Saturday, July 21, 2012

What 1,000 Words Looks Like

(As this week began, I had planned on writing about one subject: Batman and specifically the three movies Christopher Nolan directed. This post here was going to be offered next week. After the unspeakable tragedy in Colorado, today is not the day for that post. We here at Do Some Damage offer our sincerest condolences and prayers to the victims and to the families that now are absent a loved one. Writing about writing seems so trivial and, to a degree, it is. But it is on days like yesterday where we are all reminded of the preciousness of life and all the tribulations and triumphs we endure. Each one of us copes with tragedy in different ways, and writing, for many of us, is one of those methods. Whatever you do, do it with passion and intensity and joy and abandon with as much zeal and verve as you possess.)

Accountants do not need any tricks to do their job. Neither do oilfield engineers, carpenters, teachers, or bus drivers. In my day job as a technical writer, I also do not need very many tricks to get my job done. However, when it comes to writing fiction, something seems to happen. We get stuck, we don't know where to go, we may not be able to think up interesting plots, we may not be able to carve out the time, and any number of other things that get in the way. Why is that? Is it because of the inherent creative nature of what we do? Is it, perhaps, the muscle of the imagination is the thing that needs to be honed and exercised?

The most obvious way in which we fiction writers measure our progress is by word count, the number of words that we have imagined into existence. Naturally, if you were measuring yourself by word count, the most basic metric is the daily word count. And, in that sense, the myth of the 1,000 words per day writing pace has developed. This is a modern metric, not nearly the pace and the output of the old pulp masters, and yet, quite a bit faster than the pace of some modern literary authors who publish a big book once a decade. If you do the simple math, it goes something like this: if you write 1,000 words per day, you will write 365,000 words per year. Since most novels are roughly 90,000 words, it naturally falls that you could conceivably write three 90,000-word novels per year.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story about the new expectations of readers and how established authors are changing to meet demand. For certain name brand authors who publish one novel a year like clockwork, the article mentioned that publishing houses are beginning to wonder if these authors can't add in a novella, or short story, or a small e-book to fill in the gaps between novel publications. Having never published a best seller myself, I can't speak to what goes in to making one. But back to the 1,000 words per day metric, one would think that that is an achievable goal, or at lease one to strive for.

The late Ray Bradbury, who died in June, was a prolific author. No, he did not publish 3 books per year, but he did do something for much of his adult life that he advocates all writers do: write every day. Soon after he passed away, I pulled out my copy of his writing book, Zen and the Art of Writing. It was in this book where he advocated writing something––anything––per day. Here is one of the many money quotes from this book: “If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy, or both. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Writing something every day isn't that difficult, really. If you want to be a writer, you just do it. But how does that compare with that modern 1,000-word metric? One of the arguments that have made for myself is that the thousand-word goal seems like a very high and threshold to reach. True, I don't *have* to meet that goal, but without setting some sort of goal, one would just meander, right? I mean, if you wrote a paragraph a day, you would be following Bradbury's advice, but you would not ever complete a novel.

So this past week, I did little experiment. I went back to my Harry Truman novel and selected a chapter at random. It turned out to be in early one, chapter 4 I think. I want to note two things: how long it took me to literally type one thousand words and how long it took me to type each page. So with a copy of chapter 4 next to me, I started typing. At the end of the first full-page (double-spaced), 6:15 had elapsed. By the end of the second page, I was at 12:16 and I completed the third by 18:30. It took me an additional 20 seconds to type the remaining few words to get me up to 1,000. It doesn't take a math genius to pretty much see the rate of typing, that being around 6 min. a page. As you may have already figured out, 1,000 words is approximately 3 pages of double-spaced typed manuscript with one-inch margins on the side.

Three pages. That's all. I was surprised when I saw those three pages printed out. In my mind, the entire chapter was around 1,000 words, and the idea of writing a chapter per day seemed quite daunting. In reality, I chapter is 7-1/2 pages long. That equals approximately 2500 words.

Now, your your response will be the obvious one: I knew exactly what you're typing and all you did was type. I did no creating. That's true, but if you examine the amount of time it took me to type those 1,000 words––19 min.––you'll realize that it's less than half hour. One would like to think that, given eleven min. to come up with a scene or a bit of dialogue, that you could easily type out the 1,000 words it could take to describe that scene in the next nineteen minutes.

