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Monday, July 12th, 2010

Talking business with my editor Jennifer Hershey. Food and wine on Random House!

Just got back from this year’s Thrillerfest, and had an absolutely fantastic time.  Now, many of you may know what Thrillerfest is and that I go every year, and many of you may have no idea and not particularly care, but I’m sure you will keep reading to be polite.  Right?  Anyhow, here’s the quick rundown. 

Thrillerfest is the annual conference of International Thriller Writers, founded at the 2004 Boucercon (a mystery convention, for those not in the know) out of a sense that thrillers and thriller-writers required their own professional organization.  This was a historic meeting at which I was present, though my role was mostly to annoy the organizers by whispering snarky comments back and forth with Partners and Crime’s Maggie Griffin.  She started it, by the way. 

Outdoor cafe time with Marvel Editor, Bill Rosemann. Many important business-type things were discussed.

Now, the truth is that my books and I are not a natural fit at Thrillerfest, which tends to emphasize novels in the espionage, serial killer and hunt-for-the-ancient-artifact-and/or-secret camp.  Few writers who linger in the “literary thriller” classification bother to show up, and historical thriller writers are few enough that this year I was on a panel entitled, “Historical Thrillers” How Vital is the Subgenre?”  Why not call it “Historical Thrillers: Who Cares?”  As far as I know, literary thriller writers don’t have their own convention.  Maybe those guys aren’t friendly, and if that’s the case, who wants to hang out with them?  Mainstream thriller writers, however — those guys are fun!

So if Thrillerfest is not a perfect match for my kind of books, it’s still a great party and a productive way to spend my time.  This year I had a packed schedule of meetings with various editors, journalists, and potential partners in all sorts of nifty projects.  I met with my Random House editor to discuss my new novel, and I met with my editor at Marvel to discuss my many upcoming projects there (none of which I can talk about yet – but soon.  I promise). 

Me and Christopher Goldman, who edited The New Dead -- the zombie anthology in which I had a short story. We are cooking up some crazy stuff here.

And there is no shortage of casual conversations and encounters that open doors and usher in opportunities.  Plus, some of my best friends in the biz come to this convention, and I always leave feeling all warm and fuzzy.

On top of all that, I’ve participated in a number of International Thriller Writers publications over the years, including the short story anthology Thriller: Stories to Keep You Up All Night and the serial novel Watchlist — which you may have heard about on NPR.   This year I attended the launch and signing party for the non-fiction collection Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, in which I have an essay.  The book takes the long view of the evolution of the Thriller (the

Signing books and hanging out with swell pal Leslie Silbert.

opening essay by Lee Child is on the Theseus myth).  My piece, by the way, is on Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which I hope means that I remain ITW’s go-to guy for the British 18th century.

But all that is beside the point.  The point, if I remember correctly, is that Thrillerfest is an awesome time.  I’ll see you there next year.

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Byron. The chicks in this story will dig him.

Okay, time for a quick update.  Who am I?  Where am I going?  What am I doing?  These are all important questions, and I’m glad you asked.

I have just submitted the final (I hope!) draft of the new novel, The Darkening Green, to my editor.  If all goes well, it should be on sale in autumn, 2011.    Here’s a brief description that I wrote for my agent about a year ago.  Surprisingly, it is still accurate:

Linked to real historical events and people – the Luddite uprising, the assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Byron, William Blake, the Prince Regent – The Darkening Green is the world of Jane Austen turned on its head.  It is the splendor of the Regency as we have come to idealize it, but it is also the Regency as it was lived by millions of British women and men – poverty, recession, famine, food riots, political instability, the beginning of an industrial revolution that will destroy entire communities and ways of living, and the desperate laborers who fought against the inevitable. 

Blake. A brilliant weirdo.

