We are so pleased to have Michelle Gagnon on Killer Year. If you haven’t had a chance to meet this engaging new author, I suggest stopping by one of her signings or making a special trip to a conference where she’s appearing. Not only is her work magnificent, her enthusiasm and energy is like a double shot of espresso injected directly into a vein. Michelle is a fellow Mira Deadly Seven author. Her debut novel, THE TUNNELS, is available now.
Without further ado, may I present… Michelle Gagnon!
MISADVENTURES OF A DRIVE-BY SIGNER
MY KINGDOM FOR A GPS
“What are you doing?”
“Signing.” I said, raising my pen from the title page.
The clerk yanked the book away from me, incensed. “Is this a store copy? You’re, like, going to have to buy this now, you know.”
I tried not to get defensive, maintaining a sweet tone as I answered, “But I wrote it. I already have a copy. Several, in fact.”
It was my fifth bookstore of the day, and in all fairness to the young man standing before me, I probably should have waited before whipping out my pen. But I was fried. Navigating through a sea of Massachusetts drivers in ninety degree heat had shot my nerves, and honestly, not a single store out of the twenty-odd ones I’d visited so far had said No thank you, we don’t want you to sign your book. Initially, in fact, it was an extremely pleasant experience. I got a glimpse of life if not as an A-list, then certainly a C- or D-list celebrity, the temporary queen of whichever mall I happened to be standing in. Particularly in my home state, Rhode Island, I was almost always the first author any of the staff had ever met in person. Some of them bought my book on the spot so that I could personalize it for them, which was tremendously validating.
But here, in a suburb of Boston that shall remain nameless, I was forced by a surly teenager to shell out seven bucks for my own “defaced” book , then slink back to my sweltering car under the watchful eyes of mall security.
So goes the “Drive-by Signing Tour.” It sounds far more glamorous than it is, the words “drive-by” adding a hint of danger to an otherwise mundane experience. On a drive-by signing tour you hit as many bookstores as possible in one day, signing every copy of your book in range. Feeling inspired by J.A. Konrath’s marketing tips blog (which is chock full of good advice,) I outlined a fairly ambitious schedule for myself. On the East Coast, I’d hit all the bookstores in Manhattan and Rhode Island, and as many as possible in Boston and its environs. Then once I returned to California, I’d divide a regional map into sectors, and would target a sector a day until I’d covered a swath of several hundred miles in each direction. Sounds easy, right?
I’m just over three weeks in, and I’m losing my mind. There were a few things I never factored into my calculations:
Thing 1: I have absolutely no sense of direction. Seriously, it’s embarrassing. I get hopelessly lost in cities I’ve lived in for years. When I read the story of that poor family that turned down the wrong road in Oregon and almost all perished, I decided to never, ever drive in Oregon, because if I could manage to get lost on a weekly basis in Manhattan (the upper section, where it’s a grid—I don’t honestly know how anyone finds their way around lower Manhattan), I’m a goner in anything approaching wilderness. The last time I went camping, I took a wrong turn out of the restroom twenty feet from my tent, wandered off into the woods, and had to be rescued by park rangers. Sad, but true. So you can imagine how well I’m doing now, driving all over god’s green earth trying to find a bookstore in a haystack. Even with the GPS system we borrowed from a friend to navigate around Boston, my husband and I got lost and ended up in South Boston when we meant to go downtown. And I’m not talking about the Good-Will-Hunting-blue-collar-South Boston, either; this South Boston was far more reminiscent of Boyz in the Hood, with angry looking young men glaring from porches as we drove past, windows rolled up, my husband gritting his teeth as he said, “God Damn it, I told you we should have brought a map.”
