Monday, April 28, 2008

There is no "I" in the Ayn Rand Institute

Oops, maybe I was wrong about that. This is another photo of mine from the Los Angeles Times Festival of books, but I took it and posted it because I recently attended a reading given by Tobias Wolff at venerable Kepler's Books to promote his new short story collection, Our Story Begins.

Wolff and I have a little history. About the time his first published short story, "Smokers," appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in 1976, I was enrolled in a creative writing class of his at Stanford. My idea was to get (what I thought would be) easy credits, but as this recent article in the Stanford Alumni Magazine describes, I ended up being galvanized into writing fiction in the vein of Raymond Chandler.

The event at Kepler's was the first time I'd seen Wolff since the class and it was a real thrill to talk with him--both because I'm a huge fan of his work and because so much water has passed under the bridge since we last met. I had him inscribe a copy of Our Story Begins as well as a first edition I had of his best known memoir, This Boy's Life. I also had my wife take a picture of us together, but this one of him alone came out much better (due to my goofy look) so I'll spare your sensibilities and post it instead.

Tobias Wolff

But back to Ayn Rand, which is how I started this post. During the Q&A at Kepler's, I asked Wolff about his portrayal of Rand in his novel Old School. Over the years I've been been amazed by the strange attraction her work exerts over people, including some very good friends of mine, so I was interested to hear the back story for including Rand as a character in the novel. The question prompted him to describe his own initial fascination with her work and her philosophy and--much like the main character in the novel--his ultimate disillusionment with same.

To give you a flavor of the evolution in thinking the narrator goes through, after first reading Rand he concludes, "I was discovering the force of my will. . . . I understood that nothing stood between me and my greatest desires--nothing between me and greatness itself--but the temptation to doubt my will and bow to counsels of moderation, expedience, and conventional morality, and shrink into the long, slow death of respectability."

It's only after Rand criticizes Hemingway--another of the narrator's heroes--as being a creator of "weak, defeated people" that he rereads Hemingway and finds Rand's writing and attitude of disdain for flawed or disadvantaged people to be unattractive and lacking in empathy.

But given that Rand is the co-author of a collection of essays entitled The Virtue of Selfishness perhaps that's not such a surprising conclusion. It's not for nothing that there are I's in the Ayn Rand Institute.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books - Valerie Bertinelli

Valerie Bertinelli
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
And lest we mystery types get confused on what really makes the book world go round these days, I'll close with a picture of Valerie Bertinelli, whose book Losing It has a sales rank of 226 on Amazon as I write this. I found her by following the longest line of people waiting for an author signing that I saw at the festival. When I got there, there were about ten other photographers jockeying to get her picture. I didn't know who she was or what she written, but I figured--what the hey--I better get in on the action. Not too bad a pic for an amateur, eh?

LA Times Festival of Books - Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Gore Vidal, whom a Newsweek critic called "the best all-around man
of letters since Edmund
" with pen in hand at the festival.

LA Times Festival of Books - Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Walter Mosley strikes
a pose. Dig that hat!

LA Times Festival of Books - Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Here's a pic I snagged of Harlan
right before he pressed a bottle of cold water to his forehead! It was pretty hot at the festival.

LA Times Festival of Books - Library Fairy

Library Fairy
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Has the Library Fairy visited you recently? She visited me at the Mystery Bookstore
booth this Saturday. (And, yes, I used Photoshop to blur the edges of the


Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
I also signed in the Sisters in Crime booth with Camille
aka Margaret
Rita Larkin and Liz
. As part of the promotion for her Doll House Mystery Series, Camille has been doing these great miniatures, one of which she brought to the signing. If you look closely, you'll see books from Rita, Liz and me, not to mention a nice glass of scotch and a gun!

Hailey Lind

Hailey Lind
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
And here's Hailey Lind,
current president of the NorCal
Chapter of Sisters in
, also signing in the Sisters in Crime Booth.
(And, say, who did that great web site for the NorCal Sisters?)

