Saturday, December 19, 2009

SECOND TIME AROUND WORTH THE TRIP

Second Time Around
by Linda Faulkner
January 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 978-1934258323
EPress-online, 184 pages
Paperback & e-book

Timothea Campbell (Timmi to her friends) has a perfectly nice life in a small town not far from Missoula, Montana. She owns and runs Campbell Business services in the town of Jocko. Her comfortable house on twenty wooded acres is populated with dogs cats and assorted wildlife.

While walking her pets one Friday morning, a dead man rolls down the hill and practically lands at her feet. She doesn’t recognize the corpse, even though the stiff turns out to be her father. Thus begins a wild and complicated tale of revenge, years of lies, romance, and, of course murder. More than one. This suspenseful mystery also contains a well-thought-out romantic entanglement between two feisty independent characters in a novel filled with engaging characters.

Timmi herself, a transplant from the East Coast, has adapted to rural ways quite well, even up to packing heat upon occasion. For someone with her kind of mercurial temperament, I might want her to wear a temperature gauge at times. While the story does not have a high level of forward drive, the author’s sense of place, her characters, and the complications of a former lover (Deputy Jack Kendall) becoming the principal investigator in the case as the bodies pile up, all adds to reader interest. A fun, well written, story about a couple of people you’ll want to meet again.

LOADED DICE LOADED FOR READERS

Loaded Dice
by James Swain
ISBN:0345463277
Ballantine Books, 2005
MM 298 pages

Tony Valentine is an unusual character for a crime novel. That in itself is refreshing. Add a good plot or three, some fine and twisty characters, good writing and what more could you want? You do have to get by a really obvious coincidence in the early going, but it’s handled so smoothly, readers shouldn’t mind all that much.

Tony Valentine, an ex-cop has honed his sense of grift to a really high level. Retired from law enforcement, he’s now a consultant to casino operators. He teaches them how to spot cheaters of every stripe and he manages to keep track of the latest technological devices as well. That’s what brings him to Las Vegas this time, a paid consultancy to expose a new radio card reading device. Tony is also on personal business, trying to find and figure out what his wayward son is up to.

The consultancy puts Tony in the middle of a turf war between rival casino operators and his business card turns up in the hands of a murdered stripper. The stripper’s boyfriend, a local cop, figures Valentine is involved and may in fact, have killed the girl. Welcome to Valentine’s world. Smooth writing, an attractive insouciance and a slightly skewed attitude make this an enjoyable read for anyone intrigued by big-time gambling, cops and robbers with a little romance thrown in as well. Readers are advised to pay close attention to the first four chapters.

Friday, December 18, 2009

FRAG BOX IS A WINNER

Frag Box
by Richard A. Thompson
ISBN: 978-1-59058-678-5
Hard Cover from Poisoned Pen Press
2009 release, 222 pages

A dark and in some ways, sad and vicious novel of demons and their aftermaths. Herman Jackson, now a bail bond operator in St. Paul, Minnesota, after some difficulties in Detroit as a youngster, has a fairly settled life in the capital city. One of his regulars is a disturbed veteran of the Viet Nam war with the unfortunate name, Charlie Victor. Victor is the catalyst.

This novel is well-conceived and executed. It grabs you early on and maintains a relentless pace, even in its flashbacks, something not easy to do. On the surface, Herman Jackson undertakes a quixotic effort to determine why the homeless Victor is suddenly and brutally murdered on the street in broad daylight. But as the story develops we become aware that more is going on here than first perceived. A simple story line has developed tentacles and layers of intrigue and darkness. Herman Jackson requires a variety of questionably acquired skills to stay ahead of Charlie’s killers and the forces that motivate them. And as the novel continues we come to understand that the journey involves more than just a simple quest for answers.

