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Friday, July 13, 2012

Guest Blog: Pam Stack "From Reader to the Writer"

Today on the blog voracious reader and frequent MRM contributor Pam Stack joins us with an open letter to writers.

I’m an avid reader.  Crazy avid reader.  When I was young, my Mom showed me the value and joy of reading and I’ve been doing it ever since.  I used to read the print on the boxes of cereal (what 7 year old should know about all the junk in cereal?)  But I did.  And that love has taken me on journeys through countries never visited, mystic countries only real in my mind,  given me conversations with the most interesting characters.  I’ve heard beautiful music and seen exquisite art. When I read I have a small movie paying in my mind as words unfold on the pages before me.

Which brings me to the writers of all of these wonderful journeys.  As a reader I want to thank you for helping my brain grow and letting my imagination soar.  However.  Don’t you hate that word?   However, while I support writers and authors of all genres, part of your responsibility to me, the reader, IMHO, is to make my trip the most entertaining it can possibly be.  There are “speed bumps” along the way that detract from the journey.  Not your problem you say?  Yes, it is.  I am your customer.  There is a certain standard by which you are judged by your customer.  So here at some thoughts about those speed bumps.  

Please remember that if you introduce a character, regardless of how insignificant YOU think he/she is, I will remember that character. I may go back pages to remind myself about that character.  If you drop him/her like a lead weight and never mention them again, I am likely to think you’re in the early stages of dementia.  After all, shouldn’t the writer always remember who they write about?  

If you switch your dialogue from past to present and do not explain WHY you are doing that, chances are I will lose some of the richness of your story.  You don’t care?  I won’t either and it is likely that I will not buy your books again.  Consistency has its place in a storyline and since we readers want that consistency, please be kind to us.  

And the now, the speed bump of all speed bumps.  PUNCTUATION.  Lordy lordy, some of you writers have never been introduced to punctuation and some of you love it so much that you use it everywhere.  Do you realize that you change the nuance of dialogue by placement/non-placement of your commas, periods, colons and question marks and those other little delightful “road signs”?  I want to read your story knowing exactly what you meant to write.  It’s not a rap song, unless you meant it to be a rap song and I’m unlikely going to purchase a rap song in book form.  Please – read out loud what you wrote. Does it make sense to you with the  punctuation or lack thereof?   

Thank you, dear writers, for giving me a joy and passion that cannot be duplicated.  We readers want to be invested in your stories as much as you were when you wrote them. Perhaps these little tips might make our mutual trips ever the more pleasurable.  I look forward to the next journey!
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Monday, July 9, 2012

MRM Reviews: A Dozen Favorite Mystery/Crime Books

Today on the blog we have short reviews of a dozen books that we have recently read and highly recommend.

Dave Zeltserman recently released a new short story collection One Angry Julius Katz and Other Stories.  Zeltserman has become one of my favorite mystery/suspense authors for his ability to span the genre, producing high quality classic/cozy mysteries, dark noir crime chillers, horror novels, fast paced thrillers, and sometimes mixing them all together in his own unique stew. He is like a Donald Westlake or Lawrence Block for this generation (though unlike those authors, to the best of my knowledge, he is not writing erotica under pen names on the side).  I snapped the collection up on release day and read it on my commute to work (not driving but on the train!).  The big news with this collection is the new Julius Katz story "One Angry Julius and Eleven Befuddled Jurors", first published a couple of months ago in EQMM. This is another fun entry in this classic mystery series, and once again it is the interplay between Julius and his AI assistant Archie that steals the show. All six stories are very strong, but I particularly liked "When Death Shines Bright", in which Zeltserman does a great job of getting inside the head of a man who is living on the run and on the edge.

Zeltserman has also recently launched his "The Hunted" series by releasing a pair of novellas, The Hunted and The Dame.  Set in the near future and featuring government trained assassin Dan Willis, the novellas recall the Parker novels that Donald Westlake wrote as Richard Stark (especially the earliest ones) for their stripped down prose, tough protagonist fighting a powerful organization against long odds, and seamless plotting. While the books might be classified as hard boiled escapist reads, the social problems of today (terrorism, unemployment) form the backdrop of the novellas and give them a little more weight.  Although the novellas are self contained, I like that there is a common thread running through them that promises great things for future releases in the series.
Another pair of novellas well worth reading are Trent Zelazny's Fractal Despondency and the sequel A Crack in Melancholy Time.  I found both darkly beautiful and haunting, with almost a dreamlike quality to them.  Zelazny's noir is not built on tough guys and violence, but is more of a psychological exploration of a man on the edge, one struggling with the damage done by his own bad choices.  The feelings explored by the novellas are so real that it is easy to assume that the material is largely autobiographical.  Ultimately though, it does not matter if it is or not.  Zelazny's ability to make this world resonate with the reader is a major accomplishment.

