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A conversation with Thomas Mullen

Oct 23, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

The below conversation between Thomas Mullen and Jon Fasman appears in the paperback edition of THE REVISIONISTS, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Check back later in the week for questions and topics for discussion perfect for your reading group. Or, head out to your favorite bookstore, snag a copy, and start reading now. You’ll thank us later.

Thomas Mullen has written two great novels set in America’s past: The Last Town on Earth, which tells the story of a quarantined town in Washington state during the 1918 influenza epidemic, and The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, the story of two Depression-era bank robbers with an unusual gift for surviving bullet wounds. His writing, both in these stories and in his new book, gestures toward fable, allegory and that catch-all category, magical realism, but remains grounded where novels should be grounded: in character, and in love. His new novel, The Revisionists, is a historical novel of sorts: one of its protagonists comes from the future, which he calls The Perfect Present, and treats our imperfect present as history.

I met Tom by chance, in 2007, when we were both living in the same neighborhood in D.C. One year later he moved to Atlanta, and a year later, again by chance, my work moved me down here — to more or less the same neighborhood once again. I had a few conversations with Tom while The Revisionists was still in the idea stage. I told him then that it sounded great, but how great it actually turned out to be surprised and delighted me. What follows is our conversation about imagination, genre, and the not-so-Chocolate-anymore-City.

JF: You give us brief glimpses of Zed’s world: the Department, pods, erasers of memory. Did you, as the author, imagine, see or plot more of it than that? Was Zed’s world that you allude to complete in your mind?

TM: I admit that I don’t read much sci-fi, and that the specifics of Zed’s future world (what it looks like, what sort of inventions they have, etc) wasn’t quite as interesting to me as the philosophy and politics behind it. So I tried to describe the world as vaguely as possible and let smoke and mirrors do the rest.

What most intrigued me about his allegedly “Perfect Present” is the way they deal with past conflict and with the idea of race and ethnicity. I was inspired by a Time magazine cover story from 2000 that used computer graphics to create a composite face of what humankind will look like many, many generations in the future, when all the ethnicities have mixed and we’re basically one race. I figured that if one of my characters was a time traveler from such a future, then he should look this way. The contemporary-Washington characters who see him think he looks “interestingly multiracial” and puzzle over his background, which leads to some awkwardness. Continue reading ›

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A Review of The Revisionists: A good story, well told.

Oct 22, 2012 in Books, Guest Posts

This week, Mulholland Books celebrates the publication of the paperback edition of Thomas Mullen’s THE REVISIONISTS, a Paste magazine Best Book of the Year, and the novel CNN.com calls “a compelling and complex page-turner” and “a paranoid thriller for the post-9/11 age.”

Read on for New York Times bestselling author Michael Koryta’s take on the book, and check back later in the week for a look at the bonus content for reading groups included in the new edition.

There are writers whose work you love to read, and writers whose work you love to read…but also make you mad with envy. The latter, I believe, comes at an intersection of talent and bravery. When the author’s narrative gifts and honed skills make you think damn, I wish I’d written that, and his or her choices makes you think damn, I wish I had the nerve to try something like this. Those writers stand out not just because of enormous literary abilities, but because it’s clear why they’re writing: for love of story.

I can create a list of writers who hit that intersection of talent and bravery regularly (Stewart O’Nan and Jess Walter rise swiftly to mind) but it’s a short one. Thomas Mullen is certainly on that list. Most of us talk about pushing our boundaries while we stay in a relatively tight space. We’ll venture from wall to wall, maybe, but we ain’t kicking them down and crossing the neighbor’s lawn. There’s a literary comfort zone at play, and in his fantastic third novel, THE REVISIONISTS, Thomas Mullen demonstrates that his literary comfort zone is not bound by genre…or place…or time. Tom demonstrates so damn many things, in fact, that were he not a genuinely good guy I’d start to hate him.

