Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Ebbs and Flows of Reading an Author

Scott D Parker

It’s okay to fall out of love with an author, isn’t it?

I’ve debated with myself whether or not to name drop the title and author of the book I’m about to discuss, and I’ve opted for anonymity. I prefer not to single out the author in question, but I will single out the gender: he is a he. That way I’ll have to always say “the author”.

This author has published a new book in the last six months and I read it. Ever since I discovered him, I have read almost everything he has published. And I’ve always loved his work. The most recent book is, to my mind, better than his last. And, let’s be honest, there is actually nothing wrong with the book, his style, and the way he structures his books. When you pick up a book by this author, you know exactly what you’re going to get, and, up until now, I have always enjoyed that.

Not so much this time. I’ve been trying to figure out what happened. I think it’s come down to one thing: I changed. No one remaines static in the things that they like. Life experiences change us, we can get introduced to new things, tragic things can happen to us whereby old things remind us of the old hurts, etc. For those who read my personal blog this week, you know that I have recently experienced the high of acting on stage for the first time (here’s part 1). The experience has changed me, not only as a person, but also as a writer. By how much, only time will tell.

The thing is, I changed, but the author didn’t. Or, at least, not with this book. He might, in the future. As a result, while I moderately enjoyed this book, I didn’t love it like I did in his previous books. It was clear early on what the main character was going to do. I wondered if that was the case, and it turned out to be true. In fact, the thing the main character had to do didn’t even cost him that much. Again, this is not the author’s fault because this is the kind of book he writes, but it was a little one-note for me.

Has this ever happened to y’all?

It now leads me to a new question: what next? If the style of books that this author writes no longer appeals to me, what am I moving towards? It’s unknown. For those of y’all who are writers and have experienced something similar to this conundrum, did your own writing change? Did you adjust the types of stories you wrote to match your new reading habits, or did you continue writing the same types of stories but only change the books you read? It is a question I’m pondering nowadays. I’ll let you know the answer when I discover it.

Tweet of the Week:

Do you remember that time Fozzie told a funny joke? Neither do we.

— Muppet Studio (in the form of Waldorf and Statler)

I’m really looking forward to the new Muppet movie coming out next month. With the YouTube videos and savvy marketing, Disney’s done a fantastic job of bringing the classic characters into the 21st Century.

Thought of the Week:

I hope Nelson Cruz doesn’t become known as the Bill Buckner of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers’ loss to the Cardinals isn’t all on him, but he’ll be the face of it. Why is it so hard to bring a first championship of anything to the state of Texas?

Event of the Week (for me):

For the first time, my wife and I both have written and published articles for Criminal Element. Vanessa read and wrote a Fresh Meat piece about Black Thunder by Aimee and David Thurlo, and I trace the evolution of Batman's costume. Now, the only thing left is for me to make a piece of jewelry.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nine tips. For real this time

By Jay Stringer

Yesterday Weddle tried to give 9 tips for "getting in the mood." I avoided reading the post for most of the day, because who really wants to read about Steve Weddle listening to Barry White? But then I thought, hey, this is a blog about crime fiction, maybe it's like a writing thing. And it was. 9 tips to get you in the mood for writing. Yes, nine, count 'em. That's right, three.

So I figured I'd help us get to that magic number 9. It;s almost like we collaborate on this collaborative blog, huh?

4. Watch a crappy movie.

Really. This works. It's not just me pretending to write. If you maybe want to write, but can't get going, well, you could cite writers block and go screaming into the night, ooooorrrrrrrrr you could just grease the wheels a little on that machine in your head. It's probably best if you don't watch something that's too close to the plot you're trying to work on. Watch some crappy movie with space aliens, or a T Rex that can creep up on people. If the names "Roger" or "Corman" are on the box, then you're right on the money.

Sit and watch a badly made film and it scrolls it's badly directed away across your screen (badly.) You'll scream or laugh at the decisions, you'll know how things could have been done better, and before you know it, the hamster wheel in your head is going wwwwhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, and the poor wee man running in it is getting tuckered out. Gold, he's throwing you gold. Now go and write.

