Category Archives: Blog

Charlaine Harris blog

January 14, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • The Last Minute, Jeff Abbott
  • Fiend, Peter Stenson
  • Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell

I went on a Barbara Pym reading binge right around New Year’s Day. I’ve talked about her books here before, so I won’t now at any length: but I read “No Fond Return of Love,” “Crampton Hodnet,” “Less than Angels,” “Excellent Women,” and “A Glass of Blessings.” It is always wonderful to revisit this much underrated English novelist. Her people are still waters who run very deep, and I love watching how Pym reveals them. And she’s funny, smiling-to-yourself funny.

 

Jeff Abbott’s The Last Minute is very much a thriller. It’s the second Sam Capra book. The first, Adrenaline, was aptly named and a great bestseller. I’m afraid you really need to read Adrenaline  to get the most out of The Last Minute, but that’s not a bad thing. They’re both excellent, heart-pounding thrillers with engaging characters, an international cast, and plenty of action. Sam is a great protagonist; he’s driven to the most extreme edges of his character when his pregnant wife vanishes in the first book, and in the second, he’s searching for his baby. In this search, he’s yoked himself with the most dubious of allies, a ferocious woman with no qualms at killing.

 

I got a strong recommendation on Fiend, or I don’t think I would have picked it up. Peter Stenson’s book is about addiction, in the guise of a zombie novel. I believe for the first time I understand the irresistible compulsion that drives drug addicts, since I’ve read the dreadful and despicable things Chase Daniel will do when the world falls apart around him. Chase has good impulses: he is loyal to his friend, Typewriter, and he still loves his former girlfriend, KK. He retains some beautiful memories of his childhood. But nothing can stand in the way of his need for crank.  This is an adventure and an education AND a zombie novel.

 

Daniel Woodrell is a great writer. Winter’s Bone is a great book. And to top off the accolade, Winter’s Bone was also a great movie. Woodrell’s novel was treated with reverence and intelligence in its screen adaptation; fortunately, it is a slim novel, so nothing was left out and not much added in the amazing movie. The novel, set in the Ozarks, is about Ree Dolly, a teenager who must take care of her two younger brothers and her mother, who has retreated into a mental haze and cannot be reached. Ree’s immediate crisis (as opposed to the permanent crisis of how to keep this family fed) is that her father has not appeared in court, and the bail bond company can seize the house and land – all the Dollys own – if he is not found. No one wants Jessup Dolly to be found, including some very nasty people involved in the meth business; but Ree must search for him nonetheless. It’s not surprising that this book is “taught” in many writing classes, because it’s simply excellent.

 

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Sharing good news is one of the purest pleasures we can experience. There’s a certain guilty pleasure to sharing bad tidings; the hushed voice, the “can you believe it” overtone, the shocked expression. But good news? Passing that long just elevates your spirits. It’s easy to believe human beings are mostly all right, when we take joy in sharing happiness. I’ve had two experiences with that lately.

 

This past year, I was president of Mystery Writers of America. Each year, the board votes on who will be named as Grand Master, which (in my opinion) is the ultimate accolade a writer in the mystery/suspense field can achieve. Some years, no one is nominated. Some years, three or more people are. This year, two Grand Masters were elected: Carolyn Hart, my long-time friend, and Robert Crais, whom I know slightly, a writer I’ve admired for years with an almost embarrassing fervor.

 

The executive vice president, my buddy Dan Hale, told Carolyn, for whom I am very, very stoked, that she’d been chosen. When Dan was about to call Robert Crais, he asked if I’d like to be in on the call. Ohhhhh . . . yes, I would! Nothing’s lovelier than to tell someone you revere that he’s getting an honor that he fully appreciates. Far from being blasé about the news, Bob was truly stunned. Really, I glided along for days on the happiness.

 

This week, my daughter (a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation) got to tell a family that their child’s wish had been granted. Since this is confidential, I will not give any details, but the child’s mother and the child were beyond happy; they were in some stratosphere of giddiness I can only imagine.

 

So with my faith in humanity all geared up, I hope I will refrain (at least for a while) from relaying bad news, and instead stick with the positive.

 

It makes me feel so good.

 

Charlaine Harris

December 27, 2013

BOOKS OF THE WEEK:

 

  • Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
  • The Last Minute, Jeff Abbott
  • Curtsies and Conspiracies, Gail Carriger
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
  • Daughter of the Empire, Lady Pamela Hicks
  • Written in Blood, Anne Bishop

Since David Sedaris was generous enough to tout Barbara Demick’s book, I was glad to buy it. It’s everything he said it was, and amore. Demick’s account, built from many interviews of people who’d escaped from North Korea to South, is a unique book about a country that prides itself on keeping secrets. Under Communist rule, North Korea has ground to a halt, the economy so depressed that factories don’t run, so people don’t work, so . . . they starve to death. Nothing to Envy is shocking and touching and unforgettable.

 

The Last Minute is a Sam Capra suspense thriller from my friend Jeff Abbott. If you read the first one, you’re sure to enjoy the second book about this government operative, who is searching for his stolen son with some very dubious help. This is a turn-the-pages-fast book full of plot twists and adventures.

