Category Archives: J.D. Rhoades

Gone To Carolina

by J.D. Rhoades

      When Pari wrote her tribute to her home state of New Mexico the other day, my first thought was “Whoa.  Gorgeous place. I need to see this someday.”

     My second thought was “I am SO stealing this idea.”

     Because as much as Pari loves New Mexico, I love North Carolina. All my books are set here. I’ve lived all my life in various cities and small towns across the state. I grew up in the pretty little town of Southern Pines, right next door to the golf mecca of Pinehurst.

     I went to college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. lived for a short time in the capital city of Raleigh (where I worked the camera for the morning farm show and the afternoon news at WRAL-TV), then returned to UNC-Chapel Hill for my law degree.

      I practiced law “down east” in Greenville and in Wilmington (still far and away my favorite city in North Carolina)

before returning back to my home area to live and raise my family.

You want mountains? We got mountains.


You want beaches? We got those.


      You want big  cities? You can have them. But we have Charlotte if you absolutely insist.


    Oh, and we also play a little basketball.


As I wrote a few weeks ago, it’s hard for some folks to understand just how much passion can be stirred up by the web of rivalries between the state’s major universities. Often, when I meet somebody new and they tell me they’re an NC State fan, a Wake Forest fan,  or God forbid, a Duke fan, I tell them that I never hold a person’s religion against them. I’m only partly joking.

      It’s a place steeped in history. One of the first English speaking colonies in the New World was established on Roanoke Island in 1508, only to mysteriously disappear, leaving behind only some abandoned houses and the word CROATAN carved on a nearby tree. (The Lumbee Indians of Southeastern North Carolina claim that they’re descended from the survivors of the so-called “Lost Colony” who fled inland from the marauding Spaniards and  intermarried with Native Americans). In April 1776, North Carolina was the first state to authorize its delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. The fall of Fort Fisher  below Wilmington sealed the fate of the Confederacy by closing its last open port, and General Joseph Johnston surrendered the last major Confederate Army to General William Sherman near Durham on April 26, 1865. In the twentieth century, the first powered flight was made by the Wright Brothers on the barren, windy dunes of Kill Devil Hill on the Outer Banks. In February 1960, the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro was the site of the first of many “sit-ins” protesting segregation.  One of the protestors relates that while there were some tense standoffs, at one point a “little old white lady, 75 or 80 years old” walked up,  put her arms around two of them and said “I’m so proud of you boys. Your should have done this 10 years ago.” It’s people like that that make me love my state. And I know a lot of them.

      But my love for this place doesn’t mean it  doesn’t sometimes have its dark side. I was driving to court in Chapel Hill  a couple of years ago when I heard a story on the radio about a project in nearby Chatham County that was helping low income people replace their failed plumbing. In some cases, people were getting indoor plumbing for the first time in their lives. It really struck me at that point what a weird state I live in.  I was coming from an area where muti-million dollar homes are common. A few miles away from me were great universities and the hi-tech scientific center known as the Research Triangle Park.  And a few miles away, people were very excited about getting to go to the bathroom indoors.

     We’ve had some high profile crimes, like the mass shooting a few years ago where an Army Sergeant,  for reason no one can explain, walked into Luigi’s restaurant in downtown Fayetteville and stated shooting, killing four people (including the restaurant owner) and wounding six others. More recently, in the little town where I now live, another man, for reasons known only to himself, walked into a nursing home on a quiet Sunday morning and started shooting, killing  eight and wounding three  before being wounded and captured by  a young police  officer.

    It’s those kind of contrasts that make this a fascinating place to be a writer. And we boast of quite a few. There’s Our Alex, of course. Even though she’s one of those Granola-eating California hippies, and even though she’s left our borders for a time,  I’ve adopted her and put in the papers for her to become a naturalized Carolina girl. She just has to pick a basketball  team and declare a barbecue preference, and we’re good to go.

      In the mystery field, we also boast Margaret Maron, Sharyn McCrumb, John HartSarah Shaber, Katy MungerLillian Jackson Braun, Jeffery Deaver, David Terrenoire, and a lot more that I’m sure folks will remind me of in the comments.

    One of the first explorers sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to scout out the coast of Carolina for a potential colony wrote in his report to Queen Elizabeth, “it is withal, Madam, the goodliest land under the Cope of Heaven.” In the antebellum era, a more cynical observer looked at our position between the wealthier and more poltically powerful states of  Virginia and South Carolina and described the state as “a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit.”

