Monday, November 23, 2009

Would you rather?

Debut Authors Brad Parks (FACES OF THE GONE) and Carla Buckley (THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE) recently got together to play a game called Would You Rather. Brad served as victim.

Carla: Brad, my hope is that we’ll catch a glimpse of the real Brad Parks instead of the witty, debonair author you play at conferences.

Brad: Okay, I promise to be my true self: Dull and boorish, with a dash of insufferable.

Carla: Sounds like fun! Okay, first up: would you rather go sky-diving or spelunking?

Brad: Carla, you probably don’t know this, but according to family lore, my great-great-grandfather was the Maryland state skydiving champion in 1881. You can imagine how proud the family was, and it came with a first prize of $50, which was a lot of money in those days, and some crabs (the kind you eat, not… oh, never mind). Anyhow, he went onto nationals and was narrowly beaten out by a guy from Montana. Supposedly the judging was a bit circumspect, though that might just be my Aunt Patsy’s version. Either way, it haunted my great-great-grandfather for many years – sent him into a depression, really, but we don’t use the “D” word in my family – until his son, my great-grandfather, won both states and nationals in 1902. It was big. He was in the papers, did Letterman, the whole thing. Well, you can imagine the pressure on my grandfather when it came his turn to defend the Parks family name in the world of competitive skydiving and… what? The Wright Brothers didn’t fly until 1903? Oh, then spelunking. Definitely spelunking.

Carla: You had me right up until 1881.

Brad: You’re pretty quick. Aunt Patsy had me going for years with that bit.

Carla: It’s hard to think straight when you have an Aunt Patsy. Now your protagonist owns a pet, right? Okay, a pet question: would you rather own a ferret or a snake?

Brad: I know what you’re thinking: This is a shoo-in for the ferret. They’re furry. They’re cute. And there’s no better friend than a ferret when you’re hunting rabbits. But I’m going with the snake, for reasons of basic physiology. See, I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old, which means I already have enough life forms dependent on me for food on a very regular basis. So I have to think about the convenience factor here. Ferrets are mammals. Mammals are warm-blooded. That means they need to eat every few hours. Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles, which means you only have to feed them, what, once every two weeks? That fits into my current lifestyle a little better. Plus, have you ever seen a snake eat a mouse? It’s just cool. So snake. Snake all the way.

Carla: Nope, never seen a snake eat a mouse. I have seen my 12 pound dachshund leap up onto the kitchen table and devour a plate of Bagel Bites, though.

Brad: How is that possible? Is your kitchen table two feet tall or something? It’s a dachshund, Carla. Its legs are, what, six inches long? You’re just trying to get me back for the whole 1881 thing aren’t you?

Carla: Faced with a plate of Bagel Bites, a dachshund knows no limitations. Speaking of super powers, Brad, would you rather have the ability to see into the future or read minds?

Brad: Actually, Carla, I already can read minds. For example, when you were reading that skydiving bit from question one, you were thinking, “Oh my God, this answer is totally lame, I never should have agreed to be seen in public with this guy.” So I’m going to have to go with seeing into the future. There are a lot of practical applications to clairvoyance – in the stock market, in averting disasters, in knowing whether I can skip the latest version of Windows and wait for the next one – but the chief advantage is that I would never lose at fantasy football again!

Carla: Then you’re a gambler, hmm? So would you rather go to Las Vegas on your own and win, or go camping with your family?

Brad: This is question would seem to be a total trap. Because if I say “Vegas, baby, Vegas,” then I’m a typical pig of a guy, from the tip of my snout to my curly tail, and you and every other female reader out there will be like, “Oh, he’s one of those.” But if I say “camping” then I’m a liar. I mean, that’s the box you just put me in… right? Wrong! The truth is, I’m going to Vegas, but not for the drinking, the gambling, the chorus girls, the fake Sphinx, the all-you-can-eat buffets, or the luxury of sleeping past 6 a.m. (see the part above about having young kids). No, it’s because my wife doesn’t really like camping. At best, she tolerates it. So I’m going to Vegas for her. See? I’m really a good guy after all.

Carla: The secret to a successful marriage.

Brad: Yes. I’m sure trips to Vegas have saved many marriages.

Carla: Or resulted in them. So, it’s clear that you’re a good husband, but would you rather be a good friend, or a good son?

Brad: Excuse me, Carla, I need to go call my mother now. This question has sent me into spasms of guilt. Because my initial instinct was, “Of course! I’ve got my priorities straight! I want to be a good son!” I mean, my mother gave me life and breath. She stayed with me through ear infections and sore throats and those months in 1989 when I decided I wanted a mullet. Do you know she made pancakes for me every morning when I was in high school? Every morning! (Oh, yeah, my dad is a heck of a good guy, too). So shouldn’t I pick good son?

But then I thought about my actions since, oh, birth. Have I really been a good son? Haven’t there been, like, a billion times I put my friends first? I mean, I basically spent all of junior year of high school at the Kovarovics’ house (if you saw Kris Kovarovic, you’d understand). And I realized: I have totally taken my parents for granted. I’m a jerk. Ohhhhhh the guilt. Hello, Mom?

Carla: Please don’t tell my children your mom made you pancakes. Ever.

Brad: Aww, come on. I bet you do something self-sacrificing that will trigger spasms of guilt in your ungrateful children 20 years from now. Share.

Carla: Sorry, but that’s something that needs to come out in years of therapy. Now, I would be remiss to leave off without asking you a question pertaining to your craft, so tell me: would you rather know how your book is going to end before you start writing, or be surprised along the way?

Brad: This is easy. I want the surprise, every time. I want to take my characters, put them in a sticky wicket, and not know how they’re going to work it out. I know this brings a bit of agony, too – because there are going to be times when I get utterly stumped and have no clue where I’m going next. But that’s more than worth it for the pleasure of starting each morning not knowing what’s going to happen in my writing that day. I love those scenes that sort of arise spontaneously as one situation leads to the next. For example, in FACES OF THE GONE, my protagonist, Carter Ross, ends up smoking pot with gang members to prove he’s not a cop. About mid-way through writing that scene, Carter started whispering to me, “Hey, Brad, you know, I don’t really smoke weed that often (giggle). I’m kinda high right now (more giggling). I, uh, can’t walk.” The next thing I knew, Carter was stumbling all over the place, bumping into things, making messes. Then he goes back to the office, nearly runs over his boss, who smells the marijuana on his clothes, and more hilarity ensues. Very little of it germane to the plot. But, damn, it was fun to write – and, I hope, read.

Plus, can I tell you? I’m afraid of what I call super-readers. The super-readers are those people who plow through 200-plus books a year and can saw through my prose – and see through my artifice – in less time than it takes to assemble Ikea furniture. I’m always worried that they’re going to figure out the end by, like, page 50. So I figure if *I* don’t know how it ends on page 50, the super-readers won’t know either.

Carla: Brad, I have a feeling the super-readers will stick with you even if they do figure it out.

Brad Parks is the debut author of FACES OF THE GONE (December 2009, Minotaur Books.) He can be stalked at

Carla Buckley is the debut author of THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE (February 2010, Delacorte Press.) She can be reached at

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Samoa Op Ed Published in Wake of Tsunami

I became familiar with American Samoa when asked to administer wage hearings there in 2001. At the time I was a Chief Economist with the U.S. Department of Labor and interested in promoting increased wages for the impoverished population of this South Pacific U.S. Territory.

Although that was eight years ago the memory and plight of American Samoans have stayed with me. In fact, the beauty of this tropical island and its unique culture made it ideal as the colorful backdrop for my new novel, ISLAND OF BETRAYAL (Gauthier/April 2010). Hopefully, the novel’s depiction of American Samoa’s problems will call attention to the need for remedial action.

In the meantime, when the tsunami hit the Samoas, I thought it an appropriate time to remind policy makers that Samoans face many fundamental problems, such as inadequate education and health care that should be addressed in addition to tsunami relief. The piece was quickly accepted by The Honolulu Advertiser, Hawaii’s largest circulated daily. Since Hawaii is geographically the closest U.S. State to the Samoas and the home of many Samoan natives, the Advertiser was an ideal newspaper for the column.

