Higher Mysteries podcast

My buddy Rick Kleffel has posted his podcasts of the Higher Mysteries panel, in which four top-ranking crime writers talk about using religion and theology in their work, on his web site, The Agony Column:

“You’re all here for Tax Law 101, right?”

—Laurie R. King

For all the seriousness of her premise, Laurie R. King set a light tone for her panel discussion about “Higher Mysteries” with Sharan Newman, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Zoe Ferraris. King is a natural ring-leader, and must have been a rather mischievous student when she was studying theology in college. She makes a great host for three other very smart writers.

I captured the whole one-hour plus conversation, which offers a lot of fun, insight, and most importantly, many reasons to read. It’s hard to listen to such a great talk and not head directly to the library or bookstore to pick up the subjects of conversation.


But wait, there’s more!

He also recorded one-on-one interviews with all four of us who participated in the event, and has those available as well.  Rick, who does a lot of work for NPR, is one of the best interviewers around.  I think you’ll love what he got the four of us to say.

The “Higher Mysteries” event is here.

An abridged version (3:45) is here.

His interview with Zoë Ferraris is here.

The one with Julia Spencer-Fleming is here.

The talk with Sharan Newman is here.

Rick’s interview with me is here.


Higher Mysteries

Last month, you may recall, I urged you to drop what you were doing and come to listen to four fabulous ladies (or anyway, three fabulous ladies and me) talk about how we use religion and theology when writing crime fiction.  There’s a podcast on its way, but the excellent video has just gone up on YouTube.

The talk is a part of the lecture series bearing the name of my late husband, who taught religious studies in Africa and California, and dedicated his life to the dialogue between the world’s religions.  He lived and breathed theology, and although he didn’t really “get” fiction, could count on the fingers of one hand the novels he read apart from his wife’s (Things Fall Apart and The Satanic Verses were about it), and was never really convinced that what I was doing wasn’t actually the result of some very arcane research, he would have adored the discussion the four of us had.

It’s also the kind of panel I most enjoy, with both laughter and substance.  Thanks to the videographers Amy and Zena (the alpha and omega of the video world?) and to the Santa Cruz Public Library for hosting the event.  I hope you get even a scrap as much pleasure out of it as the four of us did.

These Bones are alive!

The page proofs for The Bones of Paris are come, and gone.  This is a time of considerable rejoicing chez King because after this, I NEVER HAVE TO READ THIS  BOOK EVER AGAIN.  Except to flip through and choose bits for reading aloud, and maybe off in the future when I’m about to write the characters again, but we can ignore those and say O THANK GOD I’m finished with burrowing through that same piece of verbal terrain over and over again.

See, by the time the page proofs for a book reach me, I’m pretty much blind to the words.  I’ve written a first draft, then rewritten it so it makes sense, and given it to my editor.  She then has gone through it with her machete and blood-red pen and handed the poor shattered thing back to me, and I’ve pieced it together, given it CPR, and sent it back to her.  Only this time we seem to have repeated that final back-and-forth rather more times than any book should have to endure.  True, it did work loads better with chapters two and five there instead of here, and making that character more ambiguous than s/he was at the start, and all those strolling-around-Paris sections cut down to nearly nothing, and and and…

But as I said, it makes a writer go blind to the words, and by the end I was pushing forward in uncomprehending obedience, trusting in my editor because rule one in the Laurie King world of writing is, The Editor is Right.  This does not, by the way, mean that all editors are right, or even that YOUR editor is right for you, but I have learned over the years that mine generally is, and so I put the book back under the surgical knife time and time again.

Which meant that I hesitated, opening the proofs.  Because even though it’s a rote kind of a job, going through for typos and spots where something we’d reworded in the copyedit stage got turned around or a changed sequence left a remnant behind, I dreaded finding a poor feeble creature that had had the life drained out of it.  The proofs are always pretty dead to me anyway, even when it’s been a light rewrite.

And yet, this time I kept finding myself distracted from my rote edit by the story itself.  A number of times I discovered that my eye had travelled down the page from the last mark of my pen, riding on the coattails of the character as he charged ahead into the action.  Yes, there were a few places where I had to tighten a loose bit of description and slice away a few more leisurely bits, but still, the dead story kept reaching out fingers that grabbed me in.

If this applies to readers who haven’t been through the text eighteen hundred and twelve times, then I’m going to get a satisfying number of letters that start, “I stayed up all night reading Bones of Paris…”bones-of-paris-cover

The Mystery of a Good Event

What makes for a good event?  Well, it helps when a moderator is working with three wicked smart women with lightning-fast tongues and a great sense of humor.SONY DSC

And it also helps when the crowd is equally quick on their feet and genuinely interested in the subject. (This shows about half those who eventually crowded in.)SONY DSC

(A moderator who has read the books and thought about the questions helps, too…)SONY DSC

It helps keep the energy high, in all directions.SONY DSC

And lays the groundwork for another in the King Lecture series, next year.SONY DSC

Cartloads of thanks to (left to right above) Sharan Newman, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Zoë Ferraris for their willingness to come and talk God and crime (writing).  And to The Planners (you know who you are), but especially to the Santa Cruz librarians, for inviting us to take over their building and for helping us spread the word, and to the Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Library, for handling the book sales and providing a noble variety of food and drink.  You ladies made the evening perfect.

