When PW asked publishers to suggest "rising star" crime authors for this feature, little did we know what a floodgate we were opening. The range of writers was as tremendous and as diverse as the publishers heard from—which made for some difficult decisions. One aspect that became clear was the fact that the designation "rising star" is not limited to new authors. For a variety of reasons, some writers seem poised to break out now after writing five, 10 or even more novels—in many cases, their publishers seem to be grooming them for bestsellerdom. Other authors have received exceptional notices—and often, major contracts—after just one or two books. Here are 10 writers, representing both of the aforementioned groups, whose stars appear to be on the ascendant.
Brian Haig: Judging vs. Decision-Making
When Warner Books executive editor Rick Horgan discusses Brian Haig's novels, the excitement is practically palpable. "First of all," Horgan tells PW, "the protagonist of the books, Sean Drummond, is a JAG attorney, a military lawyer, who's been described by reviewers as sort of a wiseacre smart-mouth. To me, he's what you'd get if you jammed a Jack Nicholson into an army uniform." He's certainly not, Horgan adds, "the sort of character you'd expect to read in either a legal thriller or a thriller with a military backdrop."
The other aspect of Haig's writing that attracted Horgan was his depiction of the army as "a specific culture, not unlike a corporate culture, with its own etiquette and pecking order, ideological clashes, etc. That really hadn't been done before. People like Clancy tend to put the hardware in the foreground, and Brian is interested more in the people. I like to say his books are about motives, not munitions."
Warner is so enthusiastic that Haig has been contracted for five more books. "This is totally unprecedented for me," says Horgan. "The most remarkable part of it is that we had signed him for six books before the first book had even sold one copy. When we sent the first book out to get some advance column mentions, everyone said, 'It's Clancy meets Grisham.' When those two people were mentioned in the same breath, we felt we had something."
Horgan is impressed also with the rate of Haig's output: "This is a guy who can write a nearly flawless book in three months. At times I'm fearful that if I wait too long before I've responded to his manuscript, he'll just write another book. It's almost comical." Horgan has a theory for this unusual productivity. "It's not that he comes from a long line of novelists, but he certainly comes from a long line of achievers. It's in his DNA. Somehow, on a biological level, he just knows how to write."
He also knows the military. Haig is a former career infantry officer and military strategist whose 22 years of experience include a stint as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The fact that he's also the son of former Secretary of State Alexander Haig helps to inform his books. "All of us spend time judging powerful people," Haig explains to PW. "From being so close to people who are really in power, when the problem is actually on your desk, as you quickly find out, it's more than just a judgment, it's now a decision. There's a big difference between having an opinion and having to make a decision. And Secret Sanction is to some degree about that difference."
Haig says he made a concerted effort to go after a particular audience. "First, I tried to combine two popular areas, legal thrillers and international thrillers. Secondly, there's a new world order that's not as well written about. So many thriller writers focussed on the Cold War; what I hope to do is focus on aspects of the post—Cold War, which I think are still matters of curiosity for many people." —Hilary S. Kayle
Great Expectations: With a film deal in the works with a major star who wants to develop the Sean Drummond character over the course of Haig's series, Horgan says, "We're looking to add Brian to the pantheon of Warner blockbuster thriller writers."
Robert Wilson: From Travel to Mysteries
After its publication last fall, Robert Wilson's A Small Death in Lisbon grew into a sizable hit for Harcourt. "We went into four printings, doubling the number of our initial run," says senior editor Walter Bode. Riding this wave of success, the house has even higher hopes for The Company of Strangers, Wilson's latest, which is due next month.
"I didn't know Rob Wilson from Adam when I got the galley for A Small Death from the U.K.," admits Bode, "but when I started reading it, I couldn't stop. It's one of those glittering achievements where an author brings together two totally different story lines using a real subtlety of characterization. Now Rob is moving the way le Carré did—he's writing as a novelist."
