Saturday, July 14, 2012

How Do You Know If You're a Writer?

Scott D. Parker

Am you a writer or merely a reader?

Do you ever have doubts about your writing? I have them all the time, and those doubts hinder my process as a writer. In fact, they get to looming so large that the doubts themselves begin to overshadow the actual produced-writing output. That's where I have been for some time, unfortunately. It's gotten so bad that I missed a great opportunity, two, in fact, and am regretting it.

Writers and how-to books all pretty much say the same thing: the only way to overcome doubts on your writing is to write. No matter how small or how bad, the mere act of writing will win out. I don't know about y'all, but when I'm in this doubt valley, nothing seems to go right. To use the old analogy, even one candle can make some of the darkness disappear. And, a few years ago, when I was blogging on a near daily basis and writing prose every day, I had a virtual bonfire going. The darkness was blasted by the bright light of my constant output. But, as time wore on, as life intruded and I didn't give my writing life its due, the fire started to ebb. More and more, each day I didn't write, the fire dwindled until I was left, frankly, with only a small candle, barely keeping me from total darkness. And, in the writing world, what amounts to a little candle more often than not for me proves futile.

I've been reading a lot, so I'm never far away from books, but my writing life has suffered. I'll readily admit that the perfectionist streak in me is a huge culprit. I've had writing sessions in the past where the tale I produced in one sitting went on to publication or won awards. I say that not to boast, but to indicate where I'm coming from. If I can do that, the doubting part of my brain says to me, then all material in one sitting should be that way. Right?


I've been working on a collaborative story for awhile now with a fellow author. We've gone back and forth, draft after draft, honing and fine tuning. When I had delivered my last comments, I thought the story good enough. I considered the story publishable and thought it should be submitted. My co-author thought otherwise, and enlisted the help of an outside reviewer. A week or so ago, I received the marked-up draft of the story from the outside reviewer as well as the four-page list of additional comments. Four pages of additional comments, mind you, on a story I considered okay, ready to be let loose on the world.

Man, was I wrong. Again.

In reviewing the comments and suggestions, things that I took for granted were exposed. Turns of phrase that I thought pretty clever were proven to be corny and deleted. Logic flow, something I considered, um, logical, proved illogical. In short, the story that I had considered good enough (key phrase there) to be submitted was, in fact, not.

And the doubts, those black-shadowed things that ooze and creep upon you, got that much closer to extinguishing the small candle I was barely keep alight. Had the story been one where only I was the author, I might have just chalked it up to another reason why I should just stick to reading and not bother writing.

But I wasn't the sole author of the tale. I had a co-author who needed my help to complete our joint venture. And he assigned it to me. So, like it or not, I had to make the corrections. So, I started to do so, and I made an on-the-spot decision that has, so far, proved crucial. Instead of merely accepting the changes and adding/subtracting new material, I opened a blank file and started re-typing the entire story. In this way, much like when I used to write longhand and keyed in the words to the computer, I was able to accomplish two things. One, make easier the decisions suggested by the outside reviewer. And, truth be told, I've not accepted them all, but their mere presence has given me room to think and to expand the paragraphs where the reviewer indicated. More importantly, however, for me, is the process of typing in the words. The rhythm of typing, the clickedy-clack of the keys being struck is hypnotic, and it's been too long since I've heard those sounds. Now, granted, I am learning to dictate my material, but nothing beats the sounds of a keyboard being struck. When I'm going and my fingers are flying, I can make those storytelling decisions much easier than were I merely accepting the changes. It's a little like reading a story aloud, which I do for every tale I write. By retyping the words or reading them aloud, I'm able to pick up the flow better, and the story is better as a result.

This thing I'm doing now--I'm working through the entire draft and I'm not yet finished--is working. It is reminding me of the *process* of writing that, frankly, I let slide and fall by the wayside. This comes not as a revelation to most of y'all--and I've known it all along, I've just ignored it. Not everything I write in one sitting is good enough to be put out there. Not everything I spend seven drafts on is good enough for publication. Like it or not, there's a lot of stuff I write that will only have an audience of one…and I've already read it.

But the action of this particular revision and this particular style of revision has reminded me of something. I am a writer, and not merely a reader. I am a creator of stories, be they fiction or non-fiction. I am made that way, and it's been a real pleasure to be reminded of that fact.

