Thursday, November 30, 2006

Shane Gericke Explains Why He is BLOWN AWAY by his Bestseller Status

Hi, Shane! Thanks for chatting with me.
You’re entirely welcome, Julia. I appreciate the chance to connect with your myriad fans and readers.

Your debut novel, Blown Away, shot to bestseller status. How did that happen? Naturally it’s well-written—but this doesn’t always guarantee sales. Do you have really amazing distribution? Intense charisma? A voodoo spell that you put on all of America? :)
I stared down America and chanted, “Look into my eyes … buy Blown Away … buy Blown Away …” But everyone heard “Eat at Joe’s” and left to get a hamburger. Sheesh. So I turned to blatant sucking up to get my story out.

Seriously, I wrote a good story, but I can’t take the credit for this success. My publisher, Kensington Books, and my editor, Michaela Hamilton, are incredibly supportive of me and my work. They talked up the book to everyone in the business, then distributed it worldwide. Distribution is key to sales—if people can’t find your book, they can’t buy it. Kensington sales reps worked overtime with book chains, independents and mass marketers, and the sellers reactedwith gusto—their decision to put my book in the front of the store because they liked it so much, for instance, is an endorsement worth its weight in gold. Then my publicist, Patti Nunn of Breakthrough Promotions, worked the media tirelessly to get the word out nationwide. The resulting reviews were, fortunately, marvelous, and Blown Away rocketed to No. 44 on the Barnes & Noble national bestseller list. The news hit me like the proverbial ton o’ bricks—and on my 50th birthday yet. Talk about your unique present!

Wow. That's awesome.

You and I grew up not far from each other, but never met before a few weeks ago, at the Joliet Book Fair. Isn’t life funny? What were your favorite hangouts as a kid?
Life is funny. Like running into you in Joliet, I’ve gotten amazing small-world vibrations since I started touring and connecting with folks. For instance, Joan Hansen, who organizes the Men of Mystery conference in Orange County, CA, invited me to be one of the 50 mystery authors who spend a Saturday talking to 500 readers. It’s a monumental—and quite rare—honor for a debut author, and of course I said yes. After dinner the first night, I wound up talking to one of her friends. Turns out that she and my father went to high school together in San Bernardino back in the 1940s. Of all the gin joints in all the world! A few hours before that encounter, I spent some time at the bar with thriller master Jeffrey Deaver, whom I’d not met before that moment. Turns out that he knows and greatly admires Michaela, my editor, and that he grew up five miles from where I live now in Naperville, Illinois. You can’t make this stuff up.

My favorite hangout as a kid in tiny Lincoln Estates, Illinois, was the Dairy Castle. It smelled like ice cream—as you’d expect—and since we grew up without air conditioning—a horrid trauma I still remind mom and dad about every chance I get—it was heaven stepping into that chilled parlor. With those wet dog summers we suffered in Illinois, I would gladly have worked at the Castle for free if I’d been old enough to avoid the child labor laws. I also used to love hiking along the railroad tracks to Frankfort, the nearest “big city” of 2,000. It was a couple miles each way, at a time (the Sixties and Seventies) when kids could stay out all day and half the night playing without anyone worrying a child molester had snatched him up. I’m delighted to live in the modern era, but not fearing Mr. Stranger Danger when you’re out playing is a sad, sad loss.

I agree.

Your one-line grabber for your novel is “Special Forces-trained serial killer rampages ritzy Chicago suburb in psychopathic quest to annihilate rookie cop Emily Thompson.” First of all, great action verbs, Shane! Second, it reads like a headline, heaven forbid. Is this the newsman in you emerging even in mystery sales?
Somebody smarter than me once said, Past is prologue. I agree. I spent 25 years as a newspaper editor and writer, primarily at the Chicago Sun-Times, before abandoning that perfectly good paycheck to write books. The skills that make a good newsman—persistence, observation, willingness to ask questions, writing fast and accurately, accepting editing not as an insult but seeing the forest for the trees, ability to translate sounds, sights and smells into taut, readable prose, and ability to drink gallons of bad coffee without staying awake all night—are superb training for book-length writing.

Besides, I loved writing headlines. My all-time favorite was “Jerked to Jesus,” for a news story about an execution by hanging. If those three words didn’t make you read the story, you’re brain dead. I didn’t write it, of course—waaay before my time—but I wish I had.