     You know what? He was right. And I like that just fine.

     So tell me about your home state, the light side and the dark. What you love, and what you don’t.

Separated By a Common Language

by J.D. Rhoades

     As most of you know,  I live in a Southern state. Since my area is a big resort destination, though, we have  a  lot of transplants from various places, particularly the Northeast and, for some reason, Ohio. (Will the last person out of Akron please turn off the lights?)

    There are any number of  funny stories illustrating the linguistic  misunderstandings that occur between Americans and our British cousins (Hi  Zoe!) I  may have told the story here of the time I was working as a DJ in a hotel bar and played a song that’s popular in the Southeastern US  extolling the joys of “shagging” (it’s a dance). This led to much consternation on the part of a nice British couple at a nearby table.   The disconnect led George Bernard Shaw to famously observe that the British and the Americans are “two peoples separated by a common language.”

     You don’t have to cross the ocean, however,  to find locutions that puzzle, baffle, and confuse. We get plenty of that with folks from right here within our own national borders.  Most often, I see it in court, which is the place where worlds  collide.  Lately I’ve been hearing so many examples in the day job that I figured I might was well use them in a Murderati post, for you fans of using  regionalisms in your writing–and, frankly, because they amuse me.

“I want to say”: this is used by someone who’s really not sure of an answer, but who’s giving it their best guess. Such as:

 Q: “How long did the two of you live together?”
 A: “I want to say…two years?”

Clueless comeback: “Don’t tell me what you want to say, tell me the truth.”

A: “Huh?”

“Whenever”: this is used as a substitute for “when.” Example “Whenever I was in high school…”

Clueless comeback: “Wait, how many times did you go?”

A: “Huh?”

 “Kindly”: Its use is fading a bit, but you still hear older people from out in the country use this one  to mean “kind of.” I once heard an older lady, from the teeming metropolis of Black Ankle, North Carolina, admit on the stand that her son had, on occasion,  been “kindly violent.” A social worker from (of course)  Ohio, who’d been involved in the case, immediately got into a state of the highest dudgeon. When it was her turn on the witness stand she blasted the old woman: “That’s what’s wrong with this family! There’s no such thing as ‘kindly violent!” Embarassed silence. Finally the judge (who, as it happens, was born and raised in the same county as the old lady) leaned over and asked the social worker:  “you’re not from around here, are you?”

Talking“: This was common in the African American community a few years ago. It means, basically, having sex. I rermember talking to a  client who had cross warrants with an older man for assault with a deadly weapon. He informed me that it was all a result of a misunderstanding involving the older fellow’s daughter: “Me and her been talking for while and I guess her daddy got mad.” So, I naturally thought the older fellow had overreacted to someone merely striking up a conversation with his litte girl, and I was all ready to paint him as the unreasonably violent agressor. Fortunately, an older colleague set me straight before I made a colossal ass of myself. More than usual,  I mean.

So, wherever you’re from, tell me what regionalisms from your area tend to befuddle the average outsider.  Or tell me about a localism that befuddled you.



By J.D. Rhoades

We spend some time here talking about the pressures,  the challenges, and the frustrations of the writing life. True, it ain’t all beer and skittles. But, to be fair, there’s right much in the way of skittles. And lord, is there ever beer. Along with that, there are moments that feel so good, they remind me why  I still do this. Here’s one.

I sat down one day last week  to write  a scene for my current WIP. This book is probably the one I’ve done the most extensive outlining and pre-planning for, so I knew what I wanted to do in the scene and how it advanced the story. There’s a bit of exposition, a bit of revelation,  where the main character (a female FBI agent) is getting a teasing glimpse of exactly how big and how mean the monster is that she’s up against.

As originally conceived,  the scene presented some challenges; it takes the form of an interview the agent and her partner are doing with the CEO of a big pharmaceutical corporation.

Two people interviewing a corporate suit and his lawyer runs a severe risk of being a boring info-dump:  lots of talking, lots of exposition while the reader’s interest begins to wither and die. I sat and stared at the page for a long time, wondering how to keep that from happening. I started. I stopped. I checked my e-mail and Facebook. I went back to the document. I started again. I stopped. I picked up the guitar and played a bit. I petted the dog who was squirming around under the desk, trying to get my attention. I shooed the dog out and sat down again.

