Friday, April 30, 2010

McLean, Unplugged

By Russel D McLean

This evening's post will be short, written late as it is, due to the fact that I have been out, doing what writers do... meeting readers.

The joke going around certain quarters is that this evening was McLean, Unplugged. A book group meeting with a guest author in a small village, but this is the kind of event I love to do - - talking to and interacting with enthusiastic readers is one of the pleasures of this gig.

It was the kind of evening, however, where I wasn't sure what to expect. The organiser -the lovely Teri - had told me that "maybe a wee talk about the book and we'll take questions" was in order, which sounded fine to me. But from the moment I arrived the questions came thick and fast, and I was only too happy to take them, even if I did frequently lose my train of thought. It was also interesting to talk about various topics that I had never considered before. That's the other joy of readers - - they mention things you would never have thought of before. And the fact that they all just leapt in, quite unafraid, was wonderful; a whole different experience from larger events where often people are hesitant to ask any questions after a talk.

This kind of one on one meeting - there were maybe nine or ten there in total - is also good for the readers, who have the chance to interact on a more casual level than they might otherwise. And to ask some harder questions (like, did you make this word up or is it slang? when I couldn't even remember the word in question!) or make some valuable insights. One member even taught me to do sweary words in Sign Language (and it was interesting to learn that you can even sign with a Dundonian accent).

So with thanks to Teri and the Gateside book Group* for a wonderful evening, some great questions... and for buying the book!

And since today's post is short, here's some bonus footage from the launch of THE LOST SISTER last year...

*And here's a question, why don't many men join book groups? It seems to be a common question among those I know... and even as a man who is not part of a book group, I don't really have an answer...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

LIVE BLOG: SHERLOCK HOLMES (Will Most Likely Be a LONG post)

Well, since the Yankees are up 5-0, a lot of people are out enjoying Edgar week and I am just plain tired, I thought I'd break out an old Dave White Blog Standard and live blog SHERLOCK HOLMES. So if you have the DVD, fire it up and get ready to DO SOME DAMAGE... I mean WATCHIN'...--Spoilers abound...

(Well it won't be live, because I'm posting it at 3 am EST... but you get the picture.)


7:53: Seven million previews... Release the Kraken, Clint Eastwood rocks... Morgan Freeman is in a lot of movies. Where's the DVD remote?

7:55: DVD remote on the floor. But you can't fast forward through the damn previews anyway... I DON'T CARE ABOUT THIS VIDEO GAME!

7:56: As the previews are STILL on, please disregard any typos... I'm doing this stream of consciousness.

7:58: FINALLY STARTING the movie... excuse all the throat clearing...

7:59: When I saw this in the theaters there were a lot of annoying kids around.. Talking, texting, throwing popcorn... I actually have to pay attention this time. So far... lost of running.

8:00: Two minutes into the movie, Holmes just beat the crap out of some guy. That didn't happen in the books. Or Young Sherlock Holmes... Or even the Seven Percent Solution...

8:02: Love that the bad guy doesn't flinch when Holmes stops the ritual suicide. Why not? Wouldn't he attempt to continue the stabbing? OHHHHHHH yeah... the wire.

8:07: Is it me or is Robert Downey's accent not the greatest. Isn't there a wacky, prissy Brit out there that could have played Holmes? Jay Stringer for instance? (DSD insult count? #1)

8:10: Holmes being awkward. Just like Weddle at a Toga party. (DSD insult count: 2).

8:12: I think I might start calling people Old Boy. Holmes is beating the hell out of someone else. We're barely 15 minutes into the movie. Basil Rathbone just rolled over in his grave. Then got his ass kicked by Robert Downey.

8:21: Love the music in this flick, but it does lead to a more goofy feel. Didn't feel the movie was as goofy as it could have been. Watson just called Holmes "Old cock." I retract my goofiness statement.

8:25: At this point in the theater, I was begging for the characters to stop whispering because the teens behind me WOULD. NOT. SHUT. UP. BLEEP BLEEP. Oh great, now the cell phones are going off.

8:28: A farting dog. Apparently they are now determined to continually rebuke my idea this movie wasn't goofy.

8:32: Now Irene Adler beats the crap out of somebody. And it ain't Basil Rathbone. Everyone's a kung fu artist in this movie.

8:42: The psychic scene is about as unfunny, boring and useless as a Bryon Q post (DSD insult count #3!!).

8:47: Hey, it's been 20 minutes since our last brawl... so let's bring in a HUGE French guy and some banjo music. And of course a chase for an engagement ring. They're ripping off SPIDER-MAN 3.

8:51: And because this action scene isn't ridiculous enough, let's bring in a HUGE collapsing boat. (Seriously, I like this movie, I think it's a lot of fun, but come on now. Is the boat necessary?)

8:56: I want a cape and hood. (Kind of like how Russel MAC wants a Bouchercon morning that didn't involve vomiting on unpublished writers--DSD INSULT COUNT # 4).

9:04: Drink that wine was a bad decision. (Much like Joelle Charbonneau's decision to keep wearing ice skates on pavement--DSD INSULT COUNT #5.)

9:05: Holmes is tied naked to a bed. Embarrassing. (Ask Scott Parker, he knows... Circa 1983. Always talks about it in the DSD breakroom. DSD Insult #6.)

9:06: Shimmy, shimmy.

9:11: The bad guy in this movie reminds me of Andy Garcia. John McFet reminds me of Jimmy Neutron. (DSD Insult #7!!!0--yeah, that one was random.)

9:17: Way more CGI than there should be in this movie. Stringer once said the same thing about Weddle's hair! (#8)

9:18: "All that's missing is a Ginger Midget." Yep, you guessed it. Weddle's reply to Stringer. (#9)

9:20: In the most contrived cliffhanger of the movie, Irene Adler follows Holmes only to be used as a pawn in the bad guy's evil game. Unnecessary action sequence that takes WAY TOO LONG.

9:23: Stuff blows up.

9:27: LOVE the scene where Holmes is alone in the room with only a violin trying to figure it all out. It is very understated, but maybe the best scene in the entire film.

9:33: Look kids! Big Be

9:35: Smoke screen trick would be cool if I hadn't seen MacGyver do it 20 years ago. Speaking of MacGyver, he and Russel share the same mullet. (#10)

9:37: Just realized the bad guy's name is Blackwood. Yes, I giggled.

9:40: Yep, we've gone 48 seconds without a kung fu fight. About as long as Bryon Q's gone without referencing the first chapter of LUNCHBOX HERO (#11)! Oh, and Andy Garcia is back on screen.

9:42: When did John Watson become John Steed?

9:46: Why are they chasing each other through and Escher painting? Also, I'm shocked the London Bridge construction site came into play in the climax. SHOCKED I tell you.

9:51: Sherlock Explains It All

9:56: It's Moriarty? STUNNING! And that's the END.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Write What the F$@# You Want

John McFetridge

There’s a discussion going on over at Crimespace about sex. How much is too much for mystery novels? Sunny Frazier, who started the discussion, said she wrote a book set in an S&M club but there was no sex in the book and asked, “Was it a cop-out? Or, did I know my audience and exactly what they could handle?”

I think she knew her audience and probably did the right thing for her book.

But it’s a decision we all have to make all the time: do I want to give my audience exactly what they can already handle, or do I want to push them a little?

Do I want to push myself a little?

Usually I go along with the idea that you write for yourself, you write the book you want to read and don’t worry about marketing or sales or any of that. It’s art. Be true to your art.

Then my last book received one criticism more often than any other – too many characters, too many sub-plots, not enough focus on the main action.

Oh, it received some good reviews, too, some people like it just the way it is.

But now that I’ve had a few books published I’m starting to think again about that whole, be true to your art stuff. What’s wrong with considering what the reviews have to say? Especially when so many are saying the same thing.

Maybe there are too many characters. Not many people read a book in a single sitting, or even two or three sittings. I know I don’t, I read a book fifteen minutes at a time over a week or two.

It is hard to keep track of a lot of characters and sub-plots.

So, in the book I’m working on now I went back and took out a bunch of characters and a couple of sub-plots.

