Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why is Everyone Always So Tired

Scott D. Parker

When's the last time you read about a fresh face in a mystery story? I don't mean fresh as in brand-new to the ever-growing number of mystery novels. I'm talking about the characters themselves. Let me explan.

In many--many!--mystery and crime stories, the main character seems to always be a wise, old veteran. And, more often than not, it's a he who has seen it all, done it all, and is currently bored with it all. The trope is tried and true, and most readers just eat it up. Heck, even I do.

Science fiction has its fair share of seen it all/done it all heroes, but it also possesses the newbie, the freshman if you will. Think of Luke Skywalker. He didn't know a thing, and it was left up to nearly every other character (including the seen it all/done it all Han Solo) to show him the wider world in which he lived. In SF, the freshman is the gateway to the new, imagined world.

There are mystery examples of "Luke Skywalker" too. Take Castle. He's a newbie to official police procedures being schooled by the veteran Beckett. Same with Monk and his assistants, and any number of other examples.

Why is the seen it all/done it all trope so effective? Is it, perhaps, that we are the newbies and the weary narrator/protagonist is our guide? Might it be difficult to have a freshman protagonist to show us "freshmen" readers the ropes? How might that work? Come on: I know they are out there, and I know y'all know it.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Superheroes can sometimes be the same way. As much as I love Batman--still my favorite--he is almost the quintessential been there/done that guy. There isn't anything he hasn't already experienced, planned for, or guessed at. Which is why the current storyline is the new "Batman" comic is so good.

The Court of Owls is, basically, a secret society that has operated in Gotham for decades. And it is something Batman never saw before. The writer--Scott Snyder--has even gone so far as to add nuances and new twists on the classic Batman origin story. Batman's vulnerability to this group has made this new series very interesting again.

It's a new take on an old character. Tomorrow, for those of us in America, the second season of BBC's "Sherlock" starts. Talk about a breath of fresh air! This series is splendid. It's been a long year over here that finally ends tomorrow.

Which brings up another question: are there any established characters who could use an update? Are there any characters that should never be reworked?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Talk Talk- A Post From The Vault

Russel is away this week doing awesome doings and plotting awesome plots. Until he returns next week with more content than you can throw a bloated stoat at, we decided to bring you a post from the vault. Something I mentioned in my post last week was that Russel put a telephone into his detectives hand, and how fresh that was. I tracked back and found Russel talking about this very thing himself....

The Nerd of Noir is the man of a thousand swears, but despite how that may make him appear to some people (hello, mother!), he’s a savvy guy. Not just because he gave a nice review to one of me books lately* but because he genuinely seems to have a brain underneath that beautifully coiffed hair of his.

That review pointed out one thing in particular about THE GOOD SON that no one else in the world seems to have picked up on:

McNee initially does what no fucking private eye ever seems to do in novels – he used a fucking phone. Instead of traipsing off to London a million fucking miles away (like any other private eye character since Marlowe would do), McNee makes some calls, figures some shit out from the comfort of his office. Instead of a thousand scenes of McNee going from one shady bar or one shit-hole flat to another at who knows how much of an expense, McNee gets practical about it and just calls up contacts. It may not initially seem like a big thing, but think about it. It’s kind of a revelation.

A revelation indeed. But it didn’t seem to me to be one at the time. While I had grown up on novels that relied on those scenes, I am also a product of a world that has started to rely more and for immediate information and I knew that any decent investigator wouldn’t waste his time going to the scene when he could easily get what he needed from his armchair. Or at least lay the groundwork for a speedier investigation.

Is this hampering the idea of the traditional plot? Is this killing crime fiction that things just aren’t so difficult on our protagonists any more?

No, I don’t think so. As anyone who’s read the book will tell you, McNee doesn’t just sit on his arse the whole time (and besides, what if he did? Never did Nero Wolfe any harm…), but his approach opens up a whole new set of complications and has repercussions that would have been very different if he’d done that whole “traipsing down to London” nonsense. I also think it sets him up as a man of his time; a man who can use the modern world. And this is important because I think many protagonists in crime fiction can feel removed from the world they clearly live in due to such simple things as not using a phone properly or refusing to look at the internet (again, McNee’s browsing of a website provides much information on one important character in the book).

