Saturday, December 17, 2011

When Charles Dickens Met Batman

Scott D. Parker

To me, there is freedom within a framework.

Of all the discussions about writing, the one that gets lots of attention is the outline vs. no outline debate. For those who writing without the safety of an outline love the freedom to go wherever. The Outliner group prefers the comfy confines of an outline, knowing exactly how the story will end before they start. As y'all know, I'm an outliner.

What does this have to do with Batman and Boz? Nothing less than the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. Here in this Christmas season, all the numerous adaptations of Dickens' wonderful ghost story are presented in movie theaters, stages, and our televisions. We all have our favorites whether its with the Muppets, Bill Murray, the Grinch, Jim Carrey, Mickey Mouse, Patrick Stewart, or any of the others out there. The story is the same, no matter the version: Scrooge is visited by Christmas spirits and sees the true meaning of the holiday. From the outset, you know the story. Yet, like a romantic comedy, it's the journey that's the most fun part.

How does this relate to Batman? Well, this year, Lee Bermejo wrote and illustrated Batman: Noel, a take on the Dickens story with the trappings of the Dark Knight. Now, if you are like me, the first thing you do, upon hearing of the concept, is to start thinking about the characters and who would be cast as whom. It's giving nothing away to state that Batman himself is Scrooge. The fun is where the other characters from the DC Universe show up. And, I have to say, Bermejo must have had a lot of fun writing this tale. And have you see his gorgeous art and its hyper-stylized realism?

The thing is that when a writer crafts a new take on A Christmas Carol, that writer works within an outline. But just look at the freedom Bermejo had working with this outline. It's the same story, but a completely new take. Heck, I'm even using A Christmas Carol to frame and craft a new Calvin Carter mystery. But, then again, I'm an outline guy anyway.

So, what are you favorite versions of A Christmas Carol? Having seen the production--and additions--from Houston Alley Theater, it is now tops in my book. I also really enjoy Patrick Stewart's one-man version.

Tweet of the Week:

I don’t always drink flavored lattes, but when I do, they’re seasonal two-pump gingerbread lattes.

--Nathan Fillion

Ever since October started, I've been having numerous pumpkin spice lattes from Starbucks. Haven't given the g-bread a taste. Well, there's today....

Album of the Week: Quatuor Ebene's Fiction. After mentioning them a couple weeks back and then, having only heard one song and a few snippets at the time, I bought the album. Wow. This is a modern string quartet who realizes that good songs come not only from the masters but from Dick Dale, Charlie Chaplin, and Bruce Springsteen. Their gorgeous sound resonates in unique ways, both when they cover popular songs or less well-know pieces. Get this: they cover the Beatles' "Come Together" and, while its true you realize Mozart could not have written it, you also realize how good the song is in a completely different format. Give it a listen and you'll likely be surprised.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yes, its the Obligatory top 10 of the year post...

By Russel D McLean

Still time to enter Russel’s competition – and did you know that for the rest of this month his short story e-collection THE DEATH OF RONNIE SWEETS (and other stories) is only 99c US and 86p UK? Available for Kindle (US and UK) and for other e-readers. He also asks that you please forgive this moment of blatant self-promotion.

And so Christmas time approaches. One more week to go. Whaddaya mean you ain’t gone Christmas shopping? What, you were waiting for my recommendations of books to go buy? Apart from my own? (available from all good booksellers both physical and digital, you know - - and every copy sold helps me keep The Literary Critic in the style to which she is accustomed). But of course, I’m not the only starving author out there and the following is a list of ten books from the last year I think you really need to buy. Either for yourself, or as a gift for someone you know who’s really going to appreciate a damn good read; especially one with the McLean seal of approval.

1) The End of Everything by Megan Abbott – My vote for book of the year, in part because it hit me completely from left field. I was already in love with Abbott’s work, but what she does here is incredible. The book is told entirely from the perspective of a thirteen year old girl, and it pulls no punches in its depiction of a world that is all appearance and snakes beneath the skin. The prose unfolds in a dream-like fashion, and the soft-focus of a character looking back on themselves and their lives hides ugly, unsettling truths. The cover – on both sides of the Atlantic – makes the book look like literary women’s fiction, which in a sense it is. But it is also one of the purest, most captivating and most disturbing books you’ll have read this year regardless of your genre. Abbott has excelled herself and set a high bar for other authors to reach.

