Thursday, June 30, 2011

Better Late than Never

Planned on posting a big article about fear, but I'm going to do that next week. Well, it'll be written today and tomorrow, and posted next week. Well, that's the plan anyway. I mean... just wait you'll see.

Meanwhile, if you missed it the great Elizabeth A. White (no relation), posted this great review of Collateral Damage.

In the review, she mentions Russel's, Joelle's, Sandra's, and yours truly's stories.

You can buy the Antho here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Anne Emery – the Collins-Burke series

John McFetridge

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be involved with an evening of crime at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore in Toronto and the headliner was Anne Emery, author of the Collins-Burke mystery series.

The first book in the series, Sign of the Cross, introduced Monty Collins a lawyer who... well, I’ll just let the back copy say it:

Be careful what you wish for, his mother used to say. Yet how many times, in his twenty years defending the underclass, has Monty Collins wished for a client who is intelligent, articulate and tattoo-free? Now he has one, but it’s not long before his mother’s warning comes back to haunt him. Father Brennan Burke was born in Ireland, raised in New York, educated in Rome – he’s equally fluent in Latin and the language of the street. And he is the prime suspect in the killing of a foxy young girl whose body was found carved with a religious sign, a sign that points straight to the priest.
From their first meeting, Monty finds Burke acerbic, arrogant, and evasive about his relationship with the victim. Conflict between lawyer and client simmers all through the ordeal that lies ahead, as evidence piles up and murder charges seem inevitable. With Burke remaining tight-lipped about his past, Monty has no choice but to go behind his back and conduct a probe into the life of his own client. Never in his career has Monty been so lost for answers, until a long-forgotten incident takes on new and ominous meaning...

Sounds good, doesn’t it. The book takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a city and a province that’s almost always seen through the eyes of tourist promoters eyes so it’s great to have some characters dig into the place a little deeper. My Mom grew up in rural Nova Scotia and I spent my summers as a kid at my grandmother’s house there (which didn’t have indoor plumbing until my Dad put it in when I was eight) and there are definitely non-tourist places.

The second book in the series, Obit features one Declan Burke, a terrific crime writer who also runs the blog, Crime Always Pays and... no, that’s not right. This Declan Burke, “fled Ireland forty years ago and never looked back. Now settled in New York, he thinks he’s put the old country behind him, until he reads the obituary of one Cathal Murphy. The obituary, he sees at once, is not about Murphy at all. It is a coded indictment of Burke’s own life.”

More in the series:

Anne's books are available in hardcover, trade paperback and e-books from all the usual suspects and, of course, if you're in Ontario the best place to get them is the Sleuth of Baker Street. If you can't make it to the store you can always order them online here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer Reading List: A Drop Of The Hard Stuff

By Jay Stringer

Summer is here. Well, it's not here, because summer is never here in Glasgow. We have that one day a year when the big yellow thing comes out in the sky, and we all panic, paint ourselves blue and prepare to leap off the nearest rooftop in preparation of the great judgement.

But enough about Glasgow. I'm talking about the world. Well, okay, I'm talking about the bits of the world that are now entering summer.

Okay, I should just back this up and start again, shouldn't I?

My point is, it's that time of year when people start to take long vacations and read more books. So I'm going to take a couple weeks to suggest a few to you.

Back when I was first really getting into crime fiction, somebody thrust a well-worn copy of Lawrence Block's Eight Million Ways To Die into my hands. I still have that copy, even though I've had chance to purchase 'better' versions of it (with nicer covers, for the book fetishist in me.) I was told it was a P.I story and I'd already read a few of those. I'd seen the films, I knew how the game went. I was already itching for crime stories told from a different point of view, I didn't want stories I'd already read, not to keep going over the same ground. Then the trick happened. Eight Million Ways To Die was the first P.I. novel to truly surprise me.

I love the P.I. genre, and there are many brilliant authors who write in it, but it was that book that gave me the kick in the right direction. I've talked about Matt Scudder many times before, both here and on the podcast, where we've also heard the character praised by Reed Farrel Coleman, Gerald So, and our very own Russel D McLean. There's little to add to the praise we've already heaped out. Or so I thought.

Then Lawrence Block went and wrote a new Scudder novel.

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff came out a few months ago from the awesome folks over at Mulholland Books. It's the first Scudder book since 2005's All The Flowers Are Dying, which seemed to be the endcap to the series, and it takes us back a couple of decades to a key era of Matt's life.

Matt Scudder was the P.I. who faced up to alcoholism. He stood up at a meeting, gave his name, and admitted his problem. Originally the series was to stop there. I mean, what story is there to tell about a P.I. who stops drinking, right? It's done, right? Somewhere along the way Lawrence Block realised that the character was still talking in his ear, that putting down the bottle was only the start, and that there were many more stories left to tell. But we've never seen those first few years, we've never seen Matt's battle with sobriety in it's infant steps. With Hard Stuff we get a glimpse at that time in the characters life, and it opens up a lot of possibilities.

Duality is a common theme on crime fiction. It's built into the very DNA of the genre, where we write about the haves and the have nots. Playing with this basic duality is a rich vein, and here Block shows us the different road that Scudder could have gone. He is hired to investigate the death of a childhood friend from the Bronx. When Matt Scudder zigged and became a cop, Jack Ellery zagged and became a criminal. Flip sides of the same coin, their lives circling each other over the years without ever coming back together. They both ended up in A.A. though, because there are some things you can't outrun.

Ellery was following the twelve steps and attempting to atone for past sins, and it got him killed. Scudder has to follow the trail, facing up to his own mortality at the same time as his own disease, and put the pieces together before the killer can vanish into the crowd of NYC.

What follows is exactly what we've come to expect from Scudder. It's a meditation on honesty, fidelity and addiction. Which sins need atoning for, and which are forgotten the minute you commit them? And what small measures do we use to keep on getting through the day?

Some crime novels are about the act. About the violence, the murder or the confrontation. But Hard Stuff is about consequences. It's about walking your feet back over old ground and having to think things through.

