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But that was long ago and far away.   Michael Palmer and I were chatting about this, and he pondered - ”In this day and age, what is harder…writing novels, or getting people to read them??”  As if this terrific guy and superb writer had this problem - but it’s a legit question for all writers - NYT list-ers or not.  And it got me to thinking about this thing we call ‘ the writing game’…and what it takes to find readers today.

Think about it.  This isn’t the age of the giants (and not so giant) who - I’ll bet - didn’t have to spend 80% of their time on promotion.  This is now.  This is when a writer has to do more than fashion a good story that will please not just the reader, but the agent, the editor, the marketing staff, the publicity department, the distributors, the indies and the chains.  And yes, the reviewers.   

Anyway, after chatting with Michael, I got to thinking about what we’d discussed - and sat myself down at my trusty computer and made a list (off the top of my head) of what one must do today to entice, acquire and maintain a reader base.  No doubt I’ve left something off - so please feel free to add to the list. :)

To be blunt, today’s writer has to wear too damn many hats.  And for some, they don’t fit well.  Not everyone is comfortable being what I’ve snark-ely termed - a ‘carney barker’ - forever pumping their product at signings, cons, speaking events, blogs, crime fiction on-line communities, short stories for e-zine magazines, YouTube (or howeverthehell you spell the damn thing), Facebook, Myspace, Crimespace, The Red Room, anthologies, essays to crime fiction magazines, web sites, and now - video trailers!  And then of course, one must belong to the many writers associations, subscribe to all the magazines hoping to see your photo there, or at the very least - a review.  And don’t forget the mailing lists for readers, bookstores, libraries and book clubs.  And newsletters.  Oh, right - and  business cards, bookmarks, and postcards ready to foist upon anyone who is within a two-mile radius.  Some writers I know even include bookmarks when they pay their bills.   I tell you - by the time I made this list - I was worn out just thinking about all we had to do and needed a nap.

But the biggest surprise was when I added up all the cons that go on throughout the year.  Do you have any idea how many there are now? Ha!  How about THIRTY-EIGHT?!  Okay, so a few of them are across the pond, but still?  It’s a brain drain just trying to figure out which one to attend.  Not all might fit your speciality, but you want readers, right?  You want to establish a presence, right?  But you don’t have the luxury of mega frequent flyer miles?  Oh, gosh.  What to do, huh?   Kinda makes your head swim, don’t it? :)        

I dunno, kids - would Faulkner, Chandler or Cain go along with all this?  Probably.  Like I said, that was then…this is now.  

Damn, I wish Michael hadn’t asked that question…


I’m hoping to pull on your heart strings here - and your great American spirit of giving.  There’s a fine young National Guard Sergeant named Zack Bazzi - who is asking folks all over the country to help him furnish the children of Afghanistan with school supplies.  Now, don’t start thinking that with all the billions of bucks our country has sent over there…etc, etc., okay?  Forget that - we know the story already.  Let’s just move past that and think about young children eager to learn and who are without pencils, paper, rulers…and have nowhere to buy them.  So how about giving up a few lattes and joining in?  The next time you’re out picking up paper and ink for your computer, or school supplies for your own family - how about adding a few boxes of pencils, maybe a couple of notebooks and a ruler into the cart for them?   And - if you’re a writer (or not), add a book or two for the guys and gals over there.  Come on - you know you’ve got a few stashed away for special gifts.  Let this be one of them.   And tell Zack Evil E sent you.

Here’s where to send them:

Zack Bazzi



APO AE  09354

Zack thanks you.  I thank you.  The children of Afghanistan most assuredly thank you.


I was all ready do a ‘Dangerous Duo’ thing here this month - and spotlight three authors who are in reality a twosome - namely - P.J. Parrish, P.J. Tracy  and Peri O’Shaugnessey.  Also missing this month - a few other departments.  But look for these fabulous gals next month on April 4th…

The terrific interview with Otto Penzler is kinda long - and while I appreciate your dropping in today - I didn’t want to overburden your eyes.  See how considerate I am?


john-ramsey-miller.jpgjohn-ramsey-miller-book-cover.jpgSMOKE AND MIRRORS is out now - and here’s what PW had to say!  “Full of breathless blood and guts action, hairpin twists and turns, Miller’s cocktail of murder and dirty business is potent and compelling!”  Wow.  Is that a terrific review, or what?  But then, John’s one hell of a fine writer - so I’m not surprised.  And did I say what a hell of a fine guy he is as well?  John and I were both Edgar judges for Best Novel (he said I could ‘out him’) - and through those long months of reading and emails, I had the great opportunity to get to know this gentleman whose integrity I found to be impeccable. And whose wit is a killer! 

AND…the great review Paul Guyot received for his short story “WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD”  in the new MWA anthology - BLUE RELIGION.  And, I quote - “TV writer Paul Guyot contributes one of the volume’s strongest selections.”  Ain’t bad, huh?

AND…congrats to Allison Brennan’s thriller - KILLING FEAR - on the NYT list! 

