Friday, June 24, 2005

Connelly stays true to crime
By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
Ask best-selling crime novelist Michael Connelly about his success, and the answer is deceptively simple.

"My stories," he says, "are very derivative of real life."

Indeed, his 15th novel, The Closers (Little, Brown, $26.95), is already a best seller (as high as No. 3 and currently No. 36 on USA TODAY's list) and is receiving rave reviews for its stark but detailed portrayal of life as an LAPD cold-case investigator.

Indeed, his 15th novel, The Closers (Little, Brown, $26.95), is already a best seller (as high as No. 3 and currently No. 36 on USA TODAY's list) and is receiving rave reviews for its stark but detailed portrayal of life as an LAPD cold-case investigator.

Back again is his protagonist, Harry Bosch, the hero in 11 Connelly novels. He has come out of retirement to join Open-Unsolved, a new unit that works to solve what TV's CSI, Law & Order and Cold Case refer to as cold cases — old, unsolved crimes that police still want to crack.

"The cold-case thing is the fad of the moment in entertainment because it's the fad of the moment in police work," says Connelly, 48. "Since the turn of the century, just about every police department has a cold-case unit. I just changed the name because it's so overused."

Advanced crime-solving techniques, though present, are not the meat of The Closers, Connelly says.

"There's a big difference between working fresh murders or fresh kills and working something that's really old. That's what really hooked me — that you could use this idea to take a look at the frayed social fabric that happens after a murder."

The reason Harry Bosch novels are so well received — multi-layered portrayals of cops and bad guys as well as colorful descriptions of life on the streets of Los Angeles — also helps explain why Connelly's next novel (The Lincoln Lawyer, due in October) will feature a never-before-used protagonist.

"My stand-alone novels are strategically placed to give my batteries a chance to recharge on Harry," Connelly says.

The Lincoln Lawyer is definitely different. It's a legal thriller, and for the first time, Connelly's main character is an attorney.

He got the idea about five years ago when he met a criminal lawyer who handled cases in sprawling Los Angeles County.

"He spent lots of time in his car. His car became his office," he says. "His driver was a client working off fees. The lawyer sat in the back and worked the phones and his computer. It seemed unique to me."

Connelly's eye for an interesting story dates back to his days as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times beginning in the late 1980s. His first novel, Black Echo (1992), won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers Association of America for best debut. All 15 of his books have been best sellers, and Bloodwork (1998) was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood.

"The crime novel is becoming the social novel," Connelly says. "Many writers who are drawn to crime novels write fairly quickly, sometimes one book a year. ... So it seems to me that the crime writers and the mystery writers, however you want to call them, are the first to comment on what's happening in our world.

"Traditionally, this had been the role of the literary novel, and it still is. But those books kind of weigh in after the fact, whereas the crime novels come out right away.

"Yes, entertainment is important. ... But there's also an exploration of the world we're living in."

City of Angels, city of novels

Michael Connelly, of course, is not the only crime novelist using Los Angeles as his backdrop. Among other current novels set there:

Savage Garden by Denise Hamilton (Scribner, $22). Hamilton kicks off her fourth novel with fictional Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to see a theater production. When the leading lady goes missing, Diamond works the case for the Times but also for her own sake. She suspects her boyfriend, Silvio, may have known the missing Catarina way too well.

A Venom Beneath the Skin by Marcos M. Villatoro (Justin, Charles & Co., $24.95). Romilia Chacón, the heroine in Villatoro's third novel about this feisty Latina law enforcement officer, is now an FBI special agent in L.A. When her boyfriend is found brutally slain, the top suspect is Tekun Uman, a drug lord with whom Chacon has tangled before.

Damaged Goods by Roland S. Jefferson (Atria, $23). Jefferson tells a fast-paced and original story about a group of seasoned thieves who pull a nearly impossible heist. The crew is led by Alonzo Crane, a federal inmate known as "The Motion Picture Bank Robber" because of his penchant for using details from Hollywood movies to plot out his robberies (think Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair). Caution: Damaged Goods contains gratuitous violence, illicit sex, coarse language, and drug and alcohol abuse. - Connelly stays true to crime

For This Author, Writing Is Only the Beginning

ETNA, N.H. - Slouched on a sofa in a faded T-shirt and jeans, a tousle of dyed-auburn hair trending gray at the roots, Janet Evanovich looks less like the chief of a budding media empire than a mother trying hard to be her daughter's best friend.

And there, next to her, is the daughter, Alexandra, whose dyed platinum-blond hair befits her stint as a freelance graphics designer for a heavy-metal band's fan site and her love for her red Ducati motorcycle, looking nothing like a corporate marketing guru.

Yet the two women are all of those things - best friends, metalheads and meticulous businesswomen. Together with Janet's son and husband, both named Peter, who handle everything from investments to the packing of signed books for shipment to stores, they make up the family enterprise known as Evanovich Inc.

And they have transformed Ms. Evanovich, 62, from a failing romance writer who once burned a box of rejection letters on her curb into a mini-industry whose success is beginning to emulate the sprawling domains of authorial heavyweights like James Patterson.

Last year, she sold an estimated one million books in hardcover and three million more paperbacks, earning more than $3 million in royalties from the paperbacks and several million more in advances and royalties on the hardcovers. The empire now includes two continuing mystery series: one featuring the sharp-elbowed bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, published by St. Martin's Press, whose latest installment, "Eleven on Top" went on sale June 21, and a second, published by HarperCollins, which began last fall with "Metro Girl."

While her success speaks to her tenacity and devotion to family, it owes as much to marketing prowess. When fans, impatient for her next novel, began asking her to recommend other writers like her, Ms. Evanovich hired one instead. Thus began a separate line of paperback romance-thrillers with Charlotte Hughes as co-author and St. Martin's as publisher. Four books in that series became best sellers.

