Category Archives: Guest Blogger

The Segue

PD Martin introduces guest blogger – Lindy Cameron

Today I’d like to welcome fellow Aussie author Lindy Cameron to Murderati. I met Lindy through the fantastic Victorian chapter of Sisters in Crime. A great woman who’s moved from author to author/publisher I thought it would be interesting to hear her story. Why did she start her own publishing company?  Over to Lindy…

 

There are many things in the life of this author that try my patience. And the fact that I can actually do that, to myself, is somewhat ridiculous.

I am the Queen of Procrastination. And I say that like I am the only author who can say that, which is also ridiculous, because all writers mainline Avoidance like it’s a drug.

In fact, if you don’t find everything else to do but write, then you’re not really a writer.

Got a book deadline? Time to try out a new laksa recipe. Hmm, might have to wait until the zucchinis finish growing. Write another chapter while the stock is doing its thing – done. Oh look – the dog wants to go out; come back in; go out; eat the kitty litter. Finish chapter 10. Clean up the shredded six-pack of toilet paper. Start Chapter 11. Do a load of washing. Rewrite Chapter 11. Research just how that particular bullet will react with that metal after it’s gone through Bad Guy No 4.  Oh look – that Facebook meme about how to write is hilarious. No I really, really don’t want to change my power company, young man. Just because I answered the front door because, yes, I am AT home doesn’t mean I’m not working AT home. I’m a writer – damn it!

It is totally beyond me how I’ve managed to write five crime novels and co-write two true crime books, plus blah-blah-blah, in the last decade or so. And that always seems like a lot, until I realise I know some authors – like actually know them – who write one or two (egad!) crime novels a year.

And then I remember my biggest, weirdest and – as many people (including my partner and me) have suggested – craziest avoidance technique of all.

I started a publishing company.

I did this (in 2010) for a number of reasons. Mostly because I realised I had all the necessary skills to do something so utterly wackadoo – and in the middle of what everyone else was calling the GFC (whatever the hell that was).

I did it because I discovered there were two or 20 authors out there – apart from me – who were a little dissatisfied (understatement much?) with the Way of Big Publishers.

I also did it because I was lucky enough to snaffle some of those very same authors. Yes, I talked them into my fold, enticed them into my web, convinced them I wasn’t a complete loon, and welcomed them into my Clan.

I managed this, in some cases, because I wanted to publish certain books – by those established authors, I mean – that their existing Big Publisher didn’t want to touch because they might confuse the author’s existing readership.

[Ooh, can’t possibly ruin our crime writer’s rep by letting them go all paranormal, or write a historical novel, or something with a pirate in it!]

As an Independent Publisher, I also set about finding new Australian crime and thriller writers; publishing the back lists of existing thriller writers; republishing out-of-print crime and historical fiction; mentoring debut authors; and seeking out sf, f, duf, h, c, tc, and all the other fabulous letters that go with being a ‘capital G’ Genre publisher.

Crime and thrillers are my first love – they are what I write, after all; when I do write, I mean; you know, when I’m not publishing; really, you need to go out again? Get off the cat! What?…

But in the third year of my little company, Clan Destine Press, I’ve also discovered I needed to add r, rr & e (romance, rural romance & erotica) to the list. 

Why?

Because I can!

And there are also ‘trends’ which, as a publisher, one needs to be aware of.

One of the joys of being an Independent Publisher in the 21st Century is that we are not confined to paper.

Most of our books are paperbacks; but they are also eBooks.

And this year, more and more of our books will be eBooks first – to test the waters, to launch new careers, to get more voices out there sooner, to bring the world more fantasy, spec fic, science fiction, erotic adventures, historical fiction, and best of all: more crime and thrillers and thrilling crime and…

Now Chapter 12, where was I?

 

Phillipa (PD) here again…if you’ve got any questions or comments for Lindy, go for it! Lindy and I will be dropping by!

Author in Waiting?

Mary Andrea Clarke

The first stage of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger has drawn to a close, with the deadline for entries past and entrants either taking a well earned rest or thinking about their next writing projects.  Over 450 hopeful crime writers have taken up the challenge to send a novel opening and synopsis in the hope of launching a career as a published author.

            This is my first year of running the Competition and it is a very different literary adventure from writing.  The level of enthusiasm has been encouraging, not only from current entrants but previous ones. Several shortlisted authors from previous years contacted us with good news about progress and some kindly agreed to be interviewed in the newsletter.

            Peggy Blair and Annie Hauxwell, shortlisted in 2010 and 2011 respectively, related news of publishing deals.  D J McIntosh credited the Debut Dagger as the spark which initiated her writing success, with her 2007 entry, The Witch of Babylon, on sale in twenty countries.  The 2011 winner, Michelle Rowe, has reported that her entry, What Hidden Lies, is to be published in South Africa in June.  They are not alone in international success.  Adrian Magson, shortlisted in 2001, is the author of three well received crime series and has been described by a British national newspaper as, “a classic crime star in the making”. 

            Two previous entrants came full circle as their careers progressed and other CWA Daggers beckoned.  Diane Janes, shortlisted twice in the Debut Dagger Competition, was one of four authors nominated for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2010.  It was a good year for Debut Dagger authors.  The much coveted CWA Gold Dagger for that year went to Belinda Bauer, for her first novel, Blacklands, which had been highly commended in a previous competition.  Well done, all

            The authors who spoke to me described opportunities the competition had offered.  This was not only through their being shortlisted but also what they had learned in developing their own writing.  Discipline was mentioned more than once, the importance of writing within the rules and to a set word count.  Several authors emphasised the importance of editing, ensuring your work is the best it can possibly be. Hopefully, these tips have been helpful, along with those in the Bulletins sent to subscribers.

            Some have been kind enough to email expressing gratitude to the CWA for the competition.  One entrant, not yet shortlisted, described it as “a fun experience”.

            So what have I got out of it?  Admittedly, it’s slowed down my own writing a little.  However, with all entries in, I take a short breather to get back to my own book and have felt a renewed vigour.  Plot points with which I have struggled have now fallen into place and I’m on a roll as I get into my final chapter.  My bodysnatchers are on the trail and all being well, One Body Too Many will be in print before too long.  In the meantime, Georgiana Grey is still solving crime among the aristocrats and highwayman and will be back next time. 

            For those entrants waiting with bated breath, the initial read through is progressing.  The short list, which will be announced at Crimefest 2013 which runs from 30 May – 2 June.  See www.crimefest.com for more information.  Hope to see some of the entrants there.  Good luck to all and look forward to seeing some of those names in print.

Where are we going? – Q&A with Libby Fischer Hellmann

Zoë Sharp

I first met the talented Libby Fischer Hellmann at Sleuthfest in Florida ― my very first US mystery convention back in 2004. She made this Brit abroad feel very welcome, and we’ve remained friends ever since. An award-winning author, Libby has penned the Ellie Foreman and the Georgia Davis PI series mystery novels, as well as a number of highly acclaimed standalones. The latest of these is A BITTER VEIL, a gripping literary thriller set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution. Libby herself has been at the forefront of another revolution ― the brave new ebook world, and I was delighted to catch up with her and chat about what’s going on.

Zoë Sharp: Hi Libby. It was great to see you over in the UK earlier this summer at Bloody Scotland in Stirling, to have you to stay in the Lakes, and―just to top that off―to have you guesting here on Murderati. Welcome!

(pic l-r – ZS, Stephen Gallagher, Libby)

Libby Fischer Hellmann: My pleasure, Zoe… It was a wonderful trip. The only problem (as you know) is that I’ve been on a “lamb bender” for the past month or so. It was all those sheep in your neck of the woods. You cook a mean one, btw.

ZS: LOL. Perhaps we should point out that I did Libby a slow-cooked lamb dish (as detailed in THE KILLER COOKBOOK, as it happens). So, let’s get away from any sheep jokes that might have been on the horizon and get down to the nitty gritty. The publishing industry is in a state of flux at the moment and it would seem there’s never been a better ― or more scary ― time to be an author. What do you see as happening, and where do we go from here?

LFH: The problem with making any proclamations is that by the time I figure out what’s going on and am prepared to talk about it, the market shifts under our feet. I’d say there have been seismic changes every six months or so. The most recent, of course, is the fact that Amazon is (finally) limiting its support of free books. I wouldn’t be surprised if they slowly removed their free book program altogether, except for books that they “sanction”. And that, of course, will have serious repercussions for indie authors.

ZS: Do you foresee Amazon retaining the lion’s share of the ebook market, or are there any real contenders at the moment? What do the other formats need to do to keep up?

