Monthly Archives

June 2011


I went into the results show thinking I’d be okay if either Javier Colon or Dia Frampton won, because he has the best voice and she is most mesmerizing while performing. After his audition with “Time After Time,” I had said to my husband, “Oh, fuggedaboutit. Just crown this guy now.” But over the past few weeks, Dia became the one I rooted for.

Yes, the show is called The Voice and Javier definitely has a big, bold, beautiful one. The problem was his tendency to oversing. His coach Adam Levine advised him on when to hold back and when to let his emotions go, but Javier seemingly just wanted to rip into every note all the time like a lion on a fresh gazelle. He gives new meaning to the term, “He killed it.” Dueting with Stevie Nicks tonight on “Landslide,” Javier was on harmony but was so loud, he often drowned out Nicks on melody. She was a little flat and subdued but the song is supposed to be introspective. Nicks had to put her hand up to his face to literally conduct him to soften his voice or stop holding on to a note for three days.

Dia’s duet, on the other hand, with Miranda Lambert on “The House That Built Me” was understated and lovely. And I don’t even like country. At times, Dia’s voice dropped to a whisper but it felt like she was more focused on connecting with the lyrics than doing vocal gymnastics. I’ll take emotion over volume any day.

But I’ll admit I voted for her mostly because her coach Blake Shelton was so passionate about her. Frampton, er, Dia comes alive when she sings but when she’s not, her shyness makes her inscrutable. Blake, meanwhile, wears his feelings for her all over his face.

Out of all the coaches, he has promoted and worked the hardest for his protegé, getting emotional every time she advanced to the next round. He and Lambert bought Dia the dress she wore on the finale when NBC deemed it too expensive for its budget. When choked-up Blake said to Dia “you are family to me now,” you could tell he wasn’t selling it for the cameras (unlike Christina Aguilera telling the guys they were the brothers she never had).

So if he vouched for Dia and thought she deserved the title, I voted for her. Yes, I wanted her to win but I wanted more for her proud coach to not be disappointed. There’s a reason it’s called Team Blake instead of Team Dia. A couple months ago, I wasn’t even sure who Blake Shelton was (a doctor on General Hospital? baseball player? see above comment about not liking country). But he’s been a revelation to me, displaying smarts, talent, genuine goodwill, and a wicked sense of humor. Now I’m listening to his “Honey Bee” and expanding my world. Go figure.

Beverly & Tedder--What's going on here??

But my world hasn’t expanded enough for me to think that Beverly McClellan’s performance of “Good Life” with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic made any sense. I think five minutes before the live show, producers had a conversation with McClellan that went something like, “Hey, you’ll be dueting with that dude from OneRepublic.” McClellan: “Okay. Does it matter if I don’t know the song or who he is?” Producers: “Nope. Just jump around and have fun.” McClellan: “Okeydoke.” She and Tedder did look like they were enjoying themselves so let’s just leave it at that.

Vicci Martinez fared better pairing up with Pat Monahan from Train to sing “Drops of Jupiter.” I like her but the song is a little somber for her. I think she does best when she gets to bust out all her energy and just go to town, like she did on “Dog Days Are Over” and “Love is a Battlefield.”

Javier with his family

Ultimately, while Javier wasn’t my top choice, I’m still happy for him because he seems like a really good guy who’s got some serious talent. I hope he continues to work with mentors, though, who will help him make music that won’t make me change the station.

Who were you rooting for? What did you think of the finale?

Photos: Lewis Jacobs/NBC


Winners of Karin Slaughter’s FALLEN

My two randomly selected winners are:

  • Lisa
  • Eddy

You will each get a copy of Karin Slaughter’s terrific Fallen if you claim it by noon PST on Saturday, July 2.

Thanks to everyone who entered. If you didn’t win this time, keep your eyes peeled for more giveaways this summer!


