Friday, July 28, 2017

Between Space Ships and Detectives - Guest Post by Erika Wurth

Between space-ships and detectives, I have to confess, I’m spaceship guy. As one of those nerds in high school who needed an escape through books, at first my jam was magic and horror and then it became science-fiction – big time. But as I got older, I ended up reading and eventually writing a lot of what could easily be called realism. I think that’s because as a native kid growing up on the outskirts of Denver with an alcoholic dad (white dad, sorry stereotype machines) and a Indian mom who stayed because she loved him – and because it wasn’t financially the most viable thing at the time to leave, the harsher, but often more poetic realities offered in traditional literary fiction spoke to me. All around me were the ghosts of the people I had grown up with: other natives who were all screwed up, white girls with mullets in love with men who did nothing but hurt them, cigarettes. Miles and miles of cigarettes. And eventually my father’s ghost. Though I didn’t know I would write about them, and him, at the time.
Short Stories - BUY HERE


Though I’ve come back around to fantasy and science-fiction, and though I suppose my fiction bears a more striking resemblance to literary realism than it does crime, or noir – I can’t deny that I’m in the crime family. My novel, Iinà (a Navajo/Dinè word for life) is about a man named Matthew who lives a life that is filled with crime, with grit, with everything noir without any of the glamour. Born to an alcoholic mom and an absent dad, he starts drinking before he hits puberty and ends up homeless by his teens. Picked up in the streets by a man in a gang who wants to clean him up and ultimately use him, Matthew finds hope in the worst of circumstances. When that collapses, he ends up back on the streets, ready to resume drinking himself to death. There has not been one moment in Matthew’s life that didn’t involve crime. Not one. Needless to say, despite all efforts by my agent, the New York publishing folks felt guilty – dirty – just reading about Matthew – and talked endlessly about how they just couldn’t deal with his darkness. Matthew couldn’t either. And I’m sure the plethora of inner-dialogue, the description over action didn’t help either. But the thing is, though nearly everyone’s compelled by an episode of SVU: Special Victim’s Unit, or a good old-fashioned cop or criminal drama, usually that stuff is written by and about and for white folks who want a cheap thrill that ends cleanly once the novel is done. Matthew doesn’t do that. He makes you sad, unhappy. And though I guess I didn’t realize it at the time, if you’re white, guilty. But don’t we have room for that? Not guilt, but sadness. Are we really going to spend our lives going from one cheap thrill to the next until it’s over? I’m not against cheap thrills per se – but, all cheap thrills makes one a dull, dull boy.

I remember my agent saying something to the effect of (as to the New York Presses and why they were rejecting it), “I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking why would anyone spend twenty bucks in Barnes and Nobles to be sad. But to me, what’s beautiful is how it’s written, how good the story is.” See, that’s what I read for too. Bigger beauty. And the thing is, I’m not really interested in white guilt. I think white folks are way, way too used to going there when it comes to art by folks of color. But DUDES? It’s not always about you. And it’s my job to make you care. What it is about, is Matthew, and his story, his life of tragedy and crime. His sadness, his humor despite it, his big, beautiful epiphany right at the end of his life. And most of all, it’s about his humanity, something folks – especially native folks – who are in gangs, or homeless are so often denied. Folks who don’t have much of a choice (a word one publisher used, sounding pretty Trumpish) when it comes to living a life of crime. I just want him to be human. That’s what Matthew wants too. Just to be human. God, what a small, small thing.


Erika T. Wurth’s published works include a novel, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, a short story collection, Buckskin Cocaine, and two collections of poetry, Indian Trains and A Thousand Horses Out to Sea. A writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals including Boulevard, Drunken Boat, The Writer’s Chronicle, South Dakota Review and The Writer's Chronicle. She is represented by Peter Steinberg. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Books of Summer

by Holly West

On Saturday night, I saw James L'Etoile at Claire Booth's book launch for ANOTHER MAN'S GROUND. We got to talking and he asked me what I'd been reading lately. Authors do love to talk about books. Anyway, on the drive home I decided the question--what have you read and enjoyed recently--would make a good Do Some Damage post this week.

