Saturday, August 29, 2009

Beneath the Covers

A pal of mine, Frank, trolls the more obscure byways of the Interweb, keeping Thriller Guy (TG) appraised of matters concerning graphic novels, horror books, science fiction and comics. This week he takes the Guest Seat with interesting information concerning a topic that is dear to every author's heart: the cover that will appear on their soon-to-be published book. While some of the Big Guys get cover approval rights written into their contracts, it has been TG's experience that agents don't like to fight about this clause (publishers don't want it in a contract) preferring to expend their powers on money matters. Look for another blog on this topic in the future as I'm sure that many authors have interesting stories, but for the moment, here's Frank:

Allen, I wonder if I could comment a bit on book covers, in particular the cover for the upcoming Stephen King novel, UNDER THE DOME. (The picture to the above and right is the cover for the Australian edition.)

What’s that you ask? King has a new book coming out? (See how distracted you’ve become these days?) Yes, it’s due out November 10. Of course, a new Stephen King book is always big news. But that’s not the biggest news. The biggest news is about the cover FOR the book!

It seems that the publisher, Scribner, has invested in a CGI (computer generated imagery) enhanced image for the DOME cover that is due to be released “in stages” in a four part campaign. The dates of each “element” of the special book cover are as follows: September 21, September 25, September 28, with the full reveal of the special cover on October 5, “when the world will see that everything is UNDER THE DOME.”

The official roll-out of the “reveal campaign” wasn’t due until September 21, but a popular (and unofficial) King web page “leaked” the story last week. Here's the story and where to look for constant weekly updates about the book (and all King news).

In addition to that….

Stephen King himself is planning a signing/reading tour of which details can be found here on his official bulletin board.

There are no doubt, hundreds of people already planning four to six hour drives to have the chance to attend some of these functions.

But wait, there’s more !

Look for an excerpt from the book in an upcoming issue of Entertainment Weekly (probably in October).

For collector’s, there will be a signed limited edition (available starting Sept 19/ 9 A.M. EDT).

As for me? I hate to be a wet blanket, but while it sounds like fun, I’m just interested in the book itself. A fancy cover seems to be just a lot of bells and whistles. It’s the story that people are buying, not the cover. Especially a Stephen King book. But then, while Scribner no doubt has their reasons for such extravagance, I do wonder just how much the cover is contributing to the street price of $ 35.00, when the average retail price of most hard covers, as we all know, has climbed to around $ 27.00. That’s a lot of money for something that is basically read just once. But then, this is Stephen King.

Should books be judged by their covers? Time will tell.

Finally, for anyone interested in the complete history of book covers, you can check this link.

Thanks for this information, Frank. I did some lurking at the several King sites Frank mentions above and am amazed at the enthusiasm these fans have for his work and his life. This has been noted many times by others, and it's not like I was unaware of it, but seeing it in action is instructive. And certainly King is not alone in engendering this sort of passion in readers. I'd like to keep in touch with this fan world, and intend to add continuing updates as the date of the release of the King book approaches. I'd be interested in hearing comments from these fans, and in comments from others about this sort of fan loyalty.

Here's the cover for the German edition.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ray Banks Again

Just a bit more on Ray Banks and I'll quit going on about him. Heres another review of Saturday's Child with lots of good links to interviews with Banks and reviews of his other books. And now, an offer: I'll send my copy of Saturday's Child to the first person who asks for it. Send me the request and your address to the Thriller Guy's alter ego at and I'll put it in the mail. It's a pleasure to do whatever I can to spread the word about good writers, especially the more unknown ones.

Also, here's a cool little short story by Banks.

And another library story:

“I’ve always loved the library. When I was very small, the Bethesda Public Library was in the basement of BCC (Bethesda Chevy Chase High School). It probably was quite dinky, but it was filled with books, and the librarian there wanted to encourage children to read. So we all got a little booklet, and whenever we read a book, the librarian would give us a brightly colored sticker to put in the booklet.

“This was about sixty years ago, more or less. In 2004, while emptying my father’s house so it could be demolished and replaced by a McMansion, I came across the library sticker booklet, still intact after all these years. But the stickers were just pieces of colored paper, dingy and faded, nothing like today’s glitzy stickers. You had to lick them to make them stick!

“And yet, and yet…. To this day I am convinced that someone somewhere is watching me read—that Great Librarian in the Sky—and whenever I finish a book, I feel a great sense of satisfaction. This has caused me to read and finish a great number of books that were perhaps better left unread. And where, I wonder, are all my stickers?

