Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Guest Blogger Lydia Hirt

Every time I moderate a panel, people ask questions about the publishing industry. Today's guest blogger Lydia Hirt is in a good position to share knowledge from behind the scenes. Lydia is the marketing coordinator at the Putnam and Riverhead imprints at Penguin. She works on a wide variety of books including literary fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, historical fiction, and mysteries.

You can find her on Twitter for Putnam and Riverhead, and also on Facebook. Lydia loves talking to people about books and would like to connect with you!

Please welcome Lydia to Meritorious Mysteries!

Guest Blogger Lydia Hirt

I’ve always identified myself as a reader. Growing up, I was the girl on the playground at recess, reading the Mary Higgins Clark I had smuggled from my house while waiting in line for four square. Directly from college I dallied in the advertising industry and was the only one who never saw our commercials air, since I would be reading Patricia Cornwell or Vince Flynn and inevitably ignore the TV. It seemed natural to me to move to NYC, with the sole determination to find a career in the book publishing world.

I now work in Marketing for G. P. Putnam's Sons and Riverhead Books, both imprints at Penguin Group. I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by books every day and the people that produce them. Just last week I saw Sue Grafton in the hall and was celebrity-struck as I scurried into my office, thinking how I had borrowed her first book, A Is for Alibi, from my high school library.

Many other iconic mystery writers have strolled through Putnam’s hallways, known as the “preeminent publisher of thrillers,” including the renowned John Sandford, Clive Cussler, Catherine Coulter, Patricia Cornwell, Tom Clancy, Ridley Pearson, Robert Crais, Robert B. Parker, Daniel Silva…and the list continues.

Books are to me what the sense of smell is to many others – an instant connection to the past along with a thrill of recognition; especially true with mysteries as I really connect with the characters throughout a series. Mystery authors tend to have a very loyal following, as their characters grow and develop along with an audience (I recently wrote about the Genre that Never Dies). Both Grafton and Sandford have been gracing bookshelves with the same characters since the 1980s.

In addition to working with established authors, it’s always a thrill to be part of an author’s career at the beginning. Each writer has a first book—the question of how to reach an audience and get people talking about a new author in a crowded genre full of well-known talents is something that really does keep me up at night and occasionally invades my dreams.

January 7, 2010 marks the release of Finnish author James Thompson’s debut U.S. thriller, Snow Angels. It is the first in a series featuring Inspector Vaara and I’m already looking forward to the next installment. Launching an author has unique challenges, but it’s exciting for both us as the publisher and the first time author (James, for instance, is just lovely), and it’s inspiring to help find deserved success.

People read mysteries for a variety of reasons, and I’m interested in hearing yours. Who are your favorite authors and do you remember what originally drew you to their book? Why do you read mysteries, and can you sleep in the dark when you’re finished (am I the only one that has a hard time falling asleep, imagining noises on my patio)?

Thanks for joining me here on Meritorious Mysteries. Molly, thank you for including me on your wonderful site!

Cheers and happy holidays to all!

Lydia Hirt

Connect with me at my http://www.novelwhore.wordpress.com blog or on Twitter
Do you plan to Buy Books for the Holidays?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

HOLLYWOOD MOON by Joseph Wambaugh (Little, Brown)

Nowhere are characters more real than that place we all think we know—Hollywood. Whether it is the officers of Hollywood Station or the bad guys, the scam artists ], or the violent felons, Wambaugh's characters jump off the page. As an ex-LAPD detective sergeant Wambaugh knows how to make it real. You will soon feel as if you are on the streets of LA.

You will meet the veterans and the rookies of the precinct, but the bad guys may be more colorful than the good guys. Our leading bad guy is Dewey Gleason. Dewey is married to Eunice—the brains of their operation. She is the computer hacker and Dewey is the field operator, hiring young college kids and punks to do their scams. An aspiring actor, Dewey uses several disguises when connecting with his runners, so they never know they are dealing with the same person.

On the police side are more aspiring actors, like ‘Hollywood’ Nate and the surfing dudes like Flotsam and Jetsam. Then there are policewomen like Dana Vaughan and Mindy Ling. The action never stops—sometimes you think you need a scorecard to keep track of all the players and whether they're bad or good. The pace is fast, it is real, and it all comes together in Joseph Wambaugh’s latest thriller, Hollywood Moon.

