Thursday, January 31, 2008
Click here to read it.
How does The Overlook's fictional tough-guy detective get a first name like Hieronymus (Harry's real name)? Why, his murdered prostitute mother named him after a fifteenth-century painter, of course. It's enough to make a mystery fan wonder just who the real Hieronymus Bosch is.
Hieronymus Bosch the painter (self-portrait at right) was born Jerome van Aken in Hertogenbosch, Holland, in 1450. His father and grandfather were both painters, and it's believed that the young man changed his name to avoid confusion with these other family members. Hieronymus is the latinized version of Jerome (who knew!) and the painter took his last name from his hometown. Bosch's paintings feature surrealistic, distorted figures illustrating complex subjects.
It's not surprising that Michael Connelly's detective Harry Bosch would somethow be connected to a painter whose works show the "fateful consequences of human folly." Sounds like a day in the life of an L.A.P.D. homicide detective.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
We review a lot of books for possible inclusion in Select Editions. Hundreds a year. Some of them, well, just don’t make the grade. Just for fun, we thought we'd share the following entertaining review excerpts from a former editor who, when he didn’t like a book, didn’t leave you guessing about his opinion!
“A real tour de force of nastiness, brutality and paranoia. It makes you want to take a bath when you've gone just 100 pages into it--which is as far as I got. Now that I've put it down I feel better, thanks.”
“Insomniacs, however, will welcome this book for it's profoundly soporific effect.”
“Contrary to the publisher's letter, this is nowhere near as good as To Kill a Mockingbird, to which it bears no more resemblance than a mockingbird does to a buzzard.”
“Narrative drive? With this author It goes right off the road.”
“Ho-hum on the range.”
“Maybe the movie will make things clearer. On the other hand, a movie could also make things a lot worse.”
“Jumbled plot, clumsy writing, remote subject… Need I say more?”
“Don't look for much in the way of original drama or much action in this slow, predictable western … We've been here so many times before that we could might just come up with a new genre: Rancho Deja Vu.”
“Too little suspense, too many characters, too much murky history, and a plot that goes wildly awry. On the plus side, the British edition does come with a nice silk ribbon to mark your place. When was the last time you saw one of those?”
The upshot here is that sometimes the review is more fun to read than the book...
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Elizabeth Adler has shared her life with a number of Siamese cats, and she has managed to feature one of them in her current Select Editions book Meet Me in Venice.
Siamese cats are not like other cats, for a variety of reasons. First of all, they talk. Endlessly. Second of all, most of them know how to fetch. Throw a toy, and they’ll bring it back to you, over and over. And of course some cats are perfectly content sleeping all day on a designated cat pillow, while a Siamese only sleeps when you’re not around, and usually somewhere it’s not supposed to be in the first place.
In Venice our mischievous cat manages to create an important plot development that somehow eludes most of the human characters in the story! For the record, the cat in the book is a seal point named Maow, and is based on Adler’s real life Siamese Sweet Pea.
Monday, January 28, 2008
I have to admit that I did not read Michael Connelly's The Overlook when it was published in weekly installments in The New York Times. Maybe it's because I'm such a Connelly fan, and the idea of having to wait week after week after week as the story unfolded was simply too much to ask. And I have to admit, I did have more than a sneaking suspicion that he would publish it as a book, sooner or later. I figured I could wait.
The thing is, we've gotten out of the habit of reading serialized fiction. Aside from The Green Mile by Stephen King, which was published in weekly installments, and of course what the Times is doing in their Sunday Magazine, I can't for the life of me recall any other current mainstream serial fiction. It just doesn't happen anymore (although the audiobook The Chopin Manuscript was an interesting case, in this instance originally published as series of audio installments by Audible.com). Oh, I mean I'm sure someone is doing it on the internet, but then again, someone is doing everything on the internet, so you can't go by that. Yet there's a great history of novels published serially, going back at least as far as Charles Dickens. The story is told about his The Old Curiosity Shop, that American readers were standing jam-packed on the dock anxiously waiting for the boat to arrive from England with the installment that told whether Little Nell had lived or died. You don't see that anymore.
