Sunday, May 30, 2010

Add to your reading list with FREE goodness

By Steve Weddle

We're observing Memorial Day weekend here in the states. The holiday was originally called Decoration Day and set up to honor fallen Union soldiers after the War of Northern Aggression. Following the War to End All Wars, the holiday was changed to include all our dead soldiers -- even the Confederates, presumably. I have soldiers all over my family tree. My father served during the Vietnam War and lived to talk about it. Some weren't so fortunate. Not that our fallen soldiers are reading this blog, but, you know, thanks to them.

Speaking of reading this blog, I doubt this is a weekend of heavy traffic. From honoring the war dead to grilling with your family, you could be doing many other things. Including reading some really cool stuff on the innerwebs -- for freesies.

I want to make sure you know about a few really cool books that exist complete or in part on these same innerwebs I'm communicating to your from.

John Hornor Jacobs, an Arkansan good with the art in NEEDLE, has a good start of his fancy, ass-kicking Western THE INCORRUPTIBLES, his "wester/fantasy/steam-punk" slice of brilliance.

We rode through fields burning like the plains of hell, Fisk on the black, Banty on the roan bay, and me on Bess, the mule, leading a string of ponies. We came up from the delta and the lush watershed of the Big Rill through the edge of the farmlands. Settlers worked the fields, shovels in hand, throwing dirt on the fallowfires. Poor folk, eking a living off the land.

"That aedile wants another hunting expedition, they'll be floating his body back to New Damnation," Banty said, low and through his teeth.

Fisk sniffed, glanced at the smoke billowing above us, and then back out over the Big Rill's sun-hammered silver. No one moves the way Fisk does. Slow and deliberate, each gesture languid and relaxed. Until it isn't.

The Cornelian churned the waters, bragrags whipping in the wind, steaming upriver, while we kept pace. Fisk and I took the escort contract from Marcellus out of New Damnation, but the aedile's tribune saddled us with Banty, the greenhorn, who was good for nothing, except big talk and no action. The tribune wasn't a bad fellow, but even good folks make mistakes.

Fisk watched the Cornelian, the sky, the land. He remained still but his eyes never stopped roving, grey eyes, bleached by sun and years in the elements. Partners for the last decade and I still didn't know anything about the man, other than scraps and pieces. Had a family once. Could shoot out the eye of a sparrow on the wing. Feared no man, nor Vaettir. No rest until the stretchers are gone from the earth. He hated them with passion only reserved for Gods, dangerous women, and whiskey.

Head count conscripts milled about on the boat's galleries, staring out into the West, no doubt scanning the horizon for stretchers, terrified. Up on the top deck in the shadow of the pilot's roost stood an an umbrella, and the frill of patrician women. The stacks, daemon fired, blew ash and cinder skyward as if answering the flames of the fields.

Fire calls to fire, they say. I believe that.

From where I sat on Bess, I watched the other scouts, Sharbo, Ellis, and Jimson riding the western shore, stirrup high in fallow growth. No farms that side of the river, so close to the mountains. Stretchers come down, raiding.

Fisk said, slowly, "How you figure, Mr. Bantam?"

Banty put a hand on his pistol, a Hellfire .32 with Imp rounds. Sure to sully his soul, but deadly.

"I'll kill him."

Fisk glanced at the young man, taking in the rumpled uniform, the tight grip on his pistol.

"You might be stupid enough, at that."


Another great piece of writing is growing each day on the innerwebs. Dan O'Shea has hooked up his treadmill to power his laptop (or some such craziness) and is running it full of juice and jabs to the gut. His GRAVITY OF MAMMON is already a few dozen chapters in. Here's how it opens.

Nick Hardin never thought his first Hollywood party would be in a big-assed tent on the Chad-Sudan border, but here he was, nursing a gin and tonic, hoping he’d set things up far enough west that he was out of RPG range in case some Janjaweed punk got a bug up his ass. Fucking Mooney and his do-gooder shit.

Hardin had run into Jerry Mooney in Khartoum almost a year back. Darfur was heating up as the PR play of choice for socially conscious Hollywood types looking to bump up their Q scores. Hardin was heading out on his usual fixer gig for one of the networks. Same gig he’d been running since he got out of the Foreign Legion back in 1996 – logistics on a file footage job. Camera guy, sound guy, some former BBC face with the right kind of public school accent and safari guide outfit. Get 10 or 15 minutes in the can from the hell hole of the week so Nightline’s got something for a slow news day. Run the film, then cut back to the studio where the talking heads and maybe someone from Medicines sans Frontiers or some Foggy Bottom undersecretary could cluck their tongues between beer commercials. A little of the self-flagellation that a goodly portion of the folks that actually watch Nightline like to engage in before bed – helps them sleep better. Hardin’s job? Line up some transport and some security that, when you bought them for a couple of days, stayed bought. Point the talent at the right locations, pay off the right warlords, make sure the face gets his interview without getting his throat cut and the crew gets out without having to buy back their equipment at ten bucks on the dollar.

The face in this case being Nigel Fox. Hardin liked Nigel, and Nigel liked gin. That’s why he was spending his twilight years stringing the massacre circuit when he used to cover No. 10 Downing Street for BBC 1. Hardin had done Somalia with Nigel, Liberia back in the Taylor days. Kinshasha, Rawanda. The beginnings of a beautiful friendship. Hardin waited at the Khartoum airport by the Twin Otter he’d chartered as Nigel walked across the tarmac with his crew, a couple of stoner Italian adrenaline junkies. And with Jerry Mooney.

Hardin had heard of Mooney, of course. Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor. Square-jawed leading man in a maybe dozen chart-topping flicks. Probably more than a dozen – Hardin figured a few had come out that hadn’t made it to the flea-bag cinema down the street from his place in Accra.

“Nick Hardin,” said Nigel, “meet Jerry Mooney.”

“Jerry,” said Hardin, shaking hands. He turned to Nigel. “We still shooting news or are we making a movie?”

“Little of both, old boy,” Nigel said. “Ran into Jerry here at the Hilton night before last. Splendid chap. Shared a bottle of Boodles, and let me have more than half. Anyway, he was headed down to Darfur for a look-see, some video-blog thing for his web site. Marvelously technical, beyond me of course. But his fixer bolted on him, left the poor man stranded. All for one and one for all, of course, so I told him he could pack along with us.”

“Nice of you spend my nickel, Nigel,” said Hardin.

“Hey, Nick,” said Mooney, “Look, I know I’m imposing, and I know you’ve got to make a living. The guy I was supposed to meet up with, he’d said $500 a day, American, plus expenses. Nigel tells me we’re back tomorrow night, so that’s two days. Suppose we say $2500, is that fair?”

Usury is what it was, but Mooney threw out the number. Mooney was starting to smell like the gravy train. With a capital G and a capital train.

“Yeah, OK,” said Hardin.

Mooney smiled. Big, dimpled movie star smile. “All right. Off to the heart of darkness.”

Hardin caught the little smirk from Nigel. They always do that, the first timers. Drop the Conrad on you. But the darkness wasn’t concentrated in a heart anywhere. It had metasticzed into hundreds of tumors. Some, like Darfur, were a thousand miles wide. But most of them were about the size of a qat-chewing 13-year-old with an AK-47.

Nigel waved the Italians back to the truck. “You’ve forgot the bloody gin.”


And now for something completely different. Malachi Stone has somewhere close to 84 novels completed. He's just waiting on his checks. Here's the newest one he's posting, NIGHTMARE NUMBER NINE.

“Charred meat gets me hot.” She grinned at him, trying for lewd and crude. The steak joint was nothing special, one of those where they let you throw peanut shells on the floor and every twenty minutes or so they make the waitresses get up and line dance just in case your conversation lags.

