Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reading Out Loud

Scott D. Parker

In my critique group, we have a usual format. We make copies of the chapter in question, pass them all out, and then read the work aloud. Finally, the members of the group make helpful suggestions and then each writer can go home and incorporate the changes. It's an excellent way to get some great feedback.

I think every author would benefit by reading their story aloud, preferably in front of someone else, but by yourself is just as good. The best reason is to improve dialogue. Sometimes, as I write dialogue, I hear it in my head. But when I hear it for real, with my ears, dialogue that sounded true in my head is revealed to be false to my ears. I found it really helpful when I wrote my historical mystery, set in 1944. More than once, upon hearing a particular passage, I realized "There is no way folks would talk that way in 1944."

The reason you should do it in front of another person(s) is to pick up on their cues, whether physical or if they interrupt you. As I read aloud to my writing group, I see them marking something on their copy at a certain place. I make a note to come back to that place and see what troubled them. When I read to my wife, she interrupts me if something bothers her. It's not always something she can explain. But, if it bothered her, it will bother a reader I don't know. So, I fix it.

Sometimes, as I'm reading aloud, my brain and mouth will actually fill in some gaps with words not on the printed page. I pay special attention to those times and actually mark my copy with the words I just spoke. If I say something that feels natural in my mouth, then I should have my characters speak that way, too.

This one may sound corny but it comes from my long association with audiobooks: change your voice. Not every author has a voice good enough to read his/her own work as an audiobook. But when it's just you and a small group or a spouse, go ahead and change your voice. Sure, men will sound funny trying to make their female characters talk but changing your voice will get you into those characters better. If you're making an effort to make, say, a Texas character sound like a Texan, give him an accent. Then, as you write the Texan's later scenes, you'll be able to 'hear' how he sounds and write truer dialogue. I do, at least. And then, after you've established that the Texan sounds a certain way, give some clues in your prose to the way the character sounds. That is, have one character comment/think about how the Texan sounds. It'll liven up the voice in a reader's head.

Lastly, if you don't have anyone to read to, record yourself. You may cringe at your own voice but you will be able to hear your story from a source that is not your own brain. It helps. I've done it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

"I regret to inform you..."

By Russel D McLean

One of the joys of writing has been and will always be the rejection letter.

I know some people will think I’m crazy, but rejection is the very thing that drives a writer to do better. All the best writers have gone through it. Even after they got their break. James Lee Burke went through a long dry spell. He couldn’t “sell ice water in Hades” according to an interview he gave with the writer John Connolly. 14 years of rejection. 111 refusals to show interest in The Lost Get Back Boogie.

But it builds you.

Here’s Burke again:

“Every rejection is incremental payment on your dues that in some way will be translated back into your work.”

Oh, sing that.

Because its true. Rejection makes you look long and hard at yourself and your work. And sometimes you’ll be forced to admit you made a mistake. And other times you’ll realise what’s wrong.

And sometimes you’ll just tough it out.

I talk a lot about my rejection letters. I got a lot down the years. I had one editor forget to reject me until after the collection I’d submitted to came out. One agent sent me an email after 15 minutes to say he was sure I wasn’t going to be for him.

One editor compared my writing to that of that famous playwright Ernie Wise:

My favourite rejection, of course, came shredded through the post, the original manuscript covered with crayon doodles. I looked in vain for a slip to explain what had happened. And then at the bottom of the shredded query letter:

As you can see, my kids didn’t like it either.



Yes. But that’s the point of rejection. It prepares you for many realities of the writing world, including those lovely Amazon/GoodReads reviewers who aren’t going to get what you’re doing. Yes, even after publication some readers are going to reject you. No writer is loved universally. Trust me on this. Even just listening to readers in a bookshop, you begin to wonder why anyone would subject themselves to the judgements of others.

But rejection is good. Listen to that Burke quote again. No one can win all the time. And the more we fail the more determined we become to do better.

I once papered my student bedroom wall with rejection letters. I still have them all in boxes. Every once in a while I look at them.

And yes, even now they get the occasional new friend.

Because no one said this writing gig was easy.