It is the story of Lucy Derrick, once a spoiled child of privilege, now just another powerless woman to be bought and sold on the marriage market.  But Lucy finds herself drawn into a world in transition, where the belief in traditional magic meets the pitiless science of capitalism and where the cold philosophy of Adam Smith meets the boundless hope of romanticism.   As powerful forces wrestle over Lucy’s future, she finds herself at the center of one of the great cultural shifts in European history, pursued by Lord Byron, and in pursuit of a mad visionary named William Blake who holds the key to her future.  The Darkening Green is an adventure, a romance, and a meditation on the idea of magic and the nature of belief.

So, what now, you may wonder.  Well, remember when I told you about the “illustrated novel” I was doing for indie comics publisher Radical, and you then forgot all about it?  Well, it’s time to remember again, because that is now my number one job.  I am also working on two projects for Marvel, neither of which I can tell you about because they have not been announced.  Once they are, I will tell you plenty.  I also have two short stories due before the end of the year. So no worries, I am keeping busy.

Then, this weekend, it’s Thrillerfest.  I hope to update my blog with lots of photos of famous novelists acting drunk and silly.

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The man himself.

With Moses on a Snail, the new Robert Pollard album – his first solo record since January! – officially out next Tuesday, it seems like a good opportunity to talk a little bit about my Robert Pollard obsession.  And I think it is an obsession.  At least an unhealthy interest.  Between his work with his original band, Guided by Voices, solo recordings, and various other projects and bands, including his new band, Boston Spaceships, I have more than 1,100 Pollard songs on my iPod.  While that by no means represents a definitive collection, I think it shows more than a passing interest.  Some of you may have no idea who Pollard is, or why I would collect his prolific output with such loyalty and enthusiasm.  In the paragraphs to follow, I’ll try to explain, but keep in mind that this, by its very nature, has to be a long post. 

So, for me this happy journey began in 2003, when a college friend and I decided to exchange CDs featuring some of the music we’ve been listening to in recent years.  The mix he made for me included the song “Everywhere with Helicopter,” from the Guided by Voices record Universal Truths and Cycles.  I was instantly intrigued by its clever intervention with British Invasion musical tropes, its engaging and nonsensical lyrics, and its full throttle pop sensibilities that combined with a kind of edgy (or, perhaps, sloppy?) disregard for form.  I began to snatch up everything I could find by Guided by Voices, and then the solo Pollard material, and then the various side projects. 

Now, I admit I have a slight tendency toward the obsessive – arguably not such a bad quality for someone whose work involves a great deal of research.  It is also true that the my obsessive impulses can manifest in curious ways.  My wife will happily tell you the story of how, while studying for my oral exams in grad school, I began to compulsively stock up on gallon bottles of drinking water.  At one point I had more than three dozen, and that made me happy.  So the endless output of a genuine musical genius, who can be counted on to release 4 or 5 major albums over the course of a year, along with a handful of singles and EPs, certainly feeds into that urge to — not precisely collect, but certainly amass.

And you know your obsessed when you love this sloppy video just because you get to look inside Pollard’s house.

There is, however, also something absolutely compelling in Pollard’s own story.  Guided by Voices began as a kind of collective of Pollard and drunken friends who would record in basements on 4-tracks or boom boxes.  They didn’t play live and they had almost no audience.  In the early ‘90s, when the members of this circle were in their mid-30s, the demands of family life began to fray at the band, and Pollard (then a middle school teacher) knew he could no longer afford to keep making these albums.  He therefore put all his effort into one last shot, an album called Propeller – so called because he hoped it would propel the band to fame. 

And, miraculously, that is exactly what happened.  Propeller was a embraced by the indie scene, and Guided by Voices became a celebrated, crucially-lauded band, widely regarded as one of the most influential pioneers of the “lo-fi” movement.  Pollard later became interested in using the studio and presenting a cleaner sound, but back then he was all about the rawness of the song in its early incarnation – a committed imperfectionist.  So, these guys went from working class dreamers to celebrated alterna-rock-stars.  It’s one of those awesome stories that just makes you happy to be alive, right?  Maybe it’s just me. 