A Brit living in Portugal, Wilson is charmingly candid about the path of his career. "I got into mysteries from writing travel stories about Africa," he says. Having spent a good deal of time in West Africa, Wilson—who concedes that he reads "very, very few mysteries myself"—sampled the work of Raymond Chandler and then wrote four noirish yarns set on that continent. "They were quite original and got good reviews, but they didn't sell," he says. "I realized I had to do something different. It's a constant battle for an author to make money where you can." From his Portugal address, he wrote a guidebook to his adopted country, which aroused his interest in its recent past. "At the time, the Nazi gold business had hit the media," he comments, "and I thought maybe there could be a story in that." From this seed A Small Death in Lisbon blossomed.
"Since the end of the Cold War, there's been a hunger for mystery thrillers like this," says Bode. "The international spy genre had a decade-long hiatus while people figured out what to do." Bode is convinced that A Small Death is only the beginning. "Rob is really in control of his work. He's becoming more complex and more interesting. He lets the characters move the story line and create the complications."
To capitalize on the popularity achieved by last fall's release, Harcourt is bringing Wilson over to the United States. He will make bookstore and media appearances and even be a guest panelist at Bouchercon in Washington, D.C., in November.
"Reviews were very important for A Small Death, for one reason because Rob's prose is not simple," says Bode. "He appeals to the intelligent-thriller audience, which he has now reached."
Harcourt has two more books under contract, says Bode, who anticipates a steady stream of a book a year. The house has further proved its enthusiasm for Wilson's work by acquiring his four Africa novels, none of which were published in this country. They will be released individually in trade paperback, the first appearing with Wilson's next mystery hardcover, which indicates a change of venue in its title: Blind Man of Seville.
In an additional commitment to Wilson, Bode reports that all copies of The Company of Strangers will be banded with a money-back guarantee, promising that if le Carré fans don't find Wilson just as exciting, they can get their money back. —Robert Dahlin
Great Expectations: "As a real le Carré fan, I don't even blush about comparing Rob to him," Bode declares. "Rob has all the talents and insights."
George P. Pelecanos: Toward a Higher Orbit
When large-scale success arrives for George P. Pelecanos—and there seems to be no doubt on the part of his publisher, Little, Brown, that it will—he'll be anything but an overnight success. "George has been getting extensive review coverage and the enthusiastic support of people in the mystery network for a long time," says LB publisher Michael Pietsch. "But there's a huge gulf between that world and the general interest world. It takes a long time to escape that gravitational field and move into a higher orbit."
Pelecanos wrote his first book, A Firing Offense, in 1989 and saw it published in 1992. "I sent it to St. Martin's over the transom, so a year passed before I heard back from them, and by then I was deep into another book. That's when I began to see I could make a living at this," he says.
Earlier this year, Little, Brown published Right As Rain, the first in a series starring Derek Strange, a cop turned private detective. In February 2002, the house will publish Hell to Pay, the second installment with the same character. Both books are set solidly in Washington, D.C., as are all of Pelecanos's novels—"I'm chronicling the societal changes here in the last half-century. That is going to be my life's work."
Pietsch credits Pelecanos for coming up with the Strange character, but he had input as well. "The books he was writing previously were reluctant mysteries, meaning they didn't involve a detective and they didn't have a lot of the elements that make these novels recognizable," says Pietsch. Pelecanos remembers it this way: "A lot of my books were about guys sitting in bars talking. My publisher said to me, it's time to get out of the bar."
Packaging, too, has been standardized so that it will ring familiar. "Up to now, the jackets for George's books were different every time," says Pietsch. "We established a new jacket look for him with Hell to Pay, which is also being mimicked in the mass market edition, due out in February."
In other marketing efforts—part of a $100,000 campaign for Hell to Pay—Little, Brown will be establishing a Web site for Pelecanos (www.georgepelecanos.com) and distributing an e-mail newsletter. At the end of February, he'll set off on a 20-city tour scheduled to coincide with publication of Hell to Pay. Pelecanos is happy to oblige, but he's never been one to generate his own publicity. "I go where they send me. It was really grim in the beginning with 2,000-copy print runs, no advertising, no touring. I let the books go out there and figured they were going to find an audience. I was wrong in a sense, but I was also right. The audience grew little by little, thanks to some press and independent booksellers."
