Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas HO-HO-HO

In my former life as a pastry chef, Christmas was always hell. Lots of eighteen hour days. When I worked at the Il Fornaio commissary, it was nothing more than a warehouse with refrigeration units and ovens and it didn't have any windows. I'd arrive at work in the dark and went home when it was dark and it was a little crazy-making. Not to mention the bone-chilling exhaustion, let's not forget that. One memorable Thanksgiving holidays I made 279 pumpkin pies. That was on ONE day alone. It was years before I could even look at a pumpkin pie without feeling slightly queasy and many more years before I could actually eat a slice of it.

But I made some very good friends when I was cooking. I'm shouting out to Kate and Michael and Toni and Norman. Lots of people I've lost track of over the years, but these four I'm still in touch with to varying degrees and am so lucky to call them friend.

Christmas now isn't nearly as hectic (THANK GOD!), and this year it's sad because my MIL died the year before last and my step-father died this year and there are now permanent holes in the emotional landscape.But we have traditions that carry on and my mother is cooking up a roast beast and my children are both home for the holidays and the world is as right as it can be right now.

My best wishes for the holidays. May you read a ton of really great books in 2014!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Book Review: The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham

This is a good, no, a great book. A non-fiction account trying to come to terms with the suicide of her father, it's set up like an index. It is one of those books where I would read a paragraph, a sentence, a chapter, and the words were so right, so true, so well-written and so painful that I would put the book down because it just physically hurt to continue, only to pick up the book a minute later. This book came out in 2008. I wonder if from the distance of five years Ms. Wickerhsam now recognizes that she is rather harsh on her mother, who comes across as somewhat spoiled: her refrain, "How could he do this to me?" reverberates throughout the book. Of course, they are all asking that, only her mother voices this out loud.

I have one small quibble, and that is I kept wondering how her father's suicide affected her relationship with her sister, who is largely absent in this narrative. Perhaps this is deliberate, a pact that I am sharing my grief but I don't have the right to share yours, but it feels like a chapter, a "citation" is missing. 

This is a painful read at best. There aren't any answers, and yet how can you not keep asking? One things kept nagging at me while reading this, and that is how even as adults (even as we age that child never truly eclipses the adult), we have such a hard time acknowledging that other self in our parents. That self that has an unhappy marriage, that self that is disappointed, beset with self-doubt, unsure, and angry, so angry. That other self that isn't the parent you love. It's a part of them you can't touch, a stranger, and why I think we have such a hard time acknowledging that it's there. It's a betrayal. Of course, suicide is the ultimate betrayal. She quotes Flaubert: "We want to die because we cannot cause others to die, and every suicide is perhaps a repressed assassination." Parents always carry the secret fear that we will fail our children. But what if the child fails the parent? A powerful and beautifully written book that I very strongly recommend.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor Day

Today is Pearl Harbor Day. My stepfather died this February. He had been a POW in World War II, captured in Java in 1940. He survived five years in a Japanese prison camp. I cannot see any headline regarding Pearl Harbor without thinking of him. I saluted him every December 7th when he was alive, and I see no reason to stop that tradition now that he's dead. Hope this current journey is a blast, Ken. I thank you for your sacrifice.

As always, much love, Claire

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Some days the choices are far too hard: wrinkle cream for eyes versus mild allergic reaction. Which I have to admit means you can't see the wrinkles because my eyelids are puffy, but I don't think that is what the manufacturer intended.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

As a reader I never noticed this distinction, but as a writer it now seems like a no-brainer. There are writers and there are storytellers. I'm more of a storyteller than I am a writer, and while my ego would like to be considered part of that rarefied group of writers, in truth, I don't mind being a storyteller. Because there are some very good writers who are primarily storytellers, and Stephen King is one of them. Pretty good company to keep.

I consider King a damn good storyteller, perhaps the finest storyteller we have in the U.S. today. I also feel that way about James Lee Burke, but Burke has a foot in both camps (I consider In the Mist of the Confederate Dead one of the most lyrical books I have ever read; it's up there with F. Scott Fitzgerald according to my lights), so he doesn't really count. But King? A damn fine storyteller.

