Friday, August 31, 2012

Buy, Buy, Baby

By Russel D McLean

The big story this week has been about reviews and of course the fact that many people are paying for them. The idea has been treated with outrage by many authors, and some readers, but most people seem to be having an attitude of “so what? Doesn’t this happen all the time?”

And yes it seems that way. Advertising is nothing new. Neither is lying in the name of advertising. Do you really believe that Lenny Henry would actively choose to stay in a Premier Inn? The point isn’t whether he does or not, the point is that in the advertisement universe he would. Real adverts, proper adverts are clearly signposted as such. They carry disclaimers or they occur within a special advertising slot so that you know they are not “real” or an actual part of the program you are watching.

Product placement is a little thornier. Who can forget the crassness of I, ROBOT and its placement of Nike Shoes as sought after antiques in the future (worn, of course, by Will Smith’s Cooler-Than-Thou protagoist). But all the same these placements are clearly adverts and no one in their right mind would believe they were being told the truth about Will Smith being cooler than them because of his choice of footwear. After all it takes place in the realm of fiction, and as such is an accepted part of the illusion.

So why is everyone so up in arms about authors using “sockpuppet” accounts or buying up amounts of Amazon reviews that are generally positive in nature?

Because unlike advertising or fictional product placements, it is ultimately immoral and of course a cheat on the reader. Because these reviews purport to be from other readers and do not give any sign that they are paid for or designed to be biased. Even in local newspapers, when you see certain pieces about local business they are clearly labelled “advertising features”.

The cheat comes from the fact that readers then no longer know who to trust. Part of this is because they buy into the myth of the majority rule that has somehow slipped into our society. Reviewers - professional paid reviewers - may not always be right, but at least they offer up a sense of where they are coming from and where their preferences and biases lie. Take, for example, the Flick Filosopher, Mary Ann Johansen. I love her site. There are moments where she gets it plain wrong (her take on the Star Wars prequels or her all out all forgiving love for New Who at its worst) but generally I know where I stand with her opinion and get a sense of where we’ll agree or differ. And I know that she’s not going to change her opinion because a film company tells her to.

My girlfriend/partner/insert your preferred tag here reviews professionally for newspapers. I do not always agree with her reviews, but she is alway honest, considered and thoughtful. She would not give a good review because someone paid her, and while it will probably never come up because I think she’d turn down the gig for ethical reasons, she would even give me a poor review if she thought I deserved it. Which is as it should be.

In this world, our success or failure depends on units shifted as opposed to plaudits gained. It doesn’t matter whether people enjoy our work, it only matters how many of them buy it. Is this right? I don’t think so, not in the world of literature and entertainment, which is and should be a hugely personal thing. Cult books are cult for a reason: they appeal very strongly to a minority of individuals and tehre is nothing wrong with this. People’s opinions will always differ, so how can we write reviews and be free of accusations of bias?

For a start, reviews should not be bought. Yes, its only fair that publishers or authors try and build hype among reviewers and readers, but to deliberately and wholeheartedly mislead them is a no-no and should always be. If one has to pay for a good review, there is a chance that while one many shift a lot of copies, one may piss off a lot of readers. And its the long tail that matters, not the quick buck. Readers trust other readers. But if they cannot tell whether those other readers are genuine, then that trust evaporates. And as with critics, one tends to judge other readers opinions in line with one’s own, so it becomes disheartening to discover that you have found a fake, a shill, a deliberately worded puff piece that bears little or no relation to the product it persuaded you to buy.

Can one argue then that traditional reviews do this, too? Perhaps in a sense that not everyone agrees with the critics, but then at least you can trust where they are coming from even if you don’t agree. And anyway the job of a critic is not simply to deliver a thumbs up or thumbs down verdict, but to try and place a piece of fiction in a wider context, to talk about its aims and whether it succeeds. Sounds worthy? Maybe it is, but then our world is becoming more and more anti-intellectual, seeking to diminish talk and debate to simple black and white, yes and no answers. And this, I would argue, is wrong. Because we need to start re-engaging our brains, having proper debates without the aniomosity and self-defence that colours people’s opinions. By re-engaging with reviews and working to understand them rather than looking for the quick and easy answers, we can bring back a critical world that matters, that abhors and despises puff-pieces, that makes artists and authors work harder to win readers with their writing than with their paid-for reviews.

I want to work harder. I want to create something that engages, that provides more than escapism from the world. But as long as puff-pieces, paid for reviews and anti-debate sentiment exists, I’m not sure I or any other author will be able to.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Guest blog post: Time Passages

Guest post by Jim Winter

I hit on this a little bit on my own blog, but I think here is a good
place to expand upon it. Should a series character live on a calendar
or a floating timeline? There are pros and cons to either.

Philip Marlowe lives on a floating timeline. So does James Bond, Mike
Hammer, and, most notably, Spenser. I remember reading The Godwulf
Manuscript years ago. Parker firmly fixed him on the calendar. He was
37 and a Korean War vet. Now? He’s too old for Vietnam, probably just
right for the Gulf War and just young enough for the early days of
Afghanistan. That’s a loooong slide.

Granted, Robert Parker probably never imagined his character would
last as long as he has. Spenser has outlived him. But what does that
do to his credibility?

On the other hand, Sue Grafton fixed Kinsey Milhonne firmly on the
calendar and vowed never to write her past the 1990’s. When a letter
of the alphabet yields a book that takes place a few months after the
previous one, the story’s actual date is that many months after the
date of the last. Kinsey isn’t 27 in 1984, and six months later,
turning 28 in 1992.

Two writers who thrive on the calendar are Reed Farrel Coleman and
George Pelecanos. The times and, in GP’s case, the pop culture are
huge components of their storytelling. Reed Coleman’s Moe Prager is
very much a product of New York’s history over the past forty years.
Tell me his later stories would have been the same without 9/11 or his
early work relevant if it weren’t for New York City culture in the
late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  As for George Pelecanos, yes, even he
admits it’s an excuse to go back through his music collection, but
damn, doesn’t he nail the times he writes in? Some writers say their
city is a character as much as their protags and antagonists. In the
case of Coleman and Pelecanos, the times when their work takes place
is even more a character.

I’ve struggled with this as I’ve brought back Nick Kepler. When I
wrote the three novels that are either released or gathering
cyberdust, 2002-2004 was, essentially, the present, or at least the
recent past. Now?

I’m working on a story that takes place about four months after
Northcoast Shakedown. That makes it late 2002. I have to back project:
AOL instead of Facebook, cell phones did little more than make calls
and txt. Not many people had an iPod yet.

So what about it? Do series characters need to float in time? Or
should they stay on the calendar?

Jim Winter is the author of Second Hand Goods. He is currently working
on something so secret, he'd have to kill the head of the NSA if he
told you about it. Find him loitering at

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Sean Chercover talks about THE TRINITY GAME

By Steve Weddle

Of the 83 books I've read this past year, two thrillers stuck out as top-shelf books. One is Owen Laukkanen's THE PROFESSIONALS. The other is THE TRINITY GAME, by Sean Chercover.

Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s secretive Office of the Devil’s Advocate—the department that scrutinizes miracle claims. Over ten years and 721 cases, not one miracle he tested has proved true. But case #722 is different; Daniel’s estranged uncle, a crooked TV evangelist, has started speaking in tongues—and accurately predicting the future. Daniel knows Reverend Tim Trinity is a con man. Could Trinity also be something more?

The evangelist himself is baffled by his newfound power—and the violent reaction it provokes. After years of scams, he suddenly has the ability to predict everything from natural disasters to sports scores. Now the mob wants him dead for ruining their gambling business, and the Vatican wants him debunked as a false messiah. On the run from assassins, Trinity flees with Daniel’s help through the back roads of the Bible Belt to New Orleans, where Trinity plans to deliver a final prophecy so shattering his enemies will do anything to keep him silent.

Using the email machine at DSD, I did some Q&A with Mr. Chercover.

Steve Weddle: Daniel Byrne. The Office of the Devil’s Advocate. Tim Trinity. What part of this story did you start with and how did it develop?

Sean Chercover: It all started with Tim Trinity. It was the first time that a character popped into my brain fully formed. I didn't need to write character sketches or list attributes or do pretend interviews with the guy, he just came into my head as a complete person, and in that instant I knew everything about him - his hopes, fears, beliefs (or lack thereof) ... I knew he was a con artist, a TV evangelist, a prosperity preacher who came up on the tent revival circuit and was now a millionaire, I knew that speaking in tongues had always been part of his routine, but that the tongues were suddenly beyond his control, happening to him. And I knew that if you decoded the tongues, he was predicting the future with frightening accuracy.  Within seconds, I knew that his predictions of professional sporting events would cause the mob to want him dead, and that the Vatican's Office of the Devil's Advocate would send an investigator to debunk Trinity before the world could learn of his gift, and that there would be a personal backstory between the Trinity and the investigator. The rest developed over time.

SW: As readers, we’re a little ways into the book before the Las Vegas contingent makes an appearance. Of course, their involvement makes perfect sense, but I wondered whether you knew all along you wanted to involved them or whether it was something that came to you as you worked out the story.

Sean Chercover: I knew all along, but it was important to do a little world-building around the Vatican and Daniel Byrne and the larger shadowy groups who operate behind the scenes (the Foundation and the Council) and who are important to books #2 and 3, before I brought in the Vegas mob guys.  It's a complicated story with a lot of players in it, and I felt it necessary to hold the Vegas guys back until I set the other plates spinning.

SW: This thriller is quite a departure from the Ray Dudgeon/Chicago books, in terms of character, narrative, and scope. When you’re mostly known for the Dudgeon books, folks tend to see this novel as the aberration. Yet, you’ve written so many other stories. Considering the marketing and promotion aspect of things, how different is it to have this thriller out there? Are you replacing your trip to Bouchercon with a trip to ThrillerFest? Is it really that much different after all? 

Sean Chercover: I've never been particularly interested in parsing subgenres. I just love fiction. Good fiction. Mystery, thriller, espionage, sci-fi, dystopic zombie romance, whatever. If it's good, I love it. If it sucks, I don't. So yes, the Ray Dudgeon books are hardboiled PI mysteries (although technically you might argue that they have a thriller structure, since in BCBB you know the identity of the bad guys from the get-go and in TC fairly early, and the focus is more on what happens next than on what happened before) and THE TRINITY GAME is clearly a Thriller. A religious/conspiracy/espionage thriller with a dash of maybe-paranormal? I dunno. I'm just grateful that people seem to think it's a good book.

As for Bouchercon and Thrillerfest, I say; BOTH!

SW: Following on that theme, you have two mystery novels, this thriller, and many more stories out there. In your most fleeting-est writer moments, what’s the oddest story you’ve given even the slightest thought to writing? Dragons? Demons? A historical piece set in the eleventh-century?

Sean Chercover: Oh, the inside my head is not a safe place, and I'm reluctant to reveal the things I consider in my "most fleeting-est writer moments."  As for what I might actually inflict upon the world ... writing THE TRINITY GAME has been very liberating. It's not the least-strange story in the world, but I think I pulled it off, and I may continue to stretch out into the strange, when the urge strikes.

SW: THE TRINITY GAME seems a “Fully Realized” book, in terms of its world and characters. What sort of prequels or sequels or side stories have you considered?

Sean Chercover: First, thank you - that's very gratifying to hear.  I'm almost done the first sequel, THE DEVIL'S GAME, which will be out (I think) next summer. And there will be at least one more after that, which I've got character arcs for, but haven't worked out in detail. I've also got a few story threads that probably won't play out as novels, but exist in the same universe as TTG, and those may become short stories or novellas.

SW: In a recent interview, Sonya Chung asked this of James Salter, and I’d like to steal the question –How and when did you begin to recognize what kind of writer you are/aren’t?

Sean Chercover: I don't really think about what kind of writer I am or am not. I'd like to be the kind of writer who doesn't suck. But my focus is on the work, not on self-definition.

SW: Some writers, if they’re writing about a contemporary American novel, find they can’t read anything close to that while they’re in the project. They can only read fourteenth-century historical set in Mongolia. Or they only read reference books while they’re in a project. Do you find yourself limited in your reading while you’re writing?

Sean Chercover: Not anymore. While writing my first novel, I didn't read any PI fiction, or anything written in the first-person, or anything that was remotely hardboiled in tone. When I started writing my second, I narrowed the restriction to simply not reading anything written in the first-person.  But about halfway through the second book, I felt that my writing voice was sufficiently locked-in, and I dropped that restriction as well. Now I just read whatever the hell I want.

SW: Who is a writer most readers don’t know about, but should?

Sean Chercover: Russel D. McLean is a terrific writer, but not as widely known outside of Scotland as he should be. Check him out.

SW: You have a reputation of being an author who straddles the American/Canadian border. How has this impacted your writing, this Toronto-Chicago (and others) type of connection?

Sean Chercover: The impact was huge, not just on my writing but on who I am, how I see the world.  I'm a dual citizen, born to an American mother and Canadian father. Growing up, I spent the school year in Toronto and summers in small-town Georgia. Quite a culture shock. Also, my father was Jewish and my mother's background is Irish. To Jews, I was not a Jew because my mother wasn't, and to Gentiles, I wasn't a true Gentile because my dad was Jewish. In the eyes of both groups, I was Other. And I also got this, to a lesser degree, with the whole American/Canadian thing. It gave me an intense dislike for tribalism of all kinds, and it also made it more difficult for me to classify any individual as Other. And it gave me the feeling of being a bit of an outsider, no matter where I was. Which I think is valuable to a writer.

SW: You have an opportunity to travel back in time for an evening. I know you’d pick a Bob Dylan concert. Which one? Rolling Thunder? Something from a New York coffee shop in the early 60s? Royal Albert Hall?

