Monday, October 31, 2011

The Plot Thickens... and sags and dips and curves...

If you don't know where you're going, how will you know when you get there?

The black-and-white side of my brain believes that. You need a direction to get where you're going. A+B=C. But this other side of my brain wanders into the subjective, and then I get frustrated. When you put me into the realms of unknown quantities, I can go crazy.

Yet when it comes to writing, I can't do it any other way. Years ago, I took a creative writing diploma program through correspondence. And when it came time to touch on novel writing, we were taught to plot out the book and prepare an outline before starting. Years later, in a critique from a published author, they told me much the same, and even showed samples of prepared character bios that they made before they started writing the book.

It was back then that I started SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. I had character bios. I had an outline. I had a plan. Everything was great.

And then I moved, misplaced my files, switched computers, and months went by after I convinced myself the project was crap and quit working on it.

When I returned to the manuscript I'd started almost a year earlier, I made a few discoveries. It wasn't crap. It was good. But I'd lost the outline and didn't have a clue where the story was going anymore.

The greatest thing about that was, I started re-reading what I'd written, and decided to listen to the characters. I got to know them. It was like peeling the layers off an onion, and as I learned more and more about them, the story fell into place.

I'm not one of the writers who thinks you have to know everything about a character before you start writing about them. I also don't think the reader should expect to get a nutshell synopsis of a character's whole life. We don't know everything about anyone when we first meet them. It is through our interactions and our time spent with them that we discover all the interesting little things. Just a few weeks ago, I said something offhanded to Patrick. It was so offhanded I don't even remember what it was. I was doing laundry, and he was talking my ear off, and I made some comment and he said, "I never knew that about you. Every day I learn something new about you."

I said that's what a relationship is, like an ongoing discovery about another person.

Occasionally, when I sit down to start a manuscript, I do have something that's inspired the general story. There will be a topic I want to touch on, and I'll put that in the pot and stir it around and see what comes out. I did that when I wrote The Frailty of Flesh. I'd been working in the GVA, and was the director of a child care center and summer camp program, working with over 100 high needs students annually, as well as two dozen staff I was responsible to train and oversee.

And something happened to one of my kids. Something that prompted the school staff to ask me to support a report to social services against the parent. On our own, we didn't have enough, but together, we finally did. We made the report, and as soon as the parent found out she moved a few blocks over city lines. Since she was now out of our jurisdiction, our report wasn't investigated.

I spent that whole book working out my frustration with the system. And in the midst of it, I read about the deaths of some children in the system, who'd been removed from their homes. Natives. Or Aboriginals, as we call them now. Native kids dying in foster homes at the hands of white people.

Suddenly, Tain clicked into place. I started that book knowing I was going to rip Ashlyn's life apart, but the unfolding of Tain's story gutted me personally.

My greatest compliment ever was hearing from Sean Chercover after he'd read the book, and learning it had reduced him to the edge of tears. That was the translation of all that emotion I had, onto the page.

I occasionally have a specific event or scene in mind that I think will be in the book. That was also true with THE FRAILTY OF FLESH, but I won't give you spoilers.

There is only one book I've written where I knew what the last scene would be before I started. Some people call that Distant Shores. It's when you know where you're going, in general, but as you navigate across the river you might go upstream or downstream a bit instead of straight across. You might have to dodge driftwood or hazards under the water... but you have the general idea in mind when you start.

For all the rest of my books, they've centered on characters and ideas. In the case of HARVEST OF RUINS, I started the book in 2007. The book went through about four incarnations. It was retitled BELOW THE LIGHT at one point. I had to revisit the whole manuscript at one point and restructure the framework.

In short, I never know what the journey from start to finish will look like. Joelle and I seem to both feed primarily off the characters and their dialogue and listen to them for direction. It works for me. When I have tried to write with an outline, it's felt stilted and forced and I feel like I'm holding the characters back so that I can check off boxes instead of let the story unfold.