On the book: I loved it. It is the first book in probably two years that I have sat down and inhaled every single frigging word. I couldn't put it down. It has been so long since that has happened that I was beginning to think that I was just a malcontent. Too stuck up to enjoy a decent book. Too wedded to standards that were persnickety and harsh and unfair. It was nice to be proven wrong.

For those of you who've been living under a rock, this book is the sequel to The Shining. There are only two books out of everything that I have ever read that scared the living shit out of me. The Shining is one of them; Ghost Story by Peter Straub is another. I STILL cannot see topiary animals without looking over my shoulder. To this DAY, I half expect to feel the rip of a claw/branch down the length of my back. THAT is how powerful that book was. And it was a little ironic that I was in Disneyland this weekend, and as I rode by the topiary "zoo" dotting the Small World ride I couldn't help but smile because I had Doctor Sleep in my luggage just waiting to be cracked open that afternoon.

So we have Dan Torrance many years later, an alcoholic like his father, so scarred, stumbling through life, falling a lot, drinking a lot, this boy has become a man and it's not pretty. There are a cast of characters and I won't bore you with basic plot details. I will say that this is a true circle novel. We come back to the Overlook, Dan Torrance must finally face the demons of those years, and once again try to survive and more importantly defeat evil. I think some readers might find this a little too pat, but I enjoyed it. It seemed to me to check off all those boxes that sequels need to do. It finished his story arc. There certainly is room for another story should King wish to pursue it, but Dan Torrance's story seems finished to me. It was very satisfying for precisely the reasons that usually float my boat. This is a book about atonement, a theme that always resonates with me.

Some critiques I've read said that they thought the last third of the book was too soft. I can see that. A younger King would have killed off a couple of people we would have mourned. This older King doesn't feel the need to do that. It did strike toward the end that this had very much a Ghost Story feel about it, with the tribe of evil types being led by a woman (much like Ghost Story), and the ending of the book featuring a road trip. But this is a quibble because maybe books like this just end like this.

None of these quibbles mattered. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Gee Willikers, I'm Overloaded

So my plans for a Sunday post seems to be something of a pipe dream, but here I am again. One of the most tried and true bits of advice any writer will say to you is that you need to keep writing and working this social media thing. Which I agree with. The more you write, even in places like this, keeps your name fresh. And with a zillion people writing and liking and also working the social media, you need to keep a "leg" in, so to speak. I can't even seem to manage a baby toe these days. Life is crazy busy. I'm editing up a storm. A STORM. I'm trying to fit in some writing, which isn't being very successful, by the way. And also trying to keep my name fresh. I guess it would help if I didn't have one of the most generic last names ever. Sigh.

What authors don't tell you is that social media takes gobs of time if you do it right. Time. Lots of it. Time that could be spent writing. You know, the stuff that actually constitutes and validates what you do. This is what I suspect is the true tragedy of the collapse of the legacy publishing system. Not that I didn't have to hoof it to conferences, etc., book stores, etc. I did, but their pipeline to bookstores and media was and is invaluable and where the real sales happen. Or used to. I don't know where real sales are these days.

Sure, I enjoyed the conferences for the sense of community and meeting up with fellows writers. All that jazz. That mostly came to a halt when I attended a Bouchercon, was on a panel with some great writers, and we had a fantastic turnout. The room was large and it was packed. I entered the book signing room with a confident spring in my step, absolutely convinced  I'd waltz off with fifteen sales. At least! I had none. Big zero. After sitting at my table and not having one person walk up to me during the course of thirty minutes, I slunk off to my hotel room to have a big cry. Yes, authors cry. I barely managed to get it together to get to my room without bawling my eyes out in the elevator. What went wrong? All those people who came up to me after the panel who loved my presentation? Why weren't they buying my book? Why????

Well, it turns out they were. They were buying it off of amazon. My amazon stats were great for two days. And I realized that I wasn't hardback material. I was an amazon-worthy author. But even those sales were hard to justify in terms of the cost of attending a conference all the way across the country when you factor in airfare, con fees, and the hotel. That wasn't the final nail in my mystery conference attending coffin but it was the first nail. The second nail happened the following year.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Despicable Me

There is a great book out there that I would encourage anyone who is thinking about writing to read: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. She was a former editor now turned agent, and it has some of the most insightful analysis of how writers relate to words and the neurotic responses that dog the process. In my admittedly limited writerly circle, one thing stands out for me, and that is that most of us have egos bigger than god (take your pick which god, I'm nothing if not ecumenical), and almost all of us--okay a lot of us--struggle with humongous feelings of inadequacy. It's that compelling desire to be seen and heard--me, me, me!--but from behind a bunch of paper (or bytes as the case may be these days).

