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Mark Billingham and Laura Lippman on themselves and everything else

I’ve known Mark Billingham since 2002, but I feel as if we’re lifelong friends. When I heard he was going to move to Mulholland, I was sad for our mutual publisher but happy for Mark, if that makes sense. We share several enthusiasms, including the music of Elvis Costello and beer. I guess I should also mention that Mark is the author of the award-winning series of police procedurals about Tom Thorne, and a stand-alone, In the Dark. A stand-up comedian, he also is one of the funniest people I know. My new book came out in the United States on Tuesday, August 17, and Mark’s latest, From the Dead, is out in the United Kingdom on Thursday, August 19. When Mulholland asked if I wanted to inhabit its online real estate for a day, I suggested that Mark and I chat via Facebook. This is a lightly edited version of that chat.

MB: So, Laura, the new book is out in a couple of days. This is another stand-alone, right?

LL: Yes, another stand-alone. It’s called I’d Know You Anywhere, and it’s about a woman who’s contacted by the man who kidnapped and raped her when she was fifteen.

MB: Are you into any kind of pattern with the stand-alones and the series? A Tess Monaghan, then a stand-alone?

LL: There was a pattern, but it was broken because I wanted the book that was serialized in the New York Times magazine — The Girl in the Green Raincoat, the one with Tess’s pregnancy — to go out into the world before I resumed her story. That will finally happen next year.

MB: You’ve said that in some ways the new book is a companion piece to Life Sentences.

LL: After writing a book about a high-strung type who wrote the kind of book that book clubs discuss, I wanted to write a book about the kind of woman who belongs to a book club. Does that make sense?

MB: Absolutely. So would you say it’s less of straightforward mystery novel than you might write if it was a Tess book? Or should I say less of a crime novel?

LL: Less of a straightforward mystery, but very much a crime novel.

MB: So many writers, when they’re as many books in as you, start talking about feeling certain pressures to deliver the genre goods. Is that something that bothers you at all?

LL: Nick Hornby has a great line about how writing a good novel within a genre category is harder than writing a mainstream novel. I think it ups the ante in a very exciting way. It helps that I never did big twists. Weaknesses can become inadvertent strengths. I’ve never delivered huge twists (although some readers of What the Dead Know might disagree) so readers don’t expect me to take the tops of their heads off.

What do you think? Your Thorne books and your stand-alone seemed to me to be centered in real-world situations, where things are surprising, but never out-of-the-blue-didn’t-see-that-coming. I have to say, I think the dedicated reader, the one who wants to solve things, should be able to see things coming. You?

MB: Yes, I agree. I’ve actually started to grow tired of books where there is twist after twist. You can never actually invest in the story, because you know that so much of it is going to get pulled from under your feet. There’s a danger of it becoming nothing more than a technical exercise.

LL: I think at some point we have to choose between being clever and being — I’m stuck for the best word. Grounded? Credible? I’m not saying the latter is better than the former, just that it’s hard to do both in the same book. Presumed Innocent managed it. But it’s hard.

MB: If your book stands or falls on a reader being able to figure out a twist, or who the killer is, then it’s probably not much of a book. There has to be something more going on than that.

LL: I talk to young writers (or just new writers) about role-model books, the books that one aspires to write. Did you have such books? You know, “If only I could write a book like [Title] I would be so happy.”
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Guns to Shape the Future

bulletsThe sensation, if you allow yourself experience it, is that of pressing your face up against the glass right at the rushing tip of the present as it plows headlong into the future. There is no wind, only a thrum of momentum from somewhere deeply hidden; yet the sense of speed is nauseating, teetering on the edge of elation and dismay. Morale flicks back and forth, threatening to fall definitively to one side or the other, as each blurred impression of what the world is becoming blips onto the horizon, looms suddenly, and plunges behind us into the immediate past. With no time to understand.
Is it any wonder that we only climb into the nose of the present to face this overwhelming aspect on rare occasions?
I mean, I like a roller coaster, but not every minute of every day.
Of course, the biggest difference between a roller coaster and the future is that one runs on tracks, and the other does not. That’s what makes the terrors of a roller coaster enjoyable, and the terrors of the future a source of dread. Corkscrewing while pulling 3G’s can be an exhilarating sensation with a padded steel bar locked over one’s torso. Hurtling through the radically mutating implications of shattered financial systems, looming ash clouds, gouting oil leaks, combusting religious extremists, mushrooming mega-urban sprawl, radicalized weather systems, and your choice of today’s lesser headlines, all without the benefit of a lap belt, let alone an air bag, is something more akin to being caught in the head, your pants around your ankles, when the airbus goes into a tailspin: pinned to the wall by incomprehensible forces, half naked and helpless, with shit flying everywhere.
Still, I like the future. Though it seems intent on killing me and everyone I love, I’m a big fan. What I like about the future is that I have no fucking idea what it is going to do next. I am astounded all but daily by how the future manages to take both the past and present by the tail and twist them until they howl and spring off in directions no one ever imagined they had gone or could go.
Neat trick.
Because the future is so very present right now, it is the kind of thing one might want to write about, if one were a writer.
Hello. My name is Charlie Huston, and I am a writer.
The future, you say?
Hmm, how would one write about such a thing?
To be clear, when I think or write about writing about the future, I’m not thinking or writing about writing science fiction. Not right now, anyway. I’m thinking and writing about writing about that perilously thin membrane stretched between
NOW
and
NOW.

