Confession: My favorite part of every posting was picking the music for the end.
When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a DJ, and I’d actually record myself on my eight-track spinning singles in my basement, introducing the bands, announcing the tunes, every now and then venturing a particularly catchy B-side (God, am I dating myself).
Later, I was one of those geeky dorky dweeby dudes who couldn’t share mix tapes and CDs fast enough. I have two friends who say they almost need entire rooms—or outbuildings—to warehouse all the music I forced on them. I always saw it as the perfect postcard, the best way to say hi and what’s up and lay my own trip out there without getting too, well, weird.
But hey, I’m weird. Just check out the tunes, you know that much.
I always got a kick out of sharing some of the obscurities I posted here—yeah, that’s me, the guy who’s always into “the best kept secret in …” (which explains my writing career, in more ways than I’d like to admit).
And so, in trying to determine what tune should conclude my stint here at Murderati, I was my usual exuberant, over-indulgent self, having too much I wanted to share, and only one last chance to do so.
So postmark this one, save it for later, play it in bits. This is my Murderati Mix Tape, with samples of a handful of the bands and singers and songs I had bookmarked to share but never got the chance, such as:
Emmylou Harris, with a song by Steve Earle, produced by Daniel Lanois: “Goodbye”
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And with that, I bid adieu to all of you in this, my Murderati incarnation. I’ve made a lot of grand friends here, friends I intend to cherish in other formats and other locales, on the Murderati Facebook Page and beyond—beyond the end.
The Final Jukebox Hero of the Week: Who else, with what else—and a tease for Stephen’s final post this Friday:
So it falls on me to kick off The Long Goodbye, our month-long farewell to our loyal readers, commenters, fans, and friends.
Ironic, since that Chandler title was the first crime novel I read as an adult.
I’ve been mulling over how to go about this and what to say for most of the afternoon without much to report in the way of success.
Talk about writer’s block. (Don’t worry. I won’t.)
Part of my problem is the weird tar baby of emotion I’m wrestling with.
I could be a good sport, chuck all that and just say how truly lovely it’s been, because it has.
I’ll leave that to someone else, though, someone better suited for it.
What I’m left with is grief of course and a certain numbness, mixed with no small amount of doubt and frustration, all mixed in with the usual frantic angst, being behind in everything, plus some small relief at having one less task to tick off my To Do list—a craven, chickenshit relief, admittedly.
There’s also a very considerable amount of guilt. I feel like I’ve let all of you down.
And guilt invariably invites along to the party his old friends self-loathing and resentment—you needy bastards, you imperious word gluttons, how dare you…
I wonder if this isn’t the natural way of things, that every human effort expands then morphs and ultimately fades away, or if that isn’t softy-lofty self-serving bullshit.
I can’t escape the sense that I fundamentally misunderstood something—I didn’t choose the right topics, the right tags, the right tone, the right time.
I trusted more what I knew I could write well than what you actually wanted to read.
And I know this is but one more symptom of the disease we call the writing life, this constant, cancerous uncertainty, not just in the merits of our words but this nonstop crowing for an audience that so often—no, invariably—feels like half tap dance, half begging.
In short, I’m seeing the end of Murderati as a personal failing, which I know is nonsense but Christ, you feel what you feel and that’s the curse of it.
I’m reeling and seething and unprepared to miss this, to miss all of you as much as I will. The fucker snuck up on me as I was getting ready to write this. Who knew?
I’m tempted to identify those of you I will particularly wonder about and wish I could talk to, check up on, encourage and console, but my brain’s such an overworked mess these days I know I’ll forget someone and then feel deservedly wretched.
Why did anyone let me kick this thing off? What were you thinking…?
What I should have done is put up the several hundred YouTube videos I’d bookmarked, planning to use them for Jukebox Hero of the Week.
What I should have done is said nothing but: Thank you.
What I should have done … there’s a plank to walk.
Meanwhile, my terminally, pathologically, ruthlessly cheerful girlfriend is sending me links to fun stuff on the net, hoping to buck me up.
Things like the trailer for Trance, the latest offering from Danny Boyle, an art heist caper featuring Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson (I’m so looking forward to this — Gee, maybe I’ll talk about it on … Oh. Right.)
Yeah, I’m crabby and cranky and moody and meh.
I’ll miss this. Miss you.
I have a bunch of announcements I could make, about things coming up, but it feels obscene to do that here and now. Look for it on the Murderati Facebook Page or my Fan Page (Christ, like us already, will ya?).
So this is how the month-long dirge—I mean celebration—begins. Forgive me. I’m just a crappy liar.
I’m sure Zoë will be in a much sunnier frame of mind tomorrow—or pretend she is. So stiff-upper-lip, that woman. Bless her murderous little heart.
I’ll try to get into the swing of things by my next, final posting.
In the meantime: Murderateros, do your best: Cheer me up.
Tell me everything’s gonna be okey-dokey and swell!
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: Maybe the Divine Miss M can work some magic:
Spring is here! And that of course means it’s time for another Aimée LeDuc novel from the inimitable Cara Black.
This much loved series, set in Paris, seems to grow in popularity with each book, and the latest offering shows great promise of introducing Aimée to a whole new cohort of readers.
The book, Murder Below Montparnasse, allows Cara to respond to her many readers who wanted Aimée to finally involve herself with one of Paris’s most distinguishing treasures: art.
