Hey Author Friends:

I have a few features on my blog that I've been ignoring for far too long, and now, with your help, I'd like to put a little more effort into them.

I'm looking for authors (mainly crime fiction, but I'll consider others as well) to contribute to "Path to Publication," "Author Interviews," "Question o' the Day," or any other topic you might like to guest blog about. This blog is kind of geared toward aspiring authors, so anything in that vein would be great. I'd especially like to beef up the "Path to Publication" section because everyone loves a good success story, don't they?

The only caveat is I reserve the right to refuse if I don't think your content is right for my audience. Oh, and I don't get paid, so neither do you, except in all those book sales your presence on my blog might generate. I may add more caveats if I find I get too many requests or something like that. We'll see.

Anyway, I like to promote authors whose work I like. So that's what the purpose of all this is, as well as to give readers some content that informs, inspires, and/or entertains.

Contact me here in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook if you'd like to participate.

Pop Culture Nerd posted this on Facebook today and I couldn't resist. The object is to fill in these autobiographical statements using only titles of books you've read this year (2011).

I grew up in: Calabama (Steve Brewer) 

Now I live in: L.A. Noire (Megan Abboott, Lawrence Block, Duane Swierczynski, et al)

Weekends at my house are: In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)

My ex was: The Cold Kiss (John Rector) 

My superhero secret identity is: Queenpin (Megan Abbott)

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry because: (it's not) Fun & Games (Duane Swierczynski)

I'd win a gold medal in: A Drop of the Hard Stuff (Lawrence Block)

I'd pay good money for: Dope (Sara Gran)

If I were president, I would: (say) Heads You Lose (Lisa Lutz & David Hayward)

When I don't have good books it feels like: The End of Everything (Megan Abbott)

Loud talkers at the movies should be: (banished) In the Living Room of the Dead (Eric Stone)

Hey, that was fun! Leave your own answers on your blog (send me the link) or in the comment section.

 

 

 

Gretchen McNeil's debut novel, POSSESS, comes out on August 23, and to celebrate, I got a new tattoo:

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Wanna see a close up?

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Okay, so maybe the tattoo is just temporary. I love Gretchen, but not that much. The tattoo is the one sported by Bridgit Liu, the protagonist in POSSESS.

About POSSESS:

Fifteen-year-old Bridget Liu just wants to be left alone: by her mom, but the cute son of a local police sergeant, and by the eerie voices she can suddenly and inexplicably hear.  Unfortunately for Bridget, it turns out the voices are demons – and Bridget has the rare ability to banish them back to whatever hell they came from.

Terrified to tell people about her new power, Bridget confides in a local priest who enlists her help in increasingly dangerous cases of demonic possession.  But just as she is starting to come to terms with her new power, Bridget receives a startling message from one of the demons.  Now Bridget must unlock the secret to the demons' plan before someone close to her winds up dead – or worse, the human vessel of a demon king.

Check out the kick-ass trailer:

 Mark your calendars, boys and girls. POSSESS comes out on August 23, 2011 and I promise you, it's a book you're not gonna want to miss. 

Animal_grasshopper I attended the California Crime Writers Conference in Pasadena this weekend. What a great time. I met a lot of new people and got to know several people better. We all talked incessantly about writing, books and careers, and everything in between. In the process, I took away loads of great advice.

Patience
The first bit of wisdom I took with me was something I already knew, though it seems that I require daily reminders of its importance. Writers must have patience. Patience is something I've always had in short supply, but I'm going to have to cultivate it if I want to be happy in this career I've chosen (sometimes I feel like it chose me). 

Until I started my search for an agent, I had no idea how much patience would be required of me. The process goes something like this: I send my query, the agent responds, usually within a couple of days, asking for more material. I send it on thinking they've been waiting with nothing to do for my brilliant manuscript to make its way to their computer. Of course as soon as they get it they're going to read it, love it, and offer me representation, right?

Turns out agents have other stuff to do besides reading my manuscript. In fact, they might not ever get around to reading it. At the very least, it is typical to wait weeks or months for a response, even when they've requested a full manuscript. 

Spring Warren is the author of Turpentine and most recently, The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed my Family for a Year. Today, she stops by my blog to tell the story of her path to publication.

