Archive for the 'Jason’s posts' Category

Saturday, July 4th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Beach Reading

As today is the 4th of July, and I have a barbecue to get to, I’d like to hear what books you plan on reading over this weekend, as well as some of your favorite books to take to the beach.

I’m currently reading THE SCARECROW by Michael Connelly, and after that I’m thinking about THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson (which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time).

How about you? What are your holiday reading plans?

Saturday, June 27th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
How Much Do Looks Matter?

A few years ago, I went to have professional author photos taken for THE MARK, the first time I’d had any sort of professional photo taken since my sister’s bat-mitzvah. Per the photographer’s instructions, I brought along four shirts of varying color and a pair of jeans (there was no way I was wearing a suit). About 500 (literally) photos later, I had a newfound respect for women whose job it is to lie around on a beach half naked. Taking photos is exhausting stuff, and the psychology behind it is actually quite interesting (I can honestly understand why a photographer with more personality will get better shots). In the end we particularly liked four or five of the pictures, I sent them off to my publisher. Ironically the shots ended up being too dark, and we used a photo taken by my father at his apartment at the very last second. (he even gets credit in the book) I used a different shot for my next few books, a candid taken at BEA by the very talented Mary Reagan.

But aside from my mom saying, “You look cute in that one!” or just being happy I didn’t come out looking like Sloth from “The Goonies,” I always wonder how much my author photos matter. Is somebody really going to walk into their neighborhood bookstore, pick up a copy of one of my books, compare it to the new book from Author X, and say, “You know what, that Jason Pinter doesn’t look like a human ingrown toenail! I think I’ll buy his book!” A website once called me ‘College Football Hot’–i.e. I looked like a hot college football player–and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a wee bit flattered.

A few years ago, much was written about debut novelist Marisha Pessl, a great deal focusing on her appearance. A lot of people were of the opinion that her publisher paid a massive advance–reportedly upwards of half a million dollars–for “another pretty face.” In any kind of media or entertainment, there’s a pervasive feeling that how you look is more important than what you say. Most people always assumed publishing was above that.

Now, I’ve never bought a book based on how attractive an author is. That doesn’t mean I don’t notice author photos and form opinions based on them. Some authors are attractive, some are not. But we’re talking about books, not movies. You can’t substitute Kathy Bates for Angelina Jolie in “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and expect to have the same experience. But take Marisha Pessl’s photo and replace it with, I don’t know, Margaret Atwood, and page one will still feature the same words in the same order.

Every publisher wants their books to get publicity and print coverage. Most of the glossy magazines prefer people in their pages to at least exist on the same planet as “Heather the Size Zero.” So if a book’s author is attractive, the better chance they have in landing in “Maison Derriere” or a similar glossy mag. After all, the more exposure the book gets, the more copies it likely sells. So if looks are one more bullet point for the marketing sheet, why not exploit it?

Now just because I haven’t bought a book based on an author’s looks doesn’t mean nobody else has. In a New York profile of Judith Regan, she was reported as fighting hard to plaster the face of one of her authors on the back of his back, her reasoning being, “Women will buy this because they want to fuck him!” (pardon my French) Without a doubt, from a business perspective, Judith Regan is one of the most successful and influential publishers of all time. So perhaps looks play a bigger part than we believe. Keep in mind when book people talk (i.e. authors, editors, agents, etc…) they’re talking to other book people. They tend to be less influenced by those things. But your average reader living in Muskego? The right author photo might just get them to the cash register.

Most authors are thrilled when their book gets any attention, so if somebody covers your looks it’s almost a necessary evil. In the end, Marisha Pessl’s book got great reviews, hit the New York Times bestseller list, and has probably even earned out that massive advance. So, yes, something is working.

In the end, of course, I’d like to throw it out to the crowd. Have you ever bought a book because of what the author looked like? Or have you ever been influenced in any way by an author’s appearance (positive or negative)?

Saturday, June 20th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Foreign Affairs

I’m writing this post from the desk of a hotel room in the center of London. I’m currently in the UK on a combination leisure and business trip (I accompanied my wife here on business, and am staying longer to do promotion for the UK release of THE STOLEN which came out yesterday). This is my third time in London, and second in the past year. I’ve walked around much of the city, naturally stopping into as many bookstores as I can to sign stock and also get a sense of how bookselling in the UK compares to the U.S.

It’s amazing to me that different cultures can have such different customs, yet so many similar tastes. England has a monarchy–but you’ll walk past a Starbucks coffee every fifty feet. Football is playing with a round ball and you can’t use your hands–but they have many of the same Broadway shows as we do. You need to book afternoon tea at the Dorchester hotel 6-8 weeks in advance–but James Patterson still dominates bestseller lists.

