Marriage is hard enough, but you're adding a whole new level of trouble when you and your spouse share the same hopes, dreams—and career avenues. David Bajo, author of the new medical thriller Mercy 6 and husband to novelist Elise Blackwell, knows all about that. But it's not like he's keeping score or anything.
You have no idea how hard it is to pretend you are the second best writer in the house. I should have married a doctor. That way I could have spent my late mornings indulging in biscotti and cigarettes while composing brilliant novels in the inner sanctum of my study. I could have taken long afternoon walks to clear my mind’s canvas. But no, 25 years ago I made that great MFA workshop mistake and married another writer.
For the first eight years, we lived in a Victorian farmhouse and grew rare subtropical fruits to supplement our income. We gardened, using the Seed Savers Exchange to grow endangered vegetables and grains. She somehow translated this into an idea for a novel. Right? Who wouldn’t want to read about people who desperately try to save seeds. I said “we” gardened. But I was the one slipping pollen filters fashioned from pantyhose over heirloom okra flowers—while she took notes and corresponded with other seed savers. I was the one who made like a bee every afternoon at four when the cherimoya blossoms began to morph from female to male, using a paint brush to swipe and insert pollen—while she composed elegant sentences (that I would help her revise once my fingers stopped cramping).
Okay, so she published her novel first, a well-received and timeless piece of work about starving Russian scientists who saved seeds. It’s built up a nice following over the years. The Decemberists wrote a song about it. I’m not even in the acknowledgments. Look, I would have published first if I hadn’t been so busy trying to control the sex lives of cherimoyas and okras. And once you fall one novel behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up.
When event organizers find out about us—and factor in the cost of one accommodation instead of two—they think it’s cute. Married novelists. I bet we can make them squirm and fight and dish during the Q&A. We got invited to a festival in Ireland. I’m pretty sure it was my book that first caught their eye, but once they got a look at her dark hair and pale beauty, they put her photo on the flyer and her name first. I understand. Marketing is a shallow pool.
Speaking of shallow pools, we did a panel in Los Angeles. We sat on opposite ends. I think we were fighting over some bookfest swag, you know, like who gets the Pynchon coffee mug and who gets the Philip K. Dick glow sticks. The audience had no idea we were together, but as the Q&A progressed, they started to smell the scintillating ozone of domestic tension, the battle for literary number one. It became a game and the ignored panelists in between us were pissed. I fielded one question, she fielded the next. Why do you keep pointing at her? Why does she say your name like that? Which one of you two got the biggest advance? Who got the most foreign deals? Did any cool bands record a song about your novel? I let her win because I knew that would look best and sell the most stock.
Mercy 6 keeps me one novel behind. The first time she knew anything about it was when I read from the first draft during a reading series held in a bar. “I didn’t know you were writing a medical thriller,” she said to me, ready to take the stage after I had wowed the room. “Can you fetch me another Jameson’s? The show’s about to start.”
Thanks, David! Readers, Mercy 6 is out now!
There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?
Mary Kubica's startling debut thriller, The Good Girl, has been enjoying plenty of buzz and anticipation ahead of today's release.
Our reviewer has high praise for this "psychological puzzle that will keep readers on their toes" complete with an "especially satisfying" end reveal.
Mia Dennett, a 24-year-old art teacher, comes from a well-groomed family and seems poised to continue climbing Chicago's social ladder—until the day she vanishes without a trace.
Told from alternating points of view and timelines, this mystery is sure to keep you confounded until Kubica finally puts the pieces in order.
Watch the trailer below, but don't say we didn't warn you about the creep-out factor:
What do you think, readers? Interested in reading more? Check out our Q&A with Kubica for The Good Girl.
Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.
Celebrated author Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy comes to a thrilling conclusion today, when the final book in the series, The Book of Life, is released in bookstores.
Following a witch named Diana Bishop and her vampire husband, Matthew De Clairmont, and their hunt for an enchanted manuscript whose secrets contain the secrets to the survival of their species, the series has enchanted readers the world over and won Harkness millions of fans. Recently Harkness sat down with BookPage to talk about the release of The Book of Life; we wound up with more material than we could fit in our print interview, but these tidbits were too good to keep to ourselves!
