Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hi, I'm the Mayor of Nick's Bar & Grill

Have any of your used Foursquare?

It seems to be a pretty polarizing piece of social networking. Either people find it addicting or completely ridiculous. It's a website or an app where you "check in" to a place. Usually a store or a restaurant. Your friends can check in as well and see where you are.

I've been thinking . . . is there a way, authors or booksellers can use this to their advantage?

At first, I couldn't come up with anything useful. People check in, that's it. You can be the mayor of a place (meaning you're a regular there, pretty much).

But lately, I've noticed something new in Foursquare. "Specials." They're coupons for people who "check in" to certain places. Ben and Jerry's offers a deal on scoops of ice cream. A bar in Hoboken offers a free plate of wings to the mayor.

Stuff like that.

I think indie booksellers could take advantage of this. Offer a discount. Ten percent off for the mayor. Or "buy one get one free" for a person who checks in. It's something that could gain the attention of young people. It would pull people who normally "check in" at Barnes and Noble to your bookstore instead. I know I'm more likely to check into a place that offers a special.

As for authors . . . how can we use this app? The same way indie booksellers can. As advertising. Check in to your local indie. Make sure people know you're still frequenting bookstores.

Help sell books.

It's just an idea.

What do you think?

PS: I checked out our very own Joelle Charbonneau's book signing at Partners and Crime in the city the other day.

I checked in.

So did a lot of other people.

Well, they showed up at lest.

Good luck to her--and Hilary Davidson--on their new releases!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Crime Machine by Giles Blunt

John McFetridge

Seems it's book review week here at Do Some Damage (or maybe I'm just too lazy to come up with an original post) so I'm going to link to a review of fellow Canadian, Giles Blunt's new novel Crime Machine that I wrote for the National Post newspaper here.

They headlined the review, "More Than a Whodunnit," which ordinarily would annoy me as it sounds like a negative comment about genre fiction, but I used the phrase myself in the review. Here's what I said:

Blunt’s last John Cardinal novel, By the Time You Read This, opened with the death of Cardinal’s wife, so it isn’t a spoiler to say that in this fourth novel in the series he’s still dealing with grief. In fact, the new novel is an exploration of people’s need for human connection and family — from Cardinal and Delorme, to the young woman and the married man having an affair in the opening scene, to the American reporter in town with her own theories about the murders, to an elderly man being held hostage, even the members of a Charles Manson-like family, the crime machine of the title.

Without that unifying theme, Crime Machine could have become lost in its myriad subplots and red herrings. But this is more than a whodunnit.

And I'm sticking by it. It is more than a whodunnit (not that there's anything wrong with just a whodunnit).

This is the fourth novel in this series and while it's probably a good idea to start with the first one I think it's fine to start with this one. This is a terrific book.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Skating And The Damage Done

By Do Some Damage

Get up. C'mon. Out of bed. Or off the pot. Or wherever it is you read this daily slice of snarky crime goodness. Today we only have one job for you.

Skating Around The Law, by our very own Joelle Charbonnneau is released officially today. That means you can go into stores and buy it. While you're in the store, why don't you also drop one into the basket of the person in front of you. They'll enjoy it. Just tell them we said it was alright.

Here's the official sales pitch for the book;

Rebecca Robbins is a woman on a mission---to sell the roller rink she inherited from her mother and get back to Chicago. Fast. However, when she discovers the dead body of the town’s handyman headfirst in a rink toilet, potential buyers are scared off. Now Rebecca is stuck in a small town where her former neighbors think she doesn’t belong, living with her scarily frisky grandfather, Pop, and relying on a police department that’s better at gardening than solving crimes.

Eager to move forward with her life, Rebecca begins investigating the murder herself, reluctantly accepting help from Pop and his extensive social network, which includes a handsome veterinarian and a former circus camel named Elwood. Nevertheless, someone isn’t happy she’s looking into the case, and their threats will have her questioning whether playing sleuth was such a good idea after all.
Here's our unofficial sales pitch;
It's awesome.
Can't go wrong, right? To hear more about it you could check out our latest podcast through the itunes. Joelle chats to us about the book, about writers block, and about which Star Wars movies count. The next episode should land at the end of the week, too, with Reed Farrel Coleman joining us to talk poetry and Prager.

While you're picking up Joelle's book, you could also check out The Damage Done by friend-of-the-blog Hilary Davidson, which is also released today. It has all kinds of awesomeness, like a dead body in a bath tub and a missing sister, not to mention some real sharp writing. 
And to make things easy for you, both Hilary and Joelle will be in the same place at the same time tonight. They'll be backed up by their
personal bodyguard
fellow author Joshua Corin, who'll be there to tell you all about his own book, While Galileo Preys.
The shindig is at Partners & Crime, 44 Greenwich Ave, NYC. They'll be there between 7 and 9 tonight to sign books, tell tall tales, and demonstrate the best way to kill someone. Head on out. (Ask for Babs.)
Congratulations to Joelle from all of the moody noir guys here, and we hope the event goes well. Go get 'em.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Writing Advice: What THEY Won't Tell You

By Steve Weddle

The blogosphere is flooded with writing advice. Ten Points About Thrillers. Seven Things Your Query Must Have. Three Drinks to Drown Your Rejection. Eighteen Ways to Cook Bacon.

I've read some good stuff the past few weeks. Over at KillZone, Jordan Dane had a good one about suspense/thrillers: TEN TIPS on Pace and Structure in a Thriller.

The first tip -- Start with a BANG and explain later -- is worth the price of admission.

That said, there's some pretty terrible advice out there, too, from folks who have no business offering advice. Folks who haven't sold novels are giving advice on how to write novels. People who have never sold a story are telling you how to plot stuff. Folks who don't know blurb from jacket copy are offering marketing advice. "Use Twitter and Facebook to build a fanbase." Really? Use the Internet? Wow. Thanks.

People with no track record for writing are telling you how to write. That's like having JD Salinger give you advice on writing an adult novel networking.

Heck, sometimes I even offer advice when it's pretty clear I don't know what the hell I'm doing. You want to know how to spit out a tooth after catching a fist with your face? I'm your guy. Getting completely and horrendously and contortionally narded while attempting to navigate a subway turnstile? That's me. Write a best-seller that gets made into a movie starring Natalie Portman and that dude from that cop show? Um, not it.

And, yet, even advice meant as a pure goof can be useful, I think.

Check out the #pubtip and #writetip discussions on Twitter.

Some speak to style:
jaystringer: Your agent query letters should all be written in iambic pentameter#pubtip

Some speak to marketing:
brianlindenmuth: Get a picture taken with a famous author at a signing event then tell everyone it was a joint event #pubtip (this really happened)

Some speak to nudity:
keithr34When meeting a prospective publisher for the first time, pants them and then point and laugh at his/hers genitalia #pubtip

For me, all advice is helpful. I love everyone. I am grateful for each person who has ever offered any help. People don't have to do this. People are busy, yet they take time to offer comments, compliments, criticisms and so forth. And, quite honestly and all kidding aside, authors are some of the nicest, most generous folks I've met -- especially those authors in the mystery/crime fiction community.

So I was surprised to get this note from Johannes de Silentio about advice to writers. I had said that all authors are nice and this de Silentio guy disagreed via email. I'll leave you with his thoughts as I'm busy reading a book someone suggested to me last week -- HOW TO WRITE LESS CRAPPIER.

