Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Opposite of Writer's Block

Scott D. Parker

What is the opposite of writer’s block? And, after you define it, what do you call it?

Writer’s block is when a writer stares at a blank page and doesn’t know what to write. Nothing comes to the mind, nothing comes out on paper, and, in the end, the writer is stuck.

The opposite of writer’s block is when a writer stares at a blank page and sees too many things. Everything comes to mind, everything is a fork in the road of a character, there are too many ideas. As soon as the writer gets an idea, this Opposite of Writer’s Block takes hold. Okay, says the writer, my character robs a bank. How? This one, simple question can create dozens of ideas, any one or two of which are good. Let’s say the writer picks the third one, a really good idea. Then what? This fork in the character’s road is a choice. The writer chooses “left” and writes away, but he never quite gives up on “right” and starts pondering the story if he had chosen “right” instead of “left.”

I think you see the dilemma. In no time, the writer is creating alternate universes for his characters, dozens of choices, multitudes of twists and turns, all the while he isn’t making prose. Or, if he is, he’s not making progress.

Now, some of you would say Just pick something and go with it. That’s sound advice. But what about all those forks in the road?

The opposite of writer’s block. What is it called? Because there are times when I suffer from it. I want to name my ailment so I can start curing it.

NOTE: Tomorrow, Do Some Damage is a year old. I have to say I've really enjoyed meeting new readers and carrying on conversations about writing, mystery fiction, and whatever else. We've all had a blast and I hope you, our Readers, have enjoyed the trip as much as we have. Here's to a great sophomore year!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Not Expecting the Unexpected

By Russel D McLean

I recently heard of those blunt but interesting questions asked of a writer by a reader. To put it in context, it was at an event organise by the convener who wanted to “promote writers whose books deserved more attention”. An honourable goal, and done in the form of a book club to ensure that those present did indeed read the books.

And it worked, I think. The people present responded well to the books and the writers.

But one question at the end intrigued me:

“Why aren’t your books getting more attention?”

A question that’s easy to ask and not so easy to answer.

From a reader’s point of view, it seems cut and dried. The books are out there. Surely the strong will survive and the weak perish. The good books will endure. The bad ones will die.

That is not always the case, however, as was shown by these two writers whose sales were not in line with their level of skill (although still, in both cases, fairly respectable).

But how do you answer that question?

There are so many factors at work in whether a book succeeds or fails. A great deal is due to timing and luck. The right book at the right time can take off. The right book at the wrong time can tank.

And then there’s visibility. Hard as it is to believe, most publishers don’t have limitless marketing. Just because you see certain books everywhere doesn’t mean they are the best. It means they are the safest bet at the time. Everything else is a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” style of campaign. Some books barely get into shops because buyers aren’t made aware of them. Some books are sent out to reviewers far too late or not at all. Many are jacketed poorly or presented in the wrong light.

And nearly all of these factors are outside the author’s control. The only author I know who has near enough direct control of marketing his books is James Patterson. That’s why he’s everywhere; he has huge influence over publisher’s marketing of his titles.

But not everyone has that influence.

Some authors have a marketing budget of zero. And if no one sees your product or if its in the wrong place, how is anyone going to discover it? Word of mouth is powerful but scattershot.

It’s a tough old business out there, but readers can do their bit to help. By experimenting. By taking a chance on the authors without the advertising. Laying aside pre-conceptions and taking a chance on a book that looks interesting even it its not plastered all over the bookshop or the train station or the local supermarket. Don’t wait for marketing permission to try something. Dip a toe into the waters of the unexpected. You might get a very pleasant surprise.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I'm prone to distraction. My mind gets caught up on something and it freezes me up. Often, this is a good thing. The distraction is something writing related, figuring out a plot point or something a character needs to do. I write it down and I can get back to doing whatever it was I was doing.

However, sometimes there are distractions that keep me from writing.

And I am in the middle of one right now.

You see, I'm getting married a week from Saturday. And the planning is taking up a lot of time. So I'm sitting at just over 39,000 words in my manuscript and I've frozen up a bit. Most of what I have written this week has been crap.

And a lot of what I've blogged on here the last few weeks. (Go ahead, say it... You're writing crap now, Dave? How is that different from anything else you've done on DSD?)

I'm trying to keep my routine. Go to the gym, then write, then lunch, but it's not working. I've spent too much time on the phone. Too much running around.

I'm excited to get married, and I know in 3 weeks, the writing will really pick up again.

But for right now, I'm a little frozen.

So after tomorrow, I'm gonna be off from the blog for two weeks. Joelle will be handling Thursday duties for me.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How Many Hammers Are Enough?

by John McFetridge

Recently I was at a meeting pitching a TV show and the exec on the other side of the table questioned the industry I had set the show in and said, “Look at Mad Men, the advertising industry is so interesting and never been done before.” Okay, so we’re leaving out Bewitched and Thirtysomething, but more importantly (to me), I thought, “That’s backwards, Mad Men isn’t about the advertising industry, it’s set in the advertising industry because the whole show is about the imposter syndrome and advertising is the perfect venue to deal with that.”

I’ve come a long way, though, because I didn’t say that out loud. But it did make me realize that either we think the idea of a central theme is too obvious to discuss, or it’s something only writers worry about.

Most of us have felt a little imposter syndrome and can relate. Most of us have probably felt at some point that we aren't really the person some peope think we are (I'm not a loser, no matter what my mother-in-law thinks).

Mad Men tkes that to an extreme. Don Draper has a secret past. The image he presents to the world isn’t really him – the advertising industry is the prefect place to investigate that as it presents an image of products to the world. Every character in the show deals with this kind of self-doubt and the feeling that they have to present an image to the world that they may not feel is really them. In one episode a guy who has a breakdown and leaves the company says, “If I don’t go into that office tomorrow, who am I?” In fact, there’s a line like that in pretty much every episode – I just watched, “The Gypsy and the Hobo” from season three and it ends with Don and Betty taking the kids out trick or treating on Halloween and ends with a man at his door saying, “A gypsy and a hobo,” and then looking at Don and Betty and saying, “And who are you supposed to be?”

Season three ended with Don and Betty getting divorced and Don starting a new agency – out on his own, not knowing who he is, again. Creating himself all over, again.

The premiere for season four opened with the line, ”Who is Don Draper?” And then the episode turned on the fact he didn’t give the answer the reporter wanted, or could work with. Every episode we find out a little more about the characters, and they find out more about themselves.

And then the real fun starts – what are they going to do with that new information? Will they try and bury it deep within themselves? That’ll make for even more fun when it inevitably explodes to the surface later. Or, will it explode into something right now?

This is why I like Mad Men, it’s a “big idea” show that doesn’t let its big idea get in the way. And least not for me. Some people have said it’s too, “On the nose,” that it’s hitting us over the head with a hammer, with a bag of hammers.

And that’s the tough question for me when I write, how many hammers are enough?

It makes me wonder if I’ve worked hard enough to get these kinds of things into my own writing – the big ideas to make it worthwhile to read but not so much that it gets in the way.

Sometimes I feel if I'm working with these kinds of big ideas and I just get into ‘the zone,’ then a lot of it will be instinct and connections will be made (Matthew Weiner claims he writes Mad Men by instinct). Or maybe that’s what happens when I get obsessed with something. Or maybe I just see connections where there aren’t really any (is that the definition of insanity? Well, writer, insane person, it’s a fine line).

But I do think it’s important to start with a big idea, with “something to say,” I guess. Even something simple, something that’s been said a lot before. The Imposter Syndrome has been talked about for a long time, there have been movies and TV shows and books with characters who have secret pasts and show how coping with that manifests itself in all kinds of ways (you could probably also make a claim that Tony Soprano, in the last show Matthew Weiner wrote for, suffered from a form of the imposter syndrome, feeling that he was born into a lifestyle that wasn’t the right one for him but he lived it anyway).

Of course, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, right? And sometimes writing is a lot simpler than that.

Which brings me to my own writing.

A couple years ago our own Bryon Quertermous edited Demolition Magazine online and he was nice enough to publish one of my short stories, Grow House. Now, Smashwords has made it so easy even I could figure out how to give it away as an e-book. Just click here and choose your format.

The “big idea” in Grow House (such that it is) is stated on the first page:

Steve Barrett had been back from Afghanistan two weeks when he got back to stealing cars, this one a brand new BMW X5, leather interior, V8. What he did was, he stood around the parking lot of the Vaughn Mills Mall in north Toronto until some woman pulled in driving it and he followed her inside. Then he gave a couple of teenagers fifty bucks to steal her purse and while she was giving the mall security guard shit for half an hour, Steve drove the car to a garage on Dufferin owned by a biker named Danny Mac who gave him ten grand cash.

It was the same kind of independent thinking the army sent him home for showing. What the fuck did they expect him to do in Canada?

So, it’s about “independent thinking.” All the characers have some plan or scheme that doesn’t go well.

