Seemed to me ‘Sutton’s Law’ works well for our Person of Interest this month - KEITH KAHLA. Everyone wants to know what’s REALLY cooking in an editor’s head - especially when one is an Executive Editor. I mean, really, darlings - that’s pretty damn high up the ladder. I know you’re just itching to discover what questions my esteemed band of interrogators came up with- and Keith’s equally interesting answers. I mean, hell -it ain’t every day we have one of book biz’s most celebrated editors as a guest. Of course, Keith will blush when he reads this, but he’ll get over it. He’s a super guy and deserves tons more accolades than editors get these days. And let’s face it, gang - without our editors - we’d be up a creek.
So now I guess you’re wondering what the hell ‘Sutton’s Law’ has to do with Keith Kahla. Well, settle back, and I’ll tell you. Sutton’s Law is the principal of going straight to the most likely diagnosis of a situation/problem/question/whatever. I understand medical students use it as well (no doubt some of the doc’s/writers out there will correct me if I’m wrong!). According to legend, it’s named for bank robber, Willie Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that is where the money is.”
So, you want some inside scoop from the guy who edits some of the biggest names in crime fiction? You came to the right place.
Fingers crossed for ALLISON BRENNAN who is short-listed for TWO Rita (Romance Writers of America) Awards which will be handed out on August 2nd in San Francisco. SPEAK NO EVIL is up for a Best Romantic Suspense, and SEE NO EVIL for Best Novel (with romantic elements).
MICHELLE GAGNON’S second book THE BONEYARD is out now, so if THE TUNNELS scared the hell out of you - get ready for her new one.
RHYS BOWEN emailed to announce her latest ‘Georgie’ - A ROYAL PAIN - hit the shelves on July 1st and she’s on a month long tour. I’ll have to make a note to ask her what vitamins she uses.
SHANE GERICKE is the auction master this year at ThrillerFest - just remember, don’t wink, raise your eyebrow or jiggle your ear if you’re not bidding. He’ll be watching and nab you! But of course, you will take part in those fun auctions, won’t you?
So glad to see BARBARA FISTER has finally returned with a new book! IN THE WIND should be a great read. It’s been too long, Barbara!
Don’t cry over your latte - but Starbucks is reducing the number of music CD’s and books for sale in the shops that will remain open. I’m sure the music and book (independent!) stores will be happy. I mean, couldn’t they have just stuck with coffee anyway?
Congrats, by the way to all the Macavity Award nominees! Some names expected, some sorry not there - and I ain’t saying who - but I’m especially glad to see JUDE GREBER (GILLIAN ROBERTS) short-listed for Best Mystery Short Story - THE OLD WIFE’S TALE. I love everything Jude/Gillian writes! And am always happy to see REED FARREL COLEMAN, DAVID CORBETT, LAURA LIPPMAN, ARIANNA FRANKLIN and JOE HILL on any list.
Read a great description of Joyce Carol Oates (re a review in Harper’s of her newest - MY SISTER, MY LOVE) - “Oates, too, consorts with warrior-angels.” Damn, but I love that.
Had a great report from LOUISE URE about the recent BOOK PASSAGES conference in Corte Madera a week ago. She said she felt it was the best she’d attended in years. Lots of real teaching and the students loved it. CRAIG JOHNSON and his gorgeous wife Judy were the center of every party. And TONY BROADBENT awed everybody as usual with his British wit and charm. Alas, no photos - but Louise sent the two below from MURDER IN THE GROVE in Boise…with the incredible J.A. JANCE…and the irrepressible DOUG LYLE holding court in the bar. Where else?
Coming out next month - the lovable Edgar winner, NAOMI HIRAHARA - has created a middle-grade book - 1001 CRANES. No, not to worry - MAS ARAI will be back next year in THE HANA WAR just in time for Bcon/Indianapolis. Remember that, k? :) AND!! “MAMO’S WEEDS,” the short film that Naomi wrote and Akira Boch directed for the Japanese American National Museum, will be screened as part of the Asian American International Film Festival in New York City at the Asia Society on Tuesday, July 15, at 3:30 PM. Is this gal cookin’, or what?