For other people, the meticulous planning works perfectly. I've learned there's no one right way to develop the plot or approach your writing. As a writer, you have to learn to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses, and tailor your approach to be most effective for you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

This month on DSD and Follow the Yellow Brick Road….

by: Joelle Charbonneau

For all of our regular readers, you know that our DSD group tends to march to the beat of our own drummers. We tend to blog about whatever topic is festering at that moment in the dark corners of our minds. This month, however, we decided to give you a look into writing topics from each of our individual points of view. Every week will be dedicated to a specific topic and we are hoping it will be educational, inspirational and just plain fun to see how each writer approaches the same writing challenges in very different ways.

This week – Plotting!

Which leads us to the second part of this blog post which I have titled:

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

As a reader, I always dreamed that writers sat down at their keyboard and knew with absolute certainty where their story was going the minute they typed the first sentence. This meant when I started writing I believed I had to know exactly where the yellow brick road was going to lead me before I took my first step down the path.

So, I outlined. I sat in front of my computer screen and brick by brick, plot point by plot point, I mapped out where my yellow brick road was going to take my characters. I knew where it started. I knew where it ended and I knew every stop in between. It all looked awesome.

Until I started writing.

Somehow the beautiful path I’d created for myself that should have gotten me from the opening line to The End landed me in a ditch somewhere around page 70. Nothing worked. Why? On paper, everything I’d plotted made complete sense. And yet, while I was writing, my path slowly, but steadily began to travel in a different direction. The characters reacted just a bit differently to situations that I’d originally imagined which moved them off the yellow brick road and onto a new path. One that didn’t follow any of the plot points I’d so painstakingly constructed.


For a while I tried desperately to push my story back onto the track the outline said it was supposed to travel. It didn’t work. No matter how hard I tried, the story didn’t ring true to me unless it was allowed to follow its own course. What’s a girl to do?

I tossed the outline and decided to follow the path that the characters wanted me to travel. That book never got published, but it taught me something important about my own writing. While other writers can create detailed roadmaps for their work – I can’t. Trust me, I tried more than once to fashion the perfect outline that would help guide me through the story. But while outlines sound glorious, I’m just not wired to follow them.

For me each action or moment of dialogue from a character determines the next action. I might think I know how a scene is going to go, but there are always surprises and small variations that move the plot in new and interesting directions. The cause and effect of each action and reaction drives the story. Until I see exactly how the dialogue or action unfolds, I can’t know precisely what comes next.

So how do I plot? Well, I’d like to say that I don’t, but that isn’t technically true. I can’t do a linear outline that takes the story from plot point to plot point, but I don’t fly completely blind either. In my mysteries, I determine what the main mystery plot is. I then write down a couple of things I think might happen in the course of my sleuth investigating that mystery. Once that’s done, I create a couple of other columns for other plot arcs I’d like to explore such as relationships between certain characters or secondary mysteries. I then list a few ideas I have for each of those plot threads under each of the headings. The last thing I do before writing the first sentence is I decide how chapter one is going to end. Once I have that hook, I start to write. I don’t necessarily know who done it? I don’t have a clue what the final reveal moment is. I just write.

It might seem strange that I only know where chapter one is going, but it helps me focus on making sure each moment of the chapter is geared toward getting the characters to that point. Once they get to the hook, I can then show the characters reactions to it and begin to write to the next hook – whatever that might be. As the story unfolds, I will go back and look at ideas I had for each plot heading. Sometimes my initial ideas work and I am able to weave them into the course of the story. Other times, well, the action of the story no longer makes them such great ideas. Cause and effect. One moment drives the next to wherever it is supposed to go.

Or at least I hope it does. That is the goal.

Personally, I envy anyone who can not only outline but follows that outline to the bitter end. But this method, as odd as it might seem, works for me. And part of me wonders if maybe the reader in me doesn’t want to know where the story is going until I get there. That way, my inner reader gets to enjoy the story, too.

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.

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.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Lessons and the Fun of Acting

Scott D. Parker

Based on my experience, it might be a good idea for all writers to try their hand at acting.

