Friday, June 28, 2019

Author Spotlight: Hilary Davidson

Today's Author Spotlight is shining on Hilary Davidson! The Anthony Award winner just recently published One Small Sacrifice, though she's all over the place, too: a series, a story collection, a stand-alone thriller.... I was lucky enough to read with Hilary at last year's epic Bouchercon Noir at the Bar, and I'm honored to have her stop by. Cheers!

Who: Hilary Davidson 
Latest Book: One Small Sacrifice 
Follow!: @hilarydavidson
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 

If you had to choose only one of your novels to best represent yourself as an author, which one would it be? Why? 

It would be my new novel, One Small Sacrifice, because it encapsulates everything I’ve learned about writing up to this point. I couldn’t have written this book with its shifting character perspectives and complex narrative when I started out. It’s only after writing four other novels and dozens of short stories that I was able to tackle it. It’s also a deeply personal book because it explores PTSD, which I’ve experienced myself. (To make a long story short, a man tried to kill everyone in my office in an arson at my first job out of college; I felt the aftershocks from that for a long time afterwards.)

What is the worst reason to become an author? What is the best?

Fame and fortune would be tied for worst reason. I’ve been approached by people who claimed they had an idea for a bestselling book, but no time to write it; they invariably offer to split their imaginary zillions if I write the book for them. I try to explain, as gently as I can, that most ideas that seem brilliant in one’s own head die a terrible death on paper, but no one ever wants to hear that. I think the best reason to write is that you feel compelled to do it, and that you know something important would be missing from your life if you didn’t pursue it. Given how tough it can be to get work published, writing often needs to be its own reward.

Do you have a secret for handling bad book reviews? And, yes, what is it?

There’s this wonderful line of Dita Von Teese’s that I like to quote: “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” Those are words to live by, especially when contemplating bad book reviews.

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

I would love to have One Small Sacrifice adapted as a television show, because it is the start of a series, even though structurally it works as a standalone. (The truth is that I wrote it as a standalone and my editor suggested that it be a series.) It’s not a spoiler to say that the NYPD detectives at the center of the story — Sterling and Mendoza — will be recurring characters. I’ve already written the second book in the series — it’s called Don’t Look Down, and it will be out in February 2020 from Thomas & Mercer. In particular, the role of Detective Sheryn Sterling would be a star turn for an African-American actress in her late thirties or early forties. Just saying…

What do you prefer to read when you’re in the middle of writing a novel?

I used to avoid reading fiction while I was writing a book, because I was afraid the voice would interfere with my own. Instead, I’d concentrate on reading nonfiction, often biographies or histories. But while I was writing the third book in my Lily Moore series, Evil in All Its Disguises, I started feeling comfortable enough to read other fiction, though I tend to stick with novels set in other time periods or other parts of the world. My most recent reads in this vein were Adrian McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground, and Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Author Spotlight: Jeffery Hess

Back-to-back Jeffs! This week, I'm talking with author/friend/fellow Florida crime fiction badass Jeffery Hess whose latest novel, No Salvation, just hit shelves from Down & Out Books. For me, Jeff's words have always fallen somewhere on the scale between Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke, so yeah, his work is pretty good. (read: smart, snappy, fast-paced, pulling no punches- I'm a fan, you could say...) ;)

Who: Jeffery Hess
Latest Book: No Salvation
Follow!: @realjefferyhess
Twitter       Facebook 

Has the publishing industry ever made you cry? What did you learn from the experience?

I can’t say it’s physically made me cry, but I do weep on the inside every time I see statistics about this country’s dwindling reading habits. Then again, I could get emotional every time I launch a book and do readings or signings and meet genuinely good people who love books as much as I do. Or when I receive a favorable review from a reader I’ve never met. Or when I receive an email or tweet about something I’ve written. One time, I actually received a Thank You card from a reader just for having written the book. That kind of stuff always chokes me up.

Along the way to wherever it is I am now, sure, there have been some heartbreaking moments of veiled and overt derision from teachers, editors, and agents. There have been a dozens of near-misses that turned on a dime for one reason or another. (All before I found the awesome team at Down & Out Books.) Those early heartbreaks and near-misses were important to go through. They were the types of instances that chase many writers from the work. For some reason, bad news and disappointment always made me work harder. It continues to. I begin every book I write with the intention of writing the book I want to read. I figure if I want to read it others might as well. I mean, I understand the dwindling number of readers. There are a lot of demands on our time and TV is so good and accessible right now. Not everyone is going to volunteer to sacrifice flashing images and sound for words on a page/screen for the time it takes to read a whole novel. The best way I know to get more people to read is to provide them with books that are undeniable. The ones readers read, love, and can’t stop talking about. That’s what I look for as a reader and what I strive for as I write—which has also brought tears to my eyes, in a manner of speaking, on occasion.