Oh, but I LOVE this one! LEE CHILD will be a visiting professor at his alma mater, the University of Sheffield, this November. I think one of our illustrious writers organizations ought to create a special award for paving the way for new writers - and Lee should be the first honoree. Few writers have ‘paid it forward’ as much as this gent. How does a ’Literary Humanitarian Award’ sound? Any of you organizers out there listening?
Received a great photo from a favorite couple I know (and you know him as well) taken on holiday - and I was going to ’share’ it with you (had their permission, of course). But then - I changed my mind. The look of so much love between them - was just too exquistie and rare…and yes, joyous…not to be kept private. So, to my dear and wonderous friends - I thank you again for sending it to me. p.s. If that UK famous female author opens her nasty trap ever again, let me at her, okay?
Got one of those ‘joke’ emails the other day…My, how times have changed. Makes one wonder who’s running the aslyum. This thing ran two full pages. I’d ’share’ more, but…
It’s 1958 (before a lot of you were born, I know, I know…)
Billy’s playing baseball in the street, he’s not supposed to - the kid’s a real slugger - and dad told him to be careful. He breaks a neighbors car window, dad is furious and yanks him by the arm and takes him home. Billy has learned his lesson, is more careful next time. Grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful person.
Think 2008 - Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse, Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy’s sister that she should reach down and remember being abused herself, and when she agrees that dad swatted her one day, dad goes to prison. ’
And this one?? Oh, my.
Little Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him. In a short time, Johnny feels better, and goes on playing.
Mary is accused of bing a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces three years in State Prison. Little Johnny undergoes five years of therapy.
Methinks the world has gone mad…
OKAY, LET’S GET SERIOUS NOW…on to our crew and their travails…
This group hasn’t a clue. Talk about going in circles? Once they realized THE QUEENPIN wasn’t after them, they took a breather and decided to HOLD TIGHT, and figure out their next moves. Morale was low, but EVEN CAT SITTERS GET THE BLUES. I mean, hell - THE ART OF DETECTION, especially under THE COLD MOON - was no easy feat. With a MISSING WITNESS in EXILE, and THE SUSPECT still at large, SILENCE and FIDELITY to their mission was all! They bandied about the idea of contacting THE BOXER AND THE SPY, but decided that was pointless. After all, THE SHADOW MAN, and the GIRL WITH THE BRAIDED HAIR were more likely to have the intel they needed. And, if they could get a copy of the MANIFESTO FOR THE DEAD, it might spark some new ideas. With NOTHING TO LOSE, and a KILLER WEEKEND ahead, they decided to hightail it to THE LAST ORACLE to find out if they were simply chasing a PHANTOM PREY. Shrugging off the DEAD TIME that had plagued them, they opted for some NIGHT WORK and while CHASING DARKNESS, they could think about that SLIVER OF TRUTH that had been teasing them during the last BLACK OUT - and that was one SAVAGE NIGHT. When they couldn’t reach THE CRIME WRITER, they followed THE CHAMELEON’S SHADOW until they found THE DEVIL’S FOOTPRINTS, only to discover that the DEATH WAS THE OTHER WOMAN, and not the vic whose murder they were trying to solve. The RECORD OF WRONGS they’d been given were now worthless, and the LAST CALL from THE KILLING ROOM had just about blown their covers. A few of them were beginning to lose interest and began thinking about a WINTER IN MADRID. But BLUE SMOKE AND MURDER was too compelling to turn away now. When one of the crew mentioned THE KEEPER OF THE KEYS could tell them WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, the battle cry was ‘Let’s not worry about THE DARK TIDE! We can head DOWN RIVER and find the PRIEST! THE RACE was on again, and with STONE COLD intent, they were determined to see this caper solved. They made good progess until…
AND NOW, GIRLS AND BOYS - THE ONE AND ONLY KEITH KAHLA!