That sound you hear? It's the sound of a match being struck on the matchbox and the flame igniting. Now, there are two candles, and the darkness ebbed just a little bit more.

Friday, July 13, 2012

With Great Power Comes Great... oh, you know this already...

By Russel D McLean

Those of you know me, know that I’m a bit of a geek. So you can guess that this week (The Literary Critic passed on this one, surprisingly) I was off to see The Amazing Spiderman.

There’s a lot to like in the movie (and a couple of bits – yes, corny and inexplicably coincidental crane operators, I’m looking at you – that’s maybe not worth liking so much) and Garfield gets Peter Parker in a way that Tobey Maguire never really did. And for all that his motivation was paper-thin, I kinda dug Rhys Ifans as The Lizard, and really liked the way they shied away from some of the really obvious stuff (like immediately adding major villains or throwing in J Jonah Jamieson before he was really needed).

But here’s the thing – rebooting the series or not, did we really need another origin?

We all know the story of how Spiderman became Spiderman. And a lot of critics of the movie are asking why we needed to go through the whole thing again, even with some tiny twists to make things a bit different this time out (such as Pete’s dad running away due to the Very Bad People wanting to use his scientific discoveries, or Spidey not doing his wrestling schtick before Uncle Ben died).

It’s a fair question – why do we need another origin? Don’t we get it already? Couldn’t we just start with Peter all Spideyed out?

Well, we could have. After all, Tim Burton successfully managed to avoid an “origin” in his Batman movie. But then the more I thought about it the more I realised why, when reintroducing a new take on a popular character, origin stories may be necessary as much for the “reimagineers” as for anyone else.

You see Origin stories – especially superhero origin stories – provide a great template for conflict, rising action and all that good stuff that actors, directors and, yes, writers, love getting their teeth into. We get to see a protagonist go through a period of intense change. And we, as the audience, get to root for that change. We want to see Peter overcome his own nerdiness and indecision to become the hero we know and love. We want to see him come through the grief over his uncle’s death and become the guy in the red and blue suit who’s always on hand with some webbing and a quip. We want to see how he grows into his powers. And we want to be wowed when he finally realises his potential.

Of course, the story after all of that is still interesting. But its more difficult to paint in dramatic terms. When a guy’s already a hero, you have to start creating bigger and more absurd obstacles for him to face. When this happens, you quickly find yourself in a Batman and Robin or a Spiderman 3, where suddenly nothing matters anymore except the spectacle and the cheap straw men lined up against your hero. When you root for  the hero only because you know he’s the hero, its more difficult to wring drama out of the situation. Especially when you’re not writing a weekly or monthly serial and you only have the audience’s attention for two hours every three or four years.

After all there comes a point where character development gets tricky. The last go on the Spiderman franchise resulted in two somewhat interesting films about a man trying to find who he was and a third film that jumped through hoops to try and give us something our hero couldn’t handle, ending up unbelievable and more than a little daft.

My point is that I’m as irked as anyone that they just went straight back to retelling the story of Spiderman from the beginning, but from a dramatic standpoint, I understand why they did. Just look at any long-running character and you’ll realise that their most interesting moments were in the early days, when they were developing and changing. Fiction has to be about change. But there comes a point when your character cannot continue to move forward and cannot be subject to the same kind of rapid and interesting conflict that he came across in the early days.

And when that happens you have three choices:

You either keep going and let the character go a little stale knowing that you’ve already bought the audience loyalty.

You end the series.

Or you reboot.

Sometimes in subtle ways – the comics, after all, are always tinkering with origins or changing the rules through some insane narrative devices.

And sometimes, as with The Amazing Spiderman, in ways that are utterly unsubtle but perhaps, for the creative team to feel comfortable, entirely necessary.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Down These Dickensian Streets A Man Must Go

By Jay Stringer

One of my earliest posts on DSD,  back in 2009, was a three way discussion between myself, Russel, and honorary DSDer Ray Banks. We were hammering away at whether P.I. fiction can work in Britain. Each of us had a stake in it; Russel has a great series starring Dundonian P.I. J Mcnee, Ray had written four Cal Innes books in which he wrestled with the idea and stake was vague.

