One Bite at a Time




Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bouchercon Interview, Part 7: Zoe Sharp

(As noted last week, due to Black Friday here in the States—an orgy of shopping where Americans give thanks for what they have in life by pushing, pulling screaming, cajoling, occasionally injuring, and sometimes killing others in the spirit of Christmas—this week’s interview with Zoë Sharp has been posted early. Charlie Fox is badass, but not even I would send her into Black Friday alone.)

Zoë Sharp was born in Nottinghamshire, England. She wrote her first novel at fifteen, but success came in 2001 with the publication of Killer Instinct − the first book to feature her ex-Special Forces heroine, Charlotte “Charlie” Fox. The character evolved after Zoë received death-threat letters in the course of her photo-journalism work.

Later Charlie Fox novels – First Drop and Fourth Day − were finalists for the Barry Award for Best British Crime Novel. The Charlie Fox series has also been optioned for TV. Zoë's short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, and have been shortlisted for the Short Story Dagger by the UK Crime Writers' Association. Her other writing has been nominated for the coveted Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, the Anthony Award presented by the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, the Macavity Award, and the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers' Association.

I can honestly say her Charlie Fox tales are among the few modern thrillers I read. The characters are people, the situations are not too over the top, and Charlie is badass enough to be entertaining, but not so much as to strain believability. It was a real treat when she agreed to answer some Bouchercon questions for us.

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

Zoë Sharp: I try not to miss a Bouchercon if I can help it, and this year I had both a novella in my Charlie Fox series, Absence of Light, and a new standalone mystery thriller, The Blood Whisperer fresh out, so I wanted to spread the word about those two new books.

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

ZS: Catching up with author friends, meeting readers old and new, and getting the chance to chat to people in the industry — agents, editors, reviewers, bloggers, etc.

OBAAT: Were you on any panels?

ZS: I was lucky enough to be on two panels — one as a panelist and one as moderator. The delightful Jen Forbus of Jen’s Book Thoughts was moderating my first panel called “You’re Only Human: secret powers and other little-known talents that would make us great Super Heroes or Villains” at which we just had to be as funny and inventive as possible. And I was moderating the panel entitled “Running On Ice: adrenaline-driven stories.”

OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

ZS: A moderator who’s done their homework and asks interesting and imaginative questions designed to draw out the very best from their panelists. Fellow panelists who like to keep things short, sweet and moving along, good interplay between the panelists.

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

ZS: An author with an opinion or specialist knowledge I particularly want to hear and/or learn from; an author I know will be witty and entertaining; a fun topic — something a little out of the ordinary like Jen Forbus’s panel at Albany.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

ZS: Same as when I’m on a panel. A moderator who (even if participating) doesn’t make it all about them; short and sweet answers that keep things moving without letting the energy in the room dissipate; exploring the topic and not wandering too far down blind alleyways; imaginative questions that show the moderator has done their research and prepared well; not going into politics — particularly when they’re not relevant to overseas visitors; humour; something a bit different.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

ZS: That depends. I’d almost say that if the moderator has done their job correctly there shouldn’t be too many questions needed, but at the same time I hate it when people disguise a statement as a question simply by coming out with a long-winded opinion and then just adding, “don’t you agree?” to the end of it. Or questions that are very specific to one author rather than the topic under discussion, and exclude all the other panelists while that author enters into a dialogue with the questioner. You have individual questions? Great. Save them for afterwards.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

ZS: Every year Bouchercon holds a charity auction usually in aid of a local literacy charity. Quite often at these auctions someone will offer ‘have breakfast/lunch with the author’. I decided to go a little further and once put ‘have breakfast … and go to the gun range with the author’. The lady who made the winning bid had been blind since birth. She went to Radio Shack and bought some cheap transistor radios which we could hang over the target to give her something to aim for, and she did so well with a handgun that the people at the range brought out an MP5 submachine gun for her to try. Afterwards we packaged up the bits and suggested she took them back to the store to see if they would give her a refund. The most interesting thing about this, from my point of view, was the attitude of other people. They expected that I would either refuse to take her shooting, or that it would not be feasible for her to hit the target but she proved them wrong. I’ve always played with preconceptions in my work. It was great to be able to do it in real life too.

Many thanks to Zoë for taking the time to share her Bouchercon thoughts. As these answers imply, should you have a chance to catch on a panel or a personal appearance, by all means, do so.

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 1 – Thomas Pluck (author)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)

December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Steve Weddle, Country Hardball, and More

I broke out of the rut last Wednesday and made a quick trip to the Fountain Bookstore in Richmond for the launch of Steve Weddle’s Country Hardball. I’ll not go into details of the book here (Steve already knocked that one out of the park a couple of weeks ago); suffice to say I started reading it yesterday and was quickly roped into to seeing how the individual short stories will come together. Each stands on its own, but this is already shaping up as a book that will be greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts are formidable.

In addition to the privilege of meeting Steve’s lovely wife, lovely mother, and lovely children (not to mention Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books and über agent Stacia Decker), visiting Fountain was a treat. It’s the kind of old fashioned bookstore every town used to have, in a funky part of Richmond where it fits perfectly. Anyone in the area would do well to stop by and buy a book. Country Hardball, for instance.

Steve’s hot week continued with a reading event at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, where it is no mean feat for a first-time author to draw such an opportunity. Hearty congratulations to Steve and everyone involved with Country Hardball.

* * *

Judy Bobalik alerted her Facebook friends to a special on Kindle versions of many of Ed McBain’s books, at $1.99 each. Over twenty 87th Precinct novels were available, with original publication dates ranging from the late 50s into the early 90s. A great cross-section of the master’s (deservedly) best-known series, with a few of the Matthew Hope books thrown in. I’m much less familiar with Hope than with the Eight-Seven, but what I read made the inclusion of those books a no brainer. I was so jazzed I accidentally bought a book I already own. (Reed Farrel Coleman’s Innocent Monster is also on sale for $1.99).

