Saturday, July 28, 2012

Too Dazzling and the Anniversary Trick

Scott D. Parker

Sometimes, as a creative, you have to be a mental magician to get things done. As I continue documenting some of the struggles I've been having recently, I have two examples from this past week that illustrate this point and that rather cryptic title.

The Dazzling Dilemma

My wife is a jewelry artist. She makes beautiful, intricate, wearable works of art and has a great time doing so. As she writes on her website, she likes her art to make a connection with people. While she primarily makes jewelry for women, she does do the occasional piece for men. I wear a simple silver linked bracelet and it is often the one thing I have on hand to show folks what my wife does for a living.

For my wife, however, what piece of jewelry to wear can be a dilemma. I mean, come on: she's a jewelry artist, right? She takes great care and consideration which piece of her jewelry she wears to certain events since, you know, she wants to represent herself well. We had a day off on Tuesday where we had a meeting to attend. We were all ready to go, but my wife was trying to figure out exactly what she wanted to wear with her outfit. She tried on and discarded a half dozen pieces before settling on a nice turquoise necklace. She turned to me and said, "It's funny that I sometimes have such a hard time picking out just the right thing because I always want to dazzle people."

Her statement struck me to the core of my writing self. My writing style, such as it is, is one focused on flash. I'll admit that. While I don't necessarily go for verbal gymnastics like Michael Chabon or Jonathan Franzen, I still like the fancy, flowery writing. But when I write a basic scene or story, I have, to date, tended to consider it not good if it wasn't, well, dazzling. It was a realization I made this week and, as it applies to my writing, I decided to just tell the story and, upon *subsequent* revisions, I can add in the flowers. But I will not let the flowers get in the way of the initial output.

The Anniversary Trick

I've long said that it's taken me longer to *not* write my next book than it took me to write my first one. When I wrote that first novel, I kept all of my notes in one of those black-and-white marble-looking composition book. Not only was that comp book the store house of my novel notes, it was where I kept all of my motivational messages to myself.

Recently, I opened that comp book again to review how I started and noticed that I began that first novel on 27 July 2005. Well, thought I, why not kick off the new project on the very same day in 2012. And, since I made a notation of when I completed the first novel, I have given myself a simple goal: complete the next book in the same time or less. I'm big on symmetry and figured I'd like to measure myself against…myself.

Yes, I know these two things are mere mental tricks and the fundamentals of sit-and-write still rule the day, but, sometimes, we creative types need a little extra.

Y'all do any mental tricks to help you keep writing?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Re-post - Emotional Rescuse

 By Russel D McLean

Russel is a little behind this week, so this post originally appeared at the brilliant Detectives Beyond Borders Website to promote The Lost Sister when it launched in the US. With Father Confessor due out soon, it seemed an appropriate post as once again, Father Confessor - due out in September - is as much concerned with the emotional states of its protagonist as it is with the action (which involves people being thrown through windows and a full on police raid - just to tease you!)

Being a Scotsman, I was the perfect person for Peter Rozovsky to ask about the price of a gin and tonic at 2010’s San Francisco Bouchercon. After all, we do like to know where our money’s going and I can tell you this: those drinks were expensive.

How did I know?

I didn’t need two litres of Irn Bru* to recover after a night in the bar.

But I admire Peter for more than just his ability to sense when he’s being overcharged at a bar. His dedication to the world of crime fiction is to be truly admired, so when he asked me to guest here on DBB as part of my blog tour promotion for the US release of The Lost Sister, I jumped at the chance.

After all, he’s one of the people who got the book, in my humble estimation. In his recent critique of the novel, Peter picked up on more than a few points that I felt were absolutely vital to what I was trying to do with the novel. In particular, he picked up on the book being about emotions.

I am not – and this will be clear to anyone who’s heard me wax lyrical on the subject – a fan of what I see as “puzzle” mysteries, where the object is to solve whodunit or to merely catch the killer (you might as well be trying to catch the pigeon along with Dick Dastardly and Mutley for all that it eventually matters). While these things can indeed be part and parcel of a good crime story, I’ve always been more interested in the emotional states of the invested parties. If there’s a mystery I’d like to solve, it’s the mystery of why people react the way they do in certain situations.

The thrill of a good crime story for me is seeing the ways in which characters react to unusual and unsettling situations. The measure of a character for me is in the way they are affected either by direct involvement with or being witness to something unusual, something that breaks the status quo. Whether or not that status quo is eventually restored is less important to me than uncovering the ways in which people try to pick up their lives.

