Gary travels home: be back online in a few days

There's a lot to catch up on -- the event at Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor, the event last night at Centuries and Sleuths, Gary's plan to save America with fast trains -- but the last few days have been too hectic for a proper blog post, and in the next hour I leave the US for another year.  So it'll all have to wait until I get home.  I have an afternoon flight from Chicago to LA (about 4 hours), a layover of 4 hours during which I have to get through security for the second time that day, then a 15 hour flight home and at least another 2 hours after that.  Estimated total awake time: 33 hours.  Not that I'm whining or anything...

 So I'll leave you for now with two lovely and very kind posts from my friends:

Anthony Pacheco's funny blog post on why can't that Corby character write faster; and

Stephanie Thornton's review of The Pericles Commission.

In the acknowledgements for book 2 (which I've already written) I said right at the start that I don't feel like an author so much as the point man for Team Gary.  So many people have helped me, out of the goodness of their hearts, both in the past and during this tour.  It's simply incredible.  Thank you all!

Mysterious Galaxy

I owe Maryelizabeth Hart a big thank you, because she arranged for me to appear at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego.

So I walk in the door and the first thing I see is:

That's Ben, who helps run the store, and oh, there are some books on the wall.

Mysterious Galaxy has an interesting event system. They invite two authors at a time to do a joint talk-cum-Q&A. My partner in crime was PL Gaus, who writes murder mysteries set among the Amish community. Not a hotbed of homicidal maniacs, one might think, but it's a fascinating vehicle to explore the culture. We discovered two things in common: we're both published in Australia by Penguin, and we both come from science backgrounds with nary an English qualification between us. Other than that we couldn't be more different. Mr Gaus wears immaculate suits and speaks very deliberately. I wear the leather jacket and my speech is anything but deliberate. The audience was small but interested, including a couple who wandered into the store halfway through and stayed to listen.

One couple had come because they'd read the review of Pericles Commission. Afterwards they bought a copy. It's an interesting reflection on the power of reviews. Review sections seem to be disappearing from newspapers, but it seems to me there's a real desire for informed reviews.

These two below are the best tour guides any debut author could have. In the middle is our very own LT Host. Her avatar usually shows her kissing a giraffe, but a only few weeks ago she upgraded to a husband. That's Scott on the left. LT wins particular credit for getting us to the book talk in time, in the face of horrendous traffic.

The book stack is what they had left after preorders and books sold on the night. I think they might be down to ten now.

Garos / Garum: the ketchup of the ancient world

During our Bouchercon panel, Lindsey Davis referred to a popular ancient fish sauce called garum, and I quickly pointed out it was invented by the Greeks, who called it garos. I've been asked about it so many times since that I thought I'd repost a slightly edited version of an article I wrote in November 2008.

The Greeks had a salty fish sauce called garos (γαροσ). It was incredibly popular in both Greece and (much later) Rome, where people would add it to almost anything. It was, in effect, the ketchup of the ancient world. (Nico's favorite food is eel in garos sauce.)

Since there was a fish called garos, or garon, in Greek, it's a fair bet the sauce was made mostly from that. I've been unable to discover what fish garos actually was. Not to worry, I can fudge it in my stories (but don't let Keith and Kathleen know that...I'll tell them I'm using the Greek word for authentic atmosphere).

The earliest references of which I'm aware are some lines in Aeschylus (fragments of the lost play Proteus) and Sophocles (fragments of the lost play Triptolemos), both of which refer to garos as stinking. Not a great advertisement, but the sauce was obviously popular enough that writers were referring to it and expecting everyone to understand. Since they were writing at the same time Nicolaos and Diotima are solving murders, I know I'm on solid ground using the sauce.

The stink is understandable. Although later Roman garum was made from carefully chosen gourmet fish, the original Greek version was made from leftover entrails.

Gary's theory, for what it's worth, is this: over-population was chronic in classical Greece, and children, especially small girls who were last in the feeding line, regularly went to bed hungry. Nothing that was even remotely edible was ever wasted. So when fishwives gutted the morning catch, they would have discarded the entrails into the large vats where some extra seawater would have been added, and the whole goopy mess allowed to ferment in the sun over weeks or months into garos. If this theory is correct then garos-the-fish is going to be whatever the main catch was.

