The Editor’s Touch by Steven Axelrod

Very pleased today to welcome Steven Axelrod to the blog to talk about the first book in his Nantucket detective series, Nantucket Sawbuck. Specifically, Steven has been kind enough to share an exchange that occurred between him and his editor regarding a scene they were at odds over, and how they came to an agreement. He’s also included the scene in question, so you can see for yourself how things turned out.

Steven AxelrodWe normally think of editors as people who trim and cut our work, fix our mistakes and help us “kill our darlings” as William Faulkner memorably put it. What you don’t realize until you’re involved with a gifted editor at a real publishing house, is how they can inspire you to write more and better. It doesn’t always happen in a direct linear way, with the editor saying “You should put more detail here” “Flesh this out.”, though of course that sort of editorial direction does happen.

More often, a vital change comes out of a conversation, that can even start out as an argument. You always feel at the same disadvantage with an editor, when a real published book and the possible start of a meaningful career is at stake. They have the power. They’re agreeing to put your book out into the world under their imprint. It’s their money and influence and reputation on offer. If they want you to change things, you’d be foolish to refuse. Sometimes it seems the only real option you have is the nuclear one: just packing up your scribbled pages and walking away. Of course you could bluff it. But that’s a dangerous game to play. You had better be prepared to follow through if you make a threat like that.

There are other alternatives, and I found one recently.

Remo Went Rogue

Remo Went Rogue by Mike McCrary

It has been my great pleasure to work with screenwriter turned crime fiction author Mike McCrary on a couple of projects. The first manuscript I edited for him, Remo Went Rogue, is a powerhouse story that revolves around an attorney who decides to steal from a couple of his clients, figuring he could get away with it if they “ended up” in jail. Yeah…that doesn’t exactly go as planned, much to Remo’s misfortune and the reader’s pleasure. I thought it was fantastic, and had a lot of fun working on it with him.

One More Body by Josh Stallings

Out There Bad by Josh StallingsMy love for all things Josh Stallings writes is no secret, as I have given glowing reviews to everything of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The first two Moses McGuire books—Beautiful, Naked & Dead and Out There Bad—knocked my socks off, as did his memoir, All the Wild Children.

I’ve also had the pleasure of hosting Josh here for a couple of amazing guest posts: “Penguins & Vomit” (how can you not want to read that?) and “Mayhem & Thuggery” (I dare you not to read that!).

It was with great pleasure and a tremendous sense of honor, therefore, that I stepped up to the plate to work with Josh as his editor on the most recent entry in the Moses McGuire saga, One More Body. Given my involvement with the book it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to give a review per se, but here is what some well-respected authors have had to say:

“Hardboiled, intense, action-packed, with its heart on its ragged and bloodstained sleeve – Moses is back in another breathlessly brilliant pulse-pounding novel full of great, gaudy characters.” — Paul D. Brazil (Guns Of Brixton)

“Josh Stallings writes like a man possessed. He’s a live wire, a raw nerve — the rare writer capable of finding beauty in pain and pain in beauty.” — Chris F. Holm (The Collector Series)

Characters Who Invite Themselves into the Story by William Petrocelli

Today I welcome William Petrocelli to talk about his first novel, The Circle of Thirteen. The year is 2082 and U.N. Security Director Julia Moro finds herself on the trail of the leader of a terrorist organization targeting women, including the Women for Peace, a group which was headed by thirteen bold women who risked their lives to achieve world peace and justice. But as Bill explains, not every character in The Circle of Thirteen was originally “invited” to the story…at least not in the role they ended up playing.

William PetrocelliA story may begin with an idea. It may even begin with a place, a memory, or a mood. But those things can easily fade and drift away until the writer is not really sure what he or she had in mind in the first place. The story only becomes real when a character invites herself into the story.

I say “herself” when, of course, I could just as easily say “himself.” And, in fact, there is an important male character who invited himself into my novel The Circle of Thirteen at a very early point and has clung to the story like death. And that’s the problem. Wherever Jesse goes, bad things happen. He might have invited himself into the story, but he’s not someone you would ever invite out for a drink or welcome into your home for tea.

I feel much better about Julia and Maya – the two main female characters in the book. When the book was finished, I was happy that there were two important women characters that I still genuinely liked.

Julia needed no invitation to the story, because The Circle of Thirteen basically revolves around her. (The novel is mostly told through Julia’s first-person voice, but not entirely – Maya has a lot to say, and Jesse pokes his way into the narrative as well). Julia grew up just north of San Francisco and went to University at Berkeley. During the main part of the story in the early 2080’s she is living in New York, where she is the Security Director for the reinvigorated United Nations. She’s in her late 30’s, tall, physically strong, and not afraid of very much – except her own inner demons. Throughout the novel she is fighting the memory of her mother’s illness and death and the man she holds responsible.

