Friday, January 29, 2010

Evita Stories

Here's a kick in the pants--for me, at least. A gentleman with the YouTube user name of "evitastories" and (real) first name Andrew posted the attached video about my new novel The Big Wake-Up and Helen Davis' book Evita: My Life. Both treat Evita Peron's life (or afterlife) in a fictionalized fashion.

Andrew's YouTube bio mentions that he's "a former exchange student to Argentina ... [and] the primary contributor to the Wikipedia article about Eva Perón." He goes on to say that he put together his collection of YouTube videos to "discuss the true history of Eva Perón, as well as the experiences I had while in pursuit of the true story of this legendary woman."

Well, Andrew, thanks for making the video and thanks for writing the Wikipedia article. I referred to the article frequently while writing The Big Wake-Up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Book Addict

I do a "virtual sit down" with Angela Wilson on her blog The Book Addict. Check it out here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chandler's Post Card from the Springs

Swiss book dealer YGRbookS has a collection of Raymond Chandler books and papers available for sale, including issues of Black Mask where his short stories appeared, first editions of his novels, books by other authors from his personal library and correspondence. They are asking about $80K for the collection and you can see its description here.

Among the items included is a postcard Chandler wrote in 1957 to his English publisher Hamish Hamilton from Palm Springs, where Chandler had gone to complete his last published novel, Playback. YGRbookS included a scan of the card which I've reproduced here:

If you spend a bit of time at it, you can just make out the message Chandler penned to Hamilton:
There are so few of these oversized nonsenses that I may have sent you this one before. But don't kick me, I'm old and weak. Thanks for letter, which I shall answer very soon. Went to a party last night at a house which is the ideal setting for the 8 million dollar girl Marlowe is going to be married to in my next after the one I am finishing up. They'll have hell of a time squabbling. The party was elaborate but the same old thing. Elaborate catering and decorations but the same loud empty alcoholic voices. Love to all. Ray
The "next" Chandler refers to is the novel Poodle Springs, which Chandler left unfinished at the time of his death, but which Robert B. Parker would later complete with the blessing of the Chandler estate in 1989. In it, Chandler marries Linda Lorring from The Long Goodbye and goes to live with her in Poodle Springs (Chandler's pseudonymous name for Palm Springs).

As Frank MacShane writes in his biography of Chandler, The Life of Raymond Chandler:
Linda Loring's house was to be modeled on one owned by Mrs. Jessie Baumgardner, an acquaintance. It had some unusual features. "The front wall, for example," [Chandler wrote,] "is made of Japanese glass with butterflies in between the two sections. Every room has a door to the outside and a glass wall. There is an interior glass-walled patio which has an almost full-sized palm tree in it, a lot of tropical shrubs, and some pieces of desert rock which probably cost somebody nothing but some petrol, and probably cost her $200 a rock."
To see how this description was incorporated into Poodle Springs by Parker, you need only read the opening of Chapter Two where Marlowe describes the house he shares with his new wife:
It was a very handsome house except that it stank decorator. The front wall was plate glass with butterflies imprisoned in it. Linda said it came from Japan ... There was an interior patio with a large palm tree and some tropical shrubs, and a number of rough stones picked up on the high desert for nothing, but $250 apiece to the customer.
I was curious what the front of Chandler's postcard might have looked like so I did a little digging on the Internet. This seems likely to be the photo that adorns it:

At least it comes from a card by the same photographer and the same subject, the "picturesque Palm Springs Plaza."

In any case, the card provides an interesting link between two great writers--Chandler and Parker--both of whom sadly now "belong to the ages."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Touring La Recoleta

In November, when I told the "Story Behind the Story" of my new novel The Big Wake-Up for The Rap Sheet, I explained how the book was inspired by a tour of La Recoleta Cemetery led by travel writer Robert Wright.

Robert isn't giving guided tours of the cemetery anymore, but if you are planning a trip to Buenos Aires and would still like to check out La Recoleta with the benefit of Robert's years of research into the cemetery and its inhabitants, you are in luck! Robert recently completed a guidebook for La Recoleta which you can purchase directly from his website here.

