Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dance With Them What Brung Ya


Scott D. Parker

What do you do when you get really off-kilter with you writing?

While I won’t say I’m too off kilter—as I am writing and making progress—I’m not making the progress I think I should. Thus, I diagnose a problem that may only exist in my head, but, nonetheless, is there. One thing I’ve done to see about increasing my productivity is go back and review what worked before.

As I wrote my first book, I compiled all my thoughts and notes and the occasional chapter into one of those college composition books. These are the ones with the mottled black-and-white covers. I put just about all my thoughts in there up to and including the day I wrote “The end” on the book.

I took a look at that old comp book the other day, trying to glean some of the tricks I must’ve used to complete my first novel. I even called my fellow writing buddy. He and I wrote our first books together and, so the joke between us goes, “It has taken us longer NOT to write the second book than it did to write the first.” During our conversation, I realized that my lower productivity level really is an actual thing. For some reason, I’m writing slower. Now, slow-but-sure will ultimately cross the finish line, but I just want to get there faster. Why? I’m not sure.

Two things struck me this week. They are not big revelations, but writing is a profession that seems to require constant reinforcement via basic thoughts to the neurotic people who perform the task. One, the encouragement he and I provided each other in the form of weekly “assignments” proved invaluable. Said assignments was to deliver marked-up copies of last week’s chapters and deliver new, fresh chapters. Like my friend said, it was peer pressure because he didn’t want to be the dufus who didn’t have anything prepared. Motivation. Why is it that writing needs motivation?

The second thing was much more personal. All throughout my old comp book, I started encouraging myself. I’d write little affirmations and prayers that I could get the book completed. It’s actually a bit charming to re-read that stuff, knowing how it all turned out. But that’s what helped me cross that finish line. That’s how I did it in the old days.

In the years since, I’ve tried different ways to stay organized, electronically as well as manually. My iPod Touch is a great device and, with a few apps, I can maintain and sync story ideas and note across multiple delivery sources. I didn’t have that in the “old days.” I had a comp book. And with the comp book, I wrote a novel.

I’m the type of guy whose life experiences often involve doing things the hard way or the long way. Not sure why. The very apps and electronic devices that are supposed to make writing easier have, I think, flooded my brain with too much information and too many options. Thankfully, I’m not the kind of writer who needs the special this or the special that just to make prose. I can and do write anywhere. I’m beginning to think, however, that I need a comp book to keep my ideas and notes in one place and I need to make many of those notes in longhand. Something about that just seems right for me.

Do you have something that just works for you and your writing? Have you ever tried a different path? Did you succeed?

Currently Reading: The End of the Matter by Alan Dean Foster. Completely not crime or mystery related, but I'm re-reading this book (book 3 of a trilogy) for the first time in 30 years. He was my entry into written SF and he holds up remarkable well.

Friday, May 13, 2011

WITNESS TO DEATH--Now Available and a Podcast


It's here.

My new thriller is available for the Kindle and Nook, and is only 99 cents.

Check out the synopsis, and then a cool idea afterward:

John Brighton is an ordinary young schoolteacher still hung up on his ex, Michelle. Suspecting her new boyfriend is cheating on her, John decides to follow Frank's Lexus and find out the truth once and for all. Turns out John's in for a major surprise. Frank isn't heading for some sack time with another girl. Instead he drags John into the middle of a shootout on the banks of the Hudson River, and before John knows what's happening, he's knee-deep in bodies.

Before the corpses can even cool, Frank disappears and John finds himself wanted for five murders. With no way to prove his innocence, John goes on the run-not only from the police, but a vicious assassin as well. And when Michelle is kidnapped, John's worst-case scenario comes true. Though his head tells him to stay in hiding, his heart says otherwise. He has to save the woman he loves or die trying.

As John begins to uncover the truth surrounding the events that have turned his life upside down, he learns it isn't just Michelle he must rescue. Thousands of other innocent lives are in jeopardy too.

A heart-pounding, heart-stopping, heart-breaking thriller from two-time Shamus Award nominated author, Dave White. For fans of Harlan Coben, Thomas Perry and Jeff Abbott.

Okay, now for the cool idea.

Good ol' Jay Stringer interviewed me for the Do Some Damage podcast HERE and as we were talking, we came across a little problem. We both wanted to talk spoilers for WITNESS. We didn't. We made a nice spoiler-free podcast you can hear right here.