2) A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block – Block’s back, baby. And so is Matt Scudder. This one rewinds to the eighties where Matt was first coming to terms with being an alcoholic. As such, it is stepped in atmosphere and a sense of moving forward. Matt is at his most interesting when he teeters on the edge, and here we find him a fascinating and volatile version of the man we’ve come to know. The book is as much about addiction as it is about murder, and a hell of a reminder as to why Matt Scudder is one of the most interesting and fascinating of the post-Archer PIs.

3) Fun and Games & Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynksi – Okay, so its two books in this entry, but they are so closely connected I count them as one. Swierczynski is the king of the action novel. His plots are preposterous, his body count high and his adrenaline mainlined. He’s a pulp prince for the new millennium and one of the very few writers who can pace his action in prose to the point where you’re literally sweating with exertion along with his characters. Charlie Hardie is the kind of action hero who’s going to be mentioned in the same breath as John McLean.

4) Already Gone by John Rector – Rector follows up his brilliant THE COLD KISS with an equally terrifying slice of mystery, as we follow one man trying to atone for who he used to be as he becomes convinced that the past is finally catching up. But nothing is as it seems and this is one of a very few twist-thrillers where you really find yourself blindsided by the revelations.

5) Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs – I love a good horror novel, but I’m not a big Lovecraft fan. However, Jacobs takes some of Lovecraft’s legacy and makes it his own in this sprawling, brilliant and unsettlingly fun novel set in the deep south during the 1950’s. A great feel for the period and some brilliantly realised moments of supernatural terror make this one a winner.

6) Choke Hold by Christa Faust – Hands down the most fun I’ve had a (former) porn star this year. Angel Dare is back in this sequel to Money Shot, and somehow she’s even more kick-ass than before. The writing is lean and mean and there’s a hell of a lot more going on beneath the surface than you might realise at first. Also, it’s a slam-bang adventure with some real standout set pieces. Just… perfection.

7) Dove Season by Johnny Shaw – Kinda controversial debut given it came from Amazon’s publishing arm (at least one bookstore refused to stock it) but whatever your feelings about the giant retailer and their reach, there’s no denying that this is one hell of a debut – great sense of location and a lot of ambition. It’s a game of two halves, with the second finding the action in an unstoppable freefall that’s removed from the sedate pace that came before, but Shaw earns every moment and shows a real promise for the future.

8) Truth Lies Bleeding by Tony Black – Great start to a new series by Black. Its got more mainstream appeal than the Dury novels, considering the lead’s a copper, but of course Black’s got far more than yer standard procedural here. It’s a novel that revels in the shadows, leavened by a profound sense of dark humour that runs softly through the narrative. It’s the novel that should start to bring Black to the attention of a wider audience. And on top of that, it’s a natural progression to everything he’s done so far. Bravo, Black. Bravo.

9) Moriarty: The Hound of the D’ubervilles by Kim Newman – It’s not perfect (a little overlong in places, but then that might be part of the joke) but Newman’s tongue in cheek chronicling of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis hits all the right spots with some great gags and very nice appropriating of contemporary literature that make for a very fun read.

10) FIFTH VICTIM by Zoe Sharp – My impatience with the action novel is often quite severe, so its unusual that two should appear on my top ten list. Fifth Victim is more serious in its approach to action than Swierczynski’s homage to insanity mentioned earlier, but it is also one of the most successful and engaging thrillers I’ve read all year. Charlie Fox is – dare I say it – so much more interesting and developed than Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and while a lesser writer might have made her a typical action hero in drag, Sharp manages to make Fox into a fascinating and fully rounded character. In other words, this is a woman who can truly kick ass. But it’s the emotional development that really marks out Sharp and Fox, and make FIFTH VICTIM a truly brilliant action novel.

