Saturday, November 28, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015: Week 4

Scott D. Parker

The end is nigh, but a major milestone has been achieved.

This past week, on 23 November, I reached 50,000 words in the new book! By now, I’m up to 61,506 (although Word thinks it’s 62,700). My next goal is to get this book complete by 30 November. It’s possible, but I’ll need to knuckle down.

No matter what, NaNoWriMo 2015 has been a success. Couple it with the novel I wrote back in August and it’s proof that, when I have a road map, I can get a book’s first draft out of my brain in a pretty efficient manner. I’ll have more work to do after I type “The End” but I know I can get there.

Now, I just have to figure out the ending! Actually, I know the true ending, just not 100% how I get there from where I am. It’s Gordon Gardner we’re talking about and he almost always has a plan to get him out of sticky situations…and this one is the stickiest to date for him.

For the record, here is the final weekly tally. I’ll add the last three days to the cumulative total by Tuesday. Next week, back to normal programming.

Week 1    16087
Week 2    12096
Week 3    15769
Week 4    17554

Probably the most fun I’ve had outside of the actual writing has been the daily updates. It has been fun seeing people’s responses, mainly via Twitter. Other authors do this and, the next time I begin a novel, I’ll probably do it again.

So, you other writers who engaged in NaNoWriMo, how are y’all doing with your books?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Bad, Nasty Women

Fat on turkey and maybe a little hungover from cheap wine and rum cake, I'm still excited about a new project I'm working on and that's a great feeling. A few days ago I went to Facebook to get everyone's favorite heist movies and criminal couples. It was a good time, but watching ol' Bonnie & Clyde got me thinking about Bonnie Parker in relation to my new character and all the bad, nasty women I would interview for research if I could.

First and most obvious - Bonnie Parker.

What I wouldn't give to know if she was a cold blooded criminal with a thirst for fame, or a girl along for the ride. It seems like everyone has an opinion on what Bonnie's role in the Barrow Gang was, but I'd love to hear it straight from her cigar smoking mouth. My theory is she was as mean and nasty as the rest of the gang, but I guess we'll never know for sure.

Aileen Wournos

We've all heard of the "hooker with a heart of gold" but Aileen Wournos couldn't have been further from the trope. Famously saying "I'm a serial killer - I'd kill again!" and presenting herself as a sort of black angel of death for rapists and unsavory men, the truth seems to be somewhere between that and the media's view of her as a cold blooded bitch. I'd love to sit down over a cup of coffee and get some insight into her as a person, but her last cup of black coffee was served just before her execution in October of 2002. I'd settle for a cup of coffee with Charlize Theron, but she isn't returning my calls.

Griselda Blanco

Her name was Blanco and she was the "Cocaine Godmother" and there is something ridiculously cool about that. Griselda Blanco is fascinating because she seemed to really love her job and station. Men like Pablo Escobar are well known and accepted as a sort of default - men in it for the money and power, but women like Blanco are either incredibly rare or underreported. Not only did she hold her own among the criminal men in the cocaine wars of the eighties, but she kept herself in the game even from prison. I don't think many women worry about breaking the glass ceiling in the drug trade, but Griselda Blanco did just that. She lived like a drug lord and, ultimately, died like one - shot in the head outside a butcher shop.

This Woman

All these other women got popped or thrown in jail, but this last lady - no one knows who she us or where she came from. Always more interesting than the criminals who got caught - the ones that get away are the ones we all want to know. This woman's approach is simple and to the point - her face is even caught on camera, but she walks free. Of course, "she" maybe "they", and they may not even know each other. Either way, a lot of jewelry is missing and despite having a clear picture of this woman's face - no one has any clue where it is. 

In this latest work I'm having a lot of fun exploring criminal women who are in it for the money and fame - not the watered down version of women criminals we get in pop culture. They're all misunderstood, vaguely sexy, along for the ride. Even recent history tells a different story - for every "Orange Is The New Black" backstory where a woman falls into crime because of a man, there is a woman who loves what she does, and will do it again. Those are the women I find interesting.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Long and Short of It

Guest Post by Angel Luis Colón

I’m an ex-marathon runner—meaning I have run marathons, plural.