But as we were talking we came across one of my ideas for authors. Wanting to talk spoilers. Give readers a chance to check out the book, and then give them an opportunity to listen to a spoilery podcast. Kind of like a DVD commentary or an interview a comic creator gives after the issue is out.

So, next week, I'm going to set up a DSD thread with an open comments section where you can leave some spoiler ideas you'd like to hear discussed. That's not to say you have a week to read the book. I'll link to the thread occasionally on both my Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Then Jay and I will do a new podcast and discuss the cool parts of the book we want to talk about.


I hope you give the book a shot.

PS: You can download the podcast or listen right here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Only Two Years Late

John McFetridge

Yesterday someone (okay, it was Jay) tipped me to this.

And I realized I better finish it. I’m only two years late with the manuscript.

I’ve been making excuses for quite a while, saying I got sidetracked by TV writing, adapting the Dirty Sweet screenplay, pitching TV shows, writing spec pilot scripts and so on.

But why? Why did I let the novel slip away? Why was I avoiding it and making excuses and thinking that I’d never write another book? After I thought about all the usual bullshit pop psychology stuff (fear of failure, fear of success, etc.,) I realized it was because the first three novels I had published didn’t sell. I got caught up in the idea of trying to write a book that would sell. I went looking for a hook or an edge or something that would get me onto a bestseller list.

Which is crazy. It’s not why I started writing. Sure, I always hoped my books would sell but that was never the driving force. Like pretty much every other writer (of my generation, before you kids got into the whole self-published e-book thing) my definition of success was getting published. And I got that.

So I was rolling along writing another book with some of the same characters exploring another pretty simple theme; do people change? I wanted to get some people together after a long time apart and I thought about a reunion like the movies we were talking about a while ago, The Return of the Secaucus Seven or The Big Chill, something like that, but I couldn’t get this idea out of my head that I wanted to sell some books.

I’d started writing Tumblin’ Dice, I put a couple of scenes from it online as flash fiction and people seemed to like the characters, this reunited rock band playing the nostalgia circuit at casinos and robbing drug dealers and shylocks along the way and then they were going to stop at a casino north of Toronto I call Huron Woods where the band’s first manager from back in the late 70’s is now the entertainment director. And he’s hooking up with some of the bikers from my previous books to push out the mobsters who are running the loan sharking, drug dealing and prostitution at the casino. And to counter all this very organized crime I had the story of the cops from a number of jurisdictions in two countries having a lot more trouble getting organized.

So as I was reading reviews of my previous books that said they had too many characters and were too hard to follow I started to think this one was, too. No matter how much I tried to link all these subplots through the idea of questioning how much people can change, I knew I was writing a book that not many people would like. It was falling between the cracks – there isn’t much action, very little violence, no real mysteries to figure out.

I tried taking out subplots and reducing the number of characters and making the story about a single murder and the cops trying to solve that. Or a couple of murders.

Then, of course, I was writing a book I didn’t like much but one that followed a more proven formula.

So, I finally smacked my head against the wall hard enough to realize that I have, as my mother-in-law would say, stepped in the butter dish here. I have a publisher who is happy to publish my very poor-selling books exactly the way I write them. Even this one that we all know won’t sell any better than the previous three.

This is something that comes up rarely in discussions I’ve followed about self-published e-books, this idea that you can write and make available the exact book you want. No compromises for commercial success (what we old fogies used to call “selling out”) or even censorship. There’s lots of talk about how great it is to be rid of the “gatekeepers” but then most of the e-books I see are within the same fairly narrow range as the books these gatekeepers publish.

And that’s probably because the only kind of success for e-books I see talked about much is sales.

The thing that I like most about e-books is the possibility to publish books that might not otherwise get published or might not get very well distributed; short story collections and anthologies, novellas, books of flash fiction, all kinds of experimental fiction – anything really, for which the sales potential may seem limited.

It’s early days yet and I expect we’ll see a lot more being done with the e-book form.

What kind of things would you like to see with e-books?

Now I have to get back to work and finish this book. I’m thinking about having a big T Rex come in at the end and eat everyone...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today

By Jay Stringer

Scott's post yesterday raised some interesting ideas. Re-watching cherished old films can be a minefield. Often, as Scott said, it's best to leave them in the past if you want to maintain the memory.

I must be wired wrong. I'm not a big 'souvenir' guy. My mum has always told me off for the way I can simply cut off possessions and move on. I can move home with a suitcase, I don't take photographs, and I've never taken things that have been offered to me when family have past away. With cherished films, books and comics, I need them to stand up. I seem driven -and I don't know why- to make sure that they are good. I purge, and I cut things that don't hold up.