I came late to the party for Bruce DeSilva's Edgar winning debut mystery novel "Rogue Island", only getting around to reading it in the last month.  I should not have waited so long.  The first book in the Liam Mulligan series (the second, "Cliff Walk", was recently released and this time I was sure to buy it on release day), "Rogue Island" is a gritty and funny tale of corruption with an assured sense of place, peppered with sharp dialogue and inhabited by fully realized characters.

I am even later to the party for Jess Lourey's 2006 release May Day, the first book in her Murder by Month series. While this book is ostensibly in the small town cozy amateur sleuth tradition, unlike many cozy heroines who (as my grandma might say) would not say shit if they had a mouth full of it, assistant librarian/part-time reporter Mira James has a ribald sense of humor, a smart mouth, and a healthy libido.  I found it a very entertaining read that was wacky and fun, but also grounded in a fully realized and very real character.

 Marika Christian's Phone Kitten, with it's phone sex operator and amateur sleuth Emily, is actually much more comfortably a cozy than "May Day", despite the subject matter.  The book is quirky and very funny without resorting to outlandishness as a substitute for humor.  Emily is a heroine who is easy to relate to and root for, one who grows in confidence as she tackles her insecurities.  This could easily turn into a wonderful series, and I hope that Christian is hard at work on the next book.

I recently had the pleasure of reading James Reasoner's Dust Devils back to back with Roger Smith's crime novel of the same name.  While both are terrific reads that would usually be labeled hardboiled or noir, they are quite different in the ways they achieve their ends.

Reasoner's novel is the more streamlined of the two, a deftly plotted Texas country tale with a series of narrative surprises (including the final twist) that had this reader feeling like he was being taken for a ride in a sleek, fast car.  The first 10% of the book fools the reader into thinking they might have stumbled into a sappy romance novel (or perhaps a bad Garth Brooks song) before a critical revelation followed by a spurt of violence completely changes the tone of the novel.  The book has the feel of a 50s Gold Medal paperback original (that is a big compliment), and is cut from the same cloth as Tractor Girl.

Roger Smith's novel is more modern and ambitious, and I could easily see a graduate student doing a thesis comparing and contrasting the way the 4 main male characters approach violence.  The story is told in alternating points of view between the main characters, and there is a certain inevitability to it as their arcs race toward a collision.  The narrative has a visceral quality to it, and Smith makes the South African setting come alive.  This is one that stayed with me long after I finished reading it.

$200 and a Cadillac was my first taste of the work of Fingers Murphy, and I expect I will be back for many more helpings.  The material is darkly humorous, and Murphy populates the novel with a bunch of quirky and interesting characters that feel like they could have stepped out of an early Elmore Leonard novel.

Finally, Joe Lansdale's Edge of Dark Water may just be the best thing he has ever written (and that is saying something).  It is very much of a piece with his Edgar winning The Bottoms in that it combines a historical coming-of-age drama with a crime novel in an East Texas setting .  Lansdale is a terrific storyteller, and the voice of the narrator, 16 year old Sue Ellen, is pitch perfect -- a combination of homespun wisdom, wry observation, and lyrical description.  The book is often scary and dark, but it is life affirming at its core.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Blog: Mike Faricy on Carl Hiassen

Minnesota native Mike Faricy, author of "Russian Roulette", the recently released "Bite Me", and 7 other funny, quirky crime novels (all available for $2.99 for Kindle), joins us on the blog to discuss authors and characters who have been an influence on his writing.  Up today is Florida author Carl Hiassen.

Thanks again to Must Read Mysteries for letting me share my thoughts on crime writers and characters. Again, demonstrating an authority problem, let me immediately dwell on a writer who is usually featured in the crime/mystery shelves of your local bookstore but is more aptly labeled as the writer of ‘Environmental thrillers’.

Born in Plantation, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale in 1953, Carl Hiaasen stems from Norwegian heritage. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism, was hired in 1976 by the Miami Herald where he still writes a weekly column.

