Thursday, May 28, 2015

So you want to do a reading

By Steve Weddle

A thousand years ago, when Country Hardball first hit the shelves, I had a calendar loaded with readings and signings. People were very nice, those who invited me into their places of business and those who took time out of their Thursday night to drive into the city to see me talk about me for 45 minutes at Fountain Bookstore. the Mysterious Bookshop, One More Page Books, and elsewhere.

I screwed up a few things, of course, but I also had people who were kind enough to warn me of some potential problems. Here are a few tips and tricks I hope are helpful to you new authors.

1) Don't bring books to readings to give away.

Giving away a copy of your book at your reading seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? You’ll want to turn the brain back on for a second, though, and consider what would help the venue most. Are you having the reading at a bookstore? Maybe you’ll want to pony up for a gift certificate to the store. When I launched, I gave away a cap and a t-shirt and some other goodies. I knew, for a true fact for serious, that most folks that night would be buying my book, so I wasn’t too worried.

Steve Weddle and Ben LeRoy at Fountain Bookstore
I’ve been to readings where not too many folks buy my book, and I’ve been to readings where the author doesn’t sell any books. So book sales aren’t always guaranteed.

Eventually, I realized that I wanted to give away a copy of a book by someone not me at events. So, I tried to do that when I remembered. Gift cards are great, too. You can always talk to the bookstore owner or manager and ask what would be a cool giveaway.

If you’re holding the reading in a bar, maybe give away a booze gift certificate or a bar t-shirt. Bowling alleys, brothels, hardware stores – gift cards make good giveaways. Support the folks who support you.

2) Get sticky notes for the books you sign.

Someone with you (the store manager or your spouse or a random Lithuanian ventriloquist from the neighborhood deli) needs to place sticky notes on the title page of the books to be signed with the person’s name right there. FOR SHERRI. FOR MATT. Whatevs.

I was signing books one night for some folks and I just kept blanking. I’d look up at people and couldn’t remember names. I mean, for Cliff’s sake, it’s a stressful time.

Me: So who should I make this out to?
Her: Just to me. I’m so proud of you.
Me: Um, so your name here?
Her: Yes. I can’t wait to tell everyone.
Me: Yeah, so, uh, like the spelling? I want to get it right.
Her: Oh, just the normal spelling.

This went on for seven minutes, this back and forth. Seven minutes doesn’t sound like much, but good gracious it was. Eventually, my Aunt Edna realized what was going on, but it was painful for us both.

3) Send signed copies to your blurbers, you goofball.

I nearly screwed this up, but I think I ended up OK. A couple of folks who blurbed my book came to a reading and bought the book there, and I wasn’t sure what to do at that point. Send a thank you note? It’s probably what Joelle would do. Instead, I just bought extra copies of their books for giveaways here at DSD and elsewhere.

But, for the most part, once I got the hardbacks in, I wrote a ‘thanks’ in the copies and mailed it off to the folks who were kind enough to take the time out of their lives and say nice things about my book.

Honestly, blurbing can be quite a favor. You’re saying to someone, “Hey, would you take time away from your family and your job and your own writing and spend some time, not just reading my book, but coming up with something nice and clever to say in order to help me out? Kthxbye.” Really, it’s asking quite a bit of people, and the least you can do – the very friggin least you can do – is send them a copy of the book with something nice scrawled in there with your signature.

4) Give some people two copies

You’re going to send copies of your book to people. And, yeah, you’re probably going to reach high for a few copies.  As Bob Browning wrote: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"  You’ll write “Dear Mr. King” on the title page or “To Ms. Evanovich.” (You’ll likely be so nervous you’ll screw up a copy or two before you get one you feel OK sending off. (Or so I’ve heard.))  That’s cool. Take your shots.

That said, you’ll have some people – mentors, professors, friends, magazine columnists you met once at a party, ministers – who you want to send a copy to. You might think about sending an extra signed copy with a sticky note inside suggesting they give it to someone who might like it. Essentially, you’ve just created a small army of hand-sellers. (It’s a cool trick I stole from someone on the Internet.)