Thirty minutes. Half an hour. When we talk about carving out time to write each and every day, my mind almost always goes in to the hour block of time. And, given our busy lives, I can honestly say that finding a hour a day can be challenging, even though I want to be a prose writer. That was how my reasoning went before this week: which hour of the day do I want to carve out to write 1,000 words? After my little experiment, I am rephrasing the question: what half an hour do I want to carve out each day to write 1,000 words?

While this might be easier said than done, my modus operandi of writing is via outline. My Truman novel was written with the complete outline before I started. Yes I revised along the way, but what having it outline gave me was a purpose for each writing session. I didn't have to think what I was going to write, I merely had to pick up the next index card in the outline and write that one scene.

In the years since my first novel, I have experimented with other types of writing regimens. To date, as I like to jokingly say, it is taking me longer not to write another novel that did take to write my first. I think it is time to go back to what I know works: outlining and producing. And, after the initial burst of creativity to create the outline, might it only take me a half an hour a day over 90 or so days to create a novel?

I'm looking forward to finding out the answer.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Five Paragraphs of Russel

Russel D McLean

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY is the book of the moment. Love it or hate it, its there and its not going anywhere very soon. People will talk about what it means in the cultural zeitgeist and try to make more of it than it really is (its a naughty book - there have always been and will always be naughty books, and most of them will be written with the same regard for the English language as SHADES, and that's fine) and others will decry or mock it. But the fact is that people are reading it so let's have a genuine cheer for Ms James and her success. Its what we all want and its what very few of us will get, so let's feel good for those that it happens to.

No, my problem with SHADES is the inevitable bandwagon. Publishing always does this. Something becomes an unexpected phenomenon (ie, THE DA VINCI CODE or Steig Larrson in general) and publishers scarmble to find something "the same" but "different". They rejacket books with tangential similarities so that readers will be confused. They retitle books so that they sound the same (SIXTY DAYS OF YELLOW or THE SCHOPENHAUER SECRET*). They struggle to find the initial spark, but they don't realise that the books in question are lone freaks of nature. They exceptions. They are popular because they are the right book in the right place at the right time. And sure there might be a long tail for some of the imitators, but the fact is that the buying public don't really want the imitations. Sure they want "the same" so they claim, but what they really want is the same *feeling* they had when they read the book. They don't actually know the specifics of what they want. They only know the emotional connection or the feeling of surprise that they had reading that particular book and that's what they want to rediscover, even if they can only artticulate that feeling in terms of the one particular book that sparked that emotion.

Books (and yes I include ebooks here - they are now another delivery format, so get over it and shut up) and entertainment cannot be driven by markets in the same way as other products. They connect with readers on a very different level, on an individual level. The minute they are marketted according to what other books are doing, that sense of surprise and connection gets lost. Publishing is a risky business. It always has been. But its being shortchanged every time it tries to grab the maximum number of readers rather than simply the most passionate readers (which is always the smaller number).

FIFTY SHADES is an incredible success story and one worth learning lessons from. But the lesson here is not that "we should all be writing erotica". Its that "you should write book you want to write and maybe, just maybe, other people will love it, too". The more publishers who jump on the erotica badnwagon, the more of them (and consequently the more authors) are going to get burned when readers cotton onto the fact that what made them love FIFTY SHADES wasn't simply the erotica or the underlying story or even Mr Gray himself, but merely an odd and unknowable moment of connection with a work of fiction that cannot be mass replicated or reproduced by going through the same motions over and over again.** Publishing is at its finest when it is about passion and not money, and sometimes I wonder if the modern world is making us forget that, is letting us slip in the real business of books and entertainment.

*I don't know if these titles are real, but it wouldn't surprise me if they were.
**Go on, insert your own dirty joke here

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Good News/Bad News

By Jay Stringer

So, hey, I got a review. And an interview. Oh, and I have an ebook you can buy. Oh yeah, and a book. And if you want to leave comments or reviews on any of these things, I promise not to send an angry mob after you.

See what I did there?

Yes, of course you did.

Professor Weddle has already covered most of the kerfuffle at length. I won't go back over what he said, because he did it with pictures, and blurred out names, and screencaps, and all manner of cool things that I can't get my brain around.