Thing 2: J.A. Konrath apparently hits something like a hundred stores a day. I might be exaggerating that number slightly, but seriously, the man must be a machine. The most I ever managed was eight, and that’s counting the one where I was forced to slink away. Lately I’ve limited myself to a far more manageable three or four stores a day. It means I’ve had to scale back my plans considerably, but I’ve become convinced it’s worth it to salvage my remaining shreds of sanity. Because here’s how the day generally goes:
After a considerable amount of driving, terrifying/angering those sharing the road with me while I berate the gods of Yahoo and Google Maps, who snidely tell you to “proceed from the parking lot 3.5 miles toward Avenue X” without giving you any clear indication of whether you should take a right or a left out of said parking lot, (Seriously, has anyone else tried to use these directions? Half the time you’re sent 3 miles out of the way, and you realize in the end all you had to do was take a right and drive 100 yards. Maddening…) I arrive at the store. The next goal is to find every copy of my book, which also sounds much, much easier than it is in actuality. At one store I had four staff members searching high and low for forty minutes before ten copies were found in the Cooking Section. Another time I found them filed under “M,” as in “Michelle,” apparently because someone decided they’d be just as easy to locate under my first name as my last. Once I’ve found the books, which can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour, I bring the copies to the information desk if there is one, or to the register is it isn’t.
Then begins the exciting game I like to refer to as, “Find the ‘autographed copy’ stickers.” This involves an increasingly irritated staff member digging through bales of stickers ten deep, so many stickers that you wonder why they’re not smothering the covers of ever book in the store. Attempts to offer my own stickers are generally summarily rejected. After the books are signed and stickered, I offer to replace them in the shelves…if I’m lucky, they say yes, and then I proceed to re-stock them in more visible locations throughout the store. And then it’s back on the road, where I dig through a sea of shredded power bar wrappers, muttering angrily that Lee Child probably doesn’t have to go through this, before giving up and tearing across three lanes of traffic to the Taco Bell drive-thru.
Yes, it’s glamorous indeed. The next time you happen to notice a “Autographed Copy” sticker gracing the cover of a book on a shelf, take a moment to pause and reflect on how that signature arrived there, and feel a moment of compassion for the crazed writer who at that very moment is probably weaving away from an 18 wheeler, clenching a crushed map over the steering wheel, praying for a GPS system to materialize on her dashboard.
After graduating with honors from Wesleyan University, Michelle Gagnon spent five years performing as a modern dancer, modeling, tending bar, working in a Russian supper club, and walking dogs in Manhattan. Lured to the West Coast by the promise of halcyon days, she composed web content during the fleeting dotcom boom. In the aftermath she survived by founding Infinity Personal Training, specializing in prenatal and postpartum exercise. She also found a niche writing health, lifestyle, and travel articles for a variety of publications such as Glamour, CondeNast Traveler, San Francisco Magazine, and Yoga Journal.
Filed under: Killer Year Members
No, wait. That’s wrong.
That should read Brett and Jason go to Amazon, and Borders, and Barnes and Noble, and your favorite indie, and the New York Times…
Yes, that’s right. It’s on sale day for not one, but two Killer Year founders!
Filed under: Killer Year Founders
Over at Buzz, Balls and Hype, M.J. Rose has been doing a series of short interviews/essays from people in the publishing world called “Writing is an Art, Publishing is a Business.” The Art/Business juxtaposition of the two aspects of our daily work has been enlightening.
Today’s entry from Simon Lipskar is especially relevant, considering this blog is made up of 13 debut writers. Good advice for all of us and all of you.
Filed under: Killer Year Members
LITERARY CAGE MATCH:
WHO’S THE MOST CHILLING THRILLER WRITER: CHICAGO NEWSHOUND, NEW YORK EDITOR, OREGON ARTIST?
Chicago newshound, Shane Gericke , CUT TO THE BONE
New York editor, Jason Pinter, THE MARK
Oregon artist, Bill Cameron, LOST DOG
WEDNESDAY, July 11 at 6:30pm
NY Center for Independent Publishing
20 West 44th
New York, NY
Three tough guys flex their chops in a literary cage match contest for most chilling thriller writer. Metaphorical take downs, dangling participles and adjectives sliced away like so much excess fat —a veritable blood bath of killer prose.
