Thursday, April 27, 2017

Awful good reviews

I've often said three-star reviews are the worst to get.

One-star reviews are written by assholes. Five stars some from friends or people are often too excited.

When I look at reviews, I discount the fives and ones. But if I see a book heavy with three stars, that's a book I might not care about. One-star people care. Five-star people care.

A three-star review says  "Meh. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad. Whatever." Who wants to read that book?

And then there's this kind of review, one that says the book was great and the author did great work, but it wasn't exactly what the reader wanted.

What the heck are you supposed to do with that?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Doing It All Wrong

How many successful writers do you know who do it all wrong?

Joanne Harris and Roxane Gay are not only outspoken on social media, they engage with nearly every troll.

Joe Lansdale writes different genres, wildly dark or funny stories, all under the same name.

Who writes in the second person? Begins with the weather? Writes what people skip? Kills the dog?

Try any of those things and the answer will be, "well, you're not Roxane Lansdale Harris." (Good name for a character, that). And they're right. You're not them. You're you.

This isn't to say "rules are meant to be broken," but there is no magic formula.

If you listen too carefully, you'll never be you. That is not to say ignore editors and beta readers. They are there to fine-tune your work and give you perspective. Sometimes you miss the mark, and need to finesse it. Sometimes, it's a delicate dance.

Be aware that being you sometimes means being less popular than vanilla. Maybe you're pistachio. Sometimes I'm the guy who orders the old-ass flavors like butter pecan, maple walnut, and salted turnip, because I feel they don't get enough love. (Right now, there's a pint of rocky road in my freezer that I wish was closer, if you're wondering where this tangent came from.)

The rules you should try not to break are write fearlessly about what you love, persevere, and behave politely and professionally. And even that first one can be broken, if you want or need to write for hire. We all need to make a living. And many of these rules get penned by people living off family or spouses or day jobs where you have the luxury of principles. Behaving professionally in business matters will open doors for you. And behaving unprofessionally or with difficulty will close them. Don't eat shit, but don't shit where you eat, either.

And never kill the dog.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Scorecard

It's gotten bad.  No joke.  It's gotten so bad I need a kind of scorecard to keep track of where I am from TV series to TV series.

But the scorecard looks something like this:

Hinterland - A dark Wales set procedural that has strong no-nonsense plots and an abundance of atmosphere.  Is there a countryside more brooding and austere than the Welsh one?  I watched the first season and have two seasons to go, though only seasons 1 and 2 right now are on Netflix.  It's been a couple months since I finished season one, but I do want to return to the show.

Black Mirror - A great show.  Often brilliant.  The show that put Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out on the map. I've watched everything up through San Junipero (one of the show's very best episodes) in season 3.  Saw San Junipero months ago and have been meaning ever since to watch episodes 5 and 6 of season 3, which would bring me up to date.

Atlanta - That eccentric Donald Glover. He seems to be a guy viewers either really like or can't stand. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the distinctiveness and tonal shifts of the first two episodes, but somehow got sidetracked after that watching other things and need to go back and re-watch those and then continue on to watch the other eight episodes. Come on, I tell myself.  Do it.  They're only 30 minutes each, perfect as a way of winding down after a night of writing.  They await me on I-Tunes, where I bought a season pass to the show.

Stranger Things - I've heard nothing but great things about this Netflix series. I like the whole 80's throwback vibe, and my 11 year old son, who knows next to nothing about the 80's, loved it.  But I've only managed so far to watch bits and pieces as my son was binge watching it (usually when I was busy doing housework or cooking), and then alone one night a couple weeks ago, I started episode one but quickly got sleepy (it was about one in the morning on a weekday night) and had to stop. If I could only get about 8 hours of free time at once, I'd binge watch this thing myself.  I know it's right up my alley.

Bosch - Yes! Finally! Up to date on something. But wait, not exactly. Season 3 just started streaming on Amazon.  So here's yet another show I'm behind on.  Whatever. I'm eager to rejoin Harry because I enjoyed the first two seasons.  Solid show through and through.

Fargo - Is this starting season 3? It is.  Damn, because I haven't gotten past the first episode of the first season, which I bought on Amazon awhile back.  I found that premiere episode merely okay, and my attention span feels so put upon now, I never felt compelled to return to the series  But based on all the raves I've heard from people I know, I suppose I should?

Gomorrah - Just finished watching season one on Netflix.  Season two will start this week on Sundance. This is a series I will without question keep up with.  The question here is whether to watch it on Sundance now, with commercials, or to buy a season pass through I-Tunes so I can watch it without the ads. Alternatively, I could buy it on Amazon when it's available there or wait to see it on Netflix for free, though that may mean waiting for months. Decisions, decisions.

