Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review of 2007, Part II

Cutting it kind of late, but what the hell. Here's the reading news for me. I read a bunch of books and enjoyed them - I even interviewed people like Al Guthrie and Con Lehane and Jonathan Santlofer based on the novels I'd read. Tons of fun. Each of those three writers (oh and Megan Abbott, lest we forget) wrote great books. Then there was a book I really enjoyed, but never wrote about - not that the author was hurt by my laziness - Nick Stone wrote Mr. Clarinet and it was a great book I think.

There were others, no doubt, though not enough to make a top ten list of mysteries useful. I mean, for a top ten to be useful, you have to have read, say, 100 books. Nowhere near that, so I present my official top two list:

1. Accidents Waiting to Happen by Simon Wood


2. The Limehouse Text by Will Thomas.

I'd read a couple of other Thomas novels and they simply do not disappoint. Set in the time of Sherlock Holmes but to my mind so much more interesting than anything A.C. Doyle wrote. And I happen to like the Holmes stories. If you haven't read a Will Thomas novel, you are missing a joyride.

I had never read a Simon Wood novel, but I'd run into Simon at a couple of conventions and I knew he was well regarded. Then I saw his book as I was making my way through an airport headed for Alaska...I was headed there, not the airport. Anyway, I picked up his novel and was finished before I landed in Anchorage. An amazing story well told. I thought as I was finishing it that Jason Starr had something to worry about. I'm reading another Simon Wood novel now, and I think the only trouble Simon has is his name. I'd put an S at the end of it to avoid troubles.

Anyway, when it came to mystery reading, that's my list. Feel free to recommend other titles.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Don't Blame Me...And some numbers...

Got a fairly angry email yesterday from a former fan - the person had bought Message in the Flames and was surprised to find that it was a reissue of my third novel - a book they'd already read. Disappointment and anger at this waste of funds. I'm not sure what response I can make except to explain how the change in title occured.

It turns out that changing titles is not that uncommon. Happens sometimes when a British novel comes to America or vice versa. Even Agatha Christie novels have undergone the metamorphosis (I think).

More commonly, it happens when a series isn't doing well. For instance, if Grafton's series had started out poorly, instead of T is for Trespass as the most recent title we might have something like "Trespass is my Middle Name." Well, probably not that, but you get the point, I think.

As it happens, the Precinct Puerto Rico novels have never done well. Here is my understanding of sales for the first three books:

1 - Precinct Puerto Rico: Book One (St Martins Press, 2002): This book went into a second printing fairly early. That sounds good, but about 1,000 copies got remaindered eventually so I believe I sold about 4,500 copies total for the hardcover. Still, not too bad for a HC from a first-time author.

When the paperback came out last year (Dorchester/Leisure Books), it is my understanding that the books sold about 15k copies. Not so bad, but apparently a bit anemic when it came to the actual sell-through percentage. (I think I was at about 40% when 50% is better).

2 - Death in Precinct Puerto Rico: Book Two (SMP, 2003): Sales were nowhere near as good. My guesstimate is that I sold about 2,500 HCs. Wouldn't be surprised if it was a little less. A little surprised that SMP signed me for three more titles.

The Dorchester PB edition did about what the first book did in terms of sales and sell-through rate.

3 - Burning Precint Puerto Rico: Book Three (SMP, 2004): About the same as the second book though we were hoping for at least a little gain.

The Dorchester PB edition has only been out for a couple of weeks - I still haven't gotten my copies yet - but they decided to change the title. The whole "Precinct Puerto Rico" thing wasn't helping people make the purchase. There are no figures at all on this PB edition. Not even a rough guess.

4 - Missing in Precinct Puerto Rico: Book Four (SMP, 2006): Notice that the series was on hiatus for a year. The manuscript had been handed in a couple of years earlier. The delay wasn't inspired by me. It was, in fact, made in the hopes that my name would grow, I'd be better recognized or perhaps I'd gain noteriety as a murder victim. In any event, I still don't have any good figures for this book. It hasn't been remaindered...yet. It also hasn't been picked up by a paperback publisher.

5 - The Concrete Maze (paperback original, Dorchester, 2007): No clue how many have sold nor what the sell-through rate has been. I bought and gave away 50 copies myself. If there was an award for "Best Blurbed Book," I'd win. I should find out numbers in another month or two - April at the latest. I'll be happy to report on them when I get them. Well,...happy might be a stretch - willing.

I don't any novel of mine to be published this calendar year. (Besides the reprint, retitled third in the series.) The fifth book in the series (not titled at all yet, but which I turned in the manuscript long, long ago.) should see light of day in 2009. I hope it gets titled: A Daughter of Precinct Puerto Rico. Unless, SMP decides to follow Dorchester's lead and drop the "Precinct Puerto Rico" bit. Then I just hope they tell me what it'll be called.

