Monday, June 28, 2010

On genre

Thought I'd tackle this one after receiving an e-mail interview from the excellent writer Tom Piccirilli who said he'd begin by asking the obvious question, the one I'm probably tired of answering: why switch genre?

I realized that beyond being a good question -- and yes, one I'm hearing a lot these days -- it's one I've never attempted to answer here. There are certainly readers who are wondering about the issue, too. I've heard from some of them, with emotions ranging from pleasure and excitement to disgust and anger. It fascinates me to see such passion placed on genre, because I don't feel it as a reader. I just don't. I like good writing, and I like good writers. If I find a writer whose work I enjoy, I'll follow them anywhere. My perceptions of the work will vary -- everyone has his own ranking of "the best books by (insert author name here)" -- but my willingness to try it will not. Stewart O'Nan for example, could write about anything, and I would read it. That guy's range is extraordinary. He hasn't let me down yet.

So Cold the River doesn't seem like that much of a jump compared to the range displayed by many other writers. At its core, it is concerned with crimes (past and present varieties) and the execution is heavily concerned with building suspense, planting questions in the reader's mind, and developing emotional responses to the characters. All the same things I'd worried about for five crime novels. And, yet, it apparently is a "major departure." All right. Fair enough. So the question is WHY did I depart? The answer:

I write because I love it. Publication is great, but I wrote for free before and I would again if I had to (nobody forward this one to Little, Brown). I love stories. Why decide to tell a ghost story, though? Allow me to run through a quick-hits response:

1) The place. West Baden Springs and French Lick, Indiana are truly bizarre little towns. The landscape is gorgeous, the history is unbelievable, and the feeling in the region is, to me at least, a little eerie. Every now and then time and place collide in a way that seems to call for a supernatural tale. Think of a full moon on a chill October night in New England. For me, Springs Valley on the edge of a powerful summer thunderstorm was issuing the same call.

2) Desire to stretch. You improve as a writer, I believe, by trying new things, finding new challenges, and taking away the safety net. You can always improve -- if I wrote nothing but Lincoln Perry novels for the rest of my life, I'd still believe this -- but there's something really satisfying in trying a novel that is in some way unlike anything else you've done.

3) Influence and inspiration. I've been a Stephen King fan since his book On Writing came out, but I was a little late getting to his fiction. Once I did, What a world of story opened up there, what a world of talent. From King I found Matheson, and Straub, and Gaiman, and McDowell and Bloch and McCammon and Simmons and...whew. Lots of good stuff. Here's a fun anecdote about the way influence convinced me to try my hand at a ghost story. I read Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill's debut novel, and loved it. I also thought, "Look at this guy, he's going very fearlessly into Stephen King territory and pulling it off. You could try that, too." Turns out, of course, that the writer I viewed as the heroic challenger to the throne was of course the heir to the throne: Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. The fact that he hid that reality for nearly a decade of submissions out of determination to break through on his own merit and not on his father's name, is, I think, one of the truly great stories of publishing. At some point, though, all of my writing comes back to reading -- I'm responding to what I love. This is true of crime fiction, and true of supernatural fiction, and will, if I'm blessed enough to continue publishing, probably extend toward several other categories.

4) Timelessness. Here is an element of the ghost story that intrigues me. We all have heard the argument that there are only X number of plots, so I suppose any story has its long traditions, but the longevity of the ghostly tale is impressive. It extends through the early days of the novel, back beyond the printing press and out to the campfires of centuries past in the same way of the heroic quest stories. There's a reason: the audience enjoys it, and so do the storytellers. I got my first taste of that latter experience with So Cold the River, and let me assure you, these things really are a LOT of fun.

I don't know how much meaning any of this will have to readers. After a book tour in which I heard the question posed often, though, I did feel it was time to address it. I understand that some people have specific reading tastes, but I'd urge you to push beyond them. Not necessarily with my work, but in general. There's a lot of great fiction out there. And non-fiction. And poetry. And...just keep reading, folks! We need you.

