New Beginnings, No Ending

Well, here I am, back in the world of “traditional” publishing. Sort of. After several years as my own publisher, my latest book, DEVILS AND DUST, is being released by an actual (if new) publishing house, Polis Books. It’s out now in hardcover and for all the well-known e-book platforms: Amazon, B & N, iBooks, and Kobo. Audiobook editions of this and the first three Jack Keller books are in the works right now with Audible.com.

Devils and Dust

 So, what does this mean? Am I abandoning my self-pubbing career and admitting failure? Is this a sign that the whole e-book direct-publishing thing was just a fad?

Not at all. In fact, I am as sick of articles declaring the “death of e-publishing” because of minor downticks in the sale of e-books as I am of the articles predicting the “death of the print book” whenever e-book sales go up. I am REALLY sick of people I like and respect tearing at one another and making nasty remarks because they’re on opposite sides of some imaginary e-book/print book or “legacy publishing”/”indie publishing” divide. The traditionally published authors claim all indie published work is cheap unedited crap that will keep everyone from making a living and the indies accuse the traditionalists of wanting to keep all the cookies for themselves.

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Stop it, ya’ll. Just stop it.

The fact is, I’ve self-published work I love and care about, reached new readers, and made quite a bit of money, more money than I ever did with my former house. But then, I met up with a smart, innovative, and energetic small press owner who immediately responded to the casual e-mail query “you interested in re-issuing the first three Jack Keller books?” with “you interested in writing a fourth one?” That was on a Saturday morning. By Monday, we had a deal. That’s how things ought to work, but never do in big-house publishing, where everything takes forever and, even if an editor likes the book, the decision has to go through the marketing department while you, the author, wait and fret.

It certainly helps that Jason Pinter, who founded and runs Polis, is not only experienced in publishing and marketing, but he’s a writer as well. Far too often, and for far too long, our livelihoods as creative people have been at the mercy of people who are not themselves creative. This is how we get the all-too-common rejection that says “we love this book, but marketing says they don’t know how to sell it.”

I will almost certainly have projects in the future that I believe in, but that don’t fit in to what others need. Experience has taught me, however, that those projects can find readers and make money if I put them on the market myself. The best thing about this brave new world is the number of options it gives us. I’d even consider an offer from one of the big houses again–but I’d be secure in the knowledge I could walk away from it if I don’t like the deal.

Back in 2011, when I announced my first serious foray into self-publishing, I wrote a blog article that quoted SF writer Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Those words are as instructive today as they were back then:

“I personally want readers and I want as many readers as possible.  More readers equal more money—of course—but more readers also equal a long-term career.  If my book is in print from a Big Publisher, then theoretically the book is attracting readers.  If my book is in print from my self-publishing arm or an indie publisher, then theoretically the book is attracting readers. And that, my friends, is really what matters.”

‘Nuff said.

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Happy holidays from the Muse

All our best for the holidays, readers! Have a wonderful time with friends and family.
Here’s what’s happening with the Thalians at the end of the year. 

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Sparkle Hayter

Sparkle’s Robin Hudson mystery series has been re-released in digital by Open Road Media. Sexy, irreverent, outspoken, and newly single, Robin Hudson is a TV news reporter living with her cat in New York City’s East Village and occasionally moonlighting as a sleuth. Life in the big city isn’t always easy, and Robin keeps finding herself tangled up in outrageous crimes perpetrated by outlandish characters. Run-ins with mobsters, S&M enthusiasts, and licentious chimpanzees are all in a day’s work for Robin Hudson as she steadily moves up the professional ladder in television journalism and in and out of love with a wide variety of cute guys. The first novel in this smart and uproarious mystery series, What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, was awarded the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel and the series won Britain’s Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.

