Category Archives: Q & A

Nerd Chat with FACES OF THE GONE Author Brad Parks

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I don’t do interviews with stuffy people. If I’m gonna sit down to a lunch interview, have a phone conversation and exchange a bunch of e-mails with someone, that person had better be interesting, funny, smart and look good in a Speedo. Brad Parks is three out of four so I heartily welcome him to Pop Culture Nerd.

Brad "I'm too sexy for furniture" Parks

Brad is the debut author of Faces of the Gone, a mystery about Newark newspaper reporter Carter Ross investigating the case of four dead bodies found in an empty lot with execution-style bullet holes in their heads. The novel provides an unflinching look at life on inner-city streets and in the newsroom, leavened by a healthy dose of humor.

For intimate details about Brad and to see him in a turtleneck, visit his website. But first, read on for our nerd chat.

Pop Culture Nerd: You’ve been all over the blogosphere promoting your book and given shout-outs by everyone from the New York Times to the Sun-Sentinel. Since this is our first time together, I gotta ask: Have you been tested?

Brad Parks: You know what they say—when you blog, you’re not only blogging the blogger, you’re blogging every person they’ve ever blogged. So I might be a bit dodgy, yes. I mean, just blogging at Jen’s Book Thoughts alone probably made me filthy. That skanky ho Jen Forbus gets around.

The infamous Jen Forbus with her niece

PCN: Hose yourself down with Lysol, man! She’s been with everyone in the crime fic community, male and female. But I’ve got my hazmat suit on so we can continue. What was the biggest thrill for you on pub day? Did you go to stores, point to your book and yell at strangers, “That’s me!”?

BP: Honestly? While my pub month was a string of incredible, wonderful, I’ll-never-forget-them happenings, my actual pub day was a bit crushing. In my mind, December 8, 2009 was something I had been building up for years—behind perhaps only my wedding and my kids being born (but ahead of, say, college graduation) in terms of significant days in my life. But to everyone else it was just a Tuesday.

Nevertheless, I got dressed up in my best author outfit, stuffed a Sharpie in my pocket and charged out the door to meet my public. I first went to my local independent bookstore, where the owner (who is a friend) had been so busy with the holiday rush, she hadn’t had time to put my book on the shelves yet. Next, I started in on the chain stores.

Now, mind you, I wasn’t expecting to be anywhere near the front of these stores—that’s something you’ve got to earn. I wasn’t expecting to be face out on the New Mystery shelf, because that’s valuable real estate, too. But I’m with St. Martin’s Press, a reputable publisher, so I was thinking each store would have at least one copy. Even if it was stuffed in a musty corner somewhere, I would proudly sign each one, whereupon Cherubim and Seraphim would strike a heavenly chord, even if I was the only one who could hear them.

Instead, I got this succession of blank stares from store managers, and it quickly became clear to me that until I darkened their doorstep, they had no plans on stocking my book. After the fourth no-show, I gave up and bought myself a cheeseburger, which I ate alone. It tasted a lot like humble pie.

PCN: But then all the rave reviews and best-of year-end mentions started pouring in. Has your head blown up to melon size? How has your life changed since you became a published author?

BP: You may ask Brad Parks this question, which Brad Parks will be glad to answer, since you clearly acknowledge that He is a Better Person than you. No, seriously, the reviews have been lovely. And there have been some Sally Field you-like-me-you-really-like-me moments, when I’ve felt the warm glow of knowing my words were appreciated somewhere. Other than that, I don’t feel all that different. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my wife complains I talk about myself too much, but she did that before I was published, too.

PCN: Any interesting tour anecdotes you can share?

BP: Well, I wrote about this one for Shelf Awareness. To give you the Cliffs Notes version, it basically involves me white-knuckle-driving my way through an ice storm to a bookstore, where I figured I’d end up sitting in front of a large pile of my books in an empty store. But then…aw, heck, I won’t ruin it. Just click on the link if you’re curious. And promise you’ll come back to PCN when you’re done!

PCN: Thanks for sending both my readers over there. Now I’ll have to pay two other people to read this. You’ve said Carter is a lot like you, but if you could be like any character in crime fiction, who would it be?

BP: This answer probably changes on a daily basis. But today I feel like being Jack Reacher, who has spent all summer digging ditches and has puffed up to 250 heavily muscled pounds. And then I’d go play pick-up basketball. Having otherwise gone through life as a scrawny white guy, I’d like to be able to set a pick that means something for once.

PCN: Did you tell Lee Child about your Reacher daydreams when you fetched him a Coke at last year’s Bouchercon?

