Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tim Hallinan on E-Books

ROSEMARY: I met Tim Hallinan online through Dorothy L. Although we've yet to meet in person, I've gotten very fond of his posts and have asked him to stop by for a visit today. Timothy's first published book, THE FOUR LAST THINGS, came out in 1990. He's written ten published novels since then, six in the Simeon Grist series and four in his current series of thrillers, set in Bangkok and featuring rough-travel writer Poke Rafferty. (Just one of the reasons I love his writing!) The most recent of the highly-praised Rafferty books is this year's THE QUEEN OF PATPONG. Later this month, CRASHED, the first novel in a third series, will debut as an e-book - Hallinan's first e-book "first edition" and his timing couldn't be better.

TH: In a few short words the New York Times, that Olympian temple of condescension, has just announced that it's expanding its Bestsellers List to include e-books.

Whoa! Stop the car. The Times? The paper that once declined to review Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh because they thought it was “regional writing?” The paper that insists on segregating “genre” books in their own little corner to prevent their infecting – you know, real literature? That paper?

Hoo-hooo-hooo. Taken to its logical extreme, that means there's a chance a self-published book will find itself listed in the Times. I can imagine elitists all over Manhattan spilling their morning cup of Oolong into their laps. And it's about XXXking time.

In my long and spotty career, I've had excellent relationships with publishers. They've paid me for, and published, ten novels I made up all by myself. I've found publishing people to be, on the whole, well-intentioned and sincere in their desire to publish good work. (I exempt from this statement whatever idiot at Simon & Schuster decided a couple of weeks ago to publish an upcoming novel called A Shore Thing by the decade's most depressing celebrity, Snooki.)

Nevertheless, the Times announcement is important to me for two reasons, one sort of national and the other sort of selfish. Nationally, this might ultimately mean the end of New York as the publishing center of America. Whenever I see one of those disaster movies that shows 1000-foot waves breaking over the Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building, my first thought is, “There goes the publishing industry.” And not entirely a bad thing, either. New York is fine, but it's not America, and there's no reason for a few blocks of Manhattan to maintain a stranglehold on what we read.

On the selfish level, I'm just about to self-publish for the first time. A few months back I started to put my old Dutton and Morrow books online as e-books. Much to my surprise, they sold (and are selling) pretty well – high three-figures to low four-figures every month, and climbing. In the meantime, I'd written the first two books in a new series and was being told by my agent and, later, two publishers, that no one wants to read funny thrillers these days.

Okay, maybe so. These are not cozies or slapstick – they're hard-edged books that derive most of their humor from character and an inversion of the usual moral standard. Looking around a while back, I realized that we're absolutely surrounded by crooks – crooks in dark suits and power ties and Jimmy Choo heels, and that they're pretty much getting their way no matter who's president.

So I invented a series that's essentially all crooks. Junior Bender, is an unhappily divorced man who still loves his wife and worships his daughter. In his night job, he's a burglar, and he's good at it. In his day job, he's a private eye whose clients are all crooks. So Junior busts crooks on behalf of crooks.

The first in the series is called CRASHED, and it's coming out on Amazon and iBooks right after Thanksgiving. In it, when one crook gets ripped off by another, Junior is the guy who gets hired. In the book, Junior finds himself on the wrong side of his own already paper-thin moral code, being forced to prevent sabotage against a multi-million dollar porn film starring exactly the kind of person he'd normally want to protect. At the age of 23, Thistle Downing is broke, strung-out, hopeless, and on the edge of obscurity. But between the ages of eight and fifteen, she was the biggest television star in the world, a brilliant natural comedian until her talent slowly began to desert her. Now desperate, she's facing the ultimate humiliation . . . and she's so wasted she doesn't even know that someone's been trying to kill her.

So the challenge for Junior is to thread his way between his dangerous clients and their dangerous enemies while at the same time trying to find a way to save Thistle from self-destruction. Oh, and it's funny.

So, thanks to the e-books revolution, I can write Crashed and the rest of this series with or without a publisher's blessing, and make it available globally, let it sink or swim. Capitalism at its most carnivorous. If it sells enough, the Times will have to notice it. And New York has nothing to do with getting it published.

We live in interesting times, don't we?

ROSEMARY: We do, indeed. Good luck with Queen (which I loved) and keep us posted on Crashed. Visit Tim at
Tim's mention of humor in mysteries reminded me of the highly entertaining - Wickedly Funny - Crimebake panel that Toni Kelner moderated a few days ago. Stop back later this week for more adventures in book publishing and a look at whether or not Funny is the new "F" bomb which should be dropped carefully.


  1. Is that the same New York Times that publishes Bozo' poetry? Ahem...
    Top post. Crashed is a beaut of a book.

  2. And I've heard so many cool things about Tim I can't wait to meet him at the American Library Association's Midwinter event in San Diego next January.

  3. very funny Tim--I am not drinking tea this morning either...will you tell us something about how you're spreading the word about the new e-book?

  4. What a great post! And add me to your fan club.

    SOoo..yeah. It might be that we're seeing the beginning of a new era. What you said about self-published books on the list--wouldn't that be amazing? Wonder if "they'll" figure out a way to prevent that from happening. Not that I'm a conspiracy theorist or anything..

  5. Hi Tim! I think we're just exploring the tip of the iceberg with e-books. For the first time my Kindle numbers were above my hardcovers on Amazon for my latest book. I think it's only a matter of time before someone perfects the definitive reader and then no one will think of carrying a bulky real book around any more. And what this will mean for bookstores--I shudder to think.

  6. Hi, everyone, and thanks for reading and commenting. It's really good to know that (a) Paul thinks CRASHED is a beaut, (b) Rosemary can't wait to meet me, (c) Roberta's not drinking tea as she reads something funny -- you know, if you leave the sugar out of tea and coffee it'll wipe right off the keyboard -- and (d) Hank wants me to add her to my fan club. If I had one, I would. Oh, and (e) that Rhys' e-books are outselling her paper books. Mine, too, I'm amazed to say.

    I'm promoting the book via blogs, such as this one, the ever-active Kindle groups (just skirting the no-bsp rules) DL and other mystery groups, and soliciting reviews and LOTS of blurbs from published friends. And I have a monthly newsletter that goes to about 4500 people who have contacted my site, and CRASHED will be the central BSP item -- the newsletter is mostly not BSP.

    Anybody got any really good ideas?

    Also, thanks many times over to Rosemary for helping me with this, mid-trek in Nepal.

    BTW, I'm blogging DAILY FOR A YEAR at -- today it's on suicide as an indicator of quality of life in various countries. A little later, it'll be about CRASHED.

  7. Great post, Tim. If you could see me, I'd be standing and applauding loudly.

    BTW, your book is awesome. More to come. :)

  8. Great post Tim!

    Wouldn't it be great to see self-published writers on the NYT list. This is just the latest in a string of great news for e-books and indie writers. It is really refreshing to see someone with your talent leading the way.

    BTW. I've read CRASHED. It is funny and full of devious characters, but it is every bit as well written as Tim's Poke Rafferty books.


  9. Great post, Tim. Count me in as someone who likes funny thrillers.

  10. Hi, again -- what a great turnout. Wow! Debbi, whose own new book, LEAST WANTED, is a tremendous read, likes CRASHED, as does CJ, whose THE END OF MARKING TIME I really love. One of the things that never occurred to me when I thought about being a writer, is how much it would mean when writers I admire like my work. It's one thrill that never gets old.

    And thanks to you, Darlene, for the kind words and for being one of those people publishers don't believe in -- readers who like funny thrillers.

    This has been a great experience. Thanks, Rosemary, to you and all here.