Monday, October 31, 2011

Topper Tops Granny

by Sue Ann Jaffarian
I’m sure most folks will be surprised to learn that my favorite ghost is not Granny Apples, the ghost who haunts my Ghost of Granny Apples mysteries. Nor is it the dashing Captain Daniel Craig who stole Mrs. Muir’s heart. Or Sir Simon of Canterville fame.
My favorite ghosts (yes, plural) are George and Marian Kerby, the partying, high society couple of Topper fame.
When I was a kid, I watched black and white reruns of the 1950s TV sit com Topper, along with airings of the several movies involving the same characters. I loved them all. The Kirbys were fun, attractive and witty. In the TV show, they died in a skiing accident, along with Neil, their St. Bernard, who died trying to save them. Neil is also a ghost and has a penchant for slurping martinis.
When I set out to write a mystery series involving ghosts, I wanted to draw inspiration from the Kirbys. To do so, I purchased CDs of the old TV shows and movies. I also went to the source – the novel Topper written by Thorne Smith, which I had never read until then.
As with many novels turned into TV shows and movies, the original Topper had been rewritten in many ways.  In the book, the Kirbys died when their sports car slammed into a tree. There is no dog. While all versions are humorous and feature ghosts that turn the mundane life of a stuffy banker upside down, the humor in the book is biting and more sophisticated, sometimes bordering on mean-spirited.  In the TV/film versions, Cosmo Topper is a straight-laced banker happily married to a ditsy but charming society matron. In the book, Topper seems unhappy in his marriage and the Toppers appear  to be stuck in a dull, unloving, and frightfully proper relationship that would make me want to hang myself. The novel-based Kirbys are more fun than the Toppers, but bicker much more than their TV counterparts, with George Kirby being over-the-top jealous and slinging accusations at his ghost wife, who comes off as a self-centered, manipulating seductress.
While the TV show and movies were pure entertainment, the book explores a lot of issues of 1920’s society that are still applicable today, such as mind-numbing conformity and hypocrisy, and the desire to break free of prison-like expectations.
I might have enjoyed the book more had I never encountered the Hollywood-ized Topper. Thorne Smith’s novel was funny and poignant and his wit razor sharp – generally things I enjoy a great deal. But I wasn’t ready to have the reality of the book rip off the rose-colored glasses of one of my favorite childhood memories.
That said, Topper, the novel, is a great read, and the Topper TV show and movies are hilarious to watch, but like caviar and a jelly donut, they should be savored separately.

My Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series is a cross between Cold Case and Ghost Whisperer, with a healthy dose of Topper - the TV version.  The third book in the series, Gem of a Ghost, will be out by the end of January 2012.

Granny Apples may not be my favorite ghost, but you didn't think she'd let me off easy by not plugging her latest adventure, did you?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween!

By Hilary Davidson

My fellow bloggers at Criminal Minds have done an amazing job of coming up with Halloween costumes for our gang of rascals this week. Personally, I'd like to see us trick-or-treating as hitmen (hitpeople?), which means not changing our look one bit. Kelli's got enough fedoras to go around. If we were absolutely forced to dress up, I think we could take inspiration from Meredith's old stomping grounds, and go as hipsters from Williamsburg. (Which reminds me, if you haven't checked out "Halloween or Williamburg" yet, you're in for a treat! (Or a trick. See photo of Duct-Tape Guy. Whatever.)

I'm in Quebec City right now for the first-ever QuebeCrime Festival. I'm writing this post before the event, so I can't tell you how spectacular it is. All I can do is point out that the roster of attending writers includes Louise Penny, Daniel Woodrell, Lawrence Block, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, Craig MacDonald, Andrew Pyper, and several other greats. Don't ask me how I got in. It was obviously my hitman or hipster costume!

Since I'm in a trick-or-treat mood, I should mention that the GoodReads giveaway of THE NEXT ONE TO FALL is now live. It's open until November 30th, which means the 10 winners will get their copy of my new book long before it comes out on February 14, 2012. There's also going to be a pre-order contest for THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, and llamas are involved (the book is set in Peru, so llamas, by law, run the show). Right now, I'm over the moon because one of my favorite writers, Laura Lippman, has some very kind words for the book:
“Lily Moore is one of the most appealing ‘amateur’ sleuths I’ve encountered in years. The vivid sense of place — Peru, in this case — is everything one would expect from a seasoned travel journalist like Hilary Davidson, the story is deliciously twisty, the characters engaging. I know I can’t be the only reader looking forward to more Moore.”

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween With The Sopranos

Reece Hirsch

At the Criminal Minds blog, we’re one big happy, bloodthirsty family, which puts me in mind of another murderous extended family – The Sopranos. David Chase’s brilliant series provides a vast cast of characters to draw from at Halloween and the costumes aren’t really too tough. For the men, all you need are some gold chains, a silk shirt and a sport coat or leather jacket. For the women, big hair and leopard prints will do nicely.

Like anything so deeply embedded in our popular culture, organized crime is remarkably versatile as a metaphor. In THE INSIDER, I drew parallels between Yuri, the Russian thug trying to rise in the ranks of the mafiya, and Will, a young corporate associate striving to make partner. In both worlds, being a “good earner” is paramount. But Tony Soprano and his crew can also serve as a metaphor for the crime writing business.

Tony is grappling with an era of diminished expectations. The glory days of the Five Families are gone and organized crime is not so organized anymore. Similarly, the publishing industry is arguably in a period of decline, or at least retrenchment and transition. The reading audience for fiction is declining and the traditional publishers are still struggling to define their relationship to e-publishing. And any student of The Sopranos can tell you what happens when turf is up for grabs. People get whacked.

I’m not going to even attempt to justify my casting here in assigning roles to my fellow Criminal Minds. We’re really not at all like this devious, murderous, duplicitous bunch – right?

Joshua “Bacala” Corin – Silvio Dante

Sue Ann “Jailhouse” Jaffarian – Rosalie Aprile

Kelli “The Hat” Stanley – Livia Soprano

Michael “Mikey Corn Nuts” Wiley – Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri

Meredith “Brooklyn” Cole – Adriana La Cerva

Lois “Glue Gun” Winston – Carmela Soprano

Rebecca “The Fang” Cantrell – Angie Bonpensiero

Tracy “The Bride” Kiely – Dr. Jennifer Melfi

Graham “Cracker Crust” Brown – Christopher Moltisanti

Gabriella “Little Mongoose” Herkert – Meadow Soprano

Gary “Baby Shacks” Phillips – Tony Soprano

Hilary “Beretta” Davidson – Janice Soprano Baccalieri

Vicki “Canadian Club” Delany – Charmaine Bucco

My only regret is that we didn’t have enough guys on this blog for me to cast favorite Sopranos characters Feech La Manna, Herman “Hesh” Rabkin and John “Johnny Sack” Sacramoni. Just roll those names around on your tongue and you can almost taste (and smell) Jersey ….