Anyhow, after another album and a few singles and EPs, GbV released Bee Thousand in 1994, now widely-regarded as a rock masterpiece.  Some critics (for example: me!) regard it as the greatest rock album of all time and space.  Others rank it somewhat lower, though will put it on their list of best 100 rock albums.  In any case, it is awesomely great. 

Here, for example, is “Echoes Myron” from Bee Thousand. Does music get any better than this?

A couple of years later most of the core original members (most notably the very talented Tobin Sprout who released some excellent solo records of his own) left the band, which received much attention but generated little revenue, in order to work their jobs and pay their mortgages.  Pollard continued, and pretty soon any group of musicians he dubbed Guided by Voices was, de facto, Guided by Voices.  Yet, at the same time, Pollard began to release solo albums, often with many of same musicians that appeared on the GbV albums, and yet these always had a different tone and flavor than Guided by Voices, even as that tone and flavor changed radically over the years. 

So, what is it about Pollard’s music that resonates with me?  Besides the fact that there is much of it, and a mastery of the entire corpus is damn near impossible (and these factors should not be underestimated) much of it has to do with Pollard wearing his own influences and loves on his sleeve.  Pollard knows his material, and much of his work comes across as an homage to the music he loves, so in virtually everything he does there are winks, nods and references to everything from the Beatles, the Who, Cheap Trick, and many, many more.  Pollard loves a catchy hook as much as anyone in music, but he also loves to mess with that hook, to defamiliarize and render the most familiar chord uneasy.  He has experimented with longer songs, but at (I think) his best, he gets in and out of his best material and his weakest experiments in under three minutes.  His music is also impossible to get on a single, or even several, listens.  You can listen to core Guided by Voices albums dozens of times before you realize that  songs like “Demons are Real” or “Are You Faster,” which you once thought of as silly experiments, are now among your favorites. 

In short, it can be hard to get a handle even on material you think you know well.  I like the album Robert Pollard is off to Business, but I can’t think of a single song off of it I would put on a compellation.  I think Superman was a Rocker is among the worst things Pollard has ever released, yet it contains the song “Love your Spaceman,” one of my all-time favorites. 

There is also something about his lyrical output that adds to the addiction.  Lyrically, his songs often come across as word salad, but in my view he is an absolute genius at crafting impressionistic lyrics that mean nothing and yet somehow mysteriously convey the mood of his song.  Pollard plays with meaning and syntax and parts of speech so that his lyrics become a kind of labyrinth of warped signification in which the listener is constantly disoriented and displaced, forcing an intellectual engagement with something both beautiful and elusive.  How awesome is that?

Take, for example, the song “Harrison Adams,” from the amazing EP Motel of Fools (amazing, yes, but probably not for the uninitiated).  Here are the first half of the lyrics.  The core of the song hinges on the chorus, a fairly traditional rock song lament – I love you but you don’t love me anymore – but dig how the imagery of the build-up to the chorus creates a twisted, and yet vividly sharp, image of sadness and loss and disappointment.

There he sits
Guardian the fish market
Splitting hairs and atoms
Eying the salt target
Please to preach
Harrison Adams
The son of a jack poker
Panting like a ram worker
Arise
Give into the umpire
Feel his air
Relax
That’s where we stay
He says: You aren’t happy with me
And I know it
And you are the world to me
But it’s all gone now
It’s all gone now

So, if you are not a Pollard fan, and yet you are somehow still reading this, where do you begin?  I think there’s no better place to start than the Guided by Voices retrospective, Human Amusement at Hourly Rates.  There are quite literally dozens of songs I could have argued ought to be on this compellation, but that’s the nature of the beast.  It remains a great into.  I recommend, by the way, giving it at least three listens, and if you still say, “What the hell is this garbage?” then take about a month off and go back for one more spin.  You’ll get it.  If you want to start with a particular album, Bee Thousand is absolutely the best, but it may be a bit raw for the uninitiated.  Perhaps Mag Earwhig! will answer.  As far as the solo and side project material, there is the two CD retrospective Crickets, which is a very good sampler, but the non-kool-aid drinkers may find its nearly three hours of music a bit overwhelming.  I would start with Guided by Voices, and when you reach the point where you feel the itch, and you must have more, dig in anywhere you like.  It’s all good.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

So, Jennifer Egan and Devo.  I wouldn’t have thought I’d be pairing these two together, but sometimes life is like that.

