11 posts categorized "The Hot Spot"

November 18, 2006

How To Get Away With Murder And Be Paid For It

Turns out, OJ Simpson has given up looking for "the real killer." 

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Instead, he has written a book that Judith Regan of ReganBooks is calling If I Did It, and it's going to be released November 30th.  In the book, OJ "speculates" about how he might have murdered his wife and her friend.  But it's not a confession.  It's all out of his--ahem--imagination.

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You may recall that OJ was acquitted of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in a criminal court.  Of course, he was found liable a few years later in a civil suit and ordered to pay the Brown family $33.5 million.  But he hasn't given up the dough yet. Maybe he's too busy playing golf in Florida to cut the check.  Or maybe he's hoping the proceeds from this book will earn enough to pay his tab.

Now, in a not-very-laughable attempt to spin this story in an altruistic direction, Ms. Regan says she was a victim of domestic violence herself and claims she felt the proceeds of the book would rightfully support OJ's kids.  She says she's publishing the book, "for the symbolism of the act.  For me, it's personal."

So here's what we want to know:  How many of our TLC readers are going to buy this book?  Read this book?  Stock this book in your store?  Borrow it from your library?

Or instead maybe we'll spread the word about the horrors of domestic violence?

C'mon.  We want to hear some outrage.

August 20, 2006

Link of the Week

Always trying to provide our readers with the most up-to-date popular culture, here's our Lipstick Chronicles Link of the Week:


With thanks to fun-loving Friend O'the Tarts, Ramona.

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August 11, 2005

More Dishing With the DotMoms

More Dishing With the DotMoms

Yesterday, the DotMoms discussed some basics about their reading and book buying habits. The good news is that they’re reading, many of them a lot (anywhere from one to two books a week–which we love to hear!–to four books a year). While book clubs are still a popular forum, thanks to Ms. Oprah, none of the DotMoms are currently part of such a group, though several have been in the past. Most just don’t have the time, or find reading their personal joy and don’t want to read titles others have selected for them. As we all suspected, book covers and even titles do play a large role in choosing books, at least where our DotMoms are concerned. Packaging is as important for novels as for other products on the shelves in stores. Bright and attractive seems to urge a first (aRingnd possibly second) look. Covers and titles that don’t catch the eye–or imagination–might not have a shot when other more enticing choices abound. Author loyalty is a reality, too. Readers who enjoy books by an author will continue to read his or her books, so long as the quality continues (and sometimes even beyond).  Like having "24k" stamped on a pretty bauble, treasured authors are pure gold to their fans.

In this second part of TLC’s conversation with Julie Moos, editor of the DotMoms’ blog, and a group of volunteers from the site (Jennifer, Jenn, Peyton, Christine, Robin, Amy and LauriJon), we tackle bad reviews, author turn-offs, indies vs. chains and Amazon, and book signings.

TLC: What turns you off an author? Are you influenced by negative reviews?

Julie: I’m not at all influenced by negative reviews, although sometimes positive reviews will make me more inclined to keep an eye out for something. If I’m interested in an author or a book, that’s enough for me. I know that my interests, tastes and reading needs may or may not overlap with the reviewer’s.

Jennifer: I rarely read book reviews other than the ones that are in People magazine, and those are almost always good--so I can't say that I'm influenced by them. What turns me off in an author is obviousness and unnecessary formality. Not writing the way you think, writing the way you think you should.

Jenn S.: The only thing that will turn me off of an author is if she has completely changed her style in a way you can tell that she is just "phoning it in." It wouldn't take just one book that way, though. It would have to be more than a few to show that it is a new writing style and not just a change for one book or series. As for negative reviews, I usually will BUY a book that has negative reviews because I rarely agree with them. I could care less what a review says. They are not me with my tastes and my likes. It's just an opinion, after all. The only reviews I pay attention to are the positive ones to see if I can be "introduced" to a new author.

Peyton: I don't like page after page of descriptive narrative (i.e., describing the scene). There has to be some action in the book.

Christine: Negative reviews make me intrigued. Was the person having a bad day when s/he wrote that? It is especially obvious when there are a lot of good reviews from a variety of people and only one or two bad ones. What turns me off is when the author writes badly, when the characters are as flat as the paper they emerge from, and the storyline is predictable. When the writing is snappy and smart, I'm like putty in your hands. I want more, more, more!

Robin: I don't even read reviews. I also don't listen to movie reviews. Only I am able to say what I like. If I am reading a new book and the author is too wordy, I won't read anything else that they wrote. Sometimes it will take an author two pages to describe a tree blowing in the breeze. That drives me insane. I have seen a tree in the wind...let's move on to something interesting. Too much description makes me skip the pages until I find dialogue.

Amy: I'm influenced by negative reviews from friends/family and from book critics. But if I'm just looking for a quick, easy read, I'm less likely to take into consideration what book critics have to say.

LauriJon: What turns me off an author is when the second book isn’t as good as the first. I’m not influenced by reviewers.

TLC: How do you find new authors to read?

Julie: I browse bookstores fairly constantly (independents, chains, etc.) and spend a fair amount of time on Amazon clicking through the links to books purchased by people who read what I read. My favorite new authors are the ones I find serendipitously.

Jennifer: Friends. My best friend has read every book ever written.

Jenn S.: Word of mouth usually. I listen to what other readers are saying. I see if the author has a website or if other bloggers or writers have been talking about this author. I listen. Sometimes, a rare time or two, I will find a great review and find a new author that way. But mostly, it is word of mouth.

Peyton: Recommendations from friends, browsing the bookstore, and I try to read authors who went to my college (Hollins), which is known for creative writing. I'd have to say my primary influence is my mother--we have similar tastes in fiction.

Christine: They usually approach me and say, "Would you mind reviewing this?"

Robin: I work in a doctor's office. Most patients come in reading books. When I call them into a room I ask what they are reading and if they like it. I have had some great references this way.  I also go to the library once a week for my daughter's Brownie troop meeting. I ask the librarians what's new and what they like. They are a great resource. I also wanted to add that I tend to read books that have the same characters through many books. I love Nora Robert's trilogies for this reason. It lets me connect to the characters. In Jonathan and Faye Kellerman's books, they use the same lead character in many of their books so even though the story is different each time, the main person is someone I "know" from before. One uses a psychiatrist; the other uses a police detective. Someone familiar guides me through the scary mystery and somehow I feel safer. It's very comforting.

Amy: Recommendations from friends, perusing book stores.

LauriJon: Usually in the new authors section in bookstores. Sometimes I’ll also do web searches on topics I’m interested in and find new authors that way.

TLC: Where do you buy most of your books? (Chain stores, independent booksellers, discount retailers like Wal-Mart, etc.)

Julie: I probably buy most of them from Amazon and Borders, because they’re most convenient. But as often as I can, I drive the 45 minutes to an hour that it takes to get to the nearest independent bookstore. When I lived in Chapel Hill and Durham, almost all of my book purchases were made at independent bookstores. That’s my preference, but not always my reality.

Jennifer: Barnes and Noble, or I check them out at the library.

Jenn S.: Wherever I can find them! Sometimes it is a small bookstore (though, sadly, those are few and far between where I live). Most of the time, it is a chain bookstore or Amazon.com.

Peyton: Barnes & Noble (I'm a "member").

Christine: Amazon.com by far. I buy German books from the store, but a lot of English books can only be found via amazon.

Robin: Usually I will buy books in Wal-Mart but I also love shopping in Borders because the selection is so huge.

Amy: Chain stores, discount retailers (Target).

