Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Fantastical Noir: Guest Post

By Chris F. Holm

Since Steve was kind enough to hand over the controls to DSD for the day, I thought I'd try my best to quell the urge to start mashing buttons and flipping switches just to find out what they do, and actually talk about what I'm here to talk about. Namely, my debut novel DEAD HARVEST, which dropped just yesterday in the US, and goes worldwide on March 1. DEAD HARVEST is a story of fantastical noir (a term I just made up because "urban fantasy" only kinda sorta fits the bill; it seems to me fantastical noir could just as easily take place in the country), so I figured I'd talk a bit about the hows and whys that led a guy mostly known (by the five-odd folks who've heard of him) for writing straight-up crime fic to pen this particular bit of crossover fare.

Every writer's got their elevator pitch – a punchy line or two encapsulating their latest earth-shattering work of staggering ingenuity they keep at the ready should they happen across an editor, literary agent, or particularly fetching barista in the wild. Mine for DEAD HARVEST is as follows:

DEAD HARVEST is the first in a series of supernatural thrillers that recasts the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp.

See? Short and to the point. But I'll admit, it does raise a question or two, the most obvious being: "Why the eff would anyone recast the battle between heaven and hell as Golden Era crime pulp?

Well, Strangely Standoffish Hypothetical Interrogator, I suppose I could answer that with your basic Reese's Peanut Butter Cup defense; you know, two great tastes that taste great together? I dig stories about angels and demons. Ditto classic pulp in the vein of Chandler and Hammett. Smoosh 'em both together, and how could you go wrong?

The thing is, as answers go, that one's both glib and wildly incomplete. I mean, I love whiskey, and I love bacon, but we can all agree that bacon whiskey would be terrible, right? (Actually, that doesn't sound half bad. Okay, then: how about steak-flavored iced cream?) Point is, for any flavor combination to really click, both components have got to be complimentary. And if you ask me, religion and old-school pulp are mighty complimentary indeed.

No, wait, Second Hypothetical Vociferous Objector, hear me out! The two have more in common than you might think. The broad strokes, for one: both feature countless tales of murder, betrayal and revenge, as well as lean heavily on the notion of free will as humankind's greatest strength and most dangerous weakness. But digging deeper, one realizes the archetypes of sacred texts provide the foundation upon which the devout build their very conception of morality, and from which skeptics draw to craft their arguments. In short, they're hardwired into our cultural lexicon. It only stands to reason our greatest pulp practitioners employed those archetypes in crafting their lurid, modern takes on the classic morality play.

James Cain's tales of forbidden romance leading to violence, misery, and regret may as well have taken place in Eden. Chandler's cops and criminals were often cut from the same cloth, while Revelations and the Book of Enoch talk of angels and their fallen brethren. Genesis tells the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah; in RED HARVEST (from which I not-so-subtly took my title), Hammett writes of Poisonville. And speaking of Poisonville, while nearly every culture on the planet has their own flood myth of rising waters sent to wash away the wickedness from the world, Hammett's violent cleansing of that corrupt burg came courtesy of his nameless, unflagging Continental Op – but it was no less awesome for it.

And what would any pulp tale be without a decent femme fatale? The Babylonian Talmud first introduced the world to a redheaded, acid-tongued temptress by the name of Lilith, who, in one form or another, has since wreaked havoc in darn near every religious or occult text penned. I'm pretty sure she popped up in THE MALTESE FALCON, too, only then she was known as Brigid O'Shaughnessy.

Lilith shows up in DEAD HARVEST, too. She plays handler to my main character, Sam, a man damned to collect condemned souls for all eternity, and deliver them to hell. Sam's sent to collect the soul of a young girl who's been condemned for brutally slaying her own family, but he comes to believe she's been set up. So he does something no Collector's done before: he disobeys his handler's orders, and sets out to clear his target's name. Soon he's got angels, demons, and half the NYPD on his tail, but that's the least of his worries. Seems if he doesn't sort out the mess he's in, and fast, he may wind up jump-starting the Apocalypse.

So yeah. Sunday School, it ain't (though I'm fairly sure sitting through some Sunday School in my youth probably had a hand in pushing me to write it). And it ain't quite old-school pulp either. But if I've done my job right, it's at least one hell of a ride...


Read an excerpt and purchase.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Act Like You've Been There Before

Stop justifying and be proud.

A lot of authors are taking up blog posts, twitter updates, yadda yadda (yeah, my usual pet peeves) to justify why their book is an e-book only. Whether they are with an upstart e-book publisher (who, by the way, are all AWESOME) or they're self-publishing, they need to go out and write and write and write about why they aren't on pieces of paper.

You know what?

At this point, it's unnecessary. E-books are here to stay. They're books. They have words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and eventually tell a story. If an editor was a wonderful person and picked you up, that means he or she loved the story. If you and your agent sent the book around, got a few close calls, but didn't get an official bite... and you published it yourself... if you're getting good reviews. Then stop worrying.

Too often e-book authors like to jump on the the interwebs and act like the little brother. They NEED to matter. They NEED to be noticed.

To use an overused sports cliche, act like you've been there before.

People respect e-books. They buy them. They read them. You've made it. Be happy, be proud.

But all these blog posts, Facebook statuses (stati?), and Twitter updates explaining WHY YOU HAD TO PUBLISH AN EBOOK... are written for once small, teeny, tiny group of people.

Other e-book writers.

And maybe a few people considering going e-book.

Remember your audience should be everyone. Not just this corner of the blogosphere that the crime fiction or sci-fi or paranormal adverb-filled romance community. More people read than the 200 people who visit your blog.

Be proud.

You're an author.

You're awesome.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How did you buy books before the internet?

When I was in my early-teens I read a magazine article that briefly mentioned a book. In those couple of lines something was revealed to me though then I wouldn’t have been able to express what. The book was On the Road by Jack Kerouac and I knew that at any cost I HAD to read this book. But this was the bad old, pre-internet days when one didn’t have the world’s bookstores at his young, rapidly texting thumb and finger tips. I was too young to drive and the library was way too far away to get to by bike so I did what I often had to do. I committed the book to memory and slotted it into place with hundreds of other titles and authors.

This mental list was always carried around in those days because getting to a bookstore (other than the one located in the local mall which I had of course picked clean at that point) was a rare, once a year bounty. I would save my money all year for when we went on vacation because it was Ocean City, MD that held the most book stores per capita for me in those years. There were multiple used book stores in addition to the chain locations that would have stock that was new to me. Manna from heaven indeed.

The first thing I would do when I entered these new stores was to recall my mental wish list. Then I would systematically head to those letter's sections on the shelf and scan my eyes quickly across the shelf. Too often I would strike out and the author of the still non-existent book I was hoping to find would taunt me. I was convinced that the book shaped hole in my heart would never be filled.

The flip side to this was the unmatched joy when my scanning eyes would stop dead in their tracks, sometimes having to back track, staring in disbelief at a book that I had been seeking for years. There was always a pause, as if I what I was looking at wasn’t real. This would almost always be followed by reverently pulling it off of the shelf. Whatever else had been going on in my life the discovery of a long sought book would dominate it all.

Another emotion that would mug me every once in awhile was on those rare occasions when I had panned more than one flake of gold but didn’t have enough money for them all. Never has such an agonizing decision been forced on a reader. Fear only to be matched by being in a public restroom in a stall with no toilet paper. It was many a book that came THIS close to resting not so comfortably down the front of my pants as I tried to waddle cooly out the front door.

I remember when I found my copy of On the Road in a bookstore directly on the boardwalk that was long and narrow and filled from floor to ceiling with paperbacks. I clutched that ugly pink and blue cover as Moses must have clutched the Tablets of Stone. As I stumbled from the store dodging the throngs of fellow vacationers (and fellow stumblers from The Purple Moose), blinking from the bright sun stinging my eyes, I felt like I was coming down from Mount Horeb. I found an empty bench and began to read. It awoke something in me and spoke to me in a way that hadn’t happened before. It was the first book, as an adult (or near adult) to offer me a great reading experience.

Before the internet there was an element of chance to what I was going to read because there were limitations to what was in front of me. I had limited funds, a limited selection of stores, and the library. Back then I was more likely to do "subject" reading. A particular subject would grab my attention and I would read all I could. I was probably the only middle schooler who knew about The Shroud of Turin.

These days, I'm not subjected to the same constraints. Mainly because I have more money then I did in high school but more importantly the internet happened.