On the appeal of alpha males: “I think there is a level at which [alpha males are] a fantasy that is just about being able to imagine, within the safe parameters of a fictional world and fictional relationship, that you could absolutely give up all control. I think what it really stems from is that so many of us are so very busy and pushed and pulled in so many directions. We're asked to make so many decisions and choices in a day, from what size your coffee is all the way up to putting food on the table and getting your kids to soccer practice in between your job and cooking dinner for six people. So there's this kind of sense that it would be nice if someone just walked in and said, ‘Put down your purse, no questions, we're going to dinner.’ You don't have to discuss it, you don't have to think, it would just be done. I think it's a fantasy, weirdly, of a deep breath.”
On challenging traditional gender assignment for witches and vampires: “I never considered flipping the standard gender assignment of male vampire and female witch because with the character of Diana, I was committed to the idea of a female witch in large part because one of the things I wanted to really explore was there is this general sense that it would be great to be a witch and I've always thought, ‘Really?! You would be unequivocally happy to have strange supernatural powers?’ I don't really think having bizarre supernatural powers would necessarily be a ‘thumbs up’ experience. So, once I had Diana and she was a witch and she was a female then Matthew had to be a vampire.
I do think, though, that Stephen Proctor, Diana's father, has been much more of a presence than Rebecca, because I did want to have a male witch. In much the same way, I wanted to show a female vampire in Isabel and Miriam as two of the other creatures in this world.”
On the importance of publishing her works under her own name: “[As a historian], I study a period where we say Anonymous was a woman and I think that's a double-edged sword, to protect yourself under a pseudonym. The number of cases of academics publishing popular novels rather than scholarly works is small, and most people who do publish fiction publish it pseudonymously. . . . One of the things that I think has been great is that I have seen an increasing number of academics writing under their own names.”
On her favorite book in the All Souls trilogy: “Shadow of Night, because it was on my home turf. It was the world that I knew very well and had the great pleasure and joy to show to other people. It was so much fun to go through all of my research outtakes and know I could use them.
It is really hard to choose among them, because I'm fond of each one for very different reasons. In some ways, nothing will match the sheer pleasure and joy of writing A Discovery of Witches, or the fun of writing Shadow of Night, or the satisfaction of bringing the whole thing into port with The Book of Life.”
On her favorite characters: “I am particularly attached to Philippe. He is my favorite character, because Matthew—for all his growling and moodiness—it’s Philippe who is just basically is master and commander of everything. I find him fascinating because he is this character who watches and waits and maneuvers people around. He's very ruthless but very genial and he's kind of got the alpha male thing down to a science, so much so that you don't really notice that he's running the world and everyone in it. He's sort of the un-Matthew and that was very interesting to me to be able to explore that.
However, the character who is the most fun to write is Gallowglass. No question!”
On the greatest unexpected reward to arise from writing these books: “One of the things that I hear a lot and is such an enormous privilege is when people say to me that they read history now or go to museums now or have even started rowing or they want to go back to school to get their BA or MA. People whose love of learning has been piqued, now they're starting to travel when they never did before. To somehow be able to have people read these books and to get all of these things out of them is kind of unimaginable and is the gift that keeps on giving.
It's not probably as important to every author, but as a teacher, this is why I do what I do and to be able to do it on the scale of fiction is very rewarding.”
On her favorite “big books” and long reads: “A series that has [really allowed me to inhabit a world] is an older series by a woman named Dorothy Dunnet. She first wrote the Crawford of Lymon series and then the House of Niccolo series, which was a prequel. I just adored those books!
I also remember buying Anne Rice's The Witching Hour, and it was the only book that I just simply couldn't go to sleep until I had finished it. Also, that was my introduction to Anne Rice, and it just transported me because I didn't really know where I was when I was reading it; I was in L.A., but I wasn't.”
On whether she’d rather be a witch, a vampire or a demon: “Demon, no question! I think I'm most temperamentally like a demon—I'm a little bit like a maniac and I'm a lot disorganized; you can't even walk across the floor of my office right now! I think that really what the demons are in this story is the principle of chaos and creativity—that's what they are alchemically and that's where new things come from—and I think it's way more exciting to be there than to have the weighty responsibility of supernatural and preternatural power. I'll take creativity any day.”
