Have you ever thought about writing crime fiction? There’s never been a better time to put ink to paper: we’re partnering with Hofstra Law on a writing competition, and Lee Child, Marcia Clark, and Alafair Burke are the judges! Click here for more information.
Do you want to put your writing in front of Lee Child, Marcia Clark, and Alafair Burke? We’re partnering with Hofstra Law on a legal thriller competition, and these three bestselling writers are the judges! Click here for more information.
It’s time. Sometimes you just know it. I’ve had a great twelve months being part of this Kill Zone crew of stellar writers, but I’ve decided to cede my spot to another blogger. I’ll still be following the fascinating blogs by my colleagues, so you won’t see the end of me around here.
Naturally, moving on like this has me thinking about endings in novels, particularly the ends of characters. Death is constant companion for us thriller writers. My wife is a doctor, so we often say that she saves people for a living, and I kill people for a living. In my stories I’ve slain many characters, and not just the bad guys.
In my book ROGUE WAVE, which is a disaster thriller, a key character dies at the end of the story. My editor strenuously argued for me to save the character, and we had an hour-long discussion about the ramifications of this death. In the end I convinced her that the character had to die, and I think the ending is more poignant for it. I’ve gotten many emails from readers who cried over the death. To me that was a compliment because it meant that the character had become real for them. Even if they hated that it happened, the readers almost unfailingly felt that the death fit within the story’s themes of love and selfless sacrifice.
I take great care in the decision of whether or not to kill off one of the good guys. I don’t think you can cavalierly flout the trust a reader has invested in you to deliver a satisfying story. On the other hand, to build suspense there has to be real jeopardy for the characters. If readers believe you’ll never kill off someone they’ve come to care for, where’s the tension in the story?
In my Tyler Locke series I do kill off someone who becomes a major character in one of the novels. It has a major impact on the other characters, even into subsequent installments of the series. Again, some readers didn’t like this death, but it also made them worry for all the other characters in future novels. If Boyd killed that person off, they might wonder, he’s just crazy enough to whack anyone. The tension level is automatically raised.
Obviously I didn’t kill Tyler Locke. He’s the star of the series. He can’t be killed off unless I’m doing away with the series altogether (Lee Child has proposed this very idea at several conferences when he has talked about someday ending the Jack Reacher series). For instance, no one even considers that James Bond is going to die at the end of the movie, so how can there possibly be any suspense?
If the writer might dispatch someone the main character loves or cares about, that concern is transferred to the reader. It conveys a personal stake in the outcome, which a reader will care about more than the end of the world as we know it. And if the reader knows you’ve done it before, an ending where all the good guys survive can be even sweeter, the relief more palpable.
A death of this kind can also make the story more believable. If every single good guy survives when bullets are spraying at him like they’re coming from a lawn sprinkler, while every single bad guy dies with a well-aimed headshot, the story becomes ridiculous. That kind of spectacular luck in a novel only emphasizes that you’re reading fiction. A key death, I think, confers some plausibility, even in an over-the-top action adventure. Movies have been doing this more commonly in the last few years. Think of The Dark Knight or Skyfall. Both of them were praised for a grittier, more realistic treatment of comic book and Bondian adventures, and both featured tragic deaths that had severe consequences for the plot and main characters.
Where I think authors get into trouble is when they make the deaths meaningless. As a reader, if I’ve spent hours getting to know a character, it’s deeply unsatisfying for him to die for no reason. It just seems like a mean or thoughtless gesture by the author, as if it were done for no other reason than to provoke shock. Some readers may appreciate that it makes the story seem more like real life, but unless it’s incredibly well-done, I find it off-putting.
Like my decision to move on from The Kill Zone, how you handle the characters has to come from your gut. I don’t take the decision to kill one of the good guys lightly, but when the end feels right, I know it.
Even though I won’t be a regular contributor, I'll still be hanging out in the comments section from time to time. Thanks to all my fellow KillZoners for giving me this opportunity and to all of you who taken the time to read and comment on my blogs. Take care.
