Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Magic of Writing


Scott D. Parker

Inspiration comes from anywhere. We all know that. It's a question we writers get when asked "Where do you get your ideas?". All over, really, and you have to be open about inspiration and recognize it for what it is.

I got inspired this week, a day or two after last week's post lamenting my poor writing year. And it came from the most unlikely source: my boy. I don't talk about my family much on these public sites because, frankly, I'm here as a writer and blogger, not to share cutesy stories about the home life. But I have to share this one.

My son writes stories. He makes them up using either original characters or trademarked characters he likes. Scooby Doo is The Thing nowadays. Wonder if Santa knows about that...? Anyway, when he sits down to author one of his stories, he writes with feverish abandon. Usually, he'll get a few pieces of paper, fold them, staple them together, and proceed to write. He titles them, puts his by line down--and gives himself credit for the illustrations, too--and goes to town.

The other night, I walked down the darkened hallway and saw the sliver of light from under his door. I peeked in and saw him sitting up in bed, pencil in hand, writing away. It wasn't ten o'clock yet, but it was late for him. I asked him what he was writing and he told me: the new Scooby Doo adventure. I told him it was time for bed but he said he needed to finish the chapter. I grinned, patted him on the back, and let him finish. The entire time we talked, he didn't stop writing.

I stood there, outside his doorway, in the dark, the only light coming from under his door, and chuckled to myself. He was writing for love, not this structured writerly life we adults construct. He was writing for joy.

Just about every classic Christmas movie has a common theme: we adults have forgotten the magic of Christmas. Take "Elf" for example: belief in the idea of Santa enables the sleigh to fly. I couldn't help but wonder if we writers sometimes forget the magic of writing when we're lost in the Valley of Writer's Block or mired in a seventh edit. Yes, there are aspects of writing that can be drudgery. But there is also that special magic that only writing brings. Like Tim Allen in "The Santa Clause" when he finally remembers he's supposed to be Santa, my son reminded me about the magic of writing this week. Time to let the magic fly.

*** A Reminder ***

Starting tomorrow and running through Sunday, 3 January 2011, we are hosting the Do Some Damage Christmas Noir Flash Fiction Challenge. We will be posting the stories some of our readers sent us as well as a goodly sprinkling from us as well. And don't forget the FREE STUFF! Every contributor and commenter enters a drawing for FREE STUFF (i.e., books)! I'm looking forward to Bryon's story tomorrow and for some great seasonal stories. Our regular rotation begins again with Steve Weddle on Monday, 4 January.

On behalf of all of us here at Do Some Damage, we thank you for reading, participating, and the camaraderie during 2010. It’s been a blast and 2011 will be even better.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Looking Back

By Russel D McLean

It’s strange to see your own evolution.

At the end of my US Tour (still in the midst of being recorded on my blog proper, because I’m ludicrously swamped with things to do right now) I recorded a short story of mine, dictated it into audio format for a (hopefully soon to be announced) podcast. It was an older short story, and it was strange to read it again, particularly cold. I could see themes and patterns that I couldn’t then, understand obsessions and ideas I would never have even realised possessed me when I wrote the story.

Time is wonderful like that.

It is an intriguing experience for me to go back to old projects. Every once in a while I dig out what was supposed to be The Big Speculative/Slipstream Novel and read it over thinking about what I would do differently, marvelling at how differently I approached writing it back then, and how it shows the ways in which my mind used to work. No doubt I shall look back at my first two published novels in a few years time with a similar mixture of pride and confusion, wondering how I couldn’t see things then that are so clear with hindsight.

It’s also interesting to me seeing not only the things that have changed, but the things that stay the same. There are themes I cannot escape and ideas and motifs I am still obsessed with, despite a change of genre and hopefully a maturing of my world views (I was in my late teens and early twenties when I wrote the SF novels and in my mid-twenties when I wrote the recorded story). There are themes I notice that perhaps others don’t.

Looking back at early work can be a horrific experience. There is plenty you want to change, and even recording that early short I know I did some on the fly editing when I felt a particular sentence didn’t sound right. I’m sure that annoyed the editor who asked me to do it, but I hope the end result was a good one and I know that I did it for reasons of repetition, deviation or downright idiocy that you only see after five years, and even then probably only if you’re the author of the piece.

The thing is though that you have to look back every once in a while. I’m sure I’m paraphrasing someone much wiser than myself when I say that to know where you’re going you have to look at where you’ve been. Looking back at old work reminds me of what I can do well and what I need to work on. It reminds me of great ideas I wasn’t ready to tackle and bad ideas I really shouldn’t try and confront again if I know what’s good for me.