LFH: It’s always foolish to predict, but I think Amazon will retain its market share. It will be interesting to see what happens now that Kobo, and from what I hear, iBooks, will be more aggressive. Remember, though, that Amazon has perfected its ability to drill down on individual customers: what they’ve bought, what they like, and what they might be interested in (which, curiously, is not unlike the extraordinary ground game the Obama campaign was able to create with Democratic voters). This is something most retailers (and candidates) still don’t know how to do. For that reason, I don’t expect a major change in Amazon’s position. They’re smart, they’re nimble, and they know their customers better than any company, probably, in history. 

ZS: We talked a little about the Espresso Book Machine (EBM) by On Demand Books, which was a new one on me. What’s it all about?

LFH: I LOVE this idea and I hope it succeeds. As a reader, you would walk into any bookstore with one of these machines, request ANY book that’s been published, push a few buttons, and five minutes later walk out with a trade paperback version of that book. Who wouldn’t want the ease and convenience of that? I hope it’s going to be a major factor in the survival of independent bookstores. But, as you already suspect, it might not be limited to bookstores. Think grocery stores, department stores, drugstores, even Wal-mart. It will all depend on how much profit the store gets to keep.

ZS:  The advent of the indie-publishing scene has enabled authors to branch out, both from their existing series and genres. But is there increasing pressure for authors to up their volume levels, perhaps at the expense of quality?

LFH: Yup. I also think there’s a limit to how many books by one author can—or should—succeed. I remember when authors were first “encouraged” to write two books a year rather than one. I kept wondering why an author or publisher would want to water down the anticipation of readers – publishing one book a year, or even one book every two years, is almost an “event” – something readers look forward to and celebrate. Why clutter the market? The danger is that an author’s work will be treated as “product” rather than a damn good novel.

ZS: You’ve written two successful series ― one with amateur sleuth, video producer Ellie Foreman, and one with former-cop turned PI, Georgia Davis. How do you balance that with the standalones you’ve written recently?

LFH: It’s all about the challenge. I keep wanting to expand my horizons (literally as well as metaphorically, thus Iran and Cuba)… so I try to stretch by writing different types of stories. It’s also refreshing to go away from my characters, although when I come back, it takes a while to get back into their heads.

ZS: You’ve always been very active in social media, and you even have your own App! How much time do you devote to the marketing side of the writing business, and where do you see this going? Have we exhausted the possibilities of Facebook and Twitter?

LFH: I spend way too much time online. Especially since the kids are out of the house. It’s sad, really. That’s why I started the “Get A Life, Libby” project back in January (and came to visit you!!)—it was an effort to wean me from social media.  I wish I could say I’ve been cured, but unfortunately, here I am… again.

I do think Facebook has “matured” since its inception, and I’m not sanguine about its usefulness going forward, given that every company and corporation now has a FB page (and a social media manager.) The best news I’ve heard (and it’s only anecdotal so I don’t know if it’s true) is that businesses who have invested, particularly in Facebook, are not pleased with their progress/results. If that is true, maybe they will declutter FB, go away, and leave it to us “regular folk.”

Twitter always was more business-oriented, so I don’t see much change happening there. The unfortunate part of Twitter is that when there are critical events, like Sandy or the election, the stream of tweets is so fast there’s absolutely no way to keep up with it. But I do think it’s a cool way to touch base with like-minded people. 

ZS: I know you’ve just released one of your Georgia Davis novels in Spanish translation as INOCENCIA FÁCIL, which you organized yourself. How did this come about?

LFH: I had already had translations of five short stories into Italian done when I went to BEA last summer. There I met author Tina Folsom, who has managed translations of her romances into Spanish, French, and German. She basically led me by the hand, and I am thrilled with the results. But it’s not cheap. Nor for the faint-hearted. No matter how meticulously the final product is edited, someone somewhere will tell you the translation has errors.

ZS: And any predictions for the future of the publishing industry?

LFH: How much are you offering? 🙂

ZS: Damn, and here was I hoping to sneak that one past you ― should have known better. So, what’s next for you?

LFH:  I’ve finished what my publisher calls the third in my “Revolution Trilogy”: a story about Cuba and the rise of a female Mafia head. It starts during the Cuban revolution, jumps to Cuba’s Special Period in the ‘90s, and then to the present in Chicago. It should be out sometime next year. The working title is GOODBYE, CHE.

Now, I’m back to a new Georgia Davis PI novel.

I’m also part of a group of 12 authors ― we call ourselves the Top Suspense Group — and our members include Lee Goldberg, Max Allan Collins, Dave Zeltserman, Joel Goldman, Ed Gorman, Bill Crider, Vicki Hendricks, Harry Shannon, Naomi Hirahara, Paul Levine, and Stephen Gallagher. We’ve banded together to promote our individual ebooks as well as several anthologies we’ve released as a group. Our latest is WRITING CRIME FICTION, which includes essays by each of us on a separate aspect of writing. We’re pretty pumped about it.

ZS: Thanks for joining us on Murderati, Libby. Looks like you have some exciting projects in the pipeline. And the new book sounds fascinating. I love the idea of a trilogy of standalones linked by a theme like revolutions. Hope it does great things for you!

And congratulations on A BITTER VEIL being nominated for Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers’ Association. The winner will be announced on December 1st. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

So, ‘Rati, what questions do you have for Libby? It’s a great opportunity to interact with an author who’s embraced the new technology side of storytelling and is always at its leading edge.

Hardboiled Hero, Softboiled Heart ― Jaden Terrell’s Jared McKean mysteries

Zoë Sharp

I’m delighted to welcome to Murderati the talented Jaden Terrell, author of the Tennessee PI Jared McKean books. Her debut was RACING THE DEVIL, published in January this year. Book two in the series, A CUP FULL OF MIDNIGHT, is hot off the press now!

Zoë Sharp: For people not yet familiar with Jared, how would you describe him?

Jaden Terrell: At 36, Jared is divorced from a woman he’s still in love with and coming to terms with his unjust termination from Nashville’s Murder Squad. He’s loyal and stubborn, an animal lover and horse whisperer with a soft spot for kids and for women in jeopardy. He’s the guy who will move your furniture three years after you break up. And did I mention that he’s hot?

ZS: What made you want to write crime, and what was your path to publication?

JT: When I started writing, I thought I’d write epic fantasy trilogies like J.R.R. Tolkien. Then I saw an ad for the St. Martin’s Press First Private Detective Novel Contest and thought, “I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. I think I’ll try it.” I received the submission guidelines six weeks before the deadline and turned it in right under the wire. Of course, it didn’t win, but the judge sent me an encouraging note saying my work was publishable but that she’d gone with something more cleverly wordsmithed. By which I’m sure she meant “edited.” In the process, I fell in love with Jared and knew I wanted to write more about him. I took the looooooong path to publication. The short version is, a friend of mine published the first book, which later came to be RACING THE DEVIL, through iUniverse for me as a gift. After a long learning curve and an extensive edit, it was eventually picked up by a micro-press called Night Shadows Press. Shortly after that, I met my agent, Jill Marr, at the Killer Nashville conference and signed A CUP FULL OF MIDNIGHT, the second book in the series, with her. Within a few months, she sold that book to Martin and Judith Shepard of The Permanent Press. They asked to see RACING THE DEVIL, and after reading it in one weekend, asked if I could get the rights back from Night Shadows. I could, and The Permanent Press contracted for that one as well. Basically, my path to publication was writing the same book over and over until I finally got it right!

One of the things that draws me to crime fiction is that, in real life, justice isn’t always served, and often we’re left with questions that will never be answered. When I was 18, my father was killed, supposedly by his own hand. The more we learned, the more likely it seemed that his new wife was the one who pulled the trigger. We’ll never know for sure, and if it’s true, we’ll never know why. But in a mystery, the killer is always revealed and punished, and you always find out the “why.”

ZS: Wow, that makes my own catalyst for writing crime seem very mild by comparison! You have said that when Jared McKean first introduced himself to you inside your head, you immediately abandoned the feisty female detective you were writing at the time to give him a series of his own. What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing across gender for you?

JT: Well, it wasn’t exactly immediate. I argued with him about it at first, but he waited me out. One of the advantages of writing a male character is that, even though we have some things in common, he’s clearly separate from me. One of the problems I had with the feisty female detective was that she was either so different from me that I couldn’t identify with her, or so much like me that I couldn’t make her plunge into dangerous situations (“What? Are you crazy? You go in the basement, and I’m just going to lock all the doors in this car and dial 911.”). But I’ve always had a lot of male friends, and I immediately understood Jared and his need to be a hero, even if he couldn’t articulate it to himself. There’s only one disadvantage I can think of, which is that some people, once they know I’m a woman, can’t stop looking for all the ways I got him wrong. One woman gave me a list of things that men don’t do, say, feel, or understand. The very next book I read was by John Sandford—a man’s man if there ever was one—and he did every single one of the things on the list. Once I was told, “Men don’t know what a doily is. They’d call it a coaster.”

