Wednesday, June 20, 2012: Dedicated Issue: Atlantic Monthly Press/Mysterious Press

Grove Atlantic: Atlantic Crime Dedicated Issue

Atlantic Monthly Press: House Blood by Mike Lawson

Mysterious Press: What Comes Next by John Katzenback

Grove Press: Gone by Mo Hayder

Editors' Note

Atlantic Monthly Press/Mysterious Press

Grove/Atlantic continues to expand its crime fiction program at Atlantic Monthly Press and Mysterious Press. Here, with the support of the publisher, Shelf Awareness celebrates the case of the independent publisher that has found and developed major opportunities in the market.

The stories were written by John Mutter and Shannon McKenna Schmidt.


Atlantic Monthly Press : Seven Days by Deon Meyer, The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid, and The Labyrinth of Osiris by Paul Sussman

Books & Authors

Crime Novel Scene

Although there are "significant changes looming on the horizon," business at Grove/Atlantic is good and the house is in an excellent spot, publisher Morgan Entrekin said. For one, "at the big houses, books in the middle are harder and harder to publish, so more and more things are dropping to our level." These include titles by authors in mid-career, authors published originally by independent houses who want to return and solid authors whose sales, however, aren't at levels high enough for the economics of large publishers.

In addition, Grove/Atlantic's relaunch last September of the Mysterious Press imprint, headed by Otto Penzler (see article below), is well-timed, Entrekin said. Crime fiction sales have grown in the last several years thanks to the growth of e-books, and the start of the Atlantic Press crime line in 2003 has given the company a foundation so that "we're not launching Mysterious Press cold," he said.

Noting the growth in self-publishing in crime fiction, Entrekin called it "healthy and interesting," but emphasized that Grove/Atlantic and Mysterious Press offer credibility (which helps get "a little more" attention from reviewers and booksellers) and "added value" to its crime publishing. That added value includes its staff, infrastructure, the payment of advances, traditional and Internet marketing, publicity, a presence at conferences and festivals and "the deep connections, expertise and knowledge that Otto Penzler brings to the table." Besides knowing more about crime fiction than most human beings, he said, Penzler "knows who to go to among reviewers, writers and booksellers for blurbs. You can't put a price on that."

The Atlantic Crime line began when Entrekin, an "avid reader of crime fiction all my life," realized Grove/Atlantic couldn't expand more in its traditional areas of narrative journalism, literary fiction and biography "without bumping into ourselves." The line's first star was Donna Leon, the American writer who has long lived in Venice and sets her Commissario Guido Brunetti novels there.

Leon is an example of a common trait between Grove/Atlantic's crime titles and its literature, history and biography. "Quality does win out," Entrekin explained. "There's no faking it with crime readers." As a result, the company aims for the high end of the market in this area. "We might not be able to break out everyone in big ways, but so long as we put the right amount of money and resources into publishing them, we can all have success together," Entrekin noted.

Typically Atlantic has attracted some authors who had been "underpublished" at large houses and published them in ways that the big houses couldn't. "If we can boost their sales 50%-60%, it's very significant," Entrekin said. In many cases, the company has been able to obtain the author's backlist and reintroduces them as part of its longterm effort to build and stick with writers.

Among the many authors the company is working with:

Mike Lawson published two Joe DeMarco books with Doubleday that "didn't perform at a level they needed them to," Entrekin said. Entrekin signed Lawson and encouraged him to use House in each title "to give the series a recognizable name." Entrekin also obtained backlist rights and did some digital promotions that included special pricing to get people to read his earlier work. (See more on Lawson below.)

In the case of Mo Hayder, who won this year's Edgar for best novel for Gone, the publisher is reissuing her backlist and is doing a range of promotions, including with Barnes & Noble and Hudson, online, in specialty crime magazines and in consumer advertisements online. "Are we going to sell 400,000 copies?" Entrekin asked rhetorically. "No, of course not, but we'll double and triple her sales." (See more on Hayder below.)

Another international author underpublished in the U.S. is Val McDermid, the Scottish crime writer who has sold millions of books worldwide and whose The Retribution was put out by Atlantic early this year. "We took her to the Winter Institute, to ALA, and on tour," Entrekin said. "We were trying to reinvigorate her profile and sales here." The efforts had a positive effect: "Sales were almost double that of her last book." In September, the company is publishing her next novel, The Vanishing Point.

