Sunday, October 31, 2010

Do you like to be scared?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

It’s time for Matthew McBride to get out his chainsaw and DSD's own Steve Weddle to dress poor Gumbo in a silly costume. Yes, holiday fans – today is Halloween. Growing up, Halloween was always special. Mom started working on making costumes for my brother and I long before the big occasion. Halloween was and still is her favorite holiday to dress up and have a scary good time. I come by my love of the holiday honestly.

Not surprisingly, Halloween brings out my love of haunted houses and horror movies. Walking through darkened hallways waiting for people with chainsaws to jump out at you is always a good time. (Yes, I realize I am completely twisted. I’ve come to terms with that part of my personality. Honest.) Haunted houses and horror movies are sheer fun to me because they aren’t real. The zombies, vampires and other worldly creatures are enjoyable to watch, but I have no tangible fear of them. Freddy Krueger and his ilk give me an adrenaline rush without any negative, truly fearful emotions murkying up the waters.

Cinematic thrillers are a different story.

I have a love/hate relationship with big screen thrillers. I love to watch them, but the best of the genre always leave my heart pounding long after the credits roll. The characters feel real. Their motivations to do terrible things ring true. The need to catch the bad guy before he kills the kids at camp make me lean forward in my chair and gnaw my fingernails down to nothing. These movies capture what I love best about the crime fiction genre: the realness. (Is realness actually a word? It sounds totally made up, but it fits what I am talking about so I’m going with it.)

We talk about this kind of thing all the time on DSD. Crime fiction takes ordinary people and plunges them into extraordinary circumstances. As the reader, we immediately identify with the characters and hope to God they make it out alive by the end. And the stories stay with us long after the final page is closed and the story has played out.

My favorite scary cinematic thrillers are ones that fit this mold. The first of the Friday the 13th movies, the original Psycho, The Hitcher are all movies that scare he crap out of me in the best possible way. So – help me out. Today is Halloween and I want to celebrate by scaring myself silly. Which scary movies would you recommend that I try? What are you favorites?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Joelle Charbonneau at Murder by the Book

Scott D. Parker

I think by now, most of us can hum the theme song to “Cheers” and, if not, at least know the sentiment of the song: you want to go somewhere where everybody knows your name. I don’t frequent bars, but I do frequent Murder by the Book and dang if it isn’t a place with people who know my name. Fellow Do Some Damage scribe Joelle Charbonneau was to have her first signing at the store and I had called ahead to reserve a copy of her book, Skating Around the Law. No sooner do I enter the door than Dean James reaches behind the counter and delivers Joelle’s book to my hands. That, my friends, is the type of service that’s few and far between in this day and age. It’s noticed and appreciated.

Joelle Charbonneau, a Chicagoan, was one of three authors at Murder by the Book last Saturday, JoAnna Carl and Jan Grape were the other two. Since I literally had just picked up Joelle’s book, I hadn’t read anything by them so I automatically felt at a loss. In addition, I tend to read the grittier material, hard-boiled fiction and noir stuff. Ironically, that kind of reading is in direct contrast to the types of mysteries I watch on television: Castle, Masterpiece Mystery [Foyle’s War; Wallander; Collision], Monk, CSI: Miami. Not exactly blood and guts, you know? I’ve been contemplating the types of books I write and this light vs. dark debate is the primary question I’m trying to answer. Needless to say, I was pretty excited about the event.

After brief introductions and biographies, the authors read their first chapters (or portions of chapters) for us. In all the author events I’ve been to, this was a first for me. JoAnna kicked it off by reading from The Chocolate Pirate Plot. Jan followed with What Doesn’t Kill You. The third member of the “J” Gang was Joelle who read most of her chapter. Here’s what struck me by all three authors was the audience reactions. There was about a dozen of us and we laughed, chuckled, or gasped at all the right places. I think it’s great, as a writer, to read aloud to other people and see if they react like you expected them to do.

