Thursday, December 2, 2010

The DSD Christmas Noir Flash Challenge

By Do Some Damage


Everyone gets a little crazy over Christmas, and ol' uncle DSD is no exception. All year round we keep him locked in the basement giving the evil eye to unsuspecting authors, but this time of year we let him out for the holidays.

You know what he does? He starts throwing free books at people. Yes, that's right, free books.

He also starts trying to eat the postman's leg, but that's not important right now.

You want the free, right? There's some great crime titles included in our bag of stuff, but we don't want to give away all the details just yet.

And that's not all. We want to invite you guys into DSD towers for a poke around. We want to hand the site over to you, just for a little while. You can come on in, wipe your feet, take a seat, and use our little stage to shout at the world.

Here's the deal (free books! free books!) We're issuing a flash fiction challenge. We want 600-1000 words of the best Christmas noir, transgressive, caper or hardboiled fiction you can throw at us. The only stipulation is that it has to be a Christmas story. But hell, you wanna know how loose a stipulation that is? Uncle DSD's favourite Christmas film is DIE HARD. So you can see that just about anything goes, as long as it's Christmas.

Normally for a flash challenge everyone puts the stories on their own blogs. But we'd like to run your stories here, mixed in with our own. Run them at your own blog and post the links in comments here, sure, but if you want your free books you gotta send your story to us.

Anyone who submits to us enters the drawing for cool fun stuff. There will be other giveaways too, but that's a story for another time.

We'll be posting the stories starting Monday the 20th, and running right through until Monday the 4th of January, when we let Weddle back out of Gumbo's kennel.

Small print.

Send your stories to the email address up there at the top right. Every submission enters a draw for FREE STUFF. People leaving comments about the published stories will also enter the draw. The doors close on Sunday the 19th. The first submission to us automatically gets FREE STUFF.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Ian Fleming - Raymond Chandler Podcast

John McFetridge

Okay, so it wasn't a podcast it was Ian Fleming interviewing Raymond Chandler on the BBC, but it sounds just like a podcast today - a couple of writers sitting around bitching. What is genre? Can it be literature? How long does it take you to write a book?

Fleming even asks Chandler, "Where do you get your ideas?"

The interview took plce in 1958. There's about a five minute intro here giving some background and then the interview starts. It's really worth listening to the whole thing.

Here's Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

I think it's interesting when Chandler says there are no California novelists worth talking about no one mentions John Steinbeck.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Done Got Serious

By Jay Stringer

I sat here to write about the authors voice. I was going to discuss to what extent an author should remove their own voice from the work, and especially things like dialogue, to let the characters and story do the talking. I've realised lately that I'm becoming quite stringent in this, that I can defiantly be said to be part of a 'school of thought', which in itself can be quite restrictive. I see it as bad writing to let your own voice intrude over that of the characters. So maybe that's a debate for another day.

As I sat down I watched a BBC program looking into corruption within FIFA, the worlds governing body of Soccer, and the billion dollar decisions that they make. It's a weighty issue, and one worthy of serious treatment.

The show itself was not really the best example of this. It was half an hour of a man running round in a dirty mac shouting questions at men in limousines. Funnily enough, none of them were prepared to answer. It was very thin, as far as journalism goes, and raised plenty of issues that it failed to deal with.

One of the questions that it brought to mind is what happened to journalism? When did 'investigative journalism' go from dealing with such important issues to convincing us that 'public interest' is served by knowing who a football is sleeping with. Maybe this is always what journalism was, and the better moments that we think of were all simply happy mistakes. Once again, that's probably an issue for another time.

No, what the show got me thinking of was morality.

The plot itself would make a cracking novel. A high powered organisation who tend to get tax exemption in any country they operate in, who make billion dollar decisions is locked boardrooms and who may or may not be corrupt. No accountability. No rules. No audits.

Its gold for a crime fiction writer. And as I watched the show I realised two things. Firstly that very point about what an entertaining issue this would be to explore in a novel, film or short story. Secondly, I realised that the show was meant to be eliciting a reaction of anger or shock in me.

There are not the things we are meant to be entertained by.

Back in my younger days, before a few high-profile deaths made me fall out of love with the whole thing, i was a fan of pro-wrestling. Sure, it's fake. But that's like saying theatre is fake. It's good old fashioned story telling and can be as compelling as any other medium when done right. Go watch Shawn Michaels VS Bret Hart last for an hour, or Eddie Guerrero in just about any match, and tell me that's not story telling of the highest order.

Thing is, there's a morality gap. Part of what turned me off to the point that I've not watched it in years was the list of casualties. As the bodies started stacking up we couldn't help but notice the corruption, the drug addictions and the loneliness that stalk the 'sport' from behind the curtain. Again, these are all issues that we love to read and write about, but seeing them played out in real life can cause a different reaction. For example, the tragedy of Chris Benoit and his family. On the one hand, it's the writers instinct to want to know what lead to such a thing, to know what the context was and how people can get into that situation. But there's another reaction, the one that the great many people probably feel, which is to be appalled and to make moral judgements. I'm sure I'm not alone amongst folks out there that my own reactions were a mix of both.