Turpentine I spent a couple of years after graduate school not only writing a novel, but also writing query letters trying to interest some publisher, some agent, some anybody in my work. I’d send out half a dozen letters, then over the next months watch the form letters dribble in, all of which said sorry but they weren’t taking any new clients/reading any new work/interested in what I was doing. 

I didn’t care much for this process. Not only did I feel like I was constantly volunteering my chest for the plunging sword of rejection, but the combination of investigating editors, agents, publishers and then crafting the letters to them, made for days and days of tedium that felt, increasingly, like wasted effort.

To make matters worse, the few houses that did respond to my queries and which then read my novel all said pretty much the same thing  – the writing was good but that it was almost impossible to sell “quiet character novels” written by unknown authors.   

I read “quiet” to mean boring.

I started another novel and I swore no one would call it quiet. I put big characters in it who got blown up, shot at, trampled by buffalo, hanged, drowned, and who fell disastrously in love.

I also stopped sending query letters to presses. I decided that I would focus on finding an agent.  If I got an agent, I reasoned, not only would this agent provide me with a better chance of being published, but the agent would also be in charge of the query work (and hopefully be much, much, much better at it than I was) and I would be free to spend my time writing fiction. QuarterAcre-newvines png

I’m not so sure that was such a good plan, as I had no publications. No short stories or essays in print  doesn’t exactly inspire confidence among those who print things. Luckily, about the time I’d decided to curtail my query writing I won the inaugural Maurice Prize, an award for the “best unpublished novel by a UC Davis alum.” I was then able to contact agents with this feather in my cap. Two of those agents were willing to represent me. After speaking to both of them I chose the agent who was sharp and funny and sounded like Julie Andrews (I had visions of her as Mary Poppins pulling my novels out of her carpet bag in front of gawping New York editors).

My agent was all I dreamed of. She busily prepared to send out my Maurice winning novel about the time I finished my “unquiet” novel, Turpentine. When my agent read Turpentine she put the prize-winner aside and began sending out the new (and unquiet) work.

Within a couple of months my agent had two houses that wanted to buy Turpentine. They each offered the same amount of money. Then they each went up a smidge – the same smidge – to the penny. I talked to both editors on the phone. I liked both editors. This should have been delightful. 

I was miserable. There was no easy choice. There wasn’t even a charming accent to consider. I was afraid I would certainly make a big mistake when deciding between the two houses. 

The best advice I got was from the novelist John Lescroart, who said the worst thing that can happen to a book is for the editor to leave the publishing house and “orphan” your book. He recommended I choose the house where this is least likely to happen. I did just that, and Turpentine was published by Grove Atlantic Books where it was edited by Morgan Entrekin – who also owned the company. The other editor did indeed take a job at another house within the year, by the way.

Two years later I sold my second book. I’d heard that it is harder to get the second book published than the first, but my agent, once again, did most of the hard work. Not the worrying, however, which I am so good at it would be a crime to delegate. I was growing most of my food in my suburban yard that year and my husband had doubted I could do so. I was talking to my agent at some point about it and telling her that in spite of all my errors and ignorance about farming and my husband’s nay-saying I was quite sure I was going to be able to finish the year not only feeding myself, but the family as well.  My agent was intrigued with the story and then said she thought it could be a great book, and that I should write up a proposal.  It took a few months to sell the book, but The Quarter Acre Farm; how I kept the patio, lost the lawn, and fed my family for a year is out with Seal Press now.

I am surprised at how easy it sounds. I got published twice in only a dozen or so paragraphs! It didn’t seem so easy when I was going through it, however; not the first time nor the second. I suspect trying to get published the third time won’t be a cakewalk either. My best bet in dealing with the process is to sidestep the feelings of rejection and doubt while hoping for the happy phone call that a book has been sold by not waiting.  Instead, I start another book. When I am immersed in the new project, the book that is making the rounds ceases to feel so consuming and I can remember the part of being a writer that I really like – the writing.

I've been thinking about book promotion lately. Not sure why–probably because Left Coast Crime 2011 just finished up and a lot of my friends went. It made me ask the question:

These days writers have to do quite a bit of their own promotion to spread the word about their books. How much time do you spend "on the road" each year promoting your books? (This could mean conferences, book tours, local events, etc).

