Friday, November 19, 2010


By Russel D McLean

You know, I didn’t like author X’s last book.”

“Was it a bad book?” I asked, surprised, because I loved author X and had adored their last book.

“Nah,” my friend said. “Not that. Just… it wasn’t a book I thought they were going to write.”

“They surprised you?”


“And you didn’t like that?”


Stuart MacBride has returned to the world of blogging over here. Its been a long leave of absence, and he’s been sorely missed (at least by me, and I’m sure by many thousands more readers with taste and a beautifully black sense of humour). But he’s talking about risks upon his return.

Like the risk he’s taking writing a standalone.

The risk he already took writing – cue deep intake of shocked breath – a science fiction novel!

A risk?


I don’t know if I’m an odd breed as a reader, but I hate being able to second guess a writer. The best authors in my mind are the ones who continue to surprise me. The ones who have always gained my respect are the ones who take risks. Not the ones who do it right every time – I think its terribly unfair to expect authors to hit it out the park every time, when we expect actors, directors and even musicians to have a couple duds and wrong moves over the course of a career* - but the ones who try and stretch themselves and by extension their audience.

See, I don’t want to get bored.

I read to be surprised. Provoked. Excited. Intrigued.

How can that happen if an author does the same schtick book in and book out?

Two of my favourite writers of the moment are George Pelecanos and Don Winslow. Both authors keep shifting gears if not every book then every two or three. You can’t predict entirely what they’ll do next and even when you think you have a handle on what they’re doing, they pull something out of the box to surprise you.

Don Winslow is a very special case in point. Shifting gears near every novel, giving you books as diverse as Power of the Dog and Death and Life of Bobby Z**, books which take you on unexpected journeys, to themes and ideas you hadn’t considered before.

Hell, it doesn’t have to be so mind altering. MacBride’s change of genre was a wonderful move, something that rocked his audience a little because – just like the first time they read him – they didn’t know what to expect. I don’t understand why that unnerves some readers. To me, it’s a way of keeping the relationship between author and reader alive. Sure, we like to think we know what we’re getting, but really we love it when we’re surprised.

As a reader, I want to be taken places I’d never have considered. I don’t want to re-visit old ground. I want to be surprised, amazed and uncertain.

I want my books to be unpredictable. I want my authors unafraid to experiment and stretch and have fun.

And I’m sure they want to be able to do the same.

*Go on, make yer cheap jokes here
**A prime example of a book that didn’t work for this reader, but which I appreciated because he was trying to stretch himself as a writer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Terminal Damage: From the DSD Crew

I know you expect more from me, but if you're not on Twitter or Facebook, I just wanted to get this out there:

The Do Some Damage Anthology, TERMINAL DAMAGE, is available now for your e-readers! It's only .99 cents!

Get it here for your Kindle: Amazon Link.

Or for your Nook, Sony E-Reader, or other thing-a-ma-bob: Smashwords>

Or for you UK folks: Amazon UK.

Wait... what's that? No e-reader? Email any one of us (i.e. me... davewhitenovels at yahoo dot com) and we'll work something out.

And what's it about? Well it's a bunch of linked short stories set in an airport. I'll let the cover do the talkin':

Imagine the worst day of your life. Now imagine that day in an airport. The eight authors of bring together eight stories of murder and mayhem in these linked stories -- tied together by a single, horrible visit to the airport.

From the grandfather in Joelle Charbonneau's SKATING AROUND THE LAW to a team of thugs from Jay Stringer, the stories here show what happens when all hell breaks loose on the concourse.

In addition to Charbonneau and Stringer, the collection boasts stories from John McFetridge (LET IT RIDE, DIRTY SWEET), Dave White (WHEN ONE MAN DIES, THE EVIL THAT MEN DO), Russel D. McLean (THE LOST SISTER, THE GOOD SON), Byron Quertermous (A LOAD OF QUERTERMOUS), Scott D. Parker (ROUND ONE), and Steve Weddle (NEEDLE Magazine).

