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Behind the Scenes of Michael Connelly’s The Drop

Today we celebrate the publication of Michael Connelly’s new novel THE DROP which The New York Times called “one of those Harry Bosch books that starts with a bang and stays strong all the way through.”  Publishers’ Weekly gave the book a starred review and called it “compulsively readable” and the Wall Street Journal raved, “Mr. Connelly is superb at building suspense through the accretion of detail.” What’s your review of THE DROP? Post it in the comments.

Don’t miss this video of Connelly talking about everything from THE DROP to long-term plans for Harry Bosch to Mickey Haller and more.

Worlds Colliding

Ex Factory: the windowMy name is David Morrell.

I write thrillers.

On occasion, people are puzzled when they learn that I also have a PhD in American literature from Penn State and that I was a full professor at the University of Iowa, where I taught Hawthorne, Melville, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

For me, the two worlds blend perfectly. In my youth, I earned the money for my undergraduate tuition by working 12-hour night shifts in factories. In one memorable task, I made fenders for automobiles, shredding several pairs of thick leather gloves during each shift as I handled razor-sharp sheets of metal. When I was transferred to another area of the factory, the man who replaced me lost both his hands in the fender-molding machine.

I noticed that, even though the workers had the glazed look of zombies, they read books during their lunch hours. When I looked closer, I discovered that every book was a thriller. The excitement of the plots took the laborers away from the terrible tedium of their lives.

One morning, after my factory shift ended, I drove to the nearby university, where I was scheduled to meet with my advisor about the requirements for finishing my BA studies. During that drive, I had an epiphany. I had already made the decision to become a writer, and I had no doubt that I wanted to write thrillers. After all, they had given me a psychological escape when I was a child and family arguments so frightened me that I frequently slept under my bed. I knew that the kind of stories that had been my salvation would be the kind of stories I would write.

But how would I do it?

My epiphany came in this form. Struck by the contrast between the factory I had left and the university I approached, I wondered if it was possible to write thrillers that satisfied two different types of readers at the same time: those eager for distraction, and those who wanted the kinds of themes and techniques that I was accustomed to in university literature courses. A thriller—by definition—must be thrilling. Could it accomplish that primary goal and simultaneously have other purposes? I was reminded of illustrations that seem to depict one thing when observed from a particular angle and then depict something else when seen from a different perspective.

Back in 1915, Van Wyck Brooks, a famous analyst of American culture, deplored the use of “highbrow” and “lowbrow” as labels that critics used to categorize fiction. Brooks condemned both extremes and suggested that there weren’t inferior forms of fiction, only inferior practitioners. In his view, it was possible for popular fiction to have serious intentions without ever sacrificing entertainment appeal and narrative drive.

That became my goal. The letters that most gratify me are of two different types. In one, readers thank me for distracting them from the harsh reality of fires, car accidents, lost jobs, divorces, serious medical problems, and similar calamities. In the second kind of letter, readers tell me that, when they reread my books, themes and techniques that weren’t obvious upon first reading suddenly emerge from the background, with the result that the books become different with a later reading.

This shifting nature of reality, depending on the angle from which we perceive it, is one of my favorite themes. My upcoming novel, Murder as a Fine Art, takes place in 1854 London. Its main character, Thomas De Quincey, uses the theories of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (“Does reality exist objectively or only in our minds?”) to solve a series of mass killings that imitate the infamous Ratcliffe Highway murders that occurred forty-three years earlier.

Call me schizophrenic—or the sum of my contradictions. All these years after I left the factory where I worked and drove toward the university where I studied, I continue to be two separate people when I write, with two different kinds of readers in my imagination.

[Editor’s Note: We are proud to announce today that Mulholland Books will publish David Morrell’s novel Murder as a Fine Art  in 2013. The novel is a historical thriller featuring Thomas De Quincey investigating a series of crimes which appear to be based on essays that he had written.]

“The mild-mannered professor with the bloody-minded visions,” as one reviewer called him, David Morrell is the author of thirty-two books, including First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. Morrell is a co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization. He is a three-time recipient of the distinguished Bram Stoker Award, Comic-Con International honored him with its Inkpot Award for his lifetime contributions to popular culture. With eighteen million copies of his work in print, his work has been translated into twenty-six languages.