But most of all, if I can approach it with a healthy sense of humour, sometimes looking back at the writer I was is just entertaining. For me if no one else…

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Movie Got You Into Writing?

This post was written over a year ago on my own blog, but didn't get much in the way of responses. Thought it was an interesting topic, so I'm trying again here:

One of the questions I often ask writers is: What book got you into writing?

There are a lot of answers, naturally. Writers range from Lehane to Chandler to Mosely to Hemingway to Shakespeare.

And all are understandable.

But I've been thinking about it, and while there are several books that got me into writing (and I'm sure I've mentioned them here), I can only think of one movie.

I saw In the Line of Fire in the theaters with my parents. It was probably in the summer between 8th and 9th grade. I also remember seeing the preview for it when I saw GROUNDHOG DAY.

The preview was John Malkovich, in a voice over, talking about killing the President. While that was happening, all you saw on screen was 1963. The sound of a ticking clock. The "6" spun around to become a "9." At the end of the voice over, Clint Eastwood slams down the phone and says "That's not gonna happen."

I was all in.

We saw it in the theater, and my heart was in my throat as Clint looked through the SEATING CHART (!!) to find Malkovich. When he got dragged on to the elevator at the end. Hell, the rooftop chase. Learning the correct way to spell "ukulele."

Great movie. Still holds up.

And I remember renting the movie and watching it again with my family. And I remember a scene--a montage--late in the film where the Secret Service is planning for the President's arrival and Malkovich is putting on his fatsuit disguise.

And I absently said, "I wonder how this would read in a book."

My parents started talking about how they'd do it, chapter by chapter with about twenty pages of description. How it would be all about building suspense and pacing. I started to play with it in my mind. How would I word those two scenes? Would I try to intertwine them or split them up? Had I read a book like that?

Afterwards, I started to track down political thrillers. I remember reading a book by Jefferey Archer about Saddam Hussein stealing the Declaration of Independence. Something by Christopher Hyde. Trying to get through PATRIOT GAMES by Clancy.

None of them brought the same feel that the movie did. At least not to my freshman mind.

So... now I'm trying to write a book with that feel.

What about you? What movies have inspired you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hump Day

John McFetridge

The Urban Dictionary defines “hump day,” as “The middle of a work week (Wednesday); used in the context of climbing a proverbial hill to get through a tough week.”

Of course, it also has the definition, “A term used exclusively by douchebags in reference to Wednesday,” and even douchebags no longer use the word douchebag, so I’m going to stick with definition #1.

It’s kind of like the middle of a novel. Or at least it is for me. Climbing that proverbial hill to get through the really tough part.

Every novel I’ve written turns into a mess in the middle and getting over that hump is always tough. They all start off with a lot of excitement, an idea I think is good, characters I think are interesting. I’ve started novels with a guy getting shot in the head while waiting in his car for a light to change, a body falling from twenty stories onto the hood of a car a hooker just got into, a guy crossing the border from Detroit to Windsor with a trunk full of guns he’s going to trade for dope and now with a couple guys in a rock band robbing a shylock in a casino parking lot.

So far so good.

And the ending, too, is usually a bit of a race as all kinds of loose ends get pulled together (well, most of them anyway) and everything comes crashing together.

But the middle, that’s the tough part.

When I was working in TV the single most common network note that would show up in the writer’s room was, “bigger act out.” The teaser before the opening credits usually runs for three or four minutes and then they find the body and the detective says something pithy. Then fifteen minutes later at the end of Act One we find out something new, something unexpected – it wasn’t a random robbery, the victim was embezzling money from his business partner and he had a plane ticket to Brazil. Fourteen minutes later at the end of Act Two we think we know who did it (the business partner) but then suddenly something is revealed that makes us think what we suspected is wrong – the wife knew about the embezzling and the Brazilian girlfriend. So, Act Three and we’re off on a new direction (usually there’s a scene in the police station where the captain suggests the detectives go back and talk to someone they already talked to) and by the end of the act all looks hopeless, this murderer is going to get away with it.

Luckily there’s a final act and it turns out the Brazilian girlfriend is also having an affair with the business partner and she's the murderer.

Then the detective gets to say something pithy about no honour among thieves or true love or something (that’ll come in a later draft).

So, big act outs, new information, new directions. But no new characters. All the suspects should have been identified in the first half hour.

But an hour long TV show is really a two act structure (as are most movies, not three acts at all but don’t get me started on that) without a middle. It’s all set up and pay off.

But a novel doesn’t have to be like, that does it? It doesn’t have to be so rigidly structured, does it? A novel doesn’t have to be over in time for the late local news. Why can’t new characters be introduced anytime? Or killed off at anytime? Why can’t a novel go off on a tangent or develop some sub-plot?

