Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Amazon Deletes My Review of Karma Backlash

By Steve Weddle

For some reason, Amazon does not want me reviewing this book. I still don't know why. Of course, this is Amazon's site and if they want to delete a review I wrote, that's up to them. I don't have any control over what Amazon does with their own website any more than they have control of what I do with mine. At least, I don't think they can control any of my sites. I guess we'll find out.

So I wrote a review of KARMA BACKLASH by my pal Chad Rohrbacher. The book is available through Snubnose Press on Amazon.

Dear Steve Weddle "Steve Weddle",
Your latest review has just gone live on Amazon. We and millions of shoppers on Amazon appreciate the time you took to write about your experience with this item.
Your reviewing stats
Reviews written: 21
Reviewer rank: 23,746
Helpful votes: 134 of 147
Would you like to add more to your review?
You can always edit it here.
Karma Backlash
Snubnose Press
Toledo Mob Wars -- what's not to like?, October 2, 2012
By Steve Weddle "Steve Weddle" (Virginia, USA)
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Karma Backlash (Kindle Edition)
Derby's like most everyone, I suppose. Troubles at work, troubles at love, troubles when his friend's face explodes at the dinner table, trouble with Toledo traffic, and on and on.
What you've got here is a classic noir story of investigating the WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON, but there are quite a few things that make this telling special.
The setting of this one is spot-on. You've got a gritty town that's seen better days, which perfectly reflects many of the characters in the book. So much of this narrative is about holding onto something -- whether it be the local gangs/mob, the city itself, the local business, or the characters. Reading this book, you can feel not only the time shifting in front of you, but the ground moving under your feet. You see things fallingapart and people trying to hold on.
The pace of this book is also fantastic. You ease in with some humor and character, but then you start to dissolve into the darkness of the city, of the story.
The characters and the story really come together -- especially in the epic final section.
If you like gritty tales that are told well, full of characters you'll remember and scenes you'll try to forget, this is the book for you.
See your review on the site

Imagine my surprise when I can’t see my review on the site.
Amazon has taken it down or I goofed something up. No problem. I’ll just copy and paste and repost.
Same email.
Same result.
It’s not there.
Something must have gone screwy. So I contact the nice folks at Amazon.

Your Name: Steve Weddle Comments:Why do you keep deleting my review of KARMA BACKLASH? Please and thank you.

They send me this message:

We have removed your review from Karma Backlash.
We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for this title. Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website.
Please feel free to review our posted Guidelines if you have any questions:
We hope to see you again soon.
Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?
If yes, please click here:
If no, please click here:
Best Regards,
Sandy N.

Well, that doesn’t make any sense. So I contact them again.

From: Steve Weddle 
Subject: Re: Your Review Inquiry

Thank you for the explanation of your terms. They make perfect sense, though I don't see how they apply to me in this instance.

*We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we've removed your reviews for this title. Any further violations of our posted Guidelines may result in the removal of this item from our website.*

I do not have a financial interest in the product. I do personally know the author of the book, so if that prevents me from reviewing the book, please let me know. I also know other people who write books.

I am not sure what would be a "directly competing product" with this novel. I do have stories in a number of anthologies available at your site, but I'm not certain that's what you mean. I don't imagine you're saying that I can't review a book because I also have stories in anthologies for sale.

Again, thanks for trying to help clear this up.


I have zero financial interest in the book. I mean, the author is a friend of mine, despite his having brought cans of gas-station Tecate into my house. I would like for him to be happy. I would like for him to have many people read his book. I like the book. I hope it does well. But I make no money from the book. I also make no money from Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs or Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm or any of the other books I've reviewed.

And what is this "directly competing product" stuff? I mean, if I were selling a rotary-enhanced-lippo-vac, I could understand if the nice people at Amazon did not want me reviewing someone else's rotary-enhanced-lippo-vac. That makes sense.

This doesn't.

They responded.

Hello Steve,
I'm sorry for any previous concerns regarding your reviews on our site. We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product.
We have removed your reviews as they are in violation of our guidelines.  We will not be able to go into further detail about our research.
I understand that you are upset, and I regret that we have not been able to address your concerns to your satisfaction. However, we will not be able to offer any additional insight or action on this matter.
We've appreciated your business and hope to have the opportunity to serve you again in the future.
Best Regards,
Your feedback is helping us build Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company. 

Like I said, Amazon doesn't need my permission for anything they do with their site. They can delete my review of Karma Backlash if they want to. They can delete all my reviews if they want to. It's just, I don't know why they want to.

What's interesting is that Amazon suggests that I'm "upset." I'm not. I'm befuddled.

I'm told other reviewers began having similar trouble when they linked their "review" accounts with their "author" accounts, something Amazon had suggested doing. (I had been "stevewed" from many years back.)

Amazon says they're not "able to offer any additional insights." I know they've had problems with book reviews in the last year. I guess I just didn't think I was the problem.

Anyone else having similar troubles?

UPDATE: Thanks to comments and messages alerting me to Michelle Gagnon's similar troubles. Also, Sean Cregan has taken a look at some points.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The End of Fiction?

As many of you know, I'm a teacher, and I follow all the goings on in the educational world.  Well, there's been a major shift in the expectations for an English class and what kids *should* read as they get older.  You see, people want kids who are ready for business.  When they graduate college, kids have to be ready for the *real world*, which-in a businessman's mind-is the business world.

And in the business world, you don't read fiction.

You read informational texts.  Articles, reports, that sort of thing.

So, as kids get older, they're required to read less and less fiction.  In 8th grade, they're supposed to be reading 40% fiction and 60% non-fiction.  By their senior year, if I'm not mistaken, the trend is 90% informational and 10% fiction.

That means kids aren't going to be reading classics.  They're not going to be reading great novels.  They won't be exposed to that sort of thing. 

And if they aren't exposed to it.... how will they love it? 

In the classroom, teachers are constantly trying to get kids to love reading.  To read whatever they want and to keep reading on their own.  But now, what teachers are being told is that's not what the people in charge want. 

They want to make sure they read anything but fiction.

So, what does that mean for fictional authors?  I don't know.  But, my guess is--if kids aren't exposed to good fiction, they won't seek it out.  And that means fewer and fewer books being bought.

And maybe... no more fiction in 30 years?

Okay, this is shorter than I want because my power is flickering, thanks to Sandy.  But I want to know your thoughts on this trend...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ravenous Shadows; Die, You Bastard! Die; and The Devoted

So earlier this week I discovered Ravenous Shadows, a new horror/mystery/thriller imprint that launched earlier in the year.  Editor John Skipp  says of these genres that "they play fast, and they play rough".  What we are looking at is novellas/short novels that are unafraid to go full dark and can be read in a couple of sittings. 

Do they deliver? Let's take a look.

I downloaded four samples of Ravenous Shadows books to my Kindle and out of that group, bought three. (Side note: Nothing against that fourth book and I actually plan on buying and reading the other published books. So far so good.)