Stephen Bank
Stephen is a librarian at the Cary NC Library

Thursday, November 19, 2009

THE DEFECTOR by Daniel Silva (Putnam)

Gabriel Allon is on his own again in Daniel Silva’s latest thriller. Even though it is only six months since his daring escape from Moscow in Moscow Rules, he is again defing Ari Shamron’s order to return to Israel. He is off to London to find out why the defector Grigori Bulganov has suddenly been spirited out of his sanctuary in London. Is Grigori truly a double agent as the British suspect or has he been forcibly taken back to Russia.

Gabriel came within a millimeter of losing his life in saving Grigori, and anti-government journalist Olga Sukhova. They both risked their lives in helping Gabriel bring down the notorious arms dealer Ivan Kharkov. They also brought out of Russia Elena Kharkov, Ivan’s ex-wife, and their two children. Now it appears that they are all on a hit list directed by Kharkov, who seems to have regained his place in the arms world and intends to extract revenge on his enemies.

Gabriel believes that Grigori is not a traitor and he had promised to protect him. So instead of staying in Italy with his beautiful new wife Chiara and returning to restoring precious art works, he is off to London to get to the bottom of Grigori’s disappearance. An assassination attempt in London convinces him that Grigori didn’t return to Russia voluntarily.

Fans of Daniel Silva will enjoy a return to the usual fast-paced world of international espionage and murder as the action moves rapidly among Italy, England, Russia, and Israel.

by Steve Bank,a librarian at the Cary NC Public Library.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Guest Blogger Tracy Kiely

Today, I'm delighted to have Tracy Kiely visit Meritorious Mysteries. I thoroughly enjoyed her debut novel, Murder at Longbourn. when Tracy landed at my table during the 2009 First Novelists panel at Bouchercon, I found her to be as entertaining in person as she was in fiction. I know you'll enjoy Tracy's suggestions for dealing with troublesome relatives.

Tracy will be on hand today to answer questions and comments. This is your chance to share stories about some of your relatives--in complete anonymity, of course!

This Relative for Hire by Tracy Kiely

A strange thing happened last week. While I was diligently plugging away on my third book, I happened to glance away for just a teensy second and during that brief moment of distraction, my muse just up and left. I don’t know if she ducked out for a quick cigarette or what, but I haven’t heard from her in days. Frankly, I’m beginning to suspect that she may have been hit by a bus. Either that or she’s sprawled on a beach somewhere in Cancun.

Two things happened while I was waiting for her to come back:

A) I ate a lot of my kids’ Halloween candy. (Which reminds me; for those of you handing out DOTS and Laughy Taffy, please cease and desist. That stuff is awful. Chocolate--buy chocolate. It’s not for me—-it’s for the kids.)

B) I came across some notes from a mystery writing class that I took years ago. What jumped out at me (other than the fact that I have lousy handwriting) was this bit of advice:

“A mystery must have tension, secrets, and characters that inspire strong feelings – particularly murderous feelings.”

And I thought—-hello!—-change out “The holidays” for “A mystery” and the observation becomes even more apt. I mean, think about it--we are rapidly heading into that time of year when facial tics become a part of our daily existence and why? Because of our families! Those lovely people who drive us to the emotional extremes that keep psychiatrists’ businesses booming. Their weird quirks, their prejudices, their emotional manipulations, hell, in some cases just the way they breathe can send you over the edge.

For instance, I remember the Thanksgiving I was ten. My mother had worn herself out prepping her usual fare; a massive turkey, two kinds of stuffing, yams, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, and, of course, a pumpkin pie for dessert. That morning my grandfather insisted on taking us all out to brunch. As he made his third trip to the buffet, my mother laughingly said, “Now, don’t eat too much! Remember to save room for Thanksgiving dinner.”

With a dismissive flick of his wrist, my grandfather grunted, “Freeze it.”

Then there’s the relative who, upon eating one of my hors d'oeuvres last Thanksgiving, spit it out into her napkin and crossed the room to where I was getting dinner ready. She then handed the mess to me, and in that way little kids talk when trying to keep their tongues from touching their mouth, said, “I don’t like this.”

Cute story until you consider the fact that the relative in question is a forty-six-year old.

Okay, perhaps they didn’t exactly inspire murderous feelings (although my mom looked pretty pissed), but they certainly inspired strong feelings. We’ve all heard the advice “write what you know” and it’s pretty good advice. By carefully observing those around you, you can create some really solid characters. Characters that make you feel, make you care, and in some cases, characters that make you giggle with glee when they finally get what’s coming to them.

The problem is when we write what we know, we are tempted to write about the people we know—and if we do write about them, nine times out of ten we are going to get busted.

But, my friends, that’s all about to change because I propose we create a network where frustrated writers who are missing their muses can log in and find their inspiration.