LauriJon: Chain stores, independent booksellers and online.

Linebaugh1 TLC: Do you attend author events in your town? What do you like about them?

What don't you like?

Julie: I don’t attend author events. In fact, when I was in college, I was given the opportunity to meet my favorite author (William Goldman), and I turned it down. I love his writing and didn’t want to risk ruining that pleasure in any way by discovering (inevitably) that there might be something human and less-than-lovable about him. I think these days, I’d enjoy sitting down with writers and talking about their work, but that’s not my perception of how most author events go. If there were no readings or signings involved, just interactive chitchat, and I really enjoyed the author’s work, I’d consider it.

Jennifer: I haven't attended any author events, mostly because Baton Rouge doesn’t have a lot of them! Also, the mommy thing is a tad time-consuming at this point. When my husband and I go out, we usually have drinks, dinner, etc., just to relax. I’m not against them, just don’t really have any opportunities to go to them.

Jenn S.: Absolutely! I want to meet the person who wrote what I am reading. I want to tell them face to face how much I admire their work (both the book itself and the very fact they will come out and do a book signing!) The only ones I have nothing to do with are the celebrity book signings. Not going to stand in line to hear what Monica Lewinsky or Madonna has to say about writing. No thanks!

Peyton: No--I would if I had the time!

Christine: I haven't, no. I bought one book by a local author. In Charlottesville, VA, there are tons of writers. If I lived there, I am certain I would attend more such events. As it is, I attended the world's largest book fair in Frankfurt last year. It was interesting to see the difference between BEA and the Buchmesse.

Robin: I never have attended one but that doesn't mean I wouldn't in the future.

Amy: I have never attended an author event. There aren’t many author events in Central Pennsylvania. On the rare occasion that there is one, it isn’t usually an author I’m interested in.

LauriJon: Some, although it’s been more difficult since having my baby. I like when authors do readings.

TLC: Thanks to Julie and all the DotMoms! We appreciate their helping us out as we try to make sense of this crazy business from various perspectives. Now we’d like to hear your comments! What draws you to a book? The cover or title? The author’s name? What inspires author loyalty? Have you ever attended a book signing? Spill. We want the dirt! We Book Tarts promise to weigh in.

August 10, 2005

Dishing With the DotMoms

Dishing With the DotMoms

An informal survey of working (and writing) mothers on the subject of books.

Girlwithpen_1 The Book Tarts, like so many other authors, often wonder how readers make their buying decisions. Why do they pick up one book, but not another? Do they remain loyal to writers, in the same way they stick with a favorite brand of laundry detergent? What inspires folks to attend book signings, if they go at all?

We contacted Julie Moos, the editor at DotMoms.com, a blog written entirely by moms who juggle jobs and raising kids...and live to tell their tales from the homefront. Julie gathered a handful of other DotMoms to answer our questions, as well as agreeing to participate herself. We’re thrilled to have them all at TLC. First, the introductions:

Jennifer Oliver is a stay-at-home mom to four little girls. She’s an artist who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Jenn Satterwhite is a stay-at-home mom who works as a freelance writer and has an agent representing her first book. She has three children and lives in Plano, Texas.

Peyton Snyders is a full-time paralegal and law student, living in the D.C. area. She has a nine-month-old daughter.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum is a telecommunicating writer and mother of two. In between washing, cleaning, barking at the kids to get off the furniture and not to stuff carrot chunks under the cushions, she freelance articles, books and an occasional newspaper column. She lives near Munich, Germany.

Robin Piccini has worked for fifteen years as an ophthalmic technician. For the past three years, she’s also manned the switchboard at a local hospital part-time. Her dream is to be a stay-at-home mom to her eight-year-old daughter. She lives south of Boston, Massachusetts.

Amy Marshall works full-time out of her home as a writer and editor, mostly handling public relations, for Penn State. She lives in State College, PA, and has one son.

Lauri Jon Caravella is a New Yorker, married to a screenwriter, and the mother of one daughter. She’s also a graphic designer, fine artist, writer, juvenile products designer, photographer, Reiki practitioner and poet.

Now to the questions:

TLC: How often do you read fiction?

Julie: I read fiction everyday. On average, I read about a book a week (some weeks more, some weeks less), and most of what I read are novels and memoirs.

Jennifer: Maybe 4 books a year? I've been reduced to magazines and 'quick fixes'....

Jenn S.: There is never a time when I am not in the middle of reading a novel. Definitely every night, but if I have a luxury moment during the day, I will snag that time up to read as well.

Peyton: Usually about one book a month. Since I'm in law school, I have a lot of non-fiction to read.

Christine: I am always reading. I'd say it is a split between fiction and non-fiction. Since I am a book reviewer (writer, author, columnist and marketing expert, too—oh yes, and I have two kids, ages 4 & 6!), I read a lot of novels. My knee-jerk answer would be 50-50.

Robin: I try to read at least one, possibly two books per week. It depends on my schedule, although if it's a great book, I let everything else slide while I finish.

Amy: All the time--other than newspapers/news-magazines, all I read is fiction.

LauriJon: I try to read a novel (or two sometimes) a month. I also love the new authors section in most bookstores. New novelists are incredibly fresh.

TLC: Are you involved in book clubs? If so, how does your group pick titles (from best-sellers lists, member recommendations, Internet lists)?

Julie: I’m not involved in a book club and never have been. One of the only rules I have for reading is that, if I want to put down a book, I will. Reading is too much fun to force myself through something I’m not enjoying. So I’ve avoided book clubs for fear that, if I joined one, I’d feel pressure (internal and external) to finish reading something I don’t like.

Jennifer: I was involved in one for a little while- we're on a hiatus I guess though. We used to just throw out titles we'd heard were good--we'd do it by email and then all decide.

Jenn S.: The only book club that I have been involved in always chose their books from word of mouth. Sometimes the books were on the best-seller list. Sometimes none of the members (except the one recommending the book) have ever heard of the book or author.

Peyton: No.

Christine: No. Since I am a frequent reviewer for Little, Brown and Company, I choose their children's book titles based mostly on my kids' interests. Occasionally they send me pre-teen fiction, which is very fun.

Robin: No, I'm not. I always find that these clubs read much deeper books than I am reading. I tendBooks_2  to read to escape. If I have to give too much thought to what I'm reading then it becomes a chore for me. I have seen Oprah talk with her book club and they dissect each character and pick apart everything they did and said. To me, that's like being in school. I am not opposed to learning but that would ruin reading for me. On the other hand, my friend Amy and I exchange books a lot and we talk about what we liked and didn't like. If we just finished reading a mystery then we ask when we knew who the killer was. That's about it.

Amy: No (not enough time, unfortunately, although I'm considering making the time).

LauriJon: No.

TLC: Does the look of the cover art influence your buying choices? Or even titles of books?

Julie: Book covers and titles are extremely influential in my reading life. They, along with the author’s name, determine whether I pick up a book at all. If I don’t pick it up and read the front, back and inside cover copy, there’s no chance I’ll be taking it home.

Jennifer: The cover art used to influence me, as I'm an artist and am drawn to certain images. But the older I get, the less I am persuaded by the cover. Same goes for the titles.

Jenn S.: The cover art won't influence the buying decision, but it does influence whether I pick it up in the first place. Some covers just beg for me to pick up the books to find out more. Some push me away and I have almost missed the chance at reading a great novel with a crappy cover. As for the title, sometimes I will think: Will I feel comfortable reading this in public? But it has never stopped me from buying a book. (That's the beauty of taking a hardback cover off or folding back the cover of a paperback!)

