Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Authors and social Media - Michelle Gagnon

This part three of my series where I relate my encounters with authors in social media communities.

Part One, Authors, Social Media and a Confluence of Interests
Part Two, Authors and Social Media - Roger Morris

Michelle Gagnon is forthright about her involvement with social media in a self-depracating, humorous way. Her blog's contact page includes this
Michelle's self-worth is inextricably tied to the number of friends she has on social networking sites. Humor her with an "add" at:
But I didn't encounter Michelle through her web site or any of the sites listed above. I found out about her books in the virtual reality world of Second Life. She sent me an in-world instant message inviting me to an interview at the Athena Isle Writers. I think she found me because I manage Mystery Manor on Info Island. I couldn't make the interview but I went to the location and found a poster for her book, Bone Yard. The Athena Isle folks subsequently posted a transcript on their blog, Athena Isle Writers. Michelle posted about her experience here, My Second Life.

I followed up from Second Life with reviews on Amazon, looked at her web site, and bought her book at Barnes and Noble. Second Life isn't a web-based social media site but I have a broad definition of social media and count this as a successful referral.

Second Life has real possibilities for authors to promote their work. There are many book related sites within Second Life and discussions attract a world-wide audience. It is a bit cumbersome since most discussions are still conducted by texting but there is a strong visual appeal in Second Life with the author as a virtual presence. And there is the potential for a world-wide, real-time audience. The downside is that there is the ever present danger of technical difficulties such as excessive lag when things get very slow and griefers who like to disrupt activities.

She contributes to an author's blog,The Kill Zone on Thursdays. There she recently posted about social media from the author's viewpoint, Social Networking Showdown. She took a useful approach and contrasted similar sites: Facebook vs. Myspace and Shelfari vs. GoodReads. Social Networking Showdown is a good example of how a blog post can become a conversation. As of this moment, there are 30 comments adding to Michelle's original post. If you read this blog post - and I recommend it highly - don't neglect the comments.

Like the two authors I profiled previously, Roger Smith and Roger Morris, Michelle has also used video trailers to promote her book. The trailer for Boneyard appears on her web site as well as YouTube where currently it has 1,785 views. I like book trailers but I can't say that they sell me on a book. For me they add another dimension to the author, round them out in my mind.

Michelle is another author whose use of social media has put her on my "look for" list.

Here are links to her social media identities:
Michelle's web site
My review of Boneyard
Red Room (a writer's forum)
Gather (like FaceBook)

Authors and Social Media - Roger Morris

My series on social media, authors, and how I have been personally affected started with this post, Authors, Social Media, and a Confluence of Interests. I go into detail what I'm up to and recommend you start there.

In the first post I wrote that my participation in social media has affected what I read and how I read. I depend on social media sites to learn about books and authors and reading blogger reviews helps sharpen my analysis of what I read. I also noted how authors are using social media to promote their work and connect with readers.

British author Roger Morris is one of The Two Rogers (the other being Roger Smith) who inspired me to begin documenting social media and its effect on authors and readers.

I discovered Roger Morris through blogs. One of my favorite crime fiction blogs is Crime Scraps run by Uriah Robinson (his blog name). Uriah posted that Roger Morris was giving away copies of his new book, A Vengeful Longing. I followed the link to Roger's Plog and tossed my name in the hat for a copy. Roger was kind enough to send me one, autographed no less. He has taken Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and gave him his own historical, crime fiction, police procedural, series. A Gentle Axe, set in 1866 about one and a half years after Crime and Punishment, is the first book. The concept was intriguing and the author's style pleasing so nothing would do but to buy A Gentle Axe and start from the beginning. How long would it have taken me to find these books if I didn't follow crime fiction in the social media?

Roger is an author not afraid to explore the use of social media to promote his work. Currently he is experimenting on Twitter by serializing A Gentle Axe. He calls it twitterisation. Every hour Roger's followers get a sentence or fragment from the book. The experiment has had mixed reception but as a reader I find it a bit of fun having a sentence from the book appear amidst all the other tweets I receive. It is interesting to me how a single isolated sentence can arouse curiosity, pique interest, and even take on an identity of its own. Here is an example of what shows up in Twitter.
He was not one of those men who are afraid to confront the tears of women, or who shy from the pain of life.
about 7 hours ago from Twuffer

Twuffer is a web application that allows one to schedule tweets. With Twuffer, Roger doesn't have to stay up twenty four hours a day posting tweets.

