Thursday, March 31, 2011
Really, I do. I'm weird that way. I don't like the end of the school year. At the same time, I don't like the end of summer. The end of my favorite sports' seasons hit me the same way.
I'm actually the same way with books I love. When I'm reading a book I love, I don't want to get to the end.
Want to find out what happens on each consecutive page? Sure.
But get to the ending?
It's a lot like the end of the school year. I want to get there. The goal is to get there and savor in the ending. But reality is this: The people I've gotten to know throughout the book will then be gone. The characters in the novel will cease to exist and only remain a scant memory.
I like the middle. I like getting over the hump of the beginning and settling into the momentum of the novel. Being twisted and turned and pulled and prodded by the plot is great.
A friend of mine, when she loves a novel... I mean really LOVES a novel (she always points out THE STAND), she slows down. The closer she gets to the ending, the longer she'll take to read. The book will sit for days.
I'm not the same way. The book won't sit. In fact, I'll probably read faster. I WANT to get to the end. I NEED to know what happens.
But once I put the book down, there's just that feeling of regret to go along with the satisfaction of finishing the book.
What about you?
PS: As of right now, my Kindle Anthology is on sale for 99 cents. CHECK IT OUT!
And, it's finally available for other e-readers on Smashwords.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
So, we’re still talking about Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking and self-publishing and traditional publishng (yes, “legacy publishing” is silly) and publicity and marketing and editing and writing a really good story. There’s an interesting conversation betwen Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking moderated by literary agent Ted Weinstein here.
Now, here’s one more thing to throw into the mix – Netflix ordered its first original show (well, not entirely original, it’s going to be a remake of a British miniseries which was based on a novel by Michael Dobbs) last week.
I think this is significant for a number of reasons. Netflix isn’t just TV network, it’s a direct connection from “content providor” to customer. Netflix doesn’t have to worry about sponsors or ratings or scheduling or anything like that. This new show will be rolled out at a specific time but it’ll be available anytime you want to watch it.
But the most interesting thing about Netflix for me is the “Netflix Prize,” given in 2009 to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos team for coming up with the best collaborative filtering algorithm.
“If you like ____ then you might like ____”
So far it’s been used to make recommendations about movies and TV shows that have already been made but my guess is Netflix is going to use the data when deciding what new shows to make. Already Netflix have said that of the reasons they chose House of Cards (other than the fact they outbid HBO and AMC for the show) was that their subscribers are very interested in longer, more complicated series. This is somewhat similar to Amazon offering a contract to JA Konrath based on sales of his Kindle e-books.
Netflix is kind of like Amazon in other ways, too – the product is always in stock and while Netflix isn’t allowing anyone to “self-publish” yet, they are offering shows that started as webseries such as The Guild and I expect thats something we’ll start to see a lot more.
Intersting times, for sure.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Dang, is this week going to be as busy as last week?
1. Amanda "I'm Not Your Damned Self-Publishing Poster Child" Hocking got a multi-million-dollar deal from one of the Big Six up there in New York City, New York State.
2. Barry Eisler reportedly turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish.
3. Brian Keene took public this "Boycott Dorchester" fight.
|Photo from austindailyherald.com|
Then a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Hocking shopped her next books the traditional/legacy way. (Is 'Legacy Publishing' pejorative? I never know about these things.) And, as she is now a proven commodity, she was a hot auction item.
She was immediately pounced upon by folks who said she was "selling out" and not being "true to herself." (I remember Jerry Garcia, during the "Touch of Grey" nonsense, saying that The Grateful Dead had been trying to sell out for decades, but no one was buying.) Which makes sense. People who can't sell their own work complain about those who "sell out." Hocking, to her great credit, seemed pretty damned honest when she said she signed the deal so that she no longer had to work day and night on promoting and marketing and could instead use much of that time on writing, leaving other business matters to her new publisher.
So, we have the inevitable "Big Publishing is Back" yodelers because a self-published "success" only became a "real success" when she signed a deal with The Big Six. Now, she's a "real" author.
And then there's Barry Eisler. According to a much-discussed blog posting over at Mr. Konrath's blog, Eisler said "Nopers" to a half-million dollar deal from Big Six publisher. He wants to release his books himself, keep the money and the control.
So, we have the inevitable "Big Publishing is Dead" yodelers because a "real" author is turning down mega-bucks to self-publish.
Do these cancel each other out?
Everything is relative. All things being equal, etc. Your mileage may vary. Etc, etc.
Seems to me that a "publishing deal" with someone other than Kinko's or Your Name Here Kindle Publisher helps add some "credibility" to your books, your (ugh) brand.
Awards do this, too. (We talked about that here.)
Recommended by a friend.
Published by a publisher you like or respect.
A book club choice.
A New York Times Number One Bestseller.
Books get credibility from many places.
Amanda Hocking has tons of fans. As they say in The Lost Boys, "Can a billion Chinese be wrong?" She must be worth reading. Barry Eisler had a deal with Big Publishing and sold tons of books. He must be good.
Arguing the Big Publisher vs. Self Publisher in these news items is certainly interesting and can help one spread one's own bias.
