Wednesday, May 31, 2006

25 Horrifying Things That Will Happen
If You Don’t Buy THRILLER

1) Dan Brown will tell all his friends in the boys locker room that you hooked up with Mary Magdelaine.
2) Heather Graham will cancel your ass faster than “Emily’s Reasons Why Not.”
3) Just to piss you off, F. Paul Wilson will rename his hero “Repairman Phoebe.”
4) James Siegel will release incriminating photos from the set of "Derailed" of Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen trying futilely to see the sailboat in the 3-D picture.
5) Eric Van Lustbader will replace Matt Damon on the next Bourne movie, "The Bourne Conundrum," with whichever Olson twin commands less money (we think it’s Ashley).
6) J.A. Konrath will legally change his name to J.A., but will only respond to the nickname “Hoss.”
7) James Patterson will drop the 38 manuscripts on your head that he has planned for publication in 2007.
8) John Rambo will take that big scary knife, and at David Morrell’s request go Benihana on your sorry ass.
9) Brad Thor will reveal his true birth name—Bryon Quertermous.
10) Lincoln and Lee will have a brutal fight to the death for final rights to the Child name.
11) Clive Cussler will finally reveal that Dirk Pitt's second favorite drink, after chilled Tequila, is chilled strawberry wine cooler.
12) John Lescroart will legally change your name so that it’s harder to pronounce than his.
13) Janet Evanovich will reveal that she is, in fact, a plum.
14) Jeffery Deaver will reveal that he is, in fact, "Star Wars"'s devious villain Grand Moff Tarkin.
15) John Sandford will come to your home and play "Bohemian Rhapsody" using only your dishware for seventeen hours.
16) Alex Kava will take on a pseudonym that's much more difficult to pronounce—John Lescroart.
17) Faye and Jonathan Kellerman will reveal the rest of the long-lost Kellerman brood: Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Snotty, Snoozy, Rashy, Florence and Bill Kellerman.
18) Lauren Weisberger will finally come clean, and reveal that the villain in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA was actually modeled on Sarah Weinman.
19) Just for kicks, Ted Bell will swap names with Duane Swierczynski.
20) M.J. Rose will break down in tears after announcing that she has never, in fact, used the Internet.
21) Cornelia Read will have to explain how she got the Coney Island Ferris Wheel from "The Warriors" to appear on the cover of A FIELD OF DARKNESS.
22) Mary Higgins Clark will drink an entire bottle of absinthe and swear like a legion of pissed off sailors.
23) Steve Berry will reveal that The Amber Room is actually a Port-O-Potty in Hackensack, New Jersey.
24) Katherine Neville will publish THE EIGHT AND A HALF as well as THE EIGHT AND THREE QUARTERS, but never release THE NINE.
25) Barry Eisler will admit that he loaned his hair to Tom Hanks for the filming of "The Da Vinci Code"

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Great Divide
Why The Rest of The Rest of America Has Gone Completely Insane

This weekend, while waiting at the Port Authority terminal for my bus to Atlantic City, I killed some time in the PA bookstore. I walked around, checked out the new titles, promising myself I wouldn't buy anything (I already had 2 books in my travel bag). To me, there's nothing more peaceful and invigorating than hanging around a bookstore, and I can't wait to see my first novel on those shelves next summer.

There were two girls in their mid-late twenties perusing the stacks as well. And like I do every time I hear people discussing books, I eavesdropped on their conversation. I'm always fascinated to hear people talking about which books they do and don't like, and why. So the chattier of the two girls starts talking about how she's currently reading A MILLION LITTLE PIECES. Then she says to her friend, "I love James Frey, I'm addicted to his writing."

The fact that she said this without any irony whatsoever should have set off a warning bell.

She proceeded to ask the clerk if Frey's second book, MY FRIEND LEONARD, was out yet in paperback. The clerk said he'd just cracked open the boxes, and gave her a fresh copy. The girl keeps telling her friend how wonderful Frey is, and how she feels he got a raw deal from the Smoking Gun and from Oprah. And then she drops the bombshell.

"I don't think what he did was wrong. You're allowed to lie when you write a book. You know, poetic license."

It took everything I had to not run up to her and scream WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!?!?!?

Is that really how people see things? Perhaps it's no coincidence then, that months after the Smoking Gun scandal broke, months after Frey's public humiliation on national television, A MILLION LITTLE PIECES is still high up on the New York Times bestseller list. For years everybody's been saying how out of touch the media--especially New York--is with the rest of America. It goes beyond blue state vs. red state, and bleeds into arts and entertainment. This is why, I assume, movies like "Rush Hour 2" can make over $200,000,000 at the box office, while "L.A. Confidential" barely ekes out $50,000,000. There's a huge divide between what the "cultured elite" like, and what the rest of America likes.

There was a very funny sketch at the Oscars a few years ago when Chris Rock was hosting, where he interviewed a bunch of people, most of whom chose "White Chicks" as the best movie of the year. The sketch made a point. People go to movies, read books, and listen to music primarily to be entertained. It said that cultural snobbery is hopelessly outdated, that the rest of America doesn't care what we give awards to, because they vote with their pocketbooks.

Well, if this mentality is what spurred the girl to believe non-fiction writers have poetic license to lie, in my opinion "The Rest of America" is stupid and ignorant. What person, who claims any sort of intelligence or integrity, can say, "You're allowed to lie when you write a book." Sure you can lie when you write. If you write novels.

I bet it would go over real well if, say, in James Swanson's MANHUNT, a book about the search for Abraham Lincoln's killer, the author decided to take "Poetic License" and claim that not only did John Wilkes Booth escape the authorities in a helicopter, he proceeded to lead Nazi Germany into World War II after adopting the moniker "El Guapo." I mean Booth was an evil dude. All Swanson would be doing is extrapolating, right? It's poetic license, right?

Is this really how the "Rest of America" should be? And am I wrong in saying that anyone who answers 'yes' deserves to spend the rest of their life watching Pauly Shore movies in a continuous loop?

One of the funniest statements I ever heard took place a couple of years ago, during a conversation between my father and a business acquaintance of his. They were discussing their hobbies. My father mentioned he liked to play the guitar, and read literary fiction.

The acquaintance responded, completely seriously, "Literary fiction? You mean like James Patterson?"

Thanks, "Rest of America." I rest my case.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Late Breaking News!

There will be a new post up tomorrow. I got back late yesterday from Atlantic City, where I actually came out ahead. Let's just say Phillip and Doris, our two dealers, never knew what hit them. Ok they probably did. Though I did watch one guy drop $1,000 on a single hand of blackjack. He put down a $250 bet, then split threes twice, doubling down on one of them. The dealer drew to 20, and our friend was out a grand in less time than it takes for me brush my teeth.

And the comedy line of the night goes to the woman manning the information booth at the Port Authority bus terminal. When I asked her if the AC shuttle made a stop at the Borgata casino, she replied, "No, that place is too high class for the people who ride this bus."


I also read J.A. Konrath's WHISKEY SOUR on the bus ride there and back. A quick, fun read, well-written, though sometimes unsure whether it wants to be more Janet Evanovich or Thomas Harris, skirting the line between guffaws and gruesomeness. Overall I enjoyed it, and will probably pick up BLOODY MARY in paperback. I also bought Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN and Richard Ford's THE SPORTSWRITER yesterday, two books I've been meaning to read. There are some books I can just tell I'm going to love, and BLOOD MERIDIAN is one of them. Can't wait to crack it open.

Until tomorrow, heed the words of Nacho Libre. Sometimes a man has to wear stretchy pants.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Going to Lose Me Some Money

I'm off to Atlantic City later today, probably sit at the Borgata and hopefully leave with all of my clothing. I'm bringing J.A. Konrath's WHISKEY SOUR with me. J.A. (or Joe, to his friends and everyone else) has a terrific blog which I post to pretty often, so it's only fair I check out his work. If you're an aspiring writer or want to know more about the publication process, check it out. Joe's second book came out last summer and his third arrives in a few months. Let's hope Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels can fill that series void that's been missing in my life.