Yes, I am bragging a little.

I’ve probably peaked at coming in 12,000th place at the finish line or wherever, so it’s not like I’m a pro, but in long distance running there’s some great knowledge that’s entirely applicable to writing: short runs help make the long runs better.

Seriously. You TOO can be the Prefontaine of writing. Well, I can't
help with the bitchin' facial hair. You're on your own with that.

I’ve recently come off putting together another novel while my last one’s being shopped by my agent and my brain is pink slurry. Most folks understand novel writing is tough. It takes a lot out of you and sometimes it feels like a hellish slog—like running a marathon (see what I did there?). And after you’re “done”, whether you’re waiting to reread with fresh eyes or have a friend or editor going through that manuscript, the last thing you should do is sit around staring at your dainty fingers. Unless your day job is hand modeling, then I guess you need to get on that manicuring tip ASAP.

Otherwise? You should be writing, damn it.

But Angel, my fingers, they are cramped and beaten from the keyboard slapping! I will never be generic pair of hands #3 in that Tostitos commercial!

Indeed, imaginary failure of a hand model I am addressing, indeed, but you know what? It’s no excuse.

Now is the time to write a short. Be it flash or the standard short story, this is a chance to work a whole different set of writing muscles. Remember, you just wrapped up plotting 60K or more words—connected a skeleton of intrigue and back story, synced chapter 1 with your denouement on page 354, added whole heaps of background for that fella who was only supposed to be around for six pages but took over the back half of the novel. Think about all that space this novel’s taking up. It’s not too dissimilar to the Monday after a 20 mile training run. Your legs are lead, your core (JESUS CHRIST, YOUR CORE) feels like you’ve been taking blows from Tyson, and you can’t lift your arms over your head. Is it the brightest idea to go out and do 21 miles right after?

That’s a lot of work, but a whole different way of writing. Shorts don’t require all that constant effort. And please, I am in no way demeaning the effort it takes to condense an entire story into 6,000 words or, yikes, 700, but there’s something nice about feeling “done” in a quick turnaround. A short is quite literally running a tempo 5K or a 40 minute fartlek (if you Google the latter, spell it right—don’t go blaming me for what turns up if you’re not paying attention).

I also find jumping back to shorts helps my brain dump out all the gunk that novel writing’s occupied through the weeks/months. It provides me with clarity and less pressure. It gives me something to do while I wait for edits or hear word back on whether I wasted my time on 300 pages of gibberish. What’s better: finishing stories and sending them out to publications! Even if you get bad news, it’s an opportunity to further refine those unused muscles. Bonus: when you’re back to the novel and worried you’re still a talentless hack, the occasional short story acceptance does wonders to breathe a little extra life into you. You don’t have to look very far to see a lot of the writers in the crime community not only came from writing shorts but still thrive there. Look on the back cover of any issue of Thuglit, All Due Respect, or even Ellery Queen and you’ll see the names of critically acclaimed novelists with work they put together in the ‘downtime’. Because ‘downtime’ doesn’t mean writing stops. Writing never stops.

The other perk in jumping back to short form: refining your craft. It sort of goes hand in hand with working on running mechanics. You take the chance to try new things out and see what works and what doesn’t. This goes back to my earlier point that writing short pieces is in no way a simple task. Nothing gets you thinking about word economy like going from the infinite space of the novel to the 2x2 jail cell of flash fiction. Can you fit a three act structure into 700 words? CAN YOU?

Um…got any tips? Because that’s not easy.

All the effort you’ll go through with shorter fiction will help you in editing phase and with later long form projects. You’ll learn to get to the damn point and do it in a way that manages to maintain attention instead of droning on and on about frivolous details that will remain frivolous no matter how much you try jamming them in to pad your word count.

