“Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Name Game; Or, On Killing ‘The Baby Killers’

Raymond Chandler once said - and I’m paraphrasing, now - that a good title for a novel is a title of a novel that has sold a million books. By which he meant, I think, that a novel’s title is far less important than its story, and that we shouldn’t get unduly hung up on what the book is called.
  That said, I’m a sucker for a good title. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA. TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE. THE LORD OF THE FLIES. TREASURE ISLAND. THE BIG SLEEP. Terrific titles, one and all - although, it should be said, they’re all terrific novels too.
  Now that THE BABY KILLERS is going to be published, I’m wondering if ‘THE BABY KILLERS’ is a good title. In theory, at least, it’s an eye-catching attention grabber, which is one function of a novel’s title, and it’s nowhere as gratuitous as it might seem on first glance, as no actual babies are killed during the novel (it refers to the phrase ‘kill your babies’, the advice given to writers who, when redrafting a novel, need to excise those elements they might have a personal preference for, but which are not essential to the story).
  I like the title, but I’m not precious about it, and I’m thinking strongly of changing it. If a potential reader declines to go any further with the book than that title on the basis of its ugly connotations (and there are few uglier concepts than the killing of babies), then I couldn’t really argue with him or her. Yes, we’re all grown-ups here, and the world we live in can be an ugly place; but that’s not a good enough reason to add unnecessary ugliness, just for the sake of what may or may not be an attention-grabbing title.
  As all Three Regular Readers will be aware, I’m a struggling writer, and I have a baby girl called Lily. The novel features a character called Declan Burke, a struggling writer, who has a daughter called Lily. I was messing about during the week mocking up a cover for the book, and in the spirit of post-modern japery, it occurred to me to put a picture of the real Lily on the mocked-up cover. Except I didn’t even get past the idea of it; the very notion of putting a picture of my lovely little girl in close proximity to the title THE BABY KILLERS was a step too far.
  Besides, I’ve been racking my brains, and I can’t actually remember one person who’s said to me, ‘Wow, that’s a great title.’ I have had quite a few comments, on the other hand, to the effect that the title is jarring, and off-putting. Most of those quite-a-few-comments have come from women, which is perhaps unsurprising; and what’s significant there is the fact that, as we all know, women read much more fiction than men. Does it make any sense to alienate the majority of potential readers?
  This isn’t just a commercial decision that needs to be made. If it were, I’d probably allow my perverse streak to make the call, and plough ahead with THE BABY KILLERS. It’s more a question of whether or not I want as many people as possible to read my book, be they women or men. Occupying, as I do, one of the lowest rungs on the publishing ladder, I’m not actually writing for money, which is just as well, because at this point I’d be dead from starvation. No, I’m writing for the fun of it, for the joy of putting words in their best order, for the thrill of seeing people emerge hesitantly from whatever dark shadows lurk in the back of my mind and gradually come together to create something real and vibrant and true. Having achieved that, to the best of my ability, only one thing then matters - that as many people as possible read the story. And if even a non-scientific, anecdotal approach tells me that some or many women (and very probably men too) are likely to avoid the story on the basis of the title, then ‘killing the baby’ of the title becomes a no-brainer.
  As it happens, most of the people who’ve been kind enough to pen a few words in support of the novel (see left) read the novel under a different title (it was called BAD FOR GOOD back then), and they either did or didn’t like it on the basis of the story, as opposed to the title. I may well revert to BAD FOR GOOD, although I do have another title in mind too.
  In the meantime, what say you, O Three Regular Readers? Would the title THE BABY KILLERS put you off picking up a novel? Are you even worried as to what a novel is called? How important is a title, and a novel’s cover in general? I’m all ears …

Friday, February 11, 2011

“Ya Wanna Do It Here Or Down The Station, Punk?”: Gerald So

Yep, it’s rubber-hose time, folks: a rapid-fire Q&A for those shifty-looking usual suspects ...

What crime novel would you most like to have written?
THE JADE FIGURINE (1972) by Jack Foxx (a.k.a. Bill Pronzini). It’s a little MALTESE FALCON, a little TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY.

What fictional character would you most like to have been?
Either Bill Smith or Lydia Chin by S.J. Rozan.

Who do you read for guilty pleasures?
Tom Clancy, Lee Child, Lee Goldberg’s Monk books ...

Most satisfying writing moment?
The whole process of writing a poem: Jotting down an idea, working on it, finishing it, and submitting it.

The best Irish crime novel is …?
I’d like to read more Irish crime novels, but for now I’ll go with HER LAST CALL TO LOUIS MACNEICE by Ken Bruen.

What Irish crime novel would make a great movie?
THE WRONG KIND OF BLOOD by Declan Hughes.

