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February 15, 2005

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PK the Bookeemonster`

Although Michael Kortya is a new author, I felt the same way about his much-hyped book, Tonight I Said Goodbye. It is well crafted and it bothered me that a key bit of investigating was overlooked, I felt it was almost too slick, the heart was missing somehow, that thing that really makes not want to put it down.

David Montgomery

I feel that way about most of the books that come out of the St. Martins/PWA Best First PI Novel competition. They seem to be written for the purpose of winning the contest, so they come off as pastiche detective novels, rather than honest, organic stories. I don't think there's been a really good one since Steven Hamilton's A Cold Day in Paradise.

Anthony

My reaction to THE FORGOTTEN MAN is different than David's and yours. I liked the book and thought it one of his better. I'm reviewing it for JANUARY MAGAZINE, and I'll have more thoughts expressed there. I will say that I thought the tempo was exceptional and the read overall entertaining.

Anthony

David Montgomery

I'm glad to hear that some people are liking it more than I did, as I like this series and I like Bob Crais. (I don't know him, other than to exchange emails, but he seems like a good guy.) Just didn't care for this book much. But I still have faith in Crais' talent.

Trey R. Barker

Could it be, and I've no evidence to support this, that Crais is tired? For my money, the same thing happened with Connelly and VOID MOON and Burke with SUNSET LIMITED. There are bunches of other examples, too.

I think sometimes writers get so caught in the gears of the next book and the book after that and the one after that, that they simply get tired. The creative batteries need recharging, writers need time when they aren't filtering everything through their 'work' eyes, but instead are simply soaking everything up; reading newspapers and watching bad movies and taking walks to see what's what.

But I also think there are limitations placed on writers, explicitly or not. Most large publishers do not want their writers do to anything more drastic than what they've already done, to keep themselves consistent, to keep themselves label-able.

Has anyone read David Ellis' IN THE COMPANY OF LIARS? It's told backward, end to beginning and while it doesn't work completely, it is something different and interesting. Will Ellis be able to do something that mildly daring if he gets to Connelly and Crais status? I think probably not and if Connelly or Crais wanted to do something like that, there would be much teeth-gnashing from editors and publishers.

That is one of the reasons I do so love small press. It gives writers a place where they can take more chances because they don't have to sell 100,000 copies. Obviously, there are other drawbacks to the small press....

Trey

Jim Winter

Sure there are drawbacks. Nobody knows that better than me at the moment. However, I like the option of small press because you can shake things up with a small press book. There are fewer rules. However, the bigs give you opportunities that you won't get anywhere else. I suppose the ideal solution is to send stuff to small press that doesn't fix the corporate mold, and give the large houses the "big" books.

Graham Powell

I heard George Pelecanos say exactly what Jim just said: the obligations of living up to a big contract restricted his freedom to experiment. He said that when he was starting out, he was told to "'turn in a book.' Not even 'turn in a good book.'"

Laura

I'd caution against making the leap from authentic critical analysis to factual explanation. For all you know, a book that feels "tired" to you, as a reader, was written by a writer brimming with life, while an energetic breakthrough was written by a bone-tired-my-life-is-a-mess scribe. (A pure hypothetical.)

Cause-and-effect is very hard to judge in fiction. If you find that a book fails, judge it by what's on the page. A local reviewer didn't like my second book. He decided it was a) written too much quickly, or b) yanked from a drawer. The bottom line is that it was written over two years, the longest period of time I've spent on a book, and it did, in fact, follow my first book. But you know what? Saying I had too much time wouldn't be a legitimate criticism, either. Or that I was paid too much or paid too little or that I was on my period . . . The book is the book. Deal with it.

David's review said he felt The Forgotten Man had lost its spark, but he didn't second-guess why. That's the right approach to my way of thinking. I'm not arguing for deconstructionism. Just don't cross over into a realm that demands actual reporting -- unless you're willing to do the actual reporting. ("Laura, are you eating too much salt and does that affect the way you work?" "Um, yeah. I've been on a Dorito binge and licking my fingers disrupts the rhythm of my work.")