In the near future, I'd like to discuss the recent controversy surrounding Barbara Braun and the SFWA's 20 Worst Agents list. I'll post at greater length later, but one thing all aspiring authors should know is that all agents are NOT created equal. Just because someone agrees to represent your work doesn't mean they will positively affect your career. There's a group of agents who submit to my colleagues and I whose submissions aren't taken seriously, mainly because we know they either have a terrible eye, submit 50 projects a month and just don't take their clients seriously, or know absolutely nothing about the editors they submit to. Their submissions always go to the bottom of the pile, and we take our time reviewing them. I'm not saying agents should know an editor's entire family tree, but at the very least they should know which editors buy what kinds of books. That's their job, plain and simple. I can't tell you how many times I've received a submission from an agent that doesn't jibe with my list at all, and I think, "Why?" Why wouldn't the agent submit to someone who actually acquires this stuff? Why don't they take the time to give their project a chance to sell? And I feel bad for the authors who unfortunately don't know any better and are just happy to have representation.

It's pure laziness on the agent's part, but also incompetance. An agent vouches for you professionally, but you don't want someone with no credibility vouching for you. Anyway before I drag on, if you're an author MAKE SURE you research an agent before signing on with him/her. Google their agency. Register with Publishers Marketplace and see what they've sold and where they've sold it. Check out Publishers Weekly, read author blogs, etc...

An author/agent relationship is really that: a relationship. Unless you're insanely desperate, you wouldn't date anyone just because they offered to buy you popcorn at a movie. It might be hard to believe, but sometimes having a certain agent can be worse for your career than having no agent. Professionally, agents are your best friend, priest, and partner. A good agent makes that 15% commission a bargain. A bad agent will not only never make you a dime, but potentially ruin your reputation and pollute the waters for your book.

My agent is fantastic. He worked his ass off not only getting me an offer, but giving constructive editorial feedback that was invaluable. He knew the industry to a 'T', maintained strong relationships with many editors, and had built a great client list. I wouldn't have a book deal without him.

The agents on that SFWA list aren't the only ones who can hurt your career, so do your homework and make sure that book you've worked so hard on winds up in good hands.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I Can't Seem to Cross the Finish Line

I don't know what's wrong with me, whether I've gotten older or my patience has just dwindled, but these days if I'm not enjoying a book, rather than push through to the end I simply put it down.

That's what finally happened last night with ANGELS & DEMONS. Halfway through, I was rather enjoying the book. Ridiculous, but fun. But after the 700th death-defying escape by bookish Harvard professor Robert Langdon, and approximately 30 straight pages without a single line of dialogue (needed, of course, to expound on Christian theology) I gave up. It stopped being fun and became tedious.

And I don't feel bad. I gave it my all, but reading a book is different than watching a movie. A bad movie is over in 2 hours. A bad book can take you days. And since my bookshelves are overflowing to begin with, I'd rather spend my time with a book that truly engrosses me.

It might be my editor mentality, where if I don't like a submission I stop reading because there's not enough time in the day to spend on a project you know won't work. Right now there are 37 submissions piled up in my inbox. Maybe 2 or 3 of them I'll like enough to bring to our edit board. The others, well, better luck next time.

So sorry Mr. Brown, I gave it my best shot. I know you'll be crying yourself to sleep tonight in a swimming pool filled with hundred dollar bills.

But I noticed that recently all the books I haven't been able to finish are series fiction. The 7th or 8th book by an author whose recurring characters I was once enamored with, but have since grown tired of. They're like a good friend who sleeps on your couch for a few days. The first few nights are fun. You throw back a few beers, watch some good movies and shoot the shiznit. But by the 7th or 8th night you just wish he would leave.

How hard is it to keep a series fresh? I look at television, shows like "The Shield" and "24," which seem to grow stronger and more confident with age. Then I look at some mystery and thriller series, and they seem worn, tired. As though the author knows these characters pay the bills and don't want to push their nest egg too far out on the ledge lest it falls and shatters.

Since I'm always looking for good new reads and series to fall in love with, I'd like to hear some opinions on authors who are growing stronger with each outing. There's nothing more satisfying as a reader than discovering a terrifically talented author you've never read, then going to your bookstore and buying their entire backlist.

So let me know what you think. My nightstand is looking awfully bare...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

See Ma, Books Are Sexy!

I just read this press release for a new reality show called "Tuesday Night Book Club." Suffice it to say that it doesn't sound like much reading will take place.

I'm torn between horror, revulsion, and excitement at the prospect of this show. Not that I'm ever going to watch it, but the book industry has needed a little "sexiness" for a long time. When the most salacious story of the last five years is Judith Regan sleeping with Bernard Kerik, you've got some serious image issues working against you.

But what disturbs me about this show is what, according to the producers, the "club members" will discuss. Direct from the article: Tuesday Night Book Club's cameras will chronicle the day-to-day drama encountered as the women attempt to raise their kids, maintain their households, and satisfy their husbands.

Is that really all there is for these women? Do they ever talk about politics? Movies? The news? Try to figure out whether Anderson Cooper really is gay?

Do we really need another soap/reality/drama where women sit around in a coffee klatch trying to figure out why Derek won't return calls and Biff doesn't show amorous interest? I mean, where's Murphy Brown when we need her?

My mother is in a book club. She enjoys it immensely. But I'd like to think there's more to her life than raising her children, maintaing her household, and...ew. I can't even say it.

I don't really have a point here. But I do have a pretty good idea what the first book the club discusses will be...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Reviewers Are Becoming Obsolete

Yesterday I received my weekly copy of The New Yorker, a magazine whose subscription I'm eager to let expire. In their "The Current Cinema" section, reviewer Anthony Lane takes offense at the very publication, not to mention film adaptation, of "The Da Vinci Code." Just to remind you, this is supposed to be a film review.

In the fifth paragraph of Lane's review, after neatly and snarkily summing up the entire plot, Lane decides he's Michiko Kakutani, and writes:

"If a person of sound mind begins reading (The Da Vinci Code) at ten o’clock in the morning, at what time will he or she come to the realization that it is unmitigated junk? The answer, in my case, was 10:00.03, shortly after I read the opening sentence."

I'm hoping I wasn't the only one who, after reading that, wanted to hold Lane up by his tweed jacket and drop him out a library window. I didn't read his review to see how much smarter Lane is than the 50,000,000 people who've bought the novel, I read it to get an opinion of the movie. Let me repeat. This was a movie review.

We get it, Anthony. You're smart, we're dumb. Go off and translate the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and leave us to watch "Ace Ventura" in peace.

But this is a growing trend in reviewing, and one I feel renders reviewers more and more obsolete. Kakutani herself, the grand dame and high executioner of book reviewers, has come under fire the last few years. Not for particularly vicious reviews, which are common, but by making an effort to presumably show how much of a better writer she is than the author in question.

Case in point: Her review of BRIGET JONES'S DIARY penned in the voice of, get ready, Ally McBeal. Her review of Ben Kunkel's INDECISION "written" by Holden Caulfield.

More and more these days it seems as though reviewers are injecting their own personal agendas into their reviews, almost trying to prove that their superior minds are above the drek they're forced to write about every week. You can't open up an "Entertainment Weekly" these days without slogging through a 1,000 word Owen Gleiberman review of the latest teen comedy whose running length is shorter than the time it takes to look up Owen's SAT words in the dictionary.

And as funny and on-target as it was, Roger Ebert's review of Rob Schneider's "Deuce Bigalow 2" smacked of personal vengeance exacted for a colleague Schneider had criticized.

You see what you've driven me to, reviewers of America? I'm defending Rob Schneider. ROB SCHNEIDER. I hate Rob Schneider!

Bad reviews are commonplace, and sometimes well deserved. Every year there are countless stinkbombs in the movie theater, on the radio, in the bookstore and on television. But reviewers these days seem to revel in the "We're smarter than you" theme that makes reading their opinions not just infuriating, but irrelevent.

And does anybody outside of pretentious film students actually say to a buddy on a Friday night, "Hey, let's see what's playing at the cinema?"

