Saturday, February 5, 2011

Of Sausage Making and Writing

Scott D. Parker

Yesterday over at Murderati, J.T. Ellison posed some interesting questions about readers, writers, and the secrets behind the curtain. In short, she wondered if all the transparency about the process of writing devalues the art and mystique of writing. She wonders if all of us readers and writers are just circling the sausage factory to watch how the strange meat gets into that weird, elastic tube. I think that it's a good thing and, for some, the only thing.

Nowadays, we writers are supposed to tweet, interact on Facebook, go on book tours, have signings, give lectures to book clubs, maintain a website (because you know the publisher ain't gonna do it for you), oh, and write books. And stories. Then, of course, you've got the mundane aspects of book creation: galleys, edits, etc.

The entire post is worth reading, but one paragraph stood out:
"Do you see James Patterson tweeting? Hardly. But he can put out 17 new books in a year, because he’s focused on creating. Same with some of the other big dogs I admire – the Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the world. I look at them in awe and wonder. HOW do they write so much? HOW are all their ideas so clever and original? WHAT IS THEIR PROCESS LIKE?"
Here's the thing: the authorial examples she uses is the anti-thesis to her argument. King, Patterson, and Roberts came of age as writers in the era before the internet. By the time Facebook became a legitimate method to promote books, they were already brand-names, not even needing the new technology to let readers know of new books.

In 2011, there is a new paradigm of how authors "get out there." A blog is a great way to get oneself noticed. Through countless blog posts, a writer can establish a foothold on this large mountain range that is the business of writing. The blogger--for that is what the newer writer truly is--blogs for the love of the genre or, as in my case, the public self-education of mystery and crime fiction. My blogging consists largely of reviews where I state my opinion, what I learned, and how I might apply it to my writing. Over a few years, the readers showed up and kept coming back. Now, I receive unsolicited copies of ARCs and other books for review. Pretty cool, no?

But what about the person who wants to transition from blogger to writer to published author? Isn't that what we all want? I've started watching "American Idol" this season and am not surprised at how many contestants *think* they are great and are shocked to discover they're not. In the writing realm, I know many, many of us not-yet-published writers have that same, exact question. Are we good enough? Only time and persistence will tell.

For a lot of us, the answer will be no. So what's left? The communal commiseration of the process. The sausage making. The search for that one thing that can get us over the hump and into the realm of publishability. And that's where this love of craftsmanship comes in regarding published authors. I don't know about you, but I love the Behind the Scenes featurettes on DVDs. I enjoy knowing the genesis of a story, how the costumer made certain selections of fabric, and why the director chose to film in black-and-white.

The same is true for published authors. It's the sausage making that is, at times, equally as interesting as the end product. How a writer crafts a story is fascinating and can often offer insights into the process that can be helpful for other writers. But there's the dark side, too, the delusional part of this type of fandom. If James Patterson writes with a pencil on yellow legal pads, then a certain contingent of not-yet-published writers will start the practice. If Stephen King writes on an old, 1990s-era computer, some writers will head on over to eBay and find the very same model, thinking that the final obstacle to overcome.

That isn't the answer. It's an easy short cut that leads nowhere. The answer is from within. The solitary writer, banging out prose on a mission towards publication, constantly doubts, constantly frets, constantly needs encouragement like few other professions in this world. As Ellison wrote yesterday, "Sometimes, a little note on Facebook is all we need to turn a bad writing day into a good one." Sometimes, it's nice to know that one's favorite author outlines just like we do, or writes using the same software as we do. And sometimes, it's just nice to hang out with fellow writers who all share a common knowledge base, and just talk about writing.

At the end of everything, no matter what, it is still a person putting words into a logical sequence and hoping someone else enjoys it. The old paradigm about the famous and non-famous and pants still applies: Nora Roberts puts on her pants one leg at a time. She also puts one word on a "page" before another just like other writers.

Writing is a solitary journey. It's up to us to define what happiness means to us. Is the journey itself enough? For some, happiness (read: publication) may never come. Thus, we settle for the sausage. But, let's not forget: sausage can taste really, really good.

