Saturday, July 30, 2011

All a-Twitter

Scott D. Parker

I started tweeting this week. I’ve had my Twitter account for a while, but found little use in it until now. Ironically, this 21st Century technology is being used to promote stories about the 19th. Western Fictioneers have a new anthology out and I’ve got a story in it. In group discussions, we were figuring out the best ways to promote the new book and Twitter naturally came up. I logged back in and muddled around.

Dang, if it isn’t pretty informative. And fun.

My only problem is the character limitation. 140? Heck, I have introductory clauses that run longer than that.

Anyway, it’s quite easy to see the power of Twitter. Some of the power comes in the form of general information. I follow Nathan Fillion (of Castle and Firefly fame) and he tweets and retweets. One of his messages was from Molly Quinn, the actress who plays his daughter on Castle. She linked to a YouTube collection of videos from the Castle panel at Comic-con last week. For someone like me who didn’t have a chance to go, it was nice to see and hear all the discussion from the panelists and the audience.

The thing is I could have searched for it daily until it popped up online. But, via Twitter and following folks/stars/authors whose work I like, the information came to me. I didn’t have to lift a finger. That’s pretty awesome.

Then there’s the obvious other power of Twitter: getting out the message. That’s what we Western Fictioneers are doing with the new anthology. Every now and then, you could have a gift dropped in your lap. Most of us are not as famous as, say, Nathan Fillion or Lawrence Block. When you look at their Twitter home pages, you see that there are scores more people following them than they themselves follow. But, like a rock in a still lake, they can cause many ripples.

Block tweeted this week that he was reading David Cranmer’s new collection featuring his western heroes Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. Now, I know that David’s a good salesman and does some good promotion, but I can imagine the spike his ebook took on Amazon after Block revealed his reading choice. The power of Twitter. It’s real, and I am only now becoming aware of it.

I know this isn't rocket science, the power of Twitter, but I'm just now noticing it. Guess I'm late to the party. Still, only 140 characters?

BTW, you can follow Do Some Damage here: @DoSomeDamage. Most of us here have accounts. Log in, start twittering, and let us know what you’re reading. BTW, you should be reading Duane Swierczynski’s Fun and Games because it is the monthly selection of DSD’s little book club: I’ve read it and will be giving my review on Wednesday as part of Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club.

Comic of the Week: Batman: Knight of Vengeance #2. This summer, DC is running their Flashpoint story line as (I think) a lead-in to the revamping of all 52 titles in their line. In this alt-history, Barry Allen’s Flash somehow lands in another timeline where things are very different. Many of the heroes we know and love are not present or are altered. Batman is one of the altered ones. His identity is revealed at the end of Flashpoint #1.

There are several spin-off series that flesh out some other aspects of this altered world. One of them is Batman: Knight of Vengeance. It’s written by Brian Azzarello and that alone should be enough to get you to the comic store today. That he teams up with his 100 Bullets alumnus, Eduardo Russo, is even better. It’s amazing what these guys have packed into the first two of three issues. It’s always fun to see characters that we know in other situations. But the bombshell—and I’m not using that word lightly—they dropped on the last page of issue #2 was huge. My mouth literally dropped open and I think I swore.

The Flashpoint series may not be to everyone’s tastes, but this Batman: Knight of Vengeance is one to treasure.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Guest Post: FEAR (by Thomas Kaufman)

(not by) Russel D McLean

Continuing a small, hand-picked guest run here on Fridays at DSD, please welcome another of the pantheon of PI writers to the stage. Thomas Kaufman came to my attention a couple years back with his debut, DRINK THE TEA which introduced the world to Willis Gidney, a crook turned investigator with a cool story behind his name and a natty patter that endears him not just to other characters but to readers as well. In fact, readers were taken enough with Gidney that he's returned in a second novel, STEAL THE SHOW.

Kaufman's not just a talented author, though. Oh, no, he's also an Emmy award winner for his work as a cameraman and director. His work on TV cop documentaries must have helped him to at least some degree on his new career as a crime writer who was nominated by the ITW for best first crime novel. If you want to know more, I'd say go check out the man's website. But make sure you come back and see why today he's decided to talk to Do Some Damage about The Fear...


By Thomas Kaufman

Russel, thanks for letting me guest blog, and also for leaving space in the driveway.

