Saturday, March 3, 2012

Back Up and No Sweat


Scott D. Parker

My Mac died this week, and I didn’t even sweat it.

I have a MacBook Pro, late 2007 model, and it’s been a workhorse for lo these five years. As a child who grew up as computers grew up, having all my music, picture, home movies, docs, files, applications all in one, compact little metal box that I can take anywhere is really like science fiction. Like all of us in this year 2012, basically everything of importance is on our computers.

And mine, apparently, gave up. From all the troubleshooting things I did, it appears that my logic board—i.e., memory board—might have failed. Or it may be a power thing. What it is not, however, is a drive failure. So, despite the fact that I experienced that awful sinking feeling when the Mac would not wake from sleep, all my Stuff is safe and sound. Well, it is now, once I copied it all to another hard drive. Sure, I had to crack my laptop, but I’ve done it before and it’s no big deal now.

The biggest drawback is my music. I can’t access it or listen to it throughout my workday. I’ve still got the music on my iPod, but I dislike having ear buds on for long stretches. I’m going to reassemble the Mac and take it up to the Apple store and let the experts give a look. As odd as it sounds, I partially dread their verdict. I’m not a guy who must have the latest and greatest. I prefer to have my few tools, be they electronic or analog, that just plain work, that work so well that I don’t have to think about anything other than my task at hand. That’s what my Mac was for me: the perfect tool that I could use to write, edit movies, listen to music, watch videos, and I didn’t have to think about the tech specs, the RAM speed, or anything. It just worked. What I dread is that the costs of repair might be too steep, that leads to the inevitable conclusion: if I’m going to pay that much for a repair, why not just buy a new machine. For some, this would be exciting. And, to be honest, it is a bit exciting. But, if I have to choose that route, the day I most look forward to is not the purchase date, but the date in which the machine is set up To Just Work.

What isn’t a drawback, however, is a writing tool. A little over a year ago, after reading a lot about minimal computing, I saw the upside to working with text files. Just about any application can read a text file, no matter the OS. I’m not tied to a particular document type that may only be readable with a respective application. And with syncing via Dropbox and my own obsessive backup system, I can easily port my text files anywhere, including this, my work PC. Now, the one application I do miss is Scrivener. It is my go-to application for story manipulation—the moving around of scenes, timelines, etc.—but not always story generation. I write anywhere and on anything, paper, plastic, or pixel. In fact, my iPod, with a Bluetooth keyboard, is often all I need. Heck, I’ve written more than one of these posts on my iPod without a keyboard.

What am I saying today? Backup all your stuff, and do it on a regular basis. Pretty obvious advice, but sound advice. It’s not a matter of *if* your computer will crash, it’s when. Get into the habit and ingrain it in your computing life so much that when your machine fails, you won’t break a sweat (unless you just wrote “The End” and hadn’t saved yet). Also, if you can, be application agnostic. Don’t be tied into only one writing application. Remember, back in the day, the writers with typewriters had only one, basic method: enter text on paper, the analog equivalent of a text file. It might just save you some heartache.

Song of the Week:

John Legend and the Roots performing “Dancing in the Dark”. In advance of the new Bruce Springsteen CD dropping next week, Jimmy Fallon has been having Springsteen Week on Late Night. Monday and last night, Springsteen himself showed up. The middle days had three performers—Kenny Chesney, John Legend, and Elvis Costello—cover the Boss’s songs. Legend’s jazzy, piano-laced, slow burn rendition of one of Springsteen’s signature tunes is incredible not just for its restraint, but for the emotion he wrings out of the lyrics. The electric piano solo section of the piece reminded me of The Bad Plus and their reinterpretations of modern rock songs. Fantastic.

Oh, and for more Springsteen stuff, check out Jay's post from Thursday.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Papa Don't Preach (Or; Show Don't Tell....Again.)

By Jay Stringer.

Apologies for my absence last week. It seems getting ill is my bodies favourite new thing lately. The post I had in mind was a good 'un about subtext. It will show up over the next few weeks, but it also ties into what I'm writing today.

My friend Steve (of the Slide Into My Hand podcast) forwarded me a link on Monday to this open letter to Bruce Springsteen. He then asked me what I thought of it. Because he's annoying like that. He likes to lock my brain up in complex questions. Springtseen himself has stated he still supports the candidate, but from the sidelines;

"I'm not a professional campaigner and every four years I don't think I'm going to pick a guy and go after him......

....I prefer to stay on the sidelines. I genuinely believe an artist (is) supposed to be the canary in the coal mine and you're better off with a certain distance from the seat of power."