NO. They're freaking movies. Accept it. We don't care how smart you are. We don't care if your treasure trove of adjectives would make your 7th grade English teacher proud. We don't care if you hate the same actors or authors we do. All we want is an honest, unbiased opinion of the work in question. And if that's too difficult, take your "fair and balanced" reviews over to Fox News. I hear O'Reilly has a spot opening up.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Words vs. Ideas

As I mentioned yesterday, this weekend I started reading Dan Brown's ANGELS & DEMONS, opening the book with fairly low expectations given my mediocre affection for THE DA VINCI CODE. I bought it more out of curiosity then desire, yet halfway through I'm enjoying it. A lot.

Yet as I whip through the 710 paperback pages, I'm often astounded at how mind-numbingly awful most of the dialogue is, how characters in the midst of a race against time can find six pages to expound on Christian philosophy, and why Robert Langdon, an American-born Harvard professor, yells "Bloody Hell!" any time there's trouble.

Yet for all its shortcomings, I'm speeding through ANGELS and enjoying myself immensely. These days it takes me forever to finish reading books for pleasure. Between reading at work, and the deadlines for editing and writing my own books now, I just don't have the time or eye strength to go home and stare at size 6 font. Yet ANGELS AND DEMONS is more than keeping my attention--when I close the book I actually look forward to my next reading session.

Which leads me to my question:

What's more important, when reading a book, listening to music, or watching a movie--Words or Ideas?

The words in ANGELS & DEMONS are pretty terrible, to the point where I wonder if Dan Brown has had a conversation with an actual human being in his whole life. But the ideas are very cool, and even if his religious and technical posturing is full of crap he knows his way around a church and laboratory. So in this instance, the ideas in ANGELS & DEMONS carry much more weight than the words.

When it comes to literary fiction, many people can't stand it because despite the poetic language, there's not much story to speak of (Michael Cunningham's SPECIMIN DAYS was roundly criticized for this). At BEA this weekend, there was talk about how hard it is to break out literary fiction. The reason being, I think, is that it's much harder to promote words than ideas. Promoting THE DA VINCI CODE or THE HISTORIAN is easy. A treasure hunt. A search for Count Dracula. Sounds cool, right?

So how do you get people interested in books that don't inherently "sound cool"? It's all about the writing, but the problem is people don't know how good the writing is until they actually read it or see a glowing review. With books, it's almost always about the pitch. The one line description that gets people to take notice. I mean, can you even think of a one-line description for THE CORRECTIONS that isn't the world's longest run-on sentence?

My favorite show on t.v. right now is "The Shield," mainly because of the words rather than the ideas. On the surface, it's a standard cop procedural. Nothing earth-shattering. But the characters are so authentic, and the conflicts so real and emotional, that even if the plotlines feel recycled you're mesmerized by Detective Vic Mackay's struggle between right and wrong, heaven and hell.

Anyways, at the end of the terrific second season, after Vic and his team cross a line from which they can never return, there's a montage while the song "Overcome" by Live plays in the background. The show rarely uses a soundtrack, but when it does it does to maximum effect. The song fits perfectly over the proceedings, the violins and piano underscoring the moral line that the Strike Team just obliterated and their realization that they've finally become everything they claim to fight.

But if you listen to the song without the show's visual aids...the lyrics make NO sense. None. They're actually quite ridiculous. It's one of the few songs I like where I refuse to sing (even alone) because I just feel silly. But listening to the melody, it gets me every time. The idea of the song, the overarching sentiment, is more powerful than Ed Kowalcyk's quacked lyrics.

So I guess I'd like to pose a question in all this. What's more important: Words or Ideas? In a perfect union you have both (I know I keep harping, but MYSTIC RIVER is a perfect example of an terrific concept bolstered by powerful writing). But what draws you to your favorite mediums: Words or Ideas?

Monday, May 22, 2006

A Case of the Mondays

I think I've already used this title for a posting, but I like it so it might become a regular.

First off, I had a great weekend in D.C. as my little sister graduated from George Washington University. Though I don't think I can refer to her as "little" anymore since, based on the vodka in her freezer and boxed wine in her fridge, she drank more cheap liquor than I did in my college tenure. And cheap liquor is the true sign of an adult who appreciates good value.

G.W. had three very intriguing commencement speakers, in Sumner Redstone and George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush, the impetus being they wanted speakers who combined have more money than Europe, Asia and Marc Cuban combined. Redstone spoke about how, at 82, his best work is yet to come (which means another 67 seasons of "The Mind of Mencia").

And with such a politically charged campus, I thought George Sr. and Babs would hear more of a mixed reaction (i.e. get booed off campus), but they were funny, smart, sincere, and George had the line of the night when he told Barbara, "You know you actually kind of look like George Washington." They're taking their husband and wife comedy act on a 50-city tour later this year, try the veal.

I'm also reading ANGELS & DEMONS by Dan Brown, which...I'm actually enjoying. Really. More than I did THE DA VINCI CODE (maybe because with ANGELS I had low expectations to begin with). One thing I've learned about Dan Brown, is that he doesn't write very well but he writes about interesting things. Or as Dan would write:

"My God!" he exclaimed, his words puncutating the silence like a bolt of lighting. "These things...these things are interesting!"

"My God!" she replied, inquisitiveness shining through her face like a light bulb in the darkness of time. "Holy mother of Jesus, what do we do?"

"I don't know," he said, furrowing his brow into a tight, inquisitve knot like the ones sailors use to tie ropes. "But if we don't find the Jehosaphat Stone in fourteen minutes, the entire Catholic Church will go up in flames! My God!"

"My God!"

And of course BEA was this weekend, with news coming out that Oprah Winfrey and Bob Greene are collaborating on a fitness book for which Simon and Schuster allegedly paid the highest advance for a non-fiction book ever. Which leads me to wonder, who will be writing the book: Skinny Oprah or Fat Oprah?

I also want to give a shout out to J.T. Ellison, who just agreed to a book deal with MIRA for three crime novels about a Nashville detective and FBI profiler couple. I'm happy about this for two reasons. First, J.T. writes for the terrific Murderati blog. Second, in the last 2 months MIRA has signed up myself, J.T., and Dagger award-winning Scottish author Paul Johnston whom I've heard terrific things about.

MIRA is really poised to break out in the thriller/crime genre, and are building a wonderful stable of authors to cement that. Just good times all around.

And from the files of "Why the New York Post Gets No Respect--And Doesn't Deserve Any," check out this story from Keith Kelly. I've never heard of this James Grisham guy, but he sounds awfully familiar...

Never Fear...

Got back into town last night, a new post will be up later this morning.

Check back to read it or an Albino monk will get you...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

From the "Too Much Information" Department...

This headline was taken straight from Publishers Marketplace:

New Albom to be Unveiled at the Show

Obviously this is in reference to the new novel by Mitch Albom, which he apparently completed late last night and Hyperion is shoehorning into their fall lineup to debut at BEA.

Althought I have no doubt any book by Albom will sell millions of copies and inspire a CBS "Movie of the Week" starring Hank Azaria, I'm not sure I want to see anything of Albom's "unveiled."

I see enough of him every Sunday on "The Sports Reporters," so I'll take my new Albom veiled, thank you very much.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

10 Things You Didn't Know
About "The Da Vinci Code"

1. Dan Brown is actually an anagram for the famous Welsh author Warb Donn, who famously instigated the storming of the Bastille in 1837 and was later found to have kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.

2. Jesus Christ was not actually married to Mary Magdelaine, but rather a hotel heiress who caused an irrevocable rift in their relationship when she leaked a homemade scroll containing their graphic carnal romps.

3. Leonardo Da Vinci does not actually appear in the film. Sources say his agent, Ari Emanuel, asked for $10 million up front plus 15% of the gross. The studio cast Elijah Wood in his stead.

