A little over a year ago, an author friend, Logan Keys, asked me how my book was coming. At that point, I’d been working on the same thing for nearly a year and making no progress. I shared my frustration, and she suggested that I write something completely different.
Logan’s suggestion launched a flurry of creative energy which allowed me to write a pretty good story over the course of a few months. The problem was my protagonist, Reno Hart. She evolved so much during the writing process that I knew I was going to have to rewrite much of the book.
I really liked Reno, and I didn’t want to let her go, so I decided to write a few short stories. Essentially, just putting her into situations and seeing what she’d do. By writing, what turned out to be four short stories, I developed a much greater sense of her character, and I’m making good progress on rewriting the novel.
But I interrupted that rewriting process to polish the short stories and put them out as a collection, titled FOUR SEASONS OF RENO HART. The book is only available on Amazon, so if you’re an Amazon or a Kindle Unlimited reader, please give it a try and let me know what you think.
Imagine sitting around a comfortable table chatting about books with people who really know and love the subject. I spent a very pleasant hour last night doing a digital version of that very thing on the TBR Podcast, a weekly show that’s all about books. We talked a lot about mysteries and thrillers last night, but the show is not focused on any particular genre.
I’ve been a fan of the TBR (to be read) Podcast since I first learned of it from an author friend, John L. Monk, who has since become a co-host of the show with Patrick Stemp and Michael La Ronn. Michael was unable to be with us last night, and Erica Conroy was his highly capable replacement.
We made for a diverse group. John writes science fiction and some crime, Patrick is the author of children’s books, with a very eclectic reading list, and Erica writes science fiction romance. I love the way the show opens each episode when everyone takes the microphone to talk about what they’ve read for the past week.
I’ve had these “book talk” type evenings before at writers conferences, but this was my first evening of digital book chatting, and I really enjoyed the time.
I made a few book recommendations myself last night, but we talked about a few titles that I couldn’t remember so I’ve linked those below.
Do you remember which network brought the television show, Mad Men, to screens around the world? How about Breaking Bad?
Do you remember your friends telling you that you had to check out those shows? Then once you saw them, didn’t you want to tell everyone who would listen to watch as well?
These programs didn’t come from one of the large, over the air networks. They came from a small cable network, AMC.
We all have that desire to share the things we find remarkable, whether it be television shows, restaurants, or books.
I host a podcast called CrimeFiction.FM where I interview the authors of new release mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. As you might imagine, I’m exposed to dozens of books each month. Some of those books are ok, some are good, some are great and a few are “tell your friends” great.
Most of the last category, the books I tell my friends about, aren’t the ones you see when you’re racing through the airport. They’re not on that table you see when you walk into Barnes and Noble.
In many cases, they come from the smaller publishers that focus on the crime and thriller genres. I’ve begun to think of these publishers as the curators of remarkable genre fiction.
Why it’s different with smaller publishers
The Big 5 Publishers have a business model, and a cost structure that requires huge winners. Editors are looking for books and authors that will sell at a certain volume, so they’re not able to take as many chances as they may like.
So, instead of releasing that great new book from a talented, but lesser-known author, they’ll ask one of their stars to publish two books a year instead of just one. They can project, with a fairly high degree of confidence how many copies the second book will sell.
The lesser-known author’s book is shopped around to other publishers until it finds one willing to try something different. Or, maybe the book is self-published by the author herself.
Books you want to share with your friends
I just released the 50th episode of CrimeFiction.FM, so that’s 50 books I’ve read and discussed with authors so far this year. Of those 50, six were “tell your friends” great for me. Small publishers published four of the six. One was self-published, and only one came out of the Big 5.
Of course, I’m not the be all and end all for deciding what makes a remarkable book. There are critics out there far more qualified than I to make those decisions. But when it comes to my definition of great - the “tell your friends” great, I’m the only one who can make that decision when it comes to telling my friends.
A great week of reading
My nascent theory that smaller publishers were publishing some of the best genre fiction began to develop in late April.
I’d read some good, well-written books, but nothing was hitting that “tell your friends” level. Then I started (and finished) METHOD 15/33, an oddly titled book from debut author Shannon Kirk.
