Category Archives: Tess Gerritsen

The Wildcard Tuesday New Year Interrogation

Zoë Sharp

The first moon of 2013

Welcome to the first Wildcard Tuesday blog of 2013, and an enormously Happy New Year to you all. For this I asked a few lighthearted questions of fellow ‘Rati past and present, and below are their answers. I hope you find them worthy of a giggle.

(As a small aside, I started off searching for sensible author pix, but what I’ve actually ended up going for are the silliest pix that came up on the first page of a Google Images search on that author’s name.)

ALLISON BRENNAN

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home, as usual.

What would have been your ideal location?

Home! (Though, I would have liked to have gone to Disneyland right after Christmas … maybe next year!)

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

My husband once gave me an electric grout cleaner. Needless to say, I never used it.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

The absolute best Christmas dinner we’ve had was when I decided to cook prime rib instead of the standard turkey or ham. It was pricey, but oh-so-delicious! I think that was back in 1997 …

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Traveling for Christmas.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

Watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school—and hearing her and the Seraphim Choir sing the National Anthem. They were amazing.

I’m not going to ask about New Year’s resolutions, but do you have one ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Walk daily, meet my deadlines, don’t sweat the small stuff.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Two Lucy Kincaid books from Minotaur/SMP—SILENCED and STALKED; a short story in the anthology LOVE IS MURDER; an indie published novella MURDER IN THE RIVER CITY.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

A Lucy Kincaid novella in March (RECKLESS), and two more book STOLEN and COLD SNAP. Plus a short story for the NINC anthology and maybe another indie novella. If I have time.

 

DAVID CORBETT

Where did you choose to celebrate the holiday season this year?

Home alone, if “choose” and “celebrate” are the correct verbs. Mette arrives on the 28th, so things should get merrier at that point.

What would have been your ideal location?

Buenos Aires. Ireland. A beach in Mexico.

What was the best—or worst—gift you’ve ever received?

Best gift I ever “received” was one I gave. As a gag gift I bought my late wife a red flannel union suit with a button seat flap that she absolutely loved. Slept in it all the time. Cozy as hell. Damn, she was happy.

The best—or worst—meal or item of food you’ve been served—or served to others?

When I was a kid one of my classmates’ families came over during the holidays and brought cookies that literally made me gag. I picked one up, sniffed it like a cocker spaniel, recoiled, and put it back. My brother started bellowing, “You touched it, you have to eat it.” Unfortunately, King Solomon (my father) agreed. I almost upchucked trying to get it down.

What’s your idea of the Christmas From Hell?

Oh, let’s not go there.

Looking back, what was your favourite moment from 2012?

A weekend in San Antonio for the wedding of one of Mette’s dearest friends, when I got introduced to the inner circle. Also, the moments when I read the cover quotes I received for THE ART OF CHARACTER. I was incredibly humbled and grateful so many writers I respect said so many kind and generous things.

One ambition, large or small, you’d like to achieve in 2013?

Make the new book a success, and wrap up the novel I’m working on to my own persnickety satisfaction.

And finally, what book(s) have you brought out this year?

Open Road Media and Mysterious Press re-issued all four of my novels in ebook format in 2012, with a brand new short story collection titled KILLING YOURSELF TO SURVIVE.

And what’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

The new book, THE ART OF CHARACTER, comes out on January 29th, 2013 from Penguin.

 

ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF

Where?

New Orleans.

Ideal location?

It’s hard to top New Orleans.

Best/worst gift?

Well, there’s this pretty spectacular amethyst necklace…

Best/worst food?

I’ve served many a bad meal to others. For everyone’s sake I stopped trying to cook long ago. Personally I don’t care much what food gets served, but I do remember one Christmas morning in London with blackberry jam on waffles and whisky for breakfast. The blackberry jam ended up all sorts of places and it was all very lovely.  I could do that again.

Christmas From Hell?

It’s hard to narrow that down, actually. Endless scenarios spring to mind. I hate being cold, though, so winter is perilous.

Favourite moment from 2012?

For public consumption, you mean? The general reader response to HUNTRESS MOON has been a real high.

One ambition in 2013?

I’d like to find a really wonderful place to live.

Books this year?

My crime thriller HUNTRESS MOON, a boxed set of three of my supernatural thrillers called HAUNTED, a novella called D-GIRL ON DOOMSDAY in an interconnected anthology with three other dark fantasy female author friends: APOCALYPSE: YEAR ZERO. And I got several backlist titles back and put them out as e books at wonderfully affordable prices: THE UNSEEN, BOOK OF SHADOWS, THE HARROWING and THE PRICE.

And for 2013?

The next book in my Huntress series comes out in late January:  BLOOD MOON. My next book in the paranormal Keepers series, KEEPER OF THE SHADOWS, comes out in May.

I’m selling my house in January and buying another as soon as possible, probably in California.

 

PD MARTIN

Where?

Every year we have Christmas Day at our home (in Melbourne) and then go down to the Mornington Peninsula (seaside) for most of January. It’s the hottest time of year here in Oz, so it’s great to be near the beach. We stay in a 1970s holiday house my grandparents bought in 1972, and given I spent summers down there as a kid it’s particularly special to now be going down there with my children.

Ideal location?

The Peninsula is pretty good 🙂 Although we’ve always said that one year we’ll do a white/winter Christmas in New York or something.

Best/worst gift ever received?

Best gift I ever received was actually for my birthday this year—my Kindle. I’m a complete convert to the point where I can’t imagine ever reading a ‘real’ book again. I prefer the Kindle reading experience for some reason.

Best meal?

I am biased, but I make a mean Tira Misu. I got the recipe from a chef and it’s divine! And great because you make it a day or two before, so it’s one thing to cross off the food preparation list early.

Christmas From Hell?

Mmm….I guess having to run around. You know, multiple visits. We do that a bit on Christmas Eve, but I enjoy the fact that then on Christmas Day we just kick back. We start with oysters at midday, then it’s prawns (yes, on the BBQ), then an Asian style salmon fillet dish then Tira Misu (at about 4pm). Then a movie!

Favourite moment from 2012?

That’s easy for me—picking up our son, Liam, from Korea and making our family of three a family of four 🙂

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I’ve got a few books I’d like to finish. And hey, a best seller or a lotto win wouldn’t go astray either.

Book(s) this year?

THE MISSING (two short stories), WHEN JUSTICE FAILS (two short true-crime pieces), HELL’S FURY (new book in spy thriller series), and two novels for younger readers that I’ve released under the pen name Pippa Dee—GROUNDED SPIRITS and THE WANDERER.

What’s next?

Probably what I’ve been doing the past few months—juggling motherhood and writing…and feeling like I’m going to crack under the pressure! 

 

JT ELLISON

Where?

Nashville and Florida.

Ideal location?

A family trip to Italy would have been fun.

Best gift you’ve ever received?

I got engaged during Christmas 1994, so that ranks up there….

Worst meal?

Italy, Cinque Terre, a large full fish the size of a cat, with its baleful eye staring up at me… I swear the thing was still breathing. Ugh! 

Christmas From Hell?

