Friday, December 30, 2011

Hello, 2012

By Russel D McLean

Next week will be 2012. The year in which the Mayan Calendar states: "don't forget to buy more stone so that calendar can continue past 2013". The year in which great and terrible things may or may not happen.

So gazing into my crystal ball what do I see?*

I see Jay Stringer wowing the world with his debut novel OLD GOLD, which very few people know is written in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure Book where every ending is a bad one.

I see a certain Scottish DSDer being published in a foreign language for the first time. That foreign language possibly but not neccesarily being Esperanto.

I see Dave White imploding from all the geeky and conflicting Doctor Who knowledge pumped into his brain by myself and Stringer.

I see DSD becoming single handedly saving the publishing industry with three little words: Keep. Entertaining. Readers.

I see Wee Jimmy Krankie replaced Mara Rooney as Salander in the second David Fincher adaptation of The Girl Who Played With Fire. And wowing critics in a career changing performance (and here, especially for friend of DSD, Christa Faust, is the Krankie's Chart-defying single).

In all, I see another unpredictable year with only one certainty - we'll be here at Do Some Damage, with all our foubles and jokes and issues and sheer panache, entertaining and enlightening you day by day throughout 2012. And don't worry, unlike the Mayan Calendar, our one definitely goes all the way through to 2013...

In the meantime, when it comes, happy New Year!

*and more importantly, how accurately do I see it?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Are All Whiners

This blog post does not represent the opinion of anyone else on Do Some Damage but Dave White.

Shut up.

We--the writers and fans of books--all need to shut up. Big time.

Lately, there's been discussion about self-promotion on Twitter, Amazon boards, Facebook. Basically it comes down to this. Book writers are promoting their books on Twitter. Posting "I have a book out. Buy it! Here's a link." Apparently, it's constant*. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.

Then came the next wave. All the fans of writers have now revolted and started complaining about self-promotion. Immediate unfollowing of self-promoters. Creating arbitrary rules about promotion. "You can only do it once a week." "Five, ten, fifteen percent of time should be self-promotion." Wahh, wahhh, wahhh**.

Shut up.

First off, fans of writing... you have to understand something. Writers need to be noticed. There's a lot of noise out there and they want you to know the name of their book. Wouldn't you be upset if a writer you loved came out with a book and you never heard about it? All writers have fans. Some have a lot of fans. Some have 2 fans***. The only way their fans are going to notice them is if they mention their book. And you know what? Not everyone is always on Twitter at the same time. So sometimes these writers have to post about it more than once! So, if you're a fan of writer and of writers, give people a break okay. Especially if their book has only been out a month or two.

Okay, now writers. Yeah, you guys. Over here. Listen up. You need to chill out a little bit. Talk to people. Come up with conversation. And also, be creative. Let's not shout it all out all the time and then whine when people complain. You're a writer. Creativity is your life. You have to come up with a way to get noticed that's different from the ways everyone else gets noticed. And I'm not talking contests. Everyone does contests. No one who enters a contest ever buys the product their in the contest for. They want free stuff. If they don't get the free stuff, they'll go try to get other free stuff. I don't know what the real answer is. But you need to lay-off the shouting a little bit. I'm not going to come up with some random arbitrary rule for you****, you need to find your comfort zone. But maybe ease off the gas a little bit.

(Or, how about this. Everyone on Twitter picks a different author to promote. If we all promote each other, it's not self-promotion. Then what? Oh, snap!)

See the problem isn't self-promotion... or complaining about self-promotion. Not really. It's about society. The society we live in. The society of protests.

You see, in real life, protesters are doing something good. They're protesting BIG ISSUES. And they're trying to make real change. Look at the Wisconsin Unions, or Egypt, or the Tea Party, or Occupy Wall Street. They've all created real change over big issues.


We're complaining about .... commercials. Sorry, but commercials are a way of life. You're always going to have them. And some of them are pretty damn annoying. But we've always been able to ignore them. And then the people who make the commercials have to try a different tact. When all we do is complain... complain about the little takes away the power of complaining about the big things. About fighting against something.

But we see all these protests, and we need something to whine about so we take up this issue. OOOHHHHH, there's too much on my Twitter feed. OOOHHHHHH, no one's buying my book.

Gimme a break. All of us. We all need to take a breather. We allllllll--even me--should shut up.

Everyone needs to take a deep breath and just chill out. Yes, I know Freedom of Speech is a right. But by both clogging up Twitter with self-promotional commercials**** and complaining about those commercials, you are trying to prohibit free speech. Complainers want to shut people up, self-promos want Twitter to be nothing more than a commercial.

So, let's ease off. Everyone. Be positive. Have fun. Because you know what? Discussion on Twitter never lead us to real change in publishing. Their circular conversations, ones that end up in the same place****** and never solve anything.

So, let's all take a deep breath and stop the freaking whining*******.

*My Twitter feed did have some advertising in it, but I wouldn't say it was constant. And I follow a lot writers.

**I actually saw a lot more of this than I did the actual self-promotion because it got retweeted a lot. And people didn't just post it, they went on ten tweet rants about it.

***Hi mom! Hi dad!

****Unlike those people on the Amazon message boards. Whoa are they crazy. Anyone tries to do something nice for a writer and they flip the f out. And then high five when the writer slinks away, trying to be nice.

*****Funny. When the promotion comes from a publisher, I NEVER see anyone complain about it. There are never "Boyyyy, Little Brown tweets about their books too much."

******Yes, I understand the irony of me posting about this. But I wanted to say it in more than 140 characters. Then I'll shut up. Plus, I like reading comments.

*******Look at all these footnotes. I hate footnotes. I should stop the footnotes. BLEEECCCHHH. I wrote a whole blog post complaining about footnotes once. Ask Russel. But's a truce. I won't complain about them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Review: Empire State by Adam Christopher

I hope you've all enjoyed your time off from DSD and time with families celebrating the holidays.

While you were doing that, I've been reading. So, I need to line-up a quick review for you all.

When I first picked up EMPIRE STATE by Adam Christopher, it struck me as nod to Brian Bendis's wonderful POWERS series of graphic novels. Cops and robbers in the time of the super heroes.

And while you get that, this book becomes so much more.

It's a mash-up, but not like those GLEE mash-ups where the two songs feel force-fed together. It's all your favorite genres mixed up into one. Love noir and hardboiled detective stories? You'll get that here. Love super hero tales? Check this book out. There's even a little bit of Doctor Who-esque time travel in this book.

I wish I could tell you more about the plot. About the cool character doubling that goes on here. About the fissure. I wish I could sit around and type 1000 words just explaining the plot to you. But if I did that, you wouldn't have anything to read, and you'd be totally missing out.

EMPIRE STATE is a big, blockbuster action book. It has images that will stick with you. Earlier in the week, I tweeted that I kept picturing an HBO TV series trailer as I read this book. That's what you're going to get. There are hints of the fantastic film DARK CITY.

I keep telling you what is used to put this book together. But it's so much more than that... because the mash-up is organic. It works. It's worth it. READ THIS BOOK.

Pick this book up. It's available today. You can get it here. I urge you to do so. If these wild ideas keep running through Christopher's head and he gets them down on paper...he's going to be a superstar.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays!

By all of Do Some Damage

Christmas Morning, eh? We think that for people of all belief's, there is something to enjoy in taking a day to think of each other. We hope you're all having a good day, full of food and warmth and those really crappy jokes that you get in crackers.

DSD has grown to be a pretty cool extended family, so in addition to those of us on the current roster, we'd also like to mention those who've taken a step off, McFet, Bryon & Mike.

Let's all take some time to think of our loved ones, of those that we have around us today, those that are farther away, and those that are no longer with us. Think of those less fortunate, and those who maybe don't get to experience a day of love and togetherness.

Also, think of Doctor Who.

And mince pies.

And think of 2012. No matter what place you're in now, that's a whole new year, with new promises and new chances at world domination.

