Friday, September 29, 2006

On Politics

I got this interesting email from a reader the other day.
After a couple of chapters of Last Shot, I was hooked. Then came the cheap political barbs agaist Cheney & Ashcroft, and I kind of lost patience with it. Too bad your so jaded. It looked promising.
I wrote back:

It always surprises me when readers take political dialogue or comments of the characters and assume them to be the position of the author. My characters tend to be apolitical or anti-political - they're a cynical, suspicious bunch. The Clinton barbs in my books during those years inevitably led to emails from angry liberals. But no one interprets a rapist character's rantings as the author advocating rape, or revealing his true position.

In any event, if you find such remarks off-putting, there's not much I can say to that.
To his credit, the man responded:

Thank you for your reply. It did seem that a point of view was being expressed. I'm sorry if I have jumped to a conclusion. I'll give some of your earlier books a try to get some context, and perspective. Thanks again.

To which I replied:

It's an interesting question. In Do No Harm, I wrote about a liberal doctor colliding with street-smart cops. The doc is too naive, and the cops tend too aggressive. In the book, the path to successful resolution of the issue lies directly between the two. It was funny for me to see how people on either side of the political fence reacted, everyone thinking that the characters' opinions were the author's -- but usually only the characters whose opinions they disagreed with. Maybe we're set up to interpret that way.
It is an odd issue -- when people decide to get offended and why. Sometimes, a book DOES display a clear bias. But sometimes, as in Last Shot, the opinions are what make the most sense for a character. At times these opinions can overlap with the author's, but not always. Bizarrely, I've also had people email me thinking I was racist because my antagonists use derogatory terms(!).

Saturday, September 23, 2006

My Last Blog Entry

Was in fact from The Onion, identified by Hunter Goatley. Thanks, Hunter!

The link is

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Of Mice and Cliffs Notes

This was forwarded on to me by my high-school English teacher. Priceless. It's been zapped around the Internet enough that I've lost the reference (maybe from the Onion?) so if you can identify it, please do and I'll put up the proper credit and a link.


Girl Moved To Tears By Of Mice And Men Cliffs Notes
August 18, 2006 | | Special Section: Back-To-School Special


In what she described as "the most emotional moment" of her academic life, University of Virginia sophomore communications major Grace Weaver sobbed openly upon concluding Steinbeck's seminal work of American fiction Of Mice And Men's Cliffs Notes early last week.

"This book has changed me in a way that only great literature summaries can," said Weaver, who was so shaken by the experience that she requested an extension on her English 229 essay. "The humanity displayed in the Character Flowchart really stirred something in me. And Lennie's childlike innocence was beautifully captured through the simple, ranch-hand slang words like 'mentally handicapped' and 'retarded.'"

Added Weaver: "I never wanted the synopsis to end."

Weaver, who formed an "instant connection" with Lennie's character-description paragraph, said she began to suspect the novel might end tragically after reading the fourth sentence which suggested the gentle giant's strength and fascination with soft things would "lead to his untimely demise."

"I was amazed at how attached to him I had become just from the critical commentary," said Weaver, still clutching the yellow-and-black-striped study guide. "When I got to the last sentence 'George shoots Lennie in the head,' it seemed so abrupt. But I found out later that the 'ephemeral nature of life' is a major theme of the novel."

Weaver was assigned Of Mice And Men, a novel scholars have called "a masterpiece of austere prose" and "the most skillful example of American naturalism under 110 pages" as part of her early twentieth-century fiction course, and purchased the Cliffs Notes from a cardboard rack at her local Barnes & Noble. John Whittier-Ferguson, her professor for the class, told reporters this was not the first time one of his students has expressed interest in the novel's plot summary.

"It's one of those universal American stories," said Ferguson after being informed of Weaver's choice to read the Cliffs Notes instead of the pocket-sized novel. "I look forward to skimming her essay on the importance of following your dreams and randomly assigning it a grade.

Though she completed the two-page brief synopsis in one sitting, Weaver said she felt strangely drawn into the plot overview and continued on, exploring the more fleshed-out chapter summaries.

"There's something to be said for putting in that extra time with a good story," Weaver said. "You just get more out of it. I'm also going to try to find that book about rabbits that George was always reading to Lennie, so that I can really understand that important allusion."

Within an hour of completing the cliffs notes, Weaver was already telling friends and classmates that Steinbeck was her favorite author, as well as reciting select quotations from the "Important Quotations" section for their benefit.

"When I read those quotes, found out which characters they were attributed to, and inferred their context from the chapter outlines to piece together their significance, I was just blown away," said a teary-eyed Weaver. "And the way Steinbeck wove the theme of hands all the way through the section entitled 'Hands' he definitely deserved to win that Nobel Prize."

Weaver's roommate, Giulia Crenshaw, has already borrowed the dog-eared, highlighted summary of the classic Depression-era saga, and is expecting to enjoy reading what Weaver described as "a really sad story about two brothers who love to farm."

"I loved this book so much, I'm going to read all of Steinbeck's Cliffs Notes," said Weaver. "But first I'm going to go to the library to check out the original version Of Mice And Men starring John Malkovich and Gary Sinise."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Cocktails and Writing

There is an interview with me up on the Good Girls Kill For Money Club website:

in which I converse with readers and the delightful Tasha Alexander. I also pose a few questions for you readers.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Great Books by Friends

Okay, here's some serious ass-kicking books you may have overlooked. They're written by buddies of mine, which made me all the more relieved when they were really good.

The Purification Ceremony, by Mark T. Sullivan. I met Mark at Thrillerfest this year, and got a copy of this tracker-in-the-woods thriller. Not only does he know this world inside-out, but his prose is goddamned beautiful. I mean, this boy can seriously write.

Shotgun Alley, by Andrew Klavan. The second in Drew's superb Weiss and Bishop series (or, as I like to think of it, Bishop and Weiss series), this is a great, wonderfully written story about outlaw biker gangs. It was interesting to see what a writer who I admire did with the same world I researched for Troubleshooter. (Drew's latest, Damnation Alley - also great - just came out).

Public Enemy, by Will Staeger. Okay, so I'm cheating because I'm not quite done yet. But Will is such a solid writer that I know the ending will be great. When I blurbed his first book, I referred to his "adrenalized lyricism" and that's precisely what it is.

These books are remarkably different, but they all have excellent crime/action plots and ALSO (increasingly rare) wonderful use of language. These are three novelists who aren't just storytellers, they're writers too. Check out three guys at the top of their game.