The Trouble Begins

I, for one, had a heck of a time at IndyReads Books today, where my World of Trouble book tour kicked off in grand style.

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Spieling.

The best part was NOT the fact that the book officially went on sale (at IndyReads only: the rest of the universe must wait till the pub. date on Tuesday); the best part was NOT that I gave out fake mustaches and Hank Palace Blend Coffee Beans (from White Mountain Gourmet Coffee in Concord, NH) to audience members who correctly answered Last Policeman trivia; the best part was DEFINITELY not my stumbling through “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” on my ukulele.

The best part was how many wonderful friends and fans came out, on a rainy Saturday afternoon, for a literary event, to celebrate books and bookstores and my book in particular. What a terrific way to start the tour. If you were with us today in Indianapolis, please send me your pictures so I can add them to these here (taken by my wife, Diana); if you know folks in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Petoskey, Michigan; or any of the other places I’ll be in the next couple weeks, please spread the word. I have many more mustaches and bags of coffee to give away!

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Signing.


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“They always assumed I was writing a children’s book” — Laura McHugh on writing while parenting

My fellow midwesterner Laura McHugh just published her debut novel, a wickedly dark murder novel called The Weight of BloodI thought she was a perfect person to invite on the Reverse Blog Tour to talk about something I think about all the time: how to reconcile the writing side of one’s life with the parenting side. Because you do, if you’re a dad or a mom and also a writer—especially a mystery writer—then you’ve got these two parts, the part that imagines bloody scenarios and broods over complicated crimes, and the part that changes diapers and carefully applies sunscreen. 

Here’s Laura:

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Look at Laura McHugh’s enigmatic smile. Is she planning a playdate or a murder?

I didn’t tell many people that I was writing a book. I had recently lost my longtime job as a software developer and given birth to my second daughter, and I dreaded the pitying looks people would give me if I admitted that I spent every spare moment working on a novel that would probably never be published

At that point in my life, everyone saw me as a stay-at-home mom. Some of the other stay-at-home moms did not even know I’d had a full-time career writing software, and I was hesitant to tell them that my children were not my sole focus—that the moment my daughters fell asleep each night, I opened a seemingly innocuous Word document that began with the discovery of a girl’s dismembered body in a tree.

Once I let people in on my secret writing life, they almost always assumed that I was writing a children’s book. Oh, that’s great! Have you read it to your kids? (No, they’re not quite old enough for stories about backwoods human traffickers.)

I was surprised that everyone expected me to write stories for children. I wondered if I should be insulted that no one assumed I wrote werewolf erotica or biographies or hardboiled crime fiction. I mean, I did have children, and I read lots of kiddie books, but just because I spent every waking minute immersed in diapers and sippy cups and Barney songs didn’t mean that was all I thought about. Perhaps, on the surface, I didn’t appear to be the type of person who would write something so dark. What many of my acquaintances didn’t know was that I’ve always had a penchant for twisted tales. I grew up reading Stephen King and Shirley Jackson. Even when it comes to kids’ books, I tend to favor stories about monsters and ghosts and witches. I’ve read Goodnight Goon to my kids more times than Goodnight Moon.

This is not a sippy cup.

To my amazement, the book that I wrote while my children slept was published. It went out into the world, where anyone could read it. People saw that I hadn’t written a picture book. They knew that The Weight of Blood was dark, and unsettling, and that these dark, unsettling things had come out of me, the mother of two sweet little girls. There were a few awkward moments, like when you realize that your in-laws, your kids’ teachers and babysitters, and the priest at your church have all read a sex scene you wrote. I had to own it. Yes, this is me, this is the sort of thing that lurks in my head and demands to be put down on paper.

I can write about horrible crimes and still chat about potty training and playdates with all the other mommies.

***

Thanks, Laura!

I actually think this is a pretty gendered aspect of our profession; as cheerful and goofy a dad as I am, I doubt anyone is shocked, exactly, to discover that I write very dark stories—I think women, and especially moms, are just assumed by society to be cheerful and nurturing, inside and out.  

