Thursday, May 31, 2012


Part crime-fiction and part cyberpunk, THE AZREAL DECEPTION is a collection Chad Rohrbacher has been working on for years. Yesterday, we had a bit of a chat. Today, I asked him to tell us a little more about the stories.

By Chad Rohrbacher

The Azreal Deception is loosely based on a screenplay I wrote years ago, then subsequently shoved in a drawer somewhere. Unfortunately, the characters bugged me and bugged me until I finally broke down wrote their stories. The cyberpunk collection is the product of their nagging.

The future.  It’s hardcore.  The only people who get to see nature, are the one’s who can afford to buy it. Most, however, live in the cityscape’s squalor or a desolate town, the ones you wouldn’t find on a map, but if you were driving through, say, Texas you’d think you ate peyote for lunch. Or maybe they’d come right out of a Hugo poem – run down and ruinous with desperation a long lost memory.

It’s a dangerous and lonely existence for most people. After the Upheaval, the people begged for safety, for order. Food was running out. Purified water was getting to be a luxury. The Planetary Control Group (PCG) stepped in with molifying rations, water, and their own paramilitary security.

Oscar leads an elite force in that paramilitary organization and it is their job to protect the citizens from the Insurgs, a group bent on destroying the PCG and returning society to the way it was before the Upheaval. He’s good at his job.

The stories catch Oscar’s team (Morris, Swede, Knute, Hob, and Charlie) at various points in their lives. Before and after the Upheaval. We see them fall in love, lose loved ones, find their calling, and, of course, get bloodied. I really enjoyed exploring this world and have a strong inclination that the characters aren’t done with me yet.

Here is a portion of Swede's story ->

Alana first met Swede when she found all 6'4" of his massive frame spewing Rations and beer on her front porch.

To her, it seemed like an awful lot of beer.

Anger welled up inside her right. She gazed down the line of squat houses with their sleek fibrous walls painted in the same tan material that would shield them from most satellites and drone scans, and wondered how this poor Skin ended up on her porch rather than any of the others. Luck followed her like a horsefly.
Once his body stopped convulsing and he rested his cheek on the porch, she went to him and kicked his boot. Nothing. She kicked him again.

He raised his head slightly, like some hibernating bear just aware of something in its general vicinity. He attempted to wipe his chin with the back of his hand but failed miserably. Fwapping the porch slats, his face turned bright pink and Alana struggled to hold in her laughter. It had been a long time since she laughed, let alone felt the need to suppress it.

She worked for the Planetary Control Group (PCG) in a level 5 security research center doing 12 hour days, 6 days a week, and she expected that dedication from her colleagues. Alana was called a lot of things: brilliant, meticulous, hard working, a soulless bitch. While some of these things bothered her at first, she soon found the benefits of such a reputation.

Alana’s hard features and hazel eyes were striking against her midnight colored skin. Her full lips had a slight upturn, making people think she was personable until they actually got close. Early on in life, Alana learned how dangerous a little flash of teeth, a slight crinkle of the nose, and a twinkle of the eye could be. She trained herself to not use them, even involuntarily. A smile would let people get away with mediocrity through the guise of friendship or amicability. Niceness inevitably led to misunderstandings.

Alana put her hands on her hips and considered her options that included calling the Regs, pushing him off her landing and onto the concrete, or letting him wake up with splinters in his nose. She decided to kick him again.

Sporting standard PCG fatigues, he looked like a typical Skin: shaved blond hair, finely toned arms bulging from under his white T-shirt, large hands. For a moment she wanted to touch him, make sure he was alive, the last thing she needed was some fool dying in front of her door, and then she felt her body flush. It was an awkward experience to feel her body do something she did not will it to do, to feel the pop of blood prickle the back of her neck.

Gritting her teeth, Alana peered into the bare street then back at the body at her feet. She had no patience for the Skins, though she understood they needed to be here, to protect her research. This display by this man was completely over the top; she’d have to speak with his corporate handler in the morning.

In the distance she heard three more Skins stumbling towards her place and back to their barracks. It was a shortcut they were not supposed make but made anyway. Just like they weren’t supposed to mix rations with alcohol or worse smoke them, but some of the boys did in the evenings after duty. Alana knew that once a man started smoking his rations it was impossible to stop. Once found out those men would be fired and, without a job, find themselves on the streets looking to turn into a full-blown Ration Rat.

Her stomach dropped in a moment of something close to sadness. Her skin felt like a simple wrapping holding her muscles and she for a fleeting moment she wanted to tear it off and let herself go. Her eyes furrowed. She worked her teeth, the muscles in her face tensed. Damn Rats. She kicked him again.

“Come on, before I report you.”

Rolling onto his back, Alana noticed his searing blue eyes, square jaw, his shirt pulled up just a little exposing a smile of hip and strong stomach. She felt her body relax and her cheeks flush again.
When Alana saw him trying to focus, she scolded him and once again tried to shoo the man from her porch.

The man rubbed his eyes and tried to shake his head like a wet dog. Then he shared a goofy childlike grin.

Alana almost giggled.

Of course he is Alana thought noticing his officer status.

“What are you smiling about?”

“Am I smiling?” the big man said rubbing his cheeks like putty.

Again Alana had to suppress her grin despite the feel of her stomach plunging to her knees.

“I suppose I am. Imagine that.”

“I’d appreciate it if you removed that puke stinking mug from my porch.”

He took in his surroundings then smirked, “I’d be happy to get off your porch if I thought I could walk  without falling down and breaking my face again.”

Alana turned her head toward the three Skins, arm-in-arm, stumbling towards her with the PCG jingle rolling off their tongues, horribly off-key.

“They your men?” she asked jutting a thumb over her shoulder.

“What’s your name?”

“If those are your men….” She stopped. “What?”

“Your name? What do people call you?”

Alana’s brow furrowed then she faced the three Skins about to pass her house.

“You,” she called. “You men get this sloth off my porch before the next person you see is from Home Office.”

The men could’ve been brothers: shaved heads, medium builds, standard uniforms. At first they regarded her as some ghost, shaking their heads, focusing their widening eyes on her, their song lost in the weight of silence.

“Don’t stand there. Get your asses moving.”

