Friday, March 31, 2006

Pro-File: Steve Hockensmith

Steve Hockensmith

Though the town elders of Louisville, Ky., have yet to acknowledge it with so much as a single commemorative plaque, Steve Hockensmith was born in the Derby City on August 17, 1968. The first two decades of his life passed uneventfully, the only notable highlight being a short stint as an intern at People magazine, an experience that allowed Hockensmith to realize his lifelong dream -- crank calling Crispin Glover.

Despite (or perhaps because of) such lapses in his professionalism, Hockensmith eventually found work as an entertainment journalist: He's covered pop culture and the film industry for The Hollywood Reporter, The Chicago Tribune, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Newsday, Total Movie and other publications. He spent a year as editor of The X-Files Official Magazine (thus explaining his morbid fear of David Duchovny) and more than three years as editor of Cinescape, a nationally distributed bimonthly magazine devoted to movies in which things explode (i.e., science fiction or action films or anything produced by Jerry Bruckheimer).

In 1999, traumatized by multiple viewings of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Hockensmith set out to write something that would under no circumstances require the use of the phrase "Jar Jar Binks." He settled on mysteries, soon becoming a regular contributor to both Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. His first published mystery story, "Erie's Last Day," won the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award and appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2001. More recently, Hockensmith's story "Tricks" (a sequel to "Erie's Last Day") was nominated for a Shamus award, while his story "The Big Road" (yet another "Erie" follow-up) was nominated for a Barry.

Hockensmith is also the creator of mystery-solving cowboys Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer. The Amlingmeyer brothers first appeared in Ellery Queen in the story "Dear Mr. Holmes," which was voted the fifth most-popular story of 2003 by the magazine's readers. The Sherlock Holmes-worshipping drovers returned to Ellery Queen's pages in the February 2005 and February 2006 issues. In addition, Hockensmith has completed one novel about their adventures (Holmes on the Range, to be published in 2006 by St. Martin's Minotaur) and is currently finishing a second.

Hockensmith gets to combine his love of mysteries and his journalism background thanks to "Reel Crime," a column about mystery TV shows and movies that appears in each issue of Alfred Hitchcock. Hockensmith promises that this time there will be no crank phone calls.

Though he considers himself a Midwesterner at heart, Hockensmith currently lives in California's Bay Area. He says he's adjusted to life on the West Coast, but confesses that he still misses thunderstorms, snow and Long John Silver's Seafood Shoppes. He shares his home with the perfect wife, the perfect daughter and a slightly imperfect cat.

Pro-File Steve Hockensmith

1. Tell us about your current novel.

My "current" also happens to be my first -- a tip of
the Stetson to Arthur Conan Doyle called HOLMES ON THE
RANGE. It's about an 1890s cowboy who sets out to
solve a mystery using the methods of his hero,
Sherlock Holmes. He's at a slight disadvantage,
however: He can't read or write. So he drafts his
younger brother to be his Watson.

The book plays with the Holmes mythos, but it's not a
pastiche. There's a lot of humor in it, but it's not a
comedy. It's set in the West, but it's not really a
Western. It seems to be pretty unique!

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on

Nothing but these questions, thank god. I just
finished the sequel to HOLMES this week, so I'm taking
a short (as in three or four week) break from novels
to work on articles and short stories and promotional
stuff. The book I just wrapped up, ON THE WRONG TRACK,
took me a year to write, so I need a little vacation.
It takes place on a train traveling over the Sierra
Nevada mountains -- if I were a screenwriter, I'd
describe it as MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS meets
screenwriter, so I'll just say it's another mystery
starring my cowboy heroes, Big Red and Old Red, and
I'm both really happy with it and really, really happy
to be done with it!

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

What I'm doing at this very moment: sitting in a quiet
room all by myself thinking and putting words
together. Paradise. I'm not a hermit or a misanthrope
or anything, yet I truly love locking myself away in
solitary confinement for half the day. I spend the
rest of the day taking care of my 2-year-old daughter,
which is wonderful in its own way but certainly a far
cry from "quiet" and "solitary"!

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

It's all still so new to me, I feel like I can hardly
judge yet. I quit my day job in early 2005, and the
last year has been simply wonderful. The thing that'll
probably start to weigh on me as my career progresses
-- or doesn't -- is being at the mercy of forces
beyond my control. If Barnes & Noble isn't stocking my
books or reviewers aren't writing about them or people
just plain aren't buying them, there's only so much I
can do about it. Which isn't being a passive defeatist
about it all: I know it's my job to get out there and
promote promote promote. Yet I can't escape the
feeling that there's an arbitrariness to it all.
Worthy books (and writers) fail, and sometimes it's
hard to see why. I hope that doesn't eat at me too
much in the years ahead.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing
world, what is it?

Here's my Joe Konrath answer: Buy HOLMES ON THE RANGE
and tell all your friends and family to do the same!

Here's my *me* answer: I have no advice to give. I'm
so new to this whole thing, it'd be like a batboy
giving advice to Hank Aaron. The thing that scares me
most about the publishing world is the blockbuster
mentality and the death of the mid-list, so I guess I
wouldn't advise so much as beg: "Please, guys! Give us
a decent shot here, huh?"

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers
you'd like to see in print again?

A reviewer compared HOLMES ON THE RANGE to the Lobo
Blacke books by William Deandrea, so I tried to track
them down. (I'd never heard of them before.) It was
actually pretty tough. I finally found one on Amazon
or eBay or, I don't remember which, and I
ordered it. It's called FATAL ELIXIR, I'm half-way
through it now, and it's pretty darned good. In some
ways, Deandrea was doing with Nero Wolfe what I'm
doing with (or *to*, depending on your outlook)
Sherlock Holmes, so I can understand the comparisons.
It depresses me that it was so hard to dig up one of
Deandrea's books, though. There but for the grace of
god and all that.

And correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't most of the
Nero Wolfe books out of print? That's just plain nuts.
I know used copies are easy to find, but it seems like
someone ought to be repackaging those suckers and
putting them out again. Rex Stout's stuff was funny,
fast and engaging -- very modern in its tone. I think
it would still appeal to today's mystery fans. I know
it still appeals to me.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most
writers never forget that moment.

I'd better not have forgotten -- it was only a year
and a half ago! I was fairly confident *something* was
going to happen, because I have a lot of faith in my
agent. There's a moment toward the end of "Monty
Python and the Holy Grail" when the strings swell and
trumpets blast and King Arthur wearily declares, "Our
quest is at an end." That's how it felt when my agent
officially signed me on as a client. It had been such
a long, hard slog, but finally there I was. Of course,
in "Holy Grail," someone immediately dumps a bucket of
dung over Arthur's head. Fortunately, things worked
out better for me. My agent sent the book out to about
a dozen editors at once, and two weeks later we had
competing bids. When I heard what they were and who
they were from, I literally clicked my heels -- I'm
not too horribly decrepit just yet, so I can still
manage to jump up and actually do it when occasion
warrants. After some frantic back and forth phone
calls, we zeroed in on one of the publishers and
banged out a final deal within a couple of hours. Then
I called my wife. Then I called my mom and dad. Then I
had to go to my day job...but I knew I’d be quitting
in a few months, so for once I didn’t mind!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Pro-File: Marcia Muller

A native of the Detroit area, Marcia Muller grew up in a house full of books and self-published three copies of her first novel at age twelve, a tale about her dog complete with primitive illustrations. The "reviews" were generally positive.

Her literary aspirations were put on hold, however, in her third year at the University of Michigan, when her creative writing instructor told her she would never be a writer because she had nothing to say. Instead she turned to journalism, earning a master's degree, but various editors for whom she freelanced noticed her unfortunate tendency to embellish the facts in order to make them more interesting.

In the early 1970s, having moved to California, Muller found herself unemployable and began experimenting with mystery novels, because they were what she liked to read. After three manuscripts and five years of rejection, EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES, the first novel featuring San Francisco private investigator Sharon McCone, was published by David McKay Company, who then cancelled their mystery list. Four more years passed before St. Martin's Press accepted the second McCone novel, ASK THE CARDS A QUESTION.

In the ensuing twenty years, Muller has authored 32 novels, three of them in collaboration with husband Bill Pronzini; four short-story collections; and numerous nonfiction articles. Together she and Pronzini have edited a dozen anthologies and a nonfiction book on the mystery genre. The Mulzinis, as friends call them, live in Sonoma County, California, in yet another house full of books.

Marcia Muller:

1. Tell us about your current novel.

It¹s titled VANISHING POINT and is coming out in July. Another Sharon
McCone. In it she is hired by the daughter of a woman who vanished
twenty-two years ago to look into the disappearance and provide her family
with closure. In the middle of McCone¹s investigation, the client also
vanishes, and she finds herself working two cases.

2. Can you tell us what you¹re working on now?

It¹s another McCone, THE EVER-RUNNING MAN. Someone has a vendetta against
RKI, the security firm in which McCone¹s husband, Hy Ripinsky, is a partner.
Several of their offices have been bombed, and they hire McCone to
investigate. But before she can even get started, RKI¹s San Francisco
headquarters are blown up and she narrowly misses dying in the blast. She¹s
now in Chicago, investigating yet another explosion, and after that...who
knows? Not I!

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

The writing itself. And hearing from readers who understand and appreciate
my work.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

Being involved in a high-stress industry that no one--even those who run
it--can really figure out.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Nurture your authors. Don¹t kick them out because they¹re not instant
bestsellers. I¹ve been fortunate to have this experience with
Mysterious/Warner, and I wish more writers--especially the new ones coming
into the field today--could have it.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you¹d like to see in
print again?

Thomas B. Dewey, who wrote wonderful private eye novels, comes to mind. And
there are a whole lot of writers, not necessarily forgotten, whose early
work I¹d like to see rereleased.

