29 August 2007

Author Answers with J.D. Rhoades

This week's author is J.D. Rhoades, author of three books featuring bail bondsman Jack Keller.

For more on Rhoades, check out his website.

WN: Your third Jack Keller novel just came out this summer. What kind of character is Jack Keller?
RHOADES: Jack's a bail bondsman and bounty hunter working in southeastern North Carolina. He's a veteran of the first Gulf War with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and a bad case of survivor guilt, stemming from a "friendly fire" incident that wiped out the squad he was leading. The only thing that shakes him out of the emotional numbness that's a symptom of the PTSD is the adrenaline rush he gets from hunting down bail jumpers and hauling them back. He's very good at his job because he's so focused, relentless and pretty much fearless. Needless to say, however, being an adrenaline junkie is not a healthy way to live, and the underlying story in the series is Jack's struggle to get past it, re-learn to connect with people, and become a fully functioning human being again. It's a rocky road; as Jack's friend and psychiatrist observes, "it's hard to treat someone who keeps getting shot at for a living."

WN: When you first created Jack Keller, were you planning to write a series or how the series come about?
RHOADES: I didn't start out with the plan to write a series. Jack was really just a sketch at first. It was about halfway through writing my first novel, THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, that I started thinking "hey, this guy could be a series character, if I don't kill him off first."

WN: How has your background in journalism, law and Dee-jay-ing (is that a ord?) helped you as a writer?
RHOADES: Well small-town law practice gives me a wealth of anecdotes and atmosphere for what I've dubbed "redneck noir." There's a lot of desperate people leading precarious lives out there and when they go over the edge, step back and watch the fireworks. People ask me if I know any real people like DeWayne Puryear from THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND or Laurel Marks from GOOD DAY IN HELL. I tell them "dozens, but most of them haven't gone that far. Most of them. Yet."
I (fortunately) haven't met anyone quite as nasty as DeGroot from SAFE AND SOUND, but I know a couple of people who have.
Journalism--well, I'm really only a freelance columnist for the local paper. I've won a couple of awards for it, but I can't really consider myself a journalist when I know so many people who labor long and hard to get the facts right, and all I do is open a beer, sit down at thecomputer, and make fun of politicians and celebrities. I guess beingable to crank out a certain word count on deadline's good discipline.
Deejaying--don't know if it's a word, but I can't say drinking rum and Coke, flirting with cocktail waitresses, and playing Janet Jackson records for 10 bucks an hour really affected my writing at all. Best damn job I ever had, though.

WN: What's your writing process like?
RHOADES: Sit down. Turn laptop on. Write book. Turn in book. Wrangle with editor over changes. Collect advance. Repeat.
But seriously folks...I do outline, but only because my publisher wants to see an outline to consider the book. Once it's sold, I pretty much throw the outline away because I hate knowing how something ends before I write it. Don't tell my editor I said that.
I try to write at least 800-1,000 words a day, which I don't always make. I tend to write very slowly; I revise as I go and agonize over every word. I may revise the same paragraph fifteen times before moving on. I'm trying to break that habit. The upside is that when it's done, I usually don't need to do major revisions.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writing books?
RHOADES: Oh yeah, I was definitely a reader. My mom taught me to read early, got me my first library card and took me down every week till I could get there on my own. I always had my nose in a book. We'd have holiday gatherings with the extended family, and by mid afternoon, I'd be out in the car stretched out in the back seat with my feet up in the open window, reading.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
RHOADES: There are so many joys about being a writer. Getting to hang out and swap stories with other writers I admire. Meeting readers. Meeting and talking about books with booksellers. But probably the best part is getting my big box of promo copies, ripping it open, and seeing a big ol' pile of novels with MY NAME on the cover. It's a rush, baby.
Most challenging part? Same as for every writer, I think: sitting down with a big empty white screen in front of you, knowing you have to fill it with words, and getting that old familiar panicky feeling in the gut: I can't do this, why did I think I could do this, etc.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
RHOADES: Wow, it's hard to pick just one. And I don't like to do stuff that's hard, so I won't.
I devoured John D. McDonald's Travis McGee books when I was younger, and I definitely think his straight ahead style of storytelling influenced me. I loved Hammett's RED HARVEST and pay tribute to it in SAFE AND SOUND. I mean, how can you not love a book that has a chapter called "The Seventeenth Murder"? Plus, I love that that tough, lean prose.
Great stuff. Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series got me back into reading mysteries a few years ago, and his TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT is the gold standard for books on writing as far as I'm concerned. It's one of only two "how to write" books, as a matter of fact, that I've ever been able to finish, the other being Stephen King's ON WRITING. Robert Crais' L.A. REQUIEM's a big influence; someday I hope to write a book that comes close to being that good. Hey, a guy can dream.