As a bonus, at the article's conclusion, the Advertiser credited me with my latest non-fiction book, SELLING OUT AMERICA’S DEMOCRACY: HOW LOBBYISTS, SPECIAL INTERESTS, AND CAMPAIGN FINANCING DENY THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE as well as my upcoming novel, ISLAND OF BETRAYAL.

For a copy of my Op Ed, see the EVENTS section of my website,

Monday, September 28, 2009

Norb Vonnegut onTop Producer

My name is Norb Vonnegut, and I wrote Top Producer. It's a novel about Grove O'Rourke, a stockbroker thriving in the frenzied world of high finance. His life unravels overnight, however, as he uncovers the dark and twisted secrets of his best friends. Inside an industry that revels in the glory of betting big and being right, he learns the hard way what some people will do for vast sums of money—and what they will hide.

These days, it's difficult to identify with anyone from Wall Street. But I hope you'll care about Grove, a decent if somewhat irreverent guy who could be any one of us. He works hard and keeps his head down. He's trying to hold it together as he chases the dream. Only Grove has no clue, he has no idea what's lurking round the bend.

Top Producer begins inside a raucous party of 500 people, where Grove watches the spectacular death of Charlie Kelemen—best friend and money manager with the Midas touch and spending habits to match. After the funeral, Charlie's widow confides to Grove she can't find her husband's money and has only $600 left in a checking account. Grove offers to help, but the more he looks for her fortune the more trouble he finds. With the police. With his colleagues. With some really bad guys.

I've seen plenty during my years on Wall Street—big money, snap decisions that worked and some that went way bad. I've worked side by side with people who belong deep inside the pages of fiction for their quirks, scary-smart intelligence, or relentless drive to grow rich. I know the rush of trading first hand and understand how it feels to buy and sell one hundred million dollars of stock in one day.

As an author, I wove much that is real into the story. Financial risk, trading errors, and cutthroat competition—the day-to-day stress of stockbrokers is all there. The dialogue and jargon are real. I know because Grove O'Rourke borrowed one of his best lines from me.

"My job is to bring you the best of Wall Street. And protect you from it at the same time."

Inside Top Producer you'll find financial advisers who are obsessive, almost maniacal in their insistence on secrecy. It's real. People swap firms all the time on Wall Street, which means stockbrokers never discuss clients by name. Never. Today's colleagues are tomorrow's competitors.

I remember well, from my days as a stockbroker, the tension of open-plan seating in an occupation that prizes confidentiality. No secret was safe among the rows and rows of low-rise cubicles. To protect the identity of our clients, in a room full of ears, my team used aliases. We actually named our clients after super heroes.

So when John called from Malibu, my sales assistant would stand up and holler across the desk, "Norb, Batman is on the phone."

Or when Nikki called from St. Barth, the message was, "Wonder Woman on line two, Norb."

We had Green Lantern and Flash. At times when the phones lit up, it sounded like the Justice League of America was asking for our financial advice. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Our system broke down when we told clients their superhero identities. The problem was simple.

Everyone wants to be Superman.

My observations from a career in finance—some shocking and some humorous—find their way into the fiction of Top Producer. You'll encounter procreative fruit flies, an eighteen-foot inflatable rat, and other anecdotes from the intriguing edges of Wall Street. You'll also find the dark side, the cons and the frauds, which unfortunately are all too real.

Although Top Producer is a novel, it may change the way you think about financial services—as it did for me. My fact and fiction collided the evening of December 11, 2008.

I was walking down Fifth Avenue to a client's Christmas party. It was pouring that night, and my shoes felt like colanders. In my left hand, I held a king-sized umbrella. It was losing a one-sided battle to gusting wind and driving rain.

With my right hand, I was hitting a BlackBerry's refresh button for articles from The Wall Street Journal. Every time I "refreshed," new stories popped up. After a day away from the desk, I was catching up on financial news before wandering into a party filled with clients and financiers.

One story jumped out. One story made me forget the inclement weather and soggy pedestrians. One story took my breath away. I stepped out of the rain into the doorway of an office building. I first called my agent, Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary Management. And then I called my editor, Pete Wolverton of Thomas Dunne Books. I left the same message for each.

"We need to talk. My novel just came true."

The Bernard Madoff story broke on the afternoon of December 11, 2008. His confession roiled the capital markets as details of a $65 billion fraud came to light. It opened the floodgates to news of other Ponzi schemes, outright frauds, and tax evasion.

No one was more surprised than me. Top Producer is a novel about financial corruption. But I sold the story to St. Martin's Press in 2007 and had finished 99 percent of the edits before December 11, 2008. I do not know Bernard Madoff and never contemplated him as I wrote.

At its core, my novel is about friendship, betrayal, and ultimately redemption. I personally enjoy stories about underdogs, about everyday people who solve problems under the duress of overwhelming odds and bleak consequences—no matter the backdrop, Wall Street or otherwise.

Happy reading.

Norb Vonnegut

Top Producer is a Today Show Top Fall Pick!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dream Killers

by Jamie Freveletti

I’m a bit tired of people stepping on dreams. I have a lot of dreams. Some are pretty attainable, and others are off the charts so rare that even I have to admit the odds are long.

But I still don’t want you to step on them.

My view on dreams is that if I’m not bothering anyone, haven’t compromised my real life existence to attain them, and in other ways am a responsible person, then the best thing to do is leave me go on my merry way.

Which brings me to the moral dilemma I face when giving panels on writing. People ask me, will this be published? What are the odds? What do you thnk?

Here’s what I think: the odds are long, we know that. The time spent on writing may never pay off, either financially or in published format, we know this also. So what? Should you give up? Stop writing? Choose not to start? Only you know if that’s right for you.

Of course, this answer never satisfies. When I say, “if you continue, diligently, for many years, taking courses, staying in the writing world, going to conferences and panels to pick up tips, you will be published.”

The next question I get is: “How many years?”

Answer: Depends.

This answer is not acceptable to many, either, but it’s true. Last week I watched “Biography” present George Clooney. By most standards, he’s a success in his field. The backstory was interesting. He landed in Hollywood in his early twenties. Did bit parts and recurring roles until he hit with “ER.” Time from landing in LA to ER: ten years give or take. Ten years to get a role that really pushed his career to the next level. That’s a long time. If I said ten years to a new writer, they’d likely get angry. “Ten years! But I want this manuscript to sell now, not ten years down the road.”

I imagine Clooney wanted to hit ten years earlier, too, but that wasn’t in the cards for him. From ER he took roles in movies that generated roller coaster reviews and average box office. Then came “The Perfect Storm.” Big hit, great reviews. Time from landing in LA to big hit—eighteen years, give or take.

So should the unpublished writer give it ten years to get published, another eight to hit huge, and be prepared to wait eighteen altogether? I’m not a fan of delusion, but in this case absolute truth is harsh. Even I, the tortoise of the hare and tortoise race, wince at eighteen years.

But I write because I have to. I love it. A few days without writing and I’m definitely headed into a downer mode. Best I just hit the computer for a couple of hours. I always feel better after. The only other option is to quit. Now, that’s a great option if it doesn’t really matter to you, but if you like writing, like creating characters, and like the creativity that goes along with it, then don’t quit.

Just trudge onward. Your turn will come.

Jamie Freveletti
Running from the Devil
Morrow: May 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Can a novel change the world?

by Karen Dionne

I don't mean DaVinci Code or Harry Potter change, though there's no denying those novels' influence. They've redefined the term "blockbuster," spawned countless knock-offs, created a new sub-genre, even added words to the popular lexicon.

I'm also not referring to Booker or Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction destined to be discussed and dissected by literature students for decades.

I'm talking real-world change. The kind of change that affects people's lives in demonstrable, tangible ways. Meaningful, food-on-the table change that addresses a critical and very real global problem, such as the lack of clean drinking water.

Every day, more than a billion people have no choice but to consume contaminated water. A child dies every 15 seconds because of it. 2.7 billion people live in areas with inadequate sanitation, with 40-60 million deaths per year the result.

Contaminated drinking water is the issue at the heart of my environmental thriller Freezing Point. The story features a concerned environmentalist who thinks he can alleviate the world's fresh water crisis by melting Antarctic icebergs into drinking water. Instead, his lack of understanding of the polar environment coupled with corporate greed creates an even bigger problem that ultimately threatens the entire planet.

