Apr 142015
By R.J. Harlick
“What are three things you know now that you didn’t when you started as a fiction writer?”
After seven books, I have learned that writing fiction is hard work. I can’t remember if I even gave it a second thought before I started this adventure, but I imagine I had the naïve idea that it was a simple matter of sitting down and letting the words flow.  And while the words do flow….sometimes….there are plenty of times when they seemed to be buried so deep inside me, that I feel they will never fill up a screen.
Even before I sit down to tap out the opening sentence, I spend many hours thinking about the story and the characters and doing any needed research, particularly when I am not familiar with the setting or the native culture I want to write about. But I also have learned that the hard work doesn’t end with the completion of the first draft, because that first draft is far from a finished product, in fact it can be downright awful. So a lot more hard work goes into revising it until it is good enough to send to my publisher, who in turn finds all sorts of fault with it and I go through another round of edits. My work with the manuscript doesn’t end until one final pass through the proofs before it is finally sent off to the printer. If I once thought the hard work ended with the publication, I soon discovered with the first book that I was wrong. My books weren’t going to magically fly off the shelf without a lot of hard work from me in letting the reading public know it exists.
Another thing I learned fairly early on in this writing adventure is to never give up. Until I’d written that first novel I didn’t know whether I could actually write a 100,000 word novel. There were many times when I didn’t think I could do it, when I wanted to stop and admit defeat, but something inside me wouldn’t let me. And low and behold I did it, I actually wrote an entire book and was convinced it would be the next hot bestseller. But the celebration lasted only until the first of the endless rejections started filing in. I suppose it was at this point that my streak of stubbornness really clicked in and I decided I would keep revising it until a publisher finally said “Yes!” And they did.
Though I haven’t had to face the same barrage of rejections from publishers since the release of my first book, I still find myself at times having to will myself to stick with it when I hit the proverbial brick wall, when I find myself staring at a blank screen with no idea how to fill it. But I now know that eventually the logjam will break free and the words will come spilling out. So I keep staring at that blank screen and type a word or two or three. I take the dogs for a walk. I make another cup of tea. But I always turn back to that blank screen. Add another word or ten, until wham I break through and the screen starts filling up with words.
By now you are likely wondering why I continue to write fiction if it’s such hard work and I have to make myself keep writing. Well that is something else I’ve also learned. I love writing fiction. I have great fun creating these imaginary worlds, entering the lives of these imaginary characters and watching them take on challenges and grow as individuals all within the medium of words. It’s a lot of fun playing with words. I love the world crime writing has opened up to me; fellow writers who have become good friends, the fabulous places I get to visit and most of all the readers and fans I get to meet. The second this writing adventure is no longer fun, I will stop. But until then, I am having a great time.

Paperback 869: N Or M? / Agatha Christie (Dell 187)

 1947, Agatha Christie, Crime Fiction, Dell, Gerald Gregg, Mapback, matches, Nautical, Smoking  Comments Off on Paperback 869: N Or M? / Agatha Christie (Dell 187)
Apr 102015

Paperback 869: Dell 187 (1st ptg, 1947)

Title: N Or M?
Author: Agatha Christie
Cover artist: Gerald Gregg

Estimated value: $10-15

Best things about this cover:

  • Norm!
  • The cigarette is puzzled. “What the hell does ‘NORM’ mean?” it wonders.
  • Design on this is so bizarre. Everything’s laid out at odd angles, the cigarette ashes have an eerie, vermiform look to them, and the whole thing kinda looks like a white whale with “NorM” tattooed to the side of its face is trying to fight the scourge of smoking by devouring all related paraphernalia in its sight.
  • Gerald Gregg is a cover artist god. As early, non-sexy paperback covers go, his weird abstractions are my favorite.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Mappington! Backington! These never get old.
  • If you call your place “Smuggler’s Rest,” the cops *are* going to find you.
  • “Road.” LOL. Thanks, map!
  • If the devil doesn’t live at Sans Souci, he will soon.