For example, Jurassic Park. It was a film I loved. I talked about it as an example of great structure, of great set up, and of some great one-liners. Then last year, while doing one of my pieces for the guys over at Matinee Idles, I revisited the film with my writers brain.

For most of the film I was still wrapped up in it. The jokes. The effects. The storytelling. The god damned raptor fence. Clever girls. The T Rex sequence that will always be one of the finest examples of it's kind.

(A very narrow kind, I admit.)

But then I got to the ending and I was ripped out of the film.

The film is studious in training our reflexes. Before the T Rex is revealed, we are taught to sense it's approach. Like the ticking clock in Peter Pan, we are primed and ready. Pavlov's audience. The impact tremors. The sound. The ripple in the water. These were the things that scared seven shades of milkshake out of me in the cinema, and that still had an effect well over a decade later. But the thing is, Spielberg was so taken with how well the T Rex worked, they threw her in later on. In the final scene, when the humans are trapped inside a building by the remaining two (three?) raptors, the T Rex sneaks up on all of them and eats a raptor.

No impact tremors. No sound. No key to the building nor, surely, any understanding of what the building was or why to go in. They may as well have had the Rex walking on tiptoes and turning to the camera saying, shhh, be vewy vewy quiet, we're hunting wabbits. While we were in New York last summer I visited the American Museum of Natural History and marvelled at the T Rex statue. It was huge and magnificent. It dominated the room, even with my back to it. No way was that thing going to be able to sneak up on me.

The only reason to throw the T Rex back into the film at that moment is because it was cool. It lead to a cool moment. And that is something the writer in me can't live with.

Picky, maybe.
Harsh, yes.

But it's bad storytelling. The final act of a story should be built on everything that you've done to that point, not contradict it. If you want to have that cool moment with the T Rex, fine. Earn it. Go back and restructure the story. Lay the groundwork.

I have recently been revisiting my top ten films. Working through them one by one to see which ones stay on the list, and which ones I can dump out of my mind.

One of the more painful break ups was with Clerks. It's a film that I have loved hard for a long time. Ever since I first saw it as a snarky teenager. I loved everything about it. Its pacing, its dialogue, its slice-of-life realism. I loved the sense of achievement, of some kids with credit cards living the dream and making a movie. Their movie. On their terms.

And some of those things still hold true. There is enough in there for me to still enjoy the film. It's still an achievement when you think of the resources at the time. It's still funny for long stretches, and has a bucket full of charm.

But coming at it now, with a writers brain, there were too many things to poke.

It feels like a film that's often trying to hard to be a film. It's trying so hard to have a plot, and to have something important to say at every turn, that it smacks it's head on the door frame every time it tries to step through into greatness.

In the moments when it's just a couple of low-ambition guys talking about their lives, it manages to fly. There is wit and charm, and some very nice wry observations. But every few minutes it has to force in some contrived moment to justify it's presence on the screen. And the dialogue that I used to be so engaged by, now too often sounds like it's all coming from the same mouth. The author, as funny and engaging as he is, gets in the way of the characters.

I'll give you an example of the kind of contrived plotting that now pulls me out.

The dead guy in the toilet was a joke that used to split my side every time. It was greatness. But looking at it now, it's just a progression of contrived and unlikely events that lead to an impossible sexual act.

First, we have to allow that an old guy will go into the toilet of a convenience store with a porn mag and some tissues. Okay, it's not that likely, but I've read some crazy shit, so I'll go with it. Then, the characters have to forget about him. Stretching me further there. I've worked in many shops and, even on the height of a saturday rush, I always had an eye on the foot traffic and on who was doing what. And if I had given a customer permission to go somewhere they shouldn't, or do something they shouldn't, no way is that going to slip my mind. But the film is making me laugh and I want it to win, so okay, roll on with it.

Then we're asked to believe that the bathroom lights stop working at some random point in the afternoon, every single day. Why? Nobody knows. The film even tells us that nobody knows. If a film tells you that 'nobody knows' that often means that the writer doesn't know. He's doing something that he knows doesn't make sense, and he wants you to ignore it. The reasin it's not fixed? The electrician won't fix it because he's in a dispute with the shop owner over late video rental fees.

There are so many logical ways to fix this problem, that leaving it unresolved is the least logical thing to do. Cancel the guys late fees if he agrees to fix the light. Or call another electrician. Is he really the only guy in Leonardo, New Jersey, who can fix a light?