5. Talk To Yourself.

You know how Chris McQuarrie started writing The Usual Suspects? He was working in a dull copy room every day, staring at the same four walls and copy machine, copying thousands of legal documents. Then one day, he started having a conversation with himself. It quickly became two people, sat at the desk in the room he was in, having a conversation. But, hey, where's the tension in that? So then one of the guys became a cop, and the other became a suspect, and the conversation became an interrogation. Then the suspect became a gobby fella, who wanted to talk about everything in the world except the one thing that the cop wanted to know. He talked so much that his name became Verbal. And boom, McQuarrie had the ending to a story, and a hunger to write everything that happened before that ending.

So, you sat at a bust stop? In the shower? Driving long distance? Or you sat on your own with a blank page trying to write? Talk to yourself. Have a conversation, figure out how to add some tension to the conversation, and before you know it, you'll have a story.

There we go! Nine, count em, Nine tips

6. Take The Bus.

Along similar lines to number 5. Get on a bus. Doesn't have to be a bus, can be any kind of public transport, a train, a tram, a space rocket. If it's a bicycle, you're doing it wrong. Listen to people. Watch people. Look at their faces, their body language, listen to their voices, watched them as they get off the bus, see which direction they walk in and think, I wonder what their story is? I wonder where they're going? Also, steal. Listen to what they say. They're real people with real voices, and you need that on the page. Lift their anecdotes, listen to how they structure their sentences. In your head, try and think in their accents and voices, try and arrange your thoughts to the rhythm of their speech. Hey presto, you're writing.

7. It's Okay Not To Write.

Writers write. Get yer ass in that chair. Other scary stuff. We hear these things all the time. And they're right. You do become a writer by writing. And the only way to get that done is to sit and do it. Well, I say sit, i imagine it's also possible to write while running on a treadmill, but I wouldn't want to try it. Point is, you're not going to get paid to write if you sit around all your life talking about wanting to write.

But this can lead to pressure. A lot of people pressure themselves, they feel they have to sit and write even if they're not in the right frame of mind. This is, in my opinion, where the biggest baddest form of writers block rears it's imaginary head. You know what? The physical act of writing is simply part of the writing process. It's a vital part, but it's not everything. Thinking is the key. When I get asked, "where do you get your ideas from?" I punch the person who asked me in the face. But after that, I say I get my ideas from thinking. And I quite like Thinking. It's one of my favourite things.

Sometimes you need that space, that time. You need that bus ride when you're spring on others, or that long shower when you're mumbling to yourself. Sometimes you simply need to sit and stare at the crack in the wall for three days. Give yourself permission not to write, and the pressure goes away. Your stomach is designed to tell you when it's full, but we all ignore it and get fat. You have to retrain yourself to listen. And the brain is the same way. Learn to tell when you're brain is full and when it's empty, and if you need to take a couple days to recharge, then take 'em.

There we go! need two more....Ummmm....Russel?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nine Tips for Getting In the Mood

A couple weeks ago, I said I'd send a NEEDLE to one of the commenting people. Congrats to Alan Orloff.

By Steve Weddle

Need to get in the mood to write? Then let's not waste time with the intro crap. Onward and huzzah!!

1. Google Street View

Dudes and dudettes, I love me some Google StreetViews. Want to write about a rest stop in South Dakota? Here you go: Exit 99, Wall, SD Or how about that pub where a country boy had a few whiskeys just before he met World's Best Agent for the first time. New York

Seeing the buildings, the weather, the way people dress, the cars, the age of junk -- those are great ways to get a feel for the place. Sure, nothing replaces flying to Paris for a month to research your blah, blah, blah. I like to settle in somewhere, let the hemorrhoids get comfortable, and type away.

2. The Write Song

Some folks like to have complete silence when they write. Some like bustle and hustle noise at the coffee shop. Some like that ambiance music the play on the Chill channel on my XM. I like to get some flavor. There's a disc Frank Bill sent me with a Drive-By Truckers song that put me in exactly the right mood for some stories I was writing. Same thing happened with that Tom Waits song "Hold On." Probably with dozens of other songs. You can listen to that song when you write, and then turn it on later and get right back into the mood.

They did a study in which they make some kids listen to Mozart when studying and some kids listen to nothing. The Mozart kids scored super-high-way-better than the silence kids when they were allowed to take the test to the same music. Seems like when they both took the test in silence, both groups scored about the same. Anyhoo, the idea was that you imprint your brain with the info and music and when you hear the music again, the brain fires off with the rest of the information it was processing at that time.

