While I was clicking around, thinking about how to introduce Bill Cameron in a way that wouldn’t bring too much of a blush to his ever-smiling face, I kept coming across the phrase New Century Noir. Indeed, it’s the perfect descriptive phrase for Bill’s work. Bill always delivers delicious mysteries, but his heroes are flawed and have a heck of a lot of heart–and his women aren’t afraid of letting the world know that they can take care of themselves, thank you very much!
His second novel Chasing Smoke is available now from Bleak House Books. And if you can get to “M” is for Mystery on October 30th, The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles on the 31st, or to the Men of Mystery event in Irvine on November 1st, give Bill a big hug for me. I won’t tell you any more about him and his work, though–I’ll leave that to the eloquent man himself.
(Oh, btw–Chasing Smoke received a starred review from Library Journal. Yay, Bill!)
Laura’s willingness to include me in Octoberguest! shows that her mighty heart has room even for riff raff! Thank you for letting me in today, Laura. I hope I don’t muck up the place too much. I did brush most of the dirt off my shoes, so I bet I leave hardly any at all on the coffee table. I also promise not to cuss or spit too much!
Today is a particularly exciting day for me, because in addition to being a guest here, tonight marks my first appearance promoting my new book Chasing Smoke. I’ll be reading and signing for the first time in the wild. (To be fair, Chasing Smoke was available last weekend at Bouchercon, but this is the first time I’ll be in a bookstore to promote it). I’m feeling edgy and nervous but also thrilled. In few short hours I will I will stand in front of whoever makes it out to Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing (not the mothership store in downtown Portland, but the wonderful Beaverton location) and hope I don’t sound like a fumble-tongued dolt. Thanks to Laura, I get to practice here first.
Chasing Smoke is the story of homicide detective Thomas “Skin” Kadash. Skin is on medical leave from the Portland Police Bureau, and just wants to survive cancer treatment so he can get back to the work that defines him. But when his partner Susan Mulvane tries to drag him into an unofﬁcial investigation of a series of deaths, he’s not interested — he’s dead-dog sick and doesn’t need the grief — until Susan reveals the victims all suffered from cancer themselves, and all had one thing in common with Skin. His oncologist. The story is a first person narrative, an intimate view of a man confronting his own mortality after a career ass-deep in the mortality of others.
Chasing Smoke follows my debut, Lost Dog, a book in which Skin has a supporting role, one of the cops investigating a series of murders. But Lost Dog is not a Skin novel, not book one in a series, just as Chasing Smoke is not book two.
When you look at the mystery and thriller marketplace these days, the safe money is found in series, and I can see why. As a reader, I often gravitate to series myself. But as a writer, I find that each new project needs to offer a new challenge to me as a writer. Certainly keeping a series fresh and dynamic offers its own challenges, but I seem to need something else. I want each book to be a chance to attempt new narrative styles, find my way into differing voices, which is a goal that’s typically at odds which traditional series. The trick for me was to find a way to write the kinds of books I want to write, striking off in new directions with each new outing while also recognizing and working to satisfy the demands and desires of the marketplace.
The solution is what I’ve been calling related standalones. Chasing Smoke and Lost Dog exist in the same universe, but each effectively stand on their own. Neither relies on the other. You can read the books in either order. A number of characters overlap, but significant characters in each don’t appear in the other. Lost Dog is a third person story, with an alternating point of view between antagonist and protagonist. Chasing Smoke is a sharply focused first person. Their connection is seen in the world that I’ve tried to create. Common characters, common settings, but a different view of each. While I don’t want to shift the focus away from Chasing Smoke here, I want to add that I’m currently at work on a third related standalone. Skin returns, but in some ways he’s back to a supporting roll—at least, he’s not the central focus the way he is in Chasing Smoke. The new book features multiple points of view, multiple tenses, multiple voices.
I don’t know if this will turn out to be a successful formula in the long run. I do know it’s part of what I need to do as writer to feel challenged and engaged, and which I hope provides the best opportunity to help me grow as a writer. And, of course, I don’t think I’ve invented some amazing new concept. I’m simply feeling my way into a model that I hope works for readers.
As a writer, one of the most exciting aspects of this approach is the opportunity to explore character in particular from differing perspectives. In Lost Dog, Skin is seen exclusively through the eyes of the protagonist, Peter McKrall. What Peter sees in Skin in Lost Dog is not what Skin sees in himself in Chasing Smoke. So in that regard, the related standalone can provide the reader with an experience not unlike a more traditional series while expanding and enlarging on the model.
Now comes the question. Will readers agree? I sure hope so!
I’d love to hear other thoughts on the place of series, standalones, and interrelated worlds. As readers, what do you look for first? If you are a series adherent, what do you think of the idea of related standalones? If your preference is one-offs, might you be lured in by this kind of approach?
Thank you again to the lovely and talented Laura for inviting me today. Hopefully I didn’t leave too many sticky fingerprints or too much mud on the carpet!
[Remember–Everyone who comments is entered to win $100 Godiva Chocolatier and Harry & David giftbaskets, plus books from several Octoberguest! authors! Drawing held November 2nd.]
Tomorrow: Sure, Fluffy’s going to look sweet in her stylish Halloween ensemble, but will she be safe on Halloween? Amy Shojai, pet (owner) behavior maven and author is in the Handbasket.