Friday, April 30, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: The Movie

Let me begin by admitting that I haven’t actually read Strieg Larsson’s megahit trilogy. I have a problem with long books, and not even listening to Steve rhapsody lyrically about them for weeks was enough to tempt me (especially when he uttered those fatal words, “The beginning is rather slow.”) But like a good wife, I went with him to see the subtitled Swedish movie when it played at a New Orleans indie theater last night. And now? Well, I can’t wait to see the next two Swedish installments. I’m even tempted to read the books.

This is not a glitzy Hollywood production aimed at the lowest common denominator; nor is it one of your typical European art films. It is instead a well-acted, hauntingly filmed thriller with rich, complex characters and an exquisite sense of foreboding and dread heightened by an ominous musical score. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a movie this much (although given the subject matter, “enjoyed” might not be the best word).

Lisbeth Salander is indeed a wonderful character: brilliant but damaged, a victim who makes Dirty Harry look like a wimp when it comes to revenge. Since my tolerance for graphic brutality is rather low, I was expecting to have to shut my eyes in a few places, given the number of reviews I read complaining about the film’s images of violence. Instead, I was left going, “Huh?”

Yes, there are scenes of violence against women, but nothing we haven’t seen before. And when Lisbeth takes her revenge on the man who brutalized her, I suspect every woman in the audience was quietly cheering, You go, girl! Which may in fact be the source of those complaints about the images of brutality: you see, our society has been conditioned to depictions of violence against women. But sexual violence against men? Not so much.

Which is interesting when you consider that the Swedish name of this book/film is NOT “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The original, Swedish title is Men Who Hate Women.

Monday, April 26, 2010

RT Award Winners Announced

What Remains of Heaven has won the RT Reviewer's Choice Award for the Best Historical Mystery of 2009. It's a great honor, particularly given that it's the third year in a row the Sebastian series has won this award.

RT has evolved from the days when they were a dedicated only to romance. Now they also review every month's mystery releases and have shortened their title from Romantic Times to "RT." In this age of disappearing newspaper reviews, they provide a valuable service for readers and writers alike. You can read the winners of their other mystery categories here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Different Look

Here's the cover of the large print edition of What Remains of Heaven, just out this month. It's by a different publisher (Thorndike) and their covers are usually different from the Penguin/NAL editions. Interesting.

Here are some of the other large print edition covers:

I have no input into these covers at all. The first I even knew about the new Heaven cover was when Steve sent me a link to it on Amazon this morning!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The LBF and the Volcano


The LBF is the London Book Fair and it is very, very important to the publishing industry. Every year, agents, publishers, editors, and movie execs looking for film-friendly books descend on London for a big schmoozefest. Most of the buying and selling of subsidiary and translation rights, and also a lot of film rights, gets done at the London Book Fair and at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is held in October.

Well, the London Book Fair is happening in Earls Court in London right now, and thanks to a certain pesky volcano in Iceland that’s spewing its ash all over the skies above Europe, attendance is way, way down. Basically the only people there are those who decided to arrive early (very early, since the volcano shut down air traffic last Thursday and the Book Fair only started this morning) or the standard UK attendees. Last I heard, about a fifth of the seminars and events are already cancelled and many, many booths are empty, the publishers and agents who had rented them being unable to get flights.

My own agent always has a rep at LBF or attends herself, and I usually pick up at least one or two foreign sales out of it. I suspect Frankfurt will be bigger than ever this fall as a result, but the publishing industry was already hurting. This isn’t going to help.

On a personal note, my daughter is attending school in London this semester and decided to spend her spring vacation visiting a good friend in the Loire Valley. She was supposed to have a seat back to London on the Eurostar this morning, but I haven't heard from her yet. Fingers crossed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Copy

Well, here's what we have so far. It still needs some tweaking (that first sentence just isn't right), but it's a huge improvement on what was there before. Did I mention these things are always done on a rush, with a deadline of anywhere from one to twelve hours?


That’s the challenge confronting C.S. Harris’s aristocratic soldier-turned-sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr when his friend, surgeon and “anatomist” Paul Gibson, buys the cadaver of a young man from London’s infamous body snatchers. A rising star at the Foreign Office, Mr. Alexander Ross was reported to have died of a weak heart. But when Gibson discovers a stiletto wound at the base of Ross’s skull, he can only turn to Sebastian for help in catching the killer.

Described by all who knew him as an amiable young man, Ross at first seems an unlikely candidate for murder. But as Sebastian’s search for the killer takes him from the Queen’s drawing rooms in St. James’s Palace to the embassies of Russia, the fledgling United States, and the Turkish Empire, he plunges into a dangerous shadow land of diplomatic maneuvering and international intrigue, where truth is an elusive commodity and nothing is as it seems.

At the same time, Sebastian must confront the turmoil of his personal life. Hero Jarvis, daughter of Sebastian’s powerful nemesis Lord Jarvis, finally agrees to become his wife. But as their wedding approaches, Sebastian can’t escape the growing realization that both Jarvis and Hero know far more about the events surrounding Ross’s death than they would have him believe.

