Wednesday, March 31, 2010

East Coast - one

John McFetridge

I spent most of last year working as a story editor and writer on the TV show The Bridge which is now airing on CTV in Canada and may air this summer on CBS in the US. It’s also been sold to about 70 other countries, so it’ll show up in those places soon, too (I don’t know if the UK and Australia are included or not).

While I was doing that work I had a few ideas for other TV shows and when The Bridge finished production my agent suggested I put together a couple of pitches and we’d take them to producers. So I did.

And we had meetings and we did ‘development’ and we talked and talked and talked but it looks like we’ve taken them as far as we can. My agent has asked me to give it a little longer, so you never know, nature of the buiness and all that, but in the meantime I’ve taken the pilot episode script I wrote for one of the TV show ideas, East Coast, and I reverse-adapted it to a novella that I’m going to serialize here every Wednesday for the next month or so.

Here’s the “one-page” that went out as part of the pitch:


Sgt. Jerry Northup works to keep his narcotics squad motivated in the seemingly unwinnable war on drugs while at the same time raising three kids with his wife, Isobel.

The USA’s multi-billion dollar war on drugs sent a lot of smuggling up through Canada. The local dealers have stepped up to become a more important – and more powerful – stop on the trip from South America to the big east coast cities of the United States; Boston, New York, Philadelphia.

East Coast is The Wire in a rural and smaller city setting straddling the border; Moncton, Halifax, Bangor, Providence and thousands of miles of unprotected border between them. But the days of the small-town hick are gone. The drug trade brought with it lots of money and organized crime from Columbian cartels to bikers to good old-fashioned mafia.

Like Southland, we’ll also see into the personal lives of the cops. These will be character-driven stories about the deeper effects of police work and crime on the people involved – how the locals get drawn into the more violent world of organized crime and the effects on the families of the men and women charged with fighting crime.

East Coast is about moral dilemmas, it’s about the grey areas between the rules. How far will cops go to catch drug smugglers? Will they use the same methods and the same intensity if the smugglers are international criminals or local fishermen desperate to feed their famies? And what about those locals, how innocent are they, how much have circumstances beyond their control left them in desperate situations and how much is simply greed?

And now, what we called ‘the teaser,’ the bit before the opening credits:

East Coast


They called it the New England States-Maritime Provinces Narcotics Officers Drinking Club, a couple hundred cops taking over the entire Days Inn off the I-95 just outside Bangor for the weekend. By Saturday night they had a barbeque set up by the pool, the no glass rule was long gone and the saunas were co-ed. Music blasted, country mostly, a little R’n’B when the Fed from Boston got near the system.

The idea was an informal exchange of information. Rumours, innuendo, which dealers were on their way up, who was bringing in larger shipments, who was the biggest pain in the ass, who was most likely to get killed. All that stuff that couldn’t go in official reports, stuff that wouldn’t ever see the inside of a courtroom but stuff that would be good if the cops on both sides of the world’s longest unprotected border were aware.

In room 202 Staff Sergeant Jerry Northup, the highest ranking RCMP officer on the trip, laid his cards on the table and said, “Even in Canada we call that a full house.”

“You got a lot of time up there to play cards, don’t you?”

Northup pulled in the chips and winked at Sherriff Cousins from Worcecster, saying, “Oh yeah, you know us, we’ve got no crime we just sit around in our igloos practising moose calls and playing poker.”

“You’re in my backyard now.”

Jerry said, you know it, and dealt another hand. The room’s bed had been pushed out into the hall to make room for the table brought up from the restaurant, six cops sitting around it, maybe a thousand bucks would change hands. It was all in fun.

One floor down a naked Constable Evelyn Edwards was on top of a DEA guy from Portland, both of them very close, and her phone started beeping and the DEA guy said, “Whoa, you’re not going to answer that,” and she said, yeah, I have to, “I’m on duty.”

“You’re five hundred miles out of your jurisdiction, you’re in another God damn country.”

She was beside the bed then pulling her phone out of her jeans in the pile of clothes on the floor saying, we couldn’t all get the weekend off, then into the phone, “Edwards... Yes, un-huh, wow, really?” She shook her head and the DEA guy knew they weren’t going to finish any time soon.

Edwards pulled on her sweatshirt and jeans and took off barefoot out of the room saying she’d be back and the DEA guy saw her bra and panties on the floor beside her running shoes and thought, hey, maybe they would finish.

In the poker room Sherriff Cousins was raking in a pot, a big one, saying he knew his luck was going change when Edwards walked in out of breath, all the guys looking at her messed up hair and and she said, “Sergeant Northup,” and Jerry said, “Hey Ev, you looking to lose some money?”

“No sir, it’s about, it’s Superintendent Bergeron.”

Jerry looked at his cards and said, Henry? What now, “Did he lock himself out of the office again?”

Cousins laughed like he knew all about that kind of boss and Edwards said, no sir.

“He died, sir.”

Jerry leaned back in his chair and looked at her. Shit.

Party’s over.

(commercial break)

Part Two is here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Waiting For The Great Leap Forward

By Jay Stringer

I’d like to start off with two things. Firstly, a thank you. Mr Chuck Wendig did a great job of raising the level of discourse in this slot while I was off taking care of bidness. It’s good to have Chuck as part of the DSD family, and we’ll see him again.

Secondly, an apology; I had said that today would be a follow up to Russel’s blog about Batman. I’ll get to that in a couple weeks, honest.

So, anyway. I’ve had an issue scratching away at my noggin for some time now, we touch on it in our most recent podcast, but I’m like a dog with a bone when something is tapping away at me.

Today's furrowed brow; Making money as a writer in the modern age.

Firstly, it might be worth watching this video by Mark Thomas, a UK comedian and activist and someone I admire quite a lot, about digital laws. Plus it has Billy Bragg, just for you.

Okay? Quick recap; Mark is talking about the stand off between the film/TV industry and the Internet. Not news really, anyone who’s lived through the last fifteen years knows all about that.

There is legislation at work that will enable people to be banned from the net for illegally downloading content. There’s a clause in it too that allows the kind folks in charge a hell of a lot of discretion as to what content deserves a ban.




Billy Bragg raises the idea that the age of freely exchanged data and music is helping the ‘smaller’ artists. Its also helping the lineage, as he points out, when he was a teenager and heard Dylan was inspired by Guthrie, he had no options. In this day and age the same teenaged William of Bragg would type a name into a magic box and have a whole wiki history to read as well as a shed load of recorded music to listen to. Would this pimply balladeer have paid for anyone of it? Probably not. But would the artists message be getting out to new ears? Definitely.

Uh oh. Grey area alert. Move on, quick.

That great prophet of our time, the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT, said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”

But times are changing. Frank Turner, who is also well worth checking out, raised the question last year of whether musicians will soon be required to give away their recordings for free, making a living from touring and merchandise. Funny thing is that aside from the top 10% of musicians, the ones who sell enough records to actually make a dime from their contracts, you’d probably find that this version of business wouldn’t make that much of a difference to the income of the jobbing ‘smaller’ musician.

In fact, as Bragg suggests in the video, it’s quite easy to see the record industries mistrust of the internet as fear for themselves. Because the artists are still there and the customers are still there, its just the model that’s changing.

Okay, so, since I long ago gave up my attempts at being a jobbing musician, why is this scratching away at my noggin?

Well, music, film, TV…books. We’re ALL writers. A butterfly starts giving away recorded content for free in New York, and a writer may be expected to do the same in Glasgow. I’m sure some chaos mathematician said that.

If one industry moves to a new model, and the value of the content changes, what’s to say all content won’t follow suit? Who’s to say that we don’t need to come up with -pretty damn quickly- a way to be able to write to a professional standard AND still earn a living. I know I’m not alone in working full time at a ‘real’ job, and then coming home to spend all night doing the hard and rewarding task of writing. And I also know I’ll always being doing that writing, regardless of money.

I can’t speak for filmmakers or musicians (though I will, at length, if you buy me a drink), and I can’t really speak for any writer other than myself. But we’ve been conditioned that the films and the albums and the books are products. And that they are what the customer is paying for, and what the artist is being paid for. Again, don’t know about others, but for me that’s not what I’m looking for in my early steps to professional writing. I’ll always be doing that anyway, and in some possibly misguided way it’s my art. It’s not a job. So the books that I’m writing (two and counting, hey, how did that happen?) are not what I want to be paid for, they are not products that I want to wave at the world as a thing. They are something that I care about, and get a lot of fulfilment from. What I want to be paid for are all the things that I can’t do when I’m writing.