Then again, some mainstream TV shows have taken up the serial challenge. Lost, for instance, and Heroes. But still, I still prefer to find out what happens as quickly as possible. Give me a beginning, a middle and an end any day of the week. And more to the point, give them to me on the same day of the week!
Friday, January 25, 2008
I just read that James Patterson is planning to publish his very first nonfiction book later this year (plus another six—6!—fiction books; that's as many books as some people read in one year). His co-author will be Hal Friedman, a former colleague from Patterson's advertising years, and the tentative title is Against Medical Advice. Patterson is giving out no details about the book except to say, according to USA Today, that its "a good, heartfelt story."
I admit it. I'm curious. And I'll bet you are too.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
No surprise, here: I love rhetorical arcana—hidden knowledge that can enrich anyone’s vocabulary, build cross-word-puzzle skills, and prevent fancy-pants highbrows from pulling the wool over the native intelligence of common folk with specialized terms meant for the anointed few. Here’s an example. I recently heard someone use the somewhat intimidating word “isomorphic.” Not quite sure what he meant, I leapt right on the word nerd trail to unpack this mouthful. Iso, it turns out is Greek (many prefixes and suffixes are), and it means, simply, “alike” or “equal.” Since morph means “form” or “shape” (also Greek), isomorphic means “having the same shape.” Simple. So what didn’t this person just say that? Well, he did in his own way: He is a college professor. That’s how they communicate. Now, no longer in the dark about this $25 term, we can, too.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
If you spend a little time in the whimsical world of Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Doctor, and you enjoy a good beer now and then, as I do, you can’t help wondering about the Celtic brew favored by the imposing, big-hearted Dr. Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly. Despite his gruff exterior, Dr. O’Reilly is a jolly pub mate who quaffs Guiness stout at the nearby pub with demonstrable pleasure. If in the company of his wacky Labrador, Arthur Guinness—named for his favorite potable—O’Reilly is sure to order a bowl of Smithwick’s for the cosseted pooch.
So with images of rural Northern Ireland in mind, one weekend not long ago I stopped in at our local beer and soda distributor to see if I could buy and try some this taste of Ireland. I expected that they would stock Guiness, which is popular in the New York area. But the store had not only Guiness but Smithwick’s, and Harp beer, too, not mentioned in the novel but a famous Irish brand.
To my considerable enjoyment—and surprise—I liked each one. I remember tasting stout years ago, just after college, and thought it was certainly full bodied. But I also thought it tasted a little bit like carbonated coffee. Well, palates change, I guess. Or more rightly, they mature. And I can recommend this stout without hesitation to anyone with a taste for the sterner stuff.
By the way, it’s called stout because it is a “strong” beer. It is dark in color and is made from roasted barley. Smithwick’s, the “red” ale, and Harp, a lager beer, both are honey colored and smooth in taste. A little more expensive than domestic beer, they are fun for special occasions, for a party or picnic, say, especially if you’re celebrating a connection to or an appreciation of the Emerald Isle.
Friday, January 18, 2008
While Michael Connelly says that he and Harry Bosch are very different, they do share one important characteristic: they are both jazz fans. "I listen exclusively to jazz when writing, because it is not as intrusive as music with lyrics and its improvisational nature is inspiring to me," says the author. "Invariably the music I am listening to ends up on Harry Bosch’s CD player. I think the music he listens to says a lot about him."