28 August 2007

Book Banter -- Glass Houses

Title: Glass Houses
Author: Rachel Caine
Length: 239 pages
Genre: YA/urban fantasy
Plot Basics: Claire Danvers is academically gifted and enters college in Morganville TX at age 16. But her brains aren't appreciated by the other girls in her dorm, especially Monica. Monica has it out for Claire, making threats that Claire is sure Monica will follow through on, so Claire leaves the dorm. She finds new housing with Eve, Shane and Michael, a trio of 18-year-olds who for various reasons decide to stick up to Monica with her. But in sticking up to Monica, the group also runs afoul of Morganville's big secret -- that the town is run by vampires...
Banter Points: So, at first, Word Nerd thought this would be like typical YA... campy plot, ragged writing, etc. How wrong she was. And she should have know that because, hello, Rachel Caine wrote this book. Which means the book had a great plot, with great rising action and a typical Caine cliff-hanger. Claire, Eve, Shane and Michael all are great characters with pasts and secrets and different personalities.
Bummer Points: The Oshkosh library system doesn't have book two. Not that it's just checked out. No, they don't have it at all. Sigh.
Word Nerd recommendation: Don't get hung up on the YA label. It's a fun book and everything that was wrong about Gossip Girl (see yesterday's Book Banter), this book's got right.

27 August 2007

Book Banter -- Gossip Girl

Title: Gossip Girl
Author: Cecily von Ziegesar
Length: 201 pages
Genre: YA
Plot Basics: Former "it" girl Serena van der Woodsen returns to her former NYC prep school after a year away at boarding school and comes back with a cloud of nasty rumors about what happened to her during the last year. Her former friends don't really want to interact with her, and so Serena makes some new friends.
Banter Points: It was an easy read.
Bummer Points: Sheesh. Where to begin. Ok, point #1: Word Nerd is not 16. Maybe if she were, this book would have been better. Point #2: There are lots of books written for teens and younger that Word Nerd has really enjoyted. Point #3. Gossip Girl is not one of them. It's amazing to Word Nerd that these books are best-sellers. Not very much actually happened in this first book ... unless you count the under-aged main characters getting wasted a few times. Hopefully not sounding like a prude here, but Word Nerd was pretty appalled at the behavior of the main characters. Yes, teens get drunk and have sex, but honestly, if that the kind of story to put in their hands to have them aspire to?
Word Nerd recommendation: Skip it. If you're a parent that's got a teen girl reader, reconsider these titles. There are other, far better written, far better plotted, far better examples in fiction.

24 August 2007

Book Banter -- Whistling in the Dark

Title: Whistling in the Dark
Author: Lesley Kagen
Length: 297 pages
Genre: literary fiction
Plot Basics: Ten year-old Sally O'Malley has an overactive imagination. When a child molester and murderer hits her neighborhood in 1959 Milwaukee, she's convinced she will be the next victim. But she and her younger sister Troo, are left to fend for themselves that summer when their mother ends up in the hospital, their older sister spends more time with her boyfriend Eddie than her younger siblings and their stepfather abandons them.
Banter Points: Kagen writes beautifully through the voice of 10-year-old Sally, managing to capture the insight of how kids see the world. Kagen paints a great picture of this 1950s neighborhood with its deep-rooted Catholicism and hidden secrets.
Bummer Points: One of the big plot twists Word Nerd figured out before it was revealed. Maybe Word Nerd has an overactive imagination too.
Word Nerd recommendation: Before summer's gone, get this book. It'll make a great capstone for the summer reading list.

22 August 2007

Author Answers with Jacqueline Carey

This week's author is fantasy writer Jacqueline Carey. Her Kushiel series has won several awards since the first one debuted in 2001.

For more on Carey, visit her website.

WN: Your latest book, "Kushiel's Justice" came out this summer. When youstarted the first one, did you expect it to grow into a series like this?

CAREY: At the very beginning, no. By the time I finished, I sensed the possibility and left the door open. I took a break to let the creative wells refill, and behold! The overall series arc took shape in my mind.

WN: The world you've created for the Kushiel series is quite complex anddetailed. How did you go about your world building, and how do you keepit all organized now?

CAREY: Research, research, research! Some elements are pure fabrication, but because I’m writing alternate historical fantasy, most of the cultures, mythologies and geographies are based on real-world analogues. I’m always on the lookout for those little details that breathe life into a scene. I’d love to say I have an efficient system for keeping it all organized, but in truth, it’s all stored in my mind... which is a very crowded place.

WN: What's your writing process like?

CAREY: Once I have the basic framework and itinerary of a plot in mind, I do a lot of research up front. After I begin writing, I research on the fly as questions like “What’s the saline content of an iceberg?” arise. When I’m immersed in a project, I write for 3-4 hours a day. I’m an edit-as-you-go writer. Every day begins with polishing the previous day’s writing, and I can’t move forward until it’s as smooth as I can make it. No skipping ahead for me, ever!

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writingbooks?