BP: I did tell Lee I daydream about being Reacher. Then he replied, “That’s funny, I dream of being Carter Ross.” Then we bro-hugged. Then I woke up.

PCN: What other authors turn you into a gushing fanboy?

BP: I would say Harlan Coben. I’ll know I’ve really arrived when I can spend time with Harlan and not have this little voice in my head—it sounds like an 11-year-old girl—constantly going, Omagod, omagod, I’m hanging out with HARLAN COBEN, omagod! Hasn’t happened yet.

PCN: I like how you equated the process of writing to open-water distance swimming in one of your guest blogs. What do you do if you get a cramp? Or jump in then realize you’re not a distance swimmer? And are Speedos or trunks better for that kind of swimming?

BP: I’ll take the last part of this question first, because it’s important to state—before any bad images get planted in anyone’s head—that I am a trunks-only man. No one needs to see my upper thighs.

As to the rest of the question: Obviously, you ought to have some minimum level of swimming competency, built in the safety of shallow backyard pools and municipal swimming holes. (Or, to extend the metaphor back to writing, stories in school literary magazines, articles in local newspapers or entries in personal journals).

But once you have that, I believe you need to throw yourself in over your head and make yourself swim for your life, cramps and all. That’s the whole point of open water distance swimming. You can’t just stop and walk. You have no choice but to keep going. And I think writers with unfinished manuscripts—know anyone like that?— would be well-served to think of their work that way.

PCN: One of your characters, Tee, has a booming business making R.I.P. T-shirts for gangbangers who get gunned down. The idea is both horrible and savvy. Is it based on something you encountered for real?

BP: Yep, that one is, as they say on Law & Order, ripped from the headlines. As a journalist working in a depressed inner-city, I was constantly fascinated (and saddened and appalled) by the culture of death that surrounds young people in areas with high murder rates. One day, I saw a set of R.I.P T-shirts wrapped to a telephone pole at a housing project in Newark—three kids, all killed before their 21st birthdays. I started poking around and learned there was a whole cottage industry of creating and displaying these shirts. Kids would actually wear them on the anniversaries of the days their friends got killed. So I wrote a story about it.

PCN: And then you wrote two more, books 2 and 3 in the Carter Ross series. The second one is called Eyes of the Innocent. Are you branding this as the body parts series, a la Sue Grafton’s alphabet books? What happens when you travel south of the beltline?

BP: Yeah, the body parts thing is going to be my schtick. And as I’ve told my agent, when we reach Thumbs Up My Ass we’ll know it’s time to quit.

PCN: Okay, so let’s just stay north of the nipples for now. You mentioned in another interview, #817, that you might write a non-fiction book one day. Would it be true crime or something else?

BP: That was actually interview No. 788. Please try to keep count. And, sure, I might write non-fiction someday. Maybe true crime. Maybe ghost-writing for some famous person. Maybe history. Maybe something else entirely. My curiosity is fairly boundless, and I started writing for newspapers when I was 14, so non-fiction is still pretty comfortable for me. More than anything—having gone back and forth between fiction and non—I find they’re a lot more similar than most folks realize.

At the end of the day, it’s all about telling a story. The only difference is whether you have to find the pertinent facts or make them up. Which, I would argue, are roughly equal in difficulty.

PCN: Lying, er, making up stuff is so NOT difficult for me. If you had to choose between writing books that sell 50 million copies each but are critically lambasted (I’m not mentioning names), or those that win busloads of awards but have only modest sales numbers, which would you prefer?

BP: Oh, this one’s easy: Give me the 50 million copies. And then give me 50 million more. Go ahead and shake your head and say, “Brad! How whorish!” And I am. But as commercial as that sounds, there are real, artistic reasons behind it.

See, I’ve never really written for myself. For me, the joy in the creative process has always been in the sharing, and in the reaction it provokes. I write with the hope my words have an impact on people, whether it’s to inform, to entertain, or just to make them shake their heads at something. I want that impact to be as broad as possible.

And it’s not about money. I get just as much of a charge from the fan letter that starts “I bought your book at the store and…” as I do from one that begins, “I got your book at the library…” Do I want critics to like my books and to win awards? Of course. But ultimately it’s because I know those things will increase the size of my audience. And for me, that’s what it’s all about.

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Nerd Chat with Robert Crais Plus Giveaway of THE FIRST RULE

Though he’s busy gearing up for the release of The First Rule next month (January 12), Robert Crais generously took time from shopping for loud socks to do an e-mail interview with me.

If you’re already a fan, you know the basics. If not, visit his website for all the dish, then check out his tour schedule.