4. The Opus Dei nightclub in Las Vegas is one of the highest-grossing hotspots in North America. Clubgoers have shown an affinity for their specialty drink, "Jesus's Sacrament," which contains 1 part Vermouth, 1 part Tonic water, 1 part Clam Juice and 1 part Jaegermeister. Shake well and drink for your sins.

5. Tom Hanks reportedly campaigned for the desirable part of hero Robert Landgon by dressing up like Shaquille O'Neal and driving his DeLorean automobile into Ron Howard's swimming pool.

6. The part of spunky love interest Sophie Neveu was won by French actress Audrey Tatou after a bitter drawn out battle against Academy Award winner Jessica Tandy, who finally lost her grip on the part when the studio realized she had passed away in 1994.

7. The Mona Lisa was actually a pseudonym for a notoriously publicity-shy author named John Twelve Hawks, who claimed to live off the grid.

8. Paul Bettany, who plays the monk Silas, is married in real life to Jennifer Connelly. Connelly starred in "The Blood Diamond" with Djimon Hounsou. Hounsou was in 2005's "The Beauty Shop" with Kevin Bacon.

9. After being sued by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh for allegedly stealing parts of their book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Dan Brown hired attorney Johnny Cochran, who proceeded to show that due to Brown's freakish abnormality of being born with dwarf-sized hands, he could not have possibly been able to hold their book let alone read it.

10. The Da Vinci Code has sold over 40,000,000 copies worldwide since 2003, the second highest-selling entertainment product since John Tesh's 1998 album "Grand Passion," which has sold over 150,000,000 copies. Though nobody knows anybody who owns one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Book Plugs

Here's the part where I ask you to buy not one, but two books. Both are relatively cheap, both are terrific, and both are good enough to stay on your shelf for a long, long time for mutiple readings.

The first is Paul Davidson's hilarious and innovative book THE LOST BLOGS.
In case you can't tell from the cover, the book contains 175 blogs "written" by historial figures such as Gandhi, Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Napoleon, Da Vinci, Edgar Allen Poe, and Shakespeare. I edited Paul's book at Warner, and was simply astounded at how creative he was on each of the 175 blogs, and that he kept the funny factor turned to 11 on every page. Take a look, you won't be disappointed. And check out Paul's amazing website for the book, for many more goodies.

The second is the new anthology THRILLER: Stories to Keep You Up All Night. This collection is edited by James Patterson, and contains thrilling tales from some of the greatest crime writers alive today (duh), including Lee Child, John Lescroart, David Morrell, M.J. Rose, James Rollins, F. Paul Wilson, Heather Graham, and many others. The book is being published by MIRA (my publisher, natch), and is being launched with thriller reading around the country in June, leading up to the inaugural ThrillerFest this year in Arizona.

Great reads from great authors. You can't go wrong.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monday and I'm...Tired

Wow, that was a short weekend. Hope everyone had a happy mother's day, and got a chance to take a look at Major League Baseball using pink bats to promote the fight against breast cancer. The Susan G. Komen foundation is an absolutely wonderful cause, and I hope the bats raised some money and awareness. Though those pink bats did look a little odd...

First up, check out this terrific article by Sarah Weinman and Ron Hogan from this week's Publishers Weekly about the inaugural International Thriller Writers conference this summer. I'm a proud member of ITW and will be, um, thrilling away in Arizona this June. I'm excited to meet fellow members of the thriller community and listen to some of the most incredible minds in crime fiction. And I still believe if we pool the collective nefarious brainpower at the Arizona Biltmore, we can dig a hole to the center of the earth and simultaneously rob every casino in the world at the same time. Just saying.

And as for this rumored feud with the Mystery Writers of America, all I'm saying is bring it on. Whatcha gonna do, mystery writers? We're like MacGyver, see. We'll build a thermonuclear snowblower out of Crest white strips, a donkey named Pete, and three quarts of Mr. Bubble Bath, and it will have the plutonic capacity to detroy all 12 moons of Endor. What are you gonna do, besides sit around smoking a pipe and saying, "Mmmyes...I believe the butler did it...mmmyesss."

Just kidding. We love you guys. Now will you help me in the greatest mystery of all, uncovering the location of my house keys?

Oh, and Chaper 8 of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS. And in the inspirational words of Nigel Tufnel, come and Smell the Glove.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Anonymous Rex

What is a writer? Is it a state of mind? A title dictated by a paycheck from your publisher? I'm still not sure...

While I was writing THE MARK, I refused to refer to myself an a writer or an author. I was working as an editor, being paid for it, and that was my profession. I love being an editor, still do. I wanted to be an author as well, but refused to call myself one until I actually had a book deal. I felt that calling myself a writer--despite not having sold a book--was like Tobias Funke calling himself an actor, or a med school student calling him/herself a doctor. Until it was official, I didn't want to hear it. I'd written a few things here and there, nothing major. A few articles for my college newspaper, a brief op-ed for the Boston Globe, a short story for an online literary magazine. Hardly material to hang your hat on.

Now I'm not saying this has to be the way everyone does it. Maybe for an unpublished author, being called an author is motivation. Maybe they feel it is a state of mind.

But what's difficult for me to grasp, now, is that pretty soon I have to talk about my being an author. A lot. And often. In the past, if someone asked me what my book was about, I'd respond with a lethargic, "Oh, you know, it's a novel." End quote. Recently my fiancee gave me a well-deserved scolding, saying that if I didn't sound excited when talking about THE MARK, why would anyone else get excited?

It's easy to do this on a blog, which despite being an outlet for personal feelings is rather impersonal. I can rant and rave about how great it is, because I never actually see anybody. But stick me on a panel, and boy, hopefully I'll be ready for it. But it's true. If you want people to get excited about something, there's no replacement for the messenger being excited first. Editors don't go into edit board meetings hoping to buy a book, then pitching it by saying, "This book is ok..."

Many authors choose anonymity. Many post on blogs or message boards because they crave solace (or think there's something sexy about agoraphobia). Recently, even editors and agents have taken to blogging anonymously about the industry (i.e. Miss Snark, BookAngst, etc..). I can't take this route. I have three books coming out in the next 26 months. And I want them to sell. I want them to be embraced. I think they'll deserve to be. So I have to drop any anonymity I might have felt in the past, embrace the role, and hope other people will feel the same thrill reading my books as I felt writing them.

Mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore

Word out of NY today says that the Knicks are negotiating a buyout of Larry Brown's contract in order for Isiah Thomas to take over as head coach. Let me follow this by saying...


Let's look at the facts. Larry Brown is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history. Every team he's coached has gotten significantly better over time. Period. Isiah Thomas is the bizarro-world Larry Brown, singlehandedly running every institution he's been in charge of into the ground. Not just done poorly, but RUN IT INTO THE GROUND. The CBA? Gone. The Pacers? Saved by Larry Bird and Rick Carlisle. The Knicks? Don't get me started.

Larry Brown did a horrendous job coaching the team this year. Nobody can argue that. I've never seen a coach as defeated, uninterested, and aloof as Brown was this year with the Knicks. But still...

Say you have two friends, and you need to get a job done. One of them has come through every time in the clutch, saved your ass on numerous occasions. And though he can occasionally be a pain in the butt and messed up pretty bad once, nine times out of ten the job gets done and done well.

The other friend is a career washout. Puts the job in jeopardy every time he steps out the door. Hasn't shown an ounce of competance, well, ever. You can essentially be guaranteed that if this guy is involved, the job's going to go down the tubes.

Which one of these two do you pick? The answer is easy, unless you're the Dolans, who run the Knicks with the same goofy, misplaced stoicism that George W. Bush runs the country.

Isiah Thomas must have dirty pictures of James Dolan. There's no other possible explanation. Maybe he has a cell phone picture of an underage girl snorting cocaine off that ridiculous goatee that Dolan last trimmed during the Nixon administration.

It's been tough to be a Knicks fan the last few years. They have no direction, no leadership, no passion, no identity. Maybe Oprah should coach them. At least she gets shit done.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

As Promised...

Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS.

Check here for Chapters 1-5.

