Since 1997, you’ve been coming to BarnesandNoble.com to discuss everything from Stephen King to writing to Harry Potter. You’ve made our site more than a place to discover your next book: you’ve made it a community. But like all things internet, BN.com is growing and changing. We've said goodbye to our community message boards—but that doesn’t mean we won’t still be a place for adventurous readers to connect and discover.

Now, you can explore the most exciting new titles (and remember the classics) at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog. Check out conversations with authors like Jeff VanderMeer and Gary Shteyngart at the B&N Review, and browse write-ups of the best in literary fiction. Come to our Facebook page to weigh in on what it means to be a book nerd. Browse digital deals on the NOOK blog, tweet about books with us,or self-publish your latest novella with NOOK Press. And for those of you looking for support for your NOOK, the NOOK Support Forums will still be here.

We will continue to provide you with books that make you turn pages well past midnight, discover new worlds, and reunite with old friends. And we hope that you’ll continue to tell us how you’re doing, what you’re reading, and what books mean to you.

Reply
Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

I'm very excited about today's guest blog by William Landay!

 

Click to here to learn more about Defending Jacob

Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

William Landay’s latest novel is the New York Times bestsellerDefending Jacob. His previous novels are Mission Flats, which won the Dagger Award as best debut crime novel of 2003, and The Strangler, which was an L.A. Times favorite crime novel and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as best crime novel of 2007.

 

The thumbnail bio above is the one I’ve been using lately. It does not reveal much about me, I realize.No doubt it will fail to satisfy the demand of “Web 2.0” for complete transparency. But I don’t think an author ought to reveal too much of his biography, as I explain below.

 

I wrote the following little evasion in 2003, when I first launched a web site to support my novel Mission Flats, and I updated it superficially in 2007, when my second book came out. But essentially my feelings have not changed from the start: the author’s place is offstage. So I apologize for the lack of a proper tell-all author bio in this space. But don’t hold your breath waiting for one.

 

The author bio — that stilted three- or four-sentence blurb on the back flap of the dust jacket — is a dilemma for a novelist. Lately I’ve been scratching my head over it.

 

Its function, of course, is to sell you the book. And so it presents, in very compressed form, a summary of the author’s credentials: the books he’s written, the prizes won, the triumphant reviews. If he has none of these things, it offers other credentials that seem to guarantee the book will be “authentic”: the jobs or education that qualify him to write about cops or cowboys or pop stars or whatever. Lacking all else, it tells you where he lives. Mine is a blend of all these. Here is how it appears on the dust jacket of my new book, The Strangler:

William Landay is the author of the highly acclaimed Mission Flats, which was awarded the John Creasey Dagger as the best debut crime novel of 2003.  A graduate of Yale University and Boston College Law School, he was an assistant district attorney before turning to writing.  He lives in Boston, where he is at work on his next novel of suspense.

Publishers call this the ATA, for “About the Author.” Should I tell you more about myself here?

The trouble is that the ATA influences the reader’s experience of a novel. The reader inevitably will try to look behind the story, to see the writer in the act of writing. The urge is irresistible. As she reads, a little voice whispers in the reader’s ear: “Is the hero a stand-in for the author? Is this or that character based on someone he met? Did any of this really happen?”

 

The other aspect of ATA-writing is that readers demand credentials. Book-shoppers examine the ATA like border guards inspecting a passport. My bio always notes (accurately) that I used to be a prosecutor. An implicit promise is made: my books will be “true” in the sense that they will be based on experience, on fact.

 

Readers insist on this sort of guarantee, but it is a mistake. No writer of any quality can base his novels on fact. The actual day-to-day life of a cop or prosecutor is by turns too dull, too incredible, and above all too haphazard to make a good story. The material must be shaped.

 

Even the best-credentialed writer has to toss out most of what he knows in order to tell a good story. It is not that experience does not matter; it is just that experience does not guarantee anything. Some of our best crime novelists have no law-enforcement credentials (Elmore Leonard, for example); some of our worst are true-blue cops and lawyers.