Shane is a cool name. Were you named for A) The character in the book Shane, by Jack Schaefer; B) The movie Shane based on the book by Jack Schaefer, starring Alan Ladd; or C) Other?
Thanks, Julia. I like it too. I came out in 1956, several years after Alan Ladd gave Jack Palance what-for on the silver screen. All the “regular” names—Mike, Pat, Tim, Frank and the like, were already taken by cousins, or by people my folks didn’t like growing up. Shane was fresh and new. So Shane I became.

It’s a great writer name. Some women won’t read male writers, some men won’t read female writers. Since Shane is neutral, everyone assumes I’m one of them, and my book gets read by everyone. Like Martha Stewart says, It’s a good thing.

I don’t sense that my book is reaching best-seller status yet. What shall I do?
You already have a great story, or it wouldn’t have been picked up by anyone. After that, you need a publishing house with heavy distribution muscle and willingness to use it, an editor who can fire up the sales force to promote your work, and booksellers across the country willing to push you to the front of the store. To bring in readers, hire your own publicist to lobby the media your publisher doesn’t, and pitch hard for reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and other review houses and fan magazines. Then chat up friends, family, business associates, club members, folks at the gym, EVERYONE, to buy your book and tell ten people they know. Put your postcards and flyers everywhere you go, do volunteer work to meet yet more folks, then pray to whatever God you believe in that it all comes together to push you onto a list.

Or, you can do what I did: offer to wash the reader’s car if she buys a book. Seriously, I did that. Nobody took me up on it, thank God for my banged-up knees, but it was an icebreaker that led to a lot of sales at book signings. I use whatever tricks I can to break through the feeling many passersby have that “oh, God, he’s going to make me buy something.” Of course I am, but I want them to feel good about it in the process.

All right, I've jotted down some notes.

Your book promises to “weld action, romance, and Baby Boomer board games into a taut psychological thriller that keeps readers guessing till the last page.” Okay, that second part sound s like familiar best-seller speak, but the board games part has me intrigued. Which board games are we talking about here?
The ones we all grew up with: Monopoly, Duck-Duck-Goose, Clue, Chutes and Ladders, Hangman, Timebomb, etc. I was scratching my head one day for a plot device to move this story along, and my darling wife suggested board games. Something clicked, and I started writing about a serial killer who uses board games to trap Naperville Police Detective Emily Thompson, my heroic lead and the killer’s object of hatred. It worked beautifully.

How does having a best-seller benefit you as a novelist? I’m curious about this as both a writer and a reader.
As an author, it bestows legitimacy within the industry, that you’re worth talking to. As a reader, it suggests that my book is worth checking out.

Novelists compete with movies, TV, video games, magazines, newspapers, doctor appointments, sex, arguments, yard work, school, and driving the kids around for the consumer’s time, money and eyeballs. If said consumer sees a book with “national bestseller” on the cover—preferably in embossed gold type—they correctly assume it’s worth taking a look. They’ll read the cover copy, become intrigued, and buy the book. It doesn’t always work out—some bestsellers are monkey dung written strictly for money (see: OJ)—but generally, to have bestseller status is to say you jumped all the hoops and landed on your feet. You are worthy of at least a few seconds of time. After that, it’s up to you.

Just never tell your wife that National Bestsellers don’t do laundry. Mine giggles whenever I try that. Which is good. When you start believing your own press releases about how marvelous you are, your writing starts to suck.

All right, I won't tell my wife that.

You are a founding member of International Thriller Writers Inc. Is Blown Away more of a thriller than a mystery?
Yes. Thriller master David Morrell describes a mystery as a who-dunnit and thrillers as a how-dunnit. In other words, thrillers don’t need to keep the Evil Bastard’s identity a secret while he’s Wreaking Havoc and the townsfolks have gathered to Rub Him Out. It’s nice if you can, but it’s not the end-all be-all like in a traditional Sherlock Holmes-type mystery, where guessing the killer’s identity is 90 percent of the reader’s fun.

Think of thrillers as mysteries on crack. They jump out of the woods, grab you by the lapels, and hurl you down the train tracks while locomotives charge your way, whistles screaming. When you try to roll off the track to avoid being flattened like an aardvark in a hurricane of hammers (see: Dan Rather), a thriller grabs you again and throws you under the wheels. And so on. The chase is the thing. The adrenaline. The clash of egos, hubris, passion, love, hate, honor, dismemberment by power saw—all those cool things that none of us admit to loving but yet the National Enquirer is America’s bestselling newspaper.