Coming off two brilliant historical novels – THE LAST TOWN ON EARTH is one of my favorite books of the past several years, and THE MANY DEATHS OF THE FIREFLY BROTHERS is every bit as good – Mullen decides to forsake the past for the future in THE REVISIONISTS. Or does he? While Zed is an agent from the future, sent to ensure that a Dystopian existence does not come off the rails if left in the hands of humans from the past, (well, present…are you starting to understand why this book would be so damn hard to write well? Trust me, the narrative flow is a lot smoother than this review), the weight of history hangs over the story at all times, so that just as the action and intrigue are pulling you forward, you’re pulling back to consider how we got here, and what it means.

Want to know if the story will engage you or if it’s just a bunch of pretty writing hung on a fascinating intellectual concept? I’ll let you tell me. Here are a few lines from the opening chapter:

“I saw a young woman carrying her toddler, a little black girl in a pink sweater, her hair braided with white beads. Residue from cotton candy encrusted the girl’s lips, and I thought to myself, She’s two, maybe three. I wanted to know her name, look her up in my databases, see if by any chance she would be one of the survivors…The girl smiled at me and waved. Her mother never noticed, never turned around, and after they reached an intersection I made myself stop. It doesn’t make any difference, I told myself. She’ll likely die, or, if she’s lucky, she won’t – yes, if she’s lucky, she’ll get to grow up in one of the most violent periods the world has ever known.

I waved back, helpless as she was.”

Got you yet? If not, please FedEx me the heart-shaped stone that resides in your chest. I would like it for my collection.

If you want plot, rest assured, you’ve come to the right place. Zed’s background, skill set, mission and progressive challenges are the stuff of great spy novels, with that added twist of sci-fi, and everything is anchored in a Washington D.C. setting that is closer to the realism of a George Pelecanos version of our capital than it is to the convenient montage used in so many fate-of-the-world thrillers. As is the case in any good novel, though, the book begins and ends with character, and Mullen’s creations are familiar and empathetic, coming time and again to questions of the deepest humanity: if we could cleanse prejudice by cleansing the linkages – ethnicity, faith, culture, family – that inspire divisions, what have we gained and at what cost?

Call it what you’d like – a literary-reader’s thriller, a thriller-reader’s literary novel – but I don’t have much interest in attempting to label this book, and one of the great pleasures of reading it was in the realization that Mullen has even less interest. It’s geared to no one and nothing but the story, and the beautiful writing, mind-bending plot, and moral complexity make it one of those truly rare finds: a good story, well told. A reason to read. Mullen’s books seem to have permanent residence on “Best of the Year” lists, and I expect you’ll see THE REVISIONISTS on several this December. Do yourself a favor and get to it first.

Michael Koryta (pronounced ko-ree-ta) is the author of many novels, some of which have won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Great Lake Books Award, and St. Martin’s Press/PWA Best First Novel prize, while also earning nominations for the Edgar, Quill, Shamus and Barry awards. In addition to winning the Los Angeles Times prize for best mystery, his novel Envy the Night was selected as a Reader’s Digest condensed book. His work has been translated into nearly twenty languages. A former private investigator and newspaper reporter, Koryta graduated from Indiana University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Bloomington, Indiana. Connect with him on Facebook.

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C S I Don’t Think So

Oct 18, 2012 in Guest Posts, Writing

GunfightEver since I was a kid, I was fascinated by the capabilities of bullets. My father was a police officer, so we had access to an outdoor shooting range anytime we wanted. We experimented endlessly. My mother freaked out endlessly when she went to look up a phone number and found that our phone books had been shredded in the name of science.

Since then, I’ve continued experimenting with the physical characteristics of bullets in real-world situations. By contrast, bullet manufacturers test bullets by using uniform standards, most commonly in long, rectangular blocks of ballistic gelatin. This is clear Jello basically, but more dense. It’s produced in blocks at a standard density so that results will be consistent and differences in bullets can be measured. Gelatin is used because it’s considered a fairly good proxy for human flesh.