On a lark, I volunteered to be in my church's play. I attend one of the larger churches here in Houston, so we've got a stage, lighting and sound system, the works. The play itself consists of twenty or so vignettes dealing with family relations, church relations, and how they can be funny, somber, and heart wrenching.

I'm in two scenes. The first involves a young married couple where the wife catches the husband looking at another woman. He tries to convince her that the reason he fell into the planter was not that was eyeing another lady, but that his contacts were out of place. The problem: he's wearing glasses. The second has me playing the husband of a seasoned--not elderly--married couple while they are driving somewhere on vacation. I think y'all can figure this on out on your own. Man, woman, driving, directions...

This is my first time to do something like this. First, we had rehearsals with the scripts in our hands. Next, we had to memorize our lines and rehearse using props. I made recordings of me reading both parts (you'd love my soft, "womanly" voice) and loaded the MP3s on my iPod and practice while biking. Yes, I get funny looks. As of this week, we are rehearsing on stage with the lights, mics, and sound. It's a whole different experience for me, but I'm really digging it.

Here's where the writer part of me started to churn over thoughts. I started putting myself in the shoes of these two men. What would I do? How might my reactions be different than someone else's? Gradually, I started trying different things with my voice. The driving husband, according to my director, needs to start out over-the-top angry but then come down at the end. Thus, I read the lines in a really angry voice. While I do most of the lines this way, I've toned down some of the vitriol. It just felt better that way. But the process was fascinating, especially as the two actresses and I started reacting--body language, tone, voice pitch, etc.--to each other. The collaborative nature of this experiment made the entire experience that much more fun.

An interesting aspect of these two scenes is what do I do while the two, separate actresses are saying their lines to my characters. In the grand and glorious tradition of our craft, I had to show, not tell. Literally. I have started rolling my eyes, doing things with my face and body, walking towards or away from the other actress, all in an attempt to convey that character's thought without actually telling them. That, my friends, might be the most fun part of this entire thing. Sure, I enjoy saying my lines, especially the funny ones. But getting across a thought through an action is priceless.

I still get butterflies in my stomach each time I rehearse. And, come next weekend, when I actually get some eye liner, a live mic, and a hall full of spectators, them there butterflies* are going to be like a hurricane in my gut. But here's a little secret: I can't wait for it to get here, and I'm going to miss it when we're done.

Ah, but I do have my writing. And I'll get to carry with me some lessons from acting that will improve my writing. One of which is to understand that a story needs numerous drafts. This is obvious not only for the typo type stuff, but for the experimentation. Too often, I get One Idea in my head and I'm too fearful of changing it because It Has To Be This Way. This acting thing has changed that mindset a bit.

And, I need to have more fun in my writing. Period.

Anyone also do some acting? How has it influenced your writing?

*Speaking of butterflies, do y'all ever get butterflies or a similar feeling in your stomach when you're writing? I have. Sometimes, it just that unexplainable feeling you get when you are on that writing high. In my first novel, there's a part where all the characters are putting everything together. I get those butterflies every time I read those pages and I even got them when I first wrote those chapters. That's when I knew I had something special.

TV Show of the Week: American Horror Story. I've become immune to most horror stuff and I don't like the slasher/torture porn stuff like "Saw". I prefer my horror to be creepy and supernatural. I'm really digging this show mainly because of the mystery behind it. And how about those opening credits. Talk about eerie.

Concert of the Week: Fabian Almazan Trio and String Quartet, Live at the Village Vanguard. I had never heard of this gifted pianist and composer before NPR Music uploaded this concert. Man, you talk about some sublime pieces of music. Almazan's tickling of the keys is like some sort of ethereal musical mist trickling down through the trees. The other two member of the trio--Linda Oh on bass and Henry Cole on drums--accent Almazan's compositions, but never overpower the majesty of the music. When it's just the three of them playing, the music often possesses a hurried frenzy that never overwhelms you. That he has a string quartet--one of my favorite types of ensembles--with him is mere icing on the cake. When all seven musicians play, it is not a traditional type jazz thing where you have a theme and everyone takes a turn at improvising. Yes, it's still jazz in structure and language, but it's also somewhere out of the 19th Century tradition of the tone poem where the listener is transported to some other place by the music but isn't necessarily required to follow all the themes.