The jobs that would pay bills, all of that. It’s more of a sponsorship than a business deal, to my mind. Being sponsored to have the time to write, and to have ever more time with each passing story so that I can develop and change and hopefully entertain.

Having this time to give to the writing, and to social niceties like bathing and talking to my partner, would be my priority, and I do wonder if we need to start having more and louder discussions on how we’ll do that in the years ahead.

A case I’m paying close attention to is Steve Bryant over in the wonderful world of comic books. Steve writes the second best pulp heroine, Athena Voltaire, and she is his labour of love, in an industry that doesn’t really indulge such things these days. As he himself says on the website, he has to try and steal an hour here or there just to draw one panel, and a year can go by before he has a finished issue. Commercially that’s not viable, artistically it’s wasting and it just doesn’t put food on the table. He has worked out he needs $7,000 to produce his next mini-series. That’s the figure he has put not just on the printing and packaging, but also on the time he needs to devote to doing the work. He’s asking for people to sponsor the project and, as I understand it, he is working on ways to reward the sponsorship. So for he has raised 2,000.

This seems somewhat close to McFet’s Co-Op discussion, which you can go and join in on here. It’s not quite the same, but it’s along the same lines, trying to find a different workable model.

So what would be the model for us writers? And how will we continue to collaborate with the people we need; editors and agents? Sure, I could have stumped up some cash when I finished draft one of book one, and printed it up myself to sell my opus to the world. But I’m not sure that would have made me a writer. Opening myself up to the process of submission, rejection and advice made me a writer. Working with editorial voices that I trusted elevated my work above the mess that first tumbled out of my head. And having an agent in my corner who knows what I’m trying to do, even when I sometimes forget, is what keeps the books on track. So we still need to factor in the idea that, as much as writing is about sitting your ass down in a lonely room for hours at a time, it’s also about collaborating and needing guidance.

So here’s pretty much where I’m at.

We can’t go down the route that 90% of jobbing musicians may well find themselves in. Because the work and the material is different, even though the march of progress and the buying public might not agree. So where do we go?

What is the next step? Or is there some great advance in technology that we haven’t even thought up yet that will make all these questions irrelevant?

I’d like to see what you think. Let me know in the comments, and even better, head over to the Co-Op discussion.

“The revolution’s just a t-shirt away”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Deputy A Go-Go: The Victor Gischler interview

By Steve Weddle
You already know who Victor Gischler is. You know how great GUN MONKEYS is. And you've read some stuff since then. Vampires. End of the world. The one with the baseball card.
GUN MONKEYS is the book that let me know how good crime fiction could be, so I'm a little anxious for whatever his next book is.
THE DEPUTY is out April 1. No fooling. From the great folks over at Tyrus Books.
So let me get out of the way, since you stopped by to see what Mr. Gischler has to say.
Steve Weddle: Your recent books, VAMPIRE A GO-GO and GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE, marked a departure from your earlier crime fiction works. With THE DEPUTY, do you feel as if you’re returning home?
Victor Gischler: Actually, I grew up a huge science fiction/fantasy fan, so when Go-Go was published (although many don't consider it straight-forward science fiction which I understand) I really felt like THAT was coming home. But the fact is I wasn't nominated for a Hugo or a Nebula or a PKD Award ... but I WAS nominated for an Edgar and an Anthony so I feel like crime fiction is where I've been the most welcomed. Ha-ha. In the end, I feel like home is wherever I find the story I'm most excited about at the moment.
SW: In THE DEPUTY, a part-time deputy named Toby Sawyer has the job of keeping an eye on a corpse. Then the corpse disappears. No vampires involved? No go-go girls?
VG: Nope. All horrors and perversions are perpetuated by mere humans in this one.
SW: What made you want to write GUN MONKEYS?
VG: Although I'd read crime and was beginning to read more, it was really films like PULP FICTION that clicked with me and showed me the possibilities for that kind of tone I wanted to set in my own storytelling. The novels of James Crumley enter the mix, too. With Gun Monkeys I think I was less writing a story and more depicting a landslide/avalanche series of events.
SW: When’s the last time you got through a week without someone asking about a GUN MONKEYS sequel?
VG: Actually it's been a while although it still happens now and then. The book is about 10 years old, but it's nice that people are still finding it. I've had many, many more requests for a Go-Go sequel.
SW: So this comic writing thing you do. How does that work? You write a short story and then paste a few sentences into boxes and people draw around them? You send in a short story of mostly dialog and an artist calls you up on the Skypes and you talk about imagery?
VG: Comic book writing is very close to screen writing. I feel like I'm part story-telling, part film director since I'm directing the visuals and movements of the character. I write a full sctipt with dialogue and what we should see in each panel on every page. Then the script goes to the editor. Once he okays it, he sends it off to the artists. The artist takes my bullshit and actually makes it look good. Thank God for talented artists.
SW: You’ve been writing DEADPOOL and PUNISHER comics for MARVEL recently. Was your move into the world of comics just another attempt to impress the chicks?
VG: I cannot ever remember impressing any chicks. If you know the secret to impressing them, please tell me! When I changed agents, I went with a guy named David Hale Smith. Not only did he dig my style of crime fiction, but he had good connections in the comic book world. I told him I wanted in on that stuff and -- it took a while -- but he hooked me up. Some mighty fine agenting.
SW: Best comic most people don’t know about?
VG: That's a tough one because comic readers know a lot about comics. And since I'm ready a lot of Marvel comics to keep up with my job, I don't have as much time as I'd like to ferret out some cool indy comics or to find those quirky obscure reads. Hell, rather that tell you about the best kept secrets, I hope somebody tells me. I'm always up for new stuff. Back in the day, there was a great funny comic called BADGER. Do they still make that?
SW: Some of us over at the Victor Gischler Fan Club meeting last Saturday were setting up wagers. The over/under for story ideas you had for Battlestar Galactica was four. I took the over. Good call?
VG: Zero ideas. The fact is the writers on that show kick so much ass they just don't need me. I got the entire run of the show on DVD and power-watched them straight through. Wanted to weep when it was over. Great stuff.
SW: THE DEPUTY was scheduled for last year with publisher Bleak House Books, then went to Tyrus Books along with Alison Janssen and Ben LeRoy. Tyrus Books is one of a handful of publishers doing great things with crime fiction. Do you think crime fiction, noir, whatever we call it, is becoming more mainstream or do you think the fans are just more vocal now?
VG: I have no idea and honestly no desire to keep track of such things. I know that I'm not a mainstream guy with mainstream tastes, so I simply don't keep much track of what's happening in the mainstream. But I do agree that there are publishers doing great things with crime fiction, and obviously I'm going to say Tyrus is one of those publishers.
SW: What’s your favorite room in your house? Why?
VG: The kitchen. For one thing, it's a pretty damn big kitchen for such a small house. Also, that's where the beer is and I do most of the cooking in my family. So the kitchen (and out by the grill) is where I spend a lot of time.
I've ordered my copy of THE DEPUTY. So now I wait.
Thanks to Victor Gischler for taking the time to answer some questions.


Coyote Crossing is a dusty little shithole town in western Oklahoma. A sleepy little pit stop for truckers, not a lot going on. So a dead body in the middle of the street at midnight is quite an event. The chief of police wants all hands on deck, so he calls Toby Sawyer to come babysit the body.
Toby doesn’t have a lot going for him. Twenty-five, a couple of years of junior college, married to a girl he got pregnant and living in a trailer on the edge of town. He’s working part time for the police department, hoping the budget comes through and they can put him on full time, so he can get health benefits. His wife is a waitress at a little crap diner near the railroad tracks. When he gets the call about the dead body, he pins his tin star to his Weezer t-shirt, slips into a pair of sweatpants and grabs his revolver.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

You never talk politics in polite company. Thank God we aren’t polite.

by Joelle Charbonneau

I’m not really going to talk politics. Well, not exactly. But I have to admit that the current political upheaval over the Healthcare Bill has me thinking. Yep…smoke is coming out of my ears from the effort. I have lots of friends whom I talk to on a regular basis be it on the phone, in person or through e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. Most of these people are stable, rational human beings. (There are lots of creative types amongst my friends, so I use the word stable loosely. The jury is still out as to whether that word applies to me.) On a typically day, I can count on these people to be kind, funny, snarky or disgruntled. They make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. They’re normal (yeah, qualify this one, too) people.

Until politics come into play.