When the Romans picked up the sauce from the Greeks, the ingredients and the name changed slightly. Garum isn't Latin. It's latinized Greek. Garum was made from whole fish, not only the offal. The Romans got very precious about the whole thing and would debate which species made the best sauce. Martial even talks about making it from, "mackerel still breathing its last." Later on, humble garum split into a range of gourmet sauces, each with their own names. Liquamen appears to be the original garum, and there was also allec, muria, and a pile of others. I haven't chased down any of these because by then, my characters are all shades in Hades.

Under Roman law it was illegal to make garum at home, the stench was that bad, so they had garum factories by the coast. The Greeks had no such rule, but practicality indicates garos would not have been made in Athens anyway, but Piraeus, the port town down the road, where the fisherman brought in their catch and the fishwives processed the fish. The garos would have been transported up to Athens in amphorae and sold in the Agora.

Seattle Mystery Bookshop

Such a cool place. Seattle Mystery Bookshop is run by JB and Fran, but I have a feeling Amber, who's only been there for two months, is the one in charge. She made sure I signed every book the right way: some with signatures, some signatures + dates, some signatures + dates + special messages. The link on the shop name goes to a blog entry I wrote for them on the day.

Something wonderful happened at Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Actually, several wonderful things happened, but let me start with this:

From left to right: Roger Scrafford, Gary Corby, Anthony Pacheco and Susanna Fraser. Writers all. As Susanna later commented, it was the first time she'd been in a group of writers where the ladies were outnumbered. These kind people gave up their lunch times to come say hi. My reaction: we meet at last! They're the first of my net friends I've ever met, outside of Bouchercon, which doesn't count (sort of) because Bouchercon is full of people by definition. These nice souls actually volunteered to meet me. What we talked about was, inevitably, writing.

If you stand in the street outside the store at the moment, this is what you see:

The first time I've seen my book in a store window. OMG, I'm in the same display as Don Winslow and Steven Saylor. Inside on the shelves, Pericles Commission keeps further impressive company:

By sheer coincidence, a TV crew arrived that afternoon to do an item in the store. They were impressed a real live author was there. I was impressed a real live TV crew was there. Lowell Deo is the presenter for CityStream on Seattle Channel 21. He's an incredibly nice guy, which I would have said even if he hadn't chosen to open and close the segment with Pericles Commission. He opened with a shot of him reading it, and he closed by buying it from Fran.

The pictures below: Camera Guy (I'm embarrassed to admit I don't recall his name...please forgive me if you're reading this) shoots Fran and JB in the store. Then Lowell and Cam Guy, when I asked if I could take a picture of them:

As I said, really nice guys. I think the segment will be on 7pm Thursday next week, but I'm not sure. Then apparently it'll be online. More news as it comes to hand on that.

When the day was over, Fran and her partner absolutely insisted on driving me to my hotel for the night before I flew out. On the way, they absolutely insisted on taking me out to dinner. I couldn't describe the evening better than Fran herself in her blog Fran's ramblings, except she is being far too kind to me. A huge thank you to Lillian and Fran for their kindness. The bright pink backpack Fran mentions is real, btw; it belongs to my daughter Catriona but it's the largest we have and I desperately needed it on the trip to carry books.

I've noticed my blog posts at the moment are totally book-centered and have nothing to do with history. That's because in the middle of a book tour there's no time to think about anything else. How anyone manages to write and tour at the same time is beyond me. What you're getting is a beginner's reaction to stores selling a first book. Normal programming will resume in a few weeks, after I've got home and recovered from the nervous breakdown.

Preordering from stores, and personalizing books

I'm such a beginner at this that I didn't realize it happened, but it's possible to get a signed, dedicated copy of a book by ordering from a store where the author's about to do an event. I discovered this at "M" is for Mystery, when Ed the owner brought out a pile of books already ordered and paid for. Some had post-it notes inside with what the nice buyer wanted written in addition to a signature. After I signed and dedicated, the books were shipped to their new homes.

