Monday, February 28, 2011

Indie Shoppe Patronizers: You've Got Mail

By Steve Weddle

A few years ago I was at a newspaper conference at which a speaker was PowerPointing up pie charts about how radio wasn’t really going to kill newspapers. Maybe it was television or the webernet that wasn’t going to kill us.

“Think about the monks and their illuminated manuscripts. If their job had been putting ink on paper, Gutenberg would have put the church out of business. But that wasn’t their job. Their job was bringing The Word of The Lord to mankind. And whether it’s gilded artwork in books or text messages on your phone, the church is still in business.”

Publishers aren’t in the business of putting ink on paper—printers are. It’s kinda what they do. And if your job is selling stories, you’re fine. If your job is selling ink on the page – hardbacks, trade paperbacks, mass market paper backs, copies of Backyard Poultry – then you might be having a little financial trouble these days.

Heck, unless you’re able to piss gasoline and fart AK47s, you’re probably having money troubles.
In the newspaper world, we had to get back to what it is that we do – delivering the news to people. The job is to get information to the people, whether by an inky page or a screen on your iPad or a message on your phone.

A dude asked a teenager where he goes to get his news. Some study was trying to determine the “source” kids were using. “Where do I go?” The kid seemed puzzled. “I don’t ‘go’ anywhere. If something is important, it’ll find me.” Which is exactly what newspapers must do. You have to get the news to people. People have stopped coming to newspapers for news. Newspapers have to focus on what they do, not how they do it.

Readers want the story. They want the experience. Hardback. Paperback. Ebook. Those are just the delivery mechanism for the story, the experience.

Bookstores and newspapers deliver information, experience. You go to the bookstore, not for the thing, but for what’s in the thing. What the thing delivers.

And bookstores, especially independent bookstores, are like the church, too. Many of their supporters believe that the best way to get people into the building is to use guilt.

Look, I am not responsible for their shitty business plan. Or their shitty distribution. Or their shitty deal with publishers. Buy-backs. Remainders. Deep discounts.

I understand why people want to hold on to this idea of a bookstore, of Meg Ryan’s mom reading to children on the floor of Ye Olde Bookshoppe Around The Corner. Of Tom Hanks and Dabney Coleman coming in and putting the sweet lady out of business. It’s a romantic-comedy. Romance. Comedy. And Parker Posey. Huzzah. It’s admittedly comforting to buy into the romantic idea. Of how things were. Of how it was better “back then.” Of how a bookshoppe is the anchor to a community. Dances around the May Pole and Victory Gardens and Debutantes and the Confederate Flag and Daughters of the American Revolution.
Let’s be clear about this. If people continue to think of bookstores as something from the past that we need to save, we’re all completely screwed.

An independent bookstore is not the endangered Fliffle Flower. Please, please stop making this your Cause of the Week. Please stop handing out “Save Our Store” flyers.

Look, I know you tried that with the “Wood You Save Me?” campaign to keep that big oak tree safe from the bypass. Honestly, that was really cool. I like trees, too. And the bake sale and getting Gary’s Midnight Ramblers to play the free concert at the Safeway parking lot probably helped raise a bunch of money for the lawyers to fight the right-of-way procurement from the state.

Don’t you people have a PTA meeting to get to? Shouldn’t you be organizing a committee to get my kids to sell your cookie dough at $17 a roll so that we can get whatever the hell it is we need this year on the playground?

A bookstore is not a cause. It’s not. It’s a store. That Sells. Books. Books that deliver scares and romance, fist fights and car chases. Entertainment. Information. The soul-crushing sadness in a Dennis Lehane book. The other-wordly coolness in a Tasha Alexander historical. The humor and thrills in a Brad Parks book.
Do not treat independent bookstores like charity cases. They’re better than that. They are the ass kickers of publishing. They’re not the family of nine who all lost their home and their puppy in a fire.

Fountain Bookstore in Richmond. Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis. Murder By The Book in Houston. Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA. Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. All over the country, small bookstores are kicking ass, doing what they do best -- what the big box stores and online-only sites can't. Book signings, sure. But they’re hosting book groups. They’re places to talk about books, about reading. They’re the community centers for reading. And I love reading. It’s what I do.

And so many of the indies have partnered with Google to sell ebooks right from their own websites. These stores are embracing the “new technology” instead of hiding from it, because they realize it’s about the story, not the ink on paper. If you want ebooks, your local indie can sell you ebooks. If your local independent is hanging up posters saying that ebooks will kill everything, you should tag that bookstore as a favorite in your GPS doohickey. You’ll get great deals, because that store will have a going-out-of-business sale soon. Yes, even though you try to save it with a letter-writing campaign.

See, small bookstores won’t “survive” because you raised $500 for them in your stupid bake sale. Sorry, I meant to say “thoughtful” bake sale. I mean, your hearts are in the right place. You’re just ruining everything. And here’s why.

Your actions are focusing on dumb crap.

“Small bookstores may charge twice as much, but they offer helpful recommendations.”

I get book recommendations from so many places now, why would I pay $28 at an independent instead of $12 for the exact same book? Same binding. Same words. Same smell. “Add in the shipping,” you say. Uh, no. I have the Amazon Prime for free, which includes free two-day shipping. Most of the time, it’s one-day shipping. So I can get into my car and drive an hour to the local indie or order online for free? Heck, now I have to add in five bucks for gas if I shop local.

You can’t focus on price. You can’t say “Yes, it’s twice the price, but…” See, you say “twice the price” and I’ve stopped listening. “It’s twice the price, but you get free Swedish Fish for life.” Whatever. I stopped listening at the comma.

You have to look at what bookstores do well. The signings. The meeting other readers. Meeting writers. The events. Hell, maybe the indie shop has a Local Mystery Authors theme week. Each night, a different mystery writer from the state. How cool would that be? Amazon can’t do that. You can’t meet Ellen Crosby at the Amazon store, can you?

And the Amazon recommendations? If I like this Jim Butcher book I might also like this other Jim Butcher book? I think the woman at my local shoppe does a much better job, thank you, very much.
Focus on this. Focus on the good. Not the "even though it's twice the money" sort of thing. This can't be an argument about price. I'm not paying $30,000 for a Ford Focus just because the local dealer is good at her recommendations. "Steve, I know how you love blue interiors and an auxiliary input jack." Look, when you want to look at what local bookstores do well, you're looking at value, not price.

“You’ll miss the independent bookstore when it’s gone because you’ll be stuck with Amazon.”

Again, this is a shitty business plan. It was a bad idea when newspapers tried it, too. “Don’t you miss the neighborhood bakery?” Yeah. But the old lady in the back of the place there made some friggin amazing pies. The difference between Mrs. Mangianni’s pecan pie and Mrs. Smith’s is the difference between the Arsenal Gunners and the Cooke County Duckies. The difference between my copy of Wallace Stroby’s newest that I got from Amazon and the copy you got from Meg Ryan’s shoppe? I paid nine bucks and had it at my front door in a day. You went to the local independent, which had to order it for you. For $26.