Last Sunday night the Healthcare Bill was passed and all hell broke loose on Facebook. People who I believed to be rational suddenly started foaming at the mouth. Words that I never dreamed my friends had rolling around in their heads were suddenly spewed forth. I learned some ugly truths about some people I like. Some are racists. Some are bad losers. A few are incredibly bad winners. All of them would make really great characters in a book.

Some of the best crime fiction involves every day normal, even boring human beings. A catalyst, like the political issue we are currently experiencing, suddenly pushes them from their rational state into a frenzy of action. People who sit next to you in church or whose kids play with yours are suddenly throwing bricks through windows and contemplating much worse. It is the reason so many of us are drawn to reading and writing crime fiction. The unexpected happens to a mundane person and a fascinating tale of morality unfolds.

The movie Nothing to Lose (with Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence) is a great example of a perfectly normal guy who spirals out of control. Tim Robbins' character thinks he sees his wife having an affair with his boss. He holds it together and leaves in his car where he then gets carjacked. Now he’s a man on the edge. Instead of doing what the carjacker wants in order to preserve his life, he decides he doesn’t care and turns the tables. Suddenly, he is the kidnapper and he is out for revenge.

The movie isn’t a stellar example of cinematic brilliance, but it isn’t hard to believe that a normal guy would go over the edge so easily. We see it every day and, if you’re like me, you’ve seen it a lot this week when people talk about the Healthcare Bill. No matter how you feel about the bill itself, you might find some inspiration for your next book or story. Heck, that Dan O’Shea guy might even turn it into a flash fiction challenge. And after this week I definitely understand why people say not to talk about politics over dinner. There are too many dangerous implements at the table. Someone might end up dead.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What is Reading?

Scott D. Parker

There is nothing I like more than leaving the movie theater with a copy of the movie in my back pocket. When I listen to music, the touch of it is so much a part of the experience. Oh, and I always carry a pocket knife so I can carve out a chunk of a Picasso I saw at the museum and take it home with me, the better to remember my time viewing the great master’s work.

Preposterous? Absolutely. You can’t touch music. It’s invisible. You can’t put a movie in your back pocket. It has to be experienced. You can’t cut up art for your own collection. It has to be seen.

Then why all this hand wringing over reading books on electronic devices? Reading is just as invisible, when you get down to it, as listening to music, watching a movie, or viewing art. But there is one thing that differentiates reading from other artistic endeavors. That answer, in a bit. First, a few thoughts.

MP3s created a paradigm shift in the way many folks—myself included—get their music. I’m old enough to remember LPs, cassettes, and CDs. For me, once I figured out that I could record my LPs on a cassette, I was able to have copies of an album in two places: LP for home and cassette for the car. Plus, I could put the tunes in whatever order I wanted to (and, believe me, I obsessed over mix tapes). When CDs showed up, same thing. Then, we got CD players in cars and I took the CDs with me wherever I’d go. Now, with MP3s, I can carry my iPod around everywhere and always have my tunes with me.

Slowly, over time, I began to realize that once I ripped my CDs into my Mac, I no longer needed the CDs. Now, granted, I didn’t get a lot of album liner notes with MP3s. I can distinctly remember sitting in my room thirty years ago listening to a new album and pouring over the liner notes. Initially, MP3 albums didn’t have liner notes, not until record companies started making them available as PDFs. But I could still find what I was looking for on the artists’ websites. My CD collection went from a prominent display in jewel cases to CD-and-book storage in binders (jewel cases stored in the garage to conserve space). Now, with my collection over 90% in my Mac, I don’t even pull out my binders. I’m to the point now where I get annoyed if an artist releases a CD with bonus features that are available only if you buy the CD. My paradigm has changed and I don’t think I’ll be going back.

I had this blog half written by the time I arrived home today and found the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly on the kitchen table. In his latest column, Stephen King wrote about the Kindle and reading gadgets. (How cool is this timing?) but there’s a money quote that gets to the heart of why e-reading has yet to catch fire and why there is, in King’s words, “customer resistance.”

“There are lost of advantages to the electronic devices--portability, instant buyer gratification, nice big type for aging eyes like mine--but there’s a troubling lightness to the content as well. A not-thereness.”

On this point, I’m going to have to disagree. When I listen to music, I don’t have to touch anything. In fact, I can’t, unless I’m playing my own instrument. When I see a movie, I don’t touch anything. The film is up on the screen. It’s there, but it isn’t. Television’s the same way. Art is somewhat different. You actually can stand and gaze at the art, displayed in front of you.

Lou Anders is the editor of Pyr Books, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books. In interviews, he has said that he reads most of the manuscripts he receives on his iPhone. Anders made an interesting statement in a recent podcast (#852) of the Agony Column. He’d like to see a selling model where you buy the hardcover physical book and get a digital copy as a bonus. When I e-mailed him and asked him why, he said that this method would allow collectors like him to get the best of both worlds: a beautiful book for the shelf and a digital version to read. (I highly recommend that episode because Anders and the host, Rick Kleffel, talk e-reading to a greater extent.)

The thing is, reading with books is the only artistic activity where you touch the thing you are consuming. Reading--holding the book, smelling it, feeling its pages as your turn them, looking at the cover art and author photo, scanning the list of other books, perusing any ads in the back, annotating--is something very special. At the end of a book, however, it’s still something you’ve experienced. It’s only in your memory and your brain. Does the medium by which the words entered your noggin really that crucial? And, if you really are honest with yourself, there’s a strong likelihood that you already consume more electronic text via your web browsing experience than you do with paper anyway. Perhaps paper is the way some people escape the ever-present e-World.

As of now, I don’t have a smartphone or a fancy electronic reader. I read books and articles on my old Palm Pilot Zire 31 using Ereader. If there’s a news article I want to read but don’t have time, I convert the text into a pdb file and read it on the Palm. sells e-copies (cheaper) of the major fiction magazines for mystery and SF. For public domain things like Sherlock Holmes that are available on Project Gutenberg, I convert those files, too. The stories are still the same words, just pixelated. I’ve seen how text is displayed on iPhones and it’s stunning. I’m getting an iPod Touch sometime soon and plan on making it my primary reading device. And, yes, I’ll be wanting an iPad. The irony about electronic readers for me is this: books are the perfect medium to convey information. They do one thing perfectly. I, like many other people, want our e-reader to be multitaskers. I wonder why (but that’s a question for another blog).

I’ve come to a realization: while I still love (and will always love) books, I want my reading paradigm to change.

Do you?

Friday, March 26, 2010

"Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot..."

By Russel D McLean

Forgive me for waxing lyrical, but as is always the case when I am coming to the end of a redraft, I have been reading comics. And, yeah, they ain’t just for kids, they’re a valid form of storytelling. Deal with it.

I was always a Batman kid.


I loved Spiderman, sure. And Superman was momentarily distracting. But it was Batman that did it for me every time.

I don’t know why. And as much as I remember the 60’s TV show (which was on permanent re-run during Saturday morning 80’s TV when I grew up), it is only as a blur of noise and sound. The details escape me. But watching it now, I know it isn’t my Batman. The camp, day-glo thing never worked for the character. How could it, when the essence of the character is tragedy?

Of course, that’s perhaps the joy of Bats – he is open to a myriad of interpretations. But there was always a specific style of Batman comics that drew me in:

I still have my first Batman Annual, which opens with a Joker story by Denny O’Neil. I remember it opening with an escape attempt from Arkham and Batman getting his ass handed to him only to be rescued by Two Face. I’d never seen Two Face before and remembering being intrigued as to why a guy who helped Bats was in Arkham. Took me years to figure it out. But much of that story stuck with me. As the plot unfolds, Batman is infected with a derivative of the Joker Gas that means he will laugh himself to death in 48 hours. He cannot control himself. But the sad truth is that he only laughs at morbid things. His own death is what’s giving him the giggles. This was my first introduction to the darker side of the Dark Knight. There was no Robin in the annual, and the Batman was a grim crusader, but fascinating to me. Perhaps because he was everything I was not.

He was strong. He was smart.

But he was always flawed.

He was a superhero gripped by anger, and something in that spoke to me. I was not an angry child, but I was a child who probably knew his own flaws and weaknesses and Batman was the same in his way. But he battled past his own weaknesses to become something greater.

That was my role model.

Superman didn’t earn anything.

Spidey was too cocksure.

Batman had his doubts – like me – and yet he still battled on.

As I grew older, the darker side of Bats fascinated me more and more. I didn’t know it then, but if you had a noir comic character, then it was the Batman. His was a life of tragedy. Not just for the man himself, but those around him. I remember reading the storyline where new Robin, Tim Drake, loses his mother. It was a brutal and brilliant arc that drove home the point that the superhero gig was not all battling bad guys. Tim had come into Batman’s life looking for adventure. But there was a cost to be had, and that was his mother’s life and his father’s well-being.*

When Batman failed – as he has often done – it was always something that really got to me.

