Saturday, March 31, 2012

Playing in Different Sandboxes

Scott D. Parker

For the past two months or so, I’ve been in an adventurous mood, reading-wise. It started with the lead-up to the John Carter movie and the re-reading of the initial trilogy from the eleven-book series. I have since gone on to read books 4 and 5. As much fun as those books are, I wanted to maintain my enjoyment of the Barsoomian universe by giving myself a little break. Besides, it’s pretty obvious that Edgar Rice Burroughs had one go-to plot—kidnap female; have male chase kidnappers; prevent wedding—and, well, I needed a break.

Taking a cue from one of the film’s writers, I segued over to Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road. This is his homage to adventure tales and swashbuckling stories of the past. He name drops Michael Moorcock, Fritz Lieber, Alexander Dumas, and George MacDonald Fraser as inspirations. Chabon’s story follows two partners in the 10th Century Middle East and their exploits along their circuitous journey.

Chabon has gone on record as lamenting how genre stories—what, with their focus on simple things like, you know, plot and fun—often get ostracized when compared to the more staid, “important” field of literary fiction. One of the obvious differences is writing style. When you pick up a Chandler detective novel or an Asimov space opera, you know very quickly what you are reading. In the same manner, if you pick up a literary novel, the word choice alone will indicate the type of book. Nothing wrong with this, of course, but it is a distinct difference.

But what about those books where the lines are blurred? Gentlemen of the Road has some action, sword fights, and other fun set pieces. Were this novel written by another person, the style and manner of telling would be quite different, natch. But Chabon is the writer and, as such, you have a man whose natural tendency towards “literary” writing is actually crafting an action tale. Does it work?

For me, yes, partially. When the characters talk, they talk in the high style typical of a Chabon work or, to be honest, like Burroughs. Not necessarily all “thees” and “thous” but speech with flourish. Chabon’s style works great for this. Some of the action scenes, however, tend not to have the immediacy of a more dedicated genre writer. Where someone like Hammett would revert to shorter sentences to punch you in the gut with the visceral action, Chabon maintains his whimsical style. The language is still pretty, but the action is a bit hazy.

All of this got me to thinking and wondering: are certain writes better at certain types of writing? The obvious answer is yes. You take any random sample of pulp authors—modern or classic—and they might be hard pressed to write a languid tale of a young person’s coming of age in the claustrophobic climate of 1950s America. You give them a dude with a pistol or a hero with a ray gun and you are going to be flat-out entertained. You take a group of literary writers and ask them to write a mystery story or a fantasy, and you might end up with a mess.

Yes, some genres call for certain writing styles, but can you mix them? Think of this: remember when you are play acting or talking with friends and you adopt a different accent to make a joke or something? You adopt the accent, say your words, and then revert back to your normal self. Can writers do the same? Can someone mimic Hammett without resorting to pastiche? Can someone mimic Chabon without a reader seeing through the veil?

More importantly, can different types of writing be applied for different types of story? If so, what are some examples? I'd like to know.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Idea

By Russel D McLean

One of the most common questions writers are asked when they attend events is “where do you get your ideas from?” Oh, sure, some people try and dress the question up, but more often than not it’s the same question with fancier words.

And most writers I know hate answering it.

It’s one of those questions that you wind up not thinking about when you’re in the process of writing or of searching for the next novel. It’s like asking how someone knows when to breathe. It’s a combination of circumstances that leads to something else. In retrospect, perhaps, a writer can claim to “have had idea x at moment y” but in truth, that realisation comes too long after the fact for it to matter and they rarely can say why those two moments intersected in the way they did.
When people ask the question, of course, it is not to deliberately flummox writers. It is a genuine inquiry, an attempt to understand the unique alchemy of the creative mind.

The problem is that the creative mind often does not know why it is creative. Which is why there remains a gap between the creative and the critical. In a recent interview with the author Iain McEwan, Mr McEwan pointed out that, for his A-Levels, his son had to study the novel Enduring Love, one of McEwan Sr’s more famous novels. The son, of course, got low marks because his father gave him a few pointers. "I think quite wrongly. His tutor thought the stalker carried the authorial moral centre. Whereas I thought he was a complete madman.” Which plainly shows the gap that occurs between author and reader, between intent and actuality.

Of course, I’m drifting here from my intent, which was to talk about the moment of The Idea, not the gap between author and reader/critic, which is a whole other post for a whole other philosophically inclined day. But be warned that I can’t tell you how to find The Idea, I can only describe the moments in which it happens, the idea that a confluence of events spark something in my brain.

Often its just a moment of conversation; an overheard nugget or a moment that passes in front of my eyes. It sticks in my brain, starts to twist. If you want to write, I think you have to be the kind of who used to play “consequences” and could see the connection between the unconnected things that people would write on that folded piece of paper.

Pedro Paul – one of my favourite of the early short stories, and published in the great anthology EXPLETIVE DELETED – came about because of an overheard conversation; two old women concerned about “aw they pedrophiles on the news”. The phrase wouldn’t leave me alone, and I started to wonder about how they saw these “pedrophiles”, if they really understood what they were and, if they didn’t, then what that might mean. The story that emerged – one of horrific misunderstanding – is one of the darkest of the shorts to be published, and one that I remain hugely proud of to this day.

I’ve talked enough about the ideas for both of the published novels, but its strange how one thing can change the direction a narrative takes. THE LOST SISTER was struggling, trying to find its way as a narrative, and I realised it was because we were missing a truly unnerving protagonist. Then someone said to me, “You should write a character who’s a psychopathic version of Actor X”. Oddly, it was precisely the push I needed. The first push of the character parodied Actor X’s known traits, but on subsequent drafts became more and more of its own thing before finally becoming one of the most unsettling characters I’ve had to write. Again, it was a confluence of circumstance that allowed me to create this character. It was not just “psychopathic verion of Actor X”, but that couple with so many other moments and the needs of the story that resulted in a fresh creation.

You cannot just look at writing and dissect it coldly. A novel or a short story or any piece of writing is the result of a countless number of tiny processes coming together in exactly the right way. In retrospect, perhaps, we can look back and say where idea Y came from, but we cannot coldly and calmly recreate that process time and time again. Which is part of the excitement of writing. If the creative process were merely a formula – and I know so many people wish it was – then everyone would be able to do it and do it well. Which is clearly – and thankfully – not the case. Put simply, every author gets their ideas from different places, all of which are unique to that individual. If you want to get “good ideas”, you need to get to know yourself and the way your mind works. Which is not an answer you want to hear maybe but its as close to the truth as I think I can get.

Or, you know, maybe I should just be like a few other writers I’ve heard, and gently joke that I pick up all my ideas from “Ideas R Us”.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Boy With The X-Ray Specs

By Jay Stringer

I made a point of writing about dyslexia on here last year. It's been interesting lately to have a father contacting me to ask for advice about his young daughter, and for me to be in a position to try and give someone the kind of road map that I never had. So, whilst I'll never feel qualified to be an expert in anything, I decided to hold to my decision to talk about this issue more often, and to give advice when I can.

I'd been hearing for a few years now about colorimetry. It seemed that wearing tinted glasses could help dyslexics to read. I dismissed it every time it came up. I mean, I'd always liked wearing sunglasses, and none of them had made me any better at reading, right? But the more I listened, the more it made sense. My own experience told me that a lot of my problems came when the page turned into something like a magic eye puzzle; the black print on a white page would turn into black shapes fighting with white shapes, and often the white was winning. It's not just with white, but that's the biggest problem. The tint would reduce this and add definition to the shapes, making the black sit still and behave as printed words.

There was no universal fix-all tint. It seemed that everyone had their own, and that they could change over time. I started to play around. I began changing the settings on my computer at work and home, and quickly found that some colours did make an instant difference.

After a year of fiddling around with the local dyslexia charity, and trying to get in contact with specialists who would carry out the tests for free, I found out which high-street optician would do it and booked in with them. It meant paying -and it was one of the pricier high-street stores- but I figured this was one test worth taking. Early on in the test - a fun experience that basically involved sticking my head in a metal box and reading a lot- I figured out how to cheat it. It would have been simple to give the right answers to lead to a really cool looking colour, one that I wouldn't feel like an idiot wearing. But I'm old enough now to know that kind of cheating is pointless.