Pelecanos is also a screenwriter and, with Michael Imperioli of Sopranos fame, has co-written a screenplay for a movie based on his novel King Suckerman, which should begin shooting this fall. "There are two good things about having a movie made of one of your books," says Pelecanos. "One is the money, and the other is that it drives more people to read your books." —Natalie Danford
Great Expectations: "We've determined that George is going to be on the bestseller list," says Pietsch. "He's as good as any writer working today and should be as popular."
John Connolly: The Irish Advantage
One fact that may distinguish John Connolly from the pack of rising stars in the American mystery/ thriller genre is that he's not a native—which may come as a surprise for fans of his protagonist, Charlie "Bird" Parker, a seemingly quintessential, former NYC cop—turned—private eye. "My advantage," Connolly claims, "is that I'm Irish. I approach things slightly differently from American writers, because when you're living in the middle of something and experiencing it every day, you tend to see it in a very particular way. As an Irish person writing about America, I've a different point of view."
Connolly also believes his regular stint with the Irish Times gives him additional advantages over many crime writers. "As a journalist, you know that anything can be researched. If you're prepared to do the leg work and work a phone, you can find out anything. Dark Hollow was based in part on one of the murders that I covered when I was a reporter. That kind of material feeds my work—and gives the novel a kind of power, I hope."
All of Connolly's books have been published in Ireland and Britain (and hit those countries' bestseller lists) prior to their U.S. release. His first book, Every Dead Thing, was published here by Simon & Schuster in 1999 and was followed last July by Dark Hollow. The Killing Kind is now out overseas and is due for stateside publication sometime next year. Though he's a new author, Connolly has observed many changes in the mystery category over the years. "The lines of demarcation between mystery novels and serious literary fiction are becoming more and more unclear. And also, increasingly, crime fiction is being populated by very fine writers." They bring to the genre, he says, "a great deal of literary talent and merit, using the structures of crime fiction to explore universal themes. In my case, I'm interested in the idea of morality and compassion and empathy—and those are things that are worthy of any book, not simply crime fiction. There have never been more good writers in the field than now. This is the golden age of crime fiction; it's not the 1940s, it's now."
Simon and Schuster put its clout behind Connolly with an 18-city tour for Dark Hollow. Emily Bestler, executive editorial director, tells PW, "His signings were very successful; the stores love him and that word-of-mouth is just the sort of thing that you can't buy. His reviews are quite impressive and we're banking on the fact that what he's done in England and Ireland is something that he can do here."
Connolly's strength, Bestler says, lies in his unique approach to the genre. "His books have a level of moral complexity and an understanding of relationships that you just don't see very often. As a result, you enter his world and he grabs you by the throat and he just doesn't let go. So many crime thrillers these days are not dealing with the larger issues, and John Connolly in many respects is."—Hilary S. Kayle
Great Expectations: "He's got all the right elements," says Bestler, "and he tells a fantastic story. There's an elegance to his writing, too, which also makes him stand out from the crowd."
Peter Robinson: A Rising Star at 51
Aftermath, due out next month, marks the 12th book to star Peter Robinson's Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks of the Yorkshire police force. To hear Morrow's publicity plans, however, one would almost think the publisher were heralding the arrival of a brand-new author.
Though In a Dry Season (1999) is credited as the title that put Robinson and his literary police procedurals on the map, in-house enthusiasm (first at Avon hardcover, then at Morrow when the Avon line was subsumed there) began to grow with the 1998 mass market edition of Blood at the Root, the ninth in the series. Before that, says executive editor Trish Grader, Robinson was published (at Scribner and Berkley Prime Crime) pretty much at the basic category level. "Blood at the Root increased his mass market profile with a more mainstream-looking cover," Grader says. "It got him into the wholesale market and doubled the sales of his previous books." With In a Dry Season next, the house took an aggressive position. "It was fresh and bigger," says Grader, with a second narrative, set during WWII, that served as a counterpoint to the main story. Morrow prepared ARCs with rave quotes solicited from booksellers, sent Robinson on tour and made a major review effort. "We doubled the number of copies we shipped," Grader says. "The net was way more than double, and the sell-through was better than ever before." The book picked up an Anthony Award and numerous awards in Canada, where Robinson lives.
