That Old Autumn Feeling

tumblr_maiujcqypo1r3sm6co1_500As writers we sometimes feel blessed — or cursed — with a continuing education. Every day we write we are on some learning curve or other, struggling to remember what happened yesterday in the story, where it’s going, what the research says, and how to put the perfect sentence together. The advent of brisk fall weather reminds us of back-to-school, even though most of us haven’t been to actual school for decades. Autumn is a time of endings, but also beginnings. New pencils, new friends and old, clean reams of paper, spotless notebooks ready to be scribbled in: this is autumn.

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This 9/11 we remember the victims of the terrorist attacks as well as honoring the first responders and those who still suffer physical and psychological trauma from that time.  And here’s to us getting out of the Big Muddy to paraphrase Pete Seeger.


On a happier note, I am glad to be attending this year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans doing a couple of panels, celebrating Down & Out Books’ 5th anniversary, and participating in group signings for anthologies I’m in – The Highway Kind, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, Crime + Music, Occupied Earth and Blood on the Bayou.

Lise McClendon

img_2048Lise is not happy about NOT attending this year’s World Mystery Convention, Bouchercon, in New Orleans. It’s always a blast, a sort of writers high school reunion. So she adds this silly photo from last year’s event in Raleigh, NC, to remember the good times.

Katy and Lise hope there are some big chairs in New Orleans. Because what is a convention without giant seating?! Laissez les bons temps rouler!

This August marked the release of Lise’s newest Bennett Sisters novel, The Things We Said Today. The third full-length novel (there is also a novella) comes two years after the last things-we-said-webone, The Girl in the Empty Dress. To mark the occasion and thank readers she is giving away copies of Blackbird Fly, the first in the series. Click here to get the details. 

The new one finds the five sisters in the Scottish Highlands for the oldest sister’s wedding. But does she even want to get married at the ripe old age of 55? Weather, whisky, and intrigue threaten to shatter the happy day.

Lise also refurbished her website at lisemcclendon.com and would love to hear what you think of it. Also check out how to join her review team. Free books: were two better words ever combined?

J.D. Rhoades

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J.D. (aka Dusty) will also be at Bouchercon in New Orleans this week, September 15-18.  Come by Mardi Gras “D” at 4:30 Thursday for the panel “Telling Lies”, moderated by the extremely funny Johnny Shaw. See if you can separate true stories from lies told by professionals!


He just turned in final edits on a new Jack Keller novel, HELLHOUND ON MY TRAIL. Check out the cover!

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Here is the cover for Kate’s soon to be released 5th Joe Burgess police procedural, Led Astray. Watch for it on Amazon.

In other news, A Good Man with a Dog, the memoir Kate co-wrote with a retired Maine game warden, won second place in the 2016 Public Safety Writers Association annual writing contest.

May your pencils be as sharp as your mind! Happy autumn 🍁🍂

“I DON’T READ WOMEN WRITERS”

Recently, author Gay Talese caused a firestorm when he answered a question during a Q & A at a literary event about what women writers had inspired him. Talese was clearly a little nonplussed by the question: “Uh, I’d say Mary McCarthy was one. I would, um, [pause] think [pause] of my generation [pause] um, none.”

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By the time he’d gotten home, the 84 year old Talese, who’d penned such classics of literary journalism as “Honor Thy Father”, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife” and “The Kingdom and The Power,” was being told by the Red Caps at the Amtrak station that he’d “gotten himself in trouble” up in Boston (according to the account in the New York Times). His wife told him “Welcome home. You’re all over Twitter.” And so he was. The online service had exploded with tweets calling him “sexist” and “out of touch.” They reacted with disbelief to his further remarks that, in his day, women weren’t tending to do “exploratory” journalism like he was doing, “Because…women, educated women, writerly women, don’t want to, or do not feel comfortable dealing with strangers, or people that I’m attracted to, sort of the offbeat characters, not reliable.” They pointed out female non-fiction writers like Joan Didion, Gloria Steinem, Mary McGrory, Ellen Willis, Edna Buchanan—the list goes on and on.

Now, Talese claims he misunderstood the question, and maybe that’s true. And this was Twitter, after all, which is famous for demonizing and ruining people before its hive-mind has had a chance to think.

But I myself have heard people dismiss female writers, especially in my own area of crime and thriller fiction. I’m thinking in particular about a fellow who asked me at one signing who I was reading at the moment. I mentioned how much I was enjoying one of Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan novels. The man (who really did seem like an otherwise nice fellow) pursed his lips in distaste. “I don’t read woman writers,” he said. I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t answer for a moment. Finally, I just said “well, you’re missing out on a lot,” which was certainly a lot nicer than what I wanted to say. Since then, other writers have told me they’ve heard the same thing, and I’ve seen similar comments online. “I don’t read female writers.”