CAREY: Yes, I’m a lifelong reader. I suspect that would have been true no matter what, but I also credit my mother for reading extensively to my brothers and me. The last book she read aloud to us was “Watership Down,” which took a long time. As soon as she finished, she handed it to me so I could reread it for myself. Don’t tell my old teachers, but I started writing when I was sixteen and bored in high school! It became an addictive hobby that turned into a genuine calling years later.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?

CAREY: For me, the best part is being able to do what I love for a living. There are writers who, as the saying goes, hate writing, but love having written. I love the actual process of writing. Consequentially, the most challenging part is ending a major project. I know I need downtime, but I’m always at a loss. What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you? I always go back to Mary Renault’s “The Persian Boy,” a novel about the latter half of Alexander the Great’s life. I borrowed it from a camp counselor when I was ten years old, and it was the first grown-up novel I’d ever read. It introduced me to the wonder of bringing to life a world that no longer was, populated with gods and heroes and villains. That led me to one day create a world that never was, but might have been.

21 August 2007

Book Banter Archives

Word Nerd hasn't reread many of the books since she started blogging, but yesterday, she finished her second trip through Anne Frasier's Pale Immortal. Word Nerd wanted to read it again before reading an advanced reader copy of the sequel, Garden of Darkness. She was fairly sure she remembered what happened, but just in case she was forgetting details, she wanted to read it again.

The first review still stands, so, if you missed it in 2006, here's the link for playing catch up.

20 August 2007

Book Banter -- Kushiel's Dart

Title: Kushiel's Dart
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 701 pages
Plot Basics: As a child, Phedre is sold to as an indentured servant to Anafiel Delaunay, a mysterious nobleman. Delaunay uses Phedre to help him gain information about the politics in the land and through her spying, Phedre learns a secret that threatens the entire realm. To prevent the land she loves from being destroyed, Phedre along with some dutiful companions takes on a mission to the far reaches of the world.
Banter Points: First, let Word Nerd just get this out there... WOW! This book was incredible. The scope of the world that Carey creates (which looks strikingly like an alternate western Europe) is wonderfully rich in detail. Adding to the fascinating world is a cast of intriguing characters that Phedre interacts with. This book has it all: intrigue, politics, some romance, some fight scenes and they blend together to keep the reader hooked.
Bummer Points: Apparently, all the books in this series are this long, so Word Nerd's in for the long haul to read the next four that are released.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Fans of George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan take note. Word Nerd gives Carey's books higher marks than Martin or Jordan. For those that feel that Martin's cast of characters is too big, Carey's is more manageable and for those that got frustrated by Jordan's going-nowhere-fast tomes, Carey's book keeps the action at a good pace.
Bonus: Tune in Wednesday when Carey is the featured author in Author Answers.

17 August 2007


Is it possible for a bibliophile to be overwhelmed by the number of books she is waiting to read?

She's currently in the middle of two books.

And the stack on the floor? Growing. Daily, it seems like.

Here's a glimpse at what Word Nerd at least hopes to read, based on what she has checked out/borrowed/bought:
--Our Man in Havanna, Graham Greene
--Murder in Clichy, Cara Black
--The Body Farm, Patricia Cornwell
--Over Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper
--Kushiel's Chosen, Jacqueline Carey
--Glass Houses, Rachel Caine
--Thin Air, Rachel Caine
--Gossip Girl, Cecily von Ziegesar
--Whistling in the Dark, Lesley Kagen
--Lady Friday, Garth Nix
--Wicked, Gregory Maguire
--The Blood Books, vol. 1, Tanya Huff
--Labyrinth, Kate Mosse
--Lying with Strangers, James Grippando

16 August 2007

Something after Potter?

USAToday has a story about the book that's bumped Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from it's number one best-seller spot.

And it's not what you might think.

It's a young adult novel. About a vampire. And the third book in a series. Oh and the author, Stephenie Meyer never intended to be a writer. Sound familiar?

The full story is here.

Word Nerd saw the huge end-cap for this book at Barnes and Noble over the weekend and several teens (mostly girls) picking up this book.

Curiousity got to Word Nerd and she's put the first book on hold to see what the hubbub is about this series.

15 August 2007

Author Answers with Michelle Rowen

This week's author is Michelle Rowen, author of the "Immortality Bites" series. Her second book in the series, "Fanged and Fabulous" just hit shelves in July.

For more on Rowen, check out her website.

WN: Your second book in the "Immortality Bites" series came out last month. With lots of vampire books on the market, how is yours different?

ROWEN: Vampires are very popular right now, and I’m so glad because I love stories about them. The good thing about writing stories with characters who have fangs, is there’s so many different directions you can go.
When I got the idea for my first book, BITTEN & SMITTEN, I had decided I wanted to do the opposite of what seemed to be the normal conception of vampires:make my main character a non-evil one who thought drinking blood was gross. The slayers in my books are the evil (or mostly misguided) ones and the vampires are the good guys. While in paranormal romance there are a lot of romantic vampire heroes, at the time there weren’t too many everygal vampires that readers could relate to.

