Sunday, November 9, 2014

Gregg Hurwitz, and prepping for Bouchercon

I’m smack in the middle of final preparations for Bouchercon this coming weekend. Bouchercon is the foremost convention for mystery fans in the United States. HarperCollins (my publisher) is hosting the opening ceremonies and holding a signing for their authors, and I’ll also be appearing on a panel on Thursday afternoon: It’s a Dark and Twisty Book, with Clair Lamb, Christopher Farnsworth, Alex Marwood, Ivy Pochoda, and Gregg Hurwitz.  This is my first time at Boucher, so I'm both hugely excited and pacing myself.  

Which is as good a segue as any for a quick Larcenous entry about keeping momentum in our writing.  Fellow panelist Gregg Hurwitz is an expert at propelling his novels along without sacrificing speed and energy.  

If you're going to Bouchercon, come by the panel or find me wandering around (I'll be the scruffy guy downing the quad espressos) and say hello!  I’d love to meet you!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Agent Exemplaire: Lisa Erbach Vance

In this month's issue of The Big Thrill (the online magazine from International Thriller Writers), author Anthony Franze shines the industry spotlight on literary agent Lisa Erbach Vance.  Lisa and I met at ITW's 2013 ThrillerFest conference, held each July in midtown Manhattan.  We were both attending the conference's "PitchFest" afternoon, which is essentially speed dating with agents.   I was there to get some practice pitching my nearly-completed book, and it was my astoundingly good fortune that Lisa had also chosen to cast her net that year.  She's been a dream of an agent, and I'm honored to call myself one of her clients.  

If you're curious about the daily life of a (very expert, and very busy) literary agent, and how to attract the interest of same, click here for the full profile:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First Time at Bouchercon, the K2 of Conventions

I'm gearing up for my very first Bouchercon, and wrote this post for their blog.  In need of guidance, I seek out the convention sherpas who have climbed this hill before.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lee Child, and writing effective action scenes

In the modern thriller, we often find action dominating scenes and sometimes whole chapters.  Action may have a different rhythm on the page, to help the reader follow and appreciate each moment.

Lee Child's series featuring the hero Jack Reacher is hugely popular, and one of the reasons is that his action scenes crackle.  We'll look at a short example from BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE for tips on how to make each moment pack a punch.

From Lee Child's BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE, read in LIG Ep8:

Reacher put Dixon’s Ford in gear.  Checked north, checked south.  Hit the gas and turned the wheel and slammed into the lot.  Ignored the worn circular path and aimed straight for the center of the space.

Straight for the bag man, accelerating, front wheels spraying gravel.

The bag man froze.

Ten feet before hitting him head-on Reacher did three things.  He twitched the wheel.  He stamped on the brake.  And he opened his door.  The car slewed right and the front wheels washed onto the loose stones and the door swung out through a moving arc and caught the guy like a full on punch.  It smacked him solidly from his waist up to his face.  He went over backward and the car stopped dead and Reacher leaned down and grabbed the vinyl duffel left-handed from the floor.  Pitched it into the passenger seat and hit the gas and slammed his door shut and pulled a tight U-turn inside the slow Mercedes.  Roared back out of the lot and bounced over the curb onto Highland.  In the mirror he saw dust in the air and confusion and the bag man flat on his back and two guys running.  Ten yards later he was behind the bulk of the wax museum.  Then he was through the light, back onto Hollywood Boulevard.

Twelve seconds, beginning to end.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Robert Crais, and emotional resonance

I heard a saying when I was a kid that stuck with me:  To a dog, everything is forever.  You leave for work each morning, and they are devastated.  You return home, and it's like the second coming.  Sorrow and joy are absolutes.  

In this post we'll look at Robert Crais's book SUSPECT, and the contrast between complex human feelings and conflicts, and the primal emotions felt by his canine protagonist.  Both are powerful methods of forming a connection with readers.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Getting Cozy with Louise Penny

I'm settling in at home after an overstuffed summer -- the perfect time to read a mystery set in a warm (if occasionally sinister) country village.  Since her debut ten years ago, Louise Penny has quickly become recognized a modern master of the small town whodunit.  "Cozy" mysteries have a lot to offer writers and readers of thrillers.  The pace and focus of cozies allow more time for buried secrets, an emphasis on character eccentricities over action, and rich settings.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lawrence Block, and using digressions in dialogue

This week I’m in New York for Thrillerfest, the annual convention for writers and fans of the thriller genre.  It’s a busy time, with classes on writing technique, interviews with leading authors, and approximately six dozen cocktail receptions hosted by publishing houses.  Per day.  But I wanted to post at least one video while in NYC (even if it means staying up very late to have the Grand Hyatt ballroom lobby as a fun background.) 

I had no trouble choosing the author for this episode.  I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Block, whose various series range from hardboiled to humorous, since I started reading fiction for grown-ups.  To keep this post from going all night, let's focus on just one of Block's strengths:  Conversational tangents that keep the dialogue light and snappy, while also revealing bits of character and situation.  The excerpt I read in the video is included at the bottom of the post.

