Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The death of books has been greatly exaggerated (via The Guardian)

The death of books has been greatly exaggerated

Radical change is certainly producing some alarming symptoms – but much of the doomsayers' evidence is anecdotal, and it's possible to read a much happier story

Not dead yet ... the London book fair. Photograph: David Levenson/Getty Images
This time last year, I was metaphorically invited to the only party I've ever wanted to be seen at. My first novel, The English Monster, was picked up by an agent, and then by a publisher, Simon and Schuster. It hits the streets in March 2012.
I've made it, I thought to myself as I clutched my invite to the most exclusive set of all. I'm going to be a published author.
So imagine my surprise - nay, dismay - to discover that publishing's streets were not paved with gold, but stalked by the anxious, the gloomy, the suicidal. "Publishing's dead!" shouted men in sackcloth on Bloomsbury street corners. I had arrived at the party, but the coats were being handed out, the drink had dried up and the hostess had collapsed.
So I asked myself (somewhat desperately, positively naively): are things really that bad? What is the actual state of book publishing in Britain? Can writers really only look forward to a life of penury? Or should I stick my head in the sand, if only to deaden the sound of commissioning editors weeping into their lattes?

We're doomed ...

If you don't believe that 
read the full article here

Chantelle Osman reviews Catriona McPherson's latest Dandy Gilver

Dandelion Dahlia Leston Gilver—Dandy to her friends—is a mature Englishwoman who, after tasting some of the freedoms previously withheld from women while working as a volunteer nurse in the Great War, is not content to follow Victorian morals and sit at home in Scotland with her well-to-do husband. Instead, motivated by boredom, she sets herself up as a “society sleuth”, with her bachelor friend Alec Osborne frequently acting as her sidekick, and her beloved Dalmatian Bunty never far from her side.  Her latest escapades are documented in Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains, described by Publishers Weekly as “Agatha Christie meets Upstairs, Downstairs”.

Bloodstains takes place in 1926 Edinburgh, where we find Dandy living belowstairs as lady’s maid after receiving a letter from Mrs. Philip Belfour, begging Dandy to protect her from her husband, who has threatened to kill her.  Unable to ignore the lady’s entreaty, Dandy infiltrates the house only to discover Mr. Belfour with his throat cut, and a bevy of terrorized servants. The logical (though unpredictable) twists and turns give the book a very classic feel, but Dandy can’t be pigeonholed in any particular genre. With its honest look at social status, Bloodstains is stronger fare than some similar series. However, the modernized (yet true to period) heroine is so likable and funny, in addition to being historically accurate, the book is also a delight to read.

Catriona will be signing August 31 at 7pm
Click here for details. 
For those whose first meet Dandy in Bloodstains, this is the fifth book in the series (following 2008’s The Winter Ground) so there is some backstory you’re missing, but the book is so well-written, and the mystery is stand-alone, so you won’t feel out of the water for long. McPherson’s next Dandy story, Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder, already finished, is set in two warring department stores in 1927. McPherson is currently working on the seventh book, in which Dandy goes undercover once more, this time as an English mistress in a girls’ boarding school in 1928.

If you like Catriona McPherson’s (http://www.dandygilver.co.uk/) Dandy Gilver series, you may also enjoy:
Carola Dunn (Daisy Dalrymple series)
Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher series)
Amy Patricia Meade (Marjorie McClelland series)
Barbara Pym
Dorothy L. Sayers
Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs series)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gilbert, Sullivan, and…Sherlock Holmes?

(Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 21 crime novels, including a historical series featuring “The worlds greatest detective…and her husband, Sherlock Holmes.”   Mary Russell and her slightly more famous husband feature in King’s upcoming novel Pirate King, set in 1924 London, Lisbon, and Morocco.  Why Pirates?  Haven’t you heard?  Pirate is the new Vampire.)