As I so often do, I turned to my author friends (or as I think of them, the Usual Suspects) and asked them to tell me what the books they've enjoyed recently. We'll start with James, since this was all his idea in the first place.

   


James L'Etoile (AT WHAT COST)

EVERY DAY ABOVE GROUND by Glen Erik Hamilton
A terminally ill ex-con talks Van Saw into a quick score. The job backfires and Shaw has to question if he’s one of the good guys, as he tries to recover from the botched robbery. Van’s background story also comes into play in this third installment of the series.

COVER ME IN DARKNESS by Eileen Rendahl
Leaving the cult behind is more difficult than it seems. After Amanda Sinclair’s cult survivor mother commits suicide in a mental facility, Amanda discovers family secrets that connect to a cult leader's upcoming parole hearing.

SILENT RAIN by Karin Salvalaggio
Grace Adams tries to leave the past behind and gets pulled into a murder of a prominent novelist, who wants to turn the details of Grace's past into a salacious best seller, over her objection.The investigation unravels an entire town. This is the fourth in the detective Macy Greely series.

Then of course Danny [Gardner's] book [A NEGRO AND AN OFAY]. I really love that one.

 

Claire Booth (THE BRANSON BEAUTY)

I'm going with a terrific YA thriller, CITY OF ANGELS, by Kristi Belcamino (who's also a DSD alum). It’s set in Los Angeles, but a bit further back – during the 1992 riots. It’s a perfect backdrop for the story of a teenager who flees trauma in the Midwest only to get swept up in a movie director’s twisted child porn ring. Nikki Black rescues a twelve-year-old and they land in a residential hotel in LA’s gritty downtown. The whole novel has a fantastic sense of place and a great mystery as well. I loved it.

At the top of my TBR pile is THE SHATTERED TREE by Charles Todd. It's the latest in the mother-son writing duo's Bess Crawford mystery series. Bess, a WWI battlefield nurse, tends to a wounded soldier whose allegiance is mysterious. Is he French? German? When the soldier disappears, Bess starts to investigate. Todd's portrayal of a determined and intrepid heroine won them the 2017 Mary Higgins Clark Award for this book.



Eric Beetner (CRIMINAL ECONOMICS)

Everyone is going to say this but SHE RIDES SHOTGUN by Jordan Harper. I also enjoyed the second Nick Mason book from Steve Hamilton, EXIT STRATEGY. THE RIDGE by John Rector for something different but entirely compelling. THE SMACK by Richard Lange. His work is so good I haven't even read it yet but I can recommend it.

 


Neliza Drew (ALL THE BRIDGES BURNING)

Zoë Sharp's latest comes out next month, so I finally read ABSENCE OF LIGHT, the novella in between her last and her next.

Holly's note: Read Neliza's Criminal Element review of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY here.

 


Steve Weddle (COUNTRY HARDBALL)

I read DOROTHY MUST DIE [by Danielle Paige] recently, the story of a Kansas girl who gets transported to Oz only to find out that Dorothy seems to have ruined the world and the witches are attempting to set things right. It's the first in what appears to be a lengthy, well developed series. The author has a degree from Columbia and wrote for soap-operas, so that should tell you how the book moves.

I also revisited ADRENALINE by Jeff Abbott, the day after finishing his new book, BLAME. Both are top-shelf stuff, and I was struck by how strong the pacing of ADRENALINE is. As with DOROTHY, the hook for this one is irresistible: A spy gets a call from his wife to meet outside the office building. When he gets to the street, his office explodes above him and kills everyone there. He looks across the road to see his wife leaving with another man, who seems to be holding her against her will. And, we're off. 



Thomas Pluck (BAD BOY BOOGIE)

THE FORCE by Don Winslow is the summer crime blockbuster this year, and deservedly so. Winslow mastered the crime epic with THE CARTEL and now he aims his investigative skills northward to look into the abyss of the failed American Drug War.