RELATED IN BOOKPAGE
Read our complete interview with Deborah Harkness.
Read about the previous books in the All Souls Trilogy.
California native Karen Keskinen follows up her 2012 debut mystery, Blood Orange, with a new adventure for private investigator Jaymie Zarlin. In Black Current, the body of a local teen is found in a tank at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. It's ruled a suicide, but the girl's parents hire Jaymie to prove otherwise.
In a guest blog post for Private Eye July, Keskinen shares what it's like to be the featured author at book club meetings. It's no small job, that's for sure:
I’ve never been a chakra-and-crystals kind of girl. Sometimes I think a New Age is just what we need, but most of the time I find that this age we live in is—you know—good enough. And yet one night a few weeks back, as I walked home in the dark from a book club engagement, one of those New-Agey words popped into my head: shaman.
Yeah. As I walked home from a meeting right here in Santa Barbara, California, that’s what I felt like: a shaman. Maybe I didn’t exactly feel like one, but for the first time, I could sense the power those ancient storytellers wielded through their words.
This little city bristles with book club encounters every night of the week. Readers congregate in highbrow get-togethers and lowbrow get-togethers, well-heeled gatherings and run-down-at-the-heel gatherings, co-ed clubs, single-sex clubs and not-all-that-keen-on-sex clubs. But all these confabs have two characteristics in common.
One is food. Many so-called book clubs are actually misnomered: They are more accurately food and drink clubs. And huzzah to that! I’ve stuffed myself with full-on meals, nibbled at dainty noshes and, as a special tribute to my first book, taken part in a blood-orange-themed spread. You have not lived till you’ve tasted calamondin and blood orange pound cake. Yet, I digress.
Another feature these meetings have in common is that they encourage some feisty conversations, especially among my fellow Santa Barbarians.
Notice, I don’t claim readers think Blood Orange and Black Current are the greatest reads since Ulysses. But here in our town, these books are proving to be provocative, flaring matches put to drought-dried kindling.
When I arrive at a book club meeting, I usually say that I’ll stay for no more than an hour. I warn the members in advance that they might grow tired of me, and also that they might like to have time to say what they honestly think, once I leave. It makes no difference: I always seem to be driving or trotting home around 10:30, my mind roiling from the torrid and intense conversation, in no way ready for sleep.
The questions begin innocently enough. For example: Why is Jaymie Zarlin’s office address, 101 W. Mission, in fact that of the Cat and Bird Clinic? But soon, minutia dispensed with, matters warm up.
Are the rich so awful? Are cops corrupt? Are people that mean? So we talk about the bad in good people, and the good in bad. We talk about the abuse of power and the power money bestows. About corruption, both personal and systemic. And we talk about that corruption right here in River City, not in some theoretical realm.
In every book club I’ve visited, somebody has had her cage rattled. At one recent gathering, people were debating in twos and threes when a young woman said loudly: “Jenny, I’ve never heard you talk like that!” The room fell silent. Flushed, the accused looked away. For maybe the first time in her life, Jenny had publicly dropped the f-bomb.
I’ve thought about shamans over the past few weeks. How did they work their magic? They were conduits, mediums, copper wires. The shaman had her ear to the ground, a nose for the news, she didn’t miss much. And she let all that flow into her, through her, and on out to the ineffable, what we fear and don’t understand. Then all that power, transformed into story, flowed back again.
The face of the fear doesn’t matter: Once upon a time there were broken limbs that turned septic, and mountain lions that could flail open a man. Now we have terrorists, torturers, rapists. The bogeyman changes masks as the centuries pass, but never his nature, which is the ability to evoke dread.
The shaman’s tools never change, either. She has only three, but what a three they are! People, places and things. Waving those three wands, she teases out her listeners’ fears and dreams and heartbreak, then weaves all that chaos to make a map, a guide for survival. A story.
When book club members ask me questions about the settings, characters and special objects in Blood Orange and Black Current, I know their interest is piqued. But when they ignore my answers and insist on supplying their own, that’s when I know I’m their conduit: The readers are redeeming my stories, remaking them into their own.