And lookout for some upcoming promos . . . too.

Thanks for reading us!!!!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bad Guys

John McFetridge

On the weekend the family went to see the movie Unstoppable and enjoyed it quite a bit. Oh sure, you can be cynical about how much it was really “inspired” by a true story and how you just know Denzel Washington is going to save the day and the new Captain Kirk is going to get to talk to his estranged wife again and how it’s a weirdly accurate comparison for Rosario Dawson to make, “A missile the size of the Chrysler Building,” as if we all know off hand how tall every building is – but I decided to go and try to have a good time and I did.

It’s really my kind of movie. I love the characters and the setting, blue collar guys in blue collar towns. There’s a minor character in it, a guy named Ned who’s a welder (“lead welder,” he points out) with a pony tail and a beard and a wallet on a chain and a jean jacket who is just the right amount excited by the idea of a “coaster.” After the movie I said to my wife that Ned, like Winston Churchill, felt his whole life was in preparation for this moment. I’ve worked with a lot of Neds in my life and as annoyingly know-it-all as they can sometimes be, I like them.

So anyway, one commenter on a website, snarky as they often are, said, “But is it Die Hard on a train?!?”

Yeah, everything became, “Die Hard on a... something,” for a while because we can so easily accept the idea that bad guys steal money. And they’ll kill as many people as they need to without a care in order to steal the money. Even if they seem to be spending enough money to live on happily for the rest of their lives while taking this life and death risk to steal the money, we accept it. It’s what bad gus do. And, apparently, there can never be enough money.

But no, this isn’t Die Hard on a train because in Unstoppable there’s no bad guy. No terrorists have taken over the train, no evil corporation’s greed has left the train yard understaffed, no corrupt union has interfered too much. Just a couple of guys are a little lazy, a little overconfident and they make a small mistake. And it gets compounded.

I found the script very well-written, especially in the way the characters were developed and the way it didn’t take any cheap, easy ways out setting up “bad guys,” as easy targets for emotional manipulation. Sure, the new Captain Kirk only has his job because his family includes a few union stewards (Entertainment Weekly magazine referred to his “blue blood family” which is pretty funny when we’re talking about some railway workers in rural Pennsylvania) and the company president has to make a decision that includes taking into account the effects on stock values but neither “side” in this is a Snidely Whiplash, moustache twirling, insane laughing bad guy.

And then this morning there was an article in the newspaper here that really got me thinking about bad guys, and how we create them for fiction and how we decide what they’re going to do in our stories.

The headline is, “Terrorists put psychiatric evaluations to the test.”

Because we can easily accept that Hans Gruber and his “Eurotrash” gang could take over a building (or, yes, a cruise ship or a bus a phone booth or whatever else gets taken over in all those Die Hards on a... somethings) if they are, as Hans said, not just simple thieves, but “Exceptional thieves.”

Really, as long as they’re some kind of thieves, we understand them.

Even if they’re millionaire thieves, we understand they’ll want to risk their lives (and kill a bunch of people) for more money.

But if the “bad guys” aren’t just out to steal money, that puts the psychiatric tests to the test.

The story behind the article is the case of what we in Canada have taken to calling the Toronto 18, a bunch of young men who were plotting a terrorist attack on some institutions in Canada. Apparently the fact that these planned attacks weren’t going to be secretly about extorting millions of dollars and safe passage to Afghanistan has us all stumped.

The article says, “The base rate for this kind of activity is so low, so uncommon, that it’s difficult to hypothesize about how you would predict relapse.”

As if we can ever “predict relapse.”

Back to fiction. It’s really too bad that the phrase, “What’s my motivation,” has become nothing more than a punchline, because a character’s motivations really are important. And it seems that maybe we fall back on the, “I want money,” motivation too easily.

Interestingly there’s another article in the same paper today about the UK government looking to somehow measure well-being, so that they can have a “greater focus on well-being rather than wealth.”

So maybe we are starting to look a little deeper t our relationship to money and how big a motivator it really is. Maybe we need to to do that with our fiction as well.