Even he could make mistakes. It was a revelation.

I remember reading the KnightFall storyline** week by week in the UK collected editions of the Batman comics, with a horrible feeling in my gut as we progressed towards an inevitable climax. There was a scene where, shortly after dispatching serial Killer Zsasz, the Batman hides in the alcove or a roof, and issues a silent scream to the night.

He is in pain.

He is exhausted.

He has allowed his anger to get the better of him.

And he still will not give in.

He is the ultimate noir hero. He knows pain and suffering, was born in tragedy, and yet he retains a sense of morality that is in absolute juxtaposition to everything he knows. He must know that he is one man against a tide of filth and corruption and yet he persists.

Moral superiority?
A special kind of idiocy?
Or something far more complex?

(and, yes, he often puts a child in danger, but let’s just skip the question of Robin, shall we?)

I don’t know why I am drawn to these kinds of characters. The lone hero, the one man who cannot make a difference but still tries, the hero who could just as easily be a bad guy if he allowed himself one moment of weakness. He is a hero who is imperfect, who sometimes makes the wrong choices (if for the right reasons), who gets beaten, broken and battered, who has allowed villains to escape and friends to die. He is, to me, a believable hero in a world that

Let’s put it this way, if you’re a noir reader, chances are you are or you were (and should still be) a Batman fan. He is the one character I return to again and again. Yes, he has had his rough spots (I was never a fan of the whole Cataclysm storyline, but maybe that’s because it signalled the end of one of my favourite writing/art teams on the books, Doug Moenech and Kelly Jones who gave the books a supernatural/Gothic twist of the most beautiful kind), but at his finest Batman delivers a hyper-stylised kind of noir in the comic book world. He is comics’ answer to Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, Lew Archer. His world is a dark and twisted reflection of our own. And, yes, there have been, down the years, rocket ships and superhero insanity – things that are inevitable given the nature of comic writing’s history – but at his finest, Batman is pure noir, and that, for me, has always been the appeal of the character. He is about moral choices, walking the line between vigilante and hero, and one man’s attempt to uphold his own morality in a universe that has none.

*And it was all Batman’s fault, from what I remember.
**where Batman’s back was broken by a criminal named Bane.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

by Dave White

I recently did something I've never done before.

I took a novel I was 70 pages into writing and started it over. I didn't hate what I had written earlier, and I didn't lose the file. In fact, I think it has a great premise, but it was lacking something in those first pages.

And, I think I know what it is.

In opening drafts, I often find myself following a formula. Characters fall into the old tricks of the genre and the story, while it has it's moments, ends up being same old same old. I know what a thriller is SUPPOSED to look like and when I hit a road block, I take the easy way out.

Often, I tried to edit and re-write that out of my drafts in subsequent rewrites.

But this novel, the original one, I was hitting EVERY beat. And it felt forced. I would write myself into a corner and another corner and another corner, to the point where I stopped writing it.

For weeks.

I hate when that happens, too. I feel less and less like a writer, and my focus goes elsewhere (though I do get tense, as I wrote a few weeks ago).

So I had to jumpstart things.

So I started over. I got some new inspiration, looked at a character differently, and am going to try again.

It's slow going right now, but we'll see how it turns out.

Have you ever started a novel over? Reading one or writing one?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Approaching the Material

John McFetridge

A long time ago I read a true crime book about some kids who killed one of their group and the “brilliant” detective who tracked down them and brought them to justice.

But as I read the book I couldn’t help but feel there was a much bigger story here not being told – these kids had been abandonded by their poor, uneducated parents, they’d been living pretty much on their own in squats and on the street and then an older version of themselves showed up with drugs and some vague ideas about Satanism. He got them into prostitution, the paranoia increased and eventually they killed one of their group.

Frankly it didn’t seem like it took much detecting to catch the kids and then dumping them in prison didn’t seem like much justice. But the book was written as though the detective was tracking Ted Bundy or Pablo Escobar.

I think it was reading crime fiction that tipped me to this idea that there was more going on, that the characters weren’t simply “brilliant cop” and “evil murderer.”

And it made me think about the way crime fiction approaches the material, the context and the effects we’re after as writers. Different writers would look at that material and see entirely different stories. We can write about the cops, we can write about the bad guys, we can write about innocent people caught in the middle and about innocent people who take up one side or the other.

Maybe it was Elmore Leonard’s Swag that first got me thinking past the first paragraph of those newspaper stories that said things like, “Grocery Store Robbed, Shots Fired,” and got me wondering who would rob a grocery store? Where they go after that? How would they get caught?

And that was probably the book that first showed me that crime fiction didn't have to have a detectibve (cop or private eye) as the main character.

So, which crime fictions writers have influenced the way you see crime and justice?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I Will Stab You In The Face With Antlers

By Chuck Wendig

I told this story a little while back on terribleminds, but it bears repeating here:

“It was winter time. Not far from the holidays, if I recall. We were coming back from K-Mart, and a car full of seriously pissed-off dudes were riding the bumper behind us. Flipping us off, revving the engine, all that. In the Dirty Harry or Death Wish movies, they would handily be referred to as ‘punks.’ They kept following us. Off the main roads and onto back roads. My father, cold as an icicle, started concocting The Plan. He had no weapons in the truck, as it was a new truck. What he did have was a series of antlers rescued from the whitetail deer we raised. The Plan was, he’d pull fast into the driveway. If these punks came in right behind us, wanting to start some shit, he’d hold them off with the antlers while I went to the front door — just inside the front door was a little .410 shotgun for popping squirrels and starlings. We turned onto our road, and the car did not follow. They were saved that day, I guess, from antler stabbings and a face full of squirrel shot.”

Let’s be clear. Violence is what we do.

Not literally, of course. We are not the violent ones, oh no. It’s our characters. Those mad bastards. It’s them! It’s always them. Stabbing each other. Shooting one another. All that jaw-shattering and knee-breaking and throat-collapsing. It’s not the author’s fault our characters are violent. If it was up to us, it’d be flowers and fluffy lambs. It’d be boxes of chocolate instead of boxes for corpses.


... ehh, okay, no.

Hot dang, I love me some creative violence! Woo! Gets the blood pumping. Ah, but what I really think is slicker than goose shit on a glass window is creative violence featuring improvised weapons.

Jason Bourne, for instance. In the films, he whups up on poor fools with books, magazines, pens, electrical cords. The world is his weapon. Or what about the nail gun in Lethal Weapon 2? What about when the Stath (oy, Jason Statham) kicks dudes asses with a fire hose in The Transporter? Or a knitting needle in Michael Myers’ eye (that would be slasher film Michael Myers, not Austin Powers). Or LPs winged at the heads of zombies in Shaun of the Dead.

In some of the game books I’ve developed (Armory, Hunter: The Vigil) we have rules for using improvised or found weapons: Board with a nail in it! Broken bottle! Chainsaw! Power augur!

The list goes on and on.

To quote Ani DiFranco, “Every tool is weapon if you hold it right.”

So, let’s talk about it.

What are some of your favorite “improvised weapon” scenes from books, film, video games, whatever? Hell, come up with some new ones. Dazzle us with your disturbed minds. You know you want to. It’ll make you feel good. All the cool kids are doing it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview with JT Ellison

JT Ellison interview with Steve Weddle from Steve Weddle on Vimeo.

By Steve Weddle

On Saturday, March 20, JT Ellison and I sat down in Charlottesville, VA -- at a hotel bar with excellent service -- to talk about her book, THE COLD ROOM.


Homicide Detective Taylor Jackson thinks she's seen it all in Nashville—from the Southern Strangler to the Snow White Killer. But she's never seen anything as perverse as the Conductor. Once his victim is captured, he contains her in a glass coffin, slowly starving her to death. Only then does he give in to his attraction.

When he's finished, he creatively disposes of the body by reenacting scenes from famous paintings. And it seems similar macabre works are being displayed in Europe. Taylor teams up with her fiancé, FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin, and a New Scotland Yard detective named James "Memphis" Highsmythe, a haunted man who only has eyes for Taylor, to put an end to the Conductor's art collection.

Has the killer gone international with his craft? Or are there dueling artists, competing to create the ultimate masterpiece?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Getting It Done

By Bryon Quertermous

WARNING: Extreme gloating and self-congratulation to follow.

