Oct 202014

Methinks there's dirty work afoot...

"On the Saturday morning at twelve o'clock he left England, on the wildest chase that any man had ever undertaken. And behind him, did he but know it, stalked the shadow of death."

Cue the organ music. Get the monsters and misfits ready offstage. Could that melodramatic bit of writing have originated with anyone other than the master of the early English thriller, Edgar Wallace? Of course not. It is, in fact, a key development in the rather confusing but thoroughly entertaining plot of The Door With Seven Locks, first published in 1926, and a fine example of the kind of book which made Edgar Wallace one of the most popular novelists of his day. The Door with Seven Locks is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to that full review by clicking here.

The plot is difficult to sum up in a few well-chosen words. It begins with a Scotland Yard detective who is about to retire from the force. He becomes involved with a small-time crook, an expert at picking locks, who tells him about a recent lock-picking job that has made him quite nervous. Before he can pass along details, the lock-picker is murdered. Next, our retiring detective gets involved in a couple of seemingly unrelated incidents – the theft of an obscure book from a lending library (whose librarian, a young woman, will be the heroine of the story), and an assignment to go chasing around the world after a very rich and very elusive young heir who is rarely seen. That assignment leads to the departure I quoted at the beginning of this post.

In the midst of all this chasing about, we discover that there is a desperate search under way for seven individual keys which, when all used together, can open a mysterious door in a family's tomb. We meet a doctor – clearly an unsympathetic and sinister character – who is suspected of carrying out unethical medical experiments, to say the least. And we get glimpses of some powerful and dangerous creatures who may or may not be linked to the doctor. Add in our heroine’s unfortunate habit of getting herself into dangerous situations and you have a very fast-moving, easy-to-read and easy-to-enjoy – if not very easy to summarize - thriller. The Door with Seven Locks is certainly Wallace in fine form.

Wallace's popularity has endured, by the way: more than 160 movies have been made from his work, more than have been made from any other author's books. In fact, this book was made into a movie which was given a new but entirely appropriate name: Chamber of Horrors. They don't write 'em like that any more, do they?

The Challenge

As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book that has been made into a movie. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.

Oct 062014

Jeff Cohen

Not to belabor the point, but the fact is that THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD , the first Asperger’s Mystery from Midnight Ink, will be published Wednesday, and you should buy it. In order to better entice you to do so, please consider the following list of dire consequences that might—just might—occur if you choose to skip this book and wait for the movie.

Quick side note: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is set for Wednesday, the publishing day for THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Take a picture of yourself with the book or the title page on your e-reader and post it. For everyone who does on Wednesday, $9 will be donated to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN) helping families touched by autism spectrum disorders. So don't forget to post that photo!

Possible—Just Possible—Consequences

  1. There isn’t going to be a movie. Buy the book.
  2. You might be the only one in your book group who hasn’t read it, leading to ostracization (that is, you can get ostracized) and possible expulsion.
  3. You might fail to catch the first adventure of Samuel Hoenig, the borderline genius with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Janet Washburn, his newfound associate. This could lead to terrible feelings of regret when Book #8 in the series is published and you have to catch up.
  4. Your bookseller, who knows your taste, might look at you funny.
  5. It’s possible you won’t be laughing enough. That’s bad for you.
  6. You won’t be helping to contribute to the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE, and will therefore miss out on getting $9 contributed to the Autism SPectrum Education Network (ASPEN) without spending any extra money yourself. So you don’t want to help support families touched by autism, huh?
  7. Your local bookstore might need to sell that one more book to make the rent this month. You want that on your head?
  8. If you don’t buy the book, I might have to get a regular job. At my age? Please.
  9. That short leg on the kitchen table? This book is the exact right thickness to prop it up level. If you don’t buy it, you could drop hot soup in your lap.
  10. You might very well miss reading a book you’ll like a lot, that Publishers Weekly called “delightful and clever.” Do you really want to skip something that’s “delightful and clever”?