Not exactly a big idea like the imposter syndrome, but I hope you like it anyway.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Eventful Writer

(This is my second and last post for DSD. Just wanted to add that it's been a blast, and I may be looking for ways to incapacitate Stringer for longer next time. I also wanted to say how proud I am of myself for writing a whole post about Harrogate and not mentioning Russel's fancy man. Aw, hell.)

Spent last Saturday down in Harrogate for the (deep breath) Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival 2010. It was originally supposed to be a fleeting visit - basically the panel and then offski - but we ended up staying a little longer thanks to some fine company and another panel that caught my attention. Otherwise, I have to admit, I have something of a love/hate relationship with events. See, like the vast majority of other people what have written books an’ that, I have a day job and, like a vast majority of people what have day jobs an’ that, relish the idea of spending my free time as I wish. Now “as I wish” normally means “spending time with my wife”. It can also mean “getting some writing done”.

What it very rarely means is “being a writer”.

For me, “being a writer” is the least comfortable part of this whole business, because the simple fact of the matter is I don’t really consider myself that way - not in an arena any wider than our spare bedroom, anyway. I don’t make my living from writing, I don’t hang out with creative types that often, and nobody at my day job knows about this secondary “career”. It’s an existence that’s worked out pretty well so far, except for those occasions that demand a public appearance. Then I spend most of my time waiting for the tap on the shoulder and a request that I not make a scene as I’m escorted from the premises. I suppose this is some throwback to my early events, typified by empty rooms and piles of books that need to be signed so they can’t be sent back to the publisher. Little old ladies who come for the free wine and stay for the moral superiority. Stock signings that require identification before they’ll believe you are who you say you are. Convention signings without books. Convention signings with books that nobody wants. Holes in convention conversation where people look around for someone who’ll benefit their career more than you, the general awkwardness of being at a school reunion and getting stuck with the lad who used to eat stuff for money. And then the horrible realisation that the lad pities you.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The idea of travelling across the country only to feel like shit gets old really quickly, especially when you’re doing it on your own time. It’s taken me five books and a word from my missus to call it a day and ditch this ridiculous obligation to show up for everything I’m invited to. I dare say I’ve missed out some sterling opportunities to sell books, but then one of the few benefits of having a day job is that bills still get paid regardless of how much I sell. And while it doesn’t change some of the minor irritations about even the best events - and I’d definitely call Harrogate one of the best - it certainly puts those irritations in perspective and makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.

So there we see it, under Ray’s Advice For New Writers (Abridged), the same refrain: Do What You’re Comfortable With. Because for all the marketing gurus telling me I should be out there with the sell-sell-sell and network-network-network, I reckon the key factor in any event should be enjoyability, otherwise you’re (most likely) paying for the privilege of wasting your spare time in misery in front of a crowd of people who’ve never heard of you and, because of your lacklustre performance, probably won’t do much to change that fact. So no more readings - quite apart from the fact that I don’t like watching authors read from their books, the turnout for one of my solo shows would be embarrassing. No more stock signing unless it’s an in-and-out - sitting at a table in the middle of a bookshop getting stared at is even more embarrassing.

And much more time to write, which is infinitely preferable to being a writer.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Kindle Problem

By Steve Weddle

“You know the big problem you’re going to have with your Kindle?” my wife asked me the other day.
I’d just finished ALREADY DEAD by Charlie Huston. Dang, what a nice book. I had to explain to people what I was reading. “Yeah, it’s a vampire book but it’s got great characters and all this plot and these factions and such cool science-tech stuff and it creates this world” etc, etc. The kind of talk in which people only hear the first part, then hang on to something there and don’t hear anything else you say. You know, like if you came home and said, “Yeah, honey, I was naked in a room with her, but it was because my clothes burned off while I was carrying the handicapped kids out of the burning orphanage” etc, etc.

So, anyway, one of the nice things about the Kindle is that people don’t see the cover. “Hey, Weddle. You make fun of vampire books. Now you’re reading one? Haha. You’re an asshat.”

When the Kindle first came out, some paper, let’s say it was the NY Times, did a story about how the uber-skanky romance novels were increasing in sales figures by a gazillion percent because folks could hide what they were reading.

Yeah, what you’re doing is reading in private, much more so than if you had that paperback with naked people and fat-fonted titles proclaiming your genre love. Ashamed to read “Star Wars: Attack of the Dark Sith Demon Spy Prophecy”? Read it on the Kindle. Penthouse letters? On the Kindle.
Which, sorta ties in to what my wife was saying about the problem I was going to have with my Kindle.

I’d had the Kindle for a couple of weeks when she’d mentioned that, but I’d been reading on the Kindle app for much longer. On my iPod Touch and on the new Blackberry. Nice little app with tons of books available. I’d read ebooks for years on the Palm Pilots and then the Zire and then the Palm Treo. So I knew a little something about reading ebooks.

The downside of the Kindle, and in almost all ebooks, is that you can’t pass them along when you’re done, as my wife had pointed out.
When I’m done with a book, I tell people how awesome it is. Unless it’s crap, of course. Then I tell them that.

I’ve loaned out GUN MONKEYS probably eight times. I doubt I’ll ever see my copy of WINDUP BIRD CHRONICLES, again. When the HOGDOGGIN hardback was accidentally $6 at Amazon, I picked up a few copies to hand off to folks. JT Ellison. Charlie Huston. If you come to my house (please don’t) you won’t know how much I love these books, because they’re not in our library. They’re out. I loan out a Nathan Singer book, then someone buys a couple more of his and sends one my way. Book sharing. A great way to learn about new-to-you authors.

And a big shortcoming on ebooks.

Amazon makes a big deal about how you can “share” your ebook among six devices. Uh, yeah, if they’re all your devices. If I own a Kindle and an iPod Touch and a Blackberry, which I do, I can read the same book on all three, syncing up wherever I leave off. That’s great, but it ain’t book sharing.
As is often the case, my wife is right. (Though, I think I should point out that last summer when she said I would break my fool neck if I tried to clean the gutters again in the same haphazard manner I devote to all my homeowner chores, well, I didn’t. So there. In absolutely no culture, past, present or future, is a broken elbow the same as a broken neck. So there’s one. It’s like 2,372 to 1, but still, it’s something.) So my wife is correct in seeing early on how much this is going to bug the hell out of me.
So when I read a book I like, I have to buy it for someone and mail it to them. Which, as my wife pointed out, is probably a good business model for Amazon.

A $20 hardback brand new can be passed around and resold used and account for at least seven or eight readers. An ebook is for one reader.

So, yeah, the Kindle is absolutely great for reading books.

Turns out, it’s pretty damn smart for selling books, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Man Behind The Curtain

I had one post all ready to go, but then I got the chance to go see INCEPTION last night and knew something good would come of that for this, so here we go. I'm still processing it a bit, but for a complex movie, the filmmakers did a great job of keeping us in the loop and making it easy to understand. We always knew what the goals were, what would happen if they didn't meet the goal, and why they were doing it.

And that's the thing that I want to talk about today. I hear a lot of writers say they can't enjoy books or movies anymore because they're always looking to see how it was done and that takes away the magic. But I disagree. As writers, we get to experience an extra layer of enjoyment with a film like INCEPTION because we know how hard something like that is to pull off. I imagine it's like an architect who can enjoy the outer beauty of a building but also appreciate how it was built and how it met the basic requirements of a building. Or mechanic who can appreciate the outer beauty of a a car, but also appreciate how beautiful the Corvette is but also how they were able to get so many cup holders in such a small car.

I've been studying screenwriting a story theory a lot lately to give me some structure in my revisions and it's been fascinating to say the least. But it makes you realize that even a movie as cool and original as INCEPTION is rooted is the most basic of storytelling forms and is built on the same structure as almost any other movie. So the cool part is seeing how they incorporate the required scenes and character moments into the story.

For me, where character motivations were one of the main problems in my previous drafts, understanding story structure is vital to making them come alive. It sounds simplistic but the plot should come out of the characters and the characters should come out of the plot.

So for the audience: if you're a reader, do you like to think about how a story is put together or do you feel that spoils the magic? And for the writers, how conscious are you of traditional storytelling structure when writing your novels?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Voice on the Radio

Two of my passions are history and the spoken word. While these things occasionally link up with crime fiction, today’s post won’t be one of them. Here’s your free pass to leave now, if you choose.

Even though I’m a child of television, I love radio. Not just for the music, mind you, but for all the spoken word programming over the years. I adore old time radio programs, with their “visual” storytelling in a non-visual medium. I also love old time radio news programs. Hearing Edward R. Murrow describe the London blitz is sobering enough. You listen to Murrow's broadcast, you realize that pictures were just not needed when he told you how it was.

As an teen in the early 1980s, I became aware of my world through television, books, and, increasingly over the years, through radio news. I’m an NPR junkie. Once I discovered KUHF here in Houston--likely because of the “Star Wars” radio dramatizations (does everything hearken back to Star Wars?)--I was hooked. The news I got from NPR was more in-depth than the network news and it allowed for journalists to channel their inner Murrow as they described the things that they saw but we could not. It's one of my favorite things about radio news, the creative, storytelling aspect. I got to know the voices of the NPR hosts and could identify them within seconds. They became friends and trusted sources of opinion beyond my own.