You can’t sell people a negative. You can’t tell them that if they don’t pay $26 for a hardback that they’ll be stuck paying nine.

See, when something is gone, you learn to live without it. When my subscription to Curmudgeon Weekly lapsed, I realized I could live without it. I got the articles online. Sure, I had to click through an ad for The Number One Tip To Remove Belly Fat And Whiten Your Teeth That Doctors And The Liberal Media Don’t Want You To Know, but it worked out fine.

The “you’ll be sorry when your subscription expires” argument? Yeah. I was. I got over it. Stop selling the independent bookstore as an alternative to Amazon. It isn’t. The indie isn’t an alternative to anything. No one can do what they do. You have to sell what it is the local bookstore does, not what it can’t do.

And why did the local bakery close? When I lived on the Chesapeake Bay, we had a town full of these little cutsie shops. Their hours were Wednesday through Saturday, Noon until 5 p.m. -- "And By Chance."
Two of these were bookstores. They're closed now that the town has a Walmart. Walmart doesn't open "By Chance." Walmart wants to be around next year.

“Bookstores bring in local tax dollars, so shop locally instead of at Amazon.”
Seriously? That’s what you got? Danny’s Dildo Emporium on West Highland employs 19 full-timers, while Meg Ryan’s Indie Store employs three, counting Meg. You want more tax dollars, go buy a bag full of dildos.
Who brings in more sales tax to the town? Meg’s shoppe or Barnes and Noble?

And weren’t you the same mini-van full of people parading against Walmart last month? If the argument is “Independent bookstores should be supported because they bring in local tax money,” then you have a few problems. First, that’s a passive sentence. Clean up your writing, dillweed. Second, the guy who lives three doors down from me works for UPS. The online retailers keep him pretty busy. Third, how much tax revenue exactly does the Meg Ryan Independent generate?

Careful. It’s a trap. If you say it’s a nice hunk of money, then I’ll say bookstores aren’t in danger, so shut up. If you say it isn’t much money, then I’ll say “then who the hell cares, so shut up”?

So stop trying to guilt people into spending more than they can afford on books. Stop telling me I'm an evil bastard for reading on my Kindle, for buying a Bargain Book at B&N, for not "supporting" the indie cause, not "patronizing" my local.

Every time I visit a small, independent bookstore, their dedication and passion come blazing through those kick-ass display windows full of books I should be reading.

Focus on what the small bookstores do so well. Ever try to browse for books at Amazon? Ever try to ask a clerk there for help?

While you're holding bake sales and blathering about how independent bookstores aren't surviving, so many of them are focused on what they do best -- and thriving.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Want to make a million dollars? Go write a book!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

In the six plus months since Skating Around The Law was officially published, I’ve discovered that a lot of people I know have written or are interested in writing books. Many of them have asked me for advice on publishing, which I am always happy to give. Hell, I think I stomped in every pothole possible on the path to publication and I like being able to help my friends steer clear of them. The task of telling them how difficult it can be to find an editor or an agent make me feel like I’m raining on their parade a bit, but I never want anyone to go into this business unprepared for the uphill climb that awaits. We all know publishing is a lottery. The better your writing the more entries you get into the drawing, but luck always plays a part.

No one ever seems surprise to hear that it isn’t easy. However, they are surprised by the money, of lack of, that an author makes on a book. Maybe it was just me, but I never assumed I was going to write a book, sell it and live off the proceeds for the rest of my life. Yet, more than one aspiring fiction author has told me they want to write fiction so that they can sell their book and quit their job.


For some reason everyone assumes that a working actor has to struggle to make ends meet, but that a published author is rolling in dough. Why is that? Everyone thinks they are going to write a book that goes to auction, nets a million dollar advance and sends them laughing all the way to the bank.

Why the difference?

To me the businesses are much the same. You work hard. You hone your craft. You audition, audition, audition – submit, submit, submit – and you celebrate when someone is willing to pay you for doing what you love. Yes, you eventually want to make enough money to live off of, but even the most talented actor ends up waiting on tables to make ends meet. Authors are no different. In fact, after being a part of both paradigms, I would say it is harder to make a living wage as an author.

And yet time after time I hear the opposite perception. People assume since I have several books under contract that I am ready to buy a mansion and take extravagant vacations to Fiji. Um…I wish?

With that in mind, let us all do some math. How many hours do you put into writing, editing, copy editing and promoting one project? How much do you make on that piece of writing? After doing a bit of math – how much do you really make an hour as a writer? Is it a million dollars? If so, tell me what the secret is because clearly I am doing it wrong.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Scooby Doo Syndrome

Scott D. Parker

How do you explain the often idiot choices of network television executives to a none year old? Easy. Use Scooby Doo.

My boy has a serious Scooby Doo love right now. With the DVDs we can get from the library, On Demand, the DVDs he got for Christmas, and the ones still playing on TV, there's a constant stream of Doo at our house. Naturally, the boy asks the obvious question: how come all five members of Mystery Inc. Are not in all the different versions of the show? Perceptive lad.

Big fancy answer: because the vicissitudes of a fickle public causes network execs to overanalyze the ratings and make the decision that Something Has To Change.

Short, truthful answer: Because once a formula is successful, it's mimicked by just about everybody else until the original source becomes a cliche so much that it is the one that's changed to catch up with those other shows whose very existence is owned to the original show.

You know what I mean, right? Scooby Doo debuts in 1969 and is a hit. Josie and the Pussycats, Speed Buggy, and others follow. After a few years, SD drops in the ratings because while it was the original, it now appears a cliche compared to all the other pretenders. So what's the executives' natural response? They changed the original by bringing in Special Guest Stars. Now, don't get me wrong: it's kinda cool to see the Mystery Inc. gang teaming up with Batman and Robin, Laurel and Hardy, and their doppelgangers, Josie and the Pussy Cats. But, after awhile, it, too, turned stale. Enter Scrappy-Doo. Exit Fred. And, well, things just went downhill from there.

Here's the irony with the modern versions of the Scooby Doo movies and TV shows: somewhere along the road, the network executives realized that the initial idea didn't need to be tweaked. Thus, you get throwback cartoons with all the modern sensibilities but original concept is firmly in place. The late and lamented "Tom and Jerry Tales" had this concept in spades.

And the fans cheered this nostalgic return to form.

Our mystery and crime entertainment is not immune to this fickle change in attitude. It's everywhere. Let's take "CSI" for example. The CSI shows burst onto the scene to great ratings. If it ain't broke, the executives don't change a thing. Perhaps they've learned their lesson. Until rating start to slide and people complain that it's the same show week in and week out. What's wrong? Quick! Get a new cast member! Stat! Then, just like Fred, original cast members start to leave. The first thing viewers do? Complain that it's not like it used to be. What? But I thought...?

We not-yet-published authors--and the rest of authordom, to be honest--fall into the Scooby Doo trap, too. We chase trends and try to fix things that are not broken. Tell me: how many books are out there about vampires? I don't know, but I've read few of them. But you know there are a good number of authors who bang out novels and stories to try and capture the vampiric zeitgeist. Only many of then will arrive to the party too late. They'll be left standing on the outside looking in, reams of manuscripts crumpled at their feet.

