Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hook’em and Book’em Returns Jan. 1, 2011
We will be taking a short break during these holidays. On the first day of the New Year, NYT bestselling author John Lescroart will join us for an interview about his latest novel, Damage, scheduled for release January 4th.  Please join us in 2011 as we continue to explore the world of crime, fiction, writing and publishingUntil then, may everyone enjoy the season holidays.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the City of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2: 10-12)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony

What’s Santa Hiding Under Your Tree?
By Mark Young
Christmas shoppers are thronging to stores for last minute presents to surprise family and friends. Even in these uncertain economic times, the spirit of giving seems to be alive and kicking. One of the hotter items this season—actually the last three seasons—continues to be eReaders. Kindle, iPad, Nook, Sony and others are jockeying for position to be the hottest number on the shelf.

It seems consumers in large numbers have finally begun to understand what these gadgets are all about. As people get used to the idea of books in digital, portable form, mor eReaders are selling. Several factors have caused this astounding rise in sales: affordability of eReaders, mobility of devices, competitive prising, storage capacity, and a growing awareness of where this market is headed. Everyone seems to be interested in learning about this new age of publishing.

Last week, I took my youngest daughter to a basketball practice and carried my Kindle to catch up on my reading while I waited for her. As I pulled the digital reader out, a woman sitting next to me saw the device and began asking questions. She had never seen an eReader in person. I showed her how simple it was to operate, how eye-soothing the e Ink is to read, and tried to demonstrate the device’s capabilities. The woman became a believer in just a few minutes. She wanted to know where to buy it  for her son. She left for a few minutes and returned. "I just spoke to my husband on the phone. Can he come over and see how this thing works?" 

Santa was going to be making another stop at that household—if there are any Kindles left to buy before Christmas.

People do not seem to balk at the prices, even in these hard economic times. At a price tag starting at $139 for a Kindle to the top of the price range for an iPad ( $400-$900), these movable libraries seem to be selling faster than a Ponzi scheme.

The Kindle continues to be a Christmas sell-out gift. As of November 17, the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi were already sold out for customers living outside the U.S. and UK. In previous Christmas seasons, the Kindle sold out in 2007 and 2008. In 2009,  Amazon's digital reader remained available throughout the holiday season for the first time. Don’t hold your breath for Christmas 2010. Stock is dwindling fast. Amazon is holding on to its remaining stock to sell exclusively in the U.S. and the U.K.

How well is Kindle selling? Amazon has always been a little shy about revealing numbers, but the company’s  “Official Kindle Team” sent this out to their readers last Monday: “Thanks to you, in the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we’ve already sold millions of our all-new Kindles with the latest E Ink Pearl display. In fact, in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009.”

At least one Kindle competitor—Barnes and Noble—seems to be enjoying a healthy buying spree of its own. In a recent Publisher’s Week article, Barnes & Noble Chairman Len Riggio said, “B&N is manufacturing Nook Colors at a rate of 18,000 per day and it is loading up a 747 every four to five days to bring devices to the U.S. from China.” He acknowledged that B&N might not be able to keep enough in stock to meet the need of holiday shoppers.

What about Apple’s iPad? Although this is like comparing apples to oranges—the iPad tablet to the Kindle or Nook eReaders—Apple seems to be holding its own. Writer Mike Shield on the AdWorks web site reports that “global sales of computer tablet devices like the iPad will exceed 80 million by 2012, according to a new report from eMarketer. The research predicts that after 15.7 million tablet devices are purchased in 2010, in just two years sales will balloon by 418 per cent to 81.3 million units worldwide.” Shield adds, “After introducing the wildly popular device just this past April, Apple is expected to sell 13.3 million iPads in 2010 … By 2012, sales should reach a staggering 56.1 million units.”

Additional competitive muscle flexed when Amazon and Barnes & Noble announced this year that they planned to expand or launch publishing platforms for indie authors and publishers.

Amazon’s digital foray—using print publishing sites such as CreateSpace and AmazonEncore— and its Digital Text Platform for eBooks caused ripples throughout the publishing industry over the last couple of years. This company reportedly garners seventy percent of all eBook sales. As one of the largest online book sources, Amazon claims its eBook sales have already surpassed hardcover sales earlier this year, and they expect digital book sales to exceed other print markets in the near future

Jeff  Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, told a Publisher Weekly reporter  last July, “We’ve reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle—the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price.” Bezos added, “In addition, even while our hardcover sales continue to grow, the Kindle format has now overtaken the hardcover format. customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books.”

