Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book Review: The Gentlemen's Hour

Scott D. Parker

(Jay's sick, I'm without time enough to write a decent post. So, I present to y'all, a review of one of my favorite books I read last year. Back next week with new stuff.)

Remember the thrill of first love? That inexplicable, special something deep down in the pit of your stomach that feels like it's left earth's gravity and is caroming off into outer space? It happens with your significant other or spouse, but it also happens with books, too. The first time you discover an author, the special ways the prose is styled, the particular nuance of storytelling, it's magical. That's how I felt when I read Don Winslow's 2008 book, The Dawn Patrol. It was, by far, the best book I read that year and, had The Dark Knight not premiered in July of that year, Winslow's book would have been the best thing I consumed all year.

Finally, three long years later, the sequel arrives. The Gentlemen's Hour does exactly what a sequel is supposed to do: return you to the place you discovered, to the fictional people with whom you have a bond, in prose that breathes life into nonexistent folks. Boone Daniels is a man's man, the kind of guy someone like me pines to emulate but knows, in reality, could never be. He likes to surf with his friends. That's kind of about it. Whereas Anthony Bourdain has the mantra "I write, I travel, I eat, and I'm hungry for more," Boone Daniels would probably say "I surf, with my friends, and watch the sunset, what more do I need?" He's a PI only so far as to keep the lights on and pay for food. As bohemian as that sounds, it's not a lifestyle to be admired.

Which is why he basically takes almost any job that comes his way, seeing as he doesn't have a line of potential customers outside his door. Unfortunately for Daniels, the job that comes his way is with the defense attorney for Corey Blasingame. You see, Blasingame stands accused of killing one Kelly Kuhio, the absolute zen master of surfdom in SoCal, the kind of man all sides admire. This doesn't sit well with Boone's core group of friends: Hang Twelve, Hide Tide, Dave the Love God, and Johnny Banzai. They all think Corey should just be lynched. As does the rest of the SoCal surfing community. Heck, Johnny, a San Diego cop, was the detective on Blasingame's case, so any headway Boone can make on the case, he has to take on Johnny and take him down a peg or two. Not a good way to keep your friends.

Then there's Petra Hall. Hot British chick, lawyer for Blasingame's attorney, uppity, and definitely not a surfer. She's basically the one main female character in a book populated by macho men, so she has to hold her own. She and Boone have a thing, but neither knows precisely what it is. Sunny Day, the one female surfer from The Dawn Patrol, is absent from this one save for a scene. For most of the book, Petra and Boone struggle with determining what, if anything, they have together. There's the professional sides of both of them, and then there's that magnetism where opposites attract.

As you can imagine, the deeper Boone digs into the case, the deeper the fractures become among the Dawn Patrol. Friendship hang by a thread and loyalties are questioned. I'm not as versed in PI literature as other people are, but I know enough to know that many PIs are loners. Not Boone. He relies on his friends and hates to pursue this case. But he does it because that's what the dead Kuhio would want him to do. It's almost as if Kuhio is the Obi Wan Kenobi to Boone's Luke Skywalker.

For as powerful a writer as Winslow is, as completely as he controls the pace, the prose, and the scope of this book, if you don't have a good ending, the entire book could be tarnished. Have no fear. He delivers an ending that completely satisfied all that I wanted in this book. And he does it in a language so "of the area" that it makes me want to hope on a board and surf...even though I can't surf. Winslow's sense of place is that palpable.

The number one problem most of us have with sequels (or series titles) is the sameness of it all. Meh, we might say, I've seen that before. Or, whatever, there was just too much. Not so with The Gentlemen's Hour. Here, we have character progression in Boone, but his core remains the same. He still possesses that which we fell in love with back in The Dawn Patrol, but this is clearly not The Dawn Patrol II. That's what makes a good sequel.

