Saturday, April 21, 2012

Paradigm Shift at the Bookstore?

Scott D. Parker

I experienced something interesting this week and I'd like to share it today. But first, you must know two bits of background.

Like every reader here, I love books. I love the feel, the smell, and the look of them. I love cracking the covers to see what type of font the publishers have used. The covers, especially the best of them, can hook me with barely a glance (as good covers are supposed to do).

Naturally, with all this paper love, bookstores are like a candy store for bibliophiles. (Yeah, Mr. Obvious) Here's a part of my psyche where I might be different. One of my favorite tables at any Barnes and Noble store is the trade paperback one. Here, last year's important books find a new home, often with extra content--like DVD extras--in the back. The recent editions of Michael Chabon's books follow this pattern. Additionally, the lure of trade paperbacks tug at that something indefinable within me, that part of me that knows I need to put down the sixth Tarzan novel and pick up something weightier. It's irrational, to be sure, but it's there. Lastly, when I see these books, I visualize myself reading them, either on my deck, in my library, or in a reading chair. There's a certain sense of emotional attachment that is planted in me, and it gestates and grows. The downside of this is that might have trouble, sometime in the future, of parting with a particular book. The upside is that all of that emotional stuff can become so tied in with the book that I have a stronger love for a particular book.

That's how I used to be and, partly, still am. But a strange something happened when I visited a Barnes and Noble this week. But, to understand this, you must know the other bit of background: I now own an iPad. I've had a Nook for nearly a year, an iPod Touch for two, and a Palm Pilot before that. I've been reading e-books for longer than they've been all the rage they are now. It's great to have some reading material on hand when standing in line at the grocery store.

Reading on the iPad, however, is another thing altogether. Man, this thing is gorgeous! And, yes, the size of the viewing area is a major factor in its gorgeousness. I have all the main reading apps--iBooks, Nook, Kindle--and loaded all--and I mean all--of the books I am reading. Throw in the awesome comic reading app, Comic Zeal, and this device is now my primary reading medium.

So, there I was, in Barnes and Noble with my wife and I walked by the trade paperback table. There they were. Just waiting for me to pick them up and read, flip through, get hooked, and buy. There were some titles that I'd like, too. But that old urge, that old feeling I used to get was absent. You see, I had the iPad at home. Perhaps my emotional attachment is there now.  Likely it is (I've only had it two weeks) but it just might be the game changer in terms of reading for me. For comics, it is, hands down. I have read more comics in the last fourteen days than I have in months.

For books, however, I'm thinking  that a large chunk of my reading paradigm is changing. It already has for music. With my most recent purchase, I opted for the ebook over the paper book. Perhaps that says it all. Who knows. All I know is that I visited a Barnes and Noble and experienced something new and the absence of something else.

Tweets of the Week:

I've been reading A. Lee Martinez's blog posts for awhile and recently completed his newest novel, Emperor Mollusk vs. the Sinister Brain (my first of his). I'm already reading another: The Automatic Detective. The best word I can use to describe Martinez's stories is "glee." He must have it when he writes because his tales are just so much fun. Martinez is always good for some pretty nifty tweets, and three struck me this week. I am in a fallow period with my writing, but his insight hit home for me. I present them here, all together.

I've been hemming and hawing on this particular chapter, but sitting down and writing it is really all it took.

95 percent of writing is writing. It's both incredibly obvious and often overlooked. Write your damn story and it will get written.

Talk about writing your story, outline, plot, character sketches, etc., that's all busy work. It feels like writing, but it isn't writing.

Album of the Week: Vijay Iyer Trio - Historicity (2009)

I just got this album a few days ago and I'm still discovering all of its nuances and melodies, but it is a stunning piece of jazz music. I'm rarely a piano trio kinds of guy (piano, bass, drums), but this one has circled my radar since it came out. I'm glad I finally picked it up. His original compositions are deep and intricate, but I particularly enjoyed his rendition of "Somewhere." Mainly, I liked it as a kind of rosetta stone for his style. I know the melody and seeing how he breaks it down, rearranges it, and puts it all back together is enabling me to get inside his own material. I'm not always a huge fan of working at listening to music, but this one is different. I'm enjoying the challenge.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

At The Tone, Leave Your Name And Message....