For the record, I have yet to earn out a single advance. I do think I'm getting closer to a royalty check for the first two books (they were bundled together in the first contract I signed - not a recommended practice).

Next, I expect a publisher to ask if they can change my name on the cover. An indignity? Yes, but what can one do?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

2007 in Review, Part I

Today I'll mention the writing highlights and lowlights. That is, for me only. Others will have different views, I'm sure...


The Concrete Maze made its debut as a paperback original from Dorchester Publications. So far, everyone who has read it has liked it and many have said they liked it quite a lot. Several have said it made them cry. By itself that would be a dubious distinction, but they all went on to say this was a good thing. I haven't a clue how many copies have been sold. I'm hoping it was many.

My short story Early Fall was published in the Bronx Noir anthology edited by SJ Rozan. The anthology has gotten a fair amount of notice and as far as I can see it has all been laudatory. I'm proud of the story, and it serves as a kind of prequal to The Concrete Maze.

The New York Times published an essay I wrote - Rats, Roaches and the Naked Man with the Gun. It was a nostalgia piece about my father and growing up in the Bronx in NYC. Still available online in case you want to google it. I'm proud of this piece because, let's face it, not every writer gets an article in The Times. And it's about my dad.

I also published a story in Shred and another in Demolition. Worthy stories in worthy company.

And I wrote up a couple of interviews for Crimespree Magazine and a profile of Jonathan Santlofer for Mystery Scene Magazine. The writers I worked with on these all made me look good. For that, I thank them - Guthrie, Lehane, Abbott...did I leave anyone out?

Oh, and I won a Derringer - just like Dave White. Nifty.


There really has only been one lowlight for the year. I wrote a novel called The Concrete Heart - like The Concrete Maze it was supposed to be NYC hardboiled/noir. In fact, I think it fits that purpose, but I don't like the book nearly as much as the Maze, and I've been trying to rewrite it. I've never done a rewrite of a book before - I was once given a suggestion while still writing a book, and I changed my plans to write accordingly and, of course, minor grammatical changes can take place once the book is written but this rewrite is extensive and it is after the book is done. Frankly, I've been stumped since August. No joke. Can't get past this book. Frankly, I wish I had just started a new one. Can't hardly bring myself to look at the book again. In fact, when I'm done with this post I'm going to ignore it by playing a video game...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Jim Rice redux, then a question or two

Friend Keith Raffel points out the following longish quote:

"Here's what Rob Neyer, the ESPN writer, has to say about Rice's candidacy:

"Was Rice the "dominant slugger of his time"? Of course he wasn't. In Rice's time, slugger Mike Schmidt hit 548 home runs and won three MVP Awards. In Rice's time, Reggie Jackson hit 563 home runs. Rice hit 382 home runs.

"He did amass 400 total bases in one season, which is impressive. Roger Maris once hit 61 home runs in one season. Rice did hit 35 homers with 200 hits in three straight seasons, which is impressive. It's also only three seasons. And in all the rest of his career, Rice topped 35 homers exactly once more and never did get 200 hits in another season. So really, it seems that Rice's entire case, his time as a dominant hitter, rests solely on three seasons....

"Rice's supporters like to cite the elections of Perez and (especially) Orlando Cepeda, but those were mistakes. Seems to me if your case relies upon repeating mistakes, you might ought to take a new tack."

FIrst, to point out an error in Neyer's numbers (and it is nice to see that we're just talking numbers here, and not Rice's inability to warm up to reporters after games): Rice had 200 hits in four seasons, 1986 was the fourth.

Then, since we're sticking to numbers - let's take Schmidt's .267 average and Reggie's .262 average and weigh it against Rice's .298 average (same as Mantle's average, btw). Or Reggie's six 100 RBI seasons against Rice eight 100 RBI seasons. Reggie and Schmidt hit .300 once a piece (Schmidt's was the strike shortened season, 1981) against Rice's seven .300 seasons. Reggie's lifetime slugging percentage (to show the depths of my dweebiness) was .490. Very good, but not as good as Rice's .502. Reggie and Schmidt never had 200 hits in a season (unless you add their numbers together...) and as I pointed out Rice accomplished that feat four times. In fact, Reggie never had a 400tb season and only three 300 tb seasons. Rice had six 300 tb seasons.

Now, for all I know Neyer's entire article also included a move to get Schmidt and Jackson out of the Hall of Fame. By comparing ALL their numbers to Rice, his case for that would seem pretty solid.

TOny Perez is a mistake I think, but if his numbers don't rate, then a lot of other guys who are in there shouldn't be. JOhnny Bench, maybe. Yogi Berra. Credit for being catchers?

