Friday, May 22, 2009

Thinking the Unthinkable

Understanding and predicting future-reality requires people with imagination; even if the ideas initially appear rather nutty. Think of Tom Clancy and his idea for crashing a plane [or drone missile] into the Pentagon, think of Chris Carter’s Lone Gunmen episode which featured a passenger plane attack on the Twin Towers in New York. I find the use of writers to think the unthinkable very interesting, in fact I have written about it a few times, thanks to my interest in both Science Fact as well as Science Fiction.

This week David Montgomery of The Washington Post has a fascinating article about the fine line between Science Fiction / Science Fact and features Greg Bear, who wrote the wonderful Blood Music, one of the first SF novels to feature Nanotechnology in an SF setting.

The line between what's real and what's not is thin and shifting, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has decided to explore both sides. Boldly going where few government bureaucracies have gone before, the agency is enlisting the expertise of science fiction writers.
Crazy? This week down at the Reagan Building, the
2009 Homeland Security Science & Technology Stakeholders Conference has been going on. Instead of just another wonkish series of meetings and a trade show, with contractors hustling business around every corner, this felt at times more like a convention of futuristic yarn-spinners.

Onstage in the darkened amphitheater, a Washington police commander said he'd like to have Mr. Spock's instant access to information: At a disaster scene, he'd like to say, "Computer, what's the dosage on this medication?"

A federal research director fantasized about a cellphone that could simultaneously text and detect biochemical attacks. Multiple cellphones in a crowd would confirm and track the spread. The master of ceremonies for the week was Greg Bear, the sci-fi novelist whose book "Quantico" featured FBI agents battling a designer plague targeting specific ethnic groups.

The downer in the piece is yet another bookshop facing economic pressure due to the global credit crunch which is seriously pressuring the publishing industry

At Reiter's, a place for science browsers since 1936, the dystopian future includes the possible demise of another struggling independent shop. It's getting hard to pay the rent, said owner Barbara Nelson. On the shelves was at least one factual hard-science text edited by one of the fiction writers on the panel. The tome, "Observatories in Earth Orbit and Beyond," was marked down to $130 from $179. The same unsold copy had been here a year ago.

This annual sci-fi security event, co-sponsored by the Washington Science Fiction Association, is the only night of the year Reiter's sells novels. The fans lined up for autographs of their newly purchased fiction, ignoring the science.

Read More Here

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gerald and Ali Go To Bouchercon

Many attend Bouchercon to meet their favourite authors; but I also love to meet the enthusiasts who help support the Crime / Thriller genre, with reviews, interviews and their own writing. The enthusiasts publish books, magazines, fanzines, blogs, web-zines, organize conventions, conferences and festivals as well as involvement in award judging – and much of this work is more a labour of love than for financial gain. The enthusiasts [or as George Easter calls them ‘Uber Fans’] have become a family – meeting up at conventions worldwide, and their enthusiasm is infectious and always good-natured. ‘The Daddy’ of conventions is of course Bouchercon, though there are many others such as Thrillerfest, Left-Coast Crime, Harrogate, Crimefest, Murder in the Midlands, Love is Murder, Magna-cum-Murder et. al.

Last year the biggest gathering of enthusiasts occurred at Bouchercon Baltimore. We had Jiro Kimura from Gumshoe Japan, Maggie Griffin, Jeff and Beth of Cincinnati Media, Janet Rudolf of Mystery Readers International, The Deadly Pleasures crew led by George Easter and Larry Gandle, Sarah Weinman, Dana Kaye, The Jordan clan from Crimespree, Jim Huang of the Drood Review, Peter Rozovsky, The Mystery News and Mystery Scene gang, Jeff Pierce from The Rap Sheet, Linda Richards from January Magazine, The Strand Magazine team, David Montgomery of Mystery Ink, Rae Helmsworth, Gangs from Dorothy L and Rec.Arts.Mystery [RAM], Maddy Hertbruggan and her cabal from 4-MA, Gerald So of Thrilling Detective, Sandra Ruttan and Brian of Spinetingler, Russel Mclean of Crimescene Scotland, Ayo Onatade from Mystery Women, as well as myself with many hats including my bullet-ridden Shots, Rap Sheet, Deadly Pleasures, Crimespree, Books and Bytes, Mystery Readers International and CWA Red Herrings Hat[s]. I should also add that there were more bloggers than you can toss a mouse at, and far too many to name here. Apologies for those I haven’t mentioned here, as the genre is healthy despite all the economic gloom that pervades the media.