As the Book Passage website explains:
In Murder Below Montparnasse, a long-lost Modigliani portrait, a grieving brother’s blood vendetta, and a Soviet secret that’s been buried for 80 years are all involved in Parisian private investigator Aimée Leduc’s current case. In this latest in the celebrated series, Cara Black pits her detective against an art heist, an absent partner, and a gruesome murder as she tries to solve her most exciting case yet.
In trying to come up with a new angle on the old author interview, Cara tipped me off to Bernard Pivot, a famous French journalist and interviewer. He’s most well known for the group of questions he asked each of his guests on his show called Apostrophes. Each question was designed to better define guests in the eyes of those watching and more importantly helped to cast aside their celebrity in favor of a more human view. Pivot adapted his questions from Marcel Proust’s Questionnaire that was created to understand personality.
Cara is in the middle of her most ambitious (read: hectic) book tour ever, complete with numerous WiFi disasters and meltdowns and a five-hour drive through snow to speak at an Ohio library, but she took time to answer these questions, however laconically, by thumbing them into her iPhone.
So, with gratitude and appreciation to a severely overtaxed Cara, not to mention Monsieurs Proust and Pivot, and with some minor, meddlesome tweaking from yours truly, let us commence the Q&A:
What is your favorite word—in English? In French?
Radiance is probably my favorite word in English. French? Louminosité.
Is there a word in either language whose cognate in the other just doesn’t work for you?
Plouff. (Note: Your trusty interviewer tried to find a definition for this word as spelled, and came up empty. He did find “plouf” which was translated as the sound something makes when it hits the water. However, when he used the spelling “Plouffe,” well, things got rather interesting—and not (merely) because of David Plouffe, Obama’s campaign manager. (Follow the link.)
What is your least favorite word—again, in both English and French?
Oink and quelconque.
What exhilarates or inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Light—sunlight, lamplight, moonlight—glinting off the flowing Seine.
What repulses you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
What sound or noise invariably makes you happy?
Waking up to rain on the roof.
What sound or noise invariably makes you shudder or snarl?
A child’s cry at night. (I’m guessing she means shudder, not snarl – David)
What is your favorite curse word? (Or, if you’d prefer, what is Aimée’s?)
What profession other than your own would you like to pursue?
Bookbinding for rare books.
What profession would you never attempt except at gunpoint?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? (Other than, “Wow. Love what you’ve done to your hair.”)
“About time. Your friends and family have been waiting.” (Apparently Cara intends to outlive them all.)
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So Murderateros: What questions would you like to ask of Cara (with the understanding she may be facing but another on-the-road disaster and may not be able to respond promptly)?
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: Well, I think we have to go French here, don’t you? How about the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé by Léo Delibes—one of the most stunningly beautiful and universally loved duets in all of opera — which is why you hear it in so many movies and commercials…
For much of today, I’ll be en route to Colorado Springs for this year’s Left Coast Crime (where eventually I’ll be joined by fellow current or past Murderatis JT Ellison, Simon Wood, and Alexandra Sokoloff, who posted here about the conference yesterday).
I’ve made myself scarce the last few years on the conference circuit, being preoccupied with other, well, preoccupations, but co-chairs Christine Goff and Suzanne Proulx very graciously (if unwisely) asked if I’d serve as toastmaster, and how could I refuse?
Just one question, I said timidly. What exactly does a toastmaster do?
The answer: Nobody knows…
I even asked last year’s toastmaster, Harley Jane Kozak, and she replied: “You just get up and make people happy to be alive, restore sight to the blind and the will to live in those who are depressed. It helps if everyone’s drunk to begin with.”
Piece of cake.
Eventually, Christine and Suzanne decided to indulge my pleas for guidance, and gave me a rough list of duties I’d be expected to perform. Basically, I introduce people who are about to introduce other people. (It’s almost a twisted variant of Russell’s Paradox: If the toastmaster interviews all those and only those who don’t introduce themselves, who introduces the toastmaster?)
As if all that weren’t enough, I also get to warm up the crowd at the awards dinner on Saturday night, and double up with charity auctioneer (and fellow math geek) Robert Spiller to make sure the auction stays lively — though not as lively, I suspect, as what follows:
“Does this shoulder holster make me look fat?” A Concealed Weapon Fashion Show: Emcee: Ellen Byerrum. Gun consultant: Curt Wendelboe. Fashionista: Bonnie Ramthun. Models: Donna Andrews, Rhys Bowen, Parnell Hall, Heather and C.M. Wendelboe, Twist Phelan, Jack Chapple, Brad Parks, and Ann Charles.
But wait, there’s more.
I’ll also be teaching a three-hour (9:00 AM—noon) workshop on character Thursday morning (we’ve already got nearly forty sign-ups).
Oh, and there are the panels:
Friday, 4:00–4:45 p.m.—Truth or Dare (M) Rhys Bowen, David Corbett, Parnell Hall, Laura Lippman, Brad Parks
Saturday, 3:15–4:00 p.m.—Suspense/Thrillers Lisa Brackmann, Jan Burke, David Corbett, (M) J.T. Ellison, Mark Sullivan
If you’re coming, make sure to say hello. If you can’t make it, you’ll be missed.
So, Murderateros: If you were attending the Truth or Dare panel, and could ask an embarrassing question of one of the panelists—forcing them to either tell the truth or chip in to a charity fund—what would you ask, and of whom?
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: I was in Los Angeles recently and got to visit with my good buddy Mark Haskell Smith, his wife Diana Faust, and fellow Murderatero Gar Anthony Haywood. Gar gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve received lately: He praised my taste in these little music clips. Almost immediately, I thought: Oh Christ, now the pressure’s on.