I said, “Men call things what they are—and every southern man knows what a doily is!” But the next time I was out with my husband, I happened to see one, and I said, “Honey, what would you call that?”

He looked puzzled and said, “It’s a doily. Well, I guess you could call it a . . . what is it? . . . A coaster, but that’s not exactly right.”

As my husband says, “Men are not monolithic.”

ZS: I know my name has caused me problems in the past—nobody has any idea how to cope with the umlaut over the ‘ë’—but you have also been through a name change. What’s the story behind that?

JT: When my friend published the first book for me, we used my real name, Elizabeth—a very feminine name. Booksellers would try to hand-sell it to readers they knew would like it, and the readers would point to the name and say, “No, look, it says Elizabeth. I don’t read cosies.” Nothing anyone could say would convince the reader that it was a gritty detective novel. On the other hand, people who picked it up because it said Elizabeth were looking for a cosy and were disappointed that it wasn’t one. I was completely missing my market. It doesn’t help that I look like a kindergarten teacher. My real name and a typical head shot would completely misrepresent the book. I found Jaden in the unisex section of a baby name book. [I didn’t even know there were such things! I must get one—ZS] Loved it. My agent loved it. We found an ambiguous but dramatic-looking photo to complete the image. And the funny thing is, people like this book much better by Jaden than they did by Elizabeth.

ZS: Did Jared McKean arrive fully formed, with his Down syndrome son, horse-riding abilities, and complicated relationship with his ex-wife, or did you discover his backstory slowly?

JT: I knew a few things about him—that he had horses and that he had a leather bomber jacket that had belonged to his father in the Vietnam War. I worked the rest of it out over a couple of days. It started out as a methodical process of discovery—what did I know, love, or do that he might also know, love, or do? I had a red belt in Tae Kwan Do, so he has a black belt. I gave him my 12-year-old Akita and my elderly quarter horse (he’s 32 now). I gave him a son with Down syndrome because I taught special ed. for twelve years, and I knew that having a child with a disability would give him depth and make him more than just a typical tough guy. I had recently lost a close friend to AIDS, so I gave him a friend with the disease. I thought it would be interesting to have a tough guy from the Bible Belt torn between what he’s always been taught about homosexuality and the fact that his best friend is gay. It quickly became clear that Jared’s defining characteristic is he never, ever lets go of what he loves. Once I knew that about him, everything else fell into place. There’s a lot I don’t know about him though. Early on, when I was asking all these questions, trying to figure out who he was, I asked if he had any siblings other than his older brother Randall. I got the sudden sense that he didn’t know, but that there was something unresolved in that area. When I started to write book three, there it was.

(ZS: and just in case you were wondering, Jaden has sent me a pic of Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Wadau, who she swears IS Jared McKean. And having seen him and read the book, I could second that …)

ZS: A CUP FULL OF MIDNIGHT is full of nice dialogue between McKean and the other characters. I particularly liked a snippet of this conversation between McKean and his former police partner, Frank Campanella:

I leaned forward, put my hands flat on his desk, and said, “Frank, I need to see that file.”

His eyebrows bunched together, wild silver bristles that made him look like a disgruntled badger. “I just told you, I don’t have it.”

“But you could get it.”

“Sure, if I wanted to spend my golden years saying, ‘Welcome to Walmart.’ ”

Do you have a file called ‘Nice Lines’ which you add stuff like this to?

JT: I wish I did. Sometimes I get ambitious and decide I’ll carry a notebook around and write down all those fantastic lines that pop into my head at odd times. It usually lasts about two days, and then I lose the notebook.

ZS: I lost a notebook like that while I was in NYC a few years ago. I’ve no idea what anybody might make of it if they found it! How did the storyline form for A CUP FULL OF MIDNIGHT, with its black magic overtones and which delves into the Goth subculture? Is this a subject that’s always interested you?

JT: In 1996, a group of teenagers inspired by a vampire role-playing game murdered the parents of one member of the group. Their leader claimed to be a 500-year-old vampire and had crossed the line from playing the game to living it. There were several other “vampire” murders around that time, and I was both appalled by the violence and intrigued by how someone so clearly evil and disturbed could exert so much control over others. I’ve been a role player since college, (Dungeons & Dragons, Rolemaster, Call of Cthulhu, and yes, VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE), and so I wanted to explore the line between gamers—people playing a game about vampires—and people who are playing at being vampires. I’ve also always been interested in magic and the occult, not in practicing it, but in what draws people to it, what they expect from it. There’s a line between dark and light, and it’s the line that I wanted to explore.  

ZS: What’s next for Jared McKean?

JT: In the third book, his former partner on the Murder Squad asks him to come and identify the body of a young Asian woman found in the dumpster behind Jared’s office. In her hand, she was holding a picture of Jared’s father taken during the war in Vietnam. There’s a Vietnamese woman and two small children in the picture, and Jared’s office phone number is scrawled on the back. The book will take him into the world of human trafficking, and secrets from his father’s past will come back to haunt him.

ZS: And what’s next for Jaden Terrell? You are one of the contributors to NOW WRITE! MYSTERIES and also have an online writing course on your website. More how-to books? Teaching? Or do you fancy going with a standalone novel?

JT: Everything! I love to teach and hope to start teaching workshops soon, and I have a how-to book in the works. The third Jared McKean book is in the revision stage, and the fourth is in the research and planning stage. There’s also a standalone thriller that I hope to finish sometime in 2013.

ZS: What question do you always hope to be asked in these interviews, but never are?

JT: What does it feel like to be so ravishingly beautiful and obscenely wealthy?

ZS: LOL. Good answer! Jaden, thank you so much for stopping by. Lastly, what’s your favourite word or phrase? And your least-favourite word or phrase?

JT: My favorite word is skulduggery. My least favorite word is one I can’t say in public. It starts with a “c.”

Intrigued by Jaden’s work? Here’s the skinny on A CUP FULL OF MIDNIGHT:

At thirty-six, private detective Jared McKean is coming to terms with his unjust dismissal from the Nashville murder squad and an unwanted divorce from a woman he still loves. Jared is a natural horseman and horse rescuer whose son has Down syndrome, whose best friend has AIDS, and whose teenaged nephew, Josh, has fallen under the influence of a dangerous fringe of the Goth subculture.

 When the fringe group’s leader—a mind-manipulating sociopath who considers himself a vampire—is found butchered and posed across a pentagram, Josh is the number one suspect. Jared will need all his skills as a private investigator and former homicide detective to match wits with the most terrifying killer he has ever seen. When he learns that his nephew is next on the killer’s list, Jared will risk his reputation, his family, and his life in a desperate attempt to save the boy he loves like a son.

Read The First Ten Pages

ZS: So, over to you Murderatos. Questions for Jaden? And what are your favourite and least-favourite words?

Please welcome Edgar and Macavity Award-winning Bruce DeSilva!

Zoë Sharp

I’m honoured and delighted to welcome Edgar and Macavity Award-winning author Bruce DeSilva to Murderati for today’s Wildcard.

Bruce DeSilva worked as a journalist for 40 years before retiring to write crime novels full time. At the Associated Press, he served as the writing coach, responsible for training the news service’s reporters and editors worldwide. Previously, he directed an elite AP department devoted to investigative reporting and other special projects. Earlier in his career, he worked as an investigative reporter and an editor at The Hartford Courant and The Providence Journal.

Stories edited by DeSilva have won virtually every major journalism prize including the Polk Award (twice), the Livingston (twice), the ASNE, and the Batten Medal. He also edited two Pulitzer finalists and helped edit a Pulitzer winner. His crime fiction has won the prestigious Edgar and Macavity Awards and has been a finalist for the Shamus, Barry, and Anthony Awards.

He has worked as a consultant on writing and editing at more than 50 newspapers including The New York Times and The Dallas Morning News, and he has been a sought-after speaker at professional gatherings including the National Writers Workshops, the Nieman Foundation, Thrillerfest, and Bouchercon. His reviews of crime novels have appeared in The New York Times book review section and continue to be published occasionally by The Associated Press.

He is currently a masters’ thesis adviser at The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Bruce and his wife Patricia Smith, an award-winning poet, live in Howell, NJ, with their granddaughter Mikaila and two enormous canines, a Bernese Mountain Dog named Brady and a mutt named Rondo.

 

Zoë Sharp: Bruce, welcome to Murderati! You won the Edgar and the Macavity Award for ROGUE ISLAND, your first crime novel about old-school investigative journalist, Liam Mulligan. Did you fear a sophomore slump—‘Jaws 2’ after ‘Jaws’, or ‘Scarlett’ after ‘Gone With The Wind’? Just how daunting was it to write the sequel, CLIFF WALK, with that kind of expectation hanging over you?

