice--pride of authorship, etc. etc. But we've worked together through three books now, and we greatly respect each other's ideas. So we had a nice give and take. Finally, I suggested I trim each deer POV scene by half to three quarters. Show enough to provide the flavor of an animal POV, but don't go on too long about it. She liked the idea, said go for it.

I did, and it worked splendidly. The scenes are a lot more smooth now (and less precious and over-worded) without losing the intent of these passages: the point of view of the victim of a shooting.

That, ultimately, it what good editing is about: getting you to think about how your story appears to the world at large, not just to the world between your ears. The discussion was necessary, the solution worked, and the book was better for it.

And how did this chapter finally read when I was finished?

Sorry, you'll have to buy the book to find out.

Oh deer.


I'm upgrading my website, to make it brighter and sharper and more full of stuff you'll like. But I'm torn between two photos of me for the new home page. One is me serious; the other is me friendly. Since I can't decide, I'd like you to weigh in. Just click on my website,, and vote for which pose you like best: friendly Shane or serious Shane. Whichever one gets the most votes will be the new home page image. And yes, you can vote as many times as you like. I live in the shadow of Mayor Daley's Chicago, where there's a longstanding tradition of the graveyards turning out to vote on Election Day. That's, and please hurry--my designers are working overtime to get the project finished, and need me to decide ASAP.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Death I Never Got to Finish

What’s your favorite scene your editor asked you to cut?

by Rebecca Cantrell

OK, who of us has NOT been looking forward this question? We finally get to pull out that stuff we always wanted to show. I tend to write in a skeletal form and add layers, so my edits are more of “add more” than the “delete more” variety.

But in the first version of A Trace of Smoke I wanted the murder victim to have a voice. I wanted us to know him and love him on his own terms so we could understand what Hannah lost when she lost her brother. So, I had him talking from beyond the grave. Sadly, I could never make it work. My writing group never got it, and the first question my future agent asked was, “If I agree to represent you, would you be willing to consider removing the dead brother’s voice from the manuscript?”

I said I was and I did and by and large I managed to work all the facts and feelings into the novel. I had, however, let him narrate his own death and there was no way I could do that the same way from anyone else’s point of view.

Here it is, slightly edited so it doesn’t have any spoilers:

It happened here. I feel it. He came from shadows. My murderer.

At first I felt no fear. We walked toward the factory through cold night air. Two hours later there would have been workers, but not yet that day. Light glinted off wet cobblestones. Reflected off his set and angry face.

I was still glowing. I told him about love. That it comes once a lifetime. We can’t escape it when it does. It transfigures the world. I hadn’t expected to find it, hadn’t believed in it, but it had found me. Love was suddenly simple and true. R loved me like that. And that is how I loved W.

Walking with the murderer, I knew. It wasn’t about getting old and weak. It was about trust and openness. I never opened up to a man before. I had never trusted the way that R trusted me. But I did trust W like that. And it made all the difference. I held out my hands to him, beseeching him to understand.

He only said, “I heard you.”

He hit me once, right in the chest. I almost laughed. Such a crazy place to hit someone. Metal clattered against stone. The knife, dropped.

I fell. Muddy water seeped into my dress. Could I scrub it out? Not water. Blood. Puddling around me. Nothing would ever be clean again.

The bastard stared at me. He folded his arms across his chest. He squatted down to watch me die. How could he hate me so?

I stared into his eyes while gray lightened the sky. I got colder and colder. I shivered, too proud to speak. I thought of W and our one night. How I screwed around too long before figuring out that I loved him. I did not want to lose him so soon after finding him. I thought of you and Anton. Your lives going on just the same. And I felt alone on the wet ground.

He just watched. The last sound I heard was my chattering teeth.

He never made a sound.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Thanks from Shaneville . . .

