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Author Tom Fox On Choosing Your Central Characters

May 25, 2016 in Guest Posts

DominusTom Fox, author of Dominus, shares his thoughts on what qualities make for powerful central characters. Outsiders, iconoclasts, observers, or protectors—what kinds of characters do you think drive the most powerful stories? Let us know in the comments!

There comes a point in every writer’s work, or “process,” when decisions have to be made about just who the central characters of a book are going to be. Will they fly solo, or will there be a team? Will they be the macho type filled with back-stories of skills and experience, or ignorant and accidentally thrust into strange surroundings? Or will they be frail, broken? Will they be loved, or hated?

I knew from the outset that I wanted two protagonists in Dominus: no solo hero leading the cause alone, but a partnership of sorts. I wanted to be able to explore some of the key themes of the book—deception, reality, faith, doubt—from different perspectives, so it seemed natural to create two characters whose own backgrounds would allow different approaches to be taken to some of these central questions. Continue reading ›

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You Call That A Crime Novel?

May 18, 2016 in Fiction, Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

Why isn’t every novel that hinges on a crime or criminality considered a crime novel? When books come along and we throw them into their chosen pigeonhole, it feels like our aim is often a little off. Here are five famous books that could, with just a little argument, be considered crime novels.

upatthevillaThe Literary Novel: Up at the Villa by William Somerset Maugham

A story about passionate affairs that becomes a short novel about dumping a body without being caught. When the overwrought waiter she took pity on shoots himself in her bedroom, Mary turns to good, old-fashioned cad-about-town Rowley Flint to help her get rid of the evidence.

They laid him on the floor and Rowley wrapped the towel around the dead man’s middle in case the jolting caused a flow of blood. He jammed the soft hat on his head.

Switch it around and present the story from the point of view of someone looking for the dead man, or trying to work out where the gunshot had come from, and you have an unabashed detective novel. Present it from Mary’s view, throw in some posh angst, and you get to dress it up as a literary novel.

 

thespywholovedmeThe Spy Novel: The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

According to Wikipedia (so it must be true) the reaction to this book was so disappointing that Fleming tried to suppress elements of it. Perhaps the disappointment is that it’s really a crime novel, shorn of many of the usual Bond tropes. It’s the least Bond-y Bond, and no worse for the experiment.

I heard a single bullet crash into the metal frame of the door, and then, with my hand cushioning the ice-pick so it didn’t stick into me, I was running hell for leather across the wet grass.

Calling it a Bond novel when he only turns up on page 100 of 164 is rather… bold. It’s really a Vivienne Michel novel, the young Canadian woman working as a caretaker at an American motel out of season when two murderous gangsters turn up. It’s a gangland crime novel that a sociopathic Englishman happens to wander into the middle of. It was published in 1962, and in 1966 Richard Stark published The Handle, a Parker novel that had a faint whiff of Bond’s world about it. The moral of the story, I suppose, is that great writers influence other great writers, even if accidentally.

thetrial
The Classic: The Trial by Franz Kafka

A lot of crime novels are not about crime, but about justice. In many it’s the successful pursuit of a definitely guilty party, but there are some where we see things flipped around, and the innocent become the hunted.

All I want is a public discussion of a public outrage. Listen: I was arrested about ten days ago. I can laugh about the fact of the arrest itself, but that’s not the point.

A novel about a crime not committed is still a novel about a crime. The consequences of what did, or did not, happen lies at the heart of much crime fiction, and poor Josef K wasn’t laughing about his arrest when they (spoiler alert) stuck a knife in his heart.

 

medeaThe Classical: Medea by Euripedes

Looking for references to the earliest crime fiction tends to lead to the early- to mid-nineteenth century and names like Edgar Allen Poe and Wilkie Collins. Terrific writers of crime fiction, no doubt, but arguably two and a bit thousand years late to the party.