The other part of that morality gap is the story they tell in the ring. Eddie Guerrero played a cheat. Whether he was the face or the heel he would give the audience a knowing wink and then find some way to cheat for the win. And the crowd would cheer or boo, and either way they loved it. But on the flip side, when I'm watching my football team play, I hate cheating. Whether it's one of my own or the opposition, I can't stand to see cheating on the field. I see it as an embarrassment to the sport and to the match that I'm watching.

So how do we square that, morally?

As a writer my stock-in-trade is to try and remove moral judgements from my work. I aim to write crime fiction with a bit of a social edge, and to try and look at the characters and the situations free of any overriding moral judgements. In the book I'm writing right now, I have a supporting character who has opinions on race that are a million years removed from mine, but I have a responsibility to treat him just the same as a character who I might agree with. I have to keep my own judgement out of the way. And I think I'm getting pretty good at that. I think that the better I get at writing, the better I get at managing to see many sides of an issue, and can make public arguments that sometimes seem in defence of what could seem indefensible. I can often be the guy in the room making a case to defend the murderer, the love-rat or the corrupt politician in the daily news story. And it's often not because I believe in the case i'm making, rather that my brain wants to test it out.

As writers we become moral chameleons.

Recently McFet was asking questions in the same ballpark. He showed a clip of a real serial killer confessing to his crimes. And hidden away in there again is the morality gap. We write about these things, we enjoy these things on some level, and we research them often. But when faced with a real example, do we question ourselves?

Is that what the whole thing is? An act of questioning ourselves, testing ourselves?

I don't mean to place writing on a pedestal here as some mystic art. Reading is about many of the same things, and we're all readers above all else. But for the reading side of things, there's an element of tourism. We can pick up a book, spend a day, or a week, or a month exploring some dark land, and then come out and put the book down. To take that same thing on as a writer means to live in the heads of these characters. To spend months or years with these things floating around in our heads. Is it still tourism, or is it something else?

Do we explore these issues to challenge that 'moral gap' and see if we can shift the borders, or do we do it to reinforce what we already think?

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Essential Nature of Setting

By Steve Weddle

I slid my chair back from the table, the screech a scream in the empty house. Took the plate to the sink, raked the burned chunks into the disposal. Ran some water until everything washed down the stainless steel drain. Wiped the plate with a dishtowel and set the plate back on the counter for breakfast. 

Pulled my phone from my shirt pocket, scrolled back through the missed calls. Settled. Highlighted the one. Clicked. Would you like to dial this number?

I set the phone down on the island without responding, then walked to the back windows, looking out over the ravine. The clumps of bushes grown together, killing each other. Honeysuckle choking through everything. Scrub pine never getting tall enough to be worth a damn. A handful of oaks, broken limbs, reaching for the sunlight, growing apart.


A few thoughts about setting in not one damn bit of order.

Setting is something you can do as well in first-person as in third-person, I think. So many things you can't. Like that trick third-person writers use when they end a chapter with the hero in jeopardy, then focus the next chapter on someone else. Tough to do that in first-person novels. But setting, well, we're on some of the same footing there. In fact, in first-person, what the narrator chooses to focus on could tell you something. In the example above, if I'm writing that in first-person and the narrator is an astrologer, what sees out the back window is a damn sight different than what a birdwatcher would notice. They're not looking at the same sky, at all. (In that opening scene up there, if I'd made the person a horticulturalist, maybe he would have known the names of some of the other trees. I don't, so there you go.)

First-person setting is like much else in first-person books in that what's there and what's missing both tell you much about the narrator. What he or she chooses to see.

I just finished PIKE by Benjamin Whitmer (our first book in our new DSD book group here) and am thinking about his setting, a rural area near Cincinnati and the city itself. And the various areas throughout. Whitmer does a great job with setting, from the towers in the city to the blown-off mountaintops in deer-hunting country. It's not so much that you feel as if you're there. I've been there. The thing is, you feel as if the characters are there. And that's what matters. No offense intended towards the fine people of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, but tonight I don't give two shits about going to Cincinnati. I'm sure the people are real nice and hospitable and all, but those aren't the people I care about. I care about the people in the book. I care about what happens to them and why it matters. I care about how they see the world. And I care about their world. And, and this is where setting really matters, I care about what they care about in their world.

If the character in a book I'm reading wants to stop and tell me the history of a place, well, a couple of things could be in play. One, the author could be a craptacular hack just trying to drop in all the research he's done when he surfs the internet. Or, as in PIKE and in Hilary Davidson's THE DAMAGE DONE and in Dennis Lehane's MYSTIC RIVER --my recent reads-- the setting could tell you more about the characters than any mention of a maroon and gold scarf could. What they see, what they don't see, and how they process it, that's what matters.

Setting doesn't have to be the town at all. You don't have to know Spokane from Abilene to be able to write a convincing setting. And no amount of Google's Street View is going to correct for the fact that your characters are big, fat phony heads.