Final_cover_long_knives Rebecca Cantrell:

More time than I'd like! For A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES, I did a 10 city tour that took a month (but I took several days off at the beginning and the end to just hang out in San Francisco and New York with my family). Plus Bourchercon and LCC (4 days each).

For A GAME OF LIES, I'm packing it into a 1 week tour, 4 days for Tuscon Festival of Books, 4 days for LCC, 3 days for the Hawaii Island Book and Music Festival. Still haven't decided on Bouchercon.

Holly's note: You'd better go to Bouchercon, Rebecca!

Eric Beetner:

Not much time at all 'on the road'. Most of that is due to two things for me: money and interest. Not 94212919 interest from me, I feel like I'd go anywhere, but interest from stores or any other place that does author events. I'm actually finding it surprisingly difficult to get anyone to have me. I discovered that the treatment I got at The Mystery Bookstore spoiled me and now I can't even get an email returned from any number of indie stores where I've sent books (at my expense for the purchase of the book and postage).

I know they are busy and are inundated with requests all day long but the lack of response has been a shock.

I've done two LCC's now and B-Con last year. I have every intention of doing B-Con again in St. Louis but that may change. Conferences for me are all about networking and meeting other authors, not book sales. Last B-Con I didn't sell a single book. Still had blast though so totally worth it.

Rebecca Cantrell is the author of the award-winning Hannah Vogel series and iDrakula (writing as Bekka Black).

Eric Beetner is the co-author of ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD and BORROWED TROUBLE, and author of numerous award-winning short stories.

I hesitate to post this on April Fool's Day, because really, I ain't fooling! Lately it seems I can't pick up a book that I don't end up loving. I am on a reading roll, I tell ya!

So what books have I recently read that I can't shut up about? Here they are:

1) THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton
Michael might be mute, but he is also a genius–at safe-cracking. This novel intertwines his tragic history and his evolution as a lock artist, able to open even the toughest safe. Sure, he can't talk, but Michael is one of the most compelling voices I've read in a long time, and his story is even more compelling.

2) A FIELD OF DARKNESS by Cornelia Read
Talk about compelling voices. I can't get enough of Madeleine Dare, Cornelia Read's protagonist. Her take on life is unique, given her family history. As Madeleine says, "our money is so old it ran out." In this novel, Madeleine learns a chilling family secret and sets out to find the truth.

3) THE CRAZY SCHOOL by Cornelia Read
This is the second Madeleine Dare novel, and it's even better than the first. Madeleine really shines in this story as she takes a job as a teacher in a school for kids with mental illness. Turns out, the whole damned school, administration and all, could use a shrink.

4) THE COLD KISS by John Rector (in progress)
I swear, I cannot read this book fast enough. The setting is familiar, almost has a Bates Motel feel to it. But the characters are as unique and creepy as they come. I am truly loving this book.

If you're looking for something good to read, you can't go wrong with any of these four books.

 

Questionmark Since I'm in the process of plotting my second novel, the question of outlining (or not) is on my mind. I asked my friend Kelli Stanley, author of 2010 LA Times Book Prize finalist CITY OF DRAGONS, whether she is an outliner:

KS: Do I outline? Yes and no. It's complicated. 🙂

I use a rough outline to break down the story into acts or parts. CITY OF DRAGONS–and all the Miranda books–are constructed on a five act play structure. A contemporary thriller I'm working on is built on three acts.

Certain things need to happen at certain points along the way, and the division helps me make sure they do. I then break down the acts into chapters, and set a page limit for the chapters themselves.

As I write, I narrow the focus, so the outline becomes more detailed. But I never get too specific, Curse-Maker-3D-199x300 particularly at the beginning, because one of the primary joys in writing–for me–is the process of discovery. I like the freedom of letting characters develop themselves, steal scenes, and I love the thrill of the unexpected–I like to be surprised as much as a reader would. At the same time, crime fiction demands a certain pace, which itself constricts and expands depending on the scene, your goals, and the stage you are in the plot. Writing an outline keeps me focused on those elements–it reminds me of what's next, and acts as the spine of the novel–which I can then flesh out with much more freedom, knowing that key plot elements are planned ahead.