And there’s the eternal question – how much do we compromise for sales? We all make the joke that it depends on how many sales we’re talking about, “For a million bucks, I’d...”

Everybody has to find their own balance between art and sales but I think maybe it’s best to start as close to art as possible.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Writing The Perfect Crime

By Jay Stringer

I thought I’d try something a bit different this week. It may not work, but I like finding new ways to fail.

I write like I cook; no recipe, a lot of mess and not a little noise. One of the interesting parts is how the story changes during the process, the little decisions that totally change the tone and point of the story. The scenes that get cut or moved, the fact that Deckard should be a replic…..oh sorry, sidetracked.

So I thought I’d show how I got a short story from blank page to published story. This isn’t going to be full of any great insights or sage advice, I’m not in a position to be giving out either, but it’s just a look at how I went about it. I’ll be using my recent flash fiction story, which you can still read here.


A while back, we were talking in the break room at DSD towers, as we do. Football. Comics. Gumbo. The usual. McFet has a habit of asking interesting questions, and I have a habit of getting half an idea from them that I then shelve and do nothing with. This time, he asked about fiction that explored the recession, asking whether or not crime fiction was a more natural fit for the subject matter than anything else.

Quick sidestep here; once upon a time I was a bright-eyed young employee for a large company. I was brimming with ideas. I kept making suggestions, “you should do this..” “What needs to be done is…” “This is how that would work…” And I quickly learned that, if you voice a strong idea, people would often give you the room to carry out that idea. And so I learned my lesson. I stopped making suggestions out of fear that I might be expected to follow through on them.

So, yes, anyway. Back to that coffee break. McFet asked the question, and I said, “someone should issue a flash fiction challenge about that.” All eyes turned to me and nodded expectantly. Aww fannybaws. And so the flash challenge was born, 300-1000 words on the theme of the recession. I issued it, and people responded. But all the time there was another problem lurking away at the back of my brain; since It was me who issued the challenge, I really ought to write something.


I’ve been all about economy of writing lately. When I first found my voice in short fiction, it was one that didn’t like endings. I liked to finish my stories at the point when most people would just be starting theirs. With the idea that something was about to happen. I found that more realistic, and I still do. I don’t like neat endings. But the more I work on the craft side of things, the more I try and find the balance; an ending that feels open and real but also provides the cap to a story.

Wendig again enters the story at this point, as he wrote a great piece about story structure. In it, he mentioned one of the problems with flash; it can fail to have a story. It will often be a glimpse of something, a vignette. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It can be a great way to get to grips with a character, or to try out a new style. It can be very satisfying both to write and read. But, that wasn’t where I was at. I wanted to prove to myself that I could produce a complete story in so few words. Weddle does it very well, so do a number of the regular contributors to these challenges. My previous flash attempt had done it in a very small, muted way. My character never moved from his sofa, but the story had a beginning, middle and an end.

And then I thought of a grand master of crime flash fiction; Bruce Springsteen. To read the lyrics to songs like ‘Highway 29’ or ‘Straight Time’, or back even further to ‘Meeting Across The River’, is to read great flash. They have beginnings, middles and ends. But they did it in small brush strokes. In each of these tales, the story ends either just before something bad happens, or when something ambiguous has happened, yet they still have definite endings, we are left in no doubt as to how things will go, and who will be on the losing end. They are endings that make you do the hard work, and that’s where I wanted to go.


Okay, loser, think. You’ve issued this bloody challenge, and the deadline is in three weeks, where’s your story?

Okay, loser, think. You’ve issued this bloody challenge, and the deadline is in one week, where’s your story?

Okay, loser, think. You’ve issued this bloody challenge, and the deadline is in three days, where’s your story?

All the while, the story is trying to find itself in my head. I have the edges of the plot; I worked in a bookstore and I knew ways to take them down if I’d been that way inclined, I’m a crime writer, it’s how my brain works. I had the rough shape of a character; the flash challenge to me had suggested writing about someone who was in way over his head. And I like to add realism to my stories, so “in over his head” meant getting caught or killed. No miraculous escapes. My guy would be a white collar worker, someone who was forced to do something criminal, and he would then be double crossed by the criminals and left to wait for the police. We wouldn’t see him get arrested, but we’d know that was what was about to happen.

Oh, and I had an opening line; “The thing about committing the perfect crime? You need perfect criminals.” I liked that, and the story started to write itself from that easy introduction. Plot happened. Easy as pie. He stole the money. Half way through I introduced the shady characters he’d bought in on his caper, and at the end they double crossed him. “You’re not one of us,” they say, “you should’ve stayed behind your desk.” And they walk away, leaving him to wait for the police and a ruined life. Full stop.

I sat back and felt contended, full in the knowledge that I was one clever damn bastard.


Then I went and drank some tea, and took a shower. Then I wasn’t so happy. They story was garbage, how could I have not seen it before? Dammit, I was so far from being a clever bastard that I might as well have been named Bon Jovi.

I sat and read it, and it felt forced. I didn’t buy it for a minute. And if I didn’t buy it, then nobody else would. I re-read the ending that I’d been so proud of, and It felt like the ending to a story. I realised that’s the exact opposite of what I want. And then that beginning and middle? Hmmm. Well, I still liked the beginning. But the middle didn’t actually do anything. I didn’t care about the main guy, and I didn’t believe that what he was doing was any kind of challenge.

First thing, how to make the guy real? Step one, I gave him a name. If people read a name, they have something to pin on him. Maybe some baggage of someone they really know, or maybe just a more personal connection. So he became Dave. How to get into his head and make me care about what he was doing? I wrote about the little details that he noticed, and how that felt. Two things I would usually avoid, but they added to the flash.

So this;

So, eight PM. The store long closed. He sat in the cash office, in the dark, alone. He lifted the bags out of the safe and felt the weight.

Seven grand.

There was a time when he’d have said it was more hassle than his job was worth. There was a time when he would have shut the safe again and walked away. But that time had gone.

Seven grand.

Fuck it.

Became this;

So, eight PM. The store long closed. Dave sat in the cash office, in the dark, alone. The only sounds were the clock on the wall and the air conditioning above his head. These sounds, noises that he’d heard every day for years, suddenly seemed vitally important. They were the only thing to distract from the pounding of his heart or the blood in his ears.

He lifted the bags out of the safe and felt the weight.

Seven grand.

Seven grand.

Was it worth putting it all on the line for seven grand? There was a time when he’d have said it was more hassle than his job was worth. There was a time when he would have shut the safe again and walked away. But that time had gone.

Seven grand.

Fuck it.

And then the ending. Again. Like I said, it felt like the ending to a story. It had Checkov’s gun elements, and the introduction of characters halfway through who’s only function was to provide an ending. That seemed forced in a way I was uncomfortable with. And here’s the only bit of advice I’ll attempt to impart; if something you’ve written feels wrong then it probably is. If these criminals were only in the story to service the ending, and I didn’t like the ending, what was the point?

So I took the characters out, and the ending fell of quite naturally without their support. And then I was left without an actual end to the story. Dave walks out into the cold night, weighed down with bags full of stolen money, and walks past a couple of cops. Originally he was walking to where he would meet the criminals, but now that wasn’t happening. What to do? I mean, where was the drama in just having this guy walk past a couple of……ho snap.

So that’s where it ended. With be pressing ‘delete’ rather than ‘the end.’ A desperate and guilty man has to luck up the courage to walk past a couple of cops, whilst hoping they don’t somehow smell the money or notice his hands shaking. Cut to black and let the reader decide the rest.

Then I felt a little bit better about the whole thing. So much better that I was willing to publish it.

And I promise, I’ve only re-written it twice since then.

Maybe three times.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pulp It Up with Sergeant Zero

By Steve Weddle

Anthony Schiavino is a busy guy--Sergeant Zero, PulpTone and so much more. His Sergeant Zero is a pulp hunk of comic goodness fresh out of the gate -- and has received huge praise.

For a solid taste of what this is all about, you'll want to check out TRENCHES IN HELL, a complete five-page story.

We flew Anthony down to the DoSomeDamage HQ last week and spent a few days by the pool talking about what's going on with pulp, noir, comics, and the iPad.