When I first got online sometime in the late 90's the very first thing I did was order all the Thomas Wolfe books that I hadn't read yet. And with that purchase a fundamental shift would occur in my book buying patterns.

These days I'm more of a "destination shopper". I go somewhere with the intent of buying the book that I want.

Because I'm setting out to get a particular book and will succeed in getting it I no longer fall into those accidental bear traps that books lay out. I no longer find myself reading books on random topics.

It would be easy to say that something was lost but really something just changed, that's all. As I'm sure they will change again down the road.

What I really want to know is, How did you buy books before the internet?

Currently listening: Slow Dance by local band June Star

Currently reading: I had a slow week so I'm still reading many of the same books. West Coast Crime Wave; The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty; The Gamblers by Martin Stanley; Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Brave new world

By: Joelle Charbonneau

If you read blogs, publishing trade magazines, or are on Facebook or Twitter I’m certain you’ve seen the words “New World” in regards to publishing. Traditional publishing is still around and I think that the reports of its demise are largely overstated (which I’m hoping is true because—heck, I’m traditionally published), but for authors there is what feels like a new frontier.


Or I guess I should say Indie publishing because so many people take umbrage with the phrase self-publishing (although I’m not sure why since it does accurately state the publishing archetype pretty well). And yes, indie publishing or self-publishing or whatever you want to call it publishing is a valid option these days. Lots of authors I know have made decent money riding the wave of cheap kindle downloads. Hurrah! Personally, I think money is a good thing. It puts food on the table (unless, of course, you want to shoot and field dress your own cow), it pays the utility bills and keeps gas in the car. (Don’t get me started on the price of gas right now. Oy!) Money is good and because Indie publishing is helping authors make money and find audiences, I will never claim it is bad.

More often than not, I’m amazed at the bravery required to be an Indie author. Sink or swim – they’ve done it all on their own. Which is pretty awesome. And let’s face it, while Smashwords and Nook and Google books are all platforms on which you can sell your Indie book, the real money is being made on Amazon.

Amazon has created all sorts of bells and whistles and appealing marketing tools to help Indie authors get noticed. They have the new Amazon Prime lending program, which requires participating authors to exclusively publish with them. They are working hard to make authors depend solely on them for their publishing success and any income they make.

Which kind of scares me.

I mean, look at the recent news involving Amazon. First, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million, Chapters Indigo and all Indie stores have told Amazon they won’t carry their traditional titles on their shelves. Which is kind of sad for those authors, but understandable considering the way Amazon has tried to put all brick and mortar stores out of business. (I’m not saying they are wrong in trying to be the only game in town. Business can be a war. Amazon has waged war and has turned a tidy profit in doing so. No crime there.) But then there is this - Amazon pulled 5000 e-book titles from a Chicago distributor because the distributor didn’t want to sell their product at lower rates to Amazon.

Why does this worry me? Well, Amazon is a pretty awesome deal for authors. They allow you to cut out the publishing middleman and reach the consumer. Not only that, they allow you to make decent money doing it. But Amazon’s success has come from being the place where you can buy everything. What happens when Amazon attempts to strong arm other publishers and distributors into cutting their rates? I get that Amazon wants to make a profit, but they’ve already been doing that. What they really want to do is tank publishing as we know it and literally be the only game in town.

While I know some Indie authors would cheer at the demise of traditional publishing, I can’t think of anything scarier for the Indie paradigm. Why? Well, Amazon has a long standing business relationship with publishers. They were able to build their self-publishing program to great success due to reputation they established as the place to buy traditionally published books on the internet. Now after all these years, they want to dictate new terms to their traditional publishing partners—very unfavorable terms as far as distributors and publishers are concerned.

What’s wrong with that? Well, who’s to say that Amazon will continue to give such favorable terms to authors? They have encouraged authors to be exclusive with them, thereby limiting the author’s ability to gain a foothold with non-Kindle users. Authors who become dependent on Amazon will no doubt make money now….but one day Amazon might decide to take some of that money back. Or insist you pay them to put up your title and give them a cut of the profits, too. Or refuse to allow you to publish with them if you don’t use their editorial staff services.

What happens then?

Got me. I’m betting Amazon knows. I’m also betting they aren’t going to tell anyone what that plan is until after they’ve solidified the Indie business model that requires all Amazon Indie authors (Amazon Prime lending or not) to be exclusive with them. And then all bets are off for the Indie author. Sure the first thing Amazon asks of you won’t seem so bad. Maybe the second thing is something you can justify as well….but the third? What happens when what terms they ask from you is too much?

Yes, this is all speculation and NO, I’m not saying authors shouldn’t take advantage of the fabulous Indie programs out there now. But I am saying that putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t always the best idea and that while this is a brave new publishing world, there are still gate keepers. Right now they are letting everyone come in free of charge. But some day…. Well, some day the price might be higher than any of us can imagine.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Quality or Quantity: Which is More Important

Scott D. Parker

I saw this image on Facebook yesterday and it gave me quite the chuckle. I am, like a millions others, an avid Downton Abbey fan and have been since the first episode. The quality of the writing and acting to say nothing of the sumptuous costumes and sets sweep me away to a time I never knew. And the characters! Mr. Bates. Lady Mary. Carson the butler. In the hours I watch these two seasons I am lost to the modern world. Nary a telephone call is received in my house when Downton Abbey airs. Be ye warned.

When I mention "seasons," we Americans typical think about 20 to 24 hour long episodes. In fact, when one of my favorite shows gets an order for an extra episode or two, I count myself lucky. From September to May, I can count on nearly nine months of new episodes that make an American season of television. Naturally, not every episode is great, but you get a steady dose of your favorite characters each and every week. And, when sweeps months break, you get the "special episodes" which are often very good.

Not so with the British or, at least, the British material I see on this side of the ocean. Be it Prime Suspect, Foyle's War, or Downton Abbey, the British version of a season is vastly different. Foyle's War typically was three to five 90-minute episodes, movies really. Same for Prime Suspect. I'm not sure how Downton Abbey was broadcast in England, but here in America, PBS showed the second season over six Sundays, with a couple of evenings showing two hours to the usual one. Where the typical season of CSI: Miami lasts from September to May, we Downton Abbey fans had to content ourselves with a few glorious weeks in the winter of 2012. But oh the quality of the shows!

I would love to profess my love of quality over quantity, but I have to admit that I like both. And it all depends on the show. For something like Castle, CSI: Miami, Grimm, or Body of Proof, I want my morsel each and every week. I like knowing that, for an hour on one of these nights, I can sit back and enjoy some good television. But every now and then, I'll easily take fewer episodes of a great show like Downton Abbey because everything else about the show makes up for it. (Truth be told, I'd love to see what it's like to have 24 episodes of Downton just to see if its specialness would be diminished.)

Which way is do you prefer? Do you like the American way of a season (24 episodes, delivered weekly, with sometimes varying quality) or the British method (fewer episodes, greater quality)?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Flashback: Who I am and How I Came To Be

Russel D McLean is away for the next week. A blog post tying into the Million for a Morgue/Shortbread competition will appear here next Friday. In the meantime, here's a piece that originally appeared at Elizabeth A White's blog on the origins of Russel's need to write:

What made me a writer?

Because, seriously folks, you have to have your brain examined if you want to try doing this for a living. It’s a tough life. Your work has no intrinsic value. This thing that you for a living rises and falls on people’s opinions and moods. Technical skill counts for little if you don’t engage readers on some emotional level.

On top of all of this you have to combat the idea that what you do is easy. Anyone, they say, can string words together in a logical order. But what you’re doing is much more than that. You are trying to give those words life. You are trying to evoke a reaction in the reader, a belief in the lies that you are telling them.

To do that takes a lot of work. Sometimes more than any other job would consider necessary. As much as I joke about how the writing life appealed because it was indoor work with no heavy lifting, it comes with its own worries, especially for the occasionally insecure.

But I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

I was one of those kids who lived in his head. At primary school, my teacher would ask us to write diaries every week about what we did over the weekend. I’d lie compulsively in these. Make up stories about animals that talked or high adventure in space ships like those I saw on the TV. When my school teacher came to see me at a recent event, she expressed surprise at what I wound up writing, but none whatsoever that I was making a living from my humble scribbles.

As I grew older, the stories became more complex. I have a jotter with a half finished attempt at a Doctor Who novel* and a lot of efforts at creating comic books** that chronicle my attempts to create more fleshed out and involved stories like those I was reading.

But it wasn’t until I was maybe ten or eleven that I started to realise that writing and creating stories was more than just fun and games, that the people who wrote the books I loved were getting paid for what they did.