I think that if crime fiction is to move forward, it has to embrace the modern world in a natural way and adjust its expectations and clichés accordingly. Yes, there is the worry about characters constantly being in touch or not being isolated when the killer’s coming, but there are ways and means around such things that can be dramatically more terrifying than the old because characters would be reliant on such communication and technology. There is also the question – and its one at the centre of Steve Mosby’s chilling Cry For Help – over who is at the other end of a phone?

Can you really trust a text?

Yes, I think the modern world will kill some clichés, some standard tropes, some long-held ideas of genre fiction. I think it will make wrters consider new ways – consciously or not – to treat old situations.

And, truly, I believe that’s a good thing.

*In the grand and brand new issue of Crime Factory, available if you clicky-click the beautiful link

Thursday, April 26, 2012


By Jay Stringer

"Do you believe in the Devil?"
"Which one?"

Our regular reader will know I've been having my issues with comic-books this year. A lot of things have taken the shine off them for me. So it was really fun to find a book that I could simply sit, read, and have a blast with, and that's exactly what I got with SPARROW AND CROWE: THE DEMONIAC OF LOS ANGELES.

You might remember a while back I posted a link to a kickstarter campaign for a comic book. If you don't remember, just click on this here link and you can then pretend that you did, and I won't tell anybody. The  project in question was a mini-series, and a prequel of sorts to the long running audio-drama Wormwood, that you can still get totally for free at Itunes. But I only mention the connection so that you've got more things to check out; you don;t have to be familiar with the series to pick up the comic.

The story centres around Doctor Xander Crowe, who is an occult detective and also something of a prominent psychologist (just don't let him ask you about your relationship with your father.) He has a haunted past, and a few evil hand issues, but he's out and about in L.A. trying to make a living through exorcism. There would be plenty of easy touchstone references to make here, from John Constantine to Harry Dresden, but with Crowe it feels like the creative team are looking a little deeper and tapping into the same sources that inspired those two characters. There's more Phillip Marlowe in Crow than Constantine. There is something in his characterisation that reminds me specifically of the Marlowe played by Elliot Gould in Altman's The long Goodbye. In that movie Gould played the character as having each foot in a different world; one in the source material and the 40's, the other in the amoral seventies. And Crowe here feels like he's spanning more than one world, floating above the realities of everyday modern life without really managing to commit to them.

The script smartly avoids a lot of the pitfalls that can hamstring new comic writers. Often in a writers early work you'll see too many words on the page, and an inability to get out of the way of the artist. But the writers, Dave Accampo and Jeremy Rogers have recognised this, and the writing is kept tight and sparse, allowing the scenes to flow. There's a level of craft here that's way ahead of where these guys should be, playing with structure enough to fit in a few neat jokes that wouldn't be possible without a strong understanding of how a comic page works. There are a few rough edges here and there, naturally enough, but to be this far into the learning curve already leaves me no doubt that the storytelling will only get stronger as the series progresses.

The art itself is fresh and fun. I've not seen anything from Jared Souza before this project, but again we're looking at someone with a good eye for storytelling. A comic book artist only has 4-8 pictures per page and they need to choose the right still images to create a moving story in your mind. That might sound like stating the obvious, but it's surprising how many artists fail this test. Sure, they can cross hatch, and sketch, and shade, they can capture a photo reference in all it's finer detail, but sometimes they simply can't tell a story. Souza's style bears more of a European -almost Tin Tin- looseness, which draws a clear line between itself and the cleaner house styles of bog companies like Marvel and DC. It's clear and to the point, and it keeps you moving from panel to panel. The finest example of this is the final two pages of the issue, where the scripting, layout and art all combine to perfectly set up and reveal the hook ending. As with the writing, I can't wait to see where Souza's art changes as the series progresses.