But for god sakes, please do something else with your day. Eat a sandwich. Read a good book. Knit a sweater for a penguin. Eat some Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Prank call a liquor store and ask them if they have anything strong enough to cure that fungus growing under your bed. Read about the Greatest Mullets of All Time.

Have a great weekend, and enjoy your sandwich.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Survey Says...

It's about that time, time to get creative, time to get artsy. Which is ironic since my artistic capabilities begin and end with stick figures.

My editor and I are discussing cover concepts for THE MARK. We're looking at motifs we like, images that stand out, fonts, colors, the whole literary package goodness. And since I'm all about appealing to the masses, I'd like to know what some of your favorite book covers of all time are (I'm allowed to use the word your as though I'm speaking directly so you because, well, my doctor told me I could).

THE MARK is a thriller so the cover has to be fast, intense, lively (without being cheesy), but I also want a certain elegance to it. I want to know what kind of covers make you (My doctor said I could say that) pick up a book and flip to page 1.

A debut author has to do everything he or she can to make their book appealing to Joe Bookbuyer (he's related to Susie Bookbuyer) in stores, since he's not buying your book based on name recognition. Yet. Then once Joe picks up the book and reads a page, he's hooked. And then Susie yells at him for forgetting to pick up the milk. They have a troubled relationship.

Anyway, what are your favorite covers and why? So in the words of Mr. Jeffrey Lebowski, "Her life is in your hands, Dude."

P.S. Forgot to post the next chapter of GILLIS this morning, so to make up for it I'll put up TWO chapters tomorrow. Feel the love.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Average American Male

If you've been in a bookstore recently, you've noticed the influx of "guy" books, specifically tomes by Tucker Max, Robert Hamburger and Frank Kelly Rich, and seen pieces like this on CNN about Maddox, an internet writer whose book shot to #1 after he informed his mailing list of 143,000 (!) people of its availability on Amazon.

I like this. I like that these guys are getting attention, and I think the trend is only just beginning. I bought Frank Kelly Rich's next Modern Drunkard book for that reason. But as funny as I think these guys are, I'm even more happy with what their success represents.

For years, the maxim in publishing has been, "Men don't buy books." To which I reply, "Than what the hell are all those paper things that I spend far too much money on and take up all the space in my studio?" It's no secret that publishing is dominated by women. Not in a friendly way, but in an Uma Thurman against the Crazy 88's kind of way. I'm not being sexist, racist or homophobic when I say that there are startling few straight men who work in publishing. It's simply the truth. There was a great piece by Warren St. John in the New York Times a few weeks ago, and Kensington's Jeremie Ruby-Strauss had some insightful quotes on this. Bottom line, since there are barely any "guys" in publishing, there are barely any books for "guys."

Forget lad lit. That fad died before it started, and rightfully so. Lad lit presumes that every guy wants to be Freddie Prinze Jr. The reality is every guy wants to be Indiana Jones. You know what Indiana would say to Freddie if they ever met? Nothing. Indiana wouldn't be caught dead talking to him.

From the perspective of one guy (me), chick lit seems to take the stereotypes commonly associated with contemporary women (they're sassy, like good clothing and accessories, and pine for Mr. Right to pick up their cosmo tab at the bar), then turns the volume way up. Lad lit makes the assumption that you can just take the chick and replace it with a guy, or "lad." Not so.

What Tucker, Frank and Maddox are doing is offering real lad lit. They take the stereotypes commonly associated with "guys" (they like to drink, they like to have sex, they'd rather die than have a 9-5 job) and turn the dial to 11.

Not every guy wants to be Tucker Max, but a lot of people don't realize that once you look past the hype, he's actully a pretty darn good writer, much funnier and smarter than most people give him credit for. But the weird thing is, Tucker has female fans. Not just a few, but thousands. Check out his MySpace page if you don't believe me. I think he might be the first male writer to have actual groupies since Jay McInerney published BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY.

But I digress.

I'm happy these guys are doing so well. Not because I want to be them, but because they're turning an institution on its ear. Granted none of them have achieved the success of a Jennifer Weiner or Helen Fielding, but that's ok. They've made a dent. I think books that celebrate masculinity rather than shielding the world from it will only become more popular in the coming years.

And I think Indiana Jones would be happy about that.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


All right, fork it over. As you can see, I've managed to dig up THE VERY FIRST photo of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's baby. Any minute now Us Weekly will fork over that check for a million bucks.

A Rose is a Rose

How about that headline huh? Pretty snappy if I do say so.

Last night I met the esteemed M.J. Rose , author of THE HALO EFFECT and THE DELILAH COMPLEX, for drinks at the Ava Lounge, where she taught me more about the authorial side of the publication process than I ever knew. She is also NOT related to this man.

M.J. and I share the same publisher and I'm a big fan of her blogs, Buzz, Balls & Hype and Backstory. Check them out. But if this guy claims to be related to either of us, he's lying. M.J. is also one of the chairs on the International Thriller Writers Committee, whose inaugural ThrillerFest is this summer in Arizona. Hopefully I'll make it there this year, as it's an organization I'd love to be involved with. Anyway, chugging along on my edits, damn this is going to be a good book...

Oh, and Chapter 5 of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS.

Happy Wednesday, almost halfway to Friday! Enjoy it, but if you see this man, run like the Dickens.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tuesdays With Editor

Sorry for the delay in posting, there was something wrong with blogspot today that prevented me from logging on. So here we go, and before anyone gets in a huff, I know technically 'editor' should be plural. But the book wasn't called "Tuesdays With Morries," so I'm leaving it as is. Hopefully this column will become a weekly feature where I can shed some light on the wild world of book publishing. And now on to the mailbag:

Brian asks: Why do books take so long to be published? It seems like most major publishers wait up to 2 years before they release books, some POD publishers do it in a matter of weeks.

Give or take, the average book from a major publisher takes about 18 months to find its way onto shelves, though comparing traditional publishing to POD is like comparing Grey Goose to well vodka. The Goose takes longer to distill for a reason. When an editor buys a book on proposal, first the author has to write the book. If it's a novel, the editor has to edit it (yes, editors do edit). This can take months, sometimes years. Then once the publisher has scheduled it, they put together the catalogue spread, decide how they're going to market and publicize it, and "Sell in," which is when the publisher's sales reps pitch the book to stores, offering a glimpse of what the finished book will be and how the publisher will support it. Publishers generally like to have completed manuscripts about 9-10 months before the scheduled pub date, partly because they need this time to properly sell the book to stores but also to design the interior, the book jacket, print galleys, and do everything else that will help the book sell more copies. If publishers and authors didn't mind selling 12 copies of each book, they probably could put them out in 12 weeks like POD. Publishing a book is like drinking a fine wine. If you wait the perfect amount of time, it'll taste delicious. Open it too soon or too late, you'll lose out on a great deal of flavor.

Stacey asks: How common are multi-book deals? Does it make a difference if the first book is the first in a trilogy or a standalone?

Multi book deals for fiction are fairly common, less so for non-fiction. This is often the case when an author writes in series, especially with a strong track record wehre the publisher wants to sign them long-term. As for trilogies, asking a publisher to buy three books in a debut trilogy is a pretty daunting task, since if the first doesn't work both the author and publisher are in big trouble. Buying three books is a pretty bold commitment from a publisher, especially for a debut author. I did a three-book deal with my publisher, and it meant a great deal to me that they were willing to commit to a series. But when it comes to authors who publish a book a year or in some cases more, multibook deals are the norm. Romance authors, in particular, who sometimes publish every 4-6 months, sign new deals almost annually. I believe James Patterson signed something ridiculous like a nine-book deal. So if you're writing the first book in a proposed trilogy, keep in mind just what you're asking the publisher to commit to.

Anonymous asks: Have you ever slept with Judith Regan?

No. But thanks for ruining my lunch.

Tia asks: Why do some authors who never earn out keep getting new deals?

Earning out is one of the biggest misconceptions in publishing. A book does not need to earn out to make considerable money, which is why John Grisham can make $15-$20 million a book, never earn a single royalty check, and keep his publisher very happy.