All I know is whenever  "Decoration Day" comes on, I'm 500 words into a new story by the time it's done.

3. Make The Book

Remember how you used to print out your stories to see how they looked on paper? When I was writing one of my unpublishable novels, I got to the point where I'd finished draft 20 or so and figured I had to get a fresh look at it. I put together a cover, did some formatting, and had the nice people at print me up a copy and mail it to my house. Honestly, the file looked much different as a book. It was cool. Cost me ten bucks to have this sucker in a book. Let me see things I hadn't noticed. Chapter breaks looked different. Facing pages showed me I was trying the same tricks too often. Anyway, I made some significant changes and ended up with a much better manuscript. And that was the agent-landing book, so I must have done something right.

OK. Now I need six more ideas to make it to nine. Ready? Go.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Routine

I can't get into the routine.

Each time Monday night rolls around, I settle in and get ready to sleep. This is after the first work day of the week, some writing, hopefully a trip to the gym, some dinner, some TV and man, I'm tired. Time for bed.

Then I jolt awake in a panic as I realize I haven't come up with an idea for a post on this hear website.

It used to be I'll let the week sneak up on me. It'd be Wednesday night and time for me to post. By then I'd played with a few topics in my head and come up with one to post on. I'd still do it late on Wednesday, and sometimes I'd jolt awake in a panic, yes. But most often, the routine helped me get that post up.

This new Monday night--for Tuesday reading--routine is harder on me. I can't get into the swing.

And you see, like just about everything else, that's what writing is, a routine. Robert B. Parker used to say something along the lines of "If you write one page a day, by the end of the year you have a novel."

The key to that is "one page a day." Do it every day.

I'm writing this as an affirmation to myself. I need to get going on draft four. And just like every single time I write, getting started is the hardest part. If I can just do a little bit every day, I'll get to the end. But at the beginning that's hard. The hill looks impossible.

But it's not.

It's one step.

And then another.

And another.

Sorry if I'm not giving you blog comedy. Sorry if I'm not giving you brand new writing advice.

Sorry if I'm not making fun of Jay Stringer.

I just need to get this blog down for myself.

I need to find the routine. Find the rhythm.

Writing for myself... hmmm. That might be a blog post for another time. (Mark it down, Davey. You have an idea for next week.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Interview with Snubnose Press Art Director Boden Steiner

When Speedloader was first published I conducted this interview with Snubnose Press Art Director Boden Steiner. I wanted some answers on hand to use in some press opportunities that had presented themselves. With the publication of Monkey Justice by Patti Abbott, Boden's third cover for Snubnose, I wanted to take the opportunity to run the interview in full.

Brian Lindenmuth: What is your design background?

Boden Steiner: It's been a varied path, but mostly I come from a film and animation background. After a lot of creative writing at The University of Iowa, I spent some time in film school, and then served as a traditional animator for some WB shows like Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain in the late '90s. There have been jobs doing storyboards and conceptual art for a handful of unproduced films, some commercials. It's the freelance work that brought me to poster design, allowed me to expand on my skills while exploring styles of imagery for bands, night clubs and now, in line with my personal interests, books and publishing.

What is your design philosophy?

That's an interesting question for me to consider because I rarely think about design philosophy in any specific terms. I mostly believe the main concepts for text, color, and style, are mapped out. It's the artists job to recognize those maps and add their own jazz, see if they can make it their own, bend it into something appropriate and interesting. That's really what influence and style is all about-- observing and submerging everything into your own process.

As content goes, I think a good image should tell a story, or at least sell the sensibility of what is behind it. With regard to books, it's all about finding a visual shorthand, or a simile to the story, getting the writing noticed, picked up, clicked. Sometimes that requires a shout, even some static, sometimes just a whisper. I think everyone agrees that there are visual cues that help inform a potential reader, whether it calls back to a familiar time or feeling, or maybe aims directly to genre. The hope is to use those cues and try your best to bend them into something that feels new and interesting. That's the goal anyway.

