Saturday, September 25, 2021

Processes and a Podcast

Scott D. Parker

There must be something in the air this week, because a good number of the writers I follow on Twitter had writing challenges. I did, too, but there is a solution.

On Thursday, Texan Jeff Abbott tweeted this:

“writing early this morning, i had been pondering since last night how to fix a chapter opening, had no good idea, sat down to the chapter, in desperation typed three sentences, character-driven solution presented itself to my weary brain, onward”

Later the same day, Bryon Quertermous had a short thread, the last of which contained this little nugget:

 “Writing can cause so many problems, but almost every time, the solution to a writing problem is to write through it. 5/5”

As for me, I’d been suffering a lazy streak. Part of it certainly had to do with how to craft the beginning of my next chapter. I had struggled to end the previous chapter in a satisfactory way, so I just ended it. The subconscious must’ve festered on my dissatisfaction with that ending because it kept hindering my forward progress.

Until this week. As a writer with a day job, I’m time locked with my writing time. I also hadn’t been doing my exercises as often as I needed to and it’s lack was catching up to me. So I did the most basic thing in the world: Gave myself no excuses. I compelled myself to wake at 5am, get on the rowing machine within five minutes of waking, and after a brisk ten-minute session, sat at my computer and wrote.

Guess what? The words came, fast and furious, until I had to stop and get ready for work. I didn’t mind, really. I had accomplished something. Two things, in fact. I had cleared my mind of the block that hampered my writing as well as the exercise. That was a great day.

No matter the writer, no matter how many stories the writer has completed, there will always be days in which the stuff just doesn’t happen. The brain might be wonky or filled up with life’s clutter. It’s going to happen, so it’s best not to get upset about it.

But there is a way to mitigate the hangups: Rely on the process. Don’t wait for inspiration. For nearly all of us, that means getting in front of our screens and doing the work. When we’re there, inspiration will come. It always does.

My First Podcast Interview

This process of always being available is part of my writing life on which I constantly rely. It’s one of the things Paul Bishop and I discuss in my first-ever podcast interview. It dropped this week and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Have a listen.

Or use this link to get the episode in your preferred podcast-listening app.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Frank Wheeler Jr.


We are heartbroken by the tragic loss of Frank Wheeler Jnr. 

Frank was one of the good ones. This hurts like hell. 

Love to his family. 

Jed Ayres has a moving tribute up at Hardboiled Wonderland

The Loop


This week, Beau takes a look at THE LOOP, from Jeremy Robert Johnson.

Stranger Things meets World War Z in this heart-racing conspiracy thriller as a lonely young woman teams up with a group of fellow outcasts to survive the night in a town overcome by a science experiment gone wrong.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Whole Mess of Scared

There's that bit of writing advice: write what scares you.

It's nothing new and honestly, the advice is solid, but I think writers often get a little too focused on the macro fears than they do the actual issues that stifle.

Me, for instance, I'm scared of being my parents. A lot of my work reflects that and explores that fear thoroughly. As a matter of fact, I've explored it so often that I'm not entirely sure that I'm as afraid of it as I used to be. Maybe fascinated. Definitely still disgusted with those people. Afraid? More like worried. Not necessarily pants-shitting afraid.

So what do we do then? What happens when we process those broad issues with our art? 

I began to realize there were fears creeping in the periphery. Things I would ignore; that were easy to ignore. There were moments where those fears crept in, but I did a good job avoiding them until I simply couldn't.

I couldn't be comfortable anymore. Comfortable to write the same stories. Comfortable to coast on what I created before. Comfortable to explore the same themes. See, fear, well, what we fear, can evolve. It can worsen, lessen, and change. My fears shifted. I wasn't afraid of content anymore, but I was afraid of risk. As a writer, it takes so long to find a rhythm, to find a sense of belonging, whether that is within your work or within creative circles. Complacency is a major risk, but it's a hell of a comfy security blanket.

And that complacency was strangling me. It was making me question whether I had reached my limits and whether it was worth taking a step outside of them. This led to a decision: do I go beyond writing what scares me by doing scares me or do I simply remain where I am?

Fear made me choose the latter for far longer than I care to admit, but now things have changed. I've realized that the only way out is through and that facing the fears I have :whether I'm good enough to try other genres, styles, subjects or good enough to leave the work I've created in the past fully behind, and take the risk of failing again. I've often joked about being a professional failure and while it's important to remember that writing is littered with failure with brief moments of triumph, it's super easy to avoid the failures that are super obvious.

So instead, I've mustered the nut to jump head first into those new patches of failure. 