Unless, of course, you’re Bobby Fuller and you can say it as great as, “I needed money because I had none, I fought the law and the law won.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Gentleman's Hour

By Jay Stringer

This week I want to talk about a book by Don Winslow. But first a small matter of housekeeping. As the Weddle alluded to yesterday, our very own collection of short stories is coming out this week. It's already available via the UK amazon and the US amazon, and we'll keep you posted as it hits other stores.

It contains a story by each of us, and each is themed around the crazy hoopla that can go down in an airport. Some are loosely linked through theme or setting, others are directly linked through characters, actions or settings. Think of it as a concept album -there is a larger story there if you want it.

We enjoyed putting this together, and we'd love to do another so please go buy a copy and spread the word.

Anyway, on with the show.

I'm a recent convert to Don Winslow, through the world of Boone Daniels and his Dawn Patrol. I wrote a review of the first book over at Stringerville a few weeks back. The short version is 'loved it'. (The longer version would be 'i really loved it.')

I was drawn into this SoCal world that I've never known or seen, by the collection of surf bums, cops, hookers and criminals. Most of all I was drawn in by the way Winslow structured the book. 

Like the novels' running motif of the wave, the story starts slow and subtle, before it begins to build to a crescendo of water and violence that won't let you go. As soon as I finished the book I wanted to read more, and I hunted down (Do imagine; an epic quest across many deserts and battles with a multitude of legendary beasties in order to win the heart of the fair book. Don't imagine; I clicked a button on a website and it was delivered to me.)

The follow up is called The Gentleman's Hour. Everything about the book is structured again very cleverly. The name The Gentleman's Hour comes from the hour of surf that follows The Dawn Patrol, when the older and more connected surfers come out to play. Likewise the plot follows Boone Daniels as he struggles over whether or not it's time for him to graduate from the Patrol to the Hour, and whether his old friendships can endure. He's going through something of a mid-surf crisis.

If the first novel was one wave, picking up pace and speed, then the sequel is more like a stretch of choppy water. Things change, people get mixed up and old ties get broken. In many ways TGH feels more like a 'mystery novel' than the first book. It has more of a structured mystery plot, with twists, turns and red herrings. This too seems to follow on the theme of graduation.

Whereas the first book took on illegal activities that happened beneath the noses of the law and local community -the grime beneath the glossy surface- TGH looks at the institutionalised corruption that maintains that glossy surface. It steps off the beach and into boardrooms, businesses and bedrooms. Everybody is using everybody else, and it's all nicely fucked up.

The dawn patrol themselves are slowly drifting apart; Sunny Day is now a world-traveller, Johnny B is giving serious though to his career and Boone can see a choice looming between his girlfriends ambition and his own lack thereof.

There are far more layers to peel away second time around, and overall it feels like a far more ambitious book. It takes the brave step of forcing the 'hero' to question his own beliefs, and that is sadly all too rare in PI fiction.

I had a blast reading the book. It was both tight and ambitious in all the right places, and it built upon the characters from the first book. None of them start book 2 in quite the same place they ended book 1, and each of them is in a different place again by the end of it all. That's good character progression, and I hope there is a third story on the horizon so that I can see where this all leads.

Even for a book that I loved so much, I do have a few constructive criticisms. There's often a gap between ambition and success, and in some areas I think the book struggled with it's grand intentions. The Dawn Patrol never faltered in delivering a ripping great story, it knew when to be complex and when t go for the gut. Perhaps in the final third of TGH there is one too many twists, a little too much effort to mark it out as a mystery novel. There is also a rousing emotional (and physical) contest near the end that doesn't quite feel earned, as much fun as that scene is on it's own. I would wonder -unusually for me- if the book perhaps needed an extra ten pages to let the final third breathe a little more.

But really, these are minor quibbles and I only raise them to qualify what otherwise is a love letter; Go and get these books.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ebooks: A Whole New Playing Field

By Steve Weddle

Yesterday, Joelle Charbonneau took a look at the books that pass through the gates of the publishing industry versus those that go straight to the reader. Her insightful post is here.