* * *

Last Monday I visited the Bowie MD library to hear a talk by Gus Russo, an expert on the Kennedy assassination. (Yes, I was out two nights in one week. Actually, three, as there was an homeowners’ association meeting on Tuesday. Good thing a four-day weekend is in the offing.) I’m not a Kennedy assassination buff. I was there to ask Russo to sign my copy of The Outfit, his history of the Chicago mob and a fascinating read. Still, his talk was worth the trip, as he convincingly debunked many conspiracy myths, providing common sense and Occam’s Razor reasoning that confirmed what I had suspected all along, as well as a couple of pieces of evidence of which I was unaware. His easy going and friendly manner made the hour fly by. I highly recommend making the effort to anyone with an opportunity to hear him speak.

* * *

Delbert McClinton’s The Rub really needs to have a book or a movie based on it.

 

* * *

Reading of a library closing brought to mind something I’ve believed for many years. Libraries are the physical proof of man's higher evolution. No other creature has a way to store the accumulated knowledge of its species; everything must be taught individually. Only man can make knowledge available to be accessed at any later time, and libraries are where it's done.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 6: Ali Karim

I used the term “firmware” to describe Ali Karim in the schedule for this series of interviews. By that I mean he is among a dedicated and critical group of people who are not themselves authors—at least not primarily—but are more than readers. (Not that there’s anything wrong with people who just read. None of us would have anything to do without you.) Ali—Peter Rozovsky, Judy Bobalik, Jon Jordan, et al—provide a crucial bridge between authors and readers, with reviews, interviews, news updates, and whatever else keeps information flowing so can stay up to speed on what’s current in the crime fiction world. If the crime fiction community were the Internet, these people are the cables and routers.

Ali is the Assistant Editor at Shots eZine, a contributing editor at January Magazine and The Rap Sheet and writes for Crimespree magazine, Deadly Pleasures, Strand Magazine and Mystery Readers International. He is also an associate member of both The Crime Writers Association [CWA], International Thriller Writers [ITW] and the Private Eye Writers of America [PWA].

He is a judge on the Barry Awards Committee at Deadly Pleasures Magazine, a reserve judge at ITW, and a Gold Dagger Judge at The Crime Writers Association [CWA].

He contributed to Dissecting Hannibal Lecter (Edited by Benjamin Szumsky; McFarland Press) a critical examination of the works of Thomas Harris; The Greenwood Encyclopedia of British Crime Fiction (edited by Barry Forshaw) and the Edgar and Anthony Award nominated ITW 100 Thriller Novels (edited by David Morrell and Hank Hagner; Oceanview Publishing).

At the Anthony Awards held at Bouchercon St Louis, Ali was presented with the 2011 David Thompson Memorial Award for Special Services to the Crime and Thriller Genre. At Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, he was presented with the Don Sandstrom Memorial Award for Life-Time Achievement in supporting the Crime and Mystery Genre.

Ali is a Board Member at Bouchercon (The World Mystery and Crime Convention) and programming chair for Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. As you can see, ain’t no flies on him. OBAAT is delighted he was willing to answer our questions, especially in such a thoughtful manner

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

Ali Karim: Well I attended my first Bouchercon in 2003, Las Vegas. It was my 40th birthday present to myself, but also primarily because Lee Child was the Toastmaster and I heard David Morrell was going to attend. I’ve loved Morrell’s work ever since I read FIRST BLOOD. I had a great time and vowed to attend again, despite the costs and distance from England. Though in 2004 and 2005 I was setting up a business and had no money—nor time—so I only attended UK conventions. Then in 2006, due to my involvement at International Thriller Writers [ITW] I attended the inaugural Thrillerfest 2006 in Phoenix, and also the 2007 Thrillerfest in New York.

As much as I love Thrillerfest, I like the idea of visiting a different city which Bouchercon allows; whereas Thrillerfest has been in New York now for many years. With Bouchercon, I get to visit different cities, which adds to the fun. So in 2008 I was at Bouchercon Baltimore, in 2009 Bouchercon Indianapolis, in 2010 Bouchercon San Francisco, 2011 Bouchercon St Louis, in 2012 Bouchercon Cleveland and last month in 2013 it was Bouchercon Albany.

But to answer your question why Albany? Well at Bouchercon Cleveland, I was voted onto the Bouchercon Board, and acted as secretary, though while I am still on the Board, Kim Hammond has kindly taken over as the secretary (Thankfully, as I have a maddening workload). And as I’m programming chair for Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh NC, and I enjoy Bouchercon so much, I am committed to attend each year, besides Al Abramson is my long lost brother and I knew with him chairing Bouchercon Albany, it would be a really special event – which it was . The reason why Bouchercon wanted me on the board is that apart from my enthusiasm for the crime, mystery, thriller genre – I am also a businessman and scientists, and therefore helpful in organizational skills. Others said it’s because of my surreal sense of humour……

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

AK: It is the friendships I have made over the years with readers, reviewers, writers, publishers making the Bouchercon week so special, spending time with people who love reading crime, mystery and thrillers. In a world where reading is becoming marginalized, it is wonderful to spend time with kindred spirits and not feel weird when you tell people you like to read books. Also I have many funny times, and as laughter is crucial for a strong immune system, I get a shot in the arm by Bouchercon like this in Cleveland and Baltimore . Some people ask why I take so many photos, well [a] I get asked by many magazines for author photos [b] I do so much (and have the odd Gin and Tonic) that it helps me remember what I got up to and [c] as one gets older, we can have bad days when melancholia sets in; a quick look at the photos always makes me smile and banish the darker moods.

OBAAT: You were moderator of the private eye panel, which, frankly, kicked ass. To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s or moderator’s perspective?

AK: Thank you so such for those kind words. The panel you mention was a lot of fun thanks to the panelists and great questions from the attendees. To make a good panel, you need to make sure the moderator of a panelist doesn’t usurp the discussion for their own agenda. No hard selling or self-promotion is key, as is preparation – I have moderated many panels over the years and always email a list of possible questions we may cover as well as ensuring all panelists see each other’s bios. Another key factor is controlling those in the audience when it’s time for questions to ensure that a person doesn’t use it to hijack the time to forward an agenda…ie not ask a question, but ramble on obliquely. One of the best moderators is novelist Reed F Coleman, who always lets the attendees note the questions are just that – ‘questions’, not an opportunity to ‘ramble on’ (as Led Zeppelin once sang….)