And you don’t have to limit yourself to short stories. Blog, write a review on Goodreads or Amazon, hell, do a guest post somewhere people may actually read the lunatic ramblings you’ve put together about the craft of writing. Man, if you’re the masochistic type, why not craft a workout plan where you’ll write out the dreaded 1, 5, and 10 page synopses? Disclaimer: I take no responsibility in what may happen if you actually attempt writing three synopses of various lengths at one time, but I will pray for you and your loved ones.

There are a lot of options and in the long term, all excellent for your work on that big novel. You’ll find that slapping out 250, 500, 1000 words becomes easier, which will help you handle trimming 15,000 words from 100,000 or adding 25,000 to 55,000. Like in running, there is never a mile that should be considered a waste—even if it’s an ugly one.

Angel Luis Colón is the author of THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR. His fiction has been shortlisted for the Derringer and has won an award or two. His nonfiction has appeared in The LA Review of Books, The Life Sentence, and My Bookish Ways. He’s also an editor at Shotgun Honey, home of some of the finest hardboiled flash fiction on the Internet. Find out more or ignore him on Twitter under the handle @GoshDarnMyLife.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Spanglish, hyperviolence, and positionality: on writing Zero Saints

Guest Post by Gabino Iglesias

Scott's Note: Today we've got Gabino Iglesias guest posting.  Does Gabino even need an introduction?  I don't think so. Certainly not in the indie crime fiction world.  He happens to have a new novel out, Zero Saints, a barrio noir, and the accolades have been rolling in. I started it yesterday - I'm two chapters in - and I'm kind of annoyed that I'll have to spend a whole day at work today before I can get back to it.  

Anyhow, without any more delay, here's Gabino...

“I didn’t hear those pinches cabrones coming.” That’s the opening line of Zero Saints. The second it was written, I knew I’d started down a weird path and there was no coming back, but that knowledge did nothing to minimize my insecurities or cut down on the number of times I thought about the reasons behind my choice to write a novel in Spanglish. However, I stuck with it. Why? Because we’re living in a great time in publishing, a time in which positionality is being acknowledged in all the right ways, supported by the best indie presses, and accepted as natural by most intelligent readers.

“Motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third Elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they think we’re taking over.” Those words by Junot Díaz encouraged me to keep at it whenever I’d start fearing I was going overboard with the Spanish. Thankfully, by the time those thoughts arrived, I’d already decided that my commitment to crime fiction with a message was stronger than my desire to write something that would appeal to most readers. Counterintuitive as it sounds, my commitment stemmed from my appreciation of the times we’re living and the opportunities we have as authors of these times.

Yeah, I know that sounds pretentious as fuck, so let me clarify: I wanted to write an entertaining novel about decapitations, a desperate man trying to battle a really strong, almost inhuman evil, a Russian hitman, magic tattoos, and an unblinking visionero. That being said, I wanted that narrative to carry something heavier than entertainment value. I wanted the novel to explore life after crossing the la frontera. I wanted the novel to be about syncretism, superstition, fear, love, weirdness, hybrid cultures. and a plethora of elements that are part of my immediate reality or my childhood, and Spanglish was part of that. Code switching is part of my everyday life, and writing something that reflected that was something I simply had to do.

The best thing about sticking with it and dropping all those prayers in Spanish is that I feel Zero Saints joins a truly outstanding group of novels that put positionality at the forefront without sacrificing anything. We’re living, and reading, in a time when I can enjoy Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay and see the similarities between someone who belongs to no nation and someone who’s too dark to be white and too light skinned to be black. Life in those interstitial spaces is a unifying theme for many, and when you mix it with the basic elements of crime fiction, you get novels that work on a multiplicity of levels. Furthermore, I can read this novel while having Scott Adlerberg’s next novel in the pile and still celebrating the fact that my hermano Grant Wamack will has joined the Broken River Books roster and will give us his crime debut in 2016. This is diversity. This is great fiction. This is why Zero Saints feels right.

