Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Joy of Quitting



By David Nemeth

Americans don't quit enough, a writer may have told me. It might have been, "Americans don't like quitting," I am unsure of the exact quote since bourbon was involved. This all came right after they mentioned they had trunked a book they'd been writing for three years. Yeah, I know this is not that surprising in the writing world, but I was still taken back given this writer's incredible work.

Crime fiction is filled with perseverance stories: the owner of a yarn store who doggedly solves murders in her sleepy seaside town or that plucky housewife who'll solve a childhood murder of one of her friends on the twentieth anniversary of the crime. Whether it's Hieronymous Bosch or Nancy Drew, it is drilled into us that only quitters quit.

But when you're stuck in a situation you can't stand, you come to realize this Horatio Alger perseverance ideal is bullshit and when you learn that Alger was a child molester that puts a bow on it. Screw it, quit.

Don't fear the quitting. Whether you give up on writing a book or working on a relationship, quitting frees you to do other things, things you may enjoy. You can come up with dozen of reasons on why you can't quit, but in the end, these are lame-ass excuses. Learn to quit.  How many of us can't even quit a TV series they are binging? We watch it through to the flaccid end. Yeah, I'm looking at you "Dexter".

In many ways, I am worse when reading books regarding this "not quitting" thing; the compulsion to finish is overwhelming even among the stench of clichés, imbecile plot devices, and, honestly, bad-fucking writing. We've learned to tolerate crap as the alphabet police shows and the war-porn that spills onto our movie theatre screens every summer help keep us in a perpetual state of numbness while keeping Comcast and Disney's pockets stuffed with cash.

Put down that badly-written book your reading, turn off that TV show that tells you when to laugh, and, for God's sake, listen to Martin Scorsese.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

It was like ........the use of similes and metaphors in crime fiction

I love a good metaphor.  
I know I know, its cliche and trite in crime fiction but dammit a really good simile or metaphor makes me smile like a shark who just found a fresh whale carcass.

Sorry. Couldn't help myself. 

Crime fiction is filled with writers who can turn and twist a phrase like a demented contortionist. 

Sorry. Again.


The name that comes to mind for most people is Raymond Chandler.  Chandler never let a weak plot get in the way of beautiful language.  He made the manipulation of comparisons look simple.  I can assure it is not. And I've miles and miles of deleted sentences to prove it. That's the thing about genius.  It makes the hard things look simple and the simple things look difficult. 
   Another writer who was skilled at using a subjective analysis to contrast one thing  with another was the great Ross Macdonald.  Ross didn't use the technique half as much as Chandler but when he did it was incredibly memorable.  
  All literature depends on language but only the Southern Gothic story is as dependent on dense labyrinthine etymologically challenging phrases. One if my favorite modern practitioners of the art of the simile is Johnny Shaw. Shaw takes the technique and stretches it to its inevitable ridiculous limits then pushes it even further.  He will having you laughing like a hyena on nitrous oxide. 

Aaargh ...sorry ...

The technique is so ubiquitous in crime fiction as to almost be a pastiche but one must be careful with how and when you use it in your own work. As Christa Faust says think of similes and metaphors like pretty puppies. Pick the cutest puppy to put on display not the whole damn litter.

So go ahead, compare your protagonist to all types of granite, steel and iron but don't do all three in the same paragraph. 
You'll wear your reader out faster than an air mattress in all weekend orgy.

Sigh....sorry ....

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday




Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is Nick Kolakowski's latest novel, and it marks a departure from his previous books, Boise Longpig Hunting Club and The Love and Bullets series.  While those books all revolved around crime and had a somewhat hardboiled tone, Maxine is definitely science fiction.  It is set in a world a few minutes in the future from today.  But where it is consistent with the books Kolakowski has written earlier is in its tone.  With each work, the author has gotten better at infusing pitch-black humor into his stories.  I found some of the slapstick-laced violence in his first novella, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, to be a tad forced, but by Boise Longpig Hunting Club and Main Bad Guy, which take on such things as gun veneration and gentrification, among many other issues plaguing us today, the blending of action-packed, plot-driven narrative with satirical social commentary is nearly seamless.  Science fiction, perhaps, is even a better fit for this sort of thing, so perhaps it's not surprising that the author has gone this route.  Maxine is sci-fi of the utterly dystopian variety, something made clear immediately when we find ourselves in a watery Manhattan J.G. Ballard would have been proud of.  Kolakowski makes a clear reference to Ballard, in fact, and lets us know that even though the world has become more of a mess than it is today, not every change has been for the worst:

Lower Manhattan now looks like Venice with a couple of added skyscrapers.  Half of Brooklyn is out to sea on a tide of PBR cans and fake hipster mustaches.  The latter case demonstrates, yet again, that every bad situation has a silver lining.

