Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Literary Mystery Novelists—A List Part 2

As I’ve said before, I believe that we’re living in the second Golden Age of the crime novel. After mentioning this at literary parties recently and having writers ask me for crime fiction writers who write really well—in other words, being asked to prove my claim that many crime writers today are writing works of high quality that can hold their own against most literary novels published currently—I’ve posted the first half of a list of such gifted mystery writers. I’ve been running a series of interviews or profiles on these mystery writers whose work ranks with that of literary novelists, and I’ll continue it in the future. But now, I’ll post the second half of that list.

Because I’m a faulty human and haven’t read everyone and may not even remember everyone I have read, this will be nowhere near a complete list, but rather a starting place for people who want to explore the riches of the current crime novel scene. (And for writers I missed in the first half of the list, see the comments for that last post. I suspect there will be more who will show up in the comments on this post, as well.)

William Kent Krueger—his Cork O’Connor series is written with skill and depth

John Le Carré—ALL of his work—the death of the Cold War didn’t phase him, see The Constant Gardener for proof of that

Dennis Lehane—his Kenzie and Gennaro books are underappreciated in my opinion, but his standalones, such as Mystic River and The Given Day, deserve the attention they receive

John Lescroart—his Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitsky series is wonderful and any of his standalone books make a fine read

Laura Lippman—her Tess Monaghan series and her standalone novels are complex and riveting

Margaret Maron—her Judge Deborah Knott series is one of the best things around, start with The Bootlegger’s Daughter—she’s also reissued her Sigrid Harald series as e-books, as well as writing Three Day Town, which brings Sigrid and Deborah together in New York

Ngaio Marsh—she died in 1982, but her Roderick Alleyn series is still full of beautifully wrought books

Sharyn McCrumb—though she prefers not to be called a mystery writer any longer, her Elizabeth MacPherson series and her Ballad series are fine mysteries

Val McDermid—her Tony Hill series, on which the TV series Wire in the Blood was based, is a chilling exploration of the minds of psychopaths and those who try to outguess them

Walter Mosley—he’s one of our finest writers, and whether you read his Easy Rawlins series, his Leonid McGill series, or any of his many standalone novels, you will find excellent writing and consideration of serious issues in modern America

Marcia Muller—her Sharon McCone series was groundbreaking at its start in 1977 and continues to be critically acclaimed today

Katherine Hall Page—her Faith Fairchild series is written with great skill and warmth

Sara Paretsky—one of the great icons of the mystery community, her V.I. Warshawski series takes on all the important social and political issues of our time with impeccable writing and fascinating characters

George Pelecanos—his published work includes lots of A-list journals, as well as his eighteen crime novels—Stephen King once called him “perhaps the greatest living American crime writer"

Louise Penny—this Canadian author’s Gamache series set in the tiny town of Three Pines outside of Montreal is a feast for the lover of fine writing

Ann Perry—she has two Victorian mystery series that have both won critical acclaim, but her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series is her finest, the longest sustained crime series by a living writer

Thomas Perry—a fine writer whose Jane Whitefield series is superb

Elizabeth Peters—ever since Crocodile on a Sandbank, Amelia Peabody has become one of those character who live on forever for generations of readers, a classic

Nancy Pickard—her Jenny Cain series and her Truth series used elegant prose to probe serious societal issues, but her most recent standalone novels are her finest with superb writing, characterization, and plotting—The Virgin of Small Plains is my favorite

Sandra Parshall—her Rachel Goddard mysteries are rich mélanges of character, place, and story complexity—Disturbing the Dead is a standout in a series of excellent novels

Ian Rankin—his Inspector Rebus series is the UK’s #1 bestseller and has spawned several TV series

Ruth Rendell—John Mortimer famously said, “If it weren't for a ridiculous literary snobbery about ‘crime writing,’ Ruth Rendell would be acclaimed as one of our most important novelists”

Hank Phillippi Ryan—her Charlotte McNally series showcases her gift for keeping the reader turning the page—I’m eagerly awaiting publication of her new standalone thriller, The Other Woman, in September