By Shane Gericke

I have the privilege of writing the very first Criminal Minds of 010110, so let me start by thanking each and every one of you for reading my bloggish scribblings this past year. It was an honor to get to know all of you, and in particular my CM colleagues, who blog so well I’m embarrassed sometimes to put my work up next to theirs. (Seriously. You guys are insanely talented writers: clear, concise, and funnier than hell. I learn a lot from you.) I deeply appreciate your reading Shaney-centric Fridays, and all the other days of the week. This is a labor of love for us—nobody pays authors to write blogs, it’s done on our free time—so it’s fun to know you’re in the passenger seat, along for the ride. Just don’t change my radio station . . .

Now, today’s topic (cue the Mackenzie Brothers, eh …) which is my list of best books of 2009. Drum roll and envelope, please . . . the very best book I read that was published in 2009 was . . . uh . . .

Ah, hell, I can’t do it. I scoured all the “best books” lists out there, and am chagrined to say I haven’t read a damn one of ’em. Not one. Sigh. Too many balls in the air this year writing my new thriller, Torn Apart, working as chairman of ThrillerFest, and judging biographies for the Edgar Awards. (That last with CM guru and author extraordinaire Kelli Stanley as chief biographies judge. We picked a lovely book for you, which you’ll find about in a few months when MWA releases the five finalists and winner.)

With any luck, the new year will free up some time for me and I’ll actually read a “best book” the year it comes out. Not that “best book” lists mean anything, mind you; what’s “best” is what you consider best, not anyone else. Unless my books are on the list. Then, the list is important and vital and worthy and GodthankyouforpickingmeIwonIwonIwon.

So, where were we? Right. Best reads of 2009. Like I say, I didn’t read any of them. But should you want a complete roundup of what various folks and institutions picked as their best, scamper on over to Stacy Alessi’s site. Better known as “The Book Bitch” (her title, not mine; Stacy is a gracious and funny person who reads a lot of books), she’s rounded up every big-deal “best of” list for Oh-Nine, from the Times twins (New York and L.A.) to Publishers Weekly to Amazon to more. Go feast your readin’ eyes on:

Crime fiction reviewer and blogger Sarah Weinman published her own rankings of the best crime fiction of the decade, including her No. 1 pick, Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. She calls it a game-changer, and she’s right: this book is a masterpiece and a gem and every other descriptor I can muster. (Yes, it’s that good; even better than the Sean Penn movie version, which was terrific in and of itself). Check out Sarah’s work at her blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (the decade’s-best list is halfway down the page, the December 10 blog item), at:

If you can only follow one book blog (besides ours, natch), pick Sarah’s. It’s good, it’s timely, and most important, she links to every-damn-thing out there related to crime fiction and books in general, so you won’t miss a thing.

Finally, I’d be a scumbuckety hairball in a cheap red dress to not mention that Our Sophie made reviewer David Montgomery’s list as one of the best books of 2009—for a debut, yet, how cool is that?—for the launch of her stellar Stella series. You’ll find David’s choices in Sarah’s blog at the aforementioned Sara Weinman link; it’s near the top of the page. Congratulations, Sophie Littlefield! We’re proud to know ya.

And finally-finally, the coolest book moment for me in 2009 was meeting a table-full of high school girls. They belonged to a summer reading club at the local public library, and read my second book, Cut to the Bone. That didn't scare them off, and they decided they wanted to visit Naperville (their town is 30 miles away from mine) and see all the places (which I turned into crime scenes) mentioned in the book. Their librarian/club adviser e-mailed me, wanted to know if I'd meet them for lunch and talk about books and writing. I was flabbergasted that kids would want to hang out ... and then they went ahead and liked my writing? Yeah, I was on that offer like a dying man on a tumbler of whisky. Or something. Anyway, we talked literature for several hours, I got a free meal--joy oh authory bliss--and I met some of the coolest kids I'd ever had the honor of knowing. Bless all librarians, and their summer reading programs everywhere!

So take care, one and all, and thanks again for reading me this year. Twas an honor writing for you.

Shane Gericke’s new thriller, Torn Apart, launches July 6 from Pinnacle Fiction. He’s remaking his website into a multimedia extravaganza that will make him look much better than he has any legitimate right to expect—the glory of professional photographers and web designers—and hopes it’ll be up and running by February. Keep an eye out at