In a standard test, a bullet is fired into one end of the gelatin block. Because the gelatin is almost transparent, it’s possible to see the wound channel the bullet caused, exactly how far the bullet penetrated, if it broke into pieces, and if it deformed. The bullet is dug out of the gelatin and can be microscopically examined. This data provides a baseline of results that can be used not only by bullet manufacturers, but also by doctors and medical examiners who deal with gunshot wounds.

However, it’s not much fun looking at gelatin blocks because they don’t answer many other real-world questions. Will a bullet go through a car door? Can you shoot through walls? Do bullets bounce off windshields?

Much of what we see in movies and TV regarding bullets is fantasy. Though it might seem harmless, depending on these myths in the real world could be fatal. For instance, on a popular TV adventure series, two main characters wanted to penetrate an armed perimeter and decided to do it by driving a car into the protected area. The savvy hero prepared the car by pulling off the door panels and stuffing them with phone books, claiming that this would stop the bullets. Continue reading ›

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The Lineup: Weekly Links

Oct 11, 2012 in Weekly links

Contrasted ConfinementWe made it out to Bouchercon last weekend to see Duane Swierczynski’s FUN AND GAMES win the Shamus for Best Paperback Original PI Novel–congrats, Duane! All the more reason to look forward to April of next year, when POINT AND SHOOT, the final in the now accolade-winning Hardie trilogy, hits bookstores… The Rap Sheet has a great write-up of the festivities if you were unable to attend. Here’s looking forward to next year’s event in Albany!

Michael Robotham embarked on a US tour straight from the convention and can be seen this Friday at Seattle Mystery Bookshop and on Saturday at Scottsdale, Arizona’s Poisoned Pen.

While Robotham’s been on tour, SAY YOU’RE SORRY has been raking in rave reviews from the likes of Kirkus, John Valeri at Examiner.com, Publishers Weekly, P.G. Koch of the Houston Chronicle. More to come!

Don’t let all the great news about SAY YOU’RE SORRY distract from the fact that THE HOUSE OF SILK is now out in paperback. Some guests posts from Horowitz here and here from our initial hardcover publication. “An intricate and rewarding mystery in the finest Victorian tradition” (Vanity Fair)–what’s not to like?

Asbury Park Press reviewed Mischa Hiller’s SHAKE OFF, and the Washington Post reviewed Chase Novak’s BREED, calling it “the best American horror novel since Scott Smith’s The Ruins.”

Speaking of BREED, don’t miss Chase Novak in discussion with Barry Lyga, Daniel Kraus, Jonathan Maberry and more at the New York Comic-Con this Saturday. Austin Grossman will be at the Con earlier that night, talking about his forthcoming novel YOU with Evan Narcisse of Kotaku.

Looks like someone on the set of NBC’s CHICAGO FIRE, co-created by our own Derek Haas, intercepted the shipment of a certain thriller from our warehouse…

That’s it for now. See you all next week!

Did we missing something sweet? Share it in the comments! We’re always open to suggestions for next week’s post! Get in touch at mulhollandbooks@hbgusa.com or DM us on Twitter.

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Start Reading The Shining Girls

Oct 11, 2012 in Excerpts, Mulholland Authors

In June 2013, Mulholland Books will publish THE SHINING GIRLS, the next novel by Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Lauren Beukes, of whom Cosmopolitan has written: “the world Beuekes has invented is both eerily familiar and creepily different, “ and who William Gibson has praised as “very, *very* good.”

We’re giving away pins featuring the cover artwork of THE SHINING GIRLS this weekend at New York Comic-con 2012, with a link to the shareable excerpt on Facebook. You can also start reading right here on MulhollandBooks.com!

CHAPTER ONE

17 July 1974

He clenches the orange plastic pony in the pocket of his sport coat. It is sweaty in his hand. Midsummer, here, is too hot for what he’s wearing. But he has learned to put on a uniform for this purpose; jeans in particular. He takes long strides—a man who walks because he’s got somewhere to be, despite his gimpy foot. Harper Curtis is not a moocher. And time waits for no one. Except when it does.