Bruce DeSilva: When my first novel was published, I had no expectations one way or another about how it would be received. Then the professional reviews poured in, and they were all raves. I was gratified that so many people who know the crime fiction genre loved the book, but some of the reviews were so over the top that they were a bit embarrassing. The Dallas Morning News, for example, declared that “ROGUE ISLAND raises the bar for all books of its kind.” Hey, I thought it was pretty good too, but I didn’t think I’d done THAT. If I had, Dennis Lehane might never forgive me.

I’d already finished writing CLIFF WALK by the time the ROGUE ISLAND reviews appeared, and the awards weren’t announced until months later; so the acclaim for the first book had no affect on me as I wrote the second. But with many reviewers calling CLIFF WALK even better than ROGUE ISLAND, I feel a touch of pressure these days as I work on the final revisions for the third Mulligan novel, PROVIDENCE RAG. I’ve got some loyal readers now, and they’ll take me to task if I let them down.  

Still, there’s nothing like being married to a woman who writes better than you to keep things in perspective. My wife, Patricia Smith, is one of our finest living poets. I won the Edgar and the Macavity? SHE’s won two Pushcart Prizes, the Paterson Poetry Prize, Rattle Poetry Prize, the National Poetry Series Award, and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. I was a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony and Barry Awards? SHE was a finalist for the National Book Award, which is a much bigger deal. I get invited to speak at Thrillerfest? SHE gets invited to read at the Sorbonne. And now she’s even invaded my turf, editing the forthcoming STATEN ISLAND NOIR for Akashic Press.

Lucky for me, my genius-in-residence edits every line that I write. Having her at my side keeps the pressure at bay.

ZS: In his review of CLIFF WALK, prominent writing coach Don Fry said, “One of the reasons to write a novel is to attack all the things that drive you crazy. … He attacks child molesters, pornographers, sex peddlers, corrupt politicians, drug dealers, prostitution, and the stupid owners of newspapers who are destroying journalism.” Did you set out with an agenda before you wrote this book?

BD:  Fry also said that another reason to write a novel is “to celebrate the things you love”―and I did that in CLIFF WALK, too. I don’t want people thinking that it’s just an angry book.

I began CLIFF WALK with two notions in mind. The story would contrast and compare the extremes of Rhode Island’s culture—its thriving sex trade and Newport high society. And Mulligan would try to figure out why Rhode Island politicians kept screeching about the shame of the state’s prostitution business while doing nothing to close the loophole that made brothels legal. (As I wrote the book, prostitution had, in fact, been legal in the state for more than a decade.) With nothing more than that in mind, I set my characters in motion to see what would happen. A lot did.

However, I believe that the best crime novels are always about more than a detective pounding the pavement in search of clues. Writers such as James Lee Burke, Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos, to name a few, use the popular vehicle of the crime novel to examine the social and moral issues that keep us up at night. Pelecanos’s novels, for example, are great crime stories; but they’re also serious explorations of the urban landscape, and they deal unflinchingly with the volatile issues of race and ethnicity.

To make this kind of thing work, the writer mustn’t preach; a crime novel’s serious intent should go down so easily that the reader barely notices—until he finds himself pondering the weight of it all after closing the book. 

I want my novels to be a blast to read, but I also want them to be ABOUT something. In ROGUE ISLAND, Mulligan tracked down a serial arsonist who was torching the working class neighborhood where he grew up. But the novel also took a hard look at the high price the American democracy is paying for the decline of its great metropolitan newspapers.  As readers saw the skill and determination with which Mulligan pursued his investigation, I hope that they acquired a greater appreciation for what we are losing as newspapers fade into history.

In CLIFF WALK, Mulligan journeys through the underbelly of the state’s sex trade. What he finds there takes a toll on him, challenging his whatever-gets-you-through-the-night attitude about sexual morality and shattering his already tenuous religious faith. The novel is both a riveting slice of hardboiled fiction and a sober exploration of sex and religion in a society in which pornography is ubiquitous and anyone can log on to a website, punch in a Visa number, and order up an underage hooker.

(Lawrence Block stunned by CLIFF WALK)

ZS: Aren’t you worried you’re going to run out of things that really piss you off?

BD: Not gonna happen. There’s no shortage of things that gnaw at my innards.  I’m angry about the know-nothing strain in American culture that devalues science and education. I’m angry about the persistence of racism in our society. I’m angry at the way cable news networks have deteriorated into lying propaganda tools of the left and right. At the moment, I’m also angry about a loophole in Rhode Island law that could force the state to release a convicted serial killer—a fact at the heart of the next Mulligan novel, PROVIDENCE RAG. I’ve also worked up a serious dislike for the arrogant Miami Heat, who just knocked the noble Boston Celtics out of the NBA playoffs. I hope the Oklahoma City Thunder rips their hearts out. 

Of course, I’m not going to run out of things that I love, either.

ZS: You were a journalist for many years before turning to fiction—something I believe is a great training ground for the novelist as it teaches you to write to topic, to length, deadline, and forces you not to be too precious about your work as the subs are likely to hack it to pieces anyway.

BD:  I’m not as sanguine as you are about the value of journalism as a training ground for novelists. Daily journalism is peopled by stick figures instead of flesh-and-blood characters. It is filled with quotes (words sources say to journalists) instead of dialogue (words people say to each other.) Too often, it uses street addresses in lieu of creating a sense of place. And it is filled with turgid “articles” and “reports” instead of stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Only the rarest of journalists rise above that, writing real stories that bring people, places, and action to life on the page.

The main thing journalism does teach a future journalist is that writing is a job―something you do every day whether you feel like it or not. You do not wait to be inspired. You do not search for your muse. You are not allowed to have writer’s block. Journalists know that writer’s block is for sissies. You put your butt in the chair and write.

ZS: Had you always wanted to write novels? What prompted the career change?

BD: For most of my journalism career, writing a novel never occurred to me. I did start playing around with one in the 1990s, but soon abandoned it―a story I’ll expand on later in response to another of your questions. But by 2009, after 40 years in journalism, I’d grown disillusioned with the profession I’d always loved. Newspapers were circling the drain. The quality of local and national TV news was in sharp decline. And online news organizations were doing little original reporting of their own, getting most of their news from dying newspapers. I deplored the trivialization of news and the way it had become more of a commodity than a public trust. Even my venerable employer, the Associated Press, was devoting more resources to entertainment news than to investigative reporting.

The way I feel about it now is that I wasn’t leaving journalism; journalism was leaving me. It was time for a second act.

ZS: CLIFF WALK is a wonderfully intertwined and complex story. How did you go about constructing it?

BD:  I don’t outline. I begin with a general idea of what a book will be about and then turn my characters loose to see what they will do and say. I enjoy discovering the story as I write. And I believe that if I don’t know what’s going to happen next, my readers probably won’t either. Half-way through CLIFF WALK, I wrote Mulligan into a corner and had a heck of a time figuring out how to get him out of it. So I got up from the keyboard and spent a couple of weeks thinking about it before the answer came to me. Thinking about who my characters are and what they will do next is the essence of my writing process.

ZS: Mulligan and his supporting cast of characters, from neurotic ex-wife Dorcas, to the newspaper owner’s son who bears the terrific nickname of ‘Thanks-Dad’, and even Mulligan’s (t)rusty old Bronco ‘Secretariat’, are beautifully observed. I was kind of rooting for the thing with Yolanda to work out, but somehow I knew it wasn’t going to. Is Mulligan ever going to catch a break?

BD: Thanks for the compliment. I do love my supporting characters, including Mulligan’s mobbed-up bookie, Domenic “Woosh” Zerilli; Fire Chief Rosella Morelli, the real hero of ROGUE ISLAND; and Rhode Island Attorney General Fiona McNerney, a.k.a. Attilla the Nun, who plays a pivotal role in CLIFF WALK. I spend a lot of time getting to know them, and it pained me deeply when I had to kill one of them off. You’re quite right that Mulligan gets his heart broken in the first two books.  As the next one, PROVIDENCE RAG, begins, he’s contemplating getting a dog—a big one that would jump all over him when he comes home from work, curl up beside him when he roots for the Red Sox on TV, and snore contentedly every night at the foot of his bed. As the novel puts it:  “After several recent disappointments, he’d come to believe that the love of a dog was preferable to the love of a woman. Dogs were unwaveringly faithful, and not a one had ever lied to him.” Will he ever find a soul mate? I don’t know. Will the soul mate have fur and fleas? That’s something he and I will have to discover as we continue on our journey together.

ZS: What’s next for you—and Mulligan? Do you plan to write more in the series next, or try a standalone?