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

AK: I usually look at who the moderator is first, then topic and who will be on the panel. The issue at Bouchercon is that with four concurrent tracks, plus so many events and bar-time, it’s hard to get to as many panels as one would like. In previous years, panels have been taped to CD as mp3 files and I’ve purchased many over the years, to listen to when I get home, capturing the Bouchercon feeling long after the convention’s wrapped up.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

AK: Usually the ones that feature speakers who are funny, or insightful and one that does not clash with other panels or events that are happening at the same time. Also the chance to hear an author either that I have not read, but interested in reading, or when there’s a few of us who want to go to the same panel, like my dear friend Detective Peter Rozovsky’s panels – always fun and informative. The ‘forgotten masterpieces’ theme is always a good panel topic, as no matter how well read you are, there are always gaps in your reading. In Cleveland Otto Penzler moderated such a panel which was not only enlightening as various panelists championed their favourite reads, but it was also very amusing as Otto Penzler has such a dry wit.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

AK: That always depends. I’ve moderated and attended the book reviewing panel[s], and in those I always get the audience involved during the discussion. The one in San Francisco 2010 was standing room only, and we could have gone on for another few hours such was the excitement of everyone championing their favourite reads (including the audience). The same was true in Baltimore 2008, standing room only, and I championed Stieg Larsson who was just released in the US but the hype had not yet arrived – but after Bouchercon as the attendees left to their home towns, the word of mouth had well and truly spread throughout the US and Canada – from Europe. That I find exciting. In the past, attendees would often been seen scribbling book titles and authors in their note books, today they click the download button on their eReaders, when a book in a panel discussion provokes interest.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

AK: Wow, that is a tough one, a really tough one as I have so much fun at Bouchercon, so give me a minute. I’m afraid I’ll have to give you a few as it is hard to nail one fun story.

Bouchercon Baltimore 2008 – a scary walk back to the hotel from the Lee Child Party that proves an English accent and a knowledge of crime-fiction can get you out of trouble, as can an attitude.

Bouchercon San Francisco 2010 – the opening ceremonies (also here) when Serena Bramble’s student film was shown to the audience, and as the lights went out I realized I was seated with people who share my fascination with crime / mystery and crucially, I was not alone > Bouchercon Cleveland 2012 – visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of fame put a real spring in my step

I could give you many more, as I always have a great time on Bouchercon week!

Thanks for your interest Dana, see you in Long Beach next year!

/ / /

Many thanks to Ali Karim, not only for sitting for this interview, but for his contributions toward making crime fiction not only a thriving community, but a hell of a lot of fun.

Here’s a broader-based look into Ali’s continuing involvement with crime fiction.

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

(Due to Black Friday here in the States—an orgy of shopping where Americans give thanks for what they have in life by pushing, pulling screaming, cajoling, occasionally injuring, and sometimes killing others in the spirit of Christmas—next week’s interview with Zoe Sharp will be posted on Wednesday. Charlie Fox is badass, but not even I would send her into Black Friday alone.)

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 1 – Thomas Pluck (author)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)

December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Grind Joint Launch, November 16, 2013

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Grind Joint launched last Saturday at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA. The plan was to post a recap here on Monday, but I wasn’t ready. I told myself it was due to a busy day and travel.

I’ll begin with an apology. This should be about the event, and I’m afraid it’s going to be more about me. So it goes. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days and have not found a way to adequately express how the day went from my perspective. Anyone who was there and wants to give a more objective account, comment away.

Saturday morning’s events started Friday when The Sole Heir and her mother (aka The Good Ex) made an unannounced appearance at my parents’ home. I had been under the impression they had a conflicting obligation, booked well before the launch date had been finalized. They were wholly unexpected.

And, they bore gifts:

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With Saturday already guaranteed to be a good day, The Beloved Spouse and I approached MLB with a spring in our step. I almost tripped from stopping short when I saw Charlie Stella and the lovely Princepessa, Ann Marie, already inside. (Charlie had made many assurances and apologies about his own previous commitment. This was, by the way, the day’s only surprise of which The Beloved Spouse was unaware. I can’t trust anyone to give me the straight story.)

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(Charlie Stella with not The Princepessa.)

Laurie Stephens of MLB is the perfect hostess for a virgin author. All I had to do was pretend to be personable (I think I fooled most of them, with one notable exception, the old sonofabitch), do my reading, answer questions without overtly offending anyone, and sign some books. I was made to feel not only welcome, but like everyone was genuinely happy for me to be there. Laurie’s introduction set me up well, she got the Q & A rolling, and stepped in during a brief lag. She was an enormous help and was, is, much appreciated.

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The surprises continued to walk in. An uncle I see once a year, if I’m lucky; twice a year, if he’s not. Two dear friends, unknown to each other, came all the way from DC. The Good Ex’s mother and father were there; her aunt and uncle drove in from Philadelphia. My parents’ neighbors came, bringing their grown daughter and a visiting relation, who bought a book and took it back to Canada, establishing Grind Joint internationally.

The event went well. I had some small concern about the reception of how I depict my fictionalized town—everyone there would, of course, recognize it; they live in or near it—so I began with a brief bio and described how the germ of an idea, based on personal observation, grew into the book. Heads nodded. They got it. We sold 25 of the 30 books that had been ordered, which certainly exceeded my expectations; I hope Laurie and everyone at MLB was similarly pleased.

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(Charlie Stella, Laurie Stephens, your humble correspondent, Rick Ollerman)

Before we left for lunch, The Sole Heir had one more surprise:

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In the end, Mystery Lovers Bookshop and Stark House had an author event; I had much more. The effort and expense undertaken on my behalf was more than gratifying; it was, and is, humbling. Words cannot express how much this has meant to me. It was the single most joyous day I can remember. (No offense to The Sole Heir, but she was born via C-section after 34 hours of induced labor; the first thing I did when I got home was throw up.)

Publishing is a weird business. We may already have sold half of all the copies Grind Joint will ever sell. This could have been my final launch; there may never be another contract. I could reach the bestseller list, win an award, garner national media attention, get a movie deal, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Everything after this is gravy.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Twenty Questions With Jude Hardin

(Editor’s Note: Saturday’s launch exceeded all expectations, so much so I lack the energy to do justice to all those who made it special for me. A full report will come in Wednesday’s blog. Today, Jude Hardin has plenty to interest and entertain.)