Anyway, do what you want, of course. Read from the book. Don’t read from the book. Plant people in the audience to ask questions you want to answer. Hire a streaker. Give out chocolates. Whatever.

Basically, what I’m saying is that you want to be nice about it and make things easier for folks. These things can get pretty painful in your soul, can cause you to sweat right through your fancy $89 new sport coat from Kohl’s and spend the rest of the night hoping no one notices that you’re not lifting your arms.

Relax. Plan a little. And, of course, don’t try to do any of this without substantial pharmaceutical help.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Confidence Game

by Holly West

I'm up against a deadline for a story I'm really excited about. Quite unexpectedly, I came up with a concept that has some real potential--maybe even something I can expand into a novel or series in the future. But developing the story has been a real challenge for me so instead of being cool and confident about turning it in on time, I'm a little bit freaked out.

No worries, I have a week left and a fairly clear schedule. I can do it.

Which leads me (sort of) to the topic of this week's post: Confidence.

One of my author friends, James Scarantino, posted a link to Dennis Lehane's 10 Rules for Making it as a Writer and one of the rules resonated with me.

There's nothing wrong with a titanic ego
People I've met who have big egos about the work are he people I want to work with. They know why they're in the room. They're not insecure, they're not going home filled with self-loathing and making that everyone else's problem. The people with the worst egos are people that suck at their jobs.
Perhaps because my own ego is not so large, I've always considered those people who I perceived to have big egos as being a bit dickish. Sometimes, a lot dickish. But clearly, it doesn't have to be that way. There is a difference between, as Lehane says, "knowing why you're in the room," and being a jerk. And just because I might be intimidated by someone with more self-confidence than I have doesn't mean that person is a dick.

Let me just point out that knowing I'm insecure doesn't mean I think I suck at my job. The one thing I rarely question is whether I can write well, because I know I can and I do. Does that make me a dick? Nope. And if you feel the same way about your own work, whatever it might be, it doesn't make you one either.

I guess I just needed someone with a whole lot more experience than I have--Mr. Lehane--remind me of that.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Inspiration from The Boss

I felt a post on Springsteen on Memorial Day was fitting. Don't see the connection? Stay with me.

The other night, I stumbled across an old documentary on Bruce Springsteen. It was near the beginning, and quickly caught my attention. Here was a guy who skipped his own high school graduation, who they talked about being socially awkward.

And we all know how successful Springsteen has been.

I mean, can we even agree on his best song? For me?

Rolling Stone ranks it #28 of Bruce's top 100 hits.  I never seem to be very mainstream.

Brian might say...

#3 on that Rolling Stone list.

It wasn't just the music that caught my attention in this special. It was the substance. With two teenagers, one of whom has already been in the, "I hate school" state for what seems like forever, and the other has been feeling stressed and unhappy at school and socially lately.

They actually said they'd consider switching schools. And believe me, that's a sign that things are bad.

I rewound the program and started recording it, thinking that perhaps the kids would find some encouragement in knowing that someone who's gone on to be as successful as Springsteen wasn't always Mr. Popular.

Instead, the program took my respect for him to a whole new level, got me thinking about Memorial Day, and actually reassured me creatively.

Memorial Day, because in the wake of 9/11, Bruce Springsteen picked up the phone and called widows in New Jersey, and listened to people. He internalized all of that loss and the impact of that horrific day, and produced a remarkable album, that's been my favorite Springsteen for years.

Oddly enough, as a teenager, I'd fallen into the trap of perceiving him as jingoistic, and a little too "ra ra America" for my tastes. Perhaps that's something Americans can't fully understand, but the American psyche and patriotism is something I've explored in my marriage, and my day to day experience, and is something for another post, another day.

It takes really reading the lyrics to appreciate the message.

Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
I was born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says "son if it was up to me"
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said "son don't you understand now"
Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They're still there he's all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I'm ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain't got nowhere to go

It isn't the jingoistic anthem some believed it to be. It's a work that runs much deeper, that explores a failing of a society towards its own citizens. It's hard to see it as validation of the American dream; if anything, it seems rather hopeless upon examination of the lyrics. Although Springsteen did not fight in Vietnam because he failed his medical, he's carried some sense of understanding of the price of war on those who have, and it's been reflected in his music.

What's curious is that the same album produced songs like Dancing in the Dark, and one of my other personal favorites, Glory Days - another song that's nostalgic, yes, but hardly idealistic and optimistic.

I think one of the things that really struck me about Springsteen when I was watching the documentary was how diverse his music is. I should know - I do not own Born in the USA (though I should) but I do own Devils and Dust, and The Ghost of Tom Joad.

And my personal favorites?

In light of recent events, how could anyone talk about the problems in Baltimore and Ferguson without thinking of this Springsteen classic?

When I listen to Springsteen, there is a sense of nostalgia. Not because the music has aged. Rather, it's got a timelessness to it that makes it as relevant today as it was when it was recorded and released. The nostalgia is for the delight of walking to town and going to the furniture store, which had a selection of records (yes, records!) at the back, and coming home with that new prize. It was for the incredible sense of discovery of the B sides, the songs you weren't hearing on the radio, that curiously almost always seemed to resonate with me even more than the singles.

It reminded me of how much I appreciate an artist who has depth and range, who doesn't produce different versions of the same album over and over again. Springsteen may not have been hanging out with the cool kids in high school, but by digging deep within himself and baring his soul through his music, and not being afraid to write and sing about issues that were important to him and his convictions, he's been able to connect with a far greater audience worldwide.

I found the show inspiring, and reassuring.

You see, for quite some time now, the only projects I've been dabbling with have fallen well outside of my main genre focus, and I've struggled with that. I'd never want crime fiction fans to feel I have anything other than the deepest respect for them, but I also want the freedom to explore new themes and to do that through other genres where appropriate.

When I watched the special on Springsteen, I remembered that a career is made of much more than top 10 hits, and it all has value. People are more than one interest, more than one style, more than one show or type of music they like. We're a collection of pieces that somehow mesh together. I can love Bloodlines and love Orphan Black and The 100, and there's nothing contradictory in saying that, because people are complex.

Oddly enough, Victor Gischler posted something on Facebook that resonated with me, and ties in to my thoughts for this post:

One of those days where I look at my body of work and wonder what the hell am I doing career wise? Don't get my wrong, not a pity thing or self doubt thing. Nothing like that. But I'm all over the damn place. Crime, satire post apocalypse, pulp sci-fi, relatively straight forward fantasy. It's like I'm daring readers to keep up with me which is probably not the best business model.

Somehow, through all of this, I realized I didn't have to try to 'fit in' or feel restricted by genre. I can push the boundaries. Heaven help me, I don't mean transcend the genre, because I don't feel crime fiction is second to anything. I just mean move outside what's typically expected and incorporate elements from anything appropriate.

After all, if we feel trapped inside expectations, don't we run the risk of being stagnate?

I think the only crime is producing something predictable.

And perhaps this feels like a series of disjointed random thoughts, but in my mind before I sat down at the computer, my tribute to The Boss was grander, and it all connected for me.

Tonight our bed is cold
I'm lost in the darkness of our love
God have mercy on the man
Who doubts what he's sure of

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book Party!

By Kristi Belcamino

I had a wonderful turn out at my favorite bookstore Once Upon a Crime for my book party for the release of the third book in my mystery series, Blessed are Those Who Weep. (My offering of Dead Man Cookies, wine, and aranciata may have had something to do with the good turn out.)

Here are what some people have said about Blessed are Those Who Weep:

The opening chapter of Blessed Are Those Who Weep is one of the best I have read. I defy any crime fiction fan to stop reading this book after finishing that very short, but impeccably written chapter.” – BOLO Books
“Ms. Belcamino has written a stunning book … She is on the cusp of being included in the same breath of America’s best mystery writers. For my money, she has hit the big time.” — Dick Barbuto, Mystery Book Reviews and Discussion

Here are some pictures! (Basically a bunch of pictures of me hugging people!)