…she and all who touch the girl will die in agony; such poison will I lay upon the gifts I send. …I weep to think of what a deed I have to do next after that; for I shall kill my own children.

Take away the mythological flourishes and the heart of the story is a wife and mother, Medea, abandoned by her husband, Jason of “Golden Fleece” fame, for another woman. Medea extracts hideous revenge by poisoning Jason’s new wife and murdering two of her own children. The evil wrought by revenge, criminal acts in a family setting. This is slightly cheating in that it’s a play and not a novel, but as there were no novels in 431 B.C.m we’re categorising it as crime fiction and putting on the list.

 

therepublicofthievesThe Fantasy Novel: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

There’s a clue, I guess, in the title of this, the third of the Gentleman Bastards series. Protagonist Locke is hired to help rig elections, while in flashback we see the start of his career as a thief among a youthful gang pretending to be actors.

It wasn’t any sort of row that Locke recognised. Fisticuffs, theft, murder, domestic quarrel—all of those things had familiar rhythms and notes, sounds he could have identified in a second.

A lot of fantasy follows themes of murder, betrayal, revenge, and other staples of crime fiction. Sure, there are a hell of a lot more swords, magic, and funny-looking kingdoms to draw the eye, but there’s more than enough crime and criminality to fall onto our list.

Malcolm Mackay is the author of The Night the Rich Men Burned, which is definitely a crime novel, and the Glasgow Trilogy, which has been nominated for several international prizes. The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter was shortlisted for the Edgar Awards’ Best Paperback Original, the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, and the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. How a Gunman Says Goodbye won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award. Mackay was born in Stornoway on Scotland’s Isle of Lewis, where he still lives.

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Ralph Pezzullo Explains Why the New Thomas Crocker Thriller Is Set in North Korea

May 17, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

SEAL Team Six: Hunt the DragonLike other SEAL Team Six thrillers, Hunt the Dragon started with a comment by my co-author Don Mann about a top-secret mission he went on to North Korea as a member of SEAL Team Six. The real mission took place years ago. But as Don talked about it, I started to imagine what would happen if members of SEAL Team Six were called upon to deploy to North Korea today, and if so, what might be a likely cause.

Don and I try to keep our books as believable and up-to-date as possible, so my first task was to read everything I could find about North Korea. I learned that the totalitarian regime that has ruled the country of twenty-five million people since the 1950s is a self-described revolutionary and socialist state. Political power is highly centralized in one party and thirty-three-year-old Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un of the Kim family heads all major governing structures—as did his father Kim Jong-il and his grandfather Kim Il-sung before him.

All three leaders followed a strategic policy known as Songun (or military first), which explains why a country with per capita GNP of $1,800, according to the CIA World Factbook, maintains the world’s fourth largest standing army.

A friend in the intelligence community explained that Songun is derived from the Maoist idea that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” It is the primary reason that North Korea funds a very aggressive nuclear arms program, whose stated aim is to develop nuclear missiles capable of striking the mainland United States. In international terms, said one State Department expert I spoke to, Songun is a threatening posture towards the rest of the world so that other countries have to take impoverished North Korea seriously. Internally, it assures the Kim family will maintain political control over the government by passing on the title of Supreme Leader of the Korean Peoples’ Army.

I also learned that economically, North Korea is classified as a low-income country. A three-year famine that began in 1995 resulted in an estimated two million deaths. According to Human Rights Watch, North Koreans are “some of the most brutalized people in the world.” Amnesty International estimates that thousands of people are executed annually for political crimes and as many as 200,000 people are housed in six large political prisoner camps where they’re forced to do slave labor.

Armed with this basic understanding, I tried to imagine a credible contemporary scenario that would cause the president of the United States to authorize a top-secret SEAL Team Six mission into North Korea. Since the Kim Jong-un regime runs a criminal unit called Office 39 that specializes in counterfeiting money, stealing nuclear and missile technology, and even kidnapping scientific experts, I devised a plot that involves the kidnapping of a U.S. missile guidance system specialist in Switzerland, coupled with escalating threats to the U.S. from North Korea.

