Tuesday, September 29, 2009

History of a First

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the publication of my first novel, The Immortal Game, and since I sometimes get questions about whether a particular copy of the book is a true first edition, I thought I'd put up a sort of "field guide" to the first on my website.

Read it here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Artifacts I: Vulture Capital

I recently redesigned my website, incorporating a "desktop" theme to make it appear as if the visitor was looking down on a wooden desk. The content for the site is shown in an ersatz spiral-bound notebook with the menu to select different sections of the site provided along the top.

To the left, beside the notebook, are various "artifacts" that one might find on a desk--particularly the desk of a private eye, such as my series protagonist August Riordan. The trick to this--from a website design perspective--is to shoot the digital photographs for the artifacts from directly above and to give them a transparent background so that the surface of the "desk" shows through behind them. That, coupled with a little cascading style sheet (css) magic, and you have the illusion that the objects are sitting on the desk, even overlapping the notebook to the right in some cases.

(This doesn't work quite so well on Internet Explorer version 6 where Byzantine manipulations are required to make the illusion work in even a half-assed manner. Please, please, please (!), if you are still using IE6, do yourself and the rest of the Internet a favor and get a real browser. Even IE7 or 8 if you insist.)

For example, to the left of the notebook on the home page sits an ashtray with a smoldering cigarette with a rather long ash:

There's also a whiskey glass, a cigarette lighter, a PI license, a couple of bullets and a picture of me doctored up to look like an old photograph. The items in that list remain static as you navigate through the site, but the spot taken by the ashtray is updated with a new artifact as you go to different sections.

In today's post and a few that will follow I'd like to talk about the artifacts I've created for the pages devoted to my books. I've taken special care to "gen up" items that are somehow associated with the plot of the book in question and I thought it would be fun to give a little background on the connections.

Today's featured artifact comes from my book Vulture Capital:

As you can hopefully recognize, the artifact is a wine cork and a wine bottle label from the winery Val du Grue. In Vulture Capital, Val du Grue is owned by partners Ted Valmont and Bruce Crane. Valmont, a venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, provided the money for the operation and Crane provides the wine-making expertise.

It is Valmont who hires August Riordan to find the Chief Scientist of NeuroStimix, a company in which Valmont has invested. The scientist has gone missing, and since he is key to product development at NeuroStimix, Valmont wants him found and back in harness as soon as possible. The search, as it turns out, takes Valmont and Riordan to the Napa Valley where they discover bad men have done a lot of bad things with the technology.

But back to the artifact: the label comes from Crane's award-winning 1999 Chardonnay (97 points from Wine Spectator) and since the winery and the grapes used in it come from the Mount Veeder appellation of Napa, Mount Veeder is shown on the bottle.

The illustration is a stylized painting of the Val du Grue building, which has been designed in the style of an French Chateau.

Next time you're in a hoity-toity wine shop, ask for the 1999 Val du Grue Chardonnay. I think you'll find it has a light, transparent, completely imaginary taste on the palate.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tour of La Recoleta

In the run up to publication of my new August Riordan adventure, The Big Wake-Up, I'm going to blog a bit about the historical and cultural underpinnings of the story. Involving as it does a mad hunt in the Bay Area for the remains of Evita Peron, it seems only appropriate to discuss the cemetery in Buenos Aires where most of the rest of the world believes that Evita is buried: La Recoleta.

Here's an excellent short video from a Argentine travel site that talks about the cemetery. It speaks a little to Evita's incredible "afterlife" and also discusses the tragic tale (or myth?) of Rufina Cambaceres, who was supposedly buried alive after she suffered a cataleptic attack while getting ready to attend an opera performance.

I've included a photo of the statue of Rufina from the cemetery as an illustration in The Big Wake-Up, and I'll talk more about it and the other photos in the book later on.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Act Like a Writer

Method actor Michael Connelly, portraying himself in an upcoming episode of the ABC TV series Castle, gives a convincing performance in his role as a mystery writer talking to two other mystery writers about crime stories involving poker, including his own, "One Dollar Jackpot" in Otto Penzler's Dead Man's Hand anthology. And, oh by the way, one of the other writers is Rockford Files creator, Stephen Cannell.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Blurb and a Star

Exciting news on two different fronts to do with my upcoming novel, The Big Wake-Up. Edgar-winning "Queen of Noir" Megan Abbott very generously provided the following blurb for the book:
"Mark Coggins' superb new August Riordan novel, The Big Wake Up, is what you hope every PI novel will be—the pace is fast yet sure, the lush and twisty San Francisco setting sharply rendered, the plot is a delicious tangle that takes us through history and into legend. Most of all, Coggins gives a detective at the center who doesn’t know all the answers but whose self-effacing wit and hard-struck honesty draw us in from the very start and never let go."
I'm particularly pleased about this because she's such a darn great writer and because we were only able to give her about two weeks to read the sucker due to scheduling snafus. We've shamelessly excerpted part of the quote for the cover:

The Big Wake-Up: Final Cover!