First off is Jennifer Egan’s new book, A Visit from The Goon Squad.  I’ve been a fan of Egan’s fiction for years (and as an aside, she and I were in the same Lamaze class in New York, though I didn’t recognize her at the time), but it was her novel The Keep that turned me into a rabid, ranting enthusiast.  The Keep manages to achieve what would appear impossible – it’s a novel about how narrative suspense functions, drawing attention to all of the gears and levers of craft, and yet manages to be compulsively readable and suspenseful.  There are few examples of post-modern fiction this clever, successful and this entertaining.

I was therefore very eager to pick up A Visit from The Goon Squad, and while it does not offer the same gleeful entertainment as The Keep, it is at least as successful and absorbing.  This time around, Egan seems interested in our various incarnations of self, and explores the theme in a series of temporally disjointed, interconnected stories that center around lifelong music industry figure, Bennie Salazar, as he moves from a teen in San Francisco’s punk scene to, ultimately, his 60s in a future quasi-dystopia driven by connectivity, marketing, and horrific orthography.

While disrupting and disorienting, even while gripping the reader with her compelling and moving pieces, seems to be Egan’s m.o., at the core of the novel is a sense of how we lose, or perhaps how we cast away, previous incarnations of ourselves.  The characters in this novel perpetually, deceive, invent, reinvent, and forget who they are and where they have come from.  Among the most poignant moments of the book are those in which characters in their 40s grapple with all they’ve left behind.  Maybe I found these moments so upsetting because I’m in my 40s, and I prefer not to think about such things. 

Jello Biafra. He once made fun of me.

But the novel isn’t all regret and reflection.  Egan’s tender and sentimental rendering of the 1980s punk scene feels totally authentic (Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys once told me I had crappy taste in music – how’s that for my cred?), and her willingness to explore alternate modes of narrative – one chapter is in the form of a hilarious magazine article, written by a reporter who has assaulted his interview subject; another is an usually affecting PowerPoint slideshow – demonstrate that no matter how she plays around with form, Egan knows precisely what she is doing.  This is another great novel from one of my favorite writers.

Released one week later, Devo’s first album in 20 years shares many of the same interests as Egan’s novel – marketing, toying with traditional forms, and an effort to be entertaining while at the same time picking apart the medium in which that entertainment is delivered.  Now, I was a big fan of Devo from way back when, especially their first two albums, which were clever, edgy and socially astute.  Devo’s cultural message is that humanity is on the decline, and corporate power and marketing forces conspire to make us all into mindless, consuming drones.  Really, it’s hard to argue with something that self-evidently true.

As for this new album, Something for Everybody, I have to admit I was surprisingly entertained.  Thanks, no doubt, to all the ‘80s revival bands around these days, the music struck me as curiously fresh — at the very least, not painfully dated.  I’m not entirely sure I would listen to it beyond the three or so cycles I went through in order to feel justified writing this review.  On the other hand, it’s hard not to want to revisit an album with a song that includes the chorus, “Don’t tase me, bro.”

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

After much delay, a visit from the mother-in-law, and a (purportedly) nasty stomach problem experienced by the friend with whom I was supposed to go, I finally got around to seeing Kick Ass, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.  The 8-issue comics series – written by Mark Millar and illustrated by John Romita, Jr – on which the movie was based (now available as a graphic novel, for those who are interested) was one of my favorite comics 2009.   Millar in a manic and outragious talent, particularly skillful at giving comics readers what they most enjoy.  He is also, if you look at it from the right perspective, the Henry James of comics.  His characters never get what they are hoping for, but in failing, they always somehow succeed, if not exactly triumph.  In Kick Ass, Miller gives us the story of a comics geek who tries to become a genuine superhero, and of course he is horribly abused and beaten down for his efforts.  The end result is hilarious, exciting, disgusting, and compulsively readable.

