WHAT ARE THE CHANCES: Making Momma Proud

BUY TICKETS TO MEET KENNY ROGERS THIS SATURDAY!

Kenny Rogers and Michael Blakelys new novel What Are The Chances is reminiscent of the country and western movies of the seventies and eighties, flicks like W.W. & The Dixie Dance Kings, Urban Cowboy, or Songwriters. This ode to the outlaw country movement is full of bar brawls, hustles, and hard drinking. It takes you back to the Texas of 1975 as if it was kicker Heaven.

In What are the Chances, the main character, Ronnie Breed, is a country-influenced rock star in the Graham Parsons mold (or Rogers when he was with The First Edition). Swindled out of most of his money by his old manager, he decides to reinvent himself as a country singer. To promote the new band, he and his cousin, Dan, concoct a plan involving a TV show that will feature Ronnie playing both music and cards in the first televised Texas Hold Em’ tournament. The scheme also involves Ronnie’s pretty new manager, his spunky girlfriend, a shady oil man who cheated their uncle, a promoter who is a cross between John Hammond and Ernest Hemingway, and, of course, Momma.

Told from Ronnie’s point of view, the book has a rollicking charm. Wry humor is woven throughout and the authors do a good job of keeping the story together. As Texas musicians, Rogers and Blakely being offer fun insight into the business and this freewheeling period in history. There’s even a bar fight at the Gilley’s honky-tonk and Freddy Fender shows up to play “Wasted Days & Wasted Nights’.

What Are The Chances is a two-fisted, whiskey guzzling, drawl and twang novel that never loses its sense of fun. It’s good ol’ boys with hearts of gold teaching the city slickers a lesson or two. It encapsulates the spirit of seventies’ country. It would make Momma proud.

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Meet the Gambler here at BookPeople this Saturday, September 21st at 1PM! Tickets are required to attend the Meet & Greet and are only available in-store and via bookpeople.com. Tickets include a copy of What are the Chances. Rogers will be available to meet fans and pose for photos. Visit bookpeople.com for more info.

23 Letters In, Grafton Still Makes Creative Choices

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Sue Grafton has consistently churned out clever, engaging books. That is no easy feat when you’re more than 20 books into a series. Her latest book, W Is For Wasted, is no exception. I read it this past weekend and loved it.

With many popular authors, their first few books are great and fascinating, but then once they’re established, they fall into a formula and their editors take a nap. Fortunately, there are authors like Grafton out there who demonstrate how to be a bestselling author while still making creative choices.

Grafton, for those unlucky enough to have not heard of her, is famous for her alphabet novels. The series started in 1982 with A is for Alibi, followed by B is for Burglar, and so on. Now that she has made it all the way to W, some fans, including me, speculate about what will happen after she hits Z. Will she start the alphabet again? Or maybe do it backwards?

The books always feature private detective Kinsey Millhone and there are some other recurring characters including her adorable neighbor, Henry. But for the most part, each book is a completely separate adventure. Some are slower paced with no huge surprises, but there are others with lots of twists. W is for Wasted has some definite twists and turns. There are a few predictable ones, but others will catch you off guard.

It is not immediately clear what the “wasted” of the title is alluding to. If I explained it, I’d ruin the story. So, I’ll just let you know it’s fun getting there. The cast of characters in this book includes the eccentric and, of course, those struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. In this book there are two main plot lines, and even I wasn’t able to predict how all the individual stories would connect until right before it became clear in the book.

You can get a sample of the book at this link. The link takes you to the prologue of the book where Grafton starts Kinsey down the road of the two major plot lines. Two people have died. One was an eccentric, scheming private eye she didn’t admire, Pete Wolinsky; The second is a homeless man whose full name isn’t learned until about halfway through the book. A piece of paper is found on this man with Kinsey’s name and phone number. You eventually learn what led to Pete and the homeless man’s death. Feel free to make your guesses but odds are you will be wrong.

