Category Archives: Alafair Burke

The Official IF YOU WERE HERE soundtrack

By Alafair Burke

Happy Pub Day to Me, Happy Pub Day to Me….Sung to the tune of Happy Birthday, of course. But for pub day, I wanted to talk about nine other songs that comprise the official playlist for IF YOU WERE HERE.

The A side of the album (yes, I still think in vinyl) give you five songs that form the title of the novel and four of its parts. All of these songs, to me, capture the mood of the novel. They also each have lyrics that connect to the story.

Thompson Twins – If You Were Here: The title of the novel. As McKenna Jordan searches for her missing friend Susan Hauptmann, she thinks about the decisions they both made ten years ago and how they affect the present. “If You Were Here” reflects a question McKenna repeatedly finds herself asking: What if life had unfolded differently for both of them? I was on the fence about the title because it had previously been used by the wonderful Jen Lancaster, but when the song came on the radio as I was pulling out of my garage, I decided it was a sign.
Tears For Fears – Mad World: “All around me are familiar faces.” Literally, this is a reference to the early chapters of the novel, when McKenna believes she recognizes Susan’s familiar face. But the song goes on to say that the person watching those familiar faces feels like an outsider. This is a song for Susan.
Tori Amos – Northern Lad: “Girls you’ve got to know when it’s time to turn the page, when you’re only wet because of the rain.” This is a song about moving on and putting the past behind.
Kate Bush – Head’s Were Dancing: “There was a picture of you, A picture of you ‘cross the front page, It looked just like you, just like you in every way. But it couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be true. You stepped out of a stranger.” McKenna doesn’t know whom she can trust.
Feist – Past In Present: “So much present inside my present, Inside my present so…so much past.” McKenna’s present search for Susan pulls her into the past, and the past has determined her present.

The B side are fun songs referenced along the way.

RUN-DMC – It’s Like That: In the opening chapter, Nicky Cervantes runs through the Times Square subway station and passes a group of break dancers performing to Run DMC. Though naming the specific song would have been too intrusive, this is the song!
P!nk – Get The Party Started: When McKenna writes a book chapter about the first time she met her husband Patrick through their mutual friend Susan, she says it was the year everyone was getting the party started with Pink. I remember how ubiquitous this song was when I first moved to New York. It was the kind of song that made me feel young and fun and reckless.
Snoop Doggy Dogg – Gin And Juice
The Sugarhill Gang – Rapper’s DelightThese are Susan’s go-to hip-hop songs when she’s more than a little tipsy. They’re also just great songs.

Here’s a Spotify link to the full soundtrack. Hope you enjoy the playlist, and I really hope you enjoy IF YOU WERE HERE.

Via: Alafair Burke

    

Pre-Pub News

By Alafair Burke

double cam screenshot

Only one more day until IF YOU WERE HERE drops, as the cool kids (used to) say. I finished the book months ago, and now is the time when I’m along for the ride.

The first official signing will be at tonight’s pre-publication event in Tribeca, and then I’ll be hitting the road. (Full calendar here, including a list of excellent bookstores that will mail you a signed copy.) If I can’t see you in person, I hope you’ll drop by GoodReads on June 11, when I’ll be doing an on-line discussion.

You also still have one more day to enter the early-reader raffle for IF YOU WERE HERE. I will send THREE lucky readers a custom tote bag, designed by me and filled with signed books. ONE of those lucky readers will also get to NAME A CHARACTER IN THE NEXT ELLIE HATCHER NOVEL!

Entering is easy. Just pre-order a copy of IF YOU WERE HERE, in any format, from any retailer, and then fill out this handy-dandy form.

You can read more about IF YOU WERE HERE on the website.

Finally, in Double news, he and I have been in a battle of wills over his continued presence on the sofa. Though I’ve never once caught him there in the act, he underestimates my powers of deducation by leaving behind a layer of telltale white fur, a trail of disrupted cushions, and, one time, a gently nibbled flip-flop.

This weekend, I upped my game by booby-trapping the sofa with soda cans filled with pennies. This is what happened when I left Double alone in the apartment. You are welcome.

_________________________________________________________________

Pre-order from Amazon (print) (Kindle) • Barnes & Noble (print) (Nook) • Books-a-MillionIndieBoundiTunesTargetWal-Mart

Don’t forget to fill out this pre-order form to be entered into a raffle for cool loot!
“Outstanding…Burke’s accuracy in legal and judicial technicalities is impressive although most readers will find simpler pleasures in her sharp writing, well-constructed plot, and dimensional characters.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“IF YOU WERE HERE is a winner: a suspenseful, tightly plotted story of friendship, lies, and betrayal. Alafair Burke writes deftly about secrets buried close to home. An accomplished novel by an assured author.” —Meg Gardiner

“After finishing IF YOU WERE HERE, I don’t feel I can trust anyone ever again, except Alafair Burke to provide a cracking good read.” —Linwood Barclay