Oddly, writing about the extreme verge of the present is quite hard. Trying to capture the sense of a moment while it is happening is a slippery business. And there is a great danger that what one writes will feel dated a year after it is written, about the time it is likely to be finding its way into the hands of people willing to pay money for the pleasure (if lucky) of reading it.
I’m not good at it.
I gave it a whack in a book called Sleepless, but ended up pushing that story ahead a few years, setting it in a definitive future. One close at hand, yes, but not a real NOW.
Now I’m trying again.
Along with the future, I also like a good wall I can bang my head against.
It’s a very healthy process, this writing thing.
Which explains why I am trying to write about the present in a story told primarily through the eyes of a man who will seek to destroy it. Or risk destroying it. Or save it.
Or something.
If I knew for certain what he would do, I wouldn’t have much reason to write the book.
I’m writing about people who are right there at that membrane, people with resources that allow them to do more than simply stand there and feel the rush of the future, people who are equipped to reach beyond the membrane, to swing their hammers and their picks and hew the future.
Blindly.
Continue reading “Guns to Shape the Future”

Hey, Sinner Man, Where’d You Go?

You’ve probably heard the song. It’s a spiritual, and it starts out something like this:

Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to?
All on that day . . .

In the verses that follow, we learn that ol’ Sinner Man has run to the north, the east, the south, and the west, to the rock and to the hill and to any number of other sites, and nowhere can he find a place to hide from divine judgment. Then he runs to the Lord, and that turns out to be the answer.

When you look at it like that, it sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I’m reminded of the truly awful actor in the truly dreadful showcase production of Hamlet. When some audience members walk out during the famous soliloquy, he breaks character and cries out, “Hey, don’t blame me — I’m not the one who wrote this shit!”

What I did write, however, was a crime novel I called Sinner Man. It was my first crime novel, though it was a long way from being my first published novel. (And it was also a long way from being my first published crime novel, as you’ll see.)

If memory serves (and I might point out that, if memory truly served, there’d be no need for me to write this piece or for you to read it), I wrote Sinner Man sometime in the winter of 1959–60. In the summer of 1957, after two years at Antioch College, I’d dropped out to take a job as an editor at Scott Meredith Literary Agency. I was there for a year and wrote and sold a dozen or so stories of my own during that time. Then I dropped in again, or tried to; I went back to Antioch, but by then I was writing books for Harry Shorten at Midwood and had sold a lesbian novel to Fawcett Crest, and I had more books and stories to write, and what the hell did I care about Paradise Lost or Humphry Clinker, let alone The Development of Physical Ideas? So at the end of the year, I went to New York and took a room at the Hotel Rio, where I wrote another book for Midwood and, as my first for Bill Hamling’s Nightstand Books, one I called Campus Tramp.

Continue reading “Hey, Sinner Man, Where’d You Go?”

One Day, One Column

Welcome to the website of Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company.

The goal of Mulholland Books is to publish the best suspense fiction in the world.

The goal of MulhollandBooks.com is to bring you as close as possible to that which is great about the world of suspense at large.

In order to introduce you to all that is Mulholland, we’ve invited our friends, from across the field, to do what they do best. Write.

One Day. One Column. Many Amazing Voices.  Posted daily at 7 AM. Watch out.

Mulholland Books Mission Statement

Mulholland Drive is a winding stretch of road that follows the ridgeline of the Hollywood Hills. Its hairpin turns, sharp cliff-faces and breathtaking views of Los Angeles are shrouded in secrecy and imbued with drama, making them synonymous with suspense. The mysteries of Mulholland have inspired countless novels, films and works of art, from the classic mysteries of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain to the voices of James Ellroy, Michael Connelly, Michael Mann, and David Lynch.

The goal of Little, Brown’s Mulholland Books is simple: to publish books you can’t stop reading. Whatever their form—crime novels, thrillers, police procedurals, spy stories, even supernatural suspense—the promise of a Mulholland Book is that you’ll read it leaning forward, hungry for the next word. With a focus on online community building, internet marketing and authentic connections between authors, readers and publisher, Mulholland Books will be at the center of a web of suspense.

The history of suspense is long and storied, and Mulholland Books is proud to be part of its future. Unexpected, fresh, and with a 21st century approach to publishing, meet Mulholland: you never know what’s coming around the curve.