Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Booksigning from Hell

I doubt there's an author alive (well, maybe a few whose careers have been blessed with pixie dust) who can't relate to this. I laughed ruefully all the way through it.

h/t to Sphinx Ink for the link

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

And When They Are Good, They're Golden


I do so much complaining about copyeditors, I thought it only fair that I write about the superb copyeditor who worked with me on The Babylonian Codex.

I doubt there’s a writer alive who doesn’t need a copyeditor. Some of the changes they make are to bring a manuscript into line with house style rules (and yes, those rules can vary from house to house). But it’s also their job to look up all kinds of esoteric minutiae and therefore keep authors from making asses of themselves (and in a novel like this one, we’re talking about a lot of esoteric minutiae). Most copyeditors don’t bother to do that. This one did. She also caught some lapses in my thought process—like, if Tobie is running away, how does she know that the guy behind her was just shot in the leg? (Oops) She even noticed that I was giving almost everyone gray eyes!

After all the years I spent in England and Australia, I evidently still have some British usages in my writing, and she had to catch all those, too: windscreen instead of windshield, floodlamps instead of floodlights, leapt instead of leaped, grey instead of gray, etc. And then there are all those pesky words that I can never remember if they’re hyphenated or not, joined or not: peacoat, seat belt, globe-trotting, surefire, nutcase. And did you know that quotes are not used around a word preceded by called or known as? I didn’t. Now, thanks to a great copyeditor, I do.

Thank you, Ellen Leach.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Babylon Has a Cover!

I received the final version of The Babylonian Codex cover today. I'm told the right edge that appears yellow in the image above will actually be a gold foil.

It's a very striking cover. I have some concerns that it might appear too dark on the shelf, that the title might not have enough contrast, that it might be too busy for a paperback. But all in all I'm pleased. Here's the image for the stepback, or inside front cover:

And if you're wondering what they changed, they tweaked the contrasts a bit, and originally they had the girl on the cover running away. Every woman I showed the cover to said the same thing: their eye immediately went to her butt (ironically, none of the men I showed it to had the same reaction). So in the new version she's turned around. Here's the original:

I assume she's supposed to be Tobie, although the running woman in The Archangel Project was a much better representation of my image of Tobie. In the space of three books, she's grown six inches, lost ten pounds, and acquired some artificial enhancements. My agent says this woman looks like an assistant professor late for class.

But this all just being picky. I do like this cover! Whadya think?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thirty Years On


Thirty years ago today, at 8:32 in the morning, Mount St. Helens erupted in an apocalyptic horror of searing volcanic gas and steam that vaporized everything in the immediate blast zone—wildflowers, deer, bear, campers, volcanologists. Old growth Douglas fir up to seventeen miles away were blown down like toothpicks. Surging mudflows filled nearby valleys and national parks and highways with anywhere from 150 to 600 feet of hot melted snow and goop. A vast plume of steam and pulverized mountain shot into the air and then began to drift eastward on the wind, a dark rumbling cloud that blotted out the sun and turned what had been a fine sunny spring day into an eerie, lightning-split night. Automatic streetlamps flickered on. Cocks began to crow. And those of us who’d grown up reading about the last days of Pompeii found ourselves thinking about, well, Pompeii.

I was living in Moscow, Idaho, at the time. As incredible as it may seem today, no one bothered to notify the authorities of that small college town that 1) the volcano had blown and that 2) the ash cloud was headed right for us. The annual Renaissance Fair in city park was in full swing, with everyone—including the cops—eying the black cloud on the horizon and going, hmmm, that looks strange. Then, as if some giant hand had drawn a black shade across the sky, day disappeared. A fine ash began to fall.

It fell into the night, drifting down like a weird gritty snow. Although we were several hundred miles from the blast, something about the wind and the lay of the land dumped an extraordinary amount of the stuff on top of us. The next morning we awoke to a clear blue day that disappeared into a thick white haze as people began to stir and the fine ash billowed up again.

I remember we were full of questions no one could seem to answer. Just how toxic was this stuff? No one knew. Could we let the cat out? What would it do to our car engines? To us? And how the hell do we get rid of all this stuff that looks like snow but isn’t? It’s not like it’s going to melt.

And then of course there were the horrible images coming from the mountain. A pickup truck with the tiny burned bodies of two little boys on a fishing trip with their dad. A couple camping 25 miles away from the mountain, far outside the “danger zone,” swept to their deaths. Compared to that, having to wear a surgical mask for months every time you wanted to play Frisbee was not something you felt you could complain about.