To quoth the sage of surfdom, it was epic macking crunchy.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Open Minds

By Russel D McLean (aged 31 and-a-half physically, but still only about 18 in his own head)

The other day I had the fortune of bumping into Alex Scarrow (Not to be confused with Simon Scarrow although I believe they are brothers). Scarrow is the author several adult thrillers, but where he has found real success is in writing for the YA/Teen market. He’s not one of those who jumped a bandwagon (I’m becoming increasingly annoyed with the cynical practice of writing younger versions of established adult protagonists or giving them an unexpected nephew etc and just writing the same book with slightly different linguistic tics) but seems to have been genuinely been excited by the prospect of writing for that market. In the same way that the brilliant Kevin Wignall has whole heartedly thrown himself into becoming KJ Wignall (and in doing so has charmed all the children’s booksellers that I know even if they’ve never met him).
I have no particular plans to write a YA novel (although I have an idea noodling around that I think would be great fun to write) but writing for that age group seems to be intensely more satisfying than writing for adults for one very simple reason:

Young people are not conservative.

What does that mean? It means that younger readers are open to new styles and opposing views. It means that they can get excited by story and not worry about whether it fits genre expectations (or that it doesn’t). It means that they seem to care more about whether the story actually grabs them than whether they think the story will. It’s not about what they expect. It’s about what they actually get.

I have a rule in my reading: it’s that I try to demand the same things I do now from a book as a writer that I did when I was a reader. In fact when I read a book, even if it’s for review or if it’s to check a section or two out for a close friend, then I do it with my reader head on first. Why?

One established author once told me they found it difficult to read books with the same joy they once did because “everything changes when you’re published”. Really? Does it? I don’t see why and I don’t see how. What made you a good writer was being a good reader (we’ll get to why you have to read to write another day - - that’s another issue that’s been banging around my noggin of late) and if you lose one you lose the other. Because in the end who are we writing for but readers?

In the same way I don’t see why we have to demand a dreary predictability in our reading as we get older. Sure, we can deal with more adult themes and ideas than when we’re younger and our own views might be less black and white (although I suspect in many cases its actually more so). What essentially changes about us in those years that we can’t get past what we expect? What makes us conservative and builds up these tiny little prejudices in our reading mind?

I won’t read crime.

I won’t read literature.

I won’t read non-fiction.

I won’t read horror.

We tell ourselves little stories as to why we won’t read these specific kinds of books. But the truth is that we don’t always have a reason and that we’re missing out on some great books by closing off parts of our minds to the experiences outside of narrow genre limitations.

Younger readers don’t have these pre-conceptions. And as such writers often feel freed up to do things with genre and storytelling they would never otherwise be able to get away with.

And it’s clear that adult readers feel trapped, too, judging by the numbers of them going straight to YA literature and the amount of crossover works that have appeared in recent years (Boy In The Striped Pyjamas would have been hailed as too depressing if it was an adult book as would Before I Die, while of course Harry Potter is seen as safe fantasy because it was written for kids, as ostensibly was Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy). In the end, I think adult readers, publishers and writers need to find their inner YA reader again and create adult books that deal with issues, that aren’t afraid to take chances with convention and that can shock, excite and surprise. Books that are written not for demographics but for the author’s inner reader, that ask the reader to put aside their own prejudices and take a chance at seeing the world through very different eyes. In short, we need to forget that we’re supposed to have learned everything by the time we become adults and accept that the joy of reading we has as YA and child readers – the joy of discovering new ways of thinking, new ways of engaging and new points of view we might never have otherwise come across – isn’t something we necessarily need to jettison. Life doesn’t stop when we become adults. We do not become set in stone. We should still be open to new ideas and entertainments that are greater than mere distraction through the familiar.

We should remember and foster our inner young adult. Even when writing and reading adult fiction.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

From The Vault; Writers Block And Other Urban Myths

by Jay Stringer

I'm blogging from a sick bed today, so I'm taking the easy way out and reposting something. I found it interesting to read though; it was my first post on DSD, way back in those crazy days of yore (2009), and my voice has changed a bit since then. Still, it's still an argument that I stand by, and one that always seems to annoy people.