I also enjoyed WORLD ENOUGH, by Clea Simon, which comes out in a month or two. It's a nostalgic trip back to the '80s Boston rock scene by someone who was there. Simon's best known for her cat mysteries like hardboiled (or should I say tough mouser?) THE NINTH LIFE but she is equally adept evoking the gritty past of the sleazy rock clubs of our youth. 



Susanna Calkins (A DEATH ALONG THE RIVER FLEET)

Jeff Abbott’s BLAME—super fascinating read...the kind of book that keeps “page-turner” from being a cliché.



Lisa Alber (PATH INTO DARKNESS)

I've got a thing for girls' schools, and my current work-in-progress features a kinda-creepy girl's school in which there's a murder (of course!). So, I'm re-reading two of my favorite girl's school mysteries: THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES by Carol Goodman and THE SECRET PLACE by Tana French. They're so different, but each illustrates an aspect of craft that interests me: Goodman deploys a gothic-style mood and atmosphere in most excellent fashion, including lore and myth. French is more about voice, and she deploys a parallel plot line like no one's business. Know any other girl's school mysteries that I should read? Let me know!



Lori Rader-Day (THE DAY I DIED)

This is not what I'm reading this summer, just books that came to mind when you said "books" and "summer" in the same sentence.

-THE HEAVENLY TABLE by Donald Ray Pollack. Difficult and lovely and holy crap.
-THE WRITING CLASS by Jincy Willett. Fun and oddly instructive on how to write a mystery.
-HEADS YOU LOSE by Lisa Lutz and David Hayward. I suggest this book any chance I get.
-THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Denise Mina. Wasp season is summer, isn't it?
-THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck. Beautiful and slow, like summer should be.
-THE QUIET WOMAN by Terence Faherty. Like a refreshing drink on a hot day. Or maybe I just read it for the first time on summer vacation.
-THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx. When else are going to read about such cold surroundings?

What I'm HOPING to read this summer, yet:

-AMERICAN FIRE by Monica Hesse
-THE CRIME BOOK by DK Publishing
-KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann
-WHERE CAN I SEE YOU by Larry D. Sweazy
-The last TWO Tana French novels, pre-ordered in hardcover and staring at me from my bookcase.

What I'll be reading as soon as it lands on my porch: the new Dandy Gilver mystery [A SPOT OF TOIL AND TROUBLE] from Catriona McPherson, ordered from the UK, as to get into my hands as fast as possible.

 


Nadine Nettmann (UNCORKING A LIE)

I just finished SINCE WE FELL by Dennis Lehane and really enjoyed it. The story captivated me from the start and I couldn’t wait to find out the answers as the main character, Rachel, untangled them.

I also recently listened to the audiobook of THE PRINCESS DIARIST, written and narrated by Carrie Fisher. Because it was her voice, the words came out just like she meant them to and it felt as though she was still here with us. Even if you read it on the page, her wit still comes across and there’s some amusing tidbits about the filming of Star Wars.



Holly West (MISTRESS OF LIES)

Ending with Nadine is fitting since I've just read her two sommelier mysteries, DECANTING A MURDER and UNCORKING A LIE. They both tick all the right cozy boxes and I actually learned a lot about wine. The only problem is I wanted to open a new bottle every time I read a chapter's suggested wine pairing.
***

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Polish From the Start, or Not?

Well, I'm about six weeks into a new novel, and so far the going has been pretty good.  I've been trying to write faster than I have in the past, at least for the summer, when I have a little more time to write than during the school year.  Get as many pages done as possible by the end of August and save all revising till later.  That's the thought anyway.  As usual, despite that thought, I find myself revising and editing and doubling back on myself to change things as I go along.  I never follow a set daily word count.  Sometimes I do a thousand words in a day, other times two hundred, that two hundred, of course, being a reflection of five or ten drafts of the same paragaph to get to that final meager word count. I never do a first draft start to finish, then a second draft, then a third, etc, and have always found it hard to proceed for thousands of words without halfway liking the words I've already written. I was talking with a friend recently about her writing plans for the summer, and she was telling me how she's determined to get a complete first draft done by September.  As a school teacher, she has the entire summer off, so she'll use the time she has in July and August to get the book done in rough form.  "At least I'll have another book finished," she told me, meaning enough done to go back and get to the serious work of making all the needed fixes.