The thing is you need, and this is the technical term, you need something. Something that sets you apart. I've said in this space that what you have to do is write a damn good story. That Platform is crap. That Brand is crap. Blah blah blah. Look, everything is crap except the writing. All of it. On Sunday, Joelle blogged about author web sites, which I think we all know are crap. Everything is crap except for the writing. But once you have the story down, the slap-ya-mama awesome story, then you do the web site. Teaser chapter? Yes, please. Then the blog you've spent eleven years on -- Ogre Sculptures and Chimera Talons -- matters to your book.
Someone sent me a link last week to what he called the worst writing advice ever. The author hadn't been published. Not Big Six. Not Kindle. Not 20 copies at Kinko's. In fact, there was no evidence that the author had ever written a novel that anyone had read. Yet, the author had a list of twenty tips every novelist should follow. The sixth tip was that you should go to the library and check out books on writing.
You know what, I've never published a novel, either. Having me offer tips about getting a publishable novel is like having Grammy-Award winner Marc Anthony offer you beauty tips. We have no credibility.
But you know who does? Amanda Hocking. Barry Eisler. They know how to write books. Sell books. Engage a fanbase. The news stories last week would have you believe that they're opponents in some battle over publishing, each changing sides in the same month. Which misses the point.
The point is to write something people want to read. To get that story into people's hands, by recommendations or awards publicity or Big Publishing marketing or cult-like followings. Whatever it is, you have to have that something. But the first something you have to have is still the story. The writing.
And once you get that Big Deal, you'll want to talk to Brian Keene.
By the way:
The DSD Podcasting Machine knocked a couple out of the park, chatting with Seth Harwood and Russel D. McLean about their books. Check that out here.
UPDATE: Nathan Bransford does some calculations on Eisler/Hocking today.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
The “job” of the author has changed a great deal over the years. Years ago, the author’s job was to write a good book, edit said book and then write another. Sometimes the author would be asked by the publisher to do a book tour or some promotional things when the book was launched, but mainly the author’s job was to write.
With the advancement of technology, a published author’s job has become much more. Publishers want their authors to be involved in social media – be it Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads or whatever else is out there. They want authors to attend conferences, sponsor their own tours, take out their own advertising and do the heavy legwork to get noticed by readers. They also would like authors to have their own website.
Author websites always confuse me. Do I have one? Yeah, although I admit I haven’t put a great deal of work into keeping it new and fresh. I update it with my new titles and release dates and have an excerpt up and a new one will be posted soon. I even have a FAQs section although it isn’t nearly as cool as Steve Weddle’s. However, that being said, I struggle with viewing my website as a weekly destination point for readers. As a reader, I've never gone to an author’s website to read an excerpt or check out their tour photographs or just to drop by and see what’s new. Why? I have no idea. I just don’t.
Now, I realize not everyone is me (thank God for that!) and I realize that a website is important to many readers. But this week I heard someone say that they were angry at authors who had websites but did not provide an e-mail address for the reader to contact them directly. This reader was incensed that after taking the time to read the book and then look up the website they could not reach out and have immediate access to that author. They even went so far as to say the author was arrogant and clearly didn’t appreciate their readers.
I mean, I have an e-mail address on my website and a surprising number of readers have actually used it which always brightens my day. But that is my choice. Isn’t it? When did being an author mean that the public has a right to be able to reach out and touch me whenever the urge strikes them? What if an author has a sick family member they are tending to or is holding down two jobs while writing in the dead of the night and doesn’t have the time to answer e-mails? Does that mean they appreciate their readers less than one who is happy to post their contact information?
What am I missing?
Is the author website really that central to an author’s career and more important – do you feel slighted when an author doesn’t provide an e-mail address for you to write to them? Has that really become part of today’s definition of being a published author? And while we're talking about it - what kinds of things do you want to see on an author website and which ones drive you nuts? Here is your chance to let us know how we are supposed to be doing it. I'm taking notes.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Scott D. Parker
What do Superman and Agatha Christie have in common? Nostalgia.
I recently read my first ever Christie novel, And Then There Were None. Loved it. I followed that up with The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Appreciated it. Likely not her best book, but good nonetheless. I can easily see the thread running from Sherlock Holmes and Christie's work.
On another recent reading front, purely out of the blue (heh), I got myself a Superman hankering. As a die-hard Batman fan, Supes rarely does it for me anymore. I re-read Alan Moore's excellent 1986 story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" This title was the swan-song of the Silver Age Superman with all of his different color Kryptonites and weirdo monsters attacking him. I grew up during the tail end of this run and it's still the one I gravitate towards.
In reading these separate works, I simultaneously got nostalgic for old comics and for a time in which I never lived. Strange feeling that.
What got me pondering deep questions were the stories I read after those I just mentioned. After Moore's Superman story, I read Grant Morrison's superb take on the Man of Steel, "All-Star Superman," (2005-08). It was modern and fresh take on a classic character, the best comic I've read in a long, long time. My current novel--J. T. Ellison's So Close the Hand of Death--is a marvel of a story, with a believably nuanced lead character and a dandy of a plot. It's as far from Christie's type of story as you can get and still be in the mystery genre. The stories of Morrison and Ellison are both sophisticated, told in a modern, sophisticated style.
Back in the 1930s, the Christie novels were among the best detective stories being published. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the Superman tales were among the most memorable. But, in reading them in 2011 as an adult, I can see their flaws. I choose to overlook their faults and channel back to an earlier self and and earlier read. I can tell the good things that have come from sophisticated writing.
