There's a reason Stephen King, Nora Roberts, James Patterson and Danielle Steele are best-selling authors; they write well-crafted, entertaining books. But to go to a book rack in an airport or a grocery store, you would come to the conclusion that they are the only authors who write well-crafted, entertaining books. Nothing could be further from the truth; there are thousands of authors who write great books--they are just not getting the exposure they deserve. We could debate the reasons behind this for hours (suffice it to say that the Big 5 are trying to focus on the household names they know are going to be profitable) but I would rather write about some of the emerging authors who--if given the requisite attention--may become the household names of tomorrow.
Joe Clifford is just such an emerging author. When I say emerging author, I mean just that--emerging as a name in the publishing industry. An emerging author has usually written at least three books (Clifford's fifth book comes soon, joining December Boys, Lamentation, Junkie Love and Wake the Undertaker) but it takes more than that to be emerging. The way I see it, there are three requirements for an author to be considered.
1) Body of Work, which has to include more than just a debut novel, no matter how good that debut is. (We can all name a dozen one-hit wonders.) To be emerging, three is the minimum and a half-dozen the maximum. Because really, if you haven't emerged after six novels, chances are the window has closed. And there is a progression to the work of an emerging writer; simply said, they get better with each successive work. (That is, until they get a big enough name--and lose enough sense--to be able to shake off an editor. See below.)
2)Popular Appeal and Critical Acclaim. It's difficult to win both, but an emerging writer needs to do so. It's this combination that portends a writer's emergence more than anything else. As a writer myself, I can appreciate the difficulty of doing both. In the construction of a novel, a writer has to choose scenes, narrators, tenses, points of view, language, etc., with the full knowledge that some choices will appeal to the masses and some to the critics. It is the emerging writer that chooses in such a way that the finished product appeals to both. Take Dan's Brown The Da Vinci Code. One of the most criticized books ever written--the writing is just plain sub-par--it is the 9th most read book of all-time. (See the part in #1 above about refusing to be edited.) Fortunately for Dan Brown, he had already emerged with Angels and Demons, and once you have emerged, people buy your books.
3) Bringing Something New to the Table. To emerge, a writer can't just be an also writing in the genre type author. JK Rowling, who emerged with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, completely redefined the SF/F genre, by which I mean that she expanded the Fantasy readership to include people of all ages and readers of all genres. Now, you don't have to do all that to emerge, but you do gave to add something to the genre.
So let's get back to Joe Clifford. He's got the body of work, and he's got the progression. Read Wake the Under-Taker and then read December Boys and you will see what I mean. The man has always been able to tell a story, but the prose has evolved. Like the man himself, Clifford's prose is honest and straightforward, and the pacing is electric without being rushed. Above all, however, is the genuineness of the book, it's holy shit this is so real vibe, it's everyman charm that wins December Boys its commercial appeal. It is also what Clifford adds to the genre. So many mysteries can be clever and full of intrigue, but are otherwise flat and lifeless. Clifford writes with great but not obvious passion--the reader feels the blood and sweat and tears more than sees them in the prose Clifford uses. (Not easy to do, trust me on this one.) And the characters are not embellished, not at all. Authentically flawed and truly imperfect, Jay Porter is a man you can root for, and you are going to need to, because he has a hard time doing that for himself.
As far as commercial acclaim in concerned, keep in mind that it's easy to pad stats in this digital age. What people can't do, however, is fake the sincerity of written reviews. Here's a trio of quotes from Amazon reviews. "Above all, Joe Clifford is highly readable. He writes books that are meant to be consumed like cinema, in a single sitting if you have the time (patience won't be a problem), paced accordingly." "But that's what makes the stories so true to life; they're about people in bad situations (sometimes their own doing, sometimes not) and trying to contend with them. Oddly enough, when things seem to go well for Jay, that's an ominous sign." "What stands out most is that in the pantheon of fiction featuring amateur PIs, Jay Porter is so human, and so grounded, that the emotional moments hit ten times harder."
So, the next time you're in a bookstore or shopping on-line, give Joe Clifford a try. And don't forget about Oceanview Publishing, Joe's Publisher, an Up and Coming name in the mystery and thriller genre. I'll end with the link to December Boys on B&N (the amazon link is above) and the link to Joe's website. Enjoy.
Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include THE INTERN, a novel based loosely on Peter's medical internship, excerpts of which can be seen on Wattpad; ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Here, the literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and the chief of three tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill, Fiction Writers and The Book Shelf. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at email@example.com or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at firstname.lastname@example.org.