“Exciting….Lawyer turned-journalist McKenna finds her life turned upside down when she recognizes a friend from her college years who disappeared without a trace a decade before on a video of a near-tragedy on the subway….Will engage [Burke’s] growing audience.” —Booklist

“Burke’s first class adventure has murder and mayhem wrapped up in an intricate, innovative plot….Character development is stellar and the guilty party will keep readers guessing until the end.” —RT Book Reviews, 4 ½ starred review

“Burke is one of the more talented crime writers working today.” —Pittsburgh Tribune (a summer book pick)

Her new standalone delivers a cleverly nuanced plot that will keep the pages turning. Her smart writing is fast-paced and engaging, and this book should appeal to most mystery readers, especially those looking for compelling, intelligent story lines.” —Library Journal

Via: Alafair Burke

    

A GOODBYE TOAST

by Alafair Burke 59.

That is the number currently next to my name on the list of Murderati archives. This will be the 60th and final post. I started to connect the end of Murderati to the increasing pressure on all artists to build a platform for themselves in 140-character snippets, but then I bummed myself out. Instead, I read through my 59 previous posts and remembered how lucky I was to have Murderati as a place to share whatever happened to interest me with a community of smart, supportive people who — whoa — like books!

Some of my favorite posts were kind of nutty, like this one about writers and their doppelgangers. https://www.murderati.com/blog/2010/2/1/literary-look-alikes-who-are-the-doppelgangers.html

I subsequently changed my mind about Michael Koryta, who is now more Aaron Paul than David Duchovny, but the Laura Lippman – Sweet Polly Purebread comparison holds up.

Some of my favorites were about process, like the time I confessed to doing a true rewrite of my eighth novel. https://www.murderati.com/blog/2011/9/12/rewriting-v-editing.html

I’m starting my tenth now and hope to write it only once. I spent a lot of time talking about my dear, sweet pal, Duffer, who inspired this post about literary animals. https://www.murderati.com/blog/2010/5/24/are-you-there-dog-its-me-margaret.html

And I was lucky enough to use my space at Murderati to interview some of my favorite people: Lisa Unger, Jonathan Hayes, Denise Hamilton, April Smith. How amazing it that?

Though it’s hard to say goodbye to this wonderful party, we maintain the relationships built here. I’m forever grateful.

Man’s—and Woman’s—Best Friend

Zoë Sharp

I’m side-stepping my usual post, yeilding the floor to two others whose voices need to be heard today, both former Murderatos. The first is Ken Bruen, who surely needs no introduction here, and the second is Alafair Burke.

Their words speak for themselves:

GRAVE MATTERS?

Ken Bruen

In Ireland today, doctors are being paid for treating 513 dead patients.

Due to serious flaws in the HSE’s notification system.

In 2010, 5 million was written off by The Health Authority, when they discovered that 20,000 dead Medical card holders had been paid.

How seriously fucked is that?

And we wonder why, after Greece, we are in such serious financial shite?

But lest I begin to grim, we can get back to that later, here is my own grave story.

Last November, the sole remaining member of my family, my brother Declan, was found dead in his flat. His body was lying there for 8 months!

I kid thee not.

Always a very private person, disappearing for months on end was his gig. But he lived in a gated community, surrounded by pubs, his mates and right in the centre of the city.

After I had identified the remains, we had the funeral on a wet bitterly cold late November morning. Just before I was due to hold the rope that would lower the casket, the manager of the cemetery said

‘I need to speak to you urgently.’

WTF.

I snapped

‘Could it like wait, five minutes?’

No.

He whispered

‘There’s no room for you.’

‘Room, where?’

He indicated the open grave, where five of my family rested, said

‘When Declan goes in, it’s full, there’s no room for you.’

Jesus, how unhealthy did I look?

And I asked

‘Did you have to.. I mean absolutely have to tell me now?’

He was affronted at my tone.

Stalked off.

A metaphor if you will. As there’s been no room for me in my family in life, I was now banned from the grave.

Perfect for a writer.

The ultimate outsider.

 

I got a new pup.

Cross me bedraggled heart.

Named Polo as the vet said, I swear

‘He’s bi-polar.’

Well, he’s certainly the quietest dog I’ve ever had. Zen in his stillness. Maybe he’s read my recent reviews and feels silence is best. I, after all, dish out the grub.

So you know!

I remain convinced that one of the best treatments for depression is a dog. Very hard to be wallowing in the deep when a little pup is gazing at you in love and wonder.

And he’s funny.

Very.

Steals the case of my glasses, hides it, then looks like

‘Who me?’

 

To write for Murderati was one of the great joys

Privileges

Graces

Of my career.

Dusty

Louise

Alafair

Pari and JT

Alexandra and Zoe

and now new Murderati friends

Gar and Stephen and David

 

The crew of Murderati are just the very best I know. To be allowed to check in at odd moments is just bliss. To writer belong. Since I gave up cigs, I’ve become a gobshite.