Thrillers are fun. We all like fun. That’s why thrillers work.

What is an average day like for Shane? (Not Alan Ladd, but you.)
Wal, little lady, I mosey on down to the saloon for a jawbone with Miss Nell followed by a gunfight with Black Bart … whoops, scratch that, you said me Shane, not cowboy Shane.

OK, my average day. I wake up around 8, roll out of bed, pad downstairs for my first cup of coffee, pad back upstairs to my office, cleverly disguised as a spare bedroom. Clear my e-mail, then start typing. The motion wakes up the characters in my head, and once they stop griping about the early hour, they start telling me their stories. I transcribe fast as I can. The day flies by with breaks here and there to throw in some laundry, answer more e-mail, attend a book signing or call into a radio show. And coffee, more coffee. The day flies by. My lovely and adoring wife with the wisdom of Solomon and patience of Job—uh, did I mention she has this great job with health insurance that allows me to handle my madcap career the way I see fit?—comes home late afternoon and one or both of us makes supper. Then we talk, watch some TV—we like 24, Law and Order, Cold Case, Without a Trace, Thirty Rock (Alec Baldwin’s the funniest guy on television) and Chicago Cubs games—read the morning papers twelve hours late, then head upstairs at nine to read, get ready for bed and . . . uh, well, you know, other stuff. When I need to do research, I stop writing and go do it. If I’m tired, I sleep late. It’s a nice way to live. I loved the newspaper business and always will, but damn those night-weekend-holiday hours are toxic!

Can you feel my envy through this computer screen?

What are you reading now?
Lee Child’s The Hard Way, Michael Connelley’s The Lincoln Lawyer, Joseph Wambaugh’s cop classic The New Centurions, Eric Larson’s Thunderstruck, his followup to the marvelous Chicago adventure Devil in the White City, your own The Dark Backward, which has one of the most compelling covers I’ve ever seen, and anything by John Sandford, my No. 1 favorite writer of all time and who’d I’d just die to have blurb one of my novels . . . hey! John! I’ll wash your car if you do! Honest! Call me! We’ll do lunch!

Wow! That is a list of writers I may never be on again--thanks!

There are some good restaurants out in the Chicago suburbs. What’s one of your favorites?
For dinner, the Weber Grill. Great steaks, healthy tumblers of Scotch, and a décor that evokes the North Woods. Can’t do better. For breakfast, it’s Grandma Sally’s in Naperville. Best omelettes in the whole universe.

Okay, you said your book contains romance, which means you’re at least partially a romantic. How did you meet your wife? How did you propose?
Jerrle and I met at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. We both worked on the college newspaper, her as a sportswriter, me as city hall reporter. I’d love to say our eyes met and that was it, but I was so smitten I got obnoxious and pushy. We eventually overcame that, and have been married since 1979. She still won’t forgive me for sticking her with the unpronounceable last name of Gericke, though, when she had such a nice easy Miller. Coupled with “Jerrle,” everybody mangles both halves of her name now.

What are you writing now?
I recently sent my editor the manuscript for Cut to the Bone, the sequel to Blown Away. She’s 70 pages from done, and pronounces it remarkable. I hope that means “doesn’t need fixing” remarkable, not “we can’t publish this crap, you loser” remarkable. I assume the former, since we already have the cover and a pub date of June, 2007. After she signs off, I turn my attention to No. 3. I have, as you might suspect, plenty of twisted fun ideas.

How can readers find out more about Shane Gericke and his bestselling novel, Blown Away?
Check out my website, There’s all sorts of things for readers to enjoy. I’ve centralized my reviews, press clips and other good stuff so readers don’t have to wade through 3,000 Google hits.

The book’s available at any bookstore, or through online sellers like Amazon, BN, Borders and Books a Million. I strongly recommend checking out your local bricks-and-mortar bookstore, though. Without their support, readers and authors would be far poorer. In the author’s case, literally.