The Last Panthers - I saw Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers, the excellent documentary about the Balkan jewel thieves who inspired The Last Panthers, but still need to start watching the show.  It's a fascinating tale, how this group of robbers formed after the Balkan Wars of the 90's, and it's got John Hurt in one of his last roles.

The Night Manager - Le Carre adaptation, Tom Wilkinson, and yet I still haven't started this. Why not?

Shetland - What the hell was I doing starting this series just a couple night ago?  Don't I have enough that's unfinished on my TV viewing plate?  And yet, this past Sunday night over dinner, I watched the first two episodes of this show based on the Ann Cleeves novels.  As with Hinterland, much of the pleasure for me in this procedural comes from the starkly beautiful setting and the mood evoked by that setting.  Here it's the titular Scottish archipelago.  I've always wanted to travel to Scotland but haven't yet. This is the next best thing.

Hap and Leonard - Who's not glad Joe R. Lansdale got adapted to TV?  Still, this didn't quite hook me. When it premiered last year, I was eager to jump into it, but I stopped about halfway through season one. Now season two is underway.  I own season one through Amazon, so it's there waiting for me, but it's low on my priority list.  Maybe I'm just less interested in East Texas and its landscape than I am in Scotland or Wales? Could be that.   If anything draws me back, it'll be Michael K. Williams.

Marcella - Saw season one, eagerly awaiting season two.

The Eagle - A Danish procedural from about 13 years ago that had a three season run.  I've seen the first season. Need to see the other two. The main character is half Danish half Icelandic, and he's part of an investigative team that combats international crime across Scandinavia and Russia. His group takes on drug rings, financial fraud, terrorist threats, human trafficking and other stuff.  A slick, well-made, tense show, with a compelling central character who suffered some sort of traumatic incident as a child in his native Iceland. The show flashes back often to that childhood, so that there's a developing mystery in the past as the plots in the present progress.

And I could go on.  I haven't even mentioned the shows not involving crime of any kind.  But you get the point.  There's so much good stuff, it's maddening.  I think it's clear why a TV viewing scorecard, at this exhausting point, is necessary.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Spinetingler News

Interrupting regular blogging to share with you the news that Spinetingler will have its first issue in years this fall. We're currently accepting fiction submissions, scheduling author interviews, selling limited ad space and pulling things together.

For more information, you can check out the site.

Spinetingler has always been a labor of love, and primarily self-financed. As a result, our output has varied over the years. Jack Getze and I would like to thank you for your ongoing support throughout the years.

PS: Several stories have already been lined up for the issue. If you're polishing a short story, don't take too long to send it in. Submissions for the issue will close once the issue is full.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Different Realities of Memory

I heard a song on the radio earlier this week, and I was immediately transported to a boat in the middle of an almost frozen lake, with snow on the rocky shore and the wet tang of an approaching storm in the air. It was a wonderful memory. But it never existed.
The song was from a OneRepublic album that I listened to repeatedly when I was writing the first part of The Branson Beauty. My sheriff has to coordinate the rescue of passengers from a crashed showboat in the middle of an Ozark lake as a winter storm blows in.
Table Rock Lake, Branson, Missouri. Credit: Table Rock Condos at The Majestic
I hadn’t heard any of the songs in years. But as I listened to "Made For You" play on the car radio, everything came back. Not the actual memory of me sitting at a keyboard and staring at a computer screen. What I recalled was the cold and the water and the feeling of expectancy that my character had as he boarded the showboat in the biting wind. That’s my "real" memory, and it made me smile for the rest of the day.
What songs do you have that are linked to a specific memory – whether it’s from the real world or the world of a book?  


Saturday, April 22, 2017

When a Writer Has To Not Write

Scott D. Parker

I think it's fair to say that the best part about being a writer is the writing. But being an independent writer means that I have to wear multiple hats depending on the situation. In the past week and a half, I have not been writing. I've been doing all the other things that need to be put in place from the marketing, website, and general business direction. I'll admit that I don't mind most of these kinds of things. But they take me away from the writing.

I am in the process of re-branding my Westerns as written by "S. D. Parker." It is a strategy to keep those westerns seen by other Western readers who may or may not enjoy mysteries. I am not making a secret of the pen name so I don't have to duplicate everything, but I am having to do a lot of little things. For example, I created a specific western author page on my website. It will act as the landing page for the "S. D. Parker – Western Author" links and books. Well, as soon as I did that, I had to finagle all of the individual webpages featuring my western stories to fall under the new western author webpage. Not a huge deal, but it had to be done. One of the stories I have decided to rename with a shorter title. It was not just a matter of changing the title on that webpage, I actually have to create a brand new webpage for that story so that the URL would read correctly. It is an irritating little detail, but it is in the details where we differentiate ourselves from others.