Truth to sadly tell.

I started cycling, 20 miles every day, and worse, cut out brews since my trip to New York in December.

(Note to cemetery manager.)

I said to Reed, next

‘I’ll be writing cat mysteries.’

(Maybe a Zen bi-polar canine sidekick?, you think?)

Reed in his inimitable fashion, emailed back

‘Miaow.’

Flash fiction par excellence.

Read Craig’s El Gavilian

And the new Jason Starr.

Gems.

David Corbett continues to hugely entertain on the poetic nuances. I’m re-reading The Book Thief for the sheer joy and it reminds me of David in the best way.

I’m readying me own self for The German tour.

Sounds …posh………….The German tour

As opposed

To

Poor tour I guess.

The Germans have discovered my role as a dead Viking in the worst movie ever made

‘Alfred The Great.’

Which dovetails nicely

To

(always wanted to seem literary and dovetail)

My most recent news.

A role as an English professor in a new Irish –German TV series.

And my preparation?

Grow a beard.

And I suppose, act ..am.. literary.

I’ve been doing serious and intense me whole befuddled life so that’s a give.

 

The pup seems bemused by this new me, and barks when I rough house in the garden with him and won’t

No way

Bring back the old ball he used to love a month ago.

Not a grave matter you might think but in the world of pups

‘Significant.’

 

The second voice is Alafair Burke, whose French Bulldog, The Duffer, has been such a significant part of her life—and her posts during her time on Murderati.

 

Saying Goodbye to the Duffer

Wed, Mar 21, 2012

Alafair Burke

On Halloween in 2005, I walked into a pet store in the West Village, saw a black and white French bulldog puppy, and fell in love. I knew it was an irresponsible move. Bad lineage. Puppy mills. Imported.  All of that.

But I’d already looked into the piercing eyes beneath that furrowed brow and knew he and I were connected. My husband wasn’t my husband yet. We lived together. We knew we’d get married, but hadn’t bothered to set a date. Then we had this puppy, and somehow we were a family. We got married two months later on New Year’s Eve.

I wanted to name the boy Stacy Keach. There was an obvious resemblance, and the idea of a dog named Stacy Keach (not Stacy, not Keach. Stacy Keach.) made me laugh. The soon to be husband didn’t get it. Fine, I said. Come up with something better.

Duffer. Like a bad golfer. Like Duff Man from the Simpsons. And it kind of sounded like Puppy, which is what we’d been calling Puppy for nearly a week.

But not Duffer. THE Duffer. He was special, after all.

The hardest part of loving The Duffer was knowing that, despite my crazy, unprecendented connection to him, he wasn’t really human. Absent some tragedy on my end, he’d have to go first.

This week, the day I’ve feared at some level since Halloween of 2005 came. Sooner than I expected, but as late as we could hope under the circumstances. Th- I’e Duffer had a brain tumor. He got radiation last fall. He lived five extra, happy (extra-happy) months. We found out this week there were no more good days to be had.

As a good friend just wrote to me, “They live on in our hearts. He was a lovely little guy and he had a great life, and he was loved and cared for at the end. We should be so lucky.”

I will miss the Duffer, but find comfort in knowing that he never missed a thing. Thank you for letting me share him with you.

 

Our hearts go out to both Ken and Alafair. ZS

 

 

 

WHEN YOUR PROTAGONIST BECOMES REAL

Happy Monday, everyone.  It’s Alafair Burke here.  It’s my pleasure today to welcome guest blogger April Smith, whose beloved Ana Grey series is being adapted as a televised movie by TNT.  She was kind enough to write about that experience for Murderati.  In April’s own words:

We all carry fantasies of the day Hollywood will shine its beacons of money and fame on our poor shambling protagonist  and she will be transformed from a lifetime of knocking on doors and laboriously piecing clues together, to a brilliant larger-than-life-but-still-true-to-your-vision sensation. 

“Who do you want to play Ana Grey?” fans tweeted with great excitement when TNT announced it was going to film GOOD MORNING, KILLER as part of its new Mystery Night Movie franchise of two-hour TV movies based on mystery/thrillers.  Sure, I had files bursting with actresses from multiple attempts to bring Ana to the screen, but it had taken so many years to actually get the green light, the names were hopelessly out of date.  They had either passed the industry age limit on females for starring roles  (44, except for Helen Mirren) or had been plastic surgeried beyond recognition (except for Helen Mirren).

FBI Special Agent Ana Grey first appeared in NORTH OF MONTANA in 1994.  At the time, the idea of a half-Hispanic, half-Caucasian female FBI agent as the mainstay of a thriller was threatening.   I was advised by well-meaning supporters that if I wanted my books to sell to film, I should create another mystery series featuring a male protagonist.  Few actresses are powerful enough to “open” a movie, and worse, according to Hollywood savants, the character of Ana Grey was simply not castable, because there were not enough skilled, big-name Hispanic actresses to fill the role.   At the time it was unthinkably un-PC to cast an ethnic person of the wrong persuasion to play another ethnicity.  This never made sense to me (Australian theater’s beloved Robyn Nevin is about to play King Lear), but so it remained for seventeen years.

