I spent ten glorious days on book tour in the UK for THE KILLING PLACE. (It’s the same book as ICE COLD, but in the UK, it’s published under a different title.) Tours in the US can fraught with anxiety. Because the country is so large, you’re always hurrying to catch a plane, worried that your flight won’t take off in time or be cancelled, worried that you’ll miss an event. But in the UK, my publisher makes everything so easy. My wonderful publicist Alison Barrow or one of her assistants always travels with me. And our travel is a breeze because of this man. I call him the mysterious Bradley Rose because he hates to have his photo taken, but I caught him at a vulnerable moment, over his boiled egg. (His name was immortalized as the evil Bradley Rose in my book THE KEEPSAKE. And Mo Hayder, another Transworld author, had a character named Rose Bradley in one of her books!)

My tour started off in Edinburgh, where I spoke at the International Book Festival. It was part of the larger Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a city-wide celebration of performing arts that draws people from all over the world. Every hour of the day and night, there are multiple performances in various venues, everything from dance to drama to comedy to music. I got a chance to attend one dance performance: amazing, funny, and truly creative!

After Edinburgh, it was off to Newcastle and York, where I had a few hours to tour the city. Here I am standing in the lovely old street called The Shambles:

That evening, in Manchester, I was joined by author Tom Cain, and together we spoke at Waterstone’s Deansgate.

Here we are with the Manchester Waterstone’s team:

But my tour wasn’t limited to bookstores. I also spoke at the Royal Bolton Hospital, where medical personnel got the chance to listen to me instead of a Grand Rounds lecture. And in Belfast, I joined the lovely author Niamh O’Connor in a really fun event at a movie cinema! Outside the cinema, they’d hung a poster of our event right next to the movie posters with Angelina Jolie.

In London, I met with my incredible Transworld team, including my legendary crime-fiction editor, Selina Walker (all bright and cheery in her summer dress!):

Then we were back on the road to visit Rainham Library in Essex followed by the beautiful Bishopswood House in Ross-on-Wye for an event hosted by Rossiter Books. There were quick drop-ins at Waterstone’s Shrewsbury and Waterstone’s in Chester, which happened to coincide with their very busy race day. The streets of Chester were jam packed with men in natty suits and women in long gowns, there to watch the horse races and do some hard partying afterwards. I walked the entire wall enclosing Chester (about two miles), and later on the street saw these two adorable buskers playing music from “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter”.

Finally, it was off to the Blooming Good Books Festival at the Southport Flower Show, where I spoke beneath a lovely white tent to an audience of about 100.

Usually when I give my talk about the scary subjects in my books, the audience always gasps when I talk about the corpse that woke up in a body bag. This flower show crowd didn’t react at all to that anecdote. Then I told them about my trip to the Los Angeles set of “Rizzoli & Isles,” which was being filmed in a mansion where there were gorgeous blooming rose bushes. “Since the scene was supposed to take place on a fall evening in Boston,” I said, “the set designer came in and cut all the rose blooms.” That’s when the entire audience gave a loud gasp of horror. I guess we know what really scares a gardener.

No blog about the UK would be complete without at least a mention of what I ate. I confess, I ate french fries almost every single day — sometimes even twice a day. Two favorite meals stand out in my memory. The first was in Edinbrugh, at the Michelin-starred 21212. I also had a wonderful meal in Belfast at Cafe Conor where I dined on a heavenly meal of seared pork in a Calvados sauce.

This was one book tour that I’m sorry had to end!

Reviews, bias, and women writers

After reading the remarks by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner, which I mentioned in my last blog post, as well as the superb comments by Laura Lippman over on her blog, I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic. I really wasn’t planning to add anything, as I think these three ladies have covered it well. I also have mixed feelings about getting reviewed at all in the New York Times , because it’s a mixed blessing. Hurray, you got reviewed! But oh dear, those reviews are too often public beheadings in which your blood ends up splattered all over those previously much-coveted 10 column-inches. No, much better to be ignored by the Times and not have to endure the sympathetic silence of your friends, family, and neighbors after M. Kakutani pronounces you the Worst Writer in the World. Getting spotlit by M.K.’s evil eye seems about as appealing as getting caught in Sauron’s terrifying glare.