To share his love of jazz, in 2003 Connelly put together a limited-edition CD called Dark Sacred Night, which features Bosch’s favorite music, including works by artists such as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, and Louis Armstrong. While that disc is no longer available, Connelly more recently tapped jazz legend Frank Morgan to provide original music for an 8-minute video featuring excerpts from The Overlook, read by Len Cariou. Click here to see and listen to it.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Meet Me in Venice is a lush, globe-hopping sort of romance, but working on it I was struck more than anything by one very evil character who has no objection whatsoever to killing women to get their money. Every time he popped up on the page again, the reader within me cheered (or, I guess, hissed). Nice, happy characters are all well and good, but give me a bad guy any day, someone who you can't trust a word that he says, who just keeps getting nastier and meaner as the story progresses. Will anyone ever be able to stop this guy, you wonder? He's what keeps you reading, just to find out.
The way I see it, the worse the bad guy is, the better the book is.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Roberts isn't alone in creating multiple writing identities. Can you match the below authors with their popular pseudonyms?
1. Stephen King
2. Barbara Delinsky
3. Jeffery Deaver
4. Ruth Rendell
5. Evan Hunter
6. Jayne Anne Krentz
A. Ed McBain
B. Barbara Vine
C. Richard Bachman
D. Amanda Quick
E. Bonnie Drake
F. William Jeffries
The answers are in the comments section below.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
I admire James Patterson for many reasons. His plots, his books, his sheer output, his mentoring of upcoming writers. But what I am most in awe of is his marketing and public relations acumen. The man is a marketing genius. Granted, he comes by it honestly since his former job was as head honcho of the advertising firm J. Walter Thompson. Several months ago I was walking down the frozen foods aisle of the local A&P when I heard James Patterson's voice over the muzak loudspeaker, talking up his latest book. And when one of our editors was expecting a child a few years ago, he left a message on her phone urging her to consider reading his children's books, the Maximum Ride series. He had met my colleague at a publishing function, and had remembered she was pregnant, we theorized. And just try going to Amazon and punching in one of his books. Most likely you'll find a recent message from him, thanking you for considering his book. He is everywhere! And so are his books.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Nowadays the bestseller lists are loaded with the latest book in a series, either the latest mystery featuring a recurring sleuth, or fantasy novels that seem to be number 48 in the saga. Nothing stands alone anymore.
Now, I have no problem with this in general, but what I think is often lacking nowadays is the writers' allowing you to jump on the bandwagon at any point without having to suffer. Think of your classic authors and their series, like Agatha Christie with Hercule Poirot, or Rex Stout with Nero Wolfe, or John D. MacDonald with Travis McGee. You could pick up any book featuring these characters, and the author never stranded you in the middle, but always greeted you as if you were visiting this fictional world for the first time, taking you by the hand and introducing you to what was going on, and making you feel comfortable. And more remarkably, if you were a repeat visitor, the pros did this introducing in such a way that old timers never felt they were suffering through a rerun.
In the latest Select Editions volume, you get to see a contemporary master of series at work. With brilliant and almost invisible strokes, Michael Connelly paints the world of his detective Harry Bosch in The Overlook in such a way that, if this is your first exposure to him, or your thirteenth, you know exactly what you need to know about him and feel right at home joining his adventures. It is truly a magic art to be able to appeal to new readers and old at the same time, at any point in a series. I wish more writers today could do it, because then I wouldn't feel so lost in some of their series, But then again, not all writers are Michael Connelly. But you knew that!
Friday, January 11, 2008
“Stranger than fiction” is a term that's often bandied about, regarding a true tale that seems incredible. Well, here’s a story that truly fits the bill.
Marina Nemat was a feisty high school student in Tehran, Iran, in the aftermath of the Ayatollah’s revolution. For a bit of school-girl resistance against the overbearing religious authorities who had taken over her school, she was arrested and thrown into the notorious Evin Prison at age 16. Soon sentenced to death, Marina was saved from execution at the very last second by a Revolutionary Guardsman who had fallen in love with her. Eventually, she married her captor only to have him killed in front of her by a rival radical faction. After that Marina was able to return to her family. She eventually rekindled a relationship with her childhood sweetheart, and they later married and then were allowed to emigrate. So Marina moved to Canada and lived there quietly until, in an effort to understand her life, she began to write of her early, hard-to-believe experiences behind bars.