Johannes de Silentio's NOTES ABOUT WRITING ADVICE -------------

Steve, let's be clear, here. You're so naive. Most writers want you to fail. It's crowded out there. Every writer hates you because you're taking away a chance for them to succeed. Only so much room on the shelf, right? So you should always keep that in mind. Published writers all want unpublished writers to always fail all the time.

Let's look at some of this advice.

1. Be patient.

That old advice to take your time? Haha. Nice one, published author. You'd like that, wouldn't you? Yeah, me working and working for decades while your book sells. Pretty clear you're scared of my awesomeness of awesome. I will not hide from you. Who the hell do you think you are? I will finish my manuscript as quickly as I can. I will send it out immediately. Let's be honest here. Big book companies hire proofreaders, so why should I take any time to do that? I have to write the sequel. Let the editors and readers and agents proof. I am a writer. I write. And drink coffee. I don't have time to be bothered proofreading.

2. Write the best book you can.

Cuh-rap. You ever see a writer stop at one book? No. Never. Because they want to keep writing and getting those checks. If you wait to write the best book you can, you'll never do anything. And if your first book really is the best book you have in you, why write a second? No, these fancy authors living in their big Paris lakehouses are just trying to slow us down. No, this may not be the best book I can write, but it's better than most of the crap out there. I will send it out now because I want my check.

3. Worry about the book, not the money

Uh, right. That's why I write. That's why I spend a whole freaking two months of my life slaving away every lunch hour to write this book. Then I want to print it out and put it in my drawer. Because all I care about is the writing. Haha. You'd like that, wouldn't you, oh famous published writer giving out advice. Haha. No way. I want my check. I do not want a book in my desk drawer; I want my freaking check.

4. Having a bad agent is worse than having no agent

Oh, that's right, oh published author. Do you have an agent? Yeah? Why? Because an agent works with you and gets you your book deal? Because they're indispensable? Right. And you're trying to trick me into NOT getting an agent? Sure. Next you're going to tell me that having a bad book deal is worse than having no book deal.

5. Having a bad book deal is worse than having no book deal

You're kidding me, right? Yeah, I don't want a book deal at all, really. I just want to right the best book I can, right? What's a bad deal? Too small a press? They can't market me? Or too big and they won't? Yeah, that's what I thought. The only kind of book deal that's bad is one that you don't have. No one ever got paid anything without a book deal. And I want my damn check.

------- Here Endeth The de Silentio Lesson


Sunday, September 26, 2010

There's an OKLAHOMA reference somewhere in this post about fringe's but I'm too lazy to make it here

I don't know why, but I've always liked to start my blog posts with context. I like talking about where I am when I'm writing, what time it is, and why I was thinking about the particular topic. I always like reading this stuff in other blog posts and like to think there are other people out there like me.

God help us all.

So it's almost midnight, my wife is watching a recorded episode of ALL MY CHILDREN and the house smells like the dry rub I used earlier to grill some ribs. I've just returned from seeing THE TOWN. Good movie. Ben Affleck is an underrated actor and I hope his new writing and directing cred makes people realize he's got acting chops too. But this isn't about that movie. Not directly at least. It's about characters.

As I'm prone to overthinking things about what I do and why I do it, I've been thinking about the characters I like to read about and those I like to write about. Anyone familiar with my work in the short form probably has a good idea who I like to write about (and it's not just strippers and writers), but I noticed one real overarching theme: I like writing about people on the fringes.

This whole conversation in my brain was actually started several weeks ago with a post Dave wrote about when he returned from his honeymoon. He mentioned being on a cruise that made him feel like James Bond might show up. That got me thinking that I would never write about that cruise, or that type of character. I don't care much for perfect heroes or perfect characters. If I was going to write about a cruise, I would most likely write about the staff in the casino on board, or write about the restaurant workers or some guys who won the trip in a bar pool or something. Or even more likely I would write about a discount cruise. I'd write about one of those rundown river boat cruises full of old people and loud people who can't afford real cruises. This is the kind of cruise that I've been on. And that's when I realized I've always been a character on the fringe, which is probably why I like writing about them.

I grew up blue collar, in a nice area, but the sketchy neighborhood in the nice area. We always had nice things, but we had to work harder for them and usually got them later than everyone else. All of that turned out well for my parents when the economy collapsed and they weren't up to their eyeballs like everyone else, and it also formed my writing voice. I'm drawn to autobiographical stories and like dumping everything from my life into my fiction, so it makes sense that the sorts of things I experience (like discount cruises and sketchy spring break vacations and time share horror stories and other sorts of adventures that come with trying to scam the system) would form the heart of my repertoire.

Thus, crime fiction is a perfect venue for me. It's all about people on the fringes. Granted, most of the time they are the victims, but I like them as the heroes. I like fallen characters, or characters working for their dreams the hard way. I REALLY like characters who had their dreams and either lost them or gave them up. I realized I have a lot of characters who are former something or other or aspiring something or other. This of course comes from my experiences living the dream as a newspaper reporter and an editor in New York City, but giving them up for the exciting world of medical clerical work. Perhaps it's a subconscious message to myself that the one major dream I have now in my life is my writing career and that I need to be careful not to expect too much from it. But my fiction, as with the rest of my outlook on life, still has a healthy optimistic streak (except for a brief burst of stories with suicidal characters and characters looking to rid themselves of children). I find all of this odd considering I have such a romanticized view of everything else, but there you have it.

So let's use this as a springboard for discussion. I suspect the bulk of the readers here are fans of the fringe, but are there any out there who dig the giant heaping spoonfuls of truth, justice, and the American way? Anyone prefer Superman to Batman or Richie to The Fonz?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"Kiss Kiss Bang Bang"

Scott D. Parker

I recently watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang again mainly because I wanted to watch a movie we owned and that the wife would also watch. But I also wanted to see it again because it gets referenced a lot when talking about modern noir on film. So it was with this in mind that I watched it, looking for those things that make it noir.

That is, I looked for those noir elements only when I wasn’t laughing my face off. I mean, this movie is flat-out hilarious. It makes you want to have a half dozen movies with Robert Downey and Val Kilmer just riffing off the original script. I loved the constant grammatical references throughout the film. It brought a tongue-in-cheek literary sophistication to a paperback-original-type movie. Honestly, however, some of the plot points important for the average viewer (or first-time viewer) was buried in dialogue so quick that it’s easily missed. That’s a downside to the film

As far as the noir elements, they’re all there: private detective, Hollywood, hot chicks that may or may not be who they seem, old loves, complicated mysteries, duplicity, nighttime locales complete with shadows, men with guns. You can’t help but wonder how many Gold Medal paperbacks the director, Shane Black, read back in the day because he distills all the elements down into a wonderful homage.

But it’s not just noir elements that Black uses. KKBB is a buddy film. Black, the creator of the Lethal Weapon series, still has the knack of making you laugh even when you know the character types he presents. I mean, Downey and Kilmer are not Mel Gibson and Danny Glover but the archetypes are there: uninitiated rookie and seasoned veteran. You know it going into the movie but there’s still enough of the "new" in KKBB that you go along for the ride and laugh anew at recycled jokes. It’s just a fun film.

KKBB is one of those films that breaks down the fourth wall, the wall between the movie’s participants and the viewers. Downey does the voiceovers and, at the beginning, actually ‘stops’ the film and takes us back to some crucial point. He’s self-aware but that’s nothing new in crime fiction. I mean, honestly, every first-person POV book is, in effect, self-aware. The main character, the “I” in the story, is telling you the story. The “I” is telling you what he wants you to know and when. And, of course, the "I" has to live through the book because he is, uh, telling you the story.

