Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Mount Rushmore of Mystery and Crime Fiction

Scott D. Parker   

Yesterday morning, as I am wont to do most weekdays, I watched MSNBC's "Morning Joe" show. Over my cup of, um, joe, I enjoyed watching the two hosts discuss the American presidency with Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham, and Evan Thomas. The host, Joe Scarborough, asked the three authors which presidents they would put on the "modern" Mount Rushmore.

For those of y'all that don't know, the current Mount Rushmore has the likenesses of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt, four of America's greatest presidents. The ones the historians named are obvious--FDR and Reagan--while they debated who should fill the other two positions.

That got me thinking: who would be on the Mount Rushmore of Crime/Mystery fiction? Sticking to four, here are my choices.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - While Washington (1st president) made the real mountain, I would not put Edgar Allan Poe on the Crime Fiction Mount Rushmore. Sure, he invented the mystery story, but he only wrote 3 tales. Doyle was not the next one on the list (Wilkie Collins was certainly a prime mover), but, to me, he was the one who popularized the idea of a mystery story. And, of course, he created perhaps the greatest fictional detective ever in Sherlock Holmes. For over 125 years, Holmes and Watson in the pages of Doyle's stories have lived on and endured and, with modern reimaginings coming along, it's probably a safe bet that they'll last another 125 years.

Agatha Christie - If Doyle popularized the mystery story, Christie perfected its formula. The puzzle-type mystery was the story at which Christie excelled, and her shadow looms large over all those who came after her. Add to this two extraordinary detectives--Poirot and Marple--and Christie's place on the mountain is, um, set in stone.

Dashiell Hammett - For all the good the previous two English authors did for mystery fiction, there was a certain level of unreality to it all. Christie's poisons and Doyle's trained snakes, while entertaining, seem a bit esoteric. Crime, as any cop or beat reporter knows, is committed by normal people for normal reasons: money, sex, power. As has been famously said by Raymond Chandler, "Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse." Hammett brought a rough, American sense to crime fiction, ushering in the hard-boiled era of mystery fiction and, for all intents and purposes, split the genre into "mystery fiction" and "crime fiction." Like Christie for the mystery side, Hammett's shadow covers just about all hard-boiled writers in his wake. Plus, he gave us the quintessential hard-boiled detective (Sam Spade) and the quintessential man/woman team (Nick and Nora Charles). Throw in the Continental Op and you've got a powerful quartet of stars.

Raymond Chandler - Crime and Mystery Fiction, for all the talent that can be brought to bear in the writing of the tales, still suffered from a lack of flourish. Chandler was the author who showed that lyrical, artistic prose and crime fiction could go hand in hand. When we think of voice overs in movies, with the typical tough guy language replete with the occasional simile that really sings, you can thank Chandler. He showed that crime fiction could also be literature, and he did it with finesse. That his major creation--the PI Phillip Marlowe--is, with Hammett's Sam Spade the quintessential type of private detective is just further proof of his impact in the field.

Those are my four for the Mount Rushmore of Crime/Mystery Fiction. There are, of course, other ones that are important--Robert B. Parker comes to mind for "saving" detective fiction--but, like John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Lyndon Johnson, and George H. W. Bush, merely being important doesn't get your face on a mountain side.

What do y'all think?

Friday, July 6, 2012

...We're sorry, the blogger you have dialled didn't realise it was Friday...

Yes, Russel has been delayed due to a prior deadline. There is no problem. He will return next week. In the meantime, he gives unto you a trailer for Oliver Stones' latest movie, SAVAGES. based on the incredible and quite brilliant novel by Don Winslow.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lazy Round-Up

By Jay Stringer

It's a very quick one this week. Also known as a five minute special. I'm knee deep in an edit on Runaway Town as I type this. Next to the window I'm typing this into is my word document, and some really cool stuff that you'll get to see when this book comes out in the winter.

But it means I've got to skimp a bit on you this week. I'll be back soon with one of my epic posts to make up for it. To fill this gap this week, there are two places you can catch me.

I was giving a going over by Paul D Brazil at his website. Thanks to Paul for letting me crash his space, and also for the questions- A couple of them may have inspired future DSD posts. And a reminder you can get his collections Drunk On The Moon and Snapshots delivered to your kindle in about three seconds.

The other place to catch me is on the Slide Into My Hand podcast, where my good friend Steve indulges me in an hour (or so) of music and chat about Old Gold.