The darkness that stalks this story is leavened by the cynical, wise-cracking voice of Mr. Jackson. His attitudes are well-founded. He’s seen and experienced enough of the venality of society’s representatives, whether they reside on the side of the dark angels or of the haloed ones. “Frag Box” is not a perfect novel, but if some of the fantasies serve the story more than reality, well, the totality is well worth a few minor lapses. Kudos to Mr. Thompson. Here’s an author definitely worth paying attention to. I look forward to Mr. Thompson’s next effort.

REVOLUTION?

It's beginning to look like mainstream publishing is waking up to seismic changes linked to technological advances and, even more importantly, changes among readers aka book buyers.

Meanwhile, I'm going to start laying on more comments about books I read. Hope you will follow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

COLD HUNTERS MOON: A Novel

COLD HUNTERS MOON
by K.C. Greenlief
Thomas Dunne Books,
January 2002, 295 pages
ISBN 0312278470

Murder among the pines and bucolic snowy life of central Wisconsin brings chills of a different kind.

This novel has just about everything you could ask for in a novel. The author has created a fascinating pair of detectives in sheriff Lark Swenson and Wisconsin State Bureau detective Lacey Smith. There’s a nice blend of early antagonism, questioning, interesting circumstances, and psychological dancing as the pair becomes better acquainted and more respectful of each other’s experience and talent.

The story begins with the discovery of human remains on a cold and snowy November day in middle Wisconsin. Ann Ranson’s dogs bring home a boot which, on closer examination, contains part of a human foot. This chilling discovery starts a chain of events that will keep readers reading long into the night. While the cold and snow creeps into the corners of the reader’s mind, the authorities in the story are forced to deal with weather and a perplexing find. Is the body evidence of a crime? Or is it accidental death, an individual who simply became lost in the woods?

When another female corpse turns up, the county sheriff, Lark Swenson decides he needs help and contacts the State police. Enter Lacey Smith. The weather, a huge factor during this deer hunting season, begins to close in even more, hampering the efforts to identify the victims and find the killer or killers.

Greenlief has surrounded her principal characters with a logical, carefully differentiated group of secondary characters who consistently act the way they are suppose to. The flow of the book is first-rate. The descriptions are often chilling and are very much to the point.

Cold Hunter’s Moon is that rare novel in which every word counts. Throughout, characters find themselves in logical if sometimes amusing situations which leavens the almost unremitting suspense just enough to give the pace rhythm. The surprising conclusion fits exactly into the fabric of the story and the final scenes leave just enough questions to leave us wanting more about the police duo. Excellent from start to finish, I expect more good reading from this author.

Monday, December 07, 2009

NOSTALGIC HAM LOAF

Cold has finally come to the top of the map. Minnesota, that means. Canada has its own map. I got to thinking about comfort food. One comfort food I haven’t had much of recently is my mother’s ham loaf.

So when my wife agreed the other day I went to the market to scare up some essential ingredients. I knew what I needed because I have my mother’s recipe. The recipe is on a 3x5 lined card in our extensive file of recipes. It’s a stained card showing that somebody making or baking something had handled it in the past. In fact, when I look at the card I see it’s written in my mother’s hand. Which means it isn’t precisely complete. “Add milk if necessary.” What does that mean? Presumably if the mix is too dry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I go to the market. At the meat market I ask for three-quarters of a pound each, of ground pork, ham and veal. One of the butchers looks at me with an amused glint.

What? I wonder. I say, I can come back if….I gesture.

No no, he says, it’s just we don’t have three quarters of a pound wrapped.

You want it mixed, of course, says another. He grins and starts ripping open packages. Pound packages, I assume. He eyeballs the pound of ground veal and whacks off what looks to my untrained eye like precisely three-quarters of the lump. Pretty soon he’s got his fingers all over my ground veal, pork and ham. After he mixes and wraps and weighs an d labels, he hands me the package and smiles. Ham loaf, I bet, he says.

Making ham loaf tonight? M y wife asks while gazing at the big lumpy package of ground meat in the refrigerator.

So I nod and drag the package of meat and other ingredients out and assemble tools. I find the recipe card. Soon I’m measuring, mixing and I’m back in a different kitchen. My mom is doing something in the sink. She looks over her shoulder and says mix it well, but don’t squeeze it together. Do you need milk? Is it too dry? I guess I shrug, what do I know?