Jude Hardin has worked as a fence installer, pizza delivery man, convenience store clerk, freelance journalist, film extra, professional drummer, bartender, avionics technician, carpet cleaner, chemical plant supervisor, substitute teacher, and registered nurse. His varied vocations have given him a wealth of experiences for his true passion — writing novels.

 I’ve been a fan since his first novel, Pocket-47. Long Jude Hardin time readers of this blog know better than to accept what I say without corroboration, so here are a couple of folks you may trust more:

New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen says: "Pocket-47 sucked me in and held me enthralled. Author Jude Hardin keeps the pace frantic, the thrills non-stop, but best of all is his hero, the wonderfully ironic Nicholas Colt. This is a character I'm eager to follow through many adventures to come."

One New York Times bestselling author is not enough. David Morrell (First Blood, from which Rambo was taken) says: "With Crosscut, Jude Hardin takes the PI novel and psychological suspense to a new, unrestrained level. Fast, fierce, and relentless."

Jude graduated from the University of Louisville in 1983 with an English degree, and currently lives and works in northeast Florida. When he’s not pounding away at the computer keyboard, Jude can be found pounding away on his drums, playing tennis, reading, or down at the pond fishing with his son. His newest book is Blood Tattoo.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Blood Tattoo.

Jude Hardin: First of all, thanks for inviting me here, Dana. Nice digs!

Blood Tattoo is the sixth novel in the Nicholas Colt series, including a prequel titled Colt, which was released earlier this year. I wanted to take the series in a new direction, so I added a character named Diana Dawkins, who is an operative for a clandestine government agency called The Circle. She has a problem, and she comes to Colt for help, informing him that he’s been a potential recruit for the agency for a while now. In Sycamore Bluff, the book that follows Blood Tattoo, Nicholas Colt and Diana Dawkins share equal billing. From there I’m planning to give Diana her own series.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

JH: Like most of my ideas, it started with a what if? scenario. What if a secret agent posing as a Department of Defense inspector happened across a binder full of coded schematics that outlined, in precise detail, how she was going to be framed for assassinating the President of the United States? Who could she go to? Who could she trust? Nobody, at that point, because she doesn’t know who might be on it—maybe people in her own organization. So that was the initial concept.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Blood Tattoo, start to finish?

JH: About six months, but that includes several rounds of edits and time spent on other writing projects. I had a working draft put together in less than four months.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

JH: In 1989, at the peak of his career as a rock and blues guitarist, Nicholas Colt crawled from the wreckage of a chartered jet as his wife and baby daughter and all the members of his band were consumed in a ball of flames. Colt was the sole survivor. He went through a very rough period where he basically gave up on music and life in general. He hit rock bottom and finally clawed his way back and decided to become a private investigator.

Colt also had a very troubled childhood. His mother died in a car accident when he was five, and his abusive stepfather committed suicide when he was fifteen. Bad luck has a way of finding him, but he perseveres, and he maintains a sense of humor through most situations.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Blood Tattoo set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

JH: It’s set in the present. Most of the action takes place in north Florida, but at one point Colt makes a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

I like to use the nature of various spaces to augment the suspense, so in that regard the settings are crucial throughout.

OBAAT: How did Blood Tattoo come to be published?

JH: Back in 2011 my agent submitted my novel Crosscut to Thomas and Mercer. They loved it, and they put together a multi-book deal, which I accepted. Blood Tattoo is part of that deal.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

JH: I like to mix it up. Right now I’m reading Michael Crichton for the first time. I try to learn something from everything I read, whether it’s horror, techno-thrillers, or historical mysteries.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

JH: John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Stephen King. Just to name a few.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

JH: I don’t outline, but I make notes as I’m composing, and I often go back and add things here and there based on those notes.

Pants are always optional, unless you write with a cigarette dangling from your lips. Hot ashes can be painful down there. Not that I gave up smoking six years ago because of that.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

JH: I edit as I go. My first drafts are actually pretty clean.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

JH: Sex. I recommend it. It’s even better when another person is involved.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

JH: Are we still talking about sex?

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

JH: I would take the millions and then publish on the sly under a pseudonym. What could possibly go wrong?

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely?

JH: I started out with a small press, and I think they did a great job on my debut. The book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly, along with some other solid reviews, and it’s a book I’m proud to have written. Right now I’m trying my hand at self-publishing, but there’s no way to predict what the future might hold. The only thing I know for sure is that publishing is a tough business, and that writers must choose their own path based on their goals and what they hope to gain from the experience.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

JH: Yes.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

JH: In the early 1970s, when I was a kid, I was a big Cincinnati Reds fan. Johnny Bench was my hero. I wanted to be a catcher because of Johnny Bench. I bought a mitt, a face mask, shin guards, a chest protector, everything I needed to be just like Johnny. Except the talent, of course.

Well, I recently reconnected with one of my favorite teachers from Jr. High, and I soon discovered that he’s the former Executive Director of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, and that he’s the current team historian.

I still have that catcher’s mitt from when I was eleven.

And my friend is going to get Johnny Bench to sign it for me.

So right now? BASEBALL!!!!

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

JH: What’s Charlize Theron REALLY like?

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

JH: I don’t have a clue. L

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

JH: A standalone thriller. It’s still in the idea stages, but I plan to start writing it soon.

Sycamore Bluff, the follow-up to Blood Tattoo, is almost ready to be published, so I’ll probably release those two books concurrently. In the digital age, there’s no point in delaying publication once a book is ready. There’s infinite shelf space, and lower prices mean readers can afford to buy more books than ever before. It’s a great time to be a writer.

Also, I just finished a collaboration with author J.A. Konrath a couple of weeks ago, a novel featuring his Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels and my Nicholas Colt. Hoping to see that one released before the end of the year.

A lot going on lately, so my batteries are still sort of recharging at the moment. But I’ll start on the new thriller soon. I get antsy if I go too long without working on a book.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

JH: If you smoke, wear pants.

How I Came to Write Grind Joint

Not here. Over at Patti Abbott’s excellent blog.

