Saturday, April 2, 2011

Where's the Mystery?

Scott D. Parker

A generation and a half ago, a little old lady looked at a hamburger and asked, "Where's the beef?" In 2011, I'm looking around at some of the things I've been reading and asking myself where's the mystery?

Lately, crime fiction comics have been my fiction of choice. Part of the reason is that I'm genuinely interested in the art form. The other part is, well, soon to be announced. What has struck me is--at least in some of the titles I've chosen (Gotham Central, Hunter, Coward (Criminal), and Incognito)--there is a distinct lack of mystery involved. Like a great deal of *crime* fiction, those stories deal with the lowlifes and criminals, their way of life, and the choices that they make. It's fun reading, to be sure, but it has brought up a question: is there a line between mystery fiction and crime fiction?

Here's how I tend to generalize the two. Mystery fiction is trying to solve a crime, usually murder, and figure out the killer. While there are undoubtedly titles out there that use criminals as the protagonists, this style of storytelling tends to focus on the good guys, the ones trying to answer the question of whodunit?

Crime fiction seems to be about criminals or ordinary people caught up in events beyond their control. Where mystery fiction ends when the killer is identified, that's often the place where crime fiction starts. Mystery can be an aspect of crime fiction, but not always. For example, a heist film has little mystery to it other than to show how the robbers pull off the deed (or not).

Perhaps I've not read broadly enough, or perhaps I'm looking for different things nowadays. I'm not sure. But it just seems that there is a chasm in the middle of this genre we call home that separates us. I wonder why that is?

TV Show of the Week: Body of Proof
The good: Dana Delany's Megan Hunt is a bit like Sherlock Holmes, so far ahead of others that she appears superhuman. Oh, and there are dumb cops. Odd to see Sonja Sohn (The Wire) on network TV. Delany has some good chops that are best shown when her character actually has quiet moments. The bad: For someone who is seemingly surrounded by idiots and still pines for her old job, Delany's character seems to flit through the episode without much care. Perhaps that's the way we are shown she has no friends. I enjoyed the pilot and will continue watching. Anyone else?

Friday, April 1, 2011


By Russel D McLean

In case you’re wondering where I’ve been these last few weeks, I’ve been out on tour. Not physically. Oh, no. I’ve been working the blogs. Shaking my ass on other people’s sites. Working that moneymaker.

Which has been fun. Tiring. Exhausting. But fun.

And then someone asked me this question:

How much effort did you put into this? And how much benefit did you reap? Did you gain enough new readers to offset the time spent writing a new article every day? Did your sales go stratospheric?

If I look at the cold, hard numbers, the answer is that I’m not sure. I really, really don’t know. But then, as we’ve seen this last week, in the world of publishing no one knows anything. No one can agree on anything.

Looking back on the tour – and looking back on last year’s physical tour – I would say that in terms of cold hard numbers, both could be considered supremely inefficient. Yes, people got a kick out of them (honestly, I’ve had letters to prove it) and I myself had a ball. But in terms of extra sales, of word of mouth, of people who actually went out and bought a copy…

The effort to benefit ratio seems wrong.

Of course, I’ve never been a cold hard numbers person. I don’t understand cold, hard numbers (just ask my mum). Most of the time, I don’t get how they add up or why. Seriously. They seem more random than people give them credit for.

Perhaps more so in cases like this.

The fact is that I know my effort to benefit ratio is appalling when I do events, tours and so forth. But then the effort to benefit ratio in writing a novel is appalling anyway.

So why do it?

The key sentiment above:

“…people got a kick out of it and I… had a ball.”

I love doing events. I love doing interviews. I love doing blog tours. I may sometimes have to pass them up when things get seriously down to the knuckle (don’t forget, I also work a full time day job) but they’re part of what makes this job fun.

And besides, in the end, all I can do is have faith that the numbers will work themselves out. One way or another. Because like I said back there at the start:

in this business, no one knows anything.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The End

I hate endings.

Really, I do. I'm weird that way. I don't like the end of the school year. At the same time, I don't like the end of summer. The end of my favorite sports' seasons hit me the same way.

I'm actually the same way with books I love. When I'm reading a book I love, I don't want to get to the end.

Want to find out what happens on each consecutive page? Sure.

But get to the ending?

It's a lot like the end of the school year. I want to get there. The goal is to get there and savor in the ending. But reality is this: The people I've gotten to know throughout the book will then be gone. The characters in the novel will cease to exist and only remain a scant memory.

I like the middle. I like getting over the hump of the beginning and settling into the momentum of the novel. Being twisted and turned and pulled and prodded by the plot is great.