The test was leading us toward some very bold colours; yellow was working best for me, and both red and blue showed good results. From there, my optician did me the favour of trying to find the least obtrusive combinations of colours that would work, to try and soften the tint of my glasses. The end result is a kind of amber.

I could try and get away with only wearing them when I'm sat at a computer or reading a book. And, when I have more money, I may well get a 'normal' pair for the slight prescription that I now need (as dyslexia wasn't the only eye test I'd been putting off for too long.) But people take for granted the amount of reading they do in day to day life. Anyone who's lived with me -and especially my long suffering wife- will attest to the lengths I go to not to show how much I can struggle sometimes when reading labels in the supermarket, or trying to read maps in a hurry, or any of the small things people do without thinking. So, whilst I may get that 'normal' pair of glasses at some point, I'm going to have to get used to wearing the tinted ones so I may as well force myself to do that first.

That 'getting used to' thing is the downside. I guess in some children you could convince them they were getting to wear super cool sunglasses, but for a great many others they will be getting one more thing to be self conscious about. For me, as a thirty-something, wearing glasses in and of itself is just another thing to add to the list of new problems. Past a certain age you accept these things, along with not being able to fit into that jacket you loved so much, or checking your hair line in the shower. Maybe it's the creaks in your knees when you bend down. Whatever. But even with this, the tint is proving a challenge. For the first couple of days I couldn't help but feel like an idiot, especially since I was wearing glasses that looked suspiciously like something Bono might be pictured with, and had to deal with a lot of jokes from work colleagues who wanted to decide which pretentious rock star I was copying.

(None of them would have guessed Paul Westerberg)

So; Tinted glasses for dyslexics. It's a challenge. It's tough for adults to get used to, and probably even more difficult for children. But all that fades away the first time you sit down and read a book and realise that you're simply reading the fuck out of that page. No going over the same line 33 times, no looking away then looking back in the hope the words have got bored of moving. I imagine my tint will change over time. My next prescription will likely be one of the much bolder colours that we worked hard to dodge this time, but by that point I won't care. So, if you know someone who's struggling, whatever their age, find out which opticians near you can do the colorimetry test and jump in with both feet.

What was I reading, I hear you ask? Why, Tumblin' Dice by John McFetridge, of course. You don;t need coloured glasses to enjoy the hell out of McFet's writing, you just need taste.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Noam Pikelny, Writing Then Counting

By Steve Weddle

Last week I got the latest issue of Banjo Newsletter, which has a fantastic interview with Noam Pikelny (Leftover Salmon, Punch Brothers).

About the shifting time signature in "Jim Thompson's Horse," Pikelny says 
the feel is still a strong duple meter. When it's in three, it doesn't really become a waltz time. It's an interesting thing. I'll write that song and have that melody fully formed to the first part and then afterwards is when I go back and have to start counting.
How like our own writing that is. Well, mine. Maybe yours. He has an idea in his head, follows that then later goes back to start counting.

I find it interesting to consider this when I'm reading a review in the New York Times in which the reviewer seems to find all these connections, perhaps superimposing (it's like imposing, but with a leotard) the reviewer's ideas on the book. Or maybe it's the reviewer seeing various levels in the novel.  You know what I mean? Like when the reviewer will take part of a scene on page 17 and a character's name later in the book and show how it suggests the moral code of the book? Yeah. maybe that's there. And maybe the writer, like Pikelny, gets on a tear and just starts writing out the melody of the scenes and then works in the harmony of each section going along and then afterwards looks back on it and says, "Well, heck. I think this part is in 3/4 and this part is in 4/4. How about that?"

What's telling, at least to me, is the interviewer's question, that the songs "come out with complex rhythmic changes because that's the way you hear the music, not so much because you set out to write something with shifting time signatures."

As Pikelny says, "Exactly."

You see the story, the characters. You follow along with the song you're writing -- whether it's literary fiction or a murder mystery or a short story about aardvarks.

As writers, sometimes we just hang on and see where the writing takes us. The way I describe it is that I'm watching a movie in my head, with characters I've thought up when I wasn't paying attention. At least, when things are working right, that's what happens. But I like the musical idea, too.

How about you folks? You ever get cruising along on a story, only to look back and notice you've "shifted time signatures" in some way?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Writing Again

I started a new piece of writing last week.

Right there, Chapter 1.  Got a plot, got a character, got a hook.  Got going.

There are several reasons I did this.  Number 1 was the idea.  The idea had been gnawing at me.  There in the corner of my brain for well over six months.  Probably since the summer.  No matter what I did, I couldn’t get rid of it.  No matter how many times I tried to focus on my revisions, this idea would float there in front of me.  

What is this story I see before me?

So, finally, after getting settled in the new house, I decided it was time to get back to writing.  Time to sit down and start clacking away at the keys again.  Time to start something new.  So, I did.  Started over.  Started writing.  Don’t know where the story’s going to take me, don’t know how it’s going to end.  Just know it’s there, and is being backed by a flash of energy.  A feeling I haven’t had in a while.

It feels good.  Feels like I made the right choice.

But at the same time, I’m feeling really guilty.  I abandoned a piece of writing I’ve been working on for a long time.  It’s an idea I’ve had since… 2004, 2005?  It’s a book I spent a year drafting, struggling through a draft just to get the ideas on paper.  A book I’ve already worked through 3 and a half drafts of.  If you’ve followed my ramblings though, you’ll know that in the past few months I hit the skids.  The ideas stopped coming.  The book is a mess, in the middle of a draft, without much direction.  I’ve tried all the tricks—outlining, Scrivner, just flat out re-writing—and it wasn’t working.

So, I’m finally putting it down.  Despite all the writing advice you see.  All those writers telling prospective writers to finish something.  You’re not a writer until you finish something.

Well, guess what?  For right now, I’m not finishing this draft.  I’m stuck and I can’t get unstuck.  The book is such a mess right now; I can’t even show it to someone for ideas.  

Which is the other reason I’m starting something new.  I’m trying to get my brain away from the mess.  Maybe while I’m focusing on this new book, something will be unlocked in my brain and the revision will come flowing out of me.Maybe it won’t.  

But until then, at least I’m writing.  

I feel like I can exhale.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What books do you want to read but can't?

This week I was going to continue writing about why I decided to publish the Snubnose stories and books that have come so far. But I was thinking about something else yesterday and decided to write about that instead. So I'll continue with the other posts next week.

I like exploring blogs and publications that take me to books that are completely new to me. It's a bit rare and as I've said before can be a little like panning for gold.

One such occurrence happened to me yesterday. I came across a book being mentioned. After tracking down more info about it I feel like I HAVE to read Young Blood by African novelist Sifiso Mzobe.

Here's a quick synopsis:

“Sipho lives in Umlazi, Durban - he is seventeen, has dropped out of school and helps out at his father's mechanic shop. But odd jobs do not provide the lifestyle his friend Musa has, with his BMW and designer clothes. Soon Sipho's love for fast cars and money leads him into a life of crime that brings him close to drugs, death and prison time."

But here's the thing, the book isn't readily available. It's an African book that, as far as I know, hasn't found a US publisher yet. It looks like it is available on the Nook, but I don't have a Nook. (But I can get a Nook app for my phone....)

Recently I read about a book, first published in Japan in 1935, called Dogra Magra that had me excited too. As far as I can tell it is not available in English but there was a French version that came out a few years ago. The idea that a book with what sounds like noir qualities was released in Japan and in 1935 is interesting.

