Saturday, March 19, 2011

Still Loving CSI: Miami

Scott D. Parker

(This is a complete and utter cheat to those readers who give a look at my personal blog. But this is what happens, every now and then, when no big weekly question shows itself. I'm pretty sure one will surface next week.)

It's been almost a year since I wrote my last recap of "CSI: Miami" for Bookspotcentral. One of the main reasons I stopped was the show's move to Sunday nights. Not only do I think CSI: Miami belongs on Mondays, but I also didn't want to have to deal with the vicissitudes of NFL games on Sunday. I didn't want to have to monitor shows I don't watch just to hope to catch the opening of Miami. (Actually, the CSI: Miami Facebook page did a great job at informing the public of the time delay all last fall.)

As this season has progressed, I've begun to wonder how fun the recaps would have been (had I been writing them) since this season's shows are mostly above average, across the board. I told my wife on Sunday, as we watched "Hunting Ground," that all involved with Miami must have been peeved about the time/date changes and wanted to make sure to produce higher quality episodes than normal.

"Hunting Ground" has already become a favorite of mine this season, and I've only seen it once. Granted, I have it running on my Mac as I write this, but I was immediately captivated, more than usual. The first thing that tipped my interest was the writer and director: Adam Rodriguez. For those of you who don't know, Rodriguez plays Eric Delko. I'm always fascinated when series regulars for long-running shows decide to step behind the camera. Usually, that's all they do, since these types of shows have their look and feel so firm that it's often difficult to distinguish one from another, even if the director was the lead actor (David Duchovney, "The X-Files"; Jonathan Frakes, "Star Trek: The Next Generation") or a stunt director (Quentin Tarintino, "CSI"). Not many actors decide to have a crack at directing an episode in which they star, fewer still take pen to paper and write one.

Frankly, I expected the show to be the same stuff. I was wrong. Yes, "Hunting Ground" had the familiar visual tropes of Miami: perpetual sunset, funky optical effects during the lap sequences. Rodriguez, however, brought a little something different to the table. He showed angles I'd never seen before, visual effects (sub-titles) that were fresh, and just enough uniqueness to make this episode stand out from the rest.

Then there was the subject matter: humans hunting humans. Modern television cop shows deal with some serious stuff, gruesome at time, immoral at others. Humans hunting humans is pretty over the top. But, as my wife mentioned, for every episode, there's a real-life headline somewhere.

The darker subject matter gave David Caruso another opportunity to show his dark side. Yes, folks, he has one, so please stop rolling your eyes. Horatio Caine is among my favorite TV cops that I've ever had the pleasure to watch. Most often, we get to see his compassion, especially with the children. It's that quality--present from episode one--that enamored me to him. But his dark side can be quite scary. It's not giving anything away--(spoiler if you want to see the show)--to say that the CSIs find the culprits. Caine, shotgun in hand, delivers his own brand of justice in a manner distinctively his own. Yes, we viewers want Caine to blow a hole in this guy's abdomen. Yes, we might have cheered had that happened. But, we're talking about Horatio Caine, a character who probably had the same urge. But if he can allow his wife's murderer to go to prison rather killing him outright, you knew Caine was never going to create that hole. Still, Caine made his point.

Another wonderful trait of this episode is the character interplay. Rodriguez, as an actor in the show, might have just a tad more insight into his character and those of his co-stars than mere writers since he's the one speaking the words. That isn't to say that writers (!) can't find the inner nuance of a character, I'm just saying I enjoy the little things in this episode: Frank's interview with the orchid guy ("Orchids?!"), Natalia and Ryan in the field with Ryan “experiencing” nature, Caine and Wolf as partners in the field, an unspoken connection between the two. Even Horatio got to perform his patented compassion when he had to break the bad news to the new widow and the new fatherless child. The little gesture of touch he gives her, and the camera, focusing on his hand on hers, the dreadful soberness on Caruso's face was flawless.