What's the book actually about? Well, that would be telling. But you do get demons, mobsters, jokes to make Rockford proud and more than a little blood.

I'm wary of the way people often pitch independent comics. We're told we should support them because they're independent. I'd rather ask you to support SPARROW & CROWE: THE DEMONIAC OF LOS ANGELES because it's good. Go and pick it up.

Except,'s the catch. The comic comes out in July. It won't be on the shelves yet.

Then why the hell are you telling us this now, Stringer?

The comics market works in what they've called "the direct market." Stores order from a catalogue (Diamond) months in a advance, and from these pre-orders the publishers will work out how many copies to print. (Sometimes the larger publishers will also play a bit crafty, and will base their public sales figures on the number of Diamond pre-orders sold to stores, rather than the number of copies the stores will sell. So when you see a spike in sales around Batman comics every time a movie comes out, often what you're seeing is the spike in educated guesses from retailers rather than customers) But in these harsh times, retailers often pick what they know will sell -costumes and explosions- and skim other parts of the catalogue. So, S&C is in the catalogue right now. The stores will be placing their orders over the next few weeks. If you want to support an interesting comic and good bunch of guys, go into your local store and ask for it. Hell, you can even do their work for them, you can ask them to order item MAY121179 which is in the Hermes Press section.  Job done.

You can sign up to Jay's mailing list here. Giveaway's -aka FREE STUFF- start in May.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Honored to have Holly West swing by today. First, let me remind you that you can get a free gift if you grab Dan O'Shea's lovely Old School collection. I'm offering up Dan's reading of my "Champion" story if you'll grab his shorts. Details here.

Now, on to Diary of Bedlam. I'll admit that I don't read a ton of historical mysteries, but if more of them were like this one, I damn sure would. Folks who like Tasha Alexander's work are going to love this book from Holly West. Her novel really nails the historical and the fiction -- the period work is spot-on and the mystery-telling has great momentum. Diary Of Bedlam is one of my favorites from the last couple of years. I sincerely hope all of you get a chance to read this one soon. I also hope Holly keeps these books going. -- Steve



By Holly West

I started writing my first novel, Diary of Bedlam, in June 2008, the summer I turned 40. I don’t remember thinking “I’m gonna be 40, life is passing me by, I gotta write a novel NOW.” I’d simply reached a point where I was ready. Good thing, too, because if I’d have known then it was going to take me nearly four years to write a novel (and still not be published), I might never have started.

I’ve reached a pivotal stage in the life of Diary of Bedlam--I’m officially querying agents. It’s actually the second round of querying for this novel, but really, whose counting?

When Steve Weddle asked me to write a WHAT I’VE LEARNED guest post for Do Some Damage, I accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. After four years, I must’ve learned something, right?

Here is the itemized list:

1) I am an obscenely talented writer.
2) I’m a no-talent hack.

Depending upon the status of my agent search, one or the other of these realizations will strike without warning, sometimes alternating by the half-hour.

It is maddening.

Like any writer I struggled between these extremes throughout the writing of Diary of Bedlam. It’s kind of a natural part of the process. During the worst times I wanted to quit, but I’d already revealed I was writing Diary of Bedlam on Facebook and Twitter and we all know what’s posted on the Internet stays on the Internet. There was no turning back, so I got used to the self-doubt and forged ahead.

But nothing activates the talent/no talent switch like querying.

My best advice for combating this soul-sucking state is write a few short stories and submit them to various outlets, like Needle magazine or Shotgun Honey. Getting accepted by your peers really helps to bolster your confidence. Keep writing, keep submitting. Hone those skills.

3) Joining Twitter was the best thing I’ve done for my writing career.

About this, I do not joke. Virtually every opportunity I’ve had with regard to writing has come about due to Twitter, or more accurately, people I’ve met on Twitter.

For example, I’ve had four agents contact me via Twitter asking me to submit my manuscript after seeing my profile (which is essentially just a link to my query letter).