The New York Center for Independent Publishing is located at 20 West 44th in the library of the General Society for Mechanics and Tradesmen (previously called the Small Press Center.)
The event is free. Bring your own bookie for side wagers on the outcome.
Books will be for sale through the incredible Mobile Libris.
About the authors:
He spent 25 years as a journalist, most prominently as a senior financial editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, then switched to crime thrillers. His debut, the national bestseller BLOWN AWAY, was named Best Debut Mystery of 2006 by Romantic Times Book Reviews, and appears in five languages. His sequel, CUT TO THE BONE, also from Kensington Publishing, just launched worldwide. Mr. Gericke writes for national magazines, is a founding member and charity auction director of International Thriller Writers Inc., and is a popular speaker at national conferences and book clubs.
Visit the Chicago author at his website, www.shanegericke.com.
“CUT TO THE BONE is a frightening thrill ride, with beautifully drawn characters, sharply observed detail, and exceptional writing. This is a damn fine book.”
– New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston
When JASON PINTER is not writing his acclaimed Henry Parker series, he works as a book editor and lives in New York City. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2003, is a member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America, and is a co-founder of Killer Year. His debut novel, THE MARK, comes out on June 26th from MIRA Books. Visit him at www.JasonPinter.com.
“Read THE MARK and you will be introduced to a terrific new talent, Jason Pinter, who has written a gripping page-turner you won’t be able to stop reading.”
— James Patterson
BILL CAMERON lives in Portland Oregon with his wife, son and daughter (who served as the corpse model for lost dog!) and an ever growing menagerie. He’s a member of the Killer Year collective and maintains a blog “Thinking With My Skin.” More information about Mr. Cameron is available on his website www.billcameronmysteries.com.
“Bill Cameron knows his way around the mean streets of Portland. In the tradition of no good deed should go unpunished, Lost Dog gives you the perfect fall guy, a flawed protagonist who makes you hold your breath. Careening between what will he do next and what will happen to him next, this tasty piece of character-driven noir keeps you guessing from beginning to end. If you like them real with no pulled punches, the beautifully written Lost Dog is for you.”
— Robert Fate author Baby Shark
Filed under: Killer Year Members
William Ahearn posted this article on his website. It’s entitled The Slow and Agonizing Death of the Private Investigator. Obviously, since I write PI novels, I have a stake in this. On Detectoday, I responded with:
The PI has grown and expanded to become both more realistic and at the same time more exciting…The PI no longer is a cypher in which to see the mystery unravel, if it ever was. The PI was always personally involved in their stories. Spade tried to solve the Falcon case because his partner was murdered–and despite him saying, that’s just what you do, and his sleeping with his partner’s wife–I have a feeling Spade cared somewhat. If Chandler hadn’t died, it appeared that he was well on the way toward marrying Ms. Loring.
The character taken umbridge with the most seems to be Lew Archer, a character who had “feelings.” It strike me that Archer is the character who changed the least. He killed a man in the first novel and it came up only once more. He seemed to meet a woman in The Blue Hammer, but we don’t know if anything came of that. In fact it seemed that Archer was the character who we most saw only the case. Did he beat anyone up? Occasionally, but not if he didn’t have to. But we always knew he could.
Characters these days, the article seems to say, are only wussy men or women who drink for no reason or see psychiatrists or do things that the old PIs never did. Guess what, times change. The series has always been about the character. Things have to happen to the PI for us to care. Seeing a psychiatrist is an interesting way to look at a characters depths, I think. (It worked in the Sopranos and Tony was still willing to get his hands dirty.) As far as the psycho sidekick works, yes, it has become a cliche (just like the bottle in the top drawer, the article seems to love so much.).