The other excitement comes in the form of a starred review in this week's issue of Publisher's Weekly:
Coggins's outstanding fifth mystery to feature San Francisco PI August Riordan (after 2007's Runoff) successfully blends an over-the-top premise with an unrelentingly grim plot. Soon after flirting with an attractive young woman in a Laundromat, Riordan watches in horror as an apparently deranged cable car operator guns her and an older woman down at a cable car stop. Riordan pursues the killer and stops his bloody rampage. The Argentine family of the first victim, 23-year-old Araceli Rivero, hires him to investigate an unrelated matter, the location of Araceli's dead aunt, whose body was transferred from a Milan cemetery to somewhere in the Bay Area. After quickly getting a promising lead, Riordan learns that his clients have been less than straight with him—the missing corpse is actually that of Evita Perón. Coggins pulls no punches as the suspenseful action builds to a violent act of vigilantism.
It's not often that you see the phrases "outstanding" and "unrelentingly grim" used in the same review, but there you have it.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Jury Has Reached a Verdict

As anyone who is even an occasional reader of this blog knows, I dabble in photography. I have been known to capture photos of my fellow authors at book signings, conferences and events of other sorts--and most of my novels are illustrated with scene-setting photographs I've taken.

You can see a slide show of the authors I've collected so far in my "rogues gallery" by going here.

Likewise, you can get a preview of the photographs I used to illustrate my forthcoming novel, The Big Wake-Up, by going here.

I'm going to blog more about those photos, but for now, I'd like to focus on just one: a picture I took on a trip to Savannah, Georgia last Christmas. I took it early one foggy morning on the median of East Oglethorpe Avenue near police headquarters. It's a statute erected as a memorial to all the city police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty.

As this city website explains:
The memorial is a stainless steel statue 5 feet 8 inches tall of a uniformed policeman -- city patrolman R. I. Ketterman was used as the model -- mounted on an inscribed Elberton blue granite die about four to five feet in height. The style is rigidly cubic, like Egyptian or archaic Greek statues, and is entirely freestanding. The die bears the outline of a policeman's shield or badge on all four sides, as a cartouche. Inside this are the names of police officers killed in the line of duty in Chatham County from 1869 onwards.
Police Statue
With the fog and the tree foliage and Spanish moss surrounding it, I was rather pleased with the dripping Gothic atmosphere the original image conveyed and I did more than a bit of Photoshopping to emphasize the mood.

When I was done, I decided on a lark to enter it in it a juried competition--one that was being sponsored by the Camera Club of New York in particular. The club has a long history. To quote from their website, "Alfred Stieglitz, considered by many to be the father of American photography, was an early member, and his groundbreaking publication, Camera Notes, documented the Club’s activities while advocating for the inclusion of photography in the catalog of fine arts."

Long story short, the photo was given an honorable mention in the competition and it and the other selected photographs will be exhibited in December in a New York gallery. As a mere dabbler in photography, I'm very pleased to be included in the August company of accomplished artists in the show, and even more pleased that The Big Wake-Up will have an "honorable" photo in front of chapter 18, which I titled "Nappy Boy" for reasons that take some splainin'.

See the first, second and third place finishers and the other honorable mentions for the competition here.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

James Ellroy in LA's Forth Magazine

The LA-based arts and literature magazine Forth has a profile of James Ellroy in their September/October issue featuring short excerpts of his forth-coming novel, Blood's a Rover.

Says Ellroy about his writing:
The basis of drama for me is entirely a man meets a woman. The man and woman are forced to quash or interdict. Some superstructure may be endemic as a means to substantiate their growing love. Generally, it’s a lonely haunted guy with self-serving motives. It’s my worst and most noble vision of myself.
See the whole article here. And while you're at it, be sure to check out the photo of Ellroy I took while on assignment for The Rap Sheet at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.