At first, my only goal was to learn about the publishing industry and I followed every writer/publisher/agent/editor I could find. I did a lot of listening and a little interacting. It didn’t take long to become a part of the community, but the key here is creating relationships—not just promoting your latest book.

4) Just because an agent asks for more material doesn’t mean they’re about to sign you.

I’ve had a great response to my query letter, with a 35%-40% request rate for fulls or partials. The first time this happened the agent responded to my query within 24 hours and asked to see the full manuscript. With my brilliance thus confirmed, I expected an offer of representation would be forthcoming. She replied a few days later with an email saying she hadn’t connected with my protagonist and was therefore passing on the project.

I’m not gonna lie. I shed a few tears.

Then it happened again and again and I realized that a request for more material doesn’t constitute a marriage proposal. It’s just a request for more material.

5) Hope actually does spring eternal.

It’s tough not to get bogged down by the numbers. Agents report receiving two hundred or more queries per week and only end up signing two or three new clients a year. And honestly, I don’t even know the numbers when it comes to actually getting published. I don’t want to know, the same way I don’t want to know what a hotdog is made of.

The thing is, throughout the writing of Diary of Bedlam, I’ve met a whole lot of aspiring authors just like me who are now published. And let’s not forget that agents are out there actively looking for us—they need us as much as we need them. Yeah, I know it doesn’t always feel that way but it’s true. Just because the numbers err in their favor doesn’t mean they aren’t genuinely interested in finding their next big client.

That just might be me (or you. But hopefully me).

Thanks to Steve Weddle and the rest of the Do Some Damage crew for letting me visit!

Bio: Holly West lives, reads, and writes in Southern California. Her short fiction has appeared in NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir and Shotgun Honey. She recently completed her first novel, Diary of Bedlam, and is currently seeking representation. Find her online at

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Shoehorner, The NameDropper and the Troll

If you've been around the blogosphere long enough, you'll have seen all the different types of formulaic commenters that remark on the different threads below.  Here are a few of my favorites:

The Shoehorner:  This guy or gal will get their web address and book title into anything they comment on.  You know they have sat at the computer thinking about the different ways to make his comment not seem like self-promo.  But it always seem hack. Example:  I love pottery too!  On my blog (, I wrote a post while sitting next to a piece of pottery.  Also, in my novel SEVERAL THOUSAND PEOPLE DIE, one of the first victim's favorite movie scenes is that famous scene from GHOST.  Weird, right?

The It's All About Me Gal/Guy:  This person is a close relative of The Shoehorner.  He or she can never comment on a topic without twisting it to be about themselves.  Yesterday I sat around and thought about writing a scene where an Irish midget sneaks into MI5 and steals government secreats.  (Blog post actually about favorite pizza places.)

The NameDropper:  Need I explain?  The other day I had dinner with Bill Bradley, who told me I write like Laura Lippman on speed and vodka.  I figure he's right, because once Joe Lieberman said Stephen King should outline like I do.  

The Disagree-er:  This person is tricky, because a blog post often is suppose to inspire debate in the comments.  But the problem with this one is, the blog author is NEVER. EVER.  RIGHT.  In fact the commenter doesn't even couch their comments with "maybe" or "I respect your point."  Usually, they go to extraordinary lengths just to be contrary.  No.  No.  No. NONONONONONONO.  In page 17 of the the 1978 edition of The Big Sleep Philip Marlowe says words.  And those words are descriptive.  Descriptive words should TELL you something.  Not show you something.  Show don't tell is the biggest lie in writing.  You have to tell everything.  Every author tells.  And that's just how it is.

The Troll:  Everyone knows the anonymous troll.  You suck.  Your blog sucks.  Your work is stupid.  Stop posting.  

Any others I missed?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Entertain me..

By Russel D McLean

Today is World Book Night.

Yeah, who knew?

I’ll be out there hosting a pub quiz on behalf of Million for a Morgue, while other book events will be happening up and down the country (I think its happening in the US as well although I am not aware of the penetration to the public consciousness there), as people give out free copies of 25 publicly voted books.