Peyton: No, it doesn't. Titles of books, maybe, but I go by the description on the back cover or recommendations from friends and family.

Christine: Absolutely! Let's face it. We make decisions on looks all the time—we choose to be friends with certain people, buy certain magazines, purchase certain clothing all based on looks. Why would a book be any different? Book titles are key when writing a book. The catchier, the better!

Robin: When the cover has a muscular man, shirtless with long hair, and the woman is in a poofy flowing gown with cascading hair, I know what kind of book I'm in for. Those tend to be all the same and if I'm in the mood for a mind numbing predictable romance then I pick it up.  Usually the books I love most have simple covers.

Amy: This will probably sound stupid, but my eye is always drawn to bright colors, stripes and plaids–whether it be a book cover, clothing, or home furnishings (even though my house is actually decorated in more muted, neutral tones). The cover for the DIRTY GIRLS’ SOCIAL CLUB comes to mind. I actually borrowed that book from someone, but my eye is still drawn to it if I see it on a shelf. I will admit to reading a good bit of "chick lit," and those covers often have bright colors. But, of course, I never buy a book solely because of the cover! I’m drawn more to the covers than the titles.

LauriJon: Usually, as I’m a graphic designer and have definite design sensibilities. A title also influences me. Both the title and cover art may make me reach for a book on the shelf; but after I have the book in hand, the first page is usually what sells me.

TLC:  Do you have favorite authors whose books you faithfully purchase?

Julie: I do. Once I find someone whose writing style I like, I will read just about anything and everything by him or her. Although, I’m a little biased toward his or her most recent work if that’s what I’ve discovered, because we all evolve as writers and some early work bears less resemblance to the writing I love than some later work.

Jennifer: I probably would if I had more time to read. I would be all into the Harry Potter thing because I love adventure, but no- right now in my life I read what's been recommended to me. I'm scared to pick up a Harry Potter book because I don't have time to be obsessed with finishing a whole series of books!

Jenn S.: Absolutely! I will follow a few and buy anything that they have written. (Even if I come to find later that it let me down, I will still come back the next time there is a new title.)

Peyton: Lee Smith, John Grisham, Phillipa Gregory.

Christine: I love Toni Morrison, though recently her work has become so obscure that I have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Deepak Chopra is one of my recent favorites. His ideas are unique and speak to my current situation. Beach-reads such as Grisham (love him, hate him-- the guy is successful at what he does!) are a must in the summer. I recently picked up THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen. His prose makes me weep--it is so good! Since I started writing seriously, I have become much more in tune with good writing versus "I-can't-believe-a-major-house-touched-this-drivel-I'm-so-jealous-why-won't-they-return-MY-calls?"

Robin: Absolutely!!!! If I walk into the bookstore I always look for something new from Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, Nora Roberts or James Patterson.

Amy: Not really--there are a couple authors in particular that I really like, but they have only published two or three books--so it's yet to be seen whether I become a "faithful purchaser."

LauriJon: Laurel K. Hamilton. I have read all her Anita Blake and Meredith Gentry novels.

We’ll finish up tomorrow with more DotMoms’ talk, including what turns them off an author, if they’re influenced by negative reviews, and whether or not they’ve attended a book-signing...and why not, if they haven’t.

July 09, 2005

The Girl Ghetto: Harlan Coben

Mega bestselling author Harlan Coben is the first author to win the Edgar, Shamus and Anthony Award and his works are published in thirty languages. After writing seven books in the critically acclaimed Myron Bolitar series, which debuted in 1995, Harlan turned his attention to stand alone thrillers such as JUST ONE LOOK, TELL NO ONE, NO SECOND CHANCE, GONE FOR GOOD and THE INNOCENT, which just came out in Dutton hardcover. He lives in New Jersey with his wife a pediatrician and their four children.

Suffice it to say Harlan is more than our featured guest male blogger.

He’s our Guest Stud.

And he was kind enough to participate in our “girl ghetto” roundtable.

TLC: Do you see a "girl ghetto" in crime fiction, with hard-boiled books by men garnering more critical attention and publisher push? If you do, do you think it is reader-driven, author-driven or purely industry-driven, like the movie biz where male action stars consistently get more press and bigger bucks?

HARLAN: Long rambling attempt at an answer because I’m not sure I even agree with the premises in the question. First off, it may work both ways. I remember in the early nineties, when I started writing the Myron Bolitar series, I was advised to make Myron female because, with the popularity of Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky and the like, male protagonists were out of fashion.

I also remember attending an EyeCon in 1995 and hearing about so many male private eye series – some wonderful writers who’d been published for a long time – being dropped. Quick – name five ongoing popular male private eye series. Not so easy, eh? I’m also not sure what you mean by hard-boiled. I certainly wouldn’t call my stuff hard-boiled. In fact, maybe you can give me a long list of hard-boiled men who garner a ton of critical attention and publisher push. I can think of two, maybe three.

“Pushes” are reader-driven, author-driven and industry-driven and in some ways, those three are the same thing. Publishers are interested in making money and breaking out authors. I don’t think they care much if they are male or female. The book with the biggest push I’ve seen this year is THE HISTORIAN, written by a woman. That’s not to say that readers and publishers don’t have preconceived gender notions, but in the end, if publishers think an author has enormous sales potential, they push. If they don’t, they don’t. Doesn’t mean they push the right book or author. But that’s their thinking.

TLC: Do you think male readers want a different type of story than women (i.e., gun-toting loner vs. something more relationship-oriented and emotional), or is it all about perception?

HARLAN: I think female readers may be more open than male readers. A female reader will be more apt to read, say, a Tom Clancy than a man would be to read a Danielle Steel. The female audience is also larger. That said, I hate generalizations, so maybe I should just ignore this.

TLC: Are the Edgars, and even Bouchercon, more like a "boys' club," with female authors who don't write hard-boiled books getting overlooked/taken less seriously?

HARLAN: I’m not a female, so maybe it’s hard for me to see this. I also think that everyone feels slighted, especially by the Edgars. The PIs felt like they weren’t being respected ergo the Shamus. The cozies weren’t getting enough nods, so we have the Agathas. Those who wrote historical fiction were getting ripped off, same with thriller writers and… you get my point. This is NOT to suggest that these groups formed solely or even mostly because of this, but I do think there is usually some feeling of disenfranchisement. That’s human nature. I also think you are onto something when you include the “female authors who don’t write hard-boiled” as perceived outsiders. That is, it may be about style, not gender. SJ Rozan and Laura Lippman have won as many awards as any in the so-called “boys club.” They write darker books. And for a true litmus test, look at Lawrence Block. My bet is, his Matt Scudder series garner more critical acclaim than his lighter Bernie books. So maybe that’s where we should be looking – light vs dark, rather than male vs female. By the way, this light vs dark issue affects everything – movies, art, mainstream fiction. How many comedies win Oscars, for example? How many lighter books with the Pulitzer?

TLC: Do women writers whine too much about inequality when the focus should be on producing good books, not on Otto Penzler's cozy-bashing tirades? (Sarah Weinman has mentioned in her blog that women writing hard-boiled don't "go for broke" like the men do--is she right?)

HARLAN: I haven’t heard too much whining, but anything, ANYTHING, that hurts the focus on your writing is bad. Period. End of discussion. As for Sarah’s comments, which are always well thought out, I’d need to read the whole statement and see who she means before I could agree or disagree. One other random thought: I don’t see many groups of men forming websites like yours or Tart Noir or Nuns, Mothers and Others. I’m friendly with many male writers. We don’t bond together in that way. I’m not sure why. I think what you’re doing is great, I really do, but now I wonder if it’s a healthy thing or if it plays into the idea of a “girl ghetto,” to use your phrase. I haven’t thought it through, but I throw it out.

