Sunday, June 17, 2012

Robert Dugoni & Bryan Gruley at the Poisoned Pen

Bryan Gruley and Robert Dugoni

When Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, introduced Robert Dugoni and Bryan Gruley, she joked that she had referred to them in her newsletter as "arm candy". She was told by staff that women are "arm candy". Men are "eye candy". She was pleased to introduce Bob and Bryan because they were not only nice looking men, but also very nice guys. She said that's not always the case.

Before she went any further, something came up about dogs, and she said Bryan had met her dog, Odin. He said, oh, yes. He and his wife had dinner at Barbara's house, and her husband, Rob, made a great dinner. They were in the dining room when they hear the clatter of a dish, and Rob hollered "Bad dog!" Odin was eating the pate.

Bryan is the author of the Starvation Lake trilogy. He didn't start out to write a trilogy. When he wrote Starvation Lake, he wrote one book. He didn't know it was a mystery. Then he wrote The Hanging Tree. And, his new book is The Skeleton Box. Bob told him those are great titles, and wanted to know if they were his choice. The answer was yes. Barbara said publishers like labels, and these books are called Starvation Lake mysteries, rather than Gus Carpenter mysteries, after the main character. Gruley said Starvation Lake is really a character in his books.

When Barbara mentioned Dugoni's David Sloane books, she said they are tagged David Sloane thrillers so they come up in a database. Bob said it's interesting though that Simon & Schuster have not put David Sloane on the covers of the books. They want each of the books to be able to be read as standalones. They want readers to pick up any book and read it without thinking they need to have earlier ones. When Barbara said they are tagged as David Sloane books for Barnes and Noble and Amazon, the conversation briefly switched to Amazon.

Amazon just bought 800,000 square feet of office space in Seattle. Barbara made the comment that a virtual business now has 800,000 square feet of virtual presence.Bob, who lives in Seattle, said it's an entrepreneurial city. They're always looking for the next big thing. The comment was made that there are only 800,000 people in downtown Seattle. It seems crowded because it's funneled into one area because of the surrounding water.

Barbara asked Bryan if he was no longer Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. He left there last year, and went to Bloomberg Businessweek because he wanted to write again.

Robert Dugoni was the first to talk about his new book, The Conviction. Bob said he wrote his first book, The Jury Master, as a standalone. So he put his lawyer character, David Sloane, through the wringer. To this day, it's his best selling novel. Last year's book, Murder One, was a trial book. He just wanted to go back and write another fun book like the first one. The Conviction is his new book.

Bob was looking an idea for a book with a bad judge in it. That's a violation of our trust because they are supposed to be honest and incorruptible. What happens with that system breaks down? Then, he read an article about two judges convicted in Pennsylvania for sentencing young men to a for-profit camp, and getting kickbacks of up to one million dollars. Young men were sentenced with no parents or lawyers at the trials. The longer they were in, the more money the guy got. This went on for three years. The reviews of The Conviction, based on this idea, have been very good. The only negative review came from Publishers' Weekly. They said in this day and age, Sloane would have enough connections that this wouldn't happen. But, it did really happen in Pennsylvania.

Dugoni wanted to set his novel near Yosemite in the Gold Country. He hoped to set it in some small town, and went from town to town looking for the perfect place. But, everyone in each town was so nice that he couldn't do it. So he made up a town, Trulock. And, he named a couple other towns after a friend's sons. Reviewers loved The Conviction, with the action, movement, and Sloane in peril.

Bryan Gruley's Starvation Lake is a fictional town. In the forty-five years Gruley has been going to that area, he's never met anyone up there that is like the bad people he created in the book.

Bryan said he's inspired by images in his head. Starvation Lake, his first book, was inspired by pieces of a snowmobile washed up on the shore of the lake. The Hanging Tree was inspired by a tree filled with hundreds of pairs of shoes.

Larry Wakefield wrote a small book called Ghost Towns of Michigan. The story of one town, Isadore, led to The Skeleton Box. A woman went to a confessional in Milwaukee, and confessed to killing a nun in Isadore. The confession should have stayed there. But, the Archdiocese of Detroit found out, and tried to keep it a secret, but they needed the bones moved to build a new church. Gruley used that background to tell the story of a nun who disappeared in 1944 from St. Valentine's Church in Starvation Lake.