Susan Hunt

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Returning Hero

Ray Banks: Saturday's Child

I'm always interested, both professionally and personally, in series fiction with recurring characters. I wrote a series of 5 time travel books (one remains unpublished) from 1985 through 2003. When you're working a series like that, you always have to deal with several nagging, ongoing problems: how much the characters should change over time, and how much backstory do you present in each succeeding book. I'm presently reading a terrific series by Ray Banks, and it's interesting to see how he handles these problems, especially how he handles his character's changes.

Allow me an aside. When I reached the third in my time travel series, Till the End of Time, I had grown sick of writing the female lead character. Each book would star the hero, Alex Balfour, as he flitted helplessly back and forth in time, while in the present, his girlfriend, Molly, would have her own parallel adventure. By the third book, this structure had grown cumbersome and onerous, so I thought, what the hell, I'll kill the love interest off. Big mistake. I can't say I had all that many readers, (if I did I'd still be writing the series) but those I did have howled when Molly died. Whenever I did a reading or library event, the chorus was always the same: bring Molly back, which I eventually did in In Time of War. It was tricky to pull off, but I figured, it's a time travel book, is anyone ever really dead?

Anyway, the Ray Banks, Cal Innes, series I'm reading: Saturday's Child, and Sucker Punch are available in the U.S. The third and fourth books, Donkey Punch and No More Heroes are available as imports and will be published in this country in 2010 and 2011.

I'm reading them out of order. I reviewed, glowingly, the second book, Sucker Punch, and loved it so much I ordered the first book from Amazon just for my own reading pleasure. I never do that. When you're facing a continual stream of Books That Must Be Read you just don't have the time or the energy to read on the side for fun. That shows you how much I love Banks' books.

His hero Cal Innes is a hard lad from Manchester who has done time and after prison turned himself into a sort of private eye. He works out of a boxing gym and is always trying to stay on the straight and narrow, but his criminal connections are strong, the police are always attempting to jail him and his penchant for extreme violence keeps him one small misstep away from a serious beating, (he gets plenty of those) a new stretch in jail, or death. He's a great character.

The usual author and publisher modus is to establish a character and a series commercially and then milk it until there's not a drop of either blood or money left in the concept. And who can blame them? That's what I'd like to do. (Are you aware that there are now 37 books in the Robert Parker, Spenser series?) But that's not what Banks has done with Cal Innes. He changes from book to book, and what he does to Cal in the last book is stunning indeed. If you'd like to know what happens eventually to Cal Innes, you can find out here in an interesting discussion about this question. If you want to read the series and discover on your own, all four of the books can be found on Amazon.

All that aside, it's Banks' writing that is so flat out wonderful. Funny, noir, an original voice that at times is beyond comprehension, at least for American readers. I'm going to give you a chunk of it to show you what I mean. This is from the first book, Saturday's Child. The speaker is a character, Mo, who is Cal's enemy. He and his mates are in a nightclub:

“So Baz went straight for the bar with a proper thirst on and me and Rossies held back, scanned the territory. I always like to keep Rossie with us, because he looked like a card-carrying hard fuck when he needed to. He stopped any bother before it happened. It were still early, but it seemed like they was rolling out tunes especially for me. This one's a fucking thumper for the Tiernan lad, welcome to the club, and the punters'll be lining up round the fuckin' block to buy.

“Oi oi, you lahky peep-holes. N-tsh-n-tsh-n-tsh.

“Business went fast, kept the night banging underfoot. I sorted it out, got me turnover turned over sharpish, like. A half-decent DJ spinning. And some blond piece wanted a piece of Mo. I had to knock her back, like. Not that I were one not to mix business and pleasure, but she had tan lines and smelled rank.

'What's that perfume, love?' I said.

'J-lo!' she shouted. 'Does it suit us, you think'?

'Well, you got the arse for it.'

“She got all pissy at that, but what the fuck were I supposed to say? She were fat as yer mother. More in Rossie's league, know what I mean? He'd fuck mud, If mud'd have him.”

I could go on and quote the entire book. If you like original characters, dialogue like the above, a bit of violence and some laughs, hunt down Ray Banks. Then you can come back here and thank me for it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Libraries II

The Stories Continue...