Most folks think of positionality in fiction as something that stands aggressively against the narratives offered by straight white males. They’re wrong. Many of my favorite authors (i.e. Jeremy Robert Johnson, J. David Osborne, Cameron Pierce, Brian Allen Carr, ect.) are straight white dudes. I love what they do. Positionality is something else; the realization that the “I” needs to be hidden sometimes and allowed to take over at others. Positionality is saying that homosexual (and straight!) authors shouldn’t be fearful of writing homosexual characters. Positionality is allowing someone like me to write a novel in Spanglish because that's my reality. Positionality is accepting that a brutally honest book about African Americans in this country will have a healthy dose of racism. Positionality is allowing authors to speak their truths through fiction and accepting it as a unique thing that doesn’t necessarily stand in opposition to another.

A novel is a weird thing that’s born out of our desire to tell stories and then acquires some baggage along the way. At the end of the day, once it’s been polished, it should be whatever the author wants it to be. In my case, Zero Saints is a chunk of reality wrapped in a lot of weirdness and religion and sprinkled with the kind of hyperviolence I’ve come to love in neo-noir. It’s also a narrative that takes advantage of the fact that there are brave indie presses out there willing to put out a book with Santa Muerte, Changó, and Niño Fidencio all thrown into the same universe, just like in real life. That diversity is where I stand, es lo que soy. That rich, beautiful, multicultural mess is what I celebrate and where I stand. The fact that I’ve been given a chance to share all of it is something I’m truly grateful for and clear proof that women, the LGBTQ community, and POC are finally getting a chance to write whatever the hell they want. Yeah, it’s a good time for positionality. Let yours shine. 

You can pick up Zero Saints right here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Best Mysteries of 2015

by Kristi Belcamino

I sort of snickered writing the headline because who I am to say ... but hey, this is my opinion, and I hope you find something you like in the bunch.

The reason I only name eight books—instead of say, ten— is because I have two books out this year, my two best books yet, but I think it would be totally obnoxious to list them as nine and ten, but you can imagine them there in those empty spots if you read them and liked them. Ha. Talk about passive aggressive, right?

But in all seriousness, I think the competition for best mystery book in 2015 is FIERCE and the number of books I've been able to read so far this year has been woefully inadequate. so I know there are many more contenders for this list.

Here is my list, but PLEASE leave your choices or recommendations for me to read in the comments! Thanks!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

NaNoWriMo: Week 3

Scott D. Parker

Like Week 2, Week 3 just kept the momentum going. I actually increased the word count over Week 2 but still didn’t match Week 1.

Week 1    16087
Week 2    12096
Week 3    15769

I'm up to 43,952 words. I did a quick comparison of the novel I wrote back in August and realized I reached 50K in that novel in 22 days. I have to write 6,048 words tomorrow (i.e., today when you’re reading this) in order to match that record. That’s not going to happen. After I do tomorrow’s word count, I’ll be preparing for a speech I’m giving at church on Sunday and starting the Great Star Wars Re-watch ahead of the new Star Wars movie next month. But, unlike the August Novel which took me until the middle of September to complete, I aim to finish this book by month's end. It'll definitely be north of 50,000. I just don't know by how much.

The neatest thing I did this week was visit Bayou Bend yesterday. A few scenes of this second Gordon Gardner book take place at the Ima Hogg (yes, real name) manor in the heart of Houston. It’s now a museum and open every day except Monday. I spoke to a librarian and she gave me the titles of a few books I can use for research. I’ll be returning next week to tour the entire property and bring some good historical research to the novel.

The biggest writing challenge this week was having to brainstorm part of the middle section in which I find myself. I’m an outliner, but I also allow the nuances of storytelling to steer me along my pre-determined course. That happened this week. I spent almost all my daytime writing time doing the brainstorming, leaving me to start the daily writing after 9pm. That is not my standard operating procedure, but I got it done. Much happier writing at 5am than 9 or 10pm.

How are your NaNoWriMo projects going?