The concert is available on NPR Music. Almazan's first album, Personalities, is available digitally now. The CD comes out in November. I haven't purchased the CD yet as I'm too mesmerized by this live show.

Tweet of the Week 1:

Whoa!-- @jonathansfrakes in on Twitter? WHY DIDN'T ANYBODY TEL ME?! Number One-engage.

-- Nathan Fillion

Tweet of the Week 2:

"The Thing" is a prequel to "The Thing" which is a remake of "The Thing" which is about a monster that duplicates itself.

--DanaJGould as retweeted by Roger Ebert

Friday, October 14, 2011

SHADOWS RISING - The Extended McLean Cut (Part 2)

By Russel D McLean

Okay, I promised you eighties and nineties, as per my choices for movies from the SHADOWS RISING panel at Bouchercon, and here we are. Yes, we have two films from the 90’s and only one from the 80’s, but again it was one of those areas where I had to do a lot of pruning. And let me remind you that its not just about my personal favourites, but more about movies we thought people at the panel had to see to get the full spectrum of crime movies. Which is a pretty difficult task all told.
Anyway, again here’s my three movies and a little blurb about why I chose each one.
And yes, my Sacred Cow I’d Love To Gore came from the eighties, but we’ll talk about that later.

Midnight Run

“Is that Moron Number One? Yeah, lemme speak to moron number two.”

“Smoking or non smoking?” “Take a wild fucking guess.”

“Hey, I got two words for you: shut the fuck up.”

Witty, exciting and plain under-rated, Midnight Run is my ultimate comfort movie. De-Niro’s effortless performance as a grouchy bounty hunter is perfectly complemented by Grodin’s turn as the accountant who pulled a scam on the mob and is now being called back as a witness. Together, they eschew that often elusive chemistry that buddy movies strive for, and that’s just one of the reasons to love this movie.

Throw in a brilliant supporting cast including the always reliable Dennis Farina and the under-used Yaphett Koto, and you have the ideal “action comedy” in a way that pretenders like the Lethal Weapon movies can only dream of. I come back to this movie at least once a year, and just let the script wash over me.

Shallow Grave

An odd choice for me in a way, but one I had to make as we were talking essential crime movies, and I felt I had to give some love to the low budget scots thriller that made a name for Ewan McGregor and director Danny Boyle who would later go on to bigger budget films like Sunshine and The Beach. But for me, Shallow Grave is pretty much perfect as a simple, dark little fable about three people and a bagful of money. Its kind of the Scottish answer to movies like A SIMPLE PLAN, and what I love about it is that it’s a crime thriller with no police, no procedural elements or anything like that. It’s a tale about temptation and greed and the fragility of friendship. And then there’s a brilliantly unhinged performance from Christopher Ecclestone.

It’s not a gamechanging movie, but its tight, its well handled and it launched the career of someone who would become a major movie star (McGregor). Not only that but I felt it would offer something a little different from what the rest of my panellists would select. I also think its perhaps the purest film Danny Boyle would make. While others would have higher budgets, there’s something in the nourish simplicity of the movie that makes you think of something like the Coen’s Blood Simple. I also think its been sadly overlooked in the shadow of many of Boyle’s later movies (Trainspotting, Sunshine, 127 Hours etc).

LA Confidential
How can one ignore LA Confidential? A film that managed the impossible by bringing James Ellroy’s novel to the screen in a tonally accurate and comprehensible fashion (to see how badly it can all go wrong just watch The Black Dahlia). It also has a cast performing at the top of their game and a top notch 1940’s soundtrack.