To garner a part of this digital publishing market, B&N announced last May they are “extending its deep and longstanding tradition of supporting authors and publishers with PubIt! … an easy and lucrative way for independent publishers and self-publishing writers to distribute their works digitally through Barnes & and the Barnes & Noble eBookstore.”

Meanwhile, Google added its own muscle  to the competitive eBook fight by launching their Google eBookstore where readers can browse a collection of three million titles. Customers can make purchases from this growing bookstore, keep those books in their own eBook library, and read from an array of digital devices—laptops, netbooks, tablets, and e-readers (except for Kindle). Free apps for Apple and Android devices will also be available. A Google press release states that customers will be able to “access your eBooks much like you access Gmail or photos in Picasa—using a free password-protected Google account with unlimited eBook storage.”

And so goes the digital publishing war in 2010.
All this to say, “What is Santa sticking in your stocking?” As prices lower—and before stocks are depleted—maybe your very own Santa is out there right now snatching up a digital present to stick under your tree. Which eReader are you hoping to see under the tree Christmas morning?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Police Snapshots For Novelists: Building Searches (Part II)

Surviving Building Searches
By Mark Young
Scene: A woman screams from inside a nearby house. Witnesses hear breaking glass and a man snarling out profanities. An unknown truck angles across the driveway, left in park, door standing ajar. Neighbors begin calling 9-1-1. You are a patrol officer. Dispatch sends you to this call.

How do you handle this case?

During our last post on building searches, we looked at all the information and options officers must consider before they even get to the front door. What kind of call is this? Weapons involved? Hostages? Prior calls for service? How many resources do we need to handle this situation? Can one officer handle this, or does the whole patrol team need to start rolling? All these considerations and more are running through the officer’s mind in route to the call.

One of the critical components of these calls is the coordination between officer and dispatcher. Key bits of information will normally be fed to officers before they ever get to the front door. Dispatchers will be pulling up information from various databases: calls for service to this residence, prior contacts, and certain utility information if available. If the neighbors provided vehicle information, that truck will be run and the registered owner (RO) identified. Wants and warrants will be checked on the RO, as well as anyone affiliated with that address.

On this call, dispatch advises that the residence belongs to a female who has prior contact information—including a restraining order against … you guessed it, the RO of the truck. So now, the officer is armed with a little more information that might shed light on today’s disturbance. It also gives the officer broader latitude to deal with this situation if the RO is on the premises. An arrest can be made on the spot for violation of the court-mandated restraining order, even if there are no other charges available at the time. But given the violent history between these two people, a diligent and alert officer should be able to hook and book this violator.

Even if the woman called the RO and invited him over—which happens because love is blind and some people in love lack sound judgment—the man is still in violation of the order. Just from the information provided by neighbors, an officer would probably determine that domestic violence might be the nature of this call.

So what do you do? Run up to the front steps, kick in the front door, and start looking for this scumbag?

Whoa, John Wayne. Back up a few steps and take a deep breath. Due to the nature of the call, you are going to want to make sure backup is on the way. Remember, domestic violence calls are one of the high-risk calls that get officers killed or injured. It can be a very volatile situation. You need all the help dispatch can send your way—if there are enough officers on duty and calls for service allow.

Your backup just arrived. What is your next step? Kick in the door or give knock and notice? It all depends—and this is why the job is so interesting. Every call is different. Circumstances can change faster than a traffic light switching from yellow to red. Officers always need to be their toes, able to wade through a flood of incoming information in order to make the right choice at the right time.
Years ago, officers might have been able to force they way in like Dirty Harry and take care of business no matter what happened. In these litigious times, an officer must venture forth carefully—this all becomes part of surviving the job. Survival can be broken down into three primary categories—physical, legal, and organizational. Physical: Don’t get shot. Legal: Follow the law at all times. Organizational: Don’t give supervisors ammunition to hit you with a personnel investigation.

Getting back to our disturbance call, what do we need to get inside the house. Courts frown on officers pushing the boundaries of knock and notice and fourth-amendment protection (Remember legal survival?). If you are going to break the normal rules of knock and notice, you’d better be armed with exigent circumstances.

