Friday, October 27, 2006

City for Ransom - 5-Star Review

BOOK REVIEW: ‘City for Ransom’ Captures Bustle, Terror of Chicago during 1893 World’s Fair
Posted by kinchendavid on July 16th, 2006
Reviewed By David M. Kinchen

Hinton, WV – Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear…Nope, it’s not “The Lone Ranger” but it’s just as thrilling and horrifying by turns. I’m talking about “City for Ransom” by Robert W. Walker (Avon, 336 pages, $6.99), featuring Chicago Police Inspector Alastair Ransom investigating gruesome murders committed by a person the city’s newspapers have dubbed “The Phantom of the Fair.”
The fair in question is the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 on the south side lakefront of Chicago. Designed under the supervision of great Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, the fair featured the world’s first Ferris Wheel and a collection of buildings called collectively “The White City.” Today, the area is the home of beautiful Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry and – a few blocks inland — the neo-Gothic campus of the University of Chicago. The fair was a phenomenal popular success, attracting 27.6 million people – almost half the population of the U.S.—during its May-October 1893 run.
Ransom is a complicated, haunted man, wounded in the Haymarket Riot of 1886 which took the lives of fellow policemen, wielding a massive scrimshaw wolf’s-head cane, blustering his way around the Metropolis of the Prairie. He suffers nightmares over a botched interrogation in the wake of the riot.
Now he’s faced with a mysterious murderer and there’s no shortage of experts offering advice and help, most of which he doesn’t want. He particularly is annoyed, angered even, at the advice proffered by Dr. James Phineas Tewes, an odd little man who welcomes Ransom’s investigation of the third garroting is as many weeks with the statement: “I insist on a scientifically accurate, thorough phrenological diagnosis on the dead boy’s cranium to determine his magnetic levels at the time of his death.”
“Phrenological what?” Is Ransom’s response. Think of the characters in the HBO series “Deadwood” and you’ve got an idea of how Ransom and his friends and antagonists act and talk. Yes, the language in “City for Ransom” is very salty and graphic. I also was reminded of the historical novels of such authors as Caleb Carr (“The Alienist”) and E.L. Doctorow (“The Waterworks”) as I read “City for Ransom.”
Tewes has more than a few secrets of his own – which – spoiler alert – I won’t reveal. His daughter Gabrielle is studying medicine at Northwestern University, despite prejudice against women doctors that borders on the insane. This is the Victorian era, after all, and women can’t vote – except in a few Western states like Wyoming and Colorado. Gabby is an ardent feminist, a confident young woman secure in her knowledge of her abilities in the healing arts.
“City for Ransom” is a fascinating look at an event – the Chicago World’s Fair – that influenced future expositions and the landscape architecture of major American cities. It prefigured the 20th Century and the creation of attractions like Disneyland. After all, Walt Disney spent his early childhood in Chicago, where he was born in 1901, and was influenced by the fair.
Chicagoan Rob Walker’s novel is also a historically accurate take on Chicago, a city that has fascinated writers as diverse as Theodore Dreiser, Carl Sandburg, Ben Hecht and Sherwood Anderson, all the way to the present with the poet laureate of the city, playwright and filmmaker David Mamet.
Publisher’s web site:
This entry was posted on Sunday, July 16th, 2006

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Write Pitch

What needs be in a pitch and how should it resound? It's what you want on the back flap of your book; it's what you dream a copywriter will get right on the back of your novel. There are some definite dos' and don'ts. This is the shortest but most important story you will ever write--the story about your story.

Do get in the name and profession of your main character right off the bat, along with the setting (or settings), the time frame, the basic plot and premise upon which the novel twists and turns. In other words you are providing for the reader a quick and dirty look at Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. How does it run; why is it unique. Don't go on long. Do keep it tightly written. Organize it. Keep it short enough to fit on the back of your book. It should be written in present tense and active voice. No time for linking or helping or weak passive verbs. The style comes clear after you read twenty or thirty back flaps of published books. This is the "voice" you want to use. You may want to organize a paragraph to cover the protagonist and a second to cover the antagonist, stating the golas of each. By all means, you want to convey the main souce of conflict and the category your novel falls into, and perhaps a hint of the danger involved for your protagonist.

Read the back flap copy of my City for Ransom, my Psi Blue, or my Absolute Instinct. Three distinctive books but the back flap copy does the same job for each novel. One set in 1893 Chicago, one in DC & Phoenix current day, the third in current day Chicago and the Midwest.