So there we are. My top 10 reads of the year. Sure, they’re mostly crime novels, but they’re also a rich and varied representation of the talent available within the genre. So my advice to you is to hurry out to your preferred retailer and stock up. After all, if you do get snowed in this Christmas you’re going to want some damn good reads to keep you occupied…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel

By Jay Stringer

If this has been the year of anything, it's been the year of Mr Dave White discovering Doctor Who. In many ways, I think that's also led to a new level of enjoyment for Mr Russel D McLean and my own self. It's been an added dimension, not only do we get to look forward to the episodes, to have our own theories, but we also discuss them in some pretty epic chain emails with Dave. The show sometimes ends on cliffhangers, that can last for months, and the three of us get to fill that gap with wild guesses. Increasingly over the last year, there have been 'canon' (a useless term in Who, but bear with me) clips cropping up in other media; Comic Relief, viral marketing, the Who website. The show has been doing what a show of it's kind would appear to need to, it's been throwing a lot of sci fi plates in the air.

Dave sent me an interesting link yesterday. It showed quotes from Moffat, originally from an interview in Doctor Who Magazine, that he's not planning any two-parters next year. Here's one bit; "I want to be able to say, every week, we’ve got a big standalone blockbuster, and then a trailer that makes it look like nothing compared to what’s going to happen next week! That’s the form for next year."

Now, look, I'm not going to get into second guessing Mr Moffat. He's a witty and inventive (if sometimes overly clever and emotionally shallow) writer, and most of the high points of modern who have come from his pen. Fingers. Keyboard. Whatever.

(I should have just gone with 'brain', right?)

He's also known to lie from time to time. In a good way. He lies in a way that sets up the audience for a pleasant surprise. So I'm translating "no two parters next year," into, "let's wait and see how many times he breaks that rule." No big deal.

He's also a bit of a master (heehee) at writing stand alone episodes that feel like two-parters. The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below were two separate stories, but, connected by the larger story and coming one after the other, they worked very well as a subtle two-parter. So again, no big deal. Chances are he'll come up with something fun.

But it did get my brain whirring about cliffhangers and serialised stories. My first reaction was to think he was off the money. After all, so many of the TV shows we rave about in the staff room here at DSD towers are extremely long form storytelling. Whole seasons that are one long story.

I wonder if genre plays a part in this. For crime, horror or straight up drama, maybe our brains will be patient. For Who -which covers a lot of ground but really belongs in it;s own genre marked 'fun.'- is there a bit of the brain than loses track if it has to wait? I don't know. For me, growing up with old Who and then enjoying some of the modern stuff, the show needs cliffhangers. And more than that, I like stories that have them. I try and throw them in at the end of chapters, whether it's a physical beat or an emotional one.

But sometimes the cliff hanger can get in the way. Think of the old Batman TV show. The fun was in seeing what silly trap he could get into, then tuning in to the next episode to see how he got out of it. The 20-or-so minutes between those sometimes fade into bland memories.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is a love letter to an era of cliff-hangers, yet the film doesn't end on one. The story never leaves you guessing for two long about how Indy gets out of the scrape, because there's not week's wait. And that film doesn't exactly suffer for it. And I find that if comic-book writers use the cliff-hanger technique too often, I start to lose interest in the book, it becomes formulaic.

Moffat states that the second instalments present modern problems; the viewing figures go down, the press attention goes down, the 'coming next' trailers are harder to do. I wonder if there's something in that, I wonder if, as with the old Batman show, cliff-hangers create a novelty, but that novelty then gets in the way of story? Shows like THE WIRE were long form story telling, but they actually very rarely used cliff-hangers. Each episode, for the most part, was a self contained chapter in a larger story, with a beginning, middle and end.

So, colour me confused. I'm not too worried about WHO. It's a show that needs to take a look at itself every year and figure out something new, that's how it keeps afloat. But overall I'm wondering about some of these things. I'd been taking it for granted that the jump into new media would create a new golden age of cliff-hangers. But maybe not. Maybe all it means is that people will want more sophisticated self contained stories, bite sized chunks that can either stand alone or work as part of a larger story.