Now that we had a threat and a ticking clock, Don and I talked through the technical logistics of how a SEAL mission to North Korea might work—specifically, what would go into the planning, how the SEALs could deploy into North Korea undetected, and the kinds of weapons and equipment they would use. Then, because the unexpected usually happens on missions of this kind, I threw a big wrench in the works to see how Crocker and his men would react.

We hope you like it.

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Mulholland Books Unveils Strand Originals Publishing Program in Conjunction with Strand Magazine

May 10, 2016 in eBooks, Mulholland News, Short Stories

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Anthony Goff, Senior Vice-President of Content Development & Audio Publisher of Hachette Book Group, Josh Kendall, VP, Editorial Director, Mulholland Books and Executive Editor, Little, Brown, and Andrew Gulli, Managing Editor of Strand Magazine, announced today the co-publication of The Strand Originals Program. Strand Originals will consist of twenty of the best and most popular Strand Magazine short stories of all time, now being published by Mulholland Books as simultaneous e-book and audio digital downloads. The debut of Strand Originals begins with the publication of “Where the Evidence Lies” by Jeffery Deaver, “Meet and Greet” by Ian Rankin, “Jacket Man” by Linwood Barclay, “The Voiceless” by Faye Kellerman, and “Start-Up” by Olen Steinhauer, all published on April 19th, 2016.

The remaining 15 titles in the program, to be published throughout the remainder of 2016, include stories by Tennessee Williams, Michael Connelly, Ray Bradbury and Joseph Heller. The full list of titles and publication dates is below.

Josh Kendall said, “We at Mulholland Books have tried to make a lasting impression in our five years; Strand Magazine has been doing so for ages. We’re therefore more than proud to have formed a partnership with the Strand, publishing digital and audio versions of some of their best short stories. I’d say that we’re lucky to have them part of our family, but we’re lucky to now be part of theirs.”

Anthony Goff said, “A couple of years back Andrew Gulli came to me to discuss the possible digital distribution of Strand Magazine’s short story gems. Mulholland books had at this time really begun hitting its stride in establishing itself as a rising star in the suspense genre, and I saw this as a perfect home for Strand to team up with Hachette Audio. Much like some of the plot lines in the stories we’re publishing, it’s been a complex and windy road to get here. But, I could not be happier to roll this program out as a part of Mulholland’s 5th Anniversary celebration this spring.”

Andrew Gulli said, “The first place we had in mind for finding a company that would distribute a curated list of short stories that we’ve published was Hachette and Mulholland. I have nothing but respect and admiration for how they’ve published high quality works of fiction that are also commercially successful. Also, from my relationship with Anthony Goff, Josh Kendall, and Michael Pietsch; they’ve always proven to be loyal and determined group, so we’re happy to work with them.” Continue reading ›

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How To Write A Thriller

May 05, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors, Writing

Aspiring writers, here it is: lessons on writing a thriller, delivered to us by Matthew Quirk, the bestselling author of The 500 and Cold Barrel Zero. How many of you know where your heroes and villains begin and end before writing? Do any of you dive right in to let the conflicts and twists emerge as you write? Let us know how Quirk’s advice resonates with you in the comments.

Here are a few writing lessons that have helped me over the years. They might not work for everyone, and I’m still learning every day, but it’s what I can offer to those who come to me for help. This is practical, in the trenches, writer-to-writer talk. Please don’t take any bluntness as a lack of reverence for craft and language and literature. I’ve found, however, that romanticism about the writing process can really throw you off when you’re starting out. Writing is work, and here’s how my work gets done.

Figure out your story before you start writing. Genre is the critical consideration here. Genres have certain broad conventions. They’re conventions for a reason—your story probably won’t work without them.