Friday, October 28, 2011

Author outfits and other disguises

by Meredith Cole

Halloween always takes on a certain sort of magic--the joy of dressing up as something powerful, scary, sexy and adventurous. Something or someone that is not us in our day-to-day lives. The homemade costumes are my favorite. So are the timely ones (I'm sure this year there will be Occupy Wall Street protestor costumes, and Charlie Sheen and Michele Bachman masks).

When I lived in DC, every Halloween there were the "drag races" where men in drag first paraded around in amazing outfits, and then ran a block in high heels to much applause and fanfare. Weeks before I'd run into the guys shopping -- they would hold up a high heel shoe at a store and ask the clerk if it came in a size 13.

But what interests me more is the costumes we wear on ordinary days. Lydia McKenzie is of course a huge clothes horse who focuses on what she wears everyday. She likes to dress for the occasion, and enjoys fabrics and colors, and vintage designs. I can sometimes rise to the occasion when I get dressed, but never give it as much time and attention as she does.

And then there is the anxiety that comes with dressing up as an author. What do you wear to a book signing? New writers sometimes get a bit nervous at their first event, as if there's some secret costume code and they're going to look too casual or too dressed up when they arrive at the party.

Authors spend days in their pajamas with unwashed hair (okay, so maybe it's just me) and having an event where you actually talk to people can be exciting--or intimidating. Some authors dress as professionally as their previous (or current) career. SJ Rozan says that you should consider yourself lucky if an author puts on earrings for an event. Hank Phillipi Ryan always looks stunning and polished in a suit, her news persona. Kelli Stanley wears her trademark fedora and is easy to find in a crowd. I have clothes in my closet just for going on tours--stuff that doesn't wrinkle, looks professional and isn't all black.

But author outfits are often all over the map. One person in jeans, another wearing a blazer. And perhaps some of us get some flack for not taking the time to put on make-up or get really dressed up. But writers live mostly in their heads so it's hard for us to come back to reality with a thud. Wear a dress? Maybe. A tie? Doubtful. Bring good pens? Of course.

So we clothe ourselves and go out in public, perhaps clutching our book in front of us for protection. And hopefully we discover that each time we read aloud, or discuss our characters in front of readers it gets easier.  And our author costumes feel more natural and more like a part of us. After all, in the end, it's all about the story.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Of Muggles and Magic

By Kelli Stanley

Happy Halloween! My favorite holiday, mainly because it's about a social pact and collegiality that's not commonly found in our daily life. I mean, strangers knocking on your door is the stuff of suspense and horror movies--not a smile and a fistful of candy.

Halloween also means the freeing up of inhibitions, the night you're allowed to indulge your costume fantasies and play dress up. And what fun have we, getting to dress our fellow Criminal Minds!

So, to take a page from Becky and Graham, we're trick-or-treating as a cast this year, and shedding our Muggle wear for the world of ... Harry Potter!

As Harry, the boy who survived, who else but the brilliant, boyish and delightful Josh Corin? I swore I saw a lightning scar on his forehead at Bouchercon. Josh is the kind of person whom civilization should depend on.

Harry's courage is matched by his best friends: the incredibly smart and brave Hermione (a natural for the incredibly smart and brave Rebecca Cantrell) and the plucky, lion-hearted and loyal Ron Weasley. With a bit of red hair dye, Graham is perfect for Ron, since he's always downplaying his own great accomplishments.

Speaking of redheads, Ginny Weasley simply must be Gabriella Herkert. Spunky, courageous, and independent--a true freedom fighter, and a star in her own right.

Sue Ann Jaffarian possesses magic in abundance, as she juggles three successful series and a full-time career. How does she do it? Maybe she's an elf. Sue Ann can seamlessly shift from starring as an Ewok yesterday to Dobbie today.

Lois Winston trades off on Mondays with Sue Ann, is inventive, handy with glue guns and all kinds of other tools, and I think she'd make an excellent Poppy Pomfrey. She'll know what to do if we drink Polyjuice Potion during Halloween!

For her deliciously dry sense of humor and ability to transform from Jane Austen's England to contemporary America, who else but Tracy Kiely as Minerva McGonagall? She'd even look terrific in the hat. Plus, she's practically British!

Michael Wiley ... well, that Shaggy quality from Tuesday is still clinging to him, but always heroically. He's one of my favorite characters: the courageous, noirish werewolf, Remus John Lupin. As a writer, Michael is a master of the Dark Arts! Besides, I hear he howls at the moon.

And that brings us to Meredith Cole, who, like Michael, won a Best First Mystery contest from St. Martin's. What's more natural than Meredith as Nymphodora Tonks, particularly because she's smart, super talented and looks great in black?

Reece Hirsh is next, and since Reece is both a successful thriller writer and an attorney, he understands what it's like to lead a dual life. He's the mysterious Severus Snape!

That leaves us with one of my favorite characters: Hagrid. Who better than the uber-talented Gary Phillips to play a gentle (but ferocious and loyal) giant? And anyone who's ever heard Gary's laugh knows how infectious it is and how good you feel when you hear it.

Award-winner Hilary Davidson is known for her dark, poetic prose and fabulous writing, so while she could conceivably play a bad girl (Bellatrix), let's keep her on the good side. I think she'd make a very cool Lily Potter--she's super-smart, very loyal, has powers way beyond the average wizard, and besides--that's her heroine's name!

Finally, there's our newest member, Vicki Delaney, who is delightful and delightfully talented! Vicki is one of the nicest people I know, but tough and loyal like Molly Weasley. Just bring on more red hair dye!

As for me, it's an easy enough change from Obi-Wan on Wednesday to Dumbledore on Thursday.

Now, all we need is a little of that magic J.K. Rowling sales dust to land on all of us! And that's what I wish all the Criminal Minds for a very Happy Halloween! :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Costumes for one and all

If I was really cool and tech savvy I would have little dancing Icons with our heads on them and the costumes we are wearing but - fortunately perhaps - I'm not.

Instead I will treat you to the 7crim version of the Star Wars Saga. I'll start with Becks whom so kindly turned me into an ascot wearing big man on campus - Fred from Scooby Doo. In return I get to dress Becky up as Princess Leia from Star Wars - don't worry Becks I'm not having impure thoughts. You are not the scantilly clad Princess Leia from the Jabba the Hutt scene in Return of the Jedi, but the pure, dressed in white Princess Leia from Episode 4 - which was actually movie 1 - the original. Not sure how we're going to get your hair like that but we'll bring lots of hair spray.

I can just See you confronting our Darth Vader - who would have to be Gary Phillips, partly because he reminds me of James Earl Jones and partly because he writes "tales of chicanery and malfeasance in various permutations..." Now does that not sound like something James Earl Jones would say? FYI - I always thought if they let me cast Black Rain I wanted James Earl Jones to play McCarter. But if we cant afford him we'll be in touch with Gary's agent.