I’ve been thinking a lot about writer’s block lately. I was recently asked for some advice on how to deal with it. I did manage to give a practical tip, but I'll leave that for the end.

Writer's block, in my opinion, is nothing more than a bogeyman to scare us at night. William Goldman believes in it, and I tend to go with what he says, but in this instance I’m not so sure.

Okay, perspective check; Goldman is an award winning writer. I’m a guy on a street corner, shouting ideas from a soapbox. I’ll let you decide who to believe, okay?

I see there being three kinds of problem that get labeled as writer's block:

The first kind seems to be an epic affliction. It’s the sort of illness that can only be suffered by very loud and angst-ridden people, who want to share their everyday drama with the world. It seems somehow both noir and arty at the same time. It can cause a writer to go decades –or in some instances half a century- between books. Now, this first kind seems very romantic. You can imagine Raymond Chandler being able to describe this kind of block in very writerly prose.

But myth buster time – is this an affliction, or simply a lack of ideas? Just because everybody has a novel in them, doesn’t mean that we should all be able to crank things out on a yearly basis. Sometimes we just don’t have anything to say, and it seems a peculiar thing to turn this into a great dramatic affliction. Let's face it, the vast majority of people in the world go their entire lives without feeling the urge to write a full-length novel, and yet they don’t go around stressing about being blocked.

The second kind, and the one I have most discussed with people, seems a very specific thing. There’s a deadline looming and the words won’t come, or chapter thirteen just doesn’t want to start. Maybe there’s an action scene that won’t make its way from your head onto the page, or no matter how you try, you cannot make the third paragraph flow. Douglas Adams called it “staring at the page until your forehead bleeds.”

There’s no drama here, though. Not that I can see. No great affliction. This isn’t writer’s block, this is writing. Your brain needs time to work these things out.

Maybe it’s just that I’m a different kind of writer, maybe the above issues are very real concerns for people who work in a different way. For me, I’m very comfortable with the fact that sometimes I may go awhile without setting words on the page. In that time, I may not sit and type, but I’ll be taking a lot of long walks, or way too many showers in a day. Maybe I’ll be re-wiring my guitar or learning a new recipe. Most likely I’ve just found a very interesting crack on the wall to stare at for a few weeks.

This is all writing. It’s giving the cogs in your brain time to spin, time to let things fall into place. I can’t find the exact quote, but I’ll paraphrase as best I can. When William Goldman was asked how long it had taken him to write Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, he answered “It took me a fortnight to write the script, but I’d been thinking about it for six years.

Is there a third kind? Well, there’s always the issue of deadlines. And sometimes nothing can stop you working better than a deadline. Especially if you have the newest version of Football Manager. But this third version is to be expected, really. If you’re forcing yourself to do something unnatural –to force out the work before it’s ready- of course you’re going to struggle. So again, no drama, no mystery, no affliction.

So far I’ve found three versions of writer’s block. The first and the third one seem to spring out of not paying any heed to the second one. And the second one is not block at all. So I think it’s a myth. A romantic idea we’ve sold ourselves.

But what do I know? I’ve not even got a book out yet. I’d like to hear other people’s thoughts; maybe someone has a story they could share about struggling with it?

I do have one piece of practical advice to offer before I wrap up, something that I’ve found useful:Leave your brain wanting more.

Never finish the chapter you’re on. When you’re reaching the end of the day, or morning, or whenever it is you sit and write, stop early. Step back from the computer halfway through a scene, maybe even halfway through a sentence.

That way, when you sit down for the next session, you already know what happens next. You already know how the sentence ends, and you can simply start typing without the worry of a blank page ahead of you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Zack Taylor is back

Dale T. Phillips is today's guest. The tournament chess player and former JEOPARDY contestant is an indie author who lives in New England and has studied with Stephen King.

So I hear there's some new guy on the block. Name of Zack Taylor. Wasn't there a U.S. president with that name?

Long ago, yeah. This guy ain't no president, though. I hear he did a little hard time.

What for?

