Saturday, September 24, 2011

Let me introduce myself


Scott D. Parker

Introducing new characters into established universes is always tricky. Three television shows I watch performed this trick this week, mostly with good results.


My favorite show on TV (supplanting CSI: Miami, a close second) had two issues to tackle: the injury of a major character and the introduction of a new one. In the closing moments of last season, Detective Kate Beckett was shot by a sniper. This was a day or so after her commanding officer, Captain Roy Montgomery, sacrificed his life to save hers and the conspiracy of which he was a part. Beckett lived, of course, and, by the time she returned to the squad room, Montgomery’s replacement was in place. Montgomery’s chair is now occupied by Victoria Gates, AKA “Iron Gates,” formerly of Internal Affairs.

In a show like Castle, there is the comfort of conformity. It’s, frankly, one of the more appealing things about the show. You pretty much know what you’re going to get each week: twisty mystery, fun banter between Castle and Beckett, a cast that is greater than the sum of its parts, and generally a good time. Real world aficionados point out that Castle would have been kicked out of the station as soon as his ride along time was done, no matter that he knows the mayor. You could make an argument that the show got just a little too comfortable.

Enter Victoria Gates, AKA “Iron Gates,” late of Internal Affairs, played by Penny Johnson Jerald. If I learned one thing from her stint as Sherry Palmer on “24,” it’s that she can play the hard-ass with the best of’em. Man, she was good in that show. Like any good villain, you loved to hate her. As soon as the writers bumped off Captain Montgomery, you knew that they next captain was going to be different and, likely, more of a stickler. It’s what writers do: create conflict. Now, the entire squad room has some conflict. Some fans don’t like it because it moves them out of their comfort zone. I think she’ll be a good addition to an already stellar show.


I gave up on CSI last year. As a devoted fan of CSI: Miami, the original naturally lost much of what made it special when William Peterson left. Lawrence Fishburne was a good replacement, but his character’s backstory—while interesting—started to darken an already dark show. CSI: Miami knows where it’s bread-and-butter is: scantily clad pretty people and lots of them. CSI owes its popularity to gruesomeness. As the years piled on, the gore piled on also. The storylines last year just got too dark and, with other options on Thursdays, I stopped watching.

Enter D.B. Russell played by Ted Danson. Yes, Sam is now a cop. Where I greeted Penny Jerald’s casting in Castle with a knowing nod, Danson’s casting was one of curiosity and not a little skepticism. How in the world would he fit into this show that, last I saw it, was pretty darn bleak. Answer: he brings a certain amount of light to the show.

Russell is a family man, constantly on the phone with his wife in the season premiere. He has a funny quirkiness about him, asking about farmer’s markets and things decidedly non-police like. TV cops can sometimes not have much of a personal life. Russell apparently does. But character traits are one thing. What would it be like to have Danson occupying the character himself? All skepticism vanished when CBS released a short promo video ahead of Wednesday’s premiere. It was Danson’s Russell trying to get a kid to open up about a shooting/murder he, the boy, witnessed. Like David Caruso in his first time as Horatio Caine back in 2002 in a similar situation, Danson’s chemistry instantly grabbed me. What was curiosity was now necessary. I was going to watch CSI again. And Russell has already shaken up that lab room, too, but in a much more nuanced way.

Harry’s Law

First things first: I was a huge fan of Boston Legal. I loved the over-the-topness of William Shatner, the passion of James Spader, and the quirkiness of the rest of David Kelly’s cast (Really, does he know any different?). So, when Harry’s Law bowed last spring, it was a lock for me to try it out. Kathy Bates was there to utter Kelly’s brilliant prose, and the supporting cast—including Nate Corddry (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Christopher McDonald as Denny Crane Tommy Jefferson, and Paul McCrane as the DA—was fantastic.

Enter…a bunch of people. Harry’s law firm went from two lawyers, a secretary, and a law student (season 1) to, well, “Boston Legal.” Now, Harry has moved into a huge loft with lots of open space, her adversary/friend, Jefferson, is there, as is a new lady lawyer and Mark Valley playing Brad Chase Oliver Richard. I’m used to the way Kelly writes and his directors direct and his camera folk do their thing. And I never tire of seeing good actors speak Kelly’s lines. But I kinda liked the smaller version from Season 1. In this case, Kelly’s partially done with Harry’s Law the thing that dooms some movie sequels: just take what was good and double it. I’ll still watch, but some of the charm is gone with all these new characters.