So with that burden squarely in mind, the burden of living up to Gar’s appreciation, here goes: a forgotten classic from one-hit wonder and tragic heroin casualty James Ramey, aka Baby Huey of Baby Huey & the Babysitters, from 1970:
Due to numerous ungodly demands, I’m unable to do justice to a new post this week, but in celebration of the award nominations — including the Edgar and the Agatha to date — being extended to Books to Die For, the sprawling and marvelous collection of essays edited by John Connelly and Declan Burke, I thought I’d offer it again.
For those of you who haven’t yet picked up this book, it really is an indispensable guide to crime fiction by the women and men who love it so much they write it.
The premise: Ask some of the best crime writers in the world today what book within the genre—whether a classic, a modern masterpiece, an overlooked gem, or a long-forgotten pulp—most influenced them, inspired them, or otherwise led them to want to shove a copy into the hands of every unsuspecting reader they came across.
Compensation: A pittance, or a bottle of whiskey—Midleton Very Rare Blended Irish Whiskey, to be exact.
Guess what my answer was—both as to whether I wished to join the scrum and what form of compensation I preferred.
Turns out, I was in excellent company.
The result: Books to Die For, a compendium (love that word) of almost 120 pieces from writers around the world that hit bookstores in the U.S. yesterday. (It came out in the U.K. last month.)
It’s truly a must-read for the crime aficionado on your Christmas list—or, as John and Dec put it perfectly in a word of appreciation sent out to the contributors:
Quite frankly, we don’t think there has ever been a line-up quite so starry in any previously published anthology, and the quality of the contributions was exceptionally high. In the end, the book functions not only as a reading guide, but as an overview of the genre.
That’s an understatement. Treated to my own copy, I’ve been reading the entries and marveling at the books chosen, the insights and historical perspective provided (the books are arranged chronologically), as well as the personal statements of awe and fascination and devotion—even envy.
To give you some idea of who some of the contributors are, just check out this list of those attending the promotional event at Bouchercon (at the Cleveland Marriott Renaissance):
Linwood Barclay, Mark Billingham, Cara Black, Lee Child, Reed Farrel Coleman, Max Allan Collins, Michael Connelly, Thomas H. Cook, Deborah Crombie, Joseph Finder, Meg Gardiner, Alison Gaylin, Charlaine Harris, Erin Hart, Peter James, Laurie R. King, Michael Koryta, Bill Loehfelm, Val McDermid, John McFetridge, Stuart Neville, Sara Paretsky, Michael Robotham, S.J. Rozan, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Kelli Stanley, Martyn Waites, and F. Paul Wilson.
And that list neglects Elmore Leonard and Joseph Wambaugh and Marcia Muller and Rita Mae Brown and George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane and Karin Slaughter and Laura Lippman and Jeffery Deaver and Bill Pronzini and Tana French and Louise Penny and Ian Rankin and Jo Nesbo and Megan Abbott and Sara Gran and John Harvey and Ken Bruen and Minette Walters and Kathy Reichs and Scott Phillips and Joe Lansdale and Chuck Hogan and Lisa Lutz and Patricia Cornwell and Eddie Muller and Meg Gardiner and Adrian McKinty and Margaret Maron and James Sallis and …
For a complete list of contributors and the books they chose, as well as Bonus Materials from some of us who had other books we wanted to champion but space would not permit—the book already clocks in at an impressive 730 pages—check out the Books2Die4 website.
Some of the entries are gems of critical appreciation. Some read like fan letters. Every single one I’ve read so far has taught me something I didn’t know.
Karin Slaughter selected Metta Fuller Victor’s The Dead Letter and makes an airtight case that the overlooked Victor—a woman writing voluminously in the mid-to-late nineteenth century—was far more influential to the subsequent development of the genre than Edgar Allan Poe:
Victor’s novels were not driven to immediate climax, but filled with reversals, twists, and misdirections that both prolonged the denouement and arguably made the climax that much more rewarding. Victor didn’t just set out the facts of the crime: she explored social mores, distinguishing between the upper and middle classes with a subtle reference to clothing or manner. She described atmosphere and scenery in careful detail, giving her stories an air of grounded reality. The characters in Victor’s books were not cynical about crime. They felt loss and tragedy to their very core. For these reasons and more, it seems that the Victor formula, not Poe’s, is the convention to which modern crime fiction more closely hews.
Megan Abbott makes a similar argument for Dorothy B. Hughes’s In A Lonely Place—“the most influential novel you’ve never read”—a serial killer tale from the murderer’s point of view that preceded Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me by five years.
Hughes hoists her killer on the autopsy table, still breathing, and shows us everything he doesn’t want to see about himself: the twin arteries of masculine neurosis and sexual panic that drive his crimes. It turns out that Hughes is up to much more than telling a killer’s tale. Through her dissection, In A Lonely Placesays more about gender trouble and sexual paranoia in post-World War II America than perhaps any other American novel.
Two of my favorite entries were written by my fellow Murderateros Martyn Waites and Gar Anthony Haywood.
Martyn selected Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, a book he routinely recommended to the inmates he tutored at one of Her Majesty’s prisons. It’s the first Socrates Fortlow novel from Walter Mosley, a series often overshadowed by the Easy Rawlins monolith. When my late wife read this book, she forced it on me with the same enthusiasm Martyn does, saying, “This isn’t like a crime novel. It’s like a myth.” Here’s how Martyn puts it:
It’s no accident that this lead character has been given the name of Socrates, the father of Western philosophy. Written in the aftermath of the L.A. riots and the Rodney King beating, this hulking ex-con becomes a contemporary inquisitor, asking difficult moral questions of a society that has retained a dogmatic grip on the letter of the law but has lost purchase of its fair and compassionate spirit.