Orlando Cepeda kept up very good numbers overall and when he was great he put up better stats than some of his teammates and when your teammates include Willie Mays, that's not easy. Hard to say, but like Rice, I don't think it's a mistake to allow him in.

Now a question - assuming the steriod scandal fades - Clemens is guaranteed a first ballot entrance in the HOF, right? LOng career and a lot of it was spent at the top of his game - great career stats, etc. But what about Maddux? Also a long career, great career stats. Not many 20 game seasons. Not a power pitcher. And what about Glavine? Also a long career, 300 wins, five 20 game seasons (to Maddux's two). Not a flashy pitcher.

If A-Rod and Manny Ramirez stopped playing today, would they make the HOF? SHould they? A-Rod has the 500 home runs and the .300 lifetime average. Neither Reggie nor Schmidt ever had a year like any of A-Rod's top five years. In fact, if you had a young A-Rod and a young Schmidt vying for the same 3rd base job, Schmidt would ride the bench. Same goes for Manny and Reggie going after the last spot in the outfield.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

More Baseball..

Friend Keith Raffel says that Jim Rice shouldn't be in the Hall - I say "fie!" The comparison is made to Albert Belle. Frankly, I don't remember Belle as well as I do Rice. Not sure why. Still, I've looked up the numbers and they are impressive. So if asked whether he deserves the Hall of Fame, I'm not sure why I would say no. There's a trick here.

The rules, as I recall them though I'd be happy to be corrected, say a player has to have played ten years of which at least five were great years in order to merit consideration. (this is along with other things like a morality clause if my memory serves) Both Belle and Rice fit that criterion. In fact, I'll go a step further - both Belle and Rice had more great years than one of the most beloved Hall of Famers ever - Mickey Mantle. Or Ernie Banks. Or Billy Williams. (Is he in the Hall?)

There are probably a dozen guys in the Hall of Fame who are less deserving than Rice when it comes down to numbers. But it's not all about numbers of course. Pete Rose isn't in the Hall and there's a question about whether Barry Bonds will be. Or Roger Clemens. Or Rafael Palmiero.

I guess I'm wondering what is the cutoff point? Does any number - 350 wins, 700 home runs, 4000 hits - mean you should automatically get in? Tommy John and Bert Blyleven would probably be in the Hall if they'd been able to hang around another year or two, get a dozen or so more victories and cross the 300 win mark. Jim Kaat, too. Maybe they shouldn't be in the Hall - but what about Koufax? He didn't reach the 200 win mark. What if Clemente had flied out in his last at bat instead of hitting a double and getting to hit number 3,000? Would he be out in the cold?

It gets weird.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Yes, Goose, No Rice

I'm not sure I understand the voting for the Hall of Fame. Jim Rice was scary as a hitter for a bunch of years. Somehow he was overshadowed for a while by Fred Lynn, but I watched as Rice broke his bat on a checked swing - he didn't hit the ball at all, just stopped his swing and the bat head kept going after the handle had stopped. I can't even imagine the strength you'd need for that. The man was pitched around and still put up monstrous numbers - average, RBIs, homers. What gives? Was he the greatest defensive player ever? No. But how many average fielders are in the Hall? Rice was a dominant hitter. Put him in the Hall of Fame.

Gossage was also dominant. One of the first closer to actually earn the name - he put out fires, he shut the door. Not only was he dominant, but he played for a dominant team...not the Padres.

Maybe that's why Rice isn't in the Hall. The Red Sox were always also-rans and ne'er-do-wells. Never dominant. Still, that seems lame to expect Rice to be able to carry a team - Andre Dawson got almost as many votes as Rice and I don't recall Dawson ever scaring pitchers like Rice did. Except for his one truly awesome year*. Dawson did field better and, of course, he was a threat on the bases. Don't get me wrong. I don't think the Hall would be crazy to let Dawson in. But I don't see how he gets in if Rice doesn't make the cut.

* 49 home runs and 137 RBIs.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My Writing...

Haven't actually written a word - thought I'd be done with another project which I just managed to hand off yesterday. Today starts some real writing - I know, you've heard that before. This time it's true. First, I'm going to get a haircut. Then I'm cutting my nails down to typing length. Then it's the start of a new novel. Or two.

The first up is a short (65-70k) Viktor Petrenko novel. I've got it pretty much plotted out in my head. Here's the essential storyline. Those of you who've read my Viktor Petrenko stories know that the love of his life is a woman named Elena. Well, in this novel, someone kidnaps her. Viktor will do anything to get her back. As you might imagine, there are going to be some broken teeth in this one.

