Saturday, December 24, 2011

Somewhere in Our Memories

Scott D. Parker

I had an interesting thing happened to me this week. The new movie trailer for the film “The Hobbit” debuted. Excitedly, I watched the preview, and, for some reason, I was underwhelmed. It got me to worrying. Have I reached a certain age in my life or my sense of wonder has left me?

Eleven years ago when the first trailer for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings landed on the internet, I could not contain my excitement or enthusiasm. Then, in December of 2001,The Fellowship of the Ring debuted and was such a gorgeous adaptation that it, frankly, exceeded my expectations. Moreover, coming as it did a mere three months after September 11, the movie took on a sort of reverential place in my consciousness. At the time, I had been a new father for only two months, so this film hit me on multiple levels. Finally, that it came out during the Christmas season, this film felt a part of the season. For three wonderful Christmases, the three films fused with the holiday.

So what to make of my somewhat tepid reaction to the new trailer? It's going to be released Christmas time in 2012 and, thankfully, not a summer blockbuster. I polled the members of my science fiction book club. One of them was happy to see that basically nothing had changed, that the new film is going to look exactly like the first three films even if The Hobbit was a prequel. Another member of the club tried to quantify my thoughts. Here is an excerpt of what he had to say:

Maybe we're reaching a saturation point at which something has to be more extraordinary to fire our neurons and release those endorphins. Is that cynicism? Maybe.

Maybe it's the equivalent of a palate change, like when you switch from drinking sweet white wines to dark, tannic reds. When 60% cacao just isn't enough.

We're all at the age that, to me, signals both a refining of what we like as well as having enough life experience to know that trying new things won't hurt us. We're more picky, while in the same breath looking for something that broadens our experience and gives it fresh perspective.

Unfortunately, it may only get more difficult. But that's why I like our book club and that's why I'll risk a potential movie letdown now and then. I don't think there will be anything much better in the film than what I've cultivated from my dozen or more reads of The Hobbit. But I would love Jackson to prove me wrong!

How does this relate to Christmas, you ask? Well, even though I grow older, I am never as young as I am in December of each year, and Christmas is the one thing that never truly diminishes. I watch the same specials (and the new ones) and still laugh at the same things (the Peanuts gang dancing; the Grinch making his costume; Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci getting smacked around among others). When December rolls around, I roll back in years, but I am always aware of where I am.

I am an adult, obviously, so some of the magic of the time is gone (for I am one of the magicians). Yes, there are times in this past month (and just about every December) when melancholy seeps into me as I remember Christmases past. It's during these times when I break out "Where are you Christmas?" (Faith Hill), "River," (Robert Downey), "Somewhere in My Memory" (Home Alone soundtrack), and "2000 miles" (Coldplay). While it may be easy to slip into remorse and depression, I never do. Those past yuletide festivities are a part of me and have made me who I am.

In 1851, Charles Dickens wrote an essay titled "What Christmas Is As We Grow Older," and a favorite passage is this:

Therefore, as we grow older, let us be more thankful that the circle of our Christmas associations and of the lessons they bring, expands! Let us welcome everyone of them, and summoned them to take their places by the Christmas hearth.

All my life experiences, all my past Christmases, belong on the hearth of my memory. Too often, I think we adults try so hard to have or create the "perfect" Christmas that we forget to just live with the season. It only comes once a year and it's best--even when faced with mall crowds, traffic, sold out gifts, and parties that didn't go off exactly as we wanted them to--that there is still magic in the air. We just have to realize that, sometimes, that magic needs a little kindling to spark again. Once it does, even if it's for a brief time in a year, it's great to sit back, watch the fire in our own personal hearths, and just enjoy and be thankful for all that we have, including the memories of past Christmases.

I want thank all of y'all for another great year writing for Do Some Damage. I appreciate all my fellow writers and I am thankful for you, the readers of this blog. Without y'all, we're just spouting text into the ether. Without you, this little experiment would be a monologue (x8) rather than a dialogue. And it's in dialogue that we learn from each other.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Remembering Joseph Blanco

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it is especially horrific around the holidays.

As you may have heard, a member of our family lost a member of her family yesterday.

Please remember the family of Joelle Charbonneau and her husband, Andy Blanco, as they lost Andy's father, Joseph Blanco.