Sean Chercover: I'd be tempted not to waste the opportunity on a concert when I could do something of real importance, like strangle Hitler in his sleep or roll Jimi Hendrix onto his stomach. But then, I can't predict what unintended consequences might result from my meddling ways ... maybe it would be better to just take in a show. If Dylan, I'd take Rolling Thunder. But I've seen Dylan a number of times (and likely will again) so I'd probably go to a concert by someone who died before I got to a concert.  Bob Marley. Or The Clash.

SW: THE TRINITY GAME has been out almost a month. How has it been received so far?

Sean Chercover: The reception has been incredible. We hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list in the first week of release, which was as thrilling as it was unexpected. But the biggest surprise has been the emails I've gotten from clergy - a Baptist pastor and two Anglican priests, all of them praising the "good theology" in the book and the way it addresses the struggle with faith. The fact that the book has gotten a thumbs-up from both hardcore atheists and men of the cloth tells me that I succeeded in my aim to approach religion honestly, from both sides. Of course, I've also gotten more than a few crazy emails condemning me to the fires of eternal hell, but I guess that's to be expected.

Get your copy here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Write Noir in 4 Simple Steps

Step One
In solitude, organize your writing area. If you don't write on computer, lay out two pens, just in case. A pad of lined paper is helpful.

Step Two
Set fire to the area. Let the room get good and scorched before you douse it. Smoldering embers in a few places are okay—there's nothing like the threat of combustion and smell of smoke to inspire a noirist.

Step Three
Sift through the ashes of your possessions and grab whatever material is still left to write on. If the computer and pens are destroyed, open a vein and write with your own blood on the sooty wall—blood and grime contribute mightily to noir. Anything you write at this stage will be brilliant because it contains the four five essential elements of the genre: loss, pain, desperation and truth about human nature. Let's not forget a glimpse of mortality.

Step Four
If—unlike lions of the genre such as James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson—you are unable to reduce your life to ashes for the sake of art, all is not lost. But you must find a way to reach this state mentally before picking up a writing instrument. Bring devastation and lost hope front-of-mind and feel them so sharply that they drive away everything but truth. Particularly destructive to the noir oeuvre are shreds of level-headedness, dignity and esteem. Reckless abandon is a bonus.

Follow these 4 simple steps and any writer, no matter how new to the genre, is assured of creating memorable noir. Go do it. May your words burn bright.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Yesterday a whole bunch of folks on the social medias were talking about this NYT article about paying for reviews.

There was a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over this expose.

I wanted to try and find a way to remove this question from the realm of ethics and morality and place it more firmly in the realm of reality.  I asked the following question:

Devils advocate question for Snubnose Press authors (Keith Rawson, Eric Beetner, Nik Korpon, Les Edgerton, Patti Nase Abbott, R Thomas Brown, Noir Bar, Joe Clifford, Andrew Nette, and the others): If I (this is Brian) paid money for reviews and as a result your books were selling hundreds of thousands of copies would you care, and what would you do?

Non Snubnose authors please chime in too.

(I'm genuinely curious and not trying to be provocative.)

[Note: this is a direct quote. The authors that are named weren't singled out they were tagged.]

The conversation that followed was very interesting.  The immediate responses were how wrong the idea was.  Then a couple of hours later more authors really got into the meat of the question and it became more evident that the tone of the answers were changing.

At least one of the authors (and I've seen this sentiment expressed elsewhere) hoped this would finally encourage Amazon to change its algorithms.  You see what happens is that once a certain threshold is crossed and a book receives a certain amount of reviews then Amazon automatically increases its visibility which then causes more sales.

It's well established that for a few months there you could make your book free for five days on Amazon, build up free downloads, have your book rise in the rankings, and see a strong level of sales after the original price had been reinstated.  The success of the free period would have a greater impact on sales. 

Then something happened.  Amazon changed its algorithms and the gravy train was gone.  This was widely talked about in author circles. 

So the authors who once benefited from Amazon's algorithms now want them changed.

No no no Brian. Not the good algorithms. Just the bad one's. 

This reminds me of when Jonathan Franzen came out against e-books. The obvious question then became are his titles available as e-books and if so what does he do with his royalties?  They are of course available but Mr. Franzen didn't come out and say that he was so against e-books that he was donating all of his e-book royalties to charity (or whatever).  In other words he was posturing. 

But the system is filled with various types of gaming isn't it?

The end reader probably thinks that a book store is set up like a meritocracy and that the best books make it to the table tops and end caps.  They don't know anything about co-op dollars and how publisher pay money to put those books there in high traffic places that readers will see. 

Paying somebody to place a book before the public. 

Wait that reminds me of something.  Substitute the word "song" for "book" and you are describing payola.  Even though payola laws eventually made their way in to law something interesting happened, a music company can still engage in payola practices as long as they disclose it

Where do you think Dick Clark made his money? That's right, payola. I didn't see that in any of the obits. Entire fortunes and businesses have been built on dirty money and the years just make it all clean. How many people below a certain age know that the Kennedy fortune is based on bootlegging money?

Now, instead of payola, or co-op, dollars passing from one individual to another they pass from one corporation to another and they call it standard business practice. It's been formalized.  

The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checkin' into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it's all gone. You get a whale show up with four million in a suitcase, and some twenty-five-year-old hotel school kid is gonna want his Social Security Number. After the Teamsters got knocked out of the box, the corporations tore down practically every one of the old casinos. And where did the money come from to rebuild the pyramids? Junk bonds. -- Ace Rothstein

No business is entirely clean. As Andrew Nette said in the Facebook thread, it's all a matter of degrees. 

At no point does an author turn down a deal because their agent knows the editor. Does the end reader realize that all of a books blurbs were written by authors who share an agent or a publisher? 

I think that this debate is more nuanced then it appears at first blush. It's also a debate that I truly find fascinating.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Do you think it’s difficult to take a vacation?

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I don’t know about you, but taking a vacation sounds like a great idea.  Time to read.  Time to relax.  Time to do all the things there just isn’t time to do while work is getting done.

And yet, I would argue that while people take vacations, it’s harder that it used to be to get away from all the things you need a break from.  While you might take time off from going into the office, the office is only a computer log-in away.  Or a phone call.  Or a text.  People know you have your cell phone handy so it doesn’t matter if you are at the beach or strolling along Downtown Disney.  The age of technology means that no one is ever able to leave the office at the office.

For us work at home types, I would argue that vacations are even harder to take.  Even on the days where I vow to take off there are e-mails from my agent or editor or publicists to answer, blog posts to write, and pages that have to get done by my deadline.  I find it hard to ignore the call of work because it can travel wherever I go.  E-mails and social media can be accessed on my phone.  My laptop can come anywhere that I travel and that deadline (no matter how far) always feels like it is just days away.

And it isn’t just work that we often need a vacation from.  It’s anything that causes stress.  For some that might be family.  For others it could be politics.  It used to be that the minute you got to the airport or arrived at your vacation destination you were free of all of the things you needed a break from. 

Unfortunately, airports are armed with televisions playing CNN 24/7.  Social media, phone calls and e-mail keep you updated on everything you might want to ignore.  Stress intrudes even when you need a break from it all.

And I don’t know about you, but I need a break!

