Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lewis Grizzard and the Tunnel Through Time

Scott D. Parker

This past Wednesday would have been Lewis Grizzard’s sixty-forth birthday. The Southern writer, born in Georgia, was a humorist, an editor, and a columnist whose tales of the South made many a person living under--and over--the Mason-Dixon Line laugh until it hurt.

I met the man once, in the early 1990s, at a book signing in Plano, TX. In retrospect, I think it might have been my first book signing. I got a chance to tell him how much I enjoyed his stand-up routine and his books.

It had been quite a few years since I’ve thought of Grizzard and his particular brand of humor. I learned about him in an unusual way. Back in the mid 1980s, I was the only person in my church who had a double-cassette player/recorder. One of my mom’s friends asked if I could make a few copies of a Lewis Grizzard show. I didn’t know who he was and, frankly, turned the volume all the way down as I made all but the last cassette copy. I mean, it was something my mom's friend liked. Surely I wouldn't. On the last time, however, I thought it might be interesting to hear what I’ve been taping so I turned up the speakers.

And laughed so hard that my stomach hurt and tears rolled down my cheeks. I made myself a copy of the tape and played it for my high school friends. We all loved it and, difficult as it will be to picture it, we teenagers rolled around west Houston listening to Lewis Grizzard.

This past Wednesday, upon being reminded him, I searched You Tube and found the exact show I taped twenty-six (!) years ago. I listened to the entire thing and had a few thoughts. I got jokes that I never fully understood back in 1984. It was like a little light shining on my memories. His talking points on gays in Atlanta I found almost quaint, if not a little naive. What really floored me was a cumulative thing. When he made the recording, he had divorced three times and had heart surgery. He was only thirty eight. I’m older now than he was then. For a brief moment, I had a small tunnel back in time. I remember thinking--back in the 1980s--that when I was as old as Grizzard, it would be in the 21st Century. That seemed so, so far away. From this vantage point, the journey has been long. But it’s also been short, really. It gave me a moment to reflect on the years since I first heard Grizzard’s stand-up routine. And, for the most part, I’m happy and content at where I am, even if it isn’t the fantasy I dreamed up when I was in high school.

Is there a something--anything--that you know can trigger a specific moment in time? And when you do, have you had a chance to take stock of your far? Do you like what you see?

Note: Here is part one of the audio. Just follow the prompts whenever you reach the end of a section. It's really, really funny.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Young Junius, You Ordered Yours?

By Jay Stringer

In the final week of Russel's epic quest to retrace the steps of the Littlest Hobo we take the chance to talk a bit of Seth Harwood.

Seth has a new book just waiting for you clickety-click on the 'pre-order' button. It's called Young Junius, and if you've been anywhere near the twitters or the blogosphere you might have seen some of the really cool things that Seth's been doing to get the word out.

So today we have a couple of different things going on. First, we're getting to throw some links at you, tell you about the book and where you can get your hands on it. Second, and this is something that really interests me about Seth, I wanted to take a look at the work he does to get his books out there.

First up let's take a look at the book itself. If you've read Seth's first book, Jack Wakes Up, you'll remember the character Junius. What we get here is what the movie biz would probably call a prequel, delving back into the character's past, but that doesn't really do the book justice. What we have here is a stand-alone story. If you've read Jack Wakes Up then great, if you haven't then Young Junius will still be a full story on it's own. The book is set back in 1987, and is a really cool urban crime story. If you like Richard Price or The Wire this is a book you'll want to check out. Here's the official bit;

In 1987, fourteen-year-old Junius Posey sets out on the cold Cambridge (Mass.) streets to find his brother’s killer in a cluster of low-income housing towers—prime drug-dealing territory. After committing a murder to protect his friend, he finds himself without protection from retribution. His mother gives him fifty dollars and instructions to run, but Junius refuses to live a life in hiding. Instead, shocked by the violence he’s created and determined to see its consequences, he returns to the towers to complete his original mission

There is a special edition of the book that's already winging it's way to the folks who pre-ordered it. It's a lovely edition, and you can see Seth showing it off here;

It was a really interesting way to launch a book, giving fans a chance to sign up in advance for a limited edition that, in turn, would help the publisher getting the book off the ground. If you really want to see what an author can do to break new ground and adapt to the modern market, you need to be keeping an eye on our boy.