How long did it take to complete your latest novel?

I had no intention of writing about the incidences that take place in No Salvation, but one day while researching a story I was writing for my story collection Cold War Canoe Club, I stumbled upon a New York Times article about the aftermath of a race riot aboard an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea during the Vietnam War. That article led me down a rabbit hole of other articles, books, websites, and a U.S. Congressional Report that stated, “Recent instances of sabotage, riot, willful disobedience of orders, and contempt for authority, instances which have occurred with increased frequency, are clear-cut symptoms of a dangerous deterioration of discipline.” That got me hooked. I wrote a very short story about the height of the racial tensions, but I had a feeling I’d come back to that material. As time went on, I knew I had to tackle it. I spent the next year reading and making notes. But to answer your question more directly, No Salvation has been five years in the making, though I wrote another book and a couple stories in that time.

What advice do wish someone had given you when just started out as a writer/author?

I actually received that advice from a chance meeting with Randy Wayne White back in my freshman year of college. I was fresh out of the Navy and prepared to study Physical Therapy when our paths crossed outside the campus bookstore where he was promoting his novel Sanibel Flats. We struck up a conversation where I told him that ever since high school I had wanted to be a writer. We talked at length and the most impactful thing he said to me was that since I was in college, I should study writing. I didn’t even know that was possible. But the very next semester, I enrolled in a creative writing class and later made that my major. I began my first novel a month after graduation and wrote diligently for years before drawing again on his advice and went back to school for an MFA.
I’ve since reconnected with him at an author’s reception for the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading and I told him that story. Of course he didn’t recall that original meeting, but he was happy to hear it and we spent the rest of the time talking about baseball.

But all those years ago, his advice and the education that came from it is something for which I’ll forever be grateful. Not only did it launch me on a path of studying and work-shopping and tons of practice, and books I’m proud of, it also introduced me to some of my dearest friends.

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

That wouldn’t be hard to choose at all because I’d pick James Joyce’s Ulysses. Two of my favorite Mikes think so highly of that book that I’ve wanted to go back and read it in its entirety—I had to read a portion of it (hell, maybe I was assigned to read the whole thing) in a British Lit class back in college—and being stranded on a deserted island with only one book is probably the only circumstance I would get to it. That is not to suggest an unwillingness to read that book. It’s just that there are so many other books that I’d rather read and do read instead. I seem unable to force myself backward when there are so many current writers coming out with books and books by other favorite writers I haven’t gotten to yet. With so many available, I want to get to them all. But if I had to pick one…

If you could choose, would you have your novel adapted as a film, television show, mini-series, graphic novel or video game? Why?

This is too lofty of a notion to contemplate, but since you asked, I’ll gladly fantasize. In full disclosure, I’m thoroughly addicted to story. Short stories, novels, TV shows, movies. I’ve never been into comics, graphic novels or video games. Though I fully recognize their value in storytelling, they’ve just never been on my radar.

[[[[[See my previous answer about there being so many books out there that I definitely want to read and add to it the sheer number of excellent TV shows and movies and where would the time come from? Smarter people than me love and even write comics, graphic novels or video games, but I’ve never connected with those mediums. I’m sure I’m missing out, but then again, there is so much to get to in the media to which I naturally respond.]]]]]

With that said, TV or movie is a tough question. It depends largely on my book in question.
Many TV shows are amazing, obviously. If the creative geniuses behind Elmore Leonard’s short story, “Fire in the Hole” could launch six great seasons of Justified, I can’t imagine what they’d do with my Scotland Ross books (the third of which is in progress as we speak). I was also a big fan of Joe Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard series, cut short on TV, unfortunately. Those are two examples, but I could spend hours talking about them and many others.

Then again, as an example, look at the movie Winter’s Bone based on the novel by Daniel Woodrell. Concise and perfect as a book and film, which came with Academy Awards and no worries of cancellation.

There are countless other examples, but if my feet were held to the fire in an interview, such as this, I’d say that I’d love to see my Scotland Ross novels portrayed as a multi-season show and my new novel, No Salvation portrayed on the big screen. I don’t know the future, but I’m flattered that more than a few readers have told me the same thing.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Author Spotlight: Jeff Zentner

There are awesome people. There are awesome authors. And then there are super-awesome people-authors who also have incredibly fluffy dogs, such as Jeff Zentner. Okay, okay, there's more to him than Greg, but come on- have you seen Greg?!