We're going to take a few days off, kick back, and spend some time with family and booze. One of the ideas we'd been kicking around here at DSD was to sign off earlier in the week, with a little christmas message from each of us. In the event that we did that, Joelle had sent me a message to include. I think we should sign off for the holidays with that, and we'll see you round the corner in January;

Joelle wishes everyone stockings filled with books, and lots of laughter and happy moments with family and friends. May everyone have a wonderful Christmas/Boxing Day/Hanukkah/fill in the blank and the brightest of New Years.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Somewhere in Our Memories

Scott D. Parker

I had an interesting thing happened to me this week. The new movie trailer for the film “The Hobbit” debuted. Excitedly, I watched the preview, and, for some reason, I was underwhelmed. It got me to worrying. Have I reached a certain age in my life or my sense of wonder has left me?

Eleven years ago when the first trailer for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings landed on the internet, I could not contain my excitement or enthusiasm. Then, in December of 2001,The Fellowship of the Ring debuted and was such a gorgeous adaptation that it, frankly, exceeded my expectations. Moreover, coming as it did a mere three months after September 11, the movie took on a sort of reverential place in my consciousness. At the time, I had been a new father for only two months, so this film hit me on multiple levels. Finally, that it came out during the Christmas season, this film felt a part of the season. For three wonderful Christmases, the three films fused with the holiday.

So what to make of my somewhat tepid reaction to the new trailer? It's going to be released Christmas time in 2012 and, thankfully, not a summer blockbuster. I polled the members of my science fiction book club. One of them was happy to see that basically nothing had changed, that the new film is going to look exactly like the first three films even if The Hobbit was a prequel. Another member of the club tried to quantify my thoughts. Here is an excerpt of what he had to say:

Maybe we're reaching a saturation point at which something has to be more extraordinary to fire our neurons and release those endorphins. Is that cynicism? Maybe.

Maybe it's the equivalent of a palate change, like when you switch from drinking sweet white wines to dark, tannic reds. When 60% cacao just isn't enough.

We're all at the age that, to me, signals both a refining of what we like as well as having enough life experience to know that trying new things won't hurt us. We're more picky, while in the same breath looking for something that broadens our experience and gives it fresh perspective.

Unfortunately, it may only get more difficult. But that's why I like our book club and that's why I'll risk a potential movie letdown now and then. I don't think there will be anything much better in the film than what I've cultivated from my dozen or more reads of The Hobbit. But I would love Jackson to prove me wrong!

How does this relate to Christmas, you ask? Well, even though I grow older, I am never as young as I am in December of each year, and Christmas is the one thing that never truly diminishes. I watch the same specials (and the new ones) and still laugh at the same things (the Peanuts gang dancing; the Grinch making his costume; Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci getting smacked around among others). When December rolls around, I roll back in years, but I am always aware of where I am.

I am an adult, obviously, so some of the magic of the time is gone (for I am one of the magicians). Yes, there are times in this past month (and just about every December) when melancholy seeps into me as I remember Christmases past. It's during these times when I break out "Where are you Christmas?" (Faith Hill), "River," (Robert Downey), "Somewhere in My Memory" (Home Alone soundtrack), and "2000 miles" (Coldplay). While it may be easy to slip into remorse and depression, I never do. Those past yuletide festivities are a part of me and have made me who I am.

In 1851, Charles Dickens wrote an essay titled "What Christmas Is As We Grow Older," and a favorite passage is this:

Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons they bring, expands! Let us welcome everyone of them, and summoned them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.

All my life experiences, all my past Christmases, belong on the hearth of my memory. Too often, I think we adults try so hard to have or create the "perfect" Christmas that we forget to just live with the season. It only comes once a year and it's best--even when faced with mall crowds, traffic, sold out gifts, and parties that didn't go off exactly as we wanted them to--that there is still magic in the air. We just have to realize that, sometimes, that magic needs a little kindling to spark again. Once it does, even if it's for a brief time in a year, it's great to sit back, watch the fire in our own personal hearths, and just enjoy and be thankful for all that we have, including the memories of past Christmases.

I want thank all of y'all for another great year writing for Do Some Damage. I appreciate all my fellow writers and I am thankful for you, the readers of this blog. Without y'all, we're just spouting text into the ether. Without you, this little experiment would be a monologue (x8) rather than a dialogue. And it's in dialogue that we learn from each other.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Remembering Joseph Blanco

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is especially horrific around the holidays.

As you may have heard, a member of our family lost a member of her family yesterday.

Please remember the family of Joelle Charbonneau and her husband, Andy Blanco, as they lost Andy's father, Joseph Blanco.

Along with many other folks, the ever-thoughtful Julie Summerell wanted to know how we could help.

I asked Joelle and this was her suggestion:

Since my father-in-law was in charge of PADS - a organization that helps feed and lend shelter to the homeless- we are having donations sent to the specific PADS group Joe worked with.

The church is the Unitarian Universalist Community of Woodstock PADS
ATTN: Dave Dreyer
129 North st.
Woodstock, IL 60098

In the name of Joseph Blanco.

I think she'd join me in adding this -- hug your loved ones a little extra this Christmas.

Godspeed, Mr. Blanco.

"Who's Got a Beard that's long and white?"

By Russel D McLean

I don't know about you, but I'm having a busy week of it. Given the nature of my day job, I've been a little tired upon returning home at nights. But its almost over. Its a lot of work for one day a year, but for me its never been about the gifts so much as its been about the family. And the music.

Chritmas at Casa McLean isn't about the usual Chrimbo tunes. We like to find the odd and the unusual. From Dad's obsession with redneck Christmas music to the whole family's recently discovered adoration of Bob Dylan's unfairly maligned Christmas album - here's Bob with Santa Claus (which was apparently filmed at Casa McLean judging by that party):

And of course we also have to bring in the funk. And who says Christmas more than James Brown?

James Brown - Santa Claus, go Straight to the Ghetto

To bring it down, we recently discovered that Dave Brubeck has an amazing collection of Christmas tunes. Like this - -Dave Brubeck - Walking in a Winter Wonderland

And then there's these guys. We're not a particularly religious family. For us, this time of year is about spending time with each other. But if you're going to bring a bit of gospel to your Christmas, you really can't do any better than these guys: Blind Boys of Alabama fear Tom Waits - Go, Tell it on the Mountain

Yes, today's post was a little lazy; a bunch of videos with a vague theme. But I just wanted to wish you all on behalf of Do Some Damage a happy holiday season, whatever you're doing with yourselves and however you choose to spend it. Take care and I'll see you on the other side.


*Answer - not Russel. At least not for a few years.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book Deal! Book Deal!

By Jay Stringer

First off, I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention Joe Strummer. He passed away 9 years ago today, and I always take a little time on this day each year to play some of his music really loud. If you don't have his last two albums, then you're missing something special.

Secondly...Oh yeah, hey, I got a book deal.

Well, I say I got a book deal. What I actually did, see, is write a book. My agent got a book deal. It's a three book contract from the cool people over at Thomas & Mercer, and I'm really looking forward to working with them. The deal will see the publication of the first Eoin Miller novel, OLD GOLD, and it's two follow-ups.

Here's how my agent tells me to pitch the story in one line;

Half-gypsy ex-cop Eoin Miller is caught between two competing criminal families in Great Britain's Black Country when he's framed for the murder of a mysterious young woman he met only the night before.

I'm not very good at pitches, truth be told. If I could pitch a story that well in one line, I wouldn't have written it as a book.That's a skill I'll need to improve on. On my own neglected website I describe the story like this;

It’s pulp fiction, first and foremost, but it will sneak in some social fiction if you look the other way. It tells of a half-gypsy gangland detective. If you’re a businessman looking to find a statue of a falcon or a family looking for a missing toddler, you need not apply to Eoin Miller. If you’re a drug lord looking for a missing stash, or an illegal immigrant looking to stop a rapist, then he might be the man for you. He is very happy ignoring the world, his friends and his family. He’s doing a very nice job of learning to bury his conscience. He will take your money and find something you’ve lost, and then he will walk away. But when a woman is murdered in his house, he’s forced to make some big choices. He has to try and rediscover the difference between right and wrong, and he is badly out of practice.

