Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Naomi Hirahara

I was tagged by the indomitable Libby Fisher Hellmann (that's my favorite descriptor of Libby -- check out her protagonists on her web site,, and you'll see why).

My next book is the fifth in the Mas Arai mystery series, Strawberry Yellow, coming out on March 5, 2013, but I'm going to cheat a little and talk about the first installment of a new mystery series that I'm currently writing. In fact, this is the last week for me to tweak the changes of the draft that I will be e-mailing my editor next Monday. Giving birth to this baby has been intense. It's been a short incubation period and now it's labor time!

What is the working title of your next book?  
LA Rush.  

Where did the idea come from?
Hmmm. I find this a difficult question to answer. Just threw some things into the bowl of creativity and stirred.

What genre best defines your book? 
Mystery, of course. Subgenre: police procedural meets Bridget Jones meets Grey's Anatomy. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
My protagonist, Ellie Rush, is a 22-year-old hapa (mixed race of white, Latina and Japanese descent). Think a younger version of Kristine Kruek of "Smallville." In terms of her aunt, Cheryl Toma, Tamlyn Tomita of "Karate Kid" fame.  And since this is a start of a series, I see this as more of a TV show than movie.

Kristine Kruek

Tamlyn Tomita
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
At the behest of her aunt, an LAPD assistant chief, as well as college friends, a rookie bicycle cop gets tangled in an investigation of a coed's murder, only to uncover secrets that threaten her future and personal relationships.  

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Allison Cohen of Gersh is the representing agent; it has already been sold to Penguin (I guess Penguin Random House). I'll be working with the same editor who edited my Edgar Award-winning novel, Snakeskin Shamisen.  

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
This is the intense part: four months, including outlining. I've never written a novel so fast.  

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It's difficult for me to identify a good comparison. The tone is light for a police procedural and I have many multi-cultural characters who pop up within it. Perhaps a dash of Lisa Lutz's Spellman books, but only a dash.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My students at UCLA last year! Also, I took a citizen's class with the federal agency, ATF, around the same time. That was the first time I've ever shot a gun or automatic weapon, participated in surveillance, etc.

Also, as I was dealing with my father's terminal illness and death in January of this year, I told myself that I needed to work on something lighter and even semi-humorous. And more youthful.  

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
There's a lot of romance and angst. And more to come.

Thanks, Libby, for this opportunity to talk about my Ellie (I was going to change her first name, but it didn't work out).

Next week, December 5, you must go to the following blogs:
  • SJ Rozan -- my basketball buddy and consummate award-winning mystery author. Many of you know her as the creator of the Lydia Chin and Bill mystery series, but she has other projects up her sleeve. Read about it next Wednesday here
  •  Sujata Massey -- how much do I love Sujata and her Rei Shimura books? I know Sujata has a bit of a crush on Mas Arai, which makes me very happy. We need our Sujata fix now, and she be telling you all here
  • Gar Anthony Haywood -- I was reading Gar's Aaron Gunner series before publishing my first Mas Arai novel. Gar is a pioneer and you can find his blog on Murderati
  • Ed Lin -- Ed's a wonderful down and dirty writer. He will have some interesting news to share as well over on his blog
  • Holly West -- She's a colleague with the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Holly has been working on a historical and go to here to learn more about Holly and her debut work. 
Thanks for visiting me here at Top Suspense!  You can stop by my web site in mid-December; we will be doing some renovations.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Bedlam Detective: Kirkus's Best Mystery List

Who can resist a taut thriller set in Victorian England?

Kirkus Reviews could not, as it recognized Stephen Gallagher's The Bedlam Detective as one of its best mysteries of 2012.  Read it here.

With its atmospheric cover, this novel may be the perfect gift for literary lover in your circle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing: Harry Shannon

My talented and devious Top Suspense Group colleague Mr. Stephen Gallagher tagged me for this project. I didn't even realize I'd ticked him off. Anyway, it's called a Blog Hop. Here's how it works. You follow this design, answer ten questions on the next big thing that you're working on, then tag five other writers to do the same. This could go on forever and may outlast Twinkies.