SW: Why comics? Wouldn’t it be easier to just write fiction?

AS: One would think, and that’s how it’s originally started, but I come from a visual field. I’m a graphic designer by trade with a love of comics. The book store is like my second home but comics are where my roots are, so to speak, in terms of a hobby.
So when I sat down to write this thing I just thought I could do more with it. When I write I think in visual terms. The story is flowing through my thoughts like a movie and I’ve got the whole thing choreographed right down to the reporter taking a drag of his cigarette in dramatic pause.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want a book series out of this thing.

SW: What/Who is Sergeant Zero? How did you get started with this?

AS: Sergeant Zero is a patriotic pulp hero during World War II. He’s not a super hero although he does some things beyond the realm of thinking. Zero is more like a heightened athlete. His origin is more like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein than radioactive rays. But the comic takes place between time periods.
On one hand we’ve got the weird war tales and what people have told me is a "Band of Brothers" meets "Inglorious Bastereds" type situation.
On the other we’ve got the early 1950s. This guy Joe Sinclair is living downtown in the Lower East End. He’s a vet with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s his life and how he deals with living in a shit hole and the people therein. He’s having all these flashes he thinks is just the PTD but it could be more.

How I got started? I’ve been in comics for I can’t even tell you how long. I’m considered a vet at this point doing design work and lettering. But I’ve always wanted to write something. I’m an avid collector and have been for years but, like anyone else, there’s always been that story I’ve wanted to tell that just wasn’t on the racks.
That’s not a slight to any book or anyone. But when I walk in the store there are times I leave without buying anything. I’ve got that feeling pulling at the back of my subconscious that something is missing.
For me, right now, that’s what Sergeant Zero is. Everyone thinks it’s all WWII because that’s what the first issue is. That maybe they wouldn’t like it because they’re not into war movies or the time period. But going further I can tell you there’s much more. I’m 23 issues -- or parts or whatever you want to call them -- in. Most people pitch a four-part story. I’m pitching a story.
But maybe it’s meant to be something else. Maybe it works better as something that isn’t a comic. Perhaps a comic but maybe a movie or serialized show on the net like what did with Angel of Death. This is one of those stories where you see SERGEANT ZERO WANTS YOU! poster littering the backgrounds. He’s on the news reels, in the papers...everywhere.

SW: Your Sergeant Zero comic has a pretty solid “noir” feel with a good dose of “pulp.” What sort of tone are you trying to set with the stories?

AS: It’s all I said and if you throw in some secret agent aspects, some more dark pulp heroics, a little bit of Kung-Fu, and yes space’ve got the general mix of what this comic is.
This has something for everyone. But it all boils down to going back to the days of classic black and white Hollywood. Those Humphrey Bogart movies with Lauren Bacall are a huge influence on me and how I write.
So, yes folks, there is even a little bit of romance in this thing.
The tone differs depending on what the story is. I mean we go from dyed-in-the-wool classic Hollywood romance to gorillas with machine guns racing through the African desert to bar room brawls. That’s the lighter fare.

SW: Your site has grown into something huge over the past few months. Uh, what’s that about?

AS: It’s all about marketing. It differs for everyone really but Pulp Tone is a good mix of everything I love about life. It was originally my personal site to post work on a blog much like what everyone else is doing. Then I started doing some reviews and people seemed to like them. So I put the word out for reviewers and it’s grown into what it is today.

Now we write our reviews, answering to nobody but ourselves and the fans, and in the middle of it all I post some of my own work, like "Hey, my comic is now on sale," and everyone funneling into the site sees it. Our fans come from everywhere. We’ve got the 16 year old going to see "Kick-Ass" to the 40-something-year-old housewife. It’s just fantastic.

I keep trying to get more people to do reviews. I’d love to review books, more movies, more comics, television shows and box sets. Look, nobody gets paid. We’re just doing this because we love it and in the process link to each other’s sites, hoping we’ll get some crossover readers.
It’s not a secret. It’s just that few people are doing it.

SW: Is there ever any excuse to drink light beer?

AS: Hell no. Unless you have a medical condition where you physically can’t, and even then I want to see the doctor’s note...what’s the point?
You can drink toilet water out of the tank. Not the bowl. The tank. It’d taste the same.

SW: Do you see comics moving away from paper, especially with the release of the iPad? Will Sergeant Zero go digital?

AS: It’s inevitable but print will always be around. There are different mindsets out there right now. One only wants print. They are the collectors and the avid readers. Another wants only digital. They want some kind of experience I for one just don’t get.
I’m a reader. I want my content. The only difference should be that the words are not on the printed page. That’s it. So I’m somewhere in the middle.
Up until the iPad I didn’t really like the format of digital comics. I’ve got an iPod and I read them panel to panel and it’s just not the same reading experience. But then the iPad comes along and you get full pages. Perfect. They finally got it right and I think you’re going to see more of it.
The only thing I don’t like is that you have twenty different apps out there. Some companies make publisher specific apps. Which is fine except if you have their main app your purchases aren’t linked. I’m a collector. I want my comics all in one spot. So I think they have to fix that but it’s another topic entirely.
Yes, Sergeant Zero is in fact going digital. People are worried that the print product is going away. Right now I’m self publishing so this could change in the future but I still plan on doing print.
But I’d be a fool not to have a digital arm. At the drop of a dime I’ve just reached countless thousands. I don’t think many comics are going to survive at the independent level if they don’t go digital.

SW: What is the production of Sergeant Zero like? How does it happen?

AS: I do the writing, coloring and lettering. I have a script which I sent to Simone. He’d in turn draw up a rough of the page and email it to me. 99% of the time it was perfect, if not better than what I wrote. But if there were any changes I’d send it back and if not he’d progress on finishing the page. He did most of his detail work in the inks because he was doing all of the illustration but that varies from book to book.
As he was doing that I would letter the roughs. Finished pages arrived and I’d, at least for the first issue, lay in the dot pattern that you’d see quite a bit of in the old comics. Then I’d go to color.
I tried to keep this book as close as possible to an older comic. There’s just so much charm in those old publications. My style is a mix of old and new so you have the technology of today trying to emulate what those books of the past look like. Just not as garish. I’d mix in the look of film, like that heightened blue tone in movies like Saving Private Ryan, and just experimented.
From there I’d finish off the lettering, adjust what I needed to including rewrites and that is about it.
Throughout this whole process people absolutely loved seeing the progression of the work. I posted every step of the way for a particular panel on Pulp Tone so that readers could see how a comic was made.
Fans are a part of the process. They’re buying your book. They don’t need to have the final say on your property but treat them like they should be treated. My fans and readers are just amazing.

SW: How is Sergeant Zero distributed and how can folks get copies?

AS: Right now there are on IndyPlanet but comic book shops can also specially order in bulk through a website called ComicsMonkey. Details, including a trailer, are here.
The ten-thousand pound gorilla is the price of this thing and ultimately how much shipping cost. Nobody wants to talk about it. All I can say is that it’s completely out of my hands. You’d cry if you knew how much the creator actually made off of each issue. We’ve all heard that story before.
There are very few options out there right now which is why I looked into digital distribution, and I hope to eventually grow that into other apps and platforms.
It’s nobody’s fault really, and there’s no real way to change it, but very few people talk about it. Again it’s that connection with the fans and just being honest about it. I want people to buy Sergeant Zero and take a chance on the story. ESPECIALLY if you’e never read comics before. You buy for one thing and I’ll hook you into another that you never thought you’d like in a medium you never thought you’d read.

SW: Favorite room in your house and why?

AS: Anywhere I can open the windows and write. Yesterday in fact I’m sitting in my living room writing to a light rain that sounded like the ocean and thunder rumbling. Yeah I know it’s not very pulp but the thunder cracks sounded like mortars going off in the sky. It’s not all about fluffy bunnies and rainbows afterward. It’s about being in the middle of the action as I pound on the keyboard.

Want more pulpy goodness from Sergeant Zero? Check out the info here, or just head over and drop $4.50 for a little slice of comic awesome that will make you the coolest kid on your block.