Thanks to Patti for giving me the opportunity. She will make her own guest appearance here on December 2, to discuss her book, Home Invasion

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 5: Tim O’Mara

Tim O’Mara’s top-selling debut mystery, Sacrifice Fly (Minotaur 2012), has been nominated for the 2013 “Best First Novel” Barry Award. (Editor’s Note: Deservedly so.) The novel introduced Raymond Donne, a Brooklyn public schoolteacher who was an up-and-coming police officer until a tragic accident destroyed his knees and the future he envisioned on the force.

Tim was inspired to write Sacrifice Fly and create the character of Raymond Donne after making home visits while a schoolteacher in the poorer section of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. Further moved by his many interactions with the Youth Officers of the NYPD while he served as a middle school dean and his brother’s stories as a police sergeant, O’Mara believed that a character with experience in both worlds would make a great protagonist.

For the past 13 years, Tim has hosted and produced a bi-weekly reading series of poetry and prose in New York’s East Village. He lives with his family in Manhattan, where he currently teaches math, and is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America, Crime Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and several teacher unions.

Tim’s second Raymond Donne Novel, Crooked Numbers, is currently available. He’s currently writing the third book in the series, Dead Red.

I met Tim at the bar during the Cleveland Bouchercon, where he literally asked me for the shirt off my back.

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

Tim O’Mara: I was anxious to go to a convention where I was not a “debut author.”

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

TO: Meeting with other writers and indie bookstore people.

OBAAT: Were you on any panels?

TO: Yes. “You May Be Right,” which was about getting the police aspect of our crime novels as accurate as possible. With a brother who’s a Sgt. in the Nassau County (LI) PD and a brother-in-law who’s an NYPD detective, I think I was a good a choice for this panel.

OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

TO: Panelists who were chosen because of their knowledge/expertise of the panel’s theme. I’ve actually heard panelists say things along the lines of “I’m not sure why I’m on this panel.”

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

TO: Authors I respect or know personally and topics I’m interested in.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

TO: A moderator who allows the panelists do most of the talking and panelists who’ve thought out what they want to share with the audience.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

TO: Some panels should be longer to allow more time for Q&A.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

TO: Last year in Cleveland, Mystery Mike informed me that he had sold out of my debut novel, Sacrifice Fly, after I was introduced at the debut authors breakfast. He added, “We never sell out. What the hell did you say to them in there?”

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 1 – Thomas Pluck (author)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)

December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Potpourri

The Beloved Spouse and I started watching Breaking Bad over the weekend. (We wanted to be sure it was worthy of us, and no one would pull a Deadwood and stop the series in the middle, okay? When we’ve seen all these episodes, we’ll check out that NYPD Blue show everyone is talking about.) Last night we saw the episode where Walter’s family has the intervention, to talk about whether he should get treatment. I can’t remember seeing a better hour of television.

A question for all of you who watched the show on AMC: did they censor the language? I can’t think of another basic cable show that showed bare breasts and allowed for this level of cursing. Even when Justified is rated for Nudity, it’s a two-second shot of Raylan’s ass.

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We watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang on a lark Sunday night. Knew nothing about it, except people I trust had recommended it. Expected something along the lines of Way of the Gun and were taken by surprise. Great fun, with three leads who were born to work together (Robert Downey, Val Kilmer, Michelle Monaghan). That’s all I’m going to say, except to warn the people in the Midwest they’ll say “fuck” a lot.

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Read the following quote by James M. Cain in Brian Ritt’s Paperback Confidential:

I make no conscious effort to be tough, or hardboiled, or grim, or any of the things I am usually called. I merely try to write as the character would write, and I never forget that the average man, from the fields, the streets, the bars, the offices and even the gutters of his country, has acquired a vividness of speech that goes beyond anything I could invent, and that if I stick to this heritage, this logos of the American countryside, I shall attain a maximum of effectiveness with very little effort.

I’m not big for posting quotes around the office, but want to think of this every day when I write.

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Patrick Stewart is appearing in two—count ‘em, two—Broadway plays simultaneously: Waiting For Godot and No Man’s Land. I was impressed, until it occurred to me he probably plays Godot, which frees him up to be in No Man’s Land.

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We were able to start on Breaking Bad because we finished our fourth (I think) viewing of The Wire last week. I cannot begin to say how much I learned about storytelling from this show, and yet the stories were not the best of it. The characters are so well drawn that, after the final montage, when you see what everyone (except McNulty) does next, you’re left with the feeling these people’s lives are continuing; you just don’t get to watch anymore.

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Football people are defending Richie Incognito’s excessive harassment of a Miami Dolphin teammate as part of football’s “warrior culture.” Two things:

1. Football players are not warriors.

2. The military—where the real warriors live—would not tolerate such behavior.

Crawl back under your rocks, Richie and his people. It ain’t selling here.

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Swear to God, this is the (next to) last time I’ll mention Grind Joint’s launch this Saturday, November 16, at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, 514 Allegheny River Boulevard in Oakmont, PA. Ten in the morning. I’ll tell how the book came to be written, read a little, answer questions, and, hopefully, sign some books. It doesn’t sound like much fun to read it in black and white like this; I’ll try to do better in person.

 

(PS: I hate the smell of potpourri. I’ll come up with a better title next time I write a blog full of random thoughts.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Twenty Questions with Steve Weddle

Today marks the first installment of a new feature here at One Bite at a Time called Twenty Questions. It’s an effort to increase OBAAT’s interest to others by letting me do as little of the writing as possible. Once every week or two authors and others of literary interest will be asked to answer as many questions as they wish from a list of twenty. Everyone gets the same questions, though the list will evolve over time. I have high hopes, especially since I plan to interview only those with more talent than I, which gives me a virtually unlimited pool from which to draw.