Along with many other folks, the ever-thoughtful Julie Summerell wanted to know how we could help.

I asked Joelle and this was her suggestion:

Since my father-in-law was in charge of PADS - a organization that helps feed and lend shelter to the homeless- we are having donations sent to the specific PADS group Joe worked with.

The church is the Unitarian Universalist Community of Woodstock PADS
ATTN: Dave Dreyer
129 North st.
Woodstock, IL 60098

In the name of Joseph Blanco.

I think she'd join me in adding this -- hug your loved ones a little extra this Christmas.

Godspeed, Mr. Blanco.

"Who's Got a Beard that's long and white?"

By Russel D McLean

I don't know about you, but I'm having a busy week of it. Given the nature of my day job, I've been a little tired upon returning home at nights. But its almost over. Its a lot of work for one day a year, but for me its never been about the gifts so much as its been about the family. And the music.

Chritmas at Casa McLean isn't about the usual Chrimbo tunes. We like to find the odd and the unusual. From Dad's obsession with redneck Christmas music to the whole family's recently discovered adoration of Bob Dylan's unfairly maligned Christmas album - here's Bob with Santa Claus (which was apparently filmed at Casa McLean judging by that party):

And of course we also have to bring in the funk. And who says Christmas more than James Brown?

James Brown - Santa Claus, go Straight to the Ghetto

To bring it down, we recently discovered that Dave Brubeck has an amazing collection of Christmas tunes. Like this - -Dave Brubeck - Walking in a Winter Wonderland

And then there's these guys. We're not a particularly religious family. For us, this time of year is about spending time with each other. But if you're going to bring a bit of gospel to your Christmas, you really can't do any better than these guys: Blind Boys of Alabama fear Tom Waits - Go, Tell it on the Mountain

Yes, today's post was a little lazy; a bunch of videos with a vague theme. But I just wanted to wish you all on behalf of Do Some Damage a happy holiday season, whatever you're doing with yourselves and however you choose to spend it. Take care and I'll see you on the other side.


*Answer - not Russel. At least not for a few years.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Book Deal! Book Deal!

By Jay Stringer

First off, I wouldn't be me if I didn't mention Joe Strummer. He passed away 9 years ago today, and I always take a little time on this day each year to play some of his music really loud. If you don't have his last two albums, then you're missing something special.

Secondly...Oh yeah, hey, I got a book deal.

Well, I say I got a book deal. What I actually did, see, is write a book. My agent got a book deal. It's a three book contract from the cool people over at Thomas & Mercer, and I'm really looking forward to working with them. The deal will see the publication of the first Eoin Miller novel, OLD GOLD, and it's two follow-ups.

Here's how my agent tells me to pitch the story in one line;

Half-gypsy ex-cop Eoin Miller is caught between two competing criminal families in Great Britain's Black Country when he's framed for the murder of a mysterious young woman he met only the night before.

I'm not very good at pitches, truth be told. If I could pitch a story that well in one line, I wouldn't have written it as a book.That's a skill I'll need to improve on. On my own neglected website I describe the story like this;

It’s pulp fiction, first and foremost, but it will sneak in some social fiction if you look the other way. It tells of a half-gypsy gangland detective. If you’re a businessman looking to find a statue of a falcon or a family looking for a missing toddler, you need not apply to Eoin Miller. If you’re a drug lord looking for a missing stash, or an illegal immigrant looking to stop a rapist, then he might be the man for you. He is very happy ignoring the world, his friends and his family. He’s doing a very nice job of learning to bury his conscience. He will take your money and find something you’ve lost, and then he will walk away. But when a woman is murdered in his house, he’s forced to make some big choices. He has to try and rediscover the difference between right and wrong, and he is badly out of practice.

I have some big plans for Miller over the course of his story arc, and I'm looking forward to getting back into his head and bringing the stories out to you.

One of the things we set out to do on DSD was to "pull back the curtain," and show you the other side of the publishing game. Joelle's been giving some interesting insights into her rise to world domination since she joined, (hey, you heard about her two new deals, right? FOUR BOOKS people, FOUR BOOKS.) I'm going to try and hold myself to showing things along the way about my own process.

