Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Bourdain Quatrain

Scott D. Parker

(My normal Friday routine has been thrown off with the first of two performances tonight in my church play. I thought I'd update a post from my personal blog I wrote back in 2009 and see what everyone has to contribute.)

Every Monday night, I have sex with my television.

That's probably crude, but it's the best way I can describe the visceral reaction I get when I watch Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel. Each week, the former chef and current author showcases a country or a city and finds those out-of-the-way places where truly good food lives. I could have just devoured a seven course meal with me burping out the extra gases and I'd *still* want to eat whatever Bourdain's eating. The show (and the photography) is just that good.

During the intro of the show, you hear Bourdain's mission statement: "I travel. I write. I eat. And I'm hungry for more." I marvel at his ability to distill his life down to four sentences. Makes me wonder about the other parts of his life (wife? child?) that he leaves out.

And each week I start thinking about my own four lines. What would I write? I revel in being a husband and a father. What would those be? I husband. I sire(d). Not very poetic. The former sounds too much like taking care of farm animals and my wife definitely is not a farm animal.

I love listening to music and find an immense amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from music (listening to KISS's Sonic Boom as I edit this). However, "I listen" is not very exciting and mostly something that's passive even if I do play steering-wheel guitar doing seventy along the tollway, windows down, music blasting.

I write but my output in recent days/weeks has been anemic. However, I'm modestly turning that output around. Nonetheless, it's how I see myself (day job = technical writer; future job = published author) so I'll go ahead and keep "I write". No, I'm not copying Bourdain.

I read. A lot. So, I guess I'd better put that in there. Two down. One line to go.

Back to the husband/father thing: I love being a dad and a husband. It's one of the things that defines me so it has to stay. The one thing that cements these two different halves of my emotional output is love. It's the love that makes my days so happy and blessed. When it comes to life, I'm an optimist largely because I have a big heart. Okay, so I guess what I'm saying, cheesy though it may be, is that "I love" is likely the third part of this little exercise.

I love. I read. I write.

What about the last line? We writers always try for the trick ending, the Twilight-Zone-esque gotcha that leaves readers smiling, frowning, or hurling the book across the room. You know what I mean, right? I hated the ending of Heminway's A Farewell to Arms but I still remember it. And, yes, I did throw it across the room. Anyway, Bourdain's last line is a gotcha ending. It's his riding-into-the-sunset moment. He's not content to sit and be. He's still searching, as I do. However, he uses the word "hungry," a word with dual meaning for him, a chef, a writer, and a traveler.

What could my closing line be? I could be corny and say "And I'll write my own ending" but that rubs up against some major theological issues. In that spirit, however, is this sentiment: I'm eager to turn the page on life, to see what's next for me. This acting thing was certainly a bolt out of the blue. I know what I want, but I'll accept what comes. So, to be writerly, I'll settle for "And I'm eager to turn the next page." Like any good page turner, I want to know what happens next. But I don't want life to go by too fast. I want to savor each day.

Thus, as of today, I'll sum up my life with this four lines: I love. I read. I write. And I'm eager to turn the next page.

So, what might your quatrain be?

Tweet of the Week:

RT: How much of that 16 hours is actually done writing as opposed to prep work? ... Probably 60 percent writing.

-- Peter King, NFL writer for Sports Illustrated

During the NFL season, my favorite thing is to watch the Houston Texans play. My second favorite activity is to read anything King writes. I find him to be one of the more literate, personable, knowledgeable writers on the NFL currently working. If you watch the game on NBC every Sunday, King's there, too.

The 16 hours in question is the length of time King takes to write his Monday Morning Quarterback column on He sums up the previous day's games and the week in football with finesse and massive knowledge. Considering the last game ends around 11pm EST, King's just getting down to business as I'm turning in for the night. I'm not sure how late he stays up each Sunday night, but his 8,000-10,000-word column is ready around 9am EST Monday.

