a very odd (but not bad) day

First, I wrote a lot of words. A whole lot. More, I think, than I have ever written in one day before. Gone a gusher would not be too much said.

How many words and more information on this I cannot provide, as my superstitious Italian self will not allow me to put such things out there for the Evil Eye to jinx. But it was good.

Then Laura Vivanco, an academic in Great Britain whose area of specialization is the study of the socio-cultural and literary context of the romance novel, wrote a long post at Teach Me Tonight called “A Case Study on Genre: Rosina Lippi’s Tied to the Tracks and The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square in which she takes both novels under her microscope and comes up with a couple dozen very interesting observations. I was surprised and happy, because hey, I am a recovering academic and I spent my adult life from age 27 to 47 immersed in it up to my neck, and I know what effort went into it.  So a public thanks to Laura, and an acknowledgment: I know my two most recent novels are not exactly romance, or romantic comedy, or anything else, for that matter. I know that I don’t fit into any genre. That fact has made things pretty difficult for me, marketing wise. Laura’s solution:

If I had to choose a label for these novels, I’d make up a new one. I think they’re contemporary romantic emotional-mystery fiction.

Which she admits needs to be shorter. So if somebody could (1) come up with a catchy term that gets the same idea across and (2) magically insert that term into the group consciousness, that would be really helpful. I’d be thrilled. I actually quite like emotional-mystery, though I fear it won’t catch on.

Finally (and this is the real oddity). Paperback Writer has a post up about the one-sentence story website that I wrote about last week, and she links back here. Nothing odd about that, the normal tip of the hat to another weblog author who has pointed you in an interesting direction. What is odd, however, is that Lynn’s post was picked up — I still find it hard to believe this — by Andrew Sullivan on his Daily Dish weblog.

I have great respect and admiration for Paperback Writer, but Andrew Sullivan? Yikes. Rather than go into a long explanation of why I stay away from everything having to do with Andrew Sullivan, I point you to Mickey Kaus at Slate, who managed to sum up my feelings about A.S. concisely:

Andrew Sullivan has decided to give out a Nancy Grace Award. Criteria (suggested by Sullivan’s readers) include “a nauseating level of absolutist self-righteousness,” an “unflappable self-assurance that [the nominee’s] outrage represents the true moral high ground on any issue” despite a propensity to “flip flop”–and a habit of “excessive personal attacks.” [Emphasis added]… You mean like righteously bullying anyone who fails to support a war in Iraq, then turning around and righteously attacking the people who are prosecuting it? … Can you think of any nominees? I’m stumped. source

I hope S.L. gets a ton of traffic due to the link, but it did take me aback. The only parallel I can think of would be if Laura Bush or (even worse) Ann Coulter announced publically that Tied to the Tracks was her favorite all time novel. Nightmare material.

Heart Sick, Chelsea Cain (review & giveaway)

Update: The reading went very well, but it was crowded. Chelsea grew up here, and half the audience was made up of her old teachers and classmates. It felt like a reunion — a happy one. I’ll leave this drawing for the signed copy of her book open for another couple days.

On a related matter: I still haven’t heard from the two people who won the paperback edition of Queen of Swords. If I don’t hear from them by Tuesday, I’ll drawn two other names.

Note: giveaway details at the end of this post.

There are a number of authors out there who write crime/thrillers really well. Some of my favorites are John Sandford, Lee Child and Stephen Hunter. Laura Lippman and Thomas Harris are also favorites, and they are by far the best stylists, by which I mean their prose is as impressive as their plotting and characterization. The first three are superior strorytellers, but with a minimalist approach to prose.

There are many authors out there who write crime/thrillers that don’t work — at least for me. These are usually novels that derive from the standard murder-serial killer-care worn detective model. Sometimes these authors have a three or even six great novels in a series, but then they lose the thread. However, if the books have sold, they will usually continue writing. I’m sure you can think of some names that go in this list.