Gar selected Richard Price’s Clockers, a book I often go back and re-read. Gar’s entry brings in his father, and I always enjoy reading Gar discuss his dad. It turns out that Gar lent his father a number of top-tier crime novels, but only one “blew him completely away.”
“This guy’s the real deal,” he told me when I asked him what he thought. And coming from my father—a man of few words if ever there was one—this was high praise, indeed…. Reading it from a writer’s perspective, you’re immediately struck by the vast array of skills Price has on display: plotting that moves at optimum speed, characters that live and breathe, dialogue devoid of a single false note. And this last is no exaggeration: every word of every line Price’s people speak in Clockers rings true. Every one.
My own pick was James Crumley’s The Wrong Case, and it pairs with Dennis Lehane’s appreciation of The Last Good Kiss. Of Crumley’s ability to make even the absurd seem not just believable but necessary, I wrote:
He set a tone that kept you off-balance, a tone that blended a kind of sly irony with heartsick desperation, an understanding that the battle for the good is fought by ingeniously flawed men doing the ridiculous in the service of some angry, inscrutable truth.
The anthology is full of gems, each only a few pages long, so it’s easy to wrap one up in a brief sitting and move on to the next, or wait to savor it later.
Speaking of savoring it later: I haven’t tried the whiskey yet, saving it for some special occasion over the holidays. But it’s from County Cork, where William Augustus Corbett and his bride, Katie, spent their lives before sailing to America in 1882. That alone bears promise.
So, Murderateros: If asked to name just one book in the genre that had an overwhelming impact on you, which one would you choose—more importantly, why? (Feel free to add your remarks to those of otherson the book’s website.)
A select group of booksellers will have copies signed by various contributors. For where to find one of those copies, go here.
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: In one of my very first author appearances (with Laurie King and Michael Connelly), I was asked a question similar to the one asked of me by John and Dec for Books to Die For. But I didn’t name a book or a writer. I admitted that I was probably far more influenced by this man than anyone I’d ever read, specifically this song:
In my last post, I mentioned the need for near perpetual publicity in this day and age of publishing meltdown and online promotion.
A little over two weeks after my book release, I feel like I understated the matter considerably. I need seven more hours a day, five more days a week, and a bottomless bowl of Wheaties to tackle everything.
There are the workshops I’m conducting—again in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and also at Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs, where I’ll be serving as toastmaster, and then in various northern California locales, at the DFW Conference in Dallas (where I’ll be co-keynote speaker with the lovely and charming and gifted Deborah Crombie), and finally, Memorial Day weekend, at the High Sierra Writers Conference in Reno.
There’s the various blogs I’ve posted for—call it Bombing the Blogs—including:
An interview with the writing community at Scribophile, with an extra forum for additional Q&A at the Scribophile Forum. (The interview is open to the public; the forum requires a free signup to join the community, which is much like Goodreads, but more writer oriented.) Scribophile will also soon be sponsoring a contest with free books and a free critique session as prizes: Stay tuned.
I’m pitching an article I wrote called “The Politics of Plot” to the Huffington Post, and one titled “Secrets & Contradictions” for the New York Times’ The Opinionator/Drafts column.
And then there’s the constant drafting of event invites on Facebook, keeping up with the ever-changing world of Amazon, communicating with everyone who responds to the book giveaway on Goodreads (and inviting others I know), answering comments on the Scribophile blog, updating what I’ve already done, building my Twitter base (hey guys, over here, follow me, follow me, no me, over here, I said here, hey guys?) …
Plus I have my online course through UCLA Extension — incredibly wonderful, hard-woring students from around the world — a new one I’m pitching to LitReactor, three manuscripts to review and edit, a novel to finish (close, I’m very close)…
I’ve yet to inload any financial date into Quickbooks for my 2012 taxes, I’m refinancing my house (don’t get me started), my car needed new tires and a new radiator before I headed south to LA, my computer keyboard has developed a new glitch where — only in Word — the forward cursor moves backwards and no one at Microsoft has a clue…
Then there’s the happier end of Things to Prepare For: My other half, Mette, is driving cross-country next month with Hamley, the Wonder Dog, and moving in with me.
(I’ll be traveling to Norway and Turkey this summer to meet Mette’s extended family. Yes, she’s descended from Vikings and Turks. This is not lost on me.)
So, let’s just say I’m keeping busy. Or busier. Make that busiest.
Every now and then, I get to read a book—which reminds me: Cara Black’s latest, Murder Below Montparnasse, is coming out on March 5th, and you can win a trip to Paris with Cara if you pre-order now. (I’ll be interviewing Cara about the new book on Wildcard Tuesday, March 26th.)
Oh, and lest I forget, you can buy copies of The Art of Characterhere.
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So, Murderateros—what’s keeping you up these nights?
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: Robert Earl Keen, Jr., one of the great Texas singer/songwriter/storytellers, with one of my favorite tunes ever, and something of an anthem for my life right now, thus the title of today’s post:
One the great pleasures of publicity tours—yes, Virginia, there are pleasures to publicity tours—is teaming up with other authors for a panel.
Panels provide one of the great exceptions to the Less is More principle. Two minds are indeed better than one, as are—depending on the minds at issue—three and four or even five, though I think that’s the limit for a decent panel. After that, it’s a chorus line. Or a scrum.
There’s always a balance that needs to be struck between the joy of spontaneity and giving the panelists enough of an idea what the topic is that they can prepare a few interesting ideas and lines—and a couple good jokes.