7. Tell us about your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I¹d submitted a manuscript to Michele Slung at David McKay Company because
I¹d heard she was looking for my kind of material. She rejected it, but
said she liked the character and if I did another, she¹d like to see it. I
was finishing EDWIN OF THE IRON SHOES at the time and shipped it off. She
wrote, said she wanted to buy it, but was going on vacation for a month. I
waited, getting more and more panicky as two months went by. Then one
evening the phone rang. Michele, confirming the sale.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Orange County Housewives

* Throw enough crap against the wall and some of it's bound to stick

Until last week, I was a reality show virgin. I don't believe that I have ever watched as much as two minutes of any of those shows. First of all, I resent all the writers, actors, directors, crews etc. that they put out of business. And second of all most of them strike me as inane. From the commercials I get the sense that the "relationships" on shows such as Survivor as all contrived and loosely scripted. And as for shows about eating bugs or hang gliding on the back of an alligator...

But came the end of a long day and night of work and I thought I'd watch some tv. Cable had been promoting The Real Housewives of Orange County relentlessly. Simply because a couple of the women were good looking, I thought I'd take a look. I had no hopes that the show would be interesting.

I have to say that the first two episodes have been fascinating. The camera follows five housewives in a wealthy gated community about their day. There are two things you notice instantly. All of them have had muy breast implants. And all of them are two-and-three car families with Mercedes Benz' being the staple car and at least one Hummer thrown in. One of the housewives tells us early on that you are judged by what you own and what you wear. She says this with no apology. She not only approves it, she is enthusiastic about it. She says that this is her dream. She also says that boob jobs are mandatory if you want to keep your husband interested.

We begin to meet the regular players. There are a couple of good looking women, indeed, but unfortunately, like just about everybody else in this gated community, they are so greedy, superficial and arrogant, they are hard to like. I can feel sorry for them--there's a lot of fear behind those gates--but liking them...

There is the former major league baseball player who bullies and humiliates his oldest son for never being good enough (the kid gets picked in a major league draft but he's a low number so the father isn't impressed). The son in turn berates his little brother who assures us that he doesn't mind the teasing--then admits that when the teasing gets too bad he has episdoes of stuttering, which he starts to do while the camera rolling.

Then there is the attractive woman who was dumped by her long-time husband and forced to live (the way she tells it) in a house so small (she is the only one who lives outside the gated community--she feels literally banished from heaven) that it can't possibly hold her two kids plus herself. It appears to be a nice, average size middle-class house that 100 million people in the U.S. would love to live in. This is a refrain with her, how she has been forced to live like somebody "common" (this is what she implies).

Her story takes a nasty twist. I couldn't keep count of who divorced whom but through a tangle of divorces the one real victim was her fifteen year old son. He constantly gets into fights in school, even though he's small for his age. He smokes pot constantly. And fights fights fights. She has to take a job at an insurance office operated by one of the other Housewives (a mostly unpleasant woman who in over-protecting her daughter becomes a nag). The problem is the woman who's been tossed out of paradise has so many errands to run that she doesn't spend much time in the office. She doesn't seem to sense that she's going to get fired. I believe, in soap opera fashion since we were left with a cliffhanger, that that will come next week.

That isn't the nasty part. At work one day, she get a call from school. Her son was found with drugs on him. Because he's been in juvenile court many times, the judge has put him in juvenile jail. She goes to see him. This is one of the few times she's able to forget about herself. As any parent would, she's devastated when she walks into the jail and sees her son. "But at least he'll be safe." I'm not sure how to take that. Is she relieved that he is no longer her responsibility for awhile? Or does she simply mean that he can't get in any trouble behind bars?

I'm not judging her morally. We spend a lot of time with her but don't find any hint of a center. I guess that's the part I don't care for. This sense of banishment from life in a palace. She obviously loves her kids but seems to be walking around in a revery about better days. And when her son is interviewed on camera, there are a couple of crushing minutes. You see the toll the divorce has taken on him. He was raised in a world of privilege. He no longer has that to protect him. You're almost afraid to see how he ends up. His grief and fear and confusion are palpable. His worried little sister writing him a letter in crayon pays off one of the acts. The juvenile folks won't let him have the letter.

The true beauty in the series is a sixteen year old girl whose face and figure are stunning. She is also a very capable smart-ass and cynic. And as greedy everybody else in the series. She whines when her mother tells her that she can't have a brand new Mercedes convertible for high school graduation (or this is how I understood it--she had to take a hand me down Mercedes as her first car and now wants a brand new one). She gets the new one of course and is happy again. For a few minutes.

A couple of the men are worse than all the housewives put together. The ballplayer is a strutting blustering macho fool and the Driver is (to his woman) a drill instructor. The Driver (as in hard-driver) lives in a manse with his two kids. He's divorced. He's now going out with an attractive and much younger young woman. Her I like. She's upfront, sweet in her way, and looks like she'd be a lot of fun. He wants to get married; she isn't so sure.
She prefers to work, he wants her home 24/7 cleaning the house etc. Oer and over she tells us how bored she is. She also tells us how she'd still like to go out with her girl friends and have a good time, which happens in the second episode and sets the Driver off. Even though she has started to make friends with the other wives, I doubt that this relationship will last. He's too anal and she's too spontaneous. He just keeps buying her lots and lots of expensive gifts.Trying to bribe herinto becoming Betty Crocker. She seems to like them but after awhile there is a hint of monotony in her. She's still bored. Next episode promises to be a tough one for these two folks.

I realize in writing this that have become, for the first time, in my life, addicted to a soap opera. I'm sure that some of the dramatics are hyped; maybe even vaguely scripted. But if so these folks are damned good actors. Unlike soaps, I can enjoy this because A) there are no people in the hospital dying of an unkown disease B) There aren't really any villains here, just mostly unhappy and shallow people driven to compete and losing themselves in the process and C) It has the feel and sound of reality. This is how a lot of us live today.

You may not like it but it obviously fascinates me. The trouble is, unlike a soap opera, some of these people are going to get hurt and badly. As, if you remember, the now-ancient Loud family shows (a documentary about a similar California family in the late sixties) showed all too well.

Take that Guding Light.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pro-Files: David Niall Wilson

DAVID NIALL WILSON is an author, poet, past president of the Horror Writer's Association , ordained minister, guitarist and dreamer writing from the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina . He is the author of over a dozen Novels , over a hundred and twenty Short Stories , and winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Professional Achievement in poetry. David has been spilling words out of his head and onto paper since the mid 1980s when he quit saying he was a writer and started writing. He lives and loves with author and Bram Stoker Award winning editor Patricia Lee Macomber in the historic William R. White House in Hertford, NC. His novel The Mote In Andrea's Eye , will be available this spring, and his Amazon Short “ Ennui ” was selected as one of Amazon's top stories for 2005. His short story The Call of Farther Shores will appear in the anthology “ Horror: Best of 2005 .” He is a columnist at and contributor on the 1st of each month to the ongoing writer's site Storytellers Unplugged. More information on David, his career, his life and his works can be found at his Website: , or in his blog at

“Tugging heartstrings with the expertise of a master puppeteer, Wilson, a former naval technician, adds plenty of authentic touches but never overwhelms the reader with details. The clean prose, romance and fantasy elements, heart-pounding scenes of man against nature, and topical currency (thankfully not overplayed) will appeal to a wide variety of readers . . ."

Publisher’s Weekly on The Mote In Andrea’s Eye

1 Tell us about your current novel.

My current novel, I suppose, is “The Mote in Andrea’s Eye,” due out in June from Gale/Five Star. This novel is a departure for me, and very personal. It involves a young girl who suffers the tragic loss of her father in the aftermath of a hurricane. She grows to be a strong, willful young woman with a mission: she wants to fight and stop hurricanes.

The first part of this novel, the girl’s story, was drawn in great part from my own family’s experiences during Hurricane Isabel. My daughter Stephanie wrote a journal during that period of time, and I also drew on stories and images from her past to create the character of the young Andrea Jamieson.

Once Andrea grew up, I was in research land, studying Operation Storm Fury, the governments attempt to control or stop hurricanes in the 1960s, which largely fell by the wayside at the outbreak of the Vietnam War. I also discovered a man named Win Wenger, who had created a pump he believed would help in the fight against world starvation by circulating the silt and cooler water at the bottom of the ocean with burst of air. He also thought it might stop a hurricane, if applied properly.

The final element came from the love of my life, Patricia Lee Macomber, who asked the casual question – why has a hurricane never disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle?

With those elements, a touch of romance, and a dash of US Navy experience, a novel was born. I wrote it during the National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO) challenge in 2004 and sold it two months later, making it 90 days from initial clack of keyboard to sale. It’s a very clean read, not built on violence, strong language, or bloodshed, but still packed with action – I wrote it so my daughter could read along, and inadvertently created my first young-adult friendly thriller.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

I wish I could make sense of that myself, at times. I have a new novel, “Vintage Soul,” making the rounds in NYC, and I’m currently writing a novel that is being serialized on as part of their Amazon Shorts program. This novel, The Orffyreus Wheel, is a sort of historical / modern thriller about an invention that a man named Johann Bessler – in theory – created in the 1700s. The device was a perpetual motion wheel, and though it was witnessed in operation and tested many times, the secret was never revealed as Bessler died an untimely and tragic death. In “The Orffyreus Wheel,” of which two parts are now available on Amazon, I parallel the story of Bessler’s life and tragedy with the modern day story of one of his descendants. It’s a novel of free energy, and what would happen in our world if it ever threatened to exist. This is a thriller out of the gates, and I’m enjoying it immensely, though it’s challenging to work in both the past, and the present, as well as chopping the novel into ten or so parts that have cliff-hanger enough to bring readers back for the next installment.