On a hardcover book, after printing, binding, marketing, author royalties and other expenses the publisher generally recoups about 40-50% of the cover price. So if THE BROKER costs $26.95, the publisher is making approximately $12-$13 a book. Assume Grisham sells 2 million in hardcover, and another 3 million in paperback. On $12 a book for 2 million hardcovers, Grisham's publisher has made $24 million. Factor in about $3 a book on the paperback, and they've made about $33 million.

On royalties alone, Grisham is making approximately $10 million ($7 on the hardcover, $3 on the paperback), earning out only half of his advance. But the publisher is still making a huge profit, which is why they're more than happy to afford John Grisham ownership of several Caribbean islands. If an author has a track record of earning out, a smart agent will ask for a raise on their next contract. But at the same time an author making a modest advance will at some point need to make "the leap" in sales, since even if they do earn out there's very much a feeling that with budding novelists, you're either growing or dying with every book.

Anonoymous asks: Why did Kaavya Viswanatham get paid $500,000 to write a novel when she's only 17 years old, when some authors can write for years and never make a dime?

The simple answer? Because her publisher thought her book would sell. And before the scandal hit, they were right (before the scandal her book hit the New York Times extended list, an impressive feat for a debut author ). As a purely business decision, Kaavya signing was smart. You can hate what they represent, but the truth is Alloy has a great track record of making bestsellers. Now before homely MFA students sharpen their pens and commit hara-kiri, platform is very seldom a consideration when buying fiction. Granted there are exceptions, like in Kaavya's case, but the first and foremost thing when considering a debut novel is the work itself. Period. No arguments, I don't want to hear it. I don't even know what most of my authors look like until after I've signed their book. An attractive author is considered an added bonus, not something you buy a novel off of. Unless the "author" is Nicole Richie. But I won't go there. Bottom line is that if these books didn't fly of the shelves, they wouldn't be published.

Joan Didion was never on the cover of Maxim. E.L. Doctorow didn't appear soaking wet in Details. Yet both of their recent books were huge bestsellers, simply because they were fantastic books. Most of the people griping about young, pretty authors are, lets be honest, unpublished authors who harbor a hint of jealousy. I'm not saying it isn't warranted and I'm not claiming the system is perfect, but if your novel isn't selling it's not because you aren't worthy of a centerfold spread. Was signing Kaavya an artistic coup? Definitely not. But the GOSSIP GIRLS books sell. The A-LIST books sell. Publishing houses stay in business by selling books, and truly have to merge art and commerce to stay afloat. At the same time any system that has to objectively judge talent is not infallable, which is why a Tom Brady can slip to the 6th round of the NFL draft, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" can make $250 million, and THE LOVELY BONES can sell 4,000,000 copies despite a $25,000 advance.

Thanks for the good questions, keep them coming and "Tuesdays With Editor" will return next Tuesday. If you have any questions or comments you want answered, send them to or post them in the comments section.

On another note, I'm currently reading Charlie Huston's CAUGHT STEALING. Just a fantastically brutal book. Like James Ellroy with a hint of Chuck Palahniuk and a dash of insanity thrown in.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Case of the Mondays

Didn't sleep well last night. Jason not happy. Jason tired. Time to put on my flair and go to work.

Anyway, as promised, here is Chapter 4 of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS. The first three chapters can be found here, and I'll also post a link on the sidebar for people who want to catch up (or print them out and mail them to their friends and family in lieu of a greeting card).

Tomorrow I'm trying something new which I'm hoping will become a weekly feature which I call "Tuesdays With Editor." The goal is to help newbie writers and/or curious layfolk know more about the publishing industry which can be murkier than New York City tap water. I'd like to be more helpful than form rejects that say, "read Writers Market."

So if you want to know how books are bought, how contracts are negotiated, what the publication process is like, or what the juciest publishing gossip is (hint: it all involves Judith Regan) drop me a note. And if I don't get any questions, I'm going to make up my own. And they won't be pretty.

So again if you have any questions about publishing, editors, agents or whatnot, email them to me at, or post them in the comments section. If you'd like to remain anonymous, say that in your email. I'll have the best questions along with responses up tomorrow.

Unless I can't sleep well again. Then all bets are off.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Coming Monday: Chapter 4 of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS
Coming Tuesday: Fact and fiction about book editors. Everything you thought you knew about how publishing really works.

But for now...mmm, Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Doublemint Fun

The only thing harder than coming up with interesting posts every day is coming up with funny headlines. Hence the above masterpiece.

This awkward title is apropos because yesterday was officially my very first, "Ok, leading a double life as an editor and a writer is pretty strange." On the writer side, I got my edited manuscript back from my editor, which I've been eagerly awaiting so I can get to work making THE MARK the best book it can be. Not to mention that book 2 is due in January, and I want to get this one finished before getting down to business on the next.

Reading my editor's comments, I was astounded by how many things I'd missed, despite going through at least six drafts. Small, stupid continuity errors, a couple silly logic gaps, and word and phrases that looked plain pitiful. Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But it'll only make the book better. In all I agreed with 95% of her comments (the other 5%, well, I'm ready for battle). I felt energized, powerful, and once again got that buzz any writer will recognize. I can't stress how important feedback is for an author, whether it's from an actual editor, your wife or husband, mother or father, or some guy you met in the park. Because you WILL miss things. You WILL screw up. And if you're smart, you WILL listen to constructive criticism (And you WILL send me money. Just wanted to see if you're paying attention).

On the flip side, yesterday I read a novel on submission with the most exciting, breathtaking opening chapter I think I've ever seen. Just terrific writing and storytelling all around. And even better, the author kept it up. I'm hoping the editorial staff responds in kind, and I get the green light to make an offer.

This particular author first began posting his WIP on his website a few years ago, and the response was tremendous. He was signed up by a respected independent press, and the book was one of their top sellers. Now he's looking for better distribution that can help his books can find a larger audience.

So take this to heart, fellow internet floggers. Words you think are being read only by friends and family might be perused by professionals aching for talent, searching for a diamond in the electronic rough. Now hopefully I can make that offer...

And coming Monday, Chapter 4 of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS will be up. I've realized that posting a chapter a week is just silly, since readers need that momentum, so from now on I'll be posting a new chapter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It's an early Chrismukkah present from me to you.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Author Discussing New Book With His Editor

"Hey Bill, it's me, your favorite author. I thought I'd run some ideas by you for my new novel since I know you guys have another under contract. It's about a cop..."

"Whoa, hold on there. I'm pretty sure there have been novels about cops before. Might want to go with something a little, you know, different."

"Um, ok. It's about a guy who..."

"You know, a lot of books have had 'guys' as their protagonists. We don't want people thinking you stole their ideas, right?"

"Er, right. So it's about this woman who..."

"You see, here's the thing. Men don't buy books about women, and too many women are already buying books about women. So I'm not sure this is territory you want to mess with."

"Um, ok. So we've got these two people..."

"Books about duos are so out. Nobody likes a sitcom with only two people."

"There's a threesome..."

"Don't say that word, or Wal-Mart won't touch your book with a ten foot pole."


"Now we're talking."

"Ok, it's about a quartet of,, children who solve crimes..."

"Nobody likes reading books about solving crimes anymore. Don't you watch 'The Sopranos?' People like dark, conflicted characters."

"But they're children."

"Your point?"

"Ok, it's about a quartet of children...transvestite children..."

"Now we're talking."

"...who kill people for fun..."

"Keep going..."

"Don't take no crap from anybody..."

"Eh, too stale."

"Take some crap from people..."


"...and have to solve, no wait, commit a terrible murder..."

"Lots of writers have murders in their books. Think of something original."

"Commit a"

"I like it."

"Quartet of transvestite children who commit a carjacking, but are hunted by a fanatic cop..."

"What did I say about cops?"

"Hunted by a fanatic...garbageman..."

"Smells like a hit..."

"And eventually have a climactic battle..."

"Can you say cliché?"

"Climactic, er, discussion..."

"A frank discussion?"

"Yes, a frank discussion...about, um, global warming."