 But hey, no pressure.

On the other hand, here are a few things that might happen if you do buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD this Wednesday (or even now on your e-reader!):

Benefits of Buying the Book

  1. There’s the slimmest possibility it will change your life. Preferably for the better.
  2. Maybe if enough people buy the book (like, for example, you), there will be a movie!
  3. Smiling is good for your face.
  4. You could get a slightly better understanding of what it’s like to be a person with an autism-spectrum disorder. You might treat such people better afterward.
  5. As previously noted, the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE will see to it that for every person who posts a picture of themselves on Wednesday holding THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD in some form, $9 will be donated to ASPEN, and it won’t be your $9, but you can claim responsibility for it.
  6. You could be seen reading Question of Missing HeadTHE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD on the subway. Someone whose attention you might want to attract could see you’re reading an intelligent, witty (or "clever and delightful") book and strike up a conversation.
  7. You might learn something about cryonics or the probability of hitting a ball fair out of Yankee Stadium. But it won’t feel like work.
  8. If you figure out who the culprit is, you’ll feel smart. If you don’t, you’ll be delighted when the culprit is revealed. It’s a win/win.
  9. Reading helps keep your mind agile. Even reading this post is good, but THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD is much longer, and provides more benefits over time.
  10. Let’s face it: You want to know what question could be asked regarding a missing head. What better way to find out?

So there you have it: Scientific evidence that you should buy and read THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD. Do you want to argue with Science?

Sep 292014

Jeff Cohen

Note: For an update on the MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE, see below. You'll want to read this.

Seriously: Have I ever given you any indication that I know how to get thousands of people to look at a blog piece? On a good day, I get 200 people to visit here.

You're a little ticked off now, right? Think I misled you?

But marketing is a necessity to the author. (Don't ask, "The author of what?" Just go with it.) It's not about trickery and it's not about lying to the reader. Do those things and you might get someone to take a look. Once. What are you going to do now that you've annoyed them? What have you accomplished?

I can't claim to have the magical formula that will bring the thundering hordes to your blog post, your Facebook page, your web site or your front door. Anyone who tells you they know for sure is lying or mistaken. But I can tell you what certainly DOESN'T work, and I can say so with confidence, since I have tried each one and watched it fail in a spectacular fashion.

  1. Promising a visitor something you can't deliver. (See above.) This is especially good at getting people mad at you. Because the intelligent ones will realize immediately that you're a fraud, and the less intelligent ones will try what you advocate, fail, and blame you.
  2. Making general statements based only on your experience. If you want to blog about yourself, that's fine. I do it sometimes, and posts about my daughter, my dog and my wife have attracted some of the larger audiences I've gotten here. But don't try to extrapolate your experience and make the reader think it will definitely apply under any circumstance. You don't know, because your experience is just that--yours.
  3. Stating something without doing the research. If you want to make a statement, make it. But be sure you're right. I have gone off on a tear at times here and made statements that, when I was typing them, felt great--only to find out I was astonishingly wrong. Colossally wrong. I mean, wrong. Check first.
  4. Politics, religion--what could go wrong? Everything. Write about the "forbidden" topics if you want. That's your right. But go in knowing for sure that your opinions are definitely going to piss some people off. And maybe you know in your heart they're just wrong, and what the hell--maybe they are. It won't convince them of anything and it won't make them less mad. It's fine to do if that's the kind of blog you want, but don't be naive about it--you're going to annoy. Be prepared to deal with the consequences.
  5. Making your post a flat-out sales pitch for your book. I have done this one (see two weeks ago, sort of) and I promise you I will do so again. That's perfectly fine--this is a forum about crime fiction and I write crime fiction. The reader is always free to click elsewhere. But doing nothing BUT hawking your book is just going to bore and irritate. The fiction you write isn't the only place you have to worry about entertaining an audience. And by the way, I have a Question of Missing Headbook that came out last Wednesday and another coming in less than two months.

