Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Quick, someone stuff a wallet in his mouth

Our President was just on the teevee talking with Brian Williams about his reading habits. He called them "ec-a-leptic." I think this means he gets spasms, rolls on the floor and drools when confronted with the prospect of reading a book...

Then again, I might be wrong...

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Joedyssey

Mystery author J.A. Konrath, who is on a summerlong odyssey to hit 500 bookstores to support the release of his newest book, RUSTY NAIL, came through my neck of the woods the other day. Joe spent the night at our place. I cooked him dinner (shrimp and grits). Then I escorted him to a bunch of local bookstores the next day. I can report that:

* Joe does not eat leafy vegetables.
* He can hold his own at rum sampling (we made it through about a dozen different labels from my rum bar and agreed that my newest acquisition -- El Dorado 12-year-old from Guyana -- was the very best.)
* Joe is having an affair with a hot chick named Sheila.

Actually, Sheila is the name Joe has given his companion on this journey, a dashboard mounted GPS that speaks in sultry tones and gives directions to all the bookstores that are programmed into her. She's an unforgiving bitch, but at least she doesn't sleep around.

Thanks to Sheila, we managed to hit 10 bookstores in less than four hours. The drill: Joe and I would go into the bookstores, grab our books off the shelves, then go to the customer service desk, chat up the employees, sign our books and then hit the road. Since this was Joe's show, I let him do most of the glad-handing, which he has down pat. He hands out free stuff (drink coasters) and gets booksellers to sign his log book so he can mention every one of them in the acknowledments of his next book, DIRTY MARTINI. This is gonna take something like seven pages of double columns and really small type since there will be thousands of names before he's all done.

My day with Joe was both gratifying and vexing. I'd been to most of these same stores last fall when JAMAICA ME DEAD came out. The paperback of BAHAMARAMA was released at the same time. All these stores had copies of both and I signed lots of books. But at the first four stores where we stopped -- two Barnes & Nobles, a Waldenbooks, and a Borders -- none of my books were on the shelves.

"Oh, those sold really well," said one bookstore manager.

"Gee, that's great," I said, because that was the gratifying part.

"We should probably order some more," the manager said.

To which I wanted to say: "Duh." But I just smiled and said: "That would be nice." Because that was the vexing part.

I can't begin to figure out how these big chain bookstores work, I really can't. It would seem to me that if a book sells really well, then the store would automatically order some more. Ya know? It's that whole supply and demand thing. But the way Joe explained it to me -- because he has become an expert on such matters -- most bookstore ordering and re-ordering is done through corporate headquarters and, while individual stores can jump in and do their own thing, most bookstore managers have so much on their plates that they don't keep track of how individual books are doing and what might need re-ordering.

The good news is that my visits to the bookstores did result in the managers ordering 50-60 copies of my books, and pre-ordering extra copies of the mass market version of JAMAICA ME DEAD (October) and hardback of BERMUDA SCHWARTZ (February 2007.)

Which is actually good news and bad news. Because now I am wondering: Holy shit, what does it take to keep your books on the shelves these days? Am I gonna have to hit the road and go to a thousand bookstores? Is this the plight of the modern author—to write books as quickly as possible then spend the rest of the time on an endless journey to bookstores, schmoozing with booksellers and reminding them to please, pretty please, re-order your books if they sell the ones they've got?

All I know is that I am shopping around for a GPS to mount on my dashboard. I think I'll call her Tawny. And I'm gonna program her to talk dirty to me...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Evolution of a cover

So this is where we're at in the continuing saga of creating a cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ. Since I'll be attending a couple of bookseller trade shows in September and October— the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and the Great Lakes Booksellers Assocation—my publisher is in a big hurry to get out the advance reading copies (ARCs) within the next month. This is the image that will appear on the ARCs. But it's not the final image.

As covers go this one is OK. It's a start anyway. There are some things about it that I like: It's simple. They got the title right. And my name is spelled correctly.

Here's what I don't like about the cover: All those blue dots. The shorts aren't Bermuda shorts but swimming trunks. There are knives on them. And there's nothing about knives in the book. The colors are way muted. Consequently, the title doesn't pop and neither does my name (because this is all about me, isn't it?)

But like I say, it's a start. And my thanks to St. Martin's for not just saying: This is the cover. Live with it. They are still tweaking it. And listening to my suggestions.

So if you've got ideas for turning an OK cover into a killer cover, go ahead, lay 'em on me ...

Friday, August 11, 2006

Aw, hell...

Yes, I concede that protecting airplanes from terrorists is perhaps a tiny bit more important than my freedom to smuggle rum from all over the world.

Still, these new rules are gonna put a serious crimp in the further expansion of my rum collection (above). All those bottles traveled in my carry-on luggage. I've tried sticking bottles in my checked luggage. And I've thrown out lots of clothes as a result.

