Friday, 22 July 2011

Pushing The Envelope

By Richard Jay Parker

Do you try to shock yourself?  It was a question I was asked recently and I'm sure they were referring to my writing and not my private life.

It's true that there are some very mild-mannered authors out there who create the most outrageous material.  When you read their twisted and creatively violent stories it's sometime a surprise to find how (outwardly) normal they are.  Is the only way to produce such material to challenge the limits of what they find acceptable?

I enjoy sex and violence in books but it has to be in context.  When there's no plot or human intrigue it can sometimes feel like flicking through a catalogue.

I was pretty restrained in my debut because the focus of the story was about loss.  The activities of the serial killer had to remain in the shadows for reasons obvious to anyone who has read it.  If a story calls for more explicit content I think you should be soliciting a reaction other than titillation or horror for the sake of it.  I have no qualms about material that gets a visceral reaction from a reader but it has to be triggered by the story.

Nobody's right about this.  I know some readers who are appalled by certain thrillers but will quite happily wade into the cannibalism of Thomas Harris without batting an eyelid.

Knowing when to hold back and when to let the reader have it are skills the best authors have mastered (and I'm still working on) but if you look at reader reviews of every thriller classic you'll see they've never got it right for everyone. 

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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Summer Reading

by Matt Lynn

I'm off to Cornwall at the weekend with the kids, so I need to choose a few books for what I hope will be a relaxing week. I've already got a copy of Hunted by fellow Curzon-ite Emlyn Rees, The Big Short by Michael Lewis, who I know a bit from our work on Bloomberg, and American Pastoral by Philip Roth, who I have got back into since attending the Man Booker Prize dinner a few weeks ago in his honour. That seems like a pretty good range - some light fun, some art, and some serious stuff.

Hopefully a fair number of people will be taking 'Shadow Force' with them on holiday. I think of my own books as summer reading. But what makes a great story for the beach?

I think it needs a number of qualities. It needs a rattling good story that grips you from start to finish. It needs some jokes - no one wants to be too downbeat on holiday. It needs some escapism - a holiday is all about getting away from things, and we want a book that does that as well. But it also needs to tell you something serious, and educate you in some way, because a holiday is one of the few chances we have to fill gaps in our knowledge.

I try and touch all those bases in my own work. And I always keep in mind that that is the recipe for a great holiday read.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Death Imitating Art

By Richard Jay Parker

Was chatting with another writer this week about a storyline she formulated which outlined the perfect murder.  She then became concerned that putting it out there might inspire somebody to copy the method.

Is it likely that readers will be tempted to adopt the techniques of a fictional murderer?  It's highly likely that anyone 'inspired' by extreme violence in the media has psychotic tendencies already but whoa there - books and movies influencing people is a whole debate on its own.

Let's just say that a reader is tempted to employ a mode of killing they've seen or read.  Would there be any point?  If it were a work of fiction that was in the public domain surely too many people would be able to identify it. Perhaps putting it out there effectively bars its likelihood of becoming part of a real life investigation.

It begs another question - do the police and those higher have an awareness of the huge volume of creative albeit fictional crimes that healthily rotate on the shelves of our bookshops?

With the amount of paperwork they have to contend with I seriously doubt it so surely it would be readers who would spot any similarities between fiction and reality.  I haven't heard of any instances of this but I'd love to hear if anyone has.

Maybe copying a famous storyline would be the ultimate example of reverse psychology - why would anyone copy a well known plot and expect to get away with it?

Strangers On A Train is a great movie.  The idea of two murderers swapping intended victims to leave them unconnected to the crimes seems like the perfect murder.  Perhaps it has happened in real life but we've never got to hear about it because who would believe somebody would be stupid enough to emulate Highsmith's novel and Hitchcock's movie...

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Friday, 8 July 2011

Kindle The Flames

By Richard Jay Parker

There seems to be a lot of discussion about Kindle and ebooks this week.  To some writers they seem to be perceived as a bonus on top of the release of their hard/paperbacks but I think they offer a substantial bite of a different sort of cherry. 

I was pleased that STOP ME Kindle edition went into the Amazon Top 100 Thriller Chart this week at number 64 and has been pinging up and down between 50 and 70 since.  I can only apologise for the increased amount of promo I've been doing on Twitter, which must be pretty tedious for anyone who follows me and has already read the book.  I'm eager to get book 2 out there so I hope everyone will bear with me while my agent sheperds it safely to you.

I have no control over the pricing of my book and was initially shocked when, after one month of availability, the price of my Kindle edition dropped - it's currently but only temporarily 0.99 - not least because of readers who had already bought it for its original price.  As one reader told me though, she didn't mind because it was the price she was prepared to pay to read it right away and knew that, like all books, the price would drop.  She also kindly said she'd got value for money and felt she was supporting the substantial efforts behind the production of the book.

