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?