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We're Ken Hebenstreit and Sharlan Douglas, blogging here about the books we love: Mysteries, suspense, crime fiction. If you want to comment on one of our postings, click on its headline.

Archive for September, 2007

Kathy Reichs – Bones to Ashes

New York Times mystery book critic Marilyn Stasio says that, despite the gruesome details,  Kathy Reichs new book is “all heart,”  and that Reichs shows a deft hand at balanacing the emotional light with the dark.”

Speaking at the Decatur Book Festival (see my earlier post), Reichs described the real cases, technological discoveries and personal experiences that provide such solid foundations for her books.  Bones to Ashes takes Temperance Brennan from Charlotte, NC to Canada, just as Reichs splits her professional time.  The book takes a contemporary theme — child pornography and the Internet — and lets Reichs explore the culture of Acadia, in the Canadian Maritime provinces.  She also continues to explore her relationship with Andrew Ryan.

I’m currently reading Bare Bones.  How’s this for an opening sentence:  “As I was packaging what remained of the dead baby, the man I would kill was burning pavement north toward Charlotte.” No Bulwer-Lytton award for her!

Diana Gabaldon — engaging and colorful

Diana GabaldonLast year I didn’t know very much about Diana Gabaldon and neither did the Decatur Book Festival organizers. They scheduled her in a room that seated 75 people. Fans sat on the floor and on the stage and stood in the back of the room, and about 100 more – including me — wound up standing in line afterwards just to have her sign their books.


So this time she was in one of the festival’s biggest spaces, at the Decatur County court house, and it was packed.


Like all the other authors I heard during the festival, Gabaldon (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable) was funny and immensely entertaining. She shared this limerick:


In days of old, when knights were bold
And condoms weren’t invented
They wrapped old socks
Around their cocks
And babies were prevented.


She promised there will be an eighth book in the Outlander series, and a seventh Lord John book. (Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade was released September 1). She also envisions a book about the apothecary, who, like Claire, is a time traveler, and she also intends to collaborate on a graphic novel.


Gabaldon, who works on multiple projects without any outlines, described three categories of characters in her books.


Onions – She understands their core and learns more about them as she pulls off the layers
Mushrooms – They pop up fully formed and walk off with the scene
Hard nuts – Inevitable characters (Claire’s child) or historic figures that she has to crack open.


Gabaldon, a college professor in human anatomy and physiology, had already had a writing career – dissertations, academic papers, grant applications – when she decided to write fiction. Why historic fiction? “I know how to research and if I can’t make it up I can steal it,” she calculated.


A German interviewer once asked Gabaldon why a man in a kilt appeals. Punchy from an extended book tour, she quipped, “You could be up against the wall with him in a minute.”


Like Terry Brooks (see my earlier post), Gabaldon’s books have been optioned for movies. How to choose? Her agent said, “It’s like having your choice of rapist.” Gabaldon does at least ask that her agent screen the prospects to find those who have at least read and understand the book.”


I liked her description of the 2006 Quill Awards, when her A Breath of Snow and Ashes won for science fiction/fantasy/horror over Stephen King’s The Cell and George R.R. Martin’s A Feast of Crows. She described Martin as looking like “an enraged Ewok.”


Gabaldon signed our one first of Outlander – pricing available shortly. We also have Voyager and Dragonfly in Amber available at ABE.


Real science inspires Kathy Reichs' novels


Kathy ReichsI am a total sucker for police procedurals and Kathy Reichs is the mother lode. Shootings, stranglings, stabbings, dismemberments, mass graves – she’s got it all, and it’s all based on her own real experience as a globally-recognized forensic anthropologist. Her work inspired the TV series Bones. Speaking at the Decatur Book Festival on September 2, she described the actual cases on which her books are based.


The case that inspired Deja Dead made Reichs a North American expert on dismemberment, as she discovered that saws leave marks much like fingerprints. Most criminals will cut wherever they need – right through bones, when necessary — to create pieces they can conceal or carry (“Canadians love hockey bags,” she said). Her subject cut through the joints,helping her accurately narrow the search to a killer who was either a surgeon or a butcher.


Death du Jour links the exhumation of a prospective Catholic saint to the Solar Temple cult suicides of 1994. Fatal Voyage springs from Reich’s work on a disaster recovery team for a Georgia airplane crash. A month later she was sifting through the detritus from 9/11’s ground zero.


