Saturday, November 3, 2012

NaNoWriMo: Game On!

Scott D. Parker

I think the headline says it all. Yes, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. Let's get the obvious out-of-the-way: yes it is a gimmick. But it is a gimmick that could potentially pay dividends.

For the past number of months, my writing imagination has gotten rusty and slowed down to a crawl. I had one resolution for 2012: finish a novel. As of today, I have less than 60 days to do it. And while I may have wasted the previous 10 months, what better way to kick start the writing than with the writing gimmick?

Leading into this month, I've planned out my story. Hey, that's what worked for me when I wrote my first book so I'm sticking with it. I've also purchased and read Larry Brooks's Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. I basically treated and annotated it like a text book. I learned some great insights and it has immediately given me the arc of my story and showed me where to put some of the various scenes I had already dreamed up. I got a lot out of it and I'd recommend the book to anyone.

My goal, like all of the WriMos (that the right term?) is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I consider that both my short–term and long–term writing goal. But what I hope to establish in the next 28 days is a habit. A writing habit. Even if I don't reach the magical 50,000 word number, I aim to write everyday.

Every. Single. Day.

Well, after the first two days. As much as I would like to be 3,000 words into the new book, I can't. I'm about 1,000 into them, because the day job completely consumed the first two days of the month. Oh well, still got time.

I know Mr. Weddle is doing it. Anyone else?

Friday, November 2, 2012

To read, perchance...

By Russel D McLean

About a year and  half ago I bought a cheap ereader. I wasn’t converted. Savings on epubs were not substantial and the damn thing made this humming noise every time you turned it on. It was a piece of electronic jiggery pokery in my hand.

But I wanted to like it. I have no urge to see the death of paper. In fact I rather like it. Its great to have real, physical books on the shelves, and to surround myself with the clutter of language. I love scanning shelves, finding things I had forgotten were there, flicking through a few pages, using my thumb to land the page page.

All of that is brilliant.

So why even consider an ereader?

Well, there’s the convenience factor. I’m on the road a lot for various reasons and after a while it gets a pain in the arse taking up space in limited travel bags with heavy books. Having all my reading material in one place is a major plus point for me, and it means I no longer have too worry too much about taking the wrong book with me on a long trip.

There’s also the fact that increasingly the kind of writing I enjoy is going digital. The Shell Scott books by Richard Prather are now all digital which means I don’t have too worry about messing up the already damaged pulps I collect for those covers alone. Guys like Blasted Heath  and Snubnose are doing great digital only work that’s right up my alley. And there’s a whole load of other things going on.

But the trouble with digital reading is the cost of the device on which you read it. And as I’ve discovered you do get what you pay for. Luckily for me, a recent series of library gigs has paid for a new Paperwhite (yes, I got one that actually arrived) Kindle. Okay, I get it now why these guys are market leaders: no hum, no fuss, no muss. Aside from a small moment of panic connecting to the wireless, it works brilliantly and the disply feels less fuzzy than my old reader did. Its not paper, but its as close as we’re going to get, I think. Add to that the small extras like the web browser that lets me look at author and publishers websites alongside the massively useful personal documents function and finally I have an ereader fit for purpose.

But will it stop me buying paper books?

No. Not at all. Maybe I’ll buy less mainstream books. But I’ll still support publishers’ physical creations, especially those who create books that I want as much as objects as for a quick read. Guys like Hard Case Crime who create covers and objects to behold. Books that I really want too have and hold. Books that I can get signed (yes, I still like getting signed books from authors I love; I’m still a reader as much as a writer andd I don’t think that part of me’s going anywhere very soon)

The point is, that the medium’s convenient, yes. And I do like my new ereader. But what hasn’t changed is that the words are the thing. Books are books whether we get the words through a direct brain implant, a screen or old fashioned paper. They must retain their power. We can’t get lazy.

Good writing and always will be constant.

And I’ll be there to find it and devour it in whatever medium it happens to come in.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Do Doo Be-Do-Do Ad Hominem

By Jay Stringer

There is a lot of talk online these days about "privilege" and "standing." They're not exactly the same thing, but they're close enough for me to lump them together into a quick post.