I’m giving away some goodies, with details below the interview. But first, read on as we discuss Joe Pike, who’s center stage in The First Rule. The novel is a blood-pumping, rocket-paced adventure with all the usual Pike-isms, but it also reveals an unexpectedly tender side of him that makes your chest clench a little.

PCN: Since there’s a heartrending twist in TFR that I don’t want to spoil, I’ll just ask vague, possibly irrelevant questions. Hopefully, this will entice people even more to pick up the book to see what the hell I’m talking about.

Pike goes where we’ve never seen him go emotionally and it changes him. How will that affect his future actions?

Robert Crais: Maybe it won’t. Pike has been Pike for a long time, so he’s good at repressing his feelings.

PCN: Does he repress his, um, urges, too? I don’t recall any girlfriends since Karen Garcia in L.A. Requiem and even she was in flashbacks. When’s he gonna get some again?

RC: You offering?

PCN: I’d ruin him. He’d start knitting me sweaters and calling me “Pumpkin.” Who would want that? Could he remain an interesting character if he were in a happy relationship?

RC: I doubt it. Part of Pike’s appeal is his “other-ness.” He’s a strange cat and readers like those aspects of his character. If he were “normal,” I don’t think people would find him as interesting. Could Pike be in a happy relationship? I don’t know. He probably wants to be in a happy place, but I don’t think he knows how to get there.

PCN: I could draw him diagrams but I don’t really want him to go there. Now, some actors do Method Acting. Ever do Method Writing as Pike?

RC: That’s how I write. I put myself in his place, feel what he feels, share the moments with him. If I don’t feel what Pike feels, if I’m not there in the moment, the scene won’t work.

PCN: What does putting yourself in his place entail? Knocking heads, eating vegetables, then running at night with coyotes?

RC: Pike does those things to put himself in MY headspace.

PCN: When he’s not on a case with Elvis, at the gun shop, working out or cleaning his Jeep, what does Pike do? Pottery? Watch Glee?

RC: Decorative macramé. It’s all the rage. And Pike loves Glee. You going to make fun of him for that? Go ahead—I dare you.

PCN: Nah, I like him more for it, especially if he does the “Single Ladies” routine to warm up before a run. You excel in showing how Pike feels about people and things through his actions so I’m happy with the third-person perspective. Hypothetically, though, could you write him in first person?

RC: Of course. I am the World’s Greatest Writer.

PCN: What kind of book would that be?

RC: Short. He doesn’t say much.

PCN: In TFR, Elvis goes to eat at the Sidewalk Café in Venice. I’d bet he’s there to sample the Robert Crais pizza. Why does your namesake pie have way more meat than the Cormac McCarthy pizza?

RC: Have you eaten me yet? I’m pretty good.

PCN: I have, and thought you were cheesy and meaty. And cheap!

RC: You should tell your readers the Sidewalk Café in Venice is a real place. They named a pizza after me, so I like them a lot.  Also, they make a dynamite pie.

PCN: I see you’ll be signing at a Costco on tour. Which aisle is your favorite place to sit?

RC: Big screen TVs. There’s something to watch after the crowd thins.

PCN: Right, once you tell people where to find hams and batteries. What’s the next book about? Is it an Elvis? Standalone?

RC: Another Joe Pike book. I want to write something else, but Pike won’t let me.

PCN: Have you publicly announced that anywhere else? Can I claim it as a world exclusive due to my intrepid scoop-breaking abilities?

RC: Probably, but you can tell everyone I’m announcing it here first. I won’t tell.

And that concludes my world exclusive scoopy interview. Deep, massive thanks to Robert for chatting and not telling. (To see and hear him read excerpts from TFR, click here.)

Now, for the giveaway…

Prizes and Rules:

Up for grabs is an ARC of The First Rule, which will come gift-wrapped from Lydia at Putnam, who has mad wrapping skillz. The winner will be randomly selected.

A second name will be randomly chosen to receive a set of four picture cards, autographed by Robert. (See closeups below.) They feature locations from the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books—including Elvis’s house!—with text from the novels in which they were mentioned.

Robert Crais, happy to see me

These aren’t available anywhere else because I made them, then ambushed Robert at a restaurant and got him to sign. (If the pictures look familiar, some were used in the video “Elvis Cole’s Los Angeles,” which can be viewed here.) They can be used as postcards, bookmarks, coasters, refrigerator art, etc. I haven’t even offered them to my own mother but will give a set to one of you.

Temporary red arrow tattoos might also be included with the prizes if I can resist putting them all over myself first.