What is the working title of your next book?
The Hungry 3: At the End of the World, co-written with Steven W. Booth. The novel should be out in February, 2013. It concerns the further adventures of Sheriff Penny Miller of Flat Rock, Nevada, who is still braving the Zombie Apocalypse.

Where did the idea come from?
The first book The Hungry began as a short zombie story written for a charity anthology. Steven and I had so much fun doing it we continued on and finished the novel version on a lark. It sold very well, so The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God followed in August. We're still not sure if this finishes a trilogy or if we'll feel compelled to do more.

What genre best defines your book?
Zombies, baby! And tongue in cheek horror, I guess.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie?
The actress featured on all three covers of The Hungry books is the lovely Ms. Gillian Shure, who co-starred in my micro-budged ode to 80's horror Dead and Gone back in 2007. She has become so connected in my brain with redheaded Sheriff Penny Miller it has become difficult to imagine anyone else playing the part. Our fans tell us Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl on The Walking Dead, has simply got to play her biker friend Scratch.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Sheriff Penny Miller and her friends hide out at a hunting lodge in the snowy mountains of Colorado, hoping to escape the zombie plague. It is not a Merry Christmas.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
All three of The Hungry novels are published by Genius Books, which is owned by my co-author Steven.

How long did it take you to write the first draft?
We do an outline first, emailing back and forth, working out just the key beats of the story in rough chapter form. Once that is set, Steven generally does the rough, I rewrite that and send it back. Once we get going the actual first draft (one pass for each of us) generally takes us about three months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I suppose we'd be considered a mix of drama and comedy. We have loads of redneck humor, a touch of Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead, but the satire is mixed with genuinely creepy scenes similar in tone to the zombie work of Jonathan Maberry and Joe McKinney. Joe and Jonathan are friends of ours, and fans of Sheriff Penny Miller. In fact, Joe wrote the introduction to the first book.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I've always loved zombie lore, particularly the George Romero school and the 1970's classic Night of the Living Dead. I'm from Nevada, and often set stories and novels in that state. When we were writing the charity story, it just tickled me to combine those two and see how a redneck Sheriff in a small town might react to facing a horde of the undead. We began in the jail, in a salute to Rio Bravo, and it took off from there and became a series.

What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
You can read The Hungry: At the End of the World by itself come February, or buy and read the first two now and start from the beginning. Either way, be sure to make a very, very big bowl of popcorn, dim the lights and be prepared for a mix of laughs on scares. These novels have been a ton of fun to write, and we think anyone who loves shambling monsters is bound to enjoy reading them.
These "Next Big Thing" blogposts are planned to appear every Wednesday. As of now I'm tagging Gene O'Neill, Scott Nicholson, Brian Knight, Steven W. Booth, and Tim Marquitz.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Going from noir to Julius Katz

When my story “Julius Katz” (EQMM September/October 2009) was published, it must’ve surprised my readers. Up till then, most readers knew me from my dark and violent noir novels and stories. “Julius Katz” is very different from my noir writing in its gentle humor and endearing characters, and is mostly a bloodless story where the murders take place off screen. My Julius Katz stories are somewhere between pastiche and homage to Nero Wolfe—a mix of hardboiled and traditional mystery where a brilliant but incredibly lazy detective has all the evidence gathered, questions the witnesses, and then points out the guilty party. The hardboiled element in both Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and my Julius Katz stories is represented by a wisecracking assistant who narrates the stories. With Nero Wolfe the assistant is Archie Goodwin. In my Julius Katz stories, the assistant is also named Archie, but there the similarities with Archie Goodwin end, as my Archie is a computer device the size of a tie pin, but with the heart and soul of a hardboiled PI. And with his self-adapting neuron network, my Archie wants nothing more than to learn enough by observing Julius so that he can beat him to the punch in solving a case.

read the rest of this article on Ellery Queen's 'Something Is Going To Happen' web-site:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Noircon 2012 -- the best!