One of those voices fell silent yesterday. I only knew Daniel Schorr as one of NPR’s senior news analysts. I never knew him from television. His nearly seventy years of experience lent gravitas to topics he discussed. I grew to appreciate his take on the news and found myself making time to listen to him, even if his segment was the only part of a newscast I heard. His Saturday morning discussions with host Scott Simon was a highlight of the week for me. (Plus, he said my name every week and I could almost imagine he was talking to me.) I knew what time of the broadcast they talked and tuned in (if I already wasn’t). Once NPR posted their programs on the internet, I’d seek out Schorr’s take on whatever topic in which I was interested.

For many a citizen, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted voice in America. Again, I am too young for that. If push came to shove, I’d have to say that Tom Brokaw was that guy for me, at least growing up. But Schorr’s voice was something else entirely. It had weight. It had authority. It had occasionally bouts of whimsy, as Schorr, at times, seems to be living his greatest dream come true.

That voice is now gone. I’m just thankful for the many years I got to listen to it. Saturday mornings just won’t be the same.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Million Dollar Riot

By Sean Black

Intro by Russel D McLean

I'm fairly harsh on my action thrillers. Its the rare one that combines truly gripping writing with a believable and exciting plot. But a few people manage it well, including the delightfully dangerous Zoe Sharp and the terrifyingly talented Brett Battles.
Now I can add a new name to my Top Action Thriller Writers List (tm): Sean Black. His debut, LOCKDOWN (out now in paperback!) was one of those books I simply devoured upon first read. His hero, Ryan Lock, could seriously kickthe arses of both the Jack's (yeah, I'm talking both Bauer and Reacher) without breaking a sweat. In short, these books are the perfect burst of adrenaline. And they're bloody well written, too. One of the things that interested me most about Sean as an author was his dedication to research. Unlike many authors, he doesn't thrust that research in your face, but its there and it informs the action of his novels in a subtle and convincing way. So I was delighted when Sean - yeah, we can call him Sean; DSD's a lovely, informal blog - agreed to guest blog for me while I'm away at Harrogate, talking about some of the incredibly intensive and practical research he did for his second novel, DEADLOCK.

And let me just add that DEADLOCK - I had the honour of reading an advance copy thanks to the lovely folks at Transworld - is a brilliant thriller, with a very nice central conceit as it sends Ryan Lock undercover to protect a federal witness in a maxiumum security prison.

But enough from me. Here's the man himself:

Thanks to Russel for lending me his usual Friday spot. This week sees the publication of the second book in the Ryan Lock series. The book is called DEADLOCK and it sees Lock going undercover inside Pelican Bay Supermax Prison in California where he has one week to keep a leading member of the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang alive until he takes the stand to testify against his former compadres.

To research the first book in the series, which was also my debut, I underwent an intensive three and a half week bodyguard training course in the UK and Eastern Europe. Living in barracks with over a dozen other men, as well as the rigors of learning the close protection game, took me well outside my comfort zone. DEADLOCK would take me even further outside those boundaries.

In January, 2009, after an extended period of negotiation with the California Department of Corrections, I arrived at Pelican Bay. The statistics surrounding this institution tell you all you need to know about the environment I was entering.

The Bay holds three and a half thousand men. Somewhere between seventy five and eighty percent of those men are serving sentences of life without possibility of parole. It has no death row, that's at San Quentin, but it does have a Secure Housing Unit which is home to around twelve hundred men who are locked down for twenty three out of twenty four hours.

I was already aware of the prison's no hostages policy before I drove the seven hours north from San Francisco. My permission to visit was granted at the last moment. I was told not to, under any circumstances, wear anything blue in colour. The inmates wear blue and so it would be an escape risk for me to wear it. Also, if there was an incident on the yard, sometimes live rounds are fired, so it was important for me to be visible. I promptly went out and bought the reddest shirt I could find.

Part of the reason for the hesitation in allowing me access was that the week before there had been a riot on the main yard. Riots are not infrequent at Pelican Bay. Racial tensions, powerful prison gangs, and a healthy commerce in all range of goods and services conspire to create a lively atmosphere among men who are especially articulate with their fists and spend large amounts of time either working out or fashioning makeshift weapons.

This time the flash point had been a white inmate who on the outside was a member of the Crips, which is a predominantly African-American street gang. On arrival he had been advised to associate not with his fellow gang members but with other white inmates. As I was told by a guard, as far as the white inmates are concerned a white man who associates with black men 'is lower than a child molester' in the prison pecking order.

Having ignored some well meaning advice, the end result was inevitable and they showed me the footage. There is no pavement dancing as a prelude to an attack on the yard; no veiled threat; not even a succession of body language signals. There is only brute and brutal violence, swift and without warning. Violence on the yard doesn't so much break out as descend.

There was an almost comedic pause in the first few seconds after the young Crip was attacked. You could almost hear the wheels of his African American compatriots turning over. He was one of their own and yet he was other. Finally, they piled in to aid their fallen brother and it descended into a scene from Braveheart with tear gas taking the place of a misty moor.

Then came the puff of dust. Tiny. Barely perceptible. The first gunshot from the tower signaling that playtime was over, the point had been made, and now it was time for everyone to kiss the dirt or face the consequences.

On New Years Day, 2000, thirteen inmates at Pelican Bay were shot during a major riot. Miraculously, only one inmate died. It took a hundred and twenty guards a full half hour to stop the violence. But as I walked the yard one statistic was pressed upon me by my guide. The medical bill had been a million bucks.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sometimes I Wanna Be Ignorant

Maybe a year and a half ago--two years?--I went on a self-induced blog hiatus.

Not writing blogs, but reading them. The publishing ones anyway. Right now publishing is changing a ton, that's clear.

And I was getting bogged down in it. I wasn't getting enough writing done, I wasn't thinking enough about the book I was working on. I was spending the day bouncing from new blog post to new blog post, while waiting for inspiration to strike.

And it never did.

So finally, I just stopped reading. It was freeing. I didn't know the trends in publishing--or at least they weren't readily apparent to me. I didn't need to think as much about the Kindle or e-Book publishing.

All I needed to think about was my book. And that was good.


Because I wrote the book I wanted to. I didn't write a book to fit into a trend or a genre. I didn't worry about how I was going to promote the book--BECAUSE IT WASN'T DONE.

It's better to be somewhat ignorant. You can do what you want. You aren't influenced.

Learn about the biz later.

Write now. It's worked for me.

But I want to hear from the peanut gallery. How do you feel? Do you need to know everything before you write? Or would you rather know nothing about publishing?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Change of Plans

John McFetridge

My post this week was going to be about this Saturday's episode of The Bridge on CBS, "The Unguarded Moment," which I co-wrote with Dannis Koromilas but I heard today that the show has been canclled and no further epiodes will air. I'm not sure if the episodes will be available on the CBS website or iTunes.

So, while it would have been a lot easy to make sense of my mess of a post if there was an episode of the show to go along with it, here it is anyway:

The Bridge was my first experience writing for TV and it was a creatively ambitious show – it wasn’t a police procedural with a murder victim in the opening scene and an arrest just before the end credits (or, usually, just before the final ironic insight from the lead detective) but rather it was (or was originally to have been) about the inner workings of a big city police department, the politics, ambitions, compromises, corruption -- all these challenges faced from the point of view of a beat cop who gets elected union president.

This point of view opened up all kinds of new areas for a cop show to dig into and for mainstream networks like CBS and CTV that would make them a little... well, let’s say nervous.

And there were a lot of bumps on the road. The set-up lends itself best to a serialization but CBS wanted as episodic a show as possible. This led to a lot of rewriting and changes from the original plan.

“The Unguarded Moment” (the title is from a song by Dannis’s favourite band, The Church),

was written to be episode eleven or twelve out of thirteen but CTV aired it fourth and CBS had it scheduled to be fourth (these numbers are a little confusing because at first a two-hour TV movie was made and then the series was commissioned and the movie was split into two one-hour episodes – with a few new scenes added to make the split work better -- but then both networks ran them back-to-back as a single episode) probably because it was one of the most stand-alone episodes.

Or at least it was one of the ones it was easiest to rewrite into a stand-alone.

A restaurant owner fed up landering money for a drug dealer stages a robbery that goes wrong when a cop is shot. It becomes a hostage taking and our hero, Frank Leo, takes charge.

Sounds simple, but it went through many, many rewrites.

In the first incarnation, the bad guys bringing the money to be laundered were SWAT cops (connected to the larger corrupt police conspiracy that was played down when the show became more episodic) who stole it from big-time drug dealers and the restaurant owner, a woman named Cassandra in our draft, was in over head with these guys (we tried to imply an uneasy history here) and wanted out – but she wanted to keep the million dollars so she staged the robbery so she could at least stall the bad cops while she took off to Cypress. It gets even more complicated when those SWAT guys are at the hostage-taking and just want to burst in and kill everyone so they can keep their secret and get their money back.