Andi

I can speak to the fact that yeah, Bob Crais is a nice guy. I don't know him well, but well enough to know that he's the real thing. And understandably abashed at times over the fuss made over him (he's a good looking guy and it comes around sometimes; I' never seen a hint of ego, even though he's a success in the field.)
I've had my troubles with Crais' thrillers; like you, Sarah, I feel it's a writer's right, and business to go where the muse and/or money is, but I find almost every thriller I read rather forgettable when it's done, and as a fan/reader of character driven fiction, thrillers don't offer me the re-read possibilities. But I was having problems with Elvis before this book (which I haven't gotten to yet; I don't know WHAT number I'm at on the library's holds list) but was not a big fan of the last Cole. I still want to READ Forgotten Man, hoping that The Last Detective was a fluke. Some series writers can write a book I don't GET and I'll stick around for the next one; Crais has earned that from me.

I share PK's reaction to the Koryta, somewhat; I thought it very, um, well, well it was a good example of a pi novel. But it wasn't exceptional; I felt it was pretty standard and what made me aware of it was knowing the author is VERY young; still in college with he wrote this and it reads like it comes from a more seasoned writer. But when I judge a book, I try to judge the BOOK, not, as it were, the author. That didn't come out right exactly, because I am influenced, say, by knowing that oh, the author actually WAS a private eye or DID this or that, or held that position. But it still shouldn't matter that much to me, I think, how old Koryta was. If someone a few years older had written it, I would have thought "okay" and that would have been it.

Bryon

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one totally enamored with the Koryta book. I did like it and think it was better than every other SMP/PWA winner since Steve Hamilton, but I think PK put it best when she said it didn't have any spark. It was a good example of a PI novel, I like that evaluation of it. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm still waiting to get my hands on the new Crais book. I really only have enough money to get one hardcover book and I'm torn between TFM and Jan Burke's new one Bloodlines. I REALLY want to read Bloodlines, the whole newspaper angle really knicks my fancy.

Elaine Flinn

I think the demands put on a best selling author - other than writing - is so tremendous that it can't help but affect 'spark'. How the hell can one expect great continuity, freshness or the time to break new ground when so much of the year is spent on tour, at conventions and other appearances? Not to mention essays, magazine articles, anthologies and interviews? Unfortunately (or maybe not) that hasn't been my problem so I guess I won't have an excuse if #3 doesn't meet expectations.

JDRhoades

Like some of you, I've exchanged e-mails with Crais. He is indeed an exceptionally nice guy. In one exchange, he mentioned all the stuff he had going on, including but not limited to working on the movie script for "Hostage", promoting one book, writing another, etc etc etc...he may just be spreading himself too thin.

All that said, I haven't read "The Forgotten Man," but I will. I've liked some Crais (L.A. Requiem, Hostage) better than others (Demolition Angel) but I don't think he's capable of writing a bad book.

Bill Peschel

Two authors come to mind whose work I found widely varying: Rita Mae Brown and Kinky Friedman.

I still enjoyed Brown's first two books in her series. She had an interesting heroine in her postmistress who had lost the PR battle over her divorce, and conflict with an intolerent Bible-thumper. The mysteries were well put-together, too.

Future books in the series abandoned those potentially good ideas. Harry (the postmistress) became complacent and the town got over her divorce. The Bible-thumper became nice (the M*A*S*H curse) so there was no conflict there. The prose became rushed and the mysteries, well, weren't. I finally gave up after about seven or eight books.

With Kinky, the same thing happened, but good books were followed by bad books followed by good books.

Naomi

I agree with Laura--you just can't make assumptions on what was going on with the author unless you ask him/her pointblank. If the book doesn't work for you, it doesn't work for you. It's up to the author to figure out how to rectify the problem in future works or whether to disregard the criticism.

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