I guess that’s why I don’t write about a police officer. There is a natural degree of detachment that comes with the police officer as an authority figure that never appealed to me as a writer. A private investigator falls midway between being a civilian and having a professional interest in a case. They have a clear goal, a mission, and yet they are not so bound by rules and procedure as the copper might be.

They can walk where uniforms fear to tread.

There’s also the fact that having an investigator as your protagonist means you can come at a case sideways. A copper will always have to investigate after a crime. They are rarely in the midst of the transgression. A PI can never start with a body. They are not police and they should not be used as a rogue substitute. Their professional remit is different.

More personal.

More emotive.

More involved.

The eye allowed me to adopt an investigative stance while still looking at the way in which people are affected by crime and transgressive acts. McNee’s own emotions are as much of a puzzle to him as those of others. His own motivations require as much interrogation as those who fall under his professional gaze.

I’ve said it many times before that crime fiction is the perfect genre. That it allows authors to not only tell a story that moves, that twists, that surprises and thrills, but also to lay deeper groundwork. The nature of crime is naturally emotive and through characters and their attitudes, crime can explore issues of personal morality, of value, of empathy and so much more. In short, if we want to, we can beat the literary boys at their own game (and we often do).

So yes, The Lost Sister is a novel about a man searching for a missing girl. It is a novel about some very dangerous people. There are scenes of violence. There are plot twists and misdirections.

And at the same time, as Peter said, The Lost Sister is a novel about emotions. About loss. About the search for a kind of redemption and whether such a thing is even possible.

You can read it as one or the other. Or both. I just hope you enjoy it. 

*Irn Bru is Scotland’s best hangover cure. Unofficially. Officially it’s a delicious fizzy beverage. The hangover cure’s just a side effect.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

As You Are

By Jay Stringer

So I have a book out this week. But you already know that. You already bought it. Right? RIIIGHT? Good, we're cool.

When my wife is in music journalist mode, she'll often ask me if I want to listen to whatever new act or album she's writing about. Sometimes I'll say yes, sometimes I'll shrug and pick my nose, sometimes I'll threaten to burn down the flat if she ever brings that band near me again. An act that I'll always say yes to hearing is Dave Hughes & The Renegade Folk Punk Band, and they have a new single coming out so you can all say yes to them too.

When I blurbed for someones ebook recently I paid them the best and simplest compliment I could think of, which was that he wrote the stories I wanted to read. For Dave Hughes & The RFPB, I could say they play the kind of music I want to hear.

Hughes writes and sings about real people and real things, and the Renegade Folk Punk Band fill out the sound with just enough of a raw edge to keep you guessing about where the song goes next. Steve Van Zandt once said of the E Street Band, "you can take the band out of the bar, but you can't take the bar out of the band," and whether you're listening to the RFPB on CD or watching them play a stage, you always get the same fun and free experience; they're always stood next you with their instruments wanting you to have a good time. There's always that feeling, like The Replacements just before Bobby Stinson did a guitar solo, or the Pogues just before Shane took another sip, of something about to cut loose and run.

Their new single, As You Are, is the most assured and professional recoding I've heard from them to date, but hasn't lost any of the raw fun that makes them tick. It features piano from another of our best acts, Chris T-T, and will be available from Itunes, Spotify and Bandcamp on 13/08/12. Keep an eye on Dave's website or follow him on twitter for more news on the album, In Death Do We Part?, which is going to get a lot of people excited.

Dave Hughes On Tour;
28/07 Newcastle, The Telegraph Bar
29/07 Manchester, The Bay Horse
30/07 York, Stereo
02/08 Blackpool, Rebellion Festival

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sandra Seamans: The Interview

By Steve Weddle

If you know anything about short stories and crime fiction, then you already know Sandra Seamans. Her blog, My Little Corner, is a must-read -- as are her stories.

COLD RIFTS, her collection from Snubnose, is on many digital TBR piles right. Here stories can be found all over the web. Here. And here. And here
Image updated: 30May2019

I've worked with Sandra on a couple of projects -- the very first Needle mag and the DISCOUNT NOIR collection Patti Abbott and I edited.

Sandra was nice enough to answer some of my questions about writing style and short stories and much more.

Steve: Your “My Little Corner” blog claims to be a place for your “scattered thoughts.” In fact, your site provides a great deal of real news about what’s going on in the fiction community. From new publishers to contest and anthology calls, your site is one of the most useful sites for short story writers. How did you get to this point?

Sandra: Pretty much by accident. I started the blog without any idea of what to do with one and no expectation that anyone would actually read it. Once I figured out how to post links I started linking to online zines to make it easier for me to find markets when I had a story to sell and also to find stories to read. When I decided to clean out my email files, I discovered a whole slew of zine links and market listings which I added to the blog. It seemed a shame to stop there, so I just kept adding new links as I found them.