This week's reminder: The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE is now extended to this Wednesday, October 15! Before then, buy a copy of THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen and take a photo of yourself with the book (or title page of the ebook). Post said picture on Facebook or Twitter for all (especially me, so tag me on it) to see. For everyone who does that on  I will donate $3 to ASPEN, the Autism SPectrum Education Network, and our own Josh Getzler's HSG Agency will match the donation. And our own Terri Bischoff's Midnight Ink will match THAT donation. And our very own Marilyn Thiele will add $1 each, to bring the total to $10 per picture! That pledge is good for the first 100 people to post--be one of them! 

Also: I'll be at the Barnes & Noble in East Brunswick, NJ on Tuesday (Oct. 14) at 7 p.m., talking (because try and get me to stop), signing and taking MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE pictures with anyone who has a copy of the book. Come by if you can--Cathy Genna of the B&N there really knows how to put on a show!

Sep 232014

Have you seen it yet?

Here’s the scoop— A Walk Among the Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson, written and directed by Scott Frank, and based on the tenth Matthew Scudder novel, opened Friday, September 19, throughout the US and UK and most of the world. (But some of y’all have to wait a while. The opening’s set for mid-October in Australia and Taiwan—which seems odd, doesn’t it? You folks get daybreak twelve hours before we do, but you have to wait an extra month for a movie. Well, the opening in Germany’s not until November, so go figure.)

craiglynnemoiLynne and I saw AWATT Wednesday at a special screening, and here we are in a photo with an unidentified stranger. (The stranger’s latest venture, Celebrity Name Game, premieres this evening on a TV channel near you.) All three of us loved the film unreservedly, as did the rest of the audience and most of the critics. And so did a great many of you, as I’ve been assured by a tidal wave of emails and tweets and Facebook posts. It’s a genuine rarity these days, a suspense thriller made by and for actual grown-ups, with a solid script and wonderful actors and a cinematographic vision of New York City that manages to be down-and-dirty and, at the same time, genuinely beautiful. Liam just plain IS Matt Scudder, and embodies the character even more perfectly than I knew he would. What a treat!

I’m very likely preaching to the choir here, as most of you have either already seen AWATT or placed it high on your To-Do list. Either way, I have a couple of suggestions. If you’ve seen the movie, and if you loved it, please spread the word. Word of mouth is what makes the difference, and I hope you’ll enlist your mouth in the cause. Tweet, post, blog, send emails—and, if you’re sufficiently retro to have actual conversations with folks, on the phone or even (shudder) in person, well, you know what to tell them, loud and clear.

And if you’re planning to go see AWATT, sooner is better than later.

Why? Well, you’ll be shocked to learn that I have an agenda here…but it’s one I hope you share. See, if enough people buy enough tickets soon enough, the Powers That Be will greenlight a sequel and we’ll all get to do awatt-tie-in 2this again. Scott would love to write and direct another one, and Liam would welcome a return  engagement as Matt, and you can probably figure out that I’m on board. So if you’d like to see a sequel—well, enough already. You get the point.

Moments before they lowered the house lights Wednesday night, an email informed me that Hard Case Crime’s mass-market edition had just landed on the New York Times Best Seller List; it will debut there this Sunday, September 27, in the #19 slot. That means a whole host of sales in airports and supermarkets, but it’s becoming clear that the paperback’s also a strong seller online. (And, while we’re not able to offer this edition in LB’s eBay Bookstore, David’s got a good supply of autographed copies of our Trade Paperback edition @ $14.99.)

Now on to other matters. I know I’ve tipped you to Defender of the Innocent, the 12-story Ehrengraf collection coming September 30 from Subterranean Press. You can pre-order it now—and I’d recommend doing so, as AudioCover2_Block_DefenderInnocentthe publisher routinely sells out his entire printing, and prices tend to climb on the aftermarket. I self-published the book in audio, with the little lawyer expertly voiced by Don Sobczak, and you don’t have to wait until the end of the month to download it; it’s available right this minute at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.