By their dash towards the porch, it was clear they knew she was way above their pay grade.


Grab your copy of THE AZREAL DECEPTION here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Azreal Deception

By Steve Weddle

I got the chance to chat with Chad Rohrbacher about his newest book, THE AZREAL DECEPTION.


After the Restructuring, the Planetary Control Group (PCG) brings order and safety to the nation, but at a cost. The only people who get to see nature are those who can afford to buy it. Real food is a luxury. Desperation is rampant. What happens when the people want out of that contract?

"Simultaneously heroic and tragic, the flawed heroes of Chad Rohrbacher’s Azreal Deception fight to survive in a world where trust is a luxury no one can afford. Tough, soulful, brutal, and insightful, these six gritty tales will keep you on the edge of your seat. Cyberpunk at its finest." – Bill Olver, Big Pulp

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You Caught Me

Yeah, you got me.

It's the end of Memorial Day weekend, and I got stuck with the "It's due Tuesday" post.  I've just gotten in from a day of BBQ, beer, and cookies (damn good cookies--which you'll hear about here on Thurday.), and now I have to write a blog post.

The Yankees are on.  They're on the West Coast and they're winning.  And I'm tired.

I've been writing, just about 1000 words a day.  A new book.  It's fun.

But it's summer. 

The summer is upon us.  I've got a kid on the way, in less than 3 months.

And you want a blog post.

Whelp, buddy boy, here it is.  I'm enjoying my days off.  I'm sitting here, trying not to think to hard about e-books, or plagiarism, or Kindles, or book stores, or the Big Six.

And to be honest, you don't want to read about that this morning.

You probably want something to distract yourself from your desk job that you've just gotten back to.  Some YouTube video of a cat saying something funny and spelled incorrectly.

So why are you here?

Come back tomorrow. 

Wait for Weddle.  Wait for Stringer.

Better yet, wait for me, next week. 

I have better stuff to offer and some of it's coming next week.

But not today.  I'm tired.

Did I mention the Yankees are on?

Publishing will live on another day.

Books will still be here.

So will all kinds of storytelling.

Get back to work.

Or go to some silly I CAN HAZ page.

But give me a break okay.  I have a few more hours of a long weekend to enjoy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Advice to someone thinking of starting a zine

The online short crime fiction community leans more towards support (which is fine) not criticism so make sure there is a firm editorial hand on the controls. Edit the holy hell out subs and everything about the site. Offer critiques and a myriad of suggestions. Hone in on the "why" if a story isn't working. Be honest. Be honest. Be honest. With your writers and with yourself. Your heroes, your friends and your peers don't walk on water so say no to friends if their shit doesn't cut it. Don't make excuses for a writer or a story, if what you're reading is weak then it's weak. None of this means you have to be rude. The editorial process is a filter and the real writers won't be offended and will come back for more.

It's easy to publish the people you know but if you want to discover someone then you are going to have to work the slush. That means opening subs far and wide instead of inviting people to submit. That also mean sifting though hundreds of stories (if not more) when you'd rather be doing some thing else.

Set the bar for acceptance ridiculously high. Read to reject not to accept and the stories that blow your hair back really will.

What are your goals (be honest with yourself). To raise your own profile? To discover new writers? To put out a great zine? To get back in the habit of working again after taking some time off? All of the above?

That's just the tip of the iceberg but you get the idea. It's a lot of work but has the potential for great payoff so make sure you are up to it.

Snubnose Press News: We just released Sandra Seamans debut collection, Cold Rifts and it is FREE for the next couple of days. Go get some!

Currently reading: Submissions

Currently listening: Father John Misty

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Time to pitch

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had to pitch my books.  Nope….I’m not just talking about those fun queries letters I had to write in order to land an agent or the editor and agent appointments I used to go to in order to talk up my book in hopes an industry professional would request to see the work.  I’m talking about day to day chat where someone learns that I’m an author and asks what my book is about. 

The one thing you need to keep in mind when pitching a book to your friends or an industry professional is to keep it short.  Come to think of it – short is probably too vague a description.  Instead, I should probably say that when you pitch your book it shouldn’t take you more than a sentence or two to get the point of the story across.  Which is easier said that done.  I mean, you just wrote a 80,000-100,000 word book!  One would think that you should get a little more time to discuss the scope.  Yeah—you would think wrong.  And to be completely honest, an industry professional is used to hearing pitches that last a little longer, so they might cut you some slack and allow you a third or even fourth sentence.  Your friends (who you are hoping will some day be your readers) won’t give you that much.

Think of it this way—people are waiting to be hooked.  They want to be intrigued.  But advertising is quick and punchy.  And your pitch is essentially an advertising tool for your writing.  A quick line like “The Hunger Games meets the ACT’ will give them an idea of what the book is about and hopefully hook them into asking more about the book. 

Since there are lots of conferences coming up in the summer months which allow authors to pitch their books to industry professionals, I thought this might be a great time for people to hone their pitching skills.  So in two (or three at the most) sentences – tell me and the rest of the DSD reading audience about your book.  If it is a book available for us to download or buy in our favorite bookstore – tell us that, too! 

And Happy Memorial Day weekend to you all!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Shackles of TV

Scott D. Parker
A few short months ago, the new television season premiered. With great anticipation, my wife and I looked forward to the return of old favorites (Castle, CSI: Miami, Body of Proof) and the opportunity to sample the new shows to premiere. Some of the new shows proved quite good (Grimm, Terra Nova, Revenge) while others fell by the wayside after a viewing or two (actually cannot even remember them now). Naturally, all the shows we end up watching on a regular basis become investments for us. We set aside time to watch them, be entertained by them, discuss them, look forward to each new episode, and generally are pleased with the investment. Along the way, naturally, there were time conflicts (CSI: Miami *always* got bumped by football; Harry’s Law jumped around; Private Practice moved to Tuesdays opposite Body of Proof) which meant that we taped the shows to watch later. It’s just what we do when there are a number of shows we enjoy. Moreover, throughout the year, we had the one-offs we watched (Downton Abbey, Sherlock) that bumped our regularly scheduled shows, but we were flexible and caught up on everything.
So, imagine my surprise when, after watching the season finale of Revenge this week my wife commented that we were finally free from tyrannical chains of the television. Yeah, those are my words, fancified. She didn’t say those exact words but the gist is there. Finally, she thought, we were free from the TV!