You see my dad also wrote. Somewhere around that time he had his work was accepted by BBC Radio 4. On multiple occasions. That was when I realised that art could equal profession. You see, it was a revelation to me that he was paid for these stories. Actual money.

My ten year old brain started working. Even then, I didn’t like the idea of a job in the real world. I started to wonder if maybe he got paid a small amount for a few stories, maybe I could make a larger amount by selling a lot of them.

But where do you begin?

Lost Sister by Russel D McLeanIt was a couple years later when I started reading dad’s copies of WRITER’S DIGEST. The magazine changed a lot down the years but back then the advice in its pages was golden. J Michael Stracynski’s screenwriting column (he was chronicling the development of a show he’d created called “Babylon 5” – whatever happened to that show?) was invaluable to me, full of genuinely practical advice about structure and story that I think could apply equally to any storytelling format. In fact I still apply a variation of the five act TV outline to most things that I write. This often doesn’t happen until redrafts, but I find it helps to search for and identify the story’s natural breaks and rhythms to create a stronger second draft.

Nancy Kress’s fiction column taught me a lot about novel writing and prose techniques that I still use to this day.

Reading the magazine – occasionally before my dad (I’d often be home from school before he came in from work and could grab the post) – I started to work on honing my craft. I entered the WD competition yearly – never getting anywhere – and watched the careers of the columnists grow. When Babylon 5 made it to air, I felt a kind of privilege to know what had gone into the writing and creation of a show I came to love.

My first professional submission, as I have already mentioned, was to Virgin Publishing’s range of Doctor Who Tie-In novels. I chose the wrong moment to submit as the minute my manuscript crossed the transom they lost the rights to publish any more Who books. But they sent me back a beautiful rejection that I still have. One that encouraged me while making sure my head didn’t swell, assuring me that I still had a lot of work to do but maybe there was something there.

That, I suppose, was when I became hooked. That was the point of no turning back.

It would take another ten or eleven years, a lot of rejections and a lot of painful mistakes before I’d finally see print. It would take a long time to make that fateful switch in genres that would help me finally discover my voice and uncover the kind of stories that really got my blood flowing. But that letter from the kind folks at Virgin marked the point where I resolved to become what I am today.

A writer.

And one who loves what he gets to do for a living.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Five Rules of the Internet

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. As you know, the rise of social media, along with message boards and screen names have done a lot to promote anonymous hate and complaining. Sometimes you can log on only to find people whining and whining and whining about the smallest things.

So, I try to go by 5 rules on social media.

1. Pick Your Battles: My battle is education. I'm a teacher along with the whole wanting to be a writer thing. Unless you've been sleeping under a rock, you know that education is at a strange tipping point. The right want to pare down public education and make it mostly private. I disagree. This is my fight. This is what I try to keep my protesting to online. Everything in the world is not horrible, so stop acting like it is.

2. Talk about things you love: Rutgers basketball, movies, Doctor Who, books. I try to keep my topics positive. I want to enjoy my time on the internet, not run to it when it's time to whine. The use of the word awesome brightens my day. (And not in the form of "Well, this is an awesomely bad idea.")

3. Observe the Two Week Rule: Ah, the 2 week rule. Just remember that anytime there's an internet controversy, it'll be forgotten about in 2 weeks. People will find other things to whine about. So, unless it's major (sayyyyy the Governor of NJ comes up with a loophole to turn all schools private in 8 seconds), it's very rarely worth spending a day and a half complaining about.

4. Odds Are, You Aren't Going to Fix It: You can spout off all you want. It ain't going to change because of the internet. You may be able to use the internet to save your favorite TV show. And people have used social media to organize. But complaining on the internet is like complaining to the mirror. Nothing's changing.

5. Be More Funny: Even when things bug me, I try to add a sense of humor to the situation. I'm sarcastic, but I try not to be mean (the couple of times I've been mean, I've gotten in trouble). Tell jokes, mock, be snarky... but don't just flat out complain.

I'm sure I've broken a few of these rules at times. Everyone does. But for the most part, keeping this in my mind helps keep me sane amongst the noise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My take on Trestle and a few thoughts about Snubnose

A couple of weeks ago I had been pulling together some thoughts as a kind of State of the Union that I was going to send out to the Snubnose Press stable of authors. When the Trestle Press story broke I made it a priority to finish it. I did and sent it out pretty quickly and have also sent it out to others that we may be signing in the near future.

In some of the post-mortems and in some of the posts written while the story was unfolding I think that some, perhaps, unfair charges were level against them in an attempt to gain distance quickly and to show examples of why they thought Trestle was hinky from the start. Some of them were: they were a one man operation, they approached authors, they didn't edit, they have a crappy website. I don't think that there is a need to create other charges to level against Trestle because the core ones are bad enough. These charges were potentially unfair because they may be applicable to other operations.

In sending out the State of the Union letter primarily I wanted to have a certain level of transparency with my authors but I also wanted to address head on some of the concerns that arose as a result of Trestle being exposed.

So this week, I decided to use my post time here at DSD to take a portion of the State of the Union letter public while adding some new thoughts as well.


One Man - One of the charges leveled at Trestle is that they were/are a one man operation. I think that this is unfortunate. As those of us that come from the crime short fiction scene know one man operations can fail or be successes, it just depends on the man. Snubnose is essentially a one man operation. While Jack and Sandra are co-owners I do the bulk of the work.

Until recently I worked for 6 years in the Accounts Receivable department for the book division of Diamond Comics Distributor. I worked multimillion dollar book store accounts going in one direction and with publishers going in the other direction. I was never under any false impressions of all of the things that went into running a press. It's a lot of work from editing and promoting to "office" things like monthly statements and making payments. It's hard work, but I knew it would be. I tell you this not as a way to show my bonafides but to show that I take all of this seriously.

Art - Snubnose has an art team that consists of Eric Beetner, Ben Springer, and Boden Steiner. Our covers are either original art/designs that were created by one of these guys or was used with art obtained from the web in a manner consistent with applicable rules and regulations. In other words we have credited where necessary; obtained permissions when necessary; and have had to pass on art because necessary permissions couldn't be secured in an equitable way.

Editing and Formatting - Another charge leveled against Trestle. Some manuscripts are going to require more editing then others. With short story collections if any of the stories have already been published I assume that they have been edited already so unless there is a factual mistake I don't do too much with them. I will always edit a manuscript to the best of my ability and as much as it needs. As far as formatting goes. If there ever is a concern with how Snubnose books are formatted please let me know. Related, I have a good eye for typos but still things slip through. If anyone ever sees a typo in a Snubnose book let me know. They are easily fixable with ebooks.

Soliciting authors - I regularly contact authors in an attempt to make sure that Snubnose Press is on their radar screens. I would be a fool too assume that everyone has heard of Snubnose so I work hard to touch base with people who probably haven't. If I read an ebook that was self published and I liked it I'll send the author a quick note saying so and to invite them to submit future works to Snubnose. I send authors emails when they make it publicly known that they have a manuscript and invite them to submit to Snubnose. These particular types of emails have resulted in Old Ghosts, City of Heretics, Andrew Nette's upcoming release and others. Perhaps the distinction is that I don't make promises and that I simply invite but an editor approaching an author isn't a bad thing.

Website - I'll be the first to admit that Snubnose doesn't have the best website. Since its inception Spinetingler's expenses have been paid for out of our pockets. We are trying to get to a point where book and magazine sales will fund Snubnose Press and Spinetingler so that we don't have to pay directly out of pocket any longer. One of the upgrades we can consider at that point is the website.


I'm always up front that Snubnose is a small operation. Other epublishers like Blasted Heath and Bare Knuckles have bigger operating budgets then we do. I'm not begrudging them that status and I love those guys. I think our stable of writers stands pound for pound with theirs and any others.

The bottom line is this. My door is always open. If there are ever any questions, comments or concerns don't ever hesitate to bring them to me. I said recently that you can tell a lot about a publisher by their response and I mean it.

Couple of Snubnose news items: Subs should be opening up again in a couple of months. We released our first novel, Hill Country by R Thomas Brown, last week. This week Old School by Dan O'Shea will drop. Every two weeks after that Nothing Matters by Steve Finbow, Cold Rifts by Sandra Seamans and The Duplicate by Helen Fitzgerald will all be released.

Currently listening - Alabama Shakes. Their ep can be streamed here and the full length album will be dropping soon and will be huge.

