Wednesday, September 2, 2015

I HATE SEX! Writing About it, That is...

Guest Post by Ellen Byron

Of course I don’t hate sex. But I do hate writing about it, or writing romantic scenes in general. It takes me forever to craft verbiage that’s remotely passable and not a total cliché. That’s one of the reasons I’ve gravitated toward writing cozy mysteries. I’m spared coming up with creative ways to describe sexual contact and human genitalia. To be honest, it’s not easy for me to read that stuff, either. A friend and I once did an “Look inside” for Fifty Shades of Gray, and I literally recoiled. Well, first because E.L. James actually used the expression “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” – seriously, E.L.? Was there ever a time when anyone on the planet sounded cool saying that? - but mostly because I could not stomach the graphic details. I might as well have been a tween going, “Eeewwwww… gross!”

I don’t know why I’m so stunted in this aspect of my writing ability. Maybe it’s because I developed an obsession with Victorian literature in middle school. While other kids passed around The Godfather and whispered “Page 24,” where a salacious scene lurked, I was swooning over Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever found anything hotter than Cathy and Heathcliff’s tortured passion.

Speaking of torture, in my quest to overcome this aversion to a crucial literary element, I actually took an online class titled “Sex on the Page,” offered through Sisters in Crime’s Guppy sub-group. The class was laid out beautifully; each online class covered one of “The Twelve Stages of Intimacy.” Again, I’m being totally honest when I say that I cringed just reading the lecture topics. Topics ranged from “Hand to Body” (okay, I can handle that) to “Mouth to Mouth” (um, getting uncomfortable) to “Genital to Genital” (eeewwww, gross!!).While other participants enthusiastically shared their sexy homework assignments, I hung back in the virtual corner of the classroom like a shy spinster. I could not seem to get past describing any couple as “locked in a passionate embrace.”

I’m currently mulling over the storyline for a third book in my Cajun Country series and it looks like this is the one where my protagonist, Maggie, will finally get-it-on, do-the-deed, have-sex, make-love – see? All bad! – with her boyfriend. I’m months away from starting an actual outline, yet I’m already agonizing over how I can make consummating a relationship fresh and well-written.

So once again, I reference my chosen genre. The unofficial cozy rules are that they must be devoid of graphic language, violence, and sex. Phew! But I’m not completely off the hook; my protagonist does need to have physical contact with her boyfriend. So my task will be creating the romance of that moment, and then discreetly closing the bedroom door, or the door of wherever they bump uglies (See? Terrible!). I’m committed to writing the best scene possible. But I can’t promise that my characters won’t end up “locked in a passionate embrace.”

Ellen Byron is a native New Yorker who loves the rain, lives in bone-dry Los Angeles, and spends lots of time writing about Louisiana. She attributes this obsession to her college years at New Orleans’ Tulane University. Her debut novel, Plantation Shudders: A Cajun Country Mystery, was chosen by the Library Journal as Debut Mystery of the Month. Her TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, and many network pilots. She’s written over 200 magazine articles, her published plays include the award-winning, Graceland, and she’s the recipient of a William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. Visit her online at

Monday, August 31, 2015

Let's talk music

Today is going to be a music post. I like discovering new (sometimes to me) music but it doesn't seem to get discussed *too* much in the online circles I travel in. But I do pay attention when it does. I thought I would periodically create a playlist of songs that I'm listening to, new songs I like, old songs re-discovered, etc. Don't know what the frequency of these playlists will be, or even if there will be interest, but I hope you guys get something out of them. Whenever possible I'll link to a playable version of the song but I won't load this post up with embedded videos. So, if you like this kind of thing let me know. Give some of the songs a listen too and tell me if you like any of them.


