Tag Archives: Julia Keller

Bradbury tribute book a winner

bradburyI’d forgotten how much I love Ray Bradbury.  He died last year at age 91, and left behind a treasure trove of novels and short stories.   Bradbury was a “genre” writer and helped bring sci-fi and fantasy into the mainstream.  I imagine his most famous work is Fahrenheit 451, which envisions a particularly chilling world where the printed page is forbidden.  He started publishing in 1941, so by the time I discovered him in the late 60’s, there was already a rich backlist to discover, starting with The Martian Chronicles.  Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison… crazy reading for a hot-pants-wearing blonde with braces in 1972.

Shadow-ShowNow comes a new anthology called Shadow Show“all-new stories in celebration of Ray Bradbury.”  It’s edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (love Mort!) and features stories by such literary luminaries as Margaret Atwood, David Morell, Joe Meno, Audrey Niffenegger, Julia Keller, Dave Eggers, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Dan Chaon, Joe Hill – even Harlan Ellison.  And many more.   Each story is followed by a brief note from the author, explaining the inspiration.  Here’s what I liked about the book:

  1. The stories – totally channeled the point of view and voice of Ray Bradbury.  Made me want to go back and read Bradbury.
  2. The author notes – the obvious affection the authors have for Bradbury’s works. Made me want to go back and read Bradbury.

The takeaway:  Read this book.  Then go back and read Bradbury one more time.  I plan to start with Bradbury Stories:  100 of his Most Celebrated Tales.   (It’s in my Kindle Cloud Reader … right…. now.)

Printers Row membership pays off with Michael Connelly – update!

You guys remember this post, right?  Where I kvetched about being a chump for joining Printers Row and paying extra for something that I thought should be a regular part of the Chicago Tribune?  Even worse was seeing that the price went down, down, down for people who just subscribed to the journal, rather than paid for membership… the perks of which I never took advantage of.

Until now.  Yes, I went as a VIP to the Printers Row Live event where Julia Keller, whom I adore, interviewed Michael Connelly.  Third row.  Great view.  Then, thanks to my purple member wristband, I was third in line to get my book signed. He smiled.  He wasn’t tired yet.  Awesome.

Want more pics of Connelly and the event?  Check out Trib Nation’s Facebook page.

It was a great event.  Michael Connelly is a wonderful crime novelist.  His main character is LA homicide detective Hieronymus Bosch (Harry), who is motivated by his mother’s murder to solve crimes.  The new Harry Bosch book is The Black Box, wherein Harry revisits a cold case to solve the 1992 murder of a Danish photojournalist during the LA riots following the Rodney King verdict.  (I can’t believe this was 20 years ago.)  I am on page 106.   Review to come.

In the meantime, here are 10 things I learned about Michael Connelly at tonight’s event:

  1. Connelly was influenced by reading the work of James Lee Burke – and when he saw that Burke actually dedicated a book to his agent, he submitted his first novel to that agent, figuring he must be a darn good agent.  Amazingly, that agent is now Connelly’s agent.  Who is that agent?  He didn’t say, but it looks like Philip Spitzer.
  2. First memorable book read:  To Kill a Mockingbird, foisted upon him by a librarian.  He went into the library to get out of the Florida summer heat, but was required to read.  He saw it as a crime novel.
  3. He doesn’t expect the Bosch series to end with Harry’s death.  “Ten years ago, maybe.  Now I think he deserves better than being killed off.”
  4. There’s a TV series featuring Harry Bosch in the works, and evidently Connelly may have some say in who is cast.  He’d like it to be someone fabulous, but currently unknown, like Hugh Laurie was before House.  Julia Keller thinks Ed Harris (but not today’s Ed Harris, Harris when he was younger).
  5. Connelly always wanted to be a crime writer.  He’s not a journalist who turned to fiction; he’s an author who deliberately went after the crime beat in order to get closer to cops.
  6. The spark for a book almost always comes from a story.  “Cops are great storytellers,” he says.  They spin the story and the way they tell it informs the plot and the dialogue. Thus, the authentic voice.
  7. He deliberately picked 1950 as the Harry’s birth year because the cops he knew all had a similar background, similar perspective of having served in Viet Nam, and he wanted that point of view for his main character.  The books are always set in the year they are originally published and Harry ages through the series.  In the new book, Bosch is 62.
  8. The upcoming book in the works is a Mickey Haller (Lincoln Lawyer) book.  Harry Bosch is in it, as is his daughter Maddie.
  9. When he writes a book, Connelly knows the start and the end, but the middle is the “dream fugue state.”  He doesn’t outline, but because of his experience in journalism, he’s ruthless about cutting, and the books get shorter as he edits the first draft.  “I dump stuff all the time.”
  10. What book did he read recently that he really liked?  There’s one coming out in April 2013 called Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley.  He doesn’t read much crime fiction these days, more nonfiction.