Dropping the price may seem like a disaster from the author's point of view but doing so introduces your work to a new readership.  The fact is, nobody has heard of me and why should they shell out good money for my book when they have their favourite authors to rely on?  What's heartening is that a lot of people have and supported it above and beyond the call of duty and I'm enormously grateful for that.  My Christmas card list just gets longer and longer.

I think Kindle readers will behave in the same way as paperback readers - willing to pay for books and authors that really interest them and picking up cheaper books they're not a hundred percent sure of.  This may then result in them enjoying the book so much that they pay full price for those authors in the future.  It's no different to the bargain table/rack/bucket.

Readers share and experiment.  They also blog and review when they receive no money for it. They pass books on to friends and family and although the author doesn't immediately benefit from that it may mean they're finding new readers who will seek out their next work. 

There's a lot of hysteria about ebooks and piracy but it's no different to what happened with music.  People started recording themselves and uploading their own music but downloaders were still looking for talent and quality. Some new writers will definitely be discoverd through self publishing but many will not.  Readers are as discerning as music fans.

There's still lots to be ironed out in terms of ebooks and nobody is going to be able to predict their impact for many years to come.  Everything is conjecture.

But I think there should be more of a fanfare and launch for Kindle and ebook editions of novels because it offers up a whole new way of reaching people. The average amount of people accessing my work has tripled since the launch of my Kindle version.  A large proportion of those people would probably have never read me.

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Thursday, 7 July 2011

21st Century Fahrenheit 451

I don't own a kindle so perhaps it's ironic that Geraldine Steel is the number one bestselling female detective on amazon kindle. But although a devotee of print books, and a self-confessed techno-ignoramus, I've never been against e-readers; it seems to me there's a place for both print and electronic books. For many people kindles are ideal: travellers, students who want instant access to research tools while reading, people with limited storage space, and many others.
Yet we shouldn't ignore the risks that electronic books pose.
Without production and distribution costs, self-publishing will be readily available to all. Companies offering a self-publishing service are already burgeoning. But is it a threat or a wonderful opportunity that electronic books look set to revolutionise the publishing model, a move that is bound to signal the demise of the bookshop and diminish the role of the publisher?
Of course not all self-published books are second rate, any more than all traditionally published books are well-written. Nevertheless the publishing process provides a filter, albeit a flawed one, as well as an editing and proof reading service. Remove that filter and you pose the danger that the market will be swamped with books that haven't been professionally edited or even proof read. Working alone, writers can be forgiven for not producing near perfect manuscripts. No one can be writer, editor and proof reader all in one.
But if writers skimp on employing editors and proof readers, standards will inevitably fall until the concept of the book is devalued to the point where it ceases to have any meaning at all, indistinguishable from self-indulgent ramblings written by people lacking any talent for writing. Yes, I would defend the right of anyone to write what they want (so long as it isn't offensive) but I'll be worried if we cease to distinguish between quality prose that has taken years to perfect, and incoherent drivel that has been dashed off without revision.
This article first appeared in Crime Time Magazine

Leigh Russell writes the Geraldine Steel series of crime thrillers.

amazon kindle's number 1 female detective

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Launching Onto Kindle....

 by Matt Lynn

 The Kindle is a fantastic device for readers, but it potentially is even more interesting for writers. It isn’t so much the ability to reach readers directly, as the opportunity it offers to try out new forms. The publishers and the bookshops are all focussed on the 100,000 word book. But there are lots of other ways of writing things.

I’ve just launched by first short story on Kindle. It’s called ‘Lethal Force’. It would be free, but Amazon won’t let me give it away, so instead it is 71p. It will be free in iTunes just as soon as I can get Smashwords to give it an ISBN number and get it up. Take a look, you might enjoy it.

But it isn’t just short stories that can find a home on Kindle. There are other forms of writing as well.

I already have one idea, which I’m working on right now. Watch this space…..

Friday, 1 July 2011

Writer Defrag

By Richard Jay Parker

Had an interesting conversation with another writer this week about how we feel at the outset of a writing project.  Personally, I always feel like I'm starting all over.  I've been a professional writer since the late eighties and have been involved in a variety of writing gigs from comedy to horror.  My last project always evaporates when I turn my attention to the next, however, and I was relieved to find somebody else who felt the same way.

It doesn't matter which stage you're at in your writing career, dispensing with what last fired you up to make way for something you hope will evoke the same enthusiasm is a necessary process.

In one respect you feel as if all the work that's come before should have some sort of impact on the new.  Of course, it does in terms of your experience and how that has sharpened your approach to the latest project.  But that's not something you necessarily register when you defrag your mind in preparation for it.

It's probably a good way for the brain to operate, however.  If it was weighed down by every creative work you've ever produced it would probably be impossible to focus when you sit in front of the keyboard.

There should always be time to reflect on your achievements but it's always good to be compressing those old files and moving forward with fresh ideas.

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