Some Conventional Wisdom

Gerrie Ferris FingerRetired journalist for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, in 2009, Gerrie Ferris Finger won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Minotaur Best First Traditional Novel Competition for The End Game, released by St. Martin’s Minotaur in 2010. She grew up in Missouri, then headed further south to join the staff of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There, she researched and edited the columns of humorist Lewis Grizzard and co-wrote a news column with another reporter for three years. The series that started there is still going strong today. Running with Wild Blood was released in January 2015.

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I signed up for Bouchercon 2015, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina. I love it when a major convention comes South because I can drive there and save a bunch of money.

Conventions, writer’s conferences, festivals and fan-cons cost money and for those of you who put out money to make money, be aware it’s hard to come by and even harder to measure your gain. So, how do you make the most of your time and money, and get the best results?

To profit from your visit to a writer’s conference, festival, convention, or fan-con, you must focus on why you’re going, and how it benefits you and your work. If it’s promotional, then what are you going to do to promote yourself and your books once you get there? If it’s to have fun, just go, don’t worry, have fun.

Let’s take the fun part first. Large or small, these are all social events. You’ve got to travel to get there, spend money and time in hotels, (unless you can crash with a relative), buy meals, spend for miscellaneous purchases, books or memorabilia and bar tabs (with or without liquor) because you’re there to have fun. For fun in the sun, if you’ve got the cash, the Maui Conference can’t be beat. There will be a lot of agents and editors attending because it’s Maui after all. Chances of your scoring one are not great.

Gerrie at Decatur 10

Gerrie at Decatur 10

When first starting out, it’s wise to choose a mainland regional festival or con within driving distance. I travel in the Southeast to festivals like the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta, and the Cape Fear Crime Festival in Wilmington, N. C. Both are excellent as are several in Alabama, Tennessee and Florida, including the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America’s Sleuthfest. Here is a list of some well-known conferences, festivals, cons, etc. http://inreferencetomurder.com/html/conferences.html

Fan-cons are the fun conventions. These are the least expensive cons. Lots are regional. They are run by people who volunteer because they love their genres—mystery fan cons, comic fan cons, Sci-fi fan cons, dragon fan cons. All kinds of cons. It’s a great learning experience. And fun!

Usually new writers start with workshops and retreats. These events focus on teaching aspiring authors how to improve writing skills and then get on the road to publishing. Most of the good ones will provide opportunities to meet with agents, editors and published authors.

Okay, you’ve written a book and gotten an agent and are on the path to publication, maybe have a contract, but not yet rolling in advances and royalties. Where can you go to get the most out of your publicity fund? Most mid-level conventions like Killer Nashville have excellent panels and are fun to boot. If you can’t hook up with a panel, attend the sessions, talk to fellow writers and hang out at the bar. At the annual Malice Domestic in Virginia where my first novel and I made our convention debut, I met a bunch of writers in the lounge. All were eager to talk about their work. I hung on every word because I was a newbie and wanted to soak up their success and make it mine as soon as possible.

Running With Wild BloodBig Organization Conventions are yearly events and run by large writers’ organizations like the International Thriller Writers. Thrillerfest is held annually in New York City. You’ll need a relative there with a spare cot. You can rub shoulders with greatness, but the chances for an elevator pitch are few. You can learn from them, and they can be awesome, but if you’re weighing going to a big con over something smaller and cheaper, consider again that the professionals are rarely at these big cons to find new clients—they’re there to praise and further the steps to bestsellerdom for their current clients.

That’s not to say it’s a waste of time. If it was I wouldn’t be going to the World Mystery Convention, also known as Bouchercon—named for Anthony Boucher, a celebrated mystery author. Bouchercon is said to be the oldest major mystery convention going. I have five published series books by an excellent publisher and decided it’s time to try the big leagues. I registered early and requested a panel seat—even volunteered to be a moderator. While Bouchercon is an international convention, it’s also a fan con. Just an expensive one. Venues change from coast-to-coast across the United States and it’s been held in Canada and England. But I will always go back to my regional festivals. It’s fun to see familiar faces that ask how my dog is doing.

Wherever you go, make friends, be cool. And hang at the bar.