I have some big plans for Miller over the course of his story arc, and I'm looking forward to getting back into his head and bringing the stories out to you.

One of the things we set out to do on DSD was to "pull back the curtain," and show you the other side of the publishing game. Joelle's been giving some interesting insights into her rise to world domination since she joined, (hey, you heard about her two new deals, right? FOUR BOOKS people, FOUR BOOKS.) I'm going to try and hold myself to showing things along the way about my own process.

First up, the deal and announcement. It's a strange process, and a stranger feeling. You know it's going on, of course. You talk to your agent as she talks to the folks making an offer. And you're sworn to not tell anyone, which means you only tell a few people. Then the deal is done, and you know it's done, and part of your brain is telling you, "Hey, it's cool. You're gonna be published. You're cool with this. Look how cool you are, not freaking out."

But then the deal get's announced. And for some reason, your agent telling the world about the deal makes it more real than when she told you, and you go a little mental. And so does twitter. And facebook. And your email inbox.

So thanks to everyone who sent me kind messages over the past few days. Thanks to the DSD crew for almost 3 years of alternating between, "hey, you'll get a deal, don't sweat," and "sit your ass back in that chair and write a better version." Thanks to my wife for keeping me sane thus far. And thanks to super agent Stacia Decker (and the DMLA) for getting my foot in the door.

The foot is in. The thing about the publishing industry, from my limited point of view so far, is that every step is the hardest step. Each corner you turn is "where the hard work really starts." The hardest part is writing the first story. Then it's getting an agent. Then it's getting a publisher. So now, once again, the hard work is about to start for me. I hope you guys will enjoy reading the occasional blog about how I work at getting through the next stage.

And, of course, tell everyone you've ever met to buy the book.

Happy holidays, folks!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let Me Help You Shop

By Steve Weddle

OK. Last week I pointed you to some good books from the year. In case you need some more shopping hints, here you go.

VOLT by Alan Heathcock

I really dug this one. The story "Lazarus" is my favorite, but they're all top-shelf pieces.

In VOLT, the work of a writer who’s hell-bent on wrenching out whatever beauty this savage world has to offer, Heathcock’s tales of lives set afire light up the sky like signal flares touched off in a moment of desperation. -- from

ONCE UPON A RIVER from Bonnie Jo Campbell

From the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist—an odyssey of a novel about a girl's search for love and identity. 
Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices. -- from

The first BJC I read was WOMEN AND OTHER ANIMALS, which opens with a great story about an escaped tiger at the circus. Heck, you can't go wrong with Bonnie Jo Campbell's work. Get the new one or get the old ones.

And if you haven't already, go get yourself some SOUTHERN GODS by John Hornor Jacobs. I had my say about it here.

We ended last year over at the DSD Book Club talking about Benjamin Whitmer's fantastic PIKE.

If you haven't read that, you need to get to it. Here

Whether you have or haven't, Whitmer has a new one coming out next year -- the story of Charlie Louvin. Pre-order that one here. More from Mr. Whitmer himself here.

Here's the chat I had with Mr. Whitmer about Pike.

And here's one more "rural noir" offering to get you going: CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA by Frank Bill. I talked to him about writing here.

Don't forget to pre-order Joelle's upcoming MURDER FOR CHOIR. And speaking of pre-orders: Holm, Davidson, Blackmoore, Christopher, Laukkanen, Wendig. Who else you got?


Speaking of books you should read/own/gift -- the Book Group, we also covered Lynn Kostoff's LATE RAIN, Duane Swierczynski's FUN AND GAMES, and Dennis Tafoya's WOLVES.

Oh, and I talked to Lynn Kostoff about LATE RAIN here.

If you'd like to see the podcasts continue next year, let us know.

If you'd like to see the Book Group continue, let us know.

PS Check out WILD BILL from Dana King.

Will Hickox is a decorated FBI veteran with a legendary ability to cultivate informants, much closer to retirement than to the days when he earned the nickname “Wild Bill.” Operation Fallout should cut the head off of the Chicago mob and provide a fitting capstone to his career. When Outfit boss Gianni Bevilacqua dies and the resulting war places Fallout in jeopardy, Hickox does what he can to save it, and his retirement plans with his lover, Madeline Kilmak. 

Wild Bill examines the stresses of Operation Fallout from the law enforcement, criminal, and personal perspectives, as Will and his peers fight to keep the investigation afloat amid the power struggle between Gianni’s son and elder statesman Frank Ferraro. Torn between wanting closure to the investigation and starting his retirement, Hickox weighs the dangers of involving himself and Operation Fallout in the war, blurring the line he walks with his informants. Wild Bill

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best Books and Beers 2011

Okay, just like everyone else, I have Christmas stuff I gotta do. So this is gonna be short and to the point. I'm picking the two best books I read this year and the two best beers.

Here we go:


AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman: Not published in 2011. In fact, it's the tenth anniversary. I stumbled upon this book because of Gaiman's brilliant episode of Doctor Who this year. But American Gods is more than a Doctor Who episode. It's one of the top 5 books I've ever read. A stunning, sprawling "realistic" fantasy novel (as if those two words make sense in conjunction with one another)... it is the story of American immigration... and what if those immigrants all brought their Gods with them. And those Gods wanted to start a war. Oh yes, it is awesome.

CHOKE ON YOUR LIES by Anthony Neil Smith: Quite simply the funniest, dirtiest, darkest, and most easily read book this year. A twist on the Nero Wolfe novels and also a scathing take on University life. Compelling and wonderful, it was the best book published this year. And only 99 cents. Please buy it, because I want a sequel. Now.


Schlafly AIPA: Bitter when it needs to be, smooth at the beginning and the best IPA I've ever had. A great summer beer... I tried tracking this beer down all year and was only able to find it in one restaurant. Just great tasting and fantastic. If you can find it, you're very, very lucky.

Keegan Ale's Mother's Milk: A stout so smooth and drinkable. Tastes like chocolate milk. If you don't like beer, this is a starter beer for you. And if you like stouts, but are looking for something to drink more than just one of... try this one out. Great stuff.

Now, I want your best books and BEST BEERS in the comments.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Plumbing of Genre, RIP Russell Hoban and other miscellany

My thoughts are all over the place this week so here are some things that have been on my mind. Maybe they will get expanded on later maybe not.

1) The Wire has ruined the police procedural on TV for me. Whether The Wire is realistic or not isn't the point but it achieved a level of verisimilitude that other cop shows don't. David Simon once said “fuck the average reader” and what The Wire demands of the viewer bears this philosophy out. That's because, if you look under the hood, these other cop shows, ostensibly set in the real world, are actually fantasies.

Some say that genre is an artificial construct created my marketing departments. Maybe.

Here's what I know. The surface genre of a story isn't always readily apparent.

I watch these other cop shows and gnash my teeth and rend my garments and laugh like they are sitcoms every time:

-they break a suspect in the box in like 30 seconds
-they are able to use a missing persons cell phone data to determine their location without having to get a warrant for that info
-they never show the process of getting a warrant before taking a door
-they make The Promise. You know, “I promise we'll get the guy who did this”, Horatio intoned gruffly while standing sideways before putting his sunglasses on and walking away. I hate The Promise. I'm thinking about editing an anthology called The Promise where every story has a cop making The Promise before it all goes horribly wrong.
-a suspect, especially affluent ones, never lawyer up

The Wire, at it's core, is a realistic show. The CSI's and other procedural are, at their cores, fantasies. It's not as outlandish a premise as you might initially think if you take the time to look under the hood of the story.

There's more to say so I'm going to leave two exhibits as food for thought.