Not long after Becky's capture we meet R2-D2 and C-3PO - I must cast Lois as R2 because her book Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun sounds like something the resourceful little droid might do. I myself will play C-3PO because sometimes he rambles a lot and sometimes just needs to shut up and well... you get the idea.

After Lois and I crash on the planet Tatooine, go our separate ways and get captured by the Jawas, we are soon rescued from oblivion by Joshua Corin Skywalker - young farm boy and flying ace who longs for adventure among the stars. Josh has the boyish charm and I think he can pull off the 1977 Mark Hamill - the dont have barbers on Tatooine - hair.

Eventually Lois runs off - she's like that. Joshua and I go after her in his 57 chevy. We catch her - how she gets over all these rocks and cliffs with the little tiny wheels nobody really knows but she does - we then meet Obi Wan Ke-Stanley - known around here as Kelli - wise in the ways of the force and of DRAGONS and SECRETS.

Kelli teaches Joshua the ways of the force and takes us to LAX - I mean Mos Eisley - a wretched hive of scum and villainy. There we encounter Michael Wiley Solo - researching his next book Striptease in a Space Cantina and trying to get enough money together to pay off his publisher Jabba Imprints. And you thought your publisher was rough.

None of us are actually tall enough to play Chewbacca - not sure anyone wants to be Grand Moff Tarkington - former Vikings quarterback and now in charge of the Death Star and so the rest of you are stormtroopers or Rebel X-wing pilots with those cool Orange visors. Take your pick.

AND IF ANYONE is still reading - Happy Halloween.

Fellow Bloggers: Do it for the snacks!

by Rebecca Cantrell

We are a group, so we have to dress up together. It's not easy finding something with a large enough ensemble cast with a mystery theme, but I’ll do my best.
So, drum roll…we are going as The Scooby Doo Gang.

First off, the Doo family:

  • Scooby – Gary Phillips, for his love of donuts, which we know Scooby loves too.
  • Yabba – Reece Hirsch, the brave brother who solves crimes.
  • Scrappy – Josh Corin, the glib youngster of the group.

The Gang:
  • Shaggy – Michael Wiley, because I can see you in that green shirt, and I sense you can do the voice.
  • Velma – I decided to have an evil Velma and good one. Hilary Davidson, you get to be good Velma (you have that brainy science side, we know it) and Meredith Cole, you get to be evil Velma (mostly because Meredith it also techier than she looks, and she also has good Evil Velma boots).
  • Daphne – This one was a gimme. Who is the wild red head of our group? Gabrielle Herkert. But she has to be evil Daphne. If you knew her, you’d understand. If you don’t, you’d never believe me if I told you. Tracy Kiely gets to be good Daphne, because I bet she has a purple mini-skirt someplace and she totally has that hair flip thing down.
  • Fred – Graham Brown. Because he can accessorize, or he'd better learn by our upcoming Top Shelf in Tucson (wooden beaded necklace like Richard Hammond, don’t forget it!)
The Hex Girls is an eco goth band that shows up in a few episodes, which was lucky because I ran out of Scooby Doo main characters. Here are the Hex Girls:
  • Kelli Stanley, because she actually likes to sing.
  • Lois Winston, because she can make cool crafty goth costumes.
  • Sue Ann Jaffarian, she’s a shoo in with all her paranormal and vampire books.
  • Vicki Delany has a gothic side too.
Me? Either I’ll sneak in as an eco-goth roadie, or someone who would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!
Happy Halloween Week!

Monday, October 24, 2011


This week we’re tasked with choosing Halloween costumes for our fellow bloggers. Here’s a little secret, though: We don’t all know each other very well. Some of us have never met, and others have only met briefly. So really, all we know about each other is the types of mysteries everyone writes.

My fellow Monday blogger, Sue Ann Jaffarian, is an eclectic writer. Her three series are completely different from each other, covering cozy mystery, paranormal cozy mystery, and soft-boiled vampire mystery. Therefore, I’m dressing Sue Ann up as Eve White, the protagonist in The Three Faces of Eve.

Rebecca Cantrell writes about Berlin in the 1930’s. I’m dressing her as Lola-Lola, the Marlene Dietrich character in The Blue Angel.

Since Josh Corin has sold TV rights to his Esme series, he gets to go trick or treating in a tuxedo for his red carpet appearance at the Emmy Awards.

Tracy Kiely must wear Regency attire, but just to mix things up a bit, I’m having her go as Elizabeth Bennett, Vampire Slayer, from Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Graham Brown has to be James Bond because even though he’s American, he’s got a definite shaken-not-stirred air about him. Just take a look at his picture on the sidebar. I dare you to disagree with me. He certainly makes a better James Bond than Daniel Craig, IMHO.

Because Kelli Stanley writes a Roman Noir series, she gets to go as a Roman Centurion.

Michael Wiley wrote a book called The Last Striptease. You know what I’m going to dress him as, right? He gets to be Gypsy Rose Lee.

Meredith Cole caused me all sorts of problems, trying to figure out a costume for her. I finally decided to cop out and dress her head to toe in stylish black jeans, black boots, and a black shirt. Why? Because she’s lived in NY and has set her books there.

Gabriella Herkert writes the Animal Instinct Mysteries, so I’m dressing her in safari gear. She can be Jane Goodall.

Reece Hirsch is a lawyer by day, a mystery author who writes about lawyers by night. Sorry, Reece, but you have to go out trick or treating as a shark.

Gary Phillips writes noir, but he’s got a thing for donuts. I’m dressing him as the “Time to Make the Donuts” Dunkin’ Donut guy.

Hilary Davidson wears many hats. One of them is as a ghost writer for a famous author. Hilary, get the white sheet out. You’re going as a ghost.

Last but not least, we have our final blogger, Vicki Delany, a very prolific Canadian crime writer. I hope you look good in red, Vicki, because I’m dressing you as a Mountie. But not just any Mountie. You get to go as the quintessential Mountie, Dudley Do-Right.

Happy Halloween, all!

Lois Winston writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Malfeasance? Me too.

Vicki here and I am also going to skip right over the question of the week and answer the question of last week. One of the advantages of being an alternate-week blogger is that one can choose one’s question.

Now, what was the question again? Oh right. Books that surprised us. That we read this year. Some people wandered off to discuss past reading, but I’ll try to stick to the question.

I was recently just blown away by The Ridge by Michael Koryta. The book is described as Horror. Which means I wouldn’t have touched it in normal circumstances. Fortunately it came my way before I actually read any of those attempts to stuff it into a sub-genre. It has a supernatural element, to be sure, but it’s not horror. It’s highly suspenseful, and it just so happens that the suspense is provided by the presence of an evil being. I guess I think of horror as something designed to frighten ME and this book did not attempt to do that. A great read, beautifully written, with a couple of surprising twists. Made me think about the use of subgenres. Can attempts to classify a book into a sub-genre backfire and end up turning off readers who might have liked the book? I’d say yes.

