Category Archives: J.D. Rhoades

“So Is This a New Series?”

by J.D. Rhoades

 

"So, is
this a new series?"

It’s the question at least a dozen people have asked about BREAKING COVER, once
they find out it’s not a Jack Keller book (despite the fact that several online
sites have called it ‘Jack Keller, Book 4." It took WEEKS and e-mails from
several sources  to get Amazon to correct it, and by then the error had
spread. Argh.)

Anyway, the answer is, "I don’t know." I didn’t plan it as anything
but a stand-alone, and the current WIP (working title: STORM SURGE)  is a
totally different (and I mean really different) character.

Then again, I didn’t set out to write a series when I wrote THE DEVIL’S RIGHT
HAND
. It wasn’t until nearly the end of the first draft of the manuscript that
I realized "hey, this character might have some legs."

Writing a series as opposed to a stand-alone presents certain challenges. For
one, there’s the question of stakes, of what’s at risk. If I know a book is a
standalone, sure the main characters stand a better chance than average of
being alive at the end, but there’s always the risk someone could pull one of
those Hamlet endings, or perish in a noble act of self-sacrifice like in A TALE
OF TWO CITIES.

In a series, however, particularly  a long running one, you know the main
character is going to survive til the last page and beyond.  So, to a certain extent, you know how the
story’s going to end. They may not live happily ever after, but they will live,
and that takes one way of building suspense out of the equation. It takes away
the sense that everything’s at risk, even survival.  Some people seem to like the comfort of that, I guess, and that may be why series are so popular.

But then,  you have to find
other things to dangle over the abyss. It could be a beloved character,
although at some point, if you put the same character at risk book after book,
it starts to get ludicrous. Superman can only rescue Lois Lane so many times before people
start going “why doesn’t the silly twit just move the hell out of Metropolis
and stay away from that Kent character?”

 

God forbid, however,
you should actually follow through on the threat and kill off a favorite
character. An friend of mine did that and got roasted over the coals on a
couple of the  book blogs.

How I addressed that problem in the Keller books was by making it clear (I
hope)  that what’s at risk is Jack’s already tenuous hold on sanity and
his recovery from PTSD.  Even if Jack survives all the horrible stuff I
put him through, he may not be functional psychologically by the end. But
again, how long can that go on?  How much pain can I put the poor bastard
through before the reader screams "enough!"

Another challenge in a series, and this is one I really struggle with. is the
question of backstory. Older mystery series tended to be self-contained within
each book, with no reference to what came before or after. I read an interview
with Rex Stout, creator of the wonderful Nero Wolfe books, in which he said
that he did this deliberately, so that you could pick up any one of the dozens
of books in the series and not wonder about whether it was number one or number
twelve. This of course had one major advantage: you could read the books in any
order. The disadvantage to that is that it takes away a lot of the realism and
to me, the believability of the story. In real life, people are affected, often
catastrophically, by their pasts. They change. They grow over time.  This
is one of the reasons that I loved Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie/Gennaro series when I
first read them. They took damage that they carried with them from book to
book. But the challenge of that is to carry the thread of the long story from
book to book, while making the short story of each book self-contained so as
not to alienate the reader who may not have read the earlier books and who’ll
put the book down if they don’t know what’s going on or why the people are
acting this way.

 

And that’s
hard. You have to fight to keep from drifting into long expository passages, or
even worse, long spoken exposition by characters: "As you know, Bob. the
last time this happened, we…" Yecch.  It almost makes me wish we
could get away with one of those short synopses like they used to do in the
movie serials: "In our last episode…."

I will say that one of the people who does this right is our own Zoe Sharp. I
just finished Zoe’s SECOND SHOT, and she does a masterful job of weaving the
threads of the past into the story of the present. And it’s necessary to do so
because Zoe’s character Charlie Fox has taken some pretty severe damage of her
own that she’s trying to get over. I learned a lot about how to do quick,
concise backstory from studying the way Zoe does it.