THE GLEE PROJECT—Vulnerability

Anybody watching this on Oxygen Sunday nights? It’s a mildly diverting show which documents the process of the creative team behind Glee trying to find an actor or actress for a seven-episode arc on the series next season. The twelve kids who made it onto the show have been given challenges every week, and the three who perform most poorly have to sing for Glee creator Ryan Murphy before he and his colleagues, casting director Robert Ulrich and choreographer Zach Woodlee, decide on the one who doesn’t get a callback that week. I like that it’s a swift decision without calls or texts from viewers to save their favorite contestants.

Dot-Marie Jones & GLEE casting director Robert Ulrich

Murphy isn’t just looking for a good actor and singer; he wants someone with a unique personality he can create a new character for. Therefore, each challenge is designed to make the contenders reveal different aspects of themselves. The first episode had them play up their individuality, the second their theatricality, and the third episode, with Dot-Marie Jones (Coach Beiste) as guest mentor, had them put their vulnerability on display. Literally.

The kids were asked to come up with a word that described the one thing they’re most insecure or vulnerable about. Then they had to wear that word on a sandwich board and walk around in public while singing “Mad World” and being filmed for a music video. I was surprised by how moved I was. The singers came up with some raw words (see video below), showing that you’re never too young to experience damage. It made me wonder what I’d put on my board and whether I’d have the courage to walk outside with it on.


I had a problem, though, with the results of the challenge. Ulrich and Woodlee faulted Cameron, a nerdy cool singer with a smooth-as-silk voice, for not doing the exercise well because he is “comfortable with himself,” “so well-adjusted” and “doesn’t have any big issues.” How dare he be normal? I think this sends the wrong message to the show’s youthful audience that you have to be completely effed up in order to make it in show business or just to be an artistic person. (I find it especially objectionable since Cameron is my 10-year-old niece’s favorite contestant and I’d applauded her for picking the most seemingly grounded person to idolize.)

I would have had no problem if the creative team had phrased their comments more tactfully, by perhaps saying Cameron doesn’t have the acting chops to convey emotion without having something real and traumatic to tap into. Blame the talent or lack thereof, not the person, especially a healthy one. I’m nitpicking but the kids watching at home can be impressionable and they absorb everything adults say. I like Cameron and hope he stays well-adjusted forever.


My favorite contender, though, is Irish boy Damian. This 18-year-old crooner with the lilting brogue is so adorable, I want to bring him home and make him cabbage. He was also in the bottom three because his word was “numb,” which apparently wasn’t a flashy enough flaw for the judges. He admitted he doesn’t cry often, that he keeps his feelings in check. So he got “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” to sing for Murphy. Damian promptly broke down because the song apparently brought back memories of his breakup with his girlfriend whom he’d known since he was eleven. He performed an emotional rendition for Murphy, who gave him high marks.

I would have been more upset about Damian and Cameron being in the bottom three if it weren’t for the fact I got to see them sing whole songs. During the challenges, everyone performs together, with each singer getting only one or two solo lines. Ironically, being in the bottom allows contestants to shine and improve their chances at staying on the show.

Who are you rooting for? What word would be on your sandwich board? If you haven’t been watching, you can view whole episodes here (select the show, then the episode) or just watch the “Mad World” video below and tell me if it doesn’t make your throat a little lumpy.


Book Review: WHAT ALICE FORGOT by Liane Moriarty

I mentioned in my review for S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep that amnesia seems to be a hot topic this summer (Marcus Sakey’s The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes also features an amnesiac) but I’ve noticed something else that’s popular: characters named Alice. Laura Harrington’s superb debut novel and her lead character are both named Alice Bliss, Alafair Burke has an Alice as her Long Gone protagonist, Elle Fanning plays Alice in the movie Super 8, and the book I’m reviewing today, What Alice Forgot, combines the two trends by featuring a lead named Alice who has amnesia.

Alice Love falls down while at the gym, hits her head and loses all memory of the last ten years of her life. She thinks she’s 29 instead of 39, and the last thing she remembers is being broke, pregnant with her first child, and deeply in love with her husband, Nick. Imagine her shock, then, when she calls him from the hospital and gets a nasty, unsympathetic reaction from him. Is their marriage no longer idyllic? And she has three children now?