How is it, do you think, that the very device that delivers entertainment---entertainment that we choose to accept and that we enjoy—becomes a shackle? 

I asked a similar question a few weeks ago: Do you enjoy reading or having read? I’ll admit that there are time when I’m reading a book—a book I want to read—and then glance up at my bookshelves at all the other books I could be reading and start to wonder if I should drop the current book and pick up a new one. Maybe the author isn’t reaching me. I’m nearly done with the current selection of my SF book club and the book selected—a supernatural pirate book; what’s not to like?—failed to live up to my expectations. When I started, I imaged finishing it, then moving on to Captain Blood and a re-reading of Treasure Island, all the while watching the three Pirates of the Caribbean movies at night. Now, I’m a bit soured on pirates because I expected the current pirate book to be one way…and it wasn’t.

I wonder, in our culture of instant takes on any given subject, that many of us prefer *having read/seen* something rather than actually enjoying it in the moment. For me, the hour of Castle or CSI: Miami (RIP) is a fantastic hour that I love. Same, too, with the oh-too-short “season” of PBS’s Sherlock and Downton Abbey. I also enjoy reading about those shows and others the following day. Back in the days of the TV show “Lost,” a small group of my co-workers and I would gather in the hallways and pore over every detail. The folks who missed the show missed the discussion.
It was merely a curious observation that my wife made that got me thinking. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I have all the answers for me, personally, either. But it’s part of a larger social discussion of reading and consuming content in the 21st Century.

What are your thoughts?

Book Signing of the Week: James Swain at Murder by the Book, Houston, Texas

Without a doubt, living in the same city as Murder by the Book is a luxury. It is a destination stop for nearly every author doing a book tour. On Thursday night, James Swain made his only non-Florida stop on his tour promoting his new paranormal/magic/thriller book, Dark Magic. My wife read an advanced copy and wrote a Fresh Meat review over at Criminal Element. (Having read her piece, I’m going to read the book, too.) So, when I discovered that Mr. Swain was to be in town, we headed on over to see him.

Now, most of us here know that, when it comes to an author event, they can sometimes be hit or miss. I’ve had the sad occasion to meet a favorite author who was a bore when it came to a book signing. I’ve attended lavish gatherings of authors that are new to me and had a blast. I can say, with absolute certainty, that I’ve never had an author perform a magic show.

My wife and I arrived and, when it came time to sit and listen, the only available seats were on the empty first row. I’m a back row guy myself, but we sat front and center. Imagine our surprise and delight when Mr. Swain asked us to be his assistants. I’ve never see magic performed that close before and it was thoroughly amazing. Some of the things he did I frankly do not know how he did them. The card tricks are, likely, sleight of hand, but the other, mind-reading things were awesome. 

For an author whose book my wife selected at random, Mr. Swain now has a new reader to count in his column. And isn't that the purpose of book events anyway?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Redaft (that's not a typo)

By Russel D McLean

Bit of a short one this week, folks. That's because I'm smack bang in the middle of redrafting... something (I don't like to talk about works in progress, often because they change so completely by the time I'm actually done that I feel like a liar when the finished book comes out).

But I've been thinking about the art of redrafts in the age of push button technology. What really got me going was a post from an indie (or self-published, depending on your favourite term) writer on facebook that was, in essence (because I'm not online just now):

“Just away to post my new book to Amazon. Don't worry folks, I always read through once before publishing!”


That is not a redraft. And yet to many would be authors, it really is. I have done work as a freelancing critiquer of manuscripts for certain organisations. They send me (anonymously) work by new/would be authors and my job is to help them make the work better.

But what I find is that in ninety percent of cases no matter what the covering letter says, the author has gone through the book once, maybe twice, and decided that that is enough. Even with THE LOST SISTER, which had to be written fast, I went through five complete and thorough re-writes before I was anywhere close to happy. With FATHER CONFESSOR I have used the extra time I gained in writing (there were a few contractual hold ups that delayed publication) to really root around and make that sucker as good as it can be. In fact, better.

Redrafting is not about reading through once you've finished and correcting typos. It is about seriously examining the guts of a novel and rigorously checking whether its as good as it can be. It is not a quick, easy or mechanical process. It is tough. It is painful. It sometimes means that you have to rethink ideas you previously believed to be sacrosanct.

This project I'm working on now has been gestating in one form or another for five years. It has changed direction so many times that it is not the same novel I believed it would be. It is better. It has been rigorously, fully redrafted. And the truth is even when its published I'll still probably think of things that could have been better, but by then I'll be wise enough to leave it alone and let it stand. But I'll know that I put the work into it.

The temptation, however, when I finish that first draft to just push a button and send the book out in the ether will be overwhelming. Because we live in the age of instant gratification and even I am not entirely immune to that (I'll push the button on this sucker maybe three hours after I'm done). But I am glad that the publishing process gives me the time to carefully consider the book what I wrote. I understand that writing a good novel takes time. And patience. Because if you don't make it the best you possibly can, what's the point? And because the novel you're so excited about in the heat of writing “the end” may need a cooling off process before you can realise exactly what you can do to make it the novel it should be.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Lost Profits

By Jay Stringer
I'm putting together a free ebook prequel to OLD GOLD, a collection of short stories that lead into the novel. The finished book will be going out to people on my mailing list first, but I wanted to put this one up on DSD before all that. It's a slightly different take on an old flash fiction piece, and for people who connect the dots it sets up the first scene of OLD GOLD. One thing- this piece comes with a language warning. I'm never shy about swearing on DSD, but this one carries a word that I've never used on the website. If you don't like sweary people in your crime fiction, be warned.
The Lost Profits