Thank you so much to everyone who came out and to those who ordered the books to be shipped!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Editing with a Kindle

Scott D. Parker

In advance of the release of THE PHANTOM AUTOMOBILES next week, I did a thing I’ve heard about: read the book on my Kindle Paperwhite.

It’s really a no-brainer when you think about it. A Paperwhite will likely be the primary device through which PHANTOM is consumed. Mobile phones are next on that list. I have my Kobo Glo and my Nook SimpleTouch, but if you read it on one device like that—a dedicated e-reader, my preferred device for reading—you’ve read it on all of them.

Besides, the Kindle Paperwhite has one killer feature: you can take notes AND export said notes. You can take notes on the other devices but you cannot get them off the reader. Paperwhite makes a “MyClippings.txt” file where you notes go. It wasn’t until I downloaded that file—via connecting the Kindle to my Mac—that I realized the files contains *all* notes in all books. No big deal, but I still had to search for “Phantom” before I found the list of notes.

Mind you, I’ve edited this book, my editor gave it a thorough review, and I implemented all the changes. I still found over a hundred things to change. Some of it was further tightening of the story (kill your darlings, right?). Others was me realizing passages often flowed better with further modification. So I’m making them and the book should hit virtual shelves by the end of the month.


This Memorial Day weekend, Comicpalooza lands in Houston. I went on my first of three days yesterday and brought home a modest haul. I found some pins related to the FLASH TV show, a nice, bright, gaudy, really orange Aquaman t-shirt, and the following paper items.

The Phantom Detective is a facsimile edition complete with the ads. The Batman title further completes my collection of those titles (I already had the 50s and the 70s) while the Man-Thing volume (#1) helps me understand the stories in #2 that I already owned.

The Detective Fiction Weekly pulp is original, dated 21 March 1931. It ain’t in great condition but I didn’t buy it for that. I bought it to read. You’ll notice there’s an Erle Stanley Gardner story in there, a Sidney Zoom yard. I’m not familiar with him, but there is a pricy, out-of-price collection of Zoom stories out there. They had another issue with a Gardner cover story—Lester Leith—but at a much higher price. The dealer had a few Doc Savages, including the original #5 tale, Pirate of the Pacific, but I didn’t get it. But I might tomorrow. It’s a rather tempting pull for me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

On collaboration

By Alex Segura
A few weeks ago, I got a box of books in the mail. You know the drill – and the buzz you feel when you open something that contains hard copies of your work. This was a little different, though, as the box consisted of copies of APOLLO’S DAUGHTERS, a sci-fi prose anthology. I have a short in there, “EarthNight: Last Passage.” 
I’ve always loved sci-fi. Even wrote a handwritten, 100-page Star Trek novel in middle school English class. No, I won't send you a copy (it was called Star Trek: Mosaic). 
So, yeah. This was very exciting. The big difference was that the story was a collaborative effort. I’d co-written it with my good friend and comic book scribe Justin Aclin. This piece, along with another tag-team short story I’m working on with a fellow author (tease, tease, tease!) got me to thinking about collaboration – the challenges, the potential landmines and the great benefits that come from teaming up with someone else to create a piece of fiction greater than the sum of its parts.
I’ve always been open to working with other people. Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in comics, which is a hugely collaborative field that involves many players. Whatever the reason, I’ve found most of my collaborations – be it with another writer, an artist or as an editor – to be greatly informative and useful to my other, solo work. Here are some tips that you may find helpful if/when you find yourself jamming on something new with a fellow creator:
Be open. The entire reason you’re collaborating is so the end result will be something different. So, don’t get itchy if the process is different. Change can be good, especially if you’re set in your ways. The best part of collaborating with another writer is exploring your differences and seeing how they can help your own writing down the line.
Pick your battles. This goes hand in hand with being open to things. At some point, you won’t like what someone is doing – in terms of execution, style, format, whatever. Say your piece. Keep communication open. Be direct. But, for your own benefit and reputation, speak your mind when it’s worth it. Don’t declare war because they put two spaces after a period. Do declare war if they use adverbs more often than “the.”
Make it count. Working with someone is no fun if you’re doing all the heavy lifting or, on the flipside, if you’re just along for the ride. Make it a unique experience and equally unique product by bringing your talents into the mix as you would with your own, standalone work. Treat it like it’s all yours, even if you’re sharing it with someone else.
Be professional. Working with someone is very different than chatting at the hotel bar, or shooting the shit at an author event. Ideally, there’s money involved and there will definitely be deadlines involved. Do your part to the best of your ability and communicate if something goes wrong.
Don’t be a dick. This is a great rule for all aspects of life, but worth repeating here. Be kind, be helpful, be understanding and be communicative. You’re more likely to work with someone again if they’re all those things to you, so why not preemptively return the favor?
Hope these help. Have you collaborated on something? How’d it go? What advice would you share? Sound off below.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend Books