Speaking of crime fiction, this movie is a loose and updated adaptation of Brett Halliday’s “Bodies are Where You Find Them,” one of Halliday’s Mike Shayne stories. I haven't read any of the Halliday books yet. Any particular one better than the others? Should I go ahead and start with the one Hard Case Crime published last month?

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang wears noir and hard-boiled fiction on its sleeve. It’s a loving tribute and an update and, most importantly, a funny, funny movie.

Any more like this y'all can recommend?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fiction and Uncomfortable Truths

By Russel D McLean

It was all over the twitter-feeds earlier this week.

A young-adult title that dealt very specifically with rape. That confronted what it was like for a victim who felt they couldn’t speak out.


Tough to read.


But essential in many ways. Yes, we want to protect children from the realities of life, but we also have to educate them about the truths they will face.

Unless, of course, we live in Republic, MO, where a Dr Wesley Scoggins has asked that this book – Speak – be removed from the school libraries on the grounds that it is “soft pornography.

A book written from the point of view of a victim of sexual abuse, written to show that silence over this kind of event is wrong, is “soft pornography”. Its something we do not want our children exposed to.

Not because they’re offended, but because it brings up uncomfortable issues. And because, in Mr Scoggins world, even a rape scene is “pornography”. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t pornography designed to titillate? I never much doubt that the scene in question was designed in such a way. Particularly since the theme of the book is speaking up about an issue everyone else would rather not talk about.

I think that “soft pornography” line says more about Scoggins attitude than anything else. Also, his reaction to Slaughterhouse Five *in the same article* is wonderful. “The f-word is plastered on almost every other page,” apparently.


Did we read the same book?

(and while I’m at it, you want to go and read The Good Son, Mr Scoggins. I’ll show you language that could make a sailor blush… also, I remember a good friend of mine at school chose Trainspotting as his review of personal reading in fifth year… now there’s a book I would say you might have some point in worrying about, although I’d still disagree with you if a teenager is ready to read such a book)

Look, here’s the thing: we can object to the realities of life all we like but we cannot hide from them. And fiction is one of our ways of dealing with issues. I know everyone likes to talk about “escapist” fiction, but serious fiction that tackles unsettling issues head on can be absolutely essential to dealing with everyday life. And even more-so for the “young adult” market. Yes, such books have to be handled sensitively. But just because the idea of the topic upsets you does not mean you should call for a banning of the book.

A book like Speak can – if well done, and I’m giving the book the benefit of the doubt that it is well done since I am not familiar with it myself – open teenage reader’s minds to the idea of what someone else might be going through, give them an empathy and an understanding of other’s experiences. Or it can perhaps persuade someone who is going through a similar experience to have the courage to speak out rather than hide what happened because this is an issue that no one talks about.

Fiction has to deal with issues.

It can’t all be about escapism.

I have a memory of a book I had in my early teens called something like, “My Mate Hamid”. I can’t find a trace of it now, but I remember it was a story about a white kid at a UK school who makes friends with a Pakistani pupil at his school, the only kid of a different skin tone in attendance. Simple, right? Except it wasn’t. It was about racism. I remember the sheer anger I felt at reading about other kids taunting with, “Paki-lover” and trying to figure out why some people would attack someone else just because they came from another place. I have memories of the two characters running away from bigger kids who were hurling bricks. That angered me, and made me start to realise things about how some people could be cruel for the most ridiculous reasons. The book, from what I recall, wasn’t graphic or adult in a way that might have truly upset or confused, but it was pitched just right for my development at that stage.

What I’m saying is that books can deal with tough issues for teenage and young adult readers without us necessarily screaming “oh, but its too much for the darlings!” Young people aren’t as daft as we give them credit for and whether you like it or not they’re going to deal with some very tough issues in their day to day life, and fiction can help them to deal with that. As it can help adults, too.

And you know what, instead of banning books, maybe it would help if parents and teachers talked to children about books and about the issues raised. A book like Speak isn’t pornography. It’s the start of a debate and a learning process. And, sure, I wouldn’t want younger children reading it, but when it comes to the older teenagers… how long do we protect them from the world? Because whether we like it or not, sooner or later they will encounter harsh truths about the world and I would rather they were prepared for them than not. Even if its simply through fiction that helps them understand experiences they hopefully will not encounter but that others they meet will have.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

HEY... Slacker... Get A JOB!!!!

by Dave White

The Private Investigator is dead.

About 3 years ago, I got into one of those online arguments where no one is ever right, about whether or not the private eye is dead. WHEN ONE MAN DIES was about to be released and I had a stake in the subject. Of course, I argued the PI wasn't dead.

I may have been wrong.

Sort of.

What was the last best breakout traditional PI series? Dennis Lehane? Laura Lippman? Robert Crais?

It seems the traditional PI is fading and being replaced with another kind of PI. The slacker PI. Don Winslow's THE DAWN PATROL, Huston's MYSTIC ARTS, and TERRIERS are all slacker PIs. Guys who really don't want to be PIs but need a way to pay the bills. They'd rather be hanging on the beach or drinking a beer or cleaning up dead guy parts than solving cases.

But the case falls in their lap and they're drawn into it. Finally, they're in so deep they have no choice but to follow through.

I love the idea. It's the same, but different. No longer is the PI there was wants to be the shining white knight, instead it's morally ambiguous character who has no choice, but to do well. I feel it adds to the suspense. Will the PI do what's right and solve the case? Or will things get so bad he'll just walk away.

It also adds a comic flare beyond the typical wisecracking. The PIs have friends who are just as bizarre as the PI themselves. Gone are the psycho sidekick, and hello are friends who are willing to joke their way through the case.

The PI is fun again.

There are some very good traditional PI series still out there. Chercover, Michael Harvey, our own Mr. MacLean... well worth checking out.

But it seems the PI is changing again. And that's okay. It started out with a man doing a job. Chandler made him a white knight. MacDonald pushed their further, a man with a social conscience. Parker made him a family man. In the late 90s, PI novels became thrillers.

And now we're slacking.

The PI series is dead.

Nahhhh, he's just resting. Maybe he'll come out. If he feels like it. When the tide rolls out.

I think.

Maybe tomorrow.

Ehhhhh... okay.

Long live the PI series.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Greater Complicity

John McFetridge

Okay, after the very interesting discussion Steve started with something dumb someone said on the internet, I’m going to use something here that I stole from the internet that I think is smart.

In a discussion on Adrian McKinty’s blog, I forget where the discussion started, but like all good conversations it went off on a lot of tangents and at some point, a guy named “Richard L” posted this:

The trouble I have with most genre fiction is that the bad guy is the projection of the Other. In older westerns, the Other was the fierce savages. The Huns became the Other in World War I genre fiction, then the Nazis. Raymond Chandler wrote some novels in which the Other were pornographers, off-track gamblers, and marijuana smokers--all tame stuff today.

In recent times, the Other of choice is most frequently the serial killer, or as is the case in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, rapist child-abusers. Whenever a novel begins with some hidden secret in the past, and it turns out to be incestuous child abuse, it is like saying the butler did it.

There is another way to proceed, without cliche, but it requires recognizing the truth of our common animal nature and also the truth of our common humanity. Not too many novels published today do that, but there are some.

In the best crime novels, the protagonist discovers the greater complicity.

I like that, the greater complicity.

In Steve’s discussion about morality in crime novels my contribution (such as it was) was that because laws change all the time (booze is legal then illegal then legal again) and different places have different laws (prostitution is apparently illegal in Las Vegas but legal a certain number of miles outside of Vegas but then illegal again in the next state) we can’t rely on laws to set any kind of moral standard and that’s where fiction comes in.