Frank, of course, suspects all is not what it seems and has to save the injured cop being held hostage and root out the bad SWAT guys – who may even come after him.

But by episode ten we’d had an awful lot of bad cops on The Bridge so it was decided that we wouldn’t have any in this episode. And we wanted the episode to be more stand-alone. The robbery is still staged, though to be honest, when the gentleman drug dealer (now no longer the SWAT guys) comes in and says he only deals with hash because with hard drugs you have to deal with people with, “bad attitudes and guns,” I’m not sure why the restaurant owner (now named Ella St. George) doesn’t just say, “well, okay, thanks for the money,” and get on the plane to Cypress.

Anyway, there’s a staged robbery, an injured cop being held hostage by some bad guys and Frank Leo negotiating to get him out.

And I’ve heard a rumour that the ending of the CBS version is very different from the ending of the version aired on CTV last March.

(well, now I guess we may never know what that alternate ending was.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"In the long run, we're all dead anyway ..."

So Stringer’s buggered off to get married and celebrate another year of breathing, and as a result won’t be able to struggle up to the pulpit for a couple of weeks. Also, the bloke he was talking about last week – y’know, the human book daredevil wrestler fella – well, he got a touch of hay fever (apparently there’s too much rape in the air or something) and couldn’t make it. Anyway, thanks to those photos I have of Stringer’s half-hour spree in the marmoset enclosure at Barcelona Zoo, I managed to wangle the spot instead.
And I’ll tell you right off the bat, I had some dynamite for you. Get this, I was all set to blog about blogging (how enormously fucking meta of me), and how I’m wary of it, and how I’ve lurched from one blog platform to another – started with Blogger, went to Typepad, then Wordpress and now I’m messing with Tumblr – only to find that, despite posting stuff on a semi-regular basis, my biggest hits came from the semi-literate fuckwits wanting to know if Wrong Turn was based on a true story. And then I was all about how the Internet despises context, and how an online personal history comes in the form of sound bites wrapped up in persona, and how that relates to marketing yourself as a writer. At one point I got deep, started throwing philosophical questions into the mix, stuff that was going to blow your minds and make you come together and proclaim me your new king and shower me with candy and beer. Seriously. You would've been building shrines to me.
And then, just when I was about to get it all typed up and posted, Harvey Pekar died.
Yeah, thanks, Harv. I had ‘em showering me with candy and beer there.
Anyway, I’ve not noticed much of a reaction to Pekar’s death, other than the main news sources, and that’s a shame. If you’re not familiar with his work, I’d urge you to pick up any copy or collected trade of American Splendor that you can get your hands on. A particular favourite of mine is 1994’s Our Cancer Year – it, amongst others provided the basis for the 2003 movie American Splendor (for those of you in the UK, it’s on Film4 on Saturday 24th), which is certainly one of the finest, if not the finest comic book adaptations of all time.

Now Pekar isn't crime fiction. In fact, he’s barely fiction. And I have to say, that’s more important to me than any genre considerations, because Pekar was one of that rare breed: the honest voice. He eschewed fashion and told personal stories without recourse to the sex-crazed juvenilia that marred many early “comix”. Despite having no particular drawing skills to speak of, and with little in the way of early enthusiasm for the medium (thinking it “kid’s stuff”), he still believed wholeheartedly in its potential. According to Pekar, the only thing limiting comics was those who produced them, the publishers and writers and artists who insisted on pigeonholing themselves by creating books solely for kids. And he stuck to his guns throughout his thirty-plus year career, asking for nothing but a couple of bucks every now and then to keep himself and the comics going.
Now that might not mean a lot, especially in an age defined by popular culture's relentless "re-imagination" of itself as an autotuned and primary-coloured karaoke. In this climate, the concept of originality takes a back seat to that of branding, and honest, down-at-heel voices have trouble making themselves heard above the cacophony of shite. The quotidian concerns of a file clerk at the VA hospital seem too personal, not likely to hit a wide enough target audience.
This is not to say, however, that all the original voices have gone with Pekar's passing. If anything, the Internet has given further opportunity for these voices to be heard. So instead of me whinging on about the same old rubbish, how's about we take the opportunity to really recommend those voices that have meant something to us over the years, the ones with an honesty that might not always make them easy to take, but which make them even less easy to forget.
Let's hear it. The comments are open.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Magical Kingdom of Ideas

By Steve Weddle

Where do your ideas come from? Why, from Walt Disney World, of course.

We were on line at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café waiting for, well, let's call it "food." We had the dining plan and had eaten some good food in the park. We'd eat more good food later in the trip. Just not at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Café. I ate before I visited the toilet, so it wasn't the site of a couple of short curlies on the urinal lip that turned my stomach. Heck, it wasn't even the two boogers and what I assume was half a scab down there in the pee drain. No, the food was just kinda lousy. Which was a rarity in the park. But the vile bathroom wasn't where a decent noir idea began burbling. No. That was on line waiting for the food.

We were in front of a few teenage boys. I'm guessing two were brothers and one was a friend. The older brother on my right was saying to the younger brother: "You know nothing about how to inflict pain on the human body." I slid my daughter to my left. The younger brother allowed as to how he might just punch the older brother in the throat. They had short, curly hair. If I'd seen them after my visit to the toilet, I'd have thought of them as "dickheads" and grinned. I hadn't, so I'm grinning about it now, as I write it and think of it. Because that's how these here fancy ideas work.

So the older brother shows that he's not impressed. By his younger brother? You kidding me? Pshaw and all that. No, the younger brother can't cause the older brother any pain, which the older brother explains. "A chop to my throat?" He laughed. A big "ha" laugh, as if he were in some high school play reading his lines. "Ha. My neck is all muscle, kid. You know nothing about pain." Neither of them did, really. Not the kind that you wake up with. The kind you limp along with for a few days before you go to the doctor. The kind you look up on the internet during lunch. The kind you worry about until it's too late. The kind you don't want to tell your wife about because you don't want her to worry. What if it's nothing? What if it's something? No, neither of them knew anything about pain.

Our Disney food was ready, so I left Tweedledee and Tweedledumb talking about inflicting pain on the human body.

Of course, I thought about putting a quick elbow into the older boy's nose, pushing off with my leg, turning my hip, shoving cartilage back into his skull cavity, watching him raise his hands to his face to try to hold the blood in. Because that's what people do when they're punched in the faces. They grab their faces and try to hold on. When you feel pain, when you're punched right in the nose, you try to keep it together. That's the lesson you learn when you're hit. Keep it together. There's another round of violence coming.

But I didn't punch the kid. They have rules about that. Laws, I think they're called. And I had my family with me at the happiest place on Earth.

But those boys could have gone out after lunch and tried something. They were stupid like I was at that age. A different kind of stupid than I am now. They could have tried sneaking in somewhere and gotten into trouble. Some silly little thing that grew into a violent stain that spread among more and more people. No, there wasn't any chance at all that I was going to "inflict pain" on a teenager, but I was going to think about it. I was going to take that one little thing and move it somewhere else. A series of "what ifs" running through my head.

Stopping at a Valero for gas, I met a woman at the counter who must have been remarkably good looking before the meth. What happens if these boys run into her? A couple of weeks ago on a "World's Mostest Dumbest Criminals" show, some old guy used a pocket knife to try to rob a convenience store. The cash register woman chased him out with a broom handle. Put those kids in that situation. The older kid trying to impress the younger ones with his talk of "inflicting pain" and then having them doubt him. Egg him on. Peer pressure. Pretty quickly they're trying to rob the store and the woman chases them out with a broom handle. Fight. Struggle. Someone dies. By the end, whoever is left now understands how to inflict pain, how pain moves. How pain isn't just a broken nose. How pain is a thing, a wicked, evil thing always just in reach, a darkness outside your bedroom window. All you have to do is open the window a crack.

You can get noir ideas from the weirdest places these days.

No, those kids at Disney World probably didn't know anything about how to inflict pain on the human body.

But the day was young.

They'd learn.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The wonderful world of promotion – not.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Content and copy edits have been done. A cover has been designed. First pass pages have been checked and jacket copy has been approved. Advance reader copies have been created. In a few weeks, the manuscript that once only existed in my computer will actually arrive at my door and be held in my hands. From here on out, there is nothing I can do to change the content of the book so I should be able to kick back and relax, right?


Thing is, as Jamie Freveletti mentioned in her guest post earlier this week, authors are expected to go out and promote their book. Yikes. Not that I shrink from promotion. I’ve had to do the promo thing a number of times during my performing career. Heck, one Christmas morning I was at a television station at 6 a.m. so I could get into costume and makeup and sing high Cs for the holiday audience. Getting up in front of people and performing like a trained monkey is something I do best. (Yep…I just set myself up for a lot of banana and opposable thumb jokes…have at it.) The thing is, as I’ve been looking over PR options, I have to wonder – does any of it really work?

