Thursday, February 28, 2008

Book Trailers - How Much Do They Influence?

Book trailers are quickly becoming vogue in the world of publishing. And why not. This art form has the power to convey dramatic elements of a story in ways a book jacket cannot.

Author Brenda Coulter disagrees that this is a good method for books however saying that most trailers are simple slideshows with a soundtrack. She also dislikes that so many of the trailers cannot be viewed by a huge percentage of Americans due to dial-up connection. Now, to be fair, Ms. Coulter wrote her opinion two years ago.

The art form has come a long way, baby!

Take the trailer for Ann Patchett’s latest novel Run It shows an aqueous blue background with bubbles continuously floating over images of people, houses on the rich/poor ends of the spectrum and selected descriptive passages from the novel. The singular piano accompaniment to this trailer creates an inviting, if not subtle, undercurrent of mystery and secrets. You could probably view this trailer in a library.

By contrast, viewing author Dan Ronco's novel trailer for Unholy Domain might get you kicked out of the library. It comes at the viewer full stop with fast-paced images of money, guns and Terminator-reminiscent threat, all set to a soundtrack that keeps up the intense back-beat like a Jason Bourne chase. Now, this is a book I want to read AND watch.

Somewhere between these two thematic trailers is my book, Janeology below which so hauntingly couples water imagery with hints of dark family secrets trickling down among the generations. The unrelenting tribal drumbeat of the music ratchets-up the tension until you feel like the hairs on your neck stand at attention. If only a CD of the music could play as a reader turns the pages. (Fortunate author that I am, this trailer was created by THE inventor of the novel trailer art form, Kam Wai Yu, who has been developing this art since the 1980s.)

I am intrigued by the very way images, music and ideas come together in less than five minutes to give potential readers a sense of the book. And this new view into book trailers makes me wonder: Will we choose books the same way we choose movies – from a two-minute glimpse? Would you rather go to YouTube to scan several short videos to make your reading selection? Or do you prefer to scan the bookstore new release table and thumb through the pages in hand?

If you're like me, you like doing both.


Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, the story of one man’s attempt to understand his wife’s sudden descent into madness and murder.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Mysterious Moon

Google's Moon Race is a most exciting, inspiring, promising and ten thousand more adjectives too many, piece of news and hope for the planet. Truly a giant step for mankind, this daring adventure of international intelligence is the perfect opportunity to unite humanity. Not to mention a great opportunity for a mystery story.

It seems people need something outside of themselves to cause them to unite and how much better to be united 'for' something rather than 'against' something - that unseen enemy that politics and culture are constantly creating in order to manipulate the masses and protect their status quo.

The race to the moon is truly a noble cause. I can feel Jules Verne coming alive.

Many, if not most mystery conversations focus on the criminal element - however a mystery does not need to be about a crime - except the name of this blog is Criminal Minds, not mysterious minds so perhaps I'm out of my league here. But criminal or not, Google's Moon Race is a fertile field for all sorts of shananigans.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Are Terrorists Criminals?

I was conducting a class recently that included discussions on the civilian impact of terrorism and the terrorist mindset. Invariably these sessions always threaten to devolve into wholesale natterings of opinion, interlaced with educated guesses and sprinkled with rigid beliefs that run along ethnic, cultural, and/or political lines. In other words, discourse becomes mired in bulls*#t. I was asked in this class, as I am in so many of my other classes, whether terrorists are actually criminals. There are, as you may imagine, as many takes on the subject as there are rumps filling those uncomfortable, wooden seats that pass for chairs in so many places of academia.
Are terrorists criminals? Would you, as a writer of mysteries and crime, use a Middle-Eastern Islamic Fanatic as your main antagonist... or did the words I just use make you cringe? Would you rather, if you did include a terrorist in your writings, make him/her from some former Eastern European or little known Asian country so as to avoid this whole Middle-East thing altogether? I know a lot of people who would. Yet, it is from this mysterious part of the world that one of the most horrific criminal acts ever perpetrated on the American people came from. Soon, some of the masterminds of some of the most heinous acts of mass murder, torture, kidnapping, and just plain 'ol murder will be brought to trial. Many people are confused as to whether these men should be tried in a military court as "enemy combatants" or in a criminal court as "enemies of the state." Doing one or the other is likely to raise controversey and just as likely to leave some of us unsatisfied. Now hold on, hold on... not all terrorists come from the Middle East, you say. And you're absolutely right. I myself am a terrorism survivor, being employed by the NYPD in the wee hours of 1982 when the FALN bombed police headquarters in NYC. These acts, like the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, were committed by homegrown terrorists as American as apple pie.
To understand whether these men are criminals is to understand their mindset; their thinking. Many Middle-Eastern terrorists, if not most of them, are still fighting a war that goes back hundreds of years. Some of them, as well as other terrorists of various ethnic backgrounds and religions around the world, are still fighting the ramifications of political decisions made immediately after the First World War. Many and more are fighting for more recent ideological and political reasons, and plenty are killing just for killing's sake. Whatever the reasons, here's the truth... murder is murder and war is hell. For most terrorists killing, especially mass murder, is a means to an end-- a way to bring attention to their agendas. Like a serial killer that leaves clues or a calling card at the crime scene, he/she wants attention... craves it. They don't want to be caught, usually, but they want at least some notoriety for their action(s). Whew, sorry, I'm writing as if I'm at the podium again. Anyway, criminality and its penalties are imposed by the political system that is currently in power. If a political establishment says it's okay to kill many of one type of people, then in the eyes of the majority of that political systems citizenry, it ceases to be a criminal act (enter an ethnic group in here, Jews, Albanians, Tutsis or Hutus, Gypseys, Nez-Perce, citizens of Darfur, etc). Does that make it any less so in the eyes of another nation or another people? Personally, the idea of putting terrorists through a good 'ol fashioned "perp" walk, booking, and then locking them away in a cell with maybe 30-50 other criminals of various ilk, sounds good to me. Giving terrorists the media attention they crave, then placing them in a federal lock-up just doesn't smack of keen justice to me. A few years at Rikers, or Sing-Sing, might be just the thing to take some of the rhetoric from their sails and remind them that murder is, after all, a crime... and that the taking of innocent lives, regardless of your so-called agenda is still murder.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Edgewater Mystery