Each writer talked about the inspiration of their new book. For JoAnna, this is twelfth book in her series featuring Lee McKinney. Jan demurred, saying there were too many inspirations to mention just one. I can concur with that, seeing that some of my ideas filter down from dozens of sources. Joelle’s mother is a world class rollerskater so it was natural for Joelle to write a skating book. Her agent was, according to Joelle, probably thinking of a romance novel. The only problem was that Joelle kept seeing a dead body at the end of chapter one. Thus, a mystery with some romance.

Seeing as we here at Do Some Damage just discussed our writing habits, I asked them to talk about theirs. Interestingly, all three authors don’t outline, at least in the traditional sense. They generally have an idea of whodunit and a place to start and little else. They all stressed the concept that they, the writers, were, in fact, the first reader and they wanted to just keep going. As Jan said, “You have to tell the story to yourself first, then you can fiddle with it.” Personally, I think that the fiddling is where many writers—this one included—go astray. If we can’t even garner enough interest from outline to prose, how the heck will our readers.

The entire event was just plain fun. As a buyer of Joelle’s book, I earned myself a tour T-shirt complete with tour dates on the back. Tres cool. After I finish Joelle’s book (and Russel McLean’s The Good Son that I picked up at his event a few weeks ago), I’ll be tackling Jan’s and JoAnna’s books.

I spoke with Jan a bit about her time as a bookseller in Austin. She had opened a mystery bookstore in the 1990s, and, at one point, Texas had four mystery bookstores. Jan had to shutter the doors of her shop after business dried up. Now, if I remember correctly, Murder by the Book is the only mystery bookstore left in Texas. So, people, if you have a independent bookstore near you, frequent it. Get the folks who work there to learn who you are and what you like. Then, one day, you’ll be able to walk in the store and they’ll know your name and you’ll feel right at home. You might even hear that familiar theme song...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Talking about Novels

I've been reading a lot of interviews with writers for TV shows and comic books lately. I actually prefer their interviews, as opposed to interviews with novelists--most of the time.


Because comic writers and TV show writers are often more willing to talk about endings. They trust their interviewers to warn about spoilers beforehand. They trust the fans to avoid the articles with spoilers in them until they've read or watched.

And that's cool. I love to see writers talk about how an ending comes about. Alan Sepinwall's interview with Vince Gilligan, creator of BREAKING BAD is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.

I love all the talk about writing yourself into a corner. The info on the Cousins is great.

And why don't we see novelists doing this?

I think there's a lot of reasons for this. First, I think novelists worry that by discussing an ending they'll scare readers off. If someone knows what's going to happen, they won't buy the book.

There's also a big differents between TV/Comics and novels. Novelists don't know when a reader will actually open the book and start reading. Therefore, a novelist has to always be selling. Comics/TV writers know when the show is on, and even if DVRed, the fan has to be done with it by the next installment. There's a shelf life.

It gives some freedom.

But, part of me would love to see a novelist talk about an ending. I would love to know how Harlan Coben comes up with some of his twists. Or why Laura Lippman ended WHAT THE DEAD KNOW the way she did. I would love to see an insightful interview, with an author discussing a novel through a close read.

And, as a writer, I'd love to be able to talk about some of the plot twist endings in my first two books.

What about you? How deep and freely would you like an author to talk about his or her novel?

PS: This is my last post as a 30 year old. From now on, you'll be reading sage wisdom from a 31 year old. I hear that's when you figure everything out.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Drama from the non-dramatic

John McFetridge

Yesterday Jay was talking about “social fiction,” and crime fiction. A little while ago in a column at The Daily Beast Justin Peacock claimed that, “We are living in a golden age of the social novel. However, it has largely gone unnoticed by the critical establishment, because it is taking place almost exclusively within the crime novel.”

But I have to wonder. Are we really writing social novels, or are we just exploiting social situations for cheap thrills?

What’s got me thinking about this is the recently released video of the interrogation of a serial killer in Ontario. In some ways it’s valuable for the crime writer as it shows a professional interrogation and how undramatic it is. Truly, the murderer, Russell Williams, typifies the “banality of evil” that Hannah Arendt identified in the Nazis. He’s calm, the interrogator is calm, information is exchanged, it ends with an arrest. No raised voices, no banging on desks, no crying or begging for mercy, just a couple of guys talking about a couple of young women being tortured and murdered.