So, as soon as my current deadlines are met, I am going to shut off my cell phone and internet for a day to take a respite from it all.  No news programs.  No radio updates.  If someone needs to talk to me they can call my landline.  (We still have one!)  I plan on reading books.  Spending time with my family.  Enjoying life without the plugged-in feeling technology gives us. 

And I’m wondering if I’m the only one that feels this way about technology.  Do you find it difficult to “get away” even when you are technically on vacation?  How do you deal with the every day demands that can intrude when you need a break?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Creating Things the Old-Fashioned Way

Scott D Parker

For about a month now, I have had a crush on Kevin Smith. I have known about him the better part of 20 years, but never really paid attention to him. I've never seen one of his films, never listened to any of his podcasts (didn't even know he podcasted), and never read anything he's written.* And I would have likely continued on that trajectory for, well, ever if I hadn't happened upon another podcast over at SF Signal, THE site for all things science fiction and fantasy related. In episode 139, the discussion moved to include Batman (there's your crime fiction reference for you) and one of the panelists mentioned how ever good Star Wars fan needed to listen to the Kevin Smith podcast where he interviews Mark Hamill. Being such a fan, I searched out said podcast.

Kevin Smith and I, it turns out, share an abiding passion for Batman. His love of the Dark Knight is so great that he has created a unique podcast, Fatman on Batman, where he discusses Batman with a special guest. The Hamill episode, the first I listened to, was so good that the two of them talked for nearly three hours broken out into two podcasts. Now, to be honest, as much as I love Batman, based on the tip from the SF Signal podcast, I was expecting some great Star Wars anecdotes.

What I got was something completely different. The Hamill episodes barely touched on his days as Luke Skywalker. I didn't care, however, because what I learned is that one of my boyhood heroes is really a comic book geek like me. Throughout the two episodes, Hamill and Smith wax poetic about the life of a comic book and Batman fan in the pre-internet days. So engrossing were these two episodes that I've now listened to them twice.

And, joy for me, the new listener, Smith has posted an additional 9 podcasts. The interviews range from Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the creative forces behind Batman: The Animated Series, to some of the other voice actors on that show, a friend of Smith's, Walt Flanagan, and Ralph Garman, a long-time fan of the Adam West Batman TV show. Aside from the sheer, unadulterated joy these folks derive from their shared love of Batman and comics is something that's so obvious for a creative type that it's easy to overlook.

At the beginning of each episode, Smith has the guest basically give their origin story. That is the chain of events that led them to their moment in Bat-History. Every one of these folks, no matter if they are artists, writers, or actors, all paid their dues, Smith included. In these days of "overnight" successes no matter the field, it's great to see that normal folks who have dreams and talent, can, after a lot of hard work, make their mark on the world.

So many potential authors have, as their secret dream, the desire to write The Book, the surprise hit that will vault them to stratospheric sales and monies. I don't think that some authors want to write More Than One Book. I do, and I work at it. And that's why, in listening to the stories of the Bat-Folk I'm reminded that good, hard, consistent work while not always being flashy can, in the end, pay dividends.

If you love good discussion about the creative process, have an affinity for Batman and comics, and are not bothered by profane language, I cannot recommend Smith's Batman podcasts highly enough.

*In these past weeks, I have not only listened to all of Smith's Batman podcasts (some twice), I've read his first Batman book, Cacophony, checked out his next Bat-Book, The Widening Gyre, and two of his Green Hornet comic trade paperbacks from the library, got a copy of his first film, Clerks, and started the audio version of his non-fiction book, Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good. Yeah, I'm infatuated, but I'm loving what I'm consuming. Anyone have any recommendations?

Album of the Week: John Mellencamp's The Lonesome Jubilee

I read that yesterday was the 25th (!) anniversary of this album's release. While I tend to prefer his 1985 album, Scarecrow, as a whole, Jubilee has my all-time favorite Mellencamp song, "Cherry Bomb." For a young man who had graduated from high school that summer of '87, this tune spoke to a longing for a place I never knew. And in that crucial summer when I moved out of the house and off to college, that song captured the closing of one phase of life and the opening of another coupled with the knowledge I had at the time that life, for all that may be ahead, would never be quite so simple again. At the age of 18, when I listened to his words "...seventeen has turned to thirty-five...", I could not comprehend being in my middle thirties. Now, from a vantage point beyond the age of 35, I'm listening again to this album a quarter century removed from that summer and welcome the nostalgia. I am content with my life as it is and have few, if any, regrets. Life has been good to me and, as Mellencamp sings, "When I think back about those days/All I can do is sit and smile."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Solitary Confinement

By Jay Stringer

The Solitary life of the writer. I hear that phrase a lot. There are numerous variations on it too. They all add up to the same thing- we are a lonely bunch who work alone and, frankly, probably forget to eat or wash.

I can understand where the idea comes from, and sometimes I do all I can to encourage it. I don't go to festivals, I've had a knack lately for missing friends book launches, and I'll often turn down invitations to social events with the excuse that I've got writing to do. I know one of my fears has been that if I were to go full time as a writer (which I don't plan to) I would become a hermit, only speaking to my wife and my cats, probably growing a beard and drinking blood.

I've had quite a few different jobs in my 32 years. I've worked in a number of different professions. In some of them I've worked as part of a large team, in others I've managed people, and sometimes I've worked alone. And here's the thing- this whole 'writing' thing has been the most collaborative thing I've ever done.

That's even as a 'solo' writer. I sit and write on my own, typing away at books and stories that come out under my own name. There are no co-writers to share the blame, no writing partners to argue with. In theory I should be locked into the solitary life of the writer as I sit and write Miller 3.

However, despite being sat alone at my computer, I'm plugged into a huge network. There are the people who see chunks of my first draft as I write it, there are people who see the first draft once it's complete. There's my agent who will read and edit the first full draft that I send, and who is giving nudges and suggestions along the way before that. There are the people I use for research and fact checking, and the experienced crime writers I talk to when I need to be put back in my place. And it works the other way, too. There are writers who are sending me their first draft as it's written, and writers who send me a completed first draft for my thoughts. And we all share ideas, add them to the recipe.

Just this past week Dave White (in a break from his secret undercover assignment) took a look at a problem that was stalling my writing and suggested a fix. And based on his suggestion I came up with another, which not only got me writing again but gave me the in to a character that I'd been unable to find. Something similar happened with McFet earlier in the draft, when I asked him his opinion on a half baked idea and his answer improved on it.

I have conversations with my publisher and we will soon be ramping up again the the epic collaboration that is putting a book together. I go on (or live on) Twitter and talk to other writers, editors and publishing people. I have a few groups on facebook that I'm a part of. I shout out around a thousand words a week here and join in the ongoing conversations of the DSDerati. DSDista? DSDettes?

So I'm really not sure where this lonely or solitary thing comes in. Maybe I'm doing it wrong.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Weird Tales of Blackface and Black Eyes

By Steve Weddle

You may have heard about Saving The Pearls, a book about white folks (Pearls) and black folks (Coals) and, uh, something something dystopian.

Others have been weighing in on the running and the not-running.

