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The Lineup: Weekly Links

Contrasted ConfinementDuane Swierczynski’s FUN AND GAMES has been nominated for a Barry Award for Best Paperback Original! Go Duane!

Papers like the New York Times have been covering the shopping of Amanda Knox’s book proposal. What do you think?

George Pelecanos’s WHAT IT WAS continues to receive great reviews–don’t miss coverage from the New York Times Book Review, which called the novel “great and breathless,” and USA Today, which selected the “rip-roaring introduction to Derek Strange” as a weekend pick. And at Spinetingler, Gloria Feit agrees.

With Michael Robotham’s BLEED FOR ME soon on its way to bookstores, great blog reviews have begun popping up–don’t miss the ones at Caite’s Day at the Beach and Bestsellers World.

And Donato Carrisi’s THE WHISPERER received another great blogger review from Martha’s Bookshelf!

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

Want to be a literary rock star? Live like a boy scout. A conversation with George Pelecanos.

The below guest post originally appeared on Allison Leotta’s site and is reprinted with the permission of the author.

George Pelecanos is an author at the top of his game. When he’s not writing bestselling crime novels, he’s creating some of America’s finest TV dramas: shows like “The Wire” and “Treme.”Stephen King called him “perhaps America’s greatest living crime writer”; Esquire anointed him “the poet laureate of D.C. crime fiction”; Dennis Lehane said, “The guy’s a national treasure.” In short, George Pelecanos is a literary rock star. So how can a new writer capture a little bit of that magic?

George’s answer surprised me.

I recently sat down with him for lunch, and that question was at the top of my mind. My debut legal thriller, “Law of Attraction,” got positive reviews and some nice buzz – but no one’s calling me “a national treasure.” I’ve read George’s earliest books, written before he was nationally treasured himself. They showcase considerable raw talent, but they’re unrefined and inconsistent. Like the evolution of cell phone technology, George’s writing has developed from an interesting conversation piece to a body of work so smart and sophisticated, it makes you shake your head with wonder. I wanted to know: how do I make that happen to my own writing? Will I need a more apps and better ringtones, or just some writing seminars?

None of the above, George answered. To be a good writer, be a good person.

That’s not exactly what he said – more on the specifics below – but that’s what it boiled down to.

It wasn’t the advice I expected from this author. If you’ve read his novels, you know George Pelecanos creates worlds that are dark, testosterone charged, and dangerous. “King Suckerman” opens with a disgruntled employee using a shotgun to blow a hole through his boss. In “The Sweet Forever,” one man proves his love for another by brutally murdering a rival. “Drama City” features a female probation officer who’s straight-laced by day and driven to risky one-night stands by night. George’s novels are full of violence and retribution, the grimmest side of humanity, and plenty of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll.

But his advice on how to create these worlds is akin to what a thoughtful father might advise his daughter on the larger question of how to live her life. The melding of these dark worlds with more wholesome introspection may be what makes his novels so finely textured and morally complex.

Here’s George Pelecanos’ advice for becoming a great writer: Continue reading “Want to be a literary rock star? Live like a boy scout. A conversation with George Pelecanos.”

Infamous One Percenters from Pop Culture

Pretty MoneyFrom Ebenezer Scrooge to Arthur Jensen in Network, here are some of the most famous one percent characters from books and movies. Alan Glynn’s new thriller is Bloodland.

(This post initially appeared at The Daily Beast and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.)

They used to be called robber barons. Now we call them one percenters. They’re the preposterously rich, and they got that way by casually crushing the hopes and dreams of the little guy. For each one of them, there are 99 of us, but that doesn’t matter—because they have all the moolah and they control everything.

They first showed up in the middle of the nineteenth century. Different from royals and aristocrats, these were canny businessmen who amassed great fortunes during the rapid industrialization that transformed the modern world. Their methods were often questionable, even downright immoral. But once the money started spewing forth no one could stop it. Nor, at the time, could anyone imagine where it would lead.

And from the very beginning, the men responsible—figures such as Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Gould, Morgan—have had serious problems in the PR department. Despite their arguably titanic achievements, these fellows have always been seen, and portrayed, as voracious and malign. Jay Gould was “the Mephistopheles of Wall Street”. In McClure’smagazine, Ida Tarbell dubbed Rockefeller “the oldest man in the world—a living mummy.” Economist and writer Matthew Josephson published his scathing and influential study The Robber Barons in 1934. Two years later, the figure of Rich Uncle Pennybags made his first appearance (on the Chance and Community Chest cards in the U.S. edition of the gameMonopoly), and that seemed to clinch it. This image of the greedy capitalist—top hat, cane, monocle, mustache—was most likely inspired by Gilded Age top dog J. P. Morgan, and has been an enduring one, with a fresh incarnation showing up as recently as a few months ago on the cover of The New Yorkermagazine. Here the greedy capitalist is seen protesting in the streets, Occcupy-style, and holding up a placard that says “Keep Things Precisely As They Are.” Continue reading “Infamous One Percenters from Pop Culture”

In the Beginning

Lettres de LouThe below guest post initially appeared at Murder is Everywhere and is reprinted below with the kind permission of the author.

