Saturday, November 7, 2009

Things I've learned in one week of NaNoWriMo

Scott D. Parker

1. Having a set time to write really is something special. Up until now, I've just written whenever and wherever I've felt like. The end result is basically writing very little. Since the second day of NaNoWriMo was a Monday and I realized that my evening was accounted for ("Castle," "CSI: Miami,“ write recap of CSI: Miami for BSCreview) I needed to get my NaNoWriMo done before I left for work. Thus, lunchtime writing. Boy, it felt good, too. I got excited as lunchtime approached. I wolfed down my food at my desk. I had brought my Mac PowerBook with me (loaded with Scrivener*) and I scooted out of my office and to the nearest Starbucks, drank their new Thanksgiving blend (no, it doesn’t taste like dressing), and wrote for a sweet hour of bliss. And I was very productive: I wrote over the 1,667 words/day you need to achieve the 50,000 words in a month. On Tuesday, the joy was repeated, excepted I escaped to the local Rao’s Bakery and downed four cups of their Jamaican coffee. This lunchtime writing is fun.

2. Dang it’s loud at Rao’s and Starbucks at lunchtime. When at Starbucks, I zoned out enough not to notice the two men chatting across me to each other, the ready orders shouted for the entire coffeehouse to hear, and the din of traffic at the busy intersection. The time at Rao’s was even louder and there was a television on as well. I had to drown out the noise with my iPod, something I never do. Thankfully, since I’m writing a western adventure novel, I put on my collection of Ennio Morricone and typed away. Memo to self for next week: order in the coffee, shut the door of my office, and write in quiet.

3. I hate missing my lunchtime writing. Wednesday I met some old friends for lunch and we had a good time. Glad I went, too, since one of them is moving to Philadelphia for two years starting today. But I missed my lunch date with my writing. Not to worry, I told myself, I’ll catch it later that evening. Yeah, well, I caught the crud and it laid me low. No writing on Wednesday. And it really irritated me. All I could think about was trying to make up the word count on Thursday. Nice to know the new habit of lunchtime writing could become so ingrained so quickly.

4. The writing itself is a blast. Let’s be honest: I’m writing a western adventure novel in the spirit of Doc Savage, Tarzan, Indiana Jones, and Gabriel Hunt. It’s not Frou Frou Literature by any stretch. It’s to be entertaining, fun, and escapist. I’ve termed this experiment ”writing without a net.“ I have a general idea of where I’m going and what my heroes are going to do but, so far, I’m just winging it. Take, for example, my main hero, Calvin Carter (protagonist from my Beat to a Pulp story last April): he runs through a cantina, gets himself cornered, does some action stuff, and escapes through the backdoor. Now, next step in my head was get him down the street to break into a hotel. Instead, I thought ”Hey, let’s have another guy with a gun guarding the backdoor.“ Viola! More danger for Carter. And more fun for me.

5. Writing is a journey and an exploration. It’s been so long since I’ve had this much fun writing. Yes, I'm writing fast, making mental and physical notes of things I know I need to change along the way instead of stopping and fixing it right away. My main goal is to get to the 1,667 words in the 60 minutes of my lunch hour. So far, I'm averaging 70 minutes to get the 1,667. Here's the cool thing: just like with my first novel, I can’t wait to sit down and write. Bonus with this book: I’m not entirely sure where I’m going. It’s an adventure and I’m the first explorer.

Can’t say the rest of the month will be this happy. In fact, I expect the Thanksgiving week to be arduous if I'm not close enough to the ultimate goal. But, with one week down and only slightly behind schedule, it’s rocking.

*In a great incentive for all NaNoWriMo participants, any person who achieves the 50,000-word goal can purchase the Scrivener license for 50% off the retail price of $39. That way, you get all the features as you set about re-reading the mish-mash you just wrote and try to wrestle it into something manageable.

Friday, November 6, 2009

On the QT and very Hush Hush

By Russel D McLean

Dig this:

One night only in Glasgow, the Demon Dog of crime writing is gonna reign supreme.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, malcontents and malingerers, pimps and perverts, Ellroy is here to save us from the death of publishing and the internet invaders.

I've been waiting for this for over a decade. Last time I had a chance to see the man in action, Ellroy cancelled his gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival for reasons that, to this day, remain shrouded in mystery (we were only told on arrival at the Box Office).