But one thing I wanted to run with today was the idea of authors pointing out bad reviews. In the comments to yesterdays post, Dan Luft made an interesting point.  I am shocked to see authors play coy posting their bad reviews "in the interest of being honest" with their fans and friends. This is a sad way get your ego stroked by a choir of admirers.

I don't quote that to single Dan out, because he made a valid point. But it ties into something I've been thinking about, so it's a good quote to star the post with. Someone that I often cite as a big influence on me (and by that I mean, someone who has a similar accent to me and who's jokes I steal) is the comedian Stewart Lee. He makes regular use of bad reviews. If you click over to his website, you'll see at the bottom of the page a display of mixed-to-negative reviews. On his tour posters, especially around the time of something like the Edinburgh Fringe, he'll put a blurb from a bad review as prominently as one from a good review.

When I first saw him doing this, I assumed it was in that interest of fairness that Dan mentioned, because we do see a lot of people using that line. My second thought, since Lee's stage persona often comes across as smug and elitist, is that he was doing it to poke fun at the reviewer. "Look at this guy, he just doesn't get it."

But I've heard him explain it a few times now, and it comes from a different place. The Edinburgh festival is a huge event. It attracts a lot of visitors (and performers) from around the country, and a lot of people who don't normally attend the theatre or comedy shows will put aside a day to head to the festival, drink, and spend a lot of money. Lee is something of a niche comedian. People who like him, love him. But equally, there are a lot of people who are looking for something different from a comedy show. He gets a lot of praise from broadsheet newspapers, and could fill posters with blurb about him being the best stand-up on the circuit, or about the way he breaks apart the craft of comedy as he performs, or any number of clever sounding quotes. But then those people who've put aside one day, and are spending a chunk of cash to see their one comedy show of the year, may not know what they're buying. They may sit through a couple hours of something they were not expecting.

Lee has also said the same thing of when he's touring around the country. He's a father now, and understands that for two parents to go out for an evening can be a major investment and a minor military operation. Does he want a young couple going to all that trouble and expense to head out to a show that they may not enjoy?

I've been thinking about this as the release date for Old Gold comes closer. What thing we'll all know around these parts is that "crime fiction" means different things to different people. Some people like to read a number of different sub-genres (I hate that term, but for this post I'll go with it) and want to be challenged with different ideas. There are others who have a set idea of what they want to read. And that's fine. It's a big world and there are books enough for everybody. But it seems to me that the chances are high, in these times when everyone is competing for that ten seconds of eye-time it takes for someone to click "buy," that it's all too easy to tell someone how great your book is, but what if it's not their book?

Of all the reviews I've read over the years, I've noticed a common theme. Sure, there are bad reviews. Sometimes there are people who are in a bad mood, or have an axe to grind. There are some who are reviewing merely to get their own name out there and to show that they should have the writing contract. But I don't think those are as prevalent as we sometimes make out. The vast majority of people who take the time to write a review -positive or negative- are people who also took the time to read your book. And they wouldn't have done that if they didn't think at some point that it was their kind of book. I've seen many reviews that really boil down to one basic issue; The book is fine, but it's not the book the reviewer wanted to read.

Stewart Lee's use of negative reviews is quite clever. Not only do they show that some people don't like him, but he chooses quotes that show why. They will refer to the fact that he wouldn't fit into a mainstream comedy bill, or that he deconstructs the jokes as he tells them, or that he doesn't use punchlines. Using these lines is basically a way of saying, "look, if you like a certain kind of mainstream comedian, that's fine, but I'm not that." Then if people still take the chance and don't like his show, they were forewarned. They knew what they were buying into.

Is there room for us to take this approach in crime fiction? If I write a book about a gang of hoodie criminals from Mars, but someone picks it up expecting Phillip Marlowe, then it's fair enough if they decide they don't like it. If I write a book about the three musketeers moonlighting as pimps, but someone picks it up expecting a dissertation on the modern city and the influence of poverty on it's crime, then it's a fair bet the review may be a bad one.

Would it not be wise for me to head that off in advance? If I get a few reviews where it's clear that the reviewer thought I'd done my job well, but that it wasn't the kind of book they were expecting, maybe I should use some of those quotes, so that people visiting my website in future may get the fair warning before they sink some cash into my work and invest the time it takes to read it.