Tony was watching his hand move. No kidding, he’d been doing it for twenty minutes. Ever since Fuller had arrived. Word was he’d been drinking the punch, which Bobby Buddha had said was safe. Bobby’s a cunt like that. The only time Tony paused was to cock his head to one side to say, hey, “what’s that noise?” But nobody was listening to him.
      Adele Wright had been taken home an hour before, she’d been found in the kitchen, pale white with a bloody needle in her hands and cling film tied around her forearm. Nobody had ever seen the cling film thing before, what was it, a celebrity diet? Someone, maybe it was Toast, bundled her into a car and drove her home, and Bobby handed out a few more drinks to get the party going again.
      Most people were crowded into the front room, the one Alex had turned into a games room. A crate of lager and a stolen air hockey table made for the best games room in the street. Alex said, “I’ll always have the coolest flat in the street, even if I have to move.” It was one of those parties.
      Fuller wasn’t really there to listen to Alex, or to watch Tony’s hand move. He was there for Lee Owen. Owen had turned up at the start of the evening and set up camp in the bathroom, calling it his office. Then, except for some thoughtless idiots who needed to piss, he spent the night selling to everyone who walked in. Tens and twenties, black bulls and stingers. He promised it was the good shit, that your belly would melt after taking it, and nobody came back to complain. Bobby Buddha backed him up, said, look what the bull did to the punch.
      Fuller was usually the guy who turned up and sold at these parties, but he was low key, he’d sell a few bags out of his coat pocket then party. Owen’s business style just messed things up, attracted attention. Fuller stepped into the bathroom and shut the door before saying, “Hey, what the fuck?”
      Owen looked around the room, making a show of it, then, “I dow see your name anywhere?”
      “So that’s how you’re going to be?”
      Owen shrugged, “No choice.”
      “Oh, aliens controlling your brain again?”
      Owen softened, handed Fuller a bag and said, here, on the house. Then he opened up a little more, “I’m in a corner here, I owe Claire Gaines seven grand.”
      “Seven grand?”
      “And If I dow have it by the end of the week, she’s gonna rip my dick off, she says.”
      “Seven grand?”
      “Did you hear the part about my dick?”
      “Yeah but I’m ignoring that, it’s a mental image I don’t want. Shit, seven grand? Why’d you borrow that?”
      “I didn’t.  Remember the thing I used to run at college? You give me a fiver at the weekend and I’ll bring you back 30 from the bookies?”
      “Sure, I used to like that.”
      “Way it worked, there was this guy I followed, good tipster. I’d win 50, keep twenty and give you thirty.”
      “Well I been working on that, only then it was, you give me 100 and I’ll bring you 400, like, or you give me 500 and-” He shrugged, “I’ve been pretty good at it.”
      “So what happened?”
      “Gaines came to me, said she wanted to raise some money quick, wanted to invest in something without her family knowing, to prove she was better than her sister or something.”
      “She has a sister?”
      “Yeah, older. Anyway, she gave me a grand, said she wanted to see four back, I said that was cool. I been following this tipster on twitter, see? And he’s better than the old guy, never fails. So I laid all the money out, but not one of the fucking bets came in.”
      “So that covers one grand.”
      “No, see, she said I’d guaranteed her four, so she expected that back. Then she said, if I was making her four then I was making myself at least two, so she added that in because she says I must’ve ripped her off, and that if I don’t stump up she’ll do some ripping off of her own.”
      Fuller laughed, “Oh shit, you’re in it. Look, you sell, I'll go chill with Alex.” Then he left Owen to it in the bathroom, saying under his breath, “It’s just one of those parties.”
       The kind where they played MC Hammer remixes all night to sound hip and ironic, but really just ended up enjoying the music and dancing.
Fuller nodded at Tony on his way past, before he got to the games room. Tony looked spaced, he wasn’t going to respond, but then he grabbed Fuller by the arm and said, “Serious, what’s that noise?”
      Fuller cocked his head and listed, humoring the space cadet, but then he heard it. Radio squawk, chatter through static. For the first time he noticed the strobing blue light coming in above the front door, through the pane of frosted glass.
      Looks like Adele Wright may have been a little more trouble than everyone thought. Fuller handed Owen’s free sample to Tony, then emptied his stash out of his pockets and into the coats that were hung up in the hallway. He zipped up his coat and quietly let himself out the front door, nodding to all the officers that were lined up outside, ready to bust in.
      They stared at him for a second, caught off guard, then rugby tackled him to the ground while the rest of them ran on into the house shouting, “police.” From inside, Fuller could hear the cops banging on the bathroom door, and heard the toilet flushing.
      Lee Owen was going to have to find another way to come up with seven grand.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bond, James Bond and the Art of the Trailer

The trailer for the new Bond film is out, and it is epic.  There's the grit you want, the explosions you want.  The attractive women.  A great... quip.  ("There are some men coming to kill us.  We're going to kill them first.")  Okay, it's not so much a quip as a great line.

But something felt missing.  Just a hair.  I'm still totally psyched for the movie, but I really felt the trailer could have done 1 thing better.

And to confirm how I felt, I had to go back and look at the previous Daniel Craig Bond movies and their teaser trailers.

Yup, CASINO ROYALE had it.

I remember watching this trailer and the black and white put me off, originally.  But once the mood shifts into color, I was sold.  The money shot, Bond jumping from crane to crane got the little kid in me all giddy again.

Plus... it had what was missing from the SKYFALL trailer.


Yeah, not a great Bond movie (though it holds up when watched right after CASINO.  And it certainly is better than... MOONRAKER).  But the trailer is awesome.  The Craig bluntness.  The pathos.

The stunts.  The money shot.  When this trailer came out, I was psyched.  There was no way they were gonna mess this up.  Look at those stunts.  Look at the explosions!

Okay, they messed it up.

And it has it too.

What SKYFALL is missing.

The blaring Bond theme.  That moment that get the blood pumping.  There's a hint of it, at the very end, during the action montage.  But it really doesn't get going, does it?

And, while it annoyed me when I first watched the trailer... now it's got me rightfully intrigued.  I mean, the film CASINO ROYALE held the theme back until the last moment... until he BECAME Bond.

And, now it's not in this trailer... instead replaced by a hint of the trailer... and wordplay by a psychiatrist?

Are we seeing a throwback to THUNDERBALL?  Where Bond is sent to a spa (or here, therapy) to get his head straight?  To become Bond again?  I mean, look at the suit Bond is wearing when he's running through the London streets.  It's almost exactly the same gray suit worn by Connery in THUNDERBALL. 