[asa book]0312368461[/asa] I pick up a new crime/thriller author with some trepidation. Willing to be surprised, certainly, but not very hopeful. There aren’t many Laura Lippman’s out there. Then the day before yesterday I picked up Chelsea Cain’s Heart Sick.

The best thriller writers are the ones who don’t tell you everything, but let you figure out some things for yourself. They also avoid stereotypes, and make the primary characters stand out. Cain does everything right in this novel, to the extent that I sometimes stopped reading to marvel.

This is the story of Archie Sheridan, a Portland, Oregon detective and Gretchen Lowell, who is in prison and will be there for the rest of her life for a series of very disturbing torture-murders. Archie, who was the lead detective on the task force looking for the serial killer is also Gretchen’s last victim. He is the only one to survive, despite his horrific treatment, but not because the police burst into the room where he’s being held. The circumstances of his long, ten day captivity and Gretchen’s decision to call an ambulance and turn herself in are given to us in small chunks, while the primary plot is evolving.

Archie visits Gretchen in prison every Sunday. The alleged reason is that she doles out information about the burial spots of her victims a crumb at a time, and only to Archie. The real reason is that Archie cannot shake himself loose of her — not in a sexual way, but for reasons far more complex and interesting.

After a two year recovery, Archie, addicted to pain killers, comes back to the Portland police department to head up a new serial killer task force. This one takes young girls, rapes and murders them, and leaves them to be found. At the same time, Archie agrees to let a journalist shadow him, with the goal of her writing a four part investigative piece about him, the hero cop. Susan Ward knows this assignment can make her career, but she is as vulnerable around Lowell as Archie is.

Cain does a masterful job of tying the different threads together in a way that surprised me. The rarest kind of surprise, too, when my urge is to read the book from the beginning right away, to see what clues I missed.

Coincidentally, Chelsea Cain comes from the town where I live, and tonight she’s reading at our local independent, Village Books. Such a coincidence needs to be acknowledged, so I am giving away a signed first edition of Heart Sick, along with one of my own signed novels, to some lucky person whose name I pull at random from the comments to this post. If you’d like to tell us whether you read thrillers, and which authors you prefer, that would be interesting — but not necessary. Just throw your name in the hat, if you like.

I have the feeling that Chelsea Cain will be a great success, so a signed first edition of her first novel is a great thing to have, even if you’re not so much a fan of thrillers.

friends, enemies

The internet is my friend.

It saves me a great deal of time and trouble when it comes to research,  finding references, quotations, books. It has relieved me of the onerous need to go clothes shopping. It has introduced me to like-minded women who have become good friends. It provides me with news that I can trust (if I look hard enough, and carefully enough, and compare). When the newscasters and politicians are lying through their teeth, somebody on the internet will be providing a different perspective and hopefully, at least some part of the truth. Or at least a laugh. The internet shows me movie previews and clips from broadcasts I missed, but wished I hadn’t. It lets me find a good, cheap hotel room (again, if I know how to look) and tickets to Spamalot for the Girlchild. It shows me photographs of places I have never been and probably will never go, taken by people who are more adventurous than I am. It distracts me when I’m edge and unsettled. It brings me notes from friends who are far away, from relatives I rarely see, and a way to respond without the pressure of an open phone line. It is the way I talk to the people who buy and/or read my books, to my editor and agent, even to the Mathematician, one floors down in his own office.

The internet is not my friend.

Procrastination is a binary proposition. Will I work, yes or no? The internet provides a thousand ways and reasons to step away. Link by link, inch by inch, it draws me further away. It introduces me to people who write beautifully about things that are important to me, who provide perspective on what is going on in the world. These people are far more interesting to me than working, or cleaning up the kitchen.

It is very hard to resist the temptations of the internet. I try to restrict myself to reading the feeds I have setup on Bloglines, but sometimes I am weak. Just recently I added Teach Me Tonight, “Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective”. Six academics talking seriously about romance fiction; a sinkhole of interesting, relevant posts on matters of professional importance, written by a group of six academics.

The internet is merciless. What would I do without it?