The film on which it is based isn’t as much of a triumph in its own medium as the comic series was, but it’s still a pretty entertaining movie – respectful to the source material, but not slavishly devoted to it.  By the second half, the film has moved off in its own direction, often making choices – particularly in character development – that seem antithetical to Millar’s style, but these often feel not like a cop out, but like the right move for a film, which obviously has a different audience and different generic requirements than does a comic book.  The end result is a movie that is hilarious, exciting, disgusting and compulsively watchable.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my blog, so let’s talk more about stuff I like.  There’s Zoe Heller’s novel, The Believers, which is probably the most absorbing work of fiction I’ve read in many, many months.  Readers who require likable characters: keep your distance.  This book isn’t for you, and you don’t deserve it.  Readers who like their characters flawed – often hilariously so, and sometimes touchingly so – please come on it.  You will have a fine time.  Everyone in this tale of a New York leftist family is broken and/or vile.  But who cares?  Heller nails these characters and drags them through their personal and pathetic misadventures with such a steady hand that it’s a delight watching everyone come apart and self-destruct. 

I’ll definitely be digging into Heller’s previous work.  Unfortunately I’ve

That's what I'm talking about. Spare me your hippy, after-lunch dancing.

already seen the film based on her novel What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, and I didn’t much care for it, what with it being tedious and all.  Now, I like Cate Blanchett as much as the next guy, but I guess I prefer her chased around by a psycho Keanu Reeves in a Sam Raimi film.  I get a little impatient after too many scenes of her doing a hippy dance with her family around the table after luncheon.  But that’s me.  Fortunately, I’ve repressed most of the movie, so I can read the book almost afresh.

On the alcohol side of things, one of the best wine values I’ve come across this year is the 2007 Le Vieux Logis Côtes du Rhône Villages Cairanne.  Don’t bother looking.  You won’t find it.  It was one of those limited gems my wine shop just happened to have, and I cleared out such stock as they had left.  Sorry guys.  But this was my first experience with Cairanne, and if this bottle is any indication of what that Southern Rhone village is up to, I’ll be back for more.  This wine had amazing structure, incredibly developed dark fruit, earthy and mineral notes, great finish, balanced tannins and acidity – the whole package.  At under $15 a pop, it drank like a much more expensive Châteauneuf-du-Pape.  I still have four bottles in storage, and it should keep for another 2 -3 years, so it pays to be nice to me.

Finally, I don’t often share my taste in music with you.  There’s really not much of a percentage in it.  Chances are, you find my musical inclinations inexplicable and I find yours risible.  Yet we can still be friends, can’t we?  But I’m late to the party on a couple of bands that just hit my wall-of-noise, guitar feedback, endless drone sweet spot, and I just had to gush.  Wooden Shjips just released their third album, the appropriately named Vol. 2.  As soon as I heard it, I immediately picked up their previous work.   Check out the opening track from Vol. 1.  When a song is almost nine minutes long, and it still feels too short, you know it’s a winner.

And then there is Austin’s own Black Angels.  A little more structured, a little more traditional in their song writing, but equally fuzzy, droney, feedbacky and awesome.  I could listen to this stuff all day.

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor

Many people (okay, two guys in the comic book store) have asked me for my thoughts on the new incarnation of Doctor Who, so I now bow to popular demand.  I am a lifelong Doctor Who fan – or Whovian, as we are sometimes known (and not, as some have suggested, Who-ers, because that would be silly) – and I’ve loved the first four seasons of the BBCs re-launch.  My thoughts on the franchise and this incarnation will follow, but the short verdict is that Matt Smith as the Doctor is great.  The season premier was awesome.  It was beyond awesome.  It was extra super awesome, and I am very excited to see how the rest of the season unfolds.