Joelle, whose delightful debut novel was published by Minotaur (a Macmillan imprint), was using the recent Amazon pedophile ebook horror as a jumping-off point. And, speaking of Joelle's publisher, the Weddles picked up a number of Macmillan/Minotaur titles at the bookfair this weekend. Duane Swierczynski. Ken Bruen. Ian Rankin. How cool is that? I love these folks. Heck, I think the only book I got that wasn't from Minotaur was a Steven Brust novel on Tor. Hooray for Minotaur.

Joelle's argument about having editors and publishers help select what goes to market is a solid argument. I'm glad Big Publishing decides what goes to market, how many are printed, and how they are distributed. If not for that, I wouldn't have been able to get 32 books for about $30 yesterday. All hail the marketplace.

I picked up a handful of Scott Wolven books at a bookfair this year. Some copies of John McFetridge's Dirty Sweet, too.  And some Jim Thompson. And a ton of those fancy re-issues of Nabokov that Vintage did. You know, the ones with the expensive, pretty covers.

And if I'd wanted to build a bridge from here to Terabithia with copies of Franzen's new literary masterpiece, I could have done so at the bookfair for right around nine dollars.

Having so many books available from big publishers is great.

I'm not here to bury Caesar; I'm here to say that Brutus guy has some cool ideas, too.

Check out Chris F. Holm's fantastic short story collection, 8 Pounds. Chris took his award-winning and published stories, edited them for the Kindle format, got a gorgeous cover from John Hornor Jacobs, and started selling that ebook on Amazon for 99 cents. The book contains the Spinetingler-Award-winning "Seven Days of Rain," Derringer-Award finalist "The Big Score," and "The World Behind," which originally appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. You can't do that with big publishers. Why? Because Traditional Publishing tells us that short story collections don't sell. Except, you know, they do. Because I buy them when available -- as 99 cent downloads. And you buy them. Chris has been selling the Kindle collection pretty well as word of mouth keeps them moving. And he doesn't have to pay to print 10,000. Or have them stored in a warehouse. Or have them shipped to a bookfair in nine months to sell for a dollar each.

How about Discount Noir, a collection Patti Abbott and I put together with stories from more than 40 fantastic authors? Flash pieces about blood and murder in a big discount store. No big publisher wants that. A book of 45,000 words? That's tough to move off the shelves. Unless there are no shelves.

Traditional publishing works great for many things. I was in a bookstore last week just walking around, not planning to buy anything, and picked up Daniel Woodrell's Tomato Red. Without the physical store, I probably never would have run across the copy. But, dang, what a good book. Hooray for Busted Flush Press. And hooray for traditional publishing

Ink on paper works great. That's one reason we started Needle: A Magazine of Noir. Because the physical book is still a wonderful thing. And the big houses and the independent publishers know how to make this work.

But, you know, once we decided on the national level that all our citizens needed to be able to read and write, we pretty much opened things up for self-publishing. Everyone writes.

Just ask Charles Bukowski:
course. everybody
he has plenty of time and a
postoffice box in town
and he drives there 3 or 4 times a day
looking and hoping for accepted

Everybody writes and everyone can put out ebooks. Fine. Everyone can make pizza, too. Doesn't mean I wouldn't rather have pizza from Vinny's than that crappy canned-sauce spread on canned-dough crap you and your kids made for "together time" last weekend.

The point is this -- Having ebooks as an option seems pretty cool to me, especially for those collections that traditional publishing doesn't want to handle. This allows us a Chris F. Holm collection. Discount Noir.  A really cool sperm-bank-thieving collection from our own Byron Quertermous. And John McFetridge's own excellent collection of stories here. (pdf download)

Are ebooks the solution? Heck, I'm not sure what the problem is. Ebooks aren't the reason all those people got fired when Dan Brown's new book was late. The problem there was that publishing is set up for the next bestseller, not the mid-list authors. This isn't news to anyone. This is How It Works, you know? If I'm the next bestseller, that's how the damn thing should work.