Disillusioned, he abandons the corporate world and goes to work for the WaterLife Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on providing clean water and sanitation for underserved communities around the world.

The novel, of course, is fiction. But the WaterLife Foundation is real. In my author's notes, I direct readers toward this worthy non-profit. I discovered the organization while researching the novel, and was particularly taken with the way WaterLife targets villages and peri-urban communities with chronic water and sanitation issues - areas that are overlooked by emergency aid organizations because they're not experiencing a catastrophic situation, yet which actually represent the greatest need.

A typical WaterLife project is the one in Bapa, Camaroon, which includes a rehabilitated well, pump, and water reservoir for a health center serving 3,500 people.

3,500 might seem a drop in the bucket compared to the suffering billions. But these aren't just statistics, these are people: 3,500 very real people with hopes and dreams of long life and health and happiness - and the right to basic human services most of us take for granted.

Likewise, compared to hardworking environmental groups and documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth, my novel's potential for social change is small. And the story wasn't written to educate; it was written to entertain.

Yet all writers hope their words will make a difference. If my readers come away with a greater understanding of the world's water crisis and are moved to action, the story's reach might - just might - extend beyond the page. A reviewer observed that Freezing Point's "ingenious plot, genuine characters, superlative writing and nail-biting suspense will change the way you look at a bottle of water." Another said, "The storyline is chilling, and the reader can't help but become educated about the earth's fresh water resources."

Earth's fresh water situation is critical. Uneven distribution, pollution, abuse of the aquifer - serious scientists around the globe are sounding the warning. By incorporating their concerns into the storyline, I hope my novel shines a small spotlight on a very big problem.

For more about the WaterLife Foundation, visit

Also see Michael Specter's analysis of the global water crisis "The Last Drop," as published in The New Yorker, October 23, 2006

Photo by Antony Funnell / AusAID

This essay originally appeared on The Huffington Post

Karen Dionne is the author of Freezing Point (October 2008, Berkley), a thriller Douglas Preston called "a ripper of a story," with other rave endorsements from David Morrell, John Lescroart, and many others. Her next novel, Boiling Point, will be published by Berkley in October 2010. For more information about her, go to

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Rewind: Baseball and Breakout Novels

Greetings: I had several requests to post this blog on our site. So for those of you who were kind enough to visit me last week at Terry's Place, please forgive the double billing. I found the responses to that blog to be very interesting, and many fell into the following 3 general categories:

  • Some people didn't accept the findings of the video, which I happen to believe is well researched. You're welcome to watch it and draw your own conclusions.
  • Several people noted that while our audience is undoubtedly changing, our principal message as writers remains the same. Again, that's open for debate, but I'm interested in your take.
  • A few people brought up the intersection of technology with the task of modern-day writers: whether that be putting words on the page or the beast we call publicity/promotion.
I'm fascinated by all of the above, and I don't pretend to know the answers. The original post follows.

What do baseball teams and breakout novels have in common?

I’ve become something of a baseball fan recently—and not ONLY because the Texas Rangers are in the pennant race. It’s exciting to hear the crack of the bat, sit in the stands and cheer, watch the fireworks each time Michael Young smashes a homerun.

Writing is a little like baseball. You want to hit one out of the ballpark, but doing so requires focus and determination. In truth it probably requires more than merely writing an excellent book. We also need to know what TOMORROW’s readers will want to read.

How much time do you think passes by the time I write an 80,000 word manuscript, send it to my agent, she sends it to a few publishers, they get in a bidding war over it, a contract is signed, and I’m given a slot? I’m a quick writer—some people say I’m obsessive-compulsive, but I find that terminology harsh. Best case scenario for me is six months to write, then another six months from agent through contract negotiations. At that point we can tack on another twelve to eighteen months for production before the book actually appears on a shelf—if things go well.

So when I open up a brand new document, as I did last week, and begin a sparkling new story—I need to envision what readers will want to read two to three years from now. What will seem fresh and exciting to them?

Have I mentioned that writing rocks? It certainly does. I love it, and I’m awed by the entire process.

This idea of envisioning what my reader will want to read in two to three years is a bit daunting though. Some days I feel as if I’m attempting to write science fiction. The enormity of this task was brought home to me this week when I was directed to the following video.

It’s entitled “Did You Know?” I’ve watched it five times now, and I’m still fascinated. Researched and designed by Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Brenman, I believe there’s something there for most everyone—but certainly for anyone trying to communicate. To date, it’s received over 2 million views on youtube. So even though it wasn’t designed for writers, I think it bears a little attention in this discussion.

Part of our job includes envisioning our audience. I write romantic thrillers, a wonderful blended genre—and one that is constantly changing, both in content and in readership. As I watched the video, quite a few items jumped out at me (and the song is catchy too). For instance, I learned—
  • China will soon be the #1 English speaking country in the world
  • 1 of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met on-line
  • There are over 200 million registered users on MySpace
  • There are approximately 540,000 words in the English language today, five times as many as there were during Shakespeare’s time

WOW! Each one of those facts astound me, and they each change the picture in my head when I envision my reader and my novel which will appear on the shelf in two years. (Okay, maybe not the last fact, but it is very cool and gives me pause each time I choose a word.)

I also think Fisch/McLeod/Brenman do well when they end their video with “So What Does It Mean?” They don’t even attempt to interpret their findings, but rather leave it to their viewers.

So how did I interpret what I saw? I immediately started thinking about my readers . . . the ones in 2012. The ones who will be reading the book I just started writing. The video reminded me that instead of becoming caught up in minutia such as whether my book will appear in hardback, paperback, ebook, Kindle, or on someone’s IPhone . . . perhaps a wiser use of my time would be to spend it considering my reader’s background. What do they consider a romantic gesture? Will they recognize my male lead as heroic? Can they buy into the basic premise I’ve so carefully laid down on page one and will it thrill them in the way I intended?

I believe romance in its truest form doesn’t change. When you strip away the trappings of our time—technological and societal—romance remains the same. I teach collegiate age young adults, and they still love a good story. The question for me is whether as a writer I have the ability to catch and hold their attention long enough to place my tale of love in their hearts and minds.

As authors, when we do that, we’ll have earned ourselves loyal readers. Kind of like true baseball fans—ones who stick with their teams through good seasons and bad.

I’m interested though. What do you think of when you picture TOMORROW’s readers? Are they different from today’s readers, or pretty much the same? Does technology change our conception of romance or the things we fear? And does it, or should it, change the way we write?


The Cost of Love, will be published by Five Star Press in March, 2010. For more details visit

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker releases today!

Hello my debut friends and seekers of thrill!

I'm particularly thrilled that my cross-genre debut Gothic Victorian Fantasy Romance Novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, first in the Strangely Beautiful series, releases today!

From the back cover:

What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death…
What people are saying:
"A compelling, engaging novel that drew me in from page one. Bravo!" --M. J. Rose, bestselling author of THE REINCARNATIONIST and THE MEMORIST"
Its pages are like the petals of a rose: a many-layered tale gorgeously told... It's Bulfinch's Mythology and Harry Potter and Wuthering Heights in a blender."— Alethea Kontis, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show
"Suspense, mystery, and the paranormal are all rolled into a historical novel with a gothic flair that will entice the reader and leave her wanting more... Ms. Hieber is an artist that puts her art into words."— Book Wenches
" was thrilling to be engaged in a book that kept me reading well past 1 a.m., that got me out of bed not long after to begin again. And that, of course, means that I will absolutely be reading the next book, and the one after that and so on."—Tempting Persephone
"Leanna Renee Hieber creates a sense of enchantment from the very beginning, and the novel caught me up in its spell... elegantly written and chock full of interesting characters and mythic themes."—Fantasy Literature
"THE STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL TALE OF MISS PERCY PARKER unfolds at a steady pace, introduces unique characters, and provides a magical start to what will surely be an engaging series."—Darque Reviews
As I deal with Jack The Ripper within the book, you can hear a few of my thoughts on Jack at a post at Murder She Writes or my new author introduction interview by Toni McGee Causey at Murderati. You can visit my website and check out reviews and interviews.
I hope you'll follow along on my Strangely Beautiful Haunted London Blog Tour where every day I tell a new ghost story I use in the book! There's a ton of chances for book giveaways and you can enter my Contest for two cool prizes!
Blessings and I hope you'll give the beginning of the Strangely Beautiful series a try!

