Monday, June 29, 2009

Gratuitous Laughter

I don’t have a very high opinion of gratuitous sex and violence in either books or film--with “gratuitous” defined as scenes that do nothing to advance the plot but are there simply because sex and violence have broad appeal. But what about gratuitous laughter? Ah, now that's different.

There actually is such a thing as non-gratuitous humor, where the humor comes from the plot line itself. But much humor is gratuitous—a situation or gag stuck in the story just for laughs. Take it out and the plot would run along fine; it just wouldn’t be as funny.

I pondered all of this while watching the recent Star Trek movie over the weekend. SPOILER ALERT. Take, for instance, the scene where Bones gives Kirk a vaccine that makes him sick in order to get him onto the Enterprise. That scene is necessary to move the plot forward. What is not necessary is that Kirk has a reaction to the vaccine; that complication exists solely to inject humor into the scenes that follow. Likewise the scene where Scotty and Kirk materialize on the Enterprise and Scotty finds himself in some sort of cooling system. Again, that complication is played out solely for laughs, to make their arrival on the Enterprise more interesting. In fact, one could argue that it's the humor that makes this movie enjoyable to watch; like The Voyage Home, this Star Trek movie goes for the laughs.

Yet while gratuitous humor does not bother me, it occurs to me that the word complication could actually be used to describe the gratuitous scenes of violence that I find boring and annoying. So perhaps the truth is that I simply have more patience for humor than I do for violence? Hmmm…

On a side note, We got rain!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hottest Day Ever

It’s official: yesterday, Audubon Park recorded the highest temperature ever in the entire history of the city of New Orleans. And we have a long history.


Now, 104 degrees might not sound like much to those accustomed to the searing heat of places like Arizona or Australia (I can remember in Adelaide my kids would get out of school if the temperature hit 45 Celsius). But you add in our humidity and it can be a killer. Plus, it’s only June!

The normal high for the end of June is 90 degrees. The previous high temperature for this time of year—99—was set in 2006. The city’s previous record high was set on August 30, 2000 (August is when we expect this kind of weather). There is a pattern here, and I don’t like it.

Yes, oh ye doubters, the world is heating up.

Ironically, it actually did cloud up for a while late yesterday afternoon. The sky grew dark, the wind blew, the temperature plummeted into the 80s, and we got all excited thinking it was actually going to rain. I've heard rumors that some places did get a shower. All we got is a spitting. But I must say, those brief moments of relief were heaven.

(I should probably mention that the National Weather Service gets their figures for the city from the airport, which is 16 miles to the west of the city, in the swamps. There the temperature was “only” 102.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Dog Days of…June?

Yes, I know it’s supposed to be hot in New Orleans in the summer. But it’s only June, for crying out loud. Normally we get a few 100+ days in August, but not this early in the year! My thermometer has been hitting over a hundred degrees all week and it’s in the shade.


It’s been so hot that that streets are buckling. Two half-mile sections of Interstate 55 between New Orleans and our lake house have been closed after the road buckled under what state highway officials called “continued excessive heat.” I’ve never heard of such a thing.

There was a time not too long ago when it clouded up and rained here every day at 3:00; you could practically set your watch by it. It didn’t rain for long, just enough to cool everything down and water everyone’s garden. It also drove the humidity up so high you sometimes felt like you were going to drown just breathing, but it was part of the natural cycle of things. Read diaries from New Orleans in the 18th and 19th centuries, and they’ll talk about the daily afternoon showers.

Our afternoon showers have been MIA the past several years. Going to pick one of my daughters up from the airport this afternoon, I noticed the grass along the highway is turning brown. I have never seen that down here.

I do not like what this means for the temperature in the Gulf or the hurricanes that will be forming.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Some Sorta Good News, and Some Painful News

Okay, here’s the good news: there will be a sixth Sebastian St. Cyr book!

Here’s the bad news: it will be released as a trade paperback original. In other words, no hard cover, no massmarket paperback. The Powers That Be are hoping this maneuver will reposition the book and increase sales.

Personally, I hate trade paperbacks. I think they’re the worst of both worlds: insubstantial and impermanent like a massmarket yet big and bulky like a hardcover. But I know a lot of people who do like them. And here’s the weird thing: stores like Barnes and Nobles keep trade paperbacks on their shelves for a year whereas paperbacks and hard covers get sent back in just a few months. In fact, I’m told it was B & N who suggested NAL switch the series to trade.

So now I need to come up with a title for this opus….

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Good News, and the Bad

The good news is that my thriller publishers loved the proposal for The Babylonian Codex, so all systems are go with that book. Phew.

The bad news is that I still haven’t heard from the publishers of my Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series. My editor, Ellen, loved the proposal. So the problem isn’t the book. The problem is the economy.

Although Where Serpents Sleep hit significantly higher on all the lists than any of the previous books in the series, the actual number of sales didn’t increase. Now, given that the book came out last November in the midst of the horrific stock market crash, when everyone was focused on the economy and the election, and given that its performance on the lists indicates that its relative sales were better, I think the book actually did pretty well. Without a promotional budget, it always takes four to five books for a mystery series to catch on. We’re at the tipping point. I’ve worked so hard on this series, for so long, that I’m feeling kinda sick at this point. I heard back from my thriller publishers in two days. My Sebastian book’s proposal has been with Penguin for at least a month.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nail Biting Time


I’m feeling somewhat like a wallflower, sitting around anxiously waiting to see if someone’s going to ask me to dance. Why? I currently have not one, but two book proposals out, one to each of my publishers. One proposal is for my third thriller, a book I’ve called The Babylonian Codex. The other is for the sixth Sebastian book. It’s an idea I love and starts with Sebastian’s friend, Gibson, buying the “resurrected” body of a young man and discovering that his illicit corpse was murdered. (I’d give you the title but, um, it doesn’t have one yet.)

What exactly is a book proposal? It’s the first three chapters/30-35 pages and a synopsis of the book, intended to give publishers a good feel for what the finished product will be like. Book proposals can be scary things to prepare, since so much rests on them (like whether the publisher will buy the book, and how much they’ll pay). Squishing the plot line and characters of a 400 page book down into a five page synopsis in a way that not only makes sense but sounds enticing is an art. And polishing those first three chapters into something sparkling and alluring when you haven’t written the rest of the book can be a challenge.

During the course of my writing career, I’ve only had one book proposal knocked back, but that experience was enough to scar me for life. I spent months researching and plotting out a second thriller I called The Bermuda Effect, and had written about a hundred pages when my editor said, “We don’t like this idea. Come up with something different.”

I learned a valuable lesson: don’t invest too much time and effort and heart into researching, plotting, and writing an idea that may not sell. And I learned another, slightly more cynical lesson: the less you give them, the less they can criticize. Dazzle them with smoke and mirrors, but don’t give them too much to think about.

But I still have a lot of time and heart invested in these two ideas. And the publishing environment right now is not good, so this is a bad time to be going out with one proposal, let alone two. So, yeah, I’m nervous. Stay tuned….

Sunday, June 07, 2009

New Orleans Leads the Country…in Killings


The FBI’s annual report on national crime was released last week. The good news is that New Orleans saw a 17% fall in the number of violent crimes over last year. The bad news is we’re still the most murderous city in America. By far.

New Orleans officials complain that the FBI is using outdated population figures. The FBI used a figure of 281,440 from July of 2008, whereas the city claims the population is now 311,858. And some say even that figure is low, since it doesn’t include thousands of undocumented laborers. (Which begs the question, Who does count undocumented laborers?) Anyway, it’s all quibbling because whichever population figure you use, we’re STILL Number One.

Using the FBI’s figures, New Orleans had 64 murders per 100,000 population. Using the city’s figures, New Orleans had 57 murders per 100,000 residents. Which means that even if you fiddle the numbers, poor ole Number Two, St. Louis, with a measly 47 murders per, has a ways to go to catch up. Scary Baltimore is third on the list, with 37 per, with Birmingham giving them a run for their money at 36.

But you know what’s really scary? Baton Rouge is Number Seven! Thirty murders per 100,000. Who’d have thought?

Why is our murder rate so high? Well, we can blame Katrina for some of it. People are depressed and short-tempered; they can’t find housing and jobs. Plus, population disruptions lead to gang territorial disputes, which lead to killings. But the truth is we were killing each other at a scary rate before the hurricane. Why? I don’t know. And I’m wondering why someone isn’t asking THAT question.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Cross Marketing

I’ve been grumbling so much lately, I thought it was time for a post thanking my publishers for doing something brilliant. What are they doing? Since the paperback edition of Where Serpents Sleep is coming out in exactly the same month as the paperback original of The Solomon Effect, NAL and Harper Collins are putting ads in the back of each other’s books. So readers will find an ad for Where Serpents Sleep in the back of The Solomon Effect, and vice versa.

This little exercise in cross marketing was the brainchild of my NAL editor, Ellen Edwards—who is, by the way, both the world’s most brilliant, conscientious editor and someone who loves the Sebastian series every bit as much as I do.

The two series are extremely different from each other, given that one is a contemporary thriller with a breezy tone and the other is a fairly dark historical mystery. But there are sure to be some readers who will enjoy both books. And given that the print runs for my thrillers are about fifteen times that of the historical mysteries (from which you can gather that the Sebastian series is, for me, a labor of love), we’re hoping the Sebastian series in particular will get a big boost.

I tried to upload the image of the Harper Collins ad, but couldn't get it to work. But there'll be a picture of the cover, with this copy:

Think you know what’s real and what isn’t? Think again . . .
If you enjoy C.S. Harris’s unique blend of action, suspense, and rich characterization, you’ll love her new edge-of-your-seat contemporary thriller series! Collaborating with former intelligence officer Steven Harris, she now also writes as
C. S. Graham.
Don’t miss The Solomon Effect!

CIA agent Jax Alexander and remote viewer Tobie Guinness hunt for a lost Nazi U-boat that’s hiding a deadly secret in this new novel by the author of The Archangel Project.

On Sale: 9/29/09