And  suddenly, as I began writing the CEO’s lines, something happened. I could see him. I could see how he looked, how he spoke, even a particular annoying mannerism he has that illustrates that he’s brilliant, but highly eccentric. His dialogue began to write itself. And as it did, the character of the partner also began to emerge. Previously, I’d known a couple of things about him: he’s big, he’s more than a little intimidating, and being FBI,  he’s a little too cocky for what he’s about to go up against. But he didn’t have a face, nor did he have much of a personailty. 

But as the scene went on, he shouldered his way in and took a bigger role in the interrogation.  Suddenly there were dimensions to him I hadn’t seen previously. He’s actually a lot smarter than he looks, but he knows when playing the dumb jock can work for him, especially when dealing with an brilliant, eccentric nerd who likes to feel superior to someone who looks exactly like the kind of guy who used to harass him in grade school.

When it was over, two characters that originally were just shadows in my mind  were living and breathing and sparring with each other. I knew them. I knew what they looked like, I knew their respective backstories. Give me a couple of minutes, and I can tell you what they had for lunch.

Damn, it’s fun when that happens. It doesn’t actually feel like I’m the one creating. It feels like people are  leaping fully formed out of my head, like Athena.  I actually leaned back and went “where the hell did THAT come from?”

In moments like that, all the rejection, all the frustration, all the exasperation with this ridiculous busness seems very remote, and you remember why you do this.

So, writers and non-writers: Tell me about the moments that remind you of why you do what you do.

We Suck

As I’m sure you’re aware, the underdog New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl the other day. They’re probably still partying in NOLA. It was a great game, and a joy to watch, and I’m really happy for those guys, and their city.

I need to hang on to all that happiness and joy right now, because tonight at 9:00 ET, my beloved UNC Tar Heels take to the basketball court against the  hated Duke Blue Devils.

Normally, I’d be getting really psyched for this game. We usually play the spoiled crybaby  prima donnas from Duke and their rat-faced little coach at least two, sometimes three or even four times a season (depending on the tournament brackets), and each game, by virtue of the intense rivalry between the teams, becomes the Biggest Game of the Season.

It’s difficult to explain to outsiders just how intense this rivalry is. It can best be summed up by the title of a book (yes, an entire book)  by Will Blythe about it: “To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever.”

But I’m not foreseeing much happiness tonight. See, the problem is, the Tar Heels SUCK this year. I mean we really, REALLY suck. We’ve lost six of our last seven games. We lost to COLLEGE OF FUCKING CHARLESTON. It wouldn’t be so bad if we hadn’t, you know, WON THE NCAA TOURNAMENT LAST YEAR. I know it’s a rebuilding season, but JESUS, I cannot BELIEVE THESE GUYS…

Oh. Sorry. Was I shouting? I get a little carried away. Our old dog used to get up and leave the room every time he heard the sound of  shoes squeaking on a basketball court on the TV, because he knew that yelling was soon to follow.  It’s kind of a  family tradition.

So, anyway, it’s probable that we’re not going to do all that well against those smug, insufferable pantywaists and their coach with the ridiculous and unpronounceable name. And it’s kinda got me down.

It’s not just me.  UNC Coach Roy Williams, as you might imagine,  is really in the dumps about how poorly our team is doing. In a recent interview, Roy (we call him Roy, ’cause we’re all like family) said : “The way I’m feeling now,  I’m wondering if I’m worth anything, wondering what I’m doing.”

I read that, and I thought, “hey, that sounds familiar.” And I bet it does to you, too, if you’re a writer. You know the feeling I mean. The one you get after getting a rejection that  things suck, they’re never going to get better, that let’s face it, YOU suck, and why do you even try?  It’s even more discouraging if, like a lot of writers, you had some success in the past few years, only to get caught in the recent publishing bloodbaths. Clearly, any success you had was a fluke, an aberration, a mistake. Just admit it and move on, right? There are wonderful opportunities waiting in the ever-growing food-service industry.

But, you know, the team’s had bad times before, most recently in what we call The Dark Years (2000-2003), when Matt Doherty, who was clearly not ready for the stress,  took over.  Doherty managed to not only lead the Heels to their first losing record since 1962 (8 and 20), but also managed to drive away both key players and long time Athletic Department staff by, basically, being a world class jerk.