It’s a story about corruption in the LAPD in the forties and the three men who decide to stand up against the established order. Right from the start, with Danny DeVito’s tabloid editor giving an overview of 1940’s LA, the dream and the reality, you know you’re in for something special. It is pretty much a perfect movie. It never gives in to the temptation to go over the top, and yet there’s a real sense of danger and fear that permeates the frame. And while credit must be given to Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey for their electrifying performances, James Cromwell really stands out as he wipes every fond memory of Arthur Hoggett, the farmer from kids movie Babe in which he starred four years earlier.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Southern Gods- John Hornor Jacobs

By Jay Stringer

First up, a couple of important facts for you to memorise, there will be a test later;

1. JHJ and I have the same agent, which I guess is one of them "conflict of interest" type things, and which almost made me hold off from writing the review.

2. That's irrelevant, because the book is awesome.

"Awesome" is not a word I'm using lightly here. If you type definition awesome into google, then you'll probably get taken to Paul Westerberg's Wiki page. But below that will be various dictionary links that will tell you that awesome describes something that is wonderful, impressive and sometimes frightening.

Here's the bit off the back;

"A Memphis DJ hires recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram to find Ramblin' John Hastur, a mysterious bluesman whose dark, driving music - broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station- is said to make living men insane and dead men rise."

That was already enough to interest me in the story, but it doesn't cover the half of it of it. First we get a very dark and bloody detour that sets the tone for the book, strange shadowy things moving at the edge of forests, whispering dark deals to anyone who'll listen. The prologue of the book set's it's stall out strong; this is the voice of the story, and you want to read it.

When we first meet Ingram, he reminds me of a character from another time, another kind of book. He's a Dashiell Hammett character who has somehow wandered into a Lovecraft nightmare. Both brutish and boyish at the same time, he went off to the war to find a purpose but came back without one. If he provides the strength and the drive to push the story along, it's the other characters we meet along the way who really fill in the heart. There's Sarah, the young mother who is fleeing the the slow burning horror of a family-gone-wrong without realising she's running towards a much quicker way of dying.. She packs her bags and her daughter and leaves her husband behind to head home, back to the farm she grew up on and it's big old house full of secrets. Her daughter, Franny, fills the story with it's energy and light, bouncing around the farm land with her two friends, Fisk and Lenora. And then there's Alice, the woman that Sarah wishes she could be, who runs the farm and dishes out love and advice.

The story is built very effectively on mood and suspense, a creeping sense of horror that is the subtext of every chapter and keeps building. But that can only last for so long, but JHJ isn't a writer to pull punches, and when it's time for all hell to break loose, he follows through where many other authors will try to bait and switch.

There are blink-and-you-miss-it references here to some horror touchstones, from Captain Howdy's real name, to the big bad of Lovecraft, and each one is a clear signpost of the impending doom hanging over the story. JHJ is clearly a writer who understands what makes horror tick, because he scared the crap out of me and he did it without clowns, spiders or my credit card bill. There's something here for everyone, but if you're a parent, this book is really gunning for you. It knows what you're scared of.

This is the month when everyone is going to be pushing horror movies on you, when the stores are filled with plastic costumes for your kids to dress up in, and folk start either keeping chocolate by their door or pretending not to be in for the whole month.

But Southern Gods isn't any of that. It's not modern horror with it's rules and roleplaying, it's not wacky costumes, and it doesn't turn horrible beasts into things that glow in sunlight and romance teenagers. It's a book that understands that bad things need to happen to good people, and that all of us are defined by our fears in some way. You'll find yourselves stopping and scratching your heads, this can't be the work of a debut writer, surely? Not with such a firm grip on plot and character, not with such a strong voice? Not unless he's been making any deals with dark forces that step out of the woods...

I have the audio book to get through, perfect for a long train journey I'm making next week. I'll let you know how that goes, but it was important to read the book first.

Kickstart This

By Jay Stringer

I'm doing another double header this week. There'll be another post out a little later on, pointing you in the direction of a great book. First though, a quick mention for something that's not come out yet.

There's a kickstarter project running for a comic book called "Sparrow & Crowe- The Demoniac of Los Angeles." It's from Dave Accampo -friend of DSD- and two other talented fellas. I could write about why it's a good project to help out, or what the story is about, but they've already done it. So until later, I'll leave you with Dave, Jeremy and Jared.