Stylized, realistic, photographed, or strict design, if I can, I'm going to be flexible and let the story tell me what to do. The highest (maybe impossible) objective is to transmogrify into a different artist with every project. In an independent capacity, this is easier said than done, but maybe my varied background has provided a good cardboard box, something with some interesting choices on the transmogrifier dial.

What covers have you designed?

I'm still punching my way into this, but I've been fortunate to work on some cool books. I recently did a cover for a crime novella, Old Ghosts (Brown Paper Publishing), written by one of the authors featured in Speedloader, Nik Korpon. Nik is writing some great stuff, punching holes into neo noir, and I guess that one worked out okay because I'll be starting the cover for his upcoming novella, By the Nails of the Warpriest (OWP) in a few weeks. Can't wait. Another author, Axel Taiari, hooked up with me to put a cover on his excellent Parisian novella, A Light to Starve By, which features some dark emotion and a carefully realized world of blood junkies in Paris.

Plus some others in the hopper, including the possibility of something awesome that I've got my fingers crossed about.

Does a show poster for Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen Graham Jones to promote a reading they did count? Authors like that deserve show posters.

How important is a good cover? Is a good cover still important in the e-book age?

If things continue in the current trend, the back covers will be gone and the blurbs are going to be lost to the blogs and promotional articles. That is problematic, and I mention this because now the cover must pull more weight, has transitioned into the wider responsibility of harnessing the attention of potential readers over to the promotional blurbs, interviews, and excerpts, the things that ultimately sell the book. The cover essentially becomes the doorway that needs to be opened, and you need that doorway to be inviting, something that promises good things, monsters, laughs, magic, blood, romance---plus maybe a girl and a shark. Whatever it is, it better look sturdy, like it's holding in something valuable, or maybe it's holding back something that is going to rip your head open. If I'm curious, I'm going to click through to find out what is behind that door, to hell with consequence.

What makes a great cover?

I've already mixed this with other answers, but I'll add that outside of the function of selling the book, ideally, I believe a cover should look good up on a wall. If it can work in that capacity, it's probably working as a cover. Plus, uncluttered text balance, a spine that has no fear.

What are some of your favorite covers?

I was almost hoping there would be some aspect that unifies my taste, but it appears to be all over the map. In a round about way, I just brought up Peter Benchley's Jaws, and that might fit. It seems so simple: an upside down smile, a girl, impending doom. If you can get away with it, that formula might not be a bad way to market any book: shark, girl, impending doom. The first book that features a cover with a girl running away from a bi-ped landshark will be a bestseller. I'm sure of this. Sharkopocalypse? If she is strapped with a speargun, it's top ten.

I'll paint things in a variety of styles, but as an appreciation, I love the retro stuff. Anything Robert McGinnis illustrated, those Mike Shayne and Carter Brown pulps, anything you are going to see on blogs like Killer Covers. I guess this includes the modern updates too, covers that capture that aesthetic and brings it forward will always appeal to me. Hard Case Crime does a great job with this, going the extra mile to make the covers right, and it really shows. The Penguin reissues of the Ian Fleming Bond books do this well. I'm especially fond of the series designed by Michael Gillette. It had me hunting for a set of the books just to own the covers. In the same vein, I have an affinity for the old Italian film posters, Anselmo Ballester, Sandro Simeoni. If every book went after that vibe, it would be impossible for me to scroll through a bookseller list without opening twenty tabs.

It's not all about illustration though, so there are plenty of covers in all styles that turn me on. Here's a list of mixed genre favorites worth checking out:

Dope (Sara Gran)
It Came from Del Rio (Stephen Graham Jones)
The Sisters Brothers (Patrick deWitt)
The Driftless Area (Tom Drury)
The Manual of Detection (Jedediah Berry)
Handling the Undead (John Ajvide Lindqvist)
Dreadnought (Cherie Priest)
The Electric Church (Jeff Somers)
Queenpin (Megan Abbott)
Villain (Shuichi Yoshida) My vote in the 2010 Spinetingler Awards

How can the cover artist in the e-book age gain more recognition?

A sly, meta question, yeah? I should note right here that working with Snubnose Press and Speedloader has been a great opportunity for me, and you are awesome for asking these questions in the hope that I can answer them in any manner of interest. Hat tips and beer, Sir.

A more direct answer, and an easy one: artists need to sell the writers and the stories, help the writing to gain attention, let it bounce back in a circular effect. If the cover is attractive, people will likely take notice, and hopefully find the appropriate information with the book.