Weird Tales Magazine faces a boycott after endorsing a “thoroughly non-racist book”

Weird Tales editor has insulted us all

Book's author in HuffPo

Weird Tales backtracks on support of “ridiculous and offensive” novel

YA Series “Save The Pearls” Employs Offensive Blackface And Bizarre Racist Stereotypes

This is how my Monday morning began: with a slap in the face, courtesy of new Weird Tales editor Marvin Kaye

I would like to tell our community that Weird Tales will NOT be running an excerpt from Victoria Foyt’s novel in our upcoming issue.

So many issues to unpack.

The protag is called "Eden Newman." Sounds like nearly every name terrible, piece-of-crap author Nathaniel Hawthorne used. (Young Goodman Brown, et al.)

The books is YA, but seems targeted to those adults who like to read children's books.

The book benefited from flash and pizzazz, a website unto itself, screens and screens of what looked like praise, etc. WEIRD TALES, the mag, perhaps was duped, a la QR Markham.

And, of course, the use of race. Or the handling or race. (ProTip: Blackface = Not Good.)

Look at all the free coverage the book has gotten? Does that equate to sales? No idea.

But what we have here is a book people are talking about, and I figured maybe now would be a good time to mention how folks are handling race.

Speaking of racism, this week was H.P. Lovecraft's birthday. Some folks point out Lovecraft's racist comments. Some folks say, well, everyone was racist back then in the olden days.

Is racism more subtle now?

Recently, there was some discussion somewhere (Twitter, Facebook) about whether a racist character in a book is supposed to say racist things. For example, can a "bad" person in a book use the N-word to show that he's a racist? This use of language upsets some folks. For me, personally, I'm not a big fan of racist language in the books I read. (Oh, you don't mind the F-word and the C-word and characters who are murdering child rapers, but if someone says something racist, you get your panties in a wad? Um yeah. I do.) If some character hates someone of another ethnicity, fine. A four-letter word (or six-letter) is so often used as a clumsy short-hand, standing in for what a good author would develop as a character. But racial slurs in books tend to stand out when they're not handled well. The use of a racial slur is unsmooth, drawing attention to the word instead of the story, the character. And, mostly, they're not handled well.

Which kinda brings us around to what the author of PEARLS says she was trying to do, which was turn racism on its head and something, something dystopian. The author has said she wanted to use the Pearls/Coal to get to the environmental implications of the story. Yeah, I don't know, either.

As the links about will tell you, WEIRD TALES has backed off its endorsement of the PEARLS book.

Being a racist has never been a barrier to publishing any more than its been a barrier to a lifelong career as a politician.

I think there are probably a thousand thoughts you can follow out of this SAVING THE PEARLS mess. If you want to go to it in the comments, grab whatever part you want and let's go.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Almost Published Blues

By Anonymous-9

A couple of days ago I had a near-death experience on the freeway. I was driving west on the 91 in Los Angeles County, when a giant dump truck blew a tire in front of me. The thing went off like a bomb, and as debris and swaths of rubber whipped toward me, I thought, "Noooo! I can't die before my novel is published!"  I guess that lets you know where my mind's at these days.

HARD BITE, THE NOVEL is my first full-length noir, and will be published by Blasted Heath this fall. I'm already hand-over-fist on the sequel, since I have a 2-book deal with BH. The time counting down to drop date is so excruciatingly slow I don't think gestating a real human could be this trying. I want to be busy cutting a trailer, but I can't cut a trailer until I have a book cover. I won't have a book cover until JT Lindroos gets around to rendering it. Could I get a cover designed faster from somebody else? You bet, but it wouldn't be a Lindroos cover. He's been in the biz for decades and designs for Edgar award-winning books. So I'll wait for Lindroos, thank you. Even though it's killing me.

Now let's get to the edit.  "Hard Man" and literary badass Allan Guthrie saw something in my manuscript and said he'd get back to me with changes. Allan wears many literary hats. He's not just a principal at Blasted Heath e-publishers, he's also a seasoned literary agent, a crime writer, and an Edgar nominee for his noir thriller KISS HER GOODBYE. Hoo boy was I ready for Allan to have at it! Every word of critique would be burned into my brain for reference and comparison. All my nasty mistakes and misfires were ready to get their butts whooped but good. I was ready to take my crit "like a man" and kill all my darlings, as Falkner said—whatever it took to whip that manuscript into shape.

Finally the day came. I opened the doc.x with Allan's Track Changes notations and... he found about twenty typos. One scene was too abrupt and needed padding. Another scene was briefly queried. That's it. My dreams of a Guthrie-punched manuscript that would forever cast golden guiding light on my career in crime writing fled faster than Chandler at a dry book signing.

Truth is, I pretty much beat my book to death before I sent it out for a second time, after extensive re-plotting and a rewrite.  15,000 words that I loved with all my heart (pronounced dull and boring by beta readers more objective and level-headed than I) were chopped out of the 50,000-word manuscript and replaced with 12,000 words of action and surprise. It took four years, but when it went out, it was ready. I could have self-published a whole year ago but I wouldn't have had JT Lindroos, or Blasted Heath, or Allan Guthrie. I figured the wait was worth it.

I started writing noir short stories in 2007 and the turning point was winning Spinetingler's Best Short Story on the Web competition in 2009. That encouragement, made possible by Brian Lindenmuth and Sandra Rutton who are guardian angels to crime writers in my opinion, inspired me to arrange life and work around writing. It's been an investment of five years to transform HARD BITE the short story into HARD BITE, THE NOVEL.

As I simmer and stew with the impatience of waiting for five years of work to be realized over at Blasted Heath, I ask myself if I'm willing to invest five more. Will another five years deliver the success and satisfaction I'm dreaming of? Will I ever see any money? I push those questions aside in favor of, "What else would you rather be doing?" And the answer is, "Nothing. I just wish I were writing more."

Conclusion: If what I wish I were doing is what I'm already doing, then the time is well spent. If that dump truck had taken me out on the freeway, then I'd still have steered my life as far as I could in the direction I wanted to go, with the time that I had. That's as much as any writer can do, I think.

Patience is a virtue.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 Novellas - Doin' Just Fine

Earlier this year when I launched the Spinetingler Award for Best Novella of 2011 I said that if novellas were going to continue to be published then I would consider folding them into the main awards.  Two-thirds of the way through the year it looks like 2012 is shaping up to be another great year for novellas. 

I spent Sunday afternoon updating my list of novellas published in 2012.  I also looked at some of the publishers that have put out novellas in the past.  It looks like Pulp Press is no longer around and that Five Leaves hasn't published anything beyond their re-launch of the Crime Express series.  (If I'm wrong about either of these or if you have any information to share please do so below and I'll update accordingly.)

These are the 2012 novellas that I am aware of  so far.

*A note about the below books. This is a broad list and it's possible that those listed may fall outside of the word count and may fall outside of the crime fiction genre. This post in no way constitutes a nominee for a Spinetingler Award.* 

Blue Eyed Death in Okinawa by Okamoto

A razor sharp 11,000 word hardboiled crime story featuring the deadly but melancholy woman assassin Molly Vance, code named "Akiko." It contains some extreme violence and erotic descriptions so is not suitable for younger readers.