Thanks for the interview, Shane! This was fun!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Madeline Lives! My New Cover Art

I wrote Madeline Mann back in 1994 or so. My son was a baby, and I was filling in my idle hours with some creative expression--my stab at a first mystery.
Now, more than twelve years later, Madeline has a face, thanks to U.K. artist Michael Frith and the great art department at Llewellyn Worldwide.
Maddy makes her print debut this summer, but her face will be visible long before that--starting here on the blog. Look for this lady in bookstores!
I'll post more about the book later on; it's a humorous mystery that takes place in Saugatuck, Michigan and the fictional Webley, Illinois. Madeline is a reporter, a woman who follows her vibes, and this makes her a natural for solving mysteries.
Let me know what you think of the Madeline art!

Bruce Lee and The Elusive Fly

Today is the birthday of the legendary Bruce Lee. I loved The Green Hornet, and I always think of that show when I think of Bruce, but of course my husband remembers him for his martial arts movies and for Jeet Kune Do, the martial art Lee himself invented. Lee considered himself to be a philosopher as much as he was a martial artist; Jeet Kune Do consists of only the "useful" parts of several martial arts.
My favorite anecdote regarding Jeff and his love of Bruce Lee involves Jeff killing a mosquito in a remarkable quick hand movement. I said, "Wow, you're like Bruce Lee."
He shook his head and said, "No, Jul--when I kill a mosquito I'm like Godzilla. When I kill a fly I'm like Bruce Lee." Not sure I quite understand that distinction, but it made sense to him . . .
(image from www.

Friday, November 24, 2006

A Philosophical Topic: The Fun Bath

My son walked up to me today, smug with Thanksgiving vacation, and informed me that he and his brother were going to take a bath. "And don't ask us if we washed our hair," he warned. "This is going to be a fun bath."

This made me ponder. When was the last time I had taken a fun bath? Just frolicked in the water and sang to myself a little? Probably at least thirty years. Perhaps it's time? I wonder what would happen if everyone in the world took a fun bath?

(That's Mr. Fun Bath up there, but about six years ago. As you can see, he was rather bossy even then). Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Food for Thought: A Thanksgiving Prayer from the Iroquois and Seneca Tribes

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Oh Great Spirit,
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me!
I am small and weak; I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes
Ever behold the purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made
And my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
But to fight my greatest enemy: Myself.

Make me always ready to come to you with
Clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
My spirit may come to you without shame.

(picture: Denver Sunset by Jim Kritzberg)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Another Nostalgic Indulgence: Manual Typewriters

Remember these? I never miss the lack of convenience, of course, but sometimes I miss the sounds they used to make: that deep clunk of the letter going down and the schtook-BING! of the carriage returning, not to mention that lovely rhythm of really getting going on a good thought, pounding away before the notion left me.

When I was in high school typing class we learned on both the manual machines and the more modern electrics, so that we'd be able to adapt to whatever future offices offered to us. Little did we know!

I held out against computers for a while. I was loyal to my typewriter and all it represented for me. But the first time someone showed me that all I had to do to correct an error was press "backspace," I betrayed the typewriter without a second glance. Never to have to use those annoying white papers again! Never to have to scroll up the paper to fix an error and then scroll back down, trying to get back on the exact same line (and never succeeding)! It was too much temptation.

Now thoughts of my old typewriter are similar to those one has for a far-distant lover. I smile fondly--but I'd never go back.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nostalgia Moment Number One: Do You Remember Rotary Dial Phones?

I was chatting with my freshman class today; these girls were born in 1992, mind you. They don't have to memorize phone numbers, because the digits are all stowed in the memories of the girls' cell phones. They don't have to summon up those digits that we once had to match up to individual faces and names. And when they want to dial a friend, they just press speed dial. They've never known anything but this extreme convenience.
And suddenly I began to feel nostalgic for the sound of a rotary dial phone, a pleasure these girls will never experience. The dragging of the number to the finger slot, and then the release: the zip-whirr, zip-whirr of seven separate numbers--and oh the terrible wait when that phone number was full of nines! Remember the agony of how long that dialing took when you had important news to share? And yet, perhaps out of sheer egotism, I can't help but feel that somehow these children are missing out. Are they? Or is that just my projection of importance onto my own age?
But I do understand, more each year, the lure of nostalgia, and why all those tv shows and personalities from the 60s and 70s are becoming the products of the 2000s. If I can't give my child a piece of my past, by golly I can sure buy it for him! :)
I suppose as writers we have a real gift, because we can go back whenever we want, even live there for a while, through our characters. So I wonder if I can plan an entire mystery around a rotary dial phone . . . .