Those of you who came out, thank you, and I hope you had even half as much fun as we did.  And for those of you who missed it, we’ll have podcasts and a video as soon as the hard-working volunteers manage to process them for you—when they’re up, I’ll post here and let you know.

There are days, and nights, when I love my job.  Last night was one of those.


Higher Mysteries, Santa Cruz style

Tuesday night finds me in rapt conversation with three other Ladies of Mystery, talking about how we use religion and theology in our crime fiction, and why.  The panel will be podcast, and possibly videotaped (yes yes, I know they don’t use tape any more…) but if you’re anywhere in the vicinity, come and join us for a night of library splendor.

The local paper has an article about it, here, and the details (with a printable flyer) are here.


Garment of Shadows

March 4, 2012. I open a FedEx envelope from my publishers and find this:

It is accompanied by a letter, giving a deadline:

So I get to work, reading the manuscript aloud, using a red pen to correct spelling errors, change punctuation oddities, and make small corrections to smooth and clarify the story.  I find far, far too many repeats, which only crop up when the manuscript is read aloud.  And that is why a piece must always be read aloud:

Anything that requires more thought, or comparison with other sections of the text, I flag.  By March 8th, there are a depressing number of flags:

I am glad I’m not the typesetter. Or the poor woman who has to go through and transfer all my notes onto a master for the typesetter.

But I get to work, and sort our the kinds of problems that drive readers nuts: sand in Russell’s pockets after she’s changed her garments; half a dozen unclear sequences of events; a motive that’s a bit fuzzy; a missing reference to previous events; a scar on the wrong arm; a weapon that drifts in and out of reality; and several slight changes in emphases that transform scenes. And eventually, it’s clean:

So today, March 16, I put it back in a FedEx envelope along with a heartfelt note of abject apology, and on Monday my editor will get it and her Copy Chief Kelly will despair, and it will go on to the typesetter and in September, readers will open the covers (or click the link) and begin to uncover a whole set of undiscovered errors.

But there will be fewer of them, and I have done what I could to make the reading experience a happy one.

(And incidentally, the above is an illustration of why the Advanced Reading Copy is not the novel: what reviewers read in their ARCs is the manuscript before I have spent two solid weeks hammering away at the flaws.  If you’re tempted to buy an ARC when they appear on eBay next month, You Have Been Warned.)

Next stage: cover art.

Cartographer King

A writer’s life is not all words on a page.  A working writer finds herself doing an extraordinary number of odd jobs, such as the day I spent tracking down the identity of an insect the publisher intended to use as the illustration for a new edition of Beekeeper’s Apprentice: No, I said firmly, that is not a honeybee.  Yes, Art protested, it is so a honeybee.  Those being pre-Internet / Googly days, I drove around to bookstores and printshops so I could overnight them a color reproduction of a bee, with numbers  written on the page to point out where it was at variance with the physical characteristics of apis mellifera (wing shape; thorax divisions; lack of leg sacs, etc).  It took a trip to the library to identify what they the photo they were working with: a hover fly.

Like I said: odd jobs.

Then recently, I became a cartographer.  I really wanted a map for Garment of Shadows, because it is set in Morocco, a place not everyone can call immediately to mind.  The problem came when I urged them to do an illustrated map, like the gorgeous one they put in The Game.  But when I was told 1) that maps were now the responsibility of the author and 2) the cost, I thought, hey, I can do one.

So I asked my artist friend Jean Lukens (she did #1 on the Russellscape) to do me some pen and ink drawings:






(Yes, those are Russell’s boots.  And ring.)

Then I sketched out a map inside Jean’s frame, and finally asked my superstar Photoshopper brother-in-law to put all the elements together.  And here it is:

What do you think?

Indies and Es

I promised yesterday that I would post today on the question of Independent Booksellers and their relationship with eBooks, and here we are.

Yes, Indies sell eBooks, more and more Indies all the time.  They (and I, frankly) have too long been frustrated by watching their customers browse the shelves, stand reading a book for a minute, put it back on the shelf, and pick up their phone to type away.

And that customer ain’t typing notes for their own novel, you can bet your bottom dollar on that.  No, they’re sending their order to a retailer that doesn’t have the bother and overhead of running a store with actual shelves.

But now, there are actual bricks-and-mortar (or in California, two-bys-and-stucco) stores that can deliver your eBook into your device, quick and easy and at the same price as the big boys.

For example, my own county’s venerable and vibrant Bookshop Santa Cruz.  Take a look at their home page, here. You will see, directly below the “buy books” search in the sidebar, a “Search Google eBooks” box.  If you type in Pirate King, you’ll see my novel, at the same price Amazon sells it for.  My other local, Capitola BookCafe (whose site is here), has a box that searches books and eBooks together.  Pirate King takes you to the hardback that is sitting on the store’s shelves, under which is a note, Other Editions of this Title.  Et voilà, the eBook, same price.