Still, people do seem to love series. Hell, I may bring Tony Wolf back. Or Jack
Keller for that matter. Maybe I’ll put them in the same book, thus creating
some really tough problems of backstory!

 

So, fellow
‘Rati, both writers and readers, who do you know who handles these
problems–creating risk and weaving in backstory–particularly well? How do you
writers meet those challenges? Do you prefer series to standalones, or is it the other way around? And why?

Exorcism, Escape, and the Book That Wants to Be Written

by J.D. Rhoades

One of the questions I get asked a lot these days is, "Why a standalone?" That is, why did I break from the Jack Keller books and write an entirely different set of characters in a different fictional setting?
I have a lot of comebacks, some serious, some not so much.

The fact is, though, this was just the book that wanted to be written.

People often look strangely at me when I say mystical stuff like that, which is why I have all the other responses. But it’s true. I’ll spend some time kicking around ideas, writing the beginnings of several projects, sometimes even doing two at a time, going back on forth between them, a process a friend of mine once dubbed "book adultery."

Eventually, though, one story will start to break through.That’s the one I start seeing scenes from in my head. That’s the one whose characters I hear whispering in my ear. That’s the one I have to write, whether I’d really planned to or not. I wrote BREAKING COVER as a standalone because the voices I was hearing this time weren’t those of Jack Keller and Marie Jones. They were the voices of  Tony Wolf and Tim Buckthorn and Gaby Torrijos and Johnny Trent (and let me tell you, that last one is a voice you don’t  want to hear in your head for an extended period of time).

As I think  I’ve said here before, when people ask me why I write, the answer I often give is "mental illness." I write, I often say, because if I write down the movies I see playing on the inside of my skull, I can tell people it’s because I’m creative and not having a psychotic break.

I’m only partially joking.

Writing for me sometimes is like exorcism, because the stories and the voices are often the embodiment of topics that nag at me, sometimes to the point of obsession. Topics like: the different faces, sometimes even different names we wear with each other; the randomness and futility of violence; the emotional damage that violence does to both the victim and the perpetrator; crimes against children.

Which leads us, at long last, to the question for discussion today. I’ve talked to writers who’ve told me that not everybody sees writing the way I do. Some time back, I was talking with a friend who was going through a particularly harrowing personal crisis and was having trouble working. "Write it out," I said. "Put the pain onto the page." No, my friend said, it doesn’t work that way. For my friend, writing is a means of escape, not catharsis, and the events in the work in progress cut a little too close to that particular bone.

I have to confess, that one rocked me back a little. Not having the solace, however slight, of being able to put what’s riding you you onto the page and thus achieve some measure of control over it? Man, I thought, that’s got to be hard.

Then I started thinking about the divide between the readers  who like their crime fiction dark, violent, maybe even grim, and the people who won’t even look at a murder mystery with too much blood and violence. "I read to escape," this second kind of reader tells us, "and all that dark stuff just depresses me."  I, on the other hand, and I suspect  people like me, find some comfort even in the darkest, grimmest stories.

The Greeks, as they say,  had a word for it.  Aristotle wrote that the purpose of tragedy was to provide  catharsis (literally "purging") through the evocation of "horror, pity and fear." I suspect that Aristotle would not have been a fan of cat mysteries, but he would have loved him some Ken Bruen.

So how about it, writers and readers? Do you write what you write, do you read what you read, for exorcism or for escape, or for something completely different?

You’ve Arrived On A Rather Special Night…It’s One of the Master’s Affairs.

by J.D. Rhoades

Yesterday was the day.

Drop day. Launch Day. Publication Day.

Bc_fronm_net_5

The day that my fourth book, BREAKING COVER, hit the beaches to try to claw its way to success with nothing but a spunky attitude and a dream of someday making its way into the Big Time.

When my first book, THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, came out, people asked me, "so, are you going to have a big party in New York to kick it off?"

Familyguysexypartydance

It seemed like a great idea. After all, I’d seen the episode of Sex and the City where Sarah Jessica Parker kicks off the launch of her book at a great big New York party attended by incredibly witty and improbably hot literati.