Because some of the library memories are longer than normal comments, I'm going to put them into actual blog entries. Guest blogs, if you will. I'll continue to do this as more of them come in.


We too had a Carnegie library (actually found someone's flickr gallery that had a whole collection of Carnegie Library photos)


I used to spend countless hours there, I'd check out books, 8mm film reels, records, magazines, anything and everything to escape that little town for a while. I remember this old massive coffee table sized book - the collected comics of Buck Rogers, and another one that was Batman and another that was Superman. Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, Robert Howard, Heinlein, Zane Grey, Leslie Charteris, Fleming, Burroughs, then King, Koontz, and others.

My old library account started off with my little initial for my last name and as I turned 15 they changed it to a capital L - I was SO proud. :) and I bet you would find most of the old books in that old place with my L899J code in the checkout pocket in the front.

One of the REALLY cool things about this particular library that made it my favorite library (and funnily enough there was a Parish Library across the street from it, and one 9 miles down the road in Lake Arthur - I had memberships in every library within 50 miles I believe) was that downstairs, in the lower level, was a huge collection of natural history behind glass cases - a giant clam shell, puffer fish, a sawtooth blade from whatever the heck that fish is, fossils, artifacts of exploration that had been donated to this old place back in the 30's. This collection had been donated by a man named Lucius Lyman Morse(1835-1921) who I could find little information on with Google.

Joel Lovell

Joel, commenter Bhob leaves the following information about Lucius Lyman Morse...

Lucius Lyman Morse established Morse Hardware in Jennings, Louisiana, in 1889-94. Probably more in THE BIRTH OF JENNINGS. Also, one of the most famous names in radio, Carlton E. Morse (creator of ONE MAN'S FAMILY), was born in Jennings.

MORSE, Walter D., merchant, local historian. Born, 1880, Williamsburg, Iowa; son of Lucius Lyman Morse. Father established Morse Hardware Co., Jennings, La., 1894. Continued father's business. Supporter of Jennings civic and cultural endeavors. Sunday School superintendent of First Congregational Church (now Presbyterian). Authored The Birth of Jennings (1961). Married Mabel Parsons. Three children: Leighton, Norma M. (Merrit), and Dwight. Died, Pomona, Calif., December 17, 1965; interred Pomona. M.H.N.† Sources: Files, Jennings Carnegie Library; Jennings Daily News, December 12, 1961; December 24, 1965


I have many memories of the library. One in particular stands out.

I guess I was in junior high, as we used to call middle school, when I first went to the main public library in Brooklyn. I had to take the subway. It was called the Grand Army Plaza branch and it was across from, of course, the Grand Army Plaza which looks like the Arch d'Triomphe in Paris. Anyway, the doors were about 50 feet high and it was majestic with what looked like hierglyphics in gold leaf. I felt soooo small. Inside, all the stacks were open and I could go anywhere and browse for hours and hours. Free!!!

On occasion when I forgot my library card I would hide a book among the thousands of books, behind a row, or sometimes out of place so I could find it the next time I came because no one could check it out.

Last thought, a commenter mentioned the bookmobile. I recall having library hour in school. One period a week our class went to the library in our school and read any book we chose. I recall having trouble picking the right book because you could not get another one. It had to last. Not that I was a fast reader but I got bored really fast. Does anyone remember library time? Do they still do it? One kid in my class got the same book every single week. I don't recall the name, but it had kids flying on the cover.

Larry Kahaner


I can't believe I'm actually going to commit this to cyber-space (40 some years later), but here goes...

I too recall several favorite library experiences. Like going to the downtown library when they had book sales. I'd happily spend several hours there, looking at the cover jackets reading the descriptions of the plots and trying to decide which arm-load of books I would take home with me.

As for my sex story? I would love looking through all of the larger picture books that had pages and pages of scenes from Hollywood films (and my favorite pages were, of course, the ones with women showing off a bit of cleavage or legs but in particular all the dancing scenes from musicals.)

The embarrassing part? I would carefully tear off a small piece of the upper corners of the 'best' pages so that I could easily return to them later on in future library visits.

(Don't get me wrong, I READ my share of books as well. But ohhhhh, the pictures.....)

Frank Zubeck

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Writers, Libraries, Sex

I was talking to a writer pal about how we both loved to do research for novels which led to libraries and how much we loved them as kids. That sparked the following...