That's what I'd been planning. But then, all of the recent events have me double thinking this. Dan made an important point, because in the current climate it does seem more and more that bad reviews are singled out not to say anything about the writer, or the book, but to say something about the reviewer. So, to keep this conversation rolling one more day; What do you guys think? Removing the other issues that have already been done, forgetting cranky pants authors revealing personal information and then lying about doing it, forget piracy, forget the angry mobs. Pure and simple. Do you think there's room for authors to use bad reviews in this way?

Oh, and as a prize for wading through this, a signed ARC of OLD GOLD to the first person who asks for one in the comments.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Google Alerts Make Authors Jerkfaces

By Steve Weddle

Kids, gather ‘round. I’m going to tell you how it was when your grandma and I were your age.

See, we didn’t have all of this Twitter and Facebook. We grew up in East Bumfart. We had a weekly paper called The East Bumfart Beacon-Eagle. On Sundays, I’d drive up to Fartopolis and pick up the Sunday paper. They had a couple reviews of books. You know, a cookbook, maybe. Or something they got from one of those New York papers from a week before. Anyway, that was how we found out about books. And we talked to Gladys down at the county library. You probably don’t remember her. She was Berta Mae’s great-aunt. Anyway, she’d tell us about a book we should read and then she’d order for us from that Inter-Library Loan thing they got going down there. Then she’d give us a call on the telephone the next month and tell us the book was there.

Anyhoo, we didn’t always find out about books and such. Now that brings me to what I wanted to talk about: you and these author friends of yours.

See, now you have this terrible, awful weapon called GOOGLE ALERTS. And I know damn well what you use it for. See, you and your author friends put your names in there.

Holy shit, I’m tired of this grandpa voice. Hang on.

Barumph. Barumph.

OK. That’s better.

So last week I blathered about the Terry Goodkind loyalty thing and at the end there I mentioned the Terry Goodkind piracy thing.

He had been blogging about releasing his book as an ebook and had engaged his audience about pirates. He’d said, as best I can tell, that he knows piracy exists and what should be done about it and why do pirates pirate and all. One of the big reasons was convenience. So he set about making the book available in all platforms. Seems that, in this Age of the Internet and all, engaging with readers is easier and, you know, kind of expected. So, that's what Mr. Goodkind did and good on him.

Then a dude pirated the book.

So, as the story goes, Goodkind contacts the dude and doesn’t like the response, so Goodkind then publishes the guy’s personal information.

I mentioned this on Twitter, and Mr. Goodkind tweeted back at me to say that he had most certainly not released personal information.

Really? Personal information was never posted. Geez. Sorry. Don't I feel like an asshole for suggesting that you posted the guy's personal info. I didn't know that you just said, "Hey. Someone pirated my book." I thought you had used information to personally identify him. I'm really sorr---- wait. hang on. What, ho! To the Internet, ye searchers for Truthinesses. This is from Mr. Goodkind's post on Facebook

By the way, I've blurred the particulars.

Goodkind posted the guy's name. He posted country of residence. OK. He posted the guy's date of birth. Why would you post the guy's date of birth? What could people on the Internet do with a guy's name and date of birth? Oh, and his Sony PSN usertag. And his website. And his Twitter handle.

Piracy is bad. Ebook pirates take money from authors, take food from the mouths of the author's children. Yes. We can have that discussion anytime you'd like. I'm not interested in discussion the particulars of Mr. Goodkind's response. Others have done that. He has done that. Fine. I've read as much of Mr. Goodkind's books as he's read of mine, which is to say diddly-squat. Let his fans and his h8ters hash it out.

But let's use what Mr. Goodkind did as a jumping-off point here to talk about the larger issue.

The Google Alerts system is turning authors into assholes.

You make a Google Alert with your name. Why wouldn't you? Of course you should. I do. When someone posts something on the Internet with my name (or the name of defensive back Eric Weddle), then I get an email and a link to that post.

This is quite important for authors. As you'll recall from what Grandpa said earlier, back in the olden days, you never really got news about books. Maybe in the Sunday paper, back when daily newspapers covered books.

So if you were an author in 1975 and someone in The East Bumfart Beacon-Eagle said your book was "an inane collection of seven stories, without much point or purpose" then you probably didn't hear about it. Unless your agent or editor or a cousin near East Bumfart happened to see it. Then maybe you read that. But they probably just kept that from you. Because authors tend to be big wussies when it comes to criticism. 