Marina tells her riveting story in a memoir called Prisoner of Tehran. It’s available in paperback and it's quite a read. We recommend it.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I ran across an interesting statistic recently, while reading an article in USA Today about James Patterson, the author of Step on a Crack. My jaw nearly dropped when I read that if Patterson were treated as a publishing house unto himself, he’d be tied for fourth for most number-one bestsellers in 2006—ahead of all of HarperCollins, a major publisher.
Huh? I decided to investigate further. The statistic came from an industry e-newsletter called Publishers Lunch, which we here at Select Editions enjoy for its up-to-the-minute news, thoughtful insights, and—yes, we admit it—gossip. According to the newsletter’s founder, who compiled these statistics from data released by The New York Times, there were 125 number-one bestselling books in 2006. James Patterson wrote nine of those 125 books. That’s seven and one quarter percent of all number-one bestselling books published in 2006. Gadzooks!
Hachette, the parent company of Patterson’s publisher, Little, Brown, “only” had eighteen number-one bestsellers in 2006. That means that fully half of Hachette’s success in this realm was due to a single author—James Patterson.
That might give Patterson the right to the nickname held by the late NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt—the Intimidator.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Once you've read No Time for Goodbye, recently featured in our all-mystery volume, you can't but be curious about the mind that thought up that story. Here are some interesting details on author Linwood Barclay, in an interview conducted by our Select Editions counterparts in the UK.
RD: What was the starting point for this book?
Linwood Barclay: I was thinking about a true story of a family who awoke one day to find that their daughter had gone missing from their home in the middle of the night, and I thought: what if you reversed it? What if a young girl awoke to find all the members of her family gone, without a trace?
RD: And, after that, how did you proceed?
LB: Once you come up with a premise, you have to work out how it all happened. It's a bit like—this may be a bit of stretch—like coming up with a spectacular roof design first. Before you can get it up there, you need to build a solid foundation and supporting structure. Another answer: when I'm working out a plot's finer points, I leave the study and go cut the lawn. It’s a great way to work out story problems.
RD: Are the characters based on anyone? I’m thinking particularly of Terry.
LB: My sensibilities about a lot of things probably come through in Terry, particularly since the book, all but the first chapter, is written in the first person. Most of the other characters are pure invention, and the true identities of any who are based on real people shall remain secret so as to protect, well, me!
RD: Where were you brought up and what was your upbringing like?
LB: I was born in Darien, Connecticut, but in 1959, when I was four, my parents moved to the suburbs of Toronto. Then, in the late 1960s, they bought a cottage in a resort/trailer park in the Kawarthas region of Ontario, and we moved up there. I wrote a book about it in 2000 called Last Resort: Coming of Age in Cottage Country.
RD: And where are you based now?
LB: We're half an hour from Toronto, which offers everything you could want from a city, and a couple of hours from beautiful vacation country. We have it all here, plus George W. Bush is not our president.
RD: Did you always want to write?
LB: Yes. I was filling entire school notebooks with stories by Grade 3. Of course, they were double-spaced and the handwriting was huge.
RD: You have three strands to your career: public speaking, filing a regular column for the Toronto Star and writing novels and humour books. How do you fit it all in?
LB: It's been a bit hectic. I've written six novels in the last five years on top of three columns a week for the Toronto Star and a busy speaking schedule. This coming year I'm going to ease up on speeches, and I'm taking a year's leave of absence from the Star so that I can focus on my next couple of books.
RD: Is there one thing you enjoy doing most, or do you like the variety?
LB: I do enjoy the variety. And the speaking is fun because it not only gets me out of the house but allows me to meet lots of interesting people from different backgrounds.
RD: How did you get into public speaking?