I'm sitting now about 18 months into my life with children and I think it's time to reflect on how things are going. One of my biggest fears is that my writing would stall and fail after kids came along. But looking at it now, I'm quite pleased. Since Spenser was born in 2008 here is what I've completed:

-30k of 75k words to finish the first draft of my third novel
-A second draft of that novel
-A complete first draft of my fourth novel at 70k words
-20k of new words in a second draft of that novel
-5k word short story to be published this summer in Plots With Guns
-1k word flash story for my beginning of the year challenge
-700 word flash story for Dan O'Shea's airport challenge
-800 word flash story for Steve Weddle's Walmart challenge
-A 3k word short story for the Do Some Damage anthology

Now, if that was all I'd accomplished in my writing career to this point I could be happy, but that I've managed to do it in less than 2 years with two kids in the house pleases me greatly. Now I'm looking to challenge myself. Against my own advice, which I've spewed numerous places, I'm putting a hold on revisions on the new book to work on something else. And not just any old thing. I'm working on something at an almost unmarketable length (novella) and in a field I'm notoriously lacking in skill (traditional mystery).

I want to enter the Nero Wolfe Society Black Orchid Novella Award. The winner gets $1000 and publication in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, plus gets to accept their award at the Nero Wolfe banquet in New York City. I've not been able to get back to New York City since I've been married and would like to. And as sad as it is to say, that's the main reason I want to enter this contest. Which isn't as odd as it seems. I've used writing to fund and justify my travel for several years now, and hope as my career progresses and I begin to sell more things, my travel will increase with my income. But for now, I scan airfare and hotel prices for NYC and use it to fuel those days when the writing doesn't want to come.

Update: This sounded even more self-congratulatory than I planned because I forgot to mention the main reason I was writing it. At the beginning of the year Dave White and John Rector both wrote things that made me smile about productivity. Dave had a great blog post about how much he hates people who approach him and tell him how much they would like to write a novel if only they had the time. Then John Rector tweeted a New Year's Resolution that he would try not to punch anyone without kids who claimed they didn't have time to write. So I wrote this to show that if a guy like me, with little kids, a day job, and the attention span of a hopped up toddler can find the time to do this, anyone can.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review: Dark Entries by Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'edera

by Scott D. Parker

I've been reading comics (Zorro; Volume 2 of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series) and fantasy in recent days (the glorious and incomparable Perdido Street Station) so I made an interesting selection for my next crime story: combine the two. I picked up the first two volumes of the new Vertigo Crime imprint from DC Comics. These are interesting products: crime writers (Ian Rankin; Jason Starr) and comics writers who write crime stories (Brian Azzarello) teaming up with artists to create a hardback, single-story, illustrated book. I went with Ian Rankin's Dark Entries since it featured the occult detective, John Constantine.

Interestingly, I know *of* both Rankin and Constantine, but from afar. Rankin is the author of the Inspector Rebus series of novels. All I know about Rebus is that he's well, an inspector. I knew about the same about Constantine until he made an appearance in Volume 1 of the Sandman series. An occult detective. Interesting. In the Sandman story, he helped the main character, Dream, locate one of Dream's lost totems.

I suspect with a job like occult detective, Constantine faces some pretty hazardous jobs. For Dark Entries, Constantine must face something even more dire: Reality TV. Matthew Keene, smartly-dressed television producer, comes to Constantine with an interesting problem. He's producing a show called "Dark Entries." It's basically set up to have a group of celebrity-craved nobodies agree to stay in a house. Then, once they've be acclimatized to the house, the producers will start making the set haunted. The more fear generated, the higher the ratings. Nothing wrong with that premise. Surprised it hasn't really happened yet.

The problem is this: the house/set has started it's own hauntings early. Strange and mystical things have started terrorizing the contestants before the producers are ready. And they want Constantine, with his unique brand of expertise, to take a look at some of the footage and see if he can't figure out what's going on. He does and then he makes the obvious conclusion: he has to go inside.

Then the fun begins.

I can't write too much about the "fun" because, well, it's a huge spoiler. Needless to say, Constantine and his fellow contestants must figure out what's happening and why without any "help" from the outside.

I'm curious how Rankin's novelistic style differs in his own books rather than in this graphic novel with a character he didn't invent. Via Constantine, Rankin gets to vent about modern celebrity culture and the vacuousness of a lot of television, reality or not. His English colloquialisms are abundant, helping to remind this American that Constantine is, in fact, British (and not Keanu Reeves). The puzzle is self-contained within the story. That is, you, as a reader, are not presented clues with which you can deduce the ending. As a result, you're just there for the ride. It's entertaining, but not very lasting.

This being an illustrated comic story, I have to give some time to the artist, Werther Dell'edera. An Italian, his black-and-white art helps the story along perfectly. Remember the opening shots (during the credits) of "The Killers": the long shadows, the stark whites alongside even starker blacks? That's how this book is throughout. In a neat, visible cue, once "the fun" begins, all the pages are black, bled to the edges. You can see the white first half of the book and the black second half. The drawings themselves shift, depending on which character is in the scene. You go from simple lines drawings to fleshed-out art, sometimes frame by frame. Like everything with this book, I've not heard of Dell'edera before this. I'm glad I have now.

Dark Entries is a curious book for Vertigo *Crime*. I consider there to be a difference between mystery fiction (people trying to solve a mystery or puzzle) and crime fiction (stories of thugs, criminals, and the hard-boiled cops that chase them, often with a good dash of social fiction thrown in for good measure). Rankin's book definitely falls in the mystery side of things. Judging merely by the covers of the other Vertigo Crime entries, it might be by itself in that regard.

Ian Rankin and Werther Dell'edera have crafted an interesting tale of the supernatural with a jaded eye towards once facet of modern life. The middle section--where "the fun" begins--was a nice surprise and the latter half of the book certainly picked up the pace. It's a good, enjoyable read, although one that won't make you think too long after you've closed the book.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Motivational Speaker (aye, right...)

By Russel D McLean

This week, I have done two events. They were hugely different in terms of scope and audience, and it was extremely interesting (at least to me) to note the difference between them.

To fill you in, I have done many events before but never (unless you count launches) as the star attraction. I’ve either been on a panel or I’ve been interviewing another author or merely doing the introducing. All of these have been great fun.

But I digress. This week was the Russel show. And that was a terrifying prospect.

We started on Monday at Kirkcaldy library which was a full-on event for the public. A grand idea? Maybe. I’d never quite held my own* for a full event. Like I say, launches are a different beast altogether. Here, we were talking a paying audience whom I had never met. Except for me mum and, bizarrely, my primary school teacher who had heard about one of her pupils becoming a writer and turned up to see what all the fuss was about.

But for the full skinny (and photos) on this event, I’d suggest you check out my main blog. Because the event that really interested me this week for the DSD post was event #2.

Event #2 came courtesy of the wonderful ladies of the University of Dundee Careers Service. And I’m not just saying they’re wonderful because I went to uni with Karen, who organised my presence at the event. No, they truly are dedicated to helping students find their way once all that tedious studying and drinking is drawing to an end. What they asked me to do was to come a careers fair and talk about how I find myself as a graduate and a writer, to pass on any pearls of wisdom I might have.

Which sounds fine.

Until you think about it.

Most of the speakers were from organisations with strict entry requirements and pension schemes and all that good stuff. They were people there to sell their business and their lifestyle.

What was I going to say?

Become a writer? Live with your professional life dependent on the whim of publishers and readers? Do your own taxes? Worry constantly about the changing nature of your industry while everyone spouts more and more doom-saying prophecies?

Not the stuff of comfort. And maybe not entirely true either. In the end, I decided the best thing to do was to go in and try to say that, look, your life isn’t going to end up the way you expect, but if you find something you love (me and writing), then you should just go for it in the most enthusiastic way you can, even when you know all the pitfalls (and you *should* know all the pitfalls).

It was a strange event. As I’ve said before, I’m not always comfortable handing out advice on how to be a writer (although I have been known to give some limited editorial pointers here and there: its much easier to talk about the craft of writing, for some reason) because I feel like I’m still coming to grips with a lot of it myself. Who am I to tell people about how to approach a career as a writer? All I can do is say what worked for me and what I’ve observed working for other people.

I talked a lot about writers who balance other careers (GJ Moffat as a lawyer, Zoe Sharp as an all-action photographer and quite possibly top-secret killing machine) and how it takes a lot of work to make comfortable money despite some obvious exceptions. But what I really wanted them to take away were two thoughts:

1) That deciding to go into the arts, or opening your own business, isn’t an easy route, but it can be hugely rewarding if you work hard enough at something you love.