Printers Row Subscription: Yeah, I’m kind of a chump

I was all compliments when I noticed that the Chicago Tribune was beefing up its pages on books and literary happenings.  And then, look!  They’re doing live programs and podcasts.  This is kind of cool.  It’s not as good as the old days, when they had a separate book section, but it’s pretty neat.  Makes me glad I’m a subscriber.  Little did I know that they were just softening me up.

Building on the brand awareness of the Printers Row Lit Fest (which is fun, I admit, a literary extravaganza of authors, publishers, bookstores and readers), the Trib has launched the Printers Row Journal, a “weekly collection of smart and accessible literary reviews, fiction, author interviews and commentary” paired with some live and online events.  The print version comes out weekly and will be delivered with my Sunday Tribune.

Of course I subscribed. I’m a book nut, an early adopter, and have enough income that 99 bucks is no big deal.  (It’s only $99 since we subscribe to the newspaper, it’s $149 for anybody who doesn’t.)

In one way, it’s an awesome opportunity – a weekly print publication all about books, with a bit of a Chicago slant.  The Printers Row brand is a positive connection.  I like the publishing perspective, the columnists and the reviews.  AND it includes original short fiction – so few places to get that these days, and maybe I could even get a story published.  (A gal can dream).  So, good.

But looking at it another way, the publishers have carved out the people who care about books and are socking it to them, big-time.  It’s the splinter-ization of publishing.  Imagine if the Trib covered sports a little bit in the paper, but you had to pay more to get the Sunday sports section!  Movies.  Opinion pages.  The triumvirate of Tribune advice columnists (don’t you take my Dear Amy).  Or heaven forfend, the funnies!   So maybe I, and my ilk, are making it easier to marginalize readers.  We’re a buncha chumps.

Still, I ponied up.  The paper pinky-swears that it is NOT cutting coverage in the regular Tribune.  This is all add-on content.  And since Elizabeth Taylor, Chris Jones, Rick Kogan, and my personal fave, Julia Keller are all contributing, I just hope they are all being given a big salary bump or are being paid by the piece for the new endeavor.

You can learn more about the offer here.  The preview issue is available for your perusal online and it includes an article by my neighbor Elizabeth Berg, a piece featuring Sara Paretsky, an article about Nicole Hollander of Sylvia fame, reviews, and some original fiction.   In trying to get used to the navigation system, I find myself grateful that it’s not online-only.  There’s lots of add-ons to make participation more engaging, and the Tribune seems a little confused about whether this is publishing venture or a membership community – the sizzle is about the community, but when it comes time to sell the steak, it’s all about the publication.

One note of amusement:  the preview edition of the Printers Row Journal includes a link to Olive, the software platform on which the publication is delivered.  Unfortunately, the home page sales pitch for Olive says “turn your old news into new revenue,” which kind of undercuts the Trib‘s preferred brand position. Of course, I immediately began to think of the myriad of ways that my own employer could use Olive to good advantage… which is good for Olive, but I can’t see the benefit for the Tribune.