WN: What can readers expect in the rest of this series?
ROWEN: The Immortality Bites series will be five books. Four of those will be from my heroine, Sarah Dearly’s point of view as she comes to terms with what it means to be a vampire and still try to lead a "normal life,"including the second book, FANGED & FABULOUS, that was just released in July. The third book, LADY AND THE VAMP, which will be out next April is more of a spin-off and takes a character who has been in the first two books – Quinn, the vampire-hunter-turned-vampire – and gives him a chance to be the hero. When we return to Sarah in Book 4: STAKES & STILETTOS, she will be attending her ten year high school reunion (with her 600-year-old boyfriend in tow) and realizing she’s not the only one who has changed drastically during the last decade.

WN: And you are also writing a suspense-type book that comes out next summer? What is that one about?
ROWEN: Under the pen name Michelle Maddox I am writing a speculative romance (which is basically a futuristicthriller) called COUNTDOWN (June ’08). It takes place in the near, dystopic future, and revolves around a street thief who finds herself on a reality TV show where death is the consolation prize with a hardened criminal as her partner. It’s much darker and sexier than my Michelle Rowen titles and I’m having a ton of fun writing it!

WN: What's your writing process like?
ROWEN: Back when I was an aspiring writer I would take lots of time to write. My first book took me two years from beginning to end, so I would write when I felt inspired. Now that I’m published and I have deadlines to deal with, I’m finding that I’m writing every day – even when I have writer’s block! Luckily I do write from an outline...I know what’s going to happen for the most part in the book. I admire writers who can sit down with no plan and tap away at a book. I used to try to write that way but felt that I definitely need a map. Sometimes characters or situations in the plot will take me in different directions, but a loose outline definitely helps make the trip easier.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writing books?
ROWEN: I read voraciously as a kid. I loved Nancy Drew, Sweet Valley High, Judy Blume. I never read much until I was in fourth grade and our teacher would read us a chapter a day. I found that I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next and I can attribute that to sparking my interest in reading. I was probably most influenced to be a writer early on by Enid Blyton’s Adventure series because they were about normal kids having wild and exciting adventures.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you?
ROWEN: I love writing "The End." No, really. It’s the best part, and you get such an incredible rush from it. All of your imagination, all of your hard work is down on paper, and being publsihed I know that eventually (it usually takes a full year from that point until the book is available in book stores) somebody will read what came out of my crazy imagination. I have the coolest readers, too. They write me lovely notes telling me how much they enjoyed my books. What isn’t to love about that?

WN: What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
ROWEN: Getting to "The End." Ha ha. It goes without saying that a book has a lot of pages. And within those pages you have to have everything make sense. It has to have a beginning, middle, and end. Characters need to grow and change and fall in love. And sometimes, even if you know where you’re going with the story, there are some HARD days along the way getting to the end. And the doubt sets in – maybe this isn’t a good story, maybe I’m not such a good writer – but you need to push through that, because once you finish, there’s no other feeling in the world. For a while, anyhow, because then you have to start revising the thing to make it better!

WN: What's next for you as a writer?
ROWEN: I am contracted for two more books in my Immortality Bites series to finish the five books off. I’m still writing my futuristic romance. I have a couple of young adult novels written that I want to revise because I’d love to branch out in that direction.
Luckily I have about a hundred ideas for books I’d like to write, so the well isn’t going to run dry any time soon.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
ROWEN: Wow, tough question! Two great books about writing that come immediately to mind are ON WRITING by Stephen King, and BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott. Very inspirational and every writer, either published or aspiring, should have them, well dog-earred, on their book shelf. As far as a novel that has inspired me, it would have to be a really lousy novel that I read once, that after I threw it at the wall I decided that I could do better. Sometimes we don’t have to be inspired by great art. Sometimes something lousy can kick that muse into action, because if they could do it then so could I. And better! At least, I’m giving it my best shot.

14 August 2007

Book Banter -- First Among Sequels

Title: First Among Sequels
Author: Jasper Fforde
Length: 362 pages
Genre: literary/comedy/mystery
Plot Basics: It's almost 14 years since Thursday Next's last adventure. During that time, she is maintaining to the world that she's done with Spec-Ops (which has been disbanded) and done traveling into the BookWorld as a Jurisfiction agent. Of course, she's really still doing both. The BookWorld is facing a major crisis as the ReadRate is plummeting as people are watching more reality TV instead of reading books. Thursday is trying to figure out how to stop it while meanwhile, training two new operatives -- Thursday1-4 and Thursday5, the fictional versions of herself from the books in the series. And facing herself could be the biggest challenge to date.
Banter Points: Only Jasper Fforde could likely write this book and pull it off. Literary puns, time-travel, merciless humor at the expense of popular books and a cliffhanger to boot... The Thursday Next books just keep getting better and better.
Bummer Points: The above-mentioned cliffhanger.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Hilarious for anyone's who's a bibliophile. Fforde is imaginative and clever and unique. But, don't start this series in the middle. It's far too complicated to be read out of order.