And here's some sweet teaser action to get you in the mood:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pull up a chair. It's time to talk.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

As writers we talk and think a lot about how to create the best story possible. We work on making our sentences punchy, our plot fast and fascinating and our characters real and interesting. We write. It’s what we do.

Well, not exactly. I mean, yes, we write. We have to. (Trust me, if we didn’t enjoy the writing process we wouldn’t be doing it. The money ain’t that great.) But there is more to the writing business than just writing. (Insert shocked and horrified gasp here.)

Yeah. I’m talking about networking - talking about writing, learning about other writers and, of course, learning about and chatting up publishing professionals better known as editors and agents. No squealing like a girl over this. (I am a girl, so I can say that without it sounding condescending and macho, right?) If you are serious about making writing your career, it is necessary to talk to other writers and industry professionals in order to find out what is going on in the business now. You can’t just read what's on the shelves. That's the stuff that was happening 18 months ago. Trust me on that one. My book was sold almost a year ago and won’t hit shelves for another 5 months. You need to stay current and networking is the only way to do this.

Don’t fret. There are lots of easy ways to network. Twitter is one of my favorite places to make writer hook-ups. I’ll admit that I was intimidated by Twitter a year ago, but that was before I really started having conversations with the other folks out there. It's a great place to see how other writers spend their days, market their work and think about the business. And lots of industry professionals are out there in Twitterverse - many of whom are giving tips to authors. I know a couple of authors who made contact with an agent on twitter and eventually signed with them. This might not happen for you, but it is a great way to hear the agent/editor perspective of what's going on in the biz without leaving the comfort and relative safety of your home.

Facebook is another great place to find and chat with writers as are the myriad of blogs, like this one, that are haunting the world wide web. But while these virtual methods are great, nothing can take the place of personal contact.

Yes, I am telling you to brave the wonderful world of interpersonal relationships. Conferences are a great way to make these connections. I just got home from speaking at one this weekend. You can meet editors and agents and other writers at a variety of conferences. There are panels and workshops on a wide range of subjects and numerous industry tidbits to be picked up at these events. In my experience the bar is the place where the most interesting conversations take place. (I know – big shocker.) I’ve met a lot of great friends and industry professionals with a glass of wine, or more likely a diet soda, in hand. In fact, a bar conversation with an agent was the inspiration for writing Skating Around the Law.

Conversations about the writing business can be important for writers at all stages of their career. New writers can learn how best to craft their story or approach the querying process. More experienced writers can meet and perhaps even get a submission request from an agent or editor. And published authors, debut to best-selling, can share their successes and their mistakes with people who understand the writing process. Networking will help a writer get a better perspective of all things publishing. And heck - you never know where you will find a great idea or get a request for submission. Take a chance and remember that whether the person is your favorite author or an important editor or agent – he or she is a person who is interested in having conversations about the business. Buy that person a drink and have fun talking about a subject you have in common – writing.

And if any of you have great conference bar stories, please feel free to share. I know there are lots of them out there.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner

(When inspiration doesn't strike, it's time to recycle older posts. This is one from my own blog written before many of you knew who I was. Enjoy.)

Perry Mason. Bet you instantly thought of Raymond Burr, the actor who played Mason on CBS from 1955-66, right? Who didn’t? I did as I read The Case of the Velvet Claws, the first Perry Mason novel, published in 1933. I’ve been wanting to read some Perry Mason novels (there are 80) for awhile but I didn’t want to start just anywhere. Sure, I’ve been told by more than one source that there is no chronological order to these books. Be that as it may, I am a purist when it comes to series. And, as a writer and creator of characters myself, I wanted to see how Erle Stanley Gardner started when he created the most famous lawyer in crime fiction.

Picturing Burr is not a bad place to start. You see, Mason in the novels is hardly described at all. His secretary, Della Street, gets more words of description (“slim of figure, steady of eye”) than does Perry Mason. The one feature of Mason’s physical appearance that Gardner describes more than once are his eyes. In fact, it only takes six sentences from page one to get a description of Perry Mason’s eyes:
"Only the eyes changed expression. He [Mason] gave the impression of being a thinker and a fighter, a man who could work with infinite patience to jockey an adversary into just the right position, and then finish him with one terrific punch.”
Knowing what I do about the television shows—Mason never loses—it’s remarkable that there, in paragraph one of book one, the Mason template is laid out. Three pages later, Mason, himself, lays out his mission statement to his new client:
"Nobody ever called on me to organize a corporation, and I’ve never yet probated an estate. I haven’t drawn up over a dozen contracts in my life, and I wouldn’t know how to go about foreclosing a mortgage. People that come to me don’t come to because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they’ve known me at a club. They come to me because they need me. They come to me because they want to hire me for what I can do.”
She (the client) looked up at him then. “Just what is it that you do, Mr. Mason?” she asked.

He snapped out two words at her. “I fight!”
Hard to argue with that line. And Mrs. Eva Griffin doesn’t. She’s in trouble and she hires Mason to help her get out of it. The previous evening, Mrs. Griffin was out with Harrison Burke, a man who was not her husband, a man running for office. When a hold-up occurs at the hotel where they were dancing and dining, the police arrive. One of the sergeants, a friend of Burke, recognizes him and knows that the newspaper reporters will have a field day with the news of Burke and a married woman. That officer allows them to stay away from the reporters and then smuggles them out the back. Everything’s good to go except Frank Locke, the editor of Spicy Bits, a gossip rag, finds out and threatens to publish the information.

Now, Mrs. Griffin is asking Perry Mason to help her. His first response: have Burke pay Locke off. That surprised me a little, knowing what I know about the TV version and Mason's stone cold integrity. And with Mason’s fixation on money, he not unlike Bertha Cool, Gardner’s other famous creation. But Mrs. Griffin refuses because she wants to keep Burke’s name out of the papers. She lays down some cash on Mason’s table and gives her new lawyer one tidbit of information: Locke has a secret he’s trying to keep hidden. Mason rushes off to expose the secret and use it as leverage against Locke. The trail leads to one George Belter, owner of Spicy Bits. And his wife is there, none other than Mason’s client, Mrs. Eva Belter.

From this point, the book races along but not before George Belter’s shot dead, and Eva Belter tells the police that she heard Perry Mason’s voice in her husband’s bedroom seconds before the gunshot. Now, Mason must clear his own name while simultaneously looking out for the interests of his client. You think he can do it? Seriously, do you?

I am not an avid watcher of the TV show so I can’t say how Burr-as-Mason goes about doing his job. And I’ve only read book #1 so, if Mason changed his tactics throughout the novels, I can’t know about it either. I will say this: Mason is quite hand-on in this case. In fact, the most surprising thing he does is sock a guy to the ground. Didn’t see that kind of action coming, but loved it. Another interesting aspect of this case was how soon Mason had an idea as to the truth of the entire plot. But he needed proof. And he went about getting the proof in ways I also didn’t see coming. He set up on of the characters, not knowing, for sure, if his set-up would work. For example, he went to a pawn shop owner and paid the man $50 to verify that whomever Mason came back with was, in fact, the purchaser of the gun used in the crime. Now, as a reader, I got to wondering: who will Mason bring back? Later, Mason goes to another character and all but blackmails that character into saying something that needed to be said in front of a third party. Brilliant tactics but not entirely on the up-and-up.

The language of the book is obviously dated in places. Gardner loves his adverbs and uses some of them over and over again, including the word “meaningly.” In an effort not to type (or dictate as Gardner did) the word “car” or “automobile” constantly, Gardner interchanges the word “machine.” It’s a bit odd to read a car described that way. And, like William Colt MacDonald in Mascarada Pass, Gardner spells out, phonetically, drunken speech, employing words like “fixsh,” “shtayed,” and “coursh.” Humorous and easy to understand but, again, things we modern writers could never get away with.