Remarkable. It speaks to me as a writer when I fret that I spend too much time preparing to write than actually writing. While nothing beats banging out prose--even prose you'll throw away--I still enjoy and need the prep work.

For any NFL fan reading this, set aside some time each Monday to read King's column. You will not be disappointed, and you will learn more than you think. If you want to follow him on Twitter, he is SI_PeterKing.

Now, if the Texans can win on Sunday, they might find their way back into King's Fine 15.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Russel is away...

Russel is running away this week to Paris. He's been working hard on a speech for this:

and has therefore run out of time.

However, he has a feeling that Paris will be very much like the Paris glimpsed in the latest Woody Allen film (which even people who don't like Woody should enjoy):

He has been listening to some French pop music in preperation. The good stuff, he means. Like Tete:

Or Fabienne Delsol:

And of course he's been listening to Jacques Brel. Yes, Jacques is Belgian, but no matter, he's still singing in French:

Russel will see you all when he gets back for the usual nonsense. He is sure he will be well fed. And watered. Decidedly watered.

Au revoir!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Blog- Danny Hogan

By Danny Hogan

Danny Hogan is the author of Killer Tease and the founder of Pulp Press

Come now, there ain’t a writer alive who would not like to see their literary creations upon the sliver screen. Sure, we’re all aware of the tales of woe, regret and treachery from authors who have actually had the experience. It starts on a high, of course. The book gets optioned, then film rights are sold and then there’s the excitement of being summoned to Hollywood only too look on in horror as his or her masterpiece is dragged into a public toilet to be sodomised and beaten. The loathsome time comes; the author is struck dumb as someone roars “behold the script writer”. A gibbering halfwit is wheeled in, strapped to a gurney, whose previous credits include Charlie’s Angels IV and a Jason Statham pic. Finally, we have the wretched moment when, in place of Deniro (the author had reserved the part of the main protagonist for him since two paragraphs into the first daft) stands Justin Bieber. Yet, still, we crave the chance to go down that well trodden road knowing full well we are likely to be left for dead in an unnamed alley, saturated in someone else’s urine. Yeah, crave I tell you.

Back in the day, when I decided I was going to make a living out of the writing game, and I was surviving on a packet of pork scratchings and a slice of bread a day, I met a young photographer called Kevin Mason. Kevin, who was in a similar state of dereliction, had been reduced to trying to eke out a living photographing naked ladies and, perhaps most humiliating of all, pieces of graffiti. Through sheer talent and hard work it was not long before Kevin was running his own photographic empire; Garage Studios. He was, by then, doing shoots for Dazed and Confused magazine and the like. Sure, he was still photographing naked ladies, but this was probably to satisfy his own dark hungers.

Kevin went from strength-to-strength and, just recently, with the backing of a major investor moved into a fancy new studio, which he designed and built with his own fair and delicate hands. Garage Studios is no more but out of its ashes comes “Create”, the largest dedicated photographic studio in the Southeast (outside that wretched city London of course). At Create Kevin plans to include the moving image as well as photography. He wants to make a short, explosive trailer to showcase the kind of quality work he can produce with the Brighton based talent pool he can draw from. Well you can imagine my reaction when he came to me, in that effeminate way of his, and said that he wanted to use Killer Tease, my first novella, for this

project. . . if not please see the first paragraph.

Now there are some obvious differences, I can imagine you thinking. Number one; no rights have been bought and thus I am not making any money. Well, that takes a significant part of the glory out of it, let’s be honest. Number two: maybe you are thinking that it won’t have the kind of Hollywood production quality one would hope for either? Well, that’s where you’re wrong numbnuts. With Kev’s experience and imagination and his band of extremely talented pals it will do, I guarantee it. OK, it won’t be feature length. Yeah, you got me there. And it won’t be on the silver screen. Ahh, not so fast, bubba. The oldest extant cinema in the UK, The Duke of York in Brighton, will be screening this short with the trailers for their up coming late night showing of Pulp Fiction. Now, if you’re Ken Bruen or some other well –to-do writer who has had their efforts made into a feature film, yeah: laugh it up. If you ain’t, shut up, you know it’s a big deal. Another big difference is that I have full creative control. I’m even being allowed to help choose the actress – who shall remain secret for a bit – to play Eloise Murphy, the protagonist of Killer Tease. I can assure you that the level of control afforded to me has nothing whatsoever to do with my ability to physically overpower Kevin.