There’s no such thing. I love Christmas.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my DH in his gorgeous new kilt for the first time. *fans self*

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I want to learn how to paint. In oil, large canvas abstracts. 

Book(s) last year?

A DEEPER DARKNESS, EDGE OF BLACK, STORM SEASON

And for 2013?

Writing, writing and more writing. Deadline January 30!

 

 MARTYN WAITES (half of Tania Carver)

Where?

At my in-laws. The kids wanted to go to see all their cousins. They love a big family get together. As for me, I’m pretty bah humbug about it. I don’t care where I go or what I do or whether I get any presents or not. As long as I get to see Doctor Who, I’m happy.

Ideal location?

Somewhere abroad. Morocco would be good. If they were showing Doctor Who.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of presents. I can’t think of specifics in terms of best or worst, but for me the worst kind of gift is the thoughtless kind that someone has put no effort, time or care into. The best ones are the ones you absolutely want. Even if you don’t know you do until you get them. I was lucky enough to get one of those this Christmas.

Best/worst meal?

At Christmas? It’s all the same. I’m not a fan of Christmas dinner. Or any roast dinner for that matter. I eat it, but that’s because it’s what you do at Christmas. Like getting into water and swimming. The best meal I was ever served was at a Persian restaurant in Birmingham in 1988. It involved chicken and pomegranates and I’ve never tasted anything like it to this day. The restaurant disappeared soon afterwards in a kind of Brigadoon fashion and I sometimes wonder whether I actually went there. As for bad food . . . loads. In fact, it probably outnumbers the good food. That’s why I try to remember the good ones.

Christmas From Hell?

Being forced to spend time with people I hate. That goes for the rest of the year as well. And not seeing Doctor Who.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Well, I wrote about my favourite cultural things on the last Murderati post—Y Niwl and the Hammer films retrospective—so they would be there in a big way. But other than that, it was something very small and personal that I’m afraid I couldn’t share and that I doubt anyone would be particularly interested in.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

I do. I can’t say anything about it in case I jinx it, but it will be the culmination of a lifetime’s ambition. Or at least I hope it will.

Book(s) this year?

CHOKED, the fourth Tania Carver book came out in September in the UK. THE CREEPER, the second one, came out in the States. There have been other editions round the world and I think Russia finally got round to publishing my 2006 novel, THE MERCY SEAT.

And 2013?

Finishing the new Tania, THE DOLL’S HOUSE, which I’m uncharacteristically quite pleased with. Although it could all go horribly wrong. And then there’s the afore(not)mentioned secret project . . .

 

GAR ANTHONY HAYWOOD

Where?

At the family’s new home in Glassell Park, which we moved into in October.

Ideal location?

At the family’s new home in Aspen, Colorado, which doesn’t exist.

Best/worst gift ever received?

The best was a dictionary.  It was given to me many years ago by a wonderful woman who at the time was my mother-in-law to be.  She knew I was an aspiring writer and gifted me accordingly, which, oddly enough, no one in my immediate family had ever thought to attempt before.  I still own that dictionary, too.

Don’t get me started on the worst gifts I’ve ever received.

Best/worst food?

The best, far and away, is the egg nog my godfather makes over the holidays. It tastes great and man, does it have a kick to it.

Never been given a fruitcake as a gift, and I pray I never am.

Christmas From Hell?

I think I actually experienced it last year.  Attended the worst Catholic midnight Mass possible: cornball music, pointless sermon, and theatre lighting (the service was being video-taped) that would make a mole cover its eyes.  Awful.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The family’s spring break vacation in the Galapagos.  Unbelievable!

One ambition for 2013?

Completion of a manuscript that a conventional publisher buys for a tidy sum.

Book(s) last year?

Didn’t have a book published this year, though my Aaron Gunner novels were re-released as e-books by Mysterious Press/Open Road.

And for the early part of 2013?

Early?  Maybe my first book for middle-graders, which my agent is shopping now.  Later in the year?  With the grace of God, a publication deal for my first Aaron Gunner novel in almost 10 years.

 

STEPHEN JAY SCHWARTZ

Where?

Stayed at home with the wife and kids—enjoyed the beach and the beautiful Southern California weather.  Played Scrabble and hung out in cafés.  Enjoyed a big meal of matzoh ball soup and tofurky.

Ideal location?

Ireland.  Clifton or Dingle, to be precise.

Best/worst gift ever received?

I haven’t paid attention to holiday gifts for a long time.  I think the worst gift I ever got was for my bar mitzvah—it was a belt buckle.  No, actually, perhaps the worst was the beer stein my father gave me for my high school graduation.  This, instead of the car I had my eyes on.

Best/worst item of food?

Probably that tofurky we had last week.

Christmas From Hell?

Again, tofurky takes the price.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Seeing my son come back healthy and happy after a two-month hospital stay in Wisconsin.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Main ambition—work to live a creative life, 24/7.

Book(s) this year?

Move along, nothing to see here.

What’s on the cards for the early part of 2013?

Move along, nothing to see here either…

 

BRETT BATTLES

Where?

The first half I spent in a hot, tropical location with my feet in the water, a beer nearby, and a Kindle in my hand; the second half at home in L.A. with my kids, my parents, and my sister and her kids.

Ideal location?

Nailed it this year.

Best gift ever received?

This year I got the complete set of Calvin & Hobbs from my parents. It was perfect!

Best food?

I made a pretty awesome ham this year that was juicy and delicious. Hmmm, I’m craving leftovers right now!

Christmas From Hell?

Not being able to spend time with my family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

It was a pretty good year all around, so one event…? Going to San Diego for a week with my kids and parents was pretty damn fun!

One ambition for 2013?

Just more of the same … write, travel, and spend time with friends and family.

Book(s) last year?

2012: THE DESTROYED (Quinn #5), PALE HORSE (Project Eden #3), THE COLLECTED (Quinn #6), and ASHES (Project #Eden #4)

And for 2013?

At least four more novels (hopefully five), including a secret collaboration I can’t quite talk about yet.

 

TESS GERRITSEN

Where?

At home. With family.

Ideal location?

Exactly the same place.

Worst gift you’ve ever received?

An orange pantsuit.  I mean, really. My husband has not bought me anything orange ever since. (I’m guessing it didn’t look like this, then, Tess? ZS)

Best/worst meal?

For Christmas?  Not one bad meal sticks out.  On Christmas, everything tastes wonderful.

Christmas From Hell?

Being stuck in an airport. Far from family.

Favourite moment from 2012?

Standing on the Great Wall of China, with my husband and sons.

One ambition, for 2013?

To finally plant a vegetable garden that the deer can’t demolish.

Book(s) out last year?

LAST TO DIE was published this past summer.

And what’s on the cards for 2013?

Early 2013, I am headed to the Amazon River.

 

PARI NOSKIN TAICHERT

Where?

At home in peace. No requirements, no expectations. I just let myself be.

Ideal location?

The only other place I can imagine being this calm and relaxed would be Antibes . . .

Best gift?

Probably the best gift I’ve received so far is an essay my younger teen wrote about a difficult incident we shared last year and how it has taught her empathy. Made me cry, it touched my heart so.

