Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Judge Slapped for Bias in Pot Case

John McFetridge

(please note: it's been a hectic week and I was unable to put together a new blog post so I'm reposting something that was on my personal blog last year. I did a reading at the public library last year and many of the people there had great questions. One man said that he found my books made the crime situation look a little hopeless and asked if I had any ideas to cut down on crime in Toronto. I said, "Hey buddy, I need there to be a lot of crime to write these books." No, really what I said was I had no idea but maybe a place to start to lower the amount of crime in our streets was to make fewer things illegal. Then this judge said what he said and well, it turned into a blog post)

Judge Slapped for Bias in Pot Case

He's right, but does that matter?

This is the kind of story that makes the background for my books. While sentencing a man convicted of running a marijuana grow op, the judge rejected a federal prosecutor's argument that a jail term was necessary to discourage people from getting involved in the drug trade.

"What's your basis for saying that?" the judge pressed. "Because nobody has been deterred. People have been going to jail for drug offences for – for a couple of generations now and the drug – the drug plague is worse than it ever was."

Allen questioned why, when a form of sentencing "doesn't work," he would try it again and again.

"Isn't that a form of insanity?" he asked.

And then the judge said what I've been writing about for three books now:

All society is really doing by prohibiting the production and consumption of marijuana is "giving the Hells Angels several billion dollars worth of income every year," Allen said.

Of course, I try to just present the criminal world as I see it. I try hard not to moralize or make my books too didactic. I have no answers to the "drug plague" as the judge called it, but if he's right about this part:

... the chances of a Dutch teen smoking marijuana – which is available at their local coffee shop – are substantially lower than the likelihood of an American teenager using the drug, he said.

It might be worth looking into.

A few years ago a teenager told me that he and his friends smoked dope because it was easier to get for them than beer. This kid claimed it was because stores that sold beer and alcohol (privately owned or government owned - I've lived in places with each system and there's little difference) didn't want to risk the fine and the criminal charge for selling to them but the drug dealer they bought from was already committing a criminal offense, so he didn't care.

To me there's no doubt that the drug trade supplies organized crime with a huge amount of capital and like all capitalists they reinvest that money and try to 'grow' their business into other areas.

And for now, it's all material for me.

And there's no shortage of material.

The Toronto Star article about the judge is here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Film Review -1 Day

I've been hearing about the film 1 DAY for some time now. On the surface, it pushes many of my buttons; It's set and filmed in the Midlands, uses local actors and deals with the gang warfare and gun culture that's gone ignore by the national media.

So controversial was the film that several cinema chains refused to show it in the Midlands. The filmmakers made claims of the police shutting down cinema's halfway through screenings and intimidating the chains into dropping the film. Whether that is the truth or guerrilla marketing doesn't really matter, all that matters is whether the film is any good.

I'll get to that.

I've talked before about my passion for bringing the region to some national attention. I could probably get where i want to be quicker by setting my stories in London or Glasgow, but that's not what i write for. There is a whole region that is being ignored, so i watched this film wanting it to be great. I'm also hungry for some filmmakers to make some real social films set in the region -and many other regions of Britain for that matter- and to use local talent as much as possible. There are problems there, a whole world that we're told doesn't exist in Britain.

I also like films that take risks, a film that tries something new is a film that is contributing to the language of cinema. 1 DAY certainly tries something new. It's a musical, a hip-hop crime drama, half the time showing an attempt at a gritty edged urban drama, half the time breaking out into backbeats and dance moves.

So if it pushes so many of my buttons, and takes a few interesting risks, does it work?

Not really. But I'm glad i watched it, and i think I'll watch it again.

the plot is fairly simple; Flash, a local drug dealer, has lost 500k of someone else's money. He's on the run from the angry owner of the cash, a rival gang and three woman who've mothered his children. In fact, the plot itself doesn't really have much life to it, it moves along far to predictably.

There is plenty here to like (if you're me, anyway.) It's filmed on location, and showcases many places i recognise. Seeing the aerial shots of the city reminds us that there are large and interesting cityscape's outside of London. The actors or all local, for better and for worse. Whilst it's nice to hear real regional accents instead of the ones that actors from elsewhere put on, there's also a lack of any real gravitas. Whilst the smaller parts in the film are given a flavour and a depth for being played by local people, it would have helped to have something a little extra in the leading roles. The leading man is fine, but the film doesn't protect him by hiding his rawness or his weaknesses.

I would say that if you're going to take the route of local casting for main roles, then the writing needs to be top notch to help balance things out. I think this would be my main criticism of the film; the writing is not strong enough. The songs are not as lyrically complex or insightful as hip hop can, and should, be and I've already mentioned the weak plotting. The dialogue is in bad need of an edit; much of it may well have been improvised by the inexperienced actors, but then this should be fixed and tightened in the edit. There is too much moralising, too many people having monologues on how tough life is in the game. Don't tell us, show us.

Aside from the problem of 'show don't tell,' the film also struggles with a lot of the things we've discussed on here; It rambles, it doesn't get to the point and it doesn't leave out the bits that people tend to skip.

But i don't want to sound so negative on a film that deserves a hell of a lot of credit for what it does get right. The directing is good; there are some nice visual touches and the right amount of restrained flair. The film looks like a million pounds, even if it cost half that amount. It's a very bold film, and one that is probably too ambitious. It falls short of that ambition, but I'd rather have a film like this on my shelf than any number of billion dollar Transformers Vs The Munchkins From Mars soulless epics.

In fact, many of the things I've identified as weaknesses add to the character of the film. It's rough around the edges, but i think I'll enjoy giving it another try.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How to Save Soccer

By Steve Weddle

Most Mondays I devote this space to saying something about crime fiction, hoping the tens of people who read what I write are interested.

Today, however, I devote my triple-ish digit IQs to solving the problem of soccer. Because, as I've learned the past few weeks, the world must figure out how to make Americans like kickball. I have solved the problem, thanks to my wife's genius. Yes, world: You're welcome.

My lovely bride and I were watching the World Cups Kickball Tournament this weekend when she explained to my why kickball hasn't caught on here in the states.

"The whole foreigners in shorts thing," I suggested.

That wasn't it.

"No blue line for offsides?"


"The dives and fake injuries and prima donna play?"

Not so much.

My wife nodded towards the teevee. "The commercials."

"What commercials?"

"Exactly. Our sports are full of commercials. Soccer doesn't have them."

And that's absolutely spot on. How can the teevee stations make any money when they can't break every seven minutes for three minutes worth of commercials about light beer and soft peters?