I'm usually not a fan of bookending a story, but Block is one of the few authors who can do it well. He used the trick to great effect in When The Sacred Ginmill Closes, which is my personal favourite, and he does it again here. The book opens with Scudder in his twilight years, in the modern Hells Kitchen, before flashing back to the mid-80's. It's a bitter sweet feeling to go back in time and see characters who pass away later in the series. It's also a great way to chronicle the gentrification of the neighbourhood, to show that the mean streets are still there, but that they're now much cleaner, and decorated with Starbucks. There's a sense of melancholy hanging over the book that probably wouldn't be there without the framing device, and that's why it works so well.

One of the best tributes I can pay to Block is New York City. I visited the city for the first time last summer after a lifetime of reading about it. I blogged about my experience last summer, of the odd sense of familiarity mixed in with such an exciting and alien city. The streets may look different from the books, and the cast may have changed, but I felt a strange sense of familiarity as I explored the city on foot, and a large part of that was down to Lawrence Block and Matt Scudder.

He's the character who won't go away. Every time the author has put him on the shelf, he's climbed back down for another go. I hope we get to see more of this era, so see more of his early faltering steps on the road to redemption.

A Drop Of The Hard Stuff is available right now from Mulholland and is one of the books under consideration over that DoSomeDamage Book Group.

Next week I'll be adding a comedy to your reading list. Or a travel book. Or a political book. Or an exercise manual's all of those things.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Harvest of Ruins

I've been sick the past few days, and haven't been operating at peak efficiency, so this seems like a great time to share with you a little piece of my new manuscript, HARVEST OF RUINS.

No Crime Scene

They say the last thing you see before you die is recorded in your eyes. Hunter McKenna wondered if this was what Adam Fields’ eyes would show if they could see that image. His body surrounded by a white porcelain bathtub surrounded by marble tile, water pelting down at him from above?

“Goddamn CSI shit.”

Hunter McKenna, a detective sergeant with the provincial police, watched her partner swear, turn, stomp across the room and swing his foot at the trash can. When Noah Wilmott’s toe connected with the steel bin it rose into the air before it tipped sideways and the contents spilled all over the floor.

He limped and cursed for a few steps, although he kept the words under his breath. Hunter knew him well enough to know what he was saying, though. It seemed like Noah hadn’t thought kicking the can would hurt as much as it apparently did. His hair was black as coal but he had the temper of a redhead, a temper he tried to rein in and offset with a groomed appearance, but there were times his nature defied the suit-and-tie charmer image he worked so hard to project.

Next to her partner, Hunter felt frumpy. He had a nicer wardrobe, a more recent haircut and most of the time he appeared polished. Her hair wisped around her face, her curves threatened to push her out to the next clothing size, and she never had felt like dress pants fit properly anyway.

Noah staggered out the door, down the hall.

“Where the hell is Heineman? That goddamn spit-for-brains no-good sack of shit.” There was a pause as Heineman was located, and then Noah’s voice returned with a roar. “Prove you aren’t totally useless. Tell me it occurred to you for even just a split second to turn the water off and stop running evidence down the goddamn drain.”

Under other circumstances a smile might have tugged at Hunter’s lips, but on this occasion she could understand her partner’s anger. The discovery of a body had been reported around the time early risers ate breakfast. The late risers had been deprived of their opportunity to sleep in, at least in this cul de sac, unless the growing chorus of sirens that had reached their crescendo outside this otherwise normal home hadn’t piqued their curiosity and their curtains were thick enough to block out the swirling lights of the half dozen plus emergency vehicles that had converged there.

By the time Hunter and Noah had arrived the slipper-and-robe brigade had swelled to such a size that she guessed the bystanders included residents from as far as three blocks away. The joggers and dog-walkers interspersed with the sleep-deprived explained the spread of information throughout the quiet community.

They’d been on the front step when the first camera crew arrived.

Hunter looked down at the body in the tub, felt the heat of the steam on her skin as she snapped a plastic glove over her hand, reached for the tap and turned the water off. Goddamn CSI shit indeed.

The reported body lay in the tub of what was undoubtedly the master bath, adjacent to a massive bedroom that a one-bedroom apartment could fit inside, with room to spare. Considering the size of the room, and the fact that the door to the master bath had reportedly been left open, the house must have had one hell of a hot water tank. The steam had fogged the mirror and she’d felt the heat when she’d twisted the spigot. Hunter stepped aside for Dr. Eaton, although the bathroom itself was as large as a standard bedroom, and she was hardly in his way.

The wizened doctor prepared himself to examine the body and knelt by the tub. “Apparent cause of death would be from a gunshot wound to the temple.” Dr. Eaton’s voice was gruff but hinted at no emotional response. He carefully lifted the decedent’s hands and examined them.

They’d been folded neatly across the boy’s naked body, resting on his stomach, where the spray of water from the shower nozzle had been directed.

Deliberate or coincidence?

“We’ll check for gunshot residue, but the water…” Dr. Eaton stood up and shook his balding head. “Obviously, core body temperature and rate of decomposition has been affected.” He bent over and lifted the victim’s leg a few inches, grunted, and nodded. “He’s pretty fresh. I can’t even swear to cause of death until I get him on the table.”

Hunter nodded. It was what she’d expected to hear. “Hot water was still running. We might be able to establish a window based on the size of their tank, how much hot water remains…” She’d have to have someone shut the system down so that it didn’t start replenishing the supply. “Glad you were in the area.”

He grunted again. “Convenient when I live across town.”

Or not so convenient, Hunter thought as she watched him glance at the body again. “Recognize him?” she asked.

“Adam Fields.”

Adam Fields… Where did she know the name? It clicked. Her former partner Tom’s daughter. Adam was a boy Vinny had played with. Hunter could remember a few times, when she’d been in the neighborhood where Tom’s ex-wife still lived, and seen Adam as a young boy. Blond hair, and truly white skin. He’d stood out almost as much as Jonah.

Jonah, a gorgeous boy with light brown skin, huge chocolate eyes, and clothes that bordered on rags. Somehow, as children they’d overlooked the obvious differences.

But with age came the loss of innocence, that taint of the world and the distorted views so many held.

Hunter remembered what had happened to Jonah.

Wondered if Adam had been there.

“Did you know him?” Dr. Eaton asked.

