Saturday, June 12, 2010

Swierczynski, Gischler, and Brackmann at Houston's Murder by the Book

Scott D. Parker

If you're ever in Houston, you simply must head on over to Murder by the Book. If you get a chance to catch an author event, all the better. But when you hit a jackpot like last weekend--when you get not one, not two, but three authors (and one in the audience)--you'll wonder what good deed you did to get such a welcome reward.

Duane Swierczynski, Victor Gischler, and, making her first appearance as an author at MBTB, Lisa Brackmann took the stage in the late afternoon heat of Houston. Interestingly, Swierczynski and Gischler had not met Brackmann prior to their joint signing session. (Dunno about y'all but I always think there's some secret author organization where they all meet for punch and cookies.) The trio started off pitching their latest novels: Swierczynski and Expiration Date; Gischler and The Deputy; Brackmann and Rock Paper Tiger. Swierczynski started acting the part of the emcee, quizzing the other two authors about the genesis of their respective novels. In the first of many funny moments, Gischler admitted he wrote The Deputy because he lost a bet. Brackmann's heroine was inspired by Iraq War vets and the problems at Abu Ahraib. And Swierczynski admitted that his novels need to have some weird stuff just to keep him interested.

Gischler and Swierczynski both write for comic books and an audience member, his arms full of comics, asked if their comic scripts detailed all that they envisioned or if they left it up to the artists. Swierczynski commented that writes down lots of detail. Gischler admitted he's lazy since he is communicating only to the artist and not the public. Thus, he can just write clear, direct comment without having to filter or make the words pretty.

The one author in the audience, Bill Crider, started pitching questions at the authors behind the microphones. Among them were the following:

  • Characters in one book showing up in other books -- Swierczynski said that if he can't kill a character, he feels limited. Gischler jokingly said that none of his characters survive. Brackmann hinted that her next book doesn't have any characters from Rock Paper Tiger but her third novel will return to them.
  • Outline: Yes or No -- Gischler likes to discover alongside his characters. Brackmann concurred and paraphrased Ian Rankin when he said "If I knew how a book ends, why would I write it?" Swierczynski has worked with and without outlines. He has a vague idea of the ending and often wings it along the way. Expiration Date was different since it was to be a New York Times serial.
  • Titles: create your own? -- Swierczynski: yes. Brackmann: mashed hers together. Gischler: "The Deputy" was merely a placeholder until the end when he realized that those two words had morphed into the title.

This is but the barest glimpse into a highly entertaining time we all had in Houston last week. It's a part of the business of being a writer to which I look forward and it's a blast being a reader and meeting favorite authors. I walked into the bookstore knowing only one of the three authors. I had such a good time meeting the new-to-me authors that I walked out knowing that I'll be reading Brackmann's and Gischler's books in the future.

What are your favorite parts of author events?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Writing on the edge of genres

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Well, here I am pinch hitting for the amazing Russel McLean while he does right by his country and serves on jury duty. For all of those keeping score – that is two of our illustrious crew that have served on a jury this year. Of course, his is across the pond while mine was here in the states. I admit that I am curious to compare notes about our respective experiences. Perhaps a joint blog post might be in order in the future.

Personally, I am amazed that both of us weren’t thrown off our respective juries because of our interest in crime and mystery. Okay, maybe I’m just shocked that Russel wasn’t tossed off his panel. His books are dark and gritty edge of your seat crime fiction. (If you haven’t read him, you need to go pick up one of his books!!) If I were a prosecuting attorney, or even the defense, I’d think twice about having Russell serve on my jury. He’s smart and he knows crime. A deadly combo – one that probably has him serving as a leader of his jury right now.

Me, well, my writing wasn’t about to get me tossed out of jury duty. Not that I didn’t try. I did say I wrote murder mysteries. Then the judge asked me to explain the plot of my book. That’s when my chances to get booted from the panel went up in smoke.