If I may, I'd like to begin today's guest blog with a question for the writers:

What scares the shit out of you?

And let's forget about phobias for a moment, okay? That means no bats, spiders, snakes, vampires, werewolves, tsunamis, or the taxman.

No, I'm talking about something universal, a fear so pervasive that would send chills down the spine of any artist.

A recent study found that most people find their biggest fear is public speaking. Number one! Scarier than death, right? As Seinfeld put it, at a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than give the eulogy.

But why? What makes public speaking so scary? I think it goes to the heart of our biggest fear, which we experience with any kind of performance – including writing a book.
Okay, ready? The biggest fear we have is (drum roll please)

People Will laugh at Me

When you examine the fears of a writer (or any artist, for that matter), you might think the worst someone could do is hate what you do. Or react indifferently. But laughter? Ouch.

This is something we're hard-wired to react to. Example: a person walks past a group of people, maybe three of four, and they spontaneously laugh as that person goes by. Now, it could be someone in the group just told a punch line, but a part of us may think they're laughing at us.

I'm telling you, it's everywhere.

And I think we writers are a bit more susceptible to this kind of fear than most folks, for the simple reason that we put ourselves out there. Let's face it, it takes some ego to write a story and then place it where virtually anyone can read it. The safe thing? Put your manuscript in the desk drawer. That way, no one can criticize it or deride what you've done.

But then there's not much point to writing in the first place. We want the work out there, and we want people to like it. So we're taking this chance.

What we must remember is that the people we respect won't laugh. They may love what we do; they may hate it; but they'll at least see that we've done our best, given it our best shot. Maybe they have helpful criticism. Maybe they're over the moon and plan to tell everyone they meet about your book. But laugh at you? Not bloody likely.

The other thing is that, when you look at the people who got laughed at, you'll see that rejection didn't stop them. So someone laughs. So what? You're still here, doing what you want to do.

When Brian Epstein decided to go to the major recording labels in England, they all rejected the Beatles. This bears repeating: Every single record label in England rejected the Beatles.

When George Lucas pitched STAR WARS, he was turned down by every major Hollywood studio. Did he fold his tent and steal away?

Now, if you happen to be writing something you yourself think is schlock, if it's just a pot-boiler that doesn't interest you, that's a different matter. But if your writing has meaning for you, something that you enjoy, if it 's like the books you like to read, then so what if someone laughs? You weren't writing to please them specifically. And not everyone is going to understand, or even like, what you've written.

But if you still fear the laughter of those who read your stuff, there is one cure-all: self-confidence, the knowledge that what you're writing is good. And that kind of confidence comes with age. So if someone laughs, let 'em. You'll still be here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Names Out Of A Hat

By Jay Stringer

Had an interesting chat with Joelle over the twitters this week. Or was it last week? It was some point this year I'm sure. Or last.

Anyway, we had a chat.

I've been working on the latest draft of my adventure novel. I'm loving how far it's taking me from what regular readers will know of as 'my patch,' and is a world away from the crime fiction I usually write. It's been a blast, but it also brings with it new ways of writing, new challenges.

In my crime fiction names are easy. Firstly, I usually hear a characters voice long before I get round to describing what they look like or what they do, and somehow names seem to follow on easily from that approach. I also tend to use footballers names, if I'm looking for a stop gap that's a simple one to use, and there are plenty of those to adapt and play with. The other thing that stems from my stories set in the midlands is that I'm often fictionalising people and places that I know, a lot of the people in my first two crime books are almost real. I've maybe swapped a few letters around, or taken two people that I know and swapped their names, so a character has the name of one person but the background of another.

Naming has never been an issue.

But with my adventure story I'm writing a different way. I'm having a go at planning out my act structures, I'm looking at plot with a capital P, and I know what roles need filling. Sometimes I'll have a person's role before I have their character. It's not a way I would like to write all the time, but it's fun as part of the yin yang bouncing that brain does between two different projects, and it keeps things fresh.

The problem is, I keep tripping up over names. My protagonist is set in stone. I know her name, I know her character, I know her. The rest of the cast can be a bit fluid, they change names, they change roles, they move around on the board while I look for just the right combination.