We still need funds to help pay for cast, crew and materials including set building, prosthetics and the like. What we’re looking for to complete this project is 2 large (£2,000/$3,161), and this is where I ask you for assistance. Now, wait, before you crap your pants and make sure your wallet has not been lifted from your personage, know that I would never ask you for something for nothing. No way. So here’s a list of things we are going to be giving you for your contribution:

£5 or more: For just £5 you can get a sense of satisfaction from helping others. This may last for several hours. You will also be entitled to a warm handshake from myself or a girlish giggle from Kev, if you should ever meet us.

£10 or more: For £10 you will receive a 6"x 8" print of Eloise Murphy, shot especially for this trailer.

£30 or more: For £30 you will receive a signed 12"x 8" print of Eloise Murphy signed by the actress who plays Eloise (this wont be revealed until after production has wrapped).

£50 or more: For £50 you will receive a signed copy of Killer Tease, as well as a limited edition 12"x 8" signed print of Eloise Murphy, by photographers Matt Martin or Kevin Mason. Please note that each photographer will produce a different print limited to 20 editions.

£75 or more: For £75 we will send you a 12”x 8” signed print of Eloise Murphy, a signed copy of Killer Tease and your name will be placed in the credits on the trailer.

£375 or more: For the ambitious bidder, this price of £375 will net you a 1m x 70cm, C-type print, mounted on Dibond of Eloise Murphy, shot specifically for this reward. The image will be created by Kevin Mason and limited to 10 copies only. Please note, post and packing including to international destinations will be calculated and added after. Overseas bidders have the option of an unmounted, signed print. This is a rare opportunity to buy a limited edition print of this scale from Kevin Mason. When all rewards are met no more of this specific print will be reproduced. This will be a collectors item.

£400 or more: For £400, if you are so strangely inclined, you can have a 3 hour lesson in lighting and photography with Kevin Mason, or a 3 hour chat and guidance about Creative writing with myself.

Now you can’t say fairer than that folks. Click the link and click on “BACK THIS PROJECT” to get involved and for your chance to own one of the many rewards listed above.

Click here to join in.

Thank you for your time and thank you Jay Stringer for letting me use your Do Some Damage segment to hawk my wares.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Awkward Writing Metaphor

Ah, I'm going to pull one of the blog cliches out my hat. (No, I'm not going to tell you how to write a sex scene...)

My wife and I have been shopping for a house. If you've ever done this, then you know the sheer amounts of stress and torture it is. We've bid on 3 houses. We lost out on two houses and we were UNDERBID on both. The third...we're waiting on. It's a weird situation. I expect it to go badly.

And that reminds me of what it's like to shop a book to publishers. (And no, I do not think this post will be dated in 2 weeks. Publishing is not dying. It's changing but no... OH SHUT UP DAVE)...

There's so much uncertainty, stress, and hope--then sometimes disappointment--when your book is being shopped. There are a lot of close calls (emails to the agent... THEY'VE HAD IT FOR A WHILE, IS THAT GOOD) that rival my texts to my real estate agent (THEY DIDN'T CALL BACK IMMEDIATELY! That's good, right?). There's hope (I wish I'd saved the email my agent sent when I got my first offer...)

But ultimately... it's out of your control. All you can do is write your best book. Make your best offer.

And hope.

Please keep your fingers crossed for my wife and I. It's apparently a buyer's market....

(Boy, Dave, that was a waste of a post, wasn't it? I mean really, these people learned nothing new about writing and just got to see you whine for a few paragraphs.

