That Darn Kat

curiouser and curiouser


Your book is not a special snowflake

This year, my “live event” book selling has been scaled back from last year. But I did want to point out something I see at every book fair, convention and author event. I call it “Special Snowflake Syndrome” and it really frustrates me, because I see it costing good writers potential sales.

Indie and small press authors often get into writing and publishing to tell the stories they want to read, but can’t find. Then they define their book’s value by how different it is from everything else. What they don’t realize is, readers don’t always value originality that much.

Writers can get so fixated on what’s unique about their book, they don’t realize their pitch isn’t connecting. They are so proud of their “completely different from anything you’ve ever seen” story, they miss the look of polite disinterest on the buyer’s face.

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Now I’m shining bright

Life is good, and that’s the way it should be. – Echosmith

So I’m just almost to 90 days at the new job with SME Digital. It’s pretty fabulous. My team members are awesome, supportive and smart. The workload is remarkably sane and manageable, and I’m even getting the chance to stretch and grow into more design & creative direction. Every time I hear the traffic reports while I’m not driving into the maelstrom of Louisville’s bridge mess, a giant idiotic grin appears on my face.

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The con is on…my bookshelf

I love it when a plan comes together, and I adore caper stories. So you probably won’t be surprised to learn I’ve been reading a lot of lovable rogues lately.

Just finished up reading The Heist, the first book in a new(ish) series from Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. I tried to get into her Stephanie Plum series several years ago, but either it wasn’t the right time, or I wasn’t in the right mood or something. This series, however, hits me in one of my soft, squishy areas of vulnerability: caper or heist stories.

I mean, it’s right there in the title.

I’m a total sucker for outlandish cons pulled by a crack team of wisecracking specialists. In this case, the team is lead by FBI agent Kate O’Hare and charming master thief Nick Fox. One interesting twist in this particular take on The A-Team/Ocean’s 11/Mission Impossible is that the rest of the team aren’t professionals.

After being captured by Kate, Nick works a deal with the FBI. But he doesn’t want to risk exposing his usual confederates to the feds. So they recruit a crew of promising amateurs, including an actor from the dinner theater circuit, a special effects artist, a carpenter who builds amazing treehouses (no kidding!) and a woman “who once took a freight train for a joyride.” This works in the book’s favor, making it easy to root for the team of mostly-innocent “criminals.”

I especially enjoyed Kate’s interactions with her father, who also joins in the fun. Of course, the O’Hare family sense of fun encompasses shooting at bad guys with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Fox & O’Hare have an “early seasons of Castle” level of sexual tension, so if you like that, you’ll probably enjoy The Heist.

I like caper stories so much, I wrote my own book The Skull Game (Belle Starr episode 2) as sort of a “heist lite” story, featuring double-crosses and interwoven cons. I call it a “heist lite” because Shaen is a lot more Howlin’ Mad Murdock than Hannibal. She’s pretty sharp (for an insane person), but she doesn’t have that strategic, six-steps-ahead kind of mind — and she doesn’t play well with others.

Other caper stories I’ve enjoyed over the past few years include:

The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes. Basically, if you crossed Ocean’s Eleven with Dungeons & Dragons, this is what you’d get. I loved it. Weekes’ day job is writing for Bioware’s Mass Effect and Dragon Age game series, so that should tell you the dialogue is both hilarious and awesome. One joke alone made high school French class worthwhile. The sequel, The Prophecy Con was still enjoyable, although not quite up to the level of the first, and the third entry, The Paladin Caper, is due out this October.

Valour & Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal. Another fabulous caper mash-up, this time combining Jane Austen plus magic, with a con job, in Venice (or thereabouts). Which sounds nuts and basically is, but just go with it. It took a little longer getting to the heist-y part for my taste, but that’s probably owing to the more slow-boil pace of your typical Regency plot.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Or really, any of the books from the Gentlemen Bastards sequence. Dirty rotten (and immensely likable) scoundrels in a second-world fantasy reminiscent of late Medieval Italy. The second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies adds pirates, and the third, The Republic of Thieves, adds wizards, but they’re all about the con.

Got any good caper or heist story recos? Drop ’em in the comments.

You and me could write a bad romance

For the next six months, I’m embarking on a little experiment. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I think it was a blog post from Lindsay Buroker that pushed me to action. Basically, I’m going to try my hand at writing romance, under a pen name.

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Why I’m not going to read “Go Set a Watchman”… yet

I have been reading the different reviews and opinion pieces concerning the controversial release of Go Set a Watchman, which sort of is and sort of isn’t a sequel to Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Lots of people have opinions on whether you should read it or not. As for me, I’m not going to presume to tell you what to read (aside from shamelessly begging you to read my books). I hardly feel qualified, having been decidedly late to the party when it comes to having a basis for opinion.

I only read To Kill a Mockingbird in the last couple of months. It had been on my “to read” list since high school, but… well, it’s a really long list. Let’s be honest, for every book I cross off it, I just end up adding three or four more. I’m never getting to the end of that thing. At this point, I’m just hoping heaven has an epic library.

So anyway, unlike every other literate adult in America, my first experiences with Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch are pretty fresh. And frankly, I’m not quite ready to have them screwed with right now.

But “right now” is not “forever.”

Do I think that Go Set a Watchman is, in reality, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird? Nope. I think if we’re being totally honest, it’s Harper Lee’s “crappy first draft” of To Kill a Mockingbird. It may be a cleaned up version of her crappy first draft, but that doesn’t make it a subsequent work in any real sense.

I don’t think anyone is claiming Lee ever had any plans to revisit that version of the story or write a true sequel. I don’t think anyone is claiming she was involved in a significant way, aside from (possibly? hopefully?) granting permission to publish it, in getting it from “crappy first draft” to its current published form.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not a story worth examining. As a writer, can I see the educational value in reading a great writer’s crappy first draft? Absolutely. And as a reader, at least a few reviewers have given me reason to believe that this earlier direction of the story is not without its own merits. In particular, the New York Times review poses some interesting questions. At least, they’re interesting to me.

“[Scout’s] disappointment, which develops into anger, suggests an opportunity to explore a dense, rich, complicated subject: How should you deal with someone who has loved you unstintingly when you find out this same person harbors ugly, dangerous social prejudices?

… Is it wrong to revoke affection because of disgust with the ideology of someone who has nurtured you all of your life? Is it intolerably dictatorial to impose a political litmus test on loved ones? Is it complacent to refuse to? If morality compels censuring the retrograde beliefs and conduct of lovers, friends and family, how should that be done? And then what?”

I have to say, as one of the lucky folks who have enjoyed having people who have “loved you unstintingly” and “nurtured you all of your life,” and also who hold ugly prejudices, these are questions I have wrestled with my whole life. They seem like questions of particular relevance right now. I’d be interested in seeing how someone else, especially someone as smart as Harper Lee, wrestles with them on the page.

But for the time being, I’m going to keep wrestling with them on my own. Atticus and Scout will remain in my mind, for a bit longer, as they have been in the minds of other readers for a half century.

After all, that to-read list isn’t getting any shorter.

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