Then again, I can’t help wondering. What is it about the NYT and women writers? What do they have against us?

I don’t detect this bias in newspapers abroad. In the UK, my crime novels have been reviewed by just about every major newspaper. The UK Telegraph published my article about my childhood experience with murder, and flew out a photographer to take photos. When I look at my English-language review clippings, the majority of the reviews are not from the U.S. but from the UK, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. Is it the old phenomenon of “you’re never a prophet in your own home land”? Or does the NYT (and I’ll also throw in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post here) simply have a thing against women writers?

While I don’t have hard statistics (can anyone help me with this?) it seems to me that UK newspapers regularly — and respectfully — review crime novels by women. If we catch any flak there, it’s usually about our books being too visceral and gory. But that’s simply a matter of taste, not anti-woman bias. I’ve certainly never been slammed with a review like the one I received from the Washington Post a few years ago, sneeringly titled: “Adventures of the Lactating Detective.” The book was VANISH, in which Detective Jane Rizzoli gives birth to her first child and struggles to combine motherhood with her duties as a homicide detective. I don’t have the piece in front of me (and I think I ripped it up after I read it) but I recall that the reviewer (a man, of course) said that you’d have to care about girly stuff like motherhood and breast-feeding troubles to enjoy the book, and he really wasn’t interested in that nonsense. (VANISH, by the way, received the Nero Wolfe Award and was a Macavity and Edgar nominee.) This same reviewer raised a similar objection to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone series: too much boring stuff about what women think.

While we women fret over the sparsity of reviews, we may actually face a far deeper and more disturbing issue here in the U.S.: an utter disdain for women in general. A disdain for our lives, our experiences, what we think, what we care about. A disdain that makes it acceptable for a reviewer to state that readers don’t care about childbirth and motherhood. A disdain that’s so ingrained in the institution that his editor didn’t call him on it.

If that reviewer had said “no one really cares about what African Americans or Hispanic Americans think”, do you think his editor would have let that slip by?

Some interesting links…

While I recover from my whirlwind tour of the UK, here are a few fascinating articles to peruse:

Does the NYT book review favor white male literary darlings?
Jodi Picoult believes so, and she’s backed up by this.

Who are the top ten highest earning authors? (No surprise that #1 is James Patterson)

I’m headed to the UK

Leaving tonight for my UK book tour. For details of where I’ll be, check my “events” page!

Why dead women sell books


I know this topic has been discussed before, most recently in the thoughtful blog post by our own Louise Ure. Last year, debate raged when one book reviewer decried the overwhelming number of female victims in crime novels, accusing authors and publishers of blatant exploitation of women’s suffering. This provoked Val McDermid’s able response.
No one has contested the fact that, yes, crime novels do have an overwhelming number of female victims. Or that such novels are popular. Or that book covers with women’s bodies (alive or dead) seem to attract readers. Charges have been flying that we authors, male and female, are guilty of misogyny and should be ashamed of ourselves. Women crime authors are singled out as traitors to our gender, and male authors are accused of being sexist pigs.
But no one has really stopped to ask the question: Why do these books sell so well? Why do so many fem-jep books make it onto bestseller lists? Where are all the bestselling guy-jep books? Since the majority of fiction readers are women, why do so many women buy books in which women figure as victims?

I confess, I’m one of those readers. When I choose a thriller novel for vacation reading, if the killer is targeting big strong guys, I’m just not interested in the story. But if the killer is hunting for women, I am much more likely to plunk down my cash for that book. Does that make me a sorry excuse for a feminist?