13 August 2007


This is from Jasper Fforde's "First Among Sequels." For the bibliophiles out there, Word Nerd thought it was worth passing on.

Reading, I had learned, was as creative a process as writing, sometimes more so. When we read of the dying rays of the setting sun or the boom and swish of the incoming tide, we should reserve as much praise for ourselves as for the author. After all, the reader is doing all the work -- the writer might have died long ago.

10 August 2007

Top Poet

The nation has a new top poet.

The Library of Congress last week named Charles Simic as the new poet laureate for the country. He's written 18 book of poetry. He replaces the previous laureate, Donald Hall.

For more about Simic, check out the Library of Congress information on him here.

For another interview with him, check out NPR's chat with him, which includes Simic reading a poem.

09 August 2007

Book Banter -- A Crazy Little Thing Called Death

Title: A Crazy Little Thing Called Death (A Blackbird Sisters mystery)
Author: Nancy Martin
Length: 280 pages
Genre: mystery/chick lit
Plot Basics: Nora Blackbird stumbles onto another murder -- though this time it's not a body she's finds, but just a severed hand. When she finds the hand, she's again in the company of mob-family heir Michael "Mick" Abruzzo, who's once again, a suspect. When the police give up on Mick as the murderer, Nora takes it on herself again to solve another case of foul play in Philadelphia's upper crust.
Banter Points: The revolving cast of characters in these books is fantastic. While Nora and her two sisters, Libby and Emma, and Mick are staples, some of the minor characters like Nora's friend Lexie Paine are the best. Lexie's role is interesting to see in this book and Martin also introduces some new minor characters (like food critic Crewe Dearborne) that Word Nerd hopes wil be back in future books.
Bummer Points: This is the last (so far) of the published Blackbird Sisters books.
Word Nerd recommendation: Word Nerd is recommending that Martin write more in this charming series and meanwhile, if you are a fan of Evanovich, read this series in between the numbers and you might find that like Word Nerd, you like these better.

08 August 2007


Word Nerd likes (ok, loves and relies on) the hold system at the library.

That said sometimes this happens.

This afternoon she discovers that the copy of Jasper Fforde's "First Among Sequels," the fifth and newest book in his Thursday Next series that she's had on hold since May before the book ever came out is ready for her to pick up.

This should cause glee.

Except for this.

She's only 150 pages into Jacqueline Carey's fascinating and captivating "Kushiel's Dart" (which is 700 pages long with small-ish print).
So what to do? Stop reading Carey for Fforde? The Fforde book is two-weeks only and Carey has the option of renewing which makes it Septemeber before Word Nerd has to take it back. If she stops reading the Carey book, will she remember all the political intrigue going on?
This is the dilemma of a bibliophile.
Who else grapples with this?

Author Answers with Ed Lynskey

This week's author is Ed Lynskey, who's second novel, "The Blue Cheer" is out currently. He's also been a book reviewer, having reviews appear in The Washington Post and The New York Times Book Review.

WN: Your new book, The Blue Cheer, is out. What's the story about?
LYNSKEY: Frank Johnson, needing a break, retires to the West Virginia mountains, an impulse almost everybody experiences once in their life. Only Frank acts on his impulse. Of course he plows into big trouble, or there’d be no yarn to spin. A few critics have reacted to the local populace, characterizing them as rough-hewed and provincial. Not really. Frank gets a big boost from several locals and most are just regular people. The bad guys are actually only a core few in the hate cult. But Frank adheres to Chandler’s P.I. code of ethics in that he’s seeing things through to the end, no matter how much things heat up..

WN: What kind of a character is Frank Johnson? You've got him in West Virginia in the new book...how does that change a detective story when the PI's not in Chicago, New York or another big city?
LYNSKEY: Setting becomes important, surely. If you make your detective “a fish out of water”, then he has to react to and keenly feel his surroundings. A stranger to a place sees and feels things more intensely than a resident does. It’s like going on vacation to a different locale. While there, you relax but maybe not so much. You drink in the local color, but you also pick up the vibes, good and bad. Since a detective is an observant soul, a foreign setting will dictate how he behaves. Frank in The Blue Cheer doesn’t go down the mean streets but into the mean boonies. In the fourth title, Troglodytes Frank flies off to Ankara in Turkey on a caper. So, he’s no stranger to large cities.

WN: What's your writing process like?
LYNSKEY: You know, I’ve found lately that it varies. The output and goals -- creating and editing words -- are the same. But the actual act of writing changes. The laptop enables me to unplug and go to different spots. Wireless Internet is a bane. I hate it. It’s too tempting to keep piddling on the web. Time is too finite.