Cold Is the Grave, the next book (Aug., 2000), hit the L.A. Times bestseller list—a first for Robinson. "We did special shelf-talker cards," Grader says. "That got us a little more display. We sent him on an extensive tour and made a major review effort, which paid off. That's the plan going forward." Aftermath, which garnered a starred PW review (Forecasts, Aug. 27), will appear in stores just a month after the paper edition of Cold Is the Grave. A six-city tour is planned as well as a 25-city radio campaign.
For Robinson, this new treatment of his books is something special. "It's odd to be a 'rising star' at age 51, when you've published your 15th novel, but it's exciting too," he says. "The newness began with In a Dry Season, because it was so different. That book set me up for future ideas. It was a regeneration." In the beginning, he explains, his hope was simply to make a living as a writer. "Now I want to write a better and better book. I challenge myself each time and push myself, and that makes it interesting." With Aftermath, Robinson explains, the story begins with the capture of the criminal, then looks at the effect of the crime on the community. "But mostly it probes societal issues. It's less who done it than why they did. I'm more interested in motive and psychology. I didn't explore Banks very fully in the beginning. I'm now delving more deeply into his background and his character. It's been an excellent experience." —Suzanne Mantell
Great Expectations: "Peter's still conquering new ground," says Grader. "He's still growing and doing it within a series format. He is able to marry rich characterizations and traditional elements of the British police procedural. He's in a league with P.D. James, Ruth Rendell and Elizabeth George, but he also brings a contemporary edge in terms of subject matter and writing style. The sky's the limit for him."
C.J. Box: Welcome to the Neighborhood
C.J. Box is an emerging star of the mystery-writing community largely by chance, but he's working diligently on getting to know the neighborhood. "I didn't sit down to write a mystery, much less a mystery series; I just wanted to write a novel," says Box, whose hit debut, Open Season, was published in July by Putnam. "I have to confess that prior to this I hadn't read a lot of mysteries. I'm trying to catch up because so many mystery writers wrote such nice blurbs for my book. I feel obliged to read the authors I'm being compared to."
Open Season follows the trials and tribulations of Joe Pickett, a new game warden living in Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains, who finds a dead body in his woodpile. After discovering that two more hunters have been murdered, Joe's after some answers—but discovers (surprise) that someone's after him. The book has sold extremely well (it recently reached #4 on the L.A. Times bestseller list), reports Putnam editor Martha Bushko, thanks in large part to the advance praise that Box refers to. "We were lucky to get great quotes from established stars like Tony Hillerman, Lee Child and Loren Estleman. And we got some great reviews, which helped get the bookstores behind it." She adds that she's rarely seen a first novel so quickly backed by that tight community. "They've really embraced it. Everybody has good books and great writers, but it's getting people to notice a book and respond to it that makes a success."
Bushko attributes the novel's appeal to Box's development of Pickett—a character who's "full of failings but still strong and honorable and wants to do the right thing"—and his ability to vividly capture the Wyoming ruggedness. ("He's been a ranch hand, a fishing guide and a surveyor; he really knows the territory.") These elements are also why she sees Box's stock rising. Open Season is the first in a three-book deal, Bushko tells PW; the second, Savage Run, will be out next June.
Right now, Box is in the midst of a 22-city tour, concentrating on the western states. He has driven through Wyoming, Colorado and Montana, and recently flew to L.A. and San Francisco for signings. Additionally, Box and Putnam mailed announcement postcards to the tourism industry of five nearby states and paid for a regional advertising spot on All Things Considered.