It's wonderfully produced with handsome maps, great commentary and a well-marked itinerary that takes you past 70 of the famous cemetery's most important tombs. Here's a look at a sample page:

And lest you worry the commentary leaves out any of the macabre details of the "afterlife" of Evita Peron that inspired The Big Wake-Up, let me leave you with a quote about the military leader Ossorio Arana, who is buried in a tomb with a sword-bearing female statue in front:
Ossorio Arana came into the picture when he was given custody of Eva's embalmed body. He held it in a Secret Service office not far from Recoleta Cemetery for several months (now an abandoned building at the corner of Callao and Viamonte). Arana eventually transferred Eva to others for safekeeping, and she moved all over Buenos Aires ... The last officer to have custody of Eva slept with a gun underneath his pillow, afraid that someone would enter & find the casket. One night, his pregnant wife came home late and he got scared ... scared enough that he shot and killed her by mistake.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reviewing the Evidence

P.J. Coldren of Reviewing the Evidence has just posted a nice review of The Big Wake-Up (my latest novel). Here's an excerpt:
Coggins has written a very entertaining mystery. His ... take on a contemporary P.I. is enjoyable and refreshing. He manages to combine mean streets and humor in a main character with some depth to him.
See the whole piece here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Basis Ventures

My novel Vulture Capital is about a fictional venture capital firm called Basis Ventures and the deadly shenanigans that go on there. (Think of The Firm, but with VCs in place of lawyers, and perverse applications of biotechnology in place of connections to the mob.)

Although the book has been out for a while, I thought it might be fun to throw up a website for Basis Ventures, including all the partners with their bios and short descriptions of the portfolio companies in which they've invested.

You can find it here.

I used royalty-free stock photos for the pictures of the individual partners, and I had a lot of fun trying to match my descriptions from the book to the available photos from stock photography sites. The photo featured at the top of this post is the one I selected for Larry Breen, co-founder and Managing Partner of Basis Ventures.

Coming up with the names and logos of the portfolio companies was nearly as much fun. I used a name-generator service and royalty-free logos I found on the web for many of them. For their product and service descriptions, I tried to pick hot technology areas and then gin up offerings that seemed consistent with what was already being done in the space--or jump ahead a bit to suggest entirely new capabilities or technologies. For example, in the category of start-ups with offerings consistent with the current state of the art, the company Mizu purports to be the leading SaaS platform for mobile phone applications.

Of course the most important portfolio company is the one described in the book: NeuroStimix. As the Basis Ventures site describes, NeuroStimix develops neurostimulation devices to restore mobility to spinal cord injury victims. The technology from NeuroStimix is definitely pushing the envelope of what's possible now, but check out Neurostream for an example of a company offering products in this area right now.

If all this has whet your appetite for the book, you might also check out this review of it on

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A December to Remember

Last month Michelle Gagnon and I made a stop at The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona to promote our new books, The Gatekeeper and The Big Wake-Up.

The December bestseller list is up on the store website and it appears we both did pretty darn well. Michelle came in #2 in the mass market paperback category and I managed the number 5 spot for hardcovers against such competition as Sue Grafton and Joseph Wambaugh.

That's good news, but it's hard to beat the showing I made nearly ten years ago with my first novel, The Immortal Game. Check out Poisoned Pen's bestseller list from February, 2000:

What is it about debut novels that makes them so compelling? I think (hope?) I've written better books since then, but that still seems to be the one readers associate with me.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

eBook Q&A

At the end of last year, Allen Pierleoni of the Sacramento Bee interviewed me and several other authors--including John Lescroart and Cara Black--on our opinions about eBooks and how they might be changing the publishing industry. Read the article here.

Since Allen (naturally) only used a portion of his Q&A with me, I thought I'd also post his full set of questions and my responses below:

As an author, what are your thoughts re: e-readers steadily making inroads into the multibillion-dollar book industry?

I welcome them. My hope is that they will encourage more reading—both among the demographic groups that buy the most traditional books and among those that currently spend more time with other entertainment media.

They are also empowering for a “mid-list” author such as myself. Since Amazon enables authors to place e-books for sale on their site directly, it allows us to republish our out of print titles or titles that we have retained the e-book rights for without cost and without involving a publisher. We are also free to set pricing as we wish to encourage sales.

For example, I uploaded my novel Vulture Capital and set the price at $1.99 for a limited time to try to build a broader readership and encourage subsequent sales of other titles. The book reached number 564 overall in Amazon’s rankings for e-books.

A final advantage e-readers and the e-book format offer to authors is the opportunity to include rich content such as links to web sites, videos or audio files with the book. That can ultimately mean a wider range of options for telling a story.

Do you think e-readers affect what readers read, and do the readers change their reading habits?

Yes. I found that I’m actually buying more books than I did before. If it’s late at night and you’re lying in bed with nothing to read, it’s very easy to switch on your Kindle, browse for a title that interests you, download it and start reading immediately. Before e-readers with wireless connectivity to the Internet, you would have probably just switched off the light or (if you had a TV in your bedroom) flipped it on.

In terms of the types of things readers read, I think e-readers work best for novels, or nonfiction that’s read serially. Based on the little I’ve used e-readers to bookmark and/or annotate text, I think they would not work very well for text books or books where there’s a need to do a lot of skipping back and forth between sections.

You for or against e-readers, again as an author. Or neutral?