The guy dies at some point. We can assume from the fact he has an erection that it happened quite early, when he first went in with the magazines. The light going out also gives us the latest point when it could have happened. He could have spent the whole afternoon in there having fun, only to conk out just before the light stops working.

Then in the evening a woman goes into the bathroom and, upon finding a silent and unmoving man hiding in the dark with an erection, she decides it must be her boyfriend, and proceeds with the whopee. I don't know which part of that scenario is the least likely, so lets all just agree that none of it makes sense.

Although, credit where it's due, Kevin Smith does a bit of work here that Jurassic Park doesn't. He does drop in reference earlier in the script of a mistaken-identity-fumble in the dark, so that the character has a previous for it. It's just that he's laying the ground work for such an improbable situation that I'm pulled right out.

I'm one of those guys who does research. I speak to people who are in the situations I'm going to write about. It leads to some fun contacts. One of the people who has to put up with random questions from me is called Joe, and he's a mortician. So when it comes to certain questions about death, decomposing, or how to dispose of a body, he gets annoying calls from me.

After watching Clerks he got one of these calls. It turns out that a stiffy doesn't last for very long after death. It lasts for about the same time yours would if you were standing in a cold bath and thinking of a moose. The blood, without an excited heart pumping it around, will settle at the lowest point available. If Kaitlin got into the bathroom at pretty much the same moment he died, it's possible. Just about. Maybe. But given that we've already established he would have been dead for some time, there's not going to be any sex going on.

Yes, I know, I hear your groans, my favourite film is Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I worship a film that contains a magic box from the sky that kills people, yet I baulk at a little bit of accidental necrophilia? Thing is, I've never seen a real box from the sky that kills people. I've never seen Nazis try to open such a box in real life, and so as long as the story telling is cohesive I'll roll with it. But I can pick up the phone and ask a guy what happens to a man's stiffy after death, so I would expect writers to do the same basic checking.

A writer needs to earn the suspension of disbelief. By the time we see our first dinosaur in Jurassic Park we have a basic idea of what's going on, and then we're given the science -the rules- of the fictional world to run with. As long as the film sticks by the rules it gives us, then it can do what it wants with the impossible beasties on the screen. It's when those rules get broken for the sake of a cool moment that the films falls down.

And with Clerks any of those steps along the way could have been earned and accepted. But when you're using a series of unlikely events to justify and impossible one? Once again, it's sacrificing too much simply to get to a cool moment. Nah, count me out.

So that's the danger that Scott was writing about yesterday. Sometimes, you really can't go back.

I feel at this point I should pay a few taxes. Steven Spielberg may have incurred MY ineffective wrath by turning a T Rex into Elmer Fudd, but he's made more great movies than I will ever write average books, so I guess he can sleep safe. And, as much issue as I now take with Kevin Smith's writing, his podcasts are brilliantly funny. He's a genuine comic talent who has found his voice in the last few years far more than I think he did on film. Again, I'm sure he can sleep safe.

And while I'm talking about writers from New Jersey. Keep your eyes on Dave White's Amazon page.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sometimes, You Really Can't Go Back

Scott D. Parker

What do you do when your memory of something is shattered by the reality that you've "grown up"?

For the past month or so, I've been in a serious Superman mood. (BTW, I'm using Supes to talk about this experience, but you can substitute just about anything.) Up until I read Grant Morrison's excellent All-Star Superman about six weeks ago, I hadn't read a Superman tale in years. Now, I've read a half dozen, including the 2006 novel, It's Superman, by Tom De Haven. As I am wont to do when I have the opportunity, I followed up print with film and broke out 1978's "Superman: The Movie" over the weekend.

I was looking forward to seeing again one of my favorite films of my childhood. Other than Star Wars and Close Encounters, Superman occupied a huge imprint on my younger self, not the least because John Williams did the music. I had seen Superman: The Movie (STM) in the years since, but I hadn't seen it in its entirety for over ten years, perhaps even fifteen. That is to say, I haven't seen it since I became a writer and become aware of story structure and narratives through lines. (Know where this is going?)

Much of STM is still good, very good, in fact. The Kryptonian sequence that opens the film still has the otherworldly power it always had. The Smallville sequence is downright Rockwellian in its look and tone. I was struck, as an adult and a father, of Jonathan Kent's last words as his heart gave way: "Oh no." And then his fight to survive. Poignant and heartbreaking.