Grafton makes some interesting choices in this book. She takes on topical issues. For example, what happens to a man accused and convicted of a horrible crime when he is exonerated years later? How will his kids (now adults) receive him? But the most interesting parts to me (without revealing spoilers) are Kinsey’s interactions with three friends of the dead homeless man. She takes on the issue of how the homeless are treated in our society today. Don’t worry, there’s no preaching or political propaganda here. Rather, Grafton lets the characters make the arguments. It is no easy task to write a mystery that avoids getting bogged down when it also decides to take on serious, societal topics. But, Grafton pulls it off with apparent ease.

Maureen Corrigan, of NPR’s program Fresh Air, says of the series, “Makes me wish there were more than twenty six letters at her disposal.”

Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post wrote, “Grafton’s [alphabet] novels are among the five or six best series any American has ever written.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you’re a fan of Grafton’s alphabet books, then you can’t go wrong with W is for Wasted.

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Signed copies of W is for Wasted is available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com (while supplies last).

MysteryPeople Q&A with Laurie R. King

We’re looking forward to hosting Laurie R King here at BookPeople this week. Her latest book, Bones Of Paris, is a sequel to her novel, Touchstone. As you can tell in this interview, she’s a fun, witty, and charming conversationalist. This will be a great event Wednesday night.

MYSTERYPEOPLE: How did this book come about?

LAURIE R. KING: I’ve been working in the Twenties for a long time now, since writing The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in the late ‘80s.  However, the Russell & Holmes series is not only light-hearted, most of the episodes don’t move very far chronologically.  Which meant not only would it take me another twenty books to get to the 1926 General Strike, I’m not sure what the Duo would do once they were there.  So I decided to give the Twenties another series, beginning with Touchstone in 2008.

MP: Why did you decide to write a novel set in the 1920’s in Paris? Why right before the Great Depression?

LRK: Ease and contentment spell death to a crime novel.  A story about Montparnasse at the height of the expatriate boom of the early Twenties would be battling against the happiness of those years. Moving to the end of the decade finds that world falling to pieces: artists gone to the south of France, American writers packing their bags for home, and (reader prescience: a key tool of the historical novelist!) Black Tuesday lurking around the corner, a disaster that would send those smug Yanks creeping for home.

MP: Is this the start of a series or a standalone?

LRK: Touchstone was written as a standalone, until I realized 1) that I really didn’t need to kill off everyone in the story, and then 2) that I was interested in the characters, and wanted to return to them.  The Bones of Paris turns Touchstone into a series.

MP: A lot of artists and celebrities make cameos in your book, including Man Ray, Ernest Hemingway and Josephine Baker. How did you decide which artists to include?

LRK: First of all, they had to be in Paris during the time, or at least plausibly able to make a side-trip to the city in September, 1929. After that, I chose a few colorful types and then spread out among their immediate friends and associates.  Of course, certain people were ubiquitous in Montparnasse: it must’ve been hard to go into a bar without coming across Kiki!

MP: What kind of research did you do for this book?

LRK: “Twenties Paris” is a theme with more available material than any writer can possibly use, from memoirs to film to art to autobiographical novels and memoirs-that-should-be-called-novels.  I have, in fact, been to the city, but this book could have been written even if I’d never been outside California.

MP: Where would you suggest a reader new to you start? With this book? With the Mary Russell series or the Kate Martinelli series?

LRK: There are a couple of my novels that rest heavily on a previous story, but this is not one of those.  Yes, I hope people will love the characters enough to go back to Touchstone and find out what happened earlier, but it is by no means necessary.  If you love Paris, or PI novels, or spooky thrillers, or books that are “complex, more than a little kinky, and absolutely fascinating”  (Booklist’s review) then that’s background enough.  If you prefer your crime with no sex and discreet violence, by all means pick up a Russell.  If you prefer contemporary cop stories, then Kate’s your girl.  I should mention that there are descriptions and excerpts for all the books on http://www.laurierking.com/books

MP: I first came to know you through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which was the start of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. What do you enjoy about writing that series?  Did any Sherlock Holmes purists get grumpy about the series?

LRK: I love Russell’s voice—have ever since she introduced herself by taking my hand to write, “I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes…” in 1987.  The stories are classic romances—not in the sense of love stories, but in the sense of exotic and heroic adventures. She dresses in costumes, she beats up bad guys—she wears a knife in her boot, for heaven’s sake: what’s not to love?