I am writing while scared. I can't pretend it feels great all the time. I can't even pretend it will be worth it, but I do know I'm somehow happier, more passionate about the work I'm putting together. I'm more open to collaboration and to exploring themes/elements I never believed I had to ability or right to explore.

Even afraid, I know this will be worth it and I know I'll find new things to fear. But when that time comes, I believe I'll be more ready to tackle those fears than I've ever been.

So yes, write what you fear, but remember to write scared as well.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

A Timeline for the Ages

by Scott Adlerberg

I have an idea for a novel, and so far I've established a rough timeline for the plot.  So far what I have goes more or less like this:

About 5 or 6 years ago, a body of a 19-year-old man is found dead on a road in the country (let's say down in the South somewhere).  No arrest is made in this case.  The road is not far from the large house of a prominent family of the area.  The father/husband of this family is a well-known lawyer in the area and comes from a long line of successful lawyers in that area.  

Two years later, a housekeeper at the home of the same prominent family, a woman 57 or so years old, dies after a trip and fall accident at her employers' family home.  She had served for more than 20 years as the family housekeeper and nanny.

Years later, court documents related to the housekeeper's death will reveal that the family's father (remember, he is an attorney) told the housekeeper's sons that he was responsible for her death and plans to sue himself so that they are financially taken care of. But years pass, and the housekeeper's family receives no money.

About a year after the housekeeper's death, a woman aged 19 goes missing after a boat crash near a small island near the attorney's family's house.  A 911 call is placed from the scene of the crash. Many beer cans, as well as bloodstains, are found on the crashed boat, and about a week after the crash, the 19-year-old woman is found dead in a marsh off the island where the crash took place.

About a month after the boat crash, the son of the lawyer in whose family's house the housekeeper tripped and died a while back is indicted on charges of boating under the influence causing death and two counts of boating under the influence causing great bodily injury.  This son, the indicted one, pleads not guilty to all charges.

Two years after the boat crash, the father of the son who was indicted along with the son's mother, who is the father's wife, this father discovers the bodies of his wife and son dead on their huge hunting lodge property. In a 911 call, the father will say, "I need the police and ambulance immediately.  My wife and child have been shot badly!"

The authorities rule this double death a double homicide. Both mother and son died from multiple gunshots.  However, the authorities say, there is no threat to the public.  This case will go unsolved, and there have now been five deaths connected to this family. 

To recap the dead in this story: the 19-year-old guy found by the roadside near the family's house, the family housekeeper, the young woman from the boat crash, the son indicted in the boat crash, the son's mother.  Still alive is the father of this family.

Time passes and not much headway is made in the double homicide. There is much speculation. The father of the son killed in the double murder says his son had received threats recently.  This sounds perhaps plausible since the son had been drunkenly piloting the boat in the fatal boat crash.  Could the deceased young woman's family, in an act of revenge, be behind the double homicide?

More time goes by.  About two months. Then one day, the father/husband of the double homicide victims is shot in the head while changing a tire by the side of a road.  He is taken to the hospital, and despite the wound, he is conscious and speaking.

From the hospital, functional apparently despite the headshot he suffered, the lawyer releases a statement that says he is resigning from his law firm and entering rehab.  Who shot him is a mystery, though, once again, considering his family's history, speculation abounds.

The same day the lawyer makes his statement, his law firm says that he was stealing money from them.  The Supreme Court of the state the lawyer works in suspends his law license effective at once.

A couple days after this, a spokesperson for the hospitalized and now licenseless lawyer says that his shooting was not, in fact, self-inflicted. The lawyer suffered a skull fracture and somebody else shot him, a guy driving a blue pickup truck.

Soon after, a 61-year-old man is arrested in connection with what is now called the assisted suicide shooting of the lawyer.  The lawyer now admits that he thought up a scheme in which he would have himself shot and killed so that his surviving son could collect on his $10 million life insurance policy. He had thought, perhaps incorrectly it turns out, that his son would not collect on the policy if he actually committed suicide by his own hands.

Now the lawyer's lawyers are fully involved, and they issue their own statement. This statement says that the lawyer, well before the family's death problems began, had been battling opioid addiction. For a good 20 years, he had been struggling with this addiction.  The guy who shot him, who he hired to shoot him, was one of his drug dealers.

The hired shooter slash drug dealer is taken into custody, and now he is facing charges related to the shooting.  The lawyer, meanwhile, besides charges connected to insurance fraud and the suicide by hired killing, is named the chief defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit by the sons of the longtime family housekeeper and nanny of the lawyer's family, the one who tripped and fell and died years ago in the family house.  