In The First Rule, Joe Pike goes to great lengths to defend the name and memory of his friend, Frank. To enter, answer the following question:

  • What’s the most heroic thing you’ve ever done for a friend? This includes acts big and small.

You must also be a:

  • U.S. or Canada resident
  • subscriber or Twitter follower

New subscribers/followers get 1 entry, current ones get 2, people who tweet about this giveaway (and let me know) get 3 entries. Giveaway ends Dec. 14, 5 p.m. PST.

Winners will be announced only here and via Twitter; no e-mail notifications will be done. If winners don’t respond within 48 hours, alternate names will be chosen.

Good luck!

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Movie Review Plus Q & A: THE ROAD

v & k walking macall polay

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

I was really hesitant about going to a Variety screening of The Road (opening Nov. 25), the long-delayed movie based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel, because the story is so depressing. It’s about a nameless man and his son trying to survive after the apocalypse by any means short of cannibalism (though other survivors engage in that). But star Viggo Mortensen was doing Q & A afterwards along with director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall so I was curious enough to attend. (I learned loads of interesting info; see notes below.)

v & k embrace

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

Well, depressing doesn’t begin to describe the movie. There’s an ongoing reference to how The Man has a gun but only two bullets, which he’s saving for his son and himself in case things get too hopeless for them to go on. Mid-movie, I was screaming in my head, “Give me one of those bullets! Or build a fire and throw me on it!” The story is soul-breaking and gives you only a tiny glimmer of hope at the end.

Stomach-turning plot points aside, however, Road is very well done. Mortensen goes deeply inside a character who’s heart-piercingly tender towards his son but fierce towards all else. He also looks like he ages and becomes more emaciated right before our eyes. Kodi Smit-McPhee, as The Boy, does brave and mature work while maintaining the innocence of a child who’s never known a world where there were living things and enough food to eat. He does look a bit well-fed for the character—his cheeks have baby fat and his lips are plump—but I don’t think I could’ve handled watching a gaunt, sickly child on top of everything else.

charlize

courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

Charlize Theron is believably weary as The Woman who just can’t take it anymore, though I suspect her golden hair helped a little in getting her the role. In The Man’s dreams about the life he used to have with her, the world is full of color and The Woman’s bright, shiny hair is the most striking thing in it. It’s a sharp reminder of the lightness he’s lost.

The story asks tough questions: How do you hang on to your humanity when you’re competing with savages to survive in a lawless world? What are you willing to do to keep your child from suffering? How do you know when the last ounce of hope has left your soul? While I hope I won’t ever be tested like this, I appreciate McCarthy’s and the filmmakers’ examination of human nature in a non-sentimental way which still manages to be quite moving.

As mentioned, Mortensen, Hillcoat and Penhall did Q & A after the screening. The session was almost as fascinating as the movie. Some things I learned:

  • Director Hillcoat’s favorite disaster movie is Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. He was also inspired by The Bicycle Thief for its minimalism and The Grapes of Wrath.
  • landscape

    courtesy 2929/Dimension Films

    Though the landscape is stark with a gray and brown palette throughout, Hillcoat used real locations instead of green screens. Locations included Pennsylvania because of the strip mining and Louisiana because Katrina clean-up was far from complete. There were about 50 locations total.

  • Mortensen said he was cold for real during much of the shoot. Hillcoat told him it’s better to be cold than to pretend to be cold.
  • Mortensen is humble, smart, dry-witted and so frakkin’ cool in person. He’s got the easy confidence of someone who’s got nothing to prove to anyone, and brought a copy of the book and a bottle of wine to give out to random audience members who correctly answered trivia questions about the movie.
  • Penhall said he loves Sam Shepard as a screenwriter and it’s easy to see why. Both men cover complex and gritty subject matter in minimalistic ways.
  • McCarthy told Hillcoat he didn’t miss anything from the book except four lines of dialogue which he asked to be re-inserted. It involved The Boy asking The Man, “What would you do if I died?” The ensuing conversation is verbatim from one the author had with his own son.
  • Hillcoat said McCarthy’s favorite film is Fellini’s La Strada, which means The Road.

Nerd verdict: Rough Road but one worth taking

Video Interview with Michael Connelly & Giveaway

9 dragonsYesterday was pub date for Michael Connelly‘s 9 Dragons and the beginning of his tour (complete schedule here). Despite having just gotten off the plane, in the rain, Connelly graciously sat with me for an interview before reading to an SRO crowd at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, CA.

He already has an informative Q & A about Dragons on his website in which he explains the name and inspiration for the book, as well as his research in Hong Kong. So, I asked about other things like Matthew McConaughey and mystery authors playing strip poker. Well, there were serious questions, too. Just watch the video below.