In throwball, you've got built-in stops. Imagine if soccer broke each time they changed possession. Heck, in throwball, the teevee people won't even let the QB get the ball until you get through another one of those commercials about old people sitting in bathtubs and watching the sun go down. (I'm not sure he needs pills for his soft peter as much as a change of location.) Imagine if they went to commercial each time Ronaldo lost the ball by hotdogging, diving, or taking an ill-advised shot. Ronaldo loses the ball. Cue the Slap Chop guy.

In baseball, a sport made for teevee (except, you know, for the sleeping viewers), you've got breaks each half-inning. And each pitching change, which, if you're watching a Tony Larussa game, happens more often that a herpes outbreak on an MTV reality show.

Hockey is split into thirds instead of halves, with the occasional breaks thrown in when Joey Kocur breaks someone's head. (Haven't watched in a while.)

And golf goes to commercial whenever Tiger isn't addressing his balls. (I'm tired. Write your own joke for that one.)

So as long as soccer refuses to take a commercial break every five minutes or so, it'll never catch on in the US of A. Most people here get their games on the teevee, unlike in Foreignland when each petrol station seems to have its own Football Club United. We used to have the same sort of thing 50 years ago here in the states with baseball teams. You can drive through the east-coast country side, for example, and still see backstops from that era. Cool stuff. But if it ain't televised here in the states, it ain't important. The opposite is also true, as we have learned that "being famous" is its own profession.

So soccer, you need more commercials. You need to be like the National Football League here in America, our most popular sport. Instead of having two 45-minute halves of non-stop action, take a cue from the National Football League.

In a three-and-a-half hour professional football game, you've only got ELEVEN minutes of action. That's eleven minutes of action up against about an hour of commercials. And this is why it is so popular. The teevee people have a stake in it. The beer companies want you to watch. The soft peter people want you to be excited about their pills.

When I watch a soccer match, I'm focussed on the game itself. The players. The movement of the ball across the pitch. A striker sneaking in down the side. I'm invested in the game. Only the game. I'm not thinking about how my truck is old or how thirsty I am or that I need to fill my belly with pizza. Why in the hell would the corporate overlords of the US of A get behind soccer? For that little rectangle next to the time in the top of my teevee? A sponsorship deal? Are you kidding?

The companies that broadcast the games are the companies that are trying to sell you a new truck or a cure for what ails ya. They own the radio stations with the SportsTalk programming. It's in their interest to get you interest in their interests.

People have to make money off of the sport in order for it to succeed. And the way the NFL and MLB and whoever else makes money is through commercials. Until soccer does something about this, corporate America will never find it useful. If the big businesses can find a way to put Smiling Bob or the Slap Chop in front of you every few minutes -- and not a just logo on a jersey, DC United -- then soccer will succeed in America.

Football is something to hold your interest between commercials. Same as that 30 minute sitcom that's really 19-20 minutes of show and 10 minutes of commercials.

C'mon, Soccer. Wake up. As my wife said, "Commercials." Yup. That is what will save soccer here in America. And hurry up because I'm ready to buy me a jersey.

Believe me, more commercials for lite beer and soft peter pills is the answer. Then soccer will be all over the teevee and you won't be so hard up for some scoring.

Wait until you hear about my idea to save fiction publishing. Two words: Product Placement.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yeah, about that post today...

Honestly, I'm quite surprised it took me this long to finally blow a day I was supposed to post. I thought I'd done it a couple of weeks ago, but forgot I'd agreed with Joelle to swap so she could do her Sophie Littlefield post(go buy both her books, they are all kinds of swell). But I've been crazy busy this week with my wife's birthday and my sister's wedding and this short screenplay I'm writing that turns out to be almost as hard as a full length one, and my brain just shut down on me.

It makes you wonder how I manage to walk out of the house every day wearing pants, doesn't it?

So Dave had his bachelor party yesterday and I suppose I could try to find some parallel between that and my missing post, but it seems a bit forced. And even though I may drop the ball every once in a while, when I do get around to posting I don't want it to be forced. I do have SOME standards. And mocking Dave requires my highest standards.

So maybe I'll use this to fill in some of the shading on a post from over at my personal blog. On that blog my posts about writing aren't as witty and thought out as the ones over here and trend way toward the obnoxious and downright depressing. So over there I'm going to focus more on my personal life and over here will be more of my writing thoughts. And let me be clear, by writing, I mean just that. Skill, craft, ideas, that sort of thing. There's a lot of talk other places about publishing and e-books and all of that. I've found I can't really think about any of that in depth because it freezes me up and gives me nightmares and tics and other things my wife finds annoying. Hopefully these changes will result in a modest veneer of balance in my life and if not, well it should at least be fun to watch me self-destruct.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's About People. All Kinds

Scott D. Parker

After another hellacious week in the day job, I finally got to see “Toy Story 3” yesterday. This was also the week in which I lived in semi-dread that my son, who saw the film with his grandparents last weekend, was going to spoil something. I shouldn’t have feared. He kept his silence and allowed my wife and I (with him along for a second viewing, this time, in 3D) to be completely and utterly blown away by this special movie.

For those of you who have seen “Toy Story 3,” you know the emotional wallop this film evokes. And, to be honest to myself and this essay, I’m going to have to write about specifics. So, if you haven’t seen the movie--why not?!--get thee to a movie theater and do it. Then, come back here and we’ll chat. So, spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As we drove home yesterday, my voice still cracking under the emotional aftermath, I commented that Pixar has the golden touch. Their worst film--I’ll leave that to your own discretion--is better than almost every other movie released in a given year. For all the high concept shenanigans of a rat that can cook, a fish that wants to find his son, or a robot who falls in love, Pixar’s fundamental truth of storytelling is something we writers should never forget. That fundamental truth is: people matter. Take “Finding Nemo.” It’s not enough to have Marlin swimming across the Pacific, dodging all obstacles, on his way to Sydney and his son, Nemo. The plot of “Finding Nemo” isn’t about how Marlin evades the shark. It’s the emotion behind his quest that is the difference. As parents, we know exactly the feeling Marlin has and can sympathize with his unswerving drive. The reunion at the end is that much sweeter knowing the emotional baggage behind it.

The same is true with “Toy Story 3.” Looking at the trailers and reading the reviews, I knew the story was going to be about a mix-up that landed our heroes in a day care center and their fight to return to Andy, even if that meant that he would leave for college and they’d stay home, likely in the attic. For most of the movie, that is the driving plot device and laughter, danger, and grand adventure ensued. What carried the movie along was the characters, not their hijinks or antics. These toys cared for and loved each other with an emotion so pure, it’s something you want to capture in a bottle and preserve forever. It wasn’t a quest to kill something or destroy an evil enemy. It was the drive to survive, to mean something for someone else.

The first part that got me tearing up was when the toys were falling into the inferno. They realized there was no escape. The antics ended right then and there. It was a scene without humor. What they decided to do was hold hands and die together. These are toys. Toys! And they got me. I’m not ashamed to say that tears flowed. Their escape was perfect, but that only set up the mother of all emotional waves at the end.