OBAAT is lucky to have Steve Weddle as the initial player of Twenty Questions. (It shall be noted for the record that Mr. Weddle answered all twenty questions. For those who will come after, this is not required, but, you know, he did it, and he had no idea what the questions would be in advance; the rest of you do. So, just saying…)

Why are we lucky to get Steve to kick off this venture? We didn’t just take the first guy hanging around Home Depot early in the morning who could spell “dystopia.” Steve is a founding member of Do Some Damage, possibly the most underrated writers’ collaborative blog on the web today. (It’s a daily obligatory read for me.) He’s is also a founding partner (with John Hornor Jacobs) of Needle: A Magazine of Noir, one of the leading publications of its genre. His first novel, Country Hardball, is scheduled for release next week by Tyrus Books. (This seems appropriate on multiple levels: Tyrus has a well-deserved reputation of publishing excellence, and no one played more country hardball than Tyrus Raymond Cobb.)

The period right before a launch is crazy busy for an author, so I’m delighted Steve was able to make some time to sit for OBAAT’s initial attempt to play Twenty Questions.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about Country Hardball.

Steve Weddle: The book is a series of interconnected stories set in the Ark-La-Tex region and tells the stories of people who struggle to live the best lives they can.

OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)

SW: I started with a couple of stories set in the region and realized that the book would be about the connections between these people, how they tie to each other and how their environment tries to define them.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write Country Hardball, start to finish?

SW: I’m 43, but the book sold last year. So 42 years. The book has stories I’d heard when I was a kid, as well as stories that had started as poems when I was in college. Honestly, it’s taken my whole life to write this book.

OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?

SW: When he was a teenager, Roy Alison was responsible for a car accident that killed both his parents. The book rests upon his fight to move from the troubled life that followed to being a better person.

OBAAT: In what time and place is Country Hardball set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?

SW: The Ark-La-Tex is that area where those three states connect, so essentially we’re in southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana a couple years ago. This book wouldn’t exist anywhere else.

OBAAT: How did Country Hardball come to be published?

SW: After I’d written a couple Roy Alison stories, Stacia Decker, my agent, suggested that I write a Roy Alison novel. I gave that a try and some thought, but I ended up with some stories set in the region, bringing together characters and storylines that feed off each other. I got the collection together and my agent talked to editors and publishers, but nothing quite worked out for one reason or another. One afternoon, while I was home sick, my phone buzzed with an email from Stacia that Ben LeRoy at Tyrus wanted to talk to me about some thoughts he had for the book and why he thought Tyrus would be a good fit. I called him before the NyQuil had worn off.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?

SW: I’m a fan of short stories, especially. Ann Beattie and Raymond Carver. Bonnie Jo Campbell and David Means. I like Charlie Huston, Sean Chercover, and Chris F. Holm. I like to think that I enjoy any type of good writing. Jimmy Breslin’s essays. Rachel Kushner’s novels. I like a story that has craft, but doesn’t show it. I’ll pick up a collection of Umberto Eco’s essays, especially that one he wrote on James Bond, because I like to see how good writing is put together. I don’t always understand how the masters do it, but I like to look at it.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?

SW: The shadows flickering on the edge of the woods behind my house right now. I’m listening to the leaves crinkling about and thinking about walks in the woods, about when I’d go out behind my grandmother’s house where lifetimes ago my family would walk, hunting dinner or going somewhere to visit. A dozen songs from Drive-By Truckers. That line in that Dawes song that goes “this too shall pass.” Old sayings I’ve nearly forgotten. The rhythm of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” The look a man in the Food Lion grocery store made when he had to tell the cashier he didn’t have enough money and they had to decide what to put back. Those things. Those people. I’m a writer. Everything influences me.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?

SW: I have an idea of where I’m going, though I don’t always end up there.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?

SW: I edit the writing as I go, the story when I’m done. I’ll write the sentence seven or eight times if that what it needs, if that’s what I have to do to get to the thing I’m talking about. When I’m done, I can type it up and edit those sentences. Once I have it in the computer, I can move things around, cut or add to make the story itself work.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?

SW: Get a day job.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.

SW: Music. Playing or listening.

OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?

SW: I don’t write for money. I mean, I don’t mind money, of course. It’s what I use to buy books. And I certainly appreciate a good review, if that means that someone enjoyed the book or that someone else might pick it up. But I’m finding that following your reviews can be a terrible idea. What are you looking for? Validation that you’re doing it right? That a reader liked the story? It’s weird. I’m thrilled that someone likes something I’ve written, but if they thought there was too much violence or not enough or that an accent didn’t ring true or that this thread didn’t tie up cleanly or whatever, what am I supposed to do with that? Have it lingering over my next story? Think about crafting this novel to make sure that this reviewer is satisfied? I’m writing so that people can read it, otherwise I wouldn’t keep clicking the “Save” button. But I can’t spend my time worrying about getting a good review. Money or reviews? My life is much better because each night I get to take my wife to bed.

OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?

SW: Why would I do that? If I never had to work again, I’d want to spend that time writing.

OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely?

SW: Rather a loaded question, isn’t it? The key for me was in finding the writing publisher for this book. You’re asking whether I want to do everything or have a terrible relationship with my publisher. I don’t want either of those things. I don’t want to spend my time “publishing” my own writing. That’s too much like work. I don’t need more work. There are people who know how to do this, who know how to market the book, how to have stacks of it at conventions and reviews in the right places. There are people who know how to get your book on the shelves of indies and Barnes & Noble. I don’t know how to do any of that. There are people who work their butts off editing your book so that it is true, so that it is a coherent story that you want to tell. There are people who will chat with you every single day about their thoughts on your book, about whether you want to talk to this radio station or that magazine. There are people who are brilliant at what they do. These people work for Tyrus Books. Other publishers have similar people. These are the people you want to work with. People who believe in your book. People who are first of all readers, who say “My God, I loved your book” before they tell you their thoughts for marketing it, before you sign anything. I’m working with Gallmeister in France, and they’re these people, too. These people are out there. These are the publishers you want to work with.

OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?

SW: Jack Daniels. In a glass. No ice. No umbrella.

OBAAT: Baseball or football?

SW: Baseball, silly.

OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?

SW: “Is golf a sport?”

OBAAT: What’s the answer?

SW: “Everything is a sport.”

OBAAT: What are you working on now?

SW: The story about what happened to Roy Alison’s grandfather in 1955. The book takes place in that year, as well as 1933 and the present day. It’s a bigger book than any of the four I’ve written, so it might take me another 42 years.