 

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An Excerpt from The Prince’s Doom by David Blixt

The Prince's Doom Tour Banner

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Title: The Prince’s Doom
Series: Star-Cross’d
Author: David Blixt
Publisher: Sordelet Ink
Publication Date: December 23. 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Synopsis

The long-awaited explosive fourth novel in the Star-Cross’d series!
Verona has won its war with Padua, but lost its war with the stars.
The young prodigy Cesco now turns his troubled brilliance to darker
purposes, embracing a riotous life and challenging not only the lord of
Verona and the Church, but the stars themselves. Trying desperately to
salvage what’s left of his spirit, for once Pietro Alaghieri welcomes the
plots and intrigues of the Veronese court, hoping they will shake the
young man out of his torpor. But when the first body falls, it becomes
clear that this new game is deadly, one that will doom them all.

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Goodreads

Purchase Link:

Amazon Buy Button

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The Star Cross’d Series

Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante,
and the history of Italy, the Star-Cross’d Series is a tale of wars won,
friendships lost, and conspiracies both mortal and stellar, an epic
journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the
best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett.

Titles in the Star Cross’d Series

Book One: Master of Verona
Book Two: Voice of the Falconer
Book Three: Fortune’s Fool
Book Four: The Prince’s Doom

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An Excerpt from The Prince’s Doom

Detto was pacing Cesco’s chamber when the master of the house returned. He heard his cousin’s voice on the stairs and, when the door opened, Detto punched him full in the face. “You go too far!”

The Prince's Doom“Che cazzo!” Cesco launched himself at Detto, and the two pummeled at each other with such fury that Maddelena wept and Antonia ordered the servants to fetch buckets of water to douse the pair. Before cold water could be thrown over them, however, Detto had bolted himself in his room, leaving Cesco bleeding in two places and nursing a twisted wrist.

“Fut,” said Cesco thickly. Opening the window, he broke off an icicle and pressed it to his swollen lip. “Welcome to the asylum.”

“What was that about?” demanded Antonia.

“I thought it would help.”

“What?” Antonia’s tone was edged as she straightened up the wreckage of the room.

“Detto and Lord Nogarola. I tried to effect a little reconciliation. Obviously I failed.”

From stern, Antonia’s heart swelled. He was not lost – not yet.

Seeing her expression, Cesco snorted and turned away to stare out the window at the lowering sky. “I wonder if it wouldn’t be better that the della Scala and Nogarola families had left their friendship down at the bottom of the well in the volto dei Centurioni. Friendship’s Tomb, they could call it, and…”

Antonia set down the chair she was righting. “What is it?”

“I know where she is,” he said simply.

“Who?”

Cesco shook his head and refused to say more.

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About the Author

David BlixtAuthor and playwright David Blixt’s work is consistently described as “intricate,” “taut,” and “breathtaking.” A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the early Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS’D series, including THE MASTER OF VERONA, VOICE OF THE FALCONER, FORTUNE’S FOOL, and THE PRINCE’S DOOM) up through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY’S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as inept spies). His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, “Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It’s well worth it.” Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as “actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order.”

For more information please visit David Blixt’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Praise for David Blixt

‘For anyone who has yet to read David’s novels, you are
about to hit the literary lottery. Yes, he’s that good.’
–Sharon Kay Penman, The Sunne In Splendour

‘David Blixt is a master of historical fiction. Dramatic, vivid, superbly
researched, this series captures Renaissance Italy in all its heady
glamour and lethal intrigue.’–C.W. Gortner, The Tudor Conspiracy

‘This is one of the most exciting, and satisfying, reads that I have
immersed myself in for a long time. David Blixt is a gem
of a writer.’ –Helen Hollick, The Pendragon Chronicles

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Follow the tour here.

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Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Book Review: Dial Up for Murder by Clem Chambers—and a Giveaway!

Dial Up for MurderDial Up for Murder
The Hacker Chronicles Book 1
Clem Chambers
CreateSpace, November 2014
ISBN 9781503179981
Trade Paperback

Fascinating. Funny. Clever, and, at the end, rife with tension-filled risk. Today, most of us have some sense of the shorthand of text messaging. In the mid-1980’s that was a skill yet to be mastered. Digital technology and communication thereby gained was still only on the horizon for many people.

