We’re just about to roll into the long Labor Day Weekend, and the fall publishing season starts in earnest next week, which makes this Short Attention Span week. Since this is also the official second anniversary of the newsletter (and, according to Evelyn’s calendar, the fourth anniversary of Mark’s publishing house), we figure we’re going to turn this week over to Mark. Which is an odd thing to say, really, since he’s sort of in charge of the words here every week, but rather, we’re going to pull back the curtain slightly and show you the grumpy gnome we’ve got chained to the desk in the back room.
A number of you have asked who writes the Blind Date, Dare Books, and the new mass market paperback Blind Dates. That’s our boy, Mark, and we’ve asked him to provide the same snarky commentary on what he’s produced since this newsletter started. Also, by forcing him to list what he’s actually accomplished in the last two years, maybe he'll stop with the incessant fussing he's been doing all summer.
Because we’re being strict about the timeline, we sort of jump in media res with Planning, Plotting, and Progress, his preciously titled second writing book. Basically, it’s “Butt in Chair and Other Writing Tips,” but he flinched at the last minute and went with the triple P title instead. Foolishly, because “Butt in Chair” would have sold more copies, and not just because it gets to the heart of the matter more quickly.
Other than that, it’s a companion volume to his Jumpstart Your Novel handbook, and in Planning, Plotting, and Progress (God! That title!) he talks about the Nine Box Model of Getting Sh*t done, which works fairly well when you actually engage with the process. He also wanders off into the weeds and does some theory talk about mapping a book outline to a number of narrative structures to help you get from Point A to Point B. If you’ve started a book and can’t seem to figure out how to finish the damn thing, Planning, Plotting, and Progress might come in handy. If you like charts showing how your book is just like Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey or the Celtic Cross tarot card spread, he’s got those for you too.
Shortly after this helpful tome came out, he dropped The Potemkin Mosaic, which is not helpful. Not in the slightest. The pitch for this book is that it is like Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves if the titular house wrote an introspective memoir. Oh, and the house is schizophrenic. The Potemkin Mosaic is a rescue narrative wherein Harry Potemkin, a black market psychopharmacologist (a guy who does dream editing for really messed up people), attempts to discover who is editing him (which may just be his own psychotic self-doubt talking to him, frankly) while also building a personality matrix so that he can recreate himself should TH3y deconstruct him.
See? Totally cleared that up, didn’t we?
This book wanders into the blind date stacks every once in a while. You’ll know it by the writing that obscures the marketing copy (and by marketing copy, we mean the total BS summary that was written by Trinity Pharmacopeaia to entice you to read the book). Harry’s trying to warn you . . .
Anyway, after that brain bake, how about something a little easier? How about a light-hearted detective novel featuring Butch Bliss, an ex-con ex-porn star? After shilling books in the aisles for a year or two, Mark realized that the old staples of genre fiction were still selling, even though certain authors had moved on. “Who is filling the void now that Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, and John D. MacDonald are gone?” he asked. “And why do we like Jack Reacher? Because he is the dourest man alive.”
We all shrugged, and Mark went off and answered his own damn questions. And apparently had a pretty decent time doing it as well. In Hidden Palms, the first Bliss book, we meet Butch several years after he’s gotten out of jail. He’s asked by an old producer friend to find a missing person, and the resulting search lands Butch in all sorts of trouble. As a recent fan said: “I guess I liked it. It’s twenty-seven chapters of talking, and then people start shooting at each other and stuff blows up.”
It’s a perfect book, in other words.
Recently, he wrote a prequel. It’s called In & Out. And yes, some day, the titles will stop being thinly veiled entendre, but that’s next year. In & Out is meant to introduce you to Butch without the heavy burden of twenty-seven chapters of talking before stuff starts blowing up. In & Out is only six chapters long, and it’s, uh, six chapters of talking . . .
But it’s funny! And short. And you can probably read it while sitting in one of the comfy chairs at the store. Sneak it back on the shelf when you’re done, and we’ll never know!
For those of you who get hooked on Bliss, though, the sequel will be coming out in *ahem* a few weeks. In Snake Road, Butch and a quartet of drunk co-eds head to Mexico in a sexy red Mercedes (because he’s been subtle about the fact that he’s smuggling a snake across the border, duh!), and then things get worse from there. Fewer things blow up, but there’s more shooting and lots of talking. Some of it is really awkward. Not awkwardly written. Awkward in that “I can’t believe your mom just stuck her tongue in my ear” sort of way.
What? Your family holiday gatherings aren’t like that? Well, that’s what fiction is for. Providing opportunities for vicarious living. With stuff blowing up every once in a while. But only after lots of talking.
[Look, we realize we’re giving Mark grief about a lack of things blowing up, but that’s on purpose. Lots of things blew up in his first book, Lightbreaker—which, coincidentally, was re-released during this time period, so it totally counts, thank you very much—and we think he’s done more than his share of property destruction for a few books yet, okay?]
It’s not all sun-dappled LA noir, though. Later this year, we’ll have Silence of Angels, a return to Mark’s esoteric roots (as first evidenced in Lightbreaker, in fact; see how we managed that transition?). Silence is all about ghosts—our own personal ghosts, the ghosts of history, and the ghosts of the landscapes we inhabit. It is grounded in the thoroughly haunted lands of New Mexico, and its protagonist is Salvatora Quagmire, a woman who has been running from her special talents for a long time. She comes home when she realizes she may be the only Quagmire left, and she falls into the orbit of old narratives that aren't entirely written. This one has weird science, spooky sh*t, and a badass protagonist who may be our only hope when the Old Horrors breach the veil between worlds and try to suck our brains out through our nostrils.
What? Your family holiday gatherings aren’t like that?
And if that’s not your bag, how about Thrush, a old-school Western, but with monsters? Way way back, in the dawn of newsletter time, Mark went off and tried to write a straight Western starring a laconic Civil War sharpshooter named Elmore Stonebrook, but he got halfway through a draft and realized the book needed a sidekick. He regrouped and introduced Judge Willard Vernon Wallace, a man who used to be a US Circuit Judge, but who left that gig to go serve a higher calling. Naturally, the Judge took over the story, and so Mark had to introduce a werewolf subplot just to temper the Judge’s flamboyant personality. There’s a lot of talking and some excessive recounting of poker hands (which is writer code for killing time while figuring what is supposed to happen next), but stuff blows up nicely in the end.
Our man Rich is a fan of Stonebrook and the Judge, and given the chance, he’ll totally talk you into harassing Mark about writing the next one sooner. It’s going to be about giant bugs, and will be historically accurate. Well, maybe not the giant part, but the bug part will be. Sorta. [There's a long-standing bit of hilarity that goes on in the store where Mark fusses about being historically accurate with Thrush, and then Rich looks at him and says, "You have WEREWOLVES in it." And then Mark wanders off, properly reminded that what he should be worrying about is a page rate that will keep Rich happy.]
Naturally, we have the books that are already out, and we’ll get the new ones several weeks before everyone else, because we’re special like that.
We’ll return to our regular snarky coverage of new book releases next week, after the holiday, and we may even sneak out an extra edition of the newsletter in a valiant—but futile—effort to encompass the new releases.