And before I run away to scream at my own prose, I want to thank everyone who downloaded Faithless Street over the weekend. The collection is no longer available for free, but the amount of people who checked it out during the promotional period was very encouraging.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tips for Subbing to Mags

By Steve Weddle

We continue to discuss Tom Piccirilli's excellent crime fiction novel THE LAST KIND WORDS over at the DSD book club page.


Tips for Subbing to Mags

As the editor over at NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir, I see quite a few stories on a weekly basis. I've also worked on some more "literary" magazines, including New Delta Review (when I was MFAing and teaching at LSU).

So I thought I'd pass along some tips if you're 1) interested in submitting to fiction/literary magazines and 2) give a damn about anything I have to say.

At NEEDLE, I'm joined in reading stories by Matt Funk and Stephen Blackmoore. Naomi Johnson is on hiatus after long, grueling hours I forced on her. And DSD's own Scott Parker was with us at the beginning helping out before he thought better of it. So it's a team effort. These are just my thoughts.

Do not blather on in your cover letter.
Look, it's super neat that you were published in Burning River Monthly. And Triangulation. And Far Flung Fiction. And those other 19 mags and websites. Honestly, I've never heard of any of them. And even if I had, it won't matter. You'd think if you said, "This is my first submission I'm sending out since having had my last three published at The New Yorker" would matter. It doesn't. See, we're going to look at your story whether you were loved by The New Yorker or just your mom.

Do show you know the mag
This is a big one. When we started out with the magazine, we got listed at Duotrope. Very pleased, of course. Love those folks.
And, yet, what happens is that we get many, many, many, many submissions from people who are sending the same story out to 50 magazines and sites.
If you say something to show you're not carpet-bombing the world with your story, you'll be better off. We'll look at your story either way, but it's better to say, "I really liked 'The Hung Nut' in your fall issue."

Do really, actually, for reals -- know the magazine
You'd be surprised how many horror, sci-fi, fantasy stories we get at our noir publication. Unless you think the number is 100 a week. Then maybe you wouldn't be surprised. Some people who write stories want that story published. They don't care where. They don't care that no one who gets a noir mag is looking in that noir mag for a story about the mining revolt on New Jupiter. If you're a real writer, seriously, you want the best audience for your work. Choose wisely.

Do not send us a chapter from your novel
Seriously. I did not get up from my futon today to promote your crappy novel. If the magazine you're sending to says that they accept "stand-alone chapters" or something along those lines, you're probably better just passing it off as a story. Seriously. If you say -- "This is an exciting chapter from my historical noir series featuring beat detective Nick Nickleback and his sidekick and lover, Quartermayne, in the quest to discover the true identity of Jack the Ripper. In this chapter, they come face to face with their biggest foe so far. I think you'll enjoy it." -- then I shall share your home address with my twitter followers, telling them you need advice on how best to kill your neighbor's puppies.

We accept simultaneous submissions, but you need to let us know immediately if your story is accepted elsewhere, because we don't want to accept your story only to find out that you already had it accepted elsewhere.
This means you, James T. Sessions, Jr. of 1223 East 10th Street, Apt. 2-C, Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Do not send us the story as soon as you finish it
There's no rush. We're not going to read it today. We might not get to it this week. We have a backlog. Everyone has a backlog. So take your time. Finish it. Do something else. Come back to it in a week and walk through it again. Let the thing breathe a little. Please.

Do not act like a dick if your story gets rejected
Look, pal. I've had stories rejected by magazines you've never heard of. So don't think I don't know what it's like to get a note back saying, "We really didn't connect with this character, though we do appreciate your creative grammar." You know what? They weren't right for my story. And maybe the magazine you sent to isn't right for your story. Maybe the editor goes to the trouble to give you an explanation of why your story wasn't a good fit for the magazine.
And guess what? When an editor sends a note along with a rejection, the editor is not entering into a debate with you. Editor: "Some of these details seemed to throw our readers off." You: "Throw your readers off? LOL. Your readers are probably morons because I spent 83 hours researching this story and making sure the facts are correct because I am a real writer and you are an ill-fitting colostomy bag." Yeah, don't do that. Just use that anger to write a better story. And maybe take a closer look at those details.

Do not send in a PDF of your collection and ask the magazine to pick a favorite story to publish
Yes. This has happened.

Oh, and your mileage may vary and all that.

OK. Now your turn. What tips am I forgetting? What tips did I screw up?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New books out today

Some new novels out today, including one of our very own:

Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau: Yep, our very own DSD writer's newest book is out. Here's the description:

Even as a struggling opera singer, Paige Marshall has never seen anything like the cutthroat competition of the Prospect Glen High School show choir. Coaching these championship-hungry students may be her toughest gig yet...