Remember Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, where the two men traded murders? Well, instead of trading murders, we trade annoying relative stories! And let’s not limit ourselves; co-workers, bosses, ex-loves are all eligible. It’s a win-win situation. We get to vent and use great material! Should my hors d'oeuvres-spitting relative read about her actions in your book, well, that’s nothing to do with me! And should your Aunt Josephine who lets her dogs eat out of her mouth read about a character eerily similar to her in my book, well, it must be some kind of coincidence, right? Right!

So, tell me your horror stories and I’ll tell you mine. I’m free today as my muse is still MIA. She’s either lying on a hospital bed in a full body cast or on a beach towel sucking down mojitos.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Guest Blogger Tracy Kiely

Tracy Kiely, author of the delightful Murder at Longbourn, will be my guest on Tuesday, November 17. She's got a great suggestion for mystery authors—that "writers trade annoying relatives - that way no one gets busted for using family in their books! Kind of like Strangers on a Train but with characters."

Please join us for a lively discussion.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


The kind folks at Simon and Schuster have offered three copies of The brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity for me to give to you! This would be a great holiday gift for a favorite youngster!

Because I have trouble being the fourth caller or the tenth person to email, I thought I'd make this easier (for me). Just post a comment to this entry and tell me who your Brixton Brothers reader would be (you don't have to give a name—my sixth-grade nephew is fine) and why s/he would enjoy reading this book. Of course, if the intended reader makes a comment, that's even better.

Be sure I have a way to contact you if you're the winner! If you don't have an email associated with your comment, just email me at mysteryheel [at] mac [dot] com.

If you don't know what I'm talking about, shame on you. I reviewed the book on November 3. Just scroll down, you'll see it.

CONTEST DEADLINE - Sunday, November 22, 12:00 midnight EST

A CADGER'S CURSE by Diane Gilbert Madsen (Midnight Ink)

Reviewing a friend's book is always hard. Telling folks about the book—and the friend—is easy. So, let me tell you how this all started.

Several years ago, I volunteered to be a judge in the St. Martin's Malice Domestic Award contest. The first year, I received more than 50 entries! My office was absolutely full of plain brown envelopes. I wonder what my postman thought I was ordering! As I began reading the manuscripts, I quickly realized there were major differences in the entries. Some were laden with grammatical errors; some were poorly written; many were good beginnings, but needed major polishing; and, a very few, were very, very good—almost ready for publication.

Diane's DD McGil story fell into the latter category. While a traditional mystery, it was high-tech, edgy, and featured a protagonist who was sassy, smart, and brave. In short, she was a lot like VI Warshawski, Sharon McCone, and Kinsey Milhone—and many other contemporary hard boiled female PIs. Comments from publishers were good, but they were, quite simply, looking for the next generation of female sleuths.

Diane and her husband Tom moved from Chicago to Florida, and Diane was caught up in the move and a new job. But. She didn't forget DD McGill and she didn't stop writing. Fortunately,during that time, trends shifted again. A few months ago she called me with great news: Midnight Ink was publishing A Cadger's Curse. It wasn't the same manuscript I'd read, but it featured DD (and I recognized a couple of scenes and situations that were familiar).

Here's the new situation. A few days before Christmas, DD is asked to run background checks on new hires at a high tech company. On her initial trip to the client, she discovers a body. Unbelievably, it's someone she knows. Even as DD continues with the assignment, family holiday plans march on. The Scottish Dragon (Great Aunt Elizabeth) arrives with a bag full of contraband (Scotch whiskey and a genuine(?) Robert Burns manuscript).

As bodies continue to fall, DD must determine whether they're concerning her case or the manuscript.

DD and Auntie Elizabeth head a cast of well-drawn characters involved in a fast-paced mystery that I recommend wholeheartedly. Welcome to my world, Diane and DD!

This book was provided by the publisher.

Thanks, Pat Bertram

Thanks, Pat, for guest blogging yesterday. Thanks, too, to all of you who posted!

Happy reading, everyone!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A DRUNKARD'S PATH by Clare O'Donohue (Plume)

I've read a number of light mysteries lately and have met detectives (all women) who are either caterers, dyers or gardeners. When I saw that this was about quilters, I wasn't excited.
Actually the quilting part worked very well. The quilting group gives a reason for the characters to work together to do their detective work. Even though there are a lot of fairly major characters, the author gave each a trait which made her identifiable: one is a grandmother, Kennette is mysterious, another opens a coffee shop.