I sometimes wish I could work that way and maybe I should force myself to.  I'm trying to push myself more in that direction.  In any event, I find there's a tension between the need to polish and perfect on the go and the desire to push ahead to make sure pages accumulate.  Also, I wonder, in doubling back so often, do you stunt your own momentum as a writer?  Very possibly.  And a form may emerge in your story, a twist, a structure, just from you letting things flow.  On the other hand, I so hate forging ahead knowing I'll only be going back to fix a ton of things later. Why not fix them now, if I know they need fixing?

It's a tension well captured in these two passages by Annie Dillard, in her great book The Writing Life.  She makes the case very well for editing a lot as you go, and she makes the case just as well for not editing as you go:


   



"The reason to perfect a piece of prose as it progresses — to secure each sentence before building on it — is that original writing fashions a form. It unrolls out into nothingness. It grows cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop. Perfecting the work inch by inch, writing from the first word toward the last, displays the courage and fear this method induces."
"The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen. Only when a paragraph’s role in the context of the whole work is clear can the envisioning writer direct its complexity of detail to strengthen the work’s ends."
Two viable ways to proceed.  Take your pick.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Let's eat Hector.


Actually, I want you to meet Hector. My friend, Hector Duarte, Jr. to be clear. He’s a fiction editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. He’s lectured at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the second and third Captivating Criminality Conferences in Corsham, England, and Theorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. A talented writer in his own right, his work has appeared in Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Shotgun Honey, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, The Whimsical Project, Spelk Fiction, and HorrorSleazeTrash. In his down time, he teaches seventh graders and travels the world.

Hector’s love of the written word is obvious and his desire to help up and coming writers is clear. This week he joins us at Do Some Damage to drop a little truth on the editing process. This subject is front of mind for me as I’ve just reviewed a recent submission only to discover my character was holding a star-foam cooler in one key scene. STAR-FOAM! I even used a hyphen. To make it all official. Gah. Hector help me.

Let’s grab our pencils and take some notes.




The Importance of a Fine-Tooth Comb



In the spring of 2016, Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts asked me to take over as co-editor at The Flash Fiction Offensive. It was a flattering moment of complete joy where I humble-bragged to all my friends. My time there has been nothing but fun, building relationships in a community of supportive, like-minded people. Don’t be fooled, crime writers are some of the nicest folks out there. As a self-proclaimed hippie, it’s the closest thing matching the Phish community when the band isn’t on the road. Everyone smiling and glad-handing, happy to be in one another’s presence. 



Aside from getting to read great flash stories and collaborating with a huge community of established and up-and-coming writers, I also have gotten a few requests to read and review advanced reader copies, which to me is a huge sign of having “made it” as an editor: when someone trusts you enough with their copy to ask for your editorial advice. Any writer knows how much time, labor, and outright stress even a flash piece can consume. You’re not going to trust just anyone with it. You wouldn’t hand your kid over to any random teen for a Friday night babysitting gig, right? Same thing here.



So, for whatever it’s worth, this article is meant to serve as a caution, a quick manual; hell, a warning, about the importance of editing. You’ve dedicated weeks, months, years to this draft. It’s ready to be sent out to that important publishing house. Now, pore over the thing like it’s sacred religious text. Because that’s what it is. To you, after all.   



Many of the ARCs I get are going to indie publishers. It’s no big secret many of these indie houses don’t have huge stacks of cash lying about and the publishing game, for them, is a labor of love.