Hardie vs. the Fire

To celebrate the publication of HELL & GONE by Duane Swierczynski, Duane has collaborated with SWEETS author/illustrator Kody Chamberlain on an original Charlie Hardie comic. Click here to view the comic. If you are on an iPhone or iPad, you should view it through this link. Duane sat down with Kody recently to talk about what he’s working on.

DS: Did the idea for SWEETS start with Katrina, or had the idea been bouncing around your head in other forms?

KC: I was working on the core mystery in SWEETS almost two years before Katrina hit and I had about 80% of a rough first draft complete. The major story turns were there along with the setting and most of the main characters, but I hit a few roadblocks with the story and it just wasn’t working. Around that time, freelance work starting coming in so I put my script on the shelf for a while and illustrated books with Steve Niles, Keith Giffen, Josh Fialkov, and a few others. I learned a lot by working with so many good writers along the way and I spent many nights and weekends reading professional comic and film scripts, grinding through various books on scriptwriting, and brainstorming new concepts. I was determined to learn as much as I could before giving my script another pass.

When Katrina hit New Orleans and Mississippi, I remember seeing a news report a few hours before the storm and a reporter asked about a high-profile murder investigation that was in progress. The police spokesman said they were hard at work on the investigation, but he was clearly spin doctoring and I remember thinking how tough it must have been to try to get any actual police work done during the chaos of hurricane preparation and the logistics of a major evacuation. That press conference rolled around in my head for a while and I kept coming back to it and thinking about the family of that murder victim and their desire for justice.

Two weeks after Katrina, my area was hit by Hurricane Rita. Major portions of neighboring Cameron Parish had flooding as high or higher than New Orleans, and several costal towns were wiped off the map completely. Thankfully, my neighborhood didn’t flood, we mostly got high winds, rain, and power outages. I’m no stranger to hurricanes, I’ve been through a half dozen major storms in my lifetime, but for Rita, I was having to deal with the stress of several strict comic book deadlines and doing my absolute best to wrap up an issue before the storm. I did my best, but I still blew the deadline.

After the cleanup, the story pieces for SWEETS started to snap into place and I understood how a murder investigation preceding a devastating hurricane would be a nightmare scenario for a dedicated homicide detective. If there was ever an opportunity to get away with murder in New Orleans, what better time than the days before Katrina? Both Katrina and Rita were still fresh in my mind, and my personal experiences started to inform my fictional story. I couldn’t help but wonder how many killers, robbers, and rapists got off because of the chaos, the evacuation, and the mountains of evidence that got destroyed. That storm was a ticking time bomb for any detective trying to solve a murder, and for a killer, it was the perfect cover.

Continue reading “Hardie vs. the Fire”

Disappearing Women

Hands from a centenarianThis essay originally appeared on Murderati and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Tess Gerritsen.

Now that I’m in my fifties, I’m noticing more and more what generations of women have complained about: that right around this age, we start to disappear in the eyes of the world.  As we grow gray we become invisible, dismissed and ignored.  No wonder there’s a spike in suicides as women pass the frightening threshold of fifty. Invisibility happens to us all, whether we were once fashion models, prom queens, or hot actresses.  (With the possible exception of Betty White.)  When we lose the dewy glow of reproductive fitness, suddenly society thinks we are no longer worth the attention.  Yet men in their fifties still get plenty of attention, both in real life and in the movies.  Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sean Connery, were alll playing sexy action heroes in their fifties.  Silver-haired men, at their peak of political or financial power, are considered hot catches and Hollywood producers don’t bat an eye at the thought of casting a 50-year-old film hero with a 30-year-old heroine.  But a celluloid romance between a young man and an older woman?  Well, that’s got to be an outrageous comedy, right?  A story that no one would really believe, like Harold and Maude. Because while fiftyish men can be sexy as hell, a fiftyish woman is just, well, somebody’s boring mother.