One of the nicest things about having a website is that people write me letters.  My personal website, although it’s got the usual self-serving promotional nonsense on it, is largely taken up by a section called FINISH YOUR NOVEL, in which I try to tell people some of the things I’ve learned through years of failing and trying again.

So a lot of my mail comes from aspiring writers.  A few days back I got a long letter from a 16-year-old high school girl, who pretty much made my jaw drop. Among other things, she said:

” . . . I recently started developing my latest idea for a novel. With my previous ideas, I had never fully explored the idea and ended up letting it sit until I found myself saying “When am I going to start that novel again?” Of course, when that would occur I ended up spitting out a few more random bursts of ideas and that was that. The cycle repeated itself.

“So now I’m to the point where I feel idle in my life – I’m going nowhere and have no general direction I want to go in. It’s quite annoying, actually. A high school junior striving for success to take her into unknown territory – her future. But despite the stresses of getting into a good college and everything that may entail, I find myself coming back to the yearning to write a book. Often I ask myself,  “So when are you going to actually sit down and write?”

She says that in her other artistic endeavors, “What takes me the longest is starting the piece. Staring at a blank canvas is a lot like staring at a blank sheet of paper, in my opinion. I’m at peace while working, but starting is insanely difficult, especially when I don’t have direction.”

So, okay, she’s extraordinary, and I should probably be asking her for advice rather than giving it to her.  But she asked.  And here’s part of what I wrote back: Continue reading “In the Beginning”

A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part II

Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.

(Read Part I here.)

LB: Should we take questions from some of these people?

RS: Yeah.  They don’t want to hear about our ancient pulp stuff.  They want to know about the Playboy stories.

Audience Question: When did the two of you first meet?  And what was the nature of that meeting?

LB: It was quite recent.  It was three or four years ago…

RS: He’s getting old.  Actually, we met in the 60s at a Science Fiction party.  He doesn’t remember it.  You and Westlake came to the Hydra club somewhere in Manhattan.

LB: It must be somebody else.  I never went to the Hydra club.  <singing> “Oh yes, I remember it well…” <singing>  Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part II”

A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I

Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.

Lawrence Block: How did a nice fellow like you get into this business?

Robert Silverberg: When I went to college, I went to Columbia.  I lived in Brooklyn and my first year at Columbia, I had to commute to Upper Manhattan to get to college and I saw working people on the subway with me, riding, riding, riding.  And I thought if I get into this business, I can stay home when I work.  I don’t have to do that.

LB: That does incentivize a person, you know.

RS: And I’ve never worked for anyone else.  I worked at home as a professional writer for the last (When did I graduate? 1956) for the last 54 1/2 years and that’s because I didn’t want to be riding the subway.  What’s your excuse?

LB: Well, I had the good sense to get tossed out of college, so I didn’t have anything to fall back on.  And you know, that’s just as well.  Because there were some times when if I had had something to fall back on, I would have.

RS: What college did you get tossed out of?

LB: Antioch.

RS: Oh, very classy.

LB: It’s tough to get tossed out of Antioch.

RS: It’s one of the best to get tossed out of.

LB: What happened was I went down there for two years.  And after the second year, they have a work study program there and instead of taking one of the jobs that the school had on offer for that semester, that term I went off and found a job. And the job I found was at Scott Meredith.

RS: You better explain.  Tell them who Scott Meredith-

LB: He was a literary agent.  Well—

RS: My literary agent.

LB: A sort of literary agent. Um-

RS: He wasn’t very literary, but he sure was an agent.

LB: Yes, yes, he had that part covered.  And I got a job there as an editor and my job was to read the manuscripts submitted by hopeful writers who paid a fee to have their manuscript read by Scott personally and get a response from him.  And I would write the letter and it would be one-and-a-half single-spaced pages, a long letter they got for their money, and it would come with their manuscript, which was returned, and it would say, essentially, “There were things wrong with this story which cannot be fixed because it is the plot that is at fault, but you are actually a superb writer and we hope you’ll be sending future stories to us, each, of course, accompanied by a fee.”  And it was the best school for a young writer that there could possibly be.  You can’t learn that much by reading wonderful work.  You can learn a tremendous amount by reading things that don’t work.  So it was a great education.  Aside from that the only honest work I’ve ever done was a couple of years later when I took an editorial job in Wisconsin because I had had a falling out with Scott and a lot my markets suddenly were closed to me.

RS: He did control a lot of markets.

