Saturday, June 27, 2009

Charlaine Harris's Vampire Empire

From The Wall Street Journal --

Charlaine Harris's Vampire Empire --

May 4, 2009 --

The author releases her latest book in the best-selling Sookie Stackhouse vampire series -- the inspiration behind HBO's hit show, 'True Blood'

In Charlaine Harris's new novel, "Dead and Gone," she again puts her good-natured, telepathic barmaid Sookie Stackhouse in harm's way. That's saying a lot in a town where vampires, werewolves and other suspicious characters drink together at the same bar.

Vampires, at least those imagined by such writers as Stephenie Meyer, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Anne Rice, have emerged as one of the most popular genres in American fiction in recent years. Ms. Harris's Southern Gothic Sookie Stackhouse books have also been big sellers, boosted by the HBO series "True Blood" that debuted at last fall and had an average viewership of 2 million, according to Nielsen Co. A second season, which again stars Anna Paquin, is scheduled to start June 14. The show was created by Alan Ball, who wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty" and later served as executive producer for HBO's "Six Feet Under."

Ace Books, an imprint of Pearson Plc's Penguin Group (USA), says it has issued 400,000 copies of "Dead and Gone" -- and that there are more than 8 million copies of the nine-book Sookie Stackhouse series in print.

Ms. Harris, 57 years old, has written nearly 30 novels, including three other mystery series. She lives in Magnolia, Ark., where she says there aren't any supernatural creatures "that I know of."

The Wall Street Journal: What accounts for the fascination with vampires in this country?

Charlaine Harris: America is obsessed with youth. We all want to look young forever, and vampires do. They are caught in their prime, if that's when they've been turned. And they'll be that way forever.

WSJ: How did the HBO "True Blood" series come about?

Ms. Harris: Somebody had an earlier option on the Sookie books, but it didn't come to anything. Most writers go through this once or twice in their careers. When that option expired, I had three more offers. One was from Alan Ball, who convinced me that he understood what I was doing with the books. If I wanted the spirits of the books represented as I'd written them, he said, his was the offer I should take. And I've been so happy with the choices he has made.

WSJ: Do you have any input in the show?

Ms. Harris: No, I'm on the sidelines, and I'm happy to be there. I have plenty to do. He doesn't tell me how to write my books, and I don't tell him how to run his series.

WSJ: What did you make of the show's racy material?

Ms. Harris: The sex scenes startled me very much. There are sex scenes in the book, but not as many as in the show. The books are all written in the first person, so when Sookie's brother leaves a scene [for a romantic encounter], you don't see what goes on. But you do with the show, and that took some getting used to at first.

WSJ: How did people you know react?

Ms. Harris: I live in a really conservative town. I thought, oh my gosh, people will just hate the series because it shows so much skin. But so far, so good. They don't seem to be objecting too much. Or if they do, they are too polite to tell me about it, which I really appreciate.

WSJ: Did your life change after Sookie became a hit on TV?

Ms. Harris: Yes, my sales have become incredible. That's been the biggest change -- I have a lot more money. Of course with being better known comes some problems, too. On occasion a yo-yo person approaches you and wants to be your best friend. They feel they already know you because they've read your work. It's part of becoming well-known in America. It's been more puzzling and bewildering than frightening. I'm a middle-class former housewife who goes to my daughter's softball games.

WSJ: You were born in Tunica, Miss. How did your Southern heritage affect your writing style?

Ms. Harris: I'm very much a product of my raising and the place I was born. It's had a complete influence on my work, especially in the topics I write about. I almost never set my books in cities because I like the small-town setting. And I almost always have Southern characters. I try not to write in dialect because it looks condescending. But I retain the Southern speech pattern, in which people change their verb tenses sometimes, or tend to add extra words to their sentences. And they tend to elaborate on things a little more.

“The closer I got to the vampire bar, the more my pulse picked up. This was the downside to the blood bond I had with Eric Northman.” Read an excerpt from "Dead and Gone"

WSJ: You set the Sookie Stackhouse series in Bon Temps, La. Did you think that the South's conservative, religious heritage would sharpen the drama?

Ms. Harris: That was one of the reasons I set it where I did.

WSJ: Sookie preaches an unwavering message of diversity. Were you having a little fun with political correctness?

Ms. Harris: Yes, humor is my way of dealing with the unpleasant parts of the world, I guess. I amuse myself very much with my own books.

WSJ: Are there any Southern writers who inspired or motivated you?