First up, the deal and announcement. It's a strange process, and a stranger feeling. You know it's going on, of course. You talk to your agent as she talks to the folks making an offer. And you're sworn to not tell anyone, which means you only tell a few people. Then the deal is done, and you know it's done, and part of your brain is telling you, "Hey, it's cool. You're gonna be published. You're cool with this. Look how cool you are, not freaking out."

But then the deal get's announced. And for some reason, your agent telling the world about the deal makes it more real than when she told you, and you go a little mental. And so does twitter. And facebook. And your email inbox.

So thanks to everyone who sent me kind messages over the past few days. Thanks to the DSD crew for almost 3 years of alternating between, "hey, you'll get a deal, don't sweat," and "sit your ass back in that chair and write a better version." Thanks to my wife for keeping me sane thus far. And thanks to super agent Stacia Decker (and the DMLA) for getting my foot in the door.

The foot is in. The thing about the publishing industry, from my limited point of view so far, is that every step is the hardest step. Each corner you turn is "where the hard work really starts." The hardest part is writing the first story. Then it's getting an agent. Then it's getting a publisher. So now, once again, the hard work is about to start for me. I hope you guys will enjoy reading the occasional blog about how I work at getting through the next stage.

And, of course, tell everyone you've ever met to buy the book.

Happy holidays, folks!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Let Me Help You Shop

By Steve Weddle

OK. Last week I pointed you to some good books from the year. In case you need some more shopping hints, here you go.

VOLT by Alan Heathcock

I really dug this one. The story "Lazarus" is my favorite, but they're all top-shelf pieces.

In VOLT, the work of a writer who’s hell-bent on wrenching out whatever beauty this savage world has to offer, Heathcock’s tales of lives set afire light up the sky like signal flares touched off in a moment of desperation. -- from

ONCE UPON A RIVER from Bonnie Jo Campbell

From the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist—an odyssey of a novel about a girl's search for love and identity. 
Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone, and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices. -- from

The first BJC I read was WOMEN AND OTHER ANIMALS, which opens with a great story about an escaped tiger at the circus. Heck, you can't go wrong with Bonnie Jo Campbell's work. Get the new one or get the old ones.

And if you haven't already, go get yourself some SOUTHERN GODS by John Hornor Jacobs. I had my say about it here.

We ended last year over at the DSD Book Club talking about Benjamin Whitmer's fantastic PIKE.

If you haven't read that, you need to get to it. Here

Whether you have or haven't, Whitmer has a new one coming out next year -- the story of Charlie Louvin. Pre-order that one here. More from Mr. Whitmer himself here.

Here's the chat I had with Mr. Whitmer about Pike.

And here's one more "rural noir" offering to get you going: CRIMES IN SOUTHERN INDIANA by Frank Bill. I talked to him about writing here.

Don't forget to pre-order Joelle's upcoming MURDER FOR CHOIR. And speaking of pre-orders: Holm, Davidson, Blackmoore, Christopher, Laukkanen, Wendig. Who else you got?


Speaking of books you should read/own/gift -- the Book Group, we also covered Lynn Kostoff's LATE RAIN, Duane Swierczynski's FUN AND GAMES, and Dennis Tafoya's WOLVES.

Oh, and I talked to Lynn Kostoff about LATE RAIN here.

If you'd like to see the podcasts continue next year, let us know.

If you'd like to see the Book Group continue, let us know.

PS Check out WILD BILL from Dana King.

Will Hickox is a decorated FBI veteran with a legendary ability to cultivate informants, much closer to retirement than to the days when he earned the nickname “Wild Bill.” Operation Fallout should cut the head off of the Chicago mob and provide a fitting capstone to his career. When Outfit boss Gianni Bevilacqua dies and the resulting war places Fallout in jeopardy, Hickox does what he can to save it, and his retirement plans with his lover, Madeline Kilmak. 

Wild Bill examines the stresses of Operation Fallout from the law enforcement, criminal, and personal perspectives, as Will and his peers fight to keep the investigation afloat amid the power struggle between Gianni’s son and elder statesman Frank Ferraro. Torn between wanting closure to the investigation and starting his retirement, Hickox weighs the dangers of involving himself and Operation Fallout in the war, blurring the line he walks with his informants. Wild Bill

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Best Books and Beers 2011

Okay, just like everyone else, I have Christmas stuff I gotta do. So this is gonna be short and to the point. I'm picking the two best books I read this year and the two best beers.