It was my dad who introduced me to the works of Ellroy. Like me, he thinks the ideal introduction is probably The Black Dahlia, being a prime example of his stripped down, stone-cold style in its earliest days. For sure, I dug the Dahlia, even if took me a while to understand what Ellroy was doing, how for the first time I could remember in the history of reading, every damn word counted.

Tonight's gig isn't just the man himself, of course. Oh, no, there's also a screening of what the Waterstones website described as “an Ellroy inspired film” which was vague, but intriguing. There were any number of movies they could have considered.

My fear, of course, was that they would choose The Black Dahlia. Of all the films they have made – inspired by and directly adapted from Ellroy's work – this one brings up the worst memories. A soul-searing work of purest, blackest noir that became, under the creative control of Brian De Palma, a parodic and melodramatic mess of a movie; the Batman and Robin of noir, if you will permit to indulge in some negative hyperbole (but seriously, I could hardly sit through The Black Dahlia, so overblown and obvious as it was with a talented cast turning in some of the most bored performances of their careers).

Luckily, the Glasgow Film Theatre chose to unveil their choice. I would have been happy with the Kurt Russell starring (and plotted by Ellroy) Dark Blue, set around the time of the LA Riots which was also, coincidentally, the time when I was visiting the US for the first time with my parents (and yes, we were in LA in the days before the riots started). I would even have been pleased to see Street Kings, again plotted by Ellroy and starring that master of underacting, Keanu Reeves (who is, given the chance, usually watchable if not usually stunningly good) as an amoral cop caught up in a political war between his corrupt Captain (Forrest Whitaker) and the head of IA (Hugh Laurie with his bizarre American accent). Not a perfect movie, but enough going on to keep things interesting.

Thank goodness, though, that they chose LA Confidential. I remember seeing this movie before reading the novel, and thinking, this is what I want from a cop movie. Layered, restrained and pitch perfect, it is a film made by people at the top of their game. Russell Crowe has rarely been as good as here, playing Bud White, all presence and anger and a sharp mind overshadowed by baser instincts. And Guy Pearce is twitchily perfect as the initially heroic but increasingly amoral cop who gives the audience their surrogate for the movie. Throw in Kevin Spacey and the farmer from Babe giving their all in what were at the time quite unexpected roles, and Danny Devito being incredibly sleazy as the editor of a tabloid gossip magazine, and you have a movie with a top notch cast working from layered script and under a restrained and still stylised direction that De Palma really should have paid more attention to when he came to make The Black Dahlia.

And it’s on the big screen. I haven't seen it in a couple of years, but its shot with the kind of rich textures that I remember making a huge impression on me when we went to see it on its initial release. We’re talking period detail, textured storytelling, nuanced performances, the whole lot. Seeing it on the big screen back when it was first released had a huge effect on me; made me realise the moral ambiguities inherent in the thriller, made me view the past as every bit as corrupt as the present.

By the time you read this, of course, I will have seen the Demon Dog, will have wowed at his words and his will. And I’ll have re-lived Confidential, too, there on the big screen, in all its glory. Yes, I have high hopes for this event, but Ellroy is one of those writers who sheer affect on me – even with the notoriously difficult The Cold Six Thousand – as a reader cannot be understated. Tonight I’ll have been a reader again, a true fan, someone there for the thrill of seeing one of their heroes do his thing, say his piece, give us entertainment (and from what I hear, Ellroy does just that).

So bring it on, tonight, and to whet my appetite (and yours), here’s a clip of the man himself in full flow:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

NaNoWriMo, Writing Fast, and Revision

by Dave White

I'm taking part in NaNoWriMo. Well sort of. What I'm actually doing is cheating. I'm not changing what I'm working on. I'm just adding to it, giving myself more projects, and trying to keep track of a total word count.

I've always kind of had a problem with NaNoWriMo. Not the idea that pushes people to write, which is always a great thing, but because it pushes people to write fast. And that's it.

I tend to think people get into NaNoWriMo, think they'll write their 50K and that'll be it.

That is far from the case. Your novel is not done then. It's not even close to done. After you write your 50K or your 70K or your 80K or whatever, the work is just getting started.

I don't write fast. I've never been able to.