It also directly led to Caine's first small step over the line. When CSI: Miami began, Caruso wore a lab coat more often, the science being the number one thing. As the years have moved on, Caine is now more a cop with a little science thrown in. Too often in modern forensic cop shows, the science gets the bad guy. Nowadays, Caine uses the evidence presented him and makes educated guesses on a criminal's next move, using not only his intuition but also his cop sense. Immediately after consoling the new widow, Caine threatens a person of interest with branding. You see, the victims, the men who are prey, have been branded. Caine got his information, but he didn't have to go all Jack Bauer on the guy either. Thing is, Caine could if he wanted to. He just dances up to that line, occasionally puts a toe over it, and then moves away. Shows he's human, and yet, knows there's also the law.

I have loved CSI: Miami from day one. Over nine seasons, there are few episodes I don't like. None come from this stellar season. "Hunting Ground" is already one of my favorites for the year, and probably will end up being a well-remembered episode for the entire run of the show. If I had my way, I'd get Adam Rodriguez to write and direct at least one episode per season from here on out.

For anyone who hasn't watched CSI: Miami in a long time, seek out this episode. (Facebook has it; so does I suspect you'll enjoy it. For those of you who don’t give it a second thought, give it a try. You might be surprised.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Writing Routines and Blog questions

My wife has gone away.

She's in London visiting friends and I'm here working and watching basketball. What's funny is I thought this was going to be an ideal time to get a bunch of revising and editing done. I mean, it was going to be time to sit down, pound out some dents and get two WIPs in good shape.

Yeah. That's not working out too well.

You see, when the wife is around, I know exactly when I'm going to write. It's from when I get back from the gym and shower (about 4:45) until she gets home from work (between 6 and 6:30). I want to be done before she gets home, because I want to spend time with her. We're both busy, so we make time when we get it.

But now, with her not around, I'm not doing a good job of sticking to the routine. Instead, I keep saying "I have time, I can do it later." And while I've gotten some stuff done, it hasn't been the big jump I've hoped. Most of the time I'm just getting things done because it's, oh say, ten o'clock, and I better not let this day pass without doing anything.

It never occurred to me that I'm a routine writer. I always felt that I'm a streaky writer, and I write every day because it's going well.

Turns out, that's not true. I work better in a routine. Hopefully the wife comes back and we can settle back into the routine again.

Until then, it's: YOU BETTER GET WORK.... YOU'LL REGRET IT. Whenever I can.

I've been thinking about relaunching my old blog.

Here's the thing:

Between this blog and the On the Banks blog, I'm not sure what I have to say. I kind of blogged myself out over at the Writing Block. I tried to do too much.

One day it would be an education topic, the next a book review, the next New Jersey, the next sports, and then a wild card on Friday. Something posts (the NJ ones) would get a bunch of hits. The others would just kind of sit there.

Here it's easy. I know I can come on here and talk about writing, books, or promotion. At On the Banks I talk Rutgers hoops. The topic is there for you, you just need to find a new spin on it.

So I have a questions (#2), what kind of blogs do you prefer? One like mine that varied its topics from day to day or a focused blog?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Network Cop Show

John McFetridge

Last week I had a meeting with a TV producer about the possibility of me writing the pilot script for his new cop show. The meeting went well and I hope I get the job.

There’s already a deal in place for the show so the producer knows it will be a, “9:00 network show,” and that set some parameters that I hadn’t thought about, beyond simply language and violence (apparently there’s a difference between the 9:00 show and the 10:00 show but the network said they could move a 9:00 show to 10:00 without changing anything. It would be tougher to move a 10:00 show to 9:00).

Someone pointed out that to better understand the needs of network TV it’s a good idea to look at the commercials more than the shows – the commercials tell you the audience that the sponsors want to attract. And for network TV shows the “customers” aren’t the viewers, they’re the sponsors, that’s who actually gives the money to the networks who then gives it to the producers.

Then there are the various levels of cable TV in which money from sponors is part of the revenue along with money from subscribers that gets paid to the producers so in those cases the sponsors probably have less say all the way down to commercial-free cable TV with no sponsors at all.

I guess in publishing the similarity would be the big chain stores which order the bulk of the books are sort of like the sponsors, but they still have to sell on each copy to an individual paying customer. So, it isn’t a perfect comparison but on this blog you get what you pay for.