LB: Indeed.  But you started out writing science fiction from the very beginning?

Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I”

Blow It Up Better: Thomas Mullen interviews Paul Malmont on Pulp Fiction, Imagination, History, and Comics

Paul Malmont is the author of three novels re-imaging the lives of early 20th century pulp writers to thrilling effect: his first, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, placed ‘30s authors Walter Gibson (The Shadow) and Lester Dent (Doc Savage) in their own pulp adventure, complete with zombies and phantom freighters, and his second, Jack London in Paradise, took a look at that author’s mysterious later years in Hawaii. Malmont’s new novel, The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown, takes us into the mad laboratory of the early sci-fi writers who were enlisted by the U.S. Navy during World War II to use their imaginative brawn and scientific know-how to create military super-weapons. (Loosely based on fact, amazingly. Or astoundingly).

I met Paul at a book conference a few years back, and we’ll both be at Comic Con next month. And because I’ve been increasingly interested in the interconnections between what his characters call “what’s real and what’s pulp,” I tossed him a few questions.

Thomas Mullen:  While I was reading your book I happened to see X-Men: First Class and I couldn’t help but think of some odd similarities. The movie is a sort of prequel, showing the origins of mutant superheroes that we’ve come to know and love, with the occasional cameo from someone like Wolverine at a bar, and placing the story in a historical context (the Cold War). Your book traces the early lives of writing legends (like Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard), explaining their motivations and dreams, again with some cool cameos (like Ray Bradbury and even Einstein), and placing it in a historical context (World War II).

Paul Malmont: I love the literary mash-up form.  I love when something you’re familiar with collides with something you aren’t. That’s my favorite kind of illusion. I’m a big fan of pop-culture shout-outs, and references and allusions. I think they work in things like X-Men and our books because they validate our love of these geeky things. If you look Alan Moore’s work, especially League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it’s just one huge geek-out. But at the same time, he’s trying to get down to the essence of why we still love these characters and these stories.

Philip Jose Farmer was a master of this, too, and he had such a huge influence on me.  He created a family tree that linked all sorts of great fictional characters from Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan to James Bond and Nero Wolfe—the Wold-Newton Family. Win Scott Eckert and other fans had Farmer’s blessing to build onto the tree, so now its branches extend to Steve Austen, Buckaroo Banzai, Peter Venkman, and Buffy Summers.  But Farmer was the first one to do the mash-up.

TM: Your book plays with the idea of imagination and how it can influence the real world. In this very unique writers’ workshop, sci-fi authors are conducting research for the Navy; on a chalkboard someone has written the following inspirational bullet points:

CAN WE MAKE IT FLY HIGHER OR FASTER OR BY ITSELF?

CAN WE MAKE IT VANISH?

CAN WE BLOW IT UP BETTER?

CAN WE CONFUSE OUR ENEMIES?”

One character even explains that sci-fi writers, by imagining a future, actually do bring that world into being, by putting their visions on paper to catalyze their readers (mechanics and inventors and engineers), who will take that imaginary baton and run with it. I loved that motif.

PM: My first book was really about the redemptive power of the imagination–how the writers could always use theirs to pull them back from whatever brink they stood upon. My second was about the destructive power of the imagination–how it could turn to obsession and despair. So the theme of this one is what are the limits to imagination? How far can you take an idea before it breaks? Or breaks you? All these guys are so in love with different visions of the future and they really want to bring it about. But reality intrudes in the form of bureaucracy, relationships, an entire planet at war.

Something from Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ that made a big impression on me was the sense he created that the coming of the Messiah was so imminent, it could happen at any moment.  It seemed to be in the air and it was what everyone was talking about. I tried to capture some of that sense for these writers. I think they felt that they were part of something so huge that they got swept up in it–creating the future.

By writing it out on that board, I’m trying to show what the stakes are. Can these guys, who put such faith in their imaginations, bend reality to their will. Writers try to convince you that what the world you’re reading about is, in some sense, real, and I’m using the Philadelphia Lab as the analogy for the creative process of a writer. That part introduces the brainstorming process when every idea seems glittering and golden. Then, throughout the book, we kind of track the progress of those ideas as they are written out, so to speak.

Continue reading “Blow It Up Better: Thomas Mullen interviews Paul Malmont on Pulp Fiction, Imagination, History, and Comics”

You Will Have to Know Life

Megan Abbott’s much-praised novel THE END OF EVERYTHING (Reagan Arthur Books) which Tana French calls “taut, unflinching and very hard to put down” hits bookstores today. Here, we present a piece on the oddities of suburbia from the author Laura Lippman calls “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation.”