For thrillers, here are the basic elements you need to figure out: There’s a good guy, and a bad guy. Bad guy is doing something horrible. Good guy gets involved and needs to stop bad guy at great personal expense. You should figure out who they are and what they both want, and what sort of conflict they find themselves in, inevitably, because of what they want. Determine an incident at the beginning that puts them, inevitably, on a collision course, and have a good idea of how they will face off at the end.

Alternate successes and setbacks for your hero, raising the stakes of each encounter, and then, as you approach the climax, take the hero all the way down, as hurt, hopeless, and desperate as possible, and then have him somehow overcome. Invert that for tragedies.

It sounds simple but it takes an extraordinary amount time and brain-breaking thought to get down to the heart of your novel. Often a fascinating concept (“what if…”), scene, or character gives the initial notion for a thriller, but a concept isn’t a story until all of the above has been thought through. I constantly remind myself of these points to stay disciplined and build a strong, clean spine for a book. It took years to learn to keep it simple, or try, when it comes to the fundamental through-line.

This is how a good thriller works. It’s also not too far off from Aristotle’s advice in Poetics. Give it a try. Having a solid arc from the beginning to end of your book doesn’t dumb it down or make it formulaic. It makes it an incredibly strong, compelling structure upon which you can build complex characters, or subplots, twists, or beautiful writing. But get that bad guy vs. good guy collision course down first.

This may be awful advice for people whose books are too schematic, but I have the opposite habit of overcomplicating things, so this has been a lifesaver.

The best part of working this all out is bringing in friends and family. If you can’t explain the central arc of your story in a few lines, and describe all these points in ten minutes or so, it’s too complicated and you haven’t worked it enough. There are some ideas that are genius in your head, and preposterous out loud. It’s far better to hear about it now than after you’ve spent two years writing the book. Trust me on that one.

That’s the beauty of it. People love stories. Bring them in. Have coffee. Walk through the mall having an animated discussion about your favorite ways to get rid of a body. It’s so much more fun than staring at a blank page or writing and rewriting without making any real progress.

There’s a lot more advice where that came from. Read Matthew Quirk’s full list of writing tips on The Story Grid.

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Start Reading The Night The Rich Men Burned by Malcolm Mackay

May 03, 2016 in Excerpts

nullHere’s a familiar scenario: two friends, finished with school, looking for work. Doesn’t have to be anything fancy—just enough to cover rent and maybe—maybe!—a car. In my experience, this kind of story leads to exhausting bartending gigs or grim retail jobs. But in Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow, it leads to debt collection. In his new noir, The Night The Rich Men Burned, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass are tempted by a life in which the only thing easier than the money is the slide towards ruin. Read the prologue below.

He ended up unconscious and broken on the floor of a warehouse, penniless and alone. He was two weeks in hospital, unemployable thereafter, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that, for a few weeks beforehand, he had money. Not just a little money, but enough to show off with, and that was the impression that stuck.

It had been a while since they’d seen him. Months, probably. They were heading back from the job center, having made a typically fruitless effort at sniffing out employment. They went in, they searched the touchscreen computer near the door, and they left. Two friends, officially unemployed since the day they left school together a year before, both willing to do unofficial work if that was available. They bumped into Ewan Drummond as they walked back up towards Peterkinney’s grandfather’s flat.

“All right, lads,” Drummond said, grinning at them, “need a lift anywhere?” He was as big and gormless as ever, but the suggestion of transport was new.

“Lift? From you?” Glass asked.

“Yeah, me. Got myself a motor these days. Got to have one in my line of work, you know.” He said it to provoke questions that would allow him to trot out boastful answers.

Glass and Peterkinney looked at each other before they looked at Drummond. There wasn’t a lot of work among their circle of friends. The kind of work that let a man like Drummond make enough money to buy a car was unheard of. They could guess what was involved in the work, but they wanted to hear it.

