Saturday, March 5, 2011

Making Faces

Scott D. Parker

Can you imagine watching Van Halen shred a guitar solo without contorting his face to match the music? Itzhak Perlman? Reba McEntire? Even non-performers like conductor Gustavo Dudamel or host Johnny Carson react to the music they’re hearing.

Music is one of those funny things. For the countless hours spent alone in a practice room, there is always the release of performance. If you were to peek in on top performers during one of those practice sessions, you’ll likely see a remarkable thing. Alone, with no one watching, their faces still contort. They are moved by the music and their artistry. Truth be told, once the stage light flare, they put a little extra out there just for the audience, but they still react to the music. The audience does, too, raising their hands at a rock concert or bursting forth with “Bravo” at the end of a symphony. They are moved just like the musician.

As a reader, I react to the book I’m reading all the time. Whether incredulity or joy or anger, I’ll talk back to the inanimate object, fuss at it, and, on occasion, throw it across the room. It’s my way of interacting with the text on the page.

Here’s the real question for you writers: do you, as you are composing your material, make faces? Do you react, when no one’s looking, to the thing you are creating? I do. I’ll smile, get giddy, and start typing faster (thus making more errors). If I’m writing while standing, I all but hop from one foot to the other so glorious is that mother lode of inspiration into which I have tapped.

In my first novel, there’s a series of scenes before the big finale where all the characters, most of whom are in separate locations, start to put the pieces in place. I outlined the book so I knew exactly what was coming down the pike. Still, as I wrote those chapters, I had butterflies in my stomach. I was the first reader AND writer and I was so, so excited. What surprised me later, in my revision stage, was that same thrill and those same butterflies returned at just the same point. It surprises me each time. It’s the joy of creation as well as of reaction.

So, writers, do you “make faces”? If so, how?

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Write Stuff

By Russel D McLean

This week, with thanks to the wondrous Scottish novelist, Kirsten McKenzie, I attended a writing class as a “visiting speaker” or some such thing. Basically I went in and answered a lot of questions. It was informal. And it was fun. Lots of great questions.

But one in particular stuck with me above all the rest.

“Are classes like this worthwhile if you want to write?”

I admit I was stymied by the question. Because I couldn’t say yes considering I’d never attended a writing class, never been part of a writer’s circle (at least for long) and had never really advised anyone to do so. And yet I couldn’t condemn courses because, here I was, talking to one, trying to help these people.

In the end I think that the question is perhaps a moot one. Writing classes are perhaps only useful if you find them useful. They cannot make you a writer. But nothing in the world can except for luck, perseverance and a tiny amount of natural ability. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t do everything you can to make learn the craft.

For some people, like me, that’s all about immersing yourself in literature, in learning through doing, in making mistakes on your own terms. If you’re like me – that is, if you’re a grouchy hermit-type – then a writing probably isn’t for you.

But if you need structure, routine and support, then I think writing classes can be incredibly useful and productive environments. And sometimes they can even help you if you’re on your way in the craft, too. One writer I know is doing a course simply so they can teach and has been discovering all kinds of truths they had never been able to get to before simply through the rigours of the learning process. That’s great, and it’s done a huge amount for them.

But it’s one individual case.

I think I said it to the class multiple times, but the truth is that when it comes to writing and publishing – hell, just about any art form – nobody knows anything. Or, to put it in the words of one of the 20th Centuries greatest unknown poets*

What might be right for you might not be right for some

It sounds like a cop out of an answer of course. And maybe it is. But the fact is that writing is a very strange business to be in. And especially fiction writing. There is no one tried and true route to success. Everyone’s experience varies wildly.

And that’s part of the joy of writing and the reason I love it. Every writer I meet has their own take on the business, their own utterly unique war stories that couldn’t have happened to anyone else. They all come from different backgrounds. And I think the only thing I could to back up my non-answer to the question is this.

Ask each of them whether a writing course is worth while.

And see the number of different, conflicting and plain crazy making answers that come flooding back.

*The dude who wrote the Diff’rent Strokes theme

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kindle Reading Strategies

By Dave White

Reading on the Kindle.

Yeah, I've been doing a lot of it lately. Have you?

A few of the things I've realized about it.

I don't skim as much. I think it has to do with not knowing exactly how long a chapter or book is. I see the percentage at the bottom, yes, but I don't have a feel for the weight of the book. I don't like to flip ahead and see how long a chapter is. I just read it. And therefore, if I'm just trying to get a chapter done before bed, I'm less likely to skim.

At the same time, I read faster. Not sure why. I read the book with more clarity. I don't rush, but my eyes cross the page much much quicker. I've heard other people say this as well. Any thoughts on why?