Best/worst meal?

The best meal remains one brunch I had in Puerto Rico: fresh flying fish brought in that morning from a catch in Barbados, steamed bread fruit, Barbadian yellow hot sauce, fresh mangos picked minutes before from a tree just steps from where we ate.

Christmas From Hell?

I think it would be one filled with efforts to make it perfect, so many efforts that they’d hit the tipping point and tumble down to the other side of happiness.

Favourite moment from 2012?

The one where I finally realized I’m going to be all right, that the trials of this last year may continue . . . but they’re not going to pull me down into the depths of despair anymore.

One ambition, large or small, for 2013?

Yes.

1. I’d like to e-publish the book that “almost” sold to NYC. It’s the first in a new series and I’d like my character to meet readers and vice versa.

2. To continue to explore my creativity in whatever ways it’s now manifesting, to give myself permission to let it fly.

Book(s) last year?

Nothing in 2012. I’ve been in hibernation for many reasons including the whole copyright issue and the divorce.

And for 2013?

To begin writing again and to enjoy it . . .

 

ZOË SHARP

As for me, I also spent Christmas this year with my family, which was where I wanted to be.

My ideal would probably have been a ski-in/ski-out chalet somewhere with plenty of snow. Not necessarily for skiing, but definitely for sculpting. I never did get to finish that Sphinx …

As for my ambitions for 2013, to find a life/work balance and to continue to improve my craft.

And books? In 2012 I brought out two e-boxed sets of the first six Charlie Fox novels, plus several short stories, and of course, DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.

In 2013, DIE EASY is hot off the press in the States. I’m also editing two new projects—a supernatural thriller called CARNIFEX, and a standalone crime thriller called THE BLOOD WHISPERER, as well as working on the first in a new trilogy, the first in what I hope will be a new series, a novella project I can’t say too much about yet, and—of course—Charlie Fox book eleven. That should keep me going for a bit 🙂

So, it only remains for me to wish you all an incredibly Happy New Year, and to thank you for your comments and your feedback during 2012.

Building a series

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I am writing my first series ever right now, with the exception of my part in The Keepers  series, which is not a traditional mystery series but rather a series collaboration between three authors, Heather Graham, Harley Jane Kozak and me: related books set in the same paranormal/urban fantasy world with the same core characters.  That is totally AMAZING fun, btw – sort of like repertory theater, only with authors as director/writers.  Love it!

But I wrote my new crime thriller Huntress Moon  with the absolute intention of making it a mystery/thriller series, and while I do have plans to do sequels to two of my other books (Book of Shadows  and The Space Betweenwhich MUST be a trilogy!), I didn’t write those two thinking of them as series, they just turned out that way in the writing process.

Writing a series deliberately from the get-go – that’s a whole different thing.

The thing is, I don’t read many series.  The ones I do, I’m obsessed with, but have never been one of those who have to read in order. I really expect a book to work completely as a standalone, whether it’s in a series or not, so I’ll pick them up randomly and work my way through them in whatever order I get to them.

I’m not much of a TV series watcher, either.  I watch many more movies than TV series.  Well, not so much lately, since feature films seem to have hit a total low creatively, thanks to the corporate culture in Hollywood, which has driven all the good screenwriters to cable TV and jacked the quality of cable series up to mindblowing proportions.  I think it’s a second Golden Age of Television, honestly, and I often spend days watching an entire cable show on Netflix (Mad Men, The Wire, Deadwood, Wire in the Blood, Luther, The Walking Dead) without moving from my chair for much of anything.)

Hmm, I may be digressing, but it’s true.

But since I am obsessing about the series thing, I wanted to ask you all today to talk about your favorite series. What are they, what draws you to them, what hooks you, what keeps you reading, what’s your burnout point (if any!)?

Here’s my list.  (Yes, the Top Ten List I’m always preaching about!)

– Lee Child’s Reacher series

– Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery/Flea Marlowe series

– Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series

– Denise Mina’s Paddy Meehan series

– Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles

– Val McDermid’s Tony Hill/Carole Jordan series

– Karin Slaughter’s Georgia series

– Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series

– F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series

– John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series

And, well, I have to add Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, but the rest of the Hannibal series I try very hard to pretend never happened at all.

Now, the first thing I have to say about all of the above authors is that – it’s not the series, it’s the authors.  I would read anything any of the above put to paper, and pretty much have already, repeatedly. And I’m actually often more interested in books OUTSIDE the series than the next one in the series.

Writing a book, any book is an obsessive, encompassing, borderline psychotic thing.  (I threw in that “borderline” just for a laugh, cause, you know…)

Writing a series is all that, exponentially.  You have an ongoing, multidimensional, multi-generational parallel world inside you ALL THE TIME.

Does anyone else feel like that’s just – crazy?

Some worlds crazier than others.

I worry about Michael Connelly a little, or maybe I mean a lot, walking around with Harry Bosch in his head all the time. Because Harry is so fragile, you know.  To be constantly accessing that mindset, to be living in Harry’s skin… wow.  What would that do to you? You just want them both to have a BREAK from that, sometimes, but  – yeah, like that’s going to happen.

I guess I should be worried about Lee Child, too, because Reacher isn’t exactly the pinnacle of mental health. But Reacher has better social skills than Harry.  Even if Reacher never sticks around, he does make strong human connections consistently.  It just seems more balanced, somehow.  There was a point around the book Nothing to Lose, and then again in 61 Hours that I thought Reacher might finally be losing it entirely, but he seems to have pulled it together since then, at least for the moment.  I feel like Reacher can take care of himself because he’s actually aware of the need for help and really expert at recruiting it, while I always feel like someone should be taking care of Harry.

Notice how I’m talking about those characters as if I know them?  Well, don’t we?  That’s kind of the point of a series, right?  There is a lead character, sometimes two or three, that you want to get to know, that you commit to for a long-term relationship.

And for me, those characters are complicated and haunted and flawed.  Which might be putting it mildly – most if not all of the above characters seem to be genetically set on “self-destruct” and half of the suspense of the series is whether or not they’re going to survive the next book at all, or with sanity intact.

Actually, all the series above have some pretty strong things in common, besides the fact that they’re mindblowingly well-written.  They’re very, very dark. No happy endings (HEA) guaranteed here; in fact, you know going into any of those books that you’d better brace yourself for what’s coming.  They deal intensively with real human evil, and often with sexual abuse and child abuse, and they deal with it in a way that only a psychopath could be titillated. The characters fight that evil constantly and the battles are always bittersweet; there is no resolution, the battle may be won but the war rages on.  I think that’s just reality, and I appreciate that those authors don’t sugarcoat it.

There is a sensuality and lyricism to the writing that is hypnotic and addictive. The male/female relationships are twisted but incredibly erotic. The stories often let secondary characters take major roles (a trick I first noticed with Tess Gerritsen, one of the first series writers I got hooked on – I read her series more consistently than I did those of other authors because she would let a secondary character take the lead role in many of the books, which kept the series fresh for me).