Ishmael Toffee by Roger Smith

Ishmael Toffee's knife put him behind bars and kept him there for twenty years as a prison gang assassin until he lost his taste for blood. Paroled, he finds himself with no money and no family. And no knife in his hand.

He gets a job as a gardener at the luxurious home of a prominent lawyer and makes an unexpected friend--Cindy, the lawyer's six-year-old daughter. When Ishmael discovers that Cindy is being raped by her father he must choose: abandon the girl and walk away, or do what he does best . . .
Clown in the Moonlight by Tom Piccirilli

CLOWN IN THE MOONLIGHT is based in part on the true story of Ricky Kasso, the so-called Acid King, who murdered a friend in the Northport woods back in '84 claiming Satan told him to do it, then proceeded to bring high school classmates to view the mutilated body for days afterward. Occult, hardboiled, and noir matters enter the mix as a nameless drifter teaches Ricky and friends what the true nature of hell is really all about.
The Hunted by Dave Zeltserman

Will you be able to figure out the mind-blowing secret of THE HUNTED?

From the author of the groundbreaking 'man out of prison' noir trilogy (Small Crimes, Pariah, Killer) comes an exciting new novella series mixing hardboiled crime with government conspiracy. In this first explosive novella, THE HUNTED, Dan Willis is unemployed and desperate when he is recruited by The Factory. Trained to hunt down and kill insurgents hellbent on destroying the country, Willis methodically and efficiently performs his job. But there's a dark secret behind The Factory, and when Willis discovers it no one is safe...
The Dame by Dave Zeltserman

In this explosive followup to THE HUNTED, Dan Willis finds himself a fugitive and on the run from The Factory. When a misfit group of criminals recruits him to steal a priceless Dutch painting titled The Dame, it looks easy enough, at least until another dame gets into the picture. Then all hell breaks loose as double crosses pile up fast and furiously.
The Man on the Bench by Robert Smartwood

In the summer of 1922, nine-year-old Ethan's only worries are chores, having fun, and keeping out of trouble.

But a shadow soon falls over the tiny backwater town of Benton, Pennsylvania that threatens to change everything.

First the cats disappear.

Then the little girls.

After that, the real horror begins.
 McGrave by Lee Goldberg

Los Angeles cop John "Tidal Wave" McGrave is an unstoppable force of nature who always gets his man...even if it means laying waste to everything around him, including his own career...which is exactly what happens in his pursuit of Sebastian Richter, the ruthless leader of an international gang of violent thieves.

When Richter flees to Berlin, McGrave chases after him...even though the cop doesn't know the language, the laws, or the culture. But McGrave doesn't care...he speaks the universal language of knee in the groin and fist in the face...and he won't let anything get in his way.
Party Doll by Steve Brewer

Bubba Mabry returns in a new novella guaranteed to thrill and amuse fans of the series featuring the Albuquerque, NM, private eye.

Bubba bumbles back into action when he's hired to find a missing stripper who goes by the stage name Joy Forever. Joy's boss says business has been off since she disappeared, owing him money. He wants Bubba to find Joy and find her fast.

But there's more here than meets the eye. A federal prosecutor is interested in Joy as well, and Bubba's wife, newspaper reporter Felicia Quattlebaum, is working on a crusade that seems to be entangled with the case.
Adversary by Mark Wheaton

When an industrial spy is captured in a multinational’s Berlin skyrise, the company's lead counsel, Annie Bennett, is sent to interrogate him while they await the police. She soon learns that the man isn’t a spy at all, but a mysterious scientist who accuses Annie’s company of kidnapping his wife and holding her in a laboratory. As a series of murders erupt throughout the building, Annie discovers that her company has been attempting to accelerate human evolution to adapt man to extraterrestrial environments. Only, instead of testing on humans, they’ve been using tens of thousands of scientifically-harvested ghosts. As the intruder prepares to release all of the vengeful ghosts at once to slaughter the building's employees, Annie must decide who the real enemy is.
Own It by E.R. White Jr.

The first tale is a novella that introduces private dick Jay Dafoe. He’s in a dirty business, and cold hard cash has always made up for twinges his conscience might occasionally feel, or so he thought until he’s hired to find a missing daughter. How does the amoral Dafoe handle the horror he unwittingly becomes entwined with? 
Brother's Keeper by Glen Krisch

Growing up, Jason and Marcus Grant were close as only brothers can be. As they reached adolescence, they started to drift apart, taking opposite paths into adulthood. Jason went to college before getting a job at for the local newspaper. Marcus chose a path littered with drugs, violence, and self-destruction.

Now adults, Jason has cut Marcus from his life and considers himself an only child.

Clean and sober, Marcus finds his true calling when he joins the Arkadium, a secret society dating back millennia. They plan on setting history back ten thousand years by unleashing a world-wide calamity that will destroy modern man's domination of the planet. As the Arkadium set their plan in motion, Marcus reaches out to his brother, wanting him by his side to record the new prehistoric era. Jason is forced to make a choice, join his brother in the time of humanity's descent, or die like so many others.
Road Gig by Trey Barker

Kinney Fahey has been on the job for six months. He's not focusing his efforts on the paperwork and it's gonna bite him…real bad.
RIP Robbie Silva by Tony Black

Jed Collins, fresh from jail, is struggling to go straight when he hooks up with wild child Gail. Before long Jed is back to blagging ― with Gail in tow.

But Jed has a past, and Gail has a secret about her gangster father that she wants to keep under wraps.

One week in the Scottish capital for Jed and Gail turns into a bloody rollercoaster ride that leads straight to Hell.
Saved by the Moll by Bill Raetz

Sometimes a dame can get you OUT of trouble!

The call girl said huskily, “I must have the wrong room.”
I said, “You’ve got the right place—and perfect timing.”

Bryce Attewelle is no stranger tovtight spots—or getting out of them. When he goes after a notorious gun-runner, getting in isn’t the problem. Finding himself in need of an exit strategy, he grabs the first thing to come along...THE GIRL.
Six Bullets by Simon Dunn

Six bullets.

Seven terrorists.

Everyone else on board was dead.

The Bjørg Istad is the world’s largest container ship, and she’s on her maiden voyage. Trond Nystrand has stowed away, running from a terrible secret. Halfway to his new life, Trond wakes up to the sound of gunfire, heralding the arrival of seven terrorists intent on wreaking havoc.

A rip-roaring quick-read novella adventure across the high seas.
Bottomland by Curtis Hox

A writer instructor challenges his students to spend the night in an abandoned house in the mountains. He just wants to see if they can do it, maybe help with their writing projects, maybe scare them a little. He never expects real trouble to follow.
A Marine at the Door by Eddie Vega

When a U.S. Marine shows up at the Brooklyn home of Rad Cordoba, a graffiti writer, it is to relay the news of his Marine brother's death in Iraq. As his parents struggle with the loss, Rad takes to the streets and the dark byways of the subway tunnels with his graffiti bombing crew known as The Alien Nation. He has something to say. None of it pretty.
98 Minutes to Paris by Marko Peric

As a loyalist Irish paramilitary fighter, Patrick Corrigan used to operate on the wrong side of the law. He now works in law enforcement hunting terrorists and mercenaries. An anonymous email tip has brought him to board the TGV high speed train to Paris, seeking an old foe and an opportunity to find closure on a dark chapter of his past.
Without a Trial by Maxwell Cunningham

What would you do to save the ones you love?

