Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cook, Maleeny & Coggins at the Poisoned Pen

Well, this isn't how I normally start out my comments about authors who appear at the Poisoned Pen, but Maddee James, owner of, is Tim Maleeny's webmaster, and she asked me if I had the nerve to give Tim a kiss on the cheek and tell him Maddee said hi. So, Maddee, here's the proof, courtesy of Troy Cook, the photographer.

I planned to go to the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale today to meet Troy Cook, author of the award-winning caper novel, 47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers, , and the recent book, The One Minute Assassin, which I enjoyed even more than his first book. Our weather was terrible this weekend. We seldom have such hard rain. I kidded Troy that I told my husband if Troy could come all the way from California to meet me, I certainly could drive from Glendale to meet him.

It was a great chance to meet and hear two other authors as well, Tim Maleeny and Mark Coggins. In the picture, left to right, Troy Cook, Tim Maleeny, Mark Coggins.

Tim Maleeny is the award-winning author of Stealing the Dragon, a mystery that introduces San Francisco detective Cape Weathers and a female assassin, Sally. The sequel is his current book, Beating the Babushka.

Mark Coggins is the author of the August Riordan mysteries, also set in the Bay Area. His latest book, Runoff, is perfectly timed for an election year.

It was a small group, due to the weather. Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, moderated the discussion. She asked them what expectations do people have for them. Troy said people think authors will be introverted people, who just sit behind desks and write. He likes to talk to people, and tell stories. That's what he does in his books, tells stories. Tim's response? People expect him to be taller and good-looking. Coggins said people expect him to be more hard-boiled, since his character, August Riordan, is.

In talking about their writing, Barbara said that Cook writes capers. He said he developed his sense of pace by being a screenwriter. Maleeny said he grew up reading pulp novels of the 30's and 40's, that had a sense of adventure. Then he came to novels after writing short stories. Coggins said he sometimes uses opening scenes that don't seem to have anything to do with the plot, and the connection comes later. He likes to drop into the action right away. One of his books starts with a backhoe used to steal an ATM.

Mark said he finds it hard to reinstroduce sidekicks in each book. He doesn't find it hard to reintroduce Riordan, but it's hard to do with the sidekicks. Tim said he subscribes to the Lee Child school, standalones with recurring characters. Troy said his first two books were standalones, and so is his third. But, he enjoys his characters so much that he can't let go of them. The third book has a character from an earlier book. He said in standalones, there's a key event that changes the life of a character. That's harder to do in a series. Cook's future books might include previous characters. Barbara Peters said that in Sue Grafton's forthcoming book, T is for Trespass, she doesn't give all the details of Kinsey's life as she does in previous books.

In discussing settings, Coggins said his first story featuring August Riordan was set in Phoenix, and then he moved to the Bay Area. Maleeny said his are set all over, but based in San Francisco. His comment about his latest book, with its Russian Mob and Hollywood moguls, led to a new topic. He said he had to pull back because no one would have believed it. They said the stuff that actually appears in newspapers is too unbelievable to go in a book.

They said there's a responsibility to find justice in books because people have no confidence in actual justice. Characters must make sure justice is done. Troy said there has to be a sense that justice has been served. In response to a comment, Tim said there has to be some sort of identification or empathy with the characters. He went on to say that crime fiction focuses on right and wrong, justice, or what normal people do in extraordinary circumstances. Crime fiction is less political than other books. Thrillers have more social commentary.

Troy said politics, such as he used in his book, The One-Minute Assassin, can be entertaining. He uses the humorous side, but doesn't slant his politics to the left or right. Barbara Peters said Sara Paretsky and Douglas Preston's most recent books look at the religious right from a leftist view, but they're thrillers, not mysteries. Mysteries don't lend themselves to politics. An audience member commented that books can be dated by politics. Peters said that 80% of thrillers today have the enemy as some form of government. She said to Coggins that a private eye should have loyalty only to his client. Coggins said his latest novel, Runoff, is not partisan, although it is about an election. The message is e-voting is not a good thing, but that's not a partisan issue.

Each of the men are published by small presses? Someone asked if they have a goal to get to publisher who would pay them more money. Tim said he's heard horror stories from friends with big houses. There's an appeal of a bigger publisher. An author gets more exposure and more readers. That's fine if you can do it without selling your soul and compromising. He was approached by an agent who told him the kind of book he should write to get to a big publisher, and what he'd have to do. He doesn't want to do that, or be James Patterson's next ghostwriter.

In talking about editing today, Mark Coggins said he's in a writing group. He works with his former literary agent, who is a writing instructor, and edits him. He had a good editor at Bleak House, and they were bought by a larger publisher. Editors tend to be younger than you expect. His editor is good at figuring out continuity and loose ends. He has a line editor as well. It's been a positive experience.

Troy Cook said it's been fun working with a small house. He's received personal attention, and they care. He's had lots of visibility and promotion. He wouldn't have received movie deals, awards and nominations, if he hadn't been at a small press. He's had plenty of editing.

Maleeny said he has a good editor, who is good at continuity. The days of an editor buying a book and working with authors to develop them are gone. Editors are looking for books to be almost ready for publication.

Barbara Peters said at big houses, people work to survive the corporation and stay employed. It's "cover your ass," and do it by committee. The risks for authors at large houses are enormous. If you fail, it's over. Small publishers don't have the muscle to be bestsellers, because they don't publish the quantities of books necessary.

On the literary side of publishing, sometimes the first or second book gets a tremendous push, and then you never see the author again. They used Alice Sebold as an example of an author whose second book didn't live up to her first one, The Lovely Bones. They agreed sometimes an author only has one big in them, and they should stop then. They admired Harper Lee for doing that.

They were all asked what they like to read when they're not writing. Troy said he writes humorous crime novels, so he reads Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen. The Lord of the Rings was what first got him interested in writing, though.

Tim said he read the pulps, comics, historical novels, and then made his way to mysteries. Now, although he reads a little of everything, he reads more mysteries and thrillers. While writing, he reads something else. He includes what he's reading on his blog. He gets recommendations at bookstores. He also reads friends' books or books he hears about at conferences.

Barbara Peters commented that the mystery genre is in the down part of a cycle right now. Science fiction is the genre that's up. Historical mysteries had been completely dead at one time, but not now.

Coggins said the private investigator seems to last, but has had its ups and downs. He read Hammett and Chandler. He can read in his own style, but he's recently read a book about Kit Carson, and then Thunderstruck by Eric Larson. He reads nonfiction and fiction.

It was great to finally meet Troy Cook, after reading his books and corresponding with him. And, thanks to Maddee, it was a pleasure to meet Tim Maleeny. Thanks, Tim!

Thank you to the Poisoned Pen for hosting Troy Cook, Tim Maleeny and Mark Coggins.


Clea Simon said...

That looks more like a hot smooch than a mere kiss on the cheek, Lesa! Woo-hoo and way to go!

Lesa said...

Thanks, Clea! Third take did it. (grin) My pleasure!