Friday, November 17, 2006

What Happened on November 17, 1956

My parents were married on this day in 1956. Yes, they've been married for 50 years, and they're still happy together. I admire my parents greatly; they are a couple who made great sacrifices for their five children. I don't think they've missed a Sunday Mass in all fifty years; they managed to send all of their kids to college (except my sister who joined the Navy) and they always made education a priority. They kept us clothed and fed with one modest salary (my father was an engineer), and my mother, who was skilled in almost every art, sewed and knitted and crocheted and made delicious meals that taught us the flavor of Europe.

My mother is a voracious reader of mysteries, and both of my parents are excellent writers. I suppose I should thank them for my all-consuming second job. I shall quote Shakespeare in their honor, since this is an amazing accomplishment of love.

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! It is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."
--William Shakespeare

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

I'm a Calendar Girl

No, not like Helen Mirren in the movie Calendar Girls, (she has a much better body, even if she is twenty years older); but I am in fact a page in this calendar. I don't even know what the picture looks like, because I haven't seen this little datebook yet, but I had to submit my writing for consideration just as I would to be published in any book. I think I will make five dollars. :)

Still, I've never been in a calendar before, and I probably never will again, so this is sort of exciting. This engagement book is called Bylines, and it's filled with the stories of writers--their successes and failures, their trials and tribulations.

For those of you who would like to have a writer's datebook, this is available at and at

In any case, isn't it unbelievable that 2006 is drawing to a close?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Robert Fate on His Name, His Mystery Series, and Why His Book Works in a Post-War Setting

I've been lucky enough to chat a bit with Robert Fate via e-mail. He has a special place in my heart, because although I only met him briefly at Bouchercon, he was the last person I saw when I drove away on the last day, and he raised a hand to wave at me. Since he looks a bit like a prophet, and his name is Fate, this seemed like very good juju.

Here I ask Robert about himself and about his book, Baby Shark.

Fate is actually your middle name. Why did your parents choose it? Were they fans of mythology? Or did they just like the concept?
Well, Julia – my mother had a brother named Fate. My Uncle Fate had an Uncle Fate, and the way I understand it, somewhere way back there the name was related to the Marquis de Lafayette. That always made my father laugh. He claimed the only thread of truth in that story was that no one on my mother’s side of the family could spell Lafayette. I’m sure you didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject, but there you are.

Your book, Baby Shark, has garnered many positive reviews, has an interesting premise, and a great title. What did you think of first—the title, or the plot?
Actually, the character came first. The idea of a young woman shooting pool appealed to me. And, if she were say a smart, well-read young woman who through circumstance finds herself in and out of west Texas pool halls for a year or two while traveling with her father, a pool hustler – hmmm. A situation like that would keep it from being an occupation forced on a young woman in the 1950s. Further, I thought it was kind of cool. Maybe she would be an interesting character full of contrasts. Maybe a character that readers hadn’t met before.

The plot came next, but it depended on the character. I kept visualizing a Greyhound bus pulling away leaving a cloud of dust and grit through which we begin to see a figure emerging—walking toward us—telephoto, slow motion—a young woman in boots, tight blue jeans, a short Levi’s jacket, sunglasses—a loner, confident, sexy—carrying a pool case—crossing the highway—a dry, west Texas afternoon. The filling station behind her becomes visible as the dust settles—some men watch her—the cars in the station are 1950 models. The story needed to be set in a time before cell phones, before CSI, before the issues that define present day crime fiction. Her “things” were going to be a pool cue and a pistol.

After that, it was the plot—what were women’s worst nightmares? The title is Kristin’s nickname and simply seemed logical as some point.

Your protagonist, Kristin Van Dijk, is only seventeen; she survives a brutal attack, vows to hunt down the men who killed her father, and teams up with Henry, a Chinese American who is also out for revenge.

First, how did you happen to create such an authentic voice for Kristin? Do you have a daughter, perhaps, who inspired some of her behaviors?
Kristin’s voice was not easy and still requires vigilance to keep her honest. I do, in fact, have a daughter who turns eighteen next month. And I’m sure that helped—certainly in establishing some habits and responses. But not so much voice. Remember, the time is 1952 through 1954. Kristin is nineteen and a half at the end of Baby Shark—but she burns a lot of life in those two years. The language was different, the slang, the regional dialects—that all continues to be a consideration.