“Mom, Can You Take Me to the Carnegie?” or How I Learned About Books and Sex

It was the one place they had to take you if you asked. It was about books and school and research and science projects and all things scholastic, so when you said you needed a ride to the Carnegie library, they got in the car and drove you. In my case, as a boy growing up, there was a bit more going on there than schoolwork.

I loved the library. That giant, sandstone-colored pile with the great broad steps leading up to an imposing, massive door. Where housed inside was that treasure beyond compare: all the Hardy Boys books, the entire series, though it took them a long time before the new ones ever appeared on the shelves. All the Tarzan books. The Black Stallion. Jack London. H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs. These references age me, but I lived in West Virginia, where everything was decades behind the rest of the country; we were starting out further back in time than most.

It was always dark in the library, cool in the hot summer, warm and inviting in winter, and it had that wonderful smell of old books. When we first started going to the Carnegie we rode the bus because my dad had the car and he worked out of town. My mom, a voracious reader, would take me and my sister and leave us under the cool gaze of the library ladies while she went shopping. I don't remember when we started going, but I do remember I was so small I couldn't see the top of the table if I actually sat, rather than knelt, in the old wooden chairs. My sister, two years older, would find picture books, and I would sit and page through them.

But you're probably waiting for the sex part.

Flash forward six or seven years. One day while researching a school project, (Famous West Virginians? Leaves and Trees of Our State?) while I was flipping through the card catalogue, I glanced upward and was stunned to find that if you were positioned in exactly the right place, and I was, if you, oh, so casually, lifted your gaze toward the intricate pressed tin ceiling as if organizing your thoughts, you could look up the girl's dresses as they ascended the four stories of spiral staircase! Yikes! I was so shaken I abandoned the catalogue and went back to my table and sat, trembling, for fear I had been spotted: next stop, jail. Fortunately, I had enough sense to know that I should not start hanging out in that sweet spot, though I admit the impulse was there. But over the years, into high school, I wasn't above taking a peek skyward if I just happened to be climbing those infamous stairs. Ah, confession, so good for the soul.

After I grew tall enough to actually read the spines of books and take them down off the shelf, I would browse all four floors of densely packed books. (Free access to the books. This was a Carnegie Library innovation.) Novels or non-fiction, I didn't care. I was a small, bespectacled child, and the librarians had long ago realized I was reading far above my age level and should just be left alone. And so it was that in my early teen years I discovered, on the top floor, rear of the library, in a dusty, remote area no one seemed to have visited in years, the Medical Section. Books about the body.

With pictures of naked women.

Actual, un-retouched photographs. Unfortunately, these pictures usually depicted females with various diseases. Even as an innocent youth, I understood that some of the body parts probably weren't supposed to look the way they did. That on a healthy individual these bits might be more symmetrical or just simply more appealing, though I wasn't really sure. But by piecing together a mental mosaic over the course of a year or so of furtive page-turning, I came to have a good idea of What Things Looked Like. And many years later when I saw photos and later reality, I realized my jigsaw puzzle images were pretty much on the money. Bingo.

God, I loved the library.

Anyone else have a childhood library story? Send them to me as a Comment, or if you want to go longer, e-mail them to Thriller Guy at his alter ego's address, You can make them as long as your heart desires. We'll put them up and see if they spark other library memories.

See the comments to explain this picture:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bo and a new picture

OK, Pesky Poster Bo, who commented last month that Thriller Guy's photo scared him, has risen again and commented on the Ferrigno post, the one right after this one. Because Thriller Guy treats everyone as equal, he has considered Bo's fear of photo and decided that over time there will be additional personal pictures posted and eventually we'll take a vote and decide if the photo at the top of the blog should be replaced. Here's a new photo for consideration. Yes, it's Thriller Guy as a hippie, headed for Woodstock with his first wife and infant son. (Stupid!) We spent the night at my sister and brother-in-law's place, bent on heading to the festival the next day. There we were in their tiny apartment, watching the evening news with live TV helicopter feeds when the announcer said, "They're abandoning their cars! They've simply stopped their cars and abandoned them! The freeway is totally blocked. No one's going anywhere, folks!" I'm sure it was a good thing we never made it. What were we thinking? Oh, I remember, we didn't really think back them. It was all about the feelings and the vibe, man.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Trilogies I

Assassins, by Robert Ferrigno

Recently, poster James sent the following comment which spurred me to jump into a two-part discussion about trilogies that I had been planning:

“Upon your recommendation, I read "Prayers for the Assassin." I thought the story was good with lots of nice touches (Jihad Cola), but the characters were standard issue thriller novel: indestructible hero; nearly indestructible but eventually destructible adversary; beautiful, smart, plucky heroine; wise/diabolical old guys (3); etc.”