A friend of mine, when she loves a novel... I mean really LOVES a novel (she always points out THE STAND), she slows down. The closer she gets to the ending, the longer she'll take to read. The book will sit for days.

I'm not the same way. The book won't sit. In fact, I'll probably read faster. I WANT to get to the end. I NEED to know what happens.

But once I put the book down, there's just that feeling of regret to go along with the satisfaction of finishing the book.

What about you?

PS: As of right now, my Kindle Anthology is on sale for 99 cents. CHECK IT OUT!

And, it's finally available for other e-readers on Smashwords.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011 - the Year of the Audience

John McFetridge

So, we’re still talking about Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking and self-publishing and traditional publishng (yes, “legacy publishing” is silly) and publicity and marketing and editing and writing a really good story. There’s an interesting conversation betwen Barry Eisler and Amanda Hocking moderated by literary agent Ted Weinstein here.

Now, here’s one more thing to throw into the mix – Netflix ordered its first original show (well, not entirely original, it’s going to be a remake of a British miniseries which was based on a novel by Michael Dobbs) last week.

I think this is significant for a number of reasons. Netflix isn’t just TV network, it’s a direct connection from “content providor” to customer. Netflix doesn’t have to worry about sponsors or ratings or scheduling or anything like that. This new show will be rolled out at a specific time but it’ll be available anytime you want to watch it.

But the most interesting thing about Netflix for me is the “Netflix Prize,” given in 2009 to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos team for coming up with the best collaborative filtering algorithm.

“If you like ____ then you might like ____”

So far it’s been used to make recommendations about movies and TV shows that have already been made but my guess is Netflix is going to use the data when deciding what new shows to make. Already Netflix have said that of the reasons they chose House of Cards (other than the fact they outbid HBO and AMC for the show) was that their subscribers are very interested in longer, more complicated series. This is somewhat similar to Amazon offering a contract to JA Konrath based on sales of his Kindle e-books.

Netflix is kind of like Amazon in other ways, too – the product is always in stock and while Netflix isn’t allowing anyone to “self-publish” yet, they are offering shows that started as webseries such as The Guild and I expect thats something we’ll start to see a lot more.

Intersting times, for sure.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scalped -Hells Yeah.

By Jay Stringer

It's been awhile since I preached to you about Scalped. It was way back in 2009. Except that's a big fat lie. I also did it in 2010. And in The DSD podcast. But apart from 2009, 2010 and a 90 minute podcast, I've never raved about Scalped. Except for on the twitters and the facebooks. Maybe a few message boards....

Where was I.....

Oh yeah, Shut up laughing.

I just read volume 7 of the collected editions, Rez Blues, and dammit if it didn't punch a hole in my gut. I really believe we're in the middle of something special here. In 20 years time people will be talking about SCALPED in the same way they talk about WATCHMEN.

And I don't just mean by comparing the beards of the writers.

I've recapped the basic premise many times. But just to remind you of the gist; It's set on a fictional Native American reservation in South Dakota. The reservation is under the control of Chef Red Crow, who operates both above and below the table. The secret fly in his ointment is Dashiell Bad Horse, a prodigal son who returns to the reservation with a lot of baggage and a few new secrets.

Dash kinda sorta loves Red crows daughter, Carol. And Carol kinda sorta loves dope. And Red's never quite clear who or what he loves, but whatever it is he'll kill for it. The other other thing thats clear is that they all hate themselves in some way, and they can't out run that grasp of self loathing.
There is an overall story here, writer Jason Aaron is heading towards a set end point and we're heading into the closing stages of act 2. At this point the book is entering the realms of being a masterclass in serial crime fiction.

You want complex characters and shifting morals? Check. You want sex? Check. You want racial tension, corrupt politicians and some righteous violence? Check check check.

But as all of you already know, those details are nothing if they're not held together by talent, craft and a lot of heart. And that's where Aaron's writing is elevating the book. Between the cracks of all those big plot points is a lot of character and story.

Rez Blues is a perfect example of how this is being achieved. Despite the fact that the book has a huge over arcing story, the latest volume opens with a small character piece that is (so far) unrelated. It tells the tale of an elderly couple, Mance and Hazel. They've fashioned a life together on their farm, each depending on the love and strength of the other. But as age and finances catch up, their lives are falling apart. Mance worries that he has failed his wife, that his farming skills have faded and that he can't provide like a man should. Hazel worries that her illness is a burden on her husband. Neither one ever quite opens up the other, and yet we see the small (and huge) acts of devotion that keep them going. It's a touching and fragile story that shows that love and obligation can sometimes be the same things, and it really tugged on my cold cynical heart.

One of the best scenes has Mance drive into town to ask for food welfare supplies. It's free. He doesn't have to lay down any physical cost to carry out a box full of food for him and his wife. All he has to do is sign his name to a form that says he took the hand out.