Interestingly, women have ALWAYS been notably proficient and successful at this business—I’m not an expert, but I bet there are more famous female names in mystery and crime fiction than other literary forms. (From Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to PD James and Patricia Highsmith to Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky, right on down to Gillian Flynn.) 

I’d love thoughts on this from my fellow writers and parents, of all genders—meanwhile, get to know Laura McHugh, and come meet me on tour, starting in Indianapolis on July 12. 

 

 

 

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Not your average book tour!

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My new book.

The Reverse Blog Tour will continue on Monday with a guest post from the mysterious Hooded Utilitarian, but I wanted meanwhile to fill you in on my very special, not-your-average book tour, which will take me to some great bookstores all through the month of July.

I am going to do all the usual author-visit stuff, but (like a good mystery writer) I’ll be adding a couple of surprise twists.

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My ukulele.

Here’s the pitch…

Join author and raconteur Ben H. Winters to celebrate the release of World of Trouble, the concluding volume in the Edgar-award-winning Last Policeman trilogy. Ben is so excited to come and meet readers, he will do not only the the usual book tour activities (read from the new book, sign books, answer reader questions), he will also…

* Deliver his Patented Rapid-Fire Five-Minute History of Crime Fiction, and give out his top secret list of Ten Crime Novels Every Human Must Read

* play Mystery Trivia with the audience, and give away fabulous prizes—like signed manuscript pages and novelty Detective-Palace-style mustaches! 

* Play a medley on his ukulele of every single Bob Dylan song mentioned in the Last Policeman trilogy! 

First stop is Indianapolis on July 12: see you there!

 
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Announcing the 2014 Reverse Blog Tour

This new headshot was taken a couple weeks ago by Indianapolis photographer Mallory Talty.

As frequent readers of this blog will know, they do not exist, because there are no frequent readers of this blog. I like to keep my fans and friends up to date, but I’ve never really become a blogger, in the classical sense (although, can a medium two decades old have classical senses associated with it?), never having had the patience or the excess of articulable opinions necessary to keep up with the whole thing.

(I’ll tell you who is good at it though, and that is my aunt Ann.)

Good thing then that starting next Friday, June 20, this space will become a lot more exciting, at least for a month or two. To celebrate the launch of World of Trouble, the third and final book in the Last Policeman series, I have invited some of my favorite authors and human beings to contribute guest posts about topics of mutual interest.

Among those stopping by will be best-selling authors like Hugh Howey and Adam Sternbergh, plus old friends like Suzanne LaFleur and Gabe Roth and Ransom Riggs (all of whom also happen to be best-selling authors). I’ve invited sci-fi writers, mystery writers, composer/lyricists, journalists, professors—all manner of interesting folks. The current list of contributors is below, and I’ll maybe add the dates as I finalize things , if I ever finalize things. (I’m bad at finalizing things, just in general). I’ll probably add more people, too, if I can find more arms to twist. I’m calling the whole thing my 2014 Reverse Blog Tour, because a Blog Tour in the classical sense (cf earlier parenthetical question) is where an author visits a bunch of other people’s blogs, and here I’m doing the opposite—a bunch of other authors are coming here to play in my sandbox.

THIS new headshot was taken by my wife. Just try and guess what mountain is behind me.

Oh…AND I’ll be doing an actual blog tour starting July 7, and will soon have more info on that!

AND AND I’ll be doing an actual, real live, human in-the-flesh tour , starting July 12 here in Indianapolis, at Indy Reads Books on Mass Ave! Check the APPEARANCES page to see where else the official World of Trouble double-wide emblazoned megabus will be taking me. (Nota been: There is no such bus).

Here is the list of folks whose bylines you can look for on this site between June 20 and mid-August: Hugh HoweyLaura McHugh , Daniel Friedman, Abby Sher, Noah BerlatskyRansom RiggsAdam Sternbergh, the songwriters Kerrigan and LowdermilkSuzanne LaFleurEthan Gilsdorf, Eric Smith, Gabriel Roth (not the one who plays bass in the Dap-Kings), Ian “Shakespeare’s Star Wars” Doescher, and Professor Joel Marks of the University of New Haven, an honest-to-goodness expert in the ethics of asteroid prevention.

It sounds like a fun party, right? Stay tuned.