I shrug and she comes over, pokes a finger in the big bowl and nods. Give it a splash or two. When I turn back from the refrigerator, I’m back in my own kitchen. I add a little milk and the egg and mix the pile thoroughly, her gentle admonishment still in my head.

Set the oven baking temp and wait.

Some time later the oven does its thing and the house is filled with memories and the smell of onions and salt and heating ham, veal and pork. Mouthwatering odors.

Yes it was a success. The resulting ham loaf was excellent.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

MORE ON THE BUSINESS OF FICTION

Both Robin and Kevin make good and valid points regarding the problems confronting any new author who hasn’t done his or her homework. The vultures who hide among legitimate agents, publishers and others in the community are many and are adept at concealment. Authors with low levels of tolerance toward legitimate criticism are another factor which affects all of us. Some things can be helped, others cannot.

My concerns are these: instead of trying to control the problems we all perceive with, for example, lists of “approved” publishers or “approved” agents, why not bend greater efforts to alert and advise new authors as to how the game is played with aggressively marketed workshop sessions? While responding to questions at presentations that “New York publishers insist new work come via agents,” why isn’t more attention paid to discussing good and poor contract language? Why don’t we offer and promote sessions on exactly what an author who self-publishes faces regarding distribution?

Joint ventures in which two or more parties invest in the possible success of a book are a perfectly acceptable business model, so long as everyone understands the limitations and responsibilities of each party to the contract. Has a small bookseller ever explained to a room full of authors what the real and hidden costs are to accept books on consignment? Or to set up yet another account? What decisions must a bookseller make when one of their wholesalers demands an increase in minimum book orders from , say $50 to $400?

Yes, I am aware that professional organizations like EPIC post acceptable contract language on their web site. What I am suggesting, however, is that passive resistance to evil is not acceptable. I think organizations like MWA, RWA, Sisters in Crime and IBS and trade associations like ABA as well as many others ought to mount aggressive educational campaigns to reveal to new authors and others, just what the business is all about.

I’d like to see a business track designed for new authors at Malice, at Bouchercon, at Left Coast Crime, to name just a few. For far too long, it seems to me, the publishing business, in all its facets, has just been going along with practices developed over years of neglect rather than with proactive profit-centric attitudes. Better books, better agenting and editing, better distribution can only result in better literacy and more profits for everybody.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

RAMBLING OPINIONS ON WRITING AND PUBLISHING TODAY

There has been a lot of conversation on the net recently regarding self-pubbing, e-books and associated attitudes from various writer’s organizations. I ‘spect more than one or two independent publishers are also conversing with their counterparts on the subject. Much of it provoked by recent business moves from a long-established publishing house.

I think it’s fair to consider self-publishing print materials such as novels, short stories and non-fiction as one kind of business model. Perhaps more informal than going to an established publishing house. There are success stories and failures, just as is the case with the formal publishing of print materials. I also believe that e-publishing is simply another kind of business model. None of these models are inherently good or bad, in terms of product quality, any more than publishing with a small or independent press is good or bad.

An author who makes a rational decision to self-publish should be neither derided nor congratulated and wouldn’t be if folks on the sidelines were less emotional and more prone to pragmatism. The same should be true of decisions to publish via electronic means instead or in addition to traditional paper. Self-publishing puts a work into the realm of individual investment of time, talent and money. Publishing with a press that requires an investment of funds by the author should likewise be neither condemned nor applauded. It is the product that should count. Every year entrepreneurs come to the market place with new inventions. Most fail, some go on to fortune, if not necessarily fame. Why should it be any different for writers of books?

I don’t understand why it’s okay for a musician or a band to produce and distribute its own music via CDs or a website, but it’s not okay for an author to do the same.