Tony Hillerman once referred to Hiaasen as ‘The Mark Twain of the crime novel.’ He has no real series character in his books, although there are two recurring characters, Clinton ‘Skink’ Tyree, the former governor of Florida, now a swamp rat who lives on road kill. The character is actually based on a childhood friend of Hiaasen’s, Clyde Ingalls, who took his life as a teenager, in part over the developmental devastation of Florida. The other recurring character is a homicide detective named Al Garcia (Zorro anyone?) who maintains a vivid memory of every corpse he has ever had to deal with.

He writes wearing a fishing hat and hearing protection muffs. His books dovetail with his concerns as a journalist and native Floridian. He once said that “Florida has always been a magnate for outlaws, scoundrels, and a sort of predatory element.” The Florida of his books is populated by greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, dumb blondes, apathetic retirees, and intellectually challenged tourists. There’s no end to the bad behavior on the part of characters who theoretically are supposed to hold the public trust.

With few exceptions, his main character is never a PI. They’re usually younger individuals who’ve been kicked around the block more than once. They’ve all either failed at a career or just simply burned out, wandering aimlessly, not really caring all that much. A woman in some sort of difficulty usually raises them to the surface and provides a cause to champion

The film Striptease, based on Hiaasen’s novel Strip Tease starred Demi Moore wearing pasties and Bert Reynolds covered from top to bottom in Vaseline. Hiaasen insists the film represents a high water mark in American cinematography.

Wry humor is one of his trademarks. His tales take place in a world where Florida scams and schemes seem to be par for the course. “None of my novels, I don’t think, are really whodunits. By page 90, everybody knows whodunit. The trick and the fun is trying to figure out how are they going to get out of it?”

Every one of Hiaasen’s novels are different. The characters are always a surprise and they face a number of forks in the road along their madcap journey. Critic’s complain that his work is the same book written over and over again, only with different characters. It’s fair to say the plots follow a familiar line, a beautiful part of Florida is threatened by corporations. The fun part in every Hiaasen tale is the weirdness and quirky behavior of his characters. If you haven’t read him, give him a try, I think you’ll inhale each and every book.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Guest Blog: Tim Baer on E-book Pricing

Today on the MRM blog we are joined by Tim Baer, indie SciFi author of Will Write SciFi for Food and Will Write SciFi for Food, Too, discussing e-book pricing.

Pew!  Pew!  Pew!
(Or, Big Publishing—You're Going Down In Flames!)

There I was, flat on my back, 20,000 miles above the galactic plane, when it struck me!  No, not the fact that traditional publishing is price gouging its customers—it was the caffeine in my coffee.  I blinked my eyes and focused on the road I was driving, raggedly dragging my mind along with that focus.

I spend a lot of time on the road.  A lot.  It's part and parcel with being a truck driver.  Thusly, I get to do a lot of thinking (read: daydreaming).  It's also when I do a lot of my writing—interspersed with moments of frenetic scribbling in a spiral notepad when I get to location before I lose the thought (note to self:  I have got to get a voice recorder).  I now have two anthologies of my short stories out for sale, along with a free, stand-alone short story.  The two anthologies are (what I consider) reasonably priced.  My original one is only 99 cents, and the newer one is $1.99.  Why those prices when traditional publishers are charging so much more?  Because I don't like the price gouging that traditional publishing is inflicting on its customers and I believe e-Books should be less than $5.  That's right—I said it.  Traditional publishing houses are price gouging the consumers (that's you!)—and consumers (that's you!) are happily paying their exorbitant prices.

I've heard too many people fuss online about the Indie Authors and how substandard their books are.  I have to concur.  There are way too many lazy authors out there pimping a substandard ware.  I mean, c'mon—how hard is it to hit f7 and run a simple spellcheck? 

These readers use the poor quality in Indie books to sniff-snuff them and only purchase books by traditional publishing houses.  And the big houses are more than happy to help you in your endeavor by hiking up their prices to ensure you can tell the difference between that 99-cent Indie piece of rubbish, and their $12 slicks.

You think I'm kidding?  I just popped up Amazon and pulled the latest Science Fiction books (the genre I write in).  Penguin is offering one book by Charlaine Harris for $12.99, and another by Deborah Harkness for $14.99.  Simon & Schuster is offering a Stephen King for $12.99.  Let's compare that to the cost of the same books in hardcover.  Charlaine's book is $11.44, Deborah's is $17.37, and Stephen's is $10.00.  So with the exception of Deborah's book, it's cheaper to purchase a hardcover than a Kindle version. 

