BOOK & BLOG
April 4, 2011
Books of the Week:
Deborah Harkness has enjoyed fabulous sales, especially for a first book, and she deserves them. A Discovery of Witches is a literary vampire romance. The characters are complex and sometimes irritating, but always interesting. American witch Diana Bishop, who has tried purposely never to learn anything about her heritage, uses a little bit of magic to call an out-of-reach book to her hand when she’s doing research in Bodleian Library in Oxford. This is witnessed by ancient vampire Matthew Clairmont. He is interested in Diana because rumor has spread that she can call an ancient book out of the stacks, a book that may hold crucial information for vampires, witches, and demons. Soon, they’re all after Diana, but Matthew makes a critical decision to break tradition and guard her from harm. The trouble just keeps on coming, though. There’s obviously going to be a sequel, perhaps more than one, and I’ll be waiting.
I’ve been a huge fan of Kate Atkinson’s since I read When Will There be Good News. I’ve read all her Jackson Brodie books now, completely out of order, and I’ve got to say I enjoyed them all even in the wrong sequence. Jackson, a former soldier and policeman, is a great character. He’s flawed but charming, and he loves women but he’s pretty hopeless with them. In Started Early, Took My Dog Jackson has been hired to track down the birth parents of a young woman in New Zealand. The names she’s been given for the birth parents turns out to be false, and Jackson follows lead after lead to discover the truth, learning a lot about himself in the process. We see some events through the eyes of other characters: retired policewoman Tracy Waterhouse and the elderly actress Matilda, who is struggling with advancing senility. As usual, Atkinson spins the threads of the story until they cross, changing the lives of everyone involved. The reader has to be alert (I’m warning you) because there are subtle bits of clues stashed throughout.
I’ve finally caught up on Alan Bradshaw’s Flavia de Luce series now that I’ve read A Red Herring Without Mustard. I’ve got to say, though this third one is not as satisfactory a mystery, the reader gets a deepening sense that the facts of Flavia’s life have a much deeper background than we’ve so far received. Is her dead mother Harriet really dead? Did she truly die in the manner Flavia’s been told? Why are her sisters so cruel to Flavia? Actually, I found myself wondering in previous books if it was only Flavia’s perspective that made them appear so brutal. Sometimes it seems as though they’re only older sisters who find their sibling irritating, pretty typically. I look forward to learning more about the mysterious de Luces.
My friend William Kent Krueger has a book coming out in August, Northwest Angle. I think this is a notable book, and maybe you’ll mark it on your reading calendars. Kent can’t write a bad book. That’s a simple fact. This is Kent’s twelfth Cork O’Connor book, if I’m counting correctly. The all-too-human O’Connor decides a vacation with his entire family would be a great idea, and so his two daughters, his son, his dead wife’s sister Rose and her husband Mal all pack onto a houseboat on Lake of the Woods in Minnesota. A terrible storm called a derecho tears all their lives apart in the space of minutes. Cork’s daughter Jenny, marooned on one of the many small islands, discovers a body and a baby, and the plot accelerates from there. I’ll try to mention this book again in August, readers. Please help me remember.
Many of you have already read about the ebook vs. print book debate, which has a lot of facets. The most basic question (“Will Ebooks replace print books?”) has an unknowable answer. Only time will tell. It’s a simple fact that ebooks are here to stay. In this portable society, the idea of being able to carry hundreds of books with you in one slim device is simply irresistible. And why should it be resisted?
The conventional wisdom among published writers, at least up until the past year or so, is that most writers who went straight to ebook without going through the publishing industry were people who simply weren’t talented enough, or lucky enough, to catch the attention of a reputable publisher.
Every now and then we’d hear from an editor that a few publishing houses were glad to have someone patrolling the internet for good fanfic or for ebooks promising enough to warrant a closer look at the writers.
Like many other published writers who had an established career, I was content to ignore the ebook world. But lately, all that’s changed.
The widely quoted and debated dialog between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath the subject is their decision to go to ebooks in the middle of their successful careers has put a stick of dynamite under our complacent butts. I know and respect both these writers, and their thinking-outside-the-box strategy stunned me. (Google their names and you’ll soon track down this exchange.)
Amanda Hocking, a very successful ebook writer (who’s sold, EW states, over a million romances) just signed a super-lucrative deal with St. Martin’s Press, kind of a reversal of the Eisler/Konrath pattern. And the price of this deal? Two million for four books
So what’s happening? What’s a new writer to do? I was fortunate enough to find a major publisher for my first two books. After that, my publishers were less prestigious, but still New York based and respectable. But what if that first book hadn’t sold? What choices would I be making now?
Though Amanda Hocking’s tale will spark a rash of emulators, it’s the truth that by far the majority of e-pubbed and self-published books are in desperate need of a good editor. Some of them would never be accepted by an agent or a publisher with any kind of screening procedure. I haven’t read Hocking and don’t know what kind of editing process she has, but obviously she found a way to make it work for her. (Hats off, Amanda Hocking!)
Suddenly, the door’s wide open. I don’t know if this process will work for many people. In fact, it’s certain that it’ll only work for a very few. But I know how hopeful and how terrified I was when I was a first-time writer. Would I have tried e-pubbing? Would I have self-published? Maybe so.
© 2011 Charlaine Harris