Currently reading - The Gamblers by Martin Stanley; Cutter and Bone by Newton Thornburg

Sunday, February 19, 2012

No one is alone...

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Most jobs involve a to-do list—responsibilities that have to be taken care of on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Things that one specific person is in charge of. And yet—while one person is technically in charge, that doesn’t mean that one person has to do it all. Part of being a successful leader is knowing how and when to delegate. Recognizing the strength of others is a huge part of succeeding in the business world.

Too bad that isn’t true in writing. Oh—the book publishing business requires the ability to play nice with others. There are editors, copy editors, publicists, marketing folks, a sales team, book sellers, librarians, agents, etc… with whom a writer has to work closely with. But while they are an integral part of turning a manuscript into a book and getting those books into the hands of readers, they aren’t like the typical day job work team. You can’t delegate writing chapter 12 or ask them to finish writing the scene that is giving you fits. While you need others to get a book published, the writing part is up to you and you alone.

The job of an author can be a lonely one. You get up. Fire up the computer. Grab a cup of coffee. Shuttle through e-mails. Open up your word document (or whatever program you type in) and start to write. Some days the words come easy. Some days typing new words feels like pulling teeth. Sure there is Twitter and Facebook to occupy your time when you haven’t a freaking clue where the story is going, but while conversing with other writers and with readers is fun, it doesn’t help put words on the page. The people you chat with on social media can be great cheerleaders, but they can’t write the story. Only you can do that.

So you make yourself type no matter how tired you are. No matter how sad the events of your life or how much you’d rather be doing something else. You write because you have contractual obligations or you hope to have them one day. You write because writing is your job.

I admit that there are days that despite my fascination with the characters bopping around on the page, the job of writing feels very lonely. That the end of a manuscript seems very far away and that I feel that I am inadequate and will never get there. No matter how motivated I am to fill the pages—the words come slowly and I wish I could find someone to help meet my obligations.

Only no one can.

Only I can do that.

At one o’clock in the morning, that realization can make me feel very, very alone.

And yet – there is something pretty amazing about knowing only I can do what I do. There are lots of writers out there. Writers whose work I greatly admire. And while they do what they do brilliantly, they cannot write my story. Sure, I could give them the basic premise and they could write A story…but not my story. Only, I can do that.

So, at the moments where I am feeling the most isolation, I log onto Twitter and Facebook or pull one of my favorite keeper books off the shelf and remind myself that while my work requires a kind of isolation I am not alone. There are hundreds and thousands of writers feeling the same fears and the same inadequacies…possibly the same authors whose books I have read over and over again. That we all have to face the fear of sitting down at a blank page with the obligation of filling it. And that in the end we all find a way to do just that.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sensawonder: Can Mystery Have It?

Scott D. Parker

My son is a storyteller. His imagination overflows with great concepts and tales that only can come from a young person unfettered by adult knowledge. Be it Lego people, stuffed animals, or things he just made up, he is always telling stories, sometimes with only the school day getting in the way. There have been a few times when we've walked to school and he's telling me some important detail about something and he has to stop when the school bell rings...and, upon leaving school, he literally picks up where he left off in the morning.

His current fascination is with the game Plants vs. Zombies. For those that don't know, this is a basic tower defense game where you deploy cute plants to do battle and protect your house from cute zombies. Since our entire family has beaten the game, my boy is inventing new themed levels that he would like to see. In these imaginings, he goes all out. Zombie Smurfs, Zombie Mario, and Zombie Thomas Jefferson each attack in their own unique way, and, more often than not, there are "a trillion" zombies with which the plants have to fight. There's that rational, now-adult logical part of me that wants to say, "Dude, you can't have a trillion zombies because the plants would not stand a chance. Heck, they wouldn't even fit on the screen." I refrain, however, and allow his young mind to wander as far as it will.

All of us, dear readers, are likely adults reading this essay. (If we got some young people, hello!) Unless we have young people around (our own children, etc.), chances are we've forgotten the sense of wonder through which the young see our world. I'll admit that I, grown-up kid that I am, still forgot things until my being a parent helped me remember the glorious awe through which children sometimes see our world.

The science fiction genre has a term for that: Sensawonder, an amalgamation of "sense of wonder." In many an SF or fantasy book or movie, the hero beholds wonders beyond the imagination, be they alien or man-made. There is a bigness to some stories, an awareness by the hero of things larger than himself. We, as readers or viewers, get to experience that feeling, too. What did you think when Lucy first went through the wardrobe? Or Alice through the looking glass. Or Dorothy in Oz? Or Luke Skywalker when he saw the Death Star? Or Dave Bowman when he saw the monolith? Or when Marty McFly drove into 1955?

I’m currently re-reading the first few Martian tales by Edgar Rice Burroughs in advance of next month’s release of the “John Carter” movie. That, and my SF book club picked them. They are fun reads and, aside from the first volume, I have not read them in over thirty years. That first book, A Princess of Mars, is one of the few books that can simultaneously take me back to a time when I was ten and I can travel there without any adultness in me. That is, I can still feel the wonder I felt back then with all the stuff the intervening three decades brought to me. Oh, and the writer part of me also stays at the door way. Sure, he pokes his head in every now and then to remind me that this was Burroughs’s first book, but he discretely and quietly exits without too much fuss.

Recently, I’ve started to wonder if sensawonder is confined only to the SF and fantasy genres. Can you have it with a mystery? As an adult reader, when I page through a mystery story, my sensawonder is at the prose, the story, the structure, and the author’s prowess rather than the story itself. Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny was a remarkable book written by an author in complete command of her skills, and there were a few scenes where I smiled at the twists, but I’m not sure I experienced wonder. Same for the Boone Daniels novels by Don Winslow. They are fantastic books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and, with The Dawn Patrol, experienced a physical reaction to while reading, but no wonder. And don’t the sensawonder only applies to children reading SF. In the past five years, I’ve read China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and Dan Simmons’s Hyperion and both expanded my mind like nothing else in decades.

Is the setting crucial to sensawonder? Most mysteries are set on earth no matter the year. The J. D. Robb books are set in the future, but they are small enough not too feel too different. Historical mysteries have for me, a trained historian, more a quality of “I wonder if [Insert Historical Person] will show up” rather than wonder. The closest I’ve come to sensawonder with mysteries is Robert Harris’s Fatherland and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, both alternate history/mystery stories, the former taking place in a Berlin where Germany won World War II, the latter set in a Jewish country in Alaska. Chabon's book was nominated for both an Edgar (lost) and a Nebula (won). Go figure.

Setting maybe is the crucial ingredient. But I still pose the question: can you have a true sense of wonder in a mystery story?

Album of the Week: Van Halen's A Different Kind of Truth.
I'm only a casual VH fan, one who did not get up in arms when David Lee Roth left and Sammy Hagar replaced him. But this reunion with the Van Halen brothers (and son!) with Roth had me curious. It is exactly like you'd expect a Van Halen album to sound. That's both a good and bad thing. A good thing that they are back together, making some great rock music, bad that it sounds like it's from 1984. I"m not complaining about the sound. I'm too busy playing steering wheel guitar and bopping my head. And, while the lead single, "Tattoo," is the song you're most likely to hear, it's a good tune, but not the best on the album. Give it a spin and see if you think that old magic is back.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Plus Ca Change

By Russel D McLean

Back when I started in this crazy business of writing, I was desperate for a publisher. I was looking around for someone who would love me, who would put my words into print. This was the mid nineties, when the internet was beginning to take off big time. As I surfed the internet (in a cafe – remember when people didn't have connections in their homes?) - I came across a lot of publishers who proclaimed loudly that they wanted me. Often for a price. But sometimes not. These were not “Big Six” publishers, but neither were they independent publishers I'd seen in bookstores. They were real low level stuff and while some of them were doing exciting stuff, a great deal were fly by night shysters to be avoided. I almost went with one once until I got some advice from someone who'd previously been stung. I wouldn't have known what to avioid if I hadn't been warned.

This last week or so there have been horror stories about similarly hungry writers being stung by a similar fly by night operation. The more things change the more they stay the same. It seems as though the lessons we used to learn about fly by night print publishers have been forgotten in the age of “e”.

Think carefully about your publisher. Research them and their writers before submitting. Look at their covers. The principle of cover design is still the same. Does it match in quality what you see from the big boys? Because small doesn't mean cheap. It means budget, yes, but it doesn't mean that innovation in design and originality go out of the window. Clunky fonts, clashing colurs, poor picture quality (especially on the internet) are all danger signs. But may not on their own be enough. After all some reputable publishers can be poor at cover design. But its a pretty good signal.