Leanna Renee Hieber

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Writer as Kitchen Slave

by Karen Dionne

I’m a writer – a published author, a novelist. I’m not yet a household name, but I’m not a wannabe either. My first thriller published last fall with Berkley, a division of Penguin/Putnam. My publisher paid me an advance, sold German and Czech rights, and this spring, bought a second thriller from me on spec.

I’m also co-founder and co-administrator of Backspace, an Internet-based writers community with over a thousand members in a dozen countries. I organize and run the Backspace Writers Conference in New York City every year. Backspace has the endorsement of some of the top people in the publishing industry. When I email literary agents, editors, and bestselling authors, they answer – usually within minutes.

But writing is only half of what I do. Like most novelists at the beginning of their careers, I have a day job that pays the bills. In my case, it’s working alongside my husband doing high-end furniture upholstery for interior decorators from a workshop behind our home.

Last week, I went to a customer’s house because the cushion I’d sewn for a piece of wicker porch furniture didn’t fit. It happens. We’ve been in the business for decades and we’re very good at what we do, but life isn’t perfect, and occasionally things go wrong.

This customer lives in a lovely house on a lake in one of my city's wealthier suburbs, complete with winding, wooded driveway, a beautifully landscaped yard with a bronze sculpture and gazebo, and secondary driveways labeled with discreet signs (“To Boathouse”) to indicate their purpose.

The woman was not so lovely. As soon as I arrived, she launched into what turned out to be a full half hour of abuse. She scolded, insulted, ridiculed, accused, demeaned, yelled, hit things, threw things, and even yanked the cushion from my hands as I was trying to determine what mistake I had made when I sewed it.

In hindsight, I should have called a halt after five minutes. Given her my cell number, told her I was going for a cup of coffee, and explained that she was welcome to call me after she’d calmed down and I'd come back and finish the job.

But upholstering furniture is a service business. The customer had a legitimate complaint, which I was there to fix. So I suffered through her tantrum until I had the measurements I needed, escaped to my car at last, and drove off, hands shaking, close to tears.

Understand, I'm not easily intimidated. My first novel isn’t a cozy Agatha Christie-type mystery, it’s a science thriller that plays out more like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. To research my next novel, I traveled 7,000 miles to Chaitén Volcano in Northen Patagonia, Chile -- an active volcano officially on Red Alert. I stayed in the town at the volcano’s base, even though it was ruined by a lahar and is without electricity and running water. I hiked to within one mile of the lava dome. I saw steam vents, heard explosions from within the caldera, and felt a small earthquake.

None of that frightened me. But this woman’s screaming as if she were the lady of the manor and I was her kitchen slave was one of the most disturbing experiences I've ever had – made all the more bizarre by the fact that I’d just come from New York City, where I was a featured author at a thriller writers convention and did a joint book signing with a bestselling German thriller author at a landmark bookstore in SoHo.

My customer didn’t know about the other half of my life, of course. I understand her ignorance. Writers aren’t rock stars. Even the most successful tend not to be recognized. #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child relates how once while he was touring, he noticed the woman in the seat beside him on the plane reading one of his novels. He didn't introduce himself and claim ownership; instead, he waited to see what would happen. Hours later when they disembarked, the woman still had no idea she’d been sitting next to the novel’s author, even though she could have easily matched up her seat mate with the photo on the back of her book.

For most published authors, the glamorous life of a writer includes a day job. It's entirely possible I wasn’t the first author with whom my customer crossed paths. The barista at her local Starbucks, or the mechanic who rotates her tires, or the IT guy who fixes her computer might well be an author whose novel she read, loved, and admired.

But ignorance doesn't excuse my customer’s bad behavior. Whether a person’s accomplishments are obvious or not, everyone deserves to be treated with respect. No one should be treated like a kitchen slave – even if they happen to be a short order cook.

Karen Dionne is the author of Freezing Point (October 2008, Berkley), a thriller Douglas Preston called "a ripper of a story," with other rave endorsements from David Morrell, John Lescroart, and many others. Her next novel, Boiling Point, will be published by Berkley in October 2010. For more information about her, go to

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tweeting in character

By Jeremy Duns

I’ve been on Twitter for a while now, and have been enjoying it. The site has helped me interact with readers of my debut novel Free Agent, and I think find new readers for it, but it can be challenging for a writer. When you spend all day trying to fashion an exciting and coherent story in 80,000-plus consecutive words, Twitter’s 140-character limit can take a little getting used to.

So I was interested to see a couple of writers trying something new on Twitter: tweeting in character. A couple of months ago, Joseph Finder, author of Paranoia and High Crimes, set up an account representing the protagonist of his latest novel, Vanished. Heller is described in his Twitter profile as an ‘intelligence investigator, security consultant, fixer, ex-military’ who ‘knows where the bodies are buried’. And just to make the message clear, he tells us he is ‘working with author @JoeFinder to tell my story’. Finder tweets as Heller as though he were a real-life citizen. So the character often links to stories online about intelligence and security matters, and exchanges banter with his Twitter followers – he has over 1,450 of them at the moment. Finder sends the tweets to Facebook, too, where he continues the conversation. One of his associates explains some more of the reasoning behind the experiment here.

Another thriller-writer adopting this approach is Jeff Abbott, author of Panic and Fear, who set up an account for Luke Dantry, the protagonist of his latest novel, Trust Me, in July. Abbott announced the development on his blog, saying that Dantry would ‘write about his researches into the next wave of terror and criminal networks’. The character is a grad student in psychology penetrating online extremist sites to try to determine which participants might become violent. In Trust Me, he is kidnapped, whereupon he realizes that his research is much more dangerous than he believed.

Abbott said he decided to put the character on Twitter because ‘he was the reason I got on Twitter in the first place: Luke uses Twitter to broadcast a message to his friends that he is innocent of a crime. I thought it would be a fun way to share a lot of the research I did into the dark world of online extremism – which I believe to be an enormous threat to our everyday lives.’

Like Nick Heller, Luke Dantry tweets links relevant to his field of expertise, but he is not in character to nearly the same extent, often directly referencing both Abbott and Trust Me in his tweets. Still new to the game, he currently has 36 followers.

I have been following both of these experiments on Twitter with interest, and a few weeks ago started wondering if I could do something similar with my own protagonist, Paul Dark. But unlike Heller and Dantry, Dark is not a contemporary character: my novels take place in 1969, at the height of the Cold War, and Dark is a British secret agent on the run. A character who lives in a pre-internet age using Twitter – how would I do it? What would he have to say, and why would he be saying it? Unlike Abbott and Finder’s characters, he wouldn’t be able to interact with other people on Twitter without shattering the fourth wall, but interaction is key to Twitter. Sure, some writers have serialized novels on Twitter – RN Morris, for example – but I wasn’t sure what I could add by doing that.

Then last week I read an article in The Bookseller about Philippa Gregory tweeting her latest novel. Here was a character from the 15th-century on Twitter! I found it interesting that she preferred some of the prose she had used to that in the novel, and I liked her idea to tweet around the edges of the book. It reminded me of Lawrence Durrell’s interconnected novels The Alexandria Quartet: at the end of each, Durrell included a few pages of ‘workpoints’ that provided descriptions of characters or places, alternative interpretations of events and possible sub-plots, extending the world of the novels and letting readers imagine further spins on it.

Reading is a curious experience. There is no interaction, just a series of posts that both advance the plot and can be read individually. Over 500 people are following the character, myself included. Because of the way Twitter works, I find it rather hard to follow all the tweets as they appear in my feed, and reading so many from the bottom up on the character's page, especially with Twitter’s current rudimentary archiving function, is also difficult. But Twitter works as a sort of skim-reading device, and the effect of @ElizWoodville, I find, is that her tweets subtly invade my stream of updates about political debates, publishing news and the like, and that even though I don’t read all of them or try to keep track of the story too closely, I still come away with a strong sense of the character, and the time she is living in. It’s very impressive, and certainly makes me want to read the book.

So yesterday I set up a Twitter account for Paul Dark. My novels are in the first person, which is an advantage, but this version of Mr Dark expresses himself in the present tense as opposed to the past. I have decided to do something along roughly the same lines as Philippa Gregory, but with no time limit to it (she’s only tweeting as the character for a week), and to write as I go along. This has the benefit of spontaneity, and I feel that having written two novels from Dark’s point of view I can now effectively ‘channel’ his voice. In fact, the exercise is already helping me as I gear up to write the final book in the trilogy.