By Jay Stringer

I think studio execs clearly read DSD. Just this week, in that 'Hollywood' that they have now, somebody read Dave's post on Tuesday and said, "hey, shit, they're talking about PI's, somebody get me a PI." Then, after an inevitable comedy mixup involving a seance, Charlie Chaplin, and some pastry, they found they were very short on ideas.

So then they read the comments section, and the exec shouted, "they're discussing whether the PI genre is stuck in the past. Somebody get me an old one." And they wheeled out their beta max hooked up to some cathode tubes and decided that Jim Rockford would be their saviour.

Rejoice. Or not.

Here's a few things I should get off my chest. Firstly, I love PI fiction. I love the idea of it. I love the tradition of it. I love some of the shining lights of it. Many of the finest books I've ever read have been ones that would loosely, one way or another, fit into the PI genre. also, I've written a book that would, loosely, one way or another, fit into the PI genre. I don't choose to discuss it in those terms, and the protagonist wouldn't really feel comfortable hearing it labelled that way, but there's no mistaking that the PI genre is in OLD GOLD's ancestry.

As much as I enjoy the genre, I never really feel the need to get too much into debating it's relevance or health. I'd rather discuss character, plot, all of that jazz and leave other folks to decide which label to put around the story. I think often times discussing crime in terms like "PI," "Gangster," "Mystery," is to do a disservice to the writers and characters. Which isn't aimed as a jab at those who do like to return to the topic often, it's just simply not the aspect of the conversation that really interests me. But in light of Hollywood stealing our ideas, I did think it was worth revisiting a few aspects of the case.

I'm a big fan of Rockford. It's one of my favourite TV shows of all time. It's very much of it's time, and many aspects of it haven't aged well, but it was written with wit, made with love, and is an important touchstone in the development of the PI. When I'm judging good PI characters, I tend not to compare them to Chandler, Spade, Archer or Spenser. The Mount Rushmore that I let characters stand or fall by is carved of Jim Rockford and Matt Scudder.

But I'm not inclined to take a hatchet to news that Vince Vaughan is to play Rockford in a movie. It doesn't offend me in any deep way, and my blood doesn't boil at the thought of someone else playing my man. Let them do it. Let them use an existing property to let some committee of screenwriters get a few paychecks, and let the films inevitable moderate success spawn a new generation of people willing to examine the show with fresh eyes. A common denominator when I tell people of my age or younger how much I love the show is a smirk. Many people find it quaint or funny, because it's been stuck in afternoon rerun mode for most of our lives, just another show that old people watch at 3pm. If the film comes out and gives the property a degree of hip or cool, even if it's in some silly "ironic" way, then that's no bad thing. New fans are new fans.

And as far as the casting goes, I think this is a role that Vince Vaughan could do very well. He doesn't quite have the easy-going charm of Garner, but he can do chatty underdog and will slip very well into a pair of cheap shows in a sea front trailer. Nathan Fillion is someone who could do Garner quite well, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan could probably bring the beat-up charm.

So if the existence of the film project doesn't offend me, and the casting feels like a decent choice, then why am I writing about this?

Well, because it frustrates the hell out of me.Especially in light of the (interesting) conversation Dave started on Tuesday. One of the central questions was why are PI's stuck in the past? Is it the writers or the readers? One of the simplest but most refreshing things about Russel D Mclean's THE GOOD SON was that he was willing to put a telephone in his PI's hand. In Britain PI's are more relevant than ever with the tabloid phone hacking scandal, yet we often seem slow to drag the fictional version up with the times. One of the key elements of Rockford was that he was the PI for the time. The makers examined the tropes and cliches and either updated them, inverted them or disposed of them. They took the idea of the PI and decided what really made him tick and what really was relevant, and in doing that they created one of the greats.

