Thursday, July 31, 2008

The right book (whether you want it or not)

In Sarah Addison Allen's books there always seems to be kind of magical occurrence that you just wish was real. In The Sugar Queen there's a character who has a very special relationship with books. Or maybe it's the other way around: books have a very special relationship with her. No matter what's going on in her life, books magically appear out of nowhere to give her advice, whether she wants that advice or not. When she's breaking up with her boyfriend, for instance, the book Finding Forgiveness appears in her apartment. In fact, she's been chased by books her entire life. And if she ignores a book or even goes so far as to throw it away, another copy will appear in its place. Again and again and again. The nerve of books to tell her how to live her life!

What a great idea. Wouldn't it be fantastic if the perfect book you needed at any moment would just magically appear in your hand?


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Behind the heroes

As Dick Francis freely admits, there’s a little bit of himself in all his main characters, from veteran jockey Sid Halley to rising star English chef Max Moreton. That each Dick Francis hero tends to get roughed up a lot has not only to do with the fact that he is a tenacious crime buster who runs afoul of bad guys. But also because Francis himself has had more than his share bruises and broken ribs from his days as a premier steeplechase jockey. He knows of what he writes.

Another signature feature of a Dick Francis mystery is getting behind the scenes of different professional worlds. “People seem to enjoy my books,” he once told Select Editions, “because they learn something about a trade they know little or nothing about.” This was famously true of Banker (1983), one of his most popular novels. It was true of Twice Shy (1982), which featured a British schoolmaster and expert marksman and was directly patterned on Dead Heat co-author/son Felix Francis.

It is also at work in Dead Heat, which takes readers into the heat of the kitchen of chef Max Moreton. This understated, self-made stoic hero can claim three inspirations. It has a soupcon of its two co-authors, surely, but also more than a dash of Gordon Ramsay, England’s most famous chef. A popular favorite in the UK (with a growing following in America), Ramsay is sui-generis, like Max Moreton. Unlike the understaded Moreton, though, Ramsay embraces celebrity with gusto. A vibrant, self-made cuisine celebrity who has a handful of his own establishments (including the renowned three-Michelin-star London restaurant, Gordon Ramsay), a reality TV show, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, (one of my favorites), he is famous for his spicy, direct way of talking that is mercifully unpretentious in a profession that is all too often forbiddingly the opposite.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Exclusive interview with author C. J. Box

See below for an interesting interview with the author of Blue Heaven, featured in the current volume of Select Editions.

RD: After seven novels starring your popular character, Joe Pickett, you’ve created a stand-alone novel, Blue Heaven, and it’s gathering extraordinary amounts of praise. Does that encourage you on to the next book, or make it more daunting?
CJB: The success of Blue Heaven is validation in every regard, and it is a fresh wind in my sails both for future Joe Pickett books and additional stand-alones. I especially appreciate new readers giving it—and me—a shot.

RD: Can you sum up the character of Joe Pickett in a few words?
CJB: Joe Pickett is a Wyoming game warden who loves his family, his low-paying job, and his frontier code of right and wrong. He finds himself constantly in the middle of contentious environmental issues and vicious criminality and tries to put things right.

RD: Is it true that before your first book, Open Season, was published you wrote secretly for some twenty years, afraid of failure as a writer?
CJB: Yes. I didn’t want my daughters to think, "My dad—the failed novelist." I didn’t reveal what I’d been working on all those years until I had a book contract in 2001.

RD: Your first job was as a reporter on a newspaper in Saratoga, Wyoming. But you’ve also worked as a ranch hand and fishing guide, which suggest that you love the great outdoors and the American West. Is that so? And could you imagine living anywhere else?
CJB: I grew up in a state—Wyoming—with a population density of two people per square mile. The environment dominates everyday life and the history of the American West is still very fresh. There are more pronghorn antelope than people. Although I’ve travelled throughout the world, I would never want to return to anywhere else.

RD: What is it you love about Wyoming and Idaho, where Blue Heaven is set?
CJB: Although both states are rural, scenic and isolated, they also play host to extreme things: weather, issues, events. It is as if the lack of crowds makes those who live there step up and become more powerful characters. People are close to the earth and have very strong opinions about it. Plus, there’s great trout fishing.

RD: Is the ranching way of life disappearing to some extent, as you suggest in Blue Heaven?
CJB: Yes. It has been a trend in the last twenty years for the wealthy to buy their little piece of heaven and pretend that they’re lords or ranchers. It has changed the economics and culture of the Mountain West.

RD: It’s interesting that because so many LAPD officers have retired to Idaho there’s now an area of the state called "Blue Heaven." Did you meet any of them during the writing of the book?
CJB: Yes, a few. And a few more during the book tour for the novel. All of them were friendly and interested in the novel. They know it’s only fiction.

RD: Hunting, shooting and fishing all seem to be part of your way of life. Do you love one of them above the others and, if so, why?
CJB: In order: fishing, hiking, skiing, riding, hunting—but only for game meat, not trophies.

RD: You serve on the board of directors of the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. Is that fun, and do you take part yourself?
CJB: I love it. The rodeo culture has roots in the earliest days of Western expansion and the people involved are earthy, tough and passionate about what they do. I’ve been a volunteer in the rodeo itself for over twenty-five years now.

RD: Do you have any particular ambitions you’d still like to fulfill?
CJB: I want each book to be better than the last, and I hope some of them resonate with readers in ways far beyond the crime-fiction plots. I also want to spend more time catching fish on flies.

RD: What are your greatest loves, apart from fly-fishing and novel-writing?
CJB: My family: wife Laurie and three daughters, Molly, Becky and Roxanne.