A bigger concern, and maybe a hitched issue, regards the display of the cover. Ideally, I'd personally like to see the cover art remain properly attached to the e-book beyond the little thumbnail click, which means, I hope that e-reader presentation considers this and allows for the art to be visible and shine, rather than be compressed or (as is the case) automatically skipped over as an irrelevant part of the book's primary presentation.

I miss album covers--those beautiful store displays--and now CD covers are all but lost to history. The same thing is happening with books and I hope it gets pinched before we forget what is missing. As it stands,the art presentation of an e-book is mostly left to the web, and that is sometimes frustrating because certain browsers have color correction issues. As example, Chrome will destroy anything with bright colors. All this tech, and the visual experience is like listening to music in mono. Maybe I'm just hypersensitive to these things, but it hints to the constant erosion of visual art from our changing world. Everyone deserves better.

What's the story behind the Speedloader cover? What inspired it?

From my end, I think any project such as Speedloader involves a feeling out period, where I try to discern and unveil the goals and visual attitude required. Sometimes this involves a little trial show and tell, a process that hopefully illuminates thoughts from both parties. This was true of Speedloader, almost a process of elimination to discover what we didn't want it to be.

In that early exchange, there was an idea--graphic, iconic--and I think we found a baseline or safety net with that image. Knowing that, it gave me the confidence to riff from the stories themselves, thinking that maybe we might include some illustration with the stories if time allowed. Along that path, I became pretty taken by an image from W.D. County's intense and heartbreaking story, "Plastic Soldiers". The horrific emotion of that moment affected me and I needed to see it, see if I could match County's imagery with the film in my head. A sketch wouldn't accomplish that, so I played it out, thought it could make an unusual cover. Ultimately however, as much as I dig that illustration and that moment, I knew it was a hard sell for a debut edition of a crime collection like Speedloader, so I did another quick paint based on one of the early ideas, something that was also a close-up, loosely based on a character from Jonathan Woods' pastiche story, "Crash and Burn". Of course, if it were depicting a scene from that story, she'd be holding a smoking frying pan, so... some artistic license came into play, and we ended up with something hopefully iconic that delivers the message fairly on point: "This is Speedloader. Recognize!" I hope people like it and are intrigued enough to pick up these six amazing crime stories.

[Thanks to Boden for taking the time to answer these questions and for doing such a great job on the Snubnose Press covers.]

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm going to jail

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This weekend, I was part of a mini-panel at the Legends of the Fall book celebration at Booked for Murder in Madison, Wisconsin. I was honored to chat with the audience along side David Walker and Kathleen Ernst. (If you haven’t read their books, you should. They’re fabulous!) Anyway, during the question and answer period with the audience, someone asked “What was the most unusual thing you’ve ever had to research?”

We all had different answers. David talked about going to a small town 50 miles south of Chicago and almost getting his butt thrown in jail by the police chief who didn’t believe he was an author. Kathleen discussed some interesting history moments she had to research. I, of course, talked about camels.

However, I did then realize that not all my research involves the innocent Googling of dromedaries. Like my fellow DSDers, I write crime fiction. That means there is death, guns, exploding stuff and all sorts of nasty things that befall my characters. And while I use a number of methods to research my plot points, many of my initial steps to understand a topic begin online. And as we all know – lots of government agencies are monitoring the internet highways looking for people with the potential for criminal tendencies.

Oh crap! I am totally going to jail.

If not, I am totally on someone’s watch list. Which is equally cool and scary for pretty straight-laced me. With Homeland Security and other government agencies actively monitoring search histories, I’m guessing a huge number of crime fiction writers are on that watch list with me.

Or maybe we aren’t. Maybe once they see our Google search for homemade explosives and potassium cyanide, the government official on duty does a Google search of his own and finds an author website attached to our name. I can only hope. Otherwise, I am totally doomed the minute someone in my neighborhood drops dead of cyanide poisoning or is killed with a pink hand gun.

So, while I’m waiting for the Feds to show up and cart me away, tell me – what is the most unusual thing you’ve ever had to research? Will your Google search history get you carted off to jail? If so, maybe you want to share a cell. I promise I don’t snore.