It seems to me that if you want to honour the memory and meaning of The Rockford Files, you do it by not remaking The Rockford Files. Not out of any sense of fanboy angst, but because the whole point of the show was to do something new with the PI. Give us something new, give a writer a chance to craft something lasting. There have been shows that have tried. Terriers had a crack at the modern PI. Angel and The Dresden Files played around with the concept by putting traditional PI tropes into a different genre. I haven't seen Veronica Mars, but people keep telling me I should, and that it was a fresh and fun PI show. Going back longer than that we had Moonlighting and Remington Steele, which showed the with and freshness of Rockford in different ways (and to varying success) whilst playing around with the PI.

On the big screen, where Rockford is now headed, we've had some interesting examinations of the concept. The film Twilight (the Paul Newman one, not the glitter sexy time vampire shite) was very interesting. Gone, Baby, Gone remains one of my favourite films of the past decade for playing around with the PI and applying some stylised realism to the screen.

I just get the feeling that each and every one of these projects, even the ones that maybe lacked in quality, honoured the original spirit of Rockford far more than any Rockford remake can. And that makes me sad. That makes me look back on Dave's questions from Tuesday and wonder, who is it that's stuck in the past? Why can't we ever seem to break free of it?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No Pulitzer for Fiction: Columbia University Hates Books

By Steve Weddle

You may have heard that the Pulitzer for Fiction goes to nobody.

Je dispose d'un triste.

Folks, some of the best times we've had together on the internet is when we're arguing about a thing and it expands into all these other things. That's what I'll miss most this year. That's what the Pulitzer people have taken away from me. (By the way, in the 1970s, the board failed to give a fiction award three times.)

Here's how it happens, I think. The Pulitzer jurors recommend a few books to the Pulitzer board. Then the Pulitzer board agrees on a winner.

Of course, I'm not the only one with a sadz. Pulitzer fiction juror Susan Larson said that she and the two other jurors were wicked pissed [paraphrased] that the Pulitzer board crapped the bed on this one.

Three books were nominated:
Nominated as finalists in this category were: "Train Dreams," by Denis Johnson, a novella about a day laborer in the old American West, bearing witness to terrors and glories with compassionate, heartbreaking calm; "Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell, an adventure tale about an eccentric family adrift in its failing alligator-wrestling theme park, told by a 13-year-old heroine wise beyond her years; and "The Pale King," by the late David Foster Wallace, a posthumously completed novel, animated by grand ambition, that explores boredom and bureaucracy in the American workplace.

I've read Johnson (Pulitzer finalist in 2008) and DFW, though not those books. Johnson's JESUS' SON is one of the greatest books written and, at 120 pages or so, rivals James Salter's LAST NIGHT in pound-for-pound awesomeness. And, thought I've read probably seven or eight reviews about SWAMPLANDIA! that have convinced me it's a must-read thing of beauty, I haven't gotten around to it. (I hope Karen Russell doesn't not take this personally, because I haven't gotten around to many, many things.)

I was most interested in the selection of the DFW book, if you must know. He hanged himself dead before he finished it. I completely enjoyed his non-fiction (tennis, cruise ships, lobsters), but have never been able to find his fiction as appealing. As an undergraduate, I told a professor that I didn't like some novel or another and he said that my dislike of the book said more about me than it did about the novel. The same probably applies here. The choice of the unfinished and posthumous PALE KING had the feel of one of those awards given late in a career to some actor who made an OK movie last year, but had been shut out for his earlier, much better  movies forty years ago. Or perhaps it was more a James Dean-type Oscar.

Again, I haven't read PALE KING. I've read pieces that appeared in the NEW YORKER. Perhaps the unfinished novel was a fine choice. And perhaps TRAIN DREAMS, though being a novella, was fabulous. The Denis Johnson I've read has been. And perhaps, despite the punctuation in its title, SWAMPLANDIA! was even better than the reviews made it out to be.

But what tends to happen when winners are announced is that there's a focal point for people. They talk about why that book was a great choice. They talk about why that book was a terrible choice. GOON SQUAD was much-discussed after its selection -- as were many other books folks thought should have one.