Out of the three that I bought I've already read two of them.  So yes, these are quick reads that can be read in a couple of sittings.

The first one that I read was The Devoted by Eric ShapiroThe Devoted is about the final day and remaining nine members of a suicide cult. There is a mix of first person and third person narratives.  The first person POV is of the number two man in the cult and the third person portions are a mix of other media: diary entries, television interviews, family members, excerpts from books on cults, etc.  The alternating POV's do a great job of getting into the other members of the cult and the history of the cult.

In addition to expertly setting the stage Shapiro does a great job with a couple of other things.  The first is that he masterfully, and constantly keeps applying pressure, increasing tension and ratcheting the pressure ever tighter.  This ties in to the second thing that he does really well, he keeps the reader guessing as to how the end will play out until the very end.

One other aspect that deserves to be mentioned is the psychological aspects. You really get into the mind and motivations of the main character, who becomes quite compelling, and dare I say sympathetic.  In doing so he creates a book that will appeal to the basement noir crazies, their mothers, and everyone in between.  The Devoted is a ticking time bomb of a book with an explosive ending that delivers on it's narrative promises.  Highly Recommended.

The second book that I read was Die, You Bastard! Die! by Jan Kozlowski.

Die! takes us into the life of a paramedic who suffered horrible sexual abuse as a child at the hands of her father.  After being away for 20 years she's called back home to care for him. Things don't go as planned.

Die, You Bastard! Die! is a full dark, grindhouse, rape revenge thriller that maintains an unbearable level of tension and throws in enough twists and turns to keep you on your toes.

Die! may not be for everybody but those that read it will be rewarded.  While there are scenes of explicit violence portrayed in the book Kozlowski does not linger on them or glamorize them. But you will cringe.   This is another Highly Recommended book.

One of the definitions of noir that gets passed around is that things start off bad and get worse. Both of these books fit the bill. 

There have been a few books over the last couple of years that have not popped up on many crime fiction readers radar screens because they have been either marketed as horror or have been put out by a horror or horror associated press (Crimson Orgy and People Still Live in Cashtown Corners come to mind).  I don't want to see the same thing to happen here.  Skipp says that Ravenous Shadows will publish 30-40 titles per year. So far they've published five and at least three of them are solid mystery/crime/thriller titles.

Ravenous Shadows is one to keep an eye on and have quickly become one of my favorites. I hope to continue to see high quality titles from them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Working parent guilt

by: Joelle Charbonneau


The last couple of weeks have been challenging.  A new book came out (yay!).  I’ve finished writing a manuscript (double yay).  I’ve been hard at work on revisions for one of my editors (eek!).  Through it all I’ve done my best to balance work and family.  There are days do better than others.  Some days I get lots of writing related stuff gets done, dinner is cooked on the stove and put on the table, laundry gets cleaned and the four-year-old is happy, healthy and all around awesome.

This was one of those weeks.  For those who watch my twitter feed with any frequency, you’ll know the small person in my house has a tendency to spike high fevers.  In the past year we’ve had pneumonia and several bouts of fever filled viruses.  This weekend was the second time this month we’ve watched temperatures soar over 102. 

Now, I’ll admit I’m getting pretty good at not panicking when fevers spike.  I’ve got the routine down.  The doctor only gets a call when absolutely necessary.  However, I have yet to figure out how to skillfully juggle being nurse-Mom and being working-Mom.  The days that the four-year-old is sick, work tends to get shoved to the side.  Although, some days, like this weekend, that wasn’t possible. 

And wow – does that make me feel guilty. 

Was the tot well cared for when I wasn’t putting thermometers in his mouth and snuggling him?  You betcha.  My mother is all kinds of awesome when to comes to my son.  But I still felt bad that I was busy with my work while he was ill.  I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it. 

So—tell me DSD friends—do you feel this same guilt when you have to leave a sick child in order to fulfill other responsibilities?  Do you have a good method of keeping the guilt at bay?  I can use all the advice I can get!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury

(True, this wonderful book isn't really a mystery story, but this book is mysterious. If you haven't read it, you still have a few days to catch it before the mood changes on 1 November.)

Halloween is a day to remember what we have forgotten. What have we let slip from our collective human consciousness? Fear. Being scared of things we can’t explain, things that go bump in the night. Isn’t that why we dress up as scary monsters, to help laugh at the things that used to scare the dickens out of us even if we don’t know why? I think so, and the same is true for the heroes of Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

Eight boys dress up for Halloween in various costumes: an ape-man, a mummy, a druid with a scythe, a ghost, a witch, a beggar, a gargoyle, and a skeleton. They are beside themselves with excitement. It’s Halloween! The best day of the year, including Christmas. But their cadre is not complete. They need Pipkin, the ninth boy of their group. “Joe Pipkin was the greatest boy who ever lived.” As the eight gather on Pipkin’s doorstep, awaiting their friend to bolt out of the house and lead them, Pipkin meekly walks out. Without a costume. He tells them he’s okay but that he’ll meet them at the house on the outskirts of town. Bewildered, they go.

Once there, they see it: the Halloween Tree. “There must have been a thousand pumpkins on this tree, hung high and on every branch. A thousand smiles. A thousand grimaces. And twice-times-a-thousand glares and winks and blinks and leerings of fresh-cut eyes.” Suddenly, some thing shows up: Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud, a tall, skeletal man. He asks them why they are wearing those particular costumes and then chastises them for not even knowing what those costumes represent. The boys implore Moundshroud to tell them about the history of Halloween. At that instant, however, from a distance, the soft voice of Pipkin wafts to their ears. He’s trapped. He needs saving. They run to him but Pipkin disappears into the darkness and only the mysterious Moundshroud can help. With swirling fantastic magic, he whisks the boys away on a giant kite. They need to hunt for Pipkin in the history of Halloween. First stop: Egypt.

The bulk of the book is given to the eight boys’ flight through time and space, learning the history and folklore of the celebration we now call Halloween. It’s a phantasmagorical history lesson, really. At each stop—Egypt, pre-history, Greece, Rome, England, Europe, Mexico, etc.—the boys experience the traditions of the various regions and how each place celebrated—dreaded?—the coming winter darkness. And at each stop, Pipkin is there. But he’s not. He’s enshrouded as a mummy in Egypt, he’s a gargoyle atop Notre Dame in France, or trapped in catacombs in Mexico. He’s always just out of reach, always requiring another jump through time.

The manner in which the boys travel from one place and time to another is fascinating. Hanging onto each other’s heels, they act as the tail of a giant kite created from old circus flyers. The catch: all the animals on these flyers are alive and growl and roar. At one time, they are whisked away by leaves. Leaving Mexico, they are commanded to break a piñata and little figures fall from the piñata, each corresponding to one of their own costumes. Thus freed, the little figures lift each boy up and fly him back to Illinois.