The full release is coming soon, and here's some linkage again to where you can
pre-order the book. You can follow that link, or you could head on over to Seth's website for a more detailed list of sites, but we would also recommend you head into your local store and ask them to order it. See, this is the thing, if you pre-order online then that's cool and all, each order helps push a book u the rankings and get noticed. But if you ask a store to order it in, then they might order in a couple extra. That means that some browser can actually pick up the book, they can read a bit of it, experience it first hand and buy it. How many great authors have you discovered that way?

So that's the book, and that's where you can get it. Go ahead, I'll wait right here. We'll carry on when you get back.


Done? Cool. Okay, here's the deal. I said above that Seth is really out of the cutting edge when it comes to this sort of thing. I've talked before on DSD about authors publicising themselves. Each author has to find their own way, their own level. But I'm fascinated by the path that Seth has marked out for himself.

It started back with his first book, Jack Wakes Up. The content was available online long before the print edition. Seth himself podcasted the chapters, giving you free regular content back before the rest of us were taking podcasting seriously. He also made his book available as a pdf download. And you know what? It didn't destroy publishing. I'm not going to really get into the deeper issues at play there, because I don't want to distract from the matter at hand, but Seth really proved something there.

There's also a lot to be said for the way this brings fans into the process. You are a part of the action. You promote the books, you spread the word. In the case of Young Junius you helped facilitate the publication. If you head on over to his site, or to itunes, you'll see there is Junius content there for you to listen to. We can even give you this really cool link to the story itself. Right now. Click it and see. And it's all in the name of getting you guys in on the fun. It makes it into an active process rather than a passive one, and that is probably the real lesson.

Not every writer can be a Seth Harwood, but we can probably all take something from that element. Make people feel involved. Make them have a reason to root for your book.

Seth will be joining us at DSD towers for an episode of the podcast real soon, and we'll have more news for you in future about how you can win a copy of Young Junius right here. But let's keep this interactive process going. What questions would you like put to Seth? What do you want to hear us talk about?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Changing the Past

I've been thinking about a character of mine lately.

Quite some time ago, I wrote a story about him. A short story, something I worked pretty hard on, got published, and at the time, was very happy with. I loved his name, what he did for a living, and where he worked. And lately, he's been popping up in my head again.

He has a story to tell. Actually, I think he has a couple to tell, and--if he at least allows me a few weeks to finish the draft I'm working on--I intend to tell those stories. But there's something weird going on.

When I picture him, when I think about him, and what he'd be doing in these stories . . . he's not the same guy. He's younger, he has a different past, and a different mindset.

Now, ultimately, I don't really have a problem changing a character that dramatically. The villain in the novel that I just finished was a hero in another short story of mine. Had a completely different backstory too.

But I find it odd.

I mean, why can't I just make him a completely new character? Why does the name stick with me? I've tried coming up with different names for him, making him a completely new character, but it doesn't work.

He has to be Matt Herrick.

Has this happened to any other writers out there? I know Elmore Leonard plays around with his characters... Jack Foley became a lot more like George Clooney in ROAD DOGS. Not so much in OUT OF SIGHT.

It's been bothering me for weeks now. I think that's a good sign. It means I have a story to tell, and no matter what his age is . . .

He's still gotta be Matt Herrick.

Eh, maybe he can be Matt Herrick, Jr.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Elmore Leonard's Djibouti

John McFetridge

I'm far too big a fan of Elmore Leonard to write anything close to a review. I've liked all his books, even the ones that have received the most mixed reviews like Mr. Paradise and Up In Honey's Room.

In the case of Mr. Paradise the lukewarm reviews usually talk about the "thin" plot and complain there isn't enough backstory in the characters. I don't agree, but that may just be taste.

What I find really odd is that very few reviews of Elmore Leonard's recent novels have much to say about what he's doing with the language. It may be a case of genre, people coming to crime novels with a certain set of expectations and the fact the author has different priorities creates this gap.

But make no mistake, Elmore Leonard is pushing the bounds of langage in the novel as much as any post-modern literary novelist.

(or maybe this is just a convesation we have more often in Canada because so many of our novelists started out as poets, I don't know)

And he's also doing some really interesting things with the idea of storytelling itself. His novels are always in the voices of the charactrs and more and more lately the characters are telling other characters what has happened rather than being in the middle of the action.