"All I gotta do is sign.
I've fasted for eight days and hung by hooks from a sun dance pole until my flesh tore.
I've killed snakes big enough to eat a baby and reeled in paddlefish the size of small cows. I killed a coyote once with nothing but a pocket knife. I buried my only son and I didn't cry.
But I aint never done anything as hard as this."

And there's a great trick here. Plot wise the story of Mance and Hazel isn't tied into the rest of the book. But if you look at it as a tone poem, it's clear that it's themes and messages are laying the groundwork for what is to follow. The secrets we keep. The small acts of devotion. The obligations that can both bind us together and tear us apart.

Next up we get a nasty little two part story following Shunka, the cruellest, baddest bagman of the series. We see that he has a huge secret in his closet, one that makes him hate himself, and one that makes his every act of daily life a betrayal of who he is. For one brief moment we get to see inside his head, and come away with a shred of empathy for him. Aaron has done this throughout the series; we get to see a character one way, make a judgement, then get a glimpse inside their head that challenges our judgement.

Next up is a look at Bad Horse's father, and the run of bizarre luck that sets up the whole of the series. This is a bold move, adding such important information 38 issues into the story, but it pays off in style.

Something I wrote about way back in 2009 was a trick Aaron used for one scene. He had two characters in bed together in silence, but the reader got to see all the things they wanted to say to each other. There was a whole conversation that didn't happen. In Rez Blues Aaron takes this trick to the next level. The unspoken conversations linger over everyone, and mark crucial turning points in the story. This is the work of a writer at the top of his game.

By the time the book makes its way back to the main story arc, our heads are swimming with ideas of love, pride, obligation and addiction, which sets the groundwork for us to be repeatedly kicked in the guts. Dash, Red Crow and Carol circle each other, bound together as much by what they don't say as what they do. And the results are going to make you feel.

As a writer it's natural for me to focus on the writing. I read through SCALPED taking mental notes on the craft, on tricks that Aaron uses that I can take into my own stories and novels. And there are many such lessons here. But I would be remiss to not mention the art.

Usual art duties on the book are handled by the co-creator, R.M Guera. His style is rough and ready, filled with seedy shades of brown and deft use of shadows. His characters aren't just images on a page, they are actors, their faces convey emotions. He takes Aaron's words and grounds them in a world that feels very real, and very desperate.

In and around Guera we get guest artists, such as Danijel Zezelj and Davide Furno, who come in and work on the feel and the world that Guera has created and add their own flavour to it. Each one adds another stitch in the tapestry, and it's all going to add up to one of the finest achievements in crime fiction.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hocking, Eisler, Keene: One side to the other

By Steve Weddle

Dang, is this week going to be as busy as last week?

1. Amanda "I'm Not Your Damned Self-Publishing Poster Child" Hocking got a multi-million-dollar deal from one of the Big Six up there in New York City, New York State.

2. Barry Eisler reportedly turned down a $500,000 book deal to self-publish.

3. Brian Keene took public this "Boycott Dorchester" fight.

Photo from
So, Amanda Hocking writes a dozen-ish paranormals, ups them on the Kindles, and works her tail off promoting them. The books find a huge following. Though some of the numbers track a bit slower than most would like, the rough estimate as of noon on Friday is that her books have sold a total of seventy-nine kazillion copies, making her richer than Pope Alexander VI or that guy from Mexico with all the cell phones.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. Hocking shopped her next books the traditional/legacy way. (Is 'Legacy Publishing' pejorative? I never know about these things.) And, as she is now a proven commodity, she was a hot auction item.

She was immediately pounced upon by folks who said she was "selling out" and not being "true to herself." (I remember Jerry Garcia, during the "Touch of Grey" nonsense, saying that The Grateful Dead had been trying to sell out for decades, but no one was buying.) Which makes sense. People who can't sell their own work  complain about those who "sell out." Hocking,  to her great credit, seemed pretty damned honest when she said she signed the deal so that she no longer had to work day and night on promoting and marketing and could instead use much of that time on writing, leaving other business matters to her new publisher.

So, we have the inevitable "Big Publishing is Back" yodelers because a self-published "success" only became a "real success" when she signed a deal with The Big Six. Now, she's a "real" author.

And then there's Barry Eisler. According to a much-discussed blog posting over at Mr. Konrath's blog, Eisler said "Nopers" to a half-million dollar deal from Big Six publisher. He wants to release his books himself, keep the money and the control.

So, we have the inevitable "Big Publishing is Dead" yodelers because a "real" author is turning down mega-bucks to self-publish.

Do these cancel each other out?