“Never struck me as the type to play Russian roulette,” she said.

“Won’t know what killed him until I get him on the table,” Dr. Eaton repeated. “Any blood’s long since swirled down the drain.”

Meaning that there may not have been sufficient blood loss to indicate the head wound was the cause of death. They hadn’t found Adam Fields’ clothes, they hadn’t found the gun, and there wasn’t any blood spatter on the walls. That meant that even if Adam had pulled the trigger himself, in that room, someone else had been there to clean up. Someone sophisticated enough to put him in the tub and turn the water on, and they may have been smart enough to use a gun to try to conceal the real cause of death. A gunshot wound was just a gunshot wound, until the doctor said otherwise.

She watched him shuffle out the door, through the adjoining bedroom, and saw Noah return. He ran his fingers through his hair the way he did when he was frustrated. He saw her watching him, took a breath, lowered his hand, straightened his tie.

A quick nod at one of the uniforms was all she needed to get him to approach her. After relaying her instructions, she turned to her partner. “Remind me why we’re here?”

“Because we’re dealing with all youth crimes these days.”

“And this qualifies how?” she asked.

“Suspicious death of a kid.”

She made a face at him. “We’ve got the vandalism from a few days ago, not to mention the drug leads we're chasing up. Musquash High’s been flooded with a new supply.”

“And this is going to take priority.” Noah shook his head. “It’s a teenager. A local boy. Drugs are just like God and the Tooth Fairy; they don’t really exist until your kid’s stealing money from your wallet to feed their habit, or the junkies are dropping like flies on the sidewalk in front of your house. But this is a body.”

He was right. All that mattered was that this was a teenager who was dead and shouldn’t be.

The drug case would have to wait.

“The doctor can’t be certain about cause of death.”

“Big surprise.” Noah scowled.

“What else have we got?”

“The keystone cops bungled every part of the scene they could get their hands on. I sent Heineman outside, on perimeter duty. Too bad there wasn't an Arctic outpost to send his ass to."

"He'd still find a way to screw that up somehow.”

Noah cracked a smile.

She’d already surveyed the master bedroom, and quickly exited, followed the hall to the main bath, checked it, and proceeded to the other bedroom.

All the furniture was pushed to the walls, the black and steel desk and shelves containing nothing more than a computer and a few books and boxes. The white carpet didn’t appear to have so much as a speck of dust on it.

Still, she did a full 360°, pushed the closet door open and confirmed it was also clear.

As she stepped back out into the hallway, Noah shook his head. “No gun. No bits of brain splattered against a wall. No blood stains.” They walked towards the stairs. “And courtesy of a timed sprinkler system the front and back yards are as wet as the bathtub.”

“Sprinklers? In October?” This was a year when drought hadn't been an issue. Enough rain had fallen throughout the spring to keep the grass growing steadily, green as the leaves on the trees, and with the arrival of fall the rain had returned.

The officer Hunter had tasked with checking the hot water heater stopped short, three quarters of the way up the stairs, when he saw them at the landing. Elijah Two-Rivers was tall, fit, with a booming voice that he somehow managed to soften appropriately whenever he was on the job. Hunter rarely visited the bar with her colleagues – not with a daughter waiting for her at home – but when she had stopped in for a few moments, she’d taken note of Elijah. He was the one who kept the party in check, which was why she’d selected him for her assignment. He was a young officer who was going places, and not just because of any affirmative action policy those passed over would blame.

He looked her straight in the eye. “You’re not going to like it,” he said. “They have a tank and an on-demand system. Damnedest thing…” He shook his head. “If that was the only water running and it wasn’t full pressure it could have been on for hours and the water would still come through hot.”

Hunter cursed the homeowners silently but thanked the officer. Elijah turned and looked as though he was about to descend to the main floor, but then stopped. “I also looked at the sprinklers outside,” he said.

Noah frowned. “Why?”

Elijah glanced at Hunter, then faced Noah as he answered him. “To see where it connected and what time it came on. The timer wasn’t activated.” He glanced back at Hunter. “I just thought you’d like to know.”

Hunter nodded and thanked him again. She raised an eyebrow as she glanced at her partner. “Remind me. How did this call come in?” They walked down the stairs.

“Anonymous 911 call from a pay-and-talk cell phone.”

“And who lives here?”

Noah flipped back a few pages in his notebook. “William and Eileen Shannon. Neighbors say William’s in finance, and Eileen works at Soldiers' Memorial Hospital in Orillia.”

“A couple with a lot of money.”

“And no kids, never mind teenagers.”

At the bottom of the stairs there was a door that presumably went to the garage. It took no more than a second to confirm that, and to verify that there was no vehicle parked inside. Hunter closed the door.

Noah smiled as he tapped his fingers against his notebook. “Neighbors say they’re on vacation. Crete.”

So far they had a naked dead boy in a bathtub, in a house he seemed to have no reason to be in, no murder scene, no witnesses, no certainty about what had killed him and not a whole hell of a lot to go on.

They were off to a great start.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay. I admit that I hate when people ask me that question. Not because I don’t have an answer – I do, but I always feel like it’s the wrong answer. So many writers I know answer that question not only with a YES but with stories of writing their own books at the age of six or eight or ten. I love listening to those authors talk about their lifelong love affair with writing and their longtime desire to reach readers with their words. When they are done I always feel a bit ashamed that my answer to the same question is no.

No. I didn’t always want to be a writer. While I have had loved reading from the time I learned to do it on my own, I admit that while growing up it was never my dream to be an author. Reading other people’s stories or bringing other people’s words alive on the stage was what I was good at. It was what I did. In fact, when I started typing my first book it wasn’t because I had a burning passion for writing the next great American novel. I simply had an idea for the beginning of a story and was curious to see where the story would take me. It wasn’t until I finished that manuscript that I really started wondering if I could learn the skills necessary to make the words I wrote good enough for publication.

Funny, but while I’ve had one book published, another coming out this year and more on the way, my reasons for writing haven’t changed. I mean, sure, I’d like to make money at this adventure. If for no other reason than to justify all the time I spend in front of my computer putting words on the screen. But my core reason for writing remains the same. I have an idea that intrigues me. I write to see where that idea goes.