Song of the Week: Philip Glass's Piano Etude II. In these frigid days we're all experiencing, the loneliness, isolation, and cold this piece evokes is strangely warming.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A little pimpage

Russel D McLean

Shhhh...I'm doing things this week. Very complex, secret and involving things* which means that I can't delight you with my usual wit and insight. And I didn't even have time to go and beg a guest blogger. So instead, I'm going to give you some videos. Videos of fellow Scots crime writer - Irvine Welsh's favourite - Tony Black (who I believe may be making an appearance on this here blog very soon, so here's an appetizer for you...)

Tomorrow sees the official release date of Tony's latest novel, TRUTH LIES BLEEDING. Its the start of a new series for Tony, following his hugely succesful Gus Drury novels.

What? You don't know Gus?

Here's a little something about Gus's first appearance in PAYING FOR IT:

And here's a video created for LONG TIME DEAD:

And here's what I had to say on Tony's second novel, GUTTED.

Next week, normal service shall resume. And by normal service, I mean the usual rambling insanity.

*that sounds like a tease, and the likelihood is you'll never know what it is I'm doing but there we go...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer

You may have heard of Michael Connelly.

One of my favorite writers. He's most known for his Harry Bosch novels, but he's put out a series about a defense lawyer, Mickey Haller. And you may have heard there's a movie coming out starring Matthew McConaughey. Here's the trailer

And, guess what? To tie in with the flick, Do Some Damage is running a contest.

We have five copies of The Lincoln Lawyer novel and five movie posters to giveaway.

Here's how I'm going to do it. You're going to email me an answer to the following question.

"What's the nicest thing you can say about New Jersey?"

Post it in the comments.

At the end of the day, I'll read them over and decide (the decision is SOLELY mine) the ten winners and post my email address. The winners can email me their address and I'll make sure you get either a book or a poster. (Yup, that means you'll have to check back on the website twice.) Let's say I'll make a decision around 7 pm eastern standard time.


Good. Now, give me some positive Jersey vibes!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

One More Time...

Brad's post was so good yesterday I think we should leave it up for another day so even more people have a chance to read it and go and buy his books.

(and this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm late and haven't got a post ready. Nothing at all...)

Also, stop by the DoSomeDamage GoodReads Book Group to discuss Late Rain from Lynn Kostoff. We're having one hell of a chat.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

10 Things Crime Fiction Writers Can Learn From Taylor Swift

By Brad Parks
Esteemed Guest Blogger

The last time I had a book to flog, I came to this very virtual space and broke bold new ground with my much-celebrated blog post 10 THINGS CRIME FICTION WRITERS CAN LEARN FROM PARIS HILTON.

It was ground-breaking because no one had ever waded into this den of hardcore noir practitioners to blog about such an utterly vapid topic. 

It was bold because I made fun of Bill Crider, who is a noted sociopath. (Had I known then what I know now, I would have made fun of Steve Weddle, who keeps trying to come up with these tough-looking profile pictures in defiance of the simple fact that he looks like Richie Cunningham).

It was celebrated because it started a sartorial war with Dave White, wherein I pointed out that even though he’s an almost-grown, almost-man he retains the fashion sense of a colorblind frat boy; and he pointed out I dress like an 80-year-old going out for the local shuffleboard team.

Anyhow, the blog post became an instant Internet sensation. (By “sensation,” I mean, “Janet Reid picked it up and wrote about it on her blog, which gets twenty times more traffic than this dump.”). It vaulted me onto the bestseller list. (By “bestseller list,” I mean the one kept by my mother, in which I outsell John Grisham, Stieg Larsson and Lee Child combined). It even got me some cherished quality time with Paris herself. (By “herself” I mean certain video representations of the heiress).

Now here I am, a year later, pushing my next book – it’s called EYES OF THE INNOCENT, it releases today, Michael Connelly blurbed it, and if you don’t buy it Russel D. McLean will be forced to kill a puppy – trying to once again make blogging history.

And so it is time to extol my other twiggy blonde role model: Taylor Swift.