"One thing I've found from book touring is what an enthusiastic mystery community there is around the country, and they seemed to be looking for new stories and protagonists, so in that case it helped," says Box. "The audience is already there and they're very loyal. It would certainly be tougher to break in if that audience didn't exist."
The enthusiastic reception to Open Season and the promise of escalating success have changed Box's expectations, and he's adopted a new outlook on continuing the series. "My original hope was just to get the book published. Now, with all these great reviews and the support of the community, I want to get really good at this. It's fun. It's not like real work." —Michael Archer
Great Expectations: "I've seen the second book and it's great," says Bushko. "With such a terrific character, a vivid setting and writing that's lean and exceptionally engaging, I know he's going to keep doing better and better."
Val McDermid: Part of an Ambitious Plan
British author Val McDermid has been writing fiction full-time since 1991, but has dreamed of writing books since childhood. "As soon as I realized that all those books in the library hadn't dropped out of the sky, that was what I wanted to do," she says. McDermid left a successful journalism career to devote herself to mysteries. "I gave myself five years to write two books a year. I didn't quite make it—in five years I wrote nine books—but I won the Gold Dagger and my books had been published in foreign languages. That wildly exceeded my expectations."
As if that self-imposed writing schedule were not demanding enough, McDermid stays busy promoting her work as well. "In the early days I didn't say no to anything," she recalls. "I'd go to a library in the middle of nowhere and talk to two people and a guide dog. Small potatoes build to a harvest."
McDermid works in a wide range of mystery categories. She's authored the Tony Hill series about a clinical psychologist, the Kate Brannigan series about a private eye and the Lindsay Gordon series about a journalist, the latter published here by the small press Spinster's Ink. "Writing in a variety of styles keeps me from getting bored," she says.
Last year's A Place of Execution was McDermid's first stand-alone mystery; it was also her first book with St. Martin's—under the Minotaur imprint—but not her first foray into the mainstream American marketplace. "I have been published in the U.S. before with a resounding lack of interest," she says. Her Gold Dagger—winning The Mermaids Singing was published by HarperCollins in the mid-'90s, but, as she puts it, "slipped through the cracks during the acquisitions and upheavals of that period."
This time around, St. Martin's is keeping her work front and center, although positioning an author who has had bestsellers in the U.K. and in Europe has been more a matter of building on past success than starting from zero. St. Martin's angled to use McDermid's already notable presence in the mystery field while still presenting A Place of Execution as a first book. For example, British quotes from the time of its publication in the U.K. appeared on the jacket alongside quotes from stateside authors. John Cunningham, associate publisher for the St. Martin's trade division, cites both word-of-mouth and media exposure—namely a CBS Sunday Morning appearance by McDermid just as A Place of Execution was being published last September—as key to that book's success. As Cunningham puts it, "Mass media exposure combined with review attention is the alchemy that makes a book take off."
St. Martin's will keep the attention coming with a 250,000-copy mass market printing of A Place of Execution this month and Killing the Shadows (her second stand-alone) in hardcover in October. Next year, July and August will see the first two Tony Hill titles in mass market, followed in September by the mass market edition of Killing the Shadows. In October, The Last Temptation, the latest Tony Hill opus, will be issued in hardcover. McDermid has also signed a deal with St. Martin's for two new hardcovers. "Two thousand and two is going to be a big year for Val," says Cunningham. —Natalie Danford
Great Expectations: The current surge of McDermid's work in the American marketplace is all part of a larger, ambitious plan. "We saw A Place of Execution as a first stepping-stone toward making Val McDermid the biggest British mystery writer since Minette Walters," says Cunningham. "Over the long term, we're going to make a big push to increase her presence here in the U.S. and take it up yet another notch."
Andy Straka: Giving 'em the Bird
Though he's a new author, Andy Straka seems like an old pro when it comes to promoting his first book, A Witness Above (Signet, May). But this former medical-supplies salesman has much more to offer than just a compelling pitch, says his editor, Genny Ostertag: "Andy has a great voice and writes a fast-paced, tightly plotted mystery." Witness, she says, integrates standard private eye elements with an outdoorsy theme, as the central character, former police officer Frank Pavlicek, is also an avid falconer. "The parallel with birds of prey and hunting alongside a mystery—with its own sort of hunt—is very compelling," Ostertag tells PW. "Andy really captures something about the outdoors in a new way, while you also get all the things you expect from a mystery."