I always appreciated when other writers shared markets with me, so the blog was a way for me to pass that kindness forward. It's also been a joy for me to watch other writers get published in those new markets. It's such a big world out there on the 'net that having links in one place makes it easier for writers to find the type of market they're looking for.
Along the way I realized that by focusing only on mystery markets, crime writers were missing out on other outlets for their work. That mystery/crime stories fit in all genres, especially in many of the horror markets. So I began adding anthology calls, contest, and writing advice links for all the genres. It's been a lot of fun for me and hopefully useful to other writers.

Steve: Benjamin Whitmer, another of my favorite writers, has called your COLD RIFTS “a fierce, sorrowful” book of stories. How did you choose these stories for this collection?

Sandra: With a great deal of hair pulling. I knew they all needed to be dark stories because that's what Snubnose Press publishes. Since most of my work has been published online I felt the need to make the bulk of the collection new stories. I had six new stories and a half-written novella (which turned into a novelette) in my files that fit the bill. Besides finishing the novelette, I also wrote two more new stories and lengthened a pair of published flash stories. The rest was just a matter of deciding which published pieces would compliment the new work.

Putting them into some kind of order was the tricky part. I spent hours writing down lists of stories, their themes, lengths, male or female protags. I finally wound up loosely putting them together in groups of four - two dark stories, one paranormal and one humorous. What I hoped for in this arrangement was to break up the intensity of the darkest crime stories so that readers didn't feel like they were being pummeled to death with disaster. One other thing I did was mix in a good dose of male protags so the male readers won't be overwhelmed with a feminine point of view. I didn't want the collection to appeal strictly to women, I wanted something for everyone to enjoy

Steve: At a recent Mystery Writers of America meeting, Snubnose Publisher Brian Lindenmuth talked about your book in addition to some of the others that indie press is publishing. How helpful has it been to be in a community of like-minded readers and writers?

Sandra: It's like having your own private cheerleaders. They're always there with an encouraging word and a helping hand when you need it.

Steve: You’ve had stories published nearly everywhere, at places that continue and places that have moved on – Shred of Evidence, Pulp Pusher, Scalped ezine. How has the market for short story writers changed over the past few years?

Sandra: The biggest change has come in the last year or so with e-publishing. More and more small presses are putting together anthologies and writers are getting a percentage of the profits. The amounts aren't huge but it beats constantly giving it away for free or having it sit in a drawer collecting dust.

I also love that print magazines are making a comeback. We've got Needle, Pulp Modern, and Grift which are publishing some great stories. And it's not just the mystery genre, there's new horror and sci-fi/fantasy print zines showing up.

The online zines are always in flux and I suspect always will be. What I have noticed is that some of them are starting to put together "best of" anthologies and e-pubbing them which puts the stories in front of a larger audience. Others, like The Big Click, Noir Nation, Spinetingler and ThugLit, are putting out new issues in this manner, which helps pay their bills and put a little jingle in the writer's pockets.

Steve: GRIMM TALES, an Untreed Reads publication, is a collection of stories in which top authors retell a Grimm tale in modern terms. How did your story come about?

Sandra: The minute John Kenyon put up the challenge to rewrite a fairytale into a crime story, I was in. Yeah, I’m a fairytale freak. I also knew I wanted to do something different. There are only so many variations of the usual suspects that you can write. I found a website that had many of the Grimm's published. Reading down through the list of titles "The Blue Light" caught my eye. It was the story of a Soldier who'd fought for the King and when he was wounded and not as useful, the King sent him away. Through a meeting with a witch he finds a way to get his revenge on the King - perfect setup for a crime story. I used the basics of the fairytale but turned the soldier into a cleanup man for a mob boss, gave him some rules he lived by and off we went. It was a fun story to write.

Steve: You’ve been writing stories for years, of course. Have your habits of writing changed? Are you quicker? More deliberate? Has it gotten easier?

Sandra: In some ways it’s easier. The blank page doesn’t scare me as much as it used to. I’ve also discovered that every idea that pops into my brain won't always make a good story, but the time spent writing and going nowhere isn’t wasted. Bits and pieces of those “useless” stories generally find there way into other stories that do work.

I’ve also learned to take my time, to think more about the character’s motives instead of just charging ahead into the action. The hardest part for me is setting the story aside for a week or two then going back. Setting the story aside allows my brain the freedom to mull over what I’ve written and consider other options or new scenes that would open the story up more or help explain better what’s going on. When I finally reopen the file, I usually have several pages full of notes and new scenes sketched out.