When TNT cast Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander in Muderati blogger Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles, it was clear they had already created a hit.  They know their brand.  So when I learned the network was wild about Catherine Bell to play Ana Grey, I had a good feeling, probably for the first time in thirty years in television.  I had written the teleplay and was executive producer as well as the author – a lot at stake.  Catherine was very impressive in JAG and ARMY WIVES, but because everything was moving so fast in pre-production, there was no opportunity to meet her before we began shooting.   

Catherine Bell (FBI Special Agent Ana Grey) and William Devane (who plays her grandfather, Poppy)

The first time I saw my leading lady was at a funky production office tucked away in a shipyard in Vancouver, B.C..  “Catherine’s arrived,” everyone whispered, and there she was in a tee shirt and jeans, just off the plane after traveling with her one-year-old; tall, lithe, beautiful, with huge empathetic eyes and tousled dark hair, ethnically ambiguous (Catherine is actually half Persian), strength, leadership, and kindness just radiating.  We hugged as if we’d known each other forever.  Eighteen years later, Ana Grey was born again.

We are now editing the film, and I can tell you Catherine’s performance is terrific. Pitch-perfect, as far as I’m concerned.  But I’d love to know what you think. GOOD MORNING, KILLER airs on TNT Tuesday night, December 13 at 9 PM.  Contact me at www.aprilsmith.net  For the full lineup of TNT Mystery Night Movies go to http://www.tnt.tv/title/display/?oid=146349.

April on the movie set

It’s Alafair again.  Thank you so much, April, for sharing your experience with the Murderati gang. 

April’s most recent Ana Grey novel, WHITE SHOTGUN, recently launched to rave reviews from People, the LA Times, Booklist, and on and on.  In his substantial review exclusively for Amazon, Robert Crais said, “Let’s cut to the chase: I love Smith’s work. She is one of the finest, smartest, most gifted writers working in crime fiction today, and White Shotgun is her best novel since the justifiably celebrated NORTH OF MONTANA. … This is the real deal.”

Please join me in welcoming and congratulating April.  We can’t wait to watch the movie and read what you write next!

Titles (Again)

 by Alafair Burke

We’ve talked a lot about book titles recently.

Gar got us all thinking when he catalogued the difference between a DAT (Dumb-Ass-Title) and a KAT (Kick-Ass-Title).  In his view, DAT’s use one ubiquitous, predictable word (e.g., the new TV show, “Revenge”).  A KAT draws the reader in, but does not rely on any secret or double meaning (Sophie Littlefield’s “A Bad Day for Sorry”).

Louise followed up with further refinements to the DAT recipe — puns and series unifiers — while defending the use of dual meanings.  

The timing of their posts couldn’t have been better for my purposes. Or maybe worse.  Because they came right as I was trying to come up with a title for the next Ellie Hatcher novel, and I happen to disagree with both of them.

I struggle with titles.  A lot.  I shared my inner title turmoil here at Murderati last summer.  As I explained then, I’ve come to realize two things about titles, and from those two things come some lessons that push me away from Gar’s and Louise’s conception of a KAT.

First, a title’s main job is to create a first impression — not of itself, but of the book it adorns.  An extremely unique title makes a bigger impression.  That means it better be a REALLY accurate impression of the novel’s contents.  Otherwise, it’s just as likely to turn off a well-matched reader as to make her say, Hmmmm (Louise’s test for a KAT).

For example, my first book was initially submitted to editors with the title The Final Verdict.  The acquiring editor’s only quibble was with the title.  The problem was the “feel” conveyed by the title. She thought (correctly) that it sounded like a courtroom thriller when my books (even those featuring prosecutor Samantha Kincaid) really don’t unfold in court.  I renamed the book “Judgment Calls.”  Maybe not a KAT, but at least it didn’t mis-introduce the book.  Lesson One: Make sure the title matches the tone of the book.

Despite that first experience with a title, a made a mistake two books ago.  I struggled like mad with the title of the third Ellie Hatcher novel.  I honestly don’t remember now all of the many titles that I considered and rejected, because I became so passionate about the title that stuck: “212.”  It’s the Manhattan area code.  I also made it the name of the luxury building where a murder in the opening chapters takes place.  It “felt” right to me.  So modern.  So New York.  It was so cool and perfect that some of my Facebook friends found this t-shirt for me to rock on book tour.

But here’s the problem: The title’s really cool if you happen to know that Manhattan’s the two-one-two.  If you don’t know that?  You wind up asking the author on said book tour why she called her book “two-twelve.”  You tell the indie bookseller who’s kind enough to handsell said author’s book, “No thanks.  I don’t read science fiction.”