But if you can cope with that side of it, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

When Panic Sets In

by: Joelle Charbonneau (posting for the soon-to-be-wed Dave White)

Well, the calendar tells me my release of SKATING AROUND THE LAW is less than two months away. And yes, I am panicking. In less than two months, I’ll be touring the country hoping to God people show up and keep me company at my signings. I’ll also be hoping readers like the book.

It’s funny, but as a stage performer I’m used to people expressing their opinions about the work I do. That’s just part of the job. However, as a performer, if an audience doesn’t react well to your work, well, there’s always tomorrow. A new show, a new audience, a new day.

For writers, tomorrow is a new day, but it takes a long time for a new book to hit the stands. I think that’s the reason I’m panicking more for this opening day than any in my performing career. If someone doesn’t like this book, chances are they won’t read the next one. Scary stuff.

And yet I wouldn’t trade the panic and the sleepless nights for anything. Does that make me a masochist? Probably. This adventure is a lot like a roller coaster ride. The submission process is the long ride up the hill. Every click of the coaster as it lurches up and up makes your muscles clench and your heart skip. And just when you start to get comfortable with that part of the ride, the coaster hits the top and tilts over the edge. That’s when the real fun begins. There are highs and lows, twists and turns and a lot of loop-da-loops. Most likely during this ride I will scream with joy and fear, shed a few tears and have some good laughs. At some point during the ride I will want to get off and never climb back on and yet, I am hoping that by the time the car pulls into the station I’ll be first in line to get back on. If they let me.

So for all of you writers out there, what has your writing journey felt like thus far? Does it feel like a roller coaster, a dive out of a plane or something else?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Gladiator Resort

John McFetridge

Steve mentioned the other day that here at DSD headquarters we’re putting the final touches on a collection of short stories we’re calling “Terminal Damage,” and I thought for today’s post I’d put up the first few paragraphs of my contribution, “The Gladiator Resort.”

Some people who’ve read my novels may recognize the name of the resort as a place the bikers were opening up – a resort where in addition to getting a room the customer gets a woman. Of course, that’s too sleazy an idea even for me to make up, it’s based on a real place called The Viking Resort (here’s a link to a review, but be warned, there is adult content, though as usual when the word ‘adult’ is used it means the opposite of adult:

And the short story includes some of the characters form my books, JT and Richard Tremblay and makes references to others.

So, I have a question. How do you feel about this kind of loose association between stories and books? Does it add anything or is it just a distraction?

Okay, here’s the beginning of my story:

The Gladiator Resort

The plane was two hours late landing at San Jose, Costa Rica, JT saying they were delayed at JFK, place was locked down, “Somebody probably tried to bring shampoo on the plane.”

Richard looked at the two girls, blondes, maybe in their twenties but probably not yet and JT said, “No, no English, fucking Renzo. But they know the game, the skinny one gave me a blowjob in the bathroom on the plane, she’s good,” and Richard said, okay. He led the way through arrivals to the smaller terminal where the charters left from, saying, “It’s better these days, airports freaking out looking for ragheads with bombs up their ass, it’s a lot better for us,” and JT said, “If you say so, Gramps.”

Yeah, Richard thinking back in the day we needed the long hair and the tats and the colours, the vests and the patches to impress the kids like this JT, the hangarounds and prospects but then going out in the straight world was tough, really drew attention. Now they’d made their move into the bigtime, Richard and a kid like this JT could look like tourists, like fucking bankers. Didn’t even need bikes.

The Costa Rican pilot was waiting by the Cessna and Richard said to JT, “Come with us.”

In the plane Richard lit a joint and passed it to JT who took a hit and offered it to one of the blondes. She took a hit, handed it to the other one and when she went to hand it back to Richard he waved her off and she shrugged and took another hit.

Richard said, “They look like they’ll be okay.”

“Renzo said he’ll have two more next week.”

“Good. We’re booked for months, the place took off way better than we expected.”

JT said the website looked great, “The video is pro.”

Richard said, yeah, guy named Garry made it, real pro, “Real filmmaker, has movies out and everything. He’s going to shoot some pornos at the resort and he wants to shoot a real movie, some kind of indie.”

“Crime story?”