It occurs to me if anyone would like a copy of Pericles Commission with a personal dedication, it's possible to do it by ordering from one of the places I'm about to be. Obviously it's more expensive than BookDepository or Amazon, but you'll get it faster it seems, and there's the dubious extra value of me having signed and dedicated it. If anyone does this (or has), let me know if you like, so I can recognize you in the stack.

If this is interesting, here are the phone numbers of the stores. (I hesitate to suggest this because it looks like pure advertising, but there might be value for some.)

Seattle Mystery Bookshop (on tomorrow, you better hurry for this one) 206 587 5737

Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. 858 268 4747

Aunt Agatha's in Ann Arbor: 734 769 1114

Centuries and Sleuths in Chicago. 708 771 7243

Here's a question for you: I've thought about printing book plates, so that anyone can ask me to sign a book ordered from anywhere at any price. Just email me the dedication you want and I'll post you the plate to stick in your copy. I'd have to charge the postage cost, or I'd lose money on every sale, but it has the advantage of letting me sign and dedicate a book to anyone, anywhere. Would this be interesting to people?

The coolest panel ever

Yesterday morning I was on a panel with Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, and John Maddox Roberts.  So that's the Three Gods of ancient mysteries,  Also three Romans and a Greek.

And it was an absolute blast.  Ever since, I've been begging our editor Keith Kahla to do it again some time.  The session was standing room only, including my own dear cheer squad.  Thanks guys!  I will modestly admit I acquitted myself well.  My previous public speaking experience helped a lot.  To anyone who thinks or hopes to be in the same situation in the future: get some practise well beforehand.

I wish I could give you a verbatim script of everything that was said, because a lot of it was fascinating stuff.  I'll post photos at some point in the future; I have some but they need to be reworked and my travel machine is not the tool for the job.  At some point in the future I'll collate some of the bits that particularly struck me.

I didn't realize until later, and John confirmed, that despite all three publishing great stories for decades, this was the first time ever that Steven, Lindsey and John have been on the same stage at the same time. An historic moment.

People came up to say hello to me afterwards, complete strangers who wished me well, which I thought was very kind.  Then it was down to the book room.  All the authors sign for half an hour or so after their talks.  (Janet did an agent talk earlier in the week, and lo and behold they assigned her a signing space afterwards, for her non-existent book.)

Signings for newbies are a fraught exercise due to the tendency  to be assigned spaces next to Lee Child or Charlaine Harris.  Their queue snakes out the room and around the building while you sit there playing with a pen.  I was pleasantly surprised!  People not only bought the book and brought it over, but at one point I even had...OMG...a queue.  This is debut author heaven.  There were three books left in the store when the signing finished.  They disappeared that afternoon.  So I sold out!  There's no question in my mind what made that happen: the high quality of the panel session that came before.

You heard it here first

So Thursday night was the Macavity awards at Bouchercon, and winner of the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award is Rebecca Cantrell, for A Trace of Smoke!

I'd just like to point out that in December '09, I listed it as one of the top two books of the year.

Yay for Rebecca!

Gary survives his first book event!

I have done a book event, and lived to tell the tale.

You couldn't find a friendlier, more welcoming place to start your book touring career than "M" is for Mystery.  Ed Kaufman owns the shop, and he and his wife Jeannie were fantastic about having a dubious debut author on the premises.

I don't seem to have got it too badly wrong, the only feedback later being to speak more slowly.  Which I instantly told my daughter Catriona in email because she's an excellent debater, except I keep telling her to speak more slowly.  Clearly it's a genetic fault.

Ed had a whole row of books lined up that were prepaids, meaning people had already ordered them from afar and they needed to be mailed off once signed.  Now logically, this makes perfect sense.  When one publishes a book, it's generally because you want to sell it.  But I was signing books for people I'd never met, and this is an odd sensation the first time you do it.  One book was to be dedicated, "To Cindy."  Which made me wonder about Cindy.  Who is she?  Why did she choose my book?  Will she enjoy it?  If you're reading this, Cindy, do let me know!