Emily Beresford voiced our audiobook of Jill Emerson’s erotic novel in diary form, Thirty; it’s been getting a good reception from listeners and reviewers. She’s just finished narrating Jill’s first book, a sensitive novel of the lesbian experience with the unfortunate title of Warm and Willing. “Beautifully written as usual,” Emily messaged me. “I really loved this story. You write so believably from a woman’s perspective, more so than many women authors I have read.” I’ll let you know when Warm and Willing goes on sale; I can let you know now that Emily’s on board to narrate Jill’s second novel, Enough of Sorrow. (And the title, from a Mary Carolyn Davies poem, is a whole lot better than Warm and Willing.)

My friend Brian Koppelman, best known as a screenwriter and director, does a weekly podcast called The Moment on Grantland.com, and I sat down with him recently for an hour of conversation, most of it about Matthew Scudder. (Brian’s a big fan of the books, and wrote a lyrical appreciation for The Night and the Music.) The podcast goes live sometime tomorrow (Tuesday, 9/23); if you get there ahead of time, his chat with Gilbert Gottfried is a killer. As if he hasn’t got enough to keep him busy, Brian made time to write a story for an anthology I’m editing, and it’s a honey, set in a Kazakh-run NYC barber shop. I’ll tell you all about that project a little later on.)

And that would be enough for now, but I have to keep David happy by mentioning a couple of items in LB’s eBay Bookstore. Actually, I’ll let him do the mentioning:

Okay, sure. Step by Step, LB’s racewalking memoir, price xxxed to $9.99. Tanner’s Tiger, Subterranean hard cover, way too cheap at $9.99. The Mundis book on breaking writer’s block, don’t recall the title, price reduced to $4.99, or a 10-copy lot for $29.99 postpaid. Grab bag lot of 8 Burglar paperbacks, six lots left and then forget about it, $49.99 postpaid. And I’ll be adding titles if we can get the new scanner to work. That okay? You can edit it, fix it up nice.

I suppose I could, but I think I’ll leave it as it is. It’s got its own crude charm, and gives the folks out there an idea of what I have to put up with.



PS: As always, please feel free to forward this to anyone you think might find it of interest. And, if you’ve received the newsletter in that fashion from a friend and would like your own subscription, that’s easily arranged; a blank email to lawbloc@gmail.com with Newsletter in the subject line will get the job done.

LB’s Bookstore on eBay
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Twitter:  @LawrenceBlock

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Aug 312014

Marilyn Thiele

Now that the summer rush is about to end, it’s time to think seriously again about ordering books for the shop in a less frenetic fashion. In the spring, thoughts are about what will be popular for vacation reading. Laying hands on copies of the summer reading lists of the local schools is another chore; the schools’ websites are becoming inaccessible to outsiders, and curriculum planners may or may not take the time to respond to a request for a list. Customers with kids turn out to be the best resource. Once the season begins, it seems more time is spent restocking  (“We’re out of Maze Runner again!”) or ordering items you didn’t think would be big, but turned out to be.

Only a few years ago, I could peruse the biannual New York Times Sunday section listing films to be released in the next several months, and feel comfortable that stocking books on which forthcoming films were based would satisfy demand for those who want both the written and visual versions. I just had to be careful to get the right book cover; most of my customers hate (as I do) the “media tie-in” covers. The physical book looks dated in a very short time, whether it’s still on my shelf or in the customer’s library. When I have tried having both versions on display, the non-media copies are the ones that sell. I have had customers say it cheapens written work , and I agree.  A while back, the standard cover for As I Lay Dying was temporarily out of stock, and so I went with the movie tie-in cover. I overheard a customer saying that he wanted the book, but couldn’t stand looking at James Franco. He was willing to wait for a “real” copy.