The girl is sitting cross-legged on the ground, her bare knees white and bony as birds’ skulls, but also grass stained. She looks up at the sound of his boots scrunching on the gravel and broken glass—long enough for him to see that her eyes are brown under that tangle of grubby curls—before she dismisses him and goes back to her business. Harper is disappointed. His personal preference is for blue, the color of the lake, out where it gets deep, where the shoreline disappears and it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean. Brown is the color of shrimping, when the mud is all churned up in the shallows and you can’t see shit for shit.

“What are you doing?” he asks, putting brightness in his voice. He crouches down beside her in the threadbare grass. “Playing?” Really, he’s never seen a child with such crazy hair. Like she got spun round in her own personal dust devil, one that tossed up the assortment of random junk splayed around her—a cluster of rusty tin cans, a broken bicycle wheel tipped on its side, spokes jabbing outwards. Her attention is focused on a chipped teacup, turned upside down, so that the silvered flowers on the lip disappear into the grass. The handle has broken off, leaving two blunt stumps. “You having a tea party, sweetheart?” he tries again.

“It’s not a tea party,” she mutters into the petal-shaped collar of her checked shirt. Kids with freckles shouldn’t be so earnest, he thinks. It doesn’t suit them.

“Well, that’s fine,” he says. “I prefer coffee anyways. May I have a cup, please m’am? Black with three sugars, okay?” He reaches for the chipped porcelain, and the girl yelps and bats his hand away. A deep, angry buzzing comes from underneath the inverted cup. Continue reading ›

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Start Reading Say You’re Sorry

Oct 09, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Eager to get started on Michael Robotham’s newest Joe O’Loughlin novel SAY YOU’RE SORRY, which Kirkus calls “subtle, smart, compelling and blessed with both an intelligent storyline and top-notch writing,” but can’t make it  to Murder By the Book in Houston tonight to meet Michael and hear him read? We’ve got you covered–

My name is Piper Hadley and

I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago. I didn’t disappear completely and I didn’t run away, which is what a lot of people thought (those who didn’t believe I was dead). And despite what you may have heard or read, I didn’t get into a stranger’s car or run off with some sleazy pedo I met online. I wasn’t sold to Egyptian slave traders or forced to become a prostitute by a gang of Albanians or trafficked to Asia on a luxury yacht.

I’ve been here all along—not in Heaven or in Hell or that place in between whose name I can never remember because I didn’t pay attention at Sunday scripture classes. (I only went for the cake and the cordial.)

I’m not exactly sure of how many days or weeks or months I’ve been here. I tried to keep count, but I’m not very good with numbers. Completely crap, to be honest. You can ask Mr. Monroe, my old math teacher, who said he lost his hair teaching me algebra. That’s bollocks by the way. He was balder than a turtle on chemo before he ever taught me.

Anyone who follows the news will know that I didn’t disappear alone. My best friend Tash was with me. I wish she were here now. I wish she’d never squeezed through the window. I wish I had gone in her place.

When you read those stories about kids who go missing, they are always greatly loved and their parents want them back, whether it’s true or not. I’m not saying that we weren’t loved or missed, but that’s not the whole story.

Kids who blitz their exams don’t run away. Winners of beauty pageants don’t run away. Girls who date hot guys don’t run away. They’ve got a reason to stay. But what about the kids who are bullied or borderline anorexic or self-conscious about their bodies or sick of their parents fighting? There are lots of factors that might push a kid to run away and none of them are about being loved or wanted. Continue reading ›

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Some Thoughts on The Watcher

Oct 07, 2012 in Guest Posts

I used to get frightened reading. I used to like being told or read ghost stories by MR James, Edgar Alan Poe. The masters. I remember my mother retelling me the plot of Hitchcock’s Psycho when I was too young to get in to see the movie (which seems funny now). I’ve jumped plenty of times, but never been scared in the cinema.