With crime fiction we can see moral boundaries being stretched and we can see consequences. Which I think is a lot more interesting than laws being broken – or not broken depending on where and when the story is set.

But even stretching those moral boundaries can become cliche.

So, is Richard L right, is the only way to avoid cliche if the protagonist discovers the greater complicity?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Make the time.

By Jay Stringer

I get audiobooks. I do. It's a fun experience. Having a professional performer read a story to you is an interesting way to experience it. As an adaptation, it's just as valid as seeing a film or a stage play.

But it isn't reading the book.

Hell, Darwyn Cooke is an amazing comic book talent, and his second PARKER adaptation, THE OUTFIT, is coming out next month. Reading it will be a wonderful experience. It will be the chance to see an artist and craftsman take Stark's story and find a new way to tell it. A blending of the words with fresh images, with an exciting colour palette, and with the illusion of movement between panels that only the best can produce.

But it isn't reading the book.

I'm sure there's some deep part of us that misses the times when we could lay in bed at night and have someone read a story to us, or the times we sat around a campfire as someone trued to thrill or scare us with their words. Verbal storytelling is one of the oldest traditions we have and, as pretentious as it sounds, I'm sure audiobooks tap into that in some small way.

But it isn't....well you get the idea.

Reading the book is having a relationship with the words on the page. With the look, feel and smell of the book in your hands, or these days with the glow of the e-reader. It's not just about the story that the writer wants to tell, it's about how it's done. How are the words arranged on the page? How short are the sentences? Do they look like some strange work of art when you stare at them.

We may never put our finger on what, exactly, a writers voice is, but part of it is formed in that strange alchemy of arranging words in a particular way on a blank page. Having a good idea is not the same as being a good storyteller, but this doesn't come across in audiobooks because you're not reading the book. You're listening to someone else read it to you. Their voice is getting in the way, their tone and mannerisms are filtering the words. Sure, the books original author can narrate the audiobook, and that's as close as you can get. But it's still only close. Its still a totally different experience. How many times have you attended an authors reading, heard the way they read the words, and found that it doesn't match the way the words flowed in your head?

We each form our on bond with those words on the page. It's why reading is so much fun, it's a truly personal thing. A roomful of people can sit and read the same text but have totally different experiences.

I've had many recent conversations with people who talk to me about books that they've read, only to find out that they've not read the book. They've listened to a version of it. It's like watching the film adaptation of THE PRINCESS BRIDE and then having an opinion on the book. Inconceivable.

My favourite audiobook of all time might actually be THE PRINCESS BRIDE. An old cassette version, narrated with great humour by Rob Reiner. It was the good parts of the 'good parts version,' and I wore that tape out in my teenage years. In fact, I think I listened to that before ever reading the book. And i'd watched the film before listening to the audio. Each one was a different experience, but only the book was the really personal one.

I understand the time argument. I do. People listen to audiobooks in their daily commute, or at the gym, or on a long holiday drive across country. It's a chance to enjoy the story whilst doing something else, and it can be very easy, very tempting, to begin relying on that for your 'reading.' Except that it's not reading.

Nobody said it would be easy. We get older, we gather people, and jobs, and hobbies and chores. What we find is that time becomes reeeeeeally important. But do the book a favour; make the time. Find the personal bond with the words on the page.

Recently I bought a bike so that I could cycle the six mile round trip to work each day. It would get me fit in a hurry, and that's important to me. But i'm not willing to give up that twenty minutes on the bus when I can sit and read. At my day job I don't have access to my books. And when i'm at home i'm working on my writing, or a website, or a podcast, or living my life. Those two bus trips each day are when I make the time.

Not everyone can take the bus. Not everyone can make time the same way. But if you take one thing from my many angry rants in this here interworld, make it this. Make the time, somehow.

I preach it at the day job, and not always to great success. I'm sure many of you have had the same conversation, sat with someone telling you that they spent two hours looking for something to watch on the telly, but looking at you strange if you suggest turning the damn thing off and picking up a book.

A film might leave you cold, but the book might get you hot in a hurry. You might love an audiobook, but then find you hate the book. On the other hand, you might listen to a story being narrated and find it dull or lifeless, but then find that the page somehow makes the same story take off. It's one of the best magic tricks around.

Anyone with me? Anyone else want to go and tell a few people in their lives to make the time?
And how do you do it? What little sacrifices do you make in order to sit and read? What tips and cheats do you have for anyone out there struggling with the same problem?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Damn, now we gotta have morals?

By Steve Weddle

Before I get to complaining about whatever stupid crap some idiot on the internet said this week, you should be sure you've checked out what our own Jay Stringer has been up to at MatineeIdles. He talks and writes about movies. This week he writes about Maria Bello's Mummy movie. Yes, the nice woman Jay and Russel love in that delightful Mel Gibson movie.

Speaking of Russel, he's planning to panel at Bouchercon.

Also, seems we're about a week away from our own Joelle Charbonneau's SKATING AROUND THE LAW. Did you pre-order yours yet? Call your local bookstore to make sure they have it in-stock. Go ahead.

So this week's stupid thing said by a person on the internet was this (and I paraphrase): "The main character in your book should be moral."

Character. Morals. Characters with morals. OK. Let's go.

Bucket o' crap, right? Many years ago I sat in the office of my faculty advisor as he explained to me the difference between having character and being one. (One day I'm sure I'll find out what the hell he was going on about.) But this characters with character stuff? Uh, wha?

I think it works like this. The main character fights for 300 pages (or 180 if it's noir or Graham Greene. (Why are noir books so short? My guess is that the publishing houses did focus groups and found that anyone who could read such despair for longer was likely to eat a Glock soon (and not buy more books) or so sad as to be unemployed soon (and not buy more books.))) In case I lost count on the parentheticals, here are some extra parentheses. Take what you want and leave the rest. Like most folks do with The Bible.

So the character fights for 300 pages to get the MacGuffin. Then at the end he is in a burning building and has to either grab the MacGuffin or the one-legged orphan holding a blind puppy.

Or he's involved in something bad and turns on his partners when it counts. I think I saw this movie. They robbing an armored car. Or at least I saw the previews. And the guy has to make a decision. He sacrifices something he had valued at the beginning of the movie for something his new morals tell him is valuable now.

Like in the Maria Bello movie PAYBACK. Parker has his own "code," but whether that would be considered "moral," um, I'm thinking probably not. Of course, in the movie he's not called Parker; he's called "Adolf."

So what's all this crap about having moral characters? Doing the right thing?

Do we feel better about a character when she is doing the right thing? Do we want our heroes to be the people we aspire to be? What the hell does that even mean? What the hell is a hero?

If the main character kills a few bad guys along the way in order to save the world, that's fine. But it seems that the bad guys have to kill themselves most of the time. Like that scene in a billion movies in which our hero is fighting the bad guy and our hero has won. But he allows the bad guy to live. Because that's what good guys do. Then suddenly the bad guy isn't dead at all. No, he was faking, because that's what bad guys do. Then he gets up and dives at our hero. But our hero moves and the bad guy ends up falling on big pointy thing and dies. Phew. Dead bad guy and unsoiled good guy.

Do morals change from one book to another? Are morals relative to the story at hand? You know, is it wrong to snap the neck of a nun in a Robert Langdon book, but OK in the world of Cal Innes?

Does the character's "code" stand in for "morals"?

What does it mean to be a "moral character" anyway? Isn't it more important to be interesting?