Kelli Stanley is the award-winning author of NOX DORMIENDA, CITY OF DRAGONS, and most recently, THE CURSE-MAKER.

Eric Beetner and JB Kohl are the authors of One Too Many Blows to the Head and the recently released Borrowed Trouble. Just to get you in the mood, here is the trailer for Borrowed Trouble: 

Not bad, eh? This is a book I can’t wait to read.

Eric and I met at Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles in 2010 and have since become friends. To celebrate the release of Borrowed Trouble, we took some time out to chat about our writing processes.

Updated 1/19/11

Last week we got the news that the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood is closing on January 31. I am always sorry when I hear about an independent local business, especially a bookstore, closing, but this one hit me hard. It felt almost like a death, one that will take me a while to recover from.

I haven't said much about it since I heard the news, mostly because my life has been crazy for the past two weeks–so busy I haven't opened my laptop in over a week. But now that things have settled I have a chance to sit down and sort out my feelings. Except that's easier said than done.

Mb_talking
Talking with Kelli Stanley & Eric Beetner

Besides the initial shock and obvious sadness, I am left with a lingering anger and a tinge of resentment. But at what? Certainly not the Mystery Bookstore. They did everything they possibly could to boost sales and promote books. The community? Well, maybe a little. The Mystery Bookstore has a newsletter subscriber list of about 5000. If each of those subscribers ordered just one to three books from the store each year rather than taking the newsletter book recommendations and buying elsewhere, the Mystery Bookstore could probably stay in business.

The point isn't to flog those who make different purchasing decisions than I do. It's simply to say that when you value something, you sometimes have to make an effort to support it and nurture it.

As a book lover, I approach my book buying thusly: Any title I can get from the the Mystery Bookstore is purchased there. Titles that aren't available (those not in the mystery/thriller/suspense genres) I buy from Amazon or iBooks, usually as an eBook. I am an enthusiastic eBook reader, and I will continue to be. But I also continue to love paper books, and I always will–is it wrong for me to want (and expect) both?

The answer, unfortunately, seems to be yes. And this is, perhaps, what I am most angry and resentful about. The girl who always wants her cake and eat it too has at last been thwarted.

Mb_books
Of course, the sense of loss I feel is so much more than that. I know it is increasingly difficult for independent booksellers to compete, at least price-wise, with the Amazons of the world. But it is impossible for Amazon and the like to compete or, even come close to, what stores like the Mystery Bookstore offer: community, personalized service, book recommendations, a place to meet many different authors (not just the big names) in person… the list goes on. I can hardly believe that after January 31, I will no longer have the pleasure of sitting in that shop, listening to a new or favorite author read from their latest release.

More than once, I've had conversations with Bobby, Linda, and Pamela that resulted in me enthusiastically buying whatever book they were passionately recommending. It wasn't some website saying "If you like this, then you will like this." They are people who love books, who know I love books, and know what I like to read because they've taken the time to get to know me. And every recommendation was spot on.

Mb_holly_linda
Me & Linda Brown, assistant manager at the Mystery Bookstore

Lisa Lutz, Angela S. Choi, and Gregg Hurwitz can thank Linda for the new fan they have in me. Daniel Woodrell and Rebecca Cantrell can thank Bobby. I got to know Kelli Stanley, Stephen Jay Schwartz, Sue Ann Jaffarian, Rebecca Cantrell, Sophie Littlefield, and Eric Beetner at the shop, creating friendships that continue online and in person when we can. Most of the time, that personal contact is at the Mystery Bookstore. I got to be a fangirl when I met Lawrence Block and James Ellroy at the store. I was introduced to George Pellecanos, who is now one of my favorite writers.

And I dreamed of having my own book launch there.

For all of these reasons and more, the closing of the Mystery Bookstore is a big loss for me and for the crime fiction community, and one that I won't soon recover from. In the meantime, I hope to see you at their farewell party at 6pm on January 31.

If you're lucky enough to still have a beloved bookstore or other business in your community, please take a moment to consider the value, beyond prices or convenience, it brings to you and treat it accordingly.