Both the lawyer and his shooter are given bonds for their charges and both are released from custody.  They are each ordered to appear back in court on specific dates, different dates, soon.

The death of the guy who died by the roadside near the lawyer's family house years back -- that death remains unsolved, as does the shooting of the lawyer's wife and son, though of course there are many possibilities there...

That's all I have so far in my timeline. But I'm thinking about what comes next in the story.


Of course, I made none of this up and I've merely set down the timeline of the Murdaugh family murder mystery story currently in the news.  Alex Murdaugh is the lawyer and Curtis Edward Smith the guy, it seems, who shot him.  But what happens next in this case, considering what's already unfolded, is anyone's guess.  This case has gotten my attention and I've been following it in the news in part because it's my favorite type of true crime story -- a saga way too strange, even absurd, to be believable as fiction. If you put this many twists and turns and loose ends in one novel, the reader would start to laugh or curse and probably toss the book away.  It would seem utterly implausible, and yet it all happened, and the story is not even done yet.  I just love these kinds of too-bizarre-to-be-fiction narratives, and when they involve crime, that's even better.  That's not to overlook the seriousness of what's happened, I should add, the grief felt by survivors of people who've died in all this.  But since true crime, unlike fictional crime, is under no obligation to be "realistic", it can have this level of improbability.  

Any more twists or revelations to come from this case, anything else close to unbelievable? It's not fiction, so it's certainly possible. 



Sunday, September 19, 2021

Review: Nailed It! The Beauty of Baking Badly

By Claire Booth

I’ve had a lot of things going on lately (car accident*, laptop meltdown**) that have caused me no small amount of stress. Getting the aftermath of all that sorted out derailed my usual crime television routine. I’ve finally been able to sit down a bit the last few days, and the perfect show for my current mindset popped up.

The sixth season of Nailed It! released on Netflix this week and it’s sheer escapism just when I need it. Yes, the crime shows I usually watch are also escapism, but there’s always some part of my brain that’s analyzing them—what works, what doesn’t, how they develop characters, whether the solution is satisfying. Nailed It has none of those things. There’s no crime—unless abusing small kitchen appliances has become a felony—just ridiculously fancy example cakes that inept bakers try to copy.

Host Nicole Byer with baking professional Jacques Torres and a cake most definitely not made by a contestant.

Host Nicole Byer is funny but never descends into meanness, which is especially impressive when you’re having to eat something that tastes like gravel or looks like the cat coughed it up. Some guest judges are better than others, but she’s able to pull along the ones who aren’t so that they don’t detract.

This contestant forgot to add the flour.
If you haven’t watched yet, I recommend you start at the beginning. The show has honed its comedic attitude over the six seasons, making increasingly funnier use of its subtitled baking tips.

I can’t wait to see what words of wisdom this season brings.

* I’m okay. The verdict is still out on my car, though. Lots of damage when the guy plowed into me and spun the car around.

** Microsoft sucks.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Favorite Movies and TV Shows Featuring Railroads


Scott D. Parker

Earlier this week, over at the Western Fictioneers blog, I posted this column. It served as a fun list of my personal favorite movies and TV shows that feature trains, but it also revealed the cover of an upcoming collaboration with David Cranmer, aka Edward A. Grainger.


When you think of what makes a western a western, railroads and trains naturally make it onto the Top 10 list. They may not be in the Top 5, but they certainly play a significant role. I know they did when it came time for me to write my own western stories, especially with the creation of Calvin Carter, Railroad Detective. You see? It's right there in his title.

David and I emerged on the scene more or less at the same time, now over a decade ago. We each ended up creating a western hero. He created Cash Laramie, the Outlaw Marshal, who, along with his partner, Gideon Miles, deal with outlaws and desperadoes wherever they rear their ugly heads. For me, I spawned Calvin Carter, a former actor who, in the course of tracking down the man who killed Carter's father, learned he had a knack for detecting. He often dons disguises and uses his acting abilities to bring a certain amount of flair to the role of his lifetime.

A while back, David suggested we team up our heroes and, after a decade of stops and starts, the first pairing of Cash and Carter will be published this fall. In Cash Laramie and the Sundown Express, owlhoots have hijacked the inaugural run of the fastest train in the west, and it's up to Cash and Miles to retake the train. Unbeknownst to them, Carter is on board, in disguise, as he, too, attempts to thwart the hijackers while saving the passengers, including the renowned actress Lillie Langtry.