And even when I'm done with that first draft, I still have to work on a 7 or 8 drafts. I have read my current work in progress a ton of times. I'm not sure it's done yet. I keep thinking its done and then more problems creep up.

The rumor is a lot of old pulp novelists used to write books in a weekend. While I'm sure that's possible, my guess is they then had to revise a lot. Or had their editor revise for them.

So my advice to NaNoWriMo-ers out there? Go ahead, bash out your 50K and finish your draft, but as John Green says up above, it's not done. Write fast all you want, but expect to revise slow. To get it right and ready, prepare to pore over the book and keep working on it.

Get ready to go back and work on it some more.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's All Material

John McFetridge

A lot of documentaries these days seem to take a position, a point of view and are very subjective in what ‘facts’ they present. One of the things people look for in fiction is that it be realisitc. So, we seem to want our non-fiction fictional and our fiction as much non-fiction as possible.

In my writing I often use the Christopher Brookmyre school of MSU – Make Shit Up – and I also use a lot of ‘true stories.’ Sometimes the true stories are things I’ve read about, things people have told me or things that have happened to me.

Once I decided I was serious about being a writer I (quite different from deciding to be a writer or trying to write) I realized that, like pretty much anything else, if you’re going to have any success you’ve got to go all out, no working with a net, go big or go home (insert your own cliche here). For writing, I think that means you can’t be afraid of upsetting people, you can’t censor yourself and you’ve got to use anything and everything that will make the story better.

Someone said recently that some people have families but writers only have sources.

There’s some truth to that.

But even with the ‘based on a true story,’ stuff the truth has to be sacrificed for story. Sometimes the truth has to be improved.

If I may, I’ll use an example from my own work. The novel Dirty Sweet is about a guy, Vince, in his forties running an online porn business in Toronto. He has a somewhat mysterious past and it is revealed that when he was 17 he left Montreal and went to Calgary. I was in my forties living in Toronto when I wrote the book and at 17 had gone from Montreal to Calgary. In the book when Vince was 18 and working as a night janitor in a department store the whole cleaning crew is arrested for theft. Again, that was me. In the book Vince was a scared teenager who showed one of the older, tattooed (rare for 1978) guys how to open a back door without setting off an alarm. Me again. Vince gets convicted and spends two years in jail and that’s where the truth had to be improved. I didn’t serve any time (after the first night) as the cops had bigger, tattooed fish to fry and offered me a pretty good deal.

And that’s really where the idea for the book came from. I wondered how different my life would have gone if I had actually done the time. How when I got out I would’ve had trouble getting a job, I may have made friends with some other guys in jail and started to hang out with them when I got out. Maybe I would’ve actually committed more crimes and done more jail time, maybe even ended up in Millhaven Prison in Ontario and then found my way to Toronto.

Now here’s where the story really takes off from the truth – I wondered what all that would have been like if I was a cool guy, composed and able to handle myself. Yeah, then I started to think there may be a story there. How different people react to the opportunities that are presented, how some people can make opportunities out of almost anything and some people wouldn’t recognize an opportunity if it arrested them.

Because when people say, “write what you know,” they’re not talking about facts that you can look up, they’re talking about emotions that you know, aspects of peoples’ personalities that you know, the little bits of human nature you’ve picked up over the years.

And writing is about making all that serve the story. We’ve been talking about Bob Dylan lately and he said it best, everything’s gotta serve some story (or something like that):

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

BAM, said the lady

By Jay Stringer

I’ve been in a strange place tonight. I have a strange listlessness when I’m writing, a kind of procrastination that comes from my brain only wanting to do one thing. Lately I’ve had half hearted attempts at reading books, only to find that I can't get along with the writing style because it doesn’t match mine.

It sounds arrogant, probably, but I think you know what I mean.

On the other hand, I’ve been staring at this blank page for the best part of an hour, thinking through the 101 half formed blog ideas that I have and rejecting them each in turn. A couple of times I even started them. Just so you know, the first line of this blog at one point was “The only way I could hate my ‘to be read’ pile more was if it had just stolen the last ginger biscuit.”

But I’ve learned to trust my brain so far. Just as I’ve written before that I avoid writers block by embracing it, and trusting that my brain will write when its ready to write, I’ve also learned to go with what I want to say on this here blog.