I had a lot of trouble (aka horrible time) writing my second book. I'd gotten a lot of nice feedback on the first book, was nominated for a prestigious award, was a Booksense pick, got some decent reviews, and you'd think that it would have been a total slam dunk to write the second book. It had the opposite effect (and I know that I'm not alone in this). Many people have trouble writing that second book. I knew the plot, I knew where I wanted to take my characters, I had an excellent sense of the gestalt of the book (which is what gives a book its overarching theme), but I couldn't write it. Why? I was terrified. At least in my case, writer's block essentially boils down to fear of failure. You've tasted the sugar of success, and the last thing you want in your writing wine glass is the vetch of defeat. If you don't write, then you don't fail.

This is why the collapse of the legacy publishing system is devastating. Because the self-doubt is often overwhelming, and the one thing that the legacy publishing system does (or did) was to provide a modicum of legitimacy. Yes, you can write. You published a book. You were nominated for an award. You are one of us! Of course, I had all that and it didn't do a damn bit of good; I was still in a state of paralysis for years as I struggled to write that second book. But it was something of an emotional lifeboat when I was in that Grand Canyon of self-doubt about my writing.

There is no modicum of legitimacy when you self-publish. The only person promoting yourself is you. The only feedback that you're getting are the daily sales figures from amazon (and I'm ashamed to admit that I check those stats a minimum of 10 times a day) and the reviews (from those who don't know you).

Self-promotion suck (see previous paragraph vis a vis massive feelings of inadequacy). But, you say, you did book signings and were on panels at mystery cons and had speaking gigs places, and even did a radio interview (which was very cool). I did, but I also had an entity behind me (my publisher) who believed that my book was good enough to hit the marketplace. And there is so much competition to get a publishing contract that I basked in that approbation. The only monolith behind me in the self-publishing venture is me. I suck at being a monolith of legitimacy. It's scary and I'm not good at it.

Plus, OMG, the time suck. If I'm "networking," I'm not writing. It doesn't get any plainer than that. I'm editing full-time, I have editing gigs on the side, I have a huge yard that takes some time every weekend just to keep the weeds down to a minimum. Life is crazy busy. I find myself making choices in terms of my time every single day. Some aspect of my life suffers on any given day. I shortchange something to devote time to another something.

If someone asks me about Pen and Prejudice, I can say with total confidence that I think that it's fun, funny, and an excellent commentary on genre writing from the POV of a small-fry author. If you asked me, do you think this book is good enough for the larger market, I would say without hesitation, yes. It's a good book. What is more important, however, is that it's a marketable book. It would sell. Put my feet to the fire. I honestly believe this. And yet I'm also always apologizing for it at the same time. Why? Because the yin and yang between self-confidence and self-doubt that dogs most writers I know always comes down squarely on the self-effacement side of the equation when I dip my toes into the self-promotion tsunami.

And the water is so cold.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Am A Guest

Drive by comment:

I am a guest today on the Ladykillers blog. Come have fun with me: http://www.theladykillers.typepad.com/

Sunday, August 25, 2013

So, How's that Book Selling?

So Pen and Prejudice has been out for a couple of weeks and not like I'm checking my amazon page like six times an hour or anything (of course not!), but I'm doing better than I'd hoped  and, of course, not as well as I would have like  (which, indulge me here, would have had it jumping within two days of uploading it to the best seller lists for both the paperback and the Kindle version). There have been a few surprises based on what I can glean from the sales info provided by amazon.

1.  The mystery community is not interested at all in this book, even though it's about writing and the mystery community. I didn't think I'd get a ton of mystery readers, but I thought I'd get some. Doesn't seem that I am.

