Stuff & Nonsense 057: So What
Everything is on fire, and we're all busy, right? But there's always time to talk about books.
I've been thinking about this newsletter a lot, though I know output has been light. Book launch for Blackout went as well as could be expected (more on that later), and while I love the idea of providing a forum for other writers to promote their stuff, it might be time to tweak the format. Well, after this edition of the newsletter, that is.
At the same time, I've been very inspired by Jami Attenberg's great 1000wordsofsummer newsletter. It's winding down, but you should definitely sign up and take part. It's helped me a great deal in focusing my own writing energies during these insane political times.
So, with all that in mind, I think the focus moving forward is - in addition to keeping y'all updated on what's going on with me - to focus on promoting other writers as organically as I can fathom. What am I reading? What am I excited about? That sort of thing. I will bring in some guests to chime in with advice or suggestions, too, because that keeps me interested.
That said, I have two final essays from two writers (of prose AND comics!) I greatly admire - Fred Van Lente and Michael Moreci. Hope you check them out below.
We haven't really talked since Blackout hit, and, as I noted above, the response has been overwhelmingly good. Very grateful to all the readers, friends and booksellers I saw on tour, and over the moon in terms of the attention the book garnered. Here's are a few notable profiles/reviews/stories you may have missed: The Guardian, CrimeReads (twice!), The Hard Word, Crime Writers On, The Miami Herald, The Sun Sentinel, Largeheartedboy, Criminal Element, LitReactor, BookReporter, Chicago Tribune, Writer Types, Noir on the Radio, TVInsider (gift guide), Barnes & Noble Reads, Writers Bone, Miami New Times, The New Tropic, The Boston Globe, and a few things I'm probably forgetting. Buy yeah - quite a month or so.
In other news - I interviewed Christine Mangan about her debut novel, Tangerine.
I'll be co-writing a fictional crime podcast called Lethal Lit for iHeart Media.
My third novel, Dangerous Ends, was nominated for an Anthony Award in the Bill Crider - Best Novel in a Series category. I'm still walking on air about this. And, speaking of Bouchercon - where the Anthonys are given out - I'll have a story in this year's anthology, Florida Happens.
You can enter to win a copy of my first novel, Silent City, at Goodreads.
My comic book pitch class, Splash Page, launches tomorrow. There's still time to sign up. Help me turn your idea into a pitch you can actually sell, won't you?
In terms of events, I'll be on a panel at Watchung Booksellers in New Jersey with Hilary Davidson, Thomas Pluck and Dave White on July 12. On July 15, I'll be reading at Noir at the Bar: New York...
Lastly (for now), on July 17, I'll be interviewing my friend Rob Hart about his excellent new novel, Potter's Field, at The Mysterious Bookshop.
I really enjoyed Fred Van Lente's The Con Artist - so much, so, that I blurbed it. Here's what I had to say:
“Fred Van Lente knows comics. He also knows how to craft a compelling, memorable mystery. THE CON ARTIST finds the author at full power, merging these two threads to create a fast-paced, impossible to put down novel. We all come out winning.”
Happy to have Fred around to talk about his new book, which he'll be launching at The Astoria Bookshop next month.
THE ACCIDENTAL NOIR OF THE CON ARTIST
When I set about writing my second murder mystery, The Con Artist, I’ll be honest with you, Raymond Chandler couldn’t have been further from my mind. I had had success with Quirk Books with my first pop-culture whodunnit, Ten Dead Comedians, and thought they might be interested in another book along the same vein.
(Business-of-Writing Side Note: So much of selling projects is selling yourself, your name, as a brand. Those of us who like to work in many different genres can find this frustratingly restrictive. I’ve done humor, I’ve done non-fiction, I’ve done historical fiction, superheroes, horror, thriller, science fiction, movie tie-ins, video game tie-ins, [I’m sure I’m forgetting something] and now mystery. But people most of the time want to know what they’re getting before they’re getting it, which is why branding is so important. If you don’t decide what your brand should be, oftentimes the market decides what your brand is for you. This doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, as the case of my pop-culture murder mysteries proves.)
My publisher, Quirk, likes to keep its finger on the pulse of geek culture; I’ve been a professional comics writer on titles as different as Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Zombies and Conan the Barbarian for over a decade, and been to more comic cons, big and small, all around America and the world, than I’d care to count. Pitching a mystery set at a gigantic comic con in San Diego my lawyers tell me should remain anonymous seemed like a no brainer; and fortunately my publisher thought so when he bought it.
But comics aren’t my only jam. I grew up a huge fan of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe mysteries, of which The Long Goodbye is probably my favorite, if not one of my favorite novels of all time. And if my first book was a riff on Christie’s And Then There Were None, I felt Marlowe’s gravelly voice (which is, after all, just Chandler’s) speaking to me the minute I set down to pen my tale.
Without realizing it, I had all the elements for a classic noir: my hero, Mike Mason, famed comic book artist, was a world-weary veteran of an industry that eats childish ideals for breakfast while trafficking in colorful Spandex ideals. After his marriage goes south, Mike begins something of a rootless wander across America, not actually living at any fixed address, just going from con to con drawing sketches of fans’ favorite characters.