OLD GOLD was out for submission at that point, but I couldn't really call myself a P.I. author without feeling a bit like, well, a dick. Here's the first couple of paragraphs from that old post (though you should go and read the whole thing);

We all know the tradition on the PI in fiction.
Even the mention of it evokes certain images. Mean streets and trench coats, strange camera angles and seedy Motels. Maybe it evokes New York hotels with introspective alcoholics, crazy Colombians and Irish gangsters. One of the most lingering images for me is of a beach trailer and a gold car, and in the last few years it’s begun to conjure up poetry and whiskey in a rain soaked Galway.

Okay, maybe none of those things. There are a number of writers doing interesting things with the PI at the moment, and some of them are on this very website. But what I’m getting at is that all of the images that spring to mind when you mention the phrase “Private Eye” seem inextricably linked with America. And, thanks to writers like Bruen and Hughes, Ireland. I’ll take that a step further, and say that the images that spring to mind are “anything but British.”

I didn't agree with the proposition even back then, but it had felt important to make that case at the top of the discussion before getting on with disagreeing with it. I've had a few years to think about my position, and I have a book coming out in 12 days that is also thinking about the same question. OLD GOLD is not a traditional P.I. novel, but it is in part the result of me trying to figure out how a PI works in British fiction.

First, I'll make the argument, stealing from people who've made it better than me, for why the character doesn't work over here.

The P.I. is a lone wolf. Raymond Chandler wrote; "Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."  He's The detective of Chandlers mythology, and in one form or another survives to this day with some tweaks and revisions. The gunslinger. He's the man with no name riding into town and having to time for the corruption or the system. He's a fundamentally American myth, and that's said with no intent to patronise.

British fiction, on the other hand, is all about the system. It's all about knowing ones own place. Detectives are cops, reporters or little old ladies, and they all work in service of maintaining the status quo. The nod towards any kind of maverick detective within this world is to have a character who is actually better at preserving the status quo than the people around him (or her); their methods may be wild and their reputation may be as a loner, but ultimately they're working to the same end, to put everything back in it's place.

It's almost tempting to make a different comparison, based on the mutual respect between Raymond Chandler and Ian Fleming. The Private Detective is the American, written by Chandler, and is the man of individual integrity and agency, the man who walks down the mean streets and is not afraid to take on authority. The British end of this comparison is a spy, a cruel and skilled killer hired by the government to do their work. He has integrity and humour, and shares many of Marlowe's traits, but his job is to upset someone else's  authority in order to maintain the status quo.

I don't disagree with any of this line of thinking. I don't doubt that this version of the Private Detective is fulfilling a role that doesn't seem to fit easily into a British setting. But I think that's only half the argument. First I think it's interesting to note that Chandler was a mix of both cultures, he was born and died as a United States citizen, but spent many years between as a Brit (on paper at least) and it could be argued that his mythical Private Eye was formed as much on my side of the Atlantic as his. Perhaps he cast an eye back towards figures like Robin Hood, and a time when our fictional characters operated outside the system? There is a forgotten tradition in British culture of making heroes out of some nasty people. Warlords become noble kinds. Petty thieves become folk heroes. This changed somewhere around the French Revolution, but that's a story for another time. By the same token, it's important to note the relationship Ian Fleming had with the United States, and to argue that Bond was perhaps formed as much by American pop culture as British. Marlowe is an American filtered through Britain and Bond is a Brit filtered through America. And neither of them are realistic, but both were brilliant to read.

The other thing to mention here is that the version of the Private Eye we talk about in these conversations, the honourable cowboy(as opposed to Le Carre's honourable schoolboy) overlooks an other important writer. It's easy to mention Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe in the same breath, but they were very different characters. Spade was aware of his place within the system, and was willing to lie, cheat and manipulate to get his own way. I think Spade is a character who would fit very comfortably in the British tropes that I've mentioned.

So while I agree that the honourable cowboy detective is a character who doesn't fit easily into British fiction (though there are writers who manage it) I would argue that doesn't mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just as that character says something about the culture he spawned in, we simply need to find ones that say something about Britain. Jack Taylor works (in addition to Ken Bruen's brilliant prose) because he says something about Ireland, not because he's honouring Chandler.