His and her conversation hadn’t lagged. He’d never taken his eyes off of her, not once, even though the waitresses all wore tight jeans and skimpy western tops and danced right beside them, practically on top of them in fact, all of them twitching their butts and clapping their hands in rhythm to the country music. He’d ignored them. She was making an extra effort to be vivacious tonight, a rare treat for him. He was eating it up all through dinner.

He slipped a steak knife into his coat sleeve on the way out after leaving a generous enough tip so that nobody’d mind.

He opened the passenger door for her in the parking lot. She turned to slide in and was just starting to smile at him in that open-mouthed way she had—there was a black string of charred meat dangling from her left upper canine—when he put the knife in her, never breaking eye contact.

He put the body in a funny place. Then he drove home and went to sleep. Heavy meals always made him logy.

The date of my appointment turned out to be the first day Brenda had the saddle splint off her nose. Both her eyes were still black like a raccoon’s but the bruises under her eyes and across her cheeks had faded to the colors of autumn. We both were weary of explaining their presence to every client of ours who’d wandered into the office over the past two weeks. I’m sure at least half of them, as well as most of the attorneys, clerks and judges Brenda and I dealt with every day at the courthouse, suspected me of being a wife-beater. The truth was more difficult to explain, but hardly less shameful, at least for me.

The nurse weighed me before ushering us into a sterile white examining room with a single print hanging on the wall. After a moment some long-ago vestige of my college art apprece course kicked in and I recognized it as William Blake. I pointed it out to Brenda.

"Michael Binding Satan,” she acknowledged, slurring her pronunciation of “Satan.” She still hadn’t had the repair surgery and her speech was affected in a subtle way. “Has kind of a yin yang thing going on, don’t you think? Appropriate for a sleep disorders clinic I suppose.”

“Why’s that?”
“Isn’t it obvious? The one having the nightmare is Satan. He represents the chaos of the subconscious mind. Check out the rictus of terror on his face, the reptilian tail flailing around like Leviathan. And see the Archangel Michael putting a sleeper hold on Old Scratch, getting ready to pin him to the mat? Michael represents man’s consciousness fully awakened, putting the sleep disorder devil under his feet once and for all. Don’t you find it encouraging?”

“I could have used you in first year art apprece class.”

“You’ve used me often enough since then, Darling. And don’t you love it how the pronunciation of college course titles reverts to a pidgin Italian? Art apprece. Or soce for sociology, as in, ‘I sold back my soce book and only got a lousy buck for it.’ Guess I’m more sensitive to pronunciation issues these days.”

“Non lo parlo molto bene,” I singsonged.

“You’re the only person I ever met who took Italian in college. Why, Bosco? Perchè?”

“I needed a language.”

“We all need a language, dear heart. We’re a communicative species. But why Italian? I don’t think I ever asked you that before. It must have been over a cute girl. It was over a cute girl, wasn’t it?”

Brenda was my second wife, Betsy had been my first, a big mistake but soon corrected. Even though I was still working my way through the B’s I knew enough not to rise to that bait. “I wanted to read Dante in the original language,” I told her. Mercifully, the doctor chose that moment to appear.

Addressing Brenda the doctor said, “Looks like you were in a knockout.”

“Thank you for noticing, Doctor, but I’m afraid the man sitting next to me is the patient.”

Still focused on Brenda, who despite her injuries was and is a remarkably attractive woman, the doctor asked her, “So how are you doing?”

“I’m still prone to mouth breathing and am often mistaken for Boris Karloff on the telephone, but other than that I’m hanging in there, Doctor.”

“Nonsense. No one with ears could ever mistake your lovely voice for Boris Karloff’s.”

“You’re very kind. I was referring to my lisp. A temporary condition caused by my deviated nasal septum.”

“I know a good man for that.”

“So do I, Doctor. The problem is finding the time for going under the good man’s knife.”

“Yes, I see from the patient questionnaire that you two are husband and wife attorneys. That must make for a busy and challenging life.”

“Mine’s busy,” I broke in. “Hers is challenging.”

The doctor took a history. From Brenda second-hand, a fact I found rather disquieting. He asked her whether I ever walked in my sleep, talked gibberish in my sleep, slept with my eyes open, or in general behaved like a zombie after bedtime. Brenda answered every question in the affirmative, a fact I found even more disquieting.

“Does your husband ever rise stiffly in bed?”

“I beg your pardon, Doctor?” Brenda replied.

“You mistake my meaning. What I meant was, does he sit up in bed stiff as a corpse from time to time?”

She told him yes.

“And does he often awaken disoriented or confused, or with a blank look on his face?”

“Yes, Doctor. He stays that way all day long, too. Just look at him.”

“I don’t know whether you’re approaching this matter with the appropriate degree of gravity, Ms. Hoël.”

“Gravity? You want gravity, Doc? Try going ten rounds with this one some night. It’s like walking blindfolded into a pitching machine.”

“I only meant—”

Brenda asked, “So what’s the bad news, Doc? Give it to us; we can take it.”

“In my time I’ve encountered enough wives and girlfriends with cracked ribs, dislocated jaws and deviated nasal septa to recognize a case of night terrors when I see one,” the doctor said. He looked to be about thirty and had the air of a driving instructor about him. A driving instructor who spent more time pumping iron in the weight room at Gold’s Gym than he did poring over the medical literature. And even though we were in the examining room I couldn’t help noticing him poring over my wife’s gracefully crossed legs and picturing him pumping her instead of iron.

“Night terrors,” I said. “I’ve heard of those. Isn’t that where you see little green men coming to take you away?”

“Not necessarily. Sometimes they’re more of a teal.” He studied Brenda’s face for any reaction, then lowered his gaze to her right foot bouncing with nervous impatience. “Yes, night terrors, with a generous side order of adult-onset somnambulism. I’m fairly well convinced of my diagnosis, but to confirm it I’m ordering a sleep study. How’s this evening sound? We’ll plan on checking you in at the center around eightish.”

“Sounds like a preposterously early bedtime to me,” I said. “What about elevenish? Or even stroke-of-midnightish?”

The doctor didn’t smile. His stare had crept up to Brenda’s thighs and nestled there. She tugged at the hem of her skirt.


All three guys, fellow Team Decker members, continue to work on posting their stuff up on the web, for free. Call it sharing, promotion, beta testing, whatever. It's great to see so much good stuff out here. Right now, you've got three hunks of brilliance to enjoy. Make a note and when these books are on the end caps at Barnes and Noble and the front page at Amazon, you'll have fresh pieces of awesome to use your rewards cards on.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Reading Outside Your Niche

Scott D. Parker

When’s the last time you walked down the Bible aisle in a bookstore? It had been awhile for me until this week. I found some time over a lunch hour and headed on over to Barnes and Noble to get a voucher for a free ebook. I rarely browse the stacks of brick-and-mortar stores anymore other than the periodicals. What surprised me about the Bible aisle were all the niche Bibles.

I’m not talking translations, mind you. I know all about the different ones, the literal translations, the paraphrase, the ones in contemporary English. What struck me was the different *types* of Bibles. I saw a Graduate Bible (for all matriculating students?), the Women’s Bible, the Men’s Bible, the Teenager Bible, the One-Year Bible, the Manga Bible (yes, really), and many more. Heck, I even saw The Green Bible. Couldn’t pass that one up so I opened it. Instead of, say, red text for the words of Jesus, various environmental verses were printed in green. It seems like there’s a Bible for every little niche out there. But when you get down to it, the words and the message are the same, just the packaging and focus is different.

No, this is not some great, new insight. It does seem to me, however, just one more way to break larger groups down into smaller ones. You won’t find men reading The Woman’s Bible because it’s not the masculine niche. Conversely, us parents probably won’t be reading the teenage Bible perhaps because the font is too weird. You know what? I think we should. Men should peruse the women’s bible and see what kind of things are highlighted. Ditto for the parents of teenagers and the teenaged Bible. We might learn something we didn’t know about other groups.