One thing I love is looking at how different US covers are to their foreign counterparts. I’ve noticed that crime novels seem to be a lot grittier, lots more blood and dirt and scratchy-scrawly font. No doubt the British like their death served cold.

When I started writing THE MARK, I had no sense of foreign markets. It amazes me that a series set in New York and very much about the city might appeal to people around the world. Just yesterday, I got an email from a man who lives in India complaining that it was very difficult to find my books there. Three years ago I would have laughed if somebody told me that my books might even be available in India, let alone that there might be somebody there who wanted them so badly he would take the time to let me know.

Granted, the British and American markets are probably two of the most similar. Not everything that is huge in one crosses the pond–the UK’s biggest crime writer is a woman named Martina Cole, who has only released one book in the U.S. that didn’t seem to set the world on fire. Time will tell, of course. But it does remind me that despite differences in customs, attitudes, accents and beliefs, people tend to have more in common than they know. Last night I saw the show “Billy Elliot” on London’s West End. Aside from being a fantastic show, at one point one of the character talks about a politician who “wrongly invades a foreign country, nearly ruins an entire political party and then says ‘toodle-oo’ right as the economy tanks.’ Sound familiar to any U.S. politician?

When it comes to writing, even though you might be writing about a region or era that you think has a very narrow audience, you might be wrong. And you probably are. I mean, isn’t that the very basis of science fiction? I don’t think many people can necessarily relate to Bilbo Baggins, but the stories of him and his ancestors captivate millions. There is a common thread in the human condition, and while our backgrounds might be constantly changing, if you dig deep enough and hit the nerve beneath the skin, you’ll touch on something that transcends location, time, or customs. It’s refreshing to be reminded of that, and to know that good books are good books, and and characters can become real people no matter where you are.

Saturday, June 13th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Kindle or Kindling?

When Amazon announced the creation of their new e-reader, the Kindle, it was met with a combination of trepidation, skepticism, and hope. For years, people have been waiting for the e-book revolution, the moment when, like music and the iPod, books would see massive consumption through digital means that might revolutionize the industry. Thing is…it hasn’t happened. Yet.

E-books still make up only about 1% of total book revenue. And while that number is up dramatically (from something like negative one jillion percent) five years ago, it still isn’t enough to justify all the hype. Yet the Kindle is supposed to be different. It is supposed to make reading books digitally as cool as music is to listen to on a small, money clip-sized device. And now that the Kindle 2 has been introduced along with cool new features–why is it that I still find myself so reluctant to buy one?

I should be the ideal Kindle user. I read dozens of books a year. My apartment can no longer house all of my books, to the point where I sneakily drop off read books at my parents house like Andy Dufresne dropping rocks in the yard in “The Shawshank Redemption.” The price tag is not such a hindrance that it would prohibit me from buying one (lord knows I’ve spent $350 on plenty of stupid things). Plus I read enough that considering the money I currently spend on books, the Kindle would pay for itself relatively quickly. I travel several weeks a year and always have to pack around the books I plan to bring. (when you find yourself debating whether to bring that extra pair of socks or that fifth paperback, you have issues)

Yet despite all of these logistical reasons, I still have not bought a Kindle. And I’m not quite sure why not.

It’s certainly possible that, if I ever do buy one, I’ll kick myself for not buying one sooner. But that’s the rub. I never hesitated in buying an MP3 player. And I got an iPod pretty much as soon as they hit they market. For some reason, music just seems to fit the digital mold better for me, and many other people. I also love the look of books on my shelf. I love the creased spine, love looking at them and remembering my favorite parts, even cracking open one or two just to skim. I love the pile next to my nightstand, and I love that if I ever have a really big house I’ll have a book collection that will line an entire wall. I’ve even thought (briefly, albeit) about what it would be like to own and run a bookstore. I just love those big, clunky, outdated things.

And maybe that’s my biggest holdup in buying a Kindle. I don’t think it’s snobbery to say that I’ve always considered books more valuable that other forms of entertainment. Even the most expensive books (which will take you between 6-12 hours to finish, usually), to me, are better values that a movie (2 hours) or an album (1 hour). Plus they tend to offer so much more. CDs never felt like they had much weight. They all looked the same, felt the same, and what the album looked like didn’t matter as much compared to how it sounded. The effect of a CD was replicated PERFECTLY by the iPod. The effect of reading a book, currently, cannot be duplicated from an e-reader. The content is the same, sure, but the feel is all wrong.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m being narrow-minded, and I’ll look at this post and laugh in a few years when I’m reading my Kindle 8. But for right now, I’m just fine with my big, clunky hardbacks and my creased, loved paperbacks. Even if the beat up Chevy with 150,000 miles and the brand new, factory fresh Lamborghini both get you from point A to point B, that Chevy still has a whole lot more character and personality in my book.