This means you’re on your own when it comes to editing. You will not have someone dedicated full-time to reading your book, making sure it’s both grammatically and factually correct. In a rush to publish, some writers are putting sloppy work out there. Sure, your plot is tight and everything connects in the end, but if the pages are riddled with simple grammatical and factual errors, there goes the reader’s attention. Because, now, they’re playing grammar police, wagging their finger at the pages, thinking: I can do better than this.



Sadly, genre writing already gets enough raised eyebrows, folks. Don’t give the haters all the more reason to hate. My suggestion? Before sending it off to the publisher, send your story to someone you know is going to be brutal. Got a friend who’s always correcting your grammar or usage over a round of drinks? That’s probably the person. In fact, I suggest sending it to someone who’s not really big on plot. Writers, for the most part, are going to focus on the story you’ve laid out, red herrings, plot twists, B stories, and dialogue. Right now, you’re looking for the person who won’t be afraid to call you out when you’ve got, “A car parked over their,” or are returning a family, “there jar of sugar.” Maybe your character is a huge fan of Sid Viscous.



These kind of minor—but embarrassing—errors happen all the time. Don’t make the mistake of trusting your eyes to catch them, either. After you’ve been crafting and editing the same story over and over again, countless times, correcting pace and continuity, your eyes become exhausted, easily glossing over these small kinks throughout the pages.



It’s impossible to know everything. There’s just no way. Even your grammar-cop friend doesn’t know it all. So keep a dictionary or thesaurus nearby and constantly check your work. It’s even easier these days. Just keep a blank tab open on your browser. That way you can quickly check Dictionary.com while poring, (not pouring), over your story.



When handing your piece over for editing, give it to someone who’s never read it before. If it can be someone who knows near to nothing about the plot, even better. This makes it easier for that reader to step into the universe you’ve created without feeling something is expected of them. Tell them it’s an homage to Sherlock Holmes stories and they might feel a need to impress you by solving the case before your detective does. What you need at this crucial moment is the high-school-lit teacher ripping your introductory paragraph apart.



In life, we’re told to avoiding sweating the small stuff. Well, when editing, I’m going to advise the opposite. You have to do a close edit of your piece when it’s done. That first edit is the most important, because after that you and your brain are familiar with the story, so, by the second edit, you’ll feel more relaxed and it’ll therefore be easier to gloss over the small stuff. Make sure a quote that is opened is ultimately closed, and vice versa. Ensure punctuation marks fall inside quotations when they’re supposed to. Start a new paragraph when a different character performs an action. Please, regularly tag dialogue throughout a long conversation so it’s easy to keep up with who is saying what. Playing dialogue-tag-Jenga is a huge distraction for the reader. 



I know what you’re thinking: Who is this guy giving me a random lesson on the most basic of editorial rules? I’m no one of importance. Nothing of mine has been published in print yet. My graduate program may even argue I’m not much of a writer.



I will attest to this, though: I care about the writing I’m given to read and edit. I want to see crime fiction and genre writing succeed because I know they get so much shit from academic and literary circles, and I can’t stand it.



The names attached to a lot of these stories are people I know, in some form or another, and that gets me stoked.



Who am I? A guy who just wants to help. Who are you? Someone who wants to put their best work out there.



Now, go to it. And remember, check your, (not you’re), shit.



~ Hector Duarte Jr.

                                                   Visit Flash Fiction Offensive

Face in a Book

By Claire Booth

Last night I had a terrific time at the official book launch for Another Man's Ground. The wonderful folks at Face in a Book, an independent bookstore in El Dorado Hills, California, were kind enough to host it.

There was time for some socializing before things got started, which was great because I was able to catch up with quite a few people, including fellow Do Some Damage author Holly West. Thanks so much for coming, Holly! Then I talked a little bit about where the inspiration for the novel's precipitating crime came from and read a passage from the book.
Then came the actual signing, which also allowed me to talk with everyone individually.
If you've never been to a book signing, take a look around at your local bookstores. They're sure to have something soon that matches your interests. And - trust me on this - it will mean the world to the author. There's no one more valuable or special than readers, and we appreciate every single one of you. Thank you.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Try and Avoid [Squirrel!] Distractions When Writing


By
Scott D. Parker

This past Tuesday, I got a chance to see Jason Isbell live here in Houston. It was a thrilling experience and I wrote about it the next day.