The same theory holds true for the mystery field, too. There are dozens of niche mysteries involving animals, quilting bees, herbs, what have you. Crime fiction is usually the dark, violent stuff and is written for folks who enjoy that sort of story. I still can’t help but think that we ought to read outside our comfort zones once in awhile. I’m in a small SF book club and I only get to pick a book once every four times. I’m reading three books I likely would not have chosen. It never fails: when I read a book out of my comfort zone, I learn more from the one, unfamiliar book that three or four where I know what I’m getting into before I even start. It’s made me a better, more well-rounded reader, and, perhaps, a better writer, too.

How often do you read outside your comfort zone?

Friday, May 28, 2010

“I don’t know if you noticed, Marjory, but the criminal fraternity sometimes engage in practices call pretending and lying…”

By Russel D McLean

Please, if you have not seen all of Life on Mars (UK) or Ashes to Ashes, prepare for possibly very deep spoilers to both shows.

I admit that last Thursday’s finale to the Life on Mars sequel/spin-off Ashes to Ashes was possibly the best episode they did for the entire run. Everyone at the top of their game, and some interesting stuff going on. But it suffered, as the whole series has, from a sense of being quite superfluous to requirements. No amount of dramatic handwaving or metaphysical revelations could distract from the fact that, as an extension of Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes was unnecessary.

Unless, of course, you wanted all the answers.

One of the things that I adored about Life on Mars – aside from the fact that it turned out to be one of the best British cop shows in years – was the fact that it drip fed you its metaphysical meanderings. And, in the end, it left you wondering what really happened, whether you saw what you thought you did and if so, what did it all mean? I can remember the excited discsussions at work and at home. With friends.

All of us disagreeing, pointing to plot threads and images that backed up our arguments. All of our opinions were valid, and in the end, that emotional connection really made the show.

I can also, honestly, say I’ve never wept quite like I did at the end of Life on Mars. Sam’s “leap of faith,” while I contended it not to necessarily have been suicide, was heartbreaking especially as, for a split second, you did not know what was coming. You still asked the questions:

Was he mad?
In a coma?
Back in time?

You didn’t know for sure.

But you had your suspicions.

It stayed with me for a long time, that ending, and even watching the show back this year, I choked up as Sam was forced to choose between 2006 and 1973 even though I knew what was coming and even though I knew by this time that Ashes to Ashes had stated, categorically, that Sam Tyler committed suicide.

In fact, that was one of the things that annoyed me intensely in year one of Ashes to Ashes (aside from the eighties setting; sorry, but the seventies were much cooler, in fashion, music and cop shows). With DI Drake’s insistence that she was in a coma and everything was a figment of her imagination, the drama was sucked out of the situation. The stakes were lesser. And even if they did give Drake a daughter to go back to (Sam had a girlfriend, but no real connections in 2006), I’ll say that quite honestly, I didn’t care whether she made it back to Molly or not. That dramatic impetus, that tension, was sucked out of the show, because everyone seemed so confident about the facts.

There was also another twist that I realised upon a viewing of Life on Mars a couple of years later. In the original show, we never left Tyler’s point of view. Every scene was either inclusive of Sam or a flashback as Sam was being told what happened by another character. In Ashes to Ashes, and this become more prevalent as the series continued its run, we would leave Drake’s point of view to join other characters outside of her knowledge. Of course this led the viewer to believe in the reality of the other characters, but again robbed the series of ambiguity and interpretation. Of course, in the end, we discovered that what we’d really been watching all along was The Gene Hunt Show, but then that always seemed to be the intention behind Ashes to Ashes, moving a brilliant supporting character up to lead and perhaps taking away some of what made him quite so compelling in the first place.

Where Life on Mars had been about mystery, about questioning the nature of the show, Ashes to Ashes tended to take the viewer by the hand – perhaps, again, a nod to eighties television and storytelling. The series was all about answering the very questions that had made Life on Mars so addictive, and while I’m sure many viewers wanted that, I was quite happy to have an open-endedness to the show; a sense that the answers were to be found if we wanted them to be found.

What we got with Life on Mars was emotional closure.

Ashes to Ashes provided a mythological closure. But I didn’t even come close to tears this time around. And I wanted to. I had been watching for three years, enjoying most of what I saw but never feeling the same urgency and excitement I had felt with the original show.

For my money, I’ll take the emotional closure over the mythological one. The honest, raw and even upsetting ideas bandied about in the final moments of Life on Mars affected me more than the revelation of an Afterlife, which we could have extrapolated from clues in the earlier series. Throw in an insane performance from a character who was clearly signposted as The Devil, and you realise that the show is Grandstanding big-time, making sure that everyone understands what’s going on, leaving no one in doubt as to anything.

There were no phone-calls, emails, disagreements following the end of Ashes to Ashes.

But there was much to enjoy through the run of Ashes to Ashes, despite its feeling of being quite superfluous. Gene Hunt was always worth watching, even if they softened him up for the second series (he was often genuinely terrifying in Life on Mars, his bigotry entrenched and less cartoon-like than in the second show) and foolishly tried to make him a romantic lead of sorts (sorry, but I never bought the Hunt/Drake thwarted romance line). In fact, the main cast were usually engaging (I never had a problem with Keeley Hawes as Alex Drake, even though early criticisms of the show seemed to point to her) and never put in less than their all. I even rather liked the character of Jim Keats who came into season trhee as a “discipline and complaints” officer, but I was rather upset to see his portrayal disintegrate in the final episode as his evil machinations came to light. Pull it down a notch, he would have been terrifying. But all that hissing, laughing and talking in tongues (not to mention the Hell Express elevator which anyone in their right mind would have walked away from) took away any terror from the character’s revelations and intentions, relegating him to cliché of the week, something that stunted Life on Mars through all three seasons (again, I could put this down to its eighties pop culture roots).

By overtly stating everything that Life on Mars implied, the series ultimately lost me. I like to figure things out. Maybe I’m a rare viewer in that sense, but I like to let my TV shows make me do a bit of work. Not necessarily all the work all the time, but I like to be able to figure stuff out rather than have all the dramatic points handed to me on a plate.

All the same, its strange to think we’ll not be seeing Gene Hunt on our screens again. With his performance throughout both series, Philip Glenister certainly created an original, often inspired and eminently quotable character.

And certainly, his last insult of the series (thrown at a Dutch drug dealer whose gang had just shot up Gene’s beloved Audi Quattro) did give me cause for a grin: “You murdered my car, you dyke-digging tosspot!”

No matter what else, the Gene Genie never lost his way with words…

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pearl Jam Concerts and Crime Novels

by Dave White

Last week, I saw Pearl Jam in concert 3 times. Once at the new Prudential Center in Newark and then twice. I've seen them about 8 times before this, but in my opinion these three shows were the best stretch of shows.

When I start talking about Pearl Jam concerts, I usually get asked why I go so much. The easy explanation is Pearl Jam is awesome. The longer answer is all the shows end up lasting 2.5 to 3 hours and they play 30 songs per concert. And yet, each show has an extremely varied setlist. For example, it took me four shows to see them play "Jeremy" and 8 shows before I saw "Black." But it only took me one show before I saw "Footsteps," which has grown into one of my favorite songs. Each show, however, has felt epic, huge, and always a more than just a concert.

It's a Pearl Jam concert (*).

(*How epic? The second or third time I saw them, they played two songs of each album in chronological order. Then they broke out "Hunger Strike" for the first time in fifteen years!)

Which brings me to crime fiction. When I read a certain author, I want the equivalent of a literary Pearl Jam concert. I want to be pulled through an adrenaline rush. I want to have to turn the page. I want big stories. They don't have to be about saving the world, but they do have to be about big emotions. I want to get something I haven't seen before.

At the same time, I want to know what I'm getting into. I want an author to be give me a vibe.