I honestly do hope the Kindle revolutionizes publishing, in that it encourages younger, more technology-savvy people to start enjoying books instead of plugging their brain into the wall or having it slowly eaten away by reality tv. For now, though, even if there’s exists a whole new world of possibility out there, I’m more than content rocking it old school.

Saturday, May 30th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
The 20 Most Annoying People in a Bookstore

Note: This post is written in jest. I love everybody in the bookstore (they’re in a bookstore, what’s not to love?). But there are always a few people, you know who they are, occasionally, make you want to hit them with a copy of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.

1) The sweaty guy standing at the New Paperbacks table blocking the one book you want, who appears to be reading the entire section in one sitting and eyeballs you as though you’re invading his personal space.

2) The couple with six children, including two in strollers, whose children run around the bookstore screaming like their hair is on fire and swatting themselves over the head with 700 page books like SHANTARAM.

3) The teenagers who sit down three deep in the aisle reading Manga and graphic novels, thereby preventing anyone from passing through or fleeing in the event of a fire or giant lobster attack.

4) The girls who pick up every chick lit novel on the table and talk about how much the characters remind them of their own lives.

5) The guy in the magazine section reading Maxim (or FHM or Stuff or Playboy) who flips to every pictorial, openly ogles the girly photos for ten minutes, then puts it back on the shelf and moves on.

6) The store clerk with the weird wheezy breathing who’s only restocking, but seems to be following you around the store like Darth Vader.

7) The book snobs who watch you browse, waiting to see what you pick up so they can scoff and shake their head as though you’re an idiot to even think about reading it.

8) The people who sit in the coffee bar hogging an entire table even though they finished their latté half an hour ago and show no interest in that single copy of Architectural Digest.

9) People who tenderly rub the jacket of every single book on the shelf, either because the embossing makes them tingle or they simply must leave traces of their DNA on every conceivable surface.

10) The smarmy college kid in the Classic Literature section giving anyone within earshot a lecture about what Walden really meant to Thoreau (which he cribbed from SparkNotes).

11) The woman on the checkout line who picks up the little “Bonzai Tree in a Box” impulse gifts, considers them for half an hour (without letting you cut in line), then adds four of them to her basket.

12) The checkout people who whisper “next customer in line” at a frequency lower than dog whistles, then glare at customers who can’t hear them.

13) The guy who knocks over a huge stack of books then scoots away before anyone notices (or so he thinks).

14) The elderly couple that picks up new hardcovers and voices their disbelief at how expensive books have gotten since THE GRAPES OF WRATH was first published.

15) The guy chewing gum loudly who takes a book off the shelf, flips through it, then puts it back in the wrong place.

16) Old ladies who appear to be leaving the store, but just stand motionless in the doorway and prevent anybody else from coming in or leaving and look like they might faint (or hit you with an umbrella) if you ask them to move.

17) The beret-wearing guy in the music section who seems to be having some sort of seizure as he listens to the Black Eyed Peas on those gigantic headphones plugged into the wall.

18) People who ask the clerk, “Do you have that book by that guy that just came out?”

19) People who stand in the humor section and read the books to each other while giggling like they just farted in a crowded movie theater.

20) People who sit in the comfy leather chairs in the history section and look like they haven’t moved since before the 19th Century European History shelf was built.

Saturday, May 16th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
Scene (x2)

Once of the maxims I’ve always tried to adhere to is that every scene in every book should always accomplish at least two things. The first is to allow the reader a window into whatever is happening on the surface, the ‘Now’. The second is to allow the reader to either get a glimpse into the future, or the past. The ‘Then’. Even if two characters are sitting around, having a cup of coffee, there should always be a subtext there, even if one character is asking the other about their day. Perhaps what they’re talking about on the surface is their day, but maybe something in the scene gives a glimpse into tension between these two characters.

On the surface, it’s just a scene of two guys having a cup of Joe. But what it one character believes the other had an affair with his wife, yet doesn’t want to full out accuse him? He wants to draw it out, suggest things, see how the other guy reacts. Perhaps that character then uses code words, acts passive-aggressively. Maybe he talks about a girl the other guy used to date, maybe he uses a bad word to see how the other guy reacts. On the surface it’s just two guys having a cup, but beneath that there’s a simmering tension, and you’re allowing the reader to feel the steam on their face.

One of my favorite examples of this is in Dennis Lehane’s MYSTIC RIVER. Dave Boyle is a character who’s been keeping a secret, and his childhood friend, Jimmy Marcus, meets him at a bar for a drink. Now, on the surface this is two guys having a few beers on a lazy afternoon. But the subtext is that Jimmy thinks Dave might have killed his daughter, and he wants to see the guy squirm. He wants to know the truth. It’s a brilliant, wrenching scene, mainly because of what ‘doesn’t’ happen. Those of you who read the book or saw the movie know what happens next, but when you’re reading the story for the first time, you’re biting your nails, on the edge of your seat. It’s just two guys having a beer…but in the end it’s really not about that at all.