Are there shows y’all watch that have introduced characters in a good or bad way? Do the new conflicts make you like the show more or turn you away?

Song of the Week: Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” – Boy, this song just struck me immediately. Melodic (a sometime rare thing nowadays) and catchy.

Tweet of the Week: The paradox of modern superhero comics: Stories created for children now aimed at cynical adults. Any wonder there's an identity crisis?

--- A. Lee Martinez (SF author)

As much as I’m enjoying DC Comics New 52 titles—this week’s favorites so far as Batman and Birds of Prey—there’s some stuff I don’t like. This is a topic for another post, but Mr. Martinez writes some good posts on this topic. This was merely one of many.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Start the Fans Please!"*

By Russel D McLean

So yeah I’m a little late this week. And yes I missed the last two weeks. Mostly because I was away. Away on tour of Scotland and then St Louis. Normal service will resume when jetlag sorts itself.

But meanwhile…

Ahhh, St Louis.

This year’s Bouchercon was one of the slickest yet; brilliantly planned and executed by the Clan Jordan once again, with Jon Jordan taking the head this time after Ruth did Baltimore. But more than anything this year I realised how much Bouchercon is a group effort. The chair is vital and important in the feel and atmosphere of the con, but it’s the teams of volunteers who really get things swinging. I only helped out a little this year, but I could see precisely why these guys deserve far more credit than they get. From swinging several thousand bookbags to dealing with jerky moderators (like me) on the panels, they do a lot of work for a little reward. And we should thank them for it.

So part of this post goes out to Jon Jordan, without whom there would have been no Bouchercon 2011 at all. Part of it goes to David Thompson, who was supposed to be co-chairing this year before he tragically passed away a little under a year ago now. Part of it goes to Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik who do so much work and make everything seem so effortless.
But most of it goes to the volunteers. The fans. The people whose passion and dedication mean that authors like me can, for at least a few days, feel like what we’re doing means something to people. The people who we really write for. The people who challenge us as much as they validate us. The people without whom there would be no panels, no audiences, no sales figures, no nothing.

I was delighted this year to meet far less “wannabe” writers than usual, to meet people who really just wanted to read, love and enjoy the works produced by the writers present. After all, if we're all writers, then who are we writing for?

I’m going to talk about the experience of Bouchercon over on my own blog
( very shortly, but in the meantime, I just wanted to say how much all authors appreciate the fans who do so much for them and ask so little in return except for us to do what we set out to do in the first place; entertain them.

So to the readers, the volunteers, the fans, I say, thank you. Without you, there would be no point and no reason to attend Bouchercon or any other event.

Above, a picture of me and two spectacular readers I met at this year's con – Dan and Kate Malmon. And yes, I think they were having to prop me up after a long session at the bar…

*Anyone from the UK of a certain generation will be tempted to yell that title in an imitation of Richard O Brien on The Crystal Maze. Anyway from the US will probably just be confused.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Words, No Time

By Jay Stringer

Honestly? This wasn't the post I sat down to write. And it's not much of a post at all. Danny Bowman challenged me a couple of week ago to write about the ending of Blood Meridian, a subject that I'm periodically obsessed with. I had half a mind to write that, but today wasn't the right day.

Then I figured I would do a follow up to my 'New 52' post of a couple weeks ago. I've got thoughts on how digital reading has changed the way I pick up my comics, and some titles that I really recommend folks try.

But then, then I got caught up on a news story that kicked me in the gut. And I started following it live, and thinking back to an article by Steve Earle that's one of the most moving things I've ever read.

So I'm leaving you with that today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Howmuchwhodunnit in your whodunnits

Years ago on a family vacation I asked my sister if I could borrow the mystery novel she was reading and she said, okay sure, could be a few days. I said, “A few days, you’re on the last page,” and she said, no, “I’m just starting, I always read the endings first.”