I remember in the novel Be Cool, Chili Palmer was on his way to confront some Russian mobsters but then it didn't happen. Or rather, it wasn't described as it happened, we find out what happened later when Chili is in bed with studio exec, Elaine, and he tells her. Of course, we get his version of events, but we also see how it affectd him and how his telling of it affects her. And him. And how it affets their relationship.

(in fact, Be Cool is as much about storytelling as it is about its plot - Chili Palmer saying how he's "plotting" as he goes and putting the story together, and the book is a sequel in which the story is about a guy making a sequel to the film the first book was turned into and, well, you could write a literary dissertation about this stuff - if you wanted to suck all the fun out of it ;)

Well, that kind of thing started to happen more and more in Elmore Leonard novels until we get to Djibouti and almost all the "action" in the story takes place in a hotel suite where a documentary filmmaker and her assistant are watching the film they've shot of Somali pirates, a Texan billionaire on his yacht with his model girlfriend, an Arab guy from London who claims to be negotiating for the return of the ships the pirates have siezed, a guy who may be in al Queda, and, well, lots of other people.

Sure, there are some scenes with these characters described as they happen.

But Elmore Leonard has made some very interesting choices. Why are some scenes described as they happen and others in retrospect, looking at them on the computer in the hotel room?

The reviews (admittedly mostly amateur Amazon reviews) that don't like this don't seem to have given much thought to why the story is being told this way.

I don't think it's simply because Elmore Lonarard has written 45 novels and he's bored. He's certainly not interested in telling the same stories over and over and he's not interested in using the same language book after book.

Another thing that's interesting here is the use of theme. In some interviews Elmore Leonard has said that he doesn't think about themes for his books and he didn't even know what they were until Scott Frank wrote the screenplay adaptations and told him.

Now that's just funny. That's a guy daring people to call him out. And they don't. Did we really need to have crabby Martin Amis point out to us that Elmore Leonard is really doing something special?

So now, in Djibouti, he has the fimmmaker, Dara Barr, and her assitant (six foot six, seventy-two year old black guy) Xavier LeBo watching the footage and putting the story of the documentary togther and Xavier actually says at one point, "That's your theme coming out out there."

Come on, that's funny.

I'm not much of a fan of the "beautiful language" style of literary novel because I'm old and from the "truth is beauty" school and I don't find much truth in that overdone "beautiful" language, but I find plenty of truth in Elmore Leonard's language.

And one more thing. Djibouti is the first book I bought on my new iPad.

I preordered it using the Kindle App from Amazon and when I woke up on Tuesday morning, the day the book was released, there it was waiting for me.

The iPad isn't e-ink, it's a backlit screen so if I ever get two hours to sit and read uninterrupted I'll get some eye strain. By the time that happens, though, I'll probably be making the font so big it'll be okay. I'll fall asleep long before the eye strain sets in.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When There's No More Room In Hell, The Marketing Will Walk The Earth

By Jay Stringer

I gather that some little show about Zombies has been getting a lot of publicity over the other side of the big water. It's not getting any buzz here yet because it won't hot for some time. But it's something I've been looking forward to. I'm a huge fan of the comic book that the show is based on.

There is a problem that comes with this sort of blog. DSD has been on the go now for over a year, it's had nine regular contributors and some very distinguished "guest hosts." After awhile you find yourself sitting down to write a blog, only to realise it's already been done by one of the crew. In this instance, i was going to tell you what it is I love about zombies. I had a chat about the very same topic with John Hornor Jacobs (of John Hornor Jacobs fame) and it got me all jazzed to go for it. I was going to talk about how they hit a certain part of my brain that scares the hell out of me, and how the shuffling ones are far scarier than the running ones.

But then I realised it's been done on DSD already. Even worse, I realised it was done by me. The idea of a Halloween themed blog about zombies was clearly so good that I did it first time round.

So then I decided, to hell with it, what I would do instead was to write about the comic book, THE WALKING DEAD ahead of you folks getting to see the TV show. But guess what? I done gone and done that already, too.


So I'm going to share that with you all again, as it was originally done on a different blog a couple of years ago. The review is out of date -the comic series is well past the points I reference-but that makes it oddly timely for the TV show.

And then next week I'll come back with another Halloween themed piece, but one that neatly sidesteps any mention of why zombies scare me.