My first point of contention would be to ask that British writers stop apologising for so many things. "Oh yes, we're British, we can't really get away with certain things". I come from a region rife with guns and gun crime, and live in a country that is genuinely struggling in it's most built up areas with large drug and gang problems, yet we forever seem to want to fence things off, shrug our shoulders, and say "of course, there are certain things we can't write about because we're British."

My second argument comes with another quote. I recently read some words by George Orwell in which he somehow -in then first half of the last century- managed to sum up exactly what I'm trying to say. he noted that the English (he was more pre-occupied with Englishness than Britishness, but I'll expand it for the sake of my argument) novel was full of rules and primness, whilst the American novel was busting with noise and violence. He questioned if the difference was down to there being a spirit of freedom alive in the American psyche that no longer existed in British culture. He closes out the argument with;  "...the hero of an American novel is presented not as a cog in the social machine, but as an individual working out his own salvation with no inhibitions." That was in 1936, but it says everything about the argument I'm making today.

He also points out that the sense of freedom in the American psyche is perhaps no longer reflected in reality. That's a much deeper issue than I want to get into here, but I raise it to make another point; So much great American crime fiction of the past twenty or so years has been more pre-occupied with the bigger picture, I'm thinking of things like CLOCKERS and THE WIRE, works that made a cliche out of the phrase, "The Dickensian aspect." The idea that the fiction explores the whole and not just the lone wolf. At the same time we're seeing more British writers turning to the Private Eye rather than go the long way around with a maverick cop or a rogue reporter. This is no doubt down to our cultures bleeding into each other, the cross over that we're all experiencing in our language and customs. But to me it also shows that some of the rules we've thrown up over the years are false.

The British P.I. can very much exist. He's a character who reflects the existence of the machine, and is aware of his status as a cog within it. Down these mean streets a man must go who is himself mean, and into this machine a man must go who is aware of the machine. Perhaps he spends his story trying to break free, or perhaps he spends it trying to make his own life easier. Perhaps in great noir tradition he is doomed to fail, or to be reminded of his place or even comes to love big brother.

I think there is a lot of room for a British Private Eye who brings with him that, "Dickensian aspect."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Be Good, Be Kind: On Loyalty and Publishing

By Steve Weddle

So it's a Terry Goodkind week, huh? Um, OK.

First, there was this article by Alan Beatts. Off the news that Goodkind is self-publishing a book, Beatts uses the Borderland Books post to question Goodkind's loyalty.

To my eye the picture overall looks like Goodkind left Tor for more money (probably) and a bigger audience (by writing a main-stream thriller).  He failed to get anything like the sales that his new publisher was looking for and either they kicked him to the curb or he broke the contract.  The[n] he went back to his old publisher, who took him on.  But then, not happy with them for some reason, he has now decided to self-publish.
Bear in mind that Tor, the publisher he's treated this way, is the company that gave him his start.  Granted, publishing is complicated, being an author is hard, and that combination makes for some difficult decisions.  But still, perhaps Mr. Goodkind is not the most loyal fellow on the planet.

(By the way, if you'd like to read a post that Beatts wrote about Borderland Books, you can find it at Tor's website.)

The picture to my eye differs somewhat from the picture in the eye of Mr. Beatts. Looks as if Goodkind is doing what is best for Goodkind and Tor and Penguin are doing what is best for them, respectively.

Claiming that an author was given "his start" by a publisher is an idea that might not sit well with authors.

The post seems to suggest that Goodkind owes something to his publisher. He doesn't owe them blind loyalty. He doesn't owe them a lifetime of work. He doesn't owe them Right of First Refusal (ROFR) for everything he ever writes ever. He doesn't owe them anything except what is agreed upon by both parties. Who signed a contract. For both sides. Perhaps Goodkind granted Tor ROFR for the next fifty years. Perhaps he granted them Lifetime Loyalty. If he did and he broke the contract for Lifetime Loyalty, he should be flogged. Or sued. Or whatever it is they do.

But if he signed a contract for three books and delivered three books years ago, then, um, isn't that fine? I don't know. I'm just a simple caveman lawyer, but it seems that if he said he's going to do a thing and then he does the thing, then you're done. Unless you want to agree to do another thing. Which he did. With someone else. Which seems fine, right? I don't know. I'm sure it's hella complicated. A new contract is a new contract, right?