Busted up a Fed that leaned on him too hard. He wasn't dirty, but they thought he knew something. He was a bodyguard for some mob guy. But get this-- he doesn't like guns.

A bodyguard without a gun? 

Yeah, some kind of martial arts expert. Didn't last too long in that job, though. Been a drifter, bouncer, that kind of thing.

What's his story?

Had some trouble in his past, never got over it, never settled down. Then someone killed his friend. Bad mistake. Everyone thought it was suicide but this guy. He left everything behind and went up to Maine to find out what happened.

Did he?

Hell yeah, but he tore everything up doing it. Guy's like a bull in a china shop. Got the crap beat out of him, almost got killed a few times, ran into some bikers, a real mess. Just keeps going until he gets answers, doesn't care who he pisses off. Even breaks the law to find out what he needs to.

Sounds dangerous.

Yeah, you never know when he's going off the rails. Funny thing, most of the time I hear he's a nice enough guy, even if he is a bit of a smartass. Reads a lot, keeps to himself. Get him mad, though, and watch out.

What's he like when he's drunk?

Heard he don't drink. Almost boozed himself to death when he was young, so he never touches it.

So where is he now?

Stayed in Maine. Even got himself a new girlfriend up there. I guess she's got him into some trouble again, though. Some cousin of hers accused of murder. Whole town thinks she's guilty.

Somebody better watch out.

You can say that again...


Hey there. I'm Dale T. Phillips, and those two guys were talking about the protagonist of my new mystery series. Last year, Zack Taylor made his debut in "A Memory of Grief," and is now back in "A Fall From Grace," now having the official launch. Both were released by Briona Glen Publishing, a small startup publisher. The third book in the series, "A Shadow on the Wall." is due out later this year.

Since I'm a big fan of John D. MacDonald's, this series was influenced by his work, especially the Travis McGee series. McGee was not a professional lawman, but a man with certain skills who helped out people troubled by dangerous predators. In the evolution of my own book's character and the place, a series came to be. It's got a tough-guy aura, so fans of Robert B. Parker's Spenser should enjoy it as well. Writing pros who've read the series like it, and the response has been terrific.

But why no guns? Well, I've read too many books where the hero gets into bad trouble, and whips out a gun for an instant solution. Life's a little more complex than that, and I wanted a protagonist that would have to think and fight his way out of trouble. And he does that. A lot. More interesting to write, too.

Maine's a different kind of place (Stephen King has proven that) and there are a lot of stories to tell. After spending too much time in places like Miami and Vegas, Zack comes to like the laid-back lifestyle, but even in Vacationland, he keeps finding trouble.

I've published over 20 stories, including mystery and crime tales in Crime & Suspense, Big Pulp, Short.Story-Me! and Over My Dead Body. I've collected five of them into an ebook (Crooked Paths) out on Smashwords.

Being an independent means we have to find readers the hard way. I'm inviting you to sample the work first, which you can do on Amazon and Smashwords, links below. You can also hear chapter 1 of "A Memory of Grief," which I've recorded as an audio file and is available on my website:

Lots more information on the site as well, with a link to my other works and writing blog, and an article on Stephen King I wrote-- I had him for a writing teacher, back in Maine. I've got special pages on the site for writers, with recommended reading, good links, and other writers of note. Drop on by.

A Memory of Grief
Amazon    Barnes and Noble
Smashwords ebook in all formats (no e-reader required, PDF and browser also available):
A Fall From Grace
Amazon         Smashwords

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Wallowing

Yep, you can tell by the title, I'm going to do some wallowing.

I don't really feel like a writer anymore. Besides occasionally kvetching about grammar on this blog and covering Rutgers basketball over here, I've hardly written a word since October.

It's not for lack of trying.

In mid-September, I moved. I'm between houses right now, stuck in a bedroom, barely balancing my laptop on my knee trying to get some writing done. I've been doing that since we moved. And each day I open my manuscript--I'm in the middle of revisions--and stare at it.

Sometimes I change a sentence. Some times I cut out words. I've made chapters better. But I can't get any momentum. I can't focus on it.