All of those things are what I aspire to with Huntress Moon.  There are all kinds of ways that I’m trying to live my series, so I can do it justice. I’m taking kickboxing for the first time to see how my Huntress feels, physically and mentally and emotionally, when she has to fight.  (And I have to say that’s a real trip.  It’s not so different from dancing, really, a handful of basic moves that create a language of fighting, and then infinite variations on those.) I’m doing Lee Lofland’s Writers Police Academy in September to go through the law enforcement training that my FBI agent lead, and many secondary characters, would have had, and of course am addicted to Lee’s blog, and Doug Lyle‘s, for fantastic forensics information.  I am living with my nose buried in atlases and Google maps and taking any number of road trips to be in the places that my characters are traversing, so I get that physical experience right.

But most of all I’m grateful to have such stellar examples as the authors I listed above, and many more that I have missed, to look to for guidance about what I am trying create. It is an amazing thing for us as authors that our favorite authors are also our teachers – for life.  All we need to know about how to do this is right there for us – on the pages of our most beloved books.

So please – readers, talk to me about your favorite series, and writers – give me some tips from your experience writing them!

Alex

The hardest writing I’ve ever done

Today, instead of working on my blog post, I’ve been forced to write what none of us wants to write.  I’m the author in the family, so of course this painful task fell to me.  After all, writing is what I do for a living, so certainly I should be able to pull this off. But I found myself paralyzed at my keyboard, unable to summarize, in just a few paragraphs, the life of a complex, passionate woman.  Somehow, I managed it. 

I wrote my mother’s obituary.

I am drained.  Today, it’s all I have to offer.  

Jui Chiung Tom, known to friends and family as Ruby, passed away peacefully on October 16 at the Quarry Hill retirement home in Camden, Maine.  She was 85.  A native of Kunming, China, she came to the U.S. as a foreign student.  She was the first Chinese coed to ever attend Arkansas College, where her American classmates dubbed her “Ruby” because they found her Chinese name impossible to pronounce.  She planned to return to China, but the Chinese Revolution cut off her hopes of going home.  From afar, through an exchange of carefully worded letters, she learned of the hardships suffered by her parents, whose large estate in Kunming was confiscated by the government. She never saw her parents again.

 After her marriage to Ernest B. Tom, Ruby settled in San Diego, where her difficulties as an immigrant inspired her to help other Chinese immigrants.  Even while busily raising two children, she managed to earn a Master’s degree in Social Services at San Diego State University.  In 1972 she co-founded the Chinese Social Service Center, now known as the San Diego Chinese Center.  39 years later, the organization she created continues to provide social services and cultural programs for the San Diego community.

 With the re-opening of China to tourists, Ruby was finally able to visit her homeland several times, and she was delighted to meet nieces she’d never seen.  A fearless traveler, she often made bold and surprising choices in life — including a decision to get divorced after 32 years of marriage and live by her own rules.  After moving to Maine in 2008, she settled in at Quarry Hill, where the extraordinary and compassionate care of the nursing staff eased her final days.

 A private family service is planned next summer in Kunming.

 She is survived by her daughter, novelist Terry (Tess) Gerritsen of Camden, Maine, her son Dr. Timothy Tom, an anesthesiologist in Corpus Christi, Texas, and her grandsons Adam and Joshua Gerritsen, and Christopher Tom.  In lieu of flowers, the family would deeply appreciate donations to the American Heart Association:

 http://honor.americanheart.org/goto/Ruby.Tom

In praise of fat

by Tess Gerritsen

Sometimes I just don’t want to write about writing.

So instead I’ll open with a memory from five years ago. I am dining with friends on a boat off the coast of Italy.  I have ordered roasted pork tenderloin, and my meat arrives encased in browned, crusty fat, seasoned only with pepper and sparkling crystals of sea salt.  The first bite is a revelation: so moist and flavorful that I moaned in pleasure.  It was like the pork I remembered from my childhood, one of those untrustworthy memories that the passage of time magnifies to mythic proportions.  With that first bite, I proved those memories were accurate.  Pork really could taste the way I remembered it.

The question was, what had happened to pork during those intervening years between my childhood and that revelatory meal in Italy?

One of our table-mates that night offered part of the answer.  She raises and slaughters her own meat on her family farm in northern California.  Her pigs are free-range and they wander the woods and fields, scavenging for acorns.  During their short lives they are petted, cosseted, and treated with respect.  In the fall, when the time comes to harvest them, she does it with a gunshot to the head, murmuring and petting them as she pulls the trigger.  It is a sad task, but she knows they have lived a comfortable life and they feel no fear at the end.  The difference in the taste of the meat, she says, is incomparable.  (I have no doubt that she’s right.  I have eaten venison several times, and the one time I could not abide the smell of it was when the animal had been killed after a prolonged and terror-inducing chase.)

But there was more to that Italian pork tenderloin than just the absence of stress hormones.  There was also the fat encasing the roast and streaking the meat, more fat than you will ever find on a pork roast for sale in American supermarkets.  For decades, American pigs have been bred for leanness, because American consumers think they want lean meat.  They demand lean meat.  It’s been drilled into their heads that lean meat is healthier and tastier.  They want pork to be “the other white meat.”

That’s how we ended up with pork that tastes like, well, chicken. Unfortunately, our chickens no longer taste like chicken. 

 I’m thinking about fat today because of this article I just came across, about the world’s first food fat tax being launched in Denmark:

Denmark has imposed a fat tax in attempt to limit the population’s intake of fatty foods, becoming the first country to take such a measure.

The new tax will be levied on all products that include saturated fats – from butter and milk to pizzas, oils, meats and pre-cooked foods.

The measure, designed by the outgoing government and announced on Saturday, will add 16 kroner [$2.87] per kg of saturated fats in a product.

Consumers over the past week hoarded butter, meat and milk to avoid the immediate price increase.

Of all places, this is happening in Denmark!  The land of milk and cheese!  While you’re at it, Denmark, why don’t you change your country’s motto to: “The land of skinny people who eat nothing but spelt.”

Surely the Danes will raise their sticks of butter in protest and smother this law, because everyone knows that fat is flavor.  It’s what puts the joie in vivre, the bons in bons temps. It’s not the main dish, but it makes that main dish worth scarfing down. 

 My father was a professional chef who died (of Alzheimers) with a cholesterol of 140, which was also about what he weighed all his life. Long before the Atkins Diet, he proved that staying skinny didn’t mean denying yourself steak. He had no compunction about eating fat — real, natural fat. He used to wave raw steaks at me to point out their gorgeous marbling.  As a restauranteur, he could get the choicest meats, which may explain why the pork and chicken of my childhood was so spectacularly delicious.  He taught me never to waste my appetite on a tasteless meal.  He taught me to forget margarine, just eat butter.  He taught me that we have only so many meals in a lifetime, so we must make every single one count.

Over the years, I’ve sometimes turned my back on his advice.  In college, I dated a guy who was paranoid about the state of his arteries, so for two years he and I gagged down a zero-fat, low-sodium diet that was so healthy it would drive a gourmand to suicide. (That relationship, needless to say, didn’t last.) As a med student and doctor, I accepted the common wisdom that any butter you slathered on your toast would ooze straight into your coronaries.  At least, that’s what I told my patients.