In the weeks that follow her fall, Alice tries to reclaim her life but finds it has changed drastically. She has somehow attained the house of her dreams and a nice toned body, but her kids and the person she’s become are strangers to her. Her eldest daughter seems to resent her, her once-close sister has become distant, and her friends are all catty, bitchy women. She apparently also has a new suitor but she still loves Nick while he wants nothing to do with her. Does Alice really want to recover her memories if they’ll only tell her how she ended up here?

This novel is much more thought-provoking than the premise sounds. Moriarty tackles some weighty subjects but does so with a light hand and breezy pace. She uses wit to examine the complexities of life, how it can alter in small ways without our noticing until one day we might wake up to an existence beyond our recognition. Could we prevent that from happening if we can somehow see where we end up years from now? Or is change inevitable and necessary in order to survive?

Moriarty doesn’t make things black and white for Alice or predictable for the reader. There’s a bit of mystery about what happened during her lost decade, and how Alice will deal with the knowledge when she regains it. The ending is moving and may surprise readers who think they’ve got everything figured out. Alice’s journey is messy and sad and joyful, much like life itself.

Nerd verdict: Delightful, thought-provoking Alice


Guest Blogger: Karin Slaughter Shares Bathroom Secrets + Giveaway

Though Karin Slaughter’s just released Fallen is her third novel combining characters from her Grant County and Atlanta series, it was the first of her books I read. After finishing it, I immediately read its predecessor Broken and did loads of Internet research to find out more about Special Agent Will Trent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, his partner Faith Mitchell, and Dr. Sara Linton, who often gets involved with them professionally and maybe personally where Will is concerned. I was especially drawn to Will, an authoritative figure who’s both competent and lost, older than his years and yet childlike in so many ways.

I then asked Karin to share some things about her characters that we don’t know, details she may have imagined for them but haven’t put in her books for whatever reason. She divulged the following:

I’m not one for revealing secrets before their time, but I can tell y’all something about Will Trent that’s revealed in the book I’m working on now, Criminal (out in 2012): Will is a neat freak. Now, I know this is hinted at early on, but he’s really, really painfully neat. Since he grew up in state care, he only had a finite amount of space allotted to him, and so he’s very conscious of putting everything in its place and not throwing stuff around that might get in another person’s space.

He also likes a clean bathroom because he shared a communal bathroom for the first eighteen years of his life. This might be a bit of fantasy and I’m aware that I am a woman writing a male character, but it’s my book so I made Will every woman’s dream: a good bathroom sharer. That being said, one reason Sara became a doctor is so she can always afford a house with two bathrooms and never has to share.  Which is a good thing, because Sara is somewhat of a pig. Clothes are strewn all over her bathroom. At one point, Will says it looks like it’s been searched by a crack addict looking for money.

I’ve never given Faith’s bathroom much thought, though it does show up in Fallen, my current book. She hides something monumental in her medicine cabinet. I won’t give that away, but I’ll tell you something about Faith that might be clear by now: She’s awful with men. She has what I think of as a woman cop’s problem: she only wants fixer-uppers, and then when she gets them and realizes they’re a mess, she gets annoyed that they can’t take care of themselves. Faith looks at men through two lenses: as a mother and as a bully. In Fallen, seeing how she deals with her son and her brother, you get a really good look into her psyche. Faith would be the first to admit it’s not a pretty picture.

So, those are the big secrets I can reveal. I have to hold some back because it’s the secrets that make writing about these characters so much fun. The slow reveal of past dramas and dark mysteries is as integral to the plot as the whodunit. And you never want a writer to be bored with her characters. What I love about Will, Sara, Faith, and Amanda—in Criminal especially, which takes place in 1975 when Amanda first became a cop—is showing you all these new and interesting things about them.  So, stay tuned!