Everything is relative. All things being equal, etc. Your mileage may vary. Etc, etc.

Seems to me that a "publishing deal" with someone other than Kinko's or Your Name Here Kindle Publisher helps add some "credibility" to your books, your (ugh) brand.

Awards do this, too. (We talked about that here.)

Recommended by a friend.

Published by a publisher you like or respect.

A book club choice.

A New York Times Number One Bestseller.

Books get credibility from many places.

Amanda Hocking has tons of fans. As they say in The Lost Boys, "Can a billion Chinese be wrong?" She must be worth reading. Barry Eisler had a deal with Big Publishing and sold tons of books. He must be good.

Arguing the Big Publisher vs. Self Publisher in these news items is certainly interesting and can help one spread one's own bias.

The thing is you need, and this is the technical term, you need something. Something that sets you apart. I've said in this space that what you have to do is write a damn good story. That Platform is crap. That Brand is crap. Blah blah blah. Look, everything is crap except the writing. All of it. On Sunday, Joelle blogged about author web sites, which I think we all know are crap. Everything is crap except for the writing. But once you have the story down, the slap-ya-mama awesome story, then you do the web site. Teaser chapter? Yes, please. Then the blog you've spent eleven years on -- Ogre Sculptures and Chimera Talons -- matters to your book.

Someone sent me a link last week to what he called the worst writing advice ever. The author hadn't been published. Not Big Six. Not Kindle. Not 20 copies at Kinko's. In fact, there was no evidence that the author had ever written a novel that anyone had read. Yet, the author had a list of twenty tips every novelist should follow. The sixth tip was that you should go to the library and check out books on writing.

You know what, I've never published a novel, either. Having me offer tips about getting a publishable novel is like having Grammy-Award winner Marc Anthony offer you beauty tips. We have no credibility.

But you know who does? Amanda Hocking. Barry Eisler. They know how to write books. Sell books. Engage a fanbase. The news stories last week would have you believe that they're opponents in some battle over publishing, each changing sides in the same month. Which misses the point.

The point is to write something people want to read. To get that story into people's hands, by recommendations or awards publicity or Big Publishing marketing or cult-like followings. Whatever it is, you have to have that something. But the first something you have to have is still the story. The writing.

And once you get that Big Deal, you'll want to talk to Brian Keene.

By the way:
The DSD Podcasting Machine knocked a couple out of the park, chatting with Seth Harwood and Russel D. McLean about their books. Check that out here.


UPDATE: Nathan Bransford does some calculations on Eisler/Hocking today.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where do you draw the line?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

The “job” of the author has changed a great deal over the years. Years ago, the author’s job was to write a good book, edit said book and then write another. Sometimes the author would be asked by the publisher to do a book tour or some promotional things when the book was launched, but mainly the author’s job was to write.

With the advancement of technology, a published author’s job has become much more. Publishers want their authors to be involved in social media – be it Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads or whatever else is out there. They want authors to attend conferences, sponsor their own tours, take out their own advertising and do the heavy legwork to get noticed by readers. They also would like authors to have their own website.

Author websites always confuse me. Do I have one? Yeah, although I admit I haven’t put a great deal of work into keeping it new and fresh. I update it with my new titles and release dates and have an excerpt up and a new one will be posted soon. I even have a FAQs section although it isn’t nearly as cool as Steve Weddle’s. However, that being said, I struggle with viewing my website as a weekly destination point for readers. As a reader, I've never gone to an author’s website to read an excerpt or check out their tour photographs or just to drop by and see what’s new. Why? I have no idea. I just don’t.

Now, I realize not everyone is me (thank God for that!) and I realize that a website is important to many readers. But this week I heard someone say that they were angry at authors who had websites but did not provide an e-mail address for the reader to contact them directly. This reader was incensed that after taking the time to read the book and then look up the website they could not reach out and have immediate access to that author. They even went so far as to say the author was arrogant and clearly didn’t appreciate their readers.


I mean, I have an e-mail address on my website and a surprising number of readers have actually used it which always brightens my day. But that is my choice. Isn’t it? When did being an author mean that the public has a right to be able to reach out and touch me whenever the urge strikes them? What if an author has a sick family member they are tending to or is holding down two jobs while writing in the dead of the night and doesn’t have the time to answer e-mails? Does that mean they appreciate their readers less than one who is happy to post their contact information?

What am I missing?

Is the author website really that central to an author’s career and more important – do you feel slighted when an author doesn’t provide an e-mail address for you to write to them? Has that really become part of today’s definition of being a published author? And while we're talking about it - what kinds of things do you want to see on an author website and which ones drive you nuts? Here is your chance to let us know how we are supposed to be doing it. I'm taking notes.