For instance, Dennis Lehane's Patrick & Angie series, MYSTIC RIVER, SHUTTER ISLAND, and THE GIVEN DAY can't be more different for each other. But all those books have the same feel. The same rhythm. The same with Duane Swierczynski. All his books are remarkably different, but if you tore the cover and title page off the books, I'd still know it was him.

It's a tricky feet to pull off, which is why I'm often hesitant to try new authors until I see tons of good reviews. I like something that's familiar to me, and then tries something different. It's difficult to explain.

The same goes for my writing. I always want to try something new each time I write something. WHEN ONE MAN DIES was a combination of a police prodedural and PI novel. In THE EVIL THAT MEN DO, I want to play with a timeline. My latest work is a balls out thriller.

What about you? What do you look for in your writers? In your concerts?

BONUS: Years later, I got to see HUNGER STRIKE and BLACK again:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought ___

John McFetridge

People are talking about different publishing methods since last week’s announcement of Joe Konrath’s deal with AmazonEncore and most of the discussion has to do with how the deal will affect publishers and writers.

So, I’m going to talk about how it affect readers.

It’s going to be good.

There’s no shortage of books being published every year. I often hear how there are too many books published. But when you start breaking them down into categories and niches are there really too many? And are they easy to find?

One thing that led to Konrath selling so much of his backlist himself as e-books was that Hyperion dropped its crime list. Other publishers have reduced the number of books they publish as well. It really looks like the publishing industry is following in the footsteps of the movie business and spending a lot of time looking for a few big blockbusters.

I’m not sure that’s a good model for books. Or really, it’s not a good model for books sold online – either print books ordered online or e-books. Because the online world isn’t the real world. Just look at the comment threads, so much of what’s posted there would never be said out loud in the real world. This blog is not a good example of that, too many reasonable people here, but we’ve all been to those other kinds of sites. This one, Get Off the Internet is depressing and funny at the same time, something the online world excels at being). There was a story on that website awhile ago about a knitting group getting into a huge argument and having to ban people. A knitting group.

Wait a minute, there’s an online knitting group? Of course there is. There’s an online group for everything.

The online world is about niche.

Joe Konrath’s sales are plenty good enough for him to keep writing books, just not good enough for a big publisher to keep making enough money off them.

So there are probably hundreds, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people out there who are in niches too small for publishers to go after. Up until now maybe those people sought out self-published books or fanzines (remember those?) or more likely just did without. Maybe they didn’t even notice they were doing without.

But now they (I really mean ‘we’) have a way to get books that appeal to a very small audience. Books that will look and feel just like big publisher books. This is especially true of e-books, but click over here and order a copy of Needles and you’ll see that POD books have come a long way, too.

And that may be the biggest change to the book business. Not self-publishing or e-books or Amazon Encore or POD or the iPad or the Nook or any of that.

The biggest change to the book business may be buying online where all books get the same amount of shelf space and they’re always in stock.

Of course that means that the pile of books is ten miles high and it’s impossible to find one in your niche.

And that’s where the next most important change is (have I now said that three or four things are the “most” important change? Well, change happens pretty fast online, I can’t keep up). It’s the accuracy of the, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought___,” button.

And it’s going to get even better.

Amazon will probably follow in the footsteps of Netflix and offer a million dollar prize to anyone who can come up with a collaborative filtering algorithm (of course I had to look that up) that will increase their business by 10%. Here’s the story of the Netflix algorithm .

When this kind of filtering system gets even more sophisticated for books it won’t matter where they come from – self-published, small press, big publisher, AmazonEncore – makes no difference on the Amazon page.

The other announcement that came out last week from Amazon that I think is also great news for readers is the introduction of AmazonCrossings, the new division that will sell english translations of books that up until now haven’t been available.

In many (most?) cases a translated book simply won’t sell enough copies for a big publisher to buy the rights, pay the translator and market in North America and those things are usually too expensive for a small press to be able to pay for upfront.

But if Amazon is the publisher itself it can ammortize those costs over... well forever, I guess. If the books are available as e-books and POD print books and they sell a couple hundred copies a year for fifty years, eventually it’ll pay off.

And it means even more books are available for us. Just imagine the cool Italian noir, the French, the Swedish ones that aren't about some girl who did something but about women?

It really is going to be good.

Now, I should say that like Joe Konrath I don’t think it’s a good idea to self-publish an e-book to the Kindle. But I should date this post because that could change fast, too.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

One From The Vault; The Maltese Falcon

By Jay Stringer

I lamented a few weeks back that I don’t get much time to read at the moment. When I’m not hunched over my desk at the day job, I’m hunched over my laptop at the night job. It’s worth it, don’t get me wrong, bit it is something I’m missing right now.

Recently I found a little time to finish the great book ‘d been reading –review to follow in a week or so- and looked at my shelf for something familiar, something I could read without reading, if you know what I mean.

I almost picked up The Maltese Falcon, which I’ve not read in a few years, and that made me think or the review I wrote last time I re-read it. I enjoy dipping back into things I've written before. In this instance, it was fun to note how my online voice has changed since then, and how i lean more toward some of Hammett's other works. So here it is, straight from the vault.


THE MALTESE FALCON was published on valentines day 1930. That seems to strike a chord, its brilliantly fitting for the novel. And yet, it also feels wrong. To read the book in 2007 is to read something that feels modern, thoroughly modern.

Sure, it contains some dated references. It takes place in a world that nolonger exists. But at the same time, it reads almost as if one of our contemporary writers have written a ‘period piece’. The approach to the narrative, the characters and the dialogue, the total lack of morality, they all seem to come out of our modern psyche.

The private detective genre is one filled with clichés and traps; some writers fall into them, some subvert them or ignore them. Nevertheless, they are all aware of them. THE MALTESE FALCON was written before these clichés existed. But rather than reading something that came before the clichés, it feels like you’re reading a post-modern destruction of the private eye myth; that’s how good Hammett was, he turned the genre on his head even as he created it.

At no point in the novel does he take the reader into any of the characters heads, at no point does he tip the hat or give any motivation or plot details away.

His characters work a different trick to the other great names of hardboiled fiction. Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe is the cliché, the standard. He faces every situation with the best dialogue ever written, the finest in dry wit. Behind all his bravado and wit, lies a broken heart. There is dissatisfaction bubbling beneath the service, knowing that the world will hurt you. Marlowe is an anti-hero not because he lacks morality, but rather because the world does. He holds true to what’s left of himself.

Sam Spade, Hammett’s central character in THE MALTESE FALCON is a whole other character. At the outset of the book we find that he is having an affair with his business partners wife, and through the various twists and turns of the novel, the only thing we are ever sure of is that Spade is looking out for himself.

There is no bruised hero here, none of Marlowe’s damaged knight in shining armour. Humphrey Bogart played both characters on the silver screen, which gives a good example of the difference between them. Rick in CASABLANCA has a place In film history as the man who did the right thing, at the cost of a broken heart. He put the woman on the plane. Marlowe, too, would put the woman on the plane and end the story with a cracking one liner to hide the pain. Spade, by turn, would find a way to sneak her out the back way for a damn good seeing too, and damn the greater good.

It’s a strange ending to the book, which grows out of that brilliant characterization. Though in many ways the greater good is served, and the ‘good’ has triumphed over the ‘evil’, there is a tonal lack of triumph.

In the end, Spade is doing the right thing not because he wants to, or because its right, but because its ‘good for business’ and keeps him out of jail.

More than the invention of modern crime fiction, this is also the departure point for much of mainstream American cinema. An influence that has bled through into television and music.

This book is an important part of our cultural psyche.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Frank Bill day at DSD

By Steve Weddle

Today you get pixels and a podcast.

I talked to Frank Bill about his new book, DONNYBROOK. You can find the podcast at the DSD Podcast page.

