Friday, October 30, 2009

Halloween Weekend Reading

When I think of Halloween reads, I immediately think of Anne Rice. If you enjoy vampire tales, try INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE or THE VAMPIRE LESTAT. If you prefer witches, try any of the books in the Witches of Mayfair series.

For contemporary paranormal, try Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, inspiration for the hit show True Blood. Probably best to start at the beginning with DEAD UNTIL DARK.

If you want a non-paranormal Halloween read, pick up Ray Bradbury's SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. The psychological horror story takes place in small-town Illinois one week before Halloween when an eerie Carnival rolls into town and begins to destroy the lives of everyone who participates in its attractions.

Lastly, what Halloween would be complete without the Horror-master himself, Stephen King? My favorites include THE TOMMYKNOCKERS, IT, and THE SHINING even though they all kept me up for days.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Writer's Block Wednesday: The Blurb Revealed

What's one thing writers hate and editors will always require? Asking for blurbs. Those little snippets on the back of books from New York Times bestselling authors and prominent book critics. They rave about the characters, claim the book kept them up all night, and praise the exceptional prose. A great blurb can give a lesser known book a boost and being paired with a NYT bestselling author in Amazon searches always helps. But are blurbs really accurate recommendations?

Well known authors can receive as many as ten manuscripts a day from authors requesting blurbs. Many of them, in the interest of helping fellow writers, will try and read as many as they can, but obviously, can't get to them all. Others will blurb based on the back cover and first 50 pages. Some will give an okay book an exceptional blurb by finding one or two things the author did really well.

The blurbs are not mean to deceive readers, but to help writers. However, if you pick up a book because your favorite author blurbbed it and the book was bad, does it make you feel different about your favorite author?

After years of reviewing and spending a lot of time with authors, I've learned that there are four types of blurbers:
  1. The Blurb Whore - This is the big name author whose stamp of approval seems to be on every single new release, whether it be a crime fiction novel or a low-carb cookbook.
  2. The Fair blurber - This author will blurb a fair amount of books, but only ones they honestly enjoyed.
  3. The Newbie - This is the recently published author who is so flattered when approached by authors for blurbs, they feel obligated to provide one, even if they didn't enjoy the book.
  4. The Coveted Blurb - This is a blurb from an author who never blurbs anything, and if s/he said something wonderful about your book, it must be amazing.

As a reader, you learn to identify the difference, and the blurb whores will soon lose credibility. A book with a coveted blurb may rise to the top of your list and a blurb from a newbie author may have no affect at all. As an author, it's important to identify a big name author who will enjoy your book and who doesn't dole out blurbs by the dozens. You can go after the coveted blurb, it may pay off, but it's risky and time consuming.

Lastly, there's the issue of conflict of interest. Can an editors ask one of their big name authors to blurb a book by one of their lesser-knowns? Can an agent? Would people outside of the industry notice?

I think now, with Amazon reviews and book bloggers, blurbs aren't playing as much of a part in book buying. Most people will consider reviews and friend recommendations rather than solely relying on a blurb to tell them whether a book is good or not. But looking at all the implications of a blurb and all the outside factors, it's impossible to say without a doubt that the quotes on the back of the book are accurate recommendations.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Must-See Monday

Head over to the Music Box (3733 N. Southport) on Tuesday, October 27th at 7pm to hear Augusten Burroughs read from his new collection of holiday short stories, YOU BETTER NOT CRY. Tickets required.

Stop by Manny's (1141 S. Jefferson) to hear David Sax read from his new book SAVE THAT DELI. Not only does the book sound entertaining, Manny's is arguably the best Jewish food in Chicago.

Stop by Red Kiva (1108 W. Randolph) on October 28th at 7:30pm for the Halloween edition of 2ND STORY. This long-running series features authors reading their work with musical accompaniment.