WN: Having tried your hand at writing non-fiction and fiction, what's different in how you approach writing each?
LYNSKEY: Fiction (novels) certainly has a longer gestation period involving multiple edits and patient waits. I haven’t written that many long pieces of non-fiction. I’ve written paid reviews (for many years now) which I approach as any serious job. I offer my opinions and observations, trying to stay judicious and balanced in my remarks. My review editors often come back to me asking questions. The reading is enjoyable, but it’s tough to be an honest critic at times. Having written and published my own novels, I now understand and sympathize over what sweat and blood goes into their creation.

WN: Were you a reader as a kid... what turned you on to reading/writing books?
LYNSKEY: Great question. I liked to read as a kid, oh yeah. Some slow day, I’m going to drive out to the small town where I grew up and take a stroll down the aisles of fiction in the local library. That way, I can recall a list of the books I checked out back then. I’m certain all of those titles haven’t been weeded out. I flagged a few titles that I do remember on my book reading lists on Amazon. One I liked was Rifles for Watie, a historical Civil War novel by Harold Keith. It's Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville has stuck with me. I have nothing respect and awe for authors who write YA titles. In the mystery realm, I guess I was first turned on by reading the Happy Hollisters, Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators, and the Hardy boys.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
LYNSKEY: I’m not certain I can fix on any one book and say it influenced me more than any other title has. Over time your tastes as a reader can change, too. Books I enjoyed as an undergraduate on rereads have fallen short. One of my bugaboos is the labels slapped on different types of fiction that lead to adversarial comparisons. You know, “literary” v. “genre”, or “hardboiled” v. “cozy”. I believe any restless, intelligent reader will sample from a wide array of fields. Why restrict yourself?

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?
LYNSKEY: For me, writing the first draft to a novel is euphoria. It’s so cool to do the initial plot. The days fly by. But the time comes to do editing and revising, the most challenging phase. A close second to editing novel manuscripts is trying to promote and market the published titles. Or thus far, that’s been my experience. I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk about writing.

07 August 2007

Book Banter -- The Deep Blue Alibi

Title: The Deep Blue Alibi
Author: Paul Levine
Length: 457 pages
Genre: legal/comedy
Plot Basics: Defense lawyers Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord are together again for their second big case. The law partners (in and out of the courtroom) are snagging some time at a beach when they are almost run over by an out-of-control boat. The boat, they discover, is piloted by none other than Victoria's "Uncle" Grif, her father's former business partner. They also discover a dead man in one of the cabins of Grif's boat and he hires Solomon and Lord to clear his name. But representing near-family, they find out is tougher because of the skeletons that are unearthed.
Banter Points: It was neat to see the thread for all the characters of how their parents' choices were influencing them now and how they reacted to things their parents had kept from them.
Bummer Points: This book felt more like two separate books at times. There was the story of Victoria and her work on the case with Uncle Grif and then there was Steve's story about trying to get his father reinstated to the Bar. Granted, those plots intersected some, but it would have been nice to have more of the banter between Steve and Victoria.
Word Nerd recommendation: This is another good beach read or airplane book. Still funny, still really good legal procedural.

06 August 2007

July Bibliometer

Another month gone, another month of reading stats.

Here's the data from July's Bibliometer:

10 books
3,995 pages
averaging 129 pages/day

51 books
17,820 pages
Average book length: 349 pages.

02 August 2007

How July went and what's next for August

July's writing goal was 20 pages because of the craziness that happens every year in that month.
Twenty pages turned out to be do-able and actually Word Nerd went past that so here's the final look at the page count meter for July.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
24 / 20

(Word Nerd doesn't know why this graphic looks so choppy. It doesn't look that way at all in the screen for composing or previwing posts...)

That done, of course it's time to move on to August's goal. For August, the new page count meter is set again at 40 pages, like it was for June. Forty that month turned out to be quite manageable and also felt like significant progress.

Word Nerd recently plotted out the rest of her story and there's a bit more left than she first thought. Without agressive pages goals, it just feels like it's never going to get done.

01 August 2007

Author Answers with Eric Stone

This week's author is Eric Stone. Stone has worked as writer, photographer, editor and publishing consultant. His first novel, Living Room of the Dead, is out and his second book comes out next month.

For more about Stone, see his website or his blog.