Laurie ARrrgh!King will be signing, singing and speaking
at The Scottsdale Community College Sept. 10 at 5pm. (Details)
I write a series that is basically whimsical: young Mary Russell meets old Sherlock Holmes, becomes his 
apprentice, then partner, and eventually wife.  I mean, sure, my own husband was 30 years my senior, but if you don’t think I was oblivious to the humor in that situation, you’ve never met me.  Or indeed, him.
Early on, the thread of acknowledged ridiculousness was woven into the edges of all the Russell stories, although I took care not to let it get in the way of the adventure, and to keep the silliness out of those parts that addressed more serious matters.  However, between one thing and another, after ten books the Russell series was becoming more and more solemn.  The last pair of books might as well have been mainstream suspense novels.

Time to hit the re-set button.

Time to embrace my inner whimsy, to pull out the stops, to grab farce with both hands.  And what better partner-in-silliness than that most English of clowns, dignified and colorful and with tongue oh-so-firmly in cheek, W. S. Gilbert?

Readers of the Mary Russell stories have seen Sherlock Holmes interact with Gilbert and Sullivan before this, in Monstrous Regiment of Women:
…a massive woman whose full bust strained the bright yellow satin of her dress above the try she bore, a selection of glittering geegaws.  With the ponderous dignity of the profoundly intoxicated, she took up a strategic position across the street from the doors, and no sooner had they opened with the first of the released crowd than she burst into full-throated song.
“‘I’m called Little Buttercup—dear Little Buttercup, tho’ I could never tell why,’” she warbled in a nearly accurate contralto, the jet beads on her primrose bonnet quivering with effort.
That is one of Sherlock Holmes’ more effective disguises. For an illustration of Buttercup, see below.   
And it was precisely the effect I was aiming for in the new novel.  I had already decided to set the story in Lisbon and Morocco, which offered me color aplenty.  But instead of the strictly nautical themes of H.M.S. Pinafore, I thought I might find more scope for a Russell and Holmes adventure in The Pirates of Penzance.

Thus was born Pirate King.

But not just any Pirates of Penzance, oh no.  This would be a Twenties version of the classic, a jazz-age updating, a moving picture version that not only embraced the Gilbert & Sullivan level of frenetic absurdity, but added men with movie cameras and megaphone-wielding directors, chewing-gum snapping young actresses and romantic leads of uncertain sexuality, actors who were pirates and pirates who were actors and pirate-actors who were something else entirely.  And in the middle of this muddle would be Miss Mary Russell and that epitome of Victorian rectitude, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

As you probably can tell, I had a whole lot of fun with this, and still am, especially online.  The Laurie ARrrgh! King page tells all about it, including a version of Penzance’s Major-General’s song that I ravaged—er, rewrote for the purpose of the Pirate King book tour.  It begins, “I am the very model of the modern major criminal…”
Prizes, pirates, and a singalong.  A book signing should be memorable, right?

Laurie’s web site, with newsletter signup, is at  www.LaurieRKing.com. To order a signed copy of the upcoming Pirate King, go here:

LINKS used in post (where words are underlined):

Friday, August 19, 2011

Judith Starkston interviews Elizabeth Speller

book cover image The Return of Captain John Emmett Elizabeth Speller Poisoned Pen