And what I really want to do tonight is to write a love letter to CASTLE.

Lets go back five years. I was (am) a huge Firefly geek. I was one of those unfortunate people for whom the show’s voice, the characters and the message, resonate very deeply. I was angry when it inevitably got cancelled. This was a wrath well beyond any biscuit theft.

And one of the key elements of that anger was the loss of Mal Reynolds. I liked hanging out with Mal. There was something in his wounded cynical nobility that made me want to keep seeing what he did next. He also had a great great story arc.

We first saw him as brash, loud and invincible. A young soldier who was managing to keep his troops going against impossible odds on the strength of his belief.

In God.
In the fight.
In his people.

And we saw the moment when all of that was taken away. The series would, we assume, have given us Mal’s journey as he pieced himself back together. The film Serenity gave us a rushed end cap to the journey, where we saw Mal learn that “it doesn’t mater what you believe, just believe it.

But aside from the character and the writing, there was the actor. Nathan Fillion just had that thing. You know the thing? Yes, that thing. He had that ability to engage you, to make you laugh or cry, and to want to keep watching.

So I was always going to be on board with whatever he did next. I have watched a couple of reeeeeeally shitty movies just because Fillion was in them. When I heard he was going to be in a crime drama, playing a novelist? I really wanted to be excited. I could feel that i should be, and I almost managed it. Almost.

See, I had a bit of a stupid crisis last year. One of those lame ‘get over yourself’ moments. The Wire had finished. McFet wrote a few weeks back about ‘sergeant pepper moments’ and The Wire, for me, was that moment for TV. That’s it. Pull the plug. We’re done.

And I stayed in that place for quite a while. Didn’t need a new show, thank you very much. For all I could see, switching on TV in a Wire-less world was just opening yourself up to X FACTOR. Because that’s the kind of horror that awaits us after the big lights go out.

Then I saw the trailer and my mood eased a little. Fillion looked like he was having a ball. And boy, he sure seemed to spark with his Co-star Stana Katic. But a trailer’s a trailer, you know? They can make anything look good. Hell, they almost made Watchmen look good.

The show goes against everything I got so moody about over The Wire. It’s not realistic, not really. It’s not a master of show-don’t-tell. It doesn’t need absolute concentration. Really, it’s just a good old-fashioned formula crime show. It’s a Rockford or a Quincy. Hell, it’s a Remington Steele. It’s fun and breezy, which means it’s dark moments have a real impact.

The writers beleive 100% in Chekov’s Gun. The key to the crime is somewhere in the first ten minutes. You can really tick off the plot points as you go, like a play-along game. It’s full of in jokes and self-depreciation. And it’s just bundled up in so much charisma that you can’t help but follow on.

I’ve had a favourite rant over the past year; somewhere along the line, the word “fun” became an excuse for “crap”. “You’re being to harsh on the film, jay, it’s just a bit of fun.” It’s as if, at some point in the last twenty years there was a meeting –that I wasn’t invited to- where it was decided that fun =dumb= crap. It became an excuse for writers to mot have to do the heavy lifting and for directors to forget about story. But I don’t buy that for a second. I’m of a generation that grew up on Indiana Jones, Back To The Future, The Goonies, and Ghostbusters. Those were fun. And they were not crap. They had their flaws, sure, but they were worked on. People put in the hard work to make sure that what they were doing had some heart and some sense.

CASTLE is FUN. Proper, old school, hard-work-behind-the-scenes fun.

The story? Well you guys don’t need a recap. The reason I resisted writing this was because the Internet has already done Castle. But for those of you who’ve not caught it yet;
Richard Castle is a crime writer. He’s the kind of famous that doesn’t really exist for crime writers in the real world; he's a friend to everyone, he has groupies, he's rich. He’s just finished a best selling series and has run out of idea for where to go next. Cue a murder that’s based on one of his books, and Castle being called in as a suspect.

From there he forms an unlikely, but increasingly Hawt, bond with the Homicide detective Kate Beckett. And he manages to wangle his way into shadowing Beckett and her team as research for his next series. The two leads bicker, smoulder and smirk like Maddie and David. The script gives them all the set up they need, and the supporting cast know their place.

It’s restored my faith in episodic television.Why are you still reading? Why aren’t you off watching the damn show?