Shows like Girls (of which I've only seen 30 minutes) get criticised for having an all-white main cast and for not acknowledging feminist issues outside of the narrow demographic the show portrays. It's a show that comes with a title that suggests a broad and defining statement of a gender, but presents a very narrow sample. It's set in New York City, but only presents a version of that city that a select few people will identify with.

I get the criticism. Really. I'm not hear to say it's invalid (though I do think some of it is very mean spirited towards a young writer making young-writer-mistakes.) I get the desire to hold the show to a higher standard than it achieved in that regard.

It leads me to a question. Or a statement.

I wonder if we could say there are two kinds of realist writers. The first kind grows up in a place -or lives in a place- and says, I want to tell a story that represents this place. From these writers we get the art and entertainment that speaks to us about the culture, diversity and character of the location. The second kind of writer grows up in a place and says, I want to tell a story about people like me. And from these writers we get more narrow -but no less true- representations of one particular kind of person or social group.

Would you say that's a fair distinction? I wouldn't say either of them should be said to be better than the other. I also wouldn't want to criticise the second kind of writer for not being the first kind of of writer, even if the first is my preference.

From this I wonder if there are then two kinds of reader/viewer of 'realist' fare. Those who want to see something that is new to them, and that gives them an insight into the cultural mix of a location, and those who want to see themselves reflected back at them?

We see it within crime fiction just as we do on television. For some sections of the crime fiction community, the idea of a socially and ethnically diverse fiction is a basic starting point. There are others who really only want to see the one thing reflected back at them. And, again, there is room for both.

Sadly I think we're still a long way from everyone being able to find something that reflects them. The story of the white people living white lives is one that television still wants to tell above all else. I'm not sure that attacking the young writer of one of these shows is the answer, because that attack is still doing blessedly little to find the more marginalised voices and elevate them, but I agree with the frustration behind the criticism. I want to stand with them on the issue, but I would find it much easier to do so if the complaints were handled differently. I also have an inbuilt reaction when I see a group of people complaining about the work of a writer, which is to think, if you think it can be done better, go do it better. There are those who complain and those who lead by example. Does the media provide enough spaces at the table for these writers to show their own visions? No. But you're giving yourself a better chance by having the work written than you are by complaining about it online.

And whilst I agree with the notion that writers should be aware of their own privileges before aiming to speak for anyone else -a notion that I try to hold myself too- I think there's another aspect to the ongoing conversation that bothers me. And it's the aspect that borders on 'Ad Hominem.' It's a defining of the value of a person's ideas by their colour, ethnicity or sexual organs.

To my mind saying, "well you would say that, you're a man," is as crass as saying, "well you would say that, you're a woman." And ascribing someones opinion to their skin colour is reductionist and backwards no matter which colour or ethnicity you're using. Guilt by association, too, falls at the first hurdle for me simply because it's silly. These are not rational, adult arguments. We need to start moving away from this kind of reasoning, not simply adapt it to suit a different group of people.

Ultimately what I care about is the message, not the messenger. I may differ here to a lot of the campaigners and I'm okay with that. I don't care what the writer looks like, sounds like or what pieces of meat they have between their legs. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe I'm alone, but what I care about is the work that they create. Is that work true? Does that work speak of the world around us? Does that work show me something new, or give voice to a point of view I've not appreciated before?

And so I think that's where the focus needs to be. We want to see work that represents more people, ultimately all people. And, yes, one of the ways we get there is to have room at the table for all people to be storytellers, but I simply would rather focus on the work than the workman. I think it's a failure of human imagination that we don't have fully representative art, but it's an equal failure of human imagination to assume or argue that one kind of person can't put themselves in the shoes of another.

So the Stringer campaign slogan, catchy as it is;

Check your own privilege? Absolutely. 
Fight for better representation? Hell Yes.
Give a shit about Ad Hominem? No Way.

I've had different versions of this little rant in my head all week. But in the last couple of days I came across this video of David Simon. He's framing the conversation with the word standing. And the question of whether a person's standing invalidates their message. "They're arguing not against the content, but against the man. Or woman." I think it's a very compelling argument that touches on some of the points I've been making, though I would still stress that I think the  privilege argument is rooted in something very important.

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!