I was a true believer in the Uncanny. But I lost my religion around age 39, when I had kids. Now that we are all vampires or werewolves, I have no allegiance to horror or any genre. In fact I shun them.

I am not sure what induces me to write. Ideas come, float around in amniotic flux, then either disperse or coalesce suddenly like a shoal of fish. Which can be unsettling. I take on each new book as a journey of exploration, a quest which will surely end in discovery, revelation, enlightenment. It almost never does. In my non-fiction book, The Wolf Children, I hoped to establish whether human children had ever been fostered by animals in the wild, or whether such tales belonged to myth and folklore, reflecting a longing to revive the lost connection with our animal ancestors. The strange story of the wolf children of Midnapore led me on a trail through remote Indian jungle villages and amongst the embers of scientific controversy. But the truth about feral children remains elusive.

As a fiction writer, I’ve been attracted to the outer limits, the far frontier, searching for meaning in the unexplained, looking beyond the boundaries of ordinary experience. Described as a metaphysical thriller, The Watcher charts an individual’s attempt to make sense of human existence through a chain of past lives that are linked down the ages by a single purpose – a karmic journey, as he sees it, towards the light. It tells the story of an ordinary man whose unremarkable life spirals into nightmare when he commits a mystifying atrocity. In his quest to discover the cause of his actions, the hero, Martin Gregory, takes the reader with him into the darker corners of his mind presenting his elaborate fantasies as the truth. We know this can’t be the case, yet we want to believe him. Partly because we don’t trust his nemesis, the smooth, rational psychiatrist who, in a contrapuntal narrative, warns us not to listen to his patient….he’s talking nonsense, he needs help! Naturally, it’s Martin’s lapel-grabbing insistence that ‘you must believe me’ that prevails against the dry clinical response of Dr Somerville, who may be smart and is probably right but before the hero’s eyes and ours turns sinister as hell. In the final down-the-ages struggle between good and evil we have to be rooting for Martin, the anti-materialist, save-the-planet visionary complete with crystal staff and ready to lead mankind back onto the true (spiritual) path, to win…there’s no middle way. The fate of the earth hangs in the balance! Continue reading ›

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Ten Rules for Writing a Sherlock Holmes Novel

Oct 05, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Writing

It may well be that Sherlock Holmes is the reason why I have spent so much of my life writing crime fiction of my own and if there is one small boast that I occasionally make, it’s that I have probably written more fictional murders than any other writer. Ever. The crime figures can be quickly totted up.

If you were to ask what has made Sherlock Holmes the most successful and best loved detective of all time, I would argue that it is not in fact the crimes or the mysteries. It seems to me that the appeal of the books has much more to do with character, the friendship of Holmes and Watson, the extraordinary and very rich world they inhabit and the genuine and often under-rated excellence of Conan Doyle’s writing, a touch melodramatic at times but still very much in the tradition of gothic romance. When I was asked to write The House of Silk, I realized that this would be the key. I had to become invisible. I had to find that extraordinary, authentic voice.

So, I set out the ten rules which I would have beside me as I wrote The House of Silk – and here they are. If you’ve read the book, you can judge for yourself how well they were kept and, indeed, if they were worth keeping. Continue reading ›

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Why I Became a Psychologist

Oct 04, 2012 in Guest Posts

Victorian HouseJoe O’Loughlin, protagonist of Michael Robotham’s acclaimed O’Loughlin series, was kind enough to stop by the office today on a connecting flight to Bouchercon, where he’s meeting Robotham to promote his newest, SAY YOU’RE SORRY. We’re happy to report that not only is Joe a beacon of morality in dark times, he’s also a really cool guy, and was kind enough to jot down the below recollection which appeared in the UK edition of his first appearance SUSPECT, but was cut for the US edition.

SAY YOU’RE SORRY, which Kirkus calls “subtle, smart, compelling and blessed with both an intelligent storyline and top-notch writing,” is now available in bookstores everywhere.

Sunday morning is normally my time. I bury myself under the combined weight of four newspapers and drink coffee until my tongue feels furry. But today is different. The calendar says so. My memory serves me well.