 

The finishing school in Gail Carriger’s Curtsies and Conspiracies is the kind of school all of us would like to attend if we couldn’t get into Hogwarts. Sophronia, a proper young lady, is more adventurous than most, and going to a school that meets in a dirigible, a school that will teach her to be a spy, suits Sophronia down to the ground. If you read the first book in Carriger’s series, you’ll definitely want to continue with this one.

 

Famously, The Cuckoo’s Calling turned out to be written by J.K. Rowling. I think I would have enjoyed it anyway, but I’ll never know for sure. “Robert Galbraith” has written a private eye novel featuring Cormorant Strike, who is down to his last pound when he gets a lucrative case and a temporary secretary, Robin Ellacott. He is luckier than he knows. He’s hired to investigate the death of Lula Landry, a model, a high profile case that may change his fortune for good, and Robin Ellacott turns down a much better job because she develops a taste for detective work. This is really a good book, no matter who wrote it.

 

Lady Pamela Hicks was a Mountbatten, and her memoir, Daughter of the Empire, is a fascinating account of growing up in an unconventional household. Both her parents were extremely good-looking, and they both had numerous lovers, but despite that Lady Pamela has an upbringing of privilege, if not opulence. Her mother would forget to send money for new clothes for Pamela and her sister, and they would appear very poorly dressed. And once her mother forgot at what obscure town she’d left them with their nanny, and they’d run out of money by the time their mother tracked them down. But she also became a friend of Gandi and received 11 proposals before she found the man she eventually married.

 

Last but hardly least is one of my favorite books of the year, a book I have inexplicably not mentioned until now. Anne Bishop’s Written in Blood is a fabulous piece of imagination. There are certainly supernatural creatures in Bishop’s world, but they live in compounds to keep themselves to themselves, and when humans intrude there are problems that range from aggravating to severe. But desperate young woman begs for a job in that compound, because she’s fleeing from the unspeakable. When her pursuers try to snatch her from the compound, all hell breaks loose, almost literally. Though there’s an element of Mary Sue-ism in the attachment most of the supernaturals feel for her very quickly, there’s also some amazing story-telling. Don’t miss this book.

 

NEW EXPERIENCES, NEW CHALLENGES

 

Before I actually began getting older, I was comfortable in a rut. The everyday uproar of bringing up three children and trying to keep a career on track, a house running, and definitely took up all my time and energy. Learning something new seemed impossible; in fact, undesirable. I was too occupied with maintaining some friendships; in fact, running in place.

 

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I kept putting off a lot of things until my life settled down. Then my kids were out of the house, but by then I was busier than ever since my career was in an upturn.

 

I turned down some opportunities I shouldn’t have, because I felt I didn’t have the time to learn anything new. But all that came to a halt. . . not abruptly, but gradually. I realized that there never would be a time to sample a new experience if I didn’t make it. If I didn’t say “Yes!” to some of the open doors that were in front of me.

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So I sat on a bar stool in an episode of “True Blood.” I went to a premiere. I began editing anthologies with Leigh Perry, aka Toni L.P. Kelner. I wrote a graphic novel (out this January!) with Christopher Golden. I switched my Hollywood representation. I did pitches (unsuccessful) for other books of mine I thought might make great movies. I was a guest judge on “Halloween Wars.”

 

Most of these ventures turned out just fine, and no one told me I was too old to do them. And every new attempt energized me. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone would say “no.” Is that so awful? Not if you keep trying to get someone else to say “Yes.”

 

Charlaine Harris

November 24, 2013

(no book recommendations this week)

Remembrance and Gratitude

The two months of recollection and reflection leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – and the subsequent assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy – have been a trip into times past for many of us, including me. In those times, when America was in such upheaval socially and politically, it seemed to many of us that America might not last as a country. Many citizens wondered if the United States were so united after all, or were perhaps divided with no solution in sight.

 

And it also seemed particularly horrible that our own president, the most powerful man on earth, could be shot in the midst of his fellow countrymen, in broad daylight, in a large city, by a man who was arguably an American citizen. (Oswald renounced his citizenship once, but took it back . . . something I doubt would happen today.)

 

Those three murders, which in retrospect seemed to have happened in quick succession (though Robert Kennedy and Dr. King were both killed five years after JFK) have a lot to do with the way foreigners regard Americans. In hindsight, it does seem strange that we didn’t learn any more about personal security in the interim. Maybe the death of the president was so singular and tragic that we believed such an event would never be repeated.

 

We’ve learned a lot since then, and most of it hasn’t been pleasant. Personal security is an issue to millions of Americans who are far from the presidential level.

 

Though the lives of the Kennedy brothers was cut short, as was Dr. King’s, we have to be thankful for the courage of these men, who lived out their lives in the public scrutiny. None of the three were saints. They were all flawed in various ways. But they had the moral conviction to stand up for what they believed, regardless of the consequences. In their cases, the consequences were tragic. Children grew up without their fathers and went on to make the best or worst of their lives. Widows grieved and were strong.