Maybe if those goddam "Islamic fascists" had a daily dose of fortified cane juice, they'd mellow out a bit...

Monday, August 07, 2006

A little murder, a little music

This is going to be soooo very awesome...

A couple of months ago, the lovely and refined Virginia Barker, executive director of the Lake Eustis Institute, asked me to conspire with her on a noble project: Create an annual event in downtown Eustis, FL, that would celebrate Florida mystery authors.

Why celebrate Florida mystery authors? Well, for starters, there's a boatload of us, so many that we've created our own sub-genre in the mystery world. Plus, we're just so damn lovable.

But why did Virginia enlist the likes of me? Because I grew up just down the road from Eustis, first in the bump-in-the-road community of Yalaha, and later in the thriving and sophisticated town of Leesburg, which, for the record, was not named after Gen. Robert E. Lee. And for those of you not intimately familiar with Central Florida, all these wonderful places, Eustis included, are 35-40 miles northwest of Orlando, a very healthy distance.

I've been to plenty of book festivals and I knew what I didn't want: Endless panels populated by anxious authors trying to worm out a few precious minutes to call their own. Such thangs do get tedious...and sometimes ugly. Plus, I wanted to figure out a way to throw a little fun into the equation.

After a bit of brainstorming, Virginia and I came up with what is surely gonna be one of the coolest book festivals on the planet: Murder and Music by the Lake.

Here's the basic concept: The event will showcase four mystery authors who will take the stage to talk for a few minutes about themselves and their books. Then they will sit down to undergo a grueling interview by moi, along with questions from the audience. And then, after all the talking, a musical group will come on and play original music inspired by the authors' books. There will also be a night-before cocktail party (a required event when writers are involved) and a tasty luncheon featuring a highly entertaining speech by a fifth showcased author, along with more music inspired by his or her works.

So what we have here is food, mystery authors, music, and a little drinking, along the lovely shores of Lake Eustis -- Murder and Mystery by the Lake.

The first-ever event will take place on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2007. Beyond that, we're still working on the details -- like where are we gonna find the musicians who will actually create this great and original mystery-inspired music? But our hearts are pure and our cause is noble and surely we will succeed. If you know musically-inclined folks who want to throw in with us, lemme know.

While we're still waiting to confirm the luncheon speaker (dammit Randy White, you need to get back with me) the following authors will be there, all of them packing plenty of good stories and pimping their brand new books: James "Zero" Born , N.M. Kelby , Jonathon King and Lisa Unger.

More details as we figure 'em out. Mark those calendars now ...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cover Hell

I've been wanting to post an image of the cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ. But noooo ... I'm in cover hell.

Backstory: I've loved the covers for my first two books, both the hardcover and mass market versions. Lots of color. They jump off the bookshelves. They convey a sense of the tropics and let readers know that the books aren't, you know, dark, gloomy psychological wallowings with a tormented protagonist who feels so goddamn sorry for himself that he's gonna drag the reader down with him. At least, that's what they convey to me.

But the good folks at St. Martin's think the covers have been, well, a tad too goofy. They think the cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ needs to have a bit more edge. They think its cover needs to convey a sense of danger and foreboding because, while the story does have it's off-the-wall moments, people die in strange and awful ways.

So. There's the quandary. Goofy title, like all my titles. Smart-ass hero. Gorgeous setting. Bad stuff happens. How do you create a cover around all that?

A couple of weeks ago, my awesome editor, Marc Resnick, sent me a rendering of the proposed cover. His message was brief: "Let me know what you think."

I opened the file. I looked at the image. It was gawd-awful. I don't even want to describe it. That bad. I called my agent, the awesome Joe Veltre. He hated it. I called my wife, the awesome Debbie. She hated it.

"No one will buy a book that looks like that," she said. "It's an embarrassment. You've got to MAKE THEM STOP!"

Here's the deal: Authors like me -- fairly newish authors who don't sell millions of books -- pull little weight when it comes to covers. Publishers and editors and sales reps and marketing people decide what covers look like. They have meetings and talk about strategy and positioning, and then they hand off everything to the designers and hope for the best.

I've spoken with dozens of authors who have hated their covers and been forced to live with them. So I did not have great expectations when I called Marc Resnick. Our conversation:

Marc (in his typically upbeat manner): "So, what do you think of the cover?"
Me (trying to be diplomatic): "It doesn't work for me on any level."
Marc: "Meaning ...?"
Me: "Meaning I hate it. Who do I have to sleep with to make it go away?"
Marc: "Well, not your editor, that's for goddam sure ..."

Here's the good news: It's back to the drawing board. Other people at St. Martin's hated the cover, too. And even as I write this, a crackerjack team of artists and designers is feverishly struggling to come up with a cover for BERMUDA SCHWARTZ that hits on all notes. Actually, this is just my delusional thinking. It's probably more like one tragically underpaid freelancer feverishly struggling etc.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting here in cover hell.