ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN (Monday): The trip started at 4 a.m. That's what time you have to get up in order to be on a 6 a.m. flight. Slept on the couch (with the dog) to better let my wife sleep. Car service to the airport, security, plane, Detroit.
It takes a day, I've discovered, to get used to being up at 4 a.m., so much of Monday was spent sleeping in the hotel. That's what they're for. Got some grading done (student scripts, end of term) and then headed out to Ann Arbor (thank you, inventor of GPS!) to see our old pal Robin Agnew at Aunt Agatha's.
Let's establish a few ground rules, here: Assume that at every store along the way, the booksellers were lovely people and the readers I met were interested and engaging, and just as lovely. Because all that is completely true.
What I've decided to do here is a little "behind-the-scenes" look at a (truncated, admittedly) book tour. Because I'd never done one before, I found the whole experience really interesting. These are random observations, possibly driven by sleep deprivation.
For example: You can tell a lot about a city from its airport. Which one has a Fox News Store (what?) and which one has an MSNBC Store (what?). What the food stands offer (hint: tacos). How overworked the TSA screeners look (some are surlier than others). By the way, TSA pre-check is the greatest innovation to air travel since the jet engine.
But the streets of Ann Arbor are easy to navigate (by car--on foot I was completely lost most of the time). Aunt Agatha's--which I mention in passing listed THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD as one of the Top 5 Mysteries of 2014--is adorable and the cupcakes I didn't eat looked delicious. The coldest city in temperature on the tour, but the group was warm and welcoming.
HOUSTON, TX (Tuesday): When you get up at 4 every morning and fly at 6, you tend to get to your destination--particularly one in a more western time zone) pretty early. So I'd wondered what would happen if one of the hotels I'd booked would not let me check in early. In Houston, I found out.
And I have to say, it was the best thing that could have happened.
Because I had more than three hours to kill in a town I don't know at all, with no place to stay and no access to my luggage, I scanned the inevitable rack of brochures at the hotel for something to do in Houston, and sure enough, the one that I should have planned for ahead of time leapt out at me.
A tour of the Johnson Space Center, home of "Houston, we have a problem."
For a man of my age, who remembers when every kid wanted to be an astronaut, this was heaven. Gemini capsules. Saturn 5 rockets. The actual control room from the 1960s space flights. The shuttle Galileo from the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Moonrocks you can touch.
Best inconvenience I can imagine. I'd love to be kept out of a hotel for hours again if I can have that kind of a day in return. And I got to see my pal Shirley Wetzel at Murder by the Book that night and have a barbecue dinner with her.
SCOTTSDALE, AZ (Wednesday): Renting a car is the last unheralded bargain in America. I rented four in the course of a week, each from a different service, and no two cars were the same make, let alone the same model. The car in Houston (a Kia Soul) was the most hilarious, while the Phoenix car, a Mazda 3, was probably the easiest to drive (in Detroit I got a Ford Focus because in Detroit, you get an American car). But renting is an odd thing, like staying in a hotel--all the while you're aware that this isn't yours. You're a little bit more careful.
Met my former next-door neighbors for lunch; they'd moved to Arizona in June to start enjoying retirement and avoiding snow shoveling. Good to see John and Sheri again.
Arizona is beautiful and weird. It's quiet, has gorgeous scenery, and the red lights last a half an hour at a time. You can catch up on your knitting at a red light in Arizona. I don't knit, but it seemed like a good idea there for a while.
Flying by now has become part of the morning commute. It's as routine as brushing my teeth. You get up ridiculously early, pack up your stuff, return the rental car, and get on a plane. I can sleep on planes, especially when I've been up since 4, so that helps.
The Poisoned Pen is a bookstore I've always wanted to see and it did not disappoint. Quite beautiful, with every mystery book imaginable and more. David Hunenberg, who ran the event, didn't so much interview the author (that's me) as initiate conversation, a subtle distinction but an important one. We talked about a lot of things related to writing that I wasn't expecting to discuss when I got there. A pleasure. (You can read more about it here.)