As for grumpy Sherlockians, yes, there were dubious grumbles at first, but either I wore the grumpy ones down or they decided that I wasn’t as outrageous as they’d thought, because since then they’ve welcomed me, to the extent that I am now an official Irregular.

MP: What are the advantages of writing a series versus a standalone book? What are the disadvantages?

LRK: A series is like spending time with old friends, picking up where you left off. You all know the same jokes and references, you don’t have to explain much, and you have a chance to really know the people, in depth and over a period of time.

But it’s tough to keep a series fresh.  One way I do this is by sending Russell and Holmes all around the world, which forces a new perspective into each story.  And in general, I try to alternate that series with either another series or a standalone. Recently, for various reasons, I found myself writing four Russells in a row, and I kept myself interested by making them all different: the first two were linked and introduced some startling characters into the mix, and the next (Pirate King) was an out-and-out farce.  After that palate-cleanser, Garment of Shadows let me go back to a classic Russell & Holmes adventure: costumes, exotic lands, outlandish situations.

MP: I understand you do a virtual bookclub for all of your books? How does that work and what does it entail?

LRK: The Virtual Book Club used to be a self-contained site, but it was a high-maintenance setup, so last year we moved it onto Goodreads.  The moderators and I decide on books, keep the discussions rolling, and do things like welcome newcomers and organize conference meet-ups.  This month they’re reading Touchstone, but we do a lot besides LRKing!

MP: What are you working on next?

LRK: A Russell & Holmes, the first half in Japan and the second a year later when they come home from Morocco. No definitive title yet.

MP: My final question is what I call my bonus question namely what question do you wish you would get asked, or asked more often? You then get to answer that question.

LRK: Sorry, the contract I signed was only for ten questions.

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Copies of The Bones of Paris are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. King will speak about and sign copies of her new book here at BookPeople on Wednesday, September 18 at 7pm. If you can’t make it to the event you can order a signed copy of the book.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe Lansdale

Joe Lansdale

If you’re a Joe Lansdale fan, then this is the month for you. His newest novel, The Thicket, is out now. And, for as added bonus, he wrote a story in the wonderful anthology of weird tales edited by his daughter, Kasey Lansdale, Impossible Monsters. We’ve been talking about them a lot this week on the blog because we’re excited to have both Joe and Kasey at BookPeople tonight to speak about and sign their new books. We caught up with Joe to ask him a few questions.

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MYSTERYPEOPLE: The Thicket is a western, but you chose a unique time period. The book is set at the turn of the last century in East Texas. What interested you about that era?

JOE LANSDALE: That period of transition has always fascinated me. My grandmother straddled both centuries and was a bit of both. The modern age, at least then, came in pieces, and sometimes it took years for those pieces to come together. Technology was for them just as dreaded and appreciated as it is now. We love it, we fear it. But the country was, as now, going through huge defining changes.

MP: What was fun about going back to that genre?

JL: I love that genre. I was once asked to make a list of favorite books, and was surprised how many westerns were on it.

MP: In the book, the main character Jack has some curious allies: a circus dwarf, a grave-digging son of an ex-slave, and a prostitute. They’re outcasts like many of the characters you write. What’s the appeal to outcasts?

JL: Misfits are the interesting people. Its that simple. And, surprisingly, a lot of people think of themselves as misfits.

MP: It takes skill to write a period piece. What would you say is the most important thing to remember when writing in set period of time?

JL: You should know the era and feel the voice. But, mostly, you are there to tell a good story.

MP: Many of your protagonists are teenagers. Do you find that challenging as writer or do you enjoy it?

JL: Everyone has been young so they understand how life can surprise in good and bad ways. We can all relate to those moments, because we have all been through it.

MP: You have a story in Impossible Monsters, an anthology edited by your daughter, Kasey. Did she keep you on task?

JL: She was pretty much a nag, actually, but it was fun.

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Joe Lansdale will be at BookPeople tonight with daughter Kasey Landsale to talk about & sign both books. Both The Thicket and Impossible Monsters are available in store or online via BookPeople.com.