Throughout the book, in the best sci-fi tradition, Kolakowski takes the conditions in the world we live in now and extrapolates them to create his futuristic world.  Clannishness and fragmentation have become worse; violence and lawlessness are prevalent nearly everywhere; drones fill the skies; between climate change and human disregard for creating waste, the environment is a disaster.  All of this stuff is familiar sci-fi fare, but like with all good fiction, the pleasure lies in the details and presentation, and it here that Kolakowski excels, generally with the sardonic tone I've been talking about:

Just because weed was legal in the state didn't mean you could dodge huge penalties for smoking in public.  In canal-laced Lower Manhattan, anyone caught puffing on the sidewalk ended up spending a week in isolation for the crime of "disrespecting communal airspace," if you could believe that crap.

And:

This far north, the concept of local government grew teeth and claws.  If you stuck to the highway, you would cross into territory controlled largely by the New York Giants, which had expanded beyond its origin as one of the nation's most consistently mediocre sports teams to control a big swath of towns northeast of Buffalo. 




The book's title character is complicated and a fighter, someone who at almost all times occupies the underdog position, and the author brings her to life well.  In a world so amoral and chaotic, survival is the first principle, and Maxine is dedicated to that.  She'll do whatever she needs to in order to keep going in a world rife with dangers and menace, but that's not to say she has no warmth and lacks a sense of loyalty.  You like Maxine and are rooting for her all the way.  

Maxine's very name, of course, bring Mad Max to mind, and that and the Ballard reference are just two of the myriad allusions Kolakowski makes to other sci-fi books and sci-fi movies.  William Gibson's novels, cyberpunk fiction in general, Ghost in the Shell and other Japanese anime - the list goes on and on, and I'm sure I didn't catch everything.  Fans of dystopian fiction should love this book, and it should appeal to crime readers also, since a large chunk of the novel involves an elaborate heist.  The heist is for something other than money, or anything that brings wealth, but Maxine's reasons for attempting it are completely understandable.  And sympathetic.

Maxine Unleashes Doomsday is a witty, fast book that makes the possible darkness of our future something of a blast. After all, more anarchy means less centralized power, and less centralized power means that those who now have nothing will have a better chance to hit the arrogant asses ruling things and make them hurt a little bit.


***

You can get Maxine Unleashes Doomsday here.





Monday, November 11, 2019

THE SOURCE OF SELF-REGARD by Toni Morrison







A little over three months ago Toni Morrison, one of the most celebrated and revered writers of our time passed away. Several months before her death she published a collection of essays and meditations, THE SOURCE OF SELF-REGARD. This book is a gift for those she left behind.



The works and speeches found within these pages were written over the course of several decades and yet, the content is strikingly relevant. It is an elegant essay on art, society, and humankind.


There are three distinct parts to THE SOURCE OF SELF-REGARD. “The Foreigner’s Home,” the first segment, opens with a powerful prayer dedicated to those who died on September 11. Here Ms. Morrison uses her intellect to highlight the negative aspects of the growing force of globalization. The loss of national identity, neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism and the manipulation of under-developed countries. 


“Black Matter(s)” is the second piece to be found in THE SOURCE OF SELF-REGARD. It begins with an emotional tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and continues as Ms. Morrison outlines her belief that art, media, and even our very language is fundamentally racist. A weight always pushing down. She comments on her own works, THE BLUEST EYE, BELOVED, and JAZZ, and other works to clarify what it means to be black in America. In ways both brilliant and personal, she creates her portrait of the African-American experience.


A moving eulogy for writer James Baldwin begins the last part of the book entitled "God's Language." It is here she discusses social issues: immigration, female empowerment, the press, economics, and human rights. She looks at the inspiration behind art and culture and the role of the artist in our world. We are privy to a small, though telling, peek into her creative process and it is remarkable to see her beautiful mind at work.