For something different this Halloween, stop by the Irish American Center (4626 N. Knox) 11:00am-9pm Saturday and Sunday for iBam! A Celebration of Irish Books Arts and Music. Author Malachy McCourt, cartoonist Jack Higgins, and Irish rock band Black 47 are all scheduled to attend.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekend Reading

This weekend, I'm diving head first into the stack of books I took home from this year's Bouchercon. My list includes:

DEAD MEN'S DUST by, Matt Hilton. This debut novel had been on my reading list for quite a while, since it released in June. The protagonist, Joe Hunter, is reminiscent of Jack Reacher: a former military operative and ex-CIA agent who gets the job done. When his estranged brother has disappeared because he stole from the wrong man, it's up to Hunter to find him.

BOULEVARD by, Steven Jay Schwartz. This I managed to read when it first came out, but if you haven't, definitely pick it up this weekend. Protagonist, Hayden Glass, is a robbery and homicide detective in LA. He's also a sex addict. And when a string of murders, executed by a sadistic, sexual killer, his two worlds collide.

I'm not familiar with her work, but I also snagged EVIL WITHOUT A FACE by, Jordan Dane. This book is the start of her new series featuring bounty hunter, Jessica Beckett. She's on the hunt for an online predator who's abducted a teenage girl, but soon realizes, she's nothing but a pawn in a terrifying global conspiracy.

Lastly, the book that was on everyone's lips this Bouchercon, is DOUBLE EXPOSURE by Michael Lister. For most, it was the Michael Connelly recommendation that had everyone rushing to pick up this book. For me, it was the back cover. I'll let it speak for itself:

Following his dad’s death, Remington James returns to the small North
Florida town where he grew up to assume his father’s life—taking care of his
dying mother and running the local gun and pawn shop.One fateful fall evening,
as the sun sinks and the darkness expands, Remington ventures deep into the
river swamp to try out some new equipment and check his camera traps.
Encountering the kind of wildlife that made him want to be a photographer in the
first place, Remington gets some of the best shots of his life, but he’s about
to happen upon the most dangerous animal of all—a feral, patient, sociopath who
wants Remington dead.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writer's Block Wednesday: What I Learned at Bcon

Get a bunch of writers in a room, guaranteed you'll leave with some helpful writing tips. This weekend, we had a hotel filled with authors, and I left with lots of great insights into the world of writing:

"Everyone has to have skin in the game." --Marcus Sakey
I think this is something a lot of writer's forget. They let their minor characters meander through the book, not serving any purpose. A good rule: if the character has a name, s/he should have something at stake. This doesn't mean cut your cast of characters in half. Instead, give those characters something to gain and, more importantly, something to lose.

"I don't do much research, I just make shit up." --Harlan Coben
Besides causing a lot of laughter from the audience, I know this quote struck home with a lot of writers. We spend so much time doing research - police procedures, setting details, etc. - that we sometimes forget we're writing fiction. Research can give writing authenticity, but it can often serve as a form of procrastination. Don't waste all your time doing research, just make it up. Once the story is on the page, you can authenticate it later.

"Write what your passionate about. Write the book you want to read." --R.J. Ellroy
This is a good alteration to the old adage, "write what you know." For most people, what they know isn't too exciting. Or maybe it is, maybe you're a homicide cop in south central LA. But if you're not passionate about the life, if you have no interest in reading LA crime fiction, then don't write it. Most people take 10 months to write a book, that's too much time spent on something you're not passionate about.