One of the ways Straka has tried to stand out in a crowded field is to show up at book signings with a falcon on his shoulder. Ostertag notes that he's tirelessly sought out interviews, reviews, signings and readings, and has even taken the unusual step of hiring his own publicist for Witness. By his own count, he has done 50 signings since May, putting his John Hancock on more than 1,000 books. "He's done more for his first novel," says Ostertag, "than I've seen any other mystery writer do." These efforts, she adds, give the book a boost so many other titles cannot get.
Issuing paperbacks of new authors is standard procedure at New American Library, she says. "If someone doesn't have a name yet, it's tough to ask the consumer to spend $23.99, but they might take a chance at $5.99." This is particularly true for mysteries, Ostertag believes, since enthusiasts tend to buy multiple volumes. She added that if Straka's book—and subsequent volumes in the Pavlicek series—sell well, he might start to be published in hardcover. (The second volume, A Killing Sky, is due in April.)
Straka, a self-described "later bloomer" as a writer, attributes his acuity at garnering publicity to his background in sales, a career he gave up five years ago to focus on his writing. Speaking about his avid self-promotion, Straka tells PW, "I realized I'm just a little guy on the totem pole. In talking with more experienced successful authors, there seems to be little alternative to this slow and steady approach to building an audience for the midlist author, short of a movie or TV sale. My biggest goal right now is to write quality fiction in the hope that the books themselves will be their own best ads." On the side, he is also slated to receive his PI license this fall, though he intends not to practice the trade, only write about it. He might also work toward a falconry license; he notes that as his acumen in both these areas grows, his fiction will benefit—and Pavlicek's expertise will grow along with Straka's.—Michael J. Kress
Great Expectations: In Ostertag's words, "Our hope is to grow Andy's numbers with each book. We see him being able to write a bigger and more complex book each time."
Greg Rucka: He Really Is 31
Greg Rucka smiles when he recalls his first meeting with Bantam executive editor Kate Burke Miciak, after she signed the precocious newcomer in a preemptive two-book deal. "I remember Kate opening the door to Bantam's suite at the Seattle Bouchercon," he says over coffee near his home in Portland, Ore. "Her first words to me were, 'Oh my God, you really are 23!'"
"When I got signed," Rucka continues, "I don't think there was a PI novel you could pick up by someone under 35. We were kind of locked in the previous generation's narrators. In the last few years, my generation's narrative voice has started to emerge." Now 31, Rucka has four critically acclaimed thrillers under his belt—Keeper, Finder, Smoker and Shooting at Midnight —with the fifth, Critical Space, just out last month.
An engaging young man with a wrestler's build, multiple earrings and glasses, Rucka could easily pass for his 20something bodyguard protagonist, Atticus Kodiak ("you have to love a character who cleans his eyeglasses all the time," says Miciak). He chose Kodiak's first name as an homage to one of his favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, and in a plot twist worthy of fiction is himself named after Gregory Peck, his mother's favorite actor, who starred in the movie. As for the name Kodiak, "I got it off a tin of chewing tobacco," he says with a broad grin.
Rucka was always precocious, apparently. When other fifth graders were reading the Hardy Boys, he had moved on to Stuart Kaminsky—whom a bookseller inexplicably recommended to Rucka's mother as appropriate for a 10-year-old. At Vassar, he studied with novelist Frank Bergon, and Sid Stebel, his MFA thesis adviser at USC, introduced him to agent Peter Ruby (he's now represented by David Hale Smith of DHS Literary). Though Ruby didn't have any luck placing the first Kodiak novel, the second, Keeper, caught Miciak's attention.