Ms. Harris: I don't really trust the word inspiration but there have been some wonderful Southern writers I admired. Truman Capote was a great writer. Margaret Maron is a very successful and revered mystery writer. Joan Hess, who lives in Arkansas, is a sardonic writer I admire very much. And James Lee Burke is fantastic.

WSJ: What is the appeal of genre fiction, is it that we take comfort in the familiar?

Ms. Harris: I think we enjoy seeing the familiar become unfamiliar. Also, it's an escape, which people need, especially now. They need to get away from the very real troubles and confusions of everyday life and they need to escape to a place where justice triumphs.

WSJ: You've written a numbers of series over your career. Are you thinking of ending this one, and starting something new?

Ms. Harris: I'm still entertained by Sookie. It's not so much the writing that is exhausting as everything else. I do three interviews a week. I get back copy-edited manuscripts that I need to reread. I stop by my Web site every day. There is always some task waiting to be accomplished.

Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Angelina Jolie as Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell)

From Los Angeles Times --

Angelina Jolie as Kay Scarpetta --

April 22, 2009 --
By Carolyn Kellogg --

Angelina Jolie will star as Kay Scarpetta, in a film -- or films -- based on the character created by Patricia Cornwell. Late last year, Cornwell told L.A. Times Dark Passages columnist Sarah Weinman that Cornwell viewed "Scarpetta," the 16th novel in her series, as something of a reset button, returning the focus to the characters and their interactions with each other. But there is also plenty of forensic science -- Scarpetta is a medical examiner -- which made the series' 1990 debut, "Postmortem," stand apart.

Variety reports that with all those books as a resource, "a franchise is hoped for," but, their report adds:

this film won't be tied to a specific Cornwell mystery title. Much the way that Jason Bourne morphed into an action hero in plots not rigidly locked into the Robert Ludlum book series, the opera-loving coroner Scarpetta will be the lead in a suspense thriller in the vein of "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Seven."

With all this attention, it's hard to believe that Kay Scarpetta almost never came to life at all. "Postmortem" was published by Scribner, "with a modest first printing and advance (6,000 copies and $6,000, respectively)," Weinman writes, "that came just when Cornwell was about to give up on writing fiction."

Angelina Jolie Signs Up For Patricia Cornwell-based Franchise

From Paste Magazine --

Angelina Jolie Signs Up For Patricia Cornwell-based Franchise --

By Jeffrey Bloomer --
on April 27, 2009 --

In a deal that could turn out to be larger than it sounds, Angelina Jolie will star in a new movie as Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the medical-examiner heroine of the blockbuster novel series by Patricia Cornwell.

The series includes 16 books in all, but rather than focus on any single story, the first movie will combine elements from several titles into a single feature. If it’s a hit, the series could become a major-wattage film franchise that Variety compares to the Jason Bourne movies. The project has been in development since the early ’90s, when the series launched, but no movie had ever came together.

Jolie will next star in the espionage thriller Salt. She’s managed a fairly diverse career, but she isn't new to the literary murder-mystery archetype—she starred in the thrillers Taking Lives and The Bone Collector, both also based on novels.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A lady sleuth in high dudgeon (Jacqueline Winspear)

From Toronto Star --

A lady sleuth in high dudgeon --

Apr 19, 2009 --
By Jack Batten --

In the wake of World War I, investigator Maisie Dobbs can't ignore the neglected plight of Britain's shell-shocked warrior veterans.

Among the Mad -- by Jacqueline Winspear --

For a woman not much past 30, making her way in London a dozen years after the end of World War I, Maisie Dobbs leads a more vivid life than 99 per cent of the English population. Even the title she gives her professional activities – Psychologist and Investigator – sounds exotic for the time.

Maisie is the sleuth figure in Jacqueline Winspear's series of crime novels, now up to five books with the new Among the Mad. From the beginning of the series, Winspear has taken elaborate care in dressing up Maisie's biography with uncommon experiences and generous touches of the outré.

As a child, little Maisie absorbed the legacies of her gypsy maternal grandmother and her costermonger father. In her early teenage years, she worked as a lowly servant in a viscount's Belgravia mansion. The bountiful lady of the house, discovering Maisie's intellectual brilliance, saw to the girl's education and did a Pygmalion on her working-class accent.

Still very young, Maisie served as a nurse on the Western Front in the First War. A German attack left her severely wounded. Even worse, the attack knocked her beloved, an army doctor, into a coma. The poor fellow never came back to consciousness, living in a clinic on tubes and respirators until his death 12 years later in the series' fourth book, An Incomplete Revenge (2008).