Second, what steps did you take to keep Henry from becoming a stereotype? (Which I think you succeeded in doing).
Here’s the thing, Julia. I want readers to lose themselves in the story, and I feel obligated to not shock them with false-sounding dialogue or references that are not authentic. That’s where candid critique comes in handy. I’m fortunate to have some friends who keep me honest.

Henry Chin – Hank, as Otis calls him, is pure imagination in one respect, but in another, a combination of people I have known who didn’t start their lives in the U.S. Henry is the guy next door who came from somewhere else and is much smarter than most give him credit for being. He learned English late and will forever speak it with an accent. But how he speaks is not who he is. His unselfish love for Kristin. His heroism and loyalty. I think those attributes and others give him dimension and distance him from stereotype. He is a character necessary to the story first and a Chinese/American second.

Your prose is stark, yet suggests great depth. Has this always been your writing style, or is it just the style you wanted for this novel?
The writing style evolved from a desire to make the story and characters paramount. I wanted the writer to disappear. Especially since Kristin is telling the story. She’s well read and had a literate father who influenced her. She could use “high falutin’ talk,” as Otis would say. But she chooses not to. And she isn’t critical of how others speak. Her father taught her to be observant. Harlan, the grifter, Sarge and Albert, her teachers, added to that talent of watching and listening. It was borne out of necessity—her desire to survive, but it molded her persona, too. The writing style in Baby Shark is an attempt to be true to Kristin. It’s her story.

The title has more than one meaning. Which is the dominant meaning for you? The pool shark, or the baby with lethal teeth?
You’re a lot of fun, Julia. Well, let’s see. It was important to Kristin to earn a nickname in the male-dominated pool halls of Texas in the 1950s. She looks like an angel, shoots like the devil, and they call her Baby Shark. But, you’re right—like she says to herself when she stands up to Otis early in their relationship. “I haven’t spent the past year and a half learning to take crap off people.” She knows that to be taken seriously she must now and then show her teeth. So, to answer your question—I never want readers to forget that Kristin shoots pool, but it’s that pistol in her back pocket that makes her dangerous.

Well, thanks for calling me fun. I like to think so. :)

Have you been a writer all your life?
Pretty much. Poetry, short stories, stage plays, magazine articles, journals, screenplays, TV scripts, and finally, the novel. I sincerely believe that the crime novel was where I should have always been—but whacha gonna do? I just got here. I’m really liking it. And I’m sticking around.

Kristin has three basic “teachers” after her attack, all of them men. Was it important to put this girl in a world of men so that they were her victimizers AND her helpers? Or was it just more realistic that everyone around her was a man because she chose a male-dominated lifestyle?
The strongest consideration in reference to Kristin’s transformation from victim to trained killer was that it be believable. She is given a year and a half to make the transition, which is realistic if the student is motivated. Baby Shark’s dedication to study was predicated upon her desire to never be afraid again. But even so, her first attempt at revenge with Scarecrow turns into a fiasco. Again, the aim was for realism. The transition is rocky. It ain’t magic and it doesn’t happen over night. Her teachers are men because realistically, especially in the 1950s, they were the teachers available. A WWII vet, a Korean vet, older professional men. Without a hairdresser, a café owner, and an occasional waitress Kristin would have been hard pressed to have had any women in her world.

Your book is set in 1953. Why did you choose this time period?
The 1950s were a transitional period for women. The era if often played for its innocence, though it was anything but that. Rosie the Riveter had just shown American women that they could do the same work as men and—here’s a concept—earn the same money. So, when women were asked to go home after WWII, many simply didn’t want to. The prevailing attitudes toward women in the 1950s were influenced by late nineteenth and early twentieth century thought. Men came to their feet when a woman entered the room. They opened doors for them, removed their hats. Lots of ritual, but it was a double standard and women knew it. There was an unspoken tension in society that gave an edge to the ‘50s that I wanted to explore. Daddy’s little girl could also be a hell-raiser, but not many wanted to admit it. And, most importantly for Baby Shark, it was a time when women were blamed if they were raped. It was their fault. What were they doing there? Why were they dressed like that? They were just asking for it. Women know what I’m saying is true.