Oh, and hey, you could read Castle's latest book, too.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Some Sacred Questions: The Alison Janssen Interview

By Steve Weddle

If I had known Alison Janssen was this smart and funny, I would have asked better questions. I mean, I knew she was smart and funny. Just not this smart and funny.

When Joelle Charbonneau told me about her trip to Bouchercon last month, she said she’d met this really cool chick called Alison Janssen and was going roller derby-ing with her. I said, “Hey, I know that really cool chick.” This summer I’d ordered a box of novels from Bleak House Books, where Alison had worked. In addition to the books, she’d included a hand-written note about how she’d put in a hardback instead of the paperback of a book and hoped I enjoyed them. A hand-written note. Like ink on paper and all. Like going to some trouble for a dork like me. Anyway, I thought it was super cool.

This summer she and Ben LeRoy left BHB to found Tyrus Books.

I caught up with her via the electronic mailing system to ask her about the new gig, ebooks, and roller derby.

SW: Of course, I know everything about roller derby because I’m really cool. But let’s say I have a friend who doesn’t know anything about it. You got a quick crash course on what he’d need to know? Sport? Entertainment? Wagering?

AJ: Well, I can certainly direct you to helpful Web sites, like, and But the basic gist is two teams, each fielding 5 players at a time. 4 of those players are blockers (and pivots), and they skate all together to form the pack. 1 player from each team is designated as the jammer, and she scores the points for her team. She does this by lapping the pack as often as she can, and scoring one point per opposing player whom she passes legally. So, jammers sprint and juke and blockers ... block.

Makes total sense, right?! Game play is broken down into jams, each of which can last up to two minutes (but often they are shorter). Skaters are simultaneously playing offense and defense -- as a blocker, it's my job to help my jammer and hinder the opposing jammer.

And there's hitting, obviously.

When I first started skating, there was quite a large entertainment aspect, but as the years have gone by, we've focused much more on the sport. It's really a fascinating mix, because we enjoy our team themes, and our derby names (though there seems to be a real-name trend happening now in parts of the nation), and we enjoy the training and the strategy and the many different ways to play the game. It's so great to see the Regional and National tournaments, because the style of play really varies, and you can learn so much.

And as for wagering ... this sport changes so quickly, and is developing as I type this, so it's pretty impossible to find a safe bet on any team. And I don't know of any roller derby bookies.

SW: Bookies. Books. There oughta be a joke in there somewhere. Crud. Well, since you started out six years ago as an intern at Bleak House Books and are now senior editor at Tyrus Books, do you see yourself as a role model for the underpaid, overworked interns of the world?

AJ: Yes, yes I do. I mean, I guess so? I was actually paid well in trade at Bleak House -- I got free books, and if I stayed in the office late enough, I'd often get Glass Nickel delivery. So I think the FTC would count that as compensation these days, right?

SW: Speaking of books and late nights, in August I waited outside the Barnes and Noble for a few nights. People would ask what I was waiting for. “The Deputy,” I said. Eventually a nice man from the sheriff’s office came by and helped relocate me. So, like, THE DEPUTY. Soon, right?

AJ: Soon! In fact, the official release date is April 2010, but we'll have review copies at the end of November. And I bet we'll run some kind of contest-y thing for people to win one or two of those advance copies. Stay tuned to our Web site, or subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on Twitter, or that kinda stuff.

But thank you for your interest in The Deputy. Is it mean of me to tell you just how freaking fantastic it is? Because it is.

SW: GAK! Well, I'm happy and sad and anxious all at he same time. [Takes drink.] So, BHB offered the Evidence Collection, as well as a debut author collection and an autographed books collection. First, those were sweet. Second, what does Tyrus have planned?

AJ: Oh, I'm glad you liked them! Tyrus is running a subscription program right now, which you can check out on our Web site. It's basically our entire Spring 2010 line for 10% off cover price, and you can choose to receive the books as hardcovers or as paperbacks. The books will be autographed (in the case of short story collections, we'll do our best to get contributors, but we can't promise they'll all be in there), and they'll ship from our offices before they hit bookstores. So it's a great program if you know you want to read our full line (or read most of it and gift some of it), and they'll just show up periodically on your doorstep.