I have always been drawn to “suburban novels,” the tortured domesticity of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road and the sophisticated roundelays of John Updike. But the dominant pop cultural narrative of the suburbs mostly falls under one of two categories. First, there are those broad satires of conformity and complacency, where suburbs are little more than bland cul de sacs, the dull thump of SUVs over poured concrete, whole communities ruled by carpooling and quiet dread. And, more recently, we have seen a string of irony-leaded tales of suburban misery curdled into degeneracy—drug-dealing soccer moms, murderous housewives, satanic cults. Consuming these narratives, it seems hard to imagine the suburbs as places where real people live, with their own histories, their own still-potent dreams.

As a result, one of my pleasures in reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 The Virgin Suicides was because it cast true magic over the suburbs. And it meant all the more to me because it’s set in my own home town (and Eugenides’s), Grosse Pointe, Michigan. With its placid, Tudor-lined streets, boats clanking on Lake St. Clair, block after block of canopying red maples and pin oaks, it is place for which the term “balmy suburb” seems to be invented. When I was growing up, my parents, both East Coast transplants, always joked that Grosse Pointe feels, in many ways, perennially 1954. Changeless, pristine, inert. When I first read Eugenides’s novel at age 22, I couldn’t imagine how he could find so much dreamy sorrow in the place I had been so eager to flee for the tumult of New York City. I assured myself that it was in fact the dreamy sorrow of adolescence he had captured. That the book could in fact be set in anywhere.

We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.

Continue reading “You Will Have to Know Life”

Ten Books, Plus a Few More

I’m dreadful at lists. I know it’s something that boys are supposed to be good at — semi-autistically drawn toward, even — but I’m hopeless at remembering what I ought to put in and always too aware of what I’m leaving out. It’s like colors. Does anyone have a favorite color after the age of about twelve? I don’t. There are *types* of colors I like, and a revolving cast of hues that most often please my eye, but I can’t just say “Blue. Oh, and purple”. Similarly I keep making playlists in iTunes, and then spend half my time skipping over songs or wishing I’d included others. It’s the same with books and films. I recall one deeply embarrassing occasion in Hollywood about fifteen years ago, after my agent secured me a sit-down with someone really very senior in a studio. I should have turned up with a list of projects I wanted to pitch. I didn’t. I should have come across as a go-getting man of action. I probably instead came across as sleepy, or hungover. I should at least have been able to respond perkily to the woman’s inquiry as to my favorite movies, but I suspect I left her office having given the impression that I’d never actually seen any films at all. It was a waste of a meeting, and I apologize to all those writers who would have made a far better job of it.

Oh well. Here’s a list of ten books which I’ve loved and still loved, and which have made a significant difference to my life and work… Continue reading “Ten Books, Plus a Few More”

Any questions?

This past spring the filmed version of Alan Glynn’s novel Limitless took theaters by storm.  Last week, Picador’s paperback edition of Glynn’s novel Winterland hit the shelves, a book George Pelecanos called  “A terrific read”, and John Connolly characterized as “timely, topical and thrilling.”  Here, Alan discusses the genesis of Winterland, architecture as metaphor, and the real life heart of darkness that informs his next novel, Bloodland.

“Where did you get the idea for your book?”

Whenever I’m asked this question I try hard to give an honest answer but I generally end up feeling like a bit of a fraud, as though I’ve come up with something on the spot just to keep the conversation moving. Because the thing is, by the time I arrive at the end of a book I usually find I’ve forgotten how it got started, its origins obscured somewhere in memory and almost inaccessible now through thickets of notes, outlines, obsessive but often unnecessary research and a seemingly endless process of re-writing.

Thinking back on answers I’ve given in the past, though, I do see a pattern emerging. The account I offer will either be fine-sounding and rational, or slightly random and intuitive – left brain, right brain stuff. Both do the job, and neither, I suspect, is actually untrue. It’s just that I can never be sure which came first . . .

For example, when asked about my first novel, The Dark Fields (now republished as Limitless) I would say either one of two things. I would say that it arose from an interest in the scandals of the late 90s regarding performance-enhancing drugs in sport, and that it was a sort of ‘what if . . .’ story – what if there existed a performance-enhancing drug for lawyers or businessmen or politicians? Out of which came questions about that very American theme of the perfectability of man and the notion of a latter-day Gatsby whose impulse for self-improvement has been reduced to a pharmaceutical commodity.

Or I would say that it arose from . . . not much at all, from a desperate scrambling around inside my own brain for SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. So . . . a situation. Maybe two guys who bump into each other on the street. One is a bit desperate (like I am at the time) and he meets . . . who? His ex-brother-in-law? Someone he hasn’t seen in nearly ten years? Yeah, that’s the ticket. But now that I have them together what are they going to talk about? “What have you been up to? Still dealing?” “Not exactly. How about you? Still a loser?” One thing leads to another and before you know it they’re having a conversation, and possibilities are opening up.

Continue reading “Any questions?”