(Yes. I know this, because if someone says something critical about something I've written, then I cry for a while. Not right away, of course. I'll glare. Then when that singer who used to be famous comes on TV to say "help the puppies" I will cry for three hours because I'd been saving it up without knowing it. Look, I am a complicated and delicate flower. I realize this.)

But now, if someone at posts a review of your book, you know within 24 hours.
I will never understand how a book like this gets published. I have written five novels vastly better than this, and I can't find an agent. Yet here is this book, about a crime family of dragon breeders taking over San Francisco in the 1850s, and this book is now part of a trilogy? The writing is childish, the characters shallow, and the cover seems to have been scraped together by a diuretic rhinoceros. 

So, that pops up in your inbox that afternoon. Years ago, you'd have never known. Maybe that would have been in a local newspaper. Maybe it would have been on a Geocities site. 

Now you've seen it. You can't unsee the thing. So what do you do?

Many authors just laugh. Some tell their spouses. Their editors or agents.

More and more, it seems, authors post to Facebook and Twitter. They blog about it -- sometimes go great and glorious result. They spread the word around about a negative review on Amazon.

Of course, sometimes the hoped-for response seems to be, "Oh, that sucks." Sometimes, it's something else.

Look, I'm not about to say how someone should or shouldn't respond to negative comments on their work. Whatever you do is your own business.

But I will say that things seem to be getting nastier now that authors can find all the bad reviews and send their fans after the reviewer.

What was Mr. Goodkind trying to accomplish by posting the pirate's website address and Twitter handle and birthdate and PSN user ID?

What are authors hoping to accomplish when they link to a nasty review of their books? Are they trying to send their fans out on the attack? Is this wrong?

Is it OK to vote down a bad review on Amazon?

Is it different to comment on that review by posting, "Yeah. You're an idiot reader and don't deserve to read this piece of beauty"?

When does this become Inciting To Riot?

What about 200 commenters showing up at a reader's to personally attack the reviewer?

In the age of Google Alerts and constant Internet access, is it just easier to find the bad reviews and respond to them? 

Is it just easier to be an asshole?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Be Positive Today

Something great happened in the last few weeks. An honest to goodness crime thriller, GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn, hit the number 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. You may have heard. I believe it was number 1 two weeks in a row.

People were excited. Well, two or three people (the way I gauge the excitement of the publishing world) were really excited. By all accounts, GONE GIRL is a really, really good book. I can't say yet, I just started it last night. But yeah, it seemed like a big deal.

I mean, this book was one of the books that finally outsold FIFTY SHADES for a week. And, if you follow Twitter, a few publishing people were excited. But the Tweets weren't overwhelming. There wasn't a groundswell of support.

No, instead you kept seeing people bash FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Trash. Mention it, hate on it, mention it again. Now, other than an excerpt here or there, I haven't read FIFTY SHADES either. But FIFTY SHADES was the book to hate on. Something borne out of fan fiction and TWILIGHT.

Not to mention it was a monster of a seller.

But, when it was dethroned by GONE GIRL, the conversation didn't switch. There wasn't a party. There weren't high fives. There were a few "That's great."

Which once again supports my theory: It's much easier to be negative.

People don't like to be positive. People don't like to enjoy something. Odds are there'll be some pushback against GONE GIRL if it keeps selling like it does. People will start hating on that.

But, again, by all accounts, it is a well written, smart, twisty thriller. We in publishing/writing/book blogs should be happy. It was like when INCEPTION ruled the box office. A smart, original, not re-boot. People wanted to see it.

So, let's be positive today. Let's celebrate something good.

Celebrate GONE GIRL.

Forget the snark.

Use the comment section to say something good about publishing, please.

Give us good news!

Enjoy reading and writing today!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some thoughts on "New Pulp"

There's been some talk recently about this idea of New Pulp (here, here) and I just wanted to throw some thoughts out there.

There are at least two ways to approaching a definition of the term, which is probably necessary before talking about it: letter of the law and spirit of the law.