This is particularly on my mind as I prepare for two panels I’ll be doing in the span of one week:
Frankly, with fellow panelists like that, I could sit there and drool and come off semi-smart. (Well, okay, maybe not drool.)
Ellen is a San Francisco writer I met through Murderati alum Cornelia Read at a reading for Dirty Words: An Encyclopedia of Sex, which Ellen edited. (Ellen’s entry on Happy Endings appears immediately before Cornelia’s on Hard-ons.)
In The Art of Character I use a scene from Ellen’s novel French Lessons to illustrate how to use clothing—in this case, a pregnant, jilted, miserable teacher’s fascination with a pair of turquoise pumps in a Paris boutique—as an objective correlative for the character’s inner life.
Ellen and I are doing a panel titled MY CHARACTER ATE MY PLOT!Creating characters that drive your story. It seems to be a bit of a mash-up of a workshop I proposed on how to balance story and character demands and an impromptu panel. Whatever. Ellen and I will have a gas.
The New York panel really has me intrigued. I’ve been reading A.M. Homes’s May We Be Forgiven and I’m mesmerized. Later this month I’ll be posting for the Books by the Bed column on the website for We Wanted to be Writers (the group memoir about the Iowa Writers’ Workshop). One of the books I mention is May We Be Forgiven, and this is what I say:
As deft a balancing act between heartbreaking realism and wicked black humor as I’ve read outside the works of Pete Dexter. An opening scene with a gutted Thanksgiving turkey, fingers dripping with meat juices, lips coated in same, and then an illicit kiss between the protagonist and his taller, smarter, more successful brother’s wife—and it just takes off from there. Uncanny pacing for a so-called literary novel—violent and smart and did I mention funny?
Many of you probably already know Duane Swierczynski, though you probably can’t pronounce his name. (It’s okay, no one can. Or spell it for that matter.) I also included his The Blonde in my Books by the Bed posting:
The reading equivalent of listening to Eddy Angel channel Link Wray. Gutsy and quick on its feet, with so many deft strokes and oddball observations and switchback plot turns, not to mention (lest we forget) the eponymous blonde who, of course, is not who she seems—a patch of red in a private spot gives her away. More to the point, she’ll die if someone isn’t within ten feet of her. Literally. Beat that, Salman Rushdie!
And Megan Abbott, after writing and winning an Edgar for creative re-interpretations of fifties noir (with an emphasis on the women characters so often trivialized in that genre) has broken out with two novels set in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, her childhood hometown: The End of Everything and Dare Me.
I mean, I’ll have to concentrate very, very hard if I want to screw up this panel.
Like my panel with Ellen, this one also will gravitate toward character, and Megan and Duane both want to talk about the difficulties of characterization in the compressed formats of graphic novels and film, and A.M. wants to talk about the challenges of writing about someone fundamentally different than oneself.
I also want to ask Megan about what characterization challenges she’s faced in switching from noir pastiches to more realistic novels, and generally just invite everybody to jump in and say whatever comes to mind. (Like I’ll be able to stop them…)
If you live in New York and feel inclined, join us at 7 PM at the B&N UES at 86th & Lex.
Or if you’re ready for the whole smorgasbord of writing panels and editor consultations and agent pitches, check out the San Francisco Writers Conference—and join Ellen and me on Sunday morning (at the ungodly hour of 9 AM).
How we suffer for our art.
BTW: One final nod to Blatant Sell-Promotion (that’s a deliberate typo): If you or someone you know is interested in the craft of characterization, and would like an inspiring, in-depth and yet practical guide, please check out The Art of Character. Follow the link to find out more, including where you can buy a copy. Or read a brand new excerpt here.
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So, Murderateros, what’s the best panel you’ve ever been on or seen?
What was the worst?
What made the one great and the other not so great?
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: Valentine’s Day will have come and gone by the time my next post goes up, so in premature celebration (ahem), I offer this Brubeck chestnut used to brilliant effect in the film Silver Linings Playbook. It beautifully sets the mood for a crucial scene, when Pat goes to Tiffany’s house Halloween night for their first (this-is-not-a) date. It’s spare and haunting but playful, with its 7/4 time creating an off-balance tension. Perfect.
In August last year, Alexandra had a post titled Wanna Be a Writer? Learn to Love Promotion. In no-nonsense terms, Alex laid out the cold hard truth: In today’s publishing world, you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there or risk getting lost in the numbers game.
In the opposite corner, both Gar and I are on the record concerning our uneasiness with self-promotion. For me it smacks of begging. If the book’s good, it’ll sell itself, right? (I know, how dumb can you get?)
Something about self-promotion makes me feel like the guy who always needs to be the center of attention, making sure the limelight never strays far from where he’s standing.
But I’ve got a book out and it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable I am, I need to get off my duff and make the thing a success. The fact it’s not a novel but a book on writing changes little except points of emphasis.
As anyone with a mainstream publisher knows, if you’re not a top name, you’re not getting the love from the marketing or publicity departments. Everyone’s perfectly nice, they just don’t have the funds or the time for your book. They’ll do all they can within the confines of their virtually non-existent budget.
Which means you’re largely on your own. And it’s a very crowded marketplace.
But how to turn around that reticence, that squeamishness, that fear of becoming the yammering nitwit bellowing: Look at me!
Here’s what I’ve come up with:
1. I believe in the book, and wrote it with an almost passionate intensity. I need to bring that same belief and passion to making sure potential readers know about it, want it, buy it.