Sit down and turn the pages. Feel the brilliance of Toni Morrison as she guides you through her thoughts on world history, religion, philosophy, war and the art of storytelling. We lost a great mind and a great human the day Ms. Morrison died. But she left behind so much magic.


THE SOURCE OF SELF-REGARD is an honor to read and you will find yourself returning to these pagers over and over. 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Rock Drummer Amateur PI, by Jonathan Brown


One of the best things about a crime fiction convention is all the people you meet. This happens in the hallways and book signing lines and most definitely at the bar. Last week in Dallas, I ran into Shawn Reilly Simmons (who I met at a previous convention, natch), and she introduced me to Jonathan Brown. His debut novel came out on Monday. All he had to say was "rock drummer" and "amateur PI," and I was asking if he'd come over to Do Some Damage and tell us more. Take it away, Jonathan . . .
When I busted out of the doors of the Musician’s Institute of Technology in Hollywood I jumped into the music scene as a drummer for hire. I took any gig that would pay me 50 bucks—but it was usually considerably less than that. While mowing down shows and carving up LA’s musical landscape I took notes—actual notes—journal style.
I met characters rich with every personality trait in the rainbow, of every ethnicity and all levels of ego, from the painfully shy to the diva-for-no-damn-reason. As I laid down groove upon groove I clocked every move. I spied every tic, heard every spoken word and observed all mannerisms. If I were on the FBI’s radar at the time the Profiler Division would have considered recruiting me.
As I moved from one crappy apartment to another I took my notes with me and eventually came up with a protagonist: Lou Crasher. The “Crash” in Crasher is a nod to cymbals crashing—yeah, I’m clever like that.
When my editor read an early version of The Big Crescendo she told me I had way too many characters. I didn’t disagree with her. “But there were so many people in the bars, streets, pawnshops and liquor stores in those days,” I told her. She said that although the characters have great depth and description and come across very real most of them are “drive by” characters. She was correct yet again. I over-wrote those cats because I’ve always paid attention to the “drive bys” as well as the main cats holding down the conversation. Alas, they didn’t move my story along so I had to clip ’em. I shed no tears over those peripheral players because the story is the boss, not me.
So who is Lou? Lou is a good natured, cocktail swilling, wisecracking rock drummer turned amateur PI who far too often finds his neck beneath the bad guy’s boot heel. But Crasher won’t lie down for anybody, so while removing said boot from said neck he ultimately solves crimes. Well, for the most part anyway, which is why the word “amateur” precedes P.I. In addition to fighting crime he somehow manages to make it to his gigs on time.
While getting to know Lou he’ll take you on a rock n roll ride through the L.A. music scene; he’ll chase a dame who may not be what she seems, he’ll attempt to bust up an underground musical gear theft ring, which, unfortunately dumps him into the seedy drug world. Oh, and a heavyweight coke snorting music producer will dispatch Lou to find a vintage snare drum that may or may not have belonged to the late great Frederick Douglas. If Lou’s wisecracking doesn’t get his head split open and if he can keep his cocktails under control he might just win this thing.
The Big Crescendo dropped November 4. Word on the street is the printer is running low on toner and the books are flying off the shelves. Get it while the gettin’s hot. You don’t want to be without a chair when the music stops. The follow up Don’t Shoot The Drummer is perilously close to being done and will be spread to the masses at the end of 2020 on Down and Out Books. Ya oughtta snag that one too!

Jonathan began taking fiction writing seriously in 2010. A handful of his short stories are in Shotgun Honey Online magazine. In 2018 Brown released a noir novella titled: Moose’s Law…A Doug ‘Moose’ McCrae Story. Moose fans are demanding this be a series and knowing Brown, he’ll deliver. He’s narrated the audiobook (his first) and that will join his print book on Amazon in December 2019. Brown also wrote A Boxing Trainer’s Journey…A Novel Based On the Life of Angelo Dundee for Mentoris Books. Kirkus Reviews called it, “A journalistically rigorous depiction of both Angelo Dundee and boxing.” Mentoris has since commissioned Brown to narrate the audiobook for Dundee as well as write a novel based on the life of Vince Lombardi. Find out more at www.jonathanbrownwriter.com.
In addition to teaching drums and writing Jonathan works as a personal trainer. And although he has never laced up the gloves in a serious way like his idol Muhammad Ali, he does have a background in Hapkido karate. Currently he and his wife enjoy the good life in sunny Southern California. As a button at the close of every fitness class he imparts his favorite phrase to his clients: All of the world’s problems can be solved with love!
Find The Big Crescendo at Down & Out Books, IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 45

by
Scott D. Parker

One thing dominated my non-day job time: NaNoWriMo.