LONG BEACH, CA (Thursday): And here's where things start getting complicated. The intended destination for today, the only day during the trip with no bookstore event scheduled, was San Francisco, where I'd do a little sightseeing and meet face-to-face for the first time my invaluable web guru Sue Trowbridge. But the jet stream had other plans.
San Francisco was deluged with a rainstorm bringing incredibly high winds and record amounts of rain to the city. I'd already cancelled my hotel in anticipation of the storm after Sue emailed with dire forecasts. So I was going to sleep in on Thursday. Instead, United Airlines called at 6 to tell me my flight--which I had no intention of boarding--had been cancelled. No kidding, United Airlines. If you'd listened to me when I called the day before, I might have gotten a decent night's sleep.
Certainly the best accommodations of the trip came in Long Beach, as I stayed with two very dear friends from back in the day and their son, who was not an imposing six-foot man with a beard the last time I'd seen him. Always a delight to catch up, and thanks, Jenny, Alan and A.J., for sharing your home with me for two days.
But pineapple on pizza is still a violation of the laws of physics.
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA (Friday): The storm that ate San Francisco hit the Los Angeles area overnight, and people in Southern California are just not equipped for this strange wet substance that falls from the sky. So my tour of the Paramount Studios, the only such tour in town I'd never taken before, was something of a question mark until I actually managed to navigate into the Melrose Avenue parking lot.
Since Paramount is the studio where my personal heroes, the Marx Brothers, shot three of their best movies, this was a sort of Mecca for me, even if the tour guide (a lovely girl from New Jersey, of all places) didn't know which sound stage they might have used. Hedging against the rain, which was pretty steady when I first arrived, I bought an umbrella in the studio gift shop, and the sky immediately cleared. Not another drop fell while I was on the studio lot.
Since there were still almost four hours to kill after the tour, I headed to the Santa Monica pier for lunch, got lost along the way, realized I didn't have time for more than a quick bite, and then GPS-ed to Mystery Ink just in time for the 4:30 p.m. event. Had quite a lively talk with Debbie Mitsch and the audience. I even bought a copy of my own book because my hosts' son wanted to read it and I didn't have one with me. So I added to my own sales numbers.
SAN DIEGO, CA (Saturday): The drive from Long Beach to San Diego takes about 90 minutes and it's nice and scenic. In fact, there are stops along the way where the nice people at the Highway Authority have left you an area to look out over the scenery (see left).
The trip to Mysterious Galaxy's new improved location was a pleasure indeed. San Diego is a lovely city, understandable to a New Jerseyan because it lives in the shadow of its flashier, more behemoth-like neighbor. A shame my lovely wife wasn't here to share.
Maryelizabeth Hart and the amazing staff at the store were celebrating their holiday party, so there were 12 or 13 authors there, and one of them was me. I bought a dystopian YA book (there's another kind) called Now That You're Here from a very nice author named Amy K. Nichols because it seemed interesting and the main character's name is the same as my daughter's (although spelled differently). My daughter loves dystopian YA novels. Sold.
After that, a visit to my favorite San Diego restaurant, Croce's, owned by Ingrid Croce (widow of the late Jim, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and mother of A.J., one of my current favorites). The food is excellent and the new location is lovely. And the music there is always good.
Then another 4 a.m. wake up call (I use "I'm Alive" by Michael Franti) and a quick ride to the airport, followed by a not-so-quick flight to Newark and the friendly faces of my wife and son.
If youre reading this at 4 a.m. Monday, please feel free to leave a comment (even if you're reading it any other time). Just don't expect me to answer right away.
I won't be up.
The INSPECTOR SPECTER tour begins tonight! I'll be at Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, MI at 7 p.m. Tomorrow night, Murder by the Book in Houston, TX at 6:30 p.m.! Wednesday, The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ at 8 p.m., then Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach, CA on Friday at 4:30 p.m. and Saturday I'll be part of the holiday celebration at Mystery Galaxy in San Diego, CA. Festivities start at 1 p.m. If you're nearby, come on out! I'd love to see you.