There are a group of writers who approach the first method, letter of the law, in a fairly straight forward manner. They are fans of old pulp fiction and seek to tell stories in that mold with thinly veiled characters of old. Their only nods to modernity are to eliminate specific characteristics such as cultural ignorance/racism, gender and/or racial inequality that would stand out in a modern story. One just has to look at Pulpwork Press for examples of this mode of new pulp with titles like:
Four Bullets for Dillon by Derrick Ferguson

A lost city in the Cambodian jungles run by a pint-sized tyrant wearing a gem-encrusted belt buckle; Beautiful women who lure Dillon and his rival, rock musician Sly Gantlet, into a clash of alpha males and a deadly set-up; a deceitful queen and a backstabbing friend; a quest for an evil artifact linked to the betrayer of Christ. Four Bullets for Dillon includes four hard to find and never before seen stories ripped from the life of global adventurer and instigator, Dillon.

Devil Take the Hindmost by Joel Jenkins

When Damon St. Cloud shows up in Denbrook, pockets full of weapons and carrying an anonymous note with a clue to finding the killers of his wife and child, mysterious forces begin gathering to destroy him...
Dire Planet by Joel Jenkins
Thrust into the savage Martian past, former astronaut Garvey Dire must solve the mystery of time in a world of alien monsters and brutal violence or see his own world destroyed by WAR!

The Pulptress by Andrea Judy

She appears, an enigma, a guardian angel in a mask and fedora, her past shrouded in mystery. Where did she come from? What secrets in her past drove her to become a crusader for justice? Who is The Pulptress? The Pulptress, the masked woman of mystery.
These stories strive for golden age, romantic-heroism entertainments and escapist adventure.

The second way of approaching this topic is spirit of the law. The old pulp scribes cranked out a huge volume of fiction, selling all kinds of stories to any and all markets. They were often paid by the word and writing was their main if not only source of income. In some cases they didn't care what they wrote (which is different then not putting care in to what they wrote) in service of finding a payday. Think Lester Dent's now (in)famous Master Fiction Plot.

The spirit of the law writers can in many cases claim pulp influences but instead of cranking out what could arguably be called derivative fiction they are prolifically creating their own body of work, and often across many genres. As good an example as any would be Joe Lansdale, a writer with a huge body of work, across many genres and in many forms yet you can't distill his work as "Doc Savage-esque". Another good example would be someone like Raymond Embrack who is busy e-cranking out his own distinct brand of "bad ass" crime fiction. And a thord would be Stephen Graham Jones.

Where these two styles can over lap is the in their idolization of forms of pulp fiction that came later. You see this a lot in darker forms of crime fiction like noir and hardboiled. But more on that in a bit.

These are the two loose camps of new pulp as I see them which leaves dealing in some capacity with the idea itself.

I think one could argue that James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss marked a movement away from some of the genre’s pulp roots. I also think that one could argue that in recent years, possibly as a reaction to this movement, possibly as a result of a younger generations of writers wanting to, in a sense, take part in a tradition and history that was over before they were born, and also the rise of popularity of noir and hardboiled fiction due to the internet, there has been a strong pull back towards the idea of the pulp ethos.

In a sense a longing look is being cast over the shoulders, by an increasing number of writers and readers, at days gone past. We’ve seen reprint works, anthologies, entire lines of pulp fiction; also new books that feature stressed covers that replicate the beat up nature of the original paperbacks and sexy pin-up, pulp style original cover art. I think it was this trend that George Pelecanos had in mind when he gave the Phineas Poe omnibus the following blurb “Will Baer has located the black heart of noir, rescued it from the dry-hump clutch of homage, and dragged it back to the drunk tank where it belongs.” Mystery/crime fiction, much more so then other genres, seems to be far more obsessed/enamored with its pulp fiction roots.

But this notion of modern writers spending too much time engaged with their pulp predecessors and its effect on progress isn’t a new one. The following quote is from a review written in 1976 by Richard Lupoff, which has relevance today, “And the people who write “neo-pulp” are doing that and worse. They’re not pushing at the boundaries … nor even standing beside them, but retreating at speed to the old limitations, the old ideas and the old ways.”

 Too often crime fiction feels like a period piece. Like the author is a child playing dress-up and the era is her parents’ clothes. The shoes clomp, the sleeves are too long, and the fit is just off. It’s my belief that the mystery/crime genre is going through a conservative phase. One where past settings or evocations of past times are increasingly more common. Readers are getting inundated with loads of researched facts that scream look-at-all-the-research-I-did, or throw a tantrum with oh-my-God-I-wish-I-wrote-for-Gold-Medal half-baked pulp theatrics.