 

So, how should an author write his ATA? How much to leave in, how much to leave out?

There seem to be two approaches. The first is Flaubert’s: “Hide your life.” So intent was Flaubert on disappearing behind his work that he did not even permit himself to be photographed or painted. No images exist of the great man between childhood and middle age. A publisher once requested his photograph. Flaubert wrote back, “You will see my photograph nowhere. I have refused to have my portrait painted by artist friends of great talent. Nothing will make me yield.” (Check out Frederick Brown’s amazing recent biography, Flaubert.)

 

Flaubert  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other approach is Hemingway’s, in which the author’s life is a self-conscious, purposeful extension of his fiction. Hemingway’s greatest creation was Hemingway, and it is impossible to read The Sun Also Rises or A Farewell to Arms without inserting the author himself into the story. There is nothing sinister or phony in that, of course. All writers draw on personal experience to some extent. Why not seek out material to write about? And once you have it, why not embroider a little, improve on it? Anything goes.

 

Personally, I prefer the Flaubert approach. I am a private person. That is one reason novel-writing appeals to me: Novelists — all storytellers — approach the world through misdirection, from oblique angles, through stories. We come on like crabs, scuttling up to the truth sideways. A more direct, forthright sort of person would be writing essays or memoirs or some other form that addresses the world head-on.

 

More important, I believe each novel has to stand on its own. Either it has the stuff or it doesn’t. The reader should not have to look outside the book cover for proof that it is convincing, moving, and authentic. My books are the only credential that matters.

Ideally, the reader should not be distracted at all by an ATA. She should not be called away by thoughts of an author who exists outside the book, like a ghost peeking over, watching her read, winking, saying, “I wrote that, I wrote that!”

 

So that is my ATA, I guess. It’s a little short on facts. You’ll have to look elsewhere to find out whether I have a golden retriever or was the prom king in high school. But then, maybe this is the way a novelist’s ATA ought to read. After all, the power of novels is more intimate, more alive than their facts. It is the author’s distinctive way of thinking, his vision of the world.

 

(Oh, alright: I wasn’t the prom king.) ♦

Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

Appearances

 

May 15 · Scituate, MA
7:00 PM
Scituate Town Library, 85 Branch Street (directionsmap).
Reading & discussion.

 

May 23 · Watertown, MA
6:00 PM
Stellina’s Restaurant, Authors Night series (mapdetails)
Reading & discussion (hors d’ouevres and cash bar too!).

 

June 7 · Newton, MA
7:30 PM
Waban Library Center, 1608 Beacon Street.
Books provided by New England Mobile Book Fair.
Reading & discussion.

 

 

June 20 · Rockport, MA
7:00 PM
Rockport Public Library, 17 School Street (map).
Reading & discussion.

 

July 11-14 · New York
Thrillerfest conference.
Details to come.

 

July 20 · Cambridge
Authors at Google series.
Details to come.

 

July 25 · Duxbury, MA
7:00 PM
Duxbury Free Library, 77 Alden Street (map)
Reading & discussion.

 

September 15 · Niantic, CT
11:30 AM
East Lyme Community Center, 41 Society Road, Niantic, CT.
Luncheon, speech and book signing to benefit the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut. Also with author Dawn Tripp.

 

October 4-6 · Cleveland
Bouchercon conference.
Details to come.

 

October 26 · Concord, MA
Concord Festival of Authors, Mystery Night (“Mystery Night will feature three mystery writers, each of whom will speak for 15-20 minutes. After the three talks, there will be a joint Q&A followed by a reception/book signing.”

 

November 2 · Boston

Boston College Law School alumni assembly.
Details to come.

 

November 9-11 · Boston

New England Crime Bake conference.

Details here.

 

Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

Bill's blog is here: http://www.williamlanday.com/blog/#.T6mjzOgV0nA

 

Here's an update from a recent blog:

 

In case you missed it

On this morning’s “Anderson,” Anderson Cooper’s new talk show, Nicholas Sparks named Defending Jacob his #1 recommendation for summer reading. I’m floored. Thank you, Nicholas Sparks, wherever you are!