Less realistic was Rich, the teenager who was regularly committing crimes and always being let off for them. While the crimes were always of the breaking and entering type, I doubt that he would still be on the streets for long in reality.
I found the relationship of the protagonist, Nell, and her sort of boyfriend, Jesse, more problematic. With her behavior in the book— constantly interfering in his work and going behind his back—I found it difficult to imagine why he would ever want to continue the romance or whatever it was. I appreciated that they didn't just live happily ever after, but I wondered why he would want to ever continue with her at all.
The author writes well and it was an interesting book and, all those facts about quilting were interesting, informative, and non-distracting. I have no more interest in quilting than I did at the start, but I did learn a lot.

—Stephen Hennessey

This book was provided by the publisher.

Guest Blogger Pat Bertram

I'm delighted to welcome Colorado author Pat Bertram as a guest blogger today. Pat's the author of three mysteries, most recently Daughter Am I. Today, she shares some of the notes and thought processes which brought the book to fruition.

I finished writing the first draft of Daughter Am I on February 2, 2005, and after the all subsequent years of rewriting and editing, I’ve managed to forget most of my original ideas. I recently dug out the notebook I kept while writing the novel and was surprised to see all the preparation I did beforehand. I have pages of notes about Chicago, particularly about the section of the city called River North. I hand drew a map of the neighborhood with a star to mark the location of my fictional bar. I even have a description of the bar, though I don’t remember if that description came from a guidebook or my imagination. According to my notes, the bar was originally a speakeasy during prohibition. The building dates from 1872 and has housed a tavern since 1921. The bar retains many of the fixtures from those days, including a brass rail for the feet, an old cash register, and faded ads on the walls.

I noted odd bits of history: both the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and the FBI shooting of Dillinger took place on North Lincoln Avenue. Serendipity came into play when I discovered that seven bushes mark the spot of the massacre, which is now (or was when I wrote Daughter Am I) a grassy area next to a senior citizens home -- the perfect place for one of my feisty octogenarians to live.

I have many notes about Tombstone, Arizona, though I used very few of them. Apparently, I was quite taken with the Bird Cage Theater because I have a full page of notes about that music hall where Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt, and Lillian Russell all performed. The Bird Cage Theater was also the site of the world’s longest continuous poker game. In all, $10 million dollars exchanged hands. I cannot even fathom how much that would be in today’s dollars. A hundred million? A billion?

I have notes about mileage for Mary’s journey. Denver to Julesburg is 182 miles. Julesburg to Ogallala is approximately 29 miles. Ogallala to York is 231 miles. York to Omaha is 106 miles.

I have a life-size drawing of the gun in Mary’s handbag -- an Astra Cadiz .38 revolver. One of my editors questioned that Mary would feel the extra weight of the gun, but the answer is here in my notes -- the weapon weighs two pounds, so yes, it would be noticeable.

I jotted down bits of dialogue, some of which, like this, never made it into the book:
“He’s good people.”
“What does that mean? That there’s more than one of him?”

I made some cryptic notes, such as: “all roads lead to Cincinnati,” which refers, I think, to the beginnings of the national crime syndicate. And “Covington was the proving ground. When they went to Las Vegas, they already knew how to run big casinos.”

I kept two timelines -- a current one detailing Mary’s journey, and an ancestral one. Her great-grandfather was born in 1901, her grandfather was born on January 16, 1921, her grandmother was born on June 23, 1927. Why such specific dates? I don’t know.

Strangely, I even have detailed character sketches of all my characters. The only reason it’s strange is that I’ve never done that before. But then, I never wrote a book with so many characters who were onstage at all times.

Thank you for indulging me today. I hope you enjoyed leafing through my notes as much as I did.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Guest Blogger Pat Bertram

Pat's new book is Daughter Am I. She'll be blogging here on Tuesday, November 10. Please drop by and meet her.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

THE BRIXTON BROTHERS: THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY by Mac Barnett, illus. by Adam Rex (Simon & Schuster)

What a hoot! Twelve-year-old Steve Brixton wants more than anything to become a detective. He's read all 57 of the Bailey Brothers' Mysteries and The Bailey Brothers' Detective Handbook and he can quote from them. He even solves a case that's boggled the entire Ocean Park police department. When a homework assignment involves him in his own case, he's happy to recall Bailey Brothers' maxims—until he realizes he's not nearly as big, as strong, and as old as the Bailey Brothers. The reader, however, realizes he's probably much smarter!

I think this might well be an answer to the prayers of folks who've worked to get young boys interested in reading. Steve Brixton is smart and funny, and he's incredibly realistic to our times. Here's hoping there will be as may Brixton Brothers mysteries as there were Hardy Boys--er Bailey Brothers books!