What’s the middle of a novel really for?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The DSD Christmas Noir Flash Challenge -Last Calls

By Jay Stringer


You read about our flash fiction thingy, right? This would be the challenge we laid down, to send us your darkest, craziest, funniest or coolest Christmas stories. 600-1000 words of the best noir, transgressive, caper or hardboiled fiction you can throw at us.

We put the challenge out a couple weeks back now, and we've had a great response so far. I have to say that, as much fun as it is putting something up each week for you all to read, it's a whole other thing to get proof that you're out there in the form of really cool flash fiction.

Not that we're just asking for you to send stuff our way. Oh no. We're offering something in return.


We're throwing out some free books to people. Everyone who sends us a story enters the draw for cooooooool things. Everyone who comments on each story also enters a draw. We would like for the comments to be about the story, or the writer, or issues inspired by the post. Sure, you can post links to your own fiction, and we'll all read it, but links won't count in the draw.

For those of you who've submitted already, big thanks and hugs. You'll have to imagine the hugs, because we're far away. Just go and hug yourself, and pretend it was DSD. Even better, go and hug a police officer and say we said it was alright. If you've not yet received an email from us thanking you for the story you will get one soon.

And let's get out an early congratulations to Chris Deal, who was the first entry and therefore is automatically made of win when it comes to the free stuff. More details about who else is made of win over the Christmas break as we post the stories.

So, hows this going to work?

I'm glad you asked.

DSD will run as normal up until this Sunday. Bryon will then officially kick off the flash goodness with his own story, and that'll be followed closely by the first of our guest stories. After that you can check back every day over the Christmas period for new content. We'll be mixing in our own contributions amongst the stories you folks have sent in, and I'm really excited at the quality of the fiction that we'll be hosting. It's going to be like an advent calendar of murder and mayhem. We'll be running stories right through new years, until normal service resumes on Monday the 4th of January.

So now's a good time to make sure your RSS settings are right, that we're linked on you iphones, your ipads and your iwhatnots, and that you have your kindle subscription all sorted out.

So here's one last call. You still have time to join in. We'll give you the space and the platform, we may even give you some free books, all we ask is that you entertain us. Submissions close this weekend, after which uncle DSD starts to eat the mail.

Small print.

Submissions should be sent 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. Please send your story either in the body of the email or attached as a word file. Submitting to DSD gives us permission to post your story between 19/12/10 and 03/01/11. When submitting please include a brief bio and any links that you would like to go up with your story. Those of you who've already submitted, don't worry about your missing bio, the idiot Stringer will contact you for those details before your story goes live.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The usefulness of television

By Steve Weddle

First, some housekeeping.

Thanks to those who stopped by the DSD Book Group to talk about PIKE from Benjamin Whitmer. Some good ideas there about a really good book. Swing on my if you haven't. Join in. It's free.

And congrats to Pulp Metal Magazine, celebrating its one-year anniversary. Good stories popping up over there consistently.

And be sure you've checked out what the Day Labor blog from Crimefactory is up to with the year-end lists. Also, Mr Rhatigan has some good TOP FIVE stuff going on over here. And, of course, ATON continues its run of awesomeness with 600-700 here.

And DSD's own TERMINAL DAMAGE continues to sell well over here. Thanks for reading.

Remember when Jay Stringer said not long ago that writer's block doesn't exist and that anyone who says he/she has writer's block is a sorry excuse for a human being? And Joelle said you should give yourself permission to not write. And Scott said that's good, but you should still kick your own ass when you don't. Yeah, remember all that?

Well, you can get blocked. You can have a day without ideas. Maybe you wrote a few thousand words yesterday. Maybe you're between projects and just need a break. Some sherbert to cleanse the palate, or whatever it is the rich folks do.

You can pick up one of those books with writing prompts. Look in one of those writing magazines. Heck, when I was doing that namby-pamby poetry stuff, I used Richard Hugo's THE TRIGGERING TOWN for some great prompts.

What has surprised me, though, is how great TV is for writing prompts. Not the shows. The Guide. The dumb little descriptions for some show that's going to waste the next hour of your life.

When I'm stuck I'll scroll through the Guide and steal an idea. Sometimes this works out great. "Dylan promises Brenda a Valentine evening to remember." Um, yeah. Sometimes it doesn't.