Rob Walker

Friday, October 20, 2006

Top Ten Writing Tips You'll Ever Need

10. Get and keep a day job; anything that pays the rent, because I shit you not even a contract for six figures, such as 100,000 dollars is doled out in such a fashion for say 3 or 4 books that you will be making less than minimum wage, even though you can brag about six figures.
9. Write on a schedule; set time aside for writing, and when you miss the appointment with your writing self, make it up before the week is out. Any schedule is better than no schedule. Be it 1 hour a week or 20 hours a week. Most successful authors write 3-5 hours a day. If time does not work for you, write a scene a day to get that rush of 'accomplishment' via each finished scene.
8. Have a place to write. Set aside your special geography and stick it. Find out where you get most of your writing done, be it at Starbucks or at home, and work there.
7. Stiff-arm loved ones when you work; this sounds harsh, but you have to convince those around you, be they children or adult, that your writing time and space is sacrosanct and extremely meaningful to you. Nothing short of blood will stop you from your writing.
6. Make time where there is none. If you commute on a train this is easier. However, if you believe there are not enough hours in the day to write, re-write time. Re-make it. Rearrange your life to give up other activities for writing.
5. Take a Ph.D in letters or writing if you can afford it, say at the Iowa School of Writing or some university closer to you, and seek out teachers who are published as they have a lot more to say about the business as well as the writing. If you can't afford the university degree, created your own 'university' as I did and write for four years and then bestow your degree on yourself, but most important, you've taken apprentice time to hone your craft.
4. Write to your opposite. Exercise and flex your imaginative muscle to include characters and settings completely foreign to yourself and your life. Set a story or scene in India, Havana, China, Indonesia or Puerto Rico and create characters who populate such places and stop writing about middle-class America, the burbs, and purely and only 'white bread' characters.
In other words do some research and stretch.
3. Do some research and stretch.
2. Always open a book, a chapter, a scene in the middle of action, and never stop a scene to describe a person, place or thing. Such descripts must come in in the midst of character action and character thought and character speech and the character's five senses and if possible reach for the sixth sense before leaving that scene.
1. Open a novel, a chapter, a scene with your character's hands; focus on said hands and what they are doing. What are the hands and fingers immersed in? This already gives you action and tells you something about character--who he is and what he does. What a character says (with his hands and feet as well as his mouth) and what a character does = who s/he is.
Bonus Tip: When in doubt, strike it out; work with active voice, strong nouns followed by strong verbs, and stay away from the crippling qualifiers and helping and linking verbs that slow a scene to death.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Top Ten Ways to Create a Bestseller

Today's Top 10 is a joint effort between myself and Ron Estrada (, soon to be world famous novelist and winner of the 1977 Chicago Disco Fever and Jalapeno Eating contest. So, we give you...Top 10 Ways to Guarantee a Best Seller...

10. Write a novel about leaves in the wind that whisper poetry into the ears of all your characters and each must act on his or her poem. High literature.
9. Write a novel from the point of view of a Bonsai Tree. No one's ever done it. It might lack for action but it will be chock full of inner monologue.
8. Write a novel about a man killed in the prime of his life only to come back as a ghost to stalk his wife who'd been estranged from him even before he was a ghost. Call it the Stalking Spirit.
7. Write a memoir of having had your gall bladder removed and fill it with poignant moments, tearful asides, and dedicate it to the American family values crowd.
6. Ghost write a book for Pamela Anderson, ghost detectives being all the rage...(Ok...I just wanna hang with Pam).
5. Bring back Alistair Ransom as a ghost detective in the 21st Century. (He's my character from City for Ransom. Try to keep up.)
4. Just use the title “Maximum Body count” and you are in.
3. Make up a horrible past for yourself, write your “autobiography, get on Oprah, get busted for lying, sell even more books because of the scandal, and retire rich.
2. Write a novel about a ghost detective who appears on Oprah, only she busts him for lying. He wasn’t a detective at all, but some low-rent mystery writer who is now just a low-rent ghost. But he’ll make millions in the scandal when all his books go back into print. Unfortunately, his estranged wife gets all of it because he’s dead and she runs off to Rio with her pool boy, Raul.

And, to put this thing to rest, the number one way to guarantee a bestseller...

1. Lose your bid for the US presidency and write about the Earth's doom. Don't worry that your degree is in law. Oprah will never catch on. But after you're killed when a glacier runs over your SUV, you can come back as a ghost presidential candidate, marry Pamela Anderson (since she's not real either), and tell everyone "I told you so."

We hope that wasn't as painful for you as it was for us (Ron Estrada and I, your host). This is the sort of despicable, despicable thing that can happen when you allow ghost bloggers on your site.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Robert W. Walker's BoucherCon2006 10 Most Imporant Rules for Signings:

Robert W. Walker's 10 Most Important Rules for Signings. Things You Mustn't Do at a Signing...from the only man ever thrown out of his own signing (a watershed event). This list was given as part of the Bouchercon 2006 panel on selling your book and it got a few laughs:

10. Do not sit period...but most certainly, do not sit behind an open newspaper, clip your nails, comb hair,
or yawn.
9. Do not spill latte on your own books (if you so over another book).
8. Do not flirt with the cute clerk who looks 18 as she may be the manager; courtesy is best.
7. Do not throw your book at people, either those who are staring at you or those walking out.
6. Do not become angry or frustrated when a) the electricity goes out, b) no one knows you were
scheduled on said day, c) they do not have your books, although you called and checked the
day before and was assured. Instead smile, smile, and smile. Make of a future
signing, tell funny and writerly stories, ingratiate yourself.
5. Do not hand out soap and towel with your books with the proviso the reader will need to take
a shower after reading it. You will only get more stares.
4. When a customer picks up the latest Stephen King novel, reaching over your shoulder to get at it,
Do not shout, "Put that book down!" Even if it is your intention to explain that your book is a
good one, too. (You can't do that last part when said customer runs screaming from the store).
3. Do not make eye contact with anyone coming through the door who looks like Joe Konrath on the last
day of a writer's conference.
2. Do not hand out candy (or anything else) in the shape of capsules at your signing as it is easy to
confuse such with your Cialis.
1. Do not ring a cow bell overhead to gain attention, even if the signing is in Madison, Wisconsin,
and do not shine a blinding blue or strobe light into the eyes of prospoective buyers. Blinding a
reader only makes all authors poorer for it.

If the author can avoid all of the above, he or she may be invited back some day, but it has been my experience that even the most successful signings have no follow-up unless you follow up.

May the road rise up to meet you, and may all your signings be a joy.