Tribune posts 2011 book picks

I read a lot and a read a lot about reading.   Newspapers, magazines, blogs, events: it’s all a giant funnel of info.  Still, you can’t read everything (or even remember everything you read!).

That’s why it was great to see that today’s Chicago Tribune includes a wrap-up by literary mavens Julia Keller and Elizabeth Taylor of the year’s “best reads.”  Twenty books – fiction, nonfiction, and even one graphic novel – to move the top of my reading list.

Not quite 20, though.  I had already added Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Marriage Plot to my list.  In fact, my husband is reading it now and I am anxiously pacing to get my mitts on it.


And I had already read, loved, and blogged here about Mo Hayder’s Gone.  So count my enthusiastic thumbs up on this novel, as another endorsement.

Both Keller and Taylor selected Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hedrickson for inclusion on their “recommended” lists, so although it’s nonfiction and I’m more of a fiction gal, I’ll probably head in that direction soon.  And Keller’s pick of A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black – and her description of it as a “gloomy and hypnotic mystery” is intriguing.  I read another Black book in 2010 and found it confusing at the end – you can read that blog post here – so a recommendation by Keller is encouraging me to try again.

Check out the full listing in the Tribune (go ahead!  Buy a copy if you don’t get it delivered!) or click here to see the article online.  For those of you who are still floundering for Christmas gifts, it’s way better than wandering, unmoored and confused, through Barnes and Noble.

Lit Fest: D’Amato, Hellmann, Keller shine at Grace Place

Grace Episcopal Church in Chicago’s South Loop is an amazing place… beautiful, unusual architecture that leads to a feeling of community and contemplation.  In short, an amazing place for Lit Fest’s session where the Tribune’s Julia Keller interviewed Barbara D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann.  Of course, the photo here – from the church website – features more sacred use of that place!

Barbara D'Amato

Both Barb and Libby have been president of the national organization Sisters in Crime, founded by Sara Paretsky and others to bring attention to the clear preference among publishers, reviewers, and others for male authors.   The movement began with a letter from novelist Phyllis Whitney to the Mystery Writers of America re: sex discrimination in the awarding of the Edgar Awards.  At that time, in 41 years, only seven women had received Edgars.

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Asked by Keller about Sisters in Crime, the panelists shared that the organization still monitors reviews, reporting that a full 70% of books reviewed have a male author.  By pointing out the lack of balance directly to the reviewers, some progress had been made (60/40), but backsliding has definitely occurred.  SINC looks at published reviews, and everyone agreed that although these are highly visible and very important, the growth in reviews on the internet, through blogs, Amazon, and the like, has become a big factor in recent years, and this is more egalitarian.

I’m a member of both the Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and support them both.  But it is interesting to see the trajectory of various authors, and there does seem to be a “pecking order” that places thrillers above police procedurals above cozies, for example.

But there’s no doubt Barb D’Amato and Libby Fischer Hellmann are masters of the craft, and they shared some pearls with the audience, many of whom were aspiring authors:

  • Libby makes sure to put a clue in the first few pages; she likes to “play fair” with the readers and thinks that withholding all the clues until late in the book is not doing so.
  • Barb uses a couple of sheets from a legal pad to plot out all the “surprises” in the book… mostly “to keep them all from showing up in chapter 3.”
  • Both women have experienced “pauses” – it hasn’t all been success and roses.  Barb had two books published, then six fallow years.  Libby said her first book sold was actually the fourth book written.  She didn’t want to revisit, though she has cannibalized characters!
  • Although both Barb and Libby are almost constantly writing, they agree that “the book you’re not writing yet is the best one.”  Julia commented that Iris Murdoch said that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
  • What authors do these authors enjoy reading?  Agatha Christie, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Marcus Sakey, Kent Krueger, Sean Chercover, Declan Hughes, and Dennis Lehane were all mentioned.

