Blubbering About Blurbs

I got back from El Paso to find three emails from authors asking me if I would blurb their books. I’m always astonished that anyone want a blurb from me.  I mean c’mon, who is going to buy a book because Lee Goldberg says he likes it?  Who the hell is Lee Goldberg?

(Uh-oh, there I go talking about myself in the third person. Who do I think I am? A professional athlete?)

I’ve only blurbed a few over the years… Aimee & David Thurlo’s Ella Clah novels, Doug Lyle’s "Forensics for Dummies,"  Lono Waiwaiole’s "Wiley’s Shuffle," Paul Bishop’s "Tequila Mockingbird," Richard Yokley’s "TV Firefighters,"  Lewis Perdue’s upcoming novel, and a couple of others, and was flattered to be asked… though it puts me in an awkward position. What if I don’t like the books?   I have the same philosophy about blurbing that my friend, the much-better-looking-in-a t-shirt-than-me, author Gregg Hurwitz does:

No matter how much talent you have, to make it in publishing, you
always need the right help from the right people at the right time.
Call it luck, call it fate, call it whatever you please, but though
hard work and talent are a necessity (usually), few novelists I’ve met
have gotten by on these alone. I caught some breaks early in my career,
and I’m always grateful to those who read my work early and took a
gamble, putting in their time and making use of their contacts for me. Though writing is fiercely independent, I do see a responsibility to
give back to the community, to pass along the good karma that I’ve been
fortunate enough to receive. I don’t give back to the writing community
by telling author who need improvement that their books are fantastic,
and I don’t give back to the reading community by endorsing crap.

I’ve been able to politely decline the requests for blurbs over the last year because of my accident, the huge amount of writing I had to do, and the scary deadlines I had to meet.
This is the first time in months that my workload has eased up enough
for me to have the opportunity to read any manuscripts besides my own.

Over the years I have imposed on a lot of my friends (and authors I don’t know but whom I admire) for blurbs and many have been kind enough to come through for me. The least I can do is return
the favor… if not to the same authors, than to others. As it happens, these three authors are folks I’ve never asked for a blurb for my own work.

I only have a couple of caveats when it comes to blurbing:  I won’t blurb anything from the likes of PublishAmerica or other vanity presses and I won’t blurb anything I didn’t truly enjoy reading.  None of the three books I’m being asked to blurb are self-published and the authors say they won’t be hurt if, for whatever reason, I decide not to blurb their books. So I said yes, I’d read their manuscripts. Whether I actually decide to blurb them or not is a different story…

UPDATE (3-1-05) By way of  Diary of a Hype Hag comes this link to Adam Langer’s amusing article on the craft of  blurbing…

Seeing the Strings

I’ve been catching up on my sister-in-law Wendy’s fascinating ruminations on writing. She raised a point in one of her thoughtful postings that’s stuck with me all day. In this age of rampant blogging, where personal contact with your favorite author is only a mouse-click away, are we destroying the illusion behind our fiction? Are our readers getting to know us too well?

Wendy describes what it was like becoming a regular reader of an author’s blog… and then reading the author’s subsequent novels:

Through her blog, I found her to be charming, witty, and insightful. I returned again the next day. And the next. I lurked until eventually, I left a comment. She responded, she laughed out loud, she said we were kindred sprits.

Why hadn’t I done this before? It was nothing of what I feared. Her site became a daily stop for me. I found the voice of her blog to be separate and distinct from her author voice. I loved reading both.

Things, as they are apt to do, started to change.

In a recent release her heroine broke character with a rant that sounded a lot like the author’s ever increasing web rants. I thought I saw a flash of nylon fishing line. In her following release, the subtext I had previously loved was missing from her dialog. Well, I knew she rushed, too much to write with a deadline on screaming approach. Now, I’m certain—I saw the puppeteer’s hand.

I often wonder as I write this blog, and as I enjoy the blogs of other writers,  if there’s a danger that the people reading our books, or watching our TV shows, will find it increasingly difficult to suspend their disbelief, to become lost in the fictional worlds we create…. that our personalities will overwhelm our work and our audience  will, instead, only be hearing and seeing the writer behind the words. 

You tell me.

The Whole Family is Blogging

My lovely and talented sister-in-law Wendy Duren is blogging about what she’s doing, what she’s reading, and what she’s writing.  While she mostly talks about novels, she mentions that she found inspiration the other night in a  scene in an episode of LOST.