Afterwards, I know you’ll want to get your hands on this book, so how about I give you some? Thanks to Miriam from Hachette Book Group, I can give away 5 copies of 9 Dragons AND each winner will get a paperback of The Brass Verdict thrown in, too! Details below the video.

Eligibility requirements for the giveaway:

  • be U.S. or Canada resident
  • no P.O. boxes
  • be an e-mail subscriber or Twitter follower (current subscribers/followers automatically get an extra entry)

To enter, leave a comment with a 9-word sentence telling me why you’d like to win these books. (Connelly recently ran a contest asking people to describe Harry Bosch in 9 words; see winners here.) If you tweet about this contest, let me know and you’ll get 2 extra entries but this completely optional.

I’ll take entries until October 22, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be chosen by Random.org, announced here and on Twitter only, and have 48 hours to claim prizes before I pick alternate winner(s). Good luck!

Full disclosure: I stayed up until 3 stinkin’ 30 in the morning to edit this even though I had to report for jury duty at 7 a.m. And I didn’t receive one red cent for it, okay, FTC? I did it because I think Connelly is cool. The end.

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Nerd Chat: Interview with Sophie Littlefield, Author of A BAD DAY FOR SORRY

bad dayBefore I introduce you to author Sophie Littlefield, let me introduce you to the heroine of her debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry.

Stella is a 50-year-old vigilante who, Peter Finch-like, got mad as hell after years of abuse by her husband and decided she wasn’t going to take it anymore. When the story begins, she’s gotten rid of hubby and is running an underground business helping other women stand up to their loser boyfriends/spouses, using whatever method necessary (including S&M restraints).

The prologue below describes a day on the job:

Whuppin’ ass wasn’t so hard, Stella Hardesty thought as she took aim with the little Raven .25 she took off a cheating son-of-a-bitch in Kansas City last month.

What was hard was making sure it stayed whupped.

Especially on a day when it hit a hundred degrees before noon. And you were having hot flashes. And today’s quote on your Calendar For Women Who Do Too Much read Find serenity in unexpected places.

“Fuck serenity,” Stella said. And she shot the trailer.

You wanna read more, don’t you? You’ll have to pick up the book! It’s an intense, crazy ride that involves Stella taking on a client whose husband has disappeared with her baby. Stella is tenacious and blunt like a female House but without the limp, so she’ll not only verbally assault a bad guy, she can kick his ass, too. If you’ve ever had revenge fantasies about the people who have done you wrong, you can avoid jail time by living them out through Stella.

For FAQs about Sophie, the book and her tour, click here. But first, enjoy our Nerd Chat as Sophie talks about sex toys, zombies, cussing in front of church friends and finding the silver lining in rejection.

PCN: You wrote nine unpublished novels before this one. What was the first thing you did when you heard Bad Day was going to make it into bookstores?

Sophie Littlefield: I screamed and screamed. I was at my son’s high school lacrosse game when I got the news, so no one really minded. I also spun around in circles for a while and thanked the Big Guy (God as Stella/I understand Him) about a hundred times.

PCN: You’ve gotten glowing reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Entertainment Weekly, to name a few. Anything you want to say to all the people who rejected you?

SL: That would take a very long time, because I swear I was rejected by every literary agent in America in the course of a decade of submissions. You may think I’m exaggerating, but when I come across an agent who didn’t reject me, I want to go “Where have you been hiding yourself, Cupcake?” and buy them a drink.

Littlefield & Barbara Poelle

Sophie & Barbara

As far as what I’d say to all the others? I would say “Thank you.” Because they made it possible for me to end up with Barbara Poelle. Here are just ten random reasons why Barbara is the perfect agent for me:

  1. She doesn’t mind if I cuss
  2. She doesn’t mind if my characters cuss
  3. She never told me to make my characters prettier or skinnier
  4. She finds my social gaffes amusing
  5. She breaks into song inexplicably; so do I (though I’m a little shy about it)
  6. If you tell her a sappy story about anyone, it could be the guy who did your taxes or even a Republican, she always goes “awwww”
  7. You can’t gross her out when describing the gory scenes you plan for your imaginary horror novel
  8. She likes the right people, the ones who are cool on the inside, where it counts
  9. She never, ever tells me to slow down or calm down or take a break
  10. She loves her job as much as I love mine

PCN: Wow, I want her to be my agent and I don’t even need one. When’s the last time someone did something that made you want to go all Stella on them? Are family and friends a little more afraid of you now knowing what you, er, Stella can do?