By. P.J. Parrish
So I am doing my usual warm-up before hitting the computer yesterday morning: folding laundry and watching "Frazier" reruns. I love Frazier because beneath his smooth surface is a roiling bog of neediness and insecurity.
Yesterday was the episode where Frazier and his producer Roz are nominated for the Seebee Award, given out to Seattle's best broadcasters. Frazier tries to be above it all, but he just can't. He wants to win, dammit! But at the banquet, he finds out he is up against the aging icon Fletcher Grey. Fletcher has been nominated 11 times in a row and lost 10. Fletcher's date is his 84-year-old mother who has flown in from Scottsdale -- for the 11th straight year. Fletcher is also retiring. Frazier tells Roz, "if we win, they'll string us up." Roz says, "I don't care. I'd crawl over his mother to win this award!"
Frazier loses, of course. His agent Beebee deserts him. Roz gets drunk on Pink Ladies.
Sounds like a couple award banquets I've been to. A couple I have chaired, in fact. My sister Kelly and I are the chairs of the Edgar Banquet. (That's me in the photo above unpacking Edgar programs in the Grand Hyatt ballroom. I also do windows). We've been doing this chairman gig for about five years now. It's a lot of work and a lot of fun. You get to meet a lot of nervous but sweet debut authors, a few movie stars (I did an embarrassing fan-stalk of Richard "Munch" Belzer one year) and some really classy dames. (That's Kelly and me below with Mary Higgins Clark.)
The stories I could tell...
But I won't. And not just because sometimes they make judges sign confidentiality agreements. Mainly it's because ours is a very small community and I believe in author Karma. If you make a fool of yourself in public, it will come around and bite you on the butt. You can put good money on that.
Also, I've been on the other side of the whole awards thing. We've been lucky enough to be nominated for some awards over the past twelve years. Yes, it is an honor to be nominated. But it bites to lose. I can't lie and tell you otherwise. Our second book "Dead of Winter" was nominated for an Edgar. We were wide-eyed newbies in those days -- didn't even know what Mystery Writers of America was -- and we went to New York with our new gowns, got our nails done and gathered with spouses, son, and agent in the Grand Hyatt bar before the banquet to calm our nerves. Not a drop of alcohol because if we DID win, we didn't want to go up on stage three sheets to the wind and say something stupid. (As I said, I now have stories I could tell...)
Well, when our name wasn't announced, we all grabbed for the wine bottle in the middle of the table. The rest of the night is a blur. So is the rest of the decade, as far as awards go. Because as I said, although we got nominated for a couple, we never won. Which brings me to July 2008.
Our book "An Unquiet Grave" was nominated for the International Thriller Writers Award. Back to New York City we went, back to the Grand Hyatt. No expectations this time. My sister couldn't make it so I sat between my husband and Ali Karem. My friend the late Elaine Flinn kept saying it was our night. Doug Lyle wished me luck. Without Kelly at my side, I sat there feeling alone and sort of empty. We might write hardboiled, but I am not. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I bolted for the lobby.
Jim Fusilli was standing there and barred my way, putting an arm around my shoulders. Each nominee was announced by reading the first line of their book. Ours is "The Christmas lights were already up." I remember thinking, "God, that sucks."
I heard the title of our book announced as the winner. I started crying. I don't remember what I said on stage. Many authors, when they are up for awards, have the sense of jot down a few notes beforehand so they are gracious, and their clever speeches are quoted in the blogs the next morning.
This is what SHOULD have been in my head as I went up there:
"Thank you so much for this great honor. First, I want to thank the ITW judges who put their careers on hold for months. Their job is doubly hard in that they first must read hundreds of books but then, they must decide on just one when any of the five finalists would be worthy. Second, I want to thank my fellow nominees. I am honored to have my book mentioned among their fine works. Third, I want to thank my agent and editor who...."