I know. I know. I’m about 20 years older than her core demographic. I’m also a dude. And you’re probably thinking it’s not possible that a critically acclaimed author such as myself – an Ivy League-educated, award-winning writer whose second book shows his burgeoning maturity as a serious voice in crime fiction, inasmuch as it contains fewer boner jokes – could possibly find inspiration in a simple, sweet-faced country music star.

But I do. I love Taylor Swift. And not just because I have this dream of being one of her back-up singers. (Taylor, if you’re reading this: I made Connecticut All-State choir three times in high school. I was even once lucky enough to sing with Joelle Charbonneau. Any chance I can have an audition?).

I own all her albums. I sometimes listen to her music while I write. I even once subjected myself to an entire viewing of The Ellen Degeneres Show just because Taylor was on it.
I love that she can write a song in thirty minutes. I love how she turns phrases (personal favorite: “You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.”). I love that anytime someone messes with her, she turns to her pen for revenge and absolutely f!&ks them up (dying to know which woman inspired “Better than Revenge,” in which she sings, “She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think, she’s an actress/ She’s better known for the things she does on the mattress.”).
And you know what? Even more than I love her, I respect her. So should you. She wrote a 350-page book when she was 12 and had the good sense to keep it in the drawer forever (Dave White only wishes he did that with WHEN ONE MAN DIES). She once did a 13-hour meet and greet to thank her fans, which I find impressive not only because it shows she remembers who to thank for her success, but because I’m not sure I have 13 fans who would be willing to meet and greet with me for an hour each. She doesn’t use co-writers (take that James Patterson!).

And – this is the most important thing of all – the chick knows how to tell a story. Listen to any of her songs (borrow my iPod if you need to), and you’ll quickly hear there’s a strong narrative in every single one of them. That’s more than Philip Roth can say about his work.

Yes, there is much this multi-Grammy-winning artist has to teach all of us. And so I did my usual exhaustive research – a good five minutes of pulling quotes off the bio on her personal website – to arrive at:


1. “Hi, I'm Taylor. I've been alive for 20 years now, and I finally have my own kitchen.”
This is a great first lesson any for author, or would-be author: It’s good to have simple goals.

2. “I love bright colors and things that make reality seem more whimsical than it is… I over-think and over-plan and over-organize.”
Always bear this incredibly prescient observation. The first part aptly describes the prevailing attitude at most publishing companies… unfortunately, the second part does not.

3. “These days, I've been trying to classify my thoughts into two categories: ‘Things I can change,’ and ‘Things I can't.’ It seems to help me sort through what to really stress about”
This is good advice for thinking about the buyers at Barnes & Noble.

4. “I still love writing in my journal and wearing dresses all the time and staring at chandeliers.”
Funny, so does my publicist. What makes it funny is that his name is Hector. (Though, I will say, an A-line flatters his figure quite nicely).

5. “Love is a tricky business. But if it wasn't, I wouldn't be so enthralled with it. Lately I've come to a wonderful realization that makes me even more fascinated by it: I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to love. No one does.”
Substitute the word “love” with the word “publishing” and you have one of the truest statements ever written.

6. “I've apparently been the victim of growing up, which apparently happens to all of us at one point or another.”
This is the case for most folks – except for the undead and associate editors, who as a collective will remain roughly 25 for all time. Remember this well, because if you are unpublished, these might be the people who will be taking a first read of your precious manuscript. Oh, and some of them probably listen to Taylor Swift.

7. “I just think every once in a while you need fries and a chocolate milkshake and your mom.”
Sorry, that’s not advice. That was just me after reading my first one-star review on Amazon the other day. (“This book set my teeth on edge and quivered my skin in repugnance,” wrote a woman named Kat Warren. “I cannot fathom the enthusiasm for this egregiously opprobrious mystery novel. If the content didn't repulse then the writing should have given pause.” Luckily, she wasn’t one of the Shamus judges). 

8. “I'm still beyond obsessed with the winter season.”
So is the sales rep at your publishing company. Which is good when it finally is the winter season. Then it becomes the spring season and he totally forgets your name. Ah, just kidding. I love the Macmillan reps. They’re the best. And I know they love me, too… you, uh, you do, right guys?