For more deep dark revelations, check out Fallen, a tense, brutal thriller that starts with Faith coming home to find her mother missing, a bloody handprint on the door, and blood all over her kitchen floor. Skeletons are dragged out of several closets, including the terrible truth behind Will’s scars.

You can win one of two copies of the book by leaving a comment telling me about something unusual you keep in your bathroom. Giveaway ends next Wednesday, June 29, 5 p.m. PST and is limited to US/Canada residents. Winners will be randomly chosen and given 48 hours to claim the books.

Many thanks to Karin for sharing some insights with us. I’d like to conclude by saying I once had a platonic male roommate who was much neater than I, who kept our shared bathroom clean enough to do surgery in and folded his clothes like a Gap display, so Will’s neat-freakiness definitely exists in the real world! (To read Criminal‘s opening paragraph, click here.)

Author photo: Alison Rosa


Book Review: THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

Lars Kepler’s The Hypnotist is already a smash in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries since its release there in 2009. It hits our shores this week with strong buzz and that dreaded tag I refuse to use: the NSL. You know, the next author who’s like that guy who wrote the Lisbeth Salander novels. It’s a lazy shorthand that undermines an original and exciting novel that can stand perfectly well on its own merits, thanks very much.

The novel doesn’t bother with any plodding exposition; its very first line is “Like fire, just like fire,” as a boy—the sole survivor (barely) and witness to the slaughter of his family—describes under hypnosis what he saw. What he reveals is even more disturbing than the carnage left at the scene.

The session also opens a Pandora’s box for the hypnotist, Erik Maria Bark, who had sworn never to use hypnosis again after his practice led to tragic events ten years earlier. When news gets out that Bark had hypnotized the boy, Bark and his family are suddenly in grave danger. It’s up to Detective Joona Linna, who is always right, to protect the Barks and solve two gruesome cases that might be related.

Lars Kepler is actually a nom de plume for married couple Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril, self-admitted movie lovers who have said they wanted to write a cinematic novel. They succeeded, constructing a hard R-rated story (for extreme violence) with nerve-racking scenes that make you squirm and want to cover your eyes. Yes, I actually yelled “Don’t go down there!” at my Nook. Read this scene in which a retired detective and his daughter—the hypnotist’s wife—are searching for clues in the dark basement of the house where the massacre occurred and tell me it doesn’t unnerve you:

A tapping noise comes from the ceiling, and Simone looks over at the stairs and then at her father. He doesn’t seem to hear the sound. He walks slowly toward a door at the far end of the room. Simone bumps into a rocking horse. Kennet opens the door and glances into a utility room containing a battered washing machine and dryer and an old-fashioned wringer. Next to a geothermal pump, a grubby curtain hangs in front of a large cupboard.

“Nobody here,” he says, turning to Simone.

She looks at him, seeing the grubby curtain behind him at the same time. It is completely motionless yet at the same time alive.


There is a damp mark on the fabric, a small oval, as if made by a mouth…

It seems to Simone that the damp oval suddenly caves inward. “Dad,” she whispers.

There is no shame in admitting you might need Depends after reading that. I’ll wait while you pull it on.

The novel’s other strong point is its twisty, fast-paced plot. It’s just one WTF thing after another, leaving no chance for either characters or readers to relax. I did get frustrated with how Erik and Simone got so stressed, they couldn’t even communicate with each other, sometimes causing hurtful actions to come out of simple misunderstandings. But Detective Joona Linna is an amusing lead. He often gloats about how he’s never wrong but instead of coming across as arrogant, he instills confidence that’s badly needed when situations take really nasty turns.

Nerd verdict: Disturbing, suspenseful and thrilling Hypnotist

To read the first thirteen chapters, go here. Seriously, leave the lights on and have a change of undies.

Buy this now from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstores


Reaction to THE KILLING Finale

OK, hands up—how many of you shouted profanities and shook your fists at the TV when The Killing finale ended last night? If you haven’t seen it, may I divert your attention to a variety of other posts on my site while I discuss SPOILERS with viewers who might have some strong words about last night’s ep?

