Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Reading/Writing Scales

Scott D. Parker

As writers, we are told the two basic tenants of our vocation: read and lot and write a lot. So what does it mean when you find yourself reading more than you write?

I've always liked to keep the reading and writing balanced. Make sure I get my writing done before the evening, I tell myself, and that will allow me to read without guilt. Heh. Writing that last word, "guilt," is a funny thing. I don't believe in guilty pleasures. If something brings you pleasure, then it should not be considered guilty. Thus, I embrace "CSI: Miami," "Project Runway," KISS, and old comic books with open arms.

That twinge of guilt gets to me sometimes when I don't have a productive writing day. Or, truth be told, when I don't have a writing day. In dealing with some stuff this month, I've unfortunately trended to reading more than I write. School starts again on Monday and my nice, quiet schedule of writing in the two-hours ahead of 8:00 am is vanishing. It was a good summer, although I didn't get all that I wanted to do complete. This past week, instead of writing, I've been reading. In the past two weeks, I've blazed through the two John Lange books from Hard Case Crime (Grave Descend and Zero Cool), Don Winslow's The Gentlemen's Hour, Gerald So's ebook, Stones, and started in on the original Conan stories by Robert E. Howard. And it's been a blast.

But does the more reading/less writing trend mean I'm not a writer? Not really (I hope). I learn from everything I read and am exposed to. Heck, my wife and I are playing catch up with "Mad Men." We've gone through the first two seasons and, as of last night, are three episodes into season three. This is a fantastic show, and I've learned some good stuff about writing and pacing. The pacing in the Lange books is pretty darn swift. I found myself taking note of structure and style that, while forty years old, can still be applied to my own stuff. Winslow is a crafty storyteller, jumping in and out of character POVs in a way that I just don't do but, perhaps, should. So's C. J. Stone stories are so evocative of the 1930s that it led me to a question: do you think the adventurers of the 1930s knew they were living in a seemingly special time?

I don't believe in guilty pleasures. I happily turn my brain off when I see movies or watch television. But I *am* learning, no matter what I'm doing. True, it's not making prose, but the reading is rewiring my brain, connecting synapses in new ways. And, when I sit down and write, I find that I'm trying new things or that something I considered a bit off is now in line.

I guess I go through phases where one side of the reading/writing scale tips up or down. Not a bad thing, the gentle swaying of the scale's momentum. Like the character's in Winslow's book who live to surf, I just ride the wave I'm given.

Song of the Week/Month/Summer: "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" by Creedence Clearwater Revivial. I honestly never knew this song until Casey Abrams, a contestant on American Idol, sang it. I loved his version, and then sought out the original. I've been in a late 60s, early 70s music vibe this summer and this is my favorite song. (The other one is "These Eyes" by The Guess Who.) I listen to it at least once a day. I even found the guitar tabs and can now play it. The only problem: I sing not well. But I still belt it out. Y'all know this one?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My Latest Last Chance

By Jay Stringer

This week completes a trilogy of sorts. Me blogging about not having a laptop. Today I'm writing this from my very own shiny macbook after it's returned from the hospital. As long as it holds up, then we'll have some more podcasts for you again soon, and I'll be catching up on all the work that's been missed.

But first, I have a few thoughts to get out there. And this one is pretty much writing itself as I think aloud. To quote Ed Hamell, "got a whole lotta things running round my head."

I wrote awhile back about my decision to take a few careful steps back from the Internet. I wondered what would happen, and whether a net presence was as helpful for writers as we all think. You know what? I found not only that I became better at choosing when to speak, but also that people were more interested when I did. In the first few days after my laptop died, I started to tweet more regularly again, and people commented, "good to see you back."I picked up more followers while I was holding back, and got retweeted more often. It seems that not talking is as important as talking.

What strikes me is that we all know this already. We know from our writing that what we choose to leave out is as important as what we choose to put on the page. When it comes to marketing ourselves, though, we go a different route. Why not simply apply the same rules that we write by to the way we out ourselves out there. Less is more. Show, don't tell. Leave things out. Kill your favourite scenes.