 

 

Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos
Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

Defending Jacob  

 

Defending Jacob

 

Overview

 

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

 

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

 

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

[ Edited ]


 Why we read crime stories (and should keep on reading them)

 

by William Landay

 

My hometown newspaper, the Boston Globe, had an interesting essay Sunday by Jonathan Gottschall about “why fiction is good for you.” Gottschall suggests two answers:

 

… fiction is good for more than kicks. By enhancing empathy, fiction reduces social friction. At the same time, story exerts a kind of magnetic force, drawing us together around common values.

 

That is, (1) fiction teaches us to empathize and, as a result, to be kind; (2) fiction teaches us a common code of morality so we can all live together in something like peace.

I recommend the whole essay to you. As a novelist, of course, I have a rooting interest. Fiction is good for you. I believe it wholeheartedly. To read a novel is to slip into the mind of another person, an exercise in empathy unrivaled by any other art form, and empathy in turn is the essential muscle of morality. In the days immediately after 9/11, Ian McEwan had a memorable essayintheGuardian in which he reiterated this point with a novelist’s perfect faith in the power of empathy. Among the terrorists’ crimes, McEwan wrote, “was a failure of the imagination”: “Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.” Amen.

           

But the fact that fiction is good for you does not explain why we enjoy it so much. Broccoli, exercise, and sobriety are good for you, too, but they are nobody’s idea of fun.

           

Crime fiction in particular presents a logical problem for the fiction-as-broccoli argument. How can stories filled with violence and depravity teach us to be better people? How can empathizing with Hannibal Lecter, say, actually improve our character? And why are we non-criminals so drawn to these crime stories in the first place?

           

Clearly there is an endless appetite for them. We gorge ourselves on crime stories in novels, TV shows, movies, and video games. But the connection between audience and subject is not intuitively obvious. Law-abiding people — people who would not so much as steal a stick of gum in their real lives — will happily devour a story about bloody murder. When they do recoil, the audience’s discomfort often has more to do with the style of the storytelling than the subject matter. So long as the violence is kept out of sight or at least is portrayed tastefully, no one seems especially troubled. In fact, there is a strange, petty sort of propriety among some readers: they will often object to bad language even as they gloss right over the most vivid descriptions of violence. I once wrote a book about the Boston Strangler, which I worried was too gory and misogynistic a topic, but the only objections I ever heard were about my overfondness for the F-word. (For the record, it was my characters who were overfond of the F-word, not me.)

           

Why? What do we see in these stories of crime and violence? Why do they resonate so deeply with us?

           

One popular theory is that the crime in these stories appeals to us as wish fulfillment, fantasy. “Bad men do what good men dream,” as oneobserver puts it. Probably there is something to that. To some people, crime, especially violent crime, is titillating. This is particularly true when the “bad man” is portrayed in a sympathetic or attractive way. Like sex, violence sells.

           

But it doesn’t sell enough. Not to account for crime stories’ millenniums of success. And not enough to account for the sort of reader these stories routinely attract: ordinary housewives and librarians and teachers and accountants — people for whom crime and violence is not exciting at all, but repellant.

           

A better explanation for the attraction of these stories is the roller coaster theory: crime stories allow us to experience danger without risk, from the safety of the living-room couch. The critic Ruth Franklin took this argument a step further recently in an essay about the appeal of disaster stories like “Titanic” or the death of Anne Frank. These stories of tragic death, she wrote, actually make us feel safer.

 

An extreme catastrophe affords us a kind of luxury: a comfortable perch from which to reflect upon our own mortality. We don’t know what will finally happen to us, but whatever it is, it won’t be that. We will not go down with the Titanic; we will not be murdered by the Nazis. We speak of the contemplation of these stories — as historical events or as something close to myth — as “reliving” them. But in fact it is death to which they bring us safely closer.