(Newark Mayor Corey Booker engrossed by Bruce’s prose)

BD:  PROVIDENCE RAG, the third Mulligan novel, will be published sometime next year. This summer, I’m helping my wife with her next project, a biography of Harriet Tubman. When that’s done, we hope write a crime novel together. It will be based in her native Chicago around the time of the 1968 riots and will have two alternating narrators, a white Chicago cop and a black hairdresser from the city’s tough West Side. After that, Mulligan will be back again.

ZS: I’m a sucker for a good opening line or good opening paragraph. CLIFF WALK’s is a doozy:

‘Cosmo Scalici hollered over the grunts and squeals of three thousand hogs rooting in his muddy outdoor pens. “Right here’s where I found it, poking outta this pile of garbage. Gave me the creeps, the way the fingers curled like it wanted me to come closer.”

(I mean, how can you not read on after that?) For me finding the right entry-point in the story is one of the hardest parts of writing. What are your own personal Room 101 elements of writing?

BD: Whenever I pick up a crime novel by an author I’ve never read before, I give it the first paragraph test. If I don’t see something that grabs me, I toss it and try another author.

The first time I picked up a book by Andrew Vachss, for example, I found this opening line:

“The sun dropped on the far side of the Hudson River like it knew what was coming.”

I knew immediately that this was a writer I wanted to read.

So, yeah, I pay a lot of attention to opening lines when I write. When I started CLIFF WALK, the first words that spilled from my keyboard were these: 

“Attilla the Nun thunked her can of Bud on the cracked Formica tabletop, stuck a Marlboro in her mouth, sucked in a lungful, and said: “Fuck this shit.” 

I knew immediately that I would be able to write this novel. As it happened, those lines became the opening for Chapter 5, but writing them first established the hardboiled tone I was looking for.

ZS: I’ve been researching recently about the rejection letters famous writers received for what would go on to become their best work. How was your own path to publication?

BD:  First of all, let me urge aspiring authors not to take rejections personally. The great James Lee Burke’s first novel, THE LOST GET-BACK BOOGIE, was rejected 111 times before it was finally published—and then went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Rejections have more to do with whether agents and publishers think a book will sell than about whether they think it is good. You don’t really think anyone believed that Snooki from Jersey Shore could write, do you?

As for me, the path to publication was greased by good luck and connections. Here’s what  happened:

Way back in 1994, when I was working for a Connecticut newspaper, I received a note from a reader praising “a nice little story” I’d written. “It could serve as the outline for a novel,” the note said. “Have you considered this?” The note was from Evan Hunter, who wrote literary novels under his own name and the brilliant 87th Precinct police procedurals under the penname Ed McBain. I sealed the note in plastic, taped it to my home computer, and started writing. I was only a couple of chapters into the novel when my life turned upside down. In my busy new life as a husband, father, and senior Associated Press editor, there was no time to finish a novel.

Years streaked by. Each time I bought a new computer, I taped that note from Hunter to it, telling myself I would get back to the book someday. But I didn’t. Finally, a few years ago, I found myself dining with Otto Penzler, the dean of American’s crime fiction editors, and happened to mention that long-ago note from Hunter.

“Evan Hunter was a good friend of mine,” Penzler said. “In all the years I knew him, he never had a good thing to say about anything anyone else wrote. He REALLY sent you that note?”

“He really did,” I said. “I still have it.”

“Well then you’ve got to finish that novel,” Otto said, “and when you do, you have to let me read it.”

So I went home and started writing again. I wrote at night after work and all day every Saturday; and six months later, ROGUE ISLAND was finished. Otto read the novel and loved it.

“Do you have an agent?” he asked.

No, I told him. I didn’t even know any.

“Then let me make a call for you,” he said.

The next thing I knew, I was represented by Susanna Einstein, one of the best in the business. As she pitched the book to publishers, I was befriended by Jon Land, a crime novelist who lives in Rhode Island, where my books are set. Jon urged his editor at Forge to dig ROGUE ISLAND out of the big stack of submissions on his desk. He did, and promptly bought it.

ZS: And finally, do you have anything to say in your own defense?

BD: I adore my dogs, I’m a long-suffering Red Sox fan, I smoke cigars, and my wife says I clean up pretty well. What’s not to love?

The gen:

CLIFF WALK, the sequel to the award-winning ROGUE ISLAND, once again revolves around the tumultuous life of Liam Mulligan, a wise-cracking investigative reporter for a dying Providence, RI newspaper.  As the tale opens, prostitution is legal in the state (which it really was until two years ago). Politicians are making a lot of speeches about the shame of it, but they aren’t doing anything about it. Mulligan suspects somebody is being paid off.

As he investigates, a child’s severed arm is discovered in a pile of garbage at a local pig farm. Then the body of an internet pornographer turns up at the bottom of the famous Cliff Walk in nearby Newport. At first the killings seem random, but as Mulligan keeps digging, strange connections begin to emerge.

Promised free sex with hookers if he minds his own business—and a savage beating if he doesn’t—Mulligan enlists the help of Thanks-Dad, the newspaper publisher’s son, and Attila the Nun, the state’s colourful attorney general, in his quest for the truth. What he learns will lead him to question his long-held beliefs about sexual morality, shake his tenuous religious faith, and leave him wondering who his real friends are. CLIFF WALK is at once a hardboiled mystery and a serious exploration of sex and religion in the age of pornography.

Publishers Weekly gave it a coveted starred review, saying, “Look for this one to garner more award nominations.” Booklist also gave it a starred review, calling the plot “exquisite” and saying it is “terrific on every level.”

So, ‘Rati, now’s your chance to ask questions of Bruce. Treat him kindly―or at least buy him a cigar. He likes El Ray Del Mundo maduro’s  🙂

This week’s Word of the Week is vibrissa, meaning a tactile bristle, such as a cat’s whisker; a vaneless rictal feather, or a hair as in the nostril.

Kathryn Fox comes to Murderati

Kathryn Fox is an Aussie crime fiction author (based in Sydney), who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting at a couple of crime conventions here in Australia. Kathryn’s first book, Malicious Intent, was a huge success both here in Australia (she won the 2005 Davitt Award for crime fiction) and overseas (it toppled The Da Vinci Code to become the no. 1 crime book on Amazon in the UK and Germany). Since then she’s released another four books — Without Consent, Skin and Bone, Blood Born and Death Mask.  

Like certain other female crime writers you may know (e.g. Tess Gerritsen, Kathy Reichs) Kathryn also comes from a medical background and uses this knowledge in her crime fiction. 

Today, Kathryn’s draws on her medical background to talk about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Her post is a powerful one, and she will be in and out to check on your comments. 

A multibillion dollar industry. Corruption, disturbing public behaviour by key players. A series of suicides and violent deaths, leads to questions. Each autopsy reveals a horrifying discovery. There are calls for the industry to stop the carnage… 

It sounds like the plot for a thriller. Only this isn’t fiction. It’s currently taking place in two separate spheres at once, in real life. And it’s something I feel passionate about. 

The first industry involves sport. NFL, Ice Hockey, Rugby Union, Rugby League (in the UK and Australia) and Australian Rules. No prizes for guessing where the last one is played. The one thing these games all have in common is physical contact, and lots of it. Crowds love a bit of biff, thump and robust exchanges. But at what cost?  

For years now, high profile players have been the focus of media attention for all the wrong reasons. Not a season goes by without more scandalous headlines about players involved in sexual assault, domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, off-field violence and betting controversies. Boys will be boys, we’re told and it’s mostly harmless fun. Harmless of course, except for the victims, families and consequences for players themselves. 

With a life expectancy of 50 yrs for NFL players, it’s easy to assume that retirement, high food intake and reduced exercise are the causes. But a number of premature deaths and suicides in former NFL players and even a player who stopped after high school, shocked the medical community.  Each was found to have the unusual finding of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). 

What is CTE? It’s permanent and ongoing damage to the brain that was previously only ever seen in boxers after a career of blows to the brain. MRI and other medical investigations aren’t able to pick it up. Sadly, it’s only diagnosable post mortem.

CTE predominantly affects the front parts of the brain, or frontal and temporal lobes, which are responsible for decision-making, impulse control, mood, memory, amongst other things. Damage to these areas can result in depression, increased aggression, sexual inappropriateness, impaired judgement, addictive behaviours like gambling, drug and alcohol abuse. Does any of this sound familiar when you think about the football and ice hockey scandals? 

It did to me three years ago, when I began writing Death Mask. Please don’t think for a moment that I’m taking credit for the surge in information or subsequent outcry about CTE, or the decision by many former players to sue the NFL, but the headlines kept on coming and a fictional novel on the topic attracted more than the crime readers.

