Interview with Donna Hole

I was interviewed by Donna Hole, and the result is up today on her blog.  Most of her questions were about the publishing experience.

I hope everyone's having fun over Christmas break!  I got a Formula 1 racing game.  I instantly turned off all the driver assists, to drive the cars as they actually are.  You wouldn't believe how many times I've spun out.

Santa Claus

As I write this, it is mere hours to Christmas, or Saturnalia as those of us who live in the ancient world prefer to call it.

Where did the year go?

Well in my case, it went in completing my second book and having it accepted by St Martin's Press, in having my first book released, so that I went from being an everyday writer to a Published Author, in having the foreign rights bought by Penguin, in doing my first ever book tour, in making the Google ebook bestseller list (what a shock), and in finishing a readable draft of my third book.

I've earned my nervous breakdown. But wow, what a year. I don't expect I'll ever have another like it.

Our Christmas is precisely the Roman holiday Saturnalia. Two ancient mysteries have been entitled Saturnalia: one by John Maddox Roberts and one by Lindsey Davis.

The jolly man in the red suit, however, was a Greek.  Today we spell his name St Nicholas, but the original was a chap named Saint Nicolaos.  Note that his name is spelled the same way as my hero.  No, there's no relation between them that I know of.  Nicolaos has been a common name for thousands of years.  The Santa part of Santa Claus is obviously Saint.  The Claus part comes from the –colaos part of Nicolaos.

So I wish you all a fantastic holiday, and may Santa Claus be good to you.

Io Saturnalia!

Pushing through the odds

Nevets is posting a series on his blog, of pearls of wisdom from published authors.

My humble contribution appeared today: how I dealt with the knowledge that agents receive 10,000 submissions a year, from which they might sign one or two.  Doesn't sound good odds, does it?  Hop on over to see why, in fact, those numbers are irrelevant.

I've been very quiet online recently, for a good reason: my sheer desperation to finish the third ms before Christmas, at least to the state where I can give it to others to check.  For the last four weeks I've been saying it'll be finished tomorrow.  Now, I have only two pages left to revise, plus some minor fixes and a few logic problems that surfaced when I wrote the explanation of how the crime was committed.  (I always spot inconsistencies when I write that bit...surprisingly, they're always easy to fix).

So I'm revising my standard chant:  it won't be finished tomorrow; it'll be finished today.

Which is a good thing because our Christmas street party is tonight.

Think your editor is tough? Try this one.

Back in the days when gladiators hacked away at each other, there was always the man who decided whether the defeated should live or die.  The job is usually given to the Emperor in movies, but in fact any senior man could have been the designated thumbs-up-thumbs-down guy.  

The official title for this fellow was...the editor.   (evil laughter in background)

Casting the (nonexistent) movie

I was asked by Marshal Zeringue, how I would cast The Pericles Commission if it were made into a movie. I was allowed to pick any actors I liked throughout time. I took him up on that offer.

My partial cast for The Pericles Commission is on his blog: My Book, The Movie.

It will make more sense if you've read the book. If you have, I'd be fascinated to know your own cast list.

SPOILER ALERT: Discussion of casting inevitably runs the risk of spoilers, if only because it requires listing characters and their relationships. People sensitive to spoilers who haven't read the book yet should not read the comments to this post!

(...and to those making comments, please be sensitive to the problem. Thanks!)

Pericles Commission #16 on Google's ebook bestseller list

Yesterday I got an email from Carolyn Kellogg at the LA Times, asking how it felt to be #16 on Google's ebook bestseller list.

I replied, "What?"

So I checked. Then I went into shock.

(You might need to click the image to see it in all its glory)

Carolyn wrote an article, on how Pericles Commission is the only unexpected entry in the bestseller list. It was certainly unexpected by me! Not that I'm complaining, you understand.

So I've been pondering how this happy event managed to occur, because I'm keeping very, very impressive company on that page.

The sales numbers must be relatively small, since we're looking at only one day of trading since Google's ebookstore went online, but they give the expected result for everyone else, so sales must be sufficiently large to avoid randomness. The only conclusion I can reach is that my readers are more than usually tech-savvy early adopters. But you'd know that better than me. What do you think?

I presume I'll fall off the list after the next update, but I'm enjoying it while it lasts!

Gary's thoughts on book marketing, draft #1

Since I'm now a little bit along the publishing path, I thought I'd stop for a moment to offer my thoughts, such as they are, on book marketing. I called it draft #1 because I speak from my vast experience of precisely one recently published novel. Come back this time next year and I'll probably say something different.