But we bounced back from that, with a vengeance. Did I mention last year’s NCAA Championship? And that makes it easier to believe we can do it again.

In the mystery world, look to the  example of Charlaine Harris. Her first novel, REAL MURDERS, got nominated for an Agatha. But subsequent books and series did not, as her website delicately puts it, “set the world on fire.” Until she wrote DEAD UNTIL DARK, the first Sookie Stackhouse book. It won the Anthony, and more importantly for Charlaine’s career,  hit the NYT bestseller list, as have the sequels. The Sookie books became a series on HBO, and I hope they’re making Miz  Harris dirty rotten filthy stinking rich, ’cause she’s a nice lady.

So, despite the bleak season,  the Heels lace up their shoes and get out on the court, and we go back to the keyboard. In the meantime, Roy has some more words of wisdom:

“I don’t think there’s any question you need to enjoy the ride and enjoy the journey…If you don’t enjoy the good times, the bad times can just kill you.” Williams said.

Amen, Brother Roy.

And,  in writing as well as in sports,  I always try to remember this classic conversation between two fans of the British football club Arsenal in the original UK version of the movie FEVER PITCH:

Fan 1: What about last season?
Fan 2: What about it?
Fan 1: They were rubbish. They were fucking rubbish.
Fan 2: They weren’t that bad.
Fan 1: They were fucking rubbish last year. And they were fucking rubbish the year before. And I don’t care if they are top of the League, they’ll be fucking rubbish this year, too. And next year. And the year after that. I’m not joking.
Fan 2: I don’t know why you come, Frank. Honest I don’t.
Fan 1: Well, you live in hope, don’t you?

Yeah, Frank, we do. Who knows…it’s the Atlantic Coast Conference. Anything can happen!




…And I Feel Fine

by J.D. Rhoades

Dear Readers, I know what all of you really wanted to see today was yet another post about e-books and piracy. You really wanted to see more fretting about  whether we as writers are all doomed by this new technology to a life of penury, or even worse, having to go out and get what our loved ones often refer to as “real jobs.”

Well, I’ll meet you halfway. I’ll give you the post, but I can’t do the fretting.

See, the thing is, I don’t see the sky falling here.

The people prophesying “the end of the world as we know it”, as Tess somewhat ironically put it yesterday, make a couple of assumptions. First, that  that e-books will become, not just a method of delivering stories, but the only one. The second is that piracy will drive out actual buying. Neither is necessarily the case.

Let’s address the first assumption. Go to any blog or website  about books or literature where comments from readers are allowed (which is to say, most of them). Look for posts where someone brings up the topic of e-books. I guarantee you, within the first five comments, someone will assert that they prefer paper books. They like the feel, the look, even the smell of a paper book. Watch as more and more people chime in. These people are not going away. Here on Murderati, even the most enthusiastic e-book adopters aren’t giving up paper books. Think about the last new technology for delivering stories, namely the audiobook. Have people stopped buying paper books because they can listen to the same story on a CD or MP3? No. There may be less paper books sold, but I don’t see this venerable technology dying out any time soon.

Really, though, when we talk about ‘loving books,” is it really the physical object we’re in love with? If we held in our hands a beautifully bound volume on rich fancy paper, a volume whose very aroma took your mind back to the many happy hours you spent in the library when you were a kid…but the actual words in the volume were complete gibberish, would you really say “I love this book?” Doubtful, unless you have some sort of fetish, and if you do, well….bless your heart.

No, “I love books” is a misnomer. What we love are stories. And the e-book, like the audiobook, is just another delivery mechanism.

The question then becomes: in a world filled with pirates, how do we make a living telling stories? Well, we aren’t going to do it by sitting around crying about how hard everything’s going to be. Back when the Ice Age came aroiund, there were undoubtedly some cavemen who huddled around the fire that was getting increasingly hard to keep lit, complaining about the awful weather and how the damned sabretooths were making it impossible to make a living.  There were others who wrapped themselves and their families up in the nearest handy mammoth pelts, sharpened their spears, and lit out for someplace where the hunting and gathering was better. You know, our ancestors.

Like those hardy and resourceful cavemen, there are writers who are managing quite well in this brave new world, and they’re doing it in ways you might not expect.