And it’s certainly no revelation that the sponsors have a big say over what gets on network TV or that they prefer some viewers over others. In Canada the magic number for a network show to be considered successful is a million – top a million viewers and that’s a hit. The show I wrote for last, The Bridge, ran for 13 weeks and drew more than a million viewers each week but we were told that those viewers were predominantly male and over fifty and Viagra can’t buy every advertising spot on its own (though sometimes watching the shows it seems like it does). The sponsors need viewers who are predominantly female and under fifty. Under forty would be even better.

In publishing no one really cares who’s buying the books – old men, young women, libraries, whatever – a sale is a sale. It may be true that 80% of the fiction book buyers are female but if a writer was selling a lot of books to men the publisher would keep publishing them.

So we’re back to looking at the commercials. And the commercials are all about how great our lives can be; how clean our houses can be, what great vacations we can take, what great cars we can drive, what delicious fast food restaurants we can go to, what great meals we can make for our families.

And the cop shows (as a TV writer I know once said, “the crap that goes between the commercials”) tell us that, yes, there are bad people in the world but there are very, very good cops working very, very hard to keep us safe.

And the bad guys always get caught.

The commercials also tell us what the sponsors want the characters to look like; young, healthy, attractive – they look at home in the world the sponsors are selling.

The victims of the crimes and the grieving family members also look like the viewers the sponsors are after. According to the NYPD over two thirds of the murder victims in New York are African American yet it’s very rare to see a non-white murder victim on any of the network TV shows set in New York. The NYPD also say that almost 50% of murder victims are involved in the use or sale of drugs and that at least 53% of murder suspects are involved with drugs.

Of course there’s no reason for a network TV show to try and reflect the reality of the world in which it exists, it’s main goal is to deliver the viewers the sposnors want.

Though that makes the standard advice, “Just write for yourself,” a little tough.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Lost Sister

By Jay Stringer

Russel's second McNee book, The Lost Sister, hits shelves in the U.S. today. I was going to sit and write about why you should be picking up his books about a grumpy scottish detective, but then I realised I'd already done it. So I took a look back and realised that I couldn't say it any better than I did at the time. George Lucas tried to tell me to edit the whole thing and add in some comedy CGI. I tweaked a few things here and there, but this is pretty much intact.

Next week i'll be making it a trilogy of reviews, with a look at California by Ray Banks.


I could kill him. It would be easy.”

Those are the opening lines from THE GOOD SON, the first McNee book. As opening lines go, I’d say It's pretty much up there. Grabs you straight by the throat and asks you, through gritted teeth, 'you got a problem?'

Something I noticed early on about Russel is that he has a touch of the Lawrence Block and John Mcfet about him; his pages are so easy to read that you stop noticing that you’re doing it. You know what I mean; some books you’re checking your watch every other paragraph, or scratching your bum, or thinking of that kettle you just boiled. But with writers like these, you don’t notice the things going on around you. Reading one line is an unspoken commitment that you’re going to read the first ten chapters. Then, well, why stop there?

The other thing is that he doesn’t get caught up in what he’s writing. There’s no self conscious awkwardness of trying to bend his hometown or its people to fit into genre conventions. There’s no knowing pause as it becomes clear that this is a PI story set in Scotland, no first date fumbling on the doorstep.

He. Just. Gets.On.With.It.

And it’s suprising how many authors don’t do that. Many like to pause, to dawdle, or to let the reader know that they’re aware of the trappings and flaws of whatever style of story they’re writing. No, just sit and get on with telling the story.

The first book centres around our protagonist, J Mcnee. He’s a moody and isolated Dundonian PI. He has anger issues and a good way with wit. He has some of the key ingredients of being a PI; he manages to say just enough to get himself smacked around or shot at, but not so much that we get to figure him out. At the same time, he’s not just a standard driven detective type. Many of his flaws are more to do with the modern British male than any genre cliché; yes he’s alienated and rebellious, but a lot of it seems to draw from a simple social awkwardness. He’s not the tortured soul of Hamlet or Bruce Wayne, and he’s not the drunken philosopher of Marlowe or Scudder. Much more than that, he seems to simply be a modern man who’s not always sure of how to behave around others.