I have, naturally, had to adapt to the site. Free Agent is a breakneck-paced spy thriller with nearly every chapter ending on a cliff-hanger. But cliff-hangers don’t really work on Twitter, because of the way it streams and is read. So Dark's tweets follow lines of the first novel but do not stick too closely to them. Sometimes I rewrite or edit passages from the book; other tweets are either free-floating thoughts or circle around moments in the novel, like Durrell's workpoints, or songs on a soundtrack that were not in the film. The chronology is much looser, and I intend to insert some foreshadowing of the second novel and perhaps the third into tweets as I go on.

It’s an experiment, both in terms of marketing my work and in terms of my writing. So far, I am enjoying it. Strangely, although Twitter offers just 140 characters a time, I find that Dark is slightly more expansive in this medium than he is in Free Agent. But I hope I am succeeding in capturing his voice, and that I will be able to both entertain people who enjoyed the book and find new readers as well. Please do let me know what you think!

Free Agent by Jeremy Duns is published by Simon and Schuster in the United Kingdom and Canada and Viking Penguin in the United States. See for more information.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

What is a 'thriller', anyway?

By Matt Hilton

Recently, during Thrillerfest in New York, the question was posed to me: What’s the difference between a mystery and a thriller novel? Although my answer may have been a little pithy, I explained that in my opinion a mystery had a problem to be solved while a thriller had a problem to be dealt with.

Of course, this is a very limited manner in which to describe the differences. You can of course have a thriller that contains a mystery, and also most mystery books are thrilling by the very virtue of their subject matter. I’ve pondered quite a lot on the subject since, and thought it time that I put some of my conclusions on record – all of which I hasten to add are probably subject to change.

Because ‘a mystery’ pretty much tells us what to expect, I thought of which ingredients I found were necessary to make a thriller and the first thing that I came up with was that the term is very subjective. Thriller books transcend genre: we can have crime thrillers, action thrillers, adventure thrillers, historical thrillers, supernatural thrillers, sci-fi thrillers, romantic thrillers...and the list goes on. In other words, it doesn’t matter what the genre, it’s the structure and driving force behind the book that defines it as a thriller.

A thriller can be set any where, any time, but they all have a commonality. The books are fast-paced with plenty of action and generally hold a sense of impending menace or doom.

Usually a thriller focuses on the emotion and inner workings of the protagonist who is often running away from or running towards something that is both very dangerous and life-threatening.

There is generally an under-current of good versus evil.

Many thrillers are about ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances, and are typified by the protagonist running for their lives, before turning to face and ultimately triumph over the danger. Others, like my books, tend to follow a protagonist with the skills to fight back, but who is facing overwhelming odds.

Often there is a mystery to be solved, but sometimes the danger is out there in the open for all to see and the protagonist’s story follows his/her attempts to put an end to it while also trying to stay alive or to save someone or something else.

The protagonist often has some kind of weakness – often a burden on his/her soul – and during the events of the thriller he/she must contend with and often overcome this weakness in order to avail him/herself against the danger.

Thrillers are often full of reversals and twists, that amp up the pace as the protagonist must find new ways to contend with these surprises. Often there is a ‘ticking bomb’ where time – or the lack of – becomes an enemy in itself.

There is generally an expectation of impending violence around each corner. Violence may not always be physical – but may be delivered by way of plot twists or surprises that crash and burn their way through what the protagonist or (more importantly) the reader expects.

Tension is maintained by conflict, and by posing questions of when, where, why, what and, probably most importantly, how? (i.e How on earth is the hero going to get out of this one?)

My list isn’t exhaustive. There are many other factors that make a thriller, and there is a huge likelihood that other thriller authors will disagree with some of my points and come up with some salient ingredient that requires adding to the pot. Going back to my first paragraph, well, the truth is, I’m still pondering.

Matt Hilton is an ITW Debut Author. His ‘Joe Hunter’ thriller series debuted with Dead Men’s Dust in May 2009. Book 2, Judgement and Wrath, will be published by Hodder and Stoughton (UK) in October 2009 and by William Morrow and Co (USA) in May 2010.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For...

by Jennie Bentley

You know this picture you may have in your head, of the gracious author at her book signing: hair perfectly coiffed, nice clothes, friendly smile? That’s me. It’s release week for Spackled and Spooked, and I’ve got back to back events scheduled this week and for the next two. Three bookstore signings, one release party, one Evening with an Author, one TV appearance, and a three-day conference. Plus a couple of interviews, complete with photographer. What that means is an endless round of worry over make-up and clothes, whether my slip is showing, whether my hair is fluffy enough, how overweight I’ll look when the cameras turn on me...

Last year’s TV appearance for the release of Fatal Fixer-Upper was not auspicious. The anchor started the interview by asking me a question I didn’t understand. I kid you not, it sounded like gibberish. The words made absolutely no sense. I’ve watched the clip since, cringing, and it wasn’t just nerves: the question still doesn’t make sense to me, even when I’m calm. The cringeworthy part, though, is the silence that follows. The deer-in-the-headlights look on my face as I sit there, trying to decipher the question and how to answer it. The dawning horror on the anchor’s face as she realizes that she’s sitting opposite a guest who has frozen.

It worked out in the end, and I don’t think it took more than eight seconds or so. (Which, let me tell you, is an eternity on TV.) Eventually, I said something. Anything. I didn’t care what it was, as long as it filled the silence. I didn’t answer the question, but I was coherent. And it got better from there.

This year I get to do it again, along with all the other stuff I mentioned. If you look closely, you’ll see the manic look in my eyes as I worry about the hair, and the slip, and the fact that at home, I’m revising Plaster and Poison, which is scheduled for release in March, and writing DIY#4, tentatively titled Mortar and Murder, which—if I can get it written by the end of the year—might make it into the stores by the end of 2010.

Can you spell P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E?

Oh yes, and that’s without taking into account the ten or so manuscripts I've critiqued for Killer Nashville, the conference I’m attending next weekend; and the ten or so wannabe authors I have to meet with, to discuss their manuscripts; and the panels I have to prepare for, and the fact that at some point during the weekend, I have to write and ship a guest blog I promised to do on the 16th...

It’s the glamorous life of a writer. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. In September, when it’s all over and the only thing I have to worry about is finishing Mortar and Murder by the end of the year, I’ll look back on it and smile. But for now, if you happen to catch sight of me in the next few weeks, forgive me if I’m not the picture of the smiling, gracious author, would you? Ignore that rabid look in my eyes, and the way I twitch when someone says my name? And if I don’t answer your question right away, give me eight seconds for that deer-in-the-headlights look to go away and my brain to fire on all cylinders again? I’ll get there, I promise!

And if you’re in my neck of the woods this month, I’d love to see you. Check out my website, to see where I’ll be, and when!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Two Berkley Babes Talk

by Jennie Bentley

Welcome to the Thrill Begins blog on this very special day, the 4th of August, 2009.

Why is it special?

Well, it’s release day for Berkley Prime Crime, and I’m here with Diana Orgain, 2010/2011 debut author and my fellow Berkley Babe, to talk about her first book, Bundle of Trouble, which is being released today. PW likes it, which is more than they did for my first book!

Congratulations on your debut, Diana! Give us the Bundle of Trouble elevator pitch.

Diana: Bundle of Trouble is about a new-mom turned PI. She doesn’t want to return to the corporate world after having her baby and simultaneously gets caught up in a mystery. She figures she can launch a new career as a PI and work from home, only it’s not as easy as she thinks.

Jennie: Sounds fun! My second book, which also comes out today, is about a designer-turned-renovator and her boyfriend and business partner, who take on the renovation of a local haunted house in a small town on the coast of Maine, and who end up dealing with ghostly footsteps, a skeleton in the crawlspace, and a freshly dead neighbor. It’s called Spackled and Spooked, and is the second in the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mystery series.

So tell us a little about how you came to write Bundle of Trouble. Was it your first book? Have you always been writing, or is this a more recent dream?

Diana: Bundle of Trouble is my first book. I have a M.F.A. in Creative Writing, specifically playwriting.