LB: In the mid 90s, my columns mocking our provincial premier-of-the-day here in Ontario, who was attacking hard-working teachers and gutting school budgets for political gain, sparked many invitations to speak to educational organisations. Word of the funny, self-deprecating stories I told in those speeches spread, and I ended
up being asked to speak to all sorts of groups. I was even the featured speaker at
a convention of folks who run parking lots. How many writers can say that? Who knew that parking-lot operators had an association and an annual convention?
RD: Where do you like to write?
LB: In my study at home, surrounded by books, my late father's beautiful paintings of 1950s-era cars—he was a commercial artist whose work appeared in Life, Look, Saturday Evening Post, etc., back in the 1950s before car advertisements turned to
photography—and an assortment of toys such as trains, cars, sci-fi kitsch and replicas of spaceships from 1960s Gerry Anderson puppet shows.
RD: Do you have a routine?
LB: Nothing formal, but I'm in my study first thing in the morning. When I'm not on leave from the Star, my priority is the column. I'm reading through the papers, reading news online, looking for inspiration. When that's out of the way, I shift gears and work on a book, if I'm doing one at the time.
RD: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
LB: You have no one to blame but yourself. Or maybe that's the worst thing!
RD: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
LB: I think things are unfolding very nicely for me these days.
RD: You’ve been married for over twenty-five years. What would you say is the secret of a long and happy marriage?
LB: Maintaining a sense of humour, never taking your partner for granted, and resisting the temptation to lift the lid on stuff your wife is cooking to give it a stir.
Monday, January 7, 2008
On page 574 of the latest volume of Select Editions Irish-born Canadian author Patrick Taylor, M.D., talks about his early career as a young physician in Northern Ireland and the inspiration for the whimsical village of Ballybucklebo. Here is more of the original interview with Dr. Taylor.
Select Editions: Are many of the characters in your novel, AN IRISH COUNTRY DOCTOR, based on people you knew in Northern Ireland?
Patrick Taylor: Based on fact and then embellished. All of my characters are like Mrs Kincaid’s recipes: a pinch of this, a teaspoonful of that, stir, and with a bit of luck you’ve got an interesting person derived from bits of many.
SE: Dr Fingal O’Reilly’s mantra is: ‘Never let the patient get the upper hand.’ Did that ever happen to you?
PT: Very recently a patient thrust an internet printout of a research paper at me and asked whether I was familiar with the particular study and, if not, why not? I asked her to look closely at the author’s name. My own.
SE: What was it like living in Northern Ireland during the Troubles?
PT: Bloody. Imagine being a gynaecologist, having a weekend off and returning to find not one woman on your 30-bed ward. The patients were all victims of a bomb blast.
SE: Is that why you left for Canada in 1970?
PT: Yes, we had a young daughter and didn’t want her to grow up in the Troubles, which looked as if they could go on for ever. She was two when we left and thirty when they called a cease-fire.
SE: The scenery of Ulster comes across as idyllic in the book—and the food sounds delicious. Do you miss those things?
PT: I do miss the scenery, particularly of a place called Strangford Lough, where as a boy I used to shoot ducks and go for peace and solace when life was too intrusive. But the scenery here in British Columbia is pretty impressive. I don’t miss the delicious food because my wife, who’s also from Ulster, is a superb cook.
SE: And your favorite dish is . . .?
PT: Basically, I’m a grand man for the pan. I like a full cooked breakfast with bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, mushrooms, barmbrack …
RD: You love sailing too. What kind do you enjoy most?
PT: Intermediate distance and offshore racing were the biggest thrill—Victoria to Maui, for example. My job was navigator, as I’m a little on the short side for deck work. My best friend, who owned the 50-foot boat had to sell her, unfortunately. But now I enjoy inshore cruising on our 26-footer and there are some wonderful waters here for that.
Friday, January 4, 2008
On the nonfiction side of things, in our professional and personal lives we sometimes come across great books to pass on as recommendations. Here's one: The Other Side of Me by Sidney Sheldon.