Maisie, in perpetual mourning, pushed on with her education after the war, studying at Cambridge. She also picked up valuable lessons from a colourful group of mentors. An instructor named Basil Khan, a chap with mystical inclinations, gave her lessons in "the stilling of the mind." (Today we'd probably label it meditation). An aged Roma taught her how to douse for gold and silver (a handy talent in tracing the loot from burglaries). Maurice Blanche, a philosopher, psychologist and man of many secrets, kept her up to date on the new forensic sciences.

Maisie's single flaw is that, in the transition from working class to upper crust, she hasn't got the speech thing quite right. Sometimes her phrasing makes her sound like a twit. Instead of just saying, "I'm doing a good job," she announces, "I'm executing my duties effectively." Where "finish my assignment" would be perfectly OK, she says, "secure an end to my work."

Winspear writes her books in the antique phrasing of someone under an Agatha Christie misapprehension. "Suffice it to say" is how characters in the Dobbs books often begin their comments. People are "taken aback" and work themselves into "a high dudgeon." Men are "chappies" and women are "lasses." The words "cleave" and "garner" and "garb" turn up as verbs.

Despite the tin-eared phrasing, Winspear takes on a serious purpose in her books, and it's this successfully realized ambition that gives the series its appeal. Though far from a professional historian, Winspear has a few things to say about the First War. She's concerned with reminding us about the horrors of that singularly horrible event, but her focus is much more on the cruelties that many British soldiers suffered long after the shooting ended.

The neglect these men endured occurs as an implicit theme throughout the Dobbs series, but it becomes explicit in Among the Mad. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers came out of the war suffering from what was called shell shock. The shelling, death and suffering on the battlefields left them half mad, but when they returned home, their country offered them a hearty handshake and little else.

The government pressured army doctors to discharge these men swiftly. Soldiers with physical wounds received small pensions, but shell-shock victims with no marks on their bodies received nothing from their government. Many of them, homeless, were left to the streets. It appears to be one of these abandoned souls who lies at the heart of Maisie's case in Among the Mad.

Somebody is threatening harm to Britain's Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his fellow cabinet members. The unknown person, who backs up his words with actions that show he means business, makes it clear he's operating in the interests of shell-shock victims around the country.

Since Maisie has begun to establish a reputation as a forensic whiz, the cops ask her to lend her expertise to the investigation. The book settles into a nice little whodunit of the cozy school, but the matters of the shell-shocked soldiers and Maisie's sympathy for them add special resonance to the story.

A couple of subplots involving regular characters in the series work the same area of tragedies lingering from the war. Maisie's friend Priscilla, despite her status of wealth and privilege, still faces mental problems brought on by the deaths in battle of her three brothers. Maisie's assistant Billy Beale, a London east ender and former soldier, is facing depression issues in his own family.

But it's the narrative of Maisie's case that makes the book so moving for its glimpses of a grim piece of British history, even if parts of the story are told in twit-speak.

Jack Batten is a Toronto novelist, author and freelance writer. His Whodunit appears every two weeks

Saturday, June 20, 2009

BOOK GROUPIE: Fantasize and laugh with Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich)

From Colorado Springs The Gazette --

BOOK GROUPIE: Fantasize and laugh with Stephanie Plum --

February 27, 2009 - 6:58 PM --

If I ask you "Ranger or Morelli?" and you have a ready answer, you're already a Janet Evanovich fan. You know the author is best known for her Stephanie Plum mystery series featuring a screwball bounty hunter heroine. And you, like Evanovich's heroine, have probably pondered the merits of silent, mysterious Ranger and loyal, hunky Morelli.

If you aren't an Evanovich fan and you appreciate fast and fun reads, I encourage you to give the author a shot. Book clubs are also sure to enjoy a round with Evanovich. Many of her books offer discussion questions at the end, and her Web site includes a list of frequently asked questions.

Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series starts with "One for the Money" and blazes through to the most recently published book in the series, "Fearless Fourteen." And Evanovich is continuing with the series. The book she is currently working on is "Finger Lickin' Fifteen." I learned this during an e-mail interview with Evanovich.

I found her as entertaining an interviewee as she is an author. You can read much of the interview here. For the whole shebang, please visit my blog (address below), where the interview is posted.

Question: When you wrote "One for the Money" nearly 15 years ago, did you ever in your wildest dreams think the series would be so successful?

Answer: I never thought very far ahead in terms of success. I just wanted people to like my book and I hoped I could make enough money to buy new bathroom towels.

Q: Once you knew you had a successful series, was there anything you wished you could go back to the first books and change?

A: My name! Janet Evanovich is too long to write when there are 2,000 people waiting to get books signed.

Q: If you could go shopping with a character from any of your books, who would he/she be and where would you go?