2.  I'm getting a ton of buy-in from the Janites (those who love Jane Austen in all her lovely permutations). I thought that this would be my core audience and I was right. I knew that there were a bunch of novels out there that are just like mine (Jane Austen fanfiction), but I was actually surprised at how many there are. I will say briefly that I am a huge supporter of fanfiction, which is anathema to many authors, I know. I'd give my right eye to have one of my books becoming a fandom darling because that would mean sales for years.  I could retire. J.K. Rowling is one of the few authors who recognizes the power of fanfiction and what it does in terms of market share. There will be an upcoming post on fanfiction and how it is a way of extending the fantasy and benefiting the original author, but that's for another day.

3.  No surprises regarding Kindle versus paperback sales: Kindle sales far outstrip paperback sales by a wide margin. Some of it is that I priced the Kindle version to be less than a cup of coffee, and some of it is why pay more for a paperback version when the Kindle version is roughly $6.50 cheaper? I believe that the reading experience for this particular book works much better as a book than a Kindle offering, but Kindle readers, I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

4.  I'm ashamed to say that I didn't time the release of this book to coincide with the release of the movie Austenland. I wish I could say that this was due to sheer brilliance on my part--helloooooo, Austenland, how lovely to see you in the theaters--but it was actually just luck. But I will take it. Note to those of you considering self-publishing: Time all book releases with some related movie release as there is bound to be a bump of some sort. I can't say for certainty that the release of Austenland has helped book sales, but my gut says it has. Plus, it certainly can't hurt!

I'm going to try to post here more often. I am shooting for weekly Sunday blasts of trivia and opinions (no surprise, I always have lots of opinions), and I owe everyone a review on Myer's The Borgias).

For those of you who have bought the book in either one of its incarnations: thank you. For those of you who were kind enough to leave reviews on amazon: thank you! For those of you who have been willing to host me on your blog(s), thank you. Speaking of which, this upcoming Friday, August 30, I'm going to be featured on the blog The Ladykillers, which is authored by a host of lovely people who also write mysteries. Stop on by.

Friday, July 19, 2013

And We Are Live!

Houston, we do not have any problems!

Oh, there were some linkage issues and perhaps operator error as I kept uploading these documents over and over again, but to beat any and all metaphors to death, we are now cooking with gas.

Pen and Prejudice is up and for sale!

My sister, Valerie Mighetto, did the cover and I think it's all kinds of awesome. I wrote it. Which, hello, is also kind of awesome. As a writer, when you finish a piece and then see it bound up in its own little concept, all whole and largely saying what you want to say, well, amazing doesn't quite cover it. But to the important stuff...

I have priced it so that basically I make four cents on every copy. Although I am thrilled at each and every single possible sale, be it the paper version or the e-version, I think that the paper version "reads" better because of the formatting issues that I've discussed ad nauseum. I tried to address the formatting crap in the e-version and while I think it works, the print version works better, if you know what I mean.

Print version is available here: HERE

E-version is available here: HERE

Recap: This is not a mystery but it is about the mystery writing world. Using the mystery writing world as a backdrop, Pen and Prejudice is a modern pastiche of the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice, but instead of our witty, playful heroine and attractive but arrogant suitor willfully misunderstanding each other while attending balls and dinner parties in the nineteenth century, they metaphorically duke it out in the twentieth at mystery writing conferences. For those of you who have ever attended Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, or Thrillerfest as mystery readers, this is an insider's look at these conventions from a writer's PO. A cross between I Don’t Know How She Does It and Bridget Jones’ Diary, this novel is a social comedy that provides an insider look into the struggles facing most writers of genre fiction.  Plus, you know a romance, plus, you know, a happy ending! Enjoy! BONUS! The Kindle version of Pen and Prejudice is currently FREE, YES, FREE if you are a member of amazon Prime.

And it goes without saying that my traditional mystery novels, Beat Until Stiff and Roux Morgue, are available in both trade paperback and Kindle versions. Enjoy those as well. Hell, Beat Until Stiff is only 99 cents on Kindle. A steal!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Perils of Self-Publishing Pen and Prejudice

Things I've learned about self-publishing Pen and Prejudice so you don't have to:

1.  The more clever you are with your manuscript, the greater the headaches. I got cute and once it was written I couldn't really "uncute" because the cute aspects of the book were integral to the general gestalt of the book. But it ate up a zillion author hours as I wrestled with html.  I think it looks fairly decent now, but it came at a cost in terms of my time and sanity.