Without intending to, I have managed to write on the edge of genres. Yes, my book is a mystery. Honest it is. It says so on my cover! But it's not the same kind of mysteries or crime fiction pieces that you find being penned by my fellow DSD writers. (Insert dramatic sigh here.) See, I also write funny…at least that’s what they tell me. And while I’ve been told that I’m technically a cozy mystery because of my town and the lack on on-screen violence – most people who have read cozies tell me I don’t exactly fit there. I guess grandfathers in most cozies don’t have active sex lives and pets don’t have personality disorders. Who knew? I didn’t. Perhaps therein lies my problem.

A lot of writers will tell you that you should know what genre you are writing before you start writing your story. And maybe it is easier if you do, but I can’t ever do anything the easy way. I write the story, enjoy the ride and analyze it after I’m done. Which begs the question – what do you do when you write? Do you know what genre you are writing in when you start and stick to it all the way through or do you straddle the genre lines? And more important – tell me, what sub-genre or sub-genres does your writing fall into? This is a chance to pimp yourself and your work. And more important – I REALLY want to know.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Writing Day

by Dave White

I get home from work, shower and get changed. It's usually around 4:35 on a gym day, 4 on an off day.

I sit in front of the computer and check my email, check Twitter, then check and see if there is anything cool going on. Usually there isn't.

Start music. Usually a live album or something long. I hate shuffle. It always picks songs I hate.

Finally get around to opening Word and the novel or story file. Check up on where I left off and think about where I want the next scene to go.

Write a word. Usually "the."

Check Twitter. That Steve Weddle is on there a lot.

Write a few sentences. I know where I want the scene to go, but I'm having trouble with description. What's the day look like? Are the characters inside? What the hell does the room look like?

God forbid it's just one person all alone. I have to describe all that? Better find someone for him to talk to.

Type for what feels like forever. I must be close to 1,000 words.

Check word count. 171.

Check Twitter. Yep, Stringer is watching football. Check Rutgers basketball message boards. Nothing has changed on that front.

Write some more. I really like where this scene is going. Could end up with a nice dramatic plot twist. Check word count.


Write some more. Check Facebook. Check Facebook again. Update my status to something witty. Wait for comments.

Ah, I got it! I know what he does!

Back to manuscript. Write straight through. Hit 1,000 words. Breathe a sigh of relief. Save file. Listen to the end of the live album. God this encore ruled.

Put on TV.

I know when people watch me write, they always think I don't do anything. They always see me on websites and messing around with email. But while I'm doing this I'm thinking. The plot is rolling around in my head and I just need the spark to push through. And in order for my subconscious to work, I need to be doing something else.

Facebook, Twitter, and message boards are great for that.

But when I revise, I usually need to go some place without Wi-Fi. I need to focus then.

What is your writing day like?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Why I’m Pulling for the USA in the World Cup

John McFetridge

It used to be when the Stanley Cup playoffs rolled around and teams started to get eliminated, we Candians would cheer for any Canadian team left – even a rival would be better than an American team (even one full of Canadians) winning the Cup.
So it’s tough for me to pull for the Americans, but I have my reasons (and I’m even going to try and make a vague connection to crime fiction and publishing, so that might be worth reading on to see).

My friend Adrian McKinty wrote a blog post recently where he pointed out that the USA can never be underdogs. As he said, “The most economically powerful country in the world is a lot of things but it ain’t never gonna be no underdog.”

He’s right, of course. The USA is only an underdog in soccer because they haven’t gotten around to it yet. When they do there’s no reason a soccer game between the USA and Spain won’t look like a basketball game between the USA and Spain.

Sometimes I point out to people that when you lose a soccer game to Canada you’ve lost to eleven guys who couldn’t make the hockey team. Well, if you lose a soccer game to the USA you’ve lost to eleven guys who couldn’t make the football team, the basketball team, the baseball team, couldn’t run track fast enough and probably got cut from the lacrosse team and the bowling team.