All fluff balls of adorableness aside, Zentner is not only one of the kindest, most genuine, most supportive folks out there, he's also an extremely talented young adult author with three award-winning titles under his belt now, including The Serpent King and Goodbye Days. Read on...

Who: Jeff Zentner
Latest Book: Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee 
Follow!: @jeffzentner
Twitter   Instagram   Facebook 

What do you tell yourself when you begin to doubt yourself as a writer? How often do you doubt yourself?

I tell myself that while I may not be as good a writer as my favorite writers, I’m the only person who’s able to tell my stories, and I write the kind of stories I would want to read. So, while I’m in awe of the unattainable talents of the Cormac McCarthys, Jesmyn Wards, Mohsin Hamids, Michael Ondaatjes, and Donna Tartts of the world, none of them have written or will ever write The Serpent King, Goodbye Days, and Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee. How often do I doubt myself? Constantly. But the worst writers are the ones who never doubt themselves.

What is the worst reason to become an author? What is the best?

The worst reason to become an author is to become rich and famous. Even if you become book-famous, that doesn’t translate into much real-world fame. If you went to the Walgreens on my corner and asked the people there who any of the people currently on the New York Times Bestseller List are, they wouldn’t know. And only about ten percent of authors make a living solely writing books. There’s an even tinier subset of that number who get rich writing books. If you want to be famous, get on The Voice. If you want to be rich, invent an app. Write books for the best reason: that you want to tell stories and give a voice to the imaginary people who live in your head and won’t leave you alone until you do.

What’s your favorite thing to do to procrastinate from writing?

I’m personally a big fan of “story research.” This is where I study the story structures and character development on my favorite TV shows. In other words: watching Netflix.

Who has been the most difficult character for you to write? The easiest? 

I’m currently writing a character who’s a genius. Her mind works in ways unknowable to normal people. As it happens, I am not a genius, and therefore have to use my non-genius brain to figure out how a genius thinks. What I’ve settled on is having her thought processes appear unknowable to her non-genius best friend, my main character and the easiest type of character for me to write—a young man who is basically decent and reasonably smart and loves the beauty of the world. This is a character close to my own heart and therefore easy to write. The genius? Not so easy.

Do you have a secret for handling bad book reviews? And, yes, what is it?

I do. I go to the Goodreads page for my favorite books—the works of unalloyed brilliance, of utter perfection—and I read one star reviews of them to remind myself that there is no such thing as the universally adored piece of art.  Also, I remind myself what a gift it is to have my art so widely distributed throughout the world that it can reach people who feel no obligation to spare my feelings. As someone who self-released music for years before becoming a writer, I can attest that art doesn’t always make it that far.

Friday, June 7, 2019

2019 'Fall' Book Preview!

There is no such thing as 'Fall' here in Florida. We have Pre-Summer, Hell-Summer, Post-Summer and a week of Winter. We're currently headed right straight for 'Open Your Door and Be Hit By a Wall of Suffocating Heat' Summer, so what better time than now to be thinking about all the books you should be pre-ordering for the second half of the year? If you're still playing catch-up, be sure to check out my Spring Book Preview, for releases January-June. Otherwise, read on for my most-anticipated novels, collections and non-fiction books, from small presses, big publishers and everyone in-between. Be sure to check out my Reader Suggestions as well, and so many thanks to everyone who chimed in to support their favorite authors with a shout. Cheers and Happy Reading!







Reader Suggestions:

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman (July)
The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson (July)

Dark Duet by Eric Beetner (July)
The Bitterroots by C.J. Box  (Aug)
Homer Underby by Elgon Williams (Aug) 
This Side of Night by J. Todd Scott  (Aug)
All the Lovely Pieces by J.M. Winchester  (Aug)
The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff (Aug)
Sinai Unhinged by Joanna Evans (Aug)
A Better Man by Louise Penny  (Aug)
Cold Woods by Karen Katchur  (Aug)
The Hidden Things by Jamie Mason (Aug)
Below the Line by Howard Michael Gould  (Aug)
Be Recorder: Poems by Carmen Giménez Smith (Aug)
The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (Aug) 