Do I hope that someone some day might want to read the story? Sure. But that isn’t the reason I write. I write because I want to know how the story unfolds. I want to see how the story ends. It’s about me. My curiosity. My interest in the characters and the troubles they face. I don’t wonder about the readers who might open the book or the publishers who might be interested in giving me a contract on the book until I hit THE END. Because until that point – it is my story. Written just for me.

So maybe I haven’t always wanted to be a writer. Maybe I never dreamed I could finish writing book let alone ten manuscripts. And maybe some days I feel guilty that I have adopted the dream that so many others came to early in life and have yet to find success with. One thing is certain – no matter if I never get another publishing contract and if no one else beyond my household reads another word that I write – I will continue to write. Because I want to know how the story goes. It’s as simple as that.

So I guess I want to hear your writing story. Why do you write? What makes you sit down and face a blank screen day after day hoping the words come in order to fill it?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Going Green With Your Writing

Scott D. Parker

Every other week, along with the garbage, the recycle truck arrives on our street to haul away the stuff that can be used again. For fourteen days, my family separates the actual trash from the “trash” that can be recycled. To make it easy on ourselves, we have a bin in my utility room that all cardboard, glass, and plastic (save #6—why that one?) live in until I carry the inside bin out to the giant, green, rolling recycle “can.” The best thing about the city of Houston’s recycle program is that they don’t require you to sort anything. Throw it all in and they’ll sort it later. Makes recycling extremely easy and a no brainer.

I usually have to empty the inside bin at least twice over the two-week span between recycling pickups. When I do, I always make sure to examine all the questionable plastic, the ones that just might be #6s. As a result, I see all the boxes, cartons, bottles, etc. that we’ve been consuming. There’s the pizza box from movie night, there’s the cans of the sweet elixir that is Dr. Pepper sweetened with sugar (not corn syrup), there’s the empty cartons of Greek yogurt, truly a better choice over standard yogurt. I’m not that weird to say that I sometimes chuckle at a memory associated with an empty something. Wait. Am I? Yeah, probably.

I’ve been recycling some of my old writing, too. (Come on. You didn’t think this was merely a plea for all y’all to recycle, did you?) My current book features the same character, HPD Detective Anne Chambers, that appears as my entry in Do Some Damage’s current anthology, Collateral Damage. I’ve written about her before, but shelved the unfinished manuscript in favor of another story.

As I’ve been clipping along with the new book, I arrived at a scene that felt familiar. It didn’t take me long to remember that I had Anne conduct an investigation that involved an apartment. Hey, thought I earlier this week during one of my morning writing sessions, I wonder if there is anything I could use from that apartment scene here in the new book? So, yes, I stopped writing (breaking cardinal rule #1) in order to re-read that one chapter.

I ended up reading my entire manuscript—all 140 pages, 35,000 words of it. And I discover that the manuscript that I’d abandoned fearing that it went nowhere actually had more than one good scene I could recycle. In fact, a nip here and a tuck there and I should be able to use large chunks of that older work here in this newer work.

I’m obsessive about saving everything I write. Only recently have I slowly started not saving every, single iteration of every, single story. I don’t know why I do that. Guess I want the progress. The good thing, of course, about saving every little tidbit is that my future self might be able to use it. I did the work, even if it was a year ago. No reason why I can’t put those words to good use.

The irony is this: the new draft is written in third person. The older material is in first. Plus the tone is different. But that’s for another post.

Do y’all save everything, thinking you might get back to it one day? And do you?

Album of the Week: Peacemaker by Clarence Clemons. Most should know I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. Jay wrote about his love for the Boss on Tuesday. As a sax player, Mr. Clemons had a tone I envied. When Bruce’s music called for an old-school sax solo (a la “Born to Run”), the Big Man delivered in spades. But, to me, Clemons really shined with the slower pieces. Just as David Gilmour can “say” more with a single extended, held note than other guitarists can with fanatical fretwork, Clemons’s sound was luxurious and full. I’ll even namedrop Miles Davis in this discussion because Clemons knew the value of silence in his music. For you Springsteen fans out there, I’m talking “Jungleland,” “Secret Garden,” “Back in Your Arms Again,” among others.

This 1995 album is a slow, peaceful, meditative offering. At its base, Clemons is merely soloing over soft percussion, mostly non-western in origin. This is night music, the kind free from worry and other noises, the kind that can mingle in the shadows of your house or apartment and breathe life into the mysterious places in your soul. In the spirit of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, this album is Clemons’s thank you to God for bestowing upon him the talent to play sax. I listened to it in a Barnes and Noble sixteen years ago and immediately bought it. Now, it is one of my Top 10 desert island CDs. That is, if I can only choose 10 albums to listen to the rest of my life, this makes the cut. Last weekend, when I learned of Clemons’s death, I put Peacemaker on and drifted to another place.

Here is one cut from Peacemaker: Into the Blue Forest

Secret Garden

Back in Your Arms Again


Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Power of a Review

Carol Barrowman reviewed my book this weekend. To a lot of authors, this is a big deal to begin with. The review was a rave, and I really appreciated it.

But what I couldn't have foreseen was the impact it would have on my sales. Witness to Death had been doing decent sales before the review came out. I was happy with how my foray into the ebook world had gone.

But then the review came out.

And sales exploded. In 4 days, I've sold close to 400 books.

GalleyCat picked up the story.

So, long story short, this was HUGE for me.

Before this weekend, I didn't know how important reviews are. From now on, they are VERY important to me. Good or bad.

And they're not just there to feed (or damage) my ego.

So, readers, how important are reviews to you?

Thank you so much, Carol Barrowman. I really, truly appreciate it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Mike Knowles - The Wilson Series

John McFetridge

Back in the dark ages of Do Some Damage, when you still had to hand-crank a computer to get it started, one of the first contributors here was Mike Knowles. At the time he had one novel published, Darwin’s Nightmare, the story of an independent tough guy in the tough city of Hamilton.