If there’s one thing that stands out in The Halloween Tree, it’s Bradbury prose. It’s had a singsong quality to it, a brazen joyfulness in just being alive. It’s like the prose itself were a twelve-year-old boy dressed up on Halloween and running through the town. It picks you up and sweeps you back to a time and place you may never have known but, somehow, know. It’s a part of the human DNA. Take these wonderful Dickensian opening lines:
It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…Boys.
And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
And all the houses shut against a cool wind.
And the town full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone.
The day dying, the sunlight being “murdered” as Moundshroud puts it, is an important theme in this book. Halloween, throughout history, is the celebration of the ending of the season of light. The passing of October 31 equates to past generations of humans, far and wide, the beginning of the long, dark winter. As Moundshroud asks the boys, once the sun sets, what assurance do we have that it’ll rise again the next day? What if it never does? It was a real fear for our ancestors, something the boys and our modern culture have forgotten.

Not too long ago, the darkness in our world was quite a bit closer than it is now, at least in the modern western world. We have science to tell us the true nature of things. We can rely on it to cast away the superstitions and fears our ancestors had. Our children say “trick or treat” but don’t really know why.

Halloween, however, is the celebration, the remembrance, of our past. It’s a cumulative organism now, an amalgamation of traditions and beliefs passed down. It’s a celebration of death as marked by the living. Toward the end of the book, Moundshroud forces the boys to make a choice to save Pipkin or not. The price they have to pay is a year of life, taken at the end of each of their respective lives. He warns them that here, when they are twelve, life seems so long. Later, however, when they’re going to want one more year, it won’t be theirs. Here, Bradbury, through Moundshroud, gives these modern boys a taste of the past, a past they know nothing about but, by learning about history and what makes life special, they make their choice.

At the end, one boy, Tom, the default leader of the eight, asks a question of Moundshroud: “…will we ever stop being afraid of nights and death?” Moundshroud has an answer. You may have another. But, on Halloween, for one day a year, we get to revel in the fear that our ancestors lived with daily. We get to remember. And, on November 1st, we get to put it all away and forget about it all over again.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Back In Time

By Jay Stringer

As I work away on the final book in the Eoin Miller trilogy, there is a part of my brain dedicated to working out what comes next. I have a few ideas. Some books that are almost ready to sit and write, some that are only just starting to come together as basic ideas.

And that's before I factor in realities of things like contracts and necessity, and of which stories I'm most likely to get to first. The running order changes daily.

This month an interesting thing happened. I was invited to contribute a short story to an anthology (I've bee invited to a few all at once actually, but more on them when it's polite to say.)  For this particular anthology, I had no idea what my story would be. Usually I've got something sat at the back of my brain waiting to be turned into a short if I get the time, but on this occasion, nope.

So I started to read around again. I was doing research for a story I want to tell at some point, and that lead me to reading about an event in 1985, and pop I had a story. But I didn't have a character. I started to scratch around looking for one, but couldn't find an angle.

Then, about two weeks ago, I worked on a round of copy-edits for Runaway Town (Miller 2, due in March-ish) and the editor asked a questions about backstory. And once again, pop.

I knew exactly who the main character for the short needed to be. More over, I began to realise he had a full novel in him, and the fight was then how to pick a tiny part of his story and focus in on that for the short.

So there we go. Happy accidents. I don't expect it to be my next novel, or even the one after that, but I now have a book I didn't have a month ago - a crime novel set in the Black Country in the 1980's and featuring the father of a certain half-Romani gangland detective.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No. Self-Pubbed Authors Are Not Killing the Publishing Industry

By Steve Weddle

Melissa Foster wrote a piece asking whether self-published authors are "killing the publishing industry."

I thought we were beyond this argument. I guess not. So let's take care of this one today.

Here's how she starts:

Self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word, and, some of them are scrambling to see how low they can go to get noticed. Let us list the ways: 99-cent price point for ebooks.  Free ebooks via KDP Select program.  Unedited work. Kindle giveaways to get attention and bulk up sales.  And lastly, nasty reviews from other authors with the sole purpose of driving down customer ratings.

Imagine the genius it took for a self-published author two years ago to be the first author ever to give away a book for free. Amazing. Why didn't we hear about this on the news? A free book? Holy shit snacks. For reals? Yes. I don't know who that self-published author was, but give that kid a cookie and a Pulitzer. (Oh, I forgot. They don't give Pulitzers for fiction these days. Well, a cookie. At least that has value.)

Oh, but what about those self-published authors giving nasty reviews to others in order to drive down their "competition's" ratings? Wait, those weren't all self-published authors? The most recent and biggest doer of that thing is an author with a real publishing contract with a real publisher? Oh, well then.

So self-published authors are ruining the wonderful world of publishing?

Again, from the original post:

Although many do try, and not just by giving away books for less than a buck. Many indie authors are now relying on gimmicks to gain sales. They’re giving away Kindles and iPads in exchange for reviews and as raffles during sales promotions. Traditionally published authors aren’t stooping to these tactics. Why are indies? The short answer is that with over 1 million ebooks published each year, it’s difficult to make a mark.
The lesson may be that if indie authors don’t value their work, chances are no one else will either. Readers want, and deserve, quality books, and they’re used to paying for them. Think about it: pennies for pages didn’t exist before ebooks and self-publishing were viable.
Does this mean that self-published authors are killing the publishing industry? Yes, in a sense it does.  What can be done about this devaluing of the written word? How can self-published authors change this scenario and help make self-publishing, as a whole, shine and earn as respectable of a reputation as traditional publishing?

Is it so terrible that people can pay $9.99 for a good self-pubbed novel rather than a $25.99 hardback of Snooki's latest Big Six publication?

There are great Big Six books and there are lousy ones. There are great self-pubbed and indie-pubbed books and there are lousy ones.

Your question is whether self-published authors are killing publishing, but I think what you mean is whether bargain pricing is killing publishers' ability to charge $25.99 for a Snooki hardback.

Many Big Six publishers will offer discount books, especially when a new book in a series comes out. For example, when a Big Six company is trying to get $25.99 for the new Inspector Fakename book (#19 in a series) they might offer a few books in the series for free or for 99c. I guess you'd call this a "gimmick." Sounds like good marketing to me. Unless, of course, a self-published or small press author does the same thing. Then that particular author has engaged in "this devaluing of the written word," as you say.

Big Six publishers fought as long as they could against what was good for readers -- ebooks. Now they're having to catch up. I think if you were to talk to any executive at a Big Six company, she or he would admit to a number of mistakes made over the past couple years.

Let me flip this around in another example. I've lived in small towns where small mom-and-pop stores survived for years by having the following hours of operation: "TU-FRI 10 am-3pm & By Chance." I am not making that up. Their hours included the phrase "& By Chance." How quaint and lovely, right? Well, when WalMart or Generic Food Store located nearby and offered serious hours of operation and reasonable prices, business went poop for the small shops. Of course, the small shops complained that Generic Food Store was putting them out of business.