To my eye, though, if you and a publisher sign a contract, then once the contracty agreements are completed, then isn't that the end of the contract? He still owes the publisher because the publisher "gave him his start"? Yeah. My ass.

Couldn't the publisher drop him? Or worse?

Look, let me explain something to you. You sign a two-book deal with a publisher. They promote you and pay you and all sorts of lovely things. Then, for reasons not caused by you or your publisher, the book tanks. Instead of selling out the print run of 50,000, you sell 25,000 copies of the book.

What is the publisher supposed to do? Your second book is already under contract. They agreed to publish it. And maybe they don't drop you right there. But maybe they just don't overly promote your second book. Which, of course, sells nine copies. Should they have been obligated to spend full-page NYT money on your second book when your first book tanked? Are they bound by loyalty? Or is it just the author who is bound to the publisher?

Publishing is a business. Writing is a business. If Goodkind wants to self-publish a book instead of working with a publisher, isn't that fine? Does he owe a publisher anything? Of course he does. He owes the publisher whatever it is he and the publisher agreed that he owes the publisher. And the publisher owes him whatever it was that he and the publisher agreed upon. That's why they sign contracts. That's what contracts are. If you're not sure, you can google it. It's on the internet.

From what Mr. Beatts says, Goodkind was in the middle of a three-book deal when he decided to go ebook/self-pub with this book. OMG, guys. Tor is totally going to sue him for this. Oh, wait. They're not? Everything is cool? Hmm. Someone should tell the internet bloggers.

It seems that Goodkind has books under contract with Tor, but not this book he is self-publishing. Or it was, but now it isn't. OK. So what's the problem?

Beatts suggests:
There is no reason that a publishing contract can't include a prohibition against the author self-publishing anything without the publisher's permission.
GAK! OK. I'm done throwing up. Wait, not yet. Hang on. 

If I weren't a good Christian boy, I might say "JESUS GOD!" As it is, I'll just offer a HOLY HELL!

Are you kidding me? Of course there's a reason a publishing contract can't include that. It's smells predatory and unfair and unethical. But if both sides agree to a contract, isn't it fair by nature?  No. Look up predatory lending and predatory contracts. (Always a good idea to have fantastic agent.) 

If you've delivered two DragonBanger books of your three-book DragonBanger contract with HF Publishing and you have a YA story about a race car driver, why the hell would you need HF Publishing to allow you to upload it to Kindle? That doesn't have anything do with loyalty. It's in the contract.

If HF Publishing has Right of First Refusal in the contract, fine. That can cover books of the same genre, though sometimes it merely covers similar "novel-length" works. Saying contracts could "include a prohibition against the author self-publishing anything without the publisher's permission" is unworkable. Anything? Anything? Publishers can prohibit you from self-publishing a collection of letters to your puppy? If you write a series of urban vampyre romances for Trends Today Publishing, then you shouldn't be able to publish a book called "100 Ways to Baste Your Turkey"? Beatts isn't suggesting what publishers OUGHT to do, he explains in the comments. He's just saying there's no reason a contract couldn't include that. I disagree with that. I think common sense disagrees, too.

You enter a contract with a publisher. You're equals in that regard. You provide the writing, and they provide all the publishing

What's the next idea?  "There is no reason that a publishing contract can't include a prohibition against the author's promotion of non-HFPublishing books without publisher's permission." So, Author, you want to promote books that we didn't publish? Where's your loyalty?

Publishers provide great, often immeasurable benefit to writers, and writers provide great benefits to publishers. Publishers and writers, when successful, tend to work their respective asses off. They are in this together, but they are under contract, not best buddies who get married. (Though they are not prohibited from marrying each other, depending on the contract.)

They think a best-selling novelist of symbologist thrillers can make them money. And if the author is late with a book, well, then people get fired. This is a business. Then maybe the publisher doesn't devote as much time, effort, or money to the next one. Not because the publisher isn't loyal to the author, but because it doesn't make business sense. And maybe the author signs a deal elsewhere, because the Anaheim Angels need a home run hitter. Or whatever.