We're still thinking about some other special edition offerings for Tyrus Books. There are lots of ideas floating around, and it's just a matter of nailing them down and making them a reality. No doubt we'll start tooting some horns if we launch any new programs.

SW: I have to disqualify any BH Books and Tyrus Books. Also, any books by authors you know personally. Also, um, any by relatives. From the remaining books in the world, what’s the next thing you’re looking forward to reading?

AJ: Really, disqualifying authors I know personally? What if I don't know them very well? Like, for instance, I've only met John Hart once, but I am so in love with his writing because of The Last Child that I've gone back to get Down River (which I also liked) and King of Lies (which I haven't gotten to yet). Or Derek Nikitas, who I have spoken with at two separate Bouchercons, and whose The Long Division is BLOWING MY MIND. In all caps, seriously.

But let's see, I'll get up and check the rest of my books pile ... Ok, I see The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, and some other books that you've disqualified because I know the authors (Ken Bruen's Priest and Blake Crouch's Abandon, haha, I snuck them in anyway!). Also, I was reminded the other day how great Franny and Zooey is, so I want to reread that (but I can't find my copy, sadface). Oh, and an awesome librarian recommended The Knife of Never Letting Go (by Patrick Ness) to me yesterday, so I think I'll have to check that one out, too.

SW: While we're on books, Tyrus Books, like BHB, publishes a specific type of book – crime fiction with regular folks who get caught up in crazy situations. So, how many submissions do you get and how many of those are still young adult fantasy?

AJ: Gosh! Well, to be honest, I'm not sure anymore. We have interns who do the first round of sifting, so I often don't open the submissions myself and don't have any stats at hand. I think, though, that since Tyrus is new and not yet listed in all the Writer's Guides and whatnot, that we are getting fewer submissions overall, and so the number of YA fantasy subs is probably down as a result. :)

SW: In addition to those collections BHB offered, one of the things that was so cool about the books you folks worked on was the quality of the physical book – the cover art, the binding, just the feel of the book.

Do we lose that when these rotten kids just want to read books on their fancy little cell phones? Isn’t the real answer just to outlaw all electronic reading devices? Maybe we just give them goofy names like “Kindle” and “Nook” so no one wants one. Isn’t that a good idea? Seriously, ink on paper is over, right? Why am I doing all the blabbering here? Jump in at any point.

AJ: Ink on paper is not over! I feel so emphatically about that that I'm using exclamation points!

I really think that the ebook and the actual book need not be mutually exclusive. This is a thing I could ramble unscientifically about for awhile, with no real data to back me up or anything, so I'm not sure how useful it will be to your readers.

I'm not gonna lie and say that I don't want an ereader. Oh, lord, how I want an ereader. But I want the so-far-only-imaginary Apple tablet -- I want something with more functionality than only reading ebooks. I'd like to be able to edit on it, and also listen to music on it, all of that good stuff. I downloaded the Kindle app to my iPhone, but I haven't actually used it yet.

Frankly, though, what I really want is the PADD from ST:TNG. A touch screen display unit that's lightweight, easy to use, and durable.

And Captain Picard still read actual printed books on the Enterprise, so, I rest my case.

SW: What band should people be listening to now? (Relatives aren’t disqualified, so if your cousin is in the Pixies, you can totally
mention them.)

AJ: My cousin isn't in the Pixies, but I do like to think they wrote a song about me. As did Elvis Costello.

Hm, what am I listening to? Today I've had "Breaker" by Low in my head all day. I think because it's raining. I also love me some Girl Talk, and a band called Cougar. But lately, I have been playing this one, non-stop. It's Carl Sagan, auto-tuned. Yes, I am serious about that.

(Which brings me to: Please, someone auto-tune an audiobook. IT WOULD BE SO FUNNY.)

SW: So that Bouchercon thing was cool, huh? What’s that all about? I hear there was bacon and alcohol.

AJ: There was bacon?! I wasn't aware of that. I did have some steak, and chicken fingers, and a couple slices of pizza. And yeah, alcohol.

Bouchercon was (as always) great fun this year. It's so heartening to spend time with committed, passionate crime fiction writers and fans. And there are always memorable moments of hilarity. It's like Mystery (Late) Summer Sleepaway Camp!

SW: What’s your favorite room in your house?