She went on to explain that she wanted to find out if she was going to like the book before she set aside the time she’d need to read it. “But what about the mystery,” I said and she said, “Oh, that’s not the important part.” Then she went on to explain that she liked the characters (it was a Kathy Reichs novel, I think) but she knew they’d catch the killer in the end and she didn’t want to be distracted wondering if she was collecting all the relevant clues as she read. She said she liked to read the scenes with the killer knowing that was the killer and knowing he’d get caught.

It was a eureka moment for me. At the time I was adding to my rejection letter pile for the second novel I’d written (actually I was pinning them to the wall above my desk – oh, for the days of the actual paper rejection letter). It was a private eye novel and the best rejection letters said the character was pretty good but the mystery wasn’t involving enough.

But now my sister had shown me that the mystery didn’t need to be there at all. All those complicated clues and red herrings and little bits of information hidden just deeply enough for the reader to pick up didn’t have to be there at all.

It was liberating. I realized I could write a novel that worked the way most police work does – it’s not about figuring out who did it, it’s about collecting evidence that can used in court. So we can follows detectives and we can follow the criminals. The reader can even be out ahead of the characters.

And now, someone’s done a study that shows spoilers don’t spoil the story at all, the actually make the stories more enjoyable.

This article in Wired explains it a lot better than I can.

Though I’m never going to tell my sister that she was right all along, that’s just not what brothers do.

But now I have to admit that this not worrying about clues and mysteries has come back to bite me in the ass, so to speak. Last week I was at a meeting with a nework exec talking about the outline to the TV show pilot I’d written and the big problem is that the clues and the mystery are either too obvious or so hidden it feels like cheating.

So, which one is worse? A mystery that’s too easy to figure out or one that’s impossible?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is Chick Lit no longer chic?

Benoit Lelievre writes fiction and blogs over at Dead End Follies. Do yourself a favor and follow what he does.

By Benoit Lelievre

Polly Courtney (pictured) made the news this week by leaving her publisher (Harper friggin’ Collins) for condescending behavior. They referred to her novels as “chick lit”. Ms. Courtney claimed that her books were “commercial fiction” sure, but not “chick lit” or “women fiction”. That led to a lot of discussions over blogs and on Twitter, with female book bloggers. I just wonder what the fuck is the problem?

A female blogger told me yesterday “Men don’t have a fiction genre; it’s condescending to trap women into one”. Wait a minute. Nobody’s trapped. The existence of “chick lit” doesn’t force women readership to read only that and I’m sorry, but men do have their own genre and it’s called pulp fiction. Noir, if you want. And this is a genre that’s been frowned upon and treated like dirt. Before continuing, I want to specify that I know some women have been writing pulp fiction novels and some damn good ones. But chicks like Christa Faust, Hilary Davidson and Megan Abbott are women in a man’s world. Much power to them, but they're a clear minority.

Your traditional James Cain/Jim Thompson is really as manly as literature can get. Every woman is a venomous vixen or a helpless girl in dire need to be saved (sometimes both at the same time), everybody’s out to get you and the only way to go is down. There has been a wider array of noir themes, but this is the basics. Like for “chick lit”, the girl just got dumped by a disinterested boyfriend, sulks around and then magically stumbles upon the perfect guy. Once again, it’s a genre. It’s literature with a set of loose guidelines. You will find the male pendant of “chick lit” readers in your local bookstore’s mystery section, browsing Vachss, Guthrie, Thompson, Westlake, Smith, Cain, Piccirilli, Burke, etc.

But it’s not called “man lit”. While I can get behind it called noir, I have difficulty with the term “pulp fiction”. THAT, in my humble opinion, is pretty condescending. Sure, I understand the origins of the term. It goes back to the era where hardboiled/noir was published in cheap magazines and being good business for publishers. The pulp magazines era was a very good one for noir. But as it is for many terms, its meaning started drifting over time and it acquired a negative connotation. Not to us, pulp aficionados, but to everybody else. It’s considered a low form of art, something unsophisticated. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you watch Nicolas Winding Refn’s adaptation of James Sallis’s novel DRIVE. Making extensive use of every cinematographic tricks in his bag, Refn describes Driver’s bleak reality with subtlety and almost tenderness. He makes Irene warm and inviting and he plunges him in darkness more often than not, whenever he’s at the wheel. He makes Driver’s world slow down whenever he’s doing a reflex-oriented task. Really, Ryan Gosling doesn’t say much throughout the whole movie because like in any good noir, his characters talks little and acts when it’s important (taking questionable decisions, of course). DRIVE is a film noir and a beautiful work of art. There’s nothing cheap or “pulpy” about it.