AND…R.I.P.  William F. Buckley, Jr.  Others much more eloquent than I shall ever be have said all there is…

More bad news on the bookstore closings…


High Crimes Mystery Bookshop - Good Yarns - Dutton’s

But all hail to those who are sticking in there.  With stores closing faster than a speeding bullet, I’m not sure these days who to list anymore - so this maybe a vanishing segment of Evil E.  Maybe I’ll just list stores you folks out there would like to have mentioned.  Let me know…


Yes, our team managed to avoid THE DROP EDGE OF YOUNDER - but only because they recognized a DARK TIDE was approaching and they were damn glad they didn’t have to resort to BODY SURFING.  I mean, they knew this region was NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.  Not, of course, that any of them were - but still.  Anyway, it didn’t take them long to avoid those DEADLY SHOALS and make their way to shore.  Once there, and glad they hadn’t had to get on their knees and pray for ATONEMENT, they had to rethink their plans once again because naturally - only FOOLS RUSH IN - and even though they were pissed they had missed the OSCAR SEASON in THE KINGDOM WHERE NOBODY DIES - their quest was more important and such trivial thoughts must be put aside.  After much discussion about which direction to head, their decision was made when they saw THE BLACK DOVE.  They only hoped this was a good omen, and would lead them past THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINTS - or, at least - not end up in the land of UNKNOWN MEANS.  Now, that would really tick them off.  I mean, this has been a trek that one might say was…well…you fill in the missing word.  EVEN CAT SITTERS GET THE BLUES, huh?  Okay, they shrugged off a hint of KILLING FEAR in spite of a strange ANCIENT RAIN that began to fall, and plauged by THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWN, off they headed past THE ISLAND OF BONES to GAS CITY, which was just outside of HELL’S BAY, and east of MOONLIGHT DOWNS.  They knew they had to avoid THE CHAMELEON’S SHADOW - who they figured was just another FRIEND OF THE DEVIL - you know, the guy who’s always after ALL MORTAL FLESH?  Anyway, they were getting close to the LAST CALL, and time was running out.  They had to reach THE KILLING ROOM, and avoid THE FAULT TREE by the CITY OF THE SUN if they were going to make it back in time to solve the MURDER IN THE RUE DE PARADIS.   Finally, luck was with them when…


penzler1.jpgottos-new-book.jpgNot a man to mince words, or soft pedal his opinions - our guest is a rarity these days.  Whether or not you agree with some of the things he’s said over the years - he is his own man.  And that - male or female - is something I always applaud.

With a list of credits longer than an Escoffier recipe as a publisher, editor and award winner - not to mention the proprietor of one of the most celebrated book stores around - THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP - and whose newest book - THE BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF PULPS is being hailed as a tour de force - and - (on the way - THE BEST AMERICAN CRIME REPORTING (with Jonathan Kellerman and Thomas H. Cook) - how does one introduce such a crime fiction luminary?  Simple.


Our interrogators today are (in alpha order): Allison Brennan, Paul Guyot, Sam Hill, Ali Karim, David Montgomery, Jason Starr, Nick Stone and Louise Ure.

ALLISON:  Often we read a book and have a picture of the personality who wrote it.  What author have you met who was different from what you imagined?

OTTO:  It has been my experience over many years that mystery writers tend to be among the nicest people on the planet. Two who were the exact opposite were Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell, both of whom are/were odious, ergo different from what I expected.  Ditto Martha Grimes, while I’m at it.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, I asked Elmore Leonard’s publisher, then Arbor House, if he would do a signing at The Mysterious Bookshop.  That was about 25 years ago. Then I saw the jacket photo and this mean-looking dude, squinting under his longshoreman’s cap.   I was scared to death of him.  When he got to the store, he turned out to be the sweetest guy one could meet.  I have photos of him hanging little Christmas ornaments on our tree.  We’ve been close friends ever since.

PAUL:  So, if I have a manuscript where an elderly woman with talking cats solves crimes whenever she’s not holding court at her knitting circle…would you blurb it?

OTTO:  Yes, I would happily blurb it.  Immediately following my admission to The New York Center for the Insane and Senile.

SAM:  Otto - is this a good time or bad time for writers?  On one hand we see the consolidation of publishers and boostore channels and ever-shortening backlists, which seem bad, but we’re also seeing record numbers of new books published and new on-line channels.  What do you think?  And - how do you feel about the increased niching of the mystery market, specifically, do you think the next big thing after cats might be a dog that solves crimes?  How about a parakeet, since that would give the opportunity for the lead character to talk?

OTTO:  Yes, it is a good time for writers and a bad time for writers.  I have been in publishing for 32 years and have always heard, both from writers and publishing people, that this is a tough time.  Mergers have made it harder for mid-list writers (those who sell fewer than 7-8,000 in the U.S., or one-fourth that number in the U.K.) to find a good home, and publishers are less patient in allowing a writer to find his readership while he continues to lose money for the house.  It is largely a question of economics: huge houses have huge overhead costs, and selling a couple of thousand books is a guaranteed loss, hence the focus on big best-sellers.  The good news is that small presses have been springing up everywhere, so most good writers will surely get their books published.  The flip side of the good news is the bad news, which is that small houses don’t have much money, so authors will not earn quite enough to stay alive.  As for the niching (I don’t think that’s a word, but it should be), you’re too late.  There ARE dogs solving crimes (see Carol Lea Benjamin and such titles as The Long Good Boy).  Since there are usually about 12-1400 new mystery titles published in English each year, I’m fine with it.  I don’t read animal detective books, and you don’t have to either.