TLC: Does it sometimes take a series writer getting out of that box and into stand-alones before he/she 'earns' the respect amongst peers and reviewers, not to mention readers in the form of bigger sales? What changes did you notice when you made that leap successfully?

HARLAN: I can only speak for myself on this issue. Moving to stand-alones definitely helped my sales. I don’t think that’s much of a secret. TELL NO ONE, the first Myron departure, sold astronomically better than any book in the series. I could name a couple of other authors – Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly – who had similar results, though Mike’s most recent book, his first NY Times #1 bestseller, featured his series creation. But then check out the recent bestseller lists – John Sanford, Jonathan Kellerman, Faye Kellerman, Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Diane Mott Davidson, Lee Child…they all write series. For every author who has been successful leaving a series, I can probably name ten like the above who stayed and had equal or greater success. So the answer, as you might suspect, is not so easy.

TLC: How does your family life affect your writing experience? Your wife is a pediatrician, right? No slouch job there. Does that mean you are a stay-at-home dad?

HARLAN: We share duties. She is currently working two days a week. We have four kids. The oldest is eleven, the youngest almost four. This keeps up both ridiculously busy. The negative is obvious – it makes it hard to find time to write – but there are positives too. For example, when I have the time, I really need to focus and write.

TLC: Are your "bloody balls" covers for the Myron books really the worst covers you've ever seen? Do you like your stand-alone covers better with all those cut-outs?

HARLAN: I have seen few covers as bad as the bleeding balls. My opinion on covers has always been irrelevant – it’s what a person browsing a bookstore thinks. I think the new ones draw their eye better.

TLC: Finally, everybody is eager to jump into the latest trend, ideally cresting the wave. Do you think writers can predict trends and write them? Or are we stuck writing what our style will allow? What do you predict might be the biggest trend?

HARLAN: Finally, something I have a definite opinion on! I think jumping on trends is ALWAYS a mistake and usually idiotic. First off, by the time you write the book it takes a year. It takes a year to get published… end of trend. Your work will appear derivative.

Second, I don’t believe in looking at the market. I believe in writing the absolute best story that you can. The rest should simply follow. I know that a lot of rejection letters will say, “We really liked this, but what we’re looking for now is a series with (fill in the blank).” I don’t believe those editors. I think they are the literary equivalent of, “Your call is very important to us.” If the story works for them, REALLY works, keeps them up all night frantically turning pages, then it doesn’t matter if they aren’t buying books like that right now. THE HISTORIAN is about Dracula. If they didn’t love it, they would write, “Well, Dracula doesn’t sell.” Alexander McCall Smith (another one who succeeded with a series) writes about old women in Botswana – I can just imagine how much publishers wanted that kinda story! And Walter Moseley wrote about a black man in Watts in the late 1940s. Talk about a limited market.

So write what you love and what you believe in. Write a story that’s going to make me want to stay up all night. Don’t worry if it needs better forensics or cross-dressers.

What a nice way to end your post, Harlan. I guess it comes down to Mom's advice - be true to yourself. Thank You. And remember, that's K-O-Z-A-K for all expenses at Bouchercon. Harley insists!

July 08, 2005

The Girl Ghetto in Crime Fiction: Sarah Weinman

The Girl Ghetto in Crime Fiction

What Sarah Says

And the debate goes on….

The Book Tarts are thrilled to have Sarah Weinman join our discussion on crime fiction’s girl ghetto, as she always has something intriguing to say at ConfessionsofanIdiosyncraticMind.  She’s the crime fiction columnist for the Baltimore Sun, a contributing editor at January Magazine, and the fiction editor for SHOTS.  Her reviews and articles have appeared in myriad publications, including the Washington Post, the Denver Post, and Mystery Scene.

The Lipstick Chronicles:  What's your take on the "girl ghetto" in crime fiction?  Does it exist, and, if so, is it reader-driven, author-driven or purely industry-driven, like the movie biz where male action stars consistently get more press and bigger bucks?

Sarah:  I think it's a mixture of all those things—reader driven in that they respond to whatever marketing push is being put forward to them by publishers, or if they are less savvy, paying attention to the bestseller lists which, on the crime fiction front, does tend to skew male, and then they look for authors similar to the ones they know and love, so if those are male, so will the next batch. The more I think about it, actually, the more I believe it resembles a vicious circle that's awfully difficult to break.

But I think the so-called girl ghetto arises from the fact that even amongst the mystery crowd, there's a certain subset of books written by women for women—there aren't too many men who will admit to reading cat mysteries, or knitting mysteries, or even chick lit mysteries, but then again, why do those subgenres exist in the first place? Because readers seem to want that -- or at least, publishers believe readers want that.

TLC:  Do you think male readers want a different type of story than women?  Do guys want that “loner seeks justice” book while girls seek out stories about relationships?

Sarah:  If that were truly the case, how to explain why Jack Reacher, Lee Child's bestselling protagonist, has a phenomenal appeal among women?

Seriously, I think both are true. It's dangerous to generalize, but considering how most men are conditioned at some level to reject emotional display, I suppose they don't want to read about such things in fiction (or, more drastically, they turn to non-fiction and don't bother with fictional worlds.) So anything that caters to fantasy on some level—be it a hardboiled world with guns blazing—fits in with their world view. But I bet if there was more hard-core data looking at socioeconomic status, race, religion, and what country you're originally from, there'd be all sorts of different subsets that show up. American crime readers, male or female, read very different stuff from European, Japanese, or other foreign readers.

Never mind that there seem to be plenty of women who adore serial killer thrillers and can't abide the cozy stuff, and even though that's become a stereotype all its own, it still manages to surprise. In the end I think it depends what any given person looks for in fiction -- pure escapism, a close examination of feelings, facing fears -- and they find it in what they seek out, whether they be male or female.

TLC:  I was at the VFB this year when a guy in the audience during Laura's all-girl panel had the gall to ask, "If you want men to read your books, why don't you write like a man?"  Any comment on this type of thinking?  Was he right?

Sarah:  If "writing like a man" means focusing more primarily on plot and pacing and less on family and emotion, then I still wonder why that particular fan asked her the question...

TLC:  Are the Edgars®, and even Bouchercon, more like a "boys' club," with female authors who don't write hard-boiled books getting overlooked/taken less seriously?  Or do the girls get too worked up every time Otto opens his mouth, when we should just focus on writing good books?

Sarah:  Well, in hindsight, the "controversy" surrounding Otto's columns is nothing new and designed to push buttons. He's obviously good at it, because the same result happens time and time again -- women get upset, people pay more attention to Otto, and the cycle continues. I'm sure he'll trot out the same stuff next year when he's run out of stuff to talk about. It's really almost become tongue-in-cheek, considering that he's not about to stop selling cozies in his bookshop.

So the focus HAS to be on writing good books. And also by extension, more serious questions have to be asked which is likely more controversial: do the people who gravitate towards cozies or more genre fare possess less talent and potential than those who attempt bigger themes? And why do people choose the paths which lead them to write the books they do?

Something else to remember is that writers don't read the way fans do—they either don't read at the same speed, or spend their time deconstructing and nitpicking, and whatnot. So a lot of the "boys club" mentality is more due to the fact that writers tend to read—or at least say they do—books by their friends and immediate peers. And if they are men and their writer friends are men...then that's who they know and by extension, take seriously.