One of these is writer, blogger, and tech correspondent Cory Doctorow. If you haven’t read his book LITTLE BROTHER, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Doctorow has an interesting way of combating piracy of e-books: he gives them away for free. Not only that, he does it on the day the paper book is released. And, get this…he encourages readers to copy them into new formats and pass them along.

What is this guy, crazy? Isn’t this like resolving a standoff by having the cops shoot the hostages? Well, maybe. But maybe Doctorow’s  crazy like a fox. He asserts that the free e-books help him sell paper books:

For me — for pretty much every writer — the big problem isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity…Of all the people who failed to buy this book today, the majority did so because they never heard of it, not because someone gave them a free copy.

Further, on the subject of e-books vs. paper books, he makes this point:

…the more computer-literate you are, the less likely you are to be reading long-form works on those screens — that’s because computer-literate people do more things with their computers. We run IM and email and we use the browser in a million diverse ways. We have games running in the background, and endless opportunities to tinker with our music libraries. The more you do with your computer, the more likely it is that you’ll be interrupted after five to seven minutes to do something else. That makes the computer extremely poorly suited to reading long-form works off of, unless you have the iron self-discipline of a monk.

In other words, you may like reading on your iPhone, but a paper book doesn’t ring, and it doesn’t distract you with other stuff. The bottom line, for Doctorow:

…ebooks sell print books. Every writer I’ve heard of who’s tried giving away ebooks to promote paper books has come back to do it again. That’s the commercial case for doing free ebooks.

Doctorow’s not alone in finding that a free e-book bumped sales of the paper book. Sci-fi writer Tobias Buckell noticed a significant sales bump for his book CRYSTAL RAIN after his publisher, Tor, released it as a free e-book. Sales of the sequel, RAGAMUFFIN, also increased. Buckell admits that, due to the myriad of factors affecting sales, he can’t say definitively that the free e-book ws the reason for the sales jump, but it’s worth noting that another Tor author, John Scalzi, saw a 20 pecent jump in sales of his book OLD MAN’S WAR after it was released as a free Tor download–and sales of the sequel jumped 30 percent.

Another experimenter is my good friend Joe Konrath. Joe uses free downloads to sell his paper books. But more and more recently, he’s been putting stuff up exclusively in  e-format. And, he claims, he’s making money at it, even though he’s pricing his work at what a publisher would consider a scandalously low price, usually less than two bucks. So the pieces serve not only to promote the paper books, but become a profit center in themselves. 

As for piracy, Konrath figures that same low price takes care of the problem all by itself:

The rules of supply and demand don’t work in a digital world, because the supply is unlimited. You don’t fight piracy with weapons. You fight piracy with cost and convenience…If there were a central hub, where you could easily search for ebooks and get them at a reasonable price, there would be no need to pirate books.

Apple, Konrath points out, finally figured out that 99 cent songs and no DRM is the way to go. But it took them way too long to get to that point, and as a result, we have a healthy, active piracy community.

Hopefully,  the publishing industry won’t create the same public relations disaster as the music industry. As one tech website observed:

The challenge for publishing is to avoid being seen as greedy. In music, the debate quickly became characterised as The Man versus The Kids, where The Man was Bono, his celebrity mates and their filthy rich record companies…when [Bono] drew parallels between file sharing and illegal porn and accused ISPs of stealing all his money, the entire internet torrented U2 albums out of sheer spite. Probably.

It is, as I’ve observed,  possible to be completely morally and legally in the right and still shoot yourself in the foot.

So, back to the question: how are we going to earn a living in this new world? We’re going to do it by seeing innovations in technology as opportunities for expansion rather than as threats. We’re going to do it by experimenting, by questioning assumptions, by keeping our eyes and ears open, watching what works and what doesn’t, and using those successes and failures as springboards for our own new ideas.

Some of these experiments will pan out and make someone a pile of money. Others will crater in a big way.  And it’s impossible at this point to say which will be which. As another information guru I’ve quoted before once put it:

The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of the world as we know it…and I feel fine.


by J.D. Rhoades

     Last Saturday, we turned down the lights, made popcorn, and watched the movie “Paranormal Activity.” You may have heard of it.

     The movie  was reportedly made on a microscopic budget of around 15 grand (yes, you read that right). It played some minor film festivals,  caught the attention of several studio execs (Including Stephen Spielberg), and was eventually released nationwide, where made a ton of cash. It was billed as  “one of the scariest movies ever made”. The marketing campaign even mentioned that people walked out of test screenings, which worried the filmmakers until they saw that people were leaving because the movie scared the living daylights out of them.