I am a huge reader. I buy dozens, sometimes hundreds of books in a year. (Yes Mom, I know the library would let me check them out for free – but I love them.) Looking at all the books in my house, I realize that I am the person I’m trying to market my book to. The problem is, I’ve never bought a book solely based on an ad, a tweet, an interview or a guest blog post. Yikes. Those are all things that we as authors are supposed to be doing to make our books successful.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that most of my new-to-me author purchases are based on trusted recommendations, the occasional newspaper review or because I thumbed through the book in a bookstore. Crap. People have to have read your book in order to recommend it. Major newspapers don’t spend much time reviewing the unknown newbie and bookstores often need to see proof that your book has had some commercial success before they stock it.

Yep. The law of averages says if everyone I the book buying world is like me – I’m screwed. Then again, maybe I’m not. How do you find the books you read? Does any of this online or social media marketing work for you? If so, please share. I could use all the help I can get.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Clearing Away the Smoke

Scott D. Parker

When I write short material, I don’t outline. I start with a scene in my head and write it down. From there, the ideas just flow, one after the other, like fireworks on the Fourth. In short stories, as when watching fireworks, there is rarely time to suffer the dud firework (read: idea), the one that merely blooms with a minimal amount of smoke, fire, and sound. It doesn’t matter that it still probably took someone just as long to pack said firework back in China. It’s what happens in the sky (and on the page) that matters and, frankly, some fireworks are just better than others.

Long-form writing is a different animal entirely. As your typical fireworks show presses on, unless there’s a breeze hundreds of feet in the air, the sky gets clogged with smoke. I’ve seen fireworks displays where a brisk wind carries the smokey echo of one firework away while its siblings ignite and make their own afterbirth. Other times, it’s like a smokey morass. Without any wind, the smoke just hangs in the air, refusing to budge an inch. Naturally, all subsequent fireworks must fight to be seen--hearing is never an issue--and the end result can be a muddled mess, especially the well-choreographed ending. What was supposed to be a bright, shining display of patriotic explosives timed to the “1812 Overture” (when did our Independence Day inherit a musical piece written by a Russian during the time of the czars?) turns into something resembling Louisiana gumbo: you know all ingredients are in there, you just can’t see them.

You know the feeling you get when you get the spark of an idea and you can’t wait to get it out of your head and onto paper? It’s a feeling only creative types have, I think. As soon as I have that spark, more often than not, I start wondering about all the specifics. Frankly, I get bogged down in the specifics. Then, I start to doubt. Never a good thing. Basically, my brain is both the colorful explosions that are the fireworks and the smoke that obscures them.

I’ve been in that mode for a month or so now. I’m a planner when it comes to writing a book. It worked right the first time I tried it. Thus, I’ve convinced myself that, for me, outlining is the way to go, especially since going the other way--just write, dude, and see how it turns out--never panned out. It also helps me plan my time. Since I have a limited amount of time to write, I like to spend it writing, not thinking about writing. As such, I spend more time planning to write than I do writing. Often times, as with my current story, there is no breeze wafting in the air to clear the smoke away so I can clearly see what I’m doing. I hear the sounds of various ideas exploding amid the smoke and, every now and then, I see a sparkle or two. But it’s still murky.

What happened this week was blessed: a breeze kicked up. It blew away some of the smoke, clearing the sky for me. I can’t say I’m completely ready to put prose to pixel but I’m close. I’ve been doubting for a long time. Now, I’m excited. I know I’m on to something. That, my friends, is priceless.

Do y’all have those moments, both doubting ones and the sublime ones, that grace us as we live our creative lives? Share some stories. I’d like to hear them.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Well I'm all broken up over that man's rights..."

By Russel D McLean

I recently started renting movies again. Thanks to local emporium’s poor selection. I kinda stopped a few years ago and started buying cheaply from secondhand stores and sales, but space concerns and money concerns overtook me to the point where I joined one of those rental-by-post outfits, and let me say I’m digging the rental game.

Which is a long winded way of getting to the point that I’ve been catching up on old movies I never saw first time around.

Like Dirty Harry.

Yeah, that Dirty Harry.

Yeah, I never saw it before.

I think part of it was the feeling that I had seen it. Harry Callaghan has become a part of pop culture, and we all think we know him even if we’ve never seen the film. One way or another we’ve heard that famous speech about how the Magnum’s the most powerful handgun in the world and it could blow your head clean off… but do we really understand it out of context of the movie?

Because I’ll tell you…

Dirty Harry took me by surprise.

Its no wonder its been taken so deeply into pop consciousness; Dirty Harry is a tight, clever tale of a cop on the edge. And sure, its clichéd, but the feeling you get watching it is that this is probably the film that invented the damn clichés. And a lot of that is down to Clint Eastwood, who is absolutely convincing here. With a minimum of dialogue, you sense his loathing for what he’s seen on his streets and his desire to do something right. He’s an avenging angel, but he’s not always right, and as much as you cheer him on, you can see the other side to the equation; that this is a dangerous man, one step away from the killers he stops.

Eastwood owns the role. Truly. As I mentioned, Harry is underwritten, but Eastwood convinces you utterly in a part that could very easily have been utterly one dimensional. Not that there’s a deep soul here, but there’s more going on than could otherwise have been the case.

Although you do have to wonder how the film would have turned out if Harry had been played by Frank Sinatra.

Easwtood aside, the film’s plot is fairly light (psycho killer holds city to ransom, something which paralleled the Zodiac killer as explicitly stated in David Fincher’s Zodiac where the cops attend a screening of Dirty Harry) but the atmosphere is brilliantly gritty. That 70’s vibe makes the whole thing come to life with a down and dirty realism that would never have got near the picture if it was made today. In fact, there’s a tough, hardboiled edge to the whole thing that skirts moral questions a film like this would never be allowed to ask now with such stars and prominence in release. And then there’s the fact its all muscle. No fat. No wasted moments. Everything you need to know is in there. There are no distractions. Like its central character, the movies goes straight to the point. No messing around. And it works. Dear God, it works.

I know that four sequels were release, but to be honest, Dirty Harry tells exactly the story it needs to. There is no need for any more. On its own, Dirty Harry is a damn close to perfect little hardboiled thriller. The ending provides a kind of closure (maybe not the kind you want) that renders any attempt to follow on superfluous.

Of course, they did follow on.

I just don’t know that I need to see what they did.

And that speech?

That .44 magnum speech?

You hear it twice.

And boy, you really wonder how lucky you are the second time around.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Books I Love

I've written about this before, but I get into reading streaks. Sometimes I read a ton of books in a row where I get to page 50 and I put it down. Sometimes I get on a streak where I read like 8 good books in a row and I'm not going to make a bad choice.

I'm on a good streak right now. Here are four books I've read recently that I loved:

A COOL BREEZE ON THE UNDERGROUND (Don Winslow): Coming soon from Busted Flush Press! I I blurbed this book recently, and I mean every word I say! A great PI novel, with a smooth voice. Just a lot of fun. I tore through this book in a few days, and I don't read that fast anymore.

61 HOURS (Lee Child): I have a good history with the Reacher novels. DIE TRYING may remain my favorite, along with GONE TOMORROW, which has got me too freaked out to get on the subway. 61 HOURS is another good one. Reacher ends up in a small town trying to protect a woman who may testify in a trial. The plot of this book whizzes along, taking the reader with it. And the end is a pure cliffhanger. Great summer read.

SAVAGES (Don Winslow): Two Winslow books in this close a stretch? Yes. SAVAGES is that good. A novel about two drug dealers and their girlfriend who get too far in. That's the easy summary of this book, but it has to be read to be believed. The style is the draw here, with quick wit, scenes written as a screenplay. Winslow does his best to emulate and pass some of the modern crime writers and does. If this is not his best book, it's damn close.

SO COLD THE RIVER (Michael Koryta): A lot of people are saying this is a huge departure for Koryta. I disagree. Not a PI novel, but definitely crime. The twist is Koryta takes the "sins of the past" and puts a supernatural twist on it. Definitely a book worth reading and a step up for, Michael. His best novel, hands down. Go out and read this.

THE DEPUTY (Victor Gischler): I'm only 70 pages into this book, but the voice is compelling. I haven't been able to put this down, which is killing me, because I have my own writing to do. Can't wait to see what happens next. Here's Weddle's review.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


review by
John McFetridge

So, no questions about The Bridge? Well, according to the ratings, no one watched it. Saturday night at 8:00, I’m glad people weren’t home watching TV.

But I’m behind on assignments and didn’t manage a blog post for this week, so I’m going to post this review I did last year for The Toronto Star of the book, McMafia by Misha Glenny:

The next time someone tells you they believe in open markets, deregulation and globalization, tell them to read Misha Glenny’s McMafia, an account of the author’s travels though organized crime syndicates in every corner of the world.

Organized crime has been around forever, of course, but Glenny makes an effective case for its becoming a global force when two things happened; the fall of communism and the deregulation of international financial markets.