9. “I still love … really old cats that are only nice to you half the time.”
And if you have this attitude, you will get along great with book reviewers.

10. “I'm pretty stoked that you read this whole thing. I commend you for that. This was ridiculously long, and you probably have other stuff you could've done in the last four minutes. So to you, or anyone else who has spent four minutes on me in some way-- listening to just one song, or watching one of my videos….Thank you. I love you.”
You and me both, Taylor. You and me both.

Brad Parks’s debut, FACES OF THE GONE, became the first book ever to win the Nero Award and Shamus Award, two of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His next book, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, releases today from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. Library Journal gave it a starred review, calling it “as good if not better (than) his acclaimed debut.” For more Brad, visit his website, follow him on Twitter or became a fan of Brad Parks Books on Facebook.

Monday, January 31, 2011

And Two Make Trouble

By Steve Weddle


Our own Dave White has a short story collection out in February, coming to you from Needle Publishing. Deets here

The Do Some Damage book group over at GoodReads starts up a discussion of Lynn Kostoff's LATE RAIN (Tyrus Books) this month. Deets here


Novel writing is a pain in the ass, and not just from the sitting at the kitchen table all day.
You get an idea, you work on it. You work on it some more. You work on other stuff. You come back to it. All the time it's in the back of your head, like that chip the NSA implants in you at birth so they can control your thoughts.
You see something on the news. Damn, that's gotta go in the novel. Your wife tells you about something that happened to her at work. Bam. In the novel. You get into an argument with the auto repair guy because you know how much a friggin water pump costs and you woulda put it in your own damn self but this stupid little engine in this stupid little foreign car is in the way and you have to take half of the damn thing apart just so you can get to the friggin water pump and so you take it down to the guy who has done good work for you before and you tell him what you need done and you bring him the damn water pump that you've already bought and now he wants to hassle you over some crap you know is complete bullshit. And you want to tell him how he's sure as hell going in the novel. Assface.
So you're always working on it.
I finished it.
The novel. 
The second novel with Alex Jackson. Only, here's the weird part -- this novel also has Oscar Martello in it. I know, right? Two of my characters from different sides of the aisle meeting. It's weird. Like if Han Solo and Riker would meet. 
RIKER: Captain, I didn't have a chance. Han shot first.

Weird, wild stuff, as Johnny Carson would have said. (Kids, ask your grandparents.) The tone has to bridge between the two worlds, right? You see Oscar Martello through the eyes of Alex Jackson

So, um, yeah. The post I was going to write discussing the hermeneutics of phenomenology in the post-modern era had to go on hold while I worked some revisions.
Instead, I thought you might like a little fiction excerpt from the new novel.
Which part?
Why, the part where Oscar and Alex have a little trouble.


I walked in to Hardwick's and saw Jay serving drinks to three men. The lights were up, giving the place the feel of a restaurant. Two of the guys I didn’t recognize. One was Asian, shaped like an upside-down pyramid. Black t-shirt, khakis. One was, I’m not sure what he was. Eastern European, maybe. Like Dolph Lundgren, only a little bigger. Cowboys’ jersey. Jeans. Snake-skin boots. The third was dressed in a dark suit, white shirt. No tie. He stood, walked towards me as I came in.
“Wasn’t sure I was going to see you again,” he said.
“What can I say, Mr. Martello? I’m a trouble-maker.”
He didn’t smile.  “You should probably move along.”
“I just wanted to see Mr. Hardwick.”
“I believe he’s busy considering his options,” Martello said. “Contemplating his future.”
“I can wait.” I sat down at a table next to theirs.
The Asian guy moved towards me, but Martello waved him off, sat down next to me.
“Alex Jackson,” he said, catching me off-guard by using my first and last names. “Listen closely.” He waited until I looked at him. “I had my own plan for dealing with this situation. Clean. Final.” He was looking right into my eyes. His eyes. No color inside the white. Just a sphere of darkness. I couldn’t swallow. I wanted to swallow. The fluid building up in the back of my mouth. I couldn’t swallow. I couldn’t breathe. “I don’t like for there to be any loose ends.” He moved his hands slowly to his jacket, twisted his hand and suddenly was holding a blade, a curve of bright steel in front of him. “I appreciate having troublesome matters completely severed. Cautery is a skill, you understand. Acquired over years of practice. A steady hand. The power to burn. But it isn’t precise. You cauterize the wound, burn it closed, but you leave blisters, scars. You seal the wound, sure, but at what cost? The wound is still there, a scar perhaps as much trouble as the original problem. Much better to make a clean slice of it. Do you understand what I’m telling you?” I nodded as quietly as I could, and he continued. “But Lou said you were Jackson’s kid. Said you were a reasonable guy. I believe what he tells me. And I trust Lou, do you understand?” I nodded again, then he leaned against my ear and whispered, “Don’t make Lou Malone look like an asshole.”