More recently, I find that being aware of upcoming film releases is only half the job when it comes to ordering for media-related books. The burgeoning  number of series television shows on HBO, Netflix, STARZ, and who knows how many other outlets  has created a huge market for the books on which they are based. The Game of Thrones series was always popular with fantasy fans and a steady seller. It has now become mainstream, has moved from my Fantasy section to a more central display area, and requires a quick inventory check whenever I am placing an order, especially if a new season is beginning. Outlander is beginning to follow the same pattern.

I am not a big TV or film fan. What leisure time I have is usually spent reading. I am tempted by some of the ongoing (and completed) TV  series, but will probably wind up “binge-watching” if we have another bad winter. Thus I have to rely on written sources to find out what’s happening. With the advent of the mini-and maxi-series trend, I find myself making notes while reading the newspaper or magazines so that I can anticipate which books will be in demand.

My totally unscientific observation (and from one who is not a filmgoer) is that there has been a steady increase over the last few years in the number of movies based on bestselling (or classic) books, and more recently, based on young adult fiction. I feared for a while that this trend would decrease the interest in books. I have heard the comment, particularly from young visitors to my shop who are being encouraged by a parent to choose a particular book, “I saw the movie. I don’t need to read the book!”  Fortunately, this sentiment appears to be the minority view and is usually expressed by reluctant readers. Film and TV versions of books are increasing sales. Some want to read the book before seeing the film. Others love the film and realize that the written version probably contains character development, subplots, and details missing from the visual version. (I wonder how the upcoming film of Gone Girl can possibly contain all the plot reversals of the book, even if it is 2 ½  hours long.)

Certainly the Game of Thrones and Outlander television shows have introduced book series that have been ongoing for years, but limited to audiences of Fantasy or Time-Travel Romance fans, to mainstream readers. Both are deserving of this wider audience and offer much more than their previous “genre” classifications implied. Readers who never read fantasy and have completed the Game of Thrones volumes are looking for more books in a similar vein: Thus the increase in sales of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.  More important, readers are expanding their horizons and discovering that this “genre” stuff might be every bit as good as the “literary” works they have limited themselves to in the past.

Keeping up with what’s happening in the film, television, and on-line entertainment worlds means a little more work for the bookseller who wants to offer the consumer the print versions of their favorite shows or movies. But if these other media are leading readers back to books, showing them the advantages of the written word, and causing them to seek out more books, even if they haven’t been filmed (yet), it’s well worth it.

Aug 122014

Jeff Cohen

When my daughter texted me on Monday evening with the words "Robin Williams!" I thought she had just seen him on the street. Eve moved into Manhattan a couple of weeks ago, and that's the kind of thing that happens there. 

What had actually happened was unthinkable.

I will not claim to be a friend of Robin Williams; the fact of the matter is we never communicated in any way, not even the way one occasionally interacts with a celebrity's assistant on Twitter. We never met. I never so much as wrote him a letter to tell him how much I admired what he could do. 

But if you don't think Robin Williams was important to me, you don't know me. Or Robin Williams.

Right now on social media people are debating what the best Robin Williams movie was, whether he was funnier on his breakthrough sitcom Mork and Mindy or in film. They're missing the point.

The finest performances that man ever gave were in his original medium, as a standup comic who could operate like none other who ever lived. See if you can find his perfomance at the Metropolitan Opera (originally on HBO) on YouTube now. Check out any other performance of his, on the amazing Comic Relief specials with his accomplices Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. Early bits on improv specials or later opportunities to play on Whose Line Is It Anyway.

Take a look at the riff he could do with a scarf, unprepared on Inside the Actor's Studio

Robin Williams was a genius, and like too many geniuses, he was his own worst enemy. He had well-documented substance abuse problems, and now we know he was battling depression, a battle he finally lost.

I'm terribly sad tonight, and so is my daughter. And so are my wife and son. We were all fans. We all saw the honesty in the man and the willingness to share himself with us. And we are very, very sorry we will never see that again.