This is exactly the kind of thing that John Mcfet used to speculate about. So he's probably sat somewhere, in his hollowed out Canadian volcano, stroking a white cat and laughing. Maybe you should tune in next week to see if it's true.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Return of Oscar Martello

By Steve Weddle

First, here are some Christmas present ideas for that reader you know:

THE CHAOS WE KNOW by Keith Rawson

"These aren't stories (The Chaos We Know), these are slivers of a blasted world which Rawson gleefully embeds in your mind, and which won’t be dislodged by bourbon, ritual scarification, or even the police procedural -- thank God. And thank God, too, for Rawson, who has the kind of talent to leave you mutilated and breathless." -- Benjamin Whitmer, author of Pike

“The Chaos We Know is a pulp-fueled debut w/ dopers, cops, husbands and wives. boyfriends & girlfriends, psychos & sadists, sand-storming through the potholes & shithouses of Arizona, leaving barnacles of the self centered, the down trodden’ & the surviving. Keith Rawson is the new garbage-tongued satirist of filth, deviance & violence for the new underclass.” -- Frank Bill, author of Crimes in Southern Indiana and Donnybrook

MONKEY JUSTICE by Patti Abbott

"Patricia Abbott proves that there are many shades of noir as she expertly layers her stories with melancholy, loss and the frailness of the human psyche" – Dave Zeltserman, author of Pariah

“Patti Abbott is a master when it comes to short stories.” -- Anne Frasier, author of Pale Immortal and The Orchard (as Theresa Weir)

“In this collection of short contemporary noir fiction, Patti Abbott distinguishes herself as an extraordinary storyteller of the dark recesses of the human heart. Abbott’s characters hit hard, fight dirty, and seek a brand of hardscrabble justice that will leave you both wincing and wishing for more.” – Sophie Littlefield, author of a Bad Day for Sorry

OFF THE RECORD edited by Luca Veste

‘Hitmen, cons, winos, bag snatchers, killers and psychos, the wronged, the vengeful and the damned, all darken the pages off this superior crime anthology. Off The Record is seriously cool.’ - Howard Linskey, Author of The Drop, named in The Times best reads of 2011

37 talented writers plus Steve Weddle, 38 short stories based on classic song titles...

The best writers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, come together to produce an anthology of short stories, with all proceeds being donated to two Children's Literacy charities. In the UK, National Literacy Trust. In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative.

SKATING OVER THE LINE by our own Joelle Charbonneau

"Light and breezy, Charbonneau’s sophomore entry holds up. Her humor mixed with an eccentric cast keeps the mystery rolling at a steady clip. With this title’s romantic triangle not unlike Janet Evanovich’s trio of Stephanie Plum, Ranger, and Joe Morelli, and relatives reminiscent of those in books by Rita Lakin or Deborah Sharp, you’ve got another humorous series at the ready."--Library Journal

"Charbonneau's sequel to 2010's Skating Around the Law offers just the right mix of skullduggery, humor, mystery, and romance....Readers will enjoy the ride, and they'll really love Elwood, Lionel's retired circus camel."--Publishers Weekly


Also, you know, this.


OK. As many of you know, I've been finishing up my COUNTRY HARDBALL collection, which has nothing to do with Oscar Martello in tone, subject, or style.

Still, we have plenty of Oscar in the tank and on the horizon (don't ask), so here you go -- the return of Oscar Martello. This is a section from the Oscar story I've been working on. Maybe it's rough, but I hear that's how you folks like Oscar. I'll put it through the polishing machine later. By the way, if you need to catch up on Oscar, you'll find some help here.