Yesterday, on a day off from my day job, I scheduled myself sometime to revise the word files for the four westerns I currently have on sale. Going in, it seemed like a rather easy thing to do: fix the title page, fix the copyright page, and fix the URLs embedded in the files. That part was easy. Where I stumbled ones with the mailing list link. You see, the current mailing list is geared toward the mystery side of things and not the westerns. If I was going to divide my energies, I thought it a good idea to have two separate mailing lists. No big deal… Until I realized I have to go and make it. That sent me out to Mailchimp where I spent some time creating the brand-new Western mailing list.  Again, it didn't take a lot of time, but it was one more thing to do. Then there was the decision to create a western author Facebook page. Maybe it's overkill, but if I am keeping everything separate… Then it would make sense to have a unique western Facebook page. And I have one now.

I think you can see how all these little steps add up to a big chunk of time. I was so engrossed in all of this work that by the time I looked up, I had only 30 minutes to eat lunch before I had to go get my boy from school and take him to the orthodontist. When the two of us got home, he chilled in the game room while I went back to my office and fixed another book.

Tomorrow (for me; Today for y'all) will be more of the same — with the birthday party that we have to attend — thrown in for good measure. It is all gearing up for a launch on May 1.

Lest you think that I am giving up on mysteries — far from the truth — this summer I will refresh all of my covers. In fact, here's the new cover draft for THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES.

You'll note that it's just in draft state and the watermarks are still in place. I'll be purchasing those images in the next month. All of the mystery covers in this series — including the Benjamin Wade stories and the one Lillian Saxton novel — will have the same look and feel. And there will be a couple of new mystery stories that will be released this summer.

It's an exciting time here at the offices of Quadrant Fiction Studio. How about y'all? What are y'all doing as summer approaches? Any new books we can discuss?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Reading, Writing, Lifing.

Never trust a writer who doesn't read.

We've all heard it before, and we've probably said it before. But the truth is somewhere in the soft squishy gray area we usually try to avoid thinking about. If you've got a day job, a girl friend, spouse, a kid or two, you are struggling to find time to write, which means you might be struggling to find time to read.

I've had the same painful, nagging cough for nearly a month. The doctor can't do anything for me but give some new allergy medications. I'll take them and hope Spring passes quickly. My cat has cancer. Prior to a couple weeks ago this meant cat shit was just everywhere all the time. The new meds he's on means I don't have to keep washing the sheets we put over the couch like Gramma used to do, and you can cuddle him without having to change your clothes. The kid is in her school's talent show - which means I'm saddled with practically begging her to practice, because at seven, I think she's a little too young to learn a lesson via fucking up in front of all of her friends at school. She's got Girl Scouts and homework and spelling tests. The husband has cool stuff going on at work but that means long days, and me making the commute to join him for the pomp and circumstance. And... I think I also have a life. It's hard to remember without looking at my date book, but I seem to recall having shit to do every single day, myself.

I'm not saying this to complain (well, I'm complaining about the cough and the scratches on my arms from giving the cat his medicine), because the truth is things are going pretty well. If I weren't also working on a novel, things would be pretty great. I'd be able to guiltlessly spend my free time relaxing with a book or binging Justified because my brain was tried of managing all my responsibilities and it would be fine. But I am writing a novel, and I am brain fried all the time, and I don't mind being honest about the part of being a writer that's actually work.

When your brain just wants to switch off, but you have a goal with your revisions (and revisions are never as fun or exciting as first drafts for me) being a writer sucks. The writing doesn't - it never does for me. But forcing the time, forcing another cup of coffee down, trying new gimmicks and "life hacks" to keep your focus strong and the distractions to a minimum - it sucks. I've been taking a break from hardcore revisions lately because I'm sick and I have a lot going on, and frankly I deserve it. But I've always found the easiest way to get excited about writing again is reading, so instead of giving in to the urge to watch TV or even just go to bed early, I've been getting through my long TBR. Whether it's new books I've been meaning to read, essay collections I've wanted to get to for months, or books like Breakfast of Champions that I managed to get through life without experiencing.

It's fun, and it's productive. Because I need to remember that reading is part of the job. And I need to reset my brain. And I need to get excited enough about books and stories that hacking all over my keyboard doesn't discourage me.