But in the privacy of my own kitchen, I was sinning. Out came the butter and cream. Out came the bacon. I perfected twice-fried french fries and buttermilk-marinaded fried chicken.  I warned my butcher to never ever trim the fat from the lamb leg. I cooked osso bucco and slurped down the luscious marrow. Did you know that even boringly healthy oatmeal can be made deliciously sinful when you make it with whole milk and add a big scoop of mascarpone? 

Now it seems that medicine has finally caught up with my father’s wisdom. To lose weight, no longer must we eat like deprived monks.  Eggs and fat are back on the menu.  Instead of shunning a whole class of foods, the secret to healthy eating is portion control, a variety of foods, and moderation.  

And the pleasure of the occasional moan-worthy roast.

So get real, Denmark.  You know why everyone buys Danish cookies, don’t you? It’s because they’re butter cookies, not margarine cookies.  This nutty tax won’t make your citizens any skinnier, because they’ll just be forced to smuggle in cheese from Germany.

Which suggests another country motto for you.  “The land of stinky cars.”

 

 

 

 

Ignoring the H8Rs.

by Tess Gerritsen

Recently I came across the premise for a new reality TV show called “H8R,” which, for those of us who are text-message neophytes, translates as: “Hater.”  Here’s the description:

On this reality show, celebrities go head-to-head with regular people who don’t like them. They try to win their adversaries over and, in the process, reveal person behind the famous name. Mario Lopez hosts the program which includes two celebrities in each episode.

The haters are not told about the show’s actual premise when they’re recruited. Producers tell them a different type of documentary or show is being shot but extensive background checks are done to ensure the haters are not also stalkers. In some cases, the celebrities nominate their haters, who they know from the Internet or Twitter.

For people who aren’t celebrities, it may come as a surprise that celebrities can, in fact, feel personally wounded by cruel remarks made by complete strangers. When Gwyneth Paltrow started amassing hordes of such haters, I wondered how she felt about it.  I also wondered why anyone would bother hating a woman just because she’s a blonde, beautiful, talented gal who likes to share lifestyle tips.  It’s the same thing I wondered about people who hate Martha Stewart with such gusto, investing a great deal of emotional energy attacking a woman they don’t personally know. When I thumb through her LIVING magazine to gawk at her impossibly elaborate craft projects, I don’t feel jealousy or disdain. What I feel is resignation, because I know I’d probably end up hot-glueing my own head to the ceiling fan. I’ll never be as capable as Martha Stewart, but that’s okay with me. 

You don’t have to read the National Enquirer to know that the most-envied celebrities are often the public’s favorite targets of vilification.  It’s the people we want to be or look like, the people who have what we want to have, that catch the brunt of public hatred.  Celebrities aren’t really human, so how could they possibly have human feelings?  They’re rich, they’re beautiful, they’re successful, so why should they care if complete strangers spew hateful things about them?

Some people think it’s fun and amusing and harmless to hate the Marthas and Gwyneths and Brangelinas, and to express that hatred online so the world can share our bile.  But celebrity is only a matter of degree.  Just about anyone can be considered a public person these days.  Restaurant chefs. Athletes. Policemen.  

And writers.

A few weeks ago, novelist JA Konrath posted a blog entry called “Not Caring,” about how important it is for writers to develop thick skins.  

One of the greatest skills you can acquire as an author is a thick skin.

 Once you unleash a story onto the world, it no longer belongs to you. When it was in your head, and on your computer during the writing/rewriting process, it was a personal, private thing. But the moment your words go out into the world, they are subject to the opinion of strangers. What was once personal is now public.

 Do yourself a huge favor, and don’t listen to the public.

 This goes for more than your literary endeavors. If you blog, or speak in public, or tweet on Twitter, you are a Public Figure.

 That means some people aren’t going to like you.

 And you shouldn’t care.

 You hear this very wise advice from non-writers as well.  That we writers shouldn’t give a damn about reviews.  That writers should stop whining and pull on their “big-girl panties.” That being published means you have no right to be sensitive to whatever anyone, anywhere, says about you.  But that advice isn’t always easy to take, and I know many authors who are still personally wounded by a bad review or snarky comments on Amazon. One very talented debut novelist, a man who’s hitting bestseller lists around the world, told me that the hardest thing about being published was learning to take the blows.  He knew he was thin-skinned, and he tried to prepare himself for public criticism, yet he was taken aback by how much it hurt.

“Crybaby!” I can hear the public sneering.  “Why don’t you man up and grow a pair?” 

On a readers’ forum, I came across comments by two teachers who smugly observed that, unlike crybaby writers, when teachers get performance reviews, they’re mature enough to deal with the negative ones. They said that writers are a privileged and lucky group (whose average income, by the way, is less than $10,000) so no one should sympathize with them. Writers should stop whining and be as tough as everyone else whose work gets reviewed by superiors. For crying out loud, writers should learn to be as tough as teachers.

Then, a few months later, a tragic thing happened.  In a new policy introduced by the Los Angeles Times, L.A. public school teachers’ performance ratings were published in the newspaper.   A highly dedicated teacher, despondent over his merely average rating, committed suicide.  

I’m wondering if it suddenly became clear to those teachers that public criticism, public exposure, feels like a different thing entirely than does a private performance review.  When your boss tells you you need to shape up, that can sting.  But when that performance review is online and in the newspapers for your neighbors and colleagues to see and talk about, that’s a level of embarrassment that not everyone can deal with.

Not surprisingly, many teachers were upset about the dead teacher’s public shaming and suicide.  Just as they’re upset when they’re called lousy teachers by students on Facebook.   

Yet that’s what writers routinely put up with.  It comes with the job — a job that pays the average writer about as much as a part-time dishwasher — and we have to learn to deal with it.

But it’s not easy.

 

The Books Biz Down Under

by Tess Gerritsen

(Yes, it’s the obligatory kangaroo photo!)

I just got home from a head-spinning book tour to Australia and New Zealand, and although I’d love to overwhelm you with my hundreds of cool travel photos, I’ll try to focus here on books and publishing. I’m always curious about what’s going on in the books business around the world, and this trip allowed me to chat with booksellers, publishers and local writers to get an idea of the specific challenges facing our friends Down Under.

My first stop was Auckland, where I was a guest speaker at the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference. Since the romance genre is where I started my career, it felt like a homecoming, and what fun it was to dress up for the opening night party where I wore — what else?  A tiara!  Here I am, snuggling up to Nalini Singh and the wonderful Tessa Radley, who first invited me to attend.

One sad note put a damper on everyone’s spirits, though: the sudden death of Desire author Sandra Hyatt, who fell critically ill over that weekend.  Because RWNZ is such a small and close-knit group, the loss shook everyone.

Also in Auckland, I did an evening event at the Women’s Bookshop, where I sipped wine with my NZ publicist Yvonne Thynne and one of the most enthusiastic promoters of the mystery genre in New Zealand, Craig Sisterson.

From there it was on to Christchurch where, despite the recent earthquakes, the Christchurch Arts Festival has been reborn.  

