Thursday, April 25, 2019

There Ain't No Party Like an Otto Penzler Party

By David Nemeth

The tweets and Facebook posts are from Otto Penzler's The Mysterious Bookshop's 40th Anniversary Party.* The event happened on April 23, 2019.

The text is from a letter written by Otto Penzler to the Mystery Writers of America's Board of Directors. It is from December 2018.†

Four months. Only four months.

". . . racially charged and utterly misinformed letters from Attica Locke and Steph Cha." - Otto Penzler

"Her [Cha] stupefying ignorance did not, however, prevent her from having powerful opinions. " - Otto Penzler

", , , a tweet sent by Locke, in which she claimed that Ms. Fairstein was “almost single-handedly responsible for the wrongful incarceration of the Central Park Five,” which is neither true nor credible to anyone with even a fundamental understanding of police procedure and the legal system." - Otto Penzler

"For many years, I have welcomed the celebration of the incoming board with a party at the Mysterious Bookshop. The board does not deserve a celebration of any kind, and it would be hypocritical of me to host one. You are no longer welcome in my bookshop." - Otto Penzler

* Let's not kid anyone, that was an Edgar Party too.
† You can read the pdf version.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

                                                  VIOLENCE FOR VIOLENCE'S SAKE

     I  love all types of crime stories. I will just as soon read a dark, gritty tale by Dennis Lehane  as I will an English drawing room mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers or Edmund Crispin. However what miniscule talent I may have has always seemed to manifest itself through the prism of hard-boiled fiction. And while I can't speak for anyone except myself I'd bet dollars to donuts any writer worth their salt who writes in said hard-boiled style has come up against the question I faced last night during my current round of edits.
      Is this too violent?

And before you all jump in the comment section I know there is violence in English mysteries and cozies and other non hard-boiled genres. However, most of the violence in these books is off screen. We may see a body lying in repose in the library or the greenhouse and we are assured through the astute observation of the brilliant detective that is our guide during this tale that the person or persons are dead. There may be a few drops of blood on the harpsicord but generally that's about as graphic as those types of novel tend to get. And that is perfectly fine. Not every story has to involve shattered jaws and broken teeth. 
   Most of mine do and that's okay as well. 

     Yet I still find myself wondering where is the line? When does my desire, or my duty, to give the reader the most comprehensive and detailed description of the rage my characters feel and the consequences of that rage on the human body stray into gratuitous voyeurism?  Is there even a line ? 
      Last night I was working on a scene where my protagonist catches up to the man who betrayed him. A man who killed my protagonist's best friend. At one point the protagonist shoots his enemy in the knee. From my research and discussions with some medical professionals who undoubtedly will cast a suspicious eye at me from now on, I've learned this is one of the most painful places to be shot. 
     As I was writing this scene I realized that wouldn't be enough for my main character. He wants this man to suffer. A mere bullet wound is not nearly enough. I won't go into detail here as to what he does but believe me when I say it's not for the faint of heart. In the course of that scene I found my line. I found the place where I can go no further. My line is probably different from yours, whether you are a reader  a writer or both.  And yes I know that may seem like some mealy-mouthed cop out but it also happens to be the truth. 
     I'm a firm believer that violence is as necessary to a good crime story as love is to a romance novel. Much like sex in the latter violence in the former is a foundational component. The graphicness of these narrative techniques is up to the author. We all have to find our line . I don't think that you have to agree with where my line is but I think in a society that seemingly restricts our freedom of expression more and more everyday we do have to agree to allow everyone to find that place on their own. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Down to the River Anthology

Remember when a fire broke out on the Cuyahoga River, near downtown Cleveland.  Smoke on the water, not only in a song, but in real life.  This was, last time it happened, in 1969.  And it was not the worst such incident; the Cuyahoga had gone up in flames many times before that, including the even bigger conflagration in 1952.  The reason each time was related to the oil-soaked garbage and debris floating on the water's surface. In 1969, as a case in point, sparks from a passing train landed on that oil and set the flames going.

In 1969, I was seven years old, but I remember the story of the burning river well.  It sounded weird. How could water burn?  The story was all over the news, in print and on TV.  And, let's face it, an event like that you don't forget.  As a kid you wonder, what could human beings be doing to make a river so polluted that it does something entirely unnatural?  

The Cuyahoga may have been the most extreme example, but the 1960s and 1970s were a time when a number of rivers were polluted.  If you grew up in New York anywhere near the Hudson (as I did), you were aware of how chemical-filled, how toxic, that river was.  For years, companies such as General Electric dumped PCBs in the water, and there was also mercury contamination and towns and cities dumping untreated sewage into the Hudson.  This is the time when the peregrine falcon population in the Hudson Valley was decimated. One reason: the falcons, which nested in cliffs above the river, would eat the fish that had ingested the chemicals they swam through, and the PCBs in the fish caused the falcons to lay soft and unviable eggs.