But, as is true of so many inventions of the clever human intellect, there is almost always a potential for evil, as well as for good. Here we have a young man, Peter Talbot, by name, who has built upon a rock of a computer, a modest information service. Forces of both good and evil immediately discover ways to use Peter and his service for their own ends. The resulting expansion is making Peter a wealthy man, but it is also making him vulnerable to forces that first would use him and then destroy him. Will he win out in the end?

Like many English crime novels, the story is heavily populated with quirky, unusual, and odd characters and ordinary folks who act in quirky and odd ways. Consider George, an old ex-paratrooper who is at odds with the world. When he saves Peter from undesirable attention, Peter offers him a job. A shadowy figure we are expected to accept at face value, apparently some sort of government spook, enjoins Peter to provide client information, some of whom are obviously on the wrong side of the law, prostitution and espionage appear in the mix. Young hackers or computer game developers wander in and out and then the American Mob show up.

Readers will have already caught on to the odd style, often cheeky observations of the characters, the unusual and often abrupt short—hand style that cuts off potentially tedious descriptive passages. The author employs a sometimes wild narrative style that fits well with the story and the characters.

There are some aspects of the book that may put readers off. Logical progression sometimes is let go by the boards in favor of a faster pace. Foregone conclusions and almost-obvious results crop up from time to time. Still, the characters are charming if mis-identified. Talbot, for example, is not a computer hacker, he’s a smart, up-coming young businessman. He’s also wise beyond his years, careful around murderers, fit enough to get out of tight scrapes and has a way with certain female characters.

High tension, screaming car chases, a brief air-borne chase, guns and bombs all make this a delightful cyber-crime reading experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, February 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

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Leave a comment below to enter the drawing
for a print copy of Dial Up for Murder
. There
will be three winners and the winning names
will be
drawn on Tuesday evening, March 31st.

Open internationally.

Book Review: Deadly Bonds by L.J. Sellers

Deadly BondsDeadly Bonds
A Detective Jackson Mystery #9
L.J. Sellers
Thomas & Mercer, August 2014
ISBN 978-1477824306
Trade Paperback

A runaway mother is murdered, her three-year-old son discovered hiding in the crawlspace of the rundown house where they’ve been living. Squatters or hiding out?

A college football star is found dead in his bathroom, apparently of a heart attack. But was it?

A young man and his girlfriend are in a car accident. He lives, she doesn’t. Her baby son survives her. How to create a new family?

All of these cases turn out to be connected, with motivations and suspects blending in a convoluted way. Figuring out the clues will take all of Eugene, Oregon’s best cops.

Deadly Bonds is a ripping good murder mystery, with Detective Wade Jackson on the case. He’s got an excellent group of people backing him up, including Detective Lara Evans, who is more than half in love with him. He also has a fiancée, Kera, and her life has also just gotten more complicated.

The book is about more than just murder. Author L.J.Sellers has written a heartwarming story that shows the true meaning of family.

The college culture, especially concerning the emphasis on sports–and the partying–is deftly dealt with, enough to make this reader shake her head. Even so, the circumstances might well be ripped from today’s headlines.

Loved the twist on how, and why, the football star died. It’s worth reading the book for just that one thing, although of course, the whole story is sure to keep you engrossed. The writing is excellent, the characters are fully fleshed, the setting is well explored.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, September 2014.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

Some Tools for Putting Humor Into a Cozy

Sally Carpenter 2Sally Carpenter is a native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif

She has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school, her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

The Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series is comprised of: The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper, a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel; The Sinister Sitcom Caper and The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper.

Her short stories are: “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in,” in the 2013 anthology Last Exit to Murder; “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” in the Plan B: Omnibus anthology; and “The Pie-eyed Spy” in the Nov. 23, 2013, issue of Kings River Life ezine.

She blogs at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com.

She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles chapter. Contact her at Facebook or scwriter@earthlink.net.

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Recently I’ve read a number of posts on various blogs about using humor in writing mysteries. Describing what makes something funny is as difficult as explaining why water is wet. But here are my thoughts.

Cozies tend to use more humor than thrillers, noir and hard-boiled fiction. The latter three are more focused on maintaining suspense and in presenting a darker side of humanity. Cozies are as interested in character and in family/community life as in solving a mystery. By their nature, cozies are more suitable vehicles in examining the foibles and silliness of human nature.