Page 123~

“Friends of friends of yours, I think you said?” Tommy suggested mendaciously.

Tommy always was a mendacious little bastard. I’ve always said that about him.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

Mar 312015
By R.J. Harlick
“There’s only so many ways to sing the blues and yet no one ever asks blues musicians why they’re still doing it. Do you ever feel restricted by the constraints of the crime genre or overwhelmed by what’s out there?”
They’re singing the blues because they love singing the blues. If they didn’t, they’d sing something else. Crime writers are no different. We write crime fiction because we have great fun writing it. Far from feeling constrained by the genre, I’d say we continuously push the envelope, so to speak.
Detective/suspense fiction didn’t exist until Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the reading public to the crime solving detective and Wilkie Collins to the amateur sleuth. And while crime continues to be central to the plot, successive crime writers have taken the genre in many fascinating and varied directions, so many that the genre has been further divided into sub-genres, even sub-sub-genres.
I don’t think any of us have felt the least constrained by the genre. Quite the contrary. Stories involving crime, even a simple mystery, are limitless. They revolve around human nature. Nothing is more fascinating than the complexities of the human mind and the motivations that drive us not only to commit a crime but also in our continuous interactions with the world and people around us.
Take my Meg Harris series for example. I set Meg up in a near impossible setting for a mystery series: a wilderness, where people are few and far between. It’s worse than Cabot Cove. The potential for the body count to surpass the living population is high. So what do I do? I move Meg around. She goes off on canoe trips, visits nearby cities, explores other wildernesses, where the body count can rise without becoming ludicrous.
There is so much freedom with the mystery genre. Think of all the fascinating places you can visit from the comfort of your chair. As the author, you get to visit and explore all these unique places, all in the interests of research of course.
With historical mysteries, the genre transcends time, taking the reader as far back as the author wants to take them. Those mysteries with a science fiction slant take the reader to the future and to societies that exist by virtue of the author’s imagination, which let’s face it is boundless.
As for the crimes themselves. I suppose one could say there are only so many variations on a theme. But let’s face it, there are many ingenious ways to end a person’s life, many of which have already been written about. But I imagine there are other ways still lurking in an author’s mind. The crime doesn’t have to be limited to murder, but could be any kind of crime. Just is, murder is the most dramatic.
More intriguing with the genre is the ability to exploring the motivations behind the crime. As I said at the outset, it revolves around human nature. The permutations and combinations are boundless, particularly when you add different locations, different cultures and different periods in time into the mix.
But if a crime writer begins to feel they are running out of crime stories, they can always write a different type of fiction. However, I have yet to meet a crime writer who has moved away from the genre. It’s too much fun. Instead, when they feel they are becoming stale with a particular series, they write a new one with different characters and locations, even time periods and cultures.

By the way I’ve just sent my publisher the manuscript for the next Meg Harris mystery, A Cold White Fear, which will be released in early November.  For a change of pace, I have written a different kind of crime novel, a thriller. Rather than trying to determine whodunit, Meg has to survive a very perilous situation. She is stranded at her home, Three Deer Point, by a raging blizzard, when there is a sudden knock at her door….

Paperback 867: The Dutch Shoe Mystery / Ellery Queen (Pocket Books 2202)

 1958, cops, Crime Fiction, Doctors, ellery queen, Jerry Allison, Medical, MWG, Needle, Pocket Books, Redheads  Comments Off on Paperback 867: The Dutch Shoe Mystery / Ellery Queen (Pocket Books 2202)
Mar 222015

Paperback 867: Pocket Books 2202 (11th ptg, 1958)

Title: The Dutch Shoe Mystery
Author: Ellery Queen
Cover artist: Jerry Allison

Estimated value: $10-15

Best things about this cover:

  • This cover says a lot of things, but one of the things it does *not* say is “Dutch Shoe.”
  • “But she could be number! NUMBER!”
  • Pretty sure that’s not a regulation police hold—at least not with gun drawn. Does look cool, though.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Ooh, signed by quote-unquote Ellery Queen. How elegant.
  • “The patient was rich Abigail Doorn, whose money ran the hospital.” Yeah, see, you would never introduce anyone “rich so-and-so,” and also “whose money ran the hospital” kind of covers that.
  • Also maybe don’t put “more than life-size portrait of a heroic doctor” next to a super-tiny portrait of a doctor.