If an author takes on the production of his or her work using the same or higher standards of quality in the editing and production of a given work, as the standards set by a business called “publisher,” why cannot the result be judged using the same standards? Instead, the work is largely ignored and the focus of most negative criticism falls on the decision regarding how to publish. Moreover, most of the critical comments are couched in broad terms. We read constantly, often from sources that insist they don’t read ebooks or self-pubbed work, that such work is inferior, not worth time and effort. How do these people know that? If you press them they’ll suggest that a long time ago they read an ebook, or a self-pubbed novel and it was really bad.

That kind of discrimination—which is exactly what it is—is injurious to our society.

Right now there is a kind of upheaval in several national organizations relative to policies regarding membership and association linked to the decisions regarding how a book is published. Interestingly much of the negative rhetoric is similar in nature and tone, if not identical. One could almost believe there is a small group of individuals who are dedicated to stamping out publishing business models which do not conform to “the way it has always been done.”

I don’t believe in conspiracies. Restraint of trade is a nasty way to interact with the Federal Government and can be very costly. Conspiracies to defraud are almost always found out, sooner or later.

What I really wish is that more time and energy would be spent helping authors to understand the business models that exist, their advantages and disadvantages, so that those who are unlearned in these areas could be guided away from the scam artists, the thieves and robbers who would take your money and deliver nothing. Or maybe there are and I just haven’t run across them yet. Maybe distribution is at fault. Which reminds me of an incident to illustrate my points.

As a reviewer of mystery fiction, a self-pubbed author once verbally attacked me when I read and reviewed her work but refused to submit it to the newspapers for which I was freelancing at the time. Before I read the book, I had determined that the paper would not print my review of the book because it was not available in local bookstores. That was their policy. Not set by me, but I was quickly perceived by the author to be the barrier. I was standing in the way of her success. She assumed it was my fault that the book would not receive local coverage. This author should have done some research into marketing and promotion before she elected to self-publish the novel. What local newspaper is going to devote space to any author whose books are not available in local bookstores? The answer is fairly obvious, although there are, of course, exceptions.

Authors need to learn in detail about the business model they wish to use and professional author organizations like RWA, MWA, Sisters In Crime and EPIC could provide great service to authors by concentrating efforts to help their members learn what they need to know for success, instead of squabbling over whether e-books are legitimate and whether publically admitting to having self-pubbed is a death knell for a writing career.

Woe betide the author who believes e-publishing and self-publishing are simply neat ways to get around the costs of fact-checking, copy and line editing, content editing and professional cover and book design.
Most emphatically, they are not. Like it or not, authors, to be successful are in business and they need to learn some basic facts, like how to protect themselves from thieves and charlatans, and how to improve their product to help it attain recognition and success.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

BLACK FLIES A FINE TURBULENT NOVEL

Black Flies
by Shannon Burke
Soft Skull Press, May, 2008
Trade Paper Original, 184 pages, $14.95
ISBN: 9781593761912

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

A powerful debut, smoothly executed, about New York Fire Department paramedics working in Harlem. Paramedics everywhere will doubtless recognize the range of emotional scenes packed into this slender novel. The book’s essence is the constant pressure, in unremittingly unbelievable working conditions.

When the book opens Oliver Cross is a rookie emt. When it ends he’s on his way to a different career. The only mystery here is how he and the other paramedics in the city generally but especially those in Harlem, manage to survive and hold on to their humanity. There is something insidiously wrong in placing human beings into these pressured situations, expecting them to perform near miracles in saving the lives of a range of humans from murderers and addicts to diseased and uncaring predators. And the expectation is that they’ll do it while seriously understaffed, underfunded and inadequately equipped.

This darkly sympathetic novel is both a celebration of the dedication and expertise of the paramedics and an indictment of the system. Against the lethargy and remoteness lf the system, Burke examines the struggles of the men to maintain their sanity and continue to function. Intensely human on one hand, the brutality of their daily existence war constantly with the readers sensiblitites and struggle to accept the reality of the circumstances.

The author’s ear for swift and punchy real dialog is amazing. His integration of story and reality is sometimes amazing. What comes through is a turbulent stressful yet oddly satisfying occupation. Enthralling.