Life is so unfair. Continue reading “Disappearing Women”

The Philly Phenomenon Strikes Again: A Review of Hell and Gone

HELL & GONE is the second in a trilogy of Charlie Hardie novels by Duane Swierczynski. The first, FUN & GAMES, was relentlessly fast-paced, suspenseful and completely outrageous. Well, guess what? This second entry is all that and then some, as difficult as that might be to imagine.

Picking up immediately at the conclusion of that novel, ex-cop Hardie is carried away in an ambulance after being shot and nearly killed. He passes out en route, and awakes to find himself transported to a secret facility hidden deep underground.

This facility, he learns, is a high-security prison holding some of the most dangerous criminals on earth. What’s more, Hardie is the prison’s new warden. As he’s introduced to fellow guards and frightening inmates, he discovers there is no escaping this underground prison, not even for the staff.

Through his clandestine exchanges with some of the inmates, he senses that the so-called prisoners might really be the good guys, and the guards and the shadowy agency that runs the prison are the ones to be feared. So Hardie and the inmates attempt a desperate and dangerous escape. As the plan unfolds, however, revelations and complications pile up that threaten Hardie’s life at seemingly every moment.

The paranoia of a secret agency that really controls the country, hinted at in FUN & GAMES, is turned up to full blast here in the guise of “The Industry,” which operates the prison and heaven knows what all else. Whether you buy into it or not doesn’t matter, because Swierczysnki keeps the narrative and its endless stream of twists and surprises moving so fast, you hardly have time to dwell on the logic or possibility of a “Secret America.”

Not knowing who the real prisoners are, and hence, Hardie’s real allies, is the major appeal of this madcap novel. Swierczynski eventually straightens it all out for the reader, but not before tossing in a few more disclosures to keep us surprised right up to the very end.

Swierczynski’s style, as in the preceding work, is hip, slightly sarcastic, immersed in pop culture and amazingly effective for this wild-ass ride. Not many writers can run their characters through all kinds of unimaginable existential and physical hell, and keep you laughing all the way, but this Philly phenomenon does.

Can things get any more weird and strange for Charlie Hardie? Sure they can, as the final chapter of HELL & GONE implies. But we’re going to have to wait until March for POINT & SHOOT, the final book of the trilogy, to find out where Swierczynski’s explosive imagination takes us.

In the meantime, for those of you who didn’t get around to introducing yourselves to Charlie Hardie in the first novel, proceed immediately and then treat yourself to HELL & GONE. Be warned: Don’t expect anything near normal or calm. Swierczynski is expanding and creating new narrative boundaries with each of these books — and then gleefully blasting them all to … well, to hell and gone, as he shift gears, floors it, and leaves us coughing out the dust.

Originally posted on Bookgasm.com. Re-posted with Permission.

Alan Cranis reviews books for Bookgasm.com.

A Conversation with Denise Mina and Kate Atkinson

As Denise Mina hits the US for her THE END OF THE WASP SEASON, she was interviewed by Kate Atkinson (CASE HISTORIES and STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG) on genre, character and the best place to write.

Kate Atkinson:  Do you have a lot of books planned ahead?  Does it worry you that you’ll die before you write them all.  (My own paranoia is on display here, obviously.)

Denise Mina:  My books tend to unfold as I write them and start with a very nebulous idea. I know some writers have notepads full of ideas they’re waiting to get around to. I used to keep a note pad and found it recently and it was full of dreamlike nonsense. One memorable entry– ‘King and Queen of Moon’ – what the hell is that?

For me the best books to write, if not to read, are small ideas that snowball out of nothing much at all.

I still have two Paddy Meehan books to write but I’m glad they’re not done now. If I’d written them before the Murdoch scandal I’d have missed out so much juicy stuff.

I’ve never had much of a horror of death. I’m so busy now that whenever I think about dying I comfort myself with the knowledge that at least I’ll get to sit down for half an hour.

Kate Atkinson:  Your characters are very well-rounded, not ciphers as in some novels (crime and otherwise).  Do you become attached to them or are you aware you’re using them as fictional devices? 