I also have a short story collection due out early in 2007 that I’m currently working on with Sarob Press. This will be titled “Defining Moments,” after a story that was first published at – and I’m very excited about it.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
Though I’m sure I have creditors who would disagree, I’d have to say that moment when someone reads a thing you’ve written – and gets it. The warmth inside of knowing that you took something from an idea, to words, recorded it and saw it through the long, arduous trail to publication, and it wasn’t in vain. That Publisher’s Weekly review excerpt above was such a moment. The feeling of accomplishment is hard to describe.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

It’s always the waiting that gets to me. I love the process of creation. I even like revision, now that I’ve matured enough to realize how badly my raw work actually needs it. What I hate is the time between releasing a story or novel into the mail, or e-mail – and the time someone comes back and says yes, or no. Even worse is the longer wait for an actual reader to get their hands on the work, read it, and react. The more things you finish and get into the system at once, the worse this becomes. It’s terrifying, really. You can do a thing well all your life and still wonder, the next time, if you got it right.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

If I could offer advice to the publishing world as a whole? That’s such a broad question.

I guess what I’d like to see in publishing is more of an overall understanding of and love for books throughout the entire process. Authors and editors too often strain against walls of numbers, marketing strategies, and financial “bottom lines” that impede books from reaching readers, or present them in an improper manner. If each step of the way could be staffed with readers – people who genuinely cared about the book itself, and not the product it represents, I think we’d see somewhat of a shift in strategy, quality, and eventually in profit. Good books, treated well, seem a good bet for any investor, and something to be proud of once they are on the shelf. Once a wheel gets spinning (thank you Orffyreus) it’s hard to divert it or make it stop, particularly if it takes a strong effort to get it spinning in another direction – so the status quo holds a lot of sway in this business, as in any other.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Probably there are, but to be honest, every time I think a writer is out of print I find that someone like Wildside Press, or Nightshade Books has brought them back. I have a gorgeous set of books by Manly Wade Wellman from Nightshade, and I have Hugh Cave’s Justin Case Mysteries in a fine signed HC…so I’m not sure that I could name anyone currently that is not available, and that I wish was. I wish authors like Wellman were more widely known outside genre circles, but that’s an entirely different question.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I’m guessing that the sale of my first novel is a bit unique, even in the circles of writers who live undeniably unique lives. I was in the US Navy when I attended the first World Horror Convention. I had just had my story, “A Candle In The Sun,” printed in STARSHORE Magazine, and picked up for Karl Wagner’s Year’s Best Horror XIX. I met a man named Robert Eighteen-Bisang, a collector and lover of vampire fiction, and sold him a copy of Starshore. Before that convention was over, we had talked many times, and he kept insisting that this story needed to be a novel. I agreed, but didn’t feel quite “up” to it yet.

To make a very long story short, I wrote the novel on a cruise to Europe in 21 Days. I revised it in five days – feverish writing sessions late into the night – floating in the middle of the ocean with a much dog-eared and annotated New Testament at my side, and Concrete Blonde on the CD Player. I called Robert from Crete, and I sent him the manuscript. I called him back a two weeks later, standing on the same beach in Crete, and heard the words. “I have to publish this,” for the first time.

A lot happened, and Robert never did publish that novel – Terminal Frights Press did, but I’ll never forget the moment.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Pro-File: Mary Higgins Clark

Ed here: Mary Higgins Clark is not only a brilliant suspense novelist and an international bestseller but also one of the nicest, most decent people I've ever worked with. I believe she was in Mystery Scene eight times over the eighteen years when I was editing it. And she always made it a pleasure. I've taught mystery fiction six times and I always lead off with Where Are The Children? It is one of the true classics of the mystery field and students are always astounded when they see how carefully and cunningly the book was structured and written. They suddenly understnd just how difficult it is to wrte a novel of that stature.

Pro-File: Marty Higgins Clark


1. My current novel, Two Little Girls in Blue, is a story of identical twins, Kathy
and Kelly, who are kidnapped on their third birthday. After paying the ransom
Kelly is returned – Kathy is believed to be dead. At the Mass of the Angels,
Kelly tugs on her mother’s hand and says, “Kathy wants to come home now.
She is scared of the lady.” Only the mother believes that the twins are
communicating and begins a frantic search for her missing child. I’m happy
to say that Publishers Weekly says, “Clark at her best in this chilling tale of
kidnapping, murder, and telepathy.”

2. The title of the next book I am working on is, I Heard That Song Before. It’s
about a young landscape architect who marries the widowed owner of the
estate where her father has worked as a gardener. But a childhood memory
of being in that house puts her in the crosshairs of the killer.

3. There is a wonderful old saying, ”If you want to be happy for a year, win the
lottery. To be happy for a lifetime, love what you do.” I love writing. I would
write even if no one ever read what I did, but to also have been successful,
is obviously very gratifying.

4. My Irish Catholic guilt is that the volume of mail I receive is so heavy and no
sooner do I sigh with relief because I caught up with it, that an avalanche
more arrives and the guilt starts all over as I don’t get to it.

5. My advice is to tell a good story. Isaac Singer said, “I do not care how
eloquent your phrases, how polished your prose, unless you are a storyteller,
you are not a writer.”

6. I think there are many great mystery writers who in their day were enormously
popular but are not readily available in bookstores. I am sure that sometime
in the future, I will be among them.

7. My first novel, Where Are the Children, was bought by Simon & Schuster.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven. They paid $3,000 and it could have
been $3,000,000. I wrote in my journal, “I have sold to Simon & Schuster.”
I leaned on my pen so hard, I tore the page.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pro-File: Bob Randisi

Bob Randisi is one of the movers and shakers of the mystery field. Not only is he an accomplished novelist, he founded the Private Eye Writers of America and co-founded Mystery Scene magazine. It's a real pleasure to have him here.

1 Tell us about your current novel.

I'm excited about two books one coming in Oct., and the other Feb 2007. In Oct EVERYBODY KILLS SOMEBODY SOME TIME will be published by St. Martins. It features the Rat Pack--Sinatra, Dino, Sammy & Co.--in Vegas in 1960 during the filming of Ocean's 11. The main character is a pit boss at the Sands who is asked by Frank to help out when Dean is threatened. I'll be doing at least one more Rat Pack book after this, called LUCK BE A LADY, DON'T DIE.

The book coming out in Feb. 2007 is one I'm actually just finishing. THE PICASSO FLOP combines crime with the current Texas Hold'Em poker craze. It takes place in Vegas, at the Bellagio casino, and is et at a World Poker Tour (WPT) event. My co-author is Vince Van Patten, who is a commentator on the WPT for all its events. We've worked closely together on this book, and will be doing at least one other, both published by Warner/Mysterious Press. We share cover credit, and Warner will be promoting the hell out of it--supposedly--largely using Vince and his celebrity.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

Oops. See above. I'm also working on a new western series called THE GAMBLERS, so right now I'm writing about poker and gambling in the 1880's, the 1960's and the present.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Making a living at it. I also still get a big kick out ofd receiving the carton containing my author's copies of each book. It's like Christmas to me.

4. Thegreatest DIS-pleasure?

Working with numbers crunchers instead of book people. Also, the dirth of real editors in the business--I mean that all a\round editor who bought the book, championed it, worked on it, was there every step of the way. The people I work with now are good at whatt hey do, but those kinds of editors don't exist, anymore.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Give the books, and the authors, more of a chance to built. Too many publishers are dropping writers after one or two books. They want INSTANT success stories. Those are few and far between. I do believe that a publisher can MAKE a best seller by getting behind it, but you have to be that lucky one they decide to get behind.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Thomas B. Dewey, Ralph Dennis and I'd like to see somebody reprint Henry and Frank Kane.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I used to tend bar at MWA cocktail parties when I first joined because I was painfully shy. It was there I met my first editor, Michael Seidman. We talked quite a bit, became friends, and he wanted to buy a four book P.I. series from me, but as happens in publishing his company froze his ability to buy, so we had to wait. eventually, he bought the first book, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY, but we were never able to continue the series. We both went on to other things. I do have him to thank, though, for my Gunsmith series, which is now 16 years old.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Richard Matheson - Part Two - The Interview

Reprinted with permission from Filmfax -- interviewer Ed Gorman

FAX: What do you consider the highlights of your career thus far?

MATHESON: I guess the highlights of my career would, of course, have to be the projects that worked out best. A few examples: Novels like I Am Legend, The Shrinking Man, The Beardless Warriors, Bid Time Return (soon to be called, understandably, Somewhere in Time), Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Hunted Past Reason, Abu and the Seven Marvels, a few others. As I have said a number of times in the past, I think Somewhere in Time is the best-written novel I’ve done. I was reading some pages from it in the past week, and (immodestly noted) I thought that the writing was really lovely. Yes, that’s the adjective I came up with—really charming prose, but enough of my immodesty.

As I have also said in the past, I think What Dreams May Come is the most important (read effective) book I’ve written. It has caused a number of readers to lose their fear of death—the finest tribute any writer could receive.
Highlights of my script work: four or five of the 14 Twilight Zones; Somewhere in Time; The Morning After, Duel, and The Dreamer of Oz on television.

Hoped-for highlights with only moderate gratification: my two metaphysical books The Path and A Primer of Reality. To these two I would add Hunted Past Reason because I wrote it to state my metaphysical basic assumption, the quote up front in the novel is “To die is nothing. To live is everything.” I wanted the novel to be called To Live but, to my consternation—and for the first time in my entire book-writing career—Tor put their own title on it; a quote from “King Lear,” which was pointless to print, because it has absolutely nothing to do with the story and the point I was trying to make.

I suppose there were other highlights, but these will suffice.

Low points? Scripts re-written by producers, one novel re-written because the two women editors decided that I couldn’t write good English! Actually, most of my novels—and movies; and television scripts—were printed and/or produced word-for-word. Low points occurred in that, despite the religious adherence to my words, a number of the television shows and movies were poorly done. I won’t name them.

FAX: What do you like and dislike about the current state of movies? Television? Publishing?

MATHESON: I think the current state of movies and television is pathetic. I just read a long article this morning in the Los Angeles Times citing the creative blunders of many of the major studios in which marketing considerations blinded them to the sad fact that almost none of the films had any interest to the public. Instead of making films that were creatively exciting, they functioned as marketing ploys—“Oh, that worked before, let’s do it again. And again. And—ad boring. And if a film was creatively exciting, the “new” audiences didn’t really warm to them and they barely made their costs or actually lost money. As a member of the Academy and the Writers Guild, my vote went to Seabiscuit, a wonderful film, which had made a limited amount of money, not blockbuster caliber; with marketing costs on top of production costs, it might lose money. A pity. Which is why good films with limited box office receipts really need the Academy Award to bolster earnings.