 

And I don’t know that American society changed as much as it should have after all this tragedy. That’s something to reflect on, during this week when we celebrate the plenty of this country, the plenty achieved by independence and cooperation.

 

Charlaine Harris

November 11, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Parasite, Mira Grant
  • Longbourn, Jo Baker

The two books I read this week ended up taking me quite a while. Parasite andLongbourn are both well worth reading, and I didn’t want to skip over anything important. The books couldn’t be more different.

 

As anyone who’s followed this column know, I’m a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, who is also Mira Grant. Under any name, she’s an excellent writer and a very, very smart woman. Parasite is a scientific thriller that also succeeds as a human story. Sally Mitchell is on life-support and is about to be unplugged when she wakens with no memory of her past or her character. You may not be very fond of Sally, or Sal as she prefers to be called, but her parents are somewhat relieved to find out that the old devil-may-care wild child has become a completely different person. Not that Sal’s not emotional – she is. She cries and screams her way through the book, but under circumstances that are totally understandable. The corporation that saved her life with their parasite transplant is Up To No Good, as any reader will expect; and there are secrets to uncover and villains to foil. I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises of this excellent novel.

 

After the recent flood of novels and books centered on Jane Austen’s world, Longbourn was a quiet pleasure. It’s the story of “Pride and Prejudice” told from the servants’ point of view. To the elderly couple, the young maid, and the child who helps out, the arrival of a new young manservant is a matter of wonder and upheaval – especially to the maid, Sarah, an orphan. The servants have to make the lovely surface of Austen’s heroines’ world happen: they’re working from before sunup to after sundown to draw the baths, iron the garments, launder the garments, curl the hair, cook the meals, polish the brass, curry the horses for the carriage, wait outside in the cold for the girls of the house to be ready to leave the ball . . . a never-ending round of drudgery. But Sarah won’t have it. Having finally found a little happiness, she will not let it slip from her grasp. Longbourn is set belowstairs, but it’s full of the commonality of the human spirit.

 

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I went to see David Sedaris recently, and I had an excellent time. Those of you who are interested in modern essays will surely have read something of Sedaris’s, who writes often for The New Yorker and has published many bestselling books of essays and other pieces, mostly dealing with his (funny, painful, bitter, loving) upbringing as one of six children of a mother who became an alcoholic and father who was, to put it mildly, challenging. Sedaris himself cannot have been an easy child to raise, as he points out gleefully, since he had obsessive-compulsive disorder and gradually came to realize that he was gay.

 

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” is the first book of Sedaris’s I’d read, and it remains one of my favorites, while “When You are Engulfed in Flames” is perhaps even better. But I believe I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and even in his “off” books, there is something screamingly funny and screamingly painful.

 

Sedaris started signing before the event and he signed more after the event, so it must have been a very long evening for him – this was a tour with 40 events! – but he seemed to keep his balance throughout the whole hour “performance,” which consisted of reading a couple of essays and other pieces, plus tying them together with some reminiscences. It was as funny as you can possibly imagine. I laughed myself sick. His reading was followed by a brief Q &A segment. To my pleasure and relief, some of the questions he got asked are just as repetitive as the questions I get asked. It felt strange to be on the other side of the lights, but it was a real relief, too.Here’s my point – besides urging you, if you ever have a chance to see David Sedaris live, do it! – is that he spent a goodly portion of the evening touting someone else’s book. And this book was not at all humorous. It was “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” by Barbara Demick, which explores the extreme difficulty and stress of trying to live in modern North Korea, under a regime as totalitarian as any ever devised. With grace and admiration, Sedaris said it was better than any book he would ever write, and urged all of us to buy it. In fact, he had it with his books in the lobby, to sell. I didn’t buy a copy in the lobby, but I have purchased one since.I consider Sedaris a fine, fine writer, maybe a great one, though since his field is self-deprecating humor – sometimes so scathing that he seems to be flaying himself in front of us – he may never get as much respect as he deserves. And now I admire him for his ardent advocacy of someone else’s book. It’s really satisfying to like both the writer and the man.

 

Charlaine Harris

October 31, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Inherit the Dead, edited by Jonathan Santlofer
  • Serving Victoria, Kate Hubbard

I don’t ordinarily review books in which I have any part, but Inherit the Dead was written for such a good cause (the proceeds benefit Safe Horizon, the US’s leading victim assistance organization) that I want to recommend it here. As you can tell form the stellar lineup of authors (just to pick a few at random: Mary Higgins Clark, Heather Graham, Val McDermid, Lawrence Block, C.J. Box) Safe Horizon is a cause it’s natural to support.

 

Unusually, for a serial novel, all the chapters were written simultaneously, which entailed a lot of planning on the part of the staff who managed this effort. And Inherit the Dead, about a disgraced policeman-turned-private eye who is pursuing a missing heiress, is definitely a coherent novel. You would never mistake my chapter for John Connolly’s, or S.J. Rozan’s, or James Grady’s, but the story is consistent. This was an interesting experience for all of us.