Exhibit A: A paragraph that Chuck Klosterman wrote:

"Take, for example, Road House. This is a movie I love. But I don't love it because it's bad; I love it because it's interesting. Outside the genre of sci-fi, I can't think of any film less plausible than Road House. Every element of the story is wholly preposterous: the idea of Swayze being a nationally famous bouncer (with a degree in philosophy), the concept of such a superviolent bar having such an attractive clientele, the likelihood of a tiny Kansas town having such a sophisticated hospital, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Every single scene includes at least one detail that could never happen in real life. So does that make Road House bad? No. It makes Road House perfect. Because Road House exists in a parallel reality that is more fanciful (and more watchable) than The Lord of the Rings. The characters in Road House live within the mythology of rural legend while grappling with exaggerated moral dilemmas and neoclassical archetypes. I don't feel guilty for liking any of that. Road House also includes a monster truck. I don't feel guilty for liking that, either."

Exhibit B: a fascinating scan of an article from New Frontiers magazine from 1959 called "Can We Live Without Fantasy Fiction"? that illustrates that fantasy then is not the same as fantasy now.

2)It's been a hell of a week for deaths. Russell Hoban, one of my favorite writers, died at the age of 86. Hoban was the rare writer that you could grow with and read for your entire life. He was the author of the famous Francis the Badger children's books. He penned the classic book for older children (and adults) The Mouse and His Child, as moving and deep a book as has ever been written. He then went on to write novels for adults including Turtle Island and Riddly Walker. He stayed prolific, playful and imaginative until the end and we are now less for not having him with us.

3)I think this video is a great example of an unreliable narrator in a first person POV story

4)When we talk about book pricing and the changing landscape of of the publishing industry we often do so while in a bubble. We rarely take into account data and opinions from sources as far ranging as possible. With how inter-connected things are the conversation is lesser for not doing so. We should take into account things like this:

“It’s well established that when housing prices go up people feel richer and spend more: the rule of thumb is that they spend between five and seven per cent of the increase in housing wealth. But when housing prices go down people cut their spending by the same amount in response. Between 2006 and 2011, American homeowners saw the value of their homes drop by seven trillion dollars or so. That means that—even if consumers had no debt at all—we’d expect a dropoff in consumption of about four hundred billion dollars.”

That's a staggering figure that will and has affected discretionary spending.

5)And just because:

But though similar disasters, however little bruited ashore, were by no means unusual in the fishery; yet, in most instances, such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent.

Currently reading: Already Gone by John Rector, Osama by Lavie Tidhar, Drawing Dead by JJ DeCeglie.

Currently listening: Amy Winehouse and Peter Tosh.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Write what you want to write

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Well, this was kind of an exciting week. Minotaur Books offered me a contract on SKATING UNDER THE WIRE, book 4 of the Rebecca Robbins mystery series. YAY! I love writing Rebecca and I am excited to get to work on her newest adventure that will be published in the Fall of 2013.

I also had one other piece of good news. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has bought my 3 book GRADUATION DAY young adult series. The first book, THE TESTING, will be published in 2013 as the lead Fall (although they are now thinking it might be Spring) title with the other books to follow in 2014 and 2015. To say I’m stunned would be an understatement. My new editor and the entire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt team is incredibly excited about the series. Their enthusiasm is both thrilling and humbling.

The story is darker than my mysteries and while when I conceived the story I was fascinated by the concept, I admit that I wasn’t sure that A) I could effectively do the world building required for the story or B) my agent would like the story or the voice it was told in. But the decision to write or not write the story was tipped in one direction because of these words:

Write what you want to write.

Last May, I was having a phone chat with my agent. During the conversation, I asked her what project I should write next. I had two books to write on my contract for my new show choir series. The deadline for book 2 wasn’t for over a year, but I assumed that my agent would want me to write those books first before writing anything else. Still, I mentioned to her I had an idea for this Young Adult book…. I waited for her to tell me to keep focused or that she didn’t really rep YA. Instead, she said that sounds really cool. You should write that. I must have sounded surprised because her next response was – WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE.

Those words had a profound impact on me and not just because I have received the kind of contract I never dared dream of. Those words themselves were freeing.

So often we hear that authors need to stick to their brand. That authors need to stick to the genre that is working for us. Stick to the voice and the stories we have an audience for. But instead, I was told to write the story in my head and see where that story would take me.

Now, I’m a pretty fast writer. I tend to write a mostly clean draft of a manuscript in about 3 months. Had it not been for that fact, my agent might have had different advice for me. She might have suggested that I write those next contracted novels and wait to write the other idea until after they were completed. Because this is a business and there are obligations I have promised to meet. But she knows me and thus told me to write the story I really wanted at that moment to tell. Let me tell you, I am beyond grateful I followed her advice.

So, I guess the point of this whole story is this—don’t let anyone tell you that you “the author” are locked into doing just one thing. Being a writer means day in and day out we get to create. There are no limits to the stories we can tell. The most important thing we can do as authors is write the story we are passionate about. That passion is why we do what we do. And we are lucky we get to follow that passion and see where it leads us.

In case you are curious - here is the PW copy about THE TESTING - 16-year-old Cia is chosen by her government to undergo The Testing, which determines whether she gets to proceed to The University. The University is for the country's best and brightest teens; during The Testing, extreme psychological and physical trials pit the teens against one another to determine who has what it takes to become a leader.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

When Charles Dickens Met Batman

Scott D. Parker

To me, there is freedom within a framework.

Of all the discussions about writing, the one that gets lots of attention is the outline vs. no outline debate. For those who writing without the safety of an outline love the freedom to go wherever. The Outliner group prefers the comfy confines of an outline, knowing exactly how the story will end before they start. As y'all know, I'm an outliner.

What does this have to do with Batman and Boz? Nothing less than the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Here in this Christmas season, all the numerous adaptations of Dickens' wonderful ghost story are presented in movie theaters, stages, and our televisions. We all have our favorites whether its with the Muppets, Bill Murray, the Grinch, Jim Carrey, Mickey Mouse, Patrick Stewart, or any of the others out there. The story is the same, no matter the version: Scrooge is visited by Christmas spirits and sees the true meaning of the holiday. From the outset, you know the story. Yet, like a romantic comedy, it's the journey that's the most fun part.

How does this relate to Batman? Well, this year, Lee Bermejo wrote and illustrated Batman: Noel, a take on the Dickens story with the trappings of the Dark Knight. Now, if you are like me, the first thing you do, upon hearing of the concept, is to start thinking about the characters and who would be cast as whom. It's giving nothing away to state that Batman himself is Scrooge. The fun is where the other characters from the DC Universe show up. And, I have to say, Bermejo must have had a lot of fun writing this tale. And have you see his gorgeous art and its hyper-stylized realism?

The thing is that when a writer crafts a new take on A Christmas Carol, that writer works within an outline. But just look at the freedom Bermejo had working with this outline. It's the same story, but a completely new take. Heck, I'm even using A Christmas Carol to frame and craft a new Calvin Carter mystery. But, then again, I'm an outline guy anyway.

So, what are you favorite versions of A Christmas Carol? Having seen the production--and additions--from Houston Alley Theater, it is now tops in my book. I also really enjoy Patrick Stewart's one-man version.

Tweet of the Week:

I don’t always drink flavored lattes, but when I do, they’re seasonal two-pump gingerbread lattes.

--Nathan Fillion

Ever since October started, I've been having numerous pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Haven't given the g-bread a taste. Well, there's today....

Album of the Week: Quatuor Ebene's Fiction. After mentioning them a couple weeks back and then, having only heard one song and a few snippets at the time, I bought the album. Wow. This is a modern string quartet who realizes that good songs come not only from the masters but from Dick Dale, Charlie Chaplin, and Bruce Springsteen. Their gorgeous sound resonates in unique ways, both when they cover popular songs or less well-know pieces. Get this: they cover the Beatles' "Come Together" and, while its true you realize Mozart could not have written it, you also realize how good the song is in a completely different format. Give it a listen and you'll likely be surprised.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yes, its the Obligatory top 10 of the year post...

By Russel D McLean

Still time to enter Russel’s competition – and did you know that for the rest of this month his short story e-collection THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS (and other stories) is only 99c US and 86p UK? Available for Kindle (US and UK) and for other e-readers. He also asks that you please forgive this moment of blatant self-promotion.