2.  Clever doesn't translate well to ebooks. Yes, I made it work. Yes, I bashed that html seven ways to Sunday so that a fair approximation of the "book" translated to the e-version, but it was a total BITCH to pull off, and there are parts where I don't think it looks as good as it should. But then I couldn't possibly afford to pay someone to do all this.

3.  When you upload to amazon, try to work from two screens at once. I have a lovely 24-inch screen desktop and a 17-inch laptop. I uploaded the book or the e-book onto the laptop and had the same file open on the larger screen so that as I flipped through the pages on amazon's previewer, I was able to catch mistakes (AND TYPOS, OMG! STILL!) and fix them directly. Seriously, and I am not joking, I uploaded that books roughly fifteen times and roughly ten times for the e-version before I got it right .

4.  The e-version. This is where it gets complicated. And yes, my book was something of a formatting nightmare, but I think these issues are endemic and these tips might help you from making the same mistakes I did.
  •  WORD is a rigid, unforgiving program. When you make changes and reformat material and change things and then change things back and then change things again, all this meta happens behind the scene. All this confusing code is still there, you just can't see it. Who sees it?  The program that converts your material to an html file, or in WORD-ese: "Web Page filtered." So if you have extra lines and spaces and your paragraphs don't line up and suddenly the font changes sizes or none of your italicized material is in italics, it's because the code is confused.
  • How did I solve this? I edited out all that garbage using Dreamweaver. You can do it in Notepad but it's a lot more difficult. But needs must. All that extra code creates problems and it needs to go.
  • Limit yourself to two fonts. TWO. No more. I thought I'd be clever (which always bites me on the ass), and since I was using Dreamweaver I put back in all the fonts differentiating the different "speakers" in my book. I have a lot of email exchanges and it helped (see real book) differentiate between who is speaking by using different fonts for different "voices." This works in the book. It doesn't work in the e-version. All that lovely formatting was stripped out, and I was left with what I started with: basic text but now it was laden down with all these code (because I'd changed fonts), which meant that phantom lines appeared and a host of other problems. Yes, I know I could have had paid to have this formatted so that all my clever little ideas translated to the page, but frankly I can't afford it.
  • For some odd reason all my basic formatting (italicized and/or bolded words) didn't translate to the html version. You could probably hear my screams in New York. My advice is to create your final version and then make an "E" version. Go into your "E" version and hunt for every single italicized and/or bolded word and add html code. I would also recommend doing this for em dashes and ellipses, which I seem to use a lot of. Perhaps too much, as evidenced by all the coding I ended up putting in.
5.  What did I learn from all this? It takes a tremendous amount of hours to format a book so that it looks professional, and now I understand WHY there is so much complaining about the e-versions of books. Creating a book for the page is not the same as creating the book for the "screen." Clearly a lot of publishers ARE treating these entities as one and they are not. They need to invest time in making the e-experience worthwhile. There's a lot of competition for a reader's time. Don't piss them off by sloughing off a badly formatted e-book.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Home Stretch: Pen and Prejudice

Yes, this is almost ready. I'm in the final stages of uploading it to amazon, both a printed and Kindle version. This has been an eye-opening experience, let me tell you. I've gone over this manuscript a thousand times and I'm STILL finding minor typos. This is what an editor does. In addition to content issues, on the most basic level she/he offers a fresh pair of eyes. At a certain point one's brain says, "Hey, I've seen this before. Let's conserve energy. I'll just slip in a mental snapshot of what I've seen before. I won't tax cells that I don't have to." And, lo and behold, typos are born.

Anyway, this book has been in the making for three years. I couldn't find an agent who would shop it. I thought about putting it up on amazon myself, but then personal issues overwhelmed to the point where it was, book, who cares about that stinking book? Fast forward eight months, I began a spate of dead-on serious editing that is Nobel prize-winning material and is so far above my ken that I essentially hunt for subjects and verbs and try to make them agree and assume a whole hell of a lot. When you edit that much and material that is that complex, you just don't have the energy to do anything at the end of the day but, well, knit. Even at that I can only manage hats. I have several. Anyone need a hat? Finally, I entered it in the amazon breakthrough contest. I got to round two, but sadly didn't make it to round three.