TLC:  If you're female and don't write hard-boiled, you tend to get lumped into the cozy or traditional mystery category, no matter what you do.  Any way out of this except to write two series and make sure one is bloody?

Sarah:  Sadly, try taking the same concept and giving the protagonist a sex change. Do people pay more attention to female writers with male protagonists? Now I'm curious….

TLC:  In past blogs, you've pretty plainly stated there is a clear gender difference in harder boiled crime fiction written by men and women, noting that, in your eyes, female crime writers don't seem to "go for broke" the same way the guys do.  Can you elaborate?

Sarah:  Sure. Some of it, as I alluded to earlier, is conditioning -- women in general have a fear of being too out there, lest they be viewed as a bitch, aloof, strident, or whatever. A man can be fearless and he's applauded; a woman is too often put down, especially by other women. And I wonder if this unspoken fear is why there's such a dearth of female noir. I don't mean hardboiled or thriller novels, because there are certainly plenty of female writers mining this territory who sell incredibly well, but real nihilism that's evident in the most cited noir novelists -- Charles Willeford comes to mind. Is it because such men aren't as "grounded" in family roots, or they are more in touch with their inner dysfunction? Hard to know, but somehow by mining really horrible territory, they produce good fiction.

So female noir novelists off the top of my head -- Denise Mina sure comes close. Vicki Hendricks, definitely. Penelope Evans' FREEZING was a more bizarre take, but she really nailed the antisocial protagonist prototype with morgue-assistant Stuart. Carol Anne Davis, who is unjustly neglected, has been probing the depths of depravity with compassion and intelligence for years. I think there are more such writers in foreign countries because they have different cultural contexts, different mindsets. French crime writers, male or female, seem to gravitate more towards the weird and nihilistic. I've only read male Italian mystery novelists, but based on their books, I wouldn't be surprised if women writers were just as bizarrely inclined as their male counterparts. Scandinavian writers like Karin Fossum, Karin Alvtegen and Pernille Rygg aren't exactly writing noir but they do explore themes in very different -- almost colder, more clinical -- ways than their American counterparts.

I guess I wish there were more out there who are American or British. Which is why I seem to gravitate towards mainstream fiction that takes crime fiction elements and absolutely runs with them in new directions. Lionel Shriver's WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN gets into seriously uncomfortable territory, but it was necessary, disturbing and an incredible book. Emily Maguire's TAMING THE BEAST (which will be out in the UK in the fall, North America possibly later) cuts so deep into psychosexual territory that I was literally in shock for days afterwards. Why are they pushing boundaries that too many female crime novelists aren't? Because they are asking different questions as writers, and giving themselves the freedom to answer it as best they know how.

That said, writing a cozy is bloody hard work. I know I couldn't do it, because it's about sticking to a defined structure and making minor changes, and it would drive me crazy to hew so close to a particular -- for lack of better word -- formula. Cozies aren't going to change the world but they are fun to read, and undoubtedly fun to write. But why do certain writers gravitate towards those instead of "bigger" fiction? Is it knowing one's limitations, or not being overly analytical/critical about having something to say? Is it big picture versus little picture, macro versus micro?

But a macho thriller that tries to "go for broke" and fails because it's cliche after cliche with bad characters and poor pacing will bore me just as much, if not more, than a bad cozy.

TLC:  Do you think sometimes it takes a series writer getting out of that box and into stand-alones before he or she 'earns' respect amongst peers and reviewers, not to mention readers in the form of bigger sales

Sarah:  Well before we get any further, let it be said for the record that Harlan Coben got started writing standalones. Granted, PLAY DEAD and MIRACLE CURE aren't about to see the light of day anytime soon and they are really rough, with only glimmers to Coben's voice, but he only began his series several years later.

But I think the series/standalone question is more about a structure/constraint question. Series have inherent constraints -- the protagonist has to live another day, after all, and certain beloved characters must as well. Which is why when an author messes with that, he or she gets fans seriously pissed off (think Elizabeth George with her last book.) And writing continuing characters allows a writer to learn craft and all the other tools of writing -- up to a point, which is when the constraints don't fit anymore. Hence the standalone trend, mostly because to involve a series character in particular situations would turn that character into someone else entirely. But standalones allow writers to stretch in different ways and not worry about those pesky constraints that limit what you can really do in a series. I don't think it's an accident that Laura's standalones explore deeper, richer ground than the Tess novels. Because Tess, as much as she's grown since BALTIMORE BLUES, can't deviate too much from those early parameters, because then she wouldn't be recognizably Tess anymore.

Of course, here's the 20/20 hindsight thing. Take Dennis Lehane. He was a literary fiction writer till A DRINK IN THE WAR sold, but I doubt any of his writing peers in his early days would have denied he had tremendous talent. Perhaps the only thing that's surprising is how successful MYSTIC RIVER turned out to be, but he was always destined for greater things than a pure mystery series could offer. IMO, he's a mainstream fiction writer who uses the crime novel as his working template. But no matter what he wrote, he always had "something to say." And I think the writers that are in it for the long haul, who are career-minded and not just about staying published any way possible, always want to have something to add to the canon that is tangible, concrete and lasting. I'd like to think that you can always tell, but that's not exactly the case.

TLC:  Anything else you want to add on the subject...or completely unrelated to the subject?

Sarah:  I was about to launch into one of my pet peeves -- why crime fiction protagonists are often in some sort of cultural or religious vacuum, when the vast majority of humans are not -- but that's another rant for another day. More that I'm fascinated by what prompts writers to choose the paths they do, and whether some people know instinctively what their limitations are and what themes to explore -- or if they just want to write pure entertainment for entertainment's sake. But in the end, I think the bottom line of a good book, whatever the subgenre happens to be, is that it HAS to make me -- aka the reader -- care. I'm tired of reading well-constructed books that have no soul. I'm tired of protagonists who don't grow and change and who make the same mistakes over and over again, even if the writing is technically superior. I'm tired of plots that follow the same tropes over and over again. Make me care. Whether you're a male or female writer.

TLC:  Thanks so much, Sarah!  If you’re at Bouchercon, Harley’s invited everyone to her suite for cocktails, so bring a couple friends!

STAY TUNED: Tomorrow, the series concludes with comments from best-selling hunk Harlan Coben (yes, he made us say that, but we’re believers anyway).

July 07, 2005

The Girl Ghetto in Crime Fiction: David Montgomery

The Hot Spot Series on the Girl Ghetto in Crime Fiction:

What David Says

Yes, yes, it’s time to let the guys speak, and we’re honored to have David Montgomery suit up as starting pitcher for the boys’ team.  David’s book reviews regularly appear in newspapers across the country, including USA Today, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.  He edits Mystery Ink and further keeps readers in the know via his CrimeFictionBlog.  Dave’s a brave soul, too—he didn’t even hesitate when asked if he’d share his views on whether or not there’s a gender bias in crime fiction.  So let’s jump right in, shall we?

The Lipstick Chronicles:  What's your take on the "girl ghetto" in crime fiction?  Does it exist?

David:  I agree that there is some truth to this, although I think it tends to be exaggerated a lot, too. It can be harder for the types of books that women seem to prefer writing to garner critical acclaim. I think that is more a function of subject matter than gender, though.

In general, books that take on serious issues will be treated more seriously (by reviewers, fans, whoever). If a book is about a wacky wedding planner on the case of a runaway bride, or a psychic cat that solves crimes, you can’t expect it to be viewed the same way as the story of an abused woman stalking and killing the men who have wronged her.