Oops.  Lesson Two: Make sure your title isn’t so “inside” that it turns people off.

The second thing about titles is that, although they serve to create a first impression, they don’t fill that role alone.  Usually people will see the title in the bookstore or online so will also see the cover art.  They might also read the first chapter or the inside flap to have some minimal sense of the book’s “hook.”

Last year, I used Charles Nicholls’ “One Day” of an example of how title, jacket, and concept can come together.

As I said about One Day the title: “Kind of bland.  Kind of makes me want to sing ‘One day, one where, we’ll find a new way of living.'” But if you see this jacket?

 

Gets your attention, right?  Flip it over and learn that the novel depicts two people on one single day across twenty years?  Suddenly it’s a perfect title.

Or take Lee Child’s new book, “The Affair.”  I’m not sure what Gar and Louise would say, but does a two-word title that begins with “The” trigger the DAT rule?  Regardless, I happen to like one-word titles because they can easily address my lessons one and two by fitting well with the contents of the book and not turning people off. 

Simple titles can also be dressed up well with jacket and concept.  The jacket for THE AFFAIR — a haunting picture of empty railroad tracks — is interesting enough that people will pick it up.*

*Note: This post assumes, falsely, that Lee Child still needs a good title or book jacket to persuade readers to pick up a book.

Then you find out that THE AFFAIR is a Jack Reacher prequel.  1997.  A crime scene at a lonely railroad track at Carter Crossing.  This is the story of how Reacher became a drifter.  Awesome!

Lesson Three: Titles Don’t Work Alone.

So it’s that time of year again, and for the last month, I was struggling (once again) for a title.  The working title was TO THE GRAVE, but on the “fit” rule, I decided it sounded too much like either a vamplre book or a medical examiner book.  Then those excellent posts from Gar and Louise managed to get me all up in my head, struggling for a KAT.  

I came up with WHEN DARK COMES DOWN.  Pretty good, huh?  Maybe even kick-ass.  I ran it past some people who all loved the sound of it.  But when I asked them what “type” of book they imagined from the title, I didn’t like what I heard.  Noir.  Darkness (funny that, huh?).  Something about depression.  It meets Louise’s “hmmmm…” test, but those weren’t the right kinds of hmmmm’s.

Back to the drawing board, but this time I didn’t think about KATs.  I thought instead about the good fortune I’ve had this year with my first standalone.  I’m quite sure the title, LONG GONE, wouldn’t meet any tests for being a KAT.  But here’s the jacket. 

The hook?  Alice Humphrey thinks life is all well and good at her dream job until she shows up one morning to find the place stripped bare as if it never existed, vacant except for the dead body of the man who hired her. 

I was lucky enough to hear something like the following from an awful lot of people this year: “I’d never read your books before but there was something about that jacket.  I just knew I’d like this book.”

Keep your KATs.  I’ll take a well-fitting, well-jacketed simple title any day. 

I took to the Interwebs, asking my Kitchen Cabinet pals on Facebook and Twitter what “type” of book they thought of from the following potential titles: NEVER PROMISE, AFTER DARK, and LIGHTS OUT.  The feedback was excellent, but the “fit” wasn’t quite right.  NEVER PROMISE had too many readers thinking of sappy romance stuff.  AFTER DARK conjured up too many thoughts of hookers.  And LIGHTS OUT sounded like calamity during a black out.  It also had this my editor and me singing this awful ditty:

(Have fun getting that one out of your head.  You’re welcome.)

I went back to the drawing board once again, now armed with my market research about tone.  I imagined possible book jackets.  I read my draft jacket copy.

And then I named the next Ellie Hatcher novel: NEVER TELL.

KAT?  Probably not.  But it sounds like one of my books.  It sounds like this particular book.  It connects with content.  It doesn’t send a wrong message.  And those talented art people at the publisher will do something great with it.

So am I full of it, or am I onto something?  Despite the allure of distinctive titles, do you think you’ve ever NOT read a book because the title, albeit creative, turned you off?  And when you hear the title NEVER TELL, what TYPE of book do you imagine?  (Thanks for the feedback!)

 

 

Welcome Denise Hamilton!

Interview by Alafair Burke

As you all know, we here at Murderati do love us some fellow writers.  It’s my pleasure today to interview the wonderful Denise Hamilton.  Give her a hearty welcome!

Congratulations on the launch of your new book, Damage Control.  Tell us a little bit about the book.

Damage Control is a political thriller with elements of surf noir and grrrl noir.  (Already an editorial aside.  Surf and grrrl noir?  Love! – AB)

It’s a standalone that introduces a young ambitious PR exec named Maggie Silver. Maggie’s divorced, with an upside-down mortgage and a mom who’s outstayed her welcome as Maggie’s room-mate. As the book opens, Maggie’s just landed a new client – a politician whose pretty young aide has been found murdered. When Maggie walks into the conference room, she’s shocked to discover the client is U.S. Senator Henry Paxton, the father of her glamorous but troubled high school friend Annabelle. The girls had a fierce, intensive, psychologically obsessive friendship in high school but something bad happened on a beach one night that sundered them and haunts them into adulthood. As Maggie defends her old friend’s Dad, she must decide for herself if he’s as innocent as he claims and face the ghosts of a past she thought was long buried.