So, yes.  I dig Doctor Who.  I grew up watching it in the Tom Baker period.  I have the Doctor Who theme as my cell phone ringer.  If that makes me a dork, and I’m pretty sure it does, then so be it.  And as a Doctor Who fan, I was excited, if skeptical, when the show re-launched in 2005 after many years of dormancy.  But the new incarnation was a fantastic update, reaching for a more mature audience and rewarding, if not requiring, a familiarity with the show, the character, and the franchise mythology.  Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor was stunning, but, per prior agreement, he only stayed on one season.  David Tennant was a little rocky at first, at least in my view, but he grew into the role nicely, and took the helm as the character engaged in some of the most powerful, challenging, and emotionally surprising story arcs in the show’s history.  Given that the show has just begun its 31st season, that is saying something.

Until David Tennant, Tom Baker was certainly the most iconic incarnation of the Doctor.

Like many people, I was disappointed when news of Smith’s casting came out.  At 27, he’s the youngest actor to play the Doctor, and with his (admittedly quirky) good looks, I feared the studio execs over at BBC were trying to youthen up the franchise at the expense of the franchise itself.  I was wrong.  Smith gets it, sometimes eerily channeling David Tennant, but his portrayal of the character echoes many of the best incarnations: Christopher Eccleston, Tom Baker, Peter Davidson, and maybe even a little Jon Pertwee.  What Eccleston and Tennant have done so well, and now Smith continues, is to convey in every scene the incredible contradiction of this character, who is both relentlessly optimistic but also deeply melancholic. 

When the series re-launched in 2005, Eccleston nailed the character right out of the box, keeping the old manic energy of so many of the best incarnations of the Doctor, but infusing the character with a cosmic weariness.  Since the show’s last incarnation, the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, fought a cataclysmic battle with their ancient enemies, the Daleks.  Though the Time Lords have won, it has been at great cost and the Doctor is (or so he believes) the last of his kind.  (It later turns out that he’s not the last of his kind, then he is again, then he’s not, and then, finally, he is.  I love a good retcon.)  This combination of survivor’s guilt and the illusion of invincibility goes on to drive the series, as does the introduction of much more emotionally-charged relationships with the Doctor’s string of female companions.

For my money, Eccleston's 9th Doctor is still the one to beat.

Most notable is Eccleston and Tennant’s run with Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.  The relationship between the Doctor and Rose is not exactly sexual, but it is sexualized, and certainly amorous.  It is without doubt far more complex and emotionally compelling than the patronizing teacher/pupil relationship that dominated in the old incarnation of the show.  Whatever the precise nature of their relationship, these two characters unambiguously love each other, and that love infuses the new series with an emotional urgency that older versions lacked.  And it is the Doctor’s capacity to feel genuine love, as well as longing, loneliness, regret and in some especially powerful moments, reckless confidence, that the character truly blossomed first under Eccleston short but triumphant tenure, and later under Tennant. 

It is, admittedly, the triumphant moments that I am thinking of when I praise Doctor Who, though certainly the series can suffer from its worst impulses.  There are the lazy monster-of-the-week plots as well as a needless loyalty to Cold War era enemies like the Daleks and the Cybermen who, despite special effect and conceptual retooling, still come across as somewhat dippy.  On the other hand, the series often enough shows genuine brilliance, especially when willing to think outside the formula box.  In particular, there’s season 2’s “Love & Monsters,” in which the Doctor comes face to face with members of his fan club; and then there is season 3’s transcendent “Blink,” easily one of the best time travel stories ever told in any medium.

But back to Matt Smith and the new season.  Smith comes in during the last part of the Doctor’s regeneration, and that makes things difficult.  For those not in the know, and who are inexplicably still reading this review, back in the ‘60s when the original Doctor, William Hartnell, decided to leave the show, the producers came up with a clever concept that allowed them to change actors but maintain continuity.  It seems that Time Lords, when injured, can “regenerate,” getting a new face and a new personality, but retaining the memories of the previous incarnations.  The exact nature of the transformation is unclear, at least to me, but it seems very much that like for the old incarnation, this process is like dying.  The new incarnation gets to take over a life in progress without having had a childhood or origin of any sort.  Ultimately a bit disturbing, no?