And rather than risk having a previous publisher reissue her romance novels from more than a decade ago, Ms. Evanovich bought back the rights from Bantam, an imprint of Random House Inc., and resold them to HarperCollins, which has begun publishing them in a revised and updated format.

Ms. Evanovich acknowledges that her strategy is little different than it might be for selling toothpaste. "When you're trying to expand your business, it's about real estate in the stores," she said in an interview at her hilltop home in rural western New Hampshire, and more products in more categories mean more shelf space.

But while her relentless self-promotion has attracted more fans, it has also created some tensions. Michael Morrison, the president of HarperMorrow, the HarperCollins division that published "Metro Girl," said the interplay of multiple publishers and product lines is not ideal. "I'm a believer that a publisher and an author should have one primary relationship," he said. The sales of "Metro Girl" did not match Ms. Evanovich's previous best sellers, but Mr. Morrison said that over all he was pleased with her work.

"It's much easier to work with an author and orchestrate a publishing career if you have all of the books under one house," he said.

But Ms. Evanovich does not apologize for flooding the market with a new book every two to three months, nor for her calculated efforts to send her new novels straight to the top of the best-seller lists.

It has now become a rite of summer: each of the last five books in the numerical series featuring Stephanie Plum - from "Hot Six" in 2000 through "Ten Big Ones" last year - was No. 1 on The New York Times's hardcover best-seller list its first week on sale. Last fall, "Metro Girl" also had its debut at No. 1.

To put that feat in perspective, long-running series by James Patterson and Sue Grafton cannot match that current streak of immediate No. 1's.

Ms. Evanovich plots her first week of promotion to include book signings at big stores that report their sales to publications that publish best-seller lists. As in past years, the publication of the new Stephanie Plum novel will include a Stephanie Plum Daze festival in Trenton, the setting for the novels. Featuring live music, food, a character dress-up contest and historical-society tours of Trenton sites mentioned in the series, a festival on June 25 is expected to attract several thousand fans. Barnes & Noble will be there selling books.

She does not simply plan an event and expect people to show up, however. Evanovich Inc. constantly reminds its audience of a coming book, using its Internet site and a snail-mail newsletter, television commercials and radio spots. Ms. Evanovich oversees the design of book covers and the production of advertisements; she recently fired the agency that was devising commercials for "Eleven on Top" and enlisted her family and publisher to come up with a new pitch.

Behind the marketing machinations is Alexandra, 32, who writes the newsletter and illustrates both it and the Web site, Until recently, she also managed the online store that sells hats, mugs and other paraphernalia, but its growth forced the family to outsource the job to a company in Florida.

The task of running Evanovich Inc. has grown so rapidly that last year the family decided it needed office space away from their hilltop home, where all four family members live at least some of the time.

Ms. Evanovich's son, Peter, 35, who manages the finances, oversaw the purchase of a $480,000 fixer-upper ranch-style house in Hanover near the Dartmouth campus for office space. Other recent family acquisitions include a $6.2 million waterside estate in Naples, Fla., and twin $1.6 million Boston condominiums - one for Mom, one for daughter - overlooking Boston Common.

Ms. Evanovich's husband of 40 years, the elder Peter, applies his Ph.D. in mathematics to the study of her contracts and the sales and distribution information generated by publishers and bookstores.

"I feel like I never would have been a success and gotten published without my family," Ms. Evanovich said. Throughout the years collecting rejection slips, and even as she began to earn a few thousand dollars per book for her early romances, "they never said, 'Why don't we go on vacation like other families?' " She added, "They just told me, 'You take your time and write.' "

The fans clearly love it. According to Nielsen BookScan, they bought nearly 300,000 copies of "Ten Big Ones" and 175,000 copies of "Metro Girl" from traditional book outlets. Ms. Evanovich's publishers say the numbers are far higher, perhaps twice as much, because a large portion her fans buy their books at Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and other stores that are not counted by BookScan. Clearly, her sales are big, though still well short of the levels reached by the likes of Nora Roberts, Mr. Patterson and John Grisham.

The critics have sometimes been less than enthusiastic. Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said Ms. Evanovich's works were "the mystery-novel equivalent of comfort food." And more than once, her writing has been called formulaic.

Ms. Evanovich does not deny that; she simply wonders what is wrong with it.

"I'm a writer, but this is a business," she said. "You have to look at it in the way you would look at any business. You have to have honesty to the product. You have to meet consumer expectations. You give them value for their money and give them a product that they need. I don't see anything wrong with all these things. And I don't think it's a bad thing to meet consumers' expectations."

For This Author, Writing Is Only the Beginning - New York Times

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Nancy Pearl's 'More Book Lust' gets 'Today' show nod

There will be even more book lust in July. Librarian Nancy's Pearl's second volume of her highly personal book picks, "More Book Lust," has been picked as the July featured title of the "Today" show book club.

It was chosen by best-selling suspense writer Lisa Scottoline.

Pearl, who recently left her longtime post at the Seattle Public Library, was in the NBC studios in New York Tuesday when the selection was announced. "This exciting moment is an open invitation for anyone to delve into the wonderful world of reading and find books to love," said Pearl.

"More Book Lust," published by Seattle's Sasquatch Books, follows in the trail of its best-selling predecessor, "Book Lust," which now has more than 80,000 copies in print. The new $16.95 paperback includes more than 1,000 book recommendations in 150 categories and lists.

"More Book Lust" is the second title by a Seattle author to be picked recently by "Today's" book club. Stephanie Kallos' debut novel, "Broken for You," was the club's January selection, chosen by popular novelist Sue Monk Kidd.

Nancy Pearl's 'More Book Lust' gets 'Today' show nod

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