The other one is this: have you heard of their authors? I mean, not just guys you've seen who are at the same stage as you, but do their authors have some kind of track record, however modest? Do they get good reviews from reputable resources? Or are all their pull quotes unnatributed and/or only from “Amazon” (Amazon reviews are good for sales, but are notoriously fickle, too. A pull quote from another author or indeed a well known review site/blog/newspaper adds some gravitas).

Check their subs guide. Do they give good solid guides or do they beg for your subs? If they beg – and worse, if they start to say that they can make you the next (insert bestselling author X here) then run. Run as fast as you can. No good publisher will promise this and no publisher can guarantee that your work will make it. They want to have as good a chance as possible though, which is why a good publisher will be very exact about what they want and generally how they want it sent.

And speaking of their guides, look at the website. Is it clunky, like it was designed in the mid nineties? Is it little more than a free blogger template? If they can't design a website, how can they create an ebook that's better than what you could do yourself? That's why you want a publisher – they can be more professional, better connected, in a position to help you sell your books. Yes, they can't guarantee anything, but at least they can give you a fighting chance. A good publisher is a good partner. They do not make vague promises about “promotion”. They actually do it. Look at what they do to get the books out there. Is it merely a message board only available on their site? Do they interact with zines and other blogs and so forth?

There are good epublishers out there. Two that come direct to mind are Blasted Heath (look at how professional their site and their covers are) and Snubnose (look at the sheer quality of their books). But what has become evidently clear is that things have come full circle. E is only a new delivery method. It is not a fix all cure for the old ways. And a poor e-publisher is every bit as bad as a poor legacy publisher. Where a good epublisher will give your book every chance and do the best work they possibly can. So do your research, do the work and attract an e-publisher who will do your and your book proud.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Epic Blog Post

By Jay Stringer

After two weeks of over-sized posts, I wanted to give you a more concise entry today.

I hope you enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Of Commodes and Commodification

By Steve Weddle

You know all those RED CARPET shows they have for the Grammys and Academy Awards and all? How they devote all that time to the packaging of the thing being sold? I kinda get the feeling that's what we're doing with our recent discussions about books.

Look at those shoes.

Did you see what she said about 99c ebooks?

Print or digital? Paper or plastic?

We're talking about books, not writing. Not stories. I mean "we," here and not "you people."

But for a second, maybe we can worry a little less about price-point and a little more about plot.

Here's why we talk about ebooks and pricing and self-pubbing -- it's quantifiable. It's easy.

We can have arguments about ebooks. I can say a thing about PDFs being more available than pieces of paper. I can say something I know I'm right about. It's provable. I think that's probably why we've got so many blogs and tweets and updates about a thing we can get our hands around -- because we can get our hands around it.

We're talking about moving widgets, after all.

I didn't start writing so that I could read blog posts on marketing. I didn't get up early in the morning, crack open some Raymond Carver, and dream of the day I could post my thoughts about price point. But this is where we are. And it's goofy.

Is it important to know that lowering your ebook from $4.99 to $2.99 will increase your revenue by increasing total sales? Damn right it is, especially if you give a damn about the revenue. And you should.

Is it important to know whether a blog tour helped more people find out about your debut romance? Damn skippy. You're devoting your time, your effort, your writing to this thing.

I'm just hoping those of you with talent spend as much time writing your fiction as you do tweeting links to your blogs about ebook market strategies. Heck, I hope we all at DSD do, too.

So the next time you're getting worked up about some publishing crisis, as Dave mentioned yesterday, you might want to think about taking that time and energy and devoting it to that story you never have time to write. I'll try to do the same.

Not for me to spend 5,000 words blogging about how you need to write your opening sentence, but using the same energy to get our own stories written.

That said, I think some of the best work we can do out here on the Internet is to point folks to books they should read. That in mind, check out the newest (Feb 14, 2012) from Hilary Davidson, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL.

"Lily Moore is one of the most appealing 'amateur' sleuths I've encountered in years. The vivid sense of place - Peru, in this case - is everything one would expect from a seasoned travel journalist like Hilary Davidson, the story is deliciously twisty, the characters engaging. I know I can't be the only reader looking forward to more Moore." - Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of I'd Know You Anywhere

"An atmospheric mystery with an ending that packs a punch. Lily Moore is a passionate and tenacious heroine." - Meg Gardiner, author of The Nightmare Thief

"Hilary Davidson knocks it out of the park. If this book doesn't get your motor running, have someone check you for a pulse." - Reed Farrel Coleman, three-time Shamus Award-winning author of Hurt Machine

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sports Radio on the Damage... WDSDDDDDD New Jersey

I need to start looking at the publishing news and Twitter the way I look at Sports Talk Radio.

If you didn't know, I'm somewhat of a sports junkie. I am a Giants fan, a Yankees fan and a Rutgers athletics fan. When I was younger, I got caught up in Sports Talk Radio. Used to listen to it all the time, hoping to catch some glimpse of news. Some nugget that got me to look forward to the upcoming game even more.

But, usually what you get is a bunch of nonsense. A bunch of people calling up the stations, with little knowledge spouting off about whatever they can. Usually the calls would boil down to "NOooooooOOOooo, JETER." People would call to argue with the host... just to argue.

And that's what Twitter, Facebook, and blogs have done to publishing. Every day there's a new publishing controversy (well, more like every two weeks), and even if it's something small... people try to blow it up. People argue just to argue. And mostly what it boils down to is "NOooooooOOOooo, E-books!"

And for a while, I got really irritated. This wasn't what I wanted to see. I wanted real news. I wanted something to discuss intelligently.

But it wasn't coming.

It was just people shouting into the wind.

So I've decided to do what I do with sports talk radio. Unless someone I really trust... someone in the business has something to say (think... an interview with Phil Simms), I look at it with an eye to comedy. It's funny.

So, people, the thing is... it's just publishing. Long term? It's going to work itself out. There's no need to panic.

They're going to figure it out.

And if not?

You'll be putting out some shoddily edited e-book.

No worries.

Calm down.

And keep making me laugh.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why Your Debut Novel Shouldn't Be Self Published

What sustains writers in the start is the naivety that allows them to believe their work is brilliant and their story must be told, against all obstacles.

What sustains the career of an author is the ability to swallow your pride, identify and learn from past mistakes and grow as a writer.

I've had to think about this a lot lately, for a number of reasons. For one, I've worked with a lot of aspiring writers, and sometimes, they've still got the blinders on. They can't see through their love of the ideas and their own words to correct common mistakes. Another reason is that I recently re-read my debut novel, to format it for trade paperback publication.

Suspicious Circumstances was not self-published, yet the re-read was a critical learning experience. I've talked to authors who go over their books with a red pen after they received the published copy.

Serious writers understand that, considering the volume of words in a novel, mistakes can slip past us all. Professional writers also understand, as I've learned over the years, that sometimes the mistakes come in after you've finished with your part of the editing process. Barry Eisler is a serious writer who makes every effort to get his books right. He takes corrections so seriously that he has a whole section on his website devoted to explaining mistakes. Personally, I think that's commendable, and realistic. Authors who try to pretend they never slip up will probably continue to make mistake after mistake, because they're unteachable. In Barry's case, I do recall questioning a point of confusion in my review of The Last Assassin. On his website, he explains:

Four times on pages 22-23 of The Last Assassin, Delilah thinks of her first love, a man called Dov, but the text says Dox. A proofreader screwed this one up after I'd signed off on the final pages. It's fixed in subsequent printings.

Yes, sometimes the author isn't responsible for the mistake. It's not uncommon for people to try to squeeze things in, change a word that they think is wrong (and as a result, as in the above case, become responsible for a mistake that affected thousands of printed copies). And yes, there have been times when I've read something of mine that's been published, and checked against my files, and realized something was changed after I'd signed off on it, making a mistake in some cases, or making the text more confusing.

At the end of the day, the author stands or falls, and this is why having the best team of professionals behind your book - particularly your debut - is critical. Typically, the greatest part of the learning experience for writers is over the course of the first few books they write and publish.

And part of that learning experience happens when you work with an editor who can identify weaknesses in your writing style and text and help you improve.

I did not start out as a self-published author, but I did have such a small press, it no longer exists, and inexperienced editors. In particular, they lacked genre experience necessary to help shape the story into the best story for the genre audience. They were okay with a story being over-told. On my own, with guidance from another author as a major motivator, I cut over 20,000 words from the text.