And it makes me wonder what readers of 2070 will think about the stuff we're reading now. Because I think it's pretty dang good.
Do y'all have fondly-remembered things you still read on occasion that you have to "turn back your mental clock" and overlook some of the warts you can now see since you are a modern, sophisticated reader?
App of the Week: Angry Birds Rio! What more need be said?
Congrats of the Week: DSD's own Steve Weddle got himself nominated for the 2011 Spinetingler Award: Best Short Story on the Web, for his story, "Hold You."
Friday, March 25, 2011
Listen to the chat here in the warm tones of an m4a file. Enjoyz
UPDATE: MP3 file here.
Buy the book here or here or here.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
You can get the FREE podcast by
1. Right-clicking on the title up there at the top (or, if you have one of those Apple computers, whatever you people do)
2. Visiting the iTunes music store (where you can subscribe)
3. Visiting the Feedburner page
4. Click here
This story is the "title track" of a book of short stories that was published in 2002. The collection includes "Fire in the Hole," the story that the current TV show Justified is based on (the character Raylan Givens also appeared in the novels Pronto and Riding the Rap) and a four page story called "Hanging Out at the Buena Vista" that's always made me think of Raymond Carver's short stories.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Who can deny the brilliant execution of Copperhead Road?
Or the execution of The Rising?
That pattern of sameness thrives in the marketplace. Pick up a copy of EQ or AHMM and you can almost always tell how every story is going to end. It's like reading an episode of "Murder She Wrote". I think that's one reason I enjoy anthologies. Yes, there is that genre sameness, but a good editor will find stories that step beyond that sameness into new territory.
I adore writers who can surprise me with each new story. Stephen King collections are a good example. His stories, while wrapped in the cloak of horror, step into the crime and sci-fi genres. His endings vary from the twist, to the gotcha, to the yeah, it needed to end that way. You never know how one of his shorts is going to end so you're never bored.
Within the next few days, SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES should be live and available of Amazon's Kindle story for 99 cents. I'm in the home stretch, hoping to catch any technical formatting glitches first, but will update my website as soon as the book's available. Look for more information Friday when I guest blog here.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Okay, it is awards season time. Or in many cases, it is award nomination season. People who subscribe to magazines, go to conferences and belong to any number of other groups are being asked to nominate their favorite books of 2010. Lots of genres be it crime fiction, romance, women's fiction, young adult etc... Lot of chances for authors to be recognized for their work.
In theory, I love the idea of awards. In theory, people read lots of books and then nominate their absolute favorite ones for said awards. Would I like to be nominated for an award? Would other members of this blog? Sure. Lots of authors I know if a variety of genres would love to make the short lists. Who the heck wouldn’t? But I am having a serious problem with the not so subtle, but trying to look subtle, campaigning going on for spots on nominating ballots. I am seeing tweet after tweet and blog post after blog post and one face book message after another which all amounts to shaking hands and kissing babies in order to get someone’s vote. People are setting their hair on fire trying to get noticed and I’m getting ready to douse them with a very large bucket of water.
Is this really what it takes to get nominated?
God, I hope not. But a very sad part of me that was terrible at going around asking my classmates for signatures when running for the seventh grade student council is pretty sure that these tactics work. Authors doing very public “You like me? You really, really like me enough to nominate me?” messages to their friends on social media forums in hopes that other people will see the message and decide to add their book to the list of nominees will probably see their efforts pay off. The authors that are not so good at those tactics will fall by the wayside. The funny thing is the authors that are being up front and honest about it don’t bother me at all. If you tweet saying that your short story in X publication can be considered for nomination, chances are I will check out your story and think about nominating you. But if you are going to try to be subtle and tell me you can’t believe that lots of people are nominating your book for X award, I’m going to chuck a shoe at my computer screen.
Maybe this all bothers me so much because a small, naïve part of me that wants these awards to really mean something more than being a personal popularity and political strategy contest. Last year I wrote a post asking if awards matter. Most people said they only mattered to publishers, which might be true. Maybe we as authors are so desperate to capture our publisher’s wandering attention that we feel the need to set our hair on fire and jump up and down asking people to love us. Maybe that is why self-publishing is so appealing to so many.
God only knows. All I know is that I’m going to grit my teeth for the next couple weeks and wait for the campaigning to pass. Of course, I might be the only one bothered by it. Maybe I’m just out of sorts this week. What do you think? Are the authors you tweet or facebook with asking for your vote? How do you feel about all of this?
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Scott D. Parker
(This is a complete and utter cheat to those readers who give a look at my personal blog. But this is what happens, every now and then, when no big weekly question shows itself. I'm pretty sure one will surface next week.)
It's been almost a year since I wrote my last recap of "CSI: Miami" for Bookspotcentral. One of the main reasons I stopped was the show's move to Sunday nights. Not only do I think CSI: Miami belongs on Mondays, but I also didn't want to have to deal with the vicissitudes of NFL games on Sunday. I didn't want to have to monitor shows I don't watch just to hope to catch the opening of Miami. (Actually, the CSI: Miami Facebook page did a great job at informing the public of the time delay all last fall.)
As this season has progressed, I've begun to wonder how fun the recaps would have been (had I been writing them) since this season's shows are mostly above average, across the board. I told my wife on Sunday, as we watched "Hunting Ground," that all involved with Miami must have been peeved about the time/date changes and wanted to make sure to produce higher quality episodes than normal.