The Return of Oscar Martello

I’d been driving for an hour or two looking for something that would lead me to the next thing. I’d gotten some information from what was left of the priest, but I didn’t expect to find out what happened to my brother and his wife. Don’t know what I was expecting. Guys handing off cash and crack under a big sign that says “Drug Deal Here.” I hadn’t bothered with dealers in 20 years, not since a guy we called Ugarte needed some help cleaning up an area over in Bossier.
If the answer to the problem is to stop the oxygen from going to someone’s brain, then I’m the guy. If the answer is to separate a person into parts in order to find out another answer, they call me. But when no one even knows what the question is, no one gets called. Which is why I was driving around Weatherby Estates. The neighborhood, maybe the kids called it a territory, was jammed between Youree Drive and some of nicer neighborhoods. And the place was falling apart, like big hunks all over Shreveport. Meaning that the kids were like hawks in the winter, needing to expand their hunting grounds to find food. But they weren’t hawks. They were bees. The Killer Bs. They had been the Weatherby Killer Bees, tagging “23-11-2” all over because “W” was the twenty-third letter of the alphabet and so forth. After a couple of years, they just called themselves the Killer Bees and adopted jerseys from the Houston Astros because a couple of their players, Biggio and Bagwell, were called the “Killer B’s.” Really cute. I had the history explained to me by a guy I had tied up watching me peel the skin off one of his gang-mates in order to keep the conversation moving.  I’m the curious sort.
Now I was pulling around their territory, looking for them. And looking for a place to dump a plastic bag of crapped pants. My friend Lucy had called me thirty minutes after I’d left her place because my nephew Zach had crapped his pants. So I swung by Sears, grabbed him some replacement clothes, and stopped by her place where we swapped plastic bags.
He was sitting on the couch watching cartoons, just as I’d left him. Except for the change of clothes.
“Why is he in that t-shirt?” I asked her.
Lucy looked at me, then back at the t-shirt, then at me. “You don’t like Jeff Gordon?”
“Don’t care. Just asking.”
“I had him in a Dale Junior one after I cleaned him up, but then I thought he might have another accident. So I put him in that one instead.”
“You brought him undies?” she asked.
“I brought socks, underwear, pants, shirts. Kid can move in now.”
“The hell he can,” she said, then scrunched up her face, said “sorry” to Zach and leaned in to me. “The hell he can. I got clients coming.”
“I don’t know. Tonight. They called as soon as you left. You gotta do something with him by dinner.”
“Tell ya what. I’ll grab some pizzas when I come back to get him. That help?”
“Just be here. He ain’t gonna spend the night.”
Exactly what I needed. Taking care of my four-year-old nephew while I figure out what the bad guys did to his perfect mommy and daddy. His daddy. My brother. What he’d told them. Whether he’d told them anything he shouldn’t have. Anything besides where I was. Anything, such as what was in the Richardson file.


Having a little brother never helped me when I was growing up. He was staying with my mother’s side of the family. The ones with college degrees and paychecks. I was staying with my father’s side of the family. The ones who weren’t familiar with taxable income.
That’s why he’d become an accountant, and I’d become something else. That’s why he was the person to go to when I realized what was in the envelopes I’d taken from Richardson’s safe. That was why I had to find out what he’d told them. What he told his wife. Johnny Quinn was gone. But if Vitus wanted the information, then I had to act quickly.


So there I was, driving around the outer edge of the Killer Bees’ area when I stopped to finally drop the bag of crap into a trash can. I should have stopped the first chance after leaving Lucy’s, but I just wanted to find out what was going on. Get out and clean up his dad’s mess. Then get the kid back with whatever family he still had at that point. Then move on with my life. And by then I was smelling wet crap all over the inside of a plastic Brookshire’s bag.
I pulled up in front of a strip mall and was stepping out to the edge of the sidewalk for the trashcan when I saw two tough guys in Astros jerseys and crooked caps slinking around the corner.
I locked the car and followed them down the side of the building. Beige cinderblocks and weed-tall grass. Across a concrete creek, some overflow reservoir, to a chainlink fence.
I looked around and noticed an opening that had been torn on the bottom part of the fence. Probably so that they didn’t have to jump over. Or so that they could stay hidden longer. I saw one of the guys coming out from behind a bush, and when I stepped towards him, a building of some sort hit the back of my head and I went down.
The guy behind got my gun as I struggled to keep my eyes open. The guy who’d been in front was holding something solid in his fist and taking a whack at my chin. I couldn’t stay up, couldn’t stay steady. Even though I had to move my car. Even though I had to stay awake. Even though I had to get Zach from Lucy’s by six. Even. Though.