I’m for them professionally for the reasons I mentioned, and personally because I do enjoy the convenience and the rapid access to new titles.

That said, I do collect first editions and I will continue to buy copies of books I cherish and want to have on my shelves as a physical keepsake or work of art. And I still read a lot of hard copy books that I’ve purchased from a bookstore or borrowed from a library.

Is there an electronic reader on your shopping list?

I bought a Kindle in the first few months after they were released by Amazon. We are planning to buy a second one for my wife.

Has the e-reader phenomenon affected your reading habits or those of someone you know? Are your reading habits changing because of e-readers and digital books?

Yes, as I mentioned I’m purchasing more books and I’m probably also reading more books in a particular topic area. The Kindle browser encourages you to do this by suggesting titles that are related to ones you have already purchased.

Do you prefer reading books on an e-reader, or in the traditional book form - or both?

I would say both. It’s hard to beat the convenience and access of an e-reader, but I still collect first editions and enjoy the experience of reading a physical book. And in my opinion, e-readers do not work well for textbooks or books where there are detailed illustrations, maps, diagrams or high resolution photographs.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Split Writing Personalities

Today Riordan's Desk welcomes guest blogger Lou Berney to discuss his debut novel, Gutshot Straight, and talk about the difference between writing screenplays and prose fiction.

When I tell someone that I’m a writer, the invariable question is: What kind? I explain that I write both screenplays and prose fiction, but this is not strictly true. The more precisely correct answer would be: One part of me writes screenplays, another part writes prose fiction. And rarely the twain do meet, at least not without it turning into a heated argument.

Preparing for Take-Off

A screenplay is all about moving parts and meshing gears. Screenwriter Me, especially if he’s on deadline, constructs an insanely detailed pre-draft outline. He breaks down the narrative and calculates how many pages each component part – act, scene, beat – will run, and how many amps each will draw. If, for example, you blow your circuits in the middle of act two, you won’t have anything left for the big finish.

Fiction-Writer Me dreams up a fairly detailed pre-draft outline too, but Screenwriter Me would roll his eyes to hear it described as such. It’s more impressionistic and asks as many questions as it answers. It includes notes like, “Maybe some kind of confrontation here? Or a love scene? But does she love him? See what feels right at the time.” (Screenwriter Me is rolling his eyes again.)

The Helluva-It Principle

When you write a screenplay, you’re living in a room with four walls and square footage set in concrete (only 112 or so script pages), so efficiency is crucial. Every scene, character, and description must serve the story. If it can be cut, it probably should be. Screenwriter Me is a ruthless, cold-eyed assassin who enjoys his work. Faulkner wouldn’t have to tell him to kill his darlings, because those darlings are already dead, dismembered, and neatly buried in the backyard.

When you write a novel, you’ve got all elbow room you need. You can add a scene, a character, or a description just for the helluva it – just because, in other words, the addition might help create a richer, more textured fictional world. Fiction-Writer Me likes to throw parties and invite the whole neighborhood. While writing my novel, Gutshot Straight, I happened to read an article about the creepy, fascinating, wonderful “international marriage business.” So I found a way to work that in. Why not? The more the merrier! Just bring beer.

And the Winner Is

There are a lot of other differences between the two kinds of writing. I could probably write a book (but probably not a movie) about them. To sum up, though, I will state unequivocally that it’s a lot harder to write a screenplay than it is to write a novel, and vice versa.

A screenplay’s defined limits can comfort but also confine. A novel’s wide-open landscape can liberate but also disorient. It can be relief, in a screenplay, to be responsible for just the writing and not the acting, art direction, or cinematography. In a novel, by contrast, you have to light the cobbled streets of Casco Viejo in Panama City at midnight, and you need to provide your exotic dancers with watermelon-scented body spray. But how cool is that, that in a novel you get to do, to be, everything?

In the end, I think writing screenplays makes me a better fiction writer, and writing fiction makes me a better screenwriter. Because even though my split writing personalities don’t really get along at all, they can occasionally be coaxed to – grudgingly – read the other’s work and provide a few helpful notes.

Lou Berney is an accomplished writer, teacher, and liar. He has written feature screenplays and created TV pilots for, among others, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Focus Features, ABC, and Fox. He is the author of THE ROAD TO BOBBY JOE, a collection of stories, and his short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, New England Review, Ploughshares, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. He has taught at the University of Oklahoma, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and in the MFA program at Saint Mary's College in California. GUTSHOT STRAIGHT, his first novel, was written during the 2007-2008 film and TV Writers Guild strike. Visit his website at

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Police Procedural vs. Thriller

Today Riordan's Desk welcomes guest blogger Robin Burcell to discuss her latest novel, THE BONE CHAMBER, and the transition from writing police procedurals to thrillers.