There is no cost for the electrons used to make a new e-Book, not like there is in the paper and ink that has to be purchased to create another copy of a hardcover book.  So why is the electronic version more expensive than the costlier-to-produce hardcover version?  Because Big Publishing is scamming and gouging the consumer, and the consumer is happily letting them—but I repeat myself.

I'm not saying that I'm on the same level with Mr King's writing abilities.  Far from it.  Compared to him, I am but an egg.  But I am able to weave a competent tale that will take a reader away from reality for a few moments in time and properly entertain them.  I have several characters that my fan base has told me they expect to see more of in the future (well, demanded is more apropos). 

I've priced my books as high as $2.99, which I thought was a fair bargain for the product offered.  If I were selling books by the thousands (instead of by the dozens) I might see their worth as high as $4.99.  But that's it.  I have no overhead in the production of my works—other than time, energy, electricity, and internet connectivity.

Yes, yes—Big Publishing has lots of overhead:  editors, proofreaders, sales staff, marketing staff, advertising—the list goes on.  But when you shy away from dead-tree books and meander over to e-Books, there is a serious drop in overheard.  They don't need to purchase the services of a printer.  They don't need to purchase a warehouse to keep the stock in.  They don't need to hire a trucking company to deliver the final product to the bookstores.  They upload the book to Amazon (or Barnes & Noble) and then that file is electronically duplicated (at no extra charge to them) hundreds/thousands/millions of times.  Pure profit.

So here I am, down on what amounts to the Dollar Menu, while Big Publishing is offering up their Super-sized prices, making the consumer think they are getting more for their money, when, in fact, they are getting the same thing either way—an escape from reality in an entertaining form.  Mine just leaves you with enough cash left over to buy a gallon of gas so you can drive to town to splurge on some donuts to nibble on while you escape into the pages of my worlds.  It's so simple, even Tunk would understand it.  (Sorry, you will have to read about Tunk in Will Write SciFi for Food, Too, available for your Kindle or Nook at your favorite e-Book store!)

It's time the readers sent a clear message to Big Publishing that they are tired of being gouged.  An e-Book should not cost more than the hardcover.  Indie authors are capable of turning out a product that can compete with Big Publishing—and at a fair price.  Be different.  Support Indie Authors.   Viva La RevoluciĆ³n!

Next week we're going to delve into the intricacies of micro-singularities, and whether or not they can be used as a safe and cost effective way to achieve faster-than-light travel.  So brush up on your quantum physics now!

Construction truck driver by day, Indie Author/photographer by night (and opinionated at all times), Tim Baer is a Desert Storm veteran living in Texas with his wife of 20+ years, his two adult children, some dogs, a few Texas horny toads, and a cluster of cats.  When he's not busy driving, pounding out more SciFi on his laptop, or fussing about with his camera, his time is taken up serving his cats, the LORD, his wife, and his dogs—not quite in that order (but don't tell the cats).  The horny toads?  Well, they're too busy eating ants out in the yard.  We'll just leave them alone until such a time as they need to be incorporated into the ongoing story.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Blog: Mike Faricy on Robert Parker's Jesse Stone

Minnesota native Mike Faricy, author of "Russian Roulette" and 7 other funny, quirky crime novels (all available for $2.99 for Kindle), joins us on the blog to discuss PI characters who have been an influence on his writing.  Up today is Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone.

Thanks to Must Read Mysteries for letting me share my thoughts on PI characters I’ve read and how they influenced my writing. To start, since I seem to have an authority problem, let’s not look at PI characters. I feel like starting with a Chief of Police, although he was an LAPD detective before he was forced out the door. I’m talking about Robert B. Parker’s conflicted protagonist, Jesse Stone.

Best known for his Spenser novels, Parker wrote the first Jesse Stone novel, Night Passage, in 1997. He wrote a total of nine novels in the Jesse Stone series before he passed away in 2010. The last one, Split Image, was published after his death. The Jesse Stone novels are the only ones Parker wrote using the third-person narrative. Michael Brandman has continued the series and penned Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues, released in September, 2011.

I like Jesse Stone for a variety of reasons, not the least is he’s one terribly troubled individual. In his early days Jesse was a minor league shortstop who lost his shot at the major leagues once his throwing arm was injured. You get the sense he’s been on relatively thin ice ever since. Parker himself said it best, “Jesse is a much damaged individual who is coming to terms with himself as he goes along.”