Sex_and_the_city_2

With big drinks. And shrimp. I love shrimp.

God help me, I was naive enough to ask my editor if we were going to do something like that.  Being a kind soul, and not wishing to  crush all my illusions (or perhaps knowing that  the business would be pleased to do so without his intervention) he did not laugh derisively in my face. No, he gently informed me, the publishers were going to concentrate their resources where they might actually do more good than just getting me drunk and boosting my ego.

I saw his point. After all, I can do both of those things just fine on my own.

Kittydebauch_2

So I confess, I’ve never had a big fancy party to kick off one of my books.

But doggone it, I still think it would be pretty cool.

So let’s have a virtual one!

All you guys are invited, of course…and you can help me plan it. You can each bring a guest, and since it’s a virtual party, it can be anyone in any world,  real or fictional.

Erin

We’ll need to stock the bar, so tell me what you’re drinking.

Guinness_draught4_6 

And the kitchen’s open, with a crack team of chefs, so let me know  what  you want to eat.

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Finally, I’ve got one kick ass band booked and they take requests…so what song is it you wanna hear?

Minikiss

 
Come on in, folks…you are invited!

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What I Read On My Summer Vacation

   

By J.D. Rhoades

As I’ve pointed out before, one of my favorite things about the family beach trip is that it gives me time to read. Not just short stretches after writing and before bed, or stolen moments at lunch, breakfast, and while, ah,  tending to certain bodily functions. No, I mean  time to sit down and just get lost in a book, hour after hour, with an ocean before you, the blue sky above, a cold Corona and the shade of a rented beach umbrella to keep you cool.

    I read quite a few books this last go-round, and,  as is my habit, Id like to share a few of them with you:

  • Nothing to Lose, by Lee Child: Lee Child has brought the "lone good guy rides into troubled town and sets things right" style of western novel into the modern age, and done so in a fashion that keeps you turning the pages obsessively . Not quite as kick-ass as his previous book, BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE, but light-years ahead of the competition. Reacher makes some choices in this one that some readers have objected to rather strenuously, but I found them totally consistent with the character’s nature.
  • A Fatal Waltz,  by Tasha Alexander: Alexander really hits her stride with this, the third book in the Lady Emily Ashton series, about a widowed noblewoman in Victorian England.  This time, Emily (first introduced in AND ONLY TO DECEIVE) travels to Vienna to try to clear her good friend’s husband of the murder of his ex-political mentor. Along the way she makes the acquaintance of artists and writers in Vienna’s cafe society, tangles with anarchists and a particularly nasty British agent, and matches wits with a beautiful and sophisticated Austrian countess who happens to be the former lover of Colin, her fiancee. Emily’s a wonderful character, with a colorful and engaging supporting cast, and the plot moves along briskly. The descriptions of Vienna in winter are particularly evocative; anyone who can make me shiver with imagined cold  on a Carolina beach in midsummer is doing something right.
  • Little Brother,  by Cory Doctorow: This book is technically a novel aimed at the "young adult" market, but it deals with some of the most adult themes imaginable. The Department of Homeland Security responds to a major terrorist incident in San Francisco by turning everyone, especially computer savvy kids, into presumptive criminals. One kid whose online name is "W1n5t0n" (like the book’s title, a nod to Orwell’s "1984") fights back with the cool hacker tools at his disposal, including gimmicked networked Xboxes, and pays some terrible dues. An excellent, scarily plausible vision of just how brutal and insane American life could get if we give in to fear and surrender our minds to the fear of terrorist attack. One of the best passages in the book deals with the argument that "honest people have nothing to hide": There’s something really liberating," W1n5t0n explains, "about having some corner of your life that’s yours, that no one gets to see except you….it’s not about doing something shameful, it’s about dong something private. it’s about your life belonging to you." I’m not sure I totally buy the ending, but this book is a must-read for this day and age. It reminds us that the real central front in the War on Terror is the American mind. If we let ourselves be terrorized into giving up our rights, the bad guys not only win, they turn us into them.
  • Pipsqueak, by Brian Wiprud: A dealer in taxidermy finds the long lost squirrel puppet from a 60’s kid’s show and stumbles into a conspiracy to control the world. If you can read that sentence without going "Whaaaaaa…..?" this book is for you. The wildly inventive Wiprud piles weirdness upon weirdness until you almost go "enough!" As a bonus, the book does provide a plausible if terrifying explanation for that whole "swing dance" craze of a few years ago. Worth the price of admission, if for no other reason than it contains the phrase "pillar of barking mud".
  • Bobbie Faye’s (kinda, sorta, not exactly) Family Jewels,  by our very own Toni McGee Causey: Bobbie Faye Summrall, everyone’s favorite Big Ball O’Cajun chaos, takes off on another wild ride across the Louisiana landscape, in the company of bad-boy undercover man Trevor Cormier, with her good-guy ex-boyfriend in hot and aggravated  pursuit. I liked Toni’s first book a lot, and I like this one even better. The plotting is tighter, but  the perils of Bobbie Faye are  still outrageous and uproarious. This book is huge fun.