Communism may have been the perfect breeding ground for organized crime – and Glenny does a good job of detailing the corruption of secret police forces and government officials – it’s the deregulation and globalization of markets that really accelerated the crime rates.

Most countries in the former Soviet bloc were prepared for the fall of the Berlin Wall before the west saw it coming. In Bulgaria, for example, the Communist Party passed Decree 56 which overnight allowed for the creation of private enterprises, known as joint-stock companies. “Many in the party, still hard-liners, were shocked by this development, as it looked like the thin edge of a capitalist wedge. But the state security services, which habitually subordinated ideology to the love of power, took it in their stride.”

In this period of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty, with outbreaks of nationalist violence throughout the region, the west imposed economic sanctions which in the Balkans left the states bankrupt, the secret police, police, military (Yugoslavia had the 4th largest in the world), virtually all state employees unemployed and the people dependent on black market goods to survive which Glenny shows with personal stories of filling his car with black-market gas and buying smuggled cigarettes. Every state in the region, fearing for its very life in the era of ‘ethnic cleansing’ smuggled in weapons and the smugglers, with no real political ideals, became rich and powerful.

From here the author travels the world showing how organized crime syndicates followed similar routes to power and wealth.

There is a depressingly similar tone to each of the stories, repeated on every continent in the world, as government mismanagement, official hypocrisy and greed eventually win out over everything else. And Canada is not immune, of course.

In the chapter, “Buddies,” Glenny visits the enormous dope growing industry in BC and again makes the connection between a government policy decision and the opening of a door for organized crime. When the Americans imposed a 27% tariff on softwood lumber it pretty much wiped out the Canadian industry. Glenny claims that, “Many of those who once worked in the traditional industries have moved into marijuana,” and he may well be right, though I’ve heard different versions involving more seasoned criminals driving the industry. The bigger problem seems to be the world isn’t quite mature enough to accept that some people have a glass of wine or beer and some people smoke a joint. With such huge demand, someone’s going to supply. What prohibition did for gangsters in thirties, the war on drugs is doing for organized criminals now.

He understands Canada well and how the resentment towards the US and yet the almost total interdependence and he mentions DEA agents working quite freely in Canada, but there’s no mention of Marc Emery, Canada’s Prince of Pot, arrested in Nova Scotia and facing deportation to the US, though no charges have been laid in Canada where his business was run legally.

Glenny points out how, “Cannabis is influencing attitudes in Washington towards Canada,” by pointing out the US government’s outrage when Canada entertained the idea of decriminalizing the possession of less than fifteen grams of weed. No one seems concerned with what a huge boon this would be to organized crime as the supply of the dope would still be handled by criminals – giving them an enormous amount of capital to use for other criminal activities. The UN estimates that 70% of the income generated by organized crime comes from drugs – cannabis is by far the most popular illegal drug in the world.

A common theme in the book is how American (or western) policy changes (such as the softwood lumber tariff in Canada, deregulated financial markets or economic sanctions in the Balkans) lead to an easy justification of criminal activity – they increased our poverty, so we’ll steal from them.

The book ends in China, where at least 25% of the goods shipped out are counterfeit and many of these actually made in Korea. Asked if they care about this, a Chinese official tells Glenny, “Two hundred years ago people from England came to Shanghai. They were not your fabled English Gentlemen, they were pirates. Just as the British pirates came and raped our shores, so there may be pirates out there with the Chinese traders of the present day. But when the market reaches a certain scale, the worst practices will fall away and something that demands regulation and an adequate regulatory mechanism will emerge.”

Glenny does a great job of showing how the human costs of crime are always close to the surface – there are victims everywhere. This is not some glamorous Hollywood view of organized crime. It’s dirty, mean and vicious. It leaves nothing but crushed souls in its wake.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tony Black

By Jay Stringer

Both Russel and I have mentioned Tony Black before. We've had a few near misses with Tony here at DSD, our schedules have never quite worked out but you'll see more of him on here at some point, I'm sure.

"I'd been rolling about on a corpse. I had the blood of a dead man all over my hands."

He's one of the strongest voices in the UK crime scene at the moment, and it's a voice that gets clearer and more precise with each book. Tony writes with blunt force, creating dark and brutal stories that still manage to crack a gallous smile.

He's come to my attention for his Gus Dury series, four books set in the darker side of Edinburgh. Gus is something of a newspaper hack and, in Black's words, "a reluctant PI and enthusiastic alcoholic." Gus has many problems on the page, his job, his love, his drink, but he has one main problem; Tony Black. Tony doesn't half love putting the guy through the grinder, and it makes for good reading.

The first book was PAYING FOR IT. A story of murder, prostitution and gangsters. The second book (GUTTED) was where I jumped on, and it grabs you straight away with it's eviscerated corpses, dog fights and police cover-ups. LOSS is the fourth book in the series, and was released in paperback earlier this month. It reminds us of one of the oldest truths in crime fiction; there's nowt can fuck you up like family.Gus seems to have sorted himself out, like a battered old dog that has found a new home. But if it all seems to good to be true, that's because he was merely experiencing the eye of the storm, and things get rocky again when his brother turns up dead.

After all that, does Gus get a break? Well, you'll have to read the new book to find out. LONG TIME DEAD was released this month. But why don't I shut up and let Tony tell you about it, eh?

Next up for Tony is a standalone police procedural called TRUTH LIES BLEEDING. And if the fact that Gus is absent from the next book doesn't make you want to know what happens in LONG TIME DEAD, well, you need your head looking.

What's next for me? I'm off again for two weeks to wander the earth like Cain. Cleaning up after me here at DSD will be one of my favourite British writers. Some say he is also Britain's most feared cage fighter. Some say he taught Evil Knievel how to turn left at a red light and taught Ric Flair how to go coast to coast. Some also say he has the entirety of SHOEDOG scratched into his back in Indian ink. Who is he? Wait and see.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Debut Novel Tips from Jamie Freveletti

Big Weekend News: Congratulations to today's guest blogger, Jamie Freveletti, whose debut was just named Best First Novel at the ITW (International Thriller Writers) Awards Banquet.

Guest Post from Jamie Freveletti

I’ve been asked by “Do Some Damage” to guest blog. Thank you!

My second book, Running Dark, just launched, so my first year as a published author has ended. I see that Joelle’s first year is about to start (congratulations!) so if I may, let me give some tips.


My deal was a two-book deal, so I was now under contract to write a second. My idea for Running Dark involved Somali pirates taking over a cruise liner. When I started with this premise, the pirates had yet to become the force they are now in the Gulf of Aden. So picture this, I’m in New York meeting with my brand new publisher and when they ask “What’s the second going to be about?” I say “Somali pirates taking over a cruise liner.” I am met with silence. Then a polite, “Pirates? Like Jack Sparrow?” I hastened to explain that I’d read about one event in 2005 when some pirates had shot rocket propelled grenades at a cruise ship. They took out two staterooms and had the guests hitting the deck, but no one was hurt and the ship got away. To their credit, they let me run with it. The pirates took their first oil tanker when I was 60,000 words in and I no longer had to explain the concept of Somali pirates.

Running Dark is garnering good reviews and everyone loves the concept. I couldn’t have created this book unless I kept writing the second in the forefront of my mind. Start writing your second right away. You’ll find that launching the first can be an overwhelming experience, but the second is what a career is made of.


My publisher (Harpercollins /Morrow) did not wish me to tour. In fact, they seemed to shudder at the idea of a debut author touring, a reaction that I didn’t thoroughly appreciate at the time. They emphasized regional signings in areas where I could generate enough attendees to make the launch worthwhile. They were concerned that as a debut author I wouldn’t manage to do this in locations that I had no contacts, few or no one would show and both me, and more importantly, the bookseller, would be disappointed. Did I tour? Yep! Was it worth it? I think so. Did lots of people come to see me speak? Not always. Touring as a debut author is an interesting experience. I’ve flown one thousand miles and then driven thirty minutes to a store that has three people waiting to hear me speak. In fact, for a signing in LA not one person appeared because they’d closed the street for a “Public Enemies” premiere. I couldn’t compete with Johnny Depp. Still, the bookseller had warned me, asked me to come anyway, and handed me sixty preordered books to sign.

Touring gets you to meet the booksellers, and this is why you’re doing it. If you can afford it, tour. (And this year, HC planned the bulk of my tour across the country).


I go to New York at least once, but usually two or three times a year. Once is during “Thrillerfest” an industry conference put on by the International Thriller Writers. The other trips are business or friend related (I used to live there). On every trip I make a point to have a drink or dinner with my editor, agent, and take a run through Central Park with my marketing director, also a runner. New York is the center of the publishing industry. Many of the biggest players are there, and you should be, too.


I have an outstanding publicist, free, through the house. She does the heavy lifting in a lot of areas. But after I decided to tour, I hired my own local publicist to help plan. (Dana Kaye of Kaye Publicity). She interacts well with NY, and helps me with the myriad of details that arise when a book is launching. If you can afford it, hire a PR person at a reasonable cost. Your New York publicist has sixty files on her desk and probably would welcome the help.


