Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

My Photo
Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Christmas Wish List for Writers

My friend J.A. Konrath is offering New Year's resolutions for writers over on his blog this week. As usual, he's dispensing good cheer and good advice, saying nice things like be grateful to your editor, don't procrastinate, take responsibility for your career, don't forget to floss, and always carry protection. Okay, not those last two. But Joe is very generous with his help. He's the Writer's Mensch. It's his official title now. I don't have any good advice this week. I'm crabby, behind on my book, didn't finish my Christmas cards, and have to go fight the Visigoths at Target again today. But I wanted to give all of you out there who write what good wishes I can muster.

So I've taken it upon myself to write up a Christmas list. This isn't MY list. This is for you. I'm going to take it to the mall today and hand it to the fat guy in the red suit on your behalf. Because no matter if you are published or un, no matter how high or low you are on the writers food chain, you deserve something better than another ugly tie.

Dear Santa,
I am a writer. I don't know if I've been naughty or nice. But I have worked hard all year. Here is what I want under my tree:
  • A three-book deal with a publisher not teetering on insolvency
  • My books backlisted in B&N
  • My latest paperback in Costco and Sam's Club
  • A royalty check that will cover more than a tank of gas
  • An agent who helps me believe in myself
  • Clint Eastwood asking if the rights are still available
  • A SRO crowd at Poison Pen for my reading
  • A letter from an editor that starts out, "We are interested in seeing your manuscript..."
  • A slot on the New York Times list. Will settle for extended.
  • An 80% sell-through rate
  • An agent who will take a chance on me
  • A really hot cover
  • A panel at Boucheron NOT on Sunday morning
  • An Anthony, Agatha, Barry, Thriller or Shamus nomination
  • One of those little porcelain statues that look like Poe for my shelf.
  • Another good idea so I can keep doing what I love to do.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, happy Qwanzaa, Merry Festivus. May you get all you ask for. And many happy returns. Wait. Make that NO RETURNS.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Liver pecking aka reviews

I love Greek mythology. Have so since I was a kid. There was something so, well, epic and yet so very human about the Olympus clan with their petty jealousies and family feuds. I think reading the myths was probably what made me want to be a storyteller. So indulge me and let me tell you about one of my favorite guys, Prometheus.

What a poor slob. To make things brief, he pissed Zeus off really bad. So Zeus had Prometheus shackled to the side of a mountain, and every day, Zeus sent his eagle down to rip at Prometheus's flesh. The bird also tried to eat his liver, although mythology doesn't not record whether this was with fava beans and nice Chianti. Then, the bird left and the flesh healed up -- until the eagle came back and tore it up again.

What the hell does this have to do with reviews? If you have to ask, then you clearly have never had your liver eaten. I have. Kirkus ate my liver in 2000 right after the publication of our first book, Dark of the Moon. No, "ate" is not right. Kirkus ripped open my gut, jerked out my liver, stomped on it with nail boots, flung it against the wall, ground it up in a Cuisinart, served it on Carr's crackers and savored each morsel.

Here, in part, was the very first review I ever got:

"An overwrought debut thriller...Clumsy prose, stereotyped people and a first novelist who has to learn that in plotting the twist is better than the wrench."

It didn't matter that Publisher's Weekly called us "promising" and Library Journal loved the book. It didn't matter that our first book had many of the usual freshman mistakes. All I could feel was my bleeding liver. I called our agent, aka She Who Knows All, and she said, "Oh, don't worry. Kirkus hates everything. And no one reads them anyway."

That didn't lessen the pain. And the damn Kirkus review is still there on Amazon for all to read, like a wart you can never get rid of.

God, it is so sad how much a review can affect an author's self esteem. We might say we don't care. Some of us say we don't even read them. (Yeah, right...) But we don't ignore them. We can't, because our publishers don't.

Which is not to say that all reviews are created equal. Like the rest of our biz, there is a food chain. At the top, are the professional reviewers who have earned their stripes through years of hard work, reviewers who value their credibility so much they won't even let you buy them a drink at Bouchercon. There are some excellent internet reviewers and others who work for love or slave wages in magazines. Then there are those cowards who won't sign their names, and the vast mass of readers who post on internet sites.

Now don't get me wrong. Readers have a right to post on Amazon, and their insights can be useful. What bugs me that anyone can post anonymously, and Amazon does nothing to police the posts. So if an author wants to boost his own star rating, he can enlist all his friends. Hey, it goes on all the time, folks. Or if someone has a burr up their ass about you, or your ex is pissed, they can flame your book in public. Until Amazon cleans this up, its reviews have zero credibility.

But back to the point.

We got our first review for the upcoming book, An Unquiet Grave. I get Publisher's Weekly in the mail, and I have been haunting the mailbox waiting for the review. Now I know PW only has a certain limited audience -- trade folks, librarians and such. But it's still an early barometer.

PW gave Grave a starred review. Again, you have to indulge me because this stuff doesn't happen every day and when you get a gift, you savor it. Even if just for a moment. Because your liver never ever truly heals and the little peckers could be back tomorrow.

The review says in part: "Parrish's gripping and atmospheric new novel is a quality read that will remind many of Dennis Lehane....the author's ability to raise goosebumps puts her in the front rank of thriller writers."

And that is the end of my blatant self-promotion. Happy holidays, folks. May you get everything you wish for. We already got our nice present. I think I will go celebrate with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It's good for the liver.