Or, does the interrogation signal something worse for Bond?  Could they be adapting from the novel version of THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, where Bond's been compromised and brainwashed? 

I don't know what it means.  But... you have my attention.

Looking forward to November.

Monday, May 21, 2012

YA Crime Fiction: Random thoughts

This is a loose collection of thoughts, so apologies in advance. 

I was looking at one of my book shelves the other day and a couple of Walter Dean Myers books caught my eye. It hit me in that moment that I had been reading Myers' books for years (ever since Fallen Angels in 1988 when he came to my school), that I had never read a bad one by him, and that he may very well be one of our best writers. He's tackled tough subjects, told great stories, and has experimented with form. But outside of a certain audience he probably doesn't get the respect that he deserves.  Why?  Because he writes YA novels. 

Years ago on one of my old blogs I wondered if we (readers, reviewers, critics, crime fiction community members, etc.) were being incomplete and unfair when we talked about the best crime fiction during our end of year favorites/bests lists and conversations because we often fail to take into account other mediums that are producing crime fiction: comics, TV, movies, music. Surely a year that produces a Breaking Bad for example must count it as among the year's best crime fiction.  Or Scalped, Or 100 Bullets.  Or even Monster, because even then, a couple of sentences back, I failed to mention YA novels. 

I have kids so I decided on a quick experiment.  I walked over to the kids book shelf and grabbed a couple of crime fiction titles.  Look at these synopsis' and first lines and tell me you don't want to read them. 

Synopsis #1

With a gunshot wound to the arm, Rico in jail, and a police officer clinging to life, Lil J is starting to get dope sick. He'd do anything to change the last twenty-four hours, and when he stumbles into an abandoned crack house, it actually might be possible...

Synopsis #2

Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I'll call it what the lady prosecutor called me ... Monster.

Synopsis #3

When he was nine, Kip set another child on fire. Now, after years in a juvenile ward, he is ready for a fresh start. But the ghosts of his past soon demand justice, and he must reveal his painful secret. How can Kip tell anyone that he really is—or was—a murderer?

Synopsis #4

In the year since Justin's younger brother, Mark, died in a horrific accident, Justin's life has unraveled. Justin used to be one of the school's star athletes, but now he's not even on any of the teams. He used to be part of the popular crowd, but now everyone at school treats him like he's a monster. He used to date one of the prettiest girls at school, but now she will barely speak to him. Then on the anniversary of his brother's death he gets into a fight with his former best friend, and things spiral out of control — with terrible consequences. But that's not the worst. Now Justin is hearing a voice that's making him relive the day of the accident over and over again.

Synopsis #5

When fifteen-year-old Jude's father is brutally murdered, Jude is a witness. But to save his own life, he can't tell the police what he knows. Still, Jude is determined to clear his name and win the approval of his mother — the district attorney he has not seen since he was an infant.

At the urging of his mother's longtime companion, Jude agrees to a crazy scheme to protect her political future. But what Jude doesn't know is that there are buried secrets that will require him to sacrifice more than he ever dreamed. And his search for approval will turn into one for revenge.

Still reeling from his drug-dealing father's murder, moving in with the wealthy mother he never knew, and transferring to a private school, fifteen-year-old Jude is tricked into pleading guilty to a crime he did not commit.

Synopsis #6

Wyatt never really thought much about his dad—a hardened criminal, a lifer in a prison somewhere on the other side of the state. But then the economy had to go and tank, and the community had to go and cut the baseball program from Wyatt's high school. And then the coach had to go and show Wyatt a photograph of his dad at sixteen, looking very much like Wyatt himself. Through a series of unfortunate—or perhaps they were fortunate—events, Wyatt meets a crazy-hot girl named Greer with a criminal dad of her own. A criminal dad who is, in fact, in jail with Wyatt's own criminal dad. Greer arranges a meeting, and Wyatt's dad is nothing like the guy he's imagined—he's suave, and smart, and funny, and cool, and—Wyatt's pretty sure—innocent. So Wyatt decides to help him out. A decision that may possibly be the worst he's ever made in his life.

Synopsis #7

Paul Vanderman could be at any normal high school where bullies, girls, and annoying teachers are just part of life. But “normal” doesn’t apply when it comes to the school’s biggest bully, Roth—a twisted and threatening thug with an evil agenda.

When Paul ends up delivering a message from Roth to the leader of a gang at a nearby school, it fuels a rivalry with immediate consequences. Paul attempts to distance himself from the feud, but somehow Roth keeps finding reasons for him to stick around. Then one day Roth hands him a knife. And even though Paul is scared, he has never felt so powerful.

Synopsis #8

He's come to do a job.

A job that involves a body.
A body wrapped in duct tape found hanging from the goal posts at the end of the football field.

Hard-boiled seventeen year-old Dalton Rev transfers to the mean hallways of Salt River High to take on the toughest case of his life. The question isn't whether Dalton's going to get paid. He always gets paid. Or whether he's gonna get the girl. He always (sometimes) gets the girl. The real question is whether Dalton Rev can outwit crooked cops and power-hungry cliques in time to solve the mystery of "The Body" before it solves him.

...evokes the distinctive voices of legendary crime/noir authors Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson with a little bit of Mean Girls and Heathers thrown in for good measure. It'll tease you, please you, and never ever leave you. Actually, that's not true. It's only a book. One that's going to suck you in, spit you out, and make you shake hands with the devil. Probably.

First line #1

"The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. "

First Line #2

"On the afternoon of his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire."

First Line #3

"The police arrived, then the paramedics, then the police photographer, and after that Jude lost track."

Now tel l me they don't sound like interesting books. (For the record they are: Dopesick by Walter Dean Myers, Monster by Walter Dean Myers, Right Behind You by Gail Giles, Echo by Kate Morgenroth, Jude by Kate Morgenroth, Bullet Point by PeterAbrahams, The Knife That Killed Me by Anthony Mcgowan and You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin.) I've read most  of these books and they are.  Noirs, thrillers, mysteries, and crime fiction YA has got you covered.

At some point in 2010 I realized that, in most cases, $26 was too much for me to spend on a hardback book.  Soon after was when I got my first Kindle.

Here are three observations about YA fiction that I think all tie in together. 