Did I cut too much? Not enough?

I also learned a lot from the review process after publication. I learned what worked for readers, and what didn't.

The entire process was a learning experience, and remains such.

In re-reading Suspicious Circumstances, I came to a lot of conclusions. One is that I'm glad that I can look back and identify weaker spots in my writing that I know I've improved since. I may wince a bit when I read SC, but it isn't necessarily because what I did was bad or wrong. I can just see how my own writing has matured.

I can see that Lara was a bit more smart-mouthed than I really thought of her being. And I can see how my use of past tense and present tense was one of my critical weaknesses.

As I reviewed the master files, I realized that in some, the issues had already been addressed, but in the print file I needed to use for the trade paperback version, there were mistakes that hadn't been corrected.

Since all these files were made from the same Master that came back from the publisher, I don't know how that happened, but it did, and at the end of the day, I take the credit or the blame for what went right and what went wrong.

I'm my own worst critic. I can look back on just about anything I've written and consider a different way to say what I wanted to say.

Part of being a professional writer is knowing when what you're working on is a mistake you need to keep revising, and knowing when what you're tinkering with is subjective, and you need to let go.

In the end, re-reading Suspicious Circumstances was ultimately reassuring. I was afraid it would be humiliating. I liked the characters, I liked their development, and I believed in them. I'd started that manuscript with only a few specific goals.

1. To finish a manuscript.
2. To see if I could make a book about the kind of people who really could live next door, that would be interesting to readers.

Literally thousands of readers later, I can say I succeeded with both goals.

My goal each time I go back to my computer to work on a project is to write a better book, to tell a more compelling story, to try to stretch myself as a writer and grow, and I don't think I would have grown at the pace I did if I hadn't worked with a number of editors from book two on, who not only pushed me to do my best, but explained things to me about story development, character development, dialogue, etc.

I didn't get to book 5 on my own. The writer I am is the result of years of good teachers, who actually did teach grammar in school, a school system that rewarded students for perfect spelling, English teachers who weren't willing to say that better than everyone else was good enough, but pushed me to do my very best. Thanks Mr. Denomy - I may have been frustrated by you in grade 11 but when I got As in your class in grade 13, I knew just how much I'd improved.

Yes, I've made mistakes. That isn't a news flash. Nor is it a reason to ignore an assessment by me if I'm asked for a critique. It's because of the mistakes I've made along the way, and learned from, that I can give constructive guidance to writers who don't know what mistakes they're making, or how to improve. I've heard authors talk about their first book being a fluke, they didn't know what they were doing with it and it turned out to be a success, and they go on to try to write a second book with the fear that they won't be able to match that first book. It's why some authors talk about the 'sophomore slump'. Some don't even know what genre they've written in and then find out about reader expectations and try to juggle those pressures along with the demands of writing another novel, knowing that you have editors and readers waiting to see if your efforts will measure up.

The best writers know they still have things to learn, and continue to push themselves. The best aspiring authors don't put the cart ahead of the horse, and seek guidance from people who are going to push them to tell the best story they can.

Nobody wants the first impression they make as an author to derail their career. The end of your first book needs to sell your next book.

I said that I'd been thinking about this recently, for a lot of reasons. One is the writers I work with. Another was my own experience of going back to the beginning. And another was seeing a writer posting about another round of corrections they were making on their self published title after readers had contacted them about mistakes.

At least they were fixing them, but we should all be trying to ensure when our work is available to purchase that it's worth paying for. I had this happen as a reviewer once. I was offered a review copy. After I'd started, I received an email from the author, stating that due to comments received from reviewers they'd re-written the first chapter and attached it to the email and wanted me to print it and consider it with the rest of the book instead.

I stopped reading and didn't review the book. I wasn't asked to edit it for free. I was asked to review the printed review copy I was given, and I was annoyed.

Readers are going to be even more annoyed if they pay for a book that has a lot of issues. That doesn't even mean 1 star reviews on Amazon are a fair indicator that the book is bad. Some readers are impossible, and sometimes it's a question of taste.

But what you put out under your name reflects on you. Even as an author, I know - and other author's know - what it is to discover mistakes that weren't yours that ended up in your text, so this isn't about perfection.

It's about making it as good as it possibly can be and not getting ahead of yourself. In the early days, we're too close to our work to see through it clearly, and the temptation with the ease of self-publishing today is to press 'publish' before the work has been finished.

Surround yourself not with cheerleaders but with motivators who want to see you reach your potential as a writer, and put the time and work in before you make your work available to the world. Yes, work. Writing can be a hobby, writing well can be a talent, but if you're writing to be published and expect people to pay for the privilege, you have a job to do, and you need to take it seriously if you want people to invest in your career, not just buy one flawed book that will turn them off forever.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Life is too short

by: Joelle Charbonneau

The last couple of months have been a roller coaster ride. I’ve lost two men I thought of as fathers. My grandmother was in the hospital and subsequently diagnosed with dementia. My son has had pneumonia and another friend from theater days suffered an aneurysm. Yeah – things have been a little tricky. And to be completely honest, as good as the professional part of my life has been lately – and there have been some pretty exciting professional moments—I have had a hard time finding my smile.

Until yesterday.

Why? Because my friend who has been in his coma for 4 weeks since having an aneurysm woke up. No one expected him to open his eyes. No one expected him to have brain function. He did. He does. There is a long road in front of him, but he is strong and young and hopefully he will triumph over the other roadblocks to come and lead a wonderful life. For as long as life gives him. Because if there is one thing I have learned in the last couple of months is that there are no guarantees.

Life is far too short. There is never enough time in any day or in any year to do all the things we want to. So we look at the things we wish to do and put them to the side saying that some day we’ll have time. Because we really think we’ll have all the time in the world.

But we’re wrong. Each of us only gets so much time on this earth. We only have so many days with the people we love. We only have so much time to accomplish the things that will make us feel complete. And in a blink of an eye that time can be gone.

Cheery thought. Right?

Actually, I’m not trying to be a downer. In fact, I’m looking for the silver lining in that particular lesson. Often we use the fact that we don’t have enough time to put off the things that we should be doing. You know that person you’ve been meaning to talk to or the family member you’ve lost touch with – go find them. Don’t wait. And that story you keep meaning to write or finish or polish or submit? Do it! Don’t wait for the right time. Because if you wait there might not be time. Life is a funny thing. We think there is always going to be another moment. Another day. Another year. And the reality is that life is short. Don’t put off doing the things that really matter because if you do the time to do those things might never come.

My friend who opened his eyes has a tough road ahead of him, but I guarantee you that as he travels that road he won’t forget to appreciate everyone one of those days. He’s going to be happy for the moments he has and take advantage of them. It is a lesson I hope I continue to remember today, tomorrow and in the months to come. I encourage you to remember it, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February and the Power of Course Correction

Scott D. Parker

Many of us make New Year's resolutions for the most honest of reasons. We want to get fit, lose weight, eat better, or anything else. When you are still in the halo of New Year's Day, the year feels new and young and everything seems possible. We have visions of our new selves, sometime later in the year, all fit, healthier, and with our new habits firmly ensconced in our new selves.

Here in the writer world, many a new habit boils down to writing more. Finish the book. Finish the story. Finish anything. Back in December, I realized that I had not been setting aside time to write. That had become the norm, the habit that was hard to break (ba-dum-dum ching!) I decided to try an experiment: write something, ANYthing, each day. And I've succeeded. As of last night, I've written something, anything of fiction for 64 straight days. What's great and most important to me is the inner urge. It's not back at the full blazing glory I've previously experienced in my writing life, but the pilot light is lit.

There the the flip side, the downside to what I've been doing. Often, I've not taken the time to write until late at night. Once it's past 11, if I'm not writing something I've already planned out--typical for these 64 days--I am in no mood to create. Thus, I'll satisfy my daily duty/habit by writing the bare minimum, around 100 words or a long paragraph. That is no way to get anything done, but it's becoming a habit.

And that's where course correction comes in. I think many of us start a resolution or a habit without a good idea of how to ingrain the habit within us. We fail at our resolutions by the end of January, get mad at ourselves, sigh, and go back to the way it was in December.

But don't forget February. The second month of the year is, in many ways, more crucial than January. It's the time where you can readjust your outlook on your resolutions. Knocking out soft drinks cold turkey too much for you and the failure has already happened? Try cutting back one a week. That's not hard. Then, after a bit, keep another sugary drink on the shelf and out of your stomach. That new story/novel you've thought about and shelved in the internal file cabinet in your mind? Get it out of your head and onto pixel or paper. Chances are you can salvage something.

