books

E.L. Doctorow (1931-2015)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was (and still am) a huge fan of E.L. Doctorow. One of the first “adult” books I ever read was his. I picked up a paperback copy of Ragtime at a library book sale back when I was a kid, and was blown away—more by the novel’s narrative technique than by the story. Doctorow did things in that book that I didn’t know you could do in fiction. He eschewed quotation marks. He blended fictional characters with real-life figures doing fictional things. He presumed to speak as narrator for an entire period in history in a fearless manner.

I was never in love with history class at school, but I probably learned more about America and Americans by marching my way through Doctorow's bibliography. He was clearly fascinated with U.S. history, and how a writer could exploit and subvert the expectations of using historical material. In every book, you could almost feel him saying, “Yeah, I know this is supposed to be history, but it’s fiction first. Get out of the way—I’m writing here."

One of the best profiles of him I’ve ever read appeared in the New York Times Magazine back in 1985. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve always liked this quote:

"Henry James has a parable about what writing is,'' Doctorow says. ''He posits a situation where a young woman who has led a sheltered life walks past an army barracks, and she hears a fragment of soldiers' conversation coming through a window. And she can, if she's a novelist, then go home and write a true novel about life in the army. You see the idea? The immense, penetrative power of the imagination and the intuition."

 

Celebrating F. Scott Fitzgerald's Birthday in Asheville, NC

Every year in the week of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday, the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, opens his former lodgings to the public. Here are some pics I took on my visit last Saturday.

Fitzgerald stayed here in 1935 and ‘36, both for lengthy stays to visit Zelda when she was recovering in a nearby sanitarium—the same one where she later lost her life. These weren’t happy visits for Fitzgerald. He was always destitute, trying to write, and trying to avoid hard drinking. (To stay off liquor, Fitzgerald drank as many as thirty bottles of beer a day. People then had the notion that beer wasn’t really alcohol. The same assertion crops up in the works of Norman Maclean.)

I’d like to say I’m “proud” of my town’s connection to great writers, such as Thomas Wolfe, Fitzgerald, and Zelda Fitzgerald, but sadness and tragedy dogged all three while they were here that it doesn’t seem like much to celebrate.

James Ellroy: Adroit Motherf*cker

My buddy Neal Thompson interviews James Ellroy on the occasion of his new book, Perfidia.

I’ve been fascinated with Ellroy for years. Listen to the way the guy speaks. It’s almost as if he’s quoting his own blurbs, or speaking of himself in third person. I can’t imagine talking the same way about my work. I can’t imagine calling myself adroit.

Name-dropping the BEA

Denise was invited to a fancy dinner and party by her publisher, so we booked some flights and headed up to NYC for the BookExpo (BEA). I’d been in town for BEA before but never attended the actual show itself, which is publishing’s biggest annual event. People kept telling me that the show was smaller than it had been in previous years, but it looked huge to this newcomer.

A quick-recap:

Wed.

* Denise was not invited with a +1 for her Simon & Schuster events, so I went to a party thrown by Crown in the company of our agents. I don’t do well at parties, lemme tell you. But I did talk to a young author who confessed that he was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that his publisher was not intending to do any sort of marketing for his debut lit fiction title with their imprint. “They’re not even taking out print ads,” he said with all sincerity. “The book’s coming out in two weeks. Do you have any advice?” Oh Jesus, I thought. Where do I f*cking begin?

* While I’m formulating an answer to this poor bastard’s question, cut to Denise, who is hobnobbing with her fellow authors, including Anjelica Huston, Cary Elwes, Marlo Thomas, Chris Matthews, Mary Higgins Clark, and Alice Hoffman. The highlight of her evening: She dances with S&S author, Dr. Funkadelic himself, George Clinton.

* Highlight of my evening: Crispy crab cakes at the Crown party.

Thurs.

* We hit the BEA show proper, visiting the booths of every publisher we’ve ever pubbed with, including Quirk Books. Denise’s pal Karen Abbott is interviewed by author and Amazon editor Neal Thompson while we linger outside the taping room. In the hall we run into actor Cary Elwes, who has a book coming this October from S&S. Gosh, he’s handsome and awfully chummy with Denise.

* At the S&S booth, Denise takes this photo with this noted author.

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* Drinks later with Neal Thompson, Karen Abbott, and mystery writer Michael Koryta. A really nice guy.

* We go to the Amazon-sponsored party that night, and I see scads of authors (John Scalzi, Emily St. John Mandel, Chelsea Cain) I don’t have the nerve to talk to, and few I do (Megan Abbott, Matthew Thomas, and Courtney Maum). Meanwhile, on the outdoor patio, Denise is having an animated conversation with—who else?—but infernally handsome Cary Elwes. Highlight of her evening: Photos with Elwes and a warm farewell embrace from Westley himself.