Events, such as last year’s Baltimore Bouchercon allowed enthusiasts who communicate with each other on the internet, to actually meet in person. Word of mouth today is driven by the internet, so it is good to actually meet physically, and the convention is a brilliant method of linking the enthusiasts – and considering the global reach – as we are all scattered around the world, it’s great fun to sit back and physically meet each other, rather than just Twitter.

I was delighted to actually spend some time [last autumn in Baltimore] with Gerald So - after many years of reading his work as fiction editor at Thrilling Detective, his blogging, his Twittering and his work as editor at ‘The Line-Up’. Gerald and his fellow co-editors Patrick Shawn Bagley, R. Narvaez, and Anthony Rainone have now produced Volume II of their collections of Crime-Fiction Poetry. Gerald kindly asked me to contribute to this volume, but due to my usual deadline juggling battles was unable to meet the timeline. I got my copy of ‘The Line-Up’ Vol II and was very impressed to find amongst the collection, pieces by award-winning poet Sophie Hannah as well as CWA Diamond Dagger Winner John Harvey both of whom incidentally attended the Baltimore event last year.

I strongly urge you to grab both volumes – which you can order here and if you’re not convinced, let me leave you with a few lines from someone who is far more persuasive than I -

"Like the best crime fiction, the best poetry concerns itself with mortality and anguish, and The Lineup explores this terrain with a candor and fearlessness that is sure to shake readers from their slumber. You can keep your 400-page tomes with their windy, discursive narrators -- this is the real stuff, as concentrated and corrosive as a shot of 190-proof Everclear."
Charles Ardai, award-winning author and co-founder of Hard Case Crime

If you want a sample – check out a downloadable MP3 file on Seth Harwood’s CrimeWav Here

I really enjoyed chatting with Gerald in Baltimore; who like myself has his family origins in Asia. Being from an ethnic minority can have its challenges, believe me. Whenever I see positive role-models of Asian Americans, or British Asians I am always pleased because there are so many negative images feed by the media. As a kid growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s in England things were less enlightened; so I was proud to let my friends know that the lead singer from Queen, Freddie Mercury [Farrokh Bulsara] was actually a British Asian like myself.
While at Bouchercon, I remarked to Gerald jokingly, that the two of us look like grown-up versions of Harold and Kumar, the two Asian-American stoners who feature in two of the funniest, if somewhat silly movies I’ve seen in recent years. The popularity of the Harold and Kumar movies have helped the careers of Asian-American actors John Cho and Kal Pen; with Cho featuring in the recent J J Abrams’ Star Trek film in the role of Mr Sulu.

If you’ve not seen the two Harold and Kumar Movies I strongly urge you to do so. Despite the silly premise, and the idiotic adventures they find themselves in, there is a serious message about how people from ethnic minorities can be stereotyped by some people. The two stoners first appeared in ‘Harold and Kumar go to White Castle’ [2004], which was re-titled ‘Harold and Kumar get the munchies’ for European release. In truth it is a very silly film, but one that made me laugh so much, I actually felt I was stoned!

The duo returned last year in the very funny ‘Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay’ [2008].

Both Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have announced plans to write and direct a third Harold and Kumar movie, with Greg Shapiro returning as producer, and Kal Penn and John Cho expected to return in their title roles. Though their co-star Neil Patrick Harris may not return as he was shot in the whore-house scene; but we don’t know if he actually died. If the producers are looking for co-stars then look no further than Gerald and Ali and Jon Jordan.

Neil Patrick Harris for Harold and Kumar
So if the poor state of the economy is getting you down, then why not order in a case of beer, get your friends round, and sit back and watch a Harold and Kumar Double Bill on DVD – it just might cheer you up, and make you look at stereotypes in a different light.

The scene below always makes me laugh out loud no matter how many times I’ve seen it, a coda to the Wayne’s World scene when the characters sing along to Freddy Mercury and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

And make your plans for Bouchercon 2009 in Indianapolis if you want to meet fellow crime thriller enthusiasts as well as the authors who populate the crime and thriller genre.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Maxim and Wootton on Chandler

I was sorry when Maxim closed Murder One bookstore earlier this year, but knowing how busy he is anyway, I knew he would be back writing, editing, publishing – but he is taking up teaching at Faber & Faber with Adrian Wootton.