Before writing Bundle of Trouble I wrote various humorous stage plays that were produced in San Francisco. I always wanted to write a mystery novel because I enjoyed reading them so much. But I didn’t know how to put the plot together in such a way as to keep the reading guessing “who done it”.

What I figured out fast was that it’s a lot easier to piece the puzzle together when you are the one making it up rather than reading it.

Jennie: Ain’t that the truth? I ended up writing the DIY series because of my background. As a brand new realtor myself, a few years ago, I wrote a book about a brand new realtor who falls over a dead body in an empty house. It’s called A Cutthroat Business, and will be released next summer. But before we got that far, it crossed the desk of an editor at Berkley Prime Crime, who liked me and my writing, and who asked me if I’d be interested in writing a series about a renovator for them, since I’ve renovated the odd house or nine. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So what about you? I know you have kids of your own, as does Kate Connolly, your protagonist. Tell us about Kate. Share three things that you and Kate have in common, and three ways in which you're absolutely different.

Diana: Three things in common:
a. Obsession over baby’s well being.
b. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.
c. I, too, am a list-maker.

Three ways we differ:
a. Kate is much more patient than I am.
b. Kate is braver than I am.
c. Kate is more willing to stir things up than I am.

Jennie: My protagonist in Spackled and Spooked (as well as in Fatal Fixer-Upper, the first DIY-mystery) is Avery Baker. She’s a New Yorker born and bred, and a textile designer, who ends up inheriting her aunt’s house in Maine, and falling into renovating for a living. Obviously she and I have the renovating in common. I wasn’t born in New York, but I lived there for years, through my late teens and most of my twenties, and I can also relate to Avery’s feelings of being like a fish out of water when she comes to the little town of Waterfield, where everything is much slower-paced and laid-back. We have a few personality traits in common, as well, like Avery’s rather too-vivid imagination and her insecurities. On the other hand, she’s single and unlucky in love, while I met my Prince Charming at 19. He looks a little like Derek, too...

Does Kate get up to any trouble in the book that you've been in yourself? Does she do something you wouldn't do in a million years, no matter the benefits?

Diana: Kate speaks her mind a bit more than I’m ready to. I follow the general rule – if you can’t say something nice… Kate doesn’t suffer from rule abiding.

Jennie: Ah. Avery doesn’t speak her mind as much as she blurts things out. I tend not to do that, but I’m not afraid of speaking my mind, either. I just think about what I say before I say it, and then I usually go ahead and say it anyway. If there’s such a thing as being too direct, that’s me.

What was the hardest part of writing Bundle of Trouble for you? Is that always the hardest part, or does it change from book to book? What about the easiest or most fun part?

Diana: When I am re-writing I think writing a first draft is easier and likewise when I am writing the first draft I think re-writing is easier.

Jennie: Lucky you. I never think re-writing is easier. I love writing the first draft; anything after that is agony. It’s the same reason I don’t outline. If I already know the story, there doesn’t seem to be much sense in working on it. So the first draft is always fun; revisions less so. They’re a necessary part of the process, so I do them, and do my best, but I won’t claim to enjoy that aspect.

So what has most surprised you about being a writer? I remember thinking that the community between writers is really awesome.

Diana: I have always been a storyteller. I love telling a good story and seeing and sharing in the audience reaction. Writing is fun because you can tell a good story slowly and really savor it, the hard part is the delayed response from the audience. You have to wait a while to find out how they liked it.

Jennie: But when they like it, and they send you an email to say they do, that’s really, really nice!

If you could give one piece of advice to the prepublished writers reading this, what would it be, and why?

Diana: My very bright university professor told me, “You have to make a habit of finishing.” I wanted to change my thesis about 2 months before graduation. He told me all his students come to him with the same request, because we’re all convinced the new thing we want to work on is better than the old. But the truth is the work is in the crafting and the crafting comes after the shiny new experience of the “idea” has come and gone.

Hmmm. Kind of like parenting…

Jennie: Amen to that. That’s essential advice, right there, and something I struggle with every single day. No, it doesn’t just apply to the prepublished. Those new ideas are just as bright and shiny when you’re on your sixth or seventh or tenth book. Maybe even more so, if all those six or seven or ten are about the same characters, and you’re ready for a change. Not that I’m there, or anything!

Thanks for visiting with me today, Diana! Good luck on your launch and on this and the other books in the Maternal Instincts series. And be sure to take the time to enjoy what's happening, in the midst of all the hoopla. It's your first published book, and you'll never be in this situation again.
You're on your way, Berkley Babe!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Michael Crichton’s Top 5 Writing Lessons

by Karen Dionne

In memory of Michael Crichton, who died in late 2008 at the age of 66, last April, Writer's Digest Magazine asked me to share what I learned as a writer from reading my idol’s books. Here’s what I said:

1. CHALLENGE YOUR READER. Don’t be afraid to tackle complex topics such as quantum physics or manipulating the genetic code. Readers love learning something new. Stirring their curiosity is just as important as grabbing them from the first page.

2. SURPRISE YOUR READER. No one reading The Andromeda Strain could have guessed the ending. Novels should be novel. Unpredictability is key.

3. KEEP THE CLOCK TICKING. Timing, tension, momentum, pace—Crichton set the bar. A pounding heart keeps the reader reading.

4. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT. Whether the details pertain to science, history or setting, readers expect your research to be accurate.

5. PLAY FAST AND LOOSE WITH THE FACTS. Story trumps all. Crichton’s gift was making the impossible believable. Everyone knows that dinosaurs can’t be cloned from fossilized DNA, but if they could …

This article appeared in the
March/April issue of Writer's Digest. Click here to order your copy in print. If you prefer a digital download of the issue, click here.

Karen Dionne is the author of Freezing Point (October 2008, Berkley), a thriller Douglas Preston called "a ripper of a story," with other rave endorsements from David Morrell, John Lescroart, and many others. Her next novel, Boiling Point, will be published by Berkley in October 2010. For more information about her, go to

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thrillerfest Field Report: From the Mouth of a Fan

by Julie Kramer

John Beaumont has set the bar high for Thrillerfest fans.

He decided to attend the convention Thursday. Flew to New York Friday. Bought a day pass Saturday. And met his idol, Clive Cussler.

"I was star struck," he said. "My IQ went down 60 points.
I couldn't think of anything to say except, can I get your picture?"

Beaumont and I were both flying out of LaGuardia Airport Sunday morning when we met. He asked me if I was an author because I was carrying a giant poster board of my new MISSING MARK book cover. We discussed whether the airline folk would let me take it on board. He beamed as he told me his Thrillerfest tale. Then he showed me digital photos on his camera of him and Cussler. Then him and Steve Barry. Then him and David Morrell. Then he beamed some more, even though the whole impromptu trip had cost more than he expected.

"It was a lot of money." Beaumont says he spent $870, but it was worth it. "I would do it again in a heart beat."

Beaumont lives in Sarasota, FL, a place he calls "the dead end of America," because once you get down there you pretty much have to go back the same way you came. He says authors don't visit very often, so he might never have had another chance to mingle with top thriller writers if he hadn't gotten a buddy to take his work shift at the last minute.

We said goodbye, got on your planes, and now Beaumont and I are Facebook friends. When he got home, he told his sister all about his adventure, including meeting me. And while she'd never heard of Clive Cussler...she'd read my debut, STALKING SUSAN. Maybe he can bring her along to Thrillerfest next year :)


Julie Kramer's second book, MISSING MARK, was just released by Doubleday. Her debut STALKING SUSAN won Best First Mystery in the RT Reviewers' Choice Awards as well as the Minnesota Book Award for genre fiction. It was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and has been nominated for Best First Novel in both the Anthony and Barry Awards.