Richard said that would be too much of a stretch, crime at The Gladiator Resort, “What would we know about crime? No, it’s some kind of low budget sci-fi,” and JT said, “Low budget sci-fi with porn chicks, what’s it called Sex-bots in Space?”

Richard said, yeah, sort of, “It’s about this ship that crashes on a deserted planet, a few survivors but they can’t remember anything. The ship was carrying these robots, well not robots, Garry explained it, they’re alive like people, but they were programmed, six women.”


“I don’t know, maybe, yeah. The ship was on its way to a mining planet so they figure they’re hookers.”

“The chicks do?”

“Yeah, and the guys, there are some guys on the ship, too, Garry and his fucking fag porno,” Richard laughed.

“He’s bringing fags to the Gladiator?”

“He says we should open a gay club.”

JT said, yeah, right.

“Then he tells me there’s a whorehouse in Vegas, you know, outside of Vegas, some Bunny Ranch shit, they’re bringing in guys to service women.”

“Guys’re gonna have to fuck some fugly chicks.”

“Garry said they’re calling them the prostidudes.”


“But for the movie, I don’t know if he’s bringing fags or porno dudes or real actors, anyway, in the movie they figure they’re delivering these chicks to the mining planet.”

JT said, “We don’t deliver, the guys have to come here,” and Richard said, depends on the price, “You come up with enough cash, we’ll deliver.”

JT said, yeah, thirty minute or its free. “And we’d do a better job than fucking Renzo, we say they speak english, they’d speak english.”

Richard said, I don’t know, we’d say what the guy wants to hear, too. He lit a cigarette and said, “Anyway, Garry says none of the survivors can remember anything, so they’re putting this together with the evidence on the ship, whatever they can find. The computers are busted, so there aren’t any records or anything.”

“And he’s filming this at the Galdiator, I wonder where he got the idea.”

“Yeah, so it turns out the chicks are the ones in charge, they’re the people, and the guys, the men, they’re the robots, or these organic cyborg things, or clones or whatever the fuck and the chicks are selling them as slave labour to the mining company.”

JT said, cool, “Nice twist,” and Richard said yeah, you’d never see it coming. He looked at the blonde chicks, didn’t speak any english and said, “Like they might be in charge,” and JT said, “Yeah, right.”


And just for fun, here’s an ad for The Bridge in France:

I really like the way the show starts at twenty to eleven on Mondays...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New York. Fact or Fiction?

By Jay Stringer, Esq.

Firstly a massive thanks to Ray Banks for his blogs over the last two weeks. It was great to kick back and read someone who made sense on a Tuesday. So much so that Weddle turned up at my house with a dear john letter. Fortunately I wasn't at home, I was cunningly hidden thousands of miles away.

To celebrate DSD's birthday, I got married and went to New York. It was so nice of my fellow DSDers to foot the bill. So nice, in fact, that I knew they'd do it without even asking them. I can just picture the wonderful benevolent smiles that will hit them as they find the bills on their doorstep this morning. Such wonderful people.

But why New York? Why go there to celebrate?

Well, Manhattan seems to dominate much of my cultural upbringing. From music to comics and crime fiction, that one little concrete island has been a constant source of inspiration for the writers I read. I may well not be on this crime blog now if it wasn't for these writers. So you could call it a pilgrimage. You could call it a research trip for future tax deductions. You could call it an advance scouting trip before we move there. You could call it Bob, I'm not judging.

The result is that I've always had a very firm idea of Manhattan in my mind. Somewhere between the darkness of Matt Scudder and the all-or-nothing guitars of Johnny Thunders, in some space between the grime of THE FRENCH CONNECTION and the fun of CASTLE. One of the best ways to describe how I saw the place would be to talk about Daredevil (again.) Most people see Spidey as THE superhero of Manhattan. Hell, people that I talked to in Manhattan saw it that way, too. But for me it was ol' hornhead. There was something in his nature, in the make-up of a man who can be both blind and a rooftop daredevil, that cemented the character of my fictional city. Someone who is so good and so cocksure, that he will throw it back in your face if he needs to.

But these mythical cities that we form can play havoc with reality. Streets that seemed real in our heads can dissolve into cliche and stupidity when we walk down the real thing. So how did I get on?