The conversation was very ably moderated by Julia Keller, who writes for the Tribune and is a published author herself, with two previous books and her first mystery coming out in the coming months.  She’s articulate and insightful, and listening to her in conversation is as pleasurable as reading her work in print.  

Fest fun commemorated in pictures!

The Printers Row Lit Fest is at the half-way mark, but I’ve had way more than 50% fun.  With just one disappointment (good friend had to cancel… freelancers have little control over their own schedules!) and a few raindrops, the rest was all excellent.

It was a busy day, and I’ll write more tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are some pics to commemorate the day’s wanderings.

First, there were some really cool city dogs wandering about.  Here’s one cute one.  Also, I bought a bunch of books and a T-shirt (from literary threads).   There was  also cool typesetting stuff.  I looked for a big “K” but only found a little bitty one, so didn’t make a purchase here.  I would have liked to do so.  They also had some pre-made artwork… generally not up to my coolness standard.   They did have one that spelled Woof! backwards, but I was offended that the exclamation point was not in the right place. So no purchase there.  Libby Fischer Hellmann is lovely as always at the Mystery Writers of America tent… her session in the AM with Barb D’Amato and Julia Keller was super.  Big Sleep Books:  Noir-y.  Columbia College’s tent had live music!  Sandmeyer’s Bookstore is small but super-engaging, and always there, even when Lit Fest is NOT going on.

This year’s Lit Fest: Plan ahead!

The 2009 Printers’ Row Lit Fest was the topic for the first-ever Literary Lunchbox blog post… and here we are, two years 140 posts later, about to head to Lit Fest again.  After last year’s rainy Fest, this year’s weather forecast leads me to plan my 2011 Printers’ Row Lit Fest trip for Saturday, June 4.  It’ll be hot and sunny and before the expected storms on Sunday.

Saturday does look like a good day.  There are numerous mystery-themed events on stage, starting out with Murder Most Cozy at 10 a.m. at the Harold Washington Library.  Moderated by FB friend Julie Hyzy, it should be good even though I’m not personally acquainted with panelists Betty Hechtman, Ellery Adams, and Joelle Charbonneau.   I have  few days and a Kindle.

The always-excellent Julia Keller is moderating a panel, A Killer History, at 12:30 pm at Grace Place.  It features personal faves Libby Fischer Hellmann and Barbara D’Amato, with Graham Moore.  (Not that he isn’t deserving of fave status.  I’m sure after seeing him, he’ll be one.)

1:45 will be a tough, tough time slot.  At the University Center, Tasha Alexander is moderating The Future of the Mystery Novel, with David Heinzmann, Andrew Grant, Sharon Fiffer and the lovely-and-popular Luisa Buehler.   At the same time at the Hotel Blake, Victoria Lautman is interviewing Ann Packer, who wrote The Dive From Clausen’s Pier (one of my all-time favorites) and her new and well-reviewed work, Swim Back to Me.  How to decide? It’d be tough, but The Future panel is already sold out (limited seating in this venue requires tickets).  So it’s Ann Packer for me.

3:30 is dreamboat time (you know you agree with me) with the pair-up of Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover at the Harold Washington Library.  Great authors, enthralling books, and members of the Chicagoland literary-and-articulate-yet-ever-so-slightly-dangerous-mystery-author set.  It’s a small group, but if you’re in, you know who you are.

This is followed by a Pitchapalooza at Center Stage with David Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, coauthors of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published.  I’m not sure what this entails, but hope to find out before Saturday.  I’ll have my 60-second pitch ready, just in case.

This is a pretty heavy schedule which leaves me little time for wandering through the stalls, looking at books, snapping iPhone photos of the city dogs of various sizes that trail behind their wandering masters, stopping off for coffee, and whatnot.  Plus if memory serves, there’s an awesome bookstore right there (sort of a coals-to-Newcastle kind of thing).  I foresee a lot of frantic dashing hither and yon.

Note to those attending:  events happening at the Harold Washington Library or the University Center require tickets… plan ahead!