One of the iconic blockbuster novelists of the 1970s and '80s, Sheldon got around to publishing a fabulous memoir a little while ago. Sidney Sheldon was never pretentious and was the first to admit that he was no Proust. He was just a savvy storyteller with a deep background in show business in the 1950s and '60s to draw on for characters and plots that turned out to have near universal appeal in his heyday. The memoir starts out with a scene in which the young Sidney, growing up in New York City, is in despair over his poverty and lack of prospects as a writer and is seriously contemplating suicide. Right then, his father intervenes:
“Sidney, you told me you wanted to be a writer more than anything in the world.”
He suddenly had my attention. “That was yesterday.”
“What about tomorrow?”
I looked at him, puzzled. “What?”
“You don’t know what can happen tomorrow. Life is like a novel, isn’t it? You have no idea what’s going to happen until you turn the page.”
Thus begins Sheldon’s bracing and breezily told life story of plying the writer’s craft on Broadway, in movies and series television, and, finally, popular literature. I can tell you that virtually every page is entertaining. It’s now available in paperback. Check it out.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
I just saw in Publishers Weekly that the Apple Store in New York City's Soho district is hosting author interviews, where major writers talk about their work, and read a bit from their latest. These interviews, which include Select Editions favorite James Patterson, among others, are available singly or as a subscription, and like all iTunes podcasts, are free for the taking. Of course, the goal is for Apple to sell you the audio version of the book after you've gotten teased by the authors, but those of us getting the book on paper will still be able to benefit. Seek it out on iTunes or try to connect through this URL Meet the Authors, (which will launch iTunes for you). Don't have iTunes? Well, that's free too. Just go to the Apple.com site and download either the Mac or PC version. You don't need an iPod to enjoy top-drawer literary conversation (and plenty else, besides).
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
"All that mankind has done, thought, gained or been is lying as in magical preservation in the pages of books."
--Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
"I cannot live without books."
--Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
"Read in order to live."
--Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
"A home without books is like a room without windows."
--Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)
One night around bedtime, a few weeks after Molly came to live with us, my husband decided that the time was right to get out the doggie nail clipper and try his hand at trimming her nails, since Molly was relaxed on her blanket in our bedroom. A minute or two later, I heard a pitiful yelp. I ran into the bedroom and found Molly hobbling around in circles, making bloody pawprints all over our light beige carpet. My husband was standing in the middle of the room, clippers in hand, frozen in shock. Yes—he had accidentally cut her nail below the quick.
My husband picked Molly up in his arms and ran down the stairs, leaving a trail of blood from her dripping paw in his wake. It looked like a scene from CSI. We settled her in our minivan and began our journey to the all-night veterinary emergency room 25 minutes away. In the van, Molly began licking her wound clean, and by the time we pulled into the parking lot the bleeding had virtually stopped. She pranced into the emergency room with us, a smile on her face. “Hi!” she seemed to say to the doctors. “How you doin’?”
Behind the stainless-steel double doors of the “operating room” she went. We sank into chairs in the waiting room and tried to compose ourselves. An hour later, around 1:00 a.m., we were presented with a wagging Molly and a bill for $125.00.
Now Molly goes to a nice man named Jason for her manicures. She hands him her dainty paws and the entire procedure is over in about 20 seconds—for a cost of only $12.50. It seems like a bargain to us!
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
—Laura -- I resolve to find a knock-out true-life saga or memoir to showcase in Select Editions in 2008.
—Tom -- I promise to read at least three of the classic FREDDY THE PIG series stories, by Walter L. Brooks, to my kids.
—Jim -- I resolve to either catch up on all the TV shows I've been recording and not watching, or else erase them.
—Amy -- I resolve to return my library books on time. And before the dog chews them.
—Joe -- I resolve to finish a book before starting next one. Don't expect to keep it strictly, because I like having a semblance of choice, but must cut down on the towering piles of the half-finished books.
—Barbara -- I promise to read the books on my nightstand reading pile—or at least the one on the top:A Sportsman's Notebook by Ivan Turgenev (the Everyman's Library edition).