Sparkle Hayter has been a journalist for CNN and other news organizations, a stringer in Afghanistan, a producer in Bollywood, a stand-up comic in New York, a caretaker for an elderly parent in Canada, and a novelist of seven books. She currently lives in Canada with her rescued Nepali street dog, Alice, and is working on a new book.  Amazon       Barnes & Noble      Mysterious Galaxy

Gary Phillips

Birthed full-blown in the comics mini-series, Angeltown, L.A. private eye Nate Hollis makes the jump to prose in six new short stories in Hollis, P.I. New York Times bestseller Juliet Blackwell, acclaimed young crime writer Aaron Philip Clark, new pulp luminaries Bobby Nash and Derrick Ferguson join Hollis’ creator Gary Phillips in penning these tales.  As Kevin Burton Smith in Mystery Scene said of the character, “Slick as spit, big-shouldered Hollis walks the walk and talks the talk…”  In tradepaper and e-book from Pro Se Productions — http://tinyurl.com/kycvqqz

J.D. Rhoades

J.D. Rhoades’s first three Jack Keller books are being re-issued in e-book format and are available for Pre-order at Amazon. His first new hardcover in six years (and the fourth Keller book) DEVILS AND DUST is also available for pre-order.

Lise McClendon

New this week is Lise McClendon’s Bennett Sisters series novella, fresh out for the holidays. ‘Give Him the Ooh-la-la’ is the third installment in the series, after last summer’s ‘The Girl in the Empty Dress.’  Fun, food, wine, fraud, and Frenchmen feature in this book set in New York City. Look out for the drag queen and more as Merle Bennett juggles her French policeman, family holiday drama, and more than a bit of wine intrigue.

Amazon       Barnes & Noble

Rides the Black-and-white Horse

Some years back at a mystery convention in Boulder, Colorado, I performed this tone poem with John Harvey on tambourine, Bill Moody on drums, and a variety of semi-volunteers snapping their fingers to the beat. I wrote this as an homage to the mystery novel. Recently someone quoted snippets of it on twitter with illustrations, and I liked it so much I’ve added a few of my own.

I’m always amused at reactions of people who don’t read mysteries and thrillers, who don’t know the excitement of entering a frightening world of evil or an everyday town where strangers wait their turn to make mayhem. Got the shivers yet?

Here’s how the book sees you the reader.

 

I am a book.

Sheaves pressed from the pulp of oaks and pines
a natural sawdust made dingy from purses, dusty
from shelves.
Steamy and anxious, abused and misused,
kissed and cried over,
smeared, yellowed, and torn,
loved, hated, scorned.

I am a book.

I am a book that remembers,
days when I stood proud in good company
When the children came, I leapt into their arms,
when the women came, they cradled me against their soft breasts,
when the men came, they held me like a lover,
and I smelled the sweet smell of cigars and brandy as we sat together in leather chairs,
next to pool tables, on porch swings, in rocking chairs,
my words hanging in the air like bright gems, dangling,
then forgotten, I crumbled,
dust to dust.

 

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
a book brand-new, sprung from the loins of ancient fathers clothed in tweed,
born of mothers in lands of heather and coal soot.
A family too close to see the blood on its hands,
too dear to suffering, to poison, to cold steel and revenge,
deaf to the screams of mortal wounding,
amused at decay and torment,
a family bred in the dankest swamp of human desires.

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
I am a mystery.

I am intrigue, anxiety, fear,
I tangle in the night with madmen, spend my days cloaked in black,
hiding from myself, from dark angels,
from the evil that lurks within
and the evil we cannot lurk without.

 

I am words of adventure,
of faraway places where no one knows my tongue,
of curious cultures in small, back alleys, mean streets,
the crumbling house in each of us.

I am primordial fear, the great unknown,
I am life everlasting.
I touch you and you shiver, I blow in your ear and you follow me,
down foggy lanes, into places you’ve never seen,
to see things no one should see,
to be someone you could only hope to be.

 

 

I ride the winds of imagination on a black-and-white horse,
to find the truth inside of me,
to cure the ills inside of you,
to take one passenger at a time over that tall mountain,
across that lonely plain to a place you’ve never been
where the world stops for just one minute
and everything is right.

I am a mystery.

