Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Finest Kind

This is why you do the work. You do it to the best of your ability. You do it every day. And that's how you hit a career average that puts other writers to shame.

Robert B. Parker keeled over at his desk in Cambridge, Massachusetts yesterday. He was 77 years old. He was working. When he checked out, he'd written more than 75 published books, with more on the way.

Whatever you might have thought of his output, Parker was a giant of a writer. I myself have been reading his books since I was ten years old. The man wrote three books a year near the end and you could tell he wrote them, unlike a lot of other bestseller-fodder novelists I could name who just turned over their name to a paper mill. His books were almost always "For Joan," which is a lesson for everybody.

I've long thought of compiling a book of interviews with crime writers, both the legends and the new kids coming out swinging, precisely because we ought to capture their stories for this very reason: nobody is around forever. Bob was on a very short wish list of mine for a real interview, largely interrupted for personal reasons, when we were living less than a hour away from each other in Massachusetts. I'll always be sorry we didn't get the chance to talk, but I'll always be glad I could walk into any airport bookstore and breathe easy knowing his books were waiting for me.

As usual, the great and wise Sarah Weinman has better words than I, as well as a comprehensive list of the tribute pouring in.

I believe in good guys and I believe in bad guys. Unlike most people, I'm just not sure which is which. Guys like Parker? They were pretty sure about who was wearing the white hat.

Thanks, Bob.

Oh, speaking of the new kids on the block, the Edgars were announced today. Congratulations to everybody involved, but especially our comrades Charlie Huston, Dennis Lehane and Megan Abbott. You folks keep killing people and I'll keep writing about you.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Latest From Limbo

I wonder if this is what purgatory feels like. Not in the original sense, as explained so well by George Carlin in his famous bit "Heaven, hell, purgatory and limbo." But I'm told that purgatory is supposed to be a temporary purification that prepares one for a state of grace. I like that idea, both that these tough times are temporary and that there' s a little grace on the way. Can't do limbo, man. Got to keep moving forward.

I've been keeping up with the writing, but it's definitely heading in new directions. Economic pressures have finally led me back to holding down a day job, which often makes me feel like I'm between two worlds at the moment. On the bright side, it's letting me make less mercenary choices about the things I write, but on the other, there's less time to write. But you make your choices, take your chances and hope for the best.

That said, here are a few new pieces to share while I figure out what the new writing model looks like.

At Bookslut, now under the new management of the charming and hilarious Michael Schaub, you can find the first column of the year, "The Writing on the Wall," which details some of my own internal struggles with the business of writing and visits some fascinating titles, both very new and very old.

At The Denver Post, you'll find my latest review of A Good Fall, a fantastic new collection of short stories by the eminent immigrant writer Ha Jin.

The new column reveals one of the drawbacks of writing a monthly column: sometimes, you speak too soon. In it, I lamented the recent decision by Nielsen to suddenly and precipitously kill off not only Editor & Publisher but also one of my last remaining venues, Kirkus Reviews. But it seems that for the moment, Kirkus has gotten a reprieve.

So, at least for the moment, I'm still in the business, part-time. For starters, you can read the publication's special, "The Best Books of 2009," featuring my own interviews with some fascinating writers. See inside for a chat with Don McRae about The Last Days of Clarence Darrow, Richard Flanagan about his devastating novel Wanting; Andrew Rice about his terrific journalistic work about Uganda in The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget; and newly-minted National Book Award-winner T.J. Stiles about his biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, The Last Tycoon.

Elsewhere around Kirkus, the year finished up with some strong other specials. In the "Religion and Spirituality Special," I got to interview one of the world's foremost religious scholars, Karen Armstrong, as well as the imminently cool Reverend Scotty McLennan (the basis for Doonesbury's Reverend Scott Sloan!) about the fantastically titled Jesus Was A Liberal. Nearby, you can also find rundowns of the Best Children's Books and Best Young Adult Books of 2009.

To end, here's a few links that have caught my jaundiced eye recently.

The media column at the LA Times hits the problem right between the eyes in "Freelance Writing's Unfortunate New Model." Myself, I'd lean towards something like Ginsberg's line about watching the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, as I watch my friends and colleagues struggling to squeeze their creative selves into the new matrix of the publishing industry. Fortunately, James Rainey is a bit more upbeat: "The sooner they can take the free out of freelance, the better."

GalleyCat looks at "How Writers Survived The Great Depression," and "A Peek At Our Tablet Reading Future." Be interesting to see how one impacts the other. Also there at the publishing industry watchdog, they list "Publishing's Brightest Moments in 2009," which is all about the words Twitter, Digital Reader, Stephenie Myer and Dan Brown. Seems like there ought to be some sort of hotline number at the end of that one.

When do you know something has gone terribly wrong? When Rupert Murdoch makes sense: "There's no such thing as a free news story."

There are still things to say, and surely more to come later, but let's end on a high note: "Goodbye (At Last) To The Decade From Hell."

See you around the water cooler.