I recently reviewed The Return of Captain John Emmett. Elizabeth Speller turns out to be a delightful writer with whom I shared a number of things in common including an interest in the classical world. She agreed to do an interview with me.
The Return of Captain John Emmett is her first work of fiction. She also writes poetry and ancient history. She has three children and a Viszla dog. She writes her books in two delightful locations: a restored shepherd’s hut in an old apple orchard on the edge of a Cotswold valley and in a small cottage on the Ionian island of Paxos.
Here’s our interview:
Judith: You are a classicist and ancient historian. I’m curious what drew you to the period following World War I rather than some part of the ancient world? Do you see any common themes or mood between the post WWI period in England and the Roman Empire of Hadrian, which you analyzed in your book Following Hadrian?
Elizabeth: I think it was a similarly highly disciplined society – with similar simmering discontents – with a fine army and navy and used to the resources and power of an empire. Like Rome, Britain was shocked when it found it couldn’t resolve disputes quickly.
Judith: What ideas or themes were you most interested in developing through your characters? Did you find those ideas arose from your writing as it progressed or were they with you from the beginning?
Picture of the Elizabeth Speller
Elizabeth Speller
Elizabeth: I was (obviously, I imagine!) expressing the terrible and lasting damage inflicted by war on soldiers and on communities, even when war is necessary. I was also interested in shellshock, but I think it was reading a letter from a woman whose officer brother had been shot at dawn which made me think of putting a military execution at the centre.
She wrote to the War Office:
‘My Mother is prostrated, my father is … old and very ill and we do not want him to know. Could you write again simply stating the place where my brother died … and can we hope it is kept from the world?’’
Judith: The idea that intrigued me most in your book was the way in which people who were broken emotionally and physically managed nonetheless to carry on, even if in starts and stops. We often refer to those who lived through WWI as the lost generation, but, of course, England and the rest of Europe did go on. Incorporating this theme into a mystery seems to be fraught with the possibility of becoming too sentimental and unrealistic, which you avoided. If I’m right that this was an important idea to you, talk about what it means to you and how you worked with it in your book.
Elizabeth: Most people did carry on. And most people did survive (though there were almost 1 million killed at a time when the UK had had a total population something around 45 million. Many more were disabled). When I was growing up there was some implicit critique for the stiff upper lip response; my own grandfather was a young officer decorated for bravery and he never spoke of the WWI. But recently studies of PTSD have suggested that for some individuals this strategy works. However, I do think there were a lot of hidden stresses: alcohol abuse, domestic violence, paralyzing anxiety and what we’d now call flashbacks, which the society of the time preferred not to see. Divorce was very rare, cruelty/violence, unless excessive, seen as a private matter.
Judith: I love your poetry. You bring a poet’s sensibility to your mystery writing in the care of your word choice and the precision of description and a number of other ways. Describe your writing process and does your prose process differ significantly from your poetry process?
Elizabeth: Thank you! I have to admit my own heart rather sinks when I pick up a novel by a poet! I tried not to be too lyrical, but to use the right word, or sometimes just slightly more formal phrasing than we use 90 years on, was integral to creating the spirit of the times and I have a love of landscape- rural and urban – which I indulge in my poetry and my non-fiction and novels.
Elizabeth Speller Following HadrianJudith: Any really fun adventures while researching The Return of Captain John Emmett? It must be lovely to work in a period that had newspapers and so much other extant evidence after writing ancient history as you did with Following Hadrian.
Elizabeth: I was almost overwhelmed by material and had to hold myself back from writing ‘Everything I know about 1912-1921’. For my next book, The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, which has the vast British Empire Exhibition at its heart, there was even jerky but wonderfully bizarre newsreel of its extraordinary crowds.
In The Return of Captain John Emmett there were some embedded teases: many of the buildings Laurence Bartram sees as something that’s left to represent the long history and continuing solidity of Britain, were, in fact, destroyed in the Blitz in WWII. Also his young nephew, a sign of hope in the book, is exactly the age to fight in 1939-45.
Judith: Is there a question you wish people would ask you about The Return of Captain John Emmett or a favorite story about the novel?
Elizabeth: I quite like being asked if any poem or book inspired me. I did read a lot of war poetry and early C20 novels, but also Philip Larkin’s much later poem MCMXIV recreated a slice of ordinary Britain in 1914. I also often listened to a short piece of music ‘By the Banks of Green Willow’ by George Butterworth, which summed up pre-war England to me. Butterworth was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry but was killed in the Battle of the Somme. 

To read other reviews by Judith Starkston, visit her website at www.judithstarkston.com

Thursday, August 18, 2011



          "The Ranger" heralds a new series by best-selling author Ace Atkins.  It takes place in contemporary Northern Mississippi, an area Ace lives in and therefore knows very well. The book is very much a classic "Western" in modern dress.  Quinn Colson, an army ranger, fresh from six years in Afghanistan and Iraq, is coming home to Jericho.  On leave between assignments he arrives home to find his uncle, the towns sheriff, dead in an apparent suicide.  Not only that but the town seems to be in a downward spiral of meth use and development funny-business.  With the often hesitant aid of an old girlfriend, now a deputy on the local police force, Quinn begins the dangerous task of getting to the bottom of his uncle's death and cleaning up the town.