I started with Matt Scudder's beat. I walked passed the sixth precinct and went in search of Armstrong's, the bar where he spent most of the early novels. Sadly the bar is no more, but I walked the right block of 9th Avenue (between 57th and 58th) on my last day, and tried to imagine what it would have looked like nestled between the taco stores and the morning star on the corner. There was a later incarnation of the bar, a block over, but I didn't go looking for it. Scudders apartment was on west 57th, just around the corner from Armstrong's, but i couldnt decide which of the many buildings it would have been. Less than a block away I found the Parc Vendome, where he lived in the later books. After reading him for 17 or so books, it wasn't hard to look up and imagine him still being up there, battered and scarred and taking one day at a time. I took a walk down to Bethune Street, which was the scene of the first crime we encounter in the series; a hooker got sliced up and Richie Vanderpoel ran out into the street covered in blood and shouting obscenities. It was a different New York to the one that I'd been exploring further up; this was very much a visit to Gotham, as opposed to the shining skyscrapers of Mid-Town's Metropolis.

The New York of the early Scudder novels is clearly no more, just as the streets that stank of desperation in THE FRENCH CONNECTION were long ago cleaned up. But there's still something there if you scratch away at it, just as there is in any city. Talking to a few locals seemed to confirm that the city I'd read about and carried in my head wasn't a fiction so much as it was a memory.

Next up came the comic book tour. Daredevil is one of the central obsessions of my geek side, so it was something special for me to wander through Hell's Kitchen. In the comics the neighbourhood is still wrapped up in it's roots, it's dark, dangerous and filled with crime. The modern day version, which is being remodelled as 'Clinton,' was one of the nicest places I visited on the whole trip. Like New York in miniature, it had a bit of everything. Yuppies, working class, interesting food and, naturally, a few dozen Starbucks. The modern kitchen felt a far safer place than Glasgow, so I guess Daredevil can retire.

After exploring record shops and street stalls in Williamsburg, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, which the more geeky amongst you will know was one of the defining moments in Spidey's long history. His girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, fell to her death from the bridge after a tussle with the Green Goblin. It's one of the few comic book deaths to have lasted, and it carries a real weight in the marvel universe. Walking across it was a strange experience, to realise that it was built in the century before last, and to marvel (heehee) at the engineering. The walkway is made of wood, and you can look down through the cracks to see the cars moving. I was fine looking down, at the cars and the metal and the river, but hit by a sudden attack of vertigo when I looked up at one of its giant brick towers. We used to build things that would last.

As we explored the lower east side, home of the Bowery and St. Marks and about a million other musical touchstones, we hit Ludlow just north of Delancy, the area where comics legend Jack Kirby grew up. The neighbourhood informed much of his 1960's Marvel work, and sort-of gave it's name to the Yancy Street gang who showed up in Fantastic Four. Another strange thrill came as we sat in a Pinkberry (frozen yoghurt, for the fail) and I realised that directly above us would be the sanctum sanctorum of Dr Strange, the most powerful magi in Marvel.

Whilst slipping out of the hotel at night to buy a hot-dog from a street vendor at Grand Central, I slipped a few blocks further to the Daily News building, which has two comic book distinctions; It's Peter Parker's Daily Bugle (not the Flat Iron building from the films, which I also took a look at) and it was also the filming location for the Daily Planet in Richard Donners' SUPERMAN. Naturally, I also scouted the locations from GHOSTBUSTERS. If anyone reading this is in New York, and was annoyed by an Englishman stood outside their building and shouting, "nobody steps on a church in my town,"'s your fault for living there.

I was on the wrong coast, in the wrong city and the wrong time, to be thinking of BLADE RUNNER. But, as we strolled through Times Square at midnight, the city still warm as an oven, it was impossible not to look up at the neon signs and the smoke escaping from the ground at roadworks next to us, and not see myself walking through the set of the film.

We did the music sights of course. Took a look at where Andy Warhol's factory would have been hosting the Velvet Underground, walked the streets that the New York Dolls had eulogised, and spent a week with Lou Reed's NEW YORK filling my head. The Joe Strummer mural, hidden away on the corner of East Seventh and Avenue A, is well worth a visit.