You see, by February, the year is no longer new. The real world has crept in. You've lived life in the new year, with new challenges to overcome. February is that time where you can see what's not working and fix it. Oh, and the beauty of the months March through December? You can course correct anytime. I just find February to be the best time.

And for me and my new "habit" of writing the barest minimum to for the right to put a red "X" on a calendar? Yes, I've started writing again. No, it's not very good or very productive. It's not working the way I wanted it to. Okay, then, what can I do to change it so that I can continue to move forward? Course correction. Or, to put it another way, the first, big obstacle. Overcome it, and things get much easier, or, rather, manageable.

February. The Month for Course Corrections. Your second chance at resolutions. It doesn't have all the romance that resolutions have in January, but they tend to have more real-world experience with which you can get those resolutions completed.

My course correction for writing is simple: make my time to write be at an hour before the last thing I do every night. Find that secret, special time where I can bust out multiple paragraphs in the space of 15 minutes. And then do it again. Double my effort. In the daylight, if at all possible.

Are there any course corrections y'all are planning to make to better accomplish your resolutions?

Friday, February 10, 2012

"...a way of logic that bypasses a lot of nonsense"*

By Russel D McLean
Its come up more than once this week in various situations and conversations. But I’m still amazed by the “ghettoization” of Science Fiction as a genre.

One of Stuart MacBride’s most unashamedly fun novels was the brilliant HALFHEAD – a near future fantasy where the weapons all had onomatopoeic names and where he mocked the establishment quite thoroughly with even more ludicrous beauracracy and a horrific sense of social justice that proved just how savage “human” punishments could be. If I may be so bold, I found it even more fun than his Logan McRae books and was hoping that there would be more. But that, apparently, is not likely to happen because sales were less than for his crime novels.


Well, he was a debut author all over again. Because SF readers had yet to discover him and crime readers acted in a strangely conservative manner. They missed out on the fact that HALFHEAD did everything they loved in his crime novels and more. Just because the synopsis had the word “future” in it. Of course, this assumption is based on mostly anecdotal experience, but that was what I tended to hear when asking people why they hadn’t bought that one book of MacBride’s.

Is this fair?


It’s the same with Iain (M) Banks to a degree. Now, he’s established as an SF author, but so many of his mainstream fans stay away from the SF stuff as though its toxic. Why? As I heard Banks once say at an event its because it has the word “space” in it, and people are scared. They hear the word SF or space and they get weird clichéd ideas about geeky social misfits and probably odd looking aliens in rubber masks (a-la classic Trek). Or perhaps they see the endlessly complex worlds of computer games like HALO that appear incomprehensible if you’re not on the inside.
What they’re missing, of course, is that SF is a literature of ideas. Yes, it has its clichés, the same as any genre, but move past those and some genuinely philosophical and inventive fiction can be found within the genre. Philip K Dick, of course, is a prime example of an author who uses the form to do something deeper and explore philosophical and metaphysical ideas that mainstream fiction can only dream of. China Mieville** takes this to an extreme and loads his fantastical imaginings with allegory and symbolism that would make most literary writers weep with jealousy. And if that’s all getting a bit heavy for you, Alistair Reynolds writes amazingly accessible and fun adventure stories that still contain real smarts and some very witty undercurrents.

I also find it very interesting that many people who claim not to like SF often adore SF movies without realising it. BLADE RUNNER, ALIEN, ALIENS, GATTACA, THE MATRIX, these are all examples of mainstream SF movies that people don’t seem to realise are actually SF. Why is it so different for movies? And let’s not start on THE X FILES…

Earlier this year I did a library event with Ken McLeod. This was a reader’s day where readers came along and signed up to hear writers talk about one book they loved and one book of their own. Interestingly, there were no SF fans on the day. I was a little worried for Ken who is, after all, an SF writer. And yes, even people in his group had SF reservations. But by the end of the day, many of them were willing and excited to try a whole genre they had ignored due to their preconceptions of it.

I accept – nay, willingly agree – that there’s a lot of lazy, clichéd writing in the SF genre. I mean, seriously, I’ve stopped reading the genre for years at a time due to a slew of novels that just don’t “get” what makes SF special, that spend too much paying homage to other writers ideas and forget to make their own, or concentrate so hard on world building that they ignore the human element that often marks great SF. But when the genre gets it right, its more than a force to be reckoned with.

I guess we’re back to the old argument – the simple one. A good book is a good book regardless of genre. And you shouldn’t be put off just because you see the word “space” or because you expect to somehow “not understand” the conventions at play. Good SF is accessible (with a bit of work; you have to adjust yourself to the terms, in the same a reader of crime fic has to adjust themselves to the conventions and technical language of that genre) and capable of supreme and brilliant storytelling with brains and heart at the centre. Its not just for geeks. Its not just for insiders.

And it very rarely uses the phrase “warp factor 10”.

*Gene Roddenberry, talking about SF

**Who, with multiple PhD’s is as smart as a chap with three heads

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Do We Care About Creator Rights?

By Jay Stringer

There's been an issue eating at me for a week now. I've sent out emails talking to people about it, and each time I've said, "I'm not going to blog this.." And almost every time, they replied, "yes you will." Well, points to them, I guess.

Last week, while I was giving you an epic essay on Breaking Bad and The Wire, DC comics went and announced a whole load of prequels to the classic book WATCHMEN. I'm not happy that DC decided to sneak the news out while i was distracting the whole Internet with my essay. That's not playing fair.

As for the book itself, I hold WATCHMEN in just about the highest regard I hold anything. It would make my top five works of art/fiction in all formats. And yes, it had a shitty film made of it, but let's forget that, okay?

Now, this being major news about a comic book, and this also being the Internet, a few people had a few things to say. A week later, we seem to have reached a general consensus; "I don't really think they should do it, but they have the legal right, and I'll buy them."

So now, unbidden and demanded by nobody, I'm going to throw my own thoughts into the week-old discussion. I've shifted, rather quickly, to a hard line position. I think there is a fundamentally important issue at stake here, and one that people are choosing to ignore in order to get a monthly fix of capes, cowls and explosions.

When the news first broke, I was very much in the old "the book is on my shelf, nothing they do will change that," camp. But then I realised that was completely and utterly not the point. That school of thought is from a time when a writer cashed a cheque and gave permission for his work to be adapted into a film.

Then I veered into a shrug of the shoulders, "corporations will make money, let em do what they want, I can simply ignore it, like I ignore the film." That was the easiest road to take, and over the course of the past week it seems to be the road most people are taking (that is, those who aren't using the spectacularly cowardly, "I'm against it, but I'll still buy them." But the more I noticed people making this argument, the more it ate at me.

At this point, it seems the best defence we can muster for it is, "well they have the legal right to do it." If the best interviewers, commentators and journalists in the medium are willing to make that argument, I think we need to take a long hard look at ourselves. Lots of corporations have the legal right to get away with lost of things, and the same voices defending Before Watchmen on legal grounds may often be heard moaning about some of the things these other companies do.

Yes, they have a legal right. But lets examine where that comes from, for readers who may be new to the whole issue. In the mid-1980's Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons signed a contract with DC. The contract stated that, once WATCHMEN had been out of print for a year, the IP would revert to the authors. Implicit in that agreement, though sadly not stated clear enough, was the idea that, at some point the creators of the work should get their work back. At the time, there was no trade paperback industry for comics. No "graphic novel market." You didn't walk into you nearest book store and pick up a "graphic novel," so that you didn't have to slum it in a comic shop. You know what created that market? What gave the comics industry an extra leg with which to support itself? WATCHMEN. I've worked in a comic store, I've worked in several book shops, and WATCHMEN has always been in stock at them. So Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons signed a contract without knowing that their book was going to change the industry, they signed it based on the standard industry practices of the time. I imagine there are a lot of authors, both in prose and comic books, who've signed contracts over the last decade without foreseeing the game-changing implications of digital sales, where books never go out of print.

And that's what has stung these creators. Their book was meant to be out of print in a year, because it was a comic, but it's never gone out of print. 25 years later, DC is still publishing it, still making money off it, and this never looks likely to change. When this started to become clear, when Alan Moore saw that things were changing and his contract was based on an out of date paradigm, he tried to renegotiate the deal. DC refused, and Alan Moore went on a one-man strike from them. At this point, on principle, he even turns down credits and money when films are made based on his work. Some people say he's cutting off his nose to spite his face, I say he's being consistent; and precious few people in the industry can claim to be doing the same.