In a comment on The Kill zone Blog, author Michelle Gagnon writes how a publisher expects you to develop a marketing strategy- much of which you'll be personally responsible for. It isn't surprising then that authors are turning to the various social media channels to promote their works. I'm not sure if it qualifies as a trend yet but Roger is one of the authors moving past the printed word and into multimedia by producing video trailers for his books. There is an imaginative trailer for A Vengeful Longing as well as Roger's Writer's Life series on YouTube. His blog and MySpace account have other videos (see links below).

Michelle also says how social networking can also become a tremendous time suck drawing valuable hours away from what writers should primarily focus on: their manuscripts so I am all the more appreciative when an author puts in the time to explore these avenues to promote their work.

Where you can find Roger:
Roger's Plog
My review of A Gentle Axe
My Review of A Vengeful Longing
Roger Morris on Facebook
Roger Morris on MySpace
Roger on YouTube
Roger Morris on Twitter
Roger Morris on Crimespace
Raskolnikov Twittering this isn't one of Roger's projects but it does relate somewhat to his books and is amusing.

Review: Amberville, Tim Davys

HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-162512-1, 343 pages. First U.S. edition
First published in Swedish in 2007 by Albert Bonniers Forlag. Translated by Paul Norlen.

Let me say upfront that I enjoyed this book but it is also one of the oddest I've read in a while. It isn't a book that you can read literally. Amberville refers to one of four districts in Mollisan Town which is populated by living stuffed animals that have the bodily functions you attribute to living creatures. There is no attempt to relate the world of Amberville with our world, it just is.

I first thought that Amberville was going to be a crime story that used stuffed animals in place of humans. While it has noir and criminal element it turned out to be something very different.

I admired the way the author was able to establish a logical consistency within an absurd construct. If there was a world of animate stuffed animals this is how it might work. The animals are not born, they are delivered from the factory. The type of animals that the parents represent have no relationship to the type of children they receive thus Eric Bear and his twin Teddy are the children of a dog and a hippo. When animals wear out, their names appear on a Death List, the Chauffeurs pick them up, and they disappear forever. In between they go to school, grow up (mentally, they arrive from the factory the physical size they will always be), eat, sleep, drink too much and get hangovers, marry, and hold jobs.

Eric Bear is given an ultimatum by a former employer, the gangster Nicholas Dove. He is to find The Death List and remove Nicholas' name from it or Eric's wife Emma Rabbit will be torn apart by Dove's gorilla henchmen. Eric assembles the gang from his shady past to help him find the Death List. The gang consists of the violently unpredictable Tom-Tom Crow, Sam Gazelle who is into BDSM, and the untrustworthy Snake Marek. Together they try to find out the secret of the Chauffeurs and through them, they hope, the Death List.

Do not think that stuffed animals = children's book. This is most definitely not a book for children. It is an allegory that uses the Death List to critically examine religious belief and faith and duplicity within organized religion. Related themes include morality, loyalty, and what it means to be family. Viewed as an allegory, the reader can relate Amberville to our world without stumbling over the cast of stuffed animal characters.

I will be interested to see if the author returns to this world.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Authors, Social Media, and a Confluence of Interests

This post starts a series describing the effect of social media on readers and how authors use social media to promote their work. It is somewhat of a prelude to Mack's Grand Study of Social Media. It is personal, anecdotal, and a way to get started while I think about a methodology to conduct a serious study. I also have a professional librarian interest in social media but here I'm looking at how they effect me, a user, a consumer of these services.

I can start with one definite conclusion: social media can close the gap between author and reader and can open rather remarkable opportunities to communicate - if that is what the author wants. I'm sure it is a tricky balance for authors to put themselves out there on the Internet without letting it get in the way of actually writing.

Several years ago I became serious about crime fiction. I not only wanted to read crime fiction but I wanted to read about it. I began looking for people who write about crime fiction and discovered a community of bloggers as interested in the subject as am I (actually more so). The blogger community, and other social media communities I will discuss later, have affected what I read and how I read. Without these communities, for example, I doubt I would have begun to explore Scandinavian crime fiction. And there are members of the communities that I now consider friends regardless that we are not likely to ever meet in person.