When the LA Galaxy is in town to play Toronto FC we make fun of Landon Donovan a lot – sure, he and Edson Buddle are still scoring goals for LA even without Beckham - but take a look at him, or any American soccer player, and try and picture them playing in the NFL or the NBA.

Or, imagine how much of the soccer net LeBron James could cover if he’d taken up that sport at five years old instead of basketball. I’ve been watching past World Cup highlights of goalies (er, sorry, “keepers”) make some diving saves and I think there are a few dozen wide receivers and defensive backs in the NFL who could be just as good or better (in fact, the USA have produced some top keepers, but so far that’s really only been scratching the surface).

A lot of kids play soccer in the USA, but not the way they play basketball. Kids only play soccer in the USA if they get driven to the game in a minivan. At home they have basketball nets in their driveways. They play basketball on every piece of flat ground they can find. Soccer hasn’t become a part of the culture in the US. Yet.

But if the USA goes deep into the World Cup that’ll move it a step closer.

Now you’re probably thinking, why is that a good thing?

And here’s where I make my connection to crime fiction.

Because it integrates the world a little more.

What I really mean is it integrates America into the rest of the world a little more, makes America more 'just another country' and less isolated. Right now I’d be surprised to hear anyone who reads a lot of crime fiction say, “I only read American books,” or “I only read British books,” or Swedish or whatever. No, crime fiction is international and better because of that. Reading books from other cultures helps people understand one another a little better, see things from a different perspective and maybe even think of things in a different way.

There’s a good book called (in America) How Soccer Explains the World . Of course, an American wrote a version called (in America) How Football Explains America . They both make some good points, but America isn’t so different from the rest of the world anymore (that’s something we can see from up here in Canada). Or maybe America isn’t any more different than Germany, Nigeria, New Zealand and Chile – and the rest of the World Cup teams are from each other.

So yes, as McKinty says, America is a lot of things, but it ain’t never gonna be no underdog. And that’s probably true of soccer soon enough.

And I think the world will be a little bit better when it’s fully integrated.

In the meantime, stuff like this is still really funny:,17553/

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Hold On

By Jay Stringer

Just something i've been kicking around for awhile. A flash piece about the end of the world. It's not a full flash challenge, but if you want a stab then link to your story in the comments.


When the world ended it took us several days to notice.

Somehow that news seemed to pass us by. Our lives continued, we commuted to work as normal. Some people talked about a crisis, about international news, but most of us ignored it.

We were so used to the imagery and the fear. Flames and bombs on our television screens. Scrolling news on our computer screens. You begin to ignore it, to live with, to accept it. Sitting in the bar, or riding the subway home, you tune out to the images and the sounds. Some far off place is in trouble again, why should we care? As the days passed, fewer and fewer people were commuting, but unless it affected me I wasn’t going to stop listening to my ipod.

The horror finally set in when the screens went blank on day four. Our news, our voice. Our knowledge, our comfort. We woke up one day to find it had been taken away without warning.

No television.

No internet.

No phones.

There were no battles or dust clouds, no speeches and no sirens. Just silence.

A few hours after that we lost the street lights. All of them. We’d gone to bed in our own world and woken up in a whole new one, a world of darkness. People ran out into the streets and hallways, forced to talk to strangers for the first time in decades. We all asked the same questions;

“Are we under attack?”

“Has the economy collapsed?”

“Are we at war?”

A city full of people asking questions, and we’ve still not heard any answers. We got scared in a hurry and soon forgot how to be anything else.

On the fourth day I tried to open a tin of beans. The electric opener wouldn’t work anymore, and all I had was a pen knife. It had an attachment on it that I knew, somehow, was meant to be a tin opener, but I didn’t know how to use it. I had to hit the tin with a lump hammer until it burst open.

And it started getting really cold at night. More than usual, though I don’t know if it was because the world had ended or just because the electricity was off. An apartment block down the street burned down, because the family in 14C started a fire in their living room to keep warm. There was no fire service to call, and we couldn’t spare the water. People just watched it burn.