"Hunting Ground" has already become a favorite of mine this season, and I've only seen it once. Granted, I have it running on my Mac as I write this, but I was immediately captivated, more than usual. The first thing that tipped my interest was the writer and director: Adam Rodriguez. For those of you who don't know, Rodriguez plays Eric Delko. I'm always fascinated when series regulars for long-running shows decide to step behind the camera. Usually, that's all they do, since these types of shows have their look and feel so firm that it's often difficult to distinguish one from another, even if the director was the lead actor (David Duchovney, "The X-Files"; Jonathan Frakes, "Star Trek: The Next Generation") or a stunt director (Quentin Tarintino, "CSI"). Not many actors decide to have a crack at directing an episode in which they star, fewer still take pen to paper and write one.
Frankly, I expected the show to be the same stuff. I was wrong. Yes, "Hunting Ground" had the familiar visual tropes of Miami: perpetual sunset, funky optical effects during the lap sequences. Rodriguez, however, brought a little something different to the table. He showed angles I'd never seen before, visual effects (sub-titles) that were fresh, and just enough uniqueness to make this episode stand out from the rest.
Then there was the subject matter: humans hunting humans. Modern television cop shows deal with some serious stuff, gruesome at time, immoral at others. Humans hunting humans is pretty over the top. But, as my wife mentioned, for every episode, there's a real-life headline somewhere.
The darker subject matter gave David Caruso another opportunity to show his dark side. Yes, folks, he has one, so please stop rolling your eyes. Horatio Caine is among my favorite TV cops that I've ever had the pleasure to watch. Most often, we get to see his compassion, especially with the children. It's that quality--present from episode one--that enamored me to him. But his dark side can be quite scary. It's not giving anything away--(spoiler if you want to see the show)--to say that the CSIs find the culprits. Caine, shotgun in hand, delivers his own brand of justice in a manner distinctively his own. Yes, we viewers want Caine to blow a hole in this guy's abdomen. Yes, we might have cheered had that happened. But, we're talking about Horatio Caine, a character who probably had the same urge. But if he can allow his wife's murderer to go to prison rather killing him outright, you knew Caine was never going to create that hole. Still, Caine made his point.
Another wonderful trait of this episode is the character interplay. Rodriguez, as an actor in the show, might have just a tad more insight into his character and those of his co-stars than mere writers since he's the one speaking the words. That isn't to say that writers (!) can't find the inner nuance of a character, I'm just saying I enjoy the little things in this episode: Frank's interview with the orchid guy ("Orchids?!"), Natalia and Ryan in the field with Ryan “experiencing” nature, Caine and Wolf as partners in the field, an unspoken connection between the two. Even Horatio got to perform his patented compassion when he had to break the bad news to the new widow and the new fatherless child. The little gesture of touch he gives her, and the camera, focusing on his hand on hers, the dreadful soberness on Caruso's face was flawless.
It also directly led to Caine's first small step over the line. When CSI: Miami began, Caruso wore a lab coat more often, the science being the number one thing. As the years have moved on, Caine is now more a cop with a little science thrown in. Too often in modern forensic cop shows, the science gets the bad guy. Nowadays, Caine uses the evidence presented him and makes educated guesses on a criminal's next move, using not only his intuition but also his cop sense. Immediately after consoling the new widow, Caine threatens a person of interest with branding. You see, the victims, the men who are prey, have been branded. Caine got his information, but he didn't have to go all Jack Bauer on the guy either. Thing is, Caine could if he wanted to. He just dances up to that line, occasionally puts a toe over it, and then moves away. Shows he's human, and yet, knows there's also the law.
I have loved CSI: Miami from day one. Over nine seasons, there are few episodes I don't like. None come from this stellar season. "Hunting Ground" is already one of my favorites for the year, and probably will end up being a well-remembered episode for the entire run of the show. If I had my way, I'd get Adam Rodriguez to write and direct at least one episode per season from here on out.
For anyone who hasn't watched CSI: Miami in a long time, seek out this episode. (Facebook has it; so does CBS.com) I suspect you'll enjoy it. For those of you who don’t give it a second thought, give it a try. You might be surprised.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
She's in London visiting friends and I'm here working and watching basketball. What's funny is I thought this was going to be an ideal time to get a bunch of revising and editing done. I mean, it was going to be time to sit down, pound out some dents and get two WIPs in good shape.
Yeah. That's not working out too well.
You see, when the wife is around, I know exactly when I'm going to write. It's from when I get back from the gym and shower (about 4:45) until she gets home from work (between 6 and 6:30). I want to be done before she gets home, because I want to spend time with her. We're both busy, so we make time when we get it.
But now, with her not around, I'm not doing a good job of sticking to the routine. Instead, I keep saying "I have time, I can do it later." And while I've gotten some stuff done, it hasn't been the big jump I've hoped. Most of the time I'm just getting things done because it's, oh say, ten o'clock, and I better not let this day pass without doing anything.
It never occurred to me that I'm a routine writer. I always felt that I'm a streaky writer, and I write every day because it's going well.
Turns out, that's not true. I work better in a routine. Hopefully the wife comes back and we can settle back into the routine again.
