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.