It makes me sick.

Still, I watch it and I think about lessons I can learn for my fiction (and that creeps me out).

The story is tragic and sad. A guy named Russell Williams was a colonel in the Canadian air force, married with no children. His life of crime started as a peeping tom, moved up to break and enter into women’s houses, then he started stealing their underwear, then breaking in while the women were home and photographing them asleep, then breaking in and waking them up and assulating them and then twice he broke into women’s houses, assaulted them and then killed them.

For a while there it sounded like James Ellroy, peeping tom, then break and enter and then stealing underwear. I have no idea how often this happens and then, as in Ellroy’s case, goes no further and how often, as in this case, it escalates.

But people study it and write PhD dissertations and books and fiction writers use that information to create characters. If the fiction is done well it’s more than just cheap thrills, more than just, as George Lucas said, killing the puppy (I don’t have the exact quote, but he said something like, it’s easy to make people cry watching a movie, you show them a puppy and then you kill the puppy). I think what he was saying is that maybe as the creator you have a responsibility to do more than simply tap into an easily exploited emotion.

Here is part one of the interview. There are no dirty words, no swearing, no banging on the table, just a calm convesation between two men. In fact, the way the interrogator (Detective Jim Smyth of the Ontario Provincial Police) controls the interview really is something to see.

The lead homicide detective on the case described it as a, “smart man being outsmarted by a smarter man.”

A little backstory; the main piece of evidence the police had about the second murder (at the time a missing person as the body had not been recovered) was the description of an SUV parked beside the victim’s house. From that they found an “unusual” tire track and set up a roadblock to check cars going by for the same kind of tires. At the roadblock Williams was identified and put under surveillance. Three days later he was asked to come into the police station in Ottawa, told it was because he lived near the victim and the police were talking to everyone in the area, just being thorough. In fact, Williams even mentions to the cop how impressed he is at their thoroughness. When Williams came into the interrogation the police had very little physical evidence and he knew that.

But as the interview starts, the cop zeroes in and very early on, makes him a deal, “You want discretion, Russell, because this is getting out of control really fast... this is getting out of my control.” He knows a bit about Williams, the guy’s a Colonel in the air force, he’s always in control, he values control. “You and I both know... your wife now knows what’s going on... your vehicle has been siezed... you and I both know that they’re going to find evidence that links you to these situations... you and I both know that the unknown offender, male... (evidence) is going to be matched to you.”

Such gentle threats. And he says, “these situations,” not murders or killings or even crimes, just situations.

Later on, when Det. Smyth is pulling out all the details about the murders he never says, “What did you do next,” he always says things like, “What happened next,” so it’s not something the killer did, not something he was in control of, just something that “happened.”

So, as a lesson in writing an interrogation scene it’s terrific.

On a TV show in Canada the interview was shown to an FBI instructor who said it will now be played all over the world as a “how to” video in police training.

Sadly, he’s right, this scenerio will play out again and again around the world.

And we’ll continue to write scenes like this and walk that fine line between exploitation, entertainment and literature.

So, as the great Hill Street Blues said, "Let's be careful out there."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oh, The horror

By Jay Stringer

I've had horror on my brain all month. It's natural enough at this time of year. We all like to think a little darker, a little spookier. We like to cuddle up at the weekend and watch a few horror classics.

I've gone a little further than usual this year. My good friends over at Matinee Idles have had a horror season, with a series of podcasts examining some classics of the genre. To tie in with their shows, I've been doing two articles a week looking at some good (and very bad) examples of horror films. Not only have I been writing about two films a week, but in order to decide which films to write about, I've watched a ton of films. More than usual.

It's lead to some fun dreams, I can tell you.

In watching the films I've begun to realise a few things about what I look for in horror, and I've realised how closely it ties into what I look for in crime, and in fiction overall.