To which I can only reply:  WTF?

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I can kindasorta understand the people who tell me “I only read non-fiction.”  I certainly don’t feel that way, but I can see how some people might.

But if I’d said “I don’t read women writers,” I’d have missed out on the above-mentioned Laura Lippman’s amazing work. I’d have missed Val McDermid and Karin Slaughter and Megan Abbott and Barbara Seranella (RIP). I’d have missed the work and thus most likely the friendship of some of my favorite people, like Tasha Alexander and Toni McGee Causey and Margaret Maron and Alexandra Sokoloff. I’d have missed the work and the friendship of the extremely talented ladies on these blog: Sarah and Kate and Lise and Taffy and Sparkle.

In fact, if I’d turned my back on female authors, I probably wouldn’t be writing crime fiction today, at least not in the way I do now, because it was our very own Katy Munger who gave me my earliest encouragement and whose Casey Jones PI novels taught me by example that my native North Carolina could be a pretty cool place to write about (Thanks, Katy).

So, Thalians and friends of the blog: have you ever had someone tell you “I don’t read women writers?” And what would you suggest for them, other than a long walk off a short pier?

Get Your Jingle On

Happy holidays from the gang here at Thalia Press Authors Co-op!

 

We’ve had a busy year in writing, publishing, and just trying to keep our heads on our shoulders. We hope you’ve met your writing goals, assuming you have some, or have read some great novels this year. We’d love to hear what you’re reading.

And now to some announcements of new and upcoming publications.

BSL AUDIO CoverThe pen name of the author of Beat Slay Love, our collaborative novel, is Thalia Filbert. Thalia (Gary, Kate, Taffy, Katy, and Lise collectively) is excited to announce that the audiobook version of the culinary thriller is now available. It’s free if you’re just joining Audible! Our narrator, Robin Rowan, has a blast with our wily characters, from naughty Hannah to nerdy Jason. Listen to a sample HERE

 • Available at Amazon  Audible and iTunes •

We are giving away a copy to a commenter below, so tell us about your year, your favorite book, or your holiday party.

To keep up with Thalia news please join us HERE


Sarah Shaber has a new book out, Louise’s Chance, in her World War II mystery series. Government girl Louise Pearlie has a new job inside the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services: recruiting German prisoners-of-war for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany. It’s a big chance for her, and Louise hopes she can finally escape her filing and typing duties.

“To a librarian, a well-researched book is a true joy, and Shaber’s Louise Pearlie series is a gem. This newest entry in the series provides a deeper and richer portrait of Louise, as her life progresses through wartime Washington.” –B Brechner, Librarian

New trade paperbacks of older Louise books are now available as well.


 

Be on the lookout for J.D. Rhoades’ new thriller, Ice Chestcoming in February. Dusty read us a bit of this new one at Bouchercon, and we laughed our asses off.

The publisher says: A smart, sexy and hilarious heist novel about a crew of thieves who attempt to steal the world’s most valuable jewels from the world’s most valuable body.

A motley crew of bumbling crooks is scheming to make off with the biggest heist of their careers: five and a half million dollars in precious stones, used to create the world’s most expensive piece of lingerie. But mix the glitz and glamour of the highest of high fashion with a team of crooks that would have trouble stealing a sandwich from a deli, and all bets are off.

“Delivers nonstop entertainment” — Booklist. Available for pre-order now.


 

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Gary Phillips also has a February release. His collection of three novellas, 3 the Hard Way, drops from Down & Out Books. These pulpy, action-heavy, hardcore novellas compiled for the first time in one book.

In The Extractors, one percenter thief McBleak puts it all on the line to take down a greedy man’s gain; extreme athlete Noc Brenner must use all his skills in The Anti-Gravity Steal to prevent the use of a machine capable of wholesale destruction; and in 10 Seconds to Death, Luke Warfield, the Essex Man, part Shaft and part Batman sans the cowl, hunts down the man who killed his foster father and must stop a deadly plan of mass slaughter in his own backyard.  Plus a bonus Essex Man short story.

Check out his Amazon Author page to keep up with this prolific writer.


Lise McClendon has been busy in 2015 getting audiobooks narrated for several of her novels. PLAN X came out earlier in the year and this summer and fall saw the release of The Girl in the Empty Dress and Jump Cut. Working with narrators is a time-consuming but fun experience, getting the names right and hearing the voices of all the characters come to life.

She thanks her generous narrators who worked hard to make these audiobooks happen: Tassoula Kokkoris (Plan X), Denice Stradling (who narrated both Blackbird Fly and The Girl in the Empty Dress), and Kristy Burns (Jump Cut.)