Charlie is rugged up in jeans, skivvy and a ski jacket because I’ve promised she can come with me today. After gulping down her breakfast, she watches me impatiently – convinced that I’m deliberately drinking my coffee more slowly.

When it’s time to load up the car, we carry the cardboard boxes from the garden shed, along the side path and put them next to my old Metro. The boxes are so light I can balance three on top of each other. Charlie makes do with one at a time.

Julianne is sitting on the front steps with a cup of coffee resting on her knees.

‘You’re both mad, you know that?’

‘Probably.’

‘And you’ll get arrested.’

‘And that’s going to be your fault.’

‘Why is it my fault?’

‘Because you won’t come with us. We need a getaway driver.’

Charlie pipes up. ‘C’mon, Mum. Dad said you used to.’

‘That’s when I was young and foolish and I wasn’t on the Committee at your school.’

‘Do you realise, Charlie, that on my second date with your mother she was arrested for scaling a flag-pole and taking down the South African flag.’

Julianne scowls. ‘Don’t tell her that!’

‘Did you really get arrested?’

‘I was cautioned. It’s not the same thing.’

There are four boxes on the roof racks, two in the boot and two on the back seat. Fine beads of sweat, like polished glass, are decorating Charlie’s top lip. She slips off her ski jacket and tucks it between the seats.

I turn back to Julianne. ‘Are you sure you won’t come? I know you want to.’

‘Who’s going to post bail for us?’

‘Your mother will do that.’

Her eyes narrow, but she puts her coffee cup inside the door. ‘I’m doing this under protest.’

‘Duly noted.’

She holds out her hand for the car keys. ‘And I’m driving.’

She grabs a jacket from the coat rack in the hallway and pulls the door shut. Charlie squeezes herself between boxes on the back seat and leans forward excitedly.

‘Tell me the story again,’ she asks, as we swing into light traffic along Prince Albert Road, alongside Regent’s Park. ‘And don’t leave anything out just because Mum’s here.’

I tell people that the reason I became a psychologist is because I wanted to know what Julianne was really thinking – but that’s not true. The real reason was great aunt Gracie, who died at the age of eighty, having spent sixty years never setting a foot outside her house. Continue reading ›

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The O’Loughlin Files, Revisited

Oct 02, 2012 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Michael Robotham brings us back to psychologist Joe O’Loughlin after the events of BLEED FOR ME in his newest, SAY YOU’RE SORRY, out this week from Mulholland Books. New to the series? Looking for a refresher on O’Loughlin, with tantalizing glimpses into his newest adventure? Look no further than the below dossier Robotham was kind enough to compile for this very purpose.

Name: Professor Joseph O’Loughin (commonly known as Joe)

Profession: Clinical Psychologist

Born: November 29, 1960, Penrhyn Bay, Wales.

Height: 6’1”

Weight: 175 lbs

Eyes: Brown

First appeared in: SUSPECT (2004)

Latest book: SAY YOU’RE SORRY (2012)

Joe’s own descriptions of himself:

I am not handsome in the conventional sense. I am tall and pale with watery brown eyes and when I look at myself naked I am reminded of a winter animal that sheds its fur in the hotter months and looks out of place until the cold returns. That’s one of the reasons that I don’t wear shorts or T-shirts or flip flops which Australians call thongs. I wonder what they call G-strings? (BLEED FOR ME)

Status:

Married but separated from Julianne.

We’re estranged, not divorced. The subject is raised occasionally (never by me) but we haven’t got round to signing the papers. I moved back to London eight months ago. Now I live in a one-bedroom flat that reminds me of something I had when I was at college – cheap, transitory, full of mismatched furniture and a fridge stocked with Indian pickles and chutneys. I try not to dwell on the past. I touch it only gingerly with the barest tips of my thoughts, as though it were a worrying lump in my testis, probably benign, but lethal until proven otherwise. (SAY YOU’RE SORRY) Continue reading ›

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