This is what was REALLY in my head:
"God, I can't believe I am crying! How pathetic and needy! Where's the friggin' stairs? I can't see! Who is that man at the podium? Shit, I forget his name! THE LIGHTS! I CAN'T SEE ANYTHING! Do I have lettuce on my teeth? My bra is showing, I just know it. DON'T PULL AT YOUR BRA!! He's handing it to me. Jesus, it's heavy...don't drop it...don't drop it...don't drop it. Say something nice about the other nominees! Can't...can't...can't remember their names. YOU TWIT! You just sat on a panel with TWO of them this morning! Wait, wait...is it Paul LeVEEN or Paul LeVINE??? Forget it...buy him a drink later. I should have gone to the hairdresser before I left home. My roots are showing. Shit, did I thank my agent? JESUS! THE LIGHTS! Stop talking now...you're rambling, you ass...stop now and just go sit down. Okay, leaving now. TAKE THE AWARD! Don't drop it...don't drop it...don't drop it. Good grief...I'm here in New York City wearing Nine West because I was too cheap to spring for those black Blahniks at Off Fifth. Dear God, just let me just off this stage so I can get to the john and pull up my Spanx and get a glass of wine..."
Well, we're entering award season soon. So here's a few reminders. Entries are due for ITW's International Thriller Awards. CLICK HERE for the link. There is also time to still enter the Edgars and you, the author, can do it yourself if you wish. CLICK HERE.
A few more final reminders about this awards thing from an old veteran:
If you don't get nominated, don't go to Amazon, read the samples and obsess about what hacks the writers are or whine that nobody has HEARD of these books and the judges don't appreciate commercial fiction.
If you never get nominated for anything in your life, remember that many great and successful authors haven't either. Vonnegut lost the Nebuba Best Novel award. Nabokov whiffed on seven National Book Awards AND lost the Nobel to some guy named Eyvind Johnson. And do you think guys like Lee Child go to sleep at night worrying about not winning an Edgar?
If you DO get nominated, have the sense to write out a little speech and try not to use it to give the finger to everyone who has slighted you in the past. (I told you...I have stories I can tell.)
If you lose, don't get drunk, sling a woman over your shoulder and drag her into the the hotel elevator (Yeah, I saw that one too).
If you win, be thankful and gracious then get right back to writing.
Winning an award is nice but it won't get the laundry folded.
(Editor’s note: Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, is set to take place in the ancient town of Stirling--equidistant from Glasgow and Edinburgh--beginning tomorrow, September 13, and concluding this Sunday, the 15th. Among the attendees will be Nancie Clare, co-founder of Noir Magazine and the former editor-in-chief of LA, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, who will send The Rap Sheet reports from that convention. Her first contribution is below: an interview with Lee Child [born Jim Grant], author of the award-winning Jack Reacher series.)
Lee Child is packing his bags for Scotland (although where he keeps luggage in his elegant, minimalist New York City apartment--featured in a recent New York Times piece--is a, um, mystery to me) to attend this weekend’s second-annual Bloody Scotland. He is scheduled to close that festival on Sunday night with a sold-out event titled “At the Top of His Game,” a look at Never Go Back, his 18th book featuring the redoubtable Jack Reacher.
Although Reacher is most certainly an American; Child (born in the West Midlands town of Coventry) is not. He never took out U.S. citizenship, saying, “I identify more now with the U.S. But in principle I like the feeling of not really belonging anywhere. I’ve grown addicted to the feeling of being an outsider wherever I am. I feel at home more in New York than anywhere else. But ultimately I prefer not to feel at home anywhere.” And if it seems a stretch that Lee Child, an English author who writes about his American character Jack Reacher in New York City, should be traveling to Scotland, consider this: According to Child, “Reacher is part of the American military culture and American military culture, especially the Army and the Marine Corps, is a very Scots-Irish culture. Scots-Irish are generally the world’s most belligerent people. And this is my own heritage.” And, of course, fans of crime fiction are everywhere.
I spoke by phone with Child about a week before his departure for Scotland.
Nancie Clare: Which Scottish writers do you read, have you read, and/or do you want to read?