There is a Hamilton-Toronto rivalry best seen in the Canadian Football League – a few years ago (well, quite a few years ago now) the Hamilton Tiger-Cats won the championship, the Grey Cup, they had a parade as winning sports teams do, and at the very end were four guys carrying a bedsheet with the words “Argos Suck” painted on it. They weren’t officially part of the parade, and the Ti-Cats had beaten the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the Cup, not the Toronto Argonauts, but those guys still got one of the biggest cheers from the crowd as they passed.

So it was great to see someone capture that feeling of Hamilton, that kind of, we don’t give a shit what you think, this is what we are, attitude in a novel.

Well, now it’s three novels.

Mike doesn’t blog anymore, he isn’t on Twitter and he doesn’t even have a personal webpage. He does have an Amazon Author’s page where all of his books are available for the Kindle. They’re also available for the Nook and the Kobo and even as old-fashioned hardcovers and paperbacks, though at most bookstores you’ll probably have to order them.

There’s been lots of great press for Mike’s books. Like this, from CrimeSpree magazine:

"picture perfect hardboiled writing. Knowles has a real grasp of the underbelly running under society and his characters all breath with authentic boozy cigarette breath. A great read and a great new voice."

Publisher’s Weekly said:

"Gunfights and well-choreographed scenes of carnage abound . . . This is pure, visceral action"

And Booklist:

"With lots of action and tension and plenty of dialogue, Wilson's story moves along rapidly as he struggles to cut his ties to the past."

Bottom line is that these are terrific books.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scooter And The Big Man

By Jay Stringer

I first published this a couple days ago on my blog. I had a book review to put up this week, but events of the weekend changed my plans. I just wanted to share these thoughts with a different audience.

I saw Therapy? play JB'S in Dudley when I was 18. And that became the benchmark for great gigs. No matter who I saw, or on occasion played with, that gig was unbeatable. For the most part, I always knew, it was nostalgia. It was because I'd seen them when I was 18, and there's few forces on earth that can play a trump card over the nostalgia of an 18 year old's memories.

I first saw Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band in Dublin a couple of years ago. I'd always wanted to see them play, but it took a long time for the stars to line up. They were as exciting and tight as expected, and it was a great gig. They battled to keep our attention away from the Irish rainclouds overhead, and they blew a curfew that cost them 50,000 to keep going for another of their marathon gigs. But there was one thing that you could sense playing on the mind of everyone in the crowd -Clarence.

He was struggling to move. His pain was visible even as far back as we were, and he was n't managing to hit all the notes on his sax. There had been stories of double hip replacements and back surgery, and there was the worry that this 67 year old was on one gig too many, and that his body wasn't going to let him do what it did in 1974.

We saw the band again two nights later in Glasgow, and my benchmark for a great gig was destroyed. I'd always heard of the nights when the band produced something truly amazing, and then I got to witness one. They went for over three hours, they rocked, they goofed off, they had fun with the crowd and there was a real feeling of spontaneity in the air.

And the difference? Clarence Clemons. Two nights after he'd looked like the pain had finally gotten the better of him, he nailed it. He moved around the stage like he owned it, and he hit every single note. He didn't just hit them, he hit them. The whole band took their lead from him. They played with the confidence that it was going to be one ofthose nights. Bruce was a revelation. That was the first time I truly saw how much he drew from Clarence- when the big man was on, Bruce could kick loose and fly.

And It shouldn't have been a surprise because the defining image of Bruce's career has always been that black and white cover of Born To Run. A skinny leather clad rocker leaning on the shoulder of his partner in crime. A telecaster, a sax and an easy smile.

Bruce and the band had always been one of those things that I had to enjoy alone. In the punk, grebo and indie circles that I mixed with, everyone was too busy being cool to admit to a liking. In the days before Ipods -and when I never really liked walkmen- that sax filled my bedroom and gave me visions of something beyond my dying industrial hometown.

So for those teenaged nights, and for that epic night in Glasgow, I thank you Clarence.

And I'm going to miss you Big Man.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Beach House Noir

By Steve Weddle

Now is the day the crows come home to roost. Or the roosters come home to crow. Or maybe they're black skimmers.

The Noir at Beach House deadline is today. Below are the links for folks who have let me know what's what. You still have time to post a link to your story in the comments -- or email me. Or tie it to the foot of a carrier rooster and send along.

"Insanely entertaining." That's what Josh Bazell said about FUN AND GAMES from Duane Swierczynski. Might as well say the same thing about all the fantastic entries for the DSD challenge. Check these out ->

Peter Rozovsky

Benoit Lelievre

Charlie Wade

Evil Ray

David James Keaton

Al Tucher

Eric Beetner

Thomas Pluck

Gerald So

Keith Karabin

Stephen D. Rogers

Katherine Tomlinson

Kieran Shea

Don Lafferty

Fiona McDroll Johnson

If I missed someone, post in the comments and I'll update. If you're coming in late, post in the comments today and you'll still be entered to win FUN AND GAMES from Duane Swierczynski. I'll pick a name late Monday (today?) afternoon.

FUN AND GAMES is the first of three Charlie Hardie thrillers from Duane Swierczynski (Mulholland Books).
Charlie is an ex- sort-of cop with the requisite wounded psyche, avoiding his past by running around the country house-sitting, drinking, and watching olde tyme movies.

His shot at redemption comes in the Hollywood Hills, trying to save a movie star from sure death. Much like that poor young man in CLERKS who wasn't even supposed to be here today, Charlie was supposed to be drunk in someone else's house, watching old Robert Mitchum movies.

What really works well in this book is that as the action moves forward -- explosions, poisonings, car chases -- the story moves backwards, bringing depth and explanation via character backstory.

Who are these Accident People trying to kill movie star Lane Madden? And why?
And why did Charlie Hardie run away and hide from his life, leaving his wife and kid far away?
And what's in that damned bag he can't live without?

As the story moves along from one chase scene to another, the story of Lane Madden's Secret is revealed a little more. As Lane Madden's backstory is revealed, so is Charlie Hardie's.

This book moves. Not just in the normal thriller way, not just racing from one explosion to the next. These explosions are more like dynamite thrown at that mountain where that dude was making the Crazy Horse monument. The more explosions, the more is revealed. And once that thing is revealed, you know, it's pretty freaking cool.