Here we go:


AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman: Not published in 2011. In fact, it's the tenth anniversary. I stumbled upon this book because of Gaiman's brilliant episode of Doctor Who this year. But American Gods is more than a Doctor Who episode. It's one of the top 5 books I've ever read. A stunning, sprawling "realistic" fantasy novel (as if those two words make sense in conjunction with one another)... it is the story of American immigration... and what if those immigrants all brought their Gods with them. And those Gods wanted to start a war. Oh yes, it is awesome.

CHOKE ON YOUR LIES by Anthony Neil Smith: Quite simply the funniest, dirtiest, darkest, and most easily read book this year. A twist on the Nero Wolfe novels and also a scathing take on University life. Compelling and wonderful, it was the best book published this year. And only 99 cents. Please buy it, because I want a sequel. Now.


Schlafly AIPA: Bitter when it needs to be, smooth at the beginning and the best IPA I've ever had. A great summer beer... I tried tracking this beer down all year and was only able to find it in one restaurant. Just great tasting and fantastic. If you can find it, you're very, very lucky.

Keegan Ale's Mother's Milk: A stout so smooth and drinkable. Tastes like chocolate milk. If you don't like beer, this is a starter beer for you. And if you like stouts, but are looking for something to drink more than just one of... try this one out. Great stuff.

Now, I want your best books and BEST BEERS in the comments.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Plumbing of Genre, RIP Russell Hoban and other miscellany

My thoughts are all over the place this week so here are some things that have been on my mind. Maybe they will get expanded on later maybe not.

1) The Wire has ruined the police procedural on TV for me. Whether The Wire is realistic or not isn't the point but it achieved a level of verisimilitude that other cop shows don't. David Simon once said “fuck the average reader” and what The Wire demands of the viewer bears this philosophy out. That's because, if you look under the hood, these other cop shows, ostensibly set in the real world, are actually fantasies.

Some say that genre is an artificial construct created my marketing departments. Maybe.

Here's what I know. The surface genre of a story isn't always readily apparent.

I watch these other cop shows and gnash my teeth and rend my garments and laugh like they are sitcoms every time:

-they break a suspect in the box in like 30 seconds
-they are able to use a missing persons cell phone data to determine their location without having to get a warrant for that info
-they never show the process of getting a warrant before taking a door
-they make The Promise. You know, “I promise we'll get the guy who did this”, Horatio intoned gruffly while standing sideways before putting his sunglasses on and walking away. I hate The Promise. I'm thinking about editing an anthology called The Promise where every story has a cop making The Promise before it all goes horribly wrong.
-a suspect, especially affluent ones, never lawyer up

The Wire, at it's core, is a realistic show. The CSI's and other procedural are, at their cores, fantasies. It's not as outlandish a premise as you might initially think if you take the time to look under the hood of the story.

There's more to say so I'm going to leave two exhibits as food for thought.

Exhibit A: A paragraph that Chuck Klosterman wrote:

"Take, for example, Road House. This is a movie I love. But I don't love it because it's bad; I love it because it's interesting. Outside the genre of sci-fi, I can't think of any film less plausible than Road House. Every element of the story is wholly preposterous: the idea of Swayze being a nationally famous bouncer (with a degree in philosophy), the concept of such a superviolent bar having such an attractive clientele, the likelihood of a tiny Kansas town having such a sophisticated hospital, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Every single scene includes at least one detail that could never happen in real life. So does that make Road House bad? No. It makes Road House perfect. Because Road House exists in a parallel reality that is more fanciful (and more watchable) than The Lord of the Rings. The characters in Road House live within the mythology of rural legend while grappling with exaggerated moral dilemmas and neoclassical archetypes. I don't feel guilty for liking any of that. Road House also includes a monster truck. I don't feel guilty for liking that, either."

Exhibit B: a fascinating scan of an article from New Frontiers magazine from 1959 called "Can We Live Without Fantasy Fiction"? that illustrates that fantasy then is not the same as fantasy now.