 

 

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Shirtless in Seattle

Big joy for me in Seattle on Friday night, where I had the great honor of winning the Philip K. Dick Award for science fiction for 2013, for my novel Countdown City.  

As I said, or tried haltingly to say, in accepting the award, I am especially grateful that the Last Policeman series has won this particular laurel, because A) I so love and admire Dick’s whole idiosyncratic, impossible oeuvre,  and because B) I didn’t set out to write science-fiction, it just ended up that way.

What I wanted was a way to tell a classic detective story in a surprising way, maybe to fold some new ideas into that genre—the mystery genre—and so I came to the world-ending asteroid business, and (as I’ve noted in the past) once you’ve got a world-ending asteroid in your book, it’s science fiction whether you like it or not.

Some of the works of Philip K. Dick. Look at those covers!

Let me be clear: I like it. I like the novels being labeled sci-fi, and I certainly like winning an award in the category. I hope it’s not too cliche to observe that what successful science-fiction novels do (like those of, for example, Philip K. Dick), is similar to what successful mystery novels do, which is to use the conventions of  genre as a lens through which to examine the ideas, the morality, the received wisdom, of the world we actually live in.

Anyway. Here on YouTube you can see me reading a selection from Countdown City at the award ceremony, and if you keep watching you can see me accept the award, after my new friend, the Japanese novelist Toh EnJoe, accepts the Special Citation for his insane multipart experimental novel The Self-Reference ENGINE.

Me, doing a reading, post-ceremony, in ill-matching shirt and suit.

(Side note: I have to ruefully acknowledge that in this clip I am wearing a short-sleeve salmon colored button-up shirt with my light-blue suit.  This sartorial nightmare was occasioned by Mr. Fancypants Award-Winning Writer having forgotten to pack a dress shirt for the ceremony. I would have felt more self-conscious in the moment, except this award was given out at NorWesCon, a sci-fi/fantasy convention, so there were literally people there dressed as orcs.)

 

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Countdown Cities

The Countdown City book tour, just concluded, was my first time doing a book tour of any sort, and I found the experience to be exhilarating, exhausting, ego-boosting, mortifying, boring, joyful, all sorts of different things. It was definitely mostly a positive experience, and even the negative aspects—I’m not the best traveler, for one thing, and not all of the events were jam-packed, which can be anxiety-provoking—even with those negatives, it’s the sort of life experience (much like publishing a book in the first place) that for such a long time seemed completely unattainable, that I’d be a fool to  dwell on the negatives. A book tour! Holy moly! You dig what I’m saying?

 

images-1Highlights include watching the Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn movie The Watch, late at night in my Portland hotel room, abiding by the universal law that demands that one must watch a shitty comedy that one would not normally watch, when alone in a hotel room late at night. Although, you know what? It wasn’t half bad—although not nearly as good as the cup of Stumptown coffee I had the next morning, at 5:45, when I woke up and wandered around the city, taking advantage of being on East Coast time, internally, to get an eyeful of a beautiful place.

 

Most of the highlights, though, are from the bookstores, themselves; which, just by the way, all seem to be doing amazingly. Powell’s in Portland was packed with shoppers.  Eliot Bay, in Seattle, has this gorgeous space in a super hip and bustling neighborhood, where I ate artisanal ice cream served by hipsters, and briefly fantasized that I had moved back to Brooklyn. Gibson’s, in my beloved Concord, New Hampshire, is in the process of expanding to a bigger space.

So, all of which is to say that the death of independent booksellers, at least in my very limited sample, has been greatly exaggerated. And thank you to all the super-nice store owners and store clerks…especially at Anderson’s, in Naperville, where store policy is to give one free book to every visiting author—a policy I ruthlessly exploited by getting the new fourth volume in Robert Caro’s massive, and expensive, multivolume biography of LBJ.

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While I’m thanking people: thank you, Patrick, the kid in Cincinnati to whom I hand sold a copy of The Last Policeman while he was getting coffee and I was working on book three in the trilogy at the Joseph-Beth cafe before my reading. Good luck at college, Patrick, and I think things will work out with your girlfriend, even though she lives in Texas.