As a rule, regeneration episodes are almost always weak.  Not so this episode, “The Eleventh Hour.”  This story gets the regeneration elements out of the way and then digs in to the Doctor doing his thing – saving the earth by the seat of his pants.  There is real chemistry between Smith and Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond, the Doctor’s new companion, and I love how their relationship begins with the Doctor horribly disappointing and failing her.  He’s got a lot to prove, and that gives their interaction real energy.  Steven Moffat, who has taken over from Russell T. Davies as executive producer and chief writer, delivers a script that is crisp, funny, scary, emotionally charged, tense, and gets the Doctor just right.  In his final confrontation with this episode’s enemy, the Doctor makes it clear just who he is and what consequence his enemies face in crossing him.  Those who have followed the series for decades will find it hard not to cheer. 


In the end, Doctor Who is a series about a character who at once astonishingly competent and seriously deficient, and to pull this off, all elements have to click.  In “The Eleventh Hour,” they do click, and we get our first taste of an incarnation of the Doctor that respects the show’s long heritage, but promises to plunge into new and satisfying territory.

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

I’ve been promising this announcement for a long time, and now here it is.  One of my major side-projects this year will be for awesome comics indie, RadicalAssassins: Sword of the Apocalypse will be an “illustrated novel” (essentially a novella with lots of high-quality illustrations) set during the Third Crusade.  King Richard the Third and Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, are locked in ruthless combat over the holy city of Jerusalem, but when a new and terrifying threat emerges, the two monarchs must set aside their differences and become brothes in arms.  Joined by Robert of Locksley (later Robin Hood), Morgiana (of Ali Baba fame), Temüjin (later Genghis Khan), and Moses Maimonides (all good adventures should include a Torah scholar), Richard and Saladin will face bloodthirsty Assassins, deranged Templars, and an evil that threatens all mankind.  I’m psyched.

Radical’s books always feature amazing art, and this one is going to look fantastic.  I’ll post more details when they are available, but look for publication late 2010 or early 2011. 

I had some art posted, but Radical asked me to take it down.  They don’t want anything leaked.  So here, in the meantime, is a picture of Maimonides (Saladin’s physician in real life, you know) as he contemplates fighting evil.

 

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

There’s this Scottish doctoral student who is writing his dissertation on contemporary crime fiction, and he has asked me in the past to answer participate in interviews and fill out questionnaires.  Recently he asked me to name my five favorite crime novels of all time.  I’m not good with picking “favorites” or naming “bests” since I’ll always think of things I should have picked or I like better, but after providing that caveat, here’s the list I sent him:

Bodies Electric by Colin Harrison.  Honestly, I think this may be the best thriller ever written.  Harrison is simply a fantastic writer, and his real gift is focusing on the tensions and terrors of ordinary people rather than focusing on big, political issues. 

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears.  I tend not to read a lot of historical fiction for my leisure reading — it feels too much like work — but this is a great historical novel as well as a great crime novel.  I recommend it to everyone. 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt.  To put it bluntly, every book should be this book.  Smart, engaging, compelling, and suspenseful — it has it all.

Paranoia by Joseph Finder.  Finder is the master of the (non-historical) business novel.  He’s also a great writer, and at his best when he’s writing in first person from the perspective of an engaging narration in over his head.  This book plays to all of his strengths, and every page is a pleasure.

Diamond Dogs by Alan Watt.  This one remains one of my all time faves.  A masterful story of a teenager who accidentally does something terrible and has to hide his crime from his father, the town sheriff.  Perfection.

Feel free to post with your own picks.

By the way, writing about Diamond Dogs prompted me, as I do every few years, to see if I could track down Alan Watt on the internet and try to find out if he ever plans to write another novel – which is something I’d like him to do.  This time I made contact, and he seems to be a nice guy.  The internet is truly bringing us all together.