WN: Your second novel featuring ex-pat journalist-slash-detective Ray Sharp ("Grave Imports") comes out in September. How and why did you decide to do a series of books?
STONE: Actually, in the second book Ray has given up journalism and taken a job with a corporate investigations firm. I figured that would give him greater scope for getting involved in, rather than simply reporting on, the sort of investigations that might lead to interesting stories. It allows him to be an immediate participant, rather than simply trying to affect change through reporting his observations.
As a reader, I've always loved series books, at least to a point. I like seeing how the characters develop and change from book to book. If I like the character, or even if I don't but I find them interesting for some other reason, I want to know what's going to happen to them next. People are more interesting to me than the specifics of a crime or whatever tale they get caught up in. I'm mostly interested in crime or politics or economics or anything else, from the standpoint of what impact it has on people, or on a specific person.
As a writer, a series is a real challenge of my skills to try and keep it fresh. I want my characters to learn from their experiences and be affected by them as the continuing personal saga progresses. There's nothing worse than a static series character, or one who is bogged down by all the baggage they bring along from previous books. It's a juggling act to give a series character a personal life - which is important in order to give them context - but not have that get in the way of the story. I might have to kill off some girlfriends or colleagues along the way. I don't know if I'd be capable of doing that after a dozen or so books, but I'd be happy to find out. I figure that people buy series books because of the character, but they like each book in the series because of the story and how it affects the character.
As for how the series came about, the first three books (I just finished the first draft of the third one) and the planned fourth book in the series are all based on true stories that I covered as a journalist, or know well from my work as a journalist, in Asia from 1986 to 1997. I wanted to fictionalize the stories in order to better show the impact of these big, real events and issues on regular people. Making them a series, with a central character to act as the eyes and ears of the reader, gives them a continuity and focus that I think makes them more accessible and entertaining to a broad range of people.

WN: What kind of character is Ray Sharp? What kind of reader will really like him?
STONE: Ray is a smart, open-minded, but confused guy. He's a long time expatriate (an American in Asia), and he understands that he's an outsider in the world in which he's chosen to live. He knows that he can never be fully part of that world, but he'd like to understand it as well as he can. At times he can be morally ambiguous because he wants to respect things the way they are and knows better than to try and impose his cultural or personal judgements on them. But he also wants to do the right thing and sometimes his idea of the right thing and respecting the local ways of doing things, come into conflict with each other.
And sometimes he overthinks these dilemmas. He has a prostitute for a girlfriend and he can't bring himself to condemn what she does or even to ask her not to do it. In some ways he even sort of likes it. But at the same time he clearly sees the terrible economic and political forces that have pushed her and other women into it, and tries to do what he can to fight the people who exploit women like her.
In some ways he's too smart for his own good, and so he never quite knows what to make of things. When he acts, it's often on instinct, or to help a friend, because when he's thinking, his intellect often paralyzes him. Still, he's good at thinking his way out of bad situations.
He doesn't much care for violence, but he's seen more than his fair share of it. He's not any kind of expert in any of the violent arts, but he's willing to do what it takes to protect himself and the people he cares for. He's dogged and loyal. He likes to drink, a lot. He likes sex, and is happy to have it with hookers, as well as with women he has actual relationships with. (Although his longest current relationship is with a hooker.) That said, he avoids sex in the second book (GRAVE IMPORTS), having been traumatized by what went on in the first book (THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD.)
Ray's an everyman, he's not a superman. He's confused sometimes, inconsistent. He judges himself but tries not to judge others. He's honest in ways that bother other people sometimes. At his core he has a very good, deep heart. And he's smart and funny and observes a whole lot of really strange, quirky stuff that he describes well. What's not to like? I think some readers might disapprove of him, might want to slap him around from time to time, but I think that makes some people like him even better.

WN: What’s your writing process like?
STONE: I write every day, even on weekends if I can. Even if I'm not working on something specific I make a point of writing something just to keep in practice. Even if it's only for an hour. When I'm working on a book, I usually write for three to four hours in the morning, then desperately look for someone to have lunch with so as to talk with a real human being. Then in the afternoon I do research and editing. (My brain is too swamped with all kinds of thoughts to be very creative in the afternoon.)
I don't outline, although I do usually end up with a few sheets of notes to keep track of who's who and what's what and bits of research that I want to sneak into the story somewhere.
I've now written four books, and with each one there has come a point where I almost felt as if the book started writing itself. That's usually somewhere from half to two-thirds of the way through. By then the story and the characters have all built up their own internal logic to the point that they've come alive in my head and I feel like I'm simply reporting on them. It can get strange. In the third book, the one I've just finished writing, one character unexpectedly hauled off and shot another character toward the end. I hadn't planned it that way. And when it happened it made me change a whole lot about what I had planned for the end of the book. But, there I was, innocently writing, when all of a sudden it just made perfect sense that the shooting would happen. And so it happened. And so that changed how I ended the book. But it was better that way, a lot better. Damn characters can get uppity that way sometimes.