In the world of fiction, is having "character" less important than being one?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It doesn't happen Everyday

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Life is full of firsts. First steps. First kiss. First time you hold up a convenience store and steal all the Hubba Bubba bubble gum. (Okay, the last one never happened to me, but I’m sure it was a first for someone.) This week I had two firsts. Last night I went to my first Dave Matthews concert. The cannabis-scented air was a touch chilly at Wrigley Field and the sound guys had some issues during the first couple of tunes, but Dave was great, the band was awesome and the crowd was engaged. What more could you ask for?

Of course, the bigger first for me this week came three days ago. The doorbell rang and when I opened the door, a padded envelope sat on the stoop. The package was from my editor. Inside the envelope was a congratulatory note and a hard cover copy of SKATING AROUND THE LAW. If I hadn’t been in the middle of teaching a voice lesson, I probably would have cried.

Part of me wants to sit down and read the book cover to cover just for the experience of reading it like a real book. Funny, but until it arrived, I’ve had a hard time thinking of it as a ‘real’ book. I’ve read thousands of ‘real’ books in my life. Books have always been one of my great loves. Never in my childhood dreams did I think I could write a ‘real’ book. Even after getting my first contract and going through the editing, copy editing and page proof process, I found it hard to call myself an author. Then the doorbell rang and the postman delivered a book with my name on it to my door.

Holy crap. This is real. I’m an author.

The book hits shelves in 9 days. Then the rest of the journey begins. Will readers love or hate the book? Will they recommend the book to friends or lament the loss of their hard earned money? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out.

While I’m waiting for that part of the journey to begin, tell me – what is your favorite “first” moment thus far? (Let’s try to keep it clean, kids. You know who you are.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Real Celebrity

Scott D. Parker

What does it mean to be a celebrity? The built-in dictionary here on my Mac indicates that a celebrity is “a famous person; the state of being well known.” Take a moment and think of some celebrities, both the ones you like and the ones you don’t like. Some celebrities are famous for what they do: athletes, entertainment stars, politicians. Others are famous for being who they are: Paris Hilton, any number of reality show contestants.

Often we look up to celebrities, trying to emulate the way they live their lives. One generation of celebrities gives birth to the next generation. Elvis and Buddy Holly influence the Beatles who influence just about everyone else. Authors like Stephen King read Lovecraft and want to carry the torch for the next generation. It’s life, and it’s natural.

Sometimes, our illusions of celebrities are shattered. Up until last November, most people considered Tiger Woods to be an upstanding guy, someone to admire, learn from, and be like. No more.

All of this brings me to the celebrity we lost this week in the mystery community, David Thompson. His death shocked us all. Word spread throughout our community, both on the internet as well as old-school telephone calls. An obvious place where the news spread was Facebook, both on the Murder by the Book location as well as David’s own account. I noticed something as the week progressed and the terrible news sank in. Many different people in the mystery community starting friending each other. I’d see “This Person is now friends with these five other people.” The number of new connections increased considerably by yesterday.

The more I think of that, the more I smile. David is still affecting our lives. We will all truly miss him as the months and years go by. But it’s nice to know that even after he’s gone, our own celebrity, David Thompson, is still influencing people and bringing us all together.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Forgoten Book: Stone City

By Russel D McLean

Its Friday.

There were a lot of topics this week I could have written about, but others have already expressed their feelings on the events of these last few days with more eloquence than I could.

I had no idea what to write. Until I remembered that Friday is always Forgotten Books day.

And for today, Forgotten reviews day, as well, I suppose.

This review was written a few years back for a planned re-release of Stone City by David Thompson's Busted Flush Press that sadly never got off the ground as far as I was aware. But if you can track down a copy of the book, I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Stone City

By Mitchell Smith

Stone City is a dark, violent trip into a world that runs parallel to our own. A stone city where the worst of our citizens find themselves, segregated from society and forced to create their own rules and norms within the regulated world of the State Prison.

Stone City is a massive novel. Its labyrinth plot – as a college professor jailed for a hit-and-run hunts down a killer within the prison system – snakes through the twilight world of the State Prison, giving us glimpses of a place that seems far removed from the everyday reality we understand. While, in more recent years, television shows like HBO’s Oz have given us an understanding of life on the inside, the world of Stone City still feels sufficiently alien to unnerve even the most hardened reader. Inside the walls, an entire world is formed that runs parallel to the one outside. The prisoners create their own social norms, their own bizarre parodies of normal life. The prison “marriages” and the apparent division of prisoners by sex (whereby weaker, more feminine men are taken as wives in some quite willing and occasionally tender partnerships). The property market for primo space in prison. Separate blocks feel more like individual countries than extensions of the same building. This creates a self contained world with its own intricate systems of trade, barter and morality. At first glance, much of these adapted norms seem a mockery of the outside world. The reader soon comes to realise, however, that the inmates need to maintain this pretend society to survive. The only world they now know is inside, and they need to live there with each other.

In this place, new social contracts are drawn. Families – however dysfunctional – are formed among men who have never known such things before, and friendships, however tenuous, are forged through shared fears and insecurities. But everything is fragile in this world, subject to violent change at the will of any man.

Much of this is experienced through the eyes of Bauman, a college professor who finds himself sent to State after accidentally killing a girl. At least, that’s his story. Bauman survives not simply by adapting to this new world, but by trading on his own skills. Some of the best scenes in this novel are simple, brilliant scenes where Bauman attempts to help his fellow inmates somehow better themselves. Teaching illiterate bruisers to read, finding a way to recreate his old life in this twisted world in which he has been thrown.

The book relies on taking the familiar elements of the everyday world and throwing them askew. At its most basic level, the question of the sexes is dealt with by prisoners designating themselves accordingly. When Bauman starts to hang around with a fellow con by the name of Cousins, this relationship is taken in a romantic light by his fellow prisoners. After all, Cousins, with his delicate features and quiet manner, is a woman in this world, and he is so taken by the role that he dreams of becoming one for real upon his release.

Then, there is the matter of everyday living: cells are bought and traded like property. Men set themselves up in business. Different blocks become other countries within this world, each with their own set of rules and regulations. Nowhere is this more obvious than in segregation, where life is so removed from Bauman’s block that there may as well be oceans between these two places.

In contrasting Bauman’s life outside with his life inside, we see parallels and patterns that reflect the prison and the real world against each other, casting the events of the novel and the characters trapped within State, in an often unexpected light. We are forced to question: where was Bauman better off? Which life really was his personal hell? As the novel progresses and we learn more about what it was that sent Bauman to State, we begin to realise that the most seemingly civilised man in State may in fact be far from it, that civilised is dependent on a man’s situation and surroundings and that even on the outside, Bauman’s civility may have been little more than social veneer.

All of which is intriguing stuff, but apropos of nothing without the novelist’s skill to back it up. And Mitchell Smith is, thankfully, a brilliant writer. His carefully crafted prison world combined with his deeply detailed psychological portrait of a man from the outside finding himself on the inside is one hell of a read: darkly gripping, and with a final scene that is as shocking and unexpected as it is almost inevitable.

For some, the text may be a little overlong, the narrative taking many sideroads – not all of them as productive as could be expected – and occasionally guilty of repeating its most salient points when they are already made. But ultimately, the power of Mitchell’s words and the intricacy of the world and people he has created are what pull you in. You can feel the prison walls closing in, breathe the air heavy with the stink of fellow prisoners, and hear the cacophony of sounds that make up daily prison life. It is terrifyingly easy to become absorbed in this world that Mitchell has created.