"A book with a message! I like it! We'll publish in the summer. People like to read books in the summer. Deal?"

"Yeah. Deal."

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Arsenic & Lace

This auction on eBay is offering a "rare" first edition of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life along with an exclusive bonus...Megan McCafferty's plagiarized book Sloppy Firsts.

This is the eBay equivalent of selling an authentic Curt Schilling Red Sox jersey with a bonus Derek Jeter bobblehead.

According to his new book, MY LIFE IN AND OUT OF THE ROUGH, John Daly has lost between $50 and $60 million gambling at various casinos.
Daly's career golf earnings: $8.7 million.

Where the hell did the extra $41.3 million come from? Did he win the lotto? Whoever's letting Daly run up these debts is probably the same guy that kept loaning money to Robert DeNiro's Johnny Boy in "Mean Streets."

BTW I had the chance to meet Daly last year while I was with Warner Books. There's something inherently captivating about the guy, as he's probably the most unashamedly honest person when it comes to his personal demons as anyone I've ever met. Not to mention his skin is so leathery it looks like it might peel off at any moment.

An update from my previous post, since a lot of people haven't seen the cover in question or know the deal. Here's the story in a nutshell.

Jared Paul Stern is a freelance gossip flunky, who writes for "Page Six" in the New York Post and edited their first glossy magazine. Stern, basically, is a self-important buffoon who makes his living writing about the lives of people more significant and newsworthy than himself (end blogger editorializing). About a month ago, it was reported that Stern allegedly blackmailed billionaire Ron Burkle, recipient of some scathing press in the Post, offering him favorable coverage. His asking price? $100,000 up front, plus a $10,000 stipend. You can read some of the coverage here and here. Burkle and the FBI caught Stern making these demands on tape, snippets of which were printed everywhere but Osama bin Laden's cave. After the story broke, a tidal wave of scrutiny hit the unregulated waters of the gossip pages, where it seems trading money and gifts for positive coverage happens more frequently than we thought.

Fast forward. Stern goes on the attack, claims he was set up by Burkle, and that he's a victim of entrapment (Yeah, right. That's the same excuse people who get fat from eating too much McDonalds offer. Ok, end editorializing part II). Gawker also gave Stern editorial control over their site one weekend, where he proceeded to take shots at everyone from Burkle to the Daily News, claiming if not for his discovering them, celebrities like Estella Warren wouldn't have a career (Of course discovering Estella Warren, last seen covered in mud and hanging onto Marky Mark in the atrocious "Planet of the Apes" remake, is like bragging about discovering three acres of ebola-infested swampland in Hoboken).

Anyway, like any disgraced journalist trying to hold onto his career while turning lemons into lemonade, Stern has been making waves about the multitude of television, film and book deals he has in the works. He even went so far as to allegedly "commission" a book jacket, designed by renowned artist Chip Kidd (above).

Stern, who's so full of shit that he's being subsidized by the federal government, neglects to mention the fact that there is no book deal in place or hard film/tv offers. Trust me, I would have heard if there was a book deal. Anyway, all of this is merely posturing because any smart editor and publisher would take their ten-foot pole, sanitize it, and run as far away from this disease as possible. In my last post, I was offering hard evidence that these kind of books (memoirs by tainted journos) get lots of press, offer tons of sob stories about how none of it is their fault, and in the end nobody gives a shit.

All it does is give another black eye to the literary establishment, which at this point looks like Jared Leto after Edward Norton teaches him a lesson in "Fight Club."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Yes, we've all seen the cover of Jared Paul Stern's "book," allegedly designed by The Only Book Designer People Know By Name, Chip Kidd. What's missing from these reports is the subtle fact that Mr. Stern has yet not written the book and has NO contract with a publisher that we know of. Bottom line, he's trying to drum up interest in his "eventual" book by promoting it with a snazzy cover. And just in case people are ready to jump on the still-parked bandwagon, let me enlighten you with sales figures for books by two other disgraced journalists who blamed everyone else for their startling screwups and ineptitude. Hopefully publishers will take these into account before offering him a dime (all figures taken directly from bookscan):

by Jayson Blair: 3,977 copies
by Stephen Glass: 4,183 copies

Not to mention the movie of SHATTERED GLASS.
Total box office: $2.2 million (i.e. less than 1/3 of what "Silent Hill" grossed its first day in release).

Hey Jared, your prospects aren't looking too good. Stern measures indeed.

Series Potential

When my agent told me that MIRA wanted to buy not only my first thriller, but two subsequent novels, there was an understandable amount of joy, anxiety, fear, and eagerness on my part (not to mention a few emotions that aren't printable on a family blog). While writing THE MARK I knew my characters had life in them far beyond one book, but when I completed it I was hesitant to begin a sequel. If THE MARK didn’t sell to a publisher, I was left writing the next installment in a series whose first book nobody would read in the first place. But if I started a standalone, I was putting a novel and potential series I’d poured hundreds and hundreds of hours into on a backburner that would grow cooler every day. Thankfully the good folks at MIRA saw the potential, and I have two more Henry Parker novels under contract.

But there are inherent risks and rewards in writing a series, all of which I'm trying to keep in mind as I go forward. First the good:

1) You have a returning character that readers can fall in love with, whose adventures they eagerly await with each new installment.
2) There’s a greater chance they’ll buy your second novel, since, like you, they’ve invested themselves in the lives of the characters you’ve created.
3) A whole canvas of opportunity opens up, creating exciting new scenarios for your characters. Brand new conflicts, lives, loves, thrills and kills. It's kind of like SimNovel.
4) Many of the most successful crime authors today work in series (Sue Grafton, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, Patricia Cornwell, John Sandford, etc…) and if you hook the reader from the beginning, they’ll stick with you a long time.

The bad:

1) If the first book doesn’t work, the chances of the next two (let alone more) working are slim to none. Dan Brown disproved this theory (THE DA VINCI CODE was his second Robert Langdon novel, ANGELS AND DEMONS didn’t really hit until CODE took off). But that’s more the exception than the rule.
2) You have to keep the series fresh, otherwise the characters become stale, the scenarios become implausible, and you’ll lose your readership pretty fast. Not to mention the respect of the characters you breathed life into.
3) And the most stressing in my opinion, there seems to be an inherent negativity towards series novels that baffles me.

A few colleagues and I were having a discussion today about the most successful books over the last few weeks, including the strong possibility that Harlan Coben’s new novel, PROMISE ME, has a very good chance of becoming his first #1 bestseller. But then there was laughter (not from me), and somebody said, “We’re assuming that people buying it don’t realize that he’s bringing back a stock character, and this isn’t a standalone thriller. And when people realize that sales will slow down pretty quick.”

Now this confused me. As a longtime Myron Bolitar fan who’d been longing for the snarky sports agent’s return for years, I was thrilled when I heard Coben was bringing him back. And I assume that if PROMISE ME does hit #1, it’s both because the Bolitar faithful are buying it as well as the new fans he’s gained with his standalones. But the gauntlet had been thrown, and I could tell this wasn’t an isolated opinion. So is there inherent skepticism within the industry about series novels? Do they have a lower ceiling than standalone mysteries and thrillers? I don’t think so, but I also didn’t think Paris Hilton would sell 200,000 copies and look where that got me. So when you, the reading public, buy a book, do you buy it because of the author, or the characters?

Dennis Lehane, who broke in with his brilliant Kenzie/Gennaro series, and Coben with Bolitar found their highest readership after leaving their regulars behind (Lehane with his masterpiece MYSTIC RIVER and Coben with TELL NO ONE and GONE FOR GOOD). By the way if you haven’t read MYSTIC RIVER, get your ass to a bookstore and pony up $8 for one of the most searing and memorable books you’ll ever read. It’s in my top 5 all time. I bought it in hardcover just so I wouldn’t wear it out. Sometimes I sleep with it under my pillow.