For instance, one character is my take on a certain kind of film and pulp staple, a lovable rogue, the Han Solo or Jim Rockford. And so to help me find the characters voice, and to make it different from a similar character I had just written in a much harsher light for my 'realistic' crime fiction, I cast an actor in my head, and then I named the character after one of that actor's most famous roles.

It was an interesting exercise, and one that gave me the characters voice straight away. I now know how he talks, what facial expressions he pulls, what his sense of humour is. But the name had to go. It was too obvious, too on the nose.

Joelle talked about using facebook. But I don't think that quite works for me. Whilst use real people and real names as inspiration in my crime fiction, I find it holds me back in this other style. For the first draft I named a character after a friend of mine, but then I found that, when writing dialogue, I kept getting stuck n the trap of, would my friend say this and forgetting that it should be would my character say this. I was simply writing the guy I knew. So, it was working exactly the same way as using the actor, but it was holding the character back instead of letting him find his feet.

So, how about you guys? What tricks do you use for naming your people, and how does that help you find out who they are?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

2012: Rabbits and the Happy Apocalypse on Shortwave Radio

A Pleasant End of The World Story

John McFetridge

A buddy of mine, Roy Berger, has a new book out on Kindle. It’s not crime fiction, it’s post-apocalyptic – but it is about a guy who owned a bookstore so I figure it's not too much of a stretch to plug it on this blog.

Thre are a lot of post-apocalyptic books out these days but what I really like about Roy’s is the voice. The narrator is clearly going insane and holding on just enough. Sometimes he’s desperate but sometimes he makes jokes. He’s very human.

And there are no zombies.

Roy says, “Within the genre of apocalyptic writing, dismal and dire are often twinned with disaster. I didn't want to write something with people eating babies and drinking sewer water. I was tired of gun blasting zombies and the knights of utter bleak darkness. I wondered if there was such a thing as a Canadian approach? Could it be upbeat? Could it be a whopper of a tale? Could it appeal to the post-modern delinquent man within me? It had to be story driven, never ending. How to bring in contemporary elements, how to cope with science, logic and reason? Could people be influenced to be less dependent? Is there room for a laugh here?”

Here are a few excerpts:

By noon I'd settled on a nice farm. It was a fine white flagstone century farm house with a long gravel driveway. I was attracted to the place in the beginning by its old fashioned independence. The architecture had not gone to waste. The stone walls were straight up. The front door was aligned with magnetic north. The well water was good and the kitchen featured an indoor hand pump. There were a few out buildings and the forest and bush started near by. It was set back from the road and the frontage had a few big trees shading a large pond. I drove the van around to the back. I shouted through a megaphone from the van while approaching the place. The only reaction was a flock of birds that held their breath. I took that castle as my own...

We (him and the dogs) piled in and backed out of the driveway. Shotgun on the dash. Machine gun on the passenger seat. Thirty-two in my side holster. A knife here and there. I was a modern man now. I almost forgot and went back to the living room and picked up a five pound sledge hammer. It was my key to the city. My spear of destiny...

Finally Spring. There was a day in March. I stood on the back veranda feeling a breath of warmth and looked at the blue sky. My throat got stiff. The back of my eyes hurt. I sobbed. I cried. I fell to one knee, holding my gut and crying in great embarrassing sorrow. I stayed that way for a while, rocking back and forth.

In June, no one remembered my birthday, no card, no cake, no present. It didn't matter. I didn't care.

I was in the mood. Time. I stood at the upper bedroom window, felt the handle of the pistol and took aim at the mailbox. I hesitated. The little red flag handle had been down since the last time the owners cleared the box and the mail stopped moving. Certainly since I'd been shooting at it. Now it was different. My trigger finger relaxed. In the last couple of days, since I'd noticed, the flag had been moved to the Up position. That meant mail was delivered. I don't know when the tradition was started. They just did it that way in the rural areas. It was a courtesy so the homeowner didn't have to trek to the roadside on a guess. The rural mail man simply flipped the flag up if he deposited mail and you pushed it back down after retrieving your mail.

I stood there – pistol dangling in my left hand. The other by my side. I flicked my eyes back and forth up and down the road and fields to see if I could observe a bunch of kids playing a practical joke, all giggling in a cluster behind the old crab apple tree. Or maybe the panel falling off a truck and a bunch of glad handing, reality television show executives would come out laughing and hand me a huge fat cheque. I looked around. A squirrel ran halfway up a tree. I looked back at the mail box. If I squinted I could see the white background of something in the box. The flag was still up.