Lee Child: It’s always about the new people for me even more than the established people. I read the big three: Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, and Denise Mina. I like them very much as writers and people. But what I always try to do is find the new guys; this tsunami of talent that is always chasing after the established people. For me it’s always about finding someone with his first book out. Those are the ones that are always fun to meet, because you can be looking at a lifetime of reading pleasure right there. There’s one in particular, Malcolm Mackay. I don’t know whether or not he’s going to Bloody Scotland. I believe he’s from the Orkney Islands. He’s written a great book about Glasgow that I enjoyed very much.
[Mackay’s How a Gunman Says Goodbye has been nominated for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2013. The winner will be announced on Saturday, September 14, during the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award Dinner. Mackay is in some pretty exalted company--he’s competing against Child’s “big three”: McDermid, Mina, and Rankin, as well as Ann Cleeves and Gordon Ferris.]
NC: Which if any Scottish writers, mystery or otherwise, have influenced you?
LC: Well, the obvious one is Alistair MacLean. For a thriller writer of my generation, my background, Alistair McLean was essential. A bit of an object lesson as well. He moved to Switzerland and became a drunkard. That’s always something to avoid.
NC: So he was an influence and a cautionary tale.
LC: Yeah, both. ’Cause influence can be negative or positive; often both at the same time.
NC: Last year at the inaugural Bloody Scotland, Val McDermid and Craig Robertson both, independent of each other, made the point that Scottish crime writers--“Tartan Noir” practitioners--see themselves as completely separate from their English counterparts.
LC: Scotland is a completely separate country and it is a completely separate culture, and they’ve had a long-simmering colonial relationship with London. I think it’s the north of England as a whole. England is not monolithic; England is basically London when you talk about cultural dominance or political dominance or economic dominance.
Scotland comes out of a different place in its heritage and that shows up in the crime fiction ... [It] has bred two strands that coexist: there is the wildly lyrical poetic imagination [and] also a very pragmatic, practical people.
NC: McDermid also said that Tartan Noir writers see their line of descent through James Hogg, [Arthur] Conan Doyle, and William McIlvanney and not the middle-class sensibilities of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.
LC: My father’s Scots-Irish and I identify with that far more than I would do with Agatha Christie. In fact, I’ve never read Agatha Christie. I’ve never been a fan or interested. I’ve read Dorothy Sayers extensively, but as a cultural document--I think the books are fine stories, of course, but they are far more interesting as slices of history; she was writing about a very particular time and place.
NC: This year, like last year, there is a healthy representation at Bloody Scotland of Scandinavian crime writers--Arne Dahl and Jo Nesbø, to name two. One of the running comments last year was that “Edinburgh is closer to Oslo than London.” And the point was made that there was a close kinship between Tartan and Nordic Noir.
LC: I honestly don’t think there is. Yeah, obviously Scotland is remote and northerly, you can get to Oslo quicker than you can get to London, but I don’t think that necessarily proves or really provides much of a cultural link. I think that in two different ways. First of all, Scottish crime fiction has progressed dramatically. It’s a very healthy, wise tradition especially at the moment and in the last, say, 20 years where you are seeing exciting new voices. (By the way, in the same way I think we’re going to see, very soon, crime fiction coming out of Northern Ireland.) The Scandinavians--and this might be a jaundiced opinion on my part--I don’t think they’ve shown the same progression. Forty, almost 50 years ago, there were two tremendous Scandinavian crime writers from Sweden, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. They wrote the 10-book series about Martin Beck. That was such a great series that I think it would be pretty difficult to argue that there’s been much progression since then. I think Scandinavian crime fiction is less lively than it’s made out to be. And their concerns are different than Scottish concerns. I think what is common, especially to the Swedish and Norwegian crime fiction, is that they have these very well-developed welfare states. The Scandinavian idea of “stateism” is very different, very much earlier, than the British idea. And so much of that fiction is about one’s relationship to the state: the welfare state, the government. That’s where the fascination of Scandinavian crime fiction is, the tension and the dilemmas and the conflicts are “what is the state doing?” “What is the government doing?” “How are they controlling our lives?” And that’s never really been a feature of Scottish crime fiction. Scottish crime fiction has depended on a much more free-form, lawless society where the government is either corrupt or nonexistent and the fascination is about the criminal element among dense populations. So I see it as a completely different feel, completely different lineage, really not very much relationship at all.