The Walking Dead is something of a phenomenon. It's possibly the only comic on the market that’s figures are constantly going up. That doesn’t happen, it just doesn’t. (Note, this is still happening in 2010, spiked obviously by the show.)

To any fans of horror films the premise is so familiar that it borders cliche. Zombies are walking the earth and nobody knows why.

Civilization has fallen.
The cities are overrun.
The government is nowhere to be seen.

The series starts when Rick, an injured cop, wakes from a coma in hospital to find the world has collapsed while he was asleep. Yes, the beginning has been done before, but that’s not the point. If this series uses some well-trodden clichés, it’s using them in a new way. The films have always been limited by their time. Even the most ambitious of films, and Romero got pretty ambitious, could only provide character study for a couple of hours. What The Walking Dead can do is to take these clichés and run with them. And then keep running. We’ve followed the cast of characters far beyond the point where any film would have left them behind. Some characters last a couple of issues, some last for over forty.

We get to see people try and cope with the madness. We get to see the limits of our own rules, the point as which it becomes acceptable to start killing people who disagree with you, the point at which is becomes acceptable to teach a child how to kill. The lengths people will go to defend their families when there is no law around to come and help.

And there are the cliffhangers. Oh god, the cliffhangers.

The first couple of issues are quite tame. this is the point where the story is "in the movie," that is to say that its telling the same story we've seen before. Shit has happened, people are missing. It's all pretty basic set-up stuff, and the cliffhangers don't have much impact because it's stuff we've seen in every film. Once the story gets past this phase, i.e. when the usual film has ended, things start to get interesting in a hurry. The supporting cast is built up, and we get just enough about each of them to care before everything starts to go to hell.

After the first few issues, it's a breathless ride up to issue fifty, and each issue ends in some moment that makes you swear, or gasp, or cry. Serious shit happens and nobody in the cast is safe. If you feel a little weepy after issue 49, it can only be because your heart has stopped.

So go for it, run out and get the trades to catch up, then start buying the issues. The Walking Dead is proof that comic books as a 22 page monthly art form are not dead. Proof that, if the industry could be bothered fixing distribution, they would still be able to sell comics instead of abandoning them for trade paperbacks.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Geez, Where Don't I Write

By Steve Weddle

I'd been reading the "Where I Write" posts over at Murderati and digging them. I love that stuff. I love the gadgets involved -- iPods and voice recorders and laptops. The process -- outlines and storyboards taped to the wall. The mess -- always blame the pets. There's just something so real about that, you know? Especially, as with the Murderati folks, the writers are people I love to read.

So when the idea to steal their idea came up, I was excited to see where all the DoSomeDamage crew did the magic. (I had no idea Dave White composes his novels at a Pier One store, for example.)

Then I realized that I had to participate. Bugger.

Talk about hubris, right? Here's how Dave White wrote his Jackson Donne novels. You know, books you can buy. Here's how McFet's writing of his third novel differed from his first. Joelle can't take pictures of her desk because she's at a bar at two in the morning talking to Reed Friggin Farrel Coleman. You want to buy Joelle's new book? Head down to the bookstore. The only way you'll find my book in a bookstore is if I print off a copy at home and leave it at the store.

I mean, my writing about "Where I Write" is like having my Uncle Mordecai talk about the time machine he built. Which, by the by, my Aunt Gladys (the other Aunt Gladys) turned into a fantastic orchid-growing shed a couple of years after Uncle Mordecai went missing. She got two firsts and a second in a three-year span at the state fair, so it worked out pretty well.

So here's one place I write. In the front seat of my car while watching the kids practice soccer.

Or here, at the local Chinese food place. The other place has a nicer "atmosphere" what with the dark panels and generic Asian art of waterfalls on the walls. This place I like has more of a fast-food feel, but offers a great buffet. The other place doesn't even have white rice on their buffet. I mean, I'm low-carbing it, so I don't eat white rice. I just think it's weird. So I'll make a run through the buffet, then get some scenes down on paper as I work through some of General Tso's Chicken.

I take those notes and scenes and ideas and put them into the laptop, even if the Yankees are playing. Below, Robinson Cano just came around to score as Alex Jackson took an elbow to the temple. That's at my mother-in-law's house.