WN: Having tried your hand at writing non-fiction and fiction, what’s different in how you approach writing each?
STONE: For non-fiction I do enormous amounts of research, until it reaches a critical mass at which point the book (or article - I've written one non-fiction book, WRONG SIDE OF THE WALL, but hundreds of articles) kind of writes itself. I rarely do any more research once I've started writing. Occasionally something I write in non-fiction will spark a question and I'll have to look it up, but generally it's a well-defined two part process.
The easy thing about non-fiction, too, is that it doesn't have to make as much sense as fiction. You can rely on simply reporting the facts. If you've done your research and got your facts straight, it doesn't matter how bizarre or illogical the story is. If that's the way it happened, so be it. If a non-fiction reader comes across something that doesn't make any sense to them, but you've done your research, they might react by saying, "Wow, that's sure strange. Truth really is stranger than fiction."
But you can't get away with that in fiction. If a fiction reader comes across something that doesn't make any sense, they might say, "Yeah, right, what's wrong with this idiot," and throw the book across the room. (At least that's what I tend to do.)
I can also speculate more in fiction, which makes it, in my mind, a better medium for getting ideas across. When I was a journalist I adhered very strictly to the concept of non-advocacy journalism. I would never go into a story thinking that I wanted to make such and such a point with it. I'd just report it and let the chips fall where they might. If there weren't fully documented, usually with at least two sources, facts to report, I wouldn't report them. You can get away with a lot more in fiction. In THE LIVING ROOM OF THE DEAD, some of the most gruesome scenes take place in a brothel on an island in the South China Sea that is either run by, or certainly tolerated by the Chinese Navy. Such brothels exist in real life. And they exist with the knowledge and sometimes participation of the Chinese Navy. I know it, every reporter in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China knows it. But that's not enough to write about it in a non-fiction book. If you want to do a conscientious job, you'd need actual, on the record or eyewitness sources to back you up. I can get away with writing about it in my novel. It's fiction. (Yeah, right.)

WN: Were you a reader as a kid… what turned you on to reading/writing books?
STONE: Reading was one of my favorite things to do as a kid. In part it was because I always hated sleeping and I had a good flashlight that I kept fresh batteries in - for reading under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep. My parents are both huge readers, and I think that's what set me off. I learned to read fairly young and never much cared for kids books. My favorite books, starting when I was about five or six, were a series called Landmark Books. They were history and biography and some science, written for kids, but not in a particularly childish way. My parents were both also great story tellers. Our family would go on drives to explore the city - Los Angeles - or other places around Southern California and my parents would spin yarns about all the places we'd see. That led to a lifelong addiction to urban exploration and learning about and telling stories about new places. Writing just always seemed like part of it. I've been writing stories as long as I can remember reading them. Once again, it was something my parents always encouraged.

WN: What’s the best part of being a writer to you? What’s the most challenging part of writing for you?
STONE: I can't imagine doing anything else. Most writers will tell you that they'd do it for free, or even pay to do it if they had to. And I'm like that. It sounds dumb. But after breathing and food it feels like the most natural thing I do. I love the sound of it in my head. Sometimes I'll be writing and I'll be tapping my feet to the rhythm of it, or laughing and shouting and carrying on at some of the things that are coming out of my brain, or cackling with glee over some particularly swell (so far as I'm concerned) turn of phrase.
There are also physical reasons why it's so great. I work at home. Even in L.A. I almost always avoid traffic because I can pick and choose when I go places. I can wear shorts and a t-shirt or sweatpants and no shoes to work. Strangely, and maybe this will change if I ever become a really famous writer, but I also love the promotional side of it. I love driving around to bookstores and libraries and talking with people about books, especially my books, and other subjects that pop into my head. I'd do that happily anyhow. And now, sometimes I get paid for doing it.
It can be challenging. When I'm actually writing, it's a solitary enterprise. Email is both a good and bad thing. Send me an email in the middle of the day and I'm likely to respond to it immediately - because I want the human contact. Whenever I email a writer friend in the middle of the day and they email me back right away, I know they're trying to write. But then I email them back right away and before long an hour can be shot with exchanging emails. Actually knuckling down and doing the job and not getting distracted is tough. There are times when my house is way cleaner than it needs to be. Or I cook a much more elaborate and complicated dinner than I might have otherwise. Discipline is the tough part.
For most writers, money is the toughest part. They need to find time to write around their day job. I'm lucky in that I don't, at least for the foreseeable future, need a day job. If I needed to go to an office to earn a living every day, I'd still write, but I wouldn't have as much time for it and I'd have to sacrifice a lot of other things to do it.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?
STONE: MOBY DICK. I read it for the first time when I was about 10. I'm not sure I fully understood it, but one of the things I love about it is that I don't think it's a book that can be fully understood. It is so rich, so full of things at every level, that I don't think I'll ever entirely get it. I reread it about once every 10 years and it seems fresh to me every time. It's a great adventure story. It's full of history and science and folklore and mysticism and philosophy and all of that is enhanced by the sheer, powerful, raw emotions contained in it. It's full of remarkable characters - the people, of course, but also the whale and the ship and the ocean and even the seabirds, all of which are some of the best realized characters in literature. I think the problem that some people have with it is that they can't quite catch onto its rhythm. "Call me Ishmael." is one of the greatest opening sentences ever written because it immediately sets out a tone and a tempo for the book. (And it does it in only three, perfectly chosen words. When I was a kid I loved Mad Magazine's version of it, that started: "Call me Fishmeal.") If you can hook onto that tone and tempo, it's like hooking your car up to one of the tow hooks in a carwash, you just get pulled straight through.