Plus, and I don’t know if this is suitable for the piece, but there’s an issue with the cultural acceptance of Scandinavian crime fiction in Britain and America. It’s about people who are somehow ashamed of reading the genre, [but who] think there’s some extra merit--it gives them a “get out of jail” card or something--if it’s Scandinavian. There is some kind of middle-class acceptability about it. They really want to be reading Ian Rankin, but somehow that’s too down market, so they have to find an alternative to Ian Rankin that is somehow approved by the newspapers, let’s say.
That disappoints me. I think people should get over that and read what they want to.
NC: But nowadays with e-readers and iPads, often you have no idea what people are reading because you can’t see the covers.
LC: That’s the truth and it really ... it’s definitely helped me, because I fall into that same category: people are ashamed to be seen reading one of my books, even though they love them and enjoy them. People are so insecure, image-wise. And, of course, e-readers mean they can do that in anonymity.
NC: Lyndsay Faye [Seven for a Secret] told me a funny story about a question you answered at the Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate about combating writer’s block. You said, “I’ll tell you how to combat writer’s block. Don’t be such a pretentious wanker. That’s how you combat writer’s block. What? Do truck drivers get ‘driver’s block’? ‘I don’t feel like driving my truck today.’” I wanted you to comment on that.
LC: Yeah, that’s how I feel. It’s difficult to talk about [writing] as a job, because people want to hear that it’s wonderfully joyful and creative and spontaneous and you just pluck this stuff out of the air. Which absolutely you do, and it absolutely is a wonderful, creative, just fabulous thing to do. But it is also a job and you have to take it seriously; you have to show up and do it. If you waited around for the muse to strike, you would be waiting around forever. There are many days when you don’t really feel like going to work--we’re all in the same boat. And my point was: everyone has a job, everyone has days when they don’t really want to go and do it, but you have to. A truck driver who doesn’t really feel like working today has no alternative. So he goes and gets in his truck and he starts the motor, clips his seat belt on, and those muscle memories kick in and off he goes. It’s the same thing for a writer. There are some days when you feel bad, you don’t want to do it, but you sit down, you boot up your computer, you open the file and the muscle memory gets you into it and you do your work.
Yeah, I feel people who talk about the muse and writer’s block and all these airy-fairy things ... they’re not serious. Especially for genre professionals, like us who are doing a book a year. It is a job and you have to do it. You’ve got to deliver. To complain about writer’s block is self-indulgent and, to some extent, pretentious.
NC: So, it’s off to Scotland for you then ...
LC: I’m looking forward to being there, and hopefully I’ll take away something good to read.
The first 400 pages are probably the least violent of the Reacher books and Lee Child does a great job turning up the suspense the first 200. He takes his time telling the story, switching from Reacher's viewpoint to FBI agent Sorenson (wow, in Child's world there are a lot of attractive, capable FBI women) until they meet and try to solve a murder linked to terrorism.
Reacher books are of course always cool. I love Jack and more than ever this one shows us what a cool character is. I really liked the pace of this story and thought this one stands out as one of the best in the series.
Child (born Jim Grant) is, of course, the author of the best-selling Jack Reacher series, the most recent entry in which is A Wanted Man. He will receive his prize during an event this coming summer.
CWA chair Peter James says he’s delighted that his organization’s members chose to honor Child’s body of work in this way, adding: “Lee is one of the few British crime thriller authors to have become a global brand name; he is also an extremely charming and open person and a tireless promoter of our genre.”
I'm home from Bouchercon and as always, not very happy about it, the being home part. I haven't been able to settle down all week. Pages are being written, newsletters are being sent, my taxes got done, even - but I am not entirely back, in my own mind.
And today is my Bouchercon blog. Where to begin?
Living in California for so long, especially my years in NoCal, I’ve heard a lot of Neal Cassady stories over the years from people who actually knew him. (Cassady was Jack Keroauc’s friend who served as the model for Kerouac’s legendary character Dean Moriarty.) And one thing I’ve heard from all kinds of sources that seems true rather than legend is that the man had an uncanny ability to pick a conversation up exactly where it had left off, even if years had passed since he and the person he was talking to had seen each other.