I've thought about ditching the revisions and starting something new. I have plenty of ideas. But here's the thing... the idea for this project? It's kind of been my dream project. It's an idea I've had for years. And I never thought I was mature enough to write it. Now I'm 3 and a quarter drafts in and I'm completely frozen.

Part of it is because there's something wrong with the ms and I haven't figured out what that is.

The other part is definitely my surroundings. I can't focus on anything. I've barely read any books in the past 5 months either. Just the ones I've reviewed here (and that should tell you how good they were.)

And even worse, I feel guilty. Each time someone talks about writing on Twitter, I get mad at myself. Each time I try to inspire myself and fail... I get embarrassed.

I need to get out of this funk.

I just haven't figured out how yet.

Until then... I'll wallow.

Which doesn't help... I know it.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Bad Books & Bad Blood

Author Adrian McKinty recently started a fire on the web with his post explaining why most crime novels are bad.

Why Are Most Crime Novels Bad? Because they are part of a series. And books in a series eventually run of steam. The author runs out of ideas and begins recycling old plots and old concepts and he or she doesn't really care because they know the books will sell. Publishers and bookshops love series because people buy them without thinking. And then read them without thinking. It's very rare that series titles retain quality after say book 5 or 6. They've almost certainly lost credibility by that stage because no character could possibly go through that much and not have a nervous breakdown (although clever authors include the nervous breakdown as part of the plot.)

The post prompted over a hundred comments - and for someone who generally gets two or three, that's pretty impressive - and running commentary on Twitter and other social media sites, with various authors taking exception to his comments.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the crime fiction community, things got heated in a discussion over the recent announcement of Edgar nominations.

Someone on SMFS did the math, and it turns out that only 2/5 of the Best Novel nominations went to female authors. Shocking. Absolutely shocking. Please insert my extremely-shocked-face emoticon here. Only 1/5 of the Best First Novel nominations went to female authors, and in the paperback category, it's also 1/5.


Here's the thing. None of this is news. Ironically, Jay had a great post just the other day about sexism, which had nothing to do with the Edgar Awards, but the first thing that sprang to my mind was the controversy a few years ago over different awards, with charges of sexism being cast against the organizations and the judges.

In fact, my husband Brian can't post a 'best of' list without someone telling him he's anti-woman.

The reason these things become the catalyst for arguments that last hundreds of comments, with points being made for days on end, is because some people are just looking for an excuse to take offense.

I mean, really, we're going to be upset because Adrian thinks that one of the problems in the crime fiction genre is the popularity of series books? The thing is, most of what Adrian said sounds rather familiar, going back to interviews several years ago. What does Dennis Lehane think about series characters and books?

*Dave: Now that you're two books out from the Kenzie and Gennaro series, do
you think you'll ever go back?*

Lehane: If they knock on the door, I will welcome them in with open arms because they bought my first house. That's true, and I'm very touched by how they went out into the world and became, in a bizarre sense, something beyond me. They spread in a way I never could have. So I'd love to bring them back, but I also said that I would never write about them unless they told me to. I won't plug them into a plot. And I do like the idea of leaving the stage on a high note. I think any series is going to run down, and you don't know where the tipping point is. But any series is going to wear out its welcome.

They haven't knocked. I see them, and whenever I picture them they're in some hotel room in the Caribbean, for some reason, and the phone rings. One of them says, "Don't pick it up. It's him." Because I beat the hell out of them. I beat the living shit out of those characters—psychologically, physically, emotionally. I think if they want to stay away, they deserve to stay away. If they knock on the door really hard some day, I will go right to the typewriter because I'd love to go back for one more, but I won't
plug them in and have them take a cruise where the chef gets killed and only Patrick and Angie can solve it. That sort of Hart to Hart shit, I don't want to go near it.

*Dave: It's true about the impact a long-running series can have, not just in literature—the most obvious example would be a television series. People get attached to it. They live with the characters over a significant period of time. But whereas your readers will wait for each new book, then devour it in a few days, you're working with these characters for years, every day.