I woke up with my hands tied behind me. Cuffs. I blinked awake to high windows. Concrete floor I was sitting on. Basement. Hands cuffed together behind me, around the bottom of a column.
The two Killer Bees who’d dragged me here were sitting at a card table waiting for me to wake up.
The little one saw me, then he put his cards down. “He’s awake.”
The big one pushed his chair away from the table. He kneeled in front of me. “You’re the one who messed up Father Michael.”
I looked up at him. “Yeah.”
He kneeled down again and backhanded me across the face. “I wasn’t asking a question, you friggin’ puke.”
When I leaned back to avoid some of the slap, I felt the column behind me shift a little. He walked back to the card table and I felt around the floor where the column settled. Raised cement, but the wooden column hadn’t been secured. I didn’t know too much about lag screws. I didn’t understand all the details about how to frame walls, how to finish a basement.
I did know how to finish other things. And I knew that putting your hands on me is a bad idea.
The little one, Biggio, came at me from the table. He stood right in front of me, swaying from side to side in his work boots. I was guessing size 8. “See, Mr. Tough Guy. We don’t like people asking questions about us. We got serious business to take care of and we don’t need no weasels like you coming around trying to scare us with your guns.”
Behind him, Bagwell chambered a round in my Glock 25. I kept it handy because it was easy to carry, easy to hide, and didn’t ruin the line of my jacket. My jacket that they’d wadded up on the floor next to the table.
I crossed my legs, put by feet under me. Biggio was standing between me and Bagwell, so when I slid my hands out from under the column, I had an extra second or two. I popped up with my head into Biggio’s chin, sending him up and back. Bagwell reacted better than I’d thought he would and the little guy caught a couple rounds in the back as he fell into Bagwell. The big guy reached out for his buddy and dropped the gun, which I kicked to my left, towards the door.
Had I been 20 years younger, I would have jumped and pulled my legs through my arms, putting my cuffed hands in front of me. As it was, I dropped to my side, trying to wiggle around like a dying fish flopping around a boat.
Bagwell recovered enough to kick me in the back, but not before I’d gotten my hands in front of me. As I stood up, I caught another one of his kicks in my hands and pushed him back into the wall. I didn’t know where the key to the cuffs was and I didn’t have time to find it before he was coming back. I turned away as he came at me and sent a knee into his gut, then raised my arms and brought both fists down into his upper spine. He stayed there on his knees for a second before I put my fists together again and slammed him against his temple. I saw the key on the table and uncuffed. I walked over towards the door where the pistol and my jacket were. As I tried to shake the wrinkles out of my jacket, Zach’s bag fell out.


Bagwell was barely awake, but opened his eyes with a start as I put the first nail through his hand. He tried to shake me off, but I had my weight on his back, my knees pressing into his shoulders as I drove in the other nail. That’s the good thing about basements. Tools. 2x4s.
I’d secured him around a post I knew wouldn’t move -- him spread face down and arms out, the post in front and his hands nailed to a 2x4 on the other side. I hadn’t tried this before and was curious about how it would turn out. That should have gotten him talking, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste any time.
So I opened the bag of Zach’s soiled clothes.


After two minutes, I pulled the streak-filled Transformer underwear from his mouth and he gave me the name I needed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best TV of 2011

Last week I talked about HOMELAND, which was one of my favorite TV shows of the new season. That goes along with 3 other shows that either tugged at my heart, tickled my brain or kept me on the edge of my seat:

Doctor Who: I first caught up with this show last April and, yes, got obsessed. Steven Moffat is telling a modern day fairy tale, complete with monsters, humor, emotion and plenty of mind bending twists. Though his endings don't always live up to his set-ups, they always fit together nicely. And the season finale of series 5 is amazing TV, and the opening minute of series 6 are mind-blowing. If you like funny, twisty sci-fi, check out this series.

Terriers: A modern day PI novel set-up for TV. This show gets into the lives two down-on-their-luck PIs who take a case and get... you guessed it... caught up in something much, much bigger. And while the case isn't exactly breaking new ground, the banter between the two PIs and the events they go through in their personal lives make the show compelling as hell. The show only lasted a season, but you got about as good a conclusion as you're going to get. Check it out on Netflix now.

Breaking Bad: What else can be said about this TV show? Simply the best drama on TV today. This is a show that needs patience from its viewers, but pays off in spades if you keep up with it. The latest season was no different. I'm staying away from spoilers, so I can't tell you much more... but know this... the show will ring your bell.

Next week... books.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An Education in Discrimination

The girl-child, at the tender age of 9, recently had a powerful lesson.

No, people are not all equal. Some are a little less equal. They might be - shudder with horror - men.

See, she had her dress rehearsal for her dance recital. And since the boy-child was sick, it meant we had to split up. Brian took her to the rehearsal...

And was shown the door.

Not allowed to stay and watch. Only female companions were allowed to stay and watch.

You see, allegedly, there were going to be costume changes. Out on the stage. So no boys allowed.

Except... the men operating the sound equipment and lights and the stage hands and the men old enough to be my parent who were in the productions and the boy dancers...