To my eye, saying that the author "owes loyalty" to a publisher because the publisher "gave him his start" misses a key component of the publishing business -- you know, the business part.

Publishers, those that last, don't succeed because they believe an author is an A-OK kind of guy. They don't look at an author whose last three books have shat the bed and say, "Oh, I gotta pony up some more dough for that cat." They continue publishing because they were correct in believing that the author's contracted writing is a good investment. If that works out, then the two parties continue to work together. When publishers and writers make good decisions based on finances, they can afford to stay in business.

As an author, you have to make the decisions that work best for you. I can guarantee you that the smart publishers are making the decisions that work best for them. When those overlap, it's a beautiful world.

I've signed many contracts in my 42 years. I don't go back to Clyde's Auto Emporium because that's where I signed my first contract. I go back because that worked out pretty great. And Clyde (though it's Clyde's half-sister now, after the propane accident) doesn't offer me a contract because of my charm and good looks (though I wouldn't blame anyone if they did). We continue to enter into contracts because the contracts work for us. That's what contracts are.

Can you imagine if the publishing world tried to work based on loyalty?

Here's another Tommy Terribone thriller. You all hated the last three, but we're sticking with him.

Ah, sorry. Forgot the rules. That would never happen. The publisher is investing in the author. Only authors have to show loyalty, right? Beatts concludes:
Our society has generally been in agreement for centuries that when someone is willing to risk their money on something that may or may not be successful, they're entitled to all the profit that comes from that risk and that they're allowed to protect that profit within the law.  Should publishers be held to any other standard?

I love it when our society agrees on shit for centuries.You know, except for slavery.


Oh, and the other Terry Goodkind news? He did a thing about an alleged ebook pirate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bad TV Teaches Lessons

I am obsessed with a TV show. It's not a good TV show. In fact, each week, I find myself rolling my eyes at least once. But I can't turn it off.


Yeah, that. It's a show about a teenager who gets bitten by a wolf and spends the better part of 18 episodes trying to figure out what's going on in the world around him. It's not the Michael J Fox comedy from the 80s. Basically all it shares with that movie is a title and the high school setting.

It is much closer relative to the early Spider-man (and Ultimate Spider-man) series. Teen is given special powers, tries to save people, while keeping the secret of his power. Teen Wolf spends the majority of episodes worrying about the girl next door (or down the street) and crouching on roofs. He has a best-friend, a father figure, a single mother who's not always around. And a super-villain to face.

And that's what the show does really well. It does not resolve anything. The moment you're going to get a chance to breathe, something complicates the situation. Someone rings the doorbell at a key time. All questions during conversation are answered with other questions. The are cliffhangers galore. It really ramps up the stakes pretty well.

It's kind of a master class for writers from that aspect.

But, Dave, you said the show wasn't that good.

Right, it's not. Because the show goes all out to deliver that tension. It sacrifices logic and character to get there. Each week, characters do something dumb which puts them in jeopardy. And if they don't do something dumb, then they at least do something completely out of their established character. Not all of the plot twists make sense. It often forgets about the rules the show has already set up for itself.

But, again, it's doing something right, because I can't stop watching. And it's teaching me something about my own writing.

Because it's giving me ways to create more tension.... just in my first drafts. Smooth out the characters and the logic later. But when you really ramp up the stakes, you never know what's going to stick and work in the draft later.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go track down last night's episode.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Patriarchy of Crime Fiction

Two quick announcements up front. Snubnose Press is open for submissions for the first time in 2012. We want your good stuff. Also, our latest release, Pulp Ink 2, is out now.

Crime fiction tends to be a male dominated fiction. Lot's of male writers, lots of male characters, lots of male perspective.

Female characters tend to be the victims. Female characters tend to get pigeon-holed into convenient categories (femme-fatale, damsel in distress, something to be fucked, conquered and fought over, something to be rescued) rather then given a personality or even a third dimension.
Female characters in classic noir fiction tend to fall into one of three categories: the murderous femme fatale; the long-suffering wife who keeps asking the hero, “Why can’t you just let this case go?”; and, of course, the beautiful victim.
The lens that a lot of crime fiction is viewed through is the presentation of masculinity in a world where gender roles have changed. But if the definition of masculinity is changing shouldn't crime fiction change as well. If it doesn't will it be left behind? Is it an anachronistic presentation taking the place of protest in the face of these changes.