Until then, it's: YOU BETTER GET WORK.... YOU'LL REGRET IT. Whenever I can.
I've been thinking about relaunching my old blog.
Here's the thing:
Between this blog and the On the Banks blog, I'm not sure what I have to say. I kind of blogged myself out over at the Writing Block. I tried to do too much.
One day it would be an education topic, the next a book review, the next New Jersey, the next sports, and then a wild card on Friday. Something posts (the NJ ones) would get a bunch of hits. The others would just kind of sit there.
Here it's easy. I know I can come on here and talk about writing, books, or promotion. At On the Banks I talk Rutgers hoops. The topic is there for you, you just need to find a new spin on it.
So I have a questions (#2), what kind of blogs do you prefer? One like mine that varied its topics from day to day or a focused blog?
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Last week I had a meeting with a TV producer about the possibility of me writing the pilot script for his new cop show. The meeting went well and I hope I get the job.
There’s already a deal in place for the show so the producer knows it will be a, “9:00 network show,” and that set some parameters that I hadn’t thought about, beyond simply language and violence (apparently there’s a difference between the 9:00 show and the 10:00 show but the network said they could move a 9:00 show to 10:00 without changing anything. It would be tougher to move a 10:00 show to 9:00).
Someone pointed out that to better understand the needs of network TV it’s a good idea to look at the commercials more than the shows – the commercials tell you the audience that the sponsors want to attract. And for network TV shows the “customers” aren’t the viewers, they’re the sponsors, that’s who actually gives the money to the networks who then gives it to the producers.
Then there are the various levels of cable TV in which money from sponors is part of the revenue along with money from subscribers that gets paid to the producers so in those cases the sponsors probably have less say all the way down to commercial-free cable TV with no sponsors at all.
I guess in publishing the similarity would be the big chain stores which order the bulk of the books are sort of like the sponsors, but they still have to sell on each copy to an individual paying customer. So, it isn’t a perfect comparison but on this blog you get what you pay for.
And it’s certainly no revelation that the sponsors have a big say over what gets on network TV or that they prefer some viewers over others. In Canada the magic number for a network show to be considered successful is a million – top a million viewers and that’s a hit. The show I wrote for last, The Bridge, ran for 13 weeks and drew more than a million viewers each week but we were told that those viewers were predominantly male and over fifty and Viagra can’t buy every advertising spot on its own (though sometimes watching the shows it seems like it does). The sponsors need viewers who are predominantly female and under fifty. Under forty would be even better.
In publishing no one really cares who’s buying the books – old men, young women, libraries, whatever – a sale is a sale. It may be true that 80% of the fiction book buyers are female but if a writer was selling a lot of books to men the publisher would keep publishing them.
So we’re back to looking at the commercials. And the commercials are all about how great our lives can be; how clean our houses can be, what great vacations we can take, what great cars we can drive, what delicious fast food restaurants we can go to, what great meals we can make for our families.
And the cop shows (as a TV writer I know once said, “the crap that goes between the commercials”) tell us that, yes, there are bad people in the world but there are very, very good cops working very, very hard to keep us safe.
And the bad guys always get caught.
The commercials also tell us what the sponsors want the characters to look like; young, healthy, attractive – they look at home in the world the sponsors are selling.
The victims of the crimes and the grieving family members also look like the viewers the sponsors are after. According to the NYPD over two thirds of the murder victims in New York are African American yet it’s very rare to see a non-white murder victim on any of the network TV shows set in New York. The NYPD also say that almost 50% of murder victims are involved in the use or sale of drugs and that at least 53% of murder suspects are involved with drugs.
Of course there’s no reason for a network TV show to try and reflect the reality of the world in which it exists, it’s main goal is to deliver the viewers the sposnors want.
Though that makes the standard advice, “Just write for yourself,” a little tough.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Russel's second McNee book, The Lost Sister, hits shelves in the U.S. today. I was going to sit and write about why you should be picking up his books about a grumpy scottish detective, but then I realised I'd already done it. So I took a look back and realised that I couldn't say it any better than I did at the time. George Lucas tried to tell me to edit the whole thing and add in some comedy CGI. I tweaked a few things here and there, but this is pretty much intact.
Next week i'll be making it a trilogy of reviews, with a look at California by Ray Banks.
“I could kill him. It would be easy.”
Those are the opening lines from THE GOOD SON, the first McNee book. As opening lines go, I’d say It's pretty much up there. Grabs you straight by the throat and asks you, through gritted teeth, 'you got a problem?'
Something I noticed early on about Russel is that he has a touch of the Lawrence Block and John Mcfet about him; his pages are so easy to read that you stop noticing that you’re doing it. You know what I mean; some books you’re checking your watch every other paragraph, or scratching your bum, or thinking of that kettle you just boiled. But with writers like these, you don’t notice the things going on around you. Reading one line is an unspoken commitment that you’re going to read the first ten chapters. Then, well, why stop there?
The other thing is that he doesn’t get caught up in what he’s writing. There’s no self conscious awkwardness of trying to bend his hometown or its people to fit into genre conventions. There’s no knowing pause as it becomes clear that this is a PI story set in Scotland, no first date fumbling on the doorstep.
He. Just. Gets.On.With.It.
