Was it murder--or something serious?
Philip Marlow in Murder, My Sweet

Friday, May 16, 2014

Madam, Will You Write?

I was always a storyteller.

When my sisters and I were very young, coloring away in our coloring books, I would tell elaborate stories about the figures we diligently filled in. I don’t think the stories ever had much to do with the illustrations -- which was good preparation for future cover art. All through school my teachers told me I would be a writer, and that sounded like a plausible plan to me. When I was sixteen I began mailing off my first manuscripts to publishers.

I had no doubt about what a “writer” was, but my ideas of authorship were more vague. In fact, I think they were largely shaped by Mary Stewart. By her work, by the way my mother responded to her work, and by that same photo that showed up on all my mother’s editions of her work.

Oddly enough I was studying that photo the other day, smiling faintly at how very calm and poised -- even wise -- Mary Stewart looks in her modest dress and pearls. Not really like any author I know, let alone me.

Mary Stewart passed away on the 9th of this month. I feel like I’ve lost a friend. In fact, she was such a major influence, I don’t think I can whip up a tribute essay on the spot. Her work was smart and stylish and eminently sane. It influenced my own work in incalculable ways, and it always served as the gold standard of romantic-suspense.

There were two very nice obituaries from The Telegraph and The Guardian.   

Tonight I’ll be honoring Mary Stewart the best way I know. By reading and appreciating her all over again.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Positioned for Success

A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting experience. My former agent (well, not my agent -- she quit the biz -- but her partner) contacted me to let me know there was "INTEREST IN YOUR BOOK FROM JAPAN!" Well, that sounded familiar, and sure enough it's my Japanese agent from another part of my publishing life, only she's interested in the Mantra for Murder series. Cool. So it takes forever working with Japan, and I'm in no hurry. But a couple of weeks later I get a mailing from my agent -- no explanation, nothing, just a request to sign and return the enclosed papers ASAP. So I sign them. And then I take a moment to actually look at what I'm signing, and it is an amendment to my contract with the American publisher to hand over all my world rights (minus the Japanese rights).

The author hereby grants the Publisher during the full term of copyright, and any renewals, continuations and extensions thereof the exclusive right to license the Work, in whole or in part, for publication throughout the world in all languages (excluding the Japanese translations rights, which are hereby reserved to the Author) other than English.

I puzzle over this for a bit.

Amending the agreement... As in our original contract?

Wait. Do they HAVE my world rights? Now I'm confused. I'm confused about who has my world rights -- I kinda thought it was me -- and yes it's an amendment, so yes, I must be right about that. But then I'm also confused as to why we would be retroactively handing back my world rights (especially since they don't pertain to this Japanese deal) when everyone in the world (literally) is fighting to hang onto translation rights, given that translation is one of the biggest areas for possible career expansion in the new publishing paradigm. Translation and audio.

And again, no explanation or hint from the agent as to why this would be a good thing to do.

So anyway, emails flew back and forth. Let me cut to the chase. I didn't hand my translation rights over. And I am even less popular with my former agent-who-wasn't-my-agent than before.

I won't deny that I was actually a little shocked by the whole exchange. But maybe I'm being naive. Maybe this is a typical agent move? I don't know as I never replaced my original agent. She was a good agent -- and I liked her a LOT -- but my career went in such a direction that an agent wasn't really...well, it wouldn't have made sense for either of us. It turned out to be a very good move for me, but that did take a little while.

Now days when in doubt about a contact, I send it to the Author's Guild to have them take a look-see. I probably have reached the point where I do need an agent again, but the whole Japanese thing is so dismaying I don't quite know what to think. Am I being paranoid? Maybe I've been in the indie sector so long I don't remember how it works in mainstream?

I'm not worried about the Japanese deal. It goes through or it doesn't. Meanwhile, I've listed the books on Babelcube.com because I am curious and adventurous and that's how come I earn what I do and can take my sisters on week-long vacations to Catalina every year, etc.

I’m having the Mantra for Murder series put into audio as well as the Poetic Death books. I’ve found that ESL readers really do appreciate audio, especially when Amazon links the ebooks to the audio books. They can listen and read along. I mean, obviously lots of people love audio, but I’ve been surprised and touched by how many readers for whom English is a second language have spoken up about their gratitude for putting books into audio. That almost makes it worth it right there!