-Rides a Black and White Horse”
Lise McClendon

What I Read On My Summer Vacation

So I’m back from my  long-awaited and sorely needed vacation, in which  the missus and I spent a week on lovely Oak Island, NC. There’s just something about the ocean that makes it impossible to hold onto stress for long. A few days next to that immensity and that steady, eternal rhythm constantly in your ears is better than a truckload of Valium, IMHO.

I confess, I’m pretty boring at the beach. Some people seem to regard the beach as a place for vigorous physical activity. They bring volleyball nets, footballs, Frisbees, etc. Me, I tend to sit by the water and read, pausing only to take a dip when it gets too hot or a walk (and by “a walk” I usually mean a trip back up to the beach house for more beer). It’s great to have that leisure time to really be able to focus. It also helps that I’m usually away from the Internet. This time, my only connection was a weak (and let’s be honest, not totally legal) connection to the unsecured Wi-fi next door. So my web surfing, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc. was nearly non-existent, which gave me more time to read and fewer available distractions from it. And when I have that kind of time, I really plow through them.

So, this is what I read while at the beach:

 HOSTILE WITNESS, William Lashner: Dave White was raving about this underappreciated author a while back,  and Dave’s a damn fine writer himself. So I downloaded this one, and let me tell you, it’s great.

Victor Carl is the perfect noir protagonist: grasping, resentful, bitter that his legal career never put him amongst the elite of Philadelphia society. When he’s offered a chance to take over as counsel for what seems to be a minor player in a Federal racketeering and extortion trial, he jumps at the chance to play in the big leagues. Victor initially balks at the fact that the trial is in two weeks, but the blue-blood society lawyer defending the main player, a flamboyant city councilman, assures him that all he has to do is follow the lead of the big boys, show a united front, and keep his mouth shut. Pretty much everyone but Victor can see he and his client are being set up to take the fall. Fall he does, in spectacular fashion, including falling for the councilman’s mistress, a classic femme fatale if ever there was one. But he keeps getting back up….

This is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time, and I can’t wait to read the next ones in the series.

 NEVER GO BACK, Lee Child: Jack Reacher finally makes it to Virginia to meet the woman who he’s been trying to get to for the last two books, an Army Major (and commander of his old unit) who he only knows as an interesting voice on the phone. When he gets there, she’s in jail, Jack’s charged with the murder of someone he barely remembers, AND he gets hit with a paternity claim from a woman he doesn’t remember at all. Clearly somebody’s trying to make Reacher run away and abandon the damsel in distress, and we all know that’s not going to happen. Asses are kicked, names are taken, Jack does what Jack does. It’s the same old thing, but it’s the same old great thing. Recommended.

CALIFORNIA FIRE AND LIFE, Don Winslow:  Disgraced former cop Jack Wade, currently an arson investigator for the titular insurance company, is convinced that the fire that  destroyed the house of real estate mogul Nicky Vale and incinerated Vale’s beautiful estranged wife Pamela was not, as his former colleagues in the Sheriff’s Department ruled, an accident. No, he thinks it was arson and very possibly murder. As he digs into the evidence, both literally and figuratively, he discovers a web of deceit, betrayal, and counter-betrayal that may just lead to his own immolation.

All I can say about this book is: Wow. Only a writer as skilled as Don Winslow could make a plaintiff’s lawyer like me love a book with a claims adjuster as its protagonist. A surfing claims adjuster, of course, because this is, after all, Don Winslow. But he keeps you guessing, twist upon twist, until the final surprise and an absolutely perfect twist at the end. Highly recommended.

THREE GRAVES FULL, Jamie Mason: “There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard,” this book begins, and there’s even less for hapless nebbish Jason Getty when the landscaping crew he’s hired turns up two other bodies, neither of which are the man he killed a year ago and buried to cover up the crime. When a pair of engaging small town detectives (and a dog who always follows her nose) pursue the investigation into the two bodies in the front yard, they turn up evidence of another crime they can’t identify…and then things get a little crazy.