 

What’s your favorite recent political scandal, and how should it have been cleaned up?

Oh my, such a smorgasbord to choose from!  Well, the biggest jaw-dropper, despite the years of rumors, was definitely the grotesque carnival of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s love child. And I am not sure how you clean that up. I think his people and Maria Shriver’s people actually did a good job on that one. They didn’t speak to the press, other than with prepared general statements. They rode it out, except for Arnold’s cringe-inducing t shirt that said “I Survived Maria.” Way to alienate half the population, dude.

But as a way not to run a damage control campaign, Weinergate is a good case study. Dude should have manned up immediately, admitted everything, begged forgiveness of the public and his wife, then scampered off to rehab ASAP while the PR folks trotted out experts to explain his compulsive exhibitionism and risk-taking as a psychologically addictive disease. The basic rule: Always tell the truth, or at least don’t tell lies, because they’ll come back to haunt you. “Own” your story and always have some comment, because if you don’t, others will. The Internet abhors a vaccuum.

I’m sure that some of your loyal readers will take one look at the book’s jacket image and description and think it’s a big change from the noir, atmospheric, Chandleresque, Denise-Hamiltonian novels that first brought them to.  Is this really a change from your previous work?  And was reader response a consideration when you envisioned your most recent books?

Publishers are always trying new things with book jackets. I really like this cover, there’s an Art Deco feel to it that isn’t all that far from one of Chandler’s – or perhaps Patricia Highsmith’s – psychologically twisted tales. You can tell the two girls on the cover are connected by fierce, conflicting emotional ties. Damage Control is a political thriller with definite elements of noir. I wanted to expand my range, while still staying true to the gritty, sexy and glamorous feel of my earlier books. This protagonist has a family so that’s a departure for me. Maggie’s mom, a cancer survivor, lives with her and I wanted to depict a complicated mother-daughter relationship filled with anger, love, frustration and annoyance. In other words, like real life. But like my other books, there’s also a strong romance (or two!).

If you got to play casting agent, who would play Maggie Silver and Sen. Henry Paxton?  Oooh, and while we’re at it, who gets the role of your series character, Eve Diamond?

Oooh, I want British actor Bill Nighy for Senator Paxton. And he’s very senatorial, with that high forehead and leonine blond hair. Can you tell I have a wee crush on him!

I assume Denise means this version.

Not this one.

For Maggie Silver, perhaps Kristen Dunst and for Eve, Natalie Portman or Jessica Biehl. But you know, ask me next week and I’ll have other ideas.


Speaking of Eve, do you have any plans to bring her back soon?

I have about half an Eve novel written, but it will depend on what my publisher wants next! I’ve also got an outline for another standalone that I’m excited about. And some readers want me to bring back WWII girl spy Lily Kessler from The Last Embrace, which was my 1949 Hollywood novel. In addition, I’ve got a draft of an urban fantasy novel I work on in my ‘spare time.’ Hah! So there’s a lot to choose from.

You write a monthly perfume column for the LA Times.  What’s up with crime writers and fragrance?  (Our own Jonathan Hayes is fragrance obsessed as well.)

I didn’t realize there were so many writers who love perfume and vice-versa until recently. I thought I was alone in my secret little obsession. But there’s a whole online world out there. I’m particularly fond of vintage Carons, Guerlains, Diors and Chanels. All the classic French houses. My mom was Russian-French and as a kid, I’d sit in the bathroom, lining up her crystal flacons on  the tile counter, spritzing myself silly and acquainting myself with the different notes. Creating perfume is an art form like painting, composing and writing. The finest noses are olfactory geniuses. But the first perfume I got obsessed with as an adult was Donna Karan’s Chaos, which is now discontinued and highly sought-after on ebay. That story became my first perfume column for the LA Times.

You worked for ten years on the staff of the LA Times.  I’m often asked whether I’d be a crime writer if I hadn’t worked first as a prosecutor.  I know it’s a bit like being asked, “What would you be like if you weren’t you?,” but I’ll ask anyway: Would you be a crime writer if you hadn’t been a journalist?  And what’s your best story from your reporting days?

I was always writing stories as a kid, so I think I would have found my way into a writerly profession somehow, but I might not have landed in crime fiction – despite my love for LA’s mid 20th century crime writers – if I hadn’t worked at the Times. I did thousands of interviews, wrote thousands of stories, probably more than 1 million words. Journalism took me into prisons and courtrooms, on police raids, into the living rooms of distraught families, into hospitals and to crime scenes.