And there’s where the rub comes in.

Even though it’s summer, I still wake up early to write. When I do, it is usually in a direct line: bed to kitchen (for apple cider vinegar and coffee) to office. Open the laptop and start writing. Don’t check email, don’t check the news, don’t do anything other than write. It helps with the brain and the creativity.

Naturally, Wednesday morning’s session was the time I didn’t write on my current Calvin Carter novel but I used the time to write my thoughts about the Isbell concert. (Loved it, by the way. Y’all really should give him a listen. Here he is in June performing three songs on CBS.) I knew going into the session I was doing this, wanted to do, needed to do it, and that was that.

But what came after proved a distraction.

The opening line of the post reads like this: “Have you ever had an experience when you discover something new to you, it blows you away, and you look around and see if anyone else knows about it?” I was so excited about the show and my piece that I truly wanted other people to read my post and be introduced to Isbell’s music. I put it on Facebook—both my personal account and my two author accounts. I tweeted it, three times, in fact, giving props to Isbell as well as Houston Revention Center and Radio Paradise (the online station where I first heard Isbell).

During my workday, when I have a few spare minutes here and there, that’s when I like to write a few paragraphs on the current fiction project. It is one of the reasons why I can get a first draft of a novel done in under a month. But on Wednesday, when I should have been writing, I was too busy refreshing Twitter and Facebook, hoping that Jason Isbell himself read my post. Oh! I liked one of my tweets! Yay!

Complete blew apart my writing for the day. Words written on Monday: 3545. Words written on Tuesday: 2219. Words written Wednesday: 728. See what I mean? By the end of the day, I was pretty irritated with myself for allowing myself to get distracted the way I did.

Distractions don’t always come in the form of alerts on our phones or computers. They can be purely of our own making. I made my mistake on Wednesday. I corrected myself on Thursday and yesterday, but it was a reminder that I need to maintain the focus of my writing time throughout the day.

Y’all ever get distracted like that?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Service Guarantees Citzenship

The coolest part about being a writer is supposed to be writing a perfect sentence, or seeing your name on a cover of a book - and I'm not saying that isn't cool, but I'm nothing if not honest. And here's the honest truth - the coolest thing about being a writer is meeting other writers. Beautiful, ridiculous, creative, and fun writers who always have side projects going and let you jump in and have fun with them.

I mentioned that I will be at MidSummer Scream next weekend, and I really can't wait - but wait, I must. Lucky for me, my friend Kit Power got ahold of me last week to ask me back to his killer podcast Watching RoboCop with Kit Power. If you're unfamiliar with it - it's exactly what it sounds like. Awhile back I was on to... watch RoboCop with Kit Power, and watch it, we did. We provided our own commentary track, sometimes completely off topic, and had a fucking blast.

If you missed it, you can listen here.



This time, I'll be joining Kit for a bonus episode, to talk about my favorite Verhoeven film - Starship Troopers. I'm not sure when it will air, but you can listen to us wax philosophical about the anti-Oprah in RoboCop in the meantime. This episode should be a lot of fun - I love Starship Troopers, but since Kit and I had thrown the idea of doing this around several months ago, I decided not to give a re-watch. I can't remember the last time I saw the movie, so it'll be a little like the first time all over again.

A preview of things I will more than likely say:
-Something about how Jake Busey was really popular for a moment.
-Something about co-ed showers being considered futuristic.
-Something about the bugs where I used to live looking exactly like the bugs they fight.
-Something about the USMC Commandant's Reading List.
-Something about not fucking remembering that!

And more!

Can't wait to share it with all of you, and/or jump in on your next fun side project.