And so Christmas time approaches. One more week to go. Whaddaya mean you ain’t gone Christmas shopping? What, you were waiting for my recommendations of books to go buy? Apart from my own? (available from all good booksellers both physical and digital, you know - - and every copy sold helps me keep The Literary Critic in the style to which she is accustomed). But of course, I’m not the only starving author out there and the following is a list of ten books from the last year I think you really need to buy. Either for yourself, or as a gift for someone you know who’s really going to appreciate a damn good read; especially one with the McLean seal of approval.

1) The End of Everything by Megan Abbott – My vote for book of the year, in part because it hit me completely from left field. I was already in love with Abbott’s work, but what she does here is incredible. The book is told entirely from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl, and it pulls no punches in its depiction of a world that is all appearance and snakes beneath the skin. The prose unfolds in a dream-like fashion, and the soft-focus of a character looking back on themselves and their lives hides ugly, unsettling truths. The cover – on both sides of the Atlantic – makes the book look like literary women’s fiction, which in a sense it is. But it is also one of the purest, most captivating and most disturbing books you’ll have read this year regardless of your genre. Abbott has excelled herself and set a high bar for other authors to reach.

2) A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block – Block’s back, baby. And so is Matt Scudder. This one rewinds to the eighties where Matt was first coming to terms with being an alcoholic. As such, it is stepped in atmosphere and a sense of moving forward. Matt is at his most interesting when he teeters on the edge, and here we find him a fascinating and volatile version of the man we’ve come to know. The book is as much about addiction as it is about murder, and a hell of a reminder as to why Matt Scudder is one of the most interesting and fascinating of the post-Archer PIs.

3) Fun and Games & Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynksi – Okay, so its two books in this entry, but they are so closely connected I count them as one. Swierczynski is the king of the action novel. His plots are preposterous, his body count high and his adrenaline mainlined. He’s a pulp prince for the new millennium and one of the very few writers who can pace his action in prose to the point where you’re literally sweating with exertion along with his characters. Charlie Hardie is the kind of action hero who’s going to be mentioned in the same breath as John McLean.

4) Already Gone by John Rector – Rector follows up his brilliant THE COLD KISS with an equally terrifying slice of mystery, as we follow one man trying to atone for who he used to be as he becomes convinced that the past is finally catching up. But nothing is as it seems and this is one of a very few twist-thrillers where you really find yourself blindsided by the revelations.

5) Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs – I love a good horror novel, but I’m not a big Lovecraft fan. However, Jacobs takes some of Lovecraft’s legacy and makes it his own in this sprawling, brilliant and unsettlingly fun novel set in the deep south during the 1950’s. A great feel for the period and some brilliantly realised moments of supernatural terror make this one a winner.

6) Choke Hold by Christa Faust – Hands down the most fun I’ve had a (former) porn star this year. Angel Dare is back in this sequel to Money Shot, and somehow she’s even more kick-ass than before. The writing is lean and mean and there’s a hell of a lot more going on beneath the surface than you might realise at first. Also, it’s a slam-bang adventure with some real standout set pieces. Just… perfection.

7) Dove Season by Johnny Shaw – Kinda controversial debut given it came from Amazon’s publishing arm (at least one bookstore refused to stock it) but whatever your feelings about the giant retailer and their reach, there’s no denying that this is one hell of a debut – great sense of location and a lot of ambition. It’s a game of two halves, with the second finding the action in an unstoppable freefall that’s removed from the sedate pace that came before, but Shaw earns every moment and shows a real promise for the future.

8) Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black – Great start to a new series by Black. Its got more mainstream appeal than the Dury novels, considering the lead’s a copper, but of course Black’s got far more than yer standard procedural here. It’s a novel that revels in the shadows, leavened by a profound sense of dark humour that runs softly through the narrative. It’s the novel that should start to bring Black to the attention of a wider audience. And on top of that, it’s a natural progression to everything he’s done so far. Bravo, Black. Bravo.

9) Moriarty: The Hound of the D’ubervilles by Kim Newman – It’s not perfect (a little overlong in places, but then that might be part of the joke) but Newman’s tongue in cheek chronicling of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis hits all the right spots with some great gags and very nice appropriating of contemporary literature that make for a very fun read.

10) FIFTH VICTIM by Zoe Sharp – My impatience with the action novel is often quite severe, so its unusual that two should appear on my top ten list. Fifth Victim is more serious in its approach to action than Swierczynski’s homage to insanity mentioned earlier, but it is also one of the most successful and engaging thrillers I’ve read all year. Charlie Fox is – dare I say it – so much more interesting and developed than Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and while a lesser writer might have made her a typical action hero in drag, Sharp manages to make Fox into a fascinating and fully rounded character. In other words, this is a woman who can truly kick ass. But it’s the emotional development that really marks out Sharp and Fox, and make FIFTH VICTIM a truly brilliant action novel.

So there we are. My top 10 reads of the year. Sure, they’re mostly crime novels, but they’re also a rich and varied representation of the talent available within the genre. So my advice to you is to hurry out to your preferred retailer and stock up. After all, if you do get snowed in this Christmas you’re going to want some damn good reads to keep you occupied…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel

By Jay Stringer

If this has been the year of anything, it's been the year of Mr Dave White discovering Doctor Who. In many ways, I think that's also led to a new level of enjoyment for Mr Russel D McLean and my own self. It's been an added dimension, not only do we get to look forward to the episodes, to have our own theories, but we also discuss them in some pretty epic chain emails with Dave. The show sometimes ends on cliffhangers, that can last for months, and the three of us get to fill that gap with wild guesses. Increasingly over the last year, there have been 'canon' (a useless term in Who, but bear with me) clips cropping up in other media; Comic Relief, viral marketing, the Who website. The show has been doing what a show of it's kind would appear to need to, it's been throwing a lot of sci fi plates in the air.

Dave sent me an interesting link yesterday. It showed quotes from Moffat, originally from an interview in Doctor Who Magazine, that he's not planning any two-parters next year. Here's one bit; "I want to be able to say, every week, we’ve got a big standalone blockbuster, and then a trailer that makes it look like nothing compared to what’s going to happen next week! That’s the form for next year."

Now, look, I'm not going to get into second guessing Mr Moffat. He's a witty and inventive (if sometimes overly clever and emotionally shallow) writer, and most of the high points of modern who have come from his pen. Fingers. Keyboard. Whatever.

(I should have just gone with 'brain', right?)

He's also known to lie from time to time. In a good way. He lies in a way that sets up the audience for a pleasant surprise. So I'm translating "no two parters next year," into, "let's wait and see how many times he breaks that rule." No big deal.

He's also a bit of a master (heehee) at writing stand alone episodes that feel like two-parters. The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below were two separate stories, but, connected by the larger story and coming one after the other, they worked very well as a subtle two-parter. So again, no big deal. Chances are he'll come up with something fun.

But it did get my brain whirring about cliffhangers and serialised stories. My first reaction was to think he was off the money. After all, so many of the TV shows we rave about in the staff room here at DSD towers are extremely long form storytelling. Whole seasons that are one long story.

I wonder if genre plays a part in this. For crime, horror or straight up drama, maybe our brains will be patient. For Who -which covers a lot of ground but really belongs in it;s own genre marked 'fun.'- is there a bit of the brain than loses track if it has to wait? I don't know. For me, growing up with old Who and then enjoying some of the modern stuff, the show needs cliffhangers. And more than that, I like stories that have them. I try and throw them in at the end of chapters, whether it's a physical beat or an emotional one.

But sometimes the cliff hanger can get in the way. Think of the old Batman TV show. The fun was in seeing what silly trap he could get into, then tuning in to the next episode to see how he got out of it. The 20-or-so minutes between those sometimes fade into bland memories.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a love letter to an era of cliff-hangers, yet the film doesn't end on one. The story never leaves you guessing for two long about how Indy gets out of the scrape, because there's not week's wait. And that film doesn't exactly suffer for it. And I find that if comic-book writers use the cliff-hanger technique too often, I start to lose interest in the book, it becomes formulaic.