At the same time, I have to finish a horror story. Problem with horror - I don't really like it. I don't read it, and I don't like the movies. Here's why: either they work or they don't. If they work, they scare me and that's not something I like. If they don't work, well, then they don't scare me and what is the point? It's a lot like rollercoasters. If I keep my eyes open, I get scared and have to do a lot of thinking to remind myself of all the safety precautions. If I close my eyes, I can pretty much fall asleep. I don't mind falling asleep, but that's more easily and more cheaply done at home.

And don't try to tell me that everyone likes a good scare sometimes. I'm not to be counted in that group.

Oh and I haven't been to an ammusement park in about ten or fifteen years. Prices were absolutely outrageous - probably to pay all that insurance. The ticket counter should have had signs warning about pacemakers and heart conditions. Can't imagine what Six Flags costs now, but I'm guessing the price has gone up.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Did I Mention...?

You can all rush out and buy the reprint of my third book - it's just come out through Dorchester Books. The previous iteration from St. Martin's Press was called Burning Precinct Puerto Rico and people stayed away in droves though it got the usual good reviews. Dorchester thought they'd try something new by calling it something not related to Puerto Rico at all. It's now called Message in the Flames. What with "Burning" and "Flames" you might get the wrong idea. Nothing at all to do with lust.

Anyway, if you've liked the others in the series, don't miss this one.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Another Review...

This time with imagery I hadn't really thought of before: "Enter THE CONCRETE MAZE. It’s absolute noir, with enough hardboiled mixed in to keep everything dissonant and honest. What’s more, Torres’s prose is tight as a gnat’s ass, quite frankly."

In any event, this is from "52 novels". Now, if I were keeping a blog about the reading of a year, it'd be called "Roughly two dozen novels and bits of dozen other novels..." Not as catchy.

The reviewer manages to find language that hasn't been applied to my novel before which is good, because just saying "heart-breaking" or "gut-wrenching" was getting a little tired, no? I had suggested to some that they might use "bone-breakingly good," but that didn't stick.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Writing Again...

I remember a French and Saunders skit, one of their funniest, I think, where Saunders won't stop singing "Happy Again! Happy Again! Happy Again!" and French accuses her of sounding like "Bloody Enya!" Anyway, tomorrow I'll be writing again.

Tomorrow I'll write something. Haven't written anything since about August. I mean not a single word written in anger since that time. I tried rewriting a book I finished in July, but frankly I should have started a different book altogether. Plenty of ideas. No time for starting a new project - not with a rewrite needed. And nothing is less attractive to me than rewriting. Therefore, complete and utter paralysis. Not writer's block, mind you. Not if writer's block is equal not having ideas. I'm pretty much blessed with being able to turn this story telling stuff on and off like a faucet. Just haven't had the time to actually get into any new projects and no desire to face the old one.

Tomorrow, however, everything changes. I'm done with the semester, done with grading, done with paperwork, done with the holidays and the travelling that calls for. Tomorrow, if I want to, I can sit for six hours and let 'er rip. Of course, the first two or three hours will be dedicated to the rewrite. I'll need to do that for a few days to get that project off my hands. But then, I will start a project. Maybe finish a horror story I stopped right in the middle of. Maybe a Viktor Petrenko story. Maybe a NYC based police procedural. Maybe a historical. Not sure what, but it'll be something...

Movie Reviews

Went to two movies over the past long weekend - liked them both though one more than the other. The first was The Golden Compass. Visually appealing. The story was a bit of a muddle and I didn't like the fact that the ending was so clearly a set up for the sequel: The Golden Swiss Army Knife. Wait. Have I spoiled anything of the plot?...Nope. Unless you thought this would be one of those Hollywood productions where the little girl main character gets killed. Now, watch out, here is a true spoiler...Stop reading now if you don't want to hear it...You've been warned...

The movie is about dust.

Safe to come back now. In all, lots of fun though a tad on the confusing side and with an ending that's a bit of a let down.

The other movie was better though not perfect. I Am Legend starring Will Smith as both "I" and "Legend." It really is a good film with only a couple of plot holes - for instance, how did the zombies know about Fred? I don't think that's a spoiler either. Hope not. Sorry if it is. In any event, Will Smith lives in a NYC where everyone else is either dead or undead. Can't say I never had that feeling while living in NYC myself. In any event, he's a military scientist who would like to figure out how to turn the undead back into the living. Since he's immune to the undead virus, he figures he has a chance...as long as the undead don't just feed on him. Luckily, they like to lay in late in the morning which allows him to get chores done.

I think the ending is a bit rushed as it turns momentarily religious (which I'm all for) but this part seems a bit tacked on frankly.

Of course, speaking of religion, the Compass movie was based on a novel by an atheist and was supposed to be anti-religious, I thought, but was, in fact all about souls and who should control them. That, and dust.