Now there's nothing new in noticing a link between horror and crime. A look on the shelves of your nearest book store (hey, remember them?) shows that the market is well ahead of us there. There are vampire detectives, wizard detectives, werewolf detectives and...hey I'm spotting a theme here. Over in comic books, John Constantine (that's the blond Brit, rhyming with time, not the vacant Californian guy who rhymes with spleen) is a hardboiled detective dropped into the middle of Lovecraft.

Al Guthrie has said "noir is non-supernatural horror." And he makes a fair point. It would be a blog in itself exploring that idea, showing the overlap between the two, but that's best left for the man himself or for a podcast further down the road.

I'm thinking that the draw for me is in a slightly different place.

It's interesting to note how people end up at crime fiction. It seems a lot of crime writers have moved across from other fields. Russel is on record at having come to crime via sci fi. I've had my stints as a sci fi fan, of course. And fantasy. What teenage male hasn't? I tended to be more Michael Moorcock than Issac Asimov, a strange hyrbid of sci fi, pulp and fantasy that probably says a lot about my tastes.

But as a writer I cut my teeth with horror and comic book scripts. Somewhere in my parents attic are sheets filled with short stories about vampires, werewolves, zombies, and strange men whistling nursery rhymes in dark streets. I remember getting in borderline trouble at school for writing a poem about a boy who found a severed head by the side of the road, took it home and planted it in a plant-pot, and nurtured it back to life.

(Yes, don't worry, the men in white coats have been called.)

And what I think I found in horror that I later came to find in crime was the social fiction. It's easy to get caught out generalising things like fiction, which can be all things to all people, but I think it's fair to say that for me (and a lot of this sites readers and contributors) good fiction is social fiction. I've written at length -and Russel, Dave, Steve, Gerald So and I have discussed in the podcasts- that we like crime fiction to hit us where it matters. On the streets, with real issues and real people.

What I have realised is that I want the same from horror, too. I want Halloween that holds a scary lens up to suburbia, that asks us, that guy down the road, was he staring at us? I want Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead to show some uncomfortable home truths about humanity. There are many famous quotes and images from those two films, but that one that sticks with me most is the scientist describing that the zombies can't be considered human, in part because they don't prey on each other. It's hitting us where it hurts to think about that. And the more obvious moments hold power too, of course. The mall mentality, the brainlessness, the inevitability of it all. The lynch mobs, the need for material goods and violence.

Sure, the classic movie monsters can be fun. And who doesn't like to see the occasional alien invasion? But real horror for me are the films that show that we are the problem. The films that show that our society is frail and broken, and that we let people slip through the cracks. It shows us the haves and the have nots, and shows how we will exploit and victimise each other.

It's in bringing horror down into the streets and houses with us -rather than in some spooky castle or forest- that I find stories and issues worth investing my time and fears into. And that's just the same as crime.

Once again it all comes down to social fiction. Funny that, eh?

Monday, October 25, 2010

I went to see him, yada yada yada, and now he's dead

By Steve Weddle

Recently I was on the road all by lonesome for a couple of ten-hour drives. I dropped the CDs of Joseph Finder's COMPANY MAN into the CD-playing machine in my automobile's dashboard. That and Michael Connelly's new THE REVERSAL are a couple of interesting examples of how to use timing in writing.

Really, any audio book suffers from, er, I mean, benefits from this. You don't know when the chapter is going to end. When I'm reading a book in print -- hell, even on the Kindle machine for reading the new electronic books -- I know that we're coming to a break. I see it out of the corner of my eye. I've flipped ahead a little to know that I'm just three pages away from a new chapter, so I should just push through and then head to bed. Like in one of them big fancy classical music pieces, you know? All of those strings starts screeching away, louder and louder. You know something is building up. Sure you can feel the build-up in the audio book, but you don't see the end; you don't know exactly how long the build-up will last. In a book, you see the end coming, even though you don't know how it will end.

You know when you're watching a cop show on the television box and they arrest the killer dude 37 minutes after the hour and you totally know that's not the dude because then what are they going to do for the rest of the show, you know? Have Bones and Angel kiss for 20 minutes? Damn, I hope not. Anyway, you have some aspect of what's coming up based on the timing of the arrest. We've got these expectations of how things will play out, and listening to an audio book kinda takes away one of the, I don't know, "tools" I use to know what to expect.