Doncha just love this photo? I told Keith I’d be quaking in my Manolo’s (even though I prefer Ferragamo’s) if Keith was my editor and looked at me like that! He said “he trys not to smile in photos - milk curdles, babies cry, grown men are shaken…” And then he added “…photos are for authors who have books to push, not editors who should lurk in dark corners.” Lurk in dark corners?? Not. At. All. And I’ll bet Joe Finder, Gayle Lynds, Gregg Hurwitz, Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Mark T. Sullivan, S.J. Rozan (whose new book Keith said is a stunner & that Lydia & Bill are back!), Alan Gordon, Jane Haddam, Charles Cumming, and William Tapply…just to name a few (!) - are damn glad Keith doesn’t!
After getting a useless (Keith’s words, not mine!) -at least impractical degree at the University of Texas, he compounded the problem by working in a bookstore in Austin, Texas - and proving that the world is actually a tiny, tiny place, his first boss at the bookstore is Rick Riordan’s uncle. Then Keith moved on to New York to go into publishing because, he added, he was 26 and didn’t have a better idea on how to spend his time. After a brief stint at G.P. Putnam’s Sons in the rights department, about which the less said the better (his words again!), he landed at St. Martin’s Press, where he’s been for the past 20 years. He expects when he dies, they’ll just brick him up in his office. Uh, I doubt that (my words)-but I wouldn’t be surprised if a bronze plaque is hung over the door.
The glaring overhead lights are on, a guard stands at the door, Keith sits at the center of the table, and awaits the grilling from…
I keep hearing that the market for mystery novels, especially series mysteries, is in a state of steady decline, but that the thriller market is more encouraging. Have you seen this to be true? Or, is it too much of a crapshoot to generalize?
The latter, definitely the latter! I think it’s a problem of comparing apples to oranges. Series mysteries, even those that are highly acclaimed, generally start out modestly and the best of them build an audience from there. Some, even most, either never really connect with a broader audience or the series runs outof steam along the way - but those that remain good and interesting can keep building for years, even decades.
What’s the best place to be barbecue in Beaumont, Texas?
The important thing about Texas BBQ is that it’s all about the brisket - yeah, you can get pork or chicken if you must, but brisket is the centerpiece. Better than any place in Beaumont is Angelo’s in Fort Worth, or Ruby’s in Austin. But if you MUST go to Beaumont for BBQ, then I hear good things about Willy Ray’s.
Writers are always told to write something ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ and ‘different’, but then we’re cautioned to not write anything that breaks genre rules, or is TOO different where no one can figure out how to market it. There seems to be a moving line where authors need to balance writing the same, but different. As an editor, what do you REALLY look for when you take on a never-been-published-before author? Is it really all about the indefinable voice, or is there something more, like you wave a magic cigar over the manuscript and read the smoke rings?
Years ago, I got a submission from someone who took the ‘write what you know’ dictum too seriously and submitted a 150,000 word novel on sod farming. It was new and it was different but I doubt you’d be surprised to learn that I declined it. New, fresh and different are always something we look for - but it has to be something we can sell to an audience that, as publishers,we know how toget to affordably. Tried and true is also good - but then the writer better be writing something at or near the very top of the field - otherwise the publishing houses are going to stick with the more established writers who’ve already developed a following.
As an editor, what carries the most weight is indeed ‘voice’, followed by the ability to write a good, solid sentence and combine those sentences into a compelling narrative. What’s most likely to get me to put something down is an overly complex conceit, or a novel where the forward narrative momentum is crushed by endless asides and excessive backstory.
Keith, what is your definition of the ideal author?
Oh,no! There’s no answer to that one that isn’t gonna get me into deep trouble with somebody. I love all my authors equally! They are ALL pretty!
Every writer knows that a manuscript has to grab interest early, or it will hit the round file fairly quickly. What are the best and worst opening lines…or paragraphs…you’ve seen come across your desk?
Oh, I’m a big fan of the sharp opening line, but I also think too much emphasis is place on this. Most novels- even truly excellent ones - don’t have opening lines or paragraphs that stick with the reader over the long haul. That said, my current favorite opening line is from the book I’m reading now and is, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest.” And the worst one was one I read twenty-five years ago and was something about a man undulating down the street. I put the book on the store shelf immediately and tried to put it and the author out of my mind forever, to limited success.