Those Things That Go Bump in the Night

Authors both famed and obscure, all writing at the top of their game, have invented a rogue gallery of monsters in Impossible Monsters, a new collection of short work. Each creature proves as unique as its creator.

Editor Kasey Lansdale (appearing here with her dad, Joe Lansdale, Thursday, September 12) knows how to kick it off by giving us a tale from balls-to-the-wall writer David J. Schow in which two border patrol officers in “Blue Amber” deal with a different kind of alien. The story is full of action and gross out moments. However, this works due to the way Schow has gotten us to know and care for these people in a short span of time.

We then go old school horror with Neil Gaiman’s “Click-Clack The Rattlebag”, a story that could soon be considered a classic. Skillfully crafted, it delivers a tone of dread, then builds on it with the knowledge that something horrible will happen, but with no exact idea what it will be. When it does come, you’re shocked.

The stories range in moods and styles. Anne Perry provides a classic Gothic tale set in the 1800s. Charlaine Harris gives us a fun werewolf romp with a dark comic twist. Both show a thin line between monsters and humans.

Many of the monsters are rooted in reality. Chet William’s “Detrius” plays on a common phobia and drives it to cringe worthy heights with an ironic laugh at the end. Tim Bryant’s “Doll’s Eyes” takes its cue from the plant world with creepy results. Bradley Denton uses disease for a moody family tale, “Blood Moccasins”. Selina Rose’s “Nathan” is a creature that may or may not exist in a poor soul’s psychology.

We also get two stories within stories. Al Sarrantonio crosses the private eye genre with a cabin in the woods yarn, “Orange Lake”. Joe Lansdale finishes off the collection with “The Case Of The Angry Traveller”, featuring  his supernormal investigator Dana Roberts, The story is pure pulp pleasure.

Also included are a weird Texas tale by Neal Barrett, Jr. and a story with a Lovecraftian touch by Cody Goodfellow. All this is a great way to read some of you favorites while getting introduced to some names you might not know. Not one story even approaches cliche and yet they all play to the age old concept of how scary that thing that bumps around in the dark can be.
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Editor Kasey Lansdale will sign copies of Impossible Monsters here at BookPeople Thursday, September 12 at 7pm. She’ll also perform a few songs for us. Her dad, Joe Lansdale, will be on hand with his new novel, The Thicket.

THE THICKET: Not Your Traditional Western

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It’s been some time since Joe R. Lansdale tackled a traditional western. The last time he wrote westerns without supernatural elements, Blood Dance and Texas Night Riders, it was in the early Eighties under pseudonyms for the paperback market. Of course even though there are no zombies or werewolves in this wild frontier, calling The Thicket “traditional” could be something of a stretch.

While there are echoes of True Grit, The Searchers, and Lonesome Dove, it quickly moves into Lansdale territory. When teenager Jack Parker leaves his pox ridden town with his sister and grandfather in turn of the century East Texas, they run across a bad bunch of outlaws who murder the old man and take the girl. The only help available to find his sister and bring the men to justice is Shorty, a sharp shooting dwarf bounty hunter, the son of ex-slaves with a penchant for drink, and a large hog who follows him. Along the way they pick up a young prostitute and a scarred lawman.

This is a perfect story for Lansdale. The loose plot fits his character driven style, while a race against time still provides tension. By using the classic American hero genre and populating it with his offbeat characters, the book explores the idea of heroics in a new way. It both subverts and embraces the western.

The Thicket is a great meeting of story and author. It will please both fans of westerns and fans Joe Lansdale. Hell, it’ll please anybody looking for a good yarn.

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Joe Lansdale will be here at BookPeople this Thursday, September 12 at 7pm to speak about & sign copies of The Thicket. He’ll be joined by his daughter, Kasey Lansdale. Copies of The Thicket are now available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Scott Butki: Book Addict, New MysteryPeople Blogger

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I’m going to start blogging book reviews and author interviews for MysteryPeople. I thought I’d introduce myself to you in this piece. The above graphic I found on Facebook sums me up.

I was an early reader, plowing through the Encyclopedia Brown and Three Investigator books as a happily literate lad. I wrote about loving reading and sharing favorite books in this memoir piece promoting literacy for a newspaper special section.