Moffat states that the second instalments present modern problems; the viewing figures go down, the press attention goes down, the 'coming next' trailers are harder to do. I wonder if there's something in that, I wonder if, as with the old Batman show, cliff-hangers create a novelty, but that novelty then gets in the way of story? Shows like THE WIRE were long form story telling, but they actually very rarely used cliff-hangers. Each episode, for the most part, was a self contained chapter in a larger story, with a beginning, middle and end.

So, colour me confused. I'm not too worried about WHO. It's a show that needs to take a look at itself every year and figure out something new, that's how it keeps afloat. But overall I'm wondering about some of these things. I'd been taking it for granted that the jump into new media would create a new golden age of cliff-hangers. But maybe not. Maybe all it means is that people will want more sophisticated self contained stories, bite sized chunks that can either stand alone or work as part of a larger story.

This is exactly the kind of thing that John Mcfet used to speculate about. So he's probably sat somewhere, in his hollowed out Canadian volcano, stroking a white cat and laughing. Maybe you should tune in next week to see if it's true.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Return of Oscar Martello

By Steve Weddle

First, here are some Christmas present ideas for that reader you know:

THE CHAOS WE KNOW by Keith Rawson

"These aren't stories (The Chaos We Know), these are slivers of a blasted world which Rawson gleefully embeds in your mind, and which won’t be dislodged by bourbon, ritual scarification, or even the police procedural -- thank God. And thank God, too, for Rawson, who has the kind of talent to leave you mutilated and breathless." -- Benjamin Whitmer, author of Pike

“The Chaos We Know is a pulp-fueled debut w/ dopers, cops, husbands and wives. boyfriends & girlfriends, psychos & sadists, sand-storming through the potholes & shithouses of Arizona, leaving barnacles of the self centered, the down trodden’ & the surviving. Keith Rawson is the new garbage-tongued satirist of filth, deviance & violence for the new underclass.” -- Frank Bill, author of Crimes in Southern Indiana and Donnybrook

MONKEY JUSTICE by Patti Abbott

"Patricia Abbott proves that there are many shades of noir as she expertly layers her stories with melancholy, loss and the frailness of the human psyche" – Dave Zeltserman, author of Pariah

“Patti Abbott is a master when it comes to short stories.” -- Anne Frasier, author of Pale Immortal and The Orchard (as Theresa Weir)

“In this collection of short contemporary noir fiction, Patti Abbott distinguishes herself as an extraordinary storyteller of the dark recesses of the human heart. Abbott’s characters hit hard, fight dirty, and seek a brand of hardscrabble justice that will leave you both wincing and wishing for more.” – Sophie Littlefield, author of a Bad Day for Sorry

OFF THE RECORD edited by Luca Veste

‘Hitmen, cons, winos, bag snatchers, killers and psychos, the wronged, the vengeful and the damned, all darken the pages off this superior crime anthology. Off The Record is seriously cool.’ - Howard Linskey, Author of The Drop, named in The Times best reads of 2011

37 talented writers plus Steve Weddle, 38 short stories based on classic song titles...

The best writers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, come together to produce an anthology of short stories, with all proceeds being donated to two Children's Literacy charities. In the UK, National Literacy Trust. In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative.

SKATING OVER THE LINE by our own Joelle Charbonneau

"Light and breezy, Charbonneau’s sophomore entry holds up. Her humor mixed with an eccentric cast keeps the mystery rolling at a steady clip. With this title’s romantic triangle not unlike Janet Evanovich’s trio of Stephanie Plum, Ranger, and Joe Morelli, and relatives reminiscent of those in books by Rita Lakin or Deborah Sharp, you’ve got another humorous series at the ready."--Library Journal

"Charbonneau's sequel to 2010's Skating Around the Law offers just the right mix of skullduggery, humor, mystery, and romance....Readers will enjoy the ride, and they'll really love Elwood, Lionel's retired circus camel."--Publishers Weekly


Also, you know, this.


OK. As many of you know, I've been finishing up my COUNTRY HARDBALL collection, which has nothing to do with Oscar Martello in tone, subject, or style.

Still, we have plenty of Oscar in the tank and on the horizon (don't ask), so here you go -- the return of Oscar Martello. This is a section from the Oscar story I've been working on. Maybe it's rough, but I hear that's how you folks like Oscar. I'll put it through the polishing machine later. By the way, if you need to catch up on Oscar, you'll find some help here.


The Return of Oscar Martello

I’d been driving for an hour or two looking for something that would lead me to the next thing. I’d gotten some information from what was left of the priest, but I didn’t expect to find out what happened to my brother and his wife. Don’t know what I was expecting. Guys handing off cash and crack under a big sign that says “Drug Deal Here.” I hadn’t bothered with dealers in 20 years, not since a guy we called Ugarte needed some help cleaning up an area over in Bossier.
If the answer to the problem is to stop the oxygen from going to someone’s brain, then I’m the guy. If the answer is to separate a person into parts in order to find out another answer, they call me. But when no one even knows what the question is, no one gets called. Which is why I was driving around Weatherby Estates. The neighborhood, maybe the kids called it a territory, was jammed between Youree Drive and some of nicer neighborhoods. And the place was falling apart, like big hunks all over Shreveport. Meaning that the kids were like hawks in the winter, needing to expand their hunting grounds to find food. But they weren’t hawks. They were bees. The Killer Bs. They had been the Weatherby Killer Bees, tagging “23-11-2” all over because “W” was the twenty-third letter of the alphabet and so forth. After a couple of years, they just called themselves the Killer Bees and adopted jerseys from the Houston Astros because a couple of their players, Biggio and Bagwell, were called the “Killer B’s.” Really cute. I had the history explained to me by a guy I had tied up watching me peel the skin off one of his gang-mates in order to keep the conversation moving.  I’m the curious sort.
Now I was pulling around their territory, looking for them. And looking for a place to dump a plastic bag of crapped pants. My friend Lucy had called me thirty minutes after I’d left her place because my nephew Zach had crapped his pants. So I swung by Sears, grabbed him some replacement clothes, and stopped by her place where we swapped plastic bags.
He was sitting on the couch watching cartoons, just as I’d left him. Except for the change of clothes.
“Why is he in that t-shirt?” I asked her.
Lucy looked at me, then back at the t-shirt, then at me. “You don’t like Jeff Gordon?”
“Don’t care. Just asking.”
“I had him in a Dale Junior one after I cleaned him up, but then I thought he might have another accident. So I put him in that one instead.”
“You brought him undies?” she asked.
“I brought socks, underwear, pants, shirts. Kid can move in now.”
“The hell he can,” she said, then scrunched up her face, said “sorry” to Zach and leaned in to me. “The hell he can. I got clients coming.”
“I don’t know. Tonight. They called as soon as you left. You gotta do something with him by dinner.”
“Tell ya what. I’ll grab some pizzas when I come back to get him. That help?”
“Just be here. He ain’t gonna spend the night.”
Exactly what I needed. Taking care of my four-year-old nephew while I figure out what the bad guys did to his perfect mommy and daddy. His daddy. My brother. What he’d told them. Whether he’d told them anything he shouldn’t have. Anything besides where I was. Anything, such as what was in the Richardson file.


Having a little brother never helped me when I was growing up. He was staying with my mother’s side of the family. The ones with college degrees and paychecks. I was staying with my father’s side of the family. The ones who weren’t familiar with taxable income.
That’s why he’d become an accountant, and I’d become something else. That’s why he was the person to go to when I realized what was in the envelopes I’d taken from Richardson’s safe. That was why I had to find out what he’d told them. What he told his wife. Johnny Quinn was gone. But if Vitus wanted the information, then I had to act quickly.