2)It's been a hell of a week for deaths. Russell Hoban, one of my favorite writers, died at the age of 86. Hoban was the rare writer that you could grow with and read for your entire life. He was the author of the famous Francis the Badger children's books. He penned the classic book for older children (and adults) The Mouse and His Child, as moving and deep a book as has ever been written. He then went on to write novels for adults including Turtle Island and Riddly Walker. He stayed prolific, playful and imaginative until the end and we are now less for not having him with us.

3)I think this video is a great example of an unreliable narrator in a first person POV story

4)When we talk about book pricing and the changing landscape of of the publishing industry we often do so while in a bubble. We rarely take into account data and opinions from sources as far ranging as possible. With how inter-connected things are the conversation is lesser for not doing so. We should take into account things like this:

“It’s well established that when housing prices go up people feel richer and spend more: the rule of thumb is that they spend between five and seven per cent of the increase in housing wealth. But when housing prices go down people cut their spending by the same amount in response. Between 2006 and 2011, American homeowners saw the value of their homes drop by seven trillion dollars or so. That means that—even if consumers had no debt at all—we’d expect a dropoff in consumption of about four hundred billion dollars.”

That's a staggering figure that will and has affected discretionary spending.

5)And just because:

But though similar disasters, however little bruited ashore, were by no means unusual in the fishery; yet, in most instances, such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent.

Currently reading: Already Gone by John Rector, Osama by Lavie Tidhar, Drawing Dead by JJ DeCeglie.

Currently listening: Amy Winehouse and Peter Tosh.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Write what you want to write

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Well, this was kind of an exciting week. Minotaur Books offered me a contract on SKATING UNDER THE WIRE, book 4 of the Rebecca Robbins mystery series. YAY! I love writing Rebecca and I am excited to get to work on her newest adventure that will be published in the Fall of 2013.

I also had one other piece of good news. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has bought my 3 book GRADUATION DAY young adult series. The first book, THE TESTING, will be published in 2013 as the lead Fall (although they are now thinking it might be Spring) title with the other books to follow in 2014 and 2015. To say I’m stunned would be an understatement. My new editor and the entire Houghton Mifflin Harcourt team is incredibly excited about the series. Their enthusiasm is both thrilling and humbling.

The story is darker than my mysteries and while when I conceived the story I was fascinated by the concept, I admit that I wasn’t sure that A) I could effectively do the world building required for the story or B) my agent would like the story or the voice it was told in. But the decision to write or not write the story was tipped in one direction because of these words:

Write what you want to write.

Last May, I was having a phone chat with my agent. During the conversation, I asked her what project I should write next. I had two books to write on my contract for my new show choir series. The deadline for book 2 wasn’t for over a year, but I assumed that my agent would want me to write those books first before writing anything else. Still, I mentioned to her I had an idea for this Young Adult book…. I waited for her to tell me to keep focused or that she didn’t really rep YA. Instead, she said that sounds really cool. You should write that. I must have sounded surprised because her next response was – WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE.

Those words had a profound impact on me and not just because I have received the kind of contract I never dared dream of. Those words themselves were freeing.

So often we hear that authors need to stick to their brand. That authors need to stick to the genre that is working for us. Stick to the voice and the stories we have an audience for. But instead, I was told to write the story in my head and see where that story would take me.

Now, I’m a pretty fast writer. I tend to write a mostly clean draft of a manuscript in about 3 months. Had it not been for that fact, my agent might have had different advice for me. She might have suggested that I write those next contracted novels and wait to write the other idea until after they were completed. Because this is a business and there are obligations I have promised to meet. But she knows me and thus told me to write the story I really wanted at that moment to tell. Let me tell you, I am beyond grateful I followed her advice.

So, I guess the point of this whole story is this—don’t let anyone tell you that you “the author” are locked into doing just one thing. Being a writer means day in and day out we get to create. There are no limits to the stories we can tell. The most important thing we can do as authors is write the story we are passionate about. That passion is why we do what we do. And we are lucky we get to follow that passion and see where it leads us.

In case you are curious - here is the PW copy about THE TESTING - 16-year-old Cia is chosen by her government to undergo The Testing, which determines whether she gets to proceed to The University. The University is for the country's best and brightest teens; during The Testing, extreme psychological and physical trials pit the teens against one another to determine who has what it takes to become a leader.