September 2015 Mix

Till the Casket Drops by ZZ Ward

Drive My Car by Curtis Harding

Old Time Religion by Parker Milsap

My Service Isn't Needed Anymore by Caleb Stine

Coming Home by Leon Bridges

Bringing the Boys Home by Zane Campbell

Dearly Departed by Shakey Graves

I Broke Wahoo's Leg by Sweet GA Brown

Deadman's Blues by Matt Woods

Raggy Levy by Jake Xerxes Fussell

She's Got You by Rhiannon Giddens

Roll Up Your Sleeves by Meg Mac

Jesus Was a Capricorn Lyrics by Kris Kristofferson

Suicide Sal by Karen Jonas

Dynamite by Tami Neilson

I Ride at Dawn by Ben Harper  

What are you listening to now? Discovered anything new? Want to pull together your own mix? Let me know.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Can a novelist be too productive? (Asks Stephen King)

Stephen King just published an article in the New York Times asking whether a novelist can be too productive. Here is the link to the article.

As the author of 55 books, King explores a little bit of the snobbery prolific writers face and whether quality drops when the words flow so easily. This sums it up for me:

"No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity 
never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue."

I wonder - does it boil down to jealousy?

Are other writers jealous because someone has the ability - and possibly even the time - to write quickly and efficiently?

I'm not sure, but I do subscribe to King's belief that a book can be written in a season - three months. Maybe not a book per say, but a Shitty Rough Draft as Anne Lamott calls it.

On Sept. 29 I'll have published four books in 15 months so I'm a bit sensitive to snobbery about the quality of these books. I will say that I find writing a series book much faster than a stand alone. The world is there, I pretty much sit down knowing exactly what is going to happen and then just put it on paper.

But looking at my back story - I really ended up writing a book every six months, so not exactly as it appears having them published in a 15-month-period. For instance, when I got my book deal I had the first two books in the series ready to go. Then I had six, very tense tight months to get my butt in the chair and write my third book. As soon as I turned that in to my editor, I had another fast, furious five months to write the fourth book.

I did it, but let's just say I think I'm going to slow down for one simple reason - something that King apparently recommends here -

"20. When you're finished writing, take a long step back.

King suggests six weeks of "recuperation time" after you're done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development. He asserts that a writer's original perception of a character could be just as faulty as the reader's.
King compares the writing and revision process to nature. "When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees," he writes. "When you're done, you have to step back and look at the forest." When you do find your mistakes, he says that "you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us."

Can a novelist be too productive? I say no.

What say you?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Gospel of Creativity by Kevin Smith

Scott D. Parker

I went to "church" on Wednesday night and the preacher was Kevin Smith.

Some of you will probably stop reading right now. Kevin Smith? The independent director of films like "Clerks," "Chasing Amy," and "Jersey Girl"? The guy who has a few dozen podcasts and fills them with talk of film and comics and humor all laced with profanities? Yup, that's the one.

I'm unique in the world of Kevin Smith fandom. I've never seen any of his films. I know him as a podcast personality. Three years ago, while listening to the podcast from SF Signal, there was mention of "...a Batman podcast by filmmaker Kevin Smith where he talks to Mark Hamill." All I heard was "Batman" and "Mark Hamill." The definitive voice of the Joker as far as I was concerned. I listened and fell in love with Fatman on Batman podcast. I've written about it more than once. (here, here, here, and here). Add in Hollywood Babble-On and I have some great content for the week.

Cut to a few weeks ago and word came down that Kevin Smith was going to be live in Houston. I knew I had to get tickets. A couple of friends and I met at the Improv Wednesday night. We got there at 7pm for the 8pm show. It started at 8:30...and didn't stop until 12:10am! No breaks. What followed in between was one part comedy show, one part great stories, and a huge, heaping helping of a motivational speaker who preached the gospel of creativity so well that if I hadn't already started my own company and published two books would've had me going home to write a business plan.

The format was Q&A and Smith joked that he might be able to get through five, maybe six questions. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. What is great about podcast--not just Smith's--is that there is no ticking clock or commercials butting up against the host to curtail discussion. There have been many times when an interview goes multiple parts. I love it because you can really dig deep and ask questions we listeners want to know. I assumed that in a live setting, some of that would actually be trimmed.