I think this book has an incredibly strong and unique voice. Certainly worth checking out, available for the Kindle here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Death of Jackson Donne

Okay, Jackson Donne's not really dead (no matter Duane Swierczynski's best wishes), but he is resting.

When authors take breaks with their series, they often say the character's voice has gone away. They can't find it anymore. I always thought that was bunk. The character is always there, and there are often new challenges for him or her.

You want to try something else? That's fine. Try something else. But don't tell us the character's voice has gone away. That just writer mumbo jumbo.

Annnnnndddd then I finished THE EVIL THAT MEN DO.

And Jackson Donne's voice went away.

I think it has to do with the ending of EVIL. Donne is left in a place where he's never been before. Upbeat.

There are fewer challenges for him personally. I've tried to shoehorn him into a few stories, but they've fizzled out. Donne is getting older, doing the college thing, and trying to distance himself from being a PI.

But that doesn't mean he can't come back. There are plenty of open-ended ideas that came up in WHEN ONE MAN DIES and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO that could come back and haunt Donne at some point in the future.

But not yet.

What do you writers think? Can a characters voice just go away?

And readers... do you want a series to continue or would you rather a writer takes a break here or there?

Monday, July 25, 2011

You Know You're An Author When You're Getting Screwed

A few days ago, I saw a blog post titled Harlequin Screws Authors. In recent months, that's been the mantra. Boycott Dorchester. MWA Delists Harlequin.

We all know I could go on and on, but that isn't the point.

To be honest, it means shit to me if a publisher gets delisted. Why? Because if I'm already in a contract with them, all the delisting does is hurt me. To break a publishing contract - even with a publisher that's fallen into disrepute - will pretty much kill your career as an author, if you're trying to get signed the traditional way.

It's not a good idea.

The reality is that if you're an author who finds your publisher suddenly falling out of favor and making some shifty moves, you're really just screwed. Like so many Dorchester authors who were first screwed out of their royalties, what followed was being screwed out of legitimacy. No longer eligible for memberships in some organizations, or eligible for award consideration.

And I don't see anyone hiring a lawyer for the authors who still don't have their rights back, or lobbying for better contract terms being mandated in the boilerplate contracts about reversion of rights to authors when publishers stop paying them.

Somehow, the books I wrote that were completely 'legitimate' award contenders and reputable at the time they were published stopped being 'legit' and reputable. And the call to boycott a publisher hurts me, because the end result is that I lose readers.

Now, I'm not saying this because I want to pick a fight with anyone. That isn't my intent. It just that sometimes, it seems like people don't comprehend that the authors aren't the ones who are being helped by these actions. They're being hurt more than anyone.

Enter Amazon, the new favored friend of authors. Particularly unpublished authors who were tired of getting rejection letter after rejection letter, and found an easy, affordable shortcut to being "published".

Don't get me wrong. I was so concerned about the stigma of self-publishing I was resistant, even when long-standing opponents of self-publishing started putting their backlists on Amazon.

And then I took the plunge myself. I got my rights to my first published novel back, and after a few tweaks, put the book up on Amazon.

And you know what? In early August, I will have sold enough copies to earn more than I did for my advance from a New York publisher for WHAT BURNS WITHIN. It's entirely possible that within the first year of being on Amazon, if the sales maintain, SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES will earn more than WHAT BURNS WITHIN, THE FRAILTY OF FLESH and LULLABY FOR THE NAMELESS did from NY publishing deals.

The success of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES motivated me to put HARVEST OF RUINS on Amazon as well.

I'm thankful for Amazon and the e-publishing revolution. It's enabled me to reach a wider audience and gain new readers, while at the same time actually seeing some return for my work.

But that doesn't mean I think Amazon is perfect.

Consider this. If you price your book at 99 cents on Amazon, you get 35% royalties. Or $0.35 per book you sell.

And Amazon covers the 'delivery' charge for the book out of the $0.64 they take.

What that means is that Amazon covers their costs, including delivery, for $0.64 per book.

However, they don't allow authors to take a bigger royalty unless they price their book at $2.99. At $2.99, the 70% royalty to authors is $2.09 per copy sold.

Which means Amazon is getting $0.90 per book.

More than they got off the 99 cent book.