Until Hurricane Katrina, Mount St. Helens was the defining natural disaster of my life. I still recall those days with such vivid clarity that it's hard to believe it's been thirty years. Then I look at those funny old cars in the fading photos, and think, yeah, thirty years.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Evolution of a Cover

The cover for Where Shadows Dance is here, but before I show it to you, I thought it might be fun to see where it came from.

They wanted a woman on the cover again. So I found this urban fantasy cover I liked and sent it off:

I liked the idea of the woman with the shadow of the man in the background, but thought it would be better if the woman were turned away so that we couldn't see her face. For a backdrop, I sent the art department this neat image:


And this one:


This is what they came up with:

At which point I went, "Eeek! You've dressed the woman in Victorian clothes!" (Actually, I said more than that, but I'll spare you.) I sent them this:


And they modified the dress so that the cover now looks like this:

I like the right half of the cover--the moody misty threat of the looming angels and the stalking male. The blue is quite lovely. I'm not so wild about the lady. To me she looks like a sorority girl in a costume (Hey, I was a Kappa, so I can say that!). But it's a huge improvement over the Heaven cover. And the art director and the artist have both educated themselves on the differences between Regency dresses and Victorian dresses, and promise they won't make the same mistake on the next cover.

For those who like the cover image to portray a scene in the book, I can say there is a scene with a woman in a graveyard, but it's not night and she's not dressed like this. And where is this lady's hat? Women always wore a hat when they were out.

So what do you think? You can be honest, believe me! I didn't design it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Three Faces of Mystery


I’m reading James N. Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Mystery, and I found it interesting that he divides mysteries into three types: genre mysteries, mainstream mysteries, and literary mysteries.

In genre or category mysteries, the focus is entirely on the mystery. A colorful, quirky main character searches for clues and talks to witnesses against a backdrop of varying degrees of suspense or menace. Sue Grafton and Patricia Cornwell are classic examples of genre mystery writers.

In mainstream mysteries, we meet with the same elements as in a genre mystery—clues, suspects, suspense, menace, etc. The main difference is in the characters, which are more textured and faceted, more like real people with real problems. In addition to the mystery, such novels often include a subplot involving an ex-wife, a problem child, or other personal or family crises. More than just a gruesome murder or clever alibi or new way of killing, says Frey, “mainstream mysteries are stories about characters involved in the solving of a murder.” (emphasis mine)

Literary mysteries have, again, the same familiar elements, the dead bodies and clues, the suspects and witnesses, the suspense and menace. But they are written in a “somber, brooding tone.” They are “darkly poetic,” with tough, brutal, lawless heroes on the edge of society. Girl with a Dragon Tattoo obviously falls here; so do John Connolly’s novels.

I personally like to read literary mysteries, but I don’t write them. I’m not poetic enough, and I don’t have that somber, brooding tone. I suspect my Sebastian mysteries fall into the second category (a fact I’d like to explain to a certain reviewer who recently complained that the series has too much “personal stuff” about Sebastian and found the explanation in the fact that I used to write romances).

I suspect the same breakdown could be made of thrillers. Most thrillers today fall into the first category, their characters little fleshed out, the emphasis all on action. The thrillers of old—which I personally liked—were more mainstream or even literary, but those days are gone. The Tobie and Jax thriller series obviously falls into the first category.

Like all attempts to pigeonhole reality, this breakdown has its flaws. But I do think it’s an interesting and useful construct. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

More Cover Copy


Here's the cover copy for The Babylonian Codex, the next C.S. Graham thriller due out this December. They let me do some tweaking, but this is it.

An ancient Biblical prophesy...
The convening of the richest and most powerful men on earth...
The sudden, mysterious death of the vice president.

When Iraq War vet October “Tobie” Guinness volunteers to remote view a priceless artifact looted from war-ravaged Baghdad, she unwittingly becomes the main target in the midst of a horrific bloodbath. Now a fugitive accused of murder, Tobie turns for help from her sometime partner, rogue CIA agent Jax Alexander. Ranging from a high mountain Moroccan kasbah and a medieval English church to a frozen Idaho lake, the two must race to unravel the secrets that link a long lost mosaic to a mysterious Biblical codex in time to stop a deadly cabal of wealthy, powerful zealots with a chilling plot to remake the world and bring on the Second Coming.

Incidentally, I almost lost my title at the last minute. Sales suddenly found both "Babylon" and "Codex" too scary. I mean, who ever heard of Babylon? And what IS a codex, anyway? But they finally calmed down and let me keep it. Which is a relief, since the entire book revolves around a McGuffin called the Babylonian Codex. To call it anything else would have been weird.

And if you're wondering about the significance of the photo of the Ravenna mosaic above, they used it on the cover. I received the first JPGs today, but I had some suggestions for changes, so you can't see it yet.