So, wait? The girls were just going to strip down and change in front of all of them, some of whom worked for the auditorium and weren't known to the dance school? Complete strangers?

The thing is, girl-child emerged from rehearsal with the news that no costume changes occurred.

They just didn't want fathers or grandfathers to watch the rehearsals, and they made up an excuse that sounds good on the surface but is pure crap.

And girl-child came home offended on behalf of her dad.

Brian? He's experienced it so many times, he's just gotten used to it. As a single father for many years, he'd go to the store and someone would say, "Oh, it's Dad's day out."

When you're juggling two toddlers it makes it hard to say, "Every single day is Dad's day out."

People are prejudiced. They presume. They don't always do it with malicious intent. More often, it's probably a case of not thinking.

But all that willingness to not think contributes to generations of sexist behavior. Maryland State legally does not discriminate based on gender and is supposed to consider both parents equal parents, yet in the majority of cases, mothers get custody.

If there was real equality, the default position of the courts would be shared legal and physical custody, with a 50-50 split that's only adjusted based on individual needs in the situation.

But it isn't.

The other day, Steve Mosby posted a link on Facebook, about sexual harassment. The author talks about just wanting to be able to go out and not have to worry about being hit on.

Somewhere in our lives, we've all experienced it. Judgment, conclusions without facts, based on nothing more than our gender, appearance, skin color, ethnicity or religion. I personally think Brian caught the edge of something far worse recently, when someone said to him that there are so many dads who just aren't involved in their kids lives.

Of course, that was right after we were told even though Brian has shared legal and physical custody of his kids, that he doesn't have any say in educational decisions.

I walked away wondering if the reason so many kids are growing up without dads involved in their education is because of administrators shoving them out the doors.

That may frustrate me to no end. But I have to say that there's nothing sadder than seeing it - really seeing it - for the first time through your child's eyes, and seeing that they are beginning to understand that the world will prejudge them, too.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's all in the timing

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Recently, I’ve done a lot of thinking about how and why things happen. I tend to be a believer that all things happen for a reason. Sometimes I can’t even begin to imagine what the reason could possibly be, but all things that happen in our lives impact who we are and how we see the world.

For writers, how we see the world changes how we write. The book I am writing now would read completely different if I’d written it five years ago. The plot might have been similar, but the characters, their emotional development and the feel of the story would have been different. Because I’m different.

And not only does timing impact the telling of the story it also changes how the story will be received when the story is submitted to an editor or agent. They might have just signed a similar kind of story and while yours is great – they can’t justify taking yours on. Or the opposite could be true. They have been looking for something specific to fill a hole in their list and your book fits the bill. Timing matters.

Timing has been a big factor in my writing career. I started writing about 8 years ago. When I started querying agents, I researched their client lists, found agents with clients who wrote in the same genre I did. That was smart, right? I got no after no after no. A few of those were closer to HELL NOs, but you get the point. I took a break from the querying and rejection merry-go-round when my son was born and my father was diagnosed once again with cancer. The break lasted months after my father’s death. When I finally started querying again, I did my research and learned a former mystery editor had just become a literary agent. Since she was brand new at the agenting gig, she didn’t have a client list for me to look at. The idea of having a skilled editor as my agent was appealing so I sent a query and the specified number of sample pages. Two days later she asked for the full manuscript. Nineteen days after that she offered me representation.

Holy crap!

At the time, I was over the moon delighted. I’m still happy with that decision because Stacia Decker is the best agent ever, but I realize the timing in that query worked in my favor. Had she been established, as she is now, and had a client list for me to look at I never would have queried her. Her list is heavy with noir, literary fiction, horror, thrillers and some science fiction thrown in for good measure. Totally not me. Had I waited another two or three months to start querying agents, I would have done my research and passed right by querying Stacia. And that would have been the worst mistake of my life.

So, I guess what I am saying is that there are rules in this business that I believe in. You finish a manuscript and edit it to the best of your ability before you start to submit it. You do your research on editors and agents and try to match your work to the appropriate ones. Those things are important. But equally important is timing and dumb luck. My luck was pretty amazing the day I researched Stacia and decided to send an e-mail that changed my life. I don’t think that having an agent is the right choice for everyone, but I do say that if you are looking for one, keep at it and I’ll be hoping that the timing becomes right for you.