The chief executive officer of a professional team contacted me after reading the novel, and asked me to help educate players and team management about the dangers of CTE. He felt that the book had really captured the culture and mentality of team behaviour. It was a huge compliment, and vindicated a ‘slight’ obsession for research, but the lines between fiction and reality had begun to blur. 

As Death Mask was released in Australia, we coincidentally had a number of severe concussions during games and there was ample footage of players stumbling around the field before collapsing. 

It’s unusual for a fiction author to make it to the sports pages and sports segments of TV news shows. My sports fanatic father was so proud! (Above, Kathryn is interviewed with NFL player Colin Scotts.

Some commentators argued that I was just trying to bubble wrap children and that concussions were just a part of robust gladiatorial competition. As a doctor, and parent, I am in no way against sport, but any sport that causes brain damage and premature death deserves some review. It is, afterall, sport. Thankfully, public awareness has increased the pressure on sports doctors and administrators to take action and reassess the risks. 

Now, medical science is discovering that CTE doesn’t actually require severe concussions. It may be caused by recurrent, minor blows to the head and is especially damaging to developing brains. Helmets don’t necessarily protect the head and are heavy enough to cause some major damage. 

At the beginning of the blog, I mentioned two spheres involving multibillion dollar industries and strange autopsy findings. 

The second industry is, not surprisingly, war. Tragically, there has been an epidemic of suicides and social problems experienced by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. A newly published medical article reports that over a dozen veterans have been found to have CTE at autopsy. A 27 yr old diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder was the first recorded victim.

In no other wars have troops been exposed to, and survived, so many explosions.  

Current thinking is that the number of blasts from bombs or grenades have a catastrophic impact on these young brains, and may be responsible for the high rate of suicides in veterans. A helmet might protect from the head from shrapnel, but can’t do anything about the brain rattling around inside the skull. 

If CTE is occurring in people this young, the worst is yet to come. Degeneration continues to occur with age. 

These people have served their countries and may end up paying for the rest of their lives, and with shortened and debilitated lives. More importantly, there is NO treatment. We all owe it to troops to prevent CTE and protect those who have already returned from active service. The potential health problem for the US, UK and Australia, amongst other nations, is enormous. 

Now, if a journalist dares ask me if I want to bubble-wrap troops and stop all wars, I can unequivocally say yes.  

Bringing them back alive…

Matt Hilton

I’m pleased to welcome Matt Hilton to today’s WildCard Tuesday here on Murderati. Matt is the highly successful author of the Joe Hunter action thriller series. He’s also one of the most prolific authors I know, and as well as producing numerous books and short stories, he’s also found time to edit a few anthologies, plus co-editing the fiction webzine Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers. His latest project is an e-thology that harks back to a previous era, when men were men and sheep were nervous. (Well, he is from Cumbria … ZS)

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s I was reading books ‘borrowed’ from my father’s stack of dog-eared paperbacks, that he acquired through a read and share scheme with his friends. It seemed that my father and his pals all shared a love of action tales the likes of Don Pendleton’s ‘Mack Bolan’, Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy’s ‘Remo Williams’, or George G Gilman’s homegrown western books, ‘Edge’ or ‘Adam Steele’, or a Nick Carter: Killmaster book.

Those books were high-entertainment to me and I couldn’t get enough of them, or indeed Robert E Howard’s Conan series, or Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lemuria, or Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane. I loved my stories full of action and adventure, and it didn’t much matter to me where, when, or how the story unfolded. It was through reading those kinds of books that got me into writing. I wanted to emulate the kind of books that I loved to read.

Those were the days when heroes were heroes and the action was furious and full-blooded. Often as not, the hero was quite the opposite: an anti-hero. But he needed to be, to bring the kind of violent justice to villains worse than him. Political correctness took a back seat, even as the bullets and karate chops were flying. Basically it was good old harmless fun. It was a case of disengaging your moral compass and getting down with the hero as they took on all comers, and they did it with balletic grace and uncompromising violence. Gratuitous? Yes. Realistic? No. Great fun? You betcha!!!

Over the years I’ve written many a take on the action-style book, and it was always my plan to hark back to those Golden Days when penning my own crime thriller series. Although influenced by the pulp masters, I wanted to reinvent the style somewhat, albeit grounding my tales a little more in the real world, making the tales more contemporary. My character ― Joe Hunter ― could have stood shoulder to shoulder with any of those action heroes but also sits nicely in modern times.

Funnily enough, some of my detractors bemoan the fact that my novels ‘verge on pulp fiction’, and they mean it as an insult directed at my lean, pared down style. Little do they know that they are giving me a compliment. I’m a fan of the pulps, always have been, and am not ashamed of the fact. The books pretty much are what they are supposed to be: action-packed fun reads where you can disengage your moral compass, suspend your disbelief and join Joe Hunter on a wild ride for a few hours.

It was partly due to these detractors that I thought about putting together an eBook collection of stories that paid homage to characters such as Mack Bolan, Remo Williams, and Edge et al. At first I considered writing a collection of stories myself, but then decided that it would be much better if I sought like-minded writers to pitch in with their take on the action genre. So the call went out and the submissions rolled in for the project I named ACTION: Pulse Pounding Tales Vol 1.

I expected new authors, aspiring authors and the like to submit, but more than that I hoped that some ‘names’ would come on board. And I’m thrilled to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Stephen Leather ― whose ‘Spider’ Shepherd ranks as one of the best thriller figures in action fiction ― heard the call and his story “Strangers on a Train” kicks off the collection in style. There are stories from other greats such as Zoë Sharp, author of the terrific Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Fox series, Adrian Magson, author of the excellent Harry Tate spy thrillers, as well as some up and coming names like Paul D Brazill, Col Bury, Gavin Bell, I S Paton and many others. Being greedy for readership I pitched in a couple of stories too, including a homage to the 1970s action men and the bonus Gilman-esque Western story that rounds off the collection. The authors had fun with the briefing and tales from the wide spectrum of action stories are included. I imagined that I was putting together an anthology or compendium from the best of the action genre magazines, and within its pages you will find secret agents, vigilantes (both just and insane), cops, villains, soldiers, veterans, gangsters, swordsmen, Ninja and even a crypto-zoological beast you might recognise. Some of the tales are delivered with shocking realism, some as lighter entertainment, some on the grittier side, but each and every tale included in ACTION: Pulse Pounding Tales is guaranteed to get your heart racing.

FATHERING SONS OF SPADE

Jochem Vandersteen

SONS OF SPADE

Spotlighting the fictional P.I.

 

Isn’t the mystery community great?

First and foremost I’m a fan of mystery fiction—especially hardboiled private eye yarns—and a writer of crime fiction second.

Before the internet existed there were already fanzines, paper publications put together by fans of certain genres or music. It started out with SF, but mystery fans soon followed. These titles included Armchair Detective, The Not So Private Eye, and the fantastic Hardboiled, created by one of my favorite writers, Wayne D Dundee.

Getting these fanzines at the readers’ homes wasn’t an easy feat and costs of producing them made them relatively expensive. With the introduction of the internet a whole new way of creating fanzines was introduced. Available to anyone with an internet connection, no investment in paper or printing needed the e-zine or webzine quickly became way more popular than the paper fanzine.

As a fan of Thrilling Detective, Hardluck Stories and other such sites I decided to share my love of PI fiction with the rest of the world and get to know my favorite authors a little better. I figured it might also be a good way to promote the Noah Milano novel I was writing.

At the time, I had no idea how rewarding my blog would turn out to be. Not only was I surprised by the amount of fantastic writers eager to answer my interview questions but many publishers were happy to provide me with review copies of PI novels.

Through my blog I was fortunate to start friendships with mystery writers that helped me become a better writer and who selflessly promoted my work.

I’m still proud of the nice words fan-favorite writers like Jeremiah Healey, Les Roberts or James W. Hall had to say about the Noah Milano stories and my blog.

My blog, Sons of Spade, focuses on what that title suggests… The private eyes that came after Sam Spade, one of the most popular PIs ever. I focus on new writers, new shamuses, but never forget the great pulp fiction that inspired those. It’s great to keep an eye on all the new stuff coming out, all the new twists that are added to the PI-archetype, showing the basic premise of the lone detective never becomes old.

These people keep inspiring me to update the blog and keep writing about Noah Milano, son of a mobster and security specialist, always looking for redemption. Just read the new Noah Milano novelette, REDEMPTION to get a feeling of what I’m talking about.

I’ve had the opportunity to interview a few big names like James W. Hall and Lawrence Block. Especially the interview with Larry Block was special to me. Here was a guy whose stuff I’d been reading and admiring for decades and he was willing to answer all my questions.

A fun guest post was done by Bruce DeSilva, telling us about his Who is Reading feature on his blog. That one gets a lot of hits, because there’s a picture of rockstar Marilyn Manson in it.

The blog also gets a lot of hits based on the keywords private eye clichés. A lot of people apparently find this interesting.