 

Serving Victoria sounds like an erotic novel, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This entertaining non-fiction book is about (literally) coming to Queen Victoria’s court as a lady of the bedchamber, or a court physician, and what it was like to live under those stifling circumstances. Happily, there are photographs of these people. Hubbard provides an interesting variety of stories about Victoria (when she laughed, she laughed long and loud) and the protocol that determined every moment of every day for the people honored with her service . . . and many of them certainly did feel honored. Victoria was a puzzling woman. The queen comes across as not too bright or educated, very thoughtful in some ways of those around her, and utterly insensitive in others.

 

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Audible, the books-on-cd company, is making a big announcement today. There’s going to be an anthology of short stories set in the Sookieverse. But none of them will be written by me! They’ll be written by great writers who’ve been kind enough to tell me they enjoyed my work. My friend Toni L.P. Kelner is editing the stories, and I’m giving them a once-over, too. Here’s the link if you’d like to pre-order:

When Audible first approached me, I was skeptical about the idea. I’ve never read fanfic, and I thought that this might be too akin to fanfic; other people, writing about my characters? But when I mulled it over for a few months, I began to see the possibilities. After I had another talk with Audible, I felt more amenable to the idea, and the project gradually took shape.

When writers like MaryJanice Davidson and Seanan McGuire take part – plus some writers whose names I’m holding back for later – you know the end product will be entertaining.
The world being the way it is today, I can already hear the accusations begin to pelt me. “You’re just trying to milk the success of your books as long as you can!” “You’ll do anything for a buck!” “No one will buy this! It’s exploitation!”

 

All right, I’ll take that. Though it’s not my motivation, it’s one interpretation.
No, I won’t do anything for a buck. If that were the case, I’ll still be writing the Sookie novels, and I would have Eric end up with Sookie and magically allow them to have little vampire babies.

 

Okay. Don’t buy it. Fine with me.

 

So there you have it; a future project which I can just sit back and enjoy. And I hope some of you do, too. I look forward to releasing the names of the other writers involved, and I’ve already peeked at one or two of the stories . . . and I laughed out loud.Charlaine Harris

October 20, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Pagan Spring, G.M. Malliet
  • Snowblind, Christopher Golden
  • Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn

Diversity and Contrast are my middle names this week. I am a huge fan of G.M. Malliet’s Max Tudor books, so I was delighted to buy this one as well. And let me say up front that I read and enjoyed it all in one day. But this is a case of the plot running the characters rather than the characters running the plot, in contrast to Malliet’s previous novels. Pagan Spring is about the death of an actor who’s retired to Nether Monkslip, where former MI5 agent Max Tudor is the Church of England priest. Thaddeus Bottle is the odious actor and playwright, and his wife Melinda runs to the vicarage to report her husband’s suspicious demise. Of course! For those of you who are fans of Max Tudor’s beloved Awenna, he thinks of her often during the book, but her return to the village close to the end of the book contains a real doozy of a conversation.

 

Christopher Golden’s Snowblind will not be on the shelves until JANUARY 2014. So I am jumping the gun; but this is a really wonderful horror novel, so put it on your to-buy list. The New England town of Coventry experiences an epic snowstorm one year, and during this terrible storm some truly awful things happen. People disappear without a trace, others are found dead in inexplicable ways, and lives are changed forever. Managing an ensemble cast with apparently effortless ease, Chris Golden lets a few years pass before another epic snowstorm begins to blow into Coventry . . . and suddenly, some of the people who vanished are back – in some form or other. I would not read this while it was snowing, I can tell you.

 

Jeff Guinn, a long-time journalist and the writer of two previous historical crime books (one about the gunfight at the OK Corral and one about Bonnie and Clyde) has really achieved something amazing with Manson. This highly-regarded work really is about Charles Manson’s life and how it was formed by the America he grew up in, the America that provided the backdrop for the terrible crimes that put him in prison for (effectively) his life. Guinn has succeeded in interviewing people who had never wanted to be included in any work about Manson before, including Manson’s sister and his cousin. He’s also talked to members of Manson’s created “family,” the ones who lived with him out in the desert. Guinn’s research makes Manson both more horrible and more understandable a figure.

 

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COOLING OFF

I recently finished writing a book, the first in a new series.

 

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And then I finished it again. And again. Each time, I thought it was done. But it wasn’t. I hope this is the final time I close the door on “Midnight Crossroad.”

 

After years of writing in the first person, I made the insane decision that my next book would be an ensemble novel, told from several different points of view. It was a decision that was easy to make, because I was longing to do something different. I gloated over the flexibility this would give me in telling the story of a group of people in a small Texas town. What I hadn’t counted on was the sheer difficulty in making sure each chapter was in one voice.

 

I finished the first draft a little late, but I had had the first two thirds of the manuscript read by Toni L. P. Kelner (aka Leigh Perry) and Dana Cameron, who are my trusted readers. They reported a few voice problems, and a few logical issues, so I rewrote accordingly. I felt I’d solved my problems as I plowed through the rest of the book. I sent those rewritten 200 pages to my editor at Ace, because she needed to begin working on the cover material and a description for the catalogue.