Lehane: Also, I think TV series are a great example. I have a five-year rule on dramatic TV series: I will put it to anyone to name one dramatic TV show that didn't drop right off the cliff after the fifth year. Hill Street Blues went to shit. Homicide: Life on the Street, which was just about the greatest TV show ever, went to hell. You run out of storylines. Then what you do is you start putting the characters into personal situations. ER —the doctors are stuck in El Salvador. A very special episode of...

I think of The X-Files. I was an X-Files fanatic. Somebody said, "What did you think of the last episode?" I said, "Well, I stopped watching it for two years, and the last episode showed me exactly why I did." She's gonna get pregnant? You run out of things to say.

I wrote five books, and in the fifth book I noticed one of my characters— probably the most popular character I've ever created, Bubba Rogowski— in the fifth book, he started getting cute. Just a little bit. And I felt myself doing it. I knew that people loved him and they wanted to know a little more about him. I look back at him and I just go, He's exactly what I said I'd never make him. It's just hinted at in the fifth book; it's not all the way, but it's there.

That has a lot to do with it. Step off the stage. Nobody wanted to see Michael Jordan play with the Wizards. Nobody wanted to see Joe Montana go out with Kansas City. I don't really want to see Emmitt Smith play for whoever the hell he's going to play for next year. I felt that way about these characters. If they want to come back for one more hurrah, and it's the right book, I'm all in favor. But if they just want to stay away, I'm all for it.

Were you satisfied with the finale to X-Files, or do you think it was a let down?*

Sucked beyond suckdom. They should have ended the show when it was great, probably two years before they did. I could say that, however, about most great TV shows--Homicide, Hill Street Blues, ER, even Seinfeld--they should have ended *at least* 2 years before they did. And the same goes for book series. And again, that's why I'm so determined not to write a Patrick and Angie book unless it comes 100% from the heart, because the law of diminishing returns is very much at work in cases like these.

*Drood: What does this tendency to take on danger say about Patrick?s longevity?*

DL: I?ve probably used the warrior model a bit too much when it comes to Patrick, so his longevity prospects aren?t real good if he keeps getting ass-whupped at his current pace. And so, again, that speaks to the problems of keeping a series fresh, because sooner or later you run into questions of believability that are even louder than the ones you start out with when you decide to write a book in which your private eye character engages in actions which few real life private investigators have ever had to deal with. I mean, poor Patrick, his worst enemy isn?t himself or some deranged murderer, it's me.

*Drood: Will you continue the Kenzie/Gennaro series?*

DL: I think Spade and Marlowe remain icons because they didn?t wear out their welcome. Would Chandler be Chandler if he?d written 18 Marlowe books? I don?t know, but I wonder. Maybe Chandler could have sustained the level of quality, but the issue is more whether I can. And I have my doubts about that. The only artsy, metaphysical aspect of my approach to writing is that I can only write about characters when they come knocking on the door and tell me to. Patrick and Angie stopped knocking after Prayers for Rain. If they come knocking again, I?ll open the door and welcome them in with open arms because, well, they paid for my house and I?m exceedingly grateful. But if they don?t, then I?ll be content to let them live happily ever after without my dropping another case-from-hell in their laps. They deserve that.

And I know from your interview with Karen that that was a conscious thing, because two years ago you were saying that maybe it was time to do something else.*

Yes. I was beginning to write Mystic River when I had the interview with Karen. But yeah: I think there's a finite number in any series. You never hear people say: Oh, the 15th is the best. You never hear that. There's a point where a series has to end. I don't think I've reached that point, but I reached a point where it needed a break. And I do think that the number is rapidly approaching: whatever that magic number is, where it's going to be time.

*Do you have plans for a sixth Kenzie book?*

Yeah, they're loose plans. I'm not sure what will be my next book. I haven't decided yet.... I'm at a point now where it might be judicious to take a bit of a break. I've done five books, [and my characters] have been beat up a lot; they've had a lot of big cases. You want to ground these books in as much realism as you can. Because what's inherent in the whole genre is that it's unrealistic: Private eyes don't do that sort of stuff.