It was one of those books that was so good I didn’t want to start another one right away. But, I had other interviews scheduled, so the next day I turned to my next book, THE DEBTOR CLA$$, by Ivan Goldman, (published by The Permanent Press).
I remember sitting down to read Ivan’s book while my wife was at the grocery. I planned on reading for an hour – tops. I finished the book after midnight and went to sleep.
These two books couldn’t be more different. One was a thriller featuring a pregnant, sociopathic teen. The second, a dark, quirky, laugh out loud funny book, set in a collection agency of all places, exploring the effects of the recession on different classes of people in America.
I’m on a serious reading roll now. I’d finished my “required’ reading for the week a few days early, so it was time for some pleasure reading. The next night I pulled out something from an author I’d always enjoyed. One of those authors who consistently launch books onto the NYT bestseller list. After 20 minutes, I put the book down watched some television. I tried again before going to sleep that night, but it was a non-starter.
So what’s going on here? What was the difference between the two books I couldn’t put down and the one I couldn’t bring myself to finish?
Well, there were several, but rather than get into the details of the book, I’ll use another television analogy. Reading the first two books, was like watching early episodes of Mad Men. These books took me to places I hadn’t been before. The third book, which did turn out to be yet another New York Times bestseller, was like watching a mid-season episode of Castle.
The other difference was that the two books that kept me reading were from smaller publishers that focused on the type of books I enjoy reading. The book I didn’t finish came from one of the Big 5.
Am I saying that the only place to find great crime fiction is through small publishers? No, of course not. There are some fantastic books published by the large publishers. But from this reader’s perspective, it’s the smaller publishers who are providing real value by curating remarkable genre fiction.
This is a guest post I did a few months ago at The Permanent Press blog. You can read the original post here. I hope you’ll agree that this version is formatted a little better 😉
How is your To Be Read list looking? Is it anything like mine? Does it have 4 to 5 times the number of books on it than you’ll ever be able to read? Too many books, too little time, right? There are far worse problems to have in life.
January was a tough month for my TBR list. I didn’t get nearly as much reading done as I normally do, and some health challenges with my mother kept me focused on books that were more entertaining than thrilling.
I found myself starting and not finishing a number of books in January. Some just weren’t that good, but a number of them just weren’t right at the time, so they stay on the TBR list.
In the past, I took great pride in finishing the books I started, but as my TBR list expanded I was forced to reset my expectations. As one author friend told me, life’s too short to read books that don’t keep you turning the pages.
Among the books I finished in January, these are my favorites:
SILENCE IS GOLDEN - (Pet Psychic Mystery #3) by Shannon Esposito
I had the opportunity to meet the charming Shannon Esposito at Sleuthfest last year. Her books aren’t the type I normally read, but when I saw the first in her Pet Psychic Series (KARMA’S A BITCH) on sale in early December I snapped it up.
The series takes place in sun-drenched St. Petersburgh, Florida, and features Pet Psychic, Darwin Winters, her business, Darwin’s Pet Boutique and a cast of characters that are richly developed and very entertaining.
These are light-hearted, fun stories and SILENCE IS GOLDEN, the third, and most recent in the series, was every bit as enjoyable as the first two. I think I’m a little bit in love with Darwin and desperately want to shop in her boutique. Highly recommended for those who enjoy sun-splashed cozy mysteries.
LAST SHOT (Dev Haskell series #6) by Mike Faricy
TING-A-LING (Dev Haskell series #7) by Mike Faricy
I came to this series through a free short story by Mike Faricy in November. I read the short story, loved it, and dove into the Dev Haskell mysteries beginning with book one.
Imagine Jim Rockford, in Minnesota, with a drinking problem, and you may get a sense of Dev Haskell. He’s a private eye with a heart (sort of) and his own (somewhat warped) sense of honor and duty. It must also be said he’s not the sharpest tool in the drawer.
These books are like potato chips, they’re good, they’re easy to consume, and as soon as you finish one you want to have another. Reading these books won’t make you a better person, but they will keep you entertained. I’m really enjoying the series.