Little, Brown published several titles by South African writer Deon Meyer "diligently," but was unable to get "any traction," Entrekin said. Atlantic is publishing Seven Days in September and has reissued Meyer's backlist. Last fall Meyer won the Barry Award for best thriller at Boucheron for Thirteen Hours.

Scottish crime writer Christopher Brookmyre, author of Where the Bodies Are Buried (July), has an edge that Entrekin compared with Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen. Grove/Atlantic is doing his backlist in e-book form and running promotions.

All this activity has created a "difficulty" for Grove/Atlantic, as Entrekin put it: "We don't want to get much bigger and have the problem big publishers have of publishing too much. We're selectively looking for new crime writers, and have maybe only four or five slots to fill." He noted dryly that Grove/Atlantic continued to "look internationally, but not in Scandinavia. That train left the station and it was very crowded."


The Mysterious Press: Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos, Return of the Thin Man by Dashiel Hammett, and The Hot Country by Robert Olen Butler

Otto Penzler Returns to 'Real Publishing'

For mystery legend Otto Penzler, setting up shop for the Mysterious Press at Grove/Atlantic early last year was a return to a kind of publishing he cherishes. "This is real publishing," he said. "We don't have to have quarterly estimated earnings and sales targets." In a tone mixing appreciation and awe, he continued: "Morgan [Entrekin] loves books, and he still calls them books. He reads every book I've acquired and is innovative about marketing and promotions. He's fearless about publishing: he'll plunk down a lot of money. I love working with him."

While Penzler's Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, founded in 1978, has made only one move--to TriBeCa from Midtown--the Mysterious Press (and Otto Penzler Books) has moved between several publishers. In 1989, Penzler sold Mysterious Press, which he founded in 1975, to Warner Publishing. In 2009, Penzler bought back the name from Hachette, Warner's successor. For its part, Otto Penzler Books has been an imprint at several publishing houses, including Carroll & Graf, Simon & Schuster and most recently Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The revamped Mysterious Press started off with a bang. Last fall its first books consisted of a trifecta of titles by major authors: The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates, Headstone by Ken Bruen and Murder in Mount Holly by Paul Theroux. They were followed this winter by another "amazing" group, Penzler said, that included the "very successful" Harbor Nocturne by Joseph Wambaugh and Poison Flower, a Jane Whitefield novel by Thomas Perry.

Harbor Nocturne, which has gone into several printings, made the New York Times extended bestseller list and the Los Angeles Times list. Poison Flower landed on the main West Coast bestseller lists.

This season, Mysterious Press is hitting full stride, with What Comes Next by John Katzenbach, published this month, "very possibly the biggest and most commercial" of the imprint's titles. (See story on the book and author below.) The book struck Penzler from his first reading: "I've read a lot of tough stuff, and this was white knuckles. It's the creepiest, chilliest book I've ever read." He called the book's tone all the more surprising because Katzenbach is "a charming, funny guy, with a wife and children. He couldn't be a nicer person."

Another major title is The Three-Day Affair by Michael Kardos, coming out in September, a first novel (Penzler's first first novel in a dozen years) about three longtime college friends who meet annually for a weekend of bowling, golf, eating and drinking. On a drive, they stop at a convenience store for one of the trio to go in and get a pack of cigarettes. The two who are waiting in the car see their friend return with his arm around a girl, the cashier, pushing her into the car and yelling, "Drive!" (He tells them he was broke and had to take her.) The tension among the three and between them and the girl escalates. "Do they pay her off?" Penzler said. "One of the three says they have to kill her."

Another major title is Return of the Thin Man, a November book that consists of two Dashiell Hammett stories--After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man--done for the first two of the five Thin Man movie sequels. Between 120 and 140 pages, the stories were the basis for the movies' screenplays and have never been published in their entirety. "They're fully polished and have great dialogue," Penzler said. With a bit of understatement, he added: "They're a huge coup."

Penzler found the stories in appropriate sleuthing fashion: he was talking with Richard Layman, a Hammett biographer and executor of his estate, who thought that he had seen a story Hammett had written for one of the Thin Man movies. Penzler was immediately interested and asked him to investigate, so Layman "looked around and tore the house apart," Penzler said. "And he found two!"