And they do charge a delivery charge now. So they're getting even more.

But what really gets me is the fact that all the books priced between $0.99 and $2.98 are left at the 35% royalty rate.

That means when I sell a book for $1.99, I get 70 cents. Amazon gets $1.29, which is more than double the amount they need to cover their costs.

It isn't fair to compare Amazon to a publisher, either. Publishers invest in editing, handle the formatting, printing, uploading, distribution arrangements, accounting and cover design, and theoretically should help promote your book.

All Amazon does is let your book be sold, and pay you your cut.

And when I had a publisher, I had an editor. Hell, I also had an agent in the mix. If there was a problem with a book, I had people I could contact. You know, I knew their names. I had phone numbers.

Amazon? It's a machine. I'm a number in their system, and that's all.

Authors are screwed by publishers every day. I won't deny that, and I won't downplay it, either. However, I have to admit I find it annoying when people praise Amazon like it's treating authors so wonderfully, and contrast Amazon to the publishers they're thumbing their noses at.

Amazon has enabled me to reach new readers, a much wider audience, and to earn a respectable amount of money for my books. I am grateful for that, and excited about this option, but that's all it is, and it's always been clear to me that Amazon is in business to make money, not for the love of books. If it was to their advantage to stop self-publishing authors tomorrow, I'd be back to square 1, searching for a new publisher.

We need to stop comparing apples and pancakes when we talk about publishing. And we also need to be more pragmatic, and understand the business side of the equation.

And readers? If you really want to see prices kept reasonable, you need to hope that Amazon creates a new royalty bracket, one that lets authors earn 50% royalties for e-books priced between $1.19 and $2.98. Anyone with an e-book in that price range might not be getting screwed by a publisher, but they are still being screwed by their vendor.

It isn't a perfect world, and I know that change won't happen overnight, but the organization that will push for these types of changes that actually help authors is the one worth joining.

It's easy to strike a name off a list when they don't measure up; it's much harder to actually lobby and bring about constructive change.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eating my peas

by: Joelle Charbonneau

President Obama made a statement this week that captured my attention. I’m not going to quote the statement, but the gist of it was that it was time for America to eat our peas. He was referring to the whole debt ceiling debacle and no I don’t plan on debating the merits of the politics behind it here. Needless to say, I am certain we all have our own political opinions and there are better forums to debate them. However, I bring up the statement because the words “eat our peas” and the idea that sometimes people have to put on their big kid pants and do things they don’t want to do got my attention.

Now, I personally like peas, especially raw ones right out of the garden, but I get the point. In fact, this week more than any other I really get the point. I’m been working on this manuscript for the past two months. It’s one that is out of my comfort zone, but I have pushed myself to write it and more important I’ve pushed myself to really set goals for writing it. I’m aware that I have several books under contract that need to be written and I want to make sure that I can hit my writing goals in order to meet those contractual obligations.

Anyway, last Monday I started writing the final section of the book. YAY! I was tearing along typing lots of words and late on Monday night my gut told me something was off. But I wasn’t ready to listen. I chugged along on Tuesday and logged even more words. Wednesday same story. I watched the page count and word count rise and could feel myself getting closer and closer to THE END.

Only, it felt wrong.

Have you ever had that experience? Where the story just didn’t click for you? Up until that point everything was firing on all cylinders. Yes, there are things that I need to clean up in the editing phase, but the foundation and the main character and plot points were all clicking. And then they weren’t.

Now, the next part should be a no brainer. Just go back to where the story stopped clicking and start over. My mind told me that is what I needed to do, but deleting the 6,600 words that I’d written since that point felt like failure. Worse yet, it put me behind on my goals. So I spent several hours trying to figure out how to fix those words. To no avail. After much agonizing, I finally decided it was time to eat my peas, delete the crap and get back to telling the story the way it needed to be told.

Sometimes as writers we are so concerned with page count and word count and all the measures of a story reaching completion that we shove aside our concerns about the story until after the story has been told. We wait until the editing phase to fix the problems. Often that shoving to the side is a good thing otherwise we might pick the details apart so much that we never get to THE END. However, this week has taught me that a writer has to listen to their gut when it tells them the story has gone off the rails. That’s the time you do the grown up writer thing, eat your peas, and get the story back on track no matter how much you might hate to do it.