As to the best stories from my reporting days, they’re the ones I wove into the plots of my first novels: the immigrant Chinese kids living alone in big mansions or running with youth gangs in The Jasmine Trade, the teenaged girl who was murdered by her street kid boyfriend in an abandoned building, the wealthy tourist family who arrive at LAX with a little girl who’s being smuggled into the U.S. for nefarious purposes. Those were all ripped from headlines of stories I wrote in my 10 years at the Times. It was a wonderful training ground for a writer and a gold mine of raw material.

About a billion years ago, you, David Corbett, and I spent a few days in London together with a handful of other writers for a joint launch of our first novels published in the UK.  That would have been January of 2004.  I had met my now-husband only two weeks earlier, and you and Corbett were very generous to listen to me gush about him.  That was before my Duffer was born.  How has your life changed since then?

Oh my! Yes, I remember you lit with a romantic glow as you described him to us. I’m so very happy it led to a life together (raises virtual champagne glass).

That was a wonderful tour, it was so much fun to hang out together, to talk books and eat yummy meals and hang out at the bar and visit with Val McDermid and Mark Billingham and the Orion folks. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. But my kids are 13 and 15 now, a bit easier to leave at home with Dad when I go on tour. We’re animal lovers here too, by the way. Two saucy, spoiled cats and a young blue-eyed husky-mix named Sirius White (he’s got white fur, so definitely not a Sirius Black! But he’s quite the dog star!).    

How can readers get in touch with you if they want to continue hearing from you year-round?  Are you a Facebooker?  Tweeter?  What are your thoughts on how social networking fits into a writer’s life?

I welcome readers to write and friend me on FB. And I’m DeniseHamilton_ on Twitter, which I find a lot of fun, and a great way to convey news, musings, links to interesting stuff and just pithy bursts about what I’m up to. I’m always amazed at what gets the most comments, like a recent post with pic I wrote about making apricot jam. I do think that pics are important, I know my eye is drawn to them in the posts of others.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with readers and other writers too but one also has to maintain the discipline to write. For me that means a separation of church and state. Since I’m a morning person, for me that means doing the creative writing in the morning, then moving into answering email and doing social media once I feel like I’ve punched the fiction clock. Of course life is messy and these boundaries crumble regularly, but we’re talking aspirational.

Thanks, Alafair, for inviting me to guest at Murderati. I also appreciate your smart and incisive questions. No wonder you were such a great prosecutor.

Thanks, Denise, for being a terrific guest!  Denise will be checking in throughout the day to respond to your comments.  She’ll also send a copy of DAMAGE CONTROL to one lucky commenter. 

Denise Hamilton’s crime novels have been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Willa Cather awards. She also edited Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, which spent two months on bestseller lists, won the Edgar Award for “Best Short Story” and the Southern California Independent Booksellers’ award for “Best Mystery of the Year.”

Her books have been BookSense 76 picks, USA Today Summer Picks and “Best Books of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Toronto Globe & Mail.

 

Find out more about Denise and read an excerpt of DAMAGE CONTROL over at her website, here.

Rewriting v. Editing

by Alafair Burke

I just finished a book.

I’ve been in a position to use that glorious sentence eight times.  The first seven times, I spoke the sentence immediately after typing the final period on the final page.  I even typed THE END to mark the moment. 

Did that mean I was completely done with my work on the book?  Of course not.  My agent and editor needed to read it.  I would listen to their good feedback.  I would make changes, some of them big.  The book would be better for it.  And then we’d do another pass.  And then copyediting.  But that’s all editing.  The book was “finished,” as I use that word. 

Book eight?  I typed an ending a month ago, but, for the first time, I didn’t type THE END.  I didn’t say, “I just finished a book.” Instead, I paused a moment to celebrate having a beginning, middle, and an end.  I may even have had a drink or two.

One of each, please!

Then I opened a new, blank document on my computer and started again from the beginning. 

Yep, I rewrote my book. 

Now, a month later, I’m willing to say I finished.  I even typed THE END.  The celebratory drinks made those first ones look like amateur hour.

Having to reach an ending twice before typing THE END got me to thinking about what made this time different. 

1.  Why wasn’t the first ending the finish line? 

At a spotlight interview during last year’s Bouchercon, Gregg Hurwitz asked Michael Connelly if he had any publishing regrets.  After initially saying no, Michael backed up and said he wished he had submitted his first novel earlier.  It was done, but he kept tinkering and refining on his own for nearly three years.

Little did he know as an unpublished writer that the book would get even better with an editor.  By Michael’s calculation, if he’d sent the book out earlier, he would have benefitted from an editor’s feedback sooner, and he could have started his second book instead of working on his own for all that time.  The world might have an additional Connelly novel or two as a result.

His observation made me think about my own process.  I don’t generally tinker and refine on my own.  I type THE END and send it away.  But I’ve been able to do that because I force myself to get it right — or at least my own best version of right — the very first time.  I nitpick at myself constantly during the first (and only) draft.