Body Broker by Daniel M. Ford (Sept)
Tracing the Horse by Diana Marie Delgado (Sept)
After the Storm by Marietta Miles (Sept) 
Royal Street Reveillon by Greg Herren (Sept) 
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke  (Sept)
Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree by Lillah Lawson (Sept)
A Means to An End by Lissa Marie Redmond  (Sept)
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib (Sept)
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood  (Sept)
At Their Own Game by Frank Zafiro (Sept)
Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980 by Andrew Nette (Oct) 
Mistress by Chet'la Sebree (Oct)
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky  (Oct)
Jesus in the Trailer by Andrew K. Clark (Oct)

All This Could be Yours by Jami Attenberg (Oct)
Shine of the Other by Claire Rudy Foster (Nov)
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North (Nov) 
Feed by Tommy Pico (Nov)
Dead Blow by Lisa Preston (Nov)
Echoes of the Fall by Hank Early (Nov) 
Big Familia by Tomas Moniz (Nov) 
Ghost Engine: Stories by Christian TeBordo (Nov) 
Love and Other Criminal Behavior by Nikki Dolson (Nov)
An Incantation of Cats by Clea Simon (Dec)
I'll Still Be Here Long After You're Gone by Daren Dean (Dec) 
The Kill Club by Wendy Heard (Dec)

Author Spotlight: Gabriel Valjan

And, we're back! Instead of Book Bites- which focused on a single book- I'm starting a new interview series that focuses more on the authors themselves. Same short and sweet format, but new questions, new insight, new authors, new ways to boost and support the literary community!
And what better way to kick off the Author Spotlight series than by highlighting Gabriel Valjan, who works his ass off supporting other authors. If you know Gabriel (and if not, here's your chance!), you know he constantly- and genuinely- goes out of his way to shout other authors' books, events and successes. He's a true member of the literary community (and an icon in the crime fiction community) and I'm thrilled to have his Spotlight up today. Cheers!

Who: Gabriel Valjan
Latest Book: The Naming Game
Follow!: @gabrielvaljan 
Twitter  Facebook  Instagram 

If you had to choose only one of your novels to best represent yourself as an author, which one would it be? Why? 

I have an unpublished novel entitled Harlot’s Curse. The story is set in the Gilded Age, about the rise, fall and recovery of a family within society in the context of a violent rivalry and turbulent times. I created a character named Virgil, who does what is expected of him, although he struggles to be his own person. He feels freighted by obligations and beholden to those who gave him opportunities, but unfortunately people take advantage of his good nature. I can relate to that.

Who or what is your spirit animal? 
The bear. I’m accustomed to solitude and do quite well with it. I was an only child, so I’m quite good at keeping myself busy. I confronted loneliness at a young age and I’m not comfortable around people for extended periods of time. I’m also a driven person. However, like the bear, I had to learn when to rest and when to return to the world, and when to stand up for myself for what I needed for myself.

Is there any significance or symbolism behind the names of your characters? How do you choose them? 
I chose the name Virgil in the aforementioned Harlot’s Curse because he becomes his own guide through the darkness (think of Dante’s Divine Comedy). In The Naming Game, I named a character Walker because he is always walking into the unknown (he’s a CIA agent and a writer). In both The Good Man and The Naming Game, I have a character called Leslie. The series starts in 1948 and proceeds from there, so I enjoyed having a character with an androgynous name. In The Naming Game again, readers meet an older movie star, a victim of ageism, and her name is Vera because she always speaks a truth. The name Vera is derived from the Latin word 'veraxus' for truthful.

If you were being shipped to a deserted island and were only allowed to bring one book, what would it be? Why? How hard would it be to choose?

This is tough question. One volume of all of Shakespeare’s work. I do think he’s the greatest writer in the English language and, arguably, in world literature. Tough. Tough question.

If you have pets, what do they think about the time you spend writing and not lavishing them with attention? 
I have two cats, Squeak and Squawk, one Bengal and one tuxedo cat. Squawk is like that alarm bird at the end of the Flintstones. He sounds off quitting time. Squeak is quiet, a sweetheart, so named because he can’t meow; he emits this pitiful squeak, unless he’s really hungry and then it’s not so pitiful. Of the two cats, he is almost always at my side when I’m writing. He can imitate a sleeping Buddha but he’s hyper aware of what I’m thinking and feeling.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Santa Barbara Here I Come....

(In Ten Days!)

Santa Barbara, California
Monday, June 17th

For More Information on the Santa Barbara Writers Conference...

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tampa Bay Summer Reads!

Many thanks to Tampa Magazine and Ben Montgomery for recommending Miraculum as one of 6 Summer Reads by Florida Authors! (And I'm in fantastic company...)