She used her experience exhuming mass graves and digging through septic tanks in Guatemala in Grave Secrets: “I felt duty bound to share with my readers what I know about solid human waste,” she said. Her newest book is about Internet child pornography, and her muse is the skeleton of an unidentified child which she keeps in her laboratory.


Reichs, petite and blonde, spoke in the great room of the Decatur County courthouse, a sunny, beautiful space with high ceilings, pale gray walls, white molding, and gray marble pilasters. She told some really old jokes, bringing groans as she spun a yarn about exhuming Mozart, whose skeleton was erasing the sheet music in the coffin: “He was decomposing.”




Afterwards, Reichs signed our three Deja Deads: two firsts and an advanced reading copy. Ken hasn’t sent them up to the web, so email him or call 248-548-5459 for prices.

Joseph Finder talks about books to movies


Joseph FinderA double bill featuring David Robbins and Joseph Finder on September 1, 2007 at the Decatur Book Festival provided entertaining background information on what happens after an author sells a book to the movies. (Often it’s nothing, as Terry Brooks confirmed in his earlier presentation, with the Shannara series in a three-year turnaround.)


Finder’s High Crimes was made into the 2002 film of the same name, with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. It seems that standard movie agreements contain what has come to be known as the Tom Clancy/Anne Rice clause: You will not criticize the movie. Fine with Finder, who added his own: He wanted a cameo in the film, ala Alfred Hitchcock. OK, said his agent, but there’s good news and bad news. The good news is, you’re going to be in the jury. The bad news is, you have to shave your head.


“I’ll do it now!” Finder said.


Playing a Marine in the jury box (scenes destined, he guessed, for the cutting room floor) Finder was so convincing that director Carl Franklin promoted him to be an assistant prosecuting attorney, who was thence in every courtroom scene. “My job was to glare at Morgan Freeman,” he said. Finder said he was just thrilled to discover that the movie’s courtroom set looked just as he imagined it.


I’m guessing that his screen name was Andrew Wesely.


Finder signed our copies of Red Carpet, Extraordinary Powers, The Zero House and High Crimes. Email Ken for pricing, or phone after Labor Day at 248-548-5459.




Terry Brooks: 4 ways his work has changed during his 30-year career


Terry BrooksTerry Brooks offered a 30-year perspective on his career as a fantasy writer on September 1, 2007 during the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA.


Slightly-built and with a youthful voice and posture that contradict his silvery hair, Brooks used humor and passion to describe four ways that his work differs today from when he was starting to write.


How have my work habits changed?


He said he has always outlined his novels — structure, mood, setting, characters. Now, though, he says he takes the outline apart halfway through the book. “I feel more confident in the process,” he said. “It’s kind of fun to write yourself into a corner and see if you can work yourself out again.”


What am I interested in writing about now compared to 30 years ago?


“All fantasy has an undertone of concern about the human condition,” Brooks said. His early works, like the Shannara series, were about young men challenging big machines, much like the young writer, working as a lawyer by day and writing late into the night. He said his current books are more about families and secrets — “Very Faulknerian” — and about collapsing civilizations, as with Armageddon’s Children.


Where do I get my inspiration?


Brooks gets ideas from current events and day to day life. He said he’s written a book that was “triggered by one too many people who cut me off in traffic. This is how civilizations collapse!” He gathers information from books of ancient history, military history, adventure (mountain climbing, for example) and even the women’s fiction recommended by his wife.


Have I found validation?


It seems little here has changed over Brooks’ career. “Writing is an addiction you’re born with,” Brooks said. “If I’m not writing, I’m not a complete person,” he said. The best books is always the one he’s working on, he said.


I stood in line afterwards to get Brooks’ signature on our copies of Sword of Shannara, Elfstone of Shannara and The Black Unicorn. They’ll be up on the web shortly, meanwhile email Ken for pricing, or phone after Labor Day at 248-548-5459.




Live (or nearly so) from the Decatur Book Festival


Ken and I are live from the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, GA, after a week of traveling through North Carolina and Northern Georgia. We saw a production of Urinetown, the Musical in Raleigh, golfed with mystery buff Jim Wilde in Pinehurst, visited with friend Cate Foltin at Raleigh Little Theatre in Asheville and bought folk art at the Main Street Gallery in Clayton, GA. We had a lovely dinner Thursday night with local collector Alan Patricio and his associates, Kathy Countin and Betty Breckinridge.


The fair opened last night and continues through tomorrow, Sunday, Sept. 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Today I went to presentations and book signings by fantasy writer Terry Brooks and suspense writer Joseph Finder and will write separately about those experiences.