A week later the noises started. Shrieks and howls after sunset. They were distant at first, but they got closer of the next few nights until they were coming from down in our streets. My neighbour said he saw some of them. Howlers he called them, and said they were us, “Just people like us, but crazy lookin’. Like animals. Saw one carrying a lump of fresh meat. Hope it was a cow.” He said maybe they were just people who'd listened to the silence for too long.

People got too scared to go out at night. We stayed in our apartments and listened to the Howlers.During the day we met out in the streets, talked about simple things like heating and plumbing, medicine. Simple things, yeah, right. Not so simple now that we didn't have wikipedia. If the world ever comes back, if we live through this, I'm going to make changes. All that stuff that's on wikipedia? I'm going to write it down in books. More, some of us are going to learn it, know it, just incase.

My boyfriend went out to get some food the day after we ran out. He hasn’t returned. That was three days ago.

I think I heard some of the howlers a moment ago, but it’s still daylight. That can’t be, can it?

I’m scared. I’ve forgotten how to be anything else.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Seasonal Reading List

By Steve Weddle

OK. Have you gotten your summer reading list together? Oh, for joy. Books to cram into totes and suitcases and head for the beach or the lake house. How delightful.

Smells like a crock of crap to me. And I'm from the country, so I know what a crock of crap smells like.

As a faithful consumer, I'm supposed to pick up my "Summer Reading" special in my local paper or magazine. Or listen to a list on the radio. Then run down to the discount superstore, pick up 128 oz jug of cheese doodles and a couple of "30% OFF LIST" books and read some light thrillers about some dude tracking down dirty nukes and spilling his seed. Edge-of-your-lawn chair stuff. Read a few pages, then get up to the check the ribs on the grill, then a few more pages. Then pick it up tomorrow while the kids are covering themselves in suntan lotion. Then watch the sun go down and pick up another one the next day about a too-smart woman who comes to a small town and uncovers a dirty little secret -- and a little something about herself, too. Light reading. The inconsequential stuff. Book 18 in a series of books when you can't remember what happened in 7, 9, or 15. Or the one that is basically just some notes for someone to use in making the TV movie next year.

While some of these summer reading lists might accidentally have on them a book that I want to read, most of them strike me as a cataloging of the disposable.

In the winter, I'm supposed to read bigger books. I think this comes from the days when paper was cheaper than coal and folks bought a bunch of books by this dude called Marcel Proust. Read a little, burn the rest. Or maybe read non-fiction in the winter. A nice popular nonfiction book, one about the history of cumin and how the story of the world can be told through that spice. (I think it's a spice. They mentioned it in that TV show with Helen Hunt and that guy who used to be really funny.)

But big, long, brain-taxing books in the winter. And quick but thick page-turners in the summer. Why is that? Why is it that our reading habits are dictated by the seaons? Am I not supposed to read anything in the autumn? Catch up on the free stuff over at Gutenberg?

If summer is the time we're supposed to head outdoors and enjoy our vacation with our family, why am I supposed to read books that are "unputdownable"?

Why do we buy certain books in certain seasons? Will they spoil like fruit? Like a crock of crap?

Do you read different types of books in the summer? The winter?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Guest Blogger - The Amazing Sophie Littlefield

(insert Joelle's ethusiastic voice here) Please help me welcome Edgar Nominated and all around amazing author Sophie Littlefield to the podium. If you haven't read A Bad Day for Sorry - you should! It is fantastic. So fantanstic that it received an Edgar Nomination. (If you leave a comment to this post you might win a copy of the newly released paperback version.) The next book in the series, A Bad Day for Pretty will be released on June 8th - that's in two days for all of you keeping score. I'll be at my bookstore first thing on Tuesday morning to get my copy. I encourage all of you to do the same.

Now without further ado - the blog stylings of Sophie Littlefield!