The last quote I picked up was spoken by so many authors, I couldn't give attribution:

"You sell books one reader at a time."
I honestly believe this. While there are many who read reviews or hear an author on the radio before racing to buy their book, most of us rely on word of mouth. If you impress one reader, they'll recommend the book to other readers, creating a snowball effect. Many authors are so concerned with numbers, signing attendance, and media coverage, they forget who's doing the buying. Even after all the technological advances, I still believe word of mouth is the best way to sell a book.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Must-See Monday

It's a busy literary week here in Chicago! Creative Nonfiction week kicks off today at Columbia College, so be sure to check out the following events at the Film Row Cinema (1104 S. Wabash, 8th floor):
  • Student Reading today at 3:30pm
  • Pulitzer finalist Luis Alberto Urrea reads from a selection of his work tonight at 6:30pm
  • Sam Weller, author of THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES, hosts Words + Music, featuring Sun-Times writer Laura Emerick, blogger Max G, musician Laura Lindeen, and Time Out Chicago music editor Brent DiCrescenzo tomorrow at 3:30pm
  • The South Loop Review launches their latest issue Friday at 3:30 in the Hokin Gallery (623 S. Wabash).

Events unrelated to Creative Nonfiction week include:

MARLEY & ME memoirist, John Grogan, reads from his new novel, THE LONGEST TRIP HOME, at Barnes and Noble (1 E. Jackson) tomorrow at 5:30pm.

Chicago author, Joe Meno, reads from his new novel, THE GREAT PERHAPS, at Literacy Chicago (17 N. State) Wednesday, October 21st at 6pm.

Also Wednesday at 6pm, Michael Chabon reads from his new memoir, MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS, at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State).

And if that's not enough Literary activity for a Wednesday night, head up to Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln) for Local Author night. Readers include Libby Hellmann, Lise Marinelli, and Craig Hickman.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Off to Bouchercon

I'll be heading down to Indianapolis first thing in the morning and won't be blogging in my absence. I will, however, attempt to Tweet a few of the highlights. If you want a more comprehensive play-by-play, check out The Rap Sheet.

The Chicago Contingent will be back with Must-Sees first thing on Monday.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Must-See Monday

Tonight, Monty Python fans should head over to Borders (830 N. Michigan) to see comedian and author Eric Idle. He'll read from and sign copies of his new book, MONTY PYTHON LIVE!, written in collaboration with fellow Monty Python comedy troupe members.

Chicago author Sara Paretsky visits the Newberry Library (60 W. Walton) on Tuesday, October 13th at 6:00pm. She'll sign copies of her latest V.I. Warshawski novel, HARDBALL.

Billy Lombardo, another Chicago author, will read and sign copies of his latest novel, HOW TO HOLD A WOMAN at Barbara's Bookstore (1218 S. Halsted) on Wednesday, October 14th at 7:30pm.

Not much going on this weekend since everyone worth seeing will be down at Bouchercon Indy. This mystery convention is like 100 signings, book launches and readings rolled into one! Good news is, it's not too late to register. Here are a few events you won't want to miss this weekend:
  • Thursday at 6:00pm - presentation of the Barry, Macavity, Derringer and CrimeSpree Awards
  • Friday at 9:45am - First novelists speed dating event, get a chance to chat with 24 debut novelists attending Bouchercon, including Jamie Freveletti
  • Friday at 10:30am - Character Is Destiny panel with Marcus Sakey
  • Friday at 1:30pm - Michael Connelly interviewed by Michael Koryta
  • Sunday at 9:00am - Books Bazaar hosted by J.A. Konrath, get free signed copies from over 100 of your favorite authors

Friday, October 09, 2009

Weekend Reading - Bouchercon Edition

Next week is the 40th annual Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, one of the largest in the world. I deem it the world series of writer's conferences. For those of you heading down to Indy, spend the weekend reading the works of authors in attendance. It'll give you something to talk about at the bar. There's still time to register, but if you're unable to attend, read these books anyway and see what you're missing:

Heavy Hitters
Michael Connelly - THE SCARECROW
Linwood Barclay - FEAR THE WORST

Marcus Sakey - THE AMATEURS
Sean Chercover - TRIGGER CITY
Michael Koryta - THE SILENT HOUR
Laura Benedict - ISABELLA MOON
Theresa Schwegel - LAST KNOWN ADDRESS
Libby Fischer Hellmann - DOUBLE BACK
Robin Burcell - FACE OF A KILLER

Rookies of the Year
Rebecca Cantrell - A TRACE OF SMOKE

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Writer's Block Wednesday: Q&A with Rebecca York

This week, bestselling author Rebecca York joins The Chicago Contingent. She is the author of over a hundred novels and her latest, DRAGON MOON, was released yesterday by Berkley.