Mo Hayder: 'It's the Research That's Scary'

A dozen years ago, Mo Hayder's first thriller, Birdman, was plucked from the slush pile and became a bestseller in the U.K. She opted to produce a book around the time many of the people she knew began having children. "I had a burning urge to write," said Hayder, who was then in her 30s. "My friends' biological clocks were ticking, and my writing clock was ticking away."

Birdman introduced readers to police detective Jack Caffery, who tracked murderers in London before joining Bristol's Major Crime Investigation Unit in England's West Country. Hayder's fifth novel featuring Caffery, Gone, won this year's Edgar Award for Best Novel. In the suspenseful story from the "maestro of the sinister" (New York Daily News), a crime that at first appears to be a routine carjacking is actually the abduction of the 11-year-old girl who was sitting in the vehicle's backseat.

Garnering the Edgar "is a huge honor, it really is," said Hayder. The only downside was that it required the reluctant public speaker to get up on stage and address a roomful of people. "I blame Dickens for this and Byron to a degree," she said. "They set this trend that writers have to be larger than life and have to speak and perform."

Despite having a bone to pick with Dickens, Hayder was brought up in an academic family and taught to respect the classics. She was firmly steered away from reading material like crime fiction. "If you were reading a thriller, it was the sort of thing you would hide in a brown paper cover," she said. Knowing she wanted to write but undecided as to what kind of book, it came as somewhat of a shock to realize her preference was to craft the once-forbidden thrillers. "Pretty much everything I was drawn to had a dark trajectory to it," Hayder said.

Dubbed the U.K.'s Thomas Harris, Hayder has earned a reputation for gruesome violence in her gritty thrillers. The contrast between the dark subject matter and her angelic looks has often prompted people to ask why a nice girl like her is writing "such evil stuff." (She deliberately chose the androgynous "Mo" as a pseudonym.) Getting older has a distinct advantage for Hayder in that the question is becoming less frequent. "It doesn't seem like such a huge disparity for people anymore," she said. "I can actually see a bit of change in people's attitudes."

Although writing violence-filled novels doesn't scare Hayder, researching them does. "You're finding out about reality, you're finding out about things that are actually happening to people," she noted. "Curiously, I find that once I've written about it, the nightmares go away. After it's out on the page it almost loses that power over you."

Before becoming a novelist, Hayder, who lives in the picturesque Cotswolds, worked as a barmaid, a security guard, a filmmaker, a hostess in a Tokyo club, an educational administrator and an English teacher in Asia. She has an M.A. in film from the American University in Washington, D.C., and an M.A. in creative writing from Bath Spa University in the U.K.

Along with the page-turners featuring Caffery, Hayder is the author of three stand-alone novels. The most recent, Hanging Hill, centers on a policewoman and her estranged sister as they're drawn into an underground world of sex and violence after the murder of a teenage girl. Writing stand-alone stories serves a special purpose for Hayder. Like the sorbet consumed between courses during a lavish meal, she said, "they refresh the palate."


John Katzenbach: Menacing Milieus

When John Katzenbach moved from Miami to western Massachusetts, he had a concern. "I was slightly terrified that somehow the source of evil that had fueled my books down in Florida would be absent," he said. As it turns out, though, "there are plenty of nefarious things to write about around here." The author's real-life milieu is the setting for his newest novel, What Comes Next, a heartstopping story about the race to save a 16-year-old runaway kidnapped by a sadistic couple.

Katzenbach might very well be writing novels of manners instead of thrillers if he hadn't lived and worked in Miami during the crime-ridden 1980s. "It was a graduate school education in the evil people can do to each other," he said. "Fabulous place to be; loved every minute of it." Katzenbach wrote his first novel, In the Heat of the Summer, the story of a journalist who unwittingly inspires a killer to keep terrorizing the city, between reporting gigs at the Miami News and the Miami Herald. At the latter, he shared the newsroom with Edna Buchanan and Carl Hiaasen.

Only after he had several books under his belt did Katzenbach realize that he was writing thrillers. To have characters die in horrific ways during the course of a story didn't seem all that unusual when "every day in Florida you would pick up the paper and read that somebody had been stabbed or shot or eviscerated or guillotined or whatever," he said. "It was like being in the theater all the time and watching these dramas play out in front of you."