Cozy humor is generally not comprised of jokes but is subtle and situation-based. In fact, cozies are the “sitcoms “ of the mystery world. It’s true. The structure and humor of a cozy/traditional mystery is similar to that of a sitcom in that it’s situation- and character-based.

In a sitcom, the story is set in a specific community/home life with a cast of colorful, likeable characters who find their world disrupted by a new situation each week (or in the case of cozy, a murder). The story ends when order is restored and the characters return to their normal routines. Classic TV sitcoms are good reference guides for building cozy characters.

Some cozies use slapstick, an exaggerated form of humor that’s difficult to write, as it’s more visual than verbal. Some writers can do this well, although an overuse can turn the story into a farce. Think of slapstick as seasoning; use a pinch and not a whole cup.

One trademark of cozies is the verbal banter, often between a female protagonist and a male cop/love interest. Witty insults work. As an example, Shakespeare’s romances are a classic form of lovers teasing and taunting each other.

Here are more tips of injecting humor into a cozy:

1) Eccentric protagonist. Columbo, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot are just a few of the oddball sleuths who have captivated mystery lovers. In developing such a character an author must remember that despite all of his/her quirks, the sleuth must still be sharp enough to solve the case and not a scatterbrain.

2) Fish out of water. Place the sleuth in a setting that’s uncomfortable and unfamiliar. The urban debutante spends a week working on her uncle’s pig farm. The boozy playboy is on a bus full of Sunday School teachers. The science nerd is trapped in a room full of jocks. Make the protagonist squirm.

3) Sidekicks. Comedy teams of Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Martin and Lewis, and George and Gracie Burns, and “buddy” movies like “Beverly Hills Cop”—humor often comes in pairs. In comedy, opposites attract. Put two polar-opposite people together and watch the fun fly.

4) Ensemble. If two are funny, then three or more are a merry crowd. Have a sleuth work with several friends or acquaintances to solve the crime. Have multiple characters sharing ideas, chasing clues together and individually, and butting heads.

5) Eye of the storm. The normal, sensible protagonist is surrounded by a goofy array of supporting characters and suspects. The heroine is trying to keep her wits while handling the nuttiness going on around her.

6) Wacky relations. Similar to no. 5, one family member is dealing with a crazy clan. Unfortunately, this scenario has become an overused cozy cliché. Authors should remember, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” That is, a person raised by zany people will have to work hard to break away from those tendencies and will probably still express some of those characteristics.

The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper7) Fun setting. In my WIP, the murder originally took place in an office building. The story seemed forced; I wasn’t enjoying it. So I moved the murder to an old art deco theater with a four-manual Wurlitzer stage organ. Voila! My muse perked up.

Put your sleuth in an unusual locale. How about a murder in an amusement park, county fair, Renaissance festival, candy factory, magic store, ice cream parlor or at a championship cat show?

Two more things to keep in mind. Even in a funny story, characters must be realistic, fleshed out, three-dimensional people. Stereotypes and stock comedy characters should be used sparingly if at all.

And also, there’s nothing funny in the act of murder itself. Treat the body with respect, even if the victim was a jerk. Characters should react with sensitivity and compassion to the victim’s family, unless a character is suppose to be an absolute cad.

Happy writing!

Book Review: Revolution by Deborah Wiles

RevolutionRevolution
The Sixties Trilogy #2
Deborah Wiles
Scholastic Press, May 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-10607-8
Hardcover

This book is imperative. I implore teachers, librarians, book sellers and book reviewers: please do not let this rest on a shelf. The time is now.

Revolution is fiction because our plucky, strident narrator Sunny and her family are fictitious. The history shared; sadly, is not. A devastating, despicable, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning account of the incomprehensible influence of a few small-minded, hate-filled, yet surprisingly powerful, white men throwing their weight around to stop any and all strides towards race equality is all too true. Ms. Wiles unravels the tragedies with honesty, raw emotion and kindness and hope. She masterfully represents two dramatically different views while, most importantly, centering on the third view.

Having a twelve-year old girl, adjusting to life with her cherished father and new step-family, a rarity itself in Mississippi in 1964, Ms. Wiles simultaneously opens the reader’s mind. Sunny is smart, and like so many of us at that age, she has the world figured out. As the daughter of a store-keep that has always catered to both Negro and White clientele, she fancies herself as a modern-day thinker.

