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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.”
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
By Jay Stringer
So I’ve been talking up on the twitters about two secret projects that I’ve been working away on. So secret that I’ve been talking about them on the twitters, right?
Well the second one is still cooking. You’ll be hearing about it soon, and I’m damned excited. It involves two great writers and has me tagging along.
But the first secret is out of the bag as of yesterday, and I hope y’all will take a look.
I’m a fan of podcasts. I was an early adopter; in my mid twenties I found myself living in an empty flat alone, with just a laptop and an Internet connection. Podcasts became a way to stay in touch with all the things I couldn’t afford to do; films, music, comic books and crime fiction.
They’ve taken off over the last few years, and now it seems like everyone has a podcast. Hell, we’ve got one. Check out the link to the right, It’s pretty good.
Anyway, focus, Stringer, focus.
One of my favourite podcasts these days is Matinee Idles. It’s a simple but effective formula; four guys get together and talk about films. Sometimes sober, sometimes not. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don’t.
Check them out through itunes. The best episode so far, in my opinion at least, is the BLADE RUNNER ep. They spend two hours getting into every nook and cranny of that film, and you’ll come out of it finding some aspect you’d never considered before.
But check out all the other episodes too. Aside from film, you’ll hear about the fashion choices of Luke Cage, the genius of Keanu Reeves and the forgotten classic that is The Fall Guy.
But the guys were not content with having a really cool podcast. Nooooo. They decided to take over the Internet too. Starting this week the Matinee Idles website is up and providing, “an internet hub for multiple perspectives and opinions on film. Not a site dedicated to entertainment news or celebrity antics, but a site dedicated to actual movie discussion.”
Not enough for ya? Here’s more, “This website is about community and simply talking about one thing we all love: movies. I mean, we hope people check it out, but at the base of this project is the sole idea that we have created something that can hopefully bring a few film-fanatics together.”
There will be regular written content; reviews, articles and news. This is just the beginning, so join in and help it grow.
They were crazy enou….ummm….I mean clever enough to ask me to join in. There’s nothing more powerful than a bad idea whose time has come, and to prove that my feature will be a weekly review of a bad film. Each week I’ll be wheeling something out –from the latest blockbusters to old forgotten gems- and telling you what doesn’t make them tick.
And not just that. If you listen really carefully to an upcoming podcast, you might just hear me. I guested with the guys on an episode all about IRON MAN 2.
So that’s the first secret project out of the bag. In true comic book style I’m forging a cross over right here, Do Some Damage and Matinee Idles, twice as much cool content and two podcasts to subscribe to.
But while we're at it, what podcasts do you guys listen to? Who do you want to plug?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Some years ago, when Russel D. McLean and I went to a Mel Gibson film festival, we nearly walked out of that movie called RANSOM. Not because the movie was full of dirty words and Russel's sensibilities were offended. No.
You see, we'd thought the movie was over. False ending. As any movie fan knows, when you put Ronnie Howard together with Mel Gibson and Marky Mark, you're going to have some cleverness. The movie ended, but then it turned a bit. Then there was more.
Some books end abruptly. Some books end a few times. Some books never seem to end at all.
I just finished my first Moe Prager book, which made me think of these sorts of endings. (Of course, the Reed Farrel Coleman book no more made me think of Mel Gibson than a dinner a fine dinner of prime rib makes me think of a bag of neutered weasels, but there you are.) The book comes to a close. Mystery solved. Bad guy confesses. Investigator gets his check. Dinner. Cigars. Drive home safely.
The book may have been satisfying, but the investigator himself isn't. Something doesn't feel right. A piece missing. Not quite fitting. Like that little fleck of a hangnail on your middle toe at three in the morning. So he goes back after things and the story develops a little more, then a little more. Things kinda went where you expected them to, then everything went topsy-turvy. Unlike some Hollywood trick, though, this works. Things move along, not just fragments thrown on at the end, but the story developed more, stretched out to completeness, like taffy at Coney Island.
Other books don't end at all where you expect them. Talk about a book not having the Hollywood ending, have you read this ICE HARVEST? Everyone (well, not the guy what cuts my hair. jerkhole) told me to read it and coupled that advice with this question: "Don't think it's like the movie." I hadn't seen the movie, but my copy of the book comes with Billy Joe Thornbob and Lloyd Dobler carrying a pirate's trunk. So I didn't know what to expect. Which is a good damn thing, because that ending came out of nowhere. (The dude's a chick named "Rosebud." Do NOT tell your friends.)
Contrast those endings with great crime fiction novels -- GUN MONKEYS (haha. thought I'd get through a post without mentioning GUN MONKEYS? haha. Nope. Now drink.) and COTTONWOOD. Both of these books have epilogues. (I don't remember whether they were actually called such or just final chapters, but I've loaned my copies out and can't check.) The wrap-up. Ten years later. A year later. Oh, same thing with THE DEPUTY. A year later.
So the ending: Hero rights the wrong, God's in his Heaven, etc. Good books -- hell, great books -- have ended like this. Other great ones don't. After you've worked through 70- or 80-thousand words, how much weight do you give to the final 10 pages? Have you read great books that ended in an unsatisfying way? Multiple endings?
Do you prefer an ending that wraps everything up neatly or one that leaves you wondering?
Sunday, May 9, 2010
No, I’m not talking about feeling mugged after filing your taxes or knowing you were ripped off after paying full price to see the newest, and lamest, blockbuster movie. During jury duty (yeah, I’m back to talking about jury duty again), the judge questioned all of us potential jurors. One of the questions was “Have you or someone you know been the victim of a crime?”
My answer was yes. My cousin was shot and killed years ago by an angry boyfriend who went to the wrong apartment. Also, a friend of mine was shot in the head while walking home at night. Thankfully, he survived.
For some reason I was shocked to hear everyone answer yes. Wow…was crime that rampant? More interesting still was the crimes that people listed. Almost half the people said their car window had been broken. Well, when we lived in the city our car window was broken a number of times. It never occurred to me to claim that under the heading of “being a victim of a crime”. One woman said she forgot her purse on a bench, realized it hours later and went back to get it only to find it had been stolen. Another guy said his cousin’s house was robbed about twenty years before.
Maybe sitting in a jury box for an impending murder trial made me automatically think about big crimes – capital C Crimes. Murder, kidnapping, assault, armed robbery. I never really thought about the small things like a broken window or a misplaced and subsequently stolen purse.
But aren’t those what some of the best crime stories are about? Yeah, we all love a great murder mystery – at least I do – but the story that revolves around a misplaced wallet can be just as compelling. The lost/stolen purse really got me thinking. What if someone who took that purse got something he or she wasn’t expecting? What if that small act of theft turned into something much bigger? What if that person ended up running for his or her life simply because they didn’t turn the purse into lost and found? What if?
As writers, it's our job to ask “What if?” about everything. You never know which “What if” might inspire the next great story. I have to admit that the book I just started was inspired by me asking “What if” about that jury case… What kind of events or “What if” moments have inspired you?
And for all you moms out there - Happy Mother's Day!