Fun posts are the Prodigal Sons posts in which I track down a writer who hasn’t written about a PI in some time. I ask them if we can expect their PI’s to return. Sometimes I get great news―like I got from Les Roberts years ago about the return of his Milan Jacovich series―sometimes bad news, as from Jim Fusilli about his Terry Orr series.

I love sharing my favorite reads, through my reviews but also through my annual Favorite Sons post in which I tell readers what my favorite PI reads of the year were. Hopefully some great writers get the attention they deserve and readers are introduced to some great books.

So, if you like PI fiction come and have a look at my blog, or if you’re a fan of mystery fiction and want to have the same wonderful experiences I did go and start your own blog. It’ll be worth the effort!

Jochem Vandersteen is a Dutch writer and rock reporter, whose special interests are crime movies and novels, rock music and comic books. He started the Sons of Spade review and blog site in 2007, specializing in the genre of the private eye, and is also the founder of the Hardboiled Collective―a group of like-minded crime fiction authors.

 

 

Welcome guest blogger Scott Nicholson!

Today I’m thrilled to host Scott Nicholson here at Murderati.  Scott is a friend and one of my favorite supernatural thriller writers (some people say horror; I think what Scott delivers masterfully is spooky thrills, the best kind!) 

If you haven’t read Scott, I highly recommend you give him a try. Here’s his Amazon page to browse, I guarantee there’s something for everyone, and the price is right! 

Just added:  Scott will be giving four books away (free for Kindle) this weeked (March 17-18) at http://www.ebookswag.com , so it’s the perfect time to load up!

And those of you who know anything at all about e publishing know that Scott has been at the vanguard of the e publishing revolution – I’ve been wanting to get him here for ages to talk about what he sees as the future. So for your enjoyment and hopefully enlightenment – here’s Scott!

Subsidizing the Freebie

By Scott Nicholson

I’ve gotten out of the “writer babble” business for two reasons: (1) I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and (2) it’s all changing so fast that even the boldest predictions of digital evolution quickly become laughable.

I don’t even use traditional publishing as a reference point anymore, because that is so far removed from most writers’ realities that it may as well be Shangri-la or Hollywood. The indie vs. trad debate is now only meaningful for a small group of people, and they are all making way more money than you or me.

So you are in it, and if you are lucky, you made a nice little nest egg back when everyone was standing on the sidelines deciding whether indie was the way to go. Hopefully, you shook off the intellectual shackles that chained us to the agent speed-dating sessions at writing conferences and were hammered and locked into place by “publishing experts” with 20-year writing careers in the old system. You know the mantras: “Get an agent,” “Only hacks self-publish,” and “You can’t produce and distribute a book without the advice of publishing experts.” Basically, ego affirmation. Of course the experts didn’t want to lose their position of authority (and in the agents’ case, the intermediary status of being the first in line to get checks.)

But the gate was left open and the horses all got out of the barn, or something like that (come up with your own gatekeeper metaphor; I am writing this for free!) So now we have a market where the 99-cent ebook had a year’s run, and the pool was finally beginning to find stratification (crappy books sinking, good books nailing stable plateaus) when Amazon unleashed the latest version of indie roulette—the free ebook.

I’m on record as predicting the flat-text e-book era has an outside range of five years, at least for fiction—specialized non-fiction and manuals will continue to be valuable for their content alone. I believe e-book sales will continue, but certainly not with expanding profits for all involved. Now that there are thousands of free Kindle books available every single day, how long before readers come to expect and even demand free books exclusively?

Freebie roulette. Great for readers. Good for Amazon (maybe in the short term, but it is hard to figure the long term). Terrible for authors.

The market is diverse enough to support many different price tiers, but writers who want to survive in 2015 will need to make money off of free books, or they will soon quit writing.

I only see one outcome: ad-supported or sponsored books. At first blush, you’d think N.Y. has an advantage, since Madison Avenue is right there. But can corporations, with their large structures, be able to compete when indie or smaller entities can react more quickly to present conditions instead of protecting some imagined status quo?

J.K. Rowling can inspire a Pottermore built around her brand, and James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and Clive Cussler have already built factories around their names (and, yes, V.C. Andrews, you can roll over in your grave two or three more times for all I care, because this is all your fault). But most of us are not factories or we wouldn’t have to indie publish.

This points out the new era of the branded writer. And not just “writer,” but “content creator” and even mere “idea marketer.” A personality is more suited to building brand identification and audience than a publisher is. I say “James Patterson” and you get an image. I say “Random House” and what do you get? Randomness. We’ve seen it here locally: “Ray’s Weather” is where you check the weather and “Todd’s Calendar” is where you click to find what’s happening in the region—and both are ad supported. You can get the free content elsewhere but you don’t get the human personality attached.

I’m already experimenting with the ad model because I believe it is viable. I am counting on Idea Marketing being one of my foundational pillars. I am not quite sure what it all looks like right now, but I look at it this way—you don’t need NY in order to give away tons of free e-books or to spread an idea or to build a social platform. You are the idea you want to spread.

Other authors will say “I’ll never sell out.” (Ironically, those are usually the authors who have given most of their incomes to agents and publishers…) I don’t blame people for sticking with what worked in the past. It all goes to how invested you are in a certain system and how the alternative looks, and, of course, the turf where you’ve staked out your ego. Publishing-industry talk on e-books uses phrases like “managing risk” and “cautious adaptation.” That is why those of us in the trenches knew Barnes & Noble was in serious trouble when most in the “publishing industry” only realized it recently when BN’s horrifyingly bad third-quarter reports came in. They are working off of old data while I work off the data I got an hour ago.

And my data says this may be the very peak of the Golden Age of digital publishing. The $9.99 novel may be dead this year, since three-quarters of the current bestsellers are low-priced indie books. As fast as major publishers yank their name-brand authors out of digital libraries, 10 new indies cram into that virtual shelf space. Maybe forever. James Patterson’s factory can’t run on $2.99 ebooks, but mine can.

But what happens when the $2.99 and 99 cents drop to permanently free? Where’s your sponsor? Are you willing to go there? It’s not going to be as clumsy as an image of a refreshing Bud Lite popping up when the main character enters a bar (though it’s not unthinkable at some point.) Can you see Jack Reacher with a favorite brand of soft drink, or Bella Swan wearing only Calvin Klein? At what point is your willing suspension of disbelief shattered? At what point do you realize the ad is the only reason the book can exist at all?

My informal polling on ad-supported ebooks yields statements like: “I’ll quit reading before I put up with that.” I also remember saying I’d never carry a cell phone, or be on Facebook, or give up my vinyl albums, or start thinking that maybe nuclear energy is the best short-range answer to our energy addiction. Or that I’d ever read an entire book on a screen.

I don’t know the answer, but I am deeply invested in the question. So, ads in ebooks. As readers and writers, what is your opinion?

———

Scott Nicholson is the bestselling author of a bunch of books and also released The Indie Journey: Secrets to Writing Success, because some people still think you can buy the secret instead of be the secret. Follow him on Facebook, blog, Twitter, website, or newsletter.

 

 

New Light Through Old Windows

Zoë Sharp

It’s my great pleasure to welcome Timothy Hallinan to Murderati for today’s Wildcard. Tim is an Edgar and Macavity nominee and writes some of the most elegant prose I’ve come across. I was honoured when he swapped e-book excerpts with me last year.

The advent of e-publishing has allowed Tim to relaunch his original Los Angeles PI Simeon Grist series, including this, the sixth and final title, THE BONE POLISHER. Booklist urged readers to “Do yourself a favor and read it!” while Mostly Murder called it “Creepy and screamingly funny.”

The book takes place in the West Hollywood of 1995, where the community is shaken by the brutal killing of an older man who was widely loved for his generosity and kindness. In a time when the police were largely indifferent to crimes against gay people, Simeon is hired to catch the murderer—and finds himself up against the most dangerous adversary of his career.

As always with Tim’s writing, I savoured his descriptions, dialogue, characterisation and turns of phrase in this book. If you haven’t discovered Timothy Hallinan yet, you’re missing a real treat.

Zoë Sharp: You wrote the Simeon Grist series in the early 1990s, and I know the order of publication was not the order in which you actually wrote the books, so tell us what happened there? And what complications arose from this, in terms of ongoing character development?

Timothy Hallinan:  Dutton bought the first book to be written, SKIN DEEP, and offered me a three-book contract about a week after I finished writing it.  The sale sort of lit me on fire and I knocked out the second, THE FOUR LAST THINGS, in about three months [Erm, he means ‘carefully and agonisingly handcrafted it’, ZS] and sent it in, having no idea how slowly publishers worked.  They preferred THE FOUR LAST THINGS and changed the order.  Then, before  FOUR LAST came out, I sent them EVERTHING BUT THE SQUEAL, and they decided they liked that better than SKIN DEEP, too, so SQUEAL came out second and SKIN DEEP third.   Funny thing is, when I read these books all this time later, SKIN DEEP is one of the best. 