So what’s YOUR beach read this summer?

Eight Thousand Stories in the Semi-Naked City

by J.D. Rhoades

First off, thanks to Rob Gregory Browne for filling in while I was at
the beach. We had a great time, and I got to catch up on my reading
(about which more in future posts).

You
may remember last year about this time, I was getting ready to head for
the beach and wondering if I should just leave the laptop at home and
not write for a week. I ended up leaving the computer, but taking the
notebook, in which quite a few ideas, character sketches, one-liners,
dreams, and other flotsam and jetsam got jotted down.

This year, I busted my tail getting my WIP in submittable form, getting in a short story that I’d promised,  doing a couple of guest blogs, writing enough newspaper columns to get through the vacation, and generally working it so there was no deadline hanging over my head and no project due after I got back.   

But even when I’m not officially writing,  I noticed something. If you’re a writer, there are some things you can’t turn off. One of
those is the habit of wondering about, then spinning stories around,
the things that you see.

People always ask writers, "where do you get your ideas?" But, if you think like a writer, ideas…stories…are everywhere. Sometimes it seems like everything you see is an invitation to say to yourself, "I wonder what that guy’s story is?" then let your brain rush in to fill the void.

For example, we saw:

*
A young couple who came into a very nice seafood restaurant with their
toddler, sat down at a nearby table, ordered tea….then before their order was even taken, got up
and rushed out, in the middle of a thunderstorm so violent that the
mother had to pull her jacket over her and her little girl’s head to
protect them from the driving rain.

* A
beautiful blue-sailed catamaran  bounding joyously along the waves in the
morning, only to be seen later being dragged, sideways and half submerged,
behind a small motorboat that was laboring hard to pull the disabled
cat.

*The
mysterious phone calls to the  beach house at 8:30 in the morning. When
I finally stirred myself  go out in the living room an answer one, I
got a recorded message stating "This is attorney Melvin Weinstein
trying to reach (pause) Samuel A. Jones (pause)*. I have been trying to
get in touch with you for some time. It is VERY IMPORTANT that I speak
with you. Please press ‘9’ to connect." When I pressed ‘9’ to tell them
they had a rental beach house and there was no one there by that
name…silence, then a dial tone.

* A
huge freighter that paced back and forth on the horizon for a day and a
half, neither coming in to the Port of Wilmington nor sailing away.

* Two large  hand-made, but neatly lettered signs along the beach road  proclaiming ‘NO MOORE, MAY MOORE!"

Where
were these folks going in such a hurry? What happened to the catamaran and the people on it?
Why is Melvin Weinstein after Samuel A. Jones? Why couldn’t the
freighter come in or sail away? Who’s May Moore, and who’s had enough?

So have at it, folks! Post your own ideas of the stories behind those weird occurrences. I’ll tell you what I and the kids came up with in the comments.