  1. The single most important marketing strategy is to write a good book. If you've done that, then the second most important thing is to write another good book. Word of mouth is the best marketing scheme ever. It only happens if you write a good book.

  2. A good review is worth its weight in gold. Believe me, I know; I've been super-blessed in that department. You can't force, engineer, or ask for a good review. See point 1 about writing a good book.

  3. Do a public speaking course, and then practise at local events. Practise until you're so used to getting up in front of random strangers that it becomes a chore and not a terror. I've had some public speaking experience in the past. I can't begin to tell you how important it was to be able to get up in front of a crowd and feel confident.

  4. Blog if you have something to say. Do not blog if you have nothing to say. Some people are natural bloggers, and to my surprise, I appear to be one of them. (I would never have guessed, seriously.) An unattended, trivial, or boring blog is worse than no blog.

  5. Book trailers. I looked into it very closely, asked people, surveyed GoodReads, asked you, my fine readers of this blog. As far as I can tell, a good trailer is unlikely to generate noticeable sales, but a bad trailer is capable of turning people away. Most trailers are the video equivalent of powerpoint. Don't do it, unless Spielberg is your second cousin.

  6. The social networking thingies...use them if you would have anyway. Do not use them if the sum total of your communicative desires is, "Buy my book."

  7. Even if you love social networking, don't try and do everything. That way lies madness and unbelievably low productivity (see point 1 about writing a good book). Pick two sites. Personally, I loathe facebook but rather enjoy Twitter and GoodReads.

  8. Bookmarks, postcards, and other stuff generally known as "swag". I have a handful of guitar picks labeled Felonious Jazz. Bryan Gilmer was giving them away at Bouchercon 2009. It's the only swag that ever caught my attention. Bookmarks are hugely popular and totally worth your while. Some people actually collect author bookmarks for their own sake. Postcards are for posting to library buyers and indie stores, to let them know your book exists. The problem with postcards is printers have minimum orders, and you don't need more than about 400. If my library sales and indie orders are any indication, then the system works, but to be honest I suspect it was the reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal that really prompted buyers.

Review in the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Not that I'd be one to boast—no, of course not—but the Richmond Times-Dispatch has this terrific review of Pericles Commission.

Here's the full text:

Basing a novel on a real-life case isn't a new form of fiction -- and not always a successful one -- but Australian writer Gary Corby tells a crackerjack story in his debut mystery.
In 461 B.C., reformer Ephialtes was murdered in Athens, and it's from that killing that Corby fashions The Pericles Commission (335 pages, Minotaur Books, $24.99), a happy melding of historical figures with fictional characters.
When Ephialtes' body falls from above and lands at the feet of 20-year-old Nicolaos -- the fictional son of the sculptor Sophornicus and the older brother of Socrates -- Nicolaos is given a commission by the politician Pericles to find the killer.
Nicolaos has no desire to follow his father's profession and instead wants to rise to Athenian leadership. As he investigates Ephialtes' murder, he discovers a hotbed of political intrigue involving ideology, ambition and corruption. But he also wonders whether the motive for killing Ephialtes might be more personal. And amidst his pursuit, as the bodies pile up, he finds himself falling for Diotima, the dead man's daughter by the courtesan Euterpe.
Corby makes his story sing, with a fascinating plot and well-executed characters both real and fictional. And rarely has Greek history been more accessible to the layman.

For what it's worth, my observation is that nowadays a large number of historical mysteries use real historical characters, and a noticeable proportion refer to real events. It's harder work, but it's very rewarding.

Maybe an even greater number borrow fictional characters to use as detectives, or use real authors as detectives, or other deliberately out-of-place famous people. They're the ones I'd be less sure about. It's nice having the shock value of, say, Joan of Arc as your detective, but very, very difficult to maintain across a novel. If you're to do something that stretches credibility, it has to be for a good reason that makes sense in story context.

I've been quiet on the blog in the last couple of weeks because I have almost...almost...almost...finished book 3. I keep telling my wife it'll be finished tomorrow.

Hadrian's Wall, and the guy who knows it better than anyone else

I'm in awe of Geoff Carter. He's a structural archaeologist in northern England who specializes in how people used to go about building things. It's amazing what he can deduce from holes in the ground.

Geoff shot to fame with an analysis that showed Hadrian's Wall was originally timber.

As part of a documentary, he's recently posted this article about earthworks alongside Hadrian's Wall.

A lot of his other work is on prehistoric structures, such as roundhouses and forts.

The most amazing thing about his archaeology reports is that they are actually well-written, highly readable if you can cope with the minute detail, and sprinkled with fun phrases. I wish all academics and business people wrote as well as him. I particularly like his view that the proper study of mankind is postholes.