Another book badly classified is the Alchemist’s series by Dave Duncan. Duncan is primarily known as a high fantasy author. I don’t read (much) fantasy and wouldn’t have looked at these books had they not be recommended by my good friend the fantasy author Violette Malan ( I read the Alchemists Apprentice at her recommendation, then immediately bought and read the Alchemist’s Code and have the Alchemist’s Pursuit ready to take on a forthcoming trip. These books are historical mystery, set in 15th century Venice. The catch is that the alchemist of the title is really an alchemist. He practices magic and fights demons. Magic happens and demons appear. They are very much in the style of the Nero Wolfe books. Our young hero rushes about doing the bidding of the intelligent yet stationary master. Light and funny and good mysteries.

I also recently read the Quest for Anna Klein by Thomas Cook and enjoyed it very much. What was surprising about this book is that I think he took a real no-no writing style and made it totally effective. Essentially it’s about an old man telling a young man his story. The scenes pop between the past and the present with head-spinning regularity. Often each time frame is only a page or two in length. There’s lots of telling, not showing as well, as the old man tells the young man how he felt. Just goes to show that in the hands of a master, any rule can be broken.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Big Sell

You know a wag might say an unlikely place for me to sell one of my books would be a chain bookstore but I say that with tongue firmly in cheek. As to the five most off-kilter venues, here goes:

Number One with a bullet would be going on the O’Reilly Factor to promote my book. I would just love to be on his show and have a knockdown, drag out shouting match with O’Reilly. He’s taller than me but we’d be sitting down and my voice is deeper that his so I’m prepared to go mano-y-mano with the King of the Blowhards. I have some experience shouting my point of view when, er, motivated. What I hope is not that his audience would be interested in my book but that he’d denounce me and my work as “A dark, disturbed tale of corrupt individuals advancing an anti-capitalist agenda, and anybody buying this book is a fool.” Then I’d run banner ads on Lefty sites proclaiming Bill O’Reilly Doesn’t Want You to Buy This Book. Ha. The book would be a hit.

Number Two would be the PTA national convention. Of course officially there’s no way the PTA could endorse my books such as Bangers, about bent cops and ambitious pols or say the Cocaine Chronicles, the recently re-issued anthology of jaw grinding, cautionary tales about that devil powder. But I know if I got to give a presentation on how reading Dickens and Twain in high school kept me interested in school beyond sports. Surely this would resonate and I’d sell some books at the signing afterward…books they’d keep hidden in their nightstand drawer.

Number Three place to hawk my book would be a Klitschko boxing match – either one. For those who might not know, these two Ukrainian brothers between them are the title holders of any and all heavyweight belts. They’re big men, like 6-6, 6-7, and unlike other tall men who box, are coordinated and reasonably fast. Now me and a few other boxing enthusiasts have long suspected that Vitaly, the older one at 40 (his brother Vladimir is 35) has a glass jaw but since very few have been able to penetrate his defense, given his long arms with them fists on the end of it keep you out, this may never be proven. Anyway, I think their fans are the hard-boiled gritty kind. So all I would need is Dr. Ironfist -- did I mention that Vitaly is the only Ph.D. to hold a heavyweight title? Anyway, I know he reads so at the weigh in and stare down, he introduces me at my table off to the side. Then a ring honey clad in a bikini holds up a sign with my name and current book cover on it, and I bet I could move a few units.

Number Four is a cat lovers meeting. I have not killed nor harmed any cats in any of my books or short stories. Right there that ought to set me in solid.

Number Five would be a Trappist monks’ monastery. Okay, I guess they really don’t take a vow of silence but pretty much speak only when spoken to and do like their quiet time for contemplation and what have you. Given that and citing my Number One venue approach, I’m thinking they’d gladly buy a book for me to shut up.

Lastly you might be wondering about this graphic on the right. It doesn’t have anything to do with my answers – though I did consider a neo-Nazi gathering as a particularly tough crowd for me to sell to as one of my choices. But the illustration is by the great comics artist Joe Kubert, co-creator of Sgt. Rock. It’s for the upcoming film about the all-black Tuskegee airmen who flew fighter planes in World War II. My mother’s brother, Oscar D. Hutton, Jr. was a Tuskegee pilot killed in combat over Memmingen, Germany in June 1944. He was the uncle I never knew. I just dug this poster done as an old school comic book cover that Kubert issued recently, and wanted to give him and these heroes some props.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

Publicity is one of those things writer's have to do that no one ever explains to us. It's not that we don't know it is required. It's that there is no manual. There's no checklist. There's no guarantee that anything anyone has done in the past will actually lead to readers and buyers and cool people we want to hang out with. We do the same things that others have done before us in the hope that, one day, we might grow into the big name who gets their books put at the front table of the big bookstores. We can't afford to take out a full-page advertisement in USA Today or hire a director for our television spot. We also can't afford to not stand out from the crowd. So, we brainstorm ideas (usually lubricated by a favorite barkeep) for finding the people who don't know it but are looking for our books, want our words, would enjoy our collective senses of humor. Today, my little gray cells are thundering with ideas for my fellow criminal minders.

Sue Ann Jaffarian's Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries should be sitting next to the cots in every blood mobile in the country. This isn't just the people who don't faint at the sight of the red stuff. They are a captive audience replete with orange juice and complimentary cookies with some time on their hands.

Lois Winston’s Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun should be sitting next to the actual glue guns in a place like Michaels. Yeah, there’s a risk someone will say she’s provided a blueprint and the necessary tools to implement a major crime but she can always come back with the you can’t lead a felon to a crime scene defense. I think the crafters are both her demographic and unlikely to be suspected based solely on a receipt. There could even be a glue gun holster merchandising deal.

Becky Cantrell and I have chatted a lot about the places and people who’d be passionate readers of her iDracula and Hannah Vogel mysteries if they found the books in the right place at the right time. Comic-Con is a perfect location for her new take on the Bram Stoker classic. iDracula is written as texts, emails – basically every medium the gamer generation venerates (and us old fogeys try to manically catch up to) as the only forms of communication. Furthermore, the gothic novel Dracula is the grandfather of the graphic novel that reigns at Comic-Con. For cross-pollination purposes, I highly recommend seeking out one of these conferences in Germany. Heck, I know the language -- okay, I know the words streusel and schnitzel -- so I'll go with for moral (immoral, amoral, bail) support.

I couldn't decide where Josh Corin should go. Esme Stuart is a Real Housewife of New York. Or maybe New Jersey since it's close to Long Island and Esme isn't all polish. As quick with the wit as Josh is, he'd be an excellent moderator for one of the RH national tours. And Esme can show them how it's done.