Every scene can accomplish two things. Whether it’s a bloody murder, a graphic sex scene, or just a girl sitting on a swingset. Maybe the murderer cleans up after his crime, showing that he cannot bear to look at the atrocity he has just committed. Maybe a woman refuses to kiss a man she makes love to because a kiss is far more intimate than sex (yes, I have seen “Pretty Woman”). Maybe a girl on a swingset looks at a fresh mound of dirt where she buried her childhood pet. In each of these scenes there is something beneath the surface, accomplishing not just the ‘Now’ but then ‘Then’ as well. They shade the characters, giving them depth.

Their moods, the way they go about their business, each different aspect of that scene should give depth to the action being performed. The ‘Now’ is the surface. How they act in the ‘now’, what they say and how they say it, that gives the reader a tantalizing look into ‘Then’.

Saturday, May 9th, 2009 by Jason Pinter
In Praise of Difficult Writers (or Bitch is the new Black)
I remember last summer reading Entertainment Weekly’s article on the difficulties surrounding the release of the recent “Hulk” movie. Apparently notoriously difficult star Edward Norton had a pretty major, and pretty public, disagreement with the studio over the film’s runtime and direction. Marvel wanted the movie leaner and meaner. Norton wanted the movie longer and with more character development.The studio won (as I imagine it likely always does) Having lost the dispute, Nortonsupposedly refused to publicize the movie, except a few small things here or there. And he’s pretty much persona non grata on the DVD. For a star-driven summer action movie, this is essentially a death-knell (can you imagine if Harrison Ford refused to promote “Indiana Jones”?). 

From most reports Norton is a terror behind the scenes–yet brilliant in front of it. He’s arguably one of the best–and most versatile–actors working today. So how is this possible? How can someone so talented also be such a well…bitch?
This got me thinking about difficult personalities, specifically in the world of book publishing. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about difficult authors. Authors who demand outrageous amounts of time, money and effort from their editors and publishers. Authors who do everything but march down to the company themselves to ream people out (and some have done this). Authors who demand conference calls when their book drops off the New York Times bestseller list (after having spent 8 weeks on it). But one thing most of these difficult authors have in common is that an unusually large amount of them are massively successful. For some reason, their intense desire to succeed–even in spite of many social graces–often allows them to actually succeed. So what is it about difficulty that allows writers–and people in other mediums–to be so successful while everyone cowers when they enter a room?
I think a large part of it is that whatever a person demands from their publisher (or studio, etc…) they are putting a similar, if not greater effort into the work themselves. They’re not sitting in an easy chair barking out orders, they’re putting the kind of time into their work that Michael Jordan did into his jump shot. They’re authors who started small, and worked themselves to the top. They didn’t sit back passively, they demanded those in charge put effort behind them. And in return they showed the effort would be matched, and then some. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong, but more often then not they’re just asking for the same effort to be put into publishing their work that went into creating it.
Crime authors, at least those I’ve met, at among the nicest people in the world. They support each other. They mentor new writers, and give infinite tips on how to navigate the industry. I have been the beneficiaries of almost unfathomable kindness from my peers, and have tried to pay it forward the best I can. Sure there are egos–as in any profession–but for the most part crime authors are an absolute pleasure to be around. 
Yet it’s well known within the industry that there is very little correlation between the respect a person gets from one’s peers, and success in their field. Some of the most beloved authors, the ones who never pay for a drink at a convention, who win the most awards and whose panels are constantly full, don’t sell all that well. And many authors who simply don’t go to conferences (unless they’re the Guest of Honor) and don’t schmooze are huge bestsellers. There is often a massive gulf between personal reputation and professional success. Fair? Probably not. True? Unfortunately so.
Yet nobody wants to be difficult, or at least I doubt people who are difficult consider themselves to be. I doubt if you asked authors with the worst reputations if they considered themselves difficult, the answer would be unequivocally “no.” Difficult? No. Passionate? Hardworking? Demanding? Hell yes. 
Perhaps that’s a fine line, but the most difficult authors seem to be the ones who, first and foremost, expect the most from themselves. They work harder, and most importantly they see the forest from the trees. Yes, there are many examples of authors who are gracious and kind and have comparable success. They are examples what we aspire to be: people whose books are as beloved as their personalities. And there are also those authors who are simply assholes, who treat others like dirt without offering anything in return (chances are they won’t be published for long, as publishers rightfully tend to tolerate difficulty only when it is worth the effort). 
So maybe nice guys don’t always finish last, but while most nice guys are buying everyone a round there’s a difficult–nay, passionate–author hunched over his desk, with his editor, agent and publicist on speed dial. 
Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. And just like in business, it’s often better to be feared than loved.