Big Six companies will adapt, as have those small town businesses that have survived. So many Big Six folks are so ahead of the curve on this, but the industry itself, which is legion, will appear slower to adapt, I suppose. People "in the industry" are clever and know exactly what they want to do. Many are doing it. There are so very many great people doing great things in the Big Six world of publishing. Just as there are many people in the indie-pub world doing great stuff.

Small publishers and indie-authors and whatever names you want to assign the DIY writing crowd have found that they can distribute their books directly to the readers (via pdf download from an author's page, Amazon, Smashwords, etc) and do an end-run around the mammoth corporations that have to sustain Manhattan real estate and expense account limos.

Authors who are handling their own books are now able to make more money for themselves. This doesn't mean that they "devalue" the written word. They're no longer fighting for $5,000 advances spread over three years and two dollars per hardback after the book "earns out." They're not giving up control of covers. They're tracking down artists themselves. They're making their own decisions based on fonts and art and distribution. Sure, they have to hire their own publicists. So do Big Six authors. Sure they have to schedule their own readings. So do Big Six authors.

These authors aren't "devaluing" the writing -- they're valuing it more than most big corporations ever have.

Creating a Book Trailer

By Anonymous-9

Book trailers sell books. To some people. I've never bought a book based on a trailer, but certainly I've been made aware of authors because the trailer brought their name and book title to life in front of my eyes.  As publication date neared for HARD BITE, (Oct. 25th) it was a given that I'd produce a trailer.

First, I had to write a script—one of those two-column things with video on one side and audio on the other. A few miserable drafts in, I chucked the cheesy voiceover in the trash and decided to go with just titles, images and music.  For a few months I floundered around trying to find an editor. My budget precluded hiring a production company, but I could squeak through writing and producing it myself, and paying an editor to cut the sound and visuals. I struck gold when I found Mark Oguschewitz of Los Angeles, a seasoned film/video editor.

Mark steered me in the right direction for pre-shot footage and still photographs that would suit my trailer script. The idea of a trailer is just to give a taste of the story, the feel of it. I soon abandoned trying to get anything complicated across. Shutterstock, iStock and Getty Images provided everything I needed. By far Getty had the best selection. It was also the most expensive (ouch). Shutterstock was the best priced.

Weeks of eyeball-busting viewing ensued, dropping samples in a "lightbox" (provided as soon as you register for free with the site), and then came the process of matching assorted visuals with the script. Mark advised that he could keep the price down by using "standard" quality footage instead of HD. I found a terrific horror soundtrack for $12. at

JT Lindroos, the cover artist, broke down the elements of the e-book cover and sent them  via an online dropbox. (This was all technologically new to me.) Mark then manipulated the elements to create moving images behind the "titles" which is what they call any printed text onscreen in the film world. In my case, the titles are quotes from T. Jefferson Parker, Brian Lindenmuth and Rebecca Forster about HARD BITE .

After working back and forth by email and phone, sharing ideas and images, I went to Mark's home studio and watched while he made a rough cut. I was amazed at Mark's sense of timing and knowledge of sound effects (acronym: SFX) , and how they added to the overall mood and ambiance. Mark linked the trailer from his website so Kyle MacRae and Allan Guthrie at Blasted Heath could view it. As my publishers, if they didn't like it, they weren't likely to use it, so it was important that they were onboard.

Kyle got back to me right away but Al was travelling in Italy and the computer he had access to just couldn't "read" the video. There was nothing to do but wait a few days until he got back to Edinburgh. Soon, I had feedback from far and wide. Each suggestion and concern was put before Mark and finally we were ready to go to final cut. My job was to go back to all those image websites and purchase licensing for the footage to allow Mark download access. We were on the home stretch.


As soon as I starting purchasing the still images a warning came up on one saying "For Editorial Use Only." That means it was forbidden for use in a commercial or for promotion.

The urge to bang head, pull hair, was avoided by a tiny margin.
Back to the drawing board.

With the launch date yawning at me like the black hole of doom, I resumed a search for images and sent free comps to Mark. (The image sellers allow you to download unlimited pics at no cost because they have "watermarks" on them. When you make a final purchase, then you download the watermark-free versions.)

Mark cut the new images in and sent me a link. Clunk. Thumbs down. The new images seemed lame to me and took too much time. Mark cut another version taking out the forbidden image. Not only did the sequence move faster, it worked fine. Mark also advised that we could make do with Standard Definition quality footage instead of HD. That saved even more. In terms of SFX, Mark had stuff at his fingertips like sirens and crowd noises to throw on the soundtrack as needed.

With the digital ARCs all ready to go out Sunday night, Edinburgh time, the guys at Blasted Heath were waiting for a final cut. Mark and I met Saturday morning and worked smoothly for a few hours. By the time it took me to drive from the Valley back to Long Beach, Mark promised he would have the final rendered and a link to send out.

I get home. No link. Call Mark. While watching one final time, eagle-eyed Mark had spotted that one of the titles was missing quotation marks. It had completely escaped my 100 rounds of proofing! (It's very hard to proof moving text onscreen. Note to self: Always freeze-frame from now on.)  So Mark quickly tore the trailer apart (again), made the correction and rebuilt. Saved!

By the time I got up for my first cup of coffee Sunday morning, Kyle and Al had new links up, the trailer downloaded, and the ARC blast email assembled and ready to go out to members of the press.

Now let's see if it sells any books...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Talk to Me

Okay, I'm going to cheap out here, but hopefully it'll pay-off later.  I'm always curious about what people who read blogs want to read about.

Each night I sit here and check Twitter and Facebook and my own writing looking for a topic or two to write about here.  This week, the debate was the big topic--and as I've blogged about recently--my writing has slowed... because, well, you know... life.

So, talk to me.  I need some topics to pick up over the next few weeks.

What would you like to read about here every Tuesday?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Brother Brother Brother: Breaking Kayfabe on Recent Wrestling Fiction

Over the last year and a couple of months there has been a rise in wrestling related fiction. I suppose the obvious reason would be that those who were fans during the then WWF's huge run in the 80's are now writers.  But really, who cares what the reason is because hey, it's wrestling fiction.  I think that there is a huge amount of story potential in wrestling that is only now starting to get explored. 

So, because I'm running late with today's post, here's a quick run down.

One of the earliest examples of recent wrestling fiction is the short story "The Last Kayfabe" by Ray Banks. In a short space Banks just nails the voice of an over the hill wrestler who still has it in his blood.

Last year Jason Ridler brought us Deathmatch: A Spar Battersea Wrestling Thriller. Ridler, like Banks, nails the essence of wrestling. Not just the facet that is exposed to the public but all of the backstage action too. 

Earlier this year Stephen Graham Jones' Zombie Bake-Off which plops a group of wrestlers right into a zombie uprising.  And it's brilliant. Throughout the course of the novel Jones sets up some scenarios and by the end delivers on them.  Really, it's one of my favorite novels of the year.