On the other hand, I'm not drawn to reading as much. I love to read and when I do read on the Kindle, I read for long stretches at a time. But if my Kindle is on the shelf or put away, I'm not drawn to it. With hardcopy books, I'm more likely to have it within arms reach. Just the way I organize, I suppose.

What are your thoughts on the experience of e-book reading vs. hardcopy reading?

PS: Sorry for the short post this week. Been a long week.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Entire Precinct Made Up of Loose Cannons

John McFetridge

LOS ANGELES—Thirty-four lone-wolf detectives and beat officers from Los Angeles' 77th Police Precinct received unpaid three-month suspensions Monday for unprofessional and insubordinate conduct that their chief said he's tolerated for the "last goddamn time."

The police officers have been subjected to scathing public criticism over the years for their tendency to play by their own rules, which include refusing to obtain warrants, beating up junkies to extract information, and hurling corrupt city officials through plate-glass windows on more than 60 occasions.

Yes, of course, it's from The Onion.

But it got me thinking how the myth of the “loose cannon,” the “lone wolf,” the “break all the rules to get results hero,” is still such a staple of crime fiction.

And how there aren’t any in my books.

If there’s a common theme in my writing it’s about how we organize ourselves into groups, something that’s constantly changing, I think.

So, my writing tends to be about groups of characters – the police work as a group against the criminals who are organized into groups. Sure, there are lots of individuals (too many, according to some reviewers) but what interests me is how they fit into groups – communities.

Of course, this makes the whole “hero’s journey” thing a little problematic but I find that whole concept a little outdated anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’m not American and I live in the frozen north where we have to huddle together for warmth, but that whole, “rugged individual” thing never rang true for me. Even the old westerns with their stories of lone heroes often had an undercurrent of the pioneers “pulling together” to help one another.

Now we’re starting to see the teamwork inherent in police work show up in TV shows, everything from The Wire to CSI to Criminal Minds. Even a show like Castle has been using the cops more as a team to solve crimes.

But mystery novels still seem to be dominated by lone heroes.

So, what are some of your favourite mystery, crime, noir, whatever novels that are more of an ensemble instead of a lone hero?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The British Are Coming

By Jay Stringer

It's almost time for you to get your hands on this years edition of The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime. My initial disappointment at the books lack of an actual Mammoth was soon washed away when I saw the list of contributors. Who needs the come back of a long extinct prehistoric creature when you can sit and read all that crime goodness?

There are stories in here from Ian Rankin, Christopher Brookmyre, Stuart MacBride, Declan Burke, Ray Banks and the tartan ninja himself, Allan Guthrie. And that's just the start. Reading the full list of writers involved shows the real depth of talent in crime writing right now, including such friends of DSD as Nigel Bird and Paul D. Brazil. And they even let me in.

The details I have right now are for the British edition, from the folks at Robinson Publishing, but I'll have details soon of the American release. Lucky Limeys can get our hands on it in April, and it'll make it's way over to the states sometime in May.

Here's the official bit;

This is the must-have annual anthology for every crime fiction fan - the year's top new British short stories selected by leading crime critic Maxim Jakubowski. This great annual covers the full range of mystery fiction, from noir and hardboiled crime to ingenious puzzles and amateur sleuthing. It is packed with top names such as: Ian Rankin (including a new Rebus), Alexander McCall Smith, David Hewson, Christopher Brookmyre, Simon Kernick, A.L. Kennedy, Louise Walsh, Kate Atkinson, Colin Bateman, Stuart McBride and Andrew Taylor.

The full list of contributors is as follows: Sheila Quigley, Nigel Bird, Jay Stringer, Paul D. Brazill, Adrian Magson, Colin Bateman, Gerard Brennan, Matthew J. Elliott, Andrew Taylor, Lin Anderson, Christopher Brookmyre, Ray Banks, Declan Burke, Liza Cody, Simon Kernick, Stuart MacBride, Allan Guthrie, Ian Rankin (two stories, including a new Rebus), Nick Quantrill, Edward Marston, Nicholas Royle, Zoe Sharp, Robert Barnard, Simon Brett, Peter Lovesey, A.L. Kennedy, Roz Southey, Phil Lovesey, David Hewson, Amy Myers, Marilyn Todd, Peter Turnbull, Keith McCarthy, Paul Johnston, Alexander McCall Smith, Stephen Booth, Denise Mina, Mick Herron, Kate Atkinson and Louise Welsh.

And it's made possible every year by the hard work of Maxim Jakubowski, writer, editor, bookseller and all-round doyen. Maxim's shop, Murder One, used to be one of my favourite bookshops, and a must-visit whenever I was in London. The store lives on here on ye olde worlde wide webbe.

So, on your marks, get set, PRE-ORDER.

And while you're at it, why not buy yourselves a second copy of TERMINAL DAMAGE, and then, just incase it gets lonely, pick up DISCOUNT NOIR.

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.