The discussion veered to the popularity of vampires, werewolves, and Fifty Shades of Grey when an audience member complained about the books that appear on the bestseller lists when she wants to see Dugoni and Gruley there. Barbara said books appear on the lists because of word of mouth, often with people who don't read like the audience members do, but pick up a book or two a year based on word of mouth.

Bob said his pet peeve is people who take fiction too seriously. He sees it as escapism. People get too involved in it. He said the best response was from John Lescroart who slammed his fist on a table during a panel and said, "It's fiction, people! We make this shit up!" But some people treat it like nonfiction and critique it as if it was true. Dugoni said people ask him why all the trials go south for Sloane. His response? Well what do you want him to write about?

Bryan agreed. He's writing a series. Things have to go wrong. What do you want him to write about, the hockey team and going for hamburgers? He thinks the stories have to be believable in the world he creates, and consistent with character.

Bob mentioned that he has been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Novel of the Year. His book, Murder One, is against Michael Connelly's The Fifth Witness and David Ellis' Breach of Trust. Dugoni hasn't read Connelly's book, however he's been told the books are similar, including the ending. He just wanted to let us know that his book came out first. And, it became a running joke for the rest of the evening that we should vote for Bob's book.

Peters told us that David Ellis had prosecuted Governor Rod Blagojevich. Gruley said his friend, Michael Harvey has a book coming out called The Governor. A corrupt governor is prosecuted, and sentenced to jail. When his family is going to take him to jail, he stops at his office, and disappears. Bryan then joked that of course Harvey is a friend. He owns a bar in Chicago.

The subject of mistakes came up. Bob said he was appearing at the Tucson Festival of Books, and received an email that said you make a huge error. You called a Glock a .38. Dugoni emailed back, and said mistakes get made. There were two guns, a Glock and a .38, and his editor messed up. So he told the guy he was going to be in Tucson, and he'd give him a copy of any of his other books. Steve Berry heard this and asked, "You told this guy to show up?" He did show up, picked a book, and hasn't written again.

Gruley said after he wrote Starvation Lake, a guy wrote and said, you can't ice fish for bass. True. Bass hibernate. It was a nice note. Since he's been a reporter for thirty-two years, Brian knows you just admit you made a mistake. Bryan does very little research for his books. He talks to people. And, working at Businessweek, others know who he should contact.

Bob admitted he gets in trouble when he thinks he knows something. He asked Dennis Lehane about the opening of The Given Day, a novel in which Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig are barnstorming. He asked if he did a lot of research. Lehane said he didn't do a lot. He wanted the emotional truth of the story. But, he did check little things.

Bob is obsessive compulsive and researches everything. Harlan Coben does no research. It's fiction, suspense, and he makes it up. His characters aren't professionals. Bob said for the first time ever he hired a girl to do research for him. She was in her senior year at Cornell. He wanted her to research everything she could about juvenile detention centers and everything about marijuana. She thought that would look great on her computer.

Bryan said some of the stories he works on influence his writing. He said if he writes another book in the Starvation Lake series, it will be about natural gas and fracking. Fracking makes the town prosperous. He'll call it The Frack. He did a story about oil in North Dakota that gave him the idea.

Where are the authors going now with their books? Bob is at the end of his contract with Simon & Schuster. He'd like to go forward. He has two good ideas, for either the next Sloane book or a standalone. He's writing a literary novel. As long as he's writing, he's happy. He'd love to continue. A lot depends on what happens in the industry.

Bryan is in love with another idea about a post-industrial town of 300,000 people. One guy built the town, beginning with lumber, then newspapers and more. Now, it's 2000, and something bad happens.

Bryan Gruley and Robert Dugoni bring a great deal of knowledge and humor to any presentation.

Bryan Gruley, Me, and Robert Dugoni


techeditor said...

Thank you for your phrase "too much plot and not enough story." I don't know if that was yours or Gruley's, but it's exactly what I need to describe many books that I can't finish.

As for Gruley's books, I haven't read any but intend to. I live in Michigan, so it feels like I need to. Plus, it sounds like he avoids "too much plot and not enough story."

Lesa said...

That's Bryan Gruley's phrase, not mine. I never would have thought of it.

I hope you enjoy his books. I think you should at least try them since you live in Michigan. You can tell he loves it.