From Lawrence Block’s A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, read in LiG Episode 5:

            “It’s not surprising if you never heard of him, because he was very small-time, and it’s no surprise you didn’t hear about the homicide.  If there was anything in the papers, I didn’t see it myself.”
            He was frowning in concentration.  “Jack, Jack, Jack. Did he have a sobriquet?”
            “Come again?”
            “A nickname, for Christ’s sake.  And don’t tell me you didn’t know the word.”
            “I knew it,” I said.  “I’ve come across it in print, but I’m not sure I ever heard anyone say it before.  I certainly never heard anyone say it in Poogan’s.”
            “It’s a perfectly fine word.  And it’s not exactly the same as a nickname.  Take Charles Lindbergh.  His nickname was Lindy –“
            “As in hop,” I suggested.
            “—and his sobriquet was the Lone Eagle.  George Herman Ruth, nickname was Babe, sobriquet was the Sultan of Swat.  Al Capone—“
            “I get the idea.”
            “I just wanted to keep on saying it, Matthew.  Sobriquet.  I know from reading, and I don’t think I ever heard it before, and I know for certain I never said it before.  I wonder if I’m pronouncing it correctly.”
            “I’m the wrong person to ask.”
            “I’ll look it up,” he said, and picked up his glass and put it down without drinking.  “High-Low Jack,” he said.  “Wasn’t that his fucking sobriquet?  Isn’t that what they called him?”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Niamh O'Connor, and tormenting your protagonist

We’re the tail end of our family trip to Ireland, and squeezing in one last visit to a favorite place – the Roisin Dubh pub and music venue in Galway.  The pub is a lot bigger than the last time I saw it, but just as great a spot to find a pint and a song.  And to unravel a mystery or two.

Continuing with Irish thriller writers, I’ve been reading If I Never See You Again by Niamh O’Connor, Dublin crime writer and journalist.  O’Connor creates immediate empathy for her protagonist, detective superintendent Jo Birmingham.  Jo is juggling departmental pressure and disrespect from colleagues, children (teenage and infant), money troubles, and a marriage running what looks like its final lap.  If it weren’t for the serial killer running amok in her district, she’d have nothing to look forward to at all.  For writers aiming to raise the stakes for their own heroes and heroines – especially in realistic circumstances – O’Connor offers great examples.

I picked up my copy of O’Connor’s novel at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop on Middle Street, which offers some of the best browsing in Ireland.  Drop by and pick up something to enjoy over your pint.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Benjamin Black, and the subtext of imagery

While on vacation in western Ireland -- after too many years since my last visit – I’m taking the opportunity to read some mystery novels by Irish authors I haven’t read before.  It’s been a joy.  And recording the blog “on location” makes me think I should focus my reading list on thriller writers from prime holiday spots, just to have an excuse to visit.  Here we’re on the beautiful and rugged Burren in County Clare, and I’ll steal some time from the blog to have a look around with you.

But first we’ll talk about A Death in Summer, by Benjamin Black, the pen name of famed author John Banville.  Banville won the Booker Prize for his novel The Sea, and he is a master of lyrical prose and sharply defined imagery.  Here we’ll look at how his descriptions help to underline the emotions and situation of his protagonist. 

This is the first post in which I’ve read directly from the page, and unfortunately the wind gusting off the sea likes to interrupt me.  It’s Murphy’s Law (Murphy being an Irish name, of course…) So I’ve included the text of Black’s scene below, so that you may read along with me and enjoy his words for yourself. 

From Benjamin Black’s A DEATH IN SUMMER, read in LiG Episode 3:

She came forward until she was standing before him.  She was not small for her age, yet the top of her head barely reached the level of his diaphragm.  He caught her child’s smell; it was like the smell of day-old bread.  Her hair was a deep gleaming black, like her mother’s.  “Would you like to see my room?” she asked.
            “Your room?”
            “Yes.  You said you came in to see the house, so you should see the upstairs, too.”  He tried to think of a way of declining this invitation but could not.  She was a strangely compelling personage.  She put her right hand in his left.  “Come along,” she said briskly, “this way.”
            She led him across the room and opened the door.  She had to use both hands to turn the great brass doorknob.  In the hall she took him by the hand again and together they climbed the stairs.  Yes, that was what he felt like: the misunderstood ogre, monstrous and lumbering but harmless at heart.
            “How did you know who I was?” she asked. “Have you seen me before?”
            “No, no.  But your mother told me your name and I thought you could not be anyone else.”
            “So you know maman quite well, then?”
            He thought about this for a moment before answering; somehow she compelled serious consideration.  “No, not very well,” he said. “We had lunch together.”
            “Oh, did you,” she said, without emphasis.  “I suppose you met her when Daddy died, since you’re a doctor.  Did you try to save his life?”
            Her hand was dry and cool and bony, and he thought of a fledgling fallen from the nest, but this was a fallen fledgling that would no doubt survive.  “No,” he said, “I’m not that kind of doctor.”
            “What other kinds of doctor are there?”
            She was leading him now across a broad landing spread with a Turkish rug in various shades of red from rust to blood-bright.
            “Oh, all sorts,” he said.
            This answer she seemed to find sufficient.
            Her room was absurdly large, a great square space painted white all over, with a white ceiling and a spotless white carpet and even a white cover on the small narrow bed.  It was alarmingly tidy not a toy or an article of clothing in sight, and not a single picture on the walls.  It might have been the cell of a deeply devotional but incongruously well-to-do anchorite.  It made Quirke shiver.  The only splash of color was in the single tall sash window opposite the door that gave onto Iveagh Gardens, a rectangle of blue and gold and lavish greens suspended in the midst of all that blank whiteness like a painting by Douanier Rousseau.  “I spend a lot of time here,” the child said. “Do you like it?”
            “Yes,” said Quirke, lying. “Very much.”