We grow to expect a certain timing in crime fiction, and when we stop and listen -- or, you know, drive 78 mph and listen -- stuff sorta goes a little goofy.

Speaking of a little goofy, Michael Connelly's new book plays with timing and expectations in a whole different way.

Michael Connelly
In THE REVERSAL, Harry Bosch and his half-brother, Mickey Haller (I used the comma there thinking Haller is his only half-brother. I don't know for sure, though.) do the investigation thing. The book is kinda-sorta from Haller's perspective. What this allows is for Bosch to pop in every other chapter or so having done something already. In a couple of spots in the book, he's already investigated a lead and Haller and the reader get to find out what happened. Sometimes, this happens in front of you, of course. So it's a matter of perspective and timing.

Does the action always have to happen in-sequence? Can you have substantial action occur off-stage and carry the story forward by the telling of the action, which, not to get too meta-, but is kind of a telling of the telling, ain't it?

You expect the investigator -- whether retired cop, private investigator, or antique salesperson -- to go to this person and ask questions, which lead to that person. Then go to that person, get clonked on the back of the head by a shadowy assailant, then get more invested. And so on. You don't expect the "I went to ask some questions, yada yada yada, and came home with this eyeball."

So when the timing of the story gets goofy -- whether from not being able to know when the close of the scene is or from the action having taken place off-stage -- things can get kind interesting.

I'm sure there are other ways to play around with timing. You know that trick in third-person novels, right? The hero is about to be lowered into the pit of fire-breathing piranha terrorists and the next chapter is from another character's point-of-view on the other side of the world? Those thriller folks do this all day long.

What other "timing tricks" am I missing?

Do timing and point-of-view always hang out so closely together? Am I conflating the two?



Discount Noir -- tons of cool flash pieces including work from our own John McFetridge, Jay Stringer, and me, as well as many of our commenting people and readers.

8 Pounds -- an ebook collection from Chris F Holm, cover by John H Jacobs

Terminal Damage -- still scheduled for the end of the month, with an introduction from Jason Pinter and cover from Mr Jacobs, again

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jeepers Peepers

I swear to God this isn't a post about the death of the PI novel.

But a few things--Dave's post about his old PI character, the end of fiction at the Thrilling Detective Website, and Brad Park's Shamus Award win--got me thinking about PIs. PI fiction is dear to my heart. Authors like Laura Lippman, Lawrence Block, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Rick Riordan, SJ Rozan, Steve Hamilton, Sue Grafton, and of course Robert Parker are the ones who brought me into the mystery fold. For most of the 90s and early new millennium I didn't read many mystery books without a PI character. So even as I've branched out into other sub-genres and the PI as lead has fallen out of favor, I've followed it all with a keen eye. And one development I've been disappointed by is the rise of the newspaper reporter as hero.

Where the hell did this come from? Their industry is in the toilet, they have very little power to change things anymore, and what they do is mostly boring. Meanwhile, most of the "hot jobs" lists I see always list private investigator as a growing field. And why wouldn't now be a great time to be a PI? In this crappy economy police departments are underfunded and need all the help they can get. Marriages are on the rocks due to financial struggles and spouses are growing more paranoid. Those who still have jobs are under strict observation and new employees being brought in are subject to extensive background investigations. And a lot of people, desperate to escape the nightmare their life has become, are just disappearing without a trace. Add to that all of the repo work, eviction work, and bail enforcement work available it seems like a plum job. Yet the newspaper reporter is the rising hero.

I was happy to see, for once in many years, all of the Shamus nominees for Best Novel were true PI novels. But as you get into Best First (like Mr. Parks and his fine novel THE FACES OF THE GONE) and Paperback Original the line is hazier. Every year there seems to be at least two or three journalists nominated for PI awards. And you see them on the bestseller lists too. Jason Pinter, a great guy and a great writer, has done very well with his Henry Parker thriller series and the big monster success lately, the Steig Larsson books, are about a reporter. Even James Patterson has a character who is a former cop turned reporter.