A: It would be a liquor store with Ranger.

Q: There have been many times while reading your books that I have laughed out loud. Is there a scene or a chapter in any of your books that particularly cracked you up while you were writing it?

A: I liked when Grandma shot the roast chicken in the gumpy in book one.

Q: If Stephanie Plum were required to bake her way out of a dangerous situation, could she do it?

A: Only if it involved peanut butter.


CONTACT THE WRITER: Anita Miller welcomes your book suggestions. Participate in her blog at or e-mail

Audio Reviews: Publishers Weekly, 3/2/2009 (Janet Evanovich)

From Publishers Weekly --

Audio Reviews: Publishers Weekly, 3/2/2009 --

Plum Spooky Janet Evanovich, read by Lorelei King. Macmillan Audio, unabridged, seven CDs, 6.5 hrs., $34.95 ISBN 978-1-4272-0599-5

Klutzy bounty hunter Stephanie Plum teams up with mysterious Diesel and the monkey left on her doorstep to track down a nerdy genius and his sinister business partner in the depths of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Lorelei King does her usual superlative job for the Evanovich oeuvre, adding juice and dimension to each wacky character. She deftly handles everyone, from bail bond receptionist Connie’s classic New Jersey accent and outrageous sidekick Lula’s brash outbursts to Ranger’s smooth purr (it’s amazing how he, as voiced by King, can make the word “babe” mean so many different things). The structures of Plum novels tend to be similar; it’s the laughs that keep readers coming back. King enhances the humor of this series, so much so that Evanovich fans should consider putting down that book and plugging in the CD player instead. A St. Martin’s Press hardcover (reviewed online). (Jan.)

Maisie's world (Jacqueline Winspear)

From The Boston Globe --

Maisie's world --

By Jim Concannon --
Globe Staff / March 3, 2009 --

Author Jacqueline Winspear splits her life between homes in sunny, laid-back California and rainy, buttoned-up England. So it seems somehow appropriate that this Thursday she'll be halfway between both places on a tour through the Boston area. (And just what does the reality of that geographical midpoint make this city? A place with unsettled weather and occasionally tense people? Sounds about right.)

Winspear is the author of a popular six-book mystery series featuring Maisie Dobbs, a British psychologist and investigator during the late 1920s and early '30s. The fictional Dobbs is a woman with institutional clout and influence, a combination that might seem unusual for the times, until you realize that Britain suffered 2 million male casualties in World War I, opening the way for women in myriad professions, often by necessity, since the shortage of men also reduced prospects for a traditional family life. To put it another way, the Rosie the Riveters who took over American factories and other businesses in World War II started flexing their biceps 25 years earlier on the far side of the Atlantic.

"This is a generation of women who came of age in a terrible time, and now they had to go forward alone, responsible for their financial security, nurturing relationships to sustain them as they grew older, and creating a place for themselves in their communities," writes Winspear. "As a storyteller, I wanted the character of Maisie Dobbs to reflect the spirit of that generation, and I wanted to use the years between the wars as a backdrop for the mysteries that my characters [who often include unstable war veterans] are drawn into."

Winspear's latest novel is "Among the Mad," in which Dobbs must race to save London from a terrorist threat. Winspear will read from her book at 7 p.m. Thursday at the First Parish Church, 3 Church St., Cambridge. For advance tickets, call 617-661-1515.

Medieval forensic pathologist is on the track of 'Grave Goods" (Lisa Lutz)

From ContraCosta Times --

Medieval forensic pathologist is on the track of 'Grave Goods" --

April 12, 2009 --

"Revenge of the Spellmans" by Lisa Lutz. (Simon and Schuster, $25, 375 pages)

The Spellman family, San Francisco-based private detectives, faces its latest crisis when daughter Isabel gives up detecting for bartending. She's in court-ordered therapy for misbehavior on a previous case and squatting in the basement of her brother's house.

She takes a case for a husband who wants to know where his wife is going "... and, typical of this series, the answer is nothing you would have expected.

Izzy's wayward teen sister continues to confound both her parents and the authorities, and spiffy brother David starts looking unkempt.

It's hard to know exactly what's going on. Just hang on tight and go along for the ride, trying not to laugh too hard.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Fresh ink: News and notes from the publishing world (Lisa Lutz)

From San Francisco Chronicle --

Fresh ink: News and notes from the publishing world --

April 3, 2009 --

"The Spellman Files," the comic novel by San Francisco author Lisa Lutz, will be adapted into a film directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Daily Variety reports. "Revenge of the Spellmans," Lutz's third book in her series about a family of private investigators, was published in March.