In my own ideas and imaginings, I've tried my best to steer clear of writing something That People Will Love. More than one (all?) writing coach sums up the process of starting a project: write something you would want to read. Recently, my mother gave me a story idea. I liked it, and started running with it. Soon, however, the story started shifting into something more along the lines of what I like. That's natural, you know. Her original concept probably would sell more books. But that's not what drives me to write. And, heck, I'm the writer. I have to entertain myself first.

I appreciate the opening paragraph of Patricia Highsmith's Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction:

The first person you should think of pleasing, in writing a book, is yourself. If you can amuse yourself for the length of time it takes to write a book, the publishers and the readers can and will come later.

I'd like to think so. Do you?

Songs of the Week: American Idol contestants

My wife and I are Idol newbies. This is our first season to watch, and we're digging not only the incredible talent on stage, but the honesty and humility that Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are bringing to the show. Highlight of this week:
  • Jacon Lusk - "God Bless the Child" - This will blow you away.
  • Tim Halperin & Julie Zorrilla - "Something" - Remember: these are amateurs, they just don't act like it. I wanted the entire song.
  • Casey Abrams - "Georgia On My Mind" - My personal favorite of the bunch, so unique. It's probably the jazz that gets me.

Friday, February 25, 2011

SUB SUB SUB GENRES (a twitter-sourced topic)

By Russel D McLean

I have a thing against the phrase “tartan noir”. Truly, it rankles with me even if I have occasionally used it in my “other” job as shorthand, I think it’s a pretty odd description to use for a genre that is far more than noir - - in fact, Scottish crime may include some of the maost varied writers and styles to ever be gathered from one particular country (running the gamut from MC Beaton through to, yes, Irvine Welsh who has strayed into the crime genre whether he wants to admit it or not).

So when Audrey (also known as Oddmonstr, for reasons I couldn’t possibly tell you) asked me on twitter to write about,

The new sub-sub-sub-genre splitting of noir: geographic noir, discount noir, cat noir, dog noir...

My thoughts turned to how I feel about the tartan noir tag and how sometimes I think we can get caught up in trying to compartmentalise writing when really, we should just be enjoying it. After all, I think its useful to distinguish genre to a certain degree and within genre there are always going to be subset genres because, well, that’s the way it works and the way the human brain naturally tries to rationalise the world. But sometimes we can go too far so that things become ridiculous. Especially when much of the time we have trouble enough defining the larger edges of a genre. Noir is a particularly good example because no two writers – even those considered noir writers – can agree on what exactly noir is (often other than defining what its not*).

It’s a very personal thing and that just makes any sub genre splitting even more insane.
That said much of the splitting is done in the name of marketing. Akashic’s “geographic” noir is a great hook for a fine series of anthologies**and of course I’m proud to have contributed to the second volume of Geezer noir in Damn Near Dead 2 – an anthology you must and shall read right now. Simply by adding X noir to a title you get an immediate feel for what a piece of work should be like.

That said, I think it can all get a bit much and pretty soon we’re going to get round to a suggestion I once heard from the author John Rickards of “Toff Noir”*** Which leads me to wonder whether all this sub sub sub splitting of a genre can lead to the impact of the genre’s overall tag being somehow diminished.

And in the end, as we struggle to categorise and contain a story with a genre, a sub genre, a sub sub genre and so forth, I have to wonder if we being to lose sight of what is important in the first place:

The story.

Because I don’t care about your genre. I don’t care about your sub genre. I just care if you sweep me away, make me care, make me feel, make me believe in your story.

This week's post was written at the suggestion of a follower on twitter. It was fun to think about something unexpected. So tell you what, let's do this again for next week. If you're on twitter, tweet your suggested topic/question for next week's column @russeldmclean with the hashtag #surprisefriday and I'll get one of my fellow DSDers to pick the winner out of a hat before I write the next column.

*I can’t stop thinking of my favourite ever definition of “cat” as being “not a dog.” Which I’m pretty sure is a Blackadder gag but feel free to correct me if its not.

**although one can still make the argument for exactly how many of the stories are actually “noir”.

***I say, Jeeves, that fellow’s skull just exploded when I blasted him at point blank range with the blunderbuss!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Spreading Rumors

I love rumors.

Really, I do. My favorite part of baseball season--after the playoffs--is hot stove rumors. I love hearing who the Yankees might acquire and how the Red Sox might counteract that. I'm a huge college basketball fan, and I follow recruiting pretty closely. There are a lot of rumors that travel through that world too. Who might commit, what team is cheating (no, not Rutgers), what player is leaning a certain way?

I love movie rumors too. I check out sites like Ain't It Cool and Dark Horizons, looking for new movie trailers and photos taken by spies with silly fake names. But these rumors get me excited. I want to see the movie. I want to watch my teams play. I dig to find out more.

I think authors need to do the same things. Rumors need to be let out for the fans to see, especially if you're established. Think of the uproar and excitement that was let out when we all heard Dennis Lehane might be writing a new Kenzie/Gennaro novel. Or the rumor that never panned out: he was writing something called MISSING DELORES. That book never panned out, but it got my imagination going.

Writers now have so many tools at their finger tips. There is Twitter, Facebook, and who knows what other things to get your message across. And too often all we get are word counts or something really mundane like "writing about killing today." Or even my awful status update that I "need to write today."

Who cares?

If you're going to talk about your writing, shouldn't you make it pique someone's interest? How much cooler would it be if Russel McLean tweeted that he'd was "writing today about melting the dome in the Capitol Building." Let me tell you something, I'd probably spend the rest of the afternoon combing the internet for more information. He'd probably also get an harassing email from me too. Or if Jason Pinter tweeted he was writing a scene about the beheading of a Canadian figure skater? That'd get me looking around the 'net too.

Boy would they have my interest. Let something go. Make it cool, and vague, and mysterious.

I understand things get cut in revision. Things change. Books don't pan out. But Missing Delores never happened, and I still wanted to know more about Shutter Island. Fans understand.

But it can only help to get the reader's attention long before the book comes out.


Check out my e-book More Sinned Against and find out if two thugs can make it out of an Atlantic City hotel room alive. Or will their blood be splattered all over a couch?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Crowd Sourcing

John McFetridge

A little self-indulgence today (yeah, I know, what makes today any different ;).

Although I’m not quite finished the novel I’m working on – only a few months past the deadline now – I can see the end of the tunnel and I’m pretty sure I’ll be there in the next couple of weeks.

And then I’ll immediately start thinking about what to write next.

Well, that’s not entirely true, I’ve been thinking about what to write next for a while. I’ve been pitching TV series (serieses? Seriei? It’s like a drug, working on The Bridge was like that friendly stranger when I was a teenager) but I will always think of books first. Books offer so much more freedom to the writer, you can write whatever you want, no budget restrictions so you can have as many characters, locations, and expensive set-pieces as you want, no censorship (well, no censorship that would affect what I write – adults involved in sex and violence), no specific length requirements and no networks, sponsors, producers, directors and stars to please.

