Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Five Reviewers' Meat, One Reviewer's Poison

We're into the countdown now, with official release of A PERILOUS CONCEPTION scheduled for next Tuesday, December 6. The debut signing will be 11 days later, at Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Saturday, December 17, 12N-1pm. Y'all come.

And if you can't make it in person, please consider calling the good people at SMB: (206) 587-5737, or, and reserve your signed, dated debut copy, which they will ship to you.

Or if you live around Scottsdale, Arizona, you can get your signed copy at The Poisoned Pen, 4014 N Goldwater Blvd, No. 101, (480)947-2974. (I'll be there myself on January 10, 7pm).

In these rough times, these outstanding independent mystery bookshops, both with national reputations, will really appreciate your support.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that my web site is under reconstruction/relocation, and it will still be a little while before it's up and running. I hope you'll soon be able to visit, and read about the new book, as well as new developments regarding earlier releases.

In the meanwhile, here are some comments from early reviewers on A PERILOUS CONCEPTION.

In the New York Journal of Books, Sam Millar wrote: "Interestingly, this fast-paced story is told from the viewpoint of both protagonist and antagonist. In lesser hands, it would be muddled and disconcerting, but thankfully, Larry Karp has mastered the technique fluently with not a bump in sight. Detective Bernie Baumgartner is a fascinating and compelling character, and no doubt we will be seeing more of him in future books. If you’re looking for a crime thriller to keep you on the edge of your seat right to the very last page, look no further. A Perilous Conception is just what the doctor ordered."

Publishers' Weekly reviewer Cevin Bryerman said: "Karp...tempers his well-constructed whodunit with dashes of science and a hint of poignancy."

Barbara Bibel concluded her Booklist review with: "Karp lays out a very entertaining puzzle for medical-mystery fans."

Tchris, on Tzer Island, was less enthusiastic. He found Dr. Colin Sanford and Detective Bernie Baumgartner to be "insufferable jerks," and the story to be "slow moving." But he allowed that "the writing style is capable," and that "This isn't by any means an awful novel. It has its moments."

Harriet Klausner enjoyed the book: "This is a super twisting medical murder and historical thriller that brings to life the competition to be first to successfully use in vitro fertilization. Fast-paced with a cat and mouse chess game between two intelligent stubborn men, fans will appreciate Larry Karp's interesting suspense.

Finally (for now), in Fresh Fiction, after asking, "Just how far will some doctors go to be the first to produce a baby by in vitro fertilization?" Tanzey Cutter wrote, "The evolution of this plotline, even knowing some of the underlying facts, still makes for a tension-filled, exciting read. It's a fast-paced mystery with a more than satisfactory resolution."

Five out of six ain't too shabby. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Wakeup Call

I spent this past weekend at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento. Three days of ragtime and early jazz, from 9am (no, I didn't come in quite that early) till 11 at night (yes, I did stay that late), with informational seminars, and the opportunity to sit down with friends I see face-to-face only once or twice a year. That Festival has always been a major refresher, a transfusion of energy. Everything upbeat.

But this year was different.

I hadn't been there ten minutes when I ran into a dear friend, and learned that her long-dormant cancer had reawakened. Then, not five minutes after chatting with her, I greeted another very good friend, only to learn she'd recently had the worst kind of diagnosis, and this was going to be her last Festival.

Bummer. All day Friday and well into Saturday, I listened to the music, but I wasn't really tuned in. I started to wonder whether I'd gotten a wakeup call.

A couple of weeks ago, I debated myself in my blog post as to whether I should go ahead with my next mystery novel, or organize, edit, and write up the historical papers I'd acquired from the estate of Brun Campbell, the original Ragtime Kid. Brun desperately wanted to get his history of ragtime published, but he never did. Surrounded by ragtime at the Festival, I asked myself what difference one mystery novel more or less would make, when I could be Brun's second chance.

Brun and I had developed a nice relationship during the five years I'd employed him as protagonist of THE RAGTIME KID and THE RAGTIME FOOL, and given that the old piano man was quite the storyteller himself, I thought I was well-qualified to spruce up his notes and tell his story. Be tough to let an old friend down, especially one as engaging and insistent as Brun.

A passage from COMING INTO THE END ZONE, a memoir by the novelist Doris Grumbach, came into my mind. Ms. Grumbach wrote the book during the year she turned seventy, and it was in large part a compendium of indignation at the nasty stuff old age dumps on people, including the realization of how close one's personal horizon has drawn. The author remembered a friend who said she "thinks we die only when our work is done. I would like to think that is true. I have work still to do." When I googled Doris Grumbach, I was gratified - and amused - to find she is still alive, twenty-three years later and counting, and has written several more books.

Ms. Grumbach's friend could be right, but I suspect she's got it backward. More likely, when we die, our work is done. But either way, the bottom line is the same: Focus on what's at hand, and let the horizon lie where it will. It just might be twenty-three years out there. And if it's twenty-three hours, what are you going to do about it?

By late Saturday I found myself tuning into the music much better, though admittedly not quite as well as at past Festivals. Maybe next year I'll be back to form. And I'll be interested to see what I'm working on then...Lord willin' and the creek don't rise.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Which Of Your Books Is Your Favorite

I'm in the process of relocating my web site, which is going to take a little while. In the meantime, I'll put any announcements regarding my new book, A PERILOUS CONCEPTION, into these weekly blog posts.

My author copies for APC arrived this past week, and as always, I smiled as I looked at the lovely dust jacket the Poisoned Pen folks designed for the book. Some things never get old.

* * *

People often ask me which of my books is my favorite, then add, "I bet it's like asking which of your kids is your favorite."

Well, sort of. I like at least some things in all my books, and I don't dislike any of them. But no way can I select a favorite.