Monday, July 20, 2009

ThrillerFest 2009, an After-Action Report


Landed at Newark-Liberty International Airport at 2pm. Navigated my way to the AirTrain. Got off at the wrong stop. Reboarded the Airtrain. Got off at the right stop. Bought a ticket for a runaway train. Stopped singing Soul Asylum and bought a ticket for a NJ Transit train. Lounged my way to Penn Station. De-boarded the NJ Transit train and looked for the up-escalator. Up-escalator was broken. I pouted. Hefted my luggage up the stairs to the subway. Took the subway to 42nd Street. Hefted my luggage down the stairs to the 7. Took the subway easterly to…42nd Street. De-boarded the subway and looked for the up-escalator. Up-escalator was broken. I pouted. Hefted my luggage up the stairs to the Grand Central Station terminal. Overwhelmed by Grand Central Station. Overwhelmed by puddle of sweat accumulating at my feet. Navigated toward my palatial hotel (room rates negotiated by the gun-toting protagonists of ITW's board). Check-in. Rode world’s fastest elevator up to the 18th floor. Waited for spleen to join the rest of my body and then I proceed to my room. Need to take a shower. Opted instead to head down to the signings. Introduced myself again (after 22 yrs) to Jon Land. Dripped sweat on his book. Read the lovely inscription he wrote. Floated back to the 18th floor. Nap. Dinner. Phone calls. Writing. Nap.


Met agent for lunch. Asked me if I like seafood. Yes. Took me to the Oyster Bar. Consumed best lobster roll ever (sorry, Maine). Watched him eat raw tuna. Went back to the hotel for more panels. Met Jordan White at a comic book shop for dinner. Dinner not eaten at comic book shop but rather at Junior’s in Grand Central. Much fun had. Accompanied friend Jordan White to Drag Me to Hell. Much fun had. Confused, though, by tables and chairs in Times Square.

FRIDAY, July 10

Met editor for breakfast. 90 minutes of absolutely pleasant conversation and absolutely delicious pancakes. Attended more panels. Surprised/amused by hostility of some in audience. Met up with other debut authors for late night drinks. Absolutely decent shirley temple and absolutely pleasant conversation.


Crawled to 8am panel. Ate eggs, bacon, and butterflies. All abound in belly as crowd enters. Informed that we need to stand up and hold a microphone when we present our books. Not amused. #8 in line. Stood up, held microphone, presented book. Laughter. No sure whether with me or at me. Attended another panel, then signing. During signing, browsed through amazing photographs of Chilean volcano. Returned to room. Took a power nap until 4:30pm. Attended cocktail party. 250 people squashed shoulder-to-shoulder and martini-to-martini. Miraculously found by editor. Instructed to meet at pillar. 8 pillars to choose from. Wandered. Finally found correct pillar, my publisher, and publisher’s luminary writers. Headed over to restaurant for banquet. Literally stopped traffic on 42nd Street. Take that, David Merrick. Sat at MIRA table. Felt like one of the cool kids. Ate magnificent feast. Watched magnificent people receive magnificent awards. Returned to hotel for post-banquet cocktail party. Returned to hotel room for post-post-banquet cocktail party nap.

SUNDAY, July 12

Took a car to Newark. Had to give driver an organ to pay for fare. Reflected on week that was. Smiled. Ate cereal bar. Corralled to row on plane. Sat. Waited 90 minutes on tarmac before takeoff.

Still smiling.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From Debut to Career: David Hewson

By Julie Kramer

Any author would love to debut like David Hewson. His first novel, SEMANA SANTA, set in Holy Week Spain,david-hewson.jpg received acclaim, awards, even a movie deal. But the path to publication was a long haul for the former London Times reporter and his is the kind of story that inspires writers at various stages of their careers.

Hewson was turned down by every literary agent in the United Kingdom -- without even reading his manuscript.

He eventually got his agent through a referral even though her agency had already rejected his query. When she called him to discuss his novel, "I neglected to mention this."

Hewson was on assignment in California when The Call came that he'd sold his first book. "To be honest, life was very hectic back then and it took a while to sink in. I'd kind of given up on the book in some ways."

Thus his career as a novelist began. Not once, but twice. After his first five books, his publisher dropped him. "I thought I was out of a career. It was only thanks to my agent slapping me around the head that I didn't give up."

Hewson, definitely not a broody, moody writer, went on to craft a best-selling mystery series based on Nic Costa, a detective in Rome. His latest book, THE GARDEN OF EVIL (sixth in the series), sold out its first print run the first week of publication, so Hewson seemed a logical author for ITW novices to turn to for career building counsel.

"Be professional." That's his top advice for debut authors. "Understand the needs of the people who sell and market your work and do everything you can to support them in meaningful ways. Don't pester them to do things that don't make sense -- such as demanding a nationwide tour. Don't be a jerk. Get them on your side."

His suggests every author have a website and keep it current. Networking at conferences like Bouchercon and Thrillerfest can also pay off. "Be visible, go places, talk to people, make friends. Be persistent, write regularly - nothing beats an annual book for maintaining momentum."


David Hewson’s novels have been translated into a wide range of languages, from Italian to Japanese, and his debut work, Semana Santa, set in Holy Week Spain, was filmed with Mira Sorvino. Dante’s Numbers is his thirteenth published novel.

David was born in Yorkshire in 1953 and left school at the age of seventeen to work as a cub reporter on one of the smallest evening newspapers in the country in Scarborough. Eight years later he was a staff reporter on The Times in London, covering news, business and latterly working as arts correspondent. He worked on the launch of the Independent and was a weekly columnist for the Sunday Times for a decade before giving up journalism entirely in 2005 to focus on writing fiction.

Semana Santa won the WH Smith Fresh Talent award for one of the best debut novels of the year in 1996 and was later made into a movie starring Mira Sorvino and Olivier Martinez. Four standalone works followed before A Season for the Dead, the first in a series set in Italy. The seventh Roman novel featuring Nic Costa and his colleagues, Dante’s Numbers, appeared in October 2008. At the end of 2006 he signed renewed contracts with Pan Macmillan in the UK and Bantam Dell in the US to extend the series to nine books, running to 2012. The titles are published in numerous languages around the world including Chinese and Japanese… and Italian.

He has featured regularly on the speaker lists of leading international book events, including the Melbourne and Ottawa writers’ festivals, the Harrogate Crime Festival, Thrillerfest, Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. He has taught at writing schools around the world and is a regular faculty member for the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California, where he has worked alongside writers such as Martin Cruz Smith and Michael Connelly.

In 2006 he launched a campaigning web-site save-wye which was instrumental in a successful battle to prevent one of the largest environmental threats to the countryside of Kent in southern England. His non-fiction book on the campaign to defend Wye from development, Saved, was published in May 2007. David lives close to Wye, Kent.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Lessons Learned in the First Year

by Laura Benedict

LBenedictAug08.jpgEarly last November, I was nearing the end of a seven-week of tour for Isabella Moon. When I finally returned home--after a week in Alaska, thirteen reading/signing events, twenty bookstore drop-ins, and four thousand miles of driving through Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri--I collapsed in a heap in my bedroom and could barely be dragged out of it for a week. My mind was so scattered and I was so distracted that I could hardly write. Laundry went undone, and we ate out way too much. But I recovered and my family recovered and we made it through the year just fine.

When I looked back at the events of the past year, I pondered writing a long, heartfelt essay about how my life was bene_lonely.jpgchanged by the publication of my first novel. My life has changed alright, but the most significant way in which it has changed is in my obligation to my readers--My second novel, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts, will be out in a few weeks and I'm way behind on the writing of number three. So, as I'm a big fan of lists, here's a quick and dirty sketch of what I've learned over the last twelve months:

My agent is a treasure. A good agent is worth her weight in gold. My conversations with my editor are always focused on editing my work because my beloved Agent Susan handles everything else. She does all the truly hard work. When I get worried and start fretting about things over which I have no control, she gently reminds me that my primary job is to write. If she hadn't reminded me of this frequently over the past year, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts would not be coming out January 6th.

To take my own press with a grain of salt. At first it was kind of fun to read all about my bad self in the press and to discover the many nice things (and not so nice) said about me and my novel. There were times during the year, though, when I felt like the newspaper and magazine interviews written about me seemed like they were actually written about someone else--someone who was way more together than I actually am. The truth is that I procrastinate, lose stuff, say regrettable things, get perfectly silly after two beers and get very nervous when I have to get up and talk in front of a room full of people. I am the same person I was before I had a book contract.

As a writer, I have very little control over how many of my books are sold. Many other writers will disagree with this statement, and that's just fine. I know writers who have done end-runs around dilatory marketing departments and gotten themselves into big-box stores. I know writers who carry boxes and boxes of their books in their car trunks and hand-sell them everywhere and spend the rest of their waking hours doing online promotion. Sometimes these things work. Mostly they just sound exhausting to me. There are limits to what writers can and should do, and those limits will vary from writer to writer. The most important thing is to write the best book one can.

