Deborah Sharp isn’t a literary giant. But she’s working on it. Her Mace Bauer series is gathering a large, rabid fan base for a book on a small press. Aided by visibility like her talk about “Mama Sees Stars” on the Today show–but largely good old word of mouth, the good book’s main ally. Smart, funny, kicked-back, and above all Southern, she and Mace (and the spotlight character, Mace’s Mama) are carving out a lively niche for fans of humorous Southern mysteries—and gathering fans from non-crime readers of titles like “Steel Magnolias” or “Fried Green Tomatoes”. If that sounds at all interesting, I’d heartily suggest a look at “Mama Does Time” or others in that series.
And it’s worth noting that her writing skills didn’t start with fiction: she was a stalwart at USA Today for years, bringing you chilling tales of deadly animals and evil humans. Continue reading →
Bill Fitzhugh is another of my favorites who should be far better known and appreciated. And I’m far from the only one who feels that way. Maybe not quite a “cult” author, Fitzhugh decidedly commands a “niche” of rabid fans. Carl Hiaasen and Tim Courtney are among them: in fact if you ask any star of funny crime novels who they read, he’ll on their short list. If you doubt me, take a look at his website.
His humor is different from those two–and from anybody else–with a unique, rustly dryness about it. His criminals are folks like you and I who get caught up in something too awful to come to grips with and too quirky to cope with. He’s also a long-time DJ and major record collector, so music figures heavily in his books, including titles like “Highway 61 Resurfaced.” One of my favorite lines is when evil exterminators are cruising Manhattan one asks their guide if he’s sure they’re on the right street and he answers, “Positively, Fourth Street.” If you laughed, or even know why that’s funny, you should enlist in the Fitzhugh cult right away. Besides, he graduated from my own alma mater, U. of Washington. Go Huskies! Continue reading →
Paul Levine is one of my recently acquired tastes. He’s another one of those lawyers who started writing best-sellers just to piss us all off. Hey, do us writers start trying cases? But he won me over with a single title: Habeas Porpoise. You gotta love that.
And many love his two main series, Lassiter and Solomon & Lord. Lassiter is the slap-happy attorney who wouldn’t know what to do with an ambulance if he caught it, but can stipulate the wisecracks and rough stuff, Solomon and Lord are sort of odd-couple “Moonlighting” match-up of two counselors most unlikely to form a partnership. But a lot of fun. I really like the sloppy, always-in-danger-of-being-disbarred-and-unfriended heroes in both series, and envy the way he can juggle three or four storylines, each one always hanging its butt over a cliff as we segue to one of the other scenarios. Continue reading →
Thomas Perry’s books have been a supportive reality for me for many years. I think we all have short lists of the writers we keep around until their ears are dogged because we can read them over and over, because they’re what we want when we’re too sick to get out of bed for a couple of days, or snowed in, or desperately in need of stepping out of the hell of our own world into one that’s been perfectly crafted and seeks nothing but to pleasure us. He’s one of my personal elite. And seems to step into that role for anybody exposed to his work. Continue reading →
Barry Eisler has two different claims to fame. To readers, he is the best-selling author of two exciting thriller series: the guy who doesn’t just write about heroes who are ex CIA covert ops specialists, Judo experts, international players, and start-up lawyer/operators but actually IS all those things himself. Or was at some point before coming in out of the cold to do boring things like collect awards for his work.
To indie authors, he’s a hero of another kind: one of the handful of writers like Konrath and Doctorow and Hocking and Locke who have become icons, living totems that not only testify to seismic changes in publishing, but have had a major hand in making those changes happen.
It would be hard to identify a single action that did more to light up new potential and realities for independent writers and publishers than Eisler’s decision last March to snub a half-million dollar advance from St. Martins in order to go his own way. The answer to the sneering, “Yeah, but if they offered you a big advance, you’d take it, wouldn’t you?” officially changed from “Damn straight” to “Maybe”, and that small shift put a very major crack in the monolith. Continue reading →
John Gilstrap has an unusual characteristic for a multi NYT best-selling author: he’s known online as very approachable and forthcoming individual, open and willing to connect. Maybe that has something to do with his kind of thriller, the kind that are less about whizbang, agency name-dropping, and international scare-shows, and more about human beings coping with hairy situations.
He’s always shown up heavily in the audio book market, with major sales to listeners and bling like The Copper Bracelet being #1 at Audible.com, with Audiobook Of They Year and Audie Award honors for The Chopin Manuscript.
But my personal favorites of his books is an early one, Nathan’s Run, a excellent example of what I mean by his human scale. There’s no huge world-shaking threat, no blazing action sequences; just a 12 year-old boy on the run from death with nobody to protect or care for him. In fact, a scan of his work shows that many show similar themes, as much so as his more typical investigators and assassin thrillers: church camp teens held hostage, a son lost in a frozen wilderness, a couple protect a hunted waif, criminal parents fleeing capture with their teen-aged son. It’s suspense in the real world, the world you know and depend on–fear and action in your own size and idiom. Continue reading →
Those who’ve followed my series on writing advice are in for a treat, because starting this month, it won’t be “tips from some dude on the web”, but favorite advice from some major professional writers, some best-sellers, some cult figures, some in my personal pantheon of admiration. Some of these might not seem like earth-shaking angles, but all are worth thinking over because these are people who’ve succeeded at the Master level.
It’s my great pleasure to start out with remarks from Laurence Shames, one of my handful of favorites, the kind of work I can read over and over. There doesn’t seem to be any normal route to writing success, but Larry’s “strategy” is more checkered than most. He was a hotshot magazine writer in New York, contributing editor to Esquire among other glittering credits. Unlike most blue-chip writers, he also did–and still does–ghostwriting, leading to two major flags on his career. He wrote a pseudonymously titled book called “Bad Twin”, which is significant to viewers of the “Lost” TV show, a story within the story that among other things created the fictional Hanso corporation that ran ads in newspapers denouncing it’s “defamation”. Yes, that’s damned weird. His big score was writing the 1991 NYT best-seller “Boss of Bosses” with two FBI agents. The score from that one enabled him to buy a house in Key West and get out of New York. He has ghosted best-sellers since, but it was the move to Key West that, as it has for others, started the magic. You owe it to yourself to read his series of eight luminous novels set there, starting with “Florida Straits”. Joey, scion of a New York mafia family, chucks it and drives down the Keys in search of himself. He strikes out trying to start his own mob in paradise, but comes out on his feet despite incursions of the Family From Hell. A core of a half-dozen characters keep the series linked, even if Joey and his girl aren’t present. Bert the Shirt, his “consigliere” for island ways is a main thread, along with his aging Chihuahua. Continue reading →