THE MUSIC BOX MURDERS, as my first mystery novel, will always be special on that basis alone. And its successor, SCAMMING THE BIRDMAN, a caper, not only was great fun to write, but Dick Lochte's comment in the LA Times - "Donald Westlake is the reigning master of this type of fiction. Karp isn't quite in his league, but his ending is one that's worthy of Westlake and then some." - was damn sweet icing on the cake. The third in the Music Box Series, THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, was satisfying, in that I felt I took a good step forward in exploring the disabilities and anxieties a person inevitably encounters in the process of growing old.

My medical-ethics standalone, FIRST, DO NO HARM, got the best reviews and sold more copies than any of my books. Hard not to love a success like that. But even more pleasing was the fact that I'd finally written a story I'd been incubating since I was a young boy, and had been working on for some twenty years.

The books in my ragtime historical trilogy were thoroughly enjoyable to research and write, allowing me as they did to enter a subculture new to me, and to play with the ideas of birth, aging, death, and renaissance, both literally and metaphorically. As a group and individually, I'm very happy with the way they turned out.

And now we come to the one book I can exclude, where the analogy of books to children breaks down entirely. Who ever turns thumbs-down or even thumbs-neutral on their newborn baby? But a current release is never a contender for favorite. It always seems full of sharp, jagged edges that could make me bleed if I were to expose myself to them. I've learned, though, to give a new book a little time. With distance, and the intervention of a newer story, the nasty points in a book smooth out, and I come to think, well, maybe it's not so bad after all. Let a year or two pass, then ask me how I like A PERILOUS CONCEPTION. But for now, I'll leave the covers closed and just admire the lovely dust jacket.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Writer's Quandary

With A PERILOUS CONCEPTION, due out next month, I'm currently in that stretch of time called Promotions, when a writer sets aside writing stories in favor of blog posts, interviews, and inquiries to bookshops, all calculated to get people interested in reading the upcoming masterwork.

Whenever I've been in this space before, I've known what my next book would be, and used the back of my mind (and copious numbers of sticky notes and hotel scratch pads) to jot down ideas, so that once I'd completed my promo efforts, I could sail full tilt into my upcoming story.

This time, though, it's different.

While I was writing my ragtime trilogy, a friend who was helping with genealogical research got to fooling around online one day, and found census records which indicated that my mother, who always claimed she'd been an only child, did in fact have two younger sisters. There they were in the 1920 census - but in 1930, their lines in the census report had been crossed out. My mother was a serious narcissist who had been very strongly attached to her father, and on learning the news, my sister and I had word-for-word reactions: "I'll bet she killed them so she could have her darling father all to herself." Nice start for a mystery novel.

Then, during my early medical training, I participated in a botched surgery that was so horrific, I still dream about it. For years now, it's been crying for fictional treatment.

I thought I might be able to combine the two, but probably not. They work together about as well as two other ideas of mine that started life as conjoined twins, but finally evolved into separate existences as THE RAGTIME KID and THE KING OF RAGTIME.

Complicating the situation, last spring I acquired a collection of manuscripts, musical compositions, correspondence, business records, and personal effects of Brun Campbell, the real-life Ragtime Kid, who died in 1952. Much of it is material Brun once hoped to publish, but never did, and it needs to be carefully preserved, then organized into a nonfiction book, probably with an accompanying CD.

So for once, I'm looking forward to finishing my promotional work on a book with as much apprehension as eagerness. Imagine having made marriage overtures to three lovely women, then facing a deadline to choose among them, and wondering whether you might be able to carry off being a bigamist, or even...what would it be, a trigamist? A pigamist?

Well, I guess I'll just have to see how it works out. In the meanwhile, I feel like Carmen Cohen, the little girl with a Latino mother and a Jewish father. Her father's family called her Cohen; her mother's relatives called her Carmen, so the poor kid didn't know whether she was Carmen or Cohen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Characters At The Antiques Show

I spent this past weekend at the triannual Palmer-Wirfs Antiques and Collectables Show at the Portland Expo Center. Years ago, my wife and I rented a booth at Expo as a way to get my mind out of medicine for a couple of days. But now I'm a gimpy-backed writer, and my wife and I are on the other side of the counter, walking slowly from booth to booth, visiting with our old dealer-friends, and making the occasional purchase. And while we go along, I keep my eyes and ears open for more than stuff to buy.

Antiques shows are great for generating characters for works of fiction. Not that I try to lift anyone whole from real life; rather, I keep alert for a specific gesture, a bit of body language, or a spoken line that might launch the actor into a story-in-progress, or set off a string of ideas that generates its own plot. Writing teachers like to toss out material of just this sort, and ask their students to construct stories around them. Want to try a few from my weekend's eavesdropping?

1. A couple approach a display case which contains a small Royal Doulton Toby Jug, clearly of Winston Churchill. "Look," says the man. "W. C. Fields." His wife shakes her head. "No, dear, that's not W. C. Fields. It looks just exactly like Alfred Hitchcock." The husband scowls, then points. "Lookit that cee-gar he's holdin'. Hitchcock didn't smoke cee-gars. It's W. C. Fields."

2. A customer walks up to a dealer whose booth is chockablock with antique hardware, and holds out a hand full of small brass parts. "Would you take 52 dollars for these?" In rapid succession, confusion, amazement, then amusement sweep over the dealer's face. "Well, yes, yes I would," he says. "Actually, I'd be real glad to. 'Cause those pieces only add up to thirty-one dollars."

3. Customer: "What's the best you can do on this teapot?"
Dealer: "Well, let's see...I've got it marked 75. 65's the very best I can do." Customer: "Would you take 50?"

You fill in the dealer's reply, and go from there. Who just might end up dead?