Writers are under intense pressure to sell. I debuted during the biggest economic downturn in forty years. Readers that used to buy a hardcover without thinking, no longer did. Libraries saw a surge in business, as these readers, unwilling to give up their beloved books but no longer able to pay for them, utilized the free service. Established authors saw fifty percent declines in sales. Many writers have taken the “you must sell” mantra too literally, and they have turned themselves into marketers, which chews up their time and relegates the actual writing of the second to a back burner. Don’t do this. Yes, I realize that if you don’t sell the first you may not get to the second, but if necessary you can sell the second under a pseudonym, leaving the first--and your poor numbers-- behind. Search for balance. I know one writer who has tried just about everything you can imagine to market. While I think he’s sold more books than he would have otherwise, he has remained solidly midlist. If marketing automatically turned one into a New York Times bestseller, he would be one right now. Take a lesson. Keep writing in the forefront of your day.


Writing as a career is great. I’ve worked a lot harder jobs. Being a lawyer is intellectually stimulating and lucrative, but the days are long, (and the nights, and the weekends). Cocktail waitressing can be lucrative, but boring. Candle making, one of my first jobs, was hot, dangerous when the wax poured on us, and cemented my desire to go to college. Only the toughest survived that job, and I wasn’t one of them.

Writing is a strange alchemy of imagination and hard work, but I love it, and I hope to be doing it for a long time to come. My publisher just picked up books three and four and so I’m employed for a while.

Thank you to every reader who made it possible.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Questions of Character

As I write this it's a little after 11pm Saturday night and I'm downtown Ann Arbor killing time before heading over to see a midnight showing of TAXI DRIVER, one of my favorite movies. It's odd, when I was single and lived down here I never made it to any of these midnight movies, but now, married and living on the outskirts here I am. I'm also at the Starbucks where I used to go when I absolutely needed to finish something because it used to be the only joint in town without free wireless access. Alas, it's finally succumbed.

So what am I working on? Well I'm glad you asked. I'm working on revisions for MURDER BOY of course...sort of. While I'm not generating any new prose, per say, I'm generating many pages about the characters in the novel. Because, you see, while I know the story, and thought I knew the characters, I do not know what really makes them tick. I recently got the manuscript back from an agent who was nice enough to send me about 2 pages of what was wrong with it. For some that might be heartbreaking, for me it was educational. What the letter basically boiled down to though was you characters, who we don't really get to know, go around doing things that don't seem to mean anything to them.

This was a bit of a shock to me because one common in all of the other agent letters I've received for other novels was that I had a knack for creating cool characters. But those were all first person novels, which is my natural storytelling voice, and lends itself better to fully developing a character. So of course I went back and tried writing MURDER BOY in first person and failed miserably. This is a story that needs to be told in third person and it needs to be told in multiple viewpoints. This agent did point to a couple of characters she thought were interesting, and I agreed. So instead of the 10 or so characters I tried to cram into the previous drafts, I want to focus just on a core of 4-5. So I went back and started from scratch. The first 15 pages came easy, they were about my main character, I already know what makes him tick, he's me, mostly. But then I switched to the viewpoint of the antagonist and froze up.

While this guy had some neat character quirks and I knew what his goals and motivations were story-wise, I had no idea what made him tick. I had no idea how he would react in the various scenarios he's thrust into over the course of the novel. I needed to know where he came from. What made him who he was and, most importantly, what kind of cell phone he used. Yes, believe it or not, that's the piece of information I've struggled most over regarding my antagonist, his choice of cell phone. But as I ran the various options through my head I realized a person's choice of cell phone can say HUGE things about that person as a character. Are they contract or buy-the-minute sorts? Basic phone or all the bells and whistles. BlackBerry, iPhone, or Droid. I thought more about this than I ever could have imagined, but by the end of it I had some very keen insights into this character. And, more importantly, I had a way into his opening scene. Now, instead of a cliched scene of a bounty hunter spying on someone, I open with him at one of those high pressure cell phone kiosks trying to decide what sort of cell phone he's going to buy.

SO tell me, folks, as a writer, how do you make your characters tick? How much do you need to know about them before you start writing? And for the readers, how much do you like to see about a character on the page? If an author posts interviews and character studies and such on their website do you like to know back story and all of that or do you only care about what's happening to them immediately in the story?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mobile Writing Tools: TaskPaper and WriteRoom

Scott D. Parker

As fellow DSDer, Dave White, stated on Thursday, after a time, you can run out of writing things to talk about. I mean, he's right, you know. There is no substitute to sitting your butt down in a chair (or stand, as I've come to do more and more) and just write. A writing utensil and a canvas is all you need. That, and time. And patience to get better. Talent helps.
But in this digital age, we do have options. Shakespeare, Byron, and Twain wrote longhand. Hemingway and Lester Dent used a typewriter. Modern writers have computers that can do more than any lithographer ever dreamed possible. In an age where computers used to take up whole rooms, now, we have laptops that can run circles around the UNIVACs that powered the Apollo missions. I don't know about y'all, but there are times when my slender MacBook Pro is simply too cumbersome to lug around to the office, especially if I'm having to carry the laptop of my day job.

Enter the iPod Touch. I mentioned that got mine in April with the goal of having it take the place of my iPod nano (for music), Palm Pilot (for ebooks), and Moleskine (for note taking). What I didn't realize is that it also subverted my laptop as my go-to, mobile writing device.

There are lots of apps out there for writers. I use a combination from Hog Bay Software: the iPhone versions of TaskPaper and WriteRoom. As I'm conceiving of my next, big novel, I tote around my iPod Touch (iPod, from here on out). If I have an idea for the story, I break out the iPod, launch TaskPaper, and enter the idea. Yes, I don't use TaskPaper as a to-do list, as it was originally intended. I use it as a repository of ideas, sketches, and, very soon, actual prose. Like the maxim that the reader completes the writing process, the user completes a piece of software, even if that use is not what the framers had intended.

The beauty of this method is the syncing. The iPhone versions of TaskPaper and WriteRoom sync with, a website hosted by Jesse Grosjean, the owner/developer of these wonderfully minimal apps. As long as I have a wifi connection, the ideas I jot down in TaskPaper are automatically synched with SimpleText. Then, later, when I return home to my MacBook, I sync the SimpleText site with the actual text files I keep on my hard drive. Voila! All ideas preserved, in more than one place in more than one media. It's almost foolproof.

All of this can be done using the on-screen touch keyboard. I've gotten pretty adept at typing with my thumbs. But these are all short bursts of creativity. What about the time when I plan to make prose. Will I have the patience to thumb chapters into existence?

What tipped the scales in the iPod-as-writing-tool debate was a bluetooth keyboard. I bought the Apple one, not for any slavish devotion to the company but, rather, for synchronicity. It just works with the tools I have. Linking the keyboard to the iPod is simple. Launching WriteRoom (the app I'm using to write this post) is simple. Then, as if by magic (it really feels that way sometimes), I start typing and the letters appear. It's brilliant! And It has allowed me to leave my laptop at home. Now, prose can spew forth from my brain and my keyboard and iPod can keep up.

I haven't start prose creation yet but I will soon. Another great feature of SimpleText is that is syncs (read: imports) with Scrivener. Scrivener can "see" SimpleText and import any and all files into itself. Ever more fun and ease is to be had by this working method.

It's pretty darn nifty, this technology. But it still doesn't compare with Rule #1: Just Write. My own version of Rule #1 is this: Just Write. However You Want To.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Read Out Loud

By Russel D McLean

Recently, I’ve been working some (sssssh, top secret, but keep yer eye on me website blog for more details soon!) events for… well, sometime. In communication with one venue, I got an interesting email that said, in part, “we tend to discourage “readings””

I found that an interesting comment and one I wholeheartedly agree with. While I have done some small excerpts at events, I tend to keep these as short as I can because I feel the audience only has so much of an attention span and I know that I tend to zone out when hearing long excerpts. I also know that when I go to an author event, I’m not there to hear the author because – let’s face it – most authors cannot read from their books. Noteable exceptions of course include Allan Guthrie’s “Jesus” voice from Hardman (I still read the book and hear him) and the mighty mighty James “Devil Dog” Ellroy reading anything because, holy shit, the way he reads is the way you hear that damn book in your head. He’s whaaaacked, brother, and so far goooooone you gotta see him to believe him.

But on the whole, I like writers to give me something… something else. Because in general there’s a reason they’re writers and not actors (of course, Stuart MacBride has read his own book on audio, but he’s had theaterly training and Martyn Waites’ reading of Ray Banks is brilliant, because Waites was a professional actor for many years) Hands up, one of the worst events I saw was a writer whom I like on a personal level who did nothing but read from the book. It was a painful experience, even more so when they started answering questions and suddenly the event came to life. I mean, honestly, out of context excerpts are yawnsville except in small, staccato bursts. When I do read, I limit myself to maybe five pages and two excerpts. And then because mostly I have believed it to be expected of me.