How to Read: Raymond Chandler
with Maxim Jakubowski and Adrian Wootton [photo (c) 2004 Ali Karim]

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s death, the Faber Academy presents a one-day course on the life and works of the man without whom crime fiction as it is today might never have existed. Chandler himself claimed that he had brought back mystery writing to the gutter where it belonged and almost single-handedly created the archetypal, imperfect private eye, the melancholy loner who roams the mean streets in search of justice or redemption. He was also the author who brought Los Angeles to life like no other in his books, anchoring a sense of place which is often unique to the best of crime writing. The course will examine Chandler’s place in the history of popular fiction, his major novels, his short stories, his often conflicted life which took him from Dulwich to California, his time in Hollywood and the way cinema has treated him as well as his illuminating letters and essays about the art of writing. The principal tutor will be writer and critic Maxim Jakubowski and guest lecturer will be film expert Adrian Wootton.The day will take place at the beautiful Georgian offices of independent publisher, Faber and Faber.

There are no hard and fast criteria for attendance, save the following:

To have read some or all of Chandler’s work
To come with a lively, open mind
To ask interesting questions and be prepared to have your opinions challenged

Saturday 12 September 2009
Faber and Faber
Bloomsbury House
74-77 Great Russell Street

More Information on booking a place here from Faber & Faber

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Finding Thrilling Comics

Many Thriller writers and readers [of a certain age] were weaned on US comics from Marvel, DC and the other superhero stables during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Now with the popularity of Comic Book Superhero film adaptations reaching a zenith with recent box-office hits such as Batman, Wolverine, Watchmen etc - there is a full circle movement going on, with many of the top thriller writers now getting involved writing comics. As a long term thriller and comics reader, this is a welcome addition to my reading.

A few years ago, I interviewed Robert Crais over breakfast in Manchester, and was impressed at Crais’ knowledge about comics, and discovered that his first published work [like my own] was in the letters page of a Marvel Comic [as an adolescent] -

Ali : Going back to your childhood in Louisiana, did you read avidly when you were growing up?

Robert : Yes, I read a great deal, starting with comic books, and this grew into my life-long love of comics.

Ali : Which ones did you read?

Robert : I started with DC, which is now known as the Silver Age, Batman, Justice League of America, Superman, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Flash, Green Lantern and on, and on. Then I got turned onto Marvel Comics when I read issue #7 of Spiderman.

Ali : Steve Ditko?

Robert : Yes I consider Steve Ditko as a comic-book God, he was amazing. I think it might have been Spiderman vs. Green Goblin and his work with Stan Lee really transcended the genre. This contrasted with what DC Comics were doing at the time – Marvel were doing superhero as human being. Peter Parker was very relatable as a human being [as well as being Spiderman’s alter-ego] and very vulnerable, very human, the misplaced outsider, the child who needed a strong father figure.

Ali : And that’s interesting as we touched upon the theme of father-figures in your work, especially within the plot of your latest The Two Minute Rule.

Robert : Yes, we begin to see how this all loops together and so as a youth I got totally turned onto Marvel.

Ali : I acknowledge the importance of Ditko but what about Jack Kirby?

Robert : Yes Kirby was brilliant but Ditko remained my favourite because of the emotional power of his work. There was also Dick Ayers and a whole load of other guys, but for me it was always Ditko centre-stage as his artwork was perhaps more expressive as to what the characters were feeling - he better defined the emotions in the characters than perhaps the others working the field, or so it seemed to me. I became a total Marvel maniac; I had a massive comic book collection at the point. One of the highpoints of my career was my first national publication, which was a letter in a Marvel Comic.

Ali : [laughing]….and the highlight of my career was also having a letter published in a Marvel Comic. Mine was in Kazaa The Savage aged sixteen.

Robert : [laughing]….it’s hard to beat that…[laughing]…everything is downhill from there on in…

Ali : I guess it is…[laughing]…so where did you get your letter published?

Robert : It got it published in The Amazing Spiderman, I think issue #67 by which time John Romita had taken over. I got a ‘no-prize’ and was a member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society, and - cut to many years later - I’m in Hollywood with quite a nice career as a TV writer/producer and I’ve been hired by Warner Bros. Television to write two TV pilots – the first being The Amazing Spiderman.

Ali : Is this the Hammond series?

Robert : No, this is after the Nick Hammond series, as someone got hot to do another series, so I was hired to write Spiderman as well as Dr Strange. So when I first got the call, an executive at Warner Bros. asked me to come meet Stan Lee. So I go to this lunch to meet Stan Lee.