The idea for this series originated with the Two Rogers. Roger Smith and Roger Morris are authors whose books I recently read who I would not know about were it not for social media. From that start I have become interested in how social media is affecting my reading and how authors are using social media to promote their work and what that might mean to readers.

This rest of this post will focus on Roger Smith.

I own a copy of Roger's book because of Twitter. I never did much with my Twitter account (Max46) before the past four months. One day I received a notice that Roger Smith (rog_smith) was now following me. I checked his profile to make sure he wasn't a spammer/pornographer/crazed stalker, noted that he lives in Cape Town, South Africa, writes thrillers, and started following him in return. His profile includes a link to his web site which has a video trailer to his book, Mixed Blood, as well as a slide show of photographs from the areas of Cape Town about which he writes. Additionally, he posted teaser tweets from his pre-publication book. If the hook wasn't set at this point, I was eying the lure appreciatively. Roger then offered friend status on Crimespace, a social networking community where authors and readers can mingle.

Here is why I added "confluence of interests" to the title of this post. I dropped Roger a note thanking him for looking me up on Crimespace then later asked him if he would mind looking at a short video to identify the location. We (mother, father, brother, me) lived in South Africa for four years ('52-'56). My mother and father went on a vacation to Cape Town where my father took movies. A couple of years ago the movies were digitized as part of the Lost in Light project and I have been documenting the the places and events. There was a spot in Cape Town I wasn't sure about and wondered if he could identify it. He obliged and we began a casual correspondence. He told me more about Cape Town and the background of his book. I found I was very interested reading Mixed Blood - hook set and book pre-ordered from Amazon.

This next bit might be interesting or seem weirdly obsessive but as Roger and I discussed the probable location of the vacation scene I turned to Google Earth. In Google Earth I examined the area Roger identified - Rocklands Bay - then moved out to look at Cape Town. From locations mentioned in the tweets from Mixed Blood, clues from Roger, and scenes from the trailer and slide show I had a detailed mental image of the setting before I read the book. I also used Wikipedia and Google Images to fill out the picture.

Did this sense of a personal relationship contribute to my purchase of Roger's book? It certainly tipped me over into placing an Amazon pre-order rather than hoping that the public library would buy it.

Here are the social media where I follow Roger. At the end of the list is a link to the vacation video Roger helped me with.

My Review of Mixed Blood
Roger Smith Books
Roger on Crimespace
Roger Smith on Facebook
Mixed Blood Group on Facebook
Trailer for Mixed blood on You Tube
Cape Town Home Movie the bit I was interested in starts at 1:12.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Notes: The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson

MacLehose Press (Imprint of Quercus), 2009. Translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland. ISBN 9781847245571, 569 pages

I may be the last hard core crime fiction enthusiast to read The Girl Who Played With Fire (THWPWF) so I am not planning a detailed review and analysis. See below for resources. Instead, I will provide a few notes that occurred to me as I read. There may be spoilers ahead, be warned.

  • I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, detailed family histories and all, but enjoyed TGWPWF more because it has the police procedural element.

  • Speaking of procedures, why didn't the police discover that Bjurman had a cabin? Surely they would have dug into his financials.

  • Also liked getting the back-story on Salander. Pretty horrible. I wasn't expecting the biggest revelation about her background.

  • What else besides Asperger's affects Salander's behavior?

  • I wonder if Larsson read Helen Tursten's Detective Inspector Huss? I was struck by the similarities between the sexist detective Jonny Blom in ...Huss and the rabidly sexist Hans Faste in TGWPWF. Jonny gets slapped by female detective Birgitta Moberg and Hans by female detective Sonja Modig.

  • I really want to read the third book, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. I want Salander to find peace, be friends with Blomkvist again, and take down the remaining people who did her wrong. Quercus will be getting more money from me this Fall.

  • I liked to references to Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking which I got from the library so I can understand about Pippi and Kalli.

  • Salander hitting upon the solution to Fermat's Last Theorem while sneaking though the woods was a bit much, still fun though.