 

Thanks to the family of five who came to see me in Seattle because mom liked Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but who ended up buying copies of Policeman and Countdown City AND my middle-grade mysteries for their charming nine year old. Dig it, big sister.

Thanks to basically everybody in the city of Concord, New Hampshire, where I got to read at the great Gibson’s, eat at the Corner View Restaurant (the model for the Somerset Diner, in the books), and talk on the radio with Brady Carlson at the local public radio station, who plays with his little boy in West Park, the playground where McConnell chases down the smirking kid and yells “stop, motherfucker” in The Last Policeman.

And yes, I did go to the McDonald’s and use the bathroom where Peter Zell’s body was found. I didn’t intend to, I just had to go and I remembered it was there.

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But now I’m home, where my family is, and where I have a lot of work left to do on The Last Policeman book III (as yet untitled, so don’t ask—seriously, don’t, I’m really anxious about it.). This fall I’m going to be popping up here and there here at home in Indianapolis—at the fall book festival, at a Butler University charity event called the Harvest of Writers, and a couple other things. So if you’re in Indy, come say hi. If you’re not, hope to see you next summer.

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Our tour thus far

If you’ve ever wondered what a fella looks like reading to an audience, after driving the 4.5 hours from Indianapolis to St. Louis, contemplating the 4.5-hour drive home later that evening, he looks like this:

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Thanks to my old friend Dave Guest for the picture — one of the benefits to doing a book tour, besides the main fact that the whole thing is really incredibly fun, is getting to see lots of old friends. I went to college in St. Louis, so it yielded a small bonanza of old friends. Your next chance to see me standing awkwardly at a podium will be in Boston, on July 31, when I will be at the Harvard Coop.

The following night, I will be in Concord, NH, returning to the scene of the crime — Gibson’s Bookstore is a stone’s throw from the McDonald’s where Peter Zell’s body was found, in Chapter One of The Last Policeman. Hope you New Hampshire types can join me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edgar round up, and moving on

I’m always telling budding writers to avoid cliches, and it’s one of the cliches of internet writing to update one’s blog by saying “…sorry I haven’t updated this in a while…” . For the record, I do wrestle all the time with how much to devote to maintaining my online “presence”; it takes so much effort, after all, to maintain one’s real-life, actual presence, not to mention whatever effort it takes to create the fictional realities we call novels.

So, anyhoo, I’m sorry I haven’t updated this in a while. And when I last wrote I promised a wrap-up on the Edgar Awards, beyond my perfunctory report that I won, a fact that still astonishes and delights me to no end.

I don’t remember much about the moment, other than nearly tripping and mouthing the words “oh my fucking God” over  and over on the way to the stage; the Mystery Writers of America , however, recorded my subsequent speech and here it is on YouTube. (The woman who speaks first, by the way, and who you see seated behind me while I ramble, is Charlaine Harris, incoming president of the Mystery Writers and the creator of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, from whence True Blood.)

In the speech somewhere I note how amazing the other book nominated were, and are, and you should read them: Complicationby Isaac Adamson, is an extremely clever, extremely twisty-turny intellectual thriller set in Prague; Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn is one in her series of melancholy detective novels set in South Africa in the 50s; Bloodland by Alan Glynn is aninternational thriller, an intricate multiple perspective page-turner; and Whiplash River by Lou Berney, which is not only a great action-packed clue hunt, but fucking hilarious. Read all those books.

The other thing about being in NYC for the Edgars was it reminded me how in love I am, and probably always will be, with that city; luckily I get to go back, on June 1, to sign books and hang out a little at Book Expo America. (And YES, just regular non-book-industry people can go to that, for that one day, but you have to do a special signup thing). So if you’re going to be there, please let me know, and/or come to the Quirk Books Booth at 10:00 on Saturday, June 1.

And then I’ll be “on the road,” a bit over the summer, reading at bookstores from Countdown City, the Last Policeman sequel. I think it’s 10 cities all together; you can check out the appearances page for the info. If I’m not coming to your city, please yell at me via the contact page or just arrange for me to Skype in to your book club. I’ve been doing a bunch of that, and it’s fun.

More soon. Or maybe not. I don’t know.

 

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