In brief: Films today? Pathetic!

I can’t pass judgment, but I will say that I think publishers have the same “blockbuster” mentality as movie producers. King, Koontz, Crichton, Grisham, etc.—not to mention J.K. Rowling, who has created a publishing world all her own. When a writer has more money than Queen Elizabeth—Yow!

FAX: Looking back on your career, is there anything major you’d do differently?

MATHESON: Yes. I’d complete novels I didn’t finish. My self-assurance as a writer has been lamentable. Come Fygures, Come Shadowes was intended to include every aspect—good (and bad)—of spiritualism, plus an approach to modern parapsychology; shame on me for not finishing it as well as The Link, which was intended to include the entire history of mediumship, as well as a total study of modern parapsychology. Shame on me twice.

FAX: Do you have any particular favorites among your writing in various media?

MATHESON: As indicated, Somewhere In Time is my favorite novel. The Beardless Warriors is good, too.

Movies and television: I think I’ve mentioned some. I might add A Comedy of Terrors (very funny, I think).
Short stories: Too many to pick favorites. I like “The Test,” “Duel,” and “The Distributor.” This last one I probably wouldn’t write today. I hate it when something I’ve had published “inspires” some nut to imitate what I’ve written, or some teacher gets fired for having her students read one of my stories or novels.

FAX: Though you’ve always used supernatural themes in some of your work, there is a deepening spirituality in your fiction as the decades pass. Was this because of your growing personal feeling about the nature of the human soul and what lies beyond what we call life?

MATHESON: I have read countless books on parapsychology, metaphysics, etc., through the years. My special favorite is Thinking and Destiny by Harold W. Percival. It inspired my book The Path which consists mostly of quotes from Thinking and Destiny.

Anyway, I have studied these books and evolved my personal philosophy which, when all the details are considered, consists of that little quote in Hunted Past Reason—“To die is nothing. To live is everything”—with all that implies.

FAX: Were you religious as a youth?

MATHESON: Not particularly. I was raised as a Christian Scientist, which I accepted. A good religion. On the wall of the pulpits in Christian Science churches is the phrase “God is Love;” not a bad statement.

FAX: Did your experience in World War Two affect your religious views?

MATHESON: I used my Christian Science belief system when I was in infantry combat. It reassured me. At the same time, my blood pressure went sky high—so you pays your metaphysical money and you takes your choice. Later, I left the Christian Science religion and chose to evolve my own belief system, which does not adhere to what has been described as “Churchianity.” However, I still think Christian Science is an acceptable religion.

FAX: What project are you working on currently?

MATHESON: A one-man play; I won’t give you the title. I also have a suspense-comedy due to be produced in London if and when we can come up with a leading man. I would like to concentrate of theater for the next decade—whether that works out or not rests in the laps of the theater gods.

FAX: Your work grows in stature with each decade, and seems assured of enduring. Do you have any thoughts on that kind of immortality?

MATHESON: I hope people are reading my work in the future. I hope I have done more than frightened a couple of generations. I hope I’ve inspired a few people one way or another.

Actually, the highlight of my life—which, of course, had an enormous influence on my writing career—was meeting Ruth Woodson on the beach in Santa Monica in 1951, falling in love with her, marrying her, and creating with her a family of four children; two sons, two daughters. My love for them, and growth because of them, made my writing life what it was. It’s a process I advocate for any would-be writer.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Richard Matheson

Several of you have written me in the last month to ask where you could get copies of my interview with Richard Matheson, the one that appeared in Filmfax two years ago. Well, I'm updating it for inclusion in the Richard Matheson Companion which Matthew Bradley is doing.

For those of you unfamiliar with Richard's work, he's usually associated with horror, though in fact he's done nearly as much suspense as he's done horror. He wrote Spielberg's Duel, Kolchak the Night Stalker, all the important Poe films and numerous other suspense features. The only film Alfred Hitchcock asked to direct on his excellent one hour show was Richard's Ride The Nightmare, the novel being a true masterpiece of ever-ascending suspense, even though the TV movie doesn't quite make you break out in cold sweats the way the book does. With appearances in Queen and Year's Best among many other mystery anthologies, the suspense genre can certainly lay claim to him, too. Though as you'll see in the second half that runs tomorrow night, Richard considers himself a "writer" period. He writes whatever appeals to him at the moment.

So this is the slightly edited version of my Matheson piece. The interview itself appears tomorrow night. This is both the set-up and an overview of some of Richard's novels. Tor recently issued a beautiful trade pb that includes three of the suspense novels referenced here, Fury on Sunday, Someone Is Bleeding and Ride The Nightmare. (Thanks to Jim at Filmfax for letting me reprint the piece.)


Just about every time I’ve ever written about Richard Matheson over the past thirty 30, I’ve started out the same way.
The night of my eighth grade dance. My very first real dance. I’m duded to the max. Black suit and pink shirt and black tie. Like the one I’d seen Gene Vincent wear at the local dance club a couple of months earlier.

On this cold February night I am on a mission. I am going to win at least one dance with the girl I’ve loved with embarrassing fidelity since fifth grade. She must be aware of my painful condition—God knows I’ve humiliated myself enough because of it—but she’s far too busy fending off high school boys. Her beauty is quite apparent to them, too.

Well, friends and neighbors, this night, she does not go so well. The usual criminals I hang out with are nowhere around. They see this dance as strictly candy-ass. I am left, the only kid there with a true duck’s ass, to talk to boys in crew cuts and butch wax and gray suits. As I recall, they were friendly enough but wary of me because of the tough crowd I ran with. What the hell was I doing here? they wondered. And soon enough, I wondered, too.

Long story short: she danced with five or six different boys, and then a sophomore heartbreaker (just ask him) sort of commandeered her. She danced with nobody else but him. My chance was past.

I left for home early in the winter night. It was cold but at least the shadows were comforting. I felt a whole lot less foolish in the darkness.

Three blocks from my house was a pharmacy that didn’t close until 10:00. I stopped in there to have a Pepsi and a smoke. As always, I looked over the metal swivel paperback rack. This was 1955. I’d probably heard the name Richard Matheson in a few of the science fiction magazines I’d just begun reading, but I’d never seen a book of his before.

I took I Am Legend home, and two pages in forgot my broken heart entirely. I had never read a book that transported me so totally into its reality. Not only was it a harrowing suspense story, it had an emotional power and resonance that would remain with me the rest of my life. (Unfortunately, the heartbreak did return and all too soon.)

That night, Richard Matheson became one of my three favorite writers. He’s remained so for more than 50 years now.
Back in 1955, I divided my reading between mysteries and science fiction. I generally felt closest to the mysteries, especially the Gold Medal novels by John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, Peter Rabe, Lionel White, and several others for a simple reason: The world they tended to set their stories in was my world, a working-class neighborhood with more taverns than churches, a Greyhound bus station, serious games of craps and poker played in drafty basements, a fair number of teenage boys and girls alike shipped off to reform school or even prison, and cops who were always dragging your friends off to jail, especially if you happened to be black, as about a fourth of the neighborhood was in those days.

The next two Matheson novels I read were Fury on Sunday and Someone is Bleeding. They were every bit as brutal and real as any of my favorite Gold Medal writers, and with an added attraction: In Matheson novels, romance, often painful romance, drove the story as much as the violence did. To this day I prefer my novels to have man-woman stories in them. Not Romance. But romance.

A year later or so, Bantam did the first mass market edition of his collection Third from the Sun. Friends of mine who hated to read ate up every single page of it. If the subject had been The Works of Richard Matheson, these kids would have gone on to graduate school instead of flunking out of high school.

Matheson was one of the first writers I consciously copied. Those short, jabbing sentences. Those clearly defined settings. The dialog that could create a human being in just a few lines. And plots that just never let you go. I believe I read “Dying Room Only” three times the day I found it in a pulp in a second-hand store. Yes, he could write humor and adventure and even outré settings on far-off worlds. But mostly what he could do—whatever the setting or storyline or tone—was make it impossible to put down whatever story of his you were reading. The people were just too damned real, and their dilemma just too damned urgent.

He was also capable of constantly surprising his readers by shifting the types of stories and novels that attract him. Though he was known as a horror writer, he was equally skilled with suspense, Westerns, and pieces that are unclassifiable. Which he continues to do today in a variety of story types and the hell with career consistency.

His serious interest in the supernatural was first expressed in Hell House. His serious interest in spiritual matters was first expressed in What Dreams May Come. Now, you could argue that these novels evolved naturally from some of his previous work. Well, yes and no. Yes, he had written stories about hauntings and the supernatural before, but never with the singular and serious purpose of Hell House. And yes, his work had touched on matters of time travel and the quantum universe before, but never at the length or with the aching beauty of What Dreams May Come.

Same with the Western novels. Except for a few early stories, Matheson had never seriously attempted to work with that most venerable of forms. But when he did so, with Journal of the Gun Years, he wrote what has to be one of the most unique and powerful Westerns of the past quarter-century. With a single novel, he was up there with the big guys, Elmer Kelton and Ernest Haycox and Elmore Leonard.

There is no way to cover my favorite Matheson books in any depth in this piece, but I would like to pass along a few thoughts on a writer I’ve just never quit reading. Virtually all of his work has improved with age. The late mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner—whose smart-ass novels as by A.A. Fair I think you’ll enjoy as much as I do—wrote some of his fiction in such a way that it was “timeless.” At least this was what he thought he was achieving by almost never making contemporary references in his later Perry Mason novels. No song titles, no movie titles, no fashion styles were cited. But Gardner was too tricky by half with this ploy. What he achieved was not “timelessness” but an odd sterility of setting. The later Masons happen in a world that has no reality. It’s like a shooting a movie with the actors standing in front of a blank wall. I recommended his A.A. Fairs because they have a lot of atmosphere, especially those set during World War Two.