2. I didn’t write the book for myself, I wrote it for writers and students of writing hoping to expand and deepen their understanding and command of the craft of characterization. The book is for them. Try to find them, reach them.
3. If I ground my PR efforts in that belief, that passion, and that concern for readers who might truly benefit from the book, I’ll come from a place that balances pride with humility, and that will eliminate some of the sense that I’m being a pushy shmuck.
4. Go back and reread the book and remember all the valuable things it has to offer. Promote them. Find a way for people to hear about them so they can make up their own minds if they want the book.
I know this must sound hopelessly fundamental and obvious. I mean, after four books, you’d think I’d get this. But I still sometimes need to remind myself of these simple things. I need to get comfortable with the idea of promoting me, David Corbett, and my work.
I think most writers are prone to a profound self-doubt, salted with guarded optimism and talent and pride. Something about self-promotion begs us to deny that self-doubt. Think positive, if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will, etc.
I realized I need instead to embrace my misgivings, accept the ways in which the book may fall short of what I wanted it to be, and make that acceptance part of the package, so my genuine pride in the book doesn’t get mucked up with phoniness. I know the book’s not perfect. But the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the book really is quite good.
If I don’t find a way to get comfortable with the salesmanship side of writing, the book will die a slow, steady death. And it deserves better. The students who could benefit from the book deserve better. And yes, even solitary, self-doubting me — I deserve better.
So: Please check out the book and see if it’s something you or someone you know might enjoy or benefit from. Frankly, I think if you start reading it, you’ll love it.
You can read excerpts here and here, and blog discussions here and here. And you can find a variety of places to buy it in both physical and digital format here.
If you’ve read the book and have something to say, I’d love it if you’d write an Amazon review.
(BTW: In one of those scheduling things that happen from time to time here on Murderati, I’ll also be up tomorrow for my regularly scheduled post. Try not to weary of me.)
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So, Murderateros—what aspect of promotion do you find most daunting? Most annoying?
What strategy have you devised to overcome that?
Has a writer’s PR effort ever turned you off to his or her book?
Any great anecdotes about PR efforts that went arwy—whether your own or someone else’s?
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Jukebox Heroes of the Week: Who else? (With a stunning remix of the original.)
Why am I defying laws of physics by appearing in two places at once?
Because we’re a week away from the pub date for The Art of Character, and in between popping open the Dom Perignon and soliciting celebrity piggyback rides, we’re trying to amp up the volume on the book’s release.
If you want to know the story of how the book came about—Deborah’s preoccupation—trundle on over to Jungle Red.
Here I just want to speak briefly about why I think the book is helpful, and maybe even important.
Some of the best books on writing in recent years have emphasized structure—specifically Robert McKee’s Story and John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. And though both books deal with character, Truby’s in somewhat more depth, I found there was something lacking in both that needed addressing.
Though both books and a few others deal brilliantly with the function of character, and discuss how the character is a crucial element in the story matrix, they leave largely unaddressed the trickier, subtler, more difficult, and thus most interesting parts of characterization—giving the character recognizable feelings and desires, contradictions and secrets, letting her think and feel and behave like a real and complex human being, not a plot puppet.
As I emphasize in the book, it’s important to think of the character not as just a cog in the story, but as a real individual, with a life “outside the narrative,” to whom the events of the story happen.
And it’s not enough to “take dictation from imaginary beings.” A great many clichéd characters sprang fully formed in their creator’s imagination precisely becaue they were derivative—vaguely concealed duplicates of other characters.
There’s no short cut. To create great characters you have to spend time. You have to feel deeply and imagine wisely. You have to ask a hundred questions and answer them not with your mind but with your heart and your intuition—and characters aren’t always quick or straightforward with their answers. Patience and attention are required.
The books I did find that dealt with this aspect of characterization didn’t take it far enough, in my opinion, or didn’t deal with it sytematically and comprehensively. On top of that, they were written in a style I found leaden, contaminated by “how-to.”
But few if any of the books on writing I reviewed, even the ones I admired, offered any real guidance on how to conjure that organically whole yet emotionally complex hobgoblin we think of as a fully realized character.
I took only the mininum number of English classes in college and never took a creative writing course. I learned most of what I know about writing from trial and error—plenty of the latter—and breaking down scenes in acting school, where the importance of a physical and intuitive connection to the character was hammered into my over-analytical brain.
Writers lack the physical presence of the actor, and can’t rely on it. We have only words. How is it done?
I wanted to help writers figure that out by helping them move through each of the stages of characterization, from conceiving the character—and being wary of characters derived from the story, the finishing school for plot puppets—to developing the character, to understanding that character’s role in the story, to techniques for rendering her on the page.
I emphasize the importance of scenes, not information, in not just portraying your character but conceiving and developing her.
And I stress the need to plumb one’s own experience, emotions, and memory to create the intuitive facility you need to perceive your characters like figures in a dream, not pieces on a chess board—or the product of a checklist.
Last, I wanted to write the book in such a way the reader would feel not just informed but inspired. I wanted readers to feel compelled to put down the book and return to their desks and forge ahead with whatever they were writing.
From the response the book has garnered so far, I think I’ve been largely successful. Now the book needs to find its target audience: writers, whether just starting out or perfecting their craft.
If you’d like to try for a free copy, go to today’s posting on Jungle Red.
And if you’d like to pre-order the book, you’re only two clicks away, beginning with this one here.
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What are the easiest and most difficult aspects of characterization for you?
Who is the most interesting character you’ve come across in a book, play, film, or TV program lately?