Here is one interpretation of exigent circumstances: “Those circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to believe that entry (or other relevant prompt action) was necessary to prevent physical harm to the officers or other persons, the destruction of relevant evidence, the escape of a suspect, or some other consequence improperly frustrating legitimate law enforcement efforts.' [United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1199 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 824 (1984).] Officers hear a lot of about this “reasonable person” from the courts but rarely do these legal scholars actually define what they mean by reasonable. What seems reasonable to an officer—in the dark, facing armed suspects, listening to the screams of victims—may not seem reasonable to the court during a preliminary hearing weeks or months later when everything has returned to normal.

A woman screaming within earshot might make a reasonable police officer believe exigent circumstances exists. Translation: You can kick in the door, Harry. Someone needs your help. This gets an officer inside without knocking and announcing. Again, under these circumstances a reasonable officer might come to the conclusion that an angry and violent man—with a history of firearms—just might shoot an officer or the victim before officers can intervene. However, officers should start letting people know the police have arrived once they get inside. This helps the officer survive legal and organizational threats, although this raises the physical threat. Common sense must prevail.

warrantless entries as long as the government did not create those exigencies. You’ve seen those movie scenes where a police officer breaks a window, turns to his partner and says, “look’s like a break-in in progress.” And in they go. This kind of monkey business would get everything they find inside the premises thrown out of court, while creating serious legal issues.

So now you’re ready to enter the dwelling. Go ahead and start that search. Work with a partner, watch both your backs, and go slowly—clearing every room before you enter the next. Remember the basics learned in training: hold flashlight away from your body so you don’t offer the bad guy a target; use soft- soled shoes; follow the ABCs of weapons use; use stealth; and use all of your senses—including common sense. Hook’em and book’em if you find the suspect.

Moments like these erase all the hours of boredom … until it comes time to write the report.  Paperwork is always the cost of doing business. And you had better make sure that everything that happened when you forced entry is thoroughly documented in the report. Testifying on the stand is the wrong time to remember an important detail you failed to include in your report. The district attorney will hang his head, the defense attorney will roll his eyes, and you can count on a frown coming your way from the judge—if not something more stern. Be smart and write everything down to ensure legal and organizational survival. You must survive a long career ahead.

Now it is time to go home until the next shift. Enjoy life. Relish the time away from the job. You made it through another day. As one military veteran replied at the end of his career: “Life is good. I’m still standing and sucking air.”

Novelist: Use these realistic situations to create all kinds of tensions and havoc in your story. Go ahead and let your creative mind run free. You might be surprised at how fast your main character gets into trouble. And your readers will want to turn those pages to see if their hero survives. Everyone wins—except maybe the bad guy. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Interview: Novelist Dean Koontz

Novel: What The Night Knows
By Mark Young
Release of author Dean Koontz's latest novel may create new definitions of terror, nightmare, and demonic possession. In What the Night Knows, Dean has created his own special genre. This gripping and exquisitely written tale refuses to fall within the confines of any genre definitions. What the Night Knows, scheduled for release December 28, 2010 rains upon the reader a potpourri of mystery, suspense, police procedural, romance, and flat-out terror.

This police procedural requires its lead character to go where no rational cop dares ventureinto the consideration of demonic possession and the possibility of evil surviving beyond the grave. There is also the exploration of the deep love between homicide detective John Calvino and his artist wife, Nicolette, and between them and their three children. Don't get cozy, reader. Love serves  only as a brief respite as the Calvino family struggles to keep one another alive and their would-be killers at bay. And for mystery lovers, we have who-done-it murders where the most likely suspect died years ago.

A brutal killer--Alton Turner Blackwoodmurdered four families two decades earlier and thousands of miles away from where John Calvino lives now. Back then, fourteen-year-old John killed Blackwood as the killer lingered over the bodies of the boy's freshly killed family. Now John is a 34-year-old homicide cop, haunted by his past. Recent killings identical to those twenty years earlier lead John to suspect that his own family might be the next target.

Simultaneously, strange things are happening to John's three children as they struggle to understand seemingly supernatural events that are  occurring in their home.

Rather than risk giving too much away about this captivating story, let's focus our attention on the author and creator: It is a great honor to have Dean visit us here today.

MARK: Dean, once again, you've created an unusual event, a story within a story that never lets the reader go until the final resolution. Let's start with a basic question about your writing: How do you come up with an amazing plot like What the Night Knows? Does it start with a general concept or idea? Or are you one of those lucky ones who has a good grasp of the whole story and who knows exactly where this next writing journey will take you?