Am I the only one who thinks that Tracy Kiely should be posting on the American Association of Certified Wedding Planners website and/or newsletter? Murder on the Bride's Side. These people probably live it every day. They can relate. A match made in heaven.

To Graham Brown I say two words -- Malice Domestic. It's a great conference and you'll be the only testosterone in a three mile radius. You can sell your entire supply of Black Rain and end up with a harem as a bonus. A star is waiting to be born. If your wife kills you, I shall deny all knowledge.

I think Kelli Stanley should be booked for the American History Television on C-Span 3. The authors they book seem to be all non-fiction but if you've ever talked with Ms. Stanley you know she can hold her own with the factoids. With her vibrant personality and ability to speak to both the academic and entertainment readers, I see an upgrade to C-Span 2 in their immediate future. Someone will have to show me how to work my DVR.

The Bad Kitty Lounge and The Last Striptease by Michael Wiley are set in the midwest but with those titles there's only one place for you. Vegas, baby. Prop a copy in the ticket booth of a clothing optional show and you'll make readers out of all the players. I'd bet on it.

Meredith, you need a book on tape so the tourists doing the walking tour from the Waterfront Museum in Red Hook, Brooklyn can listen to Dead in the Water. Listen, heck, they can feel the hair on the back of their necks while seeing the sights. I'm freaking myself out just imagining it.

For Reece Hirsch, I have excellent legal advice. Lawyers are required to sit in incredibly dull continuing legal education classes, particularly near the end of the year when our reporting is required. How many books could you sell if The Insider was sitting next to the recent developments in federal income taxation handbook at the entrance to another day of mandatory mind-numbness in a room that doesn't get Wi-fi? I know I'm in.

Gary Phillips is my stumper. The man has done every job, met all the big names and commands a room. I don't think he needs my help. Just tell me, and everyone else, when and where. We'll be there.

I don't know how many people know that Hilary Davidson wrote Frommer's New York City Day by Day in addition to her mysteries. Any hotel in the city on her must see should have a couple of copies on hand to offer to travelers running low on reading material who don't want to schlep books with the new airline luggage restrictions. All Hilary, all day. Great fun. And that's before you realize The Next One to Fall is being released on February 14, 2012. Some people might think of it as a romance holiday. We know it is an annual commemoration of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Perfect timing.

Finally for Vicky Delaney Seattle has the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. This is a great place to meet Constable Molly Smith. The gift shop is calling your name. Bonus points for getting to play with J.B., Bill, Fran and the rest of The Seattle Mystery Bookshop and for adding some friendly Canadian to my home town.

There are my out of the box ideas. I don't know if they are any good. All I do know is there are some great writers on this blog and some great readers out there looking for them. They want thataway----;

Thanks for visiting.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Books R Us

I’ve thought about marketing a lot – as in, thought about it every breathing moment, as in thought about it the way that Ahab thinks about Moby Dick: night and day, while eating meals, in my dreams, while having sex. Does Ahab have sex? If he does, he might cry out in a moment of ecstasy: “Oh, Sister-of-Queequeg, how about magnetic appliqués on the car!” Or maybe that would be me.

Actually, I have no plans for magnetic appliqués – though if you want to drive around with one that says, “Read A Bad Night’s Sleep,” please be my guest. Those plastic-shrink-wrap things that they put on city buses and VW bugs look nice too.

Instead, I mostly think of cross-marketing possibilities. For instance:

(1) Shortly after St. Martin’s published by first mystery, The Last Striptease, I received the following email: "Hi Michael: I ran across your book while doing research for a new website my company is starting: I haven't had the time to read your book, but is a greeting card website with video greeting cards of live performers that will be 45-90 seconds. I would like to know if you would like to be an affiliate or aficionado on our website. We could promote your book."

This, I thought, has real potential – especially if I can be an aficionado. Maybe as the strippers finish their dances, they could whip out a copy of The Last Striptease and whisper the ISBN in a sexy voice. Maybe they could veil and unveil themselves with book covers the way that burlesque dancers once used boas and balloons.

I’m sorry to say that I passed up the offer. But here I am now, promoting, so maybe it isn’t too late.

(2) Having learned from my early experience that I should make the most of every sales opportunity, I recently accepted an invitation to talk to a group of women at the other end of the cultural spectrum: the Women's Auxiliary of the Salvation Army. When their chapter vice president asked me to join the Auxiliary for a morning of coffee, cake, and conversation, I explained that my books might be inappropriate for such fellowship. She dismissed my worries, and she was right to do so. When I arrived, a bright-eyed eighty-year-old woman answered the door and, within ten minutes, told me a story about a wedding she’d attended at which the bride handed out Barbie Doll party favors and when you lifted Barbie’s dress you found a Hershey’s kiss tucked between her legs. I said, “That makes me feel better.” The Salvation Army women and I then had a very pleasant conversation, and when we finished, they bought a lot of books.

(3) Not that every event works out so well – not even some of the ones that show the most promise. I’ve long thought that film noir devotees should be a strong audience for my mysteries, which are also noir. So, I’ve twice hired kids to hand out flyers at film noir festivals. What noir fan could resist the allure of a book called The Bad Kitty Lounge after returning home from a darkened theater? Apparently every one of them. As far as I can tell (and I admit that my science is inexact), my sales experienced no bump at all after the movie showings.

(4) Although my fictional private detective’s name is Joe Kozmarski, I haven’t done very well with the Polish-American groups I’ve joined either. My wife has a Great-grandmother Nowakowski, but I personally don’t have any Polish blood – not that I know of. Still, I set my books in Chicago, and Chicago has the second largest Polish population of any city except Warsaw, and I wanted my detective to epitomize the city, and my wife once interviewed for a job with a man whose name was Kozmarski, and I liked the name . . . and so, Joe Kozmarski was born.

I’ve made Joe as authentically Polish-American as I can, but I seem to have done no better with the Polish-American market than any other. Now, I’m thinking of marrying Joe off to an Anglo-Mexican woman with the hyphenated name Smith-Gonzalez and then hyphenating their names as well under the assumption that a detective named Joe Smith-Gonzalez-Kozmarski will have a broader appeal.

(5) As soon as I write that marriage scene and join all of the Anglo-Mexican-Polish-American clubs that I can find, I also plan to start attending Parenting Classes for Single Dads. I’m a happily married man myself, but Joe isn’t – or he wasn’t before becoming Mr. Smith-Gonzalez-Kozmarski. In the first three books, he has been unhappily divorced – and he has been raising his eleven-year-old nephew Jason alone. So, I’ll sign up for the Parenting Classes for Single Dads, and while the other men are talking about strategies for raising kids and the trials and joys of single parenthood, I’ll work my way around the room selling books.

And when the single dads kick me out, I won’t despair. I’ll go home and Google “Association of Confused Writers.” I’m sure that’s a market I can conquer.

