Saturday, September 30, 2006

Shamus Awards

I sat next to Steve Hamilton at the 25th Annual Private Eye Writers of America awards dinner. Steve and I both work in high tech for our "day jobs:" he at IBM and me at a software company in the reporting space. Steve was telling me how a short story of his was turned into a short film starring David Srathairn (of Good Night and Good Luck fame). It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival recently. Very exciting--both in and of itself and because it may lead to future opportunities for Steve to work with film maker Nick Childs.

Also at my table was David Cole, who was nominated for an award in the best paperback original category. David lives and writes about Arizona, which is where I grew up and where the first August Riordan story is actually set. But David is in Tucson and I lived in Phoenix, so naturally we had to make with the obligatory trash talk about each others' towns.

The program started with a tribute by to Mickey Spillane by Max Allen Collins. He told some great stories about Mickey and also played a portion of a film he had produced about him.

Then came a roast of Private Eye Writers of America founder Bob Randisi. There were a lot of jokes about how prolific a writer and how bad a singer Bob is, but I thought Bob's agent Dominick Abel took the cake when he explained that he learned everything he knew about sex from reading Bob's Gunsmith series (something like 300 books) and then proceeded to prove the point by reading a sex scene from his favorite (#285 I believe in case you want to check it out). Apparently Bob is also a card sharp and has lost money at every race track in the USA.

After the roast, we got down to the awards themselves. Max Allen Collins was given The Eye award for life time achievement. (Say, does anyone else but me think that Al looks a little like Roy Orbison?) Fellow Bay Area writer Louise Ure won best first novel for her Forcing Amaryllis. Best hardcover went to Michael Connelly for his Lincoln Lawyer and ... drum roll please ... best paperback original went to fellow Bleak House Books author Reed Farrel Coleman for his The James Deans.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bouchercon, Day II

I went to a reviewers' panel on Friday afternoon. Sarah Weinman (Baltimore Sun, Galleycat, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind) was moderator with fellow reviewers Larry Gandle (Deadly Pleasures, Tampa Tribune), Oline Cogdill (South Florida Sun-Sentinel), Sarah EC Bryne (Crime Factory) and Jennifer Jordan (Crimespree Magazine, January Magazine) as panelists. Sarah and Jennifer are also writers themselves.

The discussion was interesting and centered around ethics in reviewing with Oline drawing the hardest line in avoiding possible conflicts of interest in interactions with publishers and writers, and Larry admitting that he didn't have a problem buying or receiving a drink or two from a writer friend.

After the panel, we went to the signing room and caught Sarah inscribing some of her short fiction:

Along with S.J. Rozan:

And Steve Hamilton:

I sat in at the Mystery News table for a 30 minute slot and signed several books for dealer Mike Dillman.

And one for my friend Garry Warren Niebuhr, for whom one of the (main) characters in Vulture Capital was named.

Bleak House Books / Crimespree Magazine Party

Here's how you found your way to the Bleak House Books / Crimespree Magazine Bouchercon party:

And here's the blow-out bash you encountered when you arrived--organizers expected 70 or so attendees and ended up with about 300:

All the big names were there, including Lee Child and Rhys Bowen, pictured below, as well as John Connelly, Laura Lippman ... you name your favorite author and he or she was there.

And a few of us little guys were, too. Here's me hoisting a glass with Dave Oskin, President of Big Earth Publishing, the umbrella house that owns the Bleak House imprint.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Bouchercon, Day I

Well, I dove right into my Bouchercon experience with a panel in the first slot at 12 noon. The topic was "Creating the Mood with Pacing and Suspense." Suzanne Arruda was the moderator, and my fellow panelists were Hope McIntyre, Steven Sidor, and CJ Songer. Here's the group:

We were quite a diverse set of authors, but I thought the discussion was interesting (except when I put my oar in) and first-time moderator Suzanne did a very nice job of keeping us on track and synthesizing all the comments into some coherent themes. Despite the early time, we actually had a full room of people. I'm all done with panels for the conference, but as Suzanne said, sometimes it's good to "swallow the bullfrog" and get it over with quickly.