Those are quotes pulled from various interviews with Lehane, who clearly has reservations about series characters, and maintaining a series beyond its shelf life.


The thing is, people read for different reasons. Some read for the writing. Some read for the story. Some read for the author.

And some read for the characters, and those readers want their series books. Sometimes, the most daunting thing about reading a book is that I have to learn a new landscape. I have to learn the setting, the characters, the writing style, and I could spend a fair bit of time trying to get into a novel and not like it. I love returning to a strong series, because I know what I'm getting. I am reading it because it's familiar, and comfortable, and because I'm spending time with a character I do care about. So sue me. I like some series books.

That said, I've stopped reading a lot of series. I recently picked up again with a series I'd read before, and read the latest, and felt it was fundamentally flawed. There was a critical action by one of the protagonists that I did not believe was consistent with their character. That's the risk with a series. As someone who's written three books with the same characters, I feel I know a little about the unique challenges of writing more than one book with the same characters, and in addition to the plotting and storytelling and character development, you have to say anchored in what came before, enough for there to be believability and consistency.

No, it's not easy. It's a different challenge than writing a standalone, but a challenge nonetheless.

I don't wholly agree with Adrian, or wholly disagree with him. Well, I disagree about an ideal world being where only first novels are published. I shudder with horror at the thought of that, actually. But that's okay, because I still like Adrian and I'll still read his books, even if he's wrong about this. ;) (WINK WINK, before someone yells at me because they took that too seriously.)

Personally, I think there are so many bad books because the publishing industry produces a lot of crap, both inside and outside the crime fiction genre. Editors don't have the time and budgets to do thorough edits, writers are pushing ahead of themselves to be published without taking the time for revisions and learning to write is less and less of a priority. I'd like to have a nickel for every person who told me they wanted to be a bestselling author, and then refused to do edits on their work while demonstrating they don't know how to use punctuation, never mind spell.

As for sexism and all that crap, what's quality is subjective. I've been a judge for a major award, and it was a waste of my time, truly. In a panel of three judges, not one of my top 10 titles picked in the category made the short list, while many of the titles that did were on the bottom of my picks from the books I was sent.

I don't want to see men, or women, nominated just because of their gender. I want judges to be able to read with blinders to all of that crap, and not think about the publisher/editor/agent/author/gender/subgenre and just find the best books.

And I have to accept that what they consider to be the best may not match my list for the year.

I'd rather authors and writers spend more time dealing with other issues of sexism in their writing. The Guardian had a recent article, crowning the five most pathetic female characters in film. I'm not a bra-burner, and my problem sometimes with the push for equality is that some people take it too far and want more than what the other side has, but when I stop and think about how women are portrayed so often in film and on TV, I have to admit, we have a long way to go.

If all the women in your novel are a) hot b) fuckable c) in to the protag d) all or some of the above... your book has a woman problem. ~ my husband

When people go off on a tirade about sexism in awards, they always talk about how few female authors are nominated.

They never talk about how badly women have been portrayed in the books that made the list.

And it's all those horrible, truly sexist, stereotypical portrayals that make the great female characters stand out that much more.

I do believe Adrian knows I think he's an amazing writer, hugely underrated, and to be honest if I were to take offense at nomination lists my list of issues would have to include questioning why he hasn't received more critical acclaim. So I don't completely agree with him. So what. I don't completely disagree, either. He has a point, and even as I type this blog post I find myself feeling frustrated with a sense of having had parts of this conversation before, with the awareness that the argument over the awards is almost an annual tradition.

I really thought we should consider going Oscar and having Best Male Novel and Best Female Novel so that people would shut the fuck up about it already.

Except then they'd be offended by the inference that women can't compete with men.

Would you like something to really be offended by?

At the end of the day, if people don't want to read Adrian's work because he's not the biggest fan of series books, it's really their loss, because he's pretty fucking brilliant.