I’m sorry Polly Courtney, but I can’t take you seriously. Your books are called “chick lit”, so what? They’re books about women, having problems that male readers can’t really identify with. What’s the problem with that, since most of your readership is female anyway? It sounds fair to me. I never heard Sophie Kinsella complain about it? “Chick lit” sells. You’re not the one who should be worried about how your genre is perceived.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Assault, by Any Other Hand

I'm having a weird convergence of movie-related thoughts. The other night Brian and I were watching Eddie And The Cruisers, and as Eddie got out of the car and walked around to open the door for Joann, I wondered if we've lost something in our society. Not a patronizing, "You're too weak to open the door yourself," thing, but a gesture of recognition. An outward expression that shows you respect someone, no different than holding the door open for someone entering behind you (whether they're male or female) or saying, "Excuse me," when you walk in front of someone.

Yesterday, we went to see Drive. I could cheat a post just giving it the high praise it deserves and encourage everyone to see it asap. It's very solid, and I don't have anything to criticize that's specific to Drive. I liked all the parts I could keep my eyes and ears open for.

However... there is this one little scene. You know the one. The one when secrets are revealed, and in that moment of revelation, the woman shows the world her emotion by slapping the guy across the face.

That really pissed me off. It's something I've developed a real pet peeve about. Movie after movie, show after show, some woman loses it and smacks a guy, and he just takes it.

Maybe it's because Brian knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of a backhander (not from me). Maybe it's because of how hard we try to teach the kids to solve their problems with words, not their hands. Maybe it's because the Casey Anthonys of the world are all the proof we need that we should never assume that mothers are always the best caretakers of children.

I mean, did you know that "according to the American Anthropological Association, more than 200 women kill their children in the United States each year."

I know that the reason we end up with stereotypes and cliches in our movies and books is because they often have some degree of truth to them. Certain phrases, ahem, hit the nail on the head in a way that other words don't, and sometimes, when people try too hard to avoid a cliche it's actually jarring because it doesn't work. I understand that.

I'm just tired of the stereotypical slap across the face being a substitution for real emotional expression in a drama.

And more importantly, I'm tired of it being so routine, so commonplace, that it seems to be acceptable. It isn't acceptable for men to hit women, and it isn't acceptable for women to hit men, either.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Conference fun and goals wrap-up

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Today is the final day of Bouchercon. I’ve looked forward to the conference all year and will be thrilled, sad and exhausted when I arrive home tonight. Conferences are great for a number of reasons. You get to meet your favorite authors in person, network with other writers and industry professionals and get the buzz up close and personal about what is going on in the publishing industry. And face it – conferences are fun! If you haven’t had a chance to attend a conference – either a regional or national one – you’re missing out.

At some point in the near future, I plan on giving you a rundown of this year’s Bouchercon experience complete with photos. I’m certain the photos of the charity bowling tournament will be worth clicking over and taking a peek. Until then, I want to circle back to something I wrote about earlier this year – summer goals.

The summer is about over. It is time to check in and see who has met their summer goals. I am pleased to say that I finished the project I was working on, sent it off to my agent, did revisions on it and have moved onto the next project. How about you? Did you meet the goals you set for yourself this summer? If not, I’d like for you to share that, too, because we don’t always hit our goals. Life often gets in the way. We’ve all had it happen and all writers have to remember that no matter how much we want to get the job done, sometimes we just can’t make our deadline. That’s when we pick ourselves up, set a new deadline and get to work.

So share your triumphs and disappointments here. I’m looking forwards to reading them once I return home from Bouchercon, St. Louis!