1) YA novels allow shorter forms. Specifically, fiction that would be considered novella length if it was released for adults.
2) YA novels are priced cheaper.  Of the books I have laid out on my desk right now the hardbacks are about $16 and the paperbacks are $6.95
3) The YA novel industry is doing great.

For now that's all I got. Like I said a loose collection of thoughts. But I know this, I think I need to start paying more attention to YA crime fiction, we may be missing some good stuff.

Currently Listening: Bill Withers. The Band. Father John Misty.

Currently Reading: vN by Madeline Ashby, submissions, Big Trouble in Little Boots by Brian Knight

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Setting the tone of a book one font at a time.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Which I suppose as a writer I should take exception to.  I mean, it takes me less than a second to snap a photograph.  Depending on the day, a thousand words can take anywhere from one to twelve hours to write.  Hearing that phrase can totally make a writer feel pissy.  Especially since I think we can all agree with the sentiment.  I mean, in writing, it is up to the author to create in words all the things than an image captures in seconds.  A sense of place.  Tone.  Mood.  Emotion.  Unless you are writing children’s picture books, these things take thousands of words to create.

Writers embrace the challenge of immersing the reader in the world they have created from the first words on the page.  Opening the story with a strong opening line can make or break setting the correct tone and mood.  So can putting the book in the correct font.

You think I’m kidding.  Ha!  I do not joke about fonts.  (Unless we’re talking about windings because those are just fun!)  Well, okay…I am not a font aficionado.  When I write manuscripts, I tend to favor Courier New for my funny books and Times New Roman for my young adults.  When it comes to fonts, I am totally not cutting edge.

However, this week, I got a glimpse of the typeset pages for THE TESTING.  This is not the first set of type-set pages I’ve seen, but it was the first that really drove home the fact that while adult fiction authors don’t have pictures helping them set the tone, we have type-setting that aids us in doing the job.  And while a font is just a…well…font…when combined with a story the font can pull an emotional reaction from the reader.

In my Skating series, the opening sentence of every chapter starts with a script font.  So when you see the words Falling on my ass really hurts  you get the sense the book is going to be playful.  Fun.  Something that is lighthearted. 

Murder For Choir starts every chapter with a staff of music surrounding the chapter heading.  From that opening page you understand that not only is the book going to be lighthearted, but music is going to feature prominently in the story.

Perhaps it is because I am used to having lighthearted books that type-setting choices for THE TESTING struck me so strongly.  The font chosen for THE TESTING is stark.  Cold.  The first sentence of every chapter is in small caps lending power to the opening phrases. 

After seeing the pages, I went to my bookshelf and started pulling out some of my favorite hardcovers to look at how the typesetting set the tone.  In HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS the P of Potter is set to look like a lightning bolt and the title page has a pattern of gray and white diamonds that automatically set the tone of the story.  The all caps title setting of Janet Evanovich’s LEAN MEAN THIRTEEN is made to feel quirky and fun because the publisher chose a funky, almost comic strip style font.  Carl Hiaasen’s NATURE GIRL has a small, gray crab on the title page to help set the tone and almost all the thrillers I paged through have at least part of the first sentence set in all caps.


Is this the first time I noticed that the typesetting of ever book was different.  No.  But it is the first time I really sat and thought about what the typesetting said about the story contained between the covers. 

 Now, I want you to play the typesetting game with me.  Grab the book you are reading and look at the title page treatment and the first page of chapter 1.  Tell me what the book is and what tone the font and the treatment of the title set for you.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Case of the Velvet Claws -- A Review

Scott D. Parker

(After finishing the Erle Stanley Gardner book I mentioned last weekend, I still find myself in an ESG mood. I've rediscovered the Perry Mason TV show, currently airing on MeTV.* And, frankly, I ran out of time this week, so I'm posting here my take on the first Perry Mason book. I wrote this review nearly four years ago. Makes me want to start reading some other Mason titles.

Back with a normal post next week.

*If you get MeTV on your cable TV listing, give it a look. They are broadcasting some fantastic old shows: Combat, Rockford Files, Dobie Gillis, Perry Mason, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, Wild Wild West. )

Perry Mason. Bet you instantly thought of Raymond Burr, the actor who played Mason on CBS from 1955-66, right? Who didn’t? I did as I read The Case of the Velvet Claws, the first Perry Mason novel, published in 1933. I’ve been wanting to read some Perry Mason novels (there are 80) for awhile but I didn’t want to start just anywhere. Sure, I’ve been told by more than one source that there is no chronological order to these books. Be that as it may, I am a purist when it comes to series. And, as a writer and creator of characters myself, I wanted to see how Erle Stanley Gardner started when he created the most famous lawyer in crime fiction.

Picturing Burr is not a bad place to start. You see, Mason in the novels is hardly described at all. His secretary, Della Street, gets more words of description (“slim of figure, steady of eye”) than does Perry Mason. The one feature of Mason’s physical appearance that Gardner describes more than once are his eyes. In fact, it only takes six sentences from page one to get a description of Perry Mason’s eyes:
"Only the eyes changed expression. He [Mason] gave the impression of being a thinker and a fighter, a man who could work with infinite patience to jockey an adversary into just the right position, and then finish him with one terrific punch.”
Knowing what I do about the television shows—Mason never loses—it’s remarkable that there, in paragraph one of book one, the Mason template is laid out. Three pages later, Mason, himself, lays out his mission statement to his new client:
"Nobody ever called on me to organize a corporation, and I’ve never yet probated an estate. I haven’t drawn up over a dozen contracts in my life, and I wouldn’t know how to go about foreclosing a mortage. People that come to me don’t come to because they like the looks of my eyes, or the way my office is furnished, or because they’ve known me at a club. They come to me because they need me. They come to me because they want to hire me for what I can do.”
She (the client) looked up at him then. “Just what is it that you do, Mr. Mason?” she asked.

He snapped out two words at her. “I fight!”
Hard to argue with that line. And Mrs. Eva Griffin doesn’t. She’s in trouble and she hires Mason to help her get out of it. The previous evening, Mrs. Griffin was out with Harrison Burke, a man who was not her husband, a man running for office. When a hold-up occurs at the hotel where they were dancing and dining, the police arrive. One of the sergeants, a friend of Burke, recognizes him and knows that the newspaper reporters will have a field day with the news of Burke and a married woman. That officer allows them to stay away from the reporters and then smuggles them out the back. Everything’s good to go except Frank Locke, the editor of Spicy Bits, a gossip rag, finds out and threatens to publish the information.