Especially when her best young male singer is suspected of killing the arrogant coach of Prospect Glen's fiercest rival. To clear his name, Paige will have to sort through a chorus of suspects, and go note-for-note with a killer who wants her out of the spotlight for good.

The Dark Earth by John Hornor:

The land is contaminated, electronics are defunct, the ravenous undead remain, and life has fallen into a nasty and brutish state of nature. Welcome to Bridge City, in what was once Arkansas: part medieval fortress, part Western outpost, and the precarious last stand for civilization. A ten-year-old prodigy when the world ended, Gus is now a battle-hardened young man. He designed Bridge City to protect the living few from the shamblers eternally at the gates. Now he's being groomed by his physician mother, Lucy, and the gentle giant Knock-Out to become the next leader of men. But an army of slavers is on its way, and the war they'll wage for the city's resources could mean the end of mankind as we know it.

Can Gus become humanity's savior? And if so, will it mean becoming a dictator, a martyr . . . or maybe something far worse than even the zombies that plague the land?

Also out today, The Last Minute by Jeff Abbott:

Sam Capra must commit an impossible assassination--or he will lose the only person in the world who matters to him . . .
Sam Capra has one reason to live: to rescue his baby son from the people who abducted him. An ex-CIA agent, Sam now owns bars around the world as cover for his real mission-working undercover for a secret network as mysterious as it is powerful, while using his skills to find his child.
Now the kidnappers have offered a deadly deal: they'll surrender Sam's child...if Sam finds and murders the one man who can expose them. Teaming up with a desperate young mother whose daughter is also missing, Sam tracks his prey-and his son-across the country in a dangerous race against time, and must unravel a deadly conspiracy if he's to rescue the only person in the world that matters to him.

And finally, if you haven't picked it up... wake up!

Drift Away by Jeff Shelby: The Noah Braddock series is great, and Jeff is back with a new epsiode:

Forced to leave San Diego after his life is destroyed by tragedy, Noah is hiding and trying to heal on the Florida Panhandle. Paralyzed by fear and the pain of loss, he’s isolated himself and given up everything that meant anything to him. When a young boy comes to him on the beach, unable to find his mother, Noah is pulled into both of their troubled lives. As he reluctantly works to protect them from local thugs, he must confront the memories that continue to haunt him. Those memories come to life when shadowy figures from his past show up in Florida. While he grapples with this, a new threat emerges that will forever change the lives of the boy and his mother and compels Noah to make a choice - keep running or face the consequences of his shattered life.

Picking up where the critically acclaimed Liquid Smoke left off, Drift Away exposes a new Braddock – introspective, lost, confused…but not yet broken.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Starting Points

Last month, I shared that on the first Monday of the month, I would share writing (and publishing) advice to those with specific questions. I've been privately tutoring writers for some time, and I'm familiar with just how wide the range of questions can be. With that in mind, I picked what should seem like a simple topic to kick off this monthly feature.

Where do I start? This is a question that could apply to so many things, and I'm going to break it down into some main subcategories, referencing things I've been told or asked.  

Ideas You have to tell me what to write about.

No, I do not. A lot of people tell me they want to be a writer but don't know what to write about. To put it bluntly, it's nobody's job to tell you what to write about. Not even your college professor if you're in a MFA course, or your spouse, or your writing group, or anyone else.

I'm amazed by the number of people who want to be freelance writers, but say they need someone to tell them what to write about because they can't think of anything. Ideas are everywhere. If you can't come up with ideas on your own, you aren't meant to be an author. You could be a ghost writer. You aren't meant to be a freelance writer, although it's possible you could work as a journalist.

That said, journalists need a nose for news and the ability to see a story without nobody telling them, "Go write about this." If you're starting out writing, and feel it's something you want to do, you should be able to come up with your own ideas. Read the newspaper, look at people around you, let your mind create scenarios.

Coming up with an idea isn't hard, but it is critical. A lot of writers think that writing is easy, and all they need is the next million dollar idea, and they'll be rich; typing it out is the easy part. Anyone who thinks that way is in for a rude awakening. Writing is work, and it's harder than people realize. It's your love for idea, your passion for the story you want to tell, that will sustain you when you hit a wall, when you don't feel motivated, and when the entire plot shifts sideways on you and you have no idea where to go next.  