AJ: Wow, um. My first instinct is kitchen, actually. I live on the third floor of an old Victorian, and the kitchen windows are low, and open onto a really beautiful tree. My table is right there, and that's where I set up to work in the mornings. It's where the coffee happens. Also, I hung a shelf not too long after moving in, and it's in the kitchen, and I'm inordinately proud of it. I used a DRILL, you guys. BY MYSELF.


See what I mean? Smart and funny. She blogs weekly and is moving from Sundays to Thursdays. She also makes with the funny on the YouTubes. So go buy some books.

In case you're interested in ST:TNG or BSG or ST:DS9 etc etc, we're geeking it up over here.

Oh, and here's the Carl Sagan. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Rocky Might Have Something

by Mike Knowles

In Rocky IV, after the in-ring death of Apollo Creed at the hands of Ivan Drago, Rocky journeys to Russia to train for his revenge bout with the evil roided up Russian. While in training, in a barn with only Apollo’s former trainer and cousin Paulie for help, Rocky puts a picture of his opponent on his bedroom mirror so that he can stare at it. I think it was supposed to drive his training with the fuel of champions—hate. But was that the only purpose the picture served? What if instead of hate, the picture was a constant reminder of the level Rocky would have to exceed to avenge his friend. For Rocky to beat the Russian, he would have to become better than the Russian.

I have a few pictures pasted on the glass of the Rocky Balboa Russian barn bedroom mirror of my mind. A few things that are always on my mind when I am trying to write.

1. The first three pages of The Hunter. It will eventually get old reading this on the blog again and again, but Richard Stark changed my life and made me want to be a writer. The first time I read the Hunter I re-read the first few pages a million times. The description of Parker is so perfect, so raw, so mean; it was like nothing I ever read before. I remember I was reading The Stone Angel for school at the time and I never finished it. I hated the book because compared to The Hunter it just seemed boring and mundane. If you have never read it (and feel the appropriate amount of shame for all that you have missed out on) check it out: here.

2. Cape Fear – I’ve been at this a few years and everything I have done has pretty much centered around the bad guy. There is something about the bad guy that appeals to me. I can trace back my fascination with the bad guy to one movie in particular: Cape Fear. I remember seeing the movie when I was younger. My mom and dad rented it because they had seen the original and they were interested in the remake. The scene that I rewound and watched again and again was the one in which some hired thugs are going to teach Max Cady a lesson and force him to leave town. Max Cady was the worst thing I had ever seen and he deserved the beating and then some. But there was something about the way he took everything the thugs had and then took them apart. He stopped being bad and started being cool. I didn’t watch the rest of the movie to see the lawyer win. I watched it to see how much it would take to make Max Cady lose. Every time I write a bad guy I always go with that sentiment in mind.

3. Daredevil – I’m a Batman guy plain and simple. Don’t try and tell me Superman could kill him and don’t even think about trying to lecture me about comics being kids stuff. My fist is all grown up and it will fit up your nose. Batman aside, there is a particular Daredevil scene that has been etched into my brain. It is far and away one of the greatest things I have ever seen on paper. (If you haven’t read the Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker runs on Daredevil you are missing out on some of the best crime writing around). To set it up, Matt Murdock (Daredevil) is walking home with his wife. He has recently outed himself to the underworld. Everyone knows who he is. Think about that. Instead of hiding behind a mask or a secret identity, Matt Murdock has told every criminal who he is. Even more reckless, Matt has taken over the role of the Kingpin of Crime. Daredevil is in charge of all of the criminals in Hell’s Kitchen. So anyway (not to nerd it up too much), while Matt is walking home with his wife he suddenly stiffens. He sends his wife away and turns to face 100 yakuza coming for his head. The next image is the one that is permanently in my cerebral cortex. I spend hours a day visualizing scenes in my head to get the right effect for a chapter, but I have yet to conjure an image in my head that feels as cool as this.

Keeping these images in my mind when I write may not do the same for me as it did for Rocky. Beating a steroid enhanced Russian is way easier than equalling muscular writing of Richard Stark. Training in the wilderness is a breeze compared to brawling in the street with Max Cady. The best shot a homicidal communist can throw will never look as skilful as the image of a blind superhero diving into chaos.

I may never beat the giants pasted on my mirror, but I keep swinging and if I ever get close, I’ll go down happy.