Regardless of where Katzenbach crafts his thrillers, "it's all about the interior landscape you create on the page," he said. While writing What Comes Next, he enjoyed getting into the heads of the various characters: a retired professor suffering from dementia, a teenage girl, a business-minded pair of villains and a sex offender who helps out the police. "As a novelist, sometimes you have different relationships with your characters over the years," he said. "When I wrote this book, I really loved everybody in it."

Katzenbach's 11th novel, What Comes Next is dedicated to a close friend who was diagnosed with a frontotemporal lobe dementia. While researching the disease to understand it better, he came across a mention of Lewy Body Dementia, which can cause hallucinations. He began wondering what would happen if someone suffering from that illness witnessed a crime. "That observation created the entire book, and off I went," said Katzenbach. "I started writing the next day."

In the novel, retired professor Adrian Thomas receives the devastating news that he has Lewy Body Dementia shortly before he sees Jennifer Riggins snatched off the street. She's taken by a couple who runs a website,, on which they broadcast in real time the horrors inflicted on their helpless victims. As the police drag their heels, the professor realizes that if he doesn't act soon, Jennifer might not be found alive.

Creating the villainous couple was an intriguing part of the writing process for Katzenbach. The duo doesn't think of themselves as criminals but rather entrepreneurs who provide entertainment for their viewers. "As an author you really have to identify strongly with your bad guys because they ultimately are the engine that's driving the whole book forward," he noted.

Katzenbach won't cop to having committed any crimes, so how does he get into the head of a bad guy? It's about extrapolating human behavior and asking himself how he can bring to the characters the kind of necessary darkness that engages readers and allows them to understand a villain's motivation, be it ambition, money or a lust for killing. "They don't necessarily have to identify with it, but they can understand it," Katzenbach said. "That's why I work hard to create that atmosphere. But it doesn't mean you shouldn't invite me to dinner."


Mike Lawson's Capital Crimes

When nuclear engineer turned novelist Mike Lawson first thought about writing thrillers, he knew one thing for certain: the setting would be Washington, D.C. The Seattle-area resident was once employed in the nation's capital and frequently returned on business trips while working for the U.S. Navy's nuclear power program.

"D.C. is a target-rich environment for a writer," Lawson said. "There is always something going on there that's scandalous or corrupt or stupid or heroic. The other thing about D.C. is that it's a place where you're dealing with big issues and big institutions--the FBI, CIA, NSA, Congress, the White House. It's a place where you can always find a new story idea."

Another decision Lawson made early on was to write a series starring the same central characters. Leading readers through D.C.'s behind-the-scenes political intrigue is fixer Joe DeMarco, who makes his seventh appearance in House Blood (July). Tess Gerritsen is a fan of Lawson, an average guy with no super human skills, calling him "one of the most engaging heroes I've ever encountered."

A lawyer on House Speaker John Mahoney's payroll, DeMarco's off-the-books role is to play troubleshooter for his powerful boss. In his most recent outing, he goes up against a ruthless pharmaceutical corporation that stands to make billions from a new discovery. The company's cold-blooded CEO targets a philanthropist to be the unsuspecting bearer of the drug to human test subjects, the victims of wars and natural disasters she's aiding in third-world countries.

Ideas for Lawson's previous novels have come from headline-making news stories like the breach of the no-fly zone around Washington, D.C., NSA wiretapping and the Valerie Plame spy case. The initial source of inspiration for House Blood was television advertising, specifically many drug commercials. "They tell you in about 10 seconds what the drug will fix and then 40 spend seconds on how it will kill you," he said with some irritation.

That got Lawson thinking about how medications are tested. He read a Vanity Fair article, which is referred to in House Blood, about how U.S. pharmaceutical companies conduct most of their clinical drug trials overseas. "Then I had the idea of tying it to a relief organization, which would be even more under the table," he said.

Lawson worked on his first novel, The Inside Ring, while commuting aboard a ferry from Seattle to his job at a naval shipyard in Bremerton and spent a decade honing his craft before landing a book deal. For him, creating thrilling tales trumps overhauling nuclear powered submarines and being a member of the government's Senior Executive Service. "It was interesting and a very good career," Lawson said, "but writing is fun."


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