(with Ruth Todd and Yvonne Thynne)

Although I wasn’t able to visit the central business district to see the worst of the damage, it’s obvious that the city is still rebuilding.  It’s still experiencing frequent quakes, and residents have become so accustomed to them that they’ll debate with great authority whether that last tremor felt like a 4.2 or a 3.8.  All over town, you can spot signs of quake damage, including at my hotel:

 

During my 2003 visit to NZ, my book event was held in Christchurch Cathedral, and it’s sad to think how many of those lovely buildings I saw then are no more.  But the city seems determined to move forward, and the Arts Festival was a hit, with a nice turnout to see author John Hart and me being interviewed by Graham Beattie, as well as the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award (to Paul Cleave).

Most New Zealand writers must sell to foreign markets if they want to earn a living.  With a small population (just over four million), it would be difficult indeed to support yourself with just the local market.  If you sell as few as 300 copies in a week, you can land on the top-5 NZ (international) bestseller list.  A big concern is the astronomical price of books.  Because of their small economy of scale, books aren’t printed locally but are shipped in from Australia, adding to the cost.  A hardback costs $60! (NZ/US rate 1.00/ 0.85).  The e-book revolution has yet to fully arrive on its shores, but with the high price of print books, it’s not hard to see that e-books could threaten print sales. And when those e-sales happen, where will the money go?  Will it be sent overseas to Amazon.co.uk?  How will New Zealand publishers survive if e-sales profits go out of the country, instead of being kept within its borders? Obviously they’ll need to establish their own e-sales territory to keep consumer spending local.

In Australia, many of the same issues are brewing.  E-sales are still a small part of their market, but they can see the revolution on the horizon. While print books are cheaper than in New Zealand, they’re still expensive compared to the U.S.  Australia’s population is 22 million, and it takes about 1,000 weekly sales to hit the top-10 bestselling list, but it’s still not a big enough market to support most local writers. Foreign sales, once again, are key to survival.

My travels in Australia took me to Adelaide…

(Mt Barker Community Library.  Check out the tee shirts!)

… Sydney, and finally Melbourne, site of the Melbourne Writers Festival, where every event seemed to be sold out.  I gained street cred with my kids when I shared the stage with Steve Hely, producer and writer for “The Office” (U.S. version), revealed crime writing tips along with one of my favorite writers, Michael Robotham, and went on to a cozy evening with the local Sisters in Crime chapter where I was interviewed by Rose Mercer and had dinner with our own P.D. Martin (waving to P.D.!).

What I learned is that writers everywhere are facing the same challenges.  Finding readers. Trying to figure out where we’ll fit in as e-books take over the market. No matter where you go, the writing business is a challenge.

Disappearing Women

by Tess Gerritsen

Now that I’m in my fifties, I’m noticing more and more what generations of women have complained about: that right around this age, we start to disappear in the eyes of the world.  As we grow gray we become invisible, dismissed and ignored.  No wonder there’s a spike in suicides as women pass the frightening threshold of fifty. Invisibility happens to us all, whether we were once fashion models, prom queens, or hot actresses.  (With the possible exception of Betty White.)  When we lose the dewy glow of reproductive fitness, suddenly society thinks we are no longer worth the attention.  Yet men in their fifties still get plenty of attention, both in real life and in the movies.  Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery, were alll playing sexy action heroes in their fifties.  Silver-haired men, at their peak of political or financial power, are considered hot catches and Hollywood producers don’t bat an eye at the thought of casting a 50-year-old film hero with a 30-year-old heroine.  But a celluloid romance between a young man and an older woman?  Well, that’s got to be an outrageous comedy, right?  A story that no one would really believe, like Harold and Maude. Because while fiftyish men can be sexy as hell, a fiftyish woman is just, well, somebody’s boring mother.

Life is so unfair.

It’s unfair in crime fiction as well, where you don’t find many sexy, kickass heroines in their fifties.  Which strikes me as surprising, considering how many authors are women in their fifties. You’ll find plenty of fictional heroines in their twenties, thirties, and forties.  But then women vanish as heroines until they suddenly pop back into view on the far end of the age spectrum as sharp-eyed, inquisitive Miss Marples in their seventies.  And these older heroines are often objects of amusement or even ridicule, the troublesome old biddies who solve mysteries only because they can’t mind their own business.

I try to remember any older heroines in the books I’ve been reading.  The only recent one who comes to mind is the narrator in Alice LaPlante’s TURN OF MIND (a terrific novel by the way).  Alas, although that heroine is tough, smart, and determined, she also has Alzheimer’s disease.  Not exactly the sexy heroine I’m looking for.

I confess, I too have been guilty of ignoring the fifty-year-old heroine.  Part of it was my desire to meet the demands of the fiction market.  People want to read about sexy heroines, don’t they?  And if I want to sell film rights, wouldn’t a younger heroine be more attractive to Hollywood?  Years ago, I wrote a book that featured a number of senior citizens (LIFE SUPPORT), and one of the discouraging comments I got from my then-Hollywood agent was a dubious: “Gee, there are an awful lot of old people in this story, aren’t there?”

When I started my writing career, it made sense for me to focus on young heroines, because I could identify with them.  As I got older, so did my heroines.  They matured into their thirties and then their forties, just as I did.  But suddenly I hit fifty, and my heroines didn’t cross that line with me.  They stayed frozen at forty-something, the oldest age that I believed the marketplace would still accept them as romantic heroines.  I certainly know that women can be sexy at all ages; I just didn’t have any faith that readers would think so.  Or that they’d accept a 50+ woman as an action hero.  

Then, a few years ago, I came across an article about martial arts master Bow Sim Mark.  Now in her seventies, Master Mark is credited with bringing Chinese martial arts to Boston, where she still teaches at the studio she founded.  How cool, I thought.  Here’s an older woman who really can kick ass.  And swing a sword.  And even take down a Navy Seal. If a woman like this exists in real life, why couldn’t I put her in a novel?

So I did.  In THE SILENT GIRL, the character of Iris Fang is a 55-year-old martial arts master who not only swings swords and takes down bad guys, she’s also sexy.  So sexy, in fact, that Detective Barry Frost, who’s two decades younger, develops a wild crush on her.  Unlikely, you say?

No more unlikely than a real 70-year-old female martial arts master.  Or a 98-year-old woman who just earned her tenth-degree black belt in judo.

As I scan popular fiction and film, I find that on the rare occasions when an older woman does play action hero, it’s a real crowd pleaser.  In the movie RED, about retired CIA agents called back to action, the scene everyone seems to love best is Helen Mirren grabbing a gun and shooting up the place.  In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, the audience whooped in delight when staid Professor McGonagall went wand to wand in a fierce duel with Snape, and when mad mama Molly Weasley finished off evil Bellatrix LeStrange.  Call it hot flash fury; these women are forces to be reckoned with.  They may be silver-haired but they’re also capable, powerful, and ready to fight.

We all know such women exist in real life.  Now it’s time we start seeing more of them in fiction.

 

(I am in Australia on book tour so won’t be able to respond to comments.  But I’m looking forward to reading what you all have to say!)