(Although as with the question of e-versus paper-royalties, it’s not simple.  Some publishers don’t follow what’s called the “agency model,” which means Amazon’s versions of their eBooks may be cheaper than Google’s. But let’s not get complicated here.)

Now, the booksellers don’t earn as much for an eBook as they do for an actual physical book. On the other hand, they aren’t bleeding ongoing transfusions into the veins of online marketers.

But there’s one catch.  And that is, Amazon doesn’t always play well with others (see “agency model” above) and eBooks are one of those places.  If you have a Kindle reader, you pretty much have to buy the books that go onto it in the proprietary Kindle format.  Other readers are okay with the Kindle app; Kindle isn’t okay with the apps from Sony or iPad or Nook.

Which doesn’t mean you should toss the Kindle your Mom gave you for Christmas, although for the next one you buy, you might consider one of the android versions.

For those of you who have one of those other devices, Indie Bound has a list of shops that you can support by buying your eBooks through them, here.

If you are a bookseller, or if you know and love a bookseller, you might mention to them two helpful additions to the machinery of getting customers in the habit of buying eBooks from stores instead of Brazilian Rivers:

1. Put up a few notices, at the cash register and on the shelves, to let the customer know that it can be done.

2. To make it even easier for the customer, set up a QR code leading directly to the store’s ordering page and add it to those notes.  Customers can just scan the code and key in their order.  This is what a QR code looks like—point your smart phone at this one and you end up at my own home page—and they’re as simple to set up as it is simple to download a QR reader app to a smart phone:

So, that is today’s public service announcement: Support your local Indie, buy an eBook from them today.

Of course, if you want an actual print book, maybe with the author’s signature, they can probably help you with that, too.

To E or not to E?

(Because this post has become a bit longer than I’d intended, I’ll divide it in half, with the first part All About Laurie, and the more important bit tomorrow.)

Twice a year, publishers send their authors a royalty statement (and, with luck, a check to go with it.)  These are daunting documents, page after page of columns designed primarily to intimidate the author into not worrying her pretty little head about what it all means.  And because they’re comprehensive statements, with columns that reflect earnings back to the beginnings of time for each book, much of what they say is meaningless.  Do I really need the figures every six months for the To Play the Fool hardback, which hasn’t been available since 1997?

However, as you can imagine, the addition of columns for eBooks some years back has made for some interesting reflections on the nation’s changing interests.  Which amounts basically to: The eBook is here to stay.

From time to time, well-meaning readers have asked me which earns me more, a print book or an eBook.  And although my answer tends to be, They’re pretty much the same, since I’d rather people make their choice by what they like rather than what they think it places in my wallet, there’s another question that I personally find even more interesting, concerning bookstores.

By way of a quick (hah!) answer to the readers’ question, I’ll say that the author’s royalties on a $25 hardback like Pirate King are in the neighborhood of $3.75 (they were $2.50 for the first 5,000 sold; $3.13 for the second 5,000.)  Royalties for the Pirate King eBook, priced at $12.99, are slightly lower, at $3.25, will drop (to $1.95) as soon as I earn out the advance Random House gave me, then go lower if (when) they reduce the price of the eBook.

On the other hand, royalties for a $15 trade paperback such as The Beekeeper’s Apprentice are $1.13, whereas for its $9.99 eBook I get $1.50.

These figures don’t begin to touch on the questions of deep-discounting (when the publisher sells at a greater-than-standard discount to big-volume outlets, and narrows the author’s percentage accordingly) or Rights sales (Do I get royalties from large-print and Mystery Guild sales, or a flat rights sale?) and audio books (which have both rights and royalties) and how one publisher’s eBook royalties are 15% while others are considerably more generous.

You see why I tend not to answer the question of relative earnings?

However, believe it or not, this blog post is not All About Me.

What I started writing about with this post was the question of eBook sales in Independent bookstores.  And I will post more fully on that tomorrow.

The two-way pull

By the time I sent off the copyedit of Garment of Shadows the first week of January, my brain was empty of words.  In the last year, I’ve written short stories and introductions, guest blogs, essays, & silly stuff to do with the Pirate King publication, my half of The Arvon Book of Crime Writing, and this novel.  Fried synapses, anyone?

I’m now in the odd position of laying out plans for not one, but two very different novels.  The book I’ll be writing this year is set in Paris, 1929, and is about some of the characters from Touchstone. My shelves are filling with books from the library on Sylvia Beach, Hemingway, Man Ray, Kiki of Montparnasse, etc, and  I plan on a week in Paris this June to walk the territory and remind myself of the city’s flavor.

On the other hand, I’m going to Japan in April, for a book I won’t be writing for a year (yes, the “missing” Russell tale between The Game and Locked Rooms.)  Which means that I have to do a certain amount of research concerning Japan in 1924.

As well as work on a bit of the languages involved, so I can ask how much something is and where is the x.

Maybe I should just combine the two and write a Russell investigation with Bennett Grey and Harris Stuyvesant, about Japanoiserie in ‘Twenties Paris.

Confusion reigns.