But the other way it works now is this -- if Chris F. Holm wants to collect his stories, now he has a way. He can do that himself, relying on the quality of the work, the prior periodical publication of those stories, and word of mouth. And that works out just fine.

Traditional publishing is great for so many things, but we're in a time now in which ebooks offer us options that we have to be ready for, another outlet for books traditional publishing isn't interested in.

Oh, one more thing. The Do Some Damage collection of airport stories is available this week -- for Kindle over at Amazon. The book is called TERMINAL DAMAGE and you might be able to find it here. I uploaded this ebook on Sunday and it will take until Monday to become available. Which seems like a long time, you know, in the ebook world.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pitchforks and Torches

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This week Amazon came under attack for a book that was self-published under their on-line publishing program. If you're on twitter or Facebook, you've probably heard about it. People clamored for Amazon to remove the book because of the content. I’m not one for banning books. I think that's a slippery slope whose navigation causes more damage than good. However, in this instance, even I was ready to get out a pitchfork and torch. I didn’t think I would ever go there, but I learned that a how-to pedophilia guide will cause that kind of reaction. Go fig.

Since the bru-ha-ha began, the book has been removed from Amazon, but not before a brave reviewer decided to read and post her thoughts on the book. Her review is a thoughtful attempt at objectivity about a book whose subject is inflammatory and unsettling. I applaud her ability to do so and thank her for reading the book to help me better form my own opinion.

However, after reading the review, I realized that this book is a symptom of a bigger problem. Everyone in the publishing universe is talking about the rise of e-books and how they are the wave of the future. I don’t dispute this – although you will probably have to pry paper books out of my cold, dead hands before I switch to reading on a screen. I like paper. I can’t help it. Still, this book, despite its horrific content shows why self-published e-books have a long way to go. Amazon allows anyone to upload their books onto the site and publish them. That sounds great in theory. No need to be rejected by publishers or agents and no need to share the profits. Type THE END on your book, format the sucker and get it out there so the reading public can discover you.


Or not.

The thing is, too many books, like the one called into question this week, are not ready to be published. In traditional publishing, the editors and agents act as screeners. They do their best to ensure a book has correct spelling and a readable sentence structure. Are mediocre or bad books published despite these gatekeepers’ best efforts? You betcha. But someone has done their upmost to make sure the book is professionally produced no matter what the content.

That isn’t the case on Amazon. Yes, an author can hire a freelance editor to go over their work before publishing, but how many of them do? I’ve looked at a number of excerpts and free reads that have been self-published. Some are interesting and well-crafted. Unfortunately, at least half of the ones I have seen, like this week’s How-To Guide, have terrible spelling and grammar. A new author is going to have not only a harder time getting noticed amongst the large quantities of books on Amazon, these poorly crafted and nearly unedited books are going to make it harder for the electronic book reader to take a risk on a new author.

The NY Times this week announced that starting next year they will begin publishing an e-book best seller list. What do you want to bet the same names who appear on the Hardcover or Paperback lists will appear on the e-book list? In this economic climate, readers are being careful with their money. If they have tried an Amazon self-published book with poor spelling or grammar, how likely do you think they will be to try another one? I’m betting they won’t unless given a darn good reason.

So I guess what I am saying is that I’m not a believer of the Amazon model – yet. (Yeah – I’m betting a bunch of folks are going to get out their pitchfork and torches and come after me now. That’s okay. I have my sneakers on and can run fast.) The lack of gatekeepers means more authors can be “published” but until the reading public can trust the quality of those books, the ones who will really be cashing in are the authors who are part of the traditionally publishing model.

What do you think? Do you think a new author has a chance to be noticed in the glut of books listed on Amazon and if yes – how do they get noticed? Do you plunk down your money on unknown authors (and not ones you’ve met on twitter or Facebook – but true unknowns)? If so, why?