I see two separate issues at play in this story, and I'd like to hear your views on both. But first, hey, you've got to sit through mine.

As to the main issue, It's fair to say I agree completely with Springsteen's current stance. I agree with it so much that I plan on stealing the line about the canary as soon as the dust has settled, and start passing it off as my own.

I've written many times before, both on here and my own site (my solo side-project?) that I like to draw a distinction between being social and being political. But even putting that concept aside for the moment and simply using the term political to cover all, I think there's an important line. In Bruce I've always enjoyed many of the things I come to crime fiction for. It will come as a new concept to precisely nobody reading this to hear Bruce compared to Pelecanos, Steinbeck, or other greats of crime fiction. We do it all the time, it's a cliche at this point.

Nevertheless, it carries truth to it. In albums like NEBRASKA, THE GHOST OF TOM JOAD and DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, what we have is social fiction, and a writing style that fits with any of the names we like to throw around in comparison. We have stories that mine that wonderfully rich seam; the gap between the haves and have-nots. The corruption of power, the trap of ambition, and the poverty of hope.

His politics was never a secret -once he started to form his own politics more as he grew- but it was also something that didn't need to be fully stated. Of course he had opinions, string ones, but they were best served by fuelling his work, and by giving direct answers to questions.

Given how string an influence he was on me at a young age, it's probably no surprise that this became my default setting for what an artist should be. Point to what's wrong and rage at the failures of those in power, but don;t get up on the podium and tell us who to vote for. It would be grossly unfair to single Bruce Springtseen out as the only person who drifted across that line over the past decade-or-so in mainstream music. More and more we saw musical celebrity used as a means to an end on the campaign trail. Sometimes we even saw the musicians pick up their instruments and start attaching their songs to the campaigns.

That's their choice to make, of course, but it was a point when I started to tune out to each of them, and I realised it was because of that crossing of the line that I had drawn. If we ignore my social/political distinction for now and just stick to the one word; I realised I have no issue with songs that had political messages in them (in fact, I often turn to them) but I fall away when they step over into party politics. I think crossing that line is actually demeaning the art. It's making it something less, it's mutating it into propaganda.

I had similar problem's with Steve Earle. Though I'm sure he still sleeps fine at night despite some limey having issues with him, I've never fully recovered the affinity I had with his post-rehab work since THE REVOLUTION STARTS NOW.

To give another example; Paul Westerberg. We know Westerberg's feelings on war. We know his thoughts on feminism, gender equality, mental health and gun control. We know of his caring for those suffering from depression and we know his (complex and not judgemental) views on suicide. And we know all of this because, since 1981, he's given us a body of work that speaks for him on each thorny issue. But, 30 years on from his first release, do we know who he votes for or if he's religious? No, and we don't need to know.

(I actually know the answer to both questions, because I'm a fan and I sought the answers out, but I had to go looking.)

I love music that is socially conscious and politically aware, but I don;t wan to be preached at, and I don;t want either music or the artist to become attached to a particular horse in the rigged race of party politics.

And I carry the same principle over into literature (because really, it's all writing.) When we read of the problems of unemployment, drugs, hopelessness and frustration in these novels, we get a sense of the author and it's not hard, usually, to make an educated guess if we want to. But the work speaks for them. And, more importantly, the work speaks of the real issues, not of the partisan ones. I've felt angry at myself on the occasions when I've crossed the line that I talk about so much, and I strive each time not to do it again.

So that's the first issue that comes out of all of this, for me. I agree with where Bruce was up until the previous administration, and I agree with where he seems to have come back to now. Have opinions, sure. Everybody does. But know that having an opinion doesn't mean you have to campaign, and trust that your work speaks for you. In fact, I could some it all up in that last thought; trust the work.

But I did mention that there was a second issue that I saw coming off all of this, and one that ties back into that open letter. It's not so much a call for artists to come out and tie themselves to campaigns, as it is saying that certain artists opened the can of worms and maybe they have a responsibility to see it through. As much as I would rather Bruce stick to his current position, does he have a responsibility to stay out there on the trail after doing it to such an extent in the previous two elections? Are these musicians cutting and running by not seeing things through and holding the 'new guy' to task as publicly as they did the 'old one'? That's a genuine question I'm asking there, because it's one without an easy answer.

So there you go. Firstly, I think that writers (of all formats) should let their work do the talking for them, and that they shouldn't cross a line into telling people who to vote for. I think they should trust in their art. Do you agree? And if not, which artists who've "crossed that line," do you think have handled it best?

And secondly, once an artist has put themselves out there and tied themselves so publicly to getting "their guy" across the line, do they have a responsibility to stay out there and see things through, just as the candidate does?

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.