Like I mentioned last week, I'm getting off my novel-writing snide by participating in NaNoWriMo 2019. But for every creative type, when you start doing your art again, you are rusty.

While I'm ahead of the overall pace for the 50,000-word month, not every day this week was easy. I bested the 1,667 daily average every day but one, but some days it was like pulling teeth.

But if there's one thing I've learned over my years of crafting stories, it's this: Trust the Process.

I have a day job and a family so my writing times are time-limited. An hour or so in the morning before work and around 55 minutes at lunch after a daily chat with my wife. But the other twenty-two hours of the day, story-wise, is time for the subconscious to mull over ideas and next scenes. Sometimes your subconscious hasn't figured out where to go next.

Then there are the days in which it does. Then, you just hold on because your fingers fly over the keyboard and you curse the end of writing time. It was a breakthrough, at least for the near term.

That's what happened yesterday. 

Later on last night, when I read my new words to the wife, she guessed on where the story was going. "No, that's not what I wrote...but dang it I wish I had." Still, I'm going with what my subconscious came up with. We'll see how much fun it'll be.

Trust the process. Always.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Stone Song on audio


We've had the opportunity to listen to the fast-paced, pretty exciting story of a brother and sister who get caught up in one of those towns that gets locked down by the military because something secret and spooky is going on.

Think Stranger Things meets that Stephen King show about the domed town.

The stakes keep increasing at just about the right pace as the story moves on. If you're fan of the genre, this is one you'll probably want to give a go.

If you've got a holiday drive coming up in the next couple months, this would make a pretty good companion as the story is active, the pace is quick, and the bad guys are really bad.

As this is part of a blog tour for the book, check out what Karen said yesterday here.

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Audible, the world’s leading provider of spoken-word entertainment, has secured worldwide English language audio rights to Tom Bale’s audio-exclusive new title The Stone Song, narrated by Raza Jaffrey (Homeland, Code Black).

Audible will produce and record The Stone Song in its Grammy and Audie award-winning London studios. It will be released exclusively in audio on 7 November 2019. It is now available to pre-order on Audible here.

The Stone Song is a dystopian sci-fi thriller set in a small Sussex village, by best-selling author Tom Bale (See How They Run, All Fall Down, One Dark Night). With four teenagers pitted against deadly opposition, this is a story of supernatural menace that will appeal to fans of Stephen King and Stranger Things

On a sweltering summer’s night, teenage siblings Jack and Lily witness a helicopter crash on the main road between Brighton and London. The next morning they wake to find their village has been sealed off from the entire world. A terrorist cell is holed up in Stenhurst – or at least that’s the official story, put out by sinister government agent Wynter and his vicious sidekick, Major Kellett.

But later that day, Lily and Jack stumble on the truth: the authorities are hunting for a mysterious creature, labelled CatX, who escaped during the crash. Together with their friends, Erin and Oliver, Lily and Jack take it upon themselves to defy the lockdown and protect the creature, no matter what the risks. 

The stakes are raised still further when a team of American agents arrive with their own unique technologies. Nobody who sees the CatX must be allowed to survive, and yet it soon becomes clear that there is a much bigger secret here...one that threatens the entire world. 

The Stone Song features an exclusive interview with narrator Raza Jaffrey at the end of the audiobook, in which he talks about the narration experience, his career as an actor and the things (and people) he loves to listen to.

The Stone Song joins a host of best-in-class sci-fi Audible Originals released in recent months. Highlights include The X-Files starring Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, H.G. Wells: The Science Fiction Collection starring David Tennant and Hugh Bonneville amongst others, and Jeff Wayne's The War of The Worlds: The Musical Drama, starring Michael Sheen, Taron Egerton and Theo James.