John Sandford—his Lucas Davenport series is dark and visceral

Julia Spencer-Fleming—her Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series is one of the finest around—her supple prose, living and breathing characters, and treatment of many important cultural and societal issues make her one of our finest writers of any kind

Charles Todd—this American mother-and-son writing team have taken the British experience of World War II as their focus, and they bring it to life in their Ian Rutledge series and their Bess Crawford series

Jacqueline Winspear—her Maisie Dobbs series is another for the British World War I buff

Daniel Woodrell—his novels capture the misery and violence of the hardscrabble Ozarks backwoods—Winter’s Bone is my favorite among his many wonders

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Literary Mystery Novelists—A Requested List

We mystery readers are tremendously fortunate to be living in this time. I believe that we’re living in the second Golden Age of the crime novel, and I’ve been known to mention at literary gatherings that many crime fiction writers today are writing works of high quality that can hold their own against most literary novels published currently. Because of this, I’ve had several requests lately from people I know through the academic literary world for a list of such mystery writers. I’ve been running a series of interviews or profiles on these mystery writers whose work ranks with that of literary novelists, and I’ll continue it in the future. But right now, I’d like to furnish that list that has been requested so often.

As with any list such as this, it can’t be comprehensive. There are crime writers I’ve not read yet and some I’ve simply not even heard of yet. I discover new writers every day. There will inevitably be writers whose work I adore who will be left off because my mind blanked out as I typed this list. Because I am a faulty human, this will be nowhere near a complete list, but rather a starting place for people who want to explore the riches of the current crime novel scene. And the riches are such that I will have to split the list in two with the first half here today and the second half posting on Monday.


Rudolfo Anaya--godfather of Chicano lit--his Sonny Baca series brings magic realism to the mystery novel

Lawrence Block—his Matthew Scudder novels, especially

Rhys Bowen—her Molly Murphy historical novels set in turn of the century New York—also, her delightful Her Royal Spyness series

Alafair Burke—James Lee’s daughter—the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree

James Lee Burke—anything he’s written—one of the greats

Rebecca Cantrell—her Hannah Vogel series of historical novels set in pre-war Nazi Germany

John Connolly—his Charlie Parker series

Michael Connolly—his Harry Bosch novels

Lucha Corpi—her Gloria Damasco series and her new Brown Angel series

Robert Crais—his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novels offer one of the great hero-pairings out there

Deborah Crombie—her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series—evokes England successfully despite living in Texas

Paul Doiron—his Mike Bowditch series—brings the forests of Maine to life for the reader

Hallie Ephron—her standalone thrillers, Never Tell a Lie and Come and Find Me—I’ve not read her co-written Dr. Peter Zak series

Tess Gerritsen—her Rizzoli and Isles series

Elizabeth George—her Inspector Thomas Lynley series—start with A Great Deliverance

Kathleen George—her Pittsburgh Homicide Division series

Sue Grafton—her Kinsey Milhone alphabet series

Jane Haddam—her Gregor Demarkian series

Carolyn Haines—her standalone thrillers, such as Penumbra and Touched—also her comic Bones series

Thomas Harris—the godfather of the serial killer thriller—Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs

Carl Hiaasen—heartbreakingly comic novels, such as Nature Girl and Flush

Patricia Highsmith—died in 1995, but her books are still some of the best psychological thrillers ever—Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley have been made into films again and again

Tony Hillerman—died in 2008, but still one of the finest mystery novelists out there—begin with The Blessing Way and Dance Hall of the Dead

Declan Hughes—his Ed Loy series starts with The Wrong Kind of Blood

P.D. James—one of the greats—her Adam Dalgliesh series and her Cordelia Gray series both

J.A. Jance—she has three series—my favorites are the two series featuring J.P. Beaumont and Sheriff Joanna Brady

Craig Johnson—his Walt Longmire series about a Montana lawman has become a TV series

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How Best to Support Your Favorite Writers and Make Sure the Books You Love Keep Coming

This is a piece I posted to Writers Who Kill a couple of weeks ago. I'm reposting it here because I think it has important information that I didn't know until recently and that others have since told me they also didn't know. I'm also adding to this list "likes" and "tags" on Amazon and retweets about authors' books. Nancy Cohen reminded me about these. I think I'd missed them because I was already doing all those.