Each new story, at least for me, is a learning process. I’m learning to take my time instead of just banging away, then having to cut out half of what I’ve written. The hardest part is learning to trust my instincts. Inside, you know what is or isn’t working. You just have to trust that inner voice. Trust that it knows you're doing what’s right for the story when you hit the delete key.

Steve: In the Age Of The Laptop, the “room of one’s own” idea seems to be fading away. People write in coffee shops, of all places.. Do you have a favorite place to write or are you one of those people who scrawls down a complete story anywhere?

Sandra: I have a small office in the house where I work on my computer. I don’t have a laptop that moves from room to room but you’ll find notepads (junk mail envelopes make great note paper, too) and pens in just about every room where I’ve scrawled down ideas for new stories, bits of dialogue for the current wip, or random scenes that I think will take an old story into a new direction.

Living in the country, there’s no nearby coffee shops, so it’s just me at home with my Mr. Coffee to keep me company.

Steve: What short story writers should people be reading now?

Sandra: There's so many of them, it's difficult to choose, and everyone's taste in stories is so different. Some of the writers I've enjoyed lately are Charles Dodd White, Seamus Scanlon, and Misty Skaggs. These writers tend toward the more literary side of my short story reading. For the crime/mystery group I'd say Art Taylor, Thomas Pluck, Jane Hammons, Libby Cudmore and Jen Conley. And of course, there are a hundred others out there that everyone should be reading, just click on any online zine and you’ll find them.

Steve: What are you working on now?

Sandra: I'm always working on the next story. Recently, I was invited to submit a story to a charity anthology with an end of the world theme. I was stumped until I came across an old micro-flash that I’d written and believe, that with a bit of research, it will work into a good short story. One of the joys of flash fiction is that there’s always more story to tell.

I also have several “finished” stories simmering in their file folders that need to be opened. They just need a few more scenes added and a bit of polishing before they get kicked out the door. And then there's the Western that I’m working on. I know pretty much how it’s going to unfold, it’s just a matter of getting it from my head to the page.

Check out My Little Corner to keep up-to-date on all the crime fiction happenings.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Character.... It's all about Character, except in film..

Like just about everyone else (EXCEPT YOU), I saw THE DARK KNIGHT RISES this weekend. I really liked the film and for the most part felt it was a quality movie and a well-done end to a superb trilogy.

But, it wasn't without its flaws.

Most of its flaws came at the cost of character. The movie--hell, the series--takes its time setting up aspects of Batman and his surrounding characters and then in the last ten minutes of the movie ignores them. It was enough to set off alarm bells in my brain, and knocks the movie from AWESOME HOLY CRAP SPECTACULAR down to well, I really enjoyed that.

But the problem is even bigger than the Batman series, it's a film problem.

It strikes me that film is more about the moment. Whenever people talk about movies they always talk about "that scene." "REMEMBER THAT PART WHERE?" Ignoring the fact that that part is only so cool because it ignores everything that came before it for the sake of the scene. Character motivation doesn't matter. Reality doesn't matter.

All that matters is the shot, the scene.

Head of a horse in movie producer's bed? Nevermind that Tom Hagen had to sneak back into the estate, chop off the head of a horse without anyone noticing, then sneak back into the mansion... WITH A BLOODY HORSE'S HEAD.. and put it in the bed without the movie producer waking up.

But come on, everyone remembers that point and points to it as cool.

And we're used to it. The scene outweighs the character. It's so cool, that you can get into years long arguments because there are a clues in a scene that make no sense in to the character or even the plot.

Take, for example, the end of THE SOPRANOS.

There are a lot of people who think Tony dies at the very end. That when the screen goes blank, it's because Tony does. They point to a painting on the back wall of Holsten's (which is 3 minutes from my house... great ice cream... painting isn't really there though). They point to the communion style way the Soprano family eats their onion rings. They point to Members Only jacket. Tony dies, they say. There's no other answer.



No other answer?

Did you listen to the entire episode before that? Did you pay any attention to the fact that Tony and crew take place of all family business? That everyone is either dead or struck a deal with Tony to end the mob war? That no one is left to kill Tony? That hired killers do things for money, not revenge...? That the Russian didn't know Tony existed? That the two hired guns from season 1 were taken care of? That we didn't even know Frank Vincent had a brother, so how could Members Only be Frank Vincent's brother out for revenge? If you look at the end of 90% of all the other episodes, the theme of the series, and what the characters, believe... LIFE GOES ON?

But that doesn't make the scene cool.