So I wonder whether my series will fall into the first group or the second. Would I write a standalone? Absolutely, though it's not in the cards for at least the next few years. In the end whether Henry lasts past the first three books up to you, the readers, but regardless I’ve got him penciled in for at least three books. And if those work (knock wood), many more. I have much of book 2 already mapped out in my head. I have a good title. I know who’s returning from THE MARK, and who ends up in the morgue. I have new characters I want to introduce, and a kickass villain I can’t WAIT to unleash. I also know how book 3 is going to end. If all goes well, my publisher will finish book 3 and sign me up for more just to see what happens.

So Patrick Kenzie, Angela Gennaro, Harry Bosch, Myron Bolitar, Kay Scarpetta, Matthew Scudder, Jack Reacher, Rina Lazarus, Lucas Davenport, Alex Delaware, Gabriel Allon, John Rain, Maggie O’Dell, Temperance Brennan, Dave Robicheaux, Lincoln Rhyme, Philip Marlowe, Spenser…in 2007 there’ll be a new guy knocking at the door. And hopefully you’ll have no choice but to let him in.

Monday, May 01, 2006

50 Things You Won't Find in THE MARK

I was going to post this tomorrow, but I figured I'd give readers something extra in case they didn't have the time or desire to read JOHN GILLIS (see my posts from this morning and over the weekend). So here's something lighter, since you can only justify so many smoke/lunch/bathroom breaks during the day.

Anyways, when I wrote my first thriller, THE MARK, I wanted to give fans of the genre something they could sink their teeth into, but also leave behind what I felt were some tired genre conventions. So here is my list of 50 things you won't find in THE MARK. Just remember, I kid because I care.

1) A dog that, previously assumed to be dead, comes racing through the flames and into the hero’s arms.
2) Evil Colombians who snort “yay-yo” and have bad mustaches.
3) A hard-ass police chief who growls to the good cop, “If I have to defend your shenanigans to the commissioner one more time…”
4) A character who uses the words “dude,” “cat,” “reefer,” “yo,” “shizzle,” or “bling” without ridiculous amounts of irony. And even then, their irony must be ironic.
5) A character who coughs for no apparent reason other than to foreshadow their eventual death from some flesh-eating bacteria.
6) A female who clutches the arm of the hero, lower-lip trembling.
7) A male protagonist named “Brick,” “Sarge,” “Mike,” “Stone,” “Johnson,” “Steel,” “Steele,” “Stiehl,” “Buck,” “Indiana,” or “Hardcastle.”
8) A ticking clock where the clock expires by chapter 10, and the hero has to find the guys who set the stupid clock.
9) Bad guys who refuse to kill an enemy by reasoning, “We might need a hostage.” Then again, Jack Bauer would have died on the first episode of “24” if the show had these rules.
10) Bad guys with a hideous scar on their face, because their evilness is so evident the author needs to whack you across the face with a metaphorical two-by-four.
11) A sidekick whose sole purpose is comic relief. This is akin to the author admitting, “My hero is boring as hell, so I’m going to create a character whose sole purpose is to receive Phil Hartman-esque slow burns.”
12) Sex scenes that take place right after a gruesome death or while the characters are on the run from a killer who's one step behind them (but stops for dinner to allow them time to get it on).
13) Serial killers who leave no trace of evidence or DNA because they’re just too damn smart (these killers must wear hairnets and gloves like your high school lunchlady).
14) Anyone who says, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
15) A narrator who doubles as a pop culture expert, and compares each crime or murder to a a movie, t.v. show or book (“The sadistic killer made Hannibal Lecter look like he was an extra on Teletubbies.”)
16) The hero’s best friend who happens to be a martial arts/demolitions expert, does all the dirty work, and seems to live in a world where nobody stops to ask them where they got the Chinese throwing stars and land mines.
17) Ridiculously unnecessary product placement (“Brick Johnson was listening to the Black Eyed Peas on his iPod while sipping a Pepsi Twist while a pair of comfortable Dockers supported his muscular posterior…”)
18) Exposition that occurs awkwardly within conversation. (“So Jim, are you still working as an accountant with Barton & Hedges and dating Kimberly Vale, the former model-turned-actress with whom you’ve had three children?”)
19) A story that begins with a character literally tripping over a dead body, who then decides to investigate it (what are the odds of literally tripping over a body, unless you live in Mogadishu?).
20) Anyone who says, “Talk to the hand,” “peace out,” or “whatever” (unless it’s used as part of a longer sentence, or intended with at least six layers of irony).
21) Cops or Secret Service agents yelling “Go, go, go!” into walkie talkies.
22) A Scooby Doo ending, where the bad guy turns out to be some completely inconsequential background character, or even worse, some character who didn’t even exist before that moment (“Aha! It’s Bruce Bayless’s twin brother Bob Bayless, the one who escaped from the mental institution all those years ago!)
23) On that note, nobody will ever say, “Aha!”
24) A Deus Ex Machina, where the good guy is painted so tightly into a corner that only an act of God (or plotting) can save him/her.
25) Cars that won’t start as the killer tries to open the door (this is worse if they have a hook for a hand).
26) Cell phones whose batteries die in the middle of a car chase.
27) Threat of nuclear Armageddon brought on solely because the President says, “If we don’t act they’ll think we’re cowards, and it will be open season on the United States.”
28) Characters who become evil out of nowhere for inexplicable reasons (See: Sherry Palmer in the first season of 24. Are you trying to tell us that in their 25 years of marriage, this was the first time David Palmer noticed his wife was a cold, calculating bitch?)
29) Rippling biceps.
30) Heaving bosoms.
31) Genitalia referred to with words that sound like military phalluses (purple-headed warrior, love rocket, etc…).
32) Politicians who do evil things because…well, because they’re just evil by nature. Like nobody noticed this while they were running for office.
33) A cop who contemplates retirement right before taking on a case involving some brutal axe-slaying murderer.
34) P.I.s or regular schlubs who allow themselves to be seduced by beautiful women (with insanely rich, stuffed-shirt honky husbands) and never once think there’s something fishy going on.
35) People who silently quiver in fear when the killer approaches, instead of doing what any normal person would do and scream their motherloving head off.
36) Car chases in New York, Los Angeles, or any other densely populated city where it takes normal people half an hour to drive ten blocks.
37) A killer whose nickname doubles as a children’s nursery rhyme.
38) A time bomb whose creators were thoughtful enough to make the timer with big red legible numbers.
39) Buxom blondes.
40) Spunky redheads.
41) Chiseled physiques.
42) Dialogue attribution that makes no sense (“That’s funny,” she laughed).
43) Dialogue attribution with adverbs that would make Clive Cussler throw a fit (“I see what you’re saying,” he said ergonomically).
44) Characters who scream, “NOOOOOO!”
45) Characters who don’t possess an inner monologue. (“I wonder why the killer would feed his cat Kibbles N’ Bits,” she said thoughtfully).
46) Celebrities who have walk-on cameos, and/or dialogue.
47) A killer whose whole modus operandi is copycatting other famous killers.
48) Killers who, at the end of the book when they’ve been unmasked, instead of fleeing the country kidnap the hero’s family/friends because now it’s personal.
49) Characters under the age of 30 who say Rad, Excellent, Awesome, Bodacious or Gnarly without irony (or happen to be Bill or Ted).
50) Cops who inspect a crime scene and say, “These guys are professionals.”

Ok, here we go. As promised, below are links to the opening 3 chapters of THE REAL LIFE OF JOHN GILLIS. To recap, I began this novel in college, stuffed it in a drawer, and it seems to eerily mimic a lot of what's in the news these days regarding the publishing industry. Check out Saturday's post if you have no idea what I'm talking about.

I reread the book over the weekend, the first time I've laid eyes on it a few years. I was 21 when I started this novel, and it shows. As an editor I'd cover this baby with red pencil. The writing is a little immature at times, I hadn't fully learned the "show don't tell" maxim...but in my opinion there's a pretty good, and strangely relevant story in here. At the very least, it'll give you some good procrastination material at work.

Every Monday I'll post a new chapter, until the book is complete or I mysteriously disappear into the Bermuda Triangle. And in the immortal words of Bobby Baccala, "You know Quasimodo predicted all of this."
Happy reading.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3