After the panel we went up to the signing area in the dealer room. This gentlemen, whose name I didn't get, has the distinction of receiving the first signed copy of the first edition of Candy. If you're wondering about the puzzled looks on both our faces, we are both trying to remember what day it is so I can include the date with my signature!

If you look closely at this next picture, you can see me stamping a first edition of The Immortal Game with my Chinese "chop". It's a transliteration of my name in Chinese characters and I often add it to my signature when I do in person signings for individuals. It's just a way of making the signature a little more distinctive.

Here's what it looks like on the page (although I always have to ask my wife, who is Chinese, whether or not I have the image right side up or not): Across the way in the signing room Craig Johnson--my pal from the LA Book Festival--was really packing them in:

After the signing, my wife and I went to grab a late lunch. We found these pink Wisconsin cows along State Street and I had to ham it up with one of them:

particularly because--well before I sold Candy from Strangers to Wisconsin publisher Bleak House Books--I inserted a crack about people from Wisconsin and dairy cows in the first chapter. Now they must be coming back to haunt me like pink elephants haunt drunks.

Next post: the scoop on the Bleak House Books / Crimescene Magazine party this evening.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Candygram for Mr. Coggins

Candy from Strangers has arrived and so have I ... at Bouchercon, anyway. Here's a picture of the proud author sitting in his hotel room in Madison Wisconson getting to know his finished creation.

Look for more convention posts later today!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Prepublication Reviews

Prepublication reviews are important because they are read by professionals in the publishing industry--such as booksellers, wholesalers and buyers at libraries--to determine what books to order.

The biggest periodicals that publish prepublication reviews are in Kirkus Reivews, Publisher's Weekly, Library Journal and BookList. Among those, Publisher's Weekly is perhaps the best known and the one that has the broadest reading audience. The others are focused more on the library market, with BookList specializing in public and school libraries in particular.

It's difficult for smaller presses to have a book reviewed in a prepub periodical, as I know from my experience with my two prior books, The Immortal Game and Vulture Capital. My then publisher Poltroon Press tried for reviews with Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly with both books, but never got past the "we'll see if we can fit them in" stage.

Not so with Bleak House and Candy from Strangers. Publisher Ben LeRoy managed to have Candy reviewed in three of the four periodicals I listed above. The reviews have appeared in recent editions, and--thank goodness--were all favorable. Here are some excerpts from each:
"[A] gripping ... hard-boiled exploit... Riordan's street smarts and witty asides will make him a familiar—and welcome—figure to fans of Robert Parker's Boston PI, Spenser." —Publishers Weekly

"This third outing for Coggins's private investigator August Riordan proves him a worthy successor to the iconic Sam Spade... [A] volume that fits comfortably alongside those of Hammett and Chandler. Heartily recommended." —Library Journal

"Sourpuss secretaries, predatory professors, greedy gurus, sanctimonious shrinks ... [a] well-crafted cast of characters, led by [a] smart-stepping shamus." —Kirkus Reviews
Although I'll admit to a fair amount of nail-biting before the reviews came out, it's particularly gratifying to have comparisons made to my hardboiled heros--Hammett, Chandler and Parker.

Next up: the book in the flesh. My editor, Alison Janssen, has told me the book is back from the printer and author's copies are winging their way to me!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


I've been away from the blog for the last week or so on a trip to Italy with my wife. Here your weary correspondent casts a jaundiced eye over the hilltops of Florence:

And here he does his best to do like the Roman (statuary) does:

I would have liked to include more from my trip in the blog, but since I'm not writing about travel or food, finding a connection to my chosen topic--the process of bringing my new novel Candy from Strangers to market--seemed daunting ... until I ran across the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome:

The connection comes, of course, from the fact that Augustus is the namesake for my series character: private eye August Riordan.