     Certainly it’s a scary film, and cleverly made. Like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CLOVERFIELD, it’s supposedly filmed by the main characters on their home video camera. Katie and Micah, a cute yuppie couple (well, her anyway), have been hearing weird noises and whispery voices in the middle of the night.  Micah (who is, by the way, an utter douchebag) wants to see if he can document what happens while they’re asleep (and maybe make a little x-rated home video while they’re at it; see “utter douchebag”, above).

     I can tell you,  there are some shivery moments. The nighttime shots,  where the right half of the frame is the couple asleep in bed and the left half is their open bedroom door with the darkness of the  hallway beyond, inspire real dread.


     You just know that something really awful is about to appear in that door.  And it does.

     But the movie’s central conceit hamstrings its ability to create a really effective  ending, and you’re left going “wait, that’s it,  it’s over?” In the end, I found the movie disappointing.

     Then I started wondering: if it hadn’t been billed as “the scariest movie ever made” (a title that, in my mind, is still and always will be held by THE EXORCIST),  would I have been so down on it? Had I stumbled across it on TV or picked it up at the video store not knowing anything about it, would it be the type of movie that I go around telling everyone I know “you gotta see this, this is total genius”?

     So I’ve been thinking about hype, and its effects, both good and bad.


     It happens a lot with the so-called classics. How many of us have come to a book that our friends have solemnly described to us as  “essential” or even “life changing”, only to walk away going “THAT’s the best book you ever read?” For example, I thought CATCHER IN THE RYE was amazing the first five times I read it, but I know people who can’t stand the book or its main character. I, on the other hand, was let down by  MOBY-DICK, which I finally put down in disgust when I realized that  Ishmael had been  blathering through 100-plus pages and he wasn’t even on the damn boat yet.

     More recently, I found myself disappointed by Neal Stephenson’s ANATHEM, which got a lot of press and a lot of hype. It even made quite a few “Ten Best” lists.  I was really looking forward to it, because I loved CRYPTONOMICON and really liked QUICKSILVER. I have a high tolerance for Stephenson’s rambling, discursive style, because usually the rambling takes you to some fascinating places. But ANATHEM just took the whole rambling thing just that one step too far for me. It can best be described by  review I wrote of the book for Goodreads: “Monkish scientists on an earth-like alien planet  are brought out of their cloistered existence to confront a potential alien invasion, which they do by attempting to talk it to death for 900+ pages.” I wonder though, if I’d have been more tolerant had it not been so heavily promoted as  “the most brilliant literary invention to date from the incomparable Neal Stephenson”.

    On the other hand, there are some works whose hype goes too far in the other direction, works whose reputation is so bad that when one finally encounters them, one is slightly disappointed to discover that they’re really not all that awful. Joe Queenan described this phenomenon in his hilarious work RED LOBSTER, WHITE TRASH, AND THE BLUE LAGOON, in which he coined the term scheissenbedauern (“shit regret”) to describe “the disappointment one feels when exposed to something that is not nearly as bad as one hoped it would be.” My example of this would be that great bugbear of the literati, THE DAVINCI CODE. Yes, it was dreadfully written, but it was fun, possibly because I had no expectations by the time I finally read it. In movies, my example would be STARSHIP TROOPERS, which I think I enjoyed because after months of my fellow Heinlein fans screaming about how it was nothing like the book, and in fact was a betrayal of all the book stood for, I was ready to take the movie on its own terms.

     Now, as writers, let’ s be honest. We’d probably all like to see our books get some real high octane hype. We’d love a national TV and radio blitz accompanied by full page ads in all the papers and magazines, telling everyone that our next book is going to change the face of literature as we know it, cure cancer, and bring about peace in the Middle East because everyone will be too busy reading it to fight.

      But then I think about someone I used to know, who one day got the book contract of her dreams. High six figure advance, serious publisher support, major buzz. And when the book came out–it sold respectably. For a debut, in fact, it sold pretty damn well. But “respectably” and “pretty damn well” weren’t going to cut it after all the money they’d thrown at it.  Her career seems to have recovered, but I hear it was a damned close run thing for a while there.

     So, ‘Rati, if you dare: do you think that hype helps or hurts a book or movie? What works have you seen that you think might have been spoiled by all the hype? Which ones gave you a melancholy touch of scheissenbedauern?




Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas!



We’re going to be on a minimal posting schedule through the New Year. Not a complete hiatus, but semi-regular postings, since many of us are traveling and trying to get a real break from the Interwebs. We’ll be back at full force January 2.

We truly appreciate that you take the time to stop by, to participate, to be a part of this fabulous community all year long. We value your input so much that we thought we’d throw the field open to you.

If you comment over the next week, you’ll be entered into our Festivus Contest!

And what, pray tell, may the glorious prize be for commenting? Why, a package of signed Murderati books, of course!

14 books from 14 authors.

Now that’s a deal.

Here’s what we want to know:

(answer as many as you wish, but only one answer is necessary to be included in the contest.)

 What are you doing for the holidays?

What are you reading?

What topics would you like us to cover in the New Year?

What questions do you have for any or all of us?

 We wish you and your families the very best of holiday joy!

Hallelujah, Everybody Say Cheese

by J.D. Rhoades

It’s Christmas Eve Eve, as we sometimes say.  I’ve got to tell you, the motivation to do anything useful has fallen off drastically for me, the closer I get to the 25th. I’m ready for a few days off. Hell, I’ve been ready for a few days off since I came back from Thanksgiving. So rather than ruminations on writing, marketing, life,  the universe, or everything, I offer you a few laughs for the holidays.

By now, you’ve probably seen dozens of those YouTube videos of insanely complex Christmas light displays. And everyone by now has heard of the popular video game Guitar Hero. Well, according to this blog, “former Disney Special Effects Guru Ric Turner” has combined the two concepts: 

Using a Nintendo Wii and few high tech lighting controllers from Light-O-rama, Ric has rigged up his very own neighbor-terrorizing, virtual guitar challenge: Christmas Light Hero.

Check it out:

 I think it’s worth it just to see the grin on the kid’s face.

From the sublime to the…well, kind of disturbing, here’s Euro-disco-sensation  Gunther, with the Ding Dong Song (somewhat NSFW):

Pray to the Baby Jesus that that’s meant to be a joke.

Speaking of things that were meant to be a joke, this Kansas City Homeowner:



Had his heart in the right place when he hung up this “display” of a decorating mishap. (No, it’s not real). But he soon discovered that it might have been a little too realistic:

I would hear screech after screech in front of my house from people slamming on the brakes or quickly turning into my driveway and, many times, into my yard. I really needed to take him down as I’m sure there would have been wrecks…a 55 year old lady grabbed the 75 pound ladder, almost killed herself by putting it against the house and didn’t realize it was fake until she climbed to the top (she was not happy).

As Murderati’s Resident Redneck, I of  course,  have to share with you my favorite Christmas song, Robert Earl Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Family.”

Happy Holidays Y’all!





Running Over the Same Old Ground

by  J.D. Rhoades

During Allison’s discussion of “Epic Books” the other day, several commenters mentioned books they’d read over and over and might read again. That got me thinking because, at the time, I was re-reading a book I hadn’t read in years: Mark Twain’s THE INNOCENTS ABROAD. And, I confess, I was feeling a little guilty about it.

I know that’s absurd. After all, INNOCENTS ABROAD is a great book. It reminded me of why I love Twain. The passages where he’s  in the Holy Land, recounting various absurd claims made on behalf of local landmarks, each narrative ending with the solemn affirmation that  “of course,we know this to be true”, are Twain at his skeptical and ironic best. Twain knew that sometimes, the best way to satirize something foolish was  to present it as it is, without embellishment or burlesque, just a tongue planted firmly in one’s cheek.  TV’s Jon Stewart is a master of the same technique.

But much as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of the steadily growing TBR pile beside the bed. All those books you haven’t read, one of that multitude of small voices in the back of my head nagged, and here you are going back and wasting time with something you’ve already read. And you know you’re going to be getting more books  for Christmas, so you’ll get even further behind.

Like I said, absurd. Hey, it’s not always easy living inside my skull.

It wasn’t always like this. Back in the days of my youth, I used to read  THE LORD OF THE RINGS at least once every couple of years. There are some Heinlein novels, like STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, GLORY ROAD, and STARSHIP TROOPERS, that I must have read five or six times each.  I’ve read most of the Travis McGee books at least twice. Hammett’s RED HARVEST and THE MALTESE FALCON,  three times.