Jesse is plagued by recurring demons; drink, depression and his ex-wife. Which came first? Jesse’s divorce from his ‘film star’ wife seems to have lit the fuse to his ongoing battle with drink, scotch and soda being his preference. His drinking forces his departure from the LAPD and guarantees his hire by the Paradise, Massachusetts town council. Jesse, intoxicated at his job interview, gets pegged as an individual the town council will be able to control. They make him an offer he really can’t refuse, by the way, it’s also the only offer he has.

Almost every time he seems to have beaten his drink problem, his ex-wife washes up on shore, leading to a bout of depression and then a drink relapse drifting in her wake. But at least half of that seems to be Jesse’s fault, he’s never really honest with himself where the ex is concerned and then feels blindsided when things don’t work out, yet again. Jesse is complex, damaged, and lacking answers, all of which make for a fascinating read.

The Jesse Stone novels have been turned into made for TV movies on CBS. Tom Selleck is cast as Jesse Stone, you watch about sixty seconds and know there is no one else who could play Jesse Stone as well as Selleck. Actually, Selleck, in conjunction with Michael Brandman wrote the screen plays for the series. The reports I’m reading suggest the most recent movie, Benefit of Doubt, which aired just this past May 20, will be the last Jesse Stone CBS does. Selleck and Brandman suggest this is not the end of the series, just the last one with CBS involvement, I hope the series continues.

The television adaptations differ slightly. In Parker’s novels, Jesse Stone is in his mid thirties. Obviously Selleck plays a more mature character. In Night Passage, Jesse interviews for the chief of police job drunk, in the television adaptation he’s just very hung over. Selleck also, in the most recent production, carries a Colt Commander .45 ACP pistol rather than the Smith & Wesson Model 36 snub nosed revolver, but his portrayal of the dark side of Stone’s personality is uncanny. Jesse Stone is known for his dry, matter of fact one-liners and Tom Selleck delivers them perfectly. In Benefit of Doubt Jesse Stone says, “I think it looks like he hung himself.” 
“Yeah, I think he hung himself,” replies Captain Healy.
“That’s not the same thing,” Jesse says.

Robert B. Parker himself said, “Tom Selleck nails the character.” Indeed he does.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

MRM Reviews: Pam Stack on Mike Faricy's "Russian Roulette"

Devlin Haskell, is not your well dressed, well heeled, fancy-pants private investigator. He has no office and no office phone. He doesn't have a buffed bodyguard and side-kick like Spenser. What this P.I. does have is street smarts, a rogue's wandering eye for the ladies, a little too much to drink and a very intriguing case. Dev, as he's known to his friends, finds himself interested and not always in the professional way, when he is approached by a sexy redheaded tootsie hoping to find her sister. And she's got what Dev assumes is a French accent, making her all the more mouth-watering to him. Mike Faricy's Russian Roulette is a fun, smart and sexy romp to figure out who the tootsie is and why she wants to find her "sister" who isn't her sister. Dev finds himself involved in a human trafficking ring by the Russian mob, who are none to thrilled to have him poking his nose where it doesn't belong. Along the way, our intrepid hero finds himself on the receiving end of some nasty fights where he generally isn't the winner, meets up with an anal-retentive FBI agent out to make a name for himself, and an ICE agent who seems to want to do the right thing by Dev and the victims in his case.

Faricy has put together a well written, taut, fun ride through Dev Haskell's case, complete with a few twists and turns. It's like riding on a roller coaster - you're enjoying yourself, screaming at what you know is sure to happen but scared of what's up ahead. This was one thrilling ride and a highly recommended good time for all.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

MRM Reviews: Pam Stack on Raymond Benson's "The Black Stiletto"

As a kid, I loved to read comic strips and comic books. I loved the Superheroes portrayed in those pages. But once I read The Black Stiletto all thoughts of those childhood comics were stripped away. Imagine meeting a woman in the late 1950s whose sense of justice for a wrong done to her as a young teenager compels her to work hard, train and fight injustice in her world. The "Stiletto" does just that. Raymond Benson has created a character whose feminism and feminist traits were not all that common in those "good ole days". But heroine Judy learns at a young age that to right wrongs, she must take it upon herself to become the equalizer. She trains in boxing, martial arts and reads. I love this character! Judy's adventures are documented through her diaries left to her only child, a son, who is stunned to read about his famous, or rather, infamous, mother. The story flips from Judy's diaries to present day as her life unfolds before the son. There is a point where the action crosses between the past and present day that will keep you glued to the story.

Benson has woven a true superhero without the superpowers, but nonetheless leaves his readers begging for more. I'm certain that we will see a "Black Stiletto 2" soon enough because I for one, cannot get enough of her. You won't either.

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