SL: Sadly, people are not quaking in fear. I think it’s because I’m deceptively friendly-ish. The other day a person of my acquaintance pissed me off extremely and I don’t think he ever knew it, because on the outside I had that well-brought-up-Midwestern-gal-grimace/grin going on.

But as soon as he sauntered off, I did this thing that my daughter taught me. You take your thumb and forefinger and place them in front of your face, then close one eye so it looks like you are holding the person’s head delicately in your fingertips…and then you squeeze, imagining their skull being crushed like a grape. Oh, is that ever satisfying.

So what did this guy do, you’re wondering?

PCN: Well, yes.

SL: He told me how to do my job. My writing job, the thing that is born in my soul and flows in my veins. Yes, ma’am, in the name of “career advice” (that I had not asked for) he had the nerve to tell me I was doing thing A wrong and needed to do more of thing B and stop doing thing C. And I was like, Oh yeah, remind me again when I’m waving at you from the top of the New York Fucking Times Best-Seller List, buddy. Well, I was all like that on the inside, anyway. On the outside I think I said “I’ll have another beer.”

PCN: What was his job?

SL: He is another writer, and a very, very gifted one. Which just goes to show you that smarts ain’t everything.

PCN: Hmm, you’ll have to tell me who it is, off the record. But enough about him; let’s talk sex toys. How much research did you do on those gizmos in the book to make sure they’d work as effective restraints for bad guys?

SL: Hee hee hee.  Well, that’s kind of funny, actually. I didn’t start out planning to write about gizmos. In fact, I was kind of woefully short of gizmo knowledge. All I wanted to find out was the name of those plastic disposable handcuffs the law folks are using these days, and I Googled “restraints.”

Ahem.

Some of Stella's tools

Some of Stella's tools

Turns out the bondage community is super creative and imaginative and resourceful…The first website I landed on was an eye-opener, I’ll tell you that. I just couldn’t look away.

And then it hit me: all those gags and collars and spreader bars would make excellent tools for an out-of-shape middle-aged lady to keep a fellow where she wanted him, no matter what she intended to get up to with him. So that became my excuse.

I’ll be honest…it’s fascinating. You think you’ve seen it all, and then some creative person comes up with something new! God bless the irrepressible human spirit, is what I say.

PCN: Stella gets into some wild scrapes. Any interesting scenes that didn’t make it into the final edit?

SL: Yes indeedy. In the early draft of the Stella story, she just flat-out killed all the abusers she encountered. I’d come up with all kinds of methods of death-dealing and places to stash the bodies. I was even keeping a list to use in future books in the series.

Then my editor, Toni, gently explained that a murderous Stella wouldn’t fly with readers—she had to leave her “parolees” alive. At first I was disappointed. But now I think Toni was right—Stella’s convictions don’t allow her to kill unless it’s in self-defense. It’s made her a stronger character.

PCN: You’re currently on your first book tour. Any interesting experiences so far?

Sophie, scared, at Book Passage

A nervous Sophie at Book Passage signing

SL: I’ve only done a few events so far and the sound of my own heart pounding in my throat, and the feeling that I’m about to hurl, have cut down on my noticing skills. (I get nervous. I’m naturally shy and awkward.)

I will say it was “interesting” to read my prologue—which contains the words “ass,” “bitch,” and “fuck” in the first couple of paragraphs—out loud to a hometown crowd that included my kids’ elementary school teachers, librarian, and principal. And some friends from church. And my friend Adrienne’s darling parents.

PCN: Nice. Did anyone say anything to you afterwards?

SL: To my amazement, every single one gave me a compliment or encouragement or, in one case, a fierce hug with a wink and a whispered “keep kickin’ ass.”

Before the event I had considered toning myself down, perhaps censoring the passages or substituting “bleeps” for the cuss words. But then I thought, if I can’t start being myself now, at the age of 46, then when??? I don’t want to save up all my zest and vitriol only to unleash it in a fevered deathbed torrent. I think that would be confusing for everyone, don’t you?

PCN: Very! I’m glad you’re letting some of it out now through Stella. I think she’d make a great cinematic character. Has Hollywood come calling?

SL: Ha ha, well, there’s been some fun moments where I thought, “Oh goody, this is where I get my ass in US magazine!” So far, no follow-through, though. My experienced author friends tell me this is how it goes; Hollywood’s just an ongoing tease.

PCN: If it does happen, who would you like to play your kick-ass mama? I think Stella’s guns weigh more than most of the well-known 50ish actresses working today.