*names changed

Word of the Day

Nerf

I was out with the family for our evening walk  when the conversation
turned to a popular young-adult book series about vampires.

It seems that, in said series, the vampires can walk in daylight without
ill effect, don’t have fangs, and try to avoid killing humans. In fact, they drink mostly animal blood. "Yeah," my
son said, "they really nerfed the curse."

"They what?" I asked.

"They nerfed the curse."

"Nerfing" as it turns out, is apparently an expression from video and
computer gaming where an antagonist,  weapon or artifact is dumbed down
or reduced in destructive power by the developers in later versions of
the game.  Sometimes, the idea behind nerfing is to better balance the
game, to avoid the phenomenon of "when you get the Sword of Kumquat,
it’s all over, everyone else might as well quit." But sometimes nerfing
takes all the challenge out to the point where the game is  a boring
cakewalk.

So what does this have to do with crime fiction? Well, how many times
have we seen a message board post or amateur review in which someone
has said, "Well, I don’t like it if there’s too much violence." "I
won’t read anything where a child is put in danger." "I won’t read
anything where an animal is hurt." And god forbid you should kill off a
series character. Some of the things I’ve read from blogs after that’s happened make Stephen King’s character Annie Wilkes look like a poster child for mental health.

Ah, hello? This is CRIME FICTION. Crime is violent, at least if it’s
being done right. And villains, surprise surprise,  do villianous
things, including threatening women, children and small cute animals. And sometimes the good guys die.

But there’s also the question of balance. You want to make the antagonist powerful and deadly, but not so deadly he or she can’t be believably overcome. You want to make him or her nasty and evil, but not so much so that they’re cackling, hand-rubbing cartoons.

Likewise, you sometimes want your protagonist to be a bad-ass, but not so much that he lacks any vulnerability at all. For instance, I love Lee Child’s work beyond all reason, but there’s a bit in, I think, ECHO BURNING, where it says "Jack Reacher had never lost a fight." First thing that popped into my head when I read that  was "well, guess he’s not gonna lose this one, either, so much for suspense."  In later books Reacher did, from time to time, make mistakes, and even allow himself to think that,  maybe this time. he might not make it (or, more often, that the damsel du jour might not).  And that’s why Lee’s books get better every time.

But hey, I could be wrong. How about it? Writers, have you ever felt pressure, internal,  editorial, or
otherwise, to nerf? Have you ever read a book in which you felt that the
author nerfed the bad guy? And can you tell I just really like writing
the word "nerfed"?

Guest Blogger Julia Spencer-Fleming (In Bed)


This morning, good friends and gentlepeople, it is my singular honor to have as Guest Blogger  the lovely, talented, and exceedingly cool Julia Spencer-Fleming. Y’all make her feel welcome.

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I’m taking Marcus Sakey
to bed tonight. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “Julia, he’ll keep you up half
the night. When Morning Edition
switches on at 6am, you’ll feel like something the cat dragged through the bushes
backwards.” It’s true. But I just can’t help it. He was so good the first two
times, I can’t resist.

Besides, he was the one who sent me the ARC of Good People.

Imagegp_2

 

Usually, I try to avoid too much pulse-pounding action at
bedtime. My most frequent evening companionImageshortz_2
is Will
Shortz
, whose undemanding intellectual rigor–An adult elver? Intact, as in
a pharaoh’s tomb? Deco artist’s pseudonym?–lulls me into such a stupor that I
frequently bash myself in the face with the falling 50 New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzles.

Sometimes when I settle down on my pillows and crack that
spine, it’s a first encounter. If your editor asked me to blurb you, I may
never have heard of you before taking you to bed. There’s an element of risk
involved. If you don’t hold my interest, I’ll have to put you down and go find
someone I know I can count on. I’m as good a sport as the next writer, but I
prefer, when possible, to pick my nighttime companions for pleasure, rather
than for business.