It was back to the drawing board or more correctly the formatting board.  Sigh. This book is REALLY problematic because of the formatting issues. It didn't seem anything of a challenge at all until I began to format it myself. My Dreamweaver skills have improved tenfold. My right wrist is killing me, I am surrounded by dust bunnies the size of small dogs. But it is done. The only thing left to do is navigate the createspace upload process. Wish me luck.

I think it's a fun book. It's most definitely a beach read. It says a lot about trying to scratch out a writing career when you have a job and kids. And in the end the girl gets the guy (who has more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Darcy).

I'm not interested in making any money out of this so it will be priced based on amazon's threshold. I just want people to read it. I worked like a dog on this book, and I like it, and I want you to like it.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 10, 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

I went into my local Barnes and Noble store today and while standing at the new releases section for history, I practically had an orgasm on the spot. I found seven books that I was dying to read and five that I was pretty interested in, and four that I found mildly interesting. I seem to be reading much more non-fiction these days. I don't know why. Maybe because I know what happens behind the curtain of fiction far too well. I know what levers Oz is pulling, so to speak.

Anyway, I took my smart phone and snapped a ton of pictures of covers of books that I must read at some point. What I am most excited about (and I bought a copy because I couldn't resist) was Myers' new book on the Borgias. I loved his book on the Tudors, and if there is a family that more interesting than the Tudors (a fairly high bar), it is the Borgias.

Stay tuned for the review

Monday, March 18, 2013

To be Fair...

Once again I point to John Scalzi's blog for a recap of what has happened at Random House as a result of the brouhaha over their new e-imprint line that contained what I personally considered an unethical contract. I want to say in all fairness that they seem to realize that they stumbled and stumbled badly, and now are addressing this stumble. Sclazi does a nice analysis of this new contract, and if you read further in his blog he comments on why he considers a no-advance contract problematic. Read further.

I can't speak for anyone else, but it's hard not to view this as a legitimate publisher who tried to cash in on their pretty damn respected legacy (I would be doing handsprings if I had a contract with them), using their name to establish a vanity press. And the masses have spoken and they have spoken back.

There were a couple of things that stood out for me during this, oh, let's call it an event. First of all, I do not have a contract with Random House, nor have I ever had any dealings with Random House. And yet when they announced their amended policies regarding the new e-imprint, I got an email from them announcing said amended policies. Interesting. Clearly someone did Google searches. Because let's face it. I'm obscure with a capital "O." How many people read this blog? Ten?

Second, although all the other major writing organizations in the country, Science Fiction Writers of America and Romance Writers of America to name two, commented publically in very strong language that this wasn't acceptable, I didn't see any comment from Mystery Writers of America. None.


Friday, March 8, 2013

And the Drama Continues

I must thank John Scalzi for his wonderful posts and links to the current drama that is roiling Random House and it's attempts to capitalize on the self-publishing juggernaut. Except. Hmmm. Plain and simple, what Random House is proposing is, basically, that old-fashioned model for a vanity press.

Anyway, in response to Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA)'s rejection of Random House's (RH) current publishing "model," Random House has actually answered Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) rejection of this model and SFWA has answered back. I certainly hope that MWA (Mystery Writers of America) has a similar point of view regarding RH's new imprint Alibi, because really, we need to stop this nonsense in its tracks.

I think that SFWA's letter states the crux of the issue quite nicely. I have NO problem with businesses that set themselves up as a self-publishing house. In this era, they are often the only portal for an author these days who twenty years would have been snapped up by a publisher without a second thought. But what RH is promoting isn't self-publishing. It's nothing short of being a vanity press and trading on its previously quite valued name as a publisher of note.

Way to tarnish your brand, dudes.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Signal Boost on Publishing Fail

It seems that after viewing e-publishing with a disdainful, leery eye that the mainstream publishers are finally realizing that like amazon, they mean to tap into the self-publishing cash cow. Random House has recently come out with three new e-imprints. Hydra for their sf/f line, Alibi for their mystery line, and Flirt for their "new adult" line, which I assume mean soft-core porn with words.