As her small town fills with volunteers to assist Black Voter Registration for Freedom Day, Sunny learns that there is much more to the individuals that make up her family and community. From her vantage point, being somewhat removed, she is able to see the whole picture and in doing so, is forced to reevaluate her own opinion. Further, she learns that she has the option to make a difference and possibly influence others. Few things move me more than passion for what is right, and this fiery little girl is filled.

Adding this engrossing, motivating read are pictures straight out of Mississippi. If Ms. Wiles’ prose doesn’t jar the reader, I assure you these photographs deliver the punch. History, accompanied by humanity, is so very important for growth and development and it is somewhat disappointing to me that so many of the facets of this time were glaringly omitted from my text-books. Muhammad Ali’s role in the Civil Rights Movement is a bit awe-inspiring and quite frankly, explanatory. If ever there was a tome to whole-heartedly support for required reading, it is Revolution. Being appropriate for Middle-Grade readers in no way excludes High School Students/Young Adults or Not-So-Young Adults like me. I genuinely believe that most readers will learn something new, and I’m confident that, regardless of the reader’s age, emotions will be stirred.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2014.

Book Reviews: Inspector Specter by E.J. Copperman and The Accident by Chris Pavone

Inspector SpecterInspector Specter
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #6
E.J. Copperman
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2014
ISBN: 978-0-425-26926-8
Mass Market Paperback

Alison Kerby returns in the newest Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious eleven-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father. It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts. She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’  As the book begins, her paying guests number six (delightfully including Joe Guglielmelli and Bonnie Claeson, real-life former owners of the sorely-missed Black Orchid Books in Manhattan).

Allison is asked by Det. Lt. Anita McElone of the Harbor Haven Police Department to look into the death of Martin Ferry, McElone’s ex-partner in the Seaside Heights Police Dept., which those cops had labeled death caused by accidental discharge of his gun, but which she thinks is murder. Alison’s ability to conduct a proper investigation is hampered a bit by the fact that she has to baby-sit the eleventh-month-old son of her best friend, Jeannie, but with help from her ghostly assistants, she proceeds. There are disturbing hints that the detective may not have been completely honest.

Of her parents, Allison says “They have a great marriage, despite her being widowed.”  Of her father particularly:  “he almost never turns down a request I make (and never turns down a request Melissa makes; it’s like he was born to be a grandfather and, thanks to the miracle of ghost technology, is finally getting the chance to fulfill his true destiny.)”

The writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.

My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2014.

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The AccidentThe Accident
Chris Pavone
Broadway Books, January 2015
ISBN: 978-0-385-34847-8
Trade Paperback

The Accident is, nominally, about a manuscript which bears that title, the author shown as “Anonymous.”  It is a memoir (perhaps), an expose or unauthorized biography (possibly), of an international media mogul (think Rupert Murdoch), with some little-known (or until now unknown) and potentially ruinous events in his past, most shockingly the one which gives the book its title, the person who wrote it identified only as “the author.”  But more importantly, the novel, written with a sly humor, provides an inside look at the publishing industry, in ever greater danger of extinction, that is as fascinating (in a schadenfreude kind of way) as that ostensible main story line. We are told the “the publishing business is a business, and books are published for an audience to buy from bookstores, who buy units from distributors who order cartons from publishers who acquire titles from literary agencies who sign up careers from authors, money changing hands at every transaction.”

The book opens with the surveillance of a woman, as yet unnamed, by a man watching a live video feed as she lies in bed, reading, typical of the espionage, literal and figurative, found here.

The manuscript, hand-delivered to the office of Isabel Reed, a powerful literary agent in New York, is full of shocking revelations implicating, e.g., various American presidents and CIA directors, and is, almost literally, dynamite, putting those few individuals who are privy to its contents in mortal danger. On the other hand, each of those individuals, initially at least, see in it their salvation. Written from their various points of view, the novel takes the reader from New York to Zurich, Copenhagen and Los Angeles, all of it taking place in a single day, and exposes the staggering machinations which routinely abound in the publishing industry. The reader is treated to brief excerpts from the manuscript, interspersed periodically, as it is read by the players in that select group.

With wonderfully well-drawn characters, this is a terrific read, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2015.