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Yes, the blog posts have been somewhat scantly lately, and this despite my new year’s promise to be a more regular blogger.  I am sorry about that, okay?  The fact is, I’m very busy.  With what? you ask.  It is a legitimate question, so here’s a rundown of all the things I’m working on these days.

I don’t know if I have a favorite animal, but giraffes would certainly make the short list. Please don’t look for context. There is none.

*The new novel, The Darkening Green.  I’ve received notes from my editor, and now I’m deep into formulating my revision.  I have a tight deadline if I am going to get the book out in the first half of 2011.
*My new 5-issue miniseries with Marvel.  I still can’t talk about this until Marvel officially announces it, but we are deep into development.  I just submitted the script for issue #3.  The first issue has already been drawn and lettered, and is now being colored.  The inks for #2 have just started coming in.  I can’t wait to be able to talk more about this, — the project is very exciting, and the art is absolutely fantastic. 
*An “illustrated novel” with independent comics publisher Radical.  Again, a bit soon to talk about it, but I should be able to announce the project and even show some early art within the next few weeks.  This is not a comic, but essentially a novella with a lot of amazing art.  It is also historical in nature, though set in a period I’ve not previously worked with, so it’s taken a great deal of research.
*Yet another comics project I can’t talk about, this one at a major imprint I can’t mention.  I’m working closely with an editor to fine-tune a proposal and get this thing officially in production.  I absolutely love this concept and these characters, and I will be extra super psyched if this gets the official green light.
*Other different comics pitches I’m working on – some solicited, some my own concepts. 
*A film treatment I am poised to write if my film agent and the producer can ever come to terms. 

Also, there is this article from The New Republic which makes it clear that bloggers are the new oppressed laboring class, so have some sympathy for those of us living on the virtual Grub Street.  To other bloggers I say it’s time to rise up, my brethren and sistren. 

This looks like fun, no?

In other news, the Wii Fit Plus (with balance board) I ordered for my wife’s birthday finally arrived.  I’m very curious to check this out.  Now, my wife keeps in shape with her punishing yoga routines, and I hit the gym five or six days a week to do cardio and lift the iron.  Most of what I’ve read about the Wii Fit compares its benefits to doing no exercise at all, so I’m curious to see if it feels like exercise when you are starting from a position other than couch potato.  I will report back.

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Jaimie did not send us a picture, but our in-house archivists uncovered this photo of her conversing with an unidentified Star Fleet officer.

Is it wrong for me to call out bloggers who say unflattering things about my books?  Probably, but sometimes it’s fun to do things that are wrong, like speeding and poaching and setting my enemies on fire.  Yesterday my attention was drawn to the blog Jaimie on Whatever.  The eponymous Jaimie  posted about how she was not especially enjoying The Coffee Trader.  Now, there is nothing wrong with this in itself.  As the blogger herself speculates, David Liss sometimes does not finish books he starts.  We can see her reaching the obvious and inevitable conclusion: if David Liss does it, it must be okay.  That’s the code I live by.

However, she then goes on to confidently assert that it’s not like David Liss would be reading her blog, and since I was, in fact, reading her blog, I posted a snarky little comment.  All of this is fine, expect she wrote back to me this morning asking me to do an interview on her blog.  So, the big question is: should I take the time to produce original material to post on a blog authored by someone who doesn’t like my books?  Perhaps somewhat crassly, I asked her for her hit count data?  I’m just that kind of guy.

In other news, tonight I head off to the Institute of Texan Cultures for the University of Texas at San Antonio fundraiser: UTSA: Great Conversations.  There I will be leading a table in a conversation of my own prior choosing.  Other participants include San Antonio’s mayor, San Antonio’s former mayor, and my rabbi.  I ought to have looked at a list of the previous year’s topics before choosing mine.  Some people are leading conversations on “Handicapping the Oscars” and “The Science of Poker”  Mine is on “The Evils of Unregulated Capitalism.”  I hope there will be free booze.  I don’t think it is yet sold out, so if you want to pay money to talk to me, click here.

Wood bar
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