Prayers for the Assassin is the first in this trilogy, followed by Sins of the Assassin, then Heart of the Assassin. I reviewed the third of these books, though I read all three.

James makes a good point: in essence the characters do conform to the standard thriller mode. Yes, we've seen the type before, but what Ferrigno has done with them, the world he has built around them, I believe, is absolutely original. And like almost all original constructs, this world is impossible to describe in a short space. Suitcase nukes have destroyed Washington, DC and New York City. Mecca has been nuked. The Blue states have converted to Islam, the Red states have formed a Christian Republic in the South. The moderate State Security forces are under control of the leader Redbeard; Redbeard's daughter Sarah Dougan has investigated these original attacks in a new book The Zionist Betrayal? Sarah is under attack from assassins under the control of The Old One. She is being protected by the hero of the trilogy, an ex-feyadeen soldier, Rakkim Epps. Epps has a lot of religious ideas that most American readers will not find always easy to admire. Many of the characters who you would normally classify as Good are not likable, and many of those you would think of as Bad, are admirable.

Thriller Guy is already exhausted trying to explain this world in a few sentences, and this is only an explanation of the first book. (Let's give another trilogy a try: “Small human-like creatures with furry feet and who live in holes in the ground must save the planet with the aid of a magic ring. Allied against them are the forces of Evil.” See, it's not easy.)

The thing that I find most amazing, and yes thrilling, is the sheer breadth of Ferrigno's world. His is no less original than The Lord of the Rings or any Fantasy series that you can name. Fantasy writers, actually, have an easier time of it; they can make up everything in their world. Ferrigno, on the other hand, is grounded in spiritual and physical reality. So he must bend his characters and story to a world based in existing (or theoretically existing) reality. As a writer of a series, I know how much sheer work it is to create something like this and then stick with it over a thousand pages or so. It takes over your life. It's all you can think about.

I'm not even sure I'm advising all my readers to run out and buy these books and read them. They're not for everybody. But I would like for readers in general to understand that here is a writer who could have stuck with his award winning beat, Southern California crazies, (Horse Latitudes, Flinch, etc.) but who, for whatever reasons, decided to break out into wholly undiscovered territory. For this, if nothing else, he should be admired and read. Readers who are willing to put in the time and a bit of effort will be rewarded with a look into a world unlike any imagined or seen before.

For an interesting mini-bio by Ferrigno check out his author page on Amazon.

Stay tuned for Trilogy Part II: John Twelve Hawks and The Fourth Realm.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Great Bookstore

Thriller Guy (TG) is back from Savannah where he, as always, paid a visit to the E. Shaver Bookstore, one of the great Independent bookstores in what is one of the most beautiful small cities in the U.S. Located just off Madison Square on Bull St., the eleven room bookstore is helmed by a number of knowledgeable ladies who always seem almost preturnatually cool and collected as they go about ably handling browser requests. I always think of Abraham Lincoln when in the presence of these ladies, or at least a comment Lincoln once made to his close pal, Joshua Speed, when both of them were bunking over Speed's General store in Springfield, and Lincoln was first courting Mary Todd. Lincoln told Speed that Mary was, “The cleanest woman he had ever known.” When Thriller Guy stumbles in through the door of Shavers, hot, sweaty and beaten down by the unrelenting Georgia sun, here are these lovely ladies sitting around the cash register, as fresh and clean and cool as, well, daisies, cucumbers... whatever.

So what's the good word about current thrillers from the Shaver ladies? They're keen on Ravens, by George Dawes Green. Thriller Guy hasn't read it yet, but it's set in Georgia and concerns a family that has just won a $318 Million lottery and the two bad guys who show up trying to extort half the money for themselves. It strikes Thriller Guy as being somewhat, at least in tone, like A Simple Plan by Scott Smith (great book!) though I may be wrong. Any readers out there want to chime in?

The Shaver ladies also report that Harlan Coben is a Really Nice Guy, drives an old car , stays in mid-range hotels and endears himself to the legions of fans who follow his every book.

Also, business is good at Shaver, and they're doing quite well in these tough economic climes.

Anyone else out there have a favorite bookstore?