* My highlight: When I empty my pockets at the end of the night, the contents consist of crumpled napkins and bamboo skewers. Amazon’s caterer is excellent. The meat on a stick was delicious.

Fri.

* Back uptown at the Javits Center, we linger outside Amazon’s interview room for a glimpse of James Ellroy, the demon dog of crime fiction. While waiting, we meet Brad Meltzer and catch a peek at Carl Hiaasen. I have a thing for Ellroy’s books from way back, so I’m awed when we get a chance to meet. He compliments me on my haircut.

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* On the floor of the show, we meet Brit author Rupert Thomson, who draws this lovely scene of Florence in the book he inscribes for us.

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* Jonathan Maberry breezes through the S&S booth. I say nothing.

* I keep circling through the Digital Discovery Zone, hoping for a glimpse of Hugh Howey, and when I do see him, I am too scared to say a word. Denise propels me into the man’s conversation zone, and he ends up offering me a book and we chat about NC, books, the other Howie, and so on.

* Dinner with Denise’s editor. My highlight: realizing that I cannot get a bad burger in this town.

* * *

But seriously:

I love books. Always have. While I’ve become cynical over the years about publishing’s treatment of authors and their books, I was pleasantly surprised to find that in the presence of most of these authors I was like that kid again. Engaged and enthralled.

Yeah, I think it’s weird that publishers emphasize so many celebrity works these days, but it was fun to connect with those writers who seemed to be in it for the words.

I’m still thinking about that debut writer’s question. I babbled out a few ideas for him, but none were satisfying. More thoughts coming soon.

The Marshal of the Borgo now on sale

It’s a long story, but when we were first married Denise and I lived overseas in Italy, where she worked covering soccer for sports organizations like ESPN. We first lived in Rome, then moved to a small town an hour north. The countryside was exactly what the travel magazines depict: olive groves and vineyards as far as the eye could see, and quaint thousand-year-old villages filled with fascinating characters.

One day, as we were talking with one of our neighbors, he cautioned us about thinking we had landed in paradise. “The town isn’t exactly squeaky-clean,” he said. “Some of our kids have died of drug overdoses. Mostly heroin. That’s why we just got a new marshal. He’s supposed to clean up the town.”

In small towns of this size, the police function was performed by the carabinieri, Italy’s colorfully dressed paramilitary force. The word marshal in their tongue is maresciallo (MAH-ray-SHAH-lo).

Needless to say, our neighbor’s news came as a shock, but in due time I began imagining a story around these meager facts. The result is The Marshal of the Borgo, the book I’m releasing today. I set out to write a mystery novel, but things took a turn toward the weird and paranormal, just as they did with The Mesmerist. The result is a blend of two or three genres.The book is now available on Amazon, iBooks, B&N, and Smashwords. (Kobo coming soon.) I hope you enjoy it.

Here’s the pitch for the book:

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THE MARSHAL OF THE BORGO: Matteo Scarpone is a man more sinned against than sinning. Once a cool-headed logician and the pride of Rome’s carabinieri, he’s devastated when disaster rocks his world. He’s a lost man: Beaten. Shaken. HAUNTED.

Shunned as an embarrassment, he is exiled to a tiny village in the sticks—a hamlet, a burg, a borgo. But in this land of vineyards and olive groves, life is far from idyllic. Murder, witchcraft and hate taint the soil once tread by the Etruscans. Now the young captain must unravel a series of murders that pit him against a cynical evil and force him to use a power that he has long denied.

The Marshal of the Borgo follows in the tradition of Italian mysteries by Magdalen Nabb, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon—but with a powerful twist.

Part whodunit, part ghost story, The Marshal of the Borgo makes for a very unusual paranormal mystery by a recent Derringer Award finalist.

Italian detective Matteo Scarpone first appeared in a short story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

Available:

Amazon (US) ebook & paperback

Amazon (UK) ebook & paperback

iPad

Nook

Smashwords

 

Quick 'n' Dirty News

I promised myself that this blog wouldn’t be so Denise-centric this time around, but I feel I ought to mention that her paperback hit the same three bestseller lists (NYT, NPR, Indie) in its second week. She was home this past weekend, but left quickly after for the great Midwest. She’ll be back Friday.

Meanwhile, our agent was able to sell the ghostwriting project I was working on to a Big 5 publisher. So it looks like I’ll have a paying gig for 2014, after all. They’re excited, and so is our Author. It’s his first book and he’s really itching to get started. We’re shooting for a September 1 delivery date.

For me, that means hammering out just how I’ll arrange my schedule to incorporate interviews with the Author, writing and research time for his book, and of course writing time for my own projects. Nevertheless, knowing I have a project on deck means a lot, believe me. Sometimes I just look forward to the predictability of journalistic research and interviews.