Edgewater Rocks! The local rec society hosted a mystery fundraiser last Saturday, using my 'Dying for Chocolate' Script and raised a very exciting amount of money for the local youth centre. Many many people donated their time and work to make this event happen and apparently for the first time ever, people where turned away at the door because we were SOLD OUT!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Canada loses "oldest bookstore", The Book Room

Something very criminal is happening in Canada. Our charming, quaint, steadfast independent bookstores are closing their doors, one by one. Over the past two years, I've watched Canadian independent bookstores fight to compete with the 'big boys'--major big-box outlets and Internet retailers, but it seems like a fight to the death. As a Canadian, I cheer them on, hoping they'll succeed. As an avid reader, I mourn their loss. As an author, I feel their disappearance is sadly inevitable. Business, after all, means survival of the biggest and most powerful. It's like watching a giant game of Pac-Man. Something is gobbling up our independent bookstores one at a time, and now we're about to lose "Canada's oldest bookstore"--The Book Room in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The Book Room is expected to clear out inventory and close its doors for the final time at the end of March 2008, about eight weeks from now. Eight weeks...and then we'll have to say goodbye to a Nova Scotian icon. Founded in 1839, The Book Room has survived two World Wars, the Halifax Explosion and the Great Depression, and it will be a great loss to Canadian booklovers and to its local community. Charles Burchell, president of The Book Room, is justifiably disappointed. "The Book Room has been an institution in Nova Scotia."

The explanation given for its imminent closure? Increased competition, deep discounting from big-box and Internet retailers, as well as dual pricing issues. In Canada, books have traditionally been printed with two prices--Canadian and American. Canadian prices have always been quite a bit higher, but the recent strength of the Canadian dollar has put much pressure on the entire book industry. Canadian customers want US pricing, with that price on the back cover of books; publishers can't afford to discount their books to US pricing when they've based everything on a higher Canadian price, and booksellers are forced to either lower prices and take a loss or lose their customers and their business.

"Out with the old, in with the new" might be an exciting way to ring in the New Year, but in the book business, the saying is a painfully discordant reminder to make way for the "big-boys", at the expense of tradition.

Farewell to The Book Room. Booklovers across Canada will miss you.

Friday, February 01, 2008

When Crime Collides With Writing

Friends and family often send me articles about mothers who kill. Why? At one time, when I was learning about infanticide and its causes for my book, this was depressing research. Now it is merely depressing. The story is almost always the same. Only names and dates are changed.

A mother killed her x-month old child today.

Relatives were stunned and shocked.

Her spouse/boyfriend said he noticed she seemed more withdrawn lately but attributed it to “hormones.”

This is the xth tragedy of its kind in the U.S. this year.

According to the American Anthropological Association, more than 200 women kill their children in the United States each year.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for children under four.

Eleven women are on death row in the United States for killing their children

Today, someone forwarded this article ( ) to me that included one exception: a solution. A solution for those family members who feel helpless about ways to care for a new mother in crisis.

The solution: Crisis Nursery Centers

Here’s what the Sacramento Crisis Nursery center featured in this story says of its organization:

"The Sacramento Crisis Nursery offers a safe haven for children 5 years old and under whose families are facing a crisis. The nursery provides both emergency daytime care and overnight stays for up to 30 days.

Many of the clients who utilize the crisis nursery's services do not have extended family in the region and feel isolated in their situation ... "We think a parent is a hero to children when they can identify that they need support and help," Roy Alexander [Chief Financial Officer of the Sacramento Children's Home] said.

The crisis nursery would like to reach out to new mothers and groups that deal with postpartum depression. "We encourage mothers if they feel like they really have the blues and they're concerned about their ability to continue to take care of their child that they'll call us very quickly," said Alexander.

Can I get an Amen?


For me, I am thrilled today to not only emphasize the need for families to be vigilant in observing and helping mothers suffering from post-partum depression or other illnesses that might cause a mother to harm her child. Today, I can also offer information that might save a life.

Here’s a link to a list of all known centers nationwide. Share it.


Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY: the story of one man's struggle to understand his wife's sudden descent into madness and murder.