Now, Mrs. Griffin is asking Perry Mason to help her. His first response: have Burke pay Locke off. That surprised me a little, knowing what I know about the TV version and Mason's stone cold integrity. And with Mason’s fixation on money, he not unlike Bertha Cool, Gardner’s other famous creation. But Mrs. Griffin refuses because she wants to keep Burke’s name out of the papers. She lays down some cash on Mason’s table and gives her new lawyer one tidbit of information: Locke has a secret he’s trying to keep hidden. Mason rushes off to expose the secret and use it as leverage against Locke. The trail leads to one George Belter, owner of Spicy Bits. And his wife is there, none other than Mason’s client, Mrs. Eva Belter.

From this point, the book races along but not before George Belter’s shot dead, and Eva Belter tells the police that she heard Perry Mason’s voice in her husband’s bedroom seconds before the gunshot. Now, Mason must clear his own name while simultaneously looking out for the interests of his client. You think he can do it? Seriously, do you?

I am not an avid watcher of the TV show so I can’t say how Burr-as-Mason goes about doing his job. And I’ve only read book #1 so, if Mason changed his tactics throughout the novels, I can’t know about it either. I will say this: Mason is quite hand-on in this case. In fact, the most surprising thing he does is sock a guy to the ground. Didn’t see that kind of action coming, but loved it. Another interesting aspect of this case was how soon Mason had an idea as to the truth of the entire plot. But he needed proof. And he went about getting the proof in ways I also didn’t see coming. He set up on of the characters, not knowing, for sure, if his set-up would work. For example, he went to a pawn shop owner and paid the man $50 to verify that whomever Mason came back with was, in fact, the purchaser of the gun used in the crime. Now, as a reader, I got to wondering: who will Mason bring back? Later, Mason goes to another character and all but blackmails that character into saying something that needed to be said in front of a third party. Brilliant tactics but not entirely on the up-and-up.

The language of the book is obviously dated in places. Gardner loves his adverbs and uses some of them over and over again, including the word “meaningly.” In an effort not to type (or dictate as Gardner did) the word “car” or “automobile” constantly, Gardner interchanges the word “machine.” It’s a bit odd to read a car described that way. And, like William Colt MacDonald in Mascarada Pass, Gardner spells out, phonetically, drunken speech, employing words like “fixsh,” “shtayed,” and “coursh.” Humorous and easy to understand but, again, things we modern writers could never get away with.

And speaking of things you can’t get away with, there’s Gardner’s choice of the word “girl” to describe Della Street. She’s 27 and, while we never get the age of Perry Mason, he can’t be that much older than she. But, nonetheless, Gardner has “the girl” get a file or “the girl” answer the phone or “the girl” take down dictation. The biggest shock of the story—and I don’t this is giving anything away; apologies if it’s so—was when Della and Perry kissed. It didn’t seem romantic and I didn’t get the impression that there was something more. But it was there. You never saw that in the TV show. Just one more reason to read these books, especially the early ones, to see how Perry Mason was originally portrayed.

There’s a quote about Erle Stanley Gardner on the back cover of the Hard Case Crime edition of Top of the Heap, a Cool and Lam story that, I think, sums up Gardner’s technique of crafting a story: "Among his many other virtues, Erle Stanley Gardner is surely the finest constructor of hyper-intricate puzzles in evidence..." The Case of the Velvet Claws is certainly intricate, a well-crafted tale. Heck, half the fun was re-reading chapter 1 when everything was set up, now that I knew the ending. But, like a good mystery author, all the clues were there. When Mason delivers his summation, you want to smack yourself on the forehead. (His summation, by the way, was not in a courtroom, something I, of course, kept waiting for. Not in this book. Perhaps Book #2.) As hard-boiled as the book is, this is the coziest mystery book I’ve read, perhaps ever. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to many more Perry Mason mysteries.

Historical Note: the edition I have is the 16th printing from Pocket Book, June 1944. What makes this edition unique is the wartime nature of the presentation. On the back cover, in a small black square, are the words “Share this book with someone in uniform.” At the end of the book, after the story and biographical information, is a page imploring the reader to buy war savings stamps and certificates. Lastly, there is a list of books published by Pocket Books, seven pages long, complete with asterisks noting which titles fall under 8 oz. and, thus, can be sent overseas without any written authorization. These seven pages are peppered with testimonials by servicemen from around the globe. The most telling feature of the introduction is about the POWs. Those Americans imprisoned by Germany can receive books via a Prisoner-of-War Service established by Pocket Books. Interestingly, the Americans captured by Japan were not allowed to be sent books. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a country at war and how even the simplest of entertainments—a mystery book—cannot escape the all-consuming nature of a world at war and the call to do one’s part.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad (from your no. 1 son!)

By Russel D McLean

Waddaya mean I’m late?

Yes this is later in the day than usual, but its down to lack of planning on my part. See, today is my dad’s Birthday (a significant one) so I deliberately changed my days off from work so I could see him. Unfortunately this resulted in me getting very confused about days of the week and saving a very very good* post on revision on my laptop and not putting it on DSD. (don’t worry I’ll post it for next week)

However, it does mean I have this ten minute gap in which to get online and say happy 65 to my dad. After all, he is the one who made me turn to crime.

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with become an SF writer. I wanted to be the next Philip K Dick without the slight madness and the multiple marriages. But try as I might, I wasn’t getting anywhere. Until my dad gave me a copy of Mr Majestyk by Elmore Leonard and When The Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block. Sci-fi still formed a major part of my reading after that, but interspersed with these brilliant, dark, engrossing contemporary crime novels. I devoured them. I moved onto other authors such as James Ellroy. And eventually moved into crime writing.

I also sneaked a listen to my dad’s stories, which he wrote for BBC4 back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. He was a talented writer, and I think that while he only did it occasionally, I could see where my need to tell stories came from (I also figured that he got paid for these stories, so conceivably if you wrote even more than he did you might be able to earn a living from scribbling – boy was that notion in for a pummeling over the next decade or so!)