A lot of books aren’t meant to be taken too seriously, so it’s a mistake to think of them as such, regardless of who wrote them. On the other hand, writers like S.J. Rozan, Laura Lippman, Denise Hamilton, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Rhys Bowen and P.J. Tracy all write serious mysteries, and they are building solid reputations that are the equal to any man in the genre. (Note that they aren’t all hard-boiled writers either.)

Ultimately, I think sales drive attention. Patricia Cornwell certainly doesn’t lack for ink, nor does Mary Higgins Clark. Granted, it’s not always positive ink, but that has nothing to do with their sex. Same goes for publisher push. Write a book that can sell lots of copies and your publisher will push the hell out of it. (Assuming they know what they’re doing, which often they don’t.)

TLC:  Do you think male readers want a different type of story than women—and Laura talked eloquently about the “male code”-- or is it all about perception? 

David:  Sure, some women prefer different things in their stories than some men do. And some women prefer to write different stories than some men. But I think those differences are slight, and not particularly meaningful on an individual basis.

Men might prefer books that focus on action and violence more than emotions and relationships. That’s not to say, though, that it has to be all one or the other. And it doesn’t mean that it’s true for any particular reader.

One thing I will say is that, in my experience, a lot of male readers are less demanding in their fiction – throw in a couple good fights scenes, a little sex, and some big guns and they’re happy. On the other hand, a lot of women enjoy category romances that aren’t particularly demanding either.

All in all, I think whatever differences there might be are minor. Write a good book and people of both sexes will like it.

TLC:  Are the Edgars®, and even Bouchercon, more like a "boys' club," with female authors who don't write hard-boiled books often overlooked?

David:  I think that’s too strong of a statement. If you look at the books that have been short-listed for the Best Novel Edgar over the past 5 years, 12 of the 25 books were written by women. Even though only 1 of the 5 winners was by a woman, it’s clear that female writers are holding their own on that score.

The main problem here is T. Jefferson Parker. I think the mystery women need to get rid of him so he’ll stop winning all the awards.

As for Bouchercon…I haven’t observed female writers being overlooked. They seem just as popular as the guys. Some of them might tell it differently. I don’t know. This isn’t a problem in my experience, though.

TLC:  From your point of view, is there too much whining about inequality when the focus should be on producing good books, instead of worrying about Otto Penzler? 

David:  There wouldn’t be much of a point in whining about it, since the only people who’ll listen are other writers. But I haven’t really heard much whining. Ultimately, what Otto Penzler has to say about cozies reflects as much about him as it does on the state of the genre today. You can’t allow yourself to get too caught up in these kind of peripheral issues, which might be fun to argue about, but ultimately don’t mean very much.

TLC:  If you're female and don't write hard-boiled, you tend to get lumped into the cozy or traditional mystery category, no matter what.  Any way out of this except to write two series and make sure one is bloody?

The lumping together of writers happens to everyone regardless of sex – it’s convenient short-hand for booksellers, reviewers and fans. I’ve heard male authors complain about this, too. I don’t put too much stock in it, though. As an author, you’ve got to concentrate on writing the stories you feel compelled to write. Obviously you can’t ignore the marketing aspect of it, but you don’t want to focus on it too much either.

Does Julia Spencer-Fleming write cozies? Are Elaine Flinn and Harley Jane Kozak’s books medium-boiled? Is Laura Lippman hard-boiled, or is her latest book even a mystery at all? Hell if I know. They’re good books, that’s all I really care about.

TLC:   Sarah Weinman has mentioned on her blog that she sees a difference in harder boiled crime fiction written by men and women, noting that, in her eyes, female crime writers don't seem to "go for broke" the same way the guys do.  You think she's got something there?

David:  Most female authors do seem to write with a little more restraint than do males. Again, it gets back to the matter of women preferring certain elements in their stories than men do. It’s true as far as it goes, but it can also be easily overstated. I think the differences among individuals are much greater than the differences among the sexes.

The thing that irritates me is when some female authors try to pour on the gore in a misguided effort to show that they’re as hard-boiled as the men. It’s a mistake. Write the best story you can and forget about the other stuff. It just hurts the writing.

TLC:   Does it sometimes take a series writer getting out of that box and into stand-alones before he or she 'earns' respect amongst peers and reviewers, not to mention readers in the form of bigger sales?

David:  It definitely doesn’t hurt and it has proven to be very effective for certain writers. Harlan Coben is a name that comes to mind. Through several wonderful books in the Myron Bolitar series, Coben built a solid reputation in the mystery community, but I don’t think he got much attention outside of the genre. Now that he’s writing high concept thrillers, his sales and recognition have shot through the roof.

It’s also necessary sometimes for an author to produce a stand-alone in order to convince people that s/he is actually “a writer,” rather than “just a series writer.” (I don’t think that this should be the case, but the perception is definitely there.) Laura Lippman, for example, has written two extraordinary non-series books in the past couple of years and I think that has definitely helped to raise her perception as a writer to a new level.

Another key advantage to writing a stand-alone, I think, is that it often helps liven up a series that risked going stale. Taking a break every now and then from a series to write something new (even if it’s only short stories or whatever) is good advice for almost every writer.

TLC:  Thanks, David, for giving us your very astute perspective on the subject.  And, don’t forget, dinner’s on Harley at Bouchercon.

STAY TUNED:  On Friday, the girls are back, as Sarah Weinman gets her turn to talk.

July 06, 2005

The Hot Spot "Girl Ghetto" Series: More With Laura

The Hot Spot Series on the Girl Ghetto in Crime Fiction Continues...

With More of What Laura Says

Back to the Book Tarts’ ongoing discussion of whether or not a “girl ghetto” exists in the crime fiction world.  If you haven’t yet read best-selling author Laura Lippman’s insightful comments from yesterday, scroll down and catch up now!  She’ll also dish about her evolution from paperback originals to hardcover, hanging with the guys on “The Wire” (does she or doesn’t she?), and remarks about her stunning (we thinks so) Marian Ettlinger photo.  Here goes:

The Lipstick Chronicles:  Do you think female writers whine too much about inequality?

Laura:  Whining knows no gender. I've heard lots of men complain that women are biased as book buyers, refusing to buy books by men, but let me say it again—no man rides the top of the bestseller list without female buyers.

And I see a variety of women doing very well commercially—Janet Evanovich, Tami Hoag, Mary Higgins Clark, Patricial Cornwell, Sue Grafton. Two of them came out of romance. Coincidence? I don't think so. Janet and Tami cross-pollinated their audiences with great success. Is anyone writing girlier books than Janet Evanovich right now?

Here's the real choice. You can see publishing as a finite pie, with only so many slots. And there's a good case to be made for that kind of jealous, narrow view. Heck, it's literal in airport bookstores—there are only so many slots to shelve the mass market paperbacks. But it's hell on your karma, thinking that way. I tend toward Auden—We must love one another or die. As a group, we should be looking at the huge successes, the books that sell in the millions, and figuring out how to persuade those infrequent readers that other books can provide just as much pleasure. Crime fiction has a diehard core of people who read 3-5 books a week, but the big hits are made by people who buy 3-5 books a year. Let's get them in our corner. And let's go after the literary snobs while we're at it, convince them that crime fiction has books that will meet their standards. We're not in competition with each other as much as we're in competition with video games, television and film.

TLC:  Tell us about starting as a paperback author and transitioning into hardcover.  Was that a conscious choice or publishing necessity?