That’s to me what Bouchercon is like. There are a LOT of people in this community who feel like my best friends in the world, the people who know me best (and me AT my best) – who I only see once or twice a year. But the connection is deeper than most of what you get in the real world, because first – as writers, we KNOW each other. We know exactly what all the rest of us do just about every second of every day, we know how we feel about it, we know what makes a good day and what makes a bad day, we know each other’s exact fears and our exhilarations – we all have the same operating system, basically. So when we see each other there are no preliminaries necessary; we pick up the conversation where we left off, and take it deeper and further than it can go with someone who is not of the same world. Not only that, but the layers and puns and references and jokes are so much more interesting than ordinary conversation; writers are hilariously funny people and we love wordplay; it’s like fencing (or dancing!) with someone of equal skill.
We work so hard all the time, and this is our chance to play.
Of course there have been a lot of BCon wrap-ups on various blogs and lists this week, and I was kind of surprised to find that not everyone is a fan of this conference – it’s my hands-down favorite, the most fun, the most inspiring. Now, I totally get that it can be intimidating – lots of people, easy to get lost or bowled over by the sheer star power walking around those halls. But even if no one ever talked to me I could still never miss it because of all I learn. I don’t understand the people who complain that the star authors get all the attention, that it’s hard to get a panel, that midlist authors get lost. Well, of course the star authors do get a LOT of the attention. I’ve always figured that when I’VE written - oh, twenty-five beloved books - I might get that kind of attention, too. But let’s get a grip! While I’m working on those books I can go to panels where I can hear people who HAVE written dozens of beloved books talk about their process, their passion, their own inspiration, and I can get better. Maybe even get worthy.
At the San Francisco Bouchercon, in the very same day, I saw Val McDermid interviewing Denise Mina, and then Robert Crais interviewing Lee Child. Excuse me? Those two hours ALONE are worth the whole price of admission. And as I sat through those two hours, a bunch of ideas I’ve had for a long time suddenly coalesced into the storyline for Huntress Moon.
If I had been totally anonymous for that whole conference, if I hadn’t sold one book, it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest. I got not just one book, but a whole SERIES out of that one afternoon.
And I don’t think it was any accident that this year I was put on a panel with, yes, Val McDermid – AND Elizabeth George – two authors I admire so much I was actually afraid I wouldn’t be able to speak, but there I was, able to thank them publicly and professionally for how they’ve inspired me.
I think attitude might have a little to do with what you get out of the experience. I noticed, for example, that our own lovely Sarah Wesson had no problem joining conversations with any number of star authors, and people were delighted to have her. Yes, she’s a librarian and probably knows that all authors worship at librarians’ collective feet, so maybe that’s not a good example - but actually I think it is. Sarah has paid her dues, is paying her dues. That is, I think, the actual price of admission. We have to do the work before we get to play.
Speaking of playing - the theme of this conference was Cleveland Rocks, and it really did. It’s one of the most exhilarating things to me about this community that so many authors are musical (and total hams). Did you know Lee Child plays guitar, bass AND sax? That many talents in one package – I mean, person - is almost too much to take. Did you know that Joe Finder was a Whiffenpoof (the legendary Yale a cappella men’s group)? Classic Bouchercon moment: Paul Wilson and I were standing at the bar at the Hard Rock party talking about performing “The Lime in the Coconut” together (well, and just that, there – I am in a universe in which F. Paul Wilson can randomly turn to me and say, “We should do ‘The Lime in the Coconut’...) and Joe suddenly starts singing it beside us in this gorgeous second tenor voice – and I never, ever knew that about him. It's just magical.