"Describing the premise for Dogra Magra will illustrate the problems reviewers have had in attempting to distill its essence in a few pithy comments. Ichiro, the protagonist, wakes up one day suffering from amnesia. He is in a psychiatric ward. He comes to learn, through the eponymous "Dogra Magra," that he has attempted to kill his fiancée. Yet there is much more to this than just a psychological portrait of what leads one to kill what one loves. Turns out that much of the writing in the middle section is in the form of psychiatric reports written by two doctors who may or may not be characters in Ichiro's narrative. Furthermore, the narrative fractures into an exploration of Buddhist concepts surrounding karma, particularly how it applies to Japanese culture in the period immediately following World War I, two generations removed from the beginning of the Meiji Restoration and Japan's rapid industrialization. And if this does not sound complicated enough, Ichiro and a female character may or may not be reincarnated souls that are experiencing the memories and mental anguish of their ancestors."

"It is in the latter half of Dogra Magra where this sense of surrealness occurs most often. Before this midpoint, the story does resemble in form and structure a detective novel, albeit one that is odd in that the protagonist seems to be either truly amnesiac or insane. Once the reader manages to process the contents of the psychiatric reports, one begins to question as to whether or not everything is as it seems. Yumeno's digressions into the ancestral memories, into the repetitive nature of certain memorable (and perhaps infamous) actions, causes the narrative to careen sharply away from earlier reader expectations and toward something that is inexplicable for the reader. Furthermore, there are hints that even those reporting on Ichiro may not be what they seem. This results in a conclusion that loops back, creating what appears to be an infinite loop that alters slightly at its end what it had begun narrating."

I remember a few years ago hearing about the Australian book Graphic by Shane Briant but had been unwilling to pay the shipping costs to have it sent to the states. [Graphic was published by Marburg Press in January 2012.]

Speaking of Australian books Andrew Nette has written some blog posts about Australian pulp fiction books that sound great too.

So yesterday on Twitter I asked if there were other books that people wanted to read but didn't have access to. I find it a fascinating subject, especially in this internet age. It requires a reader to be open to new suggestions and in many cases go actively hunting for books.

Peter Rozovsky from Detectives Beyond Borders responded "I'd like to read more Harri Nykänen and Jean-Patrick Manchette than is currently available in English."

And he's right because Manchette is a great example. Readers in the U.S. are told that Manchette is a noir god and yet as much as 70% of his work remains untranslated.

I think the mystery/crime genre has a good track record of bringing translated and international fiction to Anglophone/Western audiences. I hope that some enterprising publisher will put in the work looking at these markets and make some of this fiction more readily available.

So what book would you like to read but can't?

The latest Snubnose Press book is out. Nothing Matters is a 20k word noir poem by Steve Finbow (a prose/novella version is included as well so readers can chose which they prefer to read).

Currently reading: Still picking my way through a few different titles and I've mainly been reading submissions for Snubnose.

Currently Listening: Go To Blazes was one of my favorite bands in the 90's. Originally from DC before relocating to Philly. I loved these guys but they never seemed to make it nationally. Accordingly their music had been hard to find. Someone uploaded a bunch of their songs to Youtube. Here's their ode to Sam Peckinpah.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Does the movie ever do the book justice?

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Happy Hunger Games everyone. I will admit that today is an exciting day for me. Due to my strange schedule of writer/mom/voice teacher/wife/whatever I have not walked into a movie theater in over a year. The last was for Harry Potter 7 part 1. Today, I’m going to see another film based on a book—The Hunger Games.

While I’m thrilled to be seeing the movie, I admit I’m a bit nervous since the majority of books I’ve read and loved and were eventually turned into movies…well….sucked. Take Absolute Power by David Baldacci. What a great thriller. The book grabbed me by the throat and pulled me along for a fast-paced, powerful ride. The movie…not so much. By the halfway point, the movie took a sharp left turn from the book and never recovered. While the casting was good (especially Gene Hackman’s brilliant portrayal of the murdering President), the movie left me longing to throttle the folks behind butchering the book. Sigh.

And that isn’t the only example of poor book adaptations. The Lost World (Jurassic Park #2) by Michael Crichton wasn’t my favorite book ever. In fact, I thought it came up far short of the excitement of the first novel. But the movie??? Yikes! I guess it bore a loose resemblance to the bound text since there were dinosaurs in the film. The rest was unrecognizable. Other bad adaptations (in my humble opinion) One for the Money, The Firm, Under The Tuscan Sun, Pet Cemetery, Contact, The Scarlet Letter (Demi Moore version), Flowers in the Attic –the list goes on and on.

Not to say there aren’t good if not excellent movies made from books. Misery is a wonderful movie. Seabiscuit was fabulous. The first three Harry Potter films captured the book and created the world that lived in our imaginations. The Bone Collector was strong. The Green Mile blew me away.

So I guess today, I am hoping that the odds are in my favor and that The Hunger Games belongs on the “good adaptation” list. In a couple of hours, I’ll find out. In the meantime, I’m curious. What are you favorite movie adaptations of books? Which ones left you cold?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What Would Be In Your Keynote Address?


Scott D. Parker

What's in your keynote address?

Over at NPRMusic this week, they posted Bruce Springsteen’s keynote address to the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. In this speech, Springsteen discussed his life’s inspirations and aspirations, what influenced him, and what he contributes to the greater musical community. It’s a fun speech, peppered with a few bits of foul language and a little guitar playing to even out things. As I listened to his near hour-long speech, I got to thinking: what would my keynote address be like?

What things made me the person I am today? That, of course, starts me asking another question: who am I? What is the sum of my parts, my influences?

Seeing as how this is a blog devoted to mystery and crime fiction, I’ll leave out some of the other stuff that makes up who I am--Star Wars, KISS, Chicago, comic books, and jazz to name a few—and focus on the mystery part only.

That I am here, with my fellow DSDers, on a mystery fiction blog is due, in large part, to a single book: Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River. Up until 2001, I read little crime or mystery fiction. Sherlock Holmes was there, of course, and the Three Investigators and the Hardy Boys were present in my youth, but I rarely selected a mystery to read. By chance, I heard an NPR interview with Lehane on the way home from work. His description of his book, specifically the time gap and how the sins of youth can affect adulthood, is what hooked me. I took a chance and bought the book.

And was blown away.

A few weeks ago, I asked if mystery literature can have a sense of wonder. By reading Mystic River, a whole new universe of books and concepts opened up for me. I put myself on a crash course to catch up with most of what many of y’all already know. Lehane led to Pelecanos to the many authors of the Hard Case Crime. Recently, in the past year or two, I’ve become interested in the more traditional mysteries with Louise Penny’s Bury Your Dead the latest addition. I like that I can pinpoint the exact moment my love and appreciate for mystery fiction happened.

What would be part of your keynote address?

Tweet of the Week:

Also, criticism doesn't imply hate. If you automatically reject anyone who disagrees with you, how do you grow as a person?

--A. Lee Martinez

Album of the Week:

Esperanza Spalding “Radio Music Society”

I have listened to this album every day (sometime multiple times) for over a week. Love, love, love this music and this artist. It is a breezy, jazzy, summery, effervescent record that harkens back to when jazz was on the radio.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Puerto Rican Curse

By Steven Torres

Russel thought it might be a good idea if I took his place for a day, so here I am. Hope you’ll forgive him if I disappoint. Both Russel and I write fairly hardboiled material, so I thought I’d try to write an article quite different from anything he’s likely to produce. The topic is as the title of the post says. Think of it as some of the “sordid junk that goes through a writer’s brain.”

Puerto Rican cursing is almost an art form in its own right – every curse comes in a dozen varieties and stringing them together can be the work of a master. Here are some basics.

“Oye Cabron!” Now that’s rude. Not the rudest thing you might hear a Puerto Rican say, but still not the way to greet a friend – except that times are changing and teens are now saying it – think of it as the Puerto Rican equivalent of “What up, bitch?” Except that instead of “bitch” cabron denotes a man so dumb he doesn’t realize his wife is sleeping around. This strikes at the core of so much of Puerto Rican cursing – it’s much more focused on sexual insecurity than American cursing.

“Hijo de la Gran Puta” – Son of the Great Whore – a reference to the Great Whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelations and associated with the Anti-Christ. Also a knock on yo’ mama. Puta, of course, means prostitute. Puto – male prostitute. “Hijo de la Gran Ramera” means the same thing, but “ramera” is a bit obscure, so you’re probably foaming at the mouth if you’re angry enough to trot that variation out. “Hijo ‘su Mai” is shorthand for “Hijo de su Madre” – Son of your Mother.