Laura:  I had three offers for my series, all PBO. My agent thought it was the smart way to go—

much better, for example, than taking a hardcover deal from a publisher who wouldn't guarantee a paperback edition within twelve months. And my sister, who works in a bookstore, told me that it was very hard to get people to spring for a hardcover by an unknown. Blissfully ignorant, I just assumed that all PBOs crossed over to hardcover eventually.

I won the Edgar® for my second book, with the third book already on the presses, and my fourth book would have been too anomalous a place to start. My fifth book was the right time to make the transition. It's the crack cocaine paradigm. We got them hooked at the lower price, then jacked it up.

TLC:  Do you feel you’ve had to “earn” the respect of reviewers and readers, especially en route to producing two harder-edged stand-alones?  What about the respect of your peers (i.e., the boys at the bar)?

Laura:  My peers have been great and most reviewers have been, too. To the extent that I don't feel respected, it's probably more a function of my own neurotic personality and a few malformed individuals who have gone out of their way to let me know that there's nothing I can do to earn their respect. I'm a poseur and a hack and they've got my number and they're not going to be suckered into liking my work no matter what. Again, I'm paraphrasing.

My stand-alones have been pretty subversive in their own way, the girliest stories ever placed within the context of crime fiction. The stories turn on things like Barbie dolls and frosted cupcakes. The reviewers who dislike them tend to be female and I think they're embarrassed. It's like—"No, you can't say 'tampon' in a mystery novel because then the boys will know we menstruate and that's grooooooooooooooss." Yet male reviewers have been crazy about those books. Go figure. It seems to me that the danger might be in thinking too hard, over-analyzing it all. Write what you want to read, but be honest with yourself. If you don't like to read work squarely in the mainstream, you're going to have trouble producing it. Frankly, I'm surprised I have as many readers as I do.

TLC:  What’s it like hanging out with the guys on “The Wire?”  Have you ever contributed to a show?  If not, would you want to?

Laura:  I don't hang out with the guys from “The Wire,” although I sometimes tag along if a visiting writer is being treated to dinner. After all, I've known Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane a long time and I'm a big fan of Richard Price's, so I like talking to those guys. But I try to keep my distance. For one thing, the boredom of making a television show cannot be overstated. Really, craft services is the highlight of any set.

I've made exactly two contributions to the show, one involuntary. "The Farmer in the Dell" was a motif in my novel "The Last Place," which "Wire" Executive Producer David Simon read in galleys. Next thing I knew, Omar the stick-up man was whistling that tune on the first season of "The Wire." Now people ask if I stole it from the television show.

But I'm never going to write for the show. It's a lose-lose-lose. No one's ever going to believe that I got the gig on merit. I'm going to be rewritten because the inexperienced writers get rewritten, that's how television works—but I'm going to be rewritten by my boyfriend, and won't that make dinnertime fun? And then when the script goes into production, people will feel they can't be as frank because it was written by the boss's girlfriend. Fact is, I can't see any upside to writing for "The Wire."

Plus, I know a little secret: Making a good television series is actually harder than writing a good novel.

TLC:  We’ve saved the most important question for last.  We’ve heard you say that men don’t particularly like your author photo.  What’s the deal with that?  You think they would’ve approved if you’d posed in a sexy dress with a post-coital smile?  (Curses, Typepad!  The photo would not reproduce when cut and pasted...to see it, go to Jeff Abbott's interview with Laura here.)

Laura:  Men think I look mean in my photo.  I think they would prefer me smiling and holding a large cherry pie, fresh from the oven.  A smile, oven mitts, a strategically placed pie—now that might move some books.  But only if I used a body double.

TLC:  Oh, please, girlfriend, even Publishers Weekly gushed over your toned arms.  Hey, thanks a million.  We owe you lunch at Bouchercon.  Harley’s paying.

STAY TUNED:  On Thursday, David Montgomery, hot stud, reviewer and blogger, gives us a glimpse at the male view on the subject of chicks and detective fic.  On Friday, journalist, blogger, and goddess Sarah Weinman has the spotlight, and he-man best-seller Harlan Coben rounds things out this weekend.

July 05, 2005

The Hot Spot "Girl Ghetto" Series: Laura Lippman

The Hot Spot Series on Crime Fiction's "Girl Ghetto"

What Laura Says

Never ones to shy away from controversy, the Book Tarts decided to bring together some of the brightest minds in the mystery world to talk about an issue that’s near and dear to Otto Penzler’s black heart:  do cats really solve crimes?  Ha, ha, just joking.  Instead, we’ll do a little “He Said, She Said,” with gutsy goddesses Laura Lippman and Sarah Weinman giving their take on whether the “girl ghetto” is a crime fiction myth or reality, while hot studs Harlan Coben and David Montgomery will alternately share their views on the subject.  We’ll start with Laura on Tuesday and Wednesday, let David speak his mind on Thursday, give Sarah the podium on Friday, and finish up with Harlan.  Then the Book Tarts will dish on everything that was said!

Without further ado, Ms. Laura Lippman, award winning author of stand-alones, TO THE POWER OF THREE and EVERY SECRET THING, and the fabulous Tess Monaghan series.

The Lipstick Chronicles: What’s your take on the “girl ghetto”—do hard-boiled books by men really garner more review attention and publisher push? 

Laura:  Let's start with the good news. When it comes to buying novels, women have an overwhelming majority among the buyers. We have real power. No one gets on the bestseller lists without attracting significant numbers of female readers. And if we look at commercial fiction very broadly, women are doing well—maybe too well. It's my theory that the term "chick fic" was invented, in part, to demean its success. It's a genre that's as broad as crime, especially in the quality of work produced. The knee-jerk need to dismiss it as all fuzzy-pink mind candy is pretty misogynistic. 

As for our genre—men's stories are seen as the universal template. Much of the crime genre centers on a man's need to define manhood, to find a code to live by, to decide how violence should figure into that code, if at all. Men and women have a stake in that outcome because women often are the first to suffer when masculinity is defined via violence. So that story is universal, absolutely. Yet when someone writes about a female PI—or cop, or, lord help us, an amateur sleuth—the story is seen as specific to that woman. Her struggle is a personal one, not a universal one.

Yet men have a stake in women's stories as surely as women have a stake in men's stories. (The hand that rocks the cradle…) And, anecdotally, I have found most male readers open to that idea. Put it this way—“The Lovely Bones" could not have been as huge as it was if men weren't buying it, too. Because while women are the primary fiction buyers, the big successes—from "Harry Potter" to Tom Clancy -- are made when male buyers join the pool.

TLC:  At the Virginia Festival of the Book in March, a man in the audience commented to your all-female panel, “If you want men to read your books, why don’t you write like a man?”  Want to talk about that?

Laura:  I'm still trying to figure out how to write like a man. Does it involve power tools? A remote control?  Submarines?

In answering that (very cranky) gentleman at the Virginia Festival, I talked a lot about that template I referenced above. But I also think we look to all writers as anthropologists, people who bring back-stories from places we aren't able/willing to go. Those places can be literal or figurative. Richard Price's success with his trilogy of Jersey novels—"Clockers," "Freedomland" and "Samaritan"—is based, in part, in the fact he took readers to neighborhoods and lives that they wouldn't dare explore on their own. George Pelecanos has done the same thing with D.C. 

But Margaret Maron has taken me inside a large and complicated Southern family—a place I have no fear of visiting, but also no opportunity of glimpsing from where I sit in Baltimore. And Elaine Viets, with her Dead-End Job books, has shown me a slice of life far outside my experience. Elaine may be writing light, funny mysteries, but she's also writing about the day-in, day-out reality of living on the socio-economic edge. Would her stories be any more universal if her character was a day laborer who stood on a corner, waiting for a lawn gig? I don't see how.