Sometimes, though, when we're at my mother-in-law's for the weekend (which happens more often in the months of September and October because everyone was born at the same time of year) I get run out of the TV room because the grown-ups finally get tired of trying to force the children outside to play and end up putting Sponge Bob on. So I have to find other accommodations. A card table and one of those keep-the-wax-from-melting-off-your-face wing-chairs, please.

After I get the words into the laptop, I'll print out sections to read through. This next picture is me working through one of the printouts. Maybe you can see on the right-side of the paper a darker column. That's from Track Changes, which I use in Word. I didn't know about that option until World's Best Agent started using it to leave me notes in my manuscripts. ("Hey, didn't he die on page 23? Why is he back here on page 148? Is this a paranormal or were you drunk again?")

On the arm of the couch there you can see my moleskine notebook in case I need my scenes/notes/ideas and my BlackBerry in case anyone cares enough to tweet me. Oh, and I was reading that scene to Gumbo a moment before, but you could probably tell that from the look on his face.

My wife took that one and suggested I use it for the post. I told her "no thanks." She asked why. I said, "Looks like I'm picking my nose or eating my pen." She said, "Sweetie, Gumbo is in the picture. No one will be looking at you." So, you know, there's that then.

Here's a couple more. This one in the basement is where I should write. We set up a table and chair in the basement, which is where we do most of our living. But I don't write here, even though I should.

Here's where I do most of the word input -- the back room of the house, the room with the wall of windows looking up the hill, past the rock garden, past the kids' forts in the woods, up to the swingset and the soccer/drain field.

Someone said "Being a writer means you always have homework." That sounds about right. At soccer practice, lunch, birthday parties, I'm always writing something. 

Thankfully, the folks who put up with my nonsense are understanding. At my mother-in-law's, for example, someone might ask where I've gone off and hidden myself.
"He's writing," someone will say.
"Well, I hope we get to read it some day."
"Oh, of course you will. He can email it to you."


I'd like to share some of your "Where I Write" pix. I already have one from John Hornor Jacobs of his new write-space. Email yours to us at dsdamage AT and I'll be glad to post them with your write-ups next Monday.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

It's A Process

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, I know that everyone has been posting about their writing workspaces this week. The thing is – I’ve been on the road a lot for the past couple weeks, which means my workspace has been my android phone. And while the keyboard is great for texting or typing out a short e-mail – it isn’t all that great for writing. In fact, I haven’t had a great deal of time to write which is starting to make me a little nuts. (Yeah – I’m always nuts, but the lack of writing if making more wacky than usual.)

However, this week at Bouchercon I’ve had a great time talking about writing. More to the point, talking about the process of writing. The one thing you learn while talking to lots of other writers over a short period of time is how similar and also how very different we all are. Yes – we all write stories. Some of us write on the lighter side of crime fiction while others (and by others know that I am pointing at the other seven writers of this blog) create the darker, more intense crime fiction.

However beyond genre or publishing experience, we are also all different in our writing process. Some writers create an outline and write using that as a map to get them to the end. This sounds fabulous and organized and should be something I do. But I can’t. I cannot write from an outline to save my soul. I figure out what the end of chapter one is before I start typing. Once I have that I put my fingers to the keyboard and wait to see what happens. Yep – I write by the seat of my proverbial pants and hope to God that I manage to create an interesting and readable story along the way. Getting to the end is often fraught with “What happens next?” and a lot of head banging, but eventually I get to the end.

Now, the bashing my head against a brick wall and scratching my noggin to decide where my plot is supposed to be going doesn’t sound like much fun – even to me. On the days where I haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to be writing next, I long for the ability to write from an outline. Too bad every time I try it, my writing comes to a screeching halt and my story no longer wants to go into the direction the outline says it should.

This Bouchercon, I learned I’m in good company with my lack of outlining skills. Reed Farrel Coleman and I talked about our process (or what might seem like a lack thereof) after hours in the bar. We both write without outlines, but other authors swear by them. Each author has a way he or she needs to work to create a story. What is right for one author will get another author stuck in the mud. Process is intensely personal for each author. Reed believed that it is easier for an author to change their routine (such as the time of day they write or their workspace – see there is the workspace theme!) than it is to change their process. I agree. Do you? What is your process? Have you tried to change it? And if you did try to change your process, did that change work for you?