(If you want a copy of my latest, A Bad Night's Sleep, you can find one in all the usual places -- not that I'm trying to sell you one.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why I Will Never Ever Make It As A Publicist

Tracy Kiely

As you know, this week’s topic is to discuss off-the wall places in which we might sell our books. I immediately set to work and came up with – what I thought – was a rather impressive list. Of course, I ran it by my own publicist first for her input. Her own insightful comments are indicated below.

1. Prison.

Tracy’s Publicist (TP): Um… Tracy, am I reading this right? Prison?

Me: Yes! Why isn’t this one done more? I was thinking, what better place to sell my books? I mean talk about a captive audience! Get it…?

TP: Oh, yes. I got it.

Me: I figured many of the inmates might be bored or in need of a weapon. It is hardcover you know.

TP: I think we should move on.

2. Nudist Beach for First Timers

Me: I really like this one. I was thinking, if I was going to a nudist beach for the first time, I’d be really self-conscious and afraid that I’d end up staring at everyone and then getting asked to leave. I hear that’s a big no-no. Staring, I mean. I’d want to have something to pretend to be absorbed with and/or hide behind. I thought I could sell the books in the parking lot or something.

TP: I have no response to this.

3. Pottery Barn

TP: Pottery Barn? They don’t sell books.

Me: I know. But, they always have at least one shot in their catalog of a room where there’s a bookcase stuffed with books; but the books are all in backwards! You can’t see the spines – just the pages. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen! But, if we could sell them the books in bulk for their decorating use, I’d reserve judgment.

TP: Do you even want people to read your books?

4. Book Burning Organizers

TP: Book burners? Are you kidding me?

Me: Wait – hear me out. Book burners like to put on a big show, right? I mean, why gather everyone together for a bonfire that only has one or two books? A good entertainer knows how to work the crowd and keep the show going. I thought I could contact the organizers of these groups and pretend to be an outraged parent and say that my books are worse than Harry Potter and Huck Finn combined. It’s obvious that these people never actually read the books they burn – if they read at all. Why should the books that are brilliantly creative or tackle serious issues get to go into reprints because of repeat burning business? I think it’s time to spread the wealth, so to speak.

TP: Back up. You want people to burn your books?

Me: I want people to BUY my books. What they do after that is up to them.

TP: Be honest, have you been drinking?

It was at about this point my publicist suddenly remembered a previous appointment and had to go. However, I suspect though that she will be incorporating my ideas into future client proposals because – let’s face it – they are very different from what most publicists advise. And, we all know that it’s when you think outside the box, magic happens. Or you get arrested. I forget which.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I Loved

by Josh

Sue Ann, your malfeasance has inspired me. Yay: malfeasance! I'm too going to go off the reservation and list some of my favorite surprises of the past year:

1. I Am Not Sydney Poitier by Percival Everett. How do I love this book? Let me count the ways. This so-hilarious-my-guts-split novel centers around one young African-American gentleman named Not Sydney Poitier (yes, his first name is Not) who is adopted by an addled-minded billionaire in Atlanta named Ted Turner (yes, that Ted Turner) and who learns about the world through a series of misadventures which begin to echo events from the films of (yes) Sidney Poitier.

2. The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer. Confession time: I was one of the judges for this past year's Best Novel category at the International Thriller Writers Awards. Confession time part two: only one of the novels I rated highly actually made it to the final five. Anyway, my favorite of the batch of thrillers I read was this spy novel by American ex-pat Olen Steinhauer. He hits all the beats one would expect in a spy novel but does so in a way that feels both effortless and ingenuous. The protagonist, Milo Weaver, is just as world-wearing as George Smiley but he's so much more violent - and more sardonic - than Le Carre's famous creation. He's well aware he's a puppet but he's not entirely sure who's pulling his strings and then, when tasked to assassinate a young girl, poor Milo asks that most dangerous question of all: why?

3. The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. What do you get when you combine Shakespeare's The Tempest with a perfectly realized steampunk London? You get one of the most poetic, heartbreaking science fiction novels I've ever had the pleasure of encountering. Pick it up for the allusions. Stay for the crystalline prose and Palmer's bottomless imaginings. If collage truly is the artform of the future, then welcome to the future...circa 19th Century.

4. City of Secrets by Kelli Stanley. Is it cheating to mention the latest novel by our own Kelli Stanley? I hope not, because I absolutely adored this slice of San Francisco noir. Sentence to sentence, nobody today can match Kelli's precision at detail. For the verisimilitude alone, I'd highly recommend this book, but then Kelli of course goes above and beyond, weaving the 1940 World Fair with latent American antisemitism into a compelling murder mystery that only her heroine, hard-boiled former escort Miranda Corbie, can solve. I ask you - why haven't you read this yet??

Monday, October 17, 2011

Books That Haunt Me

By Sue Ann Jaffarian
I’m going off the reservation a bit here because I so loved last week’s question (what book surprised you this year) and wanted to answer it.  Then I got to thinking, instead of writing about books that surprised me, how about naming the books I’ve read that have haunted me over the years.  After all, this is October and Halloween is just around the corner.
By haunting I’m not talking about ghost books, I’m talking about themes, settings, plots, characters or wording that entered my brain and refused to let go. These books will live in my head forever, sometimes not for the best of reasons, but still they stay. Some are cherished loved ones and others annoying house guests that won’t leave.
Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.  I read this book when it was first released in 1975, when I was in my early twenties.  It’s an excellent book chronicling the events surrounding India’s independence. What haunts me about this book is the brutality humans visit upon each other (which still continues today), but the specific scene that continues to give me unrest 36 years later is one involving the butchering of children. What makes it worse is that this isn’t a novel.
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  I loved this book. It’s a memoir of McCourt’s growing up in poverty in Ireland. I laughed and cried, but what struck me is how McCourt’s mother, Angela, kept the family together and gave them purpose and hope for the future in spite of living in abject squalor.

Where Serpents Lie by T. Jefferson Parker.  I recently mentioned this book on my personal blog about manifestations of fear.  Just mentioning the title makes me mentally curl into the fetal position.  An enormous snake is fed people – enough said.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Unlike the others mentioned here, this was a recent read. Even though I’m not a big fan of Sci-Fi, this book came highly recommended by many of my author friends, so I just had to take a peek and see what all the hoopla was about. I started reading and didn’t stop until I had finished the entire trilogy. Although I thought the series lessened in quality by the third book, I continue to think about this dark book, the characters, and the nature of survival at all costs.
The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton. I sobbed through this book and can still hear the slow but hopeful Ruth in my head as she travels through her dismal and tragic life.
The World According to Garp by John Irving.  Another book from my twenties that I still love. Thirty years after reading it, I will still sniffle when I remember Walt’s death, and whenever I sense danger, watch out for the undertoad runs through my mind.

I could add more, but these are the standouts.