“Carajo” – Might have had a sexual connotation to it once, but now just an impolite way of saying Hell as in “Where the Hell are we?” Or “What the Hell are you doing?” – Que carajo haces?

“Pendejo” – Idiot. Don’t know the root (pubic hair doesn’t sound right), but it’s impolite.

“Coño” – Literally, a woman’s hoo-ha, but now used as an interjection like “damn,” as in “damn, what a pendejo…”

“Puñeta” – Literally a man who pleases himself by hand, but usually a really strong way of saying “jerk.” Did someone just cut you off on the highway? The offense might merit rolling down your window to shout this.

And finally, “Maricon” – A man who pleases other men orally. This is about the strongest personal insult you can launch. Still, while powerful, it’s lost a good deal of its original meaning in the same way one of the stronger English curses (rhymes with “other-ucker”) is literally about incest, but no one thinks of it that way anymore.

Note that this is all specifically Puerto Rican – in other countries, these words may be thought of as more or less offensive than I’ve depicted them here. Some may mean very little indeed. “Chingado” which is quite naughty in Mexico, is a word I’ve never even heard in Puerto Rico. Maybe I just don’t hang out with the right crowd.


Steven Torres was born and raised in the Bronx, but has lived in Puerto Rico, Upstate New York, and now Connecticut where he shares his home with his wife and daughter. He's the author of a hardboiled novel called THE CONCRETE MAZE and the fiction editor at CRIMESPREE MAGAZINE.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Guitar Building

By Jay Stringer

Last week I started writing the third book in my contract. It's triggered a week of lots of rambling thoughts about writing. Here's some of them.

This being the third book in a series, and the fourth book I've written, I think I've got only one thing that I can say with any certainty is true of writing; Each one is a new thing. I once had the thought that writing one book made it easier to write the next one. That each successful tilt at the windmill would make the next one look a little smaller.

Not so. Each book is a different breed, with it's own quirks and challenges. That's not to say craft doesn't carry over from project to project. Over time you pick up new skills and a deeper understanding of the craft. But having a great understanding of the human form, and a better set of tools than before, doesn't mean you'll find it any easier to produce your next painting. I'm going to learn how to write this book as I write it. And it'll be fun, but already I can see it wants to throw me.

Something else that I can say is true, but only of me, is that I ease into it. OLD GOLD is an exception, because I didn't know I was writing a book at first. But with the three since, I've learned I start off slow. A thousand words here, a thousand there. It's not until a few weeks in, when I've made a few failed attempts at finding the books voice before I start to grasp it, that I really get up and running. I've figured out that this is because of that first point again. As I start book 3 in my Eoin Miller trilogy, I find that I keep hesitating, because it's not going the way that books 1 and 2 did. At this point, around 5 chapters in, I keep doubting myself, and thinking I'm clearly getting it wrong because it doesn't feel the way it did the last time.

But that's a trap. Firstly, I'm not remembering the tentative steps I took when I started the first draft of book two. What I'm remembering is how it felt as I worked on the second or third draft. How it felt once I knew what the books voice was, and how the pieces needed to fit together. Secondly, the book should feel different to the first two. that feeling of fake nostalgia is really a guide to what the book shouldn't be, but it feels warm and compelling because it comes before I've figured out what the book should be. If I was Chuck Wendig, I'd probably have 25 tips for how to skewer that nostalgia, and what sauces to cook it with. Really the thing that slows me down at this stage of the book is a key part of the writing process.

One of the main things that's unique to this book for me is that it's the third act. I've always been a seat-of-the-pants writer when it comes to plotting, but coming to a book that's closing out a story cycle means I already know where the characters need to find themselves in the closing stages of the book, give or take one of them surprising me. In fact, by this point, I have a large cast of characters who each want a speaking part, and each can make a compelling argument for me showing the end of their arcs. With all of this comes a different skill set. I'm having to craft a stand-alone story from the ground up, but I'm balancing that with whittling a pre-exisiting story down to it's most important parts. Who's going to get shorted? Who gets more scenes to chew? At which point do I let some fucking teddy bears with sticks run in and attack people?

The final thing I'm noticing so far is something Joelle has mentioned before; The difference of writing under a contract. Oh, I know, woe is us, right? No. This is a wonderful pressure to have. But it is an interesting change. Book one was written by accident then rewritten with research, feedback and hard work. But it was simply me setting the pace. That book then secured me an agent, so as we discussed, edited and shopped it, I started writing book 2. Still, really, the only thing setting the pace was my own drive with an added sense of obligation that, hey, this other person is showing some faith in you, so you really should produce more work. But then I sign a three book deal, and as I'm writing this one I can feel -rather than see- a ticking clock.

When I was in bands, I could never stand to use a metronome for recording. I hated click tracks. It simply wasn't the way my brain worked, and I never adapted. Now, as a writer, I find that I have one, deep down somewhere. It's not one that's worrying me, I'm well in advance on this project, but still it's there keeping time. It's a reassuring feeling.

And I'll leave you with a strange habit of mine. At the beginning of big projects like this, my mind and hands both seem to want to be busy with something else. Before the draft of book 2, I stripped my esquire guitar down, rebuilt it, touched up the laquer and experimented with the wiring. I followed that by building a couple of other telecaster guitars that I sold on ebay. Recently I was working on another project, an adventure novel, and before that I spent time trying to learn to draw, and learning how to make my own book covers as well as drawing the character from the book. As I sit here starting another book, I find my eyes drifting to ebay looking at guitar parts, and also find myself picking up my esquire and thinking, would I like a better neck? Would I like a Texas special bridge pickup? How about an S1 wiring harness?

So It seems my brain needs to kick out something physically productive as a starting process for me working on something mentally productive. I need to get my hands messy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is self-publishing the minor leagues?

By Steve Weddle

So, I was wondering whether self-publishing is to publishing what minor league baseball is to the big leagues.

Skipping to the end, let me say that I don't think so. I think they're all in the same ballpark.

But let's look at Jeff Shelby, fellow #TeamDecker member, who posted this week about his publishing history.

Jeff said that years ago he'd sold his Noah Braddock series to Big Six. Two-book deal. Hooray. Two books come out. They don't hit the top of the NYT best seller list. No one wants the third. A few years go by. He writes more, gets a new agent. Gets a new deal for the third book in the series and sells another series.

But what's really amazing is this: He self-pubbed a book on Kindle. The book takes off. (Details here.) And then, once the book hits the top of Amazon and hangs out there for a good while, as he says,
I’m the first to admit this has all caught me unprepared. I didn’t expect for people to be clamoring for the next book in the series. I didn’t expect for people within the publishing industry – digital and print – to show interest. I didn’t expect for so much to change in such a short amount of time.
It's a struggle. The two-book deal in 2006 plays out. Eventually, with a new agent, he gets more action. And then he really hits it out of the park once his self-pubbed book takes off.

Now, knowing a little something about "self-pubbed" books, I know it's a bit of a misnomer. Jeff may have worked with private editors, including his uber-talented agent. He may have hired his own cover artist. I don't know. (I could find out by email and surfing, but if I leave this text editor, I may never make it back, so shut up.)

But here's the deal -

Have we gotten to the point where putting your work up on Kindle is like playing at the AAA level?  Maybe it's like playing college ball.

Are publishers now acting as scouts, trolling through the best seller lists on Amazon to find the next Bryce Harper? Um, I mean, Amanda Hocking?

Let me clear here. I'm not saying Jeff Shelby was sitting alone in a bus station, upped his dragon romance onto Kindle, and is now playing for the New York Yankees. Hard work. Support and help from talented folks. Timing. Hard work. More hard work. (Check out his LIQUID SMOKE from the good folks at Tyrus Books.)

But what we have is a market in which publishers are having a tougher time making money. So, doesn't it make sense that they'd see what works before offering money?

Maybe self-publishing isn't minor leagues at all -- maybe it's just a different team.