Here's what folks are saying about the book:

"Donnybrook is some serious hillbilly-noir that had my ears ringing by the end. Open the first page... and duck." --Craig Clevenger, author of The Contortionist's Handbook and Dermaphoria

“Dark, grim, and achingly beautiful. Frank Bill is one of the most original and compelling voices in this new generation of crime writers, and Donnybrook is nothing short of stunning.” -- John Rector, author of The Cold Kiss and The Grove

"Donnybrook is a bellow of rage from the American heartland, and Bill is the new bard of the disaffected rural underclass." -- Roger Smith, acclaimed author of Wake Up Dead

"With Donnybrook, Frank Bill has crafted one of the most fearless debut novels I've read in years. Bill has taken the rural noir traditions established by such masters as Larry Brown and Daniel Woodrell and has completely shattered them and reshaped those traditions into the methamphetamine fueled nightmare that is Donnybrook."--Keith Rawson, editor/publisher, Crimefactory Magazine

“Donnybrook is the culmination of Frank Bill's craft and style. The story gleams with ruined characters who reflect our drug-adulterated times, and dialogue that captures a singularly American desperation." -- Elaine Ash, editor Beat to a Pulp

Over at the DSD Podcast you'll find some of my conversation with Frank Bill about the book, his progress as a writer, meth cooking, and dead squirrels.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Do you read non-fiction?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I don’t. Well, sometimes I do, but as a general rule, when I want to throw myself into a book, I pick fiction. And I read just about every genre – mystery, thriller, noir, fantasy, historical fiction, young adult, romance, etc… I can’t help myself. I love a good story. A lot of non-fiction just doesn’t give me that.

Not that there isn’t great stuff to be had between non-fiction covers. There is. I just have a harder time finding the ones that really grab me. Until two weeks ago.

My husband loves buying me books, especially since my awesome agent sold mine. Between my birthday, our anniversary, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, I have an entire Minotaur Books library of recent releases. (Yep, that's my version of the intimidating TBR pile Scott was talking about in his post yesterday.) And I’ve enjoyed making my way through the stack. But for Mother’s Day he bought me one that was different. A non-fiction book that he thought I might be interested in since the subject matter coincided with my current work in progress. The book is Gang Leader For A Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh.

The title is a bit dry and while it gives the facts of what lies inside, it doesn't fully capture the essence of the book. Yes, he did get a chance to be a gang leader for a day, but that took all of about 15 pages. The rest is a rich detail of a graduate sociology student who was interested in plight of Chicago’s poor. In trying to take a survey about their lives, the grad student ends up meeting a high ranking member of a gang who is willing to offer protection. This gives the student a unique view into the gang, the housing projects and the life of those who live there. I'm really simplifying here, but you get the point.

This story wasn’t told with dramatic prose. There wasn’t rapid fire action or high body counts. In fact, the lack of that type of story telling was what made this book so intriguing. It would have been tempting to pump up the drama considering the subject matter. But Sudhir Venkatesh showed great restraint with his turn of phrase. Instead, he gives an honest telling of his younger self’s naivete about gangs, his ethical dilemmas and his strange, but very real friendship with a man who controlled an entire community through drugs and fear.

Through the book, Sudhir is honest about the questionable morality of many of his decisions. He looked the other way when perhaps he shouldn’t have. He saw illegal activities and didn’t report them. There was always a reason why he didn’t call the police or tell his professors. Sometimes they were good reasons. Other times not.

The best crime fiction always has moments of blurred morality. Shades of gray are always more interesting than those that are black and white. This book isn’t fiction, but I believe most lovers of the genre will find this story compelling for many of the same reasons. If you read it, let me know. I’d be curious to see what you think.

And for all of you lovers of crime fiction – tell me – do you read non-fiction? If so, what is the most compelling non-fiction you’ve read? I’m ready to read another one.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Oppression of the To Be Read Pile

Scott D. Parker

I know y'all've seen those Geico insurance ads where a person is doing one thing (like shooting baskets) and something flies in from off-screen (like another basketball). The person looks over and he sees a wad of cash with eye balls. The tag line is something like "This the money you could be saving with Geico." What's let unspoken is the cash wad's insistence that you drop whatever you may be doing and pay attention to it, even if you're happily doing something else.

I don't know about y'all but the To Be Read stack of books can be equally as oppressive. There's just so many good books being published that I want to read them all. There are also a ton of authors--both published and unpublished--that I want to support. And I buy books, less than I used to, but I still buy them. And they go on the To Be Read Shelf.

Please tell me I'm not the only one who has a To Be Read Shelf. I used to be quite obsessive in the way I arranged my bookshelves. For whatever reason, my desire to see my books in a particular order on the shelf thankfully passed away. Now, my books are haphazardly arranged on purpose. (No, I don't go out of my way to make them haphazard. I just put them wherever I want to at the time.) It gives me a bit of spontaneity when I examine my bookshelves and see something I haven't seen in awhile.

What has survived is the To Be Read Shelf. It's a single shelf where I stack all the books I want to read next. Right now, I've got at least half my Hard Case Crime books there (around twenty or so). My A. A. Fair books (half dozen) sit next to my comic trade paperbacks while some of my SF/F material look on. It's a full shelf and I'm not even listing everything (I'm at work and can't see the shelf).

Let's get one thing straight: I want to read every, single book on that shelf and all the other shelves in my writing room (let's not count my library for now). But every time I select a book to read, that TBR Shelf stares at me, tempting me to drop whatever book I'm reading and pick up something else. Then, there's the obvious psychological factor. I've already got so many books on that shelf that, theoretically, I should cease buying newer things until I have read all the existing books on the shelf. It can be daunting, depressing, and oppressive. And, as the stack grows larger and larger, the more oppressive the pile becomes. Eventually, reading starts to become less fun and more of a chore.

My wife, on the other hand, is wonderfully blissful when it comes to her reading. She has no TBR pile or shelf. Now, granted, she's not a writer and doesn't obsess over books like we do. Still, her reading habit goes something like this: she finds an author she likes (currently, Margaret Coel) and literally reads everything there is. She did this with Patricia Cornwell, too. She always has something to read but there's no TBR stack. She's free from constraints and oppression. Some days, I envy her freedom.

Thus, I've come to a personal conclusion. There's a way to shake up my reading process and make things fresh again: kill the TBR shelf. I'm going to rearrange my shelves and disperse all the books I want to read throughout all my shelves. That way, I'll have to hunt for the books I want and might stumble onto something I've forgotten for awhile. This is summer time. It's a season to read fun books and, by extension, to have fun reading again.

So, am I the only one whose TBR Shelf/Pile feels like an schoolmarm tapping her toe, making reading more of a chore than a fun activity?

Friday, May 21, 2010

(Literary) Fight Club

By Russel D McLean

So here we go again. And before we start, let me state straight up that I am not about to pass judgement on any writer's output or value, but I am going to try and tear down an ongoing literary slanging match that is, in my opinion, becoming increasingly harmful to both sides.

For those who haven't been keeping up, it seems that bestselling thriller writer Lee Child has either made a horrific faux-pas or, worse, he genuinely believes that literary writers “know in their heart that we could write their books but they could not write our books.”

It’s the kind of quote that, even from its alleged context (a TV debate on literary vs genre, precisely the argument that's beginning to get me down) sounds childish, petulant and plain baiting.

Reading the full quote, things start out nicely. Child claims that since his and Ian McEwan’s books were released at the same time (Child's latest is 61 HOURS, Ian McEwan's is SOLAR), the media were trying to set up some kind of grudge match. Child asks “why should I be worried about Iain McEwan’s books?” which is a fair enough question. And, I assumed, was going to go down the “look, we’re aiming for two vastly different sectors of the market, like asking whether John Woo should be worried by the latest Judd Apatow flick” kind of response.