When stressed, I want a read I can rely on, and I’ll go back
to old favorites I can lose myself in time and again;

                                                                                                                                                          

Image003

Lois
McMaster Bujold
, Suzanne
Brockmann
, Jennifer Crusie, Robert
Heinlein
. You’ll notice none of them are known as mystery writers. That’s
because when the world begins to pile on, I want to lay back and be
entertained, not compare my performance with someone who might very well be
doing it better than me.

On book tour, I like to bring Lee Child along. Really, who wouldn’t? The
O’Hare connection was late, the bookstore only stocked seven paperbacks, the
library audience consisted of the Director’s mother and two maiden aunts; I
know once I crawl up onto that Hilton Serenity Bed with its Serta Suite Dreams
® mattress and five down pillows,

                                        Image005_8
                            

Lee will make all the bad things disappear. One memorable
night in Omaha, when I was rooming with Edgar finalist Denise Hamilton, I stayed
up until 3am, locked in the bathroom with a brand-new Lee Child, a towel rolled
against the bottom of the door to keep from waking Denise.

Once in a while, when I’m face-down in the latest manuscript,
writing eight-nine-ten hours a day, I don’t want to leave the world of Millers
Kill. I want to think about the characters, write about the characters, dream
about the characters. On those occasions, I turn to myself. Yes, I’ll read my
own books. What? It’s perfectly normal.

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  One
thing’s guaranteed–I know I’m going to like it.

What about you, dear Reader? Who do you enjoy taking to bed?

Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series has won
the Dilys, Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Barry, Nero Wolfe and Gumshoe
Awards.

Her most recent accomplishment was having Putnam Editor-in-Chief Neil
Nyren, writing for some blog, say he expected to see her on the New York
Times Bestseller list. Her upcoming book, I SHALL NOT WANT, will be
published in June by St. Martin’s Minotaur. you can find out more about
her and her work at

www.juliaspencerfleming.com

I’m Not Saying I Condone It, But I Understand

Duty_calls_2

(Image courtesy http://xkcd.com)

by J.D. Rhoades

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the story:

A lady
named  Deborah Anne McGillivray  writes a romance series about
beautiful hot blooded noblewomen with names like  Aithinne and  Tamlyn and studly Knights
with names like ‘The Black Dragon" and such as that. Not my usual
cuppa, but that’s not important to this story.

After reading the second book in the series, a reader named Reba Belle goes to Amazon.com and writes a three star review, which is actually pretty mild. I mean, check it out…we’ve all had worse.

Ms.
McGillivray (hereinafter referred to as DAM) makes her first mistake.
She goes on the Amazon.com site and starts arguing with Reba in the
comments.

Now, I mean, really. What is the
point of that? Does DAM expect Reba to suddenly have a Road to Damascus
moment and go "Holy Shit! You’re right! This book is the greatest work
of literature in the English language!" Ain’t gonna happen, ma’am,
sorry.

Then, things go from odd to
bizarre.
DAM apparently writes to her Highland Press author group and
claims to have, and I quote,  Reba’s "name, her husband’s name, her
children’s names, her grannies and great grannies name. Her address
phone number and email lol – quite interesting." She demands that other
group members "vote this bitch down", i.e. rate her review as
"abusive", which apparently causes Amazon to auto-delete them without
even reading them.

Okay, so there can be
no mistake and no misinterpretation of what I’m about here, let me
state some things which I consider absolutely without question: DAM may
be a lovely woman if you meet her in person, but what she did  was
freaking psychotic. If someone flames you on the Internet, it’s a
natural reaction to hit back. God knows I’ve done it enough. But
searching out someone’s personal info and threatening to use it against
them over a lukewarm book review is nuts. Cuckoo. Bat-shit crazy.

I
mean, I’m not saying collecting someone’s personal info is always
wrong, but that sort of thing should be saved for when someone’s
threatening or harassing you or your friends. I’m just saying.

See,
here’s the thing: I know there are some readers who sincerely just
don’t care for a book, and they and their opinions  deserve to be
treated with respect. But (and I know there are certain elements who
are going to flame me for this) there are some people out there in the
Interwebs who are just nucking futs–insane dysfunctional  geeks who
are going to hate you for obscure reasons, no matter what, and who are
going to post the meanest thing they can think of because their
anonymity keeps them from getting a bop in the nose. How do you tell
the difference?