Country Hardball is available at all reputable booksellers. (Not that every bookstore that sells it is guaranteed to be reputable, but any store that doesn’t carry it is clearly lacking.) For more information, here’s the link to its page on Amazon for a little more detail and some reviews.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 4: John McFetridge

John McFetridge is author of the acclaimed Toronto series of novels, including Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Let It Ride (aka Swap), and Tumblin’ Dice. His next book, Black Rock, follws Constable Eddie Dougherty as he helps to investigate a possible serial killer against the background of the separatist terrorism in 1970s Montreal.

John’s books have been compared to Elmore Leonard's, with Linda Richards of January Magazine noting McFetridge's voice is "colder and starker" than Leonard's: "McFetridge is one of a new breed of Canadian crime fictionists, building neo-noir that seems touched by both the humor and self-consciousness of life north of the 48th.” Quill & Quire reviewer Gary Butler agreed with the Leonard comparison, writing that “both writers seamlessly mix the police procedural with perp procedural to underscore the parallel lives of members of the opposing teams. But where Leonard tends to favour Hollywood-homicide banter, McFetridge keep the quips to a minimum, preferring punch to panache.”

One Bite at a Time: What made you decide to come to Albany?

John McFetridge: This was my fourth Bouchercon and by now my main reason for going is to see friends. And find new writers whose work I might like. And it was close enough to drive.

OBAAT: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

JM: The friendships. And also the new discoveries. I’m more interested in books that are a little less mainstream and those books don’t always get as much press and as much promo as I need to be able to find them.

OBAAT: Were you on any panels?

JM: Yes, I was on a panel about villains.

OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

JM: I think it’s really a combination of preparation and spontaneity. I’ve found it’s good when the moderator has some questions prepared - and shares them with the panelists ahead of time - but it’s also good when the discussion takes off on its own. I liked the idea this year of every panelist being asked what pre-1995 book most influenced them, although we never got to that on my panel (I would have plugged, “Books to Die For,” and my contribution about Trevanian’s, “The Main”).

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

JM: The moderator, the panelists and then the topic. This year I decided to be a panel-room volunteer, sort of as a way to make sure I got to the panels I wanted to attend. That worked out well and I think I’ll do it again. I saw panels moderated by Ali Karim, Peter Rozovsky and Jon McGoran and they were all very good. I got held up at the border crossing in Buffalo for a couple of hours on Thursday and missed Peter’s panel on WWII crime fiction, I would have liked to have seen that one, too.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

JM: The best is when I get to know a writer well enough to want to read his/her books. Usually that happens when a writer is engaging and interesting, not when they plug their books too much. And sometimes panels can be a lot of laughs. A lot.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

JM: I think I’d like to see more questions from the audience, but often the questions are just for one of the panelists so it may not be the best venue for that.

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

JM: A road trip from Toronto to Baltimore with Declan Burke. I turned into an unfinished meta-fiction which I often think of finishing but haven’t managed to yet.

The first three books of the Toronto series (Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Swap) are now available is a bundle from Amazon; Tumblin’ Dice is also available. All are highly recommended, though it would kill John to say so himself.

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 1 – Thomas Pluck (author)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)

December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Doing the Marketing

I routinely do the marketing for our family. Every Saturday morning I can be found in Giant; once or twice a month in Costco; and almost every week (in season) at Spicknall’s farm market. I enjoy it. Makes me feel connected to the most important facet of home life—eating—since the Beloved Spouse does the heavy lifting when it comes to cooking. (I “cook,” if you take a liberal definition of the term, one that includes “shuttling dishes into and out of the microwave.”)

Combine that with the onanistic stream of self-congratulatory boosterism that emanates from this blog on a regular basis and one would think going out in public to get others to promote Grind Joint (available at Amazon) would be a breeze.

One would be wrong.

The initial issue is, I’m a writer, and, like many writers, an introvert by nature. It’s difficult for me to approach people I don’t know well. (This may explain how I managed to spend four years at college in the 70s and graduate a virgin.) I’m fine if my presence is expected, such as when giving a presentation, teaching a class, or appearing on a panel. I didn’t have to gather the crowd; they came because they expected something from me, and I’m happy to deliver. Cold calls, as they say in Monty Python, are right out.

The second issue is also on me to some extent. (Of course it is. I’m an American male. It’s all about me.) Give me a definite task, especially one that can be broken into component parts, turn my OCD loose, and I can get some shit done. Give me an amorphous assignment with little idea of how to go about it, and I’ll drift. That’s a problem with writing, and I’ve found ways to overcome it. (Outlining, clearly defined daily goals, etc.) Marketing is even less well-defined. “Get in with as many booksellers as you can.” “Get some interviews.” Great. How? Make contact via email first? Cold call them? (See above.)

The problem with almost all marketing is, no one can tell you what works, except anecdotally. (“I tried this and sales went up.”) Even then the claims were full of caveats. (“It’s possible this was coincidental.”) Much like publishers reading submissions, lots of people can tell what won’t sell; none can tell you what will. Saying “An attractive person with a good personality” sells books is hardly a prescription, because

A) Both of those are out of our control to a large extent, and

2) If we had either of those qualities, we probably wouldn’t have become writers in the first place; we’d have been out getting laid.

I’ll muddle through. The good news is, once I get a signing set up, I’ll be fine; I’m one of those three-eyed, six-fingered people who enjoys public speaking. Till then, send positive energy. Not to me; to the Beloved Spouse. I am not the easiest person to live with for the time being.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Ratlines, by Stuart Neville

Soho Crime gave away copies of Stuart Neville’s Ratlines during Bouchercon 2012. I apparently had something more important to do—the hotel bar may have been involved—and I missed out. Consider this another argument against drinking; Ratlines is a great book.

In 1963 the United States’ first Irish and first Catholic president—John Kennedy—visited Ireland, the first visit of an American president in Irish history. Many of Kennedy’s advisors wanted to cancel so Kennedy could attend to more pressing Cold War issues; any excuse would do. The Irish were determined not to give them one.

Problem was, Ireland had a dirty little sort of kind of secret: government acceptance of former Nazis, including SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny, hero of the Mussolini rescue mission. Officially living in Ireland as a gentleman farmer, Skorzeny hold the purse strings to get as yet undiscovered Nazis to havens such as Ireland and South America. The network of escape routes are the ratlines of the book’s title.