Page 123~

Djuna leaped out of his kitchen at the shrill br-r-ring of the telephone bell. “For you, Dad Queen.”

I really, really want to believe that a Dad Queen is some kind of sex thing. Something men named “Djuna” would be in to. Please don’t shatter my illusions, thanks.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

Paperback 866: African Poison Murders / Elspeth Huxley (Popular Library 100)

 1946, Africa, Crime Fiction, Elspeth Huxley, Jungle, Mask, Popular Library, Uncredited  Comments Off on Paperback 866: African Poison Murders / Elspeth Huxley (Popular Library 100)
Mar 202015

Paperback 866: Popular Library 100 (1st ptg, 1946)

Title: African Poison Murders
Author: Elspeth Huxley
Cover artist: Uncredited

Estimated value: $12-17

Best things about this cover:
  • “Here, African. Put this on. That’s better.” Hashtag racist.
  • Actually, maybe the green guy is a sick European. He looks like a 17th-century actor who has eaten some bad mutton.
  • If you stare too long at that foreshortened thumb, you will begin to get queasy. It’s… not right. Kind of like the relationship between green head and blue body. Not right at all.

Best things about this back cover:
  • Read that second sentence as “Feces were smashed.” Was briefly intrigued.
  • A “native boy” wrapped in “baling wire.” Hmm. That’s a bit on the nose, as Slave-Trade metaphors go.
  • This book should’ve been called “Leopard Trap!” That, or “All’s Veld That Ends Veld.”

Page 123~

“It is the way of Europeans,” the house-boy said philosophically.

“You gotta read a lot of Kant to deal with these motherfuckers,” he added.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

The House of Crime and Mystery Interviews Michael Robotham, author of LIFE OR DEATH

 crime, Crime Fiction, Interview, Life or Death, Lit, Michael Robotham  Comments Off on The House of Crime and Mystery Interviews Michael Robotham, author of LIFE OR DEATH
Mar 102015

The House of Crime and Mystery: You went from journalist to ghostwriter to novelist; how would your fiction be different today if you’d started as a novelist?
Michael Robotham: Twenty-eight years ago, when I was still a journalist, I wrote the great unpublished Australian novel. It was more literary in style and quite worthy in tone, without a murder in sight. The novel was almost published by Penguin in the UK, missing out by a single vote in a final publishing meeting. Looking back, I’m glad that it wasn’t picked up. If I had been published at twenty-five, I would probably have thought I was God’s gift to writing and been quite obnoxious. I would also look back now and cringe at that first effort.
I am a better writer today for having been a ghostwriter. I know how to capture someone’s voice and hopefully make a character leap from the page and live and breathe in a reader’s imagination. I have the discipline and the tools to be a writer, but I have lost the ego. Every new book is a blessing. Every new reader is a joy. Life is good.
HoCaM: Do you have a long-term plan for your series or do you go one book at a time?
Robotham: It’s definitely one book at a time. I finish each one convinced there won’t be another. I tell my wife that every “description, one-liner, plot twist, setting and bit of dialogue has been used up, it’s gone. I’m an empty shell, a hollow human being, I will never write again.” Then I follow her around the house for two hours until she tells me to go away. She finds me a few hours later, back at my desk. “What are you doing?” she asks. “I’ve just come up with an idea.”