Lurking on twitter really rammed home certain things. What is this obsession with writers deciding to tell us they #amwriting? I would have thought that simple fact was obvious by the fact that you've made text appear on a computer screen. Would you have a character stating things so obvious to a reader? No. So why are you doing it? Every day I'm seeing updates. "Today I've written 3k words, OMG." Why? People really don't need to know, "Holy shizbits, today i typed and typed until I saw the face of the baby Jesus on the screen." And this isn't just me shooting down others. If this is a meeting of tweetaholics anonymous then I'm raising my hand. Today I tweeted my progress on a particular chapter.

Why? Why? Why?

I don't see car salesman going on and saying, "hoooboy, sold three and a half cars today #amselling." Dinner ladies don't have a #amservingdumplings. Maybe the world would be a better place if the porn industry was on their telling us they #amscrewing.

And maybe all of these people are on there. Maybe I'm just not seeing these things.

But writers, here's my thing; People don't care what you are writing. They care what you have written. Stop looking for a round of applause at the fact that you've put one word in front of another, and come back to us when you've put a beginning, a middle and an end into a workable order and have a story to sell.

The other thing I discovered during my period of #amnotwriting is that people on the twitters? They like to shout. And they want to shout at you. More than once I've stopped following someone based on an outburst on twitter, and I'm sure far more often than that people have stopped following me when my political views or social leanings have become more apparent. This very week I saw another side of a writer I'd had great respect for, and my interest in the work has suffered.

In an ideal world we could always separate the person and their views from their work. And every time I sit down to write, I work hard to try and remove myself and my ideals from my characters. But if we can't hold back from letting these things spill over into our public ramblings, are we really selling ourselves?

Or maybe people want that. What do you say? Do you prefer to know whether a writer/actor/journalist shares your views before you pick up their work? Is that part of you decision making, and if so, how much would you say it affects your choices?

It seems to me that the more you think about what you say, the more you approach your web presence as you would your prose, the more likely you are to attract and keep readers. The more you give in to the dark side, and shoot lasers from your hands into the keyboard, the more damage you're going to do.

So that's my new rule, and one that I think would go a long way. Take all of the rules you've learned about writing fiction, and apply them to everything you do on the net.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Zero Cool Summer Reading

John McFetridge

This week I'm on vacation in Sandra Ruttan's old stomping ground of the Muskoka region of Ontario. I'm having a great time but I wish I could be in Belfast tomorrow at the No Alibis bookstore to hear Declan Burke and Adrian McKinty read fom their newest novels, Absolute Zero Cool and Falling Glass. Both books are terrific and...

Well, here, if you haven't already click on over to Declan's blog and read all about it and then buy the books.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

There's Some Stuff You Should Buy

Lots of cool stuff came out this week, and I want to make sure you know about it:

The Chaos We Know and e-book anthology by good ol' Keith Rawson.

Pulp Ink an e-Book anthology featuring stories by Al Guthrie and Chris F Holm to name a few.

250 Things You Should Know About Writing by the best writing blogger there is: Chuck Wendig.

Southern Gods, a novel by John Hornor Jacobs


Stones by Gerald So.

Check 'em out. You'll get more out of these pieces than you would have if I had blabbed about what's on my mind this week.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Traveling Through The Dark

By Steve Weddle

So the other day we got a little internet chatter going about some poems.

I was talking to someone about the short piece I wrote for the D*CKED anthology, which should be out any day now. Then I had that nagging oven-left-on feeling. Turns out, William Stafford's poem "Traveling through the Dark" probably had some impact on my story. Here, let me get out of the way for a second.
Traveling through the Dark By William Stafford

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.

By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.

My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.

The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.

I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.

William Stafford, “Traveling Through the Dark” from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems (St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1998).
Awesome, right?

First, let me be perfectly clear here. I realize someone is likely to say, "Weddle, I knew William Stafford. I taught with William Stafford. Weddle, you're no William Stafford." Yeah. I got that. Second, if the estates of these poets I'm going to mention have a problem with my quoting their poems, I'll fix the problem. Third, what the hell was I going on about?