Yes, I'm getting metaphysical here, but it really is one of the oddest sensations, and very, very cool.

The first person ever to ask for a signed copy of a book I wrote was a lovely gentleman named Charles.  So I instantly asked for his autograph, which caused some slight confusion because the process is supposed to work in the opposite direction.  Here is Charles (my first signing!), Ed (owner of "M" is for Mystery), and me.  A normal day for most people, but an historic event for me.

'Twas the night before pub date...

Actually, it's the night before the night before pub date. But I get on a big plane tomorrow to fly to Bouchercon, and I don't imagine I'll have a chance to post between now and then, so this is the last thing I will write as an unpublished author.

There would be no book, no series, no sale, and certainly no success, except that my wife told me I should go for it. And then encouraged me while I wrote. And read every word. And corrected my punctuation. And corrected proofs. And put up with me while I spent long hours in the office. And was brave enough to stick with it even when a few of her friends suggested this was a dubious way for one's husband to behave.

Which is why the dedication page has only these two words:


If you have a look at the top of this page, you'll see there's a new tab called Events.  No prizes for guessing what it's about.

This is my rendition of the same information on the GoodReads site.

If by chance you can make it to one of these, I would really love to meet you.  I've made so many friends over the net, it'd be great to actually use something other than a keyboard to communicate.

Kathleen Conn: amazing editor

In my continuing series of people holding bits and pieces of Pericles Commission, I bring you the talented young editor Kathleen Conn, who holds the entire book, hot off off the bindery.

Thanks Kathleen, it can't be easy to deal with a complete newbie.  You've been fantastic for a debut author!

A review from Robin Agnew of Aunt Agatha's

Aunt Agatha's is a specialist mystery bookstore in Ann Arbor. If you slide your eyes slightly to the right, to the events list, you'll see I'm appearing at Aunt Agatha's on the 26th October at 7pm. Anyone who can make it would be welcome!

Aunt Agatha's is run by the incredibly friendly and helpful Robin Agnew and her husband Jamie. Robin blogs at Hey, There's A Dead Guy In The Living Room, which I recommend for anyone who likes mysteries. She's also very much into ice skating, and since my wife Helen and I do ice dance (and Helen makes ice skating costumes), I think I know what we'll be talking about.

Robin's written a lovely review of The Pericles Commission, which I was overjoyed to read, considering it comes from someone who's read and sold thousands of mysteries!

Anneke and Bill: beta readers extraordinaire

So as we get close to The Pericles Commission finally going on sale, this is the end of a long, long journey not only for me, but for everyone who's helped me.

These two shifty-looking characters lurking in a dark corner have held the secret of who killed Ephialtes since 2007. That's when they first read the manuscript and gave me advice and asked the tough questions that had to be answered.

Anneke Klein is Dutch. English is her second language, which doesn't stop her from being the most amazing beta reader. I tell her she should be doing manuscript assessment for a living, she's that good. Anneke asks all the tough plot, theme and character questions that I really wish no one had noticed. To this day I have not published or sold a word of fiction that she did not see first. Which means yes, she's already been through The Ionia Sanction and she asked all the tough questions that made me rewrite parts. She also has one astonishing talent: if Anneke likes a story, it sells; if she doesn't like it, it doesn't sell. I've never known her to be wrong, and I have unsold short stories lying about to prove it. These days Anneke runs the flash fiction site Rammenas. Her own first fiction publication will be a short story in an upcoming anthology.

Bill Kirton is a master of craft. His critiques are always so depressingly right, and so crystal clear that you'd almost think he taught writing as a profession. Which, actually, he did. Bill taught creative writing and French literature at Aberdeen University. He's also been an actor, a playwright, and a BBC scriptwriter. His novels are The Figurehead (an historical mystery!), The Darkness, Material Evidence and Rough Justice. The last three are police procedurals starring DCI Jack Carston. (I was dead sure I had Material Evidence solved. I was wrong.)

Thanks guys. It wouldn't be a book without you.