          Besides the compelling relationship between Quinn and Lillie Virgil, the deputy, the book is rife with colorful Southern characters.  Atkins strength has always been his ability to bring his settings to life and deliver "pulse of place" to his readers.  Tibbehah county comes alive under Atkins pen and is as much a character in the book as the humans are.  The pace is quick, the action non-stop, and the western vibe shimmers above it all.  I look forward to the next chapter in Quinn Colson's life.

          Ace Atkins started on  his road to fame as a star football player for Auburn University.  His team won a national title and Ace was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Not many writers can lay that  claim.  Rather than try the NFL Ace became a newspaper reporter which led to his becoming a novelist.  His first series, featuring Nick Travers, combined music, mystery, and the Deep South.  Ace followed that up with four outstanding crime novels.  These books covering Phenix City, Tampa, The Fatty Arbuckle  trial, and Machine Kelly stand as unique and superb historical fiction.  Each book is beautifully rendered with Ace's ability to evoke both character and setting in a way that makes the reader feel he is there.  In particular I found "White Shadow", about organized crime in Tampa, Florida masterfully executed.  In "Devil's Garden", the story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, we see the action through the eyes of Dashiell  Hammett; a unique perspective indeed.

          As a youngster Ace's literary hero was Robert Parker.  Oddly Parker's nickname was "Ace".  And in a final and fortuitous chain of events Ace has been chosen by the Parker family to continue the "Spenser" series.  Look for the first new Atkin's penned "Spenser" later this year.

          We wish Ace good luck with the new challenge and while he hopefully reaps monetary rewards, we his readers, now reap literary rewards by having two series to look forward to.

                                              STEVE SHADOW SCHWARTZ

Browse available Ace Atkins titles at poisonedpen.com (click here)
Find out more about Ace at http://aceatkins.com/

Great news for April Smith


good morning killer

It's a dream come true for FBI Special Agent Ana Grey fans - and the author!  

TNT is about to film a two-hour television movie of the second Ana Grey novel, Good Morning, Killer.  April wrote the script and is executive producer, along with her friend and colleague, the great Frank Von Zernek.  She's heading up to Vancouver for four weeks of prep and eighteen days of shooting.  

Catherine Bell has just been signed to star as Ana.
She is currently appearing on Army Wives, and is
famous for her role on JAG.

The movie will air this fall as part of TNT's new series, "Tuesday Night Mysteries," which will include adaptations of books by Scott Turow, Mary Higgins Clark, Richard North Paterson, and Sandra Brown.  April is thrilled to be part of this distinguished line-up.  

Good Morning, Killer puts Ana Grey on the trail of a serial sexual predator who has abducted a young woman from the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. At the same time, Ana is involved in an intense relationship with a detective assigned to the case, Andrew Berringer.  Worlds collide when she becomes too involved with the psyche of the victim - as well as her volatile lover's mind.  Good Morning, Killer is currently available as an e-book and will be re-issued by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard in conjunction with the movie this fall.     

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"The social event of the season-nay, the year" -Laurie R King

Garden Party TwInvitation

You say your Royal Wedding invite got lost in the mail?  The White House staff seems to be ignoring you this summer? Well, fret no longer, your invitation to the social event of the season–nay, the year, is here.  If you’re feeling social, drop in and chat with Mary Russell and friends (Will that husband of hers make it this year?) If you think you’ll be too shy, we’re leaving a virtual gap in the fence for you to watch through.
When and where is this happening?  This Sunday afternoon, on the terrace of Russell & Holmes’ house in Sussex–or, on a computer screen near you.  And now, from the virtual engraved envelope, your invitation to join us for the Twitter Garrrrden Party:
Explanation and links are here.  Come and have a great time, although I’d watch out for the honey wine, if I were you.  Holmes makes it powerful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011



Barry Graham's THE WRONG THING is available,
signed from The Poisoned Pen. (PM Press $14.95

         Barry Graham, a local writer by way of Scotland, has just had a new novel published by PM Press under the Switchblade imprint.  PM Press is a group of publishers and media people using every means possible to encourage new and challenging ideas.  Check out the web site.  Switchblade is the arm that puts forth the hardest of the hard-boiled works of fiction.  They publish what I call "heart-break noir", stories that take us to the edge of human longing and it's often disastrous results.