I was wandering through Target today with a writing friend who has a lot of acting experience, wondering aloud whether I had gone too far in the scene I’ve been working on. This scene has been giving me fits. The problem is that I can’t figure out if it crosses the line on the tasteless spectrum. I know that I find it pretty darn amusing, but unfortunately I’ve learned that isn’t much of a litmus test, since my sense of humor often seems on par with an adolescent boy’s. This scene is also rather gory, and I’m aware my debut novel already danced pretty close to the edge of acceptability for my readership. Once again, my own sensibilities aren’t very helpful because I’ll tolerate more violence than many of my readers. (I know, I know, it isn’t really fair to stoke your curiosity that way without revealing the nature of the scene, but it’s so far into the series – I’m working on book four, in fact, and book two isn’t even out yet – that it doesn’t seem entirely proper. But what the hell – I’ll just say that it involves severed heads. Uh, several of them, in fact, lined up in neat rows…)

So I’ve been thinking out loud, which is just a euphemism for whining to my friends and making every conversation about me and my concerns. I’ve received a variety of responses to my proposed scene, from “Oh my God, I’m gonna be ill” to “Yay, it’s been ages since I read a good severed-head story.” And while I’m rather proud of the diversity of my friendships, this hasn’t helped me figure out what to do.

Today, though, as we mosied through the toy aisle at Target, my seventeen-year-old son trying to get my friend’s three-year-old son to play dodgeball with the merchandise (yes, we were nearly tossed out of the store, yet another proud moment for me) – my friend only shrugged and said “every director I ever had said it was easier to pull me back than spur me on. I say go for it.” That got my attention – partly because I’d heard it once before. From my agent. I was working on my young adult series and was in the throes of a similar dilemma, having to do with how far I could go with a particular sub-plot for my teen heroine. “Write it as dark as you want,” my agent said, “because it’s easier to cut or tone it down than it is to add tension in later.” Let me tell you how that played out. It was my first young adult novel, and I wasn’t sure exactly where the boundaries were. Moreover, the more I read in the genre, the more the lines seemed to be moving. I had no idea what was okay and what wasn’t, but I was sure that I wanted to explore some darker themes. After Barbara, my agent, gave me the green light to write it as dark as I wanted – and added the safety net of a promised preliminary read before we sent it to my editor – I decided to go for it. I wrote it just the way I wanted to. The result was that it did get toned down. Both Barbara and my editor felt a few things had to go, ranging from language (who knew you can’t say f@#k in a YA?) to the overly predatory nature of an adult character. But the shadow of those details remained, even after the edits were made. The emotional tone remained the same, and – most important to me – I did not feel I shied away from the tough issues I had wanted to address.

Long before my first book came out, I worried about offending readers, and wondered if I ought to try harder to “mainstream-ify” my books. Deep down, though, I knew the answer to that question: I had written a lot of books that cleaved to the norms – like the bears’ porridge, not too cold or too hot, but damn near lukewarm – and they didn’t sell. A BAD DAY FOR SORRY was my “rule breaker,” a mad caper of a book that was more or less just for fun. I did a lot of things that we, as writers, aren’t supposed to do: I made the heroine plain and middle-aged. I let her use violence even when it wasn’t strictly necessary. I let her shoot a dog. (If that’s not a career killer, I don’t know what is.) But it worked. Somehow, I managed to connect with enough readers who tolerated my excesses, and I was asked to continue the series. Today, as my son lobbed a plastic SpongeBob beach ball right at me, I vowed to keep doing what I do – pushing the envelopes and taking chances with the books. Yes, there will be those readers who hate, hate, hate the choices I make. Yes, my editor may end up with a few more gray hairs when she sees what I’ve done to my characters. And yes, I fully expect that my revision letter will contain a fair amount of what-were-you-thinking couched in the editorial notes. I’ve turned in five contracted books so far, enough to know where my strengths lie. And “subtle” isn’t one of them.

What about you – whether writer or reader, do you think there are lines that books simply shouldn’t cross? And can you forgive the author who crosses them, if the story really grabs you?