The REALLY BIG KA-BOOM (January - Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) A Spade/Paladin Conundrum by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
I love short mysteries and subscribe to both Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine so I’ll have access some of the best in the genre.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a prolific writer who turns out some wonderful short fiction. The Spade/Paladin series features an elfin female detective and her sidekick, a lovable, overweight geek, who retired early from Microsoft and now spends his time pursuing his passion for science fiction conventions. He worships the ground Spade walks on, and the relationship between the two is priceless.
HERCULE POIROT: The Complete Short Stories by Agatha Christie
This incredible collection contains all of Agatha Christie’s short stories featuring Hercule Poirot.
I came to these stories far later in life than I should have, after getting hooked on the PBS series featuring the dapper, mustache-twirling Belgian detective. The collection contains over 50 bite sized Hercule Poirot mysteries. Now, if only someone would do the same for the Nero Wolfe short stories.
DEAD ANYWAY (Arthur Cathcart Mystery) by Chris Knopf
I’m a big fan of Chris Knopf’s writing, especially the Sam Acquillo series. DEAD ANYWAY is the first book of a new series with an interesting twist. The protagonist, Arthur Cathcart, and his wife are shot early in the book. Arthur’s wife is killed, but Arthur survives, recovers. That’s where things get interesting.
Arthur decides to remain dead and to create several new identities for himself so he can uncover the reason for his wife’s murder and exact his revenge.
DEAD ANYWAY is a marvelous story packed with interesting technical details as Authur goes about recreating himself and solving the crime.
RICH BITCH by Nicole Lapin
I read a galley of this book to prepare for an interview with Nicole Lapin. (The interview goes live on February 24th) It’s a non-fiction book of financial advice targeted to women between 25 - 40.
RICH BITCH is one of the best personal finance books I’ve read in years, rivaling my all time favorite, The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need. (Written by Andrew Tobias, way back in 1978.)
Unlike most of the dry, detail-filled books that populate the personal finance genre, Nicole’s book is written in plain English, using language and anecdotes that will appeal to younger women.
So how about you? What have you read lately that you’ve loved? Anything to recommend? Let us know in the comments.
Standard Buzzkill disclaimer - The links to specific books on Amazon.com are affiliate links. If you purchase the books after clicking the links I will earn a small commission, but you will pay nothing more for the books.
California Chrome Winning the Preakness - Creative Commons Image Via Wikipedia
It was a riveting story. Two older guys buy a broken-down horse, breed her with the cheapest horse they can find, and the offspring becomes a national hero. The horse that could finally put an end to horse racing’s 36 year wait for the next triple crown winner.
There’s much more to the story, but you probably know it already. The 77 year old trainer. The owners turning down millions for a partial interest in the horse, but that’s not the point of this post.
If this were a novel there are plenty of ways the story could go that would be satisfying, win, lose or draw. Endings that would cause readers to reach for the next book in the series, or another book the author has written.
Of course, the California Chrome story didn’t end the way most people wanted, and that’s where it gets instructive. If you write books for publication, you want a great plot, richly developed characters, exotic settings, and to take the reader into an exciting world. But then you’ve got to write (more…)
I’m currently working on the second book in my series featuring Jason Hunter. The first book in the series, HUNTER’S GAMBLE, will be released this summer.
In HUNTER’S GAMBLE, Jason is tasked with finding the most successful sports gambler in Las Vegas, who disappeared after a multi-million dollar win.
To complicate matters, Jason, who lived and worked in a children’s center while recovering from some personal “difficulties,” also finds himself embroiled in a grisly series of murders.
My current work in process (WIP) is the second book in the Hunter series, and it takes place in Las Vegas as well.
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a trick question, right? How is anyone’s work really different? No –– it’s a real question? Okay – First let’s set the genre. HUNTERS GAMBLE is a crime fiction novel, and Jason Hunter, my protagonist, is a ‘sort of’ private investigator. What makes my work different is that Jason Hunter is different. He’s a former insurance investigator who lost his way after dealing with some significant personal tragedy.
He’s a man who is still in love with his wife, despite the fact she died four years ago. His best friend is a Catholic Sister who runs a boys shelter, and his oldest friend is a former sniper for whom the ends always justify the means.
To do the work required of him, Jason must access his old skills (more…)