But I'm angry, too. At the disease that took him, just as surely as if it had been cancer. He was sick and he fought for a long time, but the disease was stronger, and that makes me mad. The world should not be deprived of a quick, childlike, brilliant mind like that prematurely, and now that has happened and there is nothing that can reverse it. 

I've always believed that depression needed to be better understood and that it needed to be brought into the open to be conquered. Maybe now that will happen and that will be his final legacy.

Unfortunately, I'm too sad to think about that tonight. And even putting on a Robin Williams DVD won't make that better.

Rest in peace, sir. If only you had found some in your life.


 Books, Film, Lynne Patrick, Television  Comments Off
Aug 062014

Lynne Patrick

Apparently publishing as we used to know it is dead. Or suffering from terminal asphyxiation which will see it off sometime in the next few years. I know this because I keep reading it in the book trade newsletters the good old internet drops into my e-mail in-box most mornings.

The only thing is, I seem to have heard the same thing before, though not about publishing.

Back in the 1950s, live theatre was in its death throes, and couldn’t possibly survive the decade.

Then it was the turn of film.

Online news, it’s claimed, has very nearly put paid to print newspapers, and all the various ways of watching stuff on a computer screen instead to a pre-arranged schedule on TV make a nonsense of the way they used to count viewing figures.

More recently, the demise of the novel has been announced on a pretty well annual basis. And of course print books are a thing of the past, as are bricks-and-mortar bookshops.

Yet as far as I can tell out here in the real world, theatre, film, newspapers, TV, bookshops, and especially the novel are alive, well and positively thriving; in fact, every now and then, one or other appears to enjoy a resurgence of popularity. Earlier this week, alongside yet another article on the death of publishing I read one about a new bookshop that’s just opened in London, and one about a revival in the fortunes of small independent bookshops where the staff actually know something about what’s on the shelves. For the time being at least there are enough of us who like the feel, look and smell of real books to ensure that that keeps right on happening.

Sure, technology marches on – but the impression I get is that, rather than the latest development heralding the end of the previous one, we’re simply offered more choices. Erin’s post a few days ago is the living proof: she likes print and eBook versions, because they serve different purposes in her life.

When I was a kid, shopping was a matter of going to a couple of places and choosing between two or three versions of the same item. Nowadays retail parks and designer outlets proliferate, there are half a dozen major supermarket chains and the average town is awash with small and large shops. And that’s before you start thinking about online shopping. Not that I do; on the rare occasions I shop at all, I like to see what I’m getting.

And so, I suspect, do the majority of aspiring authors. Yes, there are more options than there used to be for getting your book out there. Yes, you can get someone to turn your peerless prose (or poetry) into an eBook, and make it available online within days of typing THE END, instead of waiting months for an agent to respond, then sending it to another agent who also takes months to say no, and maybe, just maybe, after a seemingly endless process, find a conventional publisher who shares your vision of it and is willing to invest time and money in making it a success, or at least a physical reality.

And yes, I do know that it’s frustrating and dispiriting to have to go through that process with only a small chance of success. And that people sell millions of copies of self-published eBooks. Some people. A few people. Actually, let’s be realistic: a very, very few people. But it does work for some people. It’s another option. Not the only option: just another one.

Sometimes the amount of choice that’s available is overwhelming. I have a vivid memory of my daughter, aged about five, on her first visit to a large bookshop. She learned to read when she was three, was a regular visitor to the children’s section of the local library and had already accumulated a sizeable book collection of her own – but faced with quite literally thousands of books to choose from, her brain went into overload and she burst into tears.

But as we grow up we all develop the mental filters that help us cope with the world and deal with the vast amount of choice it offers us.

I think maybe we’re conditioned by the way technology works. Upgrades and new versions appear so often that anything new is out of date before it leaves the shop, and the old version soon stops working or ceases to be compatible. But it doesn’t have to be like that; the arrival of something new doesn’t necessarily mean an earlier version becomes redundant.