What books haunt you? I really want to know.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Surprising Reads

By Hilary Davidson

The question of the week is one of my favorites in a while: "What was the most surprising book you read this year?" Recently, I've read several novels that have surprised me in different ways, and I'm thrilled to have the chance to tell you about them. Doing so is going to make me sound like Braggasaurus Rex, because these books aren't available yet; I only got to read them because the authors asked me to take an advance look.

Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm — I'm cheating a little bit by mentioning this book. I'm supposed to be talking about books that surprised me, and the fact that this debut novel is fantastic isn't surprising at all. Still, there is something surprising in reading a novel by a person you know primarily as a short story writer. In the back of my brain, I was wondering if he could keep up the tension, the pacing, the sharp dialogue — all the things I normally love about his work. In a word: yes. Here's the blurb I wrote: "Chris F. Holm clearly had both angels and devils watching over him as he wrote Dead Harvest. Thrilling, riveting and hardboiled as hell, this stunning debut still manages to be incredibly soulful. If I could recommend one book to everyone this year, Dead Harvest would be it." I stand by every word.

From the publisher, Angry Robot Books: Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls. Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before. “No.”

Hell on Church Street by Jake Hinkson — If you know me, you know I'm an ardent fan of Jim Thompson's work. I don't often re-read books, but his are an exception. I love the way Thompson reels readers in (particularly in Pop. 1280 and The Killer Inside Me), how he uses only the subtlest of clues to let you know you're inside the mind of a raging psychopath... and by the time you realize it, there's no way out. If Jim Thompson's skeletal hands can clap (hey, it's Halloween this month — anything is possible), they would be applauding Jake Hinkson's debut novel. This is a wicked story, well told.

From the publisher, New Pulp Press: Geoffrey Webb is a natural born con man who talks his way into a cushy job as a youth minister at a small Baptist church in Arkansas. He gets free housing, a steady paycheck, and he doesn't have to work very hard. His only mistake is to begin an affair with the preacher's teenage daughter. When a corrupt local sheriff named Doolittle Norris finds out about Webb's relationship with the girl, Webb's easy life starts to fall apart. Sheriff Norris, backed by his family of psychotic hillbillies, forces Webb into a deadly scheme to embezzle money from the church. What the Norris clan doesn't understand, however, is that Geoffrey Webb has brutal plans of his own.

The Hard Bounce by Todd Robinson — If there were any justice in this world, Bid Daddy Thug's debut novel would already be in your hands. Unfortunately, the reading public is forced to wait for the publishing world to catch up with what so many crime writers already know, which is this guy can write. My blurb: "Todd Robinson’s debut is tough and gritty, but what makes The Hard Bounce such a standout is its sly humor and surprising poignancy. The razor-sharp dialogue will have Elmore Leonard watching his back." You're on notice, publishing world: buy this book... or else.

* * *

While I'm on the subject of surprises, I have a couple for you. One is that The Damage Done won two awards! The book picked up the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the Crimespree Award for Best First Novel. I'm still in shock... happy, wonderful, blissful shock, but shock nonetheless. I'd like to hug everyone who did so much to help me spread the word about the book. I'm forever grateful to you.

I'm written before on Criminal Minds about the sequel to The Damage Done, so that's no suprise. The book is called The Next One to Fall, and it will come out in the US and Canada on February 14, 2012 (stay tuned for the Goodreads giveaway, and for a contest for those who pre-order the book). What's new: I've just signed a deal with Tor/Forge for two more books! I couldn't be happier. I'm almost finished writing the first draft of the third novel featuring Lily Moore, and the fourth book... well, let's just leave that as a surprise for now!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Surprise Me

Reece Hirsch

The topic this week is books that surprise. When you think about it, any book that’s any good at all has to be a surprise of some sort, whether it means taking you to a place you’ve never been as a reader, making you examine something you’ve never examined before, or saying something in a way that you’ve never heard it said. Here are four books that have surprised me recently, either upon first reading or rereading:

The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen. I first read this book when it was published, before Franzen had been annointed a Great American Novelist and run afoul of the mighty Oprah. I was surprised by the novel’s odd mix of elements, combining a hyper-realistic portrayal of a Midwestern family and city (St. Louis) with a paranoid political thriller. Franzen clearly intended the book as a not-so-subtle satire of American xenophobia and insularity at a time when we were just beginning to doubt our preeminence on the world stage. However, the thing about the book that lingers in my mind is how well it works as a page-turner while veering off in all sorts of interesting directions. Like just about everyone else, I admire Franzen’s recent books, but I do wonder what he would be up to today if he had continued down this path.

Double Whammy by Carl Hiassen. The surprise of this book is that it actually made me laugh out loud. I know it’s often said, but how often have you laughed out loud at a book? Double Whammy is spit-take funny. I was also surprised that Hiassen could induce me to read a book set in the world of professional bass fishing, which is not exactly my home turf. And, perhaps most surprising of all is the weirdly compelling supporting character Skink -- Bigfoot-like hermit, connoisseur of road kill and former governor of Florida.

The Dogs of Winter by Kem Nunn. This book surprised me because it’s an even better exemplar of surf-noir than Nunn’s great Tapping the Source. It’s the story of a down-and-out photographer and a former surfing legend on a journey to find Heart Attacks, a mythic surf spot that adjoins Indian lands. Tapping the Source jumped the shark a bit with its ending, but Dogs is beautifully sustained -- creepy, gothic, mordantly funny and moody as the northern California and southern Oregon coastline where it’s set.

Dead I Well May Be by Adrian McKinty. Like the tortured syntax of its title, Adrian McKinty’s first Michael Forsyth novel doesn’t always take the direct route, but the trip is always worth it. McKinty’s first-person narrative follows Forsyth, an illegal immigrant escaping the Troubles in Belfast who joins the crew of an Irish crime boss in Harlem who is waging war against the Dominicans in pre-Giuliani Harlem and the Bronx. This is ultimately a story of revenge, with a nicely turned twist and payoff at the end. And right in the middle, the book takes a surprising detour to Mexico for a criminal scheme that goes very, very wrong. This is violent, pitch-black Irish noir and one of the most stylish, thoroughly enjoyable debuts I’ve read in a long time.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Assigned reading and other annoyances

by Meredith Cole

I love to read. I spent many lovely afternoons as a child with my nose in a book instead of running outside to play (although I did my fair share of playing, too). And it made me so happy to hear my son say in the car this past weekend "I love books!" Yeah. Me, too.

But here's what I have a serious love/hate relationship with: assigned reading. In school, we were given various educational tomes to read, some way better than others. I wanted to read great literature. In the summer, I would go through my academic parents' bookshelves and read Don Quixote (for fun) and other books that had probably been on their assigned reading list at some point. But there's something different about having to read something and knowing there will be a test. I limped through Moby Dick in English class, wishing I could have been reading something else. I felt a tad bit resentful.