As much fun as all of these things were -and I soiled my geek pants for each of them - the trip would have been nothing for us without the people or the stories. We spent a day being shown round the lower east side by a local, and he told us a hundred stories about the local scene and the music and, of course, 9/11. I had a long talk with a couple of old guys on the subway, who wanted to tell me the best places to buy a hat and to try imitating my accent. Talking to people like this is important, especially for me as a writer. My wife snaps away with her camera, and can get far more art and craft into her lens than I could ever manage. But my thing is just to talk and, more importantly, to listen. The buildings and the streets and the heat are the geography of the city, they form the hard and fast of the world I'm in. But the soul comes from the voices I soak up, the memories I absorb. It's the way to learn a city from the ground up.

There was the very patient fella behind the counter at the MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP (on Warren and West Broadway, go there and spend big) who had to put up with me being an idiot with annoying questions, and the folks at ST. MARKS COMICS, who found me an issue of a comic that I'd never found at home. I've come home with a Don Winslow, who all the smart kids are raving about, and the busted flush reprint of Reed Farrel Coleman's REDEMPTION STREET. I'm also fetishist enough to have picked up a couple of Richard Price books that I already had, simply because the U.S. covers are so much better.

We met all the folks at the Maass Agency (damn, it seems like Donald Maass knows every restaurant in America) and finally got to do lunch with Super Agent herself, Stacia Decker. Over my meal, which was half a cow, I mentioned that it took four years before I felt comfortable writing stories set in Glasgow. That was the four years of waiting that it took before I could hear the voices of the city, and understand the streets and its characters enough to be writing with any degree of truth.

After five days in New York, the only thing I really know is that I don't even know 1% of whats there. At the same time, I've held a version of that city in my head all of my life, and those fictional locations now have a solid form. I've walked the streets that before I'd only read about. And the people, and their stories, have got me itching to write them something. I started work on a short story whilst sat staring out at the skyline from the Roosevelt hotel, and for the first time I started to feel i could actually write Daredevil rather than just reading.

So, I'm going to have a crack at New York before I return to book three of my Midlands series. Time will tell just how badly I mess it up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Thomas Pynchon: On Tour in the USA

By Steve Weddle

As Scott and Joelle mentioned this weekend, the DSD blog is now a year old, which means we oughta stop crapping our pants this year.  (It’s Monday, folks. You expected we’d start being classy on Mondays now?)

We plan to have our collection for you this month. It’s called TERMINAL DAMAGE, a series of eight, linked stories that touch each other. (Haha-hoho-heehee. Oh, and don’t get like that with me, now. Bryon’s story has a stripper, so don’t you go starting with me. Jay’s has a wrestler. I can’t remember whether those two stories collide, but I should probably go back and re-look.) Right now we’re negotiating a mountain of cash for the collection, with all proceeds to benefit The Human Fund

This last week of the DSD first-year has been batcrap crazy. Have you seen these Kindles? Seems you can now buy machines that allow to read books. Weird, huh? All this time I had all these books in my house and no way to read them. Now, for $189 I have a machine that allows me to read them.

Also, newspapers and magazines. What? You know all about this? I’m behind? Well, fine.
So I’m sitting out back of the bakery waiting for them to throw out the day-old bagels and I’m reading The New Yorker on my Kindle. (Hooray for birthday money.) I’m reading an article about this dandy of an entertainer called Brad Paisley. Nice looking fella. Sings all pretty the way the women in the suburbs like. And every time I make a joke about him, he’s probably made another ten million dollars. And not so much from his recordings. Sure, people download “[Insert some joke title here to see if anyone notices]” for a dollar online or buy his CDs in WalMart, but that isn’t where most of his money comes from. The dude makes serious bank by flying around the country, waking up at some coliseum and singing those same songs to tens of thousands of people who’ve paid hundreds of dollars to see him. To sing the song you listened to on the way to the concert. That you’ve already heard fifty times on the radio.

Let me try to explain. You fire up the 8-track and listen over and over again to “Cluster Pluck” (which I think is a play on the term “Cluster Fuck.” I have not heard the song, so I cannot in good conscience comment on the aptness of the title. I assume the word-play “Pluck” for “Fuck” is some sort of show of Paisley’s cleverness.) or “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” (a traditional song off the same album, undoubtedly as much a testament to Paisley’s Christianity as the “Cluster Fuck” song is to his cleverness).