And speaking of things you can’t get away with, there’s Gardner’s choice of the word “girl” to describe Della Street. She’s 27 and, while we never get the age of Perry Mason, he can’t be that much older than she. But, nonetheless, Gardner has “the girl” get a file or “the girl” answer the phone or “the girl” take down dictation. The biggest shock of the story—and I don’t this is giving anything away; apologies if it’s so—was when Della and Perry kissed. It didn’t seem romantic and I didn’t get the impression that there was something more. But it was there. You never saw that in the TV show. Just one more reason to read these books, especially the early ones, to see how Perry Mason was originally portrayed.

There’s a quote about Erle Stanley Gardner on the back cover of the Hard Case Crime edition of Top of the Heap, a Cool and Lam story that, I think, sums up Gardner’s technique of crafting a story: "Among his many other virtues, Erle Stanley Gardner is surely the finest constructor of hyper-intricate puzzles in evidence..." The Case of the Velvet Claws is certainly intricate, a well-crafted tale. Heck, half the fun was re-reading chapter 1 when everything was set up, now that I knew the ending. But, like a good mystery author, all the clues were there. When Mason delivers his summation, you want to smack yourself on the forehead. (His summation, by the way, was not in a courtroom, something I, of course, kept waiting for. Not in this book. Perhaps Book #2.) As hard-boiled as the book is, this is the coziest mystery book I’ve read, perhaps ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to many more Perry Mason mysteries.

Historical Note: the edition I have is the 16th printing from Pocket Book, June 1944. What makes this edition unique is the wartime nature of the presentation. On the back cover, in a small black square, are the words “Share this book with someone in uniform.” At the end of the book, after the story and biographical information, is a page imploring the reader to buy war savings stamps and certificates. Lastly, there is a list of books published by Pocket Books, seven pages long, complete with asterisks noting which titles fall under 8 oz. and, thus, can be sent overseas without any written authorization. These seven pages are peppered with testimonials by servicemen from around the globe. The most telling feature of the introduction is about the POWs. Those Americans imprisoned by Germany can receive books via a Prisoner-of-War Service established by Pocket Books. Interestingly, the Americans captured by Japan were not allowed to be sent books. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a country at war and how even the simplest of entertainments—a mystery book—cannot escape the all-consuming nature of a world at war and the call to do one’s part.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The horror, the horror

By Russel D McLean

“The advice I got was don’t put supernatural in a crime story. It won’t work. Readers won’t buy it.”

That’s a paraphrase of a friend of mine talking about the advice he got for his first novel. Apparently supernatural and crime don’t work together. At least for readers.

I’ve thought about this a lot because the advice came from a source I respect, but the more I think about the more I think that in this case the source of wrong.

Two cases in point.

The first is the most recent. Sarah Pinborough has been hanging around the horror genre for a few years now, but her first “big” novel (at least in the UK) has just broken free. A MATTER OF BLOOD combines near future dystopia, crime fiction and, yes, the supernatural to thrilling effect. What’s particularly impressive – at least to me – is the build up to the “unnatural” events. By first combining two more “natural” genres (the near future stuff, set after an organisation called The Bank came in to save us from our monetary woes, and of course the crime fiction element which spins very naturally from her created society, being as it is set amongst coppers for “hire” and organised crime bosses) and then gently layering the supernatural elements on top until you suddenly realise they were there all along and you just weren’t paying attention, Pinborough effectively mashes genre styles to captivating effect. It’s a gamble that pays off wonderfully, and by mixing genres in this way, the story arc becomes more unpredictable, and the reader is drawn into a world with which they are unfamiliar. Putting readers off balance is a brilliant trick, and mixing genre traits – something that has become de-rigeur in the world of movies, so why is it quite so sneered upon in the world of prose? – is a perfect way to achieve that.

Of course, Pinborough isn’t the first person to mix the supernatural and crime genres to grand effect. One author who has been doing this since almost the beginning of his career is the sublimely talented John Connolly* whose latest novel, THE WHISPERERS** is one of the most chilling and artfully written thrillers I’ve read in a long time.

While I came to Connolly through an ostensibly “straight” horror novel, BAD MEN, it is his Charlie Parker series that fascinates me. EVERY DEAD THING, Connolly’s debut was, on the surface, a very well written serial killer novel set in the US. Charlie Parker’s family were killed by a stranger who called himself The Travelling Man, so our protagonist sets out across the country for revenge on this serial killer. By the end of the novel, however, something happened that made us question the nature of its events. We were left with the uneasy feeling that The Travelling Man may have been part of deeper, more unexplained events. This feeling again occurred in DARK HOLLOW, the second Parker novel and by the time of THE KILLING KIND, we were sure that all was not as it seemed in the world of Charlie Parker.

But the stroke of genius on the part of Connolly, was that, until THE LOVERS, we were never sure what was going on, how much was in the damaged head of Charlie Parker and how much was real. There were hints here and there, but the interpretation was left to the reader, and there were ways in which you could read events to suit either interpretation.

I won’t tell you which way he jumped. But it is a beautiful surprise, and changes the nature of the series in a way Connolly has followed up masterfully in THE WHISPERERS.

So this week’s reading advice (if you hadn’t figured already)?

Pinborough and Connolly.

Go on, you won’t be disappointed.

*Disclaimer, blah-blah, yes I know JC has said very very nice things about my debut, THE GOOD SON, but I was a fan of his for many years before he even knew my name never mind said such ego-swelling things.

**An early edition fell into me lap thanks to the wonderful folks at Hodder & Stoughton

Thursday, April 22, 2010

GUEST POST: Loaded with Sin

I ran into Douglas Corleone through Facebook, clearly the best way to meet people. He grew up in New Jersey, but now lives in Hawaii... (Yeah, I question his decision making as well.)

Anyway, it turns out Douglas is the author of ONE MAN'S PARADISE,winner of Minotaur's Crime Fiction contest. The book's due out on Tuesday and it's getting some great reviews, so I thought I'd give him a shot to speak his mind here. Check it out:

Loaded with Sin
by Douglas Corleone

“I like smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.”
~Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely (1940)

Don’t we all, Ray. Don’t we all. But it isn’t as easy to find such women in modern crime fiction as it was in Chandler’s day. Is it because there are any less of these women around in the real world? Luckily, not in my experience. So, the way I see it, the absence of these smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin, stems from one of two things: (1) crime writers no longer write these women well, or (2) crime writers no longer feel they can get away with it.

As I search through my library for books written in the past two-three decades that feature this kind of woman, I find very few. Scott Phillips provided us one in The Ice Harvest in the form of a strip club owner named Renata Crest, played beautifully by Connie Nielsen in the movie. But who else comes to mind?

Now I’m not talking about your average femme fatale. Nor am I referring to your everyday kick-ass FBI agent like Clarice Starling - there are plenty of those around. And I’m certainly not looking for more lady sociopathic serial killers; I get my fix from Chelsea Cain. No, what I want is Jessica Rabbit on the page. Not deep down bad, just drawn that way.

But Bond Girls seem a thing of the past in crime fiction. Many crime writers now imbue their women with either a childlike innocence or an overinflated sense of morality. These ladies either need rescuing or they’re the ones saving the day. Where are all the bad women? Not the villainous or crazy, but the kind who will go to bed with your hero the same night as his nemesis without giving it a second thought. The human kind motivated by money and sex. The kind of woman who will step over a dead body to grab her purse.

Can crime writers get away with writing women like that in this publishing climate? I can’t say. But I sure as hell think we should try. Crime fiction says a lot about the culture in which it’s written, and I think it’s high-time we let readers know that sin is in again. Let’s ditch the double standards once and for all. If our male characters can act licentious, then so can our girls. Let’s not leave all the female drinking, drug use, and promiscuity to those who write fiction for Young Adults. Because it seems the YA section is where you find all the good sin today. I just can’t bring myself to read it.

Of course, there may be books out there that I’ve missed, or books that I’ve read after six too many drinks. And if there are, by all means, point them out in your comments. Because I love to read. Especially about smooth shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

East Coast - 4

John McFetridge

And we're back from the commercial break:

Moncton, New Brunswick – Northup Home

Jerry was flipping channels, a little Sportsnet – playoffs starting and it looked the Canadiens would get bounced in the first round again, but at least they were winning this game - a little news and a piece of a movie.