Which, of course, is also the problem.

I’ve mentioned before that a TV writer I worked with (Peter Mohan, great guy) said that writing episodic TV is like writing Haiku. Sure, there’s a strict structure but that can be a terrific starting point.

And then last week someone asked to do an interview with me and one of the questions mentioned a flash fiction I wrote called, “Who’s Angie Dickenson?” and I remebered I once thought about expanding that into a novel.

I thought maybe I should ask people if they’d like to see that? Maybe offer a few flash fictions and a few new ideas and ask which one people would like to see turned into a novel?

So, this is a kind of pre-crowd sourcing, a little crowd sourcing to see if crowd sourcing would be a good idea.

I know I’m supposed to have some idea that I’m driven by, some idea that I just can’t stop thinking about until I write it down (like getting a song in your head and only listening to it will set you free) but I’ve been wondering about the changes in writing and publishing and although e-books and self-publishing get the most press the ability for writers to interact with readers really is at a new level and hasn’t been discussed much.

So, what do you think, would a poll with a few ideas be worthwhile?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Writing For Fun And Profit

By Jay Stringer

A change is as good as a rest, and other cliches.

It's good to change things up. I've written on here my views on mythical writers block, and it boils down to this - follow your brain. Just before Christmas I turned in the latest draft of my second book to worlds best agent. I was on a roll, and brimming with ideas for the third book. I jumped headlong into writing it, and asking myself questions; Would this be the final book in the series? Would all the pieces tie up? would I learn to spell?

I got three chapters in and wrote a great mini-cliffhanger, one that would leave the reader asking, what the hell is going on? And then....I didn't know what was going on. So I turned to some of my favourite writing techniques -

I stared at the wall
I rode my bike
I pretended to own a dog and go for long walks

There comes a time when your imaginary dog is tuckered out, and you've had as many showers as you can have in a day without shrinking, when you have to accept that your brain is not ready. It's still picking away at the problem, letting all the pieces fall into different places and seeing how the picture looks. At that point you can PANIC BECAUSE YOU HAVE WRITERS BLOCK or you can follow your brain and go work on something else.

I really don't see writers block as a brick wall. I see it as the door to a safe, or a magic eye puzzle. Just wait, play around with the combination, and it'll come when it's ready.

So I turned to project B. The stand alone, and one that I was putting great pressure on myself to write. This is a story that's been kicking around in my head for awhile and I always intended to tackle it four or five manuscripts in, when I would be in a better position to take on the structure. I was coming to it ahead of schedule, but I had a few ideas for it and I took a running jump. Sent worlds best agent regular (well, my version of regular, which tends to be faster than an ice age,) updates about the research, the structure, the title (because thats the important part, kids.) And then once again, I hit that fake-brick-wall.

That book is closer to being ready for me to tackle, but it still wasn't quite there.

Step three, stop pressuring myself into writing anything and catch up on some reading. I started into my epic TBR pile. And then hit the wall again.

Readers block? WTF.

I looked back on what I'd been reading. And for longer than I realised I had been reading crime. Normally I keep an eye on my pile and keep things changing, keep things fresh. But somehow I'd let that slip, and my brain was yelling at me to change things. I couldn't read or write crime because I was sinking in it.

So, change as good as a rested cliche, or something like that.

I re-read a couple of old adventure books, and that loosened something, then I binged on comics, and that loosened something further. Then I sat down to write, and boy was that loose.

Everything I'd been writing for the previous year had been with the knowledge that I was going to be sending it to worlds best agent, or submitting to a magazine/ezine, or sending them to Professor Weddle and saying, squeal at that, piggy.

I never write for an audience. I write for myself. But even then you'll find pressures creep in and styles change, you're writing something that you know others will read.

I went back to square one. I have a pulp adventure character, someone I mucked around with a few years back in some very bad stories. But action and adventure play to my weaknesses as a writer, and they're a good chance to play with some other things that obsess over, like structure and character.

So with myself as the only intended audience, I gave myself a month off from writing to sit and write. And two months later I'm still there, in the closing stages of what threatens to be a novel. And it's still probably not something I'll be looking to publish, but it's been a great experience. A writing holiday.

The next episode of the DSD podcast will be out very soon, featuring Mr Tony Black, Russel and my own self. Keep an eye on that feed. And if you're thinking, yeah, all of this talking is good, but when do we get to hear you chat with Mr Seth Harwood? Well, that one's coming soon too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Too Late For The Reader Revolution?

HOUSEKEEPING: Today we are joined for the first time by our alternate-Mondays blogger, Sandra Ruttan. Most of you already know Sandra as editor-in-chief of Spinetingler Mag and a fantastic writer. Joelle has picked up the opening left by Bryon Quetermous, who retired from DSD a few weeks ago.
The schedule change is that Joelle is now on every Sunday, while Sandra and Steve will alternate on Mondays.
We are so pleased to have Sandra join the team. If you don't know why we're thrilled, you soon will.

By Sandra Ruttan

I just read the breaking news, that the second-largest city in Libya is in the hands of protesters. Let's see, we've had Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt... and the revolutions continue. Will it be Yemen or Bahrain, or is it possible Libya's Gadhafi will be the next dictator to fall?

The West has been talking about corruption and suppression of human rights in some of these countries for decades, but what came of it? Nothing. No, nothing happens until some young man goes and lights himself on fire, starting a new trend and effectively becoming a champion of democracy throughout the Middle East.

You see, sometimes, it isn't what you say. It's who says it. Those people couldn't hear it from The West. Our interests clouded their ability to appreciate the truth of whatever we said.

No, sometimes, you need to hear from someone you know is on your side.

So, as an author, an editor, a reviewer and a champion of the crime fiction genre, I'm here today to strike a match and start a fire that just might possibly shake the foundations of the publishing industry.

You see, we've heard it from the romance writers. And we've heard it from the, ahem, literary authors. But I stand here today, as one of your own, prepared to embrace a dark truth we've attempted to deny until now because we couldn't accept it from outside our circle.

We can't handle the truth.

Oh, we talk the good talk. Of course we don't want to embrace stereotypes. We want fresh, original, compelling characters that smack of reality...


Well, maybe. Just as long as we aren't talking about characters from Canada. Check out this map of organized crime from around the globe, and the creators have perpetuated the popular myth that there's no crime in Canada.

People, this is a devastating lie that's threatening American society. While you picture nice Canadians in Mountie uniforms eating toffee by the fire and singing Kumbaya, the reality couldn't be farther from the truth. On any given day the news is filled with exploding pipelines, escaped murderers, and blood-spattered walls at homicide scenes, and the recent revelation that crime costs Canada an average $1B per year.

The good news is, Canadian crime fiction that features amateur sleuths and quirky characters who accidentally solve crimes is as popular as ever, so someone's sure to draw inspiration from the entirely believable news story about two men in Calgary trying to steal a Zamboni.