I mention this because while Matheson’s descriptions of time and place are usually spare, they still manage to evoke the decade in which they were written. The first couple of pages of A Stir of Echoes, as just one example, carefully and evocatively establish that our protagonists and his neighbors are working-class folks, something the under-appreciated film adaptation had the courage to match.

So now to some—but not all—of my favorite Matheson novels. But not the classics such as I Am Legend and The Shrinking Man. I’d rather talk about a few of the novels and stories that don’t seem to get much mention. The Shrinking Man is invariably and deservedly praised for its action set-pieces, especially the extended scene with Scott Carey battling the Black Widow spider. But I’ll tell you, for me the most difficult scene to write may well have been when Carey, now 49 inches tall, attempts to make love to his wife. Because what you have here, friends and neighbors, is a dirty joke. Think about the kind of bar patter this situation would inspire in any other hands. Seinfeld’s George and his “shrinkage” problem (yes, ladies, they really do shrink when you’ve been in cold water) was nothing compared to what Carey experiences. But Matheson makes this one of the most tender, emotionally compelling scenes in the book. It could have been lurid and freakish, and yet it defines Carey’s love for his wife Lou in a way no other scene in the book quite matches.

Earthbound is usually dismissed as minor Matheson, and I’ve never quite been able to figure out why. The bestseller, Stuart Woods did a book called Under the Lake which used many of the same tropes and tricks. He didn’t copy the Matheson book—he may not even have read it—but he did show us how not to write a novel about being possessed by gorgeous erotic supernatural women (though, to be fair, there are some nice long stretches of writing in it). Matheson takes what is essentially the material of a dirty joke—humping lady spooks—and turns it into a serious and moving look at a marriage that is beginning to fail, and a man who has begun to question some of his key values. The use of barren seashore winter images to contrast with the heat of the ghost is remarkable, as is the sorrow of the wife who can’t understand—or quite face—what her husband is going through. It’s one hell of a good, solid, eerie read. This is one of the few supernatural stories I’ve ever found believable, by the way.

Ride the Nightmare—This novel virtually vanished for two or three decades. There was an Alfred Hitchcock Presents version of it that a lot of people like, but which failed, for me, to capture the singular grinding terror of the novel. Familiar material turned into a masterpiece, if you want a slug line for this novel. Respectable married man with a Past finds his life turned into horror when a couple of thugs from his yesterdays turn up and try to blackmail him into helping them out with a new job. There is a particular '50s feeling to this material that enriches the way Matheson handles the marriage in this one. It dates well because it speaks of and to its era. I’ll tell you true—whether you’re an established pro or a beginner, if you want to take a graduate school course in writing suspense novels, memorize this book.

Shadows On The Sun—Here’s one for you, a horror-Western, the only good horror-Western I’ve ever read/seen/heard of, in fact. This was originally a screenplay but it adapted just fine, thank you, to prose. Would’ve made a really nice TV movie back when the networks were pushing that long lost breed of cat (I don’t count all those current Sunday and Monday night weepies as TV movies—they’re just long form soap opera installments). This would also make an especially fine graphic novel should anybody be interested. Here, atmosphere and plot trump character, though Matheson gives us some really nice glimpses into some really not nice people. His mixture of Indian supernatural lore with the spur-jingling realism of traditional Western tropes works very very well.

The Beardless Warriors is another one of those Matheson novels that disappeared for decades after a successful first appearance. This is likely one of his three or four most accomplished novels for two reasons—it is, for me anyway, his most ambitious in terms of the writing problems he sets for himself. The first difficulty is to shape a fast-paced drama coherently about a group of young draftees. A group, mind you; do a group but make them each individual enough that you remember them as separate people. This is no simple drama. He must describe a war, Pvt. Everett Hackermeyer's place in that war, and the young man's reaction to the numerous small dramas all around him. I love this book, and I generally hate war novels. But Matheson plays the entire symphony here—action, tragedy, poignance, humor, the lore of epic battle, and a stunning portrait of a young man's feelings about the requirements of war. No John Wayne crapola here. This is much more in the mode of Samuel Fuller's "The Steel Helmet," reporting the tedium and terror and ambivalence of young soldiers in battle. I can't over-estimate the grace or power of this novel. (This is one of the many recent reissues in handsome trade paperbacks from Tor/Forge.)

What Dreams may Come—My wife Carol read this shortly after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. (Not to worry; she’s symptom-free now.) The book changed her life, as she always tells people when urging them to read it. She found in it elegance and beauty, the kind of spirituality she'd never been able to find in churches, a sense of spiritual well-being unfettered by dogma or doctrine. While my reaction was less dramatic, I was struck by how similar my own vague religious feelings are to Matheson's. This is the ultimate love story, of a husband who seeks, and ultimately saves, his wife even though he has died and exists on another plane of reality. I'm not drawn to novels of spirituality, but this one works as both a spellbinding fantasy and a serious speculation about life after death.

Bid Time Return. In gentler times, there was a fine fantasy writer by the name of Robert Nathan. His most famous book was Portrait of Jenny, which is one of the finest romances I've ever read. Then came Jack Finney who, after scaring the hell out of us with The Bodysnatchers, spent the second part of his considerable career re-imagining his beloved town of Galesburg, Illinois in two excellent historical novels. I'd say that Matheson, in Bid Time, demonstrates that he is their equal in matters of time travel mixed with romance. What an enormous accomplishment this novel is—a quicksilver story of a man and woman of different centuries who not only fall in love, but transcend the problems of time. It's hard to imagine any kind of reader not liking this book. The word "fetching" was created to describe it.

The Kolchak Scripts—Gauntlet Publications is in the midst of a major Matheson publishing and re-publishing program. That excellent journalist and reporter Mark Dawidziak has put all three Kolchak scripts (the third being a collaboration between Matheson and William F. Nolan) plus extensive (and excellent) essays on the entire Kolchak saga into a huge volume that is certainly the definitive book on the subject. If Psycho forever changed suspense movies and novels, the first Kolchak movie forever changed horror movies and novels. Yes, there had been gritty newsroom horror films before; and yes, there had been wry, even comic horror flicks before. But using Jeff Rice’s clever novel as a basis, Matheson brought his own shrewd take to this new form. Instead of using humor as farce or slapstick, he used humor to make the realistic elements all the more darker and more believable. I just watched it again, and it’s as fresh, sassy, and spooky as it was three decades ago. It’s a gloriously lurid and nasty piece of work, glitz played off just the right amount of gore, a true classic.

Chris Carter has always said that The X-Files was directly inspired by The Night Stalker, and when you think about it, it sure was. What is odd is that X-Files was imitative in many ways, but there were few Night Stalker homages (as we call them in the land of litigation). Maybe this is because the Matheson-McGavin duo brought a unique insolence to the respective parts they played. In places, Night Stalker teetered right on the brink of parody, both in the writing and in McGavin's acting. But it never crossed the line, remaining mostly dark and surprisingly realistic because Matheson gave the whole journalistic angle the world-weariness (if not cynicism) one finds in most real newsrooms.

Gauntlet also published Matheson’s award-winning and beloved children’s book Abu and The Seven Marvels, a bracing adventure that your kids and grandkids love (mine sure do). You’ve got your princess, you’ve got your hero, you’ve got your wizard, and you’ve got your quest. You might think you know what Matheson does with these familiar elements, but you’d be wrong. Matheson never gives us same old, same old. Never.

Camp Pleasant—Cemetery Dance Publications is another small press that has produced several beautifully made and important books by Matheson. Camp is a superior short novel about a summer camp that is turned into a concentration camp of sorts by the man who runs it. The writing here is outstanding Matheson, outright poetic in places, mixing humor and terror as the bully intimidates virtually everybody in the camp. This is a real page-turner with plenty of suspense, but most of all there is Matheson’s compassion for the weak who must suffer at the hands of the ruthless. A fine, quiet addition to the Matheson library.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Doug Humble - Ed Gorman

From Doug Humble:

Normally when I'm by myself I don't laugh out loud. (This is something
in itself
that could be looked at on a really rainy day. Suffice to say it must
have something
to do with humor as group activity - ie. demonstrative reaction like
group laughing [ those guys making
laugh tracks know something] )
So, I find myself cracking up reading Viehl's Earnestly on your blog.
Really a great piece.
Reminds me of my doctors office visit (Kaiser, L.A.) and when the
doctor finds out I'm an
artist wants me to cast some concrete lions like those in front of the
NYC library for his house
in Brentwood. I'm trying to get him to focus on my prostate and he's
conjuring up a vision
of his house as San Simeon south.

Ed here: Doug and I go back to the days when one of our more seriously disturbed friends was calling in bomb threats so we could get out of school to drink beer and play pool. Rhodes Scholars we were not. But Doug became a well-known sculptor and artist so things turned out all right for both of us. Even our bomb-threat friend turned out all right, at least sort of...he's a lawyer.

I agree, Doug, I thought Lynn's piece was funny and all too true. In twenty five years of publishing fiction, I've probably been approached thirty or forty times by strangers who want me to read their manuscripts. Lynn handled the situation much better than I usually do. I used to be polite, now I just simply say Can't do it, busy. If they push past that point, I say, Cancer and that stops them. Busy they can deal with. Cancer and busy is another matter.

Mystery Scene was probably five years old when I got a letter from a subscriber that started out with praise for the magazine and then an explanation that his favorite mysteries were those with golf in them. Then I got to the third paragraph. He asked if I would send him a list of all novels that had golf in them.

There's a story by Arthur C. Clarke called The Nine Billion Names of God. The premise is that the human race exists to identify all the names by which God is known throughout the universe. And when all the names are identified, earth has no reason to exist any more and thus vanishes.

The Nine Billion Names of golf...

I'll generally read a short story if somebody asks me to. I spoke to a writer's group several years ago and afterward a young man came up and asked if he could pay me to read his short story. I took the story, no charge, sat down and read it on the spot, and asked why he didn't send this to a magzine. It was a knckout story in every way. He said that he was afraid it just wasn't any good. I told Marty Greenberg about it next day and shipped it up to Green Bay. He read it, agreed it was a great story. A few weeks later no less a writer than Roger Zelazny personally called the young writer to tell him that he was not only buying the story for an anthology but that it was one of the two or three best in a book filled with heavy duty names.