Alas, as the linked Wikipedia article suggests, the mausoleum is in sad shape. The surrounding grounds seem mainly to be used by dog walkers and homeless folks and the building itself is little more than a pile of 2000-year-old bricks. But, hey, on reflection that doesn't sound too much different than the building and surrounding neighborhood of August Riordan's apartment near the Tenderloin in San Francisco!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

When Titles Collide

Yesterday I noticed an unusual thing when I was reviewing the statistics for my web site--the number of people who had come to the web site by entering search terms related to my first book, The Immortal Game had shot through the roof:

I saw that some of the searches included NPR or National Public Radio as terms, and after a little bit of investigation, I realized that a new book had been released about chess with the same title, and the author (David Shenk) had appeared on several NPR radio shows to discuss his work.

What was even more interesting--to me, at least--was that the Amazon sales numbers for my book improved significantly, which suggested that people were buying my book after searching for the other, either because they found the chess theme interesting or because they were simply confused about which book they were buying.

It turns out there are plenty of opportunities for confusion. The title of both books refers to a famous game in chess history. In my case, the game serves as an underlying metaphor for the plot of the mystery; in the case of Mr. Shenk's book, he uses the game, move by move, as one of the narrative threads in the book, and as a way of explaining chess fundamentals and the evolution of chess styles to a lay audience.

When my book first came out in 1999, I reserved as the domain name for my web site and have kept that name over the years, even though I now use it to publicize all my books and have also pointed to it. As part of the publicity for their book, Random House reserved The two are easily confused, particuarly if you use Google to search for them by entering "the immortal game". Here's what you get:

As you can see, my site is the fourth unsponsored site to show up as a result of the search. However, Amazon and Random House have sponsored two links for the Shank book. I believe the link at the top center costs quite a bit more because it appears with the "natural" searches. The link on the right is less expensive. But, then, to add to the confusion, Alibris has sponsored a link in the same section for my book.

Another interesting parallel between the books is Lewis Chessmen. As I describe in this post, the cover of the first edition of my book features a picture I took of a bishop and a knight using replicas of the original pieces. I bought the replicas from Rose Cottage Industries in the UK. Well, it turns out that Random House is running a contest wherein free sets from Rose Cottage Industries are being given away to help promote the book.

The Shenk book sounds quite interesting and I intend to get a copy for myself since--as you might expect--I've always been interested in chess. But I can't help but wonder if the folks at Random House are concerned about the potential confusion in book buyers' minds. I'm sure they were aware that the title had been used before when they selected it/approved it, but it is interesting to look at the log of web site domains of people visiting my site on the day I noticed the spike in searchs for "the immortal game."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Candy Cover, Final Round

I've been talking about the evolution of the cover for my forthcoming novel, Candy from Strangers. In this final post on the topic, I'm going to show off the design my publisher, Bleak House Books, ultimately settled on.

The break-through came when Bleak House decided to use a photographic "contact sheet" layout for all the books in the series. The images in the contact sheet would change based on the specific themes in each book--The Immortal Game, for instance, used chess pieces and sexy shots of various female body parts--but repetition of the contact sheet layout would serve to tie the books together visually (and perhaps encourage repeat sales across the series).

The images used for the Candy cover are suggested of ones that might be displayed on a "cam girl" site, but also, in the case of the image in the second row where the woman is hunched over with her hands clasped above her head, convey a brooding sense of dread. And if you look carefully enough, you will see that the woman is covering a tattoo on her back in several of the photos, which speaks to another of the themes in the book.

Finally, the dollar sign for the S in strangers and the heaven and hell coloration are retained from the earlier concept covers, with the pictures at the top of the cover tinted blue and the ones at the bottom tinted red or pink.

The back cover looks like so:

The images from the front are repeated, but most of the real estate is given over to blurbs from Joe Gores, David Corbett and Marcia Muller. The shorter Michael Connelly blurb is on the front cover, where it takes the place of one of the contact sheet photos.