When the police commissioner of Edinboro suddenly retires after a raid gone wrong, hardball cop, Todd Williams, finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game that threatens the safety of those he loves the most. His morals are put to the test when he must act as executioner to suspected criminals who are condemned to death...without a trial.
First Case by Roger Stelljes

Award winning author, Roger Stelljes, delivers a mystery NOVELLA (12 chapters/25,280 words) that is the prequel to the McRyan Mystery Series. First Case provides an introduction and backstory to the lead character, "Mac" McRyan and his fellow detectives. Stelljes' knack for GRITTY and REAL DIALOGUE (slang/jargon/behind the scenes dialog), as well as his uncanny sense of place and time, will put you in the middle of the action allowing you to feel the desperation of Mac McRyan and his fellow detectives.
Tomato Can Comeback (Fight Card Series)

Tom Garrick had a heart of gold, a jaw of iron, and heavy artillery in both fists. This orphan from the Windy City returned from the Korean War to battle his way up the welterweight ranks, inspiring speculation about a title bid. Then he slugged it out with a top contender who humiliated him over eleven rounds and cut short his victory march.

Popular opinion was he had been exposed as a lucky pretender. The newspapers dubbed him "Tomato Can" after watching the blood splatter around the ring like tomato juice from a tin can being battered by a tire iron.

Now, for some mysterious reason, 'Tomato Can' Garrick is lacing on the gloves again, hoping for a shot at redemption. He has no promoter, no manager, not even a sparring partner. The only one in his corner is a buddy from the war who has never been inside the boxing game before.

There's a punch-drunk pantheon of bums, brawlers and cutthroat contenders just waiting to pound him into Palookaville ... a lonely war widow with her claws in his heart ... and a regimen of dubious training methods which may do more harm than good to his chances. But Garrick isn't going to go down in history as "the Tomato Can" without a fight.
King of the Outback (Fight Card series)

Outback Australia 1954

Two rival tent boxing troupes clash over a territorial dispute in the Outback town of Birdsville. In the sweltering heat, tensions simmer, tempers flare, and as things reach boiling point, a boxing tent is burned to the ground.

Fighting men know only one way to solve their disputes, and that’s in the ring. The solution, a show-down, smack-down, winner take all bout between the two rival outfits.

In the blue corner, representing ‘Walter Wheeler’s Boxing Sideshow’ is Tommy King, a young aboriginal boxer with a big heart and iron fists.

In the red corner, representing ‘Arnold Sanderson’s Boxing Show’, is ‘Jumpin’ Jack Douglas, a monstrous wrecking machine from the city – a man who’ll do anything to win.

The fight – brutal. In the world of Tent Boxing, in the harsh Australian Outback, weight divisions and rules don’t count for much. It’s a fight to decide, who is indeed, King of the Outback!
Hard Road (Fight Card series)

Atlantic City, 1957

Professional boxers Roberto Varga and Michael Boyle were once pals growing up at St. Vincent’s Asylum for Boys in Chicago. Under the guidance of Father Tim, the fighting priest, they learned values, respect, responsibility, and how to fight fair.

But those lessons didn’t stick with Boyle. Two years after leaving St. Vincent’s, Boyle and Varga face-off in the ring with Boyle pounding out a bloody, lopsided decision, Varga swore wasn’t on the up and up.

In the seven years since, their careers have taken different paths. Guided by unscrupulous manager Tommy Domino, Boyle is positioned for a title shot against Sugar Ray Robinson. Varga, however, has struggled in a career still haunted by the bloody loss to Boyle.

When the boxer scheduled to fight Boyle in Atlantic City breaks his hand two weeks before the fight, Domino scrambles for a replacement. He finds Varga toiling in a Philadelphia gym and offers him the rematch Varga has been waiting years to get. For Varga, it’s a chance to finally even the score, a chance to get the title shot he’s always dreamed about. But Boyle is not the only formidable foe aligned against Varga.

Redemption comes at a bloody price – a price perhaps too high for Varga to pay …
Counterpunch (Fight Card series)

Danny Dugronski has been a fighter all his life.

As an orphan at St. Vincent's Asylum for Boys, he first learned the "sweet science" of boxing from Father Tim, the battling priest. Then the Marine Corps taught him far more lethal fighting tactics before shipping him off to do battle in the hell of the South Pacific.

Now, with World War II over, Danny "The Duke" has returned home and earned a respectable ranking as a regional heavyweight in the Milwaukee area. But his record, free of KO losses, is jeopardized by a mob front man who tries to push him into a series of rigged fights.

When Danny refuses, hard push comes to deadly shove, and he must call upon all his fighting skills to stand his ground. And when Danny comes out swinging, he’s determined to put the mob down for the count.
In the Frame by Michael D'Asti

Eddie Deuchar is a young cop that thought he knew the dark side of London’s streets. But he has a lot to live up to. His dad was number one at the Met before him and when gorgeous TV presenter Carol Boarding asks him a leading question about his father it starts Eddie down a road he doesn’t know at all well.
What is the meaning behind Carol’s curious question? And where does an old Victorian painting come into the picture?

He has to confront a dangerous underworld villain and suffer some harsh character assassination along the way before finding a resolution. Even his dad’s old crew come under suspicion in the violence that erupts on the city’s streets. Chasing the answers takes Eddie into dark places in his hunt for the true nature of not only his own past but Carol’s as well.

To save a good name and salvage a fortune, Eddie must walk some mean streets of his own.
Driving Through the Desert by Donna Lynch

In the aftermath of a violent occurrence, a young girl named Kam and her friend Henry flee through the Nevada desert in a stolen car. Desperate to reach the coast, they find the terror, sorrow, and pain has traveled with them, twisting their realities until they are lost in a place far worse than the cold, isolated desert.
Unchronic Tales: The Horn by W. Peter Miller

Uchronic Tales: The Horn follows Clark Tyler, an investigator for the Ace Insurance Company, as a simple job spirals toward an Earth-shattering conclusion. This story is set against the backdrop of the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.

What is the Horn and why do some distinctively nasty visitors want to get their hands on it? What would happen if someone decides to give it a blow? Clark is there to stop that from happening. Clark is joined in “The Horn“ by a daring aviatrix, a charming archaeologist, and a strange mercenary from Clark’s past.

Join us for the mysteries, the thrills, and the startling conclusion of…
The Horn.

In the months ahead, danger will put Clark in middle of many Uchronic Tales. Look for stories featuring the classic days of Hollywood, earth-shattering danger, lost civilizations, and bizarre visitors from the unknown aether.