Denise Mina:  I get very attached to them. When Facebook first started and I was looking up/stalking old friends, I actually typed in half of Maureen O’Donnell’s name before I remembered that she wasn’t real. I usually base my heroes on admirable aspects of people I know, so maybe that makes them seem more real to me. They never feel like ciphers to me, especially not by the time I’ve finished a book. Then they usually feel like someone I like but I’ve been spending far too much time wit

Kate Atkinson:  You haven’t always been a writer and could, I suspect, have succeeded in many different fields.  If you could have completely free rein what path would you have chosen?

Denise Mina:  Nah, I was unsuccessful at everything else. I’m not being modest, I really was because I have a bit of a problem with authority and was prone to getting sacked for being mouthy. Maybe it served me well: I have a friend who wants to write but she has the misfortune of being good at all her until-I’m-a-writer jobs, so she keeps getting promoted.

With completely free rein and writing not being an option: I would have a talent for art and become a sculptor. But then I’d probably need a talent for self-promotion as well.

Kate Atkinson:  Do you wish you could write more?  Or less? 

Denise Mina:  Much, much more and all different stuff. At the moment I write for magazines and newspapers, I write plays and poems and comics and novels and short stories. I find all these different outlets invigorating and inspirational. For me there’s no greater inspiration than an impending deadline.

The hardest thing about writing for me is the first draft, making the clay. Shaping it is the re-writes and that’s just fun, but forgiving myself the roughness of a first draft is very hard, and a deadline makes me do it.

Continue reading “A Conversation with Denise Mina and Kate Atkinson”

A Sincere Endeavor: Dedicating BLACK LIGHT to Warrant’s Jani Lane

There’s bad magic and good magic.

Good magic is when you finally manage to quit smoking and something cool happens to you the same week—like winning twenty bucks on a lottery ticket.  Bad magic is when someone quotes your latest poem in a movie about clumsy people, then you fall into an open sewer and die.  Someone, somewhere, said comedy was a little like that.  I think it might have been Mel Brooks.  Life is like that, too.  Cool and cruel.  Strange and simple.  Full of lessons that hammer home important truths and oozing with evil shit that just doesn’t make any sense at all.  And sometimes it gets even stranger.

Case in Point:

Earlier this year, I wrote a book called BLACK LIGHT in collaboration with  a couple of swell guys named Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan.  It’s about a supernatural private eye named Buck Carlsbad who vomits up ghosts.  (Trust me, it’s cool.)  When “the boys” and I were first brainstorming Buck’s adventures, the impetus was always on making things as interesting and original as possible, within the framework of a traditional thriller/ghost story.  Old chestnuts jazzed up with a few new bells and whistles.  I’m a big fan of eighties glam metal.  Patrick used to live down the street from Don Dokken.  They say write what you know, yes?  It seemed like a natural idea to make our hero a relic of the headbanger decade, an ancient walkman filled with killer tunes attached to his waist and his head lodged firmly in the past.  It seemed even cooler to give Buck a poltergeist sidekick who would give him constant shit about his “lousy taste” in music.  We decided in our further infinite wisdom that Buck’s constant plight would be summed up in a particularly popular tune from the era, entitled “Down Boys.”

It was the luck of the draw, really.  I’d been on a bit of a Warrant kick during the writing of BLACK LIGHT, though none of us had much cared for the band back in the actual day.  They were the ‘second wave’ of mega-hyped, overproduced MTV hairspray rockers who floated in on the heels of groundbreakers like AC/DC, Judas Priest, Motley Crue and Van Halen, and not many people in the “hardcore” crowd took them very seriously.  Even I have deeper obsessions, and Patrick and Marcus tend to have more “serious” music on their minds most of the time.

But.

“Down Boys” fit the condition of Buck Carlsbad.

It worked for him.

Keep reading on TwitchFilm.com

A Spotlight on Black Light from Don Coscarelli

It’s publication week for BLACK LIGHT by Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan and Stephen Romano. Today, producer/ director/ screenwriter and horror expert Don Coscarelli weighs in on what he calls “a damn fine horror novel.”