Among the characters you yourself have created, which one’s your favorite? Which one was hardest to create or get right? Which one was easiest?
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: One of the points I make in The Art of Character is that a writer who writes for himself is “scribbling to a ghost.” We write for readers, because the reader makes us honest.
But it’s often important to personify the reader we’re trying to reach, and envision that reader as someone who expects our very best.
The actor Joseph Chaikin wrote that he never went onstage without imagining Martin Luther King, Jr., in the audience. Since we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday Monday, I thought it might be appropriate to choose this tribute to him from the late great Solomon Burke. It’s a beautiful song about persevering despite the gnawing doubts that plague even great men and women, and the humility that comes with true courage:
He was known by many of us in the writing biz—and cherished. You arrived in his store and felt like royalty. He not only actually read your books, he generously and knowledgeably expressed his enjoyment of them. He knew what you were up to and respected it. His encouragement crackled in his voice and in his eyes.
Ed Kaufman spoiled me. After my first acquaintance with him, I suspected—or more appropriately, I suppose, hoped—that his level of intelligence, energy, and personal fondness might propel me along like the current of a river throughout my career. If only. Men like Ed are rare. Which is why his passing hits so hard.
More than once he came at me like a buzzsaw: “Where’s the next book?!” For a slowboat writer like me, it was half pat on the back, half kick in the pants. But I knew he was saying it because he genuinely believed my books were worth reading, not just putting on the shelf.
He also offered me the chance to introduce and interview writers like Michael Connelly and Richard Price, two men I very much admire.
He was the quirky uncle with a steel-trap mind and the metabolism of a dervish. His smile engulfed you, and his handshake was always warm and strong. I’m sure he could be prickly and impossible and self-absorbed at times—like I’m one to talk—and his employees were no doubt more long-suffering than we might imagine. His manager, Pam Stirling, remains one of the people in the book business whose warmth and appreciation remain among my fondest memories as a writer, and the other members of his staff, Jen and Ann and Warn and Charlotte, were always so welcoming and kind.
He closed the bookstore in December, 2011, and it felt like someone had dropped a nuclear bomb in the business. You can imagine what his death feels like.
There were two lovely obits online, one in the San Francisco Chronicle, the other in the The Daily Journal, and they flesh out his prior years—his growing up in Ohio, his service in the military as a plainclothes Counter Intelligence Corps officer, the chance to serve as clerk to US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart that Ed turned down because he needed to make more money for his family, his longtime work as a lawyer in Los Angeles, his passion for art and opera—and his marriage to Jeannie, whom most of us got to know as well: She was the lovely, witty, wise-cracking counterpoint to Ed’s almost boyish enthusiasms.
In 2012 the Mystery Writers of America bestowed on Ed the Raven Award for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. But awards only say so much. Here are some words from other writers to give you an idea of what he meant to us all:
I am so very sad. I loved Ed, loved his drive, his manners, his charm and energy. He built a great business and you could see he just loved it when an author grew almost right in front of him. I was so nervous on my first visit there, with my first book, that I almost passed out. And a few years later, after a packed event during which I signed about 85 books, he put a few hundred more books in front of me to sign and date — and I almost passed out again, this time with shock! But it was always nothing but a pleasure to do anything for him, because he was a wonderful supporter of authors and of the mystery. That sparkle of passion was always there, even if he seemed weary the last time I saw him.—Jacqueline Winspear
Here’s my favorite Ed story: I was once in M is for Mystery talking to Ed and I saw a copy of The Kite Runner on the front table. I looked at him and said, “Really Ed? The Kite Runner in a mystery store?” And he kind of grumbled and said, “There’s a kidnapping in it. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, if someone in the story gets a parking ticket, it’s a crime novel.” —Mark Haskell Smith
What a champion he was of first-time authors, and how loyal. I remember how supportive he was so early on and how it never wavered. Then, as recently as August, he called me at home out of the blue to congratulate me on a review. Whenever I saw him we talked about his love of opera. When he spoke of it, his face just lit up from within.—Megan Abbott
I always looked forward to visiting Ed Kaufman. He was a kind, enthusiastic, cultured man, with a love not only for the contents of books but for the artifact of the book itself. A generation of great booksellers is passing, and we will not see their likes again. —John Connolly
Ed Kaufman was a gentleman of the old school, unfailing in his support of authors at all stages of their careers. I treasure the memories of events I was honoured to participate in at M is For Mystery. He made me feel so welcome, and did so much to help bring my work to American readers. I shall always remember him with gratitude and great joy. —Zoë Sharp
I met Ed when I was in law school in the bay area, well before I ever realized my books would be among those in his store. He was my friend, and I will miss his big hugs and sweet laughs.—Alafair Burke
I had the tremendous honor of presenting a Raven Award to Ed in 2012. I have always thought of him as “The Mensch of Mystery,” and it was awfully nice to be able to honor him in return for his having hosted my very first signing at M is for Mystery. What a lovely, lovely man.—Cornelia Read
Ed was my hometown bookseller and a broke-the-mold guy. One of my highlights every year on tour was seeing him at the store. Because I’m from the Bay Area, he got to know my family and friends over the years and always remembered them and had a good word — and a book recommendation or two — for them. I miss him. —Gregg Hurwitz
Ed was such a gentleman, but always with that little twinkle in his eyes. He made me feel welcome, and special, and I’m sure he did the same for readers as well as authors. Most of all, you could feel his passion for books.—Deborah Crombie