And of course, central to any noir is the theme of corruption, and the comics industry has had plenty of that, summed up in the character of Danny Lieber, the editor who took Mike’s wife and career from him. When Danny is found murdered by cosplayers the night before the con, Mike is the immediate suspect -- and he has no choice but to find the real killer before he himself gets hauled off to jail.
Finally, we had the setting -- Southern California, San Diego, the quintessential noir backdrop, even crazier as its population triples with a crazy amalgamation of Hollywood stars, loopy writers, wannabe comics artists, and fans that remind you the word is short for “fanatic”.
The truly strange thing was that it wasn’t until two-thirds of the way through the book that I realized what I was doing.
And then I had to rewrite the whole thing into the first person! I think at the very last proof before the book went to press I caught one stray “Mike” subject that should have been “I”, but other than that, its transformation into what I like to call a geek noir was complete.
The book comes out on July 10, and I’m excited to hear what people think of it. Please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’m trying to figure out what my next pop culture mystery will be.
Maybe I’m going to Disneyland?
Like Fred and myself, Michael Moreci is a prose writer with strong comic book roots. His sci-fi novel, Black Star Renegades, was one of my favorite additions to the genre in some time. Below, Mike swings by to talk about some of the influences on the book and more.
You know, being a writer is all about evolution. You’re always changing with your work, always adapting to the project you’re working on in any given moment. You never want to just flip a switch and be a writer-automaton-gorilla pounding away at the keys, just getting the job done. You want to be invested, heart and soul—you need to feel the Force around you, as Yoda would say.
And speaking of Star Wars…
When it comes to evolving with what you’re writing, I don’t think anything I’ve written has so personally affected me as my debut novel, BLACK STAR RENEGADES. Granted, I was writing from a place of deep love. The book is a love letter to Star Wars, and I do not for once second hide that fact. The galaxy far, far away is one of my first true loves, and I love it still to this day. But still, there’s something about that book that changed me; digging into my childhood wonder, digging into something so personal to me, I couldn’t help but feel…joy. Granted, I love writing. It’s the only thing I can and want to do with my life. But as a writer, there’s always been this part of me that has instilled me with this idea that, to be taken seriously, you have to write seriously.
And, believe me, serious went out the window with Black Star Renegades. But I mean that in a good way! Writing my first novel—well, my first published novel—taught me how to lighten the heck up, to have fun with what I do and how I do it. And the truth is, I did have fun. I had the most fun writing that book, and its sequel, than I’ve had probably in my entire life. And the results are apparent—not to pat myself on the book too hard, but I’ve received a good number of reviews, from publications and individuals, citing how joyous the book is to read, how much fun it is. And that’s music to my ears. I wanted the book to be fun, I wanted it to be joyous. To see so many readers sharing the experience I had writing this story makes me feel like I’ve done what I set out to do.
Since then, I haven’t looked back. I have a slate of new comics coming out in the coming months—Wasted Space and Nightwing on April 18 and Archie Meets Batman ’66 in July—and the common character to all of them is they’re fun—they’re romps that, yes, have something meaningful to say, but they do it with some wit and levity, and I don’t think my writing’s ever been better.
There’s a stigma, I feel, with writing that isn’t serious, like it’s somewhat less than capital L-Literature. But thing is, as a writer and human being, happiness isn’t an easy thing to obtain. That’s why I urge writers to write whatever comes natural to them and, maybe more importantly, whatever makes them feel good. If it’s capital L-Literature, awesome. Go and be you. But don’t learn the hard way like me—it too me years too let myself loosen up—follow your voice, wherever it might take you.
Some links you may have missed:
It's Megan Abbott's world, we just live in it.
There's a new Brubaker/Phillips graphic novel coming, and Ed has shared a few pages from it at his newsletter.
Anthony Bourdain died a few weeks ago, and to honor him, I read a short piece from his Bobby Gold collection to kick off that night's Noir at the Bar: Queens. It was an emotional moment for me, and a (hopefully) fitting way to honor a man who, in addition to everything else, was a great writer of crime fiction. My friend Sarah Weinman suggested we read something from his work, and she also wrote this great piece about his contributions to the genre. CrimeReads had a nice piece covering similar ground.
Even if you have zero interest in Jonathan Franzen, please read Taffy Brodesser-Akner's superb profile. Trust me.
CURRENTLY READING/REREADING: Sarah Weinman's superb true crime book, The Real Lolita; Dead Girls by Alice Bolin; The Defenders by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema; The Question by Dennis O'Neil and Denys Cowan; The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth; My Dark Places by James Ellroy; After the Eclipse by Sarah Perry.
I posted the below on Twitter and Facebook, I think, but also sharing here because why not: here are my most anticipated books for the latter half of 2018, in no particular order (and probably missing a few that I'll kick myself over later). Buy them, buy them:
The Infinite Blacktop, Sara Gran
The Real Lolita, Sarah Weinman
The Sinners, Ace Atkins
The Line That Held Us, David Joy
Potter's Field, Rob Hart
The Blue Kingfisher, Erica Wright
Give Me Your Hand, Megan Abbott
The Feral Detective, Jonathan Lethem
The Widower's Notebook, Jonathan Santlofer
The One That Got Away, Joe Clifford
The Three Beths, Jeff Abbott
The Man Who Came Uptown, George Pelecanos
November Road, Lou Berney
Under a Dark Sky, Lori Rader Day
That's all for now! Try to stay sane out there, okay?