--Shut up, interior monologue.

--No, you have to up your game.

--Have you seen the drivel Weddle's posting?

--Hmmmm. Up your game. No one wants awkward writing metaphors.

--Fine... FINE. Next week I'll tell 'em how to write a sex scene

--If you could see me... I'm shaking my interior monologuy head, Dave White.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Just Add 1 Part Reader, and Stir

3 parts author, 1 part agent,1 part editor and1 part reader.

I'm not big on formulas, but if I were to do a general breakdown for the recipe for the reading experience, it would look something like that (with slight variations from book to book).

It's the part of the reading experience that is completely out of the author's control. Each reader brings their own experience to the reading experience, and each reader will view a text through the lens of their experience and knowledge.

When I was a teenager, I spent time living in Europe. During that time, I had some unbelievable experiences. I was there when the Iron Curtain collapsed, and have pictures of people cutting up the Berlin Wall. I crossed into East Germany at Checkpoint Charlie. I was also in Seville when they found over 4 tons of explosives set to blow the Semana Santa processions sky-high.

It's still surreal to think that I witnessed such historic events from such a close vantage point.

There were other things I experienced that year as well, and a lot of my strongest impressions are from my time spent in Ireland.

I have an unlikely confluence of Irish ancestry at work in me. My grandfather was an Orangeman (and my dad as well). My grandmother: Irish Catholic. Even as a teenager who was fascinated by history and culture, I had no real sense of what that meant.

Not until I spent some time in Ireland. After meandering around Continental Europe for the better part of a year, I'd grown accustomed to hanging around train stations, and even sleeping on my backpack between connections.

Five minutes after my train unloaded in Dublin, I was still in the station. As a result, I was questioned by police. Let's just say I didn't really understand the realities of the situation in Ireland, or living under terrorist threat.

It got worse. My ride to Northern Ireland arrived, and off we went. We just happened to be crossing the border by car on the day the Queen Mum was visiting in Northern Ireland. Even when I crossed between armed guards into East Germany, I'd never come close to experiencing what it was like to cross the border into Northern Ireland. The stretch of road wound its way through hills on both sides, and the family I was with pointed out to me all the snipers positioned in those hills.

Guns trained on the cars on the road. One false move…

And my day got better still. In Belfast, we ended up driving beside a military vehicle. Those boys don't play. Guns were pointed at us the entire time, until our vehicles went in different directions.

Let's just say this was completely unlike anything I'd ever experienced in Canada.

A few days later, I had to travel back down along the coast of Ireland. A week later, the road I'd been on was blown up.

When I returned to Canada a few months later, I was catching up on episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and one episode in particular really rattled me. It wasn't an episode that anyone was voting as one of the ten greatest to date (even though the series was only partway through its run then). In some respects, it was a quiet little episode, called The High Ground.

In the episode, a group of terrorists need medical help, and they kidnap the doctor from Enterprise, believing she'll be the best to help them with their problem. The realities of being kidnapped, and being under pressure to help terrorists who've killed a lot of people conflict with the doctor's instincts to help those in need. She's at war within herself, but the leader of the terrorists isn't like she expected.

And while there's some hope underscoring the ending, it's not a feel-good episode that tries give pat answers to a complex problem.

Heck, I can't remember half of what I watched last week without applying myself, but I can still remember lines from The High Ground, although I haven't seen it in years.

You see, the story meshed with my recent experiences, and had a more significant impact on me than it had on some other viewers, and that's something the writers could never count on when they drafted the script.

We never know what the reader will bring to the reading experience, either.

Over the years since, my experiences with terrorism have been distinct but more removed. The train station in Madrid was bombed a few years after I was there. And the nightclub in Bali that I walked by countless times, beside stores I shopped in, was where the Bali bombing attack occurred. Tourists were sleeping on the beach because they were afraid to go to their hotels… the beach I walked on every day when I was there.

Removed, yet connected.