Ten years ago, maybe the scouts did travel around, see who the agents were pushing, meet players, um, writers at conferences.

But now, I guess, there's only so much money left. Snooki is still going to get her money, of course. So when publishers and editors want to find what will work, maybe they're not travelling to Birmingham to see a young supposed phenom. Maybe they're looking across at the box scores for another team. Maybe they're looking at Amazon sales, seeing who is batting .400. Maybe there's going to be of that going on.

Maybe when the New York Yankees are looking for the next new thing, they watch middle relievers from other teams.

From what I'm told by Teh Olds, publishers used to sign up writers and watch them develop. Maybe they set them up on a AA imprint before pulling them up to the big leagues. But they writer would be given a few books to develop the craft. Not so much anymore, it seems.

Now publishers and editors want you to be able to knock it out of the park your first time at the plate. Signed to a two-book deal and your first book doesn't make it out of the infield? Um, no promotion for your second book, pal.

But if publishers can see that your self-pubbed ebook is topping the charts, heck, let's have a little chat about a contract. It's like going on Let's Make a Deal and waiting to choose until they've pulled all the curtains back. Take the car, not the goat.

It's like waiting until Tuesday to buy Monday's lottery ticket.

Look at Albert Pujols and Janet Evanovich. Once Pujols delivered, once he showed that he's tops in the game, the Anaheim California Angels of Los Angeles signed him to a 20-year deal worth France. Meanwhile, over in publishing, once Evanovich showed she could fill the stadiums, she got her $50million deal. Not while they were developing. Once they'd proven they could play.

Maybe publishing doesn't have minor leagues anymore. Maybe there is not money for developing talent.

Maybe self-publishing isn't the Desert City Rattlers after all. Maybe self-publishing is the New York Mets.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Still Moving...

So you're getting a best of from 2005... the way, way, way back machine. Here's my favorite serial killer story lines:

Just thought I'd share with you some of my favorite ridiculous lines from serial killer movies. I just saw a commerical for The Inside some new profiler show on Fox.

Anyways, here are some of my favorite lines that are said in every serial killer movie:

He wants to be caught.

I don't like this one one bit. Either the guy wants to kill and kill compulsively or he wants to be caught. Why not turn yourself in? The only time this one work is in Se7en.

He will kill again.

Yes. That's what serial killers do.

That doesn't fit the profile.

Anybody else sick of the profile? I know I am. This one went over the top when Sandra Bullock muttered "The profile doesn't fit the profile." in that wonderful movie Murder by Numbers.

He wants them to suffer.

No kidding? Man, I really thought he wanted them to die peacefully in their sleep.
There have to be more. Anyone else got any good ones?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Amateurs Need Not Apply: Being a professional writer

In January, Nick Mamatas wrote about advice people should stop giving to writers, and #1 on the list was a kick in the gut to many.

1. Don't Give Up
Consider your audience. Who are you telling not to give up? The illiterates, the douchebags, the certifiable graphomanics, the people who think watching a movie is the same as reading a book? Some people should give up. Most people should give up. Find out whether someone has any potential first before arbitrarily telling someone to waste years of their lives, and worse, moments of the lives of editors who have to look at their nonsense.

I agree with some of Nick's points wholeheartedly. Other points, I can only agree with within a certain context. Initially, I thought about responding to some of the points I didn't completely see eye to eye on, but over time, I realized that the real issue with advice to writers is that it often lacks common sense. Nick's first point underscores that. Why are people running around, telling aspiring writers to follow their dream, to fight the good fight, to not give up, when they often haven't read anything the person's written? I think it's often because we don't want anyone to burst our bubble or tell us that our dream is just that, and will never be reality.

Look at the faces of all those people on American Idol who get told they'd be better off sticking with flipping burgers. Who would want to be responsible for making someone feel that way?

And yet it's often an inherent unwillingness to be honest with people, to tell them the harsh truth when necessary, that keeps people from correcting mistakes, from learning, from improving when possible and from switching gears when it makes sense.

The intent of this post isn't even to focus on aspiring authors and whether or not they should pursue their writing dream. I'm just going to give a few tips to avoid burning bridges.

#1. Write clean. If you're going to write a cover letter, write sentences. Spell the words properly. Be appropriate with the content. If you can't write a cover letter properly, chances are I won't be reading your story. No, it ISN'T my job to read whatever you send me, and read all of it, and see the genius through all your mistakes. It's YOUR job to demonstrate that you take your writing seriously enough to convince me I should publish your story, instead of another submission. Or, in our case, instead of dozens of other submissions.

#2. Did I mention that you should be appropriate in your communication, and with your content? Guys, stop sending your photos to my author email account. I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE. That will not change whether I like your story or not, or publish your story or not. And I'm married, so not only is what you look like NOT relevant, this is really inappropriate.

#3. Don't argue with an editor over a rejection. Everybody gets rejections. Telling the editor they're wrong and you'll show them is only going to ensure you're remembered for all the wrong reasons. Be polite, even if you're silently calling them a $@!%head.

For heaven's sake, people, the writing world is a small world, especially within genre fiction. Editors change publishers all the time. And we talk.

#4. Follow through on your contracts unless you have legal or legitimate grounds not to. If your story is accepted for publication, and an editor takes time to edit the story with you, and it's about to be published, and you've even provided a release selling the rights to the story for publication, do not pull the story from publication so that you can enter your edited-for-free story in some writing contest. Maybe some editor won't care that you wasted their time. I mean, there might be one in the known universe someone. But it's more likely that your name will go straight to the top of their shitlist. (And yes, Spinetingler has one. We have a manure file.)

(I'm not saying this applies when you haven't signed a release or been edited. If a publication has been sitting on your story for months with no word, you have the right to follow up on it, and even to withdraw it. Just understand reasonable timelines. It's not uncommon for work to sit for a year before publication. Don't email someone a month after you've submitted a story and flip out on them because you haven't heard anything. If your story was accepted but you haven't done a contract or edits or heard anything for ten months, you should definitely follow up with them.)

#5. If you sold your story and it was published, accept that fact. Say you sold your story to a magazine, anthology or ezine. You provided a release agreeing to terms. You received payment for your story.

YOU DON'T GET TO 'UNPUBLISH' IT AND GIVE IT AS AN EXCLUSIVE TO ANOTHER PUBLISHER. It's not an exclusive. It's been published. It's been read. YOU WERE PAID. Do I really have to explain this?

And why the hell aren't you celebrating your publication, and mentioning your publication credits?

#6. Even if something that was published is out of print, or off the internet now, it was still published. That means that if someone reviewed your work and wasn't favorable, and you subsequently badger the publisher to remove the story, that doesn't mean the reviewer will take their review down. It doesn't mean it's an unpublished story that you can submit as a new story to a publisher, either. And if you're such an idiot that you use publication online as a means of editing, suck it up. You put your mistakes out there for the world to see, and the only person in the world who's likely to think sunshine springs from your arse is your mother.

You can't ask people only to like you, and not expect an honest response from them. It doesn't work that way. You have the right to dislike a book or a movie or a short story or a play or a song or TV show. Other people have the same right.

People, this is why when you start to be published you learn to critique the work and not the person. If someone gets personal and dirty with you, being upset is understandable. If someone doesn't like your story, learn to deal with it. The world is a big place. There are people who don't like Harry Potter, either, and JK Rowling did just fine with her sales.

#6. Respect people's time. Wasting the time of editors or agents is never a good idea. Time is money. Every person out there has obligations. Don't impose on people and assume they have all the time in the world to give to you. Don't waste people's time. This connects to #4 and #5.

#7. Follow the submission guidelines.

The next person who emails me to tell me their story isn't formatted properly, who submitted it without formatting it according to our guidelines because they thought they were such hot $!@& that the guidelines didn't apply to them, because they're special, will have their emailed author photo that was sent to my personal email printed and tacked dead center in our dart board.

#8. Make the most of every opportunity. Every person you're in contact with is a potential contact. Every encounter with them contributes to your reputation. If you have a bad reputation, you'll miss out on some opportunities. It's even possible you'll miss out on a lot of opportunities.