Somewhere along the way, though, the  leisure time shrank, while  the number of books I wanted to read expanded. And re-reading a book I’d already read seemed like a waste of time that would be better spent exploring something new.

But, you know, I get over it. And when I do break down and pick up an old book, it sometimes shows me how much I’ve changed. The last time I picked up THE LORD OF THE RINGS, for instance, Tolkien’s formal, mythic prose, which had previously thrilled me,  seemd a bit stilted. After a  decade or so of coming to love spare, lean, noirish writing, one of my formerly favorite lines in the book, Eowyn’s defiance of  the Nazgul who’s just told her “no living man” can kill him:

No living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You  stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.

…suddenly seemed almost comical. The movie version, with an excellent performance by  Miranda Otto, boiled the line down to a snarled  “I am no MAN!” followed by a vicious sword thrust to the face (or where the face ought to be). That, after all this time,  had become much more satisfying. More hardboiled, so to speak.

INNOCENTS ABROAD also struck me a little differently. For the first time,  I noticed that Twain’s more than a bit of a North European chauvinist. He finds the French and the Russians charming; the Italians, the Turks, and the Arabs, not so much. Now, maybe everything south and east of France really was as dirty, squalid, and diseased as Twain makes it out to be, and I have no problem believing that the Syria-Lebanon-Palestine trail was (and is)  a parched and rocky hellhole. Maybe it’s just cultural oversenstivity making me wonder why, the darker the people get, the harder Twain is on them. Maybe the next time I re-read it, I’ll feel differently.

So tell me, dear ‘Rati: am I the only one who feels a little guilty getting sucked into a previously read book when there are so many unread ones on the TBR pile? Do you ever go back to a book you’ve read before and find it a very different experience from the other times? What book have you re-read the most times?

Cover Me

by J.D. Rhoades


A few days ago, I was browsing in one of those big chain bookstores when a title on the “staff recommendations” shelf   caught my eye:



Two thoughts went through my head, one following hard on the heels of the other: (1) “Hmmm, that looks interesting,” and (2) “If you are ever seen in public reading this book, you will be marked for life as the skeeziest middle-aged creep ever to walk the planet.”

I didn’t get the book.

Yes, I’m one of those people who  read in public. You can see us in the parks and restaurants, our meals or drinks barely tasted, our minds wandering in whatever world we’ve decided to carry with us to wherever we’ve come to rest. But as a public reader, I occasionally find myself leaving a book at home, even one I’m totally into, because of the cover.

I’ve heard that in Japan, it’s not considered remarkable for middle-aged salarymen to openly read hard-core pornographic manga on the subway. But I can’t imagine even sitting in Mac’s Breakfast Anytime reading,  for example,



without drawing stares.


It was awkward enough the Christmas I opened a box at my in-laws’ house and pulled out a gift from my sister-in-law:


 which resulted in those frozen smiles my mother- and father-in-law  always get when they’re confronted with something even vaguely risque. (They are, to be fair, extremely nice people, but they don’t know from hardboiled, much less noir).

It’s not just the covers with steamy subject matter or scantily clad women. I don’t go in much for self-help or self-improvement books (can’t you tell?) and I’ve never read


But can you imagine reading it in front of a room full of people? And what would you think of someone reading one of these:


over their MegaMaxi Enchilada and ElGrande Nachos (with extra cheese) at Bob’s Burrito Barn? Nothing complimentary, I’m thinking.

Culturally sensitive guy that I am, I once left


at home because I was paranoid about getting the stink-eye from the wait staff at the Peking Wok.

I’m sure that the science fiction fans among you are familiar with the phenomenon. SF and fantasy, after all,  are famous  for some of the cheesiest, worst-conceived covers ever. There are, of course, the types of fantasy covers that John Scalzi once summed up as “strippers with swords,” but there are some classic SF covers that, shall we say, give one pause. Like these…



…which are, to put it mildly, Freudian as hell.

What do you think? Am I just being neurotic?  Do you read in public? Have you ever left a book home that you wanted to read because of the cover? Or do you just not give a damn? I’m particularly interested in hearing from the romance fans, who are used to stuff like this:


(Okay, that’s not an actual title. It’s from this great website of Romance Covers That  Never Were, which I recommend to all).

Hope all the US ‘Rati have a happy Thanksgiving, and all our non-US friends…well, have a good Thursday!