Stone City is a dark trip into a world where violence lurks behind every word, where any action can be misinterpreted and where life is cheap. But it comes so close to our own world, that sometimes, when you re-emerge from the pages, you have to wonder whether you can’t hear a guard somewhere crying, “Fingers!” as the gates roll across cells packed tightly together in this manufactured hell where the guilty ultimately punish themselves.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

See No Evil, Hear No... What?

John McFetridge

A recent discussion on Crimespace about books being turned into movies brought up something interesting for me.

Caroline Trippe wrote, “After all, when I read any novel, it plays out in my mind's eye like a movie -- I "see" the characters, the places, hear the dialogue. I would guess this occurs with most writers. Part of all writing is visualizing---then you bring that to life with language.”

And I wrote, “When I read a book I never visualize the scenes like a movie -- I hear the story being told by the voice of the book. I prefer it to be the voice of a character (or a number of characters) and I sometimes accept it if it's the writer's voice (but not often ;)

A long time ago at Concordia University in Montreal I took a writing class from Garry Geddes, a guy who was mostly known as a poet, and he asked us to read our stories out loud. At first I was opposed to the idea because I thought prose was meant to be read not “performed” but Garry was a good guy so I did it.

My friend Lisa Pasold (author of the excellent Rats of Las Vegas) was in that class and when I finished reading my story she passed me a note that said, “Your head is so red, looks like it’s going to explode.”

I guess I was nervous speaking in public, that’s really common, but I think I was also realizing something significant – for the first time all that talk about the “authorial voice” was making a little sense to me.

Before that I had tried to visualize stories, see them as movies I guess, but at that moment I realized that I wasn’t trying to write movie scenes, I was trying to capture those moments at the kitchen table when my Dad told a story or those moments at my Uncle’s cottage around the fire when he told a story or those times in the bar when my brother told a story.

That was when I started to realize that prose is stories being told. That voice, that point of view, is the biggest difference between a book and a movie.
The same characters in the same situations doing the same things can work both as a book and a movie, but they’re very different experiences.

What do you think? Do you visualize a book as you read it or do you hear it?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In Memoriam: David Thompson

by Dave White

David Thompson was one of the few people who could get me to fly.

Three years ago, when my debut was released he asked me to sign at Murder by the Book. I couldn't go, but he made sure he asked again when my second came out--sending about fifteen different dates I could show up. The message was clear, "Get your butt down here, we want to sell your book."

I had no choice, I agreed, despite my fear of flying. I actually got on a plane to Houston to be at that bookstore.

That's how David treated writers. He wanted them to come to his store and push their books. It didn't matter if you were Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, or any old midlist writer, he and his wife, McKenna, treated everyone like a superstar.

To them, every writer was special.

And they made sure their signings were legendary. They were fun question and answer sessions that went on for an hour or more, letting you learn as much about a writer as possible, and often immortalized on YouTube by Bill Crider.

David didn't stop there. He created Busted Flush Press, a small publisher who put out great novels and anthologies. He and Duane Swierczynski placed my first original story in a print anthology with DAMN NEAR DEAD.

He energy and enthusiasm toward books was contagious. He spent his time on Twitter pushing his favorite novels or most recent reads. He always let people know what books the store had imported from the UK. Murder by the Book is my go to independent store. They would ship to NJ without hesitation.

When I heard about his passing today, I went numb. I had just been talking about him in class that morning, telling my students my most embarrassing story--traveling to the signing. I nearly had a nervous breakdown on a plane and still made sure I signed there. Not many people can get me on an airplane.

And, I suspect that's how it was with David and all other authors. They would do anything to talk to him, do anything to sign at the store. His love of books was infectious. He was one of a kind.

I'm going to miss him.

I Hate Music.

By Jay Stringer

(If you're just catching up on the week so far, check bak to Weddle's post from yesterday. It's got some cool news about DSD's development, and a few hints of things to come.)

My favourite band are The Replacements. I may have mentioned that once or twice. One of their early songs, back when they were loud snarky punks, was 'I Hate Music.' It's only about two minutes long, and never destined to be a radio anthem, but it did have the great line, "I hate music, it's got too many notes."

I've used variations on that line many times over the years, applied to different situations. Music, football, alcohol, comedy,'s seen more uses than my big book of lame excuses. I've come to realise that, for me, it's not simply a throwaway line. There's something to it, something to all of it. Music often does have too many notes. Books can have too many words. A film can have too many scenes. My coffee can have too much sugar (i.e; it can have some.)

And you know what I often find to be the problem with mystery stories? Yep, that's write. Too much mystery.

I don't read mystery books for the trappings, the twists and turns. I read them for the character, for the soul of the book. Too often i hear writers complain that they leave behind the mystery genre because they grow tired of the trappings of writing them, and then later I discover those writers didn't create the kind of stories I want to read.

It's been something I've fought with myself. The series I'm writing at the moment starts out very much as hardboiled mystery, and then slowly changes into something else as the character changes. And I'm trying to hold myself to realism with the mystery element. In real life i don't think that crimes like theft or murder come with all that much mystery involved. Certainly not in the world of gangs, drugs and vice that I'm covering. Deaths will be for revenge, or to make a point, or for business. The only mystery would be whether or not the police could find the evidence to close out the crime.

Sure, there are mysteries. Someone can go missing, something can be lost. Mysterious things happen every day. But I find that the mystery genre has created a myth, and it can weigh stories down. I want my story to work because of the characters and the world. There are a couple of dead bodies in the book, and there's some work to do in order to get the right answer, but I'm not going to be throwing too many red herrings or conspiracies at you, because that all seems fake to me. Once you latch on to the logic of why things are happening, where the money is flowing, or who stands to gain, then you can get a step ahead of the protagonist. And that feels true to me.

If your story rests on the design of the mystery, then it falls down the minute the audience clocks it. If the mystery is merely one of the elements that runs through a well told story, then people will come back for more.

I'm thinking of this because I recently watched Righteous Kill. A tale of two NYPD cops on the trail of a serial killer, starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino. The film is framed around a central mystery, it's what the whole plot is built on. It seems like it's meant to draw you in and then slam shut on you when you least expect it. Trouble is, because the film is telling you that one thing is happening, and because that one thing clearly isn't happening, it takes about ten seconds to reverse things and spring the trap on the film instead. You're then waiting for the film to catch up with you, or for the characters to somehow draw you into their story so that the mystery doesn't matter.

The film also shows the other easy trap of mystery writing; characters can start doing things simply to support the mystery. Characters in the film start saying and doing things simply to draw out the film's 'surprise.' More importantly, they don't say things that would ruin it. This feels forced, like a 90 minute cheap trick.

I don't know about you, but that sort of thing pulls me straight out of a story. I don't want cynical red herrings, I don't to have the kitchen sink thrown at me. I want a good story well told. I want solid characters, and I want the mystery to serve those characters. I want the mystery to make sense.

Like all rules there are exceptions. I'm still in love with The Usual Suspects just as much now as I was fifteen years ago, and that film is built around one looooong red herring. But where a film like that succeeds, i think, is in trying to fool you rather than treating you like a fool. The screenwriter knew that if we started the film with the question, "who is Keyser Soze?" we would figure it out within ten minutes. So the film showed us one thing, and then spent most of its running time convincing us that we didn't actually see that. It turns the question into, "where is Keaton?" But then when we look back on it, and in spite of the story belonging to an unreliable narrator, we find that the trick is a fair one. The pieces are all there and there is an internal logic. the mystery is still all in service of character, even if it's all in service of only one character.