FUN AND GAMES is available this month. The second in the three-parter is set to hit shelves in October.

You'll dig this book.

One lucky person in our Noir at the Beach House contest will get a copy of the book. Will let you know shortly.

Thanks for playing.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Meet Book Country

Since we have a lot of writers following our DSD posts, I am delighted to feature a guest post today about Book Country. I admit I had heard about Book Country, but didn't know much more than it waas a website some of the big publishers had put together. So, I'm thrilled that Dana Kaye is here today to share with everyone a little more insight about Book Country.

And on a personal note - Happy Father's Day to all! (And Happy Father's Day Dad - I miss you!)

And now - without further ado - Dana Kaye and everything you wanted to know about Book Country!

Writing is a solitary practice, but revision requires feedback. Most aspiring authors send their manuscript to friends and family, others meet with a critique group, and some enroll in an MFA program.

In April, Penguin Group (USA) launched Book Country, a website dedicated to genre fiction readers and writers. Focused on romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery and thriller, Book Country helps new authors hone their craft as part of a genre fiction community.

Users upload their novels (or a portion of their novels) for peer review. Book Country’s unique genre map helps writers categorize their novels, and lets readers find books similar to ones they love, which they then read and provide detailed critiques. Book Country brings the peer feedback and community feel of a critique group, online.

Another key feature is discoverability. If you’re working on a novel, publishing professionals won’t see it until you begin sending out query letters. Book Country gives agents and editors a place to discover new talent; for this reason, many publishing professionals have already signed up. Book Country also allows avid readers and bloggers to discover budding talent and use their reading experience to offer helpful feedback.

As the world continues to shift online, Book Country creates a community that was once only available in metropolitan areas. Now, genre fiction authors all over the world can come together online to exchange feedback, engage in discussions, and have their work discovered.

Join us at and follow us on Twitter @Book_Country

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lessons Learned for the Week

Scott D. Parker

Since we met last Saturday, I have continued plugging away with my current book. And I've learned a couple of valuable, personal lessons that I'm going to pass on.

Writing in the Morning

I don't know about your day job, but mine, as a technical writer, consumes a good deal of my brain on a daily basis. The excellent SF writer, Ted Chiang, is/was a tech writer and he said once that being a tech writer is not a conducive way to get the imagination flowing. I'll concur. Thus, my morning writing--before I started my day job--was fantastic. It was out of the way and over by 8am.

Cut to the day this past week where I decided I'd write at night. Ugh. After a day spent doing technical stuff, my head was fuzzy and cluttered. Could not focus. My own problem? Yeah. Could have I have persevered? Yeah. I wrote a paltry amount of words, counted the day good, and went to bed. Next morning, "bright" and early, I'm up and writing. Lesson learned.

Fingers on the Keys

I'm an outliner. Or, rather, I'm the guy who prefers to write in scenes, on index cards, and then write per scene. It's an excellent way of experiencing the story. On the one hand, I get to sit down with a pile of index cards and a pen and just go through the tale. I write down the scenes as they appear. By the end of the exercise, I have either the entire story laid out, or, at least, a good chunk by which I can start writing.

On this book, so far, I have a skeletal outline. I know the murky outlines of the story, but not the details. Thus, more than once, I've found myself with the moment of "What's next?" Thus, I sit at the keyboard and ponder. Wrong move (for me). I start pondering threads and, most annoyingly, how I could "better" write the scenes I've already written.

My cure for this? Keep my fingers on the keyboard. They will want to start typing and they should. I remove my fingers from the keys, I slow down. (No way! Really?!)

So, for me, I work best with an outline and my fingers on the keyboard. Are there neat little tricks y'all do?

Book of the Week: Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver. I've waited a long time for this book and, so far (chapter 11 at this writing), I'm enjoying the heck out of it. Deaver seamlessly blends things from the Fleming novels (the lock of dark hair that falls onto Bond's forehead is still described as a "comma of hair") as well as from the films (Bill Tanner, played by Michael Kitchen, in the Brosnan films, is here). And the story, so far, reads very much like Fleming in that Bond isn't always out kicking ass, but he's in the office doing research. Well done

Friday, June 17, 2011

"may the cat eat him and the cat be eaten by the devil..."

By Russel D McLean

I am of a generation that grew up with computer games. I remember convincing my parents that buying a Spectrum +2 was the ideal learning tool, when all I wanted was to play Manic Miner. I remember spending hours learning how to program simple adventure games because… well, I’m really not sure why but it seemed a great idea at the time.

These days, of course, I’m a bit more out of touch than most. I am a casual gamer. I don’t like punishing difficulty levels. I like smooth games that reward you while offering a feeling of challenge. I also like games that work to involve you in their world. The best games tell stories, at their heart. Which is why I loved adventure games; they were not just about challenges but about story and character.

My favourite game of the past few years is BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM which had the perfect difficulty level settings and managed to provide gameplay, plot and action in one. It was literally like being able to control the comic books you read as a kid. Hugely exciting and brilliantly done. It was remarkable to play a game that was so immersive, with nothing to pull you out of the experience and none of the usual amateurish attempts at “acting” or “scripting” that seem to be pumped out in so many mainstream games.

Which is a roundabout way of me setting up to talk LA NOIRE, the latest from Rockstar Games (who, I am led to believe had their humble origins here in Dundee) which places you slap bang in the midst of a 1940’s LA playing a police detective in the LAPD who’s not only about to try and solve some heinous crimes, but may just get involved a giant conspiracy that will rock the city to its core.

Oh, and you’ll solve the Black Dahlia case, too.

What strikes immediately about LA Noire is the detail of the game design. The fashions, the feel of the city, everything is note perfect, as much loving recreation as homeage. And yes an element of cliché comes into play, but its so loving, its very welcome indeed.

