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.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

You Vill Answer Ze Questions

Crime Always Pays, run by the multi-talented renaissance man (and no relation) Declan Burke focuses on Irish crime writing (which seems to be on quite a roll these days). Occasionally Dec will strap a writer into a chair, attach electrodes to sensitive parts, beat them with a rubber hose and shine bright lights in their eyes while subjecting them to an intimidating barrage of questions*.

Yours truly was recently lucky to escape with minor injuries from such an interrogation and the results can be seen here.

Thanks Dec, medical bills are in the post.

*Some of this may be untrue or slightly exaggerated.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mainlining the mystery thriller novel

True confessions: I'm an addict. Only my obsession doesn't run to Godiva truffles, prescription pain medication or maxing out the credit card on E-bay. I'm addicted to mystery novels. When they start a 12-step program, I'll be forced to confess, "I am powerless over Ruth Rendell, and my life has become unmanageable."

This week I'm heading off to Bloody Words in Ottawa. This is Canada's premier mystery/crime/thriller conference for writers, readers and book sellers. Being on the author panel "What is it with crime anyway?" has me pondering why I must dash to the library every few days to replenish my stash of suspense novels come heck or high water.

First, there's the challenge of solving the puzzle that has me hooked. There's a stack of mystery novels by my bed because they contain stimulating intellectual conundrums: Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent and Nicci French's Secret Smile. As a reader, nothing beats this for escapism. Unpaid bills, rejected manuscripts, a spat with a friend all flies out the window when I get caught up trying to figure out who-dun-it and vicariously outwit the villain.

My favourite attention grabbers are the ones with two endings as often unfolds in Harlen Coban's narratives. Everything wraps up neatly in the first ending with villain A finally cornered, then suddenly I realize I've been duped. Villain B, someone seemingly innocuous and charming (the protagonist's best friend for example) is really the dark hand twisting the strings behind the scenes. As a writer, I crave the unexpected to make me stretch, entertain all the possibilities of who the antagonist could be, and slip every character into the rubic cube plot of possibilities spinning within my imagination.

Secondly, mystery novels offer hope in an insane world. As Hollie Ephron points out in "Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel," crime novels deal with serious social issues like truth, culpability, love, racism, power and redemption." It's empowering to tackle these issues, albeit vicariously, and try them on for size. Positive themes are reassuring: power corrupts or honesty pays. As a writer, for a brief moment, I have control over a precarious world. Contrary to how it appears on the surface, crime novels aren't about murder, they affirm hope.

Thirdly, mystery novels are simply fun. Think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Who hasn't laughed out loud at Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, the former lingerie buyer turned bond bailsman. Or Linwood Barclay's Zack Walker trying to rescue his neighbour, Trixie Snelling, the dominatrix.

Finally, I can' t stop reading mystery novels because the good guy wins. We all know that doesn't happen in real life (though it probably depends on what your personal definition of 'winning' is). However, in crime novels good does conquer evil. As a reader, I love drifting off the sleep with that warm fuzzy. As a writer, it allows me to identify with the amazing perseverance of the real life heroes in law enforcement: There's no hiding from the truth. Sooner or later, it will catch up with you.

As will addictions, I'm told. Hopefully, when I hit bottom, I'll be buried beneath a towering pile of Barbara Vine, Elizabeth George and Ian Rankin.

Kathy-Diane Leveille

PhotobucketAuthor of LET THE SHADOWS FALL BEHIND YOU (Kunati Books)


"A murder, a past still preying upon the souls of those involved, is always an intrusive guest. Let the Shadows Fall Behind You tells that chronicle with poignancy, wistful descriptions of small town life and punchy characterizations that expose hard truths. Sadly rich and beautiful writing."

-Don Graves CANADIAN MYSTERIES The Hamilton Spectator.