But the more I think about the more I love the events where the author can talk about their life, their work, their reading habits. Iain (M) Banks is brilliant at this – so much that last time I saw he just went straight to the Q&A, and held it for the full hour. I think when we go to see an author, we are not expecting the book to be read to us. Why would we as an audience want that when the book part of he conversation between author and reader is very much a private one and we are going to see them in public? I think as a public spectacle, we want writers to show us something of the mind behind the book. And, yes, some authors are dull, but many are more interesting than they might believe and if they present us with themselves, naturally as they can, many readers will be immensely pleased, as I am, to have seen another side to the process, to understanding the creation of the writing I love.

I’m not saying events have to be intellectual or intensely illuminating, but I am saying that they should always be about more than simply making us aware of a book’s presence. They are, in essence, a form of entertainment, and I have found there to be little entertaining about someone just reading from a book you will later be paying to read yourself.

Of course, I realise I’m setting myself up here… am I as good as my own standards? Goodness only knows, but I try my best to give the audience something that’s fun; a few facts they might not know, some stories I think they might find amusing (ask me about rejection letters; I got a few doozies) and maybe some sense of what they might expect to find in my work if they haven’t read it, and if they have maybe some idea about the thought processes that went into the novels.

And if that fails I just swear in a Fife accent. That seems to amuse people no end…

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Running out of things to talk about

Something odd seems to happen to me when I'm in the middle of a writing piece.

At least, this feels very familiar, so I'm guessing it's happened to me before.

When I'm in the middle of an opening draft, I run out of things to talk about writing wise. If you look at my Twitter feed or my Facebook page it's full of things about my wedding or LeBron James or the latest Bobby Gonzalez nonsense.

But very little writing stuff.

Why is that?

Because I've become sick of updating my word count. How interested are you in the fact that I wrote 1,000 words today? Truth is, you aren't. Or you shouldn't be.

What you should care about is what the book's about. And I'm not ready to tell you that. I don't even completely know yet. So I'm not going to talk about that.

I'm going to talk about anything and everything else.

That's the thing about Twitter and Facebook and the blogs. It's very insular. We communicate too often with other writers, and I feel at times we shut the reader out. The casual reader doesn't care how many words I wrote today. They don't care how you're going to go out and promote your next book.

They care about the story. Do they want to read it?

Writing about how you create a marketing plan, your brand, and your work ethic aren't going to sell a reader on that.

So that's what we as writers need to focus on. Or at least, I should.

And since I'm not ready to talk about the book yet, I'll stick to LeBron.

I only have another 18 hours to do it.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Bridge on CBS

John McFetridge

This week my two sons (ages 10 and 11) and I have gone camping at a provincial park in Ontario. If we don't set the tent on fire or get eaten by bears we'll be back in time to see the debut of The Bridge on CBS this Saturday at 8:00.

I have mixed feelings about this because it was a great opportunity for me to work in the writers' room (I'm credited wth writing one episode and co-writing another), I met some great people and learned a lot but I don't think I did a very good job.

The show is about a beat cop who gets fed up with the politics and hidden agendas of the brass and gets himself elected the union president to try and clean up the force. It's ambitious material and was sold to me as "The West Wing of cops shows" (it's interesting that The West Wing was always a bigger hit in Canada than in the US). It wasn't designed as a police procedural about cops solving crimes, it was going to be about the inner workings of a big city police department.

This is the kind of thing I like to write about. A sub-plot in Everybody Knows This is Nowhere involves a union election and corrupt cops protecting one another. Okay, not breaking any new ground, really, but The Bridge promised to show the details. The way The Wire showed the details of policing and what the cops are really up against.

But with one Canadian and one American network involved there was a lot of push and pull and it did become more of a procedural and less political and even social.

Entertainment Weekly has this to say about the show:

"Another Canuck cop drama imported by CBS, The Bridge is (meager-praise alert!) better than Flashpoint. There's a nifty, Wire-esque exploration of police bureaucracy. As a rabble-rousing union chief, Battlestar Galactica's Aaron Douglas is no McNulty. And the criminals, like the truck-driving killer grandma, are lame. Oh, Canada. (C)"

TV Guide said, "The bureaucratic corruption forces the apolitical and hard-nosed Frank to get his Norman Rae on. His and the show's heart are in the right place but you'll likely predict every beat." The reviewer gave it a 5 out of 10.

The two-hour pilot and the first episode after that were written before the rest of us writers were hired. I think the pilot asks some good questions and raises some good issues (and, frankly, has some holes - how come the cops end up in a chase even though they had the name and address of the guy who owned the truck? Would there really be no lawsuit after the kid dies? Was there really enough justification for the police to go on strike?), but I don't think we were very successful in addressing much of them in the following episodes. Probably why CBS has only scheduled seven out of the thirteen episodes that were shown in Canada.

So, if the bears don't get us I'll be back here next Wednesday and if anyone has any questions about the show (either what goes on in the show or the production) please send them to me at: and I'll answer any I can next week.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On Writing

By Jay Stringer

I've been thinking a lot about craft lately. Or rather, I've been struggling with it.

I have a few projects that are overdue, with people waiting on me to get my ass in gear, and it's been a fight to try and get them done. It's not block. The stuff is in my head and I know most of what happens to the characters. It's more a lack of form, a lack of the structure that will make the work sing.

I've caught flack before for saying I don't believe in writers block. I still don't. What I do believe in is distraction. And right now I'm cornering the market in that. This month I visit New York and turn 30. I have a couple of health issues and, king of them all, I'm getting married. The gurrl and I are planning the whole thing ourselves, down to writing the wedding service and vows, and that's taken a lot of doing.

So amid all of that, I can cut myself a little slack about all of the work I've not finished. I know I'll get back on track. But in the meantime I decided to explore craft a bit more, to try and give my scattered brain a little more focus. I bought a handful of books about writing, and started looking up more interviews and documentaries on the subject.

Some of the books come highly recommended and I look forward to reading them. There's a King, a Maass and a Stein. Each suggested by people that I trust. The first one I'm reading is STORY by Robert McKee. Here's my first thought on the book; I know you can't judge a book by it's cover, but can you judge one by its size?

I look at the others in my pile, and they seem a decent size. The Stein is 224 pages and the Maass is 250. Okay, so the King is 384, but he does have a tendency to go on for too long. The McKee is 455, excluding the index. 455 pages on how to write a story. That's a couple hundred more than the Stein and Maass books, and almost a hundred more than the King. If your book is longer than the one by the guy who wrote THE STAND, you maybe need to rethink that delete button. The shorter books feel right somehow. As if i can imagine a 250 page book on writing will help be to refresh or learn a few things and then go and apply them to my work. But a 455 word book is time spent away from the blank page.

One thing I notice very quickly in books is whether I think the writer is using too many words. I like to use as few as possible to tell a story (though my agent still finds a way to do it with fewer,) and generally if I feel the writer is overdoing the word count, I stop reading. McKee mentions many times that writers don't get to the point quickly enough, and yet the first 31 pages of his own book don't really need to be there. The same information could have been presented in around five pages of concise writing.

A great example of getting to the point comes in William Goldman's THE PRINCESS BRIDE. In presenting the 'good parts version,' Goldman is giving a running critique on self editing. Each of the scenes he laments cutting are scenes that added nothing to the story. I think a writer needs to be brutally honest with themselves, and if a page doesn't need to be there, then lose it.

I don't want to get sidetracked onto criticising STORY because I've not read all of it yet. There may well be something buried away in a later chapter that blows my mind, and McKee obviously knows more about craft than I do.

But every time I pick up the book and start reading, I feel it's size and weight, and can't help but wonder why I'm reading a book about how to write, when I could be spending that time writing. And it could be as simple as me making a snap judgement, because the Stein and the Maass are much shorter and I'm looking forward to reading those.

But I can't help but wonder about writing advice. This website has been up and running for almost a year, and you'll notice we rarely stray into giving out direct advice. Instead, we review things, we analyse, we discuss general topics and give opinions. Buried away in these posts you'll find tips and ideas that work for us, but that's not the same as giving out direct advice. I do give out advice to friends or via email to the fools....ummm...i mean.....folks who ask me for it. But on a blog like this, it wouldn't feel right. Part of that will be because my books aren't published yet, but I get the feeling that even once I get a deal, I'll still feel wrong to be giving out public advice.

A friend recently asked me for advice on how to get work finished. I write him an essay-length reply with various different tips on how to get his ass into the chair, and how to get work done every day. Just before hitting 'send,' though, I realised it was all irrelevant. The best advice I could give him was to not worry too much about my advice. I told him to find a couple of rules that worked for him and to stick to them. Ignore everything else.

I'm not saying there is no place for books on writing. I'm sure i will find some of the books in my pile very useful. But surely there comes a point when writing is like murder; the best way to learn is by doing it.

So how about you guys, what books have you read that have helped? Or do you avoid them? Do you come to sites like this looking for advice, or for random football and TV talk?