Worst / best thing about being a writer?
Worst and best is coming up with characters and a story on one’s one. It’s a tremendous accomplishment, but necessarily a lonely one. Discussing writing with friends or others is fun for a while, but it isn’t writing.

The pitch for your next book is …?
I’ll pitch THE LINEUP 4, which goes on sale April 1: 26 poets, 32 poems, 52 pages, our largest issue yet, for the same $7.

Who are you reading right now?
Seth Harwood, YOUNG JUNIUS, probably followed by Joe Gores, SPADE AND ARCHER.

God appears and says you can only write OR read. Which would it be?
Write. I need an outlet for all this thinking.

The three best words to describe your own writing are …?
“Terse and powerful.” :) Or, terse, pensive, powerful.

THE LINE-UP 4, a collection of poetry edited by Gerald So, Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez and R. Navarez, is available at Poetic Justice Press.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Today’s Post Is Brought To You By The Letter E

Allan Guthrie runs an interesting new blog called e-books that sell, and yesterday he had a fascinating post titled ‘Observations from the e-front’. It got me thinking, mainly because my e-book doesn’t sell, whereas the books on Allan’s blog sell in their thousands, and in some cases hundreds of thousands. Mostly it got me thinking about the reasons why my e-book doesn’t sell - apart, obviously, from reasons such as ‘a lack of promotion’, or ‘failure to establish word-of-mouth’, or (the classic) ‘it’s rubbish, mate’.
  Anyway, here’s my variation on Allan’s ‘Observations from the e-front’; any and all feedback is hugely welcome. Except for the ‘it’s rubbish, mate’ variety, obviously - we’ve covered that one extensively already, ta very much.
Observations from the e-front (a writer replies while thinking aloud)

1. I don’t belong on ‘e-books that sell’.
2. Mainly because my e-book doesn’t sell.
3. That’s my fault - I’d rather to have readers than money (I like my day job; I write for fun).
4. But I want to connect my e-book with readers. Where do I go?
5. How do I persuade readers to take a chance on my book?
6. Can I be sure my book offers value for money?
7. Can I be sure my book offers value for time?
8. What websites and / or blogs should I be touching base with?
9. Can a UK reader download a US-published e-book?
10. What other questions should I be asking myself?


CRIME ALWAYS PAYS by Declan Burke

Available on Kindle and many other formats

When a heist goes west, Karen and Ray head south, next stop the Greek islands. On their trail are Karen’s ex-con ex- Rossi, his narcoleptic wheelman Sleeps, jilted cop Doyle, and Melody, an indie filmmaker with an eye for the wide angle and a nose for the big score. The Monte Carlo grand prix of road-trip comedy capers, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is a furiously fast and funny screwball romp that barrels through Amsterdam and Rome in a welter of double- and treble-crosses in the company of a motley crew with their eyes on the prize of riding off with the loot into that glorious Santorini sunset …

Reviews for CRIME ALWAYS PAYS:
“CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is part road movie and part farce, reminding me sometimes of Elmore Leonard, sometimes of Allan Guthrie, sometimes of Donald Westlake and sometimes of the Coen brothers – sometimes all at once.” – Glenn Harper, International Noir

“The comparisons to Elmore Leonard’s style are warranted and deserved, but Burke has managed to put his own unique spin on it … For anyone looking for some escapism, a great read, and a lot of fun, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is for you.” - Smashwords review (*****)

“FIVE stars for sure!” - Smashwords review (*****)

“CRIME ALWAYS PAYS is a fun yet complex novel, which definitely falls under the heading of screwball … The unique mixture of a fun cops and robbers caper and the complex plot and character relationships makes this novel highly enjoyable and worth a read, or even a re-read.” - Smashwords review (****)

“The end result is a little like what might be expected if Elmore Leonard wrote from an outline by Carl Hiaasen ... [It’s] about the flow, the feel, the dialog, the interactions among characters, not knowing who’s working with - or against - who, the feeling that anything might happen at any moment. It’s as close to watching an action movie as a reading experience can be.” - Dana King, the New Mystery Reader
  If you fancy reading some sample chapters, feel free to clickety-click here