For Love or Money? Another starting point for aspiring writers involves establishing your motivations. Be honest with yourself. If you have an idea and want to develop it, the love of the idea is going to motivate you, and your motivation for writing (at least at this point) is clear.

A lot of people say they don't care if they make money, or if they're traditionally published. Most of those people are lying. Most secretly want to complete the story they're in love with, have someone in the publishing industry fall in love with it, and be able to walk into stores a few months later and see their book on store shelves. If you're in love with the idea and proclaiming it's all about the art but secretly want to see your book traditionally published, then you need to at least be secretly realistic enough to research the publishing industry.

Figure out the genre, or subgenre, and find editors who champion those types of stories. Make sure you fit their guidelines and tailor your story to a workable form so that it can be published. If they only take manuscripts up to 70,000 words, don't send them 100,000.

 If you want to be a successful author, make enough money to quit the day job and write full-time, then you need to learn the business of publishing. You'd be well advised to spend as much time learning about the industry as you invest in the craft of writing. Go to conventions and conferences, meet authors and agents, and humble yourself enough to assume you don't know everything and actually listen to everything they're willing to tell you.

And then, get it right. Easier said than done, but that's a whole other blog post. However, I couldn't resist sharing this photo. Some idiot actually put this in print, and reproduced it on thousands of calendars. They may be nameless. I can't publicly humiliate them, or I would.

Sound cruel? As a Canadian, I'm totally offended at such an appalling error. It would be the equivalent of Canadian stores selling calendars that marked July 5 as Independence Day. What does that have to do with writing? If you make a factual mistake, be prepared to own it.

There are days I feel like I've heard it all. Getting it right doesn't matter because this is my art. Fine. Then I don't need to pay for it, compliment you, or indulge you. The writers I respect treat this like a business, they act professionally, they invest time in research, and they work hard to produce clean material. Anyone who wants to be published, particularly anyone who wants to have a traditional publisher, needs to treat their writing seriously and recognize that it's their job to get their material right. God bless the editors who take error-ridden material they'll edit, and the typesetters who have time to fix things when files are completely messed up. Bless 'em, but don't count on them.

For every author who'll see their book published this year, there are thousands who received rejection letters. If you seriously want to know where to start, writing is as much about acting like a professional and presenting the best possible material to publishers as it is about telling a story.

Submitting your manuscript is like going on a first date. If you showed up at my door with ripped, dirty clothes, bloodshot eyes and a green hue to your skin from the hangover you haven't quite shaken off yet, breath smelling like stale beer and a cigarette hanging from your fingers, the first date would have been the last before it even happened. As a writer, submitting your manuscript is like wooing an editor. You'll have a much better chance of winning their love if you show you've made an effort to get to know what they like, and give them exactly what they're looking for.  

Have something specific you want me to tackle next time? The comments are open.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Ready, set, launch!

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Happy July.  I’m not sure how it is already July.  I mean, I understand the passage of time.  Seconds turn into minutes.  Minutes turn into hours.  Hours into days.  Etc… Etc… Etc…  But despite knowing how it happened, I am still protesting the fact we are halfway through this year.  My to-do list for the year hasn’t gotten shorter, which is the reason I’m totally freaked about the turn of the calendar and this new month staring me in the face.

The month of July also makes me feel nervous for another reason.  MURDER FOR CHOIR launches in 2 days.  I’m excited and panicked and thrilled and about ready to throw up.  (Don’t I make publishing sound totally awesome?)  These are all emotions I’m used to feeling on the opening of a new show and thus far every book that I have published has come with its own set of butterflies. 

Launching this series is particularly nerve wracking because it has so much of me in between the jacket covers.  My heroine, Paige Marshall, is a classically trained singer hoping to land her big break.  To make ends meet, she takes a job as a high school show choir coach and finds a rival choir director strangled with a microphone cord—dead. 

Ok—I’ve never tripped over a dead body, but I know what it is like to go to audition after audition and not land that break you have worked so hard for.  I’ve also taught voice to lots of high school students.  So, while Paige is in no way me, I know her.  I know what kind of drive it takes to face those auditions.  To keep hoping and dreaming.  And how frustrating and rewarding it can be to work with the next generation that are looking to take that same career path.

So, while everything I write has bits and pieces of me in it, this one has a great deal of my soul.  (Probably an odd thing to say about a book with a large standard poodle intent on making the heroine go hungry!)  I hope readers pick up the book.  I hope they enjoy the story enough to read the next one. 

I hope.