About a year later, Carol and I took Larry and his wife out for dinner. We were all friends by that time and went out fairly often. They thought it was just another dinner. But it wasn't. I'd been talking to the editor we submitted Larry's first novel to and she told me that I could tell him that they were buying it. It was a great kick telling him that and seeing how happy it made both of them.

As some of you have probably guessed by now, the guy I'm writing about is Larry Segriff, the number two man at Tekno Books (he and his family moved to Green Bay) and his lovely, gracious, wonderful wife Marlice.

Every once in a while, these stoies have happy endings--I helped sell a novel for an old college classmate of mine--but unfortunately not often enough.

I've had two exceptionally sad experiences with reading a beginner's material. Carol and I were at Red Lobster (remember, this is Cedar Rapids, Iowa so Red Lobster is life in the fast lane) when a middle-aged guy in wheelchair kept looking at me as if he knew me. On the way to the john, I had to pass his table so he stopped me and said he was a reader of mine and it was great to meet me. Very nice guy. He'd lost his legs in Nam. Then he told me that he'd written a novel about Nam and would I read it. I of course said yes.

It had moments but it needed so much work I literally couldn't figure out where to begin. I shipped it off to a college friend of mine who'd done two tours in Nam and had published three Random House novels based on his experiences there. He came to the same conclusion I had.

I had lunch at Red Lobster with the writer and his wife. I was as gentle as possible, told him that with work it might be publishable, etc. But it was heartbreak for all three of us and I still think about it all these years later and feel that I betrayed him somehow.

The other experience involved one of the sweetest women I've ever known. I mean it. If there are secular saints, she's at or near the top of the list. She is in her seventies now and has written stories since she was in high school. She showed me three boxes of stories. Because I liked her--I kept hugging her as we talked because she was just so damned nice and modest and , yes, sweet--so I took three of her stories home and read them and wanted to kill myself. There was no way I could tell her how stupendously bad her writing was.

The day I broke it to her I brought a pizza along and over it we talked about writing and I made a lot of suggestions--she had a particular problem with run-on sentences--so I'd also walked in with a paperback of early Hemingway and read parts of the stories out loud to illustrate points I wanted to make.

But man I felt that I'd betrayed her. She just sat there, all those dutiful years of writing writing writing, and I could see she was fighting tears once she figured out that what I was really saying was that her material just wasn't any good.

I think about her every day. I sure wish I could've given her good news instead of bad. She still buys all my books and gets me to sign them. I wish it was on her books and she was signing it to me.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Guest blogger: Lynn Viehl

Since turning pro in 2000, Lynn Viehl has published thirty-two novels in five genres, most recently "If Angels Burn" and "Private Demon," the first two books in her USA Today best selling Darkyn vampire novel series. She also writes romantic suspense as Gena Hale and Jessica Hall, inspirational fiction as Rebecca Kelly, and science fiction as S.L. Viehl.

This piece is reprinted from Lynn's must-read writer's blog Paperback Writer She provides the nitty gritty about the life of the full-time professional writer

EARNESTLY by Lynn Viehl

I am having a conversation with an earnest young writer. I have no choice; I'm trapped in a doctor's waiting room; all the chairs are taken and he's in a leg cast sitting next to me. I'm pretty sure the receptionist, who has been reading my vampire novels and demands a new one everytime I have an appointment, has let it slip to Earnest that I am a real author (as opposed to a fake one? One who is only a figment? Ghost writer? I never get that label.)

After heaping me with praise for being the real deal, although he tempers the gush by admitting that he's never actually heard of me or any of my books, Earnest confides: "I have a fantasy novel that's ready for publication."

The standard published author response is to smile and congratulate him. Something vague, along the lines of "That's terrific." My watch tells me the doc is probably going to keep me waiting for another 30 minutes, so I might as well be nice. "That's great," I say, and think of Jesus weeping before I go on. "What's it about?"

"Well," says Earnest, before he launches into a description that tells me nine thousand things about his hero's backstory and absolutely nothing about the novel. It sounds like Lord of the Rings with only one guy being manly instead of twelve of them. While I listen, I amuse myself by inventing titles for this book of Earnest's heart: The Sauron and the Fury. Death of a Hobbit. Alas, Poor Gandalf.

From Earnest's lengthy description, his book is about as ready for publication as I am prepared to take the gold in Women's Olympic Skating. Just before I lapse into an irreversible coma, Earnest adds the final blow. "It's like Terry Brooks' Shanara novels, but not exactly." He gives me a hopeful look. "Do you know Terry?"

I am briefly tempted to claim Terry is one of my ex-husbands, just to enjoy myself in a small but evil way, but that kind of joke has a way of biting you on the ass in a small town. "No, I'm sorry, I don't."

"But you've read his books." Earnest is fan-anxious now.

I shake my head and invoke the Rule of Silence: Never explain to a fan why you don't read his idol's novels. Never. There Can Be No Adequate Excuse.

"I'm surprised." And he is. "You being a published author." Doubt, too, implying that maybe I'm not, you know, real. "You've read Lord of the Rings, though."

Bingo. Honest response: Not even if you drugged me. Polite lie: Many years ago. I make mine reasonably honest. "Nope."

Earnest is earnestly speechless for about two seconds. "What is it you write again?" Horror has given him temporary amnesia.

I could give him a run down of the backlist, but he's had enough jolts for one day. "Romance novels," I say, and observe the superior gleam appear in his eyes. He's about to explain to me that I write trash, in a polite, condescending way, and with the mood I'm in, I might break his other leg.

Before Earnest can patronize me, I say, "Excuse me" and wander up to the receptionist's window. To her, I say, "I will give you an ARC of Dark Need if you take me in right now."

I am on the exam table two minutes later. The doc's new tech comes in, puts up my x-rays on the light board and eyes me. "Ms. Kelly?" When I nod, he smiles. "Alyssa says you're a real author. I've been working on a novel myself."

I am sitting on a metal table in a large paper napkin that passes as a patient gown, so I can't make a break for it. "That's terrific," I say. "Have you met the other author out in the waiting room? Guy with the broken leg. Writes just like Terry Brooks." I think of a way I can make a break for it and get off the table. "Excuse me, I have to use the restroom."

I wash my hands nine times before I go back to the exam room, and it works. When I leave a half hour later, tech and Earnest are talking in the hallway. Both of them ignore me. It's okay. Not like I'm a real author.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New Books: Out of Order by Charles Benoit

Out of Order
Charles Benoit
Poisoned Pen Press
Release Date: March 1, 2006

I’m one of those folks who actually believes the things he reads. Junk mail
offers, threats on bumper stickers, emails from former Ugandan government
officials who apparently need my help to access millions in offshore banks –
if it’s typed up, I tend to assume it is true. This explains why I own stock
in a wombat farm (The Other Gray Meat™) and how I ended up spending three
years in the Army. As a copywriter for an ad agency, I find myself actually
believing the things I write, sometimes Calling Now! before I even finish
writing the ad. Given this affliction – and knowing that I am not alone – I
have promised myself that I will only put things in my mysteries if they are

I’m not talking about the actual mystery – I still have to come up with that
on my own. But all that neat little stuff that peppers my books – the
location of coffee shops in Cairo, the details of hotels in Casablanca, the
layout of the sleeping berths on Indian trains – is really true. In Relative
Danger, all that stuff about Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the Fridays
restaurant on the Nile and the rugby players in Bahrain is accurate. And in
Out of Order, my new mystery set in India, when I tell you that the Pink
City Express pulls out of Delhi at 0600, you can go ahead and book a seat.
It’s not easy getting all these details right. Once I start a book, I have
to travel to every place I plan on writing about, staying at the hotels I
want my protagonist to stay at, seeing the sites I want him to see, eating
the foods he’ll dine on later. And it would be one thing if I set my books
in New York City or LA or Toronto. But no, I am driven to write the kind of
around-the-world adventure mysteries I love to read, books like Jon Clearly,
Wilton Barnhart and Paul Theroux wrote, books that take readers places they
never thought they’d see, and show them a time they’ll never forget. And
while I seldom ‘rough it’ – camping is a concept I accept only in theory – I
often surprise myself at the places I end up.

I wouldn’t have this problem if I were a better writer. “It’s a work of
fiction,” my wife likes to point out. “Go head and make it up.” But the
truth is I can’t. For me, every element of a book has to ring true – from
characters you’d swear you know to a story line that, while a bit
outrageous, is just outrageous enough to be believable. And if I were to try
telling you about getting hammered in a martini bar in Bangalore or
hobnobbing at a Bollywood premiere in Mumbai or what it’s like to chase a
felonious monkey across a rooftop in Jaipur without having experienced it
myself, well, you’d just know I was making it all up.
I’ll continue to travel, setting my books in the kind of places they feature
on the Discovery Channel, collecting exotic stamps in my passport and exotic
parasites in my bloodstream, all the while building an impressive – and I
certainly hope tax-deductible – credit card bill. So pick up a copy of Out
of Order and come along for the ride.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pro-File: Kevin J. Anderson

Professional Bio

Since 1993, 32 of Kevin J. Anderson's novels have appeared on national bestseller lists; he has over 16 million books in print worldwide. His works have been translated into German, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish, French, Romanian, Greek, Russian, Portuguese, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Hungarian, Chinese, Indonesian, Hebrew, Korean, Slovenian, Estonian, Turkish, Croatian, and Polish.

Anderson recently signed the largest science fiction contract in publishing history, to write a prequel trilogy to Frank Herbert's classic SF novel DUNE, coauthored with Herbert's son Brian. Bantam Books paid over seven figures per book in this trilogy. For a book signing during the promotional tour for his comedy/adventure novel AI! PEDRITO!, Anderson broke the Guinness World Record for "Largest Single-Author Signing," passing the previous records set by Gen. Colin Powell and Howard Stern.