Ali : Amazing – meeting Stan Lee!

Robert : Yes, amazing. I told the executive that it would be nice to have lunch with Stan Lee…[laughing]…So as I put down the phone I immediately ran around the house screaming, hunting around for my ‘no-prize’. Now comes the day of meeting, and I arrive at this lovely restaurant. There are a load of suits from Warner Bros. in their Armani jackets, and I’m there trying to look like an adult when Stan ‘The Man’ Lee walks in. The suits introduce me, ‘Mr Lee, this is the writer we’ve talking about, Mr Crais, and then they introduce themselves to him, and then there’s the yada, yada, yada….and in the middle of all these suits talking millions and millions of dollars, I say, ‘Stan, look at this, I got a “no-prize”’….[laughing]….and Stan just laughed and signed it for me. Hey, no matter who I am, or what I do, that ‘no-prize’ means so much to me. It is the real me, addressed to Bobby Crais and has my Baton Rouge home address when I was a kid. Stan was thrilled, and he wrote this inscription while the suits watched in confusion as we were meeting to discuss a ten million dollar production, while here’s me doing this total fan-boy act with Stan Lee. I had it framed and it hangs in my office…

Read More

Stephen King as ever the pioneer, found many of his works adapted for the comics medium, as did Ian Fleming’s aristocratic spy James Bond, who has been adapted many times in comic book form. More recently we’ve seen David Morrell writing Captain America, Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler and many others penning comics. I was pleased last fall [thanks to Jon Jordan] to be introduced to Brian Azzarello, author of 100 BULLETS at Bouchercon Baltimore so I was rather pleased to read this snippet from one of my favourite thriller writers, Boston based Joe Finder

Before I wanted to be an author, before I wanted to be a secret agent, before I wanted to be almost anything, I wanted to draw cartoons. I love cartoons, and always have. Visit my office and you’ll see several classics framed on my wall, including a Charles Addams original.

Reality got in the way, as it often does. The only D you’ll see on my college transcript was – yes – an art class. I realized I was better at words than at pictures, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But the dream never completely died, and at last year’s Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention), I met a couple of guys from DC Comics. By coincidence, I was working on a subplot in
VANISHED involving the main character’s teenaged nephew, Gabe, who was writing and illustrating what he called a “graphic novel” about a superhero based on his uncle, Nick Heller.

So I took the opportunity to talk comics and graphic novels with them, and discovered a world I’d barely imagined. I knew that several major mystery and literary authors were working in the graphic novel arena – Michael Chabon, Brad Meltzer, Gregg Hurwitz, Duane Swierczynski, to name a few – and at Bouchercon I met Brian Azzarello, author of 100 BULLETS and (with Lee Bermejo) THE JOKER.

This fired my imagination; I’m always looking for ways to introduce my works to new audiences, and what better way than a comic book, especially if a comic book was part of my plot? And what if the comic book included a clue to the central mystery of VANISHED, itself?

I took this idea to DC Comics Senior Editor Will Dennis, who was kind enough to encourage me. He helped me find a Spanish artist, Benito Gallego, who could create the images I imagined for Gabe’s fictional superhero, The Cowl – classically heroic images in the tradition of the comics I read as a kid, by artists such as John Buscema and Joe Kubert.

Writing a comic book, however, isn’t like writing a novel. It’s somewhere between writing a screenplay and writing a series of epigrams, and it’s not what I do. I had a story for The Cowl, but didn’t know how to bring it to life.

Brian Azzarello to the rescue. I asked if he’d be willing to take over The Cowl’s story, and he agreed – and came up with a script even better than I’d imagined, about the origins of The Cowl in a post-Apocalyptic Washington, DC.

The Cowl – the secret identity of international security consultant Nick Heller – takes to the streets of Washington, DC to fight the nefarious Dr. Cash, a scientist who rules with an iron hand and an endless supply of a mind-altering chemical that enslaves the city’s young men.

The idea of a comic book based on the creation of a fictional character is a little complicated, and putting it all together was complicated as well – me in Boston, Benito in Spain, Azz in Chicago. But the first copies came off the press a couple of weeks ago, and I’m delighted with the result. Over the next several months I’ll be giving copies away, and my publisher, St. Martin’s, will make copies available to booksellers along with advance reading copies of VANISHED.