Dana Kaye: Tell us a little about your writing process. How has it changed over the years?

Rebecca York: Every book I write begins with what I’d call a “cool idea.” For DRAGON MOON, the germ of the book comes from the idea: What if a frightening dragon-shifter monster from my parallel universe planned to invade our world? What if he sent a spy here–and she had to figure out how to free herself from his hold on her?

I always get as much of the story down in outline form as I can before I start to write. And I try to develop plot and character together–because they are so intertwined. The characters must fit into the plot, and the plot must keep the reader interested and illuminate the characters.

I always plan to start with a gripping first scene that will plunge the reader into the action. In DRAGON MOON, Vandar, my dragon-shifter monster, flies over his domain, lands and gathers his slaves so he can execute one of them by drinking his blood. Then he thinks about his current project–invading our world and how he’s going to accomplish it.

When I write the first few chapters of my book, I get to know my characters. Although I have an outline, I’m free to abandon any part of it if I think of something better. As I said, I try to write ten pages a day. I always start the next day by editing what I wrote the day before, which gets me back into the story. I try to write fast. Then I spend a lot of time editing my manuscript. Each book I write gets edited on the screen at least once. Then I edit on paper two to four times. I also try to write fast to give myself time to put the book away for a few weeks or months. When I get it out again, it’s like someone else wrote it, and I can be very objective about what works and what doesn’t.

Really, my writing process hasn’t changed much over the years. I just understand it better. When I wrote my first novel, I said to myself, “Let’s see if I can outline part of this book before I start writing.” When I’d come up with part of the plot, I felt comfortable starting the chapters. I wrote the first part of the book while working on the outline. And just as I do now, I edited over and over to make the story better.

DK: What inspired you to write a mix of paranormal, romance and suspense? How does each genre inform the other?

RY: My chief reading material when I was young was science fiction and fantasy with some mysteries and adventure novels scattered in. I didn’t even know that “romances” existed. So it was natural for me to start off writing science fiction. My first published novel was a kids’ science fiction story. Then the romance field heated up, and a friend asked if I wanted to write one. When I told her I’d never read a romance, she brought me shopping bags full of paperback romances. I LIKED them. I’d always loved reading about the development of a relationship between a man and a woman (like the strong romance element in THE PUPPET MASTERS, by Robert Heinlein, for example), and romances were all about that relationship. I wrote a few, but I wanted more plot with my stories. So I was one of the early modern writers of romantic suspense, beginning with the Peregrine Connection series for Dell in 1986-87. In my first books for Harlequin Intrigue (in the early 90's), I started sneaking in paranormal elements. At first I wrote what I call “stealth paranormals” because I had to hide the weird bits until well into the story. The reader didn’t know the hero was a space alien or a clone being trained for a suicide mission until she’d already gotten to know and like him.

As paranormal became more acceptable, I got more overt about using it. I wanted to use those elements that I’d liked so much in my own reading. One book that stuck with me for years was DARKER THAN YOU THINK, by Jack Williamson, about a man discovering his werewolf powers. It made me want to BE a werewolf. Later I read THE WOLF’S HOUR, by Robert McCammon, and that rekindled my interest in the subgenre. I wanted to write my own werewolf story, but I was sure I couldn’t sell one unless I wrote the whole book. It was hard to make myself do that since I was selling to Harlequin Intrigue on short proposals. But finally, I HAD TO write KILLING MOON. That was my first single-title paranormal, and I’ve been deep into the weird ever since. DRAGON MOON is the latest example.