Four of my eleven "followers" on Twitter thought this sounded like a cool poem. And ain't it, though? When I taught college, we'd go over this one for at least a day, talking about the images, the sounds, the rhythm -- all the things that make this exact ending unavoidable. I had a discussion once in which I compared this one to Seamus Heaney's "Mid-Term Break."

Aside from the car accident aspect of each, these poems have a similar build to closing, an inevitable waltz across the cliff's edge. I suppose it wasn't until recently I'd begun to consider these poems in a (forgive me) "noir light."

I'd prefer to present a few poems here rather than peel each one apart until nothing remains, if that's all right with you folks.

In the Twitter discussion last week, I mentioned a couple other poems. One has one of the most beautiful, rhythmic openings I've ever encountered in contemporary American poetry.
That year of the cloud, when my marriage failed,
I slept in a chair, by the flagstone hearth,
fighting my sleep,
and one night saw a Hessian soldier
stand at attention there in full
regalia, till his head broke into flames.
-- from "River Road" by Stanley Kunitz
This one, too, builds to something unavoidable, though something more internalized than the other two poems, I think. And this seems key to successful noir. Whether you have mob shoot-outs or back-alley knifings or Cthulu-crawling riverboats, the inner pain has to be of more consequence than the pain to your innards. When the narrator is walking through the woods, cataloging each "mud-puddled nursling" against "the deep litter of the years" then you'd best pay attention.

Andrew Hudgins's poem "Praying Drunk" reminds me of a Raymond Carver short story. Not any story in particular, just the Platonic ideal of Carver story. Maybe someone telling a story at a party where two middle-aged couples are getting drunk around a table.

When I was twelve, I’d ride my bike
out to the dump and shoot the rats. It’s hard
to kill your rats, our Father. You have to use
a hollow point and hit them solidly.
A leg is not enough. The rat won’t pause.
Yeep! Yeep! it screams, and scrabbles, three-legged, back
into the trash, and I would feel a little bad
to kill something that wants to live
more savagely than I do, even if
it’s just a rat.

Noir becomes successful when it fires on a number of cylinders--humor and horror, fear and farce. Seems to me that all these poems succeed because they do what the best noir does -- give you a little hope and then beat punch you in the throat with that hope. I'm thinking in particular of Ray Banks, Christa Faust, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Donald Ray Pollock, John Hornor Jacobs, Dennis Lehane, Lawrence Block, Sarah Grann, and a handful of others. If you're in the mood to cruise around the internet, library or bookstore for poems, you might also check out Anne Sexton, Stephen Dunn, and Laura Kasischke.

Whether you're dealing with the noir fiction on the Noircon tables or the poetry anthologies in the college classroom, there's a similar type of understanding that comes from traveling through the dark.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Where the heck did summer go?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Okay, I know that you hear people say this all the time, but HOLY CRAP where did summer go? I mean, just the other day I was writing a blog post about summer goals and suddenly September is right around the corner. What the heck happened?

The good news for me is that I’ve managed to hit all of my summer goals and the coming of fall means really awesome stuff. The most exciting of which is my toddler’s first encounter with school. Pre-school starts in a couple of weeks, which means twice a week I get 2 ½ hours of free time in my mornings. YAY! There’s also a bunch of library author events, Bouchercon (which is you haven’t registered to go – do it! It is awesome.), and the release of SKATING OVER THE LINE.

Yeah – cool stuff is coming in the fall, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for the summer to be over yet. I still have a to-do list a mile long and a TBR pile that is getting larger by the day. If someone can figure out a way to expand summer to last until I get through both of those, I’m willing to pay. I can even pay in homemade baked goods if you’d like.

But since I fear there is no way to stop the passage of time and the fast approaching fall months, I’d like all of you to take a moment to tell me what you are looking forward to this fall. Are you going on a fabulous vacation that will make all your friends drool with envy? Is there a book hitting shelves that you are dying to get your hands on? Do YOU have a book or a story launching in the next couple of months that you want to tell everyone about? If you have a horn to toot, this is the place to let it fly. Give me the rundown on what you are most looking forward to during the upcoming fall months. Perhaps with enough cool stuff approaching, I won’t be sad when the end of summer arrives.