I also think that a lot of writers and readers and fans of pulp fiction commit what I call the golden age fallacy, believing that pulp fiction peaked in the 20's and 30's and ending in the 50's, which muddies the waters even further when trying to untangle the idea of new pulp. A lot of these pulp practitioners were white American males. But the truth of the matter is that there were thriving pulp fiction lines at the same time and extending well into the 70's in other cultures, countries and communities. The two examples I cite the most are the Indian and Hindi Pulp fiction markets that lasted until the 90's (here and here), and Holloway House who sold millions of books at drugstores and barbershops into the 80's.

Finally the auteur theory of pulp fiction should at least be acknowledged in this discussion. The manner in which pulp fiction has come to us today is basically through the filter of auteur theory—that out of a system of mass produced fiction some great writers were able to rise above it and produce great works of art. Very early in the game Serie noire line cherry picked the best of American hardboiled pulps then again in the 80's we would see this cycle repeat itself with the Black Lizard imprint. Interestingly it isn't until recently, with the digitization of fiction and the rise of ebooks and ereaders, that we find companies who are willing to move beyond the cherry picked approach to pulp reprints and are moving in more of a mass reprint direction. I believe that pulp fiction is in a stage of critical flux right now. I don't know what that will mean going forward, just that I'm trying to make the observation now by throwing some thoughts out there. It is entirely possible that auteur theory will continue to be a strong filter when it comes to self-published and ebooks, that Raise a Holler will be the exception and The Greek Seaman will be the rule.

Is New Pulp a thing? At the very least, in the sense that a group of like minded individuals say so, yes it is. Should it be and what it is harder to answer.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hard habit to break

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m a writer.  Which means…drum roll please….I write.  No big surprise.  Right? I admit I haven’t been at this writing thing as long as some.  I wasn’t an English or journalism major in college.  I didn’t dream of a career that involved sitting behind a computer making stuff up.  Heck, even had I dreamed of it, I would never have thought anyone would pay me to do it. 

A little under 10 years ago I decided to try my hand at writing.  For whatever reason, when I started writing, I did the bulk of my work in the afternoon or in the late parts of the evening.  I freely admit that I am not a morning person.  Or, perhaps more important, while I am able to make beds, get breakfast on the table and fish clothes that match out of my closet, I find my brain doesn’t appreciate being asked to be creative in the A.M. 

As most of you probably know, I have a toddler in the house and I consider myself lucky that at 4 years of age, the tot still enjoys taking an afternoon nap.  This has allowed me to continue the writing pattern that began long ago.  Write in the afternoon (when the tot is napping) and continue writing in the evening (when the tot is asleep). 

Yippee!  Right?

Right!  Well…sort of.  Kind of…

See, while this writing pattern has been successful for me thus far, I didn’t have the amount of work e-mails to answer nor several books a year to copy edit, proof, tweak jacket copy and the myriad of other details that go along with a book’s production.  I also didn’t need to write several manuscripts in any given year.  I do now.  And though having this work is thrilling, I am finding that my current writing habits don’t allow enough time for me to get as much done as needs to be done in any given day. 

So, I’m working on changing my habits.  Every morning the tot has swim lessons.  When we started the summer, I brought a book to the pool and read for the 40 minutes the kid splashed and kicked.  In the last week, I have packed up the laptop and fired it up poolside.  I’ve also brought the laptop to the park and sat on the porch with it while the kid does the kiddie pool routine.

The results of this experiment have been mixed.  While I am more than willing to be productive, part of my brain is determined that the routine I have used for so many years is the way I write best.  That I can’t be as sharp or funny or…whatever…during different times of day in places where there are so many distractions.

But I am determined to persevere.  Which is where you come in.  Have you ever had to change a habit and found yourself doubting whether or not it will work for you?  Do you NEED to exercise at a certain time or day?  Do you only write well when you first wake up?  Am I the only one who feels this pull to keep doing what has been successful in the past?  And if you have changed a personal habit – how long did it take before it felt natural or before you stopped doubting it was a good choice?  Trust me – with 3 more manuscripts to write by summer of next year, I really need to know!