Woody, the one toy Andy chose to travel with him to college, took his fate in his own hands and chose to remain with his family, and, truth be told, to remain true to his one calling. With a note, he convinced the eighteen-year-old Andy to give his toys to young Bonnie, a girl with an imagination as active as Andy’s was in the first Toy Story movie. This Andy does, but not before introducing each toy (like a curtain call) to Bonnie on her front lawn. One more round of play with Andy, his toys, and Bonnie follows. At this point, I’m all but bawling, the tears blurring my 3D vision. My only wish was for my son not to notice, stick his face in my face, lift up my glasses, and say “Are you crying, Dad?” Thankfully, I was able to have my valedictory moments with these wonderful characters to myself.

It’s not the adventures these toys endured that will last forever in my imagination. It’s their love for each other. And, in their own way, their love for me, my wife, my son, and anyone else whose lives they have touched these past fifteen years. When push comes to shove, these characters choose to take actions that help others rather than themselves. Their purity of love is exquisite. It helps me to remember that, for all the plots I can dream up for any characters I create, if I can’t make a reader love them, I’ve only half won.

Storytelling. It’s all about people. All kinds. Even plastic ones.

Friday, June 25, 2010


By Russel D McLean

(please excuse any grumpiness this week, Russel's dealing with the trauma of leaving his twenties behind as of the beginning of next week)

Two things caught my attention this week.

#1 was egotistical, a review of THE GOOD SON on The Drowning Machine. A nice review, but here’s the line that caught my attention:

One of the things I most like about this book is that the author doesn't get in the way of his story. He knows when to shut up.

Its that last part. Knows when to shut up. Believe me when I say that’s a huge compliment.

And it brings me to #2.

Over on twitter, I’m following the supremely talented Anthony Neil Smith (once you’re done here, do yourself a favour and go buy his books. And while you’re waiting on them, go read his incredible zine, Plots With Guns­). Now, Smith’s clearly a guy who’s shy with his opinons, so it was interesting to read his reactions to THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO:

Tried reading DRAGON TATTOO. Bored myself silly for 130 pages. Gave up and shook my head at the world's collective bad taste.

It brought me back to something I’ve always said about that book: It doesn’t start for at least 100 pages.

Larsson is of course a publishing phenomenon. And I have said some nice things about the books. But with more time to reflect, I have come to realise that for all the intriguing stuff going on, by God, those books could have been edited down. I couldn’t quote you a line of dialogue from any of them, although I could tell you that I liked the character of Lisbeth Salander a lot, and it was really her that kept me going through the books.

Both of these things – the review and ANS’s reaction to GWTDT reminded me of that rule of Elmore Leonard’s I keep telling people:

Leave out the parts the reader tends to skip.

I am a huge believer in that rule. I find I love it as a reader, and as a writer it disciplines me to get straight to the point, to say what needs to be said. And no, its not about attention span, its about clarity. Not simply of prose but of purpose. A story doesn’t need to trap itself in purple prose and overlong explanatory passages. It needs to punch the reader, to get them to sit up and pay attention. To really focus on the words by making each one as important as the last.

Otherwise, we’re bulking up the story so that readers can drift in and out. So that they don’t have to pay attention. So that they can be spoonfed.

I remember – although I can’t find it – an interview with David Simon in The Guardian where he talked about how the audience had to watch every scene to get the pay off, how they couldn’t leave the room to make coffee or chat on the phone for five minutes, how he wanted to change the way we watch television.

To work with the show. Not passively observe on a surface level.

This is how it should be with stories. The reader should do some lifting, because in the end the real reward we get from a book comes not from the passive act of reading but from the way we engage – emotionally and intellectually – with the text. And if we’re skipping swathes of text or reading them so they can fill in the parts we didn’t want to work to understand, then are we really just wasting time with these things?

So what’s the lesson today?

Make every word count.

Don’t lose your reader because they feel they can drift in or out.

In the end, if it’s a good story, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve written one hundred thousand or one hundred and fifty pages. If every word counted, your readers will thank you.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Important is Grammar?

In honor of the end of the school year, I decided to break out this old post of mine. I wrote it for my blog a few years ago, and it got a huge response. In the years since, I'm not sure how much my opinion has changed. It seems teaching Grammar is important, but at what age do you stop teaching it and expect kids to know it? So, here we go:

There are often conversations going on regarding someone's pet peeves of incorrect grammar. Everybody has one. Mine is people saying "I could care less" when they mean "I couldn't care less." But I have another argument as well.

Grammar is not important.

Well, I'll back off of that... simple grammar is something everyone should learn young and grasp. But after that, who really cares?

What is important, and what I stress when I teach, is meaning. A student has to be able to put together an argument or a storyline or a sentence that has meaning. They have to learn how to put together a logical progression and THEN you can go back and fix grammar.

Hell, look at a lot of writing in books these days. People break grammar rules all the time, whether to sound colloquial or to create effect. I understand that you have to understand grammar to break the rules, but grammar should still not be the end all be all of writing.

It should be the least important thing.

National tests these days do not grade on grammar and spelling. They let most errors go as long as it does not affect meaning. Hence, meaning is where we should focus. That's what I work on.

If a story starts:

"Me and you went to the store. Your a giraffe and heads spilld across the road."

I am not going to sit there and help fix the "me and you" and the correct "your" first. I'm going to ask why is there a giraffe in this story, why were there head's spilling across the road, and what does that have to do with the store you went to.

I want to get to the point where someone will write "Me and you went to the store. You bought skittles and I bought a soda."

Then we can go back and fix grammar.

I think people worry about grammar because it's easy to fix. You can--when you edit someone's piece--say well this is wrong and this is wrong and it's easier than saying, but there's a plot hole here on page 202 and I don't know how you can fix it. That involves a back and forth and a conversation.

I'm always willing to talk about writing, be it with students or with other writers. I'm always willing to brainstorm plot ideas and why a paragraph works as a thought. But folks, what it comes down to is this: Whether you are in 8th grade or writing for ten years, most grammatical errors can be fixed by just reading your sentence out loud.

Meaning, however, takes work.

What do you think?

FOR THE RECORD: This is in no way an attempt to trash teachers. I am a teacher and I believe in teachers. All teachers want to make students smarter and more well rounded young men and woman.

However, I think there is an old fashioned thinking vs. a new type of thinking among all citizens of the United States on whether or not grammar should be the key to good writing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Shill

John McFetridge

There’s a fine line between marketing and being annoying as shit.

And it seems like it’s one we better learn because we’ve all accepted the idea that writers have to do a lot of marketing themselves – whether they’re any good at it or not.