 The publishing business still offers a steep learning curve to me. However, some of the things I’ve learned as a published novelist are turning me into a better fan of my own favorite authors. I’ve written on here before about pre-ordering and how I learned of its importance to writers. Instead of waiting for the books of my favorite author to be published, I pre-order now, knowing I’m contributing to their success as well as assuring I’ll have their book as soon as it’s available.

I thought I was already helping with reviews. On my blog,, I try to spotlight books by literary writers of color who might be hard for the average reader to find, as well as mystery novelists who are writing high-quality fiction. I do this with profiles, interviews, and sometimes reviews of individual books. However, I’ve learned that reviews on Amazon and Goodreads count more toward sales than those longer ones on my blog or elsewhere. 

I’ve always just given stars to books on Goodreads. I’ve read so many books that I didn’t think I had time for more than that. I was wrong. Those stars don’t do much good. It’s the reviews that make others decide to pick up the book to read. It’s the same with Amazon—reviews lead to sales. Even for authors who seem to have it made! Often even famous writers are just a breath or two away from tumbling down the slopes in the fickle game of publishing, and success is even more volatile for midlist authors. I try not to buy much on Amazon, so I’ve not done much except hit the ‘Like” button for a book/author I enjoy.

I’ve learned about how important these reviews can be to authors, and now I’ve set myself a goal to post a daily review of a novelist whose work I enjoy on either Amazon or Goodreads. I’m also going to learn how to link them so a review on my blog will post to Amazon or Goodreads. This is one thing I can do to make sure the writers I love don’t disappear on me.

I’ve always been a person others ask for book recommendations, primarily because I read so much in so many areas. Now that I’ve learned how important that word-of-mouth advice on books can be, I’ll be doing a lot more book recommendations and not just waiting for folks to ask me. I have occasionally requested my library system buy a book I want that they don’t have. Now, as soon as I know a book is coming out by one of my favorite writers, I will request my library system order that book—and my own pre-orders for those books will be through local bookstores because that helps them decide whether or not to order in that book to have on the shelves.

The publishing business is in deep flux right now, and authors are being required to do more than ever to promote their books. Every novelist I know, famous or unknown, is buried in a mountain of promotion efforts while still trying to write the books we fans love and wait for breathlessly. The influx of millions of ebooks by people who haven’t bothered to learn to be either good writers or good editors—and this is not meant to describe the many self-published writers who have worked hard at both—makes it hard for the potential buyer to find the writers who have worked for many years to hone their craft. Everything we, as fans of good writing in whatever genre, can do to make our favorite authors successful ensures that in the volatile atmosphere of publishing today these favorite novelists will survive and thrive—and continue providing us with our favorite addiction, their good books.

Do you know of other strategies we fans can do to help ensure the success of the book and authors we love?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What Does Your Success Look LIke?

I'm posting today on Writers Who Kill about visualizing your life as a successful writer, based on Carolyn See's excellent book, Making a Literary Life. Stop by and join the discussion. What would your successful writing life look like in specific detail?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In the Beginning--Starting to Write a Book

Photo by Clarence Simmons

Although I am still in the midst of the book tour for my first novel, Every Last Secret, I’m also beginning my third novel. (My second novel, Every Broken Trust, is with my editor at St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books and will come out in spring 2013.) I made notes on characters, back story, and plot for the third novel as I rode the train to and from Malice Domestic 2012 in Bethesda right after Every Last Secret’s launch in Kansas City. I made more notes while traveling to events in Mission, KS, Kansas City, KS, Lee’s Summit, MO, Blue Springs, MO, a Latina Week event in Kansas City, MO, and in between other promotional efforts and freelance jobs (which are still ongoing, book tour or no book tour).

As I make notes about characters and possible plot points and freewrite my major characters’ diaries to find their distinct voices, I grow more and more excited about the new book. It hangs around the edges of my mind while I screen manuscripts, give writing workshops, drive to events and book signings for Every Last Secret. I wake in the night with a character’s voice in my head or suddenly knowing about some key, hidden element in another character’s past that will drive some of his behavior.

