Special thanks goes to Matt Clemens, who sailed past me on his way to a signing a little after noon and tossed me a granola bar just before my blood sugar hit the basement. You saved my life, or at the very least, my dignity. Thanks!
And now, another huge post. Only one more to go!
“NOCEBO: Playing fair with your readers”
(Joshua Corin, G.M. Malliet, Chantelle Aimee Osman, Wendy Staub, Jaden Terrell, moderated by Dana Cameron*)
Ronald Knox, a mystery writer of the early 20th Century, wrote ten commandments for mystery writers.** None of the writers on this panel follow these rules. As Joshua Corin said, the rules are sacrosanct, “until they need to be broken.” And Jaden Terrell said, “You need to be consistent with the rules you set up for your story.”
The authors also discussed their pet peeves when it came to cheating the reader:
Wendy Staub dislikes villain monologuing (she uses epilogues, if she has to).
Jaden Terrell dislikes the phrase, “If only I had known [that this would be the worst day of my life] . . .” She prefers the writer to show her the worst day.
Chantelle Aimee Osman hates it when the heroine completely forgets all rules about self-preservation, including how dangerous it is to go off alone when there’s a killer in the woods, especially without her cell phone.
Joshua Corin also hates it when the characters “carry the idiot ball.” But he thinks the worst cheat is when all the cell phones suddenly stop working for no reason.
G.M. Malliet’s pet peeve is a late appearance of a character who turns out to be the bad guy. She thinks 24-hour-anywhere cell phone service is a cheat.
Wendy Staub: “Going into the villain’s head can pick up the pace . . . but you don’t want to give the identity away . . . I got really good at writing without pronouns.”
Joshua Corin: “Of course, saying ‘him or her’ adds to your word count.”
Ms. Osman: “The antagonist is the protagonist of his own story.”
Mr. Corin: I know where I’m going, I just don’t know how to get there . . . Detours can be wonderful . . . But it’s dangerous to force [them]. Follow your instincts.”
A Nocebo, by the way, is like a Placebo, but it makes you feel worse.
(Jeff Abbott, Harlan Coben, Joseph Finder, Steve Hamilton, Ridley Pearson, moderated by Hank Phillippi Ryan)
Another one I can’t describe, except to say that the first thing Hank Phillippi Ryan said was, “I’m supposed to moderate these guys, who have never been moderated in their lives.”
I will say that Joseph Finder, who made Laura Lippmann sing yesterday, has a marvelous voice of his own, speaking and singing. He apparently sang with—or next to—Ella Fitzgerald when he was a Whiffenpoof at Yale. According to him, she said he had “soul.”** *
And Ridley Pearson, who has written many, many books, wrote six or seven hours a day for eight and a half years before being published. He actually fell back on songwriting to survive, which isn’t the traditional way ‘round.
Here are an assortment of the usual out-of-context misquotes—I’m pretty sure I’ll be ordering this recording:
Jeff Abbott: “I wrote a novel in high school. It wasn’t a crime novel—it was a crime . . .”
Harlan Coben: “I don’t want to brag, but with the fourth novel, I was getting $6,000. Overnight—just like that.”
Joseph Finder: “[We write] for the fame, the groupies, the women . . . Nah. We love the writing, it’s what sustains us.”
Someone (Harlan Coben?): “No one has to fail so you can succeed.”
Jeff Abbott, describing a road trip with Mr. Coben: “I’m from the South, but we drive on the same side of the road!”
Mr. Finder to Mr. Pearson: “Because you are the twist-whore.”
Ms. Ryan: “Am I going to have to stop the car?”
Mr. Pearson: “What we all read for is character. What we writers should be concerned about is character.”
Mr. Coben: “If you don’t care about your characters, all the plot in the world isn’t going to make anyone read the book.”
Joseph Finder: “Ideas are cheap. It really is all about the character.”
Mr. Abbott, on his YA main character: “You understand he’s not a role model, right?”
Ms. Ryan: “Ridley does so much research, he knows it takes 17 seconds for an ATM transaction.”
Mr. Coben: “Just write the goddamn book. And then worry about the research.”
Mr. Finder: “The greatest delay in the world is research . . . Fix it in post.”
Mr. Pearson: “All we mean when we say research is tax-deductible travel.”
“Cranky Streets: What’s so funny about murder?”
(Eoin Colfer, Colin Cotterill, Chris Ewan, Thomas Kaufman, moderated by Peter Rozovsky)
It turns out that murder is pretty funny when these men are discussing it. After the first question—which referred, to the intro to one of his stories^—Colin Cotterill sighed, got up, and walked out. He came back, but it set the tone.
Thomas Kaufman: “. . . so he had to commit a felony. A small felony—between friends.”
Chris Ewan: “It’s more of an Ocean’s Two. It’s Ocean’s Eleven on a budget.”
Colin Cotterill, on the advanced age of his main character: “The distance between my books is about eleven minutes because I have to keep my protagonist alive.”
Thomas Kaufman: “Imagine writing a sex scene and not laughing.”
Eoin Colfer: “When I write my sex scenes, I’m not the one laughing.”
“Humor is a reaction to grim circumstances.”
Chris Ewan: “There’s a rhythm to writing fiction.”
Thomas Kaufman: “Punctuation. That’s how we capture the rhythm of dialogue.”
The conversations were a lot better than this, and held some great things about humor and research (Chris Ewan said he was going to have to go all the way back to Berlin to ride the subway for one small detail he’d missed) and the differences between fantasy and crime fiction, and mystery writing and crime writing.