I’m conflicted about the conclusion without a resolution to Rosie’s murder. On the one hand, it ensures my interest in season two. On the other, Twin Peaks pulled the same stunt twenty years ago with Laura Palmer’s murder and my interest waned fast in season two when I felt producers were stringing me along. Then again, I kinda admire executive producer Veena Sud for taking such a big risk with the cliffhanger, especially since the show had not been renewed at the time the finale was shot. But while I can intellectually appreciate what she did, I wanted to be emotionally satisfied, too. Is that too much to ask?

What did you think when you found out Holder had falsified evidence? Whose car did he get into? Mr. PCN said it had to be Mayor Adams’s because he’s the only person who had something to gain by Richmond going down. But I’m not convinced because that’s too obvious a suspect. I keep looking for someone we’ve never been suspicious of and at this point I can only come up with Mitch. She’d be the craziest twist. Who would suspect the grieving mother? Michelle Forbes usually plays tough women so there might be more to her character than we’ve seen.

What did you think? Click here for Sud’s comments on the season finale and her plans for next season.

Photo: AMC


Book Review: THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES by Marcus Sakey

Because it’s Sunday and Father’s Day, I’m going to be lazy and reprint—with permission and encouragement—my review of Marcus Sakey’s The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes that ran in the Shelf Awareness: Enlightenment for Readers issue this past Friday.

Hope you’re having a fantastic day and making your fathers happy, wherever they are.


Marcus Sakey wastes no time plunging readers right into the depths of his thrilling new novel, The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes. The first scene has a man waking up in the middle of an ocean, naked, in the dead of night, with no memory of who he is and how he got there. He manages to make it to land, find an abandoned car, and drive to a nearby hotel. But then a cop comes after him. What has he done? Why is he drawn to an actress he sees on TV? How does he find his way back to his life and what will he find there?

The protagonist turns out to be a screenwriter, and sometimes his flashbacks unfold as scenes from a screenplay. In Sakey’s hands, this method works rather well. The film rights to three of Sakey’s previous four novels have sold to Hollywood and it wouldn’t be surprising if this one sells, too.

But you shouldn’t wait for any potential movie because you’d miss out on Sakey’s sharp, vivid prose, describing low-rent motels as “places people came to hang themselves,” and a woman in a convertible as “a blonde whose hair stirred like a dream of summer.” He also shows a sense of humor with observations like the following:

“Luckily, he was in Los Angeles. If a second head had sprouted from his belly and begun pitching a spec script, it wouldn’t have drawn more than a glance.”

No matter where you are, you should definitely give Two Deaths more than a glance.

Nerd verdict: Sharp, thrilling Two Deaths


Short Nerdy Bits

Just wanted to point out a couple of quick things before you start your weekend. Danielle over at There’s a Book alerted me to the new website, Pottermore, and the official J.K. Rowling YouTube channel where the author will make an announcement about her new project in 5 days. Bookmark them, watch the countdown with me if you’re a Potter head, and hopefully we’ll have some happy news to celebrate in less than a week!

The other thing is the new Shelf Awareness publication for readers, which launched today. If you subscribe to the daily newsletter for the book trade, you should have automatically received this new edition. It comes out twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, and contains lots of bookish news and reviews of the best books released each week. It’s free, and if you haven’t signed up, you can do so here, get all the scoop and be more interesting at parties. I’m excited to say I write for it and have a review of Marcus Sakey’s The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes in the first issue!

Happy Friday to all. Hope you have a brilliant weekend filled with all the entertainment you like best.


Book Review: ALICE BLISS by Laura Harrington

As I started this review, I wished I had a rating system in place to adequately express how special Laura Harrington’s Alice Bliss is. If I went by stars, I’d give it twelve. If I used thumbs to express approval, I’d put up all my fingers, too.

