Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Louise Ure, Back to the Beach, and Two Days of Books

What a terrific two days! I've been waiting for these two days for quite a long time, and I'm sure there will be a letdown afterward. It was two perfect days for a book lover. I had dinner with an author, an author appearance at the library, breakfast with the same author and two representatives from the publishing world, and then a wonderful afternoon while they all presented book talks to librarians.

Louise Ure, author of The Fault Tree, was in town to speak at Back to the Beach, an annual program sponsored by the Maricopa County Library Continuing Education Committee. She was kind enough to agree to appear at the Velma Teague Library in Glendale the night before. Louise and I had a very nice dinner before her presentation.

Since the temperatures here in the Valley of the Sun are about 108 degrees, Louise started her program with a reference to the heat. Although she is from Tucson, she lives in San Francisco now, and said now she melts in the heat.

Louise said she loves doing openings. She said she'd be glad to write them for other authors. It's the other 400 pages that are difficult, not the opening.

The protagonist of The Fault Tree, Candence Moran, is blind. Why write about a blind character? Stephen King said write about what scares you the most. Since Louise already has poor eyesight, losing her sight would rank as one of the top ten scariest things. How scary would it be to witness a murder, and be blind? According to Louise, Audrey Hepburn did it in Wait Until Dark. The Fault Tree brings it into the 21st century, with a character with more skills. How could she help the cops with her other senses? She's able to identify sound - a man had corduroy pants on because she could hear them, or smell - the smell of antifreeze. Ure alternates chapters with Candence's viewpoint, that of the cops, and that of the killer because a blind character can't tell everything the reader needs to know.

Candence Moran is a blind auto mechanic. Ure said she did everything that Candence does, with a blindfold on, to learn how Candence did it. She found four auto mechanics who were blind, and like Candence, they adjust autos with their ears.

When Louise Ure writes a book, she starts with the title. Forcing Amaryllis, her Shamus award-winning first mystery, came about after she saw directions for forcing amaryllis at a garden shop. She came up with the title of The Fault Tree on Feb. 1, 2003, the day the Columbia shuttle crashed. She heard a NASA scientist talk about fault tree analysis, a scientific term. She decided to write about a fault tree, all the ways things could go wrong in a murder investigation.

Last week, Ure turned in the manuscript for her next book, Liars Anonymous. The book should come out in April 2009. Louise said there's no twelfth step program for liars, and she was a liar as a child. She said she was happier lying than telling the truth. She made up stories that would start simple, and grow in the retelling.

Liars Anonymous is the story of an OnStar operator, who responds when a driver has an accident. She talks to him. He says he's fine, and will go see how the other driver is. And, she hears him killed. So, all she has to go on is what she heard. Since Louise loves to write openings, here is the opening of her next book. "I got away with murder once, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen again. Damn. This time I didn't do it. Well, not all of it anyway."

When asked why she writes crime fiction, Louise said she was always a voracious reader, and she always loved mysteries. She said librarians hate it, but she arranges her bookshelves geographically, by area in which the mysteries are set. She begins with Alaska and Dana Stabenow, and goes down to California. She said there are two mystery authors who are the bane of her existence - Martin Cruz Smith and Lee Child. Smith's are set in Russia, Japan, and Cuba. Child's Jack Reacher never stays in one place. He travels all over the country, and even to England. She has a complete set of first editions of John D. MacDonald's books because she's a big fan. Setting is so important to Louise. She wants a sense of place, and people she can care about. She likes to see "An ordinary person in an extraordinary situation."

She wrote her first book at seven, The True Book of Fairy Tales, after she got into the Brothers Grimm. Each story featured a piece of fruit, and each protagonist died tragically.

Louise Ure writes standalone mysteries. She likes the idea of a protagonist in jeopardy. Will they really come out alive? Is there even a good guy in the story? She said authors who write a series do have an advantage in that the readers have established relationships with the series characters, but the authors have to keep them fresh, and try to attract new readers.