Isobel came into the basement carrying abig hardcover book close to her chest and sat down on the couch next to Jerry and said, here, look, “She was in my senior year,” and Jerry said, “Who?”

“Melody Goodwin.” Isobel opened the yearbook and held it in her lap. “That’s her.”

“She was in your class?”

“She’s not in the class picture, this must have been taken at the beginning of the year, she got pregnant and dropped out.”

“That’ll be Mickey.”

“I remember she brought him to school to show him off, he was so tiny.” Isobel was still staring at the photo in the yearbook. “Now he’s a big time drug dealer.”

Jerry said, not that big time, “But we’re hoping.”

“Then I saw her today in front of the hopsital, she has a handicapped daughter.”

“Yeah, and she’s got another daughter, twenty-three, she’s out west.”

Isobel said, “How do you now?” and Jerry said it was in Mickey’s file, “She’s a hooker in Vancouver.”

Isobel closed the yearbook and said, “I realized I’ve probably seen Melody dozens of times at the hospital, she’s been bringing that girl in since she was born, I must have just walked right past her.”

“I bet she’s changed.”

Isobel said, oh yeah, she’s changed, “She looks sixty years old, but she still looks like Melody, you know? She was just invisible to me.”

Jerry said, yeah, and it was quiet for a minute an dthen Isobel said, “And I was thinking, imagine if our kids were that old now, if they were all grown up,” and Jerry said that’d be all right, “We wouldn’t have to do everything for them, we’d have this place to ourselves.”



“Before Melody dropped out, a few years before, we were friends. Well not freiends, really, but we hung out with some of the same people.”

“These your wild years?”

“No, this was kids’ stuff. We were dressing up like Madonna, we were talking about boys not talking to boys.”

“So Melody had the wild years?”

“I don’t think so, not really. She got pregnant and dropped out and then I must have heard that she had another kid, but then I never really heard anything else. Her whole family was messed up.”

“That’s usually the way it is.”

“That’s so sad.”

Jerry didn’t say anything, he looked at his wife but she was a million miles away. She stood up and said, “I’m going to bed,” and he said he’d be up in a few minutes, just wanted to see if Montreal could hold the lead, but she wasn’t listening and she was gone up the stairs.

Moncton, New Brunswick – RCMP Offices

Jerry was in the office early and Edwards knocked on his open door and he said, “Hey, Ev.”

She stepped in saying he was in early and he said, “I had no idea there was so much paperowork.”

She said, yeah, and then didn’t say anything else so Jerry said, “What’s up?”

Edwards said, “It’s Mickey Goodwin.”

“What about him?”

“I had a meeting with him last night, he wants out.”

“What do you mean?”

“He doesn’t want to keep dealing with the guys in Montreal.”

“He has to.”

“He said he’d rather go to jail here.”

“I’m sure he would, but that’s not one of his options.”

Edwards looked around the office, still looking like Henry Bergeron’s, Jerry hadn’t changed anything and she said, “It’s what we would have done last week,” and Jerry said, yeah, “But it’s this week now.”

“He says he’s not getting anything out of the guys in Montreal anyway.”

“Well,” Jerry said, “Mickey never was one to stick with things. Look it’s going to take a while, he’s going to have to buy more. Get him some more money, tell him to buy four keys, we’ll keep two let him put two out on the street. He gets to be a bigger player they’ll trust him more.”

Edwards said, “He’s really not good at this,” and Jerry said, no, “But you are. Look, he’s in it, it’s what he does, you keep pushing him, stay on him but be patient, it’s not going to happen overnight.”

“Okay, sounds good, long-term planning.”

“Something new around here.”

Edwards said, yeah, something new, and walked out of the office.

Jerry went back to the paperwork, more overtime requisitions. It didn’t look like Bergeron had ever even asked for overtime, so worried about the budget.

Then Jerry was thinking it was about time they started worrying more about crime.

Moncton, New Brunswick – Loose Moose Bar and Grill

Alphonse Turcotte was eating chicken wings and telling the story about Jerry, when he was on highway patrol out of Bathurst and they sent him to serve a warrant on a guy who ran a scrapyard, “And, of course, was selling stolen car parts.”

Jerry was leaning back in his chair, beer in hand and watching Edwards and Leonetti and Whitney and a couple other cops and he was thinking they were coming together as a team already.

“So he drives as far in as he can, but the road is blocked by crap, car bodies and and old truck.”

“And a caboose, busted up into pieces,” and everybody laughed.

Al said, “So he gets out and walks up to the offuce, and I’m staying back,” and Jerry said, “Of course you are.”

“And I’m wondering why he doesn’t think, where’s the dog?”

Jerry just shook his head.

“So he gets all the way into the office and Buddy we’re coming to serve is there and now we see the dog, big German sheperd and he’s growling low and Buddy doesn’t say anything but he motions with his head, just a little, an dthe dog goes for Jerry and gets him b the balls.”

Everybody laughs and Al said, “Just enough, you know, holding on but not biting down, and Buddy says, ‘What do you want pig,’ like a tough guy and Jerry here pulls out his .38 and aims it right at Buddy and says, ‘Call of the dog or I’ll kill you,’ and Buddy looks like he dropped a load in his pants and called off the dog.”

Whitney said, “What the hell, then what?” and Al said, “Then Jerry shot the dog,” and Edwards said, “What? You shot the dog?”

“Damned right I shot the dog. I would’ve shot Buddy if Al hadn’t been there, I didn’t know him well enough them, if he’d turn me in or what.”

And everybody laughed and Jerry looked sideways al Al, knowing him well enough now, knowing he was telling these stories so they’d all bind with the new boss, Jerry finally realizing how good al was at the politics.

Then Jerry’s phone beeped and he looked at the screen, saw it was Isobel and stood up and walked away from the table to take it, saying, “Hey.”

Isobel said, “Are you still at work,” and Jerry said, “Yeah.”

“Can you get away.”

“What, now?”

“I called Emily, but she can’t stay any longer.”

“You were supposed to be off half an hour ago.”

“Jocelyn couldn’t come in and there was a car accident, we’re going into surgery.”

“How long are you going to be?”

“I don’t know, hours. We’ve done this before, Jerry, you were always able to get home.”

Jerry was looking back at the table, at Al telling the team another story. He said, “Yeah, I know but it’s different now.”

“Now that you’re the boss?”


Isobel said, “We’re going to have to talk about this,” and Jerry said, “Yeah,” and Isobel said, “But not now because I have to get into surgery,” and Jerry said, okay, fine, “I’ll take care of it,” and hung up.

He walked back to the table and Al said, “Everything okay,” and he said, “Yeah,” and picked up his beer and said, “Gentlemen,” and looked at Edwards and said, “and lady, here’s to doing a good job,” and he downed what was left and turned away form the table while everyone else was still drinking.

Al caught up to him and said, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, fine, it’s just Isobel has to work late and we don’t have a babysitter,” and Al said, “okay.”

Jerry looked athim and said, “But the boss shouldn;t be the first one to go home, should he?”

“Even the boss has family life.”

Jerry said, yeah, that’s right, but he looked back at the table and knew it would be better if he could stay, thinking of all the things he was planning to ask of his team and how it wouldn’t feel right, him running out.

Still, he had to go.

Moncton, New Brunswick – Northup Home

The only light in the house was from the fridge, Jerry getting a beer, when the front door opened and Isobel walked in.

Jerry closed the fridge and watched her walk into the kitchen and she said, “Hey there,” and he said, hey.

She walked towards him but he moved to the other side of the island so she went to the fridge and got herself a beer. Opening it she said, “What a night,” and took a drink looking at him a she did.

“Yeah, here too.”

“Five people in a car and three in a pick-up in a head-on. One was DOA and two more died on the table, but the rest’ll be okay. More or less.”

Jerry said, “That’s great,” and drank from his beer bottle. The kitchen was a mess.

Isobel said, “I’m not quitting my job.”

“I don’t want you to.”

“And I’m not transferring to another department.”

“So now I’m going to have crazy hours, too.”

“You always had crazy hours.”

“Now it’s going to be worse.”

She said, it should be better now, “If you’re gonna be the boss you should delegate, you should work office hours.”