There are two excellent articles written by others that should pretty much give you a head's up on why considering this imprint is a bad idea. John Scalzi rips apart the Alibi contract in his recent column A Contract with Alibi. This is essentially a mini-primer on contract language and is worth reading just to understand what all that legal gobbledygook means. Also worth reading is Victoria Strauss's blog in the Writer Beware blog on the same subject, Second-Class Contracts? Deal Terms at Random House's Hydra Imprint. Pass these links along to other writers because this seems fairly evil to me, and the more people know about it, the better.

Now that I've completely scotched any chance of having a Random House publishing deal any time soon, I'd like to just say that I really don't understand why they are going to such lengths to alienate writers. Yes, the market is horrible. Yes, people can't get contracts. Yes, self-publishing is a last resort. But it's also a really easy resort. Seriously? Anyone with marginal computer savvy can put together a book in like, oh, twenty minutes from any of the more reputable self-publishing book companies out there. Amazon has entered into this venture with a vengeance (when do they do anything half-assed?) with their CreateSpace arm, and both Lulu and BookBaby can also set you up nicely. I think that BookBaby seems to have better covers the last time I checked out their site, but all of them offer professional services in terms of design, marketing, etc., for a price. So why would you go with Random House that strips you of all of your rights versus something like Bookbaby where you retain all your rights?

I guess they think that people are that desperate.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: Broken Harbor by Tana French


A key thing that usually sells me on a book is what I would call a book's "vernacular." That the reader feels that this book couldn't happen any place else. The dialogue and setting has both an originality and a sense of history about it. This masterful owning of a story is obvious within the first four pages of Broken Harbor by Tana French. I wrote in my last review of her previous novel, Faithful Place, that I would eagerly snatch up her next novel because I so loved the writing, even if I didn't love the book. And I find myself in the same place with Broken Harbor as I did with Faithful Place: in lovelovelove with the writing and less than pleased by the end of the book.

At this point I've nearly given up looking for books that ultimately hit all of my buttons, but this book falls shorts in some critical ways. But first, the good part. The dialogue is amazing. I'm no slouch at writing dialogue myself, and this woman blows me out of the water. Not only is it smart writing, but the dialogue rings true to each character. All the characters sounds unique.

French is equally masterful at descriptions. I live in California and we have had our own boom/bust times, with a similar fallout in the housing market. Not an hour from my house the wholesale bulldozing of orchards went at a fever pitch until it stopped when the house of financial cards finally collapsed. And bankruptcies and the foreclosures and all the fallout from the machinations of venal Wall Street, unscrupulous bankers, and unethical builders began. I understand this so well, although my wasteland is characterized by former farms and not a rundown beach town. French does a picture perfect job at creating this land of broken dreams.

There is a beautiful parallel story between Scorcher Kennedy and the Spains, and how control can be one's savior and one's damnation. I think this is my favorite under thread in the whole novel. I would say that this is another reason why the ending didn't work for me. Because when Kennedy ends up planting evidence as a manifestation of how his control has finally broken down--for good AND bad--we actually don't need this scene. His behavior in his final interview with Conor Brennan demonstrates all too well that this man has crossed over his personal line from which he can't return. This book is about people crossing over personal lines from which they can't retreat.

The plot in this book is rather thin. It's primarily a psychological drama with a murder thrown in to give it structure. That's why when the book breaks down in the last third. This breakdown is profound, because it all hinges on how much you buy the psychological trajectory of these characters. If you don't buy it, then the novel won't work for you, and ultimately it didn't work for me.

As with Faithful Place, Ms. French tries to be too clever. This ending is meant to shock, and it doesn't shock so much as left me scratching my head. What? As opposed to, wow, I never saw that coming. I really didn't see it coming, so much so that I didn't believe it. There have to be powerful reasons why a mother kills her children, and Ms. French did not set this up. Which is also part of the problem. There are far too many crazy people in this book. The evolution of Pat's craziness is done so well. SO WELL. This is part of French's attempt to aha us. Because his craziness is front and center, then we're supposed to be so surprised when Jenny craziness is even more profound than his. Except that aside from portraying Jenny as a shallow and materialistic, we don't understand the leap from shallow and materialistic to murderer. The novel goes out of its way to portray this couple as nice and decent. We sympathize with Pat. His craziness breaks our heart. Her craziness doesn't. And, in fact, it's inexplicable and it doesn't make sense. Also, it's totally unnecessary. The last quarter of the book is a mess and I really don't understand why.