Paperback 864: A Man Called Spade / Dashiell Hammett (Dell 411)

 1950, Bed, Crime Fiction, Dashiell Hammett, Dell, Fear Hand, Fedora, Mapback, Neckwear, Sam Spade., Staircase  Comments Off on Paperback 864: A Man Called Spade / Dashiell Hammett (Dell 411)
Mar 062015

Paperback 864: Dell 411 (2nd ptg, 1st thus, 1950)

Title: A Man Called Spade
Author: Dashiell Hammett
Cover artist: Robert Stanley

Estimated value: $30

Best things about this cover:

  • Spade’s tie is super-excited for battle.
  • If you looked in a 1950 encyclopedia under “Private Dick”: this picture. Chiseled. Determined. Behatted. Textbook.
  • Fear Hand Photobomb!
  • The scale / perspective is All wrong on this, but given that awesome green shirt, I’m gonna allow it.
  • “She screamed as Spade dashed up the stairs”—get it? “Dashed”? Yeah, you get it.
  • I have a friend whose kid is named Dashiell. Art Spiegelman’s son is named Dashiell. This concludes the Dashiell-shout-out portion of my the program.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Mapback!
  • Whoa. You know, sometimes we forget that 1940s apartments were all long couches and putting greens.
  • Max Bliss is the best unintentional porn name I’ve come across in a Long time.
  • I love a pitcher of Bloody Marys as much as anyone, but maybe ease up on the celery there.
  • Wow, Max Bliss’s daughter is taking that “50 Shades of Grey” thing a bit literally.

Page 123~ (from “Too Many Have Lived”)

She was short, square, as if carved economically from a cube. 

Talk about economical. That is some haiku-esque objectification right there. Classic.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

Wednesday Cover: QUARRY’S CHOICE

 Crime Fiction, Wednesday Cover  Comments Off on Wednesday Cover: QUARRY’S CHOICE
Feb 252015

The amazing Robert McGinnis, nearly 90 years-old and not missing a trick, provides this gorgeous cover for Max Allan Collins’ latest “Quarry” novel from Hard Case Crime. I just got this book and it’s right on top of the reading pile. Collins’ “Quarry” novels, which chronicle the life of a hardboiled professional killer, are among my favorite books – and Quarry one of my favorite protagonists – in the genre. 

Paperback 861: The Case of the Cautious Coquette / Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket Books 4527)

 1963, Bathtub, bouffant, Crime Fiction, Erle Stanley Gardner, GWG, Nudity, Perry Mason, Pink, Robert McGinnis, shower, tire marks  Comments Off on Paperback 861: The Case of the Cautious Coquette / Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket Books 4527)
Feb 202015

Paperback 861: Pocket Books 4527 (8th ptg, 1963)

Title: The Case of the Cautious Coquette
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Cover artist: [Robert McGinnis]

Yours for: $10-12


Best things about this cover:
  • Here’s the thing about McGinnis women: dead eyes. They freak me out a level at the face level. At a certain other level (Not Pictured), I find them delightful. So, in short, this cover does little for me from a Great Girl Art perspective.
  • From a Holy Crap Pink perspective, it’s quite arresting.
  • Also, from a hair perspective.
  • Also, with the exception of a small tear on the back cover, this book is in like-new condition. Shiny and crisp. The pink is a pure ’50s variety rarely seen in the wilds of today.
  • Also, a “Girls With Guns” cover is a “Girls With Guns Cover”—I’ll take it. Check out these other covers of the same title:
[Whoa!!! Winner]

And now today’s back cover:


Best things about this back cover:

  • Tire tracks! That’s a pretty damned good design element, especially as a way of introducing the idea of a “hit-and-run.”
  • This is the last time in U.S. history that “$100.00!!” was presented as a compelling figure.
  • Della goes next-level with her wordplay banter (from metaphorical “angles” to literal “curves”). And then the cover copy brings the imagery full circle back to the tire tracks. Well done, everyone.

Page 123~

“Della, run out and scout the corridor. Let me know if it’s clear.”

In case you were wondering who the badass was in this little relationship.


[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]