One final note: if I hear another person tell me they don't like Stephen King, and then admit that they've never read Stephen King, I'm grabbing a rifle and heading for a tower.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Parade All-American

Okay, maybe not. The basketball dream eluded me due to...what was it, a bad knee? Hamstring? Oh, no, it was a total lack of talent. Right. So while that Parade list is out of reach, it was still pretty exciting to be a Parade Magazine pick for summer reading. None other than Willie Nelson on the cover, and 50 Cent inside! I've always considered myself closely aligned with those two.
"A fast, eerie chiller of a book that will make you shiver in the sun," claims Parade.

The St. Petersburg Times agrees, promising something to "chill you on a steamy summer afternoon," in this very generous review complete with a great photo of the West Baden Springs Hotel:

Amazon's Daphne Durham conducted a wonderful interview for their podcast series:

Entertainment Weekly (Stieg Larsson on the cover, an oddly literary-focused edition!) brings back plenty of high school memories for me. First of all, they offered a B grade, which always pleased me then and still does today, and then they call me "more creepy than truly terrifying" which is how I was generally described by girls.,,20394477,00.html

We got the cover story in the always-wonderful Mystery Scene:

The Sydney Morning Herald offers a nice piece upon release of the book in Australia, a place I'm already eager to visit again:

I want to thank everyone who has come out to the various tour stops -- only one left, Tampa on Tuesday, and then a short trip to Canada. It's been a wonderful time, and I'm deeply grateful for the support the book has received.

Once the tour winds down, it's back to writing -- books, first and foremost, but also hopefully a blog or two of more substance and fewer links. We'll see if I deliver on that...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

A buy it, buy it now pick...

Just finished this one, so it wasn't on my top ten list for the summer, but it certainly would have been if I'd made that list a week later. Hampton Sides is one of my favorite narrative non-fiction writers (Ghost Soldiers is a tremendous book) but his latest, Hellhound on His Trail is his best yet, an extraordinary account of James Earl Ray's stalking and assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I'm in awe of the way Sides can take so much information in and then weave a tight, compelling narrative that both informs and entrances. This one is a writing clinic, and a truly important read.

Thanks for the support, and tune into NPR tomorrow...

Tour for So Cold the River is officially underway, and I want to thank everyone who has come out to support the book. It means a tremendous amount. Everyone's busy, there are lots of great books out this summer, and the idea that people travel out of their way (in some cases, WELL out of their way, I've had a few people make multiple-hour drives and cross state lines to get to signings already, which blows me away, how generous)to buy a book is extraordinarily humbling. The response to this novel has been a pleasure, because I had such fun writing it, and I love the area and its true and fascinating history so much.

There have been some very nice mentions of the book, and I know I'm going to fail to link to them all here (some are behind subscriber walls, as well) but I want to thank every reporter and reviewer who has been willing to give the novel a look. On that front, I'm extremely excited to report that tomorrow's "All Things Considered" on NPR will feature an interview about the novel conducted by the wonderful Michele Norris. That one was a real treat, to say the least.

1) IndieBound has selected the book as one of its best of the month:

2) The Huffington Post's Jason Pinter offers a review and interview:

3) The LA Times jacket copy blog asks about some summer reads that stand out in the memory:

4) The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review does the same (and makes a really interesting call in comparing the book to "Breaking Away," which had never crossed my mind before, but we are in Indiana limestone country for this one...

5) The Boston Herald's Jim Sullivan discusses the book and the always-important influence of Dennis Lehane, whose teaching has benefited a LOT of students over the years.

6) The incomparable Miriam Parker of Little, Brown offered a nice audio interview:

I know I'm leaving some things out, and I hate to do that because I can't stress just how appreciated these things have been. In a summer filled with great books, it's very humbling to receive so much support for this novel. Thanks to all the writers, reviewers and bloggers who have championed the book, and thanks to everyone who has turned out at the signings. Still have quite a few to do, and I'm looking forward to them!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Release day, and some music picks...

Well, after a fairly long wait (I finished a draft of this book in summer of 2008!) So Cold the River is finally available today. If you're into reading, please give it a look. If you have doors that need stopping, please consider it. Very good heft to this one.

I'm thrilled to report that The New York Times not only saw fit to give So Cold the River a very generous review this week ("a superior specimen," says the NYT, "beautiful." Aw, go on...) but the wonderful Paper Cuts blog allowed me to provide a playlist of tracks that have inspired my writing. I hope you'll have a chance to check out these wonderful and deserving artists.