What gives?

Meanwhile, the PI field is growing an expanding nicely under the radar. We have excellent books from across the pond from the likes of Declan Hughes, Russel McLean, and some fellow named Bruen. The PWA/ St. Martins Press contest has finally started picking winners outside of the cliched standard mold with exciting books like DRINK THE TEA and Michael Ayoob's great SEARCHING FOR MERCY. There's also a new Patrick and Angie book along with the trade appearance of Tess Monaghan in THE GIRL IN THE GREEN RAINCOAT. We've also got Lawrence Block's A DROP OF THE HARDSTUFF that digs back into Scudder's past. I wish Sean Chercover would write a new Ray Dudgeon book already and I still hold out hope that Stephen King will write a PI novel, but I'm happy with the field and look hopefully on it's survival. All we've got to do is get rid of these damn reporters...

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?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Writing Space Week: The Texas Edition

Scott D. Parker

When I made the decision to start writing stories, I dreamed of a place, a perfect place, to write. What I got was a lesson.

What I wanted was to find--or, rather, create--the perfect space. In my head were visions of rooms with dark paneling, floor to ceiling shelves lined with thick, leather-bound volumes, and a massive wooden desk complete with blotter, ink well, and old paper. Not a smoker, I wondered if I could find incense with the essence of tobacco, just to give this fantasy room the final nudge. Not a hunter, I thought about buying random stuffed heads of wild animals.

Then, reality. At the time, I didn't have a space that could be wholly devoted to my writing. We had a guest room and, in a corner, I had a space. It was right next to the closet, one with accordion doors that pinioned outward into the room. With my small desk, half of the closet door would not be able to open. On this desk (really a converted server table I bought from my company) I had my old Mac PowerBook, ergonomic keyboard, and mouse. Setting this machine up for wireless Internet was possible, but it was a pain, so I rarely did it. In this little niche, I wrote my first novel.

There was a consistent problem, however. Whenever guests arrived, me and my gear would be evicted to another part of the house. Frankly, it irritated me, but what could I do? It was during one of those times in the domestic wilderness that I realized what I didn't need: the perfect place to write.

Like Dave mentioned on Thursday when he described his writing space, I’ve learned to write in just about any place I can. When I go on vacations, I make it a rule not to take my newer MacBook Pro. I use paper and pens. It allows me to continue the composition, but not be chained to my computer during vacations. One of those vacations (to Bandera, Texas), we stayed at a rustic bed and breakfast. It had a separate bedroom, a living room, and, in one corner, an old school writing table. I wrote every night on that table and fell in love with it. Upon our return, I put a call in to my dad, the son of a carpenter and quite a fine craftsman himself. I described the writing table and asked if he could build me one.

Well, he did. This is it, in the Room Formerly Known As The Guest Room. We converted our front room to a guest room, thereby finally giving me an honest and for true Writing Room. And, yes, that’s what we call it in the house. There, on the left part of the desk, is my modest To Be Read stack. I have taken to keeping it somewhat short so I can actually complete it. Notice the non-paperback there: my autographed copy of Russell McLean’s The Good Son. The white stack of paper is the draft of a current collaboration I’m working on with another writer. The one sheet of yellow paper is my goals for the fall. The pencil cup on the left is one I made. It has a simple mantra: “Just write.” The photo is of my two cats, both of whom died within two months of each other this year. My son placed it there and I’ve yet to move it. The Bluetooth keyboard there in the middle is linked to my iPod Touch. Yes, I write on the iPod Touch. I use the new PlainText app (from Hog Bay Software) that links to my Dropbox folder. Therefore, I’m never far from a writing surface (be it electronic or the notecards I sometimes carry around). That wooden stool on the floor is for my feet when I’m blazing away. Oh, and that framed picture on the wall? That’s a copy of the news piece I wrote remembering David Bloom. It’s my first piece I officially published.