I assumed wrong. For each question asked, Smith gave the audience member his full attention. The answers were in depth and, dare I say it, reminiscent of Garrison Keillor in that whatever rabbit trail Smith traveled, he always came back around to the question asked. And the rabbit trails were so fun. A year older than me, Smith basically loved the same things i loved as a kid: Batman, comics, and Star Wars. He has made a name for himself just being himself. He just has twenty something years in the film industry to bolster his heritage.

What really struck me was his passion for independent creativity. One of the questions involved a podcast. Smith paused to give an impassioned tangent about the power one individual can have in this world through podcasting. He used podcasting as a real-world example but basically said that any art can save lives. He talked so well and deeply that I wasn't the only one who picked up on his motivational style. Heck, there were so many good nuggets that I flipped over the comment cards and started taking notes. Yeah, I know: I’m odd, but when you hear words of wisdom from a guy who’s been in the fray, you take notice. Among the things I took away, in case you can’t read my scribble, are these:

  • There’s too much ‘Why’ in the world. Go for “Why not?”
  • Find something that’s yours.
  • Don’t be afraid of your thing not working.
  • Put some ‘secret sauce’ in your project, something that just for you.
  • Ask yourself: What would make your bliss?
  • Smith made “Clerks” because he kept looking for a movie like it and realized it was never going to be made unless he made it. (Of all the things I’ve heard Smith say, this one resonates most with me.)

There were others, but those are the highlights. Oh, and he talked extensively about “Tusk,” the movie he made last year. He told about its genesis (via a podcast), how his daughter had a part (as a convenience store clerk), and how Johnny Depp got involved merely by Smith taking a chance and asking a question.

I absolutely loved the show and the message of independent creativity. I’m already doing the independent publishing thing (new western short story and new Benjamin Wade novel coming next month). Now, I just have to go watch some Kevin Smith films.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Guns and writers

By Steve Weddle

Is the writer's only responsibility to tell a good story?

Yesterday, a man shot and killed two of his former co-workers near Roanoke, Virginia.

Today, crime fiction writers will get up early (or late) and write stories about people shooting and killing each other. The protagonist of the story may be a criminal and may get into a shoot-out with law enforcement. The hero of another story may be an FBI agent tracking down bad people.

Today, across notebook pages and Scrivener screens, the crime fiction writers of the world will toil away on guns. They'll research how much a pistol weighs. They'll Google the distance a bullet can fly. They'll search for images of gun powder residue on the back of a hand.

My friend Chris F. Holm, author of the amazing and upcoming The Killing Kind, writes about guns. He also writes about writing your legislator about guns.

I write violent stories about violent people doing violent things, and for that I don't apologize. The world is a scary place, and my fiction reflects that. And while I hope that, first and foremost, my books are entertaining, I'd like to think they also handle violence thoughtfully, and with due heft. I'm not writing this post due to some crisis of conscience. I don't believe crime fiction leads to increased crime any more than I believe heavy metal leads to Satanism—and even if I'm wrong, I'm not widely enough read to move the needle.
But personally, I'm saddened that we're greeted almost daily with story after story of mass shootings, yet we—I—do nothing. So today, I wrote my senators and congresswoman an email  >>
You can read his email at his blog. You can steal his email and use it yourself. Or you can do something else or nothing at all.

My friend Lauren Winters writes about guns. She writes about how guns kill people. She writes about how guns killed her friends, her co-workers.
On July 1, 1993, an asshole with guns came to my office building at 101 California Street and killed the eight innocent people >>
I grew up with guns. I hunted. I killed things. Birds. Squirrels. A chicken hawk. You can read about the chicken hawk killing in that book I wrote that time.

You can have the "guns don't kill people" fight if you want. You can argue about freedom if you want. The Constitution. I don't know that social media shares or, quite honestly, blog posts do a damn bit of good. But I do know that we as writers deal with guns all the time. I read stories with guns. I read stories about shootings. I write those stories.

Maybe writers do have a responsibility to show the effects of gun violence. Maybe they don't.

And maybe the question isn't about our responsibility as writers.

Or maybe we do have a responsibility to others. Maybe that responsibility has something to do with those who can't speak for themselves. Alison Parker. Adam Ward. Countless others. And that's not hyperbole. Honestly. Countless others.