Vicki Hendricks :

“Noir” is a small category in the vast world of crime writing, and I’m the only member of Top Suspense who specializes in it (although Dave Zeltserman has deep noir roots). But after attending the fabulous Noircon in Philadelphia this past weekend, I feel inspired to spread the net for new converts. Noir has never been one of the more popular genres in crime, but its devotees are some of the most fervent. With a better understanding of noir’s characteristics, rather than expecting someone to solve a crime and being disappointed, I believe, more readers would be prepared to enjoy it.

Otto Penzler

The definition of noir has broadened in the last several years with writers of any dark villain or alcoholic detective laying claim to the sophisticated French film term, but real noir devotees, as well as expert Otto Penzler, anchor the meaning with classic writers of the 40s and 50s, such as James M. Cain and Patricia Highsmith. For a novel to fall into the noir category, the narrator or point of view character has to be the criminal. Most often these people are undereducated, born into lower economic groups, and demonstrate warped psychology that winds them deeper into the dirt, from start to finish. No happy endings, no series possibilities. Interviewed for the Philadelphia Enquirer, Penzler cited the characteristics of noir similar to naturalist literature, with the cold, heartless universe turning the screws. But he also stated that the characters themselves are losers, who “through their own moral flaws, create a world in which they are doomed.” Both statements are true, depending where you stop following the chain of cause and effect. Noir is naturalist literature and reflects the Greek definition of tragedy. Reason enough to read it, right?

Beyond that, for me as a reader, the originality of character and plot that flows from trying to understand dark minds so dramatically different from my own and participating as these people frantically claw in the wrong direction, is what won’t let me go. I want them to succeed in murder; I want them to have what they desperately need, no matter what extremes become necessary. In an amoral universe, this universe that exists on paper (or screen), it is their turn. Of course, my stomach clenches and I mouth, “No, no!” as they make fatal mistakes.

As noir writers, we choose our darkest thoughts to blacken them further, and we love the characters we create because somewhere down deep they own our consciousness. They are heroes on our dark sides, punching out emotion at the gut level, more forceful than the logical workings of the brain on a mystery.

I’ve noticed that real people who have led “noir” lives find no interest in noir literature. I think it’s because they have already fought off that part of their brain in order to become the people they are now, to be safe. They want to avoid that place forever, and they are already overly-familiar with the inner workings of the criminal mind, while the rest of us, products of Catholic schools (myself anyway) and/or responsible parents, find psychosis riveting.

Heide Hatry and her video

It is only possible to give a taste of the intriguing events presented at Noircon this year: to start, there was the noir artist Heide Hatry, who grew up in Germany on a pig farm and later converted her expertise in slaughtering pigs into art that exposes the plight of animals. Other highlights were the fascinating and jovial interviews of this year’s award winners Otto Penzler and Lawrence Block. Penzler, obviously in pain, told about his purchase of the rights for all three Steig Larsen books for $30,000, which he then sold to a friend for $30,000 because of the difficulty of getting good translations. Block let out the news that he is finished writing, but nobody believed him.

There was the inspiring lesson from Keynote Speaker Robert Olen Butler, speaking on the genius of Charles Dickens and how to emulate his “film shot” techniques. Megan Abbott moderated a lively guilt-free panel on true crime, and Richard Edwards, on TV series, brought further appreciation for the genius behind Breaking Bad. Also memorable are the knowledgeable musicians and Burlesque performers who brought us further into the understanding of noir in entertainment. “Burlesque now is female empowerment. Women will always be objectified, but in burlesque they are in control of when and what reaction they get,” remarked Lulu Lollipop.