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“You just don’t want to give up the fun parts, playing cops and robbers with your buddies.”

“It’s not a game.”

Isobel walked out of the kitchen saying, “I’m not talking about this tonight, I’m too tired.”

And Jerry stood in the dark house and drank his beer.

Moncton, New Brunswick – Evergreen Park School

Jerry pulled up in front of the school still on the phone, saying, “No net yet... later today for sure... come on, Al, I’m on it... yeah, I know we need it today, it’s a report, we’ll submit it, don’t worry... yeah, yeah, I know as soon as I get in.” He flipped his phone shut and said, “Sheesh,” and from the back seat Sam said, “Didn’t you get your homework done?”

Herbie was still looking too serious and Jerry said, “It’s not homework.”

Sam said, “Will you get a detention,” looking sideways to see if Herbie was laughing. He wasn’t, but he was starting to smile.

Jerry said, yeah, “I’ll have to stay late,” and Sam said, “Will you have to write, ‘I will not forget my homework,’ a hundred times and then Herbie was laughing.

“Yeah, I will and I’ll have to clean out the cells. Come on, you guys are going to be late.”

Herbie slid open the side door and jumped out, running off, and Sam hung back and said, “So, are you and Mom going to get a divorce,” and Jerry said, “No, of course not, why would you ask that?”

“You slept on the couch in the basement last night.”

Jerry looked at his son and said it was nothing, said, “It’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

Sam said, “Okay, but are you sure? Because maybe our next dad will be a doctor and we’ll get a cottage and a boat.”

Jerry started to smile and then tried to look serious and said, “Get out of this car right now,” and Sam said, “Okay, I’m just saying.”

He got a few steps towards the school and turned back around and waved and Jerry waved and sat in the car and watched until both of his sons were inside the school.

Moncton, New Brunswick – east of downtown

Mickey Goodwin was standing beside his minivan, leaning against the hood not even looking around.

Kathie, the hooker in the mini skirt, halter top and five inch heels in the middle of the day was saying how good Mickey’s stuff was, “Really good, pure,” and Mickey said, “Yeah.”

She started to hand him the money but she heard a car and pulled her hand back and Mickey said, “Don’t worry about it,” and she looked at him standing there like he wasn’t worried about a thing and she said, “What’s going on?”

Mickey said nothing, “We’re good, come on,” and took the money.

Kathie said she could use more, she said, “I don’t have any more money yet, but I could work it off,” and Mickey said, sure, “what the hell, let’s go,” and walked around his minivan, looking at Kathie just standing there and he said, “So, get in,” and she did, still surprised.

Mickey drove to the lot behind the old train repair shop that had been closed for years and she gave him a blowjob. It took him a while to get it up and she said, “You okay,” a couple of times, but he finished and gave her four more eightballs and drove her back to St. George Street.

Moncton, New Brunswick – east end

After getting rid of another dozen eightballs in was past midnight when Mickey pulled up in front of the house he rented in the east end. His girlfriend had been gone three weeks, up to Toronto looking for work, trying to be a stipper but Mickey knew if she was going to make any money it’d be as a hooker, she just didn’t have the moves for the big city clubs, so the house was epmty.

Or, it should have been, but as Mickey got closer to the front door he saw someone inside.

He walked up the steps to the front door and looked in, then let out a sigh and opened the door saying, “Hey man, I didn’t know you were in town.”

Marcel Dagenais stood up from the couch saying, “Well here I am.”

“You wanna go out for a beer or something, I don’t have anything in the house.”


“No, sorry,” and then he saw the gun in Marcel’s hand, some kind of Glock it looked like and he said, “What the hell,” and Marcel shot him in the chest.

Mickey fell to his knees, wide-eyed, still couldn’t believe it and Marcel took a step closer and shot him in the face and then again in the chest and then walked out.

The street was quiet, no sound except for the car that slowed down to let Marcel get in.

Across the street a woman walking her dog saw him leave the house and the door still wide open and she walked up to see what was going on and saw Mickey on the floor. She didn’t scream, she just took out her cell phone and called 911.

Moncton, New Brunswick – Hospital Emergency Room

Doc Kovalchuck and three nurses were working on the body, elbow deep in blood, but they all knew it was too late.

Kovalchuck said, “Two entry wounds,” and Isobel said, no, “There’s another one here, and Kovalchuck said, yes, “And another.”

The monitor was giving them a straight line and Isobel said, “Are you going to call it?” and Kovalchuck poked around for another minute and then stood up straight, pulling his gloves off and saying, “Time of death, one fifty-seven,” and walking out of the room.

Isobel looked at the two younger nurses and nodded and then she walked out, too, taking off her gloves and cleaning up before walking out to the waiting room.

Melody was there, standing beside her daughter’s wheelchair, looking like she’d been crying for a while but stopped and got herself together a little looking at Isobel, a little bit of hope left and Isobel said, “I’m so sorry Melody,” and the crying started again.

Isobel said, “We did all we could, everything we could, but his injuries were too severe.”

Meldoy caught her breath and said, “He wasn’t injured, he was shot, he was murdered, they killed him, they killed him.”

“I know, Melody, I’m sorry.”

“They killed him because your husband pushed him into it, Mickey wasn’t a player, he never would have gone to Montreal on his own, he was just a kid.”

“I know.”

“You don’t know anything, you have no idea, your husband might as well taken my Mickey out and shot him the head himself.”

Isobel said, “Melody.”

“No, just stop it, stop it,” and she turned the wheelchair away from Isobel and sat down and put her hands to her face and cried.

Isobel went and got cleaned up and changed and drove home. It was the middle of the night when she got there, the house dark and quiet and the place still a mess. She dropped her coat on the back of the couch and walked down the hall to the bedrooms, stopping to look in on Susie, sleeping under her Kim Possible blanket. Isobel stood and looked at her and then backed out, closed the door and stood outisde the boys’ room.

She stood there for quite a while and finally opened the door, knowing the room would be a disaster and it was, clothes and toys and junk everywhere and Herbie and Sam in their beds. Looking at them she wondered if they’d ever each want their own room or if they wouldn’t even think of it. Her boys, still little boys.

She closed the door and turned to see Jerry standing in the hall by the open door to their bedroom.

She could tell just by looking at him that he knew about Mickey Goodwin and she wanted to be mad at him, she wanted to blame him and hear him say it was Mickey’s fault, he played with fire and he got burned and she knew that was true, but there was more to it, it was more complicated.

And Jerry didn’t say anything. Just stood there looking at her and she knew he understood, she knew he felt it, he wasn’t going to show it but he wasn’t going to brush it off like Mickey was nothing. She knew that.

They embraced.

(End of Episode - be sure to watch those credits flying by on the side of the screen, those people do a great job!)

Now, a question. Would anyone be interested in more 'episodes' of this series?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Man Without Fear