And on to business:
Well, I appear to have done it again.
Believe me, I blame only myself. But whenever I write a title for a book, I have come to consider exactly how that title will be misquoted, misspelled or misconstrued, despite a pathetic effort on my part to avoid such occurances. And each time, I have been thwarted spectacularly.
Let's take stock, shall we? Novels only:
The Aaron Tucker Mystery Series
My title: FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS. Other people's titles: WHEN THE MINIVAN ROLLS, ON WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS, THE ROLLING MINIVAN, IF THE MINIVAN ROLLS.
My title: A FAREWELL TO LEGS. Other people: A FAREWELL TO ARMS (I get that I'm overweight and bearded, but I'm not Hemingway, believe me.), FAREWELL, LEGS, A FAREWELL TO... WHAT WAS IT AGAIN?
My title: AS DOG IS MY WITNESS. Other people: THE DOG WITNESS, A DOG IS A WITNESS, WHAT THE DOG WITNESSED, THE DOG AND THE WITNESS.
The Double Feature Mystery Series
Me: SOME LIKE IT HOT-BUTTERED. Other people: SOME LIKE HOT-BUTTERED POPCORN, HOT-BUTTERED POPCORN, THE HOT-BUTTERED POPCORN, SOME LIKE IT HOT (I'm not Billy Wilder, either.)
Me: IT HAPPENED ONE KNIFE. Other people: IT HAPPENED WITH A KNIFE, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KNIFE, (I'm not making any of these up.) ONE KNIFE AT A HAPPENING.
Me: A NIGHT AT THE OPERATION. Other people: NIGHT OPERATION. A NIGHT WITH AN OPERATION. OPERATION BY NIGHT.
The Haunted Guesthouse Mystery Series
Me: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEED. Other people: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. (There is no second choice; they all call it that. I'm also not George A. Romero, even more than I'm not Billy Wilder.)
Me: AN UNIVITED GHOST. Other people: Again, just one choice: AN UNIVITED GUEST. Some people just don't get puns.
Me: OLD HAUNTS. Other people: Nobody noticed this one came out. I don't know why.
Me: CHANCE OF A GHOST. Other people: GHOST OF A CHANCE, CHANCE WITH A GHOST, CHANCE OF MEETING A GHOST.
Me: THE THRILL OF THE HAUNT. Other people: THE THRILLING HAUNT, THRILL HUNT, THE THRILL OF THE HUNT.
Which brings us to the latest entry, which I'm already seeing misrepresented and it's only been available for six days:
No. It's not INSPECTOR SPECTOR. It's not about Phil Spector becoming a ghost investigator. The word is SPECTER. If you're British (especially in a James Bond movie), SPECTRE. But that's as far as I'm willing to go.
Still, I hope everybody will go out next week and buy themselves a copy of INPSECTOR SPECTOR. If that's what it takes.
This, and they still think the books were written by J.J. Cooperman.
P.S. I'm on the road this week and will no doubt be exhausted beyond all comprehension next week. I'll try to set up a post ahead of time, so if I mention some completely outdated reference by then, please forgive the lack of immediacy. If you're in Ann Arbor, Houston, Scottsdale, Huntington Beach or San Diego this week, please drop on by! I'd love to believe all this plane travel will be worth it...
This week we welcome our newest DEAD GUY! Every other Sunday you'll be hearing from Cynthia Chow, branch manager for the Hawaii State library system, who'll be offering perspectives on pretty much everything from her viewpoint. And you're going to love it. Trust us.