That's the experience I brought to the table when I sat down with Ian Rankin's latest offering, The Impossible Dead. Rankin's second title featuring DI Malcolm Fox, since sending Rebus to pasture, The Impossible Dead starts with the unlikely task of investigating officers who may have been a little dodgy, covering for a colleague who's been found guilty of sexual harassment and abusing his badge on the job.

I use the word unlikely, because it isn't often that detective fiction starts with anything other than the dropping of a body, yet Rankin takes his time before shedding blood on the page, and when he does, the investigation shifts into unpredictable directions that may have been hinted at in the early pages, but take the reader far into the past and the heart of Scotland's quest for independence, as well as the varied opinions of Scotland's current government.

As a Canadian teenager, my experiences in Ireland were enough to put me into shock. It was completely outside the realm of my experience. With 9/11, North Americans lost their innocence. We're all more aware of terrorism, and what it means to live with a pervasive terrorist threat.

I think that's going to serve readers well. Rankin's wheelhouse is politics, and The Impossible Dead features a complex plot that plays to his strengths in storytelling.

Or it could be that when my personal experiences mixed with the reading, they heightened my sense of connection to the events and the story, and the subject of terrorism. It could be that the book resonates more with me than it will with someone else who hasn't had those same experiences.

What that means is that, at the end of the day, one person's experience reading a book isn't right or wrong. It's simply different. It's the reader's ingredients that are outside the author's control, and why each time a person sits down with our books, part of us holds our breath, because even if we've done our job, told the story well, written well and fine-tuned the book during editing, the positive response of a reader to our book is never guaranteed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

7 Years Bad Luck

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This week, I started writing the second book in my new mystery series that will debut with Berkley in July. It feels like forever since I’ve written on a new project. (In actuality, it’s been since August, but it feels a lot longer.) I was thrilled to start adding pages, but writing a book in a series with already determined characters and events is a challenge for me. It seems like writing the second or third book in the series should be easier, right? I already know the protagonist and have created character arcs that span through several books. The opening chapters of the new book should be a snap.

Only they aren’t. The first chapter of a continuing series book takes me almost twice or three times as long to write as any other chapter in the book because I am very conscious that some readers will be familiar with the characters while other readers will be visiting my cast for the very first time. I have to find a way to give information about the recurring characters that helps introduce them to new readers while not annoying or boring the readers who have already spent time with them.

As a reader, I hate when a book opens with several paragraphs or pages of information I already know from other books. I find myself skimming those pages waiting for the story to begin. And I really hate when it feels as if that I’ve already read those same descriptions or character introductions in past stories.

Because of my expectations as a reader, I find myself slaving over the first chapter or two trying to make the book stand alone while also keeping it interesting for the readers who have followed the series from the beginning. Which means I question every word of backstory I put into the book.

Backstory is a tricky thing. The writer needs to include enough character history to facilitate the story, but add too much and it can slow the pacing, overwhelm the plot or just be downright boring. With each backstory fact a writer has to ask: Does the reader need to know X? Have I found a way to describe my protagonist that feels natural? Is the backstory getting in the way of the plot?

Too many backstory or information dumps can derailed your story before it even begins. The best description I’ve heard as to how best to use backstory is this: Pretend your backstory is a mirror. Take the mirror off the wall and throw it on the ground so it shatters into thousands of little tiny pieces. Then scatter those pieces throughout your book. If you do it right your story will only have utilized a very small percentage of that broken mirror.

So right now I’m throwing my mirror on the floor, stomping up and down on it and trying to pick the best, most necessary pieces to include in this book. And I’m driving myself nuts in the process. Because of that, I admit that I’m curious – if you’re a writer – do you struggle with backstory usage? How you do decide what backstory to include in your books? And for the readers, do you get annoyed when information from one book appears in the next or do you cut the author a break? Tell me what works and doesn’t work for you. Meanwhile, I’m going to keep stomping on my mirror and hoping that the metaphorical version doesn’t bring me 7 years of bad luck.