Unfortunately, the nicey-nice image Canada has is so pervasive, it's corrupted the crime fiction community. That's why I am going to finally break the news to John McFetridge fans world-wide. The riveting action, the bombs, the drug deals, the murders and general mayhem that fill the pages between the snippets of steamy sex in John's books is getting the ax and John's next book is going to be erotica.

Okay, so this isn't going to shake publishing to its core. I probably won't even succeed in irritating the Canadian Tourism Commission. But I do wonder if I should let go of writing about Canada and embrace my new home in the US.

And I wonder if we can help John come up with a title for his new book. ;)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing something different.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

If you read this blog you probably know that I don’t write dark crime fiction. I’m one of the light and funny mystery writers on the DSD team. The Rebecca Robbins mystery series has a hat wearing ex-circus camel and a sexually frisky grandfather bopping through the pages. The newest series that was bought last month by Berkley Prime Crime (Murder For Choir) has an angry poodle and a lot of singing and dancing in the story. I write funny – right? As a writer that’s who I am.

Or maybe not.

Because I’m a little a head of my writing schedule on the Skating books and don’t need to have book 2 of the new series into my editor until the middle of next year I’m working on a different project. Something a little darker that was inspired by my stint on a gang murder jury last year. I’m almost 200 pages into the book and I still don’t know what I think about it. Part of me wonders if I have the chops to write something that isn’t funny. I admit that it is really odd for me to read something that I’ve written which sounds like me, but isn’t silly or even mildly amusing. The fear that I’m writing I’m not supposed to write is strong. My desire to write the story is stronger. So I write. And I worry.

Everyone says that once you break into publishing you are supposed to brand yourself. You’re not supposed to write funny mysteries and thrillers. How will the reader know what to expect when they crack open the cover of your book if you do more than one thing? And yet here I am writing a third person book featuring the south side of Chicago gangs. Am I crazy? You tell me.

Oh – and in case you think I’m making this up to have something to blog about - here is the first scene.

Inadvertent Witness

Witnessing a murder was easy compared to this. Dozens of eyes studied Michelle as she shifted on the hard, wooden seat in front of them. They were seated in four rows of cushioned chairs – all facing hers. The back of her neck dripped with sweat despite the glacial air-conditioning of the ornate courtroom. Her heart raced as if she had something to fear. Maybe she did. While death was an inevitable part of her chosen profession, answering questions that might send a man to prison was not. Why one was worse than the other she wasn’t sure.

“Please state your name and the general area in which you live for the Grand Jury,” Assistant District Attorney, Brad Winkler smiled like they were old friends. He was a big man clothed in an even bigger beige suit with a voice that sounded a lot like chalk squeaking across a blackboard.

She took a deep breath. “My name is Michelle Bowden. I live in a northwest suburb of Chicago.” Giving an exact address or town was something she’d been cautioned against – just in case.

The district attorney’s big smile said he was pleased Michelle had remembered. “Where were you on the afternoon of May 25th?”

“I spent the afternoon at the hospital visiting a former coworker at Advocate Trinity Hospital.” There was no need to mention that the coworker was actually admitted to, instead of working at, the hospital with a collapsed lung courtesy of her husband. Emily’s marital problems had nothing to do with this.

“What time did you leave the hospital?”

“Around 4 p.m. I’d meant to leave before traffic started to build, but I lost track of the time.” An older woman three rows back nodded with a smile. Michelle smiled back glad to know she wasn’t the only one who habitually lost track of time.

“Then where did you go?”

“I meant to go home, but I took a wrong turn and got lost.” Her cheeks burned. The jurors probably thought she sounded like the typical blonde. On a normal day she had great directional sense. She never got lost when visiting my patients, not even the direst of medical emergencies. But Emily’s almost unrecognizable face had followed her from the hospital to her car. A good twenty minutes passed before she realized she was in the wrong part of town.

Assistant district attorney Winkler didn’t seem to notice Michelle’s embarrassment. He just fired another question. “Did you stop to ask for directions?”

“I did,” although she’d changed her mind. Even with the sun shining, walking across the street to the convenience store felt dangerous. She’d felt like a wimp.

“Where were you when you stopped to ask for directions?”

“I was on South Cottage Grove Avenue between 75th and 76th streets.”

“And did you see anything unusual when you were parked at that location?”

Swallowing hard, she nodded.

“Could you please answer out loud so the court reporter can record your answer?”

“Sorry. Yes.” The dark-haired woman sitting hunched over her white typing pad clicked the keys to record the answer.

“What did you see?”

Neglected buildings housing as many businesses as empty spaces. Graffiti covered brick walls. A gang of African American and Latino-looking men giving each other hand signs across the street from where she’d pulled over.
“I saw a man in a light blue shirt run in front of where my car was parked. He crossed the street and approached a group of men standing on the sidewalk in front of a sandwich shop.” For a minute it looked like he was joining his friends. A couple of guys even smiled at him. Then they stopped smiling.

“What next?”

“The man pulled out a gun and aimed it at another man wearing a white and green sweatshirt.”

“Did the man in the sweatshirt say anything?”

“I don’t know. I was too far away to hear.” But not so far that she couldn’t see the fear that spread across his face. Michelle gripped the arms of her chair as the memory of her own fear raced back. “The man in the sweatshirt ran behind a black and silver Mercedes that was parked on that side of the street. The guy with the gun chased after him.”

“Did you see what happened next?”

A brown-haired man in a gray suit leaned forward in his chair. Excitement widened his eyes. Michelle didn’t feel his enthusiasm for the details. In fact, her stomach clenched and her mouth tasted of metal, as she said, “The man in the sweatshirt ran around to the front of the Mercedes and tripped. He fell on the hood of the car.” His dark brown skin gleamed against the outline of the silver car as he turned over and opened his mouth to say something to the gunman. Only he never got to. “The man with the gun stood in front of the car and pulled the trigger three times. He then ran southbound down the sidewalk and disappeared.”

He never saw the man in the sweatshirt slide down the hood of the silver Mercedes, leaving a streak of red glistening in the sun. But she did.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Regarding "Harry's Law"

Scott D. Parker

Anyone watching NBC’s “Harry’s Law”? It airs at 9pm CST on Mondays opposite my favorite TV show, ABC’s “Castle,” and CBS’s “Hawaii Five-O.” Through the magic of On Demand, I’ve caught the first five episodes of Harry’s Law and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

It’s a David E. Kelley show so, right off the bat, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Law show? Check. Outsized characters? Check. Passionate courtroom arguments posing as opinion pieces for Mr. Kelley? Check. But, then again, this kind of show is right up my alley. I was a huge “Boston Legal” fan. I could watch an hour of James Spader-as-Alan Shore reading the phone book and I’d be entertained. William Shatner successfully shed the Kirk skin with his role as--say it with me--Denny Crane. Candice Bergen was sublime in her role as Shirley Schmidt. Truthfully, I miss the show more than I care to admit.

Which is where Harry’s Law comes in. Kathy Bates stars in this legal drama set in Cincinnati. She is a prominent patent attorney who gets fired only see her hang a shingle in a downtown storefront that also sell shoes. Yup, shoes. She’s earnest and, according to one character in the fifth episode, the law profession is better off for Bates’s Harriet Korn being a lawyer. Of course it is. It’s a David Kelley show.