She starting writing after 9/11, when she had a drink with a girlfriend, and they talked about, if it all ends now, what would you most regret not doing? She said writing a book. And, her friend said the three little words every woman wants to hear, "I dare you." She convinced her that her character and voice would be different from anyone else's. She took a class, Eight Weeks to Stronger Fiction, taught by Gillian Roberts, and then she wrote Forcing Amaryllis in five weeks. She writes on computer, and edits in longhand.

When asked, she said the hardest thing in getting published is getting an agent. And, you have to have an agent for most publishing companies to even look at your work. She found an agent by following the rules in Publishers Marketplace, sending a one page letter. When asked, she recommended Gillian Roberts' book, How to Write a Mystery, as the best book on the subject. Following the rules, she sold her first book in three weeks.

The Fault Tree has been optioned for a film by someone who wants to film in Tucson.

Could the week get any better? Yes, since I went to Phoenix this morning to meet Louise, and two people who are probably two of the nicest people in the publishing world. Talia Ross is the Director of Library Marketing for Macmillian, and she and I have been corresponding for about two years now. This was the first chance I had to meet her. She introduced me to Bobby Brinson, Manager of Academic & Public Library Marketing for HarperCollins. Following a fun breakfast, I took a picture. Left to right - Louise Ure, Bobby Brinson, and Talia Ross.

Along with Barbara Peters, owner of Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Louise, Talia, and Bobby were our speakers at Back to the Beach, the annual program held at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix. Librarians from all over the valley look forward to the program, a discussion of books.

Louise kicked off the program by saying she moved away from Arizona thirty years ago, but she still considers Arizona home. She's one of those people who doesn't appreciate a place until it's at a distance, and now she can write about it. Her grandmother came from Italy to Tucson in 1901, and there are five generations of the family there. With 400 relatives, only two of them have ever left town. Her program was very similar to the one she presented at Velma Teague on Monday night.

Talia and Bobby were so generous in bringing piles of ARCs for giveaway to the audience. Talia Ross highlighted books from Macmillan's upcoming publishing list. The list included titles such as Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain, The Catch by Archer Mayor, Ken Bruen's Once Were Cops, and Julia Spencer-Fleming's I Shall Not Want. I'm also excited about White Nights, the forthcoming book by Ann Cleeves.

Talia and Bobby both mentioned websites for the publishers. Bobby Brinson's discussion of HarperCollins books included The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry, The Given Day, the first novel from Dennis Lehane in five years, and A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire. The title that seemed to catch the most attention? Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani, due out Feb. 3, 2009.

Barbara Peters, from Poisoned Pen, started out by saying they are trying to bring authors to libraries around the valley to give them the most exposure when they come to town, so people don't have to drive as far with the gas prices. She said Poisoned Pen Press, their publishing company, is no longer considered a small press, because they publish 36 books a year. She said large publishers are not interested in building authors, so they sometimes allow a small press to "test-drive" authors before picking them up.

Barbara said she sees three big trends in mysteries this summer: Romans, Russia, and Spy Stuff/James Bond. Barbara said she'd present her list of 30 books, but next week it might be thirty different books. Her titles included a debut novel, The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, a book for Mary Stewart fans called The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson, Julie Kramer's debut with Stalking Susan, and the last Vicky Bliss novel by Elizabeth Peters, The Laughter of Dead Kings.

Thank you, Louise, for speaking at Velma Teague and Back to the Beach. Talia, thank you for the ARCs, speaking at Back to the Beach, breakfast, and an online friendship. Bobby, thank you for breakfast, Back to the Beach, and your joy and laughter. The ARCS and books for Back to the Beach were great, from both of you! Barbara, thank you so much for promoting books and authors, and asking libraries to join you. Thank you for supplying the books for all of our programs at the Velma Teague Library.

Four good speakers. Lots of book talk. Two great days!


Kay said...

How fun for you! Once again, I felt I was there. Thanks for sharing!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kay. I wish you had been there. Back to the Beach is always fun, but this year, it was the best I've attended.

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

Hi Lesa,
Thanks for the great insights into Louise Ure's writing. I haven't read her books yet, and I'm going to start. Your comments are a book-lover's treasure trove

Lesa said...

Thank you, Debby! That's the nicest thing you could have said to me.

I think you'd appreciate Louise's characters, since you do so much with character and their background.