More Oscar Martello and more Alex Jackson

Any of your favorite characters (writing or reading) ever meet up? Not to get all "that's what she said" but was it as weird for you as it was for me?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Warning: Unabashed, Sloppy Fandom Follows

The Edgar Award Nominations were announced last week, and I couldn't help but notice how personal the Best Novel category is for me this year. First, the nominations themselves couldn't have come at a better time. It seems like the buzz of ebook this and ebook that has gotten very loud lately and can sometimes be very overwhelming. So it was nice to be reminded that, for right now at least, books, glorious paper books, are still king and we are still a part of a vibrant mystery community producing vibrant, relevant work.

Now three of the Best Novel authors mean more to me than the others. Steve Hamilton, Harlan Coben, and Laura Lippman all started around the same time and have gone very different, yet successful ways that I think illuminate the breadth and potential of our field. Back in the mid to late 90s, when this trio was getting started and getting noticed, was when I was started to explore the field more. Coming from Science Fiction and Fantasy, I had exhausted the backlists of the authors who first drew me into the field--Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, and Robert Crais-- and was ready to see what else was out there.

The first of the three that I met was Harlan Coben. He was a regular visitor to Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor and even the local library near me. I found his books the way I did many others back then, scrolling through the Edgar nominee list, an noticed he'd been nominated and won several times. Since he was still new at the time, and the Internet wasn't the huge thing it is now, he was very accessible by email (an AOL address which oddly enough was the same provider as Steve and Laura initially) and we sent a few messages back and forth. fast forward to 2001 and I'm working in editorial at Bantam Dell just as Harlan is having a breakout year with his standalone TELL NOONE. He came into the office when he hit the NY Times Bestseller list and knew who I was. He still sees me and says hi at conferences though we don't email anymore.

Next came Steve Hamilton. Also, a regular visitor to Aunt Agatha's as he's from Michigan. Again, I found him due to his Edgar and Shamus nod for Best First Novel. He also had an AOL address and was very accessible, etc. I was also able to play basketball with him at my first Bouchercon in Toronto in 2004. He did some great work in his Alex McKnight series, then wrote a standalone I didn't much care for, then he wrote the book he's nominated for this year: THE LOCK ARTIST. This is one of the best crime novels of the new decade and I'm disappointed it hasn't made a bigger splash than it has.

Then there's Laura. She's the one I talk to most often, yet it's rarely about mystery books or publishing. We first started communicating through my blog as I chronicled a musical theater class I was taking and my crush on one of the girls in the class. Since then we've found a mutual interest in discussing books about writers and Dave White. Her book TO THE POWER OF THREE is still my favorite of hers, followed closely by, of course, her book about a writer, LIFE SENTENCES. This is also why it pains me to admit I haven't even read yet the book she's nominated for this year, I'D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. It's on my desk, but was actually supplanted by a book she blurbed, NEXT by James Hynes. It's next up though, I swear. But even that her blurb would hold sway over readers of a non-crime novel is quite cool.

All three of these have come quite far since their first books. Laura and Harlan slogged through the paperback original trenches and Steve is still in the middle of the slog, I believe. I'm very excited to see what all three have is store for us as readers, for the genre, and for humanity.