Friday, November 20, 2015

Ramblers, Let's Get Ramblin'

The first scene in From Dusk Till Dawn is a Ranger and a cashier talking the absolute worst shit you can imagine about a disabled kid. It's cringeworthy and terrible - and quite fucking perfect because when George Clooney pops out of the background and puts a gun to the cashier's head, the viewer doesn't mind one bit. Within seconds the liquor store explodes in an intense gunfight, and you don't even realize you're not rooting for the victims until the Gecko Brothers walk out of the burning building arguing like an old married couple.

I tell people all the time "From Dusk Till Dawn changed my life,"and they think I'm joking. I saw this movie for the first time with my parents, and none of us knew what was coming. I vividly remember both of them cursing my uncle's name for recommending "this stupid fucking movie."

I was exhilarated.

I was thirteen and had never seen anything like any of it. Forget the twist - the raw, unadulterated violence of it, the so-cool-it's-fucking-cold characterization of Seth Gecko, and the terrible unease I felt every time Richie had a scene - it was an awakening. I'd been writing for years at this point, something that had been encouraged by family and teachers, a lauded nascent talent, but I didn't even realize anti-heroes were a thing. To be honest, I didn't realize it when I watched the movie the first time or the fiftieth time. I was along for the ride and the only thinking I had time for was making a list of every Tarantino and Rodriguez film ever made so I could walk down to the video store and rent them (on VHS for 99 cents).

As I've grown up, watching the film over and over again, it's struck me that the real strength in this film is how it makes you love The Gecko Brothers despite them being two of the worst, despicable criminals to grace the screen. Is it controversial to say that no one sympathizes with a rapist? Probably not. But somehow you don't mind rooting for Richie, because the film manages to make you view him through his brother's eyes - is he fucked up? Sick? Wrong? Yeah, but Seth loves him. How much does the viewer have to love Seth to give a fuck about that?

It comes drips and drops. Of course, Seth is fucking cool. Everybody likes a cool criminal. He appeals to the part of all of us that wants to take whatever we want and ignore the needs of anyone but ourselves. Most works of fiction can get a long way on that alone, but if you're going to love him enough to love his brother, there's more work to be done. Seth doesn't want to kill you, but he will - even so, when he opens the door in the hotel room and sees what Richie has done to their hostage his horror is palpable. Seconds later, when he's shaking Richie, hitting his head against the wall, the horror is replaced by true helplessness. As we travel through Texas with the brothers we get to know Seth better. He won't kill unless he has to, he lives by his word, he loves his brother.

The genius part of this characterization, though, is how the film quietly shows everyone around Seth to be much, much worse than he is. The Texas Ranger and cashier come first, but then there is the news reporter grinning like an idiot as she reports on the body count they've racked up. At the Titty Twister, he reflexively knocks out the bouncer who comments on his young hostage's body. Seth may be a real mean motor-scooter, but he's a product of his fucked up world. When it comes time to lay it down and fight for survival, he doesn't let Jacob and his family down - he gladly joins up.

What makes Seth so relatable, so easy to root for, is the idea that he might not be that much worse than anyone else - he's just better at being bad. I mean, what's the big loss if he has to take out a couple assholes just as bad as he is?

A friend (Tony McMillen) once pointed out that From Dusk Till Dawn was just a new (and incredibly fucked) way of telling the story told in Of Mice and Men - El Rey is "the fat of the land", Seth and Richie the George and Lenny - cursed to be tied to one another on their ill-fated journey. Everybody's retelling an old story - Tarantino just added vampires.

There is something truly special about making people who are easy to hate easy to root for. FDTD makes it happen in the first seven minutes.

So yeah, I tell people the movie changed my life because instead of writing poorly realized love stories or Hardy Boys style adventures I was writing alternate endings to the Geckos story, hiding them behind passwords on my DOS word processor. Somewhere along the line I started writing my own characters, and while they may not be as cool as Seth Gecko, I hope they're at least half as tortured, one tenth as sympathetic in light of how terrible my characters tend to be.

Psychos don't explode when they're hit by sunlight, I don't give a fuck how crazy they are.