And it’s suprising how many authors don’t do that. Many like to pause, to dawdle, or to let the reader know that they’re aware of the trappings and flaws of whatever style of story they’re writing. No, just sit and get on with telling the story.
The first book centres around our protagonist, J Mcnee. He’s a moody and isolated Dundonian PI. He has anger issues and a good way with wit. He has some of the key ingredients of being a PI; he manages to say just enough to get himself smacked around or shot at, but not so much that we get to figure him out. At the same time, he’s not just a standard driven detective type. Many of his flaws are more to do with the modern British male than any genre cliché; yes he’s alienated and rebellious, but a lot of it seems to draw from a simple social awkwardness. He’s not the tortured soul of Hamlet or Bruce Wayne, and he’s not the drunken philosopher of Marlowe or Scudder. Much more than that, he seems to simply be a modern man who’s not always sure of how to behave around others.
Even his nickname in the book helps to conjure up a play on the ideas of masculinity and manners. He is called Steed after the character played by Patrick Macnee in The Avengers. The image that evokes for most is of a deliberately overdone gentlemen, the hat, the umbrella, the manners and the heart of steel. There was an earlier version of Steed, in the shows first season; a shadowy figure, untrusted and lonely. Where was I going with this…..
Anyway, back to McNee.
There is still an element of tragedy that drives McNee, and it’s at the core of what works with this book. It’s a story about grief. Be it McNee trying to come to terms with loss, or a farmer trying to deal with his brothers apparent suicide. The book shows that grief is a far more complicated and damaging thing than any level of violence.
Russel’s second book, THE LOST SISTER, was released in the UK last year. It's opening feels almost low-key compared to the first;
“He doesn’t waste a moment. Lets go of the axe….”
The first book starts with a gun, and the impending gunshot. An instant explosive kick start to a story. The second starts with violence, but one of a more personal, brutal, and confident manner. This is a writer stepping it up and taking full control of his characters and world. I’ve mentioned before how impressed I was with the handling of violence in this second book, the control that Russel demonstrated in knowing what not to show, and in knowing that he could make it work. There is some truly brutal stuff in the novel, but Russel chooses to focus on the aftermath of violence rather than the instant impact. It's a choice that gives the violence more weight, and makes you feel it more even if you don't see it happen.
The second book sort of does what it says on the cover in many ways. There is a sister. She is lost. But that’s just scratching the surface. It looks at thorny issues of love, trust and domestic violence. And it took me by surprise a number of times, I love it when a book genuinely doesn’t go the way you think it will. There are twists and turns to the relationships, and nobody ends the story in remotely the same emotional state that they started it. Somehow, it felt like The Empire Strikes Back, with its revelations and emotional betrayals. I can’t wait to see where the characters go from here.
Monday, March 14, 2011
The new issue of THE LINEUP is hitting the stands soon, and Gerald So swung by DSD HQ to discuss the upcoming issue, which includes a poem I wrote about hitting a guy in the face with a shovel.
Steve Weddle: What is The Lineup and why does the world need it?
Gerald So: The Lineup is a journal of poets' reactions to crime, however they may define it. Even when we try to show no reaction, we are dealing with being hurt or wronged somehow. Where other genres might gloss over conflict, crime fiction deals with it immediately. In the same way, looking at crime through poetry gets at everything we might otherwise cover up. To understand our reactions is to better understand ourselves and others.
SW: Poetry has always been tough to publish in book form. For the most part, the two big publishers of poetry have been university presses and your local copy shop. How has the Internet – including Kindle, Nook, etc – changed that?
GS: In the Electronic Age, anyone who can make a webpage can make his voice heard. This is good for poetry in that it has led to many zines, each with its own spin. Today's interconnected world lets more people get to know each other. I got to know the three people with whom I started The Lineup through the Internet.
SW: In your opinion, who are some of the more poetic crime fiction writers these days? Dennis Lehane? James Patterson?
GS: If we're taking "these days" strictly, Lehane, Wallace Stroby, Reed Farrel Coleman, S.J. Rozan. The recently passed Robert B. Parker started me thinking about crime fiction poetically, but that's what rekindled my interest in poetry after high school and college.
SW: What's your favorite place to write?
GS: At my computer desk, but on a memo pad, ironically.
SW: A poem can be 50 words and a short story can be 5,000. Are poets complete wusses or is poetry harder to write?
GS: I wouldn't say poetry is harder to write; it just has different goals. Though shorter than a novel, a story's goal is still to depict beginning, middle, and end. The goal of poetry is to communicate the power of a moment, emotion, or viewpoint in as few words as necessary. Readers may be able to forgive one or two extra pages of a story, but if a poem goes one word too long, its whole message may be lost.
SW: What is the last book of poetry you bought?
GS: Having None of It by Adrienne Su, from Manic D Press.
SW: Better – poetry readings or novel readings?
GS: Poetry readings. Poetry is more intended to be read aloud by the poet or by a single voice. Novels are seldom written in the author's voice. They usually employ several characters' voices, so it can be awkward when the author reads them.
SW: Who works on The Lineup with you? What’s the process from submission to finished product?
GS: My current co-editors are Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, and Richie Narvaez. I call for and gather submissions (e-mail only, please) for three or four months at a time. The four of us read the submissions in two large batches. We use an arbitrary score, 1-5, 5 being best, and the poems with the highest scores are published.