Recently at one local meeting, an older woman announced she knew the real life people I’d used to create two of my characters, Dr. Bruce and Cynthia Wiederkehr. In fact, Bruce and Cynthia were created from whole cloth, but I had the good sense to keep quiet.
My reader whispered their names to a friend sitting beside her, and the two women raised eyebrows and exchanged knowing smiles. The Sha-Woman reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, and felt good. She’d given it over to them, it was their story now.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Black Current is now available!
The City by Dean Koontz
Bantam, $28, ISBN 9780345545930
On sale July 1, 2014
Dean Koontz has long been known for providing thrills and chills to readers, but his new novel The City is something of an exception. Set in the 1960s and 1970s, it tells the story of Jonah Kirk, growing up as part of a close family in a nameless city and dreaming of becoming a "piano man." Jonah becomes a remarkable boy mostly thanks to his remarkable mother, who gave up her own dreams of attending Oberlin to have and raise him without much help from Jonah's ne'er do well father. Their close relationship is a highlight of the book, as shown in this excerpt, which takes place shortly after Jonah's mother has thrown his father out for good.
After school that day, I walked to the community center to practice piano. When I got home, all she said was, "Your father's no longer living here. He went upstairs to help Miss Delvane with her rodeo act, and I wasn't having any of that."
Too young to sift the true meaning of her words, I found the idea of a mechanical horse more fascinating than ever and hoped I might one day see it. My mother's Reader's Digest condensation of my father's leaving didn't satisfy my curiousity. I had many questions but I refrained from asking them. . . . Right then I told Mom the secret I couldn't have revealed when Tilton lived with is, that I had been taking piano lessons from Mrs. O'Toole for more than two months. She hugged me and got teary and apologized, and I didn't understand what she was apologizing for. She said it didn't matter if I understood, all that mattered was that she would never again allow anyone or anything to get between me and a piano and any other dream I might have.
What are you reading this week?
Tom Rob Smith is back with a new novel of "deep, dark family secrets, long-buried crimes and shocking revelations" in The Farm. Daniel's parents decide to sell their London home and relocate to a remote farm in Sweden for a leisurely, peaceful life.
Yet this ideal is quickly shattered when Daniel's mother suffers a mental collapse shortly after: She's delusional, and she's imagining truly horrific things. But soon Daniel's mother offers a different view, and she pins the blame on his father, whom she insists is part of a violent conspiracy.
Daniel takes on the task of investigating the farm himself, and Smith's thrilling, genre-defying page-turner brilliantly unfolds.
Smith's internationally acclaimed thriller, Child 44, has already been adapted for the big screen starring big-name actors Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman, and we're betting on Smith becoming a household name in no time.
Watch the hypnotising and haunting trailer from Simon & Schuster UK below:
What do you think, readers? Has The Farm made it onto your list of Summer reads?
You heard it here first, folks: The film version of Tom Rob Smith's gripping thriller, Child 44, will be hitting theaters in October. We got the news from the author himself, at Grand Central's BEA party last week.
Set in Stalin's Russia, the book is a nail-biting, gasp inducing thriller of the first order about a civil servant, Leo Demidov, who is investigating a serial killer. Problem is, in Stalin's perfect society, serial killers aren't supposed to exist.
With novelist Richard Price writing the screenplay and actors like Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Gary Oldham (aka Sirius Black), this is one book-to-film adaptation that I have high hopes for. Smith told us that he visited the set in Prague (filming in Russia being sort of tricky these days) and met with the cast—turns out Gary Oldman had read not only the book in question, but the entire series.
What book-to-film adapatations are you looking forward to this fall?
The title of Jeffery Deaver's new Lincoln Rhyme thriller immediately sends my mind into Silence of the Lambs territory:
The Skin Collector's title is an obvious nod to The Bone Collector, the very first Lincoln Rhyme novel and Deaver's 1997 debut, which was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
And with good reason: The new serial killer at large was inspired by the Bone Collector and has developed a way of murdering people through poisonous tattoos. Lincoln Rhyme is joined once again by Amelia Sachs, and they race to catch the bad guy as more and more people fall victim to his sadistic methods.
What do you think? Plan to check out Deaver's newest thriller? It's out today!