Monthly Archives: July 2009

The Stories Behind the Story

I am writing the author’s note for 212, the next Ellie Hatcher novel, to be published in the spring. Like all of my novels, this one was inspired by several real-life stories. In Angel’s Tip, I wrote an author’s note that specifically identified all of the cases of young women who went missing from luxurious settings that inspired the plot of that novel – Imette St. Guillen, Jennifer Moore, Natalee Holloway. (Unfortunately, that list of similar cases could now include one involving missing woman Laura Garza.)

This time around, with 212, it’s not one type of case, but several news stories — some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t. There’s also a couple of real-world Web sites mentioned in the book that seem too bizarre to be true, which means I couldn’t have made them up.

How much do readers want to know about the stories behind the story? Does the revelation of those ties between life and fiction make the novel richer? Or does it ruin the magic and feel too “ripped from the headlines”?

Savvy Marketing or Fraud?

No, thank goodness, that first one’s NOT a new jacket for a reprint of Angel’s Tip (just proof that I really suck at Photo Shop).

But what if I cleaned that bad boy up a little, slapped it on my book, and distributed free copies at a Michael Connelly signing? Savvy marketing or fraud?

That’s the debate going on in the publishing world right now thanks to a marketing effort by UK retail book chain WHSmith on behalf of Simon Kernick‘s new book, DEADLINE. The store printed a special edition of Simon’s book to give away free to customers who pre-order Dan Brown’s forthcoming LOST SYMBOL. As you can see from the cover, Dan Brown’s name is featured prominently in the center of the cover. Simon’s name and the book title are in smaller lettering at the bottom. In between, the jacket reads, “If you like your thrillers as fast, furious, and unputdownable as Dan Brown, then we thought you’d enjoy…”

The reaction’s been pretty … um, negative. Book blogger Sarah Weinman’s immediate Tweeted response was, “Wow. Talk about a jaw-dropping, epic, book marketing fail.” But as Sarah’s blog summarizes complaints about both efficacy and ethics, she also talks to fellow writer and former editor Jason Pinter, who has a different take: Good for Simon.

My take? I’m closer to Jason (whom I know and like, I should disclose). The saving grace here is that the book is a promotional giveaway. It’s sort of hard to claim fraud when you’re getting something free. A customer would have to argue that she only pre-ordered Brown’s book because she thought she was getting two Dan Brown novels for the price of one. But that’s a hard argument to make. Presumably anyone who’s a Brown fan will be buying the highly anticipated next book anyway. And I don’t see how this could possibly hurt Simon (whom I also know and like, I should probably disclose). Lots of his books will find their way into the hands of readers who might previously have said, “Simon Who-nick?”

In the end, my biggest complaint about the jacket is probably the use of the word “unputdownable.” Maybe I’ll polish up my Photo Shop skills before 212 comes out this spring.

What do you think?

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Thrillerfest Activities

Thrillerfest, the annual conference of International Thriller Writers, was held last week. Aimed primarily at writers, both aspiring to bestsellers, the conference is a great time to catch up with old friends and make new ones.

I wanted to tweet pithy updates from the conference using Twitter, but of course I had no cell phone reception in the enormous Park Hyatt hotel. Instead, I thought I’d share some highlights.

  • Sitting on a panel with fellow writers Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kate White, Julie Kramer, David Hosp, and Jeff Buick, discussing “Is the Job a Requirement: Are Thrillers Better if They Come From Experience?” For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kate White’s work, she is the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan and has just signed on with my publisher. Her books are fresh, fun city romps. You might like them.
  • Lee Child giving me a shout-out during his seminar on character development. Lee just read the manuscript of my next book, 212, and used it as an example of a work where the author really let herself infuse every character in the book. Woo-hoo!
  • Meeting my publisher’s sales, marketing, and publicity teams through a Lunch and Learn discussion with fellow authors Steve Martini and Andrew Gross. Both amazing author and great guys to lunch with.
  • Thanking Jeffery Deaver for selecting my short story, Winning, for his forthcoming anthology of Best American Mysteries Stories 2009.
  • Seeing Lee Child and his brother, Andrew Grant, on the same panel. As part of another blood-related duo of writers, it’s fun for me to see how other writers handle the bizarre collisions between family dynamics and the book world.

TV Depictions of Police and Prosecutors

I’m currently working on an essay about television’s changing depiction of police and prosecutors. One point I’d like to make is that the moral lines between the good guys and the bad guys have blurred. Sure, Dragnet had the occasional nnocent suspect or rotten cop, but for the most part, cops were hardworking, played by the rules, and put the public ahead of self. And bad guys were not only guilty, but really bad. Fast-forward 58 years, and you’ve got The Shield’s Vic Mackey killing another cop and The Wire’s D’Angelo Barksdale being a pretty darn likeable gangbanger.

This point alone’s not enough to justify the essay. I’ll have plenty of highbrow commentary about how this change might affect the public’s perception of law enforcement. But, first, I want to make sure I’m being fair about the description of this evolution. What do you think? Are today’s television shows less black and white than they once were (and not just because of the color plasma screens)?

Note: By commenting in response, you grant me permission to borrow your point.

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What Are You Reading?

Like most (all?) writers, I’m also an avid reader. Ironically, the biggest sacrifice I’ve had to make since I published my first novel has been my leisure reading. On too many airplane flights, rainy Sundays, and sunny summer weekends, the novel that would have once occupied my hands has been replaced by a MacBook Air on my lap.

But lately I feel like I’m back in the thick of it as a reader. Usually a late-summer author, I am waiting until spring for my next book, 212. That has made this summer a longer one for me — more time at home, less on the road, and making a good dent in that big ol’ to-be-read pile.

Hopefully I’m not the only person reading more. The fact that Newsweek devoted an entire (wonderful) cover feature to … books (gasp!) gives me hope. (Be sure to check out the roundtable with authors Lawrence Block, Susan Orlean, Kurt Andersen, Annette Gordon-Reed, Robert Caro, and Elizabeth Strout. Great stuff!)

I thought I’d share with you some of my recent favorite reads, as well as all-time-faves. Have you read these? What do you think? And what are you reading … both now and always?

Summer Reads:
Lisa Unger‘s DIE FOR ME – Lisa adds such a unique voice to the thriller genre, taking her time to establish character but still delivering the requisite thrills.

Lee Child‘s GONE TOMORROW – One of my new favorites in the Jack Reacher series, this one you’ll want to read in one big gulp.

Michael Connelly‘s THE SCARECROW – A different kind of book for Connelly, there’s no whodunit here, but I still couldn’t put it down. This former reporter’s take on the dying newspaper industry is an added bonus.

Philip Margolin‘s FUGITIVE- This one took me right back to the courtroom hallways of Portland. Margolin’s always a pro about pace and plot.

Garth Stein‘s THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN – I wouldn’t have thought that a book written from the perspective of a dog (and a dying one at that) would be my cup of tea, but consider me charmed.

Books I’d Pack for a Desert Island:

Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.