 Anyway, I got curious and started poking around the web, and lo! There are a number of yoga mysteries, even yoga series out there now. I bought a copy of Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber and Neal Pollack’s Downward-Facing Death. I haven’t read either, naturally. Since I have about two minutes of reading time every night before I plunge into unconsciousness. There was also Anne Blackmore’s self-pubbed Dead Men Don’t Pose and Glen Ebisch’s The Hero Pose, and finally another self-pubbed entry The Yogi Made Me Do It. (Ouch.)

Anyway, I’m not sure I bought the Pollack and Weber books to read, really. Basically I felt a tiresome surge of competitiveness and thought I should probably write that fifth yoga book. Especially with the translations and the audio and so forth.

My problem was -- and is -- I found the mix of yoga and murder uncomfortable. I loved writing Corpse Pose, but -- and maybe this comes back to my preference for standalones over series -- I really didn’t feel much need to return to the characters. Well, other than having committed to a three-book contract! They were fun characters, definitely. But all the big questions and concerns had been answered. Oh, there was still more possible exploration of all the wacky neighbors and locals, I know, but then…murder…and yoga. I kept coming back to that. 

And yoga is tricky in that you have readers who -- as I was saying in an earlier post -- just don’t like the idea of yoga. Nothing personal. And then you have readers who do, but who have very definite ideas of how yoga should be handled. For them the yoga is going to be the most important aspect of the book -- which does not make for good mystery fiction. I suppose the fruit-canning mystery writers also get their share of As a fruit-canning practitioner of X many years…reviews that make you want to shoot yourself.

 Amazon is working very hard to drum up interest in the Pollack series though. And Tracy looks like she’s working herself to her sit bones, so good luck to them both. With all those millions of yoga practitioner and mystery readers out there, in theory the books should do really well. I'll be watching with great interest.

It just keeps getting back to the choices we make in our publishing career. And our lives...

Friday, May 2, 2014

It's Not Personal

Licensed through Shutterstock
Yesterday was a bonanza day at Thrilling Detective HQ. Mr. Thrilling got the usual parcels of cozy mysteries as well as a few books that he might actually read. I was pawing over the pastel offerings, trying to see if there was anything I might be interested in before I hand them off to my mom (she is your devoted fan, believe me -- but she has no book buying budget.)

I was reminded again -- and this is such a hard lesson for authors, maybe an impossible lesson -- so much of what we like or dislike in our reading (or our anything, I guess) has NOTHING to do with the quality of it. For example I will not read a pet mystery. I love pets, I miss having a dog a lot, but not only do I have no interest in anything pet-related, I actually find the whole concept kind of irritating.

I have no idea why. Sentient animals are the worst, but even perfectly ordinary pet-related books are an instant pass. Most of the time I won’t even read the blurb. Now that’s as impersonal as it gets.

I also can’t stand anything to do with knitting, spinning, sewing, embroidering, crocheting… Just…no. I have nothing against these activities, but for some reason they are an instant turn-off in a book. Now, I am well aware of the phenomenal success of all those knitting mysteries and knitting romances, so I’m not under the illusion that I have any instinct for what is commercial (see Poetic Death series).

Toys…teddy bears, dolls, doll houses…no. Maybe a collector of vintage toys…hmm. I might like that. I love antiques, but then again, as much as I love the idea of an antique collector/restorer/auctioneerer I don’t think I’ve actually ever got around to reading any.

Art is always good for me. Anything to do with books. Book collecting, in particular. Owning bookstores, obviously. But then again I have a few of those Booktown Mysteries, and I’ve never felt inclined to actually read one. I like looking at their charming covers though. They make me want to read...though somehow not them. I like books about writers, but it’s difficult to sell those outside of chicklit. Egyptology. Archeology. These are all wins. I like vintage clothes and gardening. I love jewelry. I collect vintage jewelry. Selro, anyone? But I don’t want to read about a jewelry collector.

Food. I love food. I love cooking. But I don’t think I like any cooking mysteries. I buy them though. Especially the ones that have cupcakes on the cover. The promise of recipes in a book does nothing for me. It’s not a turn-off. It's just not an incentive. I always faithfully read the blurbs. Sometimes I will even sample the first couple of pages, and they are usually absolutely FINE. Occasionally even delicious.

It’s so weird trying to analyze why we like what we like. And why we dislike sight unseen…jam-making mysteries or stock car mysteries or Bible salesman mysteries (come on, there HAS to be an inspirational cozy series about a Bible salesman).

I wonder if it’s the whole concept of series? I am very much burnt-out on the idea of a series. I could read and enjoy a standalone novel about, well, something -- a jewelry collector -- if the conceit didn’t have to stretch to five books and counting.

But that’s just me.