After the poems are chosen, we decide on the order that flows best. Richie designs the book's interior layout, and I proofread it for typos.
Later in the process, we pick the cover photo. To date, John Collis has designed our covers.
SW: Any public readings for The Lineup coming soon?
GS: We have one at NYC's Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia Street) on May 31st at 6:00 PM. Reed and Richie will host and be joined by Lineup 4 contributors Jeanne Dickey and Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson.
SW: When and how can folks get the new issue of The Lineup?
GS: Issue 4 goes on sale April 1st at Lulu.com and signed copies will be available at Murder By The Book in Houston, Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, and M is for Mystery in San Mateo, California.
And here is the lineup for The Lineup:
Reed Farrel Coleman
Mary Agnes Dalrymple
Mary Christine Delea
H. Palmer Hall
Thomas Michael McDade
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson
Charles Harper Webb
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Most writers I know are readers first. I am. I loved reading long before I even dreamed of being a writer. Some writers can tell you exactly which book or author made them fall in love with reading. Some can even tell you which author inspired them to write their own books. I have no idea which author grabbed me first or which one made me think – wow, I want to do that! But I can tell you where I learned to love reading.
My local library.
Every summer when I was growing up, you could find me at least once or twice a week at the Bensenville Public Library. The librarians loved that I wanted to read. They even gave me a lot of great suggestions as to what I should be reading next. When I was in high school I would sometimes check out 8-10 books a week and plow through them all. I discovered books in genres I might not have ever thought to read on my own. I didn’t love them all, but I was always glad that I read them. Within the library walls I also read plays, listened to musical recordings and looked up information on colleges.
If not for my local library and the love of books that I found there I would never have taken the leap to writing books of my own. A great deal of my life was shaped by the experiences I had at the library. I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without them. And now, as an adult, I find myself truly honored when a librarian recommends my book. How cool is that?
Libraries are an essential part of our towns. They introduce children to books. They provide internet service to those who can’t afford computers and help those out of work search for jobs. They are a meeting place for community groups. They provide musical and theatrical programming. They… Well, the list goes on and on.
Because our educational system is in crisis (which our own Dave White can tell you a lot about) the libraries find their services even more in demand. Circulation and computer usage is way up – especially in rural or more depressed areas. Communities need their libraries and yet their budgets are being slashed. Almost every state is looking to cut their budgets by between 15-50%. Although in some instances this amount is higher. In Texas, the state government is looking to cut library funding by 80%.
For some reason our government seems to undervalue the importance of libraries. I, for one, have contacted my representatives to let them know that I don’t want to live in a country that doesn’t recognize the importance of a community center that is filled with books, music, newspapers, computers and a staff that is passionate about sharing them. So you can imagine my delight when ITW launched the Save The Libraries campaign a couple of weeks ago. If you don’t know about it make sure to check it out. Their first event and on-line auction was last night and I am hoping it was a resounding success. This is the first of many events and I am hopeful that the financial assistance and the public awareness the events draw will help our libraries survive and flourish.
We need our local libraries. I’m hoping you’ll join with me in talking to your local congressmen and senators or spreading the word about Save The Libraries. Let’s make sure the important of our libraries is not overlooked.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Scott D. Parker
Earlier this week, my wife and I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jane Goodall. The Wortham Center here in Houston was sold out, but there were a few empty seats. Maybe it was traffic?
Anyway, after the first two gentlemen spoke, out walks Ms. Goodall. This thin, 77-year-old woman was dressed all in black with a nice, fuscha shawl draped around her shoulders, her long, gray hair pulled back in the customary pony tail. There was a palpable excitement in the air and we all sat enraptured during her 70-minute speech.
After a short Q&A, she exited to the main foyer of the Wortham. This is a huge space, stories tall, and we patrons did the thing all of us likely really came for: to stand in line to get her autograph and a quick snapshot. By the time we got out of the auditorium, we were about third from the end. (Mental note, Scott: Q&A isn't that big a deal. Do what the others did and get in line at that point.) For an hour or so, we stood in line, chatted with those around us. I got to hear stories of how Goodall has affected each person's lives.
All during this waiting, Ms. Goodall sat on a stool, signed everything put in front of her, and posed for the official photographer to snap pictures. I've been to author signings so this part is nothing new. I noticed something I haven't seen at an author event: a good number of the people meeting this remarkable woman--perhaps for the first and only time--touched her, mostly on the shoulder or arm.
What is it about this woman that makes people want to touch her? I don't ever remember feeling the urge to touch the authors I've met. Well, I've shook the hands of each, but that's more of a professional acknowledgement. This was like a form of worship, if you want the truth.
I know we humans can become a fan (fanatical) of a particular movie, book, author, actor, singer, etc. It can border on obsession (says the guy who memorized the number of the trash compactor from "Star Wars" when he was 10 and has never forgotten it). I don't get the sense that we readers and writers worship fellow authors, even if we happen to meet someone like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Is it, perhaps, because we do what they do, that is create stories? Sure, not as successfully, but still, it's the same basic thing. Is there a loss of mystique when we can replicate what famous people do? Perhaps that's why we get tongue-tied when we meet folks like presidents or activists like Goodall rather than authors.
What do you think? Is there no mystique to writing? Or is it that we fiction writers don't necessarily do the kinds of things that make people want to turn out to see us talk, sign books, and touch our shoulders?