I was a newspaper reporter for more than ten years after concluding it was a safer, better career path than my ideal, dream job – book reviewer for the New York Times. Ironically, a few years ago, I interviewed an author, Patrick Anderson, who is the Washington Post‘s thriller book reviewer and told him I coveted his job.

While a journalist I began writing book reviews and interviewing authors for newspaper publication.  When I left journalism to work in special education – so I could have a more direct, positive impact on society –  I continued writing memoir pieces and book reviews and, more so than both, conducting author interviews. Some of the books I review I request, some I’m sent unsolicited but they turn out to be great, and occasionally I’ll be sent a clunker. I publish them at Blogcritics and Newsvine.

For several years after that career change, I organized an online reading challenge to get others to read more, shooting for 50 books a year, sort of like the 40 book challenge some schools, including mine, have for students. In 2001 I collected most of my reviews and interviews here.

I moved to Austin about 4 1/2 years ago and quickly become a patron of BookPeople. In addition to attending book signings, I participated in both of their mystery book discussion groups, 7% Solution Book Club and Hard Word Book Club. MysteryPeople Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery and I often overlapped, interviewing some of the same authors around the same time (Scott for the MysteryPeople blog, me for the two online sites I write for).

We’ve decided to join forces so I will sometimes be interviewing, for the MysteryPeople blog, authors who are coming to do book signings at BookPeople and other authors we’re interested in. Most of my interviews are with mystery authors, while others are usually with the authors of books related to the news media and memoirs. I read at least 50 books a year and do at least 25 interviews.

I’ve had a sweet gig interviewing most of my favorite authors and being able to ask them whatever I want. I feel lucky just to be able to share thoughts with them. I try to pick questions that are not identical to those everyone else asks, e.g. “What is your writing routine”. Indeed, one of my favorite compliments from an author was this: “You ask unusual questions. I like that.”

My new association with MysteryPeople makes a sweet gig even sweeter.

I want to end by telling you about my five favorite mystery writers, all of whom I have been lucky enough to interview. They are: Craig Johnson, with his fascinating Longmire series (which some of you may know better as a tv series). His characters just get increasingly interesting over time, as opposed to some series where the author, after a while, spins his wheels.

Michael Connelly, especially his Harry Bosch series. I first crossed paths with Michael at a journalism convention in Southern California, where I grew up. This was after the publication of his first novel. The workshop he put on was packed because everyone wanted to know the answer to the same question: How did he, a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, write a popular, award-winning crime novel. He had no magic bullet to share; rather, he said, he did it by writing, in addition to his newspaper job, during hours he would normally be sleeping. I still remember his smile as he shared that he made up some cop lingo for the books (in addition to the lingo he picked up) and, later, heard cops using his phrases.

Lisa Lutz, author of the Spellman family series. She does an impressive job writing what I call comic capers, sort of in the style of the late great Donald Westlake. The characters are funny, the plots are full of  twists and her footnotes alone will crack you up. I have interviewed and promoted her with each of her books and was lucky enough to meet her in person when she spoke at BookPeople earlier this summer.

Ace Atkins, author of the Quinn Colson series about an Army Ranger who is now a county sheriff in Mississippi. Atkins was picked by the Robert Parker estate to continue the popular and entertaining Spenser series after Parker’s death. I’m impressed that Atkins has proved himself quite capable of writing two very different book series with neither suffering for his work on the other.

Lastly, Kate Atkinson, author of a series of fascinating books about private investigator Jackson Brodie. Atkinson, the only Brit in my top five, is less of a pure crime writer than some others I’ve mentioned as her books veer at times into other genres. In her books she will write multiple plotlines which, on the surface, appear to have no connections but somehow they all end up connecting by way of some surprising plot twists. Stephen King, in 2004, called her book, Case Histories,  “not just the best novel I’ve read this year, but the best mystery of the decade.” Her Jackson Brodie novels were made into a PBS series called Case Histories. She honored me by including my interview with her in the paperback version of Started Early, Took The Dog. I have always wanted to be a novelist – for now, being included in the back of a book will have to do.

Runner-ups:; Robert Crais, Ian Rankin, Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.