Then a second body is found, badly decomposed but bearing the same fatal stiletto wound. And Sebastian must race to unmask a ruthless killer who has now become a threat to the life of his reluctant bride and their still unborn child.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Cover Copy Time

You know what cover copy is, right? It’s that little blurb on the back of a paperback or on the inside flap of a hardcover dust jacket that tells you what the book is about. A great cover might lure readers to pick up a book in the store, but it’s the cover copy that usually seals their impulse to buy. Some people are amazingly adept at reaching into the heart of a story and distilling its essence in a way that is both intriguing and profound; most people, quite frankly, suck at it.

I suck at it.

Writing cover copy and writing books are two very different arts. Good cover copy is more like song writing or poetry; it's a skillful seduction that uses key words and the emotions they evoke to tempt and woo the reader. To quote one Internet guru, “The words you place on the back cover of your book are the words that will either walk your book right up to the cash register or march it back to the shelves. Your back cover is the final billboard, a point-of-sale advertisement, and the last piece of promotional material that hits potential purchasers on their way to pay. It can either lure readers inside your pages with well-chosen words or knock the wind out of your sales with faint and feebly-phrased copy.”

In other words, cover copy is scarily important. Did I mention the fact that most people suck at it? Unfortunately, a lot of those people are employed by publishing houses in what they call the “copy department.”

In the last week, I’ve had cover copy for both Where Shadows Dance and The Babylonian Codex land in my email box with notes from my books’ respective editors that said something like, “This just in from the copy department. It’s awful! Can you fix it?” The problem is, an author is usually not the best person to have writing cover copy. I mean, I just spent 100,000 words telling this story and now you want me to reduce it down to 250 words or less, in a way that will seduce readers into buying it? Seriously?

In the end, the final product is usually a mishmash of what the copy department wrote and what I wrote, with some tweaking by the editor. In other words, copy by committee. And you know how well that usually works out.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Dancing with the Art Department


It’s cover conferencing time for Where Shadows Dance. This is always a nerve wracking experience for an author, when somewhere in the deep dark recesses of a publishing house, editors and people from sales and marketing sit around a conference table with the art department—but without us—and brainstorm what our next book is going to look like. When they get it right, as they did with Why Mermaids Sing, the results can be stunning and exciting. When they get it wrong…Well, look no further than disasters like When Gods Die and What Remains of Heaven.

They always politely ask me for suggestions, even though they never really take them—or if they do take them, they distort them to the point they make me wish I’d kept my mouth shut. But ever a glutton for punishment, I spent some time on the internet looking at images and meandered around Borders last night, looking at covers.

It always amazes me how many really bad covers there are out there. If an author already has a huge, built-in readership or if a book gets enough hype—think The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—it doesn’t matter much what the cover looks like (although you still have to wonder what they were thinking). But for most authors, the cover—like the title—is critically important. And that’s a scary thought because titles and covers are essentially out of our control.

I remember back when Ballantine bought my very first book, my editor ended our first telephone conversation by saying, “Oh, and we’re changing the title to Night in Eden.” A few days later, a cover flat arrived in the mail—a brilliant sapphire blue background with giant cottage-style flowers. This for a book about a woman who is transported to Botany Bay for accidentally killing her adulterous husband in 1810. I decided they must have had the cover and title already made up for another book that was never delivered, and someone got the bright idea of using it for my book. I have spent my entire career listening to people say, “I’ve never understood why that book is called Night in Eden.” To which I essentially respond, “Neither have I.”

Anyway, back to my meander around Borders. I saw this book that really caught my eye:

Great title, unusual cover, and both complement each other enormously. I picked it up and read the cover copy—which is exactly the reaction you want the title and cover to provoke.

Another great cover:

Urban fantasy isn’t my thing, so I didn’t read the cover copy. But I still think it’s a dynamic, eye-catching cover. Most of what else I saw was just plain forgettable.

So I'm open to suggestions. What do YOU think the covers of this series should look like? God knows NAL needs help, because they're still floundering, searching for the right image for the series.

On a side note: some more good news; What Angels Fear and When Gods Die are both going back to press, AGAIN. And this time they’re upping the print run even more. So something is definitely happening out there. Do you think maybe this will inspire them to give me a good cover? Nah…

Friday, April 02, 2010

A Mother's Gifts

After one of the coldest winters on record, spring has finally arrived in New Orleans. Trees are bursting into leaf everywhere you look, the birds are chirping happily as they build their nests, and my garden is once again filled with blooms.

Some of the plants I lost to our long, hard freeze were dear to my heart, having been grown from cuttings of plants my mother had grown from cuttings taken years ago from her mother's garden. But there is still so much left.

So why did I name this post "A Mother's Gifts"? Because my love of gardens is one of the many things I inherited from my mother. And because when I moved here to New Orleans from Australia, this Lady Banks rose was one of the first plants my mother gave me...

It's still here, even though she is gone. And whenever I see it, I smile.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Last One to Know

Well, there's nothing like opening up your own blog and seeing a posting you didn't put there that says, "This blog has moved..."

After the shock, I vaguely remembered receiving a notice recently to the effect that Blogger is doing something different with blogs that have their own format. I fired the notice off to my webmistress with some clever comment like, "Huh?" and then forgot about it. I mean, the first of April is way far away in the distant future, right?

I guess this means I don't need to do anything else? Everybody okay out there? If not, let me know.