 

When I finished the manuscript completely, I sent it to my agent (Joshua Bilmes) and his assistant, Sam Morgan. Joshua expressed overall happiness, but he had some major quibbles, to my shock and dismay (I always hope it will be perfect!). He let Sam get specific.

 

I was not sticking to a point of view. I should find some way of designating who was running with the narrative during the various parts of the story, and that POV had to prevail until the baton was passed.

 

That meant a reorganization of the book. EEEEEEEKKK!

 

But after some bitter reflections on pride going before a fall, I saw it had to be done, and quickly, because the book was QUITE overdue. I thought very hard, and began my revision. Three points of view. They didn’t have to alternate, but they did have to be consistent. That meant the bits of narrative written in other voices had to be redistributed and rewritten. My mental file cabinet began to overflow.

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In this time, my granddaughter was born. That assumed high priority for a few days, but then the book got its claws back into me. Since my usual editor had a medical issue, I emailed Susan Allison at Ace to tell her that I would have the revised book on her desk (which now means “in her computer”) by Sunday afternoon at the latest.

 

And I sent it off Sunday afternoon. I never hit the SEND button with such gusto. I learned a lot in the writing of this book, after thirty-four years of writing books. The first thing was: Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, but don’t be surprised if that challenge turns out to be hard and sometimes unpleasant. The second was: After you finish the book, let it sit for three weeks before you revisit it. Even longer would be better. In the lag time between version number two and version number three, the book was out of my scope while I did other projects. And it was wonderful how much more clearly I could see what needed to be done when I opened the “Midnight Crossroad” file again.

 

But gosh, I hope I don’t have to rewrite that book again.

 

Charlaine Harris

October 8, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Dexter’s Final Cut, Jeff Lindsay
  • Chimes at Midnight, Seanan McGuire
  • The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker
  • Never Go Back, Lee Child

Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” books are as different from the television show as my books are from “True Blood.” Dexter’s Final Cut is the last in the series, the seventh novel. It might be reading too much into this bitter, clever book to say that Lindsay may have worked some of his ambiguous feelings about Hollywood into this narrative . . . but I will say some of his observations are spot-on. Dexter, blood spatter expert and serial killer, is assigned to shepherd an actor around who will play a blood spatter expert on television. Unfortunately for Dexter, he also accepts the role of bodyguard to the female star of the series. Poor Dexter! He’s blinded by visions of mojitos and luxury suites forever, and does not see the obvious machinations around him with his usual killer clarity. This is a must-read for anyone who’s enjoyed the previous books.

 

Seanan McGuire works her usual magic with Chimes at Midnight. I am a firm fan of hers, obviously, and even her lesser books are great reads. Chimes is not a lesser book, but it proceeds at such a breakneck speed that I found it hard to appreciate some of the action. In Chimes, Toby is banished by the Queen in the Mists, and decides to overthrow her. It’s convenient that Toby learns of a perfect replacement just at the right moment, but that’s the only snag in an otherwise excellent adventure.

 

The jaunty title of Emily Croy Barker’s book is at odds with the sometimes grim nature of the narrative. Graduate student Nora is at a bad place in her academic and personal career when she wanders into a pocket realm of the fae. She meets Ilissa, its queen, a mistress of illusion with a terrible son, Raclin. Soon Nora is more beautiful, unable to think for herself, and married to Raclin. A chance encounter with a magician, Aruendiel, leads to him rescuing her when she is on the point of death from Raclin’s mistreatment. As she recovers from her wounds, she and Aruendiel gradually learn to respect each other. She becomes his pupil. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic does not have a fairy-tale ending, but it does cry out for a sequel.

 

Never Go Back is the eighteenth Jack Reacher book. It’s hard for me to believe that Reacher’s been a figure in the American psyche for that long. In Never Go Back, Reacher does exactly that. He returns to his former command, the 110th MP, in Virginia, close to Washington. The woman he’s come to see is missing, under arrest. The charges against her are ridiculous, in Reacher’s estimation; but very soon she’s not the only one in trouble. What does Reacher do to get out of trouble? He uses his logic and his fists. I enjoy these books so much that I read them very uncritically, but Lee’s work has never let me down. If you haven’t read one of the Reacher books yet, start at the beginning and enjoy the ride. One of the great pleasures is the even and consistent tone of the books. I thought Reacher was getting more savage in one book, and I commented on that to Lee; but he said in his estimation, Reacher was always the same. I reread the books to verify, and Lee is absolutely right, of course.

Blog: Old Dogs and New Trick

I’m not middle-aged any more, unless I’m heading for the realm of Methuselah. I thought of excusing myself from learning anything besides how to write a better book, the pursuit that has driven me for the past 30 years. But when opportunities arise, it seems like scoffing at good fortune to dismiss them. Right?

 

As a tentative step in that direction, a couple of years ago Christopher Golden and I were talking about a plot line I had. It was this: a girl’s living in a cemetery, and she has amnesia. She only knows someone is trying to kill her. She lives in a crypt.