"I remember sitting on the bus at 4:30 in the morning heading to work with his manuscript on my knees," says Miciak. "Within about three paragraphs he had me." As for Critical Space, "there's no doubt in my mind that this is his breakout book," she continues. "You can see it from the way it's going from one reader to another, and the sales reps' response has been phenomenal."
Bantam actually bumped the Critical Space pub date back in order to put in place plans for a major mass market push in fall of 2002, but in Miciak's opinion word of mouth is "the most critical factor" for putting a writer on the map. "I've seen it happen with Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Bob Crais and others. What I love about this job is that even in this technology-driven world, what makes a book work is the fact that we can't keep our big mouths shut when we love something."
A parallel life writing detective comics has let Rucka witness a broadening of his audience firsthand—at a recent comics convention in Chicago he signed nearly as many novels as he did comic books—but Rucka's priorities for carving out a niche for himself are clear. "I'm naïve enough to think that when the work is good, the work will win out," he says. "The best way I can help is to write a good story." —Heather Vogel Frederick
Great Expectations: "It's been a joy to work with Greg and to watch him grow up as a writer," says Miciak. "In each of his books, he just keeps getting better and stronger. He takes what is familiar and reinvents it. Even when you think you know where the book is going, you're always wrong. God knows what this kid has in store for us for the future!"
Scott Phillips: Wicked and Wacky in Wichita
The Ice Harvest, Scott Phillips's debut comic-noir novel, was greeted with the kind of effusive response writers and publishers dream about. A week after the book's October 2000 publication, New York Times critic Janet Maslin called it "a funny, craftily malevolent first novel, an ice-pick-sharp crime story that sustains its film noir energy all the way to an outrageous whammy of an ending." Happily, other critics followed suit.
"We had pretty good prepublication reviews," says Ballantine executive editor Dan Smetanka, "but with Maslin the momentum really got going. The book was on the L.A. Times bestseller list for a month. A tour formed on the West Coast and then expanded to four months—that's great for a new writer in this field." The book was nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony and a Hammett, and was named a New York Times Notable Book for 2000. Film rights sold to Bona Fide, which did the widely praised Election.
Ballantine, which had been enthusiastic about the manuscript from the get-go, bought it quickly—in a two-book deal from agent Nicole Aragi of Watkins Loomis—then took early steps to bring the title to the attention of key sales reps and booksellers. Because the story (set in Wichita, Kans.) takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, the launch involved Christmas-themed packaging for the galleys.
Phillips, who grew up in Wichita and now lives in L.A., wrote The Ice Harvest after working on several screenplays—an experience that left him feeling as though he'd been through a wringer. "I wanted to write something just to please myself," he says. "You just want a book you can hold in your hands. It didn't cross my mind that a publisher like Ballantine would want it." The story, a mere 217 pages, is written from the point of view of its shady lawyer protagonist and is filled with other quirky, dark characters. Phillips's model, he says, was Jim Thompson: "It came out of enjoying that sort of book." The Walkaway, the next Phillips opus (coming in June), picks up where The Ice Harvest ends but has alternating chapters, set in the past, that explore the history of one of the characters. This one, Phillips explains, was modeled after 1950s noir novelist Charles Willeford. "It's a more complicated story—a pulp novel embedded in another novel. It's exactly double the number of words of The Ice Harvest, but the style is the same. It's funny and raunchy. The noir is more pronounced in the 1952 chapters." James Lee Burke, a one-time teacher, "drummed into my head that writing was important. He sat me down one time and said, 'You write good prose but it's always the lighter side of the news. Humor is a good tool but if it's the only thing it won't be satisfying.'" —Suzanne Mantell
Great Expectations: For November's trade paper release of The Ice Harvest, Ballantine will beef up the cover type to make what Smetanka terms a "bigger-looking" book. The price point will be lower than usual ($12) and the book will contain a teaser chapter for The Walkaway. "We're building his career," Smetanka says. "There's such a great history of noir writers and devoted noir readers who look for new writers in the genre. Scott satisfies them and adds his own spin to this great lineage."