Dwayne Swierczynski and Lawrence Block

There wasn’t a dull panel in the bunch, all geared to an academic level audience and without the hawking of books. As Jonathan Woods, author of Bad Juju and Other Tales of Madness and Mayhem, sums it up: “Noircon was a hoot, from the pigskin artist to Duane Swierczynski’s droll interview of Larry Block; from the twirled tips of Jeff Wong's mustache to Grover Silcox's sterling rendition of Poe's madman in ‘A Tell Tale Heart.’  Wow!  The mind reels.”

The conference that beats all other crime conferences by a mile holds assets that can’t be replicated: Deen Kogan’s Society Hill Playhouse, an intimate venue with tables draped in red and black; the creativity and hard work of Lou Boxer, who puts two years into each Noircon in order to make it fascinating and different, and most of all, the noir writers and readers, a tight group without taint of jealousy or competition. We huddle together gasping, laughing, hugging, in celebration of the wonderfulness of terror, obsession, and murder. We are a small percentage of the crime writing world, but choice.

Lou Boxer and Grover Silcox

Monday, November 5, 2012

Books Do Furnish a Room... a way that DVD or video cases don't. If you're in in any doubt about it, just look at the backgrounds in at-home TV interviews. I think it's something tied in with the physical objects themselves, not just with the intellectual life they represent. A shelfload of shabby old middlebrow novels is way more aesthetically pleasing than one loaded with the finest foreign-language Criterion DVDs.

A friend of mine recently expressed dismay at an LA Times story about an interior designer who'd urged his client to store all his CDs in wallets and discard the cases. But I kiiiiiiiiiind of get what's going on there... I've taken a small step in that direction myself.

Every year I get sent a bunch of awards screeners on DVD. They're produced and packaged exactly like commercial releases but they can't legally be passed on or sold. For the ones I want to keep I discard the cases, number the discs, add the info to my database, and file them. One shoebox-sized container from PC World holds a couple of hundred movies.

Which, of course, frees up my shelf space for books.

The only thing that's kept me from doing the same with the bulk of my retail-bought DVDs is the lingering notion that the packaging is part of the 'value'. But most of the time, it isn't - they're just all-purpose cases with a cheap paper insert, and the only real reason to keep the packaging is for resale purposes. With some DVDs the packaging is a part of the pleasure - my King Kong in a tin box, my Forbidden Planet special edition with a wee Robbie Robot - but 90% of the time, not.

When CDs first came onto the market they sold at a huge premium because those hi-tech shiny discs looked so much like a luxury purchase. But when we started buying blanks and realised that the discs themselves were only worth pennies, I think a process began where in our hearts we started to unshackle digital content from the material of the medium that delivers it.

I'm now thinking that when a suitably capacious storage medium comes along, I can transfer each shoebox of 200 titles onto one disc (or its future equivalent) - 200 unaltered viewing experiences (my TV doesn't care where the data comes from), even more space for books.

I wouldn't apply it to my books. The idea of ripping the covers off to make more room... aieee. It makes my toes curl. For me every one of my books is a "King Kong in a tin".

That's why I have five different editions of The Lost World... a well-handled first, the Pilot and Rodin annotated edition, a '30s Hodder & Stoughton hardcover, a children's paperback, and the Professor Challenger Omnibus in which I first read the tale. If only the text mattered, then any one of those would do. Or I could junk them all and download the words from Gutenberg. But each of them carries a different charge, of association and of the era when it was published. Each one is a different performance of the text.

E-books, though... you download them, you store them on one drive or another, you move them around, you copy them to your device... they never have any physical form at all. The notion of keeping and displaying the cases never arises.

E-books will never replace books.

Just most of them.

More than a decade ago Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine wrote of the entertainment industry's struggle to comprehend that their future was in selling bytes, not atoms. By which he meant that they were all about manufacturing and shipping and had no strategy for handling their product in a non-material form.

It's taking a while. But I'd say we're going there.