DEAN: An idea never comes to me as a complete story. One of the joys of writing is the struggle to properly develop a premise after it has occurred to me and excited me. No fine novel can be intricately plotted before you start writing because that approach elevates raw mechanics above the art and craft. I sometimes know a couple of set pieces I might like to include, which are suggested by the premise itself, or I might know the essence of the ending, but by allowing the characters free will, I not only allow them to become more real, but I ensure that the story line will be more organic, more true to life in spite of the fantastic elements.

In the case of What the Night Knows, I had just started work on another novel when the idea for a ghost story slammed me. I turned to a tablet beside the keyboard, on which I make notes to myself, and I wrote down exactly this: Twenty years ago, a serial killer murdered four families. The only survivor was John, from the fourth family—and John managed to kill his family's murderer, saving himself. Now John is 34, has a much-loved wife and children of his own—and someone is murdering families exactly as they were murdered twenty years earlier. John, a man of reason, comes to suspect a supernatural entity is at work. Will his new family be the fourth target this time, too—and how does he defend against a disembodied spirit? That was the nugget, but of course the novel became far more complicated as it progressed.

Sometimes I can identify the inspiration for a novel, the chain of real-life events that seeded the idea, sometimes not. In this case, not. The idea just came from nowhere, I recognized the power of it, and realized the ghost would be a metaphor for certain real-world forces that destroy families every day, which would allow layers of texture and subtext. When I passed the idea along to my editor and publisher, they were as enthusiastic about it as I was—to such an extent that I set aside the book I had begun and instead wrote this one.

MARK: One of the most interesting exchanges in the novel occurs between John and a defrocked priest, Peter Abelard. First, the name of the priest seemed intriguing. I learned that the real Peter Abelard, born in 1079 A.D., was a well-known French philosopher-priest and theologian in his day. Is the reference intentional?

DEAN: Yes, it's intentional, but nobody needs to notice it to follow the story. The real Peter Abelard first proposed new ways of thinking about the world and sacred order that eventually led to Freud and Marx. A good argument could be made that the seeds for the death of the West were planted by Abelard and have been watered ever since, until we now live with the fruit of his ideas. To discuss this at any interesting level would require 50,000 words! It's that subtextual kind of thing that readers are better not noticing because it only distracts them—and I'm amazed that you, in the first interview I do for this book, bring it up! I'm sure no one else will. Subtext is like the concrete foundation of a house: Once it's poured and the residence is built atop it, you don't need to know exactly what mix of concrete and gravel and steel rebar went into it in order to enjoy living in the house.

In the novel, the defrocked priest, Abelard, is in such a dark place psychologically that as I wrote that scene, the hair went up on the back of my neck more than once. John Calvino's encounter with him is creepy and to some extent heartbreaking. It's one of those scenes that, when you finally get it right, you want to jump up and do a little end-zone dance and spike the ball, except you're a writer and you don't have a ball to spike, so you'd have to spike your keyboard, which would be expensive and stupid.

MARK: John also goes to his local priest, Father Bill, for counsel and reveals a tentative belief in demonic powers. But Fr. Bill  characterizes John's belief as superstitious, not faith condoned by the modern church. On the other hand, Abelardthe ousted priest, grappling with his own demonsis not dismissive as is Fr. Bill. The irony here is that the practicing priest offers John less aid and sympathy than does the defrocked priest who has too much experience with his own tendency to evil. These scenes obviously counterpoint each other. What was your intention with them?   

DEAN: First, I wanted to see John go to everyone he would logically approach for help in this extraordinary situation—and receive no help at all. He turns, as well, to his detective partner, with no better results. I knew he had to be isolated and desperate—before he realized that his only reliable allies were his wife and children. And then, perhaps too late, he also discovers that they have been having extraordinary experiences, as well, and that the spirit presence in their house has been using their fears and their love for one another to turn each of them inward and isolate each until it may be too late for them to share what they know and in sharing save themselves.