Welcome to Uchronic Tales

Things To Do Before You Die by Roz Southey and Bang, Bang, You're Dead! by Nick Quantrill (Best of British series)

Have you read any of them? Plan on reading any of them? Have I missed any?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Making it better

By: Joelle Charbonneau

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again – I love revising.  The process of taking something and making it better.  Writing the story is enjoyable.  Since I don’t write with an outline, I learn where the story is going along side the characters.  Writing the first draft is like riding a roller coaster.  Sometimes the story turns out the way I think it’s headed.  More often than not it takes a turn for the unexpected and I am both entertained and panicked as I hope it all makes sense in the end.  There are lots of loop-da-loops and sharp dives along the way.  Some make me scream with joy others…um…not so much. 

But once the book is finished I get to rewrite and tweak and polish.  To me, that is where the real fun begins.  I examine my characters’ story arcs, the plot points and the word choices I’ve made.  Then, when I’m done, I say a small prayer that the book isn’t crap and send it off to my agent.  Once the manuscript hits her inbox, I try to pretend I’m not nervous as I wait to hear her verdict.

Some authors don’t want their agent to weigh in on the quality of a book that has already sold.  They are more than happy to ship it directly to their editor and wait to see what the editor thinks.  Not me.  I want my agent’s feedback.  In fact, I can’t imagine doing without it.  Each person that reads the book with a fresh, knowledgeable eye is instrumental in making the story stronger.  And I want to make the story as strong as possible.  Will it be the best book I’ll ever write?  Who knows.  But if I really consider each point my early readers and editors make and look at the story in new ways, I ‘m doing my utmost to make it the best book that I can write at that moment.

Last week, I received editorial notes from my agent on Independent Study.  My gut instinct is always to dive right into the comments and begin to make changes.  However, I have learned that, for  me, it is best to read all the comments in the manuscript, reread the editorial letter, then let the commentary bop around in my head for a few days.  Giving the comments time to simmer means giving me a chance to really think about the way the story pieces need to fit together to strengthen the elements that are working and eliminate those that are not. 

Today, I embark on that process.  I always think it will take me a few days.  Sometimes I’m right.  Other times it takes far longer.  I always have to tell myself that the process can’t be rushed.  I mean, the book took more than a couple days to write.  Cutting corners now is just silly.

When I’m done layering in more depth and tweaking some scenes, I’ll reread the whole book then send it off to my fabulous agent again in the hope I’ve done the right work.  Trust me, she’ll let me know if I went astray.  If so, we’ll do another round of revisions until we agree it is as strong as we can make it.  When that moment comes, we’ll ship it off to my editor who will pick and prod and poke at the story some more all the while pushing me to make it better.

I can’t wait.

Am I crazy?  Maybe.  But I wouldn’t change this part of the process for anything. 

Revisions, here I come!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Review: The Gutter and the Grave by Ed McBain

Scott D. Parker

(I'm on vacation right now -- writing this on Wednesday -- so I present an old review I did a few years ago when I was just starting to learn and read about crime fiction.)

Of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler once wrote this:

Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish. He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes.

I always took that quote to partially explain the move, by mystery and crime fiction, into the twentieth century. And, by extension, brought it to the American city. Sure, there is the famous foggy London of Sherlock Holmes and there is death there, and danger. But what Hammett, Chandler, and other did was pull a Christopher Columbus on crime fiction: they discovered a new world and then began to exploit it. Their fiction teemed with immigrants and thugs, falling over each other in row houses and tenement apartments of New York or Philly or Boston. It smelled. People drank. People died...and not always naturally. This is America, dammit. Get used to it, toughen up, or get out of here.

By the time Ed McBain began writing fiction, this tradition was decades old. McBain scanned the landscape, saw what was what, judged the speed of the moving traffic, and merged right in, going zero to sixty in seconds. And he never looked back, even when he changed lanes. Everyone else had to swerve to get out of the way of this fast-moving car whose driver knew exactly what he wanted and where he wanted to go.

Originally published in 1958 under the title I'm Cannon--For Hire, I read the republished version from Hard Case Crime entitled The Gutter and the Grave. A quick check at Thrilling Detective reveals that McBain liked the new title. The new title is quite apt. The first sentence of the story finds Matt Cordell basically in the gutter. The last sentence finds Cordell...well, I don't want to ruin the ending.

McBain's prose is, like Hammett's, tough, ornery, and punchy. I use punchy because there are a few fights in the books, both in flashback and in the book's present day. And the beating Cordell takes is brutal. It's brutal by today's standards. I can't imagine the reading public's reaction back in '58.

I listened to the audiobook version. The good folks at BBC Audiobook America provided this one and a great narrator: Richard Ferrone. His voice is gravelly, as if he himself just got off the booze long enough to read this book. It's a wonderful presentation. He also read the posthumously-published (by HCC, natch) novel by Mickey Spillane, Dead Street. I could think of nothing better than to have Ferrone read any old-school PI/noir book in the library. I'd check out every one.

This is the first McBain book I have read. I have his first 87th Precinct, Cop Hater, on my list. This will not be the last. My next McBain step will be to find the collection Learning to Kill, McBain's collection of short fiction that, according to him, helped him become "Ed McBain." I hope there is another Matt Cordell story in there. If not, I'll have to play Book PI and track them down. I want to know more about Matt Cordell. And you should, too.

Just don't blame me if it starts an addiction. I warned you.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some shorts

By Russel D McLean

I had a big post planned this week, but then something a little unexpected came up at the day job so I found myself short of time. Its okay. Nothing to worry about. Just some end of the world stuff.

However, if you think I haven't been busy, check out the new website.

And know that I'll hit you next week with some very cool stuff.

In the meantime, here's an old short story from Spinetingler Magazine that still chills me a little (first few paras, click to link):

I don’t even like Madonna. No seriously, never did. Not now, not back when all these pricks tell me she was actually a singer. She was never a singer. These days, she might as well be generated by computer. Except if she was, you might think she’d do something about the way she looked. So it’s bad enough to come home at night and hear this beat crashing down from upstairs. But for it to be her, singing in that robotic whine she’s developed in the past few years, it’s near enough to drive a man to tears. Some nights it’s more than enough. I want to go up there, tell him where to go. Yeah, tell that loud motherfucker where he can stick those CDs. But I can’t. It wouldn’t be right. No, you see I learned a long time ago that whatever life throws at you, you just have to take it. Grin and bear it like the old saying goes. Just keep grinning. I’m good at that. Comes with the job. They’re telling us all the time we have to smile at the customers, like we’re happy to be paid minimum wage, stuck in some goofy uniform and forced to take all the shit of the day from people who know nothing about common decency and respect for other people.

I'm thinking about collecting some of the standalone shorts together in another e-xclusive collection. After all, the ones from Demolition Mag are missing and there's a few interesting ones that I think some folks might have missed first time around.

 But if you want some already-collected shorts, check out this thing here. Its been nice to see that sales of it have been building since the new website launched. Maybe there is room for my short fiction, after all.

I'll see you back here next week when we'll start talking in earnest about FATHER CONFESSOR.