In my writing, I'm working damn hard not to cheat the audience. I don't mind trying to fool them for awhile, but I'm not going to treat them like fools.

How about you? How to you find that balance between 'mystery' and 'contrived.' And in your reading, what have been the mystery books that have hit your sweet spot?

Monday, September 13, 2010

DSD now on Kindle

By Steve Weddle

Since this blog started 13 months ago, we've worked to improve things in terms of style and content.

Yes, we lost a Canadian, but we replaced him with two Americans. I'm not sure what the exchange rate was, but this has worked out so far.

We've worked on some theme weeks and even have our first collection, TERMINAL DAMAGE, done and nearly ready for your reading pleasure.

And now we have an improved option in terms of delivery.

Sure you can read the Do Some Damage blog on the computer. But that ain't good enough for us. Now, through the magic of fairydust and cutrate pharmaceuticals, you can now get your DSD fix each morning delivered to your Kindle.

Each morning at about 3 a.m. eastern time in the US of A, the blog gets updated. (Unless it's Jay's day, then, you know, eventually.) Here's what it looks like on the Kindle.

The sign-up fee for this is $1.99 a month, which gets you all 30-ish posts per month. I don't know why it's that price, which is set by Amazon. Whatever portion of that money makes it from Jeff Bezos's bank account to ours will be spent on lottery scratchers and whip-it cans.

So if you subscribe to DSD on Kindle, each morning you get the DSD blog sent right to you. I've subscribed to a number of magazines and newspapers, utilizing the FREE 14-day trial option Amazon offers. I sign up for the L.A. Times for a couple of weeks and end up with screens and screens of book reviews and feature articles. Want to see whether you like the New York Times Book Review? Trial subscription. Same thing with the Do Some Damage blog. Give it a shot on the Kindle and see what you think.

One of the little pieces of sweetness I like is that you get access to DSD archives. Check out the "section list" at the bottom of the screen.

If you missed Russel's bookselling post or Dave's discussion of Rutgers recruiting, you can just scroll back and catch up.

At first I thought that paying to subscribe to a newspaper I could get online for free was dumber than paying for water. But then I did the trial-subscription thing and understood. Delivered into your hands is pretty cool.

Anyway, if you have a Kindle and want to get the blog sent to you each morning, you can click HERE for a free 14-day trial subscription.

As if that ain't good enough, the DSD Podcast Season The Second -- or if you're in the Britains, Series Two -- should kick off soon. We're planning many more interviews and special guests, plus autographed photos of Jay Stringer, as those seem oddly popular now.

Keep in mind that debut novels from DSD's own Joelle Charbonneau and friend-of-the-show Hilary Davidson are coming out this month.

Kindle. Terminal Damage. Podcast. Debut novels. Phew. Getting kinda busy around here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Kid Stays in The Game

Blech. It's only September but I already have one of those colds that routinely kick my ass in the winter months. But I've moderated the doping enough to get this post off before I drop off into the sweet, sweet sleep of narcotics.

When I was a reporter, one of things I sucked worst at was enterprise journalism. These were the sorts of long-form, extended pieces they wanted us to write that won awards and made careers etc. I always had a bunch of good ideas, but for the most part they never got written because the day-to-day issues of covering the police beat always got in the way. I feel that way about blog posts too. I have several cool ideas for things I want to write about, but the day-to-day issues of life keep getting in the way. It doesn't help that I am created of the most procrastination-laced stock in human history.

For example, I have a post I really want to write about characters and how we choose the characters we read about and write about. But I can't because tomorrow (today) Is Spenser's second birthday and I'd rather write about that instead.

If you're talking about characters though, this little kid is one of the best. He's more of an anti-hero than your traditional type hero but he's been the greatest thing to happen in my life so far. I don't know that you can detect any major wholesale changes in my character as a result of his existence, but there has been a series of smaller changes that add up to a better, tired, me. Where I've noticed his presence most is in how I react to writing. I now fall every time for the kid in jeopardy tricks authors play with their readers. It's more fun now to read authors who have kids and see how it plays into their fiction. I'm also writing more stories about people who have kids. Granted, these stories have not always reflected a dreamy view of child rearing but I've been determined to present an authentic view of my life with kids and early on, that wasn't always a pleasant view.

At one point I debated writing a letter to Spenser instead of this post, but couldn't really find a way into it that wasn't cheesy or creepy so I'll just say that I love my little boy and would do anything for him. He embodies all of my hopes and dreams in a stinky little package that loves dinosaurs, SpongeBob, Elmo, cookies, Diet Pepsi, baseball, his light up Buzz Lightyear shoes, our dog, broccoli, Rick Astlye, and endangering himself and hates meat, littering, clothes, and sleeping.

Happy birthday buddy!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Anatomy of a Hit

Scott D. Parker

On the adult alternative digital music channel the other day, the new Train song, "Hey, Soul Sister," played. It's a good tune, catchy melody, and a chorus that stays in the brain long after you've heard the song. I am not ashamed to admit that, when I first heard this new song, I realized it had been a number of years since I had heard a Train song. I wondered what they had been up to since 2001.

But less than an hour later on the same channel, an earlier Train hit, "Drops of Jupiter," was broadcast. Hearing the two songs close to each other helped me realize how similar the two songs are. In my short bout of research to discover what Train had been doing since "Drops of Jupiter" was a hit, I learned that they had recorded a few albums and had taken a hiatus. In listening to the tracks of the other albums, the sound of the band is essentially the same.

Which brought up the obvious question: how did "Hey, Soul Sister" become The Hit where the half dozen other contenders that could have had success but didn't?

The same concept applies to books as well. Why did Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code strike such a magnificent chord where Angels and Demons (before) and The Lost Symbol (after) didn't? Why did John Grisham's The Firm take off and carve out a new sub-genre (Scott Turow aside)? Ditto for the Twilight Saga.

Is it the vicissitudes of the buying public? Is it timing? Or is it the creator trying so hard to duplicate what was a proven hit that they stop trying to be original?

What do you think?

Friday, September 10, 2010


By Russel D McLean

Tonight (sans camera since I didn't charge the batteries, but take my word for it, I was there), I attended the (re)opening party of the Edinburgh Bookshop. The bookshop – a fully functioning independent – grew from the Children's Bookstore in Edinburgh and is run by the not only knowledgeable but quite fearsome (in the best sense) Vanessa, a woman with the kind of drive and vision to truly run an independent. I have been in to the store a few times during visits to Edinburgh and have been impressed as a customer and an author. They make no promises to stock, but you get the impression that Vanessa and her staff are really paying attention and that if they don't stock a title they probably have a reason.

There are not a huge number of indy bookstores in Scotland. Or at least not many that seem to have crossed my path (if you are or you know a Scots indy, let me know in the comments). Those that we do have, I try to support as much as possible because I am a believer in the power of booksellers – be they passionate independent or well-informed chain – and think that, along with music stores, the bookstore is one of those places we truly need as consumers* in a real and physical sense.

Why? Because books – and often music – are commodities that can still be sold on the basis of passionate pushers. One of the joys of bookselling (and I've been involved in the front lines of the trade for close to ten years now although I don't mention my employer just in case I say something as a writer to embarras them!) is that you watch other people discovering books. The apparently idle banter between bookseller and customer creates passionate consumers, sometimes every bit as passionate as the pushers.