I thought Ed treated me as a friend because he was an ex-New Yorker and a reader of The Wall Street Journal. Then I learned he treated everyone with warmth and friendship. He was a sweet man who was a joy to visit and a tireless advocate for authors whose work he admired. I miss him and am so glad we met.—Jim Fusilli
Ed was a leprechaun of a bookseller; kind and mischievous, delighted by literary finds both bound and unbound (in the form of the visiting authors), he regarded books and writers as gold to be treasured, promoted and championed. Ed and the staff at M is for Mystery—Pam Stirling, the manager, Ann, Charlotte, Jen—were like a family to me. I’ll miss him—and the wonderful Xanadu they built together–forever. —Kelli Stanley
Ed was a superb lawyer, an extraordinary bookseller, a wise counselor and a supportive friend. He will be greatly missed.—Sheldon Siegel
When I interviewed Ed K last year to write something up for the Edgar Awards program – he was awarded the prestigious and well-deserved Raven – I met him for coffee which turned into Ed taking me to lunch, yes that was Ed, but in all the years I knew him I realized I didn’t know where his love of books came from. So I asked him. ‘Years ago when I was a young lawyer I travelled all the time. Always on the road, my family at home. But I discovered bookstores. From then on I was never without a book under my arm – airports, waiting rooms, hotels, conference breaks in law offices. A book was always my companion. Then as now you won’t find me without a book under my arm.’ That’s how I always remember Ed, holding a book. —Cara Black
When my first book came out I got a phone call from Ed, inviting me to sign at his store. I was new and completely unknown and felt so honored that he’d asked me. Never mind that only a couple of people showed up. Ed has been a dear friend ever since and even ordered me to bring my Celtic harp to play once. If you know how shy I am about playing instruments in public you’ll know in what high regard I held him. His passing has left a hole in my heart.—Rhys Bowen
Ed made new writers feel incredibly valued, cherished. I’ll always cherish him for that!—Pari Noskin Taichert
When my first book came out, Ed read my industry reviews and then took the initiative to contact my publisher and request to host my book launch (shown here).
I remember how he toured me, my husband, and our pug around his shop. My stage fright soon melted away in the warmth of Ed’s welcome. He made this first book event so special for me. He even taught me how to sign my books. Such a mensch! Ed loved literature and was a true champion of authors. He had a keen intellect and a big heart. I’m sure that everyone who knew Ed was all the better for it — and Ed knew a lot of people! —Cynthia Robinson
What I remember most is Ed’s infectious passion for mystery writers and anyone who shared his passion. Ed made me feel like I’d finally found my clan. I think that’s why the local chapter of MWA always held their Christmas party there. Being in that store and standing among those bookshelves, seeing your name on the spines of some of the books and listening to Ed’s stories, that was as big a thrill as getting published for the first time. He made a small bookstore in a small town a destination, because Ed was the destination.
Ed was also a great connector. He called me several times, sometimes at the last minute, to guest-host a number of author events, either at the store or occasionally at the local library. Usually they were authors I knew, but sometimes he just had an instinct an event would work if he threw certain authors together, and he was always right. I made some great friends at those events because Ed had a matchmaker’s eye for people with shared passions. He was a great soul, and whatever bookshelf he gets in heaven, I hope it stretches as far as his reach did on Earth. He’s the kind of guy we should all write stories about. —Tim Maleeny
As a final note: I posted the following on my website in 2007 when the publication of my third novel coincided with Ed’s birthday:
I and a number of other northern California mystery writers—including Rhys Bowen, Ann Parker, Camille Minichino, Nadia Gordon, Tony Broadbent, Tim Maleeny, Kirk Russell, and Dylan Schaffer—threw a surprise birthday party on Friday evening, March 23rd, for Ed Kaufman, the owner of M is for Mystery in San Mateo, one of the premier crime and mystery bookstores in the country.
The evening was billed as a reading for my new novel, Blood of Paradise, but when Ed and I booked the date, he let it slip that it was his birthday, and the scheming began.
Ed’s wife Jeannie, store manager Pam Stirling, and the rest of the M is for Mystery staff were in on the caper, and even though Ann and Camille, with all the best intentions in the world, almost blew the surprise by walking in a bit early with balloons, Ed didn’t catch on until the cake appeared. (Though he did, in introducing me, express a little surprise that so many folks had turned out for my event—hmm.) Cara Black and Steve Hockensmith, unable to attend because of other obligations, nonetheless sent congratulations from afar, and a grand time was had by all (even Tilly and Morgan, the canine celebrants). The inscription on the cake read, “M is for Mensch,” and truer words were never written—certainly not with icing. Many happy returns, Ed!
As it turned out, there were only five more happy returns. Far too few.
You’re missed, Mr. K. More than even a bunch of writers can say.
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If you have any words or a recollection of Ed you’d like to share, please feel free.
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Jukebox Hero of the Week: In honor of Ed’s abiding love of opera, here’s Angela Gheorghiu in a live performance of Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte,” from Tosca. (Yes, it’s a crime story—she sings this aria right before murdering the villain, Scarpia):
Bonus Track: Ed’s wife, Jeannie, when we emailed back and forth about possible arias, said, “just about any aria from Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ — such as ‘Che gelida la manina’ (“…how cold is your little hand…” he flirts) and Pavarotti never disappoints. And neither does Puccini.”
When I told her I was thinking of Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte,” she responded, “Oh, Vissi d’arte even better! Of course — I lived for art, etc. etc. How silly of me not to think of that! (though Ed loved the schmaltz of the Boheme youthful flirtation).”
So, in honor of Ed’s love of schmaltzy youthful flirtation — as well as crime: