Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Library Journal Gives Heaven Starred Review

I've been busy this past week, spending time with my daughter who was home for Fall Break and trying to finish up my %$#@ manuscript. My next Sebastian book, What Remains of Heaven,comes out next week, November 3. Library Journal gave it a great starred review:

Harris, C.S. What Remains of Heaven: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery. Obsidian Mysteries: NAL. Nov. 2009.
In his fifth outing (after Why Mermaids Sing), former spy Sebastian St. Cyr is asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury to find who killed the Bishop of London, whose body was found in an ancient crypt along with a decades-old unidentified corpse. Along the way he gets a bit of help from Miss Hero Jarvis, meets Benjamin Franklin's embittered son, and learns more about his origins. VERDICT Harris combines all of the qualities of a solid Regency in the tradition of Georgette Heyer by pairing two strong characters trying to ignore their mutual attraction while solving a crime together. Anyone who likes Amanda Quick and/or is reading the reissued Heyer novels will love this series.

I find it a bit bemusing the way the review emphasizes the romance when it's actually a minor subplot, but I'll take a good review any day, especially since PW got a bit snarky in theirs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Too Subtle


Writing a thriller with dual protagonists (in my case, Tobie and Jax) presents several difficulties, many of which fall under the general heading of “point of view.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the writers’ expression “point of view” or POV, it simply refers to whose head we’re in. In other words, are we as readers experiencing the action from Tobie’s perspective or from Jax’s perspective? If we’re in Tobie’s perspective, we see what she sees, hear what she hears, and know what she’s thinking and feeling. She can only guess what’s going on in Jax’s head.

Writing is all about choices. And one of the reasons POV is troublesome when you have two equal heroes is because the writer has to decide, Okay, whose POV am I going to write this scene from? In some cases the choice is obvious. At other times, less so. And how do you remind readers whose POV they’re in—particularly in a fast-paced book without a lot of introspection?

I always have some sort of clue at the beginning of each scene to let readers know whose POV we're in. But because of the nature of the books, those clues are often very subtle. So I also decided from the very first book that Tobie would think of herself as “Tobie” while Jax thinks of her as “October.”

Ironically, I never told my coauthor, Steve, I was doing this—I just assumed he’d noticed. I mean, he’s read each of these books over and over again, right? Well, I came right out yesterday and asked him if he’d realized that Jax always thinks of Tobie as “October” so that it’s one way to tell who is the POV character in any given scene. He stared at me blankly and said, “Really? I never noticed.”

So now I’m thinking, if Steve hasn’t noticed, I doubt anyone else has, either. Although I’d like to think maybe readers notice subconsciously.

No? Oh, well; at least it serves to remind ME whose head I’m supposed to be in.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Emperor's New Clothes


Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pen was so incensed by the glowing review of Dan Brown’s latest opus by Janet Maslin in the New York Times that she waxed long and eloquent about what she calls “the way celebrity authors …can induce a kind of 'Emperor's New Clothes' approach to literary criticism.”

Let me say right off that I myself have not read The Last Symbol. But this isn't really about Dan Brown; it's about all authors/actors/directors who have achieved such a stellar level of popularity that it seems to intimidate reviewers into what can only be called a state of dishonesty. For those who don’t know her, Peters is the owner of very successful bookstore in Phoenix. The Poisoned Pen is so supportive of mystery authors that they actually began their own press for authors of favorite mystery series that had been dropped by New York. So Barbara is not a disgruntled author; she’s a bookstore owner who’s evidently finally had enough of a phenomenon we’ve all noticed: bestselling authors who are given a pass for lousy books simply because no one has the guts to stand up say “the emperor has no clothes”.

The reason? According to Barbara, “The pressures can be financial (from the newspaper or the publisher or...), or editorial (lots of pressure points here), or a fear of being the only one to point out how bare-assed the emperor may be. Who of us wants to be caught naked in public?

“I really hate to think an adulatory review of a bad book is penned because a critic's reading faculties have done a meltdown. And I do allow for variations in appreciation of voice or subject or narrative drive..... But terrible writing speaks for itself. Any of you can recognize it.

“The sad truth also is that with a celebrity author two things can come into play: 1. It's uneconomic to put the effort into editing bad writing as the book will sell anyway. 2. The editor will get no reward in his/her house for alienating an author with criticism and perhaps driving the author to seek another publisher. If you contemplate how bad some bestsellers are, or how surprisingly some writers you have read with enjoyment have deteriorated, apply these two points.