A Killer Beginning by Ken Goldstein

Today I welcome to the blog Ken Goldstein, author of the satirical Silicon Valley crime-thriller This Is Rage. Given the intricate sequence of events that open This Is Rage, you’d think Ken had a detailed, master plan in place for the book’s plot from the outset…you’d be wrong.

Ken Goldstein It started with an initial thought — what if the unlikely collision of a failed radio talk show host and a voracious venture capitalist caused an extraordinary impact on the economy at large? For the most part, I imagined I knew how the story would unravel but then reality kicked in and character development took me down a very different path.

Having worked as a tech insider for many years, I knew the types of storylines and sub-storylines I wanted to incorporate but as a first-time novelist, I wasn’t sure of the pacing of the book. I felt some of the elements in the first few drafts sounded a bit forced, so it was back to the drawing board.

I had to put it away for a few weeks and remind myself of what I like to read and that’s dialogue. A great exchange of words can make me feel as if I’m in the book; knee-deep in the situation, which is the feeling I wanted my readers to share.

Banned Books Week 2013: Celebrating the Freedom to Read

CBanned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to ReadToday is the start of Banned Books Week 2013:

Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted banning of books across the United States.

Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them.

The books featured during Banned Books Week have been targets of attempted bannings. Fortunately, while some books were banned or restricted, in a majority of cases the books were not banned, all thanks to the efforts of librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to retain the books in the library collections. Imagine how many more books might be challenged—and possibly banned or restricted—if librarians, teachers, and booksellers across the country did not use Banned Books Week each year to teach the importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature, and to draw attention to the danger that exists when restraints are imposed on the availability of information in a free society.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.”

For more information on getting involved with Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read, visit their official website.

Hardboiled Wit Runs a 4-Color Gamut of Comic Book Chatter by Andrez Bergen

I am incredibly pleased today to welcome Andrez Bergen back to the blog. Andrez is one of the most gifted and creative authors I’ve had the good fortune to discover in recent years. His first two novels, Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat and One Hundred Years of Vicissitude, made my Top 10 Reads lists in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and he’s back now with his latest, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

Andrez BergenHeropa is, for me, many things but mostly about the dialogue.

It circles around the way in which people interact, smearing naturalness with an underlying surrealism. Flip, awkward moments, misunderstandings, bravado and poignant asides all have their moment in the spotlight, since this is the way of the real world. People don’t always “get” one another straight off the bat — yet sometimes we click completely.

But this is also fiction, allowing artistic license to push the conversational tangents and have a bit of fun with the content.

The dialogue slant is also something that hallmarks classic hardboiled 1930s-40s detective romps — along with the 1960s Marvel comics I grew up on thanks to my older half-brother’s stash.

Just as in books like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s work with the early versions of comic-book-people-now-famous (think Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor and Iron Man, along with the reinvention of Captain America — originally created by Kirby with Joe Simon in 1941) smacked dialogue right in there as a key point of the journey alongside costumes and fisticuffs.

In both the noir and comic books there’s a ton of interaction between oddball characters and the ofttimes rather scarred protagonist. Rapid-fire repartee, pithy remarks, the odd pun and bickering galore ride superbly cynical roughshod over the story to be told.

Son of a Gun: A Memoir by Justin St. Germain

Son of a Gun A Memoir by Justin St. GermainThe events of September 11, 2001 dealt a blow to us collectively as a nation. Mere days later, while still reeling from those historic events, two young men were dealt another, much more personal blow.

While attending the University of Arizona, Justin St. Germain returns home from classes one afternoon only to be informed by his brother that their mother, Debbie, has been murdered in Tombstone, Arizona.

Shot in the back in her trailer, Debbie appears to have been the victim of domestic violence gone to the ultimate extreme. Her current husband, number five, has gone missing and is the prime suspect.

Given Debbie’s somewhat troubled history in Tombstone, both with a succession of ill-fated marriages and relationships, as well as in her business dealings, her murder amounts to little more than a blip on the locals’ radar–fodder for bar gossip and not much more.

For twenty-year-old Justin, however, his mother’s murder marks a very clear turning point in his life, even though it will take him nearly seven years to realize it and embark on the journey that led to Son of a Gun: A Memoir.