 

 

When books cross borders

by Tess Gerritsen

Lately I’ve been thinking of cutting off all email accessibility from the public because it gives me heartburn to receive messages like this one:

Recently I was in an airport bookshop where I spotted a new book of yours that I’d never seen before.  I eagerly bought it, only to discover later that I’d already read the story, but it was published under a different title.  I am thoroughly disgusted by your greedy ploy to encourage double purchases, and I will never buy another one of your books.  Shame on you and your publisher!

or:

You and your publisher should be ashamed of yourselves for selling the same book twice, under different titles.  I cannot believe that you would stoop to such a tactic.  I have demanded a refund but the bookshop refuses to give me one.  How money-grubbing can you get?  

The reason for these complaints has to do with the fact I am published in different countries around the globe.  In the UK, my thrillers are published by Transworld Publishers.  In the U.S., my titles are published by Ballantine Books.  Anyone who’s sold foreign rights understands that, with each new territory you sell to, you are dealing with a separate publishing entity, and each publisher will choose its own cover design, use its own translators, and yes — specify its own title for the story.  Not surprisingly, my book ICE COLD will not have the same title in Germany, where it’s called TOTENGRUND.  Nor will it have the same title in the Netherlands or Turkey or … the UK.  Yes, even though they speak English across the pond, the UK is a foreign country.  (Although some Americans refuse to believe this.)  Englishmen drive on the left and they have foreign currency and no, they do not think of themselves as Americans with cool accents. Nor do they believe they are required to publish books under the same titles that we do.

Which is why I’m getting those angry letters.

Because the UK is a different readership, my publisher there prints my stories with locally appropriate spellings.  E.g., neighbor becomes neighbour.  Sometimes my UK publisher also has a differing opinion on what the title of a book should be.  THE KEEPSAKE, for instance, fell flat as a title for the UK market, where the word “keepsake” had little significance.  Instead, Transworld opted for a more visceral title: KEEPING THE DEAD.  My US publisher, however, thought that KEEPING THE DEAD was way too visceral for delicate American tastes.  Each publisher has control over its own territory, and so the book was published under two different titles.  Transworld distributes to the UK and its territories; Ballantine distributes in North America.  In theory, their markets should not intersect, and readers in the UK should not be buying the US version and vice versa.

But then we come to world travelers.  And the internet.

Once a traveler leaves his home territory and enters another, he also enters a different market.  Just as you will not find paracetamol in a US drugstore, you will most likely not find acetaminophen (Tylenol) in a UK pharmacy.  Travelers have learned to expect that the names of drugs may change once you cross a border.  But they have not yet accepted the fact that the titles of books may also change in foreign countries.  Internet sales add another complication because suddenly an American can go onto Amazon.co.uk to buy a book published in the UK.  Or UK readers may go onto Amazon.com and buy a book published in the U.S.  This foreign-published book isn’t supposed to be available to them at all, but the internet doesn’t know that.  The internet is just there, at your service, to give you what you demand.  And when you accidentally buy the same book, under a different title, whom do you get mad at?

The author.  Because of course it’s our money-grubbing fault that this happens.

For awhile, I was so guilt-stricken by the thought of all these readers paying double for the same book, that I’d offer a free title to everyone who complained. I’d mail out the books, free of charge. Then one day I realized that providing the free books, along with the foreign postage to mail them, had costed me hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I also wondered how many of these were authentic complaints. Maybe word had gotten out that Tess Gerritsen was an easy mark, willing to send out free books at the drop of an email.  So I stopped doing it.

I also got fed up with being called a crook, a money-grubber, and a cheat.

I know I’m not the only author in this position.  A US mystery bookseller told me that she gets complaints all the time from customers who come in asking for UK editions of books, and then demand their money back when they discover it’s the same book they’ve already read.  I know authors who are forever explaining why their UK editions have different covers and titles.  On my own website, I point out the international differences in titles.  Still these double purchases happen, and the internet has made this worse.  

Consumers need to be alert to the issue.  On Amazon.com, the U.S. site, you can find  my UK editions KEEPING THE DEAD  and THE KILLING PLACE for sale.  But neither of these titles is offered by Amazon.com itself; they are available through third-party sellers, and once a book gets into third-party hands, it is beyond anyone’s control. Likewise, Amazon.co.uk only sells the American editions through third-party sellers.  Shouldn’t that be a clue?

Nevertheless, it’s the author who’ll get blamed for it.  On Amazon.com, in response to an annoyed reader, I offered this explanation:

“This is the UK version of THE KEEPSAKE. It is published by Transworld in the UK and its territories and WAS NEVER MEANT to be sold in the US. Each publisher releases its own edition in its own market area. Unfortunately, with internet sales (which erases all geographical boundaries) this book may be inadvertently purchased twice.  Please do not blame the publishers, as each company intends to sell only in its own market. But online sales and international travel makes it impossible to control where their editions end up.”

The responding comment was:  “That is NOT an excuse!”

For some readers, no explanation will ever suffice.

 

Fourteen years on the road

by Tess Gerritsen

(currently on tour on the UK)

This year marks the release of my fourteenth thriller.  It also marks the fourteenth time I’ve gone on book tour, and after nearly two weeks on the road, I finally got home last night. Now I have about 36 hours to catch up on my sleep, visit my mom, tackle my email and my stuffed in-box, do my laundry, and then re-pack my suitcase before I board a plane for the next two-week stint on the road, this time in the UK.  

Oh, and I have to write this blog post.  Which explains why this may be short and I may be just a tad distracted. When you cross too many time zones in a matter of days, the brain does tend to fade out on you.

After so many years, the various tours blend together.  One reporter asked me if I’d ever been to his town before.  I sat flummoxed for a moment, because I just couldn’t remember.  And no wonder we forget where we’ve been.  All we see is airports, the inside of bookstores and radio stations and media escorts’ cars, plus a numbing succession of hotel rooms.  I’ve gone days in a row without time for lunch, much less sightseeing.  I’ve learned to eat when I can and sleep when I can.  And yet, every single moment of the tour, I never forget how lucky I am to be on tour.  It’s a privilege that not every author enjoys, and despite the grueling schedule and the lost sleep, it’s exactly where I want to be.

I also relish the chance to see familiar faces.  In Cincinnati/Dayton, I’ve had the same media escort since my very first book.  Through the years, Kathy Tirschek and I have traded family news and shared the ups and downs of the business.  When I get to Phoenix, I always look forward to seeing Evelyn Jenkins, who’s sure to point me to the hot new restaurants, and Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen Bookstore, who was one of the first booksellers in the country to rave about my debut novel, HARVEST.  We’ve been in this business together long enough to see the changes.

And there certainly have been changes.  When I started out, the independents were the stores for an author to visit: Joseph Beth, Hawley-Cooke, Davis Kidd, Kepler’s, Cody’s, Stacey’s, and Chapter Eleven.  Then there was Waterstones in Boston, Complete Mystery Bookstore in Portsmouth, Bookland in Maine, and the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles.  Of course, there were also visits to chain bookstores , and every tour would usually include stops at Barnes and Noble and Waldenbooks and Borders.