Blood Red Turns Dollar Green by Paul O'Brien probably best captures the wrestling business and life style.  It also has the broadest scope, spanning many years, with a large cast of characters.  O'Brien even managed to get Mick Foley to blurb his book. 

Recently, the anthology Lucha Gore: Scares From the Squared Circle was released.  Lucha Gore mixes the world of wrestling with horror. I only just bought this recently so I haven't really had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Plus, it has a great cover.

So what do you think. Is wrestling fiction a thing? Did I miss anything? Have you read any of these?

Currently Reading: The Devil Doesn't Want Me by Eric Beetner (16%); Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick (30%)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Backseat boogie

By: Joelle Charbonneau

Today at DSD, I require audience participation.  So keep reading to the end and play the game with me.  You might win something cool.

Writers have different processes.  Some listen to music.  (Not me!)  Some require absolute quiet.  Others have to write in a specific place.  Everyone does things at different speeds or in different ways.  The one constant for writers is the moment in which we say, “Why would someone do that?”  “What if that happened when…”  What if the dunk tank was a murder weapon?  What if someone drown in a toilet?  What would happen if the penalty for failing a test was death?

You never know what is going to spark that brainstorming moment.  It could be dinner conversation, a moment on Sesame Street (can you tell I can a small person in my house?) or an article from the newspaper. 

Today, I read an interesting article.  It seems that thieves have taken to breaking into cars in order to steal the backseats from them.  Really!  Here’s the article.   Apparently, skilled thieves can break into a car, steal the backseat and be ready to hightail it out of there in under a minute.  Impressive, right?

My question is – why?  Why would someone steal the backseat of a car?  Sure, they can take it to a chop shop and sell it, but then I am forced to ask – what does the person buying these seats do with them? 

This is where you come in.  I challenge you to brainstorm with me.  Write one line of motivation, the blurb for a story or even a scene and post it here by Nov. 1st.  Silly ideas, series ideas and everything in between are welcome.  The winner will get a cool prize.  It might be a book or two, or three.  It could be an ARC.  You have to play to learn what you’ll win!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's Alive! It's Alive!

I've got a question for other authors here: do you consider your characters to be alive?

The reason I ask is because of Patricia Cornwell. This past Thursday, I attended the first Cornwell event in Houston, Texas, since 1991! It was a well-attended gathering at a hotel ballroom hosted by Houston's own mystery store, Murder by the Book. Ms. Cornwell said a few words and then opened up a Q&A session. Most of the questions revolved around her main characters--Kay Scarpetta, Pete Marino, Benton Wesley, and Lucy Farinelli--and what they thought or did in certain situations. Now, I'll admit that I've not read any of Cornwell's books (my wife has read all of them, including the Jack the Ripper non-fiction one) and found all the information informative.

What fascinated me is how Cornwell, herself, and the audience members basically spoke about Scarpetta et. al. as if they were real people. I know how characters in long-running book and TV series can get themselves ingrained in our consciousness, becoming like friends. It's just that I hadn't experienced that with fiction. Cornwell, when describing her writing style, mentioned that she had a relationship with her characters, one of the main reasons why she "talks" with Kay, Pete, and the others.

My view is different. Well, it's different at this young stage of my career. Talk to me in twenty years and I might have a different opinion. For now, however, my characters do what they are told. I have plans for them, stories to tell.

As authors, do you consider your characters to be real?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Outstaying Your Welcom

By Russel D McLean

I’ve often talked about how, in a perfect world, I’m bringing the J McNee novels to a close after five books.


All good things should come to an end, and I’ve never been a fans of series that outstayed their welcome. What’s got me thinking about it recently has of course been the return to UK screens of 90s sitcom, Red Dwarf. I loved Red Dwarf for six series and then it vanished. For three years it was off our screen and then it returned. And something was missing. The jokes. The humour. The characters. I could never point to what it was explicitly, but something felt off from the delayed seventh season and the show never quite recovered*.

It happens a lot with long running series. Unless the series attempts to evolve like say, Doctor Who, a show that truly changed with the times right down to rewriting the central character on several occasions, then a staleness can settle in after a while. Its known as “jumping the shark”, a phrase that entered popular culture when Happy Days suddenly became irrelevant to its audience after a strained episode where Fonzie, literally, jumped over a shark.

The point is that some series can run on beyond the point of their own relevance. And its often because an audience or readership demands that the series stay, but the creative spark has been extinguished or else has burned to almost nothing. It doesn’t happen in TV shows, but also in novels. Some long running series characters encounter the problem of stories that no longer feel relevant or characters who no longer have anything to say. Yet readers demand the return of these characters.

Its one of the reasons I admire George Pelecanos. He writes about the same characters for two, three or four novels, and then lets it go. He allows his characters to sya what they have to say and then moves on. Its admirable. And its the reason his writing is so powerful.

Coming back to TV, I love seeing TV shows with a gameplan. The Wire may have warranted a sixth series, but I’m glad it never got one. Babylon 5 completed its five year plan, and then fell apart completely when it tried to expand its own universe. Life on Mars never needed any expansion beyond two series because, frankly, it said everything relevant to itself in twelve episodes (Yes, I know about Ashes to Ashes, but that was an entirely different show in many ways). All of these shows set out too say something, said it and then (in general and discounting spin offs) got the hell out. Part of their appeal was that they stayed around as long as they needed to. But then you look at a TV show like The X Files; a show that outstayed its welcome by several years. It never reached a real climax, but it was soon apparent that it was lost for new and refreshing ideas, falling back on recycled ideas and falling behind the very TV shows that its helped to influence. And the less said about a TV show like Lost, that tried to keep itself going for as long as possible with no real game plan (you can’t tell me they knew where they were going; none of the plot holds up as having been planned from the start) the better.

Sometimes, its worth getting out before an idea gets too old, before a series loses itself in the race to remain on the go. With McNee, I only want to write about this character as long as I have something relevant to say with him, as long as I can allow him and the supporting cast to continue changing (albeit iin some ways subtly) from book to book. And even if I decide I have more to say about book 5, there is a game plan and certain elements that have been building since THE GOOD SON are going to be wrapped up by book 5 in a very definitive way.

I’d rather be The Wire than The X Files. I’d even rather be DeadWood - a show cancelled before it could say all it had to, but that left on a real high note before it lost the lustre of its early promise - than continue to expand an idea long past its sell by date, Or maybe I can create a property like Doctor Who; a series that manages to reinvent itself as something completely different every few years, that pre-empts the need to end by changing itself with the times and with the needs of its audience. But such an invention is rare, tough to craft and tougher to maintain. In general, the best rule is to let go of a character when the time comes naturally, rather than expand and continue past the point of no return.