So there I was, driving around the outer edge of the Killer Bees’ area when I stopped to finally drop the bag of crap into a trash can. I should have stopped the first chance after leaving Lucy’s, but I just wanted to find out what was going on. Get out and clean up his dad’s mess. Then get the kid back with whatever family he still had at that point. Then move on with my life. And by then I was smelling wet crap all over the inside of a plastic Brookshire’s bag.
I pulled up in front of a strip mall and was stepping out to the edge of the sidewalk for the trashcan when I saw two tough guys in Astros jerseys and crooked caps slinking around the corner.
I locked the car and followed them down the side of the building. Beige cinderblocks and weed-tall grass. Across a concrete creek, some overflow reservoir, to a chainlink fence.
I looked around and noticed an opening that had been torn on the bottom part of the fence. Probably so that they didn’t have to jump over. Or so that they could stay hidden longer. I saw one of the guys coming out from behind a bush, and when I stepped towards him, a building of some sort hit the back of my head and I went down.
The guy behind got my gun as I struggled to keep my eyes open. The guy who’d been in front was holding something solid in his fist and taking a whack at my chin. I couldn’t stay up, couldn’t stay steady. Even though I had to move my car. Even though I had to stay awake. Even though I had to get Zach from Lucy’s by six. Even. Though.


I woke up with my hands tied behind me. Cuffs. I blinked awake to high windows. Concrete floor I was sitting on. Basement. Hands cuffed together behind me, around the bottom of a column.
The two Killer Bees who’d dragged me here were sitting at a card table waiting for me to wake up.
The little one saw me, then he put his cards down. “He’s awake.”
The big one pushed his chair away from the table. He kneeled in front of me. “You’re the one who messed up Father Michael.”
I looked up at him. “Yeah.”
He kneeled down again and backhanded me across the face. “I wasn’t asking a question, you friggin’ puke.”
When I leaned back to avoid some of the slap, I felt the column behind me shift a little. He walked back to the card table and I felt around the floor where the column settled. Raised cement, but the wooden column hadn’t been secured. I didn’t know too much about lag screws. I didn’t understand all the details about how to frame walls, how to finish a basement.
I did know how to finish other things. And I knew that putting your hands on me is a bad idea.
The little one, Biggio, came at me from the table. He stood right in front of me, swaying from side to side in his work boots. I was guessing size 8. “See, Mr. Tough Guy. We don’t like people asking questions about us. We got serious business to take care of and we don’t need no weasels like you coming around trying to scare us with your guns.”
Behind him, Bagwell chambered a round in my Glock 25. I kept it handy because it was easy to carry, easy to hide, and didn’t ruin the line of my jacket. My jacket that they’d wadded up on the floor next to the table.
I crossed my legs, put by feet under me. Biggio was standing between me and Bagwell, so when I slid my hands out from under the column, I had an extra second or two. I popped up with my head into Biggio’s chin, sending him up and back. Bagwell reacted better than I’d thought he would and the little guy caught a couple rounds in the back as he fell into Bagwell. The big guy reached out for his buddy and dropped the gun, which I kicked to my left, towards the door.
Had I been 20 years younger, I would have jumped and pulled my legs through my arms, putting my cuffed hands in front of me. As it was, I dropped to my side, trying to wiggle around like a dying fish flopping around a boat.
Bagwell recovered enough to kick me in the back, but not before I’d gotten my hands in front of me. As I stood up, I caught another one of his kicks in my hands and pushed him back into the wall. I didn’t know where the key to the cuffs was and I didn’t have time to find it before he was coming back. I turned away as he came at me and sent a knee into his gut, then raised my arms and brought both fists down into his upper spine. He stayed there on his knees for a second before I put my fists together again and slammed him against his temple. I saw the key on the table and uncuffed. I walked over towards the door where the pistol and my jacket were. As I tried to shake the wrinkles out of my jacket, Zach’s bag fell out.


Bagwell was barely awake, but opened his eyes with a start as I put the first nail through his hand. He tried to shake me off, but I had my weight on his back, my knees pressing into his shoulders as I drove in the other nail. That’s the good thing about basements. Tools. 2x4s.
I’d secured him around a post I knew wouldn’t move -- him spread face down and arms out, the post in front and his hands nailed to a 2x4 on the other side. I hadn’t tried this before and was curious about how it would turn out. That should have gotten him talking, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste any time.
So I opened the bag of Zach’s soiled clothes.


After two minutes, I pulled the streak-filled Transformer underwear from his mouth and he gave me the name I needed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best TV of 2011

Last week I talked about HOMELAND, which was one of my favorite TV shows of the new season. That goes along with 3 other shows that either tugged at my heart, tickled my brain or kept me on the edge of my seat:

Doctor Who: I first caught up with this show last April and, yes, got obsessed. Steven Moffat is telling a modern day fairy tale, complete with monsters, humor, emotion and plenty of mind bending twists. Though his endings don't always live up to his set-ups, they always fit together nicely. And the season finale of series 5 is amazing TV, and the opening minute of series 6 are mind-blowing. If you like funny, twisty sci-fi, check out this series.

Terriers: A modern day PI novel set-up for TV. This show gets into the lives two down-on-their-luck PIs who take a case and get... you guessed it... caught up in something much, much bigger. And while the case isn't exactly breaking new ground, the banter between the two PIs and the events they go through in their personal lives make the show compelling as hell. The show only lasted a season, but you got about as good a conclusion as you're going to get. Check it out on Netflix now.

Breaking Bad: What else can be said about this TV show? Simply the best drama on TV today. This is a show that needs patience from its viewers, but pays off in spades if you keep up with it. The latest season was no different. I'm staying away from spoilers, so I can't tell you much more... but know this... the show will ring your bell.

Next week... books.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Education in Discrimination

The girl-child, at the tender age of 9, recently had a powerful lesson.

No, people are not all equal. Some are a little less equal. They might be - shudder with horror - men.

See, she had her dress rehearsal for her dance recital. And since the boy-child was sick, it meant we had to split up. Brian took her to the rehearsal...

And was shown the door.

Not allowed to stay and watch. Only female companions were allowed to stay and watch.

You see, allegedly, there were going to be costume changes. Out on the stage. So no boys allowed.

Except... the men operating the sound equipment and lights and the stage hands and the men old enough to be my parent who were in the productions and the boy dancers...

So, wait? The girls were just going to strip down and change in front of all of them, some of whom worked for the auditorium and weren't known to the dance school? Complete strangers?

The thing is, girl-child emerged from rehearsal with the news that no costume changes occurred.

They just didn't want fathers or grandfathers to watch the rehearsals, and they made up an excuse that sounds good on the surface but is pure crap.

And girl-child came home offended on behalf of her dad.

Brian? He's experienced it so many times, he's just gotten used to it. As a single father for many years, he'd go to the store and someone would say, "Oh, it's Dad's day out."

When you're juggling two toddlers it makes it hard to say, "Every single day is Dad's day out."

People are prejudiced. They presume. They don't always do it with malicious intent. More often, it's probably a case of not thinking.

But all that willingness to not think contributes to generations of sexist behavior. Maryland State legally does not discriminate based on gender and is supposed to consider both parents equal parents, yet in the majority of cases, mothers get custody.

If there was real equality, the default position of the courts would be shared legal and physical custody, with a 50-50 split that's only adjusted based on individual needs in the situation.

But it isn't.

The other day, Steve Mosby posted a link on Facebook, about sexual harassment. The author talks about just wanting to be able to go out and not have to worry about being hit on.

Somewhere in our lives, we've all experienced it. Judgment, conclusions without facts, based on nothing more than our gender, appearance, skin color, ethnicity or religion. I personally think Brian caught the edge of something far worse recently, when someone said to him that there are so many dads who just aren't involved in their kids lives.

Of course, that was right after we were told even though Brian has shared legal and physical custody of his kids, that he doesn't have any say in educational decisions.

I walked away wondering if the reason so many kids are growing up without dads involved in their education is because of administrators shoving them out the doors.

That may frustrate me to no end. But I have to say that there's nothing sadder than seeing it - really seeing it - for the first time through your child's eyes, and seeing that they are beginning to understand that the world will prejudge them, too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's all in the timing

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Recently, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how and why things happen. I tend to be a believer that all things happen for a reason. Sometimes I can’t even begin to imagine what the reason could possibly be, but all things that happen in our lives impact who we are and how we see the world.

For writers, how we see the world changes how we write. The book I am writing now would read completely different if I’d written it five years ago. The plot might have been similar, but the characters, their emotional development and the feel of the story would have been different. Because I’m different.