Wynonna Judd

Wynonna Judd

SL: Ain’t that the truth? I had a hard time coming up with actresses to play either Stella or [her client] Chrissy, since they’re both a little plump (putting them squarely in line with the average American woman, I might add). What do you think about Wynonna Judd?

PCN: Can she act?

SL: I don’t know if she can, but I think she’d make a great Stella, even if she’s a little young. She looks like she has attitude to spare. If she’d be willing to bulk up a bit, I think Felicity Huffman would be aces.

Geena Davis

Geena Davis

PCN: How about Geena Davis? She’s about the right age and we know she can do the outlaw-with-a-gun thing from Thelma & Louise.

SL: Oh, Geena’s pure genius!  She’s going to have to eat a few cheeseburgers and frump up a little, but she’s perfect. And you know what, I bet she and I end up being BFFs once they start shooting. We’ll probably go shopping together and stuff, maybe double-date for the Oscars.

edharris

Ed Harris

PCN: And Sheriff Jones?

SL: There’s only one man for the job: that devilishly handsome Ed Harris. Sigh.

PCN: That’s even better than I imagined! Switching gears for a bit, you have a YA book coming out next year called Banished. What’s harder: writing as a 50-year-old woman, 16-year-old girl or a zombie?

SL: Okay here’s a giant secret—writing them was easy because they’re both me.  Stella’s me in a few years if someone unwisely pushes me just a little too hard. And Hailey, the heroine of my young adult series, is me at sixteen: gawky, insecure, angsty, and sensitive.

As for zombies…come on, they’re zombies! Aren’t you insanely jealous I get to write about them and get paid for my efforts?

Me & Sophie

Me & Sophie

PCN: Oh, I’m one itch away from shoving you down the stairs (it’s a compliment; see explanation here) so let’s wrap this up, for your sake. Final question: If you had a Calendar for Women Who Do Too Much like Stella’s, what would be the quote for this year?

SL: Oh, you’re good, Elyse. Hmmm. (Thinks hard.) “Careful what you wish for, sister, because once you get out of your own way you’re going to get more of it than you ever bargained for.”

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Exclusive Interview: Nerdy Questions for THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE’s Hailey and Tatum McCann

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I’m a devoted fan of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and that I’m excited about the movie adaptation finally opening this Friday, August 14. (Click here to read an assessment after a test screening.)

Hailey McCann

Hailey McCann

Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams, who star as Henry and Clare, have been getting lots of press so I thought I’d talk to a pair of different actors from the movie, Hailey and Tatum McCann, sisters who play Henry and Clare’s daughter Alba at different ages (Hailey: 9 & 10, Tatum: 4 & 5).

Though they were traveling to attend the movie’s New York City premiere tonight, August 12, the girls agreed to an e-mail conversation and come across grounded and smart, like normal kids who just happen to be in a grown-up business.

For more info on Hailey and Tatum and how they got their start in acting, click on their names to visit their websites. Meanwhile, read on as they answer my nerdy questions about their TTTW experiences.

PCN: Stories about time travel can be confusing, even for adults. How did you manage to make sense of the story? Did you read the book first?

Hailey: No, I didn’t read the book first because I heard that it was too mature for my age at the time, but I didn’t find it confusing at all!  When you break it down scene by scene, it’s a lot easier to understand.  The only part that was confusing was when we couldn’t figure out which Alba was in what scene because we were both referred to as “Young Alba”!!

Tatum McCann

Tatum McCann

Tatum: No, I did not read the book because it was too grown-up.  I heard that they kissed and stuff…eeeww! It wasn’t really confusing because we do it one scene at a time over and over and over again—until we had lunch…yum yum.

PCN: Who auditioned first?

Hailey: We both decided that Tatum would go first and she read for Alba and [Young] Clare, then I would go next reading for Alba.

PCN: How many callbacks did you have before booking the job?  Did you have to screen test with either Rachel McAdams or Eric Bana?

Hailey: I had an audition and a callback and that was it. I never had a screen test with either of them.

Tatum: Me, too!

PCN: That’s great. Sometimes actors have to audition 6-8 times for a big movie. What was it like working with Rachel and Eric?

Hailey: Both Rachel and Eric were truly amazing people to work with!  Before we started shooting the film, the three of us took a trip to a museum to get to know each other.  As we walked around, many people recognized Rachel. When they did, she graciously took pictures with them and was so loving and kind to everyone. A few months later, Eric and I were shooting in Chicago . It was unbelievably cold and very windy. Eric would huddle me in his oversized and fuzzy jacket to help keep me warm in between takes. Both Eric and Rachel are amazing actors and extraordinary people.