The first time I went into the Edinburgh bookshop I encountered a kind of passion and expertise I hadn't seen in a while. This was before I let them know of my status as “published author”. Now when I'm in the city, if I can I pop my head in the door. Because I felt welcome, because they made me want to support them. Its the same with a Dunkeld independent whom I will always hold in regard as they were the ones who sold my book to Rab C Nesbitt's “wife”, Elaine C Smith and earned me a mention in her books of the year for the Glasgow Herald. This was something they didn't have to do, but they did.

Of course not all bookstores (indy or not) are wonderful. I know of one store I can't be arsed returning to because I went in several times, found myself as both a customer and an author rebuffed with an air of “and why should we care?” that wouldn't have been out of place in an episode of Black Books. I'm not asking to be an exclusive customer or for VIP treatment, but you could at least be polite about things.

But bookshops in general – the good ones, the ones that make us passionate about books – are places to be cherished and supported. I beg, plead, with you not to use bookstore staff as mere resource and then go get the books off amazon. Yes, I know there's a cost thing but even if you bought one book in every three out of a real shop, you'll realise their value. And you'll help to maintain a service that – trust me – you'll miss when its gone.

I love bookstores. I love booksellers. As a reader, and as a writer, I have encountered so many passionate and knowledgeable sellers, people who remind us why we read, who can help us discover new and unread (at least to us) voices. I love to hunt around online, but nothing beats a bookstore. And if we don't use them, we'll soon realise how much we miss them.

So here's to stores like the Edinburgh Bookstore, carrying the torch for the joy of books. And may they, like so many other fine stores the world over, go from strength to strength and keep The Word alive.

*by the way, just to remind you of that US tour, you'll notice that every store visited is an indy. This is not entirely coincidence.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Watched this PI show tonight, and really enjoyed it.

It's the story of two (unlicensed) PIs, who of course get in over their heads.

That's not the draw, however. The draw is the two PIs banter. Even though the material is dark, and dangerous, the two PIs joke their way through the case. I'm still digesting the show, but one of the things I do like about it is this: The cases do not seem to standalone.

I'm judging this by one line at the end of the episode, and the coming attractions, but it seems what the characters accomplished (sort of) in the first episode, will follow them through the rest of the season. I look forward to what happens next.

Unfortunately, this is a show I still have to digest a bit more. Love the lead actors and love their personal lives. The case, however, did not jump out at me. And since it seems what happened in that case will build in the next several episodes, it strikes me the adventure should stand out some more.

What did you all think?

I'll be tuning in again.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Author Photo

John McFetridge

So, yesterday an anonymous commenter said s/he wouldn’t buy anything in support of Jay because of the photo on his blog.

I think they meant the one right over there on the left.

Now, personally I like that picture, it’s got some movement in it and some attitude. It gives me an idea what to expect in a Jay Stringer story and I think that’s a good thing.

I remember when I was trying to get a blurb for my first novel and the only writer I knew was Peter Robinson (our wives worked in the same office) but my publisher said it wasn’t a good idea to lead readers down the cobblestone path of decent Inspector Banks only to then hit them over the head with my foul language, violence and ugly Toronto streets.

So the author photo can serve a purpose, but it’s still very hard to get right. My friend, Ray Robertson (he’s written some terrific novels and I recommend them all but a good place to start is What Happened Later, his fictionalized account of Jack Kerouac’s return to his Quebec roots mixed with a story of the coming of age of a young Canadian writer) has put together the Three Rules of the Author Photo:

1) Keep your hands away from your face (particularly damning is placing a wistful forefinger to your chin.

2) No smoking (even though, undoubtedly, you're a tortured soul -- hence the nicotine addiction -- and, obviously, you're incredibly busy with important literary matters, hence the fact you can't put down your cigarette for the ten seconds it takes to snap a picture).

3) No pets in the picture, please (your acute sensitivity and deep humanitarianism will doubtless come through in your writing).

(Note if you can somehow manage to have an animal on your lap while simultaneously puffing away and stroking your temple or chin, feel free to ignore the previous piece of advice.)

Well, certainly Jay has broken one of those with the smoke and his hands are close to his face if not actually touching it and for all we know there may be a dog nearby so that should pretty much do it.

I have a photo that shows up on Blogger sometimes of me reading a book with my dog in my lap. He’s too big to be a lapdog but he was a rescue and has some serious seperation anxiety and tends to stay pretty close to me. So, he really does get up in the big chair with me when I’m reading sometimes. Still, that’s not an official author photo.

The other day Adrian McKintey blogged about Shel Silverstein’s scary author photo and really, this is on a kids’ book?

Me, I’m still using a photo taken before my hair went completely gray. That’s not breaking any rules. Is it?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Man With No Shame

By Jay "The Nature Boy" Stringer

Something a bit different this week. I'm here to talk about the glory of me.

Only Joking. But no, really.

I've actually been pretty light on the self promotion since we started this here site. Truth is I'm not very good at it. The quickest way to get me to shut up at a party is to ask me about my writing. For some reason, I just can't do it. I am the king of one or two word answers, which probably gives off the impression that I'm a lousy writer. What do you write about? "Oh, I dunno, crime, stuff." Oh, I like crime, is it like Martina Cole? "No." And that's about my lot.

Truth is, the more I've become a writer, the less I've wanted to talk about it. Part of it it the writing process, I think. A wit will think of a funny thing to say on the spot. A writer will think of the perfect thing to say an hour later. And then talk to himself about it.

I cant be pretentious and put it all down to being a 'writer' though, because there are plenty of fine writers out there who are good at the hustle. In fact in the modern world a writer needs to have that about them. They need to be their own campaign manager in an election race. They need to be a rainmaker as much as a page turner.

And I have a lot of respect for the writers who can do that, because each time I try, I fail. My greatest concern about my own career, whatever that is, rests with the fact that I'm most comfortable being allowed to sit and work on my stories. The hustle side of things is a struggle for me, and my attempts to develop it never go well.

How about you guys? Lets hear about how you learned the hustle, or how difficult you find it. What are the best examples of writers who've found the right balance in the modern day?

And now back to the glory of me. I have a few news tidbits to throw out there, so here goes.

Firstly, as of April next year you will be able to plonk down some of your hard earned cash on a book that has by name in it. One of my shorts is being collected in The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime 8. I'm very proud to be published in the anthology alongside writers like Ian Rankin, Ray Banks, Al Guthrie and Stuart MacBride.

If you check out the full list, you'll also see a few names regular to the comments here at DSD and on 'the circuit,' like Nigel Bird and Paul D. Brazil. It's great to be alongside them. Thanks go to Maxim Jakubowski for putting it all together, and to the tartan ninja for the push.

How to follow that up?

Well, with another one I guess. Coming very soon from Untreed Reads is the ebook anthology Discount Noir. I get to share a billing with more of my favourite writers. Hell, that's McFet over there. And Weddle. And that shifty Bryon Q fella. Looking at the list of contributors really is something, over the next few years that's going to become a who's who of great crime writers.

Thanks on that one go to Patti Abbott and Weddle for their hard work, to Untreed Reads for joining in on the heist, and to worlds best agent Stacia Decker for making it all work.

Yes, that's right, we're taking over.

And one final plug. The good folks over at Matinee Idles let me sit in on another show, this one focusing on Chris Nolan's first film Following. It was a lot of fun, and I think we covered a lot of ground. Give it a listen, and check out the website. You might see a familiar writer on there. Cough. Cough.

And this one's not really self promotion. Mr Banks put me onto some good music and, against my best snobbish instincts, I'm going to share. Going to see C.W.Stoneking live was an absolute blast, it felt somehow like being in the middle of an episode of Treme. So check him out if you haven't already.