Surrounding her is a typical cast of characters. Earnest young lawyer, Adam Branch (played by Nate Corddry, late of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”) who more or less sees her as a mother figure (and a target for his car: episode one) and proves himself in her eyes. Cute young receptionist Jenna Backstorm (Brittany Snow) who takes appointments and sells the shoes. Rounding out the fantastic foursome is Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen) who tried to commit suicide only to land on Harry. After being successfully (natch) defended in court by Harry, Malcolm now works for Harry as a paralegal.

The tone of this essay might sound a bit sarcastic and, to be true, there’s a little of that. David E. Kelley has become a brand name of sorts. You attach his name to anything he does (the magnificent Picket Fences, the always fun Ally McBeal) and you pretty much know what you’re going to get. I think, perhaps, the reason I love Kelley shows so much is that they are like CSI: Miami: they don’t try to be real, they strive to be entertaining via none-too-subtle performances and setups.

If Harry doesn’t have any foil, the result would be much like the Star Wars prequels, which suffered the absence of Han Solo. Harry’s got two. Josh Peyton (the excellent Paul McCrane at his smarmy best), the DA, who is put upon as much as Hamilton Burger was opposite Perry Mason. And then there’s Thomas Jefferson. Ah, yes, the cousin of William Shatner’s Denny Crane. Tommy Jefferson is the arrogant, near buffoon of a lawyer, known for his name if not his courtroom prowess. More than once in these five episodes, after Jefferson (played superbly by Christopher McDonald*) has gone on a mini rant, I kept waiting for him to say “Denny Crane.” He does say “Tommy Jefferson” some. I love it.

The show breaks little new ground, but it fills the void left by Boston Legal. And, at times, the characters make choices and follow through with actions that make them more three dimensional. Back in the day, the public loved watching Perry Mason take an almost unwinnable case and turn it on a dime. The same holds true here. It’s just fun. The developing tete-a-tete between the veteran Jefferson and the newbie Branch is vintage Kelley.

Now, I will always tune in and watch “Castle” live. That won’t change. But I think I’m to the point now where I don’t want to wait until the show lands On Demand the following day. I’m thinking I’m going to have to tape it and get my “Harry’s Law” fix immediately after “Castle.” Forget the late local news. I want to learn in the classroom of David Kelley.

Watch episode online here.

Article of the Week: Check out the interview Entertainment Weekly had with “Thor” director Kenneth Branagh. I’ve never been a huge fan of Thor, but I put the movie on my to-see list as soon as I read Branagh was to sit in the director’s chair. Reading this article on how he went about crafting the movie and his thoughts on popular entertainment, both for Shakespeare and in the 21st Century, is enlightening and honest.

*Bonus points to you if you can name McDonald's "Star Trek" credentials.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

We're not all Watson

Last night I was watching Watson on Jeopardy.

And between thoughts of it becoming self aware, nuclear annihilation, and begging the audience to PLEASE STOP CLAPPING, I had a thought: This is what politicians want educators and education to become, Data Analyzing Robots.

Listen to the rhetoric those in power are spewing all over the place. Education is failing because of bad teachers who can't get fired. The single most important person in a child's educational life is a teacher. If a student was in a charter school they'd be doing much better. The business model can work for education too.

That's right.

Children aren't humans going through hormonal issues, growing, and developing into adulthood. They're products. A piece of clay, without thought, to be shaped and molded into productive members of society who can make the people in power more money. If only the teachers could deliver the data necessary to sculpt these children. Look at the test scores, see where they are weak.

Fix that.

And they think that, like that (snaps fingers), a child can be given the information needed and POOF! There's another productive member of society.

Guess what?

As anyone who's been in education--been in a school--can tell you: It's not that easy. Children are people. They aren't well adjusted yet. They have issues. The parents might not be around. The parents might be putting too much pressure on them. Their friends might want them to "be cool." They may have a learning disability. Sometimes, they just don't want to learn.

And these children are not bad. Not at all. They're good kids. They are their own person. They're not robots.

Teachers can make a difference. If a teacher has 75 kids across a day, he or she can probably reach 25 of them and make a huge difference. Another 30 are going to be affected by that teacher and learn something. The rest are might get lost. Not because the teacher didn't try. Not because the teacher didn't do everything right. And not just because the kid didn't want to learn.

But, because: WE ARE NOT ROBOTS.

From middle school on, teacher may only spend 5 hours a week with a child. There are 168 hours in a week.

A child spends more time with: his friends, his family, his TV, his computer, his X-Box, alone.

Everything has an affect on a child. You can't only blame a teacher when something goes wrong.

You can't only blame a teacher when something goes right.

Everything is involved. Like adults do, children learn things everywhere. A teacher is there to guide them and help them expand their knowledge. Not spoonfeed them data so they can do well on a test.

Teaching is a work of art. It's not an information dump.

So, what's the solution for politicans?

A) Don't put all the blame on teachers. Don't villainize. Be honest, and say you're more concerned about ways to make money and blaming teachers-breaking up public education--will make it easier for you to hold on to your money.

B) Start putting more onus on society. Teachers do their part. 90% of teachers do their job and do it well. So start working on society. Offer more educational programming and video games. Start putting more emphasis on reading. Start getting information out to parents that they need to play their part. They need to be there for their children. Need to guide them.

Chris Christie is a political hero right now. He's made teachers the villain and saved the state money. He's repeatedly called teachers* awful and said that NJ education is broken. It isn't. The most recent stats show the graduation rate is first in the nation, test scores are second, and the achievement gap was closing at the highest rate in the nation. But teachers are still damned in this state. Instead of crying foul in New Jersey, we should be promoting our educational excellence.

We're not robots. Neither teachers, nor the kids.

We're never going to reach 100%. We're damn well trying though. Everyone is. So stop throwing around blame and keep pushing what works. And use what works in the areas where it isn't working.


In other news, Steve Weddle, John Hornor, John McFetridge have helped me put together an anthology of my Jackson Donne stories. More Sinned Against is available for your Kindle now.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Guest Post: From Dorchester to Deadite and Delirium

Cover by John Hornor Jacobs
By Bryan Smith, guest blogger

The publishing industry is changing.

Yeah, that’s not exactly breaking news.  Contributors to this blog, as well as its regular readers, undoubtedly hear similar statements on a regular basis.  Among my colleagues, it’s a subject that has been discussed with ever-increasing frequency, particularly over just the last several months.

I write horror novels.  Until now, all of them have been published by Leisure Books, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing.  As of the summer of 2010, I had sold nine novels to Dorchester, and there didn’t appear to be any end in sight.  My editor, Don D’Auria, had faith in my work.  If not for the aforementioned changes blasting cyclone-like through the publishing world, I’m confident I could have sold Don another nine novels.  And I would have been more than content to go on that way indefinitely.