We could be discussing books. We could be making lists of "TEN BETTER CHOICES FOR THE PULITZER." We could have been pointing readers to fabulous works they should have heard of, but that the Pulitzer overlooked.

We could, and should, be taking about Bonnie Jo Campbell and Jesmyn Ward and Alan Heathcock and a hundred other authors.

What this non-selection has done is take away the focus on the books, on the reading.

Instead, the decision by the board to award nothing has placed the focus on the emptiness, taking away what could have been a great time for these books, for those of us who love reading.

But maybe the board is too political now. Maybe they try to balance selections to be politically correct. Maybe they're too wizened and out-of-touch and can no longer see the beauty in fiction. Or maybe they think that with all the prizes and all the blogs and sites, I don't know, maybe they think that awarding the Pulitzer to the year's best of work of fiction is no longer something that matters.

Perhaps this says less about us and more about the Pulitzers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The PI

I've been thinking a lot about the PI series lately.

The PI should be hitting another level of popularity among readers. I mean, they're some of the most technologically advanced crime fighters out there. (Crime fighters or, ya know, people who hang out outside seedy hotels and wait for people to do bad things so they can take pictures of them.) They used to lug around a ton of equipment to listen in on conversations and take pictures and pee in jars while they waited.

Now most of that (minus the peeing) can be done on an iPhone and strong MacBook. And, as far as I can tell, tech is really popular these days.

But there's a problem. I'm seeing fewer and fewer PI books available these days. The ones that are are standard series that have been around for awhile. I have two thoughts on this:

1) The public's consciousness of the PI is stuck in the past. They haven't thought about how PIs have moved ahead technologically and advanced the profession, thereby leading to all knew story options. The public still views the guy in the trenchcoat, lighting a cigarette on a rainy street. That's what they want. When they don't get it, they're disappointed. When they do get it, they complain it something they've seen before.

2) Everyone has an iPhone or MacBook. It's nothing new. Spy stories are popular because they take you to a world you don't normally see. But PIs use technology that's available to everyone. Nothing new, nothing to surprise the reader.

I have no idea if these are anywhere near the truth, but it's thoughts like this that go through my head on a warm Monday night.

What do you think?

Are they new PI series out there I should be checking out?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Why I decided to publish Herniated Roots by Richard Thomas

Herniated Roots is the fifth story in the Speedloader anthology.

There were a couple of things that drew me to this story. First there was the writing, which was so finely rendered that it added a different tonal feel to the anthology while remaining just as dark as the other stories. There is a depressing air to the protag and the story that is present from the start but slowly envelopes the reader by the end. It also reminded me, in some ways, of Leaving Las Vegas.

At it's heart lies a simple question to ask but a difficult one to answer, If you are walled off from everyone and everything are you really living? It's like that line in Good Will Hunting "Well at least I played a hand".

This was the most heavily edited story of the anthology. Originally the story a longer ending section. We ultimately decided to cut that part. Part of the cut section would eventually find its way to well known online flash fiction site. Did we make the right decision? Track down that story and let me know.

The bottom line is that Richard Thomas can write his ass off and has a great imagination (as his novel shows) and that is why I decided to publish Herniated Roots. His forthcoming collection of crime stories will blow some hair back.

Currently Reading: Immobility by Brian Evenson, Scoundrels, Scarla by BC Furtney and submissions. Which leads me to...

Current Editorial Pet Peeve: Perceived threat versus actual threat. Your protag thinks something is going to happen so he makes a move. Why not actually have something happen to facilitate the next stage of your plot movement.

Currently Listening: I heard the first three tracks off of the new Father John Misty album, Fear Fun and can't stop listening to the songs that are available. Here is one of them:

Also, thatnks to Craig McDonald on twitter I heard this haunting track and now want to listen to the whole album. Bible Noir!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Making a List and Checking It Twice

Today, I'm excited to have novelist Linda Rodriguez visit us. I met Linda a year ago at Malice Domestic and she has become a great friend. Her Malice Domestic winning mystery EVERY LAST SECRET hits shelves on April 24th! Check it out! Trust me--you won't be sorry. In the meantime, please welcome her to DSD with open arms.