Fifteen-year-old Alice is devastated when her Army Reservist father, Matt, is shipped out to Iraq. She keeps herself busy by joining the track team, helping her mother take care of her 8-year-old sister, Ellie, and tending to the vegetable garden Alice plants with her father every year. She also starts having confusing feelings about Henry, the boy she’s been best friends with since they were little kids. In Matt’s absence, Alice leaves childhood behind and grows into a young woman who’s every bit her father’s daughter.

This book wrecked me. I cannot remember the last time I cried while reading, let alone shed enough tears to water Alice and Matt’s crop. But it wasn’t because Harrington tried to yank on my heartstrings; her style is unsentimental and not without levity. No, I was moved by the different ways the family members long for and honor Matt, by their determination to make him proud by not falling apart.

The beauty of Harrington’s writing is also exemplified by what she leaves out, such as what’s really being said in this early scene, when Matt goes over the plan for the garden with Alice so she can take care of it while he’s gone:

“You don’t like it,” he says.

“I liked it just fine last year. I thought last year was perfect.”

“No changes? No building on our successes and learning from our failures?”

“We didn’t have any failures.”

“Just way too much yellow squash.”

“Okay. Let’s take out half the yellow squash.”

“But keep the corn?”

“Yes…Just like last year,” Alice says, slowly and carefully.


“Because I want it to be the same.”

The story’s poignancy also doesn’t come from Alice being a coyingly sweet Daddy’s girl. She’s strong-willed, often locking horns with her mom and sometimes losing her patience with Ellie, another bright creation of Harrington’s.

In fact, all the characters are memorable and fully dimensional, even those who appear in only one or two scenes. Though he’s not around for most of the book, Matt’s presence looms large. Angie, Alice’s mom, struggles with parental duties after he leaves but she didn’t sign up to do it alone. They all feel like real people, and that’s what resonated the most. This may be fiction but we know there are real military families like Alice’s everywhere, striving to go on with life after their loved ones go off to war despite feeling as if they’d been hit by emotional IEDs.

Nerd verdict: Deeply moving Bliss

Buy this from Amazon| B&N| Indie Bookstores


Nerd Chat with SHAKEN Authors

When I heard about Shaken: Stories for Japan, the first ever charitable e-book, I knew I wanted to help spread the word. Like everyone else, I was horrified by the disasters in Japan and, because of my childhood, I also know what it’s like to lose everything you own.

The anthology was conceived and edited by Edgar-nominated author Tim Hallinan, who wrote a Japan-themed short story for the anthology and got 19 of his friends to do the same. Author Gar Anthony Haywood created the striking cover. The e-book became available last week on Amazon for $3.99 and the authors are donating all their royalties to the 2011 Japan Relief Fund.

I reached out to Tim and three of the writers—Brett Battles, Naomi Hirahara, and Kelli Stanley—on Friday about doing a Q&A with me and immediately got enthusiastic yeses. Despite their busy schedules (Naomi co-chaired the California Crime Writers Conference this past weekend), they made time for my questions and even sent photos. I think I got a glimpse of the generous spirit everyone has devoted to the project.

Below, the authors discuss their experience with Shaken.

Pop Culture Nerd: If someone can afford to buy only one thing to help out Japan, why should it be Shaken instead of the various other charitable items out there?


Tim Hallinan: The book, as wonderful as it is, is a means to an end, and the end is helping people who have endured one of the new century’s most unimaginable tragedies. One strong argument in favor of the book is that we did a lot of research into the organization to which we would give the project. They had to take nothing for overhead and supervision. Some charities take as much as 40-45%, and the funds could not be regarded as fungible, meaning they couldn’t be diverted to another cause at the organization’s whim. Japan America Society not only met those criteria, but also demonstrated that the organizations to which they gave the money—already active in the disaster area—were similarly clean, were nonprofit and nongovernmental groups that would put every penny to use.

Brett Battles: Not only is 70% of the donation going directly to the relief fund, but you also get something very cool in return! And at $3.99, it’s like buying a latte at the coffee shop. Purchasing a copy of Shaken is easy, inexpensive, and good for the soul.