Change and progress aren’t synonymous. Sometimes the new way is just another way.

Jul 212014

Jeff Cohen

My children, who are in their 20s, do not really grasp the idea of episodic television.

Oh, they get that there's a new chapter in a television series every week, and that they have to wait until the next one is aired (or if they're binge-watching, 15 seconds)  to find out what happens next. They get, mostly, that the story doesn't just play from beginning to end in one shot.

But they don't know very much about the way television was back in my 20s. When the same characters showed up every week, but for the most part they dealt only with the problem posed by the current episode's writer(s), they solved it, and they they disappeared until a whole new set of challenges showed up seven days later.

On shows like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. or  1180207320_1F Troop, there was no concept of a story arc. There was a story and that was it. Next time there would be another story. That's how television worked.

Things changed in the early 80s when Hill Street Blues and shows like it challenged viewers with continuing storylines that were not concluded at the end of the week's show. You'd have to wait to see what was going to happen, and sometimes it could take quite a while. Characters would recur from season to season. Viewers were rewarded for their attention with callbacks to previous episodes.

Now, television (particularly in one-hour drama) is almost entirely made up of stories that stretch over longer periods of time. And like most other things, it has some good and some less than good to it.

The new show  Halle-Berry-ExtantExtant is an example: Starring Halle Berry, it tells the story of an astronaut in the elusive "near future" who returns from a 13-month mission to discover that she is pregnant despite her belief that such a thing is not possible. Not surprisingly, answers to the main story questions were not provided at the end of the first episode.

And I'll tell you, I'm just tired of the whole thing.

Lost was the breaking point for me--years of hints, quandries, theories, suggestions, and in the end, the answers given were just as irritating as not knowing. I have avoided some you'll-never-guess shows since then, and not avoided others I wished I had.

You're wondering what this has to do with crime fiction publishing, and you have a point. Consider this: each novel in a series--and I'm trying to complete the second book in one series so I can start the seventh in another--is an episode of a television series. The same characters usually reappear, a new plot is introduced for them to confront, and their relationships will possibly shift or change depending on the circumstances of the story.

Except: I solve the mystery at the end of each book. The reader (who finishes a book it takes me around three months to write in an odd number of hours) is not asked to wait a year until the next installment shows up to (maybe) get some answers to the burning questions.

At the same time, though, there is continuity. Characters grow; they develop. I don't have patience for a character who is the same in book #5 as in book #1. If the silly bugger didn't learn anything from the first four experiences, I can't expect him/her to be any smarter about the situation now. 

Sometimes a character will show up as a minor player in a book and I'll realize s/he has something that can be interesting in the series. 9780738741512_p0_v1_s260x420Two books later, it would be a major omission to the reader if that character weren't involved in the action.

So there is both the Old Television and the New Television in mystery series. On the one hand, people will develop and change. On the other hand, they won't change a lot, at least not very quickly. Because that's the way life is: People tend to evolve rather than have an epiphany every time something happens to them and completely change their personalities in accordance with their new self-understanding.

On the one hand, the story will conclude at the end of the book. On the other, the characters' lives are (usually) not over, and that means their stories go on to the next installment. (In the Guesthouse books, they can go on even after the character dies, which adds a level.)

The one thing I won't do is introduce a story that is huge to the characters and make a reader wait until the next book to resolve it. I won't leave a pregnant Halle Berry wondering what the hell happened for however many episodes Extant will go on. That's not how I write.

Oddly, my children do read my books, and it doesn't seem to bother them.


P.S.: Of course we're sorry to see our pal Ben LeRoy leave DEAD GUY, but this Thursday we'll be thrilled to welcome the wonderful Terri Bischoff of Midnight Ink to the fold! Make sure you check out DEAD GUY this Thursday (and every one thereafter) to welcome Terri and get her distinctive perspective on the publishing scene.