The King’s Jar by Susan C. Shea

Susan C. SheaI was beginning to think this particular treasure was very bad luck. — Dani O’Rourke

Dani O’Rourke, chief fundraiser at San Francisco’s prestigious Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, knows a thing or two about both treasures and bad luck. In her position at the museum, Dani has the good fortune to be surrounded by some of the greatest paintings, sculptures and relics from the world of art, past and present.

She is also, however, apparently a magnet for bad luck, as evidenced by her misadventures in Murder in the Abstract, the first entry in the series. The follow-up, The King’s Jar, once again finds Dani juggling more than just socialite dinner seating charts and the egos of the über rich.

The newest exhibit at the Devor is mere weeks from opening when its centerpiece, the recently acquired King’s Jar, a legendary African artifact, goes missing. Complicating matters tremendously, the archeological expert who discovered and authenticated the piece is murdered, and there subsequently arises some ambiguity as to who exactly legally owns the piece: the museum, which hadn’t technically taken receipt of the piece yet; the socialite couple who were donating it to the museum; or the government of the country in which it was discovered, which now alleges the piece was removed from their borders illegally.

The police are justifiably more interested in solving the murder than they are locating the missing artifact, but Dani believes the quickest way to find the killer is to find the King’s Jar. And given the massive influx of money the museum stands to lose if the exhibit doesn’t open on time, both from patrons’ donations and revenue from visitors to the exhibit, Dani’s interest in locating the King’s Jar is more than academic…the museum’s very future may depend on it. So, it’s once more unto the breach for Dani and dear friends.

Devil’s Night by Todd Ritter

Todd Ritter“May the fires of Hell rise up to consume this place.” — Rebecca Bradford

Those words, the last uttered by a young Pennsylvania woman accused of witchcraft and killed in 1692, seem to have come back to haunt the current residents of Perry Hollow, Pennsylvania, when Police Chief Kat Campbell is roused from her fitful sleep in the wee hours of Devil’s Night by the sound of sirens…a lot of them.

As she responds to what turns out to be a fire raging through Perry Hollow’s Historical Society and Exhibition Hall, Campbell can’t help but be reminded that Halloween marks the one year anniversary of the town’s last major fire, the burning of the old mill during the Grim Reaper investigation (Death Notice)–a fire she and Perry Hollow Gazette journalist Henry Goll were lucky to escape with their lives.

Once the fire is extinguished, it’s a rather quick job of determining arson as the cause. Complicating matters immensely are the two sets of human remains found in the smoldering building. One is obviously that of the Historical Society’s curator, Constance Bishop, though she appears to have been bludgeoned rather than burned. The other is a tidy pile of bones contained in a burlap sack, identity unknown. Even more ominous than the remains, however, is the message Campbell finds scrawled on one of Bishop’s hands: This is just the first.

Fire On My Mind by Todd Ritter

I’m very pleased to welcome Todd Ritter, author of the Kat Campbell mystery series, back to the blog for another guest post. The third book in the series, Devil’s Night, will be released tomorrow. Today, Todd shares a look at the story behind the story, and explains how Devil’s Night was a book thirty years in the making.

Todd RitterStory ideas can be a pain in the ass.

Most aren’t. Most pop into a writer’s head, rattle around there for a day or so and then vanish just as quickly as they appeared. Those are whims, not ideas — as thin and impermanent as clouds.

But then there are the real ideas. The aforementioned pain-in-the-ass ones. They refuse to go away, sometimes resurfacing weeks, months, even years after they first arrived. The idea behind DEVIL’S NIGHT, the third book in my Kat Campbell mystery series, was one of those. In fact, I’ve been carrying it with me for going on thirty years.

In DEVIL’S NIGHT, the small town of Perry Hollow, Pa., is terrorized by a series of arsons on Halloween. And the idea for it first took hold of me when I was at the ripe old age of nine. That was the year the general store in the tiny village where I grew up burnt to the ground on Halloween night.

I don’t know why the fire spooked me, but it did. It might have been because fires were a rare occurrence during my sheltered childhood, as dangerously exotic as, say, an avalanche or tornado. Is also could have been due to the fact that my school bus rumbled past that store every day, which, to a kid, suggested some sort of kinship and familiarity. Most likely, though, the blaze unnerved me because of when it took place. A fire on Halloween felt ominous and vaguely sinister to a nine-year-old with an overactive imagination. It conjured up thoughts of demons and devil’s and witches. I didn’t know it back then, but the idea for DEVIL’S NIGHT was born.

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

Save Yourself by Kelly BraffetHe had, it seemed, developed a talent for seeking out the worst possible thing he could do in any given situation, and then doing it.