Now, you may be wondering where my MacBook is. Well, it’s still there. I move it to my writing desk when I want to sit and write. Other times, however, it lives at my standing desk. I have discovered the joy of standing to write. It's exciting, it keeps me focused, and, during exciting action scenes, I actually started tapping my foot and shifting my weight back and forth. I built a small stand to raise the level of the screen while being opening underneath to keep the machine cool. There’s my mouse and ergonomic keyboard. On the right, tacked to the wall, is my large sheet of paper where I write all my story ideas. That bookshelf on the left was built by my grandfather. And, yes, that is my set of longhorns I earned by being in the University of Texas Longhorn Band for five years. Hook 'em!

So, that’s my writing space at home. But, as I’ve written here before, I can and do write anywhere on anything. I write on the iPod when standing in line at the grocery. I write on notecards when I'm out and don't have my iPod with me. I keep a notebook in my car to jot down ideas. I write at home, at night, on my writing desk or at my standing desk. No, my writing space is not a wood-paneled room, but I've learned that I don't really need that, either.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Call of Fall

Tom Piccirilli

It's autumn again. I've lived through 45 of them now, and most of those in the last decade seem to bring on bouts of reverie and bursts of creativity. It's the time of year when, in the current thrashing of my mid-life crisis, I find myself growing the most sentimental. For what I'm not sure–there's just a rampant nostalgia ferried in by the season. It's when I reminisce about friends gathering at the wooded borders of dead-end streets. When the world and the night seemed to be impressing themselves on me the most. When the turbulent waters of the Great South Bay called, and the wind reached out. It's when my old man kicked off, when the clawing back yard trees beckoned. You feel it too, some of you, or have, or will. It's that time when you wait jubilantly for snowfall. When you can smell history in the air. Your own and everyone else's.

When my literary tastes, both reading and writing-wise, moved from horror towards crime a few years back, I found myself forced to shift my attitude about certain elements and tropes as well. I had to learn to alter my descriptions of October from a month of monsters and terror to a month of noir...and terror. The implications of dread could now be found in hardboiled themes, the same themes I'd been writing about my entire career, but now with the added zing of realism. I had to reframe my descriptions and search for new details. Or at least find a new way to discuss the things I'd been addressing for years in a different genre.

As I gear up to start a new novel I can feel the drag of the past weighing down my mood. Which, ironically enough, is a good thing for a crime writer, I suppose. At least for me. Reflecting on my own regrets and disappointments will fuel the work. Scratching at the wounds keeps them bleeding, keeps them open and active. When I watch the little kids tramping up my front walk dressed as princesses and goblins this Halloween, I know I'll be thinking of the children I never had. The mediocre dreams that never came true, the average efforts that floundered out. The failures that sit beside me, the mistakes that hiss in nightmares. The need to revisit and hammer at troubling issues.

That's what the call of fall does to me, friends. How about you?

Tom Piccirilli is the author of twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. He's won two International Thriller Awards and four Bram Stoker Awards, as well as having been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy Award, the Macavity, and Le Grand Prix de L'imagination. Learn more at:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hey! Get outta my workspace

By Dave White

Sorry. Not a fancy guy here. No desks, no posters, no bookshevles. Just a laptop and a couch.

I used to write in an office in the corner of my parents' basement. I used an old IBM Aptiva that had been in the family since 1995. I graduated to writing on a DELL in the same corner.

Then I moved out and got myself a nice Dell Inspiron, and my own room. I set up a desk in that room, against a wall, my back to the TV and the rest of the room. Since then I've bounced all over the place. often, though, I've found myself writing on couches.

Now that I've moved in with my wife, I usually write like this:

Sometimes, if I feel like sitting up, I'll rest the laptop here:

I don't really have many options right now. I need to write in house--at least when I'm drafting--because I need the wifi. Beyond that, I write where I can. Would I rather have an office with bookshelves behind me or cool photos surrounding me? Absolutely.

But that's not an option right now.

So I do what I can. I think this is why I'm so caught up in "writing everyday" and worrying about getting words on the computer. Because if I get wrapped into the whole "mystique" of writing, I'll never get anything done. I don't have an area that I can go to find the muse.

I have a couch.