*although to be fair, it seems to have regained a little something with the new series, perhaps through lessons learned from what went before - - maybe because the long, long rest (and the near disaster of its last attempted ressurection) has allowed the creators to rediscover something of what they had before.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Short Cuts

By Jay Stringer

First of all, a quick plug. I've written before about Sparrow And Crowe; The Demoniac Of Los Angeles. It's a fresh and exciting comic that blends horror and noir. If you like the books by our other friends of DSD, Chuck Wendig and John Hornor Jacobs, then you'll like S&C. The reason for today's plug is a bit of a seasonal treat. The comic book is coming out on a bi-monhtly schedule, which meant not having a fresh issue for Halloween. So the guys behind the book have summoned up a collection of writing and art talent (I assume with candles and a pentagram drawn in blood on a hard-wood floor) and produced a digital-only anthology. Four stories, 47 pages, and for only 1.99 of your ill gotten gains.
If you already read comics digitally, then just add this to your account and sample some great talent. If you haven't tried digital comics yet, what's been stopping you?

I've been thinking about short things lately. Mostly short novels. When I talk to other novelista, mostly ones outside of crime but even with some within this genre, I always notice how much higher their word counts are than mine. 80, 90, 100k. Those are epic tomes to me.

In such times you can -and I do- point to the great writers who've written shorter books. Hammett. Cain. I'm not sure there is a better writer working today than Cormac McCarthy, and his award winning book The Road tops out at around the same length I've run up in my first two crime novels. There are some that have surprised me; I was going to include Orwell's 1984 in my list of short novels, but when I took a look at the page count I noticed it was a lot longer than I remember. It just didn't feel like it in the reading.

Therein lies the challenge, of course. The book needs to be as long or short as the story demands, and setting out to write a book with a specific word count is probably counter-productive to that end. 

But I've also found many longer books that have been recommended to me have been put back down again within the first two chapters.The authors just put too many words on the page. It's never fair to name names, but there's a series of fantasy novels that it seems everyone has to read these days, and I tried the first book. I found straight away that I couldn't read it. As great as I'm sure the plot is, I don't need to have the clothes of each character detailed to me every time they enter a room. Nowhere on the huge venn diagram of writing -which balances out plot, character and exposition- do I see a space for the word clothes. 

Part of my mistrust of long books comes from my own shortcomings. That's always an awareness worth having. It was a long enough journey for me to read novels at all. The longer ones just seemed like a step too far early on. And then, when I did read a long one, and stubbornly make my way through, I would find that I wasn't enjoying it. As an adult reader I don't let such things stop me, I'll seek out a good book no matter the length, but as a younger reader that was a huge roadblock.

And as a writer I can't imagine writing one that long. This isn't to say nobody else should either. Each person has their own story to tell and their own skill set for telling it. For me, I can't imagine having a story to tell with a beginning, middle and end, that justifies running longer than, say 80k. Unless I'm adding in extra bits, having a story with beginning, middle, middle, fake end, middle, end, epilogue. I like for my work to be as tight as I can get it, and that usually means a lot of shaving as I go along. I constantly hack away at what I've written, taking out anything that I don't think is needed.

I like to challenge myself, though. So for book 3 I decided to change my approach. I set out to write a longer novel. And at first I powered through. The first act came together very quickly and I sailed on into the middle of act 2. Then I started to struggle. It went against my process and my instincts. I need to be happy with what's gone before to be happy with where I'm at. I don't just write a chapter then move on to the next one, I write a chapter then rewrite it, then edit it, then hack it, then move on. It  takes me longer to write a short novel than it would a long one, it seems, because they both start off in the same place but one takes a lot more editing than the other. 

So what I've found in book 3 is that operation; write long has been a failure, and now I'm going back to fix things that have been bugging me, things that wouldn't be bugging me if I'd followed my instincts in the first place. 

I'm not saying none of you should write long. I'm not saying my brevity is a purer form of writing, or that those of us who cut to the quick are harder workers. All I'm saying is; those of you who can write long? I doff my cap to you. Yours is a skill that I don't have. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Your Writing Workshop is Dumb

By Steve Weddle

I've been to organized writing workshops. I've been to those that were quite disorganized. I've been to seminar classes that acted as writing workshops. I've read 3,000-word stories each week for a semester, offering detailed comments each week. I've skated through writing workshops without reading a damn thing I was commenting on. I've gotten great feedback. I've gotten terrible feedback. I've been useful. I've been an asshole.

And let me say, your writing workshop is dumb. The ones I've gone to are dumb. The ones I've never attended, never heard of, and never imagined are dumb.

Here's why.

The person whose story is first is in the worst spot.
No one knows what the tone is. Are you supposed to attack? Support? What is the workshop like? Are there ground rules? After the first person says something negative about your story, you're going after that person as soon as her story is up, aren't you? I know you, you hateful bastard.

Your ground rules are dumb.
Do not frickin tell me that this is the first three chapters of a novel. I will slit you stem to stern as soon as I find out what that means. You don't get to say, "Oh, yeah. I totally get that you don't understand Sebastian's motivation and all, but, like, that's all covered in the ninth chapter." Screw you. Am I reading the ninth chapter? No? Then shut your frickin mouth.

The person whose story is last is in the worst spot.
See, if you're the person who goes last, you've probably tried to be nice all throughout this. Now everyone just wants to get this over with. No one cares about other people's stories. They're not in this workshop because they want to learn how to make other people's stories better. They want to make their stories better. So now that they don't have to be nice, no one cares about you and your crappy story. Oh, a coming of age story about a young man who discovers deep secrets in his family? Feh.

All criticism offered is useless.
See, nothing you can say in a workshop is helpful.Those typos you pointed out? I do not care. Seriously, it's super neat that you saw how I alternated misspellings of "Candace" throughout the story, but that's not terribly helpful.You're reading this story and offering tips on what you'd do if it were your story. Shut up. Tell me if you lost interest and stopped reading. Oh, but you can't. Because it's a writing workshop and we're creating a false reality in which you're forced to read this. Great.

Your crappy story is now in my brain.
Damn it to hell. That thing you did with the person walking by the mirror and looking at it to describe himself. I did the same thing in my story. Am I that bad a writer? And now when I go back to work on my story, all I have is your character's voice in my head. Damn it.

Seriously, shut up your mouth.
Yes. I appreciate your comment that for the first thousand words I was writing in omniscient third and then for that paragraph I slipped into limited second and then later for two sentences I wrote in omnitrix tenth person. Just please tell me did the overall story work. I don't need the nitpicking. I know you're happy that you could find something to comment on, but stop proofreading. Just read. Or don't.

Workshop readers aren't real readers.
You want to know if your story works? You have to send it to readers who will read the story when they normally read stories. Reading as an assignment for a class or workshop is not how most of the people will read your story. At least, you're hoping that's the case, right? People need a chance to abandon your story. "I started it, but I had these reports for work to do. I'll get back to your story." That means your story needs serious help, by the way.