By Jay Stringer

A few weeks back, that McLean fella wrote a fine piece about Batman being the ultimate noir superhero. And I almost agree with him. Almost.
I mean, I too was a Batman kid. And part of me always will be. I learned to read using comics, and it was the recognisable pop-culture image of Batman that provided the in. My young mind was warped by Batman:Year One and a little later I was hooked big time on the stories from Grant and Breyfogle. One of my clearest childhood memories was managing to sneak under-aged into a viewing of the first Burton Batman film (which was rated 12 in the UK and I was 9) None of this is me attempting to appear to be an uber fan, or show any crass secret handshake. It’s simply important that you know how much I care for the character, that he is miles ahead of my third favourite. That, if I veer into the realms of shit-talking the Bat in this blog, it’s all relative, and it’s all in service of making my point.
Because, ladies, gentlemen, and that guy at the back searching for Batman porn, I give you my ultimate noir superhero.
I give you Daredevil.
Bruce Wayne is Batman because he can be. He can afford to be. His is a life that gave him the privilege to swan off around the world learning to be the best at everything, then to come back and fund a private war on crime. Beneath it all, he is a spoiled brat, angry with his parents for leaving him and getting closer to them every night. I love that Christopher Nolan doesn’t shy away from this. The Batman of the most recent film is a self-righteous fanatic. His belief in his own worldview is matched only by the Joker’s belief in nothing. That is one of the things I like most about the character; he is heroic but it’s not necessarily fuelled by the right things, and his personality is not necessarily likeable.
But Matt Murdock isn’t a hero because he can afford to be. His is not a life that has afforded him any leg up or moment of comfort. He is a hero despite his background and, arguably, despite himself.
In the Batman universe, Murdock would be another of the great villains. His mother ran away after he was born –later we find out she became a nun- and his father was a washed up alcoholic boxer. Young Matt was lonely and poverty stricken. His father demanded one thing from him; a promise to never use violence. Never use his fists. Use his brain, study and work his way out of the hole.
His father couldn’t provide for him. Couldn’t protect him. And couldn’t be of any use to his son moving forward. But he could give him one final, important lesson. He was murdered by the mob for refusing to throw a fight. A washed up, broken down old boxer, way past any shot at the big time, would rather go down honest than stay up as a crook.
Cut to a decade or so later, and the son who promised to never use violence wears a mask and beats up criminals. That’s an added reason to wear a costume; shame.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Item 1; Matt is blind. He was blinded in a moment of childhood heroism. He jumped in front of a truck to save an old man, and in doing so he lost his sight forever. A moment of total selflessness that cost him everything. That sets a pattern. So, we have a blind man who jumps off rooftops. Insane? Whoa yes.
Item 2; Matt is a Lawyer. And a good one. Pound for pound Matt Murdock is the best lawyer in the city, he’s strong, he’s smart, and he’s determined. It also makes him a hypocrite. He is sworn to uphold the law. His professional life is dedicated to serving and protecting the justice system as if it were a religion, a pure faith. Then at night, he puts on a mask and breaks the law, the very thing he serves. Nuts? Whoa yes. And that's without mentioning that he's a catholic who dresses like a devil to do the right thing...
Item 3; Matt is a liar. Totally. Completely. In a long running storyline of a few years back, Matt was ‘outed’ in the press. It was leaked that he was Daredevil. His response? He lied. He stood in front of the worlds press and stated that he wasn’t. He sued the newspaper for libel, and won. He sued anyone who made the accusation. He refused to resign from his job, and continued to serve both as a lawyer and a masked vigilante. His friends were not shy in calling him on his bullshit, his arrogance. But he kept going. He endured. Did that make him a hero? That’s a difficult issue. It certainly made him a great character.
Item 4; Matt is insane. He is. There is no doubt. In the seminal Born Again storyline he cracks. He is pushed right up the edge of his sanity by his archenemy and…well…his sanity doesn’t fare well. He starts to see conspiracy. He talks to himself. He sleeps rough. He breaks off all ties with the world around him. He’s had at least one other nervous breakdown since then. He is not a stable person, if you didn’t already get that from the ‘blind-man-rooftop’ thing.
Item 5; He fails. A lot. I don't think any superhero has had his or her ass handed to them as often as Ol' Hornhead.
He’s been worked on by many fine writers. Stan Lee created him of course, as a poor-mans version of Spidey. So right there, he has the inbuilt chip on his shoulder that all great crime fiction characters have. From there, Frank Miller turned him into a ‘film noir superhero,’ the book was filled with moody lighting, smoking, dark alleys and backlit skyscrapers. He fought organised crime, ninjas and hitmen. Two of my favourite modern writers, Brian Bendis and Ed Brubaker, have both taken turns at wrecking Matt’s life and knocking him to the canvas. In between there have been such great comic-scribes as Denny O'Neil and Anne Nocenti.
If you want to read what is (in my opinion) the greatest achievement of super hero comics, you can pick up Daredevil: Born Again. It’s a systematic dismantling of the genre, but its not done against the backdrop of a grand canvas like Watchmen, or with a true icon like Batman: Year One. It’s done in the grubby back alleys of Hell’s kitchen, with the evil plan being nothing more than destroying one mans life.
Matt’s ex-girlfriend, Karen, has fallen into drug addiction. And for the price of another fix she sells Matt’s secret, betrays the one man she loves. Once the Kingpin has this information he begins to squeeze. He picks at every corner of Matt’s life; his job, his money, his home, his friends. Bit by bit, he starts to take the hero apart, peeling away layers. By a third of the way through the story, Matt isn’t even wearing the costume anymore. When you strip a man right down to his core you see what’s left. When you strip Matt Murdock right down to his core you see that all he is, at heart, is a survivor. Coupled to this is Karen’s fight to save herself, to find Matt and seek forgiveness. Can the two of them find redemption on the streets? Can they put themselves back together?
Matt’s father taught him,"It’s not how long it takes you to get knocked to the canvas that counts, it’s how long it takes you to get back up.” And Matt does keep getting back up. He doesn’t know anything else.
The true heart of the character is that he has nothing to lose and “..a man without hope is a man without fear.
And so I submit my case, folks. Daredevil; a man who has every reason to be a villain, who is at best arrogant and inflexible . He lies, he fights and he’s cold to those who love him. He makes the wrong decisions and frequently lets the cracks in his sanity show. Despite all of this, he succeeds.
At great cost to himself every time.
So what about you guys? Who would you stack up against Batman and Daredevil and great noir or hardboiled comic book characters? Is there anyone fucked up enough to match them?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Low-carb crowbar

By Steve Weddle

On the wall of the newsroom was a cartoon of a blindfolded reporter tossing a dart at a wall of words to find out what he would be an expert in for that day. Oh, joyous riot. Reporters have to research stuff. Ah, the hilarity.

Now I'm thinking that cartoon should hang over the desk of every novelist I know.

Casino security. Pipe bombs. Untraceable poisons. Yeah, there's a reason I hop over to my neighbor Justin's wifi router when I do my serious searches. (You can fake up with all the proxy stuff you want and keep your local box clean and footprint-free, but don't leave that router loop open.)

But novelists really hafta have a bucket of darts. Novelists have to have attention spans that are deep and wide, but also, um, flittery?

For a writer, surfing the Internet is work. Research. And reading magazine articles. Writers have to create worlds and characters, and these have to feel authentic.

When I started listening to John Coltrane, I wanted to know everything there was to know. Kicking his drug addiction by locking himself in a room in his mother's house. Bill Evans playing piano one handed because he'd accidentally numbed his arm while shooting up. The insult of 'walking the bar.' Modal music. Tracking down all I could find out about Red Garland. Collecting as many bootlegs as I could, and trying to figure out whether I liked this Eric Dolphy guy. Trying to figure out which version of "My Favorite Things" was my favorite. Sort of an all-consuming passion. Then, of course, this leads off in other directions.

Sometimes the all-consuming fire of a topic lasts for only a short time.

As my lovely bride said when I came home Friday with three low-carb books: "Hmm. This is going to be an interesting month."

Low-carb. I have no idea how this is going to come into play. A recent episode of the TV show "Castle" showcased murder by balsamic vinegar, so I guess anything is possible.

Of course, writers have their own ways to research. I'm reading COTTONWOOD by Scott Phillips. It's an amazingly awesome book set in late nineteenth-century Kansas, full of detail and atmosphere you can't get unless you know your subject. Oh, and you kinda hafta be a damn good writer, too, not just a good researcher.

Unless Mr. Phillips has a time machine, he did his research in a way quite different from that of Mr. William T. Vollmann, who lives with prostitutes in order to write about them. Of course, Vollmann's ICE SHIRT and other books in that SEVEN DREAMS series rely on the book-learning aspect of researching history. And talking to others who know their stuff.

And that's what it is to be a reporter or a novelist or anyone with a literary case of OCD. (Or, as the joke goes, CDO, which is OCD, but the letters are in order.) You dig into something, root around for a bit, and come out with pieces you can put together to share your vision.

Now if I could only figure out how to kill a character by using ketosis.


Writers -- How does your research work? A little here and there and then back to the writing? Or do you get sidetracked and come out a few days later knowing way more than you need to about how tough it was to kill Rasputin?

Readers -- Do you like a novel with a good deal of non-fiction learning? Does it sometimes get in the way of the story? Or does that matter? Is there a book you think really did this super-well?