What makes you fall in love with a book from an unknown writer?
Clean writing, great characters, and an ability to weave a compelling story.
How many drinks would I have to buy you to spill the dirt about St. Martin’s?
Oh, I’d pass out long before I’d ever spill secrets about SMP. But you are more than welcome to try! I’m fond of Belgian Trappist ales, most European red wines, and Bass on tap - just in case…
Keith, exactly how difficult is the market for publishers currently, and what is being done internally within the industry to improve things?
It’s pretty bleak right now. One of the two major chains is undergoing some serious ‘challenges’, the library market- which for decades provided a base stability for book publishers - has continued to decline, and the rise in fuel costs are biting into already tight profit margins as the U.S. is a large country and the cost to ship books from a central location is a significant factor. In terms of the industry improving things, there are some efforts but what’s happening is that our customers (bookstores, libraries, distributors) are facing troubles reaching their customers (consumers). We can try to help them do what they do, but it’s unlikely that we have the skills to actually replace them in whole or in part, we just aren’t set up to do what they do.
We hear of the reduction in review space in the print media, so how key are reviewers to publishers, and is the internet going to increase in importance in terms of reviewing books?
Review attention has traditionally been one of th primary means by which readers fround out about new authors, sending them to libraries and bookstores. Librararies in the U.S., in particular, tend to acquire off of reviews. Reduced review attention in newspapers - and reduced readership OF newspapers - means there is one last means by which to introduce a new writer to an audience. The internet is already important - to supplement and supplant the declining review space - and I imagine it will only become more so.
Richard and Judy or Oprah, however, remain the most effective means to sell books.
How tall are you?
Shorter than Lee Child, Charles Cumming and Gregg Hurwitz. Taller than Otto Penzler.
Do you agree that book-a-year authors suffer from the crack effect - a quick high peak (first 3.5 books), followed by an equally quick comedown (next 4.5 books)?
Man, the crack where you come from is so much better than the stuff around here - here the high never lasts THAT long. But as for the aforementioned ‘crack effect’, certainly some authors do suffer from that very thing. There can be a lot of pressure on authors to write at least one book a year and, as they become more popular, even more than one a year. And these are not the conditions under which many writers produce their best work. Some are better at it than others: Rex Stout wrote some of his best books under those conditions, as has Bernard Cornwell.
But it never helps in the long run to just meet those demands without regard to the quality of the book itself.
Well, boys and girls - there you have it straight from the top. How about a round of applause for KEITH KAHLA! Great answers, great insights - and from one hell of a great guy! Thanks so much, Keith - you were such a terrific Person of Interest - I guess we’re just gonna have to invite you back again. You will accept, won’t you? :) Hell, I’ll even find out where buy some Belgian Trappist ales!
NEXT MONTH? WELL, ON AUGUST 8TH - our Person of Interest will be the one and only MICHAEL CONNELLY. So, mark your calendar - or better yet - subscibe to Evil E and you won’t have to miss a thing.
THANKS FOR STOPPING BY TODAY… Hope you had a couple of laughs. We could use a few the way things are going lately…just remember that life is not about learning how to weather the storm, but how to dance in the rain…
So, see you next month, or not. Until then, stay safe, stay warm - and be nice to each other.
p.s. If you find any typo’s this month, keep it to yourself. I’m working with a vicious sciatic nerve problem (which Bob Levinson said I had a nerve getting) - and ‘editing’ is not a big thing with me today.
- And Final Jeopardy goes to Val McDermid! What is it about Scotland that produces such brilliant artists??
- A funny thing happened in the middle of Laura Lippman’s career…
- The Marvelous Michael Connelly & The Perils of Polished Stairs!
- SUTTON’S LAW
- I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT…
- WELCOME TO THE NEW EVIL E!
- AND WHAT A NIGHT IT WAS…
- MAY I HAVE THE ENVELOPE PLEASE?
- THE GOOD OLD DAYS…
- IT’S THAT TIME OF THE YEAR AGAIN…