His STAR WARS JEDI ACADEMY trilogy became the three top-selling science fiction novels of 1994. He has also completed numerous other projects for Lucasfilm, including the 14-volumes in the New York Times bestselling YOUNG JEDI KNIGHTS series (cowritten with his wife Rebecca Moesta). His three original STAR WARS anthologies are the bestselling SF anthologies of all time.

Anderson is the author of three hardcover novels based on the X-FILES; all three became international bestsellers, the first of which reached #1 on the London Sunday Times. GROUND ZERO was voted "Best Science Fiction Novel of 1995" by the readers of SFX magazine. RUINS hit the New York Times bestseller list, the first X-FILES novel ever to do so, and was voted "Best Science Fiction Novel of 1996. "

Anderson's thriller IGNITION, written with DOUG BEASON, has sold to Universal Studios as a possible motion picture. ANDERSON and BEASON'S novels have been nominated for the Nebula Award and the American Physics Society's "Forum" award. Their other novels include VIRTUAL DESTRUCTION, FALLOUT, and ILL WIND, which has been optioned by ABC TV for a television movie or miniseries.

Anderson's solo work has garnered wide critical acclaim: CLIMBING OLYMPUS (voted the best paperback SF novel of 1995 by Locus magazine), RESURRECTION, INC. (nominated for the Bram Stoker Award), and his novel BLINDFOLD (1996 preliminary Nebula nominee). Anderson has written numerous bestselling comics, including STAR WARS and PREDATOR titles for Dark Horse, and X-FILES for Topps.

Anderson's research has taken him to the top of Mount Whitney and the bottom of the Grand Canyon, inside the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD complex, into the Andes Mountains and the Amazone River, inside a Minuteman III missile silo and its underground control bunker, onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Nimitz, inside NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral, onto the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange, inside a plutonium plant at Los Alamos, and behind the scenes at FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC, and out on an Atlas-E rocket launchpad. He also, occasionally, stays home and writes.

Pro-File: Kevin J. Anderson

>>Tell us about your current novel. >>Can you give us a sense of what you're
working on now?

I like to keep several projects on the burner at the same time, at different
stages. I just delivered the tenth and final draft of HUNTERS OF DUNE,
written with Brian Herbert, 600 pages long. This is based on Frank
Herbert's final outline, which he left in a safe deposit box before he died
of pancreatic cancer. It's very exciting to be working on this, the grand
finale of Frank's Dune Chronicles.

I am also editing the manuscript of SLAN HUNTER, which I've just completed,
based upon the last unfinished manuscript by AE Van Vogt. His widow asked
me to finish it, and I consider it a great honor. I loved SLAN when I was
in college, and this is just the right kind of big science adventure.

And, for my own stuff, I have just started the big work on nailing down the
outline, 125 chapters, of the sixth volume in my massive "Saga of Seven
Suns," a big epic with a huge cast of characters.

>>3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Making up stuff and getting paid for it! My stepson jokes that I "lie for a
living." I have learned how to write (dictate) while I hike, so I can do
the two things I love most. I can live vicariously the adventures of many
different characters in many different exotic locales and situations.

>>4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?
Doing a lot of travel and promotion. Oh, I'm good at it and I enjoy doing
book signings and meeting fans, but it becomes more than a full-time job. I
spend as much time promoting as I do writing, which is my real love. And I
can't remember the last time I took a trip that was at my own discretion!

>>5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Think outside the box. Each novel is different, with a different audience.
Too often publisher's marketing doesn't go beyond Generic Plan A, whether
the novel is a thriller, a fantasy, a poker puzzle caper. They don't THINK
about where they might catch a specific readership. For instance, the poker
puzzle caper might be advertized in a poker magazine. Do they think about
that? No! Early in my career I published a fantasy trilogy based entirely
on role-playing games. At the time the publisher had a Generic Plan A of
advertizing their #1 title in various genre magazines, including the
Dungeons & Dragons magazine, and the #2 title got no ads at all. Now, my
novel was *about* Dungeons and Dragons...but instead of thinking this might
be the best choice for an ad in a D&D magazine, they ran their standard ad
for the #1 title (a time-travel SF novel about Sherlock Holmes, I believe).

>>6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print

I have always loved Martin Cruz Smith. GORKY PARK is one of the best novels
I've ever read. He wrote several mysteries before he hit it big with
NIGHTWING and GORKY PARK ("Gypsy in Amber" is one of them...I tracked it
down in a used book store). The others are out of print and I would love to
see them. That's all that come to mind.

>>7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that

I was working full time as a technical writer for a research lab, and I had
gone away for a business conference. I came back to the office and found a
message on my answering machine (one of those clunky beasts with a
full-sized cassette tape that automatically hummed and rewound after you
played the message.) On the answering machine tape was a call from my agent
saying, "Kevin, I just sold your first novel!" He rambled about the terms,
but I didn't hear many of them I was so excited. I ran down the hall to
yell to my coworkers. "I sold my book! I sold my book!" In the meantime,
another worker called my office with a completely mundane message -- I had
an order to pick up at the photo lab -- and recorded over my agent's
message! I sure wish I could have kept that tape.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Catching up

Catching Up

With all the interviews I've been running lately, I've accumulated a few notes and reviews I'd like to include here. Many more reviews to come and soon.

# Dear Ed,

With a sudden start, I realized I forgot to list an out of print writer whose work I admire. It’s the late William L. DeAndrea, and if it’s not too late, I’d love to have you add that to the interview. And if it is too late, maybe you can mention him on your site.

Best, Linda Barnes

# The latest Hardcase Crime is Richard Powell's Say It With Bullets and it's a lot of easygoing, witty fun. The copyright here is 1953. I remember the Powell name from my high school days but I don't recall ever reading a book of his. If all of his novels are this larky, I wish I'd caught up with them a long time ago. This involves a bus trip and a guy trying to figure out which of his war buddies shot him and left him behind, presumably dead. Lots of bodies, some very deftly portrayed sexual tension with a tour guide, and excellent dialogue. He can be tough and funny at the same time. In places he walks right up to parody and then wisely backs away. No small accomplishment.

# Otto Preminger's The Fallen Angel is out this week on DVD, starring the melancholy and always believable Dana Andrews and the gorgeous and elusive Linda Darnell. She always played women with secrets and this film is no exception. I actually prefer this to Preminger's Laura, mostly because I can't stand most of the characters in that film except of course for Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. The Fallen Angel is less rommantic, a true streetwise noir, with Andrews as a bitter grifter and Darnell a sleazy lady looking for a good ride out of the bad burg she lives in. In places this has the feel of a Billy Wilder noir, The Big Carnival maybe, with that almost giddy sense of hurtling toward oblivion. As always Charles Bickford shines, here as a cop not afraid of violating every civil right a suspect has.

# Beginning with the August issue, I'll be writing a monthly column that spotlights various mystery-oriented blogs. If yours isn't mentioned in the first column, know that I have limited space and will get to yours sooner than later.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Guest blogger: Tom Piccirilli

We're always open to guest bloggers or to those of you who'd like to write up to 750 words about your latest book if it hasn't been self-published.

From Tom Piccirilli

WELCOME TO HELL by Tom Piccirilli

A friend of mine just finished her first novel. It was five years in the making and, like every first novel, it was a hell of an arduous task. Like all of us she’s got a busy life full of family and debt and kids and a career and moving apartments and plenty of other ups and downs and around-the-bends. Over the course of the last half decade she’s had a lot of ground to cover.
Point being, she still managed to swing finishing that son of a bitch first novel.
So she treated herself to a bottle of Dom and called to say thanks for some advice I gave her a while back, a few helpful words she printed out and taped to her desk. It wasn’t the kind of advice that changes the course of your narrative voice or alters your precepts about the writing process. Or anything else even remotely discerning or insightful.
It was just one of those basic suggestions that everyone needs to remember no matter where he is in his writing career. If you’re just starting out or if you’ve been in this adventure for twenty years, it’s pretty much the primary rule of the game.
Nothing like the voice of God from a burning bush, right?
Since she phoned I’ve had two other folks drop me emails asking a bunch of questions about the publishing biz, all of which I answered faithfully. Both of these acquaintances are newer writers.
One told me that she had five stories written but was a little worried about sending them out. I told her that insecurity and indecision is normal, we all have our reservations but eventually get over it and start submitting. I led her to a website of market listings and told her the names of some of the best editors, magazines, anthologies I’d worked with. Did she think she had anything that might fit these guidelines? What were the word counts of her tales?
She then mentioned that the five stories she had written were still in her head and hadn’t been put on paper yet.
Oh, Mama Piccirilli and the sweet Baby Jesu, protect yer little boy.
The empty page is a lonely landscape for all of us, but especially for beginners. There’s a natural fear of writing the first word because it might not be the right word. That the idea is wrong, that the first sentence will be weak, the characters dull, the plot hackneyed. And you know what?’re probably right.
But so what?
We put down a sentence and we pick it up and put it down again. We need to start somewhere. It doesn’t matter where–you might replicate someone else’s voice or style. You might use cliched concepts without understanding how unoriginal they are. You might write the same story twelve times over before you see that you’re not breaking any new ground.
And yeah, not dropping it down on paper is the safe way to go. Nobody will ever see your errors that way.
Not even you. And without seeing those problems you won’t ever be able to resolve and overcome them.
It’s natural for a writer to feel the terror and the exhiliration of everything leading up to the process of the writing itself, but don’t let it stop you. You can find a thousand reasons for not starting a story, and if any of those reasons means more to you than the very fact that you HAVE to get it written, then don’t bother. You don’t need that kind of pressure on you. Go to the beach. Watch Seinfeld repeats. Cook a pizza. If you can get by without having to do the work, then you should. Life is already hard enough.
Otherwise you need to plant your ass in the chair and write. Now, baby, right now.