And not only does timing impact the telling of the story it also changes how the story will be received when the story is submitted to an editor or agent. They might have just signed a similar kind of story and while yours is great – they can’t justify taking yours on. Or the opposite could be true. They have been looking for something specific to fill a hole in their list and your book fits the bill. Timing matters.

Timing has been a big factor in my writing career. I started writing about 8 years ago. When I started querying agents, I researched their client lists, found agents with clients who wrote in the same genre I did. That was smart, right? I got no after no after no. A few of those were closer to HELL NOs, but you get the point. I took a break from the querying and rejection merry-go-round when my son was born and my father was diagnosed once again with cancer. The break lasted months after my father’s death. When I finally started querying again, I did my research and learned a former mystery editor had just become a literary agent. Since she was brand new at the agenting gig, she didn’t have a client list for me to look at. The idea of having a skilled editor as my agent was appealing so I sent a query and the specified number of sample pages. Two days later she asked for the full manuscript. Nineteen days after that she offered me representation.

Holy crap!

At the time, I was over the moon delighted. I’m still happy with that decision because Stacia Decker is the best agent ever, but I realize the timing in that query worked in my favor. Had she been established, as she is now, and had a client list for me to look at I never would have queried her. Her list is heavy with noir, literary fiction, horror, thrillers and some science fiction thrown in for good measure. Totally not me. Had I waited another two or three months to start querying agents, I would have done my research and passed right by querying Stacia. And that would have been the worst mistake of my life.

So, I guess what I am saying is that there are rules in this business that I believe in. You finish a manuscript and edit it to the best of your ability before you start to submit it. You do your research on editors and agents and try to match your work to the appropriate ones. Those things are important. But equally important is timing and dumb luck. My luck was pretty amazing the day I researched Stacia and decided to send an e-mail that changed my life. I don’t think that having an agent is the right choice for everyone, but I do say that if you are looking for one, keep at it and I’ll be hoping that the timing becomes right for you.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Would Watson Do?

Scott D. Parker

Just last month, I read and enjoyed Anthony Horowitz's Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk. As is my usual practice, I read no reviews prior to finishing the novel. When I did read the reviews, I was struck with the preponderance of a single word: pastiche. Interestingly, that word didn't enter my brain during my own reading (actually listening) of the book, but, perhaps, it should have.

In my own review of the book, I commented on how well Horowitz did in capturing the spirit, vocabulary, and feel of John Watson's writing. As I read the book, I ceased thinking it was Horowitz writing the book, but that it was Watson's (nee Doyle) pen that wrote the words.

Isn't that the definition of pastiche? That you forget the original author as you read the newer book? That the modern author has so completely assumed the style of the former that you think it's the former's own words? My next question was this: is this style of writing relegated only to Holmes stories?

This past summer, I read the newest James Bond novel by Jeffrey Deaver. I don't remember seeing reviewers commenting that it was a pastiche of Ian Fleming. Carte Blanche was a Deaver novel written about Fleming's creation, but with a modern sensibility, a complete reboot, to be honest. If you want a Bond-novel pastiche, that's more along the lines of 2008's Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, which was written to be a pseudo-sequel to the last Fleming novel.

While I haven't read but the first in the series, the late Robert B. Parker's main detective, Spencer, will live on in future novels written by future authors. This was the announcement by the publisher and I can't help but wonder if the authors selected will be instructed to maintain the Robert Parker style versus their own idiosyncratic stylings.

Why do we do this? Why do we pigeon-hole authors, their characters, and their writing styles to a certain, compartmentalized segment of the literary world? Is it, for example, that we prefer Holmes to live in Victorian times and sound like Victorian English because "that's just the way it's supposed to be"? When you start to think along these lines, a certain amount of imaginary pairings start to form in your heads. What would a Holmes novel sound like if Hammett was the author? How about a Spencer novel written by P. D. James? A Perry Mason book written by Michael Chabon? Heck, what if Doyle himself wrote a Continental Op tale?

In music, these kinds of pairings spark one-off, crossover experiments. Metallica integrated an orchestra with their songs and, arguably, are better for it. Brian Setzer rearranged classical standards to be performed by his big band and the results are fantastic. Just this year, the Ebene String Quartet issued "Fiction", their album of jazz and rock songs reconceived as a string quartet. If you listen to the Turtle Island String Quartet's version of John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, you will find a wonderfully new appreciation of the sax man's work. To me, these kinds of albums spark new interests in both the original version and the new.

So why are experiments like this not the norm in literature? Are we so conditioned to having Holmes and Watson always live in 189- that we don't want them to sound like the pulp heroes of the 1930s? Are we so worried that if Spencer starred in a story that "sounded like" Agatha Christie wrote it that we'd throw the book across the room?

What do you think?

Song of the Week:

Brian Setzer Orchestra's "The Nutcracker Suite" Well, since I mentioned it, here it is, in all of its jazzy glory.

Tweet of the Week:

That ABC edits Charlie Brown Christmas to make room for commercials basically proves the point of the show.

--Scott D. Parker

Yes, I'm quoting myself. Every year, I look forward to watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special. I'm old fashioned enough to prefer watching it on TV--commercials and all; remember when Dolly Madison did the ads?--to make it more of an event rather than something you can watch any time (or dozens of times) on a DVD. I know it so well that, each year, I get chagrined at the edits and cuts ABC makes in favor of (a) more commercials and (b) to account for the original 32-minute running time. That basically defeats the point of the entire message, right? It's ironic that Charlie Brown (in 1965) and the Grinch (in 1966) basically said all that needs be said about this most wonderful time of the year...over forty years ago.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

By Russel D McLean

Hey - wanna win some signed stuff from Russel? Go here and for a little bit of work you could get his lovely scrawl on some printed paper.

Someone asked me recently what my favourite Christmas movie was. I think they expected me to say “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and yes, I think that’s a great movie, but there’s one film that’s become very much a part of the festive season for me…

Last year, I got very excited when the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) decided to make its special Christmas screening DIE HARD. Yes, the Bruce Willis film. The one with the sequels that got progressively worse until finally we had an incomprehensible showdown between a jet plane and a truck (seriously) at the climax of an already incomprehensible mess of sound and fury (but bonus points for using The Creedence on the soundtrack).

But the original DIE HARD remains one of my go-to Christmas movies.

Christmas movie?

Oh, yes.

See, DIE HARD may have guns and explosions and that really painful moment with Bruce Willis stepping barefoot on its glass, but at its heart it’s a hopeful and optimistic movie. After all, John MacLane is just a guy who wants to get his family back together at Christmas. He wants to make up with his wife and see his kids. He’s not looking for trouble and even when he does find it, the thing at the forefront of his mind is keeping his family safe.

And that’s why he’s such a great character. He’s no real superhero. He’s just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time trying to do what he thinks is the right thing.

And there’s something kind of nice about that.

Of course, it helps that McClane is a New York Cop and a proficient shot. It helps that he’s tougher than the average guy. And it really helps that he’s pretty inventive (in the first film, some improvising with explosives and an office chair creates some real fireworks).

The film is just great fun from the go. The humour is spot on (if sometimes a little obvious), and the bad guys’ motivations are pretty clear (Even with the misdirection – they’re thieves and not terrorists – we are clear at all times as to their goals and methods) and of course there’s Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, possibly the suavest bad guy of all time. With his sarcastic smile and his clipped accent, Gruber is the ultimate in cool bad guys. Not too far over the top, but just nicely pantomimeish – so evil he’s fun.

By the end of the film, we find ourselves rooting for John to get his wife back, defeat the bad guys and ride off into the sunset. And its spoiling very little to say that’s exactly what happens. Those final few moments, as “Let It Snow” swells on the sountrack and the camera pans over the carnage that has ensued are somehow among the most enjoyable moments in cinema. Die Hard isn’t just a great action movie. It’s a feel good movie with blood and swearing. It’s a life-affirming flick where quite a few people die.

And its just great fun.

And no Christmas is complete without it.