What I have to say to all the people taking offense out there, over people who don't like series books and people who don't like the nomination lists for awards, is this: Get over it.

Coming up with a list of exceptions about series doesn't make some of Adrian's points less valid. Coming up with examples of great books be female writers who didn't get nominated this year doesn't make the judges sexist.

For every series that's stayed strong, there are more that have faltered along the way. And for every great novel written by a woman this past year, there are works by men who also didn't see their name on the short list.

For me, I'm going to go back to the manuscript, and whether it's a series book or a standalone I'm going to push myself to make it be the strongest work it can be, to show growth over prior works, and at the end of the day, I want to produce a book I'm proud of. Believe me, not even my agent is as hard to please as I am when it comes to my manuscripts. Real validation comes from the response of readers, and at the end of the day, given a choice between having readers or having award nominations, it's the readers I'll pick every single time.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Schizophrenic writer wanted

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This is one of those weeks. The husband is out of town for a trade show. College auditions are approaching for some students. The tot is sick. My grandmother is in the hospital. A snow storm hit Chicago yesterday making things a little scary out on the roads and I’m racing to finish a manuscript. Which of course means this is the week that two sets of revision letters arrived. One was for MURDER FOR CHOIR which hits shelves on July 3rd. The other was for THE TESTING, my post-apocalyptic young adult novel that will make its appearance in the spring of 2013.

Now, I love revisions. I happily dove into the revisions on MURDER FOR CHOIR and had them out the door in lightning speed enjoying every minute of the revisions. (Yeah – go ahead and throw things. I’m betting I can duck faster than you can throw.) Fun, quick revisions are great, but I also I love revisions that challenge me to think harder, go deeper and work like mad to make the story the best it can be. So, I was totally stoked when I got a revision letter from my editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that does that. They are the kind of revisions that scare the hell out of me when I first read them and then challenge my brain to work overtime. I’m having trouble sleeping because I have all sorts of great ideas rolling around in my head. Only—I can’t work on it yet.

Why, you ask? Well, I have about 4 or 5 chapters left of the current book I’m working on, END ME A TENOR. Why does that make a difference you ask? Well, if I keep to schedule, I should be typing THE END on the last page sometime in the next 10-14 days. Because of the family issues I’ve been dealing with, I’ll admit that getting this book done was a struggle. While it hasn’t taken me all that much longer to write (I started the first page near the end of October) it feels like it has taken years. I want to climb the last stretch of the mountain, plant my flag at the top and do a happy dance celebrating the completion of this round.

Of course, I could write on END ME A TENOR during the tot’s nap time and then work on revisions at night. In fact, I ache to do this. Only, there’s an even bigger issue.

My mystery voice is punchy and a little off the wall.

My YA voice is dark, taught and a bit plaintive. (At least, I think so…who knows what the critics will say.)

While some people excel at writing two projects at the same time, I’m mostly a tunnel vision kind of girl. I affix my eyes to the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how small, and step by step work in a single-minded fashion until I get there. Aside from page proofs and copy edits, nothing interrupts that hike to the finish line. And while this week I was able to edit MURDER FOR CHOIR while also writing on END ME A TENOR, I was able to do so only because they were the same voice. There was no transition. No worry that one would bleed into the next. Last year, I made an attempt to write the opening to THE TESTING while I was writing the beginning of SKATING UNDER THE WIRE. Um…not such a good idea. Every time I sat down I had to work hard to keep my mind in the correct tense. It took twice as long for me to get that day’s work on the page. The minute I decided to focus on one project things fell into place. The first three chapters of Rebecca Robbins 4 were finished and polished in about 9 days. I then turned to THE TESTING and watched my fingers fly.

So I will wait. I will remember that while other people can write on two projects, and in two distinctly different voices, at the same time I am not one of those people. I have to stick with what works for me.

But of course, I am curious to know what works for you. Can you work on two projects at once? Are the voices similar? Or are you like me who looks at longing with that second project knowing no matter how much you might want to play, doing so will only make things more difficult?