Workshops spend too much time validating.
In the margins of my stories, people would write stuff like "LOVED THIS" or "YES!!" That's nice and useful if you're getting feedback from a magazine editor. But in a workshop? How is that helpful? You read a sentence and liked it? Of course you did. It's good. That's why I wrote the story. Do you mean you like how I brought the symbol back around and tied it in from the opening page? That's what it's there for. Glad you can read, dillweed.

I'm sure I missed some points. Writing workshops are not conducive to getting your best work. Sending to a couple beta readers, then off to some mags seems a much better approach.

Maybe your mileage varies?

The Point of No Return

I don't know if you watch HOMELAND, but if you don't, you're missing out on a good show.  Deep characters, great acting, and awesome tension.  If you don't know what it's about, I'm not going to give you the set-up here.  Go look it up.

But they did something last week that stunned me.  They took what I expected to be the end game of the series, or at least something I thought we be a cliffhanger at the end of a season, and popped it up right there at the end of the second episode of the second season.

The point of no return.

It's that moment that changes a book, movie or a TV series' plot.  Hell, flips the whole concept of it.  Think Jack telling Kate "We have to go back" in LOST.  The end of BREAKING BAD's last two seasons.  It's a huge moment, usually turns the plot on it's head.

I love those moments.

Well, when the writer actually follows though with it.  I'm very interested to see if HOMELAND follows though.  LOST was able to, and did a decent job of following what they set up.  I'm, of course, drawing a blank on other good examples.

But it is also what I'm trying to do with the book I'm working on.  I am now halfway through the draft (and yes, still writing slowly), and am trying to flip everything on it's head.  The trick is, if you go for that moment, you can't half-ass it.  If you try to find a way to talk your plot out of its own twist, the reader isn't going to follow you.

Sometimes writers raise the stakes so high, they write them into a corner, and the author falls back on a character lying or something the reader thought happened actually NOT happening.  It creates false suspense, and I hate when a writer pulls the rug out from you.

So, I'm very interested to see where HOMELAND goes now.  Do they follow through or come up with a way to avoid the revelations they've dropped.

What are some of your favorite "point of no return" moments?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Check Out The Savage Kick

We all know the history of the online short crime fiction zines and how they came to be over the last 15 years or so and filled a void.  In recent years there has been a rise in crime fiction print journals.  The legendary Murdaland stormed onto the scene, had an impact then folded after two issues.  A little more then a year after Murdaland our very own Steve Weddle co-founded Needle Magazine, which six issues later, is still going strong. Earlier this year John Kenyon launched Grift Mgazine, and Pulp Modern recently published their third issue. 

I think that these magazines and journals are all, deservedly, pretty well known. Especially within the crime community.

What I wanted to do briefly today was to point out another great magazine/journal that everyone might not be as aware of.  Savage Kick.

The Savage Kick is an annual (or whenever the hell they feel like it) fiction journal that contains a lot of raw and in your face fiction. It also features interviews and recommendation lists. The early issues were straight up old school zines that were stapled together and kind of sloppy in the best way possible, and the last couple being more of a trade paperback journal.

The new issue is out now.

Each of those old issues had a limited print run and when they hit the limit, boom that’s it, no more. In fact issue #1 is gone but the other are still available and highly recommended. There are probably two reasons why these guys aren't more well known: They don't publish only crime fiction and they are erratic.

But I do recommend that you check them out if you have the time and the coin.  It was actually in issue 5 that I first read a story by Julie Kazimer which lead to me buying her short story collection, nominating it for a Spinetingler Award, and purchasing and publishing her crime fiction novel through Snubnose (couple of weeks).

Bottom line is that I wanted to take a moment and use this space to boost their signal and make sure folks were aware of them.

Savage Kick is a part of the Murder Slim family. They published the Spinetingler Award cover nominee The Hunch by Seymour Shubin and also The Angel by Tommy Trantino which was featured in the article 30 Days in the Hole: The Real Prison Books. Check these books out.

Current Read: The Warlord of Willow Ridge by Gary Phillips
Current Listen: Babel by Mumford and Sons

And the beat goes on

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Get out the noise makers and the pop the cork on the champagne.  Yesterday, I finished writing Skating Under The Wire.  In an ideal world, I would have completed writing the manuscript weeks ago.  But life is never ideal and a combination of working on revisions for other books, family issues and publicity stuff for the release of Skating On the Edge slowed me down.

Now I can relax, right?  Well…

Being an author is a job like any other.  Just because one assignment is complete doesn’t mean the job is over.  Today I start rereading the manuscript and revising the pages so I can turn it in over to the world’s best agent for her opinion.  While she is reading, I will work on revisions for Independent Study (The Testing trilogy book 2).  As soon as those revisions are done, I am told revisions for End Me A Tenor should arrive.  When I am done with those, I will open up a blank page and begin writing Graduation Day.

When I was a reader, I thought being an author was a dream job.  You write when inspiration hits, celebrate big sales and movie deals and have lots of time off in between books.  Ha!  What I have learned is you never get your work done if you wait for inspiration.  Instead of celebrating finishing a manuscript with a vacation or several weeks off, a writer is often back at the keyboard the next day working to get that manuscript revised.  And when one story ends, another begins.

There are days that I wish I had more time to rest in between books.  Some days I feel tired and don’t want to analyze every word choice or pick apart the sentence structure.  But I do it because it is my job.  And WOW, am I lucky to get to do this for a living. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Wrecker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott

(I reviewed this book over on my personal blog a couple of weeks ago. This series is one of the Big Discoveries I've made in 2012. I really have enjoyed the first two books in this series and want to post the review here in case y'all missed it.)

The adventures of Isaac Bell came to me in a rather serendipitous way. On the one hand, I was in a grocery store last year and I saw a book on the shelf and admired the cover. The cover of The Race showed two planes, clearly early 20th Century vintage, engaged in a dogfight over a city. The image got me for numerous reasons, but, since the To Be Read pile is so large, I basically forgot about it. Cut to New Year’s Day 2012 when my cousin, an avid railroad enthusiast, told me about "this series about a detective who operates on railroads." Cool, I said, seeing as how I had created my own railroad detective and didn’t want to copy anyone else, what’s the title? The Chase by Clive Cussler. Well, image my wonder when, upon looking up The Chase, I discovered That Cover I had forgotten about. And, thus, I found my way not only to Clive Cussler (and Justin Scott, his co-author) but also to Detective Isaac Bell.

I read The Chase earlier this year and was completely entertained. The Wrecker maintains the excitement, the intrigue, and the chess-like machinations of the hero and the villain. The hero is Isaac Bell, a detective of the Van Dorn Detective agency. A tall man with blond hair and mustache, he is the imperturbable, stoic hero of many a story you've read before. What sets him apart isn't his good looks, skill with a gun, nor his hand-to-hand ability. It's that Bell actually gets beat up, dirty, and flummoxed throughout both books I've read so far. He's a bit like John McClain from Die Hard. He may win, but it'll exact a price.