My dad had always fuelled my passion for storytelling. When I was young he would record my favourite stories on tape for me to listen to. He would read The Hobbit with me at bedtime and did a great job voicing the Trolls (from what I remember). He encouraged me to write. He encouraged me to read.

So happy birthday, Dad. I hope you’ve had a great day and thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me over the years (not just the beard I clearly inherited). To celebrate, here’s a little number from one of your old vinyl’s that I loved as a kid (and still do today!)

*probably. But then again, probably not.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Way Of The Gun

By Jay Stringer

"Not money. Fifteen Million dollars. Money is what yo take to the grocery store. It's what you get out of the ATM. Fifteen Million dollars is not money."

I just re-watched The Way Of The Gun.

I last saw it about ten years ago. I liked it, but I couldn't have given you any reason why. This was also at a time when I thought Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction were the dog's bollocks, and I loved The Usual Suspects.

A decade on, and my tastes are different. In some cases those years have thrown things at me that have changed my world view. In others, I've simply come to expect different things from a crime film. The biggest change, I suppose, is that now I'm a crime writer myself, and I have a more analytical view of story-telling. I can't sit through Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. I still have a lot of love for The Usual Suspects, but it seems to me that what I like about it is different to what pop culture remembers it for. Despite these changes -or perhaps because of them- I found that I liked The Way Of The Gun far more than before. I can also give reasons.

The main reason? It's a crime film.

It's a film about crime and criminals. It's not an excuse for a director to play some hip music from the past and to show off some witty dialogue. It's not violence or revenge porn. It's not a film with any telegraphed tricks up it's sleeve. It's a crime film. And crime can get nasty. It can get dirty and bloody.

It seems to me that we all spend a certain amount of time hiding from that. I've written before about the tourism aspect of crime fiction. The fantasy. We can be guided through some murky waters by a strong protagonist, wrapped up in some witty banter, and escape unharmed. There's a very safe feeling to a lot of crime fiction, which seems to me to defeat the purpose.

Hot off the Oscar winning success of The Usual Suspects, screenwriter Chris McQuarrie thought that all the doors would be opening for him. He was a young writer with a ton of ideas and a little gold statue that said people should listen to them. But nobody did. Hollywood was only interested in his ideas if they came wrapped in a neat little bundle that looked, sounded, and packaged like The Usual Suspects. So if Hollywood was demanding another crime film from him, he decided he would give it to them. All the way.

The film was very much a reaction against the genre fare of it's time. The cameras stepped back and got out of peoples faces. The editing slowed down, the scenes played longer. The violence, when it happened, was nasty and had consequences. Watching it a decade removed from it's context, all of these choices still stand out, but I think rather than feeling reactionary they make the film feel far more timeless than it's contemporaries.

It's not a film without problems, though. McQuarrie makes a few structural choices that cause the film to feel a little too self conscious at first. Rather than committing to it's tone from the outset, he tries to lure the audience in with a bait and switch. It starts out making a play at being the very kind of film that McQuarrie was acting against, with a loud Rolling Stones track, some funny dialogue, and some cool looking characters. We see Benicio Del Toro and Ryan Phillippe, and we know them, they're film stars, so they must be our heroes. Then the 'cool crime film' is interrupted as Del Toro and Phillippe, surrounded by a crowd who are out for their blood, start the fight by punching the two women of the group. They get their assess handed to them and the film has told half of it's story right there- these guys are not nice, but they're what we've got. Also, they may lose, but they'll go down fighting, and they'll find a way to mess you up as they fall. For the next few scenes we have an uncomfortable battle between the two different tones. Some moments commit fully to the bleak realism, while others are still trying to play it cool with some overly stylised dialogue. There's a scene in a sperm-donor clinic that's not as funny as it thinks it is, and then an exposition scene in the waiting room that belongs in a much weaker film. If McQaurrie had been a little more experienced a director, and a little more sure of his voice, he may well have simply committed to the bleak tone from the outset and stuck with it.

Once we get past these early problems though, the film finds it's feet and never looks back. The Way Of The Gun may not be quite the Peckinpah masterpiece that it seems to be aiming for, but we still get a classic crime film that's ageing better than most.

Del Toro and Phillippe play two career criminals who, "for the record," shall be known as 'Mr Longbaugh' and 'Mr Parker.' They hatch a plan that involves kidnapping a pregnant Juliette Lewis to make a quick buck, before finding out that they've picked a fight with the mob. We already know how this goes from seeing them pick a fight with two women in a crowd of men. They're in all the way, there is no going back, and nothing is going to go smoothly.

Something else that probably sailed straight over my head a decade ago is that the film isn't really Longbaugh or Parker's story. They are our way in and out, our framing device, but really it's James Caan's character, Joe Sarno, who is the centre of the tale. To say more than that would be to ruin the story for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I will say his performance is note perfect.

The narrative unfolds as if there was a studio executive at McQuarrie's shoulder while he wrote the script, but every time the exec told him to turn right, he turned left. Each chance to lighten the mood is passed up in favour of making it darker. Each chance to veer the course back into being a hip and cool crime film is ignored in favour of following the rules of cause and effect.

By the time we reach the climactic gun fight, we have found a very different form of tension. This isn't a scene in which we're rooting for good guys against bad guys and hoping someone comes out of it alive, this is a scene in which we're already convinced everyone is fucked and are simply wondering who is going to get hurt the most. If people get shot, they fall down. If someone does a Hollywood stunt jump across the screen, they're going to land hard on broken glass.

I think McQaurrie is returning to directing now with a Lee Child adaptation and then an action film. I'm not sure what I'll get out of his upcoming projects, but i know that in The Way Of The Gun I found an often overlooked classic. It's a shame that the years in between haven't given us more of his films, because I think he would have gone on to do even better. This was very much the project of a young man finding his voice, and I think it could or should have been followed with some stone-wall classics.

"You know what I'm gonna tell God when I see him? I'm gonna tell him I was framed."

Reminder; Jay's debut novel OLD GOLD is available for pre-order now. You can join his mailing list here. He promises to stop talking about these two things -and in third person- someday soon. Or never.