by Holly West

It must be book week on Do Some Damage because I logged in to find that a few of my esteemed colleagues have also used their post time to recommend books. You can find those posts here and here.

I'm not the fastest reader, so I don't tend to recommend that many books here (although I aspire to). But since we've got a three-day weekend coming up, many of us might have some reading time on our hands (and if you don't, for God's sake, make some).

My Number One Recommendation and So Far the Best Book I've Read This Year:


Phelan Tierney helps people who hope to start their lives over. When Jacquelina Garza, a young woman he’s taken under his wing, disappears, the former lawyer devotes himself to finding her—despite her secretive and puzzlingly unhelpful family.

Jacqi has been to hell and back. Abducted by a child predator when she was eight years old, she still, years later, bears the scars of the incident and its very public aftermath. Her life takes an even steeper downward spiral when she witnesses the murder of a man it seems everyone wanted dead. But no one, not even the police, wants to hear her version of what actually happened.

Can these two wayward souls find redemption amid the convenient lies and difficult truths that have followed them for so long?

This novel just has so many layers. Corbett is truly a master of character development, and though I hate to do that writerly thing of analyzing how other writers write, I can't help it with this book. I just keep thinking, "how does he do it?"

Then I throw myself on the ground and flail about, lamenting the very real possibility that I might never achieve such skill in my own writing.

So yeah, read this one.

A Great Debut:


As a cop on the night shift in Hopewell Falls, New York, June Lyons drives drunks home and picks up the donuts. A former FBI agent, she ditched the Bureau when her husband died, and now she and her young daughter are back in upstate New York, living with her father, the town’s retired chief of police.

When June discovers a young woman’s body impaled on an ice shear in the frozen Mohawk River, news of the murder spreads fast; the dead girl was the daughter of a powerful local Congresswoman, and her troubled youth kept the gossips busy.

Though June was born and raised in Hopewell Falls, the local police see her as an interloper—resentment that explodes in anger when the FBI arrive and deputize her to work on the murder investigation. But June may not find allies among the Feds. The agent heading the case is someone from her past—someone she isn’t sure she can trust.

As June digs deeper, an already fraught case turns red-hot when it leads to a notorious biker gang and a meth lab hidden in plain sight—and an unmistakable sign that the river murder won’t be the last.

Like THE MERCY OF THE NIGHT, character development is this book's strength. June Lyons, Cooley's protagonist, is a well-drawn, multi-dimensional character, especially as she deals with the lingering grief of her husband's death from cancer. 

With Cooley's second book in the series, FLAME OUT, released just this week, I know what I'll be reading this weekend.

Yes, that's right, I've only read two books in the last month. Well actually, I read three, but the last one I don't feel like recommending. If you're curious, it was DEAD WAKE by Erik Larson. I generally love Larson's books and I liked this one, but I can't really gush about it. It's not that sort of book. I did feel like I learned something, considering I knew literally nothing about the sinking of the RMS Lusitania except for it's name (seriously--I didn't even know it had sunk, which is shameful, but there you have it).

Have a great weekend, folks!