I think it's because reading what someone else tells you to read when they tell you to read it feels like work (and it is). Picking out Moby Dick because you're interested in whaling and want to see what Herman Melville has to say--that feels like fun. Same book, different circumstances.

Which brings me to my excuse for why I can't tell you a single great book I've read this year. Assigned reading. I'm a judge for a contest (which will remain anonymous--for now), and every week or so large packages from publishers show up on my doorstep. Instead of the usual glee that I feel at seeing a package (yay! presents!), I feel dread. Not every book is to my taste, but I have to read it. Some books are so awful I can't believe they a) got published and b) anyone is voluntarily reading them. Others are great and absorbing, but... I still feel that niggling resentment. What if I'm not in the mood to read this particular book? Too bad! There will be a test in November, and I"ve got to read through all the books to get ready. What if I hate it from the first sentence? Too bad! It might just be my bad mood, and I've got to dig deeper to find out if it's any good.

So since my reading list is classified, I'll list out what my seven-year-old has been reading lately:

He's about 200 pages in to the third Harry Potter book, and he's been reading Encyclopedia Brown in school. I've been pretty impressed with their homework--they had to figure out character motivation, sum up the plot points and other essential writerly tasks.

I've been reading the Narnia series to him and really enjoying it again. I'm surprised how little of it I remember. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader has some dream-like sequences that are difficult to decipher (especially now as an adult when I know that he was writing about his Christian faith). A Horse and His Boy is still one of my favorites.

And here's what my kid can't wait to read next. I just pre-ordered it to make sure we have it by his birthday. I just love a kid who asks for books on his birthday/Christmas list, don't you?

So--what are you reading? Anything good for my TBR list in January?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Surprise, Surprise

By Kelli Stanley

It's a tough topic this week. First, because it's difficult for me time-wise to read anything other than research materials and novels to blurb, and secondly, because I don't dare read fiction when I'm working on a book (I'm afraid it will influence me, and when you're in the business of world-building, you don't want to get sucked in to another world).

See how boring being a writer can be?

How to compensate for this stultifying ennui? Well, here's what I'll do. First, I'll throw in a video, in honor of my buddy Shane Gericke, one of the original Criminal Minds. This one's for you, Shane, ol' buddy!

Next, I'll name five books that surprised me. Granted, I didn't read these this year so they're not exactly recent, but hey--they're books. That I read. And that surprised me.

5. Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand. I'm not politically aligned with Ayn Rand. However, I read this gargantuan political tome/thriller in high school, and it shocked the hell out of me because it was well-written. Whatever else she did or believed, Ms. Rand could write. And English was a second language.

4. The Lost Museum. Hector Feliciano. This is actually a recent read for the next Miranda book. I discovered some interesting facts about art dealers during the Nazi era, in both France and Switzerland, that surprised and disappointed me.

3. Organized Anti-Semitism in America. Donald S. Strong. (Yeah, I know, I know ... I have such a cheery reading list. This was research for CITY OF SECRETS, and the surprises I encountered worked their way into the book).

2. Murder on the Orient Express. Agatha Christie. I read it when I was about eleven years old and I still remember how shocked I was. A masterpiece of pulling the reader along!

1. Farewell, My Lovely. Raymond Chandler. The most wonderful surprise of all. My first Chandler experience. Unbelievably lyrical, tough and tender, Romantic and hardboiled. I've never recovered.

Honorable mention must be mentioned. Short stories are renowned for their twists, but when I was about ten years old, I remember reading Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery". It was like a rite of passage into a world far less innocent, and word-for-word, one of the most brilliant things ever written by anyone.

So there you go. I stretched the question and played a video. And I thank you for reading, and for cutting an over-extended writer a little slack on her reading assignments! Please chime in with any treasured surprises from your reading list, past or present. I'll be on the road next week as part of the CITY OF SECRETS book tour, and hope to see any regular Criminal Minds readers at stops in Scottsdale or Los Angeles!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A world full of surprises

Very early this year - in fact it was actually December 28 of last year I was in Washington D.C.

On a cold bright day, accompanied by someone close to me, I went to see some of the monuments, including the Lincoln Monument which plays an important part in Black Rain, when Arnold Moore gets thrown off the bridge leading to it after a meeting with an assassin.

I always find it interesting to do these after the fact on site investigations. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Not much you can do about it of course, but its an eye opener about the limits of remote research in getting the details exactly correct.

After realizing the mistakes I made were not all that damaging in this case we proceeded to see the Lincoln Memorial itself. Incredible. Moving. And as Dennis Miller once said - exactly how I want to remember the president - at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.

What surprised me were the inscriptions on the walls - everyone knows the Gettysburg address or at least some part of it (Four score and seven years ago...) not as many know Lincoln's second inaugural speech - where he laid out his understanding of why God allowed the Civil War to inflict such trauma on the nation--both North and South. And why He allowed it to go on for so long. By 1864 - the year of Lincoln's second inauguration hundreds of thousands of men lay dead, hundreds of thousands more lived without arms or legs or in a state of what we now know as PTSD. And still the war raged.

Without getting into a theological discussion let's suffice it to say Lincoln saw the war as some type of penance for centuries of slavery - not just for those who'd perpetrated it, but for those who'd turned a blind eye and tolerated it. For both the South and the North.

His words - "...if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.

At this moment I realized, as I often do, that I didn't know anywhere near as much I thought I knew. In this case about Abraham Lincoln. I reminded myself to get a book about Lincoln, the one President Obama had mentioned came to mind. And then I looked around this great enclosure made of stone: stone walls, stone floor, stone stairs and of course the huge statue carved of marble and saw a small wooden door in one corner, the type that looks like it might lead to a janitors closet or even the offices of a strangely addressed PI from the depression era.

My friend and I walked over to it and found - to our great surprise - a book store the size of a broom closet stuffed into the corner of the monument. Don't really understand it, didn't find any of my books on sale there, barely now even believe its real ( Confirmation from any others who have been there would be welcome).

We went in and among copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address I found a book entitled Lincoln's Melancholy - by Joshua Wolf Shenk.

In it, Shenk tells of Lincoln's depression, how it was documented in him and his family. How he coped with it, fought against it, bore its great burden when he could not shake it off. How it almost destroyed him and ultimately how the strength and fortitude and world view he built up while fighting it made him perhaps the one man who could save the Union that was threatened with extinction in 1861.

It's an incredible book not only for the history you'll never read anywhere else but for the insights, raw emotion and - at least in my case as one who has battled depression in his life - the feeling of personal connection it brought me to our greatest President.

I recommend it highly. I suggest it be read slowly and savored and pondered as opposed to whipped through in a race to the end. And as always I thank you for your time.

Graham Brown is the author of three novels: Black Rain, Black Sun and coming in January, The Eden Prophecy. He is also fortunate enough to be working with Clive Cussler on the NUMA Files Series, the next book of which is titled Devil's Gate and arrives in November.