2) That even if you decide to stay in Academia, sometimes it can be beyond your control. For example, I left due to lack of funding for my PhD. But even if something like that happens, it can be a very positive thing. If I had gone on to do my PhD, the likelihood is I wouldn’t be writing. So, really, sometimes you just have to find the opportunities in life and exploit them to the fullest.

As I’m finishing off this entry, an email has come through with some of the feedback from the day. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure whether I reached anyone or whether I seemed half as interesting as the corporate types with their powerpoint presentations and non-fuzzy maps to success (my map to success seemed to be – do what works best for you and don’t be afraid to mess up once or twice along the way). But maybe some people were listening (a swift selection of comments):

"interesting and entertaining"

I think the top two mark the as some kind of success. In ten minutes there’s only so much you can achieve, but maybe one or two of the people there might look more closely at alternative approaches to life after university. I just hope they were listening to my practical advice as well for anyone entering the arts.

Always have a back up plan. A day job. A trust fund. Because sometimes it all comes down to luck as much as it does talent. But, believe me, that’s half the fun of this gig.

*Stop sniggering at the back.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Justified

by Dave White

The F/X show JUSTIFIED premiered last night on F/X. It's the story of Raylen Givens, a US Marshal who is transferred back to his home state (and most likely city). He is immediately thrust into a case that involves people he knows (who have become Neo-Nazis).

It's a very good set-up, but as with all Elmore Leonard adaptations, what really sells it are two things: the characters and the dialogue they speak.

Givens (played by Timothy Olyphant) drops enough tough guy dialogue to give Bogart a run for his money. He plays it right, tough and sincere, making you fear him, but also know he's not as hard as granite. There's a caring side in him. He wears a stupid hat, dumber than what Givens wears in the text, but it works.

Also in the story are the typical Leonard bad guys. Hicks, dummies. Guys who are successful at crime, but so dumb, they don't know when they're funny. Which is--of course--what makes them funny.

There is plenty of atmosphere, noir, dialogue and tough guy action scenes to carry this story along. I cannot WAIT for the next episode.

I haven't been this excited for a series in a long time.

What did you think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Should Crime Fiction Be Held To A Higher Standard?

John McFetridge

In the pilot episode of the TV show I worked on, The Bridge, a lawyer says to a cop, “Shouldn’t the police be held to a higher standard?” And he says, “Not when it’s used to screw with them.”

Now, that episode was filmed before the rest of the writing team was hired, but it was something we discussed quite a bit in the writer’s room. The show is about a cop who becomes head of the police union and works to, as the union slogan says, “Protect Those Who Protect Us.”

I kept insisting that the police aren’t held to a higher standard, they’re held to the police standard. The same way doctors are held to their standard and engineers and lawyers and truck drivers are held to their own standards – every profession has a set of standards and all the members are held to it – or should be.

A cop is trained, armed and sent out into the community with the power to detain people, to remove them from their daily lives, bring them to a police station and hold them against their will. No one else can do that. Then the lawyers get involved and sometimes the person is let go and sometimes they’re charged with a crime and held in custody until a trial, or released on bail. Throughout the whole process rules must be followed, there are standards specific to the process – not higher standards than a truck driver has in his/her job, just different standards. They’re different jobs afterall.

Then last week my latest novel received a very negative review in a big US newspaper. Well, that happens, I don’t like it but I understand. In fact, I feel in order for people to like something a lot it has to be specific enough that other people are going to hate it. And this reviewer hated it.

One of the reviewer’s many complaints (I just ignore the stuff about foul language) was, “ On the side of law and order are detectives so beyond hard-boiled that they make a mockery of what they do.”

I’m not really sure what that means, but I think it’s similar to another negative review the book received which said, the cops are “...little more than aw-shucks narrators on the sidelines of a greasy show that's all about the bad guys.”

Okay, I get it, in crime fiction readers want cops to solve the crimes and catch the bad guys.

And then usually they want the cops to shoot the bad guys because we really don’t like all those lawyers getting involved insisting that rules be followed and that standards be upheld. We like lone wolf cops that ignore the rules – and always get the right bad guy anyway.

But I want to write about what I see in my city every day. There are drugs, there is organized crime and there is violence. And, yes, there are cops, but not enough, and with nowhere near the amount of resources they need to do the job properly.

I don’t like the “lone wolf” cop that has to break all the rules to catch the bad guy. I want the good guys to follow the rules and catch the bad guy. And if that means the deck is too stacked in favour of the bad guy and few of them get caught (and how often do we see heads of organized crime syndicates arrested? How often are there drug shortages on our streets?) then I think that’s one thing that crime fiction ought to illustrate. I’d like to see the rules changed so that the good guys don’t need to break them.

Then there’s the issue of women in crime fiction and thrillers.

In an essay called, “Feminist or Misogynist,” on the blog The F Word, Melanie Newman looks into the way male writers “empower” women (and probably a lot of women writers, too):

”So many male visions of female potency resemble cartoons; the kick-boxing girl has become a 21st century literary cliché... These unlikely - and therefore unthreatening - ass-kicking babes may be employed to lend a veneer of legitimacy... Or they may reflect the authors’ belief that if only females would stop acting as ‘victims’ and discover their own capacity for violence, the aggression visited on them by men would disappear... The solution thus lies in women’s hands, relieving men of the responsibility.

So, again, these are lone wolf characters acting outside the law to get things done – and they always get things done.

Now, I know that kind of lone-wolf stuff happens sometimes, I’ve seen Serpico, there are probably even ass-kicking rape-victims who’ve gone after criminals themselves, but it’s become such an entretched standard of crime fiction that it’s starting to feel like a limitation.

And I don’t think literature should have any limits.

I’d like crime fiction to reflect the reality of the world the same way literary fiction does and not be held to a “higher standard” where justice must always be served. Literature – art - isn’t comfort food, it isn’t a security blanket.

Literature – art – has kick-started many a public discussion that has then led to changes, maybe even improvements, in peoples’ lives. Now, I’m not saying all books should do that – or even try to do that.

But if we never try to do that then we’re supporting the status quo. Our books and stories become, “unlikely – and therefore unthreatening.”

Crime fiction can, and should, be many things but it should never be unthreatening. It should challenge and upset and get people arguing.

It shouldn’t be held to a “higher standard.”

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Crime Is King," Says The New Guy

By Chuck Wendig

“I’ve got to go and kill a man,” Jay Stringer said in that accent of his (what is it? French? I don’t even know). He thumbed bullets into a rusty snubnose.

“Cool,” I said, just glad he wasn’t going to kill me. I’ve seen what he can do. I’ve seen how his enemies fared. Missing fingers. Lips burned to a char with cheap cigarette lighters. Chair legs shoved in various orifices, some new, some standard.

“I need you to handle some business while I’m gone.”

“Whatever you need, String.”

“You need to right some wrongs. Steer the ship straight.”

I wasn’t following.

He continued: “It’s Do Some Damage, man. It’s Weddle. It’s always goddamn Weddle. He gets drunk on his fruity drinks and then posts about Harry Potter and Twilight and My Little Pony and shit.” (Except, he pronounced it shite, instead. French people with their French pronunciations.)

I just shook my head. I should’ve known.

“You get in there. You do what needs doing. You can talk about Harvey Keitel’s wang if you want. Or the sexual habits of dinosaurs. But above all else, crime fiction. Talk about crime fiction, for Chrissakes.”

He spun the cylinder, snapped it shut.

“You think you can do that for me?” he asked.

I nodded.

He handed me a Taser. I gave him a look.

“For Weddle,” he said. “He comes at you, you give him a dose of this.”

* * *

Crime fiction is king. Let me tell you why – after all, seems like a good introduction to the site, right? Me, showing up here, seems like I should start at the beginning, and the beginning is that crime is king.

One of my recent mini-crusades in writing is how to make the story and the characters more active. Right? People do shit. A lot of stories end up the opposite, though: People respond to shit. Love? Love can be passive. Falling in love is unwilling. Romance can be born unaware. Horror? Horror is often reactionary. Evil comes. It chops down your door with an axe. You evacuate your bowels. You run. You scream. You respond. Fantasy? Sci-fi? Mythic patterns. Be forced on a hero’s journey. Respond to new technology and changing conditions and future nonsense.

To be clear, I’m not saying those other genres are automatically genres of passivity. Not at all. I love those genres. But you could, if you were so inclined, fall into a somewhat easy pattern of passive stories and passive characters. Those genres allow that.