But no, he goes for the previously mentioned statement and proceeds to make crime and thriller writers sound particularly full of themselves in the worst possible way. In the same kind of way that many literary writers have sounded when claiming that thriller and crime writers don't need to work as hard at what they do and that we're all about formula.

It doesn't help that Child picked a peculiarly poor example when it came to McEwan because, let’s face facts, McEwan sells by the boatload even though his output is less frequent than Childs. McEwan also has five movies adaptions to Child’s zero. And yet Child makes the case – however indirectly – that McEwan should somehow be jealous of him?

Here are the publishers stats on Child (as reiterated across the proofs of 61 hours): one book by Child is sold in the world every second. But does this really mean anything? Do those sales make him better or more talented than McEwan?

Here’s the thing: I’m getting fed up of the literary/genre debate. From both sides. I do believe that certain literary types have stereotyped genre as being empty of brain and purpose (which is true in some cases) while some of us genre writers have come to regard literary as so much empty posturing with only the appearance of intelligence (again, true in some cases).

However, in amongst all this mud slinging we’re forgetting an important thing:

None of it matters.

No, seriously. Because we’re all in the same damn boat, us authors of fiction. Every kind of fiction is intended to have a different effect upon the audience. Hence, McEwan’s books are attempting to induce very different emotions and reactions than a Child thriller. But they share many common features, and come from a similar spring of inspiration and creation.

So why can’t the two co-exist? Literary and genre side by side, proud to be fictional?

Why do they have to be in competition at all?

And as to Child’s later assertion that why wouldn’t a starving literary writer write a “bestseller” in the vein of Child, or even just a crime novel, let me point out from experience that many crime writers are also starving and believe me, if we could hit on that magic and very lucky formula for bestsellerdom (which McEwan has as equally as Child, despite the protestations of Child) we would be doing it. Its not like we – or our literary equivalents – are saying, “Tell you what, we’re going to write an inadequate book that’s not going to sell”. Because all writing is about connecting with an audience, and the widest audience possible. Yes, literary writers may talk less about money and audience and more about art and theme, but when you think about what sales mean you’re connecting with an audience, so money and connection to readers are concepts which have to be linked.

I’m speaking here as a man more likely to pick up a crime thriller than a literary novel, but that’s not to say that literary novels are all without merit or that all crime novels are brilliant (in fact there are many, many shitty crime novels and some translucently wondrous literary novels as well as brilliance in nearly all genres). I think – I believe – that a good book is a good book, and one that connects with an audience will do so no matter who has written it or for what reason. Maybe I’m naïve, but I honestly wish any writer – yes, even James Patterson and Dan Brown – well in what they do because, even if I don’t approve of it, clearly their work is connecting with someone somewhere. And, frankly, getting bogged down in genre wars, in macho-bullshit posturing over whose work is more important or enduring, over whether or not a literary novel could be “written in three weeks” or any number of these petty arguments, distracts us from what’s really important: writing books for readers like ourselves, books that connect with readers, that slip into people's lives, that make them say, for whatever reason, "I am glad to have read that".

In the end, it doesn’t matter what you write. Or even how big your audience is. If we all wrote the same kind of books, then the world, believe me, would be a poorer place.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


by Dave White


Take a deeeeeeeeeeeeeeep breath.

Are you a published author? Are you someone who wants to be a published author? Do you have an idea, a concept, an outline, fifty typed pages? Do you know every in and out of the publishing world, the promotional ideas, and what you're going to do when you get that book deal?


Forget it all. Take all that stuff about a changing world and put in your back pocket and save it for later.


Write the book.

Bury your head in the sand. Forget what all the blogs are talking about (EVEN THIS ONE) and write you book. Write the best damn book you can. Revise it until your eyes bleed. Revise until your fingers are numb.

Worry about what's in the book. Are you writing what you want to read? Good.

What gets lost in all these blogs on the publishing industry that writers read is the book itself. It is so easy to put the cart before the horse. Yeah, when you HAVE A BOOK DONE you want to figure out the best way to get it in front of an audience. You want to know if there are going to be publishers out there to put it in front of readers.

But remember, at this stage of the game, YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE A FINISHED BOOK. You have an idea, some pages, and a "favorite places" list full of blog posts.

Write your book. Enjoy the process.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


John McFetridge

Do you remember when Hill Street Blues was first on TV? It was a revelation in many ways but one of the big things about it was the way it blended what I’d call soap opera elements with police procedural and moral dilemmas.

I’m thinking about an early episode in which a couple of guys broke into a church, stole things and raped and murdered a nun. They were caught, but there was no evidence beyond the possession of the stolen items.

Joyce Davenport, the public aid lawyer represented them and wanted to make a deal. An angry mob gathered around the police station. Captain Furillo demanded a full confession.

Joyce refused and said there was no way they’d get a conviction for the murder with the evidence they had so they’d plead to a lesser charge.

Furillo said, okay, you’re right, we won’t get a conviction on the murder with the evidence we have and we’re not interested in the lesser charge. Your clients are free to go.

And Joyce freaked and said the mob outside would rip them apart and Furillo said, yeah, well, if they confess to the murder they get to stay safe in a jail cell. Joyce said he was using the threat of a lynching to extort a murder confession and Furillo said, damned right I am.

I had all kinds of mixed feelings about that. The cops have to play by the rules but the bad guys have to be caught. He was extorting a confession. Was he going too far in breaking the rules? If he was so certain these guys were guilty couldn’t he get more evidence legally? The show didn’t offer any easy answers.

The next day one of my co-workers asked if I’d seen Hill Street Blues and I said, yeah, and she said, “Do you think Frank will get back together with Fay?”
I said, “What?” No idea what she was talking about until I remembered that throughout the episode Captain Furillo’s ex-wife, Fay, was in the precinct and when he had the fight with his girlfriend, Joyce Davenport, he and Fay shared a very understanding look.

At the time, angry young man that I was, I dismissed this soap opera aspect (and my co-worker) as silly and unnecessary, something network TV was forced to stoop to for ratings.

And later I realized (once again) how wrong I was.

The advertising industry on Mad Men, the mafia wars on The Sopranos, the backroom politics on The Good Wife – they’re only ever half a story. Without the soap opera elements, without Don and Betty, Tony and Carmela and Alicia and Peter those shows just don’t have the emotional depth to be interesting week after week.

The question, “Will their marriage survive?” hangs over every episode. It’s the drama version of, “Will they get it on?” the sexual tension that so many comedies are built around.

This is probably incredibly obvious to you, but I’m a little slow on the uptake.

Crime fiction has had a few famous couples as well, like Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man and Spenser and Susan Silverman and MacMillan and Wife and Hart to Hart on TV (and I’m sure lots and lots more, please feel free to inform me in the comments), though it never really felt like any of those marriages were in trouble (and I haven't read all the Spenser's, did they ever get married?).

Noir fiction, though, usually has the loner male and the femme fatale we just can’t trust. And it usually ends badly. Really bad for her and mostly bad for him.

Are there any couples that stay together in noir?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Ballad Of The Typewriter And The Flying Elephant

By Jay Stringer

Habits. Crutches. Excuses. We’ve al got them.

Little superstitions that we rely on for our creative spark, or rituals that we need to go through before we feel settled enough to put words on a page.

I’ve often laughed at them. I know someone who makes a big deal of setting up a “writing space” in any new home. I always thought that was stupid. I mean, all that time spent setting up a writing space could be time spent writing, right?

I tried having a space. When we first moved into our current flat I adopted a corner of the kitchen, set up the desk with paper, pens and my laptop. Later I added a printer. But then I found that I didn’t write there; I wrote on the floor, I wrote on the bed, I wrote in the bath. More often than not I write where I’m sat right now, with my laptop perched on the arm of the sofa and my feet tucked beneath me.

I don’t need a set physical writing space, because the work is in my head. I can open up and start writing wherever I feel in the mood.