It
accomplished everything dialog should: it revealed character, revealed
the characters’ emotional states, communicated information, moved the
story along, and, my favorite, was chucked full of subtext. And, it did all that very quickly. It was to the point, without side trips, without the mental meanderings that often trip up dialog in romances. I love stumbling across things like this. I feel inspired and motivated to write. My creative well has been filled at a time when I didn’t notice the level was low. All that and eye candy too. Wow.

It’s not often you find novelists conceding that TV writing is writing… and that spoken dialogue can inspire you the same way the written word can.

Left Coast Crime 5

This post started as an email to the DorothyL list and, mid-way through, I realized I was really writing a blog entry.  So I sent what I had to the list and came back here to finish it up.

The El Paso LCC was a terrific convention… well organized and lots of fun. Like the Doubletree in Monterey last year, The Camino Real was a pleasant, open, and bright venue with a floor-plan that encouraged people to hang out and chat. There were many large and small gatherings, day and night,
throughout the lobby, bar, and convention floor. The pleasant, warm atmosphere of the hotel, and the convention itself, was especially appreciated considering how unappealing the city itself was. 
(El Paso is a hell hole)

All the authors I spoke to enjoyed the convention as much as I did. It was unlike any LCC I’ve been to before… perhaps because the authors appeared to  outnumber the fans, aspiring writers, and booksellers. As a result, the LCC had  the feel of a "professional" gathering…with authors having the opportunity to spend more time with one another than usual at these events. That’s not to say
fans were excluded… far from it. I think the fans there got to spend more time with individual authors than ever before. But I think author/attendee ratio gave the conference an entirely different vibe than past ones. It felt very collegial, very casual, without the sense that anybody was really there to
"sell" themselves and their work. It felt to me more like a very long party than
the promotional and networking opportunity, which is how too many authors treat these events.

I was struck, as I have been many times in the past, by how friendly, supportive, and open the mystery writing community is… particularly the authors, who could easily be snobbish, egotistical, and intimidating. Coming from TV, where there is so much ego, competitiveness, and back-stabbing among writers, the overwhelming kindness and congeniality of the authors is truly  refreshing and, at the risk of sounding maudlin, heartwarming.  Bestselling authors are as open and approachable as the first-time authors proudly clutching the ARCs of their  soon-to-be-published paperbacks. 

This convention, more than any other I’ve been too, gave me the chance to spend time with authors and fans alike. Even the panels I attended seemed to have a more casual, easy-going, light-hearted quality about them.

I credit the organizers for a lot of this… but also the authors, who came not to sell books, but to enjoy the company of  their friends… and to make new ones.

The Television Event of the Decade

The time has come…the true story behind the making of  DIFF’RENT STROKES can finally be told.  Variety reports that the stirring drama will unfold as a  TV movie that will air as part of NBC’s acclaimed "Behind the Camera" series, which some have already compared to the legendary PLAYHOUSE 90. 

Stan Brooks, who produced the "Three’s Company" and upcoming "Mork and Mindy"
editions of the "Behind the Camera" franchise, said "Strokes" promises to be the
most dramatic pic of the series "by far." Other pics, he said, deal with careers falling apart. "With this one, what’s
at stake was people’s lives," Brooks said.

"The thesis of this movie is, Where were the parents in all this? The
studios, the networks, the managers — all the people benefiting from the
success of this show never looked at the effect it was having (on the young
cast). They stole their childhood."

This is truly a star-making, tiffany project. I think I can safely say the actor lucky enough to portray Conrad Bain will be on the short-list for an Emmy statuette next year.  This is actually the second attempt to film this epic story. A few years ago, Fox broadcast AFTER DIFF’RENT STROKES: WHEN THE LAUGHTER STOPPED.