Here’s a story to demonstrate how bad I am at marketing. I found a website all about the escort business in Toronto – a review site, actually, that started out with men reviewing the escorts they had been with (like restaurant reviews) and after a while the escorts themselves started taking out ads on the site and then even joining in the discussions. Like most online discussions the site had a fairly lively “off-topic” section; books, movies, sports, politics, where to buy electronic products, the best cell phone plans, local crime – all kind of stuff.

In one of my books a character, an escort, mentions the site and the reviews she’s received. Her friend asks if it’s like Amazon and can she give herself great reviews the way writers do?

So, when the book came out I thought some of the people on the escort site might be interested in it – it takes place in their city, mentioned their site (not in a bad way) and had fictionalized some of the real crimes they’d discussed.

I joined the site and posted a very polite note about the book, with a link to a pretty good review in a local paper.

They called me a shill and told me to get lost.

A site with nothing but ads for prostitutes and discussions of the best deals on “massages with happy endings,” called out my timid attempt at marketing.

So, whenever I see articles about, “Book Marketing in Social Media,” I wonder if it can really work. They say things like, “The most important rule of social media is: be human and be yourself. People don't want to ‘friend’ a marketing campaign, they want to connect with a real person and many at least hope for the occasional two-way communication.”

Occasional two-way communication? Really, they have to explain that to someone who’s trying to sell a book.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that the guy who started Soft Skull Press is now working on something he calls, “Cursor,” but he isn’t giving out much info. Other than, “Cursor is a social approach to publishing that focuses on the establishment of powerful, self-reinforcing online membership communities made up of professional authors, reader members, and emerging writers.” I don’t know, it sounds like “reader members and emerging writers,” will pay to be part of an online community that includes, “professional authors.”

Hey, at least that hooker website didn’t charge me to join before running me out as a shill.

Of course, you’re thinking, “But wait a minute, John, this Do Some Damage blog is just marketing.” And you’re right, the idea here is to try and get a little more exposure and maybe sell a few books but we’d never think about charging for this. Just like I wouldn’t expect there to be a charge to join a Facebook discussion or a place like Crimespace, which has a pretty clear disclaimer on the front page that says: Note that the forum is for discussion only, not for blatant self promotion (BSP). There’s even a TLA (three letter acronym) so that means it’s official.

So, maybe that line between marketing and annoying people isn’t all that thin. Maybe if you want to advertise your books you should pay for an ad and not join a “social media” site to engage in, “occasional two-way communication,” with people you have “friended” with the sole purpose of selling them something.

Through my writing I’ve met a lot of great people and been exposed to a lot of good writing I wouldn’t otherwise have found. Some of that writing has been online and some has been books I’ve bought and some has been books that people have given me.
I hope that this has been a “two-way” street.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great Expectations

By Jay Stringer

One of the two-part blogs today. A mini-review and then a mini-rant.

I finished reading McFet’s Let It Ride (which translates as Swap, somehow, in Canadian) recently. If you’ve already read Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, then you’re on familiar ground. The third book in the loose series expands on what you’ve already been reading. If you haven’t read those first two, then I’m afraid we have a problem. A you and me problem. An intervention from the men in black problem.

Anyway. I know I’m not the only one who makes The Wire comparison to John’s books, and I also know it’s a slightly misleading one. No, you’re not entering into the world of low rises and desperation in inner city America. This is literally a whole different country. You’re not going to see an Omar, or a Barksdale, or a McNulty.

When I make the comparison, I’m meaning something else. Each story has taken us further, deeper and higher into the world. We see not just the crime of the streets, but the cops who chase it down, we see the business deals that lead to the crime, we see the high power meetings and the civilians throwing money around on the edges of the underworld. Basically we see that crime, like everything else, is a class system. There’s both the blue collar and the white collar.

If we could say that Dirty Sweet was season one; it gave us a few characters to follow, and showed us the edges of the world. Everybody Knows was season two; it delved deeper, it started to show that Lester Freamon was right; following the money is where the real story is. We started to see where the drugs were coming from and where they were going to, and we saw a major power shift in the rival gangs. To follow all of that Let It Swap gives us season 3, which I would call the “shit just got real” season. Nobody trusts anybody, people are fucking up left right and centre, and everybody is after a piece of the pie. The cast has expanded now to take in a whole city in one novel. I’ve seen few novels try and tackle this many characters, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work.

I don’t read McFet’s books because I know him; I read them because they’re some of the best crime fiction out there. You want books with wit, and scope and ambition, that still manage to be easy to read? Get the book, get all three of them, I'll wait right here.

The second part of today's blog is either a rant or a question, depending on whether you're standing downwind of me.

Peoples expectations seem to be in a strange place right now. Even with McFet's book, I noticed both how ambitious it was and how rare that seems to be. Here on DSD we’ve questioned the myth of the attention span many times, both on the blog and in the podcast. We’re always told that peoples attention spans have gone. Did we ever really have one? And if so, is it really worse now?

A lot of the early praise for The Wire stated how like a novel it was, with its long form story telling. Things were not apparent after one or two episodes, but things were crystal clear after ten or twelve of them. But it does interest me that, while TV is becoming more ambitious and more willing to take risks, the reading market seems to be more and more risk averse.

Do we want something new? Do we want ambition? And following The Wire are we in a golden age of TV? Not really. The show was one of the exceptions, it seems, not the rule.

And it’s not just about novels or TV. People’s expectations in general seem to be in a strange place. I was talking at work recently about Transformers 2, and I ventured the opinion that it's one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I started to lay into the writing and somebody said, “Did you expect anymore from a film about giant robots?” I was met with stunned silence when I said that everybody should expect more from the film. A well written film about fighting robots is preferable to a badly written one, right?

I mean, The Dark Knight was a film about men in silly costumes fighting on rooftops, but they still dared to put in the hard work and actually write it. But would we rather walk into the cinema and play down ten quid to see a badly written film that’s over in a flash than sit and invest in something that’s well written and interesting? And surely we should demand that even escapism is still well written? Should we really set our sights any lower than that in the name of fun? Is it that our attention spans have reduced, or have we simply started to value our attention spans so little that we don’t see the need to use them?

It could be that its me who's off base. I don't judge different things by different standards. I want saturday evening family escapism to be as well written as the latest film, and both to have the same care and thought as a novel thats going to be worth my time to read. I'm not going to let anything off lighter than anything else, or hand out any free passes.

These are the sorts of questions that set my brain spinning for hours at a time. Do we value content? Do we want ambition? Would The Wire have gathered so much love if it fell in the forest when nobody was around? Are films, books and TV set into the simple blockbuster mentality because that's what the industry presents to us, or is it because that's how we want it? And where do writers fit into the equation?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stuff to see and do

By Steve Weddle

Hey, I'm offering a FREE BOOK GIVEAWAY. Tell you about it in a minute.