Even his nickname in the book helps to conjure up a play on the ideas of masculinity and manners. He is called Steed after the character played by Patrick Macnee in The Avengers. The image that evokes for most is of a deliberately overdone gentlemen, the hat, the umbrella, the manners and the heart of steel. There was an earlier version of Steed, in the shows first season; a shadowy figure, untrusted and lonely. Where was I going with this…..

Anyway, back to McNee.

There is still an element of tragedy that drives McNee, and it’s at the core of what works with this book. It’s a story about grief. Be it McNee trying to come to terms with loss, or a farmer trying to deal with his brothers apparent suicide. The book shows that grief is a far more complicated and damaging thing than any level of violence.

Russel’s second book, THE LOST SISTER, was released in the UK last year. It's opening feels almost low-key compared to the first;

He doesn’t waste a moment. Lets go of the axe….”

The first book starts with a gun, and the impending gunshot. An instant explosive kick start to a story. The second starts with violence, but one of a more personal, brutal, and confident manner. This is a writer stepping it up and taking full control of his characters and world. I’ve mentioned before how impressed I was with the handling of violence in this second book, the control that Russel demonstrated in knowing what not to show, and in knowing that he could make it work. There is some truly brutal stuff in the novel, but Russel chooses to focus on the aftermath of violence rather than the instant impact. It's a choice that gives the violence more weight, and makes you feel it more even if you don't see it happen.

The second book sort of does what it says on the cover in many ways. There is a sister. She is lost. But that’s just scratching the surface. It looks at thorny issues of love, trust and domestic violence. And it took me by surprise a number of times, I love it when a book genuinely doesn’t go the way you think it will. There are twists and turns to the relationships, and nobody ends the story in remotely the same emotional state that they started it. Somehow, it felt like The Empire Strikes Back, with its revelations and emotional betrayals. I can’t wait to see where the characters go from here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Interview with Gerald So of THE LINEUP

By Steve Weddle

The new issue of THE LINEUP is hitting the stands soon, and Gerald So swung by DSD HQ to discuss the upcoming issue, which includes a poem I wrote about hitting a guy in the face with a shovel.

Steve Weddle: What is The Lineup and why does the world need it?

Gerald So: The Lineup is a journal of poets' reactions to crime, however they may define it. Even when we try to show no reaction, we are dealing with being hurt or wronged somehow. Where other genres might gloss over conflict, crime fiction deals with it immediately. In the same way, looking at crime through poetry gets at everything we might otherwise cover up. To understand our reactions is to better understand ourselves and others.

SW: Poetry has always been tough to publish in book form. For the most part, the two big publishers of poetry have been university presses and your local copy shop. How has the Internet – including Kindle, Nook, etc – changed that?

GS: In the Electronic Age, anyone who can make a webpage can make his voice heard. This is good for poetry in that it has led to many zines, each with its own spin. Today's interconnected world lets more people get to know each other. I got to know the three people with whom I started The Lineup through the Internet.

SW: In your opinion, who are some of the more poetic crime fiction writers these days? Dennis Lehane? James Patterson?

GS: If we're taking "these days" strictly, Lehane, Wallace Stroby, Reed Farrel Coleman, S.J. Rozan. The recently passed Robert B. Parker started me thinking about crime fiction poetically, but that's what rekindled my interest in poetry after high school and college.

SW: What's your favorite place to write?

GS: At my computer desk, but on a memo pad, ironically.

SW: A poem can be 50 words and a short story can be 5,000. Are poets complete wusses or is poetry harder to write?

GS: I wouldn't say poetry is harder to write; it just has different goals. Though shorter than a novel, a story's goal is still to depict beginning, middle, and end. The goal of poetry is to communicate the power of a moment, emotion, or viewpoint in as few words as necessary. Readers may be able to forgive one or two extra pages of a story, but if a poem goes one word too long, its whole message may be lost.

SW: What is the last book of poetry you bought?

GS: Having None of It by Adrienne Su, from Manic D Press.

SW: Better – poetry readings or novel readings?

GS: Poetry readings. Poetry is more intended to be read aloud by the poet or by a single voice. Novels are seldom written in the author's voice. They usually employ several characters' voices, so it can be awkward when the author reads them.