We went through six concept covers before we arrived here, but I'm very pleased with the final result. I'm also pleased with Bleak House's willingness to invest in the process.

Next Up: Real Time Blogging

Most of the posts I've done on the blog to date describe past activities associated with the development, sale and publication of Candy. With the October 1 release of Candy rapidly approaching, I'm now going to switch to "real time" and write about things as they happen. Stay tuned as I bit my nails waiting for prepublication reviews.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Chandler vs. Hammett, Round III

In previous posts, I compared the number of people searching for Raymond Chandler vs. Dashiell Hammett in Google, and then the number of people writing about them in blogs.

I thought I'd pushed the competition about as far as I could--until I saw an article describing how AOL either accidently or on purpose placed the search logs of 658,000 subscribers on the Internet. Although there are no names or identifiers like social security numbers associated with the data, each subscriber in the log was given an anonymous unique ID, so it's possible to see the searches that an individual did over time.

After AOL posted it, they removed the data pretty damn quick. But not quick enough that it wasn't copied to a number of other places on the Internet, and at least in one case, "front-ended" with a handy search utility that lets you type in particular search terms to see if people looked for them. You can guess what terms I decided to type in.

As in the previous competitions, Chandler beat Hammett: i.e., more of the 658,000 subscribers typed in Chandler's name as opposed to Hammett's. But this time around Chandler won by a very slim margin. Four subscribers typed his name versus three subscribers for Hammett.

Below are the results for Hammett. As you can see subscribers 776232, 4901959 and 967504 were looking for him.

And here are the four people looking for Chander: ID numbers 623628, 886372, 3386154 and 2703188.

Those results by themselves are not very interesting. But what is interesting (in a voyeristic sort of way) is to see what other searches the people who looked for Chandler and Hammett did. Can a case be made that you can characterize the sort of people who like Chandler and Hammett by the other things they search for? Can we determine if Chandler people are different from Hammett people?

Of course we can! We've only got a data sample of 7 subscribers, but that shouldn't stop us.

Here's are the surrounding searches that subscriber 776232 performed:

From it, we might determine that he or she is baseball fan, is interested in movies and movie stars, but doesn't know that Liz Sheridan is still alive. (But to be honest, I didn't even know who she is.)

Next up is subscriber 4901959:

It appears 4901959 is big a reader in general, and a fan of Black Mask pulp writers in particular.

Number 9674504 appears to have more diverse interests:

We got Oprah (pop culture), a jump to Hammett (hard boiled fiction) and then concern about the relative populations of the US versus Iraq (geopolitics).

So ends the Hammett subscriber group. In general, they appear to be a pretty well-grounded group with a variety of wholesome and mature interests. (Curious about why I qualified the word interests? Wait and see.)

Here's the first Chandler person, number 886372:

Another solid citizen. Interested in a variety of fiction and mystery authors, world history, and assuming he meant to type Jon Meacham--the managing editor of Newsweek--journalism.

But how about number 623628?

He or she is into gaming as well as Raymond Chandler, likes rock musicians and is interested in chick flicks. Or is that the screen name of someone from a chat room?

Our next Chandler person is number 273188:

Hmm, a John Bircher, who reads Ayn Rand and is interested in the Wedge Document. And apparently lives (and possibly teaches?) in Fort Worth, TX, but would like to vacation in Florida.

But our last subscriber, number 3386154, has other things on (I think it's safe to conclude) his mind:

He likes Chandler and MacDonald, is thinking about news and our President, but the first hint of things to come is the misspelled search for lingerie.

A little further in his search log, we find:

Uh-oh. But you can't say he doesn't have diverse interests. Mature women, nudes and football.

Then we find:
At least he's an equal opportunity shopper. But one does have to wonder how the cake frosting works in with the other things he's looking for.


I've got two: on the whole, it appears Chandler people are, ahem, living on the edge a little more, and more importantly, I'm glad I'm not an AOL subscriber!