Naomi Hirahara: The nice thing about this project is that writers donated their time to create short stories that, hopefully, entertain. So by buying Shaken, readers will get something of value while benefiting victims of the earthquake. We [the writers], as Americans and Europeans, also attempted to make connections to things Japanese, so certainly  there’s an element of intercultural dialogue going on.


Kelli Stanley: I really can’t recommend one charitable donation over another—especially if someone has more than $3.99 to donate!—but I will say this: If you enjoy reading, and if you enjoy crime fiction, I think buying and reading Shaken will give you a great deal of pleasure, as well as insight into Japan and Japanese history and culture. The experience will make you feel doubly good about being able to help! Plus, we are hopeful that the success of Tim’s idea will spur other author-driven projects for charity!

PCN: Why did you choose to write and contribute the story you did?

TH: I’ve wanted for years to set a book in the age of silent pictures, when a few people were inventing an art form and an industry at the same time. And I’ve been fascinated for years by Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, the first two Asian stars in Hollywood. I looked up the most disastrous of all Japanese quakes, in terms of lives lost, and there it was: the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which killed more than 100,000 people and essentially leveled Tokyo. I wondered what it would be like to be a Japanese actor starring as yet another Yellow Peril villain when the news of that earthquake finally reached Los Angeles. That was the seed of the story, and the title, “The Silken Claw,” which obviously means nothing whatsoever, immediately came to me as the title of the film my hero was making when this life-changing news reached him.

Let me also say that I took one look at the first few stories that came in and rewrote mine from the first word to the last.  In its original form it was nowhere near good enough to be in a book with the stories the other writers turned in.

BB: At first I considered something set in Japan, but I knew a lot of the other authors would be doing that. I finally decided I’d write a story set in the world of Jonathan Quinn, the protagonist of my [The] Cleaner series, hoping that this would interest some of the series’ fans to pick up the anthology. But I didn’t want to write a Quinn-centric story. I wanted to do something a little different. So I decided to write a story featuring Quinn’s girlfriend Orlando from back when she was just starting in the espionage business. She’s given a simple assignment by her mentor, or, at least, it sounds simple: Pick up a Japanese woman who’s just arrived from Tokyo at Los Angeles International Airport and take her to the house her husband is hiding out in. It’s not very long before Orlando realizes this assignment isn’t quite as simple as she’d been led to believe.

NH: I honestly didn’t think that I would have time to write an original story. I took a look at some old stories and essays inspired by either my family or my year of living in Japan. But they didn’t reflect who I am today as a person or a writer. So I opened the laptop and started recalling the time I lived in a tiny six-mat tatami on the western side of Tokyo. The walls were literally paper thin; I could hear my neighbor, a bachelor, turning the pages of his newspaper. But I never really saw him. I thought that could be a seed of a story reminiscent of a past Tokyo.

KS: When Tim contacted me, I’d just returned from Left Coast Crime to find that my home had been burgled. It was a very traumatic experience—one that you don’t recover from quickly—and I thought the best way I could turn the angst around was to take my sense of loss and anger and refocus it into doing some good, maybe transmute the karma! Like everyone else, I’d been following the devastation in Japan and wished I could do more to help. Writing the story helped me to deal with what I was going through, which of course was nothing in comparison to the enormous tragedy of the tsunami and quakes.

The Golden Gate refugee camp

Since I write about and live in San Francisco, quakes are always in the back of my mind. We live with the fear daily, and writing about the Great Quake of ’06 seemed a natural fit. I did a bit of research on the treatment of the Japanese at that time, and discovered that the militia pressed them into slave labor. The story took shape from there. Racism and other forms of social bigotry are strong themes in my books.

PCN: Have you ever been to Japan, do you plan to visit, or know someone who’s there right now?

TH: I have friends in Japan, but they’re mostly in Tokyo or even father away from the real disaster zone. They went through a lot, and some lost friends and acquaintances. I don’t mean to minimize any of that, but it was all at a remove.

BB: I do have friends who live in Japan, but all are safe, thankfully. Shaken up, but safe.