My friend and idol Heather Graham has roped a whole lot of us into – I mean generously provided an outlet for us to exercise those talents with each other on a regular basis. This year, she hostessed a party at the House of Blues where her Slushpile band, which this time meant Heather, Paul Wilson, Dave Simms, Matthew Dow Smith, Greg Varricchio, Shane Pozzessore, and I - were able to perform with really anyone who felt like coming up with us: Daniel Palmer, who did a smoking harmonica solo to finish up his original “Bouchercon Blues”, Don Bruns doing his best Jimmy Buffet impersonation, Joelle Charbonneau, equally lovely at torch and opera.
I can see this party, and the band, growing into a regular fixture at BCon as it is at Romantic Times and Heather’s fabulous Writers for New Orleans conference (in December this year, and everyone should come!) and it’s one of the best rewards I can imagine for keeping my nose to the grindstone for most of the rest of the year.
Bouchercon is also a place for me to get a feel for what’s really going on in our business. This year, of course, the tension between indie publishing and traditional publishing was an undercurrent, in conversations with agents, publishers, and on panels as well.
Case in point, the “Heroes and Villains” panel, featuring Murderati's own Martyn Waites and Alafair Burke, Mark Billingham, Karin Slaughter and John Connolly.
Fantastic panel, roll-on-the-floor funny, I always love this particular combination of authors. But I do have to address John Connolly’s interesting rant at the end of it – I guess loosely filed under the idea of “villains”.
I’m a huge, I’d even say rabid, fan of Connolly’s and I understand that there was a specific subtext to all of this - but I can only deal with what was said aloud and what I and the rest of the room heard.
He was basically accusing people who have been successful in e book sales as wanting to “destroy the printed word.” I don’t know who HE might know who actually feels this way but I certainly don’t know anyone who wants that. Certainly not Joe Konrath, the obvious person Connolly was talking about.
I used to teach in the L.A. juvenile court system, teenagers, almost all gang kids, and there was a very sweet kid who took it on himself to look after me in the lockup camps, and the one time I ever saw him get truly angry was the time he pulled me out from a fight between two guys that I was trying to break up and he yelled at me – “You don’t NEVER get in the middle between Crips and Bloods.” So maybe I should just stay out of this now.
But by couching it in general terms the way he did, Connolly was grouping me into this “hatred of the printed word” category, too.
I spent some time at Bouchercon talking with other authors and being very specific about the kinds of sales I’m making with e books because I want other authors to know that there is this alternative to traditional publishing, that it is doable, that it is a whole lot easier and more logical than some people say, and that it is a much more viable living than I and a lot of my midlist - I should say “formerly midlist” - friends were making with traditional publishing.
As a screenwriter and a former Board of Directors member of the Writers Guild (including organizing for the writers’ strike) I’ve seen every kind of way a writer can be exploited. And we are. We are easy targets because the people who cut the checks know oh so very well that we will write NO MATTER WHAT. We will strive to do our best work NO MATTER WHAT. Insult us, demean us, cheat us, fire us, underpay us, don’t pay us at all – we will still write.
So when Joe talks about his sales numbers I see it as a political act, and I am grateful. Traditionally published authors have often been circumspect about how much our advances are and how much we’re making a year because it was appallingly low. Pointing out HOW low, compared to what e publishing can net a talented author who is willing to do the work, is breaking a long, long taboo that did not serve us.
I’m sure that Connolly wasn’t trying to say that authors who think about and talk about what we’re paid for e books are crass or base or somehow not real artists, but - perhaps because he wasn’t being specific about what he really WAS saying - that’s how it ended up sounding. And to say that any of us are “out to destroy the printed word” is just specious. I happen to read almost exclusively on my Kindle now because it’s so much more comfortable to hold and move around with for the five or six hour stretches I often read. But the books I read are the SAME BOOKS – no matter what the delivery system. The fact that authors get more money for those same books because of the delivery system is a good thing, if you ask me.
I could go on and on - obviously, I kind of have - but THIS is what Bouchercon does for me. It puts me in touch with myself, my friends, my colleagues, my idols, and my business.
I don't know... sounds like a winner to me.
Thank you, Marjorie Mogg and all the fantastic volunteers who make it happen, every magical year.