They say write what you know and I did just that when I started my police procedural series with San Francisco Homicide Inspector Kate Gillespie. I was a cop, so I figured writing about a cop was the right thing to do, since much of police work was about solving mysteries, so to speak. The mystery genre, what’s not to love?

The Kate Gillespie books are definitely in the mystery genre. A murder occurs and we follow the cops as they investigate and begin to put the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the crime.

But what if your editor asks you to jump ship and dive into the thriller genre? What elements do you need to move from mystery to thriller? A thriller might have a mystery in it, and a mystery might have thrilling elements, but there is a difference between the two genres.

In my former series, Kate Gillespie investigates crimes, and her life is often endangered as a result. But the risk is usually only to Kate and maybe a few other characters and it is contained within the San Francisco bay area.

Not so in my new series, which I began moving into the thriller genre, primarily because I am in love with conspiracy theory, and it seemed a tad improbable that a police investigator would continually end up battling world conspiracies in a San Francisco backdrop.

Much like my first series, Face of a Killer (11/08) starts off with FBI agent/forensic artist Sydney Fitzpatrick looking into a murder, her father’s. All too soon she begins doubting the guilt of the man due to be executed for that murder. That’s where the similarities to my SFPD mystery series ends. A thriller must be bigger in scope, with an imminent threat that has larger than life implications. The investigation in Face of a Killer leads to a cover-up that involves top US officials, the military and the CIA. Should Sydney fail, it isn’t just her life at stake, but that of her family, a number of FBI agents and a worldwide banking scandal that could send the nation’s economy reeling.

My latest novel The Bone Chamber delves even further into thriller territory when FBI’s Sydney Fitzpatrick teams up with black ops agents to battle larger than life enemies (a cabal bent on taking over the world via shadow governments), a setting that encompasses several continents (North America, Europe and Africa), and with even more at risk than just the world economy. It also links three periods in history to the present day: the recent past (1980s), a few centuries past (1700s), and the biblical past (1400s BCE). Add a dash of forensic science, throw in an investigator from the Vatican to assist with all things biblical, threaten the world when the past collides with the present, and voilà!

That’s my path from mystery to thriller. Of course I’m not the only author who’s gone that route. Like I said about the mystery genre, what’s not to love? So, which camp are you in? Mysteries? Thrillers? A little of both? And which authors do you think do them well?

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. THE BONE CHAMBER is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. FACE OF A KILLER received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. For a sneak peek of THE BONE CHAMBER, view the video trailer on her website at:

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Subdued Magic Has a Cover

Subdued Magic, the forthcoming biography of Raymond Chandler by Tom Williams that I blogged about earlier, now has a (cool) cover:

And some associated jacket text:
To describe a book as Chandleresque is instantly to conjure a particular world. A world of violence; of mean streets trodden by lonely, hard-drinking private detectives; of shady bars inhabited by dangerous femme fatales women with the kind of bodies that would make a bishop kick out a stained glass window. It's the world of Philip Marlowe. A world left to us by Raymond Chandler the writer who, more than any other, defined modern fiction. What we know of Chandler himself, however, is shrouded in secrets and half-truths as deep and deceptive as anything in his magisterial novel The Long Goodbye. Born in Chicago in 1888, loneliness and desertion marked Chandler from the outset the disappearance of his alcoholic father forcing the boy and his doting mother back to Ireland, and eventually London, where he enrolled in the prestigious Dulwich College the proving ground of Wodehouse and Forester. Later, dissatisfaction as a civil servant and failure as a journalist sent him back to America, to Los Angeles, where after heroic, but rarely spoken of combat in the trenches during WW1 he began an affair with Cissy Pascal, a married woman eighteen years his senior who, following the death his vehemently disapproving mother, became Chandler's wife and the most troubled and troubling relationship of his adult life. It was only during middle age, after worsening alcoholism wrecked a lucrative career as an oilman, that Chandler seriously turned to the pulp and crime fiction that would soon make his name as well as open doors in Hollywood. Although success was to prove at best bittersweet. As Tom William's new biography demonstrates, Chandler's inability to realise his literary ambitions, a depressive and obsessive attitude toward his craft, infidelity, alcohol and a suicidal turn after the death of Cissy in 1954, were to prevent him ever recapturing the success and verve of his earlier novels. But what remained, as contemporaries as great as Auden, Waugh and Fleming recognised, was a body of work amongst the finest of its time, or any other, and a life touched by subdued magic. Tom Williams is a writer and journalist living in north London. He has previously written for the Observer and the Spectator, and is a protege of John Sutherland whose shared passion for Chandler, and own abandoned biography of the novelist, inspired Tom to embark on this book.
See the UK entry for it here--although Tom tells me the release date they list is a bit optimistic.