          Graham, a well known journalist and novelist, takes us to these far shores where societies castaways dwell unseen and uncared for.  In "The Wrong Thing" we get the American nightmare rather the the American dream.  The main character in the book is   known only as the Kid, his story bracketed by prologue and elegy. He comes to us a  fully realized human being who never gets a break.  Unloved and unwanted he must try and find a path through a world he is ill prepared to face.  Uneducated but bright, talented but directionless, unaware and unguided he tries his best to adapt.
          The novel is set in Santa Fe and Phoenix and shows a side of these cities we are barely aware of.  The barrio of the hispanic underclass is presented by Graham as a place of richness and kindness.  It can also be a trap and a road to a life of pain and grief.  The Kid's journey through this minefield is riveting and tragic.  His story is short, compact, and powerful. The writing is deceptively simple and straight forward.  Graham's subtle style weaves a spell-binding web that left me mesmerized.  The violence and sex are graphic and presented without judgement.  This is strong material wrapped in the cloth of truth.  Obviously Graham knows this world well and it shows.
Barry Graham will speak at The Poisoned Pen Saturday,
August 20th at 5pm. Click for details. 
          Barry Graham also happens to be a Zen monk and Abbot of the Sitting Frog Zen Center in Phoenix.  His story in the "Phoenix Noir" anthology was an early version of what became the new novel.  His early work has recently been made available on Amazon for download. I recommend his novel "The Book of Man" and "Scumbo: a Novella and Stories".  

                                                           - STEVE SHADOW SCHWARTZ
          For further reading try last years Switchblade release "Pike" by Benjamin Whitmer.  It is a hard-boiled neo-noir knockout of a book.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Preparation for James Sallis

I thought I would post the new trailer for DRIVE, which won Best Director at this year's Cannes Film Festival. This has been a great adventure for James as well as The Poisoned Pen Press. The novel originally publishing with them in 2005. On August 19th at 7pm Mr. Sallis will be signing his latest novel
The Killer is Dying($24 Signedat the store. 

He will also be performing with his band Three-Legged Dog. (That's him on the right)

To find out more about the event, head over to the event page at www.poisonedpen.com

Paper Pushers Turn to Tablets

Newspaper giant Tribune Co. developing tablet device

Mark Milian
The Los Angeles Times' app is available for download in the Android market, seen here on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
  • Media giant Tribune is developing an Android tablet device, said people familiar with the matter
  • Tribune hopes to offer the tablet for free or at subsidized price to subscribers, these people said
  • Another newspaper publisher, the Philadelphia Media Network, has a similar initiative
(CNN) -- Hoping to take a small slice from Apple's big pie, newspaper publishers are developing tablet computers of their own.
The Tribune Co., one of the largest U.S. news enterprises, is working on a touchscreen tablet that it plans to offer to newspaper subscribers, according to people briefed on the plans.
The Chicago company owns a handful of major daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun, along with 23 television stations. Tribune also owns the Los Angeles Times, which is my former employer.
The tablet is expected to run a modified version of Google's Android operating system and prominently feature software for the owner's hometown newspaper, according to interviews with more than half a dozen current and former Tribune employees. They requested anonymity for fear of losing their jobs or of souring relations with a former employer.
Tribune aims to offer the tablet for free, or at a highly subsidized price, to people who agree to sign up for extended subscriptions to one of its papers and possibly a wireless-data plan with a partner cellular carrier, said five people briefed on the project.
Read the article in its entirety online, here