Obviously, the best
response is to play it safe. Assume everyone you see is sane and
sincere. Say "thank you for your input," if you say anything at all,
and move on. I also try to hold in my head certain basic principles:

Whatever you do, somebody isn’t going to like it.

The Internet gives everyone who has access to it a voice.

People who are angry, disgruntled, or, as I said,  just plain nuts are
more likely to write about it, especially on the Internet.

Therefore, you can expect more bad Internet reviews than good ones. If
you’re getting more good than bad, you’re beating the odds. Rejoice.

At
least that’s what I try to do. But what is it about Internet reviews
that makes it so hard to resist the temptation to bite back?  Patricia
Cornwell once asked her fans via her website
to go to Amazon and post positive reviews because, she said, "she had
reason to suspect that someone (or a group of someones) might be
mobilizing people to attack me through Amazon and Barnes and Noble,
etc., to hurt my sales and reputation." Said someone or group of
someones, she hypothesized, might include the Bush Administration and
the Billy Graham family (with whom she’d been friends for years).
Uhhh…what? A few years ago, Anne Rice stirred up a fuss by not only
responding, but by posting her home address on Amazon.com
and offering a cash refund to Amazon reviewers who didn’t like BLOOD
CANTICLE. Now, I’ll grant that it’s got to be pretty hard not to want
to respond to reviews with titles like "What’s that I smell? Another
piece of first draft drivel?" and "I WANT TO BURN THIS THING!" But
posting your home address–well, see "nucking futs," above.

In the long run, it’s just not smart to attempt to bite back. As Tess Gerritsen recently discovered to her chagrin, there’s a certain subset of bloggers, reviewers and commenters  for whom every amateur review, blog post or comment, no matter how wrongheaded  it may be, is above questioning by the ink-stained wretch who spent months of his or her life creating the work. If said wretch doesn’t just grin and bear it, or if, like Tess, they even make a joke about it, they’re alleged to be "demeaning and offensive to readers" and/or they’re accused of  thinking readers "are smart enough to spend money on your books but not smart enough to offer reasoned critiques."

It’s an odd form of reverse elitism where everyone can comment except the author who wrote the work , but there you are. The customer may not always be right, but that’s the way to treat ’em.

One
issue this raises, though, is:  if  the Amazon review and
rating system is apparently so easily gamed, is it of any use any more?
If you can mobilize a relatively small number of your buddies to take
down bad reviews, or conversely to flood the place with good ones, of
what use are they? (Not that I’m trying to discourage my friends from going to Amazon or
Barnes and Noble and saying lovely things about my books, mind you. If and only if, the spirit moves you, please, feel free, and do so with my thanks).

All that said, I bet we’re all still going to read them.

So
how about you? Writers, do some of your Amazon or other Internet
reviews make you want to hunt the reviewer down and bop them right in
the nose? Have you ever had trouble resisting the temptation to at
least post back? Is that from sincere respect for others’ opinions or fear of retaliation?

And readers, knowing what you know now, do you really
put any stock in Amazon reviews anymore?

The Last Line

by J.D. Rhoades

As you no doubt are aware, legendary science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke died
on March 18 at the age of 90. This post won’t be another Clarke eulogy; there’s
no way, after all, that I could do
better than Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s tribute here. But in reminiscing about the things I loved in  Clarke’s
work, I  started  thinking about one of the things he did better than almost
anyone else: Arthur C. Clarke could write a killer last line. 

  • The Ramans do everything in threes. 
  • Though he was master of the world, he was unsure what to do
    next.
    But he would think of something.
  • Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out. 

Mickey Spillane was once quoted as saying that “The first
line sells that book. The last line sells your next one.” And the Mick had some
doozies: 

“How c-could you?’ she gasped. I only had a moment before
talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
“It was easy," I said.
 