Okay, it’s October, the busiest month of the year for me, because
1. It’s Halloween, and I write spooky, and
2. It’s the month before NaNoWriMo, and by now I feel almost a sacred duty to prep people for it instead of letting them just launch into the month on November 1 with no clue what they’re going to be writing.
So I’m doing a NaNo prep series on my blog that you can join in on here: http://screenwritingtricks.com
But also this week, I’ve made the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbook FREE on Kindle, so if you haven’t grabbed a copy by now, here’s your chance.
AND – for Halloween, I’m giving away 31 signed hardcovers of either The Unseen or Book of Shadows, your choice (and yes, if you win and you’d rather have an e book of something else, that’s totally fine, just say so.
September marks the end of the first year of my Great e-Book Experiment. I can hardly believe that only twelve months ago I had none of the backlist Charlie Fox books out there in digital format. Now I have five of the books and a short story e-thology out on Kindle, and am just about to launch into all the other e-pub formats, plus my first foray into printed editions.
It’s been a hell of a year.
For me as a writer, the real joy has been to see Charlie’s story available again right from the beginning. So many readers wanted to start at book one, and I could see their enthusiasm waning when they discovered that only collector’s first editions were available, often at mind-boggling prices.
The first e-book I put together was FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection. It was a huge, huge learning curve, during which I have many people to thank for putting up with my innumerable stupid questions. In many ways, it still IS a steep learning curve, but more on that later.
A short story anthology — which in e-book form I refer to as an e-thology in an attempt to bring the word into common usage! — was very different proposition from the first of the books themselves, however.
One of the things that immediately struck me was the layout. A traditional book often has a pre-title page (with just the book’s title on it), then the title page itself, copyright page, list of the author’s previous publications, a dedication, acknowledgements, maybe even the author biog. Only THEN do you reach the story itself.
With an e-book, where a prospective reader might well download a sample first before deciding to buy, those intro pages all eat into the sample. So I put the dedication on the title page, shifted the copyright, acknowledgements, and an extended author biog to the back of the book, but instead added a short synopsis — what would be the jacket copy on a printed book — so the reader is reminded of the story as soon as they open the file.
In addition, some brilliant writers were generous enough to do swap excerpts with me — Brett Battles, Blake Crouch, Lee Goldberg, Timothy Hallinan, and Libby Fischer Hellmann. I put a taster of one of their books in the back of one of mine, and they did the same for me. Plus, of course, an excerpt from the next book in the Charlie Fox series, just to whet your appetite for more.
And in KILLER INSTINCT: Charlie Fox book one, I was also able to include the amazing Foreword by Lee Child, and my own Afterword, as well as two previously deleted scenes that I felt helped to fill out Charlie’s back story for what was to come. There’s also a short biog of the character, and the jacket copy for the other books in the series with suitable links.
In October, the next book in the series will be ready to go. Called DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, it sees Charlie facing her toughest challenge.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, a celebrity fundraising event should have been the ideal opportunity for Charlie to piece together her working relationship with Sean, who has woken from his gunshot-induced coma with his memory in tatters. But the simple security job turns into a nightmare when an ambitious robbery explodes into a deadly hostage situation. Charlie is forced to improvise as never before, and this time she can’t rely on Sean to watch her back.
I’m already putting together the extras for the e-book version. And my question is, what else would you like to see in an e-book that there isn’t the space or opportunity to include in a printed book?
I’ve always loved the extras available on a DVD, and an e-book is now the literary equivalent. So, would you like insights from the author about the writing process, or asides about continuing characters giving you a little of their back story, or research notes that didn’t make the final cut? In DIE EASY, for example, I did an enormous amount of research about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, but only a fraction of that made it into — or was relevant to — the actual story. Would you like a bonus article on that?
I’m open to suggestions and fascinated to know what you all think! And I hope you’ll forgive for continuing to ask stupid questions — it’s how we learn :)
This week’s Word of the Week is epeolatry, meaning the worship of words. It comes from the Greek epos meaning word, and -latry meaning to worship.
I’m away this week, doing some very serious and labour-intensive research on a boat in the Mediterranean, but I’ll try to get to comments as soon as I can!