After that, there are several reasons for those two scenes. There's a dark kind of humor in the scene with Fr. Bill—just when I think the story needs a bit of wryness. And the Abelard scene ratchets up the creepy factor in advance of the extended third-act action sequences. It's also true of everyone in this story—except for the youngest child, Minnie, and perhaps also excepting her mother, Nicky—that he or she is in some way flawed, in some way foolish, and in need of maturing experience and/or redemption. Fr. Bill isn't actively evil, he means well, he is a big believer in positive thinking and paying it forward, but he is such an intellectual lightweight that it is possible that, by the end of his career, he might have done no less damage to his parishioners than has the more profoundly troubled, weak, and wicked Abelard.

MARK: Alton Turner Blackwood first makes his sinister appearance in a novella titled Darkness Under the Sun, just released October 25, 2010, as an eBook exclusive. In this coming-out for Blackwood, readers learn about this killer "who knew the night, its secrets and rhythms. How to hide within shadows. How to hunt." In What the Night Knows, Blackwood--or others under his influencecommits acts of great evil. How did this eBook release work to get people interested in What the Night Knows? What was the strategy behind unfolding this character's story in this manner?

DEAN: The events in the 14,000-word novella take place a year prior to the events in the novel. Darkness Under the Sun concerns an incident in Alton Turner Blackwood's life that inspired him to give up his days on the road, where he killed one victim at time, and instead to begin killing whole families. There was no way to drop this episode into the novel without destroying its structure and leading the reader too far away from the primary story. Writing an associated novella seemed the way to go, and Bantam thought the best way to use it was as an eBook, to build interest in this deformed and decidedly strange antagonist. I'm not much for strategy. I leave that to others.

MARK: As the title implies, the night in this novel almost becomes a character. However, the night does not take sides. Good and evil people struggle for position under the cover of night, for survival and supremacy. Can you tell us a little about this unique character and what it brings to the story? 

DEAN: You'll have to tell me what it brings to the story. I'm not the one to judge that it works or not. I don't actually personify the night in the story, but you're right that it serves, in some ways, as a character, not unlike the town of Pico Mundo in Odd Thomas and the great Bel Air Mansion, Palazzo Rospo, in The Face. Sometimes I like to take a key element of the setting--night, a town, a house, the flora of southern California in The Husband--and give it a heightened reality, explore it with some of the tools of magical realism, for a whole host of reasons, not least of all to weave text and subtext into a coherent fabric. Besides, when you challenge yourself to deal with one element of a setting in hyper-visual and emotional language that makes it almost a character, you find yourself unable to resort to cliche in any part of the story.

MARK: There seemed to be some confusion among your fans earlier this year about the story line of What the Night Knows. Initially it was described as a scary novel about a dog and a character named Kirby Wayland. Later it ended up being a ghost story with a main character named John Calvin. Can you clarify this confusion?

DEAN: When I put aside the Kirby Wayland story because this ghost story slammed into my head and demanded to be written, we didn't have a title for it. I sent my editor and publisher what seemed like tens of thousands of titles but was, I'm sure, more like thirty, and they sent me a bunch of titles, as well. They weren't crazy about any of mine, and I wasn't crazy about any of theirs. This was all friendly, you understand. We weren't spitting and cursing and threatening vengeance. But the title search did go on and on as I wrote the novel. Then one day I realized that the title of the Kirby Wayland story fit this story, too, and even better. I sent an email to my publisher, suggesting we take the title from the book I had set aside and use it on this one, which had so obsessed me. Just as that email was sent, one from my publisher came in, with the same suggestion. We simultaneously had the identical thought and had at the same moment acted on it. Spooky. But because the title was already associated with the Kirby Wayland story on some Web postings, there was confusion for a while. I'm a master at sewing confusion.

MARK: One of the more endearing characters in this novel is eight-year-old Minnie. She seems to possess an understanding of the whole other-world struggle that others do not grasp. Is Minnie's unique worldview because of her near-death experience earlier in her young life?

DEAN: The reader's expectation would be that if one of the three children was a mensch, it would be either 14-year-old Zach or 11-year-old Naomi, so it's better to play against expectations. But in any event, characters become who they insist on becoming, so Minnie was going to be Minnie regardless. As the youngest and also the least self-interested of the children, Minnie is also the most innocent.   Alton Turner Blackwood is absolute corruption, evil, and given his supernatural power, there is no way to defeat him unless one in the family can be said to possess the essence of innocence.  

MARK: Thanks for sharing this time with us, Dean.

DEAN: Thanks for asking questions that made me look like at least somewhat less of an idiot than usual.
Dean Koontz is the ultimate artisan of suspense. You can learn more about his prolific writing career at