Gameplay is intriguing and deceptively simple. Most games go for the action and given Rockatr’s background with free-roaming “sandbox” games where you can waste hours between plot points and for casual gamers (like me) this eventually becomes frustrating as you trudge from one place on the map to another with sometimes very little idea as to what you’re doing or why. LA NOIRE is plot based, and you will be guided, but since the plot and acting are so good you won’t care. Much of the time you will drive (mostly obeying the rules of the road, and loving the chance to take in some of that period detail) to designated crime scenes. Upon arrival you’ll search for clues (the controller buzzes when you near one), evaluate their usefulness and use them to build a picture of what happened. You’ll interrogate suspects. Accuse someone of lying and you’ll have to rely on that chain of evidence you’ve been building to show precisely why they’re lying. Doubt them and you’ll be basing your attitude on how you read a suspect’s body language and tone.

Yeah, you read that right. There’s a reason I love this game, and its because they got some real actors and real scripts to work in the game. Because the advancewment on the player is linked directly to how believeable the actors are. Blow your reading of a suspects body language and they’ll give you bad information. And bad information can lead to your boss chewing you out when you screw up a case. Trust me when I say that the chewing out is not pretty and you’ll be wincing when it happens.

LA Noire, according to its creators is roughly equivalent to two series of a TV drama. That’s about right, and accordingly the game is divided into episode-like cases. You’ll work through four detective desks until the final twists and all your skills will be honed and tested by each desk.

Its great fun, and to add to the action, you will spend time shooting, chasing down and generally kicking the crap out of bad guys as the game varies its mechanics to stop you getting bored with the same puzzles over and over.

One action sequence early on impresses, taking place on a massive movie set that’s in danger of collapsing. By the end I was gasping for breath and utterly delighted.

To be fair, after the showstopping finale to your time on homicide, the game seems to slow for a while to the point that I worried about it picking up. But those middle act blues don’t last long and soon you’re caught up again. Because, boss, it’s the story that matters here and as with any good noir book or film, you’re hooked on the characters and place –invested in them.

Which leads to some small problems. A late last act POV switcheroo almost derails the game completely and would never be allowed in a book or movie unless the editors were idiots. But the bravado of the project and the ultimate necessity of this switch more than make up for it. And one puzzle in particular harks back to the free-roaming boredom of GTA etc. But all of these are petty complaints.

With a cast nicked direct from MAD MEN and other quality dramas (you’ll start to say… “isn’t that?” whenever someone appears in game) and a script that’s boldly confident and well above the usual slapdash cuscenes, LA NOIRE is like no other game played before. Its gradient difficulty level means that it might be too easy for veteran gamers, but for someone like me its perfectly pitched. I died more than once but never did I want to take the Xbox and chuck it out the window.

If you’re a crime fan and have a console that’ll play this, go buy LA NOIRE, now. If you don’t have a console find somehow who does, let them buy it and then find a way for them to allow you to spend time along in their living room pretending to be a 1940’s homicide detective.

You’ll thank me for it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ode to My Middle School Teachers

It's the end of the school year, which means I'm really busy and don't have much time to blog this week. I'll get back to it next week. In the meantime, since it's the end of the school year, I wanted to repost an old post of mine... and old to my middle school teachers:

Middle school is where you start to grow up. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade are those hormonal years where you don't understand your own body, you don't understand the world around you, and yet you think you're the coolest thing on earth.

Or you have no confidence whatsoever.

My middle school years weren't any different from that, but I had some really great teachers to help guide me through those years.

I remember learning about developing your own photographs, real hands on stuff. And learning about how to build something from scratch, where you're given a task (build something that will roll ten feet and pop a balloon--using a mousetrap), and you have to come up with a way to complete.

I learned about failure. The balloon didn't pop. Not having the right notebook for a notebook check.

But when failure came, teachers were there to guide me through it. One teacher, right after failing me gave me a new notebook and a guideline of how to pass next time.

And, when the most tragic of events happened--a student in our 8th grade class died--our teachers were there to guide us through.

The day after his death, our teachers were there to talk with us. To help us with our grief. They allowed students to write poems, to discuss their feelings, to hug if it was needed.

And weeks later, when the students went to City Hall to plead for a walkway over the highway where the student died, the teachers watched. They didn't need to say anything. Didn't need to acknowledge it.

But one cut out the news article the next day. Posted it on her bulletin board and just wrote next to it... "I'm proud of you!"

And it was the right amount of care and the right amount of guidance.

Years later, that same teacher gave me the best advice about teaching 8th Grade. She wasn't even talking to me when she said it.

"Sometimes you just want to tell them to act their age," she said. "Then you realize... they are."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Brent Pilkey - Lethal Rage

John McFetridge

There’s a story about Margaret Atwood at a party and a man asks her what she does for a living (the most common question asked at parties in Toronto, I’ve discovered) and when she tells him she’s a writer he says he’s a doctor but he’s thinking he may write a book when he retires. Ms. Atwood then tells him, “That’s so funny, I’m thinking of taking up brain surgery when I retire from writing.”

But the truth is those of us who’ve spent years of our lives trying to be writers do have to admit that sometimes people come along with another successful career and write terrific books.

I thought of this last week when I was asked to introduce the writers at the ECW Evening of Crime and Mystery at the Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore and I realized they were all successful in other professions; medical, legal (law and order) and academia (Mike Knowles thanked me for including him in academia and explained that he teaches 8th grade and his class had gone for ice cream that day).

One of the authors was Toronto Police officer Brent Pilkey, reading from his first novel, Lethal Rage.

The book is the story of a young (but not rookie) cop new to Toronto’s downtown, 51 Division as it’s called, and pulls no punches when it comes to the people -- and crime – in the neighbourhood. This is the same neighbourhood in which the TV show I worked on, The Bridge took place, and like that show, Lethal Rage travels to both sides of the metaphoric bridge. As Pilkey says, “You could go from a neighbour dispute in Rosedale where people are arguing about sharing a driveway with a Lexus and a Jaguar, to going downtown and dealing with a homeless person who just overdosed on who knows what.”

The blurb says:

Filled with drugs, prostitution, and crime, this mystery explores the unglamorous life of a street cop in the rough-and-tumble 51 Division. Jack Warren, a young officer who enters the dangerous downtown streets after working in a virtually crime-free area, is immediately thrown into a brutal war against a crack-cocaine dealer intent on taking over the city’s drug trade. Jack soon discovers that no one is safe from the dealer’s quest for domination when the war turns horrifically personal. Working with the division’s elite major-crime unit, Jack learns there is an imperceptible yet enormous difference between the law and justice—and being a police officer and surviving in the 51.