One of the things you do as a writer is to pull part other writers' material. It's part of the learning process, and once you start pulling apart other people's writing, then you find you can't stop. This has had the effect of undermining my reading pleasure and when someone gets it right, it has enhanced it. So, I finished this book and my sigh of displeasure was loud, to be followed by a "why?" She could have easily had Pat kill the kids, which makes sense given that she's laid the groundwork for his crazy, and then have Jenny discover that he killed the kids and she kills him. Conor races into the house, and Jenny asks him to kill her because she can't live with the fact that her children are dead at their crazy father's hand and it's her fault because in her manic determination to keep up appearances, she ignored Pat's decline into madness even as she saw it happen. THAT makes sense. Jenny's long-winded (it went on forever) explanation of that night left me cold and perplexed. And why didn't Kennedy obtain a warrant and be miked so that they could all hear her confession? Because then we wouldn't have had all this drama with the planting of the bracelet. Not only does this not make sense because a woman in her pajamas is NOT going to be wearing a charm bracelet, ahem, it's unnecessary. I can only surmise that French thought we needed a scene where we understand that Kennedy has crossed a line that he never thought he would cross. But we don't need this as an example of Kennedy's personal aha moment; that happened in his final interview with Conor Brennan

Psychological profiles in a psychological thriller have to be pristine. By that I mean the psychology of the characters IS the plot. If there is a glitch in the psychology, then the novel falls apart. Or doesn't work. It's too harsh for me to say that this novel fell apart. The writing here is gorgeous. I envy her so much. But ultimately the novel doesn't work because the psychology doesn't work, and I find myself in the same place I was a year ago: hoping that her next novel will be that perfect book that I know she can write.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things

Life right now is, um, very challenging. I'm not going into details but suffice it to say, fucking hell. As is my wont, when life is pelting you with lemons, I retreat into the world of books. This has always been my refuge, and I suspect it always will be. I usually pick up Jane Austen when confronted with devastating life suckage, but I picked up this little gem instead. Hey, I has graphics!

I've been following "Dear Sugar" on the rumpus.net for many months. I can't give you an assessment of her recent success as the author of "Wild" as I haven't read it. All I can say is that "Tiny Beautiful Things" is a wonderful, wonderful book. Sure, this contains excerpts from her advice column as "Sugar," but to dismiss this as  "merely" excerpts from her advice column is to be nothing short of pedantic and snotty. For the writers who follow this blog, there are several letters that deal with writing and being a writer and what this means and what it SHOULD mean. This ALONE is worth buying this book. For others, revel in her writing. I did. She's the real deal. I loved her column, and I love this book. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sign and Damn

This is going to be another tough year. I feel it in my bones. I'm not going to get all personal here, but monumental changes are ahead.

On the writing front. I lost steam on that Pride and Prejudice pastiche, mainly because I formatted my way into a logistical hole that defeated me. I've heard from the book publisher that I contracted with that they can now format the book the way I want it formatted, so now I must shove my ass in gear and recontact them to get it up and out there. I'm very, VERY bad at the back end of the publishing front, and this is largely about confronting and dealing with minutia. I fail at minutia.

On the writing front: I am pounding out what I think will be an alternative take on a mystery. It's typically me. Snarky, funny, and little bitchy, and not too challenging mentally. I'm constantly torn between doing something that I can pound out and yet feeling that I could, if I really wanted to,  actually produce something big. Is this self-delusion at it's most delusional form? Perhaps. But. I honestly believe I'm capable of a bigger book. But bigger books take time. And much more effort. I have very little time. Working full-time is really sucky, but also this job now requires tons of editing and dredging up anything that is half-intelligent sounding at the end of a day editing engineering is almost impossible. Some of the stuff I edit I think, wow, this guy could get a Noble Prize. It's THAT sort of material. Which leaves me brain dead. And yet. I think I could write a bigger book.

Baby steps. (1) get Austen pastiche self-published; (2) get bitchy alternative mystery published; and (3) Think. Think. Think.