 

Is it possible that crime stories actually make us feel safer, too? We may shudder at Hannibal Lecter, but none of us expects to meet him. Whatever fate awaits us, it won’t be that. There’s some comfort in that, I suppose. Certainly it would explain why the more disturbing sorts of crime stories are not the hardest-boiled or the most blood-spattered; those we shrug off easily. What gives us the shivers are the stories that we cannot simply write off as impossible to imagine — the ones that strike close to home, that are set in our own recognizable world.

           

Which brings us to the question of whether crime stories might actually be good for us. Can we learn morality from the endless parade of thugs, murderers, and lowlifes that populate crime fiction?

           

Gottschall, in his Globe essay, points out that

 

While fiction often dwells on lewdness, depravity, and simple selfishness, storytellers virtually always put us in a position to judge wrongdoing, and we do so with gusto. As the Brandeis literary scholar William Flesch argues, fiction all over the world is strongly dominated by the theme of poetic justice. Generally speaking, goodness is endorsed and rewarded and badness is condemned and punished. Stories—from modern films to ancient fairy tales—steep us all in the same powerful norms and values. True, antiheroes, from Milton’s Satan to Tony Soprano, captivate us, but bad guys are almost never allowed to live happily ever after.

 

And fiction generally teaches us that it is profitable to be good. … [F]iction, by constantly exposing us to the theme of poetic justice, may be partly responsible for the sense that the world is, on the whole, a just place.

 

That the world is manifestly not a just place does not seem to dissuade us from the happy illusion crime stories create, that crime does not pay and villains do not succeed. Of course there are many crime stories in which evil triumphs, but there is a cost to that sort of plot, a cost that is both commercial and aesthetic. For the most part, the audience demands the “right” ending. And even the darkest of noir stories bend to the market—not out of commercial calculation, necessarily, but because the endings that feel right, that “work” dramatically, reflect this social convention. We are trained to enjoy a certain kind of ending, writers and readers alike. Every crime story is a morality tale.

 


Distinguished Wordsmith
Fricka
Posts: 2,237
Registered: ‎05-04-2010
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

"Every crime story is a morality tale." Well put, William, and welcome to our Mystery Forum.

I confess I had not given much thought to the dilemma facing authors, in re the ATA. I think if I wrote fiction, I too would prefer the Flaubert approach. I do see the attraction of someone "becoming" a Hemingway, but it seems to me that that way is frought with the peril of the individual becoming more and more the hyped character and not so much the authentic self. Just my two knuts!

" A murder mystery is the normal recreation of the noble mind."--Sister Carol Anne O' Marie
Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!


Fricka wrote:

"Every crime story is a morality tale." Well put, William, and welcome to our Mystery Forum.

I confess I had not given much thought to the dilemma facing authors, in re the ATA. I think if I wrote fiction, I too would prefer the Flaubert approach. I do see the attraction of someone "becoming" a Hemingway, but it seems to me that that way is frought with the peril of the individual becoming more and more the hyped character and not so much the authentic self. Just my two knuts!


Well said, Fricka!

Inspired Wordsmith
eadieburke
Posts: 1,925
Registered: ‎01-27-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

Welcome William: I read Defending Jacob over last weekend. Could not put ths book down! Very riveting story. Makes you realize that anything could happen to your child no matter how well you raise them. Two questions: Is angry behavior inherited? Is there really a murder gene? The ending was most surprising! Great book - one that you will think about for a long time! Hope you enjoy your visit with us!
Eadie - A day out-of-doors, someone I loved to talk with, a good book and some simple food and music -- that would be rest. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Distinguished Wordsmith
maxcat
Posts: 4,012
Registered: ‎11-01-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

Very good blog, William. Crime stories are written in the fashion that the public wants a happy ending and everything is cleared up at the end of the book. Some authors are pretty predictable in what they write in that you know exactly what will happen in the end. Those books I tend to stay away from in that they are too predictable and I like an ending that grips you to the very last page.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
Moderator
becke_davis
Posts: 35,755
Registered: ‎10-19-2006
0 Kudos

Re: Guest Blog by Author WILLIAM LANDAY!

I'm not sure if William will be able to join us, but his publicist will send him the direct link so he can see your comments.