The title character of The Wrecker is the villain. That nickname is the moniker given to the man blowing up various railroads of the Southern Pacific railway in the Cascade Mountains, Oregon, all in an attempt to bankrupt the company. The president of the railway hires the Van Dorn Detective Agency to stop it. Set in 1907, what follows is a wonderful cat-and-mouse game between Bell and the Wrecker.

By giving his villain a nickname, Cussler is able to hide the true identity of the Wrecker for more than half the book. Interestingly, once the identity is revealed, Cussler actually fluctuates between the actual name and the nickname. I found that a little odd. What really sets this book apart from your general thriller is the timeframe. The year 1907 is just modern and technological enough where you have the beginnings of automobiles, phones, and planes. At the same time, it's old enough to where railroads and telegraph are the primary means of transportation and communication. What this mix does for a reader in 2012 is build in some interesting tension. If a hero in 2012 needs to travel across the country from Oregon to New York, it's a plane ride of a few hours. Need to contact some allies across the country? Use the cell phone. Detective Bell can't do that. A trip across the continent takes days. At one point, he needs to contact associates in Oregon while he's in Los Angeles. With the telegraph lines cut, there is only one way to communicate information: in person. That means, take the train. All of this builds tension and the excitement increases.

I've only read three Cussler books, two in the last few months. They are so well choreographed that they just sweep you along. The history is always fascinating and the detail is accurate. If you are tired of the modern techno-thriller, try a historical thriller featuring Isaac Bell. Very good read.

Friday, October 12, 2012


By Russel D McLean

When THE CASUAL VACANCY came out the other week, lots of people reviewed the book (some of them, those amazon customer reviews, reviewed the lack of proper digital formatting rather than the book itself). Reading those reviews, I was astonished by one constant theme running them: the continual references to Harry Potter.

Now, perhaps that was inevitable because Potter’s legacy is the Potterverse, but at no point during the pre-publicity (and there was a lot of it) for THE CASUAL VACANCY did Rowling state that this book had anything to do with Potter. In fact she went out of her way (as did the publishers) to state that it was a book for grown ups. A book that was set in “the real world”, something that had nothing to do with what she had written before.

And yet the reviews were littered with references to Muggles and hogwarts and magic and the fact that Rowling dared to have a very strange reference to a used condom in the book. Few of them seemed to take the book and its merits on its own terms, preferring instead to play on the author’s past rather than seeing what Rowling was attempting to do in the here and now.

It left me with a feeling that Rowling would have been better (expectations wise at least, but not sales wise) to have released the book under another name. I know there are many reasons why that didn’t happen, of course, but the expectations that came with the Rowling brand were too much for The Casual Vacancy to be taken entirely as its own thing. Like the crime writer who can’t break out of the genre and do something different because of publisher and reader expectations* Rowling faced similar difficulties on a massive scale, and I have to wonder what will happen with her next book. Now that sales have been so huge because people were intrigued as to what she would do, will they come back now that that curiosity has been satisfied?

Writers have strange expectations placed on them, especially genre writers. Readers and publishers expect them to do something the same “but different”. We are put into holes of expectation and only rarely allowed to break out of them.

I always think of movies, how directors and actors can have a go at different genres and yet people will still come flocking to their movies (seriously, if Arnie had been a writer, then Jingle All The Way along would have killed his career) without the same kind of baggage of which they approach writers. Perhaps because its difficult not to pigeonhole writers. After all we are solely responsible for the product that reaches the readers. It is our name that is most important. Whereas in the movies, its always a team effort; its not simply the star, but the director, the scripter (even though people rarely notice them), the co-stars and so forth. There are so many people to blame or praise for a movie, whereas with a book, its just one person (even when behind the scenes there are other people assisting, such as editors, first readers, researchers etc etc) and the public easily start to associate that one person with a particular style which is why it can become difficult to break that style.

Writers are often more than the readers expect. They have the same complex and varied interests as anyone else, and to pigeonhole them in one genre is often a mistake, You can tell when a writer has reached the point of writing for contract and expectation instead of their own passions, and I think that is such a sad thing to see. Reinventing, taking risks and simply playing with words is part of who a writer is. We shouldn’t limit them. We should take each book on its own terms rather than comparing it to something which it is not.

*I’m thinking of Stuart MacBride’s brilliant Half Head which deserved a sequel and a chance to build up the man in another genre

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Your Rank = You're Rank

Concerned that you authors were getting bored refreshing your Amazon book page, hoping for a move from #2,183 in Mysteries to #183 in Mysteries, the nice folks at Amazon have now instituted AMAZON AUTHOR RANK.

Now you can find out where you rank by category or overall. Here's an example which is totally not altered in any manner at all:

As of this typing, Sylvia Day is the greatest author, living or dead. She writes books about humping. 

According to a recent imaginary survey of real authors, 94% of authors are opposed to the new AMAZON AUTHOR RANK because it gives the authors "a sadz :(" for the rest of the day.

So why did Amazon start this ranking? Is it to sell more books? Is it to help readers find books they might like?

Is the AMAZON AUTHOR RANK so much different than the a list of best-selling books? 

Is it easier for authors to survive "Well, my book is down at #42,937, but at least I'm still handsome" than it is for authors to say "I'm the 826,983rd most popular author on Amazon"?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Creating the Crime Novel Cover

Over at Blasted Heath crime e-publishers, the cover artist of choice is JT Lindroos. Here's the final version of the cover for HARD BITE written by Anonymous-9, available everywhere e-books are sold on October 25th, 2012. JT Lindroos talks about the cover-art process, in his own words...

Being a movie buff, when I got the logline for the book ("A wheelchair bound vigilante with an assassin monkey") I thought of an AMAZING MR. NO LEGS and MONKEY SHINES poster mashup. Given budget and time constraints, this is a simplified and modernized version of that initial idea.

With any e-book cover you want keep it simple. Much as I'd love to do a retro pulp or faux movie poster cover, the amount of time and money allotted for e-book covers means finding shorthand to get an idea across. I thought it might be a funny gag cover to send to Al [Guthrie] for a laugh, but soon as I drew it up, it just worked. I quickly assembled the rest of the cover and sent it off to Al hoping he'd like it too. I often send covers I 'kind of like' for some feedback, but in this case I was hoping he'd just go with it. He did.

The rusty background provided texture more interesting than a solid, clean surface. Grit, rust, whatever is another easy and appealing shorthand for something that's visceral and lo-fi, not overproduced pablum. It suggests and implies, but allows you to read into it whatever you wish.

Note: The editor for the HARD BITE book trailer, Mark Oguschewitz, took all the elements of the cover and utilized them in the video title cards. Now, the handicap-icon stick figure rolls through the video brandishing his gun, and the rusty, textured background is the new backdrop for quotes about the book.

BIO: JT Lindroos was born in Finland. Happily married for the past 12 years, Lindroos gained his US citizenship 5 years ago. He's a fast worker, affordable, and whatever fields he's been in (design, publishing, writing, statistics) he's—for better AND worse—self-taught in all of them.