At this point, it’s time to start writing the first draft. Is there more prep work to do? Yes, and each day’s writing session will be divided between planning work and writing the first draft. The first day will be hours of planning with a page or two of first draft. It will be hesitant, just finding its voice and its way into the book. The second day will also include more planning but the writing section of that time will be longer and more confident. This pattern will continue for a week or two until writing the first draft has completely taken over the entire time.

This is where I am on my new novel. I am developing confidence in this book and its particular needs. I am writing a few pages a day right now, but more each day than the day before. It’s slower and clumsier than usual because I’m working it around the book tour, book promotion, and freelance activities, but it’s building that necessary momentum, nonetheless. I know that, soon enough, the book will take off, and I will spend each day’s time scribbling away to keep up with it. And then, soon enough, I will hit the sloggy middle and realize that I can never write this book and I should have started another book altogether—and that probably I’m just fooling myself thinking that I’m really a writer anyway.

Lots of people think that writing novels gets easier with each novel—or, at least, each novel that’s published. They’re wrong, though. I know this not only from my own experience but from the experience of novelist friends who have written and published multiple—often award-winning and/or bestselling—novels. Each book has its own set of problems that the writer must solve. The only way to avoid that is to write exactly the same book over and over again—something my friends and I have no wish to do.

The one advantage of having published a novel (especially if you get to know others who have done the same) is that you know you will feel helpless and hopeless at a certain point in the book, and you know that you will make it past that if you just keep writing and don’t give up. You also know that, when you go back to find the days when your writing was flowing versus the days when you squeezed out each dreadful word, letter by letter, you can’t tell them apart at the end. None of this helps you to avoid the hopelessness and dread, but it helps you to keep writing through them.

Right now, however, I face none of that. I’m excited about the book’s premise. I’m learning more and more about the characters and what drives them. This book sits before me, seductive in all its potential and possibility. Rationally, I know that nasty middle awaits me in all its depressing hopelessness, but emotions are driving me now, and emotionally I’m in love with my new book. Like anyone in the early throes of love, my vision glosses over any and all imperfections or potential problems. All I see is exciting perfection. All I want is to be able to spend all my time with my beloved. Since I know the time will come soon enough when I growl at my husband, “Why did I ever start this @#$$%^&^&* book? Why did I ever think I could be a novelist?,” I’m going to enjoy these early stages of infatuation as long as I can.

What’s your favorite time when writing—the beginning or the end? (I assume no one is masochistic enough to prefer the middle!) How do you make it through the tough times you encounter when writing?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book Tour Whirl

Photo by Vinnie Iuppa
I have been so busy with traveling and book tour that I've neglected my blog. I'm going to use this post to catch up with readers on where and what I've been doing after the launch of Every Last Secret and what's in store for the future. Then I'm returning to the previous format of a post on literary mystery novelists early in the week and one on books of interest by writers of color later in the week. It will be a couple of months before I have the time to resume my series on juggling book promotion and writing, though. Look for more posts on that in late June-early July.

This is a photo of the beautiful cake my oldest son gave me for Every Last Secret's launch. Moist chocolate cake inside and a most delicious icing, or so I've been told. I was busy and never got to taste it. But others said they really enjoyed it.

Photo by Valerie Bonham Moon
Early the next morning after my book launch, Ben and I took off by train for Malice Domestic 2012, a national mystery conference that takes place annually in the DC area. While there, I participated in the New Authors Breakfast and then moderated a panel called "Have Gun Will Travel: Mysteries Set Out West." In the weeks before the conference, I've introduced my blog readers to the fine writers on this panel, but here's a photo of all of us as the panel was taking place. This panel was a big hit with the audience laughing along with us as we played out a humorous give-and-take over the merits of the West as a setting for a book.

  On Sunday, it was my turn to be a panelist and hand the reins over to moderator Judy Hogan for "Well Schooled in Murder: Academic Mysteries." This was another well-attended panel with lots of audience participation. Judy did a fine job of moderating, and we panelists had a lot of back-and-forth over various aspects of universities and high schools as a setting for mysteries.