Crime, though? Crime doesn’t put up with that kind of bullshit.

Crime is like a agar dish of awesome: active elements growing aggressively. Character commits a crime, he does so actively. He is full of want and need. The stories are sodden with possibilities. Guy kills his wife’s lover? Jealousy. Rage. Sure, he’s responding to it, but his response is wholly active. He chases the cheating fuck across the lawn. He pops shut the shotgun’s breach and pushes two shells deep. He pulls the trigger and blows the cheating fuck’s guts out his belly and onto the lawn gnomes (intestines draped upon them like a feather boa on a Vegas dancer).

Bunch of assholes rob a bank?

Girl gets revenge on some sick prick by hanging him from a tree and, er, “pruning his man-branch?”

Cop goes off the reservation to make a side deal on the sly so he can feed his family?

Car bomb? Axe killing? Confidence game?

It’s all active. It’s all about people doing things. As a writer, you conjure the circumstances surrounding a single crime, and it’s like a series of dominoes starts to tumble forth into shadow. Who are these people? Why are they doing it? Motivations abound. Desires rise, triumphant. Fear and vice hold hands and jump. You’ve no idea where this trail of breadcrumbs may lead.

Crime is a transgression. It is a violation of social norms. Transgressions, deceptions, violations, violence: these elements serve as a wild source of conflict, and conflict is what we want. Conflict is the food that feeds the reader. An old writing professor said it best: in life we try to avoid conflict, but in fiction, we must head toward conflict. Or, like Tim O’Brien said in a recent interview: “When I hit plateaus, I head for the mountains. By that, I mean (or think I mean) that I do all I can to point a story or a novel toward its central human drama, toward its essential human mystery.” Goddamn right. Crime, then, is the ultimate expression of those mountains -- or, perhaps, as it represents a nadir, we might say it represents the valleys, pits and canyons, and the character must descend, must transgress, must cross the borders and boundaries that Should Not Be Crossed. The characters in crime fiction leave the plateau. They abandon the status quo. They choose that path.

It’s that choice that’s so compelling. The decision to transgress, to pull the trigger or take the money or crack some dude’s head open with a statue of the Buddha, that’s why we read it – or, at least, that’s why I read it. Why do you read it? Why, for you, is crime king?

Ooh. Dang. I gotta go. Weddle’s coming at me, and I want to get this Taser shot juuuust right.

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Did I ever tell you about my Uncle Max?"

By Steve Weddle

Musta been when I was 15 or 16. We were piled into a school bus, heading to a track meet. Or a basketball game. I'd ended up without anything to read, though I think I probably had my OTASCO-version of a Walkman and a couple of Psychedelic Furs tapes. Or maybe one tape. You got TALK TALK TALK and what do you need, right?

So we stopped at a McDonald's in Bossier City and Coach handed out five dollar bills for us to get something to eat. I bought a bag of hamburgers and, while the other kids wasted time socializing, cool dude that I was, I eased across the parking to, imagine my luck, a little used bookstore. Great place to spend my left-over burger money, right?

Being in my mid-teens and super cool, I walked back to the bus with a Welcome Back, Kotter novel. I know. I can smell your jealousy from here.

Paperback. Probably twenty-five cents. A picture of the Sweathogs on the cover. Green with yellow font.

I haven't the slightest idea what the book was about. I do remember that it was first encounter with a certain word. Turns out one of the guys was "ogling" one of the girls. Then he "ogled" another one. I know, right? Some kinky stuff.

What drew me to the book was a familiar cast of characters. I dug the TV show and wanted more contact with the world there. So that's why I chose that book. Had I known it would open a world of people ogling the hell out of each other, I'd have picked it up sooner, of course.

My usual read was science-fiction. Harry Harrison. Isaac Asimov. I liked good characters. I liked the Stainless Steel Rat. I liked the Foundation series. Robots. Other planets.

Some occasional science-fantasy. Steve Brust. I liked dragons. Never found much use for unicorns.

So I was buying stories based on characters I liked. Usually series stuff. I find someone I like, I read everything I can about that character. But not from that author. At the time, I wouldn't have read any non-Stainless Steel Rat books by Harry Harrison. I don't know why. Sheesh. I was 15. I didn't know what "ogle" meant, you want me to know why I only read the Rat books? What do you people want from me?

Now I pick books based on recommendations. Whether I know the person in the flesh or on the Twitters, if someone has the same tastes I do, I'll read what they recommend. Shelfari. Good Reads. Facebooks.

We've also got some great book review sites online now, and whatever is left of the print reviews. I still read the London book review and the New York one, both still in print, as well as so many online.

And reviews at the online shops -- Amazons, Powell's, B&N -- and more. And the printed-out sheets of paper pasted up on bookshelves in bookstores.

So 25 years ago I was picking books by looking through the shelves for something familiar. Now I ask around for something new.

How do you pick your next book to read?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Swear To Tell The Truth. Jury Duty Sucks!

by Joelle Charbonneau

Almost two weeks ago, I did my civic duty and reported for jury duty at the Chicago Criminal Court building. I’m one of those strange individuals who can’t win a raffle or the lottery to save their soul, but every year without fail I get a jury duty summons. Normally, I watch the video on how to be a good juror, I type away on my laptop for a bunch of hours, eat almost inedible cafeteria food and go home without doing anything more exciting than watching some guy picking his nose in the corner.

This time I got called to be on a jury panel. Whoo hoo. Okay, this part was kind of exciting. After all of my jury duty visits to the courthouse (and yes, there have been many) I’d never actually made it into a courtroom. This was at least different and interesting. More interesting was being read the indictment. This was a murder trial. Wow. I felt like I was in an episode of Law and Order. Pretty cool stuff.

Or not.

Funny, but once you step inside a courtroom time ceases to exist. Court time is different than regular time. It took 4 ½ hours to question 40 potential jurors. Some folks thought they were on Letterman and gave us lots of information about their love lives and their reading habits. (Male magazines were mentioned at least once…I wish I was making that up.) Some folks were quick and to the point. Others slept.

Nope. Not kidding. The woman next to me started snoring five minutes into questioning. Loudly. The prosecutor dropped his very large binder of papers to jolt her into awareness. That worked for about three minutes until she started snoring again. The defense attorney then leaned over and asked the prosecutor to drop his book again.

I have to admit that the byplay between to the defense attorney and the prosecutor during those snoring moments was interesting. Clearly, they got along. Not exactly the animosity that you often see portrayed by the two sides on television. They laughed every time she sounded like a buzz saw and raised their eyes at each other. Needless to say, that woman didn’t make it onto the jury. But I did. Not that I wanted to. I did try saying I was a murder mystery author. I even got questioned about my upcoming book and asked to give a blurb about the story….fun marketing, but it didn’t get me booted from the case.

What followed was three days of lots of waiting in the jury room followed by longer periods of time in the jury box. My fellow jurors and I arrived at noon and often didn’t see the inside of the courtroom until 3. We rarely left the courthouse before 6 or 7 p.m. (The last night was actually 1:15am, but that was after deliberations.) While I wasn’t happy about the delays or the long periods in the courtroom, I understood them. But more than one of my fellow jurors did not share my outlook. Every one of them took it as their duty to pay attention and reach a verdict, but more than one hated how long it took to question a witness. They were waiting for the rapid fire dialogue that you get on Law and Order and in the movies. They didn’t want the slow, have to connect each dot, have to verify each fact method that needs to be taken.

And that got me thinking about how false expectations were set by the fiction we see and read every day. So here’s my question to you: has the way our court system is portrayed in books, movies and on television hurt the judicial process as a whole? Do we expect the courtroom to be an exciting place filled with A-ha! and Gotcha moments? And if it isn’t what does that do to the defendants sitting on trial? Do we side with the defense when the prosecution fails to provide the entertainment we expect after watching TV on our living room couch? What do you think?

After this case, I personally think there is no less exciting place than the jury box in a courtroom during a murder trial. No matter if you are certain the defendant did or did not do the crime, you are the one that controls the next ten, twenty, fifty years of his or her life. It makes for great fiction, but in the real world, jury duty sucks.

(not) Produced by Dick Wolf

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Why Do Pulp Heroes Fade...and Then Return?

Scott D. Parker

Two articles online this week merged with a feeling I was beginning to have about Jack Bauer, the pulp hero of “24”: I’m not sure I care about him anymore.

Let’s state the obvious: Jack Bauer is a pulp hero. He’s a modern-day Doc Savage, James Bond, Tarzan, what have you. Jack gets himself in a tight spot, you know he’s getting out. He may get himself beaten or tortured (just about every season) but he’ll bounce back. Don’t worry.