It’s been a great adventure, and I’m grateful to Brian and Benito for letting me achieve my childhood dream, with a little help from my friends.

To learn more about Joe Finder’s Vanished Click Here, or follow him on Twitter Here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

James Herbert to Headline the WHC 2010

I’m so damned glad I registered as I just got this press release -World Horror Convention 2010 is proud and delighted to announce that our very Special Guest of Honour is Britain's most influential and successful horror writer of all time -- JAMES HERBERT

James Herbert created the modern mass-market horror genre with thepublication of his first ground-breaking novel, THE RATS, in 1974 (for the record, Stephen King's CARRIE was published a few months later). Since then he has reigned as Britain's undisputed #1 author of chiller fiction, with more than 20 novels to his credit -- which have sold more than fifty million copies world-wide. His books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages, including Russian and Chinese. THE RATS has never been out of print, and Jim's list of best-selling titles includes THE FOG, THE SURVIVOR, FLUKE, THE SPEAR, LAIR, THE DARK, THEJONAH, SHRINE, DOMAIN, MOON, THE MAGIC COTTAGE, SEPULCHRE, HAUNTED, CREED, PORTENT, THE GHOSTS OF SLEATH, '48, OTHERS, ONCE, NOBODY TRUE and THE SECRET OF CRICKLEY HALL.

THE RATS (aka DEADLY EYES), THE SURVIVOR, FLUKE and HAUNTED have all been made into movies, the latter starring Aidan Quinn, Kate Beckinsale and Sir John Gielgud. In his 1992 Introduction to the bio-bibliography JAMES HERBERT: BY HORROR HAUNTED, Stephen King wondered "with real excitement" what James Herbert might be up to in the year 2010. Well, now we know -- he'll be at World Horror Convention in Brighton!
ALSO . . . registered members of the convention can now vote for the World Horror Convention's prestigious GRAND MASTER AWARD, which will presented at a sit-down Banquet on the Saturday evening. An electronic voting form is available on the convention website and will also be included in the forthcoming printed Progress Reports. A list of past recipients -- who have included Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, Anne Rice, Ray Bradbury, CliveBarker, Peter Straub, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell . . . and for 2009 Tanith Lee!!! -- is displayed on the same page.

For more information about JAMES HERBERT, who joins Author Guests of Honour TANITH LEE and DAVID CASE, Artist Guests of Honour LES EDWARDS and DAVEC ARSON, Editor Guest of Honour HUGH LAMB and Mistress of Ceremonies JO FLETCHER as part of our exciting line-up of Guests of Honour, please go to the convention website. Other writers, artists, agents, editors and publishers already registered as attending World Horror Convention 2010 include: ANGRY ROBOT BOOKS (UK), Randy Broecker, Edward W. Bryant Jr., Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, CENTIPEDE PRESS (USA), Basil Copper, Peter Crowther, Ellen Datlow, Christopher Fowler, Gary Fry, GRAY FRIAR PRESS (UK), Simon R. Green, John Jarrold, JEMMA PRESS (Greece), Stephen Jones, Paul Kane, Allen Koszowski,T im Lebbon, Samantha Lee, Brian Lumley, Dorothy Lumley, L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims, Gary McMahon, Farah Mendlesohn, MORTBURY PRESS (UK), Mark Morris, Lisa Morton, Yvonne Navarro, Adam L.G. Nevill, NEWCON PRESS (UK), Kim Newman, Reggie Oliver, Weston Ochse, Sarah Pinborough, David Pirie, John L. Probert, PS PUBLISHING (UK), REBEL E PUBLISHERS (South Africa), Tony Richards, David A. Riley, Mark Samuels, SCREAMING DREAMS (UK), RobertShearman, Michael Marshall Smith, SNOWBOOKS (UK), Alexandra Sokoloff, DavidA. Sutton, TARTARUS PRESS (UK), TELOS PUBLISHING (UK), Lisa Tuttle, Stephen Volk, Conrad Williams, and F. Paul Wilson, amongst many others.

Celebrating its 20th Anniversary, The World Horror Convention will be held over March 25-28, 2010, in the historic Regency seaside city of Brighton, on the picturesque south coast of England.
This is the first time that theevent will have been held off the North American continent. The theme is "BRIGHTON SHOCK! -- A CELEBRATION OF THE EUROPEAN HORROR TRADITION FROM VICTORIAN TIMES TO THE PRESENT DAY"