Are you watching this ARCHER TV show? When the commercials first started appearing for the show -- which is on FX and the Hulus, I knew it was going to be the greatest TV show ever in the world ever. And so it is. No other show has ever mixed with humor with the comedy -- still retaining the hilarity -- that this show has.

From a WSJ article: After selling his interest in his production company to his partner and fleeing to Europe, TV producer Adam Reed (”Sealab 2021;” “Frisky Dingo”)was sitting at a cafe in Salamanca, Spain and dreaming up his next show. But there was something distracting him. Rather, it was someone — a beautiful woman writing quietly in her journal. At a loss for how to approach her, Reed immediately conjured someone who could. “Of course, a spy would have a perfect line,” he said. The woman paid her bill and “took my hopes and dreams with her in an expensive handbag.” But Reed came out on top. He had the inspiration for his new animated show: “Archer.

That's some video action worth taking a look at. Seriously. I wouldn't kid you.

And a book you might have already read. This here GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Why didn't you people tell me it was this good. I read the prologue, which was about press flowers. Good stuff. I'm only 500 pages in. The first book is about 1,400 pages long and the rest of them are just as big. And there's a rumored fourth book kinda sorta done? Crazy. Anyway, that Hitchens guy wrote an interesting piece on Larsson here. "Just when Stieg Larsson was about to make his fortune with the mega-selling thriller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the crusading journalist dropped dead. Now some are asking how much of his fiction–which exposes Sweden’s dark currents of Fascism and sexual predation–is fact."
Turns out there can be good stuff on the bestseller lists. Hunh. My bad.

And speaking of good stuff, have you read this Stephen Blackmoore guy? You will. He just inked a deal with DAW (Penguin) for a two-book run. And he's in the summer issue of NEEDLE magazine, along with some other great talent. Keep eyes peeled.

And here's a book I'm looking forward to reading: RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL by Jamie Freveletti. Have you read? Is it as cool as it looks? The new one is out June 29.

So there's what I'm watching and reading?

How about you? Let us know what you're reading and watching and I'll mail you a copy of one of my favorites, DIRTY SWEET:

Oh, and speaking of McFet, he and I -- and many others -- chatted with Richard Godwin over here in some fun crime fiction interviews. Definitely worth checking out.

Anyway, spread the word about the goodness you've been enjoying. Ready? Go.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fathers and Crime

by Joelle Charbonneau

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there in Do Some Damage land. Because it is Father’s Day, I started thinking about what great father characters exist in crime fiction. I think my favorite is Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird…most people probably consider this LITERATURE now instead of crime fiction, but look at the themes in the book and you’ll see the crime part. Atticus was a solid man and a good dad. His desire to see his children unscathed by events was admirable and heroic – not always the stuff great crime stories are made of, but totally the stuff great dads are.

This is the second Father’s Day since my dad passed away from cancer. (Yes, I just segued into the sappy part of my post. I’m a chick so I’m allowed to make you get out your hankies.) I won’t say that Dad and I always had a fabulous relationship. He was an alcoholic for much of my youth and young adulthood. Alcohol makes for some interesting story conflicts, but not great parent/child communication. He was also a big smoker. Between the drinking and the smoking, my father would have made a fabulous character in one of my fellow bloggers books.

My dad kicked the alcohol when I was in my mid-twenties and cigarette smoking the next year. Cold turkey on both. Amazing! Can you tell he had a stubborn streak? If you think you know stubborn think again. My dad took it to a whole new level. He had things he wanted to get done and nothing, no matter how important, was going to get in the way. Want an example?

While he was battling cancer, Dad had an episode in which he started to bleed and needed to be taken to the hospital. The paramedics loaded him into the ambulance and were ready to go. Only my father wouldn’t let them. The bleeding made it hard to talk, so he pointed to my mother and then down to the edge of the driveway. My mother knew exactly what he wanted and told him no. They were going to the hospital – now. My dad wouldn’t agree. He pointed again. Finally the paramedic asked what Dad wanted. Turns out it was garbage day. The garbage had been collected and Dad was prepared to bleed until the cans had been brought up to their proper position next to house. Baffled, the medic dutifully fulfilled my father’s wish so he could get my father the treatment he needed. Point scored for Dad.

Yep. Stubborn. And he passed it along to me. Okay, I’m not stubborn about my garbage cans, but I did learn an important lesson from my father that has helped me in my publishing adventure. Never take NO for an answer. Keep knocking on doors until someone says yes. Even when it looks like no one will, keep knocking. When you least expect it, someone will finally open the door and let you walk in. It happened to me and it was because of Dad’s example that I kept trying. Thanks Dad. Happy Father’s Day. I hope I do you proud.

***picture is from 8th grade graduation - gotta love the '80s***

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

(A couple of weeks ago, when I attended the fabulous book signing with Duane Swierczyski, Victor Gischler, and Lisa Brackmann at Houston's Murder by the Book, I picked up an imported copy of Don Winslow's The Gentlemen's Hour. It's the sequel to his 2008 book, The Dawn Patrol. Quite simply put, The Dawn Patrol was my favorite book from 2008. And, equally as simply put, I couldn't wait until 2011 for the American edition of The Gentlemen's Hour. Since I'm a little (lot!) hamstrung with the day job, I'm posting my review of Dawn Patrol here. It's from the summer of 2008 and I didn't change a word. Back with something modern and pertinent next week.)

Epic macking crunchy.

That is the term, in Surfbonics, a character in Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol uses to describe the big wave that is approaching the beaches of San Diego. It’s a once-per-twenty-years ocean eruption that makes and breaks careers and that every surfer worth his weight in sunscreen comes to So Cal to experience. And it’s all Boone Daniels wants.

Except Boone, a PI who works just enough to pay some bills, has a new case. It’s a case he doesn’t want. He’ll happily get to it after the big swell. But his client—drop-dead gorgeous Brit Petra—is having none of it. So, Boone has to stow his board and wave bye-bye to the other members of the Dawn Patrol—a group that meets every morning to surf—to go look for a lost stripper who needs to testify in an upcoming trial.

From that seemingly inauspicious beginning, Winslow throws the reader into the world of southern California. And what a tour it is. I happened upon The Dawn Patrol (TDP) because I vacationed in San Diego and wanted to read something criminal in nature and local. I decided against TDP largely because I didn’t have time to buy the book. It’s a good thing, too, for Winslow as Tour Guide permeates this book like the smell of sunscreen at a beach. He gives you the experience of surf culture in So Cal without having ever been there. Folks as far away as Iceland are going to want to chuck off the parkas, pick up a board, and cut through the waves. Having visited the locations of TDP in June, I thoroughly enjoyed Boone and his friends traverse the locales I did. But the beauty of TDP is that you don’t have to know what the Pacific Coast Highway is to enjoy the story. It is a rush. It is like a wave, an epic macking crunchy one, powering its way into your brain.