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

On Writing As Wasteful Self-Indulgence

I’ve written in these pages before about Deborah Lawrenson, author of the very fine THE ART OF FALLING and the Lawrence Durrell-influenced SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD (and the forthcoming THE LANTERN) - indeed, it was the Lawrence Durrell hook that drew me into her novels first. She isn’t a crime writer by any stretch of the imagination, even if there is a crime lurking at the heart of SONGS OF BLUE AND GOLD, which is why I’m doubly pleased that she not only agreed to read the m/s of THE BABY KILLERS, but offered the following blurb:
“THE BABY KILLERS is surreal rollercoaster of a read, full of the blackest humour, and yet poignant – an outrageously funny novel that’s also deadly serious about the pain of being a contemporary writer. The joy is in the writing itself, all sparky dialogue and wry observation, so smooth that when it cuts, it’s like finding razor blades in honey.
“Here’s the agony that underpins the novel: the writer – as opposed to the real-life human being who is father, husband, son, brother, friend – only truly becomes what he strives to be when he is on this own, wrestling with his creations on the page. Yet, at certain times in life, when there is a new baby for example, or publishing hits the economic buffers, guilt for all those stolen hours sets in and those fictional creations become demons.
“In THE BABY KILLERS, Declan Burke hasn’t just written another comedy crime novel (at which he excels) but has used it as a getaway vehicle to peel away the layers of the writing process itself, howling with anger at the state of the world and sparing himself no punishment along the way.” - Deborah Lawrenson
  I thank you kindly, ma’am.
  THE BABY KILLERS, for those of you new to these pages, is a novel which will be published later this year, and which has already received a number of humbling blurbs from some very fine writers. As such blurbs by definition come from fellow writers, I’m a tad concerned at this point that the book, which is in part concerned with the process of writing a novel, will be more interesting to other writers than it will to readers who aren’t writers. And there’s always the danger that a reader with no interest in the process of writing, or the struggle to get published that most writers experience, will simply feel that that aspect of the novel is at best self-indulgent.
  All I can say to that is that this book captures a particular frame of mind, an especially profound time and space in my life, and that I wanted to incorporate that into the story itself. As a challenge, as an experiment, as a once-off peek behind the curtain of the writing process, to expose myself as a pathetic ‘wizard’ furiously pulling on levers in a vain attempt to convince the world of my ‘magical’ powers. Perhaps it’s because so much of the publishing industry - leaving aside the actual writing for the moment - is an exercise in smoke and mirrors, one in which too many writers swan about offering lofty guff about genius and the creative process and dropping broad hints as to how they occupy a different plane entirely to their readers, when the truth is that they are every bit as desperately seeking truth, inspiration and meaning as the people who read their books.
  Most writers, if they’re honest, struggle with the same issues (financial and otherwise) as are dealt with in THE BABY KILLERS; most writers, if they’re honest, lose the battle, although very few, thankfully, resort to blowing up hospitals in frustration.
  Maybe THE BABY KILLERS is an exercise in self-indulgence - at this point I’m still too close to it to offer any kind of balanced opinion. That said, and for those writers who aren’t earning a decent living from publishing novels, which is most writers, the very act of writing, that of stealing away time, effort, income and emotion from your nearest and dearest in order to invest it in a tissue of lies, all for the sake of satisfying ego and ambition, is as self-indulgent a process as can be imagined. But can you imagine how much poorer the world would be without it?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Edinburgh, El Greco And Me

I know nowt about art, but I do have a soft spot for El Greco, not least because no one can capture sadness quite like the Cretan. We were in Edinburgh for the weekend, and The Saviour of the World can be found in the National Gallery there, so - never missing an opportunity to see an El Greco or a Caravaggio in the flesh, as it were - I beetled across to stand in front of The Saviour of the World for so long that I was eventually asked to leave. Haunting stuff; as you can probably appreciate, the reproduction doesn’t do it justice, and particularly the impact of those heartbreaking eyes.
  Anyway, it was a very fine break indeed in Edinburgh. It’s a lovely city to stroll around, given that there’s architectural delights to be had around every corner, even if I didn’t manage to make it as far as the folly that gave the city the title ‘the Athens of the North’. To be honest, though, I wasn’t there for the art or the architecture - it’s been mind-meltingly busy lately, and it was nice to draw a quiet breath or two, forget about deadlines, and simply wander around with my good lady wife, doing our own thing at our own pace, eating fine food, drinking when we felt like it, and sleeping my tousled little head off at every opportunity. Oh, and it was nice to sit down and break bread (drink coffee, actually) with Scotland’s finest living author, Allan Guthrie, on Saturday afternoon. Especially as he paid for the coffee. Nice one, Al.
  It’s back into the fray with a vengeance this morning, though. This week sees DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21ST CENTURY delivered to the publishers, Liberties Press, and once that’s out of the way, I’ll be starting into a redraft of mine own humble tome, THE BABY KILLERS, which will be published later this year.
  Did I spend any time over the weekend thinking about either project? No. My brain being the unruly slave that it is, and the El Greco having the impact it had, I found myself wondering about the possibility of resurrecting a half-written novel of mine, a quasi-sci-fi tale of a messianic second coming recounted by a scribe detailed by the relevant authorities to discover the whereabouts of said messiah’s body, which appears to have been stolen from its tomb by one of a number of vested interests, lest its disappearance give credence to rumours of divine intervention, and result in political, social and theological revolution.
  Yep, that’s me - always with the sharp nose for a best-selling commercial prospect (koff) …