Tom Piccirilli is the author of fourteen novels including NOVEMBER MOURNS, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, HEADSTONE CITY, and THE NIGHT CLASS. He's a hardcore fan of noir fiction and film, Asian cinema, and grade z-horror flicks. Learn more about him and his work at his official website: You can often find him with his ass in the chair writing. He adds this codicil to his column–if you don’t want your ass to be as fat as his own, he urges you to go out on occasion and do laps around the block.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Pro-File: Duane Swierczynski

Pro-File: Duane Swierczynski

Duane Swierczynski is the author of Secret Dead Men (Point Blank Press) and The Wheelman (St. Martin’s Minotaur)—the latter of which was praised by the Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer and Mystery Scene, and was optioned for film by director Simon Hynd. Duane’s short stories have appeared in The Adventure of the Missing Detective, Dublin Noir, and the forthcoming Best New Noir.

By day, Duane’s the editor in chief of the Philadelphia City Paper, that town’s top alternative newsweekly, and has worked as an editor at Men’s Health, Details and Philadelphia. He lives in Philly with his wife, son and daughter. “Swierczynski” is Polish for “Smith.”

1. What is your most recent book?

My third novel, The Blonde, is due out this November. It’s the first novel I’ve written with someone looking over my shoulder—that is to say, expecting to publish the damn thing when it was finished. Which was weird. The first two novels were more or less experiments. With Secret Dead Men, it was “can I write a novel-length piece of fiction?” With The Wheelman, it was, “can I write a novel-length piece of fiction without any soul-swapping or other goofy sci-fi ideas in it?”

I’ve been told by friends who’ve read The Blonde that it’s a nice blend of the oddball concepts of Secret Dead Men and the fast-paced action of The Wheelman. We’ll see. I’m in that extremely sensitive place where the book is turned in, it’s not due out for eight months, and I’m worried that I completely screwed it up, and thus sabotaged my fledgling career.

This is normal, right?

(Um… right?)

2. What are you working on now?

Funny you ask. I submitted a short synopsis for my next St. Martin’s book, which my editor really likes (as do I). It’s called Violent Type.

But I’ve been cheating on it with another idea that hit me three weeks ago. I’m a big fan of non-supernatural horror novels—stuff guys like Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Dean Koontz and a certain writer named Ed Gorman have done so brilliantly. So I’m trying to fuse that horror sensibility with the pace and spare language of an action thriller, set in a place where horror stories are almost never set.

Again, it’s all about experimentation. That’s what makes this profession so much fun.

God, I hope my editor isn’t reading this.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

Entertaining people. For me, that’s what writing has always been about. When I was in high school, I’d write two-page horror stories in class, then pass them around to my friends. The expression on their faces was worth the risk of getting caught. And that’s still my prime motivation.

4. What is the greatest displeasure?

The toll it can take on your personal life—especially when you’re really, really in that story zone, and you kind of check out from real life for a while. When I finished the last sentence of the first draft of The Blonde, I let out a sigh of relief. So did my wife. If my home had a guy doing voice-overs, he’d be saying something like, “Rejoice, citizens. Our long national nightmare is over…”

It’s not easy balancing family and writing. If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to choose one over the other, I couldn’t decide. Living without either is unthinkable. Hence… the tension.

5. Any advice for the publishing world?

Scratch-and-sniff novels. I’ve been saying this for years.

Otherwise… I haven’t been in the game long enough to have my spirit snapped in half over someone’s knee. (I’m sure it’ll happen sooner or later.) So let me just say that I hope publishers continue to take risks, and allow writers time to grow, and try to
not have editorial decisions dictated by the bottom line instead of literary merit.

6. Any writers you’d like to see back in print?

The complete David Goodis. The complete Dan J. Marlowe. The complete Wade Miller. The complete non-McGee John D. MacDonald, published in trade paperback form with three novels in each volume. (Hey, a boy can dream, can’t he?)

Cornell Woolrich’s Hotel Room is a underrated masterpiece that’s been out of print since it first appeared in hardcover in the 1950s. That would be cool to see again.

I’d also kill to have more Jean-Patrick Manchette novels translated into English, as well as that French Goodis bio by Philippe Garnier.

Oh—I’m also desperate for someone to publish a trade edition of Richard Laymon’s A Writer’s Tale. The book’s pretty impossible to find, and I’m dying to read it. To even just hold it for a seconds.

7. Do you remember selling your first novel?

Like it was yesterday.

(That’s because it was more or less was yesterday. April 2004, to be exact.)

Secret Dead Men was written in 1998, revised in 1999, and sent out to five publishers in 2000. One close call at Pocket Books, but no dice. It sat on my hard drive the next four years. I played with a couple of paper clips, stared at the wall, and listened to The Smiths.

In late 2003, I struck up an e-mail correspondence with the incredibly talented Al Guthrie. A few months later, he foolishly let it drop that he was the new acquiring editor at Point Blank Press, so I sent him Secret Dead Men for the hell of it. He completely stunned me by accepting it. This is not false modesty. To me, SDM was deader than Barry Goldwater.

But Al’s faith in the book made all of the difference. Without that, I wouldn’t have finished the draft of The Wheelman, which I’d been playing around with for a year or so. And it wouldn’t have sold. And I wouldn’t be lucky enough to be here, answering these questions.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. One person.

So if this all goes south, I say we blame Al Guthrie.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pro-File: Michael Bracken

Michael Bracken is the author of 11 books--including ALL WHITE GIRLS, BAD GIRLS, DEADLY CAMPAIGN, TEQUILA SUNRISE, and YESTERDAY IN BLOOD AND BONE--and nearly 800 short stories that have appeared in literary, small press, and commercial publications worldwide. He is the editor of FEDORA, FEDORA II, FEDORA III, HARDBROILED, SMALL CRIMES, and three additional crime fiction anthologies currently in press.

He serves as vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America, recently completed three terms as vice president of the Mystery Writers of America's Southwest Chapter, and is also an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Bracken's "Dreams Unborn" was named one of the best mystery short stories of the year by the editors of THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2005, "All My Yesterdays" received a Derringer Award, "Cuts Like a Knife" was short-listed for the Derringer Award, and "Of Dreams Unborn" appeared on the preliminary ballot for the Nebula Award. Stories from Bracken's anthologies have been short-listed for the Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, and Shamus awards.

In addition to writing and editing fiction, Bracken is editor of SENIOR NEWS, a monthly newspaper distributed throughout Texas, and managing editor of TEXAS GARDENER, a bi-monthly consumer magazine. His non-fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including ATLANTA PARENT, MOTHERING, MYSTERY SCENE, and THE WRITER. He has edited corporate and organization newsletters, and has received many regional awards for advertising copywriting. He regularly speaks about writing, editing, and publishing to audiences across the U.S.

A full-time freelance writer/editor, Bracken lives with his family in Waco, Texas.

1. Tell us about your current book.

YESTERDAY IN BLOOD AND BONE (2005) is a collection of 20 mystery short stories, 18 of which first appeared in various commercial, literary, and small press publications. Two stories--including the title story--are original to this volume.

Of particular interest are "City Desk," my first published mystery, and "Yesterday in Blood and Bone," both of which feature St. Louis newspaper reporter Dan Fox. "City Desk" originally appeared in the January 1983 GENTLEMAN'S COMPANION and I have revisited the protagonist three times since then.

In "Yesterday in Blood and Bone," one of my longest stories at 18,800 words, Fox witnesses the murder of veteran newspaper reporter Benjamin "Bucky" Weaver and learns of the death of Alderman William Kelvin. Fox finds himself searching deep into the past to discover how the two men were connected and why someone would want them dead. In the process, Fox learns a lesson about prejudice, 1950's justice, and how the power of the press is sometimes embodied in the things that aren't said.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?

Unlike many writers, I am not a novelist. I am a short story writer who occasionally writes a novel. At any given moment, I have a few dozen short stories in progress. Earlier this week I completed a story about a woman whose son disappears on a mission trip to Central America. I'm trying to finish a horror story about a haunted wardrobe and I keep tinkering with two stories featuring Waco-based P.I. Morris Ronald Boyette and three stories featuring St. Louis-based P.I. Nathaniel Rose.

I also hope to edit additional crime fiction anthologies, so I continue to create and submit proposals.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?

I daydream for dollars. I make up stuff and people pay me for it. How cool is that?

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?

The greatest displeasure is the absolute unpredictability of income. If I didn't have a spouse with a steady paycheck and medical insurance, writing for a living would be quite difficult.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?

Writing might be an art, or it might be a craft, but publishing is a business. Learn the business.

Too many would-be writers and would-be publishers fail to comprehend that basic fact and they get themselves into trouble. They sign contracts they don't understand or they make promises they can't keep.

Technology has evolved so that it is now possible for every boy and his dog to start a publishing company on a shoestring and many would-be writers are so desperate for the immediate gratification of "publication" that they let their unrealistic expectations blind them to the realities of publishing. The publishers fail; the writers get burned.

So: Learn the business.

6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see in print again?

Walter R. Brooks. His 26-book series about Freddy the Pig--who just might be the greatest detective alive--introduced me to mysteries when I was a child. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys couldn't hold my attention the way Freddy did. (A quick check on-line reveals that some of the Freddy the Pig books have been reprinted within the past few years. I think they all should be.)

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.

I sold my first novel to a non-traditional publisher, and not entirely by intent.

DEADLY CAMPAIGN, a novel about St. Louis newspaper reporter Dan Fox, kicked around publishing houses for years. Many years. I tinkered with it. I revised it. Still, it went out and it came back.

In June of 1992 I submitted the unsolicited manuscript--the entire thing--to audiobook publisher Books In Motion. I knew nothing about the company and can't even swear at this late date that I knew they weren't a traditional ink-on-paper publisher. I just saw the company listed in a market report and took a chance.

On January 27, 1994, Gary Challender phoned from Books in Motion and told me they wanted to release my novel.

I could barely stand upright long enough to finish the phone call. Then I collapsed on the floor with joy.

A month later I received, signed, and returned the contract, and Books in Motion released DEADLY CAMPAIGN in May of 1994. (Six more years passed before the novel finally appeared in print. Go figure.)