Later that afternoon, Ben and I took the Metro back to Washington's Union Station and entrained for Kansas City. Train travel is such a civilized way to go from place to place, especially now that air travel has become so frustrating, that I found myself wondering how we ever allowed ourselves to be convinced to give it up.

Once returned to Kansas City, I did two radio interviews and prepared for a very busy weekend. Last weekend, I first gave a talk and signed books at the Sisters in Crime meeting at I Love A Mystery Bookstore in Mission, KS.

Photo by Clarence Simmons
 We had a SRO crowd and it was great fun. Lots of interesting questions and feedback from the group assembled. We sold lots of books, and that made the I Love A Mystery staff as happy as it made me. 

Here are photos of the lovely display the I Love A Mystery staff arranged for this event 
Photo by Clarence Simmons
and of the crowd as Gwen Ervin, president of Border Crimes/ Sisters in Crime, introduced me.

On Sunday, I did a three-hour book signing at Books A Million in Kansas City, KS, and then rushed across the metro area for the launch of a wonderful anthology of poetry by three Puerto Rican poets who are mother, daughter, and granddaughter, Woven Voices: 3 Puertorriqueñas Look at Their American Lives (Scapegoat Press). I edited this book, weaving the three poetic voices into a conversation with one another, and it's been a private passion of mine for some time now. It was such a joy to see Gloria Vando and Anika Paris reading their own poems and those of Anita Velez-Mitchell, 96-year-old mother and grandmother at The Writers Place in Kansas City, Missouri.

Now, I'm off to get ready for another reception and book signing this evening at the Ruiz Library in Kansas City, MO. See my earlier post about this great event. 

Until next week, have a great time!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Upcoming Events, Including One That's Very Special to Me!

I'm back from DC and Malice Domestic 2012. Had a splendid time there. Moderated one great panel and sat as a panelist on another. Pitched Every Last Secret at the New Author Breakfast. Sat at Anne Hillerman's table at the Awards Banquet. Anne is Tony Hillerman's daughter and an award-winning author of nonfiction. Her first mystery novel is in the works. She'll be taking her dad's female Navajo character, Bernadette Manuelito, as her protagonist after talking with her father about giving Bernie a stronger role. I'm really looking forward to this book.

I have some exciting events coming up, so I'll give a little overview of them here.

On Saturday, May 5, at 11:00 a.m., I'll be speaking and signing books at I Love A Mystery Bookstore, 6114 Johnson Drive, Mission, KS 66202. This will be in conjunction with the local branch of Sister in Crime, Border Crimes. I Love A Mystery is a fun place to visit, even without a program going on, so please come join us if you can.

On Sunday, May 6, from noon to 3:00 p.m., I'll be signing books at Books A Million, The Legends at Village West, Kansas City, KS. If you're out at the Kansas Speedway or the other great attractions out there, stop by and say hello, maybe pick up a book to give for Mother's Day.

I'm very excited about the next event! On Thursday, May 10, at 6:30 p.m., as part of Latina Week, MANA de Kansas City is hosting a meet-and-greet reception and booksigning at the Irene H. Ruiz Library, 2017 West Pennway Street, Kansas City, MO.

MANA de Kansas City is a wonderful organization dedicated to supporting and encouraging economic betterment and  leadership development in Latinas, young and old. For a number of years, I was an officer and board member of this great organization and also edited their newsletter for several years. I love the women (and men) of MANA de Kansas City and the great work they do for the community. So this is a signal honor for me. I hope you'll stop by the Ruiz Library on Thursday, May 10, to share some tapas with me and meet the fabulous members of MANA de Kansas City!

There's a new review of Every Last Secret up at Mystery Scene magazine. Here's the link.

Next week, I hope to get back to my normal schedule of a post in the Books of Interest by Writers of Color series and one in the Literary Mystery Novelists series each week. I have some great books that are about to come out by writers of color that I want to review for you. And I haven't even scratched the surface of literary mystery novelists. This Friday, though, I'll post a report with photos on book launch and Malice Domestic 2012.