What sorts of things have you done to promote Baby Shark? Do you feel your PR is bearing fruit? And by fruit I mean money? :)
The usual, I think. Book conferences to meet other writers and fans. Bookstore signings. Magazine ads. Lots of Internet—which is more amorphous than the other avenues, but might be the most important. Bearing fruit – ah, yes. Well, I have been fortunate in one particular direction. The readers at DorothyL have been kind to Baby Shark. That is to say, they began telling each other to give it a try. It’s a gritty story, and not everyone’s cuppa, but DLers give a book a fair chance. So their promotion has been good for sales. And 4MA, too, has given the book a critical opportunity. The reviews, the interviews have helped. Hell, I don’t know, Julia. Baby Shark has been around twenty minutes, really. It was only published in September, but it has gotten some buzz so something is working. Are you as confused by what I am saying as I am? Aren’t you glad you asked that question?

Yup, still glad. And it sounds like you're on your way to great success with the book.

You’ve lived all sorts of places. What’s the most beautiful place in the world?
You’re right. I have traveled, and that provides memories. Most beautiful? There was a stand of autumn birch I recall on the way up Mount Olympus—perhaps that qualifies. But was it more beautiful than a stone garden I visited in Kyoto? An early winter morning in the Luxembourg Gardens with the light just right, or an evening on the beach in Zihuatanejo? I quit. It has to be more about who you are with, doesn’t it? That’s what makes a place beautiful. So I’ll think on that, Julia.


You mention on your website that you were once a fashion model. Well, naturally your picture explains why a handsome man like you would get the job, but why fashion? Was it to pay bills, or did you enjoy the fashion scene?
I moved to NYC. I was writing a musical comedy with a friend. I needed to earn a living. A girlfriend of mine was a model. She introduced me to some photographers. I put together a book, made the rounds, began working. I earned my living as a fashion model for three and a half years. Finished the musical comedy. Couldn’t sell it. Moved back to LA. My biggest success as a model was when I landed the cover of the NY Times Menswear Magazine. “Look,” I told my painter friend Robin Bright. “There are thousands of me all over the city today.” “Uh huh,” he said. “And tomorrow we’ll go over to Fulton Street and watch ‘em wrap fish in you.” That’s what true friends are for.

You were also once a chef. Do you cook for your wife?
My wife didn’t cook, so yes I cooked for the first twenty-five years of our marriage. Then, without preamble, she said she was going to do the cooking from then on. Just got tired of fried okra was my guess. So, she took over the kitchen some five or six years ago and I have to tell you, she’s a great cook!

What are you writing now?
I’m about four chapters into the third installment of another Baby Shark story. Book two, Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues, will be in bookstores May 2007. Book three, if the crick don’t rise, will be in bookstores November 2007—the title is Baby Shark’s Panhandle Caravan—kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

It really does!

Whose writing do you admire?
Joe R. Lansdale. How could anyone improve on the opening of “Sunset and Sawdust?”

If Baby Shark were set in the present instead of the 1950's, what would be different?
Well, today and the 1950s differ in every way you can imagine in reference to “things.” But Kristin would still be confronted with the same emotional and physical challenges, wouldn’t she? I’m not sure I can picture that precisely—she is such a child of postwar America, just a step ahead of the Baby Boomers, charging headlong into the sixties.

How can people find out more about you and your writing?
At there is a lot of stuff about Baby Shark and some stuff about me. And an email address that I always respond to. I like hearing from readers.

Thanks so much, Robert.

No—thank you, Julia. Loved your questions.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Robert Louis Stevenson and His Lasting Legacy

Robert Louis Stevenson celebrates a birthday today--he was born in 1850. I still marvel at the story of the creation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; the fact that Stevenson was awakened by his wife from a fever dream and then cross with her for waking him from "a fine bogey tale." He wrote half the story and read it to his wife and houseguests, then ran into his room to write more, still feverish and mumbling to himself.

I sometimes envy both the creative spark and the speed with which he wrote his tales, but RLS was, in fact, a man with a very short time to live, and I certainly don't envy him that, nor do I relish having a lifelong illness, as did this fine Scottish writer.

But any writer today would envy the fact that, 150 years later, his books are still on the shelves!

Happy Birthday, Robert! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Happy Birthday to My Sister Linda

Posted by Picasa My sister has a birthday today. She is two years older than I, but we grew up playing together, reading together, even making up stories together. (At one point we decided to write our own romance. But we didn't have the age or experience to create an occupation for our leading man, Doug Hamilton; ultimately, after rejecting many equally ridiculous options, we made him a director of a home for the fat and insane. Hey, we were about ten and twelve.)