The heroine of DRAGON MOON, Kenna, is a slave from my alternate universe, sent here to help Vandar, her ruthless dragon-shifter master, invade our world. She meets werewolf Talon Marshall, is drawn to him, and desperately wants to tell him the secret she’s been commanded to hide. But every time she tries to reveal her plight, excruciating pains stab into her head. Even as Kenna and Talon fall in love, he knows he can’t trust her. And she struggles to break through the barriers that control her mind. It’s classic romantic suspense, with the paranormal twists that add so much to the book for me. I love writing stories about men and women falling in love against a background of suspense and danger, so I always have a fast-paced plot with plenty of frightening incidents that my hero and heroine must deal with. But the most important thing about any plot element is how it affects the hero and heroine emotionally. Like when Talon comes home from a wilderness expedition to find Kenna attacking a man who came to Talon’s lodge to burn it down. Or when Kenna’s programming forces her to rob a nearby house, and Talon watches her in wolf form. Knowing she’s a thief sends him off on a near disastrous course.

DK: In this economic climate and with the world of publishing drastically changing, how are you shifting your marketing efforts? Are you doing anything differently this time around?

RY: I’ve been looking for more ways to bring my books to the attention of readers. Several books ago, I decided there was value in having a book trailer made because it’s something you can “show” people. Circle of Seven, which produced all my book trailers, is offering more services to go along with the trailer (like podcasts), which I’m taking advantage of. I’m also doing more guest blogging, and I’m taking more advantage of Facebook and Twitter, and trying to increase my followers.

DK: What piece of advice can you give aspiring writers?

RY: Don’t think that because you’ve written something, it’s set in stone. Be prepared to revise and improve your work. Shoot for the best markets first. Don’t try “easier” publishers until you’ve struck out with the bigger ones.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Must-See Monday

Marcus Sakey will be signing copies of his latest novel, THE AMATEURS, at 57th St. Books (1301 E. 57th) Tuesday, October 6th at 6:00pm.

Stop by Sheffield's (3258 N. Sheffield) on Wednesday, October 7th for RUI: Reading Under the Influence 7:00-10:00pm. This month's theme is "Where the Wild Things Are" and will include readings by Devin Polderman, John Flaherty, Rob Duffer, and Jesse Jordan.

Also on Wednesday is Patrick Somerville at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State) where he'll read and sign copies of his debut novel, THE CRADLE. The reading is part of the Chicago Book Festival which lasts until the end of October and will host events at libraries throughout Chicagoland.

On Thursday, October 8th, Prose, Poetry and Pints returns to Wild Pug (4810 N. Broadway). This month's featured readers include the talented Darwyn Jones, Mark Richard Zubro, and Rick Karlin. There's also an open mike component, so don't forget to bring something to read!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Weekend Reading - Birthday Edition

Today marks the three year anniversary of The Chicago Contingent! I remember when it all started: after attending Bouchercon Madison in 2006. So, in honor of my blog's birthday, I'm recommending books published around the time The Chicago Contingent was born. Some books will be a trip down memory lane, others you may have missed the first time around:

THE MEPHISTO CLUB by Tess Gerritsen. She's among my favorite authors and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. I had read all her previous books and I remember anxiously awaiting the release of her latest.

Just as nice and just as talented is Julia Spencer-Fleming. When I met her at Bouchercon Madison, ALL MORTAL FLESH just came out. I never thought I could enjoy a book whose protagonist was a priest, but Julia proved me wrong.

And of course, the lovely John Connolly and THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS. Not a mystery, but a sort of fairy tale for adults. He demonstrates that it's always possible to cross genres, as long as you do it well.

Lastly, I couldn't forget the publication of THESE GUNS FOR HIRE. This short story anthology, published by Bleak House, seemed to include every author I could think of: David Morrell, Lawrence Block, Sean Doolittle, Marcus Sakey, Max Allan Collins and others. Lots of great stories, all about hit men.