“Yeah, we’ll take a lift,” Peterkinney nodded. Continue reading ›

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Christopher Charles on How Places Tell Stories

Apr 21, 2016 in Guest Posts, Mulholland Authors

The Exiled by Christopher CharlesThis week we published The Exiled by Christopher Charles, the beginning of a new series featuring Detective Wes Raney. When we meet Wes Raney, he’s investigating a gruesome triple homicide in New Mexico—but it quickly becomes clear that Detective Raney is hiding some skeletons of his own. Author Christopher Charles explains how Raney’s story developed.

The Exiled began with a simple image: a dead body lying face up on the floor of an underground bunker. I didn’t know who’d been killed or how they’d been murdered, but I did know, almost immediately, that the bunker would be located somewhere in the New Mexico desert; I wanted a stark contrast between the claustrophobic crime scene and the expansive world above.

The murder escalated into a drug-related triple homicide, and the bunker found a home on a barely-operative cattle ranch before I began to think seriously about who would catch the case. Wes Raney, then, grew out of the desert, or maybe he grew in opposition to it. As Raney himself later observes, “What happened in that bunker belonged to another place. It was urban…something that would have made sense in the basement of a Lower East Side tenement but here was out of joint.” The detective had to belong to the world inside the bunker, not the sprawling desert above; like the crime itself, he had to appear out of his element in the desert.

So Raney became an exile from New York, a former NYPD undercover detective who developed an addiction on the job and dug himself into trouble he could only get out of by leaving. Through an unlikely connection, he secures work as a homicide detective in New Mexico. Once I decided to narrate the back story, the two places—the New Mexican desert and New York City—quickly translated into two distinct but related genres: a whodunit (the desert), and a Scorsese-esque gangland crime drama (the city). This happened naturally, without my having to think about it. In the desert, there is room to discover and reflect; in a city like New York, you’re constantly reacting to a barrage of stimulus. In the desert, Raney is truly “detecting,” working to solve crimes that have already been committed. As an undercover cop in New York, Raney is there while crimes are being committed, and he is often the one committing them.

Over the course of his eighteen-year exile, Raney has managed to make a home for himself in New Mexico. Hiking through the mountains behind his property, photographing the flora and fauna, has become his way of staying sober. As he understands it, “City life had been an accident of birth, one [he’d] corrected with a brutality that he could only put behind him by thinking of his life as part 1 and part 2.” But this notion is challenged when he finds himself investigating a case that seems right of his past life. Old instincts kick in, and he’s left wondering if what he took for a transformation was just an extended pause: has he reinvented himself in the desert, or has he simply been hiding from himself?

Early readers have talked about how quickly the book moves, and I think this, too, is largely a product of the dual setting. On the page, you can achieve something that’s impossible in real life: you can step directly from an adobe hut surrounded by piñon trees into a penthouse overlooking Central Park. Of course, the pacing accelerates a bit if there’s a murderer lurking in those trees, and a corpse lying on that penthouse floor.

Purchase The Exiled: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Indiebound

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Mulholland Books to Publish Caleb Carr in His Return to The Alienist Series

Apr 11, 2016 in Mulholland News

April 11, 2015, New York, NY — Josh Kendall, VP, Executive Editor and Editorial Director of Mulholland Books, announced today that after nearly twenty years, bestselling novelist Caleb Carr will return to his Alienist historical mystery series with two new books. A television adaptation of the original Alienist is also in the works; TNT has hired award-winning director Cary Fukunaga (True Detective; Beasts of No Nation) to adapt.

“The Alienist and its sequel were classics of their day, and audiences will thrill to the return of Dr. Kreizler and his turn-of-the-century New York City compatriots, set against a stage of rising nationalist violence and the early spy state,” said Kendall.

The deal is for two books, the first set twenty years after The Angel of Darkness, in the New York City of 1915, and centered on nativist violence and terrorism during America’s involvement in World War I. The second book, The Strange Case of Miss Sarah X, will be a prequel to all of the Alienist novels, in which a youthful Kreizler, after finishing his psychology training at Harvard, falls under the spell of William James, has his first run-in with Roosevelt, and delves into the secret life of Sara Howard, heroine of the first books.