And who could forget: Juno was a man! 

We’ve talked  here about great first lines in crime fiction, including the one
that opens James Crumley’s THE LAST GOOD KISS. But the brutal kiss-off in the last few lines of that
one are pretty stunning, too: 

“You’re dead,” I said. “Go home before you start to stink.”
I guess he did. The last I saw of him, he was stumbling out
of Rosie’s place, stumbling over Fireball’s grave.
 

And there’s’ a certain perfectly noir hopelessness in the  last lines of THE MALTESE FALCON: 

“Iva is here.”
Spade, looking down at his desk, nodded almost
imperceptibly. “Yes,” he said, and shivered. “Well, send her in.”

And outside of the genre, there are these classics:

  • He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.
  • And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
  • "Well, I’m back," he said.

 

So what are YOUR favorite last lines? (Oh, and if they’re from something recent, rather than  classics like the ones above, and the last line telegraphs the ending, have a heart and put the word SPOILER FOR____  in the first part of your answer.)

And as an extra special bonus, a contest. But this one’s a little different because it may take a while to resolve. This next last line is from a book being released in the next three months. When you figure out what it is, e-mail me at jdrhoades@nc.rr.com, and you’ll get one of the first promo copies of BREAKING COVER.

The line is:

We’d already waited long enough.

Shall We Play a Game?

by J.D. Rhoades

Okay, the weather’s getting warmer,
the first buds are appearing here on flowering trees and shrubs, my wife’s
recovering nicely from the scare we had a couple weeks ago, and it’s Daylight
Saving time again.

Yes, I’m one of the few people I
know who likes DST, and wishes it could be all year round. I like having some
sunlight left when I leave the office. Having
the clocks change means there’s more time in the evenings to take a walk or a
bike ride, sit out on the deck with a guitar and a cold drink, or whatever. I’m
willing to put up with a day or two of time change lag for that.

On the whole, things are looking
decidedly more cheerful here inside my head, and I’m feeling frisky, and not at all in the mood for a serious post about craft and such.

So let’s have some fun and play a
game. This is one I like to call “iPod Roulette,” and it’s a great way for us
to all get to know each other better (and maybe discover some new music). You don’t necessarily need an Apple iPod
to play it…any Mp3 player or computer music player will do, so long as it has a
“Shuffle” feature that allows you to play random songs from your library. It
goes like this: (1) Hit Shuffle. (2) In the comments, post the first twenty songs
that come up. (You can forward through if you don’t want to listen to all of
them before posting).  (3) Be honest.

This last part is crucial. C’mon,
we’re all friends here, and if you secretly have Tom Jones singing What’s New
Pussycat
in your music library, no one will laugh at you. Much. Well, okay,
we’ll probably laugh. A lot. But it’ll be warm, friendly laughter, not like
that time when I read my love poem out loud in English class and everyone knew
it was about…never mind.

Ready? Okay, I’ll start: 

Van Morrison, Moonshine Whiskey

Todd Rundgren, It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference

Clannad, Siuil A Run

Richard Thompson, Nearly In Love

Jimmy Buffett, Tampico Trauma

Adam and the Ants, Goody Two Shoes

Steely Dan, Throw Back the Little Ones

The Wallflowers, 6th
  Avenue Heartache

Little Richard, Ooh! My Soul

Elton John, Take Me to the Pilot

Enya, Wild Child

Jethro Tull, Wond’ring Aloud

George Thorogood, Move It On Over

Buddy Guy, Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues

Muddy Waters, Rollin’ and Tumblin’

Electric Light Orchestra, Telephone Line

Talking Heads, Life During Wartime

Grateful Dead, Black Peter

Randy Newman, Bad News From Home

The Beatles, Hey Bulldog 


For those
of you without iPods or other computerized musical players, feel free to weigh
in on how they’re destroying human interaction as we know it. Or gripe about
Daylight Saving Time. Or tell us about your favorite new-to-you music. It’s spring, and I’m in too good a mood to argue.