I don’t think the PI is dead. I think it’s going to thrive again. There are great PI writers out there… Crumley, Pelecanos, Lippman, Crais, Parker, Lehane. (Kenzie was a character, one who was conflicted by his job, commited a murder when he saw no other option, but had to let an even worse character go, when he couldn’t get to him. He got scared, he fell in love, and he got beat up. There was much more to him than the “clutter” on the surface.)
The detective stories were always about the detective in the novels. Marlowe played chess by himself (clutter?).. . Spade was after the killer of his partner, as I said, and didn’t care much about the bird, it seems to me. Nick and Nora drank way too much and were much more interesting than whatever the case they were solving was.. Sherlock Holmes did cocaine.. The only detective who was a vehicle for story was Archer, that I can remember… and he’s the one disliked the most.
(I would bring Spillane and Hammer into this more, but… alas… I haven’t read him… and I’m willing to admit that. Though I’ve seen one of the movies (the one with the nuclear stuff and the house that blows up because of it) and it struck me as just plain silly.)
PIs who have psycho sidekicks (or don’t) still get their hands dirty… which was one of the things you said the old PIs that you enjoyed did, but new ones didn’t.
Kenzie and Gennaro executed a gang member (but the article says the reader threw the book across the room, so I’m not sure he got that far).
Tess Monaghan killed a man and it still comes up in the series.
Spenser has set up men to be murdered by his hands.
Evils Cole has killed many men and been willing to shoot, punch, and do what it takes to get the job done.
In fact, it seems to me the point of the article is that the current PIs have a conscience. They kill but they feel it. It strikes me that if Hammer, Spade, and Marlowe didn’t feel it when they killed someone (and Marlowe definitely felt it…James Bond felt it too in the novels)… they would be psychos themselves. They are not heroes, they are cold blooded killers as well.
I find the novels now, more exciting. There is more intense action and there are reprocussions to this action. I want to see how characters are affected by the violent worlds they live in… to me, that is more exciting.
Filed under: Patry Francis
Two weeks ago in New York, I had the privilege of appearing on a panel at the Backspace Conference. It was my first experience at a conference, and one I’d recommend to anyone in our solitary profession. During my four days in the city, I made friendships that feel destined to last, impressed the hell out of myself as I sipped martinis in the Algonquin bar, and attended crowded literary cocktail parties. I also had a chance to speak to an audience about my experience as a debut author.
But the highlight of the week was one I almost missed. David Morrell was scheduled to give the keynote address. Though I was aware of his connection with Killer Year, I quickly decided that Mr. Morrell wrote the kind of action-driven thrillers I frequently buy for my husband, but don’t often read myself.
I’d met the author during one of the “mixers,” and I immediately liked him. He was warm, congenial, and totally unpretentious as we talked about the conference, the challenges of book promotion and his connection to Killer Year. But his speech came at the end of a long day, and I doubted it would speak directly to me. After all, we were different kinds of writers. Or so I thought. I will always be grateful to the friend who convinced me to stay.
By the time he’d finished speaking, I realized that there is only one kind of writer worth being, and David Morrell had given us a living demonstation of who that was. As the writing cliche goes, he didn’t tell us how to captivate an audience, he showed us. And he did it so powerfully that many people left the room in tears–and everyone left inspired.
He began with a simple question: Why do you want to be a writer? Then, after eliminating all the easy answers, he moved on to a statement that has stayed with me. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was something like, “I’m going to tell you my story, but as I do, you’re going to hear your story.”
And as he spoke, sharing a story that held everyone in the room entranced, that was exactly what happened: He told us his story, but in the universality of the emotions it evoked, we heard our own. And strangely, miraculously, we understood it better than we ever had before.
That, I realized, is the storyteller’s art, the purest form of literary magic. It’s what every reader or moviegoer hungers for when we open a book or enter a theatre. We want to go on that mythical journey that will not only entertain us; it will expand our hearts, illuminate the dark places inside us, and ultimately expand our vision of what life means.
Can you guess what I did as soon as I got home? That’s right. I ordered two of David Morrell’s books.