off to a family wedding

I’m heading out of state for the next week to attend a wedding. I’ll bring my laptop, but there’s no telling whether I’ll get a chance to blog — just in case I don’t, I hope everyone has as wonderful New Year’s Day. Read lots of books!

As for the books that I’ve got packed in my own suitcase, here’s what I plan to read on the long (10 hours!) plane ride ahead:

THE TROJAN WAR by Barry Strauss
TUTANKHAMUN by Nick Drake
THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt (okay, so I’m late to this one!)

plus a number of galleys that have piled up on my bedside stand. That’s the one upside of long plane flights — the chance to read.

Getting the engine warmed up

As you may have noticed, it’s been a while since I’ve written a proper blog post. It’s just the time of year that’s got me preoccupied, with Christmas shopping and family issues and trying to get the next book moving forward.

At the moment, I’m having my usual “where do I start this story?” dilemma. It’s the next Jane and Maura novel, and I know where it’s going, and how my characters are drawn into the crisis, but I have to choose exactly where to open the tale. Should the first scene be a prologue? What does it add to the story? Is it simply an artificial way to inject action early into a novel, or does it offer some important clue that enlightens what happens later?

And then there are the characters, several of them never before introduced. Should they immediately be in conflict with each other? If done badly, that instant conflict can seem over-the-top and melodramatic. Or should these conflicts build slowly and more subtly, like a steadily worsening itch? Would that make the pace start off a little slower than readers may like?

Writing a book is a series of choices. Which word do I choose for a particular sentence — climbed, scrambled, or ascended? Is this new character Arlo fat and balding, or just balding? Does he wear glasses, and does it matter? Whose point of view should this scene be told from? Confronted by too many choices, I sometimes feel paralyzed and end up staring at a blank page for hours. And that paralysis is so unnecessary, because I’ll probably change it all anyway when I do my rewrites.

This time around, I’ve written a very detailed working synopsis for myself, so I know the structure in advance. But it doesn’t seem to be speeding up the writing process one whit.

Download a free copy of THE SURGEON!

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If you’d like to find out how the Jane Rizzoli series all began, start at the beginning of the series with THE SURGEON.

Changing genres to save your life

Hop on over to Murderati.com to see my blog entry on this subject.

Genre wars never seem to end

Recently, I received the following email from a reader (male, no less!):

What a pleasure it was to read a good thriller ‘ Whistle Blower ‘ which
contained no coarse language.
I have ceased to read other well known authors because of their frequent use
of profanities,
I was so pleased I have just been out to buy three more of your books. Keep it
up,

The book he refers to, Whistleblower, was a romantic suspense novel that was first published in 1992. And I was quite surprised to receive such nice praise about the book. Because, quite honestly, most of the email I receive about my early romantic suspense novels are along the lines of “I never knew you once wrote such freaking dreck!”

Take a gander at some of the awful one and two-star reviews some of my romances received on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk:

CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT:

I bought this novel expecting a thriller, instead the only value I got from it was a comedy one. The characters are incredibly shallow, the plot denies credibility and the style is Barbara Cartland. If you’re looking for a thriller don’t look here. Romantic comedy wold be a more accurate classification!

Based on the writing, this book should be in the ‘romance’ section. while the plot is engaging, it is only superficially worked out and the characters have no depth. the writing is pure mass romance with men with hard bodies and fainting women being rescued, at the last minute of course.

OK, I’m no writer, but I know bad writing when I see it. And this is simply awful… The worst novel I’ve read this year.

PRESUMED GUILTY:

The thing is, I picked up this book after throughoutfully enjoying Gerritsen’s medical thrillers (I figured they’d feature the same gripping story-telling) but what I found was a lukewarm novel, filled with two-dimensional characters and a terribly boring plot.

After having read 3 previous novels from M/s Gerritsen, which were 1st class I felt that this one is more in line to be classed in the Mills and Boon Category than anything else. M/s Gerristens other novels were loaded with believable plots and characters, but this story where I knew from the 1st page what was going to happen and it was as predicitble as Mills and Boon
I would not recommend reading this book unless every other book in the world had been read, or unless of course Mills and Boon are your forte!

Judging by these reviews, CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT and PRESUMED GUILTY were the two worst books ever written.

But here’s the irony: Both books were finalists for Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Rita Award. That’s right. A panel of published romance authors judged both those books to be among the five or so best romantic suspense novels released in their respective years.

The lesson I draw from this? The “best” books in any genre may not be judged the “best” by another genre’s readers. While romance judges clearly thought these two books were worthy of being honored(and I have my Rita certificates to prove it) thriller readers consider them garbage.

And boy, do they let me know it. I’ve received dozens upon dozens of angry emails from readers who are disgusted by my old romance novels, which keep getting re-released with new covers. (I have no control over this, by the way. Mira holds the rights to these books.)

If there are any romance writers reading this blog, here’s a word of advice: be prepared when you switch genres. Even the most beloved romance writer in the world will find herself in hostile territory if she dares write for the mystery market.

Thriller writers hunger for respect from the mystery world. Mystery writers want respect from the literary world.

And romance authors — heck, they’d just like to stop being dumped on.

Earthquakes in the publishing world

With this latest news from Random House, combined with this news from Simon and Shuster, announcing the cutback of 35 jobs, the ground is shifting dangerously in the world of publishing. All this on the heels of news that publisher Houghton Mifflin is calling a moratorium on the acquisition of new titles. I’ve also heard rumors that Barnes and Noble has seriously cut back its orders for next year.

All this makes me — not to mention everyone else in the industry — very, very nervous.

A few months ago, I predicted that the book industry would do okay this Christmas, because people still need to buy gifts, and books represent a pretty good value for the money. What I hadn’t anticipated were the incredibly deep discounts now going on across all sectors of the retail market. I was in a clothing store recently and was stunned to see nice items of clothing, such as scarves and gloves and even sweaters, in the $20 range — half to almost 75% off the original price. Which means that books have serious competition in the thrifty range of Christmas gifts.

And as the economy looks sicker and sicker, I don’t see a turnaround coming anytime soon. The country is in for hard times, no matter who the next President is. I know I sound gloomy, but not half as gloomy as some of my banker friends, whose predictions for next year make me want to stockpile wood and peanut butter for the ordeal ahead.

The only glimmer of hope, at least for writers and performers, is that when times get tough, people desperately crave entertainment. I recall reading that during the last great depression, the film industry thrived. I don’t know if that’s really true, but it strikes me as something that would be true. When I get stressed out, I find myself heading for the video rental store. I hunt for escapist titles — science fiction, fantasy, comedies, thrillers. The same for my choice of books. What I don’t want are gloomy literary works or depressing tales of realism.

I’m almost glad I don’t have a book coming out in 2009. It sounds like it might be a bad year for book sales.