Obviously I was guilty of a certain level of complacency.  I also suffered from a willful disregard of the changes I knew were occurring.  It’s not that I didn’t know they were happening.  I read the news reports.  I heard the chatter among other writers.  The buzz about ebooks and ereaders was getting louder and louder all the time.  Brick and mortar book stores were hurting.  Some even said those stores were on the brink of extinction.  It all should have been very alarming, and it was, even to me, but I chose to simply not worry about it.

In early August of 2010, willful disregard was abruptly struck from my list of options.  That was when the news hit that Dorchester would be dropping mass market publishing and transitioning to trade paperbacks and ebooks.  Those of us in Dorchester’s horror stable went into full-on panic mode.  There was a lot of speculation that Dorchester was in serious financial trouble and might not survive.  We writers conferred with each other in a lengthy chain of emails about how to proceed.  Many of us expressed serious doubt regarding the company’s ability to right its financial ship.  A lot of different ideas were thrown around, but most of us were in agreement on one critical matter--we wanted the rights to our titles back.  Most of us eventually reached some sort of agreement with Dorchester.  For my part, I received all print rights to my titles back almost immediately.  Ebook rights will revert to me at the end of 2011.

After several years and eight books (the contract for the ninth was canceled), I am no longer with Dorchester.  Since our parting of the ways, I have worked out new publishing arrangements, albeit no longer at the mass market level.  Deadite Press will be issuing new trade paperback editions of all my old Leisure titles and will also be doing trade editions of new novels.  Delirium Books will publish limited hardcover editions of those new books.

I am satisfied with those arrangements for the time being.  Both Deadite and Delirium have been a pleasure to work with so far.  However, I have had a lot of lingering questions regarding the deeper implications of the major changes in the industry.  Most importantly, the tantalizing possibilities inherent in digital self-publishing.  We’ve all certainly followed the stories about the startling success authors such as J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking have experienced with this method.  And, as I’m sure is the case for many of you, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if I should give ebook self-publishing a shot.

To that end, I recently made the decision to self-publish via Kindle (other formats will follow) a novel entitled Deadworld.  Deadworld was written in the winter of 2006. Originally, I wanted it to be my second Leisure novel. My first novel, House of Blood, was very much a piece of pulp writing. I won't go into the details of why (because it's a whole other long story), but my whole focus with HOB was to write as fast as possible. The bulk of it was written in just five weeks. Another novel, Deathbringer, was also written very quickly, in just under two months. After I finished Deathbringer, I submitted it to Don at Leisure and waited many months without hearing whether they'd publish a second novel from me. While I was waiting, I started Deadworld. With Deadworld, I made a conscious effort to create something bigger in scope and more carefully crafted. I wanted it to be my second published novel because I thought it would be a good idea to follow up the quickly written HOB with an obviously more accomplished piece of writing.

In the end, though, Leisure wanted to go with Deathbringer as the second novel. The reasoning was that House of Blood was pretty successful and Deathbringer was closer to being along the same lines. Deadworld was just too different, so it was put to the side, where it seemed destined to stay indefinitely.

However, the shift in the way self-publishing is perceived, at least at the digital level, meant that I was comfortable granting Deadworld new life as an ebook.  Though its ultimate success or failure remains to be seen (as of this writing, it’s only been available a few days), I’m happy to have it out there.  There’s an undeniable sense of liberation with digital self-publishing.  Publication via Kindle is shockingly easy.  I control every aspect of the book’s production.  I welcome the challenge this presents.

Because I  know one thing for damn sure--complacency, now more than ever, has no place in this business.  And it definitely no longer numbers among my own professional shortcomings.

Bryan Smith is the author of several mass market horror novels from Leisure Books, including House of Blood, Deathbringer, The Freakshow, Queen of Blood, Soultaker, Depraved, The Killing Kind, and The Dark Ones. Deadite Press became my primary publisher in late 2010, issuing Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies in October of that year. I like beer, loud rock and roll, horror movies, Britcoms, a bunch of the usual stuff. Visit The Blog That Dripped Blood for more information.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bananafish, The Pirate

By Jay Stringer

So I put out a call via the twitters on a cold monday night, what should I write about for my DSD piece? I got one reply, from Mr Dan O'Shea. He said, "Bananafish!" And faced with gibberish like that, the only sane and reasonable response seemed to be flash fiction. With pirates. Arrrr.


“An investigation”

Master Tuft cut through the quiet of the night, running the length of the deck in a blind rage.

Fry, the ship’s first mate, turned from the journal he’d been writing by candlelight, “what?”

“An investigation. There must be an investigation.” Tuft wasn’t even pausing for breath. “And what would we be investigating?”

“The Rum. It’s gone.”

“Which rum?”

All of it. It’s gone.

Fry shook his head, “Where has it gone?”

“That’s what we need to investigate.”

Grunt, who claimed to be the helmsman but never did anything but fight, stepped into the conversation, “Bananafish is drunk”

Bananafish was the cook.

He could cook anything, as long as it was fish. Or Banana. Or fish and banana.

“Yes,” Tuft nodded, “Bananafish is drunk, but I’m more worried about the investigation-”

“I think we’ve solved it already.”

The cabin door burst open and Captain Fuller stepped out half dressed. He looked to Fry for an explanation.

“Well apparently, the rum has gone. All of it. Tuft wants this investigated. And Grunt says that Bananafish is drunk.”

The Captain nodded and smiled, “Then we’ll ask Bananafish if he knows where the drink has gone."

Grunt went below deck and dragged the cook out of bed. He stumbled along behind Grunt as he was lead back up before the captain, standing in a slanted parody of attention, “Morning, Boss.”

“It has come to our attention that all of the Rum has gone. Have you got anything to say about this?”


"I beg your pardon?"

Bananafish regarded the Captain through one eye, the other glued shut with sleep, before a look of indignation crossed his face and he threw his hand in the air.

“An investigation” he cried, “there must be an investigation!”


Recovered enough to sit on the poop deck, Bananafish told his tale.

“It was about an hour ago I would say, maybe a bit more than that. I was on the deck with Skiffel…”

Tuft cutting in,"

Where is he? Can he confirm this?”

No, see, that’s the problem. I was sat on the deck with Skiffel, we were talking, playing a bit of poker. We were not drinking at all, I swear-

“You swear?”

“I swear”

“You swear on your honour?”

“I swear on my honour”

Captain Fuller pulled his cutlass and pressed it to the cook's groin, “You swear on your manhood?”

“-well maybe wis drank a little”

The Captain laughed and nodded for the cook to continue.

“So, I was sat on the deck with Skiffel, and we were playing poker and we had a responsible amount to drink. The sea had been choppy all night, but the sky clear, a strange night. But then the sea grew calm, the calmest I’ve ever seen, and a thick mist began to roll in.

“Soon it was so we couldn’t see anything, and Skiffel began to joke about all the bounties that could be floating by without our knowing. Out of the fog -and I swear this is true- we heard a creaking, as of a large ship right off our bow. Skiffel jumped near out of his skin. I myself remained brave, but I understood how the man felt. We leaned as far over the rail as we could, straining to hear the sound again, or to catch a glimpse of anything through the mist. We heard another sound, it was of an eerie scratching, nails clinging to damp wood, like a cat, and the sound wasn’t coming from out in the mist sir-”

Bananafish paused for effect, looking around the crew's faces.