Monday, October 26, 2009

MISSING OPPORTUNITIES?

Been following some of the blogging and messaging regarding promotion for signings. All good advice from knowledgeable professionals. However, (you knew that was coming, right?) I take note of a few things that seem to have been left out. It’s not surprising when you consider that most of us deal most of the time with the printed work on a page, whether on paper or via electronics.

Do consider the electronic media. Radio, television and cable. If you are bouncing about the country doing bookstore signings, and you ignore the other media you may be missing a big opportunity. While you are collecting names and addresses for print news outlets that service the areas you’ll visit, be sure to include the news directors of radio and TV stations. For cable it’s a little trickier since many cable providers don’t offer anything like local news/information programs. But some do. And almost every community in the country offers some kind of local cable access program that fits your need. Libraries produce regular cable programs, as do schools and even some bookstores. You have to dig up the information, but it is there.

One very important aspect of promotion for your travels has been largely missed in the current spate of advice. Get advice from the bookstore!

Let’s say you are scheduled for a local independent bookstore in Somewheresville, USA. You have prepared a release to send to area news outlets. That’s good, but have you checked with the bookstore? When I’m touring, the first thing I do, once an event date is set, is contact the bookstore to find out if they have a PR list. Many don’t but many do. Some will even be able to guide you with approach tips. After all, the bookstore owners have been there a while and you haven’t. Apart from the basic courtesy, if you ask, you may find interesting and productive outlets you never thought of. A few years ago I was traveling to a city near the top of the map and I emailed the bookstore for their thoughts on where I should send a press release. They provided me with a list of their contacts, one of which was something called “The Automotive Fan.” A local monthly. My mysteries have nothing to do with automobiles, but they not only ran my release, they interviewed the bookstore folks after the event for a followup. No surprise to the bookstore, but I would never have sent them a release on my own.

In another posting I’ll have a good deal to say about preparing for radio and television interviews.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bouchercon 2009--11





Bouchercon 2009--10





Bouchercon 2009--9





Bouchercon 2009--8





Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bouchercon pictures-2009-7





Bouchercon pictures-2009-6





Bouchercon 2009 again





IDENTITY CRISIS A GOOD READ

By Debbi Mack
ISBN: 978-0-557-08325-1
241 pages, 2009,
available in print and downloadable

The novel rides squarely on the protagonists capable shoulders. She’s a bright and upright independent lawyer with her own practice. Stephanie Ann McRae can be a potty mouth at times, but her infrequent tirades are self-directed. Does she make mistakes? You bet. Does she fault herself when it happens. You bet. Does she occasionally skate a little close to the legal of not the ethical line? For her client, sure she does. Maybe her emotions are a little close to the surface, for a lawyer, but it all works and somehow, by page 10 you’re saying, “I’m on board. I wanna see this through to the end. Go Sam!” Because “Sam” McRae has grabbed you for the ride.

Sam is smart, but not infallible, doesn’t leap even low bushes at a single bound, so she’s easy to relate to. Early on she discovers that the FBI and her local cops are interested in her client, Melanie, because of a murder. Melanie isn’t exactly a suspect she’s a person of interest. The problem is, Melanie has gone missing.

The next thing you know Sam, who isn’t what you’d call well-off, learns that she—or someone using her name—is applying for a substantial line of credit. Mild panic insues and another layer is added to the mix. Is Sam’s client involved in the identity theft? And what’s that black limo doing, the one that appears to be shadowing her at times?

There are a lot of characters in this novel, most of whom are interesting, some of whom might has been more fruitfully developed. Sam’s love interest is at times al most an afterthought. Occasionally the writing meanders, but mostly the story maintains a high level of interest and forceful pace. The author has a keen eye for character and her writing is usually smooth and interesting. I enjoyed the novel all the way to its satisfying conclusion.

Bouchercon pictures-2009-4





Bouchercon pictures-2009-3





Monday, October 19, 2009

Bouchercon pictures-2009 (2)