“Brown, under contract to deliver The Lost Symbol back in 2005, sent in a book that is so poorly written, and then has been published with so little if any editing (one hopes no editing since if the submitted text was actually edited the mind boggles at what the draft of the novel might have been), [that he] has done himself no favor. Those who bit on The Lost Symbol -- and I am one, I did buy it to read since I really enjoyed Angels and Demons, the first for symbologist Langdon -- will in large numbers not buy Brown again.

“So in the end, a "rush job" (Why, one asks, is a book over four years late a "rush job"?) like this does no one any favor other than say for Maureen [this reference is to a biting review by Maureen Dowd, who has never been intimidated by anyone’s celebrity] who clearly relished every word she set down in review. Maybe the humorists benefit deriving one set of riches while Brown and Doubleday enjoy their profits at the bank.”

For the curious, Maureen Dowd’s review is here .

All I can say is, Ouch.

And a hat tip to Sphinx Ink for the link.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reading Habits

I’m so obsessed with the push to finish my book that I was finding it hard to come up with anything to blog about. So I’m stealing this “Reading Habits” meme from Charles. Here goes:

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I will eat while I’m reading. I also read while I’m eating. But I’m not much of a “snacker” so I don’t have a favorite reading snack.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I’ve recently started writing in nonfiction books. It makes it easier to find points I want to refer back to later.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Bookmark—even though it’s frequently just a Post-it note. It drives me nuts when people borrow one of my books and break the spine by laying it flat.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
I start a lot of fiction but rarely finish it. Lately I’ve found myself reading more and more nonfiction, which seems to hold my attention better.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
I can generally put a book down at any time.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
I actually don’t come across that many words I don’t know. But I will look them up if it’s convenient (or write them on my Post-it note bookmark for later).

What are you currently reading?
South of Broad, by Pat Conroy
Republican Gomorrah, by Max Blumenthall
Sheba, by Nicholas Clapp
Tripwire, by Lee Child
Only the first and last of these are fiction. I’ll probably finish the Conroy, but not the Child. I’ll definitely finish the two nonfiction.

What is the last book you bought?
The Road to Ubar, by Nicholas Clapp. I enjoyed Sheba so much I just ordered Clapp’s other book, although it hasn’t arrived yet.

Are you the type of person who reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?
I’ll frequently have four or five going at a time. But one will usually be my main focus.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
I don’t seem to be able to carve much reading time out of the day, so most of my reading is done at night, right before I go to bed.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
I find that, in general, stand-alone books are more likely to have a better story line and character arc. But most readers love series, and publishers and authors aim to please, so series have become much more common.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
My favorite writer of all time is Dorothy Dunnett. But I’ve recommended her Lymond series to many, many friends over the years only to find that most do not share my enthusiasm!

How do you organize your books?(by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)
I have an eccentric shelving system that no one else could ever understand. My history books (the vast majority of my collection) are shelved by period and country, i.e., ancient Greek history, medieval England, twentieth-century German history, etc. But then I’ll put Greek philosophers and, say, the Athenian playwrights with the Greek history, while Nietzsche goes on the “philosophy and religion” shelf rather than with the German history. Fiction is just as strange. If it’s a “pretty” book (I love collecting gilded leather copies of classics) it goes on certain shelves, but if it’s just a humdrum copy of a classic, it goes someplace less prominent. Hardcover contemporary fiction by my all-time authors—Pat Conroy, James Lee Burke, John Connolly, Georgette Heyer, etc.—goes in my office. Everyone else goes in the upstairs hall, where they are alphabetized. I rarely keep paperbacks. If I like a book enough to want to keep it, I’ll look for a hardcover, if available—which is probably why I am seriously running out of bookshelf space!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Booksigning for The Solomon Effect

Steve and I will be doing a booksigning for The Solomon Effect at the Garden District Bookstore in New Orleans this Saturday, October 10, from 1-3. The Garden District is always a wonderful place to have a signing, with wine and cheese and friendly, book-loving people. If you're in the area, hope to see you there!

Saturday, October 03, 2009


I'm in a big push to get the last 75 pages of Babylon finished, so all you're going to get out of me this time is some kitten photos. Our foundlings are almost eight weeks old now, and they've well and truly stolen all our hearts. Enjoy!