#9. Be careful about publicly criticizing publications. Don't look down your nose at any legitimate publication venue. I remember when people told me being published online wasn't really being published. Then, I was told Spinetingler wasn't a real publication. Spinetingler is MWA-approved and what we publish can be submitted for the Edgars. Not really published my ass. And we pay.

I'm sure there's a lot more I could say, but there comes a point where people stop processing it. However, under all of these tips, there's a fundamental principle at work, and if it's the foundation of your behavior as a writer, you'll be fine. Be professional. Treat your writing professionally, and treat all your communications professionally.

On a personal note, I've realized I can eventually overlook or forgive most things, especially if a mistake is made by a new writer who's still learning the ropes. However, there's one thing that's unforgivable, and it ties to this final tip:

#10. Be willing to learn. Especially when you're starting out, at least try pretending to be humble. If you respond as though you know it all, it's a sure sign you don't. The smartest people in this business take advice, process it, and then decide if it's good or bad. The dumbest ignore everything because they already know it all.

And I'll tell you right out that if you aren't willing to learn, there isn't a thing I can do to help you.

In the end, every writer sinks or swims based on what they put on the page. There's no amount of good advice in the world that will help you if you won't listen to it.

There might be some who read this and think I'm a real bitch. I'm mean.

This is my personal time. This is when I could be writing my own work, or playing pool with my husband or walking the dog. I've chosen to take the time today to give some blunt, practical advice, so that the people who really do want to succeed and are willing to learn will hopefully avoid making a few mistakes along the way.

If all you come away with after reading this is that taking my personal time to provide some common sense suggestions for aspiring authors makes you think I'm mean, well, there probably isn't anything you ever need to hear from me anyway.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dust bunnies under the bed

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Fear is a funny thing. For each of us, fear takes hold at different times and manifests itself in different ways. Some people are scared of bugs. Others are terrified of the dark. Fear can cause you to scream aloud or go soundlessly still.

The dark doesn’t scare me. And I admit to enjoying the rush of adrenaline that strikes when I watch horror films or go through a haunted house. Things that go bump in the night make me laugh and spiders….well, as long as they aren’t huge and hairy, I’m pretty happy to smack them with a shoe and move on. Does that mean I’m without fear? Ha! Not in your life. Lots of things scare me. Especially failure.

Which is funny when you think about it. My entire adult life has been comprised of fields that involve rejection. Acting, singing, modeling, writing…. You would think I have spent most of my existence cowering next to the dust bunnies under the bed. (Yes, my bed has dust bunnies under it. Sue me!) And yet, for some reason, I have never equated rejection with failure. Not being a good fit for something doesn’t mean I have failed. It just means I’m not quite right this time. Semantics? Maybe. But it works for me. My fear doesn’t arrive when I’m hoping to hear yes. It comes after the fact. That’s when my fear of failure sets in.

I realized this years ago after snagging my first professional lead. After getting the phone call, I danced around the room, called my family to share the news and bounced off the walls for a couple of hours. Then reality set in. Fear set it. Was I good enough to pull off the role? Would my leading man (being flown in from NYC for the show) think I was too young and inexperienced? Would the press blast me in the reviews?

All that before I ever step foot into a rehearsal. Do I know how to be neurotic or what?

Good news is that I made it through rehearsals. My leading man was awesome. The reviews were good. The next time I got the call telling me I made a show the fear wasn’t as strong. Because I knew I could do it. Maybe I wouldn’t always be perfect. But I’d get the job done.

I find I am reminding myself of that experience a lot lately. Why? Because once again I am terrified of failure. I have turned in the second round of revisions on THE TESTING to my amazing editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s and have started writing book two of the trilogy. And fear has set in. This is not the first book that was under contract before I started writing it. But it is the first with huge expectations from the publisher. Being the lead title for Spring of 2013 is exciting. It is also terrifying.

Trust me when I say I’m not complaining. I am grateful for this chance even as I am terrified that I will blow it. That book 2 will not be what the publisher hopes. That I will disappoint. Which is why I keep reminding myself of my first professional leading performance over a decade ago. Back then, no matter how scared I was, I walked on stage and told the story. I will do no less now. Will I be brilliant? Maybe. Maybe not. But the show will go on. The story will be told. The deadline will be met.

As writers, we battle fear in our own way every day. Some days we win the battle. Some days the fear overwhelms us. But we always get up, dust ourselves off and sit back down at the computer ready to try again. Published or unpublished—we all face the same blank screen and the worry we aren’t doing the story justice. And yet we make the choice to keep writing. Yeah—we’re all nuts. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review: Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

Scott D. Parker

(It's Spring Break and I ain't got anything earth-shattering this week--unless you count my defense of the new "John Carter" movie over on my personal blog. As such, I present a review of a book I quite enjoyed a year or two ago.)

In order to get a good handle on this book, you're going to have to use your imagination. Think of a celebrity chef, one that specializes in French cooking, but not one of those bombastic ones. Now, add a dash of detective, the old-school one from the golden age of the detectives. Not one of those obsessive compulsive detectives like Monk or Peroit, but a newer vintage. Now, set a story in the provincial countryside of France, mix well with a little dash of murder, a lot of good food, and you pretty much have an idea of the character of Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police.

I don't particularly like the word "foodie" but that's the modern term for people who like food, the preparation of food, the discussion of food, and pretty much all things about food. Looks like a duck, walks like a duck, I guess that makes me a duck, or a foodie. So, when I received Walker’s book out of the blue last year from the publisher asking for me to review it, I had no idea who Walker was much less his character. But blurb at the bottom of the trade paperback cover sold me: "a nice literary pairing with the slow-food movement…" That's a quote from Entertainment Weekly, and, to paraphrase "Jerry Maguire," it had me at "slow-food movement."

Benoit Courreges is the chief of police in the small French Village of St. Denis. But to all the people in the village, Courreges is simply Bruno. He lives by himself in a restored farmhouse, he showers outdoors, he walks around the village every day, and the hardest part of his job, as the book opens, is helping all the purveyors of the various traditional French food markets avoid being fined by the European Union's food investigators. Along the way, Bruno extols the virtues of good coffee, good food, where to get the best truffles after the rain, and the languid life of a country policeman.

Enter into this pastoral scene a murder. The victim is an elderly Algerian war hero, who fought for the French in Germany in 1945 and later in Algeria. What makes the murder of Hamid particularly offensive is the swastika carved into his chest. Seeing as he is an immigrant, the local villagers began to suspect that the murder was an ethnic killing. Naturally the politicians see opportunity and descend on St. Denis like ants at a picnic. French-born residents of the village don't like all the attention paid to their small little town, and start to chafe against all the unwanted attention. Naturally, it's up to Bruno and the national police, including one young female policewoman, Isabelle, to solve the murder and avoid any political difficulties. And, since we’re in France, a budding romance blossoms as well with all the shadowed delicacy of Bruno’s former life as a soldier in Bosnia brought to the fore.

Walker is the senior director of the Global Business Policy Council and formally worked for the Guardian of Great Britain. The historian part of me relished all of the intricate details about France during World War II, the deep-seated animosity between the Vichy French and De Gaulle’s group, the immediate post-war period, the Algerian war, and the war in Vietnam before the French left in 1954. The history aspect is a gift, but there is one better: the food. It's a rare day when I can read a book and start a hankering for the food that the characters are eating, but it happened all the time and this book. The descriptions are so good that you can hear the bread crust crunching under your fingers, you can smell the yeasty goodness that only comes from French countryside bread, making your mouth water with lust. He even makes the water—the water!—sound like the sweetest thing you'll ever taste on the Earth.