ALI:  Otto, can you tell me about the Mysterious Press relationship with Quercus Publishing in the U.K., and what delights have you for us in the U.K. In 2008?  And, last time we met (at the London Bookfair last summer), you told me that you’d recently married - so how does your wife cope with your love of books and all the reading that you do?

OTTO:  Catch up, Ali.  I sold The Mysterious Press to Warner Books in 1989.  I have had no connection to them since 1991, except they published a bunch of my anthologies a few years ago.  Presumably you mean the connection between my imprint at Harcourt and Quercus, which is both simple and unique.  Every book I acquire for my Harcourt list automatically goes onto the Quercus list, unless U.K. rights were previously acquired by a U.K. publisher.  The only case where this is true is witht he great John Harvey who, alas, seems pretty happy where he is.  I also acquire books exclusively for Quercus where U.S. rights are not available, as with Robert B. Parker and Donald E. Westlake.  Hence, and “Otto Penzler Books” imprint on two continents.  As for my (still) fairly recent marriage, Lisa doesn’t really “cope’ with my love of books and reading.  She reads more than I do, also loves books, and tragically, is a lot smarter than I am.

DAVID:  I know you’re a great admirer of the work of the late Ross Thomas, as am I.  Is there anyone writing today whose work you’d compare with his?

OTTO:  No.  The spectacularly gifted Ross Thomas was in a class by himself.  The closest I’ve ever read is Thomas Perry, whose Metzger’s Dog was so Ross Thomas-like that I almost thought Ross had written it under a pseudonym.  Perry’s later books retain the similar, clear prose style, but the plots are not as varied as Thomas’.  If you ever read someone as good as Ross Thomas, please let me know immediately.

JASON:  Hey, Otto!  What are the three most memorable books that you’ve edited?  And - can you tell us a good story about working with Patricia Highsmith?

OTTO:   The Dark Fantastic by Stanley Ellin, a book about a racist that his regular publisher for more than 20 years, Random House, and the legendary editor, Robert Loomis, didn’t have the guts to publish.  Out on the Rim by Ross Thomas, the first of a three-book contract for which he was paid a million dollars.  I begged him to bring back Artie Wu and Quincey Durant, the stars of Chinaman’s Chance, and he did.  Then, in the original version of the manuscript, he killed Georgia Blue, a character with whom I’d fallen head-over-heels in love.  He allowed me to browbeat him into saving her life.  Blood on the Moon by James Elroy.  It was titled L.A. Death Trip and had three times as much violence as the published version, still one of the most violent books one is likely to read.  Rewritten several times over an 18-month period, it was the first hardcover book of Elroy’s career and the beginning of a long friendship.

I can tell a Highsmith story, and you can decide if it’s good.  I brought her to America to promote the first of a half-dozen of her books that I was to publish.  I thought it would be nice to take her to dinner with my then-wife.  The very young publicist for the Mysterious Press, who was to work with her on the tour, joined us.  She arrived with a single red rose each for my wife and for Pat Highsmith.  My wife was effusively thankful.  Pat took the flower, made no eye contact, made no sound, and threw the rose to the floor.  And that’s the most pleasant she was for the rest of the evening. 

NICK:  I’ve just ordered The Black Lizard Book of Pulps.  Who, at a push, are your favorite five crime writers and why?

OTTO:  Hey, did you order The Black Lizard Book of Pulps from my store?  No?  I’m not answering your stupid question.  Kidding.  Five favorites change from time to time, but Wilkie Collins, Raymond Chandler, Arthur Conan Doyle are ALWAYS on the list.  Ross Macdonald, Thomas H. Cook, Rex Stout and Robert B. Parker are usually there.  Some people you may not know, like Stephen Greenleaf (great private eye writer), E.W. Hornung (creator of Raffles) and Frederick Irving Anderson (brilliant short story writer), would make the list most days if it could be expanded to 10.  Why?  Because they’re good, each in their own way.  A full, comprehensive explanation of why I love each, for so many different reasons, would require serious Freudian analysis and more time than I can take.

LOUISE:  Who’s your favorite female crime fiction writer these days?  Other than you wife, the lovely Lisa, of course.

OTTO:  In the hopeless battle for second place, it would have to be Joyce Carol Oates who, although not generally regarded as a mystery writer, has been nominated for an Edgar,is a perennial in Best American Mystery Stories, and has a dark, dark heart to go along with a sunny spirit.

My thanks to Otto for joining us today - and to my wonderful interrogators who rose to the occasion - as they always do - with great enthusiasm and terrific questions.

And please do join us again next month when Lee Child will be our Person Of Interest on APRIL 4th…

See you next month…or not.

Until then…stay safe, stay warm and be nice to one another.



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