So he has to die. That's a cool scene.

Movies... TV (which is changing as it's becoming more of a writer driven medium) have to become about more that a shot, an angle, or a scene. Reviewers need to focus on the whole picture. Directors need to sacrifice their wonderful shot if it doesn't fit who the characters are.

Focus on story.

Focus on character.

It will be better off.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Origin stories and reboots

After last weeks dense post I'm going to be shorter this week.

Earlier in the year I saw The Avengers at the theater with the boy and this past week we saw The Amazing Spider Man. Like a lot of other people this weekend Sandra and I went and saw The Dark Knight Rises. In spite of some nits to pick (Bane's mask did Hardy no favors, the fight choreography seemed sloppy, Bane beating Batman down should/could have been more definitive [Hardy can pull it off just look at Bronson and Warrior], and it felt like Nolan was always choosing to be up close and didn't want to pull the camera back), which I always have, I enjoyed the film and look forward to seeing it again with the boy and the reluctant daughter.

The first thing that I'd like to say is that I like the idea of reboots and have said as much before.  I think that new teams of filmmakers, at different times, should have the opportunity to put their fingerprint on a character, series or franchise.  Which means I'd love to see Idris Elba as James Bond, or Rob Zombie make a film set in the Star Wars universe (EU movies should be a thing) or Quentin Tarantino direct a Bond film.  All of which is to say that as much as I love the Nolan trilogy of Batman films I look forward to seeing what someone else can/will do with it.  What the next group does with their Batman movie will not diminish Nolan's accomplishment.  Especially with such a wealth of material to work from.

Side note #1: Please, please, please for a Nightwing movie set in Nolan's Gotham.

Side note #2
: Gotham Central would be a kick ass TV show.

The second thing that I've been thinking about is origin stories and if we still need them. And if we do need  them can they be told in a narrative shorthand.  As much as I liked the new Spider Man movie I'm not convinced that I needed to see the origin story again since I saw it only 10 years ago.

Some might say that origin stories are necessary for those who aren't familiar with the character.  I say that some of these characters origin stories are pretty well known.

Any movie where the origin story needs to be told is essentially two stories and two halves.  The first story is the origin and unfolds over the first hour or so, with the foundation of the second story being laid.  Then, in the second half, the story proper unfolds.  A common complain with these movies is that the ending feels  rushed. What if you could have more of that origin story time devoted to the story proper?

One of the successes of The Avengers  is that the origin stories were already told for the characters so we got to spend a lot of time watching The Avengers be The Avengers.  It's also one of the strengths of the Nolan Batman movies, we don't have to see Batman's origin in subsequent movies (and Nolan pokes fun at origin stories with Joker changing his around with each telling).

Tell me what you think.

Reboots, yay or nay?

Origin stories, yay or nay?

Thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises or my nits (or what were yours)?

Currently reading: The Spider's Cage by Jim Nisbet.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When fiction becomes reality

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I’m sad.  My heart aches as I’m certain yours does.  Here at Do Some Damage we are fans of fictional crime.  Fans of heroes and villains.  We write stories that often have violence at the core.  But when fiction becomes reality, it is time to step back, pause and reflect.

As I’m sure you are away, this weekend was the opening of the new Batman movie.  I’m a huge comic book movie fan and while I doubt my crowded personal life will allow me time to see it in the theaters, I still anticipated the release of the movie.  I smiled as I watch Twitter and Facebooks posts leading up to the big day.  I was curious if opinions I respected would believe the movie to be as strong as its predecessors and watched for the commentary.

Instead, I found tragedy.

A man wearing a gas mask threw tear gas into a packed theater then opened fire.  12 dead.  11 critically wounded.  Dozens physically injured.  The shooter has been apprehended, although I doubt anyone will ever understand why he made the choice to kill.  The police that went to his home found trip wires and explosive devices.  Handmade grenades.  Accelerants designed to kill whoever entered and potentially destroy the entire building and its residents.  This sounds like the plot to a book or a movie.

But it’s all too terribly real.

This is not a book where I root for the bad guy to be brought low.  It isn’t a movie where the audience cheers when the hero triumphs. 

Instead, there is only sadness, confusion and heartbreak.

I don’t know if the people that survived the shooting will ever recover from the terror they must have felt.  No matter how many psychiatrists weigh in, we will never know the reasons for this unthinkable act that stole the lives of so many.  All we can do is pray for the families of those who were lost, show our support to those that survived and in the sadness cling to the hope that this senseless taking of lives will never happen again.

To the people of Aurora, Colorado—my thoughts and prayers are with you all.  My you find peace in the days and months ahead.