I’ll say this about the book, though it's not really a criticism, but it has to be noted. The book has a languid pace. If the cover blurb references the slow-food movement, you could almost call this a slow-mystery book. Not a lot happens on the surface, but a lot happens just below the surface. This is a book filled with nuance, and subtle characterizations that I've found very appealing. You go into various online sites—including, where I downloaded the audio book—and you'll find comments from some reviewers that state the book was boring. One man's languid is another man's boring. I didn't find the book boring in the least, but, then again, I love food. So during the times when the mystery part of the book stopped, the characters were usually talking about food, something I enjoyed. If you are a reader who doesn't like discussions of French food and its preparation, or if you like your mysteries to possess a more rapid pace, Bruno, Chief of Police might not be the book for you. Rather, if you enjoy all those BBC productions we get here in the States via PBS, glorious descriptions of food, and a character that has enough of a complicated back story that makes me, at least, want to know more, I recommend this book.

You could almost call this a summer book since the story takes place in the summer and the descriptions and actions bring to mind one of those bright, Mediterranean Monet paintings. This book is like a brochure at a travel agency: it makes you want to visit France. You can, with Bruno as your guide. You just can't eat the food.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Batman's Politics

By Jay Stringer

I wrote last week about how I like to let the reader do as much work as I can get away with. Create the looks and sounds of things in their heads based on a few hints on my page. It brings to mind something that we all do; we project ourselves into characters. No matter what the author has out on the page, we, the reader, have free reign to imagine whatever we want.

How many times have we read a character description but decided to stick with an image we have in our mind that's a little different? How many times have you read a James Bond novel and spent a little time wondering which Bond actor you're going to cast in this story, or whether you're going to go with Fleming's original description?

I like to call this element of readers licence 'Batman's Politics' because, really, we see what we want to see.

I've had discussions with people who want to argue that Batman is the ultimate lefty; liberal of spirit but militant of fist, standing up for the poor and downtrodden, progressive. He hates guns. He's against capital punishment. He believes everybody should have a second chance, and he gives up on nobody. He helps little old ladies across the road and he votes for the nicest, wooliest candidates come election day because, really, he just wants a world where everyone is equal and everybody gets along, free of crime and death.

I've had conversations with people who want to argue the exact opposite. Batman is "one of the 1%" He lives in a mansion on the hill. He believes in strong responses to crime, and is only ever an army away from being a fascist dictator. He's a rich man who beats up poor people. Does he stop to ponder what social context has led a criminal to be on the end of his fist? No, he gets on with the punching. His crusade isn't based on making the world better for humanity, it's based on the fact that he's a spoiled rich kid who's angry at his parents.

But think what you will, the story doesn't change. Batman's politics never play a part. He goes out each night, and we get a story, and his political or social leanings can be whatever the reader wants them to be.

Would characters like Batman be as huge, as adaptable and as long-lived if there wasn't that wriggle room? There have been characters like Mr. A, The Question & The Punisher who all seem to have a clearer political stance, and who are all arguably more believable than a man whose response to trauma is to dress as a bat, yet they've never had the enduring appeal of the dark knight. Aside from all issues of media proliferation, could an element of it not be down to the phenomenon of 'Batman's Politics'? He is whatever you want him to be, and in that way, he's everybody's character.

I realised that when I was younger, I would fill the gaps in these characters with myself. Batman, Bond, whoever. They would deep down agree with me on almost all things, it was just that they were better at stuff. But as I got older I stopped doing this, and I tried to let them be themselves. Bond was allowed to be a jerk, Batman was allowed to be a control freak, Daredevil was allowed to be deeply religious.

As a writer now, it's fun to play with these things. To look at it as you're writing and to decide which bits you're happy to leave blank for the readers to fill in, and, more, to see if you control the craft enough to decide when the reader can and can't do it.

These are just some of the random thoughts going through my head on a Wednesday night.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Winston: New tool for publishers

By Steve Weddle

Many years ago, my wife and I would wake in the middle of the night, startled by a strange clicking noise we couldn’t place. Thin and sporadic, the clicks would advance and retreat through the darkened bedroom before either of us was awake enough to triangulate the aural attacks.

As it turned out, our DirecTV box was dialing home, through the phone line, to update the computers at DirecTV with, I imagine, what show we watched, whether we skipped commercials, how to reconcile our Nielsen journal of “Masterpiece Theatre marathons” with the box’s record of non-stop SportsCenter.

A wonder, then, that it’s taken this long for someone to develop Winston, a data collection tool for ebooks. The software, what they’d call “malvera” in Esperanto or “unecht” in German, was developed by Sidd Finch Enterprises with one goal in mind: making better books.

Here’s how Winston works. As of April 31, 2012, all ereaders will have the plug-in installed. From that moment on, all publishers will have access to your reading data for each ebook. When you started the book. How long you spent on each page. Where you stalled.

Imagine how great future books will be once publishers begin utilizing this information.

For example, say you purchased a book called FUNERAL DREAMS and downloaded it immediately to your ereader. But instead of reading that book when you got home that night, you played Words With Friends. Or you farted around on Facebook. Imagine now a publisher being able to prompt you with pop-up reminders. *Bop!* When you’re done with Facebook, don’t forget to read FUNERAL DREAMS, a book your Facebook friend Toni McShae gave four stars!

Publishers have been working at a great disadvantage for a long time. Think about the books you’ve bought but never read, started but never finished. Think about all those authors you’ll never buy again. Why? At what point in the book did you leave?

Maybe you gave a book 25 pages to get going. Maybe you got through the first-person narrative of Part One, but gave up during the plodding third-person Part Two. Maybe you got hung up scrolling through footnotes of a nonfiction book, flipping back and forth to the index.

Imagine how much publishers can learn from your reading habits.

Perhaps they can offer up new versions of books once they find out that 27% of readers stalled out during a particularly slow section of the latest coming-of-age novel.

Or publishers can compare your reading of books. Maybe you speed through light sci-fi, finish the read, then click to buy the next edition. Maybe publishers will determine this is where they need to focus more of their debut novelist dollars.

Maybe you only read established authors, more likely to read two dozen books in a series you like than to try a new author from the bookstore’s similar algorithms.

Once you’ve bought the book, the publishers need to know what works for you and what doesn't, so that they can continue to make books like that, books that sell.

Imagine the report that says you were reading a screen every three minutes for the first 100 screens, then when the lasers started or the zombies attacked or the puppy was dognapped, you went to a screen a minute and didn’t let up until it was over.

Imagine how much information a publisher would be able to get from your habits and how much more sellable all the books could become.

As an author, how great would it be for you to get an email from your publisher, detailing where people stopped reading your book. Maybe you and the editor could then work on revamping the book, putting out a second "Winston Approved" edition that merges a couple of characters or adds in more vampyres. Maybe you could take what you learned from readers' approaches to your book to alter how you write the second book in the series.

There is a reason McDonald’s sells billions of hamburgers and Joe’s Hipster Burger sells a hundred – you know exactly what you’re getting from McDonald’s. You’re getting the same burger you had for lunch last week. Readers are sophisticated. They know what they want. And if your police procedural drags in the second act, they'll leave you for another author just like you, only better.

Imagine how lucrative publishing will become once the information from Winston begins to be used. It’s a brave world, folks. And speaking of BRAVE NEW WORLD, if you read that one at a screen every half-minute, Winston suggests you’ll like BRAVE NEW WORLD: NEW MOON.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Whole Free Thing

So I had a pretty good week.

First off, my wife and I finally closed on our house and moved in. To celebrate, I played around with Witness to Death and made it free for a few days.

And the book did better than I ever could have expected. Over the span of a week, the book was downloaded over 25,000 times. Meanwhile, when it returned to costing money, it got into the top 100 in both the US and the UK. It's sold so many copies this week, that I've nearly doubled the copies sold.

So, while I'm sitting here, surrounded by half empty boxes, I wanted to take a moment and thank you all for your help. WITNESS TO DEATH is in the hands of more people than I could have ever imagined.

Hope you all enjoy it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why I decided to publish Plastic Soldiers by WD County

When Spinetingler publisher WD County's story My Name is Priscilla in 2010 I was stunned that we were his first publishing credit. A story this assured can't be a first credit, can it? It was.

When I sent out invitations to submit a story to Snubnose for the Speedloader anthology all of the names were well known ones from the short crime fiction scene. I knew I had to invite County. That's how much of an impression his story made.