Chandler famously became dependent on alcohol. Now, anyone who becomes dependent on alcohol has far more pressing problems that whether or not they’ve convinced themselves they need the booze to write. But all of that aside, there are famous tales of him being locked away in a room with liquor and no food in order to get one last film script out of him. Sure, he didn’t really need the alcohol to get the writing done, but I’ll lay you a heavy bet that script wouldn’t have been finished if the booze had been taken away.

Cormac McCarthy wrote almost all of his novels (so far) on the same typewriter. Dumbo had a magic feather – and I thought I’d seen everything until I saw an elephant write.

But I’m a very superstitious person, and I found out this week that I do have habits. I’ve developed a few things that control how much writing I do.

Recently it has become clear that I may be lactose intolerant. Those of you who know me will know how hard this would hit me; I’m a man who places tea and coffee on an equal footing with oxygen. In the last few days I’m slowly getting used to the taste of soya milk. But for that first week, it was disgusting. I missed my milk, and so I stopped drinking tea and coffee. And with a deadline looming on (insert reference to secret project here) I found that I was struggling. Big time.

I wasn’t struggling for ideas. The story was in my head, I could look at it, feel it and touch it. But I couldn’t get it down on the page because I didn’t have a cup of warm tea in my hand.

Pathetic, right?

So once this latest round of hard work is out of the way, I’ll be doing a detox. I’ll be hunting out each and every stupid writing superstition that I’ve gathered and chucking them out.

How about you? What habits have you got? What excuses have you developed to not write?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reasons to Believe

By Steve Weddle

Somewhere in this house is a Polaroid of me and Spider-Man. I met him at a mall in Shreveport, Louisiana around the time I was watching him on TV. I don't recall there having been any big crime spree there that he needed to take care of, but perhaps he'd already finished off the bad guys. (I do remember a comic featuring Spidey and the Dallas Cowboys, so perhaps he stopped by Shreveport while he was in the area.) He was nice, didn't talk much, and signed the photo for me. Turns out, I was his best pal.

Batman and Superman might have been SuperFriends, but they didn't hold too much interest for me. I was a Marvel kind of guy.

You could count on a couple of ads in comics back in the late 70s and early 80s. One of them offered prizes if you sold a bunch of crap to people in your neighborhood. Another one was for 1,000 army men. Or maybe a million. And then there was the one from Mile High Comics. One hundred comics for $25. They listed what was available and you could put a mark in the box and mail it in or call them. That's what I wanted for my birthday. One hundred comics. So I had to select which comics I wanted. Spider-Man. Avengers. Every New Defenders they had. Doctor Strange.

Since Mile High Comics was in Denver and we weren't, my dad took the list to work and called it in. A couple of funny things happened. One: They didn't have every comic I wanted. I don't remember the percentage, but I ended up with a handful of Beta Ray Bill Thors, She-Hulks, and West Coast Avengers. The second funny thing: My dad's boss kept walking by his office door wondering why my dad was cupping his hand over the phone and whispering, "How about 'Defenders' number 83? No, OK. 'Avengers' 212? That one? OK. Good."

Spider-Man was the crime fiction I grew up on. The troubled good guy fighting impossible odds, getting in way over his head and getting whupped.

So I got my 100 comic books sent right to my door when I was a kid. I kept them in a box under my bed, worked through a run of 'Defenders,' even those with that dork Namor in them. I found stuff I'd never thought of reading -- hating some, loving some.

I miss those days of surprise, when anything was possible and you'd wait a whole month for the next story, the next issue.

As a grown-up, you get shots at this, though.

Tyrus Books offers a subscription program. Every month or so, you'd be getting a new gem of crime fiction right to your door. Kinda like the Book-of-the-Month Club, only cool.

Dumpy little thrift shops. Sure, used books stores have folks who know their stuff and everything well organized. Sometimes, though, this makes it kinda easy and takes the fun out. I don't know what the Beta Ray Bill version of a crime novel would be, but imagine those shelves back in the corner of the thrift shop, back near the NordicTrack. For a dollar, you walk out with five paperbacks -- a few Elmore Leonards, a Laurie R. King, and some Grisham for your mom.

Pre-Orders online. The anticipation is fantastic, isn't it? Release date. Oh, I'm getting it early. Sweet. My wife loves Mr. N. DeMille's John Corey novels and had her pre-order for Wildfire in six months before she got it. I'd read and enjoyed the character, too, so we were counting down the weeks.

Subscriptions. Surprises. Some synonym for "anticipation" that starts with 's.'

What makes reading cool for you? What is it you like about the world of reading? Series detectives? Author signings? Do you have a Polaroid proving you're Lee Child's best pal?

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I'm writing this as the Tigers and Red Sox go into the 13th inning and as you read this tomorrow Spenser and I will be watching the finale of that series live. This whole week I've been trying to put the thoughts in my head together to write something about why baseball seems to be a more literary sport than any of the others. There's been some great novels, and short stories, and anthologies (and lots of films) about baseball, and much of the best sports non-fiction has the old bats and balls as it's subject. But the thoughts never gelled and its a subject I thought deserved more than my last minute ramblings. Which got me thinking about walking the tightrope as a writer.

You can call it procrastination, and I'll freely admit its' one of my great weaknesses in writing and in life, but man, I've pulled some great stuff out at the last minute and, as tonight, when I try and put something together over time it more often than night dies on the vice. So you're all kind of like the audience at a trapeze show. Sometimes you get death defying antics and last minute flashes of greatness, but once in while you witness a guy choking and hitting the ground.

So let me open it up for comments. What's your tight rope? Is there an area in your writing or in your life where you always seem to be running on the edge of failure but can also pull out some good stuff?

P.S. (Go Brennan Bosch)

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Scott D. Parker

In recent months, I've taken to riding my bicycle more and more places. There was some natural foods website that enabled you to locate your address and draw a 2-mile circle around your house. Your pledge was to walk or bike to anything inside that perimeter. Other than major grocery shopping, I've started doing that. It's fun, I get exercise, and the world seems just a tad slower.

One of the things I've noticed is the informal fraternity among bikers and pedestrians. We nod at each other with a knowing nod, kind of like we know we're doing something different and it's our little secret on how fun it is. The world seems different, too. I rarely listen to music when riding, preferring (often for safety's sake) to hear the world as I pedal past it. As such, I hear different things, I focus on different things (not being hit by a car, for example), and take stock of my surroundings in a much more nuanced way. I'm to the point now where I'm considering trading in my mountain bike for a street-worthy bike capable of carrying small amounts of groceries and other things. In short, I'm considering buying the bike I used to laugh at in my younger days.

The thing is, I like being different. I like it that there is a little bike community where I can chat gears and pedals and ergonomic bike seats. It's fantastic. And I like spreading the bike-riding gospel, too. But there's always a little something in me that holds back. I don't want *everyone* to start riding bikes because then, the lanes would be crowded, the products would go up in price, and it wouldn't be as special.

I have the entirely opposite reaction when it comes to our wonderful online reading/writing/genre communities. I had the idea for this post on Wednesday. What I wanted to do was link the pedestrian/bike riding community with our crime/writing community. I love our online community, its size and breadth, and all the folks I've met along the way. Without the internet, frankly, many of us would be mere wandering souls in the vast desert that is writing and reading and books. I enjoy reading other blogs and books by fellow writers and, I hope, they enjoy reading the material I write.

Unlike the bike community, however, I want more and more folks to join our reading community. Naturally, it's because I hope folks will read my stuff and read other blogs I enjoy. Which brings up a question I've been pondering since Wednesday (when I thought of it while, yes, riding my bike): how often do we tell others about the blogs we enjoy? I'm not talking about fellow bloggers (although they do count). I'm talking about folks who may not read blogs on a regular basis.