Maxine considerately collected links about this book including one to her own review here PETRONA: That girl who played with fire
And there are also these sites that have extensive reviews. If I forgot anyone, let me know.
International Crime Noir: Comments on The Girl Who Played with Fire, by Stieg Larsson
Material Witness: REVIEW: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
It's Criminal: The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Monday, March 16, 2009

Twitterisation of A Gentle Axe

Roger Morris is experimenting with Twitter by serializing his first Profiry Petrovich/St. Petersburg historical crime novel, A Gentle Axe. He is calling the serialization, twitterisation. So far he has eight posts up. You don't need a twitter account to read the posts, just go here. If you do have an account you can start following rnmorris. This novel is a great favorite of mine and I wish Roger luck in his experiment.

Roger's experiment coincides with my recently begun study on the effects of social networking on the author/reader relationship. I'm currently working on a survey. I don't know how scholarly my study will be but the topic is one that interests me. The topic can be extended to the library/patron experience as well.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Nuclear Jellyfish, Tim Dorsey

William Morrow, 2009. ISBN 978-0-06-143266-8. 307 pages.

I have been slack lately and find myself with six book to write up if I am to log all the crime fiction I read this year.

If you have read any of the previous ten book in the Serge Storms series then this one won't have any surprises. It is the same formula: Serge and Coleman race around Florida to satisfy Serge's need to visit every site in Florida where anything historical (as defined by Serge) happened - Lynyrd Skynyrd figures in this time; Serge has some new scheme - this time it's Internet travel advice; Serge continues his serial killer ways by dispatching unpleasant people in different and inventive ways; there is some parallel criminal activity going on that somehow involves Serge; Coleman consumes alcohol and drugs in prodigious amounts.

In Nuclear Jellyfish, Serge Storms has turned his attention to the Internet with a renegade travel blog. He wants visitors to experience the real Florida and has useful advice such as how to identify Barracuda hookers (they suddenly appear in hotel parking lots) and the best place to spot John Travolta. There is also a professional robbery crew that will inevitably collide with Serge. As is usual, the story careens along at high speed with reader mostly interested in what outlandish thing Serge will say or do and how will he off the next person who offends his sense of ethics and courtesy.

There are still some laugh-out-loud and "I wonder if that would work" moments but overall I would say that this book is only for die-hard Serge Storms fans.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: Mixed Blood, Roger Smith

Henry Holt and company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8050-8875-5. 304 pages.

Sometimes, what I really want to read is a scorched earth, no prisoners, no quarter, no good guys just degrees of badness, thriller. It's like running Sodium hydroxide through the plumbing, it cleans out the pipes. This is why I was happy that I came across Roger Smith's Mixed Blood.

Jack Burn has a gambling problem. Back in the U.S., a large debt put him in the middle of a robbery that left a cop dead. Jack escapes with a large part of the loot and takes his pregnant wife and young son to Cape Town, South Africa. With a new identity and lots of money, Jack feels pretty safe until a random home invasion by a couple of drug dealing gang-bangers puts him in the sights of Rudi "Gatsby" Barnard, a physically and morally repugnant and corrupt cop. Rudi senses that there is more to Jack than just another American expat. Also drawn into the picture are vengeance seeking ex-con Benny Mongrel and Zulu police investigator Disaster Zondi who wants to settle an old score and at the same time take down a bad cop.

Mixed Blood is a solid thriller with the plot, action, and violence that make this type of thriller enjoyable. But while I thoroughly enjoyed it as a thriller, there is something much more that makes it stand out for me. This is the role South Africa plays in the story. Consider Rudi "Gatsby" Barnard. His nickname comes from the signature South African sandwich, the gatsby, that he favors (see the photo). With his horrible body odor, sumo-sized gut, air bag-sized butt cheeks and a love of "Jesus Christ, gatsbys, and killing people" you might dismiss him as a caricature of the bad cop. But Rudi is a holdover from South Africa under apartheid. Do a Google search with the terms apartheid and apartheid hit squads and you will see that Rudi is based on fact.

Cape Town itself is a character in the story. Gatsby rules the aeolian sand flat known as Cape Flats. It blasted by winds in the summer and many areas flood in the winter. Here are the government-built townships where non-whites were forced to move; the Flats were apartheid's dumping ground. They are a place of terrible poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence. In contrast, Jack Burn and his family live on the wealthy Atlantic side. I recommend a visit to Roger's web site where there is a video narrated by him. There is also a slide show of images of Cape Town and Cape Flats that will give you a good picture of the settings in the book.

I enjoyed Mixed Blood as a straight-up thriller and also for the intense sense of place that Roger was able to weave into the story.