“The scratching was below us. The sound of something climbing the hull of our ship. Well, Skiffel was caught in a mighty panic, but I drew my short sword and leaned into the mist, ready to strike. My hair stood on end Sir, for I couldn’t make out what it was, but there was definitely something moving down there, clawing its way up toward us. Even more shocking Sir, as I drew my face back up, I found a ghostly face staring into mine through the mist.”

Fry gasped, then caught himself.

Bananafish waited for a second before starting up again.

“The face drew clearer as the mist thinned slightly, and we saw a portion of the ship we had heard. It was old, like a floating wreck, and the men aboard it looked skeletal and weak. They looked, sir, like the Undead”

Tuft shook, overcome.

“The creature staring at me from their deck laughed, such a laugh that cut through to my soul, and his Bony hands appeared out of the mist and dragged Skiffel across to him, screaming. No sooner was poor Skiffel on their ship, then the mist rolled in again to hide them from view. As I felt my heart racing out of control, I felt a presence behind me, and a scuttling sound. Finding the strength to turn, I caught sight of the barrel of rum –all the rum- disappearing over the side, held by a pair of bony hands. Then, as quickly as it had come, the mist cleared, and we were alone at sea again.”

“I see”, Captain Fuller nodded and looked at his crew, all pale and frightened, all trying to to show their fear.

“My word, such a night,” Tuft whispered, peering into the mist that had crept up as the story had been related.

“And tell me”, continued Fuller, “All of this, the whole terrible story, was this before or after you drank all of the rum?”

“Well, it was after –ah-I mean-”

Bananafish turned and made a run for below deck but Grunt was quicker, grabbing the young man by the scruff of his neck. As if on cue, Skiffel himself staggered up from below deck in a drunken state; singing a shanty and wearing a short skirt.

“Prepare the plank,” the Captain called out, “They’re going for a swim.”


And while we're on the subject of Flash, the draw for the XMAS NOIR FLASH CHALLENGE has taken place, and the winners will be contacted soon.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Post - How marketing helps writers

Guest Post from Sara J. Henry

From a comment I left on a post about branding, Steve invited me to do a guest post.

To me, author branding is your name – making sure it’s spelled right. What’s essential is marketing.
I’ve heard writers say that self-promotion is of little use, that website, Twitter, and Facebook won’t help you sell enough books to matter – and hey, as a writer, it’s just your job to write the best book you can.
Yes, you need to write a kick-ass book, but if you don't get the damn thing in front of people (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, reviews, whatever it takes) it can die a lonely death in a dusty corner of a bookstore. I’ve seen it happen to too many fine novels.

I don’t want it to happen to me.

Last fall Reed Farrel Coleman sold out his print run of his 12th novel, INNOCENT MONSTER, in six days - after his first-ever blog tour promoting the book, crossing into non-crime blogs to introduce him to new readers. Maybe coincidence - but I don't think so. Neither does he.

A.S. King, who just won an Edgar nomination for PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, convinced me I had to visit bookstores and meet owners. She basically told me, You can’t afford not to. Who would have heard of her novels, which weren’t in chain stores, had she not gotten the attention of indie bookstore owners, run a blog and contests, and Tweeted? Not me.

Daniel Woodrell is an abso-fucking-lutely brilliant writer - why has the rest of the world suddenly heard of him and sales of WINTER'S BONE are soaring? Not because he's a brilliant writer - he's been that all along. But because now there's a movie out based on the book, with four (well-deserved) Oscar nominations.

What can you do?

You can get your ass into bookstores and meet the owners and booksellers and hand them a copy of your ARC even if you have to buy it off eBay or AbeBooks. (Yes, there’s a horrid irony in this, but if it makes your career, you do it.)

You can set up a basic website and or blog, using free or inexpensive programs.

You can set up a Twitter account and install TweetDeck and learn to use it so you see at a glance every mention of your author name, your book title, and maybe your main character’s name. (And you can use Twitter to applaud your friends’ books you love.)

You can set up a Facebook author page, and post events, reviews, and other happenings.

You can come out of your ivory tower and visit some blogs and leave a few comments, post once in a while on Facebook or Twitter, and put up a photo or report on your website.

Find the concept of self-promotion anathema? You’re not the only one. It helped that I did it for author friends first – and that my agent told me Think of it as reporting, not bragging.

Yes, self-promotion done badly is a minefield. You don’t send emails imploring your friends to “like” your Facebook page or direct messages on Twitter exhorting people to buy your book. Use common sense.
And you don’t force yourself to do things that don’t fit. T-shirts, bookmarks, gifts – not my thing. Amy King just ran a chainsaw haiku contest – not my thing. Blog tours and book giveaways, that I can do.

Some of all this has been fun – and I have met some fantastic people – but of course it cuts into writing time. Here’s how I look at it: If my book doesn’t sell, I won’t have a career.

Unless you’re a blockbuster author, the day that you can write a book and sit back and expect it to sell itself – or expect your publisher to do it all for you – is over. If it ever existed.

Sara J. Henry’s first novel, LEARNING TO SWIM (Crown), will be published Feb. 22.  Because she is promoting it as hard as she can, she will point out that it’s been called “an auspicious debut” (Daniel Woodrell), “a moving and insightful psychological thriller” (Michael Robotham), and “emotional, intense, and engrossing” (Lisa Unger). Her launch is Feb. 23 at Partners & Crime, and the first chapter is available for download.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A day in the life of...

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Get up.

Make beds and then breakfast for the toddler and myself.

Run errands.

Run around after the toddler.

Answer e-mails (if the tot will let me type).

Teach a voice lesson.

Make lunch for the tot.

Get the tot down for a nap.

Then blessed silence.

This is the start of many of my days.

In the silence I admit that I often think about taking a nap. Or maybe reading a book. Very often I know I need to clean or do laundry or other tasks that keep the house running. But I don’t really want do. This is the time before I start teaching afternoon lessons, before the house becomes chaos again with the sounds of toddler happiness or tears, before I need to make dinner and my husband comes home. This is my time. There are a number of things I could do with this time, but one thing that I never fail to do.

I write.

Some days more than others. Some days the words come fast and furious and the kid wakes up to soon. Some days the words refuse to come and still I attempt to fill the page.

Are there other things I might want to do?


Are there other things my family needs me to do?


But those things can be done at other times. When my husband is home or the tot is watching Seasame Street. It might not be as easy to do the tasks when others need my attention, but my decision to be a writer means I don’t ever take the easy path.

So I write. In the silence. No music. Although, I know many writers have music that puts them in the mood. It distracts me. Perhaps because my other job is teaching and singing music.

And while I write this blog post I a sitting in the silence and wondering when other writers write. Do you have a set time? Do you do it every day or whenever an idea strikes? Do you use music to help you slide into the zone or does music or television distract you? What does a day in the life of your writing day look like?