TLC:  Is Bouchercon turning into a “boys’ club” where women who don’t write hard-edged books are relegated to less optimal time slots?  (We're just asking, not accusing!)

Laura:  I haven't seen the panel line-ups for this year's Bouchercon, so I have no idea what's going on. I'm on at 1 p.m. Friday and to paraphrase Sojourner Truth—Ain't I a non-hardboiled woman?

I think Bouchercon is programmed according to what the (hard-working, unpaid) volunteers believe will be popular. Throw in the complication of travel schedules, who commits when, competing events, overlapping requests…it makes my head hurt to think about programming Bouchercon. And there are a lot of popular boys in our crowd. Look, let's be honest about it. The guys have groupies. I do not have groupies. I may have a stalker or two, but that's a different story. Put me, Jan Burke, Margaret Maron, S.J. Rozan and Val McDermid in one room, singing, playing the banjo, doing magic tricks, and acrobatics. (I happen to know that Val and Jan can both sing beautifully.) Now have Barry Eisler, Jason Starr, Harlan Coben, John Connolly, Ian Rankin and Ken Bruen in a separate room, just sitting on stools and letting fans take digital photos of them. My hunch is the men will outdraw us. I'd probably leave my panel just to go to theirs, if only for some tips on hairstyling. Those men all have seriously nice hair. And, it should be noted, they're all fine writers to boot.

(Here's another thing that no one talks about—hetero men are totally homoerotic. They love, love, love each other because they love being men. The more hetero they are, the crazier they are about each other. It's really very touching and women could learn something from it. Because while those guys I named have female admirers, they have even more male admirers.)

If women are getting less-than-desirable panel slots—big "if," to reiterate, I haven't seen the program—it might be an unintended consequence of Malice Domestic's success. There could be a sense that people have had a chance to see many of their favorite female writers, but when else do you get to see some of the male writers I named above? Especially the ones from Ireland and the UK.

The larger problem, the real problem is—what, exactly, do any of us, male or female, have to say that's new and interesting? What do the fans want? Are the authors there to crack jokes, mull seriously about our genre, give pragmatic advice to newer or would-be writers? Those aren't rhetorical questions. I really want to know what the attendees want. Bouchercon is a fan convention. We shouldn't lose sight of that. True, we all pay the same fee to attend. But the writers get to deduct it from their taxes and we have the fun of hanging with our friends at day's end. If the fans are unhappy with the programming for ANY reason, they should make it known—and get involved with future Bouchercons.

STAY TUNEDTomorrow, Laura talks about whining women, transitioning from PBO to hard cover, "The Wire," and her controversial author photo!

June 11, 2005

MJ Rose in the Hot Spot, Part Deux

PengirlThe Book Tarts' conversation with author and buzz guru MJ Rose about the state of the publishing biz today continues....

The Lipstick Chronicles:  How can we change the publishing community's sexist view that issues of love, marriage, dealing with bosses, raising children, etc., deserve less respect than, say, an author's account of being a raging alcoholic for 20 years?

MJ Rose:  We don't have to change their sexist view--we just have to change our names to men's names; because, when a man writes about love, marriage, dealing with bosses, raising children, he not only gets respect, he gets reviewed and gets to go on The Jon Stewart Show.  Let's all become Toms, Dicks and Harrys and see how much easier it gets.

Nancy:  Just don't call me Dick.  I refuse to be a Dick.

Susan:  Don't call her Hairy either.  I did once, and I got an Epilady in the noggin.

Sarah:  Wasn't there a phrase that PW tried out last year--chickdicks?  For chicks who are private detectives.  In Vermont, chickdicks means something else entirely.  They're at my church in high heels, sweater sets, and pearls...and a faint five o'clock shadow.  Eerily reminiscent of my Lithuanian grandmother.

TLC:  Is a person who wants to open an independent bookstore today certifiably insane?

MJ:  Not in my book.  Jenny Lawton opened a great indie in Greenwich, CT, four years ago.  Three years ago, she opened a sister store in the next town over.  She is anything but crazy.  We need more lunatics like her.

TLC:  Is the era of the book tour coming to a close for everyone but the Big Name/Celebrity Author?  Do publishers consider the marketing and selling of new authors such an impossible task or so prohibitively expensive that it's not worth it anymore?

MJ:  Actually, no, they don't think it's impossible.  They do know how expensive it is though.  So they reserve it for books they are more sure of.  This season TimeWarner went nuts with Josilyn Jackson's GODS IN ALABAMA.  Looked to me like at least a $250,000 marketing budget.  Same thing for this month's BITCH POSSE by Martha O'Conner.  Two debut authors who were not big name/celebs at all.

I'd venture a guess the same number of authors are being toured every year as each of the last ten years.  The only difference is that there are quadruple the number of novels being published each year now as there were ten years ago, so it seems less tours are happening.

Even taking self-published books out of the equation, more than 400 novels are released every single week.  It more authors went on tours, the readers in the stores would be the celebrities and the authors would be in the audiences.

The other problem is that the media in the tour cities doesn't get all hot and bothered over most authors.  By and large, we're just not the celebrities that music and movie stars are.  We don't get the headlines.  We don't get the gossip.  We don't look like they do.  At least most of us don't.

So even when we tour, we're not getting the kind of press we need to make the tour worthwhile.  It's not the publisher's fault (this time).  We're just not those kind of stars.

Nancy:  Do we enjoy staying at the Hampton Inn, anyway?  Not really. My tour low point was a Ramada Inn in West Virginia.

Susan:  You know, I'll sleep on a sofa if someone offers, but it'd be nice to do a Hilton every once in awhile (and I'm not talking Paris or Nikki...see Nancy's column on "sluts" from June 8).

Sarah:  My glamorous tour included an Aerosmith Review held by a couple of drunken Pennsylvania fat guys until 1 a.m. at the Sharon Radisson.  Such a treat after driving back and forth down I-80 for twelve hours.  Dude didn't look like a lady, unless you're talking about the Vermont Chickdicks (see above).

Harley:  And I'm still recovering from the long black hair in my room service fruit plate at the--well, I think it was a Budget Inn in Omaha, but it's one of those unrecovered memories.  Something near the airport.  My publisher had forgotten to book me a hotel, a fact overlooked by us all until 4 p.m. that day as I was madly driving from a library signing in Seward, Nebraska, trying to make a radio show in Omaha.  I was, naturally, willing to sleep in my rental car (how bad could it be?  I was a Girl Scout), but my publisher wouldn't hear of it.  Ah, we coddled authors....

TLC:  Finally, we love your idea of having a Readers Expo and would be honored to lend our support to the movement!  How about Book Tarts for the Ethical Treatment of Readers?  Seriously, how can readers with money in their pockets discover new authors and good books to read?

MJ:  I love it.  Let's do it.  Seriously.  In the meantime, the best way for readers to discover new authors these days is most probably online, by reading a smattering of dozens and dozens of sites, blogs and newsletters.  Readerville.com, Bookreporter.com, DearReader.com, Beatrice.com, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, BookBitch.com, Vidlit.com, and on and on and on.  The only problem is, if you spend too much time reading about reading, you just might not have enough time left to read a book.

TLC:  Thanks, MJ, for becoming an honorary Book Tart.  Your certificate is in the mail.  Nancy did the calligraphy herself.

Nancy:  I hope it's legible.