Setting is the world around your character. No, that's not quite right. What the hell am I trying to say? Setting is the soul of your character, spread out like a blanket across the world. Your character is having a tough time of it? Then he sees broken tree limbs. Your narrator's full of hope? Then she sees the fallen tree limbs and thinks about the new life all that fungus and crap down there is going to create.

Or it's the exact opposite. A setting in contrast to the narrator. A piece of the world that separates instead of pulls together. Here, I'll make up another one so maybe I can explain this thing better.

The hospital cafeteria had thinned out pretty good since I'd been here three nights ago. Seven dollar sandwiches. Four buck pizza slices. They would have delivered food to me, one of the nurses had told me. Wheeled up whenever I wanted. I wouldn't have had to leave Gillian's bedside at all. I could have sat there, eating slices of Christmas ham off a plastic tray while people around us prayed about how thankful they were to have had her here for six years. That six years of Gillian was a gift from God.  Stupid bullshit like that. That God missed her and wanted her back. God's shining star. God's little angel. Like these cardboard angels with praying hands and halos, cutout centerpieces for every table. The table against the wall with the man and woman holding hands, her leaning into his shoulder and crying. The table with a couple of men passing photos of some newborn back and forth. Looks like a ballplayer, one of them says. Damn right, the other grins. Still, I need to eat, the family counselor said. Like I didn't know about eating. Like I hadn't fed Gillian when she was a baby. Like I hadn't fed her the last seven-and-a-half months and watched her fade away. Like I can't feed myself, sitting here at this empty table. A cardboard angel on every God damned one.

The setting isn't the town or the river or the exact color of the door across from the parking garage. It doesn't have to be the stingy smell of French Quarter piss or floating dust and grime in a Soho construction site that ruins a freshly dry-cleaned suit.

Setting is that part of your characters, that essence that spreads out when they walk across a room, when they open their eyes to daylight. Setting is the part of the writing that doesn't do a damn thing except tell you exactly who the characters are. Setting is the halo around the cardboard angel.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Writing – Bah Humbug!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

'Tis the season for shopping, baking, wrapping and singing. Well, it’s always the season for singing for me, but you get the point. The holidays are here and I love celebrating them with family and friends.

Unfortunately, the holiday fun also brings with it writing frustrations. The time I normally have set aside during the day for writing is now filled with baking gingerbread houses and wrapping presents. And now that my son is almost 3 – he wants to help, which makes everything take longer.

When I first started writing, I decided I didn’t need to write during the holidays. I would tinker a bit with whatever story I was working on the week after Thanksgiving and then I would put it away until after the New Year. With everything else going on, this seemed like a good plan. Besides, I was doing this for fun. It wasn’t like a job or anything. Until last year. Once my agent sold my manuscript, I decided that if I really wanted to make this writing thing into a career, I had to give writing during the holidays a shot. I had about 10,000 words to finish on my work in progress. Normally I write about 25,000-30,000 words in a month. 10,000 should be no problem right?


The book didn’t get finished until after the New Year. Yes, I got some writing done, but I struggled with finding time to write every day. If there is one thing I know about me, the writer, is that I need to write every day. When I don’t write every day it takes twice as long for me to write anything. So each day I forced myself to get at least one or two paragraphs written. If I was lucky, I would manage a whole page. I limped along forcing myself to try to write, feeling the ending so close and yet so far away.

Not fun.

As frustrated as I was with the process of writing during the holidays, I was glad I forced myself to do it. It taught me a couple of important things that I am going to use to help me keep sane while writing during this holiday season.

1) Finish a project before the holiday season arrives. This might not be possible, but if it is - do it! The desire to get to THE END can sometimes be all-consuming. Which means not getting to THE END leads to huge frustration. The holidays are already stressful enough, no matter how enjoyable. I will type THE END on my current WIP in the next day or so. Trust me when I say after last year's holiday writing drought I busted my butt to get it done before I started decking the halls.

2) Try to schedule your writing so you begin a new project during the holiday months. Beginnings are filled with enthusiasm and optimism. It is much easier to begin a new project during this time of year for me and for many other writers I know. That’s the time when the writing feels more playful and less focused. When the calendar year flips, you then have a solid base to start seriously building on.

3) Give yourself permission to take a day, a week or several weeks off from writing. Not writing can be frustrating, especially if you are trying hard to get pages done and things keep getting in the way. For me the best way to alleviate the frustration is to give myself permission to not write. This sounds simplistic, but the sheer act of choosing not to write instead of being forced not to write can make all the difference in the world. Choosing to take the day off means you’ll enjoy whatever task, party or family adventure the day has in store as opposed to anger at being separated from your keyboard. (I’ve been there and done that – zero fun. Trust me.) The one thing I have learned is that when I give myself permission to take a day off, the story is free to work out pesky little details in the back of my brain without me being aware of it. That’s a win-win all the way around.

I’m sure there are lots of other great tips for writing during the holidays. I have a feeling Steve Weddle has a bunch that involve eating lots of cookies. Feel free to share them with all of us. I know this year I will be making another attempt to type lots of pages while jingling my bells. That combo means I’ll need all the help I can get.