App of the Week: Angry Birds Seasons: Shamrock Edition. I updated my favorite game app for my iPod Touch and found many of these new levels strangely difficult. But I powered through them.
Friday, March 11, 2011
By Russel D McLean
In just under a week (in four days time!) THE LOST SISTER is going to hit the US market. I’m in the final stages of organising a blog tour which is going to probably kill me, if only because I’ll be writing about a different aspect of the book or writing and reading every day. I’m dreading the entire thing and yet I’m extremely excited. Unlike my physical tour last year there’s no real chance to re-use material that worked before because, well, some of the audience may have come across it already (not that I did repeat any material – well, maybe some that was relevant and my dad’s gag about when God Created Scotland which accidentally opened the tour and became a running skit throughout). I hope you’ll follow me, of course, as I hop from blog to blog like a bearded gazelle. Some will be US blogs, some will be respectable blogs, some will be from far flung places like Glasgow but all have been very generous in opening up their doors.
The hope of course is to touch new readers. To bring people on board. Its tough to know how directly these things work. When you do a physical event you can correlate the book sales at the time to the effectiveness of your appearance. Its not rocket science. But how do you know all the people who bought on Amazon one day did so cos of a blog tour? Or if they went to their local bricks and mortar to find the book?
God only knows.
But I’m still going to do this. Because I kind of enjoy trying new things out and seeing what I can and can’t do. I love doing physical events that are different (I’ve now done two “careers fairs” about being a writer which are not – despite what some people may think – about selling my books as much as they are about telling people the truth about what my day to day job entails, and I happen to dig doing book groups who are not always the same kind of people I get at signing and talking events). In short, for the most part, I enjoy the promotion as long as I can do it on my own terms. I’m not a hard seller. Its not in me to be that guy. In fact nothing puts me off an author more than the continual and constant hawking of themselves. I tend to seek out guys and gals who talk about their work in a meaningful and entertaining way or who can make a connection to other things in life, be they other writers or influences or whatever. But the whole “buy me, buy me I’m great” thing has never been my scene.
That said, seriously, I hope that people buy the book…
Thursday, March 10, 2011
And one of those other places this will be documented is in crime fiction.
Crime fiction is nearly always the first entertainment medium to use a piece of history in their works.
I remember in the early 2000s when Jim Fusilli's A WELL-KNOWN SECRET debuted. It was one of the first books to comment on New York City post 9/11. It was a heart breaking read, as it documented how the citizens of Tribeca were handling the tragedy.
Many crime fiction novels are also focusing on how the war in the Middle East is affecting soldiers. Reading about this fictional characters can put on a face on what we can only see on the news. We get into the heads of these characters and, hopefully, get a feel for what people who go through this are thinking.
And, heck, even Duane Swierczynski's upcoming FUN & GAMES is pre-dating the entire strange Randy Quaid-hitman situation.
Crime novels are our social conscience. They take what is happening around us and give it context, give it a theme, give it a story and a voice. The best crime fiction carries us through the days we are living while also entertaining us.
And right now, once again, history is unfolding around us. Make no mistake, this is happening in Wisconsin. Then it's going to happen in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana... New Jersey...
So, crime fiction writers are usually ahead of the curve on these things. And the battle over education has been simmering for sometime. Ten years? More? Sooner or later some crime fiction writer is going to jump all over it.
Maybe he or she already has, and I just haven't read it yet.
Or maybe I just gave myself an idea....
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
A few weeks ago I wrote about the Montreal-set crime novel The Main by Trevanian for Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books. I was interested in it because a few weeks earlier Gerard Saylor had written (actually talked about in a YouTube clip) the books City of Ice and Ice Lake, a couple of Montreal-set crime novels by John Farrow (the pen name of Trevor Ferguson).
What I noticed about all three of those books is that they are set in the winter and there’s a lot of complaining about the cold. Well, I grew up in Montreal and there’s no doubt it’s cold in the winter.
But it’s really hot and unbearably humid in the summer.
And now a small press, Vehicule, has reissued a couple of Montreal-set private eye novels written in the early 50’s by David Montrose (Charles Ross Graham) and the first one, The Crime on Cote Des Neiges, takes place in August and there’s a lot of complaining about the oppessive heat:
“I couldn’t sleep.
“Maybe because of the heat. It was hotter than hell. It was hotter than a fundamentalist thinks hell is. It was hotter than it had ever been before anywhere else in the world. It was almost as hot as it had been in Montreal last August.”
I can safely say that Montreal is that hot in August.
But I wonder why the summer heat doesn’t seem to be what books set in the city now feature? I wonder if David Montrose was writing with the idea that the readers knew the city and that more recent books have been written with an eye to a much larger market (really here we Canadians mean the US market) that doesn’t know the city that well?
When we choose a setting to write about do we just naturally use the features most well-known outside of that setting?
The first fiction I wrote set in Montreal (well, outside of a private eye novel I wrote in the early 80’s that’s safely stored in my basement in a locked safe) used the fact that Jackie Robinson played his first year of otherwise all-white baseball for the Montreal Royals in 1946 – the year before he joined the Dodgers.
But that may be something about Montreal that’s not nearly as well-known outside the city as I thought it was.
Anyway, my story Barbotte has been online for a while and it takes place in the summer in Montreal.