LA Times Festival of Books - Cara Black & Libby Fischer Hellmann

Cara Black & Libby Fischer Hellmann
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Picking up with our coverage of the LA Times Festival of Books, here is fellow
Noe Valley Alum, Cara
, and fellow Bleak
House Books
author, Libby
Fischer Hellmann
, signing in
the Sisters in Crime Booth.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

LA Times Festival of Books - Michelle Gagnon & Sophie Littlefield

Michelle Gagnon & Sophie Littlefield
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Last call at the Mystery Bookstore pre-festival party: fellow Bay Area writers Michelle Gagnon and Sophie

LA Times Festival of Books - Sue Ann Jaffarian

Sue Ann Jaffarian
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
And paling around with Tim at the same Mystery Bookstore pre-festival party, Sue Ann Jaffarian. Sue Ann and I share the same great agent.

LA Times Festival of Books - Tim Maleeny

Tim Maleeny
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Next, at the same Mystery Bookstore pre-festival party, Tim
, another Bay Area private eye writer. He had some harrowing tales about writing under
a deadline.

LA Times Festival of Books - Domenic Stansberry

Domenic Stansberry
Originally uploaded by Mark Coggins
Come along with me on a little photo tour of the 2008 LA Times Festival of Books.

First up, at the Mystery Bookstore pre-festival party, Domenic Stansberry, fellow Bay Area private eye writer. His new book is Ancient Rain.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Page 123

Jeff Pierce of the Rap Sheet recently tagged me in a sort of blogging Ponzi scheme involving particular sentences from page 123 of the closest book at (my) hand. Here are the rules:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

The nearest book for me is Sweet Man is Gone by Peggy Ehrhart. I'd received an ARC from Peggy who asked me to blurb the book for its upcoming release in July. Sweet Man is about the indie blues scene in New York and I quite enjoyed it, as you can tell from reading my quote on Peggy's advanced praise page.

If you open the book to page 123 and look for the sixth, seventh and eighth sentences, this is what you will find:
"Have you ever heard him play?"

"Amazing chops," Tony says with a sad smile. "I wish I could play like him."
That particular excerpt may be hard to parse out of context, but I'll give you a few hints. Tony is the counterman at a rent-by-the-hour rehearsal studio and the main character--Maxx Maxwell--is asking him to give his assessment of a guitar player who she's going to audition for the band. Another little clue about that book that you can pick up from the fragment is that it's written in the present tense. I don't usually like present tense, but Peggy really makes it work in Sweet Man.

Now for the part I'm most worried about. I believe the implicit rules of the game are that you cannot notify the five people you tag. I read the Rap Sheet regularly, so I noticed that I'd been passed the baton right away. I'm not sure that I know five people with a blog who read mine regularly, so we very well may break the chain with my post.

Anyway here goes. I hereby tag the following folks (with links to their blogs):
  1. My publisher at Bleak House Books, Ben LeRoy.
  2. Fellow Bleak House author and Crimespree Magazine Fiction Editor, Jennifer Jordan
  3. Fellow Silicon Valley author, Keith Raffel
  4. Patrick Balester, author of In the Dismal Swamp
  5. Author and mystery blogger, Aldo Calcagno aka Mystery Dawg

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mature, Independent, Female Mystery Readers

Ann Hillesland (fellow writer in my critique group) forwarded a link to the results of this Harris Interactive poll about U.S. reading habits. The article describing the results is headlined, "Over One-Third of Americans Read More Than Ten Books in Typical Year," but I thought the most interesting tidbit is that Independent voters are more likely to read books than Republicans or Democrats.

And, if you were doing a sort of vin diagram of the ideal reader you should target as an author, it appears you want to try to write books that appeal to mature, Independent, female mystery readers.

Turns out I've got the perfect book for that crowd: Runoff! ;-)