I say all this as background to why I was happy to accept an invitation to contribute to a short story anthology that just came out.  It's called Down to the River and it's edited by Tim O'Mara. It's a collection of twenty-two crime stories that take place on or near an American river, and proceeds from sales will go to the conservation non-profit, American Rivers.  As someone who grew up when rivers in the United States were in terrible shape and likes how much they've been cleaned up since while recognizing that the conservation work must go on (because, always, there is more to do), I couldn't say no to Tim when he asked me.

"Write about a river you're familiar with," Tim said.  "But not the Hudson. That's too obvious."

After a moment's thought, I came up with another New York City river to write about, the Bronx River, which flows south from Westchester County down through the borough it's named after.  It cuts through the heart of the Bronx Zoo, a favorite place of mine since childhood, and I figured I could set a good story there.  Anyway, the story is titled "Bronx River Elegy", and who can complain about being among such contributors as Reed Farrell Coleman, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Eric Beetner, Charles Salzberg, Dana King, John Keyse Walker, and many more?  Among the rivers the stories revolve around: the St. Croix River in Minnesota, the Alleghany River, the Missouri River, the Connecticut River, the Dan River in Virginia, the Mississippi, and the Los Angeles River.  In other words, there is much geographical variety in this collection, though of course, you can be anywhere for crime to occur.

Publishers Weekly has done a nice review of the collection - Publishers Weekly - and so has The Providence JournalProvidence Journal - which calls it an "early candidate for the best crime-mystery anthology of the year".

Down and Out is the publisher.

Anyone want to take a dip?

You can get Down to the River here.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Last Woman Standing

Life as a writer poses many challenges. And not all of those challenges are writing or publishing related. Some challenges are how to carry on when life throws you a curveball.

My wife and I have been married for nearly twenty-one years, longer than most lesbian couples. We're still a lot like two lovesick teenagers, always making each other laugh. In so many ways, the honeymoon never ended.

That's not to say we don't have our challenges. Over the past few years, my wife has become disabled. It's difficult for her to stand for long periods of time or to walk long distances. So I've had to step up my game. And I'm happy to do so.

I do more of the chores around the house. I am doing more and more of the cooking (which is something she's always enjoyed doing.) I take care of our three cats. Plus my day job. Plus my writing career, which she has whole-heartedly supported.

As I said, I'm happy to do it because she's such an amazing person who helped me work through a lot of the PTSD-related issues that I had coming into the relationship two decades ago. In a very real way, she showed me what love is. And I am beyond grateful.

Me waiting for surgery
A couple of weeks ago, I started to feel some abdominal pain. I figured I probably strained some muscles pulling weeds. And then at times during the week, I felt lightheaded and feverish. Wasn't sure what it was, but I kept an eye on it.

Then a week ago last Saturday night, I felt a hard lump just above my navel. I'm realizing this isn't just a pulled muscle. Quite possibly a hernia. Not what I need with so many responsibilities at home.

I went to the Emergency Room and learned I had an abscess the size of a plum in my abdominal muscle. I was admitted to the hospital to have it treated.

Because of my wife's condition, she couldn't visit me. That was hard on both of us.

After a couple of days of being pumped with antibiotics, they drained the abscess, leaving in a JP drain to allow further drainage. After five days in hospital, they finally pulled the drain and released me.

Me getting a little silly on the whiteboard
The medical care was top-notch. The food was...well, it was not my wife's awesome cooking, I'll tell you that. And missing my wife for so long left me a little stir crazy. Writing silliness on the whiteboards.

I'm happy to say I am now home and on the mend. Not sure when I'll be back at work. And while my wife really stepped up to do what she could to take care of the cats and herself during my absence, it was a painful struggle for her.

Despite instructions for me to rest and take it easy, I simply can't. With all I went through, I'm still the most able-bodied person in the house. A day after my release, I was making meals, shopping for groceries, cleaning litter boxes, etc. Because shit still needs to get done.

Yes, I know the old adage about taking care of oneself as a priority before helping others. But the truth is, it's a balancing act. Difficult choices must be made when you're the last woman standing.

Maybe now I can get caught up on my editing.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 16

Scott D. Parker

Crap, I need an extra chapter.

Proofing Aztec Sword

I wrote Aztec Sword last year and have read it through a couple of times. I check for spelling--and I always miss a few--word choice, the odd punctuation or misplaced word. You know. The usual suspects. Moreover, I start and keep a separate word file in which I outline the book as I go, noting the introductions of various characters and their descriptions, little nuggets I threw in about the characters, locations, and, the like. I also make note of where the text indicates I should start a new chapter versus merely a sub-section as in the original version. I also always include the end-of-chapter and end-of-section sentences so I know where my cliffhangers are.

Well, imagine my surprise that, upon re-reading this book again, my original ending seemed to lack something. It has been months since I last read this book, and dang it if I, as a reader, wanted an epilogue. So I'm writing one.