Here are some fun ones:

"A young mathematician is show with a 200-year-old bullet, inspiring wild theories by Castle about a time-travel murderer." Just write that murder scene, but then through in something crazy about the evidence. An old bullet. A stolen Samurai sword. Spontaneous combustion assault. You can get going from the investigator's point of view. Or maybe the cops come into the pawn shop where your guy works and they want to know why an Army shovel stolen from your store was used to kill the mayor's nephew. Heck if I know, but a museum-piece murder weapon is a great way to get some ideas going.

"Annie is injured while pursuing a fugitive and is forced to rely on Ben Crowley." OK. I don't know this show. But I'm guessing Annie and Ben don't get along. Maybe there's some sexxxy tension in there. I dunno. I guess Annie's normal job is to chase fugitive's. So you open with her coming off some successful case and falling into the new one. But, oh, that Ben. He's a maverick, that one. He doesn't play by the rules, which angers and excites Annie. Like I said, I haven't seen the show. I just thought you might want one a little sexy.

"Hank is cut by the Eagles and it turns Kendra's life upside down." Hmm. I got nothin'.

"Bond saves the world from Blofield's space laser and bikini-clad amazons Bambi and Thumper." Space lasers are the scariest kind, aren't they? The ones on Earth just point from the science lab to a kick-ass college party. But those in space. Oh, man. And tough, fighting women in bikinis? Honestly, you need my help on this one? Want to mix it up, maybe a male, kick-boxing assassin in G-string. Or, maybe not.

"A detective finds a promoter hiding out with the sister of a slain actress client."
"An amnesiac becomes suspicious of her husband's true identity."
"An insanely jealous woman wants to prevent her brother-in-law, a widower, from marrying another woman."

I like that last one. What if it turns out the sister is the one who killed the first wife, and the bride-to-be is the one who has to figure this one out?

So, yeah. Sometimes I'm out of ideas. Sometimes I want a break from my ideas. Sometimes I want a challenge. And when that happens, I turn on the TV.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

YA – is it just for young adults? Hell no.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, this post will most likely make Steve Weddle froth at the mouth. Could someone please stick him in the ass with a tranq before he reads this? I really don’t want his family to experience him having a temper tantrum during the pre-holiday frenzy. That just isn’t festive. Besides, it would make me feel downright mean, and I don’t want to be mean.

(insert pause as someone knocks out my fellow redhead)

Is Steve out cold? Good. Here’s the thing. I read Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins for the first time about two weeks ago. Since then, I’ve read Catching Fire and Mockingjay – the other two books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Technically, theses are YA books because the heroine is the teen. However, the themes in the book aren’t what I would typically think of when someone mentions young adult books. I’ve read a lot of YA books that have teens learning and living and experiencing the heart ache of high school and college. They fight with their families. They chose whether or not to have sex and deal with all the issues that might bring. They have romances and break-ups and all the drama that being a teen holds. That kind of YA isn’t really for me.

No offense to that part of the genre. Teens love it. They should. It is meant for them. But some books don’t fit into the YA category as easily. Hunger Games and the two following novels are different. I’m going out on a limb here, but something tells me these books would never have been targeted at the young adult reader when I was a young adult. The market and the breadth of the genre has changed and the publishers understand that. Targeting a violent book like Hunger Games at the Young Adult market lends buzz to the book. Some adult readers will praise the book. Others will lament the violence and scream for the publisher to be held accountable for taking the innocence of our youth. Ha! You can’t buy that kind of press.

I am thrilled that our youth is reading period. That being said, I’m even happier when I know they are reading books that ask important questions. The Hunger Games and the two follow-up books do. They force the reader to think about government, rebellion and the ability of good, well-intentioned people to do the wrong thing. The books are violent, but the violence isn’t extraneous. It’s purposeful. Sometimes it makes you angry. Other times it makes you cheer and here and there it makes the reader cry.

These books have great depth, a kick-ass storyline and a heroine that is damage from the first moment she steps onto the page. It is that damage that makes her more than a typical YA heroine. She is more adult that youth. Her circumstances demand it and it is that maturity of spirit that allows adult readers to identify with her.

Sure, there were a few technical flaws in the books – very minor shifts to third person that I caught happening here and there. There were also a couple of flashbacks that I had to read several times and still found a tad bit confusing, but none of these flaws detracted from my enjoyment or my need to turn the pages.

I guess what I’m saying is that there are young adult books and then there are YOUNG ADULT books. To say that the entire genre should not appeal to an adult is belittling some really great reads. I admit that I failed to read Hunger Games or the other books earlier because I chalked them up as YA and therefore not as pressing to read as others. I was totally wrong. If Steve Weddle wakes up from his nap looking mellow – press a copy of Hunger Games into his hand and make him curl up in front of the fire. He won’t be sorry.