There is no way in hell that the power of "My Name is Priscilla" could prepare me for the story that he sent me.

The moment I finished reading "Plastic Soldiers" I knew I was going to publish it. I just had to.

"Plastic Soldiers" is the darkest story I've ever read. It's a story that physically makes you uncomfortable while drawing you in with it's power.

When Speedloader was released it received largely positive reviews and County's story was singled out as one of its best. It's the kind of story that you never forget and becomes a favorite (if that is the right word).

-Absolutely. Fucking. Terrifying. A story about a horrific situation and one kid’s fight for survival, and even though I never want to read it again, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever read. Stories don’t have to be pretty to be awesome. Sometimes they can be downright brutal.

-I've never read anything so intense in my entire life. I may never again....this is almost a perfect piece of fiction...This is in my top five of all-time, too.

-It's a painful story to read, horrible is more the word. but it is now and will remain in my top five list forever. As will that cover, I couldn't see the damn thing for a long time because my eyes were and are clouded with tears. You cannot read Plastic Soldiers without experiencing every emotion there is in the human lexicon. It is as I said, a story that is horrible in content . . . but it's also a testiment to pure bravery and an indomitable human spirit. It speaks to most everything that is evil in the worst of us and the pure good in the best of us. Plastic Soldiers is so layered with tragedy and triumph that it is impossible to read without being moved to complete desolation and complete joy at the same time. If dogma keeps anyone from reading this work, they will be the poorer for what they've missed.

County manages to pack a novel’s worth of pain and desperation and hope into five of the most compelling pages you will ever read.

That's why I decided to publish "Plastic Soldiers".

The artist for Speedloader was so inspired by the story that he did an alternate cover image based on it.

"Plastic Soldiers" was introduced a big talent to the crime fiction community who are all waiting anxiously to see a WD County novel.

For the first time in my life as a publisher I find myself in the position of thinking that I published the best story of the award regardless of what the various award nominees say. It's a weird place to be in.

Dear Mr County: Should you ever, and I mean ever, decide to go the epublishing route for one of your novels please consider Snubnose Press again.


I just finished reading Zombie Bake-off by Stephen Graham Jones and it is a holy crap, must read book.

Currently reading: The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson, Ishmael Toffee by Roger Smith, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, submissions for Snubnose

Currently listening: Heartless Bastards:

And I finally put aside unfairly preconceived notions and realized that I like Ray Lamontagne:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Please welcome our special guest Mike Cooper

Drone Tech: Wicked Powerful

Mike Cooper

Today's guest is author Mike Cooper, whose novel Clawback has just been released by Viking. He's incredibly tall, super talented and the older brother of the lovely Sophie Littlefield. Please make him feel at home here at DSD and go read his book! You'll thank me when you do. Take it away Mike!


I write thrillers, among other genres -- the fast-paced sort, with cutting edge technology. Keeping up with new gear can be a problem, given publishing cycles: describe a fancy new iPhone in your draft, say, and by the time the book comes out, it's three versions old.

That's why there aren't any quadcopter drones in my current novel ... but there sure will be in the next! Private UAVs are astonishingly capable, more so every day, and interesting not just to thriller writers. If you're at all concerned about your every move being monitored by a crowd-sourced panopticon, you ought to pay attention to these remarkable devices.

For one thing, they're agile. Look at these two, playing autonomous ping-pong:

For another, they're smart. Or they can be programmed to appear so, which is maybe good enough. The next video shows a swarm of quadcopters flying in formation:

Or this set, playing the James Bond theme.

The point is, these little drones are incredibly capable and fairly cheap. If you don't want to build one yourself, a few hundred bucks buys one right off the internet.

The next obvious step is to attach a video camera, which most of these do. Now you've got a surveillance drone of your very own! Curious about your neighbors? The local police station? Your competitor's factory, behind its razor-wire fence? With your micro eye-in-the-sky, anything can now be seen. The following Nightline clip shows just what you can do. Starting at about 0:48, you can see video shot by a realtor, showing million-dollar estates he's trying to sell:

Sure, he had permission to fly his tri-rotor through the mansion -- but it would be easy enough to get almost as close without permission. Illegal, probably, but that's not a big deterrent. Certainly not to a typical thriller protagonist, who's always ignoring bureaucratic pettifoggery anyway.

Hobbyists are also building larger UAVs, including a repurposed Army drone (they replaced the gas engines with electric motors) that can hack wifi and cellular networks from the sky.

Don't count on the government to continue restricting unmanned aerial vehicles in the US. The FAA, which has strict regulation on the use of public airspace, has issued hundreds of waivers allowing government agencies to fly drones over US soil. And Congress recently ordered that drones be allowed more freely into civilian airspace by 2015.

Backyard nude sunbathers, beware.

Apart from the privacy issues, are these drones safe? Even skilled operators can lose control -- like in Texas recently, when a sheriff's deputy crashed a police UAV right into a SWAT truck. Amateurs and DIY-ers might or might not be more competent, but if nothing else, short battery life (15-20 minutes is typical flight time) will surely lead to unexpected hard landings.

Devices like these are only going to get smaller and quieter, with longer battery life and better optics. Combined with facial recognition technology -- also improving by leaps and bounds -- "Big Data" analytics, and ubiquituous computing, physical anonymity is very nearly a relic of the dead past.

But quadcopters definitely do belong in the next novel.

Mike Cooper is the pseudonym of a former jack-of-all-trades. Under a different name his work has received wide recognition, including a Shamus Award, a Thriller nomination, and inclusion in BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2010. His next novel CLAWBACK will be published by Viking in 2012. Mike lives outside Boston with his family. More at

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mythology in Mysteries: Myth or Reality?

Scott D. Parker

I am neck deep in the imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yesterday, I finished the fourth book in ERB’s Mars books, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and am happily amazed at the mythology he created for his Barsoom, usually on the fly. Over the course of these books, ERB tells of the history, the races, and the culture of the inhabitants of the red planet. In just about every aspect of the definition of the word, he created a mythology.

Mythology. The word alone evokes visions of Greek gods and mortals traipsing about in loin clothes, swords in hands, fighting and solving riddles. In modern pop culture, it has also come to mean the inner workings of a body of work. TV shows like “Lost” and “Firefly” have an inner mythology as do books like the Twilight series, Harry Potter, Sookie Stackhouse (presumably since I’ve not read any), to say nothing of the obvious examples of Star Trek and Star Wars.

There’s an obvious theme present in the above examples: they all contain some sort of science fictional, fantasy, or paranormal component. Like the Greek and Roman versions of mythology, these examples have supernatural creatures or aliens or spaceships. Does the word “mythology” require such aspects?

Take the non-supernatural stories usually associated with mysteries. “Castle,” “CSI: Miami,” and “The Wire” contain their own versions of a common history among the characters. The same is true for long-running series featuring Marlowe, McGee, Poirot, Holmes, and Spencer.

But is it “mythology”? Does a set of characters and shared history constitute a mythology? Or does one need a monster to have a mythology?

Album of the Week: Duh Category

Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball. Very good album I'm still learning. Yet nothing on the record tops the chill-inducing emergence of Clarence Clemons's saxophone in "Land of Hope and Dreams." It is both ethereal and eulogistic. Clemons had the unique ability to put more emotional resonance into a single note than many other sax players attempt with a blizzard of tones. I have loved this song for its effortless blend of realism and spirituality since I first heard it back in 1999, but this version, for what it represents for Clemons, Springsteen, the E Street Band, and, indeed, all of us pretty much makes this my definitive version.

Album of the Week: Non-duh Category

Andrew Bird's Break It Yourself. Completely different type of album by a man I only learned about in 2009. I took the advice of the NPR guys and listened to this one with my good headphones. There is a lot of things going on and it's a pleasure to hear the nuances of the songs. It is one of those rare modern records where you just want to sit and listen to it. Weird concept, huh? Just like it used to be. Early standouts: "Eyeoneye," for its catchy chorus and, yes, whistling. "Near Death Experience" for its unexpected lyrics: "And we'll dance like cancer survivors, like the prognosis was 'you should have died.'"