Recommended highly for readers who like thrillers and don't mind a bit of stomach churning violence.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dashiell Hammett - "The Barber and His Wife" on crimeWAV

This week's cimeWAV podcast features Dashiell Hammett's first short story, "The Barber and His Wife." Give it a listen here Episode 29: Dashiell Hammett - "The Barber and His Wife"

Here is what Seth says about it
This week I'm very happy to present a special throwback episode--the very first short story by none other than crime fiction legend and pioneer Dashiell Hammett! This is the first audio podcast release of a Hammett story. Thanks go out to Vince Emery and the Literary Property Trust of Dashiell Hammett for enabling us to make this happen.

Dashiell Hammett's first story "The Barber and His Wife" is available in print only in the book Lost Stories.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Review: A Vengeful Longing, R. N. Morris

Farber and Farber, 2009. ISBN 978-0-571-23955-9. 316 pages.

This is the second of the Porfiry Petrovich series which features characters drawn from Dosteovsky's Crime and Punishment. The first is A Gentle Axe reviewed by me here.

A Vengeful Longing opens with the painful poisoning death of a doctor's wife and son. The poison was in chocolates brought home by the doctor who gave them to his family. The doctor is the obvious suspect. In a loveless marriage with a disabled son, the doctor had motive, means, and opportunity. However, investigating magistrate Porfiry Petrovich isn't satisfied with the obvious. With more bodies appearing, Petrovich begins to see a pattern though the cause of death is different in each case.

Like A Gentle Axe, A Vengeful Longing is a very satisfying mystery and the series has become a "can barely wait for the next one to be published" favorite of mine. The third book is called A Razor Wrapped in Silk, by the way, and is somewhere in the editing process.

The character Petrovich becomes more interesting with each book. Here he has a acquired a trainee investigating magistrate Pavel Pavlovich Virginisky who we met in the first book when he was an impoverished student and potential murder suspect. In training Virginisky how to construct a watertight case we begin to see better how Petrovich views evidence and how he uses his psychology to test suspects. There is also humor as Petrovich seems to take a untenable position in order to get his apprentice to see all aspects of a case.

The city of St. Petersburg continues to be a character in the story and Petrovich loves his city is spite of its faults. It was winter inA Gentle Axe Now it is summer and we get a different aspect of of the city. The lack of sanitation and the effects on the lower classes are vividly described. We should be thankful that Morris can't incorporate smell into his text. This level of historical detail is one of the features that makes this series interesting. The issue of sanitation is also used to give us a look at the complexities of Tsarist bureaucracy.

A Vengeful Longing is an excellent historical mystery with interesting characters on both sides of the law, a complex mystery, and a fascinating setting. I recommend it highly.

Review: Detective Inspector Huss, Helene Tursten

Soho Press, Inc., 2003. ISBN 1-56947-303-X, 371 pages. Translated by Steven T. Murray. First published in Sweden in 1998.

Detective Inspector Huss is the first of three books featuring Irene Huss of the Violent Crimes Unit in Goteborg, Sweden. Huss is at the scene of an apparent suicide. The body of wealthy financier, Richard von Knecht, hit the sidewalk below his apartment just as his wife and son arrived by car. The Violent Crimes Unit quickly determines that it could not have been a suicide and begin their look for a motive and suspects.

I found this book slow going at first and it took two attempts to finish it. In the end, though, I fond it a satisfying procedural, enough so that I want to read the next two books in the series. In addition to the police work at the core of the story, Tursten works incorporates the sexist treatment of the female detectives in spite of their obvious competence. It will be interesting to see if this continues in subsequent books.

Huss is married to a chef and they have twin daughters. Tursten shows the reader how Huss tries to balance her home and professional lives without letting it take over the story. When one of the twins becomes a skinhead, Tursten uses it to describe the neo-nazi attitudes among young Swedes. This plot line seemed to get wrapped up a bit too neatly and quickly but was still interesting.

Tursten also gives a look at how minority nationalities are treated in Sweden. One of the members of the Unit is Finnish. From the comments directed to and about him you get the impression that there isn't full acceptance of Fins. This is interesting considering that Finnish and a dialect of Finnish are official minority languages in Sweden.

This is a solid police procedural that I enjoyed despite a slow start. I'm not well read in Scandinavian crime fiction but I would think this book would be listed as core reading.