Skorzeny himself comes under attack from an unknown individual or group. people known to him are killed; messages for him are left. Publicity of a string of murders is bad enough; too much exposure of Ireland’s coziness with Nazis would make Kennedy’s trip politically unfeasible. The Irish government wants this to go away at virtually any cost, and assigns Lieutenant Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence—the Irish G2—to take care of it.

That’s as much of it as I’ll give away. Neville’s understated, yet eloquent writing is reminiscent of John leCarré; his inclusion of historical figures as characters—notably Skorzeny and Irish Justice Minister Charles Haughey—is as effective as James Ellroy, though less bombastic; and the increasing complexities of the plot, including double- and triple-crosses (maybe even a quadruple) invokes fond memories of the best work of Alistair MacLean. Put it all together and Neville has created as close to the perfect thriller as you’re likely to find, with all the necessary elements in perfect proportion, never allowing the reader to step back and wonder what’s going on by going anywhere near a jumpable shark. Everyone who considers himself a thriller writer should read Ratlines and pay heed.

I’ll not soon deny Soho an opportunity to give me a Stuart Neville Book again.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Bouchercon Interviews, Part 3: Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck is a fine gentleman and excellent writer, and I say that not because he could crush my windpipe with one hand like it was a cardboard pint of milk. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Beat to a Pulp, [PANK] Magazine, Burnt Bridge, Spinetingler, McSweeney’s, Pulp Modern, Crimespree Magazine and elsewhere. He edits the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT, an organization of veterans who fight to protect children from online sexual predators. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and interviews authors for The Big Thrill. He has won a First Place Bullet Aware and his anthologies have been nominated for Spinetingler Awards.

I’m grateful to Tom for taking the time to talk about why he went to Bouchercon this year.

One Bite at a Time: What’s the most important aspect of Bouchercon for you? (This year, or any year?)

Thomas Pluck: Meeting people! Other fans of crime fiction, readers, publishers, editors, and other writers. I am especially energized by meeting and talking with other writers, but talking with fans of the genre in general, who are excited about new books, movies, and stories, is critical to feeding the fire that keeps you persevering. And despite books and magazines and blogs for writers, there's no one surefire way to write, have your writing published, or achieve what you define as success, so discussing wins and failures with other writers is key.

OBAAT: Were you on any panels?

TP: I read on Terence McCauley's pulp panel, but I didn't sign up to moderate one this year and I regret it. It's a great way to meet people, especially if it's outside your comfort zone. Sometimes there's a rift between the cozy and the hardboiled, but I enjoy both and many writers write in both ponds. Like Lawrence Block, for one. I wish I'd sit in on more panels.

OBAAT: To you, what makes a good panel, from a panelist’s perspective?

TP: I think it's important for the moderator to seek out questions that generate discussion rather than pat answers or repetition. It should be like social media; less promotion and more communication, let the audience learn something new about the writers and their work, something the writer him or herself doesn't announce in their bio. It's not easy, you have to feel comfortable talking with strangers, possibly writers who are much more experienced than you, but a cat can look at a king and a new author can ask Mary Higgins Clark who she wants to punch in the face.

OBAAT: What do you look for when deciding which panels to attend?

TP: An interesting topic. There's always the noir panel, the historical mystery panel, and so on. Put an interesting spin on it, if you can, to lure non-aficionados in. Break the stereotypes. If I can't find one that grabs me I'll support a friend by being in the audience. I always attend the panels that involve the genres I write in, noir, thrillers, hardboiled, action. You need to know the writers you will be shelved with, and be active with the fans. And I look for a good moderator! I know Chris Holm will be subtle and funny, that Reed Farrel Coleman will be knowledgeable and have his own say, which in turn goads the panelists into an interesting response. Fans and bloggers with a solid grasp of the genre's history are an important institutional knowledge base, and they make great moderators, because they ask new questions.

OBAAT: What makes a panel good for you when you’re in the audience?

TP: When the panelists have a good chemistry. Some writers are very quiet, others have a big personality, and a good balance makes for that special panel that threatens to go overtime because everyone is having too much fun. Anecdote panels tend toward this, such as "the worst book tour experience," or "social media disasters," but also good discussions where writers talk about the books that inspired them to write. Enough time for a good Q&A session is essential, because not everyone has the guts to introduce themselves to their favorite authors after the panel.

OBAAT: Would you like to see more or fewer questions from the audience?

TP: I'd like to see more, but if the audience doesn't respond, don't listen to crickets. Move on. A moderator can always ask a particular panelist a question. Or let the panelist ask the audience a question, and point to raised hands for the answers. Why not?

OBAAT: What’s your favorite Bouchercon story, from this year or any past years?

TP: Well there was that time that Brad Parks shot a man just to watch him die. He sang Springsteen tunes to him as the light in his eyes went out. I'm pretty sure everyone in that church will be haunted by the experience for the rest of their lives.

That's a joke, by the way. Brad didn't shoot anybody. He made me do it, to get my cat back in one piece..

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Thomas Pluck’s current novel is Blade of Dishonor, available on Amazon by clicking here.

Bouchercon Interviews Schedule

October 18 – Judy Bobalik and Jon Jordan (organizers)

October 25 – Peter Rozovsky (moderator)

November 8 – John McFetridge (author)

November 15 – Tim O’Mara (author)

November 22 – Ali Karim (firmware)

November 27 – Zoe Sharp (author)

December 6 – Jack Getze (author)

December 13 – Walter Colby (reader)

December 20 – Michelle Turlock Isler (reader)

Booklist Weighs In On Grind Joint

The following will appear in the November 15 edition of Booklist:

King has created vividly drawn characters, a plot the late Elmore Leonard would appreciate, and dialogue that hits all the right notes. His Penns River recalls K.C. Constantine’s wonderfully rendered Rocksburg, another struggling, soulful Pennsylvania mill town. But the reclusive Constantine has retired. Let's hope Grind Joint is the first in a new series chronicling life and crime in the Alleghenies.

Grind Joint is available for pre-order at Amazon. The “official” launch is at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop, in Oakmont PA, at 10:00 EST, Saturday, November 16.

Hope to see you there.