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Start Reading Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

Feb 09, 2016 in Excerpts

Shutter Man by Richard MontanariThis is probably the scariest opening chapter of any novel that we’re publishing this year. If your ideal novel lives in the intersection between horror and police procedural, then head to your local bookstore for Richard Montanari’s new Byrne and Balzano novel, Shutter Man.

Who are you?
I am Billy the Wolf.

Why did God make it so you can’t see people’s faces?
So I can see their souls.

Philadelphia, 2015

At the moment the black SUV made its second pass in front of the Rousseau house, a tidy stone colonial in the Melrose Park section of the city, Laura Rousseau was putting the finishing touches to a leg of lamb.

It was her husband’s fortieth birthday.

Although Angelo Rousseau said every year that he did not want anyone to make a fuss, he had been talking about his mother’s roast lamb recipe for the past three weeks. Angelo Rousseau had many fine qualities. Subtlety was not among them.

Laura had just finished chopping the fresh rosemary when she heard the front door open and close, heard footsteps in the hall leading to the kitchen. It was her son, Mark.

A tall, muscular boy with an almost balletic grace, seventeen-year-old Mark Rousseau was the vice president of his class’s student council, and captain of his track team. He had his eye on the 1,000- and 5,000-meter events at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

As Mark entered the kitchen, Laura slipped the lamb into the oven and set the timer.

‘How was practice?’ she asked.

‘Good,’ Mark said. He took a carton of orange juice out of the refrigerator and was just about to drink from it when he fielded a withering glance from his mother. He smiled, pulled a glass from the cupboard and poured it full. ‘Shaved a quarter-second off my hundred.’

‘My speedy boy,’ Laura said. ‘How come it takes you a month to clean your room?’

‘No cheerleaders.’

Laura laughed.

‘See if you can find an egg in the fridge,’ she said. ‘I looked twice and didn’t see any. All I need is one for the apple turnovers. Please tell me we have an egg.’

Mark poked around in the refrigerator, moving plastic containers, cartons of milk, juice, yogurt. ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Not a one.’

‘No egg wash, no turnovers,’ Laura said. ‘They’re your father’s favorite.’

‘I’ll go.’

Laura glanced at the clock. ‘It’s okay. I’ve been in the house all day. I need the exercise.’

‘No you don’t,’ Mark said.

‘What do you mean?’

‘All my friends say I’ve got the hottest mom.’

‘They do not.’

‘Carl Fiore thinks you look like Téa Leoni,’ Mark said.

‘Carl Fiore needs glasses.’

‘That’s true. But he’s not wrong about this.’

‘You sure you don’t mind going to the store?’ Laura asked.

Mark smiled, tapped the digital clock on the oven. ‘Time me.’

Continue reading ›

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Hap and Leonard Return!

Feb 02, 2016 in Excerpts, Mulholland Authors

Honky Tonk SamuraiIt gives us great joy to welcome back Hap and Leonard, the crime-solving odd couple who anchor many of Joe Lansdale’s most beloved novels. In Honky Tonk Samurai, the pair are tasked with a missing persons case that leads them to a prostitution ring operating in East Texas. Hap and Leonard don’t always play by the book, but when it come to injustice, there are no two more fearsome opponents. Read the opening chapter below, and click here for Lansdale’s book tour dates.

Chapter 1

I don’t think we ask for trouble, me and Leonard. It just finds us. It often starts casually, and then something comes loose and starts to rattle, like an unscrewed bolt on a carnival ride. No big thing at first, just a loose, rattling bolt, then the bolt slips completely free and flies out of place, the carnival ride groans and screeches, and it sags and tumbles into a messy mass of jagged parts and twisted metal and wads of bleeding human flesh.

I’m starting this at the point in the carnival ride when the bolt has started to come loose.

Continue reading ›

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