 

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I couldn’t make this idea go anywhere, mentally. I didn’t see it as a novel, and there were too many ramifications to make it a short story. Chris emailed me a couple of months later and suggested that the concept might make a great graphic novel.

 

EEEEK. I’d never written a graphic novel. I had no idea of how to format it, where to start. I was daunted. Then I reasoned that Chris was a graphic novel expert. Maybe it was time for me to collaborate? This was another thing I’d never done before. Chris, however, is an experienced collaborator, too. Very anxiously, I made the suggestion to him, and he was gung ho. One problem solved! We were fortunate enough to sell it quickly in America and the UK, and we’ve finished Volume One. The artist is Don Kramer, and it looks fabulous. Volume One will be out in October. We’re working on Two.

 

Then Chris asked me to be in an anthology of his, “Dark Duets.” Here’s the hitch: the story had to be written by two authors, and it had to be dark, as the title implies. I thought of several people I might ask, but in the end (full of fear) I asked my friend Rachel Caine, who can be dark and horrible.

 

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Though I was as nervous as if I were asking her out on a date, she agreed. We meshed our ideas, she wrote the fabulous first draft, I rewrote it with my own embellishments, and we sent it off to Chris, who accepted it.

 

My current music listening is in line with the theme. For the first time in my life, I’m listening to opera. I can’t understand the language, but I’m loving the voices. I’m starting on arias. I don’t know if I’ll ever move on to full-length works . . . but it’s a start.

 

Charlaine Harris

 

September 17, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • The Buzzard Table, Margaret Maron
  • Chosen, Benedict Jacka
  • Murder of a Stacked Librarian, Denise Swanson

Variety is definitely the spice of my reading life. I visited with an old friend this week. Any time I read Margaret Maron, I hear her voice. We have known each other a long time, and I have an extravagant respect for her and her work. The Buzzard Table is one of her Judge Deborah Knott books. If you haven’t read any of these, this is your chance to indulge yourself in a 17-book series. And there’s another bonus in The Buzzard Table; Maron’s other series protagonist, Sigrid Harald, appear in this book with Deborah Knott. This would be a fine introduction to both characters at once, and you will want to read more. The Knott books are set in North Carolina, and the setting and the people of Colleton County are clear and present. Maron was elected Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, and it’s very easy to see why.

 

Benedict Jacka likes to take chances. His lead character, Alex Verus, a diviner in the magic community, is not a hero. In the past, Verus has done very bad things . . . but he is seeking to become a better man, if he is allowed to be. Unfortunately, in Chosen, his past reputation and associations just won’t let him go. First and foremost, Verus is a survivor, and he’ll do what it takes to stay on his feet. I really love this series (this is the fourth book), and the world Jacka has created is so rich and solid that it rings true.

 

I always enjoy Denise Swanson’s books, and Murder of a Stacked Librarian is a Very Special Book in the Scumble River series. Skye Dennison, Swanson’s school psychologist, actually makes it to the altar and has the wedding of her dreams — AFTER she and her fiancée, Chief Wally Boyd, solve a murder, of course! But there are ominous forebodings in place for the next book.

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Waiting has never been my best thing. Some people are great at saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it. So I’m not going to worry.” And I say, “More power to you, resolute ones!” But I’m not made that way. I fret and fume, and refigure the problem from every angle, until I find a solution or a way to be at peace with myself. It’s probably good that my husband can be absolutely patient (at least, on the surface), because I have a terrible time maintaining my cool.

 

At least I get a lot done while I’m waiting for the phone call, or the letter, or the email, or whatever method of tension-ending comes first. And at least, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at dealing with my impatience. Experience does teach you something, apparently.

 

Grocery stores have always been my black holes. I can come home with four or five stories about things that have happened to me on any one trip. Maybe this is because I work alone all day, so any interaction has more weight. But maybe all human conduct can be boiled down to the time you spend in a grocery store! Now that I am not in charge of young children any more, every now and then I find the time spent in a store with a child– whose screams can be heard on every aisle — is extraordinarily trying. Though I usually manage to put myself in the place of the beleaguered mother (and believe me, I’ve been there), there are occasions when I’ve thought, “Mom, if this kid wants to be out of this store so badly, please take him out!” Then I remind myself of the times I’ve been in the same situation, and how badly I wanted to complete the shopping I had to do.

 

And seniors in carts. I don’t know how it is where you live, but here, many older people get into the store electric carts and buzz down the aisles, having a very hard time reaching what they need. Generally, I think, “Someday I’ll be there, and I hope someone’s patient and nice to me.” But some days, one of those twitchy days, I simply get exasperated when there’s cart blockage in the aisles and I can’t get through. Those are the days when I practice deep breathing, and I tell myself repeatedly, “Someday I’ll be in one of those carts, someday I’ll be in one of those carts.”

 

It’s always a war of my better side vs. my toe-tapping side. Thanks to the excellent example of my wonderful mother and father, my better side always wins, but the conflict rages on . . .

 

And as a disclaimer, in this day of people-who-have-no-humor, I love many children and many elders.

 

I’m just impatient.