But let's ignore the legal debate for a moment.

Firstly, is there a creative reason for the prequels? A writer-friend (won't name names, unless he wants to) has discussed with me the very compelling lack of a need for these stories. WATCHMEN is structured in such a way that we already have all that we need. Something creators often use to throw some art and mystery onto their decision making is, "Well, now I have found the story." Some of the creators involved in these prequels have said the same. They weren't going to butcher someone else's baby, but, hey, they have a story. That's fine, but it supposes that it's their story to tell. I might have a fun James Bond story, but it doesn't make it mine to tell. In fact, nobody tell Ray Banks, but I've totally figured out a fifth Cal Innes book and sod it, I'm just going to decide that makes it mine to do.

And morally, which it seems to me is the real meat of this matter, where do we stand?

There were two authors on WATCHMEN. One of them, Dave Gibbons, isn't involved in the prequels but has given them a kind of blessing. He's going to be tactful and stand back. But the other creator, the 50% partner in this and the writer of those epic scripts, has been quite clear.

He doesn't want it. He doesn't want prequels, sequels, spin offs or movies. He wants his creator rights back. In an interview last week he said, "I don't want money, I want for this not to happen."

Can it be any more obvious what the authors wishes are?

I put it to you that we have a choice in this matter. We either respect an authors wishes or we don't. But every single one of the arguments for these books being right, good or, the worst of all, "okay," seems to completely sidestep this basic issue. When it does crop up, it's dismissed as Moore's fault. If he'd played nice, or if he'd be wiling to sit down and talk to DC, this might not have happened. But as I've already covered, the reason he doesn't talk to them is because of creator rights. The fact that he's on a one man strike doesn't make it any less valid of a strike. He's getting screwed over because he doesn't talk to them because they were screwing him over. At what point does that become his fault?

And if I'm arguing that we need to respect creator rights, then what of the creators involved in these prequels? Well, Brian Azzarello made his name on the critically acclaimed series 100 Bullets, a series for which he enjoys creator-rights (from DC) that have never been granted to Alan Moore for his work at the same company. Moreover, the creator-rights enjoyed by the younger generation of writers are a direct result of the work done by Moore. Darwyn Cooke is one of my favourite creators in modern comics, and he enjoys the freedom to release his PARKER adaptations in a market that was created by WATCHMEN with a level of control that comes as a result of Moore. And these are the creators who decide to get involved in Before Watchmen? I hope to Crom that we never see them preaching about creator rights in future.

I seem to be at a breaking point with DC comics. But the more I thought on it, the more I realised there was a very good reason why people don't want to think on it. It pulls on a loose thread that unravels to show us our own hypocrisy. We all know that the big two in comics treats creators poorly. They always have. We know that there are writers, artists, inkers, etc, who have died in poverty, or who are still alive but have no healthcare or money, because they've been screwed over systematically for our entertainment for 70 years. Moore is one of the lucky ones, he's actually made enough money out of the gig to be comfortable, but stood behind him are many graves and many debts. To casual readers out there who may not know the history, I'll mention some of the bigger ones; Steve Ditko co-created SPIDER-MAN. He's lived in reduced circumstances for forty years, despite creating MARVEL's biggest cash cow, because he wasn't given credit. Jack Kirby co-created most of the characters from the silver age of comics, and still doesn't receive the credit. The treatment of Kirby, by the way, is another issue that Alan Moore took a moral stand over with his employers. In THOR, SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THE FANTASTIC FOUR,THE HULK and IRON MAN, we see major franchises at the cinemas, for which Ditko or Kirby played a role in creation and were not credited, let alone given ownership.

As fans, we know this. We look the other way, decade on decade, so that we can get our thrills, and then we moan about cover price. So we moan about how much we have to pay to the company producing the work, but we've never once put out collective foot down over how much the company pay to the people who created these properties. We would rather look the other way, ignore the issue so we can get our explosions.

So, where does that leave us? Well, sure, you can mount a defence for Before Watchmen based on the fact that they have the legal rights to do it. You could also sidestep the whole issue by saying you don't really care about creator rights. However, I simply don't see a way to say you respect creators rights and argue that Before Watchmen is 'okay'. The two are fundamentally opposed.

Time to wrap this up before I annoy anyone else. I'm going to make some good from all of these thoughts. There are two organisations who can benefit, and who we should all give at least a moments thought to. The Hero Initiative provides a safety net for those who don't have one. For generations of creators who've worked without insurance, health care, creator-rights or pensions, the HI can step in and help them out. The second is the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund. The clue is pretty much in the name there; they provide legal aid to creators, including advice on the tricky issue of legal rights.

I'm not preaching for anyone else to do this. But for myself, I think the money that was going on reinforcing the mistreatment of creators will be better served going on supporting them.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Rewarding Bad Behavior

By Steve Weddle

When I got to DSD HQ this morning, I was greeted with a stack of emails about a New Yorker profile of Quentin Rowan, who had put out a book under the name QR Markham.

From what I could gather in an admitted cursory reading of emails, Twitter, and Facebook people on the internet had become upset that the New Yorker had chosen to write about Rowan.

Presumably, these are the same people who do not understand why the Kardashians are on their television sets, assuming they own television sets. The presumption seems to be that an article in a magazine is some sort of reward for Rowan's supposed plagiarism. The article in the magazine is called "The Plagiarist's Tale," so I can only assume they mention his "evil deed." I must admit to having not read the article. My local independent shop does not stock the New Yorker. They have ordered it for me, though.

The argument against having the New Yorker profile seems fairly odd. A number of people -- readers and writers -- have complained that there were other more worthy candidates for a profile.

Rowan had taken the work of other people and passed it off as his own. This is shameful.

Rowan has exposed publishing, embarrassed its champions.

Rowan is a fake and a phony and should not be rewarded with a profile in a magazine.

Some people suggested other, more suitable writers for a profile.

A few writers suggested themselves.

I can't recall a similar uprising when 60 Minutes has profiled murderous dictators. Are the citadels stormed when a Billy The Kid biopic appears? Why the outcry when a story is written about a plagiarist?

I suspect the problem lies in the presumption, as I mentioned earlier, that a New Yorker profile provides publicity to Rowan.

People misunderstand their own relationship to the world -- nobody owes you shit.

A magazine doesn't benefit from profiling you unless you're an interesting story. My neighbor two fields across from me is a nice guy. Keeps his yard green. Works hard during the day and invites us over for beers and bbq in the evenings. None of that makes him an interesting profile subject.

What makes a story interesting, and you'd think writers would know this, is conflict. Rowan, from what I can tell, seems a complex character. And what he has done to the industry seems similar -- in limited ways -- to what James Frey accomplished a few years ago. Sure, there's the trust. But there's also the matter of pulling back the curtain on the publishing world.

You ever read that book COD? I haven't, but it sounds interesting. Because it's not about cod. It's about everything around that fish -- the people, the history, the industry.

Rowan's past couple of years have been interesting, certainly. A story about this isn't a reward.

Take the Kardashians. Everyone hates that show. Everyone jokes about it. Everyone mocks it so much, it's got its own spinoffs. Klaire and Kory Order Lunch. People watch that show. And the television network is able to sell advertising around that show.

People look at Kim Kardashian and complain at how she's been rewarded for being on camera while she and a young gentleman engaged in sexual relations. If her life weren't interesting, she wouldn't have a show. She's rewarded for being interesting, I suppose. But essentially she is being monetarily rewarded because she can generate revenue for the television network that airs her show.

A profile of Quentin Rowan is not a reward for a plagiarist. It's a story in a Conde Nast publication around which the publisher can sell J Peterman advertising. It is a story that will get the magazine talked about.

And perhaps that's the lesson. Maybe Mr. Rowan hasn't proven to be the best writer in thriller fiction. Maybe you are a better writer. Maybe your book covers look better. Maybe you're a better actor than Ms. Kardashian. Maybe you're better at sexual intercourse on camera, at failed marriages, at staged fights. But have you really had a more interesting year than either of these two?

Would a profile of you in the New Yorker sell more copies?

I'd suggest that you writers keep focusing on your writing. That's the reward. The writing.

If your goal is to get into the New Yorker, then stop waiting for a profile piece -- write an amazing short story. After all, they're still one of the top publishers of fiction, whether it be Quentin Rowan's apologies or Michael Chabon's "Citizen Conn."