Zoë Sharp: And what complications arose from that, in terms of ongoing character development?

Timothy Hallinan: I intentionally entangled Simeon in a somewhat static relationship, a long-term estrangement, because I didn’t want too much development in that area, and I didn’t know enough to make my other characters change from book to book.  (These books were written through imitation and sheer chutzpah.)  The only real oddity in sequence is that, in the order in which the books were published, Simeon meets in the third book a woman he’s sleeping with in the first.

Zoë Sharp: Your series characters go by the highly memorable names of Simeon Grist, Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty. Where did you find such wonderful names for them?

Timothy Hallinan:  I always think they’re just regular names and later ask myself what I’d been smoking.  Actually, that’s only partially true; I was reading a ton of stuff on early Christianity when I started the Simeon books and named him after a favourite saint, Simeon Stylites, who spent the last 37 years of his life standing on an ancient pillar in the Syrian desert.  As if that weren’t enough, he wouldn’t allow any woman anywhere near his pillar.  When he got sores on his legs and the sores developed maggots, he would encourage the maggots, saying “Eat, little ones, what God has provided you,” or words to that effect.  I thought that was a little stiff, and he came to embody for me Santayana’s famous definition of a fanatic as someone who redoubles his efforts when he’s forgotten his aims. 

So I was being pretentious when I named Simeon and later found that most readers pronounced it “Simon” anyway.

Zoë Sharp: I particularly loved the title for this book, THE BONE POLISHER. How did that come about?

Timothy Hallinan:  When members of the Chinese diaspora, in the early days, had the misfortune to die in whatever country they had emigrated to, they were buried where they died.  A generation or two later, the now-prosperous family would pay to have the bones disinterred, cleaned, polished, and sent to China for permanent burial in The Middle Kingdom.  The specialist who did this was called a bone polisher.  In the book, the killer puts a malign twist on this,  He kills men who came to West Hollywood from small towns where they lived closeted lives, and each time he murders one, he sends evidence of his victim’s “deviancy” back to the town from which he came.  (This was in 1995, when, arguably, a much higher percentage of gay people were in the closet.)  So in this case, it’s the dead person’s reputation that’s returned—with the goal of destroying it.

Zoë Sharp: I’m always interested in the underlying theme of a book. What theme was in your mind when you wrote THE BONE POLISHER?

 

[Tim with Brett Battles, working hard …]

Timothy Hallinan: I’d been writing about a character—Simeon—for five years at that point, and he was a sort of idealized version of me: braver, more resourceful, wittier, better-looking, and much more interesting.  And I decided to see what would happen if he were actually like me, which was to say weary of the way his life was going, uncertain about his skills and abilities, and suddenly very sensibly afraid of the people he was going after.   How would those things affect his picture of who he was?  How would they affect his chosen career?  And I decided, if I was going to write about that, to put him up against someone who was really, genuinely, bone-marrow evil.  The kid—the Farm Boy—who’s going after the gay men in this book is one of the worst people my imagination has ever offered up to me.  And I thought the idea of killing a victim twice—first the body and then the reputation—was worthy of someone so dreadful. 

Zoë Sharp: You mention in your preface to THE BONE POLISHER that it was written at a different time – a time when AIDS was usually a death sentence. If you were writing this book from scratch today, what differences would that make to the way you tell the story?

Timothy Hallinan:  The AIDS aspect of the book was inescapable then; it would have been impossible to write with any accuracy about that community without AIDS being a major concern.  It’s still a concern, obviously, but one that millions of people are quite literally living with.  Christopher Nordine, who hires Simeon at the beginning of the book, knows he has only a short time to live, and this consciousness informs some of what he does.  These days, it’s unlikely the disease would have been allowed to progress so far unchecked.

Zoë Sharp: I thoroughly enjoyed THE BONE POLISHER—the descriptions are just wonderful, like this:

‘Drive-time disk jockeys, preternaturally alert guys who couldn’t have passed for wits in a gathering of battery-powered appliances, made smutty jokes and played twenty-year-old music to ease the world into the gray disappointment of another day.’

But how hard was it to republish a novel you’d written in 1995? Inevitably you must feel that you and your writing have come a long way since then, so how much fiddling and rewriting did you do to it?

Timothy Hallinan:  I actually hated the book in retrospect.  It had failed to win me an extension on my contract, and I remembered it with no fondness at all.  In fact, I hesitated to put it up, primarily because I didn’t want to have to read it.  I finally did it because I kept getting emails from Simeon’s few but fanatic followers, asking where the hell it was.  And when I read it, it sort of knocked my socks off—it was much better than I’d feared it would be. 

I pretty much left it alone.  I had a couple of mistakes of fact in it, and I fixed those, but otherwise, with the exception of clarifying a few pronouns, I did virtually nothing to it.  One of my favourite descriptive passages in the book is right after the one you quoted, something about dawn coming up hard and wet, two fingers of vodka in the eastern sky.  (I haven’t looked, so if that’s from a different book, I’m sorry.) 

I hope my writing has come a long way.  There are few things more complicated than the smile on the face of a writer who’s just heard, “But you know what?  I really like your first book best.”

Zoë Sharp: I was fascinated by the Finish Your Novel page on your website. What inspired you to produce such a comprehensive guide for would-be writers?

Timothy Hallinan:   As I said, I wrote the first ones with no idea what I was doing, and as I figured out what worked for me I began to make notes.  I knew I wanted my website to be more than “Here’s me.  Buy my books,” so the first thing I wrote was the Finish Your Novel section.  It’s been used by literally hundreds of writers and some of them have gone on to be published and have thanked me in their books—I get a nice thank-you in Helen Simonson’s MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, for example.

Zoë Sharp: I’m always interested in the form a writer uses to tell their story. You classify the Simeon Grist and Junior Bender novels as mysteries. Both are written in first-person, past tense. But the Poke Raffety books you describe as thrillers. These are in third-person, present tense. The choice for third-person in a thriller is entirely understandable, because you so often need to show that race against time by letting the reader know what else is going on, but why the change to present tense? And which do you enjoy more?

Timothy Hallinan:  I think of both the Simeon and Poke books as private-eye novels, and the great thing about first-person is that you encounter the mystery exactly as the detective does, whereas I think third-person works better for thrillers so you can hop on over and see what the bad guys are up to or check out how the screws are being tightened.

I went to present-tense in my first draft of the first Poke, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART, as an experiment and found that I really liked it.  Past-tense implies that someone –the narrator, if no one else—lived to tell the story, whereas present tense sort of rolls by in real time.  I also think that action scenes can be written with great immediacy in present tense.

I like them both, but switching back and forth from book to book is a major pain in the ass.  Whole pages slip by in the wrong tense.

Zoë Sharp: You’re working on another Simeon Grist novel at the moment. What’s made you decide to return to that character after a break – will you age him or start where you left off? And what’s it about?

Timothy Hallinan: People have written to me for years to ask whether I was ever going to bring him back.  I decided, now that he’s out of print and remaindered, that it might be fun to ask myself where fictional detectives go when the last copy of the last printing of their last book gets pulped—when they are, effectively, out of print.  So I figured it out, and Simeon now resides in a sort of limbo, along with a lot of other out-of-print detectives.  It’s a relatively shabby, genre limbo; the Literary Fiction Limbo is much more upscale and has better weather.  Simeon is paralytic with boredom; his only connection to the “real” world is when someone opens one of the old, used copies of one of his books.  When that happens, Simeon can see them through the window of his Topanga house.  And one day, he’s watching someone read him—looking up at the person, as it were, from the page—when his reader is murdered.  He doesn’t have enough readers to spare any, and he resolves to solve the crime.  Problem is, it happened down here.  So, anyway, it’s called PULPED, and I think a lot of hard-core mystery writers will just hate it, although I laughed myself stupid writing it.

Thanks for all these great questions, Zoë.  Hope I didn’t rattle on too long.

Zoë Sharp: Tim, it’s always a pleasure talking to you. As well as Tim’s series books, it’s also worth mentioning that he’s also been involved in two special project. One is his contribution to BANGKOK NOIR, edted by Christopher G Moore, a collection of stories with part of the proceeds going to a charity for Bangkok’s poorest children.

The other is SHAKEN, a collection by twenty mystery writers, edited by and including Tim, who donated their work to benefit the 2011 Japan Relief Fund. Every penny of the purchase price goes to the fund.

So, ‘Rati, let’s hear your questions for Timothy Hallinan …

Page 1 of 912345...Last »