Let's say you're at a bookstore and you see a person picking up a mystery. If you're a blogger who writes about mysteries (or a reader who enjoys a particular blog on mysteries), do you ever speak up and let the potential customer know about the blogosphere and the resources available? I'm not necessarily referring to self-promotion, although that is part of it. I'm talking about two people who share a common interest just talking. Like the time when I was stopped for a drink at a bike route and asked a couple of gentlemen about their bikes. They gave me a few pointers on what I should look for in in a bike and we went on our way. I took that information to the bike store and used it to talk to the salesman.

That's what I'm talking about with this blog community. We all enjoy interacting with each other. How often do we reach outside our established communities and bring in more folks?

I have to admit, I'm not the best in that category. But it's something I've decided to start doing.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"I'll show you the life of the mind..."

By Russel D McLean

Its 2002 (I think), and we’re trudging through a Graveyard. The Necropolis. The West End of Dundee, overlooking the newer Balgay cemetery.

My flatmate is looking for old graves. For Ancestors. For stories from history. I’m there for the ride, as is another friend. If I’m honest, I find graveyards oddly peaceful during the day, especially ones as isolated as this.

Up here, on a hillside, with trees overgrowing, and a sense of isolation, I start to look not at the inscriptions or the stories already told by history, but at the way the graves are laid out, the way the trees bend over some stones protectively as though through the decades they have come to care deeply for those buried on the hillside.

I see shadows move.

I tilt my head.

Connections are made.

Neurons fire.

My other friend – her name is Becca – says, “You look funny.”

And I do.

Only when I snap out of it does she realise what’s happening. “You’re thinking about a story,” she says.

I smile.

Because I am.

At long last, I think, I have a setpiece ending for the novel I’m working on*.


The thing about most writers, I suspect, is that we view the world in very different ways from other people. In the past, I’ve talked about going out for walks with my parents and seeing things among the trees that leads into later projects.

Sometimes its hearing something, even, a random line of dialogue. The story, “Pedro Paul” in the Expletive Deleted Anthology was inspired by overhearing two old women talk about the horror of the “Pedrophiles” in modern society.

But whatever it is, I think it’s a tic in the brain that makes us write, that forces us to create new worlds and seem alternatives in every situation. It is, perhaps, something that can be learned, but as far as I’m aware, it’s the way I’ve always viewed the world, as though I’m not content with reality the way it is, I have to recfocus and reinterpret it in my own way.

Which makes me sound more than a little nuts.

But then maybe I am. At a recent event, I bumped into my primary teacher – one of the many people who encouraged me when I was younger – who said that I was always away in another world, my “head in a book”. Now, that’s a cliché, but its true. I have always been happier using fictional world to make sense of the real one (its what fiction is best at, even on an unconscious level) so it was a natural extension to use my own fictional worlds to try and make sense of what was happening around me.

This does not make a writer, however, just a very odd person. Not that there’s anything that wrong with being odd. Its harnessing that point of view and turning it into a skill that can communicate with other people that’s been the hard part.

But I think – I believe – that the writer’s mind – the storyteller’s mind – has to be different in some way from normal people’s. I think that a writer has to be able to see not just the world around them, but the way in which the world could be. They have to see the alternatives, the out of view events, the probable and the possible. And above all, in some form, they have to be able to believe in these things they see, to make them concrete and real and communicable.

At least, that’s how it works for me.

*for anyone who cares, the setpiece – and the cemetery, in fictionally modified form – made its way into the finale for The Good Son. In fact very few of the beats changed from my initial conception of what would happen except where characters, story and plain physics dictated.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Day You'll Learn

by Dave White

One day you'll learn that the haters are just jealous.

One day you'll learn "anonymous" is the same thing as coward.

One day you'll learn to appreciate the day you drove 90 miles to buy a magazine that had one sentence that mentioned your name.

One day you'll learn to believe BOTH the bad reviews and the good reviews.

One day you'll learn a rejection is not the end of the world.

One day you'll learn an acceptance is not the end of the work day.

One day you'll learn to love revising crap as much as you love writing it.

One day you'll learn that writing in a coffee shop actually helps you get work done.

One day you'll learn that 9:06 pm the night before you blog is due is not a good time to scramble for an idea.

One day you'll learn to keep writing short stories, just so you're writing every day.

One day you'll learn to write EVERY DAMN DAY.

One day you'll learn that always believing helps...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Author Is Not A Camera

John McFetridge

This is the opening of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Tishomingo Blues:

Dennis Lenehan the high diver would tell people that if you put a fifty cent piece on the floor and looked down at it, that’s what the tank looked like from the top of that eight-foot steel ladder. The tank itself was twenty-two feet across and the water in it never more than nine feet deep. Dennis said from that high up you want to come out of your dive to enter the water feet first, your hands at the last moment protecting your privates and your butt squeezed tight, or it was like getting a 40,000-gallon enema.

When he told this to girls who hung out at amausement parks they’d put a cute look of pain on their faces and say what he did was awesome. But wasn’t it like really dangerous? Dennis would tell them you could break your back if you didn’t kill yourself, but the rush you got was worth it. These summertime girls loved daredevils, even ones twice their age. It kept Dennis going off that perch eighty feet in the air and going out for beers after to tell stories. Once in a while he’d fall in love for the summer, or part of it.

Elmore Leonard is the guy who wrote the famous, “10 Rules” and yet that opening seems to break the biggest writing rule of all: show don’t tell.

That scene is all tell.

Okay, sure, when it’s your thirty-seventh bestseller you get to break the rules, but maybe he’s onto something.

It starts in a way that only a written story can.

Oh sure, a movie could do it in voice over, but it would be lame. Or, a movie could dramatize the information, have a scene with Dennis talking to the girls, dropping a fifty cent piece on the ground, then maybe some cool transition to him on the high board and then a scene that lets us know he’s only fallen in love for, “the summer, or part of it,” driving away form the amusement park by himself. What would that take up, ten minutes? Maybe more. Would any of the other characters form that opening show up again? Not if the rest of the story follows what happens in the book, so there’s probably no way a movie would devote that amount of time to getting across that information.

But more than getting across information what that opening gets across is attitude.

It’s why it’s taken so long for adaptations of Elmore Leonard to finally be good.

People always say he’s a very visual writer but he isn’t really, he’s an inside-the-character’s-head writer, so when you read his books you see what the characters sees through their eyes and more importantly, through their attitude. It was finally with Get Shorty and Out of Sight that filmmakers started to understand how important attitude is to the characters (and in Elmore Leonard it’s usually subtle and movies usually try to make it too flashy).

And just like the movies have a tough time getting across subtle attitude, so do books that are all show and not enough tell. It’s really when people are telling a story that their attitude comes across.

It’s often a (valid) complaint when a book takes a side-trip so the author can expound on some personal pet peeve – the author’s attitude takes us out of the story.

But the character’s attitude brings us right into the story.

It’s one of the main things people like about first person PI stories, why they’re usually smart-ass guys full of attitude.

Books and movies are different and too often these days I find books trying to be movies. It’s natural, I guess, we’re all following the advice to, “show don’t tell,” and how everything should be so “visual” and have plenty of action.

But in following that advice, I think we sell books short.

When the author tries to be the camera and only shows us things happening instead of telling us why they’re happening or how the characters feel about what’s happening I think we’re limiting the storytelling.

Story. Telling.

We hear all the time that the movies are a “visual medium,” and usually the implicationis is that’s somehow superior to any other medium or that it’s something every other medium should be aiming for. But why?

Books aren’t a visual medium. Books should play to their strengths.

That opening of Tishomingo Blues gets across more information – and attitude – about Dennis Lenehan than the entire 90 minute version of the movie probably would.

Of course there are plenty of examples of books that open with dialogue or action – right in the middle of a scene – and they work, too. I’m just saying that maybe we’re following that one rule too much.

Hell, we’re crime writers, we’re rebels, we break rules.

Or, we should.

So, sometimes it may be better to, “Tell, don’t show.”