January 10, 2013

by | Jan 10, 2013 | 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Live by Night, Dennis Lehane
  • Bitten, Kelley Armstrong

I think I’ve misplaced a book or two I read between the last blog and this one, because that seems awful scant, for me.


Dennis Lehane is one of the major American crime writers of the past decade, and he will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Lehane has written books that have left an indelible mark in crime fiction, or any fiction. And he has the great good fortune/great talent to have attracted the attention of filmmakers who do justice to his works. He’s a classic in his own time.


Having fawned all over Lehane in print, let me add that though there is a bite of amusement in many of his books, there’s also an overwhelming melancholy, a feeling that at the bottom of life there is a great truth, and it’s not a pleasant one.
He’s not for sissies.


Live by Night is about a gangster (or an outlaw, as he prefers to call himself) in the Prohibition era. Joe Coughlin has lived on the wrong side of the law his whole life, though the book opens when he is quite young. Joe makes a lot of bad choices, and he makes some very good ones, but in his chosen life he’s only going in one direction. Far seeing and wily, it’s a fascinating trip to follow Joe through his life, from loving the wrong woman to being beaten and arrested and beaten some more, to surviving jail, to winning the esteem of a higher-up gangster and rising through the ranks. If you’re a fan of noir, this is the book for you, and even if you’re not a gangster fan, Lehane is always worth reading.


The same kind of reflection made me recently reread Kelley Armstrong’s first book,Bitten. I’ve always considered Bitten a landmark book. I’d never read anything like it, and I still think it’s great. Armstrong didn’t want to write a whole series about one character, so the books that followed were sometimes about her werewolf pair, Clay and Elena, and sometimes about other women Elena encountered: a witch, a psychic, a vampire. The Women of the Underworld series has been entertaining, but Armstrong herself says that her Elena books are always the most popular.


What is it about Bitten that’s so great? So many things. Elena was turned a werewolf by Clay, who loved her with such single-mindedness that he bites her without getting her consent, without even telling her that he is a werewolf, with no preparation at all. That’s certainly enough to make you hate someone, right? And Elena has a lot of bitterness. She leaves Clay. But in this book, she returns to the packleader who is Clay’s “father,” because he needs her. She realizes she has failed the pack. She realizes a lot of other truths, too. Elena is flawed, strong, and brave, and she’s a great character. She’s decisive, when she matures.


Armstrong can handle strong characters without sentimentality or a bath in a romantic glow. No one is a superpower; everyone has weaknesses and strengths. It’s a refreshing treatment, no matter who her protagonist is. If you’ve never readBitten, this would be a great time to pick up a copy.


When I was writing my blog for the Femmes Fatales earlier this week, I had the germ of an idea that I didn’t develop enough. It was about support systems. It’s true that a writer writes alone. No matter how many family members come in and out of the writer’s lair, it’s a solitary profession attracting people who are comfortable with their own company.


That’s true until you write a book that’s published. Then all sorts of others are involved in your little cottage enterprise, and your aloneness begins to erode until it’s just about nonexistent.


It takes a village to publish a book, if you go the conventional route. Even if you go with an epub house, there are going to be other people who have an impact on the production of your “baby.”


I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by helpful people, but that didn’t happen by accident. I have the right agent (I was lucky enough to get the right one on my first try). I’m with the right publisher (after being with about . . . I don’t know, five). I have a great publicist. My cover art is by a wonderful artist, and the art department at Penguin was wise to choose her. I have great beta readers, my friends Dana Cameron and Toni L.P. Kelner. I have the moderators of this board. (If I tried to moderate (especially at the height of the Sookie enthusiasm) I would have driven away everyone who posted!) I have so much help from other people at my publishing house, from those who make sure my Facebook page has all the pertinent info on it, to the salesmen who brief bookstore owners on my upcoming work, to the travel maven Megan who arranges all my travel from liftoff to touchdown. In a sense, though I write the books, I have so much more help now.


You’d think I’d have lots more time, with all this help, but that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Somehow, I still have more to do than I can comfortably accomplish.


But I think that’s true of every working woman, right?


I got one response to my original blog that was interesting. A woman said she couldn’t work without her chiropractor, and her family . . . she listed a host of people I’d never even considered. Each one of us is the center of a different village!


Charlaine Harris