One of the cover blurbs compared this to a Coen brothers movie, and there are definite similarities, particularly in the Fargo-esque setup of good hearted small town cops vs. a Casper Milquetoast scrambling to cover up the crime he committed when pushed too far. But Jamie Mason’s worldview isn’t quite as bleak as the Coen’s. The book’s a lot of fun, and I have to admire the skill of a writer who can use a dog as a viewpoint character and not make me roll my eyes. Recommended.

THE SECRET SOLDIER, Alex Berenson: Pretty standard stuff for an international thriller. Troubled ex-CIA agent John Wells is your usual two-fisted thriller hero in the Bolt Studly mold, who gets called in to set things right in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by no less than King Abdullah himself. There’s some interesting stuff about the House of Saud and how they came to power, and the villain is suitably scary and believable. There’s a long stretch in the beginning where Wells and his sidekick are chasing a renegade CIA agent turned drug dealer which I kept waiting to connect with the rest of the book, but which never really does.  Still, it was entertaining, and good for a beach read.

 THE LIVES OF TAO, Wesley Chu: Human history has been influenced since the dawn of mankind by a group of non-corporeal aliens who crashed here millennia ago and have been possessing human hosts ever since, using them to try and nudge human progress to the point where humanity has the ability to get the aliens home. A while back, they split into two factions, one more ruthless and violent than the other. When one of the more peaceful aliens suffers the unexpected and violent loss of his host, he winds up in the body of overweight and aimless computer geek Roen Tan and is forced to make the best use of his raw material. The “Zero to Hero, with hot ass-kicking chicks in leather along the way” trope is pretty obviously aimed at what the publishers assume is SF’s core demographic. The book takes a while to get going, but eventually ends up being a fun action romp. Still, I don’t think I’ll be getting the sequel.

FIDDLEHEAD, Cherie Priest: The final chapter in Priest’s “Clockwork Century” series (or so she says) ends up being the best one I’ve read so far. It’s got all the wild inventiveness of BONESHAKER (how can you resist an alternate Civil War history steampunk zombie story, with airships?) and the breakneck action of DREADNOUGHT (same thing with steam powered mecha and armored trains), without the clumsy characterization and stilted dialogue of those two. I liked it a lot.

So, what are you folks reading?

 

 

New, Hot, Scary

McBleak-ExtractorsMeet Malcolm Cavanaugh Bleekston, most often called McBleak. He appears to be a one percenter, hobnobbing with other millennials of his ilk; excursions on yachts while extolling the virtues of banksters, and enjoying the fruits of his non-labors while the rest of us hustle to put food on the table and keep the wolf from the door.

In the novella The Extractors by Gary Phillips, he lays plans to take a greedy man’s gain while wondering if his girlfriend, who comes from inherited wealth but is dedicated to using her resources to make a difference, is beginning to see through his façade – and if so, can he bring her to his side or will she turn on him?  But nothing ever goes as planned, and McBleak has to think fast on his feet or his life might be extracted from him.

Available for $2.99 on its own app bookxy across all platforms as well on Kindle, Kobo, etc.

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Also in Southern California, Taffy Cannon has been lurking at the library.

I was just on a Noir panel for the Oceanside Library’s Big Read program with Lisa Brackmann, Alan Russell, Ken Kuhlken, and Debra Ginsberg. On April 5, I’m moderating a mystery panel at the Carlsbad Library with Denise Hamilton, Vince Aiello, Isla Morley, C.E. Poverman, and Matt Coyle.

• • • • • • •

Blackbird_FLY=ebook-NOOK

It’s back to France this summer for the five Bennett Sisters, last seen in Lise McClendon‘s Blackbird Fly. The new book will be out in May (called The Girl in the Empty Dress) but in the meantime you can read installments of Blackbird Fly for free on Wattpad. Suspense, wine, & intrigue. There’s a snazzy new cover too, redesigned by the amazing Lisa Desimini.

Ready to read it straight through? That can be done!

Kindle Nook KOBO Paperback Audio

• • • • • • •

JD Rhoades reports in with exciting news. Look for his new thriller, Devils and Dust, coming soon.