I have some music I can put on.

When I'm revising, and I know what I'm going to do next, I usually go to a coffee shop. One that makes you pay for the internet. Because I can't have the distraction.

But either way, where I write is not as important. What is important to me, is actually writing.

And I can do my best to get that done anywhere.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Corner of a Room of One's Own

John McFetridge

Since high school I've written stories. Back then I had a desk in my bedroom. And a record player. I used to listen to Grand Funk and Alice Cooper and Deep Purple and David Bowie and write stories. For a couple years when I was a kid we had some political activism in Quebec. A few bombs were exploded in Montreal, mostly in mailboxes because apparently they represented the federal government, and once in an army recruiting office that killed the security guard (a retired military guy in his late sixties). And we had a lot of bomb threats, lots of times we had to clear out of the mall or the arena were I played hockey or school (that was always okay ;) because a bomb threat was called in.

And we had a couple of political kidnappings. In October 1970 (when I was 11) a British diplomat, James Cross, was abducted from his home in Westmount (on the island of Montreal). A few days later, Quebecois politician Pierre LaPorte was kidnapped from in front of his house in St. Lambert, the next town over from where I grew up in Greenfield Park on the south shore.

Cross was released in early December (the kidnappers got safe passage to Cuba) but only a week after his abduction Pierre LaPorte was killed and his body was found in the trunk of a car a few miles from where I was living (his kidnappers, a different cell of the FLQ, were caught a while later and all served prison time). At that time I had a job delivering the morning newspaper and, of course, it was filled everyday with stories about the kidnappings - The October Crisis.

So, a few years later when I started trying to write stories at the desk in my room they were mostly James Bond-style action stuff, very heroic rescue scenes and explosions.

I never dared show anyone any of those stories.

But I did get used to the idea of writing off in a corner of the room. Over the years in some places I've lived I've had an "office," a room with a desk dedicated to my writing. Sometimes there was a corkboard covered with index cards (and for a while covered with rejection letters back in the days when we actually got paper letters in the mail).

When my wife and I bought this house and had kids I became a stay-at-home-Dad and when the kids would nap I'd sit at the dining room table and write.

This is where I wrote Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

Then, a little while ago we renovated the house and I got part of the front porch as an "office."

A few years ago for Christmas my mother sent my sons some toys that are little bikers (!?!?). I keep them on the windowsill over my desk and I've named them after the characters in my books. There's JT and Nugs and Danny Mac and Gayle and Sherry:

At the moment I'm working on a book (which I hope will be out by this time next year) called Tumblin' Dice about a rock band from the late 70's who reform and play the casino circuit. The band's old manager, Frank, is now the entertainment director of the casino just north of Toronto (which I'm calling the Huron Woods Casino) and getting involved with the bikers in money laundering and drug sales and prostitution. If they can get rid of the mobsters who are already there.

And one of the band members, Ritchie, who still loves to play music, was twelve years old when the Toronto Rock'n'Roll Revival was staged in 1969 and his older sister snuck him in. What Ritchie remembers the most about the concert was the way all day long, while guys like Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry were on stage, Jim Morrison stood in the wings and studied everything they did. Ritchie tells Angie how when The Doors went onstage Morrison acted like he didn't care at all about putting on a performance the way the old school guys did, but Ritchie noticed he used all kinds of moves he'd seen them use.

So, I found a couple of posters for the real concert online and printed them and I have them on the wall for inspiration:

One more thing.

When I signed my first book contract I was very excited and decided to treat myself. I figured that instead of going out to a nice restaurant or something like that, I wanted to get something that would remind me everyday that thirty years of working at writing had paid off (and it had to be something inexpensive because my advance was in the "low four figures"). I had a lot of weird ideas but I finally decided on a really good radio so I could listen to Grand Funk and Alice Cooper and Deep Purple and David Bowie. I bought this Tivoli desktop:

You can't see it in this picture, but there's another desktop speaker and a sub-woofer on the floor. The radio is fantastic.

Next to the radio in that picture is a sextant that my father actually used in the navy in World War Two to cross the north Atlantic.