They announced the winners of the 2014 Derringer Awards early this morning, and my shortlisted story, “Bloody Signorina,” was not among them. (It remains free here for the time being. I hope to publish it more formally soon, with an alternate ending and some other extras.)

Even so, being nominated has been a beautiful experience, and I’m happy to see the work of some of my new friends—among them longtime short story writer Robert Lopresti—among the winners.

My Paperbacks Are Out!

My Paperbacks Are Out!   Took me long enough, but paperback copies are finally available of my three fiction titles. For now, you can snag them via  my Amazon page . If you buy a paperback via Amazon, you’ll get the ebook for free.  If you’d rather not deal with Amazon, or you don’t want a paperback, well, have I got a celebratory deal for you:  I  can  offer you a free e-book of any of these titles. Snag the correct file for your device via  my Smashwords page , using one or all of these coupons, which expire April 1, 2014. You’ll need to enter the coupon codes when you checkout, then download the file that’s right for your e-reader. And don’t forget: A mobi or epub file will work with whatever reading device you have, whether a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo. If you don’t have a device at all, you can still read ‘em with the right app on your computer. Ask me if you need help.   Arm of Darkness  (short stories): CM87N   The Mesmerist  (novel): MJ34Q   Jersey Heat  (novel): KH57T  I’m told that these paperbacks will migrate eventually to Ingram and thus be available to indie bookstores. I have no experience in that arena, but I’m curious to see if that actually happens.  If you’d like a signed copy of any of these titles, just  contact me via my website , and we’ll make shipping and payment arrangements as soon as my first shipment comes in.  My thanks to those of you who reviewed these books in the past. A belated thank-you gift is on its way.   * * *   Other news: Denise is on the road for three weeks doing talks and conferences, and I’m home alone listening to the creaks of a settling house. Her paperback and audio book are out March 11. If you think you’d like a signed copy of either of these, contact our local bookstore,  Malaprop’s ,  by phone  and they’ll take of you.

My Paperbacks Are Out!

Took me long enough, but paperback copies are finally available of my three fiction titles. For now, you can snag them via my Amazon page. If you buy a paperback via Amazon, you’ll get the ebook for free.

If you’d rather not deal with Amazon, or you don’t want a paperback, well, have I got a celebratory deal for you:

I can offer you a free e-book of any of these titles. Snag the correct file for your device via my Smashwords page, using one or all of these coupons, which expire April 1, 2014. You’ll need to enter the coupon codes when you checkout, then download the file that’s right for your e-reader. And don’t forget: A mobi or epub file will work with whatever reading device you have, whether a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo. If you don’t have a device at all, you can still read ‘em with the right app on your computer. Ask me if you need help.

Arm of Darkness (short stories): CM87N

The Mesmerist (novel): MJ34Q

Jersey Heat (novel): KH57T

I’m told that these paperbacks will migrate eventually to Ingram and thus be available to indie bookstores. I have no experience in that arena, but I’m curious to see if that actually happens.

If you’d like a signed copy of any of these titles, just contact me via my website, and we’ll make shipping and payment arrangements as soon as my first shipment comes in.

My thanks to those of you who reviewed these books in the past. A belated thank-you gift is on its way.

* * *

Other news: Denise is on the road for three weeks doing talks and conferences, and I’m home alone listening to the creaks of a settling house. Her paperback and audio book are out March 11. If you think you’d like a signed copy of either of these, contact our local bookstore, Malaprop’s, by phone and they’ll take of you.

Bummer—or not?

I just found out this week that one of the books I wrote for a ghostwriting client will not be issued in paperback. The publisher, a Big 5, just didn’t think the hardcover and e-book sales were good enough to warrant a paperback release.

I was bummed, but the client is taking it better than I am. You’d think that after the publisher paid six figures for this book that the least they could do is spring for a paperback. Everyone knows paperbacks sell better than hardcovers, right? And shouldn’t every book have the chance to reach its audience at the best possible price?

But I’m ignorant. This is not how a publisher thinks these days.

The agent brought me up to speed:

Since the hardcover sold so poorly, no bookstore that checks the title’s Bookscan numbers will want to carry the paperback in the store. The book’s just doomed from the start. BUT…yeah, many books do tend to find their audiences after a while, and maybe this one will. Potential readers will have two species to draw from—the high-priced hardcover or the cheap e-book. The e-book’s cheaper than than the paperback would be, anyway. And, added the agent, both Author and Writer should content themselves with this state of affairs because we will continue to earn the higher, hardcover royalty. (Typically, publishers pay 10% on hardcovers, 7% on paper, so when Authors transition from hardcover to paper, they’re taking a cut in pay in the hopes of greater volume.)

So yay for us.

Right?

What do you think?