 

Charlaine Harris

September 10, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • A Skeleton in the Family, Leigh Perry
  • Omens, Kelley Armstrong
  • A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough
  • Codex Born, Jim Hines

It took me some time to realize that aside from recommending Leigh Perry’s new book, I had neglected to review it; I’d read it so long ago. By now you know that Leigh Perry is the new pin name for my friend and co-editor Toni L.P. Kelner, and A Skeleton in the Family is the first book in new series. I’m not going to ruin any of the surprises in this delightful mystery by over-explaining it, but the premise is that Georgia Thackeray moves back into her family home with her daughter Madison, a teenager. Georgia, a college professor, is delighted to reunite with her childhood friend – Sid, an animated skeleton, who lives in the attic. Sid wants to find out how he died, and Georgia is just the woman to help him solve his own case. Perry’s book is a charming traditional mystery with a colorful picture of academic life, and it’s a page-turner.

 

Kelley Armstrong took a bold stance with her Women of the Otherworld series – telling her stories from the viewpoints of different women, rather than sticking to the most popular female, the werewolf Elena Michaels. It’s not any surprise at all that she makes an equally interesting choice with Omens, the first Cainsville novel. Olivia Taylor-Jones, a child of wealth and privilege, finds out she is actually the daughter of a notorious serial killer duo. Her birth name is Eden Larsen. This devastating discovery would level most fictional women, but Eden/Olivia is a very resilient and tough young woman with many inner resources. Though she doesn’t realize it at the time, she’s steered by a series of “chance” encounters to the town of Cainsville, whose inhabitants know her birth parents, and she is connected with her mother’s lawyer, a charismatic and cold man named Gabriel Walsh. Then the omens start popping up, and the plot starts popping, too.

 

I met Sarah Pinborough in Harrogate at the Orion dinner. You can’t meet her without wanting to read her books, and I hurried to by A Matter of Blood. Detective Inspector Cass Jones is a police officer in a depressed England. The police force is largely corrupt, though Jones is not, and life seems incredibly difficult for Jones; his wife is distant, he’s too busy to call his brother back, and the bloody cases just keep on falling his way. When Cass receives the call that his brother has murdered his own wife and son, Cass is devastated . . . and then he becomes the main suspect in that killing. This is a complicated and dark book, full of twists and turns, very compelling.

 

Jim C Hines’s Codex Born has the coolest premise ever. Isaac Vainio can reach into books and manifest items he reads about. Since he has this ability, in common with a few other people, he is a part-time librarian and also has a part-time magical research assistant job. He’s dating a dryad, Lena. Lena also has a relationship with another woman. It’s complicated, but they’re making it work. Then the werewolves of Michigan contact the team to say that wendigos are being murdered. Is this just a monster slaying gone brutally wrong? Or is it a deeper plot? The investigation leads to serious complications and near-death for everyone involved. Jim Hines is an engaging writer who is also greatly entertaining, and I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys superior world-building.

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Recommending books is easy and natural. Picking a topic to write about is hard. Right now, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that the dogs are all out of the room. It’s rare that I don’t have one at my feet or right behind me on a pillow, since we have four rescues and have had for many years. The two oldest are very old, we figure fourteen and twelve, Oscar and Rocky. The two youngest are approximately five and three, Scrunch and Colt. And, at the moment, we have our daughter’s two English bulldogs, Jackson and Jillian.

 

Jackson and Jillian are used to a lot of attention and to being indoor dogs. In fact, they are high-maintenance, and they are not suited to being out in the heat. If you’ve ever spent time with an English bulldog, you’ll have noticed that they breathe like steam kettles, drool a lot, and grunt. Even when they’re asleep, they snore quite loudly. These are not subtle dogs.

 

Our dogs, on the other hand, spend hours outside every day (except Oscar), can actually sneak up on us (if they understood the concept of sneaking), and are usually quiet when they one of their fifty daily naps. They all like a little one-on-one time when they can get it – especially Scrunch, who is a small sort of terrier. She is our lap dog. She does not want to share anything.

 

As you can imagine, often this clash of different dog families does not always go smoothly or well. There are snarling and snapping episodes between the two camps. At least they sleep a lot, which is a blessing.

 

But if our daughter isn’t here, the bulldogs follow every step we take. Whichever one of us is on the move is the target. It is easy to see where the term “dog” comes from, as in, “He dogged my every step.” I think this term was coined about bulldogs.

 

I have to say that our canine visitors are very sweet-natured. Our Scrunch tends to be a bit (excuse me) bitchy, but Jackson and Jillian are like large sweet bumblebees unless they feel a gauntlet has been thrown down. Even then, Jillian would rather wander off to hide rather than leap into the fray.

 

When our Beautiful Daughter moves on to her own abode, we’ll miss Jackson and Jillian, too. But not the rumbling, mumbling, and bumbling. Or the occasional spats with our dogs. We’ll miss the uncomplicated affection a dog offers. A pat on the head or a tickle under the chin, and you feel like you’ve done something great for another being on this planet. And that’s a great feeling.