And, of course, the Metropolis scenes are great. Christopher Reeve owned the dual role of Clark Kent and Superman. He had the whimsy that the Silver Age Superman of the comic books and the TV show had: the sly winking at the audience that he and us are in on the Big Secret while the rest of the cast are in the dark. For all of the revamping to make the Man of Steel more nuanced--a trend I like, by the way--some of the humor isn't as fun anymore.

Nonetheless everything was going along splendidly until the final act. Superman has made his big appearance--the helicopter sequence is still quite riveting--and has flown through the clouds with Lois whilst Lex Luthor sought out Kryptonite and, then, suddenly, we're at the big missile scenes. With nary a segue or any other tethering thread, the confrontation is thrust upon up us. With no regard to pacing, Lex tricks Supes into "finding" the kryptonite, Supes escapes with the help of Miss Teschmacher, Supes gets both missiles, does all the other things he has to do, all the while Lois dies in a landslide, Superman reverses time and Lois is alive. Hello? Taken individually or as a group, this is cool stuff, especially when Superman acts as the missing rail so the train doesn't jump the tracks.

But the pacing, the metered cadence of the last part of the movie is, frankly, at super-speed. Disjointed super-speed at that. Where was the build-up? How did we go from Point A to Point K so fast? Knowing that this is the director's cut, I started thinking that perhaps some crucial segment of film got left on the floor back in 1978 and was never recovered.

The worst part about it is the taint. Knowing what I know now, having experienced what I've experienced now as a writer and a teller of tales, I was a little disappointed. As an adult reader, I can easily set aside my writing brain when I read grocery store thrillers. Dan Brown's books always come to mind when people ask me to weigh in *as a writer* on his books. Hey, they're entertaining, and, if you're entertained, roll with that and leave the rest of the detritus alone. I do that all the time now.

But, after watching STM, I think I might've realized something: maybe I can't do that with something treasured. There are some movies--Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future, A Few Good Men--that get better when one "grows up" and learns about craft and can see how well certain creators did at a particular time. But there might be other films or books that, frankly, you might need to keep in the past.

Have you ever experienced a letdown from an old favorite now that you've reached a certain age or a certain level of craftsmanship in the writing process? Moreover, is there a way *ahead of time* to see the potential pitfall and leave well enough alone?

TV Show of the Week: CSI: Miami. Did y'all see the finale last night? Oh boy! As I've said elsewhere, I think the creative team of CSI: Miami secretly decided that the best way to express their anger over being bumped to Sundays is to produce a high-quality season. This they did, with many great points throughout the season, not the least of which was last night's cliffhanger. Hope CBS takes notices and moves them back to Mondays.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Do you judge an e-book by its cover?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

So – e-books have changed the publishing game. While I don’t favor reading books on screen, I am willing to admit this is true. I’m also willing to admit that many things about the purely e-book publishing model baffle me. (For the purposes of this particular discussion purely e-book refers to both the e-publishing company versions as well as the self-published books equally.)

Take covers for instance. I understand why covers have always been important for a book. As a reader browsing the bookstore, the cover will either have me picking up a book I was otherwise unfamiliar with or rejecting it before ever reading the flap copy. People say you can’t judge a book by its cover – but really – isn’t that what covers are for? I judge them all the time. For good or for ill, covers are the main marketing tool in a bookstore. (This only works for the author if the bookstore actually stocks the book – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

What I don’t understand is whether covers have the same importance in the virtual bookstore. Yes – an e-book only author still needs a marketing tool for their website, social media and the blogs they might visit. Covers are great for that. And if you are with an e-book publishing company you probably get your cover displayed along side other covers on their website. That’s good, too. But does an e-book cover have the same ability to invoke impulse purchases that a physical cover does?

I don’t know. Honest. Perhaps this is because I don’t peruse the virtual shelves the way I do the physical ones. In the physical store, I’m looking for the unknown author – the next great gem that I can’t wait to delve into. In the virtual store I’m searching for specific authors and titles. I find them. I buy them. I leave the website. I don’t browse.

So I guess I’m looking for the real e-book reader (which clearly isn't me) to give me their perspective. How important is a cover to you in the digital world? When you’re searching for a specific title does the cover help you decide whether or not to hit the buy button? Or are you like me? Are you searching for authors you know either personally, virtually or through their previous work where the work is more important than the image on the screen? How do you do your e-book shopping? Does the virtual cover truly make the same impact as a physical one? Tell me! I really want to know.