By Cynthia Chow
Comic books have been around for decades, but it has been a long journey for them to be accepted as legitimate forms of literature. The eighties had their Watchmen, Persepolis,and Maus, but even those groundbreakers were still considered to be part of a niche market. That is finally changing. Comic book superheroes have become a part of pop culture, with millions of “average” people - whose previous experiences with comics may have extended only so far as to the perusal of the Sunday newspapers (what are those?) - being able to list off characters from the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-men. Now that Hollywood has realized just how much money we are willing to spend to see our icons brought to life, there is a virtual smorgasbord of superhero movies scheduled all the way through 2028. Turn on the television virtually any night of the week and you will see some version of a comic book; the broodily overacted-without-Batman-Gotham, the very fun Flash, the how-could-they-not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the cigarette-smoking-but-probably-going-to-be-cancelled-anyway Constantine, and my favorite, Arrow (more shirtless training montages, please). These shows take their comic inspirations seriously and are as far from campy as you can get, unlike various incarnations from the past, when Adam West apparently couldn’t be bothered to do a sit-up. These superheroes do not wear tights.
My love of comics began decades ago, when I was stealing into my brother's room to rifle through his Batman and Spider-Man collections. It seems only fitting that my first summer job was working in a failing bookstore/comic book store, and I managed to become one of those people who collected comics sealed in plastic bags. I still have the black armband included in the Death of Superman promotion (spoiler, he's not dead).
Comics – loosely defined as graphic novels when published together as a continuous story arc- are also what led me to my actual career. I was a new Young Adult Librarian who actually saw value in putting them in my library, and when a teen loves one comic he/she will only want to read more.
And graphic novels have gotten GOOD. Just like any genre, some writing is better than others, but now established and "respectable" writers have entered the playing field. I thoroughly recommend that you give these a try:
- Batwoman, Queen and Country, and Whiteout by Greg Rucka. Although he has always had roots in comics, the author of the Atticus Kodiak and Jad Bell thrillers is incredible at crafting kick-ass female heroines. He has created a wonderful Batwoman – don't mistake her for Batgirl – series. Rucka’s Queen and Country series features an awesome female spy agent and led to a series of novels expanding on the same storylines. His graphic novel Whiteout is essentially a locked-room mystery that has a U.S. Marshall trapped in the Antarctica with a murderer.
- DC’s Identity Crisis by Brad Meltzer. The bestselling mystery and thriller writer depicts how a criminal act enacted on a superhero’s wife, and the Justice League’s response, completely divides the team. It’s absolutely brutal - in a good way.
- Wonder Woman: Love & Murder by Jodi Picoult made waves - and received mixed reviews - when the fiction writer took over an entire Wonder Woman storyline.
- Castle: Richard Castle’s Derek Storm. Yes, he’s a fictional author on ABC’s Castle writing fictional mystery novels, but ABC produced thrillers that are actually enjoyable and the graphic novelizations of the Derek Storm books are very fun.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8. Joss Whedon continued his awesome television series in comic form, freeing him from studio production and budgets. It gets wonderfully weird.
- These are just the graphic novels written by authors specifically to be comics. Janet Evanovich, Patricia Briggs, Richard Stark/Donald Westlake, and Laurell K. Hamilton have all had their series turned into pretty impressive graphic novels that take their novels into illustrated realizations.
It's never been a secret to teachers and librarians that comics are the gateway drug to getting reluctant readers to read. My suggestions here are just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope that these graphic novels written by skilled mystery and fiction writers will tempt adult mystery lovers into delving into the world of comics. Never let it be forgotten that Barbara Gordon, the original Batgirl, was the secret identity for a truly heroic occupation. In her “real life,” Batgirl was… a librarian.
First, congratulations to my clients who released books this week: Toni LoTempio, whose MEOW IF IT'S MURDER came out two years after it was bought; Jeff Cohen's VERY CLOSE FRIEND EJ Copperman, whose INSPECTOR SPECTER--the sixth Hounted Guest House mystery, hit the shelves today; and Elaine "EM" Powell, whose sequel to 2012's best-selling THE FIFTH KNIGHT, called, fittingly, "THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT," was named a Kindle First pick in the UK for December and entered the Kindle UK charts at #10. Great week for three terrific writers!