David thought it a fun idea if I made a list of favorite trains in movies and TV. I agreed, but then quickly realized something. Not only did my list almost instantly get filled with non-western ideas, but some of the more well known westerns to feature trains were movies or TV shows with which I am not familiar. Thus, you won't find Hell on Wheels on this list because I simply haven't watched it. And while I have watched both versions of 3:10 to Yuma, I can't speak with any authority because I can't remember a lot of the plot. 

So, with these caveats in mind, here's my list.

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

If I'm being honest, this might be the first heist film I ever saw. From the opening of Sean Connery's voiceover explaining how the gold is transported and secured, you sit on the edge of your seat wondering if he and his team will pull off the robbery from a moving train. 

Many of the scenes I first saw in my youth remained with me, but two always rose to the top. The ending, when Connery's Pierce, escapes on the police carriage as he was destined for jail, smiling all the way, his arms extended in a sort of bow, really stuck with me. Only now that I think of it do I think a part of Carter's DNA must have emerged from Connery's performance.

The other scene that has always stuck with me is Donald Sutherland's Agar as he runs into the train office and makes wax impressions of the keys, all within 75 seconds. I was enthralled by that kind of thinking and ingenuity. I think this film might've set the stage for my continued enjoyment of heist films, and it undoubtedly enamored me with the charming con man.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

I only saw this film for the first time this century as it is my wife's favorite western. And really, what more is there to say about this Sergio Leone epic that hasn't already been said? Ennio Morricone's score is brilliant, giving the film not only its epic feel but saying, through music, how the modern world is encroaching on the frontier in the form of the railroad.

I appreciate how the locomotive and the building of the railroad serve as the central character in this film, a character that is, in effect, the march of time and we people must adjust to it or get out of the way. And, unlike many westerns that feature railroads, it was a dirty, hot, and mind-numbingly brutal job, but a job that needed to be done, no matter the cost. Of all of Leone's films, this one remains a favorite.

From Russia With Love

I love James Bond and nearly all of his films, but as I've gotten older, I've become more interested in the movies with smaller stakes. This film, the second in the franchise, has a pretty spectacular train sequence that the historian in me loves. 

After Bond and Tatiana Romanova have escaped with the Lektor cryptograph machine, they flee on one of the most famous trains: the Orient Express. In these scenes in the middle of the film, you get to see what it was like to travel in style in what is probably the last major decade where train travel was considered a viable economic means of transportation before planes surpassed it.

Key to my enjoyment of the train sequence is the fight between Bond and Red Grant (Robert Shaw). It is the close confines of a train compartment that give the fight its brutal nature. No gadgets, just fists and brawn and brains. A different Bond (Roger Moore) would again fight in a train (Moonraker), but this Sean Connery version--look at that; two Connery films--is my favorite.

The Wild Wild West

No discussion of westerns and railroads would be complete without a mention of The Wanderer, the train and tricked out rail car of James West and Artemus Gordon. Again, TWWW was my first, favorite western TV show. Being a Star Wars kid, I loved the gadgets, the steampunk-before-steampunk-was-a-thing vibe, and West and Gordon's "home." No matter how many time owlhoots or Dr. Miguelito Loveless boarded the train, you knew there was something the Secret Service agents could do to get themselves out of any predicament. 

Not only the gadgets, but I also appreciated how there was science equipment for Gordon to do his investigations and his disguises. 

Like the bridge of Star Trek's Enterprise, so many episodes either began or ended on board The Wanderer that it became a crucial component of a wonderfully entertaining TV show.

Back to the Future: Part III

When David asked me the question about railroads in the old west, this is the first one that came to mind. 

I consider the first film to be one of those perfect films not only as a time capsule of its time, but the storytelling mechanics within the movie itself. The second one gave us three looks: their future (2015, now our past), an alternate 1985, and a trippy return to the events of the 1955-part of the first film. 

But I have a special love for Part III. Set almost entirely in the old west, director Robert Zemeckis basically made a western that held true to all the aspects we have come to love about westerns, but with a twist. Doc Brown not only makes a steam-powered ice machine but he also gets a delightful love story.

Act III's central action sequence is on a train, one they have to get up to 88 MPH as it pushes the futuristic Delorean down the tracks and back to the future. Plus we get a spectacular crash as the locomotive in 1888 falls off the incomplete bridge and crashes into Eastwood Ravine.

As fun as that is, however, it's in the movie's closing moments when we get a truly over-the-top train. Doc Brown, his wife, and two boys (Jules and Verne) return to 1985 to say good-bye to Marty McFly in a *flying train*. 

Mic. Drop

Well, those are my favorite trains in movies and TV. What about yours?