The style of Winslow’s writing propels the story forward using the present tense and short chapters. I really liked that style and found it way too easy to just read (or listen, as I did) to a few more chapters. Every now and then, Winslow stops the action to give a brief history of a portion of San Diego. Those really make the book, especially his short dissertation on what constitutes a wave. There are books where the author does his best to get out of the way and just present the story. That’s the Elmore Leonard School of Writing. It works. But TDP was like Winslow himself telling you the story, sitting across from a beach bonfire from you, the waves lapping the beach a few yards away, the sun a distant memory, the stars the only other listeners. And it worked brilliantly.

The members of the Dawn Patrol—Hang Twelve, Dave the Love God, Johnny Banzai, High Tide, and Sunny Day
—are priceless. Each member gets his or her own bio at just the appropriate time in the book. Hang Twelve, a young surfing fanatic, has his name bestowed on him by Boone for the very reason you’d suspect. Ditto Dave the Love God, a lifeguard on Pacific Beach who, according to Johnny Banzai, has been “spread over more tourist flesh than Bain de Soleil.” Banzai, a SDPD detective, is Japanese-American and if you’re a Japanese-American, according to Winslow, who is “a seriously radical, nose-first, balls-out, hard-charging surfer, you’re just going to get glossed either with ‘Kamikaze’ or ‘Banzai,’ you just are.” High Tide is Samoan and I’ll give you one guess as to his size and his sobriquet. Sunny Day, the lone female of the bunch, is “a force of nature—tall, long-legged—Sunny is exactly what Brian Wilson meant when he wrote that he wished they all could be California girls.” With a group like this, who wouldn’t want to go along for an adventure.

Except the adventure in question gets deadly, and in a hurry. And the choices certain characters make puts them at odds with other members of the Dawn Patrol. As a reader, I didn’t want Character A to do something because Character B would have to fight it. But as a writer, I realized that all the actions of all the characters are precisely correct. These folks are real people who make real, yet sometimes, difficult decisions. They live with the consequences but their choice, based on their character, was perfectly aligned. That is a good lesson in storytelling.

The benefit of the quick, short chapters that Winslow uses is that the action can jump from once set of characters to another in the space of half a page. I liked it, while some other readers may prefer longer chapters. But the quick cuts eliminates the painstaking ‘recap’ where an author has to write something like this: “Just as Bob was blasting through a door, half a city away, Jane woke with a start.” It’s just easier Winslow’s way.

The quick cuts also allows Winslow the flexibility to juxtapose sad scenes with happy scenes, or scenes of calm with scenes of high anxiety. There is a sequence of events, late in the book, where something good and exciting is happening and something bad and exciting is simultaneously happening. I could give all sorts of excuses—it was morning, I was tired, I hadn’t had a complete cup of java yet, the rising sun hit my face at just the right time—but I’ll just confess to the obvious: I felt the sting of tears and goose bumps at a certain scene. Winslow had set a pace of actions and expectations that overcame me at a certain moment. The tears didn’t leave my eyes but my contacts certainly felt more comfortable. I’ll not say if it was tears of joy or sadness. You’ll have to read to find out.

I’ve spoken before about audiobooks but this is one you simply must listen to. Ray Porter gives a fantastic performance. For most of the men, he adopts a surfer voice that puts you right there next to them. For Petra, the British gal, he adopts a lilting English accent. It was spectacular.

Early on the in the book, the Dawn Patrol have an ongoing List of Things That Are Good. Included are such topics as double overheads, free stuff, fish tacos, and all-female outrigger canoe teams. You have to read the entire list and scene because it’s quite hilarious. In crime fiction, there is also the List of Authors That Are Good. I’m compiling my own list, two actually. There’s the Classic Authors That Are Good (familiar names: Hammett, Chandler, Miller, Keene, Block) and then there’s the New Authors That Are Good (new names: Lehane, Pelecanos, Faust, Swiercznski, Bruen, Guthrie). Guess what? Winslow just got himself on the list. Read The Dawn Patrol and tell me if that book isn’t epic macking crunchy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

And now, a word from our sponsors*

By Russel D McLean
(well, sort of)

My internet provider is playing silly games this week, so I don't have the time for a big post. I'll be back up to speed (I hope!) next week. But thanks to the wonderful Joelle for filling in last week: she is a truly talented lady, and as well as her reading her wonderful blog entries you should go read her book, too! Go.

But if you've ever wondered what it takes to be a writer like Joelle (or even a general miscreant like myself), and you live in Scotland, you could learn a lot from this event** being run on 16 July by two of the top Scots crime writers. And I can say from first hand experience that Al Guthrie is one hell of a teacher and knows his stuff inside out. If you're going to attend a course on writing, then one run by these fellas is going to be top notch. Anyway, towit, a press release:

Two of the country's leading crime writers are teaming up to pass their know-how on to the next wave of upcoming authors.  Edinburgh-based Tony Black and Allan Guthrie have had 10 novels published between them. Now they're getting together to present a unique workshop in the Scottish capital, called Writing Your Crime Novel - Seven Steps to Success.  Crime-writing is one of the most popular genres among readers in Britain and beyond, and it remains one of the very few growth areas in publishing. With many new writers eager to turn their hand to this area, the workshop is designed to help authors hone their skills by providing a unique insight in the creative process of planning and writing a crime novel. It covers such key areas as plot development, story structure and characterisation.  Tony says: "The potential market for crime writers is massive these days, but finding a pathway through it is more difficult than ever.  “Publishers are all looking for the next big thing - but are very specific about what they want. This course is aimed at pointing out just what it is they’re looking for, and how to go about delivering it."  Tony will host of the majority of the event, while Allan will present a section dealing with how to go about attracting the interest of a literary agent.  Tony says: "This is probably the most valuable insight you can afford a new writer as without an agent, there’s simply very little chance of being published."  Writing Your Crime Novel workshop takes place at the Royal Over-SeasClub, 100 Princes Street, Edinburgh, on Friday 16 July. For more details, go to 

* If we call them "sponsors" will they give us money? I think the answer is no but it was worth a try.

**full disclaimer - I am associated with the Ideas Space which means that one of these days I'll probably be dishing out my lunatic knowledge on unsuspected students

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Very superstitious.

by Dave White

I am very superstitious.

When my favorite team is in the playoffs, I try to sit in the same seat, drink the same beer, and eat the same food. I will readjust the angle of my cap and wear the same shirt.