There was a little controversy before the book was published when Constable Pilkey was told that if it was published he would face disciplinary action. At first the police department said, “The staging of locations and events may be viewed by individuals resident in the area as disparaging and disrespectful, including suggestions of differential policing in the area.” But then, as this article points out, the police department decided not to try and stop the publication, “We have to be alert to people's rights -- to people's freedom -- under the law and in this case we believe it was right to reverse the decision and that’s why we did it.”

And the book is certainly full of cops casually referring to the drug dealers and drug users in all kinds of pejorative ways. Ha, look at that, I just used the word pejorative and now I’m going to say that if there’s one thing I have to complain about this book it’s the sometimes too writerly way the prose is composed. Yeah, the cops call people names but the grammar is almost always correct and the narration around that dialogue is always very proper. Maybe that’s the perfect way to get across the real feel of Toronto, this old-time proper city, more Orange than the Orange Lodge, as it was said for years and now with the new grit and grime emerging. The style can leave you a little distanced from the characters on the street and that may be the point.

Or maybe it’s just the sign of a slightly cautious first novel.

Whatever it is, it leaves you wanting more, so luckily the second book in the series, Savage Rage will be out this fall.

One more thing. We've been talking about the new DSD collection, Collateral Damage and I wanted to explain why my story is called Pulp Life - episode one. It has nothing to do with Star Wars.

The story began its life as the pilot script for a TV show I was pitching last year, what I hoped would be a half hour cable comedy-drama like Weeds or Entourage. It's the story of a crime fiction writer helping an ex-con write a memoir.

The first part of the story is up on my blog, here, and I have a couple more episodes in script form which I may also adapt into short stories.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Finding The Story

By Jay Stringer

You saw the news that we have another collection out, right? You didn't? Damn, you must be blind. Wait, you can't be blind, you're reading this......

...Whatever. Just in case; our collection Collateral Damage Is on sale now. Each story is themed around the topic of Fathers Day. From the buzz of a New Jersey wedding reception, to the cold mean streets of Dundee, we got you covered.

One of the initial plans when we started DSD was to talk a little behind the scenes of writing. So I thought I'd tease you all today with the opening of my story from the collection, then tease you a little more telling you what it was about.


"I think I'm pregnant."

How do you respond to that?

I offered my wife another salted peanut. We were in our local and someone was murdering a 60's country song on acoustic guitar. A special level of hell is reserved for open mic nights. There's only so much Oasis and Rod Stewart I can take without becoming homicidal.

But what had Laura said?

Focus, Miller.

"I'm late. It's been three weeks."

"Are you sure? You eat a lot of fibre, maybe you're just, you know, bunged up."

Not the best thing to say.

She stood up and left. I turned back to the music to hear about someones sex being on fire.


The house was dark and quiet when I got home. I found my mobile phone in the living room.

It was never very mobile.

I'd missed several calls from my best friend, Terry Becker. I could already hear him complaining about it tomorrow. He'd not left any messages, though, so we both failed at the whole phone thing.

I climbed the stairs and stood for a long time in the bedroom doorway. Laura was taking in the slow, peaceful breaths of deep sleep. I watched her for awhile until it started to feel creepy. Then I turned around and headed into the spare room, the one that we'd talked about setting aside as a nursery. It was big and empty, and I realised how much it was going to take for me to fill it.

My throat closed in and my heart climbed up a few inches.

I swallowed it all down and went to bed.


"Ground control to Major Tom."

I lifted my head off the car window. I'd been staring at the scenery as we drove, watching it fly past out of view. Somewhere between Wolverhampton and Bloxwich I'd drifted off into another world.

I turned to smile at Becker, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel as he drove.

He took his eyes off the road long enough to shoot me a look, "you okay?"

I shrugged and looked back out the window. His car was very new and very blue, and something about that was annoying me. I decided maybe it was the smell. I'd never liked the smell of new.

Or maybe it was his CD player. He was offending me with some jazz shite.

Every few months he'd go through a new phase, trying to prove that he was a middle class white man with a brain. He'd buy some new CDs and learn a few new recipes. A few times he'd dragged me along to foreign film festivals at the Electric Cinema in the city.

So far he had missed the point of;

Alternative Country.
Palestinian Food.
Italian Cinema.

When he'd picked me up that morning he'd asked if I'd ever seen a film called Sholay and I didn't think the world was ready for his Bollywood phase. He worked so hard at being something that he wasn't.

Maybe that's why we were best friends.

"Laura thinks she might be pregnant," I looked over at him, watching his eyes jump a little. "She told me last night. She's missed her period."

"Is she sure? Maybe she's just-"

"Don't go there."

He smiled. "You should be happy, it's exciting, yeah?"

I turned back to the window. There were smudge marks on the glass from my hair, and just for a moment it gave the car some character.

"You're not him, you know." Becker's eyes were on the road but his voice was on my past. "You don't have to be your father."

I smiled thinly and nodded.

I couldn't think of anything in the world I was less suited for than fatherhood.

And, as we pulled onto Fishley Farm, I couldn't think of anywhere in the world I less wanted to be.


So there's a taster for you. The main character of the story is also the protagonist of my two manuscripts, Eoin Miller. By the time I come to him in the books, his life has already gone through some major changes. This was a chance to look at him at a different time in his life, when he should have had everything going for him, and see how he dealt with it.

Part of the fun is writing a self absorbed character in first person and finding ways to get across information to the reader that the character doesn't want to give, and I think the opening above does that. We see Miller through the way he treats and judges those closest to him.

The story itself took me an age. I had the story, but I couldn't write it. I had some big big themes running round in my head, filtered from news stories about Gypsy camp evictions like Dale Farm, and from reading a book about the Israel/Palestine wall. Big burning issues that can suffocate a writer.

It wasn't until I remembered that I had some characters I wanted to write about, and that they would have some interesting interactions with each other, that I started to push past theme and find story again.

So I'm proud of my story, Fathers Day, and of the collection. The DSD crew have each stamped their own style and flavour onto the anthology. Check it out.