I had an author come to my office today. He is a possible client, and a very interesting fellow. If we end up working together (which I hope will happen), I will discuss his project in more detail. But that’s a lead-in, not the point of this post.
Rather, I want to talk about something he did at the end of our meeting, which I thought was very smart and which other writers ought to do when they are offered representation: He asked me a bunch of questions.
The first thing he asked was how many clients I have. That’s reasonable—if you work with an agent you want to know that he or she will have time to take sufficient care of you, and not be too overwhelmed to pay attention or have so many clients that he or she won’t recognize your name when it shows up in the inbox.
But that led to a different conversation, about Active Clients versus Inactive. Active clients are the ones we deal with (almost) every day, whether because they are about to go on submission, are in the initial stages of submission, have received an offer (In Play), or are otherwise in an active stage of being published. I have around 50 clients, of whom 15 or so are very active, another 10 are somewhat active, and the rest aren’t. They may be in the purgatory of waiting to hear from editors; they may be writing their next book. The names and faces change, but the proportions stay pretty constant. It’s a lot of work to maintain that number of people among our small staff, but we do recognize our clients when we run into them on sixth avenue.
The other question this prospective client asked was what we had to offer versus a large, more corporate place. Look, we are a boutique. There are four of us in the company—five, when our first new hire (whom you will hear about soon) joins us in January. We all have different roles, whether in bookkeeping, marketing, admin, foreign rights, legal, or generally getting our brand out there. At a larger agency, there is more back office. There are great resources and possibly a degree of leverage with publishers that a small shop can’t match. We do our best to be personal, to be our clients’ best advocates in a way that they can be comfortable knowing the name and personality of everyone working on his or her book. Some writers prefer the Big; some, the small. This author, I think, was trying to make up his mind about that.
Thankfully, there was one question he DIDN’T ask: How much money will I make for my book? That is a question and can’t, and won’t, answer until I hear it from an editor. And it’s a question that makes me shiver with apprehension. Agents are businesspeople, creative advisors, psychiatrists, occasionally the Voices of Doom (as one of my ex-clients called me right before he left me), and cheerleaders. What we are not, however, are financial prophets. So ask away—but don’t ask that one.
On December 2 (that's today!), Berkley Publishing will release INSPECTOR SPECTER, the sixth (!) novel in the Haunted Guesthouse mystery series by E.J. Copperman. And of course we would love it if you went out and procured yourself a copy.
"But wait!" we hear you cry. "Didn't you just have a new book come out about eight weeks ago?" Yes, we did. It's called THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD and is the first book in the Asperger's Mystery series from our very own Terri's Midnight Ink. Certainly we understand your possible confusion over being harangued by an author (or two, we can never tell) about a new book and then again about another new book when the odds are fairly good you haven't gotten a chance to read the old new book yet.
So as a public service we would like to offer the following guide to clarify the issue.
WAYS IN WHICH INSPECTOR SPECTER IS NOT THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD
- They have different titles;
- Only one author (E.J. Copperman) is listed on INSPECTOR SPECTER, where THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD has two names (E.J. Copperman and Jeff Cohen) on the cover;
- They are from different publishers;
- They are from different series;
- The narrators are of different genders;
- The stories are entirely different from each other;
- THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD is a trade paperback; INSPECTOR SPECTER is mass market size;
- INSPECTOR SPECTER has ghost characters--all the speaking roles in THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD are for living people;
- One narrator has Asperger's Syndrome (Samuel Hoenig in THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD);
- One narrator has an eleven-year-old daughter (Alison Kerby in INSPECTOR SPECTER);
- Where THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD features a missing head (a frozen one stored in a cryonics lab), INSPECTOR SPECTER investigates the shooting death of a character from a previous installment in the Haunted Guesthouse series;
- One has a blue cover while the other is closer to purple;
- Only one (INSPECTOR SPECTER) has a squirrel on the cover;
- THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD features lead characters whose initials might refer to a very famous detective series;
- INSPECTOR SPECTER has a character named Lay-Z;
- The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGE, which raised $1000 for an autism support group, was an activity related to, well, you know;
- INSPECTOR SPECTER will feature a five-city, six-day promotional tour by the author, which seemed like a good idea at the time.