Though everyone certainly feels that sense of not being able to do anything right at some point or another in their lives, Patrick Cusimano really does seem to be batting zero when it comes to the “good decision” arena, his most recent lapse being a particular biggie.

A year prior to the start of Save Yourself, Patrick was home one evening with his brother when their father staggered in, quite drunk and even more distraught. An investigation of his father’s car revealed it to have been in a serious accident…one which resulted in the hit-and-run death of a six-year-old.

Unfortunately, Patrick waited 19 hours before calling the police, a delay that the residents of their small town have never forgiven the brothers for. The resulting cold shoulders and sideways looks forced Patrick out of his warehouse job, and he now finds himself working the graveyard shift at a convenience store.

The Elshere sisters have also found themselves on the receiving end of a less than warm welcome from their peers, though arguably through no fault of their own. Daughters of a strict fundamentalist, the teens became the focus of bullying when their father’s campaign against the teaching of sex-ed in Biology resulted in one of the high school’s most popular teachers being fired. Older sister, Layla, responded to the taunts and torment by joining up with the school’s clique of Goths and rejecting her parents’ Christian teachings.

No Show by Simon Wood

No Show by Simon Wood“You don’t seem to know squat about your wife.” — Sheriff Holman

Despite the long journey, Englishman Terry Sheffield arrives in San Francisco from London with a bounce in his step. Green Card in hand, he’s ready to start his new life with American wife, Sarah. The two met while on holiday in Costa Rica, and after a whirlwind romance were married. Now, after being apart for 6 months due to bureaucratic red tape, things have finally lined up for the newlyweds.

Only, Sarah isn’t there to meet him at the airport. After waiting for several hours, hoping she was just stuck in traffic, Terry finally takes a shuttle to “their” house, a place he’s never actually been. Sarah isn’t there either, which forces Terry to break in…something a watchful neighbor dutifully reports to the local sheriff. A brief arrest and long explanation later, Terry is left with a skeptical sheriff, wary new neighbors, and still no wife.

Terry can find no explanation for her disappearance, but does find evidence that she left voluntarily–there’s no sign of struggle in the house and a bag, some clothes and personal items seem to be missing–and has to wonder if the police are right: did the woman he married just get cold feet and take off?

Killer Ideas by Simon Wood

I’m very pleased to welcome Simon Wood to the blog. A man of many talents–race car driver, licensed pilot, occasional PI–his latest novel, No Show, was recently released by Thomas & Mercer. And though it’s a question many writers admit to hating, Simon’s here to talk about one place he gets inspiration from.

No Show by Simon WoodI live with a cold blooded killer. I haven’t turned him into the cops because he’s my cat, Tegan.

He’s on a roll at the moment. It’s spring and that means young and inexperienced creatures are poking their heads from their protective homes and Tegan is there to bite them off. I spent last week picking up the chewed remains of mice, rats, birds and a lizard. As soon as I’d drop a carcass in the trash, he’d have the remains of something else dangling from his jaws.

“Tegan, you git. Stop killing things.”

He’d look at me with a typical cat arrogance that said, “Yeah, right.”

After I’d dealt with his latest trophy and sat down, he joined me on the couch for cuddle and a purr (okay, I purr. It’s what I do). I stared into his big eyes and I looked for a sign of remorse and obviously saw none. Morally, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He’s an animal and his genetic code is programmed with the need to hunt and kill—irrespective of how much kibble I give him. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. But he takes lives on a pretty regular basis without a hint of killer’s repentance.

Paying the Piper by Simon Wood

Paying the Piper by Simon WoodIf Scott Fleetwood thought he was suffering now, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

Eight years ago a serial kidnapper known as the Piper terrorized San Francisco. He successfully snatched child after child from the city’s wealthiest families, holding them until a ransom was paid. In every case, he collected the ransom and returned the child unharmed.

Until crime reporter Scott Fleetwood got involved, that is. Contacted by someone claiming to be the Piper, Fleetwood withheld information from the police and FBI, bent on chasing the story–and resulting book deal and fame. Only Fleetwood wasn’t really dealing with the Piper, merely a wannabe copycat.

What should have been simply a career embarrassment turned into a disaster, however, when the Piper killed the child he was holding at the time of Fleetwood’s spectacular blunder then disappeared without a trace. The resulting backlash from the public, his employer, police and FBI branded Fleetwood with a scarlet letter, though arguably no one was harder on him than he was on himself.

Now the Piper has returned, apparently up to his old games. Except, this time it’s about more than money. With the selection of one of Fleetwood’s own sons as the first target in his renewed career, the Piper serves notice that he’s come out of retirement for more than money–he’s back to collect his pound of flesh as well.