It’s a great idea, although some might say its one with a few flaws. Not that I’m here to talk about those today, because I’d rather we had a flawed idea to get people reading than none at all. And having already seen changes in the approach from last year, I can see that the organisers are looking to adapt and try to improve year upon year. This can only be a good thing.

My major concern with people who talk about reading is that it is often seen as “self-improving” or “a good thing to do” rather than a fun thing to do. People who will readily discuss movies and TV shows in depth are afraid of discussing books in case they somehow seem stupid. Which is odd given that a great many books currently published are dumber than TV shows like THE WIRE or DEADWOOD or JUSTIFIED*.

Here’s the thing: you should read because you love stories. Its just another delivery method. There’s nothing challenging about it. Sure, you might need to change the way you use your senses, but in the end, the mechanics of storytelling are exactly what you’re used to with TV or film. The stories are still good. You don’t need to worry about what other people think about what you’re reading in the same you generally don’t worry about what people think about the films or TV shows you watch. Believe me, there’s a book – and generally more than one – out there for everyone. Find the ones you enjoy. Search in the same way you would for films or TV. You don’t like a book, you put it down and find something else that’s more up your alley.

The people who do the most harm to books are the people who talk about reading like it’s a duty. This usually starts in childhood, of course, when we’re told to “stop watching TV and do something smarter like read a book”. The idea of reading being harder than other forms of storytelling is as much about societal attitudes as anything else.

Waterstones right now have a leaflet out for parents talking about reading to their kids. The booklet is written in part by Julia Donaldson. In one part that struck me, she talks about how you shouldn’t make out that books are improving or in some way more “valuable” than other kinds of entertainment. And that’s right. Because books – fiction books, at any rate – are just another delivery method for stories and entertainment. Whether we read them on a screen or on paper, they’re no more challenging than any other form of entertainment. And the more we read, the less challenging books will seem, the more we’ll come to welcome the more complex works, because our brains will not be resistant to the preconceived ideas.

World Book Night is a great idea. If you’re a Giver, one of those handing out free books, I applaud you. But please don’t tell those you talk to that the book will “improve” them. Just tell them its entertaining, that it’ll make them laugh, it’ll make them cry, and they’re going to have a ball reading it. Because I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons you’re giving that book away is because it did exactly that to you.

*Yes, that one’s based on a series of books. But its it’s own beast.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happily Ever After

by: Joelle Charbonneau
This weekend I attended the wedding of a former student of mine.  (Does that make me feel old – yes!  But that’s a different post for another time.)  The bride looked stunning!  She had an old Hollywood glam style that took everyone’s breath away.  The ceremony was lovely.  There was lots of laughter.  More sighs.  A few wistful tears.  A perfect way to start their Happily Ever After.
Which got me thinking about writing.  I know – big surprise, right?  Happily Ever After is a big theme in so many books.  I mean romance is all about two people finding Happily Ever After.  In many mystery series, the characters from book to book are often looking for the illusive thing that will give them a Happily Ever After – whether a relationship, career satisfaction or redemption.
It’s interesting that so much fiction is about either getting to Happily Ever After or coming out of it.  Which I supposed makes sense.  When everyone is happy there is no conflict.  Conflict starts when people are struggling to find that illusive happiness.  It also begins when characters start looking for the next big thing after what was supposed to fulfill them does not meet their expectations.
While Happily Ever After isn’t typically associated with crime fiction, I would suggest that deep inside the best crime fiction characters is a desire for that fairy tale ending.  How many characters are looking for the big score that will finally balance the scales and give them the chance to be happy?  How many are jealous of that thing everyone else seems to have that they can’t seem to find?  Readers identify with that need to find happiness no matter what genre that quest appears in.  Let’s face it—the best stories are filled with conflict.  Tracking down the one thing that will make your life complete is never an easy road to navigate.  But watching the couple exchange their vows this weekend makes me realize why so many stories are filled with the search for Happily Ever After.