The same goes with writing. When things are going badly, I'm always looking for a way to switch things up. I go to a coffee shop to get a different outlook. I take a few days off before writing. I write in the morning or late at night instead of right after work.

But when things are going well, there is no messing with me. I sit in the same seat. I write in the same seat. I follow the same routine (the one I chronicled last week.). I try not to overwrite something and I try not to underwrite. That means I write a complete scene. I try to up the stakes and give me a damn good cliffhanger to figure out the next day. I shoot for 1000 words. Sometimes it's higher sometimes its lower.

And I ride the hot streak. I go as far as I can for as long as I can.

What I'm saying is... I'm going to keep this blog post short, because I don't want to jinx anything.

Are you a superstitious writer? How? Why? What are your routines?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Is Crime Fiction Too Well-Written?

John McFetridge

A little while ago Jason Duke offered up a prize for a writing contest. A hundred bucks. I agreed to be one of the judges and yesterday (only one day late) submitted my picks.

But really, every story entered was very good. I had a feeling they would be. Every flash fiction challenge I read is full of really well-written stories. Every issue of ThugLit. Everything on Twist of Noir. Needles, the actual ink on paper magazine put together by our own Steve Weddle and Scott Parker had really, really good stories.

So, now here’s my question. Is this crime fiction too well-written?

The only time I’m ever pulled out of one of these stories is when it’s told from the point of view of some uneducated thug or a hooker who’s been living on the streets since she was twelve and they use a word like “purchase” instead of “buy.” What’s that expression about not using a ten dollar word when a ten cent one will do?

Or, the famous Faulkner line about Hemingway, that he’s, “never used a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” I’ve always imagined that Faulkner thought it was an insult and Hemingway took it as a compliment.

But it’s also the characters. Sometimes I wonder if maybe we’re all using too many of these down-and-out, desperate characters (I include myself in all this, too, of course). So many strippers and hit men and mob thugs. And hanging out in so many dive bars. Often it feels like a Bukowski novel, but Bukowski actually lived that life.

So, I wonder, why doesn’t more current crime fiction involve characters more like the people writing it – middle-class, educated, pop-culture savvy? Able to use Google and a cell phone?

The crime world is pretty much the same as the rest of the world, it’s filled with everyone from down-and-out, desperate, homeless people to absurdly rich, worldy, successful people. And there’s a middle-class in crime, too. And cops who aren’t dysfunctional or burnt-out or damaged.

It may be more challenging, it may be riskier to try and make these kinds of characters interesting enough to carry a crime fiction story, but the payoff would be greater, too (maybe not in sales, I admit, but in literary quality maybe).

Sometimes I read Texts From Last Night – they’re funny and sometimes telling. Mostly college kids. A lot of texts about binge drinking and anonymous sex and plenty about drugs – they mention their dealers a lot. It makes me think that maybe there are crime stories on campus and in the suburbs that aren’t being told. Those drugs got there somehow and sometimes college kids run out of money.

Of course there are plenty of examples of crime writers having characters a lot like the people in their lives. Victor Gischler’s Pistol Poets has some great stuff on campus. Robert Stone has written some fantastic stuff about middle-class people who get involved in drug smuggling.

So, what’s some of your favourite crime fiction with characters a lot like you?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Women, Bloody Women

Guest review by Lisa-Marie Ferla

Before I get started, I should probably admit to being one of those people who “didn’t really read crime fiction” before shacking up with Do Some Damage’s own Jay Stringer. In fact, there are some who would argue that I still don’t really read the stuff - but that’s only because his second manuscript is a six-inch stack of A4 on top of the record player.

I don’t like to think of myself as any kind of literary snob, and so the past few years have proved invaluable in breaking down my personal prejudices around the genre. I’ve been a reader of DSD from the beginning, and although I tend to keep quiet in their comments a few related sites have found their way onto my feed reader. Discussions around “literary vs. genre” and parallels drawn between the medium and film or music have proved of particular interest.

And so I’ve come to discover that crime fiction isn’t all grizzly hard-drinking PIs, listening to classic rock and hating on their ex-wives in smoky front seats. For one thing if a stakeout counts as a place of work nobody’s smoking in any of them these days; and for another there’s work by the likes of Megan Abbott in the to-read pile or Joelle Charbonneau’s witty and engaging columns on this site every second Sunday. Just recently I found myself heading off for a Stringer-free week away laden down with the latest books from a couple of Glasgow-based female contributors to the crime fiction genre - Donna Moore and Helen Fitzgerald - and I’ve let the other half persuade me to take a night off from writing about bands for my own site in order to let you know what I thought.

Bloody Women isn’t the first Helen Fitzgerald novel I have read - that honour goes to 2009’s The Devil’s Staircase - but it was no less engaging for all that even if possibly not the best thing to read six weeks off my own wedding to a crime writer. The novel’s heroine, Catriona Marsden, is about to marry a handsome Italian hunk and settle into the good life in sunny Tuscany; but before she does so she’s determined to tie up some loose ends, as it were - in the form of four ex-boyfriends. And when they all turn up dead, there’s only one obvious conclusion.

Here’s another genre that gets vilified: so-called “chick lit”. Quite rightly so, from the few examples I’ve skimmed through on holidays for lack of anything else to do, which is why you might find it surprising I’d tentatively tag Fitzgerald’s writing with that much maligned label. There are no pink cupcakes or six-inch high heels on the cover of this book. The average twenty-something airport shopper is unlikely to pick it up. Fitzgerald probably wouldn’t appreciate it if her publishers took that tack anyway, but there’s something so incredibly refreshing about her writing style that I pity those judge-a-book-by-its-cover types who are missing out. Bloody Women is an intelligent, frank and at times downright disturbing read, peopled with twisted characters you don’t want to like but who are crafted so skillfully and believably you find yourself doing so anyway. Quite apart from that this book is funny as all hell, as well as being one of the most unpredictable things I have ever read. Fitzgerald is already a master of her genre, and frankly I’m begging for more.

Old Dogs, the second novel from Donna Moore, does have some pink cupcakes on the cover - but it also has a smoking handgun, so don’t let that put you off. As I was already a big fan of Moore’s writing through her Scottish crime fiction blog, Big Beat From Badsville, I was looking forward to this arriving and it doesn’t disappoint - the same wicked irreverence with which she tells her famous stories of the number 62 bus permeates her fiction writing and this is an accomplished debut. Depending on your level of politeness, and possibly your native dialect, the “old dogs” of the title are either some jewel-encrusted antique Shih Tzus or two hard-drinking elderly sisters in punk rock t-shirts and motorcycle boots who somehow manage to disguise themselves as Italian aristocracy with hilarious - and, for some, fatal - consequences.