Unfortunately, Matt had yet to show up with his life-saving granola bar, so I was finding it difficult to operate my pen.
And yes, Mom, I had a big breakfast.
“Eye of the Needle: Saving the world, one book at a time”
(Zoë Sharp, Mike Lawson, Ben Coes, Mark Greaney, Boyd Morrison, moderated by George Easter)
All of these authors have protagonists who kick ass in various ways. One character is a mercenary, one is an exiled patriot, one is a “combination of Indiana Jones and MacGyver,” and one is Charlie Fox. You all know how much I enjoy Zoë Sharp’s books, but I’ve put everyone else on my list, too.
This was post-granola, so I was rapt. I was so rapt, in fact, that I forgot to record most of the best stuff. I’ve got to learn shorthand:
Mike Lawson: “D.C. is a target-rich environment . . . [my MC is] basically a fixer for a slightly corrupt politician.”
Boyd Morrison: “I’ve seen a lot of heroes who were doctors, lawyers, army . . . But never an engineer. And I thought, Could I do that ?”
Ben Coes, on his complex plot: “The book is actually shorter than what I just said.”
Zoë Sharp: “I wrote [Fourth Day] because I wanted to play with misconceptions.”
Mr. Morrison: “You don’t want the Deus ex Machina coming in.”
Mr. Greaney: “If he could shoot his way out of every situation, it wouldn’t be much of a series.”
Mr. Lawson: “What [the reviewers] liked was that none of my characters are of particularly high mind.”
Mr. Greaney: “It’s really distressing, how much you can find out on your own.”
Ms. Sharp: “I’ve learned you can spiral-break someone’s arm with one finger. . .”
Mr. Morrison (sotto voice): “Want to volunteer for that?”
Mr. Greaney: “No.”
Someone (Mr. Coes?): “Never make a gun mistake.”
Mr. Lawson, on receiving two different opinions on whether a medical detail in his book was correct: “That’s more of a commentary on the medical industry than my writing.”
Sherlockian Square off!
I skipped lunch—yeah, I know—to listen to Laurie R. King, who writes the Mary Russell Holmes books, and Les Klinger, a Sherlockian scholar, discuss Sherlock and what Ms. King does to him in her stories.
It was so worth it.
Besides, peanut butter M&Ms count as protein, right?
“Right to Silence”
(Toni L.P. Kelner, Charlaine Harris, Dana Cameron, Chris Farnsworth, moderated by Les Klinger)
There was very little silence in this one. But you probably could tell that from the title. What you probably couldn’t tell—I didn’t—was that this was a paranormal mystery panel. Some of you (hi, Lisa!) write paranormal, but I’m interested in anything these particular people have to say.
Toni Kelner: “Have you ever tried arguing with Charlaine? Talk about the dark side.”
Charlaine Harris: “It was the book of my heart. Which is weird, considering how gory it turned out . . .”
Chris Farnsworth, on quitting scriptwriting for paranormal fiction: “I decided to stop writing what other people wanted and write what I wanted.”
Dana Cameron: “It turns out that there’s very little non-fiction on vampires in the library. And then I thought Hey! I can just make this stuff up!”
Ms. Harris, on researching paranormal creatures: “I think you need to know the rules before you break ‘em.”
Chris Farnsworth: “My vampire is definitely not a nice guy . . . But you don’t go with a nice guy to take care of the evil stuff. You go with a complete bastard. . . He really does believe in salvation. He just doesn’t believe in it for himself.”
Someone: “Vampires are a way to explore human beings.”
Les Klinger: “Dracula is Victorian soft-core porn.”
During the course of the discussion, Chris Farnsworth confused Christopher Pike the author with Captain Christopher Pike of the Enterprise. I almost went up and gave him my Nerd Alert pin, but I decided to wait until he was signing books. He signed mine anyway.
Again, I was writing this up in the lobby—this time well away from the bar, in case the packed people created some kind of gravity sink and drew me in to be crushed—and several people stopped to talk to me, including Rochelle Staab, Zoe Sharp and Chris Ewan^^, who are all terrific people. I was also flagged down by two fellow librarians I’d met and invited to a pub trivia contest tomorrow. They’re supposed to call me once they know where it’s going to be.
Maybe I can talk some of them into going to the zoo?
*Dana Cameron is an amazingly brilliant lady and her smile just lights the room. I went up to her when she was signing just to tell her how great a writer I thought she was and how I loved her enthusiasm during the panels. She signed a bookmark for me.
**Though Somerset Maugham said there were only three rules to writing a novel—but no one knows what they are.
***Something about him reminds me of a younger, slightly less cynical Bill Maher—they have the same amused expression.
^Edit alert: I had previously said that this question was couched in the form of an insult, but I phrased that badly. Mr. Rozovsky recently reminded me of the question’s origin and I realized that while I‘d meant to convey the underlying tone of friendship and respect between Mr. Rozovsky and Mr. Cotterill and the overall humor of that particular interaction, I hadn’t. . . . At all. I meant no disrespect to either party and I apologize for any inconvenience. Although I can’t imagine any real rumors started because of my screw-up, if they did, let the counter-rumors start now, while I slink off to practice my nuances.
^^ Stay tuned for a review of his excellent book, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, which I started this morning and read throughout the day, finishing up just in time to tell him how much I enjoyed it. I recommended it to every librarian I saw today and I’m recommending it to you. This is the first in his series; there are three more (Paris, Vegas, and Venice) and another one—which apparently features a Berlin subway—is in the works.