Lise has a few complimentary codes left for all three of these books. Drop her a line at lise at lisemcclendon.com for details.


Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.32.22 AMDog lovers, heads up!

Coming in April is Kate Flora’s new one, a collaboration with a Maine game warden.

A Good Man with a Dog is the story of a warden Roger Guay’s twenty-five years in the Maine woods, much of it with canine companions. Woof!

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.

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 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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

Who Do You Trust?

by J.D. Rhoades

Reviews.

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, they’re part of any working writer’s life. Back when I was in dead-tree publishing, the joy of seeing a new book released was always tempered at least a little with the dread of opening the Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus website and praying they didn’t savage it too badly. I even left a perfectly good beach house on a lovely sunny day to drive into town and find a café with WiFi (smartphones with ‘net access weren’t everywhere in those days) and check out the PW review for Breaking Cover that was coming out that day.

To my relief, it was a good review, and the majority of mine in various publications have been generally positive, although the aforementioned Kirkus did always seem to find a way to kick me in the teeth, even in a “good”  review.

Like everything else in this business, the review landscape has changed with bewildering swiftness over the last few years. One newspaper after another dropped their review section. Kirkus folded, then was bought and resurrected with a “pay for reviews” model, swearing all the time that you weren’t necessarily paying for a good review. Professional book reviewers became more and more rare, even as website after blog after tumblr sprang up, offering the opinions of everyday readers. And, of course, people turned to the Amazon reviews on a book’s pageand to sites like Goodreads.

So is this a good thing? Well, as with so many things, the answer is, “it depends.” I’m a great believer in the idea that the more voices get heard, the better. On the other hand, not all voices are created equal. Most amateur reviewers are thoughtful readers who can clearly and cogently express what they find good or bad about a particular book in such a way that the reader of the review can make up their mind about whether to try it. Some reviewers, particularly anonymous ones, seem to be in a contest to see who can be the meanest or most cutting. And some are just batshit insane. That’s the Internet for you.

In addition, it soon became obvious that it was childishly easy to game the Amazon review system. In 2012, a furor erupted when investigative work revealed that thriller writer R.J. Ellory had been using “sock-puppet” accounts—false names and internet personas—to not only give his own work glowing reviews, but to attack the works of others. Fellow Brit Stephen Leather asserted defiantly that not only had he used sock-puppet accounts to promote his own work, but that it was “common practice.” A backlash ensued during which authors (including myself) signed a pledge not to use such tactics, followed by a counter-backlash by writers like Barry Eisler, who, even though he’d also signed the pledge himself, wrote that upon reflection, it was “disproportionate,” and that the document itself was “devoid of evidence and argument, relying instead only on an unsupported conclusion that purchased reviews and sock puppet reviews are ‘damaging to publishing at large.’” It should be noted that Eisler was not himself promoting sock-puppetry, he just had a problem with how it was being addressed in this instance. Meanwhile, Amazon went on a frenzy, deleting thousands of reviews that seemed to be from friends or family members of the authors or even ones from fellow writers. They did not, however, delete reviews from people who had clearly not read the book, stating that “We do not require people to have experienced the product in order to review.” Well, then. Glad to see they care about the integrity of the review process.

Wait, it gets worse. Now, social science researchers are confirming that people’s evaluation of a work is inevitably influenced by evaluations they see before it. In one experiment, researchers “allowed people to download various songs and randomly assigned people to see the opinions of others who had downloaded these songs. Sometimes a particular song was shown to be well-liked by the masses, and in other versions of the study, that same song was shown to be disliked. Regardless of quality, people evaluated the songs they believed to be well-liked positively and the songs they believed to be disliked negatively.” In another, the researchers went to a website, like Reddit,  where certain comments could be “up-voted” or “down-voted” by clicking a button. They up-voted some and down-voted others at random, and discovered what they called “significant bias in rating behavior and a tendency toward ratings bubbles.”  In plain English, up-votes tended to create more up-votes, and down-votes more down-votes. Interestingly, “people also ‘corrected’ the down-voted comments by up-voting them more than baseline levels, but even this correction never spurred them to the level of positivity that artificially up-voted comments attained.”

So what do we make of all this? In a world where self-publishing is exploding, Sturgeon’s Law (“95% of everything is crud”) applies, and professional reviewers are being supplanted by talented amateurs mixed in with some trolls, lunatics, and sock-puppets, who do you trust? In a market flooded with material that desperately needs curation, how do you make decisions when any stranger can be a curator?  I have some thoughts of my own, but let’s hear from the Thalians…