Daniel Mennaker stated that the modern incarnation of the tough guy is a "sociological outgrowth of some gender-role ambiguity introduced beginning in the '60s or '70s, when the way a young guy ought to be became less clear."

What I've been concerned with lately is that I've read some manuscripts where narrative possibilities are presented then not explored. In one manuscript a sheriff in a small town has a, *ahem*, business relationship with a local crime boss. They are each getting long in the tooth and each have daughters. It's hinted that the one daughter is a lesbian. I was really hoping that the two daughters would get together, knock off their respective fathers and be the next generation running the town.

That didn't happen though.

 I'm not arguing for some sort of hedonistic, pulpy story where two lipstick lesbians get together and do hot crime things. What I am saying is why can't the girls have the reins of power sometimes. And sometimes, why can't there be no dudes in the picture. Or if there is a dude he doesn't have to rule the roost. Remember that chilling moment at the end of Mystic River where Annabeth reveals her Lady MacBeth side. Now there was a story just dying to get out.

It also doesn't have to be about the women getting together. How about a more recent example. Yesterday we saw Savages (really liked it too!) and there was a point in the movie where Elena says to O that Ben and Chon really love each other and that's why they are able to share her. Imagine the narrative possibilities if Ben and Chon reached the same conclusion and decided to not save O. Then O becomes the daughter that Elena wanted and they team up. All of a sudden the rug has been yanked out from under the viewer, the entire premise has been realigned and, because this is all I'm really arguing for, new narrative possibilities have opened up.

I'm not pulling these narrative possibilities out of my ass though because they were already there to begin with.  They were just left unexplored.

Thought exercise: Think of a crime novel that you read recently, or even a favorite. Now imagine if all of the genders in it were reversed. What would it look like. What if all of the genders were the same. I think either of those simple shifts in perspective would/could open up a new realms of possibilities.

what if women started stepping up to fill the traditional male roles? The tarnished knight? The stone-cold amoral thief? The wisecracking sex machine? Would a Black Dahlia-style victim-obsession plot work if the genders were reversed?

Readers: Keep an open mind because only then can new things be tried.

Writers: Don't be afraid to add new spices to your story. Who knows what will open up.

Currently Reading: The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What do you do with your books?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

No.  This isn’t a trick question.  Yes.  When you buy a book, you read it.  (Although if you are fighting schedule crunches like me, you buy a book and it sits on the nightstand for quite a while before I finally eek out the time to read it.)  Sometimes you’ll love the book.  Other times you’ll wonder what the heck all the hype was about.  Then you sit the book to the side and…


What do you do with your books that you have read?

For me, I admit I keep LOTS and LOTS of books in my house.  My shelves and drawers are a testament to the number of books that I purchase.  And as many of you know, I am a fan of printed books.  We own an e-reader, but I seem to be a traitor to my generation and can’t seem to relax when I read off a screen.  I’m odd that way.

While my dream is to have a house big enough to convert a room into my own personal library with one of those ladders you push around the walls….the house I live in now can’t hold all the books that I buy.  Which means if I don’t plan on rereading a book, I have to find it a new home.

So, what do I do with my books?  A few I give to friends who I think will enjoy the.  The rest I box up and take to my local library.

Ok, to some of you that might sound funny.  I mean, the library is already full of books.  They probably don’t need mine to keep the shelves full.  And while that is often true, they do need my books.  And they need yours.  Most library districts are fighting huge budget crunches.  Not a surprise, right?  Which means they need funds from other sources.  One of the biggest sources of extra income is book sales.  My local library has a great room where all paperbacks are $.50 and hardcovers are $1.00.  (Except for some of the newer hardcovers that they charge a bit more for.)  While those prices don’t seem like a lot, the money adds up.  In fact, some libraries earn over $50,000 a year in book sales.  Which means more story times for our kids, more books and DVDs for us to check out and more services for the community.

A win-win.

So, if you have books sitting around the house that you never plan on reading again…please consider supporting your local library and making a donation.  They’ll even give you a great form that allows you to write the donation off you’re your taxes next year.  You’ll get the deduction and the benefit of thriving libraries which are so very necessary to us all.