We hope that clears it up for you.
No kidding: INSPECTOR SPECTER is a character-driven installment in the Haunted Guesthouse series that begins with Lt. McElone asking Alison for help, which is strange enough in itself. And then it gets stranger and hopefully more fun with each page. For those who aren't familiar with the series--don't worry. All is explained early on to get you up to speed.
It includes a sinister frozen custard stand, a baby who might (or might not) see ghosts, romance between characters you might not have expected, cooking lessons, shore bungalows, a missing police officer, hot weather, lots of clues that might or might not make sense, and Lt. McElone's husband. Probably.
In any event, we hope you'll enjoy both books and be able to tell them apart, and that we'll see you tomorrow night in East Brunswick, NJ at Barnes & Noble (with Toni LoTempio) and on the road starting next Monday in Ann Arbor, Michigan with our pal Robin Agnew at Aunt Agatha's!
In her new book Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "Learned", Lena Dunham includes a section entitled "17 Things I Learned from My Father."
Number 13: "Hitting a creative wall? Take a break from work to watch a procedural. They always solve the case, and so will you."
So that's why we read mysteries!
I'm serious. That might be why.
No, as a matter of fact, I didn't go to Bouchercon but oddly, I will be in Long Beach, CA in a few weeks (read on) and visiting some friends I haven't seen in far too long. I did miss seeing dozens of people I'd have loved to see at the biggest mystery gathering on the planet, but there were other plans being planned and this trip couldn't be made financially reasonable. Hopefully next year on the East Coast, where I can theoretically drive.
Now on to business: I don't feel like a grizzled veteran just yet, but I realized recently that I've been involved with book publishing (as an author) for about 15 years now, given that's when I started writing my first novel, FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS. And that sort of made me stop and think for a moment.
It's been a weird ride, a really enjoyable one, and I don't feel like we've even gotten far from the station yet, so there's plenty to go. And along the way I've met some people who will be friends for the rest of my life, I've heard from wonderful readers, I've been reviewed well and hilariously and I've been interviewed on radio and television, not to mention online.
But one thing I've never done has been a "book tour."
As you saw last week, the advantages (or dis-) of an author traveling from city to city and meeting with booksellers and readers (hopefully) can be a topic for debate. But I've never done one because publishers will generally not pay for an author to do so unless the author is a bestseller and can therefore afford to pay for it themselves. Keep in mind that the person who coined the phrase "Catch-22" was an author.
Still, I've always wanted to meet some of the booksellers I've contacted over the years and seen some of the stores other authors have told me about. So with the publication of INSPECTOR SPECTER a hair over two weeks away, I've decided that now is the time to hit the road.
But since I'm not a bestseller--at least not to that degree--I'm going on a short tour. There's only so much goodwill some authors can afford.
INSPECTOR SPECTER, the sixth Haunted Guesthouse mystery, will be published on Tuesday December 2. I have a class to teach on Thursday, December 4, so the "tour" will begin on Monday, December 8. And here's how it'll go:
Monday, December 8: Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, MI (with our ex-DEAD GUY Robin Agnew!)
Tuesday, December 9: Murder by the Book in Houston, TX
Wednesday, December 10: The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ
Thursday, December 11: I'm on the road. Literally. Plans are to fly to San Francisco and then make my way, via Los Angeles to:
Friday, December 12: Mystery Ink in Huntington Beach, CA.
Saturday, December 13: Mysterious Galaxy's holiday party in San Diego, CA.
So, five bookstores in five cities in six days. And if you work for a bookstore near San Francisco and would like to discuss an event on December 11, get in touch!
If you're in one of those areas and would like to say hi, please come on out! Keep in mind that I'm probably coming from a lot farther away than you are! And it's the readers and the booksellers who make these events special. So I'm hoping to see you there. Wherever "there" is.