SW: Who works on The Lineup with you? What’s the process from submission to finished product?

GS: My current co-editors are Reed Farrel Coleman, Sarah Cortez, and Richie Narvaez. I call for and gather submissions (e-mail only, please) for three or four months at a time. The four of us read the submissions in two large batches. We use an arbitrary score, 1-5, 5 being best, and the poems with the highest scores are published.
After the poems are chosen, we decide on the order that flows best. Richie designs the book's interior layout, and I proofread it for typos.
Later in the process, we pick the cover photo. To date, John Collis has designed our covers.

SW: Any public readings for The Lineup coming soon?

GS: We have one at NYC's Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia Street) on May 31st at 6:00 PM. Reed and Richie will host and be joined by Lineup 4 contributors Jeanne Dickey and Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson.

SW: When and how can folks get the new issue of The Lineup?

GS: Issue 4 goes on sale April 1st at and signed copies will be available at Murder By The Book in Houston, Once Upon a Crime in Minneapolis, The Mysterious Bookshop in New York, and M is for Mystery in San Mateo, California.

And here is the lineup for The Lineup:

Ken Bruen
Michael Casey
Reed Farrel Coleman
David Corbett
Mary Agnes Dalrymple
Mary Christine Delea
Jeanne Dickey
H. Palmer Hall
Paul Hostovsky
David Jordan
Laura LeHew
Thomas Michael McDade
Peter Meinke
Keith Rawson
Chad Rohrbacher
Stephen Jay Schwartz
Nancy Scott
Kieran Shea
J.D. Smith
J.J. Steinfeld
John Stickney
Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson
Randall Watson
Charles Harper Webb
Steve Weddle
Germaine Welch

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When did you first know you loved to read?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Most writers I know are readers first. I am. I loved reading long before I even dreamed of being a writer. Some writers can tell you exactly which book or author made them fall in love with reading. Some can even tell you which author inspired them to write their own books. I have no idea which author grabbed me first or which one made me think – wow, I want to do that! But I can tell you where I learned to love reading.

My local library.

Every summer when I was growing up, you could find me at least once or twice a week at the Bensenville Public Library. The librarians loved that I wanted to read. They even gave me a lot of great suggestions as to what I should be reading next. When I was in high school I would sometimes check out 8-10 books a week and plow through them all. I discovered books in genres I might not have ever thought to read on my own. I didn’t love them all, but I was always glad that I read them. Within the library walls I also read plays, listened to musical recordings and looked up information on colleges.

If not for my local library and the love of books that I found there I would never have taken the leap to writing books of my own. A great deal of my life was shaped by the experiences I had at the library. I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without them. And now, as an adult, I find myself truly honored when a librarian recommends my book. How cool is that?

Libraries are an essential part of our towns. They introduce children to books. They provide internet service to those who can’t afford computers and help those out of work search for jobs. They are a meeting place for community groups. They provide musical and theatrical programming. They… Well, the list goes on and on.

Because our educational system is in crisis (which our own Dave White can tell you a lot about) the libraries find their services even more in demand. Circulation and computer usage is way up – especially in rural or more depressed areas. Communities need their libraries and yet their budgets are being slashed. Almost every state is looking to cut their budgets by between 15-50%. Although in some instances this amount is higher. In Texas, the state government is looking to cut library funding by 80%.

For some reason our government seems to undervalue the importance of libraries. I, for one, have contacted my representatives to let them know that I don’t want to live in a country that doesn’t recognize the importance of a community center that is filled with books, music, newspapers, computers and a staff that is passionate about sharing them. So you can imagine my delight when ITW launched the Save The Libraries campaign a couple of weeks ago. If you don’t know about it make sure to check it out. Their first event and on-line auction was last night and I am hoping it was a resounding success. This is the first of many events and I am hopeful that the financial assistance and the public awareness the events draw will help our libraries survive and flourish.

We need our local libraries. I’m hoping you’ll join with me in talking to your local congressmen and senators or spreading the word about Save The Libraries. Let’s make sure the important of our libraries is not overlooked.