 

Charlaine Harris

September 3, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Undead and Unsure, MaryJanice Davidson
  • Skinner, Charlie Huston
  • Blood of Tyrants, Naomi Novik
  • The Wolves of Midwinter, Anne Rice

I apologize for the long lag between columns. I was finishing a book, myself. And I’ve read some good ones; it’s going to take me a couple of weeks to catch up. This selection is all over the spectrum in tone and genre.

 

As many people who read my books already know, MaryJanice Davidson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and her books are just as funny. Queen Betsy has darker adventures these days, but they’re still great reading. I felt I got to know Sinclair, Betsy’s king, much better, in this book. Zombie Marc gets a chance to use his doctoring skills as he delivers . . . . well, I’ll leave that surprise for the reader. And Betsy goes back to Hell. Undead and Unsure is an absolute must-read for those who have followed Betsy’s adventures from the beginning, as I have.

 

Charlie Huston is a great American writer. Maybe his work is not quite as accessible as that of James Lee Burke or Robert Crais, but I would put him on their level. Skinner was a slow start for me, until I fell back into Huston’s elliptical dialog and spare style. The plot is mind-boggling – a nuclear bomb in India, a genius, and a semi-retired protection agent. I really couldn’t put this book down, and as usual with Huston, there’s surprise after surprise . . . or shock after shock.

 

I get so excited when I get a new Naomi Novik in the mail! Happily, in Blood of Tyrants Novik is back at full strength. Captain Will Laurence has been cast ashore in Japan following a shipwreck, and he has lost his memory. Meanwhile, his dragon Temeraire is fighting the overwhelming belief that Laurence is dead, which the other Englishmen and dragons believe must be the truth. When the two are reunited, Laurence is still suffering from memory loss, but the political situation demands that Laurence cover this up. Through all kinds of travail, the dragon and his man end up in Russia facing Napoleon.

 

Luckily for me, and thanks to Anne Rice, I was able to get an advance copy of The Wolves of Midwinter, her second Wolf Gift Chronicle novel. As rich in detail and vision as The Wolf Gift, Rice’s newest book is just as full of movement and startling developments as the previous one. Reuben Golding is facing his first Christmas as a werewolf, and he is learning more and more about his new world from the elder werewolves, the Morphenkinder. They are all living together in the amazing house he inherited in Gift, and at first, all seems harmonious – at least, until Reuben discovers he is about to be a father, courtesy of his discarded human fiancé. A chain of events follows that affects Reuben’s whole family; not only his human family, but his wolf family. Events reach a crisis during the best Christmas party ever. This book will be available in October, and it’s Rice at her best.

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I approached World Science Fiction Convention (this year held in San Antonio and called LoneStarCon) with some anxiety, since urban fantasy is not held in high regard by science fiction purists. This may be changing. Despite a rocky beginning (I found I was not scheduled for a signing, and the first volunteer I approached about this was rude and unhelpful) I hit gold with my second query. Sara Cooper not only made sure I had a signing, she helped to publicize it, and was charming in the process. And the only other negative thing I have to say about the con is that some writers did not get panels, which was very startling: Dana Cameron and Kevin Hearne, two of the left-outs that I know personally, are not exactly unknowns. Dana has won multiple awards, though admittedly many of these are in mystery. Kevin’s books are enormously popular. At the same time, I appreciate the complexity of scheduling appropriate panel time for such a large and diverse community of writers.

 

But issues such as these aside, there were microphones that worked, plenty of volunteers to let you know how your panel was doing on timing, other reliable volunteers to organize the signings, and a lovely green room for panelists. I had a great time on my panels, and was blessed with three moderators who really knew their jobs backward and forward: Darlene Marshall on “I Married a Werewolf: Paranormal Romance,” Melinda Snodgrass on “When Hollywood Comes Knocking,” and Seanan McGuire for “When Will Zombies Die?” All three were good-to-stellar at stating the purpose of the panel, keeping the panelists on topic, and sticking to the rules. That makes a huge difference in the success or failure of a panel. I was in very good company on all of them.

 

Most happy-making was the time I got to spend with three of my best buddies: Toni LP Kelner (now known as Leigh Perry), Dana Cameron, and bff Paula. Enhancing that was the companionship of two of my board moderators, Aislyn and LindsayB. We had a great evening out, and I can’t tell you how heartening it was to see familiar faces in the audience.

 

Adding something about science fiction con audiences: THEY KNOW THEIR STUFF. You cannot fake knowledge at a science fiction con. It’s better to confess ignorance and wait to be enlightened. Especially if you’re with Seanan McGuire . . . because she knows everything. I’m not kidding. She was nominated for about a hundred Hugos. Seriously, I think five. She won one, but I would not have been surprised if she’d come away with all of them. Come the zombie apocalypse, I will head for her. She can probably churn butter and make rifles.

 

Just to end on a happy note, two of my favorite people have new books this week: Denise Swanson’s newest, MURDER OF A STACKED LIBRARIAN, and Leigh Perry (nope, not Leigh Evans, though she’s great too), who has written the first book in a new series, A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY. For those of you who like traditional mysteries, this is a bonanza week.

 

– Charlaine