Maybe we have a responsibility, not just as writers and readers, but as people.

Maybe the question isn't what to do as those who write about guns, as those who read about violence.

Maybe that isn't the question at all.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves what to do as those who are still alive.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When the Lightning Strikes

Guest Post by S.W. Lauden

Holly's note: I've invited a few guests to write posts in the coming weeks and first up is author S.W. Lauden. I met Steve at a literary event in North Hollywood about a year ago and since then, I've had the pleasure of getting to know him and his writing. He's done a series of interviews on his own blog, which you can check out here. When I learned he had a novel coming out (and a novella, too) I knew I wanted to host him on this blog.
“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” —Neil Gaiman
I'm writing this blog post on a late night flight from New York to Los Angeles. Everybody around me is either fast asleep or focused on the digital screen flickering in front of them. I’ve been looking out the window, watching the clouds light up as we pass through a Midwest thunderstorm.

It’s got me wondering what would happen if lightning struck the plane.

At least that was the original thought. From there I imagined terrorists jumping out of their seats, only to be thwarted by a Federal Air Marshal. She’s snapping the cuffs on the bad guys a few minutes later when the thankful passengers give her a round of applause.

That’s when the lightning strikes and sends the plane into a tailspin. Lucky for us, our hero knows how to pull a commercial airliner out of a death spiral. Her name is Myrna. She’s a badass character that I’ll probably try to write a thriller about.

Call it daydreaming, an overactive imagination or insanity. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve told myself stories when I was lonely or bored. I didn’t start writing some of them down until about four years ago. Since then I’ve become a bit of an inspiration junkie, and I’m trying to kick the habit.   Let me come clean.

I've snuck out of holiday parties to email myself short story ideas. Written whole flash fiction stories on my phone while at the beach with friends and family. I've even stepped out of restaurants to leave opening lines on my own voicemail.

The last time I was on a cross-country flight like this, I bashed out a story called "Airplane Mode". That one was recently published by The Flash Fiction Offensive and features a marriage proposal that goes terribly wrong at 30,000 feet.

A drunken passenger who was aggressively flirting with a flight attendant inspired it. There was nothing I could do once the idea took flight in my mind. So I just opened my laptop and started typing—much to the chagrin of my traveling companions.

Earlier this year I had another short story called "Everything On Black" published in Crimespree Magazine. That one opens at a roulette table in the early morning hours, when everything feels electric and the casino looks like a neon hallucination.

Guess where I was when inspiration struck that time? I cashed out and headed straight to my hotel room to get the concept down before it disappeared like my pile of chips. Come to think of it, that one probably saved me a lot of lost cash. And people say that short stories don't pay these days!

It’s great when it works out like that, but what about all those other days when your mind is blank and so is the page? That’s when you’re reminded that writing is a hard job—one that takes determination, intense focus and dedication to craft.

And in case you were wondering, nothing much happens when lightning strikes a plane these days. Just like nothing much will happen with all that inspiration unless you’re willing to write your ass off. The next time I get on a cross-country flight will be for Bouchercon in early October. Right around the time my debut novel comes out. You can find out more about what inspired that right here.

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION
will be published by Rare Bird Books in October 2015. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Shane comes to Deadwood

My mind is elsewhere so my thoughts are fractured, just a couple of stray thoughts for today. Those expecting coherence suck cock by choice. Been watching Deadwood lately. One of the hallmarks of the show is its use of language both profane and Shakespearean. Geoffrey Nunberg wrote an article called "Obcenity Rap" in which he details the ways that Deadwood's profanity is historically inaccurate.
"The words those "Deadwood" characters would actually have used had religious overtones rather than sexual or scatalogical ones."
Been picking my way through Shane by Jack Schaefer (dig it so far but find I like his later work far better) and came across a piece of dialog that reminded me of Nunberg's line.
"Horses! Great jumping Jehosaphat! No! We started this with manpower and, by Godfrey, we'll finish it with manpower!"
I imagine that this character's speech pattern is what Nunberg was referring to. Imagining Al's dialog being more historically accurate makes me smile but not as much as this does.