Saturday, May 1, 2010
Scott D. Parker
In all of my recent writing about ereaders, the one thing I did not have was a modern (circa 2010) reading device. That vacancy has now been filled. Last weekend, I bought an iPod Touch. It was the best device that met my current circumstances. Ideally, I'd like to have an iPhone but I'm satisfied with my current provider. But this iPod Touch will now be replacing my smaller iPod (for music), my Moleskine notebook (for calendar and capturing ideas), and my Palm Pilot (for reading ebooks). For the past week, I have been configuring the Touch with the apps I knew I wanted: the reading apps. I downloaded Stanza, Instapaper, Kindle app, Nook app, the free science fiction app, a free Bible app, and a PDF reader. Yessiree! I am ready for some reading.
My favorite so far is Stanza. In this past week, I have discovered I prefer the "swipe" page advancing feature over scrolling. I'm not necessarily speaking about the physical action of swiping finger across the screen to turn the page. I'm talking about the action of turning the virtual page rather than scrolling. It's easier on the eye since I tend to follow scrolling text with my eyes and that can get tiring. It's nice to be able to tap the right side of the screen and have the page advance. I have used calibre to format all my ebooks and make them available for Stanza. It's a good system.
For you Mac users out there, Instapaper is tres cool. It takes snapshots of web pages, strips most of the ad content out, and makes the resulting text available for downloading. Coolest of all for me--a non-iPhone user--is that I can read this content offline since it downloads to my device. With a desire to limit my time in front of my Mac when I'm at home, this app is essential.
Reading on the iPod Touch was the feature I most wanted. What I didn't expect was the writing apps. I write most blogs using MacJournal. That way, I have a record of the blogs I compose. Turns out there is a MacJournal app (what *doesn't* have an app nowadays). After an initial sync, I now have all my journals available on my iPod. It's an unexpected bonus feature to the device.
Even more unexpected were the two apps from Hog Bay Software, TaskPaper and WriteRoom. I have both desktop apps for my Mac. They are both text-based apps, minimalist in execution, letting you focus on just the things you need to do without the need for fiddling. The iPhone apps do the same thing. And that's not all the apps do. I can sync any file from these two apps to simpletext.ws so I always have a backup. Moreover, these apps can sync directly with Scrivener, my favorite writing program. Lastly, since I like writing standing at my desk, now I can write, stand, and pace.
I don't want to make this a tech review post. For that, it will make more sense to write up my actual experiences later on, after I've used the apps in a day-to-day environment. But it is an exciting and new way to get ideas down on "paper" and out of my head. I'm looking forward to some good and creative times with this little device. I've enjoyed writing this post on it.*
*I added the links on the Mac.
Friday, April 30, 2010
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
(Well it won't be live, because I'm posting it at 3 am EST... but you get the picture.)
ALL TIMES EST:
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
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
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Sunday, April 25, 2010
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.