I’m pleased to announce that Polis Books the digital imprint started by bestselling author and former St. Martin’s Press editor Jason Pinter, will be publishing six of my books this spring: all three books in the Shamus award-nominated Jack Keller series (with spiffy new covers, naturally) , then the thrillers BREAKING COVER and BROKEN SHIELD, all leading up to the release of a brand new Jack Keller novel, DEVILS AND DUST. I’m totally psyched to be working with Jason and Polis.

• • • • • • •

Kate Flora, 2013 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction winner, has been busy. She reports in on three upcoming book releases.
My crime story, Girl’s Night Out, will be published as an e-book by Shebooks, an exciting new internet publishing venture featuring fiction, memoir and essay, by women and for women, in April, 2014.
My Canadian true crime, Death Dealer, which was five years in the making, will be published by New Horizon Press Books in September. Death Dealer fascinated me because while the killing took place in northeastern New Brunswick, it would involve search and rescue teams and game wardens with trained cadaver dogs from the neighboring state of Maine to locate the victim’s hidden body. Two full first degree murder trials, and many appeals later, the killer was sentenced to life is prison.
The fourth book in my Joe Burgess police procedural quartet, And Grant You Peace, will be published by Five Star in October.

One Picture, One-Thousand Words

Here at Thalia we are word slingers. We craft sentences that lead to paragraphs that morph into scenes that join into chapters and eventually become novels. We love words. They are our clay, our seeds, our bricks, our dirt.

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That said, we live in an image-driven world. A world of television, movies, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and the next big photo site. For me writing stories is a way to describe the movies in my head. I am a visual person. I really wanted to be a film reviewer right out of college. I love movies. I love the stories they tell, the subtleties conveyed in a passing look on screen, in a touch, in the twitch of a smile. Film is an emotional medium. A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. An image conveys different emotions to different people. Words work on readers the same way but there is something about a picture.

Assuming then that I have added all sorts of pictures to this post and you are still engaged, I’d like to point out that a thousand words makes a very short story. Like short-short. One-thousand words times five is a short story. One-thousand words times seventy is a novel. So a series of seventy photographs might tell you the story depicted in a novel? In a comic book there are twenty or thirty pages with six or so panels per page. That makes 120 to 180 images per story. Does that mean a comic book is richer and more textured than a novel of 70,000 words? Your call. To each his own entertainment.

reading-life.jpgI come to you with no agenda. I don’t write comic books or screenplays. I am a novelist. I love the long form story. I can write short stories but I don’t find them as, well, rich and textured and satisfying as a novel. A novel takes months to organize. It takes another big chunk of time to write from that hilarious outline you wrote before you started. Six, ten, twelve months, sometimes much more. Then more time to clean up the mess of the first draft. If a novelist is lucky and extremely organized — and can we say ‘driven’? — writing a polished long work of fiction in twelve months is good, honest work. That doesn’t include time spent promoting your book, blogging (yes, here we are!), tweeting, traveling to conferences, doing public appearances and booksignings and even getting your book copyedited and proofread. And if you’re not with a traditional publisher, getting your cover designed.

The novel, despite its name, isn’t all that new any more. Today the definition is “a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.” Realism is a bit of a stretch these days. Novels of urban fantasy, science fiction, and time travel exist. What ties them together is the understanding they have of the human psyche, human existence, its vulnerabilities and ironies. Is that touch, that indescribable something, more easily conveyed by a film clip or a photograph? Or is the depiction of the journey a character goes through, the barriers, the trials, the highs and lows, more honest?

child-watching-movieDuring Oscars week we can take some collective joy in the stories told on film, and every medium. Some movies are adapted from books we love. We hope they translate well. (If not we can always go back to our books.) More are delivered via letters and words and sentences, between pages, on screens, wherever people read. Wherever we get our stories is fine.

Our stories bring us together, help us connect with one another, and illuminate the fabulousness and ironically  deep pain of life. Which makes us all better humans, if only we continue to read and listen to stories.

————

PS: I was watching ‘A Good Day to Die Hard’ while I wrote this. Not saying it changed my life. Just saying. 😉

Cross posted at lisemcclendon.com