Clockwise from L.: Brooklynn Proulx (who plays Young Clare), McAdams (in back), Hailey and Tatum at the movie's NYC premiere

Clockwise from L.: Brooklynn Proulx (who plays Young Clare), McAdams (in back), Hailey and Tatum at the Aug. 12 NYC premiere/Getty Images

Tatum:  Most of my work was with Rachel. In between takes, Rachel and I would exchange jokes. She was so nice listening to all of my jokes that didn’t make a lot of sense because I would tell them in segments or whenever we had time. Rachel is very funny and she knows tons of great jokes. After we finished shooting, she gave me a fabulous joke book that still entertains me today!

PCN: You kind of covered my next question. Since you had to do some heartbreaking scenes, I was wondering what you did between takes.

Hailey: Actually, I laughed and danced and talked and shouted!!! While the camera is rolling, I stay in character and am totally serious, but once they say “cut,” it’s all smiles from everybody on set.

Tatum: I would help Rachel start laughing to help her stop crying. Once you get so into a scene it’s hard to stop, but good jokes and smiles usually do the trick!

PCN: What were your favorite experiences on set?

Hailey: One of my favorite experiences was when Tatum and I got to film together. It was so much fun to film because we hadn’t seen each other for a while and we got to meet up and do what we both love to do…act! And we got to poke a dead bird with a stick, but the first reason is more important.

Tatum: I second the motion! Working with my sister was awesome, and I hope to do it again soon!

PCN: What are you working on now or have coming up?

Hailey: I recently filmed an episode of [the A&E TV series] The Cleaner and I have auditions in the works…fingers crossed.

Tatum: I shot an episode of ER and recently went out on a couple movie auditions…wish me luck!

PCN: Break a leg, both of you! Do you intend to keep acting into adulthood? When you hear stories about child stars like Lindsay Lohan and Mischa Barton misbehaving, how does it make you feel?

Hailey: As of now, I am 13 and loving acting, but we will see where acting takes me. And as far as people in the news, I wish they had better friends to keep them grounded and out of trouble!

Tatum: I want to continue acting and hope I will grow up to be as cool and pretty as some of the actresses I’ve worked with, like Rachel McAdams and my sister, Hailey.

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Exclusive First Look at Robert Crais’s FIRST RULE

Photo © Pop Culture Nerd

Photo © Pop Culture Nerd

Last week, author Robert Crais unveiled excerpts from his hotly anticipated novel, The First Rule, at the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego, California. The pub date is vaguely scheduled for January or February 2010. (UPDATE: At Crais’s site, it now says January 12, 2010.) But wait! Stop banging your head against your desk, please! Crais let me tape his reading to share with those who couldn’t attend.

Since this is a Joe Pike novel, I’ll be Pike-like and keep the setup brief. Somebody murdered a friend and former colleague of Pike’s. HUGE mistake. With Elvis Cole’s help, Pike goes hunting, ready to unleash some serious hurt on the perpetrators. Yay!

Crais read three different passages, one in each video. Afterwards, check out the teaser Q & A I did with him about The First Rule. (UPDATE: Win an ARC and read my longer interview here.)

Watch, read, then let me know your thoughts!

PCN: My mother taught me the first rule is to always wear clean underwear in case I get in an accident. What does the first rule in your title refer to?

Robert Crais: The meaning is in the eye of the beholder, so take your pick: The East European organized crime gang sets operate under eighteen written rules called the Vorovskoy Zakon—which means the thieves’ code—the first rule of which says they’re not supposed to have a family. But the title, The First Rule, might also be interpreted from Joe Pike’s point of view, which suggests his first rule is that you take care of the people you love, and everything that implies. And if that’s the case, then the first rule for the rest of us is pretty simple: Don’t piss off Joe Pike.

PCN: In the excerpt, you mentioned how Pike’s walls are empty. Why isn’t Elvis on there?

RC: Elvis is in Joe’s heart.

PCN: What’s on your walls?

RC: I have more people in my life than Joe has. My walls are filled with pictures of my family, my friends, cool things that have happened along the way. Art. A couple of human heads. The usual.

PCN: You seem to take pop culture cues for your author photos. For The Two Minute Rule, it was the Brokeback look, and you’ve got an Agent Smith, Matrix thing going on with the last two books. What do you have in mind for the next one? Lederhosen a la Brüno?

RC: I was going for the lederhosen look until Brüno swiped it. Fashion is such a bitch, I’ve decided to pass on clothes. We’re going with a nude shot.

Look who's nerdy---me & Crais

Look who's nerdy--me & Crais, WITH clothes

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