Now she teaches kindergarten and raises her own three children with her husband Kevin, a Chicago cop. Naturally Kevin is a resource I tap into quite often when I'm in writing mode.

Linda and I also had our own extensive library of Nancy Drew books. When we outgrew them we donated them all to the local library, but sometimes I feel greedy and wish we had kept them. But maybe I'm just trying to reclaim the memories.

My family are all being sports about helping to promote my book, and Linda has been wonderful about watching my children when I have booksignings (some of which were discussed on this blog).

But she's just a great sister in general. Happy Birthday, Linda! Eat some chocolate cake.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Here's Help For Those Who Can't Find It

I guess it's all in how you define the term. :)

Come back soon--big interviews coming up.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Robert Frost Puts it All in Perspective

by Robert Frost

The old dog barks backward without looking up;
I can remember when he was a pup.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Words to Ponder

I just finished reading Meadowlands, a book of poetry by Louise Gluck. It was an examination both of marriage and of the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope. One of the lines that stood out the most for me was this one from a poem called Nostos:

"We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory."


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Booksigning Number Three, And It's Official: People Really Do Judge Books By Their Covers

Today I went to the Annual Joliet Author Fair in Joliet, Illinois, at the Black Road Branch of the Joliet Library. The staff, including my contact, Nancy Martinez, were very warm and welcoming, and each writer had her or his own little station for bookselling. Above are Steve Mandel, who I recently interviewed on this blog, and Gail Lukasik, two other mystery writers who were selling about as many books as I was when we all took a lunch break--zero.

Below is Shane Gericke; his mystery has reached bestseller status, but he had only sold one book in two hours.
We discussed this phenomenon, and why it might be that people weren't buying mysteries. (Books on angels and happy little towns a la Jan Karon's Mitford series were selling quite well). We wondered if perhaps we had chosen the wrong genre, and should perhaps be writing about angels, except that none of us necessarily had anything to say about those celestial creatures. Gail mentioned that her book title, Destroying Angels, actually offended one library patron, who chided Gail for her choice and said she hoped that angels weren't shown in a bad light in the book. Of course the book isn't about angels at all; it's a mystery, and the title refers to poisonous mushrooms.

In my case, I was hampered at least partly by the cover of my book. Here it is:
While most people find this cover striking, even beautiful, today's mix of people for some reason found it daunting. Some moved quickly past me, saying "I don't read scary books." I would try to call after them, "It's not at scary as it SEEEEEMS!" but they were gone. I had a dish of candy that many people, children and adults, took the liberty of stealing while grinning slyly at me, obviously not interested in my book or, as far as I could tell, any of the books in the library. It made me wonder why they had come.

One woman stopped in front of my table and said, "Oh! My daughter would LOVE this book! I'm going to call her so she can buy it!" She hadn't picked it up or read any of the material describing the book. She only looked at the cover from a distance. I said, "It's a mystery--" and she interrupted me, saying "Oh, I know! My daughter LOVES books like this. She's a member of this club called The Cemetery Club, and they get books every month: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, people like that."

Horror writers, I wanted to say, but many of my visitors didn't seem to distinguish at all between horror and mystery, and none of them really wanted to hear what I had to say about it. The people who did ask questions seemed to do so out of a perverse desire to make me talk; then they'd nod and walk away. It was an odd experience, to be sure.

Still, it was nice to meet Nancy and see some of my fellow authors that I hadn't seen since Bouchercon or, in the case of Shane and Gail, had never met before. And next time I'll know to have some sort of little typed slip describing my book in a paragraph, so that when people look at the cover and say, "Oh, I know what this book is about," I'll say "No you don't," and press the text into their hands.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Mystery Is . . . What Did He Do?

Someone sent this to me in an unattributed e-mail called "What Sorry Looks Like." And who wouldn't be able to summon up forgiveness if this were the perpetrator?

But I'm curious what sort of big crime such a little fellow could commit. Even a doo doo on the carpet would be pretty small. Did this puppy rob a bank?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Coming Soon To This Blog . . . .

Robert Fate will talk about writing his book, Baby Shark.

In searching for the perfect image for this title (shown here), I had to see people with shark bites and other shocking things. All in a day's work here in the blogging business. :)

This photo is respectfully borrowed from