But as the years went by, many of those beloved independents vanished.  In Hawaii, the venerable Honolulu Book Shops was squashed by the arrival of Borders.  The era of the big box stores had arrived, and I’d arrive in a city to find that the little mystery bookshop I’d visited just a year ago was no more.  Waterstones disappeared.  So did Cody’s and Stacey’s.  Shops you thought would live forever instead withered on the vine.  

This year, there’s been a strange turnabout.  Borders has closed half its stores.  Suddenly places like Maui, where Borders took out all the independent competition, is left without a bookstore.  As chain stores close, whole swathes of the country become bookstore poor, and customers are forced to rely on Amazon.com or grocery stores to buy books.  Add to that the popularity of e-readers and the transition toward 50% e-sales, and it’s harder and harder to just drop into a local bookstore to browse for print books.

But … what’s this I’m seeing?  In Scottsdale, at the Poisoned Pen, the crowd for my latest book event was the largest ever.  In Maui, the local populace is trying to lure a bookseller, any bookseller, to open a shop.  Maybe a mid-sized town can’t support a big chain store, but a smaller neighborhood independent — the ones we used to see everywhere — just might be able to make it again.  

So now we seem to be cycling back to where I started, where the little bookseller is once again a treasured part of the local community.  I witnessed that just yesterday in the village of Bucksport, Maine, where Bookstacks has managed to become a popular stop in town. I see it in Half Moon Bay at Bay Books, which has become a destination for book lovers from miles around.  Yes, we’ve probably lost a lot of print readers permanently to the lure of the e-book.  But there’ll always be a core group of readers who want a place where they can ask for recommendations, browse the stacks, and talk to a bookseller about what to buy Uncle Bob for Christmas.

 

 

The Next Word War

(While I’m traveling on book tour, I’m delighted to have John Lutz here as a guest blogger.  John, take it away! — Tess Gerritsen)

 

by John Lutz

 

“History repeats. We are always fighting the last

 

                war. Blah, blah, blah…”

                                         — Just about everyone.

I’m not that old, but I remember when television was certain to be the end of radio and movies. It was obvious to everyone. Movies meant leaving home, paying for a ticket, sitting in a dark theater while people around you talked, smoked (!), rattled candy wrappers, and sometimes made various kinds of love.

Radio? Why? There was a new bully on the block. The simple box had learned to show us moving pictures and it called itself television. We could dim the living room lights like they did in movie theaters, pop our own corn, bark at any of the kids who dared rattle candy wrappers, and … well, that was easier, too.

Where were books during all of this? In bookstores, libraries, drugstore and grocery store paperback racks. Hemingway was still going strong. James Gould Cozzins was selling big. So was Mickey Spillane. Something to remember. In that war, books were like Switzerland during World War Two.

Make no mistake: war was being waged. Movies versus the Allies: radio and television.

Movies struck back. More and more were produced in Technicolor, with story concepts that required a vast canvas that could part the Red Sea, show the Pyramids being built in Egypt, and accommodate chariot races and all Ten Commandments. Put that on your eight-inch oblong screen and strain your eyes.

Radio came at television with car radios and suitcase-sized portables, all playing music made by the likes of Johnnie Ray, Frankie Lane, Patti Page, Les Paul and Mary Ford, the Platters, and then – Elvis

Television counter-attacked with daily local programming before five P.M. After five it was Milton Berle in drag, the brilliant Sid Caesar, Lucy, Peter Gunn, even Kate Smith and the American flag.

Movies hit back with stereophonic sound, vibrating seats, Vista Vision, Three-D, radiation-created gigantic ants, lizards, locusts, A-bomb bred creatures that toppled buildings and terrorized the world.  

Television came at us with sports. Baseball that seemed to be covered by one guy with a big TV camera, sitting behind home plate. Hockey. (Where’s the puck?) Boxing? Well, that was okay. Everything happened in an eighteen-by- eighteen foot ring. Boxing was made for television, and vice versa.

Grace Metalious sold a zillion copies of Peyton Place. Agatha Christie was writing and selling well. Spillane was still going strong.

Radio gave us high fidelity. That helped some. Especially if you wanted to hook up a string of speakers so it sounded like a train was roaring through your apartment.

Then television fell prey to an advantage that also became a vulnerability. Advertising. Lots of advertising.

Commercials.

Who wanted to watch Dinah Shore again and again in her Chevrolet? Or those dancing cigarette packs?

You didn’t have to sit through that kind of stuff at the movies.

Radio gave us FM.

Television came at the enemy with color.

Still, more than two people on a TV screen was a crowd, and everyone had green-tinted skin.

Radio gave us the Top Forty, and then the Top Ten. Elvis, Elvis, Elvis…

Movies recruited foreign allies with potent forces like Brigette Bardot, La Dolce Vita, and Brigette Bardot.

Truman Capote was a hit with his short stories and novellas. Spillane was going strong, even had a TV series and played himself in the movies. Détente.

Brando screamed for Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire. The Desperate Hours was a hit play that later became a hit movie. Sweet Bird of Youth was a hit play and became a hit movie. If it had been a quality play, it didn’t matter if the movie was in color or black and white. In fact, black and white movies sometimes denoted quality. Film noire, Don’t Bother to Knock, Hatful of Rain, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, On the Waterfront. Movies had struck on something here. Burl Ives got rich. Elia Kazan got even. Arthur Miller got Marilyn Monroe.

Plays that originated on television, like Requiem for a Heavyweight and Marty also became hit movies. Hit plays could become sure-fire hit movies, even in black and white and two dimensions on average-sized screens.

Herman Wouk was on the bestseller lists. So was Mickey Spillane.

Television continued strong. Bob and Ray, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen – those people were funny even when you could see them. Red Skelton especially when you could see him. Lots of people watched them. They sold lots of products.

The thing is, this mess eventually sorted itself out. Movies gave us great production values and special effects. Also people like Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, and Steven Spielberg. Television learned how to report news almost instantaneously, and produce meaningful entertainment. Some of the time, anyway. And virtually every car has a radio, tuned to everything from rap music to Verdi to Howard Stern.

John Sandford, Sue Grafton and Jonathon Franzen write bestsellers. Spillane still sells well.

The war between the forces of television and the radio-movie alliance wound down.

Sometime, in some way, the ebook invasion of publishing will also reach a conclusion. Peace will prevail. Whether we (writers and readers) will be the better or worse for it, I don’t know. At this point, I don’t think anyone does.

Someone forwarded to me a piece wherein an intellectual in the late nineteenth century argued logically and convincingly that the invention of the phonograph meant the end of books. Who would want to exert the effort to read a book when they could have it read to them? Narrators, readers, and not the writers, would become celebrities. The emphasis would be upon the performing of the book rather than on how some anonymous wordsmith arranged sentences.

We are part of an essential change in human contact and relationships, sailing into a foggy future, and with no more idea of where we’re going than the guy who would have put his money on the phonograph.

It will be fascinating to see where we are when the fog lifts and there evolves some kind of truce.

I have a hunch the book will be okay.  Like radio and the movies, it is a survivor.