For this book, I decided to let all that go.  I made myself write, even when I knew a certain scene or a certain plot twist wasn’t exactly right.  It’s not a process I would have been comfortable with seven books ago, but I’ve learned by now that that finishing sooner is better than finishing later.  I’ve seen for myself — seven previous times — how much better a book can be once you finish that first pass of editing.  Plus I heard Michael Connelly say it, so it must be true!

But changing my objective from finishing my very best draft to simply finishing a draft necessarily changed how I felt about “finishing.”  All I could say was that I had a beginning, middle, and an end.  I couldn’t really say I had finished the book.  I couldn’t type THE END. 

2.  Why I Called it a Re-Write

In my previous seven edits, I made some pretty big changes.  But I made those changes directly to the document.  I cut and pasted if I switched the order of two scenes.  I added chapters.  I deleted entire pages. Overall, however, the narrative arc of the plot and characters remained intact.

This time, I decided that an “edit” — even a big edit — would not suffice.  I wanted to start with a blank document.  I wanted to revisit every decision I had made the first time around.  I would reimagine the book with more information than I had all those months ago.  I’d pull over scenes, character, words, sentences, paragraphs, and entire chapters only as helpful.  I’d skip the rest.  I’d write new scenes and characters as I went.

Two characters completely left the page.  One arrived a hundred and fifty pages earlier.  An affair that happened suddenly didn’t.

When I reached the ending of this new book, I knew it was better.  I knew I was proud of it.  And I knew I was actually done.  

I’m not certain I’d recommend this process to anyone else.  The messiness of it has me wishing once again that I could outline a book chapter by chapter, scene for scene, prior to writing.  But at least I’m able to say that I have finished my eighth book and am very happy with it.  

THE END

To my fellow writers: Do you rewrite or merely edit?  To the readers: Do you enjoy hearing how the sausage is made, or should writers make it look easier than it sometimes is?

The Day the Honeybadger Accepted Mother Nature

by Alafair Burke

I pride myself on being a person who can TCB, take care of business. If I see a problem, I fix it. If someone says it can’t be done, I figure out a way. I have plans, back-up plans, and back-ups to the back-up. There’s a reason some of my friends have taken to calling me Honeybadger. (From this inexplicably viral video: “The honeybadger has been referred to by the Guiness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a shit.”)

So when I heard that all the Irene nonsense was threatening to interfere with my book event yesterday at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Pittsburgh with Laura Lippman, I got to work. I stalked Irene on the internet like a bad ex-boyfriend, anticipating her descent on the city. I moved my return flight to Monday. I booked an extra night in a hotel. I figured out when I would make up my Tuesday classes at the law school, just in case.

Laura kindly offered to let me detour to her place in Baltimore if necessary, so I was armed with an arsenal of options and information: all flight and train schedules from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and DC. I was going to kick Irene’s butt.

But then something changed Friday afternoon. The mayor announced the closure of the entire public transit system starting at noon, a good eight hours before the earliest predictions of the storm. Car services stopped taking bookings to the airport. Still, I had faith my Saturday morning flight would be fine. Surely the airline would want to move planes out of the New York area.

Friday night, I got the news. My flight was canceled.

My inner honeybadger refused to give up. I could take the morning train to Baltimore in time to hop into Laura’s car. The two of us would Thelma and Louise it to Pittsburgh (minus the rape, robbery, and suicide pact, of course). I would stay in the hotel and write until the storm passed. I would be the victor!

And then someone saner than I spoke up. In a calm, neutral voice, she asked me to imagine that the worst, most hysterical predictions were accurate. Did I really want to be on a train heading into the storm? Did I really want to risk not being able to get home in time for class? How would I feel in the hotel, watching the storm on the news if I couldn’t get hold of my husband and the Duffer?

So at the end of the day on Friday, I did something I rarely do. I gave up. Or gave in. I accepted that some things weren’t worth fighting. I may think I’m more clever than the average bear (okay, I am more clever than the average bear). But I can’t predict the unpredictable. I can’t control the weather. And as much as I adore Mary Alice and Richard at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, as much as I love me some Laura Lippman, this one wasn’t going to happen.

I suppose I could feel beaten. I imagine some would say I should have to resign my Honeybadger status. But I think even the Honeybadger knows when to pick its battles.

As it turns out, Irene went out with a whimper, but there was no way to know that in advance and therefore no reason to have regrets.  Added bonus: The weekend turned out to be a pretty cool time in the city. 

 

 

 

Impromptu Irene book lending library in my apartment building lobby

When was the last time you decided not to try to control something?  What happened?

P.S. Speaking of my canceled event with Laura, here is a nice joint interview in the Pittsburgh paper about the benefits of a shared tour event. Some of you may enjoy it. Be sure to pick up a copy of Laura’s new book, The Most Dangerous Thing. She’s such a major talent!

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