Personally, I’m waiting for somebody to film the shocking true story behind HELLO, LARRY

Talent On Loan from God

While I was away, I received this email (I’ve replaced the names/titles with XYZ, but otherwise the letter is unedited in any way):

Hello Lee, my name is XYZ, and my book, XYZ  was published thru publish america. Lee, Iam a first
timer and I sure would appreciate it if you could tell me what your professional
opinion of P.A. is. I have heard alot of pros and cons about this Co. Iam about
to send my second book for publication, and I DO NOT want to send it to any
shabby publisher. Lee, I have been writing since I was a child, and I consider
myself a excellent storyteller, and I am NO braggart whatsoever, people that
have read my works all tell me GREAT thing’s about my book, XYZ  and my
next book, titled;  XYZ2. Lee Iam a Christian author and
now my book is on the Spread The Word web site. Please help me so I can be on
the right track with this AWESOME gift of storytelling my FATHER GOD has given
me.
My professional opinion of PublishAmerica is that it’s a scam, a con, a swindle, and a fraud. Otherwise, it’s a fine imprint.

It must be nice knowing that you are an excellent story-teller with an awesome gift.  I decided this weekend that I am a fraud with no talent whatsoever… but I think that’s just proves I’m thinking like a professional writer.

Thrills Galore

At Left Coast Crime this past weekend, there was awell-attended meeting of the new International Thriller Writers organization, hosted by co-president David Morrell and secretary David Dun.  One of the goals of this organization is to get more recognition and respect for thrillers…perhaps, even, to create awards for excellence in the field. So imagine my surprise when I opened up the Los Angeles Times and saw a full-page advertisement for James Patterson’s  HONEYMOON (I think that must be the title by the way… "James Patterson’s Honeymoon"… since it’s co-written by Howard Roughan but the book is never referred to as, say, "Howard Roughan’s HONEYMOON," or maybe he’s legally barred in English-speaking countries from using an apostrophe "s" in public). The ad says:

The world’s most chilling novel. It’s official. James Patterson’s Honeymoon. 2005 International Thriller of the Year.

Apparently,  "James Patterson’s Honeymoon" won this prestigious award… an award I’ve never heard of… even before the book was published. In fact,  I asked a few thriller writers I know if they’ve either heard of the award or entered their work for consideration.  The answer was no to both questions. And since The World apparently voted, I was wondering why I never received my ballet. I like to think I’m a member of the human race, though some Ken Bruen fans have lobbied hard to have my membership revoked.

So I decided to do a little research into this all-encompassing, global kudo … and the first thing I discovered was that my brother Tod had beaten me to it.  Great minds, and incredibly dashing literary hunks, think alike.

Turns out this is the first time the award has been given… and it’s bestowed by Bookspan, the umbrella organization that runs the Book-of-the-Month Club, The Literary Guild, and the Doubleday Book Club. They also publish James Patterson. Comes as quite a shock, doesn’t it?  I tried to find a list of the judges, rules of consideration, even a list of the other nominees for this sought-after award but they are as invisible as Howard Roughan’s possessive apostrophe.

Meanwhile, the International Thriller Writers (which has nothing to do with the  International Thriller of the Year award… but  James Patterson is a member and charter sponsor of the organization) is preparing to make a big splash at Book Expo America in New York with a gala reception. They also have ambitious plans for corporate sponsorship, conventions, and some unique (and very clever) author promotion programs.  Other members of the ITW include Dirk Cussler, John Lescroart, David Baldacci,  Dale Brown, Lee Child,  Tess Gerritsen, Eric
Van Lustbader, Christopher Reich, Lincoln Child,  Linda
Fairstein, Christopher Rice and they even let me in, proving they aren’t a very descriminating bunch.

Left Coast Crime 4

I just got back to L.A. tonight… I’m sure you’ll be seeing a bunch of new posts after I unpack, read my mail, and catch up on the trades. In the mean time, here are some photos from the Left Coast Crime  conference… with more photos to come.  You can click on the pictures for a larger images. Joelleevictor

Up first are Joel Goldman, myself, and Victor Gischler at the big, mass signing on Friday night…just a few hours before Joel and Victor hit the dance floor. The next photo is me with Chicago Sun Times critic (and frequent commentor here)  Montgomerylee_1David Montgomery, who  left with a suitcase full of ARCs.  Criderleejpg That’s the multi-talented Bill Crider with his arm around me… and hey, look, Morrellleethere’s me with author David Morrell, co-president of the International Thriller Writers,  plotting world domination.Img_0568 Finally, here’s a big group photo of  the mob of us going to dinner on Wednesday night…I’m the guy you don’t see taking the picture. The folks are Nan Lyle, Mrs. Bob Levinson, Mr. Bob Levinson, Harley Jane Kozak,  Joel Goldman, Twist PhelanDr. Doug Lyle and Dan Hale.