I first became aware of Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan from their appearance on the reality series Project Greenlight. What stood out was their creative way of putting a story together and their dogged determination to get their movie made on their own terms, despite anything Hollywood heavyweights, Ben Affleck or Matt Damon might throw at them. With the lovable John Gulager selected as director, we watched this holy trinity of terror valiantly strive to make their movie, Feast, on a microbudget. It made for great television, mostly at the expense of these fine writer’s reputations. The fact that they survived the horror of this reality show and have flourished in the genre is a credit to their tenacity and talent. Now they have turned their skills to the novel and have teamed up with Texas writer Stephen Romano to create the amazing new novel, Black Light.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I have collaborated on several projects with Mr. Romano including our episode “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” for the Showtime Networks series Masters of Horror and also the sequel script to my film Bubba Ho-tep entitled Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires. I have to admit that I am not unbiased in my opinion of Stephen. He is an amazing writer and I truly enjoy his style and edge and it was a genuine pleasure to be asked to comment on his new book.

Black Light is a fantastic book…freaky too. The basic concept is that “sensitive” Buck Carlsbad, using his ability to manipulate a spectral vision called “Black Light,” can see ghosts everywhere.  Born with an innate talent to capture and subdue spectres, called “The Pull”, Buck uses this skill to stalk and run down the spiritual remains of the most vile humans on earth. But it gets better. Once he finds these malevolent spirits still haunting this mortal coil, Buck pulls them, right down his throat, into his guts and digests them. But it keeps getting better! Then Buck regurgitates the remnants of this spiritual muck into a silver urn and buries it six feet under. These evil Caspers are laid to rest permanently after Buck nails them with the Black Light treatment.

The authors have created a high-energy, fast-paced story that moves from the dark underbelly of Austin through glitzy Hollywood on a white knuckle express straight through hell, by way of Vegas. Some fantastic characters follow the action including Darby, a man Buck has previously killed. Darby is what’s called a “Walker,” a half-living ghost who is always hovering near Buck with pithy advice usually just when he most desperately needs it. Buck also hooks up with Bethany Sin an idolized vision of what Britney Spears might have been. The authors herein posit a fascinating concept which is, what if the genuine entertainment superstars a la Bono and Elvis, were born with the psychic ability to connect with their audiences. In Black Light this power is called “The Gift” and when Buck meets Bethany a potent mix of passion and hallucinatory telepathic lovemaking ensues.

Black Light is a damn fine horror novel by three amazing filmic talents. I’d love to read more from this crew but my better instincts tell me that if they move permanently into the world of literature, the world of movies will be a much dimmer place.

Don Coscarelli is an American film director, producer and screenwriter best known for horror films. His credits include the Phantasm series, The Beastmaster, and Bubba Ho-Tep.

Totalitarian Fiction

We kick off our week-long celebration of the publication of THE REVISIONISTS by Thomas Mullen, a book that Publishers Weekly called (in a starred review) an “excellent thriller set in the near future” and that Library Journal (also in a starred review) called “an outstanding dystopic novel.” Here, Mullen examines the world of totalitarian fiction. Weigh in with your picks in the comments.

I used to be such a nice, quiet young writer. Only recently did I realize I’d turned into a benevolent dictator.

Unlike most revolutions, it happened gradually.

* * *

It started in 2006, when I saw the amazing Pan’s Labyrinth. A few weeks later, I was surprised when a different film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The golden trophy was awarded to The Lives of Others, which I promptly paid my nine bucks to see, sitting through the opening credits with a healthy dollop of skepticism. “You think you’re better than Pan’s Labyrinth?” I thought. “Bring it on.”

Wow, did it ever. Where Pan’s Labyrinth used fantastical interludes and horror to tell the story of a little girl and her mother during the final days of the Spanish Civil War, The Lives of Others was a deceptively straightforward narrative about an agent of the Stasi, East Germany’s feared secret police, who spies on a controversial artist. They instantly became two of my all-time favorite movies, and I don’t envy the Oscar voters who had to choose one over the other.

Later I realized that they had at least one thing in common: they were both set in totalitarian regimes. Their protagonists had richly developed inner lives, yet they were struggling within systems that tightly constrained them, putting rigid controls on the decisions they could make, the people they could associate with, and the things they could say. They were watched by eyes they could not themselves see.

Continue reading “Totalitarian Fiction”