Take it away, Linda!

I’m a big believer in using all the help technology and professional writing books and programs can give me in writing. I’ve tried using all kinds of workbooks, charts, and forms in working on a novel. I’m even exploring Scrivener-type software programs for use in writing my next book. I’m hardly on the cutting edge, but I’m also not one of the “if it was good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me” types. Still, sometimes we look around and find simple everyday solutions to our problems, and it would be silly not to take advantage of them.

One of the most useful tools I’ve found in writing a novel is the simple, old-fashioned list. If you’re like me, you use lists to remind you what you need to do during the day, what you need to pack for a trip, what you need to buy at the grocery store, and dozens of other mundane projects, large and small. It’s easy to assume we need something more sophisticated for this complex novel (for novels are all more or less complex) that we’re trying to hold in our heads and build on paper. However, I’ve discovered that simple lists can help in several ways with making that story in our head a reality in print.

First of all, I keep running character and place lists. I write a mystery series. When I wrote the first book, Every Last Secret, I was creating all the characters from scratch, as well as all the places in my fictional town. I wrote personality and appearance sketches for each character, but in addition, I made a list of each character as s/he appeared with a few words to note key characteristics. I did the same for places in my made-up town. This meant I could look up the full name of walk-on characters easily when I needed to much later in the book. It meant that I could easily look up the important details of the buildings on the campus and the shops on the town square as my protagonist, Skeet Bannion, walked past them or into them.

These lists tripled in value when I started the second book in the series and now the third. No one will have brown eyes in the first novel and baby-blues in one of the later books. Old Central, the 19th century castle-like mansion on the Chouteau University campus, will not morph into a 1960s Bauhaus box of a building.

Next, when I’m plotting ahead, simple lists come to my aid again. I’m a combination of outliner and follow-the-writing plotter. I like to know where the next 25-50 pages are going, plotwise—or to think I do, at least. I do this by making a list of questions that I need to answer about the book. In the beginning, I have lots of questions. The answer to only one or two may give me enough to start the next several days’ writing. I stole the idea of asking myself questions and answering them in writing from Sue Grafton. She posts to her website journals that she keeps while writing each novel, and in these, she often asks and answers these types of questions. I took it a bit further by trying to make long lists of questions that needed to be answered, which often, in turn, add more questions to the list when they are answered.

Answering the questions tells me where the story wants to go, but these lists also help me keep the subplots straight and make sure they tie in directly to the main plot, and they keep me from overlooking some detail or element that will create a plot hole or other disruption for the reader. These questions can vary from broad ones, such as “What is the book’s theme?” and “How can I ratchet up the excitement and stakes in Act II?” to more detailed, such as “What clue does Skeet get from this interview?” and “What’s on Andrew’s desk?” Such question lists come in handy during revision, as well.

During revision, I make yet another kind of simple list. As I’m reading the manuscript straight through in hard copy, I write down a list of questions as I go. I notice a weak spot and ask myself, “How can I let the reader know how much Jake meant to Skeet, as well as Karen?,” “Should I have Skeet attend Tina’s autopsy?,” and all too often, “Reads competent enough, but where’s the magic?”

After going through my lists of hundreds of big to tiny fixes and changes to make, and either making them (most) or listing by scene where in the book to make the fix (for major issues), I sit down to wrestle with 5-15 major problems from almost but not quite minor to huge and complex. This final list is my guideline through the swamps of revision. The issues on this list require changes that thread throughout part or all of the book. Trying to do them all at once or even to keep them in my mind all at the same time would bog me down—perhaps forever. Listing them and working my way one item at a time through that list helps me to keep my focus even while dealing with very complex situations that must be woven in and out through the length of the novel.

In short, simple lists make the complex task of writing a novel doable for me. What about you? Do you use lists in your writing? Are there other tools you use for keeping track and keeping focused as you plot, write, and revise?

Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition and will be released April 24. She blogs about books and writers at, reads and writes everything, even poetry, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. Every Last Secret can be pre-ordered at