This book cries out for a film adaptation, particularly as far as its climatic museum scenes are concerned: protagonists cross paths and fall over each other with the screwball comedy - albeit with a sinister edge - of all the best capers and Moore’s lively prose brings it all to life perfectly. It would actually more than likely be a low budget STV adaptation, just because Hollywood would doubtless balk at all the swearing and fail to get the accents right anyway.

There aren’t really any good guys in this one, but there’s a fair few you’ll find yourself rooting for anyway. Moore doesn’t shy away from a few violent scenes where it’s needed to get her point across - and with my native city so vividly captured on the page, I’ve looked twice when passing a fair few alleyways recently.

Anyway, if you’ve got a few weeks off coming up and you want your summer reading engrossing, entertaining and thoroughly dark-hearted, you could do worse than to check out these two.

Amazon links:

Bloody Women:

Old Dogs:

Monday, June 14, 2010

When NOT to read a good book

By Steve Weddle

Reading a good book is probably the worst thing you can do if you're writing a novel.

Some coach in some sport somewhere was saying, uh, wait, you're not going to believe me if I say it like that. Um, OK. When the Omaha City Oilers were down three games to none in the best-of-seven Super Bowl back in 1987, Coach Tom Fauxnomme called his team together before the game.

"Boys," he said, as they were all gentlemen of a certain age. "Things haven't been going our way out there on the ice pitch this week. When we needed a three-pointer, we got a foul. We we needed to draw a foul, Randy there killed a pigeon." Then he went on a long discourse about fighting hard and having fun, comparing their troubles to the castaways on "Gilligan's Island." And then he said something about winning one for the Skipper.

After they lost that game 15-0, one of the players asked the coach why he never yelled at them during the game. "You don't coach during the game, son. You manage."

And that's a lesson we can all learn and apply to our crime writing.

The worst thing you can do when you're writing your book is to read someone else's, especially if it is better than yours.

If I have a day to myself, I'll try to split my time between reading and writing. I have to get the writing done first before the reading. I'd thought that this was because I'm freshest early on and need my brain functioning at its best to write. Once I've broken all my brain cells to pieces, then I can kick back and read through the afternoon. (At least until I have to go upstairs, put my suit on and then wait down the block in my car until my wife and kids get home and then drive up like I'd been at work all day because if she knew I took off every Friday she'd expect me to do some housework instead of just driving into the garage, getting out, grabbing a bottle of gin, and falling asleep to another Nationals' loss.)

Turns out, if I read a good book in the morning, I never get to the writing. Especially if I'm reading a really good book. Maybe I'm thinking, "Gee. This is quite entertaining. Perhaps I'll continue reading as I am being quite entertained." That's what my excuse will be. I just didn't want to put it down. In truth, though, when I'm reading a good piece of crime fiction, I'm at least partly thinking, "Well, hell. I can't do that." And then I'm frozen. Did I have the reveal too early? Is that about when it was in the Reed Farrel Coleman book? Oh, was my bad guy as much a surprise as the dude in the Michael Connelly book I just finished? As scary as the JT Ellison one? As easy to get along with as the one The Gischler just put out? Why even bother, right? When you've got so many great books out there, what's the point?

Just look over there to the left. McFet's Canada crime stuff is phenomenal. Russel's McNee books are just so well done. And then there's Joelle's book which is an absolute delight and on your store shelves -- and your nightstand -- this fall. And Dave's New Jersey novels make me want to curl up with a nice hunk of Taylor Ham and keep reading. And Stringer's OLD GOLD is so brutal and thrilling. And stories from Scott and BQ, too. Westerns and sperm bank hold-ups, how can you go wrong with those two?

Right now I'm reading that chick with the dragon ink on her shoulder book. Hell, I can't do what he's doing. It's like, I don't know, part Thomas Mann and part Sean Chercover. Hell no I can't do that.

I don't care what BQ said on Sunday. I have to stop reading books while I'm writing. It's like the books are coaching me in the middle of the game.

My high school baseball coach once tried to help me out of a slump. I was dropping an elbow or moving a foot or blinking in the wrong eye. He gave me some advice that got into my head. I got to thinking about things too much. So many things can go wrong. The ball -- even when you keep your eye on it -- is really kinda teeny-tiny. And it's moving around. Not just fast and towards your face, but sometimes the damn thing just drops a couple of inches just before you swing. And you have to catch it at just the right time. And on just the right part of the bat. And at an angle in which you don't pop it up or ground into a double play. How can you ever get that right?

The thing is, I think, you can't let anything get into your head when you're trying to get something out. Whether you're trying to line the ball into right field so that the guy on second can get around or you're trying to figure out just why the hell your main character wouldn't just call the cops instead of going into the building alone, you can't let the coach get into your head.

I read when I plan or after I've gotten a draft down. Before the game and after the game, I take my coaching. During the writing, all of that just becomes muscle memory as I manage the best I can to keep it all straight.

You gotta play your game. You gotta write your book.

And then you gotta knock the damn thing out of the park.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reading and Writing

**As you're reading this, I'll be driving back from Chicago where I popped in for a day to visit the Printers Row Literary festival. I hope I had fun and this finds me well...

Dave mentioned last week that he was going through a slump in his reading and it got me thinking about the relationship between reading and writing. I'm on a decent reading streak right now, having changed up genres and read some supernatural stuff, but when I'm in a reading slump my writing really suffers. I always hear about those people who can't read while they're writing, or can't read in their genre when they're writing and I've never worked that way. If I'm writing a dark crime short story I like to be reading dark crime stories. When I was writing PI novels, all I read were PI novels. My reading serves as inspiration and fuel.

This also got me thinking about the future of publishing. Lots of talk has been going on about how new technology and new paradigms will allow many, many writers to find an audience who wouldn't have otherwise had an audience. Self publishers, and electronic publishers are sprouting up every day. Magazines, online classes, workshops, seminars, and advice blogs are everywhere for writers. Attendance at graduate creative writing programs has never been higher and new programs are being created every year. So yeah, there's lots of writers out there.

And yet reading is declining.

I find this both baffling and frightening.

First, from a craft point of view, how can you expect to be a good writer if you aren't reading good writers. Everything I've managed to learn about writing a novel has been learned by reading novels and thinking about the novels I've read and analyzing them. Whether they read while they're writing or not, every writer I know who has "made it" is an active reader. Now, from a professional perspective, how can people expect to be published, without supporting the industry they wish to be part of? I try to buy as many books as I can from independent bookstores, but even if I can't I'm buying them from Borders which gets money back to publishers so they can stay in business or I'm getting them from the library which sees that activity and buys more books which keeps the publisher in business, or I buy them used from independent bookstores which helps keep them in business as they help and support writers.

If everybody out there who wrote a novel or short story and wanted to have it published bought books or checked them out from a library, the publishing industry would be in much better shape than it is now.

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?