And I know that by writing this out in public, everyone can compare all the chapters of the book to the last chapter, but who cares? This blog series is my journey through a year of writing and publishing independently, and if I don't make a point to show certain trials and tribulations, then what good is it?

I wonder what that says about me the writer from 2018 and me the reader in 2019. I'd like to think my storytelling abilities have progressed in that time. Heck, don't we all hope that?

A Rod Serling Biography

Last week, I watched "The Comedian," the premiere episode of the Jordan Peele version of The Twilight Zone. It's on YouTube and it's free. Immediately after that episode, YouTube led into a short piece from CBS Sunday Morning talking about creator Rod Serling, Peele, and the massive undertaking it is to reboot a franchise such as The Twilight Zone.

My wife's a fan of Serling's other major television series, Night Gallery, and a thought came to mind. Serling wrote something like half of all Twilight Zone episodes and probably something like half of the Night Gallery episodes. As a writer myself, the feat is extraordinary, especially considering the quality of Serling's writings remained high.

That led me to the internet. Was there a biography of Rod Serling? Yup. And it was published just last year. Quickly I placed my order for Rod Serling: His Life, Work, and Imagination by Nicholas Parisi. It came in the mail on Wednesday and I'm only on chapter 1, but it looks to be precisely the book I want to read about Serling. I'll let y'all know later.

That Little Voice in Our Heads

Two separate blog posts jumped out at me this week, arguably talking about the same thing.

One is directly related to writing. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Thursday article on "Critical Voice" is a must read for all creative types. She talks about that critical voice that's in our heads and how it impedes the childlike nature of our creative brain. She quotes an article in which said critical voice is personified. Were that a real person, would you even want to talk to him or her? Then why the heck is that voice in our heads? She provides some answers.

On another blog entirely is Leo Babauta. I cannot remember how I ran across his Zen Habits blog years ago, but I have it linked up in my Feedly feed. This week, he wrote a piece entitled "The Universal Narrative: When You Feel Unworthy." Like Rusch's piece, he takes you through a thought experiment about how we often feel ourselves unworthy of things. Most importantly, he offers new habits we can develop to, hopefully, offset those unwanted feelings.

These two pieces go well together.

Quote of the Week

To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.
- Leonard Bernstein

Considering I found a perceived defect in my book--and I do not plan on changing my 1 May publication date--Bernstein's quote is particularly apt. Guess what I'll be doing this weekend when not in church?

Thursday, April 18, 2019

On rediscovering the joy of reading.

Jenny Bowen is going home. Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper, all she wants to do is forget about her upcoming divorce and relax on the ten-hour journey through the night.
In her search for her cabin, Jenny helps a panicked woman with a young girl she assumes to be her daughter. Then she finds her compartment and falls straight to sleep.
Waking in the night, Jenny discovers the woman dead in her cabin ... but there's no sign of the little girl. The train company have no record of a child being booked on the train, and CCTV shows the dead woman boarding alone.

I spent most of my childhood and teen years escaping from the world in fiction, and it feels like its been a while since I did so with any regularity. Oh, there are still writers who I will devour, into whose worlds Ill happily bury myself, but a sense of professional obligation you have, says the prevalent wisdom, to keep abreast of whats current if you want to be a writer of commercial fiction can sometimes suck the joy out of the act, make it more work than pleasure.

What She Saw Last Night (or, from here on in, WSSLN) is one of those books whose premise youve seen before. Its The Lady Vanishes on a contemporary train, crossed with elements of the Jodie Foster movie Flightplan.

But its in the execution that the book soars, and in the sheer rollercoaster exhilaration of the plotting that I forgot I was a crime writer and remembered how amazing it can be when a book just grabs you like quicksand and wont let go.

Saying anything much about the plot will inevitably involve spoilers, so let me avoid this by stating simply that the initial premise is swiftly subverted: The whole thing doesnt take place on board the train and so the claustrophobia of the previously noted pieces is discarded and replaced, instead with a classic paranoid chase thriller.

There was a girl. And there are some very and I mean very bad dudes who want to stop anyone asking questions about her.

In Jenny we get a classic everywoman hero: Someone whos out of her depth but uses her real-life skills (shes a wonderfully prosaic IT project manager) to attack the puzzle logically, and the couple of references to Agile (a project management approach that basically seems to boil down to poke it with a stick and, if it hisses at you, back off and try poking another part) made me chuckle heartily, while allowing Jenny to steadily unpick the mystery, unknowingly getting closer and closer to the very bad dudes running the show.

WSSLN is a perfect beach read, a perfect commute read, a proper page-turner thriller and one that reminded me of how much joy there is in a story that you cant wait to get back to. Highly recommended.


Derek Farrell is the author of Death of an Angel and three other Danny Bird Mysteries.

The books have been described as "Like the Thin Man meets Will & Grace," like MC Beaton on MDMA," and - by no less an expert than Eric Idle - as "Quite Fun."

Farrell is married and lives with his husband in West Sussex.

They have no goats chickens, children or pets, but they do have every Kylie Minogue record ever made.