That said:

The only person who really, truly cares about a writer's career is, well, the writer. There is always another writer waiting in the wings, someone who has written something just as good--or even better. And so writers must do what they reasonably can to construct their own careers and not whine when they think they are being treated badly. There are no Svengalis to take blossoming writers in hand and lead them to commercial success. To borrow an old EST Training phrase: You are responsible for your own career experience! I've had to decide what my own idea of success is and pursue it, rather than use someone else's definition.

And, unfortunately:

Publishers don't have a magic formula to sell books, either. This was a big surprise to me. Yes, co-op money will get a book better face time in the bookstore with potential buyers. Yes, a good gimmick or timely topic will sometimes get a writer on the Today Show. But there are never guarantees. There are many highly-touted books that end up in remainder bins, to the dismay of both writers and publishers. (If you see my book in a bin for cheap money, buy it! Even cheap hardcovers last a long time and make wonderful gifts. Those pesky red stickers peel right off! But, uh, please don't drop me an email to tell me you saw it there. It stings. Just a little.) It's good to keep in mind that publishing houses are corporations and corporations need to consistently improve their bottom lines. They are not thoughtful caretaking entities. From writing to promoting, they will take every bit of energy a writer has to offer--and it's nothing personal.

Most bestselling writers deserve to be bestselling writers because they work at it all the time. I have met many amazing, successful writers in the past year. They are some of the hardest working people I've met in my life. They are generous to a fault and often put their work ahead of nearly every other personal consideration. And they never whine. Well, almost never--they're only human.

It's foolish to be jealous of other writers. I watched with horror as my publisher devoted more resources to other writers' books than they did to mine when it came out. Sometimes I pouted about it, but soon realized that my distress was only costing me time and energy better spent working. My religious training came in handy here: there's a parable in the Bible about the owner of a vineyard who, in the morning, hired a number of workers at a given day rate. Later in the day, he gave late-arriving workers the same pay that he gave the first workers even though the latecomers only worked for an hour or two. When the first workers complained, the owner said, "Didn't you agree to work for that rate?" He was the owner and he could pay whatever he wanted. Every writer has to make his or her best deal and live with it.

Publicists are worked to death. Be nice to them. Remember to say, "thank you."

It's not necessarily a good idea to hire an outside publicist for one's first book. They're way too expensive to make a real difference nationally, but are often useful in smaller markets. I didn't do this, but asked a lot of people because I thought about doing it.

I have to stay away from my Amazon and Barnes and Noble pages. The fluctuating numbers there are like some kind of dangerous drug. They thrill me then break my heart--all in the space of any given twenty minutes. Too stressful!

If one believes the good reviews, one has to believe the bad reviews, too. Just a fact of life. A few reviews of Isabella Moon were unbelievably cruel and they wounded me deeply. Others made me unreasonably happy. I read way too many of them (though I was amazed and pleased seeing how many of them were out there) and even sought them out. Many times I lost confidence in myself and in my writing because they affected me so profoundly. Reading one's reviews really is a bad idea. But I'll probably continue to do it anyway.

Book tours are a whole lot of fun, but not particularly glamorous. I love, love, love meeting readers and book groups and bookstore staff. There are few things more gratifying than walking into a bookstore and connecting with someone who is excited about my work. Sometimes signings can be quite lonely affairs for the author (I've discovered that this happens to well-known writers, too.) and won't meet anyone's expectations. It's hard when that happens. And it's a challenge to sleep in a different hotel bed each night and an even bigger challenge to not to indulge in the small, dangerous comforts of vending machine donuts and delivery pizza when one gets back to one's hotel room. But there was that moment when I walked into my spartan Roanoke, VA Hampton Inn room to see that my frequent-guest status meant that I got a bottle of water and a pack of Oreos!

Oh, and pack light. Always. I schlepped a lot of heavy suitcases through airports and hotel hallways. I always regretted overpacking. I got better at packing light as the year went on. I only took five pairs of shoes to New York for Thrillerfest--down from eight the year before.

Independent bookstores are filled with wonderful people who care about books--but the big stores are, too. I always feel so at home at an independent bookstore. When I was in Denver for Left Coast Crime last year, I visited Murder by the Book, one of the coziest, most welcoming bookstores in the country. I wish I could have spent the whole day there just browsing and reading and chatting about mystery books with the owner. I've heard many writers and readers complain about big stores simply because the stores are attached to large corporations. But most of the people who work in them love books just as much as the folks who work at independents do. I'm grateful for all of them!

Conferences are a heck of a lot of fun. Community is important. If you're a reader or an emerging writer (or both), take some time to attend a conference. It's a wonderful way to get out from behind the computer and meet people and talk about books. Writing is a necessarily solitary pursuit, but it's good to get out sometimes. Book publishing is an industry, just like health care, manufacturing, etc. and networking is important. (Hint: all the meaningful business is done in the bar after all the panels!)

My favorite live interviews are radio interviews. Television interviews scare me. I could sit and talk into a radio microphone all day.

I miss my family when I'm away from them. A lot.

I spent a too much time worrying about marketing my work this past year, and not enough time writing. While I did finish my second novel, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts, this year, I'm glad I got a start on it the spring before Isabella Moon came out, or I never would have made my deadline. I'm better organized now.

Online social networking is a distraction. I'm on Myspace and Facebook. I dropped Twitter because it distracted me from writing. I love meeting new people online, but I would get much more writing done if I spent less time socializing. And, in the end, that's how I got to have a debut year in the first place.

I wouldn't give up my blog for anything. It's my link to the outside world, the best way for me to communicate what's on my mind on a daily basis.

The last year was an astonishing adventure. Dream after dream came true for me. Finally--after many years of writing--I was able to come in close contact with the people I was writing for. I'm very grateful whenever someone takes the time to read my work. If I had it to do all over again, I think that the only thing I would do differently is to spend a couple extra days in Alaska (after the Bouchercon Conference) to see the sights. I feel a little cheated that I didn't even see a moose!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

50 x No = Barry Eisler's NYT Bestseller

By Don Helin

Barry Eisler.jpg

NY Times bestselling author Barry Eisler agreed to be the debut authors' mentor to address "Internet Marketing," an issue of prime important to all of our members.

When asked what one thing in his background would most surprise his readers, Barry replied, "A bunch of things, but probably the most relevant is that I received something like 50 agent rejections before hooking up with the agent who first represented me." He hit a hot spot with many of the debut authors when he added, "When you haven't been published, it's easy to develop the habit of looking at published authors as having been born that way."

The key according to Barry is to persevere in a field characterized by tremendous subjectivity and me-too-ism until your success seemed in retrospect ordained. He reminded us that Stephen King wrote four or five novel-length manuscripts that went unsold in a foot locker beneath his bed before Carrie sold big to print and film. This was comforting to many of us. Indeed, there is hope.

In addition to be a friendly guy who is easily approachable, Barry has a great sense of humor. When asked what's the funniest thing that happened to him on his road to publication, he replied, "I disdained the notion of a sequel to Rain Fall--until Putnam came in with their very attractive offer for the book and a sequel, to which I agreed without even pausing for pro forma dignity fig leafs like insisting on how it was going to be all about the character and the art."

He admits to being shortsighted in not recognizing Rain's series potential. "The guy is such a storm of internal contradictions and desires that the sequel ideas keep generating themselves based on changes in his character which in turn are based on events in the stories." Barry has written six Rain books and thinks each has been better than the one before. All of his readers will certainly agree with that. He now lives in Tokyo and says, "I can feel his presence particularly strongly, and have a feeling he and I will meet again."

Barry remembers vividly the moment he got "The Call." "It was 6:30 in the morning California time and my agent's call woke me up with Putnam's two-book offer. I don't think I got back to sleep for a week after."

When asked if there is anything he would have done differently now that he looks back on his debut., he replied, "I would have argued for a different title and packaging approach. This is your business, nobody else's, and you are ultimately responsible for your own success or failure. You owe it to yourself to make sure things are being done right and that you have the means for knowing whether they're being done right."

Great advice, Barry. Thanks again for your help and we're all looking forward to the next John Rain novel.