Anyway, people pay money – much money – to hear Paisley perform LIVE the songs they’ve heard him perform on the album. Now, I’ve never knowingly heard any of his songs. I’m sort of loopy at the dentist’s where they do play the suburban country station, so it’s possible something from "Sleepin' on the Foldout" has seeped into my brain. I don’t have anything against Paisley and from The New Yorker article (which wasn’t written by Sasha Frere-Jones, so might well be trustworthy) he seemed like a nice young man.

I would not pay to see Brad Paisley perform because I’m not a fan of his work. Keep that in your head for a second. Now add in the idea that Paisley makes a ton of money from his concerts, as most big-name performers do. Their albums are meant to kick off their national tours, where they make the real money.

And they’re supposed to play the songs just as they sound on the albums. God forbid Dylan should plug in or Bruce Springsteen should go a cappella for “Thunder Road.”

With all the craziness in the book world, what would it take for authors to make bank on book tours? Brad Paisley makes money touring. Why can’t a best-selling author?

Can you imagine if BLOOD’S A ROVER was used to propel James Ellroy on his big national tour? Sure, twenty bucks for the book, but it’s two hundred to see him read from it. Would you pay for that? To see him perform the same chapters you’ve read? You know full well that the show will include Mr. Ellroy’s discussion about the size of his penis and insults aimed at Bill Clinton. As entertaining as a Brad Paisley concert? Would you have to have a light show included?

Why does Brad Paisley get serious buckage for performing while Charlie Huston doesn’t?
Heck, how many times have you heard about a writer you like having a hard time putting butts in chairs at the Barnes and Noble. And that’s probably about 30 seats to fill.

I guess David Sedaris can sell tickets to his readings. Who else? Can Laura Lippman or Michael Connelly?

Janet Evanovich just signed a four-book deal in which she was promised $50 million. Plus, she gets a million-dollar bonus for each home run she hits once she passes 30 in a season. And Eddie Van Halen has to come to her house and take out all the green M&Ms from her bowl. Could she get twenty-thousand people paying $200-per to hear her read?

I turn on CSPAN-2 and see historians at book festivals talking to half-empty (half-full, for you hippies) tents and wonder how many books they’re going to sell from that.

I paid good money to see Hank Williams, Jr. play. I’d pay more to see Hank3 play. I’ve paid for PIL, Deadeye Dick, Violent Femmes, Sonny Rollins, and many more. Heck, I even paid to see the Smithereens. Many, many other people did, too.

Why can’t Charlie Huston or JT Ellison make their livings by flying around the country giving readings to sold-out coliseums?

Who would you pay $200 to see read?

Sunday, August 1, 2010


by Joelle Charbonneau

Get out the candles. Frost the cake. DoSomeDamage turns one today!

Last year, DSD opened its HTML doors and the reader in me has loved every minute of it. I was not one of the original DSD gang, but I was honored to join the team earlier this year. So technically this isn’t my party, but I’m using it as a great excuse to wield a big-ass knife in order to cut the cake (I’m a comedic writer….we don’t get to use knives as often as the noir boys so I have to jump at any chance I get. Sad, but true.).

In the past year, DSD has racked up a bunch of ‘best of crime fiction’ blog awards. It has also created a place for discussion of movies, comics, reading, writing and all things violent. So to commemorate the big event, we have created an anthology of airport crime fiction short stories. The elves behind the scenes are working to get the collection up and running on your e-readers (which I don’t own, but hey – I’m not one to stop progress) as soon as possible. We will throw another party once the collection is available. Keep your eyes peeled. I promise the group of stories will reflect the personalities of all the contributors of DSD. (Yeah – that means no knives for me. Sorry!)

Until then, I’d like to hear from the readers and other contributors of DSD – what are you favorite DSD moments thus far? Personally, I have to admit enjoying Steve’s posts that tell me I’m wrong. They always make me laugh! (Honest!!!) Tell me what you’ve enjoyed reading and more important, tell us all what you’d love to talk about in the future. We have a fabulous new year stretching out in front of us. Let’s raise the level of conversation to new heights.