With the Olympics this year, I found myself recording two episodes of “24” to watch after the Olympics. When it came time to watch these taped episodes, my wife and I looked at each other and asked the same question: do we care?

The plot lines this season haven’t been stellar. Frankly, they have a distinct tinge of “we’ve already seen this before.” You could make similar cases for previous seasons with the exceptions of seasons one and four. The first season was good because of the then-new concept of a ‘real time’ show and the fact that the writers killed off Jack’s wife in the final minutes of the finale. Season four was just all sorts of good, with lots of twists and turns and culpability that ended in the White House. The narratives threads this year, however, have paled in comparison. It’s like a soap opera with guns. There are story arcs that I just don’t care about. My wife and I agreed that we’d be happy with a retitled show called “12” and just show Bauer’s story.

Our disenchantment with “24” got me to thinking about classic pulp heroes and stories. I’m still reading Doc Savage #2 but the template is apparent. Doc and his team get themselves into a dire situation and emerge mostly unscathed. Repeat the next month. Same for Tarzan’s books, Sherlock Holmes, comic books, etc. Modern police TV shows and series characters in novels are not immune. Shows like “CSI: Miami” are less police procedurals than visual comfort food.

How was it, then, that pulp characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow and Perry Mason lasted so long with essentially the same format? Were readers back in the 1930s and 1940s less sophisticated than we are? Is it that we have more choices?

In a recent article, Charles Ardai, co-founder of Hard Case Crime, asks whether or not the pulp fiction stock market is set up for another crash. He cites that in the years since the pulp fiction heyday, periodic revivals have emerged, with his being the most high-profile in recent years.

My main question here is this: why does pulp fiction return? Why does the appetite of readers start to hunger for shorter novels with punchy characters? Good question. One reason I’ll posit is that pulp fiction revivals are a reaction to the dark and gritty material that is, at times, too dark and too violent.

Over at io9, there is a rant against “superhero tragedy porn” in comic books and why it’s bad for the industry. Right off the bat, author Cyriaque Lamar criticizes comic book writers for dark and gritty stories that attempt to make these stories more adult merely by injecting violence in the tales. The problem with comics, however, is the capacity to overindulge the violence. “24” does this, as well, with the inevitable torture sequence either by Jack of of Jack.

In the DC Comics world, there now seems to be a trend of lighter fare, of a return to some of the glory days of comic books before the dark times--the mid-1980s onward, the post-Watchmen, post-Dark Knight Returns era. Perhaps DC is seeing something the reading public is craving: pure, fun, escapist stories. The thing is that this kind of storytelling does get repetitive and boring, too.

I’m not saying that dark material is bad, in comics or elsewhere. It has it’s place and it is powerful when used correctly and judiciously. But there has to be some sort of middle ground. We can’t have overly dark stories all the time but we tire of stories with characters that never change and never face anything dark.

Is the fading of pulp heroes and the rise of darker material just a natural trend that ebbs and flows with the passing decades? I think so. But I’d like to get your take, too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Day in the Life

By Russel D McLean

In a unique experiment in transparency, Russel is proud prevent his diaries from one day of writing. This is an accurate record of his activities except for those parts where he goes to the toilet.

But he does mention his shower.

Trust us, its important.

We hope this will demonstrate once and for all that the life of a writer is lived, not doing exciting things, but rather spending much of his time in a state of semi-comatose, coffee-fuelled insanity and finding excuses to do anything other than write.


Intended to sleep in since day off. But feel like should be catching up on deadlines. Up. Think about shower.


Not showered. Drinking coffee and watching morning telly. Thinking about writing. But mostly getting annoyed at the eejits who email breakfast telly shows with their “opinions”. Surprised most of them can work a keyboard, but not surprised at their lack of spelling abilities.


At computer, finally. Still in dressing gown and unshowered. Ready to write. But first catch up on emails. Oooo…. Lots of articles from the book trade. Let’s read ‘em and probably get righteously angry at something.

And I do. And I write a blog entry on it. Which I promptly delete. Why?

Its bollocks, that’s why.


Another coffee. Reading other people’s blogs, now. Depressed at their natural ability and their often very funny voices.

Honestly planning to write soon. Maybe watch a DVD first. Currently in the midst of box set of Battle Star Galactica.


Post! Someone loves me! Oh, its only bills. Think in my next book I might kill a postie who doesn’t deliver exciting things.


Watching Galactica, saw someone brutally killed by a cylon warrior. Think this is what agent Al will do to me if I don’t start writing. Fire up Word and kick off the day’s writing. After replying to another couple of emails. And checking the twitter feed. Agent Al cannot get annoyed at me for this. He was the one who convinced me to go on Twitter in the first place.


Get up and start walking around, muttering to myself. This is not because I am crazy but because I am seeing how the dialogue sounds. Yes, I am the crazy writer who tries out dialogue before committing it. Especially in important scenes. It’s a good feeling, and it helps me figure out how to write down the dialogue, what to make it look like on the page so that it will have the same effect as my recitation.


Shower, finally. And lunch. Lunch is scraped together from what bacon I have left, some beans and toast. Maybe I need to pop to the shop. And think about tonight’s tea.


Thinking about tonight’s tea. Head out to get supplies. Remember to get properly dressed first. Panic that I have locked myself out when the door shuts on the snib. Keys are in the wrong pocket, thankfully.


More writing. The piece I am working on is a redraft and I am not feeling the confidence. The voice needs to sound right. Start thinking about a characters medical condition. Wind up wasting time on Google learning about internal bleeding. Its all rather interesting.

Start swearing at spell check. I know I’m spelling these words right. Realise for some reason the bloody thing is set to US spelling.

Swear even more.


Have a strange panic. Think I should be at the day job. Double and then triple check rota to assure myself that I am not. Assure myself they would have called and yelled before me.

To calm myself, I make more coffee. As strong as I can. The spoon stands upright in the cup with no outside help. I add more coffee. Breathe in the fumes. Hallucinate just a little bit with the sheer joy of that smell.


This is the third time I have tried to redraft the last third of the book. Every time, a new idea hits and I have to adjust the pieces. I am already behind schedule. Another book is writing itself in my head. I need to get a move on with this one because I do like the basic idea and some of the characters. Even that one who’s going to have half his lines cut because all he does is whinge.


Want to double check something on internal bleeding. And people keep sending me emails. Some of them look interesting. Many of them are from Jay Stringer. I decide music will help me write. Wind up singing along instead of actually writing (outside, people look up at my window and wonder who it is that’s being murdered in there).

Resist twitter feed until I see the green box that means someone’s talking about me. Oh, ego, why won’t you ignore such things?


DVD break. Wind up watching Alien3 (special edition) and eating the steak pie I bought earlier in the day. Feel guilty throughout the whole experience and know that when Al reads this diary he will hunt me down and whip me.


Back to the computer. More emails? Ignore them and write. Write like the wind! Actually getting a good groove on. Its one of those scenes I love when I get to taunt my characters with something they really want and then take it away.


A google alert distracts me. I fine an online review that says I swear too much and am horribly violent. I feel midway between angry and depressed. But it is still better than when I was accused by email of being part of a “left wing fascist-liberal conspiracy”.

Wish I was part of a conspiracy. Maybe then I’d have something to do on a Saturday night.


Have written a rant intended for this blog. Deleted it all. One word is repeated in various forms throughout the rant. Some of it makes me chuckle. I am reminded of the advice I once gave to another writer: “have a thick skin. We need it in this gig”.

Think about watching telly. Think about what Agent Al can do with a baseball bat and how I’d really like to get paid at some point. Make my decision.


I am back at the day job tomorrow. But there is time enough to keep writing. Just a few more pages. Another coffee? No, must have some sleep. But by now I am wide awake. And I can see my way to the end of the book… just need to push. Who needs sleep?



Quick bit of reading (Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker is my drug of choice). And finally, sleee….

I was thinking of taking a wordcount for the day but if we included all deleted words it would be a lot. Also, since I’m editing, the count is hard because the manuscript changes size so often. But trust me, I get quite a lot done once I’m in the zone. I reckon I’m a sprint writer. Have to keep taking breaks, but once I get going, I’m fast and focussed.

But this is pretty typical of a day off from the day job. Sometimes I do go out and meet people of course, but mostly I’m catching up on all the writing I didn’t do because I was too tired from work. Like I said before, you have to take the time you can get to write. And focus. It’s not glamorous and its plagued with distractions and doubt, but when I’m in the zone, there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather be doing.