Naomi at the Peace Park in Hiroshima after graduating from college

NH: My husband and I were actually planning to go to Japan last year to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, but a family illness kept us stateside. In addition to living there for a year after college, I had visited Japan often as a child. Most of my mother’s relatives live in Japan, but on the southern side. I don’t know anyone who experienced direct losses, but I know many friends of friends who were affected. One of my Japanese acquaintances owns a seed company and is very worried about the future of farming in Japan due to radiation fallout.

KS: I have never been, but I really hope to visit someday. In high school, I had a Japanese pen pal. I was always drawn to the country, its beauty and traditions. I’m lucky enough to live in a city with a strong Japanese population and history, but I certainly do hope to see Japan!

PCN: What was the most surprising thing that came out of your participation in this project?

TH: The breadth of the book. I was in a special position because I was the only one who read the stories as they came in, and the only one who had read all of them before the book was finished. I was sort of staggered by the breadth of subject matter. These stories deal with every kind of earthquake—physical, emotional, spiritual. I think people figure writers are probably pretty much alike, but that’s just wildly untrue, and anyone who reads this book will meet twenty people who couldn’t be much more different and remain members of the same species.

The BEST thing that’s come out of the book for me, on a personal level, is that I’ve spent the last 8-10 weeks in the company of people who are operating from the best and most compassionate aspects of their characters. It’s been unforgettable.

Tim & Brett supposedly working on SHAKEN but it looks like lunch

BB: Without a doubt, how quickly it came together. Without the revolution in e-books, this would never have been possible. The same could be said about Tim. His relentless spirit and drive is really what made this thing happen. He saw a way to help, then put his head down and made it happen. I’ve always admired him, but even more so now.

NH: Once I chose to write from a Japanese man’s point of view, the story flowed very quickly.

KS: Probably how easy and seamless it was. Tim kept all of us informed on the various stages. We all contributed input on cover design (and isn’t Gar’s cover wonderful?), on pricing, etc. It was a team effort directed by one of the most selfless and noble people out there (and one of the best writers). So many great ideas can get bogged down, but that never happened with Shaken. Tim kept us all focused, and everyone pitched in with such incredible goodwill that the project has been an absolute joy from start to finish. And now, of course, we hope to sell as many copies as possible, to raise as much money as possible, and really appreciate you and other bloggers helping us get the word out!!


You heard what Kelli said!

A thousand thanks to Tim, Brett, Naomi and Kelli for chatting with me. For more information on Shaken, click here. To buy it, click here.

Photos provided by authors or from their websites


Stalker Award Winners

I’m happy to announce the winners of the inaugural Stalker Awards, given to crime fiction books and authors readers are obsessed with, voted on by genre fans at large. The races were extremely tight, with leaders changing by the hour in several categories. This was exciting to me because it means the contenders were evenly matched and each had an ardent fan base.

I was also encouraged by the notes I received after nominees were revealed last week. One reader said he’d check out at least one of the underrated authors, another said she loved the opening sentences and will start paying more attention to them, and yet another said he’s already making mental notes about books and authors he’ll nominate for next year’s awards. I’m not trying to boast that I influenced anyone’s reading habits. The nominees were determined by crime fic readers so you did that. Thank you. I hope you had fun participating.

Congratulations to the following winners:

Favorite Novel

The First Rule by Robert Crais (36% of votes)

Favorite Lead Character

Joe Pike from The First Rule (38%)

Favorite Supporting Character

Elvis Cole from The First Rule (47%)

Best Opening Sentence

“The night they were hijacked, Roxy Palmer and her husband, Joe, ate dinner with an African cannibal and his Ukrainian whore.” —Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith (37%)

Most Memorable Dialogue

Savages by Don Winslow (39%)

Best Title

Hello Kitty Must Die by Angela S. Choi (44%)

Most Eye-Catching Cover

Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski (43%)

Favorite Author on Social Media — Tie

Hilary Davidson and Duane Swierczynski, both with 27% of the votes

Most Underrated Author

Charlie Huston (41%)