RD: And what riles you most?
CJB: Blind extremism; arrogant and stupid bureaucrats and public officials; and political correctness.

RD: How would friends and family describe you?
CJB: I hope they would describe me as very busy but always available.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No health secrets for POTUS

After reading The First Patient, one realizes how much of a production the medical care of the president can be. In addition, medical privacy doesn't really exist for POTUS, so if you're squeamish about the public knowing intimate details of your health history, don't run for president. Granted, the public has an interest in the president's health, but really, must we know about every hemorrhoid, mole removal, gastric upset? Apparently so. Details of each president's annual physical are released to the public—and these aren't your 10-minute quickie exams either. President Clinton's physical on January 12, 2001, for example, took 3 hours to complete. We learn that Clinton had elevated cholesterol (233), and was started on medicine to lower his cholesterol. In addition, doctors decided to simplify his medication regimen for his gastro-intestinal reflux disease (who knew?) because he was about to leave office, and would be in charge of taking his own medications. President George H.W. Bush had a sebaceous cyst (whatever that is) on the third finger of his right hand drained at his May 10, 1989 physical. Otherwise, he was in excellent health. And there's plenty more! If you like these medical tidbits about POTUS, you can visit and read about "the coughs, cancers and cures of the presidents."


Friday, July 11, 2008

Dick Francis writes on

Dick Francis retired from writing after the publication of Shattered in 2000. His wife Mary—who acted as his researcher and editor—had died, and he decided that the time had come to take it easy. So it was quite a surprise when, in 2006, the manuscript of Under Orders appeared in our office. We loved it; it was the Dick Francis at his best, featuring jockey-turned-investigator Sid Halley, his long-time series hero. The word on the street was that Francis's son Felix had taken on the role Mary used to play, and sure enough, the latest, Dead Heat, is officially listed as written by "Dick Francis and Felix Francis." And it's still got that old magic. This time our hero is a chef named Max Moreton, and we go inside restaurant kitchens and concert halls (Max's girlfriend is a violist) and, in keeping with the Francis tradition of horses, to a polo match. Our British office read this one before we did, and they pointed out the one thing that makes a Francis book a Francis book: the charm of the narrator. Dick and Felix working together are keeping that charm as dazzling as ever. It's nice to know there's still a few reliable things in the world.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Isn't that a song?

As I read C. J. Box’s terrific suspense novel Blue Heaven (Select Editions volume 298) for the first time, I wondered about the title. Something was nagging at my brain . . . Hadn’t I heard the phrase somewhere before? It sounded so familiar . . . is it a song? Could I hum it? Or is it a movie?

Well, the title I was thinking of is “My Blue Heaven” (one word longer), and not only is it a song and a movie, it’s also the title of at least one book, according to the “disambiguation” page. One of my favorite features of Wikipedia is this useful filter, which helps random searchers like me find out what I really mean (for example, do I mean Mercury the element, Mercury the planet, or Mercury the automobile). I had stumbled upon an expanding universe of possibilities with just one search.

I must digress a moment to talk about the word “disambiguation” — one of my favorites! At first, I thought it was a neologism dreamed up by computer nerds, something specific to Wikipedia. But no—the word appears in Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary, eleventh edition. Although there’s nothing wrong with ambiguity—it’s every artist’s stock in trade—for me, disambiguation has a certain emotional appeal as well. There’s satisfaction to be gained when things are classified—the satisfaction of knowing that other classifications, orders, and configurations are always possible.

Anyway, “My Blue Heaven” is the title of three songs: one written in 1927 and recorded by no fewer than 85 artists, including Gene Ausin and Fats Domino; one released in 1989 by the band The Pogues; and one released in 2007 by the band Taking Back Sunday. It’s also the title of two movies, one released in 1950 starring Betty Grable and one released in 1990 starring Steve Martin—and no, the latter is not a remake of the former. A search on Amazon reveals that My Blue Heaven is also the title of three books and a play, each of them on different subjects.

What is it about the words “blue” and “heaven” that, when combined, form something magical? Clearly, the words have inspired more than a few writers and artists. Perhaps it’s that heaven can’t properly be ascribed a color, just as rage can’t properly be called purple, except poetically. There’s probably a word for that verbal technique—maybe a Greek term from the formal study of rhetoric. Does anyone know?

All I know is that Blue Heaven by C. J. Box takes readers on a wonderful journey, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Old and new

I love the mix of old and new in the latest volume of Select Editions, which we've just begun shipping to readers.

Kicking things off there's Blue Heaven, a thriller by C. J. Box, most famous for his Joe Pickett mystery series. What's new here is that Box has taken a break from his game warden hero and ventured into completely new ground. It begins when—No! I won't tell you how it begins. You'll see for yourself, and I assure you you won't put it down till you've reached the end of it.

Next up is Michael Palmer, a familiar author to SE readers. Palmer, perhaps the foremost medical thriller writer in the world, takes his physicians-behind-the-scenes approach to the extreme in The First Patient, who just happens to be the president of the United States. The book comes with a glowing quote from Bill Clinton, who probably knows a thing or two about being president of the United States.

Back to the new, we have discovery author Sarah Allen Addison's second novel, the enchanting The Sugar Queen. If you enjoying venturing into this very special writer's magical world back in Garden Spells, you'll be happy to once again enjoy Addison's unique melt-in-your-mouth blend of life and romance.

And finally, in the perfect mix of old and new, there's Dead Heat. The father-son team of Dick and Felix Francis is back, reinvigorating the patented Francis combination of horses, heroes, and intrigue in the British racing scene.

As I said, a mix of old and new. And a pretty good mix, if I do say so myself.