For years, I’ve pondered the popularity of these books, ever since a reader told me that she only reads serial killer books where the victims are women. “What if the victims are male?” I asked her. “Oh, I don’t care about those,” she said. She’s not the only reader who’s told me this; again and again, I hear women readers tell me that they’re most attracted to stories in which women are threatened, women are victimized.

That preference for fictional female victims carries over into my own writing. More than once, I have started work on a novel where the victim is male — only to realize the story isn’t working for me. The first draft of VANISH, for instance, kicked off with a “dead” man who wakes up in a body bag and spends half the book fighting for his life. I wrote about a third of that book, at which point my interest petered out and I got a massive case of writer’s block. I just didn’t care what happened next. I stopped writing for two weeks, went on a long drive, and suddenly had a flash of inspiration: why not make that man a woman? A woman who’s fighting for her life, a woman who’s a victim?
The book instantly came alive for me because I could understand her fear, her desperation, and how the odds were stacked against her. I could identify with her. But only because she was a woman.

And that, I think, is what makes the female victim such a powerful element in a thriller novel. Women make up the bulk of the reading public, and these women don’t identify with the hero or the villain. They identify with the victim.

It’s a phenomenon you see in children’s scary books as well. Kids love to read books in which kids are in jeopardy, kids are potential victims. But an adult in jeopardy? Eh, not so interesting to them. Does their preference for kid-jep books make kids masochists? Do the authors of such novels secretly hate kids? Or are both authors and readers tapping into a deep psychological vein that makes these stories so compelling?

I don’t think this psychology is true for adult male readers, whom I suspect are more likely to identify with the hero. There certainly are a lot of James Bond-type novels out there, so I suspect that men prefer thrillers where men are battling other men.

But for women and kids, the world can look like a scary place, and we’ve learned to pay attention to the things that can harm us. Take a look at where the kids congregate at the aquarium: the shark tank. Or in the zoo: at the snake house or the lions and tigers. As a species, our survival depended on our knowing and understanding the creatures that can harm us, and that’s what kids at the zoo are doing. Studying the creatures that can eat them. Women readers who prefer books about female victims aren’t victim wannabes; we’re behaving like those kids in the zoo, confronting our fears. We are placing themselves in the role of victim, and mentally rehearsing what we would do to survive. But that fantasy can’t happen if we’re unable to imagine ourselves in the victim’s role.

Rizzoli & Isles opening titles

In case the show hasn’t come to your country yet, here’s what the opening titles look like. As a fiddler and a Celtic music fan, I love the music!

Radio interview August 4th

Tune in as Mike Marcellino interviews me on his radio show.

About Mike:

Mike Marcellino, host of “Notebookwriter with Mike Marcellino,” a popular Blog Talk Radio show on writers, served in the U. S. Army as Vietnam War correspondent and is a national award winning journalist. He continues to write stories and poems about people, places and things. Mike has added a twist, with musicians the stories become a unique blend of music and spoken word. He’s performed in New York City, Cleveland, Tulsa, St. Augustine, FL and Baltimore. Mike ranks among the Top Folk Artists in New York City on the music website ReverbNation. His new recordings include New York City stories, Alphabet Coffeehouse and Flatbush, Amelia Earhart, soft silver wings, and The Walls of Fire. He surfs and writes about that too (Bondi Beach). His writing appears in Coventry Street Fair Anthology and Stain Glass Confessional II and online at Outsider Writers, Red Fez, Literary Fever and Universe of Poetry. Mike hosts Notebook Writer Blog Talk Radio show on writers and the arts. He is author of the Networked Blog, “The Point of the Whole Thing,” in the top 10 most popular blogs on Facebook. Mike received national awards for investigative reporting and community service. He served on the staffs of former U. S. Rep. Louis Stokes of Ohio and former Cleveland Mayor Michael White, working on international human rights issues and veterans and military affairs.

Interview with Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander

Over at Mystery Scene Magazine check out the interview by Oline Cogdill. She talks to the actors about their roles on “Rizzoli & Isles.”